Thursday, July 30, 2009

Tasting at The Bread Bar

Where do I begin...last Thursday night, I was invited to an 8 course food and wine pairing dinner at The Bread Bar in Century City. The Chef featured that evening was Michael Voltaggio (will be seen on Top Chef Season 6 and just left his position as Chef de Cuisine at Bazaar to go to the Langham Huntington Hotel & Spa). The wine pairings were done by the very talented David Haskell. I had the pleasure of dining with David's mother as well as a girlfriend of mine.

First Course: Artichokes "Barigoule"
The meal started out with a delicious Gosset champagne..always nice to start with a glass of bubbly! The dish consisted of artichoke, salmon belly, small crumbles of Philadelphia cheese (put in liquid nitrogen and then blended), and smoked salmon roe. Once you get a bite that has a little bit of everything, including the dollop of sauce that was strained artichoke liquid (very unique), it was quite a tasty mouthful. So many great flavors.

Second Course: Japanese Tomato Tartare This dish was served with green almonds, parmesan "overeasy" and tapenade powders. As you can see in the photos it literally looks like an overeasy egg...even oozes like one once you break into it (though instead of yolk it's yellow tomato coulis). There is an intense process to making this but I wasn't able to capture it all except that it has to sit for about 24 hours! While this dish itself didn't blow me away, the presentation was pretty awesome. White Wine Pairing: 1998 Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte - Fantastic!

Third Course: Hamachi Crudo
This was a very unique dish served with smoked egg yolk, sea sponge, watermelon and wild rice. The hamachi was very fresh and was served over watermelon which looked like a piece of ahi tuna. While I liked the crunchy texture of the wild rice, it did remind me of cereal (likely not the intention of the chef). The sea sponge was quite interesting as it was made in a doshi broth (70% cold, 30% hot - has to be put in a fridge to cool otherwise will melt). Wine Pairing: Bandol Rose Domaine Tempier 2006. Loved this one!

Fourth Course: Veal Sweetbread
Served with a poached egg (you'll notice a common egg theme in many of these dishes), pea consomme (which the waiter poured into the dish at the table) and coffee-cardamon soil. I do love sweetbreads and this was a unique twist on it though the egg wasn't cooked as much as it should have been (the white part was a bit flimsy/gooey). Wine Pairing: Dios Baco Oloroso Cherry from Jerez, Spain. As I don't really drink cherry, I was pleasantly surprised.

Fifth Course: Crispy Chicken Thigh
Served with Cuttlefish, Green Garlic, Sweet and Sour Mushrooms. This was one of my favorite many great flavors and textures. This was perfectly paired with a beer called Dues Brut des Flandres (I would almost describe the consistency as that of sparkling beer).

Sixth Course: Wagyu Beef
Short rib, Saul's pastrami, tamarind, broccoli textures and horseradish "styrofoam." This dish was probably my favorite. Loved all the ingredients. It was cooked perfectly rare with very crisp and crunchy broccoli which was so delicious. The bright green on the plate was a broccoli puree. The horseradish "styrofoam" is whisked with egg white powder and then dehydrated (complicated process). Wine Pairing: Cote de Beaune Villages. This red wine paired perfectly.

On to the desserts...
Seventh Course: Miso Cake
Served with Jasmine "Rice Cream", Strawberry, Yuzu. I really enjoyed this dessert (I'll admit, I ate the whole thing!). The cream was yogurt, dried coconut and greek yogurt. Yum!
Wine pairing: N.V. Jean-Paul Brun FRV 100 (Gamay). Really nice sparkling wine.

Eighth and final course: Fool's Gold
Least favorite dish of the night. It had hazelnut praline, salty caramel, nitro coffee mousse. A bit rich for my taste.

Overall, truly a unique meal (always fun to enjoy a little molecular gastronomy), but the wine was the highlight of the evening.
Rating: 90

Sunday, July 26, 2009


We figured it's time to put up a post on one of our favorite restaurants in LA...Suzanne Goin's AOC, named after the Appellation d'Origine Controlee (French certification of wines, cheeses, etc. dating back to the 15th century) is probably best described as a small plates Medditerranean style food coupled with a top of the line wine bar.

The restaurant offers close to 50 different wines by the glass, carafe or bottle and phenomenal stemware (note, if you do bring you own bottle, the restaurant will waive corkage if you buy a bottle...incentive to consume). Additionally, we like the scene....hip with a minimalist decor.

Now, if you're a big cheese and charcuterie fan...AOC is right up your alley. In fact, the restaurant even has a cheese bar where you can watch them slicing up your fromage. We like to start with the lomo & two chorizo, a mix of two different types of salami & a pork tenderloin cured in a similar manner to prosciutto or bresaola. If this dish doesn't sound like your style, go for the serrano ham or prosciutto (cant go wrong). Alongside the meat, we went for an assortment of 3 cheeses. They have a full cheese menu that changes daily served with some dried figs and a knowledgeable waitstaff to help you through the selections. For us, starting off the meal with meat, cheese, and a nice red is the perfect way to start the evening.

On to the small plates. We started with a new dish on the menu, the duck breast salad (see attached pic), served with blood oranges, mizuna, and green olives (see picture). The duck was cooked perfectly and the citrus of the oranges combined with the olive kick really worked well together. We followed with a beet & burrata salad which was solid, but quite similar to the burrata dishes you see at many other LA eateries. It's not that we didn't enjoy it, in fact, it is a great dish, but we'd rather choose the unique dishes AOC brings to the table.
Some of our favorites include the brioche with prosciutto, gruyere and a poached egg (see attached pic), the cauliflower with curry and red vinegar, halibut with salt cod gratin, sorrel and garlic, and the skirt steak with roquefort butter and crispy onions. With the exception of the halibut, which we had to send back because it was undercooked (clearly a moment of weakness for the restaurant), all of the above dishes are quite tasty. Of the proteins, we keep coming back for the skirt steak. The roquefort butter & onions work with the steak perfectly. Additionally, it's a great piece of meat (Niman Ranch) and comes out quite tender, which is a concern we usually have with skirt steak.
Lastly, we want to point out what we call a "rabbit meatball" (see attached pic), served with peaches in a light peach sauce. We forgot to write-down the details of the dish so vaguely describing it based on memory. My wife won't eat rabbit if I she knows that's what she's eating (something to do with cute bunny association), so I had to disguise this one as chicken. Guess what? The dish really blew her away. It was incredibly tender and really benefited from the sweetness in the sauteed peaches. I am a big fan of rabbit (when it's done well, it's phenomenal) and believe it's a protein that is certainly underused in the US.

Even though you may be full and need something sweet to finish off the meal, we suggest you go elsewhere to satisfy your sweet tooth. Though their desserts may sound good, they definitely fell short. This has proven true on multiple occasions, which is the one drawback of the meal.

Overall, AOC brings inventive dishes to the table in a way that keeps you on your toes. Combine that with a great wine offering and hip atmosphere, we really think you have a winner.
Note: Make sure to ask for a table in the main room (can loose the ambiance if seated upstairs)

Rating: 94

8022 W. 3rd St.
Los Angeles 90048

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Not Your Average Burger

Watch out Father's Office, there's a new burger in town. Sunday night we went to our new favorite burger joint - Umami Burger. This new venture (opened in Feb), from Adam Fleischman of Bottle Rock, seems to have hit the ground running. Unlike Father's Office, which has one go-to-burger as well as a number of other dishes, Umami's menu focuses on nothing but burgers. In fact, they have about seven different burgers to choose from plus one or two specials.

Before jumping in, we figured we'd highlight a couple key attributes that differentiates itself from your average burger joint. Umami grinds its own meat. Adam buys in the form of steaks and builds the burger truly from scratch (only other LA burger place that we know of that does this is Father's Office). The other key stand-out is the bun. It almost has the sweetness of a brioche, but with out the flaky outside...probably better to describe it as a brioche meets challah.

On to the burgers. Our favorites include the Port & Stilton burger with blue cheese and caramelized onions (see attached pic), the Hatch burger which has 4 different types of green chilies (if you like a bit of spice, this is a must!) and the Manly burger (see attached pic) which consists of chunks of bacon, cheddar cheese and crispy fried onions. It's fun to split a couple so you get a taste of the many options. The only 2 that we do not recommend are the Turkey Confit burger (too plain) and the Truffle burger which sounds delish but you can barely taste the truffle. As a side, their malt liquor tempura onion rings are amazing...much better than the fries.
They also have some great specials so make sure to ask. Their burrata carprese salad was just on par with any great Italian restaurant. They also have unique fish burgers...the crab meat burger was awesome. We were told they switch them up and make Lobster and Scallop burgers as well...yum!!!

Umami is BYOB so make sure to bring a heavy red or a six pack of beer to go with the burgers. Also, they have a cute little patio which is a great spot to enjoy your meal.

Good news for those of you in Santa Monica - they are opening one soon.

Rating: 93

Umami Burger
850 S. La Brea Ave.
Los Angeles 90036

Saturday, July 18, 2009

New Brentwood Hotspot: Tavern

We've been trying to get into Tavern since it opened last month....Alas, we finally were able to get a reservation. The main room was booked so we settled for the "Blue Room" which is the bar area. It looked like a fun scene so we didn't mind the loud noise.

Being a new restaurant we heard the service was poor so we didn't have very high expectations. Luckily that wasn't the case...the service was great.

The wine menu actually has a couple decent steals (Solid Sancerre for $35/bottle) and if you buy a couple they will waive the price of corkage ($25/bottle).

Now onto the food. The recommended apps included the Soft-shell Crab (see attached pic) with corn salad ($18) and the Heirloom tomatoes (see attached pic) with eggplant, pesto and fried mozzarella ($16). Unfortunately it was a little over-breaded and hard to taste the true flavor of the crab. We were lucky as the chef also brought out a few other salads for us to try. We especially enjoyed the summer fruit salad with arugula and marcona almonds....light and refreshing.

For the entrees the Halibut grilled in fig leaves was highly recommended as well as the Pork Chop and the Devil's Chicken (entrees range from $24-$39.) The Halibut was served with wild mushrooms, figs and pancetta so it had a lot of great flavors, however, it was a bit heavy with everything combined. As far as chicken goes, it's rare we order chicken on a menu as we tend to find many chicken dishes a bit dry and bland. The Devil's Chicken (see attached pic) was baked with leeks and mustard breadcrumbs which gave it a nice touch...although still very rich. The Pork Chop was served with cornbread, chorizo and spiced maple syrup. The dish was quite flavorful and a favorite of the evening.

Overall, the food was enjoyable but came across as too heavy for our taste. Together, the group of appetizers & entrees (soft-shell crab, fried mozzarella, and chicken with breadcrumbs) all contained the same consistency and flavor.

Rating: 86

11648 San Vicente Blvd.
Los Angeles 90049

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

How Bazaar!

This past Friday we went to the much talked about restaurant in the SLS Hotel - The Bazaar. We had been there once before but with a large group and had a limited tasting menu. We chose to skip the tasting menu this time around and order on our own. The dishes were hit or miss. We started with the Jamon Iberco which is now legal in the states...yay! While a bit pricey, definitely worth it. It's the upgrade to prosciutto. They serve this with Catalan style toasted bread with tomato. We then moved on to a few other starters including the Cotton Candy Foie Gras (see attached pic). While we love foie gras and have been eager to try this much talked about dish, it wasn't up to par. Their was an impressive amount of foie gras, however, the cotton candy is so light and melts immediately in your mouth that all you end up tasting is a large piece of foie gras. The starters that we did very much enjoy were the Sweet Potato Chips served with a delicious yogurt sauce as well Papas Canarias (see attached pic) which are salty wrinkled potatoes with a mojo verde dipping sauce. Don't fill up on them though as they are kind of addicting...
same with the chips. The chicken croquettes were nothing special but brought us back to our time spent in Spain as we ate a ton of them there. The sauteed shrimp with garlic had a nice spice to it but probably wouldn't order it again. We did love the Lamb Loin (see attached pic) served with mushrooms and mashed potato. The Tuna Ceviche and Avocado Roll is a must! Normally wouldn't order a sushi roll at this type of restaurant but it's quite delicious.

Overall you can't beat the scene and the cool atmosphere, but thought the food fell a bit short considering the hype.

***Note that certain desserts are not available depending on which room you are sitting in. Kind of a disappointment when you are there to try everything.

Rating: 87

The Bazaar
465 S. La Cienega Blvd.
Los Angeles 90048

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Fill Up Somewhere Else

I finally had the chance to check out Ford's Filling Station last week, the gastro pub run by Ben Ford (Harrison Ford's son). I had heard great things about this place and given the location in the young & hip Culver City, I figured it wouldn't disappoint. What I found was gourmet pub food for the price of a meal at any of the top LA restaurants. It is not that I had a terrible meal, but rather that I got terribly ripped off. I kid you not, I've had a meal at Patina for less than this.

I started off the meal with an order of the rabbit pate. It's served with some grilled shallots, whole grain mustard and cornichons - all of which can be put together on top of some toasted bread. It's a nice starter, but it comes at a price (believe it was around $14-$16). I followed this up with some fried clams, nice & crispy served with lemon and a tartar sauce. It is a perfect example of what one would expect at a gastro pub and was actually quite good. Again though, had an issue with the price which I figured should have been half the cost (generally a small fried clam or calamari dish at a gastro pub will run $6-$10).

As I looked at the entree menu, I was actually shocked. Most of the dishes were priced in the $25-$30 range including dishes such as black cod with artichoke, fish & chips, and kobe beef cheeks served with cracked wheat risotto. I opted for the pub burger, the cheapest by far on the menu ($16) in an effort to save a few bucks. When I ordered, I was asked if I wanted "the works," assuming that it would come with all the condiments. It ended up being a little dry and needed all add-on's to work. While I shouldn't compare the burger to Father's Office (my favorite gourmet burger), it was hard not to. It's not in the same ballpark, rather average, and much more expensive. I did get the chance to try the kobe cheeks which were actually quite tasty but a touch rich. Additionally, the dish didn't seem to fit the scene of a trendy pub environment.

When the bill came, I found that I was charged $22 for the burger ($16 + $6 for "the works"), yet there was no mention of the added cost on the menu, nor did the waitress highlight the supplement. It's not that I have an issue paying that much for a burger (have spent more before), but I want to have a descent sense of the bill before it comes. It is this reason that prices are put on the menu in the first place. After complaining a bit to the waitress with no luck (figures given the service was poor from the start), I emailed the management directly to express my response.

Overall, I would sum up the restaurant as a great disappointment. If I want gourmet pub food, I would head over to Father's Office right down the street. If I want a fine dining meal, I will head over to a place such as Hatfield's (previous write-up) or any of the other great options in LA.

So, count me out on Ford's...I'll fill up somewhere else.

Rating: 85

Ford's Filling Station
9531 Culver Blvd.
Culver City 90232