Melisse (Santa Monica, CA)

Melisse
1104 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Dining date: 1/24/14

Melisse

Melisse, like the restaurant of my last post Providence, is oft-considered one of the best restaurants in the city for its French-Californian cuisine. It’s truly one of the few refined fine dining destinations that has survived through all the food trends Los Angeles has seen since it’s opening in 1999. Like Providence, Melisse garnered 2 Michelin stars in the last guide; while I have been familiar with Providence ever since it opened, my first visit to Melisse didn’t come until a relatively late 2010. I’ve now had a few meals here (including a very memorable Farewell to Foie last year) and have thoroughly enjoyed them.

The impetus for this dinner was the restaurant’s participation in dineLA’s new $85 price level, an opportune time for 4 friends’ first visit. As with many dineLA options I wondered – what type of meal would Melisse provide at this lower price point? Would it still reflect a ‘regular’ Melisse experience? I was pleasantly surprised on both counts.

menu

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David Kinch @ Rustic Canyon (Santa Monica, CA)

David Kinch (Manresa)
Rustic Canyon
1119 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Dining date: 11/11/13

rc exterior

David Kinch, chef of two-star Manresa in Los Gatos, CA, is one of the most lauded chefs in the country. I’ve been to Manresa once many years ago and, quite frankly, don’t remember much about it. For some time now, I’ve been wanting to return to the restaurant to retry some of Kinch’s hyper-local modern American cuisine.

Earlier this week I sort of got my chance, as chef David Kinch cooked a collaborative dinner at Rustic Canyon. The chef was in town to promote his new cookbook (Manresa: An Edible Reflection) and reunited with Manresa ex-chef de cuisine Jeremy Fox, who is now executive chef of Rustic Canyon (with a significant stop at Napa’s Michelin-starred vegetarian Ubuntu in between). I dined on Fox’s food a few months back at Rustic Canyon and enjoyed it; combined with the addition of Kinch, I had high expectations for this meal.

rc interior

kinch menu

Each chef put together a snack and five courses for what really amounted to 12 different tastes. I thought the $95 price tag offered a lot of value for this kind of meal; drink pairing was an additional $45.

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Maru (Santa Monica, CA)

Maru
12400 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Dining date: 8/15/13

maru

Maru opened a couple months ago in Santa Monica (on the border of Brentwood), a relocation of a restaurant in Valencia. The man behind the food is chef Jason Park, who mixes the Japanese/Korean influences of his childhood into his classically trained cooking background. A wide variety of sushi and sashimi is offered (which the restaurant self-describes as ‘world-class’), as well as an extensive menu of his Asian-influenced Californian cooking. Desserts are a big part of the menu as well and could stand on their own (as Park’s recent opening of dessert shop Ramekin in Los Feliz earlier this year is proving).

I’d heard good things about the restaurant early on and was invited in for a tasting. On the menu on this evening was a small sample of sushi and sashimi, as well as a good glimpse into Park’s cooking.

maru bar

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Rustic Canyon (Santa Monica, CA)

Rustic Canyon
1119 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Dining date: 6/2/13

rustic canyon exterior

When Jeremy Fox was named Executive Chef of Rustic Canyon a few months ago, a return visit quickly shot up my list of places to eat. Fox, who garnered a Michelin star cooking vegetarian at Ubuntu in Napa, has been hard to catch up with since moving to LA a couple years ago. He’s held a number of quick consulting chef engagements and pop-ups around town (Freddie Smalls, Paper or Plastik, Barnyard, Old Soul @ Square One), departing each before I could find the time to go (or even before the restaurant opened). I’ve even missed his guest stints at last year’s 5×5 Collaborative Dinner @ Providence and Test Kitchen @ Bestia due to being out of the country. Needless to say, I was glad to finally be able to track down his cooking here in Santa Monica.

interior1

I’ve been to Rustic Canyon a few times; while probably best known for its burger, I’ve always felt the restaurant was pretty solid all-around. The burger is no longer on the menu, replaced with Fox’s own creations. It’s largely centered on seasonal small plates with a few larger entree-sized items. Similar to sister restaurants Huckleberry, Sweet Rose Creamery, and Milo & Olive, desserts are from the mind of co-owner Zoe Nathan.

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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

5×5 Chefs Collaborative @ Melisse (Santa Monica, CA)

5×5 Chefs Collaborative Dinner Series
Melisse
1104 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Dining date: 4/29/12

melisse exterior

The 5×5 dinner series has been around a number of years now, but this is the first (certainly not the last) one that I’ve been to. I don’t know why it took so long. The concept is thus: 5 chefs create a 5-course meal (one dish for each chef), rotating to each of their 5 restaurants (for 5 dinners in all). As if I needed more convincing, there’s been a sixth guest chef at each dinner, and this year’s no exception (making for 6 courses). The guest chef has often been an out-of-towner, providing unique flair to an otherwise already-all-star cast. The dinners cost $150 with a portion of proceeds benefiting the Southern California Special Olympics. A pretty cool concept!

menu

This was the first dinner of the 2012 series, held at Melisse in Santa Monica. The complete lineup: Josiah Citrin of Melisse, Michael Cimarusti of Providence, Gino Angelini of Angelini Osteria, Michael Voltaggio of ink., Rory Herrmann of Bouchon, and guest chef Ludovic Lefebvre of LudoBites. Ken Takayama (Melisse Chef de Cuisine) handled dessert duties for this dinner.

A special cocktail menu was prepared for this evening; we sampled a few (descriptions from left to right).

Renovateur Cadavre “corpse reviver” oxley gin, lillet blanc, cointreau and lemon
Citrine el tesoro plata, aperol, grapefruit and lime juice
Les Restes deaths door vodka, crushed grapes, lychee shaken with egg whites
Surfeur appleton rum, pineapple, ginger syrup, lime and soda

cocktails

Sampling all four, I thought this was a pretty strong lineup. My drink was the Surfeur, a refreshing and balanced cocktail with a little bit of sweet fruit, citrus and something I’ve really been enjoying in cocktails – ginger syrup.

The first thing to come out of the kitchen was this amuse bouche.

foie gras and rhubarb with dehydrated whey and citrus

foie gras and rhubarb with dehydrated whey and citrus

Basically a small ball full of foie flavor, it had a soft, almost jelly-like texture with a crispy coating. The main flavor profile was that of the foie gras – I could see this being a fitting start to Melisse’s Foie for All dinner as well.

Citrin: crisp chicken skin, raw milk curd, aged and fermented beets, shaved macadamia & chilled pea, yogurt sphere, meyer lemon air

crisp chicken skin, raw milk curd, aged and fermented beets, shaved macadamia

Host chef Josiah Citrin’s dish was this duo. The chilled pea consomee was light and refreshing, with a little bit of the citrus of the meyer lemon coming through. The textural component came in the form of crispy chicken skin, complemented by creamy milk curd and beets (which I think added the tartness I tasted).

Cimarusti: fluke sashimi, fluke fin, geoduck clam creme fraiche, yuzu kosho, crispy puffed rice

fluke sashimi, fluke fin, geoduck clam

Cimarusti has some beautiful plating skills and it was on clear display here. Fluke and geoduck sashimi were the proteins; the fluke was tender while the geoduck had just a little bit of chew. Yuzu kosho provided subtle heat, creme fraiche provided tartness, and puffed rice added a little crunch. This dish showed a lot of restraint and was very well-balanced. Quite good.

Lefebvre: Eastern Squid ink, ash and baby french leeks

Eastern Squid ink, ash and baby french leeks

Next up was Ludo’s dish. Tender pieces of squid were accompanied by a squid ink sauce, an ash crumble and a sweeter yellow sauce I can’t recall. I thought this was a strong dish, with the squid going very well with the sauce and delicate crumble. The glazed leeks were tasty too.

Angelini: homemade spaghetti chitarra alla norcina sausage, spring truffles, parmigiano-reggiano

homemade spaghetti chitarra alla norcina

Angelini’s dish was seemingly one of the simpler dishes of the evening but my favorite. I really like fresh pasta and found it to be done perfectly here. The spaghetti was thicker than what I normally see, almost resembling Japanese udon in shape. As a result, it provided a really nice chew to go along with the sausage-based sauce and earthy truffles. Goodness. I wanted a whole big bowl of this. One of the best things I’ve eaten this year.

Voltaggio: wild black bass egg yolk dumplings, porcini dashi

wild black bass

Next up was Voltaggio’s dish, a piece of sea bass topped with egg yolk dumplings (!) and a porcini dashi. The fish was cooked well, having a moist flavorful flesh though I would’ve preferred a crispy skin. Egg yolk dumplings were a fun addition, yielding a runny interior not unlike an actual yolk. Very interesting. It added a richness to the dish, while the dashi provided that extra depth of flavor.

Herrmann: degustation de lapin devil’s gulch rabbit, sweet carrots, fava beans, young onions, rosemary scented rabbit jus

degustation de lapin

Hermann’s dish was this trio of rabbit preparations – loin, rack and a cooked terrine. In many ways, this reminded me of The French Laundry but it lacked some of the pizzazz that I found in other courses. The tenderloin seemed a bit on the dry side, but the rack was a highlight with its juicy and tender meat. Carrots, beans and onions rounded out the dish, as well as a herb-scented jus that brought everything together.

Takayama: chocolate, caramel, strawberry, wild fennel

chocolate, caramel, strawberry, wild fennel

chocolate, caramel, strawberry, wild fennel

Loved the presentation of this dessert! Takayama’s creation of cake, fresh strawberries, and liquid nitrogen caramel ‘dippin dots’ were served in a chocolate bowl. The liquid nitrogen created the smoky effect, while the flavors were that of a chocolate and strawberry cake.

Lastly, we had some extra sweets to finish off the meal.

mignardises macarons, berries with yogurt and brown sugar

macarons

fruit

I found this meal to be very good – probably the best meal I’ve had so far this year. The food lived up to the big names and the progression of courses fit well, something that’s not always easy with these types of dinners. My favorite dish was Angelini’s pasta for sure, but other highlights included Cimarusti’s sashimi, Ludo’s squid and Takayama’s dessert. Even my least favorite plate was still a relatively strong effort. Especially with this level of cooking, I’m already looking forward to the rest of the series.

group shot

Sunday, April 29, 2012: MELISSE, with Guest Chef Ludo Lefebvre
Monday, May 21, 2012: PROVIDENCE, with Guest Chef Jeremy Fox
Monday, July 16, 2012: ANGELENI OSTERIA, with Guest Chef Michael Tusk
Monday, August 20, 2012: BOUCHON, with Guest Chef to be announced
Sunday, September 16, 2012: ink., with Guest Chef Chris Cosentino