Church & State – 2/12/10

Church & State
1850 Industrial St
Los Angeles, CA 90021

It’s been a while since my last post – unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of my recent dineLA excursions. The highlights were Jar and Chaya Downtown, Grace was pretty good, and both Morton’s and Ruth’s Chris were disappointing.

Church & State has been one of the most popular French bistros since it opened a little over a year ago. The kitchen is headed by Walter Manzke, formerly of Bastide and Patina. He brings with him fine dining expertise into a more casual, trendy bistro setting. The restaurant is located in an industrial part of the city, east of downtown..where you typically don’t want to be at night. The last time I went, it was at night for dinner, and you wonder where’s the best place to park your car on the street. However, on this occasion, we went for lunch (thanks to a BlackboardEats promo of 30% off).

The restaurant, with its tall glass windows, is housed on the ground floor of a historic building, now converted into lofts.


Purposefully, there’s not much to the interior. The open kitchen is to the left.

The menu is standard bistro fare, for the most part. A variety of tarts, escargot, moules frites, steak tartare, steak frites, and a variety of sandwiches and salads are all on the menu.

We decided to sample a couple of the appetizers and entrees.

Moules Marinière – Mussels, white wine, pommes frites, aïoli


A couple of the mussels were a little fishy, but most were good. The white wine sauce was delicious, especially with the fries. I think these are some of the best fries in the city, cooked in duck fat. Yum!

Rillettes de Porc – Berkshire pork, prune confiture


I’m usually not that keen on rillettes as I tend not to like cold meats. This one was not bad, with a nice accompanying plum sauce.

Steak Frites – French fries, sauce béarnaise

The bistro classic – steak and french fries. The steak was exceedingly tender, but it did not have a large beefy flavor that you would expect at a steakhouse. Cooked a nice medium-rare, I can see why this is one of their most popular dishes. The fries, again, are excellent.

Bouillabaisse – Provençal fish soup, prawns, mussels, clams

The bouillabaisse I thought was a little on the small side, especially compared to the steak. However, the seafood was fresh and cooked well. The prawn on top was excellent. Juicy and succulent, and perfectly cooked.

Chou de Bruxelles – Brussels sprouts, Medjool dates, chili

These brussels sprouts were pretty good, but nothing special. Lots of butter.

Pot de Crème au Chocolat – Caramel, hazelnut, fleur de sel

To finish, we had this thick chocolate pudding with caramel on top, as well as caramelized nuts, including hazelnuts. I feel like I’ve had a lot of chocolate puddings lately (most notably at Jar) and this was a good one. I really liked the caramel to go with it.

Overall I was pleased with my experience. For the most part, the food was executed very well. The mussels and steak frites were probably highlights for me…especially the fries. Service was good in the beginning, but really slowed as the restaurant got busier. They need more staff during the Friday lunchtime service. I would probably still say Bouchon is the best French bistro in town, but Church & State is a more laid-back and down-to-earth spot.

Craft – 1/5/09

Craft
10100 Constellation Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90067

Craft is probably best known for being one of Top Chef’s Tom Colicchio’s restaurants.  Tom Colicchio was a renowned chef before the TV show, making a name for himself in the New York restaurant scene with Gramercy Tavern. While many TV-celebrity chef restaurants are pretty underwhelming, I think Craft is one of the better ones. It’s located in Century City with a concentrated business crowd, especially during lunch. The interior is full of natural light, a slick and modern space.

On my last trip to Craft during the October 2009 DineLA series, each member of our party of 5 received a $10 dining certificate to join them another time. As I was the only one who actually lived in LA, I found myself with $50 to use at Craft on my next visit. We elected for the 3-course  prix fixe lunch. The first courses were an option of a soup of pasta. Below is the celery root purée.

I didn’t really care too much for this soup as it tasted too much like celery. I know, that’s the point right? But I had one at Bouchon recently and I enjoyed that one, as it brought about a much more subtle celery root flavor.

The other appetizer was a chestnut agnolotti. Definitely tasty, with the dough having a nice chew. The pasta dough was a little bit thick, however. A relatively smaller portion made you want one more bite.

The first entrée was a hangar steak. Nothing extraordinary about it, but it was good – cooked well with good flavor.

The other entrée was Maine lobster with lima beans and spinach. I liked this dish. Having had some pretty good lobster recently, I was kind of picky and thought the flesh was a little chewy. However, it was cooked well, and I enjoyed the accompanying spinach and beans.

Next up were desserts. The first was a cranberry crisp with cajeta ice cream (a Mexican caramel). I like that most of Craft’s desserts are served warm with ice cream, and I’ve had a couple of cobblers here before and enjoyed them. The crisp was good and warm with a nice crust, and the ice cream was definitely interesting – in a good way.

The other dessert was a sort of banana upside-down cake with banana ice cream. This dessert was definitely banana overload. The cake was nice and warm, and the ice cream was not overwhelmingly banana. However, I probably preferred the first dessert.

Craft is a pretty decent restaurant. I wouldn’t mind having another lunch or dinner here. Prices can be moderately high, however, so one might be better suited trying other restaurants first before coming back. This is my second time for lunch, and I’ve been once for dinner, and they’ve all been pretty enjoyable. The highlight to me are the meats – there’s a wide array of different meats on the menu.

Drago Centro – 12/8/09

Drago Centro
525 S Flower St. Suite 120
Los Angeles, CA 90071

Drago Centro has got to be, for me, one of the most frustrating restaurants in Los Angeles. Food-wise, it’s one of my favorites in LA. The pastas are just delicious, and their entrees and desserts have also been solid each time. However, it’s the service that kills me. It’s completely unpolished. It’s very inconsistent and frequently lacking – for a restaurant of this caliber, it falls way short.

I’ve eaten here 5 times now since it opened in November 2008, and have gotten a good picture of what to expect from the food and service.  I feel like the service is generally unpolished, but that you do get better service if you’re older and/or in a suit. The service was actually very good the one time I came with my parents, but has fallen flat each other time. Problems have been everything from inattentive waiters, forgetting wine pairings with food, and serving a dessert with bacon bits to someone who is a pescaterian (it was made known at the beginning of the meal).

On this latest occasion, 6 of us tried the new Eat & Run menu that debuted the Monday prior. The new 3-course menu for $25 is advertised as catered to the business crowd and is aimed at getting you in and out in around 30 minutes. In all, we were there for about 90 minutes. However, I will not rant here about the timing and service. The food is the showcase – the 3-course this day was:

le lattughe miste
mixed baby lettuces, shaved parmesan, red wine vinaigrette

la coda
braised oxtail, soft polenta

il tiramisu
individual tiramisu

The salad was simple and fresh. There were only three ingredients. Lettuce, parmesan and the vinaigrette. I tend to like salads like these to start meals, and the parmesan was a nice saltiness to the vinaigrette. 

Another in our party ordered a la carte and had the lobster bisque.

This was a rich and flavorful bisque, with a good lobster flavor that was not overpowering.

The main entree was the oxtail, which had a surprisingly generous portion of 3 oxtail chunks over soft polenta and a rich sauce.

This dish was delicious. The oxtail was nicely braised and tender with a rich sauce made from the braising liquid. The soft polenta was a nice complement as well, its soft texture mixing with the chewy, yet tender meat.

We also got an order of what has traditionally been my favorite dish at Drago Centro. The pappardelle with pheasant and morel mushrooms is one of my most memorable dishes of 2009.

It’s a very rich, creamy sauce with nice chunks of pheasant and homemade pappardelle. I remember the first time I had this it was so so good. Now, after I’ve had this each time I’ve had it, maybe I’ve gotten a little tired of it. It’s still quite tasty, but I can’t see myself eating a whole plate of it anymore. Still great for sharing.

For dessert came the tiramisu.

The problem with this tiramisu was the custard:lady finger ratio was way too high. See picture below.

There was very little in the way of the lady fingers. The custard was sweet and tasty, and probably could have been good on its own. However, as a tiramisu, I expected more lady fingers.

The decor is nice – tall ceilings and windows let in a lot of natural light.

There is an impressive wine tower as you walk in. All glass, it fits in with the decor.

The bar area is separated by the hostess stand and wine tower.

My overall impression of Drago Centro remains the same. The food is top-notch and some of the best in the city. You can go well with just some pastas (I like the pappardelle with pheasant and garganelli with sausage), or stick to one of the entrees (the branzino and osso bucco have both been good). The decor is nice and open. However, the service is really lacking and takes away from the whole experience.

Bouchon Beverly Hills – 11/21/09 and 11/22/09

Bouchon Beverly Hills
238 N Canon Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

For anyone that knows me fairly well, they know that I’m sort of..umm, well, obsessed with Thomas Keller. My first meal at French Laundry is still probably the most anxious I’ve ever been for a meal. In addition, Bouchon is one of my favorite casual restaurant picks in Las Vegas for simple, comforting food that hits the spot every time. And so when I found out Chef Keller was opening up a branch of Bouchon in LA over a year ago, I’ve been waiting for it ever since. I had been monitoring the food blogs and news for any bits of information that came out – expected opening date, the design of the restaurant, when they got their liquor license, when the reservation lines would open, etc. So when the reservation lines were set to open at 11am on Nov. 2, naturally, I was on the phone calling at 10:55am and was lucky enough to score two reservations on opening weekend!

I thought that the food  seemed to be pretty consistent with the other Bouchons (in Yountville and Las Vegas) where I’ve eaten. To start out with on both nights were the bread (baked in-house, slightly still warm) and white bean puree with crostini. I love the bread (Bouchon Bakery is one of my favorite bakeries) and the white bean puree was a nice touch, and good start to the meal.

Over the course of the two nights, we tried a variety of dishes. Appetizers first:

Celery root puree soup

The soup was tasty. Now, I don’t think ‘celery root puree’ is on the top of anyone’s lists of soups to try, and maybe that’s what made this a pleasant surprise. It had an earthy flavor with a little bit of cinnamon – my friend remarked that “it tasted like Thanksgiving.” How fitting!

Florentine quiche – There is a daily quiche each day, and it was a simple Florentine quiche on Sunday, which has spinach, eggs and cheese as the primary ingredients. The custard filling was very smooth and creamy, and the spinach was not overbearing. Overall, a very nice quiche.

Another of the daily appetizer specials was escargot covered in puff pastry.

I can’t say I’ve had a ton of experience with escargot, so I thought this was a great opportunity to broaden my escargot horizon. The puff pastry was interesting, but I don’t think it was necessary. The size of the pastry was larger than the escargot itself, and made fitting the whole piece in your mouth a little troublesome. The escargot was cooked in a pesto-like sauce with a lot of olive oil.  Pretty tasty.

Mussels and Oysters – Bouchon has an extensive seafood bar consisting of lobster, crab, shrimp, mussels, clams and oysters. There’s nothing exactly special with the seafood here – it’s quality seafood presented in a very simple manner. We decided to try some of the mussels and oysters. They were both good; however, there wasn’t anything that stood out about these over any reputable seafood restaurant’s offerings.

Next, on to the entrees:

Braised lamb shank

The presentation here is beautiful. The lamb shank was quite good, although it may have been a little dry compared to what I remember it being in Las Vegas. There was a lot of meat (which I like) and a knife was not really even necessary. Also, the lamb was not gamey at all.

Short rib

As can be seen, the short rib was a large square, a little different preparation that I’m accustomed to. However, it was rich and delicious. The accompanying Savoy cabbage was nice as well, soaking up the juices of the meat.

Steak frites

I think Bouchon has some of the best steak frites in the land. This is partially because I think these are some of the best french fries. They’re cut and shaped similar to McDonalds’ with a good ratio of crispy outside to fluffy inside, and seasoned with just salt. Just like that. Good stuff. The steak is a flatiron with a caramelized onion topping and a compound herb butter.

Sauteed gnocchi – This is the only vegetarian entree on the menu (though, there are various vegetarian options elsewhere on the menu), and there’s nothing really special about this. It’s served with various vegetables and a butter sauce. Simply made, but I can see someone getting tired of it after a few bites.

Roasted chicken

The roast chicken here is really good. I don’t really order chicken very often, but it was probably the most surprising dish.  It was moist, juicy and flavorful, and the jus adds an extra flavor boost. I’m not totally sure how this is prepared, but it’s a great example of a successful roasted chicken.

Finally, dessert. Always save room for dessert when coming to Bouchon – it’s not to be missed!

Pistachio Pot de Creme – There is a daily custard, which was pistachio on this night. The custard was nice and smooth, sweet with a good pistachio flavor.

Profiteroles

These are basically “cream puffs” stuffed with homemade vanilla ice cream and topped with a Valrhona chocolate  sauce.  Each of these parts are executed perfectly, and the resulting dish is just delicious. My favorite dessert here.

Bouchons

The bouchons are a signature dish (cork-sized brownies, essentially) with homemade vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce (the same ice cream and sauce used in the profiteroles). For some reason, the bouchons seem to taste better alone, when purchased from the bakery. I’m not sure why, but even though this is a tasty dish in itself, it seems to be less than the sum of its parts. I recommend trying to get the bouchons alone to snack on later.

The service was professional and on-point – quick but not hurried. Impressive for a brand new restaurant – the service was without a glitch. The staff really seems to genuinely be happy to be there..and hey, who can blame them – the TK Restaurant Group is really a special group to be a part of.

I was lucky enough to get a kitchen tour which was just incredible. Love it. The staff was open to any questions one may have about the kitchen, and it was an experience witnessing the whole kitchen in motion. There’s a live camera feed to the Bouchon Yountville, similar to the Per Se – French Laundry setup. It was a really nice treat to a great meal.

The kitchen looking straight ahead – notice the Bouchon live feed in the background, and Chef de Cuisine Rory Hermann on the right in the middle.

The kitchen looking to the left.

The kitchen looking to the right.

Overall I had a great experience here. I would say Bouchon is probably my favorite casual-ish dining place in LA, and I will be back.