Archive for February, 2010

Wilshire – Santa Monica

Friday night driving in Los Angeles is a nightmare. It can take one hour just to go from the Westside to Beverly Hills. So our problem was to stay west off the 405 freeway and find a restaurant that had an extensive menu of wood grilled prime steaks. (One person in our party only eats steaks.) I hadn’t been to Wilshire since Andrew Kirschner had become executive chef, but a number of people suggested that I should try it. What an inspired choice and definitely a restaurant that will be on our “go to” list.

The entire staff was tremendous. Kirk, the sommelier couldn’t have been more accommodating. Nick, the GM, remembered us from Spago. Brian, our server was terrific  – he grew up in Kansas, drove tractors at the age of 11 on his dad’s farm and has a passion for food. Chef Kirschner  came out introduced himself and told us some of his favorite menu items. How much more can one ask for?

Executive chef – Andrew Kirschner

BYO White Wine

A gift from the chef – Kumamoto Oysters Dynamite, the oysters were encrusted in panko crumbs and deep fried. They sat on a seaweed “salad” and were topped by wasabi tobiko.  What impressed me was not only the depth of flavor, but the intensity of the flavor profile that was decidedly Asian.

Steak tartar, quail egg, grilled sourdough – an excellent version.

Grilled sepia, njuda sausage, baby brocolli, lemon, almonds. Njuda sausage is a special type of dried sausage made with black pepper, hot pepper, salt and fennel seeds, typical of Calabrian cuisine from southern Italy – again the depth of flavor was superb – delicious.

Another gift from the chef – we were sharing everything so this was a passing marathon. Red Curry Coconut Mussels, Grilled Bread. I felt as if I were on a trip around the world and what a trip!

The broth was exceptional with the lemongrass adding just the right touch.

Another gift – this was getting better than Christmas. Green garlic and potato soup, black truffle and asparagus – you would think we were regulars – we weren’t, but we have every intention of becoming regulars.

Caesar Salad, Romaine leaves white anchovies, lemon croutons, parmesan

BYO Red Wine

Dry Aged New York Steak with grilled garlic, greens topped with parmesan – a safe entree well-executed with THE extra of shaved black truffles

Mashed potato, yukon golds

Duck breast, farro, stinging nettles, hazelnuts, blood orange gastric – the sauce had just been changed for tonight’s service. That is one of the hallmark’s of chef Kirschner’s cuisine – use what is fresh and organic from the local farmers.

Morrocan Spiced lamb Stew, quinoa, banana raita, pequillo pepper harissa – I didn’t taste this but there wasn’t a drop left.

Photo through the wine glass

Condiments for the lamb stew

More gifts!!!!

Apple Fritters, caramel sauce, cinnamon ice cream

Orange Creme Caramel, creme fraiche whipped cream

Cookies to go – not pictured

Wilshire was a complete surprise and I can’t believe that a restaurant of this caliber is so close to our house. We will be back often.

Bazaar

I know the restaurant is trendy, somewhat loud, but the bottom line for us is the food and for us, Bazaar delivers. We were also lucky to have a wonderful server – Josua took our orders promptly (other than the first two dishes, we ordered one dish at a time so that was no easy feat) and anticipated our every single need. What more can one ask for – good service and good food?

Josua

BYO Champagne – one of my old-time favorites

Cotton Candy Foie Gras – foie gras terrine was rolled in corn nuts and then wrapped” in vanilla cotton candy – I love this dish and it is not just for show. It is a wondrous taste of contrasts – crunchy corn nuts, smooth silk luxurious foie wrapped in a veil of sweetness.

American Caviar, Creme Fraiche, Blinis – The blinis were more like a Chinese steamed Bun – another favorite

Jamon Iberico de bellota Fermin – acorn-fed, free-range Iberico ham – Absolutely had to have this again and just as delicious as the first time. The jamon is served with Catalan style toasted La Brea baguette with tomato; eat the jamon and bread with tomato separately. The bread with tomato was perfect as well as the jamon. In retrospect, I would not order this for two people as it is a lot of food and you fill up too much.

BYO White Wine

Croquetas de pollo- chicken and bechamel fritters – another old favorite

Not your everyday Caprese – cherry tomatoes, liquid mozzarella” it was essential that you ate every element together – air-bread, pesto, liquid mozzarella, Jimenez reduction, olive oil, tomato impregnated baby basil – another winner

Tortilla de Patatas “New Way” – warm potato foam, caramelized onion with a slow cooked egg 63 and topped with chives and crispy small dice of croutons – this was the only miss of the evening – the white just doesn’t coagulate enough so you end up eating runny white.

BYO Red Wine

Philly Cheesesteak”- air bread filled with oozing cheese and topped with Wagyu Beef – a great dish

Cheese:

Manchego Passamontis

Murcia al Vino

La Serena

Picos, Quince Jam, Almonds

Jose Andres is not an absentee owner/chef. He checks in with Bazaar often and was in the house last night. I “know” Jose from DC and he attended Michel Richard’s birthday party as we did. I briefly talked with Chef Andres and put in my plea to have the eggs Andy Garcia from the brunch menu put on the dinner menu. He thought it might be a good idea. Yippee!

Blue Plate Oysterette

I have been on a search for fried clams with the bellies and until now the search has been futile for decent fried clams in Southern California. I read that Blue Plate Oysterette had them. I immediately called Blue Plate and yes they were on the menu – 2 hours later we were at Blue Plate for a late lunch.

Blue Plate Oysterette is loosely modeled on one of my favorite restaurants in Boston – Neptune’s Oyster. It has the feel of a casual neighborhood restaurant/bar with an open kitchen.

BYO white wine

Ale for my husband

Lauren, our excellent server

1/2 dozen oysters – only 4 pictured

Kumai – West Coast

Fanny Bay – British Columbia

Glacier Bay – New Brunswick

Kumamoto – Washington

Blue Point – CT

Gerrish Island –  Maine

The oysters were fresh, shucked expertly and perfect for slurping with just a touch of lemon

Caesar Salad – romaine hearts, garlic chips, anchovy, croutons – excellent

Fish Tacos – grilled mahi mahi, cilantro aioli, diced tomatoes, guacamole – another winner

Fried Clams – Whole Belly Ipswich Clams, fried lemons, preserved lemon aioli – the piece de resistance! The fried whole belly clams were lightly battered, plump and juicy and fried perfectly. Next time, and there will definitely be a next time,  I will order the fried clams the way I do at Neptune – a 1/2 order at a time so the clams are piping hot for each half order.

This is the clam from Sonny McCleans – to the left is just batter – the clam is far right about the size of half of my little finger

This is the clam from Blue Plate Oysterette – notice how plump the clam is.

Chef Craig Brady should be very proud and I have finally found my fried clams.

Vin Bar/Valentino

I decided to make Vin Bar/Valentino one category as we are not exactly having the Vin Bar menu – we are having what Piero and Chef Chessa wants us to have.

Vin Bar/Valentino has a new chef – Nico Chessa from Sardinia. He has been at Valentino a month so the menu is in transition with traditional Valentino dishes, focusing on Piero’s Sicilian origins, but introducing Sardinian dishes.

About the Chef – Executive Chef Nico Chessa

“Raised on the island of Sardinia, Nico Chessa has worked throughout Italy, mastering the signature dishes of every region.  He was privileged to be the executive chef for the gala reopening of the Sistine chapel in 1996, where he had the honor to serve Pope John Paul II.  Joining the Valentino Restaurant Group in 2003, after leading the kitchens of high profile restaurants in Houston and Washington, D.C., Chessa has long catered to a clientele of world-leaders, entertainers and notable dignitaries.  Acclaimed for his Sardinian-style food by award-winning journalist John Mariani, Chessa’s charismatic presence has brought him an added following as frequent guest chef for the premier Crystal Cruise Line.”

From here:

http://www.valentinorestaurant.com/giorgio/chessa.asp

In any case, Piero is intent on updating Valentino and not resting on his well-deserved laurels. This is a restaurant that is always evolving with probably one of the best service Front of the House teams, led by the ever-present Piero.

Last night, the day before Valentine’s Day, can only be described as a zoo. We sat at the entrance in Vin Bar and somehow Piero managed the constant stream of diners; it was like watching dozens of clowns at the circus emerging from a tiny car. Somehow Piero expertly and magically made it all appear “easy.”

All wine pairings were done by Piero and extraordinary. We started with champagne – not pictured.

With Nico Chessa as the new chef, we were treated to some typical Sardinian dishes.

I apologize in advance for any inaccuracies.

Zucchini flower, Taleggio cheese, fried quail egg, diced tomato, winter black truffle – the zucchini flower was stuffed with the cheese plus there was a “sauce” of the cheese surrounding the flower. A wonderful combination of earthy truffles and runny cheese.

Grillo Wine – great acidity, very delicate

Aristos – more full-bodied white – not as delicate and flowery as the Grillo – loved both

Salad of Sardinian Fregula (almost like couscous) with chunks of lobster, beets and julienned blood orange rind. The fregula with the lobster was a study in texture , with the beets and the orange adding just the right “top-note.”

Spinach Tagliatini with sea urchin and cherry tomatoes and a sauce from the juice of the tomato and olive oil – everyone knows that I love sea urchin so for me, what’s not to love. Terrific.

A word about all the pasta we were served. Vin Bar/Valentino excels at pasta. They are all made in-house and are cooked to perfection. I honestly can say no one does pasta better than Vin Bar/Valentino.

Bucatini pasta with calamari and bottarga. I think this was made by forcing it through a chitarra – a set of closely strung strings that looks very much like the strings of a guitar as Piero made reference to chitar.

Vignedileo

Branzino with langoustino filet both cooked and raw, sautéed apple on top, langoustine sauce, pistachio, basil olive oil and a touch of pepper

Last red for the evening

Hand-made Strozzapreti (priest’s chokers) with Sausage, Sun-dried Tomato and Pecorina Cheese. In an earlier post I explained  that it is called “priest chokers”  because centuries ago, it was common practice to let priests eat for free in restaurants. Wishing to get rid of the “freeloaders”, chefs rolled the pasta in such a way with the hope that the pasta would get lodged in the priest’s throat and choke. We devoured this dish and didn’t choke!

Now pastry chef Davide Giova personally delivered our dessert.

First assorted sorbets of prickly pear, coconut, strawberry and Barlett pear

Then an assortment of pastries : (Unbelievable that Chef Giova was kind enough to write this down for me)

Sbrisolona

Pasta di Mandorle

Cantucci

Almond Praline

Chocolate Truffle

Vin Bar/Valentino is so much more than a special occasion restaurant. The wine pairings are fantastic. The cuisine is new and exciting – this is not a stuffy restaurant. It really needs to be added as a must and get the “foodie” attention it deserves.

Spago

Spago tends to start the tasting menu the same way each time. As long as you don’t go too often, it is almost a reassuring and familiar beginning. I apologize in advance for some very blurry photos.

Spicy Tuna Tartar in a sesame tuile

Hamachi Ceviche served in a Chinese Spoon

Smoked Sturgeon on a Lemon Herb Blini with Crème Fraiche and topped with Salmon Caviar – this was excellent and the sturgeon replaced the usual salmon.

In a tart shell, an avocado, cream and béarnaise mixture topped with Iranian Oscetra Caviar –  absolutely delicious.

Duck Liver Pastrami Sandwiched between Toasted Rye Bread Served With Apple Butter – I miss the foie

Duck Liver Mousse in a Bartlett Pear filled tart

Bacon Confit en croute – an old favorite

Black Truffle with Quail Eggs served on a Crouton, Truffle Sauce –absolutely delicious – what’s not to like – egg and truffle!

Hog Island Oyster Gratin with Butter Yuzu Hollandaise and topped with Oscetra Caviar  – again a great combination of oyster, caviar and yuzu hollandaise

Maine Diver Scallop Sashimi, Santa Barbara Uni, Matsutake Mushroom, Baby Greens, Micro Greens, Meyer lemon – Lee knows that we love uni and the combination with the finely diced scallops a nice flavor combination

Sautéed Nantucket Bay Scallops, Pickled Ginger Vinaigrette, Asian Cabbage

Pan Roasted Sweetbreads, Kohlrabi puree, citrus gastric, toasted almonds, chanterelles – the sweetbreads were crunchy on the outside, but meltingly tender

Risotto with black truffles – toothsome risotto

Roasted Langoustines with Light Thai Red Curry – Lee loves this dish and he excels at Asian cuisine

Served on the side,  a bowl of Pad Thai Noodles

Wild Scottish Pheasant, served on Rutabaga Puree with Juniper/Thyme Jus and a ragout of turnips, carrots and black trumpet mushrooms – another winner

Served on the side Gnocchi with a ragout of the braised leg of the pheasant – the gnocchi were as light as a feather. (absolutely horrible photo)

Roasted Filet of Venison, Chestnut Puree, Braised Red Cabbage  and Roasted Pear in Huckleberries – we were getting very full and I really didn’t do justice to this dish and the accompanying Shepherd’s pie.

Laurent presents the Shepherd’s pie – I am guessing that the minced meat was the venison and the potatoes were sweet potatoes.

Cheese – Basically the cheese tray was sloppy looking, but the cheese was delicious.

Many of these dishes I have had or variations of them. This is not an innovative dining experience, but it is global as well as representative of California cuisine. Spago is definitely a scene – at least 2 turns a night – although our table is usually just one turn. Therefore, our experience at Spago is not what the “ordinary” diner might receive. Laurent, AGM, “manages” our meal.  We are known quantities and Lee makes a special effort to get ingredients that we particularly like i.e. uni. I don’t have a clue what the usual tasting menu is as we never order or even look at a menu. We bring our own wine and share with everyone. Spago is fun and it is more than a scene if you are a “regular.”


Categories


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 42 other followers