Naomi Pomeroy @ Paiche (Marina Del Rey, CA)

Naomi Pomeroy (Beast)
Paiche
13488 Maxella Ave
Marina del Rey, CA 90292
Dining date: 3/26/13

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While it seems like downtown’s Mo-Chica is still a relatively new restaurant, chef Ricardo Zarate and Stephane Bombet (Picca, Mo-Chica) are about to unleash their newest concept Paiche in Marina Del Rey. Dubbed a Peruvian izakaya, the team is bringing Zarate’s Peruvian style closer to the water. I haven’t seen a menu of the new place, though a preview (and what appears to be a few old favorites and a bunch of new creations) is here.

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In order to celebrate the grand opening (April 2), Paiche teamed up with Food GPS on a couple of one-night collaborative dinner events featuring a number of past Food & Wine Best New Chefs. The first dinner hosted Naomi Pomeroy of Beast in Portland (2009 Best New Chef) on a 5-course, $52 affair. The second night brought in Jamie Bissonnette of Coppa and Toro in Boston (2011 Best New Chef) and Viet Pham of Forage in Salt Lake City (2011 Best New Chef) on a 6-courser for $62.

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The Restaurant at Meadowood @ Animal (Los Angeles, CA)

Cooking with Friends: Christopher Kostow (The Restaurant at Meadowood)
Animal Restaurant
435 N Fairfax Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Dining date: 1/14/13

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New for 2013, the team behind the ever-popular Animal began a series of dinners called “Cooking with Friends” in which a guest chef would join for one night and cook a collaborative dinner, with a portion of proceeds going to the chef’s choice. I’m always intrigued by meals like this as it provides an opportunity to try something unique, particularly if it’s an out-of-town chef.

For this first dinner, the guest chef was Christopher Kostow of the Michelin three-star The Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena, CA. My only visit to the restaurant was at the tail end of 2009, and was actually one of the meals that inspired this blog’s creation. Given Meadowood’s accolades and reputation for serving a highly-refined, super-seasonal/local type of dining, the restaurant was packed for the one-night dinner. I was very excited for this one.

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The eight-course menu was priced at $135 and the beneficiary of this dinner was Cancer for College, a charity that provides college scholarships to cancer survivors.

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5×5 Chefs Collaborative @ ink. (Los Angeles, CA)

5×5 Chefs Collaborative Dinner
ink.

8360 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90069
Dining date: 9/16/12

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This past weekend was the final 5×5 Collaborative Dinner of the season. I was lucky enough to attend 3 of the 5 dinners, which were some of my most anticipated dinners in LA this year. For this final dinner at Michael Voltaggio’s ink., the guest chef was scheduled to be Chris Cosentino (Incanto, Pigg). However, a late-game change of plans called for a couple of substitutes – Michael’s equally talented brother Bryan and Alex Talbot of Ideas in Food. Given I’ve been wanting to try Bryan’s food and have followed Ideas in Food for some time, I considered this a more than suitable substitution!

Similar to the rest of the dinners, 7 courses were served: 5 from the main chefs and 2 from the guests for $150 a plate.

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ink. snacks tiny bouqet, bbq mushroom, cool ranch ‘doritos’, pho
Michael Voltaggio, ink.

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The first thing to come out of the kitchen was this quartet of amuse bouches. A tiny bouqet of something was unmemorable, but it got more exciting with fresh radishes dipped into a BBQ mushroom sauce. Kind of odd – I enjoyed the deep savory flavor. Voltaggio’s homemade cool ranch doritos were very close to the real thing, while fried beef tendon “chips” (a play on the flavors of pho) were the highlight with Southeast Asian notes and a spritz of lime.

avocado gazpacho hokkaido scallop, king crab, oyster, mariscos cocktail granite
Josiah Citrin, Melisse

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Our first proper course was this seafood-centric avocado gazpacho. An assortment of fresh shellfish and vegetables were scattered at the bottom of the bowl with a creamy, cool gazpacho soup. I found each of the individual components enjoyable, but I’m not sure the dish as a whole came together as well as anticipated.

hawaiian hearts of peach palm heirloom beets, young fennel, candied macadamia nut & beet vinaigrette
Rory Herrmann, Bouchon

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Next up, this dish was centered around a pureed hearts of palm in the shape of a terrine. Crunchy macadamia nuts and a subtle fennel flavor sought not to overwhelm the delicate hearts of palm flavor.

wild monkfish blood sausage, weiser farms piquillo peppers, pickled celery
Michael Cimarusti, Providence

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I think this may have been the best dish of the night. Predictably, the monkfish was cooked to perfection, a moist and flavorful chunk of meat. The accompanying salad had just the right amount of acidity to balance the richness of the fish, while rye-tasting breadcrumbs provided an earthy texture. The blood sausage flavor was lost in this dish, though.

maltagliati di polenta lobster amatriciana sauce
Gino Angelini, Angelini Osteria

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Throughout this dinner series, Angelini has consistently prepared a dish near or at the top of our favorites. The simple, homey cooking was right in line with what our stomachs wanted, and this was no exception. The polenta-based flat pasta still had a slightly chewy texture, smothered in a rich shellfish-based sauce. Small chunks of lobster of fava beans completed the bites.

lambcetta trail mix, smoked almond, cocoa, raisins
Bryan Voltaggio, VOLT & Range

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Bryan Voltaggio’s lamb was cooked perfectly; I’m not sure what cuts were used, but the meat was rolled up in the style of a pancetta. He opted to pair the game with flavors of trail mix – smoky almond here, chocolate there, and the sweetness of raisins there.

blueberry pancakes
Alex Talbot, Ideas in Food

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We finished with simple sounding blueberry pancakes. Of course, these weren’t ordinary blueberry pancakes; instead pieces of a light and airy sponge cake were topped with a vanilla/caramel (and buttermilk?) ice cream, fresh blueberries and blueberry boba. How interesting. I thought the flavors of the pancakes did come through quite well, though not sure how the boba fit in. Plus, some were undercooked yielding a sort of chewy, gritty texture.

After dinner at ink., we decided to sneak in one more course at nearby Tacos Leo, notable for their tacos al pastor.

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I’ve had the tacos al pastor once and found them on the dry side. These were better, though I can’t say I’d go out of my way for them. For a buck apiece, I can’t complain.

If I had to rank this evening’s food among the three 5×5 dinners I attended this season, I’d place this one in between the Melisse and Bouchon meals. There were some good dishes, sure, but nothing extraordinary given the caliber of chefs cooking on this night. On the opposite end, nothing was particularly bad either. These are still some of the most interesting and exciting dinners in LA, so I’ll be coming back next season.

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

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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)

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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.)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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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C.H.E.F.S. Dinner @ The Royce (Pasadena, CA)

C.H.E.F.S. Benefit
The Royce

The Langham Hotel
1401 S Oak Knoll Ave
Pasadena, CA 91106
Dining date: 5/14/12

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Foie gras dinners seem to be all the rage in California right now. For the most part, it seems restaurants want to celebrate (and serve) the ingredient while they still can, while bringing awareness to the ban and the issues at hand. Also, I’m sure some restaurants are using the impending ban to drum up business and charge top dollar for some high-profile dinners. On Monday, 4 LA restaurants held foie gras dinners that I think firmly fell into bucket #1.

Melisse, Lemon Moon, Animal and The Royce held foie gras dinners on the same night, each having a different NorCal vs. SoCal “battle.” Tickets were purchased in advance, with $100 going to food, wine, tax and gratuity; the other $100 went straight to the Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming Standards (C.H.E.F.S.), a nonprofit aiming to promote humane and ethical farming standards (ie. repeal the ban).

Each restaurant featured an all-star lineup of chefs from Northern and Southern California; I opted for dinner at The Royce (my first time since the remodel from The Dining Room). An impressive 5 Michelin stars were shared between the 6 chefs: Douglas Keane, Cyrus (Healdsburg); Peter Armellino, Plumed Horse (Saratoga); Micah Wexler, Mezze (Los Angeles); Michael Cimarusti, Providence (Los Angeles); Victor Scargle, Lucy at Bardessono (Yountville), and David Féau, The Royce (Pasadena).

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Foie Gras and Cherry Blossom Parfait, Barley, Sea Beans and Shiso
Douglas Keane, Cyrus, Healdsburg
Mumm Napa Brut Reserve NV

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We started with this parfait served in a martini glass. The rich foie, with the texture of a cold mousse, was complemented by earthy barley and the bright flavor of shiso. It was definitely on the heavier side for a first course though.

Artisan Foie Gras Torchon and Bigeye Tuna with Mustard Fruit and Saba
Peter Armellino, Plumed Horse, Saratoga
Testarossa Winery “Plumed Blanc” 2010 Arroyo Seco

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I liked the presentation of this one, with a tube of foie torchon pressed through the interior of the tuna. The creamy foie and meaty, smoky tuna were a nice pairing, and I thought the mustard fruit brought a welcome sweetness as well. A crispy tuile provided delicate texture.

Foie Gras Custard, Spring Vegetables, Smoked Sturgeon, Rye
Micah Wexler, Mezze, Los Angeles
Cornerstone “Stepping Stone Corallina Rose” Syrah 2011

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This was one of the strongest dishes of the evening, centered around a light foie gras custard. Delicious on its own, I thought the smoked sturgeon (which kind of tasted like bacon), spring vegetables and crispy rye breadcrumbs really added complexity and more rounded flavors. Loved the colors too. Yum!

Foie Gras Sauté with Grilled and Partial Dehydrated Strawberries
Michael Cimarusti, Providence, Los Angeles
Hill Family Estate Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc 2009 Napa

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Another of the stronger dishes, we were told this was the staff favorite during their tasting. A generous lobe of foie gras was seared perfectly, leaving a creamy, luscious interior. I liked the strawberries to go along with the liver, as well as the textures from two dehydrated crumbles, foie gras (the white) and black sesame (the black). A sweet sauvignon blanc pairing was a nice accompaniment.

Pan Roasted Duck Breast with Forbidden Rice and Foie Gras “Risotto,” Pickled Ramps, Duck Confit, Cherry Jus
Victor Scargle, Lucy at Bardessono, Yountville
Arkenstone “Obsidian” Howell Mountain 2007 Napa

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The duck breast came out medium-rare, though sort of lukewarm in temperature. It was good duck but not particularly special. I liked the forbidden rice risotto, which added a strong earthy flavor…though that may have overshadowed the flavor of the foie. Of all of the courses, the liver was most subtle in this one, but I didn’t really mind it at this point.

Dry-aged Beef “Boullion,” Foir Gras Fondue, Tarragon Printed Pasta, Crimini Mushroom
David Féau, The Royce, Pasadena
Ackerman Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Napa

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The last savory course was another seared lobe topped with what was like a foie gras snow. Interesting. It was cold and melted easily, making for a pretty unique vehicle of foie flavor. The bouillon was warm, rich and comforting and I really liked the tarragon printed pasta too. Cooked to an al dente texture, it definitely exuded the tarragon flavor as well.

Strawberry Coconut Sorbet, Petit Fours

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Next up came a palate cleanser. The strawberry and coconut sorbet was well-balanced and refreshing, while the accompanying sweets were a nice treat.

Pacific Rose Apple Tart “roti,” Vanilla-Calvados Ice Cream, Roquefort Papillon
Charles Hours “Urolat” Jurançon 2010 France

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I was expecting to see some type of foie gras component in the dessert, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, a warm apple tart, folded over like a roti, was topped with a vanilla ice cream that carried a hint of alcohol undertone. Thin and crispy sheets of roquefort provided the texture, as well as a bit of funk.

We finished with a few chocolates – white (with Piment d’Espelette), milk (with espresso) and dark.

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I thought this was a good meal and kind of a bargain considering $100 of the price tag went straight to charity. It was definitely a heavy meal, seemingly moreso than the foie gras dinner by Ludo a month ago. While advertised as a competition/battle it actually wasn’t at all. If I had to pick a winner though, I’d say SoCal won given my favorite dishes were from Cimarusti and Wexler. However, none of the dishes were individually letdowns.

I was disappointed that none of the chefs (other than Féau) came out of the kitchen to stay hi to diners. Not a make-or-break at all, but I do enjoy that interaction in these types of special event dinners.

5×5 Chefs Collaborative @ Melisse (Santa Monica, CA)

5×5 Chefs Collaborative Dinner Series
Melisse
1104 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Dining date: 4/29/12

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The 5×5 dinner series has been around a number of years now, but this is the first (certainly not the last) one that I’ve been to. I don’t know why it took so long. The concept is thus: 5 chefs create a 5-course meal (one dish for each chef), rotating to each of their 5 restaurants (for 5 dinners in all). As if I needed more convincing, there’s been a sixth guest chef at each dinner, and this year’s no exception (making for 6 courses). The guest chef has often been an out-of-towner, providing unique flair to an otherwise already-all-star cast. The dinners cost $150 with a portion of proceeds benefiting the Southern California Special Olympics. A pretty cool concept!

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This was the first dinner of the 2012 series, held at Melisse in Santa Monica. The complete lineup: Josiah Citrin of Melisse, Michael Cimarusti of Providence, Gino Angelini of Angelini Osteria, Michael Voltaggio of ink., Rory Herrmann of Bouchon, and guest chef Ludovic Lefebvre of LudoBites. Ken Takayama (Melisse Chef de Cuisine) handled dessert duties for this dinner.

A special cocktail menu was prepared for this evening; we sampled a few (descriptions from left to right).

Renovateur Cadavre “corpse reviver” oxley gin, lillet blanc, cointreau and lemon
Citrine el tesoro plata, aperol, grapefruit and lime juice
Les Restes deaths door vodka, crushed grapes, lychee shaken with egg whites
Surfeur appleton rum, pineapple, ginger syrup, lime and soda

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Sampling all four, I thought this was a pretty strong lineup. My drink was the Surfeur, a refreshing and balanced cocktail with a little bit of sweet fruit, citrus and something I’ve really been enjoying in cocktails – ginger syrup.

The first thing to come out of the kitchen was this amuse bouche.

foie gras and rhubarb with dehydrated whey and citrus

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Basically a small ball full of foie flavor, it had a soft, almost jelly-like texture with a crispy coating. The main flavor profile was that of the foie gras – I could see this being a fitting start to Melisse’s Foie for All dinner as well.

Citrin: crisp chicken skin, raw milk curd, aged and fermented beets, shaved macadamia & chilled pea, yogurt sphere, meyer lemon air

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Host chef Josiah Citrin’s dish was this duo. The chilled pea consomee was light and refreshing, with a little bit of the citrus of the meyer lemon coming through. The textural component came in the form of crispy chicken skin, complemented by creamy milk curd and beets (which I think added the tartness I tasted).

Cimarusti: fluke sashimi, fluke fin, geoduck clam creme fraiche, yuzu kosho, crispy puffed rice

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Cimarusti has some beautiful plating skills and it was on clear display here. Fluke and geoduck sashimi were the proteins; the fluke was tender while the geoduck had just a little bit of chew. Yuzu kosho provided subtle heat, creme fraiche provided tartness, and puffed rice added a little crunch. This dish showed a lot of restraint and was very well-balanced. Quite good.

Lefebvre: Eastern Squid ink, ash and baby french leeks

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Next up was Ludo’s dish. Tender pieces of squid were accompanied by a squid ink sauce, an ash crumble and a sweeter yellow sauce I can’t recall. I thought this was a strong dish, with the squid going very well with the sauce and delicate crumble. The glazed leeks were tasty too.

Angelini: homemade spaghetti chitarra alla norcina sausage, spring truffles, parmigiano-reggiano

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Angelini’s dish was seemingly one of the simpler dishes of the evening but my favorite. I really like fresh pasta and found it to be done perfectly here. The spaghetti was thicker than what I normally see, almost resembling Japanese udon in shape. As a result, it provided a really nice chew to go along with the sausage-based sauce and earthy truffles. Goodness. I wanted a whole big bowl of this. One of the best things I’ve eaten this year.

Voltaggio: wild black bass egg yolk dumplings, porcini dashi

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Next up was Voltaggio’s dish, a piece of sea bass topped with egg yolk dumplings (!) and a porcini dashi. The fish was cooked well, having a moist flavorful flesh though I would’ve preferred a crispy skin. Egg yolk dumplings were a fun addition, yielding a runny interior not unlike an actual yolk. Very interesting. It added a richness to the dish, while the dashi provided that extra depth of flavor.

Herrmann: degustation de lapin devil’s gulch rabbit, sweet carrots, fava beans, young onions, rosemary scented rabbit jus

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Hermann’s dish was this trio of rabbit preparations – loin, rack and a cooked terrine. In many ways, this reminded me of The French Laundry but it lacked some of the pizzazz that I found in other courses. The tenderloin seemed a bit on the dry side, but the rack was a highlight with its juicy and tender meat. Carrots, beans and onions rounded out the dish, as well as a herb-scented jus that brought everything together.

Takayama: chocolate, caramel, strawberry, wild fennel

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Loved the presentation of this dessert! Takayama’s creation of cake, fresh strawberries, and liquid nitrogen caramel ‘dippin dots’ were served in a chocolate bowl. The liquid nitrogen created the smoky effect, while the flavors were that of a chocolate and strawberry cake.

Lastly, we had some extra sweets to finish off the meal.

mignardises macarons, berries with yogurt and brown sugar

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I found this meal to be very good – probably the best meal I’ve had so far this year. The food lived up to the big names and the progression of courses fit well, something that’s not always easy with these types of dinners. My favorite dish was Angelini’s pasta for sure, but other highlights included Cimarusti’s sashimi, Ludo’s squid and Takayama’s dessert. Even my least favorite plate was still a relatively strong effort. Especially with this level of cooking, I’m already looking forward to the rest of the series.

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Sunday, April 29, 2012: MELISSE, with Guest Chef Ludo Lefebvre
Monday, May 21, 2012: PROVIDENCE, with Guest Chef Jeremy Fox
Monday, July 16, 2012: ANGELENI OSTERIA, with Guest Chef Michael Tusk
Monday, August 20, 2012: BOUCHON, with Guest Chef to be announced
Sunday, September 16, 2012: ink., with Guest Chef Chris Cosentino