DineLA – Stefan’s at Lantana (Winter 2013)

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

Oh, DineLA – some of our favorite weeks of the year. Every year, the winter dineLA falls around early February, just in time for Martin’s birthday! This year, after much scrutiny of the posted offerings from the MANY participating restaurants, he selected Stefan’s at LA Farm, recently renamed to Stefan’s at Lantana (for its location at the Lantana campus in Santa Monica). His main reasoning? We’ve always wanted to check out this restaurant owned by Top Chef contestant Stefan Richter. His secondary reason? DineLA dinner here is rated $$$ ($45/person) for a 6 course tasting menu (SIX!), definitely one of the better deals available!

One of the 6 courses is dessert! (As the years pass, dessert on a dineLA menu has become a more and more scarce commodity...)

One of the 6 courses is dessert! (As the years pass, dessert on a dineLA menu seems to have become a scarcer and scarcer commodity…)

When given options, we generally try to order different things so we can effectively sample the entire menu. We were able to do that for all but 2 courses — that crudo and pumpkin soup just called out to both of us and neither was willing to back down! (On the flip side, our friends Helen & Edmund made it easy on our waiter — one of each, all the way through~)

Course 1: Cali Crudo

Course 1: Cali Crudo

Course 1: Cali Crudo – halibut, salmon, lime yuzu vinaigrette. Neither of us could resist ordering this dish of buttery, thick slices of sashimi drizzled with a bright, citrus-y vinaigrette. A very refreshing and light starter worthy to represent California.

Course 2: Raviolo

Course 2 (m): Raviolo

Course 2 (m): Raviolo & Pork Cheek – brown butter, pecorino, parsnips. Martin selected this raviolo that wafted the aroma of bacon from the moment it was set at our table. He polished it off with a quickness, barely sparing one small taste for me!

Course 2 (a): Mushroom Risotto

Course 2 (a): Mushroom Risotto

Course 2 (a): Mushroom Risotto – hen of the woods, blue cheese. I love mushrooms, and hen of the woods fall pretty high on my list of favorites (#1 being chanterelles). The risotto had a great al dente texture and the cheese was not too overpowering. Solid.

Course 3: Pumpkin Soup

Course 3: Pumpkin Soup

Course 3 (both): Pumpkin Soup. We both selected this soup over the other option of a leek soup. I think Martin found it to be a bit too sweet, but I didn’t mind it once I accepted that I was drinking a hot, slightly savory, liquid pumpkin pie (in a good way). It felt reminiscent of Thanksgiving.

Course 4 (m): Crispy White Fish

Course 4 (m): Crispy White Fish

Course 4 (m): Crispy White Fish – chipotle butter, black beans, cilantro, corn, haricot verts. Martin’s fish course had a stunning sear. I mean it was BEAUTIFUL. I heard the crunch as his fork sank into the fillet and felt quite jealous. His only complaint was a slight inconsistency in plating between his and another plate at our table with regard to the amount of the chipotle butter garnish (although we suspect the plate with a smaller dollop may have just melted before it got to our table).

Course 4 (a): Halibut

Course 4 (a): Halibut

Course 4 (a): West Coast Halibut – brik dough, edamame, shimeji mushrooms, fingerlings, pancetta. The halibut was cooked perfectly with a crispy sear and a moist but easily flaked texture. The pancetta flavoring in the sauce added an earthy contrast, and the edamame and shimeji mushrooms hidden underneath were great accompaniments.

Course 5 (m): Duck Breast

Course 5 (m): Duck Breast

Course 5 (m): Duck Breast – braised red cabbage, pretzel dumpling, lingonberry sauce. Martin was a teeny bit hesitant to order duck breast as some places tend to overcook the breast. His concerns were instantly alleviated when we saw the pale pink medium/medium-rare of his thick slices of seared duck. The lingonberry sauce was tart and delicious, although, to be honest, our only other reference point is IKEA’s.

Course 5 (a): Beef Tenderloin

Course 5 (a): Beef Tenderloin

Course 5 (a): Beef Tenderloin, rare – parsnip mash, sauce hollandaise. Helen and I both love cow, so we were especially excited for this course. We requested ours cooked rare and they were wonderful. The jus (was it a red wine reduction?) melded nicely with the hollandaise. The parsnip mash was a great spin on ordinary ol’ steak & potatoes.

Course 6 (m): Apple Beignet

Course 6 (m): Apple Beignet

Course 6 (m): Apple Beignet. Martin was so excited when his dessert was presented. Fried sweets a la mode? Sign us up! The biggest surprise was what makes it an “apple beignet” — in the middle of the batter coating was a half apple. Yes, they deep fried a fresh apple. Awesome!

Course 6 (a): Coffee Panna Cotta

Course 6 (a): Coffee Panna Cotta

Course 6 (a): Coffee & Vanilla Panna Cotta. The panna cotta was a bit more jelly-like than the thick, creamy textures I’m used to, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. Plus, the layers looked so lovely and the coffee essence was balanced – not too bitter, not too sweet.

Obligatory photo with the Chef/Owner

Of course, we had to ask him for a quick photo!

We were very pleased with our meal and we were especially excited to see that Stefan himself was out in the dining room greeting guests and asking about the food and experience. We were also impressed at the quality of their tasting menu during restaurant week and would love to return sometime and check out their regular menu! All in all, it was a fantastic evening. I would definitely recommend checking out Stefan’s any time during the year, but the next dineLA will be in July… hint hint.

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Check out Stefan’s at Lantana: stefansrestaurants.com

3000 West Olympic Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA 90404

See their Yelp reviews here!

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DineLA – Libra Brazilian Steakhouse (Summer 2012)

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

Some of the best Restaurant Week opportunities have to be the Brazilian churrascarias that offer their usual all you can eat fare at the discounted pricing. We’ve taken advantage of Fogo de Chao’s deal a few times, but our friends Helen and Edmund invited us to double date in Downtown Culver to check out a pretty awesome churrasco joint in our backyard — Libra Brazilian Steakhouse. During DineLA, Libra is rated $$ for dinner  – only $35/person for the salad bar, hot bar, endless meat, and dessert!

Pao de queijo!

First, the cheese bread! I love pao de queijo; they are such wonderful little balls of cheese dough that’s crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. The ones here, while not quite as amazing as the ones at Fogo, did not disappoint. On to the salad bar! Martin walked right past the entire setup, but I snagged some small portions of shrimp cocktail (chilled and sweet), grilled asparagus (nice char and good to pair with the meat), smoked salmon with creme fraiche and capers (arranged in cute little flavorful bundles), and prosciutto (a bit dry). Somewhere along the way, the salad bar ends and the hot bar begins. We only tried the caramelized bananas, which were literally bananas in a caramel sauce; it was a bit too sweet for us and a different style of preparation than we’re used to. Helen remarked that the “mashed potato wannabe” (mashed yucca) was good, although she got it on two separate occasions and it was a different texture each time… how peculiar.

From top left corner: filet mignon, lamb chop, pork rib, picanha

Finally we all settled back in at our table and it was time for the main event to commence. Flip over the little round cards and green means go! The gauchos stopped by our table one after the other, armed with sword-like skewers of meat. The first few visits were exciting in their own ways, but what really made our evening was that not just one but just about all of the gauchos learned our preferences and favorites and really brought out the good stuff (but more on that later). We had the lamb chop which, while more cooked than rare, was juicy and flavorful with a swoosh of garlic butter brushed on at the end. Martin was most looking forward to the filet mignon. He polishes off three or four whole filets when we go to Fogo. Here they prepare the meat in smaller cubes (similar to Vietnamese bo luc lac) and alternating on the skewer with onion slices. Martin’s eyes lit up when that particular gaucho came by our table. Here’s how it went down:

Martin: “I’d like some.”

Gaucho: “Four?”

Martin: “Mm… I’ll have three.”

Gaucho: “Take four.”

After he was done with those and had stepped away to get more bananas, the same guy made his rounds with a fresh skewer. I knew Martin would appreciate it if I got some for him, so I held out his plate.

Me: “He wants more!”

Gaucho: “See? He was trying to be all fancy asking for only three…”

Me: “How about five more?”

Gaucho: “I like even numbers. Here’s six. He’ll be fine.”

Way to hook it up!

Chicken hearts! (Sorry the picture’s a little blurry — blame it on the sangria!)

Our server Diego and all of the staff were incredibly attentive. About halfway through our meal, we noticed the distinct lack of chicken hearts and decided to inquire. Not five minutes later, a friendly gaucho came out with an entire skewer of chicken hearts just for us. Martin and I each took about half the skewer, sparing a few for our dining companions to sample. We usually eat chicken hearts prepared yakitori style at Japanese joints, like our local favorite Nanbankan, but the ones here were covered in minced garlic and had a wonderful texture. We shared a second skewer and would like to thank the 50 chickens that gave their giblets for our meal.

Stunning picanha slices. The gaucho had every right to be proud of these!

As I mentioned earlier, by the end, the gauchos knew what we liked and hooked us up with the rarest beef. We partook in some beautifully rare, barely warm but wonderfully seared picanha that was garlicky, salty, and super flavorful. The gaucho looked so excited about its temperature that I seriously wondered if he ran back to the kitchen and snagged that skewer out of the fire just for us before it overcooked.

Among other items that we tried were the ribeye (juicy as it should be), prime rib (it was a “reject piece” as Edmund called it, so it was too dried out and sad looking), pork ribs (a little dry and as Helen said “not cow”), and the sausage. We were so stuffed but as they say, there’s always room for dessert!

Caramel flan!

Three of us ended up getting the flan. It was yummy and eggy and arrived in a generous pool of caramel sauce. The flan had a lot of bubbles (intentional?) which added a nice light airyness to the otherwise dense custard. The perfect palate cleanser after that onslaught of meat.

The service was ridiculously friendly. They really took the time to get to know our preferences and favorite meats and (for better or worse) egged us on to keep eating. We will definitely be back for the great value (even during non-dineLA, it’s about $40/person for dinner), the great food, and especially for the exceptional service. Thank you, Libra, for an awesome date night!

DineLA Summer 2012 runs through July 27th. Only 3 days left to check out Libra, Libra’s sister restaurant M Grill, Wilshire Restaurant, Waterloo & City, and other awesome local restaurants!

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Check out Libra Brazilian Steakhouse: librabrazilianbbq.com

3833 Main Street
Culver City, CA 90232

See their Yelp reviews here!

DineLA – Wilshire Restaurant (Summer 2012)

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

This year, DineLA Restaurant Week moved up from fall to the very first summer DineLA, weekends inclusive! While I’m a little bummed that there won’t be a DineLA during my birthday in October anymore, I still love checking out new restaurants at discounted rates any time of the year. Cassandra and I took this opportunity to try Wilshire Restaurant, not one mile away from the office. The food was fantastic, the price (rated $$$ – $25/person) was great, the service was friendly, and the ambiance was relaxing (albeit a little too leisurely for weekday lunch break).

The outdoor patio

First Course: Organic Salmon Tartare with Yuzu and Togarashi

The starter that stood out to both of us was the salmon tartare with yuzu, and it certainly did not disappoint. The yuzu sauce was refreshing with its bright citrusy notes which contrasted well with the slightly creamy tartare. The bed of wakame (sesame marinated seaweed) was a pleasant surprise underneath the beautifully orange salmon and the crunchy fried wonton strips added an interesting texture. It brought to mind one of my favorite guilty pleasures — (diced, not mushy) spicy tuna on crispy rice.

Main Course: Slow Braised Shortrib Sandwich with Watercress, Harissa Aioli, and Truffled Chips

We also selected the same entree – the braised short rib sandwich with harissa aioli, hers with the Kennebec fries and mine with truffled chips. The chips! Oh the chips! They were clearly made in-house, crispy and fresh out of the fryer, and gently tossed in a light drizzle of truffle oil, a dash of salt, and a sprinkling of parsley. So delicious! The sandwich was absolutely delectable. The braised short rib was lovingly slow-cooked ’till it was nice and tender and it was bursting with flavor with each bite. The sandwich was held together perfectly by a fresh square of ciabatta and the watercress complemented the sandwich and cut some of the richness from the fatty meat and aioli. I could only finish one of my sandwich halves and took the other one home.

Dessert #1: Sticky Toffee Pudding with Creme Fraiche Ice Cream

We were most looking forward to the dessert; to be honest, it was one of the main reasons why we chose to dine here rather than the other places we had bookmarked. We ordered one of each to try – the strawberry shortcake and the sticky toffee pudding. First, the good news. The sticky toffee pudding arrived warm and soft, topped with a dollop of vanilla ice cream that had already begun to melt over the cake. It was, in a word, heavenly. The pudding itself was not too sweet (perfect for me) unless you lucked into a bit of toffee, at which point it got a bit cavity-inducing. As if the braised short ribs didn’t impress me enough, I would come back here just for the sticky toffee pudding.

Dessert #2: Strawberry “Shortcake”

The strawberry shortcake, however, looked stunning but was a bit disappointing. The biscuit was too dry and crumbly, and the whipped cream was a bit dense. The plump macerated strawberries were fresh and sweet, so that wasn’t a total loss. Still, it paled in comparison to the other dessert option.

The outdoor patio was beautiful even during the day. We noticed lights strung across the patio and heat lamps set up for cooler nights, and I think it would be wonderful to dine here for a romantic al fresco dinner! The service was friendly but with the patio being so large and dineLA bringing over twice as many patrons as usual during lunch hour, the experience as a whole did last longer than we had expected. No problem if you’re here for a casual meal but potential issue for those on break from work. If you have the time though, I recommend trying their lunch lineup.

DineLA Summer 2012 runs from now through the 27th, so go check it out if you’re in the area! After DineLA, you can still get a similar selection of courses during lunch on their summer menu.

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Check out Wilshire Restaurant: wilshirerestaurant.com

2454 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90403

See their Yelp reviews here!