Barrel & Ashes (Los Angeles, CA)

Barrel & Ashes
11801 Ventura Blvd
Studio City, CA 91604
Dining date: 11/22/14

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One of the hottest restaurants in LA right now has to be this place, Barrel & Ashes. It’s the latest from prolific restaurateur Bill Chait, teaming up this time with two Thomas Keller vets Tim Hollingsworth (The French Laundry) and Rory Herrmann (Bouchon). Add barman Julian Cox and I’d say this is one of the highest-powered restaurant teams LA’s seen in some time. While the Hollingsworth/Herrmann pedigree comes from some of the fanciest of foods, Barrel & Ashes focuses in on a rather ‘simple’ food – BBQ. They’ve done extensive travel and eating and bring a mix of regional Southern specialties to Studio City.

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The menu hones in on meat sold by the weight and ribs by the rack or half-rack. A handful of small plates and sides round out the savory part of the menu. On this evening, we tried a couple of the small plates and tried as many of the meats we could in one sitting.

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Dan Moody & Adam Horton @ Raphael (Studio City, CA)

Dan Moody & Adam Horton Collaboration
Raphael
11616 Ventura Blvd
Studio City, CA 91604
Dining date: 4/17/12

raphael exterior

My visit to Raphael has been long overdue. I first sampled chef Adam Horton’s food at Test Kitchen, towards the end of his stint at Saddle Peak Lodge in Calabases. Horton departed Saddle Peak and came to Raphael early last year, and I’ve been hearing good things about his cooking, particularly about this one sous vide short rib dish. Given these reviews and his strong resume, I’ve been meaning to visit but just haven’t had the chance to drive out to Studio City (which is actually much closer to downtown than it seems). A one-night popup dinner in collaboration with Dan Moody was the perfect excuse.

bar area

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The setup was rather simple with six courses, three created by each chef. The dishes alternated chefs with the final dish (dessert) created by Moody. The price of admission was 65 bucks, which I thought pretty reasonable given the standard of cooking I was expecting from these guys.

Palm Sugar Cured Amberjack and Albacore (Horton) crispy taro, mint, cilantro, pickled daikon and lime caviar

amberjack and albacore

The fish was tender and I liked that it was cut into large chunks; I particularly enjoyed the crispy thin strips of taro root for their texture and subtle earthy flavor. Pickled daikon and lemon added some acidity alongside the mint and cilantro aromatics to create a light and refreshing plate.

Uni & Scallops (Moody) scallop crudo, uni ice cream, spicy tomato dressing, miso-sesame crumble

scallop uni

Creamy soft scallop and uni ice cream (an intriguing vehicle for the flavor) were the bulk of the flavor, while the crumble provided the much-needed textural contrast. The dressing provided just a little bit of heat to bring it all together.

Quail (Horton) carrots, kaffir lime, coconut and flavors of green curry

quail

I thought the quail was cooked perfectly, yielding moist and succulent meat – I found myself gnawing on the bones for some time. The curry brought some depth of flavor and heat, while some carrots provided just a touch of crunch and sweetness. I thought the coconut and lime were good additions too, completing a sort of deconstructed Southeast Asian curry.

Beef Tartare (Moody) beef heart, boudin noir, roti paratha and yellow curry

beef tartare

I think this dish was popularly known as the best dish of the night at our table. There were a few rich components on the plate between the beef heart, boudin noir and the yellow curry; they mixed together to create some really delicious bites. Roti paratha, a Singaporean crispy pancake, was an ideal vehicle in which to soak up the curry and creamy boudin noir. An excellent dish.

Braised Veal Cheeks (Horton) asparagus, creamed morels, sauce périgueux

veal cheeks2

veal cheeks

As expected, these veal cheeks were exceedingly tender and rich, while the asparagus helped to lighten things up a bit, as well as add some bite. I really liked the morel mushrooms which provided their earthy, savory flavor that paired pretty well with the meat.

Chocolate Decadence (Moody) flourless chocolate cake, grand marnier custard, vanilla cognac whipped cream, white, milk, & dark chocolate mousses, orange & port sauce

chocolate decadence

The chocolate cake seemed fairly simple but it really stood out to me for being so dense with a deep chocolate flavor. A light vanilla whipped cream was an ideal pairing, though I’m not sure I tasted the cognac in it especially when eaten with the chocolate. The mousses provided some variety in the chocolate flavor, but the star for me was clearly the chocolate cake especially with a light citrus flavor in the accompanying sauce.

All around I found this meal to be a pretty strong effort. There was a good mix of flavors (with Southeast Asia being a recurring theme, no complaints here) and execution was pretty on point. Highlights for me included Moody’s beef tartare with its rich hearty flavors coming together very well, as well as Horton’s juicy and succulent quail plate. I hope they can do something similar in the near future; regardless, I need to get myself back to Raphael for a proper meal from Horton.

Black Market Liquor Bar (Studio City, CA)

Black Market Liquor Bar
11915 Ventura Blvd
Studio City, CA 91604
Dining date: 10/30/11

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Black Market Liquor Bar opened in June, a gastropub seeking to find a balance between great cocktails and delicious small plates. The main draw behind Black Market is the pedigree of its bartender and chef. Cocktails are masterminded by Pablo Moix and Steve Livigni (La Descarga, Harvard & Stone), while the food is the creation of Antonia Lofaso (Top Chef). I thought Lofaso cooked some pretty strong food during her run on Top Chef All-Stars, so I was very keen on trying what she had to offer here.

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The food is meant for sharing – all of the dishes are on the smaller side, allowing the ability to try a variety. The menu presents quite a variety – everything from tiny bites like  housemade potato chips and deviled eggs to larger, richer plates such as a pasta with oxtail ragu.

Deviled quail eggs, ahi tuna, dill

deviled eggs

These little guys were a promising start. Subtle fish and dill flavors both came through with the egg.

Duck rillette, bourbon sweet raisin

duck rillette

I thought the richness of the duck was complemented well with the sweet raisins while the buttery, toasted bread provided much of the body and texture.

Dill potato chips, sea salt, malt vinegar aioli

chips

Loved these potato chips, cut just a little thicker than usual. Well-salted with some of the herbal dill flavor coming through, I could eat a bag of this. Not being a big fan of vinegar, I couldn’t get into the dipping sauce, but I know everyone else in the party did.

Charcuterie, pickled veg, bread

charcuterie

I can’t recall what everything on this board was. The charcuterie was good, while the warm toasty bread again was a comforting pairing. A small quenelle of lardo was a fun addition to the offering, as well, reminding me a little bit of Sotto.

Lamb meatball, sunchoke, caponata, prune, pine nuts, brussels sprout

meatballs

These were tasty. A slight gaminess reminded me that it was lamb, while the herbs packed a good punch. Pretty moist, pretty good.

Crispy collard greens, benton’s ham, cheese grits, soft egg

collard greens

The collard greens, ham and fried egg were all individually delicious. Eaten together, the centerpiece collard greens took a backseat to the rich, flavorful ham and eggs though.

Peel and eat lemon pepper shrimp, oranges, crystal’s aioli

peel eat shrimp

I tend to dislike having to peel my shrimp at the table, but these were worth it. The exterior shell of the shrimp offered strong lemon and peppers up front, while the shrimp itself was cooked well, leaving them plump and moist.

Escarole, white bean, anchovy, parmigiano reggiano, sherry, olive oil

escarole salad

I tend not to be a lover of salads, and this one didn’t convert me to the other side. There was a strong tart acidity (presumably from the sherry vinegar) that was overwhelming for me.

Chicken bao, pickled shiitake mushroom, kohlrabi, carrot, savoy cabbage

chicken bao

Perhaps the largest bao I’ve ever seen, this was difficult to share (one bao per order). The flavors were rather monotonous, with the earthy cabbage and mushroom flavors primarily coming through; the chicken was overshadowed. Again, there was something rather tart and acidic in here that I didn’t care for.

Ricotta gnudi, brown butter, pistachio

gnudi

Good gnudi.  They were light and pillowy, while the brown butter sauce added a welcome nuttiness to the mix. The pistachios added some texture, but I didn’t really think it was necessary with the delicate gnudi.

Seared scallops, romesco, cavolo nero, chorizo, pumpkin seed

scallops

These scallops were beautifully cooked. The romesco added some extra complementary flavor to round out some delicious bites. Enjoyed the greens too.

Oxtail ragu, perciatelli, pecorino

oxtail ragu

Maybe my favorite dish of the night, I just wished it was bigger at $14. I will always have high expectations for an oxtail ragu, and the tender and rich meat went really well with the thick al dente pasta. The ragu was pretty beefy with a hearty depth of flavor.

Mussels, fennel, chili, garlic baguette

mussels

These mussels were tiny but plentiful. I thought the mussels and broth were good, though the caramelized onions provided a very strong (almost too much) sweetness. Toasted garlic baguette provided the bulk of the substance in this dish.

BBQ shortrib, raisin, jalapeno, heirloom confit tomato, brioche

bbq shortib

A pretty good slider. I thought there was a nice balance between the richness of the beefy short rib, countered by the lettuce and tomato confit. The brioche made a nice bun too.

As for the cocktails, I only ordered one this night but was able to try a few others.

Vodka Buck vodka, house-made ginger syrup, lime, angostura

vodka buck

Red Hot and Bothered jalapeno infused vodka, strawberry, blood orange, agave, ginger beer

hot bothered

Smokin’ Monk mezcal, yellow chartreuse, lemon, oj

smokin monk

Amber and Embers ardbeg scotch, clement canne syrup, angostura, orange bitters

amber and embers

I had no qualms with the cocktails, but didn’t find one I loved either.

Overall, the food was hit-or-miss. The small bites, as well as the shrimp, gnudi and oxtail ragu were strong efforts. Given my expectations from Lofaso’s Top Chef run, I’d say this was a disappointment. Maybe my expectations were just too high, but I thought there were misses in both the conception and execution of many plates. Not sure I’ll be back.