Thursday, November 24, 2011

Picca - 11/22/2011

9575 West Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035
(310) 277-0133

Picca has easily been one of LA's hottest restaurants since it opened five months ago. I was lucky enough to score a seat on opening night and the fifty course meal we had still stands as the most courses I've eaten in a single sitting. As full as I was I couldn't appreciate many of the later courses as much as I should have. I've been meaning to come back for some time now, both to see how the restaurant has fared and to enjoy the food in a much more leisurely setting.

ZARATE'S TOMAHAWK - rocoto infused mezcal, fresh lemon juice, agave nectar, fresh huacatay, cucumber foam, shaken
Despite my initial apprehension, I've become quite a fan of mezcal add in the cucumber and there was no way I could pass this up. The drink leads off with a thick texture and sweetness from the foam that fades quickly leading to the petrol woody character of the mezcal.

PHIL COLLINS - blanco tequila, dry vermouth, aperol, lemon, peychaud bitters, shaken topped with soda water
The Phil Collins is one of the stronger cocktails I've had, vinous with a bitter alcoholic burn that belies its innocuous pink color

chicharron de costillas - crispy pork ribs crostini, sweet potato puree, feta cheese sauce, salsa criolla
This was one of my favorites the previous time around and with fewer courses I was able to better appreciate the interaction between the richness of the chicharron with the pungent tang of the cheese and the fresh bite of the criolla.

albacore ceviche - ponzu leche de tigre, japanese cucumber
The albacore ceviche was one of the evening's specials. Definitely more Japanese in flavor, the leche de tigre is markedly softer and less astringent than that of Picca's other ceviches. The fish itself is lightly seared giving it a deeper flavor that further balanced the acidity of the marinade.

tiradito - scallop, sea urchin
Another of the day's specials, the combination of raw scallop and uni sounded too good to pass up. The fresh shellfish was easily good enough to stand on its own, but in true Peruvian fashion came coated in a piquant sauce.

anticucho beef filet - sea urchin butter, garlic chip
It was a treat to sit at the bar and watch Ricardo cook this up right in front of us. Despite being a fairly thin cut, the meat is tender with a pleasing umami succulence from the butter. The smattering of greens gives a subtle bitter contrast to the smoky richness of the meat.

PISCO SOUR - pisco, fresh lemon and lime juice, sugar, cassia scented egg white, shake like a polaroid picture, angostura bitters
I wouldn't normally opt for such a basic cocktail, but I needed something to remind myself what the drink was supposed to taste like after the horrific version I ordered at the W Hotel. This was just what I expected thick and foamy with a lightly tart sweetness, very satisfying and easy drinking.

SLUMDOG CHAMILLIONAIRE (aka JONESTOWN SOUR) - quebranta pisco, red grape cardamon black pepper coulis, fresh lemon juice, evaporated cane sugar
Despite the charming, name I didn't care for the cocktail on account of the coulis, the mixture of cardamom and grape giving the drink a disconcerting cloying spice.

causa spicy yellowtail - spicy mayo, green onions, wasabi tobiko
Part of me feels guilty ordering spicy yellowtail, but I quite enjoyed the combination of creamy mayo, tangy potato, and oily fish.

causa albacore - garlic chip, ceviche sauce
Last time around this was the best of the causa, thanks to its deep char. While I still enjoyed this preparation, the combination of tuna and potato tasted more conventional, like a tuna salad but with a Southwestern flair thanks to the spicy ceviche sauce.

oysters a la chalaca - pan fried oysters, cherry tomatoes sarsa
Though I normally prefer my oysters raw, these are easily my favorite cooked preparation. Wrapped under the deliciously crispy exterior is a creamy core that retains some of the bivalve's characteristic flavor albeit drastically tempered. The result is a sapid crunch that reminds me more of a chicken nugget than an oyster.

arroz con erizo - peruvian paella, mixed seafood, sea urchin sauce
I should have ordered more of the heaver courses as I was too full to appreciate them properly the last time around. The flavor of the rice bears a distinct woodiness mixed with the sweet brine of the seafood as well as a forceful peppery bite.

tres leches cake
The last time I had this there were too many distractions. This time around the cake, in all its cinnamon-y sweet airy goodness is the star. Interestingly the jammy raspberry base I found overwhelming the last time around was much more enjoyable with this simpler iteration.

My first experience at Picca remains one of the best restaurant openings I've ever attended. Happily, not much has changed; while there were some new menu items and some dishes have been polished, the food was just as soulful and delicious as I remember.

Read more.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

2011 White Truffle Dinner @ LQ@SK - 11/15/2011

350 S Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90071
(213) 617-3474

After a week of eager anticipation, here we are at night two of LQ's 18-course white truffle dinner. Laurent is justifiably renowned for his annual truffle dinners and I'd first heard about them in 2010 but couldn't end up attending that 19-course affair. WIth the shuttering of Bistro LQ earlier this year, I feared I'd never get my chance to indulge in this tuberous extravaganza. Fortunately Laurent has found a new home with the LQ@SK dinner series and was audacious enough to use his pop-up as a forum for this white truffle debauch.

LQ@SK is strictly a BYOB affair, but for an occasion of this magnitude they partnered with Domaine LA to tailor a wine pairing for the meal. I had originally planned to stop by but was thwarted by the downtown rush hour. With only a few minutes to spare I stopped in at a local store and grabbed whatever looked handy. We ended up with a rich Belgian Pale Ale, a versatile cremant, to a earthy pinot.

Amuse: Truffle Gel 3 ways - Vodka, Gin, Tequila
The amuse consisted of three alcohol spherifications. First up was a savory sweet huckleberry infused vodka. The gin featured a slice of mandarin that combined tasted oddly like seafood. The tequila was the most powerful of the trio, the deep woody burn overwhelming the delicate accompaniment of lime and salt.

01: Cucumber Ice Cream - Salmon Roe, Blinis, Truffles
I expected the cucumber ice cream to be fresh and light but the yogurt and ice cream was reminiscent of a tatziki but with a more intense piquancy. The salmon roe and blinis added a warm essence of smoke and salt to counter the icy tang of the cucumber.

02: Cold Poached Quail Eggs Mold in Pork Aspic - with Celeriac, Fresh Truffles
This was one of the best courses of the night. The jellied egg and pork combined the flavor of a meaty consommé with a deep truffle earthiness while the micro orchids provided a contrasting light flavor similar to watermelon rind.

03: Truffle Panna Cotta - Sea Urchin Emulsion, Tosaka Seaweed
Despite being a quintessentially Japanese ingredient, I've seen Laurent work wonders with uni and this was no different. The truffle panna cotta was remarkably light, like eating a dense pillowy cloud. The sea urchin provides a wonderful livery brine to compliment the fungi-infused custard. Unfortunately there wasn't enough uni to go around and the last couple bites of panna cotta were a touch bland.

04: Rabbit Tartare - with Truffle, Celery Root Truffle Remoulade, Argan Oil Vinaigrette
This was my first time having raw rabbit and hopefully not the last. The texture and flavor reminded me of a hamachi enlivened by a peppery kick and the heavenly aroma of white truffle. The celery root added a sense of complexity and contrast to what was already an immensely delicate and satisfying course, making this my favorite of the night.

05: Green Daikon - Dungeness Crab, Serrano Ham Pico De Gallo
As was expected the daikon and crab was one of the night's lighter dishes. The creamy crab and crisp daikon complimented each other well, but the serrano laced pico de gallo gave the crab a slightly fishy cast

06: Scottish Hare Truffle Consommé - Boudin Blanc, Hare Shu-Mai
One of my chief complaints with consommé is the general lack of flavor, but that wasn't a problem here, the deep rich savoriness of the soup was reminiscent of pho broth but with a slightly gamy disposition. The hare shu-mai was similarly rich and gamy thanks to the incorporation of offal with the hare meat. The sausage was a repeat of the corn dog from our last visit and just as delicious as I remember.

07: Truffle Lobster Tapioca Pudding - Diver Scallops, Green Tea Sabayon
A week ago I remarked that the scallop was a very slight bit overdone, but this time it was spot on perfect, quivering alabaster flesh with a sweet perfume of shellfish amplified by the heady essence of the lobster pudding.

08: Truffle Congee - Spiny Lobster, 24 months Comte Cheese
This was another of the courses that caught my eye when I first heard about this dinner and it lived up to my every expectation. The cheese soaked rice is tender and robust with whiff of barley or some other more flavorful grain while the lobster has a beautifully rare snap and deep shellfish sweetness.

09: Monkfish Cheek - Hazelnut Butter Vinaigrette, Leeks Truffles
I almost cringed when I saw how large the monkfish cheek was. The muscular cheek is mush firmer and more full bodied than most fish cheeks I've tasted. Still the keys here were the rich aroma of butter and truffle making this one of the evening's simpler courses.

10: Scrambled Eggs - Truffles, Nopales, Truffle Mole
Scrambled eggs are one of the most classic accompaniments with truffles. For my part, I prefer runny yolks, finding scrambled preparations a bit too eggy for my taste tho the textural contrast and vegetal character of the nopales did much to balance the egg. I thought Chef Quenioux was taking a page from Ludo's playbook with the mole, but instead of a true mole, Laurent made a darkly savory sauce from game offal that mimics the consistency of a true mole.

11: Oxtail and Truffle Grilled Cheese
This was another standout when I first perused the menu. The grilled cheese is simply exquisite, buttery toasty bread wrapped around a tender semi molten cheese. The braised oxtail adds a pleasing richness while the two slivers of radish seem like an afterthought their succulence was crucial to tempering the weight of the meat and cheese.

12: Bone Marrow Toast - Beef Culotte, Truffles, Huckleberries
I was expecting the bone marrow to be overly heavy and while it does add an oleaginous sensation to the morsel, it is the concentrated beefy flavor of the culotte that comes through most clearly.

13: Scottish Wood Pigeon - Fresh Fig, Green Lentils, Parsnip, Miso, Nameko
I was really curious how wood pigeon differed from the more common species present at other restaurants. The wood pigeon turned out to be substantially more gamy as well as leaner, giving the meat a much tougher texture. As full as I was at this point, the accompaniments, of fig and parsnip were a bit heavy but I did like the savory-sweet essence of the miso.

14: Veal Sweetbreads - Duck Foie Gras Soft Taco, Chanterelles
I have to be honest this course actually scared me, combining foie gras with sweetbreads sounds like a heart attack waiting to happen. As it was the two kinds of offal played off each other quite nicely. The sweetbread was firmer with a more bitter iron sapor while the foie gras was almost saccharine by comparison. The duo was wrapped in the softest tortilla that I've ever tasted all around a lovely course and I ate every bite despite being bursting full.

15: Purslane Salad - Curdled Yolk, Truffles
Kind of odd ending the meal with a simple salad, maybe Laurent felt bad for destroying our arteries with the preceding 14 courses. All things considered, the salad was quite refreshing, combining the herbaceousness of pea shoots with a concentrated acidity.

16: Cheese Cart
The cheese course was back in full force though I was too full to properly appreciate it. The one bright spot I clearly recall was the presence of Epoisses, a pungent runny cheese that is one of my favorite cheeses of all time.

17: Truffle "Elote" Tamale - Steamed Milk
With generous slices of white truffle steeping, the steamed milk was actually one of the single most expressive flavors of the night. The composed ambient truffle essence was perfect with the cakey savory flavor of the sweet corn tamale.

18: Beer Taffy - Truffle Barley Ice Cream, Hop Caramel Fleur de sel Cremeux, Beer Truffle Varnish, Cacahuates Japoneses
Nguyen described this as the most intense course of the night and he was dead on. The plate was sprinkled with actual chunks of truffle just in case diners didn't get enough during the previous 17 courses. Incorporating the basic elements of beer along with beer nuts, Nguyen described this course as a deconstructed beer experience. I could have done with a bit less of the cremaux as the hoppy kick reminded me of a concentrated and reduced IPA. The sweetness of the the barely ice cream and sticky beer varnish were absolutely critical to balance the explosive musk of the white truffle and bitter grassiness of the hops.

As expected, the white truffle dinner far and away exceeded anything I've seen from Laurent before. When using something as spectacular as white truffle, there is a desire to let the ingredient stand on its own. Instead these dishes were complex and well thought out, incorporating large amounts of game and other hearty flavors. While the luxurious aroma of the truffle played a part in all of the dishes , most of the courses could have stood on their own just as well without the truffle. For those of you who missed this meal, don't worry, Laurent mentioned this wouldn't be the last truffle dinner and the next one might be coming sooner than expected.
Read more.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

LQ@SK - 11/07/2011

350 S Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90071
(213) 617-3474

When I first heard Laurent was going to do an 18 course truffle menu I scrambled to find dining companions before the event sold out. While I eventually found two takers, they were understandably apprehensive about dropping $350 on a chef they never heard of. This dinner was intended as an audition of sorts; a chance for the two to meet Laurent before the main event.

Hair of the Dog, Ruth, American Pale Ale
What better to compliment a hot dog than with beer. The Ruth APA is starts out with the prototypical citrus and hoppy bite but the mid-palate turns substantially sweeter with flavors of apple and honey to temper the bitterness of the hops.

Amuse: Sweetbread Corn Dog - Lobster Newburg Gel
Ironically, a sweetbread hot dog might not be too different from a typical hot dog in terms of composition, Laurent is just more upfront about whats in his. The sweetbread had a texture far softer than the hot dog but a touch firmer than the slightly runny consistency I was expecting. The rich peppery bite was also far more innocuous than the typical offal sapor. The Newburg gel had a rich savory lobster essence that was quite delicious on its own, but the flavor was overshadowed by the corndog.

N.V. Pierre Peters, Blanc de Blancs, Brut Cuvée de Reserve, Champagne, France
I selected a sparkling to pair with the Albondigas and Scallops. I quite enjoyed this champagne, light and crisp with a balanced attack of minerality and stone fruit.

01: Wild Game Albondigas Soup - Sautéed Foie Gras
Finally my first taste of bear! The meatballs were an amalgam of wood pigeon, bear, and hare that carried a surprising game free savoriness. Accompanying the meatballs was a deep satisfying broth reminiscent of concentrated chicken noodle soup. Though I typically prefer cold foie, this was a simple yet particularly noteworthy warm preparation. The caramelized exterior had a nuanced livery tang but the semi-molten interior was pure unctuous decadence, reminiscent of the foie shabu shabu at Urasawa.

02: Diver Scallops - Beets, Celery Root, Figs, Pomegranate Molasses, Argan Oil, Jerez Vinegar
The scallops were a hair firmer than I liked but still quite tender. With beets and figs playing a prominent role I expected the dish to be overly saccharine, but the salinity of the scallops countered the duo nicely.

2007 Pyramid Valley Pinot Noir, Eaton Family Vineyards, Marlborough, New Zealand
For our meat courses, I opted for a lighter red, in the Pyramid Valley Pinot. A very satisfying wine, with intense aromas of sour cherry, cocoa and a hint of herbs. The wine goes down silky smooth, balanced on the palate with juicy fruit and earthy notes.

03: Chanterelles - Hazelnuts, Chestnut, Cranberry Varnish, Wild Arugula, Rabbit, Quail Egg
I consider rabbit to be a more restrained meat but the flavor was deliciously robust. The salad was equally impressive the toasted nuts and fresh arugula were tinged with the aroma of truffles. Taken together the dish became a dynamic melange of flavor and texture that was absolutely stellar.

04: Beef "culotte" - Croustillant of Potatoes, Bacon, Onion, Passion Fruit "jus"
The final savory of a night was a simple top sirloin cap, firmer with a depth of beefy flavor. The base layer of potatoes, bacon, and onion reminded me of an Alsatian tart and could have stood on its own while the passion fruit "jus" cuts through the weightiness of the beef and tart with a mouth-puckering tang.

05: The Cheese Cart - Truffle Honey, Toasted Hazelnuts, Carroway Seeds, Pumpkin & Ginger, Fig Tomatillo & Serrano, Fennel, Blended Berry Balsamic
It's been a while since I've had a fromage so it was nice to to see one so extensive. We opted for a selection of seven cheeses definitely favoring softer cow's milk cheese. The blue ended The truffle honey smelled fairly mild but exploded on the palate with a complex heady truffle essence that was so good I could have eaten the bread alone.

06: Ginger Snap Crumble - Spice Cake, Chestnut Ice Cream, Chocolate Mousse, Rhubarb Gel
Our sweet course consisted of a prototypical spice cake and chestnut ice cream combo, very appropriate to the season while the chocolate mousse added a nice bitter twang and the rhubarb gel had a resonant acidity that matched its vivid color.

The audition was a resounding success, combining his trademark whimsy with expressive flavor, this was the most impressive cooking I've tasted from Laurent yet though I expect that to be exceeded shortly.
Read more.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Five Crowns - 10/03/2011

3801 E Coast Highway
Corona Del Mar, CA 92625
(949) 760-0331

Back when I first started eating out regularly, I was a meat and potatoes kind of guy, and a good steak was my idea of the pinnacle of culinary indulgence. Despite my love for beef, I never really ordered prime rib with any regularity. In fact, I still haven't had the prime rib at Lawry's though I did visit Five Crowns once before on the recommendation of a friend. Even though the details of that meal have been lost to antiquity, I distinctly remember being disappointed, finding the food tired even to my unrefined palate at the time. Hence my return wasn't a voluntary decision but rather something forced on me by familial obligations.

Crispy Rock Shrimp - horseradish aioli, tomato foam
Crisp in name only, the shrimp had a rubbery texture while the blunt tomato sauce saturated the batter, giving it a wet mealy consistency.

Seared Dayboat Scallops - preserved cherry tomatoes, toasted hazelnuts
This was the best of the appetizers. The scallops were a touch small, but still offered a nice balance of caramelization with a sufficiently rare center with a spray of fresh lime juice to heighten the bivalve's salinity.

Caesar Salad - roasted cherry tomatoes, crispy squash
Despite being a bit tired, the salad was enjoyable enough with crisp succulent Romaine and a tangy peppery sauce. A traditional Caesar doesn't include the tomatoes or squash, but I found their presence on the plate unnecessary.

Oxtail and Farro Soup - roasted chanterelles
I was expecting something with oxtail and chanterelles to be more robust instead of the thin vegetable-tinged beef consomme. My aunt seemed to enjoy the broth but I found it seriously lacking in flavor.

Seared Wild King Salmon - white corn risotto, blistered cherry tomatoes
Messy presentation aside, this was probably the most enjoyable dish of the night. The fish was cooked to a nice temperature with a charred crispy skin. The risotto was equally competent with a tinge of sweetness which along with the tart cherries helped counter the weight of the dark savory sauce.

Henry VIII - served with au jus, Yorkshire Pudding, whipped cream organic horseradish, creamed corn, mashed potatoes
As part of the Lawry's family of restaurants, Five Crowns is known for its prime rib. Here we have a rare Henry VIII cut, the largest serving the restaurant offers. Though I typically enjoy my meat rare, I found the muscle fibers and sinew didn't have enough time to soften making it difficult to cut and chew the meat. Fairly traditional sides accompany the slab of meat with the yorkshire pudding being the standout; an airy puff of baked batter that was the perfect vessel for the meat jus and gravy.

Though the menu seems to have been revamped since my last visit, the food hasn't shed its institutional feel. That being said I did find some things to enjoy about my experience this time around though not enough that I would ever feel the need to return.
Read more.