Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Petit Trois - 07/28/2014

718 N Highland Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038

It seems little more than a year ago Ludo finally settled down; teaming up with Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo to open his first permanent restaurant Trois Mec. Late last year I caught wind that he would be opening up his second restaurant, Petit Trois, in the defunct Thai restaurant next door and it immediately catapulted to the top of my list.

As more information became available it became clear that Petit Trois would be a completely different beast, more of a neighborhood restaurant than a fine-dining destination. Unlike its big brother, Petit Trois eschews the ticket system in fact the 21-seats are all first come first serve. Similarly the food would be drawn from Ludo's childhood rather than the more progressive cooking at Trois Mec. On another note, at least they bothered to put up some signage this time.

PANACHE - Kronenberg 1664, Rieme Sparkling Limonade
This reminded me of a drink served at The Playground in Santa Ana. The beer and fruit temper the more extreme aspects of each other resulting in a slightly sweet easy drinking beer.

JASMINE & TONIC - Jasmine Vodka, Lime Juice, Tonic
I opted to start the meal with a play on the classic Gin and Tonic. The drink is light and refreshing though I would have liked a bit more bite.

What French Bistro would be complete without fresh bread and butter. The bread comes warm with a dense crusty exterior and plenty of yeasty fragrance. The butter was even more impressive with a stunningly intense buttery flavor.

BELLOCQ'S SHOT - Rye Whisky, Housemade Pastis Sugar Cube, Creole Bitters
This was basically a Sazerac re-imagined with the pastis substituting for the Absinthe rinse. The flavors were familiar, but there was a bit too much emphasis on the rye.

MARESQUE - Ricard Pastis, Orgeat, Pear Brandy, Lime
Never having been a fan of licorice I struggled to get past the Pastis. Still beyond the anise-laden attack, the drink had a ripe fruity sweetness laced with a bit of citrus.

TOMATO SALAD - Mussel, Red Onions
The sweet meaty tomatoes are complimented by the spicy bite of the onion and the verdant fragrance of the basil. The croutons provide a toasty element as well as a stark textural contrast but it is the mussels that truly elevate this dish, bringing a unique smoky nuance to an otherwise conventional tomato salad.

STEAK TARTARE - Frites, Lettuces
The steak tartare came to the table pre-mixed. The meat had a finer texture than most with bits of either capers or cornichons mixed in giving the meat a slightly creamy mouthfeel and an inherent astringency to compliment the weightiness of the beef. The accompanying salad had a keen acidity while the thick toast had a slightly caramelized rusticity that complimented the tartare nicely.

CHICKEN LEG - Brioche Butter, Green Salad, Parsley
Definitely one of the most impressive roast chicken legs that I've ever eaten. The skin is nicely crisped and topped with bits of buttery brioche crumbs that exude decadent butteriness. Personally I found the deboned thigh a touch dry, but the leg was perfectly cooked.

OMELETTE - Chives, Boursin Cheese, Boston Lettuce, Dijon Vinaigrette
I don't think I've ever ordered an omelette outside of breakfast but the buzz surrounding this dish left me curious. Indeed, the eggs are light and fluffy and the filling of melted cheese and fresh black pepper add a surprisingly profound depth of flavor that is deftly balanced by the bright twang of the salad. This was hands down the best omelette that I've ever eaten and I can see how it has become Petit Trois' early signature dish.

PETIT PRINCE - Gin, Crème de Violette, Lemon, Luxardo
This was the most challenging cocktail for me, I've always struggled with Luxardo, the disconcerting medicinal flavor overrode all other elements of this cocktail.

BARDOT - Gin, Suze, Ruby Grapefruit, St. Germain
This proved to be my favorite cocktail. The aroma is reminiscent of yuzu jam but the flavor has a refreshing cucumber like bite.

STEAK FRITES - Onion Soup Sauce
The final course centers is arguably the most recognizable bistro dish: Steak Frites. Ludo chose to serve the traditional Steak Frites cut: rump steak and though the meat was a bit tough compared to more commonly served entrecôte, but serving one of those would be missing the point. Ludo's creation respects the culinary tradition but augments the flavor with an infusion of umami sweetness from the French onion soup

CHEESE PLATE - Chabichou, Reblochon, Camembert
Fittingly, the cheese plate at Petit Trois is composed entirely of French cheeses. First up was Chabichou, a soft goat cheese that was definitely the leanest blending the characteristic Caprine essence coupled with a touch of astringency. The Reblochon, a cow's milk cheese from Savoy has a much sweeter fattier flavor with a touch of nutty funk. Finally the Camembert was the softest, ripest and most pungent of the three cheeses.

RAPID FIRE - Gin, Spiced Wine Reduction, Champagne, Lemon
Despite having finished our meal we ordered the final cocktail for completeness sake. The reduced wine and gin temper each other leaving a muted herbal sweetness. The champagne isn't immediately noticeable except for the hint of effervescence.

NAPOLEON - Taihitian Vanilla
I thought this dessert succinctly captured Petit Trois charm. The flavor profile couldn't be simpler; a combination of buttery puff pastry with soft vivid vanilla, but the execution from the perfect harmony of flavor to the lovely textural contrast between the cream and pastry exemplifies the bistro philosophy of high-quality yet modest cooking.

CHOCOLATE CAKE - Whipped Cream
The final dessert was a straightforward chocolate cake. The decadent purity of the chocolate contrasted beautifully with the whipped airy levity of the cream though I found the cake just the slightest bit too dry for my tastes.

Petit Trois serves inventive, impeccably-executed hearty bistro fare; don't expect to find pear kimchi chutney or black olive molé. The food is a departure from Ludo's traditional globe-spanning cuisine, but for someone who has made a career defying convention, Petit Trois was a refreshing look at the classic French cuisine of his formative years.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Allumette - 06/28/2014

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

Its a shame, but sometimes critical acclaim doesn't translate into commercial success and that seems to be the case with Chef Miles Thompson's Allumette with Jonathan Gold placing the restaurant smack dab in the middle of his 101 top restaurants in LA. For my part, I've watched Thompson since his Vagrancy Project breathed new life into the tired Allston Yacht Club. Given the pop-up's success I wasn't surprised when Thompson took up permanent residence in the space, replacing the defunct Yacht Club with Allumette. Given my affection for the restaurant it was only fitting for me to be there to celebrate its final night of service.

POTATO CHIPS - Smoked Whitefish, Uni Cream, Chive
First up was a sextet of gentrified potato chips. While I thought I would favor the uni cream, it was actually the biting saline smoke of the whitefish that stood out. In either case both seafood sauces paired well with the crisp savory chips

BABY TORPEDO ONION PANISSE - Meyer Lemon Mustard, Hibiscus, Cilantro
Next up were dense savory cubes that exuded an aroma of sweet caramelized onions. The torpedos were heightened by the zesty bite of the mustard and the twang of the pickled hibiscus.

POTATOES A LA PLANCHA - Furikake Aioli, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Katsuobushi
The final of the three snacks also proved to be the most substantial. Grilled potato hemispheres laced with a three-pronged dose of umami from the furikake, bonito flakes and shredded cheese.

FOCCACIA - Lava Salt, Marscarpone Potato Ball
Allumette's composed bread course remains one of the best bread services I've had in recent memory. The grilled bread carries a heady char and crunchy texture while the potato cheese ball conveys a buttery rush wrapped up in a satisfying starchy package.

Allumette's formal menu consists of 10 distinct dishes divided into four courses with an option for an additional savory course. Naturally I coordinated with one of my companions to divide and conquer in order to try the entire menu.

CUCUMBERS - Apricot Fennel Comopte, Ripe & Unripe Berries, White Chocolate
Brut N.V., Michelle, Domaine ste. Michelle
Cucumbers are one of my favorite vegetables, a delightful blend of crispiness and succulence with a clean freshness on the palate. The vegetable itself is subsumed by the sweet and sour melange of fruits while the chocolate adds a weighty creamy sweetness to balance the austerity of the fruit and vegetables.

RED PRAWN - Vinegar Meringue, Rice Paper, Tokyo Negi
Cider, Anthem Hops, Wandering Aengus Ciderworks
The prawn was one of the stars of the evening. The perfectly cooked crustacean has a light translucence and beautiful snap. Hints of spice and heady char compliment the prawn's inherent salinity while the accompaniments bring a blend of tang sweetness and saltiness that is deliciously cerebral.

SUMMER SQUASH - White Corn Fondue, June Garlic Miso, Sage
Sauvignon, Erste + Neue, '12, Alto Adige
I've never been a fan of squash but proved to be one of the night's standout courses. The bright beautiful medley of herbs, flowers, and vegetables convey an unexpectedly weighty savor that winds down to a lingering sapid fried heft.

ARROWTIP SQUID - Pistachio Ponzu, Cherry, Black Mint
Sake, Gokun Honjozo, 'the Five Disciplines'
In terms of texture the squid was spot on, a touch rough on the char with a dense snappy body throughout. In terms of flavor the gentle salinity of the squid plays second fiddle to the punchy tangy onion and the lightly bitter mint. The combination is light and refreshing but I would have liked the squid to be more apparent.

OCTOPUS - Za'atar Yogurt, Okra Caviar, Plum
Plum Rush - CapRock Gin, Smoked Salted Plum, Sage Honey, Lemon
The second half savories definitely had more weight to them. Though the octopus was actually fairly sparse, the darkly grilled meat had plenty of smoke and vigor; shame the tentacles were a bit overcooked. The salty plum and twang of the yogurt represent a deft blend of Asian and Mediterranean flavors, that is quixotic yet undeniably effective.

IVORY KING SALMON - Soured Celtuce, Radish, Beet Syrup
Sherry, Amantillado, Alvear, Montilla
The octopus' counter part was a filet of salmon. Light color and dry texture aside the dish was nicely put together with the radish and pickled celtuce countering the viscous sweetness of the beet syrup

BRANZINO - Shellfish Tapioca, Fried Broccoli, Lemon
Chenin Blanc, Fielded Recordings, '10, Santa Ynez
The first of the two additions was a branzino topped with crispy skin and dense tender meatiness. With its potent shellfish relish, the snappy tapioca is a natural accompaniment to fish. The broccoli and lemon convey a slight wrinkle of bitterness but let the umami and savor shine through.

PORK COLLAR - Pho Charcoal, Eggplant Mayonnaise, Pickled Wasabi
Cabernet Franc, Le Rocher des Violettes, '11, Touraine
The pork was easily the strongest course of the meal's second half. The meat is firm but with just enough fat to keep the texture springy and tender. The char dovetails seamlessly with the collar's porcine savor while the pickles and mustard exude a funky acidity along with the smoky earth of the eggplant mayo.

TOASTED BARLEY POT-de-CRÈME - Feuille de Bric, Strawberry, Rosemary
Amaro Meletti
The first dessert was an airy whipped pot de cremé. The barley is apparent in the form of a light toasty savor which feels especially pronounced in contrast to the strawberry. The aromatic rosemary forms a bridge between the two ingredients making for a seamlessly cohesive dessert.

LEMONGRASS BAVAROIS - Hibiscus, Oat, Blood Orange
Rosenhof, Welschriesling, '06, Burgenland
The final course centered around a dense cream redolent of lemongrass. The tangy fragrance is augmented by tart blood orange and sweet hibiscus while the crumbled oats add a weighty pie crust like sweetness.

Three for three, this meal was another strong performance from Thompson and his crew. While I am sad to see Allumette go, I'm confident Thompson will land on his feet; he is simply far too talented a chef for anything less.

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