Monday, April 30, 2012

5x5 Collaborative Dinner | Melisse - 04/29/2012

1104 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 395-0881

I first learned about the 5x5 dinners back in 2008 when I was starting to get into fine dining.  The meals provide an opportunity for some LA's top chefs to work together by taking turns cooking at each other's restaurants.  This year's group include veterans: Josiah Citrin(Mélisse), Michael Cimarusti(Providence), and Gino Angelini(Angelini Osteria) as well as newcomers Michael Voltaggio(ink) and Rory Herrmann(Bouchon).  The dinners also always feature a sixth guest chef and for the first dinner of 2012 it was none other than Ludo Lefebvre of LudoBites fame.  As always a portion of the dinner's proceeds are donated to Special Olympics of Southern California.  Typically the meals are spaced about a month apart; the exact dining times are shown below.

Sunday, April 29: Melisse, with guest chef Ludo Lefebvre  (LudoBites)
Monday, May 21: Providence, with guest chef Jeremy Fox (Ubuntu)
Monday, July 16: Angelini Osteria, with guest chef Michael Tusk
Monday, August 20: Bouchon, with guest chef TBA (Quince)
Sunday, September 16: ink., with guest chef Chris Cosentino (Pigg at Umamicatessen)

Foie Gras and Rhubarb with Dehydrated Whey and Citrus
This was a play on one of Citrin's classic canapes, instead of the pistachio and goat cheese encrusted grape, we have rolled foie gras terrine and rhubarb gelee.  This reminded me of a gentrified pb&j, the same savory-sweet interplay but heightened with an offally richness thanks to the foie.

Amuse: Crisp Chicken Skin, Raw Milk Curd, Aged and Fermented Beets, Shaved Macadamia, Chilled Pea, Yogurt Sphere, Meyer Lemon Air | Josiah Citrin, Mélisse
As always the chef from the host restaurant is responsible for the amuse.  We were advised to start with the a surprisingly complex shot of pea soup.  The Meyer lemon froth and zest opens the dish with a sugary front that fades in favor of the vegetal broth which is enhanced by a sour burst from the yogurt.  The chip was equally nuanced with the heady sapor of the chicken skin deftly tempered by the rustic tang of the curd and beets.

01: Fluke Sashimi, Fluke Fin and Geoduck Clam, Crème Fraîche, Yuzu Kosho, Crispy Puffed Rice | Michael Cimarusti, Providence
Providence's maestro definitely plays to his strengths with this dish.  The trio of raw fish shows off some superb textural contrast from the tender fleshy fluke, to the oily suppleness of the engawa, and finishing with a brine-kissed crunch from the clam.  I've struggled pairing raw fish with creamy accompaniments but I found the weight of the crème fraîche to be a very comfortable accompaniment as was the seaweed-tinged savor of the puffed rice.

02: Eastern Squid, Ink, Ash and Baby French Leeks | Ludo Lefebvre, LudoBites
With bold cerebral contrasts of flavor and textures, this dish was straight up Ludo.  The squid noodles have a gentle salinity that pairs well with the aromatic char of the leeks and ash.  The creamy miso provides a funky sweetness that cuts through the bitter elements on the plate.

03: Homemade Spaghetti Chitarra Alla Norcina, Sausage, Spring Truffles, Parmigiano-Reggiano | Gino Angelini, Angelini Osteria
Sometimes the simplest dishes are the most effective.  Angelini is rightly known for his handmade pasts and the spaghetti certainly does his reputation justice; especially dense but still has the perfect al dente toothsomeness.  The resulting dish isn't going to win any awards for innovation, but its hard to discount the allure of luxurious truffles coupled with the meaty twang of the meat and cheese.

04: Wild Black Bass, Egg Yolk Dumplings, Porcini Dashi | Michael Voltaggio, ink
I was a bit wary about the slightness of the fish but the bass proved to be one of the night's standouts.  The exterior of the fish exhibited a rough crispness though the core remained flaky and moist.  The fish had an unexpected savory gravitas that was augmented by the umami relish of the earthy broth.  The egg dumplings were actually made entirely from egg yolk and reminded me of a slightly dense scrambled egg.  The center remained a touch runny and I appreciated the emulsifying effect it had on the broth.   Everything on the plate had a purpose, even the grass which contributed a lively succulent crunch.

05: Dégustation de Lapin, Devil's Gulch Rabbit, Sweet Carrots, Fava Beans, Young Onions, Rosemary Scented Rabbit Jus | Rory Herrmann, Bouchon
The final dish of the night was a trio of rabbit: loin, rack, and moussé.  Though not a traditional mirepoix, the beans, carrots, and onions felt like a natural if generic accompaniment to the meat.  Tasty but a bit blunt, I couldn't help but compare this to the rabbit at French Laundry.

06: Chocolate, Caramel, Strawberry, Wild Fennel | Ken Takayama, Mélisse
Dessert is also the purview of the hosting restaurant.  In this case Mélisse's CdC Ken Takayama dusted off his pastry experience to create a dessert both whimsical yet approachable.  At the center of the chocolate bowl was a fudgy chocolate cake with strawberries.  Over the top the staff poured a sugary strawberry puree as well as nitro caramel dippin' dots which when melted merged seamlessly with the puree.  The wild fennel provides a subtly elegant touch of herbaceousness to the otherwise straightforward yet delicious combination.

I've been to a number of 5x5s in the past and the chefs always seem to step up their game for the event.  I've always found the 5x5 dinners to be a brilliant concept; the chefs genuinely seem to have a good time and diners get to conveniently sample some of LA's top chefs while supporting a worthy cause.


Aaron said...

I have fond memories of that 5x5 dinner we went to back in 2008. Despite the awful service, we got to hang out a bit with the chefs after closing. Good times.

Epicuryan said...

Fond memories indeed. I think they've gotten a lot smoother, though there were still some lulls nothing like the old days.

Anonymous said...

Great Pictures and Comments! Glad you enjoyed.