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!

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Michael Mina – Bellagio, Las Vegas, NV

Food Adventures, Las Vegas

For us, food is an event that can stand completely on its own. So in retrospect, it was really no surprise that for our four-year dating anniversary, we spontaneously decided to hop in the car and drive through the desert to Sin City for a short weekend getaway capped off with a tasting menu dinner at Michelin-starred Michael Mina at the Bellagio.

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The service from being greeted by the hostess and GM to our dedicated waiters (plural!) to the ever-attentive bread and water guy was impeccable. The decor was beautiful and the whole experience felt sophisticated but not snooty, a delicate balance for white tablecloth restaurants of this caliber.

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There is a great-looking a la carte menu that includes luxuries like a caviar selection rolled out on a serving cart and a whole lobe of foie gras roasted and carved table-side, but we had our sights set on doing a tasting menu. Even then, there were two options – the Signature, which features the six courses of the restaurant’s greatest hits, and the Seasonal, which changes from time to time based on what is available. Since it was our first visit, we opted for the Signature which is a steal at $115 per person. We were tempted to do the full wine pairing alongside our tasting menu but decided to each select one of the suggested pairings instead. Just before we received our 2011 Cantina Terlano pinot bianco (Martin’s) and 2012 Dr. L riesling (one of my favorites), we were surprised with champagne to toast our anniversary!

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Bubbly in hand, let’s get started.

Course 1: Domestic Caviar Parfait – alderwood smoked salmon, creme fraiche, shallot potato cake.

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A beautiful tower consisting of layered crispy fried potato, cool and creamy creme fraiche, smoky cured salmon, and a generous dollop of domestic black caviar, this dish was an innovative presentation of a classic flavor combination. I also couldn’t help but appreciate the simple yet elegant little piles of brunoise shallot that garnished the plate.

Course 2: Tartare of Ahi Tuna – asian pear, pine nuts, scotch bonnet infused sesame oil

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Photo-takers beware, this dish is finished table-side. Our waiter was observant, however, and paused so I could take my before and after photos. So kind! We felt it was a sizable portion to be part of a tasting menu; we later saw another table order the a la carte version and ours seemed to be about two-thirds the size! The Asian-inspired flavors were delicious and more reminiscent of a Hawaiian poke than a tartare.

Course 3: Miso-Glazed Chilean Sea Bass – shellfish dumpling, dashi broth

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Possibly the best preparation of Patagonian toothfish I have eaten! The buttery fish was perfectly cooked and unbelievably succulent. The dumpling looked handmade though it was unremarkable compared to the delicate yet flavorful broth. The garnish of mustard frill and shaved radish gave a welcomed freshness to the earthy miso and shiitake.

Course 4: Lobster Pot Pie – seasonal baby vegetables, brandied lobster cream

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This course was hands-down the most filling and I know when winter comes, I’ll be craving its rich and creamy lobster-brandy sauce bathing fingerling potatoes, lobster knuckles, and other hidden treasures beneath a golden and flaky pastry crust. This too was finished table-side as the waiters carved the crust cleanly, making it easier to lift the “lid” and peek at the filling below. My heart started to hurt from the obscene quantity of butter but it was so, so worth all of the rave reviews.

Course 5: American Wagyu Ribeye “Rossini” – hudson valley foie gras, pinot noir reduction

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Perhaps the most exciting part of leaving California is being able to consume the contraband decadence that is foie gras. Though we were warned that this particular morsel would be quite small, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the gorgeous slices of seared rib-eye were garnished with shavings of black summer truffle a la Tournedos Rossini. I don’t recall their asking how we wanted the steak prepared, but when it arrived, we saw that it was perfect — bright red medium-rare/rare with an even, crunchy sear. An excellent dish!

Surprise Pre-Dessert: Mascarpone Cheesecake with Huckleberries and Vanilla Crumble

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In addition to the champagne to start the meal, we were surprised with an extra dessert course, complete with chocolate writing that announced “Happy Anniversary!” The cheesecake was airy and light, just the way I like it, and I enjoyed the huckleberry compote to add a sweet and fruity element.

Course 6: Lincoln’s Candy Bar – peanuts, valrhona chocolate, pretzel

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This course was actually a trio featuring the “candy bar” (an elevated Snickers of sorts), a warm chocolate chip cookie, and a root beer float. The candy bar was sinfully good and I could take or leave the cookie, but what stole the show was the float! I first sipped it through the chocolate “straw” before digging in with a spoon. I only wish I had more room in my stomach to polish off every bite!

We had high expectations from reading online reviews, perusing the menu, and of course, having specifically selected Michael Mina for its one Michelin star rating. Though the tasting menu and service were both impressive, I was most amazed that the quiet, calm, open kitchen delivered such consistent and beautiful dishes. (I work in a mostly-closed kitchen and it can be sheer chaos back there!) Though there are so many high-end dining options in Las Vegas, I definitely recommend trying the Signature menu here if you get the chance!

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Check out Michael Mina: bellagio.com

Bellagio Resort & Casino
3600 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109

See their Yelp reviews here!

Clio Restaurant – Boston, MA

Boston, Food Adventures

When we were planning our trip to Boston, we knew we had to pencil in a special dinner at Clio. I’m absolutely fascinated by the crazy food science that molecular gastronomic wizards like Chef Ken Oringer whip up in the kitchen, so Clio was a perfect fit. From the moment we took our seats, our friendly server Katherine led us on a magical journey through ten stunning courses. We had mentioned that we traveled a long way from the land of Foiehibition and would appreciate all the indulgence we could get. They certainly delivered, and I daresay the Chef had at least a little bit of fun with it.

Clio, right at the corner of Commonwealth and Massachusetts Ave

Clio, right at the corner of Commonwealth and Massachusetts Ave

We decided on the 10-course tasting menu. Here at Clio, the tasting menus are chef’s whim… basically a kaiseki omakase. Some courses hail from their a la carte menu while others are completely new spur-of-the-moment concoctions. The 10-course selection would be broken down into  7 savory courses, 1 cheese course, and 2 desserts. Just be sure to mention any allergies or dietary restrictions… then sit back, relax, and enjoy.

Table Bread

Table Bread

I knew it was going to be a good night when even the table bread was delicious. Thick slices of a rustic loaf with a hard crust and a fluffy middle, a generous dollop of silky whipped butter… I had to resist from filling up before the dishes had even begun!

Amuse Bouche: Foie Gras Mousse

Amuse Bouche: Foie Gras Mousse

The Amuse Bouche: foie gras mousse garnished with cacao nibs and microgreens. Chef did not mess around and started us off with foie right away. The mousse was smooth and not at all gritty. We were excited for our first taste of foie gras in a very, very long time!

Palate Cleanser: Tomato "Martini"

Palate Cleanser: Tomato “Martini”

The Palate Cleanser: tomato water “martini” with caperberry and a tomato puree “popsicle.” The drink itself was super refreshing and playfully decorated with drops of oil presented table-side. What stumped me was just how clear the tomato liquid was! With our palates sufficiently cleansed, we were ready to move onward.

Course 1: Hamachi Toro Sashimi

Course 1: Hamachi Toro Sashimi

Course 1: hamachi toro sashimi – a crudo of yellowtail belly slices topped with crispy pork belly crackling “croutons” and a black truffle vinaigrette… SO GOOD. A dish from Uni (the sushi bar / lounge next door), the balance of the fresh fish, a tart and citrus-y vinaigrette (was that yuzu I detected?), and crispy and decadent pork cracklings made for an excellent first course. This turned out to be one of Martin’s favorites of the night.

Course 2: Live Uni

Course 2: Live Uni

Course 2: live uni from Maine – raw sea urchin with dashi gelee served with a thin spinach wafer. The presentation was stunning, although the wafer didn’t break quite as we expected (or as the chef intended, I’d imagine). It just split in half and fell onto the table. Sad face. Good thing we abide by the 5 second rule!

Course 2: Live Uni (the reveal)

Course 2: Live Uni (the reveal)

Here’s a close-up of the golden uni. If you look really carefully you can spot the flavorful bits of dashi gelee.

Course 3: Foie Gras Torchon

Course 3: Foie Gras Torchon

Course 3: foie gras torchon – torchon topped with bread crumbs and served with pickled rhubarb and a nori croquant. Delicious! This dish, featured on their a la carte menu, really reminded us of how much we missed foie. The richness of the torchon was well-balanced by the tart rhubarb, and the sweet, crunchy crisp added another textural dimension to the dish.

Course 4: Maine Fluke

Course 4: Maine Fluke

Course 4: Maine fluke – butter poached with black lime, umeboshi, fava beans, and shiso relish. It’s no fluke (pun intended), this dish was genius! The buttery white fish coupled well with the acidity of the lime and umeboshi dancing on the palate. We also found it interesting that the shiso relish tasted distinctly of fish sauce (in a good way).

Course 5: Fresh White Asparagus

Course 5: Fresh White Asparagus

Course 5: fresh white asparagus from Southern France. These beauties are among the first of the evanescent three-week-long season… so exclusive that only one case was delivered to Clio’s kitchens. They had beautiful texture and were served with black trumpet mushrooms, foie-infused broth, and a flavorful foam.

Course 6: Foie Gras Laquee

Course 6: Foie Gras Laquee

Course 6: foie gras laquée – seared foie gras with piquillo pepper jam, milk & honey puree, cornichons, topped with grains of paradise and candied rye. This breathtakingly stunning dish had me at hello. The glazed (or per its namesake, lacquered) foie gras was a delicious combination of savory and sweet. Even the garnish was thoughtfully constructed – a crisp made from a rye bread base that was then candied and pulled like taffy. Fascinating!

Course 7: California Squab

Course 7: California Squab

Course 7: California squab with wild rice, charred Brussels sprouts, fingerling potatoes, vanilla caramel, duck confit roulade with a foie gras center. This entree is on their a la carte menu, but the roulade stuffed with foie was made just for us! The squab was sous vide with a beautiful rare scarlet red and a crispy seared-off bottom, and Martin, who had never had wild rice before, enjoyed the long, dark grains paired with the sweet vanilla. Another one of our favorites (but really, it would be so hard to pick just one!).

Cheese #1: Sheep's Milk with Apricot

Cheese #1: Sheep’s Milk with Apricot

The Cheese Course (Cheese #1): Katherine brought out two cheeses. The first one, a hard sheep’s milk cheese paired with apricot, was more to Martin’s taste. It had a strong, aged aroma which contrasted nicely with the honeycomb.

Cheese #2: Soft Cow's Milk Cheese with Raisins

Cheese #2: Soft Cow’s Milk Cheese with Raisins

The Cheese Course (Cheese #2): The other selection was a soft cow’s milk cheese with syrupy golden raisins and a bit of honeycomb. I preferred this one to the former, and I loved the texture of the reconstituted raisins in the sweet, cloying syrup.

Course 9: White Grapefruit Panna Cotta

Course 9: White Grapefruit Panna Cotta

Course 9 (Dessert #1): white grapefruit panna cotta with grapefruit & rose sorbet, sorgum tuille, and candied grapefruit peel. Personally, I’m a bit fan of the tart-bitter notes that naturally accompany white grapefruit so this dessert was perfect for me – refreshing and not too sweet. The tuille had a roasty-toasty flavor reminiscent of a brittle sans nuts. The panna cotta base was creamy, and although the texture was a bit more dense than I am used too, it went well with the cool and light sorbet.

Course 10: Violet Vacherin

Course 10: Violet Vacherin

Course 10 (Dessert #2): Violet Vacherin with violet meringue, lychee creme, moscato gel, chocolate sorbet and edible flower garnish. A relatively new creation by Pastry Chef Monica, this was almost too pretty to eat and I had no idea where to start. There was a lot going on in this dessert (including something in maltodextrin?) so every bite was like a new experience.

Bon Bons

Kumquat Bon Bons

Farewell: dark chocolate covered kumquat bon bons. I had expected more tartness from the kumquat but this was actually quite sweet and the perfect little bite to end the night.

While we were most certainly satisfied with the food, we were also very well taken care of by Katherine. She eloquently described, from memory, every element of each elaborate dish and answered our questions without hesitation. I would not be able to do that without sounding like a rehearsed script, but she was very personable and truly made our experience complete.

The tasting menus are not cheap, but our experience was definitely worth every penny, especially if you enjoy dinner as the main event, as we do. The 10-course adventure left us pleasantly satiated and thoroughly entertained throughout our three-hour dinner. I’m already looking for reasons to end up in Boston so we could return for more!

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Check out Clio Restaurant: cliorestaurant.com

370 Commonwealth Ave
Boston, MA 02215

See their Yelp reviews here!

Farewell to Foie – The Last Supper at Waterloo

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

What better way to spend June 30th than with a double date with our friends Cassandra and Brian! Together we bid farewell to foie at my and Alice’s favorite local gastropub Waterloo & City with a 6-course menu entitled “The Last Supper.” Unfortunately by the time this entry is posted, SB-1520 would have passed and these dishes will be a fond memory. But without further ado, here is the play-by-play of The Last Supper:

Ahi Tuna & Foie Gras Torchon

The most eye-catching explosion of colors of the entire meal, the ahi tuna and foie gras torchon was an attention-grabber of a dish early on in the tasting menu. We were expecting Chef Brendan to balance all the fatty foie with other sweet and tart flavors and he did just that in this dish. A generous chunk of foie on top of the lean slice of ahi with the pork gelée and prune jam was one delicious bite after another. The micro greens provided a much-needed textural contrast between the foie and ahi. Well-rounded dish and tied the chicken liver and foie gras mousse as my favorite dish.

Chicken Liver & Foie Gras Mousse, Toasted Petit Pain

Second course consisted of a foie gras addition to the charcuterie menu’s Chicken Liver Mousse, which gave it a smoother texture. Again, Chef Brendan kept in mind the richness of the foie and included a sweet potato jam to balance the dish. However, it was a little too sugary. Also, the ratio of toast to mousse was a little off to me – I could’ve used another pair of toast (although the mousse was delicious on its own as well).  The plate was completed with a caper berry, cornichon, pickled onion.

Foie Gras Ravioli, Duck Broth, Wild Mushrooms

Third course is a foie gras ravioli and wild mushrooms in a duck broth. Alice was a huge fan of the broth which reminded her of a favorite Vietnamese dish she had as a child (mì vịt tiềm). For me, the broth was a little too salty and we both agreed that the pasta was undercooked. We were both a fan of the mushrooms which provided an additional umami flavor. The explosion of foie gras out of the ravioli was especially pleasant to the palate. Unfortunately, one of my raviolis was missing a filling but that was promptly rectified by Cecily, the Maitre D that night.

Halibut, Manila Clams, Foie Gras Sauce

Fourth course consisted of a beautiful piece of halibut, perfectly seared and served with manila clams, potato cubes, peas, and bacon (or pancetta?) in a foie gras sauce. The sauce had great depth of flavor with the rich foie and the smoky bacon. The halibut was beautiful and delicious but as the star of the show we really wanted to see the sear on the halibut so it was confusing as to why the clams were placed on top of the halibut. Nevertheless, the combination of the halibut, bacon, and foie sauce all in one bite was heavenly. It was one of Cassandra’s favorites.

Slow Roast Duck Breast, Seared Foie Gras, Plum Jam

The fifth and main course was a generous piece of seared foie on top of a slow roasted duck breast and complemented with micro greens and a plum jam. We’re always a fan of dishes that compose of different parts of an animal and this dish was exactly that. The duck breast had its own jus but also worked surprisingly well with the plum jam. The seared foie definitely needed the plum jam to cut the fat and the ratio of foie to jam was perfect. This dish serves to only reaffirm my belief in the duck. All hail the duck!

“Twicks”, Chocolate Panna Cotta, Butterscotch Mousse, Shortbread, Caramel

The sixth and final course is something we haven’t seen on the menu before, although Alice had seen it mentioned as a new menu addition. The “twicks” is kind of like a deconstructed Twix candy bar when eaten all together. Individually, I was a big fan of the chocolate panna cotta and the shortbread. We did not recognize it at the time, but we later found out that it was topped with foie gras ice cream. As delicious as this dessert may be, we almost regret not finishing the meal with the bourbon glazed donuts as we usually do.

All in all, we were very pleased with this last farewell hurrah for foie. We popped in to say hi to Chef Brendan at the pass, and he seemed to be having a great time going all-out to work with this delicacy before midnight. Waterloo & City never fails to disappoint, and even though it was Cassandra and Brian’s first visit, they’re already looking forward to coming back and trying dishes off the regular menu.

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Check out Waterloo & City: www.waterlooandcity.com

12517 West Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90066

See their Yelp reviews here.

Follow them on Twitter @WaterlooandCity!

7 Days Left – Foie Gras & Jelly Doughnut

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

The countdown to Foiehibition currently stands at 7 days, and we’re tracking down some notable must-try dishes before then! Yesterday we spent the day at work (yes, on a Saturday) at Martin’s office in Downtown LA so it was the perfect opportunity to swing by UMAMIcatessen for the FG&J off their And A Donut menu.

The FG&J Doughnut

The menu describes it as foie gras mousse, forest berry jame, peanut. The doughnuts are all fried to order and come out wonderfully warm and crispy. (Unfortunately not as hot as we’d prefer but at least we don’t have to worry about an explosion of hot oil in the first bite!) It’s a beautiful brown roasty-toasty color and topped with a dusting of powdered sugar and crushed peanuts. I loved how the sphere of dough clearly showed the trail of foie mousse pumped in on one side and the berry jam oozing out the other. If you get the perfect bite of mousse, jelly, dough, powdered sugar, and peanut crumbs, it tastes exactly like peanut butter and jelly. The mousse itself was a little too salty for my liking and it didn’t taste as buttery as I would expect, but of course, the nature of the foie yielded a nice, smooth, creamy texture. I enjoyed the pairing of the mousse with the forest berry jam; I’m a big fan of cold foie preparations with a fruit compote or marmalade.

The forest berry jame side

Sure $8 is a little steep for a doughnut but we were glad to have had the chance to try it before it became a “black market doughnut,” as our server phrased it. It was a very fun example of deconstruction and we could see why it made it on Grub Street’s list of 24 foie gras dishes to try before SB1520 takes effect. Only 7 days left, so hurry hurry if you want to experience this fascinating flavor combination on your taste buds!

How are you spending the last week before the foie ban? We knew we had to make reservations for Waterloo & City for June 30th, and we might squeeze in Animal on Friday. Any other must-haves? Let us know! :) Happy eating!

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Check out UMAMIcatessen: www.umami.com/umamicatessen

852 S Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90014

At the corner of Broadway and 9th

See their Yelp reviews here!