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.

Osteria Latini 3

Restaurant: Osteria Latini [1, 2, 3]

Location: 11712 San Vicente Blvd.Brentwood, CA 90049 310.826.9222

Date: August 20, 2010

Cuisine: Italian

Rating: Excellent neighborhood Italian

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We have a regular rotation of neighborhood Italians. There are so many of them, but only a few make the cut as genuinely good. Osteria Latini is one of them. You can see my previous reviews here and here.


Olive and chickpea/squash/bean pastes.


The 1997 Biondi-Santi Brunello. This is a solid Brunello I had bought years ago in Italy (probably in 2000). It probably scores somewhere in the low 90s, maybe 91 or 92 points.


A special, lobster bisque.


“BELLA SALAD. Arrugola, pears, dry cherries, goat cheese, shaved parmesan.”


A special, calimari steak stuffed with lump crabmeat and drizzled in ponzu sauce. This is unusual, and certainly has a bit of fusion about it — but it’s good.


Gnocchi genovese (in classic basil pesto).


“ACQUERELLO RISOTTO. Organic carnaroli, sea urchin, truffle scent, lemon zest (Please allow 20 Minutes).” A very nice subtle sea urchin risotto. This special hand shaved rice takes 20-30 minutes to cook.


OSSOBUCO ALLA MILANESE. With saffron risotto.” Latini’s version of the classic dish. Certainly good with a very nice meaty bone. The risotto could have been perhaps a tad creamier.

Two “rounds” of freebee desserts. This mixture of prosecco, lemon sorbetto, and meringue is very refreshing.


Chocolate chip cookies and biscotti.

Osteria Latini is always reliable. They have a big menu of modern Italian favorites and pretty much everything is very good.

For more LA dining reviews click here.

Or for a legion of great eating in Italy itself, here.

Knocked out by N/Naka

Restaurant: N/Naka [1, 2]

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

Date: August 13, 2011

Cuisine: Modern Kaiseki

Rating: Awesome

ANY CHARACTER HERE

I first went to the amazing Omakase only N/Naka just three weeks ago, but seeing my review, my Foodie Club partner EP desperately wanted to go again. So we did. Now bear in mind that this lovely restaurant has only a set menu (they offer it in two sizes, plus vegetarian) but the talented young chef Ms. Niki Nakayama concocted a whole new menu (just three weeks later!) without a single repeat — and it was even better!

We start off our wines with a light Spanish white. Parker 90. “A candidate for top Albarino of my Spanish tastings, the 2005 Bodegas Don Olegario is medium gold with honey and apricot aromas and flavors. On the palate the wine is viscous with enough acidity to hold things together. Very Condrieu-like at about half the price.”

Saki zuke

(a pairing of something common and something unique)

Chef’s garden eggplant puree, scottish smoked salmon, osetra caviar

Crème fraiche, chives

This opening course had a wonderful silky mouthfeel and tasted of smoked eggplant, a bit like baba ganush.

Zensai

(Main seasonal ingredient presented as an appetizer)

Japan ayu, pacific lobster roll, nanohana, daikon and kanpachi, lotus

Root kinpira

Zooming in, the Japanese Ayu. This is a smelt relative known as sweetfish. It was crispy and grilled. Alongside are cubes of watermelon and aged balsamic. The combo was lovely.

This is the lobster roll. Kind of like a piece of uber california maki.

A bit of diakon with either eel or kanpachi inside, not 100% sure. The little tomato is from chef Niki’s garden (as are many things in the meal).

Nanohana, a kind of broccoli rabe.

Lotus root kippira. Slightly sweet with a bit of crunch.

This is an alternative form of the dish for my wife who doesn’t eat shellfish or meat. You can see the lobster is replaced with a bit of seared Toro! N/Naka requires that you specify which menu and dietary restrictions a few days in advance, but they are very adept at customizing the menu.

Now stepping up to this killer California Chardonnay, Parker 95! This one is from EP’s cellar. “The Chardonnay Belle Cote is always a more exotic wine. There are 2,200 cases of the 2005 Chardonnay Belle Cote, a wine with undeniable notes of crushed stones, white peach, orange, nectarine, and quince. Medium to full-bodied, with zesty acidity, stunning minerality, and a firm structure, this is a gorgeous, French-styled Chardonnay that should drink nicely for up to a decade.”

Modern zukuri

(modern interpretation of sashimi)

Japan bonito, marinated onions, ponzu, myoga, shiso, shiso air,  ginger

A lovely bit of bonito. And not only do I love shiso, but I get to try it as “air!” Although the real shiso had a bit more flavor punch than the airy form.

Fantastic containers add to the fun.

Owan “still water”

Black cod and shiitake, green tea soba, nameko mushrooms, dashi broth

This is one of those mild, but lovely, Japanese soups. With a vaguely sweet, soft mushroomy fishy taste. Very pleasant and soothing.

Sake- shichida, sago  japan. This is an ultra-ultra rare sake I had the previous time and it blew away the entire table (except for the 6 year-old who was left out!) One of the best sakes I’ve ever had. Each grain of rice is hand shaved before brewing!

Otsukuri

(Traditional Sashimi )

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

Kumamoto oyster

Zoom into the bucket, where you can see the shima aji , sea bream, santa barbara sweet shrimp.

And then over here, past the hand ground wasabi, to the Big eye otoro and Kumamoto oyster. The Toro (o-toro is the most premium Toro) was absolutely amazing.

An alternative basket my wife received. She has hamachi belly and scottish salmon instead of the shellfish.

To pair with the upcoming lobster, this Parker 90 white from Alto Adige in Northern Italy. “The 2008 Muller Thurgau literally sparkles on the palate with well-articulated aromas and flavors that come together with notable harmony. The finish is subtle and nuanced in its suggestions of mint, flowers, lime and passion fruit. This polished white also happens to be a terrific value. Anticipated maturity: 2009-2012.”

Yakimono

Pacific lobster, maitake, enringi, tamale sauce

This was a wonderful dish, and the pairing (recommended by the sommelier) with the crisp white was delightful.

My wife had to tough it out with this fish alternative, topped with a bit of dynamite.

Another lovely container, opening to reveal:

Mushimono

Unagi and gobo chawanmushi, frozen foie gras torchon powder

On the left a traditional Japanese custard with mushrooms. On the right frozen foie gras powder! This second item was sprinkled into the custard to add killer meaty umph! Really nice interplay of textures and fats.

Shiizakana

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

Abalone pasta, pickeled cod roe, abalone liver sauce

I had this pasta on my previous visit, but knowing this, Chef Niki gave me a different one! (below) Still, this one was amazing (or so I remember and so the rest of the party said).

Chef’s garden kabocha ravioli with truffles, brown butter sage, manchego

My wife received this dish, perfectly in sync with her taste. It was gone in about a millisecond.

Spaghetti with uni, ikura, poached eggs, seaweed, truffle

I got this, which was also delicious, tasting strongly of uni and the briny bright tone and texture of the ikura — two sushis often paired together and two of my favorites. Yum. This kind of interesting east/west fusion is very unusual, and brilliant.

As we move into the meatier portion of the menu, this 94 point Burgundy. “The Chevillon 2008 Nuits-St.-Georges Les Vaucrains projects an amazing sense of deep, dark concentration. Latakia tobacco; peat; rushed stone; roasted red meats; soy; and ripe, fresh blackberry inform the nose and absolutely stain the palate. The tannins here are as ultra-fine as they are formidable, and the tug on my salivary glands as relentless as are the finishing flavors. If this doesn’t leave you reaching for a napkin or your lips fluttering, probably no wine will. The energy and salinity here render a wine that you feel as if you must strain through your teeth nonetheless fleet-of-foot, enticing, and invigorating.”

Niku

Snake river farms kobe beef ishiyaki

Plus butter cubes and sisho peppers.

Then out comes a little hot rock.

You drop the butter on top, then the meat and cook to your taste. Like a mini version of Totoraku.

The non-meat substitute is baked miso cod, always a favorite.

Sunomono

Marinated halibut fin, cucumbers, ruby red grapefruit

Yuzu omoi, yuzu blend sake

The bright marinated flavors and the sweet/sour sake go perfectly together.

Shokuji One & Two

(Rice dish- sushi)

Jeju island hirame, o-toro

Aji (mackerel), hamachi belly.

Aji (mackerel) on the left. Not sure what’s on the right.

Mirugai, shinkomaki, miso hamachi, sesame butter chazuke.

And the other two of above, but I’m not sure which is which :-). live scallops on the left.

R.L. Buller Calliope Rare Muscat. Yum Yum! Parker 100! “Giving aromas of dark brown sugar, black strap molasses, licorice and preserved walnuts, the deeply brown colored NV Calliope Rare Muscat is again incredibly sweet and viscous with a good amount of acid to balance and is decadently rich and nutty / spicy in the very long finish. All these vintage blended fortified wines are bottled to drink now and though are stable enough to hold, they are not designed to improve with cellaring.”

Shokuji

(Rice dish)

A fish with a miso sauce on rice with seaweed.

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

Chocolate tiramisu, ruby red grapefruit and passion fruit gelee, fruits

 These were all extremely tasty. The grapefruit thing in the middle was particularly intense with a lovely gummy texture.

Kids Omakase

EP and his wife brought his young daughter with them and she got a special “kids omakase” which was very cool.

An assortment of rolls, including toro cut roll!

Ikura (salmon eggs), sweet shrimp, and bonito sushi.

Some of the best looking tempura I’ve ever seen.

Yellowtail belly sashimi. That was one lucky girl!

N/Naka really is a very special place. Both meals I had here were spectacular (here for the first). This second was, if possible, slightly better too, which was always wonderful because often one finds a slight bloom to come off a place on repeat meals. This was very much avoided by the completely new menu, which only three weeks apart was impressive. The quality of ingredients, preparation, and presentation here is pretty stunning.

Try it!

Click here to other LA Japanese restaurants.

Or other Foodie Club extravaganzas.

Takao Sushi Taking Off!

Restaurant: Takao [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]

Location: 11656 San Vicente Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90049. (310) 207-8636

Date: August 6, 2011

Cuisine: Japanese / Sushi

Rating: 9/10 creative “new style” sushi

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I’ve already covered Takao in some detail HERE and then separately herehere, and here, but we went back (we go often) and I built another “custom omakase” trying some different things. The full menu and some information on the history of the place can be found through the first link.

As you can see comparing this to the other Takao meals, you my dear readers, come first, as I ordered completely differently for your vicarious enjoyment.

After my spectacular N/Naka Kaiseki meal and its really good sakes I decided to up my sake game. This is the cheapest of the “shaved rice” sakes on the menu at Takao. It was good, not as good as the two amazing ones at N/Naka (Takao has half a dozen “better” ones too), but good.

The chefs at work. Takao himself was cutting for me tonight.

Scallop sashimi. I do love my japanese scallops. There was sea salt to dip them in too.

Toro tartar with caviar. I just can’t resist.

Spanish Mackerel chopped with scallions. Very tasty!

Squid, two ways. On the left normal. And on the right I’m not sure, but it there was a sour (and I mean sour) plum sauce (above left) to dip it in. Same sauce as I had the other day at Kiriko.

Mysterious grilled bit of sea creature. Soft and chewy, not bad.

Grilled Alaskan king crab legs. A sprig of pickled ginger.

On the left Uni (sea urchin) and on the right Ikura (salmon roe).

Fresh water eel with the sweet BBQ sauce.

And then a winter mushroom miso to finish.

For more LA area sushi, see here.

Room with a Vu

Restaurant: Vu [1, 2]

Location: 14160 Palaway Way, Marina del Rey, CA 90292 310.439.3033

Date: July 28 & 30, 2011

Cuisine: Modern

Rating: Interesting, but a little all over the place

ANY CHARACTER HERE

My brother and I were out for our weekly lunch adventure and after Gjelina had a 45 minute wait we made our way to Vu, which I had tried a couple months ago for dinner.


Vu does live up to its name, sporting a nice patio with an excellent view of the marina.


I was a little surprised to find the lunch menu, PDF here, a bit “more conventional” than the modern tapas centric dinner menu.


Bread.


“Grilled Polenta: Asparagus, tomato, pickled red onion, aged balsamic.”


Green Curry Soup: Mussels, coconut boba, micro cilantro.” This was quite good. Fairly spicy, coconuty, definably rich. The mussels, boba, and pork lumps inside were like little prizes to hunt for.

“Seared King Cole Duck Breast Salad: mixed greens, goat cheese, dried cherries, chocolate-spiced cashews, red wine vinaigrette.”  This was pretty tasty, the duck was good, and the various elements. But the mix was overall a little weird. I’m pretty sure there was sisho in the greens, as they had that distinct flavor. Now I like sisho, but the overall flavor profile of the dish was a little helter-skelter.

“Blue Crab Cakes: charred tomato, orange, brioche bread crumbs, pickled red onion, mache, mustard ice cream.” These crab-cakes were way over fried, and inside they were stuffed with tarragon. So much so that they tasted like tarragon cakes. This wasn’t ideal, masking the crab flavor (as did the heavy fry). No where near in the league of the crab-cakes from Houstons or Capo.

I also popped down to Vu two days after this with my toddler from some brunch as we were already in the Marina.

The brunch menu can be found here.


Pancakes. Pretty conventional. I think the syrup was vanilla syrup, which was tasty.


My son likes a mix in with strawberries.


“Lobster Omelette: asparagus, shaved fennel, niman ranch pork belly, pommery hollandaise, home fries.” This wasn’t bad at all, but the overall flavor profile was again a little weird. The sour mustard clashed a bit with the sweetness of the pork and lobster.


Some VERY good fries, with a cumin based seasoning on them.


And some fantastic Neiman ranch bacon. Really really good bacon.

Overall Vu is trying interesting stuff, but the chef is too wild with his palette. I’m all for crazy and interesting combinations and new modern techniques — really all over them — but they need to be employed with care. Dishes still have to work together harmoniously, which isn’t really going on here.

Click here to see the previous review of Vu.

or other LA restaurants.

Kiriko Sushi

Restaurant: Kiriko Sushi

Location: 11301 Olympic Blvd #102, West Los Angeles, CA 90064. TELL (310) 478-7769

Date: July 8 & 21, Sept 21, 2011

Cuisine: Japanese / Sushi

Rating: Very nice!

ANY CHARACTER HERE

At our giant Go Sushi love-fest one of my Foodie Club members suggested I check out this Sawtelle sushi joint. He said it was great. Twist my arm! So I finagled a business lunch there (didn’t have to twist the other arms very hard either).

The unassuming storefront on the corner of Olympic and Sawtelle, right next to the Yakatori place.

This first time we ordered a light Omakase, almost all sashimi with a little sushi.

Omakase 1


The classic Japanese salad with the yummy textured dressing. I forgot either of my real cameras and had to make due with the iPhone 4 (sorry). It really doesn’t do too bad a job if you have adequate light and turn off the flash. That little LED has a range of about 12 inches and isn’t good for much.


Miso soup, the usual sort. They had about four kinds on the menu though.


Amberjack on the left, and halibut on the right with a gelatinous but yummy “sauce.”


From left to right: albacore with garlic chips, baby red snapper, and mackerel with onion and similar. All very good and excellent preparation.


On the left, kanpachi (young yellowtail), taco (octopus), and on the right Japanese scallops with pesto. I hate eating octopus because it’s such a smart animal, but these were some of the most tender and succulent bits of cephalopod I’ve yet had. THe scallop was also fantastic, with the light pesto adding a unique flavor without marring the subtle sea taste.


Left to right: Sock-eye salmon (light sauce), seared albacore, and golden eye snapper. The snapper almost tasted like lobster or something.


On the left: Big eye tuna and yellowtail, in the middle sea bream with salt and on the right homemade smoked salmon. All were great, but the bream and the salmon really stood out.


Sushi, left to right: Tuna, yellowtail, sea bream (with salt), and homemade salmon. This plate was served at the same time as the similar sashimi plate above.


Blue crab handroll. Overstuffed and on par with the Sasabune ones.

I went back two weeks later and ordered a more elaborate sashimi omakase, which is mixed in here with a simpler sushi/sashimi one. This time I had the medium camera so the pictures are better.

Omakase 2


Some couple million year-old sea salt rocks on the counter.


The chef at work.

The salad.


Regular miso.


Red miso, which is saltier and richer.


Octopus, salmon wrapped mango with caviar, and on the right boiled eel with plum sauce. The eel was interesting. It didn’t have much flavor (being boiled) but the sauce was very tart, tasting intensely of sour Japanese plum (which it was).


The same thing but with an oyster instead of the octopus.


A sashimi plate, left to right. Wild kanpachi (young yellowtail) with pesto, gel, and jalepeno. Albacore with garlic chips, abalone sea salt. Halibut with ponzu gel. These gels (slightly sweet, interesting texture) are something unique to Kirko (in my experience).


A sushi plate. Crab handroll, BBQ eel, salmon, yellowtail and halibut.


A sashimi plate that I forgot to photo until after I had eaten several items. We have starting in the lower left and heading clockwise. Tai (Red snapper) with sea salt. Chu-toro. Santa Barbara spot prawn, live head and raw body (eaten). Japanese scallop with pesto.


The head was so alive it was still moving. Click this image for a video.


Then he came back fried. Most certainly dead this time.


A sashimi plate of four kinds of salmon. Left to right: Sock eye smoked. Sock eye fresh. King salmon smoked. King salmon fresh. All good.


Japanese scallop sushi, with a bit of salt and yuzu.


More sashimi. Squid with spicy cod roe. Seared Japanese Mackerel. Seam bream with yuzu.

Omakase 3

This is another “sushi and sashimi” lunch omakase.


Soup and salad.

Seared snapper, monk fish liver with jelly, and halibut.


Albacore, seared and raw. Amberjack, wild yellowtail with jelly in front and sea bream in back right.


Salmon sashimi.

Bluefin tuna, wild yellowtail, sea bream, and salmon sushis.


Scallop and Uni (sea urchin) sushi.


A top grade blue crab hand-roll.

Overall, I was very impressed with Kiriko. Not only was the fish fantastic but they had very nice modern presentation and were doing some interesting stuff with the fish without going all weird and California. I’d put it in that grade of 9/10 LA sushi, which is saying a lot as our sushi is so fantastic.

Click here to see more LA Sushi posts.

Eating Santa Margherita – Hotel Miramare

Restaurant: Grand Hotel Miramare (Dinner)

Location: Santa Margherita, Italy

Date: June 25, 2011

Cuisine: Ligurian

Rating: Old school

ANY CHARACTER HERE

Finally, we enter the final phase of our epic trip: Liguria. This is another seafood area, but quite different than Milano Martittima. Here we are on the Riveria, at the top of the Ligurian Sea instead of the adriatic. Near to France and home to Belle Epoque grandeur.


Our hotel — the white one — the Hotel Miramare, on the western end of this lovely town. We got lazy the first night and decided to try out the hotel restaurant.


And the view from the dining terrace. It sucks to be in the Italian Riveria.


The menu. A slightly unusual fixed price one at that.


An amuse. I can’t for the life of me remember what. The “spoons” are edible bread though.


A nice light white Ligurian wine. I liked the easy-drinking whites in the region. They go well with seafood and don’t last.


Grapefruit juice. Yes, this is a bonafied option for the anti-pasta!


Or instead you could choose these very nice local Morrone fish fillets, marinated with a small salad.


Borraggine herb rolls with egg-plants and buffalo mozzarella. Borraggine is a kind of nettle. The dish was, however, delicious!


Taglierini with local scampi. This is a classic pasta type. Very simple with fresh tomatoes and garlic. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.


Baked sea-bass in herb flavors. Very nice fish, also local.


Glazed ribs of veal with rosemary. Duchesse potatoes and spinach coupole Mornay. Old school, but tasty.


They also have a full salad bar you can help yourself too. It was fairly extensive but I took it easy and got only simple greens. I’ve never actually seen a salad bar in Italy, and here it was at this five-star hotel! There were also some local cheeses at the salad bar you could grab.


Petite fors.

There was an extensive dessert cart. Sachertorte.


Grandmother’s torte (with pinenuts).


Tiramisu.


Creme Caramel. One of my favorites.


A kind of berries and cream torte.

This was a peculiar and slightly old school restaurant, but the food was tasty, and the view and terrace impeccable. No complaints.

Click here to see more Eating Italy posts.