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

The Fat Duck (Bray, UK)

The Fat Duck
High Street
Bray, Berkshire SL6 2AQ
Dining date: 5/25/12

fat duck door

I recently attended an extraordinary four-day wedding in India. On the way back, I wanted to capitalize on the fact that I was halfway around the world and stopover somewhere interesting to explore/eat. Options throughout Asia piqued my interest but my friend Shawn proposed that I visit him to spend a couple of days in London with the main reason being to dine at The Fat Duck. He’d been wanting to go but hadn’t had a chance to yet – I didn’t need much convincing.

Opened in 1995, The Fat Duck has become a world-renowned destination (~30 miles outside London), having been bestowed 3 Michelin stars each year since 2004 and being named the best restaurant in the world in 2005 in one particular survey (it consistently held a spot in the top 5 until dropping to #13 in 2012). The chef, Heston Blumenthal, is known for modernist cooking (and a lot of molecular gastronomy) and a wild sense of imagination when it comes to his cuisine. Needless to say, I was very excited for this one – this would be one of those rare meals where I walked in expecting a meal that I would remember for a lifetime. It wouldn’t disappoint.

DSC_0402

The Fat Duck is tasting menu only, around 14 courses for £180. The first thing that came to our table was this trolley filled with cold champagnes. Dining at the Fat Duck seemed like a festive occasion in itself, so we kicked off the meal with a glass.

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AERATED BEET ROOT Horseradish Cream

aerated beet and horseradish cream

The first dish to hit our table was this amuse bouche. Looking kind of like a macaron (and having a texture similar to one), the shell exhibited a strong beet flavor, while a subtle spiciness crept up in the cream.

NITRO POACHED APERITIFS Vodka and Lime Sour, Gin and Tonic, Campari Soda

NITRO POACHED APERITIFS

NITRO POACHED APERITIFS

NITRO POACHED APERITIFS

Three choices of cocktail aperitifs came next. Some type of powder was frozen tableside with liquid nitrogen, resulting in a light and airy shell that melted once it hit my mouth. I had the campari soda and, indeed, it did taste pretty darn similar to the real thing.

We decided to start with a lighter white and progress to something bolder later in the meal.

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RED CABBAGE GAZPACHO Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream

RED CABBAGE GAZPACHO

RED CABBAGE GAZPACHO

The mustard ice cream was the most pronounced flavor in this dish, which was both refreshing and mildly spicy. The red cabbage gazpacho itself was sweet, balancing out the ice cream nicely.

JELLY OF QUAIL, CRAYFISH CREAM Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast

JELLY OF QUAIL, CRAYFISH CREAM Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast

JELLY OF QUAIL, CRAYFISH CREAM Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast

JELLY OF QUAIL, CRAYFISH CREAM Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast

JELLY OF QUAIL, CRAYFISH CREAM Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast

I had seen a picture of this dish ahead of the meal and was very curious how it all worked; it’s easily one of the most memorable presentations I’ve ever seen, resembling something like a foggy forest floor. Dry ice is hidden under the grass, and a dense fog billows out as water is poured over. Food-wise, we started with a film that we placed on our tongue – the film gave off a smoky/woody essence on the palate. The two main edible components were the truffle toast and layered quail jelly, crayfish cream and chicken liver parfait. An odd combination of ingredients, but they worked well together to make some delicious savory bites.

SNAIL PORRIDGE Iberico Bellota Ham, Shaved Fennel

SNAIL PORRIDGE Iberico Bellota Ham, Shaved Fennel

The porridge itself was tasty with a rich creaminess. Tender chunks of escargot were a nice pairing too, as were the thin slivers of fennel. I didn’t think the jamon iberico was too pronounced though.

For the next dish, we had the option of the foie gras from the tasting menu or a special scallop dish that day. Three out of the four of us decided to stick with the foie gras.

ROAST FOIE GRAS Barberry, Braised Kombu and Crab Biscuit

ROAST FOIE GRAS Barberry, Braised Kombu and Crab Biscuit

The foie gras itself was cooked perfectly, topped with a sweet fruity topping. It was good, but I thought the flavor profiles were a bit “typical,” especially considering our previous dishes.

Our fourth did really enjoy his scallop, though.

scallop supplement

MAD HATTER’S TEA PARTY (c.1850) Mock Turtle Soup, Pocket Watch and Toast Sandwich

MAD HATTER'S TEA PARTY (c.1850) Mock Turtle Soup, Pocket Watch and Toast Sandwich

MAD HATTER'S TEA PARTY (c.1850) Mock Turtle Soup, Pocket Watch and Toast Sandwich

MAD HATTER'S TEA PARTY (c.1850) Mock Turtle Soup, Pocket Watch and Toast Sandwich

MAD HATTER'S TEA PARTY (c.1850) Mock Turtle Soup, Pocket Watch and Toast Sandwich

MAD HATTER'S TEA PARTY (c.1850) Mock Turtle Soup, Pocket Watch and Toast Sandwich

Our next dish brought back the whimsy with its tower of sandwiches and a teapot. We were presented with gold pocket watches (presumably the Mad Hatter’s) which were placed into the teapot. We were instructed to stir gently and marveled at how the watch disintegrated and ended up turning the liquid into a sort of rich bouillon. Crazy. A quail egg and some caviar accompanied the delicious soup, which we ate with toast sandwiches….as in, crispy toast in between slices of bread. So cool, and tasty too.

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“SOUND OF THE SEA”

"SOUND OF THE SEA"

SOUND OF THE SEA

The assault on our senses continued as a sea shell was brought to our table. A small iPod was in each shell and we listened to sounds of the sea/beach as the next course came. A selection of fresh sashimi including mackerel, halibut and cured abalone were accompanied by tapioca sand and a seawater foam. I can’t say for sure that the sounds elevated the flavors, but this was another fun dish. The fish was good, as was the strong sea flavor of the foam, and I found the texture of the tapioca sand to be addicting.

Given I had flown in from Mumbai this morning (the 7:30 dinner began at midnight Mumbai time), I needed a bit of a pick-me-up. Three espressos definitely did the trick.

iced double espresso

SALMON POACHED IN A LIQUORICE GEL Asparagus, Vanilla Mayonnaise and Golden Trout Roe

SALMON POACHED IN A LIQUORICE GEL Asparagus, Vanilla Mayonnaise and Golden Trout Roe

The poached salmon was cooked rare with a surprisingly subtle liquorice flavor. The salty trout roe and excellent asparagus may have overshadowed the salmon itself.

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POWDERED DUCK (c.1860) Blood Pudding, Umbles and Apache Potato Puree

POWDERED DUCK (c.1860) Blood Pudding, Umbles and Apache Potato Puree

POWDERED DUCK (c.1860) Blood Pudding, Umbles and Apache Potato Puree

Our last savory course involved the restaurant’s namesake ingredient (there had to be some kind of duck served in this meal right?). It was a tasty and succulent piece of duck breast, though the skin was disappointingly a bit limp. I enjoyed the potatoes and blood pudding though, and the duck spring roll was a fun way to present the duck, as well as provide texture.

HOT AND ICED TEA

HOT AND ICED TEA

An intermezzo of sorts, I was very amused by this one. We were advised to drink this as soon as possible and were awarded with distinct warm and cold liquids. Aside from the playfulness, it was a good cup of tea too.

MACERATED STRAWBERRIES Olive Oil Biscuit, Chamomile, Coriander, Jelly and Ice Cream Cornet

MACERATED STRAWBERRIES Olive Oil Biscuit, Chamomile, Coriander, Jelly and Ice Cream Cornet

MACERATED STRAWBERRIES Olive Oil Biscuit, Chamomile, Coriander, Jelly and Ice Cream Cornet

The first dessert was this creation – an earl grey ice cream cone followed by this macerated strawberry dish. The strawberries were very sweet, balanced by a sort of savory olive oil biscuit. Everything on the plate was edible, including the picnic tablecloth look-a-like.

THE “BFG” Kirsch Ice Cream and the smell of the Black Forest

THE "BFG" Kirsch Ice Cream and the smell of the Black Forest

THE "BFG" Kirsch Ice Cream and the smell of the Black Forest

We progressed into the richest and final dessert of the evening. The server sprayed the aroma of “Black Forest” into the air just as we began to dig in. I can’t say the aroma consciously did much, but the gateau was a good one, with cherry and alcohol notes working in tandem with the chocolate. Chocolate crumble was crucial too in adding just a bit of crunch.

The cheese course supplement was a relatively reasonable £15 (given it was a generous portion); two in our party decided to partake.

cheese

cheese2

WHISK(E)Y WINE GUMS

WHISK(E)Y WINE GUMS

WHISK(E)Y WINE GUMS

Next to arrive at the table were these gummies. SO cool! These were gummies of various whiskeys (reminded me of the Haribo happy-cola bottles) from around the world. They packed a punch too, having a strong whiskey flavor…as they should’ve. Maybe I was just pretty full or buzzed, but I had a difficult time distinguishing the nuances between the whiskeys.

“LIKE A KID IN A SWEET SHOP”
AERATED CHOCOLATE Mandarin Jelly
COCONUT BACCY Coconut Infused with an Aroma of Black Cavendish Tobacco
APPLE PIE CARAMEL with an Edible Wrapper
THE QUEEN OF HEARTS she made some tarts..

"LIKE A KID IN A SWEET SHOP"
"LIKE A KID IN A SWEET SHOP""LIKE A KID IN A SWEET SHOP""LIKE A KID IN A SWEET SHOP""LIKE A KID IN A SWEET SHOP"

Lastly, we were left with a bag of sweets. Of course, these were fun and whimsical too, particularly the pop tart-like Queen of Hearts.

I do not hesitate in saying that this was one of the most (if not the most) unique and imaginative meal I’ve ever had. The creativity, the whimsy and the execution of these plates combined to make something pretty extraordinary. Having said that, when people ask if it’s the best meal I’ve ever eaten I don’t think I can say yes to that. While there were a number of delicious dishes, none of them made me think “this is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.” Still, I thought the meal spanned a wide variety of ingredients and flavors, all of them working pretty well. This was an excellent all-around meal and easily one of the most memorable I’ve had; it’s surely a destination worth visiting when in London.

Full picture set can be found here.

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon (London, UK)

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon
13-15 West Street
London WC2H 9NE
Dining date: 5/25/12

l'atelier de joel robuchon exterior

I arrived in London pretty early on a Friday morning upon the completion of a red-eye flight from Mumbai. One of my friends was working and another would be arriving later in the morning, so I was on my own for lunch. After thorough research, I chose this place: chef Joel Robuchon’s lone UK restaurant and a 2-star Michelin.

I’ve been to L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon a few times to two locations: Paris and Las Vegas. The former was one of my most memorable meals to date. While part of me wanted to try something new and London-specific, this branch drew me in. Much of it was due to the casual atmosphere and counter seating; since I was dining alone I felt much more comfortable in this environment.

While I was tempted to do the full tasting, the £125 menu translated to $200, way more than I wanted to spend. Plus, I didn’t want to over-eat; 14 courses at The Fat Duck were waiting for me at dinner. A 4-course £40 lunch option sounded like a pretty good deal for London standards, and much more manageable for my stomach. I put my hands in the server to guide me through some of the restaurant’s more popular dishes.

napkin

Seats at the counter provide a full view of the kitchen (awesome!), a staple at all of Robuchon’s Atelier establishments. I could easily see Executive Chef Olivier Limousin slice off a few slivers of jamon iberico for my first course.

kitchen view1

kitchen view2

foie gras cappuccino

foie gras cappucino

The kitchen sent out an amuse bouche to start with. The light custard inside was pretty light with a strong foie gras flavor. A thin layer of a port wine reduction provided sweetness to complement the rich liver flavor.

les asperges blanches warm salad of white asparagus with nuts and ‘iberian’ ham

les asperges blanches warm salad of white asparagus with nuts and 'iberian' ham

This was an interesting myriad of flavors on a plate from the rich fatty ham, sweet caramelized hazelnuts, peppery arugula and a cool mustard seed vinaigrette. Surprisingly sweet and juicy asparagus was at the center of the mix of well-balanced flavors.

l’oeuf soft boiled egg on a “piperade” with parsley oil

l'oeuf soft boiled egg on a

l'oeuf soft boiled egg on a "piperade" with parsley oil

As expected, the poached egg was cooked perfectly, breaking apart and running over the rest of the plate with a gentle poke. To absorb the yolk, the egg was placed atop a sweet piperade of tomatoes, green peppers and onions. I thought the mix of flavors was a good one, while a little bit of parsley oil provided another dimension of flavor.

le cabillaud roasted cod bouillabaisse style; mashed potatoes; carrots and fennel with tumeric

le cabillaud roasted cod bouillabaisse style

robuchon mashed potatoes

fennel, carrots, tumeric

I went with this cod bouillabaisse as my entree, and the kitchen graciously gifted two additional side dishes. The cod itself was moist and flaky, delicious when dipped into the rich saffron and shellfish-flavored sauce. I loved the mashed potatoes, something I’ve often requested at any Joel Robuchon restaurant. They’re just so rich, creamy and decadent…some of the finest mashed potatoes I’ve had. A vegetable side of carrots and fennel with tumeric was another strong side, making this dish feel almost healthy.

le chocolat-tendance creamy manjari chocolate, bitter chocolate sorbet and oreo cookie crumb

le chocolat-tendance creamy manjari chocolate, bitter chocolate sorbet and oreo cookie crumb

Finally, I went with this chocolate dessert. Layers of chocolate were presented in this cup, with the creamy manjari chocolate at the forefront. There were small crunchy chocolate balls dispersed throughout; I enjoyed the textural crunch but found them to be overbearing at times. Overall I initially liked the dessert but quickly found it slightly one-note and tiring.

In all, I had a very good lunch at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. I wouldn’t say it reached the highs of the meal I had at the Paris outpost, but that was a completely different meal (given that it was the tasting menu at dinner). Execution was top-notch and the atmosphere fun and convivial, it’s always fun to be able to watch and interact with the kitchen. It was an excellent start to my stay in London…dinner on this evening would be even better.

Atelier Crenn (San Francisco, CA)

Atelier Crenn
3127 Fillmore St
San Francisco, CA 94123
Dining date: 12/23/11

crenn window

Atelier Crenn opened almost one year ago, last January. It was a hotly anticipated opening and seems to have met the hype, regarded as one of the top restaurant openings of the year (and awarded a Michelin star). The chef is Dominique Crenn, a Morrocan-French chef who grew up in France but has spent much of her culinary career in California. Her experience primarily spans stints in San Francisco and Los Angeles, most recently at SF’s Luce, where she garnered a Michelin star (that they’ve since retained). She left Luce early last year to focus 100% on Atelier Crenn.

interior

I’ve been following Crenn for a little while now. One of my biggest dining regrets in 2010 was missing Crenn’s one night gig at Test Kitchen (there was a conflicting dinner), but I did get to eat some of her cooking at Luce a couple weeks later.

My parents dine out a fair amount and a previous visit to Atelier Crenn was one of their top SF meals of the year (for my dad, it was #1 while my mother really enjoyed Commonwealth). So, I came in with high expectations.

Two menu options were available: a 5-course menu with some options or an extended tasting menu for $135 (currently $160). We went with the latter.

menu

The meal started off with a trio of amuse bouche-like small bites.

The Cold pear custard, foie gras pearls, pistachio
NV Domaine Julien Fouet, Cremant de Loire, Rose

pear

The first dish was a light and cool pear custard with frozen foie gras pearls. So pretty. The foie pearls warmed in the mouth and became a creamy and rich complement to the sweet pear custard. Pistachios and some toasted bread added some welcome texture. A pretty nice starter, for sure.

The Smoke arctic char skin, salmon roe

arctic char skin

The second was a fried piece of arctic char skin. I’m not sure why I haven’t seen a standalone piece of fish skin before – delicate, crispy, fishy; it was quite tasty especially with the salty salmon roe. My mother and I were debating whether we were supposed to eat the greens – I ate it, finding it overpoweringly bitter. We later learned it was meant purely for garnish. Oops!

The Crisp yuba, daikon

yuba daikon2

Lastly was a fried piece of yuba with pickled daikon. I liked the crunchy yuba but found the daikon to be overly tart.

Kir Breton
The French 74

kir breton

french74

Next we had a sort of apertif – a play on a kir breton cocktail encapsulated in a delicate shell. Biting into it yielded a burst of apple flavor – refreshing and another great way to whet the appetite. Fun!

Another cocktail was the drink pairing here, essentially a take on a French 75 but without the hard alcohol.

Oysters “Japonaise” kushi oysters, sake, mirin, tapioca
2008 Domaine Vocoret et Fils, Chablis 1er Cru, Montmains

oyster

These were good oysters, complemented by some Japanese accents and some herbal notes too. I liked biting on the chewy tapioca with the tender oysters.

“Ocean and Land” american wagyu beef, smoked sturgeon, cornichon
2010 Christian Vergier, “Saint Lager,” Brouilly

steak tartare

The beef was good; I thought the addition of the smoked sturgeon balls (frozen via liquid nitrogen) really elevated the dish, adding a smoky, slightly fishy flavor. The slivers of cornichon added some acidity, while the cracker added the bulk of the texture.

Carrot, Aloe Vera, Quinoa

carrot sorbet

More of a palate cleanser than an actual course, but I really enjoyed this one. The carrot sorbet was vibrant and quite delicious. The aloe vera gelee by itself was slightly off-putting (a flavor I’m not used to), but actually helped balance the sweetness of the sorbet when eaten together.

Foie Gras, Nuances of Winter cocoa nib tuile
2009 Domaine Sylvain-Gaudron, Vouvray Demi-Sec
Strubbe’s Grand Cru, Flanders Red Ale

foie

The flavors here were very subtle; the textures were more interesting. The foie had a very light, almost snow-ish texture while the cocoa nib tuile (something from Crenn’s childhood) provided a delicate crunch.

Spot Prawns, Rouille, Hay
2008 Morey-Coffinet, Chassagne Montrachet, 1er Cru

prawns

I expected these hay-smoked spot prawns to be sweet and sort of spongy. The flavors were there (accented by a smoky, grassy flavor), but I found the flesh to be rather creamy and mushy. Hm.

A Walk in the Forest chanterelles, maitake, pine meringue, hazelnut
2009 Domaine Gris des Bauries, Cotes du Rhone Villages

forest

From what I’ve read, this has been one of the most raved about dishes, and for good reason. A myriad of mushrooms were carefully placed with a bruleed meringue and flowers resembling a forest landscape. While the plating was fun, the flavors were on point too with the earthy ‘shrooms and hazelnuts complimented well by the pine-scented sweetness of the meringue. I appreciated the varied textures and flavors of the different mushrooms too.

Rooibos Tea, Orange Granita

Rooibos Tea, Orange Granita

A large egg-shaped stone was plopped down on the table and opened to reveal a rather light and refreshing palate cleanser, with strong citrus flavor from the granita.

Mackerel, Verbena beets, radish
2009 Dr. Deinhard Halbtrocken, Riesling, Pfaltz

mackerel

This mackerel was seared rare; the richer, oily fish was complemented by the sweetness of the beets and textures of the radish. Overall though, I didn’t find it quite as exciting as some of the other plates.

Arctic Char “Basquaise” mussels, romesco
2008 Domaine Mucyn, Crozes-Hermitage, Syrah

arctic char

I thought this fish was cooked a nice medium rare. The dish had a fun flavor profile with the romesco, as well as added depth from the mussel jus foam. Pretty interesting. The lone mussel was tasty, though I’m not sure it totally fit in with the rest of the dish.

Guinea Hen “Thailandaise” coconut, cilantro, basil, bok choy
2010 Berroia Txakolina de Bizkaia, Basque

guinea hen2

I liked the concept of this dish but thought the guinea hen was overcooked – it was on the dry side. Still, the southeast Asian flavors came through, with balanced coconut and cilantro accompaniments.

Eucalyptus

eucalyptus tree

eucalyptus

Eucalpytus trees are found throughout San Francisco but I don’t think I’ve ever eaten it. Here, a little bit of eucalyptus ice cream (on a stick!) was presented under a small eucalyptus tree. How fitting. I liked the ice cream…not really woodsy at all, it actually had a bright, clean flavor.

Next, a siphon came out to create a beverage pairing with dessert. Cinnamon, vanilla bean, and star anise were infused with quince tea right at the table. Pretty cool!

siphon

Pear, Quince, Sage
Quince tea infused with cinnamon, vanilla bean, star anise

Pear, Quince, Sage

I thought this was a standout dish, both in presentation and flavor. What looked like a lone pear in a snowy landscape was actually a creamy pear sorbet with wonderful delicate textures from an herbal sort of crumble. The sweet sorbet was nicely balanced by the Greek yogurt snow. As good as it looked!

Lastly, we had a pretty robust selection of sweets.

Mignardises

mignardises

Atelier Crenn met my high expectations. I marveled at the creativity and personal touch/story in the menu, and this was some of the best plating I’ve ever seen. The menu showed a lot of restraint; flavors were at times subtle, but rather refined and always well-balanced. Execution-wise, I thought there were a couple of misses on the spot prawn and guinea hen, but outside of that I thought the plates were spot on. Plus, the meal showed a lot of technique throughout, working with varied textures and preparations. And seriously, that dessert was one of the most memorable plates all year. Service was very warm, attentive and accommodating. Overall, I’d say this was my best complete dining experience during my San Francisco trip and would not hesitate in returning.

 

Saison (San Francisco, CA)

Saison
2124 Folsom St
San Francisco, CA 94110
Dining date: 12/27/11 

saison signage

Saison may have been my most anticipated meal in San Francisco in 2011. Chef Josh Skenes (Chez TJ, Stonehill Tavern) is cooking very modern French-Californian cuisine using locally sourced (including foraged) ingredients centered around a dining room hearth. A lot of restaurants are doing the local and farm-to-table thing nowadays, but Skenes is bringing a deceptively simple, restrained yet very thoughtful, approach to his food.

hearth

Opened in 2009, it was a SF Chronicle best new restaurant in 2010 and exploded onto the national (international?) scene in 2011. This past year, Skenes and Saison achieved a seemingly endless list of accolades, perhaps none more noteworthy than 2 Michelin stars in the latest guide.

While I happily would have paid full price to dine here, I stumbled upon a LivingSocial deal at the end of October for the full tasting menu & wine pairing for $189 (valued at $246 then, $306 now). I’m typically averse to these Groupon-like deals given annoying restrictions or abbreviated menus, but this deal was for exactly the same menu with the only stated stipulation being that it had to be Tuesday-Thursday. So, I went for it and purchased two.

Unbeknownst to me until the day of (it was my fault for not mentioning the deal when making the reservation), only two tables are able to redeem the voucher per night (Tue-Thu). Given there is a 72-hour cancellation policy of $198pp, I was stuck. I understand it’s the restaurant’s prerogative on how the vouchers are redeemed, but I would’ve appreciated more disclosure on this (there was nothing on the LivingSocial website, the restaurant’s website, or even any mention when the restaurant called to confirm). I don’t know how many vouchers were sold, but allowing two tables per night for three days a week doesn’t sound like easy redemption. Given I don’t live in San Francisco, redemption of the voucher was not reasonably possible and I likely would not have purchased it in the first place. In the end, I was able to plead my case and have the paid value of my vouchers ($189 each) applied to the cost of the dinner, essentially making it a net-zero deal. Still, the damage was done.

Currently the menu lists 8 “courses,” but that’s more of a guideline – the actual number of courses tends to be in the low-teens. That menu is $198 (making this the most expensive restaurant in the city), but there’s also an option to dine on an extended menu at the chef’s counter for $498pp (all-inclusive). However, each seat in the main dining room includes a view of the open kitchen – a nice touch.

saison open kitchen

We started with a trio of egg dishes.

eggs
Domaine Carneros Brut 2007

eggs1

A hearth-roasted chicken gelee was topped with sea urchin, a delicious combination. A subtle but present woody, smoky flavor clearly came through too. Cool, refreshing and a perfect dish to get the appetite going. Quite nice.

eggs2

eggs2b

Next was this shooter of trout roe in tandem with a fried quail egg, mermaid’s hair seaweed, dehydrated shrimp and cornichons. Again, a smoky sea flavor came through in the roe shooter, while the bite provided additional depth of egg/sea flavor, with some texture from the dehydrated shrimp and dried seaweed.

eggs3

Lastly, we had a (large) bite of egg, both well-cooked and soft-cooked, accompanied by smoked creme fraiche, flowers, and greens. Subtle flavors, but a nice play on textures.

Next was the first “off-menu” course.

grilled oyster, cucumber, lemon verbena

oyster

Light and refreshing, it was a good oyster. The lemon verbena added a slight lemon flavor without the tartness or acid.

cru
Donnhoff Riesling, Nahe, Germany 2010 

cru

The first in a duo of dishes featuring bluefin tuna. The meat was pulled apart by an oyster shell, giving it an almost stringy feel to it. Japanese flavor profiles of soy and a rice vinegar added a lot of savory depth to the dish, while some of the tuna fat was roasted in the embers of the hearth, lending more richness. The rice cracker added some fun texture to the bites. A delicious dish.

cru2

The next dish had a lot of components: artichoke, tomato, capers, seaweed vinegar and fried bluefin head. I thought the bluefin got lost in the mix, and also found the dish to be heavy-handed with the salt.

At the conclusion of the course, we received the first bread – kalamata olive bread baked fresh in the hearth (and served piping hot!). Loved that there was fresh bread…it was pretty tasty. Served with a creamy house-churned butter with gray salt.

olive bread

butter

brassicas brassicas, grains, quail egg
Sandhi Chardonnay, Santa Barbara 2010

brassicas

I thought this was another outstanding dish – a play on different textures, greens and grains. I liked the balance of various hearth-tinged vegetables and grains, while a warm dashi broth and quail egg brought everything together.

crustacean lobster tail, meyer lemon creme, compressed aromatics, prawn roe salt
Marisa Cuomo Ravello, Campania, Italy 2009

crustacean

prawn salt

A small piece of lobster floated in a delicious, herbal broth. Some meyer lemon creme added citrus flavor, as well as a little more body to the soup. Deep, savory flavors. The prawn roe salt was fun too.

liver foie gras toffee, milk foam, pomelo
Reutberger Dunkel, Germany

liver

This was an interesting dish, a mad scientist’s experiment creating a creamy foie gras with a clear toffee flavor. Was it sweet? Savory? How about both – and it really worked well.

The second bread out of the oven was this milk bread, also served hot. Definitely less flavorful than the olive bread, it was really light and kind of airy.

milk bread

wood pigeon thirty-eight day aged squab, persimmon, tangerine, pomegranate, huckleberry, chili, olives
Selvapiana Chianti Classico, Italy 2009

38 day aged squab

I was highly anticipating this piece of dry-aged squab; for sure something unique for me. Very chewy, sort of stringy but definitely full of the characteristic squab flavor. Pretty interesting. I’m not sure I preferred it to fresh squab, but I’m glad I tried it. Some fresh winter fruits added sweetness to counter the rich meat, while some chili and olives added extra heat and salty tones, respectively.

Next up was the cheese course.

sheep’s milk cheese, almond croquant, brioche, honeycomb

cheese

The cheese was warm, mild and creamy, filling the brioche…basically like a cheese puff. I liked the use of honey with both the honeycomb and honey-glazed brioche.

preserved lemon 1:27 preserved lemon, chrysanthemum
Domaine d’Orfeuilles Vouvray, Loire, France 2009

preserved lemon

The lemon in this dish was preserved for 11 months; clean flavors and quite refreshingly sweet, I especially appreciated the balance of the chrysanthemum foam.

nawlins chicory ice cream, dehydrated milk foam, new orleans style coffee, beignet
Badia di Morrona Vin Santo 2006

nawlins2

nawlins

beignets

I liked the coffee and chicory flavors at play in this dessert, as well as the texture particularly from the crispy dehydrated milk foam. The deep, bitter coffee flavor was countered by the sweetness in the dessert, while a beignet was a nice touch to complete the dish.

roasted green tea & popcorn ice cream

popcorn ice cream

Reminiscent of Urasawa, here a cup of roasted green tea. Apparently, Skenes likes to end his meals on this tea too. Also, we were served a simple scoop of ice cream. As advertised, it truly tasted like popcorn. Fun!

Lastly, a couple of sweets to end the meal.

blood orange petit four

blood orange

Saison was an excellent meal and one of my strongest of 2011. The food was both creative and interesting and, most importantly, was quite delicious. Skenes is working with, for the most part, familiar flavors and ingredients but creating unique and sometimes unexpected combinations. It’s pretty easy for me to say I preferred the food here to other SF 2-stars Benu and Coi and it impressed me enough that I’d be interested in returning for the chef’s counter.

It’s just unfortunate that the LivingSocial deal detracted so much from the overall experience (just the opposite of its intention); I regret buying it. It kind of spoiled an otherwise great dining experience.

saison exterior