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!

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!

Touche Pas a Mon Foie Gras – CHEFS Dinner at Melisse

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

The other night (on Monday, May 14th) renowned chefs from Northern and Southern California united to celebrate foie gras through fundraising dinners held simultaneously at four different venues in Los Angeles for CHEFS – Coalition for Healthy and Ethical Farming Standards in an effort to overturn the ban on foie gras soon to take effect in California. We decided to splurge and come out to the one at Melisse, and the menu and experience were absolutely incredible.

With a celebrity lineup featuring Brendan Collins of Waterloo & City (easily our favorite local gastropub!), Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani of Terra and Ame, Raphael Lunetta of JiRaffe, Justin Wangler of Kendall Jackson, Josiah Citrin and Ken Takayama of Melisse (of course), and Mark Dommen of One Market, we knew we were in for a treat! From start to finish, it was a beautifully orchestrated dinner that truly does this decadent ingredient justice.

Don’t touch my foie! Alice picked up a t-shirt to commemorate the event.

Amuse Bouche #1: Cold Foie Gras

Amuse Bouche #2: Shot glass containing a cold gelée of fennel with a sphere of foie gras and topped with an apple-foie mousse. Served with a foie cookie for texture.

Dinner started off with two amuse bouches, with my favorite being the cold foie gras. The cold foie was delicate and a great starter, also very similar in size to the foie macarons finale, but I’ll get to that later. The softened foie contrasted well with its crunchy crumb coating.

The shot glass was comprised of layers and while each layer tasted fine on its own, it was the combination of all three components that made it work. The foie cookie was very interesting with a center flavor oddly reminiscent of Pandan Leaf Bánh Men (a Vietnamese yeast cookie). It could very well be, since the creme was the familiar mint-green color of lá dứa.

Table Bread: Basil brioche and bacon focaccia

This pair was Alice’s pick from an assortment of 6 or 7 varieties. We wish we could’ve tried them all but realistically we didn’t want to fill up on bread so quickly. The basil brioche had a very powerful basil flavor and aroma to it but went well with a conservative scoop of butter. Alice loved how spongy and moist the center of the brioche was. The bacon focaccia was flavorful and even more amazing with a generous helping of butter. Bacon and butter, one of my favorite combinations!

First Course: Pressed Terrine of Foie Gras, Duck and Foie Gras Parfait
Orange Marmalade, Summer Truffles, Micro Basil
Brendan Collins, Waterloo and City
Pairing: Domaine Chandon Pinot Noir Rosé

Very well balanced dish here and Alice’s favorite pick of the night and a close 2nd for me. Chef Brendan Collins’ of Waterloo & City prepared an orange marmalade that really helped cut the fatty foie, making the dish bright and vibrant with pieces of orange peel and bits of micro basil. Thinly sliced summer truffles helped add an earthy note to the overall dish but still allowed the foie to be the star of the show. Despite its size, it’s actually quite a bit of food when consumed in conjunction with the toasted brioche. Paired with the Pinot Noir Rosé, this dish made a very grand and vibrant entrance to begin the meal.

Second Course: Pistachio Crusted Foie Gras
Caramelized Mango, Confit Baby Tomatoes, Mango Verjus
Raphael Lunetta, JiRaffe
Pairing: 2009 Zilliken, Forstmeister Geltz, Spätlese, Mosel

Prepared by Chef Raphael Lunetta of Jiraffe, the second course brought its own pizazz with foie gras textured with pistachio bits. Perfectly seared foie and finely roasted pistachios gave a delightful crunch to the dish. The foie was balanced by the sweetness of the caramelized mango slices and the crispy tart topped with caramelized shallots. The confit baby tomatoes brought the acidity to complement and finished on a sweet note with the mango verjus. Unlike the previous first course, the foie here complemented the other elements rather than running away with the spotlight. When paired with the late harvest Riesling, this course provided a nice sweet balance to the foie.

Third Course: Maine Lobster
Foie Gras, Ramps and Salsify
Justin Wrangler, Kendall Jackson
Pairing: 2007 Pinot Noir, Seco Highlands, Kendall-Jackson

I was extremely excited to get to the third course, prepared by Chef Justin Wrangler of Kendall Jackson. Unfortunately, my butter poached lobster was a little overcooked. This little misstep was redeemed in the seared salsify and wilted ramps which added a crisper texture to the dish. The vanilla-flavored foie looked a little lonely all by itself on the top left and at first I did not know how to incorporate that with the other elements. The sharper flavor of the pinot noir paired well with the overall flavor of the dish.

Fourth Course: Foie Gras Tortelloni
Game Jus and Forest Mushrooms
Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani, Terra and Ame
Pairing: 2008 Mi Sueno Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley

Here we go! My favorite pick of the night prepared by Chefs Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani of Terra and Ame. (Apparently it was also the favorite of EaterLA judge Kat Odell!) Perhaps the most umami tasting dish of the 6 courses, the combination of the forest mushrooms, perfectly cooked tortellonis, and foie gras worked extremely well together. Once you reach the inside of the tortelloni, there is a burst of flavor that we guessed to be truffle. Alice thought this was overwhelming but I wish there was at least one more tortellini! Paired with a younger Pinot Noir than the previous dish, the bold umami flavors from the mushrooms were happily married to the foie tortelloni.

Fifth Course: Wild Alaskan Red King Salmon
Courgettes, French Radish, Shaved Foie Gras, Jus au Vin Rouge
Josiah Citrin and Ken Takayama, Melisse
Pairing: 2009 Vineyard 29, Cabernet Franc

The fifth course prepared by Chefs Josiah Citrin and Ken Takayama of Melisse diverged from giving the foie the limelight the entire time. Shaved on top of the dish, the foie gras quickly melted into the landscape of the warm dish. This divergence, however, was very welcomed since by this point we were getting a little overwhelmed with all the buttery too-much-goodness of the foie. The red king salmon was beautifully cooked and paired amazingly with the red wine sauce. Moving into darker territory, the cabernet franc pairing worked well with the salmon but felt redundant with the red wine sauce already making its presence very known on the dish.

Sixth Course: Artisan Foie Gras and Liberty Farms Duck
House Made Duck Andouille, Crayfish, Celery Root Purée
Mark Dommen, One Market
Pairing: 2008 Darioush, Cabernet Sauvignon

Intended to be the main dish of the 6 courses, Chef Mark Dommen of One Market prepared a reunion of sorts with the Liberty Farms duck, duck andouille, and artisan foie. Alice and I absolutely loved the Liberty Farms duck slices, juicy and enhanced by the sauce. The duck andouille was a little too spicy for me but Alice thought it was exciting. We both liked the celery root puree which highlighted a lighter side of the dish. The artisan foie, to me, was too fatty. It could be perhaps this was a larger serving of foie of the 6 courses and served at the very end. Nevertheless, the various elements of this dish sat side-by-side with a cabernet sauvignon, my favorite of the reds.

Dessert: Foie Gras Butter Kuchen
Murray Farm Cherries and Foie Gras Ice Cream
Lissa Doumani, Terra and Ame with Ken Takayama, Melisse
Pairing: 2009 Grgich Hills, Late Harvest Violetta

Dessert was a foie butter cake with macerated Murray Farm cherries and foie ice cream. My favorite element of this dish was the foie ice cream. Hell, I would’ve been perfectly happy with just a heftier scoop of it. The cake could also have been more moist but the plentiful sauce and ice cream assisted in balancing the cake. Alice loved the first-of-the-season cherries but they’re just not on my list of favorite dessert ingredients.

Wine Pairings, in order as mentioned above from right to left other than the first glass in the foreground which is the Violetta (Alice’s favorite!)

So we both felt really bad for not being able to finish all 7 glasses of wine (well, other than the Late Harvest – Alice drank both glasses of that!). We also didn’t really expect such heavy pours, the 7th glass, or really any wine at all. When we made the RSVP, we had completely overlooked the inclusion of wine pairings with every course. I guess you can say it was a pleasant surprise!

Complimentary Foie Gras Macarons, a pleasant palate cleanser

The dinner ends just as small as it began (with the amuse bouches). Delicate bite-sized macarons with a fair amount of foie flavor in them. I’m a big fan of the cream filling.

With Brendan Collins of Waterloo and City! So great to finally meet in person! :)

We received impeccably friendly and helpful service from Sullivan, who even went back to the kitchen to ask for Chef Collins so we could finally meet him in person! It was a phenomenal opportunity to not only experience dinner at a (well deserved!) two-star Michelin restaurant but also a historic event to celebrate a luxurious and downright tasty ingredient. We would like to thank from the bottom of our hearts all of the chefs and all of the people who made this fantastic event possible (that means you too, Tiffany “from Facebook”!). Here’s to hoping for change between now and July 1st!