Thursday, April 30, 2009

One Sunset - 04/21/2009

8730 W Sunset Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90069
(310) 657-0111

I must admit I was surprised to see a complimentary blogger dinner at One Sunset a restaurant cum lounge and sister to One Manhattan. Located on Sunset Boulevard, One Sunset located in the Sunset Towers building near its more serious sibling, STK Steakhouse. The interior is pretty much what I expected: dimly lit with comfortable contemporary decor; an easy place to settle in and relax.

LUSHious Raspberry - Raspberries, Gloria Ferrer Champgane, Leblon
While waiting for all the diners to arrive, the staff brought us samples of the restaurant's signature cocktail. The drink was bright red with a sweetness to match, fairly uncomplicated but delicious in its simplicity.

"Breakfast on a Plate" - pancake, apple caviar, maple syrup, bacon foam
The first course was a special from the chef, trying to recapture the essence of breakfast. The heavy emphasis on the sweet elements in this dish make it more appropriate as an intermezzo between savory and sweet than as an amuse. An interesting course, it just could have been timed better.

"The Master Cleanse" - Belvedere Vodka, Fresh Lemon Juice, Maple Syrup
Named after the trendy Master Cleanse diet, this drink is right at home in the trendy digs at One. The cocktail includes the same ingredients, lemon juice, maple syrup, cayenne pepper while replacing the water with vodka. I have tried the actual Master Cleanse lemonade and find the alcoholic version much more enjoyable.

"Adult Candy" - bacon-wrapped, blue cheese-stuffed dates
The description reminded me of the bacon wrapped dates at Flying Fig. Pity the flavor wasn't as sharp this time around, the blue cheese wasn't very apparent and neither the dates nor the bacon really had the powerful taste I was expecting.

Spicy Tuna Tartare - tempura eggplant, kecap manis
I typically find spicy tuna to be anything but but in this case, all I could taste was the spice. What's more, the thick creamy sauce blunted the natural texture of the fish. The one positive of this dish was the eggplant, which had a nice light crispness to it.

Burrata and Strawberries - cinnamon bruschetta, pistachios, pink pepper, basil
One of the better courses of the night, though the greens took some of the attention off the key ingredients. The dish is burrata and strawberries, I would have liked more focus on the interplay between these two.

BBQ Short Rib Sliders - crispy shallots, smoked cheddar
Sliders really are all the rage right now, I had that damn "Mini Sirloin Burger" song just last night during class. While a bit one dimensional, the shallots and cheddar don't even register, the quality of the meat made up for that.

Onion Rings - horseradish sauce
The onion rings weren't bad, nothing noteworthy by themselves, but they did help break up the monotony of the burger.

Korean Chicken Satay - barbecued, kimchi, cashews, kejap manis
This was supposed to be the chef's introduction to Korean BBQ but I found the smokiness of the sauce to be the dominant aspect of this dish, a far cry from the milder balanced sweetness of traditional Korean BBQ. I did enjoy the refreshing kimchi "coleslaw" which was fermented in-house for a week.

Tropical Sidecar - Hennessy, Pineapple Chunks, Cointreau, Blueberries
Even more than the other drinks, this one was a bit light on the alcohol and heavy on the sugar with the pineapple juice pretty much smothering all the other flavors. Liz, one of the diners at my table asked the bartender to add more Hennessy to give the drink some teeth.

Salade Nicoise - pistachio crusted albacore, caper aioli
I was amused to find Chef Ryczek preemptively removed the anchovies from this Nicoise, anticipating the vast majority of his guests would do the same. In addition, the caper aioli comes on the side, allowing diners to forgo another element of the classic Nicoise. The fish was a bit plain, but the salad was well seasoned and everything taken together tasted quite nice.

Turkey Meatballs - marinara, parmesan, basil
Very much like a traditional meatball though the mix of herbs and veggies mixed in made it a bit lighter than I was expecting.

Roasted Clams on the Half Shell - chorizo, chowder sauce, crushed oyster crackers
One of the more interesting and playful dishes of the night. The chef seemed a bit more animated when talking about this course as it was inspired by his New England roots. The idea of a clam chowder shot is intriguing but the execution was a bit ham-fisted with the smokiness of the chorizo out of sync with the rest of the ingredients. Afterward, we were given a wedge of lemon to squeeze into the shell and drink it like a chaser. I quite enjoyed the cleansing effect of the lemon, though I would have liked four separate wedges rather than having to share a single one.

Meyer Lemon Panna Cotta - blackberry sorbet, lavender syrup, poppy seed crisp
This was my favorite course of the night, plenty of interplay between the lavender and the tart fruit. The poppy seed crisp while physically insubstantial, added a pleasing textural contrast. Despite all the complexity, each element was apparent in some way even when taken all together.

'Velvet Rope' Cupcakes - red velvet cake, cream cheese frosting
Not bad, but surprisingly simple compared to the previous dessert. For this basic dessert to be the restaurant's signature is quite a damning indictment of the clientele.

Godiva Chocolate Sorbet - amaretto
We were told to pour the amaretto shot over the sorbet before enjoying, though I found the straightforward richness of the chocolate more satisfying by itself.

For me labeling a restaurant a "lounge" is like a scarlet letter, a sign that the establishment is more concerned with looking good than tasting good. Indeed the restaurant's website places such weight on the "striking designs and exotic tones" and "outfits designed by the winner of Project Runway" that the food is a mere afterthought by comparison.

In addition to describing the food throughout dinner, Chef Ryczek came out to speak with us in more detail as the meal wrapped up. Extremely friendly and upbeat it was easy to see the passion he has for his craft. From our conversation, I gathered there is a bit of a conflict between the restaurant and the lounge sides of One Sunset and that Ryczek would like to put more emphasis on the restaurant, pity that he is prevented from doing so by his target audience.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Saam - 04/17/2009

465 S La Cienega Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(310) 246-5555

This is my third visit to José Andrés' Bazaar in the six months the restaurant has been open and my first visit to the recently opened Saam. Saam is an exclusive dining room named after SBE founder Sam Nazarian. Saam offers a high-end 20-course menu in the same vein as Chef Andrés' Minibar.

Tableside "Nitro" Capirinha - Frozen liquid nitrogen cachaça and lime
I tried this during my second visit and I was hooked. The cachaça and lime juice are poured in a bowl of liquid nitrogen and stirred into an ice cream. The liquid nitrogen causes the mix to freeze pretty much instantly resulting in a bracing creamy mix with just a hint of alcoholic heat.

01: Salt Air Margarita - Classic margarita topped with salt air
The first course is a cocktail from the bar which leaves me wondering what they offer to people who don't drink. The Salt Air Margarita is actually a classic margarita except salt air taking the place of the salted rim that is typically used. With a traditional salted rim the balance can be uneven but the salt air allows for a more uniform blend between the salt and the alcohol.

02: Sweet Potato Chips - Yogurt, tamarind, star anise
The chips came with a side of yogurt and tamarind mixed with olive oil. The chips had a light toasty sweetness but the star of the dish was the dipping sauce and the fantastic interplay between the floral olive oil and the tangy yogurt.

03: Cotton Candy Foie Gras - corn chips, cotton candy
The initial flavor reminded me of Fritos though that quickly transitioned to a light sweentess as the cotton candy dissolved in my mouth. That in turn faded leaving only the smooth buttery flavor of the foie gras.

04: Olive Oil Bonbon - sumac, Maldon sea salt
Saam has given me a new appreciation for the intricacies of olive oil. Here the olive oil was covered wtih a sugar shell topped. Biting through the hard exterior releases a rich heady flood of aromatic oil which is expertly accented by the salt and sumac.

05: Caviar Steamed Bun - American paddlefish roe, crème fraîche, and lemon air
This was a very interesting take on the classic caviar with traditional accompaniements. The steamed bun was a little overpowering compared to the standard blini but the lemon air provided a more delicate balanced citrus than typical lemon zest.

06: Bagel and Lox Cone - smoked salmon roe, fresh dill, crème fraîche
I liked the back-to-back fish roe since they allowed for a comparison between the larger salmon roe and the paddlefish from the last course. The salmon roe has a softer brininess than the paddlefish and harmonized nicely with the crème fraîche the combination resulting in a pleasing sweetness.

07: Olives Ferran Adrià - Liquid 'olives'
The liquid olives are an homage to Ferran Adrià, who pioneered the technique. A relatively simple technique, spherification relies on the gelling reaction between calcium choloride and sodium alginate. The restaurant seems inordinately proud of this dish and I have had it at all three of my visits. I found it interesting they would push this course so hard and discontinue the "Dragon's Breath" because it was becoming too pedestrian.

"Liquid Cherry" Manhattan - Your choice of Rye, Bourbon or Canadian Whiskey with cherry spherification
This was the first thing I ever tried at The Bazaar. I found it surprisingly dull, aside from the spherification, there was nothing to separate this from the classic Manhattan.

Pisco Sour - Pisco, fresh lemon juice, egg whites and bitters
The Pisco Sour is prepared in a completely classic style. Despite the lemon juice and bitters the drink has a refreshingly light sweetness and a slightly creamy consistency from the egg white.

08: José's Ham & Cheese - air bread, La Serena cheese, Jamón Ibérico de Bellota
This was very similar to the Philly Cheesesteak I tried on my first visit but the ingredients were in better balance. The ham was more assertive than the Wagyu, strong enough to stand up to the flavor of the cheese. The whole amalgam was finished nicely by the toasty aroma and crisp texture of the bread.

09: Sea Urchin Conservas - pipirrana, Andalusian vegetables
The canned sea urchin is a second holdover from the Roja y Blanco menu and a nod to Spain's canning tradition. Paired with the sea urchin is a blend of tart vegetables which accentuates the sweetness of the uni while taking off some of the brine and creaminess.

10: Boneless Chicken Wing - green olive purée, iceplant
Probably the best chicken wing I have ever had, thoroughly tender and juicy. I prefer the pure simple flavor of the chicken without without the olive purée.

11: Shrimp Cocktail - "Yeah Right"
A perfectly prepared Santa Barbara spot prawn seasoned with lime and sesame headlines this course. Inside the pipette is a sauce made with the shrimp head. The tangy lime and sweetness of the shrimp are immediately apparent squeezing the pipette releases a burst of slightly bitter brine yielding a lingering shrimp essence.

Brandy Alexander - Brandy, crème de cacao, heavy cream and nutmeg
Technically Kevin ordered this but traded with me since he didn't care for the heavy coffee flavor. It was a touch heavy given the lightness of the food and would have been more appropriate as a dessert cocktail.

Bellini - Fresh peach juice, Japanese peach and sparkling wine
The bellini was pretty tasty, but the heavy emphasis on peach, both fresh and in juice form, left it a bit one dimensional.

12: Nitro Gazpacho
Like the Nitro Capirinha, this was prepared tableside freezing traditional ingredients using liquid nitrogen. I don't know if they were mixing a larger quantity or if the gazpacho doesn't freeze as well, but this was more slushy than the capirinha. Very sharp and crisp, the tomato is immediately apparent though I would have liked something to cut the acidity a bit.

Jalé Berry - Fresh blackberries, gin, Cointreau and a slice of jalapeño
The first in a sequence of very fruity drinks, the Jalé Berry was very sweet with a hint of spice, just like the actress it is cleverly named after, or so our waiter told us.

13: Bluefin Tuna Toro - compressed watermelon, soy air, wasabi, puffed rice, and a 63°C quail egg
The watermelon is immediately apparent with an intense sweetness that seems accentuated by the rice vinegar. Initially the sweetness can be a bit overwhelming but it gradually fades revealing the star of the show, the toro, utterly soft and unctuous and perfectly set off by the traditional accompaniments. The crispness of the watermelon serves as contrast to the toro, accentuating its velvety smooth texture. The egg served to envelop the dish with a creamy slickness.

14: Norwegian Lobster - seaweed salad, lobster essence
Lobster is perfectly cooked and exhibits the characteristic sweetness deftly underscored by the barest hint of olive oil. The soup is a strong counterpoint, exuding briney sweetness and rich buttery character. The interplay between the two is reminiscent of the Shrimp Cocktail we had earlier.

Passion Fruit Martini - Rum, passion fruit and ginger-laurel syrup, topped with passion fruit
I wonder if they forgot to include the rum as this drink tasted solely of passion fruit, though at this point cutting back on the alcohol might have been a wise idea.

Cucumber Pom Deluxe - belvedere vodka kissed with hot house cucumber, organic mint, freshly squeezed lime juice, and finally brought up to speed with lengths of 100% pomegranate juice and club soda
Running out of cocktails on the menu to try, we asked our server to surprise us so she brought out this drink which apparently is from Foxtail, a lounge also owned by the SBE group. I was very impressed by the combined flavor of the fruit, mint, and cucumber.

Uva Bella - hand pressed green grapes aligned with complex notes of Plymouth gin, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, freshly squeezed lemon juice, and a single magical dash of Regan’s no.6 orange bitters
St. Germain Elderflower liqueur seems to be all the rage these days. This drink was easily the most complex of three, the elderflower adding a lush herbal twist.

15: "Smoked" Salmon - tzatziki sphere, chickpea pancake, compressed cucumber, olive oil, dill
The fish itself came glistening, almost raw and screamed fresh. The tang of the tzatziki and the freshness of the cucumber formed a spectacular combination with the fish.

16: Not Your Everyday Caprese - Cherry tomatoes, liquid mozzarella
In terms of the ingredients, everything one would expect is there: tomato, mozzarella, basil, salt, pepper, and olive oil. The unique presentation and subsequent textures coupled with the traditional flavors make this one of the most satisfying caprese salad's I have ever had.

Cucumber Smash
Being so taken with the Cucumber Pom Deluxe, I asked the bar to bring me a random cucumber infused drink. Not sure what was exactly in this drink aside from cucumber and vodka, nice but nowhere near as interesting as the other drinks.

"New Way" Dirty Martini - Dry martini, olive spherifiation and olive brine air
After so many fruity drinks it was time to finish with something a bit stiffer. A very dirty martini, the olive brine was too apparent for my tastes.

"José's Gimlet" - Bombay Sapphire and fresh lime heart
One of the molecular gastronomy free drinks, this proved to be a very typical, though still tasty gimlet. In general, this last round of drinks was a bit more conservative than what we had earlier.

17: Tournedos Rossini 2009 - A5 Wagyu, foie gras, trumpet mushrooms, truffle gelée
They really pulled out all the stops in terms of decadence for this last savory course. The beef itself truly exemplified what it means to be A5, wonderfully soft and fatty, the meat almost oozed with pure richness. Contrasted with the sweet gamy fat from the foie gras it was almost a battle to see which ingredient was more unctuous. I think most of the diners enjoyed this though some felt it a bit over the top and would have preferred the beef served more simply.

18: Dragon's Breath Popcorn - caramel corn, liquid nitrogen
This course received so much attention that it was stricken from the menu at The Bazaar only to be served on special occasions and apparently at Saam. The caramel corn is dipped in liquid nitrogen then eaten in one bite where the heat from your mouth causes the liquid nitrogen to revert to a gas making you breathe smoke through your nose. For some reason the effect didn't quite work at our table resulting in this dish just being a piece of caramel corn.

19: Chocolate Biscuit Coulant Michel Bras - vanilla cardamom cream, candied ginger
The chocolate biscuit was very similar to a molten chocolate cake though the addition of candied ginger and cardamom provided an exotic kick. One of the diner said he could really taste the "soul-killing" gold paper, not too sure how much alcohol he had by this point

20: Coconut in a "Half Shell" - coconut sorbet, liquid nitrogen coconut shell dusted with cocoa powder, passion fruit seeds
The shell was the most entertaining part of this course, the frozen coconut dusted with chocolate really did look like a coconut shell until it started wilting. The tangy passion fruit was a perfect foil to the soft creamy sweetness of the coconut.

Mignardises - chocolate lollipops, saffron bonbons, candied passion fruit gumdrops
After the roller coaster of sensation the mignardises seemed almost anti-climactic still it was nice to enjoy simple sweets without having to think too hard.

The dining room is located in a hidden room behind Bar Centro. When she brought the bellini to the table, our server mentioned the dining room is based on the famous Harry's Bar in Venice, Italy where the bellini was invented. I found the room to be quite intimate and comfortable, blocking out the noise of the main dining room.

After dinner we took a brief tour of the kitchen and posed for shots with Chef de Cuisine Michael Voltaggio and Sous Chef Marcel Vigneron. The chefs were exceedingly polite and insisted that we touch bases with them when we come back in to attempt eating the entire menu.

It is a rare experience for subsequent visits to a restaurant to be better than the first but each visit has been better than the last. This last visit was quite unique, for the first time at a restaurant utilizing molecular gastronomy there were no truly bad courses. Too often, chefs get caught up in the excitement and use innovative techniques for their own sake even at the cost of taste. Saam does not fall prey to this, keeping taste their paramount priority.

After attaining the coveted 4-star rating from S. Irene Verbilla it would have been easy to for the restaurant to rest on its laurels, but true to Chef Andrés' word, the kitchen at The Bazaar has shown a tireless dedication to improvement. This meal at Saam has been the best yet and makes me yearn for my next trip. Hopefully with time, Saam will rely less on courses from the other parts of The Bazzar and become a truly unique experience.

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