Loving Lukshon

Restaurant: Lukshon

Location: 3239 Helms Ave, Culver City, CA 90034. 310.202.6808

Date: October 20, 2011

Cuisine: New Asian

Rating: Pretty damn tasty

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A couple of years ago my office was in Culver City, and the restaurant revolution there was already well under way. But the trend continues apace with Lukshon, a sort of re-imagined southern Asian (vaguely Chinese — sort of) joint opened by the same owners as adjacent Father’s Office. I’ve been itching to try it for better on six months and we finally got the Foodie Club together for an impromptu meeting.


The modern interior space. There is also a generous and attractive patio.


The menu. We ordered about two thirds of it, for eight people, all family style.


“atlantic fluke  pickled watermelon, black sesame, cucumber, kinh gioi.” Light flavored, but tasty. The black sesame lent it a pleasant gritty texture.


Lukshon does not allow corkage. I didn’t know that and Foodie Club co-president EP and I hauled four bottles to the table. I was skeptical at first of the small wine list too, as it’s devoid of big name offerings. But with some help from the Sommelier we put together what turned out to be a very enjoyable trio.


We had the 2010, but the 2009 got 92 from parker, “Ollivier’s 2009 Muscadet de Sevre et Maine Sur Lie Clos des Briords is as perfumed and lusciously-fruited a wine of its genre as you are likely to encounter, though that by no means precludes depth of mineral character. Scents of pear, clover, Persian melon, and fennel inform the nose and migrate to a buoyant yet expansive, mouthwateringly juicy palate tinged with a shimmering crystalline sense of minerality characteristic for this cuvee. This sensational value finishes with an uncanny combination of soothing refreshment and vibrancy. It is apt to be even more ravishing in another year or so and be worth following for at least 3-4.”


“shrimp toast  rock shrimp, cilantro, chiles, tiny croutons.” These are little fried balls with a sweet and spicy sauce. They tasted pretty fried, with an understated flavor.


“baby monterey squid!! chiang mai pork sausage, candlenut, mint, rau ram.” Really tasty. The fried tentacles in the center were pretty straight up calimari. The bodies were stuffed with the yummy sausage.


“duck popiah.  cilantro stems, pickled jicama, hoisin chile sauce.” With the texture of a Saigon Roll, these duck rolls were packed with meaty flavor inside. Plus, being a sauce guy, I love hoison. One of my favorite dishes.


“spicy chicken pops!! shelton farms’ drumettes, garlic, kecap manis, spicy sichuan salt.” Nice little “wings” with a lot of flavor and a bit of heat. A kind of BBQ sweet heat.


This was a very interesting wine. Old fashioned — like 2,000 years old fashioned. Evidently, it’s kept in amphorae, large greek/roman style terra-cotta vessels. While a white, it was so unfiltered as to be almost cloudy. But damn good.


“kurobuta pork ribs.  spicy chicory coffee bbq sauce.” The meat just fell of the bones. A bit of char. Seriously good ribs, what cheap Chinese restaurant ribs aspire to be.


“rib eye steak yam neua. gem lettuce, radish, carrot, tomato, herbs, spicy lime vinaigrette.” This was fine, but just kinda beefy.


“foie gras ganache!! carob, ceylon cinnamon, tamarind gastrique, almond, puffed rice.” These were more a dessert than a savory. The creamy foie texture and richness leant them the character of some kind of ultra rich mousse.


“lamb belly roti. canai  chana dal, cumin, mint, raita, pickled cauliflower.” Another of my favorite dishes. A kind of vaguely middle eastern, vaguely Asian pizza. The little sour marinated crunchy cauliflower was good too.


“garlic pork belly  do ban jian, rice cakes, cabbage, garlic chives.” Probably my favorite dish. This had some good heat and that rich fermented bean paste flavor. The meat was rich, but not too fatty, and under the sauce you could only tell it from the rice cakes by texture. They added a chewiness to complement the some pork.


“short rib rendang!! malay spices, red chile lemongrass rempah, coconut cream.” More meat. I liked the sauce better on this one.


Parker gives this very solid Riesling 90 points. “Pepper-laced pears and apples are found in the nose of the zesty, vivacious 2002 Riesling Eiswein Oberemmeler Hutte. This molasses, brown sugar and white fruit-flavored offering sports eye-popping acidity, loads of depth, and a long, sweet finish. Anticipated maturity: 2007-2025.”

“heirloom black rice  lap cheong, onion, roasted garlic, lilly’s farm fried egg.”


Mixed up. This was pleasant, rich, sweet, and ricey.


“gai lan aged ham, shaoxing wine, garlic.” Nice stir fried greens. But I wanted more ham flavor.


“chiang mai curry noodles  chile, tumeric, lemongrass, chicken, prawn, yu choy, rice noodles.” A curry with noodles. Nothing wrong with that, as I love curry.


“dandan noodles!! kurobuta pork, sesame, preserved mustard greens, sichuan peppercorns, peanuts.” I really liked this too. Noodles with a pretty spicy Chinese pork ragu. I had a better version in western China, but this was pretty damn good. Decently hot, but not nearly real Szechuan hot. I guess the sauce isn’t so different than Pocked Marked Old Ladies Tofu (yes, that is a real dish).


Dessert is “free” (as Matt Groning said, “at no additional perceivable cost”). They bring out one per person, but three types. I would’ve liked to try each, but I had the leftmost, which was a delicious form of deconstructed pina colada. Some kind of pana cotta with coconut and pineapple. The middle was chocolate, the rightmost more fruity.

For more LA dining reviews click here.

For other Foodie Club meals (all crazy great) see here.

Vegas with a Twist

Restaurant: Twist by Pierre Gagnaire

Location: 3752 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109. 888.881.9367

Date: September 23, 2011

Cuisine: Avant Garde French

Rating: Brilliant, Confusing, Tasty, Orthogonal

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Pierre Gagnaire is one of the elite crew of three-star Michelin chefs of a generation with Alain Ducasse and Joël Robuchon. And he’s the latest to venture forth into Las Vegas with an oddball new high end venture. Twist is mostly avant garde haute cuisine restaurant, with a little bit of a bent toward steakhouse? Maybe. Or at least he has a page of steaks and sides on the menu. I have to assume this is just Vegas pandering. We ignored it and went for a mega tasting.

Both the $7 million dollar build out (in the Mandarin Oriental) and the food itself is playful, intellectual, odd, and beautiful. Executive chef is of course, Pierre Gagnaire, with the onsite Chef de Cuisine being Pascal Sanchez.

In any case, the Foodie Club hit it with aplomb.


The distance cella of this culinary temple as seen from the approach.


The globes hanging above remind me of a non-magical Hogwarts cafeteria.


The bar. Notice the cracked egg wall decoration.


Echoed in the cover plates.


Tonights menu. We of course opted for the tasting. Seeing as six courses didn’t sound like enough (little did we know that most of the courses were in fact 3 or 4!) we threw in a foie gras supplement.


The wine list had some good offerings, but at the typical painful Vegas markups. We opted for a split of both the “classic” and “grand” wine pairings (depending on the person). One of our diners had a mostly vegetarian and fish menu, which the sommelier customized the classic pairing to.

So we open with a glass of classic champagne.


A series of amuses. Crispy lollipops filled with date purée and aged balsamic.


Chinese rice buns with carmelized onions, a bit of eel, and caviar.


Poquito pepper sauce. You just extract the little bread sticks and eat. Not so far off from a Spanish Romesco.


Gorgonzola and fig lollipops. Yum!


These were really good. Goat cheese and something. Sorry again!


Then to clear the palette, gelled anise. Like liqourish jello!

Overall, the amuses were very successful.


The bread was fantastic. From the crispy baguette (front left) to the amazing walnut raison bread in the back. The front right is a multigrain. Butter (not shown) was imported from Normandy.


A rose to go with the this first course.


These next three dishes together form the “twisted bouillabaisse.” This one is “Veloute of Cauliflower, ice cream of artichoke and olive oil.”


“Fish and saffron cocktail.” Red mullet, snapper, and sea bream rest in a gel of bouillabaisse! Had curious similarities to the bouillabaisse milkshake at Ludobites 7.0.


“Marmalade of red pepper, fennel confit and candied garlic.” This stands in for the traditional garlic toast.


Parker 90-91. “If Pascal Cotat’s 2009 Mont Damnes is not the place to look for sheer refreshment, that caution applies in spades to his 2009 Sancerre La Grande Cote, which pushes 15% alcohol and displays virtually inevitable finishing warmth as well as opulence. Musk melon, Persian melon, and passion fruit are wreathed in elder flower and narcissus. A sense of chalky underpinnings emerges on the wine’s silken, lushly-fruited palate. I would plan on enjoying this over the next 2-3 years and if I held any for longer would be vigilant.”


“Scallop & langoustine. scallops cerviche, mimosa langoustines, jerusalem artichokes gelée, celeriac & horseradish cream.” Like many of Twist’s dishes, very intellectual. The bottom is an artichoke gelée. The scallops like sashimi, but the real winner was the langoustine potato salad like stuff on top.


Yet another while to pair with this next dish.


“Kombawa Cod cake.”


“Bloody Mary Sorbet, ratatouille bavaroise.”


“Vegetable Gnocchi.”


With a spinach sauce.


Another rose.


This series forms the “surf ‘n turf” motif. This is “fanny bay oyster, scented with coconut milk and seasoned ginger, sapporo foam.”


“Nabrasaka Prime Beef Carpaccio, florida clam salad, shaved foie gras.”


“Chestnut soup, razor clams, sauteed mushrooms, caramelized hazelnuts.”


The soup being added.


And in its final form. This was the most successful of the trio.


A very fine medium sweet 2009 Riesling.


“Tomato and fig tart.” Lovely buttery pastry.


This being a “californian duck foie gras trio.” “foie gras terrine, rum glazed, served on summer fruits chutney with banana tartlet.” Certainly an excellent expression of solid strait up foe.


“Shaved foie gras, black currant sorbet, mustard seasoning.”


“Foe Gras Parfait, toasted sesame, red port syrup and diced duck breast.” By far the best of the trio, this was pretty amazing.


Parker 91. This highly unusual Italian white tasted like cloves! “The 2007 Cervaro della Sala (Chardonnay, Grechetto) is an especially fat, juicy version of this wine, with generous ripe fruit and a soft-textured personality. The oak is still rather prominent and the wine needs at least another year of bottle age, although it will always remain a very ripe, opulent, yet beautifully balanced Cervaro. Anticipated maturity: 2009-2015.”

Alaskan halibut. Shown table-side before plating.


“Alaska Halibut. Grilled halibut, smoked in the cast-iron cocotte, chicory fondue, fennel and Orange.”


With a beure blanc sauce.


And finished. A nice dish. A slight charcoal smokey flavor to the fish and the interesting fennel, orange, butter pairings.


The sommelier/wine director (Julie Lin) preps a bottle.


The next wine.


The Intermezzo. “Sorbet of red wine-pear, onion cream with roquefort, grated yukon turnip scented with walnut oil.” This wasn’t an entirely successful pairing. I like roquefort but it came on very heavy handed against the refreshing red wine sorbet.


Working the crazy decanter.


A chardonnay for the loup de mer.


“Brittany Loup de mer. Slices of loup de mer a la meuniere with green pepper. Shiso leaves & oyster plant, sauce champs-elysee.” No small amount of fish here!


“Carmelized shallot agnolotti with grapefruit juice.”


Two reds. Sant’Antimo Summus is a French-oak aged blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. It is a rich, weighty wine with a soft-textured expression of fruit, excellent length and fine tannins.


A blend of 25% Garnacha, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 15% Carinena, and 10% Syrah and aged for 12 months in seasoned French and American oak. Dark ruby-colored, it has an attractive perfume of cedar, red and black currants, black cherry, spice box, and mineral. In a relatively lean style for Priorat, this medium to full-bodied wine has some elegance as well as good depth and length.


Don’t stab me with the decanter!


“Wisconsin veal crepinette. Tenderloin Crepinette, pumpkin & shallot Gratin and Osso-Bucco Jus.”


“Fritto-Miso of Zucchini & Eggplant, San Daniele Ham.”


A trio of sticky yummy dessert wines.


In the glass. The right most like a medium sherry. The middle slightly carbonated and sweet, the leftmost botrytis (moldy grapes).


“Plums, Caramelized Plums, red currant gelée, Brandy Ice cream.” Like brandied cherries and cream.


“Amelie, green tea opaline, lemongrass ganache, glace royale citron.” Fantastic!


“Apple Royale, Cinnamon Gala Apples, Green apple-lime Granite, Cinnamon syrup.” Tasted like apples and cinnamon. Refreshing.


“Biscuit Chocolate Rue Balzac, chocolate glaze, banana-lime coulis, mojito sorbet.”


“Roma, parmesan sable, ginger confit, mascarpone cream, fresh figs, pisachios.” Vaguely sicilian in vibe.


Petite fours. A fruit thing front. A little macaron middle, and a chocolate square with pistachio cream in the back (my favorite).


Whacky stylings.

Butterfly bizarre.

The shofar decanter.

I have to agree with my colleague Kevin (his review of twist here) when he says that this cuisine is “unconventional, surprising, jarring even, with some truly unique combinations of tastes, textures, temperatures, and ingredients.” There were some “out there” dishes here, and I was a bit at a loss as to how the entire meal, and even individual dishes, or pairings or trios of dishes, fit together. But many tasted great, and even the ones that were confusing were highly interesting. Not everything work perfectly, but yet at the same time didn’t seem to suffer from an inferior palette. This is highly intellectual food, best perhaps compared to avant garde art that you enjoy, but don’t quite understand.

Service and presentation was top top top notch here. Everyone was very accommodating and skilled. It’s rare in the states to get this level of service. The wine pairings were superlative and interesting.

For more Food Club extravaganzas.

Food as Art: Ludobites 7.0

Restaurant: Ludobites 7.0 [1, 2]

Location: 227 East 9th St, Los Angeles, 90015

Date: August 31, 2011

Cuisine: Eclectic Modern

Rating: Very interesting (& tasty) array of flavors.

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Last year my friends and I very much enjoyed Ludobites 6.0 (review here), one of LA’s most notable “popup” restaurants. So some of us Foodie Club members camped out on OpenTable.com to score ourselves a large party reservation. It took five of us hammering independently on the computer to get one in the approximately 70 seconds the entire run booked up. And it was nearly a month in. But score we did.


The walls are festooned with Ludo’s amusing cock & swine logo.


This year Ludobites is back at Gram & Papas. I guess they do it here because the restaurant doesn’t itself serve dinner. The space is small and casual.


One of the big advantages is that G&Ps does NOT have a liquor license. This means that my special BYOBgrape juice” was corkage free. Good think I brought a cork screw.

Very nice Burg from my cellar. Parker 93. “I loved the sweet cassis aromas of the 2002 Echezeaux as well as its powerful, intense, syrupy personality. Medium to full-bodied and gorgeously ripe, it bastes the palate with thick black fruit flavors. In addition, this wine reveals great depth and a lengthy, fruit-packed finish. Projected maturity: 2007-2017.”


Le Menu. With eight people we ordered two of EVERY dish. Worked out just about right. There was a small issue of our sole vegetarian. Not a single dish on the menu is actually free of meat, and our request initially phased the kitchen. But they recovered quickly and offered to make veggie variants of a number of dishes which worked out excellently.


“Lavender Ginger Lemonade.” Non-alcoholic. I liked the strong ginger kick, but the lemonade was too sweet and not sour enough. I like my lemonade painfully sour and strong.


“Bouillabaise Milk Shake.” This tastes exactly like it sounds. Like a fish milkshake. Basically the same flavor profile as real Bouillabaise, but with milk. I can’t say it was my favorite dish. Probably least or second to least.


“Choucroute Tart Flambe.” This “tart” is really a pizza or flatbread. But it was fantastic. The ham/bacon on top was great, as was the cheesy creme fraiche and onion thing going on.


They also made us a vegetarian version which was very good.

Neiman Cabernet “Caldwell Vineyard” 2000. Parker doesn’t rate this, but it’s a top top notch cabernet, probably 94 points or so. The years and a lack of over oaking left it very smooth. I picked up this wine at the Redd Collection, a cool new tasting/wine dealer I met at the Food Club Ultimo Wine Dinner.


The chicken wings (below) came with surgical gloves to keep the hands clean!


“Burgundy Fried Chicken.” The real burgundy was finished, but the wings were very very tasty. Succulent and perfectly cooked with a sweet BBQ style sauce.


The remnants!


This is a custom vegetarian salad they made up.


“Squid, Black Ash, Chorizo.” The squid was nice and tender, and the orange “chorizo” sauce around the edge really tasty. I’m not sure I was super keen on the ash texture, but it was certainly a decent dish.


This spectacular Brunello (the 2006 il Cocco) is totally unavailable in America. I got it at the vineyard from the owner on my mega Italy 2011 trip. He makes 7,000 bottles of wine a year, perhaps 3,000 of Brunello, and does 100% of the work (fields and cellar) himself! Probably a 94-95 point wine.


Prawn ceviche, Aji Amarillo, Red Berries. This reminded me of a Red Medicine type dish. It had very interesting and strong flavors, with a lot of vinegar/lime.


“Salt Cod Panna Cotta, Whipped Fingerling Potato, Smoked Tapioca, Black Olive Bread.” This was an interesting dish. The cod itself was not dominant at all. It mostly seemed like a panna cotta, or even like one of those Japanese seafood egg custards like I got here at Takao (about a third of the way down). I liked the little tapioca balls too, and the bread added some nice texture, just needed a little more cod flavor.


“Oxtail Beef, Rainbow Carrots, Shallots, Green Salad.” This was one of my favorite dishes of the night. The beef was just amazing. And rest went really well too.


“Foe Gras, Corn and Coconuts.” Amazing and interesting dish. Another favorite of the evening. The foie was foie — and nothing wrong with that — but the corn coconut soup was awesome with it. Sweet like a corn soup, with the crunchy texture of popcorn, and with this coconut curry / lemongrass vibe on top. Wow!


My wife even got a vegetarian version, without the foie, which really was almost as good (good as the foie was).


“Pigs Head Compressed and Mimolette, Barbeque Gelee.” This sounds awful, but tasted just okay. Flavor wise thought it just tasted like some kind of meat sandwich with a really tangy mayo. The sweet sauce helped a bit. One of my other lessor dishes of the evening.


“Egg, Sea Urchin, Caviar, Champagne Beurre Blanc.” Really tasted a lot like scrambled eggs and caviar. Which was pretty darn good. The Uni (sea urchin) was present, but subtle. I could have done with more. But the egg and caviar thing is really good together, so I enjoyed it a lot.


This is no Uni version. The egg tasted stronger and saltier without the sweetness of the Uni, but it was still a very good dish.


“Plancha Tandoori Octopus, Yogurt, Cauliflower, Grapefruit.” The octopus itself was very tender with a nice tandoori flavor. The cauliflower texture was really interesting. I think the yogurt could have had more punch, or more of it, but still a nice dish.


“Duck, Cherry, Spicy Saucisse, Beets, Radish.” There are two meats in here. A sausage (which was really yummy) and a very nice rare duck breast. Both were excellent with the cherry sauce. The beet/radish thing seemed a little orthogonal, but it didn’t stop this from being terrific.


“Lamb cooked in fat Moroccan style Artichoke, Mint.” There was some serious fat on this lamb. Serious fat. But it tasted damn good with the cooked dates. That was the whole key to this dish for me, tender lamb with a sweet sauce.


The peeps, midway somewhere.


The meal took awhile and so we could have used an extra bottle of wine, but i only brought four. This dessert Riesling, the every reliable, Parker 97! “White peach preserves, luscious Persian melon, fresh red raspberry, cooling lime, green tea, iris and gentian are all projected on the nose of Donnhoff’s 2009 Oberhauser Brucke Riesling Spatlese, then take on a fleshy, silken, yet svelte form that combines infectious juiciness, invigorating salinity, uncanny buoyancy, and vibratory interactive complexity, leaving my tongue tingling and my head buzzing. The depth of savor here is such that to speak of nut oils or of shrimp or lobster shell reduction merely points in the correct, otherwise ineffable general direction. “Creamy, dreamy, transparent” were the last words I could pronounce in the presence of this natural wonder that will certainly be capable of spreading joy for at least the next quarter century. “There was a tiny bit of perfectly dry botrytis here,” notes Donnhoff, “and to get much over 90 Oechsle you usually need that.” Needless to say, its presence has in no way precluded the utmost purity of fruit, clarity, or subtly electrical energy of which Riesling is capable in this amazing site. “I-m warning you, they’re not necessarily better,” said Helmut Donnhoff with a grin when serving me his two 2009 vintage Auslesen.”


Now our whacky “cheese course” the “Pick-Up Stick Cantal Cheese, Curry White Chocolate.” The cheese almost tasted like slivered apple.


“Lavendar Tropezienne Tart, Aloe Vera, Lychee.” This wonderful pastry reminded me of a giant lavender Macaron. I love certain kinds of exotic herbaceous flavors like rosewater and lavender and I love custard.


“Chocolate Cake, Chipotle Ice Cream, Orange.” Wow! This was a 10/10 dessert (and the lavender was like a 9/10!). The chocolate slab was great, you can tell just by looking at it, but that ice cream. It tasted like bacon! Really. The combo was incredible, and a bit spicy.


“Pistachio Brown Butter Cake, Marcaspone, Red Berries.” This was the weakest of the three desserts, but it was still very good, with a nice pistachio flavor. The Marcaspone could have used a little more kick or sweetness.

Overall, maybe it was a good thing coming into Ludobites 7.0 after a couple of weeks. Things were really on point with the food. Service, which very pleasant, really isn’t up to the food standards. There is no slick Michelin 2 (or 3) star type management of the table like at a place like Melisse, but the attitude was fine and there were no problems. Water service was sluggish and we had to self pour our “grape juice” into water glass type glasses. But actually I don’t mind self pour or opening my own wines. I could have used some more water :-)

But the food was really standout. A large variety of very creative dishes, and some were fantastic, particularly the desserts. So bravo.

Click here for a review of last year’s Ludobites 6.0.

The Food Club extravaganzas.

Or all LA dining reviews.


Me, with the big macro-lens-and-flash rig.


Mirella gets her crazy on.


Swag! (not that I bought any)

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.

Fraiche – Ultimo Wine Dinner

Restaurant: Fraiche Santa Monica

Location: 312 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90401. Phone : 310.451.7482

Date: July 13, 2011

Cuisine: Cal French Italian

Rating: Epic!

ANY CHARACTER HERE

Last weekend I was eating at one of my favorite local spots, Sam’s by the Beach and chatting with the owner, Sam. He mentioned that he was co-hosting an epic wine dinner at Fraiche in Santa Monica and that he had two available spots. As soon as he sent me the food & wine menu (below) I called up my Foodie Club partner in crime and we jumped on it. You’ll see why in a second.


Of course the food looks great, but the wines! While anyone who pays attention to the wines I bring will have noticed that I almost never drink from the New World — I am willing to make exceptions when no less than eight Parker 100 pointers are involved!

The event was held in Fraiche Santa Monica’s lovely back room (shown here on another occasion in its normal configuration).


For us it was arranged with a single table.


And an extensive staging area for the wines.


Here’s Sam, supervising.


Along with our other hosts: Amir Ohebsion president of the combined Fraiche operation on the right, and Mazen Mustafa their brand new Executive Chef on the left. Believe it or not he started on Monday (this dinner had been planned for some time) and had to leap into the fire first thing.


As a little amuse we had some classic bruschetta (I’ve had just a tad of that lately, like here), with marinated tomatoes, garlic, and mozzarella. The marinate was enough for me to handle the tomatoes and I enjoyed the crisp brightness of the flavors.


A little olive oil and balsamic on the table. There was bread too of course, but I forgot to photo.

So we begin with the wines. All of the wines at this dinner came from The Redd Collection, who was also co-hosting. Click their link for an inventory of their wines.

1985 Dom Perignon, Parker 96. A mature champagne in perfect shape. “Fresh and lively, with remarkable intensity, fruit, and perfume. An example of how effortlessly some vintages of Dom Perignon can age.”


1990 Salon Le Mesnil. I found it brighter and fruiter than the Dom. Wine Spectator 97. “Brilliant stuff. Vinous, with a patina of nutty maturity offset by a citrus and honeysuckle-tinged freshness, all embraced by a taut silky structure. The best is the finish, a kaleidoscope of biscuit, fig and walnut that goes on and on.”


Accompanying the champagnes we have a trio of fishes. “Santa Barbara Sea Urchin with American caviar and pea puree.” Yum yum. Some really great Uni, showcased perfectly. Notice the Uni/Caviar combo which Go uses so often at Go Sushi.


“Yellow Fin Tuna Tartare with Russian Caviar.” The flavors here were really bright and delicious. One of the best tuna tartars I’ve had. Similar to Sam’s usual tartar, but without the “secret ingredient.”


“Kampachi Sashimi, watercress, and black truffle.” Nothing wrong here!


2007 Peter Michael Point Rouge Chardonnay. The finish on this went on and on. Certainly the best non-white-burgundy Chardonnay I’ve had. Parker 98. “The 2007 Chardonnay Point Rouge (280 cases) has moved out of the restrained state it was in a year ago, and now exhibits splendidly intense, nearly over-the-top levels of honeyed tropical fruits, hazelnut, almond paste, quince, and peach liqueur. Full-bodied, thick, and rich yet braced by considerable acidity, this is a remarkable tour de force in Chardonnay that should age for a decade or more.”


2006 Marcassin Estate Chardonnay. Very very good, just not quite so good as the Peter Michael. Parker 96+. “As for the 2006 Chardonnay Marcassin Estate, it is a more mineral-dominated wine displaying a liqueur of crushed rocks/wet stones, pears, and subtle smoky, honeysuckle, quince, and citrus oil notes. It also possesses exceptional length and richness as well as a full-bodied mouthfeel. Given the history of the vintage and the challenging conditions for Chardonnay, I would suspect these wines will evolve quickly by Marcassin’s standards, meaning they are probably best drunk in their first decade of life.”


“Bouillabaisse — modern.” Here we have some fish, muscles, clams, corn etc, but we have them reinterpreted in a light broth instead of in the classic tomato and garlic broth. The newer style showcased the freshness of the fish to a T.


1937 Chateau Caillou Sauternes-Barsac. This bottle was a gift from Frank Sinatra to a local collector! It was almost almond/rose colored, sweet but not unctuous. Probably a tiny bit past its prime, but still delicious, particularly with the foie below.


“Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras, grilled Nectarine, Aged Balsamic.” Pretty much straight foie, but fabulous. There was a bit of nectarine puree, and the fat of the duck paired perfectly with that and the Sauternes. The Nectarine was stuffed with pistachios and was amazing!

Now on to the reds. We start with a trio of Rhone style blockbusters.

2008 Sine Qua Non Grenache “The Line.” This was the lightest of the three, but still having that thick front of the tongue quality that most Rhones have. Parker 96-98+. “The 2008 Not Yet Named Grenache will be aged in barrel for around 20 months as opposed to the extended time the 2007 experienced. Composed of 87.5% Grenache, 11 % Syrah, and 1.5% Viognier, it initially appears to play it tight to the vest, but I think that’s part of 2008’s vintage character. Many vineyards had significant frost issues in 2008, and those who waited to harvest fared better. Manfred Krankl did not finish picking until the end of November, which no doubt explains the extraordinary purity, richness, and aromatic and flavor complexity found in this wine. Although slightly more muted aromatically than his other Grenache cuvees, when the wine hits the palate, there is tremendous density and power as well as an inner core of steely richness, and a flavor profile and length that build incrementally. It is not the sort of wine you pick up and are wowed by. But the more you think about it, as well as the longer it sits in your mouth, the more nuances and aspects emerge. This should be another superb example of Grenache from the New world’s number one practitioner of that varietal.”


2007 Sine Qua Non Next of Kyn Syrah “Cumulus.” This was my favorite, the brightest and closest to a great Hermitage. Parker 94-96. “The debut release from the new home vineyard on the steep hillsides of Ventura is the 2007 Next of Kyn Syrah Cumulus Vineyard. Composed of 96.5% Syrah and 3.5% Viognier, it sees only 20% new oak in its upbringing. From a six-acre parcel of vines, it may be sold under a different label than Sine Qua Non. Krankl had not made up his mind at the time of writing. In any event, it is a very impressive debut release that should be bottled after 25 months of barrel aging. Sweet notes of creme de cassis, camphor, acacia flowers, licorice, pepper, and meat are followed by a wine with fabulous intensity and purity, a full-bodied texture, and a long finish. Unfortunately, only 125 cases were produced … from six acres!”

From here on down, it’s all 100s baby!

2007 Saxum Syrah “James Berry VYD.” Parker prefers this, which was delicious, and utterly massive — in need of a bit more cellaring. Parker 100! “Utter perfection, and one of the most profound Rhone Ranger wines I have ever tasted is the 2007 James Berry Vineyard Proprietary Red, a blend of 41% Grenache, 31% Mourvedre, and 28% Syrah (15.8% alcohol). It would be an amazing wine to insert in a tasting of the most profound 2007 Chateauneuf du Papes. As with many prodigious wines, the extraordinary freshness, purity, equilibrium, and singularity of this effort is breathtaking. Its dense purple color is accompanied by an extraordinary, incredibly pure, all enveloping, intense, sweet nose of black raspberries, kirsch, spring flowers, spice box, and pepper. Full-bodied with not a hard edge to be found, it is stunningly concentrated with unreal purity, a voluptuous texture, and remarkable freshness for a wine of such power, depth, and concentration. This 2007 will be approachable young, although I would not be surprised to see it close down given the relatively elevated proportion of Mourvedre, and it should drink well for 12-15 years.”


General Manager Vito hard at work on setting up the reds. Doing this many pours is actually hard work!


The Rhone styles and the sauternes on the table.


“Duck breast and turnips,” pretty close to straight up. This was a lovely piece of duck, cooked (or not) to perfection. It didn’t need more, as it the wines paired perfectly.

And we begin a trio of perfect Cab based Californians. They were all so good, and I was getting drunk enough, that this round blended into just a prodigious ode to Cabernet.

2007 Scarecrow. Parker 100! “Scarecrow’s inky/purple-colored 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon is a prodigious effort. It reveals a liqueur of crushed rocks intermixed with a smorgasbord of spring flower, blueberry, creme de cassis, and assorted blue, black, and red fruit characteristics. It also possesses extraordinary concentration, but what sets it apart is the fragrant aromatics combined with uncommon purity and elegance for such a full-bodied, massively concentrated wine. Its perfect balance suggests it can be drunk at a relatively young age, but it should easily evolve over 30-35 years. Congratulations to all involved!”


2002 Shafer Hillside Select. Parker 100! “One of the world’s most extraordinary Cabernet Sauvignons is the 1,800-2,400-case offering of Shafer’s Hillside Select. It was a treat to re-taste the utterly perfect 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select. A dark purple color is accompanied by a gorgeously powerful nose of pure creme de cassis, pain grille, flowers, licorice, and spice box. Full-bodied with multiple dimensions, superb purity, layers of fruit, and a blockbuster finish, it is an amazing offering. This wine should drink well young yet evolve for 2-3 decades.”


2007 Sloan Estate. Parker 100! “The 2007 Sloan, now in bottle, has lived up to the extraordinary quality it exhibited from barrel. A world-class, perfumed nose of charcoal, espresso roast, white chocolate, black currants, sweet plums, Asian soy and a Grave-like scorched earth aroma soars from the glass of this dense purple-colored wine. Full-bodied and seamlessly constructed with a multidimensional mouthfeel as well as a phenomenal finish, this 2007 carries considerable tannin, but at present it is concealed by the wine’s luxurious levels of fruit, glycerin and intensity. This spectacular 2007 should drink well for 25-30+ years.”


“Seared Wagyu Couloote Steak, served with fried baby broccoli.” This meat was fantastic, just perfectly soft and juicy. The broccoli was amazing, like little popcorn.


But this beef jus that went with it was the real stunner. Amazingly rich. Everything of course went perfectly with the perfect Cabs.

And now we have the Cab blends, and even more blockbuster trio.

2007 Screaming Eagle. Parker 100! “The most profound Screaming Eagle since the 2002 and 1997, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon (an 800-case blend of 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc) offers up a prodigiously pure, complex nose of cassis, spring flowers, licorice and black currants, the latter component being so intense and lingering that it makes this cuvee stand apart from other Napa Valley wines. Full-bodied in the mouth, like a ballerina on her toes, this wine glides gracefully across the palate with a cascade of purity, equilibrium and compelling complexity. Extraordinary balance and elegance combined with power make for an utterly stunning wine that should drink well for two decades or more. Even though the estate is being reconstituted and a new winery built, this wine still came from the old sector of the vineyard (15.5 acres) that was used by the previous proprietor, Jean Phillips.”


2002 Harlan Estate. My personal favorite of the group. Not only massive, but just so bright and fruity! Parker 100! “Very deep garnet-black colour with a purple rim. The nose is still a little closed giving notes of blackberry, black cherries, dark chocolate, tobacco, cigar boxes and cinnamon. The palate displays faultless structure and balance: very finely grained, firm tannins, medium to high acid and incredible intensity. Perhaps paradoxically, this wine is at once rich and full bodied yet exquisitely elegant. Although taut, it is already irresistibly tempting to drink. Epic finish with lingering flavours of Chinese dried plums, truffles, and an interesting iron/stony nuance. Drink 2009 – 2030+. Tasted November 2008.”


1997 Harlan Estate. Parker 100! “The 1997 Harlan Estate is one of the greatest Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines I have ever tasted. A blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, with the rest Merlot and Cabernet Franc, this enormously-endowed, profoundly rich wine must be tasted to be believed. Opaque purple-colored, it boasts spectacular, soaring aromatics of vanilla, minerals, coffee, blackberries, licorice, and cassis. In the mouth, layer after layer unfold powerfully yet gently. Acidity, tannin, and alcohol are well-balanced by the wine’s unreal richness and singular personality. The finish exceeds one minute. Anticipated maturity: 2001-2030.”


To go with this trio of stunners we have “Grilled Venison Chops, shaved black truffles, mushrooms, and a squash puree.” Not quite as amazing as the beef (that was REALLY amazing), but great too.


Just a small sampling of the glasses on the table. Unlike some, I was keeping up with mine and only had the Cab blends. But some folk were starting to worry, “Oh my God, if I don’t finish all these perfect wines Dionysian Maenads will flay the skin from my flesh!”


Passion fruit sorbet as pre-dessert. I love passion fruit, and this was one of the best passion fruit sorbets I’ve had. I spent about fifteen minutes eating it incredibly slowly by shaving off just a sliver on the spoon, then adding to the mouth-mix an alternating trip of perfect wines. It was actually, IMHO, the best pairing of the night.


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.”


This was about as good as “Chocolate Lava cake with vanilla Ice Cream” gets. The extra elements added a little texture, but the inside of the cake had that perfect runny chocolatly goodness. It of course went perfectly (getting a lot of use out of that word tonight) with both the Cab blends and the Muscat.


Good to the last scrape.


The full line up!

This was some rather serious dining, and some even more serious drinking! Really an embarrassment of riches. I was very impressed with the cooking. It betrayed both hints of Sam’s signature (and awesome) palette, and a bold kind of styling and presentation that I am guessing comes from our budding new Chef Mustafa (who has cooked in many great kitchens before this too). The dishes pretty much concentrated on fantastic ingredients and bold but not over-layered flavors, which showcased perfectly (there it is again!) the epic wines.

Click here for some tamer meals at regular Fraiche Santa Monica or Culver City or:

here to see more Foodie Club posts.

Go Go Go Sushi!

Restaurant: Go’s Mart [1, 2]

Location: 22330 Sherman Way, Canoga Park, CA 91303  818.704.1459

Date: May 28, 2011

Cuisine: Japanese Sushi

Rating: Possibly LA’s best sushi!

ANY CHARACTER HERE

The Food Club has been talking about taking a trip to Go’s Mart for months, but we finally got around to organizing it. For those of you who don’t know, Go’s Mart is a tiny strip mall joint in Canoga Park with some of the best sushi in the entire LA area. Go has a unique take on the art, as you will see below. My partner in crime, Erick, has been coming here for over ten years and he called Go (the owner/chef) up and arranged for a “special” omakase for us. For scheduling reasons we decided on a very long Saturday lunch.


So I went down tot he cellar and prepped the above lineup of sushi friendly wines, mostly whites and a couple lighter red Burgundies. Go doesn’t have a liquor license, so there is no corkage!


The storefront is about as unassuming as can be.


The master behind his counter.


Most people sit at the cramped little sushi bar.


Go’s has pretty much NO decor. It started as a Japanese market and they still sell various drinks and products.


Oddly, this includes video tapes — and what appears to be racy Japanese video tapes at that! Who even has a VCR in 2011?


We had the table (about half of it shown).


This unusual Spanish white earn 92 from Parker, “The 2007 Gorvia Blanco was sourced from a single 3 acre vineyard planted exclusively to the indigenous variety Dona Blanca (used in the past mostly for grappa production or as a table grape). Medium straw-colored, it reveals aromas of apple, pear, slate/mineral, citrus, and acacia. Crisp, concentrated, and intense (in the style of top-level unoaked Chablis), in the mouth it is vibrant, complex, and impeccably balanced. It should provide both intellectual and sensual pleasure for another 5-6 years.”


Ginger.


We open with a kind of sunomono. Pickled cucumbers, very orange salmon, shrimp, bonito flakes, flying fish eggs. It had a strong vinegar tang of course.

Then a lovely preparation of Akimo (monkfish liver). Sweet fermented miso sauce, sesame, seaweed, goji berries, gold flakes (Go loves gold flakes). This was wonderful.

Finished off the first wine already.

From my cellar, parker gives this Rhone white 95 points. “The 2007 Chateauneuf du Pape blanc is even better. Meriting the same rating as I gave it last year, it is a delicious, beautifully textured, light gold-colored white revealing plenty of white peach, apricot, nectarine, and honeysuckle notes as well as a distinctive florality and minerality. More honeyed and fuller-bodied than its 2008 counterpart, it should drink beautifully for 7-8 years, then go into an oxidative state. It is somewhat of a gamble as to what will happen thereafter. Beaucastel’s limited production luxury cuvee first produced in 1986 is their 100% Roussanne Vieilles Vignes offering. Fifty percent is barrel-fermented in one-year-old barrels, but no new oak is utilized.”


Kani (king crab) with fresh Japanese scallop in an uni (sea urchin) sauce and topped with real caviar. Erick licked his plate. The scallop and the uni were particularly wonderful.


The first round of Go’s unique take on regular sushi. Starting with the pink one on the right, and proceeding clockwise: Kime-Tai (special red snapper), butter fish with kelp, halibut with kelp, and kanpachi (young yellowtail). Everything was dusted with a bit of ancient sea salt, some of the fish had shiso, some yuzu, some the marinated kelp. You can see the little dark sliver of fresh black truffle on all the fish except the kanpachi. Not only was each piece of fish exceptionally fresh, but the additional elements gave them a unique (and complex) flavor profile.


Two of our friends even brought their four year old. She didn’t eat the omakase :-) But she did handle the LONG (4-5 hour) meal pretty darn well.


Santa Barbara jumbo prawn, uni, caviar. These were all females, with the roe (the red stuff). This was a succulent bit of prawn, but of course the uni/caviar thing just boosted it.


A fantastic Burgundy, Parker gives it 92, but I’d give it more like a 94. “The 2003 Clos Vougeot explodes from the glass with licorice, dark cherries, and a myriad of spices. A wine of considerable depth, it is packed with suave black fruits immersed in chocolate. Well-structured, ripe, and exceptionally long, it will merit a higher score if its alcoholic warmth is absorbed into the wine with time (something that sometimes occurs with Pinot Noirs). Projected maturity: 2008-2017.”


Oooh Toro, two ways. On top is O-toro (special extra fatty tuna belly) with onions and caviar. On the bottom is kawagishi toro (shredded) with sweet sauce, stronger onions, and gold flakes. Both were amazing, but the o-toro was mind blowing.


Scottish salmon, look how orange this stuff is! The one on top is smoked, the bottom raw. Both have a little bit of onion and are dusted with hibiscus salt. The smoked one tasted like lox sushi.


For a lunch party where half the people are going back to work afterward (Uncharted 3 has a big E3 deadline coming soon and many are Naughty Dogs), we cruised through the wine fast enough. 2003 Vosne-Romanee clos du chateau monopole, domaine du comte liger-belair.


On the left Saba (mackerel) and on the right seki-aji (mackerel from Kyushu, considered the best). The saba had truffle, and the second goji berry, which gave it a bit of a sour and salty taste. Great examples of these fish, and continuing Go’s interesting arrangement of flavors.


“Special albacore roll.” Slightly spicy crab wrapped in avocado and albacore and topped with toasted garlic. I’m not normally a crazy roll fan, but for this I made an exception!


Starting at the right (pink one) and going clockwise: ebi (sweet shrimp) with gold and salt, japanese scallop with yuzu and caviar, geoduck giant clam with shiso, and Santa Barbara abalone (with truffle). Yum!


The ebi heads return in fried form.


The cooking process weakens the molecular bonds in the complex sugar that makes up the shrimp shell, allowing to just be crunched whole. We left a few antennae behind.


Seared toro with gold and sweet ponzu. What can you say, excellent. Although, I do prefer it raw.


Our four year-old got this interesting sushi lollipop.


Blue crab hand roll. These had little sprigs of truffle in them, which took the whole thing to another level.


Starting with the darker fish on the right. Snapper, flounder fin (yuzu and salt), black cod (salt and kelp), and flounder body. Many of these (all but the black cod) had shiso, all were dusted in the hibiscus salt. I’m not a flounder connoisseur, but I was told that the fin (behind soft) was some of the best that can be had. Go’s prep certainly livens up even these “dull” whitefish. Of course the fish itself was impeccable.


Scallops with flying fish eggs and truffle in a truffle sauce. Yummy!

The 2003 Walter J. Oster Riesling Auslese. I got this at the winery in 2005. As we wound down the wine this sweeter take went perfectly.


The “volcano!”


I’m not exactly sure what was inside, but it was some kind of whitefish, real crab and seaweed, along with seaweed, sesame, flying fish eggs, and lots of dynamite. The whole thing was pretty damn tasty!


In the front snow crab, and the back kani (alaskan king crab) with uni and caviar. Well, if top grade crab isn’t good enough: add uni and caviar!


Two kinds of eel. Unagi (freshwater) and Anago (sea). Both in the sweet sauce, with a bit of kelp. Great eel!


Kanpachi (young yellowtail), with shiso, truffle, and yuzo.


And finally another round of Toro because we couldn’t resist!


Go finishes up with a bit of fruit drizzled in sweetened condensed milk. Very nice finisher. There are oranges, rasberries, strawberries, golden-berries, mulberries and blueberries.


Some of the fish in the cabinet. You can see the toros in the middle front.


More fish.

Close up on the toro.


Prawns and scallops.

So I do have to say that Go is some of the best Sushi in the city, and by extension all America. It’s up there with Urwasawa, although more straight sushi oriented (even if with unique flavors). Less traditional than Sushi Sushi, but blows away Sushi Zo and Sasabune (not that they aren’t great too on the scale of things).

And as an extra bonus there was a Chinese foot massage place right next door where we waited out our buzz for only $19.99 an hour!

A second Go Sushi review, here.

For more LA Sushi, click here.

For other Foodie Club meals (all crazy great) see here.

Bastide – Chef Number Six

Restaurant: Bastide

Location: 8475 Melrose Pl, West Hollywood, CA 90069   323.651.5950

Date: April 14, 2011

Cuisine: Cal French

Rating: Good, but a little uneven.

ANY CHARACTER HERE

For the April Foodie Club meeting, following hot on the heels of the March one, we decided to tackle Bastide. This has always been a curious restaurant. It’s about half outside in a courtyard with a lovely olive tree(s). But this place has gone through more chefs in a few short years, and more good ones, than pretty much any I can think of. I’ve eaten here perhaps seven times, and certainly under at least four, maybe all, of the previous chefs.

I had a spot on ethereal Alain Giraud meal here in 2003, a whacky but great one with Lefebvre (I will never forget “chocolate spaghetti al carbonara,” a dessert with parmesan ice cream and pancetta chunks!), a phenomenal chef table tasting with Manzke, and another great meal with Shoemaker. I wasn’t so impressed with Mahon’s “simpler” (I don’t like simple when it comes to food) menu.

So back I came to try out number six: Sydney Hunter, who has worked at many a LA restaurant, including at least two stints at Bastide under other chefs.

The signature entrance and the courtyard beyond.

The current savory menu. We asked for the “nine course tasting menu.” The dishes were more or less on the menu.

Bastide is one of those rare restaurants that doesn’t allow corkage. Normally I hate this, but they had this gem on the menu at a stunningly low $159. The rest of the list was good and pretty reasonable too.

The 1985 Domaine Leroy Beaune les Pertuisots. I’d gladly paid this at retail. I’d buy two cases. Parker gives it an 88, but he’s so wrong. This wine was drinking at a 96 point level, and in impecable shape — impressive for a 26 year-old burgundy.

“Much has been written about the dynamic Madame Lalou Bize-Leroy. Some of it has been malicious and motivated strictly by insidious jealousy. From time to time I have complained of her pricing structure. Yet there should never be any criticism of her philosophy of what burgundy should be. Her wines are among the noblest and purest expressions of Pinot Noir in Burgundy. They are treated with the care of a pampered child, never filtered, and bottled barrel by barrel. Given the size of her wines and their power and structure, in a cool damp cellar they will last 20 to 25 years. Bize-Leroy thinks 1985 is one of the two best burgundy vintages in the last twenty years, the other being 1978. Given the range of wines I tasted, 44 in all, 16 were exceptional, 21 very good to excellent. Thirty-seven very good to exceptional wines out of 44 is an amazingly high percentage, and I would be proud to own any of them.”

A page on the list, includes our wine.

They have good bread.  I think it used to be more interesting, but the onion focaccia-style bread was very good.

“Asparagus, spring truffles, peas, parmesan, lemon jus, olive oil.”  And over on the side a single seared scallop, and two types of citrus. This was a delicious salad. The citrus and scallop were delightful together, and the main salad itself complex and wonderful. Plus, yummy white truffles.

“Albacore, white turnip soup, fried shallots, ponzu cubes, daikon sprouts.” This was wonderful also, with a very interesting and complex flavor and texture profile. The soup was really good too and the tuna itself sushi grade.

“Hamachi, pickled carrot, orange, sherry vinegar, watercress, cocoa nibs.” This was also amazing. The interplay of citrus, fish, dusted flavors etc was fantastic. The blob in the front was some kind of savory ice cream — also spectacular. The pickled carrots had a nice crunch.

“Spicy octopus salad, cherry tomatoes, chickpea panisse, sardinian pasta, cucumbers, chorizo oil, pineapple.” Another top top dish, arguably the best. The octopus was really tender, and the mix of vegetables really tasty with a very nice textural component.

“Seabream, romesco, baby zucchini, artichokes, tomato confit, lemon sauce.” The fish itself was just fish — good fish, but still fish. The Romesco had a very fine texture, much finer than my own homemade version (SEE HERE), but didn’t have as much of a punch. The artichokes were wonderful and the lemon sauce pretty intense.

EP joked: “The only way to make seabream exciting is to drown it in a strong curry.”

“Steelhead salmon trout, manila clams, parisian potatoes, haricot vert, fennel pollon.” The fish was medium rare, and very soft and flavorful. But the buttery sauce with the little potatoes the real winner.

“Jidori Chicken, potato & celery root gratin, pickled peppers, pea tendrils, Baby corn, pimenton hollandaise sauce.” The chicken was good, but it was after all, chicken. The star of this dish was the potato gratin, which had a bit of a curry flavor (they must have heard EP’s seabream comment). Like potatoes Lyonnaise gone south-east-asian. The little corns made me think of the Tom Hanks movie Big.

“Beef tenderloin, pont neuf potatoes, baby spinach, mushrooms, and beef marrow.” The tenderloin was very good. I didn’t care so much for the potatoes, I like my french fries thinner :-) The marrow was tasty, but too gooey fatty for me (not that it wasn’t good marrow, but I was starting to get full and a whole segment of fat…).

“Blood orange sorbet.” Very nice refresher.

After killing 3 bottles of the Burgundy (with 4 people) we ordered this fantastic Sauternes. Parker gave it 95 points, and this time I agree. “The 1990 continues to develop exceptionally well (better than I thought), and now looks to be a worthy rival of the dazzling 1988. The superb aromatics (pineapple, acacia, vanilla, and honey) are followed by a rich, full-bodied, atypically powerful Climens that possesses adequate acidity, high alcohol, and even higher levels of extract and fruit. Anticipated maturity: 2000-2030.”

Just a wonderful wine.

The desdert menu.

“Ricotta fritters, hot chocolate milk, cinnamon ice cream.” The fritter itself was very nicely chewy, and the fruit sauce made it like a little jelly donut. The tiny blog of cinnamon ice cream was tasty too, but tiny. The little milk thing reminded me of the chilled rather than frozen milk shakes I used to get as a kid in the Pennsylvania mountains.

The four of us got this very dinky selection of petit fours to split. They were quite miniature, and we each only got to taste one. I had the macaroon, which was good (for more about macaroons, see here). While tasty, we were disappointed in the number and variety of the desserts. They could have brought more and mixed it up more.

Overall Bastide “take six” got off to a strong start. The wine was fantastic, and the first four courses equally so. But by the time we reached the entrees things slipped from amazing to merely very good. I wanted to be more blown away by the mains — but where was the cheese? — plus while the dessert was yummy they could have done more (at least giving one petit four of each type per person).

Service, by the way, was excellent, no problems there.

Perhaps it’s also that we felt the the tasting menu was just an serial assembly of dishes from the menu. There was something a bit missing from the overall progression. And the cheese. Never forget the cheese.

For other Foodie Club meals, click here.