Test Kitchen (Sotto)
9575 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035
Dining date: 9/19/11
Test Kitchen’s run ended almost a year ago now, but its spirit lives on. The Townhouse hosted a reunion to celebrate the one-year anniversary of TK with two simultaneous dinners (one upstairs and one downstairs, $70 each) with completely different chef/mixologist lineups. While the idea of attending both dinners back-to-back did come up, the sensible mind suggested just choosing one.
Upstairs saw Ricardo Zarate (Picca, Mo-Chica) and Roy Choi (Kogi) manning the stoves with pastry chef Dahlia Narvaez (Mozza) on dessert. Julian Cox (Rivera, Playa, Sotto, Picca), Matt Wagner (Rivera), Dave Kupchinsky (Eveleigh), and Krishna Vutla (Picca) handled cocktail duties.
The downstairs kitchen was shared by Steve Samson & Zach Pollack (Sotto), Walter Manzke (Republique), Nancy Silverton (Mozza), David Lefevre (MB Post), Matt Molina (Mozza) and pastry chef Davide Giova (Valentino). Davidson Fernie (Playa, Harvard & Stone), Joel Black, Kate Grutman (Sotto) and Mark Mendoza (Sona, Comme Ca) were behind the bar.
I’m a big fan of Walter Manzke’s food, and given that I can only taste his food at various pop-ups and food festivals, the choice was clear for me – downstairs. Plus, I’ve enjoyed meals at each of Sotto, Osteria/Pizzeria Mozza and MB Post, so I was excited to see what they would cook too.
NANCY SILVERTON – Burrata with Caviar, Red Onions, Egg and Chives
The first course featured one of the things Silverton is most known for: mozzarella. Here the silky, creamy burrata was topped with caviar, which added a wonderful salinity. I liked the raw red onions too, adding some bright flavors to each bite. Really simple…really good.
WALTER MANZKE – Zucchini and Basil Risotto
A late summer risotto, I liked that this dish featured some bright, clean flavors from the cherry tomatoes and basil. Mini bursts of flavor. Meanwhile, the zucchini, nuts and rice added the bulk of the texture. Quite nice.
MATT MOLINA – Calf’s Brain Ravioli with Sage and Lemon
Calf’s brain is something that would probably strike fear in many diners, I’ve never found anything “weird” about it. I’ve had calf’s brain ravioli at Osteria Mozza before (as part of the tasting menu), and I remember it being a good one. This one did not disappoint either with a rich, smooth and meaty filling packed into al dente ravioli. The butter-based sauce displayed both the lemon and sage flavors, complementing the pasta.
DAVID LEFEVRE – Braised Pork with Crispy Gnocchi, Summer Squash, Bianco Sardo
This was likely my favorite dish of the night. Rich and tender pieces of pork shoulder were smothered in its braising liquid, while light pieces of crispy gnocchi were paired alongside. The pork itself was succulent and delicious, while the cheese added a nice richness, helping bring the gnocchi and pork together. I appreciated the pieces of fresh squash in between bites of meat.
STEVE AND ZACH – American Wagyu Brisket and Tongue alla Griglia, Cauliflower Stracotto, Piper’s Arugula, Salsa Verde
This dish was another good one, with two nice pieces of meat braised until fork-tender. I’m a big fan of tongue and actually preferred it over the brisket here. I thought the arugula and salsa verde were key, adding a peppery bite and acidity, respectively, to the rich meats. The cauliflower stracotto was something new for me, and I thought it was a welcome addition.
DAVIDE GIOVA – Cassatina
This was a sort of sponge cake-like half-dome, and the main flavor I got in here was…almond? Pretty tasty, though I wasn’t a fan of the rock-hard pomegranate seeds on the side.
Test Kitchen wouldn’t be Test Kitchen without the cocktails…
Yeoman Warder London Dry Gin, Dry Vermouth, Almond Orgeat, Lemon, Bitters (Fernie)
Night Vision Moonshine, Carrot Juice, Thyme, Velvet Falernum, Strega (Black)
Show Us Your Tikis Spanish Rum, Combier, Pinenut Orgeat, Lime (Grutman)
Boots With The Fur Apple Brandy, Lime, Celery, Cider (Fernie)
We went upstairs to see what was going on, as well as to grab a couple drinks.
The Paloma Chamomile-infused Tequila, Coriander-grilled Grapefruit, Aperol, Lime, Grapefruit Syrup (Kupchinsky)
The Darkness Peach-infused Mezcal, Amontillado Sherry, Amaro Nonino (Kupchinsky)
Cocktail-wise, I actually preferred what I tried upstairs at Picca. I particularly liked the Paloma, mostly because of the herb and fruit flavors in it. Downstairs, my favorite was probably the Night Vision cocktail – bright and vibrant both in color and taste.
I thought this was a pretty fun way to celebrate Test Kitchen’s run and get many of the “alumni” back together. I know I had a great time. I would say the food actually exceeded my expectations. Sometimes getting a bunch of chefs to do a one-night-only meal does not even equal the sum of its parts, but that wasn’t the case here. The food was thought-out and well-executed, yielding some pretty delicious dishes. For the most part, it seemed like the chefs stayed within a comfort zone (nothing too crazy on the plates), which I think really paid off in this meal. For what it’s worth, I heard the upstairs dinner was exceptional as well.