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

melisse exterior

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!

menu

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

cocktails

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

foie gras and rhubarb with dehydrated whey and citrus

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

crisp chicken skin, raw milk curd, aged and fermented beets, shaved macadamia

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

fluke sashimi, fluke fin, geoduck clam

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

Eastern Squid ink, ash and baby french leeks

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

homemade spaghetti chitarra alla norcina

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

wild black bass

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

degustation de lapin

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

chocolate, caramel, strawberry, wild fennel

chocolate, caramel, strawberry, wild fennel

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

macarons

fruit

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.

group shot

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

Dan Moody & Adam Horton @ Raphael (Studio City, CA)

Dan Moody & Adam Horton Collaboration
Raphael
11616 Ventura Blvd
Studio City, CA 91604
Dining date: 4/17/12

raphael exterior

My visit to Raphael has been long overdue. I first sampled chef Adam Horton’s food at Test Kitchen, towards the end of his stint at Saddle Peak Lodge in Calabases. Horton departed Saddle Peak and came to Raphael early last year, and I’ve been hearing good things about his cooking, particularly about this one sous vide short rib dish. Given these reviews and his strong resume, I’ve been meaning to visit but just haven’t had the chance to drive out to Studio City (which is actually much closer to downtown than it seems). A one-night popup dinner in collaboration with Dan Moody was the perfect excuse.

bar area

interior2interior

The setup was rather simple with six courses, three created by each chef. The dishes alternated chefs with the final dish (dessert) created by Moody. The price of admission was 65 bucks, which I thought pretty reasonable given the standard of cooking I was expecting from these guys.

Palm Sugar Cured Amberjack and Albacore (Horton) crispy taro, mint, cilantro, pickled daikon and lime caviar

amberjack and albacore

The fish was tender and I liked that it was cut into large chunks; I particularly enjoyed the crispy thin strips of taro root for their texture and subtle earthy flavor. Pickled daikon and lemon added some acidity alongside the mint and cilantro aromatics to create a light and refreshing plate.

Uni & Scallops (Moody) scallop crudo, uni ice cream, spicy tomato dressing, miso-sesame crumble

scallop uni

Creamy soft scallop and uni ice cream (an intriguing vehicle for the flavor) were the bulk of the flavor, while the crumble provided the much-needed textural contrast. The dressing provided just a little bit of heat to bring it all together.

Quail (Horton) carrots, kaffir lime, coconut and flavors of green curry

quail

I thought the quail was cooked perfectly, yielding moist and succulent meat – I found myself gnawing on the bones for some time. The curry brought some depth of flavor and heat, while some carrots provided just a touch of crunch and sweetness. I thought the coconut and lime were good additions too, completing a sort of deconstructed Southeast Asian curry.

Beef Tartare (Moody) beef heart, boudin noir, roti paratha and yellow curry

beef tartare

I think this dish was popularly known as the best dish of the night at our table. There were a few rich components on the plate between the beef heart, boudin noir and the yellow curry; they mixed together to create some really delicious bites. Roti paratha, a Singaporean crispy pancake, was an ideal vehicle in which to soak up the curry and creamy boudin noir. An excellent dish.

Braised Veal Cheeks (Horton) asparagus, creamed morels, sauce périgueux

veal cheeks2

veal cheeks

As expected, these veal cheeks were exceedingly tender and rich, while the asparagus helped to lighten things up a bit, as well as add some bite. I really liked the morel mushrooms which provided their earthy, savory flavor that paired pretty well with the meat.

Chocolate Decadence (Moody) flourless chocolate cake, grand marnier custard, vanilla cognac whipped cream, white, milk, & dark chocolate mousses, orange & port sauce

chocolate decadence

The chocolate cake seemed fairly simple but it really stood out to me for being so dense with a deep chocolate flavor. A light vanilla whipped cream was an ideal pairing, though I’m not sure I tasted the cognac in it especially when eaten with the chocolate. The mousses provided some variety in the chocolate flavor, but the star for me was clearly the chocolate cake especially with a light citrus flavor in the accompanying sauce.

All around I found this meal to be a pretty strong effort. There was a good mix of flavors (with Southeast Asia being a recurring theme, no complaints here) and execution was pretty on point. Highlights for me included Moody’s beef tartare with its rich hearty flavors coming together very well, as well as Horton’s juicy and succulent quail plate. I hope they can do something similar in the near future; regardless, I need to get myself back to Raphael for a proper meal from Horton.

Lamb Showdown @ Guelaguetza (Los Angeles, CA)

Lamb Showdown: Manzke vs. Samson/Pollack
Guelaguetza
3014 W. Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90006
Dining date: 2/20/12

interior

I had no idea it was “Lamb Lovers Month,” but apparently February is. I suppose you can name a month for anything, especially if there’s money behind it. In celebration of the month, the American Lamb Board helped sponsor a lamb feast, presented by FoodGPS called the “Lamb Showdown.” It was a competition between a few highly regarded LA chefs: Walter Manzke (Republique) and Steve Samson & Zach Pollack (Sotto).

The showdown setup was thus: each chef team prepared 3 courses (2 savory and 1 sweet) for a total of 6. At the end of the meal, each diner received a scorecard to choose their winner of the night, and the chef with the highest score received a $500 prize. The cost of admission was $75pp, all-inclusive, including three glasses of Eagle Rock Brewery beers. It was an interesting concept; I like lamb, I like all three chefs, and I like Eagle Rock Brewery – the choice to go was easy for me.

scorecard

The first beer, paired with the two appetizers, was Eagle Rock Solidarity. Coffee, chocolate, cola flavors. A richer beer to start with, but the first courses were bold and hearty, particularly Steve & Zach’s.

beer1

MANZKE: LAMB TARTARE tomato dashi, yuzu kosho, smoked sesame

tartare

The meat was chewy and quite flavorful, with a bunch of Asian influences from the dashi, yuzu kosho and sesame. Quite nice, very refined – it kind of reminded me of Totoraku’s beef tartare in a way. Little slivers of a root vegetable (daikon?) added some fine texture and freshness in each bite.

SOTTO: LAMB TONGUE chickpea fritter, pickled turnips, sheep’s milk yogurt

tongue

The tongue was expectantly tender, paired with a dense, fried chickpea fritter. A yogurt and pickled turnip brought the components together, while providing a tart acidity to counter the richness.

The second beer, paired with the entrees, was Eagle Rock Revolution. The pale ale was light and refreshing with clear citrus notes.

beer2

MANZKE: LAMB SHOULDER ‘TORTA’ backyard-smokyed lamb with avocado & chili

shoulder1

shoulder2

A remarkable dish. The shoulder was extremely tender, with lamb flavor still coming through the smokiness. A buttery brioche was so soft to chew through, complemented by an avocado spread, slaw and a spicy chili sauce. This was pretty delicious; an ideal food to consume with beer.

SOTTO: LAMB NECK fregola sarda, artichooke ragu, pecorino fonduta

neck

The gamey lamb flavor was very evident in this course, a rich and fatty seared lamb neck. Good flavor. The fregola sarda (an Italian pasta that is a  cous cous look-a-like) added a nuttiness, lightened by some crisp greens.

The last beer, with the dessert courses, was the Eagle Rock Libertine, a witbier that was malty with some spice notes. I thought this paired pretty well with the sweet desserts.

beer3

kitchen

SOTTO: SHEEP’S MILK RICOTTA FRITELLA pistachio, citrus, bitter honey

fritella

The execution of the fritella was a little inconsistent here, with some being much airier and fluffier, and some being rather flat. Still, they were decent pieces of fried dough with a lingering sweetness; some fresh citrus added a sweetness while pistachios added some saltiness and texture.

MANZKE: SHEEP’S MILK RICOTTA CHURROS candied kumquats, sheep’s milk yogurt sorbet & hazelnut goat’s milk hot chocolate

hot chocolate and sorbet

Unfortunately, something malfunctioned and there were no churros. Boo. While the centerpiece was absent, the rest of the components still conveyed the lamb theme. The sorbet had a sort of gamey funkiness from the sheep’s milk, slightly tart. The hot chocolate was quite nice, very rich with good chocolate flavor. Would’ve been good to dip something in here…

This was a fun event – good food, good beer, good company (and good music!). So who won? The Sotto team of Steve & Zach. How did I vote? Similarly, I had to give the edge to the Sotto team. I liked Manzke’s flavors and plating better, but I thought Sotto’s dishes had an added layer of complexity and good use of more unusual cuts of meat; plus, the churro mishap spelled Manzke’s doom.