Monday, May 26, 2014

Bourbon Steak - 05/24/2014

237 S Brand Blvd
Glendale, CA 91210
(818) 839-4130

Once upon a time a steakhouse was the final word in fine dining for me. While those days are long gone, I still have a fondness for a great steak. A few years back there were a rash of high-end steakhouses opening in LA from Wolfgang Puck's CUT to the trendier BOA and STK steakhouses. Since then the LA dining scene has grown a bit more sophisticated with the rise of places like Trois Mec and Alma; still I was intrigued when I heard Michael Mina would be opening a new outpost of his Bourbon Steak in Glendale.

With an interior inspired by the golden age of aviation, Bourbon Steak seems to straddle the line between classic and contemporary. Indeed the atmosphere feels like a classic steakhouse/boys club though the food leans decidedly towards the modern which I favor over traditional steakhouse fare.

DUCK FAT FRIES - Pastrami Spice with BBQ Sauce | Parmesan with Caesar Aioli | Pickled with Pickled Ketchup
The meal at Bourbon Steak kicked off with a rather unique amuse: three uniquely flavored preparations of duck fat fries each paired with an appropriately flavored sauce. The fries themselves are superb, dense crispy exterior with a fluffy interior and plenty of inherent savor. The first flavor was a meaty pastrami spice coupled with a smoky vinegar-laced sauce. The Parmesan fries were the most conventionally delicious cheesy zest paired with the rich tangy Caesar. Last up was a dill-laced variety that went nicely with the bright tangy ketchup.

TLAQUEPAQUE - Barrel-Aged, Espolon Reposado Tequila, Crème de Pêche, Angostura Orange Bitters
AVANTGRAND - Barrel-Aged, Bank Note 5yr Scotch, Laphroaig, Amaro Averna, Crème de Banana
VIEUX CARRÉ - Rye, Cognac, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, Benedictine, Bitters, Lemon
I was surprised at the depth and breadth of Bourbon Steak's cocktail and spirits program. The restaurant offers both modern and classic cocktails with an emphasis on bourbon and whiskey. Beside the conventional drink options, diners can also choose for table-side Japanese Whiskey or Bourbon presentations. Our first round of cocktails ran the gamut of Bourbon Steak's offerings. The barrel-aged Tlaquepaque had an emphatic woody note from the reposado concentrated by the aging. The peach creme offered a cloyingly sweet counterpart that the fragrant orange bitters couldn't quite balance. Unlike the previous cocktail the Avantgrand's keen savory wood smoke and brine were enough to balance the heft of the banana making it the table favorite thanks to its alternating blend of smoke and sweetness. The final cocktail came from the classics, named for the French Quarter in New Orleans, the drink opens with soft sweet vermouth and finishes with a light tinge of medicinal sweetness.

The restaurant only offered one type of bread but what a bread. Heady waves of truffled musk roll off the warm bread though I was expecting something soft and tender as opposed to the slightly dry toasty texture.

OYSTERS ON THE HALF SHELL - Champagne Mignonette
Surprisingly the restaurant only offered one type of oyster, fortunately that one variety was Kusshi; one of my all-time favorites. These were a bit larger than the traditional Kusshi and though they had the typical creamy body, the cucumber and melon flavors that normally characterize the oyster were largely absent.

KAMPACHI BELLY TARTARE - Scallion, Yuzu Dressing
This was a special that typically comes with the restaurant's seafood tower, but the kitchen was kind enough to make us an a la carte portion. With each bite of the dense snappy bits of fish , the meat exudes oily fatty relish that contrasts beautifully with the tangy spice-tinged dressing and the fresh onion topping.

DUCK SPRING ROLLS - Ginger-Chile Dipping Sauce, Mint, Cilantro
I had my reservations about this next course, thinking the faux-Asian rolls might feel a bit tired. Indeed the generic savor of the rolls was fairly pedestrian, but the accompanying herbs added a particularly poignant contrast as did the astringent piquant tang of the dipping sauce.

THE FRENCH GENTLEMAN - Fizzy-Lifting, Landy Cognac, Yellow Chartreuse, Asian Pear, Domaine de Canton Ginger, Lemon Anise
DARKER & STORMIER - Fizzy-Lifting, Vizcaya Rum, Domaine de Canton Ginger, Grapefruit, Lime, Fernet Branca
NUMBER 1 (LAVENDER MIST) - Death's Door Gin, Tempus Fugit Kina L'avion D'or, Lavender-White Pepper Syrup, Lemon, Absinthe
Our second round of cocktails wasn't quite as impressive as the first. The French Gentleman was a touch medicinal thanks the Chartreuse but with a contrasting sweetness. The Darker & Stormier was an especially difficult drink with a flavor reminiscent of Eastern medicine particularly Huang Lian or Coptis extract. The Number 1 was a riff on the Corpse Reviver but with a more cerebral herbal component thanks to the lavender and Kina which is far more complex than the more ubiquitous Lillet.

HAMACHI & TUNA POPPERS - Crispy Rice, Ponzu, Ginger Dressing
Like the duck rolls, I had my doubts about this course. Indeed the dish proved to be a touch simplistic though no less tasty for it. Both fishes come dressed with a Sriracha mayo and go nice with the tangy bite of the ponzu and ginger. The crispy rice added a nice savory flavor although by the time I got to it the mayo had saturated the rice turning the ostensibly crunchy texture a bit tacky and soft.

JAPANESE WAGYU SHABU SHABU - Dashi, Miso, Watermelon Radish
This was easily the most exciting of the appetizers and at $29 per ounce it was also far-and-away the most expensive. The delicate meat comes wrapped around a few strands of Enoki mushrooms which brings a core of springy supple structure to the paper-thin meat. The inherent richness of the Wagyu is balanced by the bitter radish and bright herbs. The meat is good enough to eat on its own, but after a few swishes of through the mushroom broth the meat develops a flavor of rendered fat and dark earthy savor along with a soft silky texture.

OCTOPUS A LA PLANCHA - Romesco, Fingerling, Lemon, Almonds
The plank grilled octopus was a thing of absolute beauty. The meat is dense tender and cloaked in a heady char. The meat has a persistent saline flavor but it was the nutty fragrance of the Romesco and bright tang of the lemon that dominate on the palate. Even the earthy funk of the fresh green olives were perfectly on point in the context of the dish.

ENGLISH PEA AGNOLOTTI - Maine Lobster, Spring Onion, Meyer Lemon
The English Pea Agnolotti was an easy choice to start with. The pasta itself was a little over-tender but the sweet nutty pea puree is everything I was expecting it would be. Though there was a smattering of lobster scattered throughout the dish it is really the bisque-like sauce that stands out; a flood of buttery shellfish luxury against the vegetal character of the peas. The scattering of vegetables contrasts quite well with the pasta and sauce particularly the keen acidity of the pickled onion which easily cuts though the weighty heft of the duo.

2007 Copain Syrah, Brosseau Vineyard, Central Coast, California
Instead of the more conventional Cabernet, we opted to pair a lighter Syrah from Copain with the steak. The wine has a good tension, but isn't quite as concentrated and rich as a cab. Instead there is a hint of smoke and brine mixed into a variety of red fruit and juicy berry notes

AMERICAN WAGYU - Center-Cut Flat Iron 10oz
AUSTRALIAN WAGYU - Kansas City Strip 16oz
JAPANESE WAGYU - Miyazaki A5 Striploin 16oz
For contemporary high-end steakhouses, it is almost mandatory that they offer not only a variety of cuts but also a mix of breeds ranging from the prosaic Angus to the sublime Japanese Wagyu. Whenever possible, my companions and I try to order the same cut to better compare the steaks, but unfortunately there was no American Wagyu Strip steak so we chose to do the Flat Iron since we thought it would be a closer comparison than the fattier rib-eye options. Though it probably comes as no surprise, the prime beef was the least interesting of the bunch, a touch stringy the steak tasted largely of bitter char without the buttery weight of the others. The American Wagyu had the most interesting grain and texture and showed more heft than the standard Angus but fell short of the international breeds. The Australian bone-in strip was probably the most enjoyable steak, with a touch of gamy complexity and pronounced but not overbearing fattiness. Ironically the Japanese Wagyu ended up being the largest of our steaks thanks to Eric who treated us and insisted on getting 4 ounces per person. We later learned that our 16 ounce steak was the largest single order beating the previous record by a healthy six ounces. The first bite of true Wagyu wasn't especially impressive but the weight of the steak became more apparent with each bite. The Miyazaki beef was the most impressive single bite but I would have struggled to finish anything more than the 4 ounce serving we each received and even that was a bit heavy towards the end.

The black truffle wasn't quite as pronounced as I would have liked but the al dente pasta and rich sauce still made for a very enjoyable side.

Our second side showed a surprisingly heavy Asian-influence featuring slivers of asparagus stir fried with mushrooms and lap cheong. While the flavors were a nice change of pace from the conventional asparagus served at steakhouses, I wish the vegetable wasn't so finely chopped so we could better appreciate the texture.

The final side was a sweet cream corn laced with southwestern flair from the chilies.

SAZERAC - Rye or Cognac, Absinthe, Peychaud's Bitters, Angostura Bitters, Lemon
Our meal dispensed with I opted for a classic rye-based Sazerac as an after dinner digestif.

MASCARPONE CHEESECAKE - Bing Cherry Sauce, Meyer Lemon Curd, Vanilla Bean Crust
Our first dessert was a deconstructed cross between a berry cheese cake and a lemon tart with contrasting jammy and tart fruit to compliment the creamy mascarpone and buttery crumbled crust.

Our server mentioned this as an alternative to their composed desserts. The donut certainly lives up to its name, dense and cake-y the sweet glaze and bacon compliment one another well though I have had better bacon donuts before.

LEMON SCENTED OLIVE OIL CAKE - Market Strawberries, Sicilian Pistachio, Soft Whipped Cream
As much as I dislike olives, olive oil desserts are a whole other story. The subtle floral aroma of the olive oil works wonders when added to straightforwardly sweet desserts like cake or ice cream. The fresh market berries are delightfully sweet and the combination reminded me of a luxurious strawberry shortcake.

BUTTERSCOTCH TOFFEE PUDDING - Salty Caramel Sauce, Warm Madelines, Confectioner's Sugar
Salty caramel is a must for me and though this delivered on that count the dessert felt a bit too basic even with the perfectly-made Madelines.

MICHAEL MINA'S SIGNATURE ROOT BEER FLOAT - Warm Chocolate & Pecan Cookies, Sassafras Ice Cream
The final dessert was a root beer float saturated with rich sassafras flavor and two soft warm cookies. The combination was simple but remarkably comforting.

The meal ended with foil wrapped bourbon caramels mixed with bits of hazelnut. The combination had a hint of booziness but mostly tasted like Almond Roca.

Though I haven't been to Mina's signature spots in SF, I have tried all his LA/OC spots as well as a few of his Vegas haunts and I have found them very hit or miss. Fortunately, I think we can put Bourbon Steak firmly in the hit column.


sygyzy said...

Great review. Would love to try it sometime. It seems like you posted the picture of the rootbeer float twice, accidentally.

Epicuryan said...

Its definitely one of the more exciting steakhouses in LA. Good catch on the photo it has been corrected.

Anonymous said...

Do all their steaks come pre sliced from the kitchen?

Epicuryan said...

I don't believe so. We specifically requested they slice it for us because we planned to share.