Saam Room at the Bazaar – 10/22/10

Saam Room at The Bazaar
SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills
465 S La Cienega Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90048

Since opening in late 2008, The Bazaar has received very positive local and national acclaim. The brainchild of renowned chef Jose Andres, it’s been awarded 4 stars by the LA Times and recognized as one of the best new U.S. restaurants by Esquire and Forbes. Adding even more buzz, the restaurant’s opening Chef de Cuisine, Michael Voltaggio, won Top Chef season 6.

The Bazaar is one of the more unique restaurants in the city as many of its dishes are, literally, spectacular.  Using some molecular gastronomy flair, the plates served are unique in preparations and style. This is most evident in The Bazaar’s not-so-secret back dining room – the Saam room. Serving a tasting menu of 20+ courses, this separate dining room showcases some of the restaurant’s most fun and unique dishes.

I’ve been to The Bazaar a few times, and the Saam Room once before. From those visits, my general thoughts were that the food was interesting, though somewhat hit or miss in terms of taste. This meal would prove to be my strongest meal here yet.

The Golden Boy

The first “course” was this shot of sherry, cava, bitters and gold dust. This tasted similar to Martinelli’s sparkling cider, something I really enjoy. I could have consumed a whole glass of this.

Lotus Root Chip

Next up – thinly sliced and fried lotus root chips, topped with star anise. The star anise added a rather subtle licorice-like flavor to these chips.

Olive Oil Bonbon

Next is a staple on the Saam menu – the olive oil bonbons. A candied shell encapsulates olive oil, making it look like a drop of olive oil suspended in air. I enjoyed the sweetness of the exterior in tandem with the richness of the olive oil.

Bagel & Lox Steam Bun

This was a variation on the classic bagel combination of a bagel, lox and cream cheese. Instead this was with a steamed bun topped with salmon roe, dill and creme fraiche. Interesting interpretation. All of the flavors were present, though I didn’t think it was anything special.

Tuna Handroll 2009

Liquefied nori, sesame paste, avocado and chopped tuna filled this cone, which was the restaurant’s interpretation of the sushi roll. I actually really liked this, with the crispy cone adding some nice texture to this bite.

Black Olives Ferran Adrià

This dish has evolved a little, from being just “olives” to “black olives,” with the addition of a little squid ink in the spherification. It tasted just like an olive, with a hint of squid ink. It’s a lot of effort just to get the flavor of an olive with squid ink, but I thought this preparation was kind of cool.

Jose’s Combination

I first had this at this year’s American Wine & Food Festival and loved it. This plate is combining two very decadent ingredients (Jamon Iberico and Spanish caviar) that work well together. The richness of the fatty ham and the salty, briny caviar made a very nice bite. So simple and so delightful.

Pastrami Saul

I appreciated the salty meatiness of the pastrami, wrapped around a crunchy cracker. A little bit less inventive than other dishes, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Buffalo Wing

The Bazaar has always had some great boneless chicken wings. Really crispy and moist, these go down easily. I thought the buffalo sauce, while just a small dollop, was very strong and almost overpowering. I kinda wish I could purchase a bucket of these, without the sauce, and watch some weekend football.

Crispy Nigiri

Here we have shima aji atop puffed rice. The fish was good, though I thought the fish:puffed rice ratio was a bit low. Interesting interpretation of the traditional nigiri.

Chipirones en su Tinta

Next was a squid dish with a squid ink sauce. Puffed rice (made with squid ink) accompanied the squid, lending the dish a nice crispy texture. The squid was a little chewy, though tender, and was extremely flavorful. I really enjoyed this dish.

Linguini and Clams

This was really interesting. Dashi was solidified using agar agar to make a “pasta.” Small bits of mirugai clams were included to complete the dish. The “noodles” tasted like an udon soup – wonderful. The clams were too small to really be noticeable though, but I still enjoyed this dish.

Japanese Baby Peaches

Very sweet Japanese peaches were paired with burrata cheese, hazelnuts, a hazelnut praline and a crouton. The creaminess of the burrata worked well with the sweet peaches, while the crouton and hazelnuts provided some nice texture.

Hot & Cold Foie Soup with Corn

Here we had a foie gras soup topped with corn foam. I didn’t get a lot of the foie gras flavor here, but the corn was sweet and delightful.

Not Your Everyday Caprese

One of The Bazaar’s most famous dishes features a marinated cherry tomato, a tomato “heart,”  pesto and a mozzarella spherification. This was a cute and unique presentation, and the flavors were spot on.

Kurobuta Pork Belly

This was the first really meaty dish of the night. The pork belly was pretty lean and tender, and I enjoyed the potatoes which accompanied the pork. The pickled vegetables added some nice acidity.

White Truffle “Risotto”

We were told that black and seasonal white truffles were an optional supplemental course. Here’s shaved white truffles over Japanese bomba rice, made risotto-like. Wild mushrooms were added into the mix for some additional flavor. Truffles and risotto are a common (and in my opinion somewhat overused) pairing, but it’s hard to go wrong – I enjoyed the earthiness of the truffles and the al dente rice.

Foie Gras Cotton Candy

This was another supplemental dish of cotton candy filled with foie gras. Interesting. I enjoyed the richness of the foie gras paired with the sweet, light cotton candy. Rather unusual, but it worked for me.

Philly Cheesesteak

A now-classic dish at the Bazaar is the Philly Cheesesteak. Air bread, cheddar cheese and wagyu beef are combined to make a haute version of the sandwich. I’ve enjoyed this “sandwich” many times, and this was no exception. The beef and cheese meld together very well, with the air bread adding a little bit of body to each bite.

Dragon’s Breath Popcorn

One of the most spectacular dishes is the Dragon’s Breath. A bowl of liquid nitrogen was placed on the table, in which small pieces of caramel popcorn were placed.

The effect of chewing the popcorn was sensational. The liquid nitrogen was so cold that breaths of air turned into ‘smoke’ coming out of your mouth and nostrils. Definitely a fun dish, though this tasted like standard caramel popcorn.

Rose Clementine

This was the first dessert of the evening. A clementine sorbet and rose sabayon were paired together. I enjoyed the citrus flavor of the sorbet in tandem with the floral tones of the sabayon. In addition, the light sorbet paired well with the richness of the sabayon quite nicely.

Chocolate Eucalyptus


The second dessert featured eucalyptus mint ice cream, peppermint mousse, and chocolate ganache. The mint had a strong flavor – combined with the rich chocolate, it made a great mix. Mmm chocolate and mint. The cookie bits added the necessary texture to complete this dish.

Sexy Little Sweets

Lastly, we finished with the mignardises. We were presented with vanilla and mixed berry gelees, salty dark and vanilla with red peppercorn chocolates, and earl grey, lemon ginger, and saffron chocolate truffles. My favorite was the earl grey with its strong tea flavor, which I liked with the chocolate.

In all, I thought this meal was pretty good. We had some pretty interesting dishes (the linguine with clams, olive oil bonbons, cotton candy foie gras) and nothing was bad. However, I don’t have a desire to return for a while; I think a lot of The Bazaar’s draw is in experiencing some of the novelty and being able to play with your food, and I’ve satisfied that curiosity for now.

Scarpetta Beverly Hills – 10/25/10

Scarpetta Beverly Hills
Montage Beverly Hills
225 North Canon Dr.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

sign

Scarpetta is one of the more notable restaurant openings in LA this year, largely because it’s associated with celebrity chef Scott Conant (both as a restaurateur and on TV: Chopped and 24 Hour Restaurant Battle). Scarpetta is Conant’s interpretation of rustic Italian fare with locations already in New York, Miami, Toronto and (soon-to-be) Las Vegas.

One of the things that first turned me on to Scarpetta was seeing Conant demonstrate his version of spaghetti on No Reservations, specifically the “Techniques” episode. It was so simple…fresh pasta, tomatoes, basil, olive oil…yet looked so good. Nevermind that it was $24 for a small plate, I knew I’d have to try it someday. That someday was today, the day Scarpetta Beverly Hills opened up. I joined fellow bloggers Kevin of kevinEats and Tsz of Gastrophoria.

dining room

The dining room is pretty sleek and modern, and actually relatively bright (makes for good food pictures). Shortly after sitting down, bread service began.

bread1bread2bread3bread4

A variety of breads were served, including a crunchy foccaccia, and a delicious and hearty stromboli. These were served with an eggplant caponata, marscapone butter, and a citrus-infused olive oil. These were all quite good – the stromboli, filled with melted cheese and salami, was perfect on its own. For the others, I appreciated the simple citrus-infused olive oil most.

Shortly after bread service, we were offered a place at the kitchen counter – in full view of the kitchen. Yes! We weren’t gonna pass up a seat right in the middle of the action!

kitchen1

kitchen2

We put ourselves in Chef Conant’s hands, letting him choose a tasting menu for us consisting of some of the dishes he was famous for, as well as a few dishes he thought we should try.

Olives Ascolana

stuffed olives

These were fried olives stuffed with beef, veal and pork. Kind of like a meatball – it was juicy and meaty…delish! I appreciated the light crispiness of the exterior as well.

Duo of Crudo – Raw Yellowtail and Tuna “Susci” yellowtail with olio de zenzero & pickled red onion, tuna rolled around marinated vegetables & preserved truffles

yellowtail

tuna sushi

I enjoyed both of these preparations. The tuna was definitely the more interesting, with crisp vegetables inside, and some nice black truffles on top. However, I may have enjoyed the simplicity of the yellowtail even more, with its clean, fresh flavors – it had just enough oil, sea salt and red onion. Both were fantastic bites.

Puree of Pumpkin Soup farro, almonds, spiced croutons, pumpkin oil, black truffles

pumpkin soup1

pumpkin soup2

Perfect for fall, this soup had a nice creamy pumpkin flavor, and wasn’t overly sweet. Rich and hearty, I enjoyed the earthiness of the farro and the black truffles. The almonds added some nice texture to the soup as well.

Autumn Vegetable Salad black trumpet mushrooms, hazelnuts & foie gras emulsion

salad of roasted veggies

Keeping up with the seasonal produce, Chef Conant next presented us with this salad. Acorn squash, butternut squash, carrots and mixed greens were topped with a foie gras emulsion. Interesting. The flavors of foie gras were there, though this was a light dish with crisp greens and creamy squash. The black trumpet mushrooms, cooked down in a foie gras ragu, really added a lot of flavor.

Roasted Sea Scallop caramelized sunchokes & porcini mushrooms, topped with shaved white truffles

<scallop

I really appreciated the progression of dishes, as we were building flavors and entering into richer plates. Here we had a scallop which was really nicely cooked- very tender and moist. The sunchokes really gave a meatiness to this dish, which I quite enjoyed. And hello! White truffles – they’re in season! I love the flavor of white truffles – they instantly make any dish decadent. This was no exception; the earthiness of the truffles, combined with the porcini mushrooms and scallop, gave a surf & turf feel to this dish.

Creamy Polenta fricasse of truffled mushrooms, shaved white truffles

poenta

The white truffle onslaught continued. Here they topped a really nice, creamy polenta. I tasted a mild sweetness from the corn polenta, which went well with the rich and savory mushroom fricasse. Top this with the distinctive flavor of white truffles, and you’ve really got something here!

Spaghetti tomato & basil

spaghetti

This is probably Scarpetta’s most famous dish. It’s beautiful! I love the colors and the piled presentation. And how did it taste? Wonderful. It was really good. The fresh pasta was al dente with a nice chew to them, and the sauce was rich (lots of butter and oil!), though not overly sweet nor acidic. The fresh basil rounded everything out. This pasta dish lives up to the hype.

Chestnut and Short Rib Agnolotti

agnolotti

Only two pieces here, but they were rich and dense. I enjoyed the crispy chestnuts and the al dente pasta. The short rib filling was expectedly flavorful – and the beef jus brought even more flavor into these few bites.

Chef Conant plating our next course.

kitchen3

Roasted Duck Breast heirloom parsnips, raisin mostarda, lentils

duck

Beautiful. The duck was tender and cooked perfectly. The raisins brought a complementary sweetness, while the mostarda added just a little bit of heat. Loved the interplay of these flavors.

Aged Sirloin of Beef roasted baby potatoes, porcini mushrooms, barolo reduction, shaved white truffles

steak

More white truffles?! Oh man. No one’s complaining here. The steak was tender and flavorful, while shaved Parmiggiano Reggiano added a nice saltiness and nuttiness. The white truffles actually complemented the beefy flavors really well, and were a nice touch. Excellent.

Cheese savory biscotti

cheese

biscotti

Next we had the cheese course. Now, I’m never a big fan of the cheese course. However I did like the Parmigianno Reggiano (far right) with the balsamic vinegar, as well as the creamy Le Tour (second from right) paired with the sweet pineapple chutney. I enjoyed the savory biscotti for their crunchiness and mild herbal flavor.

Next, finally, we were ready for dessert.

Rum Pineapple Cake & Vanilla Flan

dessert1

First, this was a really nice flan. Macerated berries accompanied the vanilla custard, which I thought brought a nice fresh, fruity flavor to go along. The other dessert had layers of cake and custard – I thought the cake itself was a bit dry. I enjoyed the sweetness of the pineapple and the mild rum flavor, though.

Amaretto Flan spiced roasted pumpkin & marsala zabaglione gelato

dessert2

Loved this dessert! The flan, very smooth, had just a nice almond liqueur flavor. The marsala zabaglione added to this richness, but with a nice sweetness that paired well. The spiced roasted pumpkin bits added some nice texture to this plate.

This was an impressive meal. None of the dishes disappointed (especially the spaghetti, of which I had really high expectations). From start to finish, I thought the courses were very strong and well-executed. I’ll be honest, this meal ended up costing much more than I had anticipated walking in ($500 all-in, about a third  from alcohol – you’ll have to see Kevin’s post for that), but we did end up having a much more elaborate menu full of seasonal white and black truffles, while experiencing much of what the restaurant has to offer. Plus it’s not every day that you can have Chef Conant himself serving you each dish, something I really enjoyed experiencing. I expect Scarpetta, which looked to have a full house on its first night, to continue to draw people in to experience some really good food.

LudoBites 6.0 – 10/21/10

LudoBites 6.0 at Max
13355 Ventura Blvd
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423

I don’t think Los Angeles’ dining scene has ever seen anything quite like this.  Now in its sixth incarnation, LudoBites continues to grow in interest not just in LA, but nationwide. No restaurant in LA has garnered quite as much acclaim or hate in 2010. Acclaim – because LudoBites has consistently received rave reviews for its delicious, innovative, and constantly-changing cuisine. Hate – because the restaurant “pops-up” for a limited time, and demand far outstrips supply, leaving many frustrated without a chance to try it.

This was never more evident than when reservations opened up for this iteration, and OpenTable’s custom-made system (designed to handle the massive crowd) still crashed. Thousands of users, including myself, were faced with the words “restaurant currently unavailable” time after time after time. Somehow..I got lucky, and obtained a reservation after 40 minutes of constant clicking (thank goodness!). After days of anticipation, I found myself at opening night of LudoBites 6.0 at Max in Sherman Oaks.

Dining with me this night were friends Kristen and Heather, as well as Kevin of kevinEats. For the first time, LudoBites has an alcohol license, so a wine list (created by Domaine547) and a cocktail were featured. On this night, a Mexican Mojito was offered:

Ludo’s recommended cocktail: Mexican Mojito

This was a tequila-based cocktail, and it seemed to have a margarita-ish flavor to it. This mojito had the perfect amount of sugar; I find a lot of mojitos to be made too sweet.

Warm Baguette, Baratte Smoked Butter, Sardine-Laughing Cow Cheese

Ludo makes an excellent baguette, and it’s always served hot out of the oven. To compliment this, two spreads were served. One butter had a predominant smoky flavor, and one was fishy…I actually enjoyed combining these two as I found it to have a really delicious sort of smoked fish flavor.

Hamachi, Vietnamese Style

Next was one of the strongest dishes of the night. Beautifully plated, I loved the colors. Nice slivers of fish were complemented by textures of fried shallots and fried lotus root, with just a slight acidity to the dish. Wonderful.

Kumamoto Oysters, Kimchi Consomme Gelee, Camembert Mousse, Apple

This was a pretty interesting dish. The oysters were below the lettuce, in a gelee made of a kimchi consomee. Without being overpowering, this kimchi added a little bit of heat and acidity to the dish. I loved Ludo’s use of flowers in the presentation.

Marinated Mackerel, Leche Del Tiger, Baby Leeks, Verdolagas Leaves

This mackerel, marinated in ponzu, had a nice firm flesh and a crispy skin. Sugar was added to the skin and torched to get that nice crusty effect. The vegetables added the necessary balance to this meaty fish. Nice presentation too!

Black Trumpet Mushroom Cappuccino, Creamy Butternut Squash

This soup primarily had the sweet, rich flavors of the butternut squash, with a nice mushroom flavor on the back end. Warm and comforting.

Barely Cooked Squid Noodles, Pad Thai, Prawn, Tofu

This was another of the favorites dishes of the night. The squid was so tender, it was kind of incredible. The flavors of a pad thai were present as well, with a little heat and a bit of a coconut milk flavor. The bean sprouts were a great textural element as well to round out this excellent dish.

Mussels Veloute, Green Peppercorns, Pineapple, Fennel, Potato Paille

We were told that this was Ludo’s deconstructed version of moules frites. Interesting. The mussels were made into a rich and hearty soup with chunks of mussel meat and pineapple. I found the pineapple a bit odd if this was a moules frites inspiration; however I appreciated the sweetness it lended to the soup. The very thin shoestring fries were good with the soup (and for dipping!) and were extra crispy.

Poached Foie Gras, Green Lentils, Miso Broth, Turnips & Radish

Hmm…poached foie gras. Not something you see very often. Loved it! The smooth and creamy liver really stood out in this preparation, melting in your mouth. The turnips and radish were the primary textural elements, while the lentils added some nice body to the dish.

Scallop, Celery Root Remoulade, Red Port, Walnuts, Passion Fruit

Nicely seared, these scallops were cooked perfectly. The walnuts added some nice crispiness, though I was missing some of the passion fruit, which I think would’ve added some nice citrus to the dish.

John Dory, Potato, Herbs, Broccolini Flowers, Green Jalapenos Nage

Loved the colors here again. The fish was firm and, I thought, a bit overcooked. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was due to all of us taking pictures and letting the fish sit in the broth a while. The broth was delicious, with an herbaceous flavor and touch of heat from the jalapenos. The potato crisps were good as well.

Half Chicken, Chorizo, Poached Egg, Chanterelles, Saffron Onions Soubise

Ludo clearly knows his way around a chicken. His fried chicken is now served around the city in a truck, and here we have a “roasted” half chicken, which was actually prepared sous-vide. I imagined this was finished in the oven though, as it had a really crisp skin. The sous-vide preparation of the meat gave it a very moist, tender and succulent consistency. The flavor was spot on as well. I always love a poached egg, and the chanterelles were a nice accompaniment. Really, really good dish.

Nebraska Ribeye, Japanese Whiskey, Smoked Shisito Peppers, Amaranth

This was a pretty simple dish for Ludo’s standards…and it was excellent. The steak was of an American wagyu breed, probably my favorite breed if I’m eating a whole steak (pure Japanese wagyu is too fatty).  The sear on the steak was perfect, and it was cooked to a tender and juicy medium rare. The shisito pepper (or my one bite of one) kicked my ass. Everyone else at the table seemed to have no problem with them though.

Next up were the two desserts on the menu this night.

Warm Carrot Cake, Coconut, Thai Curry, Mango Sorbet, Kaffir Lime Oil

The carrot cake was served hot out of the oven, with a very moist and soft interior. It had a nice carrot flavor to it, and when eaten with all of the components, really resembled a Thai curry dish. In a good, sweet dessert way.

Pear, Hot Chocolate, Matcha Green Tea Broth, Mint

This pear was poached until it had a fork-tender consistency. The “hot chocolate,” with a light mousse-like consistency, as well as the matcha green tea, made for a really interesting mix of flavors. I love green tea, and I thought the chocolate and the green tea melded well with the pear. This was a pretty light dessert, which my stomach appreciated after all of the previous courses.

This was another really good showing from Ludo and the team. As LudoBites receives more and more attention, dining expectations continue to rise. Ludo mentioned that he was conscious of this fact, and had to raise his own standards up. The food continues to be innovative and interesting; you’ll definitely come across ingredients and preparations you’ve never seen before. And, most importantly, it tastes good too. Cheers to another LudoBites!

La Botte – 10/15/10

La Botte
620 Santa Monica Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90401

I first went to La Botte during the last DineLA “season” and I really enjoyed the meal. La Botte is one of the few Michelin-starred restaurants that participates in this promotion (Spago and Ortolan also come to mind), giving just one more reason to go (though, lately, I’ve been less and less enthused about what Michelin has said about the LA dining scene). While I think the tasting menu is often the best way to go when trying a restaurant of this caliber, I don’t think the DineLA menu takes too much away as long as the menu offers some attractive items. Thus, I found myself back here during this DineLA tenure, and I was glad I came.

UMIDO DI COZZE & VONGOLE CON PASSATO DI MELANZANE Carlsbad Aquafarm’s clams and mussels and Weiser Family Farm’s Calliope eggplant

This was a pretty interesting dish, and wasn’t quite exactly what I thought it would be. I was expecting the seafood in some type of lighter broth, but this was actually in a soupy pureed eggplant. It had an earthy and herbal flavor, but I thought it was too muddled. The seafood was a little overcooked as well.

CONFETTURA DI ANATRA AFFUMICATA Slightly smoked Healthy Family Farm’s duck confit with honey mustard dressing

This was a pretty good dish, and a sizable portion of duck, considering it’s an appetizer. It was lukewarm (not sure this was on purpose or not), though exuded a nice smokey flavor. The meat was pretty tender too.

RAVIOLI DEL PLIN CON TARTUFO DI STAGIONE Traditional Piedmontese ravioli with Fontina cheese, truffle-butter sauce and fresh Burgundy truffle

This was a great dish. The ravioli were perfectly al dente, with a nice creamy filling of fontina cheese. The shaved black truffles on top added the characteristic earthy flavor, which worked well with the pasta.

FILETTO DI BRANZINO ALL’ORIGANO SICILIANO Filet of Mediterranean sea bass with Coastal Organics farm’s heirloom tomatoes and Sicilian oregano

My last trip to La Botte was memorable for having one of the best Branzino’s I’ve had. I can’t quite say the same about this one, but it was very good. The fish was very moist with a little bit of this very bright and vibrant oregano. The heirloom tomatoes were also wonderful.

RAVIOLI DI BRASATO SU SALSA DI PORCINI Homemade ravioli filled with braised beef filet mignon served in a bed of porcini mushrooms and topped with butter and sage sauce and parmesan

This was not part of the DineLA menu, but we ordered this extra entree to try. According to the menu, it was made with braised filet mignon. That makes absolutely no sense to me as I don’t know why you’d ever braise that cut. Whatever meat was inside the ravioli was rather plain, though the pasta itself was quite nice. The browned butter sauce was a nice accompaniment.

GIANDUIOTTO CROCCANTE CON FOGLIA D’ORO Crunchy Gianduia with gold leaf

This was a rich, chocolate dessert with bits of hazelnut inside. It was kind of like a hard mousse in consistency, and had a nice chocolate-hazelnut flavor..a classic combination.

PANNA COTTA ALLA VANIGLIA Tahitian vanilla flavored panna cotta with rosemary cookies

This was wonderful. Not too sweet, and with a strong vanilla bean flavor, this smooth panna cotta hit the spot. The rosemary cookies didn’t really have a noticeable rosemary flavor though, and were a bit soggy. However, that didn’t overshadow the panna cotta, which was really delicious.

I enjoyed this meal. There wasn’t anything terribly exciting, per se, but the food was tasty and well executed…save for the first dish. My experience has piqued my interest in a return trip to try the tasting menu.

Test Kitchen: Ricardo Zarate – 10/16/10

Test Kitchen: Ricardo Zarate
9575 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035

I’ve tried Ricardo Zarate’s cuisine once before at his restaurant Mo Chica. I enjoyed my meal there, which was centered around traditional Peruvian dishes.   Zarate has been one of the hottest chefs in LA in 2010, so I’ve been itching to try more of what he has to offer. He’s been spending a lot of time at the Test Kitchen, so it’d be fitting that I try at least one of his Test Kitchen stints. I’d heard that he had recently spent some time staging at various restaurants, and wanted to show off a little bit of what he’s learned. Sounds good to me. I’m glad I came, as this was one of the strongest meals I’ve experienced here.

Four “bar bites” were offered on this night, and we tried each one.

Ceviche Shot Uni, Scallop, Pisco, Leche de Tigre

The seafood was tender and “cooked” perfectly. Mo Chica has some of the best ceviches in the city, so this was no surprise. The accompanying broth was subtly tart and subtly spicy, and I thought it paired well.

Santa Barbara Spot Prawns with Yuzu Kosho

It’s hard to go wrong with these local spot prawns (overcooking them would be one way that comes to mind).  These were not overcooked at all; instead, they were moist and succulent. The yuzu kosho was a nice accompaniment, adding just a touch of heat, and the lime juice added some citrus to go along with the sweetness of the shrimp.

Anticucho de Corazon Rocoto sauce

Here we have beef heart skewers. Delicious. While the marinated meat was very flavorful on its own, the mild pepper-based sauce added just a little something extra to the meat.

Chicharron Crispy Pork Belly, Feta Cheese Sauce, Sarsa

There were a lot of components to this dish, and I wasn’t sure how it was going to work out. There were many crispy textural parts – the toasted bread, the pork skin and the pork belly. I enjoyed the crunchiness that all three of these provided, and the feta cheese, tomatoes and onions added a little acidity and extra flavor.

The “bar bites” were actually quite a bit of food; next came the main tasting menu.

Abreboca Purple corn bread, foie gras butter, aji amarillo marmalade, figs compote

The bread was served warm, though I found it a bit dry. I did enjoy all of the accompanying spreads though, with the fig compote being my favorite for its fruity flavor and sweetness. This bread dish was paired with the following soup.

Sopa de Rocoto Peruvian red pepper soup, queso fresco sauce, croutons

Small bits of chorizo topped this dish, which was a soup based on the rocoto pepper. The pepper’s flavor was similar to a bell pepper. The soup wasn’t too spicy at all, yet had a nice sweetness. The chorizo added a nice depth of meaty flavor to this.

Causa de Salmon Ahumado Smoked salmon causa, aji amarillo yogurt, crispy quinoa

This dish tasted a bit different from what I expected. The salmon topping actually resembled a similar flavor to a spicy tuna roll. The yukon gold potato was tender and soft, adding some body to the dish, while the crispy quinoa added the texture. Quite nice.

Tiradito de Pejerrey Peruvian King Fish carpaccio, garlic, ginger lemon sauce

The fish here was Spanish mackerel. The fish was tender, and I got a nice crunch from the bits of raw onion. The lemon sauce added some much-needed citrus, while the garlic lended a little flavor, without being overpowering.

Anticucho de Pulpo Grilled Octopus, roasted potatoes, tofu jalapeno chili sauce

The octopus, cut into chunks, was very meaty and slightly chewy. The roasted potatoes were slightly mashed, which turned out to be a nice accompaniment. As for the sauce, tofu has a fairly neutral flavor, so it wasn’t too noticeable. However, it did add some body to the chili sauce.

Asado de Costilla Lamb ribs, huancaina sauce, peruvian risotto

This was one of the best dishes of the night for me.  So tender, these slid right off the bone. The overall dish reminded me of the lamb shank at Mo Chica, which is delicious. Tender and flavorful, I wouldn’t mind eating a large plate of this lamb. The risotto was creamy and cooked well.

Picarones Sweet potato and pumpkin donuts with chancaca sauce and vanilla ice cream

Lastly we finished off with dessert. Hard to go wrong with donuts and ice cream. I thought the donuts were executed well, though I probably couldn’t have picked out the sweet potato and pumpkin flavors. The vanilla ice cream, however, was exceptional. It was rich and creamy, with a really nice vanilla bean flavor. Hell, if Zarate opens up an ice cream shop, I’m buying my vanilla ice cream from him. We jokingly (sort of) contemplated asking for a pint of this ice cream to go.

I thoroughly enjoyed this meal. Zarate’s Mo Chica focuses more on traditional Peruvian influences; here, he was able to expand a little bit to show off some versatility. Still, this meal centered primarily on Latin flavors (I don’t think Zarate will stray too far from it), but the flavors were strong and the execution was spot on. This was a very good meal, and I look forward to seeing what Zarate comes up with next.

Previous Test Kitchen posts:
Jordan Kahn (Red Medicine)
Walter Manzke
Adam Horton (Saddle Peak Lodge)
Marcel Vigneron

JiRaffe – 10/13/10

JiRaffe
502 Santa Monica Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401

I’d been hearing a lot about JiRaffe over the past few years, so it was about time I dropped by to try it out. Helmed by chef Raphael Lunetta, the restaurant has been around for almost 15 years, consistently garnering very positive reviews. DineLA was still going on, which is always the perfect excuse to try something new. Combine this with some intriguing DineLA menu items, and we were on our way!

We were first served an amuse bouche of a wild mushroom soup.

Warm and comforting, the soup had a very strong mushroom flavor. It was kind of like a mini cappuccino in color, especially with the froth on top. I don’t think I could drink a whole bowl of this, but it was tasty in a small ‘shot.’

Crispy Potato Wrapped Big-Eye Ahi Tuna roasted tomato ginger chutney, shaved baby Asian salad, radish and lime soya chili vinaigrette

This was sort of like a “tuna wellington” with the rare tuna wrapped by thin, crispy layers of potato. I enjoyed the textural component of the crispy potato, and the tuna was quite nice. The tomato-ginger chutney was interesting, adding a little bit of acidity and additional flavors to the dish.

Pistachio Crusted Hudson Valley Foie Gras sweet and sour confit of baby tomatoes, caramelized mango, toasted brioche, roasted shallots,  Tahitian vanilla/mango verjus

Next we had a generous lobe of foie gras, cooked perfectly – seared on the outside, and a tender, melt-in-your-mouth interior. The pistachio added nuttiness and some crunch to the dish, with the mango – perfectly ripe – adding a sweetness to cut through the rich liver. Underneath, a toasted brioche added an additional textural element. Wonderful.

Alaskan Halibut English pea puree, blistered red and yellow grape tomatoes, Maui onion and herb infused black truffle-sherry vinaigrette

This was a beautifully-plated dish, with the halibut being the center of attention. Like the foie gras, the halibut was perfectly cooked, moist and flaky. The pea puree and tomatoes both added some sweetness, and were delicious on their own. The onions and vinaigrette added a little acidity and depth of flavor.

Prime Filet of Beef warm fork-smashed fingerling potato salad, roasted tomatoes, shisito peppers, watercress, and a white wine-shiitake mushroom sauce

There were a number of components to this dish. The beef was cooked to a very nice medium rare, and the filet was characteristically tender. The tomato, while not entirely necessary on the plate, was sweet and juicy – a topping of toasted breadcrumbs added some texture. I enjoyed the addition of the spicy arugula, as well as the potatoes.

Chocolate Lava Cake

This lava cake didn’t really have as ‘molten’ of a center as I expected. Chocolate did not leak out of the cake as it was cut into, though the interior of the cake was very moist. Still, the flavors were there. The whipped cream added a nice lightness to the dish.

Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake

This pudding cake had a nice toffee flavor without being overbearing. Served mildly warm, the cold ice cream was a very nice accompaniment. I also liked the chopped nuts on top for some bite.

In all, this was a very good meal. There were no disappointing dishes, and the food was executed very well. Many of the plates brought together very familiar ingredients, though Chef Lunetta was able to keep them interesting. One drawback, however, was the slow service. It was polite and quick-responsive when we actually did get the server’s attention, so I don’t think it detracted too much from the meal. However, it was noticeably slow.