The Golden State – 5/8/10

The Golden State
426 N Fairfax Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036

After visiting Father’s Office, the second stop in our burger/gastropub mini-tour was The Golden State.  Similar to Father’s Office, The Golden State’s claim to fame is their beer selection, their burgers, and, uniquely, their beer floats (made with Scoops ice cream). I had to give their burger a try, to compare to FO’s.

The Burger – Harris Ranch beef, Fiscalini Farms cheddar, glazed applewood smoked bacon, arugula, housemade aioli and ketchup

The burger was not as pink as FO’s, but it was medium rare. The meat also wasn’t quite as beefy, and not as moist. However, make no mistake – this was a good burger. The patty was nicely thick, and the bacon was fantastic. I love arugula on a burger, and this was not an exception. The cheese was fairly mild and somewhat hidden. The bun also was rather un-extraordinary, being a fairly standard burger bun. This was a lighter burger – not as much as FO’s. Depending on what you want, this could be a good thing. We got sweet potato fries along with the burger, which I thought were way too charred…burnt..on the outside.

To drink with the burger, we got a Deschutes Jubel 2010. The deep, malty flavor was mildly sweet, and was actually relatively light. I tend not to prefer dark beers, but this wasn’t a bad one.

Also, we had a Stone Cali-Belgique. This Stone IPA, made with Belgian yeast, was pretty good. However, I think I like Stone’s Ruination better.

I’d come back to Golden State. The burger was good, not exceptional, but the beer list is quite good. I still need to come back to try one of their beer floats.

Chicken Curry – 5/1/10

I’m not sure what inspired me to make this dish. I enjoy curries, and I’ve been braising a lot, so I suppose this was a logical dish. I found one of Ming Tsai’s recipes (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ming-tsai/braised-chicken-curry-with-yams-recipe/index.html), and it was quite simple. I figured I’d give it a try. I didn’t want to make one of those packaged sauce curries that you add as a sauce to your meat – you miss out on a lot of the flavor. Here, where the chicken meat and bones cook for a while in the curry, makes a much more flavorful dish.

Ingredients

* Canola oil
* 2 pounds chicken legs and thighs
* 2 large white onions, chopped
* 1 tablespoons minced garlic
* 1 tablespoons minced ginger
* 1/3 cup madras curry powder
* 2 bay leaves
* 4 cups chicken stock
* 3 large yams, peeled and chopped
* Salt and black pepper to taste

Directions

In a hot stock pot coated with oil, season the chicken and brown all sides. Put chicken aside. In the same stock pot, remove chicken fat, leaving only a coating of oil and saute onions, garlic and ginger. Caramelize well, then add the curry powder. Mix quickly for 2 minutes making sure not to burn the curry powder. Add back the chicken, banana bay leaves and chicken stock. Check for seasoning. Bring to a boil and simmer slowly for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. During the last 30 minutes of cooking, add the yams. Serve on white rice or with toasted pita bread.

I used this recipe as a base, and modified it according to my personal preferences. I was able to find Madras curry at Whole Foods, and used a combination of that and ‘regular’ curry powder, as Madras can be fairly spicy. Instead of yams, I used a combination of carrots and potatoes – the carrots would add sweetness, and I just love potatoes in my curries.

I started by browning my chicken thighs.

I caramelized the onions, added ginger, garlic, and the curry powder and added them to my dutch oven. Then, I added the chicken stock, chicken, and carrots to start the braise.

With about 40 minutes to go in cooking time, I added the potatoes.

In almost 2 full hours of cooking time, the chicken meat was just falling off the bone, and the potatoes were ready.
Finally, I plated my curry over brown rice, with a sprig of fresh parsley from my garden.

I was quite pleased with my first attempt at a curry. The curry wasn’t too spicy, but was a nice flavor. The chicken was tender, and cooked pretty well, I thought. Maybe a little overcooked, but that’s hard to judge in a braise. Close enough. I would make this again, and I wouldn’t change too much.

The Dining Room at the Langham – 4/30/10

The Dining Room at the Langham
1401 South Oak Knoll Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91106

I had been to the Langham a little over a year ago, when Craig Strong was the chef. I had a good meal at the time, but I’ve been really looking forward to going back to try Michael Voltaggio’s cuisine. Voltaggio, as you might know, won last season’s Top Chef, beating out his brother. Voltaggio helped open the Bazaar, Jose Andres’ highly-acclaimed eatery in LA.  Blending modern, molecular gastronomy with classic French technique, Voltaggio creates some really creative, beautiful dishes – thus, why I’ve been wanting to go for so long.

The restaurant is located in a very, very large hotel in Pasadena – formerly a Ritz Carlton. The menu offers two options – a 4 course a la carte menu, or a 7 course tasting menu. Naturally, we went with the tasting menu. Click for a larger version.


First up was an amuse bouche of a gougere and a tomato jelly.


The gougere was good, however very similar to the others I’ve had at Cut or French Laundry.

First course:
Langoustine
White asparagus, tiny eggs, fried calamari

Perfectly cooked langoustine. Mmm…that’s all that was really necessary, but the poached eggs and yolk added a very nice richness to the dish.

Foie Gras Terrine
Strawberry-yuzu, arugula cake, Minus 8 vinegar

This was a very interesting dish. A foie gras terrine, mousse-like in texture, was covered by a layer of strawberry, served with fresh strawberries, arugula, and arugula cake. The interplay of the sweetness with the rich liver was very nice. The arugula cake was somewhat sweet as well, but rather mild in flavor.

Halibut Cheeks
Red curry, coconut rice, baby leeks

This dish was really delicious. The fish was very moist, tender and flavorful. It wasn’t quite as dense as the typical halibut filet, which I enjoyed. The puffed rice added some crunchiness.

Veal Sweetbreads Tempura
Kale, buttermilk, mustard, potato puree

Sweetbreads fried tempura style – not something I’ve had before. I enjoyed this dish as well, with the tender sweetbreads lightly fried. It was almost scallop-like in texture.

Four Story Hills Farm Suckling Pig
Banana polenta, morels, ramps, red onion

The polenta here was way too sweet. The pork belly was cooked quite well though, and nicely fatty. The skin was crispy – just the way it should be.

Japanese Kuroge Beef
Fried bearnaise, young turnips, bordelaise

The beef here was clearly a high-quality wagyu, with lots of melt-in-your-mouth fat marbling. I really enjoyed this piece of meat, but the accompanying red wine gelee did not do much for me.

Chocolate Caramel Ganache
Chocolate sorbet, salty hazelnut praline, cocoa tuille

This dish was a bit of a disappointment. First, the sorbet was kind of melted (see in picture) when it came out. I figure it might have been waiting just a little while for the other dessert. The caramel was rather jelly-like – this dish was not memorable.

Baba Au Rhum
Textures of coconut and pineapple, compressed papaya

This dish was a little bit better. The cake was dipped in liquor, topped with sorbet, and served with papaya and pineapple jelly.

Finally, the mignardises. Dark chocolate lollipops with pop rocks, mini macarons, and a passion fruit jellies. These were all pretty good.

In all, the meal at the Langham was good, but disappointing. Admittedly, I had very high expectations coming into this meal, and thus why the meal fell a little flat. I was optimistic that this would be one of the top 5 restaurant meals in LA – but I can’t say that it was. I really enjoyed the halibut cheek, but outside of that, none of the dishes were outstanding. However, none of the dishes were terrible either.

Braised Pork – 4/25/10

There’s nothing quite like a slowly braised piece of meat. Cheaper cuts of meat (brisket, chuck, shanks, short ribs from a cow) are slowly simmered in a liquid, creating moist, tender meat, and a rich sauce. Restaurants can charge $20-30 for a dish such as braised short ribs, which only costs a few dollars a pound. It’s actually pretty easy to make it at home – it just takes some time and patience.

Today I went with pork shoulder (the cut of meat for carnitas and pulled pork). Five pounds of it. This cut of meat usually sells for less than $2 per pound, making it very economical. In addition, it’s one of the most flavorful parts of the pig, yielding really moist and succulent meat without needing much skill at all.

I decided to first brown my meat in a large stainless steel pan, since there’s more surface area than in my dutch oven. I planned to brown the meat, saute my aromatics, and then transfer to my dutch oven for the braise.

After browning my meat on all sides, I was left with a pan full of browned bits – perfect. This is where a lot of the flavor is developed.

I sauteed my onions and garlic in the pan, and added  my white wine, scraping up the browned bits in the process. Adding chicken stock, carrots and celery, I put everything into my dutch oven and was ready to put it into the oven for a few hours.

After about 2.5 hours, I removed the meat to allow it to rest, and reduced the braising liquid.

At this point, the pork was evidently tender, as it was easily falling apart. I put a few chunks on a plate, spooned over some of the braising liquid, and garnished with some fresh parsley and rosemary.

Ta da! The pork was really tender and moist, and the braising liquid was both rich and flavorful. I’d definitely consider this a success and would make it again. I think it’s also a great dish to make for large groups of people, as the time and effort involved remain relatively the same no matter how much meat is used (as long as it fits in the pot, of course).

Melisse – 4/22/10

Melisse
1104 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401

I’ve been meaning to try Melisse for a long while now. I’ve heard a lot of mixed reviews from friends over the years, and that’s probably part of what’s been holding me back (that, and not having anyone interested in going). However, the restaurant continues to receive very positive reviews all-around. With my friend down to go, it was time to finally try it.

Last year, Melisse celebrated its 10th anniversary. To celebrate, they offered a 10-course “signature dishes” menu in July 2009. Luckily and oddly, they are still offering that menu (click for larger size). What better way to try the restaurant than with 10 of their signature courses?

Amuse #1 – red grape two ways: goat cheese with pistachio and reconstituted grape with cheese and oil

These were both interesting starters. I liked the goat cheese and pistachio better, with a nice texture (crunch from pistachio) and sweetness from the grape.

Amuse #2 – Hokkaido scallop with radish and scallions


Hmm didn’t like this dish. The scallop was sliced very thin, and topped with the scallions, radish and salted. It tasted…soapy for some reason. And kinda fishy. Just not good.

Egg Caviar – lemon creme fraiche, American Ossetra caviar

This was a great dish. The egg was poached slowly, so there was a warm gooey center inside, which really went well with the caviar. Warm and comfortable.

Duo of Hamachi & Tuna – celery, meyer lemon, black truffles

The duo resembles a piece of sushi, which was a nice touch, and chopped tuna taking the place of rice. The celery adds a nice fresh crunch, and the lemon went well with the fish. I couldn’t taste the hamachi and tuna individually in each bite, however. The black truffle flavor was rather mild. Overall, I enjoyed this dish.

White and Purple Asparagus – white asparagus veloute, crispy purple asparagus roulade, truffle mousse

This was a really nice soup. There was a good asparagus flavor, and it really went well with the truffle mousse mixed in. Brilliant.

Seared Foie Gras – carrot cake, pineapple compote, vanilla-balsamic reduction

The foie gras was seared perfectly, with a nice crust and soft, tender interior. The carrot cake did not add much to the dish, and fell apart reather easily. I liked the pineapple compote and orange rind, as the sweetness and acidity cut through the fattiness of the liver.

Lobster Bolognese – fresh cappelini, truffle froth

This was my favorite dish of the night. Fresh pasta, wrapped in a lobster bolognese, and topped with a truffle foam. Delicious. The pasta may have been a TEENY bit overcooked (I prefer it a bit more al dente) but the flavors were spectacular, memorable.

John Dory Filet – chinese broccoli, kohlrabi, pinebut-cornichon jus

John Dory has a firm flesh, which was nice with the crunchy broccoli and kohlrabi. The fish was cooked pretty well, but just was not too memorable.

Cote de Boeuf – potato and braised short rib galette, fava beans, porcini mushrooms, herb jus

Like the fish, this dish wasn’t too memorable either. The rib-eye was very tender and had a decent flavor. The galette, with layers of potato and short rib, wasn’t as successful as expected. It was a little dry, perhaps overcooked. The same was true with the piece of short rib.

Le Fromage Truffee – black truffle, poached pears, balsamic gelee

I don’t really like the cheese course and tend to avoid it whenever possible. However, I had it here. The cheese was very mild, and I did not get a truffle flavor from it. It came with a warm toasted brioche.

Chocolate and Caramel Fondant  – hazelnut crumble, chocolate sorbet

This was a pretty good dish. The chocolate sorbet was nice and rich, and the fondant (with layers of rich mousse) was excellent. I enjoyed the hazelnut crumble as well, as it added some great texture to the dessert.

Strawberries and Creme – strawberries, creme fraiche, brown sugar

An interesting rendition of ‘strawberries and creme’ here, with creme fraiche instead..and sugar to sweeten. The strawberries were ripe and sweet, and the combination worked.

Mignardises – assorted cookies

These were just okay. The chocolate peanut butter cookies were actually pretty good with a nice crispiness, but the caneles weren’t anything special.

Melisse lived up to its expectations in my opinion. Outside of the scallop amuse, the execution and imagination were present in each course. While some of the dishes weren’t really memorable, I attribute a lot of it to personal taste. On the other hand, the Egg Caviar, White and Purple Asparagus, Lobster Bolognese, and Chocolate and Caramel Fondant were clear hits. Definitely a very solid showing – I think Melisse is one of the top five restaurants in Los Angeles.

Mo Chica – 4/20/10

Mo Chica
3655 S Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90007

Mo Chica is one of those restaurants that I wonder ‘if I had not heard anything about this place and walked in, how surprised would I be at this food?’ Located in kind of a grungy marketplace food court just east of USC, it’s not exactly a place you’d just stumble into. However, there’s been a lot of buzz around this place ever since it opened, and for good reason. Mo Chica offers a pretty great ceviche, as well as homey, comfortable Latin dishes such as lomo saltado, arroz con pollo, and a braised lamb shank – for very reasonable prices.

Ceviche of the day – sea bass

I like the large chunks of fish – they lend a nice  meaty chew. Definitely a very fresh fish, and not overcooked at all. The popped corn gave a really nice crunchy texture to go along with the fish.

Arroz con Mariscos

I’m a big fan of dishes where the meat/fish is cooked along with rice in a flavorful sauce. Paella and jambalaya are classic examples. Here we have a paella-like dish with shrimp, clams, mussels and squid. The shrimp and squid were cooked well, but the clams and mussels were a bit overcooked. The tomato-heavy sauce was a bit one-note, I thought.

Arroz con Pollo – organic chicken breast, salsa Madre, sauteed rice with cilantro sauce

A pan fried chicken breast + drumette served over rice. Often times when I have this dish, the chicken is cooked with the rice, which I like better. However, the rice (here in a cilantro sauce) had lots of good flavor. The chicken was flavorful too, but not too moist. I don’t really think it was overcooked, just not that impressive.

Seco de Cordero – lamb shank. cilantro beer stew, Peruvian canary beans, salsa criolla

The lamb here was cooked pretty well, falling off the bone. It had a nice chew to it, but was somewhat gamey…just a little too much for my liking. However, still a very solid dish with a very flavorful stew/sauce.

Oxtail risotto

The dish of the day was an oxtail risotto. The oxtail was very good, braised in a rich sauce until fork-tender. Really good flavor. The barley risotto was pretty cheesy, and had a nice al dente texture. Good mix of flavors and textures – my favorite dish of the night.

Mo Chica is a solid bet. Not all of the dishes were complete hits, but none were bad, either. For $11-13 per entree, it’s hard to beat. The ceviches are a must, and ordering a few entrees to split will likely leave you satisfied.