Monday, February 11, 2013

Allumette - 02/08/2013

1320 Echo Park Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90026
(213) 481-0454

I first encountered Chef Miles Thompson at Vagrancy Project, his summer pop-up at the Allston Yacht Club. I was impressed by the young actor turned chef's creativity and his sense for flavor and it seems like I wasn't alone in that opinion. Bill DiDonna and Charles Kelly, the owners of the yacht club, were so taken with Thompson that they decided to turn their restaurant over to him on a permanent basis.

Along with a slight updating of the decor, the space has picked up a new name: Allumette which refers to a matchstick sized cut. With Allumette, Thompson has chosen to eschew share plates in favor of having diners create their own tasting menu experience selecting a handful of courses from the 10-15 options. In fact Kevin and I were advised against sharing as we might not be able to enjoy the dishes as Thompson envisioned them.

Gentleman’s Breakfast | The Famous Grouse-Egg White - Lemon - Ginger Honey Syrup - Topped with Atomized Candy Cap Bitters and Islay Scotch
You Live Only Twice | Sake - Beefeater Gin - Velvet Falernum - Tangerine - Szechuan Peppercorn - Fresh Lime
The Gentleman's Breakfast was my style of cocktail with a base of ginger saturated whiskey, the drink gains a pleasing textural nuance from the egg white as well as an intense peatiness from the Islay topping. You Only Live Twice was the complete opposite with a delicate fragrance of juniper and citrus the cocktail was certainly enjoyable but I wish the peppercorns played a bigger part.

Bread 01 | Grilled Housemade Foccacia - Butterball Potato - Thyme - Salt
It's been a while since I've written about bread service but I thought Thompson's composed bread presentation deserved the recognition. The grilled Foccacia is and potato are both delicious on their own but the combination has a starchy heft and fragrant herby smack that left me craving more.

Shimaaji Sashimi | Mustard Miso - Rice Crackers - Blood Orange - Kiwi
With a supple fatty texture and oily flavor, Shima Aji has rapidly become one of my favorite sushi fishes. The miso and savory rice crackers give the impression of a modern nigiri and while the fruit was a touch sweet at times, the fish had enough complexity to compensate.

Ocean Trout Crudo | Yuzu Ponzu - Brussels Sprout - Pickled Grapes
The trout itself was fairly conventional; fatty, mild and very reminiscent of salmon. The focused flavors of sugar, heat and bitterness that augmented the fish made this most well executed courses of the night.

Red Letter Day | Cocchi di Torino - Rhum J.M. - Orgeat - Fresh Lemon - Soda - Yuzu Bitters
Last Ango | Angostura Bitters - Smith & Cross - Orgeat - Pineapple Gomme - Fresh Lime
For our second round we went with the two rum based cocktails. The Red Letter Day was the lighter of the two with a gentle easy drinking character reminiscent of a hard ice tea. The Last Ango had a candied nose that reminded me of an Otter Pop with a grippy mouth puckering bitterness and tropical boozy character on the finish.

Fried Oyster | Kimchi Ranch Dressing - Asian Pear Mignonette - Sea Spinach
Most of the times that I've had fried oysters they have come in a Po'Boy. Chef Thompson eschews convention in favor of a more elaborate composed presentation. The funk of the dressing plays beautifully with the oyster's briny essence and the its creamy texture tempers the dense crunchy batter surrounding the oyster. The pear and greens provide a succulent textural contrast as well as moderating notes of acid and bitterness.

Bread 02 | Baby Shrimp - Angostura Remoulade - Okra
While I enjoyed the emphatic salinity of the shrimp and the creamy tang of the remoulade and pickles the abundance of flavors made this less a bread course and more of dish served on bread.

Herbed Sturgeon | Squashes - Poached Huckleberries - Artichokes Barigoule
The sturgeon is definitely one of the meatier fishes and Thompson's preparation was almost reminiscent of a very moist chicken breast. I was a bit wary of the squash and huckleberry mixture but the heartiness of the fish kept their sweetness in check.

Grilled Octopus | Sour Apple Syrup - Cardamom Butterscotch Potato - Sorrel
I wasn't sure how to feel about the dish. The octopus itself is solid but not especially noteworthy. Instead it is the apple syrup with its penetrating tang that stands out clearest on the palate. On the one hand I enjoyed the pungent sour heat, but on the other the intensity is completely out of line with the rest of the dish.

Negroni Sbagliato #2 | Punt E Mes - Aperol - Graham Beck Brut - Fresh Sage
Smoking Gun | Vida Mezcal - Cynar - Calisaya
The Scotch Cocktail | The Famous Grouse - Amaro Averna - Angostura Bitters - Orange
I've never cared much for Negronis thanks to its singularly bitter flavor, but the effervescence of the brut gave the drink some much-needed levity. Despite being made with Mezcal The Smoking Gun had an almost whiskey-like flavor. Cynar and Calisaya helped strip away the Mezcal's petrol-y notes leaving behind a smokiness reminiscent of an Islay Scotch. The third cocktail was a gift from Chef Thompson and not part of the normal drink menu. Despite being made almost entirely of various liquors the cocktail was quite smooth with notes of cherry and bitter herbs.

Szechuan Pork Dumpling | Cured Salmon Roe - Spicy Black Vinegar - Tarragon
On their own the dumplings reminded me of red oil dumplings with their mouth numbing heat and rich porcine savor. The addition of tarragon gave the dish a brilliantly unconventional licorice flavor that interacted beautifully with the muted salinity of the cured salmon roe.

Cavatelli | Uni Ragù - English Pea Purée - Poached Mushrooms - Fromage Noir
With a perfectly al dente texture, the cavatelli was my favorite of the three pastas. The creamy cheese saturated pasta is tempered by the verdance of the pea pure é as well as a healthy dose of citrus zest. I only wish the uni was a bit more apparent, though the pasta still had enough flavor without it.

Raviolo of Liquified Blood Pudding | Scallop Carpaccio - Caramelized Anchovy
This was by far the most intriguing yet difficult of the three pastas. The dark brown filling has an overarching iron tang of blood pudding. Fortunately the scallops and vegetables are there to provide a measure of relief from the dark earthiness.

Lamb Neck | Kimchi Crab - Star Anise - Cinnamon - Apricot Harissa
Another gift from the chef, this was a preview of a new course that he was working on. The tender neck meat has a rich meaty sapor lightly shaded with game that went perfectly with the spicy apricot harissa. With everything taken together, the dish can feel a bit busy and hard to follow.

Le Système Solaire | Oloroso Sherry - Dolin Blanc Vermouth - Bergamot Bitters
We ordered the last cocktail for sake of completeness. I expected the sweeter Oloroso to dominate this cocktail but the vinous character of vermouth wound up being the most recognizable characteristic with just a hint of the oxidative character of the sherry.

Squab Breast | Date Soubise - Baharat - Cinnamon Labne - Grapefruit
Moving onto the meat dishes we started with a delicate squab breast that I found slightly overcooked though still quite moist and tender. Though I enjoyed the earthy blend of middle eastern spices used to season the bird, the inclusion of of date and cinnamon made the overall flavor a touch sweet for me.

Bitter Lettuces | Tangerine - Avocado - Smoked Soy Cream Macadamia
After so many elaborately crafted dishes this feels almost laughably simple but as with many of the earlier courses, everything has a role to play. The tangerine provides a bit of juicy sweetness while the avocado and macadamia provide fatty textural contrasts to the astringent crunch of the lettuce. The dressing of smoked soy was a great idea but needed to have a bit more oomph to it.

Carrot Salad | Sunchokes - Radishes - Pickled Turnips - Black Carrot Syrup
The multifaceted carrot salad ended up being much better than I expected with the soft sweet cooked version balanced by thin shreds of raw carrot and the bitter tang of the turnips and radishes.

Pork Shoulder | Bacon - Crosnes - Caramelized Onions - Feuille de Brick
Thompson called this his homage to the danger dog. The succulent tender pork shoulder is wrapped with a thin layer of crisp bacon. The smorgasbord of porcine goodness is moderated lightly by gentrified pickles and onions all in a creamy mayo based sauce.

Citrus Curd | Rhubarb-Lime Gelée - Sumac - Poppy - Rose Geranium
This dish was part dessert part flavor study. To one side was a sweet curd made from fruit juice and on the other a jarringly bitter curd made from citrus peels. In small doses the duo provides an effective palate cleanser but I would want something more substantial for my main dessert.

Cheesecake Mousse | Frozen Cookie Dough - Red Walnuts - Maple Syrup
I've never been a huge fan of cheesecake but the replacing the cheese with frozen cookie dough made this absolutely incredible. The creamy tang of the cheese is still noticeable, but complimented with a buttery sweetness from the dough and the crumbled crust.

Red Velvet Cake | Port Syrup - Coffee Milk Mascarpone - Colombier
This was a grown-up take on Red Velvet with notes of concentrated bitter coffee and boozy ripe fruit from the port.

With Allumette, Thompson has picked up right where he left with Vagrancy Project. Each of the courses believing that there is a "perfect bite" when each element on the plate is in balance. With some courses the ideal bite is easy to achieve, but with the more intricate dishes this almost becomes a mental exercise which distracts from the simple enjoyment of the food. Still with an inventive flavor driven menu as well as a strong cocktail program, Allumette rewards you for trying even if you don't reach Nirvana.


Sam C. said...

Nice coverage man!

So just wondering, I would assume teh 10-15 options aren't exactly entree size cuz that would be too much food...right?

Epicuryan said...

You're correct. Most of the plates are fairly small with some being just a couple bites (oyster, shima aji, and trout). But just to be clear I think the recommended number is 4-5, not 10-15.

Rodzilla said...

I remember the Vagrancy Project visit and I'm glad to hear this has become a permanent spot. The cavetelli and cheesecake really caught my eye.