Melisse (Los Angeles, CA)

Melisse
“Foie for All”

1104 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Dining date: 6/30/12

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June 30 was the last day to legally serve foie gras in California (although some loopholes do exist). Melisse has been at the forefront against the ban and, combined with the fact that it’s one of the best restaurants in the city, I thought it would be the ideal spot to do a ‘last meal’ of sorts. For a number of months now, Melisse has been offering a “Foie for All” tasting menu featuring the ingredient in about 8 courses. Knowing that others would likely follow suit (and indeed, it did appear to be a full house), I made this reservation in the beginning of April and eagerly awaited this dinner.

We ordered a few drinks to start (pictured from left to right, top to bottom). We previewed the new cocktail menu (consulted on by Pablo Moix) at the 5×5 Collaborative Dinner in April, so it was interesting to see the final list here.

Pimm’s Rickey pimm’s, fresh pressed lime, topped with soda
Cameron Coup jameson irish whiskey, famous grouse scotch whiskey, orgeat almond syrup, lemon juice
Citrine el tesoro plata, aperol, grapefruit and lime juice

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My favorite of these was probably the Citrine with its grapefruit/lime flavors balancing out the aperol nicely. The Pimm’s Rickey tasted slightly watered down.

Grape, Pistachio, Goat Cheese

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We began with Melisse’s signature amuse. The juicy sliced grape, covered in a thin layer of goat cheese and pistachio, was a well-balanced bite – sweet, savory, nutty. The spherification of grape juice provided the same flavors, albeit in a very different vehicle.

Bacon bread, olive bread, ciabatta, brioche and french breads were on offer this night. My first serving was of the latter two.

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Foie Gras Cromesquis

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Next up was another small bite, our first of foie gras. It was a crispy croquette filled with a warm foie gras liquid. Warm and comforting, it was very similar to the one I had at the LudoBites foie gras dinner.

Foie Gras Royale Blackberry Gelee, Foie Gras, Caramelized Buttermilk Mousse

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Next we had a layered treat with blackberry, foie gras and buttermilk. We were instructed to get a little bit of each layer in every bite and were awarded with sweet notes from the blackberry complementing the foie gras mousse. Subtle but present flavors.

Terrine of Foie Gras Seasonal Flavors and Toasted Whey Bread

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I really enjoyed this terrine with its creamy foie gras and a layer of sweet cherry. While the flavors were ones I’ve had before, they really seemed to shine on this plate. I liked being able to add my own salt & pepper to taste, as well as the nuts for texture. These were all spread onto the toasted bread to make some tasty bites.

Truffled Foie Gras Agnolotti Crisp Chicken Oyster, Summer Vegetables, Toasted Pistachio Consomme

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The pasta was very nice with a slight chew and creamy foie gras center. The broth had a subtle nuttiness, and the grilled summer vegetables were a nice accompaniment. Even with the foie gras, this plate managed to feel rather light and really showcased the season. Beautiful colors too.

True Day Boat Scallop “Rossini”

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Scallops, foie gras, and black truffles sounded like a dream team on a plate. While the combination of components was good, I don’t think they all came together in the ideal way. The scallop was on the smaller side and was slightly overcooked, while the one sliver of shaved truffle got lost in the mix. Still, the foie gras was seared perfectly and I liked the charred cipollini onions; the truffle and leek puree was a nice accompaniment too.

Foie Gras and Dover Sole Sweet Corn Pudding, Porcini Mushrooms, Brown Butter

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This was an excellent dish with a sweet corn pudding being topped with a light sole and poached foie gras in a brown butter sauce. The flavors were well-balanced and really worked well, but I found the textural interplay to be strong too between the silky foie gras, meaty fish and creamy corn pudding.

Liberty Duck Breast Cured and Whipped Foie Gras, Leeks, Peaches, Hawaiian Heart of Palm, Toasted Macadamia

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Our last savory dish of the evening was a duo of duck, if you will. The duck breast was cooked a nice medium-rare, juicy and tender. Small bites of duck confit, hearts of palm and the creamy mashed potatoes were all excellent. The difference-maker was the foie gras though. It was whipped and frozen in a long tube form, and grated like truffles onto the plate. Pretty cool. The liver slowly melted when in contact with the heat of the duck and sauce, permeating the dish with its flavor. Again, I enjoyed the side of salt and pepper to play with the seasoning.

“Strawberry Shortcake” Foie Gras Ice Cream

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Our last proper course was a play on strawberry shortcake. Two layers of thin cake sandwiched a foie gras cream and fresh sweet strawberries. The foie gras was present but not at all overpowering, blending seamlessly into the dish. The foie gras ice cream was very subtle in flavor; balsamic vinegar gelee provided sharp acidity.

Canelés and Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Tropical Tea Macarons and Foie Gras Macarons

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Lastly, we were presented with some sweets to close out the meal. My favorite was the tropical tea macaron, exuding a flavor similar to a passion fruit iced tea with a perfect chewy texture. The foie gras macarons were a nice touch too, indeed bringing the foie flavor one more time.

Overall I found this to be another good meal at Melisse. While we had 9 different tastes of the ingredient, at no point did I feel tired of foie gras, a compliment to the varied preparations. The liver was incorporated in a way that it didn’t dominate any single dish; rather, it was worked into each plate in tandem with the other principal ingredients. Flavors were, for the most part, bold and well-balanced and the execution was also strong (though not perfect).

I suspect foie gras won’t be too difficult to obtain in California even though the ban is now in place, but I still found this to be a very fitting send-off!

Other recent foie gras dinners:
LudoBites: Best of Foie Gras
C.H.E.F.S. Dinner @ The Royce

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.

LudoBites Best of Foie Gras @ Gram & Papa’s (Los Angeles, CA)

LudoBites: Best of Foie Gras
Gram & Papa’s
227 E 9th St
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Dining date: 4/18/12

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If there are two ingredients with which I’ve had the most fond LudoBites memories, it might be foie gras and chicken. I’m not counting on a “Best of Chicken” night anytime soon (but I’d love to see one!), however I’m not surprised to see a night dedicated to the controversial and soon-to-be-banned ingredient. In fact, Ludo’s already done a foie gras dinner at Animal and has been very outspoken about his view on the matter.

For this dinner, Ludo teamed up with the usual suspect – Gram & Papa’s in downtown.  It’s still probably my favorite venue despite the quiet neighborhood, due to its proximity to me and the open kitchen where much of the action can be seen.

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In the coming months, I’m expecting to see more dinners like this (Melisse has one). Why not celebrate (binge) on it while you still can? This two-night dinner menu was 5 courses of foie gras (6 if you include the amuse) for $105, lower than what I would’ve expected. A quick glance showed a few familiar plates (albeit with a few changes) and some that I found completely new to me – an intriguing balance.

Foie Gras Cromesqui “MM”

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We were first served this amuse bouche, a spherical croquette filled with a liquid foie gras sauce. The shell was delicate with a nice crunch, and the warm foie flavor really set the tone for the meal.

Foie Gras Dynamite tuna, lychee

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This dish was very similar to one at LudoBites 5.0, a seemingly odd combination of raw tuna, seared foie gras, and a spicy ‘dynamite’ sauce. I feared that the richer dynamite sauce would overshadow the tuna and foie gras, but I found this to be pretty nicely balanced. I liked the contrast between the rich, fatty foie gras and leaner tuna, and the sauce had a subtle spiciness that brought it all together. A lychee sauce provided sweetness, while salmon roe added some pop to each bite.

Foie Gras Miso Soup radish, turnips

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Seeing this dish on the menu, I was instantly reminded of what was maybe my favorite dish of LudoBites 8.0. A miso soup (prepared with duck stock!) was pretty well done itself – adding in gently poached, perfectly-cooked chunks of foie gras will elevate just about any soup. No exception here – the liver was completely melt-in-mouth, while crisp slivers of turnips and radish provided some fresh bite. Bravo!

Foie Gras Black Croque-Monsieur grapes

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This dish is probably one of the most notable in LudoBites history – I first had it during the 4.0 run. A squid ink-dyed bread was toasted and served with serrano ham and an oozing foie gras terrine and cheese mixture. Grade A food porn, and it tasted as good as it looked. The foie and ham flavors both stood out and mixed so well in each bite, especially with a little bit of the accompanying sweet grape sauce. I loved the crispy texture of the toasted bread too – ooey gooey greasy deliciousness.

Foie Gras “Crepinette” morels, pears, green asparagus

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Our last savory course was an original, as far as I know. It was a play on a crepinette, a type of sausage wrapped in caul fat, a thin membrane that surrounds the internal organs of the stomach. It wasn’t nearly as weird as it sounded, being very similar to a typical sausage casing. Of course, foie gras was packed inside and accompanied by a potato puree, diced pears and morel mushrooms. I thought the flavors were balanced well, and the foie gras was able to stand out in the midst of everything. I thought a key ingredient was the pears, which added a welcome sweetness and subtle texture. Oh, and the grilled ramps were delicious!

Foie Gras Sundae brioche, black berries

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Our meal came to a conclusion with this dessert, a foie gras ice cream topped with whipped cream, brioche (toasted in duck fat, of course), and berries. Another original, I think. I thought the ice cream was oddly rather grainy and fibrous, but the flavor was clear foie gras. I think the brioche was caramelized in something since it was addictingly sweet, while some berries adding a different kind of fresh sweetness. The flavors were nice, but I didn’t love the consistency of the ice cream.

This was a very good meal and one of the better complete meals I’ve had from Ludo in some time. True to his style, the plates were pretty creative and different with a good mix of familiar LudoBites and new stuff. The main highlights for me were the miso soup and croque-monsieur, but all of the dishes were pretty strong overall. I thought Ludo did a good job of showing varied applications of the ingredient; so well, in fact, that I’ll just miss it that much more come July 1. I’m curious if we’ll see Ludo do something similar once more before that date arrives…

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Previous LudoBites posts:
LudoBites 4.0 (2) | LudoBites 5.0 (2) | LudoBites 6.0 (2) (3) | LudoBites 7.0 (2) | LudoBites 8.0 (2)LudoBites America

UMAMIcatessen (Los Angeles, CA)

UMAMIcatessen
846 S Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Dining date: 3/3/12

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UMAMIcatessen is the latest concept from the ever-busy Adam Fleischman (Umami Burger, 800 Degrees Pizza), his interpretation of a deli featuring a number of mini restaurant concepts including Umami Burger. The setup kind of looks like a food court (although it’s currently all full service seating), with the restaurants on the outside and seating in the middle.

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The Cure, with consulting chef Micah Wexler (Mezze) is a kosher deli with many of the usual suspects such as pastrami on rye, corned beef, and a matzo ball soup. P!GG, from Incanto and Boccalone’s Chris Cosentino, is a pork-centric concept with a ton of hams available, as well as a few sandwiches and snacks all featuring the pig. Umami Burger brings its notable burgers (and a few sides and salads) to the deli and “& a Donut” rounds out the food options with its fried-to-order menu of donuts. For libations, Spring for Coffee is the second outpost of the Arts District coffee shop and The Back Bar serves a slew of cocktails, wines and beers.

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UMAMIcatessen soft opened this past Saturday and, as expected, was pretty busy. Our party of 4 was able to get a table relatively quickly though (~15-20 minutes), and sat down to the menu’s dizzying array of options. The menu is somewhat daunting with its choices; we focused in on Umami Burger and P!GG for the savory items, ordering all of the fried snacks from P!GG (100% lard fried).

First, the drinks. Almost all of the beers (draft and bottle) had run out by the evening, so we went with a few cocktails.

Downtown Rise milagro tequila, orange marmalade, mango puree, fresh lemon juice, agave syrup
Velvet Mule beluga vodka, velvet falernum, fresh lime juice, ginger beer, angostura bitters
Citrus Tree bacardi superior rum, lychee liqueur, red and green grapes, fresh lime juice, sugar

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I went with the Downtown Rise – fruity and sweet, a stereotypical girly drink. I liked it though. I didn’t try the others, but did hear the Velvet Mule was on the watery side.

P!GG Style Fries pickled peppers, ham puree, brainaise

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I first noticed that the fries alone were quite good – very crispy, well-salted and fluffy on the inside. It was topped with an aioli made with pig brain (“brainaise”), pureed ham and pickled peppers. I liked the porky flavors which added much of the depth of flavor. The perfectly executed fries were what made the dish for me, though.

Crispy Pig Ears parsley, lemon, brainaise

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The “brainaise” made another appearance with these delightfully crispy and crunchy pig ears.

Pork Corn popcorn, juniper, rosemary

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Of the snacks, this was the least exciting. It was pretty much popcorn with a porky essence, but rather monotone in flavor.

Cone O’ Cracklins sherry vinegar, sage

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The fried pig skin was light, airy and crunchy without feeling greasy. I thought this was a good example of cracklings especially with the herb essence and what I think was paprika.

French Fries ham puree

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This was a simpler version of the P!GG style fries – here the same french fries were topped with just the ham puree. It still achieved a rich, porky flavor at half the price of the signature dish ($10 vs. $5).

Truffle Beet Salad truffled ricotta, smoked almonds, wild baby arugula, truffle dressing

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I opted to pass on the salad as I was stuffing my face with fried goodness. Each of us ordered a sandwich to eat alongside the snacks.

Pork Liver Pate caramelized onions, arugula

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The distinct liver flavor came through on the sandwich, complemented by the peppery arugula and sweet caramelized onions. A decent sandwich, just not the most interesting.

Hoof & Mouth pickled carrots, onions

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This was a more interesting sounding sandwich with a jaw & hoof terrine sandwiched in between toasted bread with pickled carrots and onions (definitely resembled a banh mi!). Maybe it was just the section I had, but I thought the thin slice of terrine got lost in the other ingredients. The bread was a little bit hard to chew too.

Earth Burger mushroom and edamame patty, white soy aioli, truffled ricotta cheese, cipollini onions, butter lettuce, slow roasted tomato

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We didn’t have any vegetarians at the table, but this burger came highly recommended. The vegetarian burger didn’t disappoint and may have been the surprise of the evening. The mushroom and edamame patty had a sort of a meaty texture to it, while full of savory flavor from the mushrooms, truffled cheese, soy aioli, onions and tomato. I wouldn’t say I’d order this instead of say…the truffle burger, but this was probably one of the best vegetarian burgers I’ve had.

Truffle Burger house made truffle cheese, truffle glaze

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I’ve had this in a previous visit to Umami Burger and it was a favorite. It was just as good as I remembered it with the soft brioche bun, medium-rare beef and white truffle-scented cheese and glaze. Simple but pretty delish (and a relative bargain at $10)!

For dessert six donuts were available, fried to order. Strauss Dairy soft serve will be a regular accompaniment, but it wasn’t available yet.

carrot cake rum raisin, cream cheese (cake)

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The cake was rather dense – not too moist but not dry, with sweet raisins and a cream cheese frosting. The carrot flavor in the donut was definitely evident.

tres leches cajeta, ceylon cinnamon (cake)

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This cake was more moist with a bit of a vanilla flavor, though I was expecting it to have been dipped in something (the menu said to allow 5 minutes for soaking). A light whipped cream topped the donut.

FG&J foie gras mousse, forest berry jam, peanut (yeast)

6812262362 406122d303 UMAMIcatessen (Los Angeles, CA)

At $8, this was probably the most expensive donut I’ve ever had. It was filled with a foie gras mousse; the flavor was subtle but evident, complemented by a sweet jam and a crunchy peanut topping. Very interesting flavors with the peanut butter & jelly and the foie gras & fruit combinations both working in tandem. Of all three we tried, I think this was the most successful…though I wanted a bit more foie flavor in the mousse.

I found UMAMIcatessen to be an interesting concept (surely a hip interpretation of a deli), though not as eye-opening as 800 Degrees Pizzeria. I think the main draw will be Umami Burger’s burgers since they’re just more interesting than the simpler, more traditional sandwiches from The Cure and P!GG. Still, The Cure and P!GG present much more variety and the ability to mix things up particularly with the sides and snacks. The donuts were a fun way to end the meal, though I didn’t think the execution was quite there yet. Still, with so much to offer and the Umami brand behind it, I can tell this will be a popular place.