Lunasia (Alhambra, CA)

Lunasia
500 W Main St
Alhambra, CA 91801
Dining date: 8/27/12

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Dim sum is something that I often enjoy as a weekend lunch. It’s a very ‘social’ meal always involving the sharing of a variety of small plates. The multitude of flavors and textures is something that’s pretty unique, and it has become a sort of comfort food even though I didn’t eat it all that often growing up.

I’ve been going to the Lunasia spot for a few years now, the first time being when it was Triumphal Palace. Ownership/management changes have resulted in some name and chef changes, but I’ve enjoyed meals here pretty consistently. Long lines on the weekends tell me I’m not the only one.

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Lunasia’s ordering is menu-based; you order off a menu and the plates come directly from the kitchen. It’s not quite as playful or curiosity-inducing as the cart-based places, but I find the food to come to the table much fresher. Turnover is usually pretty quick at popular joints with the carts, but you never know how long it takes a dish to get from the kitchen to the table. My favorite “delivery model” is actually a combination of both; some places are menu-based with a handful of carts coming around – the best of both worlds.

Pictures of each dish and English descriptions is key in choosing what to order!

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Scallop Taro Cake

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A crispy exterior hid a hot filling of taro, scallop and what I think was ground pork. The sweet-salty combination was a good one, and it was fried just right.

Steamed Chicken Feet

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Hong Kong Roasted Duck

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I thought this was a well-executed roast duck with a crispy skin and succulent, moist meat. A sweet soy glaze provided extra depth in flavor.

Crispy Shrimp Roll

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This was a different one for me; small chunks of shrimp, complemented by parsley, were fried in a light batter. Loved the textures, and the shrimp and parsley were balanced well.

Shrimp Har-Gow

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A dim sum standby, I found these to be a good example. The noodle had a nice sticky chew and was packed with plump shrimp.

Pork Siu-Mai

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Another dim sum staple, these came out piping hot. I thought these were very flavorful, though a bit heavy on the fat-pork ratio.

Shanghai Dumplings

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The next thing to come out of the kitchen were these dumplings, which I found to be on the doughy side and devoid of the characteristic juicy filling. Not sure what happened here.

Pan-fried Potstickers

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I thought these simple potstickers were a disappointment too. The dough was sort of soggy and easily broke apart, not to mention being kind of oily too.

Shrimp Rice Noodle

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We rebounded with one of my dim sum favorites. Soft, glutinous noodles were wrapped around individual shrimp and drenched in soy – this simple dish was done well.

Egg-roll Rice Noodle

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This was another new item for me – shrimp paste was fried in a dough, covered in rice noodle. I liked the crispy texture that the fried dough provided, while the shrimp/rice noodle/soy combination had already proven to be a winner.

Located in the same plaza, milk tea from Tea Station was an ideal cap to the meal – always a plus when dining at Lunasia!

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There were a few misses, but due to vast menus, it’s hard to find a spot that does everything well. I found the food to come out fresh and hot from the kitchen, and the ‘highs’ greatly outnumbered the ‘lows.’ In my opinion, Lunasia remains a strong bet for dim sum in LA.

The Taste: Flavors of LA (Los Angeles, CA)

The Taste 2012: Flavors of LA
Paramount Pictures Studios
5555 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Dining date: 9/2/12

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Day 2 of The Taste brought two more events: ‘Flavors of LA’ during the day and ‘Dinner & Drinks’ at night. I went to the daytime session, featuring an eclectic mix of LA’s food scene. Some of the main highlights, to me, were the cooking demonstrations on this day. A very strong lineup of chefs would be showcasing their talent including Ludo Lefebvre (LudoBites), Kris Yenbamroong (Night + Market), and Ricardo Zarate (Mo-Chica, Picca).

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Like the rest of the weekend’s events, all food, drink and seminars/demos were included in the price of admission ($65 in advance, $75 at the door, $50 via LivingSocial promo).

The Glendon Bar & Kitchen bourbon buffalo wings

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Valerie Confections brown derby grapefruit cake; blum’s coffee crunch cake

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valerie confections coffee crunch

Ombra Ristorante vitello tonnato

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Wurstküche mango jalapeno sausage, caramelized onions; rattlesnake and rabbit sausage, sweet peppers

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Saffron Spot tutti frutti and saffron ice creams

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Schulzies Bread Pudding assorted bread puddings (salted caramel and earl grey pictured)

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Tamarind of London tangy semolina shells; mango-passion lassi

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Mayura butter chicken, aloo palak, garlic naan

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Bulgarini assorted gelati

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Sam’s By the Beach artichoke souffle, roquefort cheese, chives

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Susan Fenniger’s STREET paani puri

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Waffles de Liege liege waffle

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Coupa Café beef empanaditas; arepas

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Locando del Lago farro ai funghi

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CHAYA watermelon mojito; tuna burger

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Gottsui okonomiyaki

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Lukshon sichuan pig ear terrine; kimchi bloody maria

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Picca/Mo-Chica unagi causa roll

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La Casita Mexicana mole poblano chicken

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bashi/Terranea caramelized shrimp, green papaya salad

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

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Farmshop heirloom melon gazpacho, sweet corn, la quercia speck ham, opal basil, za’atar

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Sushi Roku halibut, yuzu vinaigrette

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The Cake Mamas chocolate salted caramel, good witch, churro cupcakes

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Carvel 90210 custom dipped ice cream cones

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Coolhaus assorted ice cream sandwiches

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Of course, alcohol was plentiful at the event (as well as some non-alcoholic options!).

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I also caught a glimpse of Jonathan Gold, Sang Yoon, Gustavo Arellano and Evan Kleinman discussing the state of the LA food scene.

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And Ricardo Zarate talking about and preparing his highly regarded Peruvian ceviche.

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I thought this was another successful event. Similar to the prior day, I didn’t find too much of the food to particularly stand out, but the overall variety of events was more than enough to pique my interest. Food-wise, perhaps my favorite bite of the weekend was Valerie Confections’ coffee crunch cake. Moist and light, it had just the right amount of coffee flavor and textural crunch, reminding me of the cake I had so many times growing up in San Francisco. Plan Check served a generous portion of their smokey fried chicken, a dish that’s quickly becoming a notable one around town. Exceedingly juicy, the chicken had a nice crust and paired well with the smokey milk gravy. Waffles de Liege served their namesake liege waffles hot off the iron – delicately crispy yet fluffy with just the right amount of sweetness. Lastly, Bulgarini served up some excellent gelato, including a refreshing jasmine flavor.

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Note: This event was hosted.

The Taste: Field to Fork (Los Angeles, CA)

The Taste 2012: Field to Fork
Paramount Pictures Studios
5555 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Dining date: 9/1/12

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This past weekend, The Taste returned to LA.  In its second year, it’s one of the biggest food festivals in the city, stretching over the three day Labor Day weekend. It was a slightly slimmed down version this year with less events (5), one location (Paramount Studios), and a more approachable ticket price ($65 in advance, $75 at the door, $50 via a LivingSocial promo).

Similar to last year, the five events each had a different theme. Each featured its own lineup of cooking demonstrations, wine seminars, chef panels and book signings. Of course, unlimited food & drink tastings were included in the ticket price as well, making this one of the most complete (if not the most) food event packages for 65 bucks.

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The first event of the weekend, ‘Field to Fork’, reflected the farm-to-table concept that we’ve been seeing more and more of around the country. In addition to the ~30 restaurants whipping up dishes, there were a number of farms showcasing their produce, as well a panel on the ‘State of the Farmers Market.’

Tender Greens freekeh, gazpacho sliders

Tender Greens freekeh, gazpacho sliders

Tender Greens freekeh, gazpacho sliders

Rocio’s Moles de Dioses grasshopper cream soup

Rocio’s Moles de Dioses grasshopper cream soup

Ombra Ristorante farro salad

Ombra Ristorante farro salad

9021PHO chicken pho

9021PHO chicken pho

FigOly spicy gazpacho with crab

FigOly spicy gazpacho with crab

Ray’s & Stark Bar roasted pork belly, watermelon

Ray’s & Stark Bar roasted pork belly, watermelon

Good Girl Dinette corn and tomato hand pie, peach hand pie

Good Girl Dinette corn and tomato hand pie, peach hand pie

Valerie Confections basil panna cotta with blenheim preserves

Valerie Confections basil panna cotta with blenheim preserves

Bistro 45 za’atar dusted duck, honey dates, goat cheese polenta

Bistro 45 za'atar dusted duck, honey dates, goat cheese polenta

Locanda del Lago puree of market vegetables, micro arugula; eggplant sorbet, ricotta, red onion, golden raisin saute

Locanda del Lago puree of market vegetables, micro arugula; eggplant sorbet, ricotta, red onion, golden raisin saute

Locanda del Lago puree of market vegetables, micro arugula; eggplant sorbet, ricotta, red onion, golden raisin saute

Scarpetta porchetta, smoked brentwood corn, pickled mustard seed vinaigrette

Scarpetta porchetta, smoked brentwood corn, pickled mustard seed vinaigrette

Mr. Chow chicken satay; shanghai cucumber

Mr. Chow chicken satay; shanghai cucumber

Sysco sterling silver roasted new york

Sysco sterling silver roasted new york roast

Sysco sterling silver roasted new york roast

La Casita Mexicana dry white corn soup; bean salad

La Casita Mexicana dry white corn soup; bean salad

Casa Azul Cantina/Frida mexican corn snack

Casa Azul Cantina/Frida mexican corn snack

Guelaguetza oyster mushroom & cactus tostadas

Guelaguetza oyster mushroom & cactus tostadas

BLVD 16 heirloom tomato & watermelon gazpacho; strawberry & piquillo gazpacho

BLVD 16 tomato & watermelon gazpacho; strawberry & piquillo gazpacho

BLVD 16 tomato & watermelon gazpacho; strawberry & piquillo gazpacho

Creme Caramel LA vanilla and emerald plum almond creme caramel; vanilla and upside down summer peach bread pudding

Creme Caramel LA vanilla and emerald plum almond creme caralem; vanilla and upside down summer peach bread pudding

Terranea lobster rolls; peach blueberry oat streusel pie

Terranea lobster rolls; peach blueberry oat streusel pie

Terranea lobster rolls; peach blueberry oat streusel pie

Canele mixed bean salad

Canele mixed bean salad

Lexington Social House grilled peaches with burrata and crispy pancetta; rice pudding with pineapple

Lexington Social House grilled peaches with burrata and crispy pancetta; rice pudding with pineapple

Red O pork belly sopes

Red O pork belly sopes

Soleto Trattoria & Pizza Bar chopped salad; salmon scallopini, tiramisu; strawberry shortcake

Soleto Trattoria & Pizza Bar chopped salad; salmon scallopini, tiramisu; strawberry shortcake

Wood & Vine chicken liver & foie gras pate

Wood & Vine chicken liver & foie gras pate

The Blvd at Beverly Wilshire Hotel quail breast, chayote jicama slaw, guajillo vinaigrette

The Blvd at Beverly Wilshire Hotel quail breast, chayote jicama slaw, guajillo vinaigrette

Cook’s County spretzel with mustard dipping sauce; grilled sausage salad with pickled onion

Cook’s County spretzel with mustard dipping sauce; grilled sausage salad with pickled onion

Cook’s County spretzel with mustard dipping sauce; grilled sausage salad with pickled onion

Drinks were also plentiful, perhaps moreso than the food itself. One of my favorites was Veev pouring drinks (mojito or lemonade) into these mason jars.

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I probably stopped by the Vita Coco stand a dozen times throughout the weekend.

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And tasted my way through several pours of scotch and tequila…

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in between other cocktails and wines.

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I was also able to catch a few minutes of one of the wine tasting seminars and the tail end of a cooking competition between David LeFevre (M.B. Post) and Ray Garcia (Fig).

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This was a fun event. Given it was outdoors and pretty damn hot out, shade and anything cold (cocktails!) were in high demand. Food-wise, I didn’t think there was anything spectacular, but some of the highlights were Scarpetta’s porchetta, Valerie Confections’ basil panna cotta, and Wood & Vine’s chicken liver & foie gras pate. Scarpetta’s porchetta, which seemed to actually just be roasted pork belly, was lucious, tender and delicious. Served with a smoky corn puree and a light vinaigrette to cut through the richness – it was a winner. Valerie Confections brought a couple of my favorite bites of the weekend; here, the panna cotta was smooth and creamy with a subtle basil flavor. Paired with a sweet apricot preserve, this was another hit. I thought Sysco was an odd inclusion in the ‘restaurant’ lineup, but I’ll never complain with large roasts of strip loin beef. Lastly, I appreciated Wood & Vine taking the opportunity to give away some foie gras, in a duo of tasty livers (chicken and foie) on a crispy crostini.

Being one of the more reasonable ticket prices in the LA food festival arena, The Taste presented quite a bit of value with its considerable array of food/drink-related activities. I’m excited to see how The Taste evolves next year.

Note: This was a hosted event.

Patina (Los Angeles, CA)

Patina
141 S Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Dining date: 8/23/12

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Patina is one of those restaurants that seems like it’s been around forever and always will be. I first ate here on my 21st birthday; I don’t remember much specifically but I remember it being a good meal. Even though I’ve lived within walking distance for the past four years, it took me just over six years to return. I never had a sense of urgency, perhaps because the first meal did not leave a very strong impression.

A couple of my coworkers recently had a private dinner at Patina to kick-start the launch of their new nonprofit (see: Edo Foundation). Coincidentally, it was also around the time of a chef transition, as outgoing chef Tony Esnault was replaced by sous chef Charles Olalia. My coworkers loved the meal and raved about it; six years was far too long – I was ready for a return visit.

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A la carte as well as a three or four-course promotional market menu (which may or may not be extended) are available, as well as a seven course tasting menu. It’s not cheap by any means, but its $115 price point was less than I thought it’d be.

Le Citron Rose absolut citron, chambord, lemon sour
Bourbon Brillant bourbon, grand marnier, fresh grapefruit

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We started with drinks; I swear they tasted kind of watered down, not unlike a meal I had earlier in the week.

Sweet Corn Soup crostini, corn, chive oil

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We began the meal with this amuse bouche, a chilled soup showing off the natural sweetness of corn. Chive oil provided a little bit of the grassy herb flavor while tiny bits of toasted crostini provided the texture.

A trio of breads were served: wheat, olive and baguette. The first one I had was the baguette, which I found to be very chewy and rather hard to eat, kind of terrible. The olive, which came hot out of the oven later, fared much better displaying a crispy crust, airy interior and subtle olive flavor.

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Dungeness Crab FraÎcheur champagne mango, avocado, tomatoes

Dungeness Crab FraÎcheur champagne mango, avocado, tomatoes

Crab and avocado were wrapped in thin slices of mango in a beautiful display. I thought the flavors were pretty well-balanced, though the mango may have overshadowed the crab a bit. Tomatoes provided a different kind of sweetness to pair with the mango and crab, while bits of crostini (soaked in tomato juice) provided the texture.

Poached Farmed Egg peas, kalamansi, arugula

Poached Farmed Egg peas, kalamansi, arugula

Poached Farmed Egg peas, kalamansi, arugula

Hard to go wrong with a perfectly poached egg; here it was paired with a duo of peas in puree form and freshly shucked. The runny egg yolk brought everything together, adding a welcome richness, while arugula provided a little bit of a countering bite. For the third course in a row, the same small pieces of crostini provided the texture.

Fancy decanter.

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Seasonal Glazed Vegetable Mosaic ”jus de cuisson,” lemon oil

Seasonal Glazed Vegetable Mosaic ”jus de cuisson,” lemon oil

Seasonal Glazed Vegetable Mosaic ”jus de cuisson,” lemon oil

A signature dish of former chef Tony Esnault – this was the lone course kept on the menu through Chef Olalia’s transition. It was a beautiful dish, featuring whatever was fresh at the market, and each vegetable was cooked separately to coax out their natural flavors. Indeed, I think each vegetable’s flavor stood out on its own while the savory jus and lemon oil brought everything together.

Black Cod Confit tarbais beans, piquillo pepper, green almond

Black Cod Confit tarbais beans, piquillo pepper, green almond

I think this was my favorite course of the evening, with a black cod that was first steamed then poached in olive oil. The cod itself was cooked perfectly, moist and succulent, while tarbais beans provided some earthy creaminess. Waxy green and yellow beans, sweet piquillo peppers, and a warm sauce rounded out the plate.

Colorado Lamb Loin courgette, porcini, farro, lamb jus

Colorado Lamb Loin courgette, porcini, farro, lamb jus

Colorado Lamb Loin courgette, porcini, farro, lamb jus

The last savory dish was a duo of lamb, presenting a roasted loin portion and a basteeya preparation. Both pieces of lamb were delicious, particularly with the jus – I wanted more. The basteeya, a savory Morrocan pie of sorts, featured tender confit lamb in a crispy, flaky pastry. Quite nice. However, the accompanying piece of eggplant was terrible, having an off-putting astringent flavor that was shared among all four of us dining.

Harry’s Berries Strawberries crème fraîche, buttermilk ice cream, basil granité

Harry’s Berries Strawberries crème fraîche, buttermilk ice cream, basil granité

The first dessert featured the well-known and reliably sweet strawberries from Harry’s Berries. Seriously, those berries are always delicious. Here, they were paired with a buttermilk ice cream, chopped nuts, and creme fraiche custard. The balance of tart and sweet was a successful one, while basil provided some depth of flavor.

Chocolate Moelleux dacquoise, passion fruit, hazelnut sorbet

Chocolate Moelleux dacquoise, passion fruit, hazelnut sorbet

The last course of the evening had a few chocolate presentations. Chocolate in a meringue and crisp paper form were accompanied by extra chocolate in the form of a nutella sorbet. A passion fruit sauce really brightened things up.

Peach and Cassis Pate de Fruits, Peanut Butter Fudge

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Lastly, some sweets were brought out to finish the meal. Both were good; my favorite was the fudgey peanut creation.

I found Patina to be a good meal, meeting expectations. Execution was mostly on point with a broad array of colorful and flavorful presentations. Having said that, I’m not sure I would rank Patina in the top few restaurants in the city. There weren’t any dishes that particularly wow’ed, and a few bad missteps (baguette and eggplant come to mind) really didn’t help. Still, it’s one of the few real fine dining restaurants going strong in this city, so I suspect it won’t take me quite as long to return next time around.

Lawry’s (Beverly Hills, CA)

Lawry’s The Prime Rib
100 N La Cienega Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
Dining date: 8/12/12

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Lawry’s an institution in L.A., nestled in the middle of La Cienega’s ‘restaurant row’ since 1938. That location was the first of many for the chain, which now has restaurants internationally. Growing up in San Francisco, I visited the House of Prime Rib a number of times and always heard comparisons when I moved to Los Angeles. I first came while in college with my dad and found the restaurant eerily similar to my S.F. comparison. For what it’s worth, Lawry’s opened first.

The food at Lawry’s is not complicated or fussy. Sure there are some fish and other meat options, but most people opt for a slice of prime rib (sizing varies from a petite boneless cut to an almost obscene bone-in chunk of meat), served with horseradish, Yorkshire pudding, and mashed potatoes. Sides such as creamed spinach, creamed corn, sauteed mushrooms, baked potatoes, and asparagus are extra.

One of my favorite parts about Lawry’s is waiting for a table (imagine that!). In the waiting room are meatballs in a marinara sauce and house-fried potato chips. I must say they’re pretty tasty and it’s always a struggle not to eat too much. I always end up with a couple of small plates, though.

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Famous Original Spinning Bowl Salad crisp romaine and iceberg lettuce, baby spinach, shredded beets, chopped eggs and croutons, tossed with exclusive vintage dressing

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A large salad bowl is put on ice and literally spun, as dressing is poured into the bowl from high above.

Whipped Cream Horseradish grated fresh horseradish and seasoned whipped cream

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When it’s time for the main course, large silver carts are wheeled around filled with racks of prime rib. Yes, please.

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Five ‘sizes’ of prime rib are available ($35-$53); below are the three largest.

The Lawry Cut traditional and most popular cut

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The Diamond Jim Brady Cut an extra-thick portion that includes the rib bone

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The Beef Bowl Cut a double-sized cut with the rib bone

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A large slab of beef is put on each plate, topped with au jus, and served with the sides of choice. It’s quite a sight, for sure. I think the cooking temperatures were pretty spot-on and consistent (easier to do with prime rib than steaks), and I found the prime rib to be tender and juicy. There was a good beefy flavor and I particularly liked their au jus (ask for extra on the side). Total comfort food for me, particularly with the creamy mashed potatoes and gravy.

Lobster tails were available to add to the meal – $16 for one and $24 for two.

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While I thought the lobster tails were reasonably priced, I didn’t think they were anything special. You get what you pay for, I suppose. Save the money and upgrade for a larger cut of beef.

Similar to previous visits, I left my meal at Lawry’s content and full. Prime rib and mashed potatoes happen to be two of my favorite foods, so it’s hard to go wrong. However, prime rib is a relatively easy thing to make at home and I wouldn’t say the beef here is that much better than what a typical home cook can do. But hey, it’s still pretty delicious, good for large groups and has a sense of timeless nostalgia; for that, I’ll be returning here for many years.

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5×5 Chefs Collaborative @ Bouchon (Beverly Hills, CA)

5×5 Chefs Collaborative Dinner
Bouchon Beverly Hills
238 N Canon Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Dining date: 8/20/12

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I attended the first 5×5 dinner of the season at Melisse, but have unfortunately missed the last two due to some conflicts (Providence & Angelini Osteria). I was glad to be able to attend this latest one, which happened to be one of my most anticipated L.A. meals of the year. Having an all-star cast of L.A. chefs was part of it, sure, but there were four other opportunities for these 5×5 dinners. The difference-maker for me was the rumor that Thomas Keller (one of my favorite chefs, duh) would be around to survey the kitchen and meet & greet guests.

The guest chef for this dinner was Richard Rosendale of The Greenbrier in West Virginia. Rosendale will be representing the U.S. at the upcoming biennial chef competition Bocuse d’Or, something Thomas Keller has been strongly involved with. In preparation for the competition Keller has been taking Rosendale around the country to broaden experience and exposure. This was their latest stop (Rosendale revealed the next would be a stint at The French Laundry).

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Similar to previous 5×5 dinners, each chef prepared one course, while the home restaurant’s pastry chef created a seventh.

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We started with a few cocktails (left to right).

Moscow Mule 
Basil Basil Basil Hayden Bourbon, Normandin Mercier Pineau des Charentes, Fever Tree Soda, Fresh Lemon, Fresh Basil, Basil Simple, Highball
Blackberry Bramble Nolet’s Gin, Lucien Jacob Creme di Cassis, Fresh Lemon, Fresh Blackberries, Rocks

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We generally found the cocktails to be fairly watered down, which may have been partially caused by us waiting until all three were served (it took some time for the last one to come).

“Gougères” sauce Mornay with preserved black winter truffle

“Gougères” sauce Mornay with preserved black winter truffle

The first thing to come out of the kitchen was this strong amuse bouche. The gougeres were similar to one of the signature starters at The French Laundry, albeit this one had a strong truffle flavor that really separated this bite. Hard to go wrong with cheese and truffles.

Sterling White Sturgeon Caviar Vidalia onion soubise, Hobbs Shore bacon, rye panna cotta & red ribbon sorrel (Rory Hermann, Bouchon)

Sterling White Sturgeon Caviar Vidalia onion soubise, Hobbs Shore bacon, rye panna cotta & red ribbon sorrel (Rory Hermann, Bouchon)

Sterling White Sturgeon Caviar Vidalia onion soubise, Hobbs Shore bacon, rye panna cotta & red ribbon sorrel (Rory Hermann, Bouchon)

Next was home chef Rory Hermann’s dish. The caviar and sweet onion flavors were what stood out most, and I found the rye panna cotta to be very interesting – essentially a rye bread in smooth custard form. The flavors came together pretty well in this light starter.

A trio of breads were available this evening: the signature epi, brioche and multi-grain. I went with the first two; the epi was reliably good but I enjoyed the soft, buttery brioche even more.

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Cuttlefish Salad sea bean-green goddess, espelette, cuttlefish cracklings (Michael Voltaggio, ink.)

Cuttlefish Salad sea bean-green goddess, espelette, cuttlefish cracklings (Michael Voltaggio, ink.)

Voltaggio’s dish featured a duo of cuttlefish – one in pasta-like ribbons and the other as fried “cracklings.” I really liked the texture between the delicate chew of the cuttlefish, crispy fried cuttlefish and crunch of the dehydrated dressing. The spring peas added a welcome sweetness to the overall plate.
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Santa Barbara Prawn roasted rosa bianca eggplant, shellfish & green zebra tomato jus (Josiah Citrin, Melisse)

Santa Barbara Prawn roasted rosa bianca eggplant, shellfish & green zebra tomato jus (Josiah Citrin, Melisse)

Perfectly cooked spot prawns, clams and mussels were smothered in a complex broth with earthy olive tones and a duo of sweetness from the tomatoes and raisins.

Pave of Leek & Halibut spiced “carrot”, truffle ribbon, sea cress, crystal lettuce, raisin purée & smokey leeks (Richard Rosendale, The Greenbrier)

Pave of Leek & Halibut spiced “carrot”, truffle ribbon, sea cress, crystal lettuce, raisin purée & smokey leeks (Richard Rosendale, The Greenbrier)

Guest chef Rosendale’s dish was a major disappointment. The layered halibut and  leeks was a good pairing, but way over-salted. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the accompanying carrot, tomato and “truffle ribbon” were rather bland and tasteless. While I hoped that the over-seasoned and bland would offset each other to create a perfectly seasoned bite, this just wasn’t the case.

“Risotto alla Milanese” stewed ossobuco & lemon pistachio gremolata (Gino Angelini, Angelini Osteria)

“Risotto alla Milanese” stewed ossobuco & lemon pistachio gremolata (Gino Angelini, Angelini Osteria)

Angelini reliably creates something rather simple and delicious in meals like this, and this was no exception. An al dente saffron risotto was topped with a tender piece of veal shank, while the gremolata provided a little bit of fresh citrus to counter the richness. A great balance of flavors – I just wish the portion wasn’t so tiny.
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Liberty Farms Duck Breast gratin of Weiser Farms tromboncino, smoked tromboncino purée & black mission figs (Michael Cimarusti, Providence)

Liberty Farms Duck Breast gratin of Weiser Farms tromboncino, smoked tromboncino purée & black mission figs (Michael Cimarusti, Providence)

Cimarust’s duck dish was the final savory course. The duck was cooked a nice medium-rare and Cimarusti was able to imbue it with a pretty strong smoky flavor. It was complemented by sweet figs and some frisee; I’m not sure if the tromboncino squash made it to the plate.

“Le Vacherin aux Pêches Verveines” Frog Hollow Farms peaches, lemon verbena & chamomile bubbles (Allen Ramos, Bouchon)

“Le Vacherin aux Pêches Verveines” Frog Hollow Farms peaches, lemon verbena & chamomile bubbles (Alen Ramos, Bouchon)

Dessert was a very simple, yet satisfying dish. Sweet peaches were paired with a meringue and a foam with floral and lemon flavors. Light and refreshing.

As a parting gift, we were given earl grey and pistachio macarons as well as a canele.

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I thought the food overall was good, but not great, and didn’t meet the expectations suggested by previous 5×5 dinners or the $150 price tag. I just didn’t think anything really stood out, and flavors didn’t quite come together as well as anticipated. I understand that even with an all-star cast of chefs, dishes often don’t come out as refined during a one-night special event in a foreign kitchen – it won’t detract me from attending future 5×5 dinners. Plus, my experience was definitely made up for by the fact that Thomas Keller was there working the dining room. I just hope that leek & halibut dish doesn’t make its way anywhere near the Bocuse d’Or judges’ table.

Chef Keller signing an apron. An apron with a bunch of notable chef signatures happens to be a great conversation-starter.

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