Food as Art: Hatfield’s part 2

Restaurant: Hatfield’s [1, 2]

Location: 6703 Melrose Ave, Los angeles, Ca 90038. 323-935-2977.

Date: Nov 18, 2010

Cuisine: Modern American


I went back to Hatfield’s with friends to try it again. You can read about our PREVIOUS MEAL HERE.

They had the same Amuse, crab with quinoa and a light curry flavoring. It was okay, but certainly not mind blowing.

At one time I had two cases of the Gros Frere et Soeur 1998 Richebourg. This is my last bottle, and I’m sad to see it go. Not only were there only a couple hundred made, but it was last sighted on the internet for $1,332 a bottle. Oh well. Richebourg is one of my favorite wines, particularly when as balanced as this one. Some find it too subtle. Not I.


The Prix Fixe menu.

The regular menu.

The other half of the regular menu.

“Roasted baby beet and mizuna salad, french feta, falafel, balsamic vinaigrette.”

“Sweet corn soup, poached lobster, jicama, roasted hon shimeji mushrooms.”

I love these French style soups with the “pour in” around the stuff, I don’t know exactly why. I also love corn soups when done right.

“Warm creamy crab buckwheat crepe, pickled beets, marinated radish, fine herbs.” This was very yummy, particularly the guts of the crepe. Oddly, it was reminiscent of a high end version of that crab omelet thing they have a IHOP (haven’t been there in around 20 years — just so you know).

“Steamed skate wing salad, wild greens, fried maitakes, garnet yams, harissa.”

“Warm summer salad, corn agnolotti, cherry tomatoes, zucchini coulis, fava beans.”

“Charred octopus, caramelized fennel, saffron vanilla braised hearts of palm, red wine olive puree.” The fennel tasted like caramelized onions. Overall this was a very sweet (and tasty) dish with a variety of unusual textures.

“Slow cooked beef short rib, blue lake beans, braised radish, horseradish potato puree.”

“Sauteed Loup-de-mer, braised shelling beans, english pea puree, charred pea tendrils.” I always require my pea tendrils charred, otherwise The Day of the Triffids is a possibility.

“Brown butter-roasted cauliflower”, golden raisons, corn, etc.  — again (we had it on the previous vegetarian menu).

“Pan roasted duck breast, caramelized endive and cherry, pistachio pistou, celery root puree.” This was about as good as a duck breast dish gets (and I’ve tried plenty). The duck was medium rare, and perfectly tender.

The dessert options.

“Chocolate Carmel Semifreddo, salted peanut crunch, bitter chocolate sorbet.” Wow. This was a good dessert. Sort of like a chocolate caramel penut butter cup. There is a new trend to mix salt and caramel. Having always been a fan of the sweet/salty (I put syrup on my bacon), I’m loving it.

“Warm pear strudel, poached sour cherries, black walnut praline ice cream.” I only tasted the ice cream. It was pretty wonderful.

A repeat for the petit fours as well! At least the main menu changes up a lot. It takes a lot to create new dishes and it’s nice to see a place that is willing to experiment. Hatfield’s seems to me to spiritually pick up where Sona left off, with bright Franco-American market driven cuisine. I like it. Somehow it isn’t totally WOW, but it is very good. These are not easy dishes, and each was very good, nothing fell particularly flat. Our last meal at Sona before it closed, for example, felt limp. The chef’s here are as bold as a Ludo (SEE MY REVIEW HERE), but there is also a lower failure rate among dishes. I’d like sometime to try the chef’s “anything goes” menu and see what happens.

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: Calima

Restaurant: Calima

Location: Marbella Spain

Date: June 10, 2010

Cuisine: Molecular Spanish Gastronomy

Rating: Mind blowing.


Okay, I’m a ridiculous foodie. But I believe passionately in food as a Fine Art, which has been practiced by mankind since the dawn of time in parallel to other cultural and artistic traditions. Sometime maybe I’ll blog about Apicus as an example of the high development of ancient culinary traditions. But today is about Calima, a fantastic Molecular Gastro place in Spain that shows off cuisine at its most modern and technical — but also extremely tasty.

Not too shabby a location, right on the south coast of Spain. If it had been a clear evening we could’ve seen Africa straight ahead. Like many high end restaurants Calima only has fixed menus. Here was ours.

Note that all the dishes below are individual portions. Each person received their own. We begin with the series of Amuse-Bouche, small bites to amuse the mouth.

The first one came in this neat little container.

Inside was revealed “Olive oil and Raf tomato nitro popcorn.” More or less pure Spanish olive oil frozen in liquid nitrogen to create this thing that looks like popcorn but tastes like olive oil and tomato. It’s very cold too. This is a neat example of trends in Avant Garde cuisine where things look like something they aren’t and also have unexpected textures and/or temperatures. It was good — but everything here was great so I won’t keep saying it.

This is “Crystallized transparent shrimp fritter ‘Tortillita de Camarones’.” It had a cellophane consistency and reminded me of certain japanese snacks.

Because a truly fine restaurant never half asses anything. The homemade bread options weren’t anything to snicker at.

And there was a second shelf.

This amuse is “‘Mollete de Antequera’ cooked in aluminum foil and stuffed with braised Tuna.” The foil was edible.

This was one of my favorite items. A devine “Nougat of Foie and Yuzu.” I’m pretty sure there was peanut butter in there too, or at least it tasted like it. Both incredibly rich, sweet, and tangy at the same time.

“Cold almond soup from Malaga ‘Ajoblanco’ thickened with red pepper caramelized and lichis” is served inside an egg. Ajoblanco is a very traditional Spanish soup made from garlic and olive oil, and this is a riff on that note.

This is a cold cherry Gazpacho.  The menu says “Manzanilla,” which translates to “Little Apple.”

No fine meal is complete without the wine. We had three. A nice Spanish Cava (Champagne equivalent that I failed to get a picture of) this tasty white and a fine red, below.

The “Laurel” is worth mentioning as it’s the the “second wine” of one of Spain’s greatest wines, the Priorato “Clos Erasmus.” The “first wine” costs upwards of $700 a bottle, but the Laurel, if you could possibly find it, is often $45-50! This for a 95-96 point wine! Priorato is a fantastic Spanish wine region. We consumed the Cava, at least two whites, and three or more reds.

“Cold ‘Puchero’ broth scented with mint; hummus flowers and soft boiled quail egg.” Very Japanese flavor profile to this dish. Light and refreshing.

“False Raf tomato stuffed with ‘pipirrana,’ cold avocado soup with ‘Quisquilla’ shrimp from Motril.” This was spectacular. The tomato, which tasted like one, is in fact some kind of reconstructed creation of the chef’s art. It was filled with a type of tomato mouse.

To illustrate the flexibility of kitchens at this level, the above is the “vegetarian” version of the False Tomato that they whipped up for one of our vegetarian dinner mates (notice no shrimp).

“Caviar ‘Per-se’ from RioFrio; a Calima surprise.” The custard underneath the fine Iranian caviar is vanilla with a bit of oyster juice. The contrast with the salty roe was fantastic.

This wasn’t on the menu, but it came nonetheless. Some kind of mushroom in a custardy broth.

“Citrus Oyster.”

“Sardines in a Moroccan flavored something (the menu cut off the sentence).

‘Olla Gitana’ of green beans, pumpkin and chickpeas, slow-cooked Foie and red curry. This was really good too, with a very fresh vegetable flavor to the “soup.”

“Roasted Sea bass with beans and citrics.”

A rich cut of pork in a fruity sauce that I couldn’t find on the menu, but it came.

An anonymous fish dish that came instead of the pork for a non meat eater at our table.

“Braised Iberian Pork tail dumpling with scarlet shrimp.” This was one of my favorites. The “dumpling” tasted like pork shumai, and the prawn was spectacular. The butter sauce held it all together, because “never too much butter.”

This measly collection of mostly Spanish cheeses confronted us, in both a visual and olfactory wallop.

This was the Spanish greatest hits we ended up with for the table, plus a tray of accompaniments.

“Caramelized Apple Hearts, acid yogurt, honey and eucalyptus thyme ice-cream.” Sort of a fancy take on Apple Pie al-la-mode.

“A piece of Sierra Nevada; pineapple iceberg with passion fruit, fennel and ginger.” This was amazing.

“Chocolate with caramelized pecan nuts, cacao, coffee and 16 year-old Lagavulin whiskey.”

“Nitro ‘Coconut’ with honey rum.” Yum.

The bonbon cart, because four deserts is just getting started.

Each person got one of these.

And one of these, which includes nitro frozen berries and chocolate truffles.

At three in the morning (the meal was 5 and a half hours long) the staff debriefs in the kitchen.

This meal was so good we had to come back two weeks later and try it again (mostly different dishes). While not priced like “In and Out” this gigantic 25 course extravaganza was no more than you’d spend at a pricey LA sushi place (I’m not talking Urasawa either — I’ll have to post one of my meals there too). In Spain wine prices are very reasonable too. This new form of Spanish cuisine is hard to find in the states. In LA we only have Bazaar, which is very good but not nearly as elaborate. I hope you can appreciate the artistry and effort that goes into these dishes and they tasted as good as they looked.

If you are interested in this kind of cuisine, also check out my reviews of La Terraza or The Bazaar.