Friday, February 21, 2014

Maude - 02/20/2014

212 S Beverly Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90212
(310) 859-3418

When one of my friends suggested trying Maude I was a bit skeptical; after all I considered Chef Curtis Stone more of a TV personality than a serious chef. These days it's almost a given that high-profile chefs will find themselves on TV at some point whether it's on Top Chef Masters, Iron Chef, or another of the constant slate of cooking competition and restaurant shows, but Stone has spent far more time than most. Not only has he been on both Iron Chef (competitor) and Top Chef Masters (host) hes also been on The Celebrity Apprentice and made a slew of talk show appearances. All this lead me to question whether his restaurant would actually be any good.

To his credit, Stone started cooking professionally at 18 and worked at several top restaurants in his native Australia before moving to London where he would team up with Marco Pierre White, a celebrity chef and restauranteur who was one of the youngest chefs to win 3 Michelin Stars and was also the mentor for many of England's top chefs including the infamous Gordon Ramsay. Given his pedigree and his concept of featuring a single theme ingredient throughout his menu, I was intrigued enough to set aside my doubts.

Lime Sorbet
H. Goutorbe, "Cuvee Prestige", Champagne, France N.V
The meal began with a fresh, cool and delightful palate cleanser of lime sorbet. The frozen confection was sweet and gentle while the Cara Cara segments provided a touch of juicy acidic verve.

Oysters and Caviar
H. Goutorbe, "Cuvee Prestige", Champagne, France N.V
Our second canape consisted of a classic pairing of oyster and caviar. I loved the interplay between the creamy Shigoku and the caviar, a constant ebb and flow of melon-y sweetness and nutty saline. The champagne was especially apt with this course, medium weight and well balance the nose has hints of crisp apple and pear with a touch of wet slate and finishes with hints of brioche and nuts.

H. Goutorbe, "Cuvee Prestige", Champagne, France N.V
These might be the tiniest Gougères I've ever seen. Chef Stone brings his own twist on the classic cheese puff, infusing the creamy center with artichoke which gives the morsel a hint of verdant nuttiness.

Onion Bhaji
H. Goutorbe, "Cuvee Prestige", Champagne, France N.V
Next up was a short detour to India for these some fragrant onion fritters. The popular snack came with a sauce of cilantro, mint, and lime that was adds a touch of tangy herbaceous levity to the savory Bhaji.

Crispy Mussel
H. Goutorbe, "Cuvee Prestige", Champagne, France N.V
The last of the snacks was a single fried mussel in a base of orange aioli. Of course the saline and citrus work well together, the citrus aioli added both weight and balance in a way that was subtle yet undeiably effective; something that would become a hallmark of the whole meal.

Garden Salad - Pearl Onion, Buttermilk, Nasturtium
George Skouras, Moscofilero, Peloponnese, Greece 2012
Having dispensed with the canapes, we moved on to the meal proper. First up was a mix of crisp leafy greens tinged with a creamy lactic tang and flourishes of grassy bitterness. The salad isn't particularly complex but it was hard to deny the appeal of its simplicity and freshness. The accompanying wine was an approachable Greek wine made from the aromatic Moschofilero grape. A bouquet of fresh flowers and ripe citrus and stonefruit leaps from the glass tempered with a chalky minerality on the palate.

Carrot Soup - Smoked Parsnip, Orange, Serrano Ham
George Skouras, Moscofilero, Peloponnese, Greece 2012
I expected to struggle with this course but I found the thick potage of sweet carrot nicely balanced by the parsnip cream. Certainly sweet but tempered with a smoky heft and fatty relish from the Serrano chip.

Lobster - Crimson Turnip, Radish, Brioche
Hitori Musume, Junmai Nigori, Ibaraki, Japan
Our crudo dish was a lobster tartare coupled with bitter succulent radish and turnips. The thin buttery brioche crisp is a fitting companion for the succulent sweetness of the lobster. A very well conceived dish, though I think I would have liked a coarser cut of the lobster or larger pieces for a more apparent texture.

Terrine - Chicken, Pain Perdu, Mustard
Breton, "Clos Senechal", Borgueil, France 2010
Moving on to the heavier meat courses we started out with a terrine of pressed chicken. The dense spongy block of savory chicken is laced with fresh dill. The Pain Perdu (French Toast) and dijon mustard both add a sense of sweetness with the latter also contributing a touch of spicy relish. Moving onto red wines we started with a Cab Franc from Loire. The wine has a touch of rusticity that would play well with both bird courses along essences of cedar and subdued ripe plum.

"Duck, Duck, Goose" - Duck Egg, Smoked Goose Fat, Swiss Chard
The "Duck, Duck, Goose" was a rather whimsically named duck ravioli. The large raviolo is stuffed full of a dense ground duck meat reminiscent of sausage, with a light gamy savor highlighted by the smoked fat. The chard and slivers of pink pickles provide plenty of bitter and tart contrast as do the bits of finger lime mixed into the cream sauce.

Snake River Farm's Beef - Beef Cheek, Broccoli, Rosti
Emilio Moro, Ribera del Duero, Spain 2009
The final savory of the night was a take on beef and broccoli. I typically prefer my beef courses simple to fully appreciate the nuances of the meat but this was a superbly composed course with everything on the plate serving a purpose and in balance with its companions. The medium rare beef is from the rib-eye cut and shows both fat and rich meaty flavor. The cheek was a hearty braised affair, utterly tender with a much heavier feel to it. The broccoli was a nice change from the typical vegetables that come with beef courses, a light fresh contrast to the weightiness of the steak. The pad of roasted potato was tender and shot through with a satisfying bouquet of rosemary and butter. Finally drops of candied lemon gel bring a unique and uplifting sweetness to the entire dish. The Tempranillo was my favorite wine of the night, pairing bold ripe fruit with a touch of earth and forest floor, a classic steak-friendly wine.

Abbaye de Belloc - Mostarda, Semolina Crackers
Emilio Moro, Ribera del Duero, Spain 2009
The meal comes with an optional cheese course and though our server called it a supplement, I don't believe there is any added cost for ordering it. I was hoping for a more complex composed dish but apparently the restaurant only offers one cheese at a time, for us it was a French sheep's milk first made by Benedictine monks. A relatively high fat content cheese, the Abbaye de Belloc is a firm cheese but melts on the tongue. The flavor is fairly neutral not too salty or pungent and finishes with a sweet nutty twang.

Orange Blossom Madelines - Salted Caramel
Moving onto desserts we started off with warm Madeline cakes suffused with a nuanced bouquet of citrus and a lingering flavor reminiscent of freshly-brewed tea. The salted caramel is simultaneously rich, sweet, and lightly salty. Not wanting to waste a drop of the golden brown confection, I scooped the excess caramel into my coffee

Lemon Curd - Dulcey Cremeux, Yuzu Sorbet, Hempseed
Badia a Coltibuono, Vin Santo, Tuscany, Italy 2006
I typically like to have one lighter fruit based dessert and followed by a heavier one featuring chocolate/caramel, but this managed to combine both into a single cohesive whole. On one hand you have tart lemon curd and fragrant yuzu sorbet and on the other is a velvety Valrhona white chocolate cremeux providing some weight.

Mignardises - Blood Orange Marshmallow | Limoncello Macaron | Buddha's Hand Pâte de Fruit | Chocolate-Kumquat Thumbprint | Satsuma Chocolate truffle
In keeping with the theme ingredient all of the final sweets had some form of citrus. My favorite was the lemon pâte de fruit thanks to the resonant lemon zest. I also quite enjoyed the macaron, chewy and sweet with a touch of alcoholic citrus heat.

Early reports about Maude have all been very positive so I came with fairly high expectations and Chef Stone easily surpassed them. I enjoyed the Stone's idea of highlighting a key ingredient and from start to finish citrus was woven into every course we tasted. As much as I love bold citrus flavors, I really appreciated the way Chef stone demonstrated the fruits' subdued side, deftly adding relief and contrast without the bracing in-your-face acidity. At $75 for 9 courses, the meal is quite reasonable, and I could see myself coming back regularly as the key ingredient changes each month.

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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Barbershop Ristorante Italiano - 02/15/2014

1555 Vine Street
Los Angeles, CA 90028
(424) 272-5849

I first encountered Chef Walter el Negar at a surprisingly successful dinner at Il Grano where the young chef brought a sense of modernism to the venerable Italian standby. I then had the good fortune to check out the first incarnation of his Barbershop Ristorante Italiano popup which I hoped would lead to an eventual permanent home. Turns out Walter wanted a few more trial runs under his belt and I was eager to see how much things had changed in the year since we last crossed paths.

2005 Champagne Millésimé Brut, Louise Brison, Champagne, France
Our first drink was a 2005 vintage champagne from Louise Brison. Nicely balanced with a nose of tart apples and lemon, a crisp minerality and light touch of toast follow on the palate.

From the very start of the meal, it was evident that this was going to be a more sophisticated experience than my previous Barbershop experience. The first dish was a beach in a spoon, pairing a Shigoku Oyster encapsulated in seawater with foie gras sand and sea beans. Shigokus are my absolute favorite type of oyster but the characteristic sweetness a bit muted by the seawater. The beans add a light crunchy contrast while the foie sand takes on a tacky viscous richness as it interacts with the seawater.

Sadly this dish came sans uni, which according to Walter was sold out at the farmer's market. An interesting study in contrasts the tartare of wild yellowtail came resting on a bed of fresh ricotta and topped with dashi pearls. The cheese is dense but lightly flavored with a slight grit to its otherwise creamy mouth feel. By comparison the fish is slick and oily though restrained by the cheese. The garnish of kinome and edible flowers packs a surprisingly aggressive peppery zest that compliments the fish beautifully.

While rice and berries might not sound like much, the course also featured a sashimi of fresh of Hokkaido Scallop. The thick slabs of creamy scallop contrasts beautifully with the toasty crunch of the puffed rice. I was expecting the berries to add a jammy element to the dish, but the both the disc of jellied raspberry and the strawberry jam were surprisingly restrained, letting the scallop take its rightful place as the star of the dish.

2005 Grande Cuvée TBA #7 Nouvelle Trockenbeerenauslese, Alois Kracher, Burgenland, Austria
I originally brought this for our dessert course but it was also a natural pairing for the foie course. A blend of chardonnay and Riesling, the TbA was predictably sweet with hints of warm brown sugar, spiced apple, quince jam, and dried apricot, along with a pleasing streak of acid that brings an appreciable lift to the honeyed elixir.

I never realize how much I missed foie gras, but this course was a welcome reminder of the decadent joy of fatty duck liver. The thick pate of liver comes coated with a thin layer of syrupy grape must. The Saba provides a predictable yet welcome element of sweetness. What really set the dish off for me was the aromatic bitterness of the herbs and flowers, the touch of astringency countering both the heft of the liver and the saccharine character of the Saba.

Timmermans Lambicus Blanche, Brouwerij Timmermans-John Martin N.V., Itterbeek, Belgium
Given Barbershop's liberal BYO policy, we opted for beer pairings for the rest of our savories. First up was a combination sour/witbeer. I can't say I've ever had anything like this. The first impression is the lactic tang of a classic sour, but there is a yeasty sweet finish reminiscent of a witbeer.

This course centered around a beautiful prawn, the sweet translucent flesh and rich briny head are sublime when taken on their own. I was afraid the olive would be overwhelming here but the flavor is nicely balanced by the cardoon and artichoke making for a multifaceted earthy affair.

Saison Sauvin, 8 Wired Brewing Co., Aotearoa, New Zealand
Our second beer was a Saison from New Zealand. Aside from the rarity, there wasn't much about this beer that stood out. There was a touch of funk but more hop and pepper than anything else.

While the idea of squid ink pasta might seem daunting, it usually turns out pretty good. Walter decided to eschew the typical seafood-heavy preparation and go for a lighter set of flavors with lemon rind and garlic. A single cooked oyster adds a bolt of salinity but the overall flavor of earth and garlic was oddly reminiscent of escargot.

Next up was a perfectly cooked lobster, translucent and crisp, the tail meat exudes a sense of sweet saline. The apple ravioli was a playful counterpart to the lobster, bright and tangy the fruit brings a contrasting levity to the butter soaked crustacean.

Sur Megge, HaandBryggeriet, Drammen, Norway
Literally translated "Sour Bitch" this Norwegian beer is a relatively approachable sour. The hazy amber brew has keen notes of sour cherry and green apple with a bone dry finish, a logical pairing for a course featuring balsamic.

Despite rose and balsamic being the headlining ingredients, the risotto possesses an overarching hammy savor which I suspect comes from the shaved cheese. The plump Acquerello is tender and supple, easily one of the most precise risotto preparations that I've ever tasted.

Beachwood 7, Beachwood BBQ & Brewing, California, United States
I haven't been very impressed by Beachwood's tap selection but this was quite a pleasant surprise. The nose is full of tropical fruit, particularly lychee. The fruit is still noticeable on the palate but the dominant flavor was a sharp herbaceous pine sap.

Pluma Ibérico de Bellota
An extra gift from the kitchen, the Pluma is a cut from the shoulder right next to the prized Secreto. I don't think I've ever had a piece of pork so rare, the red meat looks more like a rare beef or seared bonito than pork. The sexy supple texture of the meat is unlike any pork that I've ever tasted. I was expecting a bit more porcine richness, but it was the fresh springtime zest of the ramps that dominates on the palate.

Ovila Belgian-Style Abbey Quad: Ale Brewed With Plums, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., California, United States
Our final beer was a special quadrupel from Qvila brewed with plums. There is certainly lots of sweet dried plums and spice with a touch of alcoholic heat. The wine probably would have been a more fitting companion for desserts than a savory but what do you pair with fish and chocolate?

Yes this isn't a typo, the dish really is cod and chocolate. The cod had one of the most amazing textures that I can remember. I could see the fish quivering like silken tofu as our server set the plate in front of me. The fish is fairly mild but still conveys an even oily richness. The chocolate-laced sauce conveys an almost imperceptible sweetness though the flavor is augmented the thin layer of coconut foam.

Ginger and carrots are among my least favorite things to eat so I didn't have high hopes for this course, but Walter far exceeded my expectations. The spice of the ginger and sweetness of the carrot are apparent but restrained thanks to the base of panna cotta.

Our final dessert certainly lived up to its name, pairing a bracing sweet lime sorbet with a spicy cayenne semifreddo. The spice isn't overwhelming but the heat is apparent as a scratching tickle at the back of the throat, an interesting idea though I would have liked something a touch heavier.

Without a doubt Walter has grown since we last met. The early courses in particular demonstrate a level of composition and complexity that far exceeds the typical crudo. Certainly he's upped his game when it comes to technique with a sophisticated multifaceted minimalism at work. While I missed some of the more explosive approachable flavors that highlighted my last visit, I do think the current Barbershop incarnation was a better overall experience.
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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Fishing with Dynamite - 01/29/2014

1148 Manhattan Ave
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
(310) 893-6299

Since it first opened in 2011, David LeFevre's MB Post has become an institution, bringing legitimacy to the Manhattan Beach food scene. Given his success, a follow-up restaurant was almost a foregone conclusion. Opened two doors down from MB Post, the seafood-centric Fishing with Dynamite makes sense given LeFevre's many years at the helm at Water Grill.

Original Gangster - boulevardier w/ white dog, aperol, vya sweet & grapefruit
The bartender, Ken, referred to this as a riff on a Negroni. While I've been learning to appreciate the classic Italian libation, the astringency can still be a bit off-putting. This was a bit more approachable than the typical Negroni, smooth as liquid velvet with a soft grape-y sweetness and touch of woody bitterness.

Late Night Corpse Reviver - sazerac, cocchi americano, blood orange, ginger and peppercorn syrup, lime juice, burnt orange zest
After chatting with Ken, I decided to go off-menu the rest of the evening. First up was a variant of the Corpse Reviver, a family of drinks designed to be drunk in the morning after a night of heavy indulgence. Ken's version, a medium-bodied drink tinged with a whiff of burnt orange and bitterness is built around a dark liquor hence the late-night moniker.

Sample Platter - Mattaki, Shigoku, Kumamoto, Wellfleet, Barnstable, Cookes Cove
Live Santa Barbara Sea Urchin - grilled foccacia
The plate featured a Shigoku and Kumamoto, but I decided to skip my favorites and try some new varieties like the Mattaki, a compact wonderfully creamy oyster with a pronounced saline finish to it. The Wellfleet was a leaner oyster, on the salty side with a touch of steel and seaweed thrown in. The Cookes Cove was the most challenging of the oyster thanks to its salty attack and keen lingering bitterness. The quivering slivers of chilled uni were equally delicious on their own or on top of the rustic toasted foccacia.

Black Miso Cod - japanese eggplant, adzuki beans, pickled ginger, thai basil
Black Cod seems to always be a good bet and LeFevre's version is no exception. The fish is buttery and flaky rife with sweetness accented by the miso sauce. The fish has a touch of char on the surface which adds an extra layer of flavor in the form of smoky charred fish oil. The base of starches were something of a mixed bag, while I liked the tender eggplant I wasn't a huge fan of the adzuki.

Hamachi - ponzu, avocado, red radish, serrano, shiso
Another classic combination, the combination of Hamachi, ponzu and chili has become fairly ubiquitous. Nothing to complain about here, the tender oily fish is heightened by the bracing zing of the ponzu while the Serrano and radish add some astringency to counter the heft of the fish and avocado.

Nantucket Bay Scallops - uni, yuzu kosho, grapefruit, passion fruit, thai basil
The scallops came coated in a fragrant mix of sweet and citrus fruit that was quite pleasant but a bit overwhelming for the sweet bivalves. The uni helped balance things out with a streak of brash saline while the basil added a fragrant herbaceousness to the mix.

Mezcal Old Fashioned - mezcal, rosemary syrup, angostura and peychaud bitters, lime
When I asked for a mezcal based cocktail, Ken's face lit up. The Mezcal Old Fashioned was right up my alley, coupling multifaceted aromatics with an ever present sense of petrol and booze from the mezcal

British Columbia Honey Mussels - housemade linguini, vermouth, grilled foccacia
I've always struggled with mussels and while I've come to enjoy heavier preparations that feature sausage, lighter preparations are still a bit of a challenge. The honey mussels certainly lived up to their name with plenty of sweet brine. The wine sauce the pasta came with was buttery rich, conveying a sense of savor and brine laced with a touch of chili. My companion likened the plump linguini and the heady broth to a gentrified chicken noodle soup.

Maryland Blue Crab Cake - in-house dill pickles, whole grain mustard remoulade
There was plenty to enjoy about this crab cake. Pretty well pure crab meat the disc of crab meat can barely hold itself together. The base of creamy remoulade adds a light splash of bitterness and spice while the crisp tangy pickles are a wonderful foil for the crab.

Grilled Octopus - cranberry beans, date-tomato ragu, preserved lemon, olive tapenade
The grilled octopus was surprisingly complex, soft and tender enveloped by a crisp charred layer. The octopus has a gentle flavor augmented by a sense of smoke and savor. The accompaniments are unnecessary but I loved the sweet sour interplay of the ragu and candied lemons as well as the contrasting weightiness of the beans.

TBD - sazerac, cocchi americano, egg white, lemon, half and half, vanilla syrup
Designed to pair with the coming dessert this treat had a bit of texture to it thanks to the egg and cream. The flavor is subtly sweet with just the barest sense of rye and vinousness from the Cocchi

Pretzel and Chocolate Bread Pudding - salted caramel sauce and house made ice cream
Ken described this dessert as orgasmic and while I wouldn't go that far I did enjoy the combination of savory pretzel and rich chocolate. The caramel offers a similar dichotomy of flavor while the marscarpone ice cream adds an uplifting sweetness to the bread pudding.

FwD offers an interesting mix of old school fare suited to a New England seafood shack and more contemporary dishes that feature a heavy Asian influence. The food is well-executed if a bit predictable, but judging by how packed the place was, LeFevre's food resonates with the South Bay crowd.

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