Friday, September 10, 2010

Test Kitchen | Kahn - 09/08/2010

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

I first heard about Chef Jordan Kahn at Michael Mina's XIV where he was responsible for some of the most visually stunning desserts I've ever had. Even today his White Chocolate Cube ranks as one of my favorite desserts of all time. Given his skill, it wasn't unexpected that he would bolt to start his own restaurant, but it was a bit of a shock to hear that he would be responsible for savories as well as sweets. My surprise waned as I learned more about Chef Kahn and his history of over achievement: graduating high school early, finishing culinary school in six months, becoming the youngest employee ever of The French Laundry at the tender age of 17, and amassing a resume that includes stints at The French Laundry, Per Se, Alinea, and Michael Mina.

I was a bit skeptical about the concept behind Red Medicine as contemporary Vietnamese food didn't sound like the most natural fit given Chef Kahn's training and background. Still I liked the inspiration described in the restaurant's Manifesto and was excited by the concept behind the Test Kitchen dinner, but who wouldn't be excited by seven courses of Waygu beef.

01: LANGUE (tounge) - daikon, cassava, peanut, salted plum
#12 Dimmi - Grapefruit, Angostura Bitters, Sparkling, Thai Basil
Definitely not your typical Bò 7 Món fare, the tongue was prepared sous-vide and looked like a rolled slice of roast beef. Though the smoky beefy tongue was enjoyable on its own, the dish was much better as a cohesive whole. The tongue paired with the salted plum had a flavor reminiscent of roasted duck while the tangy daikon and crumbled cassava root added a lovely textural interplay to the tender Langue. This dinner was one of the few that had formalized wine/cocktail pairings with the food. In keeping with tradition we chose to try all the paired cocktails. First up was the Dimmi, a very tart and refreshing drink that had a subtle flavor like preserved sour plums.

02: ONGLET (hanger) tartare - mustard leaves, chili paste, herbs
#11 Pimm's No. 1 - Apricot "Brandy", Lemon Juice, Soda, Purple Basil
The tartare was a refreshing change of pace from the norm. I thought detected a touch of fish sauce which gave the meat a funky saltiness which coupled with the minced garlic and spice really set it apart from your typical tartare. The heavier tartare really benefited from the liberal topping of vegetables and herbs; their bitter and aromatic counterpoint kept the meat from being overwhelming. I only wish the cut of the tartare was coarser so that I could more fully appreciate the texture of the Onglet. The Pimm's No. 1 was heavier than the previous libation with a slight tropical sweetness and heady aroma courtesy of the purple basil.

03: ENTRECÔTE (strip) - ogen melon, chlorophyll, fines herbs, fried shallot, lime
The beef on its own is delicious, cooked to the perfect temperature the meat has a beautiful color inside and out. Even though I typically like my steak "neat" I thought the accouterments here elevated the dish nicely. The fried shallot accentuates the savory aspects of the steak while the herbs again serve as a foil for the beef. But it was the melon that made this dish memorable, the sweet and savory elements play off one another and in the end both are stronger for it.

04: OS À MOELLE (marrow) - beef cheek ragout, rice powder, chicories, nuoc cham, onion pickles
A fried cube of bone marrow atop a bed of braised beef cheek? If any course needed something to balance the crushing unctuousness of the beef it would be this one. The marrow cube has a crunchy sapid exterior and buttery center while the beef cheek is supremely tender and flavorful; both are superb but unabashedly rich. The bitter greens and vibrantly tangy onions were critical to temper the richness of the protein.

05: CALOTTE DE BOEUF (ribeye) - lemongrass-brown butter, pickles, herbs, nuoc cham, lettuce, rice cake
#13 Death's Door - White Whiskey, Lemon, Sugar, Soda

What Bò 7 Món would be complete without some sort of wrap. I think Chef Kahn was wise to avoid the traditional rice paper wrap and go with lettuce instead. As always the beef is nicely cooked but on its own would simply be a nondescript piece of steak. Given the preponderance of marbling on a ribeye (doubly so for Waygu), I especially appreciated the nuoc cham whose potent acerbic bite, cut through the richness of the meat effortlessly. For a drink named Death's Door the cocktail was unexpectedly benign. The flavor was that of a hard lemonade with the barest hint of salinity, perhaps a nod to the salty Vietnamese lemonade.

sweet potato - crunchy turmeric, beer, shrimp paste, aioli
The menu also included some bar snacks that were only supposed to be available at the bar but our server was kind enough to accommodate us anyway. First up was a sweet potato fritter, though it looked more like a giant clump of sweet potato fries served with the same lettuce, herbs, and nuoc cham that the previous course came with. I've never cared for the heavy tuberous sugariness of sweet potato. Again the nuoc cham proved to be the great equalizer, balancing the sweetness with its fierce acidity and heat from the Thai chilies.

06: POITRINE (brisket) - Vietnamese caramel, green peanuts, flowering brassica
#14 Batavia Arrack - Landy VS, Lime, Black Tea, Nutmeg
The meal ended on a high and heavy note, unlike the other courses the richness of the beef was unabated. The brisket topped with the nuoc mau reminded me of Chinese Ti Pang, seductively fatty and tender. The brocollini paired with the beef was impressive as well with a nice char accentuating the natural bitterness of the vegetable. If only my parents could cook brocollini like this I might have been more willing to eat my vegetables as a kid. The final cocktail was substantially more complex, with a nose of fragrant black tea and a earthy heat on the finish.

pho bo - brisket, "rare beef", caramelized onion broth, star anise
Maybe I am picky about my pho, but if there was one course I could have done without it would have been this. The beef and the vegetables were certainly of a higher quality than any authentic pho place but the noodles were either overcooked or left sitting too long and became a tangled sticky clump. Still the dish could have been salvaged if not for one critical decision. Logically I understand that Chef Kahn isn't trying to create authentic Vietnamese food, but with the pho he decided to Westernize the one inviolate element: the soup. The resulting blend of the consomme and caramelized onion broth reminded me more of an au jus than a true pho broth.

07: CONSOMMÉ - espelette, coriander
If I had to describe this soup in one word it would be enigmatic. The soup exudes the essence of beef which I suspect we've all been conditioned to associate with savory, but the soup has no salt whatsoever, if anything there was a faint sweetness that I found slightly disconcerting.

08: LIME SABAYON - cucumber, jasmine, cashew, hyssop
There was no doubt in my mind that dessert was going to be superb. In fact it may have been the favorite of the entire table. Each element brought a distinct feel and flavor to the dish but managed to remain in harmony with the cohesive whole. The cucumber cream and lime sabayon proved to be bold but incredibly light adding an overarching vegetal tang. Meanwhile the pastry elements, sesame strusel and cashew cake added a countervailing heft in both taste and texture.

At the end of the night Chef Kahn took a break from prepping for tomorrow to chat with us. He apologized for the uneven service and we readily forgave him considering the strength of the food and the fact that it was the first night.

To be frank I've never really cared for Bò 7 Món, the beef is typically fairly low quality and it is difficult to tell some of the 7 courses apart. Chef Kahn has managed to produce an exceptional menu where each course integrates Western techniques with elements of Vietnamese cuisine without being bound by it. Consider me no longer skeptical of Chef Kahn's vision.


ila said...

when i first read about this meal on eater, i was a bit skeptical. after all, it sounded like it was going to be a desecration of bo 7 mon.
but this. this is something different. in a good way.
thanks for the reporting!

p.s. holyshizz, the chef is hawt!

Epicuryan said...

I've been skeptical about the whole Red Medicine concept since I first heard about it, but this meal really changed my mind. I agree with you about this meal, the beef preparation varies so much from the traditional form that this is really Bo 7 Mon in name only. Kahn himself referred to it as "round eye Vietnamese food."

As for your second point, I don't think I'm qualified to judge.