Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Campanile - 10/29/2012

624 South La Brea Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 938-1447

After 23 years in operation, Campanile will be closing its doors at the end of October. Though I'd known about Campanile for a number of years, the staid menu always turned me off, still it felt wrong not to try the restaurant at least once before its closure.

Very few restaurants make it two decades in Los Angeles, so it's when one closes. What makes Campanile's closure even more unfortunate is the fact that it has less to do with declining sales and is more of an object lesson of the dangers of going into business with family. You see, the building that houses the restaurant is owned by Larry Silverton, Mark Peel's former father-in-law who decided not to renew Peel's lease. Instead the space will be turned over to Walter Manzke who plans to use it for Republique, his bistronomy concept.

The restaurant along with La Brea Bakery were opened by the then husband and wife team of Mark Peel and Nancy Silverton in 1989. One of the earliest adopters of California cuisine, Peel started his career with Wolfgang Puck at Ma Maison before stints at La Tour d'Argent and Le Moulin de Mougins in Europe. Returning to California. Peel would spend a year at Chez Panisse before leaving to open Spago (yes that Spago).

Recent news aside, the building that houses Campanile has quite a history of its own. Built in 1929 for Charlie Chaplin, he never had the opportunity to occupy the space before losing it in his divorce to his "child bride", Lita Grey. The dining area of the restaurant is built into an "alley" between two wings of the building giving the space a very European feel. One side of the building is dominated by an open kitchen and bar the other houses the original La Brea Bakery.

Sazerac - rye whiskey, cognac, peychaud bitters, absinthe rinse
Moscow Mule - vodka, ginger beer, lime
Pancho Victoria - reposado tequila, fresh grapefruit juice, fresh lime juice, kaffir lime-ginger syrup, float of lagavulin
Campanile's cocktail list has a surprising blend of classic and contemporary creations. I opted for a Sazerac, the timeless coupling of stiff rye whiskey with notes of citrus and licorice. The Moscow Mule turned out to be one of the better preparations I've had. Pretty typical features of effervescence, spicy ginger, and citrus but somehow more focused that I'm used to. The Pancho Victoria was the best of a strong trio. Even before taking a drink I was struck by the smoky peat of the Lagavulin. This is followed swiftly by the blend of fruit juices though the whiskey and tequila come to the fore on the finish.

Strawberry Salad - mixed greens, Humbolt Fog, strawberry & white balsamic vinaigrette
This was a surprisingly effective salad. The lightly bitter greens are brightened appreciably by the tangy crunch of the pickled onions. Meanwhile the strawberries provide a burst of jammy sweetness heightened by the contrasting notes of astringency and acidity.

Pickled Deviled Eggs - crispy bacon, chives
A fairly prototypical deviled egg the creamy yolk pairs nicely with the smoky crunch of the bacon and zest of the chives.

Duck Meatballs - shaved parmesan, torn basil
The meatballs certainly tasted better than they looked. The lightly packed ground duck meat oozes with meaty savor while the sauce adds a spicy kick to the mix.

White Bean Puree - balsamic reduction, olive oil, parsley, crostini
The puree has a dense starchy texture and smoky smack reminiscent of pinto beans. Perhaps not the most complimentary comparison but I enjoyed this dish despite my general disinterest for beans.

Fresh Sheep’s Milk Cheese Ravioli - wild mushrooms, tomato cream sauce
This was the least successful dish of the night. The tomato sauce was bright and tasty but far to intense, and its monolithic flavor handily overwhelmed any nuance the wild mushrooms might have added.

Sauteed Trenne - garlic, shallots, bitter greens, bolognese
The trenne was arguably my favorite dish of the night. The pasta itself has a dense texture while the browned sections conveyed a crunchy toastiness. The mixture of bitter greens and the weighty sapor of the braised meat made for a direct yet delicious combination.

Pasta Carbonara - pancetta, cream, cracked pepper, gruyere
Its hard to screw up this working man's pasta of cream, cheese, bacon, and pepper but conversely its hard to make one that stands out either. Peel's version was tasty enough but lacked the poached egg that I've seen on other preparations.

Viva La Raza - passion fruit, agave nectar, lime juice, jalapeno tequila
Aviation - plymouth gin, maraschino liqueur, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, crème de violette
Alexandria’s Sour - Kaffir lime syrup, vodka, pressed lemon, topped with champagne
I've been especially partial to Campanile's tequila-based cocktails and the La Raza with its energetic blend of tropical fruit and chili was easily the best drink of the night. I struggled with the Aviation, finding the combination of cherry and violet liqueurs a bit like a urinal cake. The final drink had the refreshing levity of a sour augmented by the residual effervescence of the champagne.

Olive Oil Poached Salmon - beluga lentils, wild arugula, parsley pesto
This dish shows of some real finesse with the olive oil adding the slightest floral essence while the arugula and pesto give provide depth of flavor without overwhelming the fish. Unexpectedly, the tender lentils contrast wonderfully with the lithe texture of the fish.

Grilled Striped Bass - grilled broccolini, kalamata olives, blistered cherry tomatoes
After Starry Kitchen I've come to appreciate a good grilled Striped Bass. The fish has an oily sheen but mild flavor that lends itself well to the smoky flavor imparted by the grilling. Similarly prepared vegetables amplify the char while simultaneously imparting acidity and bitterness.

Pan-Seared Scallops - creamy polenta, vanilla butter carrots, asparagus, wild arugula
The triple dose of sweetness from the polenta, vanilla, and carrots was a bit clumsy, but taken alone, the scallops are superb, buttery sweet with beautiful caramelization wrapped around a still rare center.

Aged USDA Prime Rib - flageolet beans, bitter greens, black olive tapenade
This was more like a rib eye than a prime rib. Regardless of the name, the meat was tender and flavorful, with a restrained earthiness from the olive. A solid steak, but the beans and greens didn't add much to the dish.

Welschriesling ‘Zwischen Den Seen,’ TBA #7, Kracher 375ml 2004
A fantastic TBA that is just entering its drinking window. The golden viscous liquid abounds with layers of honey, candied stone fruits, and pineapple tinged with a grapefruit-like freshness.

Apple Cheddar Tart - rum caramel, vanilla ice cream
I know adding cheddar to an apple tart or pie is quite commonplace but I thought the cheese's light savor interfered with the sweetness of the apples making the dessert feel a bit flat.

White Chocolate Saffron Crème Caramel - strawberries, candied almonds
I'm a sucker for creme caramel and the nuanced flavors of white chocolate and saffron coupled with the exquisite texture made this one a superb example of the dessert.

Seasonal Sorbet - lemon honey sorbet, blueberry compote, roasted pineapple
Light but flavorful, this dessert deftly showed off the versatility of fruit, from the resonant tang of the lemon to the ripe sweetness of the pineaple.

Housemade Ice Cream - chocolate lavender, chocolate sauce, brownie bites
Most of the meal has been fairly straightforward but this was a bit too simplistic. The brownies and ice cream feel more suited to a home cooked meal than a restaurant. The lavender might have been a nice touch but its delicate flavor is lost under all the chocolate.

Boca Negra - chocolate sauce, orange buttermilk sherbet
For serious chocolate lovers! This cake is loaded with a ridiculous of bitter chocolatey richness to which the scoop of sherbet provides an absolutely bracing tangy contrast

I feared the food would be a bit tired, but the simple flavors, fresh ingredients, and precise execution made for an enjoyable if not innovative meal. Though I am happy that Manzke is finally opening his own place, I can't help but lament the loss of this iconic LA restaurant.

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Fat Cow - 09/30/2012

189 The Grove Dr
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 900-8080

After an unexpectedly strong meal at Gordon Ramsay Steak in Las Vegas I was excited to try Fat Cow, Ramsay's new gastropub at The Grove. Though I would have preferred something upscale, but the name Fat Cow pretty much guaranteed that this would be a more casual restaurant. Though Ramsay owns the restaurant he doesn't actually have much to do with running the place. Instead the kitchen is under the leadership of Mathew Woolf, though he was a last minute replacement after investors forced out the original chef.

Chupacabra - dos manos blanco, lime, jalapeno, ginger beer, shaken and served tall with a chile-salt rim
Smoke and spice and everything nice... the drink has a Mezcal-like flavor with plenty of verdant spice. After the initial assault of smoke and heat this drink reveals an tart effervescent balance making this my favorite of the three opening cocktails.

Elderflower Spritz - cocchi americano, elderflower, soda, served over ice in a wine glass with an orange slice and lemon wedge
With the relatively low alcohol of the cocchi americano and elderflower liqueur, this was almost like a vinous floral soda. Perhaps a splash of gin with its aromatics would give the drink some weight without disrupting the drink's floral grace.

Fat Cow "Manhattan" - bulleit rye, byrrh grand quinquina, stirred and served up with cherries and an orange peel
A clever play on a timeless cocktail, the Fat Cow variation maintains the classic flavor profile but replaces the vermouth and bitters with Byrrh, a red wine-based aperitif mixed with botanicals and spices.

Branzino Ceviche - avocado, horseradish, ginger dressing
Both the cut of the fish, and muted acidity make this dish more of a crudo than a true ceviche. I enjoyed the creamy avocado and sting of the horseradish but I thought the coating of oil gave the fish an unnecessarily slimy texture.

Chilled Tomato & Red Pepper Gazpacho - cucumber, olive tapenade
In true gazpacho fashion, the creamy soup is delightfully cool and refreshing while the bounty of fresh vegetables underneath provide crystallizing accents of texture and flavor.

Mini Beef Sliders - short rib & kobe, cheddar
Fairly boring at first glance, the blend of short rib and kobe is both juicy and flavorful. The heady char of the patty is deftly tempered by the classic vegetable accompaniments.

Mac & Cheese - elbow pasta, cheddar cream, truffle
Though not quite as impressive as GR Steak's preparation, this Mac & Cheese was no slouch. The essence of truffle dances on the edge of the palate obscured by the blue cheese essence of the cream sauce. The peas provide a sharp verdant counterpoint to the otherwise weighty side.

Charcuterie & Cheese - cured meats, farm house cheese
A relatively safe but enjoyable plate of meat and cheese that featured coppa, prosciutto, and a duck salami as well as two cheeses.

Brown Cow - vizcaya dark rum, lime, mint, angostura bitters, sparkling wine, shaken and served up with a mint sprig
A fairly tasty rum drink, the burn of the alcohol is hidden beneath a ripe tartness akin to suan mei or preserved sour plum.

Perfect 10 - ketel one, hangar one buddha's hand, passion fruit ice tea, mint, lemon juice, built and served long
The one sip I had of this drink tasted like what I can only describe as Skittles. This might be a good choice if you like sugary drinks but it wasn't for me.

Fish & Chips - cod, beer batter, tartar sauce
I've never been a huge fan of fish and chips but considering where we were, it felt wrong not to order it. I found the batter a bit thick for my tastes but the underlying cod was tasty enough especially with the tartar sauce.

Coppa Picante, Figs - fontina cheese, roasted garlic, roasted figs
I almost always order Margherita pizza when I see it on the menu. This time around we opted to try something a bit more interesting. The figs burst with ripe sweetness but the plentiful slices of salty fatty coppa and the astringency of the Fontina provided a sufficiently savory counterweight.

Gordon's Shepherds Pie - braised lamb, yukon potato mash
It would have been a travesty had the kitchen gotten this one wrong. Fortunately the pie was spot-on, melding the hearty stew- like warmth of the lamb with the creamy starchy heft of the potato.

Warwick "First Lady" Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, South Africa
I don't have too much experience with South African wines but the "First Lady" certainly made a good impression. Nothing remarkably deep or complex, but the wine has the classic elements of a cab, medium-to-full body with lush fruit and oaky vanilla.

Flat Iron Steak, Haystack Fries - grass fed beef, bleu cheese butter
The Flat Iron, a relatively new steak that comes from the shoulder muscle, has been gaining popularity at upscale restaurants around the country. The shoulder typically has lots of connective tissue running through it but the Flat Iron is cut from in such a way that eliminates the gristle leaving a cut of beef that is second to the tenderloin in terms of tenderness. The flavor is on the delicate side, but the funk of the bleu cheese was more than made up for it.

Pepper Crusted Wood Roasted Long Rib - waldorf salad, minted fingerling potatoes
Though already satiated, my curiosity demanded we try this. The meat was fork tender and came free of the bone with little more than a quick shake. The fat-laden rib meat is slightly alleviated by the aroma of lemongrass or some other herb and the minty kick of the fingerlings. Unfortunately the salad, which should have been the most effective moderating element, was completely ineffective thanks to the mayo dressing.

Cookie Milk Ice Cream Sundae
It was hard to go wrong with this combination of two classic desserts. Chunks of cookie hidden within the rich chocolate ice cream provide a vivid textural contrast.

Treacle Tart
This was my first experience with this traditional British dessert. The buttery crust is topped with a richly sweet filling made from a sugar syrup called golden syrup or light treacle.

Sticky Toffee Pudding
Like the Mac & Cheese, the Toffee pudding was a lesser version of a dish that we had at GR Steak. Fat Cow's preparation lacked the brown butter ice cream but still had an overwhelming caramelized sugariness.

After GR Steak I was hoping that Fat Cow would offer a contemporary spin on pub fare though perhaps the restaurant's traditional take is better suited to the clientele at The Grove. Our meal was enjoyable enough but with so many "gourmet" gastropubs in the city, Fat Cow doesn't do enough to warrant a trip back.

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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Gordon Ramsay Steak - 09/22/2012

3655 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109
(702) 946-4663

You'd think after my last trip to the London I'd be through with Gordon Ramsay, but somehow we found ourselves at his brand new steakhouse in the Paris Hotel which displaced Les Artistes Steak House (insert witty comment about a Brit taking over Paris, and yes Gordon's image is plastered on the Arc de Triomphe outside the casino). The interior of the restaurant has been completely changed from its days as Les Artistes. The bar area is modeled after a London Tube station, while the main dining room has a sexy red motif. Oddly the private dining room on the second floor remains largely unchanged with wood paneling and drab brown walls

Side Car - Hennessey VSOP, Orange Curacao, Apricot Jam, Bitter, Lemon Juice
The first time I had a Side Car I likened it to an adult orange juice. Unfortunately the jam was a bit much, dulling the bright citrus levity I was hoping to find.

English Garden - Hendricks Gin, Lemon, Basil, Cucumber, Basil Infused Rock Candy, Celery Bitters
I'm a sucker for cucumber based cocktails so this was a no-brainer. While the mix of vegetables certainly made this one of the more intriguing cocktails, I thought the intensity of the celery needed to be dialed back a notch.

Strawberry Martini - Bombay Gin, Lemon, Strawberries
We ordered this extra sweet and the resulting cocktail came out tasting like fresh strawberries and little else.

The Drifter - Paris LV Proprietary Knob Creek Barrel #77, Ginger Liquer, Falernum, Lemon, Bitters
Hands down the best cocktail of the quintet, The Drifter has a balanced sweet and sour profile with a slight boozy kick from the bourbon.

Pimm's Cup - Pimm’s No. 1, Sparkling Lemonade
I always thought there was more to this than just lemonade, but the mix proved to be a lightly effervescent and fruity, not overly complex, but a wonderful summer cocktail.

2011 I.V.I.S.p.A.-Canelli Moscato d'Asti Risata
We went with a sweeter sparkler to suit the palate of one of my companions. A pretty straightforward Asti, plenty of floral sweetness with plenty of bubbles, more than one friend likened it to alcoholic Sprite.

Short Rib Tortellini - bay scallops, foie gras emulsion, Sausalito watercress
The tortellini proved to be a wonderful start to the meal. The short rib filling is immensely flavorful and the meat's natural richness is augmented by the foie gras emulsion. The rest of the dish proved to be just as engaging with the scallops providing a striking jolt of brine and the watercress adding a nice vegetal pepperiness.

Market Green Salad - butter lettuce, crisp pancetta, market greens, shropshire blue cheese, tomato raisins, green goddess dressing
I can't fathom why one of my companions insisted on ordering this course. A relatively pedestrian salad, the savor of the fried pancetta and tang of the dressing are nice but not enough to make this stand out against the other appetizers.

Asparagus Soup - dungeness crab, parmesan custard, pickled white asparagus, smoked salmon caviar
The bright green hue foreshadowed the resonant verdance of the broth. The crab was a classic companion, the sweet shellfish and bitter asparagus play off of and amplify one another. The masterstroke was the salmon caviar, brazenly salty with a saline pop to dilute the creamy vegetable soup.

Smoked Beef Tartare - lemon zest, red onion, capers, guinness infused mustard seeds, yukon gold herb chips
The tartare is brought to the table under a glass dome filled with hazy smoke and as soon as the lid is lifted the smell of burning wood makes its presence felt. The meat still bears a strong woody bite adding complexity to a textbook steak tartare.

Maine Lobster - chorizo stuffed maine lobster, butter poached, brandied lobster cream sauce, sweet corn
I liked the idea of a chorizo stuffed lobster, but the execution didn't quite live up to my expectations. Though the sausage added a weighty savor, the texture of the lobster felt a bit off. The bisque-like cream sauce brings the lobster back to the fore while the corn helps tease out the shellfish's inherent sweetness.

Heirloom Tomato - jamón ibérico de bellota, piccalilli purèe ticklemore cheese, champagne vinaigrette, basil crystals
We probably would have skipped this course if not for the strong recommendation from our server. The ibérico makes all the difference with an oily slickness and rich salty funk that contrast and augment the succulent sweetness of the tomatoes.

2010 Bodega Catena Zapata Malbec Argentino High Mountain Vines
This was an easy drinking red with plenty of juicy berry fruit with chocolate and oak as well as sensation of florid softness lurking in the mix.

Rather than order individual mains, my party opted to do a "steak tasting" and the restaurant was more than happy to oblige even kindly pre-cutting the steaks for easier sharing.

Prime Beef: Bone-in Rib Eye 24oz
The Black Angus cuts come from Pat LaFreida, a New York meat purveyor who dry ages the meat for 28 days in a Himalayan salt room. Being the greedy bastard that I am, I went straight for the rib cap. The meat had a profound richness to it thanks to the higher fat content, though I would have liked the dry-aged character to be more apparent.

Prime Beef: New York Strip 18oz
This was my favorite of our initial trio. The meat has a muscular firmness but doesn't feel tough and the flavor is a bit more complex with plenty of char and the sweet nutty bovine sapor to balance the buttery flavor of the fat.

Prime Beef: Filet 8oz
Completing the first part of our steak tasting was the filet. Easily the tenderest of the trio, but downright boring flavor-wise.

Sautéed Asparagus - chanterelle, white asparagus puree, veal demi-glace
Fire Roasted Corn - corn, chile, lime
Spinach - sautéed or gratinéed with parmesan cream
Mac & Cheese - blue, cheddar, parmesan, truffle
Sautéed Mushrooms - garlic chips, scallions, bonito
Fingerling Potatoes - parmesan, truffle
At first glance the sides seem like your typical steakhouse fare, but aside from the spinach and asparagus they were all quite delicious. I thought the mushrooms stood out thanks to the umami-laced smokiness of the bonito, a wonderful nuance atop the earthy pungency of the fleshy shrooms. A number of my companions thought the Mac & Cheese was the best they'd ever tasted and I can see why, the pasta was cooked to the perfect consistency while the medium-bodied sauce has a pleasing truffle laden silkiness that didn't feel overly heavy. Corn with chili and lime isn't anything groundbreaking but that didn't make the bright blend of heat and acid any less delicious.

2003 Ramey Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain
Though I've been shying away from fruit bomb cabs this one had enough complexity to keep things interesting. The abundance of ripe plum on the nose and attack can be a bit overbearing but if one looks past that there are also coffee and tobacco notes as well as a bit of cedar.

American Kobe: Rib Cap 8oz
Consisting of the upper part of the Rib Eye, this was far and away the best steak of the night. The coarse loose muscle fibers are threaded with plenty of fat but still exude a wonderful beefiness.

American Kobe: Filet 8oz
Filet has never been my favorite cut of beef, though tender the flavor leaves much to be desired. This was everything one would expect from a filet writ large; biting through the meat feels positively sensual, but the flavor was absurdly dull compared to the rib cap that I'd eaten previously.

Roasted Beef Wellington - glazed root vegetables, potato puree, red wine demi glace
After a disastrous experience at the London West Hollywood, we were eager to see if Ramsay could redeem him signature dish. To his credit this was quite delicious, the tenderloin was medium rare with a rich meaty tang heightens by the sauce and covered with a flaky buttery wrapping. The accompaniments of vegetables and mashed potato don't add much but that simplicity makes it easier to appreciate the Wellington

Fish and Chips - loup de mer, truffle chips, crème fraiche tarter sauce
Made with Branzino, this was a nicely gentrified take on fish and chips. The loup de mer is a bit more complex than your typical working class fare and the it showed in the supple texture and nuanced briny sapor. As much as I enjoyed the fish, the chips were the star of the dish for me, crisp and light with plenty of truffle aroma

2007 Maculan Torcolato
This was my first time having botrytised Italian wine but the flavor was quite familiar. The honeyed elixir has plenty of stone fruit on the nose. There is certainly plenty of sweetness on the palate but with a dose of acidity to keep things lively.

Melon Panna Cotta - citrus cantaloupe panna cotta, parisian melon balls, honeydew consommé, watermelon sorbet
A delightful summer treat, the mix of melons feels airy and lush, while the panna cotta adds a bit of weight and tartness to balance out the sugary aspect of the melons.

Cheesecake - cheesecake, blueberry compote, graham cracker crumb, strawberry granita, micro basil
I thought this dessert sounded a bit gimmicky but the execution was marvelous. The various elements came together in a cohesive well-integrated whole. The heft of the cream cheese and graham cracker is balanced by the tangy sweetness of the fruit while the basil adds a subtle herbal fragrance.

Peach Trio - Ruby peach ice cream sandwiches, warm peach pie with streusel and white peach sorbet
The three peaches all carry a floral sweetness albeit with some very nuanced differences. My favorite were the tiny ice cream sandwiches thanks to the stark textural contrast of the cookies with the creamy filling. The heavy use of stonefruit made this the most cogent pairing with the wine.

Caramel "Banoffee" - banana toffee tarts, chocolate cremeaux, coffee ice cream, cocoa nib, cotti thyme
I expected to struggle with this dessert on account of the bananas, but their flavor was nicely balanced by the rest of the dessert. The bitterness of the coffee feels almost savory and certainly stands out among the toffee and banana.

Chocolate Layers - chocolate cake, passion fruit ganache layers, dark chocolate gianduja ice cream
Not the first time I've had chocolate and passion fruit and I'm certain it won't be the last. The wildly disparate flavors play off one another with their focus seemingly heightened by the contrast.

Bing Cherry Upside Down Cake - cherry upside down cake crème fraiche anglaise, cherry compote, pistachio ice cream with praline grains
The cake is moist, dense, and dripping with ripe cherry flavor while the distinct aroma of pistachio feels especially profound against the backdrop of the cake.

Sticky Toffee Pudding - sweet pudding cake, brown sugar toffee, brown butter ice cream
This is hands down the best sticky toffee pudding that I've ever had and certainly a worthy signature dessert. Sure the flavor is pretty one dimensional but the dense sticky cake is a must try for toffee-lovers.

First off, credit where credit is due, in a city with no shortage of steakhouses Gordon Ramsay Steak delivers a superb dining experience that sets it apart from most of its peers. In my experience, the contemporary steakhouse fare is second only to CUT in terms of creativity and execution. I came to this meal with low expectations, but based on the strength of this experience I'm curious to see how he does with Fat Cow and his return to Los Angeles.

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