Friday, December 16, 2011

Pri-vē @ Tiato - 12/15/2011

2700 Colorado Ave
Santa Monica, CA 90404
(310) 866-5228

When I first heard about a molecular gastronomy menu in Orange County I thought it was either a mistake or a disaster waiting to happen. Then when I found out the meal was at the trendy noodle bar AnQi, a mall restaurant no less, I nearly fell out of my chair laughing. To my immense surprise, the dinner turned out to be the best meal that I've had to date in Orange County and I've been a fan of the chef, Ryan Carson, ever since. With his talent, I knew it was only a matter of time before he struck out on his own, so when I learned about Pri-vē, I knew I had to be there.

Carson has worked in the kitchen since the age of 15. He got his start at the Disneyland Resort working under Bill Orton where his hard work and talent netted him a Sous position at the age of 19. Staying within the Disneyland Resort umbrella, Carson then worked with Andrew Sutton as part of the pre-opening team at Napa Rose, another of Orange County's best restaurants. Carson then moved up to wine country, working as a Sous for Robert Mondavi's Golden Vine Winery. He remained there until graduating from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. From there he worked at a number of top restaurants: Gary Danko, Aqua, and Jardinere before returning to Napa Rose. Ryan then enjoyed a four year run as executive chef at Ambrosia before joining up with the An family, of Crustacean fame, and heading kitchen at AnQi.

Like most pop-ups, Pri-vē takes over a restaurant that doesn't have a regular dinner service. In this case Ryan and his partner Matt Ranney have opted to occupy Tiato, the An Family's market garden cafe. In addition to being a kind show of support for Carson, the An family again shows their business acumen, using these three dinners as a way to show of Tiato as a potential venue for other pop-ups.

welcome dish, compliments of master chef, helene an, "mama" - cherry tomato, crab and cucumber soup
The starter was a variation on a crab stuffed tomato. The tart cherry tomato is stuffed with a creamy sweet shredded crab filling. This is then contrasted with a refreshing herbaceousness from the cucumber soup.

champagne & caviar
This was one of the most enjoyable single bites at the previous dinner so I was glad to see it return for an encore. For the most part the dish remains the same, but at the last minute Carson and Ranney opted to forgo the fizzy, and go for a cleaner presentation instead. Without the chocolate, the champagne gel tasted markedly sweeter, but the caviar dominated on the finish, giving the bite a lingering fishiness. More importantly the fizzy recreates the effervescent mouth feel of champagne and without it the dish felt much flatter and less complex.

octopus mosaic - squid ink noodle, tomato dashi, eggplant, white asparagus, chorizo
'09 domaines merlin cherrier, sancere
This was one of those dishes where I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. Individually the components on the plate are quite good; I particularly enjoyed the smoky essence and biting chill of the eggplant ice cream as well as the succulent snap of the white asparagus. Taken together, I kept expecting more definition from the various flavors instead of the overarching piquant sapor from the tomato dashi.

iberico ham - tuscan melons, manchego, soy-balsamic gel, sour olive oil, black sesame
'10 domaines ott, bandol
With this dish Carson riffs the classic ham & melon combination. The sweetness of the fruit matches up beautifully with the decadently oily ham while the liquid manchego adds a complimentary sharpness to the ham. For me the best part of the dish was the sour olive oil which tasted a lot like SweeTarts candy. This was one of the most successful dishes of the night, maintaining the integrity of the original while adding a delicious touch of whimsy.

all things oyster - chicken, plant, mushroom, mignonette, coconut pearl, sea vapor
'10 belleruche, cotes-du-rhone
Here we have the single most effective use of flavored vapor that I've ever seen. Rather than a floral note like lavender or vanilla Carson uses a brine that summons images of standing on the beach enjoying the salt in the air. The dish itself is a visual play on an oyster in the half shell with a priced chicken "oyster" standing in for the real thing. The firm flavorful chicken was augmented with a hint of truffle as well as a starchy weight from the plant. Quite delicious, but having just had a brilliant mock oyster I was hoping for a similar flavor profile here.

head to tail - radishes, wax beans, sea bean, brown butter, sweet & sour tangerine
'10 kings estate, pinot noir, oregon
Featuring a pressed pig's head terrine and a braised then fried pig's tail, there was no way this dish could be bad. Though I loved the heady fried flavor of the tail, I preferred the terrine with its unadulterated porcine richness. Texturally the two couldn't be more different, the tail came coated in a crunchy batter reminiscent of Carl's Jr onion rings while the head was a combination of gellied bits and tender meat. The pork was surprisingly restrained, but I still enjoyed the vegetal contrast and crunch of the beans and radishes.

steak & potatoes - celeriac creamed spinach, black garlic, bone marrow custard, truffled ‘tater tots’
'09 bodega colone, malbec, mendoza, argentina
This proved to be my favorite course of the night because of how well everything went together. The star was a beautifully tender sous vided filet that would have been at home in any upscale steakhouse. What sets this apart from most preparations is despite the fact that the sides are fairly traditional (potato and spinach) they actually make the dish stronger. The bone marrow custard was nicely restrained, accentuating the steak's flavor without feeling overwhelmingly heavy while the tots had a gnocchi like heft and pleasing whiff of truffle. The creamed spinach and mushroom were equally important, adding a bitter earthy counterpoint to the meat.

chocolate - banana milk shake, ‘chewy’ peanut butter ice cream, pretzel powder, celery
alcyone, urugyuan tannat
Dessert centered around a flexible chocolate ganache coupled with a "chewy" peanut butter than had been infused with flour. Even on their own, the chocolate and peanut butter aren't overly sweet or heavy, but the savoriness of the pretzel and verdant temper of the celery further balanced the duo. In fact the sweetest item on the plate was the milkshake gel with its concentrated essence of ripe banana.

It was good to get reacquainted with Chef Carson's food after nearly a year. As always flavor remains sacrosanct but compared to the 16 course menu at AnQi, Pri-vē falls a bit short in terms of scope and ambition. Carson is still cooking at a high level and though some of the concepts here felt a bit less polished, I am confident Ryan, Matt, and Erick will figure it out in time.


Anonymous said...

I love your blog! Quite often, it leaves me wishing I was in LA. I've always wondered, how do you fund these outings? Thanks!

Epicuryan said...

Thanks. If you don't mind my asking where do you live? I have a day job as an engineer and food takes up an inordinate amount of my discretionary income.

Anonymous said...

I live in Palo Alto. Aha yeah, food takes up more money than it should on a student budget.

Epicuryan said...

Yikes Palo Alto is not a cheap place to live and dining on a student budget makes things tough.

My idea of good food during college was Del Taco and the Big New Yorker from Pizza Hut. I can't imagine what kind of meals you are going to be going to once you start working if you eat well now.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, food has always been my monetary drain. Cheap it for a month at dining then go for some good food. Do you have any recommendations for places that are relatively reasonable in pricing?

//Sushi kid.

Epicuryan said...

Unfortunately I don't know many in Palo Alto. I'm primarily LA based, so if you need recommendations here I'd be happy to help.