Gold Standard 2011

Gold Standard 2011
Petersen Auto Museum
6060 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Dining date: 3/6/11

I came. I saw. I left full. That pretty much sums up my experience from this year’s Gold Standard, the third annual event presented by LA Weekly and LA food critic Jonathan Gold. Last year was my first time attending, and it was one of the best food events I went to. I bought my ticket early this year, getting an early-bird discount of $10 off the regular ticket price ($60 GA, $80 VIP). The VIP ticket gets you in an hour earlier, but I didn’t think it was necessary – thus, I went with General Admission.

The event featured over 40 of Jonathan Gold’s favorite restaurants, as well as an impressive number of wineries represented. The restaurants represented cuisines of all kinds, casual restaurants to high-end, and locations all over the city – it was an interesting picture of the LA dining scene.

The first thing I saw was the line to get in, which was long. However, once we hit 1pm, the line moved pretty quickly in.

A long row, with tables on both sides, served as the “wine bars.”

Providence
Scallop Tartare


Compressed pineapple and curry petit four


Our gameplan was to hit some of our “musts” early – this was one of them. The scallop tartare was a highlight, wrapped in a leaf and topped with popped rice. The fish was tender and tasty, while the popped rice added a nice crunch. In a bite, this dish represented the restaurant’s clean flavors, emphasis on seafood and Japanese influences. The pineapple and curry petit four came out later in the afternoon – I liked the interplay of the sweet pineapple with the curry.

LudoBites
Whipped brie, honey balsamic frisee


This was another of the “musts,” and one of the most crowded booths…for obvious reasons. This dish was reminiscent of one I had at LudoBites 4.0, with a very creamy brie chantilly paired with crostini. I’m not really a big cheese person so this wasn’t my favorite dish. However, I appreciated the acidity from the balsamic and the sweetness from the honey in tandem with the rich, creamy brie.

Maison Giraud
Ham & cheese croissant


Almond & vanilla blanc – manger, blood orange gelee


Alain Giraud was serving up a couple of choices here. Since it was early on, I passed on the croissant, thinking it was too heavy at this point. I was hoping to take one home later, but they ran out quickly. The dessert was really good though, with almond, vanilla and citrus flavors melding well together in the custard.

Jar
Char siu buns


I’ve always seen Jar serve their signature pot roast at food festivals such as this one, but they opted to serve another regular on their menu, the char siu buns. The buns had a flaky exterior, but I found the barbecued pork interior to be a little dry.

Jinya
Tonkotsu ramen


I was impressed with the ramen here. I was afraid I might find lukewarm broth or soggy noodles – not the case, the execution was spot on. The noodles had a great al dente chew, complemented by a savory, milky broth. Really good. I visited this booth at least 5 times throughout the afternoon…sounds like I will have to pay a visit to their restaurant soon.

Cut
Kobe short rib


Cut is my favorite steakhouse in LA. Here was a really delicious preparation of short rib – tender, moist, beefy. It was served with a sort of tortilla, which made this easier to pick up and eat; however, I found it a bit chewy.

A-Frame
Furikake kettle corn


Rum, hibiscus, lime, orange bitters


I haven’t had a chance to try A-Frame yet, but I’ve wanted to. I wished they presented something more savory, but this kettle corn was some of the best I’ve had. Sweet, spicy and full of flavor, these were a definite hit. They also served a refreshing cocktail, which was quite nice as it became warmer and warmer in the tent.

My friend brilliantly recycled his glass from the Singha Beer table.

AOC
Pork rillete, pickled red onion, frisee


I didn’t think there was too much going on here. The pork rillete was good, but not something that stood out.

Waterloo & City
Chicken liver & foie gras mousse


I found this mousse to be really good, with flavors of the chicken liver and foie gras both present. I would’ve preferred the bread to be toasted, but I’m just being picky.

Park’s BBQ
Bulgogi, kimchi rice


Park’s dish was comfortable, homey. I thought the bulgogi was a little salty, but had good flavor.

Manila Machine
Pork belly & pineapple adobo, lumpia shanghai


Manila Machine is one of the better food trucks I’ve tasted, and I’m glad they were able to showcase some of their food here. The pork belly was really tender and flavorful…well done. The lumpia were pretty good too.

The Foundry
Grilled cheese sandwich


Chef Eric Greenspan was proclaiming to everyone that this would be the best sandwich they ever ate. I’m not sure how many agreed with that statement, but it’s a very good sandwich as far as grilled cheeses go. I really enjoyed the peppery arugula in the sandwich, helping to contrast the rich Taleggio cheese.

The Gorbals
Chicken gizzards, romesco sauce


I was excited to see Ilan Hall serving some gizzards here. I like them, but I never see it in restaurants. They were very tender, so I think they were perhaps braised. The romesco sauce did a nice job of adding some extra flavor to the dish.

Tacos Baja Ensenada
Shrimp taco


I thought the shrimp was nicely fried, leaving a moist interior. However, the tortilla was really greasy.

Bludso’s BBQ
Pulled pork, beef brisket


I’m always down for some good barbecue. Here, Bludso’s prepared a duo of meats, slathered in a sweet, savory barbecue sauce. Both of the meats were really tender, with a smokiness that was complemented by the sauce.

Drago Centro
Foie gras panna cotta


Drago Centro served this light, creamy panna cotta with a good foie gras flavor.

Mo Chica
Peruvian-spiced chicken skewers


There were some oysters here as well, but I just missed them. Still, I was able to get one of these skewers, which exhibited a nice char fresh of the grill. I’ve had some of Chef Zarate’s anticucho before and really enjoyed them. No different here, with a mildly spicy rub adding a lot of flavor to the chicken.

Father’s Office
Stout braised pork ribs, spicy orange blossom honey glaze


I was really curious about what FO would serve. Would they make slider versions of their famed burger? Not quite – the restaurant opted to showcase some of their other dishes with these ribs. These were very tender and had a nice sweetness, presumably from the stout braise and the honey glaze. I didn’t think the glaze was spicy as advertised, but I wasn’t complaining.

Susan Feniger’s Street
Vietnamese crepes


I thought this crepe was okay – I just didn’t think there was much to this dish.

Bistro LQ
Hare terrine and stuffed duck neck, pickled huckleberries


I liked the terrine and duck – it was meaty and tender, and had a creamy polenta to go along with it. I also heard some good macarons were coming from this table, but I wasn’t able to get one.

Starry Kitchen
Malaysian chicken curry


I work downtown and Starry is in my regular rotation of restaurants. I had this curry a couple of weeks ago, and it’s a pretty good one with just enough spice to keep things interesting. Supposedly, a stash of their tofu balls was available somewhere.

The Slaw Dogs
Spring fling holly roller, spicy chipotle mayo


As it was getting later into the afternoon, I passed on taking a bite of this as it seemed pretty heavy.

Chichen Itza
Banana leaf braised pork


Red snapper ceviche


I enjoyed the ceviche here. It was a generous portion of tender fish, sitting in a citrus-y marinade. The tortilla chip was key, as well, for texture and as a scooping mechanism.

Loteria Grill
Corn esquites


I found the corn here to be deliciously sweet, with a hint of tart lime juice and a little creaminess from mayonnaise.

Cole’s
Old Fashioned


This was a long line throughout the afternoon. No french dips here – just an old fashioned cocktail. It was a good one too, though I wish the serving size was larger given the lengthy wait and size of the glass (this picture was before any of it was consumed).

Good Girl Dinette
Curry cauliflower pot pie


I tried these pot pies last year and found them pretty good. This one was the vegetarian version, which exhibited a comfortable curry flavor with chunks of vegetables and a flaky crust.

Jitlada
Chicken curry, spicy beef


I opted to stay away from the beef here, saving my tastebuds. It kicked my ass last year.

Palate Food & Wine
Pig ear banh mi


Palate often serves banh mi at these festivals, and this was a more creative one. I liked the flavors, but I’m not a fan of the cartilage in pig ears in general. Personal preference.

I was able to try almost everything I wanted to; Mozza was one that I missed. I thought this was another really successful Gold Standard. For $50 I had an all-you-can-eat-and-drink ticket to some really good food and drinks. Heck, I’ve spent more on a meal at Cheesecake Factory. One of the biggest issues with similar events are the lines, and somehow this event has largely avoided that problem. There were a few tables that had some good lines throughout the afternoon, but for the most part, I think people were able to get what they wanted in a timely manner. There were some tables that ran out of food relatively quickly, though.

I’m already looking forward to next year!

Roasted Chicken

Dining date: 2/26/11

It’s been a while since I posted some home cooked food. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I haven’t been cooking (I still cook maybe four times a week),  it’s just that I’ve had a lot of restaurant posts to catch up with. Anyway, this past weekend, I felt like roasting a chicken for some reason. I think part of it was the cold winter weather, and part of it was my ongoing effort to develop and perfect a recipe that I like.

Everyone seems to have their own roasted chicken recipe. I consulted a number of recipes including Cook’s Illustrated, Thomas Keller and Ludovic Lefebvre. I kind of just combined certain characteristics from all three of them into mine.

I started a few days in advance by starting my brine. I find that brining a chicken, while a little time-consuming, really pays off by ensuring a juicy result. Always looking for ways to add flavor, I added fresh thyme and rosemary, as well as garlic and a bay leaf to the salt and sugar brine.

I let the chicken sit in this brine overnight, then rinsed well, patted dry, and let sit in my refrigerator for another day to dry the skin even more. This is something I especially like to do with steaks, as it ensures the exterior is completely dry to maximize browning.

Finally, I was ready to start cooking. I removed the wishbone with a paring knife (another step that’s more work upfront, but paid dividends later), which would help carving and the presentation once cooked. I stuffed the cavity with garlic, thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper. I also put a ton of soft butter on the top, something I took from Ludo’s recipe.

I was ready to put the chicken in the oven – I had an onion on-hand, so I figured I’d roast them as well. In the end, they didnt really add anything.

I roasted at 450 degrees until the drumstick/thigh reached 160 degrees (about 50 minutes) and let it rest. The browning wasn’t quite as even as I would’ve liked; I’m not sure if this was just the oven or me.

While letting the chicken rest, I finished some fingerling potatoes that I had parboiled earlier. I sauteed them in a skillet, crushing them slightly, with salt, pepper and fresh rosemary.

While cutting into the chicken, there was no shortage of juices on the cutting board (yay the brine worked!)

The resulting chicken was pretty moist and flavorful and I was happy about it. While the browning wasn’t perfect, the skin was still pretty crispy. I ended up smashing the potatoes a little more than I should have, but it still tasted good.

I’m still debating what to do with the chicken stock I just made from the resulting bones.

Angeli Caffe (Los Angeles, CA)

Angeli Caffé
7274 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90046
Dining date: 2/12/11

Angeli Caffe has been around for more than 25 years, a remarkable achievement in an LA dining scene that has vastly changed during that time period. Its founder, Evan Kleinman, is a notable personality in LA – she’s the host of KCRW’s Good Food. I’ve been to Angeli once a few years back, and I thought it was just okay. However, we were looking for Italian options in the area, and this popped up as a suggestion.

Half of our party was vegetarian, so we were heavy on those dishes.

Insalata Forte locally grown organic baby greens, fennel, Belgian endive dressed with a garlicky parmesan vinaigrette

Penne with Ricotta chile and parsley

This is typically with pancetta, but we “veggie-fied” it by omitting it. The pasta was a nice al dente, and still had some good flavor from the ricotta and chile. The pancetta would’ve given it a nice depth of flavor and saltiness, I’m sure.

Butternut Squash Lasagna


Pollo Arrosto famous succulent half chicken, marinated w/garlic, fresh rosemary and lemon, then roasted

I found the chicken to be pretty moist with decent flavor. Nothing special, but a decent chicken. The accompanying beans and potatoes seemed steamed and rather plain.

Risotto with Shrimp and Lemon Zest


The risotto was good, creamy with an al dente texture. The shrimp was overcooked, though, leaving it mealy. I liked the lemon zest, which added a little bit of brightness to the dish.

I had ordered a lasagna which never came out. The food thus far had been mediocre, but I was still hungry so I was up for another dish. Weezermonkey had been raving about the gnochetti (as well as many Yelp reviews) on Twitter after I had ordered, so I figured I’d give it a shot. Two options were available – a tomato basil sauce and an herb butter.

Ricotta Gnocchetti of the Day tomato basil

As I ate the first piece, I thought to myself “holy crap, this is one of the best things I’ve eaten in a while!” Perhaps part of this was a factor of expectations from the previous dishes, but I found the gnochetti to be so light, fluffy, pillowy – delicious. The tomato basil sauce had just a little bit of sweetness that really complemented the dish. So good.

I had to try another order; this time with the herb butter.

Ricotta Gnocchetti of the Day herb butter

The gnochetti was just the same as before, but I didn’t care for the herb butter as much. I appreciated the acidity and sweetness of the tomato basil sauce with the dumplings – here, the rich butter didn’t do the same thing.

My meal at Angeli was kind of whatever, except for the late-entry gnochetti. They were definitely memorable; still one of the best bites I’ve had in 2011. I’m not sure when/if I’ll be back, but I’m definitely sticking to the gnochetti – it’s highly recommended.

Cafe Pinot (Los Angeles, CA)

Cafe Pinot
700 W 5th St
Los Angeles, CA 90071
Dining date: 2/22/11

To me, Cafe Pinot is one of the oft-overlooked dining options downtown. I literally work a block away, but I can’t think of a single instance in which a co-worker suggested we come here. I think, because it’s been around for a while, it’s been overshadowed by the buzz of numerous other downtown restaurant openings in the last few years. But it shouldn’t be.

exterior

I was invited to come dine at Cafe Pinot – joining me was Diana. I had been twice before; both for recruiting events. It was almost impossible to focus on the food during those meals, so I was glad to be able to sit down, relax, and enjoy the food and company this time.

The chef is Kevin Meehan, who’s worked in the kitchen of many of LA’s notable past and present restaurants (L’Orangerie, Bastide, Patina to name a few). He’s a character too, with a fun personality – I recommend chatting him up when visiting the restaurant.

We started off with some housemade potato chips.

chips

I think these were just potatoes, oil and salt, and they were really done well – perfectly thin and crispy. Addicting.

Pepper Rubbed Yellowfin Tuna smashed avocado, tomato mousse, soy onions, yuzu granita
3 Stones Sauvignon Blanc

yellowfin

First course. The tuna was tender, and was delish with a bit of peppery bite. I really liked the avocado, which added body, as well as a little bit of the citrus yuzu. The stunning presentation atop a block of Himalayan pink salt was really cool, though a bit salty if I scraped my fork too hard against the block.

Wild Mushroom Risotto truffle shavings, parmesan frico, chantilly cream
Eola Hills Pinot Noir

black truffle risotto

This was the dish I was anticipating most. I’ve read much about this dish being a stellar example of risotto in the city, and it did not disappoint. It was creamy and luxurious, with a subtle sweetness from onion. The rice was a perfect al dente and the truffles, shaved tableside, added its characteristic earthy flavor. I did not think the parmesan frico was necessary, however, as it added too much crunch to the delicate chew of the rice.

Loup de Mer squid, chorizo, pimenton
Marc Bredif Vouvray

loup de mer

This next course had a bunch of components on the plate centered around the loup de mer. The fish was excellent – really moist on the inside with a crisp skin. The squid was tender and flavorful on its own, but everything was brought together with the smoky chorizo and pimenton.

Duo of Beef filet mignon, pinot noir braised short rib, potato gâteau, wild mushrooms, bordelaise sauce
Rosenthal Cabernet Sauvignon

beef duo

I love myself some beef, so I was pretty excited to see a dual preparation here. Both of them were executed well, and I preferred the pinot noir braised short rib for being oh-so-tender without being mushy. Really good depth of flavor. I thought the confit potatoes were superb as well.

Lastly, we were presented with a trio of desserts.

Chocolate Mousse Gateau hazelnut crunch, cocoa soil, bitter chocolate paint
Jorge Ordonez Victoria #2

chocolate gateau

There were a number of chocolate components here – very rich and chocolatey. The classic combination of hazelnuts and chocolate worked well, and I enjoyed the hazelnuts for some nutty crunch.

Beignets

beignets

The dough was light and barely chewy – these were served warm (the only way to serve them, really). A subtle rosemary essence really made these stand out.

Butterscotch Panna Cotta candied butternut squash, pepita seeds, ginger bread streusel, chantilly cream

butterscotch

This was a pretty good custard – not too sweet, which was good. I thought the gingerbread streusel was a fantastic touch, adding a delightful texture to the dessert.

My meal at Cafe Pinot was a pleasant surprise. Sure, I knew the risotto was going to be a show-stopper, but this was a well-rounded menu from start to finish. Given it’s so convenient to me, I’ll be back. And guess what – the restaurant doesn’t charge a corkage fee. And there’s also a spacious outdoor patio surrounded by the Central Library and downtown skyline. On a warm summer evening, this will be hard to beat.

Note: This was a sponsored meal.

Spago (Beverly Hills, CA)

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

exterior

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

spicy tuna tartare cone

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

salmon blini

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

hamachi ceviche

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

toad in a hole

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

oyster caviar

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

pastrami duck liver

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

bacon en croute

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

rhubarb sorbet

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

spot prawn

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

sweetbreads

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

fromage de tete

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

sepia

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

loup de mer

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

garganelli

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

agnolotti

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

rabbit loin

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

lamb

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

short rib marrow

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

cheese

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

lemon souffle

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

kaiserschmarrn

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

dobos torte

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

chocolate pot pie

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!

SONY DSC

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.

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.

CRISPY SPRING ROLL squash, fennel, caramelized onion, tamarind

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

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

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

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

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

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.