I cannot recall ever watching a single episode of 7th Heaven in its entirety, although the show ran for 11 seasons. What do I know about Jessica Biel?
Looking at her filmography, it turns out I’ve only seen one of Biel’s films all the way through and unfortunately that film is Elizabethtown. (If I remember correctly, she plays Orlando Bloom’s girlfriend who dumps him after he’s fired from a fictional shoe company. But I might not remember correctly because lord of god that movie was terrible and I’m angry that it lives in my memory.) This is all to say that I know Jessica Biel mostly as a beautiful actress married to Justin Timberlake, whose movies I’ve never seen.
But on March 7, 2016, that all changed. From now on, to me, Jessica Biel will be known as the woman who owns the restaurant in West Hollywood where I spent nearly $300 of Gawker Media’s money on caviar and birthday cake.
A nifty trend has emerged among actresses who we’re probably all familiar with but can’t name a project they’ve been in recently. These go-getting ladies are using their hiatuses from acting to start an assortment of questionably necessary lifestyle brands.
With her new restaurant, Au Fudge, Biel joins the gaggle of domestic-y goddesses including Gwyneth Paltrow (Goop), Jessica Alba (the Honest Company), Blake Lively (Preserve) and Reese Witherspoon (Draper James).
Au Fudge opened to the public on March 4, and naturally I felt compelled to visit. And, because I’m nothing if not thorough, I should note that this is not my first Timberlake family restaurant experience.
I don’t recall eating any actual food at Justin Timberlake’s Manhattan restaurant, Southern Hospitality. I do, however, remember participating in a gloriously ludicrous deal where something like $25 bought you an open bar for a couple hours. I met up with friends who were already having dinner, and for some reason I was allowed to just roll up, pay $25 and keep drinking. The more I think about it, it may have been a situation where, if you dined with a certain number of people, the open bar was some kind of bonus. I don’t know. It doesn’t really matter.
The night led to us hailing an empty stretch limousine from the Upper East Side to the West Village for about $5 a head. For no tangible reason, this gave me high hopes for Timberlake’s wife’s first culinary venture.
Au Fudge, (pronounced by my waitress as “oh fudge” and not “aw fudge” as I had been saying in my head) is located on a very fashionable strip in West Hollywood on Melrose Avenue. Every meal I’ve ever had in this area has been either just fine or actively bad and all were overpriced. Au Fudge is, after all, just a diamonds throw away from Lisa Vanderpump’s SUR and Pump, restaurants with which I am intimately familiar.
The restaurant has been cheekily described as a Soho House for kids, and although I didn’t hear about any membership options, I’m not sure how one could even consider signing up for such a thing without becoming such a parody of a parody that the entire universe caves into itself under the weight.
Au Fudge calls itself a “Community Clubhouse” in its bio, and I wonder if they realize that their community is mostly comprised of gay bars, high-end boutiques and a Petco. Aside from Jessica Biel, perhaps the most notable thing about the restaurant is that it’s marketed as a place for both kids and parents to enjoy—making it a similar experience to that promised by Chuck E. Cheese and bowling alleys that serve cocktails.
As it turns out, I do not have any children, and I feel strange going to a child-friendly restaurant by myself. So I invite the incomparable Jane Marie and her rather perfect daughter Goldie to join me.
We arrive for our not particularly trendy but very child-friendly 5:30 p.m. reservation a few minutes early and are invited to browse the “marketplace” while the table is prepared. The market/cafe sells toys, candy, selected baked goods (I’m almost certain the enormous cakes are fake), coffee, diapers and Honest Company products, because women supporting one another/cross-marketing is a beautiful thing.
Our perky blonde hostess is adorned in a pink lace dress with an elaborately embellished collar. The other hostess wears almost the exact same dress. Later I see one of them put on a long, rose gold-colored brocade jacket. They look like Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink, which is certainly a choice.
Somewhat oddly, our hostess asks if we’ll be needing a highchair which, yeah, I’m literally holding a toddler and that’s generally what they sit in unless Au Fudge happens to source their furniture from a store specializing in kindergarten classroom decor.
The dining room is oddly dark for a space that’s characterized as a kid-friendly. Although, I suppose that could be to keep the adults happy—compromise and such. A handsome bar sits in the back of the room and I briefly dreamed of the crowd that rolls into Au Fudge on a Saturday night to chill at that bar.
Curiously, there is a medium-sized television mounted on the wall to the right of the bar—meaning that in order to watch TV, you’d have to turn your chair sideways away from the bar and hope that nobody is in front of you/to your right. That television is there either as a bitter concession to stereotypically sports-loving fathers or because Justin Timberlake personally demanded it.
The space is smaller than I thought it would be—about 12 small tables and one long table in the center. There is also an outdoor patio. The decor is shabby chic with a hint of a Southern sensibility. It feels like it was designed by Reese Witherspoon’s character in Sweet Home Alabama. There are mounted heads of stuffed animals along the walls, including a large unicorn head that Goldie points out about three times within the first 10 minutes of us sitting down. It’s all very cute, without being overly cutesy or crafty.
Our waitress informs us that Au Fudge has an “award-winning cocktail program.” Jane points out that they just opened. I’m assuming she means some guy who has won a cocktail award somewhere else now works at Au Fudge, which means that that statement is true but not really. And, with Jax Taylor and Lisa Vanderpump’s band of messy minions slanging drinks down the block at SUR and Pump, I hope Au Fudge is ready for some competition.
While we’re studying the menu, a woman at the table next to us feels it is her duty to explain to us simpletons how restaurants work. Without any prompting or so much as a glance from our end, she leans over and begins explaining how her son just loves milk and cookies after school, which yes, I believe many children do enjoy that delicate pairing. She picks up the plate of cookies on her table and waves it towards us. Both Jane and I assume this is her way of offering the leftover cookies to Goldie. She does not.
The chatty woman in the striped boatneck top continues with a rundown of how restaurants go about servicing their customers. Well, you know, as long as they have a pasta dish on the menu the kitchen can just mix in some butter and cheese and kids will totally eat that. I order that for my son at restaurants all around town! Tonight my child enjoyed a stack of pancakes because they have those on the dinner menu, you see. What a concept! I’m insane with no sense of boundaries! I’m explaining how menus work to two grown women who did not ask for my input on a single thing this planet has to offer!
I bet everything I own that striped boatneck top lady becomes a frequent Au Fudge patron.
Scanning the menu, it is both long and not long enough. Instead of a designated children’s menu they have a “Petites” section with about four things a child would want to eat.
I’m stating the obvious, but you’ll notice that the menu does not include macaroni and cheese—quite possibly the most universal kid-friendly dish ever created. What the hell kind of restaurant catering to children doesn’t offer mac and cheese? On top of that, Jane asked Goldie earlier in the day what she wanted for dinner and she said macaroni and cheese. Luckily Goldie has the mental fortitude to weather this disappointment. I think she also forgot.
Goldie settles on the grilled cheese sticks instead. They also offer truffled grilled cheese sticks—our waitress’ favorite item on the menu—in case you’re the type of person who believes that a human being who can’t even read yet deserves truffles.
Jane and I order award-winning cocktails and the naan trio to start. Goldie sips on a $6 cup of milk.
West Hollywood loves a “clever” cocktail name. The menu includes things like the Jessica’s Rabbit Rabbit, the Mo Mama and the MILF (Low-Cal), which is basically just a skinny margarita. Jane orders a Black Manhattan, suggested by our waitress after Jane says she wants something with bourbon and not too sweet. I take a stab at The Little Prince, which is described using a quote from The Little Prince—a tad prosaic, but I see what they’re going for.
“It is such a mysterious place, the land of tears.”
Bourbon. Lemon, Honey. Bee Pollen. Lavender.
Do I like bee pollen? Am I allergic to bee pollen? Does bee pollen have any business being in my cocktail? We’re about to find out!
The Little Prince is good except for the lavender shavings, which keep sticking to my lips and tongue and make me feel like I’m drinking actual potpourri. I also could have asked for a straw, but this is an award-winning cocktail program so maybe they should have thought of that for me. I don’t feel that I can comment on the bee pollen, unfortunately, because I completely forgot about it, like Goldie with the mac and cheese.
The service is a little spotty, but this place hasn’t even been open for a week so it’s forgivable. Notably, early on, we spot Jessica Biel sitting at the bar. She is dressed casually in jeans, a large sweater and boots and has her hair pulled back. She’s objectively a beautiful woman, but she’s much more striking in person than I thought she would be. Is that a good thing? People are approaching her for photos and she obliges. Jane offers to snap one of Jessica and me but I have no idea what way this review is going to go, so, better not.
Our appetizer arrives and we learn that “naan trio” is an inaccurate name for this dish. Did I assume it would include three different types of naan? Does that make any sense? IT DOESN’T MATTER. This is actually one type of naan with a trio of dips—hummus, baba ghanoush and some sort of cucumber situation.
The naan is soft and warm and everything is quite tasty. Goldie tries hummus for the first time and likes it, so Au Fudge is already answering its calling by expanding the predilections of toddlers.
Jane notes that the menu is rather carb-heavy for West Hollywood, and for the type of crowd I imagine this place will attract. It seems like they’re going for a “comfort food” vibe, but for people who will always be a little uncomfortable no matter what.
For our entrees we order the steak frites and the chicken club sandwich with the $15 caviar add-on because WHAT and WHY and I will absolutely never order the $15 caviar extra on my own dime unless I one day become a tacky, frivolous millionaire who doesn’t understand the concept of a delicacy.
Goldie’s grilled cheese arrives and the presentation is pretty damn adorable—staying on theme.
She seems to enjoy them, and for $12 I goddamn hope so.
The background music includes a lot of Beyoncé and Rihanna. I’m giving it a month before we have our first Blue Ivy spotting at Au Fudge. Although, the space is small so I hope there’s some sort of private dining area in the back because that’s a lot of very close commoner eyeballs on Jay and Bey.
There are at least two tables I notice that don’t have children with them, which, girl, I guess. It’s not as if Au Fudge says “children only,” but as you will later see, children seem like a very necessarily part of enjoying this restaurant. Maybe they were huge 7th Heaven fans who love throwing money into the shredder. I can’t say for sure.
Out food arrives and Goldie tries the caviar—her second new food of the evening. She enjoys the caviar significantly less than the hummus.
If you’re ever thinking of adding caviar to a chicken club sandwich, do not. Perhaps I have an indelicate palate, but I couldn’t taste any of the caviar through the bread, chicken, lettuce, tomato and egg. Also, you’ll notice that the $15 of caviar was just plopped right there on top of the bread. This presents quite a consumption conundrum.
Are you just supposed to leave it there? That seems messy. Jane tries to flip the bread over but the other side is dressed with mayo. We both end up scraping the caviar with the flat side of the toothpick and spreading it inside the sandwich. When I take a bite, caviar literally spills out of the sides and onto the napkin in my lap. $2 to $3 worth of caviar haphazardly falling onto my soon-to-be-laundered cloth napkin feels like a perfect explanation for why they beheaded Marie Antoinette.
The steak is slightly less than fine.
Steak frites is like rich person’s pizza, in that, even when it’s bad, it’s pretty good. Still, for $45 a plate, I should have a clearer idea of what cut of meat I’m eating. Though I am comforted by the fact that the meat is organic because this Los Angeles lifestyle catches up to you no matter what.
While we eat our entrees, Jane orders dessert for Goldie: a $15 slice of “birthday cake,” which, when it doesn’t include candles, is not actually a specific type of cake. It’s just regular cake, guys. Regular cake is delicious. No need to trick us with the pomp and circumstance of a birthday.
Sorry, still can’t let go of this birthday cake thing. The only reason people think birthday cake is something special is because they’re eating it on a day they’re probably already enjoying. The actual cake would taste the same three months later. IT’S THE FACT THAT IT’S YOUR BIRTHDAY THAT MAKES YOU THINK YOU’RE ENJOYING THE CAKE SO MUCH MORE BUT THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE PHYSICAL PROPERTIES OF THE CAKE ITSELF. FURTHERMORE, BIRTHDAY CAKE IS NOT A “TYPE” OF CAKE.
Relatedly, the cake is pretty dry and Goldie plays with it as much as she eats it. The slice is also half the size of her head.
With only the prospect of my dessert ahead of us, we glance more closely around the space. About 15 feet away are two double doors leading to a room full of toys. Jane peeked in earlier but didn’t want Goldie to know about it until she finished eating.
We ask our waitress about the room and she tells us that it’s a “creative space” for children. I must exert all my energy to control the eye-roll of the century. For $15 an hour, you can drop your kids off and enjoy your meal without interruption from the human beings you created but could also do without for a couple hours. Jane notes that $15 is less than the price of a babysitter. (Do not freak out, and please remember that this is LA.)
The creative space (good lord I hate calling it that) is as tasteful and cute as the rest of the restaurant. There is a drawing station, books, a karaoke setup and a winding staircase leading to the treehouse—a cozy room at the top of the building filled with large pillows. Three au pairs (their word, not mine) staff the room. They are sweet and pretty and lovely but, again, we’re less than a week in, so I’m not sure how looking after random (probably spoiled) children wears on a person.
In the future, we are informed by an au pair, the Au Fudge creative space will offer things like cooking, yoga and gardening classes for children. (Feel free to come up with your own joke for that one.)
Our hostess was supposed to tell us about the childcare option when we sat down, but because she didn’t, our waitress offers the service for free. Jane happily signs Goldie up and we order wine.
About 10 minutes into the childless portion of the evening, one of the au pairs comes to our table with Goldie in her arms. I assume there is some sort of problem or that Goldie doesn’t like being left in the same room as that one annoying little boy who kept swinging the microphone cords even after an au pair asked him three times not to. Turns out all she wants is for us to come watch her perform karaoke.
Goldie, a big Katy Perry fan, chooses “Roar” for her Au Fudge debut.
She kills it.
Quickly coming down from the high of her performance, Goldie moves on to drawing and we are no longer needed.
Her timing could not have been better, because on our way out of the creative space, we pass Taye Diggs, who is walking in with his son. He flashes that money-making smile of his and greets us with a “Hey, what’s happening?” What’s happening, Taye Diggs, is that, suddenly, paying $15 for a single slice of cake seems rather reasonable if you know what I’m saying.
Returning to the table for the $18 monkey bread I ordered quickly brings me back to reality. In an already comically overpriced restaurant, the dessert menu at Au Fudge induces the biggest sad chuckle. The price of every item, aside from the à la carte ice cream Sunday option, has the number “one” in front of it.
How, I wondered, could a regular human being—not a wizard or some magical creature like Neil deGrasse Tyson—possibly make monkey bread, served on this here planet Earth, that justifies an $18 price tag?
Turns out, they can’t.
This is the most inarguably mediocre moment of the evening. I’m guessing they make each serving individually in a small pan, which makes it hard to get those perfect, pillowy nuggets on the inside. The bread is not soft and is barely warm. I take a few bites because it’s still bread covered in sugar—hard to go too wrong there—but it doesn’t seem worth the spike in my blood sugar.
Again, this dish costs eighteen American dollars. For an Andrew Jackson, I could easily fill ten entire loaf pans of monkey bread and I promise any sane person would prefer it to whatever I ate at Au Fudge. My mom’s monkey bread is infinitely better, so if anyone at Au Fudge would like her recipe, hit me up
Our bill clocks in at $237.62, including tax but before gratuity. A few weeks ago Jane, Goldie and I went to a nice dinner for about $100 less than that. Granted, we didn’t order both an appetizer and dessert (much less two of them) but I would never do that anyway.
The difference, of course, is that the food we had at that restaurant was delicious and worth the $60 or so that I paid for it. Still, one thing I cannot deny and that Jane points out is that Goldie seems much more comfortable and well-behaved at Au Fudge than she was at the other restaurant. (That probably had something to do with the other place’s inability to provide a highchair, as well as their lack of children’s karaoke and babysitting.)
We linger on our way out while Goldie selects a treat. We step into the checkout line behind Jessica Biel and a woman who I believe is one of her business partners. They gesture for us to go ahead of them because, duh, they better have.
To the cashier, Jessica asks if she can get some of the brownie bites or brownie bark or brownie bars or some brownie adjacent pastry wrapped up to go. She needs the brownie whatevers because “Justin loves them.” By Justin, she means her husband, international pop star Justin Timberlake.
We’re not sure why she can’t just take the whole jar of brownies home, since she owns the joint, or why she feels the need to announce that Justin enjoys the brownies, because that’s not super relevant to the task at hand. You don’t have to justify your decisions to anyone, girl. You spent what I’m guessing is a fortune on this restaurant. That comes with perks, like just grabbing anything you want, leaving the premises and subsequently not being arrested.
We finally leave and I come to terms with the fact that I will likely never set foot in this restaurant again. Jane sees a different future. Earlier she declared that she would return to Au Fudge and happily enjoy a glass of wine while her daughter was under supervised care in another room. Can’t argue with that.
And this, my friends, is how Jessica Biel and her business partners will further pad their bank accounts with the money of Hollywood elites and those who want to be. Biel and company are offering what Los Angeles Magazine fittingly describes as, “Chuck E. Cheese for the One Percent.” To be clear, the food is mediocre and overpriced—even for the neighborhood it’s silly—but I can’t deny that the concept has legs.
A few days later Jane described Au Fudge patrons as the “lowest hanging fruit” and “a captive audience.” There aren’t many other places offering what Au Fudges offers and for that reason, people will pay. Over Gchat, Jane added: “You could literally have a garbage pit with babysitters and wine and I’d give it 5 stars on Yelp.”
The visit to Au Fudge came a few days after my father’s sort-of playful, sort-of not lamenting about how he’s going to be an old grandfather. I pointed out that, luckily for him, people are living longer these days so it’ll all even out.
The next day, during a call with my grandmother, she strongly insinuates that she would like some great-grandchildren. I tell her that’s nice. My parents had me when they were both 30 years old and I cannot even begin to fathom the series of events that would result in me having a child or being pregnant in three years.
But if Au Fudge is still standing in that completely undetermined future, perhaps I too will be willing to overpay for a dry steak so my child can play with the pretentiously named children of B-list celebrities. Apparently you’re allowed to put caviar on a chicken sandwich these days, so who knows what the hell will happen.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Image via Getty.