Beige Alain Ducasse (Tokyo, Japan)

Beige Alain Ducasse
Chanel Ginza Building 10F
3-5-3 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061
Dining date: 10/28/12

beige exterior

In between bowls of soba and ramen and countless plates of curry rice, tonkatsu, yakitori, sushi and sashimi, I’ve scattered a few French meals into my itinerary. This was the second (after L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon). Beige Alain Ducasse is a collaborative effort between the chef and Chanel, located on the top floor of the Chanel building in Ginza. The Michelin two-star restaurant is Ducasse’s only upscale venture in the country.

beige interior

beige interior

Having been in Tokyo for just over three weeks now, I can confidently say it’s a fantastic food city (but we all knew that…).  While Japanese food is the obvious dominant player, French food plays a prominent role in the food scene from casual to high-end. Notable French restaurants and chefs have been coming to Japan for some time now (both to eat and to open restaurants); the legendary La Tour d’Argent opened a Tokyo outpost almost 30 years ago. Many notable French chefs have opened up outposts here including Joel Robuchon, Alain Ducasse, Pierre Gagnaire, Michel Troisgros and even Paul Bocuse. I don’t think any city in America has matched that (Las Vegas may come the closest); when considering the multitude of Japanese that have studied French cooking in France (and returned home to cook), it’s easy to see why it has become a significant presence in terms of Western flavors.

I originally intended to dine at Beige during lunch and sit on the rooftop terrace overlooking Ginza. However, the dinner menu looked much more interesting to me, so I ended up making a dinner reservation. Unfortunately, it was a rainy evening so the view of Ginza wasn’t nearly as good as it could’ve been. Staff at the restaurant apologized for the rain at least a half-dozen times throughout the evening, reflecting the culture and service standards in Japan.

beige view

A tasting menu (¥22,000) was available, as well as 4- and 5-course prix fixe meals (¥12,000 and ¥17,000, respectively). I had my eye on some dishes in particular, so I went with the 5-course menu.

ham on focaccia

ham focaccia

The first thing to come out of the kitchen was this little bite. I suspect it was some kind of fancy European ham, but the type was lost in translation. Simply served atop a piece of soft focaccia, I found the overall bite to be on the dry side. The richness of the fatty ham did come through a bit, but the bite needed something more.

crab, celery, melon paste, consomme

crab, celery, melon paste, consomme

Progressing in portion size, the kitchen sent out another amuse bouche. Cool crab was paired with the textures of diced celery and carrot, topping what I think was a shellfish consomme gelee. Crisp flavors of the sea were complemented by the vegetables.

Bread service was fine, though it paled in comparison to L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon.

bread

roasted hen pheasant, giblet crostini, baby salad leaves

roasted hen pheasant, giblet crostini, baby salad leaves

The first proper course was this roasted pheasant. The pheasant was cooked well, though I felt it was lacking a more flavorful sauce. It was kind of boring. However, the foie gras and giblet crostini was a highlight, with a delicious seared offal flavor coming through with the crispy toast. Excellent!

poached blue lobster, au gratin macaroni, cooking jus

poached blue lobster, au gratin macaroni, cooking jus

Next up was lobster, which I thought was perfectly cooked with tender, yielding flesh. The shellfish cooking sauce was pretty tasty too. I enjoyed the al dente macaroni gratin, while a little bit of spinach provided some balance. I thought the dish was everything it said it was going to be, but nothing more.

seared kyushu beef, oven-baked vegetables, bordelaise reduction

seared kyushu beef, oven-baked vegetables, bordelaise reduction

The last savory course of the evening was maybe the one I was most anticipating. Japan has some of the best beef anywhere, and I’d been craving a good chunk of it for some time. The beef was cooked to a nice medium rare, exceedingly tender and pretty juicy. A great piece of meat, especially with the rich bordelaise sauce. The vegetables (onions, carrots, snap peas, and I think daikon) were simply prepared and tasty.

petits fours: dark chocolate biscuit, lemon tart, caramel macarons

petits fours

Some sweets came to the table to introduce the dessert part of the meal. All were solid, but I thought the caramel macarons were fantastic. They had a perfect chewy consistency and a rich caramel filling – I wish I could’ve taken a bunch home.

chocolate-praline CHANEL square, hazelnut ice cream

chocolate-praline CHANEL square, hazelnut ice cream

Next was the main dessert and a signature item of the restaurant. Loved the presentation, with the golden-chocolate square at the bottom and sugar art rising up at least a foot into the air. Flavor-wise, it was a satisfying dessert with strong chocolate and nutty flavors; I thoroughly enjoyed the hazelnut ice cream with the chocolate.

CHANEL chocolates and madeleine

CHANEL chocolates

madeleine

Lastly, I was served a warm madeleine and some Chanel-branded chocolates (white and dark). It was almost sugar overload at this point, but I gobbled them down.

My meal at Beige Alain Ducasse was about as expected, though not as good as hoped. There was nothing wrong with anything; the meal was well-executed and delivered exactly what the menu stated. However, it was nothing more than that – I was hoping it would be more interesting, that the ingredients would be elevated more. It may have been due to what I ordered (reflecting what I was craving), but I’m not sure about that.

Restaurant service in Japan is better than America at every level. As expected, it was superb here. As for the Chanel side of the partnership, the soap in the bathroom was probably some of the best-smelling I’ve come across. Also, the seats were extremely comfortable with soft pillows to provide back support, fluffed every time someone got up to go to the bathroom.

Sushi Kanesaka (Tokyo, Japan)

Sushi Kanesaka
Misuzu Building
8-10-3 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061
Dining date: 10/21/12

sushi kanesaka

There are so many sushi restaurants in Tokyo, it’s a daunting task trying to choose which ones to go to. However, the fact the I would be dining solo for most of the meals, and speak very little Japanese, helped to filter down the options. Sushi Kanesaka came onto my radar due to other blogs as well as its two-star rating in the Michelin guide. The fact that the restaurant was English-accessible and its Ginza location was walking distance from my apartment easily brought this up my list.

Shinji Kanesaka is a rather young sushi chef (40) but has already achieved much success. He trained at well-known Kyubey before opening his flagship in Ginza. Along with the 2 Michelin stars, he has already opened up a popular restaurant overseas (Shinji by Kanesaka in Singapore).

kanesaka chopsticks

In Ginza, there is one large bar serving 14, with one sushi chef serving each group of 7 diners. My sushi chef for the evening was Takashi Usuba (not sure where Kanesaka-san was this evening). Usuba-san, as well as most of the staff, spoke surprisingly good English. It made it fairly easy to get a little bit of dialogue going; the atmosphere was actually pretty lively and engaging, not like other quiet and uptight sushiyas I’ve heard of.

Two omakase meals were available for dinner – a ¥20,000 and ¥30,000 menu; I opted for the first one.

green tea

Hokkaido Oyster

oyster hokkaido

The meal started off with a simple oyster from Hokkaido. Unfortunately I didn’t catch what species this was, but it was a big fella. It was a good oyster, cold plump and juicy.

Sea Bream Sashimi

sea bream

Next was a sea bream sashimi with choice of two different dipping sauces, soy or sea salt. I tried both and liked the added depth that the soy provided, but the fish itself was extremely tender and fresh.

Hairy Crab

hairy crab

This was my first taste of Japanese hairy crab during this trip, which I believe is in season in the winter months. A cool, subtly sweet meat was delicious on its own; a light vinegar dipping sauce was available as necessary.

Katsuo (Bonito) Sashimi

katsuo

This fish was superbly tender with a delicate flavor, paired simply with wasabi and soy; I felt like I could’ve eaten this all day.

Steamed Abalone

steamed abalone

A six hour steamed abalone arrived next; expectantly it was tender with just a slight chew. It was tasty though the flavor was somewhat subtle, reminding me of the 10-hour simmered abalone of the night before.

Seared Blackthroat Seaperch

blackthroat seaperch

Another cooked fish was the next dish, the nodoguro fish. It was very moist and light, paired with a cool grated radish. Pretty delish!

Sushi service began next.

sushi chef

Shima-aji (Striped Jack)

shima aji

Slight chew, mild flavor.

tuna cuts

Beautiful.

Chutoro (Medium Fatty Tuna)

chutoro

Always a favorite.

Otoro (Fatty Tuna)

otoro

This was expectantly fatty but not overly so, with a very slight chew.

Ika (Squid)

ika

Also tender with just a little bit of chewy mouthfeel, it was topped with lime juice and sea salt. The rice was a little bit on the firm side here, but I liked it.

Aji (Horse Mackerel)

aji

Complemented by shiso, scallions, and ginger.

Akami (Lean Tuna)

akami

This tuna was lightly marinated, though I’m not sure with what.

Kurumaebi (Shrimp)

ebi

Served warm – this was a sweet, plump bite with strong wasabi flavor coming through.

Ikura (Salmon Roe)

ikura

Shiso and soy complemented the salmon roe; I thought this was an excellent example. It was very well balanced flavor-wise, with the crisp nori providing nice texture.

Hokkaido Uni (Sea Urchin)

uni

The uni was nice and cold, and the textural contrast of the nori and warm rice went well with the uni. Good clean flavor.

Mirugai (Geoduck)

mirugai

Soft chew with a slight salinity and sweetness.

Anago (Sea Eel)

anago

Warm and soft with a lingering sweetness from the eel sauce.

Tamago (Egg)

tamago

I thought this was a very good tamago finisher – cold, light and moist with a subtle sweetness and very nice creaminess. Apparently baby shrimp were ground into the batter (not-so-secret ingredient?).

I thoroughly enjoyed my meal at Sushi Kanesaka. It was clear early on that the fish was very fresh and of high quality, that much was to be expected. Early on in my Japan trip, it’s easy to say this was some of the best sushi I’ve ever had. The warm atmosphere really helped the overall experience, as well. If there was one sort of downside, it was that I thought the variety of fish was pretty ‘typical.’ With the exception of the hairy crab, there wasn’t any fish I hadn’t had before (most many, many times)…I was expecting a little more variety. And, I don’t think it was because I was a foreigner, since neighboring locals followed the same meal progression. Having said that, it was still an excellent meal and a great way to get my feet wet in the high-end sushi scene.

The walk back to my apartment was a pleasant one; here, Ginza at night.

ginza

Other Tokyo sushi:
Sukiyabashi Jiro Roppongi
 | Sushi Dai | Sushi Daiwa | Sushi Yoshitake | Umi

RyuGin (Tokyo, Japan)

RyuGin
Side Roppongi Bldg, 1st Floor
7-17-24 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0032
Dining date: 10/20/12

RyuGin exterior

RyuGin was close to the top of my list of restaurants to try in Tokyo. The modern kaiseki restaurant garnered three Michelin stars in the 2012 guide and is ranked #28 on the 2012 World’s 50 Best Restaurants list (while I don’t really believe in this list, it’s hard to ignore). In addition, I feel like everything I’ve read about the restaurant has been nothing but positive.

Chef Seiji Yamamoto blends traditional Japanese kaiseki with modern Western influences. While an a la carte menu is available (after 9pm), diners are steered towards the tasting menu aka “Gastronomy Menu.” Priced at ¥23,000, it contains around 11 courses (though many of the courses have multiple components).

RyuGin interior

Given its accolades from the Western world, the restaurant seemed well-equipped to accommodate customers from around the world. While there was Japanese spoken at some tables, English appeared to be the dominant language in the dining room. One neighboring table was even communicating seamlessly in French. While all of this often calls into question the authenticity of a meal in Japan, I’m confident that the food at RyuGin maintains its hold on its Japanese roots. As with any kaiseki menu, the food is highly seasonal and local, with a focus on the artistry of the whole plate (the Japanese have been doing it way before it became cool to do so in America).

Variation of Autumn Vegetables with Pine Nuts Dressing

Variation of Autumn Vegetables with Pine Nuts Dressing

The server said there were 12 different vegetables in the dish from whatever was found at the market. I could detect various mushrooms, bean sprouts and mushrooms in the texturally-dynamic dish. To bring it all together, it was dressed with a tasty pureed pine nut vinaigrette. I thought it was a very well-balanced first course.

Soft Simmered Abalone and Blue Crab with Wakame Seaweed and Apple Vinegar Jelly
Abalone Broth Hot Soup

Soft Simmered Abalone and Blue Crab with Wakame Seaweed and Apple Vinegar Jelly

Soft Simmered Abalone and Blue Crab with Wakame Seaweed and Apple Vinegar Jelly

Abalone Broth Hot Soup

Next was a duo of abalone, presented in-shell. The abalone, apparently simmered for 10 hours, was tender with just a little bit of chew – delish! Blue crab completed the shellfish tandem, while an apple vinegar jelly provided some bright acidity. To subsequently wash it down, the chef served a comforting soup made from the same abalone.

Premium Sea Urchin from Hokkaido in Lace Wrapping Deep Fried Rare with Edamame Beans Paste
Grilled Mushrooms Cold Soup

Premium Sea Urchin from Hokkaido in Lace Wrapping Deep Fried Rare with Edamame Beans Paste

Grilled Mushrooms Cold Soup

Next, this was quite a sight. Uni and seaweed were fried rare in some type of light rice flour batter. It was as good as it looked, with a delicate crunch and warm, oozing uni on the inside. So good! A cool mushroom soup provided an earthy contrast which was also quite nice.

Ichiban Dashi Soup with Grilled Seaperch and Matsutake Mushrooms in Autumn Presentation

Ichiban Dashi Soup with Grilled Seaperch and Matsutake Mushrooms in Autumn Presentation

A very moist, light piece of sea perch sat in a bowl of dashi. I was worried the fish would overcook in the soup, but that wasn’t the case at all. The fish was delicious, as were the tender slivers of matsutake, while a dashi broth brought a soul-satisfying warmth to the dish.

Today’s Assortment of Sashimi RyuGin Style

“Sashimi” Dish RyuGin Style“Sashimi” Dish RyuGin Style“Sashimi” Dish RyuGin Style“Sashimi” Dish RyuGin Style“Sashimi” Dish RyuGin Style“Sashimi” Dish RyuGin Style

The assortment included squid, spanish mackerel, two sea bream preparations, a type of shrimp (ebi), and a cup of ikura with autumn vegetables. These were all pretty good, with the most interesting being the spanish mackerel with a smoked hay condiment providing a ton of depth. My favorite was probably the salty ikura with earthy mushrooms and greens.

Autumn Colors on a Plate: Grilled Thorn Head Fish, Eggplant, Chestnuts, Ginkgo Nuts

Autumn Colors on a Plate: Grilled Thorn Head Fish, Eggplant, Chestnuts, Ginkgo Nuts

Autumn Colors on a Plate: Grilled Thorn Head Fish, Eggplant, Chestnuts, Ginkgo Nuts

Next was this plate with a grilled white fish and thinly sliced fried mushroom. The fish was perfectly cooked, moist with a crispy skin. An accompanying mixture of chestnuts and chrysanthemum provided a cool and refreshing bite while a slice of peach, lightly pickled with ginger, was an interesting flavor combination.

Simmered Presentation: Soft Octopus and Lightly Fried Sea Scallops with Autumn Vegetables

Simmered Presentation: Soft Octopus and Lightly Fried Sea Scallops with Autumn Vegetables

Here, octopus was paired with a still-raw fried scallop. I liked the texture between the crispy scallop and slightly chewy octopus, paired with simmered spinach and turnips.

Chef Yamamoto’s Specialty: Charbroiled Large Wild Eel with Kinome Leaves in Don Style
Shrimp Broth Red Miso Soup

Chef Yamamoto's Specialty: Charbroiled Large Wild Eel with Kinome Leaves in Don Style

Chef Yamamoto's Specialty: Charbroiled Large Wild Eel with Kinome Leaves in Don StyleShrimp Broth Red Miso Soup

This was also one of the most memorable dishes of the meal. This was my first time having eel in Japan and I was thoroughly impressed. The eel was cooked in a way that it had a delightfully crispy skin, while keeping a juicy interior. Loved the texture and it was so delicious. It was served don-style, atop some brown rice. Lightly pickled egg, beans and a root vegetable sought to provide a slight acidity to counter the eel, while a shellfish-based miso soup was a wonderful finisher to the course.

Following the last savory course of the meal, I was asked if I was still hungry; if so, the chef could prepare an additional course of either fresh soba or chicken rice (inspired by his time in China). I sort of misunderstood and ordered both…given the success of the meal at this point, I wasn’t going to reject anything coming out of the kitchen.

Chef Yamamoto Remembering His Childhood with Chinese Chicken Rice

Chicken Rice

The first “extra” was this one. This is similar to a rice dish I eat every Thanksgiving and Christmas, a Chinese sticky rice (nuomi fan) with tiny diced mushrooms, carrots and chicken.

RyuGin Original Homemade Cold Soba Noodle with Yuzu Flavor

RyuGin Original Homemade Cold Soba Noodle with Yuzu Flavor

I was told one of the sous chefs was making this fresh in the back. Soba is everywhere in Tokyo and I haven’t had a bad bowl (except the hit soup ones!) but I was very curious if RyuGin could elevate it. This was easily the best soba I’ve had so far with a superior, addicting chewy texture. The yuzu zest was a nice touch, but I didn’t really need it.

Two Grapes

Two Grapes

Two Grapes

The first dessert of the evening was this duo of grapes. The first was a grape imbued with CO2 (I think), which resembled champagne when it burst in the mouth. Pretty cool. The second was a concoction frozen quickly via liquid nitrogen, cracked and topped with a grape jam. The interior of the grape had something like pop-rocks, leaving that familiar sensation in the mouth. The flavors were good, though I’m not a huge fan of the whole pop rocks sensation.

Grilled Ginjou Sake Oyaki Souffle with Egg Soft Cream

Grilled Ginjou Sake Oyaki Souffle with Egg Soft Cream

The final dish of the evening was this dessert, the chef’s take on a souffle-style oyaki. It was prepared with sake, which I could taste in each light and airy bite. A rich, eggy soft cream….kind of like a thick froyo, provided a sweet, creamy contrast.

Matcha

matcha

To pair with dessert I had a bowl of hot matcha. Bitter and slightly thick, I really enjoy this with dessert or as an end-of-meal drink.

I had a nearly flawless meal at RyuGin, which lived up to the hype in my opinion. There wasn’t as much molecular gastronomy flair or “tricks” as I thought there would be, which I was actually pleased with. Instead, the preparations seemed to be relatively simple and straightforward, focusing on great ingredients and excellent execution. Service was impeccable, something almost always expected at a Michelin three-star, but it often fails to impress. Even though I still have a lot to eat in Tokyo, I think this will be close to (if not at) the top at the end – I may even drop in one more time before I go. Easily one of my best meals of 2012.

L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon (Tokyo, Japan)

L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon
6-10-1 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0032
Dining date: 10/15/12

exterior

L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon was on my list of Tokyo restaurants early on, largely because I’ve had fairly consistently good meals here, but also because I think it’s been fun to compare them across the world (I’ve been to the Las Vegas, Paris, London and now Tokyo locations). For a sort of welcome dinner for our team in Tokyo, I was tasked to find a suitable restaurant. Ultimately this was the choice, given its English-friendliness (the Roppongi area is frequented by many foreigners) and approachability to Western tastebuds.

The restaurants present Robuchon’s refined cuisine in a more casual setting, full of counter seating. I think I read somewhere that Japan’s sushi bars were the inspiration behind the counter-centric nature of L’Atelier restaurants, so it was interesting to see it come together in Tokyo. Similar to the London and Paris locations, the Tokyo restaurant shares a Michelin two-star rating.

counter

counter2 counter3

A tasting menu and an a la carte are available, as well as a number of prix fixe menus with a variety of options. Most of us went with the latter; the below captures some of the other dishes but I’ll only comment on the ones I ate.

Pork Rillette on Crostini

amuse

We started with an amuse from the kitchen. Even though the description was in English, we still couldn’t quite capture what this was. It was sort of a pork rillette simmered with white wine. Simple yet tasty.

I’ve always enjoyed pretty strong bread service at Robuchon establishments, and this was no exception.

bread

Next up were the first courses, including this impressive presentation.

Le Saumon tasmanian salmon tartare with shiso flower buds

Le Saumon tasmanian salmon tartare with shiso flower buds

Le Crabe snow crab served with an avocado mousse and apple

Le Crabe snow crab served with an avocado mousse and apple

I went with this dish, a light starter with sweetness of the pear and crab mellowed by an avocado mousse. The shellfish gelee was a nice touch too, providing a lot of depth.

Next were the second courses.

Le Bulbe de Lys lily bulb cream soup with vanilla accompanied with a stuffed shrimp

Le Bulbe de Lys lily bulb cream soup with vanilla accompanied with a stuffed shrimp

Les Ravioles foie gras ravioli in a warm chicken broth with herbs and spicy cream

Les Ravioles foie gras ravioli in a warm chicken broth with herbs and spicy cream

Les Ravioles foie gras ravioli in a warm chicken broth with herbs and spicy cream

I couldn’t resist a foie gras ravioli, my first bites of the liver since the California ban. A rich chicken broth with herbal shiso accents provided the backdrop to the ravioli with its delicate chew and creamy unmistakable foie gras interior.

Next up were the main courses.

Le Boeuf sliced wagyu beef ribeye with wasabi flavored spinach and harlequin vegetables

Le Boeuf sliced wagyu beef ribeye with wasabi flavored spinach and vegetables arlequins

Le Boeuf wagyu ribeye with truffled mashed potatoes

Le Boeuf ribeye with truffled mashed potatoes

Le Caille caramelized foie gras stuffed free range quail served with mashed potatoes

Le Caille caramelized foie gras stuffed free range quail served with mashed potatoes

I opted for the quail, which the waiter said was a specialty across Robuchon restaurants. I’m glad I did, as this was an outstanding dish. The quail itself was moist and succulent, complemented by a subtly sweet glaze. The breasts were separated from the bone and stuffed with a creamy foie gras filling – so luscious. Delicious. Robuchon’s trademark uber-rich potatoes came along with it, while some herbal greens brightened things up a bit.

Lastly, we had the dessert courses.

Le Raisin fresh grape covered with a red wine jelly served on a light mint cream

Le Raisin fresh grape covered with a red wine jelly served on a light mint cream

La Tendance Chocolat araguani chocolate ganache served with a cocoa sherbet covered with bitter biscuit powder

La Tendance Chocolat araguani chocolate ganache served with a cocoa sherbet covered with bitter biscuit powder

I didn’t realize it when ordering, but I had something really similar to this at the London location earlier this year. My thoughts on the dessert remain unchanged; it’s a fine dessert, sure, but I found it rather one-note on the chocolate.

A plate of mignardises completed our meal, but we were too full to finish all of it.

mignardises

I found this to be a very good meal, highlighted by the quail stuffed with foie gras. In fact, I enjoyed the food here more than my London experience, though Paris remains the clear standard-bearer for me. I found service’s attentiveness to be rather inconsistent during this meal, with some courses brought to the table without a description and our server seemingly changing mid-meal without notice. Service-wise, I expected something more from a two-star. Still, this was an excellent starter meal for our stay in Tokyo.

Patina (Los Angeles, CA)

Patina
141 S Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Dining date: 8/23/12

patina exterior

Patina is one of those restaurants that seems like it’s been around forever and always will be. I first ate here on my 21st birthday; I don’t remember much specifically but I remember it being a good meal. Even though I’ve lived within walking distance for the past four years, it took me just over six years to return. I never had a sense of urgency, perhaps because the first meal did not leave a very strong impression.

A couple of my coworkers recently had a private dinner at Patina to kick-start the launch of their new nonprofit (see: Edo Foundation). Coincidentally, it was also around the time of a chef transition, as outgoing chef Tony Esnault was replaced by sous chef Charles Olalia. My coworkers loved the meal and raved about it; six years was far too long – I was ready for a return visit.

patina interior

A la carte as well as a three or four-course promotional market menu (which may or may not be extended) are available, as well as a seven course tasting menu. It’s not cheap by any means, but its $115 price point was less than I thought it’d be.

Le Citron Rose absolut citron, chambord, lemon sour
Bourbon Brillant bourbon, grand marnier, fresh grapefruit

cocktails

We started with drinks; I swear they tasted kind of watered down, not unlike a meal I had earlier in the week.

Sweet Corn Soup crostini, corn, chive oil

corn soup

We began the meal with this amuse bouche, a chilled soup showing off the natural sweetness of corn. Chive oil provided a little bit of the grassy herb flavor while tiny bits of toasted crostini provided the texture.

A trio of breads were served: wheat, olive and baguette. The first one I had was the baguette, which I found to be very chewy and rather hard to eat, kind of terrible. The olive, which came hot out of the oven later, fared much better displaying a crispy crust, airy interior and subtle olive flavor.

bread

Dungeness Crab FraÎcheur champagne mango, avocado, tomatoes

Dungeness Crab FraÎcheur champagne mango, avocado, tomatoes

Crab and avocado were wrapped in thin slices of mango in a beautiful display. I thought the flavors were pretty well-balanced, though the mango may have overshadowed the crab a bit. Tomatoes provided a different kind of sweetness to pair with the mango and crab, while bits of crostini (soaked in tomato juice) provided the texture.

Poached Farmed Egg peas, kalamansi, arugula

Poached Farmed Egg peas, kalamansi, arugula

Poached Farmed Egg peas, kalamansi, arugula

Hard to go wrong with a perfectly poached egg; here it was paired with a duo of peas in puree form and freshly shucked. The runny egg yolk brought everything together, adding a welcome richness, while arugula provided a little bit of a countering bite. For the third course in a row, the same small pieces of crostini provided the texture.

Fancy decanter.

wine

Seasonal Glazed Vegetable Mosaic ”jus de cuisson,” lemon oil

Seasonal Glazed Vegetable Mosaic ”jus de cuisson,” lemon oil

Seasonal Glazed Vegetable Mosaic ”jus de cuisson,” lemon oil

A signature dish of former chef Tony Esnault – this was the lone course kept on the menu through Chef Olalia’s transition. It was a beautiful dish, featuring whatever was fresh at the market, and each vegetable was cooked separately to coax out their natural flavors. Indeed, I think each vegetable’s flavor stood out on its own while the savory jus and lemon oil brought everything together.

Black Cod Confit tarbais beans, piquillo pepper, green almond

Black Cod Confit tarbais beans, piquillo pepper, green almond

I think this was my favorite course of the evening, with a black cod that was first steamed then poached in olive oil. The cod itself was cooked perfectly, moist and succulent, while tarbais beans provided some earthy creaminess. Waxy green and yellow beans, sweet piquillo peppers, and a warm sauce rounded out the plate.

Colorado Lamb Loin courgette, porcini, farro, lamb jus

Colorado Lamb Loin courgette, porcini, farro, lamb jus

Colorado Lamb Loin courgette, porcini, farro, lamb jus

The last savory dish was a duo of lamb, presenting a roasted loin portion and a basteeya preparation. Both pieces of lamb were delicious, particularly with the jus – I wanted more. The basteeya, a savory Morrocan pie of sorts, featured tender confit lamb in a crispy, flaky pastry. Quite nice. However, the accompanying piece of eggplant was terrible, having an off-putting astringent flavor that was shared among all four of us dining.

Harry’s Berries Strawberries crème fraîche, buttermilk ice cream, basil granité

Harry’s Berries Strawberries crème fraîche, buttermilk ice cream, basil granité

The first dessert featured the well-known and reliably sweet strawberries from Harry’s Berries. Seriously, those berries are always delicious. Here, they were paired with a buttermilk ice cream, chopped nuts, and creme fraiche custard. The balance of tart and sweet was a successful one, while basil provided some depth of flavor.

Chocolate Moelleux dacquoise, passion fruit, hazelnut sorbet

Chocolate Moelleux dacquoise, passion fruit, hazelnut sorbet

The last course of the evening had a few chocolate presentations. Chocolate in a meringue and crisp paper form were accompanied by extra chocolate in the form of a nutella sorbet. A passion fruit sauce really brightened things up.

Peach and Cassis Pate de Fruits, Peanut Butter Fudge

petit fours

Lastly, some sweets were brought out to finish the meal. Both were good; my favorite was the fudgey peanut creation.

I found Patina to be a good meal, meeting expectations. Execution was mostly on point with a broad array of colorful and flavorful presentations. Having said that, I’m not sure I would rank Patina in the top few restaurants in the city. There weren’t any dishes that particularly wow’ed, and a few bad missteps (baguette and eggplant come to mind) really didn’t help. Still, it’s one of the few real fine dining restaurants going strong in this city, so I suspect it won’t take me quite as long to return next time around.

Melisse (Los Angeles, CA)

Melisse
“Foie for All”

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

melisse exterior

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

cocktails

citrine

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

amuse

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.

breads

bread butter

Foie Gras Cromesquis

Foie Gras Cromesquis

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

Foie Gras Royale Blackberry Gelee, Caramelized Buttermilk Mousse

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

Terrine of Foie Gras Seasonal Flavors and Toasted Whey Bread

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

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

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”

True Day Boat Scallop “Rossini”

True Day Boat Scallop “Rossini”

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

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

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

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

potato mousseline

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

"Strawberry Shortcake" Foie Gras Ice Cream

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

canele chocolate chip cookies

Tropical Tea Macarons and Foie Gras Macarons

foie and tea macarons

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