Jer-ne to the center of the Marina

Restaurant: Jer-ne

Location: Ritz-Carlton. 4375 Admiralty Way. Marina del Rey, California 90292 USA. (310) 823-1700

Date: October 29, 2011

Cuisine: Californian

Rating: Solid

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When the Ritz-Carlton Marina Del Rey renovated and opened its new restaurant in the early 2000s the naming committee was obviously inspired by Steve Martin‘s classic LA Story (and its 80s restaurant, lee-dee-oh — spelled l’idiot). In any case, the original Jer-ne actually served up top notch California Asian Fusion when it opened. Like most hotel restaurants, there has been chef turnover — who knows how many times in the last decade. I hadn’t been in a few years (except for the pretty amazing Sunday brunch) and when an old friend from High School Facebook IMed me that he was in town, we headed on over.


The menu is mean and lean, all streamlined modern Californian.


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.”


The Ritz always had good cheesy cracker things.


caesar. organic romaine, santa barbara olives, tomatoes, crouton.”


oyster. pacific oysters, crispy potato, spanish ham, sambuca hollandaise.” The sauces were really good, but the oysters had that bitter note that fried oysters often have. Every time I have them I’m reminded that I like my oysters raw.


halibut. sautéed leek, double smoked bacon, corn, potato, clam chowder sauce.”


salmon. green bean, glazed carrots, potato puree, parsley butter.”


lamb. sirloin, heirloom tomato, organic ratatouille, tomato mustard chutney.” Some very tasty and relatively lean lamb. The sauce was one of those meaty jus reductions that I love.


The dessert menu.


greek yogurt panna cotta. slow roasted market stonefruit, corn praline, thymje.”


spiced peanut butter mousse. crunchy peanut butter chocolate, candied ginger ice cream, spicy caramelized honey.” This was a nice dessert. A good interplay between the fluffy peanut butter, crunch, and the ginger ice cream.

Overall the food at this new Jer-ne was good. It didn’t blow me away or anything, and it’s very different than it used to be 8 or so years ago (full of Japanese influenced dishes), but it was a very solid take on conservative but well executed the New American. Even the desserts show plating influences that are very contemporary — what I think of as geometric and dust — the use of cubes, spheres, and ovals in a sort of post war art kind of arrangement, often dusted with granular flavor components. Red Medicine’s desserts are typical examples, but I suspect it’s really a Ferran Adrià thing.

For more LA dining reviews click here.

Takao Top Omakase

Restaurant: Takao [123, 4, 5]

Location: 11656 San Vicente Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90049. (310) 207-8636

Date: October 16, 2011

Cuisine: Japanese / Sushi

Rating: 9/10 creative “new style” sushi

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I’ve already covered Takao in some detail HERE and then separately herehere and here. The full menu and some information on the history of the place can be found through the first link. This particular meal covers a full $120 Omakase, which actually is a very good value compared to ordering ala carte.


We started off with a lovely “shaved rice” style cold sake. I’ve become increasingly fond of this old-school premium form of sake.


Ankimo (Monk Fish Liver) with ponzu, scallions, and slightly spiced daikkon radish. An excellent example of this classic dish.


White fish with a bit of micro greens, citrus zest, and red peppercorns. A very light and delicious “sashimi salad.”


Toro tartar with caviar. A takao (and Nobu) classic.


Baracuda with ginger, scallions, in a light ponzu. This is not normally my favorite fish, but this preparation was very nice, with a light hint of char on the partially cooked fish.


Grilled Alaskan king crab legs. A sprig of pickled ginger. Very fresh and not frozen tasting, but the sweet vinegar sauce (in the back) totally made the dish.


A classic Japanese style unami flavor. A autumn broth of three kinds of mushrooms and some kind of light fish. The two sauces were a sour plum sauce (I think traditional with this fish) and a really tasty vinegary ponzu.


Sweet Santa Barabara prawn and asparagus tempura. The batter had little crispy riceballs in it which gave the whole thing a different texture. Plus there was both curry salt and sea salt and the traditional tempura sauce for dipping.


Salmon slices, marinated in a miso broth, served sizzling hot in this cast iron pan. You could cook as little or much as you liked. The sweet miso sauce was very tasty too.


A sushi flight. Starting at the left: red snapper, gizzard shad, blue fin tuna, toro, and in front, Santa Barbara uni (sea urchin).


Clam miso. Like regular miso, but with an extra hint of brine.


And for dessert, green tea creme brule with strawberries. It’s very green, with a fairly intense creamy tea flavor.

This was probably my best official omakase at Takao yet (and it’s always good). A very nice meal.

Check out other Takao reviews:  [1234, 5]

For more LA area sushi, see here.

Eating Santa Margherita – Antonios

Restaurant: Antonios

Location: Santa Margherita, Italy

Date: June 27, 2011

Cuisine: Ligurian

Rating: Best we had in Liguria

ANY CHARACTER HERE

I did my best at internet research to pick this restaurant in the heart of “downtown” Santa Margherita. It was #2 on TripAdvisor. Now this is a review source that I take with a block of salt, but in reading the reviews I got the feeling I’d like the place — and I was right.


You can see a hint of the quaint little garden inside. Like the rest of Liguria it was a little steamy, even late at night (the weather was 88 degrees and 100% humidity, shades of my youth in Virginia).


The “pre-bread” which look like donut balls but tasted salty — and delicious. After all, they were fried.


The regular bread.

We started with a romantic glass of “special cocktail,” which was probably more or less a Kir Royale.


A special appetizer of raw seafood. Two types of prawn, tuna tartar, and some yellowtail like lighter fish. It was all delicious and exceedingly fresh.


Another nice local white.


This was a marvelous example of a very traditional ligurian pasta. Cheese inside, with “salsa con le noci” which is a pesto of walnuts, milk, butter, flour and pepper. Totally delicious.


An unusual “seafood lasagna.” This was a fairly typical lasagna with a kind of lobster/shrimp ragu. Also wonderful.


Branzino Genovese. Fresh local sea-bass baked with a thin scallop of potatoes.


This was a fairly simple meal, and only for two (so less photos) but the food was pretty impeccable, showing a light seafoody Italian with just a hint of modernity. All very much to my taste. Bravo.

Click here to see more Eating Italy posts.

Eating Colle di Val d’Elsa – Arnolfo

Restaurant: Arnolfo Ristorante

Location: Colle di Val d’Elsa, Italy

Date: June 16 & 23, 2011

Cuisine: Tuscan

Rating: Awesome, but hard to find

ANY CHARACTER HERE

Just fifteen minutes from our villa and Siena lies the city of Colle di Val d’Elsa and its two star rated Michelin restaurant, Arnolfo. So we went twice! This is an amazing restaurant in a gorgeous location atop the old city. The rub, however, is getting there. The first time the GPS insisted we drive into a masonry wall (closed road). We gave up with that, parked, and ended up walking over a mile, including taking the elevator up to the old city. The walk back wasn’t no fun either and the staff told us that to actually drive here you have to go 6km out of your way to the next town and then come back by one particular approach — but then there is no parking in the old city.

So the next time, feeling all smart, I tried to park in the “close” (only 500m) lot below the old city. But the first entrance I tried was so narrow that I almost got stuck and had to back up my 9 seater van down 200m of alley and around a 90 degree turn — only took 30 minutes and soaked through my suit in the 88 degree humid weather. Then we had to hike up the half mile.

But it was worth it.


They have a gorgeous patio which far from “being in the middle of a city” looks out on the Tuscan hillside.


Even the non-view direction is lovely.


Grissini, first of several bread courses.


The menu on June 16 (the last of the “spring menu”).


And the new “summer” menu on June 23, as we luckily straddled the change.


Compari and soda.


Stating with a little prosecco to cool off.


In the glass.


Then comes a tray of amuses. From left to right. Green pea mouse, tomato stuffed with mozzarella, apple disc with prawn, veal croquet, and gorgonzola and fig jam sandwich. These were all good, but the last was incredible.


Like most great restaurants Arnolfo caters to every restriction. This is a variant amuse plate for vegetarians.


For example this beet and goat cheese mini.


Bread course number two, tomato bread and with lardo (sliver of pig fat).


And for those not so into the pig, the one on the right is onion.


Nor are the gluten free left out. Various potato and rice triscuits!


I’ve come to like Vernaccia, which is a D.O.C. white from San Gimignano. Very light, but with more flavor than a Pinot Grigio.


“Scampi, Goose Liver Escalope, Strawberries.”


“Sea Bass, Strawberries.” A variant for the shellfish impaired.

My notes failed me a little here, but I think it’s some kind of fish (possibly a pork belly though) in a pea soup.


Heads up, bread course three!


“Red mullets, Peas, Silver skin Onions.”


“Asparagus, Ricotta Cheese, Eggs.” Now this was an interesting dish. The white asparagus were grilled and wrapped in pancetta (bacon). The white and yellow stuff is deconstructed egg (yolk and white as powder). The ricotta is in the upper right and was delicious. The powder wasn’t as successful as the bonus egg, shown below.


This is more or less a coddled egg. I dipped the asparagus for extra umph.


This was a small production local Chianti Classico that the sommeler recommended. Good too, and like 30E. Try to find a decent wine at that price at a French 2 star!


“Guinea-Fowl, Chick-peas, I.G.P. Tuscan Ham.” Good stuff.

“Spinach soup with sea bass, tomato.”


“Perlina Aubergines, Tomato, Watermelon, Buffalo Mozzarella I.G.P.”


“Prawns, Peaches, Yellow Pepper.” Yummy. The pairing of the delicate shellfish was delicious with both the fruit and the peppers.


Arnolfo has very nice presentation, which I couldn’t photo every aspect of.


“Goose Liver, Red Onions, Spices, Cherries.” Oh wow yum. And that is some kind of cheese foam/ice cream on top. This was really good stuff.

And two extra goose liver preps for good measure. A sort of Napoleon and a little pistachio coated truffle, solid fois inside.


“Rabbit, Bloack Olives, Ratatouille.” Not your everyday Ratatouille. Notice the white asparagus too.


“Turbot with mozzerella.”


“Tortelli with chicken from Val d’Orcia, with asparagus and red pepper soup.” These are serious homemade pastas.

“Tortelli, Red Onions from Certaldo, White Beans from Sorana.”


“Mezzelune pasta, Courgettes flowers, Wedge shells.”


“Tagliolini, Rabbit, Black Olives.” In the front, out of focus, are discs of rabbit meat to go with the chunks of bunny in the pasta.


“Ravioli, Aubergines, Ewe’s Ricotta, Red Pepper.”


Gluten free pasta too!


“The 2006 Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva is a pretty, juicy red laced with cherries, dried flowers, tobacco and underbrush. The tannins dry out a touch on the finish, which is the only thing that keeps the score from going higher. Still, this forward, fruit-driven Chianti should drink nicely over the next few years. Anticipated maturity: 2010-2016. “


“Cod, with onions.” And some other stuff.


“Fish soup, Crustaceans, Mollucs, Vegetables.”


“John Dory, Asparagus, Datterini Tomatoes, Capers from Pantelleria.”


“Dentex, Gazpacho, Aubergines.”


“Swordfish, Roasted Peppers, Candied Tomatoes.” You can see that each dish is quite complex.


A brunello recommended by the sommelier.


“I.G.P. Chianina Veal Steak and cheek.”


“I.G.P. Chianina Veal Tartar and vegetables.”


I didn’t used to be into tartar, but it’s really been growing on me over the last several years. Quail egg on top.


“I.G.P. Chiania Veal Steak, Potatoes.”


“Cinta Senese Suckling Pig, Porchetta, Leg, Loin, Leaf Cabbage, Beetroots.”


This town evidently produces 14% of the world’s crystal. Italian shopping hours being what they are, despite three visits, we never saw one open.


Ah the suffering involved in dining in one of the world’s great wine regions. 93 points from Parker. “Consulting oenologist Carlo Ferrini has turned out a beautiful wine at this historic estate, a property which he speaks of in effusive terms. Talenti’s sublime 2001 Brunello Pian di Conte exhibits a deep, translucent ruby color. It opens with captivating, vibrant aromatics, with notes of freshly cut roses, raspberries and licorice. Gorgeously expressive yet delicate on the palate, it offers layers of dark fruit, earthiness and sweet oak supported by a refined, classic structure, with exceptional length and fine, silky tannins on the fresh finish. It is a superb effort. Anticipated maturity: 2008-2021.”

We are assaulted by a battery of pre-desserts. Vanilla ice cream with cherry rhubarb “soup.”

“Almond Mascarpone, pistachio ice cream.”


“Ricotta Cheese, Orange, Honey.” Tart and sweet.


“Selection of Tuscan Sheep’s-milk and Goat’s-milk Cheeses.”


And some nice condiments.


I can’t even remember what this one was.


“Zuccotto, Star Anis, Coffee, Fennel Ice Cream.”


“Grand Dessert Assortment.” Because one isn’t enough. Chocolate cake, Passionfruit sauce. Coffee something. Strawberry flan. A bit of the above Zuccotto, and something else.


“Zuccotto, Pinenuts, Alkermes, Chocolate Sorbet, Fleur del Sel.” The central thing was basically a meringue.


“Fruit and custard mille fueile.”


“Apricots, Almonds, Lavender Ice Cream.”


Worth a bit of zoom.


And this too.


We also had a birthday (mine more or less), so there was this bonus cake!

And just a few petite fours. Lemon jelly in the center. A little fruit tart on the right.

More, on the second night. Berry tart. Ricotta vanilla dome. Pistachio burger. Blackberry mouse. Almond marzipan.


Our second meal here was slightly better than the first for some reason, but both were top notch. Service was spectacular all around. Highly recommended as a very updated medium modernist take on Tuscan cuisine. The quality of local ingredients was impeccable, and they know how to modernize playfully without letting the techniques get out of control.

Click here to see more Eating Italy posts.

Eating Milano Marittima – Lo Sporting

Restaurant: Lo Sporting

Location: Milano Marittima, Italy

Date: June 9, 2011

Cuisine: Trendy Italian

Rating: Decent food, but overpriced

ANY CHARACTER HERE

One of the cool things about the beach town of Cervia / Milano Marittima is that there are a lot of shops and restaurants on a lovely tree lined promenade stretching through town.


Notice how the old Italian Stone Pines grow right through the shops!


We stopped for lunch at a likely looking place called Lo Sporting.

The menu was huge, but I only photoed the part that was relevant. Really we had wanted pizza, and the place had the world “pizzeria” on the sign, but when we sat down they told us that the pizza oven was only available in the evening!


So it had to be pasta. My young son got this garginelli pomodoro.


Grilled tuna in balsamic sauce. They were surprisingly cold, and very rare. The sauce was tasty but I think it might have been better with warm fish and cold sauce.


Spaghetti pomodoro.

Mixed fish. On the left tuna in balsamic, in the back sepia (cuttlefish) in a vinegary sauce, and in the front right some white fish — possibly sardine fillets — marinated. This was all very tasty.


Lightly breaded shrimp and octopus skewers. I didn’t try it, but it was reportedly excellent.


Mozzarella salad.

Afterward we went across the street for some gelato. I often find in Italy that the gelato is much better than the restaurant desserts.


This is hazelnut and bacio (hazelnut chocolate with liqueur).

Coconut and pineapple.


Some chocolate being spooned in. Some of these places have 3-5 different chocolates to chose from!

Click here to see more Eating Italy posts.

Eating Cervia – Locanda dei Salinari

Restaurant: Locanda dei Salinari

Location: Cervia, Italy

Date: June 8, 2011

Cuisine: Adriatic Seafood

Rating: Great seafood

ANY CHARACTER HERE

After three days in the Modena/Parma/Bologna area we relocated west to the Adriactic coastal town of cervia/Milano Maritima. While technically still in Emilia-Romagna this is a beach-side community with a much greater emphasis on seafood.


Our first night we check out this Michelin bib-gourmet restaurant.


The menu.

Starting with a nice white.


Note the cool antique interior.

A sub selection of the wine list.

Great breads are an Italian staple.

Carpegna ham and fresh ricotta.

Scallops with grilled tomatos and spring mushrooms.


Local fish crudo. This was super tasty, basically sashimi with a slightly Italian twist.

Some kind of snapper, local giant shrimp.

Some other crustacean (scampi?), and I think a halibut.


Special toast to go with the crudo.


Insalta misto.

Swordfish skewers, with parmesan.


We moved on to a Masi Amarone. I love Amarone, and Masi is one of my favorite vineyards. This was surprisingly cheap too. “The entry-level 2005 Amarone Classico della Valpolicella Costasera is made in a fairly straightforward, fresh style, with perfumed bright red fruit supported by silky tannins. This harmonious red offers excellent depth and lovely balance. Anticipated maturity: 2008-2015.”


A kind of local pasta with fish.

Passatelli with scampi and asparagus. This is a local style of thick worm-like pasta.


Rissotto with peas and raw red shrimps. There was an interesting red sauce in the center that might have been made from their shells or roe.


Rissotto with pheasant.


A zoom-in so that you can all can revel in the rissotto-ness of it all.


Turbot with ricotta and aubergines on potato cake with truffle sauce.


Frito mixto: fried mixed vegetables and fish. These were really lightly friend and delicious, although there was a lot of bone action.


The dessert menu.

Semifreddo of fig ice cream with orange sauce. This was super yummy too, as I particularly love the cool soft texture of semifreddo.


They have a few grappas and the like.


Overall this was a wonderful transition to the more seafood oriented cuisine of the coast. This was a great place.

Click here to see more Eating Italy posts.

Matsuhisa – The Private Room

Restaurant: Matsuhisa [1, 2]

Location: 129 N La Cienega Blvd Beverly Hills, CA 90211. (310) 659-9639

Date: May 6, 2011

Cuisine: Japanese Fusion

Rating: As good as it’s always been!

ANY CHARACTER HERE

Some good friends were in town who had never tried Nobu Matsuhisa‘s particular blend of Japanese Peruvian Fusion. As popular as this has become in the last fifteen years, and how every derivative restaurant in America throws a few of his dishes on the menu, the original still rocks. I also scored a Friday night reservation in the coveted and private “Omakase only room,” where his cooking is showcased to the best effect.


The original storefront.


This aged 1st Cru white burgundy from my cellar was the very expression of mature chardonay.

As you can see from the color. This wine is ready, more than ready, as it might have been a tad better two years ago. Still it had a wonderful floral perfume to it.


The private room seats eight, and has it’s own sushi bar and kitchen.


“Seafood springroll with heirloom tomato and caviar.” This is the only repeat of the night, a Matsuhisa classic.Fry is always good, but it’s actually the combination with the spicy tomato chutney/salsa that really sells the dish.

One of the private kitchen chefs working on the appetizers.


Grilling up some conch!


Different members of our party got slightly different versions of this quartet of amuses.


“Seared salmon, new style.” That is with sesame, ponzu, and warm olive oil.


Kanpachi (young yellowtail) with a bit of red peper and ponzu on a radish.


Red snapper carpaccio, with chives, garlic, and vinegar.


A second version of the plate.


Lobster cerviche.


Tai (red snapper) sashimi, new style.


Yellowtail collar marinated in miso (a Nobu classic), baked, and then served with a bit of garlic and texture on letuce. You wrap it up and eat it like a soft taco.


Japanese baby conch, sauteed in garlic butter (escargot style).


The creepy crawly himself. Chewy and a little bitter, in a good way.


Burgundy goes very well with the Matsuhisa flavor profiles. The first time I ever went here, in 1996, I brought a Gros Frere Clos Vougeot. This 2005, Parker gives a 92. “The 2005 Clos Vougeot from Drouhin’s two parcels in that famous cru, is much more earthy and less fine-grained than the majority of their wines from this vintage, but it exhibits impressive concentration. A bone meal-like meld of mineral and meat dominates the nose and suffuses the palate along with black raspberry, plum and cherry fruit accepted by faintly bitter fruit pit notes. This is quite full and rich, but without being heavy; overtly tannic and chewy, but without being coarse. A promising more tart than sweet juiciness of black fruit mingles with roasted meat and stony, chalky minerality in the finish.”


Sashimi salad, with yellowtail, seared blue fin tuna, various dressings, and hearts of palm.


Par boiled Santa Barbara prawn with a tiny bit of salad (including hearts of palm). This was really yummy, even better than the cooked version we had last time. The meat is very sweet and succulent, delicious warm but essentially raw.


Sea bass on a bed of mushroom “risotto” with white truffles. The little spears are pickled ginger shoots.


“Fois gras, seabass, mushrooms, in a very rich reduction sauce.” Very meaty and tasty, the sauce was a pretty awesome blend of all three contributors of yum: salt, sweet, and fatty. The little red fruit is a pickled leeche.


Another very nice, red burgundy, this one (unlike the others) from the restaurant’s list. We drank more than I thought. 🙂


Grilled Toro, with enoki, aspargus, and other mushrooms.


American Kobe Beef with asparagus, garlic, and a spicy sauce and mustard. Really yummy (and rich) dish.

Each person gets a little sushi plate, there were a couple variants, this one has no shellfish.


A version where everything is cooked.


The “normal” plate for those who eat everything.


Chu-toro (medium tuna belly). Perfect!


Kanpachi (young yellowtail). Like butter.


Orange giant clam.


Uni (sea urchin).


Anago (sea eel), in the classic sweet BBQ sauce.


The pretty laquer soup container.


Inside is snapper soup. I haven’t had this one before, although it’s a classic mild Japanese fish broth with cilantro and scallions. The fish is soft mellow whitefish in this context.


My brother got a special surprise, the eye. The chef’s convinced him to try it. “Good for the sinews and joints.”


Taco (octopus). Very tender.


Japanese Sea Scallop sushi, with a bit of yuzu. Always one of my favorite sushis, and this didn’t disappoint.


Kohada (gizzard shard).


Baby squid, battleship style. They’re raw, but tossed in a kind of sweet miso-lemon dressing. Really tasty.


And we finally make it to desserts. Fruit tart with ginger ice cream. This was a total fan fave with the ladies.


Green tea tiramisu with chocolate gelato. Both were good, with the pastry having a nice creaminess and the ice cream a deep richness.


Butterscotch cream brulee with a citrus ice cream. Also really nice and creamy.


Coffee ice cream with chocolate crunch. This was great too, probably my favorite. The crunch added a really nice texture.


Shave ice. Below are a couple balls of vanilla ice cream (very good vanilla ice cream), red bean sauce, and very finely shaved ice.


Then green tea sauce (or maybe just tea) is poured over it. In the end, a very interesting (and Asian) mix of flavors and textures.


Even the urinal is cool.


The main room.


The chefs at work back in our private room/kitchen.

This was probably the best meal I’ve ever had at Matsuhisa, and I’ve had a LOT of great ones. Because I’m jaded now, and used to the cuisine, it wasn’t utterly mind blowing innovative like the first time I ever ate here. But the cooking is as good here as it ever was. Nobu (and his sucessor cooks) still really know their stuff.

For a previous meal at Matsuhisa, see here.