9575 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035
Manzke's early appearance at Test Kitchen remains one of the strongest of the series, so there was no question that I would be around for his return trip. Having just returned from Spain, Manzke was inspired to whip up a tapas menu; quite the departure from his normal cooking style. His partner in crime was Perfeto Rocher, head chef of The Blvd, a native of Spain who worked at El Bulli before building an impressive resume here in the States.
01: Toastados "rich and poor" - Marcona almonds and fried chickpeas
This combination had its origins in Spanish class distinctions, rich people ate almonds while the poor ate chickpeas. The duo was toasty, crunchy, and salty, and for my part, I preferred the chickpeas.
02: Txakoli - Guindilla pepper, olive, boquerones
Coupled with the tostados was a shot of dry semy-bubbly txakoli with a piquant trio featuring guindilla, olive, and anchovy. Quite a punch for so small a morsel.
03: Iberico ham
04: Pan y Tomate - tomato bread, Arbequina olive oil
Iberico ham is just outstanding, the tenderness and oily rich flavor are unmatched. It seems a shame to saddle the meat with an accompaniment, but the acidity of the tomato proves to be the perfect foil for the ham.
05: Cava and Meyer lemon & Manchego Txurros
There are some classic pairings with sparkling wine but churros don't come to mind. Still this was quite an enticing pair, the cava is appreciably brightened by the tang of the lemon, bold yet refreshing. By contrast, the churro exhibited a nice sapor that reminded me of Chinese you tiao.
06: Papas Arrugadas - wrinkled potatoes, Mojo picon, mojo verde
Consensus across the table was more flavor. The potatoes had a nice texture but I was waiting for a punch heat and acidity but it never materialized
07: Two gazpachos
After a few classic tapas, the chefs get creative with this one serving an ajo blanco topped with a granite of traditional gazpacho. The granite was crucial adding lift and verve to the oleaginous white gazpacho.
08: Montadillo #1 - Kumomoto oyster and bone marrow
09: Montadillo #2 - sea urchin, garbanzo aioli
Oyster and marrow sounds like an incongruous paring but it worked here, the lightly cooked oyster took on a sweeter milder complexion while the marrow added a complimentary richness. The sea urchin and garbanzo looked positively mouthwatering but, the creamy aioli proved a bit too powerful reducing the presence of the uni to a vaguely sweet brine.
10: Coca - sardine, tomato confit, ginger ice cream
The rest of the table felt the ice cream was overly sweet but I thought it was a nice change of pace from the oiliness of the sardine.
11: Bunelos de Bacalao - fried salt cod and potato
I've always been indifferent towards salt cod, but this was superb, the salinity and texture of the fish are balanced by the heft of the potato.
12: Mariscos - bay scallops, mussels and clams
13: Gambas & Navajas - Spanish red prawn & razor clam a la plancha, Picaeta
14: Calcots - charcoal grilled green onions, romesco
Though labeled as three courses this could have easily been a single cohesive course. Across the board, the quality of the seafood was impeccable but for me the standout was the red prawn, the translucent creamy body of the shrimp is the perfect base for the potent tang of the innards.
15: Fideua - calamari, honey aioli
Based on his grandmother's recipe, this noodle-based paella-style dish is something of a signature for Chef Rocher. The savory sweet flavor was intriguing but there were a number of flaws: the overly strong raw garlic, the flaccid texture on the noodles, and the paucity of calamari.
16: Dorada - Mediterranean Sea Bream, baby spinach, pine nuts, raisins
This was simply a faultless course. The lightly crisped skin and deep flavor of the fish complimented by the tender baby spinach and pine nuts was good but it was the intermittent flashes of delicate sweetness from the raisins that elevated this dish.
17: Tortilla Espanol - blood sausage, soft egg, potato foam, chorizo oil
Never much of a fan, this may very well be the best blood sausage I've ever eaten. The blood sausage had a rich sapor more akin to traditional sausage than blood sausage. The egg and potato wraps the sausage in a silky second skin while the chorizo oil enhances its rich porcine sapor.
18: Cerdo - Pork Belly, Rioja Sauce
Remarkably restrained for a pork belly, the lean meat is substantially denser than I would have liked and the celery root puree served to further dampen the fatty pork.
19: Mel I Mato - fresh cheese, honey
The fresh goat cheese proved milder than most, slightly tart and gamy nice in conjunction with the drizzle of honey and quince "leather"
20: Crème Catalan - baked custard, cinnamon, tangerine
What started out looking like your garden variety crème brûlée proved to be one of the evening's stars. The unbridled acidity of the tangerine juice cuts through the decadently rich cream like a hot knife through butter.
"Mignardises" - Earl Grey Salted Caramel Macarons
These were unofficial petit fours provided by Christina of Food, Je T'aime. Equally brilliant in concept and execution the crumbly aromatic exterior screams elegance and refinement while the salted caramel adds a spark of levity and fun. This would be a welcome addition to any premier patisserie in Paris.
Naturally with a brand new 20 course menu there are going to be some misses; despite that, this proved to be thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Sunday, December 5, 2010
9575 W Pico Blvd