French tapas at La Cachette Bistro, Santa Monica

Nobody else in town is doing what chef Jean-Francois Meteignier does.

About half of the menu at his La Cachette Bistro is “French tapas,” but the only similarity to the standard Spanish tapas is the small plates they’re served on. The chef’s fertile French mind fuses Spanish, classic French, North African, even Polynesian and Korean influences, which makes his tapas very LA. And very imaginative.

On my lunch there last month we started with paper-thin slices of octopus and Persian cucumber in frisee salad. Erasery octopus is normally near my last choice on any menu, but the carpaccio consistency of this octopus gave me new respect, especially with the whole assembly drizzled with a dressing made with gochuchang (Korean spicy pepper sauce). On the next plate were two species of hearts of palm, one (Hawaiian) large and round like daikon, and the standard the size of shaved parmesan, in a dressing of truffle oil, mustard, grapeseed oil and sherry vinegar.

Hot tapas included blackened swordfish belly with wasabi ginger mashed potatoes, followed by skewers of shrimp in parsley garlic sauce with curried bell pepper. The meat in the tiny enameled cast-iron pot of coq-au-vin was “chicken oysters” (solilesse in French), that meat from the chicken’s back that normally gets tossed away.

All told, there are about 30 French tapas – others I tried include poached confit of salmon, served atop a salad of couscous, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, yogurt and harissa; and house cured smoked trout, silky in texture and with sides of shallots sliced to almost transparent and potato and sour cream.

Then there’s dessert. Chef Meteignier spans the conservative (pitch perfect baba au rhum with stewed pineapple and creme fraiche) to the out there (roasted marshmallow with dark chocolate sauce and mint sauces, plus berries). All made in house, of course.

La Cachette Bistro is great for locals and should also by rights get plenty of out-of-town guests from the giant hotels across the street on Ocean Avenue.

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