Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Test Kitchen | Smith - 09/21/2010

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

After sampling Joshua Smith's spectacular North African cuisine, I was eager to revisit Church & State to see how the restaurant had fared under his care. However the powers that be conspired against me and in a move that has me questioning not only the business acumen of Church & State's management but also their sanity, they replaced Chef Smith the day after his stint at Test Kitchen.

Still when God closes a door, he opens a window. Test Kitchen was holding a BBQ night to celebrate the last day of summer and the man at the pass was none other than Josh Smith. Ironically this turn of events probably allowed me to enjoy Chef Smith's food sooner than I otherwise would have. As an aside this is the first repeat chef I've had in 12 trips to Test Kitchen and given his current circumstances, perhaps a third trip is in the cards.

Albacore Tuna Tiradito - Ginger-Lime Jus, Crispy Sweet Potato, Habanero Oil
Peruvian Pilsner - Scrimshaw Pilsner Beer, Fresh Lime, Ginger, Pisco
I don't normally associate Tiradito with BBQ but the bracing acidity certainly fit the bill for a fun summer starter. The sweet potato chips added a nice textural wrinkle to the fish and the habanero oil contributed a controlled burn that lingered on the palate. The beer paired with this dish was equally refreshing with a slight citrus sweetness on the attack and a clean bitter finish.

Wood-Charred Octopus - Southern Salsa, Corn Tostada
Sour by Choice, Southern by the Grace of God - Bulleit Bourbon, Lemon, Sugar, Bitters, Creamed Corn Consomme Foam
The octopus from Chef Smith's first Test Kitchen appearance was one of the strongest courses I've had in 12 trips to the restaurant. This time around the mollusk was just as tender though perhaps a shade less flavorful. This more restrained preparation worked well with the Southern salsa whose acidity and spice were tempered by the earthy flavor of the beans. Rounding out this dish was a corn toastada that boasted a delightful crunchiness that contrasted sharply with the supple meatiness of the octopus. The cocktail lived up to its name with a blast of mouth-puckering acidity totally unfettered by the creamed corn consomme.

Jidori Chicken Wings - Serrano, Nam Pla, Toasted Garlic, Peanut Oil
This Agua is SO Fresca - Famous Grouse Scotch, Watermelon Puree, Mint
What barbecue would be complete without a heaping plate of chicken? The wings were seasoned with herbs and toasted garlic, enjoyable but a bit plain. That's where the Nam Pla comes in, giving a subtle funky salty sweet lift to the chicken, a simple addition but so very effective. The Agua Fresca was the perfect companion for the wings, washing down the greasy lip-smacking chicken with a refreshing draught of ice cold watermelon.

The Burger - Veal Skirt, Beef Hanger, Pork Belly, Chipotle Aioli, Potato Bun
The Amexicillin - El Jimador Blanco Tequila, Lemon, Ginger, Mist of Chipotle Mezcal
Burgers are without the quintessential barbecue food. So much of a burger's distinctiveness is in the blend and Chef Smith chose his very well the skirt and hangar are among the most flavorful cuts of beef while the pork belly gives a light touch of porcine sapor. Complimenting this simple burger are an airy potato bun and a spicy chipotle aioli. As delicious as it was the burger could have used some vegetables to cut the heft. Though I added some of the cole slaw I found it overwhelmed by the rich aioli.

Alternating Sides - Potato Salad, Layer Dip, Cole Slaw
We were brought three sides along with the burger though my companions and I felt they would have complimented the entire meal. First up was a very astringent potato salad; for my part I prefer the more common variety with its softer acidity. Next up was a superb 5 layer dip the avocado in particular was creamy and lush; I wish I had the presence of mind to slather some on my burger. Last up was a unique blue cheese cole slaw. The flavor of the blue comes through forcefully on its own but gets lost when paired with the burger.

Alternating Desserts - Banana Pudding, Grandma’s Butter Cake,Walnut-Chocolate Chip Cookies
No Donnie, These Men are Nihilists - House Vanilla Vodka, Cream, Sugar, Vanilla Wafer Crumble
Dessert consisted of a trio of classic favorites that should be part of any family barbecue. The banana pudding was redolent with the mellow sweetness of its namesake fruit and though I loathe bananas, even I found the pudding enjoyable. The pound cake fairly oozed butter and one of my companions joked that the kitchen must have used a stick of butter... for each slice! Ironically, the cookie which I expected to be my favorite was the weakest of the trio; too hard and overly laden with nuts, I got none of the chewy goodness so essential in a fresh chocolate chip cookie.

Chalk up another superb dinner to Mr. Smith. I've really been impressed with the range and versatility he has shown, a far cry from the classic French Bistro fare of Church & State or Anisette. I suspect he had been chafing at the restrictions placed on him at Church & State and isn't too broken up about the split. At the end of the meal he mentioned he was looking for a position that gave him more control over the menu with an eye towards owning his own restaurant. Hopefully we'll see him again sooner rather than later.

1 comment:

NicoleM said...

Great meeting you last night, can't wait to see your pictures of all the food I didn't get to try :-(.