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

Milo & Olive (Santa Monica, CA)

Milo & Olive
2723 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90403
Dining date: 4/10/12

exterior milo & olive

Milo & Olive is the newest restaurant (opened in November) in Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan’s quickly expanding empire in Santa Monica that already includes Sweet Rose, Rustic Canyon and Huckleberry. I’ve been to both Sweet Rose and Rustic Canyon and enjoyed both so this place has been on my radar, but I never had just the right impetus to make the drive over to the westside. That is, until a friend of mine clued me in to Walter Manzke being in the kitchen! Casual readers may know I’m a huge fan of his work, and I quickly picked a date to come out and check this place out.

manzke counter

Milo & Olive is categorized as sort of a bakery/pizzeria, but its more than a pizza parlor, offering a host of baked goods (displayed in the front; I’m guessing these are similar to ones offered at Huckleberry) and a bunch of small plates from veggies & grains to meat & fish. When discussing his stint here, Manzke’s temporary role seems to be as a chef consultant rather than, say, an Executive Chef. He’s definitely not here to completely overhaul the menu with his imprint.

baked goods1

baked goods2

It’s a pretty small place with two communal tables seating 6-8 each and a kitchen counter seating about 8 more. No wonder the lines are so long; we waited about 45 mins on a chilly Tuesday evening.

MARINATED ARTICHOKES baby spinach, toasted pine nuts, capers, golden raisins, goat cheese

MARINATED ARTICHOKES baby spinach, toasted pine nuts, capers, golden raisins, goat cheese

The artichokes were served warm, lightly dressed with a vinaigrette balanced by some sweet raisins. Some goat cheese added a subtle funk to the dish, but not in an overpowering way. Pine nuts added a nutty crunch.

WOOD OVEN ROASTED PRAWNS mediterranean salad

WOOD OVEN ROASTED PRAWNS mediterranean salad

The prawns came out sans shell, cooked to what I thought was a medium/medium-well like temperature. A bit on the firm side, I like my prawns a little more springy and succulent. The accompanying salad of creamy garbanzo beans, juicy tomatoes and crisp cucumber was a fresh and tasty side that I thought went well with the shrimp.

WOOD FIRED GARLIC KNOT extra virgin olive oil, sea salt

WOOD FIRED GARLIC KNOT extra virgin olive oil, sea salt

WOOD FIRED GARLIC KNOT extra virgin olive oil, sea salt

This was probably the most memorable dish of the evening, a warm doughy ‘purse’ filled with garlic. The garlic was cooked down to a very soft texture and was sweet, far from the bitter bite of raw garlic. The dough itself was crispy on the outside and pillowy soft and yielding on the inside. With a dash of salt and olive oil, these were some great bites.

Of course, we sampled a couple of pizzas too.

HOUSEMADE PORK BELLY SAUSAGE braised greens, tomato, fresh mozzarella

HOUSEMADE PORK BELLY SAUSAGE braised greens, tomato, fresh mozzarella

MIXED MUSHROOM fontina, Parmigiano Reggiano, thyme

MIXED MUSHROOM fontina, Parmigiano Reggiano, thyme

The pizzas resembled Mozza’s in size and style – I thought they were pretty well made. The mushroom pizza was expectantly earthy with the clean flavors of the mushrooms, cheese and a hint of thyme. I really enjoyed the pork belly sausage; the sausage itself was delicious balanced by some greens and a really tasty tomato sauce. It’s so hard to compare pizzas across the city since everyone has a different idea of the perfect pie, but that pork belly sausage pizza was one of my recent favorites.

In addition to the baked goods in front, there were a few desserts offered. We had room for two of them.

LEMON MERINGUE

lemon meringue

The lemon meringue was simple but well done, with a fine balance between the light and creamy lemon curd and sweet whipped meringue.

VANILLA CUSTARD TART

vanilla custard tart

I liked this dessert better with it’s rich, subtly sweet custard in a flaky, sweetened crust. Blueberries were a nice topping too.

Manzke came out to chat with us at the end of the meal to share some of his thoughts on the LA food scene and his upcoming restaurant République (it will take some time). This was my first time spending any sort of quality time with the chef, and I was definitely excited to do so. Also at the end of the meal, we were each gifted bags of goodies to take home; a loaf of bread and some type of pasty. I got a loaf of ciabatta and a croissant. Score! It was the end of night and they were presumably clearing out the day’s inventory, but I thought it was a nice touch (per Yelp, it’s a somewhat common occurrence – so go late!). Even the next morning (or days, in the case of the ciabatta), they were pretty delicious especially when reheated lightly in the oven.

bakery treats

Milo & Olive was pretty good. My favorite items tended to be those involving dough, including the garlic knot, pizzas and dessert/pastries (I’m definitely gonna have to check out Huckleberry soon). The two small plates we tried were good but just missing that extra ingredient to make them pop. If this restaurant was in my neighborhood, I’d definitely be back soon. Given it’s across town from me, I’d have to think about it a little – there are so many other places I still want to visit for the first time. But who knows, that garlic knot may be calling my name sooner than I think.

Tar & Roses (Santa Monica, CA)

Tar & Roses
602 Santa Monica Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Dining date: 2/16/12

tar & roses exterior

Tar & Roses opened late last month, one of the bigger restaurant openings so far this year. Andrew Kirschner is the chef behind Tar & Roses, formerly the executive chef of nearby Wilshire Restaurant. He brings with him food that’s been described as “rustic new American,” centered around a wood burning oven. A different type of wood is burning in the oven each day, marked on each menu. On this evening, it was oak (almond, olive, walnut, apple were the other options) – to be honest I don’t really know the difference (and how it impacts the menu from one night to the other), but it was kind of cool to see.

I was invited to come in for dinner; the restaurant was already on my radar so I was happy to do so. The menu is fairly extensive between charcuterie & cheese, snacks, vegetable side dishes and a host of small and large plates – we gave the kitchen the freedom to send out whatever they wanted.

popped corn crisp bacon, brown sugar, chili

popcorn

We started with this popcorn dish, accented by an addicting combination of bacon, brown sugar and chili. Quite nice!

short rib chickpea pancake, pico de gallo

short rib

Next, the kitchen sent out this off-menu item. The chickpea pancake was an interesting replacement for a corn/flour tortilla, topped with tender, meaty chunks of short rib and a bright pico de gallo.

chicken oysters on a stick tamarind

chicken oysters

Of all of the dishes on the menu, I specifically requested this one. I mean, they’re chicken oysters! Tender and succulent pieces of the chicken oysters (the nub of meat connecting the thigh to the breast) were charred in the oven; its smoky flavor was complemented by the sweet tamarind sauce. Pretty delicious.

wood roasted english peas sea salt

english peas

Kind of like edamame, but a little sweeter with a fresher, more grassy flavor.

charred little gem lettuce pickled sardine, burrata, dijon

gem lettuces

The smoky char of the oven was a nice complement to the lettuce; creamy burrata was a cool, fresh pairing while the pickled sardine added a touch of acid.

balsamic glazed ribs chili, fried basil

ribs

These ribs weren’t quite as meaty as I expected; rather they were pretty bony. The flavors were good though, with a sweet glaze and an expectant pork flavor. Some heat from the chilies and fried basil leaves added extra depth of flavor.

charred octopus yukon potato, salsa verde, piquillo pepper aioli

octopus

I liked the octopus, tender with the smoky char of the oven. The salsa verde was integral in brightening up flavors.

wood fired duck egg gigante beans, tomato, guanciale

duck egg

A bunch of savory flavors at play in this dish – runny egg, creamy beans, fresh tomato and the salty guanciale. To bring it all together, the smoke of the wood perfumed the dish throughout. A really good combination.

bone marrow pickled onion marmalade, sea salt, sourdough

bone marrow

The rich roasted bone marrow also exuded some of the smoky flavor. The sweet marmalade and lemon zest were ideal pairings for the spreadable marrow.

braised lamb belly apple chutney

lamb belly

We continued with the rich flavors with this really tender, flavorful lamb belly. I see pork belly everywhere, but why don’t I see lamb belly more often? These were tasty morsels, especially with the sweet, fruity apple chutney.

shellfish pot clams, mussels, shrimp, curry

seafood

This pot was filled to the brim with fresh shellfish. All of it was cooked pretty well, but the curry is what heightened the dish. Essentially a Thai style curry, it was milky and full of flavor. A highlight for me.

duck breast pea tendrils, dried cherries, hazelnuts

duck

For me, the interior of the duck was a touch under my ideal temperature. The skin was perfectly crispy, and I enjoyed the addition of the dried cherries. I love pea tendrils (most often found in Chinese restaurants), and this one didn’t disappoint.

hanger steak wood roasted duck fat potatoes, romesco

hanger steak

The steak was cooked medium rare with a nice char on the outside. The romesco added more depth to the beefy steak, and duck fat potatoes were a fail-safe accompaniment.

wood roasted half chicken heirloom tomato bread salad

roast chicken

This was a pretty good roast chicken. Not exceedingly moist, but not dry either. The tomato bread salad was the difference-maker to me – crispy nuggets of bread were complemented by fresh tomatoes and sopped up the chicken fat and juices.

wood roasted whole branzino meyer lemon risotto

branzino

risotto

Next was this whole branzino roasted in the oven with lemon and herbs. The oven did wonders for the fish, leaving moist flesh with a smoky perfume and a crispy skin. I liked the meyer lemon risotto too, which added some fresh citrus without being tart.

The kitchen also sent out a bunch of sides to go along with the large plates; here were two of them.

wood roasted potatoes garlic, spicy tomato aioli

potatoes

Garlicky and creamy, the potatoes were tender with just a touch of smokiness and a little bit of heat in the aioli. I may have been missing some of the texture that I really enjoy out of potatoes, though.

wood roasted cabbage caraway, fennel

cabbage

Similar to the charred gem lettuces, the cabbage definitely benefited from the wood imparting its flavor. I didn’t get too much fennel flavor but I didn’t mind.

strawberry and blood orange crostata honeycomb ice cream

crostata

I appreciated the fresh strawberries as well as the herb topping, while the crostata was warm, sweet and crispy. The ice cream was quite good too, a contrasting pairing for the warm crostata.

vanilla rice pudding passion fruit, almonds

rice pudding

As advertised, a warm vanilla flavor came through in the creamy rice pudding, which still had just a touch of bite in the rice…just how I like it.

This was a good meal. The food clearly centered around the wood-burning oven, with most of the dishes exhibiting its smoky perfume. We sampled a ton of dishes and nothing really disappointed; Kirschner’s cooking was pretty well-executed overall. It’s a great addition to the Santa Monica dining scene…selfishly, I just wish it was closer to me. I’m not alone in that thinking – the restaurant was pretty busy on this Thursday night and I expect it to be that way for the foreseeable future.

bill

Note: This meal was hosted.

LudoBites 8.0 @ Lemon Moon (Los Angeles, CA) (2)

LudoBites 8.0
Lemon Moon
12200 W Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90064
Dining date: 2/15/12

lemon moon

My first trip to LudoBites 8.0 was a pretty good meal, and a very promising start to this iteration. While much attention has been spent on the reservation system and the scarcity of a seat, I didn’t think it was as hard as it initially seemed. Cancellations were plentiful and I would stumble upon reservations on Urbanspoon more days than not.  The catch was that it was typically a same-day seat, but combined with the bar seating, I think most that really wanted a seat were able to find their way into one. I found my way onto someone else’s reservation towards the end of the current run, exactly a week before closing night.

It was an 8:30 reservation, just enough time to stop by local bar The Daily Pint. A good friend of mine was nice enough to give me a heads up on a particular beer they would be serving this evening and got me a ticket. How convenient!

pliny the younger

Pliny the Younger. I had my first taste of the uber-hyped beer last year at Father’s Office and enjoyed it. Was it the best beer ever, worthy of lines over an hour long? Mmm not sure about that. Was it a very delicious beer? Yes, it was. This time there seemed to be a stronger alcohol flavor than I remembered, which isn’t to say it was unbalanced, it was just more pronounced. Floral notes and a strong bitter, hoppy (of course!) flavor made for a memorable beer similar to sibling Pliny the Elder.

Burgundy Gougeres

Burgundy Gougeres

These were some of the largest gougeres I’ve ever seen, yet still very light and airy with a nice cheesy interior. Reminded me a little bit of BLT Steak’s popover. A nice starter.

Chicken Tandoori Crackling

Chicken Tandoori Crackling

The flavor of the liver was definitely strong and upfront, rich and creamy. The chicken skin provided the crispy texture and extra chicken flavor. This was pretty much the same as the first time I had it, and I enjoyed it equally as much this time around.

Sweet Shrimp, Miso Cream, Beans, Smoked Salmon

Sweet Shrimp, Miso Cream, Beans, Smoked Salmon

The sweet shrimp were complemented by a strong smoky pancetta flavor and an interesting miso cream. An odd mix of flavors, but I enjoyed them.

Lobster Salad, Yuzu, Honey

Lobster Salad, Yuzu, Honey

The lobster was tasty with a bright, fresh burst of sweet flavor. A little bit of the citrus from the yuzu came through, though I don’t think I needed the extra sweetness of the honey. A little bit of fresh herbs on top helped to build additional flavor.

Uni Creme Brulee, Coffee

Uni Creme Brulee, Coffee

I enjoyed this better this time; it seemed to have a creamier, smoother texture. The addition of some coffee tones was also a nice touch, particularly with the salty eggs. Interestingly, the price of this dish rose from $18 to $24 between my visits, and then rose to $34 a week later during the final week (primarily due to a change in uni supplier).

Black Truffle (French) Scrambled Eggs

Black Truffle (French) Scrambled Eggs

We had high hopes for this one but it almost unanimously fell short of expectations. The diced onions had a raw, undercooked flavor that overpowered any truffle or egg flavor. Definitely disappointing at $35 a bowl.

Celery Root Soup, Foie Gras, Mushrooms, Ash

Celery Root Soup, Foie Gras, Mushrooms, Ash

We rebounded with what may have been the best dish of the night. The celery root soup was pretty tasty on its own, lightly creamy, but the foie were perfectly cooked chunks of creamy liver. Really good, not unlike the poached foie gras during visit one. Some mushrooms and an interesting, crumbly ash rounded out the dish.

Big Eye Tuna, Tahitian Vanilla, Somen, 7 Flavor Vinaigrette

Big Eye Tuna, Tahitian Vanilla, Somen, 7 Flavor Vinaigrette

This was a refreshing dish showcasing some clean flavors. The seared tuna was good, accented by a little bit of heat and some acid in the vinaigrette. I liked the addition of the noodles, though some of them stuck together while cooking leaving some mushy, doughy chunks.

Monkfish Liver, Cucumber, Cornichons, Mustard Seeds

Monkfish Liver, Cucumber, Cornichons, Mustard Seeds2

Monkfish Liver, Cucumber, Cornichons, Mustard Seeds

Similar to the first visit, this monkfish was perfectly cooked leaving a melt-in-mouth texture. Quite good. The mustard seed added a little bit of heat, while the cornichons and cucumber added some fresh crunch.

Steamed Foie Gras in Apple Cider, Apple Tapioca, Buckwheat

Steamed Foie Gras in Apple Cider, Apple Tapioca, Buckwheat

The steamed foie gras was quite nice, though I preferred the one in the celery root soup. The apple tapioca was a fun touch, with its chewy texture and a very subtle apple flavor. In tandem with the cider in the broth, it was an interesting re-engineering of classic fruit-foie complementary flavors.

Squid Ink Rice Pudding, Lardo, Pickled Kumquats

Squid Ink Rice Pudding, Lardo, Pickled Kumquats

Thin strips of chewy squid and lardo rested atop this squid ink rice pudding. Interesting. Similar to a squid ink risotto, the al dente texture of the rice came through, as well as the unmistakable flavor of the squid ink. Some pickled kumquats completed the dish, adding acidity and sweetness.

Thai Snapper, Eucalyptus Oil, Potato, Leeks, Manzanilla

Thai Snapper, Eucalyptus Oil, Potato, Leefs, Manzanilla

The fish was cooked just right with a moist flesh and crispy skin. Thin, crispy pieces of potato were a nice touch too as were the charred leeks, adding a subtle smokiness.

“Newport Pride Natural” Hanger Steak, Red Beets, Shallots, Goat Cheese

"Newport Pride Natural" Hanger Steak, Red Beets, Shallots, Goat Cheese

The steak was pretty tender and quite delicious, very well done. The fresh, crispy beets and slight funk of the goat cheese were a welcome pairing to the meaty steak.

Creamy Saint-Nectaire, Salted Praline Butter

Creamy Saint-Nectaire, Salted Praline Butter Creamy Saint-Nectaire, Salted Praline Butter

Thin crispy baguette pieces sandwiched an oozing cow’s milk Saint-Nectaire cheese. Not too sharp, and I liked the play on textures. I thought it was a fun presentation too.

Brown Butter Almond Cake, Apples, Salted Caramel, Orange Creamsickle

Brown Butter Almond Cake, Apples, Salted Caramel, Orange Creamsickle

I thought the almond flavor was pretty subtle in a somewhat dry cake. It looked fairly plain and tasted as such. I did like the complementary flavors of the salted caramel and orange creamsickle ice cream, though they may not have worked together as well as I had hoped.

Lemon Meringue, Poppy Seed Crumble, Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Lemon Meringue, Poppy Seed Crumble, Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Just as good as my last visit, the flavors were bright and well balanced between sweet and tart. The poppy seed crumble was instrumented in adding some extra texture and body to the dish. Very well done.

Compared to my first visit, I didn’t think the dishes were particularly more refined nor better executed. Still, it was cooking at a fairly high level. The kitchen pacing seemed off, with a couple dishes coming out at a time and long lulls in between. I think it caused us to miss out on the veal dish, which ran out about an hour after we ordered it.

While overall it missed expectations (which were higher given a very positive experience the first time), it was a fun dinner with some highs. Ludo’s creativity always keeps things interesting, working with some pretty unique flavor profiles and combinations. If Ludo played it safe I think it’d be a wonderful meal, but it wouldn’t be LudoBites.

The last part of this meal can be found here, at 800 Degrees Pizzeria.

Previous LudoBites posts:
LudoBites 4.0 (2) | LudoBites 5.0 (2) | LudoBites 6.0 (2) (3) | LudoBites 7.0 (2) | LudoBites 8.0LudoBites America

Mario Batali @ Shutters on the Beach (Santa Monica, CA)

Mario Batali at the Beach
Coast Restaurant
Shutters on the Beach
1 Pico Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90405
Dining date: 1/28/12

menu

Mario Batali needs no introduction. As one of the most famous chefs in the country, I’m sure he draws crowds whenever he’s doing a food event. When I heard he would be hosting a lunch in Coast Restaurant at Shutters on the Beach, my interest was piqued. When I heard it would be three courses (with wine pairing) for a seemingly-reasonable $65 per head, I jumped at the chance.

Batali was in town promoting his cookbook and this was one of his stops. The lunch was held at Coast Restaurant within Shutters on the Beach, a beachfront hotel in Santa Monica. It was a really nice day, and the window-covered restaurant maximized this to great effect. We dined on the sunlight patio, literally beach-side. Perfect!

shutters

Before the first plate was served, some appetizers made their rounds in the dining area. There were actually 5 different ones to choose from, but only 3 made it to our table (we didn’t get the white bean alla toscana or arancini with bolognese). Boo.

Fried squash blossoms with ricotta

squash blossoms

Prosciutto-wrapped breadsticks

prosciutto breadsticks

Roasted baby peppers stuffed with tuna

peppers with tuna

The fried squash blossoms were very familiar from trips to Pizzeria Mozza, and were just what I expected. Fried just right, they were light, crispy and creamy. The breadsticks were nice too, with the meaty proscuitto working in tandem with the crunchy breadstick. Finally, the pepper stuffed with tuna was perhaps the most interesting of all – the sweetness of the roasted pepper was a nice complement to the meaty tuna.

As the appetizers made their way around, so did the drinks. Prosecco and bellinis found their way onto our table time and time (and time and time) again.

Batali Bellini
Flor Prosecco NV

wine1

Patio seating on a nice day? Check. Nonstop sparkling wine? Check. We had the ingredients for quite an afternoon. After about half an hour of passed appetizers, we were served the first course.

Rabe, Potato and Ricotta Ravioli
Bastianich Friuliano “Adriatico” 2009

ravioli

wine2

Al dente pasta was filled with a creamy potato and ricotta filling, bathed in a sage butter sauce. I’m a sucker for fresh pasta, and these ravioli didn’t disappoint. The plating was surprisingly inconsistent though, with one person getting only two ravioli (while the others got three), as well as the sage garnish missing on one plate.

Next we were served the main course with a side dish, as well as a duo of wine pairings.

Braised Chicken with Sweet Onions and Parmigiano
Spaghetti Squash with Soft Herbs and Robiola

chicken

squash

La Mozza Perazzi 2009
Bastianich Vespa Bianco 2008

wine3

The chicken was braised then seared, giving the skin a bit of crispiness. I thought the thighs were perfectly cooked, tender and fairly juicy; however, the sauce of red onion and red wine didn’t have a lot of flavor. It was topped with fried diced pancetta (!) which added a slightly pork flavor with a delightful crunch. Some crusty bread was placed on the bottom to soak up any juices/sauce, but I didn’t think it was necessary. Finally, the squash side was a nice touch – it was sweet and sort of creamy, complemented by a creamy cheese.

I liked that there was a duo of wines to pair, one red and one white; while very different, they both paired with the chicken pretty well. I enjoyed both but preferred the red.

Orange-Scented Cannoli
Flor Prosecco Rosé NV

cannoli

wine4

Lastly, we were served dessert. The cannoli came out about as expected, with its light, orange-accented cream and crispy shell. Simple and satisfying.

Batali was in the restaurant the whole time, spending most of it mingling with guests. He made it a point to visit each table for a brief chat, and stayed after the meal to sign anything and everything people brought.

batali4

batali3

The lunch exceeded expectations and was a lot of fun. The food was good and the alcohol plentiful, however the interaction with Batali is what made this meal memorable. It was a pretty unique experience, and I thought the $65 was very reasonable given everything we ate/drank (as well as the Batali factor). I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a winter day in SoCal.

beach2
beach1