Richard Foss

Better than fair family fare – Truxton’s American Bistro

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Truxton’s American Bistro raises the bar for family fare on the Peninsula

Oz Valle serves up Truxton’s Coca-Cola braised ribs. Photo by Brad Jacobson (CivicCouch.org)

by Richard Foss

The primary characteristics of a French bistro are casual, small, and cheap. The word is Russian for “quickly.” After Napoleon surrendered and Paris was occupied, impatient Cossack soldiers reportedly shouted “Bistro!” at restaurant workers so often that small, cheap places that could make a fast meal put out signs with that word. This was probably welcomed by restaurants because impatient shouting foreigners now all went somewhere else.  

The staples of French bistros are country classics such as steak frites, onion soup, and coq au vin. What, though, might an American bistro be? Our sense of flavor is much wider than the traditional bistro favorites.

At Truxton’s American Bistro, the space in Hillside Village that was Restaurant Christine for almost two decades, the category has a quite different meaning. This offshoot of a popular Westchester restaurant is medium size, has an unusually large and wide ranging menu, and though it’s inexpensive for the neighborhood, it’s not a bargain basement. The place has a casual, bustling energy that attracts a range of people, and it’s the highest profile family restaurant in the area to open in years.

I have visited three times and each time had trouble deciding because there are so many options. The starters I’ve tried were the ancho honey shrimp, a Caesar salad, brisket taquitos, and the charred broccoli. The shrimp are the kind of thing that everyone has put on menus since our inexhaustible appetite for things that are crispy, sweet, and spicy was discovered. The element that raised this a few notches was the gently spicy pepita cole slaw they were served with. Truxton’s has many different sides, some of which outshine the items in the spotlight.

The Caesar dressing had just a hint of anchovy and garlic, and I might ask for a little extra next time because it was a bit tame. I liked the taquitos a more, though I would like to have the chipotle crema on the side rather than pre-drizzled. The slow-cooked brisket in these has enough flavor to be enjoyed on its own, or with just the good guacamole that is also provided. I get that the presentation is prettier, but sometimes it’s good to give the diners the choice to adulterate their food, at will.

The only starter that disappointed was the charred broccoli. Lightly cooking vegetables and then char-finishing them to get extra smokiness and texture is a sound idea, but the kitchen did this with pieces that had huge stems, and the base of these was very fibrous. If the broccoli stem had been trimmed, this would have been a winner. As it was, we ate the best parts with a dab of Dijon mayo and left the rest.    

The four mains we tried were wild mushroom linguine, Turkish spiced chicken, fish and chips, and a monthly special of Coca-Cola braised ribs. Odd as that last item might sound, braising meat in cola is actually a common practice. It’s usually done with cheap and tough cuts of meat because the acidity of the soft drink tenderizes the meat, while also infusing sugars that caramelize nicely when the meat hits the grill. The sweetness has to be balanced with pepper, ginger, chili, or other sharp spices not to be cloying. Truxton’s version falters here. The sweet barbecue sauce that was slathered on before serving didn’t have that balance, and there was a lot of it. It would be better with a spicier sauce, or no sauce at all to cover up the interesting effect of the marinade. The ribs came with grilled corn and tangy cilantro coleslaw that was a good companion to barbecue.

Truxton’s mushroom pasta (top) and Turkish Chicken. Photo by Richard Foss

The Turkish spiced chicken was a more successful experiment, and a somewhat daring thing to put on the menu because most Americans have no idea what Turkish food is like. The chicken had been rubbed with savory but not hot spices before being grilled, and then topped with an intense herbal sauce. It was accompanied by an Israeli-style, large grain couscous with crisp garbanzo beans and barberries, a tart, tangy dried fruit. The flavors were spot on. It was easily the best item I had here.

The fish and chips and mushroom linguine were traditional items competently made, and if that sounds like faint praise it isn’t. Getting the fish moist and the batter crisp takes talent, and they nailed it. As for the pasta, the parmesan garlic cream sauce complemented the peas, mushrooms, and other vegetables in the sauce and completed the fresh and natural flavors. It tasted like good home cooking, and that’s a compliment.

The wine and beer program here is decent though wines are slightly overpriced, and the bar is curiously lacking in high-end spirits. This is definitely a food destination that serves drinks rather than a wine or craft bar, but they cover the basics. They should perhaps reconsider their dessert offerings, which are all sweet and heavy. The meals here are substantial, and some people like something light and fresh to finish. I had asked our server about the apple tart, but she said that it was very sweet and topped with caramel sauce, and that killed that.

Truxton’s is open for brunch on weekends, and we were lucky enough to get in just before the rush. The place was half full when we arrived but had a line out the door as we left. Conventional eggy things were offered but we decided on a Vietnamese-style pork breakfast burrito and an order of salmon hash. The pork burrito had a mix of spicy harissa and fruity Chinese hoisin sauces, an idea I hadn’t seen before. It worked nicely with the eggs, pork, green onions, and avocado. My wife had ordered the hash in spite of it including kale, an item she doesn’t always like, but the combination of greens with onion, potato, and roasted salmon won her over.

Truxton’s owners made a smart move when they decided to open here, because there is a shortage of family-friendly American restaurants on the hill. They deserve to succeed because they’re doing something that needed to be done, and generally doing it well.

Truxton’s is at 24530 Hawthorne Boulevard in Torrance. Open Mon-Fri 11 a.m. – 10 p.m., Sat – Sun 9 a.m. – 10 p.m. Parking lot. Wheelchair access good. Full bar, corkage $15. Menu at truxtonsamericanbistro.com. 310-373-8790.