Breakfast = Carbs + Salt

The best part about the 26 hour fast of Yom Kippur is breaking it!

Best to start with some wine on a really empty stomach.

Parker 91. “Bottled the week before I visited, his 2005 Morey-St.-Denis en la Rue de Vergy displays aromas of fresh, ripe plum, black cherry, bitter herbs and toasted nuts. Ripe plum and black cherry along with deep rich meatiness mingle in the mouth with notes of mineral salt and iodine and sweet nut oil nuances. Creamy in texture and boasting remarkably fine tannins for a village wine and no hint of its 50% new wood, this finishes with a flattering persistence of crisp, subtly-bitter fresh fruit skin and fascinating mineral suggestions. It should drink fabulously over at least a 5-7 year period.”


Traditional, of course, is deli (i.e. bagels and lox etc.). We get ours from Brent’s Deli, which is my favorite for dairy and fish.


The bagels.


Rye bread of course.


A variety of cream cheeses, old school, new whipped, veggie, and my personal favorite, honey almond (I like the whole sweet and salty thing).


The all important “monster cheese” (what my three year-old calls it).


Various bagel toppings: lettuce, tomato, onion, cucumber.


Brent’s lox is so thick 18 of us toasted 3-4 pounds of it.


Chopped marinated herring. An acquired taste, but I spent too much time in the mid east not to.


Tuna salad (this is homemade by my sister-in-law Wendy).


My personal favorite, whitefish salad. Oh so good.


Salted cod, another classic.


Brent’s slightly sweet cucumber salad (like that) and cole slaw.


And old school pickles.


And fruit.

Plus a bit of homemade chinese chicken-less salad.


Parker 90. “The 2009 Rosso di Montalcino is totally beautiful and elegant in its expressive bouquet, silky fruit and understated, harmonious personality. This is a wonderful, impeccable Rosso from Le Potazzine. Anticipated maturity: 2011-2017.”


And my plate of gluttony. Four bagel halves. I even had another afterward.


The dessert spread is even more deadly.


Parker 99! “A monumental effort, the 2001 Rieussec boasts a light to medium gold color in addition to a fabulous perfume of honeysuckle, smoky oak, caramelized tropical fruits, creme brulee, and Grand Marnier. The wine is massive and full-bodied yet neither over the top nor heavy because of good acidity. With intense botrytis as well as a 70-75-second finish, this amazing Sauternes will be its apogee between 2010-2035.”

It was that good too!


Most of the desserts come from Viktor Benes, an old school Czech bakery with really good Eastern European baked goods. This is a chocolate fudge cake. My in-laws are chocoholics.


Apple pie. Halfway between American style and strudel.


Same with the cherry.


And an assortment of decadent baked goodies. Cookies, macaroons, apple fritters, rugelach, almond strudel-like things etc.

Afterward I stumbled upstairs in a pleasant salt and carb coma. I still felt bloated the next morning too.

Ultimate Pizza – The Comeback

After long hiatus, Ultimate Pizza is back (click the think for posts on the components). We’ve brewed up a new batch of dough, and called up some friends and family.

For those of you who don’t know, Ultimate Pizza is our super homemade pizza where we make everything from scratch. In the past I’ve written separate articles detailing elements such as the Dough, Sauce, Pesto, and Toppings.


Every dough batch is different. For more on making it, see here. After three days cold fermenting in the fridge this batch had a weird spiderwebby quality and was very sticky. But that wasn’t anything a little dusting of flour didn’t solve. And baked, it tasted great as always.


This 1997 Barolo served as a good opener, warming up the palette.


The first pizza on the block. Starts with basic totally fresh raw tomato sauce made with Santa Monica Farmer’s Market Marzano tomatoes and mozzarella.


Then some parmesan, basil.


Mushrooms.


Figs, marcona almonds.


And after baking. They aren’t always pretty, but they are good!


I “found” this 1966 Chateau Lafite-Rothchild in my cellar and figured it wasn’t getting any better.

Parker says: “Except for the 1966 and 1870 vintages of Lafite-Rothschild, these wines were poured on virgin territory on my palate. Isn’t it ironic that the most disappointing wine (forgetting the spoiled 1875 Lafite-Rothschild, which had frightful levels of volatile acidity) was the youngest wine, the 1966 Lafite. With a light to medium ruby/garnet color, this wine exhibited a classy, weedy, herbal, Cabernet-dominated nose, soft, washed-out flavors, and little body and length. It is also beginning to dry out. I suppose if one were to taste a 30-year old Cabernet from Monterey County, California, it might reveal similar characteristics. The 1966 Lafite-Rothschild has consistently been a major disappointment from what is an irregular, but very good vintage.”

But we had good luck with this bottle, and it was actually rather wonderful.


The next pizza. Fairly similar, but no sauce.


Finished with balsamic glaze.


Then a cheesier mushroom one.


Finished.

Then my special salmon pizza, which I do just with olive oil and rosemary (picked from the garden).


Then add a mixture of creme fraiche (detail on that here), dill, and chives, plus capers and onions.


And lox. Yum!


The 2004 il Cocco riserva. Only one barrel made!


Another fairly normal pizza, with figs and mushrooms.


My “famous” tikka masala pizza. Masala sauce instead of tomato. Corn, cilantro, goat cheese, mozzarella balls, morel mushrooms, almonds, scallions.


Cooked. This is an amazing (and strong flavored) pizza.


Mirella (one of our frequent pizza chefs) likes to make unique pizzas. This “Lebanese Pizza” began with her homemade muhammara sauce, which is a Lebanese sauce made from peppers, walnuts, olive oil and various other things. She baked it fairly simple.


Then added amazing fresh burrata on top and fresh mint. This was also fantastic.


Another tomato sauce based pizza, with parmesan, figs, goat cheese (a slightly aged chevre from an artisan California dairy), marcona almonds, scallions.


Baked.

And as the last pizza of the evening, my Formaggio Maximus. Olive oil, a little pesto. Fresh chanterelle and lobster mushrooms. Corn, figs, almonds, a little basil, and nearly every type of cheese I have: parmesan, mozzarella, pecorino, goat, and gorgonzola dulce.


Baked.

Then key to the FM is a big blog of burrata and an olive oil and balsamic drizzle.


Dessert time. A giant raspberry macaroon.


And a sinful red velvet, chocolate, and cream-cheese icing cake. Oh the suffering. The worst thing about this cake is that half was left over and I personally ate all of it over the next four days.


The next day for lunch we whipped up a few more pizzas. Here another variant of my tikka masala pizza.


On the stone.


And finished. I do so love this pizza.


Then a green pesto and salad pizza. The greens are arugala tossed with black pepper and fresh meyer lemon juice.


Baked.


Two buns in the oven.


An even greener pizza.


Which we left in about 1 minute too long.


And my special “tuna salad” pizza. Tomato sauce, fresh chunk Italian tuna, parmesan, pecorino, capers, red onions, and arugala salad.


Baked.

That sure was a good amount of pizza!

For more Ultimate Pizza posts, click here.

Picca Potency

Restaurant: Picca [1, 2]

Location: 9575 West Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90035. Tel: 310 277 0133

Date: September 27, 2011

Cuisine: Modern Peruvian

Rating: Really interesting flavors

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My parents were in town and I wanted to take them back to Picca, which I had recently tried. Peruvian food is on fire right now in LA, and for good reason.


The Pico Blvd frontage is hard to miss.


Picca’s Peruvian cuisine has enough citrus and Asian notes that it goes best with a lighter fruiter red like this lovely Burgundy (from my cellars as usual).


The bar was hoping when we arrived and at least ten people were waiting for tables, but they honored our reservation and seated us immediately (love to see that).


The interesting handmade cocktail menu.


Rhubarb Sidecar.” Cognac, pisco, fresh lemon juice, rhubarb gastrique, shake violentyly (and they mean it), garnished with spiced sugar.”


Today’s menu. There are so many dishes that I took to underlining the ones we wanted. Saved on recitation to the waitress.


papa rellena. stuffed potato, slow cooked beef, boiled egg, rocoto aioli.” Tasted like potato and chilli (known in Texas as a super-spud).


empanada trio. beef, chicken, eggplant, salad.” I tried the chicken one, it was good. Not too heavy (considering).


jalea mixta. crispy mixed seafood, tartare sauce.” Some really good fried seafood. The tartare sauce was fantastic too.


Parker 93 points, “The 2008 Vico made from 100% Mencia with 30% whole clusters and aged for 9 months in seasoned French oak. Opaque purple-colored, it offers up a slightly reticent bouquet of damp earth, mineral, incense, black cherry, and black raspberry. Dense and loaded on the palate, the flavors are already complex and mouth-filling. Impeccably balanced and with a 45-second finish, it has the stuffing to blossom for another 2-3 years but can be approached now. It is a great value.”


ceviche criollo. seabass, rocoto leche de tigre, choclo, sweet potato.” The leche de tigre (vinegary lime sauce) makes all these cerviche‘s taste fairly similar, but this one had big soft chunks of seabass.


ceviche crocante. halibut, leche de tigre, crispy calamari.” And this followup was rendered considerably different by the addition of crunchy calamari.


One of the menu’s many sections is “terceras – antichuchos” which are mostly grilled skewers, sort of Peruvian yakatori.


tomatoes. burrata, black mint pesto.”


beef filet. sea urchin butter, garlic chip.” Good stuff, with just a hint of the classic Uni flavor.


scallops. aji amarillo aioli, wasabi peas.” Lightly cooked, very nice.


black cod. miso anticucho, crispy sweet potato.”


Then we have a round of “causa sushi,” with yellow Peruvian potato replacing the rice. In general, as I’ve mentioned before rice is more successful, but these are still tasty.


This is the “unagi. avocado, cucumber, eel sauce” and it’s pretty much your eel sushi. Of all these causas this was my favorite as the polenta is heavier and stronger flavored than rice and the eel held up to it best.


spicy yellow tail. spicy mayo, green onions, wasabi tobiko.”


smoked salmon. hijiki, shallots, aji amarillo yogurt.”


shrimp. pickled cucumbers, yuzu kosho guacamole.”


albacore. garlic chip, ceviche sauce.” My second favorite of this set.


scallops. mentaiko.” Certainly tasty, but it would have been better with rice.


snow crab. cucumber, avocado, huancaina sauce.”


seabass tiradito. thin slice sea bass, soy sauce, lemon dressing, sweet potato puree.” Very nice. Bright fish, even further brightened by the bold flavors.


Our server was very perky and friendly. Although she got caught up talking to lots of other guests and took a while with the check :-).


chicharron de costillas. crispy pork ribs crostini, sweet potato puree, feta cheese sauce, salsa criolla.” This however was pretty spectacular, one of the best pork sandwiches I’ve tried.


arroz chaufa de mariscos. mixed seafood, peruvian fried rice, pickled radish.” This was a nice version of paella. Brighter and more citrusy (by far) than it’s Spanish cousin. The ingredients were very fresh.


sudado de lenguado. halibut stew, peruvian corn beer sauce, yuyo.” This really added some flavor to the nicely cooked fish.


pollo saltado. chicken, onion, tomato, ginger, potato fritters.” This was also a tasty chicken. Like a south american stir-fry. With fries!


chanfainita. braised oxtail, mote and potato stew.” This was our least favorite dish of the evening. There was a lot of bone on the tail, and a lot of fat. Not that it tasted bad or anything, but I think we were done for.


I love even street cart churros but these were pretty supreme. The churros were stuffed with some kind of dulce de leche custard. It kept squirting out but was intensely good. The carob sauce was surprisingly amazing. I remember carob from the 1970s as the horrible chocolate bars that weren’t. This could have been caramel.


Lemon tart.” This was a pretty amazing dessert. Light and airy, almost foamy, the intense lemoness paired nicely with the sweet pineapple stuff on the side.


Picca was just as good the second time. We rounded out the menu and ordered mostly new stuff. As long as you are of the “bland is banned” school like I am, there really isn’t anything not to like about their solid implementation of this bright and flavorful cuisine.

For my previous review of Picca, click here.

For more LA dining reviews, click here.

No Beef with Mastro’s

Restaurant: Mastro’s

Location: 246 North Canon Dr, Beverly Hills, Ca 90210. 310-888-8782

Date: September 17, 2011

Cuisine: Steak House

Rating: My favorite LA Steak joint

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America is full of steak houses at every level from Sizzler to Cut. But I haven’t found one that I like as much as Mastro’s. Granted I’m not a plain steak fan (I prefer my beef more like this, or tartar, or even Fogo). But Mastro’s gets the steak house think right.

The Cannon drive entrance, just a block north of Spago. Inside the place is a ZOO. Sure this was Saturday, 8:30pm on Emmy weekend in Beverly Hills. But this huge restaurant was packed to the gills, including both bars. These are a sure scene. It’s hard to tell the merely underdressed and over siliconed ladies from the pros.

Our table was right in front of the rat pack. It was much more crowded than in this photo.

The PDF of the menu can be found here.


We were celebrating the engagement of one of my oldest friends so I brought some big guns from my cellar. This wine was the first truly GREAT wine I ever bought (circa 1996). This is the second to last of two cases I once had. It has constantly and without fail scored 100 points from Robert Parker. You will find no better expression of Syrah.

“The 1991 Hermitage La Pavillon 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. In a short period of time (Michel’s first vintage was 1989) Chapoutier‘s Hermitage Le Pavillon has become a wine 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. There are rarely more than 500 cases.”


Everything at Mastro’s is well done, and that includes the bread. I’m partial to the pretzel rolls myself.


Five of us ordered the seafood tower. The quality of the seafood here is impeccable and the only thing we had to complain about was that there wasn’t enough! Really for five we would have expected the two or three story version :-) Still there were amazing shrimp, lobsters, claws, king crab (didn’t taste frozen), and oysters.


One of the things that really makes the Mastro’s seafood tower are the sauces. We have cocktail, a spicy mustard, and the Atomic Horseradish. They use this particular magic brand (you can buy it here). The stuff is — pardon my French — fucking awesomely potent. I’ve taken to buying it myself for home. No other horseradish is this punishing. It has a nice flavor too. I particularly like it mixed in with the cocktail sauce. It can have you literally pounding the table in pain — ahem pleasure.


Beefsteak tomato and mozzarella. With pesto.


Since both I and my newly engaged friend were born in 1970, I grabbed from the cellar this puppy. Parker gives it a mere 95 points. Sure it isn’t quite the 1991 Le Pavillion, but it gets extra credit for age. “The 1970 Palmer is one of the great wines of the vintage. It exhibits a dark, opaque garnet color, and an emerging, fabulously complex, exotic nose of licorice, over-ripe plums and blackcurrants, soy, cedar, and minerals. Rich and concentrated, with medium to full body, a sweet inner-core of fruit, firm but silky tannin, and a long, rich finish, this remains a youthful, potentially superb Palmer. While approachable, it will keep through the first 10-15 years of the next century.


Here comes the beef!

Like most steak houses Mastro’s serves up the entrees bare (all the better to extract more cash from you). This is the New York Strip.


The bone in filet (12 ounce). This is my favorite cut of steak. It has both the filet tenderness and some extra flavor from the bone.


The straight petite (8 ounce) filet.


And the bone in filet, oscar style. Yes this was mine. Like King Robert, I’m trying to eat and drink my way to an early grave. “Oscar Style” means that it’s topped with asparagus, crab cakes and bearnaise sauce. Bearnaise sauce (French: Sauce béarnaise) is a sauce of clarified butter and egg yolks flavored with tarragon and shallots, with chervil and tarragon simmered in vinegar to make a reduction. Lean and mean baby!


Salmon steak. Looking lonely.


But it need not fear, the sides are here!

This is “Gorgonzola mac & cheese!” Oh so light, oh so yummy.


And even better, the evil “king crab truffle gnocchi.” Yes that’s right. Cream, cheese, truffles, crab, potato. What could be better?

In case you don’t get the idea, you have to see it up close. Oh so good.


Then the light “lobster mashers.” That orange stuff, that’s butter.


And for those not seeking an instant heart attack, the “sauteed spinach” (cooked in butter).


We continue to suffer on the wine front as well with this third gem from my cellar. Parker 96 points. “The 2008 Flor de Pingus 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.”


So now we get to the desserts. This is “Mastro’s signature warm butter cake ala mode.” Basically a pound cake with an extra four sticks of butter or something. It’s really sweet and really good. Goes well with the magic whipped cream (see below).


Because of the incredible whipped cream here, we ordered up some fresh strawberries. Combine with below.

The photo is a little blown out, but Mastro’s has the most incredible whipped cream. You can just chow down on it my itself. Made fresh with really good cream and LOTS of sugar.


I couldn’t resist their key lime pie either. I LOVE key lime pie and they make a real good one. Plus it goes really well with the whipped cream.

Overall Mastro’s, while a zoo, and very expensive, is a spectacular steak house experience. You can really feel your heart palpitating as you roll out of here!

For more LA dining reviews click here.


The wines lined up in my cellar. I even brought a bottle of 1996 Dom P that I didn’t even open (not enough Champagne fans at the table). Another night.

Friday Night Heights – Shabbat Dinner

On Friday, September 2, we hosted a small Shabbat dinner party. This was a non-dairy (meat) kosher meal, which can be well done if you care (and most kosher restaurants don’t). As usual with our events everything was homemade. Almost all produce came from the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market.


For appetizers we served fruits and nuts. There was also some homemade humus and eggplant dip (that one of our guests generously brought), but I forgot to snap a photo.


Wine is one area where we go normal. Kosher wines are uniformly awful. Hideous. Wretched.

Parker gives this silky Rosso 90. “The 2009 Rosso di Montalcino is totally beautiful and elegant in its expressive bouquet, silky fruit and understated, harmonious personality. This is a wonderful, impeccable Rosso from Le Potazzine. Anticipated maturity: 2011-2017.” I’d rate it perhaps 91-92, with a little boost for understated style.


And the sweet option. Parker 91. “Donnhoff‘s 2009 Oberhauser Leistenberg Riesling Kabinett – ultra-delicate at only 9% alcohol and with considerably more overt sweetness than its Krotenpfuhl counterpart – is scented with buddleia, white peach, toasted almond, and a fusil note of crushed stone, and offers subtle creaminess, lusciously juicy refreshment, and minerally interactive persistence. This illustrates slate as a sort of sounding board as well as support structure for fruit such as one also encounters in the best residually sweet Mosel Rieslings. Donnhoff routinely expresses acute awareness of a duty to make something truly special out of the cooler ‘wrong-side-of-the-river’ Oberhauser vineyards that until the latter part of his father’s era constituted almost the entirety of his family’s acreage. That duty has here once again been deliciously discharged.”


What would Shabbat be without Challah. Raison Challah to be exact.

After going to Spain last year I’ve been on a bit of a Gazpacho kick, despite my general aversion to raw tomatoes (which I’ve been overcoming). And then about 5-6 weeks ago we went to Jose Andres’ Tres for brunch where they have a wonderful Gazpacho bar. So afterward I dug up his recipe on the internet and we tried it.

When I get into cooking certain dishes I like to perfect them. I’ve been working on this with my Ultimate Pizzas, my Spanish Eggs, and my Margaritas. This is our second stab at Gazpacho. It tasted great the first time but the texture was too chunky, so in this instance we whipped the living bleep out of it in the ever-reliable Blendtec. This batch is made with heirloom tomatoes and cucumbers from the SMFM and premium Spanish extra-virgin olive oil.


But first the garnish. This is a bowl prepped. The basic approach is to do this, and then to ladle in the soup itself table side, then dress it with a bit of premium Spanish olive oil. This garnish is croutons, cucumbers, heirloom tomatoes, spring onions, and chives.


The olive oil is on the left. On the right are homemade croutons. These are rustic bread fried (by hand) in olive oil and garlic, and seasoned with a bit of parsley.


Some of the gorgeous tomatoes used as garnish. Other cool looking ones are in the soup itself.


Chopped chives.


I’m kicking myself, but I forgot to photo a finished bowl with the soup. This one is three-quarters eaten :-( It was darn good though.


For the main course we made a homemade Morrocan Basteeya. This is prior to baking. This is a savory pie of chicken and spices, slightly sweet.


Out of the oven.


You can see into it here.


One of our guests brought this lovely salad.


We also made this baked Israeli-style eggplant, with tomatoes, onions, garlic, and peppers (all from the SMFM too).


Here it is baked.


And my mother’s amazing fruit crumble. This one had SMFM peaches, blackberries, and apples. With a sweet crust and pecan topping. Due to the fact that my mother was on the other side of the country, and the written recipe a tad cryptic, the crust turned out a bit “different” than her more crumbly variant.


Still, it tasted great after baking!


And some farmer’s market fruit to finish.

For more home cooked meals look at the bottom of the food page.

Osteria Latini 3

Restaurant: Osteria Latini [1, 2, 3]

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

Date: August 20, 2010

Cuisine: Italian

Rating: Excellent neighborhood Italian

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


Olive and chickpea/squash/bean pastes.


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


A special, lobster bisque.


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


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


Gnocchi genovese (in classic basil pesto).


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


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

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


Chocolate chip cookies and biscotti.

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

For more LA dining reviews click here.

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

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)

Food as Art – N/Naka

Restaurant: N/Naka [1, 2]

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

Date: July 22, 2011

Cuisine: Modern Kaiseki

Rating: Awesome

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N/Naka opened only three months ago. It’s the brainchild of chef/owner Niki Nakayama and is a rare entry (along with Urwasawa) in the Kaiseki category of Japanese. This is a traditional style of extended meal of small highly ornate dishes that is simultaneously traditional and modern. Originally it was a form of Imperial cuisine from Kyoto, but in the hands of Nakayama it’s received a bit of a modernist twist ala infusions of ideas and techniques from Ferran Adrià, the Spanish genius responsible for many modernist trends in cooking.


The unassuming frontage is on Overland just south of the 10 freeway.

Inside is minimalist, Japanese inspired, and very attractive.

Small attractive details are very Japanese.

Be warned, this restaurant has no ala carte menu at all (yay!). There are three options. A 10-13 course Modern Kaiseki, a nine course smaller Kaiseki (still long), and a ten course Vegetarian Tasting. All three options can be coupled with wine pairings. Below I will present the long Modern Kaiseki and the Vegetarian.

Modern Kaiseki (w/ wine pairings)


Graham beck sparkling, south africa. A nice dry champagne style pinot.

Saki Zuke

(A pairing of something common and something unique)

Cauliflower tofu, marinated salmon roe, uni butter, micro greens.

A wonderful blend of textures and flavors. The tufo was soft and gelatinous, the uni is… well uni-like, and the bits of Ikura (salmon roe) burst in the mouth as little flavor morsels. Delicious.


2008 — brooks riesling, williamette valley, oregon.

Zensai

(Main seasonal ingredient presented as an appetizer)

Soft shell crab, avocado sphere, scallop “dynamite”

Seared bluefin toro avocado rice, miso marinated black cod


Soft shell crab, avocado sphere, red pepper sorbet. The nicely friend crab and the sorbet played nicely off each other.


miso marinated black cod. Pretty much the Matsuhisa classic!


Seared bluefin toro avocado rice, caviar. Seared toro is always good, nice pairing.


scallop “dynamite.” This was pretty delicious. The soft, slightly chewy, bits of scallop played deliciously off the rich dynamite.


2009 — erbaluce di caluso, favar, piedmont, italy. Parker gives this 88 points. “The 2009 Erbaluce di Caluso is an unusual white that in many ways recalls Pinot vinified off the skins. Flowers, red berries and minerals come together nicely on a mid-weight yet generous frame. Clean, mineral notes reappear on the finish, giving the wine its sense of proportion. Anticipated maturity: 2010-2012.”

Modern zukuri

(modern interpretation of sashimi)

Tuna and escolar checkers, ponzu reduction, italian black truffles

A delicious blend of little sashimi cubes and a richer more European sauce, plus the truffles. Very nice.


2010-shesbro roussanne, carmel valley, ca.

Owan “Still Water”

Lobster “shinjo” mousseline, chef’s garden momotaro tomato broth

You break up that little lobster thing into the soup, and eat that way. The soup had a delicious and light tomato dill thing going on, and the lobster added just a touch of richness.


Sake-kimura junmai daiginjo, akita, japan. This was a spectacular sake, tasting strongly of anise. This is the kind of sake where they shave every rice kernel down before making it!

Otsukuri

(Traditional Sashimi )

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

Kumamoto oyster with uni

Some classic sashimi. The fish was all first rate, the wasabi hand ground.


Rw draft sake, suehiro syuzo, aizu japan. This was a fresher, younger sake.

Yakimono

Japan sazae butter yaki with maitake mushrooms

Japanese conch (like we had at Matsuhisa), but even more delicious as it was mixed with really yummy mushrooms and quail egg.


2007 — slumberger gewurstraminer prince abbes. Medium sweet.

Yakimono 2

Foie gras with eggplant, miso balsamic, shiitake mushroom

Double yum! Fois gras done up like BBQ eel (with some eggplant and mushroom).


2009 — elke chardonnay- anderson valley.

Shiizakana

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

Spaghetti with abalone, truffles, pickled cod roe, abalone liver sauce

This was a pretty amazing pasta dish, blending east and west. I’m not usually a huge abalone fan (although I have it often enough). It’s usually too chewy, but this wasn’t at all. There was a combined truffle and briny taste to this dish, not unlike a good spaghetti botarga, but also a truffle and butter/liver influenced richness.


2009 — evening land vineyards blue label pinot noir, eola amity hills, oregon. “Evening Land Vineyards is a group headed by movie magnate Mark Tarlov that also owns Pinot vineyards in the Sonoma Coast and Santa Rita Hills and is making wines in Burgundy. They gained control of one of the Willamette Valley’s prized properties, Seven Springs Vineyard, and created an immediate sensation by signing on Dominique Lafon of Comte Lafon in Burgundy as consulting winemaker. The Evening Land group is also making a major effort to restore the health and vitality of Seven Springs. The most recent development is the addition of renowned Master Sommelier Larry Stone as President and GM of the group in August 2010. Over the past 2-3 years there has been an awakening among some of the Willamette Valley’s most distinguished vignerons that their region is capable of producing world class Chardonnay. With Dominique Lafon and Larry Stone on board, there is no question that Evening Lands will be playing a starring role in this drama. There are now two serious Gamay producers in the Willamette Valley, Doug Tunnell of Brick House being the other.”

Niku

Snake river farms kobe beef kushiyaki skewers, baby corn

A small portion of yakaniku, ala Totoraku (see here). Delicious and rich. Not quite the beefy effect of the mega secret beef meal, but a nice note in this complex dinner.

Sunomono

Halibut fin ceviche

Yuzu omoi, yuzu blend sake

A tasty little intermezzo.


Sake- shichida, sago  japan. This apparently is an ultra-ultra rare sake.


In the glass. It was darn good. Darn good. So were all the sakes, but I liked this one and the first one the best.


Housemade ginger.


Some traditional sushi. Jeju island hirame, o-toro


yellow tail belly, shima aji


live scallops, uni shinkomaki. Overall the sushi was good, but not quite at the level of the very top dedicated sushi places. Still, it was very very good sushi.

Shokuji

(Rice dish)

sea trout and roe chazuke

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

Black sesame crème brulee, fruits

A very nice crème brulee with a soft sesame flavor.

There was also a dessert wine, a light medium sweet late harvest wine, but I forgot to get a photo of it.

Dessert

ice cream on cornbread

Tasted of corn, and ice cream — big surprise. Light and yummy.

Vegetarian Tasting

Saki Zuke

(A pairing of something common and something unique)

Cauliflower Tofu with Truffles

Zensai

(Main seasonal ingredient presented as an appetizer)

Chilled chef’s garden kabocha soup, braised wakame seaweed with shiitake

Lotus root “kinpira”, grilled eggplant, shiso tempura with tofu & avocado


grilled eggplant


braised wakame seaweed with shiitake


shiso tempura with tofu & avocado


Chilled chef’s garden kabocha soup


Lotus root “kinpira”

Modern Zukuri

(Modern interpretation of sashimi)

Compressed watermelon, cucumbers, baby yellow squash, baby zucchini, yuzu

Kimchee air

Otsukuri

 (Sashimi )

Arrowroot konyaku, whith konyaku, spinach, kabocha, baby taro

Nanohana ripini, carrots

Owan “Still Water”

Potatoe “shinjo”, chef’s garden momotaro tomato broth

Shiizakana

(Not bound by tradition, the chef’s choice dish)

Spaghetti wild mushrooms, truffles

Yakimono

Lotus root mochi, spinach teppanyaki


avocado, Sushi-eggplant & shiso


shiitake, grilled konyaku

Maitake roll, cucumber and plum

Shokuji

(Rice dish)

ocha zuke with wasabi nori

The desserts were the same as the Modern Kaiseki. Overall a pretty spectacular job of approximating the full range of proteins using only vegetable sources. Vegetarian (or otherwise protein restricted) foodies should delight in this.

I was extremely impressed with N/Naka, and you can bet I’ll be back soon. The food is highly elaborate and offers a full suite of flavors meticulously prepared. I very much enjoy even the fully traditional Kaiseki dinners, but this slightly modernist take was even better. Sometimes chefs with inferior pallets will introduce modernist techniques into traditional meals and create uncomfortable taste pairings. Niki Nakayama clearly has a very sure and confident palette, as I found every dish harmonious and balanced.

I just hope the somewhat adventurous and all-tasting format doesn’t make it difficult for the restaurant to thrive (and I wouldn’t change that at all for myself, but some might be intimidated). I have the feeling that the menu changes up frequently, and is very seasonal, and I hope that’s the case — because I’ll be back! (And I was, click here for a second meal)

Or here for other LA Japanese restaurants.

Eating Cinque Terre – Gianni Franzi

Restaurant: Gianni Franzi

Location: Vernazza, Italy

Date: June 27, 2011

Cuisine: Ligurian

Rating: Solid local lunch

ANY CHARACTER HERE

We took a little train ride down to Cinque Terre, a very pretty region of five small towns clustered by the sea.

The second of these is Vernazza, which is accessible only by train or boat. Picturesque as you can see. In typical Italian fashion transport doesn’t really run during lunch so we were forced to stop and eat. I just chose a likely looking place by feel.

The menu.


The patio looks back on the harbor in the above establishing shot.


A caraffe of local white was totally drinkable.


This place puts the pesto on top, which is unusual. This is spaghetti genovese (known here as pesto).


Trofei Genovese.


Seafood ravioli. These were stuffed with fish and in a tomato based fish sauce. Very tasty actually, but not for the landlubber as it had a bit of a briny flavor.


This is minestrone Genovese. The waitress scolded me for ordering it with a pasta dish as there are technically pasta bits in here — but who cares. In any case, this is a very pesto minestrone, and pretty typical of the dish. Good though, as I LOVE pesto and could eat like 10 pastas in one meal.

Overall, a totally satisfying quick little lunch.

Click here to see more Eating Italy posts.

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.