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.

Melisse – How much would a Woodcock…

Restaurant: Melisse [1, 2]

Location: 1104 Wilshire Blvd.Santa Monica, CA 90401. (310) 395-0881

Date: December 15, 2010

Cuisine: California French

Rating: Awesome. Top of its game!

 

My foodie friend EP wanted to do a final Foodie Club night before he left for year end vacation so we hastily (24 hours) gathered a few like-minded gluttons. It took a bit of calling to find someplace that had space and was willing to allow the mega tasting menu on short notice. This same group had gone to Melisse last March, and we arranged to return. Chef Josiah Citrin promised to mix it up, and do something extreme. We were game! (hint hint)  The result is this modified Carte Blanche Menu ++ special edition.

The first amuse is a Melisse staple. Grapes two ways. Out of the spoon are half grapes coated in goat cheese and pistachio. On the spoon sphereized grapes dusted with pistachio. The first has a nice contrast of the sharp cheese and the fruit, the second is an explosion of grapeness.

There were four of us, and I had brought 3 bottles of red, but the Sommelier wisely suggested I pick a white off the list to start. Knowing the chef I opted for this Chablis. I love good Chablis. Parker gives this one a 93.  “The Dauvissats’ 2006 Chablis La Forest (a.k.a. “La Foret” a.k.a. “La Forets”) smells effusively of peony, citrus, and peach. It is strikingly bitter-sweet in its alternation of peach and citrus with peach kernel-like cyanic bitterness; displays deep chalkiness; and finishes with amazing grip and length. Past the nose, this is one of the least generous of 2006 Chablis, being remarkably tight and for a young 2006, but very impressively concentrated. The 2005 rendition was almost severe in its concentration, yet also very impressive. It should merit following for 10-12 years, and is probably best rested for a year or two. The 1999 tastes glorious, and youthful today; the still almost sharply-citric 1996, like liquid chalk and white truffle.
Vincent Dauvissat’s 2006s were finished with both alcoholic fermentation and malolactic transformation by January. Overall – and particularly in the Grand Cru range – Dauvissat’s 2005s are marginally less exciting than his 2006s, and in certain instances, surprisingly, more opulent and exotically ripe. In both recent vintages, Dauvissat’s wines (even the generics) are pushing 14% alcohol, although in tasting the 2006s in particular, you’d never guess this.”

And there is perhaps nothing better in the world to pair Chablis with than a bit of oyster. This “Carsbad Del Sol Oyster, Finger Limes and Chives” was as Chef Citrin called it, “essence of oyster.” Dominated by a pleasant brininess, like early morning at the sea side. This is not for everyone, but if you are a seafood lover like me. Oh boy. And the mineral tones of the Chablis just sang with it.

Next up is this “Hokkaido Scallop, Santa Barbara uni, Cauliflower, Lemon.” Pretty isn’t it? The scallop was luscious, but the uni was to die for. Not even a hint of fishy, it had a rich nutty tone. I was temped to lick the dish.

Because this is such a delightfully elaborate (aka EPIC) meal, I’m going to show the sequential presentation of many dishes. This “Artichoke soup, Parmesan Fritters, white truffle” begins with the solid ingredients. There is a bit of relish underneath the fritter.

Then the soup is added. The soup itself was the perfect infusion of cream and artichoke. Every spoonful counjured up the vegetable. The fritter was a little cheese explosion. Bravo!

No trip to Melisse would be complete without the classic, “Egg Caviar, Lemon Creme Fraiche, American Osetra Caviar.” It’s a classic for a reason. The Creme Fraiche is so good, and there is raw egg yolk at the bottom. Amazing combo, particularly with the little toast stick.

We killed the Chablis during that round of “starters” and it was time to move onto this bad boy. The 1991 Hermitage La Pavillon! 100 points of perfection. “This is a Le Pavilion of mythical proportions. Produced from extremely old vines, some dating from the mid-nineteenth century, with yields averaging under 15 hectoliters per hectare, this is the richest, most concentrated and profound wine made in Hermitage. The 1991 Ermitage Le Pavilion follows the pattern of the 1989 and 1990-it is another perfect wine. The saturated black/purple color is followed by a compelling bouquet of spices, roasted meats, and black and red fruits. Enormously concentrated yet with brilliant focus and delineation to its awesomely endowed personality, this extraordinary wine should age effortlessly for three plus decades. Very powerful and full, yet displaying silky tannin, this is a seamless beauty! Anticipated maturity: 2001-2035.”

And the bread arrives. I went for a piece of bacon, and a  basil brioche.

“Seared Foie Gras & Pheasant Consomme, Foie Gras Agnolotti, Chanterelle Mushrooms, Shiso Infused Pheasant Consomme.”

The soup is added. The ingredients themselves were great. But it was the broth that was mind boggling. Combining the rich taste of pheasant, with the bits of fat melted off the fois in the consomme, with the bright tones of the Shiso (a leaf I adore, in the mint family). Oh my. It was incredible. It reminded me of the broth from the Urwasawa meal we had 10 months ago.

And the hits keep on rolling. “Santa Barbara Ridge back Prawn, Pummelo, Shellfish Jus.” The sweet meat of this puppy meshed perfectly with the citrus butter tang of the sauce. I  had to use the remains of my bread to mop it all up.

What is an epic French meal during truffle season without some fresh white truffles!

“White Truffle Risotto, Carnaroli Rice, Mascarpone, Shaved White Truffles.” There is a little Risotto under that sea of truffle foam. It had a nice soft cheesiness to offset the delicate Umami flavors of the truffles.

Now we’ve killed half a bottle each and it’s time to go bordeaux. Parker gives this 96 points. “What sumptuous pleasures await those who purchase either the 1996 or 1995 Pichon-Lalande. It is hard to choose a favorite, although the 1995 is a smoother, more immediately sexy and accessible wine. It is an exquisite example of Pichon-Lalande with the Merlot component giving the wine a coffee/chocolatey/cherry component to go along with the Cabernet Sauvignon’s and Cabernet Franc’s complex blackberry/cassis fruit. The wine possesses an opaque black/ruby/purple color, and sexy, flamboyant aromatics of pain grille, black fruits, and cedar. Exquisite on the palate, this full-bodied, layered, multidimensional wine should prove to be one of the vintage’s most extraordinary success stories. Anticipated maturity: 2001-2020. The 1995/1996 vintages are two of the greatest back to back efforts Pichon-Lalande has ever produced, including the 1982/1983 vintages.”

Erick and Simon are starting to show the wear and tear of the evening’s pleasures.

“Eastern Tile Fish ‘Amadai’, Kohlrabi, Black Trumpet Mushrooms, Carrots, Cucumber Infused Consomme.”

As the consomme went down the sensuous summer smell of cucumber wafted back at us. The fish was perfectly done, but it was the consomme that I really found marvelous here.

And now for the main event. Two roasted Scottish Woodcocks!

“Scottish Woodcock, Truffled Brioche, Navet, Sauce Perigourdine.”

After saucing. In the front is a bit of breast on the brioche, at the back half the head and beak, and on the right the thigh and leg (and claw). First of all, the sauce had this rich truffle quality that was just outstanding. Then the breast was a perfect medium rare example of poultry at its finest. Chef Citrin informed us that these puppies had been aging for 3 or 4 weeks! It was wonderfully gamey. Seriously gamey. Intensely gamey. The thigh had a rare almost bloody quality. But oh so good.

Chef Citrin shows us off an example of the bird (he’s the white sleeved arms). Wild caught in Scotland. He personally plucked the feathers on ours.

I have to show off the remains because you can see the bird brain a bit better. That long sticky thing by the knife is the beak, and there the skull with half the brain. We were pressured into sucking on the brain, some of us with more gusto than others (Erick!). It had a rich taste, not unlike bone marrow.

The game goes into overtime with the final savory, “Venison Loin, Juniper-Praline Yam, Chanterelles, Chickory, Poivrade Sauce.”

Sauced. This venison was perfect, incredibly tender and flavorful. The Yam was like a desert, incredible, almost like pecan and pumpkin pie together.

Les Fromages.

Spiced pears and candied cumquats.

One of my favorite cheese in the world, Eppoisses. Strong, gooey, stinky!

Lower left: Pont-l’Eveque

Orange center: 18 month aged Gouda

Lower right: Fourme d’Ambert

Right center: Bourgogne (i think)

Upper right: Epoisses de Bourgogne

Upper left: Selsurcheres (sic, couldn’t spell well enough to find on google), goat cheese

“Vanilla Yoghurt, Strawberry Compote, Strawberry Sorbet.” I’ve had this before, but I didn’t mind. Basically strawberries and cream. Yum!

After warming up with the 1995, we rolled back to the 1989 Lalande. Incredible! “Speaking of superior vintages, Pichon-Lalande’s 1989, although not as profound as the 1995, 1994, 1986, 1983, or 1982, is a beautifully made wine. It exhibits a deep ruby/purple color, and a sweet, roasted nose of rich cassis fruit, herbs, and vanilla. Lush and round, this medium to full-bodied, nicely-textured, layered Pichon-Lalande possesses low acidity, outstanding ripeness, and beautiful purity and balance. It is already drinking surprisingly well, so owners should not hesitate to pull a cork. It should continue to offer rich, seductive drinking for another 15+ years.”

Another dessert repeat — but again we didn’t mind. “Chocolate, Chocolate, Coffee, Chocolate Souffle, Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch, Coffee and Mascarpone.” The souffle gets its little injection. All are great, but the coffee and the crunch are my faves.

I’ve had passion fruit desserts at Melisse before, but this was a slightly new take. “Passion Fruit Parfait, Lemongrass and Coconut.” There is tapioca in the “soup” beneath. Very interesting complement. Very south east Asian in flavor profile, and refreshing.

The petite fours. I’m not a huge cannelle fan. The fruit with Creme Fraiche was great though. I’d have preferred the classic marshmallows and pate de fruits myself, but this is about my only “complaint” with the entire meal, so I think I’ll survive.

Our special custom menu.

Reuben and I before the meal. I neglected to get a photo of how we looked 4.5 hours later!!

Chef Josiah Citrin pulled out all the stops for this meal, and it showed. Hands down spectacular! The restaurant has two Michelin stars, and it deserves every ounce of them. Personally, I’d put this meal up against any I’ve had in France at a three-star. The service is amazing too. The setting is not as fully formal as some French three-stars, or the service quite so orchestrated (that level is more amusement than actually pleasant), and there are no zany carts for teas and sugars, but the food and creativity demonstrate Melisse’s deserved position as one of America’s top kitchens. Not only were the ingredients worthy of a Roman Consul’s plate, but  the masterful command of flavors were in full view.

Bravo!

For another Melisse meal, click here.

Or for other Foodie Club meals, click here.

 

Food as Art: Bistro LQ

Restaurant: Bistro LQ [1, 2]

Location: 8009 Beverly Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90048. (323) 951-1088

Date: October 12, 2010

Cuisine: Modern French

Rating: Food was very good. Service lagged a bit behind.

 

This restaurant is a year and a half old, and the chef, Laurent Queniox, is French, having worked at Maxim’s in Paris, and then at the Hôtel Négresco in Nice (My wife and I ate there on our Honeymoon, but it was probably long after his time). He bounced around through various LA joints, including his own Bistro K in Pasadena, before opening this one. The food itself is very much like what modern one and two star Michelin places in France are doing, with a 25% dash of California thrown in.

We went with our usual Foodie friends, and hence only considered the 7 course ($70) versus the 10 course ($90) tasting menus. We settled on the 7 course after the waiter told us the 10 course was A LOT of food. They have a 7 course vegetarian menu too which very much excited the vegetarian member of our party.

The first Amuse, “Sea urchin tapioca pudding with yuzo kocho,” tasted like it sounded. The food was exciting out of the gate, but we did have minor service issues. For example, even though we’d gone over the whole “vegetarian” bit at length with the waiter, out came an Sea urchin Amuse for said party. Bus service brought them, and a request for a vegetarian varient took… awhile.

More goodies from my cellar. If you’ve been reading my posts you will notice I don’t screw around in the Burgundy department. Parker gives this Jadot 1997 Grand Cru Chambertin Clos de Beze 94-96 points, saying “harvested at an unheard of (for Burgundy) 14.2 natural potential alcohol. This black/purple-colored benchmark-setter displays saliva-inducing cookie dough and cherry syrup aromas. Immensely ripe and concentrated, yet pure, fresh, and noble, it conquers the taster with unending layers of jammy compote-like fruit flavors. Awesomely dense, deep, fresh, and refined, this stunner has the potential to ultimately merit a score in the high 90s. It seamlessly combines the New World’s over-ripeness and fruit-forward characteristics with Burgundy’s trademark balance, elegance, and structure. The lucky few that will secure a few bottles of this nectar should note that it should be at its peak of maturity between 2003-2015. Bravo!”

But, again the service had some issues. He triggered one of my pet peaves and took awhile to get the bottle opened. I nearly pulled out the Screwpull I keep in my case and took care of it myself (I have no problem beating waiters to the job). He got the bottle open, but I did have to pour for the table the whole night. I don’t really mind, but with food of this calibre a glass should never go empty, it certainly wouldn’t in France.

“Venison Tartar, Green Chartreuse Gelee, Pomme Frite.” The frites were a tiny bit soggy. But the tartar! Yum!

It deserves a closeup. The little quail egg is dumped on top and eaten with the raw venison. Slimy in a good way, rich, and delicious.

“Haddock, from Scotland, marinated in olive oil, Blinis Pancake, Ricotta Lemon Mousse and American Sevruga Caviar.” Nothing wrong with this dish either — although it wasn’t the tartar.

This was a vegetarian vegetable soup. It tasted of fresh veggie, as it should have.

Salted Cod, Lentils, Octopus, Smoked Duck Wing, Morcella, Piquillo Pepper.” This was a very tasty combination of… a lot of flavors. The richness surrounding the cod made one able to half think it was lobster.

“Salmon, Cippolini Onions, Braised Carrots, Smoked Salt, Wild Mushrooms.”

“Red beet, and burrata sorbet.” A slightly criminal use of Burrata (which I buy by the tub from Bay Cities Deli and make into my own treats — I’ll post sometime), but excellent nonetheless.

“Artichokes, Goast Cheese Curd, Confit Tomatoes.”

This was a kind of fried sweetbreads (veal or beef I think) in a corn soup/ polenta like meal. It tasted VERY good. Sweetbreads, however, are one of the few dishes that give me a minor case of the willies, so I had to pretend they were something else. I also kept imagining my rising uric acid levels.

This was a vegetarian something I didn’t try, but it looked good.

Hanger Steak, Served with Glazed Shallots, Sweet Potato Smear.” This didn’t suck either.

The 2008 Flor de Pingus, which I had written about bringing to Bazaar (this actually was first), deep inky, but silky smooth. Parker gives it 96 saying, “The 2008 Flor de Pingus had been in bottle for 2 weeks when I tasted it. It offers up an enticing nose of smoke, Asian spices, incense, espresso, black cherry, and blackberry. On the palate it displays outstanding volume, intensity, and balance. Rich, dense, and succulent, it has enough structure to evolve for 4-5 years and will offer prime drinking from 2015 to 2028.”

The cheese. They had a good cart, including some really nice stinky ones, and Eppoisses.

And the condiments were REALLY good, with a variety of different “sauces” and toppings. Walnut and hazelnut, Roasted Cumin Seeds, Canneberges Chutney with Cloves and Walnuts, Apple Gellee, Huckleberries Gellee, Bell pepper Mustard, Tomatillo and Figues Compote, Pumpkin Ginger Truffle honey, Homemade Green Ketchup.

The honey, cumin, and nuts were on a separate plate.

“Pot De Creme. Espresso and Chocolate, Butterscotch Bread Pudding, Vietnamese Coffee, Hazelnut Ice Cream.” This was REALLY good too.

The Petite Fours were also top notch.

Look at these. The marshmallow had a lovely citrus flavor. There was a nice pate de fruits, macaroons, and even little cupcakes with cream-cheese icing. It was all great.

Food-wise, this was a meal worthy of 2 Michelin stars, I’ve had better or worse at such establishments in France depending on how the wind blows. But Bistro LQ needs to get their service up to snuff with the food if they want to play in those leagues. Although, to tell the truth, it didn’t really bother me. The waiter was very nice, and he left the wine bottle on the table so I could self pour. Certainly there was no attitude, they just didn’t show the flawless professionalism of the kind of staff that this sort of food usually commands. But then again, it doesn’t have the prices either (a Paris 3 star can sometimes be 220 Euros for one dish). All in all, we were very satisfied, and will be back to tackle the 10 course.