Thursday, April 3, 2008

Bastide 03/28/08

8475 Melrose Pl
Los Angeles, CA 90069
(323) 651-5950

Ever since its previous incarnation Bastide has been on my list of restaurants to try. It reopened last year and since then, it was only a matter of time until I went. This is actually the third version of the restaurant, each with a different head chef, different look, and different cuisine. The current restaurant serves contemporary French, under Chef Walter Manzke.

The restaurant is owned by maverick commercial director Joe Pytka. I get the impression he closes the restaurant and revamps it whenever the mood strikes him, definitely not standard business practice. Pytka is nothing if not flamboyant, once spending $35,000 on a 2.2 pound white truffle which he shaved over courses at Bastide. When Bastide reopened last year, the meals were free for the diners on opening night. Flamboyant gestures such as these help distinguish Bastide from more traditional venues.

The restaurant is located on a small dimly lit side street with two big illuminated B logos as the only sign. We actually missed the restaurant twice and circled around.

When I placed the reservation I made it for four. This was actually the second reservation I have made. The first time we would have ended up outside, not an entertaining prospect in the middle of winter. This time I made sure to ask for a table inside. When I added two people to the party, somehow the requirement of an indoor table got lost. Calling a week before the reservation, I was told we would be seated outside. After a number of calls and attempts to get seated indoors, the hostess informed us she would do her best.

Given the last I had heard, my party was destined for a night outside, imagine my surprise when we got to the restaurant and were shown to the chefs table. This is the first time I have ever sat at the chef's table and I was so shocked I asked the hostess a number of times if we were in the right table. I have to say, the patience shown dealing with my request and the fact they were able to accommodate it really impressed me. Besides the chefs table is a small wine cellar complete with some 140 year old Chateau D'Yquem, surprisingly not the oldest bottle (1813). On the other side oddly hangs a picture of Chairman Mao. Above the table hangs a chandelier complete with labels from various high end wine bottles. On the tables outside cans of Campbell's soup hang from strings, adding a sense of whimsy. Of course no chef's table would be complete without a view of the kitchen. Ours was provided courtesy of a one way glass window. We were able to see the staff but they couldn't see us. Some of the waiters told stories of people putting their face up to the glass and the staff hearing the thump but not being able to see what was going on.

What does one need before a 3 hour meal and 10 glasses of wine, thats right more alcohol. As is my best friends wont in life, he ordered his mojito. I am beginning to see the appeal in having a signature drink, no need to think about what to order. I started with the Vesper but 3-4 shots worth of alcohol is NOT the right way to start a meal. I have been trying to establish the cucumber martini as my drink of choice but its just too rare. So I went with Pieter's (sommelier) suggestion of a Kir Royale. They used a particularly concentrated creme de cassis giving a very satisfying sweetness to the drink, probably the best I have had to date.

We quickly settled on the 7 course tasting, which is actually more like 10 given the fact four of the courses are under the single heading AMUSE. The menu is unique in that each course is described with a single word. In fact much more attention is paid to the wines, which are printed in detail on the menu. The kitchen is extremely accommodating of requests, as one of my dining companions preferred to forgo the meat courses in favor of seafood or vegetarian options.

A very long hard breadstick with a slightly yeasty flavor. A bit of salt and pepper round out the flavor

Pre-Amuse: Clear Gazpacho - Manchego cheese churro
A very nice looking gazpacho. I could definitely taste the tomato although several of my dining companions felt this tasted like salad dressing. The manchego cheese churro had a mild creamy flavor and a very soft fluffy texture.

Amuse 1: Kumamoto Oyster - Green apple gelee, wasabi, yuzu, daikon radish granite
Vin de Bugey, Cerdon, Patrick Bottex, NV
The Kumamoto Oyster had a deliciously soft silky texture, one of the better oysters I have had in recent memory. The pairings definitely gave it an Asian flavor except for the green apple gelee which felt somewhat out of place in the dish. The Vin de Bugey is a sparkling rosé with aromas of strawberry and mint, and a surprising sweetness on the palette, very easy drinking. One of the table favorites of the night.

Bread - French baguette, black olive, Gruyère brioche, bacon brioche, rosemary potato, basil focaccia; Unsalted and black truffle butters

Not the most extensive bread offering, that honor goes to Robuchon, but a rare bread offering in that everything looked appealing. In fact I believe the table of 5 ended up going through six servings of bread. Each came out piping hot with its own distinctive flavor. The baguette was crusty on the outside and soft on the inside and paired well with the black truffle butter which married creamy butter with the mild earthy aroma of truffle. The black olive was mild enough that it didn't offend my palette one of the better olive breads I have had in recent memory. I expected a lot of the Gruyère brioche, and it delivered, although the flavor wasn't as intense as I would have preferred. The bacon brioche had a similarly subtle flavor, savory and fatty, still very subtle which I felt was more appropriate for this bread. The rosemary potato had a much sturdier texture paired with the light flavor of rosemary. Lastly the basil focaccia, very hints of basil and a nice chewy texture.

Amuse 2: Bigeye Tuna Tartare - Sea urchin flan, kinomi-miso sauce, daikon gelee
Saint-André de Figuières, Réserve Delphine, 2006
I have really been loving sea urchin used as a creamy base, in this case a flan. Like the previous amuse this one derives a great deal of influence from Japanese cuisine. The fish was fresh with a medium-firm somewhat chewy texture and minimal flavor. The sweet creaminess of the sea urchin flan and the slight bitterness from the daikon gelee contrasted well with one another providing a variety of flavors for the tuna, neither of which tried to outdo the other. The wine had a golden hue and citrus notes along with some vanilla, kind of a middle of the road wine for me.

Amuse 3: Japanese Octopus Ceviche - Tomato-tarragon sorbet, blood orange, celery, olives, tangerine and 10,000 year-old Peruvian rock salt
Pavese Ermes, Blanc de Morgex et da La Salle, 2006
Probably my favorite of the amuses, definitely the coolest as it involved a huge block of ancient rock salt. The rasp of the salt on the metal shaver sent shivers down my spine knowing I was about to eat something older than recorded history. The octopus was cooked giving it a dense slightly resistant texture, the use of citrus fruits gave it a fresh and lively flavor. I also really enjoyed the flavor of the sorbet, very subtle notes of tomato and herbal licorice like flavor from the tarragon. The perfect amount of salt was added, had I not seen it put on I never would have noticed it was there, at the same time it gave the right amount of saltiness to the dish. Another review dated mentioned 7000 year-old pink Peruvian rock salt. Unless the restaurant stores salt vintages like they do wine I imagine they were referring to the same block of salt. Shy of carbon dating I doubt we'll ever know the true age. The wine was interesting with notes of hay, something I don't tend to associate with wine. It was a bit tart after the earlier wines and had a mild flavor of almonds on the finish

Amuse 4: Lobster - Hawaiian king prawn, English pea soup, Thai curry, tapioca, lemongrass, Thai basil
Dr Loosen, Graacher Himmelreich, Kabinett, Riesling, 2005
Another interactive course. This time we were brought lobster and prawn in a golden curry sauce. Once the dishes were served waiters bearing French presses filled with green frothy liquid came and added it to the mix. The liquid was a pea soup with basil and lemongrass. The overall effect was a distinctly Thai dish, with notes of coconuts and lemongrass. Beneath the shellfish were little beads of tapioca. To go with the sweet dish, a surprisingly sweet wine given the fact it was only a Kabinett. The wine had an intense nose of mineral laced apple and pears, honeyed fruit, melon and citrus on the palette, nice balance, immensely drinkable.

01 Hawaiian Mero - White and green asparagus, black trumpet mushrooms, white mushroom-vin jaune sauce
The Ojai Vineyard, Salomon Hills Vineyard, Special Bottling, Chardonnay, 2006
Mero is a fish from the grouper family and this definitely exhibited the characteristic density but moistness that I treasure in grouper. Not normally a big fan of asparagus but I thought this added a mild sweetness and slightly crisper texture. I really enjoyed the addition of mushrooms which had an intense flavor of their own and added richness to the fish. The wine was a special blend that supposedly they only made six bottles of, combining botrytised graped with regular chardonnay. The wine had a softer more honeyed apricot nose but retained the dryness and light acidity of a normal Chardonnay.

02 Sonoma Duck - Celery root ravioli with brown butter sage sauce (reduced chicken broth), black truffle and foie gras sauce
Gevrey-Chambertin, Les Corvées, Domaine Tortochot, 2004
Looking at this dish I thought it was the epitome of small portions in haute cuisine. The plate must have been nearly 12 inches in diameter, and here was this small 2" x 2" area covered leaving the vast majority of the plate empty. The duck was tender and flavorful, I felt it totally overpowered the ravioli. The duck was certainly able to stand on it's own but after all the inventive courses we've had so far this one felt somewhat plain in comparison. The wine was a very vibrant and young Burgundy silky smooth mouthfeel. I enjoyed the wine although some felt it too young. The sommelier was kind enough to pour a bit extra for us, after noticing how much we enjoyed it.

03 Beef(from right to left) Roasted prime NY strip loin; Braised short rib, foie gras, truffle; Roasted carrot and bone marrow; Roasted potato with oxtail, braised swiss chard, mustard and horseradish
Domaine de la Laidière, 2004
What is it with these beef courses involving a whole host of styles. At any rate this one was quite strong. The simply roasted NY steak, tender and rife with the natural flavor of the beef exhibited a minimalist approach. The braised rib had a mildly sweet truffle sauce but one could definitely taste the natural fattiness of the rib which was enhanced by the foie gras. The roasted carrot and bone marrow had the thick rich and oily flavor of the marrow softened with the sweetness of the carrot. The last bite was the least impressive, I was hoping for tender braised oxtail, but there was so little that the potato was definitely the dominant force in that morsel. The wine from Bandol, was probably the most interesting of the night, combining scents of bright cherry and apricot with a gamy musk, very much akin to say horse (which isn't as offensive as it used to be to me).

04 Fromage(from right to left) Selles Sur Cher (goat, semisoft, Loire Valley) with fig; Brillant Savarin (cow, triple cream, Normandy) with rosewater gelee; Roth Kase Private Reserve (cow, hard, Monroe, Wisconsin) with black cherry; Garrotxa (goat, semi-hard, Catalonia, Spain) with honey comb
Four very strong cheeses. The Selles Sur Cher had a saltiness combined with a musky flavor probably a result of the mold on the rind definitely the hardest for me to accept. I have always loved Brillant Savarin, very soft and creamy with a flavor similar to brie. The Roth Kase was another very mild cheese, firmer than the Brillant Savarin but still somewhat soft, I enjoyed its buttery richness. The last cheese was a Spanish cheese, a slightly harder texture which I tend to dislike in cheese milky and nutty, I really enjoyed the honey comb it was paired with. Rather than serving a wine, we were served Foret, an ale with a sweet nose of honeyed fruits and vanilla, very a creamy earthy hoppiness and a bit of spice to it.

05 Steamed milk - Caramel flan with coconut ice cream and pandan foam
Jurançon, Charles Hours, Uroulat, 2006
An amazing dessert, the steamed milk mixed with the flan and coconut to give a delightfully sweet flavor. Pandan is a leaf used in lots of Southeast Asian cuisine and has a distinctive sweet taste. The aroma of the pandan reminded me of the generic flavor in many Asian sweets, and I suspect it is a common ingredient in many of them. The wine had well defined flavors of apple and pear with a piquant spiciness to it, very exotic and appropriate to the dessert.

06 Chocolate fondant with green tea ice cream / Hot chocolate with coconut mousse
D'Oliveira, Terrantez, 1977
I found the chocolate fondant to be surprisingly disappointing. The texture was a bit dry for my liking and even the ice cream couldn't fully remedy that. The hot chocolate was quite nice especially with the coconut mousse although that reminded me very much of the previous course. The wine served with this was a madeira. I tend to find madeiras very difficult to drink the undercurrent of smokiness just overwhelms the subtler notes of nuttiness that one might expect to find.

Part of me actually wished I had fewer friends (or more boring ones) that way I could have enjoyed the view of the kitchen rather than chatting with them. After we finished our meal, the waiter asked if we'd like to tour the kitchen. This was my second trip into the kitchen my first was to take some pictures in their wine cellar. We met with the sous chef who spoke with us for quite some time, explaining the methodology behind the cooking at Bastide.

Petit Fours
Truffles, neither of which were particularly impressive, kind of surprising given how the rest of the meal went.

Chocolate chip cookies
A nice little takeaway, certainly less grand than several I have had in the past, but the cookies were nice and moist, chewy and sweet. Can't complain

I quite enjoyed myself at Bastide. The food wasn't the most outlandish and progressive, combining contemporary French cuisine with global (mostly Asian) influences. The service seemed a bit unpolished, as the waiters had to bend lower than seemed comfortable in order to place a plate down. At the same time they had to hold onto all plates they had not yet served. The restaurant definitely had a casual California type feel to it, with each room decorated a little differently.

Something about the restaurant, the food wasn't the best nor was the service flawless, but there's just something the restaurant that makes me want to come back. I definitely plan to return maybe in a few months, hopefully the menu will have changed enough by then

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