Lexington Social House (Hollywood, CA)

Lexington Social House
1718 Vine St
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Dining date: 1/8/12

LSH signage

I first took notice of Lexington Social House during last year’s Taste of the Nation, where their fried chicken was one of my favorites of the afternoon. My second encounter with the restaurant was at The Taste where, again, the fried chicken was one of my favorites of the event. In both instances, white meat was served and it was full of juicy flavor with a crunchy batter. Addicting. It quickly became a restaurant I wanted to visit.

Located at the intersection of Hollywood & Vine, it definitely fits into the lounge/bar “nightlife” category where I always seem to be skeptical of the food. However, who says a trendy Hollywood restaurant can’t also be serious about the food?

interior1

interior2

My skepticism peaked when we were the only ones in the restaurant at 6:30. For a restaurant with a sizeable dining room and expansive lounge, I was a bit surprised. “It’s early” we told ourselves; actually, we were one of only two parties in the restaurant throughout the duration of our meal. For shame; the restaurant was better than that.

We ordered some cocktails to start.

THE HONEYVINE pisco porton, st germain elderflower, honey syrup, lime juice, fresh cucumber, lavender bitters

cocktail4

MAPLE HILL blended scotch whisky, maple syrup, angostura bitters, orange bitters, islay scotch rinse

cocktail3

THE LEXINGTON earl-grey infused woodford reserve bourbon, honey, lemon juice, orange bitters

cocktail2

LA CURA casa noble tequila, mescal rinse, lemon juice, ginger syrup, agave nectar

cocktail1

I was just coming down with a cold so I didn’t try anything other than my cocktail – the Maple Hill. Flavors of maple and citrus were the main flavors I got from this one, balancing the bite of the scotch.

FENNEL CURED SALMON TARTARE dill aioli, cucumbers, capers, red onions

salmon tartare

The salmon was good, albeit a little fishy. The dill aioli was a nice touch for the classic dill-salmon pairing, while fried onions added some delicate texture.

CELERY ROOT RAVIOLI black truffles

pasta

This was one of the appetizer specials – the pasta was cooked well with a warm, creamy filling from the celery root. A light butter sauce complemented the pasta, but the black truffle flavor was fairly muted.

SONOMA PORK BELLY honey chipotle glaze, local apples, fennel, orange vinaigrette

pork belly

pork belly2

Fatty and meaty, the pork belly had a welcome crispiness to it and was quite flavorful. The accompanying slaw of apples, fennel and vinaigrette were cool and refreshing, and I thought they did a nice job of cutting through the richness of the belly.

HAMACHI COLLAR grapefruit, pomegranate, shishito peppers, cilantro, soy

hamachi collar

Given the relatively straightforward (safe?) nature of the menu, I was a little surprised to see this on the menu. I liked the presentation with everything stacked on the hamachi collar.  Lightly grilled, the smoky flavor definitely came through, while pomegranate and grapefruit helped to counter the smokiness and complement the fish.

SHORT RIBS creamy polenta, sauteed wild mushrooms

short rib

The big hunk of short rib was rich, beefy and tender while the polenta was nice and creamy. Nothing particularly special, but this was a homey and satisfying dish.

FRIED CHICKEN smashed potatoes, bacon braised kale, mustard sauce

fried chicken

fried chicken 2

Ah, what brought us in. I found the chicken to be good…but not as good as I remembered/expected. It wasn’t that moist (though not dry) but did have pretty good chicken flavor. The crust was flaky, but I thought there was more batter than I recalled from my prior tastes – slightly higher batter:meat ratio than I would’ve liked. The smashed potatoes were too thick for me, having an almost sticky consistency.

NY STRIP crispy potatoes, sprouting broccoli

steak

steak2

A couple of my favorite comfort foods on a plate – a hunk of crusty-seared steak cooked a perfect medium rare and some crispy, fluffy potatoes. This was probably my favorite entree as the steak was juicy and beefy, while the potatoes gave the texture and starch that I was looking for. Not unlike the spuds from Short Order, these potatoes appeared to have been baked/par-boiled, smashed and finally deep fried. Quite nice.

On to desserts; we ordered four.

FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE SOUFFLE almond milk cream

choc cake

choc cake2

The server raved about this chocolate souffle, but I found it to be fairly standard. It was rich, fudgy and served hot, just not particularly memorable.

VANILLA BEAN PANNA COTTA pomegranate, aged balsamic

panna cotta

The panna cotta was light, creamy and sweet with a present vanilla flavor. I thought the pomegranate added some fresh fruit flavor, as well as texture from the seeds. However, I’m personally not big on the seeds and I didn’t think they paired well with the delicate custard, texturally.

BEIGNETS strawberry rhubarb jam, strawberry powder

beignets

I was expecting these to be light and airy, but rather these were very dense and slightly chewy. Totally unexpected. Raspberry sauce added some sweetness and acidity.

MONKEY BREAD brown sugar, pecans, banana ice cream

monkey bread

This may have been the best of the desserts with a double dose of banana flavor from the bread/cake and the ice cream. Served warm and soft, the bread exuded a buttery banana flavor, while the pecans and banana ice cream fit it well.

Lexington Social House exceeded expectations – the food was flavorful and fairly well-executed. There was nothing particularly standout in the menu full of hearty, comforting dishes but it was a very satisfying meal. In a scene full of restaurants/lounges where food takes a backseat, Lexington presents a legitimate food option when in the area.

Angelini Osteria (Los Angeles, CA)

Angelini Osteria
7313 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Dining date: 1/12/12

exterior

Angelini Osteria has been on my “want to try” list for years. I’ve gotten a taste of Gino Angelini’s rustic Italian cooking at various food festivals over the years and they’ve made a positive impression. For any number of reasons I never got a chance to visit the restaurant until now.

The menu is pretty extensive, offering a lot of options from salads to pastas, pizzas and entrees. There was even a separate “specials” page that listed another 40 items. Rather than get lost in all of the choices, we let Daniel (who has been here countless times) handle the ordering. We ended up with 4 smaller plates, 4 pastas/risotto and 3 entrees. He was also kind enough to bring along two bottles of wine to go with dinner.

wine2wine1

Warm Tripe with Tomatoes and Cuttlefish

tripe

The tripe was very tender, braised in a sweet tomato-based sauce. The cuttlefish had a slight chew to it, adding a little texture and fish flavor to the dish. Pretty nice.

Shrimp Salad with Celery, Tomatoes, Oregano and Bottarga

shrimp

Warm, tender shrimp were brightened up by fresh tomato and onion. A refreshing dish, though I found it a little overly acidic.

Warm Sliced Swordfish with Pistachios and Bottarga

swordfish

Pretty good meaty swordfish was complemented by a nutty pistachio flavor, which also added some crunch. The bottarga was subtle, adding an extra fishy flavor.

Grilled Blood Sausage with Mashed Potatoes

blood sausage

A rich dish, the sausage was pretty good, definitely having the minerality characteristic of the type. Some creamy potato purée completed the dish. Warm, rich and comforting.

Green Pappardelle with Oxtail Ragout and Chanterelle Mushrooms

oxtail ragu

I thought this was a really nice pasta. As expected, the pasta was cooked perfectly, covered in a rich and flavorful oxtail ragu. Hard to go wrong with those two components; some chanterelles were a nice touch too. Very nice.

Bombolotti all’ Amatriciana with Guanciale, San Marzano Tomatoes and Hot Peppers

pasta

I loved the feel of the bombolotti, sort of a shorter, wider rigatoni. The guanciale (cured pork jowl) added a nice porky flavor, which went well with the sweet tomatoes and subtle heat. Pretty simple and pretty delicious.

Risotto with Mixed Seafood Ragu

risotto1

risotto2

This was a good risotto, packed with seafood – just what I was looking for. I thought the rice was borderline undercooked though.

Lasagna Verde “Omaggio Nonna Elvira” with Beef and Veal Ragu

lasagna2

This was probably the dish I was most looking forward to, and it definitely came through. Rich with a veal and beef ragu and a creamy cheesy bechamel sauce, this was simply delicious. It was rich and full of flavor, without feeling overly heavy. I liked the fried baby spinach largely for presentation purposes, though it did add just a slight crispy texture to the dish too. Very rustic and homey, this was my favorite dish of the night.

We went with three entree-sized plates.

“Harvey’s Guss” Grilled Bistecca alla Fiorentina “for Two” Finished in the Wood Oven with Spinach and Roasted Potatoes

steak1

The steak came out whole and was carved tableside. I was eagerly anticipating this steak but thought it fell disappointingly short. The steak was cooked a medium to medium-well (medium rare was requested) which largely ruined the piece of meat. It wasn’t particularly juicy nor flavorful. Crispy fried potatoes and spinach rounded out the dish – these were fine, albeit under-seasoned. Impressive presentation, less than impressive execution – considering this was $75, it was a big miss.

Whole Branzino Roasted in Sea Salt with Aromatic Herbs

whole branzino

branzino

This was another entree with a tableside presentation – the salt-crusted branzino was brought out and then filleted in the dining room. The fish was moist, mild in flavor, with some rather pedestrian mashed potatoes and sauteed vegetables.

Breaded Veal Chop alla Milanese with Fritto di Zucchini and Eggplant

veal cutlet

I thought this piece of veal was moist and flavorful with a light texture from the breading. A squeeze of lemon was integral in providing a little bit of citrus and acidity to the dish, while the fried zucchini and eggplant were by far the best sides of any of the entrees we ordered.

The entrees as a whole weren’t particularly notable and the steak was an expensive disappointment, but the starters and pastas were the clear stars of this meal. For me, highlights were the tripe with cuttlefish and all of the pastas. I enjoyed the pappardelle with oxtail, but the bombolotti and lasagna verde were outstanding. I’d come back for that lasagna alone.

LudoBites 8.0 @ Lemon Moon (Los Angeles, CA)

LudoBites 8.0
Lemon Moon
12200 W Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064
Dining date: 1/18/12

DSC_0281

With every successive LudoBites, it seems to get more popular. The story is very familiar now: chef with fine dining background starts casual pop-up restaurant; pop-up becomes incredibly successful, garnering critical acclaim nationwide and spawning TV show; demand for reservations is so extreme that reservation servers crash. The latter part is one of the big changes in 8.0, the switch from the mad dash online reservation system to a lottery system. Reservations were still hard to come by, and I heard that approximately 5% of reservation requests were granted. Goodness. Ludo is a rock star.

I didn’t get a reservation, but there’s a six seat bar that’s filled on a first-come, first-served basis. This was my route in, and I found it to be fairly easy. My coworker and I made elaborate plans to leave work early to get out to Lemon Moon as soon as possible. We arrived shortly after 5, and were the only ones outside until about 5:40. So much for all of the preparation. The bar did fill up shortly after 6pm though, but there were openings throughout the night, both at the bar and tables due to cancelled reservations.

menu

As with other LudoBites, the menu is a la carte and meant for sharing. Alcohol is available at this iteration, with a pretty robust selection of wines (procured by DomaineLA).  A hard cider and even a few craft brews round out the list. My coworker was kind enough to bring a bottle of wine to share.

DSC_0385

Brioche with Truffle Butter

Brioche with Truffle Butter

We started with this freshly baked piece of bread. Hard to go wrong with fresh bread – add some truffle butter and you’ve got a clear hit. Warm, flaky and buttery, the earthy truffle essence really came through making for some delicious bites.

Chicken Tandoori Crackling

Chicken Tandoori Crackling

A creamy quenelle of chicken liver topped a piece of really crispy chicken skin. Loved the textures and the double-hit of chicken flavor was excellent. The sea salt topping was integral too, really bringing out the flavor.

Crab Meat, Shrimp, Avocado Guacamole, Pomelos

Crab Meat, Shrimp, Avocado Guacamole, Pomelos

Crab Meat, Shrimp, Avocado Guacamole, Pomelos2

Japanese hairy crab was used in this dish, the cherished breed of crab that Ludo said cost $40 per pound. I’m not sure if I’ve ever had it, but I’ve been planning to go to Urasawa at some point in the winter season to get some. I was super excited for this dish; I found the crab itself to be good (except for the crab shell in it), but I didn’t think the accompanying broth had a lot of flavor. Individually, I liked the spread of avocado and pomelo, but I’m not sure I understood the mixture of all of the ingredients.

Uni Creme Brulee

Uni Creme Brulee

This was another very intriguing item on the menu, and it was a good one. The custard definitely had the uni flavor coming through, and I thought the bruleed sugar added a nice sweetness that complemented the custard well, particularly with the salty bursts of flavor from the salmon eggs.

Scallop, Leek, Potato, Black Truffle

Scallop, Leek, Potato, Black Truffle

Scallop, Leek, Potato, Black Truffle2

I thought this was another hit. Raw scallops were accompanied by a potato and leek puree, and what our server said was hay. Interesting. I thought the flavors were spot on and I really liked the slivers of black truffle with it. A lot of earthy flavors with the fresh sea scallops.

Raw Beef, Radish, Beets, Eel

Raw Beef, Radish, Beets, Eel

American wagyu was diced up with radishes, a radish snow and mayo (wasabi?). Pieces of eel were scattered throughout the beef; I thought this was a nice touch, and the radish and spicy mayo both worked well too. Buttered and toasted pieces of bread came with it.

Foie Gras, Tamarind, Turnips, Daikon

Foie Gras, Tamarind, Turnips, Daikon

We were told to let the foie gras sit in the broth for a few minutes to finish cooking, and I’m glad we did. Perfectly cooked foie gras. Goodness. So good. It was swimming in a very aromatic broth, which also had a floral dimension to it.

Monkfish Liver, Cucumber, Cornichons, Mustard Seeds

Monkfish Liver, Cucumber, Cornichons, Mustard Seeds

Monkfish Liver, Cucumber, Cornichons, Mustard Seeds2

Perhaps one of the best dishes of the night, the liver (the third liver dish of the night) was excellent; it was rich, flavorful and melt-in-mouth texturally. Cucumber added a balancing vegetable flavor, while the cornichons added texture and acidity. Quite nice.

Steamed Black Seabass, Fennel, Lettuce, Bernaise Vinaigrette

Steamed Black Seabass, Fennel, Lettuce, Bernaise Vinaigrette

Steamed Black Seabass, Fennel, Lettuce, Bernaise Vinaigrette2

I thought the seabass was undercooked for my liking, and I also ran into some scales and a bone. Outside of that, I did like this dish – I’m a sucker for seabass and I thought the fennel provided a nice subtle licorice accent. A lemon sauce was a good pairing too.

Jidori Chicken, Parmesan Soubise, Broccoli, Walnuts, Eggs

Jidori Chicken, Parmesan Soubise, Broccoli, Walnuts, Eggs

I believe these chickens were roasted on a rotisserie. I thought the dark meat was moist and flavorful, but found the breast to be disappointingly dry. Subtle parmesan flavors were a welcome accompaniment, as were the broccoli and what I think were creamy scrambled eggs.

Duck, Orange, Olives, Carrots

Duck, Orange, Olives, Carrots

This was a very nice piece of duck, perfectly cooked with a moist flesh and crisp skin. Fresh citrus in the form of orange and mandarin orange helped to brighten the dish and add a lighter kick to each bite. A modern take on the classic duck l’orange I suppose.

Chocolate Napoleon, Orange Creamsickle

Chocolate Napoleon, Orange Creamsickle

I liked the idea of this version of a classic Napoleon. Where I expected this to be very rich and fudgy, it was actually a lighter, smooth chocolate with layers of thin, flaky chocolate pastry in between. Pretty well-executed and wonderful texturally. The orange creamsickle ice cream was a fun touch and gave the dish another dimension.

Lemon Meringue Tart

Lemon Meringue Tart2

Lemon Meringue Tart

Lastly, we had a sort of deconstructed lemon meringue tart. Dollops of a sweet lemon curd were interspersed with a whipped meringue, with bits of crumble on the bottom. Simple and pretty delicious, and I appreciated a light, sweet end to the meal.

Best LudoBites ever? Hm. Personally, I’m partial to LudoBites 4.0 and 5.0. I did like this meal better than 6.0 and 7.0 though. Conceptually I found the menu to be very exciting, but a few flaws in execution held this meal back a bit. It was only day two, so I’m sure it will be ironed out in short time. I look forward to seeing how the menu evolves throughout this 8.0 run.

This was probably the most expensive LudoBites I’ve been to, but I think that’s largely reflective of a lot of the higher-end ingredients (Japanese hairy crab, monkfish liver, truffles, American wagyu, sea urchin, foie gras), more than what I remember at previous LudoBites. Plus, I’m sure any economist would say the price of a meal here is far below equilibrium. I think it’s worth it.

Previous LudoBites posts:
LudoBites 4.0 (2) | LudoBites 5.0 (2) | LudoBites 6.0 (2) (3) | LudoBites 7.0 (2)LudoBites America

SPQR (San Francisco, CA)

SPQR
1911 Fillmore St
San Francisco, CA 94115
Dining date: 12/28/11

DSC_0704

SPQR is a neighborhood restaurant in the Lower Pacific Heights area of San Francisco. A sister restaurant to also-notable A16, the cuisine is “Italian-inspired;” that is, Italian food based on seasonal, local produce. It’s sort of a merge of Italian and Californian cuisines.

The chef is Matthew Accarrino, who left his chef de cuisine post at Craft Los Angeles in 2009 to take the helm at SPQR. He has an impressive pedigree, having worked in the restaurants of Charlie Palmer, Rick Moonen, Thomas Keller, and of course Tom Colicchio. More recently, he won first place at the SF edition of the pork-centric Cochon 555 contest in June.

DSC_0609

This was my final evening in San Francisco. My flight was at 8:45, ample time for an early dinner, so we decided to squeeze in one last family meal here (they had an available 5:30 reservation). The restaurant’s been on my list for a while but I had yet to visit. Of the whole family, only my mother had been and she had a positive experience.

We ordered two appetizers to share, a few pastas and two mains.

raw hawaiian jack, wine grape, sea bean, opal basil vinegar, caviar lime

raw hawaiian jack, wine grape, sea bean, opal basil vinegar, caviar lime

The fish here was a little chewy, not as tender as expected. Mild flavors. Texturally, I thought the fried shallot rings were almost overwhelming in this dish.

pig ear and pork belly, california citrus, fennel agrodolce, calabrian chili

pig ear and pork belly, california citrus, fennel agrodolce, calabrian chili

This dish was also texturally rich but in a more positive way. I enjoyed the chewy pig ears and the crispy pork belly, while the citrus (clementines!) was integral in providing a fresh acidity to cut through the richness. The fruit and arugula did a really good job in balancing out this plate.

mustard cappelini, guinea hen ragu, savoy cabbage, mimolette cheese

mustard cappelini, guinea hen ragu, savoy cabbage, mimolette cheese

I thought this was a good pasta. I liked the depth of the ragu, while the cheese added some extra richness. A good amount of savoy cabbage helped to lighten the dish a bit, and I thought the flavors worked well together. I didn’t get too much mustard flavor in the pasta though.

buckwheat spaghetti, suckling pig, bacon, raisin, rapini, sarvecchio cheese

buckwheat spaghetti, suckling pig, bacon, raisin, rapini, sarvecchio cheese

I found this pasta to have a strong pork flavor (both from the suckling pig and bacon) with a rich heartiness from the cheese. The rapini was key in adding a countering bitterness. I thought the soba-like buckwheat pasta was a fun change of pace.

smoked fettucine, sea urchin, smoked bacon, quail egg

smoked fettucine, sea urchin, smoked bacon, quail egg

As expected, this was a very rich dish…maybe overly so. The sauce was rich and creamy with uni mixed into the sauce to add body and a fresh sea flavor, while bacon and egg added an even heartier flavor. I was slightly disappointed that there wasn’t really any smoke flavor in the pasta.

mezze maniche, beef brisket, pumpkin, garlic-oregano breadcrumb

mezze maniche, beef brisket, pumpkin, garlic-oregano breadcrumb

This was an excellent dish with a rich ragu and tender pieces of brisket scattered throughout. It had a wonderful savory depth of flavor, and wasn’t smothered in cheese like the other pastas. The breadcrumbs were a nice touch too, adding just a little bit of delicate texture. Pretty delish!

stuffed veal breast, alpine potato, quince, prune, braised chestnut

stuffed veal breast, alpine potato, quince, prune, braised chestnut

My brother went for this stuffed veal breast. I sneaked a bite, and found the stuffing to impart a really nice herbal flavor to the veal. The meat was cooked pretty well, too.

bacon wrapped rabbit saddle, white bean, fennel, apricot

bacon wrapped rabbit saddle, white bean, fennel, apricot

bacon wrapped rabbit saddle, white bean, fennel, apricot2

My dad opted for this rabbit saddle – beautifully plated, but unfortunately I thought the smokiness of the bacon overwhelmed the milder rabbit flavor. Still, the meat was quite juicy…no doubt in some way aided by the bacon fat.

After the entrees and while pondering whether there was time for dessert, I got a text saying my flight was cancelled. Not delayed, cancelled. Dammit. It made the dessert decision much easier though.

tiramisu, marsala, espresso coffee, mascarpone, cocoa

tiramisu, marsala, espresso coffee, mascarpone, cocoa

bay leaf panna cotta, apple, roasted grape, whipped honey

panna cotta

I liked the tiramisu but I like any decently made one. There was nothing that separated this one from others, but it was enjoyable. The panna cotta was creamy and sweet, fairly light. However, I thought the whole grapes totally overpowered whenever it was part of the spoonful.

I thought SPQR was good, but there were a lot of small issues that prevented it from being great. It may have been just what we ordered, but I found the pastas to be overly rich and cheesy. In all, the meal was somewhat unmemorable, perhaps partially because my tastebuds were spoiled from previous meals during the trip (Saison was the night before). Aside from the food, service was efficient and quite accommodating; the food was slightly expedited so that we could fit the meal in and get me to the airport on time.

Nopa (San Francisco, CA)

Nopa
560 Divisadero St
San Francisco, CA 94117
Dining date: 12/22/11

signage

I’ve wanted to try Nopa for a while, a consistently highly-regarded restaurant since opening in 2006. The food is rather comfortable modern American and reasonably priced with starters between $5-15 and generously-sized mains in the $13-27 range. The food, combined with a trendy bar scene and late-night hours (open til 1am), make this one of the more popular SF restaurants. The popularity was clear as we walked through the door; on a Thursday, we still had to wait a little bit past our 11pm reservation time for a table to clear.

interior1

interior2

What started as sort of a joke over dinner at Marlowe turned into a second dinner with the cousins here at Nopa. Given my time in San Francisco was limited, I had to make the most out of my meals right?

We started with an amuse bouche from the kitchen.

Apples and Housemade Farmers Cheese

amuse

This was a smooth and rather light, creamy cheese that was easily spread onto the crunchy apple slices.

Baked Giant White Beans, Feta, Oregano and Breadcrumbs

white beans

These beans were creamy, soaking in a hearty tomato-based sauce. I liked the crispy breadcrumb topping, adding some fun texture to the creaminess of the dish.

Baked Pasta, Nine Hour Bolognese, Escarole and Parmesan

pasta

This next plate had a lot of similarities to the beans with the tomato sauce and again a breadcrumb topping. I thought the pasta was good, as was the tomato sauce, and the escarole provided a nice vegetable balance. Rustic and comfortable, though nothing particularly noteworthy.

Grilled Country Pork Chop, Arrowhead Cabbage, Apples and Nantes Carrots

pork chop

pork chop2

I’d been hearing a lot of about the pork chop here (enough that we ordered three of them) and it really delivered. The pork had a slightly sweet exterior glaze, a nice char, and was incredibly juicy and flavorful. It kind of reminded me of veal moreso than pork. I tasted maple and apple flavors within the meat (from the brine?), as well as a smoky perfume unmistakably from the wood grill. Again, so juicy (see puddle of juice in above picture). I thought the cabbage side was okay – probably could’ve used more acidity, but the star here was the pork chop. Quite possibly the best I’ve ever had.

Grass Fed Hamburger, Pickled Onions and French Fries

nopa burger

One of my cousins opted for the burger – he said it was good, but that Marlowe’s was better. The beef patty looked awkwardly small for the size of the bun.

Although pretty full at this point, we still got a couple of desserts.

Blue Bottle Cocktail Vodka, Coffee Liqueur, Espresso

blue bottle cocktail

I usually try to stay away from coffee in the evenings, but for some reason this sounded irresistible at 12:30am. Hey, it was the first day of my vacation. I really liked this cocktail, with the strong espresso flavor masking much of the bite of the alcohol, while its bitterness was balanced by something sweet in here too. Definitely a drink to keep the party going after two meals.

Sopaipillas Spiced Hot Chocolate

sopaipillas

The sopaipillas were light and airy and dusted in sugar, while the extra-thick hot chocolate (perfect for dipping) added a rich chocolate flavor with just a little bit of cinnamon kick.

Spiced Apple Crisp Calvados Ice Cream

apple crisp

The apple flavor definitely came through and I liked the texture of the crumble with the soft apple and melting ice cream. I thought the calvados flavor in the ice cream was fairly muted, however. A fairly typical dessert, but a nice way to end the meal.

I liked this meal better than Marlowe, and I just wonder how it would’ve been if we came here first. The food at Nopa isn’t particularly creative nor inventive, but it relies on comfortable and familiar flavors and consistent execution. The diner knows exactly what to expect here and perhaps that’s why it’s been so popular. Or maybe it’s because of the pork chop, which I would say is worth a return trip alone. If I did a 2011 best dish roundup, that pork chop probably would’ve cracked the top 10. Seriously good.

Pappardelle with Oxtail Ragu

Dining date: 1/2/11

pappardelle with oxtail

A meaty ragu (with pasta) is one of my favorite foods. If there’s one on the menu, there’s a pretty good chance I’m ordering it. One of my favorites is an oxtail ragu commonly served with a wide, flat pappardelle pasta. There’s just something about the beefy, meaty oxtails imparting their flavor into a rich and hearty sauce with pasta. It’s a dish I’ve wanted to make for some time but was never quite confident enough in my ability to do it. Turns out, it was actually fairly easy. Just takes a little time, but it was well worth it.

As with any dish, there are tons of different recipes out there but I found one from Mario Batali out of the Babbo Cookbook. With the Batali name attached to it, I chose this one to follow…well, mostly. Technically it’s for gnocchi with oxtail ragu, but I figured I could follow the recipe and just substitute the gnocchi for pasta. The recipe is as follows:

Recipe (adapted from Mario Batali, Babbo Cookbook)
2.5 lbs oxtail
Kosher salt and ground pepper
Flour, for dredging
1 onion, diced
2 cups red wine
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup tomato sauce
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
Pecorino romano, for grating
Pasta/gnocchi

Salt and pepper the oxtails and dredge oxtails in flour. Sear until well-browned on all sides. Remove oxtails.

Add onion and cook until lightly browned, a few minutes. Add red wine, scraping up the browned bits, followed by the chicken stock, tomato sauce and fresh thyme. Bring to a boil.

Add back the oxtails and their juices to the pot and put into a 375 degree oven for 3 hours.

Once oxtails are tender and falling off the bone, remove from sauce and let cool. Strain the sauce or blend all ingredients to achieve a smooth consistency.

Once the meat has cooled, pull meat apart from bones and shred into small pieces. Add back into sauce.

Cook pasta according to directions. In a saucepan, add meat and sauce to warm. Once pasta is a couple of minutes away from being done, drain and place pasta in saucepan with enough pasta water to maintain desired sauce consistency. Cook sauce and pasta together until well-incorporated and pasta is done. Plate and grate cheese over the top.

I followed the recipe fairly closely, carefully browning the meat and braising them until tender. Once the braise was done, I let the oxtails sit for a few hours to cool and for the fat (and there was a lot of it) in the sauce to settle at the top, where I tried to skim as much as I could. As much as I love oxtails, they’re not the healthiest cut of meat – there’s a ton of fat (flavor!). I tried to minimize that as much as possible in this step. I then blended the sauce up in its entirety to create a smooth consistency.

raw oxtails

browned oxtails

cooking oxtails

cooked oxtails

Once the meat was pulled apart and put back into the sauce, I was ready to assemble the pasta. I experimented with two different dried pappardelle pastas (as much as I would’ve loved to use fresh pasta with this, it’s a lot of work and I’m not very good at it) – a thicker, wider Delverde variety and a thinner, eggier Rustichella pappardelle. Basically, those were the two varieties my local Bristol Farms carried.

Taste-wise, I preferred the thicker and wider Delverde pasta but found it to break apart while cooking far too easily. I could understand it breaking apart if overcooked, but these guys starting falling apart after a few minutes of cooking. The Rustichella variety held up together perfectly during the cooking process, but it didn’t have the same mouth feel as the thicker Delverde.

warming sauce

tossing pasta

Fully assembled and plated pasta with the Delverde.

oxtail pappardelle

And the Rustichella.

pappardelle5

I also experimented with a couple of added touches. I liked adding some bitter greens (I had some Chinese broccoli on hand, of which I used just the leaves – they worked very similar to rapini); I thought it added a whole new dimension, and its fresh, slightly bitter flavor helped to offset the richness of the dish. Plus, it made me feel less guilty about eating this in large quantities. I also did one with some clementine zest (’tis the season!) which added some bright citrus to help cut through the richness, though I preferred just the greens.

pappardelle with greens

pappardelle4

I was pretty happy with the way this turned out. I’m still searching for the perfect pasta (it may have to be made fresh…sigh) but I thought the ragu was exactly what I was looking for. Rich and tremendously flavorful, it would’ve worked well on any pasta. Or even mashed potatoes. Or spread on some toasted bread. Probably with any starch. I’ll definitely be making this again.