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

cocktails

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.

bread

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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Scarpetta (Beverly Hills, CA)

Scarpetta
Montage Beverly Hills
225 North Canon Dr.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Dining date: 10/13/11

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This was my first visit back for dinner since my truffle-laden opening night experience (though I did visit for brunch last month). This meal would be a lot different, for sure, as DineLA brought me back. The menu looked promising with both the polenta and spaghetti offered, though I was disappointed to see the spaghetti as an entree offering (I could’ve sworn it was originally an appetizer when the menu first came out). 5 appetizers, 4 entrees and 3 dessert choices were available at a set $44. I went for the polenta, branzino and panna cotta, and was also able to sneak some bites of a few other dishes.

Bread service was pretty good with a variety of breads and accoutrements including an eggplant caponata, marscapone butter, and a citrus-infused olive oil.

bread

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As far as the breads go, the most interesting was this hearty stromboli with salami and cheese.

stromboli

Onto the first courses:

CREAMY POLENTA fricassee of truffled mushrooms

polenta

Not quite as decadent as the white truffle-laden version I had last time, it was still a very delicious dish. The polenta was tasty on its own; warm and comforting, light and creamy. So rich, clearly there was a generous amount of cheese and/or butter in here. The mushrooms added an earthy depth of flavor that really went well. I tasted no truffle flavor as advertised, though.

PUREE OF EGGPLANT SOUP sicilian spiced lamb ragu, baby tomatoes & ricotta dumplings

soup

Puree of eggplant. Interesting. Not something I would typically order, but I got a chance to try someone else’s. Pretty good actually, the lamb really added a savory richness to the dish.

SPAGHETTI tomato & basil

spaghetti

The classic. I’ve had this in each of my previous visits so I didn’t order it again, opting for the branzino instead. I think everyone enjoyed it though.

GRILLED MEDITERRANEAN BRANZINO saffron-cipollini puree, fresh ceci beans, calamari & tomato marmalade

branzino

I liked the crispy charred skin; it had a subtle smokiness that I thought went well with the moist flesh. The squid added some chewy texture, while I thought the tomato added a welcome light acidity. The saffron-cipollini puree provided a little bit of savory sweetness.

ORGANIC ROASTED CHICKEN kabocha squash puree, caramelized cabbage, fegato & parmigiano emulsion

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SHORT RIB AGNOLOTTI garlic chips, toasted breadcrumbs & horseradish

agnolotti

A well-made pasta, this one was al dente but felt very delicate. The short rib was a pretty meaty filling, while the breadcrumbs added some subtle texture.

VANILLA CARAMEL BUDINO gianduja chocolate sable cookies

vanilla caramel budino

COCONUT PANNA COTTA guava soup & caramelized pineapple

coconut panna cotta

I thought this was excellent. The coconut flavors were clear and pronounced in the ice cream and light panna cotta, while the guava soup provided a complementary fruit flavor. The pineapple added more fruit and sweetness, without making this dessert overly sweet. Everything came together so well.

A second visit to Scarpetta for dinner was a good one. Clearly, much better than my brunch visit a month ago. Though this meal wasn’t quite as interesting and unique as the first visit, it wasn’t trying to be. The food was actually more comforting and somewhat homey…the polenta and spaghetti were clearly in that boat. Most importantly, I found the food to be well-executed and quite tasty. Is it my favorite Italian restaurant in LA? Quite possibly (though I still need to visit a few other spots, Angelini Osteria being one of them).

Previous Scarpetta posts:
Opening night | Brunch

Fogo de Chao (Beverly Hills, CA)

Fogo de Chao
133 N La Cienega Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
Dining date: 10/10/11

fogo exterior

Fogo de Chao is a Brazilian chain of churrascarias – restaurants that roast meats on open fires, a tradition that reflects the native gaucho way of life. Here in America, they’re often all-you-can-eat and offer a wide variety of meats. Fogo de Chao is one of the higher-end chains with an all-you-can eat set price of $57 dollars per person for dinner ($35 for lunch).

Whereas some restaurants serve smaller portions for DineLA or create separate menus (with higher-margin dishes), Fogo de Chao does something rather unique – the restaurant drops the price of their regular meal to match DineLA. As far as I know, it’s exactly the same experience, and the lunch options are the same as dinner. I had the Columbus Day holiday off, so it was a perfect time to come. At the $28 DineLA lunch price, it ended up being about half the cost of a regular dinner. Score!

At the beginning of the meal (and throughout), guests are invited to help themselves at an extensive salad bar. There’s dozens of items available, from a bunch of salads and vegetable options to smoked salmon and even a wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Personally, I try to keep these items to a minimum on my plate, instead saving stomach room for more meat.

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Gaucho chefs roam the dining room carrying large skewers (swords?) with various cuts of beef, lamb, chicken and pork (around 15 different varieties). Each diner has a card with a green side and a red side – show the green side and the chefs will come to the table offering their selection; show the red side to signal a break. Meats are carved tableside straight to the plate.

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A few side dishes automatically come to the table as the meat service begins.

Seasoned mashed potatoes

potatoes

Caramelized bananas

bananas

Crispy polenta

polenta

Unfortunately, I think they forgot to give us one more side – warm cheese bread. The sides were solid though nothing special. I tend to like a starchy side such as mashed potatoes with my meat, so these came in handy.

PICANHA Our signature cut, this prime part of the sirloin is served seasoned with sea salt or flavored with garlic.

picanha

A nice medium-rare piece, the key here was to get an end cut. The crusty exterior had a nice garlicky and salty flavor which really complemented the meat.

FILET MIGNON This succulent piece of meat is cut from the tenderloin and seasoned to perfection.

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This was cooked medium-well. Of course, the tenderloin is one of the worst cuts to overcook and I found this expectantly dry and mealy.

Wrapped in bacon.

filet bacon

I didn’t try this particular one; a previous experience was unmemorable. However, I heard it was better than the previous filet cut this time around.

ALCATRA Cut from the top sirloin this piece of meat is tender and full of flavor.

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Another sirloin cut – quite good, though I enjoyed the picanha a little bit more.

FRALDINHA Cut from the bottom sirloin and seasoned to perfection.

bottom sirloin

This was one of my favorites of the meal..it looked kinda like brisket. Really tender, juicy and flavorful – I think I had 3-4 servings of this one.

Garlic beef

garlic beef

The garlic flavor was subtle, but like all of the other sirloin cuts, this was tender and had a lot of beefy flavor.

BEEF ANCHO The prime part of the rib eye, beef ancho celebrates the rich flavor and the delectable texture of this elite cut.

ribeye

Hard to go wrong with a ribeye when it’s cooked well, and this was a fine example. The other two in the party preferred this ribeye over CUT‘s domestic Prime ribeye (which costs twice as much as this whole meal). Bold words. I couldn’t quite agree, but this was a good piece and presented a lot more value.

CORDEIRO Fresh, leg of lamb sliced right off the bone.

leg lamb

Not bad. My piece was cooked more than I preferred, but the flavors were there. Not overly gamey.

In chop form.

lamb chop

Overcooked, dry.

PORCO Tender pork loin encrusted with parmesan cheese.

pork tenderloin

Maybe my least-liked meat of the meal, this was just way overcooked.

Pork ribs.

pork rib

This pork was much better with a crusty exterior bark and tender, rich meat. A really nice smokiness was imbued into the pork as well.

FRANGO Succulent chicken legs and tender chicken breast medallions wrapped in bacon.

chicken

A surprise of the meal. These were really good; a smoky flavor really came through with each bite of meat.

Chicken breast wrapped in bacon.

chicken bacon

Like the filet wrapped in bacon, I passed on this one too.

LINGUICA Robust pork sausages seasoned and slow-roasted to mouth-watering perfection.

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Solid sausage.

COSTELA Tender, juicy beef ribs cooked slowly to preserve their rich natural flavors.

beef rib

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I don’t think these regularly come around – apparently you have to request it. A fantastic beef rib – rich, succulent piece of meat with a good beefy flavor and a crispy exterior. Very tender..

Desserts are regularly a la carte, but they were included for DineLA. Something sweet was actually a nice way to end this heavy and rich meal.

New York Cheesecake

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Key Lime Pie

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Tres Leches Cake

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I went for the tres leches. Not bad. Pretty sweet, but not overly so, with a really moist cake (no doubt aided by the milks).

Service was actually pretty attentive and repeatedly asked if everything was good. If we wanted a certain cut of meat, the servers were quick to send over the right gaucho chef with the meat.

Was Fogo de Chao the best DineLA deal? I didn’t try enough of the restaurants to say anything like that, but this lunch had to be up there. I think this was a steal for $28. There were some inconsistencies in the temperatures of some meats (a number were pretty overcooked) but I easily overlooked this at that price point. The quality of other cuts more than made up for it. Many times, a second serving of a previously-overcooked meat was much better. At the regular dinner price of $57, I’d probably have different standards. Still, there was a very wide variety of delicious meats and that’s hard to complain about.

Scarpetta Brunch (Beverly Hills, CA)

Scarpetta Beverly Hills
Montage Beverly Hills
225 North Canon Dr.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Dining date: 9/25/11

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I haven’t been back to Scarpetta since the opening night truffle tasting dinner last October, one of my most memorable meals last year. It’s not that I didn’t want to, but there have been so many other dining options as distractions. So, when my parents came to town and wanted to try their brunch, it was an opportune time to come back.

The brunch is served buffet-style, $68 including non-alcoholic drinks. Not cheap, but it’s a nice restaurant in a nice hotel. The food options feature a few dishes that can regularly be found on Scarpetta’s dinner menu, as well as a whole range of what I’d call standard brunch fare. Representing Scarpetta were a couple of crudo dishes and a couple of pastas, including the famed spaghetti. Other brunch items varied from breads and salads to omelettes and waffles, to a seafood and sushi bar, and a carving station featuring prime rib and leg of lamb.

For my stomach space, I focused in on the pastas, meats and seafood. There’s no way I’m filling up on pancakes or waffles when it could be prime rib, crab claws or spaghetti…but that’s just me.

Live music, a nice touch.

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Assorted Breads and Pastries

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Caramelized Cauliflower toasted almonds, fried capers

cauliflower

Grilled Asparagus parmigiano, hazelnuts

asparagus

Grilled Zucchini hard boiled eggs, gremolata breadcrumbs

zucchini

Fagolini & Potatoes pickled onions

fagoli

Roasted Beets ricotta salata, pistachios

beets

Marinated Mushrooms thyme, toasted fennel salad

mushroom

Mixed Green Salad oregano vinaigrette

salad

Citrus Cured Salmon lemon, dill, horseradish

salmon

Tuna “Susci” lemon, olive oil

tuna

Shellfish: Kumiai oysters, Snow crab legs, Shrimp cocktail

seafood

Assorted Italian Meats

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Customized Omelette Station

omelette

French Toast

french toast

Pancakes

pancakes

Waffles

waffles

Assorted Sushi

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Assorted Cheeses

cheese

Sliders

sliders

Macaroni & Cheese

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French Fries

french fries

Chicken Tenders

chicken tenders

Spaghetti tomato & basil

spaghetti

Ricotta Ravolini baby stewed tomatoes

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Prime Rib barolo reduction & horseradish

prime rib

Leg of Lamb minted salsa verde

lamb

I started in on the cold dishes first – the crudo, sushi and seafood. I thought the crudo and seafood were both good, while the sushi was unmemorable (my first sushi at an Italian restaurant?). I particularly enjoyed the crab claws – big, meaty and sweet. Between the two crudo I might’ve preferred the citrusy salmon, but they were both good.

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My mom started with a customized omelette as well as some of the cold dishes.

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I went for a “pasta course” next. The pastas were made frequently in small batches (approx. every 5 minutes) so as to keep them fresh at all times. I swear I heard “Fire spaghetti!” every time I walked into the kitchen. I thought the spaghetti was pretty close to what I remember for dinner service, which I was happy about. Like the carving station, the pasta station was constantly manned by a chef for quality control. I’ve never had the ravolini for dinner before. I found the pasta itself to be nice, but the sauce to be very runny.

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My next plate went in for some meats, more seafood and a few miscellaneous brunch items. I requested medium-rare for both meats and got it, and I thought they were both done well. The other items on my plate were mediocre – dry, bland sausage and soggy French fries.

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Back for more spaghetti.

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An impressive array of desserts were on offer from Montage Pastry chef Richard Ruskell, some of which I was able to try at The Taste. Really liked the variety here, and everything was sized to sample.

Assorted Desserts

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No way can I recall everything, but we were able to make a (very) small dent into the offerings. If a to-go bag was an option, I would’ve gone to town here. Unfortunately, I was running short on room in my stomach.

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My mom’s plate: bombolini, cookies, fruit tart and a panna cotta.

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I went for three desserts in a glass, from left to right: salted caramel budino, tiramisu and a spicy chocolate pudding with tapioca. I was quite pleased by all three of these, with my favorite probably being the tiramisu.

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My dad opted for more chocolate-based desserts including a tart, layered cake, cookies and a yuzu meringue tart.

Scarpetta’s brunch was good, but not great. For $68 I was expecting a little bit more, especially since the price doesn’t include any alcohol. Going in, I thought this would be a good way to get a taste of Scarpetta in a more casual setting, but it’s a very different experience. I felt this was more like “Brunch at the Montage” rather than “Brunch at Scarpetta” as the restaurant’s representation was less than I anticipated. The dishes unique to Scarpetta were very solid; I just wish there were more. The menu online, as well as previous reviews, had additional offerings (whole-roasted branzino, yellowtail crudo) so I was disappointed to see they may have cut back. It’s unfortunate since I’ve experienced first-hand that this restaurant has much more to offer. I’ll surely be back, but I’m sticking to dinner.

CUT (Beverly Hills, CA)

CUT
Beverly Wilshire Hotel
9500 Wilshire Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA 90212
Dining date: 9/1/11

cut menu

When asked what my favorite steakhouse is, CUT has been my answer since first dining here over 4 years ago. While it’s been years since I’ve been to CUT, I’ve been reminded of their food at each American Wine & Food Festival. They’ve always had some of the best things to eat (which is saying a lot for that festival), including last year’s American wagyu New York with Maine lobster and black truffles. Given that festival is now defunct, what better time to revisit CUT and reassess if it’s still my favorite steakhouse.

Not only do I think they have the best steak, but I’ve also found the restaurant to be surprisingly well-rounded for a steakhouse….I could see why they were awarded a Michelin star in the latest guide. The appetizer menu typically has some interesting items such as a bone marrow flan, veal tongue salad, or oxtail bouillon.

The variety of beef is also some of the best I’ve seen in an LA steakhouse.

raw meat

Various domestic USDA Prime cuts of beef are available, but what separates CUT is the American wagyu (above, left) and 100% wagyu from Australia (above, right). My last trip to CUT was actually when I got my first taste of Japanese wagyu beef. Sadly, it’s no longer available due to the disease that crippled the breed last year, but the Australian wagyu is still something special (and at $20+ per ounce, definitely a splurge).

cut interior

Breadsticks

breadsticks

Gougères

gougeres

Compliments of the kitchen, these light “cheese balls” were quite nice. The cheese was somewhat subtle but present, and was just enough to whet the appetite.

Bone Marrow Flan, Mushroom Marmalade, Parsley Salad

marrow

This sounded irresistible on the menu and it didn’t disappoint. The bone marrow flan had the savory richness of bone marrow, yet in a lighter custard form. I don’t always love bone marrow straight (too heavy), so this was an ideal vehicle for it. The mushroom sauce added extra richness and depth.

Butter Lettuce, Avocado, Point Reyes Blue Cheese, Champagne-Herb Vinaigrette

salad

Austrian Oxtail Bouillon, Chervil, Bone Marrow Dumplings

oxtail

This was a hearty soup with a deep flavor somewhere between beef and chicken. I don’t think it was purely an oxtail-based broth, but I’m not sure. Loved the chunks of rich oxtail meat, as well as the light bone marrow dumplings.

After much consideration, we opted not to get any wagyu and just stick to the domestic ribeyes.

Bone In Rib Eye Steak 20 Oz U.S.D.A. PRIME, Illinois Corn Fed, Aged 21 Days

steak1

Rib Eye Steak 16 Oz U.S.D.A. PRIME, Nebraska Corn Fed, Dry Aged 35 Days

steak2

steak3

Honestly I thought the differences between these two ribeyes were subtle. Both were excellent, displaying a wonderful crusty, charred sear as well as a juicy, pink interior. The meat was beefy for sure, succulent and tender. I enjoyed every last bite. I thought my steak was cooked just right (medium-rare, above), though one person thought their ‘medium’ was a bit underdone.

We ordered three sides to go with the steaks. These were all served family-style and portioned out at the table. I found all of them to be pretty good, but nothing special. They’re meant to be simple.

Cavatappi Pasta “Mac & Cheese” Quebec Cheddar

mac cheese

At $19, this was easily the most expensive truffle-less mac & cheese dish I’ve ever had. For sure a solid mac & cheese, but not as memorable as the price tag would suggest.

Creamed Spinach with Fried Organic Egg

creamed spinach

I don’t really recall where the fried egg was, but it might’ve been chopped finely into the creamed spinach. Similar to the mac & cheese, it was good but I’m not in a rush to order it again.

Yukon Gold Potato Puree

mashed potatoes

The last side order was a ‘must’ for me – a simple mashed potatoes (I just love mashed potatoes with steak). Very rich and creamy, there must’ve been a generous amount of butter and cream.

Dark Chocolate Soufflé, Whipped Crème Fraiche, Gianduja Chocolate Ice Cream

souffle

I thought this was quite good. Served hot, the souffle had a little bit of the bitterness characteristic of dark chocolate. The gianduja ice cream (chocolate-hazelnut) added the bulk of the sweetness and, combined with the whipped creme fraiche, created some pretty rich, creamy mouthfuls.

Mignardises

mignardises

CUT reaffirmed my opinion of it being the top steakhouse in the city. The steaks at CUT were top-notch and although the sides weren’t anything special, I don’t think they were trying to be. While many debate the merits of Mastro’s steaks, I really don’t think there’s much of a comparison. The food at CUT is much more well-rounded, and the variety and quality of beef far superior. I will say that, unfortunately, it is also quite a bit more expensive though.

Urasawa (Beverly Hills, CA)

Urasawa
218 N Rodeo Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Dining date: 6/18/11

Urasawa was the perfect meal to cap off an already-memorable food week, starting with Taste of the Nation, and including a dinner with Thomas Keller at Bouchon. I love this restaurant, and it’s always my response to people who ask what my favorite restaurant in LA is.

sign

I’d been planning a return trip ever since my last visit in September. Even though the price has since climbed to $375 (spurned by the strength of the yen) and worries of radiation persist, it doesn’t look like there’s been a significant slowdown in business. Hiro assured us a couple of times that the Japanese fish he uses comes from the southern part of the country, only. Some varieties come from other places in the world, notably the tuna from Spain.

I can’t say I’ve tried a lot of sushi outside of California, but from what I have had, Urasawa clearly stands above the rest.

We started with a bottle of NV Veuve Clicquot Brut.

veuve

Temaki – seaweed, half cooked shrimp, shiso leaf, plum sauce

temaki

The shrimp was left still raw, leaving a soft spongy texture. The plum sauce lended both sweet and tart flavors.

Seared toro, monkfish liver, caviar, yuzu dressing

toro monkfish liver

Urasawa always has some rendition of this dish. Some of the best things of the sea are combined with terrific results. The richness of the liver and toro are complemented by the cool, acidic yuzu and salty caviar.

Yuba, sea urchin, wasabi, bonito, soy sauce

yuba uni

This was a completely new dish for me. Delicate, with a nice blend of flavors – earthy soy and sesame, as well as bonito and sea urchin from the sea.

plating

Sashimi – toro, red snapper, spanish mackerel, red cabbage, nori

sashimi1

sashimi2

As usual, sashimi comes on carefully crafted ice sculptures, complete with pink or blue flowers (differentiated for male or female diners). This was the first dish where the quality of fish was at the forefront. Really nice examples of each, with the toro being my favorite.

Chawanmushi – italian summer truffles, russian caviar, bonito, gingko nut, shiitake mushroom

chawanmushi

Earth and sea flavors were showcased here, with the truffle and caviar flavors the most prominent. I really liked the silky smooth egg custard too.

I was sitting directly below the A/C so I was freezing during the first few dishes. Unlike the water, hot green tea is “free,” so I went to town on this.

green tea

Tempura squid

tempura squid

tempura sauce

Here was Urasawa’s version of fried calamari, in a way. The tempura batter was expectantly light, and the tender piece of squid was delicious.

Hoba yaki – scallop, prawn, abalone, hoba yaki leaf, egg yolk and miso-based sauce

seafood2

<seafood1

I’m always fearful of food that continues to cook in front of you, as I often find the pieces I eat last have been overcooked. Somehow, that wasn’t a problem here – the seafood was perfectly cooked. However, I found the delicate fish to be somewhat overwhelmed by the mildly sweet, rich sauce.

Shabu shabu – foie gras, king eel, red snapper

shabu1

shabu2

The foie gras was extraordinary. Really…more so than in previous visits for some reason. Urasawa also demonstrated that the king eel is actually eaten bone-in, but that he cuts the bone so thinly you can’t tell. Good for calcium, he says. Afterwards, we sipped on the soup we created.

A green plate and a dish of ginger signaled the start of sushi service, made and eaten one at a time.

ginger

The wine transitioned to a Beringer 2008 Private Reserve Chardonnay. Really liked the upfront oak flavors of this wine, with a sort of vanilla-like finish.

beringer

Toro

toro

We started with a heavy hitter – Urasawa’s toro is the best Ive ever had. Rich and fatty (the color says it all), it was silky smooth and melted in my mouth.

Seared toro

seared toro

This was similar to the previous, though from the collar portion. Again, really tender with a subtle smoky flavor.

Spanish mackerel

spanish mackerel

A little bit of resistance in this mackerel, but still tender and flavorful.

Red snapper

red snapper

I thought this red snapper had a brighter, cleaner flavor. Again, teeth not required.

Bluefin tuna

bluefin

Mmm bluefin tuna.

Skipjack tuna

skipjack

A little bit of chew here, and mild in flavor.

Squid

squid

Similar to the tempura version, there was a delicate chew here, and the fish was brightened by some yuzu citrus.

Shiitake mushroom

shitake

I liked the shitake on this visit better than previous ones. Deep, earthy flavor and good change of pace.

Uni

uni

So good. So soft, with a clean sea flavor. Interestingly, Urasawa used Hokkaido uni for kaiseki dishes, and Santa Barbara uni for sushi preparation.

Chu-toro

chutoro

Back to more tuna with some medium-fatty toro. Silky, soft and delicious.

Giant clam

giant clam

Chewy but not overly so, and not fishy at all.

Shrimp

shrimp

There were probably over a dozen of these small shrimp that make up one piece of nigiri. Soft, sweet, and delicious.

Gizzard shad

gizzard shad

Tender, with a mildly fishy, oily flavor.

Toro, scallion, pickled radish

toro roll

I wish I had a hand roll of this. The delicious toro was heightened by some fresh scallion and crunchy radish.

Abalone

abalone

Chewy and sweet.

Sweet shrimp shrimp brain soy sauce

sweet shrimp1

sweet shrimp2

One of my favorite pieces, prepared fresh from the tank. A delightful mouthfeel with these shrimp, chewy and springy and very sweet.

Chopped spanish mackerel, ginger, scallion, miso, shiso, ginger

mackerel

A lot of complementary flavors and really tasty.

Sea eel

sea eel

So tender, with a nice rich, sweet sauce.

Sponge Cake

cake

Like a very moist cake, this is a nice transition out of the savory sushi and into dessert.

Grapefruit jelly, goji berry, blueberry, blackberry, strawberry, raspberry, papaya

<fruit jelly

Light, refreshing, and tart. I would have liked something here to be a little bit sweeter, though.

Sesame ice cream, black truffle, red bean, gold flake

ice cream truffle

Holy crap. Wow. I’d never seen this before, and it was amazing. The rich, creamy nuttiness of the ice cream really paired well with the earthy black truffles, with just a little bit of sweetness from the red bean. It kind of reminded me of the chocolate sauce that hardens into a shell when it touches ice cream. Except way better.

A bowl of bitter matcha green tea was a perfect pairing.

matcha1

matcha2

Hojicha

tea

Finally, a roasted green tea to finish off the meal.

This meal at Urasawa was another fantastic one. Is it worth the money? I think so, at least once in a while. The food is simple and traditional, letting the high quality of the ingredients speak for themselves. Urasawa’s serious dedication to the craft and affable, humorous personality creates a memorable experience in itself. I’m already planning a return visit, hopefully in January for hairy crab season.

group photo