Spago (Beverly Hills, CA)

Spago Beverly Hills
176 N Canon Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Dining date: 2/25/11

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Spago has one of the richest histories in LA dining, having been Wolfgang Puck’s flagship restaurant for decades. It used to be one of my favorite restaurants when I first moved to LA; there was something about the upscale Asian-inspired dishes that captured my attention. However, when the first Michelin Guide in LA came out and awarded Spago two stars, I was perplexed. I enjoyed the food, sure, but the cuisine wasn’t as refined and innovative as other two-star restaurants I’d been to.

Enter the tasting menu. I’ve always ordered a la carte in previous visits – when I heard the tasting menu was a very different meal altogether, I knew I had to visit again. Kevin of kevinEats was also looking to make a return trip, so I joined him, Christina of food, je t’aime, Sam of Bites for Me, Diana and Jackie to come try out the tasting menu. In true kevinEats fashion, Kevin requested an extended tasting and the restaurant obliged; what resulted was a 23-course meal with 15 wines to match. Goodness.

We started with seven (yes, seven!) amuse bouche.

Spicy Tuna Tartare in Sesame-Miso Cone

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I think you always get this amuse at Spago, one of their signature. It’s a good one, with tender chunks of tuna balanced well with a little sweetness and texture from the sesame miso cone.

Smoked Salmon with lemon-herb blini, salmon eggs

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One of Spago’s famous dishes is a smoked salmon pizza. Here we have the house-smoked salmon on top of a blini; unfortunately, I didn’t get too much of the smoked salmon flavor, as I thought it was overwhelmed by the tart crème fraiche and salty salmon eggs.

Hamachi Ceviche

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I wouldn’t say there was anything too special about this course, but it was done well. A little bit of citrus and herbal notes complemented the fish.

Toad in a Hole with black truffle

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A very light brioche was filled with a quail egg, and then topped with black truffle. Sounds amazing….and it was! Runny egg yolks work so well with truffles, and this was no exception.

Oyster Gratin with caviar

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The saltiness of the caviar worked well here in cutting through the richness of gratin; the bite as a whole was pretty tasty with the oyster.

Pastrami-Cured Duck Liver Mousse with rye crisp and apple puree

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I liked the tandem of the sweet apple and rich duck liver. The rye crisp added just a little bit of texture, as well as a more interesting presentation.

Bacon Confit en Croute with black truffle

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I really liked the smoky, meaty bacon within the flaky dough; however, I found it overwhelmed any black truffle flavor whatsoever.

Pear-Rhubarb Sorbet with jasmine tea

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This was a palate cleanser to signal a transition from the amuses to more traditional courses. The sorbet was interesting – very creamy and sort of floral…I didn’t really care for it actually. The jasmine tea was pretty solid though, as well as the small chunks of crisp, sweet Asian pear floating within.

Crispy Phyllo-Wrapped Santa Barbara Spot Prawns with black bean vinaigrette & Asian slaw
Chablis, Domaine Francois Raveneau, France 2008

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This was a standout dish for me. I love fried shrimp so I really liked the light, crispy phyllo dough around the prawn. There was a cucumber flower on the plate (never had this before); when eaten, it tasted just like a cucumber, adding some cool and refreshing crispness.

Sauteed Veal Sweetbreads with onion-mushroom “pastille,” maitake mushrooms, confit bacon, orange-kohlrabi puree
Chignin-Bergeron, Domaine Jean Vullien, France 2009

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I liked this dish as well. The sweetbreads were perfectly cooked with a crispy exterior. A rich pan sauce added depth of flavor, while the “pastille” was a fun way to add some sweetness and earthiness.

Fromage de Tete with truffled red wine sauce & truffle salad
Riesling Spatlese “Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberg,” Karthauserhof, Germany 2003

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I don’t think I’ve ever had head cheese before, so I had no idea what fromage de tete was at first. The “cheese” was very tender and rich, though the truffles were overwhelmed (again). The paired Riesling, with its mild sweetness, was a fantastic accompaniment.

Seafood-stuffed Sepia with fried calamari
Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle, Ermes Pavese, Italy 2009

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The sepia (cuttlefish) was stuffed with Dungeness crab, which I thought was an awesome idea. The sepia was very tender, and the fried calamari was executed well, providing some crunchy texture as well.

Rye-Crusted Loup de Mer with littleneck clams & lemon butter meuniere
Firmint “Csontos Vineyard,” Bott, Hungary 2009

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The fish was extremely moist – perfect. However, the rye added a wheat flavor which I didn’t totally like with it. Still, the fish was very good. The littleneck clams were tasty, though not really cohesive with the dish overall.

Hand-rolled Garganelli with Maine lobster & spring rapini
Pinot Grigio “Alisos Vineyard,” Central Coast 2008

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The garganelli was a nice al dente, but wasn’t quite as chewy as some of the garganelli I’ve had elsewhere (ie Drago Centro). However, a solid dish with the tender lobster in a tomato sauce.

Handmade Agnolotti with celery root & French black truffles
Lazio Bianco “Coenobium,” Monastero Suore Cistercensi, Italy 2007

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The pasta here was wonderful. The celery root added some savory sweetness, while the butter sauce and truffles added some richness and the bulk of the flavor. Very nice.

Duo of Rabbit: Bacon-wrapped Loin and Rack of Rabbit
Lanzarote “Maceracion Carbonica,” Bermejo, Islas Canarias 2008

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We progressed into some richer, meat courses here. Look at the rabbit ribs! I found it a little uncomfortable to eat since I imagined this small bunny rabbit. I didn’t regret eating the meat, though, which was delicious. The loin was wrapped in bacon, which added a little bit more moisture and flavor to the dish. I thought the jus really brought everything together.

Sonoma Lamb Loin with fennel puree and brussels sprouts and black olives
Saint Emilion Grand Cru, Chateau de Candale, France 2006

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Nothing too imaginative here, but this was a solid dish. I like my meats, so I enjoyed this lamb, especially with the fennel puree. It wasn’t as tender as I expected, though.

Slow Braised Short Ribs with Baked Bone Marrow
Cabernet Blend, Rothwell Hyde, St. Helena 2006

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Love the idea of the bone marrow! The short rib was really tender, meaty and rich (though..when isn’t it?). The bone was filled with chunks of marrow and maitake mushrooms, adding even more richness to this dish. A cabernet blend was the ideal wine pairing for this.

Selection of Artisanal Cheeses
Madeira Sercial, Rare Wine Company

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I’m never a huge cheese fan. Given we had 18 courses already and had 4 desserts coming up, I opted to just try a small piece of each. Still not a huge cheese person.

Lemon Souffle and blackberry sorbet
Moscato D’Asti “Bricco Quaglia,” La Spinetta, Piedmont 2010

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Pastry chef Sherry Yard came out to present the first dessert. The soufflé was warm, light and airy and contrasted well with the refreshing fruits and blackberry sorbet.

Kaiserschmarrn
Cuvee Beerenauslese, Kracher, Austria 2006

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This Austrian favorite is one of Yard’s signature desserts. This was very much like a strawberry and pancakes brunch. I liked the dough quite a bit – it was very light with a subtle sweetness from the powdered sugar. The strawberries were okay, though I feel like I’ve had these flavors together dozens of times.

Dobos Torte
Dow’s 20-Year Tawny Porto

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This is a rendition of a Hungarian cake, with layers of chocolate and a little caramel. The cake was pretty light, which I liked.

Chocolate Pot Pie

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Lastly (finally!), we had this “chocolate pot pie.” I think the top crust was a chocolate puff pastry, which we cracked to find more chocolate, crunchy cocoa-puff-like balls, as well as raspberry sorbet. This was probably the most interesting of all of the desserts.

This meal was the strongest I’ve had here, and I quickly understood the Michelin stars…well, at least one of them. With 23 courses presented, I expected some to be very good and some to perhaps be duds. I wouldn’t call any of the dishes bad, though I found the desserts a little disappointing. My favorite courses were the toad in a hole, spot prawn, sepia, agnolotti and rabbit. Consider my opinion of Spago changed; while I’ve enjoyed my a la carte experience each time, the tasting menu presents a more refined meal worthy of Michelin recognition. Next time, though, I don’t think I need to try as many courses!

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Photo courtesy of kevinEats.

Red Medicine (Los Angeles, CA)

Red Medicine
8400 Wilshire Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
Dining date: 2/21/11

This was my first time having President’s Day off since beginning my professional career (damn public accounting), and similar to Veteran’s Day, I wanted to make it count by hitting a lunch spot that I normally would not be able to. Enter Red Medicine, a Vietnamese-inspired restaurant that is undoubtedly more (in)famous for its treatment of the LA Times food critic than for its food. However, the food reviews I’ve read have generally been very positive from those who still opted to give the restaurant a try. While I did not like how that situation was handled, it didn’t stop me from paying a visit.

interior3 500x335 Red Medicine (Los Angeles, CA)

The lunch menu is much simpler than the dinner menu, more closely resembling the restaurant’s lounge menu. However, it still presented a number of interesting options and had a full dessert menu (a must here).

We started with iced oolong tea and iced Vietnamese coffee; both made in-house and both pretty good.

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CRISPY SPRING ROLL squash, fennel, caramelized onion, tamarind

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I really liked the delicate crispiness of these rolls and the differing textures within them. I could see how one could find the butternut squash, caramelized onions and tamarind sauce to be too sweet, but I didn’t mind.

CHICKEN DUMPLINGS caramelized sugar, pork fat, lemongrass, confitures

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These weren’t so much dumplings as they were chicken meatballs. I didn’t have a problem with that, as they were delicious – very moist and flavorful. Looking at the interior, it looked like white meat, so I’m not sure how these were so moist (well, pork fat helps). Accompaniments included fried shallots, lime, hoisin and sriracha sauces, and lettuce for added flavor and playfulness. One problem, though, was that the lettuce wasn’t large enough to cover the circumference of the ‘dumplings.’

BÚN CHÀ wagyu beef, chilled rice vermicelli, herbs, lettuce, peanuts, nuoc cham

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The server called the beef here “A5 wagyu,” which I’m pretty skeptical about. I liked the multitude of textures; the peanuts, bean sprouts and pickled vegetables gave each bite some chew, while the skirt steak and fish sauce brought the bulk of the flavors. Cool and refreshing, this would be a popular dish in the summer.

BÁNH MÌ heritage chicken lemongrass, carrot pickle, coriander, kewpie mayonnaise, green chili, cucumber

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I’ve heard much about this sandwich at Red Medicine, and this was definitely a solid variation. The baguette, from Bouchon, was toasty, warm and soft. I liked that the chicken was pounded flat, so that it could be laid perfectly in the sandwich; each bite had an equal amount of chicken. There wasn’t anything particularly special about this banh mi, but it’s not trying to be.

I couldn’t come here without trying some desserts. After all, chef Jordan Kahn made his name as a pastry chef, and his coconut bavarois at Test Kitchen’s debut was probably one of the strongest I had in 2010.

COCONUT BAVAROIS coffee, condensed milk, thai basil, peanut croquant, chicory

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This is the same dessert from Test Kitchen, with a couple of differences…nonetheless just as good. There are a number of flavors and textures involved; coffee, thai basil, peanut and coconut are the chief flavors, while the chicory and peanut croquant (like  Reese’s peanut butter cup) add the textures. These all melded together so well.  So good.

BITTER CHOCOLATE kecap manis, oats, parsnip, brown butter, soy milk sorbet

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This was a new dessert to me, and also a good one. Kahn plays with textures very well, and we had some cookie crumble here which provided some bite. The chocolate was good as well, though this was somewhat overshadowed by our other dessert.

I was pleasantly surprised by this meal. I thought the strength was in the appetizers and desserts; the appetizers showed some different renditions of familiar dishes, while the desserts were imaginative, unique and delicious. I had no issues with the entrees at all, but they weren’t necessarily better than your go-to Vietnamese restaurant (which I’m sure is cheaper). Still, I am definitely planning a return visit…this time, for dinner.

Pliny the Younger @ Father’s Office (Los Angeles, CA)

Father’s Office
3229 Helms Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90034
Dining date: 2/21/11

I’ve blogged about Father’s Office before, but I figured this visit was worthy of a post on its own. You see, I’ve become more and more into the craft beer scene over the past year. Currently my favorite beers are India Pale Ales; one in particular is the double IPA Pliny the Elder from Russian River Brewery. One of the most sought-after beers in America is another beer from Russian River – Pliny the Younger. This triple IPA is made once a year (each February) and is served at the brewery in Santa Rosa, CA as well as distributed to select bars around the west coast.

Much-publicized events at Surly Goat and Verdugo Bar earlier in the week were met with lines hundreds deep by the time of opening, while only the first 40-50 were lucky enough to score a taste. Father’s Office went with a different approach; they didn’t publicize when they were serving the beer. My friend had a “hunch” that the beer would be on tap this President’s Day.

Clearly, others had a similar impression. When we got there around 4:30, there were about 20 people in line; by the time of its 5pm opening, the line was at least 50 strong.

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Our party of 6 came at different times; luckily, the first two to arrive were 3rd and 4th in line and were able to secure a prime table right by the bar. At the bar, two taps were pouring Pliny the Younger nonstop. This was the moment we had been waiting for.

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The Younger was a very good beer and actually tasted very similar to its “Elder” sibling. I thought it was a little less bitter and a little more floral, but still a ton of hop flavor. I wouldn’t wait hours for this, but if it was produced year-round, it’d definitely be in my regular rotation of beers. I’m glad the bar didn’t limit the beers to one per person; one could go up repeatedly to get more until they were out.

Some food was in order, of course.

The Office Burger caramelized onions, bacon, gruyere, maytag blue, arugula

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One of the most talked-about burgers in the city, the Office Burger is definitely one of the better burgers in the city. It’s very meaty and juicy, balanced by some bitterness from the arugula and sweetness from caramelized onions. Goes very well with a hoppy IPA.

Brussels Sprouts

Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of these; the brussels were roasted to a crisp, leaving a nice smoky, charred flavor. A long strip of jamon accompanied the vegetable. I thought the pork could’ve been incorporated better though, as the two flavors were mostly separate.

Steak Au Poivre shallot cognac sauce, fries

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This looked so delicious when it came out. The flatiron steak, however, was very chewy even though it was cooked a requested medium-rare. The flavors were spot on though, with a really nice shallot-cognac sauce – mopping up the sauce with the fries was fantastic, if not a little salty.

This was a wildly successful trip to Father’s Office. Good beer, good company. I’m glad that I’m able to now say I’ve tried Pliny the Younger.

Mori Sushi (Los Angeles, CA)

Mori Sushi
11500 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064
Dining date: 2/19/11

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Mori Sushi has the distinction of being one of three Japanese restaurants (Urasawa, Sushi Zo, Asanebo) to have garnered a Michelin Star in the latest guide…a distinction which seems to be indefinite. I’ve been to Mori once before, but for lunch. I ordered one of the sushi combos with some a la carte items, but I didn’t think I got an accurate representation of what Mori had to offer (I was underwhelmed).

One claim that struck me is that Chef Mori Onodera only buys fish and vegetables for the restaurant. The rice and soy are both homemade; quality control is of utmost importance. Even most of the plates used are handcrafted by Mori himself. Sounds like my type of place!

Three different omakase are available: we opted for the sushi omakase. This would have a couple of small plates, but primarily be sushi.

Homemade Tofu, Wasabi, Soy

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Here we started with a simple starter with just three components – an excellent way for Mori to show off his homemade tofu, homemade soy sauce and freshly grated wasabi. The tofu was very mild in flavor with a subtle soybean flavor – the wasabi and soy were integral in drawing out some of the flavors.

Monkfish Liver and Kumamoto Oyster

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Next was monkfish liver in a cucumber, scallion and seaweed salad, along with a fresh oyster, straight up. The monkfish exhibited a characteristic richness, delicious without being fishy. The oyster was good as well, though quite small.

Fish Soup shrimp, clams, cod

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This would be the most “complex” dish of the night. A hot soup came to the table with shrimp, clams, cod, parsley and bell peppers. I tend to fear soups like these as it’s so difficult to cook the fishes appropriately while it’s sitting in hot soup. I thought the cod and clams were pretty spot on, but the shrimp were overcooked. The broth, however, was very nice – a subtle but present seafood flavor was accented by the sweetness of the bell peppers, as well as herbal notes from the parsley.

This platter (perhaps designed by Mori himself) signaled the start of sushi.

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Red Snapper marinated with kelp

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We started with this solid red snapper. I first noticed (as I had during my previous visit) that the sushi pieces here are some of the smallest I’ve seen. The fish:rice ratio was good, but I wanted just a bit more fish and rice in each bite. The rice was perfect – warm and loosely packed, with just a little bit of textural feel.

Needlefish

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I’m not sure if I’ve ever had needlefish, but I enjoyed this one as well.

Yellowtail

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Characteristically tender and soft, this was a good bite.

Bluefin Toro

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Yay for toro! As expected, the fish was silky smooth and melt-in-mouth. A good example of toro, though not really close to Urasawa’s.

Gizzard Shad

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This piece was a little fishy, though I’m not really sure if that’s just characteristic of this type of fish. Very tender, however.

Bigeye Chutoro

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I liked this chutoro (medium-fatty) example as well, smooth and tender; however, I enjoyed the bluefin toro a little more.

Japanese Mackerel

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Another fish that was subtly fishy and very flavorful.

Sweet Shrimp

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Sweet shrimp (amaebi) is typically one of my favorite pieces of sushi. This one, from Boston, was no exception; sweet with a squishy texture – I really enjoyed this one.

Squid

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Octopus

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The squid and octopus were both similar in texture – surprisingly quite tender, though a little…slimy. I was surprised by the octopus though, as I’m more accustomed to chewier textures.

Halibut Fin

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Topped with yuzu, this piece was a lot chewier than I anticipated. I liked the flavors of the fish and yuzu, however.

Barracuda

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The barracuda was seared with a blowtorch, giving this a nice charred, smoky flavor as well. Similar to the halibut fin, this was a little chewy, but I enjoyed it.

Salmon Egg

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Not fishy at all. The eggs burst with a briny taste of the ocean. When I was younger, I didn’t enjoy these eggs but I’ve grown to actually really like them.

Uni (Hokkaido and Santa Barbara)

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Loved that we were presented with two types of uni for comparison. The Hokkaido uni is on the left, while Santa Barbara on the right. I actually preferred the Santa Barbara uni (and thought its color was more brilliant), as it had a sweeter, cleaner flavor.

Red Snapper with yuzu

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Lastly, we had another example of red snapper, this time with a yuzu accompaniment. I almost always like the citrusy fruit with fish, and it did not fail here.

Black Sesame Ice Cream

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Made in-house. Loved this ice cream; it was rich and creamy, with just the right sweetness. The sesame flavor was very evident…just delicious.

Roasted Green Tea

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I often see this tea at the end of Japanese meals; always something to look forward to. The roasting gives the tea a distinct flavor.

Food only, the omakase came out to $110 pre-tax/tip, which I thought wasn’t bad. Though, there wasn’t a wide variety of fishes served. My biggest qualm was that, personally, I thought the sushi pieces were too small. It was good for a few chews and that was it, and the 16 sushi pieces weren’t really a lot of food.

Nowadays, I always compare my sushi restaurants to Urasawa, which probably isn’t fair considering this meal was 1/3 the price. However, I think Urasawa, then Sushi Zo are a cut above; Mori and Sasabune are on the next tier for sushi.

Magnum: Pal Cabron (Los Angeles, CA)

Magnum
Pal Cabron

3337 1/2 W 8th St
Los Angeles, CA 90005
Dining date: 2/16/11

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The Magnum pop-up is the brainchild of David Haskell and Joseph Mahon. Haskell is one of the city’s more notable wine personalities and handles the alcohol pairings, while Mahon (who handles the food) is a chef with a fine dining background, most recently at Bastide. This is their second version of the pop-up, with the first being focused on Korean cuisine. While the location is technically in Koreatown, the focus of this iteration is on Mexican.

Pal Cabron is a self-described hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant specializing in cemitas and clayudas (kind of like Mexican burgers and pizzas). It was interesting seeing the juxtaposition of having very refined dishes being served in an atmosphere without tablecloths or linen napkins.

Onion Apple Custard Poached Shrimp, Chicharones

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I liked this starter – the shrimp was plump and sweet, while the chicharones provided some nice crunch.

Pozole Romaine, Mint, Radish, Lime
2008 I Favat: Fiano di Avellino, Italy: Fiano

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I also liked this soup – perfect for the cold, rainy weather we’ve been having. The soup had a deep and hearty meaty flavor, which went well with the mildly sweet corn.

Roasted Beet Salad Crispy Veal Tongue, Wild Arugula, Pumpkin Seeds, Creamy Feta Dressing
2009 Luigi Giusti “Le Rose di Settembre”: Marche, Italy: Lacrima di Morro

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The veal tongue was great here, adding a little bit of meatiness and crispiness to this dish of beets. The arugula was a good addition as well, adding its characteristic pepperiness.

Scallop Crushed Avocado, Chickpeas, Spicy Tomato-Mussel Broth, Cilantro
NV Drusian: Valdobbiadene, Italy: Prosecco

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The strong dishes continued with this large, perfectly-cooked scallop. I liked the meatiness of the avocado pairing, as well as the tomato-based broth and prosecco pairing to cut through the richness.

Chilled Poached Shrimp Cabbage, Grated Horseradish, Tomato-Ketchup Sauce, Orange, Peanuts
2009 Valle Isarco “Südtirol-Eisacktaler”: Aldo Adige, Italy: Pinot Grigio

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The shrimp was cooked well, leaving it nice and plump. This was similar to a “constructed” shrimp cocktail, essentially. I liked it, though it wasn’t quite as interesting as the others.

OG Foie Gras Cemita
Oaxacan Mezcal

foie gras cemita 500x335 Magnum: Pal Cabron (Los Angeles, CA)

Haskell poured this next pairing, a mezcal, out of a plastic gas can. The mezcal had a strong, smoky flavor which paired brilliantly with the rich foie gras and avocado, as well as the barbecue sauce. Very nice.

Poached Egg Fried Pig Ears, Black Beans, Scallion Creme
Francesco Rinaldi: Grignolino d’Asti, Italy: Grignolino

poached egg 500x335 Magnum: Pal Cabron (Los Angeles, CA)

It’s hard to beat a perfectly poached egg. Here it was paired with some flavorful beans and scallion cream, which made a very nice combination. The fried pig ears added the texture – but too much. I found them too hard and chewy to be enjoyable.

Kevin had the clever idea of ordering some toast (typically for the cemitas) to mop up the sauce. The bread here was money.

toast 500x335 Magnum: Pal Cabron (Los Angeles, CA)

Squid Chorizo, Cucumber, Jicama, Sesame Seeds
2005 Tenuta Badia di Morrona “Vinsanto”: Terricciola, Italy: Trebbiano, Malvasia Bianca, Colombana

squid1 500x335 Magnum: Pal Cabron (Los Angeles, CA)

The squid was cooked perfectly, yielding a very tender texture. The chorizo had a strong flavor, almost overpowering the squid, but I thought it worked well. Finally, the cucumber and jicama adding a little texture and freshness to the dish.

Flank Steak Cactus Salad, Chilies, Grilled Corn Sauce
Valle Dell’Acate “Il Moro”: Sicily, Italy: Nero d’Avola

flank 500x335 Magnum: Pal Cabron (Los Angeles, CA)

I think flank steak is a very underutilized cut of meat. It’s a relatively reasonably-priced cut of beef, but it packs so much flavor. No exception here, and I liked the sweet grilled corn sauce pairing. The cactus salad was interesting; it had a sort of slimy feel to it, similar to okra.

Flan Pineapple, Vanilla-Carmel Sauce
Hakutsuru Brewing Company “Sayuri”: Nigori Sake

flan 500x335 Magnum: Pal Cabron (Los Angeles, CA)

This was a little bit of a richer, denser flan than ones I’ve had before. However, I liked the sweetness of the pineapple and caramel sauce to pair. Lastly, a milky sake was paired with this dish, which I enjoyed.

I thought my first meal at Magnum was a large success. I enjoyed the food – it was refined, imaginative and executed well. The wine pairings did not disappoint either, and I had high expectations given Haskell’s pedigree. However, I did think the cost of the food ($92 before tax/tip) was a little higher than I expected in this setting.

Aburiya Toranoko (Los Angeles, CA)

Aburiya Toranoko
243 S. San Pedro St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Dining date: 2/11/11

I dropped by Aburiya Toranoko on a spur-of-the-moment idea. My friend and I were wondering where to eat and she asked, “was there anything around here you wanted to try?” A lightbulb went off as I thought of Michael Cardenas’ new Japanese spot. But it was Friday night at 6:20 – surely they would be packed and unable to accommodate us. Upon calling the restaurant, we were told we could get a table…if we got there at 6:30. Luckily, I live 5 minutes away.

exterior1 500x335 Aburiya Toranoko (Los Angeles, CA)

Aburiya Toranoko is next door to Lazy Ox Canteen, another of Cardenas’ concepts. It’s got a similar “hip” vibe to Lazy Ox, but the food is very different – izakaya-based traditional Japanese. The menu is separated into different sections: vegetable, seafood, beef/pork/poultry, sumiyaki, oden, rice/noodle/soup, and sushi. My friend’s vegetarian, so we were heavy on the first category.

“Takana” croquette with mashed potato and mustard leaf

takana croquette 500x335 Aburiya Toranoko (Los Angeles, CA)

The interior was a little cold, which was disappointing. However, the potato was nice and fluffy, and I enjoyed the crispy breaded exterior.

Cha-mame

cha mame 500x335 Aburiya Toranoko (Los Angeles, CA)

The server explained this as a sort of gourmet edamame. I thought to myself, “they’re just charging more for edamame.” However, these were pretty good as far as edamame go, with a noticeable hearty soybean flavor.

Asparagus sumiyaki

asparagus 500x335 Aburiya Toranoko (Los Angeles, CA)

The asparagus was perfectly cooked, leaving it tender with a really nice smoky flavor.

Yanagita Seafarms uni goma tofu

uni goma tofu 500x335 Aburiya Toranoko (Los Angeles, CA)

Jonathan Gold recently raved about this dish. Uni and tofu? Sure, why not? The tofu was very rich, almost like peanut butter, with a hint of toasted sesame. The uni added a bright, fresh sea flavor which went really well with the tofu, while dark soy completed the bite.

Kinoko zosui porridge of rice and egg

kinoko zosui porridge 500x335 Aburiya Toranoko (Los Angeles, CA)

Favorite dish of the night. I might come back here just to have a full bowl of this. I’m not totally sure what all the ingredients were, but the rice porridge had strong earthy tones from mushrooms and a dashi-like umami feel to it. I liked that the rice wasn’t broken down too much; it still had just a little bit of bite to them. Yum!

Oshitashi spinach and shimeji mushroom

spinach and mushroom 500x335 Aburiya Toranoko (Los Angeles, CA)

I don’t think there was too much to this dish. The spinach and mushrooms were both okay, and the bonito didn’t really add too much to it. Not my cup of tea.

Jidori fried chicken

jidori fried chicken 500x335 Aburiya Toranoko (Los Angeles, CA)

I find myself always ordering chicken karaage when it’s offered. What can I say – I love fried chicken. I thought this was a well executed version, but not really as flavorful as I had imagined. I was maybe looking for some type of sauce because I found myself getting tired of it.

Avocado and cucumber roll

cucumber avocado 500x335 Aburiya Toranoko (Los Angeles, CA)

As advertised.

There were definitely some hits and some misses. The menu is extensive and I only had a chance to try a few select dishes, so I owe it to myself to make a return trip to try more of what the restaurant has to offer. Or, I might come back and end up having a whole bowl of that porridge to myself!