Scarpetta (Beverly Hills, CA) [2]

Scarpetta
Montage Beverly Hills
225 North Canon Dr.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Dining date: 10/19/13

scarpetta exterior

It’s been two years since my last visit to Scarpetta (it really doesn’t seem that long ago at all) and three years since my first opening night visit – still one of the more memorable dining experiences of my life. Scott Conant is still the face of the restaurant, but day-to-day oversight of the kitchen has transitioned to new executive chef Freddy Vargas as of May (who took over from the short tenure of Alex Stratta). This past weekend, I was invited back into the restaurant to get a taste of what’s new. This would be my fourth visit overall.

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The dining room is huge but the best seats in the house are the five at the end of the kitchen. Dubbed the ‘Chef’s Counter,’ it offers a front row seat in the kitchen and interaction with the chefs. As one can assume, it’s a completely different type of experience. My understand is that this isn’t tasting menu-only; a la carte is possible…but some sort of tasting would seem to be the best way to get the full experience.

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Truffle Risotto

Dining date: 6/28/13

truffled risotto

Risotto is one of the rich, luxurious dishes associated with fine dining. The single most expensive dish I’ve ever eaten was a risotto, but it’s also something I’ve found to be fairly easy to make at home without costing a lot. I’ve definitely made my share of risotto dishes at home (my favorite thus far probably being this lobster risotto), and figured I’d make a truffled version (a classic pairing) when recently purchasing a fresh truffle.

This was my first time buying a fresh truffle, stumbling upon a black summer truffle at my local Japanese market. Unfortunately I couldn’t tell where it was from, but it looked/smelled as good as expected and the price was right…so I figured I’d buy it and give it a try.

Inspired by The French Laundry’s white truffle risotto, I sought out to duplicate Keller’s version at home, substituting my summer truffles for the white ones used in his recipe.

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Truffle Dinner @ SAAM at The Bazaar (Los Angeles, CA)

Truffle Dinner Series
SAAM at The Bazaar
SLS Hotel
465 S La Cienega Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Dining date: 2/23/13

SLS hotel

It’s been a while since I’ve been to The Bazaar, Jose Andres’ ever popular molecular gastronomy/tapas restaurant. After more than two years, a truffle tasting menu is what brought me back to the restaurant’s private dining area, the SAAM Room; the restaurant held one series in the fall and another in the month of February. $250 paid for 16 courses with black truffles and The Bazaar’s unique flair for creativity in their dishes. Considering the price tag of the special ingredient, I thought this was a relatively reasonable splurge.

My past two experiences at SAAM Room left me thinking the entertainment factor took front seat to flavor development, especially compared to Las Vegas’ é by Jose Andres (which I think has the much better overall experience). However, this meal would exceed expectations set from the past meals.

A lone white saucer awaited us at the table as we sat down. We were too curious to not take a peek inside, which yielded a glimpse (and instant aroma) of the not-to-secret ingredient of the night (we ate through almost the entire thing be the end of the night). I’d have to admit I was pretty excited at this point.

truffle

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Melisse – 4/22/10

Melisse
1104 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401

I’ve been meaning to try Melisse for a long while now. I’ve heard a lot of mixed reviews from friends over the years, and that’s probably part of what’s been holding me back (that, and not having anyone interested in going). However, the restaurant continues to receive very positive reviews all-around. With my friend down to go, it was time to finally try it.

Last year, Melisse celebrated its 10th anniversary. To celebrate, they offered a 10-course “signature dishes” menu in July 2009. Luckily and oddly, they are still offering that menu (click for larger size). What better way to try the restaurant than with 10 of their signature courses?

Amuse #1 – red grape two ways: goat cheese with pistachio and reconstituted grape with cheese and oil

These were both interesting starters. I liked the goat cheese and pistachio better, with a nice texture (crunch from pistachio) and sweetness from the grape.

Amuse #2 – Hokkaido scallop with radish and scallions


Hmm didn’t like this dish. The scallop was sliced very thin, and topped with the scallions, radish and salted. It tasted…soapy for some reason. And kinda fishy. Just not good.

Egg Caviar – lemon creme fraiche, American Ossetra caviar

This was a great dish. The egg was poached slowly, so there was a warm gooey center inside, which really went well with the caviar. Warm and comfortable.

Duo of Hamachi & Tuna – celery, meyer lemon, black truffles

The duo resembles a piece of sushi, which was a nice touch, and chopped tuna taking the place of rice. The celery adds a nice fresh crunch, and the lemon went well with the fish. I couldn’t taste the hamachi and tuna individually in each bite, however. The black truffle flavor was rather mild. Overall, I enjoyed this dish.

White and Purple Asparagus – white asparagus veloute, crispy purple asparagus roulade, truffle mousse

This was a really nice soup. There was a good asparagus flavor, and it really went well with the truffle mousse mixed in. Brilliant.

Seared Foie Gras – carrot cake, pineapple compote, vanilla-balsamic reduction

The foie gras was seared perfectly, with a nice crust and soft, tender interior. The carrot cake did not add much to the dish, and fell apart reather easily. I liked the pineapple compote and orange rind, as the sweetness and acidity cut through the fattiness of the liver.

Lobster Bolognese – fresh cappelini, truffle froth

This was my favorite dish of the night. Fresh pasta, wrapped in a lobster bolognese, and topped with a truffle foam. Delicious. The pasta may have been a TEENY bit overcooked (I prefer it a bit more al dente) but the flavors were spectacular, memorable.

John Dory Filet – chinese broccoli, kohlrabi, pinebut-cornichon jus

John Dory has a firm flesh, which was nice with the crunchy broccoli and kohlrabi. The fish was cooked pretty well, but just was not too memorable.

Cote de Boeuf – potato and braised short rib galette, fava beans, porcini mushrooms, herb jus

Like the fish, this dish wasn’t too memorable either. The rib-eye was very tender and had a decent flavor. The galette, with layers of potato and short rib, wasn’t as successful as expected. It was a little dry, perhaps overcooked. The same was true with the piece of short rib.

Le Fromage Truffee – black truffle, poached pears, balsamic gelee

I don’t really like the cheese course and tend to avoid it whenever possible. However, I had it here. The cheese was very mild, and I did not get a truffle flavor from it. It came with a warm toasted brioche.

Chocolate and Caramel Fondant  – hazelnut crumble, chocolate sorbet

This was a pretty good dish. The chocolate sorbet was nice and rich, and the fondant (with layers of rich mousse) was excellent. I enjoyed the hazelnut crumble as well, as it added some great texture to the dessert.

Strawberries and Creme – strawberries, creme fraiche, brown sugar

An interesting rendition of ‘strawberries and creme’ here, with creme fraiche instead..and sugar to sweeten. The strawberries were ripe and sweet, and the combination worked.

Mignardises – assorted cookies

These were just okay. The chocolate peanut butter cookies were actually pretty good with a nice crispiness, but the caneles weren’t anything special.

Melisse lived up to its expectations in my opinion. Outside of the scallop amuse, the execution and imagination were present in each course. While some of the dishes weren’t really memorable, I attribute a lot of it to personal taste. On the other hand, the Egg Caviar, White and Purple Asparagus, Lobster Bolognese, and Chocolate and Caramel Fondant were clear hits. Definitely a very solid showing – I think Melisse is one of the top five restaurants in Los Angeles.

The French Laundry – 12/23/09

The French Laundry
6640 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599

The French Laundry is a food temple – a trek that any gourmand in America must make at least once in their lifetime. I first went in July of 2004, and it was easily the most anticipated meal of my life. I remember not being able to sleep much the night before. The restaurant had just gone through a renovation and had not announced an official re-opening date. I was playing around on OpenTable one night and stumbled upon an availability.  I remembered having to wake my dad to tell him this news, and use his credit card in order to confirm this reservation.

I had gone again in December of 2006, and now in 2009, figured it was time for a re-visit. It’s gotten noticeably easier to get a reservation on OpenTable. With a little persistence, I was able to snatch a 5:30 (in my opinion, the ideal time for a group not staying overnight) reservation over the Christmas holiday. Armed with a new camera (thanks Angela!), I was excited for this next trip.

Upon entering the premises, you walk into a garden and outdoor waiting area.

The famous blue door entrance to the restaurant.

The dining room is cozy and has a very warm and elegant feel to it.

Each table is set up with fresh flowers and the signature clothespin holding the napkin together.

The menu has two options: the chef’s tasting menu and the tasting of vegetables. The menu for the day is here: French Laundry menu – 12/23/09 and the chef’s tasting menu, which we all had, is shown below. There was also an optional supplement offering white truffles from Alba, shaved over an option of housemade tagliatelle, gnocchi, or a Carnaroli risotto.

The amuse bouche served here have been staples over the years. The first is the Gougères, which are cheez-it flavored light cheesy bread puffs.

The second is the salmon tartare coronet with creme fraiche. Simple and tasty, they make a great start to the evening.

Next was the first main dish of the night, also a staple of the menu.

“OYSTERS AND PEARLS”
“Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar

This is a really creative dish and a nice play on words. The oysters are trimmed and set into this tapioca sabayon with a dollop of caviar. Really delicious.

The next course had an option of a winter squash soup and a foie gras terrine.

SPICED WINTER SQUASH SOUP
Chestnuts, Arkansas Black Apple, Watercress and Maple

There was not much to the soup. It tasted of squash with a little spice, but not much else.

MOULARD DUCK “FOIE GRAS EN TERRINE”
Flowering Quince, Honey-Poached Cranberries, Celery Branch and Black Truffle

This was pretty good as a terrine goes, as I usually do not like them. The accompanying brioche was delicious and came with three finishing salts.

The next course, a seafood one, was a choice between a bass and scallops.

SHALLOT-CRUSTED ATLANTIC STRIPED BASS
Salsify, Spinach, “Soubise” and Red Wine Reduction

This was a great dish with a nice crust and a moist flesh. Definitely cooked well.

NANTUCKET BAY SCALLOPS “POÊLÉES”

Cauliflower, Satsuma Mandarin, Pine Nuts, Arugula and Niçoise Olive “Paint”


This was one of the more disappointing dishes of the night. I definitely prefer sea scallops to bay scallops because they’re just meatier and less prone to being overcooked. I don’t think the scallops were overcooked in this case, but the olive ‘paint’ was just way too overpowering for this dish.

The next dish, served to everyone, was a highlight.

SWEET BUTTER-POACHED MAINE LOBSTER
Forest Mushroom “Pain Perdu,” Sunchokes, Brussels Sprouts and Pomegranate “Aigre-Doux”
The lobster was cooked beautifully. The mushroom ‘bread’ was a nice earthy accompaniment, and the brussels sprouts and pomegranate were also a good compliment.

SHAVED WHITE TRUFFLES OVER CARNAROLI RISOTTO

After the lobster course was the truffle supplement. I chose the white truffle to be shaved over the risotto. This dish is quite an experience as well, as the server will bring the huge truffle around in a box to be smelled and then will proceed to shave it on top of the risotto. It was then finished with a little brown butter.

The risotto, prepared with shallots, butter and grated truffle, was really well-made on its own. The truffles, as well as the brown butter, completed the dish and made it unforgettable.


The next course was an option between white quail and rabbit shoulder.

WOLFE RANCH WHITE QUAIL
Chorizo, Cardoons, Sweet Peppers, Panisse, Spanish Capers and “Pimentón”

This dish was the single most surprising for me of the night.  White quail, as explained by the server, was a cross-breed between chicken and quail. I had never heard of this, let alone tried it, so I had to order it…and was glad I did. The breast was so juicy and moist, shocking as it was white meat (closer to chicken than quail).  The leg was good as well, but by comparison, paled compared to the breast.

“ÉPAULE DE LAPIN FARCIE AU CERVELAS”
Baby Fennel, Michigan Sour Cherry, Pistachio and “Sauce Périgourdine”


The rabbit shoulder was stuffed and glazed. Not a bad dish, but it wasn’t as good as the white quail.

ELYSIAN FIELDS FARM LAMB SADDLE
“Pommes Purée,” Nantes Carrots, Snap Peas and Béarnaise Reduction

The lamb is prepared sous vide for 80% of the cooking, and seared for browning the rest of the way. This was a great piece of meat that was juicy and tender, and not too gamey.

The next course was the cheese course. Not being a fan of the cheese course, I opted to substitute this out for a potato gnocchi dish. Everyone else, however, stuck with the cheese.

“SCHARFE MAXX”
Hobbs’ Bacon, Roasted Romaine Lettuce and Tomato Compote

The substitute dish, a russet potato gnocchi, served with brown butter and grated black truffle, was very simple and good.

Next, the first of three desserts.

“DARK AND STORMY”
Maui Gold Pineapple Sorbet, Spiced Gingerbread and Gros Michel Bananas

This was a light dessert, serving to cleanse the palate and give a sweet introduction to dessert courses.

Our next dessert was specifically requested off the menu, due to the fame it’s garnished over the years. Luckily for us, the kitchen obliged.

“COFFEE AND DOUGHNUTS”
Cappuccino Semifreddo with Cinnamon-Sugar Doughnuts

This was probably the best doughnut I’ve ever had. Warm and soft – it was just delicious. The semifreddo had a rich coffee flavor to it (I took a scoop to show the “coffee” under the “milk froth”), but the highlight was really the doughnut.

The final dessert was a choice between two dishes.

“GÂTEAU SAINT NIZIER AU MANJARI”
Mango-Chili Relish, Valrhona Cocoa Nibs, Lime Foam and Coconut Milk Sorbet

This was a flourless chocolate cake, and I really liked the coconut milk sorbet. The lime foam, topped with sea salt, was not really necessary, in my opinion.

BAKEWELL TART
Huckleberries, Marcona Almonds and Crème Fraîche Sherbet

This was an interesting dish. A little bit doughy, a little fruity – this would be a nice end to the meal.

MIGNARDISES

The mignardises for the night included a pecan tart, caramel and chocolate covered macadamia nuts, and assorted chocolates.

The pecan tart and macadamia nuts were not remarkable, but the chocolates were good, especially the pumpkin (orange and white colored at top). Unfortunately, we were so full that we were not able to try all of the flavors.

At the end of the meal, the bill comes out on a laundry tag, a fun touch that the restaurant has had since its inception.

In addition, we each got some shortbread cookies to take home.

We were lucky enough to be invited into the kitchen at the end of our meal.

We were told that Thomas Keller had been in the kitchen and left an hour earlier (DAMN!). However, it was great to be able to check out the kitchen, which was spotless. I was surprised by just how small the kitchen was, and how it was able to serve such an array of dishes in such a small space.

In all, it was a great experience. I was a little anxious that it wouldn’t live up to expectations, because they were quite high, and I had been hearing a lot of peoples’ concerns about Chef Keller’s decreasing involvement in the kitchen. However, the restaurant definitely lived up to my expectations and proved to be a fantastic meal.  We were all very pleased, and I can’t wait for my next trip back.