Monday, August 30, 2010

Test Kitchen | Voltaggio - 08/29/2010

9575 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035
(310) 277-0133

Whether Chef Michael Voltaggio would be at Test Kitchen has been the subject of much speculation over the last week. Chef Manzke accidentally let the cat out of the bag ahead of his stint there, though he subsequently retracted his statement. Since then, those in the know at Test Kitchen had been notoriously tight lipped regarding the issue.

Happily the rumors proved to be true, I for one was eager to get my first taste of Voltaggio's food since the end of The Dining Room. Thanks to Mr. Eats of KevinEats for making the restervation. Joining us were Diana of Diana Takes a Bite and Linden of The Gastronomnom.

Basque Sangria - Floc de Gascogne, Flavors of Sangria, Freeze Dried Fruit
The first cocktail of the night was a faithful recreation of a sangria, light and inviting with hints of fruit and spice. The freeze dried fruit was a delicious accent, adding a nice crunch and heighten the fruitiness of the drink.

Petit Befores - Tomato, Mushroom
The meal started with two small bites. First up was a Porcini Canalé drizzled with truffle oil and topped with goat cheese. The truffle oil is readily apparent on the attack but quickly fades leaving a salty sweet cake like flavor accented with the cool tang of the cheese. The second bite was a familiar Tomato Pate de Fruit though I thought the flavors of tomato and basil were more faithfully represented this time around.

01: Mole - Queso Fresco, Chile y Lemon
The first course of the evening was deconstructed mole. The spicy Padron peppers are covered in a mole soil with queso fresco ice cream on the side. Perhaps my own inexperience with mole was showing here, I enjoyed the savory sweetness of the ice cream and the abundant heat of the peppers but I couldn't connect the dots with this course

02: Fish and Chips - Hamachi, Fried Tartar Sauce
Next up was a British classic, fish and chips, only this time the tartare sauce is fried and the fish is served sashimi style. I found the combination of the fish and vinegar a bit astringent, though the tartar sauce balls cleared that right up, adding a lovely fried sapor and creamy consistency to the mix.

03: Caprese - Traditional Look, Smoke, Ocean
Our server described this as a classic Caprese with an oceany flavor and he was spot on. The tomatoes were marinated in a dashi broth and paired with a smoked mozzarella, but it is the topping of bonito and fried calamari that really brings out that oceany essence. The resulting flavor is a delicate balance between the classic freshness and levity of the caprese and a umami-tinged savor from the bonito and squid.

Mr Ice Tea - Scotch, Green Tea, Yuzu Air
I was expecting something sweet here but the drink was surprisingly stiff. The herbaceousness of the green tea and a healthy dose of honey helped moderate the scotch but it still turned out quite boozy.

04: Mc Nuggets - Lamb Sweetbread, Rhubarb Ketchup, Curry
The sweetbreads were easily one of the best things at Sashi and I'm pleased to say Voltaggio has gone and made them even better. As before the flavor and texture are very similar to the dish's namesake, but this time around the creamy consistency and character of the offal were more apparent, not so much as to be intimidating but enough to give a clue to the origins of the filling.

Zorba the Martini - Gin, Ouzo, Olive Powder
I thought this would be more akin to a dirty martini, but a spicy ginger bite kept things a bit lighter.

Brass Monkey - 40oz of Old English, Orange Juice
I hope the fact that this was my favorite cocktail of the night doesn't reflect poorly on my sense of taste. The presentation was classic with a brown paper bag hiding the hooch and the flavors were just like a perfectly balance mimosa.

Porcini Sidecar - 1991 Joy Armagnac, Lemon, Porcini Orange Liqueur
There is actually no mushroom in this, Porcini just happens to be the name of an orange liqueur. The typical sidecar is light and refreshing like an "adult orange juice," this on the other hand was heavier and darker with a savory element in addition to the undertones of lemon and orange.

05: Greek Mezze - Octopus, Falafel, Yogurt
Chef Voltaggio has a way with octopus whose like I've not seen anywhere else. The texture is consistently tender and meaty superb when taken with the soft floral tang of the yogurt and olive oil mixture. As with his other ball, the fried falafel adds a starchy weight, grounding the dish.

06: Melon & Prosciutto - Wagyu Beef Tongue, Arugula, Smoked Mayo
I've always loved the classic pairing of melon and prosciutto and the way the two play off one another, the salty enhancing the sweet and vice versa. The Waygu beef tongue proved to be an excellent substitute for the classic prosciutto, less overtly fatty with a classic hammy sapor which let the melon stand out more.

07: Maryland Crab Feast - Soft Shell, Corn Scramble, Old Bay
Though I've never been much of a fan of soft shell crab, this preparation by Chef Voltaggio never fails to impress. If anything the crab was even better this time, crispy savory perfection tempered by the judicious application of sweet corn scramble.

08: Veal Piccata - Cheek, Chard, Cauliflower, Chanterelles
Quite the departure from your typical veal piccata, this reminded me more of a Provencal beef daube. Probably the most approachable dish of the night; the meat was incredibly tender and exploded on the palate with a smoky-savory unctuousness.

Smoked Gibson - Broker's Gin, Smoked Vermouth, Squid Ink Onion, Russian Tea Smoke
Originally this drink was supposed to involve squid ink spherification but Josh decided to black balls floating in the drink might turn some people off. Instead we got a fairly classic martini with a decidedly smoky kick to it.

Flor De Coco - Lablon Cachaca, Coconut
This drink comes with a strong nose of coconut, but the flavor is marked by a strong tang, quite light and refreshing.

D.F - Riazul Tequila, Verjus, Carpano Antica, Mole Bitters
The last drink was a strange mix of salty and sour that reminded me of Tamarind candy or Chinese preserved plums., interesting but disconcerting.

09: Carrot Cake - Yuzu, Rum Raisin
The first dessert was a new look at an old favorite, carrot cake. I typically find the combination of spiced cake and carrot overly saccharine but Voltaggio manages to keep the sweetness in check with a subtle dose of yuzu.

10: Tiramisu - Soy, Coffee, Mascarpone
Last up, Tiramisu, a tired played out dessert given new life under Chef Voltaggio. Gone are the spongy lady fingers and in its place a brash interplay of bold crunchy coffee nibs and thick creamy marscarpone.

Officially, Voltaggio's night at Test Kitchen was NOT a preview of his upcoming restaurant. Personally I suspect (and hope) a few of the courses might make an appearance. From what information was available, Voltaggio seems to be aiming at a more casual audience and his re-imagined classics certainly fits the bill with familiar names with adventurous twists.


Anonymous said...

Ok, I thought Kevin's photos turned out well given the conditions. I think you actually managed to pull a bit more exposure out of yours. Nice work!

Great to meet you. See you around, perhaps at Test Kitchen again.

Epicuryan said...

Nice meeting you too. I've been impressed with the photos on your blog and it sounds like you know your way around a DSLR so I look forward to your pics.