Scratch Bar – Beverly Hills, CA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

Last month, Chef Phillip Frankland Lee caused a positive stir in my industry by announcing that he would offer any back of house (BOH) employee a free six-course tasting menu throughout the month of February and 50% off for any accompanying guest or additional food ordered. This meant a lot to line cooks like me who make little money (or took a severe pay cut) in order to pursue their passion in the culinary field. He called it Back of House Appreciation Month and boy did I feel appreciated!

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Our romantic date night started off with drinks: Martin had the Piraat Belgian ale, which reminded him of his favorite Trappist ale, Chimay. I selected the Supplies! – a cocktail of unfiltered sake, pineapple, and lemon. It was so good that I had two. It was so refreshing and reminiscent of something I’d want in my hand as I lay out tanning by a pool.

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Scratch|Board – smoked goat cheese, gravlax, air dry cured beef, pork pate, beet dijon, prunes, pickled onions, house sourdough. The pork “pate” was SO GOOD. It was not a country pate but rather bore more resemblance to the headcheese terrine i made during my time at Waterloo & City. And the beet dijon? Our server Mark phrased it profoundly accurately — “The beet dijon is money!” Get this.

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Course 1: Green Mussel and Sea Urchin Sake Shooter – I usually don’t like being told how to eat my food, but this shooter was a fun exception. First, eat the pick with ceviche green mussel, pickled onion, and serrano. Then, shoot the unfiltered (nigori) sake and lemon. Finally, spoon out the uni and avocado mousse at the bottom. Delicious!

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Course 2: Pork Belly & Raw Oyster – braised (?) pork belly topped with raw oyster and coconut-chamomile foam with chamomile dust. This single bite was a surprisingly hearty rendition of surf & turf.

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Course 3: Roasted yet Raw Prawns – raw prawns topped with a lime and fish sauce (?) vinaigrette, toasted nuts, and shaved smoked white onion. It tasted exactly like the meat served in the Vietnamese vermicelli bowls (bun thit nuong) that I grew up eating. The super charred nuts gave the dish a pleasant “roasted” flavor even though the shrimp themselves had not been cooked at all.

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Course 4: Blackened Cauliflower – cauliflower puree, roasted cauliflower, lemon, chip made from cauliflower stems. This dish is 100% vegan which is unbelievable because the puree tasted so rich and silky that I thought it had to be mounted with obscene amounts of butter and/or cream. Martin loves cauliflower so this homage was perfect for him. We were pleasantly surprised to find bits of romanesco in there as well.

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Course 5: Prime Hangar Steak – mashed potato puree, roasted asparagus and mushrooms, sugar blistered cherry tomatoes. OMG THE TOMATOES. So freaking sweet and juicy. This puree was smooth and decadent as well, though with the help of animal fat, and the steak was a perfect medium rare.

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Course 6: Dark Chocolate & Cayenne Candy Bar – sugar cookie, cayenne-infused dark chocolate, raspberry jam, house made whipped cream, chia seeds. The cayenne aroma was intoxicating and I was worried it would be too spicy for Martin, but the spice was barely perceivable on the palate. Beautifully composed.

At this point, Mark came back to our table to see if we wanted to order any additional supplements. “Didn’t we just have our dessert?” I teased. As if he had read our minds, that’s when he pointed out the savory-but-sweet foie gras s’mores.  Why not?

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Foie Gras S’mores – cinnamon-nut “graham cracker,” seared foie gras, house made marshmallows, tangerines, tangerine vinaigrette (?), chives. Sweet, savory, sour, bitter, plus just the right amount of fatty (I know that’s not one of the “tastes”). Sure it’s not a conventional dessert but it was still a worthy way to end our meal.

Thank you again to Chef Phillip Frankland Lee for this opportunity to spend $100 on a dinner that would have easily cost (and rightfully so) $200-300. It was a dinner that we will not soon forget.

#DropFlavorNotBombs

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Check out Scratch|Bar: scratchbarla.com

111 North La Cienega Boulevard
Beverly Hills, CA 90211

See their Yelp reviews here!

DineLA – Chaya Brasserie (Summer 2014)

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

14-LAT-SaveTheDate-Instagram

With each passing season, dineLA manages to make its Restaurant “Week” longer and longer. This summer, hundreds of restaurants across Los Angeles are participating in the 14-day event (July 14-27) featuring prix fixe menus that showcase their best offerings. dineLA feels quite a bit different for me this year, working among the chaos on the other side, but on our shared day off, we just had to participate as diners! To celebrate Martin’s mom’s birthday on our double-date, we selected Chaya Brasserie, just off the main hustle and bustle of Beverly Hills.

Chaya Beverly Hills is a tiny hole-in-the-wall with a gorgeously decorated interior that includes (real!) bamboo plants reaching to the sky. A print of Van Gogh’s portrait hangs on the wall opposite a series of large framed mirrors, opening up the small space and making it seem much less claustrophobic than it would have otherwise been. The white tablecloth-clad tables and attentive but friendly service let us know we were in for a special treat. For just $45, Chaya offers a three course dinner and a wine pairing for an additional $20. Martin opted for it and we shared the 3-ounce tasting pours (a white cotes du rhone for the first course, a red blend for the second, and a sweet riesling for dessert).

Table Bread

Table Bread

Even the table bread was a delicious start — freshly warmed, the crunch of rustic bread with a warm fluffy center, slathered with softened butter. I always appreciate places that take the time to warm their bread, so Chaya was already getting brownie points from me.

Coconut Chili Soft-Shell Crab | Summer Squash, Cilantro.

Coconut Chili Soft-Shell Crab | Summer Squash, Cilantro.

Appetizer (M): Coconut Chili Soft-Shell Crab | Summer Squash, Cilantro. As food lovers we are well aware that it is currently soft shell crab season! I could not believe that Chaya had it on their dineLA menu, and Martin snatched it up, though I made him promise to share. Dipped in a tempura batter, deep fried, and served over a bed of zucchini and yellow squash, the soft shell crab was absolutely succulent with its sweet meat and an oh-so-edible shell.

Tricolor Sashimi Carpaccio | Tuna, Salmon, Tai Snapper, Ooba Pesto, Yuzu Jelly.

Tricolor Sashimi Carpaccio | Tuna, Salmon, Tai Snapper, Ooba Pesto, Yuzu Jelly.

Appetizer (A): Tricolor Sashimi Carpaccio | Tuna, Salmon, Tai Snapper, Ooba Pesto, Yuzu Jelly. I’ll be honest, I think twice about ordering the same menu item as someone else when dining out in a group. Though it was inevitable with a party of four and three menu options from which to choose, I noticed that no one was getting the sashimi. I’m so glad I did because I love yuzukosho and its presence in the ooba (shiso) pesto totally made the dish, aside from the sexy plating of course. Crunchy watermelon radishes, tart yuzu jelly, and an assortment of microgreens were excellent garnishes to the fresh raw fish.

Spicy Lobster Risotto | Edamame, Grilled Corn, Asparagus.

Spicy Lobster Risotto | Edamame, Grilled Corn, Asparagus.

Main Course (M): Spicy Lobster Risotto | Edamame, Grilled Corn, Asparagus. Martin immediately gravitated to this dish and I could see why — the risotto was perfectly cooked (not too dry, not too runny, with al dente rice) and the plating was a show stopper with a massive lobster claw adorning the center of the plate. Don’t worry though — it’s already peeled and ready to extract for easy eating! I stole a bite or two and though I would not call it “spicy” it was full of spices and had a bit of a kick.

Steak & Frites | Prime Hangar Steak, Wasabi Chimichurri.

Steak & Frites | Prime Hangar Steak, Wasabi Chimichurri.

Main Course (A): Steak & Frites | Prime Hangar Steak, Wasabi Chimichurri. We just celebrated Bastille Day with homemade steak frites last week, but spotting it on the menu, I wanted to try that wasabi chimichurri. The steak arrived just the right temperature (rare as requested), tender, and absolutely flavorful. The frites were crispy and a generous portion, plenty to share with my snacking companions.

Strawberry Mochi | Coconut Sorbet.

Strawberry Mochi | Coconut Sorbet.

Dessert (M): Strawberry Mochi | Coconut Sorbet. It was Martin’s turn to be “different” and he opted for the strawberry mochi. Sticky rice flour wrapped around a whole strawberry, it would be more accurate described as daifuku. The coconut sorbet on the side was refreshing and reminiscent of the milk and pulp straight from a young coconut. Despite the “girly” plating (as he put it), Martin really enjoyed this dessert, especially the flakes of strawberry-flavored white chocolate which reminded him of his favorite Pocky.

Flourless Chocolate Cake | Caramelized Banana Gelato, Hazelnuts.

Flourless Chocolate Cake | Caramelized Banana Gelato, Hazelnuts.

Dessert (A & M’s Mom): Flourless Chocolate Cake | Caramelized Banana Gelato, Hazelnuts. The presentation was stunning, and the first thing I did was grab one of the bits of hazelnut brittle. So good! The cake itself was rich with a thin layer of ganache (?) holding it together. I particularly enjoyed the ice cream as I am a big fan of the chocolate-banana combination. A great way to end the meal!

Sticky Toffee Pudding | Bourbon Ice Cream.

Sticky Toffee Pudding | Bourbon Ice Cream.

Dessert (M’s Dad): Sticky Toffee Pudding | Bourbon Ice Cream. I was glad he ordered this as I wanted to see how Chaya’s interpretation of this British classic holds up. The sticky toffee pudding here (as our server had warned us) is more like a dense banana bread and is drizzled with a light bourbon sauce. I liked that it wasn’t too sweet or heavy but it was not quite what I think of when I think of sticky toffee pudding. Not a bad thing, just different.

There is still a week left of dineLA, so if you’re looking for a great deal and a beautiful venue for date night, consider Chaya Brasserie!

We also have plenty of write-ups for previous dineLA restaurant weeks, though the menu may vary:

– Piccolo Venice (Venice)

– Catch American Seafood (Santa Monica)

– Blue Stove (Santa Monica)

– Stefan’s at LA Farm (Santa Monica)

So get out there and enjoy the many awesome restaurants in our City of Angels!

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Check out Chaya Brasserie: thechaya.com/beverlyhills

8741 Alden Drive
Los AngelesCA 90048

See their Yelp reviews here!

DineLA Summer 2014 – $$$ ($45/person) dinner

Parking: $6.50 for valet.

Morton’s The Steakhouse – Beverly Hills, CA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

My dad loves steak, and my parents love to visit us here in LA and check out the awesome restaurant scene that Martin and I often take for granted. So it was with much excitement and enthusiasm that Martin and I decided to treat them to dinner at Morton’s The Steakhouse in Beverly Hills for my dad’s birthday last month.

Mmmm steak....

Mmmm steak….

The service was stellar, the ambiance enchanting, the food phenomenal, and the company simply the best. (Sorry, no alliteration for that last one. How about fantastic familia? Now I’m just trying too hard…)

Tagine – Beverly Hills, CA [Valentine’s Day 2013]

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

As if the bacon roses weren’t enough, Martin also surprised me on Valentine’s Day by snagging one of the last reservations for dinner at Tagine, a quaint, 10-table Moroccan restaurant in Beverly Hills. I thought he was exaggerating but when we walked through the green and blue facade, I literally counted eight 2-tops and two slightly larger tables made for 3-4 people each. The ambiance was fitting for Valentine’s Day — dim candle lighting, jazzy 20’s music, cozy pillow-covered benches. I was pretty excited (and unsure of what to expect from a restaurant co-owned by Ryan Gosling).

Bubbly

Bubbly

We decided to celebrate with a bit of bubbly – two flutes of Crémant rosé. (By the way, please bear with me with these photos. I was going to forgo them altogether because of how dimly lit the restaurant was, but here are my attempts!)

Amuse Bouche

Amuse Bouche

It went wonderfully with the amuse bouche: goat cheese and fig on a spoon, warm savory soup garnished with sliced almonds, and samosa-like rolls. Yum!

Course 1: Mezze

Course 1: Moroccan Mezze

Course 1: Moroccan Mezze – a stone tablet laden with shot glasses containing an assortment of delicious Mediterranean starters. Marinated olives, eggplant puree, hummus, grilled pita, Moroccan spiced beef, and a refreshing cucumber salad. My favorite was definitely the hummus. Homemade hummus is SO much better than any store-bought variety… amazing. A close second was that cucumber salad, a shot glass layered with beets, tomatoes, vinegary cucumbers, lemon sorbet, and topped with a raspberry. The layering of sweet then tart then earthy flavors was really fascinating.

Grand Cru du Potager

Course 2: Grand Cru du Potager

Course 2: Grand Cru du Potager – sautéed seasonal vegetables. Farmer’s market fresh baby zucchini, heirloom carrots, thin asparagus, and a super juicy cherry tomato, all drizzled in a paprika-y, lemon-y sauce. (It was with this meal that I realized how much I love the Moroccan spice palate!)

Course 3: Scallop Bastilla

Course 3: Scallop Bastilla

Course 3: Scallop Bastilla – a light layer of phyllo with scallops, caramelized shallots and brussels sprouts, topped with a honey sauce. “Light layer” is an understatement – the plate arrived with a very prominent disc of crispy, golden phyllo glazed with honey. Dig a little deeper to find the seared scallops and below that, a bed of perfectly seasoned and sautéed brussels sprouts.

Course 4: Black Tiger Shrimp

Course 4: Black Tiger Shrimp

Course 4: Black Tiger Shrimp – herb crusted tiger shrimp, served with sautéed vegetables, Harissa cream sauce and shiitake mushrooms. The shrimp were a tad overcooked but tasted delicious. The sautéed shiitake in the Harissa sauce were an excellent complement to the dish.

Course 5: Sea Bass Tagine

Course 5: Sea Bass Tagine

Course 5: Sea Bass Tagine – roasted pan seared sea bass, served with fingerling potatoes and sauteed mixed peppers, topped off with a lemon sauce. The sea bass was STUNNING – beautifully flaky and buttery. The lemon sauce was light and the touch of acid was perfect for the fish.

Course 6 (I): Baklava

Course 6 (I): Baklava

Course 6: Chocolate Soup – served with vanilla ice cream, baklava, and mint tea. We were served the baklava first, garnished with an orchid. The layers crumbled with a satisfying crunch with each bite.

Course 6 (II): Chocolate Soup

Course 6 (II): Chocolate Soup

Then came the ice cream, over which our server poured the steaming chocolate soup. It was like smooth, creamy hot chocolate meets an Italian affogato. A bit too cloyingly sweet for me, but delicious nonetheless. My only complaint? They ran out of mint tea and I was so looking forward to ending the meal with it… sad face.

Cute, kitschy heart-shaped candles for Valentine's

Cute, kitschy heart-shaped candles for Valentine’s

Overall it was a stellar experience with charming atmosphere and fabulous food. The highlights of the night, for me, were the hummus, the brussels sprouts, the sea bass, and the baklava. Incredible. If you’re looking for a hot spot with a hole-in-the-wall feel and delicious food, I’d highly recommend Tagine. I cannot comment on the authenticity but I can definitely tell you that the spice palate was very enjoyable.

Dear readers, you just might start seeing more Moroccan experiments on this blog…

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Check out Tagine: taginebeverlyhills.com

132 N Robertson Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA 90211

See their Yelp reviews here!