Eating Modena – Osteria Francescana

Restaurant: Osteria Francescana

Location: Modena, Italy

Date: June 6, 2011

Cuisine: Emilia Romagna

Rating: Amazing Italian Molecular!


Our first fancy meal of the trip was at Osteria Francescana, a modern Italian in Modena with 2 Michelin stars. Francescana has an unusual and creative take on Italian. Most of the dishes have as their basis traditional ones, and the finest local ingredients (in a land rich with fine ingredients), but then they mess playfully with the forms, flavors, and textures. You’ll see.

The restaurant is located in scenic old Modena.

Here is the formal dusgustation menu. There is also an extensive ala carte. We put together a custom (and lengthy) molecular omakase.

First bread course.

We asked the sommelier for recommendations in interesting Italian wines. He started us with this Nero D’Avola, which surprisingly, tasted like a good Burgundy! Arianna Occhipinti bottles Frappato and Nero d’Avola. The two grapes are traditionally blended to make Cerasuolo di Vittoria, which in 2005 became the first style of red wine in Sicily to achieve DOCG status. Only 2 percent of Sicilian wine even merits DOC status (a tier down from DOCG) and only 15 percent is even bottled on the island. Native grape Nero d’Avola gives darkness, and Frappato provides uncommon fragrance. By utilizing native yeasts to begin fermentation, ageing in older and larger oak barrels and farming in adherence to the tenets of biodynamics, Occhipinti finds grace in the fields surrounding Ragusa and Vittoria.

This first dish is meant to represent “rock of the sea” and it’s colored and sweetened with squid ink. Mom says: the black sponge needed more flavor! To be fair, there were supposed to be clams inside, but they were removed to accomodate dietary restrictions.

This is “foam of mortadella di bologna.” Mortadella (seen below) is a classic traditional meat. Here it is basically whipped into a mousse-like consistency and served with a wonderful bit of toasted bread. The meat is spread on the bread and eaten, and it retains the exact flavor profile of the original. This is essentially a baloney sandwich.

Traditional Mortadella.

Various homemade breads and grisini.

Mackerel and salmon eggs.

With a pea soup.

Very tasty!

One of my favorites. The Fois Gras lollipop.

Inside is fois gras, coated with toasted almonds, and injected with a dab of aged balsamic (from Modena of course). This was rich, but pretty much incredible!

This wine was so rare the label is scotch taped on. It tasted like a cross between a Tavel (Rose) and a Pinot Noir, with strong tones of rosewater.

A “tart” of shallots and leeks, with Italian white truffles. This was absolutely delicious, and tasted a bit like Eggplant Bharta, the traditional cooked down eggplant and onion dish from India.

We also mixed in this Moscato, which while still sweet had more subtlety than most of the breed.

This is cod, with sicilian pesto and pistachios. The pesto was tomato and eggplant based. Also yummy.

Parmesan, five ways! This wonderful statement of the varieties of local Parmesan involves taking five different ages of the cheese, and processing them into five different forms and textures. Mouses, foams, sauce, crisp, etc. A very cheesy dish!

This dish was meant to represent a “cow in the pasture.”

It had various spring vegetables, and some fresh cream! Not the most exciting, just lots of types of peas!

This is a “compression of pasta and beans.” There is some fois gras in here too. Which perfectly fine, this was my least favorite dish of the evening.

This 1999 Barbera was rich and smokey, aged such that it had considerable sediment. It tasted like an old barbaresco!

This pasta is a fairly close reinterpretation of Pasta con Sarde. There were anchovies, breadcrumbs, and pesto. The pasta was al dente and the very flavor very refined.

Two raviolis contain cotechino (a very interesting cooked salami-like product) and lentils. The pasta itself was nigh on perfect, and the inside a traditional combination generally eaten at new years in Italy for at least 2500 years – festive pork and beans!

Black cod with potato confit.

A molecular reinterpretation of “bollito misto” (mixed boiled meats). Starting with the clear one at the bottom, and moving clockwise, we have: head, tongue, cheek, belly, tail, and cotechino! This last and the tongue were my favorites, the head and tail my least.

The pre dessert. Yogurt almond galette ice cream, goat cheese, drops of strawberry, mint. Very tasty. Sharp.

The first “real” dessert. Vanilla ice cream, chocolate cake, and a sort of gelatin cover. The taste was a bit like cassata.

Vanilla ice cream.

With fresh local cherries! My wife loved it.

An indication of the damage.

The petite fours, cheesecake, profiteroles, chocolate truffles, passionfruit gele, chocolate with cherry and tea, something with lemon and maybe shiso!

Our meal was so long that we emptied out the room!

This was a fantastic dinner. I happen to love the playful nature of modern molecular cuisine, which you can also see at my reviews of Calima, Saam, and La Terraza. You can also check the other two Michelin 2-star takes I sampled in Italy: La Frasca and Arnolfo. Like Osteria Francescana they both reinterpret their local cuisines (Adriatic seafood and Tuscan respectively) through a modern culinary lens.

Click here to see more Eating Italy posts.

Zengo – Macro Mall Medley

Restaurant: Zengo [1, 2, 3]

Location: 395 Santa Monica PlaceSanta Monica, CA 90401. Tel. 310.899.1000

Date: May 20, 2011

Cuisine: Latin-Asian Fusion

Rating: Color me confused — It’s in a mall, and it’s pretty good.


As I discussed previously, this is a slightly commercialized but pretty tasty mall restaurant whose appearence has accompanied the rooflift of Santa Monica Place. This one is Latin-Asian fusion. Sort of Asia de Cuba meets Rivera.

The roof terrace is pretty awesome. I wish more places in LA had great outdoor spaces.

“Hot & sour egg drop soupfoie gras-pork dumplings / enoki / green onion.” This is one of two repeats from last time. It had a very inserting note to the sour, from tamarind I think. The richness of the dumplings too is very nice as is the texture of the enoki.

“Crunchy calamari salad, Lemongrass / Mixed greens / Orange-coriander sauce.” This was a tasty salad, mixing a nice dressing with tasty calamari. The batter was very good, with something sweet in it. The fry was a little strong, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t taste good.

“Thai chicken empanadas. Chile poblano / Oaxaca cheese / mango-curry salsa.” These were heavy little fellows, and I mean literally. They weighed about twice what I would’ve expected. They tasted good too, but weren’t exactly light.

Achiote-hoisin pork arepas, corn masa / avocado / crema fresca.” These are serious flavor bombs. The meat tastes a bit like a good short rib, and goes perfectly with the typical pairing of avocado and crema fresca. There is just a bit of heat from the chilies. This is one of my favorite dishes.

Chicken Tandoori. Masala-achiote roasted chicken / black bean dal / cilantro & mango salsa.” The chicken itself was so soft it felt (and looked) a bit like shrimp. Tasty too, but not one of my absolute favorites.

“Chipotle-miso glazed black cod. Daikon radish / pea sprots lemon-togarashi aioli.” This is a reinterpreted version of the Nobu Matsuhisa classic. It’s a tad overdone.

“Beef short rib udon noodles. Shitake / Asparagus / Basil / Cilantro / Ginger-hoisin broth.” It’s hard in this picture to see the beef and the noodles underneath, but they’re there. This and the calamari were probably my favorites of the new dishes we tried this time.

Another view of the roof deck.

While this was still a tasty (and reasonably priced) meal, we did better with our selections the previous time. Perhaps that is because we forced ourselves to order some new things when some of the other ones (that we’d tried before) sounded better. I guess we know our own taste because they did!

Zengo 2 – part deux

Restaurant: Zengo [1, 2, 3]

Location: 395 Santa Monica Place, Santa Monica, CA 90401. Tel. 310.899.1000

Date: March 4, 2011

Cuisine: Latin-Asian Fusion

Rating: Color me confused — It’s in a mall, and it’s pretty good.


A month to the day after my first visit (REVIEW HERE), I went back to Zengo. As I discussed previously, this is a slightly commercialized but pretty tasty mall restaurant whose appearence has accompanied the rooflift of Santa Monica Place. This one is Latin-Asian fusion. Sort of Asia de Cuba meets Rivera.

Today’s menu. PDF version HERE. The menu is pretty much all tapas style (hooray!) where you order 3 or so dishes per person and share them all.

“Hot & sour egg drop soup, foie gras-pork dumplings / enoki / green onion.” This is one of two repeats from last time. It had a very inserting note to the sour, from tamarind I think. The richness of the dumplings too is very nice as is the texture of the enoki.

“Thai shrimp lettuce wraps, chorizo / peanut / cilantro / tamarind chutney.” The second repeat. All three ingredients are combined like most “Thai wraps.”

Close up. The shrimp has a nice crunch and texture. The sauce is tamarind, and quite sour. Overall very nice.

“Peking duck-daikon tacos, duck confit / curried apple / orange-coriander sauce.” These were YUMMY. The meat was very soft and BBQ flavored. You could hardly tell it from some good Carolina style BBQ-pork, but it wasn’t pork (duck). The sauce is light and sweet, the apple mostly for texture, and the daikon an interesting and very slick and cool (it’s wet) take on a taco.

Close up. The smoked flavor of the meat comes through strong, and it’s darn good. The other elements provide complementary notes and texture.

“Achiote-hoisin pork arepas, corn masa / avocado / crema fresca.” These are serious flavor bombs. The meat tastes a bit like a good short rib, and goes perfectly with the typical pairing of avocado and crema fresca. There is just a bit of heat from the chilies.

“Scallops al mojo de ajo, roasted corn-edamame salsa / bacon, cotija cheese / roasted garlic soy, yuzu-sriracha aioli.” Probably the least successful dish of the lot, but certainly not bad. The scallops themselves were tasty. The rest was like a slightly coleslaw’ish succotash, with bacon chunks. The bacon was really good though — when isn’t it?

“Pork carnitas rice noodles, pork shoulder / mushroom / cashew / soft egg / hot ’n sour sauce.” Another winner. The noodles are tossed first, allowing the poached egg to break an coat them with yolk — Korean style? These overall had a really nice flavor: salty savory. Like Thai egg noodles with meat, but with more things going on.

As I said last thing, Zengo is not subtle cuisine, it’s full of crazy bold flavor combos. But I’m still impressed, and doubly so considering it’s a mall restaurant. The all tapas style menu gets my vote too because I’m sometimes a more is more kind of guy, and I hate getting stuck with just two dishes.

If you enjoyed this, check out the previous REVIEW HERE, or just across the deck the interesting Dimsum Xino.

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.

Food as Art: Ludobites 6.0

Restaurant: Ludobites 6.0 [1, 2]

Location: 13355 Ventura Blvd Sherman Oaks, CA 91423.

Date: Nov 02, 2010

Cuisine: Eclectic Modern

Rating: Excellent, but a tad intellectual.


Chef Ludovic Lefebvre has been doing this series of “mobile” or “popup” restaurants that appear for 1-2 month stretches in the space of another place. He brings very rapid experimentation to the forefront. While not as polished or perfected as a place like Calima, this is a very creative and tasty avant garde establishment. Oh, and did I mention how hard it is to get a table. I and another foodie friend were spamming the reservation site as they became available for 6.0 and we barely snagged our Tuesday 6:30pm table for six. We’re glad we did.

A Ludo signature COQtail, “Yuzu Tequila Martini.”

Tonight’s menu. We had everything!

I brought the wines from my celar as usual. The 2005 Comte Armand Pommard Clos des Epeneaux. Parker gives it 94-96 points and says, “The 2005 Pommard Clos des Epeneaux was still in three lots segregated by age and location of vines when I tasted – each fascinatingly delicious in itself, and the concentration of the old vines portion in itself almost too severe. Fascinating dark berry, carnal and mineral notes mingle in the nose. Low-tone sirloin meatiness, black cherry, cassis, faintly bitter black chocolate, and toasted hickory inform a glycerin-rich, polished, yet firmly structured palate. Notes of licorice, horehound, and mineral salts add complexity to a finish of palate-staining intensity and grip. This superb Pommard should require 5-7 years of cellaring and reward considerably more.”

This Ludobites has a wine list now, small but good. But I prefer my own cellar. Corkage was a reasonable $15.

“Warm Baguette, Baratte smoked butter, Sardine-Laughing Cow Cheese.” The bread was fantastic. The sardine spread reminded me of good whitefish salad.

Sea Urchin Roe, Frozen milk, balsamic, orange broth, black rice.” This had a very novel texture, and tasted like… well Uni (sea urchin).

“Oriental Mussels Veloute, Heirloom Tomato, Small Fries.” The fries were to die for, like fresh potato sticks. The mussel veloute was silky smooth, creamy, and delicious. Somewhere between a french cream soup and a very soft Thai green curry.

“Marinated Mackerel, Leche del tigre, baby leeks, verdolagas leaves.” This was a great dish too. The mackerel had a pleasant fishiness to it, but the prep was a bit like a Nobu miso glaze.

Hamachi, Vietnamese style.” This was my favorite savory dish. The hamachi was nice, but the topping was like some great Vietnamese salad, with spice, interesting texture, and a refreshing citrus note.

“Barely cooked squid noodles, pad Thai, prawn, black radish.” This was weird, but good. Not for the timid eater because of the textures of the raw fish, but I liked it.

“Scallop, Celery Root Remoulade, red port, walnuts, passion fruit.” Tasty. I liked the salid bit (slightly Waldorf slaw-like) best, but I prefer my scallops raw.

“Poached-roasted Foie Gras, Acacia Honey, Autumn fruits, rose flowers.” This was damn yummy. The fruit was one thing, but the pink stuff is some kind of reduced rosewater, and it went great with the Fois, lending it a middle eastern note.

“Salmon ‘a l’huile’ Somen Noodles, carrots, red wine vinaigrette, grilled salmon roe.” This was a really good dish. The salmon was raw sashimi, and the roe like Ikura. The noodles lent it a nice slippery coolness.

John Dory, potato, herbs, brocollini flowers, green jalapenos nage.” There was nothing wrong with this dish. The fish was succulent and perfectly cooked, but it just wasn’t as exciting as some of the others.
The 2001 Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape. I’ve long been a fan of this Chateau, even going so far as to visit last year. Then I got to split a free bottle of the 2007 Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape Hommage A Jacques Perrin (100+ pts). But tonight’s wine Parker gives it a mere 95 and says, “Beaucastel has been on a terrific qualitative roll over the last four vintages, and the 2001 Chateauneuf du Pape (which Francois Perrin feels is similar to the 1990, although I don’t see that as of yet) is a 15,000-case blend of 30% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre, 10% Syrah, 10% Counoise, and the balance split among the other permitted varietals of the appellation. This inky/ruby/purple-colored cuvee offers a classic Beaucastel bouquet of new saddle leather, cigar smoke, roasted herbs, black truffles, underbrush, and blackberry as well as cherry fruit. It is a superb, earthy expression of this Mourvedre-dominated cuvee. Full-bodied and powerful, it will undoubtedly close down over the next several years, not to re-emerge for 7-8 years. Anticipated maturity: 2008-2025.”
“Half chicken, poached egg, chanterelles, chorizo.” Tasty and rich, but I was starting to fill up.
“Marinated korean steak, crispy kimchi, bone marrow.” The steak was very rare. Not as good as a great cut at a top Korean BBQ place, but good. The marrow added a nice richness. Starting to get very full.
Onto desert. The “Cold chocolate soup, peanut butter, marshmallow, long pepper chantilly.” This was damn good. The texture and peanut notes of the marshmallow really added.
“Warm carrot cake, coconut, Thai curry, mango sorbet, kaffir lime.” It was weird, but good. The overall flavor profile was like a Thai red curry. The mango sorbet, refreshing as it looked, was actually fairly spicy. The icing stuff tasted like butter icing. Inside the ramekin is Kaffir lime oil. The savory quality of this desert reminded of my first Ludo meal, at Bastide, where I ordered the “Chocolate spaghetti al carbonara,” a desert that actually had pancetta and raw egg cracked over chocolate noodles with a scoop of parmesan ice cream!
Overall the meal was very very good, although a tad intellectual. A few dishes felt like they were trying too hard without totally paying off. Still, it’s a rare restaurant this creative.