Water Grill (Los Angeles, CA) (2)

Water Grill
544 S Grand Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90071
Dining date: 7/25/12

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Recently, we welcomed a couple of new team members at work. To celebrate the addition, a group of us went out to dinner downtown. Given that many of my co-workers enjoyed Water Grill the last time we went, it was a fairly easy choice for a return visit. This would be my second visit since the remodel (the first visit was captured gorgeously by gastronomyblog), in which the restaurant closed from Dec.-Jan. to change its look. What resulted was a more open layout with a clear view of the kitchen; I think they succeeded in making the restaurant appear less stuffy and a little more approachable.

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For such a classy establishment, I was surprised to see they served beers by the pitcher. They had a brief but good beer list, highlighted by Ballast Point’s Sculpin IPA. Sculpin by the pitcher? Score!

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Coincidentally, it was dineLA restaurant week, $45 for 3 courses. I thought it was a pretty good price point; about half of us ordered this menu with the rest going a la carte.

CRISFIELD, MARYLAND BLUE CRAB CAKE

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The crab cake was pretty well done with a crispy crust and sweet, moist crab meat. A little bit of heat permeated the crab, making for some pretty delicious bites.

KONA KAMPACHI TARTARE japanese mustard, green apple

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This tartare was a little bland and the texture seemed a bit on the mushier side. Mustard and green apple tried to spruce up the kampachi, but I don’t think it was enough.

NEW ENGLAND CLAM CHOWDER manila clams, applewood smoked bacon

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I don’t think this recipe has changed much throughout my visits, something I consider a good thing. The soup was rather light with more of a milky, broth-like consistency with tasty plump clams. Tender carrots and potatoes, as well as smokey bacon rounded out the flavors.

FRITTO MISTO mixed fried seafood with smokey marinara and tzatziki

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I had high hopes for a fried seafood platter here at Water Grill. Filled with fish, shrimp, squid and zucchini, this one fell far short. The seafood was overcooked (making for some particularly chewy squid) and the batter felt somewhat uneven. The zucchini was the highlight of the dish, with its juicy, flavorful interior.

WILD BAJA CALIFORNIA YELLOWTAIL blackened with sweet curried cauliflower

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This was a denser fish with a fishier taste, cooked well. The blackening spices provided a good depth of flavor as well as a bit of spice. The sweet cauliflower was a nice pairing, counteracting the spice and richness of the fish.

WILD MORROW BAY KING SALMON pan sauteed with asparagus chutney, raw asparagus salad

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WILD CALIFORNIA WHITE SEABASS roasted herb quinoa, grilled macerated peaches

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My coworker Andrew, who eats at his fair share of restaurants in seafood-centric Seattle, found the seabass a little overcooked. I had to agree; the dense fish was still fairly moist but not as much as it could’ve been. Still enjoyable though, particularly with the sweetness of the peaches and the earthy quinoa accompaniments.

Three desserts were available off the dineLA menu, and we were able to try all three.

WHITE MINT FUDGE PARFAIT crispy cocoa

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KEY LIME PIE pomegranate seeds

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CARAMEL BREAD PUDDING alaea sea salt

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The key lime pie was fairly standard, perhaps in a good way. There was an interesting ice cream alongside, the flavor of which I couldn’t place. The sundae-like parfait had nice chocolate and mint flavors with texture from the cocoa. My favorite of the trio was the bread pudding with croissant and brioche breads being used in the warm, moist dessert. Really comforting and not overly sweet. The cold ice cream was a welcome contrast, as was the rich salted caramel flavor. Quite nice.

There were a number of ups-and-downs in this meal but overall I thought it was pretty good. However, given the price point of a typical meal here, I’d expect more…a similar sentiment to some past meals. Still, for a seafood-centric meal on the company’s tab (or maybe just a pitcher of beer), Water Grill’s probably not a bad way to go.

Night+Market (West Hollywood, CA) (2)

Night+Market
9041 W Sunset Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90069
Dining date: 7/23/12

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I really enjoyed my first visit to Night+Market nearly a year ago; a return visit has been long overdue. It’s mostly due to the location (on the Sunset Strip) and the fact that I dread driving to West Hollywood more than any other neighborhood of LA. However, a birthday dinner and dineLA were the impetus for this return, and I was glad to be back.

The restaurant continues to garner consistent buzz/accolades; one of the bigger ones recently was chef Kris Yenbamroong being nominated as a James Beard semifinalist in the ‘Rising Star Chef’ category. Not bad for someone with no formal culinary training; however, Yenbamroong has essentially grown up in the family’s Talesai kitchens, something that seems to have suited him very well for this gig.

Night+Market had a special 3-course menu going for dineLA; we opted to mix and match a bit, ordering two dineLA meals and a bunch of la carte items. Everything was served family style.

The restaurant has a pretty well-stocked wine list (and full bar), but this night was a beer night. Go big or go home.

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fried pig tail

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I loved this in my previous visit. My piece was much fattier than I remember, but the meat itself was again so good. Sweet and succulent with a crispy exterior. A little bit of garlic and chilies provided the depth.

som tum | papaya salad

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Cool, crisp slivers of papaya provided a little bit of crunch and reprieve from the spiciness of other dishes. However, this salad had a lingering heat of its own.

hoi nang rom sod | raw oysters on the half shell

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These oysters were cool and refreshing, though I felt the fried scallions overpowered the flavor of the oyster.

yum ruam mit talay | seafood yum boiled fish, shrimp, octopus, bird eye, lime, fish sauce, mint

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A medley of seafood was cooked with bright mint and lemongrass flavors that were nice complements. Thinly sliced Thai chiles provided bursts of heat like hidden bombs.

nam kao tod | crispy rice salad spicy fermented pork, bird eye, ginger, chile jam, fish sauce, lime, peanuts

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I liked the texture of the crispy rice in this dish, with meaty chunks of pork and slivers of ginger. A good balance of hot and sour.

gai tod mae chan | mae chan fried chicken upcountry fried chicken thighs, sticky rice, fried shallots

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The fried chicken thighs were tasty and juicy on their own; the richness was cut by the accompanying lime and ginger sauce.

panang en neua | beef tendon panang with roti

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I’m typically not a fan of the gelatinous tendon and can’t say this had me deviating from that sentiment. I much more enjoyed the warm curry and delightfully crisp roti.

hor ab | catfish tamale

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I thought this was an interesting dish on the menu. A soft tamale exhibited the flavor of the fish, but I found it somewhat one-note and in need of some textural contrast.

moo sadoong | ‘startled pig’ grilled pork, basil, lemongrass, fish sauce, lime, bird eye chile, raw garlic

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Juicy chunks of pork were complemented by lemongrass and garlic. Strong, bright flavors…and not too spicy!

pad kee mao | drunken noodles with short ribs flat noodles, chile, basil, garlic

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This was another favorite from my previous visit and I enjoyed it just as much this time. It’s a pretty simple dish I suppose, but it always gets me.

ice cream sandwich

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One of the restaurant’s most popular dishes is this dessert. Rarely does an ice cream sandwich contain actual bread and even rarer does one contain rice. This one has both with an excellent coconut ice cream and sweet rice sandwiched between toasted bread.

I enjoyed this meal at Night+Market, though it’s pretty damn spicy (it has a way of compounding throughout the meal). The menu clearly states that there is an option to make things less spicy, something I would definitely consider next time (our party in this visit liked the heat). Hopefully I’ll make my return to Night+Market much sooner this time.

Playa Brunch (Los Angeles, CA)

Playa
7360 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Dining date: 7/22/12

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I’ve stepped into Playa a few times for Julian Cox’s cocktails, but this would be only my second meal here (the first was dinner).  I recently had an OpenTable dining certificate about to expire, and picked Playa due to strong brunch recommendations.

Playa is one of John Rivera Sedlar’s restaurants (the other being Rivera in downtown), with food described as “urban Latin.” I’m not totally sure what that means, but the brunch menu is an intriguing mix of traditional brunch plates with Latin influences and some more original ones. Cocktails, crafted by Julian Cox, are top-notch; a wall of liquor and a bar full of fresh ingredients promise good things to come.

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A Beer & A Ball campari, aperol, grapefruit, sage, lime, hops infused champagne

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This was one of my favorites from a previous visit. Grapefruit citrus is the main flavor that came through with a little sparkling wine. A little bitter and a little herbaceous.

Dramble aged dark rum, fresh lemon, simple syrup, all-spice dram, muddled raspberries

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Raspberry and citrus (from the lemon) were the main flavor profiles in this refreshing cocktail. Loved the presentation.

Tortillas Florales con marmeladas y conservas

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This is one of the signature items at both Rivera and Playa. These tortillas were easily discernible from the store-bought variety in their texture, and I liked that the edges were a bit crispy. Still though, they were just tortillas, albeit really nice looking ones. Butter and two sweet fruity marmalades were served alongside.

Flan De Elote quinoa, flores de calabaza

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I thought this was a very strong dish. A light flan was sweet and savory with some earthy quinoa providing a little bit of bite. Bitter arugula was a nice change of pace.

Piquillos Rellenos gruyere, chorizo, golden raisins

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Sweet peppers, meaty bites of chorizo and a creamy gruyere came together for some tasty bites. I didn’t think the raisins were needed since the piquillo provided enough sweetness.

Huevos Polenta lardons, rajas, calabacitas, queso cotija

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Creamy polenta was topped with a poached egg and cheese making for a very savory flavor combination. Fried lardons added some meatiness as well as crunch, while a subtly spicy sauce brought it all together. A nice dish.

Duck Hash weiser farm fingerlings, peppers, 63° egg

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I thought each of the individual components were good between the potatoes, tender duck and poached egg. However the dish wasn’t anything more than that; I was missing some of the Latin influences that we saw in other plates.

Playa was a good brunch, but I wouldn’t say it was great. I thought most of the dishes were pretty unique, or at least a unique spin on a classic brunch dish (except for the duck hash). I’m always down for something different when it comes to brunch. With a strong cocktail program and a dining room full of natural light, it was a nice spot for a weekend brunch.

Ray’s (Los Angeles, CA)

Ray’s
LACMA

5905 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Dining date: 7/13/12

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Ray’s (and connected Stark Bar) has been a place I’ve wanted to try for some time now. Opened a little over a year ago, it’s somewhat quietly gained some strong accolades including being named a Best New Restaurant in 2011 by Esquire. It’s uniquely located on the LACMA campus in mid-city; on a Friday evening the place was bustling. There were a lot of people walking around (something was going on…still not sure what it was), making for an interesting place to dine and people-watch.

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Given the restaurant is attached to a museum, the restaurant has some artsy touches of its own. One of these was the dining room table, which included drawers that opened up with silverware. How fun! I’m just glad the server pointed it out before we inquired about missing silverware.

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The chef at Ray’s is Kris Morningstar, someone who’s been bouncing around LA for some time now (Blue Velvet, Casa, District). The concept is farm-to-table featuring a wood-burning oven and grill. The menu is pretty condensed with a number of appetizers, a few entrees, two pizzas and a few sides. We ended up ordering a bunch of items to share.

Warm, crusty bread was the first thing out of the kitchen. The first batch was excellent but the second one suffered from uneven reheating.

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sorrel soup, lemon creme fraiche, marcona almonds

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The kitchen sent out this amuse – a sorrel soup. The flavors were mainly grassy and tart, and the amuse as a whole was kind of refreshing.

calf’s brain haricot vert, hazelnut brown butter, preserved lemon

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The calf’s brain was seared nicely leaving a silky soft interior. Some hazelnuts and waxy green beans rounded out the dish nicely.

corn agnolotti stuffed pasta, hazelnuts, lime brown butter, wild arugula, hen of the woods mushrooms

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Good chewy agnolotti pasta was filled with a sweet corn filling. The pasta was covered in a rich butter sauce; arugula did a good job of balancing it out with a fresh, peppery bite.

bottarga squid ink bucatini, calabrian chile, mint, cherry tomatoes

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I thought the pasta was kind of soft (overcooked?), but I enjoyed the flavors. The squid ink and bottarga provided the sea flavors while fresh mint really brightened things up.

calabrian pizza fiery salami, parmesan, garlic, mozzarella

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I thought this pizza was pretty well done. A thin, charred crust held up a zesty tomato sauce and some pretty good salami.

farro broccoli di cicco, shiitake mushrooms, green onions, chili sauce, slow cooked egg

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Loved the textures in this dish between the chewy farro and oozing egg yolk. Juicy cherry tomatoes packed a punch, while some chiles brought a lingering heat. There were a lot of components to this dish and I thought they all came together very well.

branzino potato gnocchi, piquillo peppers, sugar snap peas, olives

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The branzino had a crispy skin but the meat may have been slightly overcooked. The small gnocchi were nice touch, while the snap peas provided some texture and sweetness.

chicken roulade anson mills grits, collard greens, roasted turnips, sea island red peas, crispy shallots

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This simple chicken dish may have been the highlight of the night with its succulent and tender meat. It was pretty juicy and packed with herb accents, and the creamy grits were a good earthy accompaniment.  Very nice.

hanger steak grilled scallions, charred onion puree, sungold tomatoes, smokey blue cheese, crispy bread, smoked marrow

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This hanger steak was cooked well and really exuded a smoky aroma. Juicy tomatoes made a repeat appearance, adding some sweet and brighter flavors. I’m not sure I caught the marrow flavor, though.

We also ordered a couple of side dishes to go along with the entrees,

macaroni gratin, comte gruyere, buttered bread crumbs

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The pasta was a little bit soft, but overall this was a good enough dish. The bread crumbs were an integral part of the plate for me.

frites josh’s ranch

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This side didn’t fare quite as well, with many of the fries being rather oily and soggy. Ick.

bto

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Lastly the kitchen sent out some sweets, dubbed BTOs (Better than Oreos). I’m not sure I fully agreed with the title; they were different with a soft, crumbly cookie and richer cream filling.

The food at Ray’s was overall pretty good, particularly for something considered a ‘museum restaurant.’  The dishes seemed fairly simple in concept, allowing them to shine (or falter) pretty clearly. Given the most expensive thing we ordered was $25, I thought the prices were pretty reasonable; I’d come back if I were visiting the museum.

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M.B. Post (Manhattan Beach, CA) (2)

Can You Dig It?
Manhattan Beach Post (M.B. Post)

1142 Manhattan Ave
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
Dining date: 7/16/11

M.B. Post chef David LeFevre turned 40 earlier this month. To celebrate, he organized a dinner at his restaurant this past Monday featuring a rather strong cast of chefs from around LA. Animal, Mozza, Sotto, and Rustic Canyon/Milo&Olive/Huckleberry are some of the more popular restaurants in the city, and they’d all be represented in this meal. Each chef (or chef team) teamed up for a course to bring together this 5-courser. Proceeds went to benefit Common Threads.

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While our party originally had a reservation to Angelini Osteria’s iteration of the 5×5 Collaborative Dinner (featuring guest chef Michael Tusk of Quince/Cotogna), we opted to make the trip to Manhattan Beach. It was my third trip to the restaurant (I’ve been once for dinner and once for brunch and enjoyed both).

bacon cheddar buttermilk biscuits, maple butter

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It wouldn’t be a celebration without M.B. Post’s ever-popular bacon cheddar biscuits. Given it was the first time at M.B. Post for the rest of our party, I was slightly worried I’d talked them up too much. No worries here. Everyone loved the warm smoky, cheesy biscuits as much as I did. And the maple butter is ridiculous. Can’t go wrong with these guys.

gem lettuce, pickled beets, bread crumbs, green garlic crème fraiche – Jon Shook & Vinny Dotolo (Animal, Son of a Gun)

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This dish was a little bit of a departure from some of the heavier dishes the Animal guys seem to be known for. Crisp lettuce and sweet beets were complemented by some crispy breadcrumbs and fennel fronds; I found the clumps of creme fraiche to be too unevenly distributed though.

hamachi grilled over white oak with tomatoes and bitter greens pesto – David LeFevre (M.B. Post)

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The hamachi was cooked beautifully; it was a bit of a denser fish yet still pretty juicy. Grapes, tomatoes and bell peppers provided a sweet flavor dynamic to counteract the bitter greens pesto. Waxy green beans topped it all off. This might’ve been my favorite dish of the night.

orecchiette with sausage & swiss chard – Matt Molina (Mozza)

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I had high hopes for this one given that I enjoy Osteria Mozza’s pastas. The housemade orecchiette was quite chewy, smothered in a hearty sausage ragu. The salt and spice were slightly heavy-handed, though I liked the breadcrumbs.

beef short rib alla vaccinara, bitter chocolate agrodolce, semolina gnocco – Steve Samson & Zach Pollack (Sotto)

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This dish was originally to feature veal cheek, then beef cheek and finally a late-game change brought short ribs to the plate. I would’ve loved to have had the cheek, but found this short rib to be very well done. It tore apart easily, and was so tender and flavorful, pairing with the rich sauce (though I didn’t get so much of the sweet-sour flavor combination). The gnocco was a fun addition too, being a sort of crushed, creamy version of gnocchi. A little bit of what I thought was shaved celery was a nice touch too, adding a fresh crispness.

fresh corn cake with sweet rose creamery corn ice cream and strawberry rhubarb compote – Zoe Nathan (Rustic Canyon, Huckleberry, Sweet Rose Creamery, Milo & Olive)

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I had heard about this dish (or something similar) at Rustic Canyon and was eager to try it here. The cake was moist, light and sweet from the corn. Nice. The strawberry rhubarb compote was really good too, as was the corn ice cream. This may have been the best dish of the night too..

assorted cookies and pastries served with spiked milk

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A serious bounty of sweets came last, presumably from Huckleberry. If that wasn’t enough, it was paired with a glass of spiced, spiked milk. I was pretty impressed with these sample-size treats which included lemon bars, macaroons, homemade twix, chocolate cupcakes, sugar cookies, and whole wheat chocolate chip cookies.

I thought this meal was good, though it had its up and downs. I always like dinners like these where notable chefs come together for one meal. My favorites were the biscuits, hamachi, short rib and corn cake. I will be back to M.B. Post; I’ve been craving a proper dinner visit.

Duck Ragu

Dining date: 7/1/12

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Any casual reader of this blog may realize pasta is one of my favorite things to eat (all kinds of noodles, really). I’ve dabbled in preparing different pastas over the years with my most successful perhaps being the oxtail ragu with pappardelle. Following up on that effort, I’ve been meaning to make a duck ragu. Searching the web for recipes yielded a few variations on a Mario Batali recipe and I decided to go with one of them. The variations in the recipes were strictly whether or not to include porcini mushrooms, grate any cheese, or add sage; the base of each ragu was essentially the same.

The recipe I used is below:

Ingredients
4 duck legs and thighs, skin removed
4 tablespoons virgin olive oil
1 medium Spanish onion, chopped into 1/4-inch dice
1 medium carrot, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 stalk celery, chopped into 1/4-inch dice
8 ounces red wine (Chianti preferred)
1 pound canned tomatoes, peeled whole
1 cup chicken stock
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms

Directions
Wash duck legs and remove all fat. Pat dry.

In a thick bottomed casserole or Dutch oven, heat olive oil until smoking. Add duck legs and cook until brown on all sides and remove, about 10 to 12 minutes. Add onion, carrot, garlic and celery and cook until softened, about 7 to 9 minutes. Add wine, tomatoes, chicken stock and dried mushrooms and bring to a boil. Add duck legs and return to boil, lower heat, cover and allow to simmer for 1 hour. Remove duck legs and allow to cool. Pull all meat off the bones and return to pot, without the bones. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, or until quite thick. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Heat duck ragu in a saute pan until quite hot. Boil pasta until cooked and drain well. Put hot pasta into pan with duck ragu and toss well. Pour into serving bowl and serve immediately.

I followed the recipe closely, starting with the preparation of the duck. Skinning and removing the excess fat was the most painstaking part of the process (it didn’t help that I used 6 duck legs instead of 4 since I like my ragu a little bit meatier). The fat started to melt a little with the heat of my hand and everything quickly became quite slippery. Once ready, the legs were seared.

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The following steps were similar to any braise: sweat aromatics, deglaze with wine and stock, and return meat to pot.

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After an hour, the duck was removed and meat pulled off the bones. The meat was returned to the pot to simmer for another hour or so. I simmered it longer than the recipe stated to get the saucy consistency I was looking for (it continued to reduce on the stovetop), as well as to continue braising the meat to get it more tender.

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Once ready, the sauce and meat were put into a sauté pan to toss with pasta (I used fresh fettuccine and dried pappardelle). Once plated, I grated some Parmesan cheese to finish.

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I was pretty happy with the ragu. I liked the oxtail one more (personal preference) but felt this one seemed healthier (less unhealthy?) since there was significantly less fat in the resulting sauce. Next time I’d consider using an immersion blender before adding the shredded meat in order to make the sauce a little more uniform in consistency. Now, if only I could consistently make good fresh pasta..