Moreton Fig – 11/8/10

Moreton Fig
Ronald Tutor Campus Center at USC
3607 Trousdale Parkway
Los Angeles, CA 90089

When I first heard that Bradley Ogden’s restaurant group, Lark Creek, would be opening up a restaurant on the USC campus, I did a double-take. It seemed a little random that Lark Creek, based in the SF Bay Area, would make its first foray into Los Angeles within a college campus. Alas, it was true, and I eagerly awaited its opening.

Nevermind that this opening reinforces the reputation that USC students are rich, spoiled kids (it’s not true!), I was glad to see a legitimate fine dining option come to USC. When I was in undergrad a few years back, campus dining was limited to a variety of fast-food options and only one sit-down restaurant (Upstairs Commons). When we wanted a “nice” meal, we often found ourselves going to the nearest CPK in downtown…which got very tiring. Since then, the entire USC Campus Center has been remodeled and the dining options have been upgraded big time. In my mind, Moreton Fig is the highlight.

Tonight was the first night of dinner service, though the restaurant has been open a little while for lunch. We started with an assortment of breads.

Monterey calamari with squid ink linguine, jalapeno pesto, extra virgin olive oil


We started very strong with this dish. The pasta had a good al dente texture, but the squid was the star. Tender and flavorful, these were exceptional. A little bit of heat heightened the dish as well.

Yankee Pier New England clam chowder with dill drop biscuits


This chowder was rich, but not overly thick – a nice consistency. I really enjoyed the flavor and the chewy bites of clams dispersed throughout.

BBQ chicken tamale, cilantro cream sauce


This was an interesting interpretation of a tamale. A corn “pancake” was topped with barbecue chicken and a sort of guacamole. The barbecue sauce was not overly rich or overwhelming, though I would have appreciated a little more corn flavor out of the tamale/pancake.

Ahi tuna “crudo” with black olive, fennel pollen, orange powder, chili


This dish didn’t really work for me. I thought the black olives overpowered the thin slices of tuna..and everything else really.

Seared Pacific sturgeon, beluga lentils, cippolini onions, salsa verde


The sturgeon had an almost spongy texture and was very moist. Good flavor. The beluga lentils (get it?) were a welcome touch, adding some body and more depth of flavor.

Roasted steelhead salmon, sauteed rapini, shallots, meyer lemon


I thought the salmon was a little undercooked for my tastes, but it was very moist. The rapini was a good accompaniment. Flavors were definitely there.

Pan roasted duck breast, onion soubise, cavalo nero, Medjool dates, verjus


I really liked the presentation of this half-duck with its crispy skin on top. I thought the duck was a little undercooked for me though, yielding meat that was a little chewy. However, it was still a tasty dish – it just took a little more chewing.

Lark Creek classic Yankee Pot Roast with young turnips, red chard and grated horseradish


Next was this pot roast. Very tender and with good flavor, though not unlike a typical pot roast.

We ordered a couple of sides to eat with our entrees.

Big duck fat fries

 

These fat fries remind me of the fries my grandmother used to make. These were confited in duck fat then flash fried. They were fluffy and tender on the inside, but I thought they could’ve been a tad bit crispier on the outside. Still very good.

Roasted brussel sprouts

Simple brussel sprouts roasted and brushed with butter. Tasty.

Lark Creek butterscotch pudding, creme chantilly, pecan wedding cookie


Onto dessert! The butterscotch pudding was really nice – not overly sweet nor rich, with a good butterscotch flavor. I liked the chantilly creme, as it added a pleasant lightness and sweetness.

Valrhona chocolate cake, pistachio gelato, pistachio dust


This chocolate cake was very much like a chocolate muffin. I wanted this to be a little more moist, and not so crumbly. The pistachio ice cream was good though.

My impression of Moreton Fig is of a restaurant that serves upscale food within a comfort zone. Perhaps not as dynamic or imaginative as other Lark Creek/Bradley Ogden restaurants, but I understand that it also needs to serve a college student clientele. The food is solid and well thought-out, and definitely fits a niche among the dining options on campus. This has to be some of the best food ever offered at USC, and I expect Moreton Fig to soon attract diners from around the city.

JiRaffe – 10/13/10

JiRaffe
502 Santa Monica Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401

I’d been hearing a lot about JiRaffe over the past few years, so it was about time I dropped by to try it out. Helmed by chef Raphael Lunetta, the restaurant has been around for almost 15 years, consistently garnering very positive reviews. DineLA was still going on, which is always the perfect excuse to try something new. Combine this with some intriguing DineLA menu items, and we were on our way!

We were first served an amuse bouche of a wild mushroom soup.

Warm and comforting, the soup had a very strong mushroom flavor. It was kind of like a mini cappuccino in color, especially with the froth on top. I don’t think I could drink a whole bowl of this, but it was tasty in a small ‘shot.’

Crispy Potato Wrapped Big-Eye Ahi Tuna roasted tomato ginger chutney, shaved baby Asian salad, radish and lime soya chili vinaigrette

This was sort of like a “tuna wellington” with the rare tuna wrapped by thin, crispy layers of potato. I enjoyed the textural component of the crispy potato, and the tuna was quite nice. The tomato-ginger chutney was interesting, adding a little bit of acidity and additional flavors to the dish.

Pistachio Crusted Hudson Valley Foie Gras sweet and sour confit of baby tomatoes, caramelized mango, toasted brioche, roasted shallots,  Tahitian vanilla/mango verjus

Next we had a generous lobe of foie gras, cooked perfectly – seared on the outside, and a tender, melt-in-your-mouth interior. The pistachio added nuttiness and some crunch to the dish, with the mango – perfectly ripe – adding a sweetness to cut through the rich liver. Underneath, a toasted brioche added an additional textural element. Wonderful.

Alaskan Halibut English pea puree, blistered red and yellow grape tomatoes, Maui onion and herb infused black truffle-sherry vinaigrette

This was a beautifully-plated dish, with the halibut being the center of attention. Like the foie gras, the halibut was perfectly cooked, moist and flaky. The pea puree and tomatoes both added some sweetness, and were delicious on their own. The onions and vinaigrette added a little acidity and depth of flavor.

Prime Filet of Beef warm fork-smashed fingerling potato salad, roasted tomatoes, shisito peppers, watercress, and a white wine-shiitake mushroom sauce

There were a number of components to this dish. The beef was cooked to a very nice medium rare, and the filet was characteristically tender. The tomato, while not entirely necessary on the plate, was sweet and juicy – a topping of toasted breadcrumbs added some texture. I enjoyed the addition of the spicy arugula, as well as the potatoes.

Chocolate Lava Cake

This lava cake didn’t really have as ‘molten’ of a center as I expected. Chocolate did not leak out of the cake as it was cut into, though the interior of the cake was very moist. Still, the flavors were there. The whipped cream added a nice lightness to the dish.

Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake

This pudding cake had a nice toffee flavor without being overbearing. Served mildly warm, the cold ice cream was a very nice accompaniment. I also liked the chopped nuts on top for some bite.

In all, this was a very good meal. There were no disappointing dishes, and the food was executed very well. Many of the plates brought together very familiar ingredients, though Chef Lunetta was able to keep them interesting. One drawback, however, was the slow service. It was polite and quick-responsive when we actually did get the server’s attention, so I don’t think it detracted too much from the meal. However, it was noticeably slow.

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.