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.

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.

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

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

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


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


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


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

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.

Red Snapper marinated with kelp

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


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

Yellowtail


Characteristically tender and soft, this was a good bite.

Bluefin Toro


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


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


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

Japanese Mackerel


Another fish that was subtly fishy and very flavorful.

Sweet Shrimp


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


Octopus


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


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

Barracuda


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


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)


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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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.

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


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


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


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

Yanagita Seafarms uni goma tofu


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


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


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


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


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!

Hatfield’s (Los Angeles, CA)

Hatfield’s
6703 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Dining date: 2/5/11

I had been wanting to have dinner at Hatfield’s since they opened last February. I did have a chance to come for lunch in November, and that strong meal only piqued my interest more. So finally, I found myself at dinner with Christina of food, je t’aime and Daniel of effing dericious.

Menu options available were a four-course seasonal prix fixe, a la carte, and a nine course spontanee tasting menu. We opted for the tasting menu.

The first dish to come out was an amuse bouche of house-cured salmon, cucumber yogurt and crispy potato.

This was a good way to start the meal with some light flavors of salmon, accented by the tart yogurt. I thought the potato crisps added some nice texture.

Bread was fantastic – served hot, with a crisp exterior. I also liked that the butter was presented with a little bit of chives; it’s a nice change of pace from the normal “plain” butter.

Raw Marinated Hiramasa anaheim chile, endive, meyer lemon creme fraiche, crispy shallot

I liked the fish complemented by a little acidity from the lemon crème fraiche, and some heat from the chile. The crispy shallot was a nice touch, adding texture and junt a hint of shallot flavor.

Warm Cuttlefish Salad artichoke, maitake, arugula

This next dish was a standout. The cuttlefish was very tender, and I loved the flavors of the fish with the artichoke and mushrooms, as well as the spicy arugula.

Butternut Squash Flan coconut soup, hon shimiji mushroom, crispy sweetbreads

I really liked this dish as well, and it was probably the most interesting of the night. The dish had two layers: butternut squash flan on the bottom and a coconut soup on the top. An odd combination to think about, but I thought the two flavors really melded well together. The sweetbread was fried in a ball – moist inside and crispy outside. Quite tasty.

Pan Roasted Scallops braised celery, salsify puree, apple froth

The scallop was cooked well and had a good, crisped exterior. The salsify and celery added a little bit of sweetness and vegetal quality. Good, but not quite as imaginative as the last two courses.

Buttermilk Steamed Chicken Breast foie gras, royal trumpet mushrooms, cauliflower puree

This was another interesting dish with pieces of chicken breast and foie gras paired together. I thought each of the chicken and foie gras components were quite good on their own, but they didn’t really complement each other as much as was intended. I would’ve loved to have seen some crispy chicken skin topping this too.

Braised Pork Belly smoked white bean puree, roasted baby broccoli, meyer lemon confiture

I loved the smokiness from the white bean puree, which added some extra flavor to the pork. The lemon was crucial, adding some acidity to cut through the richness of the pork and beans.

Wagyu Flat Iron Steak creamy swiss chard, pickled red onion, chiodini mushroom

I thought the steak was pretty tender and flavorful, bathed in a rich pan sauce. The onion rings were a nice touch, too.

We wanted to sample as much of Pastry Chef Karen Hatfield’s creations as possible. The kitchen obliged by sending out three different palate cleansers and three different desserts for the last two courses.

Goat’s Milk Cheesecake citrus, tarragon, lemon sorbet

This was a great dish. The graham cracker crust was perfect, and the cheesecake was creamy and tasty – the goat cheese was not at all overpowering.

Buttermilk Panna Cotta blood orange sorbet

The panna cotta here was pretty smooth and rich; however, the flavors were muted by the overpowering citrus flavors.

Tangerine Granita prosecco sabayon, graham streusel

The graham streusel was probably my favorite part of this dish. The tangerine flavor was bold and vibrant, but I’m not sure all of the flavors worked well together.

Next were the three desserts.

Chocolate Caramel Semifreddo salted peanut crunch, bitter chocolate sorbet

I liked the caramel and chocolate flavors, while the peanut crunch added the texture.

Cocoa Dusted Beignets Venezuelan chocolate fondue, Mexican chocolate milkshake shot

I was pretty excited to see this arrive – it’s hard to beat a warm beignet. The dough was perfectly soft yet supple, but I thought the cocoa flavor, along with the chocolate fondue and milkshake, was a little redundant.

Steamed Date Cake roasted pineapple, pecan toffee, rum vanilla ice cream

This made a moist, sweet cake, and the rum vanilla ice cream went very well with it.

Lastly, we were presented with some blood orange gelees.

These were good – sweet, with a strong blood orange flavor.

The “palate cleansers” were stronger than the desserts, which were a little underwhelming, especially compared to the standouts I had last time (the Chocolate-Peanut Butter Truffle Cake). However, overall I thought the Hatfield’s meal was very good. Nothing was bad, and there were a number of really good dishes as well. Hatfield’s displayed a combination of creativity and sound execution – while the flavors were familiar, the kitchen prepared them in ways imaginative enough to keep them interesting. I’m sure I’ll be back in the near future.

Playa Rivera – 2/10/11

Playa Rivera
7360 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Playa is John Rivera Sedlar’s (Rivera) new Latin-inspired restaurant, which has taken over the old Grace spot on Beverly. Interestingly, I dined at this location on Grace’s last night of service, so it was fun to come full-circle and check out the the new spot. Members of the mailing list for the now-defunct-but-soon-to-return Test Kitchen were invited to come try out Playa a day before the official opening. Luckily, I was able to join a reservation with Christina of food, je t’aime, Matt of Mattatouille/Scoops Westside, and Caroline of Caroline on Crack.

The space is rather small, though strategically-placed mirrors actually made me think it was much larger at first. The bar is stunning with its wall of spirits; cocktails are crafted by mixologist Julian Cox.

A variety of cold/warm small plates and big plates were on offer, as well as some sides. We opted to stick with the small plates, giving us a few more tastes to try.

Octo-Palm grilled octopus, palm hearts, scallions, oven-dried cherry tomatoes, oven-dried red onion

A couple of people had recommended this dish, so we had to try it. The octopus was a little bit chewy, but not overly so, and were complemented with the dried red onion and palm hearts. The oven-dried cherry tomatoes were juicy and delicious…and almost stole the show.

Lipsticks sweet peppers, crab, corn, olive oil, sorbet morado, rosemary oil, sal de colima, citrus-beet pintura

Loved the presentation here. This dish was cool, flavorful and refreshing. I enjoyed the crab and corn stuffed in the chiles, which was a delicious interplay of three sweet ingredients. The sorbet and rosemary oil added extra herb flavor, while giving the dish a cool crispness. Nice!

Flor de Calabaza tempura squash blossoms, Spanish bacalao, veal reduction, chorizo jus, capers, castelveltrano olives

I love fried squash blossoms. The creamy bacalao filling worked well with the crunchy squash blossoms. The olive and chorizo flavors came through as well, though the whole mouthful was a little salty.

Maize Cake Breakfast 63° egg, pan-seared potato, espuma de queso, black trumpet mushrooms, truffle cheese

This would make an excellent breakfast/brunch item…which isn’t to say it wasn’t also good for dinner as well. The earthy flavors of the mushrooms and truffle cheese were most evident; combined with the perfectly cooked egg, this made a delicious and savory bite. Roll this up, and you’ve got a heck of a (messy) breakfast burrito!

Arroz con Pato duck confit, baby vegetable pickles, arroz blanco jus, fresno chiles, chives, micro cilantro

I love arroz con pollo so I was eying this dish beforehand. The duck was succulent and tender, and the rice was good too. The tiny baby vegetables added a nice crunch and acidity as well. I just wish I could’ve had this dish by myself!

Tamalli Chateaubriand wild-mushroom duxelles dumpling, filet mignon, chipotle béarnaise

Here we had, essentially, a tamale and slices of tenderloin. The beef was very tender, with some added flavor from a savory béarnaise. The tamale was a little bit dense, but did have an earthy flavor imparted by the mushrooms.

Cauliflower oven-roasted, indian spices, green chiles, chana crisp

We tried one side – this cauliflower. The roasting provided a nice char to the cauliflower, adding extra flavor. However, the dish was a little bit mushy for me.

Luna Mezcal chocolate cake, chocolate glaze, mezcal ice cream, caramel popcorn, spanish peanuts, hibiscus sauce, blackberry basil, sorbet

Dessert number one. The chocolate cake was good – dense and full of chocolate flavor. I don’t have a lot of experience with mezcal, but the ice cream provided a subtle welcome sweetness. There was another sorbet on top of the chocolate which was reminiscent of raspberry, and countered some of the sweetness.

Pastel Café mocha sponge, espresso crème, toffee honeycomb, colombian chocolate ice cream

Dessert number two. The sponge was just kind of weird..it was dry without feeling too dry, but full of coffee flavor. The chocolate ice cream created one of my favorite dessert combinations (coffee and chocolate), and they melded well as the sponge soaked up some of the melting ice cream. Toffee honeycomb added some texture and extra flavor. Delish!

In all, I thought this was a good meal. Sedlar continues to use Latin flavors in interesting, modern “twists” – and, most importantly, they taste good. I actually enjoyed my meal here over my experiences at Rivera – the vibe is a little more energetic and communal.