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.

Red Medicine the Relapse

Restaurant: Red Medicine [1, 2]

Location: 8400 Wilshire Blvd. Beverly Hills, Ca. 90211. 323-651-6500.

Date: February 19, 2011

Cuisine: Modernized Vietnamese

Summary: Really interesting food full of very bold flavors, and at very reasonable prices.

 

For my brother’s birthday we decided to head back to Red Medicine (first review HERE), the casual modernized Vietnamese place in mid-town. Tasty again! Even on a very rainy night it was hopping and we had to get a drink at the crowded bar to wait for our table.

The drink menu features a number of very interesting and extremely well executed specialty cocktails. Plus, these are very reasonably priced at $10. The PDF version is HERE.

“#18 Krome Vodka, Chili-Anise Shrub, Lime, Grapefruit, Peychaud’s Bitters, Basil(s),  Ginger Beer.   Shaken and rolled into a tall glass.   Inspired by Scott Beattie’s ‘Irian Jaya’.” This was one yummy drink. The ingredients were all clearly very fresh, and you could taste each and every element. The sour of the grapefruit in the front, the basil in the middle, the bitters and ginger on the finish. I sucked it down in like 2 minutes.

The main menu. Slightly changed up from when we were here in December. The PDF version HERE. Everything is family style with approximately 3 savory dishes needed per adult.

And the wine-list, PDF HERE. They have a rather odd corkage policy. During the week it’s $25, but they will waive one corkage for each bottle you buy, which is very reasonable. Friday and Saturday, no corkage! I don’t like no corkage, but the list is very reasonable, with many fine sweetish whites (which I like and go with the food) in the $55 category.

Like this favorite of mine, Parker gives it 91. “Extremely bright in aroma as well as palate impression, the Prums’ 2008 Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Kabinett is dominated by lemon and grapefruit, with village typical cherry and cassis manifesting themselves as an invigorating chew of fruit skin that is delightfully complimented by estate-typical impingement of CO2. Lush yet light, this finishes with not only blazing brightness but a cress-like pungency and strikingly intense salinity and suggestions of wet stone, making your palate stand to attention, wide awake! Plan on following it for a couple of decades, although, unlike many Joh. Jos. Prum wines, I find it (and many of the estate’s 2008s) downright irresistible already.”

“hokkaido scallop cured with lime sugar,  green strawberries, coriander, wood sorrel.” This replaces the excellent “Fluke cured with lime” dish from last time. It wasn’t quite as good, but was still wonderful. The scallop was subtle and soft, the white radish crunchy and bitter, and my favorite part the “lime sugar” floating on the vinegar sauce.

SOFT RICE PAPER / rock shrimp, jackfruit,  black garlic, bean sprouts.” A varient on the typical soft spring roll. Nice textures, and the shrimp were good, but could have used a bit more flavor, or just some sweet and sour sauce.

“DUCK / 5-spice, charred frisee, chicory, tamarind syrup,  grains of paradise.” A repeat, but worth it. This duck has a wonderful charred and sweet BBQ flavor, and it just falls apart. Really succulent.

“BANH MI / foie gras, pate de campagne.” Another irresistible repeat. The rich foie, the crunch of the pickles and crust, and the considerable heat of the seranno peppers all blend to perfection. Similar yet different from the other Banh Mi I had recently at Saam (REVIEW HERE).

“LAMB BELLY / hoisin, hibiscus-onion, sunflower seeds,  salsify, lady apple.” A brand new dish, and a stunner. The dark stuff is the lamb, and the sunflower crusted stuff the salsify. There is a unique blend of flavors and textures here, but the lamb was the stand out. Crispy fried in hoisin it most closely resembled an awesome interpretation of crispy Schezuan beef.

“BEEF TARTARE / water lettuce, water chestnut, spicy herbs, nuoc leo, chlorophyll.” Another goodie. The meat and greens are placed on a shrimp chip. Fabulous interplay of texture and flavor.

“PORK / caramelized black vinegar and honey, prunes, sorrel, dried almond.” Again one of my favorites. This pork is like the perfect sweet BBQ. It just falls apart.

The dessert menu, PDF HERE. We ordered the two we didn’t have last time.

“RHUBARB / mahlab cremeux, hibiscus, gentian,  aromatic willow.” This, I guess, is supposed to be a reinterpretation of a strawberry shortcake. The net effect to me was perhaps a bit more like cheesecake. It was very creamy and pleasant, with the rhubarb itself understated and adding only a subtle sourness to the dish. It certainly looks pretty too!

“LIME SABAYON / cucumber ice cream, cashew macaroons, white chocolate, jasmine.” This dish had strong taste resemblances to Key Lime Pie. Particularly if you got all the elements except for the cucumber ice-cream. This last was good, but through off the key lime thing. The butter colored disk below is the lime I think, and the macaroons had an awesome perfect chewy texture. Overall a really good dish.

 

Overall Red Medicine continued to impress. It offers really interesting and cutting edge food with bold and unique flavors at a very reasonable price point. I love the small dish only format. I’ve become so spoiled by that or long prix fixe meals that I can hardly eat at normal appetizer/entree restaurants anymore 🙂 If you haven’t been here, go!

To the Chefs and Owners, I thank you, and just hope that you keep mixing up the menu so it continues to offer variety and new flavors!

Thanksgiving Proper

Thursday night has finally arrives and with it the serious consumption of traditional Thanksgiving fare. Last night we whet our whistles, CLICK TO SEE, and you’ve seen the echos of the past, but here is the real thing. Blow by blow.

When I arrived my father had already cracked this. The order was wrong but the wine was right. “A profound effort, the 2000 Figeac‘s opaque purple color is accompanied by a terrific bouquet of camphor, graphite, black currants, licorice, and smoked herbs. With well-balanced, powerful tannin, concentration, and pinpoint precision, finesse, and purity, this expressive effort will drink well between 2004-2018.”

A few appetizers. Bear in mind that EVERYTHING is made from scratch. Homemade guacamole (like mine, but not spicy — I make a special shotgun guac with Jalapenos, cyranos, and haberneros).Tapanade with olives, vegetables, garlic and olives. Olives, bread etc.

Flowers from Robertson’s, overpriced but lovely.

The room.

The next two wines. A 2002 Bonnes Mares (yum) and a nice CNDP. “Three separate tastings of this wine left me with the impression that there is a lot more to them than meets the palate. One of the finest estates of the appellation, Clos des Papes tends to produce wines that require 4-5 years of bottle age before they reveal themselves. That may be the case with the 1998, but I am still calling it relatively conservatively, especially when compared with other efforts. The color is very evolved, and not darkly saturated. The bouquet is top-notch, offering attractive cedar, dried herb, black cherry and raspberry scents that are intense yet delicate. Similar flavors emerge on the palate. Medium to full-bodied, with a restrained, elegant style, particularly for this vintage, Clos des Papes’ 1998 tastes as if it emerged from a different year because it was not exhibiting the power, unctuosity, and jamminess possessed by many 1998s. However, there is a lot to the wine, all of which may be revealed with further age.”

My father carries in one of the two turkeys. Multi hour BBQ.

Pounding through the wine. Parker gives this 92, one of my favorite Rhone wineries, “That may explain the open-knit, complex notes of tree bark, black cherries, licorice, seaweed, pepper, and floral notes in the 1998 Beaucastel. The wine is medium to full-bodied, has nice, sweet tannins, and is surprisingly open and approachable. This wine has reached the beginning of its plateau of maturity, where it should last for at least a decade or more. Atypically forward for a wine from Beaucastel, my recollection is that the actual percentage of Grenache, which never exceeds the Mourvedre in their final blend, was much higher in 1998 than in other years.”

The stuffing.

bread.

One of the two cranberry sauces. This is the “relish.”

Mom carves as well as cooks.

Turkey number two. You never know.

Sweet potato.

Brussel spouts, made fresh and not bitter in the least. My cousin-in-law made this one.

The gravy.

Roasted beets.

The turkey plate.

Corn soufflé. One of the few things not made by my mother and aunt.

Chugging through more wine. The 1994 Lagrande: “In comparison to the more open-knit, flattering style of the 1993, the 1994 is a backward, less precocious, more tannic wine that needs another 5-7 years of cellaring. It is a wine that recalls the style of the more tannic vintages of the sixties and seventies. The healthy dark ruby/purple color is followed by copious quantities of smoky, toasty, new oak. There is an impression of ripe fruit, but, for now, the wine’s personality remains dominated by excruciatingly strong tannin. Give this wine 5-6 years of cellaring, as patience is definitely a requirement for purchasing the 1994 Lagrange. It should last for 15-20 years.”

Also a Shiraz from my dad’s cellars. We had some cork issues but it came out okay.

Salad, because you need something to wash it down.

The second cranberry, the jelly (homemade of course).

The full spread.

And the official 2010 plate!

Mom presents the pecan pie.

Snickerdoodles made fresh by cousin Abbe, Grandmom D’s brownies and blondies made by cousin Matt.

The chocolatt cake and whipped cream.

The world’s best pecan pie!

This lovely PX returns from last night for yet another round. Motor oil soaked in sugar!

My dessert plate.

Full. Full. Full!

And last but not least: the Chefs!  My mother on the right, my aunt on the left.

 

ThanksGavin Calendar:

Wednesday night dinner

Thursday night Thanksgiving Feast

Friday night pork roast

Saturday Deli Brunch