Saam – José Andrés Squared

Restaurant: Saam [1, 2]

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

Date: October 1, 2011

Cuisine: Spanish influenced Molecular Gastronomy

Rating: Awesome, even better than The Bazaar.

_

I’m a bit of a Jose Andres groupie as not only have I been many times to the The Bazaar (REVIEW HERE), but also to brunch at Trés, and just last week to é by José Andrés and Jaleo in Vegas.

For those who don’t know, José Andrés is perhaps America’s leading practitioner of  my favorite culinary style: Spanish Molecular Gastronomy. This school of cooking, a radical interpretation of the preparation of food, was begun at El Bulli outside of Barcellona. Andrés cooked and studied there with master chef Ferran Adrià. I first encountered Andrés’s cooking in Washington DC at Cafe Atlantico, and it’s own restaurant within a restaurant, Minibar.

I’ve eaten molecular a number of times in Spain, for example at Calima and La Terraza. The Bazaar and Saam brought molecular style to LA.

Saam is the “secret” prix fixe only room within the Bazaar, open Thurs-Sat.


This is the normal menu for the night. If you let them know they do however adapt very adeptly to dietary restrictions.


Tonight begins with a “Kaviar Kir Royale” which is a deconstructed cocktail consisting of cava.


And miniature “kaviar” (spheres of kir).


You can see them more clearly here, looking every bit like fish eggs. Basically it’s mostly cava, but at your whim you can bit into the little balls of flavor for bits of kir flavor blast.


Then “Lotus Root Chips” with anise powder, making them taste like licorice Pringles.


Then “Tuna Handroll 2009″ which are crispy cones stuffed with very fresh tuna, a bit of wasabi, and a caviar ring in the middle. Nice mix of textures and flavors.


It came time to decide on the beverages. Above is the pairing menu ($100 a person). We didn’t opt for this but I’m sure it’s good. Being as we are talking beverages I’ll mention briefly the water trap. We were five people, and this is a long meal. We ordered bottled water. As usual with nice restaurants they just served it. And served it. Fine, but it added up to $180 of water! This was the only thing on the bill that offended me — but it was mighty offensive. $30-40 would have been sufficient tariff, but $36 a person for water?


We did order cocktails individually, which were both yummy and reasonable enough for such things. “Passion Fruit Up! Orange rum, passion fruit and ginger-laurel syrup, topped with passion fruit foam.” Yum!


“Oyster and Jamon.” A little spoonful of oyster with some ham powder and a crispy crouton. It tasted exactly like it sounds. Like intense oyster and a good dollop of HAM!


“Black Olives Ferran Adria.” Instructions on how to make these can be found here. The pureed juice of the olives is coated in a thin gel. They are colored black with squid ink. There is one green olive that is vegetarian. In general, the olives bursts easily in the mouth, exploding intense oliveness.


A signature “Nitro Caprina” which is the classic brazilian drink, frozen with liquid nitrogen. It tastes like a sherbet, with a highly unusual smooth texture, but it’s intensely potent (in terms of proof). Goes down all too easy.


“Jicama wrapped Guacamole.” Micro cilantro, corn chips. The vegetarian substitution for the ham.


Watermelon and tomato with a bit of a kick (some chili or another).


A traditional mojito. Even way back in the Cafe Atlantico days Andrés always served a great mojito.


“Jose’s Combination.” Jamón Ibérico de Bellota with a blob of real caviar. This ham is regarded as the best in Spain, and among the best in the world. They are fed on acorns. Salt on salt here. A very savory combination.


Deconstructed “patatas bravas.” In spain this is a common dish basically being roasted chopped potatoes with a cayenne mayo. This preserves the flavor, but changes up the texture into a little fried cigar. The inside was fluffy and soft. Quite tasty.


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


“Buffalo Wing.” Looks like fried chicken (and it is), but Wow. Boneless, with a dab of spicy sauce and a blue cheese aioli. An explosion of flavor.


“Not Your Everyday Caprese.” The mozzarella has been through the same sphere process as the olives above, then we have a peeled cherry tomato, tomato seeds, a bit of basil, sea salt, little crackers, and a very fine house made pesto genovese (with extra virgin olive oil). I’m not even a raw tomato fan and this is delectable. The pesto cheese combo really makes it. This pesto is as good as mine (recipe here).


I’m a big fan of priorat and so we chose this wine off the list. Besides the great food and crazy water prices Saam has an annoying high corkage ($50 and one bottle more or less!).


“White truffle risotto.” Instead of the normal Italian risotto rice it used a premium Spanish one, calasparra bomba, and extra virgin olive oil instead of butter. Very tasty.


A fantastic special risotto also using bomba rice, with a chunk of fresh santa barbara uni, some black garlic paste, and a bit of bbq eel. It was tremendously good.


“Crispy Nigiri.” A bit of red snapper on a blob of crispy Spanish rice.


“Chipirones en su Tinta.” More or less a classic Spanish dish, octopus in it’s own ink. Plus some squid ink chips. Very soft and tender meat, complemented by the sweetness of the ink.


A non-shellfish variant containing a bit of bbq fish.


“Banh Mi.” A brioche bun with wagyu beef, tofu, cilantro, pickles, pickled carrots, and a kind of mayo. Tasty tasty sandwich. A mix of soft and crunchy too, but the pickles give it a very distinct tang.


“Banh Mi, vegetarian.”


“Carrot gnocchi.” The broth had a vaguely thai curry flavor. The gnocchi are actually cylinders of sphereized carrots, so they burst in the mouth.


“Brussel sprouts, lemon puree, apricots, grapes, lemon air.” This was a big hit, the sprouts aren’t bitter at all, and have a light cabbage-like texture. The lemon air is the best part, adding a nice zing.


“Mirugai.” A bit of geoduck giant clam, radish, and a watercress puree. This wasn’t my favorite dish, being a bit “clammy.”


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


Replacing the pork for the vegetarian was a pomegranate cous cous.


With a poured in broth.


“Philly Cheese Steak.” Air bread, cheddar, Wagyu beef. This is on the Bazaar menu, but it’s so damn good. The crispy bread is filled with liquid cheddar goodness.


“Hilly Cheese Steak.” Air bread, cheddar, mushrooms. The vegetarian version of above. Monkey man will get you!


For the dessert courses we ordered some classes of this fine cream sherry.


A very nice sherry, not quite as thick and syrupy as the PX by the same maker (which I love), but still very fine.


“Japanese Baby Peaches.” Burrata, hazelnuts, arugula.Really interesting. The peaches were so tart off the trees that they were soaked in simple syrup. Paired with the blobs of burrata (a favorite of mine), the nuts, and arugala it was pretty divine.


“Dragon’s breath popcorn.” The pre dessert. A gimmick, but neat.

Carmel corn “boiled” in liquid nitrogen.


Breath on a spoon.

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


Smaug, eat your scaly heart out.


They call this “saam buca.” It was apple balls with a nice soft creamy custard — good stuff.


“Chocolate rock.” A nitro frozen chocolate foam/mousse with some citrus foam. This was very reminiscent of the chocolate/cream pairings at  é by José Andrés and Jaleo.


Chamomile tea.


The usual Bazaar “sexy little sweets,” a number of flavored chocolates (flat and in domes) and very good pate de fruits. One of the great things about the brunch at Trés is that they have an all you can eat tower of containing all of these!


A little chocolate hazelnut cube and the menu as a “parting gift.”

Overall, Saam is a tremendous meal, even if not every dish is successful (geoduck!). Since I was at cousin restaurant é by José Andrés a week before I can do a head to head comparison. Saam was slightly disadvantaged by the fact that perhaps 40-50% of the dishes hadn’t changed from my previous visit (making them less novel). I’d say that the food at é is perhaps 5% better, really quite close. The format in Vegas is, however, more fun and intimate. Getting to witness the plating and creation of each and every dish is really interesting.

And the $180 for water was really offensive. I really should have taken the manager to task on it. The stuff costs less than a dollar a bottle in bulk. Pure profit center. Otherwise the meal is fairly reasonable given the extremely high level of production. And it is very very good.

For a previous Saam meal, click here.

For a meal and The Bazaar proper, click here.

Jaleo by José Andrés

Restaurant: Jaleo

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

Date: September 24, 2011

Cuisine: Spanish Tapas

Rating: Fun Tapas Bar

_

So what does a true Foodie Club member do after eating a 22 course tasting dinner at é by José Andrés? Why have a second dinner of course!

This is the final part of my mini-Vegas series. Be sure to check out the opulent Twist and é reviews.


é is the “secret” 8 seat restaurant located within the more mainstream Jaleo, a small chain venture of José Andrés’ bringing moderately authentic Spanish tapas and paella with a modern bent to America.


Certainly the build out in the swank new Cosmopolitan hotel in Vegas is well… swank.


Tapas bar — literally.

Seems pretty Spanish.


They have an elaborate paella station. Racks are situated here where the traditional big pans can brew up this good stuff over wood fires.


Oooh, and the wine list is an iPad app. Which is a cool idea but at current is slightly slower and more awkward than a traditional paper list.


One of the staff from é (who secured us our no wait table) recommended this excellent and approachable Spanish red. “The 2000 Dehesa la Granja Seleccion received malolactic in French oak barrels followed by an additional 2 years in the oak. It offers more complex aromatics (mineral, cedar, spice box, smoke, leather, and black fruits) but is compact, a bit too structured in the mouth, and the finish is somewhat abrupt. If time pulls this wine together, my score will look conservative.”

The menu. Many of the dishes are variants of Spanish classics.


“Endives, goat cheese, oranges, and almond.” Bear in mind that we did JUST EAT a huge four hour tasting menu — and there are only two of us eating this “post dinner snack.” So we started light. These were very tasty, with bright bright flavors.


Gambas al ajillo.” In Spain usually called Gambas pilpil. Basically shrimp boiled (fried?) in olive oil and garlic. These were very typical of what I must have had 30 times in southern Spain. The quality of the shrimp here was higher than is often the case at cheap places in Spain.


Here is photo of a typical example of this I got one afternoon in Cordoba. At Jaleo, they plated them out of the crock, but in spain it’s always served sizzling right off the stove.


Now on to the paella. Which, like rissoto, is all about the rice. In this case Bomba. This rice absorbs a lot more liquid than lamer rices.

The only problem with the Jaleo implementation is that in the interest of expediency they don’t cook the paella as long as they should (at least 45 minutes). Instead they force it at a little higher temperature. This doesn’t allow for the maximum paella effect.


“Arroz a banda con bogavante.” Rice apart from the lobster. The lobster was excellent. The paella itself a tiny bit bitter from the saffron. Still, a very enjoyable dish.


“Arroz con cosillas de cerdo iberico de bollota.” Made with the famous black-footed iberico de bellota pig. Ribs in particular. This was an amazing paella, and the sweetness of the pork leant the rice a sweet meaty goodness. Yum!


The dessert menu. Even “after dinner snacks” need three courses.


“Helado de aceite de oliva con cítricos texturados. Olive oil ice cream with grapefruit.” Two flavors of ice cream, a bit of grapefruit.


And a drizzle of olive oil.


Interesting contrast again of the sweet and slightly oily salty. A satisfying conclusion.

Overall, Jaleo seemed good. I can’t quite judge it fully as we didn’t have a real meal, just a “snack,” but I enjoyed what we had and having spent a month recently in Spain I have a pretty good palette for the stuff. It tasted pretty Spanish — filtered through a bit of internationalization.

Click here for the 22 course meal that proceeded this — the same night!

For more Food Club extravaganzas.

For more Vegas dining reviews click here.

é by José Andrés

Restaurant: é by José Andrés

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

Date: September 24, 2011

Cuisine: Modern Spanish

Rating: Mind blowing dinner theatre

_

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

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

Half of the tiny room.

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

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

Then finishing off the starter cocktails.

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

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

At work on the next course.

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

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

Next course. Is that food?

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

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

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

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

A non-alcoholic tomato and watermelon drink.

More action.

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

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

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

“Black Olives Ferran Adria.” Instructions on how to make these can be found here. The pureed juice of the olives is coated in a thin gel. The olive bursts easily in the mouth, exploding intense oliveness into the mouth.

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

An inside peek.

A really whacky tasting blend of sherry and beer!

“José Taco.” Jamón Ibérico de Bellota with a blob of real caviar. This ham is regarded as the best in Spain, and among the best in the world. They are fed on acorns. Salt on salt here. A very savory combination.

Sphere making at work.

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

A ginger beer.

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

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

The vegetarian version, eggplant instead of lobster.

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

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

A non-alcoholic carbonated sangria.

Plating.

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

The vegetarian received José’s amazing gazpacho.

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

Cucumber, sugar, and fruit “margarita.”

The show goes on.

There is an egg under that crispy thing.

Then a kind of bouillabaisse broth is added.

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

One of several nice Spanish wines.

Pouches at the ready.

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

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

The rosemary foam complemented perfectly.

Finally a red!

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

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

The vegetarian got Vegetarian Paella.

And close up.

A medium sweet sherry.

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

Pineapple juice!

More nitro.

And tweezer work.

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

A kind of chocolate coffee.

Back to work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more Food Club extravaganzas.

For more Vegas dining reviews click here.

Quick Eats – Bar Pinxto

Restaurant: Bar Pinxto

Location: 109 Santa Monica Boulevard, Santa Monica, CA. (310) 458-2012

Date: August 19, 2011

Cuisine: Spanish Tapas

Rating: Quick little lunch bargain

ANY CHARACTER HERE

After seeing Fright Night we shopped around Santa Monica for a lunch place and decided to revisit Bar Pinxto. This is a genuine Spanish Tapas Bar, in that it’s a bar first, restaurant second. Still they have a wide variety of traditional Spanish Tapas (as they would in Spain).


There is a small amount of outside seating.


And the cute little interior space.


Being Spanish, olives grace the table. Bar Pinxto has a $15 3 course lunch menu which is an excellent deal and a lot of food.


First course was Gazpacho. This was certainly a good implementation of the classic form of the soup. Not quite as good as the Jose Andres variety at The Bazaar/Saam/Tres, but good. I like the fine pureed texture.


Classic Paella, one of the second courses. This was pretty traditional, with muscles and chorizo. It could have benefited from a few more ingredients, but was respectable.


Squid with squid ink over Spanish rice (basically paella). The squid was soft and tasty, although the portion was smaller than the paella.


Pot du creme, chocolate. This was a damn good chocolate cream/mousse thingy. Damn good. Sort of a chocolate version of Gjelina’s butterscotch one.

Overall, the quick Pinxto $15 lunch is an excellent deal. The food was good and pretty authentically Spanish, and you certainly get a lot for your money.

Click here to see more LA restaurants.

Trés – Brunché Fantastique

Restaurant: Trés [1, 2]

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

Date: July 31, 2011

Cuisine: Modern Brunch

Rating: Fantastique

ANY CHARACTER HERE

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


Enter the whacky world of Trés at the SLS.


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


Comfortable lounging on the other.

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


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


And more.


And condiments for such.


And the table des fruits.


Melons.


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


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


And these spectacular yogurts with fruit.


Cereal if you are boring.


The the vege station. Prep glasses for gazpacho.


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


The gazpacho.


Salad plates and condiments.


Pull back for the big picture.


Then the meat and cheese station.


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


Jamon del Iberico!


Some more fruits.


Spanish cheeses.


And more.


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


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


Amazing smoked salmon and caviars and accompaniments.


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


The salmon was amazing.


And roast beef.


Then some desserts.


And more.

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


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


Or the even yummier grapefruit mimosa.


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


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


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


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


Fried potatoes.


An omelet with mushrooms and zucchini blossoms.


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


The salmon version.


Grilled cheese.


Fries — always yummy.


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


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


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


Classic Spanish flan.


Some of the whacky decorations.


more

and more.


Even the bar nuts are cool.


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

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

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


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

Also check out a lunch meal here.

Food as Art: La Terraza

Restaurant: La Terraza

Location: Madrid Spain

Date: June 29, 2010

Cuisine: Molecular Spanish Gastronomy

Rating: Fantastic!

 

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

A special cart prepares signature liquid nitrogen cocktails.

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


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

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

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

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

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

“Polenta crisps.” A little like corn puffs.

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

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

“Cod Kokotxas in pil-pil.”

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

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

Check out the insides.

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

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

One of the special substitutions, a fish with mushrooms.

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

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

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

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

Afterward, it resembles modern art.

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

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

“Grouper with green bean cream.”

A different fish with cucumber “noodles.”

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

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

“Olive and citric ravioli with frozen chocolate dust.”

“Liquid bailies bombo.”

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

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

Here Piggy – Botin Madrid

Restaurant: Botin

Location: Madrid Spain

Date: July 1, 2010

Cuisine: Classic Spanish

 

At the end of our month in Spain we wanted to hit up a totally traditional Spanish place for our final dinner. This place in Madrid claims to be the “oldest restaurant in the world.” True or not, it does serve a narrow but good menu of traditional Spanish fare. And this means pig — lots of pig!

The storefront in the heart of old Madrid.

The speciality of the house is roast baby piglet. They told me they go through 50-60 complete pigs a night! You can see them lined up in their terrines waiting for the ovens.

Oink oink!

Their fiery doom.

“The 2007 Les Terrasses is the same blend as the Camins cuvee but entirely sourced from old vines. It spent 12 months in 20% new French oak. Aromas of mineral, Asian spices, espresso, black cherry, and black raspberry lead to a medium to full-bodied, concentrated, smooth-textured wine. Savory, moderately structured, and approachable, it may evolve for 1-2 years but can be enjoyed now and over the next 6-8 years.” Parker gives it a 92.


The building sure looks old.

This traditional Gazpacho was very good — and included the tray of “additives” (cucumber, tomato, crouton). Even I — a consummate raw tomato hater — loved it.

Pimientos Rojos with Boquerones in Vinegar. I love this dish. Anchovies have a bad rap here in the states, but these fresh Spanish ones are amazing. I love the vinegary tang, and the contrast with the marinated peppers. Yum!

Here is the pig in the foreground — with potatoes — the Spanish love meat and potatoes. In the background is roasted lamb shoulder.

The lamb plated. Smokey, rich and tender. The piggy was someone else’s, after looking at the little pigs I just couldn’t bring myself to chow down on one. I didn’t see the lamb.  Bah!

Perfect flan for dessert. Rich custardy goodness and sweet dark carmel.

The funky old school Spanish decor.

the register certainly looks antique.

The cellar.

By the entrance, where they keep the olives they put on the table, is this sad little photo of babe.

Quick Eats: Italian-Iberian Snack

A simple breakfast snack made with ingredients from the Philadelphia Italian Market.

Prosciutto on top of a fantastic Manchego cheese. Simple, but delicious. For breakfast snacking cheeses I really became a fan of the Iberian cheese during my month in Spain earlier this year. They have a rich nutty quality without being too overpowering.

Some slices of my Mom’s homemade banana bread.

The setting.

Quick Eats: Andy’s Spanish Eggs

Although I’m a ludicrously obsessive Foodie, I don’t cook that many things. However, those that I do make, I try to do to the Nth degree (anyone who knows me knows this to be true of me in general). One of my breakfast specialities is Spanish Poached Eggs. The original recipe was taught to me personally by Mark Peel of Campanille at a cooking class. I’ve made a few small improvements (adding Burrata and arugala). The result is below:

First, you need to make some homemade Romesco sauce. You can do this a couple days in advance if you like (I do).

Adjust the oven racks to the middle and upper positions, and preheat theoven to 350° F.

Drizzle the tomato halves with a teaspoon of the olive oil and a pinch of salt. Place the tomatoes. cut side down, on a baking sheet, and roast on the upperrack for 45 minutes to an hour, until they are soft and the skin has wrinkled and blackened slightly. Allow to cool, remove, and discard the skin.

In a very small ovenproof skillet, saucepan, or dish, combine approximately 1/4 cup of the olive oil with the garlic cloves, to cover the cloves halfway. Roast in the oven on the middle rack about 20 minutes, until the garlic is soft and malleable. Allow to cool, and squeeze the pulp from the cloves. Reserve the oil and set aside.

Turn the oven down to 325°.

Spread the almonds and hazelnuts on a baking sheet (in separate piles). Toast on the middle rack in the oven for 12 – 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Place the hazelnuts in a kitchen towel, and rub them together to remove the skins.

Meanwhile, on a hot grill or directly on the stovetop over high heat, char the pepper over an open flame, turning frequently until the skin is blackened on all sides and the flesh becomes tender. Place the pepper in a plastic bag or in abowl covered tightly with plastic wrap to steam until cool enough to handle.Using a towel, wipe off the charred skin. Remove and discard the seeds and ribs. Coarsely chop the pepper.

In a small skillet, over medium heat, warm the reserved olive oil from the garlic. When the oil is hot, fry the bread on both sides until lightly browned. Remove the bread to a paper towel to drain.

In a mortar and pestle, or in a food processor fitted with a metal blade, grind the nuts and bread until they form a coarse paste. Add the tomato, roasted pepper. vinegar, garlic pulp, cayenne pepper and salt and pulverize or process until smooth. Slowly pour in the remaining cup of olive oil and stir or process until combined. Season with salt to taste. lt will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

For the actual dish you will need:

  • Lots of eggs, one per dish
  • A loaf or two of good rustic bread. I use La Brea Bakery rustic italian or similar. Cut into big slices.
  • A huge bottle of extra virgin olive oil
  • Black pepper
  • A bag of arugala
  • A tub of fresh Burrata, no more than two days out of the creamery. In LA you can buy it at Bay Cities Deli. If you live somewhere (most places) where you can’t get this tub of heaven, then you will have to use some good mozzarella.
  • A couple Meyer lemons (regular will suffice if you are feeling lazy)

Next up is the bread. This can be prepared right before, or even a couple hours before eating. Get a real cast iron pan. No mamby pamby modern pans allowed. Fill it halfway up with olive oil and bring to a near boil. Be careful, if you get it too hot the oil will ignite and you will have to stick a lid on it (have one handy for snuffing fires) and wait for it to cool. Hot olive oil spontaneously combusts in the presence of oxygen.

After the oil is hot, quickly fry the bread slices. This makes a mess, but they fry in 5-10 seconds per side.

You end up with this, a plate of fried bread. This is yummy by itself or smeared with the Romesco.

Wash your arugala and put it in a bowl, toss with black pepper and Meyer Lemon juice.

Now that we’ve done the hard stuff. The following you do while your victims (guests) sit around the kitchen. This is sort of frenzied assembly because it needs to be eaten VERY soon after the egg gets poached (in the hot olive oil). So prep your bread.

Take a piece, smear generously with Romesco and add some tossed arugala. Have the Burrata (or Mozzerella) handy nearby.

Then add a nice blob in preparation for the egg. Burrata, when fresh it’s creaminess is visceral.

You can use your same hot olive oil (keep the bottle on hand to refill) to poach the egg. Have a slotted spoon and tongs ready. Crack an egg carefully into the oil. I use a small bowl, into which I crack the egg first, so that I can slip it quickly into the oil without splashing a lot of boiling oil onto my hands (a little is just a small price to pay for this dish).

It poaches (I prefer not to think of it as fried) in about 10 seconds. Spoon some hot oil over the top. You want it crispy and fluffy, but the yolk totally runny. Then get it out of there fast with the slotted spoon, drain, and onto your prepped bread.

Here it is again. Eat instantly. The yolk will run out and soak the crunchy bread. If you’re a more moderate person you could leave out the Burrata, or even not fry the bread, but the full monty is much better.

Food as Art: Capo

Restaurant: Capo [1, 2, 3]

Location: 1810 Ocean Ave, Santa Monica, Ca. 310-394-5550

Date: April 30, 2010

Cuisine: Italian with Cal influences

Rating: The food here is really very very good.

_

Capo has always given me slightly mixed feelings. Not about the food, that part is great, but they have a bit of an attitude at times, and it’s too expensive. I just don’t expect Italian to be super expensive, which Capo is, unless it’s Northern Italian Haute Cuisine, which we have basically no real examples of in Southern California. And they’ve given me trouble several times about my wine (which I always bring), as they’ve an unusual and restrictive corkage policy that is enforced with great zeal. But the food is fantastic, and one of their pastas is the best ragu I’ve ever had — and I’ve spent a lot of time in Italy.

It’s a lovely restaurant too, with a fun intimate atmosphere, and the very high prices give it a full-on star factor. A couple years ago I sat next to SKG (Spielberg, Katzenberg, and Geffen). Spielberg seems to love high end Italian, because I’ve seen him four or five times at said establishments — not that I blame him.

Entering, they now have a pig leg on the counter. I have to admire that. It’s “Jamon Iberico de Bellota,” which is extremely fine ham from Spain. The downside is $60 for one little plate! One time when someone else was picking up the tab I tried it here — with a side of Burrata. It was good, but no ham — as much as I like it — is worth $60 for a few slices. Particularly after having spent the month of June in Spain where every restaurant has a wall of pig legs and you can get a plate of the stuff for $6-10.

This isn’t from Capo, in fact it’s a store in Madrid known as “Museo del Jamon.” This is a chain, and such displays are commonplace in Spain, a land in which pigs live in mortal terror.

I brought this wine, Parker gives it 94 points, saying, “Luciano Sandrone’s 1998 Barolo Cannubi Boschis is another of the standouts in this tasting. Layers of perfumed dark fruit flow effortlessly from the glass with wonderful depth and purity. The wine offers a long, intensely harmonious personality and a refined, aristocratic finish. The 1998 is an excellent choice for readers who may also be cellaring bottles of the 1996 or the 1999, two wines that offer considerable upside potential. Anticipated maturity: 2009-2019.”

Now this brings me to my little corkage rant. Capo’s corkage policy is that you can bring one and no more than one bottle, and that it must not be on their list. It’s enforced — I’ve been rejected for having a wine on the list twice — so it requires me to download the list before going and research which wine I can bring. They have a huge list. It’s not bad, but it is VERY OVERPRICED. I once went through all 112 pages on paper at home with the Parker website and couldn’t really find any good price/value ratios. I know making a profit at a restaurant isn’t easy, but a have several beefs with this kind of list. I know a lot about wine, and have a very experienced palette. Lists like this are stuffed with wines that are good on some aspect, like winemaker, but fail in another, usually vintage. When there’s a crappy vintage in Bordeaux where do you think all the “cheap” Pauillacs go? Restaurant wine lists, priced as if they were from 1982. But the real problem is that a wine I would pay $150 for — and I buy carefully at auction or from well priced dealers I know well — is $400 or more on these lists. It pains me to pay $150, and there is just no way I’m going to pay $250 dollars extra for the privilege of a waiter mangling my cork with a stupid leverage corkscrew when I have thousands of bottles at home. When I have to order off the list it means I have to drink vastly inferior wine, and still pay $150-200 for it — and my friends are so appalled at the price anyway that I automatically pick up the tab. So until Capo (and the couple others that have even worse policies. Giorgio Baldi you know who you are!) modify their lists to only markup by about $40 I can’t be fully satisfied. Frankly, I would go to both all the time if they had open corkage policies. Enough said.

Capo always puts out this little humus-like spread. I suspect it’s fava beans, and it was mostly eaten by the time I got my camera on it. It’s addictive though. We settle down to examine the MENU, which is big, and always a difficult decision because there is so much great stuff on it. They have an odd menu format, in which each item is identified by only it’s principle ingredient, forcing you to guess or ask how it’s actually prepared. Plus they have “fill in the blanks” on the menu which are filled in by a separate sheet of daily specials. No big deal, but it’s kind of bizare. Doesn’t matter though, as the food is great.

Lest you think I’ve been all negative, let’s get to the real meat of the matter, the only thing that really makes a restaurant — the food. “Maryland crab torta.” This really is Crab Norfolk, and it’s probably the best one I’ve ever had, and I spent summers as a boy in Oxford Maryland, land of the blue crab. This is a big juicy pile of delicious blue crab, drenched in butter, and their special touch is a little Meyer lemon in the mix. Bellissimo!

My wife got to this faster than the camera did. But you can see the egg in this fresh pasta. I LOVE fresh pasta. When I went to Italy first in the 80’s, when Italian in the States pretty much meant lasagne, chicken parm, and red and white table clothes, the pasta was a revelation. It never gets old. Some kind of cheese tortelloni in butter sauce. I snagged one. Yum!

This wasn’t my dish, and I can’t remember what it was, I’m sure it was good.

“White corn ravioli.” You can’t beat fresh pasta in a butter sauce.

This is “buccatini with lamb ragu,” and it’s one of the best pastas I’ve ever had.  I’ve come back like three times for it. I love a good ragu, and the buccatini (spagetti with a tiny hole in the middle) is perfect. The dish is rich and meaty, divine.

We had to switch up to the overpriced wine list because of the above mentioned corkage policy. Another problem with most wine lists is that the wines are too new. Capo does have some older stuff though, and often there are some tolerable deals (relatively speaking). This is an example, a 90 point Barbaresco, and the list had it for $120. Well, I’d generally get a 94-96 point Italian for that price. I try not to buy things under 92. This is a nice wine, and drinkable, but it isn’t a great wine. I can’t afford great wines off the list, and that bums me out. My cellar is full of great wines. Parker says, “1998 Vignaioli Elvio Pertinace Barbaresco Nervo—Dark ruby in color, this superb Barbaresco features an intense nose of spices, menthol and minerals, and flavors of crushed raspberries, plums, and strawberry jam. It is a gorgeous, multi-layered wine, with plenty of structure and length on the palate. The three wines I tasted from the Nervo cru are irresistible, alluring wines with great personality. They are superb values as well. 90 points/drink now-2010.”

This was a chocolat creme brulee, the deserts here are just as good as the food.

And this. This was to die for. “Meyer lemon semifreddo,” with a blueberry or blackberry sauce. Everything about this was spectacular, one of my all time favorite deserts. The cold-soft texture, the bright lemon flavor, and the tart sweetness of the berries. OMFG!

A nice plate of little petit fours, not so usual at American Italians, more french. In Italy sometimes you’ll get treated to little almond cookies and shots of grappa or sambuca.

So to conclude, Capo is hands down delicious. I didn’t show it, but they also have this huge wood grill fireplace and sizzle up killer Tuscan-style porterhouses and other grilled meats. The food is VERY VERY GOOD, and the service is top notch. The intimate little atmosphere is great also. My only beefs are with the high prices, and the annoying corkage policy.

For another review I wrote of Capo, CLICK HERE.