Animal (Los Angeles, CA) [2]

Animal
435 N Fairfax Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Dining date: 7/7/13

animal exterior

Even though it’s been open for just over five years now, Animal still seems to be one of the more talked-about and popular restaurants in the city. It’s amazing that it’s evolved to stay current throughout this time, when it seems like dining trends change so quickly. Part of this popularity is what’s kept me from returning as often as I’d like. I feel as if getting a reservation is still not very easy (unless you’re willing to eat early or late), as a result it’s been some time since I dined at the restaurant. My last experience was at the Christopher Kostow (Meadowood) collaborative dinner at Animal in January; the Dotolo & Shook pair really impressed me with their level of refined cooking, trading punches with the 3-star chef. A return to the ‘regular’ restaurant was long overdue – an early birthday dinner was the impetus for the return (stay tuned for subsequent birthday dinners: Hinoki & The Bird, Wolvesmouth, Baco Mercat).

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Red Medicine (Los Angeles, CA)

Red Medicine
8400 Wilshire Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
Dining date: 3/30/13

red medicine exterior

Red Medicine is easily one of the city’s most controversial restaurants and it doesn’t really have anything to do with the food. Indeed, I think the outing of LA Times food critic S. Irene Virbila and the public admonishing of no-show diners has brought the restaurant nationwide attention, but it has likely overshadowed the food. More quietly, I’ve heard that the food coming out of Red Medicine’s kitchens are some of the more interesting, beautiful and delicious in the city, finding an ideal balance between Vietnamese influences and more modern American cuisine.

menu

I first sampled Red Medicine at the debut of revolving pop-up Test Kitchen in 2010, just before its opening in November of that year. Soon after the opening I stopped in for lunch, but it took me just over two years after that last visit to stop in for a proper dinner meal. I’ve been many times for dessert, but a full dinner was long overdue.

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Graham Elliot @ Son of a Gun (Los Angeles, CA)

Graham Elliot
Son of a Gun

8370 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Dining date: 4/9/13

son of a gun

Graham Elliot might be best-known for being a judge on MasterChef (alongside Gordon Ramsay and Joseph Bastianich), but he first made a name for himself in the kitchens of Chicago. He’s opened three restaurants in the city with his flagship being the eponymous Graham Elliot, which was awarded two Michelin stars in the latest guide. Elliot was in town to do some MasterChef tapings and decided to cook a two-night pop-up dinner, 5 courses for $100. Much cheaper than a flight to Chi-town. A wine pairing was available for $40 but we decided to go with the $30 cocktail pairing instead.

menu

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The Restaurant at Meadowood @ Animal (Los Angeles, CA)

Cooking with Friends: Christopher Kostow (The Restaurant at Meadowood)
Animal Restaurant
435 N Fairfax Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Dining date: 1/14/13

animal exterior

New for 2013, the team behind the ever-popular Animal began a series of dinners called “Cooking with Friends” in which a guest chef would join for one night and cook a collaborative dinner, with a portion of proceeds going to the chef’s choice. I’m always intrigued by meals like this as it provides an opportunity to try something unique, particularly if it’s an out-of-town chef.

For this first dinner, the guest chef was Christopher Kostow of the Michelin three-star The Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena, CA. My only visit to the restaurant was at the tail end of 2009, and was actually one of the meals that inspired this blog’s creation. Given Meadowood’s accolades and reputation for serving a highly-refined, super-seasonal/local type of dining, the restaurant was packed for the one-night dinner. I was very excited for this one.

menu

The eight-course menu was priced at $135 and the beneficiary of this dinner was Cancer for College, a charity that provides college scholarships to cancer survivors.

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Test Kitchen: Rocco DiSpirito (Los Angeles, CA)

Return of Test Kitchen: Rocco DiSpirito
9575 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035
Dining date: 10/1/12

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It’s been almost two years since Test Kitchen ended its run, something that I thought was one of the most interesting things to happen to the LA dining scene in recent years. Quite frankly, I’ve kinda missed it. A rotating cast of notable chefs spent a few days each in the kitchen, cooking whatever they wanted. The ever-changing menu continually kept things fresh and no two meals were alike. It revolutionized the pop-up restaurant in a way, and I’m surprised it hasn’t been fully duplicated since. However, the Test Kitchen legacy has lived on through its derivative restaurants such as Sotto, Picca, Playa and Short Order.

After years of rumors that Test Kitchen would eventually return, it finally seems to have come to fruition with another stint from 10/16-11/11 at upcoming Bestia restaurant in downtown LA. While I will be out of the country during its entire run, I was able to attend the launch and baton-passing from the former space (now Sotto) to the new space. For this occasion Test Kitchen hosted Rocco DiSpirito to cook his version of comfortable (and healthy) Italian fare. Joining DiSpirito in the kitchen were alumni from NYC’s Union Pacific, a restaurant DiSpirito opened in 1997, including Josh Dechellis, Neal Fraser (Grace), and Quinn Hatfield (Hatfield’s).

DiSpirito was promoting and cooking out of his latest cookbook Now Eat This! Italian: Favorite Dishes from the Real Mamas of Italy–All Under 350 Calories, the title of which is a mouthful, pun intended. He was on hand to chat and sign cookbooks for everyone.

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Crudo of Tuna, Meatballs, Kale Chips, Grilled Pane Carasau with Rosemary & Super Olive Oil

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We started with a quartet of antipasti. Tuna was bathed in a cool citrusy bath, while meatballs were smothered in a rich marinara. Thin bread chips and kale-parmiggiano chips (which I’m guessing were baked, not fried) provided the texture; I found the latter to be rather chewy…pretty much like undercooked kale. “Super olive oil,” a blend of olive oil and white wine, was a lighter and less fruity substitution for real olive oil, kind of defeating the purpose.

Lasagna Bolognese

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The main flavor profiles in the lasagna were the sweet tomato sauce and strong basil. With a little bit of shaved mushrooms and meat, I found it to be a hearty dish without being too rich…I’m guessing exactly what Rocco was going for.

Black Cod Puttanesca, Contorni of Polenta, Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta

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Next up was a silky smooth piece of black cod; I’m accustomed to the denser, richer fillets so I think this may have been a different breed. I liked it! Earthy olives and capers grounded out the flavors, while the sweetness of tomatoes brightened everything up. The polenta wasn’t particularly memorable, but the Brussels sprouts were better, getting a lot of flavor from the charred bits at the edges.

Cheesecake, Panna Cotta, Instant Strawberry Italian Ice

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Lastly, we were served a disappointing trio of desserts. The strawberry Italian ice was creamy, fruity and refreshing. However, the cheesecake (middle) was gritty, chalky and lacking in the flavor department. Lastly, the panna cotta was a little denser than I would’ve liked, and the subtle caramel flavor couldn’t hold up to the tart dessert.

Pine Nut Cookies

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To take home, we received a batch of pine nut cookies. These weren’t very good either, but I guess they were only 49 calories..

I thought the black cod was excellent, but I found the rest of the meal to be rather ordinary or mediocre. However, given DiSpirito was going the ‘healthy’ route I thought he actually did a pretty decent job for the most part. If the calorie count was correct, this was one of the few sub-1200 calorie meals I haven’t been able to finish (it was a lot of food!). Having said that, Test Kitchen is all about trying out new things and I’m excited for its return…just sad that I will miss its entire run.

Previous Test Kitchen posts:
Test Kitchen Dinners (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7)
Closing Night – 12/13/10
Reunion – 9/19/11

5×5 Chefs Collaborative @ ink. (Los Angeles, CA)

5×5 Chefs Collaborative Dinner
ink.

8360 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90069
Dining date: 9/16/12

ink exterior

This past weekend was the final 5×5 Collaborative Dinner of the season. I was lucky enough to attend 3 of the 5 dinners, which were some of my most anticipated dinners in LA this year. For this final dinner at Michael Voltaggio’s ink., the guest chef was scheduled to be Chris Cosentino (Incanto, Pigg). However, a late-game change of plans called for a couple of substitutes – Michael’s equally talented brother Bryan and Alex Talbot of Ideas in Food. Given I’ve been wanting to try Bryan’s food and have followed Ideas in Food for some time, I considered this a more than suitable substitution!

Similar to the rest of the dinners, 7 courses were served: 5 from the main chefs and 2 from the guests for $150 a plate.

ink interior

ink. snacks tiny bouqet, bbq mushroom, cool ranch ‘doritos’, pho
Michael Voltaggio, ink.

ink. snacks tiny bouqet, bbq mushroom, cool ranch 'doritos', pho

ink. snacks tiny bouqet, bbq mushroom, cool ranch 'doritos', pho

ink. snacks tiny bouqet, bbq mushroom, cool ranch 'doritos', pho

The first thing to come out of the kitchen was this quartet of amuse bouches. A tiny bouqet of something was unmemorable, but it got more exciting with fresh radishes dipped into a BBQ mushroom sauce. Kind of odd – I enjoyed the deep savory flavor. Voltaggio’s homemade cool ranch doritos were very close to the real thing, while fried beef tendon “chips” (a play on the flavors of pho) were the highlight with Southeast Asian notes and a spritz of lime.

avocado gazpacho hokkaido scallop, king crab, oyster, mariscos cocktail granite
Josiah Citrin, Melisse

avocado gazpacho hokkaido scallop, king crab, oyster, mariscos cocktail granite

Our first proper course was this seafood-centric avocado gazpacho. An assortment of fresh shellfish and vegetables were scattered at the bottom of the bowl with a creamy, cool gazpacho soup. I found each of the individual components enjoyable, but I’m not sure the dish as a whole came together as well as anticipated.

hawaiian hearts of peach palm heirloom beets, young fennel, candied macadamia nut & beet vinaigrette
Rory Herrmann, Bouchon

hawaiian hearts of peach palm heirloom beets, young fennel, candied macadamia nut & beet vinaigrette

Next up, this dish was centered around a pureed hearts of palm in the shape of a terrine. Crunchy macadamia nuts and a subtle fennel flavor sought not to overwhelm the delicate hearts of palm flavor.

wild monkfish blood sausage, weiser farms piquillo peppers, pickled celery
Michael Cimarusti, Providence

wild monkfish blood sausage, weiser farms piquillo peppers, pickled celery

I think this may have been the best dish of the night. Predictably, the monkfish was cooked to perfection, a moist and flavorful chunk of meat. The accompanying salad had just the right amount of acidity to balance the richness of the fish, while rye-tasting breadcrumbs provided an earthy texture. The blood sausage flavor was lost in this dish, though.

maltagliati di polenta lobster amatriciana sauce
Gino Angelini, Angelini Osteria

maltagliati di polenta lobster amatriciana sauce

Throughout this dinner series, Angelini has consistently prepared a dish near or at the top of our favorites. The simple, homey cooking was right in line with what our stomachs wanted, and this was no exception. The polenta-based flat pasta still had a slightly chewy texture, smothered in a rich shellfish-based sauce. Small chunks of lobster of fava beans completed the bites.

lambcetta trail mix, smoked almond, cocoa, raisins
Bryan Voltaggio, VOLT & Range

lambcetta trail mix, smoked almond, cocoa, raisins

Bryan Voltaggio’s lamb was cooked perfectly; I’m not sure what cuts were used, but the meat was rolled up in the style of a pancetta. He opted to pair the game with flavors of trail mix – smoky almond here, chocolate there, and the sweetness of raisins there.

blueberry pancakes
Alex Talbot, Ideas in Food

blueberry pancakes

We finished with simple sounding blueberry pancakes. Of course, these weren’t ordinary blueberry pancakes; instead pieces of a light and airy sponge cake were topped with a vanilla/caramel (and buttermilk?) ice cream, fresh blueberries and blueberry boba. How interesting. I thought the flavors of the pancakes did come through quite well, though not sure how the boba fit in. Plus, some were undercooked yielding a sort of chewy, gritty texture.

After dinner at ink., we decided to sneak in one more course at nearby Tacos Leo, notable for their tacos al pastor.

tacos leo

tacos al pastor

I’ve had the tacos al pastor once and found them on the dry side. These were better, though I can’t say I’d go out of my way for them. For a buck apiece, I can’t complain.

If I had to rank this evening’s food among the three 5×5 dinners I attended this season, I’d place this one in between the Melisse and Bouchon meals. There were some good dishes, sure, but nothing extraordinary given the caliber of chefs cooking on this night. On the opposite end, nothing was particularly bad either. These are still some of the most interesting and exciting dinners in LA, so I’ll be coming back next season.