Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Test Kitchen | Closing Time - 12/13/2010

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

The only restaurants that I've been to twenty times are places like McDonald's and its ilk. That Test Kitchen can claim as many visits, in three and a half months no less, is a testament to the establishment's allure. Undoubtedly part of Test Kitchen's appeal is in its impending closure, adding a sense of urgency to each and every visit. To commemorate the final night, a number of the most prominent chefs were invited back for a charity dinner, a fitting capstone indeed.

Besides the featured chefs, many others who took a turn behind the Test Kitchen counter showed up to lend their support. Those that I saw in attendance included: Elderoy Arendse, Perfecto Rocher, Alex Reznik, Marcel Vigneron, and Adam Horton. Sadly with all the chaos, I was unable to get a photo of all the chefs at the end of the night.

Del Rio - Tequila, Orange, St. Germain
Breaking with tradition, the "secret" Del Rio was our only cocktail of the evening as we tried the rest two days earlier during the black and white truffle dinner. The Del Rio effectively blends the heady warmth of tequila with cool citrus and floral tones from the St. Germain.

Ricardo Zarate: Lobster Tartar - Cucumber Mango Ceviche Sauce, Caviar, Sweet Potato Chip
2009 Baker Lane Syrah Rosé
It seems inconceivable that in 20 visits this is the only course of Chef Zarate's that I've tasted at Test Kitchen, what with him being the restaurants "resident" chef. I expected the ceviche sauce to play a bigger role, but its acidity was muted; balanced by a sweet ginger flavor and delicate nature of the lobster. The tartare felt a bit warm, I suspect that the texture and flavor might have been sharper and more focused had the temperature been spot on. The rosé was fairly typical, floral nose, sweet on the mid-palate with a lightly herbal finish.

Alain Giraud: Oxtail Consomme - Mushroom Royale, Black Truffles
Next up was a marvelous oxtail consommé, sophisticated and enigmatic, the broth fuses the richness of oxtail with a subtle vegetal sapor. Adding substance to the soup is a quenelle of chicken and black truffle. The chicken might be the most flavorful of its kind that I've ever tasted, on par with the Capon at Guy Savoy, while the pure note of black truffle resonates on the finish with an earthy authority. The pairing was a sweeter Madeira, viscous dried fruit and almonds stand in stark relief to the stately character of the soup.

Walter Manzke: Scallops - Hazelnuts, Cauliflower
2008 Stoller Vineyards Dundee Hills Chardonnay
Ever since his first stint at Test Kitchen, Manzke's food has been firing on all cylinders for me and the trend continues here. It almost goes without saying that the scallop is perfectly cooked, the browned exterior hides a dense smooth center with an intoxicating sweet salinity. The sauce is composed of a dynamic fusion of apple and cauliflower, acidic and verdant, the two flavors ebb and flow in harmony with one another and the scallop. I've been warming to Chardonnay lately and I though this was an ideal pair for the course. The wine features enough butteriness to play with the scallop as well as a core of grassy minerality that linked to the apple and cauliflower.

Michael Voltaggio: "EcoPez" Turbot - Earth, Ash, & Sea
2009 Martian Ranch Santa Ynez Viognier
Last time I had Voltaggio's Turbot, he used it to showcase his proficiency with classic techniques. This was a return to his more familiar avant-garde style, highlighted by the use of "ash oil," a dusky earthy mix of cooked down leeks and mushrooms suspended in EVOO. In fact, I assumed "EcoPez" referred to some progressive environmentally-friendly candy, but it turns out to be the name of a company that raises seafood in an organic and sustainable manner. The Turbot itself is cooked in butter giving it a depth of flavor not often found in the relatively mild fish. An unabashedly salty mushroom chip drives the flavor to further heights while the seagrass adds a level of stunning textural grace. The result of this union is simply the most spectacular Turbot I've ever tasted.

Steve Samson & Zach Pollack: Toasted Wheat Strascinate - Lamb Ragu, Braised Greens, Pecorino
2008 Torbreck Woodcutter Shiraz
Scrascinate is a disc shaped pasta from Pugila Italy traditionally made from durum wheat which gives it a distinctive flavor. Though I thought the texture was a slight bit doughy, the flavor was indeed spot-on for this dish. More robust than other pastas, it stood up well to the rustic game of the lamb ragu. Lacking the subtlety of some of the earlier courses, the simple yet expressive pasta is well-suited to the bold Woocutter Shiraz. Incredibly jammy on the nose; the wine is equally animated on the palate, featuring sweet ripe fruit and a spicy heat.

Neal Fraser: Grilled Pork Tenderloin - Squash, Chestnuts, Bacon, Violet Mustard
2008 Josh Klapper La Fenêtre Pinot Noir
With regards to pork, I find that far too often tenderloin is anything but tender; instead my tastes run towards fattier cuts like bacon and pork belly. Fraser does an absolutely stellar job; the pork is utterly succulent and tender while the coating adds enough flavor to let the meat stand on its own. Some felt the squash and chestnuts were overly sweet, but I thought their sweetness was nicely attenuated by the bacon and mustard. The wine, a Pinot from the Santa Maria region was a bit rounder and riper, with less sour cherry and traditional notes.

Amy Pressman: Pear Pandowdy - Gingerbread Ice Cream, Pear Bourbon Hard Sauce
Intelligentsia Coffee
Though a bit monolithic, the dessert was softly spiced and soothing, giving it a fitting seasonal feel. The warm cooked pair and gingerbread ice cream demonstrated a harmonious union of flavor but offered enough textural and temperature contrasts to keep the dish interesting. The pear bourbon sauce was a good idea but I wish the flavor of the bourbon showed through a bit more.

Jonathan Grahm of Compartes Chocolatier - Special flavors created for Test Kitchen
Though there were three flavors: Macallan 18, rosemary truffle, and raspberry ganache; we were only given a duo of chocolates. One was a classic combination of sweet vibrant raspberry with a finish of bitter dark chocolate while the other featured a prominent alcoholic heat courtesy of the Scotch.

Fittingly the last night of Test Kitchen was also the costliest, trumping the previous record made just two nights ago during the truffle dinner.

I'll say this for the Test Kitchen; they sure know how to throw a farewell dinner. The food was arguably the best of my twenty trips, with the consommé and Turbot being the best of their kind. While it is a bit sad losing what has become a regular dining spot; I look forward to trying Picca, Sotto, and the new bar that are taking its place.

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