9411 Culver Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
After seeing Chef Ben Bailey's skills on display at Petrossian I knew it was only a matter of time before he grew tired of having his creativity constrained by corporate necessity. With that in mind, it came as no surprise when I heard the news that Ben left Petrossian for Fraiche in Culver City.
Chef Bailey had built up a strong following among LA's food bloggers while at Petrossian. So when Danny of Kung Food Panda issued an invitation, 17 of us answered the call to try Chef Bailey's brand of rustic French/Italian cooking.
While diners were arriving, a couple of earthenware dishes with olives were placed on each of the tables. The oil-sheened olives possessed a lush meaty texture and textbook vegetal flavor.
Festivus - Bourbon, Lemon, Egg White, Pine
Heavily featuring the flavor of pine, this had a sweet menthol grassiness similar to an IPA with some nice texture from the egg white.
Piquillo Cheese Spread - Chorizo / Manchego
Tonnato Dip - Tuna / White Anchovy / Capers
Smoked Trout Rilletes - Lemon / Chives / Creme Fraiche
Chicken Liver Parfait - Green Apple Jelly
Olivade - Ricotta / Olives / Roasted Tomatoes
Eggplant Caviar - Raisin / Marcona Almonds
The meal started with of suite of canning jars with disparate fillings for the table to share. Bringing out food family style for a table with six photographers and nine hungry foodies is a recipe for disaster. In the ensuing chaos I was only able to photograph some of the jars. Of the sextet, the chicken liver emerged as the standout, with a richness comparable to foie gras balanced by a nice acidity from the jelly. The remainder aside from the Olivade were enjoyable but sort of blended together in the rush to photograph and taste.
The Good Apple - Granny Smith Infused Vodka, Fennel & Clove Infused Simple Syrup, Lemon
Along with the jars, we were brought three more cocktails off their menu. First up was a drink reminiscent of a holiday apple cider the tangy apple vodka is coupled with an herbal spice.
Turkey Dinner - Clove Infused Wild Turkey, Cranberry Juice, Cynar, Candied Orange Peel
This was universally reviled by the table but I found it tolerable. The drink had a strong medicinal burn due to the clove and Cynar that was a bit harsh but not unpalatable.
Poison Ivy - Vodka, Basil, Honey, Smoked Sea Salt, Cayenne, Lemon
This had everything I was looking for in a cocktail, remarkably balanced, refreshing, and tangy with a hint of spice.
Hamachi Tartare - Shaved Turnip / Lime / Espelette Pepper
Julian joked that "it would have been better hot" would be a common refrain among people blogging this dinner but this was one course that would have been better cold. The texture of the fish felt a little softer and fattier which made me wonder if Chef Bailey used belly meat for the tartare.
Vitello Tonnato - Veal Steak Tartare / Arugula / Parmesan
Interesting that we were provided a tonnato sauce earlier in the meal and here we have a more traditional preparation. With a naturally light flavor, the veal serves as more of a textural component, adding a dense muscular chew to build on. I particularly enjoyed the interplay between the fishy smokiness of the tuna and the bitter nutty bite of the arugula.
Brussels Sprouts - Chorizo / Manchego / Dates / Almond Piquillo Vinaigrette
Brussels sprouts seem to have become particularly popular of late. Having the vegetable so many times the past few months, it has started to grow on me though I still find the bitterness a bit much. Here the flavor is balanced by the salty punch of the chorizo as well as a the dense sweet dates.
Terre Di Balbia Serramonte Italy Calabria
The wine was a gift from David Haskell who also happened to be dining at Fraiche that evening. A blend of Magliocco and Sangiovese, the wine carried a heavy perfume of ripe red fruit and berries. On the palate, the fruit persisted joined by a light spice and lush mouthfeel, very enjoyable and easy drinking.
Bouchot Mussels - Fava Bean / Tomato / Chorizo
One of the weaker courses of the night, somehow the bowl managed to have both overcooked and undercooked mussels. The combination of chorizo and tomato was enjoyable but not enough to compensate for the wildly inconsistent mussels.
Basil Risotto - Escargot / Lemon / Tomato
Easily one of the most unique risottos I've ever had, The basil and tomato give the dish a freshness and levity not found in the more typical cream based variety. The escargot in risotto was a first for me, adding an intriguing brininess to the mix.
Seared Foie Gras - Frisee / Rhubarb Pomegranate / Speculoos
Once upon a time, I actually disliked foie gras and it was the seared variety with its unabashed richness that won me over. Since then searing have fallen out of favor, replaced by more restrained preparations like terrines and torchons. Of late seared foie gras has been making a comeback, paired with bitter or tart accompaniments rather than ripe fruit. Here the frisee and rhubarb act as moderating elements while the candied nuts add both textural variety and a balanced sweetness.
Crispy Loup de Mer - Sunchokes Soubise / Crosnes / Salsifi Mushrooms / Bordelaise
Crispy skin, flaky texture, and a mild salinity enabled the bass to stand on its own or with the earthy mushrooms. Meanwhile, the crosnes and sunchoke both add a starchy gravity to the dish.
Taglieneri Neri - Maine Lobster / Cherry Tomatoes / Basil
Considering his training and background at is predominantly French (Ducasse, Robuchon and Petrossian), it came as a surprise that the pastas were among the strongest courses of the evening. First up was an elegant squid ink pasta with perfectly cooked lobster in a sauce redolent of butter and lobster essence. The weight of the pasta and sauce is deftly offset by the herbaceous basil, tangy cherry tomatoes, and subtle spice on the finish.
Lamb Papardelle - Tomato / Olives / Onetik Goat Cheese
Next up was a perfectly cooked paparadelle topped with a generous helping of delectable lamb ragu. Traditional served with sauces featuring game meats, this thick cut pasta is fast becoming one of my favorites on account of its denser more toothsome texture. The natural gaminess of the meat is heightened by the olives and goat cheese making for a heavy yet satisfying course.
Hand Cut Maltagliati - Pork Ragu / Scallion Gruyére
Maltagliati which literally translates to "badly cut" is a pasta that is traditionally made from the randomly shaped scraps left over from other pastas. This time the meat sauce had a more straightforward flavor profile than its predecessor but was by no means less enjoyable. The porcine sapor of the sauce is enhanced by the bracing zip of fresh scallion a fitting partner for the with the rustic pasta
Bucatini Carbonara - Slow Poached Egg / Pancetta / Parmesan
As good as the other pastas were, Chef Bailey definitely saved the best for last. The pasta comes with a quivering poached egg nestled in the center. The flavor is straightforward by delectable, rich pancetta tempered by silky yolk with a liberal dose of black pepper for bite.
Truffle Burger - Onion Fondue / Boschetto / Truffle Aioli
One can never go wrong with a good burger, particularly a burger heightened with the aroma of truffles. The richly flavored beef, sweet onions, and vibrant greens reminded me of a Father's Office burger but with the earthy flavor of truffles and runny egg yolk.
Soft Polenta - Wild Mushrooms / Slow Poached Egg
Not sure how wise it was to end the savories with a heavy dish like polenta given how full we were. The polenta was spot on creamy and smooth, and it goes without saying poached eggs make everything better. The mushrooms were a touch salty on their own which made sense as the egg and polenta were quite mild on their own.
Chestnut Tiramisu - rum espresso / vanilla bean
Pot De Creme - Manjari Chocolate
Pot De Creme - Caramel
We were faced with another onslaught of courses to start dessert. First up were two pot de cremes and a tiramisu; enjoyable but nothing memorable.
Chocolate Tart - Tres Leches Gelato / Almond Crumble
A surprisingly restrained chocolate cake, I was expecting something dark and bitter to better contrast the tres leches and almond crumble. Instead the olive oil gives the cake a slightly floral savoriness that still paired quite nicely with the creamy sweetness of the ice cream.
"Deconstructed" White Russian - Vodka, Coffee Liquer, Cream
Not sure what makes this deconstructed as I've had layered White Russians before. Still the cocktail was fitting with dessert, offering the satisfying finish of coffee with a bit of kick to it.
Unfortunately I don't have enough experience with eggnog to make a relative comparison. On its own the drink had a slight thickness and a faint sweetness reminiscent of almonds and spice.
Seasonal Hot Toddy - Rum, Ginger, Honey, Gingerbread Bitters, Cinnamon
This drink was a bit much for even me. More than one person at the table likened this to Chinese herbal medicine and the heat didn't make it any better. A Hot Toddy might be a good sore throat remedy but I certainly didn't want one after being stuffed to the gills with sweets.
Chocolate Coulant - Toffee / Peanut Butter Ice Cream
I don't normally care for heavy chocolate desserts but this was easily the best of the evening. The chocolate coulant (fancy way of saying molten chocolate cake) is a bit overwhelming on its own; the blunt richness is well matched by the equally strong flavors of the toffee and peanut butter.
Apple & Pear Clafoutis - Brown Butter / Candied Brioche / Caramel Ice Cream
Despite being the only dessert to feature fruit (I somehow missed the key lime pie) this was just as heavy as many of the other sweets. The overall feel was reminiscent of an upscale apple pie a la mode. Immensely sugary, courtesy of the ripe fruit and caramel ice cream though I enjoyed the warm/cold interplay at work between the two.
As always Chef Bailey took exceedingly good care of us, the 20 courses ensured we were satiated and provided a comprehensive look at the new menu. As difficult as it was from a blogging point of view, the family style serving makes sense with Chef Bailey's cooking; down-to-earth and approachable, the food certainly reflects the demeanor of its creator. While not as refined as Petrossian, Fraiche's menu emphasizes bold delicious flavors that are better suited to a casual meal with friends. I look forward to returning under less hectic conditions with a smaller group and getting a larger helping of some of my favorites.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
9411 Culver Blvd.