Capo Valentines

Restaurant: Capo [1, 2, 3]

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

Date: February 14, 2011

Cuisine: Italian with Cal influences

Rating: Well done, particularly for a special night.


Valentines is tricky restaurant-wise, and rarely shows off a place at it’s best. The economics of the situation tend to force them toward set menus (at high prices) and to rush the service so they can get 2-3 seatings in. We decided to try Capo, which I have reviewed on a normal night HERE.

Normally, Capo boasts of being a “slow food” restaurant. Tonight they hustled a bit, although the food was very good. We had a 7:15 reservation and they had us out of there (7 courses later!) at 9! Actually, we didn’t really mind, but that certainly wouldn’t be the case here on a normal night.

The have good bread. I particularly like the flatbread.

And this probably chickpea based dip.

For Valentines there were two menu choices, the regular on the right, and the truffle on the left. Both had two choices per course (more or less). Click to embiggen.

The amuse, a cone of tomatoes. Essentially like a tomato bruschetta — in a crispy cone.

To start we got two glasses of white. A muscat on the left and a Sancerre on the right. Other than having a rather hefty per glass price tag they were very nice wines.

“Baby red beet, ricotta ravioli.” The first of many Beurre blanc type pasta sauces. They have very nice fresh pasta here, and well the butter sauce is hard to go wrong with.

“Russian Beluga caviar, linguini.” Again with the butter. A very simple dish of pasta, butter, and caviar. It worked. The sauce was bread dipping good. This might not be the BEST venue to show off the caviar, although it certainly wasn’t overwhelmed, lending a briny note to the whole thing.

I love Amarone, as it is very grapy, and that’s one of the things I like in a red.

Parker gives this 92. “The 2004 Amarone is beautiful and understated in its wild cherries, sweet herbs and flowers, all of which come together with unusual finesse and clarity. Silky, ripe tannins frame the exquisite finish. The 2004 is already approachable and should continue to drink nicely for another decade or so. This is a very representative vintage for Allegrini. Anticipated maturity: 2010-2020.”

“Bluefin tuna tartar, caviali.” This is a very nice sushi grade tuna, essentially chopped like you might find in a tuna handroll. The bread is very toasted.

“Gnocchi lobster, truffles.” Again with the Beurre blanc! The gnocchi were perfectly pillow-like, the lobster tender, and the truffles do go spectacularly with the butter — really one of the best ways to show them off. Everyone but my arteries thought this was a fantastic dish. Again, I lapped up the butter with yet another piece of bread.

“Heirloom tomato vegetable, burrata.” No faulting this combination. Capo always has a lot of burrata, and you know I love it (HERE FOR MORE ON THE BEST FRESH CHEESE!).

“Jamon Iberico de Bellota.” Spain’s best ham (see leg below). My biggest beef with this dish is that the bread is too toasted. It has a nice charred flavor, but that overwhelms the subtle salty-nutty taste of this very fine pig product.

Oink! How did my leg get from Iberia to American?

“”BBQ Wild King Salmon.” My wife, a salmon aficionado, loved this salmon. It had nice accompanying veggies too.

“Cote de Boeuf, truffle potato puree.” This was my least favorite dish of the evening, but this is just because I’m not really a steak guy. It was very rare, more than medium closer to rare. That was good. But I’m just not that into simple meat. I like things jazzy. If one were a steak lover, I’m sure this would be awesome. As it was for me it was good, but not mind blowing or anything. The mashers were really good though, and went particularly nicely with the black truffles.

“Fruit Crostata, zabaglione.” They described this as a pear tart. It tasted like apple pie. I wonder if they mixed it up and gave us “Hot apple tart, truffle honey ice cream” except that’s whipped cream (zabaglione?) and not ice cream. In any case, it was good apple pie, although it tended to fall apart.

“Chocolate creme brulee.” Yum! This was very good, rich, creamy, nicely chocolatty!

Some various petite fours. Mostly simple nut cookies and a couple fruit cream filled chocolates.

And they even included a rose!

Overall, this was one of the better Valentines dinners we’ve done. Really, just like with the flowers one can expect to pay more for less on this special night. But Capo did as well as could be expected. The choices were good, and every dish was very well executed.

Food as Art: Melisse

Restaurant: Melisse [1, 2]

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

Date: March 3, 2010

Cuisine: California French

Rating: Awesome, but heart stopping.


I’ve been going to Melisse for years but I could never convince a whole table to try the chef’s “Carte Blanche” menu. Even my ever-patient wife wasn’t up to it. So I went last March with two other glutton gourmands (my Foodie Club) and we went to town. We even added in some supplements. This meal was 7-8 months ago so I apologize for lapses in my memory, hopefully made up for by pretty pictures.

The first Amuse was grapes done two ways, on the right covered in goat cheese and a nut, and on the left spherized.

I brought wine from my cellar as usual. A meal of this magnitude called for a Grand Cru burgundy. In this case a 1995 Mazis-Chambertin. I’ve long been a burg-hound, and this didn’t disappoint.

Melisse has excellent bread in the modern French style. I’m particularly partial to the bacon bread. This meal was also used by both my friend Erick and I as beta testing for our DSLR based food photography. After having to stand back from the table and annoy other guests with a big flash I went out that week and bought a 50mm compact macro lens and a macro flash ring. Now I’m golden. Food is a tricky subject because while it doesn’t move, the natural habitat is often dark and it’s a small subject that must often be filmed from very close (normal lenses don’t like to focus under two feet).

I can’t say I remember what this amuse was, but the Japanese pottery is pretty. If I had to guess I’d say herring or mackerel of some sort.

I think this was Fennel Flan, Valencia Orange Gelee, Cashew Froth. This is the kind of dish Melisse excels at. Things involving cream.

I can’t remember this either, but it’s a good bet here that when something looks creamy or buttery, it tastes great.

“Egg Caviar, Lemon Creme Fraiche and American Osetra Caviar.” A Melisse classic. This has a wonderful creamy/eggy ness.

“Trio of Melisse Foie Gras. Dated Confiture, Pineapple Gastrique, Tarragon.” Because one fois isn’t enough.

In no time the three of us had plowed through the Mazis-Chambertin and I had to pull out the 1989 Lynch Bages. This was the first great wine I ever bought when I began serious collecting (and drinking) in ’96. It’s remained a nostalgic favorite of mine ever since. Parker gives it 95 points and says, “The style of the two vintages for Lynch Bages parallels the style of the 1989 and 1990 Pichon-Longueville-Baron. In both cases, the 1990 is the more forward, flattering, and delicious to drink wine, in contrast to the more massive, backward, tannic, and potentially superior 1989. The opaque purple-colored 1989 is less evolved and showy. However, it looks to be a phenomenal example of Lynch Bages, perhaps the finest vintage in the last 30 years. Oozing with extract, this backward, muscular, dense wine possesses great purity, huge body, and a bulldozer-like power that charges across the palate. It is an enormous wine with unbridled quantities of power and richness. The 1989 requires 5-8 years of cellaring; it should last for three decades. These are two superb efforts from Lynch Bages.”

This is the “Truffle Egg.” It wasn’t on the menu, but I’ve wanted to try one for some time. We were going to each order one but the waiter wisely convinced us to share. It’s a crazy poached egg like thing in a truffle butter sauce with a buttery foam on top. Then…

Fresh black truffles are shaved on top.

Voila! It tastes as good as it looks.

This single shrimp and single stalk of asparagus from a specific California farm was quite excellent. The shrimp was almost lobster-like. Buttery sauce of course.

I think this was a mushroom/scallop soup with a Japanese-like flavor pallete.

And this was a monkfish with various vegetables and sauces.

Sonoma duck, config of leg, and breast. Quail egg. This was really tasty, particularly the breast and everything when smeared in the egg yolk.

Beef of some sort, including the marrow.

And the Carte de fromage. My favorite. Melisse has always had one of the best cheese carts in town.

Get a look at that runny Vacheron or Epoisses in the middle (the orange round one).

We ended up with these.

This was basically strawberries and cream. It was amazing. The strawberry is in gelato/sorbet form.

I think this was “Frozen Passion Fruit Souffle. Pistachio, Coconut, Lemongrass Broth.”

Lest we forget the chocolate, we each got like five kinds. The soufflé had it’s own injector. It’s called “Chocolate, Chocolate, Coffee. Chocolate Souffle, Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch, Coffee and Mascarpone.”

Here in tripple form. Remember this is but the third of several deserts, after the cheese!

Wafer thin mint anyone? These petite-fors were actually a bit lackluster, but who had room anyway. The wild strawberries and creme fraiche were good.

We started at 8pm and left close to 1 am. Look how the dining room appeared during our final courses. This was a very (modern) French meal in a lot of ways, following the classic rule of “never too much butter, never too much cream.” It’s very very good though, if a bit on the rich side.

For another Melisse meal, click here.

Or for other Foodie Club meals, click here.