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.

é by José Andrés

Restaurant: é by José Andrés

Location: 3708 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109. 702.698.7000 (Cosmopolitan)

Date: September 24, 2011

Cuisine: Modern Spanish

Rating: Mind blowing dinner theatre

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Our continuing epic Foodie Club Vegas venture brings us to é, José Andrés’ latest restaurant within a restaurant in Vegas. Earlier in the year we hit up Saam, a similar concept in LA. For those of you who don’t know, José Andrés is one of America’s leading chefs, a disciple of the world shatteringly original Ferran Adria. He apprenticed at elBuli in Spain before moving to Washington DC. My parents found him there at Cafe Atlantico fifteen or so years ago and we’ve been fans ever since. He is certainly America’s leading practitioner of modern Spanish cooking. But you can find some other examples here and in Spain. Calima, La Terraza, his own The BazaarTrés, and Saam.

é is a secret 8 person (2 seating) restaurant located in the back of Jaleo, also by José Andrés, which is a more conventional tapas and paella restaurant.

Half of the tiny room.

Behind the counter. One of the cool things about é is that the food is plated and prepped right in front of you.

One of the young chefs at work stirring a witches brew of nitrogen and alcohol.

Then finishing off the starter cocktails.

A kind of deconstructed nitro gin and tonic. We have nitro frozen gin, lime, and “tonic foam.”

This is a version before the foam was added so you can see the gin itself. Nitrogen is cold enough that alcohol can be frozen without ice (water). This leads to an ultra-smooth texture and a much higher alcohol concentration.

At work on the next course.

Presented in a cast of José Andrés’ hand is “Spanish Clavel” (some dehydrated fruit thing shaped like a flower) and to the left, caramelized pork rinds. The rinds were sweet and crunchy, very light and airy (for lard). The “clavel” was more about a bit of flavor burst and texture than any massive substance.

Our vegetarian was treated to a pringles-style version of potatoes-bravos (potatoes in spicy mayo) instead of the rinds.

Next course. Is that food?

Due to the difficulty in matching this cuisine with wine, we ordered the beverage pairings. These mix all sorts of cocktails, beers, wines, and who knows what with additional fun theatrics. There was even a non-alcoholic variant available.

This particular “flight” was Spanish cava in a machismo decanter where you are supposed to raise it as high as you can and pour it into your mouth. Due to my full-on lack of machismo and concern for my shirt, I didn’t lift it very high.

“Apple Brazo de gitano” is like edible styrofoam filled with a white apple filling.

 It melted in the mouth and was actually quite delicious. Pairing nicely with the apple was a stripe of caramel.

A non-alcoholic tomato and watermelon drink.

More action.

“Nitro almond cup.” The black stuff was caviar, the cup itself (but not the rocks) edible and cold. Inside was a kind of almond foam. I’m not sure what the cup was made of. It had about the consistency of nitro-frozen foie gras, which possibly it was.

“Crispy chicken skin in escabeche.” This was a lump of chicken on some chicken skin with a complementary foam. It tasted very chickeny — in a good way.

“Membrillo and la serena cone.” A little edible cone filled La Serena cheese and membrillo (quince) paste. So it’s like slathering this paste on cheese and toast, which is amazing by itself. This is typical of this cuisine, taking these traditional combinations and blending them in new shapes and textures.

“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. The olive bursts easily in the mouth, exploding intense oliveness into the mouth.

“Bocata de calamares.” This is a mini brioche sandwich containing Uni, mayo, cucumber, and scallion. It’s a riff on a traditional beach food. It was certainly delicious, as almost any hot seafood in such a roll would be.

An inside peek.

A really whacky tasting blend of sherry and beer!

“José Taco.” 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.

Sphere making at work.

“Cava sangria.” This is a sphererized white sangria (made with cava). Inside is a bit of watermelon and mint. Basically like a burst of the drink in your mouth.

A ginger beer.

“Artichoke puree with vanilla.” These are little hearts of artichoke with vanilla foam.

“Lobster with citrus & jasmine.” Delectable. I can’t remember if the foam was the citrus or the jasmine. The mousse was the other. The lobster itself was tender and succulent.

The vegetarian version, eggplant instead of lobster.

A surprise visit from the executive chef, José Andrés himself!

“Cel phones and cameras are the bane of the modern chef,” he commented. :-) But he was game to pose with everybody in series.

A non-alcoholic carbonated sangria.

Plating.

“Chickpea stew with iberico ham.” The garbonzo beans were sphereized which makes them pop in your mouth. A sort of ham and bean soup — and a very good one.

The vegetarian received José’s amazing gazpacho.

This stuff is so good I’ve taken to making it at home.

Cucumber, sugar, and fruit “margarita.”

The show goes on.

There is an egg under that crispy thing.

Then a kind of bouillabaisse broth is added.

“Catch of the day.” A turbot steamed, with black garlic and little citrus spheres. Very nice and light.

One of several nice Spanish wines.

Pouches at the ready.

“Rosemary wild mushrooms in papillote.” Sautéed, then heated with a rich cream and mushroom sauce in the bag.

Pop. These are “lobster mushrooms” with a really thick meaty texture and almost lobster/abalone like flavor.

The rosemary foam complemented perfectly.

Finally a red!

To go with the “secreto of iberico pork.” This is Spain’s most famous pig, here roasted with rosemary and garlic. The cut is fatty, from behind the shoulder.

And served with chanterelle mushroom, black truffle, and balsamic.

The vegetarian got Vegetarian Paella.

And close up.

A medium sweet sherry.

“Orange pith puree with la serena cheese and crisp.” The cheese (which you can’t see) is like a Spanish goat Vacheron (one of my favorite cheeses). So this stood in as the “cheese course.”

Pineapple juice!

More nitro.

And tweezer work.

“Flan.” Flan with a granite of fruit. In any case it tasted like amazing Hawaiian shave ice (the kind with the ice cream).

A kind of chocolate coffee.

Back to work.

“Pan con chocolate aceite y sal.” Basically a big blob of whipped cream, crispy nitro frozen chocolate and high quality Spanish olive oil and salt. You’d think this wouldn’t work, but boy does it.

The sweet and salty and olive oily combo is very interesting and very Spanish.

“Arroz con leche.” A little cone of creme and fruit (lime?) fillings. Yum.

“25 second bizcocho.” This is a 25 second microwave version of some kind of traditional pastry. It was light, fluffy, with a soft citrus cream (the yellow blobs).

“Gin and Tonic.” This is a lovely and more traditional variant on the drink. The bitter tone of the tonic was actually kind of settling.

“Air chocolates.” Puffed white and milk chocolate rice crispy treats (without the rice crispies). Somehow the texture is manipulated into this form.

“Fizzy paper.” This is a crispy sugar confection that tastes like citrus pop-rocks. Very pleasant actually.

Overall this was a staggeringly fun meal. The combination of the playful yet delicious food, the theatrics, and the intimate little cluster of eight people (all of whom were diehard foodies — this being a very hard reservation to get) made for a really fun evening. I’m heading back to Saam in a few days so I can get a head to head comparison, but as it stands é seems to have a leg up on it, particularly in such as the smaller format with the plating in front of you is more intimate and fun.

Another amazing fact about this seemingly immense meal is that it was not in the least overwhelming. In fact, afterward us hardcore foodies went and had an entire second (albeit smallish)  three-course meal outside at Jaleo. Those less dedicated to gluttony went to gamble. It’s also worth noting that the service was fantastic and very attentive in é, they may have had four or five staff members to our eight guests!

It’s also worth noting that é only allows non-flash photography. And it’s fairly dark. For me, with my 5D mark II, a fast 2.5 F-stop macro, and 6400 ISO this was no problem. But if you’re trying on a snapshot or with a cellphone, forget it.

Overall an 11/10. Different, but a little more playful and approachable than the previous night’s Twist.

For more Food Club extravaganzas.

For more Vegas dining reviews click here.

Trés – Brunché Fantastique

Restaurant: Trés [1, 2]

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

Date: July 31, 2011

Cuisine: Modern Brunch

Rating: Fantastique

ANY CHARACTER HERE

I follow José Andrés on twitter, and I was reading (and crying) about the final meal at elBulli, so when the restaurant selection for brunch with friends came up, the SLS came to mind.


Enter the whacky world of Trés at the SLS.


Inside is the same kind of bizarre Philippe Starck space as at Bazaar. High tables on one side.


Comfortable lounging on the other.

The brunch menu is here. There are buffet, ala carte, and “experience” options. We went for the experience which is the buffet + an entree + a mimosa for only $10 more (the mimosa alone is $16).


The buffet is endless, but i’ll begin with breads and pastries.


And more.


And condiments for such.


And the table des fruits.


Melons.


Various fruit juice “waters.” These are lighter than regular juice. There were about six exotic types.


If you are so inclined, you can add them to these glasses of fruit for a blend of fruit and juice.


And these spectacular yogurts with fruit.


Cereal if you are boring.


The the vege station. Prep glasses for gazpacho.


A zoom of one. You add the gazpacho yourself, and there are other condiments.


The gazpacho.


Salad plates and condiments.


Pull back for the big picture.


Then the meat and cheese station.


Pig, pig, and more pig. Hams and salamis.


Jamon del Iberico!


Some more fruits.


Spanish cheeses.


And more.


And rolls and condiments. To the rights are jams and butters.


Inside are mini steam buns (more on that later).


Amazing smoked salmon and caviars and accompaniments.


Creme fraiche, chives, onions, quail eggs, two types of caviar (including the real stuff).


The salmon was amazing.


And roast beef.


Then some desserts.


And more.

And an extensive assortment of petite fours from the pasticerie. Passion fruit pate des fruits on top, bon bons, cookies.


Our meals came with mimosas. This is the classic. The alcohol is cava (Spanish champagne).


Or the even yummier grapefruit mimosa.


A close up of a bit of caesar salad. Very tasty.


The gazpacho was amazing. Just totally amazing. I had three helpings as did several others.


A plate of goodies. You can see the caviars (and meats).


I made a couple of these custom steam buns. Wow!


Fried potatoes.


An omelet with mushrooms and zucchini blossoms.


360 degree eggs, toasted brioche, hollandaise air, and Jamon Serrano. This was one of the better eggs benedict I’ve had — and I’ve had a lot.


The salmon version.


Grilled cheese.


Fries — always yummy.


This Greek yogurt with fruit (this one had apricots) were so incredibly delicious! Sweet though.


Then some desserts, which are more or less highlights of the Bazaar’s desserts. These are mango and cream.


“Hot chocolate mouse, three layers,” mini version.


Classic Spanish flan.


Some of the whacky decorations.


more

and more.


Even the bar nuts are cool.


And this crazy zesty lemonade, which served nicely as an aperitif.

Overall this was a fantastic brunch. Different than your typical one, but fantastique for sure. It holds up in every way to the quality level of the various José Andrés offerings at the SLS!

Click here to see more LA dining, or reviews of The Bazaar and Saam (also at the SLS).


The entrance again, behind us is the parking zoo. And it’s a serious zoo.

Also check out a lunch meal here.

Food as Art – N/Naka

Restaurant: N/Naka [1, 2]

Location: 3455 S. Overland Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90034. 310.836.6252

Date: July 22, 2011

Cuisine: Modern Kaiseki

Rating: Awesome

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N/Naka opened only three months ago. It’s the brainchild of chef/owner Niki Nakayama and is a rare entry (along with Urwasawa) in the Kaiseki category of Japanese. This is a traditional style of extended meal of small highly ornate dishes that is simultaneously traditional and modern. Originally it was a form of Imperial cuisine from Kyoto, but in the hands of Nakayama it’s received a bit of a modernist twist ala infusions of ideas and techniques from Ferran Adrià, the Spanish genius responsible for many modernist trends in cooking.


The unassuming frontage is on Overland just south of the 10 freeway.

Inside is minimalist, Japanese inspired, and very attractive.

Small attractive details are very Japanese.

Be warned, this restaurant has no ala carte menu at all (yay!). There are three options. A 10-13 course Modern Kaiseki, a nine course smaller Kaiseki (still long), and a ten course Vegetarian Tasting. All three options can be coupled with wine pairings. Below I will present the long Modern Kaiseki and the Vegetarian.

Modern Kaiseki (w/ wine pairings)


Graham beck sparkling, south africa. A nice dry champagne style pinot.

Saki Zuke

(A pairing of something common and something unique)

Cauliflower tofu, marinated salmon roe, uni butter, micro greens.

A wonderful blend of textures and flavors. The tufo was soft and gelatinous, the uni is… well uni-like, and the bits of Ikura (salmon roe) burst in the mouth as little flavor morsels. Delicious.


2008 — brooks riesling, williamette valley, oregon.

Zensai

(Main seasonal ingredient presented as an appetizer)

Soft shell crab, avocado sphere, scallop “dynamite”

Seared bluefin toro avocado rice, miso marinated black cod


Soft shell crab, avocado sphere, red pepper sorbet. The nicely friend crab and the sorbet played nicely off each other.


miso marinated black cod. Pretty much the Matsuhisa classic!


Seared bluefin toro avocado rice, caviar. Seared toro is always good, nice pairing.


scallop “dynamite.” This was pretty delicious. The soft, slightly chewy, bits of scallop played deliciously off the rich dynamite.


2009 — erbaluce di caluso, favar, piedmont, italy. Parker gives this 88 points. “The 2009 Erbaluce di Caluso is an unusual white that in many ways recalls Pinot vinified off the skins. Flowers, red berries and minerals come together nicely on a mid-weight yet generous frame. Clean, mineral notes reappear on the finish, giving the wine its sense of proportion. Anticipated maturity: 2010-2012.”

Modern zukuri

(modern interpretation of sashimi)

Tuna and escolar checkers, ponzu reduction, italian black truffles

A delicious blend of little sashimi cubes and a richer more European sauce, plus the truffles. Very nice.


2010-shesbro roussanne, carmel valley, ca.

Owan “Still Water”

Lobster “shinjo” mousseline, chef’s garden momotaro tomato broth

You break up that little lobster thing into the soup, and eat that way. The soup had a delicious and light tomato dill thing going on, and the lobster added just a touch of richness.


Sake-kimura junmai daiginjo, akita, japan. This was a spectacular sake, tasting strongly of anise. This is the kind of sake where they shave every rice kernel down before making it!

Otsukuri

(Traditional Sashimi )

Big eye otoro, shima aji , sea bream, santa barbara sweet shrimp,

Kumamoto oyster with uni

Some classic sashimi. The fish was all first rate, the wasabi hand ground.


Rw draft sake, suehiro syuzo, aizu japan. This was a fresher, younger sake.

Yakimono

Japan sazae butter yaki with maitake mushrooms

Japanese conch (like we had at Matsuhisa), but even more delicious as it was mixed with really yummy mushrooms and quail egg.


2007 — slumberger gewurstraminer prince abbes. Medium sweet.

Yakimono 2

Foie gras with eggplant, miso balsamic, shiitake mushroom

Double yum! Fois gras done up like BBQ eel (with some eggplant and mushroom).


2009 — elke chardonnay- anderson valley.

Shiizakana

(Not bound by tradition, the chef’s choice dish to be paired with wine)

Spaghetti with abalone, truffles, pickled cod roe, abalone liver sauce

This was a pretty amazing pasta dish, blending east and west. I’m not usually a huge abalone fan (although I have it often enough). It’s usually too chewy, but this wasn’t at all. There was a combined truffle and briny taste to this dish, not unlike a good spaghetti botarga, but also a truffle and butter/liver influenced richness.


2009 — evening land vineyards blue label pinot noir, eola amity hills, oregon. “Evening Land Vineyards is a group headed by movie magnate Mark Tarlov that also owns Pinot vineyards in the Sonoma Coast and Santa Rita Hills and is making wines in Burgundy. They gained control of one of the Willamette Valley’s prized properties, Seven Springs Vineyard, and created an immediate sensation by signing on Dominique Lafon of Comte Lafon in Burgundy as consulting winemaker. The Evening Land group is also making a major effort to restore the health and vitality of Seven Springs. The most recent development is the addition of renowned Master Sommelier Larry Stone as President and GM of the group in August 2010. Over the past 2-3 years there has been an awakening among some of the Willamette Valley’s most distinguished vignerons that their region is capable of producing world class Chardonnay. With Dominique Lafon and Larry Stone on board, there is no question that Evening Lands will be playing a starring role in this drama. There are now two serious Gamay producers in the Willamette Valley, Doug Tunnell of Brick House being the other.”

Niku

Snake river farms kobe beef kushiyaki skewers, baby corn

A small portion of yakaniku, ala Totoraku (see here). Delicious and rich. Not quite the beefy effect of the mega secret beef meal, but a nice note in this complex dinner.

Sunomono

Halibut fin ceviche

Yuzu omoi, yuzu blend sake

A tasty little intermezzo.


Sake- shichida, sago  japan. This apparently is an ultra-ultra rare sake.


In the glass. It was darn good. Darn good. So were all the sakes, but I liked this one and the first one the best.


Housemade ginger.


Some traditional sushi. Jeju island hirame, o-toro


yellow tail belly, shima aji


live scallops, uni shinkomaki. Overall the sushi was good, but not quite at the level of the very top dedicated sushi places. Still, it was very very good sushi.

Shokuji

(Rice dish)

sea trout and roe chazuke

It’s traditional to end the savories in Japan with a “rice dish.” On the left we have a very traditional bit of salmon like fish, rice, and nori. Refreshing and stomach settling.


On the right were two pickles cut roll pieces. I loved these. I’m a huge Japanese pickles fan and really enjoy the crunchy vinegar thing.

Dessert

Black sesame crème brulee, fruits

A very nice crème brulee with a soft sesame flavor.

There was also a dessert wine, a light medium sweet late harvest wine, but I forgot to get a photo of it.

Dessert

ice cream on cornbread

Tasted of corn, and ice cream — big surprise. Light and yummy.

Vegetarian Tasting

Saki Zuke

(A pairing of something common and something unique)

Cauliflower Tofu with Truffles

Zensai

(Main seasonal ingredient presented as an appetizer)

Chilled chef’s garden kabocha soup, braised wakame seaweed with shiitake

Lotus root “kinpira”, grilled eggplant, shiso tempura with tofu & avocado


grilled eggplant


braised wakame seaweed with shiitake


shiso tempura with tofu & avocado


Chilled chef’s garden kabocha soup


Lotus root “kinpira”

Modern Zukuri

(Modern interpretation of sashimi)

Compressed watermelon, cucumbers, baby yellow squash, baby zucchini, yuzu

Kimchee air

Otsukuri

 (Sashimi )

Arrowroot konyaku, whith konyaku, spinach, kabocha, baby taro

Nanohana ripini, carrots

Owan “Still Water”

Potatoe “shinjo”, chef’s garden momotaro tomato broth

Shiizakana

(Not bound by tradition, the chef’s choice dish)

Spaghetti wild mushrooms, truffles

Yakimono

Lotus root mochi, spinach teppanyaki


avocado, Sushi-eggplant & shiso


shiitake, grilled konyaku

Maitake roll, cucumber and plum

Shokuji

(Rice dish)

ocha zuke with wasabi nori

The desserts were the same as the Modern Kaiseki. Overall a pretty spectacular job of approximating the full range of proteins using only vegetable sources. Vegetarian (or otherwise protein restricted) foodies should delight in this.

I was extremely impressed with N/Naka, and you can bet I’ll be back soon. The food is highly elaborate and offers a full suite of flavors meticulously prepared. I very much enjoy even the fully traditional Kaiseki dinners, but this slightly modernist take was even better. Sometimes chefs with inferior pallets will introduce modernist techniques into traditional meals and create uncomfortable taste pairings. Niki Nakayama clearly has a very sure and confident palette, as I found every dish harmonious and balanced.

I just hope the somewhat adventurous and all-tasting format doesn’t make it difficult for the restaurant to thrive (and I wouldn’t change that at all for myself, but some might be intimidated). I have the feeling that the menu changes up frequently, and is very seasonal, and I hope that’s the case — because I’ll be back! (And I was, click here for a second meal)

Or here for other LA Japanese restaurants.

Son of Saam – Actually more Bazaar

Restaurant: Saam [1, 2]

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

Date: February 10, 2011

Cuisine: Spanish influenced Molecular Gastronomy

Rating: Awesome, even better than The Bazaar.

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I’ve been to The Bazaar (REVIEW HERE) about 8-10 times. For the last four or so of these I’ve been trying to get into Saam, which is their “secret” prix fixe only room. Mostly because it’s only open Thurs-Sat it took me a while to manage it. So made it the destination of our fifth official Foodie Club outing.

For those who don’t know, Saam and the Bazaar are the children of Jose Andres, 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. Jose Andres cooked and studied there with master chef Ferran Adrià. I first encountered Jose’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, and now Jose also has a new and very tempting pair of restaurants in Vegas. My colleague at Kevin Eats was lucky enough to make that pilgrimage.

Saam is a separate room, offering only a single continuously evolving prix fixe. They do however adapt very adeptly to dietary restrictions, as we shall see in a moment. But like most molecular prix fixes it begins with a specialty cocktail. In this case a champagne sherry concoction.

The sherry.

Some of our fellows kicking off the evening.

“The Golden Boy.” If you zoom in you can see the little golden speckles. It tasted like sherry and champagne.

Tonight’s menu. Click to embiggen.

“Lotus Root Chip.” Star Anise dusting. Like a very salty potato chip with a slight licorice flavor.


The first of my wines. The only beef I had with this otherwise perfect restaurant is extremely steep $50 corkage! Very displeasing. And they have a 3-4 bottle max, plus the Bazaar recently raised it’s corkage from $20 to $35. Contrast that with the Bistro LQ FREE corkage where we opened 8 bottles! I really despise these steep corkages.

Parker 97, “The 2004 Reserva, according to Remirez is “a great vintage, a lot of nerve, like 1994, that needed a long aging period”. Opaque purple in color, it offers up a splendid bouquet of sandalwood, incense, Asian spices, balsamic, and black cherry. Layered, opulent, and impeccably balanced, it is a monumental effort.”

“Tuna Handroll 2009.” Like the typical tuna tartar on a potato crisp — but a cooler shape.

“Bagel & Lox Steam Bun.” The dim sum style steam bun topped with salmon roe. Inside must have been some cream cheese or similar. Very interesting interplays of texture and taste.

“Olive Oil Bonbon.” Spanish extra virgin olive oil, coated in sugar and dusted with sumac and Maldon sea salt. Pretty amazing, a bit of candied crunch and pure olive oil is released. Very candy like.

“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.

The olive bursts easily in the mouth, exploding intense oliveness into the mouth.

Spherified green olives. The “olives” are after spherizing marinated with olive oil, garlic, rosemary, and orange. This is the first of many Vegetarian Substitutions (VS), as the squid ink in the black olives isn’t exactly veggie.

“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.


“Jicama wrapped Guacamole.” Micro cilantro, corn chips. The VS for above.

“Pastrami Saul.” Crunchy potato taquito filled with veal “pastrami.” Crunchy, salty, meaty.


“Tortilla de Patatas ‘New Way’.” Potato foam, egg 63, caramelized onions. The VS for above. This is a fairly radical reinterpretation of the classic Spanish Torilla de Patatas (what we might think of as a potato omelet). Egg is mixed with a potato foam and micro chives and caramelized onions.

“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.

Just like it’s more plebeian cousin, it leaves a good grease stain.

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

“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).

“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.

Ink art. A tradition with me.

“Zucchini with Zucchini air.” VS for the octopus.


Parker 94. “The 2007 Laurel, a blend of 65% Garnacha and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, is deep purple-colored with a bouquet of wet stone, Asian spices, black cherry compote, and incense. Dense and sweet on the palate with tons of spice, it is super-concentrated, rich, and smooth-textured. Give this lengthy effort 2-3 years of additional cellaring and drink it from 2013 to 2027.”

This is an amazing wine, deep grape.

“Hot and Cold Foie Soup with Corn.” The top is a delicious foam that tastes like sweet corn soup, underneath is the salty rich foie soup. I first had a variant of this dish at Cafe Atlantico. I’m very fond of these rich little soups.

“Traditional Gazpacho.” Not only is it pretty, but it’s a nice example of the classic.

“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.” VS, same as above, no meat.

“Linguini and Clams.” Another reinterpreted dish. A very sweet and sour, dishy and salty thing going on. Soft textures.

“Cauliflower ‘cous cous’.” VS for clams.

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

“Brussel Sprout Leaves.” Lemon purée, apricots, grapes, lemon air. No hint of bitterness, and the fruit tangs nicely zest up the sprouts.

“Black truffle risotto.” This was an optional supplemental dish. 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, but as the first truffle dish I’d had since our crazy 27 course Truffle Night, it gave me funny flashbacks.

“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 VS version of above. Monkey man will get you!


We move on to a sweet wine as we approach the end of the savory courses.

Parker 94. “The auction lot of Prum 2009 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese A.P. #22 differs from the “regular” Auslese in a manner analogous to the relationship between the two corresponding Spatlesen, the most striking aspect of the present cuvee being its uncanny sense of near-weightless delicacy. “This came from a good but not absolutely top-class parcel,” notes Manfred Prum, “but one that got quite a bit of botrytis which we permitted to develop and then selected-out very late.” Given that description, one has to say this was the noblest of rot, so subtle and positive was the flavor concentration and creamy textural allure it engendered, while in no way freighting the wine or lending a taste of botrytis per se. Indeed, this strikes me as the finer of the two non-gold capsule Sonnenuhr Auslesen I tasted, incorporating underlying nut paste richness and a cloud-like sense of wafting sweet floral perfume. Furthermore, this introduces a salinity that renders the finish saliva-inducing and compulsively swallow-able. It should dazzle for 30-40 years.”

“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.

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

Mutant lamp in the room.

“Rose Clementine.” Clementine ice cream, shards of extruded sugar, and rose water ice cream and foam. I really like the exotic taste of rosewater, reminding me as it does of Istanbul and Persian weddings.

“Chocolate Eucalyptus.” Extruded chocolate ganache with a peppermint meringue and eucalyptus ice cream. Very nice and creamy chocolate band, with a soft mouse-like texture. The ice cream is the eucalyptus, which went well but makes me think of spa steam rooms.

Video of one of us breathing the dragon.

“Birthday spun sugar.” Tastes… sweet.

“Sexy Little Sweets.” Passion fruit and raspberry pate-fruits. Mint white chocolate, regular chocolate, and various bonbons. The passion fruit pate was my favorite.

“Crown of Sugar.”

The room itself.
The Bazaar is great, and Saam is even greater. The presentation is nicer, and it has more experimental dishes. I’d wish they’d go even wilder. This is exciting food with strong combinations of flavors and unexpected textures.
As I said earlier my only beef is with their agressive corkage policy. I know restaurants make a good share of profit on their wines, but I like to pick my own.

Food as Art: La Terraza

Restaurant: La Terraza

Location: Madrid Spain

Date: June 29, 2010

Cuisine: Molecular Spanish Gastronomy

Rating: Fantastic!

 

We spent the month of June in Spain and this included a legion of fantastic meals. Recently I covered a traditional Spanish place (REVIEW HERE), but La Terraza is radical modern Molecular Gastronomy, similar to the stellar Calima (REVIEW HERE), or LA’s — believe it or not — more restrained Bazaar (REVIEW HERE). Modern Spanish was reinvented at El Bulli in the Northeast corner of Spain. As we weren’t exactly in the vicinity, and didn’t have the impossible to get reservation, we had to make due with La Terraza whose chef, Paco Roncero, cooked at El Bulli for years. In fact, there is still some form of association.

A special cart prepares signature liquid nitrogen cocktails.

“Passion, mint, and coffee, nitro.” The frozen drink is shoved back into the passionfruit. The combo sounds weird, but it was delicious. I love passionfruit.


The menu. This is the “regular” tasting menu. They also customized a vegetarian and fish version for my wife.

Parker gives this 94. “Clos Mogador is produced by the esteemed Rene Barbier who has hit homeruns in both 2003 and 2004. For starters, the 2003 Clos Mogador, a dark ruby/purple-colored wine, offers an impressive nose of toast and smoke, earth, charcoal, and blue fruits. It is dense, layered, and very concentrated with the structure for 6-8 years of additional bottle age.”

The all white decor was pretty cool — shoved in here in a 19th century casino.

We begin with a whole series of amuses. This is “Olive Oil Butter.” A little crisp is filled with clover.

Then the butter is squeezed out of the little tube and then enjoyed.

“Polenta crisps.” A little like corn puffs.

“Popcorn nutty cake” and “Meringued Peanut.”  The cake had a texture like dust, but it tasted like popcorn! The peanut tasted like peanut butter, but the texture was… well… meringue.

“Cut of Parmesan.” The outside was light and crunchy, the center had texture like ice cream, but the flavor of Parmesan. Fun and delicious. As you can tell from  these playful amuses, a common characteristic of this cuisine is the playful interplay of unexpected textures and flavors.

“Cod Kokotxas in pil-pil.”

“Liquid ham croquet.” The ham and cheese croquet is a classic Spanish dish. This deconstructed version is a ham and cheese sphere with bready crumbles. The cheese popped in the mouth.

This is one of vegetarian substitutions. “Deconstructed Waldorf Salad.”

Check out the insides.

“Scallops, beetroot, and yogurt.” The beet is in sorbet form.

“Salmon marinated in miso with cucumber, pineapple, and fennel salad.” This has a relationship perhaps to the Nobu “miso marinated cod.”

One of the special substitutions, a fish with mushrooms.

“Oyster tartar.” Raw marinated oyster bits with a little pile of foam.”

The substitution. A bit of fish with a vegetable risotto.

“Extruded fois gras ‘noodles’ with green apple sorbet.” As fois gras is typically served with apples this is a rather unusual variant. The fois seems to have been deep frozen with nitro and extruded into little noodle like shapes. Fois is always tasty.

“Pesto Gnocchis and baby squids.” Very interesting mix of textures and flavors.

Afterward, it resembles modern art.

“Asparagus tips, almond soup, crayfish, and summer truffle.”

The almond soup. The soup is traditional. You can see the white asparagus tips. This was a really nice dish.

“Grouper with green bean cream.”

A different fish with cucumber “noodles.”

“Waygu with Iberian pork ravioli.” Rich and meaty!

“Violet, ‘madrorflo,’ strawberries and aniseed.” The red dust like stuff was like frozen sweet strawberry dust.

“Olive and citric ravioli with frozen chocolate dust.”

“Liquid bailies bombo.”

“Peach Palet,” “Alter eight tile,” and “Air biscuit.”

Spain won the world cup semi-final and the streets went crazy with honking cars.