Lamb Showdown: Manzke vs. Samson/Pollack
3014 W. Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90006
Dining date: 2/20/12
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.
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.
MANZKE: LAMB TARTARE tomato dashi, yuzu kosho, smoked sesame
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
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.
MANZKE: LAMB SHOULDER ‘TORTA’ backyard-smokyed lamb with avocado & chili
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
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.
SOTTO: SHEEP’S MILK RICOTTA FRITELLA pistachio, citrus, bitter honey
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
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.