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.

Sam’s by the Beach 3D

Restaurant: Sam’s by the Beach [1, 2, 3]

Location: 108 W. Channel Rd.(PCH), Santa Monica, CA90402. 310-230-9100

Date: May 14, Sept 4, & Oct 30, 2011

Cuisine: Cal French International

Rating: Stellar food and unparalleled service.

ANY CHARACTER HERE

I already covered the background to Sam’s in my FIRST REVIEW. Let’s just say this is a local place with an unusual and inventive menu that’s worth a drive.


An amuse of tuna tartar on endive.


I’d never heard of this “lesser” Bordeaux, but Sam opened this half-bottle and it was very nice. Characteristic Saint-Emilionsmooth. The 8 or so years gave it just enough age to settle the tanins.


The glass.

Today’s menu.


“Roasted Beet Salad, mixed with onions and tomato in Aged balsamic dressing, served with Feta Cheese croquet.”


This salad was a special, heirloom tomatoes and sashimi grade salmon with a bit of greens, orange, and a mustard vinaigrette.


Another special salad, this time with Santa Barbara shrimp (with roe), corn, and a lovely vinaigrette.


Sam’s grandmom’s butternut squash soup. Vegan with some olives. A lovely bit of fall flavor.


A special today, boar lasagne. The sauce is a tangy tomato cream sauce. This was a really good lasagne. The boar meat was tastier than ground beef.


“Vegetarian Crepes. Homemade Crepes filled with Swiss chard, wild mushrooms and zucchini served in tomato coulis.”  This is a very nice vegetarian option, and surprisingly hearty. The sauce is bread dippingly yummy.


Sam’s has a pizza oven and a variety of pizzas served mostly on Sundays. This is the margarita.


And the Shawarma pizza, which given my penchant for homemade interesting pizzas, I found very interesting. The sauce is a bit more like a harissa, and the pizza is covered with shawarma and pine-nuts.


And served with a tangy yoghurt dip. Good stuff.


Medditeranian seafood soup. But it comes with the traditional toastes and garlic aioli.


Prepping the breads.


The soup itself. Lots of different seafood and a fantastic tomato garlic broth.


With the toasts. They sog up nicely and make for gooey garlicky goodness.


“Grilled Wild Salmon. Served with braised Swiss chard, Pine Nuts, and roasted Sunchoke, with fresh oregano sauce.”


Special rack of Lamb in a dijon mustard vinaigrette. The lamb was tender. The sauce has a fantastic vinegary tone, bright with the mustard, but not overpowering. I had to sop it up with bread afterward. Served with various vegetables and ratatouille.

Green apple sorbet, with a true apple mouthfeel (even a bit mealy, like real apples).

His creme brulee is straight up traditional, and it’s the second best I’ve ever had in the world (there was this one in Avignon…).


My personal favorite, the bread pudding. Topped with a creme anglais, it is warm, rich, and soft, with a chocolate botom.


A few freebee biscotti for dessert.


The room (or technically, half the room).

For other reviews of Sam’s, see here or here.

Seconds at Sam’s by the Beach

Restaurant: Sam’s by the Beach [1, 2, 3]

Location: 108 W. Channel Rd.(PCH), Santa Monica, CA 90402. 310-230-9100

Date: March 12, 2011

Cuisine: Cal French International

Rating: Stellar food and unparalleled service.

ANY CHARACTER HERE

I already covered the background to Sam’s in my FIRST REVIEW. Let’s just say this is a local place with an unusual and inventive menu that’s worth a drive.

I’d never heard of this “lesser” Bordeaux, but Sam opened this half-bottle and it was very nice. Characteristic Saint-Emilion smooth. The 8 or so years gave it just enough age to settle the tanins.

Today’s menu.

The usual amuse. Little fried pockets of spinach and cheese.

Homemade bread and the olive oil sesame dip.

“Roasted Beet Salad, mixed with onions and tomato in Aged balsamic dressing, served with Feta Cheese croquet.”

This was a special. Seared Kanpachi (young yellowtail) with arugula, avocado, tomatoes, in a citrus ginger vinaigrette. The dressing was to die for, and mated perfectly with the sushi grade fish.

“Vegetarian Crepes. Homemade Crepes filled with Swiss chard, wild mushrooms and zucchini served in tomato coulis.” This is a half order, as the normal one has two of the burrito-like crepes. This is a very nice vegetarian option, and surprisingly hearty. The sauce is bread dippingly yummy.

“Lamb Chorizo Risotto, Carnaroli rice prepared with lamb sausage, fresh spinach, feta cheese, in meyer lemon broth.” This isn’t your typical Italian Risotto either, but it’s spectacular, and much lighter. There is a lovely tang from the lemon, and the sharp goat cheese, and the sausage is to die for.

The dessert menu.

His creme brulee is straight up traditional, and it’s the second best I’ve ever had in the world (there was this one in Avignon…). The meat of it is thick, creamy, and all vanilla.

A new dessert (at least for us). This take on the flowerless chocolate cake is moist, dense, and chocolately — as it should be.

Sam is also starting a new thing for Sunday nights, pizza night!  He has a pizza oven. We’ll have to come back and try these, see how they compare to my Ultimate Pizza. I’m particularly eager to try the Shawarma.

Food as Art: Sam’s by the Beach

Restaurant: Sam’s by the Beach [1, 2, 3]

Location: 108 W. Channel Rd.(PCH)Santa Monica, CA 90402. 310-230-9100

Date: Nov 7, 2010

Cuisine: Cal French International

Rating: Stellar food and unparalleled service.

ANY CHARACTER HERE

We’ve been regulars at Sam’s for about a decade and it never disappoints. First of all, Sam himself is perhaps the friendliest and most hospital restauranteur in the city. I was impressed when I first went there a single time in 1999, and then about two years later returned. He not only remembered me, but exactly what I’d ordered. Sam is originally from Syria, but his cooking could loosely be called French. However, this isn’t traditional old-fashioned French, but blends a very modern palette of flavors in a particular way that can only be called Californian. There are Syrian influences, but also Japanese, and other more eclectic tastes. A lot of seasonal and other high quality ingredients are used, and through and though, there is the balanced touch of a very refined chef. The place itself is small and quirky, with a charming intimacy. We bring our two year old, who is treated like a prince, but it’s also suitable for an elegant yet intimate occasion.

The space, quiet at 5pm sharp avec toddler. But the time we left an hour and change later it was full.

From my cellar comes the Caymus 1992. Parker gives it an 89 (which seems too low). Right now, it’s matured into a fantastic bordeaux-like wine, although with a tiny touch of bitterness on the finish. “Caymus has one of the most enviable track records of any California winery. Having followed their Cabernet Sauvignons since the early seventies, I find it remarkable that this winery has never gone through a slump. Not many wineries, anywhere in the world, can match the Wagner family’s consistent record of success. The 1992 Cabernet Sauvignon exhibits gobs of toasty oak and cassis fruit in a ripe, opulent, full-bodied, round, generous style that is ideal for drinking over the next decade.”

Le menu de jour.

Sam has very good bread, served with an olive-oil sesame dip.

Our 2 year-old got a special course of penne pomodoro. Not the house specialty, but better than he required.

A seasonal butternut squash soup, chunky style, with olives.

“Roasted beet salad, mixed with onions, tomato in aged balsamic dressing, with Feta Cheese croquet.”

“Grilled Japanese Calamari, strips of Calamari grilled with green onions and dry spices served with Mediterranean cous-cous.” The squid was tender, and flavored with a very exotic palette of eastern spices. The cous-cous had a bit of fire to it.

Special risotto with pear and pomegranates, topped with fresh Santa Barara Uni (Sea Urchin). I love this dish. The risotto itself is not made with a lot of butter like a standalone Italian risotto, but when paired with the richness of the Uni and the sweetness of the fruit is lovely. One of the best “western style” Uni dishes I’ve had.

Special “pumpkin mouse” ravioli in a cream, butter, and sage sauce.

“Lamb Chorizo Risotto, Carnaroli rice prepared with lamb sausage, fresh spinach, feta cheese, in meyer lemon broth.” This isn’t your typical Italian Risotto either, but it’s spectacular, and much lighter. There is a lovely tang from the lemon, and the sharp goat cheese, and the sausage is to die for.

Special rack of Lamb in a dijon mustard vinaigrette. The lamb was tender. The sauce has a fantastic vinegary tone, bright with the mustard, but not overpowering. I had to sop it up with bread afterward. Served with various vegetables and ratatouille.

Sam makes spectacular traditional French desserts. These profiteroles are perfect, modernized only by the substitution of ginger ice cream.

His creme brulee is straight up traditional, and it’s the second best I’ve ever had in the world (there was this one in Avignon…).

My personal favorite, the bread pudding. Topped with a creme anglais, it is warm, rich, and soft, with a chocolate botom.

Peak down at that goodness!

Year after year Sam keeps us coming back with a winning combination of personal service, and a unique style of very high quality cooking.

A second review of Sam’s can be found here.