5×5 Chefs Collaborative @ Melisse (Santa Monica, CA)
5×5 Chefs Collaborative Dinner Series
1104 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Dining date: 4/29/12
The 5×5 dinner series has been around a number of years now, but this is the first (certainly not the last) one that I’ve been to. I don’t know why it took so long. The concept is thus: 5 chefs create a 5-course meal (one dish for each chef), rotating to each of their 5 restaurants (for 5 dinners in all). As if I needed more convincing, there’s been a sixth guest chef at each dinner, and this year’s no exception (making for 6 courses). The guest chef has often been an out-of-towner, providing unique flair to an otherwise already-all-star cast. The dinners cost $150 with a portion of proceeds benefiting the Southern California Special Olympics. A pretty cool concept!
This was the first dinner of the 2012 series, held at Melisse in Santa Monica. The complete lineup: Josiah Citrin of Melisse, Michael Cimarusti of Providence, Gino Angelini of Angelini Osteria, Michael Voltaggio of ink., Rory Herrmann of Bouchon, and guest chef Ludovic Lefebvre of LudoBites. Ken Takayama (Melisse Chef de Cuisine) handled dessert duties for this dinner.
A special cocktail menu was prepared for this evening; we sampled a few (descriptions from left to right).
Renovateur Cadavre “corpse reviver” oxley gin, lillet blanc, cointreau and lemon
Citrine el tesoro plata, aperol, grapefruit and lime juice
Les Restes deaths door vodka, crushed grapes, lychee shaken with egg whites
Surfeur appleton rum, pineapple, ginger syrup, lime and soda
Sampling all four, I thought this was a pretty strong lineup. My drink was the Surfeur, a refreshing and balanced cocktail with a little bit of sweet fruit, citrus and something I’ve really been enjoying in cocktails – ginger syrup.
The first thing to come out of the kitchen was this amuse bouche.
foie gras and rhubarb with dehydrated whey and citrus
Basically a small ball full of foie flavor, it had a soft, almost jelly-like texture with a crispy coating. The main flavor profile was that of the foie gras – I could see this being a fitting start to Melisse’s Foie for All dinner as well.
Citrin: crisp chicken skin, raw milk curd, aged and fermented beets, shaved macadamia & chilled pea, yogurt sphere, meyer lemon air
Host chef Josiah Citrin’s dish was this duo. The chilled pea consomee was light and refreshing, with a little bit of the citrus of the meyer lemon coming through. The textural component came in the form of crispy chicken skin, complemented by creamy milk curd and beets (which I think added the tartness I tasted).
Cimarusti: fluke sashimi, fluke fin, geoduck clam creme fraiche, yuzu kosho, crispy puffed rice
Cimarusti has some beautiful plating skills and it was on clear display here. Fluke and geoduck sashimi were the proteins; the fluke was tender while the geoduck had just a little bit of chew. Yuzu kosho provided subtle heat, creme fraiche provided tartness, and puffed rice added a little crunch. This dish showed a lot of restraint and was very well-balanced. Quite good.
Lefebvre: Eastern Squid ink, ash and baby french leeks
Next up was Ludo’s dish. Tender pieces of squid were accompanied by a squid ink sauce, an ash crumble and a sweeter yellow sauce I can’t recall. I thought this was a strong dish, with the squid going very well with the sauce and delicate crumble. The glazed leeks were tasty too.
Angelini: homemade spaghetti chitarra alla norcina sausage, spring truffles, parmigiano-reggiano
Angelini’s dish was seemingly one of the simpler dishes of the evening but my favorite. I really like fresh pasta and found it to be done perfectly here. The spaghetti was thicker than what I normally see, almost resembling Japanese udon in shape. As a result, it provided a really nice chew to go along with the sausage-based sauce and earthy truffles. Goodness. I wanted a whole big bowl of this. One of the best things I’ve eaten this year.
Voltaggio: wild black bass egg yolk dumplings, porcini dashi
Next up was Voltaggio’s dish, a piece of sea bass topped with egg yolk dumplings (!) and a porcini dashi. The fish was cooked well, having a moist flavorful flesh though I would’ve preferred a crispy skin. Egg yolk dumplings were a fun addition, yielding a runny interior not unlike an actual yolk. Very interesting. It added a richness to the dish, while the dashi provided that extra depth of flavor.
Herrmann: degustation de lapin devil’s gulch rabbit, sweet carrots, fava beans, young onions, rosemary scented rabbit jus
Hermann’s dish was this trio of rabbit preparations – loin, rack and a cooked terrine. In many ways, this reminded me of The French Laundry but it lacked some of the pizzazz that I found in other courses. The tenderloin seemed a bit on the dry side, but the rack was a highlight with its juicy and tender meat. Carrots, beans and onions rounded out the dish, as well as a herb-scented jus that brought everything together.
Takayama: chocolate, caramel, strawberry, wild fennel
Loved the presentation of this dessert! Takayama’s creation of cake, fresh strawberries, and liquid nitrogen caramel ‘dippin dots’ were served in a chocolate bowl. The liquid nitrogen created the smoky effect, while the flavors were that of a chocolate and strawberry cake.
Lastly, we had some extra sweets to finish off the meal.
mignardises macarons, berries with yogurt and brown sugar
I found this meal to be very good – probably the best meal I’ve had so far this year. The food lived up to the big names and the progression of courses fit well, something that’s not always easy with these types of dinners. My favorite dish was Angelini’s pasta for sure, but other highlights included Cimarusti’s sashimi, Ludo’s squid and Takayama’s dessert. Even my least favorite plate was still a relatively strong effort. Especially with this level of cooking, I’m already looking forward to the rest of the series.
Sunday, April 29, 2012: MELISSE, with Guest Chef Ludo Lefebvre
Monday, May 21, 2012: PROVIDENCE, with Guest Chef Jeremy Fox
Monday, July 16, 2012: ANGELENI OSTERIA, with Guest Chef Michael Tusk
Monday, August 20, 2012: BOUCHON, with Guest Chef to be announced
Sunday, September 16, 2012: ink., with Guest Chef Chris Cosentino
While the spaghetti was good, clearly the squid was better. Just saying.
Hah, I respect your opinion.
It was also one of the best meals I’ve has this year so far. I agree with Yury that Ludo’s squid dish was tops for me. Angelini’s spaghetti was also quite delicious. Goodness indeed.
Well considering how many more 5X5 you have to go, I think the best meal title is still highly competitive.
its so pretty and looks nice but do you feel full after such tiny pretty food?? i think id have to stop at jack in the box on the way home! 🙂
Yah I think we had enough food. There was some bread that was unpictured, but the meal was deceptively filling.
I think the noodles would’ve been my favorite course too! Can’t wait to read about the rest of the 5×5 series.
Glad someone agrees with me!