Archive for March, 2011

Vin Bar

I have said this numerous times before, but I have to repeat it again, Piero Selvaggio ranks as one of the best restaurateurs in the country. He and Chef Nico Chessa orchestrate our meal and we never look at a menu. They devised a perfect tasting menu – a meal that had a wonderful internal harmony with just the right amount of food plus a perfect diversity of flavors and textures.

The gracious owner par excellence – Piero Selvaggio

One of the advantages of eating at Vin Bar and going early is that we have time to talk to Piero and catch up on his news. He does have GREAT NEWS! Piero described his plans for Primi Al Mercato at Santa Monica Place.  I for one will be there as soon as it opens – fresh Italian pasta made daily, fresh sauces, incredible cheese, unbelievable salumi – you can eat there or have the best home-made meal you don’t have to make yourself.

From Eater LA:

“Aha, one more food concept announced today for that anticipated new gourmet alley, The Market atop Santa Monica Place. It’s not Eataly but we’ll take it, Piero Selvaggio of Valentino Restaurant Group plans to open Primi Al Mercato on May 20, a dual trattoria and retail space known as the Laboratory di Pasta. The trattoria will serve “creative pastas” with sauces composed of seasonal ingredients from the nearby Santa Monica farmers market. On the subject of the Laboratory di Pasta, it’s high time the westside landed a specialty pasta shop, other than fresh/frozen pastas at Bay Cities, the packaged stuff sold at Whole Foods, and some farmers market vendors, there isn’t much by way of fresh pasta by the sea.”

http://la.eater.com/archives/2011/03/17/piero_selvaggio_opening_primi_al_mercato_at_the_market.php

Vin Bar room – casual and cozy

Nico Chessa, the executive chef.

I have posted this before, but it is worth repeating:

“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

This was a “take” on Vitello tonnato, chilled veal in tuna sauce. Instead of the main protein being veal it was tuna and the saucing was a veal sauce. Terrific.

First wine from their list

Grilled Octopus with Black Squid Ink Fregula. Fregula is a type of pasta from Sardinia. It is similar to Israeli couscous. “Fregula comes in varying sizes, but typically consists of semolina dough that has been rolled into balls 2-3 mm in diameter and toasted in an oven.” The octopus was tender and perfectly cooked with the fregula adding a perfect taste and texture contrast.

Pasta Fagioli (literally translated as pasta and beans) with clams – in a word – delicious.

Ravioli di Zucca con Tartufo Invernale Pregiavto – Spinach Ravioli stuffed with butternut squash, butternut squash cubes, winter black truffle, butter and sage – balance is the key for each dish served at Valentino. This is ingredient driven cuisine executed with finesse without an array of unnecessary accompaniments.

Fabio, the terrific pasta chef who has been at Valentino for 25 years presenting the next dish.

Hand-made Strozzapreti (priest chokers) with Ricotta, Pheasant ragu and Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top. The ricotta was baked and made much like a mousse – somewhat like an emulsion. In an earlier post I explained  that this 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.

Close-up of the Strozzapreti – having perfect pasta is a given at Valentino and as I mentioned above Piero will be opening Primi Al Mercato at Santa Monica Place and you can  either have perfect hand-made pasta at home or just enjoy a casual meal there.

2nd wine from their list

gnocchi, ricotta di bufala, fresh tomato, basil, small dice of fresh mozzarella – light as air gnocchi with faultless saucing

Tortellini with Italian cheese, a “smear” of gazpacho sauce and a “smear” of bean puree – they did mention the special Italian cheese used, but I am not sure I got the name right so rather than make something up, I will just say Italian cheese.

Minted-flavored Tagliarini pasta with zucchini, carrots, calamari sauteed in garlic oil for about 1 1/2 minutes, sprinkled with bottarga –  a flawless preparation. Once again, I have to reiterate that this is cuisine where execution and ingredient quality is of utmost importance.

Agnolotti del Plin floating in chicken broth –  “Agnolotti Del Plin is a typical Piemontese dish that is rarely found outside of the area, even nearby in Northern Italy. Agnolotti Del Plin (literally in Piemontese language – “pinched” agnolotti) are stuffed typically with meat.”  The best description I was able to get was that it was stuffed with a “special” from Nico. My one thought –  “chicken soup for the soul.”

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Porchetta with fava beans, red and yellow bell pepper, shaved pecorino cheese – a great ending to a wonderful meal.

Bottom Line: Run don’t walk to Vin Bar/Valentino and I intend to be at Primi Al Mercato as soon as it opens.

Bouchon

We originally planned to have a late lunch/early dinner at Bar Bouchon. But with the cold, overcast weather, we decided to have an earlier lunch and moved upstairs to the main dining room. It was packed, but the service was exemplary. The food was equally superb.

The full main dining room

Another view of the dining room

Claude, our server

Champagne from their list

Misty Point Oysters from Virginia, Kumamoto Oysters from Humboldt and Bagaduce Oysters from Maine – perfect

BYO Red Wine

Soft Scrambled Eggs with Chives and then the piece de resistance:

Chef Rory Hermann arrived bearing a beautiful winter black truffle from Perigord that he shaved tableside

The finished dish with a lovely flaky croissant on the side – A+

My husband’s comment; “Not only do pigs find the trufffles, but pigs like us love to eat them!”

Escargots de Bourgogne – marinated snails in garlic-parsley butter and puff pastry –  the puff pastry is placed on top with the snail underneath

The best way to eat this is to remove the snail and pastry from the snail dish,  turn it over and have the puff pastry on the bottom. That way you really taste the snail, the puff pastry absorbs just the right amount of garlic butter plus you have extra garlic butter to soak up with the baguette bread.

Steak tartar made traditionally with capers and cornichons topped with a raw quail egg and espelette aioli garnished with nicoise olives on the side – an excellent version of steak tartare

The tartare mixed up

Steak frites – pan-seared prime flatiron, caramelized shallots, maître d’hôtel butter & French fries – the steak was cooked to our liking – rare – the maître d’hôtel butter oozed on top and the fries were crispy with not one hint of grease.

A lovely lunch with great food, wonderful wine and delicious food. What more could one ask for?

Chinois

A last minute decision to have a post birthday lunch at Chinois was an unexpected pleasure. For those looking for a quiet and unhurried lunch spot in Venice, I highly recommend Chinois. They are open for lunch Wed through Friday. The menu is a smaller version of the dinner menu, but many of the Chinois classics are on the lunch menu — Sweet Curried Oysters, Chicken Spring Rolls, Chinois Chicken Salad, Shanghai Lobster, Whole Sizzling Catfish and Cantonese Duck.

BYO Champagne

Spicy shiso tuna topped with wasabi caviar served on crispy lotus chips with Maui onion endive salad. This was a layered presentation with one lotus chip on the bottom, then some finely chopped “Asian seasoned” tuna, another lotus chip, more tuna and topped with the caviar wasabi. I couldn’t identify all the ingredients of the sauce but it was just spicy enough without overwhelming the dish and in a word terrific.

Garlic chicken spring rolls with Chinese coleslaw in a spicy plum sauce. This was served with a chili based aioli dipping sauce. I use the term aioli as it was similar to a mayonnaise but with Chinese chili as the primary spicing.

The Chinese coleslaw on the right is actually a misnomer – do not think coleslaw. This was a melange of enoki and shitake mushrooms, sliced carrots, scallions and peapods served hot – delicious.

BYO Red Wine

Stir-fried Mongolian beef, Chinese broccoli, scallions, mushrooms (at least 4 different varieties), sliced red pepper in a black bean sauce – another winner

Duck-fried rice

Cantonese duck with fresh plum sauce – always a favorite

Bao filled with stir-fried vegetables for the duck

A surprise and gift from the kitchen – chocolate cake with raspberry sorbet

The wonderful chef – Rene Mata

A lovely lunch.

Petrossian

I consider our last meal at Petrossian one of miscommunication between us and the Chef. We were told that Chef Wellman especially wanted us to have the chicken dish and the duck dish. We ordered the egg royale with the intention of adding a number of small intermediate courses until the chicken and duck was served. After the egg dish we had a special melon salad and then immediately following that our two main entrees. Our plans to have a long leisurely meal of numerous small dishes obviously didn’t happen. Next time, I think we will compose our own menu, asking Chef Wellman what special dishes she suggests we add.

The room as pretty and serene as always

BYO First Champagne

Egg Royale – A hallowed out eggshell filled with soft Scrambled Egg and topped with Vodka Creme Fraiche and Caviar – excellent and a great beginning

Melon Spring Salad – Grapefruit, Mache, Proscuitto, Pinenuts, Homemade Ricotta dressed with 2 different types off Noble Vinegar – this was lovely and fresh tasting with a great nod to seasonality

The Noble Vinegar is distributed by Mikuni Wild Harvest. From their site:

http://mikuniwildharvest.com/

(On the right) “Noble Tonic 04 French Orleans White Wine Vinegar infused with Egyptian Heirloom Organic Lemon peel. Noble Tonic 04 maintains a 6% acidity and is characterized by its smooth, bright, sweet, citrus tones. Noble uses a 5-year oak barrel aged Orleans White Wine Vinegar as the canvas for this delicate and versatile product. The Pharaoh’s (Egyptian) Heirloom Lemon is similar to a Meyer Lemon in sugar content, but has much more nuance and character. It’s sweet and intensely spicy with hints of orange peel and cedar.”

(On the left) “Noble Tonic 05: XO, a refined finishing vinegar, Noble Tonic 05 is the result of an extended aging process of Noble Tonic 03. The extended maturing period for this vinegar results in an all-natural reduction of water, allowing the rich and bold flavors of Sherry, Bourbon, Maple, Oak, Vanilla and Caramel to become deep and concentrated.”

BYO Champagne #2

I just wasn’t expecting to go right to our main courses at this point. It was just too abrupt a transition to the main part of the meal.

Jidori chicken, housemade butternut squash ravioli, arugula salad, black truffle sauce – the crunchy skin on the chicken was perfect

Duck, Honey Orange Glace, Parsnip puree, orange segments and spice crumble – well-executed

Almond Creme Brulee with Almond cookies or also known as Russian Tea cookies – my husband gobbled down the creme brulee

Bar Bouchon

I have been a huge fan of Bouchon and Bar Bouchon. The ambiance is perfect, the service extraordinary and the cuisine well-executed with a tremendous depth of flavor using quality ingredients. Unfortunately, our last meal at Bar Bouchon was underwhelming. The appetizers were spot-on, but the two main courses were misses.

A lovely Sancerre from Bouchon’s wine list.

Oysters on the half shell – Beausoleil and Misty Point – excellent

Salade d”asperges – green asparagus, herb blossoms and soft poached hen egg with white anchovy vinaigrette – absolutely perfect.

Just look at that gorgeous runny yolk

BYO Red Wine

Tete de Cochon – Crispy pig’s head, house-made pickles and sauce gribiche – another perfect dish accented by lovely pickled vegetables

Close-up of the tete de couchon

For our mains we decided to try two new dishes on the menu. I think both dishes are still works-in-progress.

Sturgeon Grille – grilled sturgeon with forest mushrooms, sweet carrots, celery branch and sherry vinegar ravigote – this just didn’t have any depth of flavor. The forest mushrooms detracted rather than added to the dish. The fish itself was “flat” as was the sherry vinegar ravigote. Where the asparagus dish and tete de couchon had a wonderful balance of texture and flavor, this just wasn’t a memorable dish.

Gigot d’Agneau – roasted leg of lamb with a narvarin of spring vegetables, marguez sausage  – the lamb begged for seasoning. Normally I would have asked for bread to mop up the sauce, but the sauce had no depth of flavor – it was one dimensional and tasted almost diluted. For me a great sauce has a richness, balance, intensity and a layering of taste. Unfortunately this sauce had none of that and we left almost all of it on the plate. The best thing on the plate were the pieces of merguez sausage.

This meal was a definite disappointment. It started out perfectly and then just went flat.


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