CUT (Beverly Hills, CA)

CUT
Beverly Wilshire Hotel
9500 Wilshire Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA 90212
Dining date: 9/1/11

cut menu

When asked what my favorite steakhouse is, CUT has been my answer since first dining here over 4 years ago. While it’s been years since I’ve been to CUT, I’ve been reminded of their food at each American Wine & Food Festival. They’ve always had some of the best things to eat (which is saying a lot for that festival), including last year’s American wagyu New York with Maine lobster and black truffles. Given that festival is now defunct, what better time to revisit CUT and reassess if it’s still my favorite steakhouse.

Not only do I think they have the best steak, but I’ve also found the restaurant to be surprisingly well-rounded for a steakhouse….I could see why they were awarded a Michelin star in the latest guide. The appetizer menu typically has some interesting items such as a bone marrow flan, veal tongue salad, or oxtail bouillon.

The variety of beef is also some of the best I’ve seen in an LA steakhouse.

raw meat

Various domestic USDA Prime cuts of beef are available, but what separates CUT is the American wagyu (above, left) and 100% wagyu from Australia (above, right). My last trip to CUT was actually when I got my first taste of Japanese wagyu beef. Sadly, it’s no longer available due to the disease that crippled the breed last year, but the Australian wagyu is still something special (and at $20+ per ounce, definitely a splurge).

cut interior

Breadsticks

breadsticks

Gougères

gougeres

Compliments of the kitchen, these light “cheese balls” were quite nice. The cheese was somewhat subtle but present, and was just enough to whet the appetite.

Bone Marrow Flan, Mushroom Marmalade, Parsley Salad

marrow

This sounded irresistible on the menu and it didn’t disappoint. The bone marrow flan had the savory richness of bone marrow, yet in a lighter custard form. I don’t always love bone marrow straight (too heavy), so this was an ideal vehicle for it. The mushroom sauce added extra richness and depth.

Butter Lettuce, Avocado, Point Reyes Blue Cheese, Champagne-Herb Vinaigrette

salad

Austrian Oxtail Bouillon, Chervil, Bone Marrow Dumplings

oxtail

This was a hearty soup with a deep flavor somewhere between beef and chicken. I don’t think it was purely an oxtail-based broth, but I’m not sure. Loved the chunks of rich oxtail meat, as well as the light bone marrow dumplings.

After much consideration, we opted not to get any wagyu and just stick to the domestic ribeyes.

Bone In Rib Eye Steak 20 Oz U.S.D.A. PRIME, Illinois Corn Fed, Aged 21 Days

steak1

Rib Eye Steak 16 Oz U.S.D.A. PRIME, Nebraska Corn Fed, Dry Aged 35 Days

steak2

steak3

Honestly I thought the differences between these two ribeyes were subtle. Both were excellent, displaying a wonderful crusty, charred sear as well as a juicy, pink interior. The meat was beefy for sure, succulent and tender. I enjoyed every last bite. I thought my steak was cooked just right (medium-rare, above), though one person thought their ‘medium’ was a bit underdone.

We ordered three sides to go with the steaks. These were all served family-style and portioned out at the table. I found all of them to be pretty good, but nothing special. They’re meant to be simple.

Cavatappi Pasta “Mac & Cheese” Quebec Cheddar

mac cheese

At $19, this was easily the most expensive truffle-less mac & cheese dish I’ve ever had. For sure a solid mac & cheese, but not as memorable as the price tag would suggest.

Creamed Spinach with Fried Organic Egg

creamed spinach

I don’t really recall where the fried egg was, but it might’ve been chopped finely into the creamed spinach. Similar to the mac & cheese, it was good but I’m not in a rush to order it again.

Yukon Gold Potato Puree

mashed potatoes

The last side order was a ‘must’ for me – a simple mashed potatoes (I just love mashed potatoes with steak). Very rich and creamy, there must’ve been a generous amount of butter and cream.

Dark Chocolate Soufflé, Whipped Crème Fraiche, Gianduja Chocolate Ice Cream

souffle

I thought this was quite good. Served hot, the souffle had a little bit of the bitterness characteristic of dark chocolate. The gianduja ice cream (chocolate-hazelnut) added the bulk of the sweetness and, combined with the whipped creme fraiche, created some pretty rich, creamy mouthfuls.

Mignardises

mignardises

CUT reaffirmed my opinion of it being the top steakhouse in the city. The steaks at CUT were top-notch and although the sides weren’t anything special, I don’t think they were trying to be. While many debate the merits of Mastro’s steaks, I really don’t think there’s much of a comparison. The food at CUT is much more well-rounded, and the variety and quality of beef far superior. I will say that, unfortunately, it is also quite a bit more expensive though.

Urasawa (Beverly Hills, CA)

Urasawa
218 N Rodeo Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Dining date: 6/18/11

Urasawa was the perfect meal to cap off an already-memorable food week, starting with Taste of the Nation, and including a dinner with Thomas Keller at Bouchon. I love this restaurant, and it’s always my response to people who ask what my favorite restaurant in LA is.

sign

I’d been planning a return trip ever since my last visit in September. Even though the price has since climbed to $375 (spurned by the strength of the yen) and worries of radiation persist, it doesn’t look like there’s been a significant slowdown in business. Hiro assured us a couple of times that the Japanese fish he uses comes from the southern part of the country, only. Some varieties come from other places in the world, notably the tuna from Spain.

I can’t say I’ve tried a lot of sushi outside of California, but from what I have had, Urasawa clearly stands above the rest.

We started with a bottle of NV Veuve Clicquot Brut.

veuve

Temaki – seaweed, half cooked shrimp, shiso leaf, plum sauce

temaki

The shrimp was left still raw, leaving a soft spongy texture. The plum sauce lended both sweet and tart flavors.

Seared toro, monkfish liver, caviar, yuzu dressing

toro monkfish liver

Urasawa always has some rendition of this dish. Some of the best things of the sea are combined with terrific results. The richness of the liver and toro are complemented by the cool, acidic yuzu and salty caviar.

Yuba, sea urchin, wasabi, bonito, soy sauce

yuba uni

This was a completely new dish for me. Delicate, with a nice blend of flavors – earthy soy and sesame, as well as bonito and sea urchin from the sea.

plating

Sashimi – toro, red snapper, spanish mackerel, red cabbage, nori

sashimi1

sashimi2

As usual, sashimi comes on carefully crafted ice sculptures, complete with pink or blue flowers (differentiated for male or female diners). This was the first dish where the quality of fish was at the forefront. Really nice examples of each, with the toro being my favorite.

Chawanmushi – italian summer truffles, russian caviar, bonito, gingko nut, shiitake mushroom

chawanmushi

Earth and sea flavors were showcased here, with the truffle and caviar flavors the most prominent. I really liked the silky smooth egg custard too.

I was sitting directly below the A/C so I was freezing during the first few dishes. Unlike the water, hot green tea is “free,” so I went to town on this.

green tea

Tempura squid

tempura squid

tempura sauce

Here was Urasawa’s version of fried calamari, in a way. The tempura batter was expectantly light, and the tender piece of squid was delicious.

Hoba yaki – scallop, prawn, abalone, hoba yaki leaf, egg yolk and miso-based sauce

seafood2

<seafood1

I’m always fearful of food that continues to cook in front of you, as I often find the pieces I eat last have been overcooked. Somehow, that wasn’t a problem here – the seafood was perfectly cooked. However, I found the delicate fish to be somewhat overwhelmed by the mildly sweet, rich sauce.

Shabu shabu – foie gras, king eel, red snapper

shabu1

shabu2

The foie gras was extraordinary. Really…more so than in previous visits for some reason. Urasawa also demonstrated that the king eel is actually eaten bone-in, but that he cuts the bone so thinly you can’t tell. Good for calcium, he says. Afterwards, we sipped on the soup we created.

A green plate and a dish of ginger signaled the start of sushi service, made and eaten one at a time.

ginger

The wine transitioned to a Beringer 2008 Private Reserve Chardonnay. Really liked the upfront oak flavors of this wine, with a sort of vanilla-like finish.

beringer

Toro

toro

We started with a heavy hitter – Urasawa’s toro is the best Ive ever had. Rich and fatty (the color says it all), it was silky smooth and melted in my mouth.

Seared toro

seared toro

This was similar to the previous, though from the collar portion. Again, really tender with a subtle smoky flavor.

Spanish mackerel

spanish mackerel

A little bit of resistance in this mackerel, but still tender and flavorful.

Red snapper

red snapper

I thought this red snapper had a brighter, cleaner flavor. Again, teeth not required.

Bluefin tuna

bluefin

Mmm bluefin tuna.

Skipjack tuna

skipjack

A little bit of chew here, and mild in flavor.

Squid

squid

Similar to the tempura version, there was a delicate chew here, and the fish was brightened by some yuzu citrus.

Shiitake mushroom

shitake

I liked the shitake on this visit better than previous ones. Deep, earthy flavor and good change of pace.

Uni

uni

So good. So soft, with a clean sea flavor. Interestingly, Urasawa used Hokkaido uni for kaiseki dishes, and Santa Barbara uni for sushi preparation.

Chu-toro

chutoro

Back to more tuna with some medium-fatty toro. Silky, soft and delicious.

Giant clam

giant clam

Chewy but not overly so, and not fishy at all.

Shrimp

shrimp

There were probably over a dozen of these small shrimp that make up one piece of nigiri. Soft, sweet, and delicious.

Gizzard shad

gizzard shad

Tender, with a mildly fishy, oily flavor.

Toro, scallion, pickled radish

toro roll

I wish I had a hand roll of this. The delicious toro was heightened by some fresh scallion and crunchy radish.

Abalone

abalone

Chewy and sweet.

Sweet shrimp shrimp brain soy sauce

sweet shrimp1

sweet shrimp2

One of my favorite pieces, prepared fresh from the tank. A delightful mouthfeel with these shrimp, chewy and springy and very sweet.

Chopped spanish mackerel, ginger, scallion, miso, shiso, ginger

mackerel

A lot of complementary flavors and really tasty.

Sea eel

sea eel

So tender, with a nice rich, sweet sauce.

Sponge Cake

cake

Like a very moist cake, this is a nice transition out of the savory sushi and into dessert.

Grapefruit jelly, goji berry, blueberry, blackberry, strawberry, raspberry, papaya

<fruit jelly

Light, refreshing, and tart. I would have liked something here to be a little bit sweeter, though.

Sesame ice cream, black truffle, red bean, gold flake

ice cream truffle

Holy crap. Wow. I’d never seen this before, and it was amazing. The rich, creamy nuttiness of the ice cream really paired well with the earthy black truffles, with just a little bit of sweetness from the red bean. It kind of reminded me of the chocolate sauce that hardens into a shell when it touches ice cream. Except way better.

A bowl of bitter matcha green tea was a perfect pairing.

matcha1

matcha2

Hojicha

tea

Finally, a roasted green tea to finish off the meal.

This meal at Urasawa was another fantastic one. Is it worth the money? I think so, at least once in a while. The food is simple and traditional, letting the high quality of the ingredients speak for themselves. Urasawa’s serious dedication to the craft and affable, humorous personality creates a memorable experience in itself. I’m already planning a return visit, hopefully in January for hairy crab season.

group photo

Spruce (San Francisco, CA)

Spruce
3640 Sacramento St
San Francisco, CA 94118
Dining date: 5/23/11


Spruce opened in 2007 to high praise and a lot of attention, being one of the hardest reservations for a while. Almost 4 years later, the buzz has certainly calmed. However it remains a a very popular spot, even garnering a Michelin star in the 2011 guide.

Their most famous dish is likely the “Spruce Burger” which is listed in many publications as one of the top burgers (or dishes, period) in San Francisco. I happened to be working in San Francisco’s Laurel Heights on this day, so it was a perfect opportunity to come by and try this burger.

The burger, at its simplest, includes a bun, patty, choice of cheese, pickles, lettuce, tomato and side of fries. A variety of add-ons are available including bacon, a fried egg, mushrooms, caramelized onions and even foie gras.

We started with an amuse bouche from the kitchen.

Carrot Soup with Almond and Date Foam

Looking like a cappuccino, the carrot soup was comforting, and not overly sweet nor overly carrot-y. I appreciated the subtle nuttiness and sweetness from the almonds and dates, respectively.

Spruce Burger french fries

Now, what we came for! I first noticed the bun. It was relatively thinner and denser than what’s normally seen, with a well-toasted texture…I think it was pretty much like an English Muffin. The meat (Niman Ranch chuck) was cooked a nice medium rare and oozed fat and juices when squeezed. The meat was tasty and the bun did a good job of soaking up the juices. I opted to add on bacon and caramelized onions; I’d have to say both of these were very good and added a lot of flavor. It all came together really nicely; easily one of the better burgers I’ve had in some time. At $16, it’s not the cheapest of burgers, but the quality is apparent. It’s a relatively simple burger, but the execution is key. I think each of the components were tasty on their own, but really came together to pack a load of flavor.

The fries (which came with the burger) were quite good as well, with a delightful crunch on the outside and fluffy potato on the inside.

There’s a whole rest of the menu that I haven’t tried yet, but if this burger is any indication, I expect it to be well-executed, carefully crafted and probably pretty tasty. The burger alone, though, is enough reason for a return visit.

Joel Robuchon (Las Vegas, NV)

Joël Robuchon
MGM Grand
3799 Las Vegas Blvd South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Dining date: 3/28/11

exterior

When people ask me what my favorite restaurants are, this one always comes up. I have been here twice before, and they are two of the most memorable meals I have ever had. I’m not alone; the restaurant gets the top rating in almost every culinary publication (3-star Michelin, Forbes 5-star, AAA Five Diamond, 19/20 on Gayot). It even garnered a rare 4-star review from LA Times critic S. Irene Virbila.

The restaurant is unabashedly extravagant, excessive really, starting with a complimentary limousine to the restaurant.

A number of a la carte options are available, as well as a 16-course tasting menu. The restaurant doesn’t necessitate the same menu for everyone, which I thought was really nice. As a result, my mom had a 4-course of her choosing, while my dad and I had the 16-course.

The first thing that came around was this amazing bread cart. Seriously, I’ve seen bakeries with less selection than this.

bread cart

The picture isn’t even a full representation – there were more breads on lower shelves of the cart. I didn’t count, but I think there had to be around 20 varieties.

Given that I had 16 courses coming, I had to control myself a little here.

Milk bread (top) and Bacon epi

bread2

Olive oil bread (left) and Gruyere roll

bread3

These were all excellent – I especially liked the bacon bread because of the extra bacon-y flavor. But I also enjoyed the subtlety of the milk and olive oil bread.

Le Citron lemon and basil gelee, anise fennel cream

le citron

There was a bright citrus flavor here from the lemon, balanced nicely by the fennel cream. Just a little bit of basil flavor was a nice touch too – a good start.

Le Cerise cherry gazpacho with sheep ricotta and pistachios

le cerise

The gazpacho was slightly tart, but again balanced well with the creamy sheep’s milk ricotta. This was a rather unique meld of flavors, and I liked the crunchy pistachios as well.

Le Caviar green asparagus with lemon balm, delicate seafood gelee topped with smooth cauliflower cream, maki of thin couscous

le caviar3

This next dish was a trio of Osetra caviar dishes. First was quite simply asparagus with caviar. Perhaps not the most dynamic pairing, but the vegetal quality of the asparagus was an interesting pairing with the salty caviar.

le caviar2

This was one of Robuchon’s signature dishes of a seafood gelee, cauliflower cream and caviar. Really good. The custard was warm and so soft, with a subtle but present seafood flavor. The cauliflower cream was a nice touch too, especially with the salty caviar.

le caviar1

Lastly, a play on a sushi roll – looks like something Urasawa would serve. I really enjoyed the crunchy daikon and couscous in the roll, while the caviar really heightened the flavors.

La Noix de Saint Jacques seared scallop, heart of palm in coriander scented coconut milk

la noix

So pretty. The scallop was cooked perfectly, and I enjoyed the broth with flavors from the coriander and creamy coconut milk.

Les Petits Pois light green pea veloute with peppermint on sweet onion cloud

Les Petits Pois

The ham made the difference for me in this soup. The pea-peppermint  flavor was well-balanced, while the richness of the ham really added some extra depth of flavor. Very good.

Les Crustacés lobster in sake broth with broccoli and nori, baby octopus in saffron rice, truffled langoustine ravioli

This was probably my favorite dish of the night. There were actually three parts – the lobster, baby octopus and the langoustine.

Les Crustacés 2

First, the lobster was cooked well, with a tasty sake broth with a strong sea essence.

Les Crustacés 1

Secondly, this baby octopus on top of saffron rice was very much like paella, though a very well-executed one. The rice was a nice al dente with a vibrant saffron flavor; the octopus was cooked perfectly too, leaving it quite tender.

Les Crustacés 3

Lastly, one of Robuchon’s signatures – langoustine ravioli, here topped with black truffle. Perhaps the best bites of the night, the ravioli was stuffed with chunks of langoustine, which was really tender, sweet and full of flavor. The black truffle added another dimension, with a more subtle earthiness; a haute surf-and-turf if you will. Excellent.

Le Black Cod black cod in daikon bouillon with yuzu

le black cod

Compared to the previous courses, this wasn’t quite as exciting. The black cod was prepared beautifully, served with tender daikon and some nice citrus from the yuzu. Well-executed, but I felt I’d had these flavors on the same plate before.

Le Chou crispy fried cabbage with vegetable medley

le chou

The cabbage was really nicely crisped and kind of sweet. The carrots, artichokes and morels were all very good, though I’m not sure the composed dish was greater than the sum of its parts.

Le Volaille farm chicken supreme with foie gras, fricassee of young leeks

Le Volaille

There were two parts here – foie gras stuffed chicken and a grilled yakitori-style chicken. I thought the stuffed chicken was a bit dense and not the most flavorful, but the foie gras was very good; meltingly rich and flavorful. The chicken prepared yakitori-style was delicious – tender, moist and just a little smoky.

We requested a side of Robuchon’s famous mashed potatoes (pommes puree) as well – really rich and creamy, these were excellent. Lots of fat, for sure.

mashed potatoes

Les Pousses de Soja risotto of soybeans sprouts, lime zest and chives

Les Pousses de Soja

This was an interesting dish – soybean sprouts were prepared in a sort of faux risotto. Instead of rice, the sprouts gave a little bit of a more ‘fresh’ flavor and were still kind of starchy. I’m not sure how they got the richness of a risotto as well, but this was a very successful “low-carb” variation of the dish.

L’Amande light almond panna cotta, tahitian vanilla pineapple

L’Amande

This was the first dessert course. The panna cotta was delicious; light and smooth with a good almond flavor. I found the hazelnuts to be a little overpowering though because the almond flavor was so subtle.

Before the next course, a cart of fresh herbs came by. Spearmint, lemongrass and thyme were available for a customized herbal tea. I’d never seen anything like this before, and was super excited to try my thyme-spearmint concoction!

herbal teas

La Framboise fresh raspberries and ginger infused sorbet, crunchy honey tuile

La Framboise

The flavors here were reminiscent of strawberry shortcake, only with raspberries. It wasn’t too sweet, which was good, and I thought the subtle ginger flavor in the sorbet nicely balanced the raspberries.

Le Moka – Le Thé escortés de mignardises

mignardises

Lastly, the mignardises cart came by. The selection was (predictably) rather extensive. I only tried a few here as stomach room was limited.

mignardises2

mignardises3

Pistachio nougat and chocolate opera cake are centered in each picture; each sweet I tried was pretty good and a nice ending to the meal. I just wonder where they all go once service ends for the night.

Lastly, a bag with the menu, a brochure of the restaurant and a pistachio-pomegranate bread was given to the females…in this case, we got one.

bag

bread

This was an excellent meal. Thinking back though, there weren’t any dishes that were truly amazing, except for maybe the langoustine ravioli and the trio of caviar. For the cost (the tasting menu was $385), I might have expected just a little more. I had very high expectations and it didn’t disappoint, but it didn’t ‘wow’ either. Still, it was definitely a memorable meal – the sheer opulence almost guarantees that. However, I don’t find myself in such a hurry to go back as I do with Urasawa or The French Laundry.

Spago (Beverly Hills, CA)

Spago Beverly Hills
176 N Canon Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Dining date: 2/25/11

exterior

Spago has one of the richest histories in LA dining, having been Wolfgang Puck’s flagship restaurant for decades. It used to be one of my favorite restaurants when I first moved to LA; there was something about the upscale Asian-inspired dishes that captured my attention. However, when the first Michelin Guide in LA came out and awarded Spago two stars, I was perplexed. I enjoyed the food, sure, but the cuisine wasn’t as refined and innovative as other two-star restaurants I’d been to.

Enter the tasting menu. I’ve always ordered a la carte in previous visits – when I heard the tasting menu was a very different meal altogether, I knew I had to visit again. Kevin of kevinEats was also looking to make a return trip, so I joined him, Christina of food, je t’aime, Sam of Bites for Me, Diana and Jackie to come try out the tasting menu. In true kevinEats fashion, Kevin requested an extended tasting and the restaurant obliged; what resulted was a 23-course meal with 15 wines to match. Goodness.

We started with seven (yes, seven!) amuse bouche.

Spicy Tuna Tartare in Sesame-Miso Cone

spicy tuna tartare cone

I think you always get this amuse at Spago, one of their signature. It’s a good one, with tender chunks of tuna balanced well with a little sweetness and texture from the sesame miso cone.

Smoked Salmon with lemon-herb blini, salmon eggs

salmon blini

One of Spago’s famous dishes is a smoked salmon pizza. Here we have the house-smoked salmon on top of a blini; unfortunately, I didn’t get too much of the smoked salmon flavor, as I thought it was overwhelmed by the tart crème fraiche and salty salmon eggs.

Hamachi Ceviche

hamachi ceviche

I wouldn’t say there was anything too special about this course, but it was done well. A little bit of citrus and herbal notes complemented the fish.

Toad in a Hole with black truffle

toad in a hole

A very light brioche was filled with a quail egg, and then topped with black truffle. Sounds amazing….and it was! Runny egg yolks work so well with truffles, and this was no exception.

Oyster Gratin with caviar

oyster caviar

The saltiness of the caviar worked well here in cutting through the richness of gratin; the bite as a whole was pretty tasty with the oyster.

Pastrami-Cured Duck Liver Mousse with rye crisp and apple puree

pastrami duck liver

I liked the tandem of the sweet apple and rich duck liver. The rye crisp added just a little bit of texture, as well as a more interesting presentation.

Bacon Confit en Croute with black truffle

bacon en croute

I really liked the smoky, meaty bacon within the flaky dough; however, I found it overwhelmed any black truffle flavor whatsoever.

Pear-Rhubarb Sorbet with jasmine tea

rhubarb sorbet

This was a palate cleanser to signal a transition from the amuses to more traditional courses. The sorbet was interesting – very creamy and sort of floral…I didn’t really care for it actually. The jasmine tea was pretty solid though, as well as the small chunks of crisp, sweet Asian pear floating within.

Crispy Phyllo-Wrapped Santa Barbara Spot Prawns with black bean vinaigrette & Asian slaw
Chablis, Domaine Francois Raveneau, France 2008

spot prawn

This was a standout dish for me. I love fried shrimp so I really liked the light, crispy phyllo dough around the prawn. There was a cucumber flower on the plate (never had this before); when eaten, it tasted just like a cucumber, adding some cool and refreshing crispness.

Sauteed Veal Sweetbreads with onion-mushroom “pastille,” maitake mushrooms, confit bacon, orange-kohlrabi puree
Chignin-Bergeron, Domaine Jean Vullien, France 2009

sweetbreads

I liked this dish as well. The sweetbreads were perfectly cooked with a crispy exterior. A rich pan sauce added depth of flavor, while the “pastille” was a fun way to add some sweetness and earthiness.

Fromage de Tete with truffled red wine sauce & truffle salad
Riesling Spatlese “Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberg,” Karthauserhof, Germany 2003

fromage de tete

I don’t think I’ve ever had head cheese before, so I had no idea what fromage de tete was at first. The “cheese” was very tender and rich, though the truffles were overwhelmed (again). The paired Riesling, with its mild sweetness, was a fantastic accompaniment.

Seafood-stuffed Sepia with fried calamari
Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle, Ermes Pavese, Italy 2009

sepia

The sepia (cuttlefish) was stuffed with Dungeness crab, which I thought was an awesome idea. The sepia was very tender, and the fried calamari was executed well, providing some crunchy texture as well.

Rye-Crusted Loup de Mer with littleneck clams & lemon butter meuniere
Firmint “Csontos Vineyard,” Bott, Hungary 2009

loup de mer

The fish was extremely moist – perfect. However, the rye added a wheat flavor which I didn’t totally like with it. Still, the fish was very good. The littleneck clams were tasty, though not really cohesive with the dish overall.

Hand-rolled Garganelli with Maine lobster & spring rapini
Pinot Grigio “Alisos Vineyard,” Central Coast 2008

garganelli

The garganelli was a nice al dente, but wasn’t quite as chewy as some of the garganelli I’ve had elsewhere (ie Drago Centro). However, a solid dish with the tender lobster in a tomato sauce.

Handmade Agnolotti with celery root & French black truffles
Lazio Bianco “Coenobium,” Monastero Suore Cistercensi, Italy 2007

agnolotti

The pasta here was wonderful. The celery root added some savory sweetness, while the butter sauce and truffles added some richness and the bulk of the flavor. Very nice.

Duo of Rabbit: Bacon-wrapped Loin and Rack of Rabbit
Lanzarote “Maceracion Carbonica,” Bermejo, Islas Canarias 2008

rabbit loin

We progressed into some richer, meat courses here. Look at the rabbit ribs! I found it a little uncomfortable to eat since I imagined this small bunny rabbit. I didn’t regret eating the meat, though, which was delicious. The loin was wrapped in bacon, which added a little bit more moisture and flavor to the dish. I thought the jus really brought everything together.

Sonoma Lamb Loin with fennel puree and brussels sprouts and black olives
Saint Emilion Grand Cru, Chateau de Candale, France 2006

lamb

Nothing too imaginative here, but this was a solid dish. I like my meats, so I enjoyed this lamb, especially with the fennel puree. It wasn’t as tender as I expected, though.

Slow Braised Short Ribs with Baked Bone Marrow
Cabernet Blend, Rothwell Hyde, St. Helena 2006

short rib marrow

Love the idea of the bone marrow! The short rib was really tender, meaty and rich (though..when isn’t it?). The bone was filled with chunks of marrow and maitake mushrooms, adding even more richness to this dish. A cabernet blend was the ideal wine pairing for this.

Selection of Artisanal Cheeses
Madeira Sercial, Rare Wine Company

cheese

I’m never a huge cheese fan. Given we had 18 courses already and had 4 desserts coming up, I opted to just try a small piece of each. Still not a huge cheese person.

Lemon Souffle and blackberry sorbet
Moscato D’Asti “Bricco Quaglia,” La Spinetta, Piedmont 2010

lemon souffle

Pastry chef Sherry Yard came out to present the first dessert. The soufflé was warm, light and airy and contrasted well with the refreshing fruits and blackberry sorbet.

Kaiserschmarrn
Cuvee Beerenauslese, Kracher, Austria 2006

kaiserschmarrn

This Austrian favorite is one of Yard’s signature desserts. This was very much like a strawberry and pancakes brunch. I liked the dough quite a bit – it was very light with a subtle sweetness from the powdered sugar. The strawberries were okay, though I feel like I’ve had these flavors together dozens of times.

Dobos Torte
Dow’s 20-Year Tawny Porto

dobos torte

This is a rendition of a Hungarian cake, with layers of chocolate and a little caramel. The cake was pretty light, which I liked.

Chocolate Pot Pie

chocolate pot pie

Lastly (finally!), we had this “chocolate pot pie.” I think the top crust was a chocolate puff pastry, which we cracked to find more chocolate, crunchy cocoa-puff-like balls, as well as raspberry sorbet. This was probably the most interesting of all of the desserts.

This meal was the strongest I’ve had here, and I quickly understood the Michelin stars…well, at least one of them. With 23 courses presented, I expected some to be very good and some to perhaps be duds. I wouldn’t call any of the dishes bad, though I found the desserts a little disappointing. My favorite courses were the toad in a hole, spot prawn, sepia, agnolotti and rabbit. Consider my opinion of Spago changed; while I’ve enjoyed my a la carte experience each time, the tasting menu presents a more refined meal worthy of Michelin recognition. Next time, though, I don’t think I need to try as many courses!

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Photo courtesy of kevinEats.

Mori Sushi (Los Angeles, CA)

Mori Sushi
11500 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064
Dining date: 2/19/11


Mori Sushi has the distinction of being one of three Japanese restaurants (Urasawa, Sushi Zo, Asanebo) to have garnered a Michelin Star in the latest guide…a distinction which seems to be indefinite. I’ve been to Mori once before, but for lunch. I ordered one of the sushi combos with some a la carte items, but I didn’t think I got an accurate representation of what Mori had to offer (I was underwhelmed).

One claim that struck me is that Chef Mori Onodera only buys fish and vegetables for the restaurant. The rice and soy are both homemade; quality control is of utmost importance. Even most of the plates used are handcrafted by Mori himself. Sounds like my type of place!

Three different omakase are available: we opted for the sushi omakase. This would have a couple of small plates, but primarily be sushi.

Homemade Tofu, Wasabi, Soy


Here we started with a simple starter with just three components – an excellent way for Mori to show off his homemade tofu, homemade soy sauce and freshly grated wasabi. The tofu was very mild in flavor with a subtle soybean flavor – the wasabi and soy were integral in drawing out some of the flavors.

Monkfish Liver and Kumamoto Oyster


Next was monkfish liver in a cucumber, scallion and seaweed salad, along with a fresh oyster, straight up. The monkfish exhibited a characteristic richness, delicious without being fishy. The oyster was good as well, though quite small.

Fish Soup shrimp, clams, cod

This would be the most “complex” dish of the night. A hot soup came to the table with shrimp, clams, cod, parsley and bell peppers. I tend to fear soups like these as it’s so difficult to cook the fishes appropriately while it’s sitting in hot soup. I thought the cod and clams were pretty spot on, but the shrimp were overcooked. The broth, however, was very nice – a subtle but present seafood flavor was accented by the sweetness of the bell peppers, as well as herbal notes from the parsley.

This platter (perhaps designed by Mori himself) signaled the start of sushi.

Red Snapper marinated with kelp

We started with this solid red snapper. I first noticed (as I had during my previous visit) that the sushi pieces here are some of the smallest I’ve seen. The fish:rice ratio was good, but I wanted just a bit more fish and rice in each bite. The rice was perfect – warm and loosely packed, with just a little bit of textural feel.

Needlefish


I’m not sure if I’ve ever had needlefish, but I enjoyed this one as well.

Yellowtail


Characteristically tender and soft, this was a good bite.

Bluefin Toro


Yay for toro! As expected, the fish was silky smooth and melt-in-mouth. A good example of toro, though not really close to Urasawa’s.

Gizzard Shad


This piece was a little fishy, though I’m not really sure if that’s just characteristic of this type of fish. Very tender, however.

Bigeye Chutoro


I liked this chutoro (medium-fatty) example as well, smooth and tender; however, I enjoyed the bluefin toro a little more.

Japanese Mackerel


Another fish that was subtly fishy and very flavorful.

Sweet Shrimp


Sweet shrimp (amaebi) is typically one of my favorite pieces of sushi. This one, from Boston, was no exception; sweet with a squishy texture – I really enjoyed this one.

Squid


Octopus


The squid and octopus were both similar in texture – surprisingly quite tender, though a little…slimy. I was surprised by the octopus though, as I’m more accustomed to chewier textures.

Halibut Fin


Topped with yuzu, this piece was a lot chewier than I anticipated. I liked the flavors of the fish and yuzu, however.

Barracuda


The barracuda was seared with a blowtorch, giving this a nice charred, smoky flavor as well. Similar to the halibut fin, this was a little chewy, but I enjoyed it.

Salmon Egg


Not fishy at all. The eggs burst with a briny taste of the ocean. When I was younger, I didn’t enjoy these eggs but I’ve grown to actually really like them.

Uni (Hokkaido and Santa Barbara)


Loved that we were presented with two types of uni for comparison. The Hokkaido uni is on the left, while Santa Barbara on the right. I actually preferred the Santa Barbara uni (and thought its color was more brilliant), as it had a sweeter, cleaner flavor.

Red Snapper with yuzu

Lastly, we had another example of red snapper, this time with a yuzu accompaniment. I almost always like the citrusy fruit with fish, and it did not fail here.

Black Sesame Ice Cream


Made in-house. Loved this ice cream; it was rich and creamy, with just the right sweetness. The sesame flavor was very evident…just delicious.

Roasted Green Tea


I often see this tea at the end of Japanese meals; always something to look forward to. The roasting gives the tea a distinct flavor.

Food only, the omakase came out to $110 pre-tax/tip, which I thought wasn’t bad. Though, there wasn’t a wide variety of fishes served. My biggest qualm was that, personally, I thought the sushi pieces were too small. It was good for a few chews and that was it, and the 16 sushi pieces weren’t really a lot of food.

Nowadays, I always compare my sushi restaurants to Urasawa, which probably isn’t fair considering this meal was 1/3 the price. However, I think Urasawa, then Sushi Zo are a cut above; Mori and Sasabune are on the next tier for sushi.