Jer-ne to the center of the Marina

Restaurant: Jer-ne

Location: Ritz-Carlton. 4375 Admiralty Way. Marina del Rey, California 90292 USA. (310) 823-1700

Date: October 29, 2011

Cuisine: Californian

Rating: Solid

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When the Ritz-Carlton Marina Del Rey renovated and opened its new restaurant in the early 2000s the naming committee was obviously inspired by Steve Martin‘s classic LA Story (and its 80s restaurant, lee-dee-oh — spelled l’idiot). In any case, the original Jer-ne actually served up top notch California Asian Fusion when it opened. Like most hotel restaurants, there has been chef turnover — who knows how many times in the last decade. I hadn’t been in a few years (except for the pretty amazing Sunday brunch) and when an old friend from High School Facebook IMed me that he was in town, we headed on over.


The menu is mean and lean, all streamlined modern Californian.


From my cellar. Parker 96 points. “The 2008 Flor de Pingus offers up an enticing nose of smoke, Asian spices, incense, espresso, black cherry, and blackberry. On the palate it displays outstanding volume, intensity, and balance. Rich, dense, and succulent, it has enough structure to evolve for 4-5 years and will offer prime drinking from 2015 to 2028.”


The Ritz always had good cheesy cracker things.


caesar. organic romaine, santa barbara olives, tomatoes, crouton.”


oyster. pacific oysters, crispy potato, spanish ham, sambuca hollandaise.” The sauces were really good, but the oysters had that bitter note that fried oysters often have. Every time I have them I’m reminded that I like my oysters raw.


halibut. sautéed leek, double smoked bacon, corn, potato, clam chowder sauce.”


salmon. green bean, glazed carrots, potato puree, parsley butter.”


lamb. sirloin, heirloom tomato, organic ratatouille, tomato mustard chutney.” Some very tasty and relatively lean lamb. The sauce was one of those meaty jus reductions that I love.


The dessert menu.


greek yogurt panna cotta. slow roasted market stonefruit, corn praline, thymje.”


spiced peanut butter mousse. crunchy peanut butter chocolate, candied ginger ice cream, spicy caramelized honey.” This was a nice dessert. A good interplay between the fluffy peanut butter, crunch, and the ginger ice cream.

Overall the food at this new Jer-ne was good. It didn’t blow me away or anything, and it’s very different than it used to be 8 or so years ago (full of Japanese influenced dishes), but it was a very solid take on conservative but well executed the New American. Even the desserts show plating influences that are very contemporary — what I think of as geometric and dust — the use of cubes, spheres, and ovals in a sort of post war art kind of arrangement, often dusted with granular flavor components. Red Medicine’s desserts are typical examples, but I suspect it’s really a Ferran Adrià thing.

For more LA dining reviews click here.

Echigo Sushi

Restaurant: Echigo

Location: 12217 Santa Monica Blvd. Suite 201. Los Angeles, CA 90025. (310) 820-9787

Date: October 27, 2011

Cuisine: Japanese Sushi

Rating: Very good warm-rice style sushi

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Back when my office was at the Watergarden in Santa Monica Echigo was one of my regular lunch haunts. The chef studied under Nozawa and is stylistically related to nearby Sasabune. They both follow the “warm rice” school of sushi (which I believe originates in Osaka prefecture. The rice is warmer and less sticky than Tokyo-style sushi. It tastes really good this way, but has some tendency to fall apart on the way to the mouth.


The lunch menu has two choices, the lunch special for $14 and the omakase. Below is the union (both) of each. The lunch special is by far the best deal (6-7 years ago it was even $9!).


Fresh ground wasabi and pickled ginger. These photos were taken on the iPhone 4S which does pretty well in good light. A few missed photos were purloined from the web.


Skipjack tuna with a bit of sauce.


Medium (chu) toro.


Hamachi (yellowtail).


Halibut, which itself doesn’t have much flavor, but the vinegary sauce does.


Tai (red snapper).


Scallop. One of my favorites.


Salmon with a bit of kelp and sesame.


Bonito, also delicious.


Albacore.


Kanpachi (young yellowtail). With a bright vinegary sauce.


Ono.


Shimaji (stripped jack).


Butterfish. This is an Echigo specialty. A firm fish with miso based sauce.


Uni (sea urchin).


And the now classic Nozawa blue crab hand roll (I ate two and could have had more).

Echigo is a hair below a few of the very top lunch LA sushi places (Sushi Sushi, Mori, Go, Kiriko etc), but it offers pretty good relative value, and on the absolute scale top sushi, far above the generic touristy sushi joint. Getting the Omakase at dinner at the sushi bar is an even higher caliber experience.

For more LA area sushi, see here.

For more LA dining reviews click here.

Saam – José Andrés Squared

Restaurant: Saam [1, 2]

Location: 465 S La Cienega Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90048. 310.246.5555

Date: October 1, 2011

Cuisine: Spanish influenced Molecular Gastronomy

Rating: Awesome, even better than The Bazaar.

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I’m a bit of a Jose Andres groupie as not only have I been many times to the The Bazaar (REVIEW HERE), but also to brunch at Trés, and just last week to é by José Andrés and Jaleo in Vegas.

For those who don’t know, José Andrés is perhaps America’s leading practitioner of  my favorite culinary style: Spanish Molecular Gastronomy. This school of cooking, a radical interpretation of the preparation of food, was begun at El Bulli outside of Barcellona. Andrés cooked and studied there with master chef Ferran Adrià. I first encountered Andrés’s cooking in Washington DC at Cafe Atlantico, and it’s own restaurant within a restaurant, Minibar.

I’ve eaten molecular a number of times in Spain, for example at Calima and La Terraza. The Bazaar and Saam brought molecular style to LA.

Saam is the “secret” prix fixe only room within the Bazaar, open Thurs-Sat.


This is the normal menu for the night. If you let them know they do however adapt very adeptly to dietary restrictions.


Tonight begins with a “Kaviar Kir Royale” which is a deconstructed cocktail consisting of cava.


And miniature “kaviar” (spheres of kir).


You can see them more clearly here, looking every bit like fish eggs. Basically it’s mostly cava, but at your whim you can bit into the little balls of flavor for bits of kir flavor blast.


Then “Lotus Root Chips” with anise powder, making them taste like licorice Pringles.


Then “Tuna Handroll 2009″ which are crispy cones stuffed with very fresh tuna, a bit of wasabi, and a caviar ring in the middle. Nice mix of textures and flavors.


It came time to decide on the beverages. Above is the pairing menu ($100 a person). We didn’t opt for this but I’m sure it’s good. Being as we are talking beverages I’ll mention briefly the water trap. We were five people, and this is a long meal. We ordered bottled water. As usual with nice restaurants they just served it. And served it. Fine, but it added up to $180 of water! This was the only thing on the bill that offended me — but it was mighty offensive. $30-40 would have been sufficient tariff, but $36 a person for water?


We did order cocktails individually, which were both yummy and reasonable enough for such things. “Passion Fruit Up! Orange rum, passion fruit and ginger-laurel syrup, topped with passion fruit foam.” Yum!


“Oyster and Jamon.” A little spoonful of oyster with some ham powder and a crispy crouton. It tasted exactly like it sounds. Like intense oyster and a good dollop of HAM!


“Black Olives Ferran Adria.” Instructions on how to make these can be found here. The pureed juice of the olives is coated in a thin gel. They are colored black with squid ink. There is one green olive that is vegetarian. In general, the olives bursts easily in the mouth, exploding intense oliveness.


A signature “Nitro Caprina” which is the classic brazilian drink, frozen with liquid nitrogen. It tastes like a sherbet, with a highly unusual smooth texture, but it’s intensely potent (in terms of proof). Goes down all too easy.


“Jicama wrapped Guacamole.” Micro cilantro, corn chips. The vegetarian substitution for the ham.


Watermelon and tomato with a bit of a kick (some chili or another).


A traditional mojito. Even way back in the Cafe Atlantico days Andrés always served a great mojito.


“Jose’s Combination.” Jamón Ibérico de Bellota with a blob of real caviar. This ham is regarded as the best in Spain, and among the best in the world. They are fed on acorns. Salt on salt here. A very savory combination.


Deconstructed “patatas bravas.” In spain this is a common dish basically being roasted chopped potatoes with a cayenne mayo. This preserves the flavor, but changes up the texture into a little fried cigar. The inside was fluffy and soft. Quite tasty.


“Ottoman Carrot fritter.” Apricots, pistachio sauce. Vegetarian substitute for the chicken below. A deep fried ball of flavor, with a very exotic taste.


“Buffalo Wing.” Looks like fried chicken (and it is), but Wow. Boneless, with a dab of spicy sauce and a blue cheese aioli. An explosion of flavor.


“Not Your Everyday Caprese.” The mozzarella has been through the same sphere process as the olives above, then we have a peeled cherry tomato, tomato seeds, a bit of basil, sea salt, little crackers, and a very fine house made pesto genovese (with extra virgin olive oil). I’m not even a raw tomato fan and this is delectable. The pesto cheese combo really makes it. This pesto is as good as mine (recipe here).


I’m a big fan of priorat and so we chose this wine off the list. Besides the great food and crazy water prices Saam has an annoying high corkage ($50 and one bottle more or less!).


“White truffle risotto.” Instead of the normal Italian risotto rice it used a premium Spanish one, calasparra bomba, and extra virgin olive oil instead of butter. Very tasty.


A fantastic special risotto also using bomba rice, with a chunk of fresh santa barbara uni, some black garlic paste, and a bit of bbq eel. It was tremendously good.


“Crispy Nigiri.” A bit of red snapper on a blob of crispy Spanish rice.


“Chipirones en su Tinta.” More or less a classic Spanish dish, octopus in it’s own ink. Plus some squid ink chips. Very soft and tender meat, complemented by the sweetness of the ink.


A non-shellfish variant containing a bit of bbq fish.


“Banh Mi.” A brioche bun with wagyu beef, tofu, cilantro, pickles, pickled carrots, and a kind of mayo. Tasty tasty sandwich. A mix of soft and crunchy too, but the pickles give it a very distinct tang.


“Banh Mi, vegetarian.”


“Carrot gnocchi.” The broth had a vaguely thai curry flavor. The gnocchi are actually cylinders of sphereized carrots, so they burst in the mouth.


“Brussel sprouts, lemon puree, apricots, grapes, lemon air.” This was a big hit, the sprouts aren’t bitter at all, and have a light cabbage-like texture. The lemon air is the best part, adding a nice zing.


“Mirugai.” A bit of geoduck giant clam, radish, and a watercress puree. This wasn’t my favorite dish, being a bit “clammy.”


“Kurobuta Pork Belly.” Massively flavorful bacon chunk, with a spanish cheese infused turnip mouse and little carrots. Yum yum, heart stop heart stop.


Replacing the pork for the vegetarian was a pomegranate cous cous.


With a poured in broth.


“Philly Cheese Steak.” Air bread, cheddar, Wagyu beef. This is on the Bazaar menu, but it’s so damn good. The crispy bread is filled with liquid cheddar goodness.


“Hilly Cheese Steak.” Air bread, cheddar, mushrooms. The vegetarian version of above. Monkey man will get you!


For the dessert courses we ordered some classes of this fine cream sherry.


A very nice sherry, not quite as thick and syrupy as the PX by the same maker (which I love), but still very fine.


“Japanese Baby Peaches.” Burrata, hazelnuts, arugula.Really interesting. The peaches were so tart off the trees that they were soaked in simple syrup. Paired with the blobs of burrata (a favorite of mine), the nuts, and arugala it was pretty divine.


“Dragon’s breath popcorn.” The pre dessert. A gimmick, but neat.

Carmel corn “boiled” in liquid nitrogen.


Breath on a spoon.

It tastes like… carmel corn, but you can exhale it through your nose for a dragon-like effect.


Smaug, eat your scaly heart out.


They call this “saam buca.” It was apple balls with a nice soft creamy custard — good stuff.


“Chocolate rock.” A nitro frozen chocolate foam/mousse with some citrus foam. This was very reminiscent of the chocolate/cream pairings at  é by José Andrés and Jaleo.


Chamomile tea.


The usual Bazaar “sexy little sweets,” a number of flavored chocolates (flat and in domes) and very good pate de fruits. One of the great things about the brunch at Trés is that they have an all you can eat tower of containing all of these!


A little chocolate hazelnut cube and the menu as a “parting gift.”

Overall, Saam is a tremendous meal, even if not every dish is successful (geoduck!). Since I was at cousin restaurant é by José Andrés a week before I can do a head to head comparison. Saam was slightly disadvantaged by the fact that perhaps 40-50% of the dishes hadn’t changed from my previous visit (making them less novel). I’d say that the food at é is perhaps 5% better, really quite close. The format in Vegas is, however, more fun and intimate. Getting to witness the plating and creation of each and every dish is really interesting.

And the $180 for water was really offensive. I really should have taken the manager to task on it. The stuff costs less than a dollar a bottle in bulk. Pure profit center. Otherwise the meal is fairly reasonable given the extremely high level of production. And it is very very good.

For a previous Saam meal, click here.

For a meal and The Bazaar proper, click here.

Ultimate Pizza – The Comeback

After long hiatus, Ultimate Pizza is back (click the think for posts on the components). We’ve brewed up a new batch of dough, and called up some friends and family.

For those of you who don’t know, Ultimate Pizza is our super homemade pizza where we make everything from scratch. In the past I’ve written separate articles detailing elements such as the Dough, Sauce, Pesto, and Toppings.


Every dough batch is different. For more on making it, see here. After three days cold fermenting in the fridge this batch had a weird spiderwebby quality and was very sticky. But that wasn’t anything a little dusting of flour didn’t solve. And baked, it tasted great as always.


This 1997 Barolo served as a good opener, warming up the palette.


The first pizza on the block. Starts with basic totally fresh raw tomato sauce made with Santa Monica Farmer’s Market Marzano tomatoes and mozzarella.


Then some parmesan, basil.


Mushrooms.


Figs, marcona almonds.


And after baking. They aren’t always pretty, but they are good!


I “found” this 1966 Chateau Lafite-Rothchild in my cellar and figured it wasn’t getting any better.

Parker says: “Except for the 1966 and 1870 vintages of Lafite-Rothschild, these wines were poured on virgin territory on my palate. Isn’t it ironic that the most disappointing wine (forgetting the spoiled 1875 Lafite-Rothschild, which had frightful levels of volatile acidity) was the youngest wine, the 1966 Lafite. With a light to medium ruby/garnet color, this wine exhibited a classy, weedy, herbal, Cabernet-dominated nose, soft, washed-out flavors, and little body and length. It is also beginning to dry out. I suppose if one were to taste a 30-year old Cabernet from Monterey County, California, it might reveal similar characteristics. The 1966 Lafite-Rothschild has consistently been a major disappointment from what is an irregular, but very good vintage.”

But we had good luck with this bottle, and it was actually rather wonderful.


The next pizza. Fairly similar, but no sauce.


Finished with balsamic glaze.


Then a cheesier mushroom one.


Finished.

Then my special salmon pizza, which I do just with olive oil and rosemary (picked from the garden).


Then add a mixture of creme fraiche (detail on that here), dill, and chives, plus capers and onions.


And lox. Yum!


The 2004 il Cocco riserva. Only one barrel made!


Another fairly normal pizza, with figs and mushrooms.


My “famous” tikka masala pizza. Masala sauce instead of tomato. Corn, cilantro, goat cheese, mozzarella balls, morel mushrooms, almonds, scallions.


Cooked. This is an amazing (and strong flavored) pizza.


Mirella (one of our frequent pizza chefs) likes to make unique pizzas. This “Lebanese Pizza” began with her homemade muhammara sauce, which is a Lebanese sauce made from peppers, walnuts, olive oil and various other things. She baked it fairly simple.


Then added amazing fresh burrata on top and fresh mint. This was also fantastic.


Another tomato sauce based pizza, with parmesan, figs, goat cheese (a slightly aged chevre from an artisan California dairy), marcona almonds, scallions.


Baked.

And as the last pizza of the evening, my Formaggio Maximus. Olive oil, a little pesto. Fresh chanterelle and lobster mushrooms. Corn, figs, almonds, a little basil, and nearly every type of cheese I have: parmesan, mozzarella, pecorino, goat, and gorgonzola dulce.


Baked.

Then key to the FM is a big blog of burrata and an olive oil and balsamic drizzle.


Dessert time. A giant raspberry macaroon.


And a sinful red velvet, chocolate, and cream-cheese icing cake. Oh the suffering. The worst thing about this cake is that half was left over and I personally ate all of it over the next four days.


The next day for lunch we whipped up a few more pizzas. Here another variant of my tikka masala pizza.


On the stone.


And finished. I do so love this pizza.


Then a green pesto and salad pizza. The greens are arugala tossed with black pepper and fresh meyer lemon juice.


Baked.


Two buns in the oven.


An even greener pizza.


Which we left in about 1 minute too long.


And my special “tuna salad” pizza. Tomato sauce, fresh chunk Italian tuna, parmesan, pecorino, capers, red onions, and arugala salad.


Baked.

That sure was a good amount of pizza!

For more Ultimate Pizza posts, click here.

Joe’s Restaurant – California Classic

Restaurant: Joe’s Restaurant

Location: 1023 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, CA 90291

Date: September 16, 2011

Cuisine: California Farmer’s Market

Rating: Consistently good

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I’ve been coming to Joe’s since 1995 or 1996 and they are approaching their 20th anniversary any day now. In a major metropolitan restaurant scene, that’s an eternity. Chef Joe Miller was an early proponent of the ingredient driven “farmer’s market style” of California cooking that is very popular right now. And despite the restaurant’s venerable age, the menu is continually rotating and the dishes remain fresh and relevant.


The Abbot Kinney frontage.


Quaint bar. Further inside is a little maze of little rooms and a lovely patio that is perfect for brunch.


The daily tasting menu, which is a pretty awesome value.


And the regular menu.

I brought this 2006 Brunello from my cellar. It’s not rated, but it is good, being from a tiny producer who makes only 3,000 bottles a year.


The back for the vintage.


Joe’s has good bread. Particularly the butter toasty thing.


Olive tappanade and butter.


“Heirloom tomato salad, smoked garlic tomato vinaigrette, young greens, seared bread.”


“Bocconcini di bufala mozzarella, smoked o’henry peaches, plums, sweet pea, purslane, almonds, olive oil.” This was a really yummy combo. The fruit was perfectly ripe, the mozzarella fantastic, and all in combination, particularly with the nuts and the purslane pesto-like stuff, it was really yummy.


“Hiramasa Crudo. Pickled plum, shishito, flowering coriander, pickled garlic vinaigrette.” Also wonderful. Hiramasa is just yellowtail, but this was some very good fish, and the vinaigrette had a powerful tang that contrasted nicely with the sweet and sour plums.


“New zealand red snapper filet with potato scales and wild rice. Salsify, red wine sauce.”


“Sonoma lamb sirloin, figs, chantarelle mushroms, wild rice soubise, english peas, huckleberry jus.” Also a wonderful dish. Like rack of lamb, but without the bone. Slow cooked in the sous-vide. The rich jus and vegetables complemented nicely.


The dessert menu.


“Vanilla buttermilk custard. Market berries, bittersweet chocolate, pistachios.” I light fun dessert, with a berries and cream vibe.

It’s been a little while since I was at Joe’s and I somehow expected it to be more staid. The food is just as contemporary and relevant as any other ingredient driven Califonian. It’s not fat focused like the Gastropubs, or avant garde, but it is really good. And setting it far above many wanna-be followers of this tradition, each dish expresses a really balanced interplay of elements.

For more LA dining reviews click here.

Mori Sushi – A Top Contender

Restaurant: Mori Sushi

Location: 11500 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064. 310.479.3939

Date: September 14, 2011

Cuisine: Japanese / Sushi

Rating: Top sushi, but not cheap

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In a town full of top grade sushi, Mori Sushi is consistently regarded as one of the best. It has it’s own particular style, somewhere between the Osaka school types like Sasabune and the classic Sushi Sushi.


The interior and sushi bar.

The following meal represents the “Omakase” the largest and most expensive ($170) of the chef’s options. Several truncated or more sushi centric variants are available. This is basically a series of hot dishes followed by flights of sushi.


Kohlrabi greens.


Housemade tofu, with homemade wasabi and soy. This is the soft silken tofu that I’ve had a number of times recently, like at Moko and Ozumo. This particular example was very nice and light.


Sashimi. Left to right: marinated sardines, abalone liver, baby abalone with yuzu/pepper sauce, shitake mushroom, pike eel jelly, marinated Japanese onion, and Japanese okra. The sardines were really good and sweet. The liver reach, like an ugly blob of chicken liver. The abalone tender. And the jelly like a cube of flavorless jello.


One of those subtle Japanese soups. Pike eel (the white stuff), yuzu (the green sliver), and Japanese eggplant.


Santa Barbara sweet shrimp (with the roe), red peppercorns, and in front: scallop, halibut, and octopus sashimi. All this is dressed “new style” with a bit of olive oil and pepper. The shrimp was very sweet and tasty.


Uni (sea urchin) tempura with salt. I forgot to photo it, but this photo is of the same dish at a different restaurant. It was nearly identical, and very good.


Halibut with kelp on the left. Seki buri (wild yellowtail) on the right. Both solid “normal” fishes of extremely high quality.


Big eye chu-toro on the left and blue-fun toro on the right. Yum!


Kohada (Shad gizzard) on the left, pickled in vinegar, and Spanish Mackerel on the right. Also very nice fish.


Grilled baby barracuda on the left with a really nice charred flavor and mirugai (geoduck jumbo clam) with miso sauce on the right.


An uni (sea urchin) duo. Santa Barbara on the left (sweeter), Hokkaido in the middle (very fine also) and very fresh Ikura (salmon roe) with yuzu zest on the right.


Tamago (sweet omelet) on the left and anago (sea eel) on the right, grilled, with a bit of BBQ sauce. The eel had strong grill flavors and less of the cloying (but yummy) sweet sauce than usual.


Toro cut roll. Soft and velvety.


A pair of homemade ice creams for dessert. This is sesame, which tasted it but was a bit gritty and not very creamy.


And ginger ice cream which was very soft and pleasant, like a french vanilla with a ginger kick.


Hojicha, roasted green tea to finish.

Overall, I found Mori Sushi to be top notch. But it’s not cheap (not in the least). The ingredients are top notch and you pay for it. It has a subtle restrained style. I slightly prefer Sushi Sushi with it’s larger pieces or Go Sushi with it’s more over the top flavors. It hands down beats out Sushi Zo in my opinion. Certainly Mori is in the top five or so places in town — and that’s saying a lot as LA is unquestionably the best place in America for sushi.

For more LA sushi reviews click here.

Morihiro Onodera (old owner) in the palm shirt. Masanori Nagano left (new owner).

Beverly Hills Hotel – Polo Lounge

Restaurant: Polo Lounge

Location: 9641 Sunset Boulevard, Beverly Hills, California 90210. 310-276-2251

Date: September 10, 2011

Cuisine: American

Rating: Good but pricey

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My wife and I were married (10 years ago) at the Beverly Hills Hotel so it’s a tradition of ours to go back there once a year. We usually wander around and then eat at the Polo Lounge (even though the lounge itself had no part in the wedding, which was in the Crystal Ballroom).


This is an old school and iconic spot in Hollywood history. The hotel is still gorgeous too, having been heavily renovated by hot black oil cash from the Sultan of Brunei.


The patio.


Old school Hollywood style in the dining room.


And the bar.


The current lunch menu. Brunch is available only on Sunday.


What would a visit to the Polo Lounge be without a cocktail, in this case a mimosa.


They also have good bread. Same exact basket (basically) was served at our wedding LOL.


I’ve totally been on a gazpacho kick recently (made it at home here). This is “golden tomato gazpacho, garlic crostini, basil pepper relish.” Despite the yellow color it tasted classic. Very nice smooth refreshing summer texture and flavor.


Pizza margarita.”


Salmon burger, tomato salad, cucumber & yogurt, dill bun.”


The usual condiments, but stylishly presented.


“Lobster cobb salad, gem lettuce, tomato, bacon, avocado, quail’s egg, tarragon.” Pretty much a great cobb, the only thing to complain about being the price. The juicy bacon cubes sold it.


Cappuccino to combat the coma.

Overall, the Polo Lounge has great lunch/brunch food in a stylish setting. Really the only disadvantage is the price, which is pretty punitive. But this is pretty much the usual high end hotel tax — making it a special occasion kind of thing.

For more LA dining reviews click here.