There are two things I’m always searching for in Los Angeles. The first is a good love story. The second is a perfect first date spot. On a recent spring evening, that ideal spot came in the form of Mignon, a French-slanted petite bar à vin, located in the buzzing historic district of downtown LA. Its charm resonates from its simplicity—the space, which is void of a kitchen, is anchored by a u-shaped bar that hosts the majority of the seating, and the staff consists of a pair of bartenders that are just as happy to pour you a glass of gamay as they are to clear your charcuterie board, after you’ve swiped the last slice of bresaola. Despite having only opened in 2010 by owner and sommelier Santos Uy, there’s a comforting sense of age that evokes the natural-wine bars of Paris, from the shelves stacked deep with wine bottles to the array of gold-framed art adorning the darkly painted walls.
Like many wine bars challenged by square footage, Mignon originally opened as a wine and cheese bar with limited menu offerings, but recently Uy incorporated sous vide techniques to revamp the menu with dishes prepared by Papilles chef, Tim Carey. The result is unfussy but elegant French dishes such as vegetable-laced stews and fragrant wine-braised proteins. A generous portion of roast pork tenderloin comes with an array of mushrooms and potato confit in a rich cream sauce. Frog legs Provençale dressed in rich flavors of lemon and butter and topped with a shower of chopped parsley, proves Carey’s hand at conjuring decadent but balanced sauces.
It is the smaller plates, though, that transport you to France. A kaleidoscopic plate of raw vegetable crudités, halved and served with salted butter, will have you marveling at the purity of bitter playing against sweet. Oeufs en cocotte, baked eggs served in a creamy bath of chopped leeks, breaks into a warm lava of golden yolk when spooned over a slice of buttered baguette. Wedges of Caña di Cabra and mahon make for exceptional options on a cheese board, while the saucisson sec was a favorite among the charcuterie. The thoughtful, focused wine selection may allow a Loire Valley cabernet franc or a Languedoc minervois to be paired with whatever bubbling dish arrives in a miniature Le Creuset cocotte. Often Uy is behind the bar, too, and it’s especially enjoyable to allow him to navigate your pairings.
Mignon is the sort of place that single-handedly solves the first date conundrum. Sinatra is often crooning over the speakers, but you can easily hear your date. Meanwhile, sitting at a bar seems to diminish the pressure of constant dialogue—at a lull in conversation, it’s easy to access a bartender to answer your wine inquiries. Mignon is intimate without being pretentious, and if you’re the type that prefers to suggest date drinks instead of a full dinner, it’s easy to have a couple of glasses of wine then weave in a meal, if there’s chemistry. Just a few steps from Varnish, an exceptional speakeasy, and Las Perlas, where they make the best mescal margaritas in the city, it’s also easy to suggest a post-meal cocktail.
On a recent Monday night I found myself at the end of 4 ½ hours at Mignon, warmed by the wine, the oeufs en cocotte, the conversation. In the end, I can’t help but believe that uncovering the perfect first date spot will also lead me to finding a good love story.
Mignon, 128 E 6th St Los Angeles, CA 90014. (213) 489-0131.