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.

Night+Market (West Hollywood, CA) (2)

Night+Market
9041 W Sunset Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90069
Dining date: 7/23/12

signage

I really enjoyed my first visit to Night+Market nearly a year ago; a return visit has been long overdue. It’s mostly due to the location (on the Sunset Strip) and the fact that I dread driving to West Hollywood more than any other neighborhood of LA. However, a birthday dinner and dineLA were the impetus for this return, and I was glad to be back.

The restaurant continues to garner consistent buzz/accolades; one of the bigger ones recently was chef Kris Yenbamroong being nominated as a James Beard semifinalist in the ‘Rising Star Chef’ category. Not bad for someone with no formal culinary training; however, Yenbamroong has essentially grown up in the family’s Talesai kitchens, something that seems to have suited him very well for this gig.

Night+Market had a special 3-course menu going for dineLA; we opted to mix and match a bit, ordering two dineLA meals and a bunch of la carte items. Everything was served family style.

The restaurant has a pretty well-stocked wine list (and full bar), but this night was a beer night. Go big or go home.

tower of chang

fried pig tail

fried pig tail

I loved this in my previous visit. My piece was much fattier than I remember, but the meat itself was again so good. Sweet and succulent with a crispy exterior. A little bit of garlic and chilies provided the depth.

som tum | papaya salad

som tum | papaya salad

Cool, crisp slivers of papaya provided a little bit of crunch and reprieve from the spiciness of other dishes. However, this salad had a lingering heat of its own.

hoi nang rom sod | raw oysters on the half shell

hoi nang rom sod | raw oysters on the half shell

These oysters were cool and refreshing, though I felt the fried scallions overpowered the flavor of the oyster.

yum ruam mit talay | seafood yum boiled fish, shrimp, octopus, bird eye, lime, fish sauce, mint

yum ruam mit talay | seafood yum boiled fish, shrimp, octopus, bird eye, lime, fish sauce, mint

A medley of seafood was cooked with bright mint and lemongrass flavors that were nice complements. Thinly sliced Thai chiles provided bursts of heat like hidden bombs.

nam kao tod | crispy rice salad spicy fermented pork, bird eye, ginger, chile jam, fish sauce, lime, peanuts

nam kao tod | crispy rice salad spicy fermented pork, bird eye, ginger, chile jam, fish sauce, lime, peanuts

I liked the texture of the crispy rice in this dish, with meaty chunks of pork and slivers of ginger. A good balance of hot and sour.

gai tod mae chan | mae chan fried chicken upcountry fried chicken thighs, sticky rice, fried shallots

gai tod mae chan | mae chan fried chicken upcountry fried chicken thighs / sticky rice / fried shallots

The fried chicken thighs were tasty and juicy on their own; the richness was cut by the accompanying lime and ginger sauce.

panang en neua | beef tendon panang with roti

panang en neua | beef tendon panang with roti

I’m typically not a fan of the gelatinous tendon and can’t say this had me deviating from that sentiment. I much more enjoyed the warm curry and delightfully crisp roti.

hor ab | catfish tamale

hor ab | catfish tamale

hor ab | catfish tamale

I thought this was an interesting dish on the menu. A soft tamale exhibited the flavor of the fish, but I found it somewhat one-note and in need of some textural contrast.

moo sadoong | ‘startled pig’ grilled pork, basil, lemongrass, fish sauce, lime, bird eye chile, raw garlic

moo sadoong | 'startled pig' grilled pork, basil, lemongrass, fish sauce, lime, bird eye chile, raw garlic

Juicy chunks of pork were complemented by lemongrass and garlic. Strong, bright flavors…and not too spicy!

pad kee mao | drunken noodles with short ribs flat noodles, chile, basil, garlic

pad kee mao | drunken noodles with short ribs flat noodles, chile, basil, garlic

This was another favorite from my previous visit and I enjoyed it just as much this time. It’s a pretty simple dish I suppose, but it always gets me.

ice cream sandwich

ice cream sandwich

One of the restaurant’s most popular dishes is this dessert. Rarely does an ice cream sandwich contain actual bread and even rarer does one contain rice. This one has both with an excellent coconut ice cream and sweet rice sandwiched between toasted bread.

I enjoyed this meal at Night+Market, though it’s pretty damn spicy (it has a way of compounding throughout the meal). The menu clearly states that there is an option to make things less spicy, something I would definitely consider next time (our party in this visit liked the heat). Hopefully I’ll make my return to Night+Market much sooner this time.

Mercato di Vetro (West Hollywood, CA)

Mercato di Vetro
9077 Santa Monica Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90210
Dining date: 10/27/11

signage

Mercato di Vetro is sbe group’s (The Bazaar, Katsuya, Cleo) latest restaurant venture, an Italian concept in WeHo which opened earlier this month. The concept is an extensive menu of Italian small plates split into antipasti, salads, wood oven, meat, fish, raw, and pasta – all within $17.

interior

interior2

Expectantly for an sbe restaurant, it’s a nice looking place. I’m always a little skeptical about these establishments – does the emphasis on creating a trendy, loungey atmosphere overshadow the food? Many times it does. But sometimes, a good balance is found that can cater to the pre-club crowd, as well as those that just want some seriously good grub. Early reviews on Yelp have been very strong with 4.5/5 stars – sounds promising enough.

Arancini pistachio, peas, fontina

arancini

We started with some arancini, Italian rice balls. I thought these were pretty well done, the rice still had some texture (wasn’t mushy) and there was a nice sort of herbal flavor present too. Liked the delicate, crispy exterior.

Squash Blossoms stuffed with ricotta, oven-roasted tomato

squash blossoms

Solid squash blossoms, but I would’ve preferred a lighter batter. There was too much of a textural overload, overshadowing the tender squash blossom. The marinara sauce was good.

Chicken Liver Crostini fig jam, pickled shallots, arugula

chicken liver crostini

One of the better dishes of the evening, the liver was very smooth with the characteristic minerality coming through. I thought it was well-balanced by the fig jam, which added a welcome sweetness to complement the liver.

Buratta & Roasted Grapes brown butter, rosemary, pine nuts

burrata grapes

Very simple, but another good one. The burrata was good and really went well with the grapes, which were slightly roasted to bring out the natural sugars. A little herbal greens added some depth of flavor, while pine nuts added some texture.

Hen of Woods aïoli, parmesan

hen of woods

Basically just roasted mushrooms, I thought these were excellent. A crusty char was achieved on the mushrooms, which really brought out the earthy flavors. I don’t think it even needed the aioli or parmesan, but they helped to add body and richness to each bite.

Tuna Tartare mustard, oven-roasted tomato, crostini

tuna tartare

Pretty good as tuna tartare goes, I thought the tomatoes and some citrus flavor really brightened the flavors up.

Meatballs veal & beef, fontina

meatballs

meatballs2

Solid meatballs. Nothing special really, but it was fun to break them open and have the cheese pour out.

Branzino curried cauliflower, yogurt, cilantro

branzino

The branzino was cooked well, yielding a crispy skin and moist flesh. I’m not sure I quite got the curried cauliflower flavor, and I thought something in here was a little overly sweet.

Lamb Bolognese pappardelle, ricotta, niçoise olives

pappardelle

This was the lone pasta we ate, and I found it disappointing. The pasta was slightly overcooked, not having quite the chew I was looking for. The flavors of the bolognese were somewhat muted too.

Kale Pizza pecorino romano

pizza

I was a little concerned this pizza would have an overwhelming grassy, vegetable flavor. Wasn’t the case here as the kale was pretty tasty; the caramelized, blackened ends added a sort of sweetness and smokiness. However, I thought it was a little heavy-handed with the salt, and parts of the crust weren’t quite as crispy as hoped.

Tiramisu

tiramisu

Bombolini blood orange

bombolini

Both desserts were pretty solid, though I may have expected a little more creativity at $10 apiece. For example, the bombolini’s (donut holes) freshly fried and glazed dough is going to be delicious, but I thought more of a sauce (or at least ice cream) was in order. I didn’t get too much of the blood orange flavor.

The food at Mercato di Vetro was solid, and the meal as a whole was enjoyable. Sure, the cuisine at Mercato di Vetro isn’t particularly innovative or creative, but that isn’t its niche. Rather, it sets out to present easily accessible Italian food, and it does that. It’s definitely a viable option in West Hollywood, but I wouldn’t call it a destination restaurant.

Night + Market (West Hollywood, CA)

Night + Market
Talesai
9041 W Sunset Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90069
Dining date: 8/7/11

Night + Market is a sort of annex to Talesai, which is a more upscale Thai restaurant on the Sunset Strip. Talesai has been open for decades, but Night + Market is a new concept (opened late last year) by Kris Yenbamroong, whose parents originally opened Talesai. Yenbamroong now runs both kitchens, with Night + Market being his venue to serve dishes inspired by the street food of Thailand.

We put our stomachs in the hands of the chef and allowed him to create a tasting menu for us.

chiengrai herb sausage w/ noom salsa, cucumber

isaan sour sausage grilled fermented pork sausage w/ bird eye chile, cabbage

These felt a little bit lean to me, with a predictably meaty flavor accented by some herbs. Not as ‘sour’ as I expected, which I didn’t mind.

fried pig tail

Wow, these were great. Much less gelatinous than the ones I had at The Spice Table a couple nights prior, with a perfectly crispy outside and rich, flavorful meat. Slightly sweet, really savory. There wasn’t a ton of meat on these bones, but it was delicious. I could eat a plate of these, easy.

pork toro grilled fatty hog collar with ‘jaew’ northeastern chile dip

As advertised, these were pretty fatty though slightly chewy.  The porky flavor was definitely present, but I found this to be a bit overly fatty for myself.

moo sadoong ‘startled pig’ slices of pork w/ mint, lemongrass, fish sauce, lime, bird eye chile

Chunks of pork were tossed in herbs, garlic, and a rich brown sauce. Not bad, though not particularly memorable for me.

kar moo parlow whole braised pork hock skin on slow cooked with dark soy, five spice, garlic

Oh yeah. Love a big piece of meat, served on the bone. The meat was tender while the skin kept a crispy exterior. Soy and garlic flavors in the braise were definitely prominent, complementing the pork quite nicely.

whole fish (branzino) sam rod deep fried topped with ‘three-flavor’ sauce-garlic, palm sugar, chile

As much as I love a big piece of meat served bone-in, I also love a whole fish. Here, a whole branzino was fried and topped with a sweet-spicy chile sauce. Pretty tasty – the flesh was moist, and I thought the sweetness really worked well with the fried fish.

gang ho ‘dry’ pork stew fatty delicious belly and shoulder cuts, slowly simmered with palm sugar, pickled garlic and ginger, tossed with glass noodles

I found this dish to be a little disappointing, finding the flavors rather muddled and hard to distinguish. I wanted some brighter flavors in this dish.

pu pad pong karee curried crab jumbo lump crab, curry powder & onions

Next we had large chunks of crab simmered in curry. Loved the jumbo lumps of crab, but I thought the curry was slightly one-note and didn’t have the depth of flavor I typically look for in curries.

kao kluk gapi shrimp paste-seasoned rice w/ candied pork, shredded egg omelette, red onion, green mango, cilantro, bird eye chile

A number of components here, but I thought they came together. The pork was sweet, salty and crispy, while the mango added a fresh sweetness, countering the heat from the chile. The small dried shrimp added a nice textural element.

pad kee mao drunken noodles with short ribs flat noodles, chile, basil, garlic

Loved this dish. It was a rather simple drunken noodle dish, but it’s one of my favorite in Thai cuisine. The sauce was aromatic (from the thai basil) with a touch of heat…just really delicious. The short rib was done well, leaving it tender and tasty in its own right. I’ve been inspired to try to make something like this at home.

ice cream sandwich coconut ice cream, sweet sticky rice, condensed & evaporated milk, toasted mung beans on a sweet roll

I was eagerly awaiting this dessert, having heard much about it. First of all, the coconut ice cream was very good – sweet, rich and full of flavor. Instead of a cookie, the sandwich was actually supported by a sweet bread roll, lightly toasted, and topped with mung beans, milk and sweet sticky rice. Something very different for me, and a great way to end the meal.

I really enjoyed the meal at Night + Market. Sure, there were some dishes I didn’t care for, but I remember this meal for the ones I really adored (pig tails, pock hock, drunken noodles, ice cream sandwich). The prices were very reasonable too, especially given the restaurant is located on the Sunset Strip. It’s a little bit further than I’d like from me, but if I were in the area, I wouldn’t hesitate in coming back.

I can’t remember whose bright idea it was, but we progressed from this dinner to another 11 courses at Animal.