Dan Moody & Adam Horton @ Raphael (Studio City, CA)

Dan Moody & Adam Horton Collaboration
Raphael
11616 Ventura Blvd
Studio City, CA 91604
Dining date: 4/17/12

raphael exterior

My visit to Raphael has been long overdue. I first sampled chef Adam Horton’s food at Test Kitchen, towards the end of his stint at Saddle Peak Lodge in Calabases. Horton departed Saddle Peak and came to Raphael early last year, and I’ve been hearing good things about his cooking, particularly about this one sous vide short rib dish. Given these reviews and his strong resume, I’ve been meaning to visit but just haven’t had the chance to drive out to Studio City (which is actually much closer to downtown than it seems). A one-night popup dinner in collaboration with Dan Moody was the perfect excuse.

bar area

interior2interior

The setup was rather simple with six courses, three created by each chef. The dishes alternated chefs with the final dish (dessert) created by Moody. The price of admission was 65 bucks, which I thought pretty reasonable given the standard of cooking I was expecting from these guys.

Palm Sugar Cured Amberjack and Albacore (Horton) crispy taro, mint, cilantro, pickled daikon and lime caviar

amberjack and albacore

The fish was tender and I liked that it was cut into large chunks; I particularly enjoyed the crispy thin strips of taro root for their texture and subtle earthy flavor. Pickled daikon and lemon added some acidity alongside the mint and cilantro aromatics to create a light and refreshing plate.

Uni & Scallops (Moody) scallop crudo, uni ice cream, spicy tomato dressing, miso-sesame crumble

scallop uni

Creamy soft scallop and uni ice cream (an intriguing vehicle for the flavor) were the bulk of the flavor, while the crumble provided the much-needed textural contrast. The dressing provided just a little bit of heat to bring it all together.

Quail (Horton) carrots, kaffir lime, coconut and flavors of green curry

quail

I thought the quail was cooked perfectly, yielding moist and succulent meat – I found myself gnawing on the bones for some time. The curry brought some depth of flavor and heat, while some carrots provided just a touch of crunch and sweetness. I thought the coconut and lime were good additions too, completing a sort of deconstructed Southeast Asian curry.

Beef Tartare (Moody) beef heart, boudin noir, roti paratha and yellow curry

beef tartare

I think this dish was popularly known as the best dish of the night at our table. There were a few rich components on the plate between the beef heart, boudin noir and the yellow curry; they mixed together to create some really delicious bites. Roti paratha, a Singaporean crispy pancake, was an ideal vehicle in which to soak up the curry and creamy boudin noir. An excellent dish.

Braised Veal Cheeks (Horton) asparagus, creamed morels, sauce périgueux

veal cheeks2

veal cheeks

As expected, these veal cheeks were exceedingly tender and rich, while the asparagus helped to lighten things up a bit, as well as add some bite. I really liked the morel mushrooms which provided their earthy, savory flavor that paired pretty well with the meat.

Chocolate Decadence (Moody) flourless chocolate cake, grand marnier custard, vanilla cognac whipped cream, white, milk, & dark chocolate mousses, orange & port sauce

chocolate decadence

The chocolate cake seemed fairly simple but it really stood out to me for being so dense with a deep chocolate flavor. A light vanilla whipped cream was an ideal pairing, though I’m not sure I tasted the cognac in it especially when eaten with the chocolate. The mousses provided some variety in the chocolate flavor, but the star for me was clearly the chocolate cake especially with a light citrus flavor in the accompanying sauce.

All around I found this meal to be a pretty strong effort. There was a good mix of flavors (with Southeast Asia being a recurring theme, no complaints here) and execution was pretty on point. Highlights for me included Moody’s beef tartare with its rich hearty flavors coming together very well, as well as Horton’s juicy and succulent quail plate. I hope they can do something similar in the near future; regardless, I need to get myself back to Raphael for a proper meal from Horton.

Mozza Whole Hog @ Scuola Di Pizza (Los Angeles, CA)

Whole Hog Dinner
Mozza’s Scuola Di Pizza

6610 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Dining date: 4/14/12

mozza exterior

Mozza has really made use of their space at the corner of Melrose & Highland, creating their higher end Osteria Mozza, their sitdown Pizzeria Mozza, their takeout Mozza2Go and a sort of all-purpose Scuola di Mozza all within the same space. Like many others in LA, I’ve been a fan of the their establishments since they opened, but this would be my first time to the Scuola. The most junior Mozza on the block, the Scuola primarily serves as a space for family-style dinners and cooking classes, as well as the occasional special event dinner. The most noteworthy dinner has probably been the Whole Hog Dinner, a five-course affair showcasing a number of pig parts in various preparations. I’ve heard great things about the dinner and have been meaning to come out. These whole hog dinners seem to book pretty quickly; this April reservation was the soonest one available when I made a reservation in late February.

dining table interior

We were greeted at the door with a glass of prosecco and some passed appetizers as we awaited the first course. Seating for 28 is around one large table (duh, family style) in pretty close (cramped) quarters. It’s right in front of the open kitchen, which provides an upclose view of the chefs and the food preparations. Sitting on the countertop was a preview of what we’d be eating, including a skin-on roasted pork shoulder and roasted bone-in pork loin. Needless to say, it sure whet my appetite.

mozza interior

pork shoulder wholewhole pork loinpork charcuteriepork grilling

TROTTER BISCUITS

trotter biscuits

These were very flaky, with a nice crispy texture within the layers. The pork flavor was subtle but present.

BUTCHER SNACKS

butcher snacks

To show off the quality of the pork and also serve as a preview of some of the cuts to be used during the evening, a selection of pork was brought out to taste. Pieces of loin, leg and belly were simply grilled with olive oil, salt and pepper. I thought the results were delicious, displaying the pork flavor with the smokiness of the grill. I enjoyed all three bites, particularly the juicy loin (pictured).

SALUMI & PATÉ coppa, speck, pancetta, capocollo, finocchiona, testa, ciccioli with pickles & spicy mustard

charcuterie1

charcuterie2

charcuterie3

charcuterie4

I don’t love charcuterie, but I enjoyed these examples. My favorite was probably the one I thought was head cheese; creamy and delicious especially with the tart acid of the pickled carrots and shallots.

PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO SOUFFLÉ pork leg ragù

parmesan souffles

souffle with pork leg ragu

This may have been the dish I was most looking forward to. As the souffles were taken out of the oven, they released a strong cheesy aroma signaling to everyone that the next course was coming. The souffle itself was very light and creamy with a heady parmesan flavor that really went well with the rich ragu. Quite nice.

PORK BELLY, ARUGULA, BEANS

pork belly

plated pork belly

This was an intermezzo of sorts, rich and fatty pork belly complemented by the bitter arugula and some creamy beans. It’s hard to go wrong with pork belly and these succulent pieces did not disappoint.

SLOW ROASTED PORK SHOULDER chicory salad & salsa verde

pork shoulder

pork shoulder with salad

This looked like a turtle sitting on the counter, but it was actually a skin-on, bone-in pork shoulder. Roasted for 10 hours, much of the fat had rendered away leaving the skin to just be pulled apart from the meat. What a sight. Both were chopped up and served with a salad. The super crispy skin was addicting, but I found the tender meat to surprisingly be on the dry side. Hm. The salad and salsa verde both provided some acidity to counter the richness of the pork.

MILK ROASTED PORK LOIN caramelized ricotta & sage

cutting pork loin

pork loin plated

pork loin with ribs

This whole pork loin was roasted with the rib section intact, then the ribs were cut off and seared. Fried sage, the sliced loin and the ribs were put atop caramelized ricotta. I found the loin to be very tender and moist, an excellent example of the cut. I didn’t think the ricotta added too much flavor, but I enjoyed the sage with the pork. The seared pork ribs were good too with just a little bit of char. However, there weren’t enough ribs for everyone (most but not all) so the two in our party who were served last didn’t get any. Kind of a bummer to an otherwise good dish.

GRAHAM CRACKER PIGS gelato & sorbetti

pig graham crackers

gelato

The pig was incorporated into dessert not just by having the graham crackers shaped as the animal, but also via lard being used in the dough. Thankfully, no lard was used in the gelato (though something like Humphry Slocombe’s Boccalone proscuitto ice cream would’ve been sweet). Heaping scoops of gianduja, banana and vanilla came to the table; my favorite was easily the nutty chocolate flavor of the gianduja. The graham cracker had a mild sweetness and provided the textural crunch to complement the gelato.

Mozza’s whole hog dinner fell a bit short of my high expectations; nonetheless it was a good dinner. I was eager to see more pizzazz from the accompaniments, particularly from the last two savory courses. And I was surprised the shoulder was on the dry side given that it was the focal ingredient. However, I definitely ate to my heart’s content of porky goodness, and it was great to see so many preparations of the animal.

The full picture photo set can be found here on Flickr.

Milo & Olive (Santa Monica, CA)

Milo & Olive
2723 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90403
Dining date: 4/10/12

exterior milo & olive

Milo & Olive is the newest restaurant (opened in November) in Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan’s quickly expanding empire in Santa Monica that already includes Sweet Rose, Rustic Canyon and Huckleberry. I’ve been to both Sweet Rose and Rustic Canyon and enjoyed both so this place has been on my radar, but I never had just the right impetus to make the drive over to the westside. That is, until a friend of mine clued me in to Walter Manzke being in the kitchen! Casual readers may know I’m a huge fan of his work, and I quickly picked a date to come out and check this place out.

manzke counter

Milo & Olive is categorized as sort of a bakery/pizzeria, but its more than a pizza parlor, offering a host of baked goods (displayed in the front; I’m guessing these are similar to ones offered at Huckleberry) and a bunch of small plates from veggies & grains to meat & fish. When discussing his stint here, Manzke’s temporary role seems to be as a chef consultant rather than, say, an Executive Chef. He’s definitely not here to completely overhaul the menu with his imprint.

baked goods1

baked goods2

It’s a pretty small place with two communal tables seating 6-8 each and a kitchen counter seating about 8 more. No wonder the lines are so long; we waited about 45 mins on a chilly Tuesday evening.

MARINATED ARTICHOKES baby spinach, toasted pine nuts, capers, golden raisins, goat cheese

MARINATED ARTICHOKES baby spinach, toasted pine nuts, capers, golden raisins, goat cheese

The artichokes were served warm, lightly dressed with a vinaigrette balanced by some sweet raisins. Some goat cheese added a subtle funk to the dish, but not in an overpowering way. Pine nuts added a nutty crunch.

WOOD OVEN ROASTED PRAWNS mediterranean salad

WOOD OVEN ROASTED PRAWNS mediterranean salad

The prawns came out sans shell, cooked to what I thought was a medium/medium-well like temperature. A bit on the firm side, I like my prawns a little more springy and succulent. The accompanying salad of creamy garbanzo beans, juicy tomatoes and crisp cucumber was a fresh and tasty side that I thought went well with the shrimp.

WOOD FIRED GARLIC KNOT extra virgin olive oil, sea salt

WOOD FIRED GARLIC KNOT extra virgin olive oil, sea salt

WOOD FIRED GARLIC KNOT extra virgin olive oil, sea salt

This was probably the most memorable dish of the evening, a warm doughy ‘purse’ filled with garlic. The garlic was cooked down to a very soft texture and was sweet, far from the bitter bite of raw garlic. The dough itself was crispy on the outside and pillowy soft and yielding on the inside. With a dash of salt and olive oil, these were some great bites.

Of course, we sampled a couple of pizzas too.

HOUSEMADE PORK BELLY SAUSAGE braised greens, tomato, fresh mozzarella

HOUSEMADE PORK BELLY SAUSAGE braised greens, tomato, fresh mozzarella

MIXED MUSHROOM fontina, Parmigiano Reggiano, thyme

MIXED MUSHROOM fontina, Parmigiano Reggiano, thyme

The pizzas resembled Mozza’s in size and style – I thought they were pretty well made. The mushroom pizza was expectantly earthy with the clean flavors of the mushrooms, cheese and a hint of thyme. I really enjoyed the pork belly sausage; the sausage itself was delicious balanced by some greens and a really tasty tomato sauce. It’s so hard to compare pizzas across the city since everyone has a different idea of the perfect pie, but that pork belly sausage pizza was one of my recent favorites.

In addition to the baked goods in front, there were a few desserts offered. We had room for two of them.

LEMON MERINGUE

lemon meringue

The lemon meringue was simple but well done, with a fine balance between the light and creamy lemon curd and sweet whipped meringue.

VANILLA CUSTARD TART

vanilla custard tart

I liked this dessert better with it’s rich, subtly sweet custard in a flaky, sweetened crust. Blueberries were a nice topping too.

Manzke came out to chat with us at the end of the meal to share some of his thoughts on the LA food scene and his upcoming restaurant République (it will take some time). This was my first time spending any sort of quality time with the chef, and I was definitely excited to do so. Also at the end of the meal, we were each gifted bags of goodies to take home; a loaf of bread and some type of pasty. I got a loaf of ciabatta and a croissant. Score! It was the end of night and they were presumably clearing out the day’s inventory, but I thought it was a nice touch (per Yelp, it’s a somewhat common occurrence – so go late!). Even the next morning (or days, in the case of the ciabatta), they were pretty delicious especially when reheated lightly in the oven.

bakery treats

Milo & Olive was pretty good. My favorite items tended to be those involving dough, including the garlic knot, pizzas and dessert/pastries (I’m definitely gonna have to check out Huckleberry soon). The two small plates we tried were good but just missing that extra ingredient to make them pop. If this restaurant was in my neighborhood, I’d definitely be back soon. Given it’s across town from me, I’d have to think about it a little – there are so many other places I still want to visit for the first time. But who knows, that garlic knot may be calling my name sooner than I think.

Sous Vide Flank Steak with Arugula Chimichurri

Dining date: 4/9/12

The latest in my experimentation with sous vide has been beef. Actually, the first thing I cooked was beef (a flat iron steak) and I moved over to chicken, pork and lately, I’ve been cooking a lot of fish. Some duck was a gateway back to red meat, and I’ve been playing with a bunch of steaks (short ribs soon to come!).

The thought came to me while I was planning what to bring to an Easter BBQ potluck. I could cook the flank steak sous vide ahead of time and bring the vacuum-sealed bags to the BBQ to be finished on the grill. I think flank steak is a good option marinated and then grilled, but I’ve heard that cooking it sous vide for a long period of time can slowly break down some of the connective tissue to yield a more tender meat. I was sold.

I tried using three different marinade/cooking liquids, each with one pound of steak. The first was an Asian-based marinade with soy sauce, mirin, sesame oil, fresh garlic and fresh ginger. The second was definitely more Western with a reduced red wine (down to almost a syrup), minced carrots, onions, celery, and both fresh thyme and rosemary. Lastly I went with a simple blend of garlic salt and pepper, allowing the meat to bathe in its own natural juices. I sealed up the bags and plopped them into a 131F water bath for 16 hours.

I brought the first two bags (the Asian and Western) to the BBQ, where they were patted dry and finished on an open flame. Given that this was my first time making it, I was a bit nervous – surely I didn’t want to bring a dud to the potluck.

As I sliced into the steak, I breathed a sigh of relief as it yielded perfect end-to-end medium rare meat.  I couldn’t resist eating one of the slices on the spot and was rewarded with pretty good beefy flavor, with each of the different steaks subtly showing off their marinades. It was more tender than usual, having a consistency akin to a slow-cooked beef brisket. I considered it a success and hey, Wolvesmouth approved!

For the last steak, I ended up making it the following day at home. I warmed the bag up in hot water, removed the meat from the bag and patted it try. Lastly I seared both sides with a blowtorch and cut it thinly across the grain, on a bias.

flank steak

Given that this one didn’t have a marinade, I didn’t want it to be one-dimensional. A sauce to accompany the steak would be ideal, and I had stumbled upon an intriguing recipe a while back. It was an arugula chimichurri, something I thought would fit in perfectly. Garlic, citrus and arugula are all wonderful accompaniments to red meat so I figured together they’d be a sure bet.

Below is the recipe, adapted from Kitchen Daily.

Ingredients:
1 cup arugula leaves, rinsed and dried
1.5 cloves garlic, peeled, or more to taste
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, or more as desired
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
salt, to taste 

Directions:
Combine the arugula with a pinch of salt, the garlic, and about half the oil in a food processor or blender. Process, stopping to scrape down the sides of the container if necessary, and adding the rest of the oil gradually. Add the lemon juice, then a little more oil or some water if you prefer a thinner mixture. Yields enough sauce for approx. 1 pound of meat.

The recipe was pretty flexible; it’s really about proportioning the ingredients to personal taste. Balance is key too, since the raw garlic and lemon acidity are both assertive flavors that can easily overpower.

I generously spooned the chimichurri sauce on top of the meat and was ready to dig in. I loved the colors, particularly the vibrant green of the sauce. The flavors were just as vibrant too between the peppery arugula, garlic and bright lemon flavors. It ended up being an excellent accompaniment to the flank steak! I’ll make this chimichurri again since it’s such a good pairing with a nice steak.

flank steak arugula chimichurri

Plan Check (Los Angeles, CA)

Plan Check
1800 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Dining date: 4/3/12

plan check exterior

Plan Check opened just over a month ago, bringing a ‘modern American’ gastropub to the Japanese-centric Sawtelle area of West LA. It’s a combination of ex-Umami Corporate Chef Ernesto Uchimura’s grub with drinks masterminded by Steve Livigni and Pablo Moix (Harvard & Stone, La Descarga, Black Market, Pour Vous). It’s one of the latest in LA’s gastropub movement and follows a similar template to many others – hire a noted mixologist to craft a bar program and serve interesting upscale bar food. Early on, the place has been packed so it seemed like a spot worth checking out.

Wooden tables grace the space, including one large communal table and a long counter that stretches the length of the bar and kitchen area. It was a full house on a Tuesday night, but the three of us were able to secure three seats overlooking the kitchen.

interior bar

kitchen view

The menu is made up of snacks, sides, sandwiches and composed plates (which were like small plates); we honed in on the latter two categories. We started with a little bit of charcuterie from the snacks section.

pickled chorizo sausage green garlic

pickled chorizo

prosciutto americano

prosciutto

The chorizo was interesting, with its subtle heat and a lightly sour flavor from the pickling. The prosciutto was pretty typical.

Two more snacks rounded out the first wave of courses.

oyster on the half yuzukosho cocktail sauce

oysters

These were huge. Plump and tasty with the lemon and a zesty cocktail sauce.

warm crab dip dynamite sauce, masago, blistered tomato, toast

crab dip

crab dip 2

The crab flavor came through on the dip with nice spreadable creaminess, but I wished the bread was toasted more for texture.

We also ordered  a selection of the sandwiches and all three of the larger plates.

PCB (plan check burger) akaushi red wagyu beef, americanized cheese, ketchup leather, savory onions, mixed pickles, crunch bun

pcb burger

I thought the burger was cooked well but it wasn’t really memorable in any way. I’ve heard a lot of talk about the ketchup leather, a fruit roll-up type method of bringing a ketchup flavor without getting the bun soggy (as actual ketchup may). A novel idea, I suppose, but I didn’t notice a significant difference. It ended up being a fairly standard burger, executed just fine.

pork belly pimento grilled cheese twice cooked pork belly, spicy green pimento cheese, inverted crunch bun

pork belly grilled cheese

The pork was pretty good on its own but I thought the dish as a whole was a bit on the bready side. The thick slides of bread did have some light texture, though I didn’t feel the pimento cheese was very assertive.

pastrami poutine pastrami bits, pastrami gravy, cucumber pickles, melted swiss

pastrami poutine

The smokey peppery flavor of the pastrami was good, but I was looking for more of a gravy here to bring it all together. Also, the fries were on the softer side – with a poutine I always prefer them crispier to hold up as they soak up any oil/juices.

smokey fried chicken jidori chicken, smoked milk gravy, yam preserves, spicy pickled okra

smokey fried chicken

The chicken had a nice smokey flavor and was quite juicy. I think the top two pieces were fried crispy but the bottom one (the one I got) had a mushy, soggy exterior. Sweet yams were a nice pairing.

short rib pot roast red wine, bone marrow turnover pie, sweet n sour mirepoix

short rib

The pot roast itself was good, although fairly typical. Tender, fatty and pretty flavorful. The bone marrow turnover pie was fun, tasting very much like a beef pot pie.

grilled rockfish rock shrimp tempura, flaked wasabi, citron tartar sauce, grilled cucumber, bonito

rockfish

I thought the fish was cooked well, imbued with a smoky flavor. I thought the bonito was an interesting addition, adding much more depth of flavor. The tempura shrimp was good too, but I think it added more for texture than flavor.

veggie chips yucca and plantain, avocado

veggie chips

I found the plantain and yuca chips to be fairly greasy and undersalted. The avocado spread was tasty though.

stuffed mushroom roasted portobello, swiss cheese fondue, crispy kale, steak sauce

stuffed mushroom

The portobello was meaty and kind of juicy, while the swiss cheese fondue was a good accompaniment. Steak sauce added more savory depth to the bites. One of the better dishes.

We also sampled a couple of desserts.

cruller donuts cooked to order, cream, fruit

cruller donuts

These were basically churros shaped like a cruller donut. I liked the churro, though it was slightly on the oily side, while a light whipped cream was a good pairing.

ice cream bars milk cereal

milk cereal bar

This was also one of the highlights of the night. From Milk on Beverly, the ice cream had a sweet milk flavor with crispy cereal on the exterior. Whimsical and addicting. Pricing was a 33% markup over the ones at Milk.

We tried a pretty good selection of cocktails as well as their housemade moonshine sodas. I found the cocktails to be much more interesting. This first one, Tropic Thunder, was my favorite with a good balance of spicy and fresh citrus between the jalapeño and lemon. Yummy.

Tropic Thunder jalapeno infused kanon vodka, mango, lemon juice, sugar

cocktail1

Fuji Apple yamazaki 12 yr, apple brandy, almond syrup, fresh lemon, peach bitters

cocktail3

Godzilla pisco porton, midori, orgeat, lemon, lime

cocktail5

Spaghetti Western vida mezcal, tapatio, red bell pepper, lime, agave, beer

cocktail2

Bento Box brugal rum, licor 43, nigori sake, bitters

cocktail4

Moonshine with Cherry Coke

moonshine coke

Moonshine with Tangerine Soda

moonshine

Plan Check was a letdown, especially considering our meal was almost $100pp all-inclusive (though to be fair, I’m sure we ordered more than the average customer). Were my expectations too high? Maybe, but they weren’t really that high to begin with. There were a few solid dishes (rockfish, stuffed mushrooms, cruller donut, ice cream bar) but they were outnumbered by the underwhelming ones. I think conceptually most of the dishes sounded good, for example the pork belly grilled cheese and pastrami poutine could’ve been big hits. However, something was lost in translation between the concept and plating since the end results didn’t come close to the heights they promised.

Le Comptoir (Los Angeles, CA)

Le Comptoir
Tiara Cafe
127 E 9th St
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Dining date: 3/29/12

tiara cafe

Le Comptoir has been sort of a longer-term pop-up, occupying the Tiara Cafe space in downtown’s fashion district for a number of months now. For three days a week (Thurs-Sat), Gary Menes cooks his version of seasonal farm-to-table food. What I found pretty unique (and very intriguing) about this dinner was that essentially all seating is at the kitchen counter – diners get an upfront look into each and every dish being prepared.

counter

A la carte is not offered at Le Comptoir; rather, each diner is served a vegetarian five course tasting menu ($52). That’s right, vegetarian. Meats are available through a number of supplements (if all are taken, the cost of the meal rises to $106), but the focal point of the meal is definitely on the produce. A four-wine pairing is also available for $24.

We decided to order one “base” menu and one with all of the supplements in order to try everything.

croquette fromage, pesto aioli

croquette fromage

First we were served this amuse; it was a hollow croquette with a dense, cheesy crust. The pesto provided some brightness and acidity…as well as the bulk of the flavor.

The housemade bread was served early and often, and had a subtle sourdough flavor with a delightful crispy crust.

le comptoir bread

okinawan sweet potato velouté, farinette, yogurt, green garlic, herbs
mas bruguiere les muriers 2009; coteaux du languedoc; roussanne, marsanne

soup before pour

pouring soup

roasted french foie gras, dried cherry compote, saba (supplement)
mas bruguiere les muriers 2009; coteaux du languedoc; roussanne, marsanne

foie

These were the first course options. The veloute was a hearty soup with a creaminess and subtle tart flavor from the yogurt. I thought it had good earthy flavor, while the crispy bread added texture.

The supplement featured a silky and creamy seared foie gras, complemented by a bittersweet cherry flavor. The execution was on point, but I thought there could’ve been some more exciting accompaniments to the liver.

kitchen

sunny side-up egg, young lettuce, herbs, jus vert
mas neuf paradox 2010; cote du rhone blanc; grenache blanc, roussanne

egg

composed egg

“asperge vert” et oeuf sur la plat, reggiano, beurre noisette, citron (supplement)
mas neuf paradox 2010; cote du rhone blanc; grenache blanc, roussanne

egg asparagus

Second courses. This first one was a little interactive, where you add the compound butter, lettuce and herbs. Finally, the jus is poured over the top. The egg was cooked perfectly, showing off a rich and creamy (and huge!) egg yolk that went very well with the lettuce and herbs; a green vegetable juice was a difference-maker adding a bright, bitter flavor in each bite.

The supplemental dish featured some delicious sweet and smoky thick-stalk asparagus. A little bit of citrus was a nice accompaniment, as were the rich egg and crunchy croutons.

“veggie plate” beets, pickled onion petals, turnips, radish, kohlrabi, pears, rutabaga, grapes, scallions, fava beans, celtuce
domaine du fresche, alain boré; anjou rouge loire valley 2010; cabernet franc

veggie plate

house made fettucini, black winter truffles (supplement)
domaine du fresche, alain boré; anjou rouge loire valley 2010; cabernet franc

plating fettucine

fettucine black truffles

Third courses. The first was very simple, highlighting a bunch of fresh produce. Some were roasted, some were blanched, and each showcased their own clean flavors. I enjoyed tasting each one separately…my favorite had to have been the delectably sweet fava beans.

The supplement was hands down the most anticipated dish of the evening for me. The unmistakable truffle essense easily came through in a strong way, but the house made fettucine was lacking the desired al dente texture. It was soft. Tragic. A very light cream sauce kept it simple, letting the truffle flavor come through.

“flavors of tangerine beef broccoli”, pea tendrils, broccoli, black forbidden rice, caramelized onion jus, tangerine
luc lapeyre san bres 2010; minervois, coteaux de languedoc; grenache, syrah, mourvédre

tangerine beef

“poitrine de porc”, slow braised heritage pork belly, stone ground grits, apples, greens, white wine braised leeks (supplement)
luc lapeyre san bres 2010; minervois, coteaux de languedoc; grenache, syrah, mourvédre

pork

Fourth courses. This first was a vegetarian take on ‘tangerine beef.’ I enjoyed the broccolini and pea tendrils, particularly with the orange citrus. The black rice was made to resemble beef; texturally I think it did, but there was no mistaking that this was an earthy grain and not cattle flesh.

The pork belly was expectantly tender and fatty, accompanied by some underseasoned grits, sweet apples, and an olive-based sauce. It’s hard to go wrong with braised pork belly and it was delicious here, but I’m not sure the rest of the plate did much to elevate it.

chocolate, blood orange, vanilla tuile, sour cream, pistachio, graham cracker, mint

dessert

There was only one option for the last course, dessert. The cake was very moist, while a myriad of flavors including sweet strawberry, tart blood orange and a deep chocolate flavor heightened the dish. A whipped creme fraiche was a nice topping too, completing a light yet satisfying dessert.

Coffee is available at the end of the meal from Handsome Coffee Roasters. Menes prepares the coffee with some of the most painstaking detail I’ve seen outside of an actual coffee bar. He even uses water sourced directly from Handsome itself. As expected, it yields a great cup.

coffee making

handsome coffee

I thought Le Comptoir was a good meal, though not without its flaws. While a lot of restaurants try to showcase seasonal and farm-to-table produce, I found the quality to be much more apparent in this meal than others. Though, maybe that was because the vegetable-centric nature of the meal forced one to. Indeed, I found the strictly vegetarian plates to be more interesting and more successful than the supplemental ones containing meat. Given this and the fact that the supplements doubled the price of the meal, I think many of them weren’t worth the splurge. It was unfortunate that the execution of the fettucine with truffles wasn’t spot on – it had to be in order to be successful.

My main concern with vegetable-centric meals (which I know is shared with others) is the fact that meals tend to be lighter and sometimes less filling. However, I think Menes composed his plates in a way that was individually interesting and for the most part, well-rounded. While one may not leave full, I think most stomachs would at least leave content. If not, Mexicali Taco is nearby and open late.