Vegas with a Twist

Restaurant: Twist by Pierre Gagnaire

Location: 3752 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109. 888.881.9367

Date: September 23, 2011

Cuisine: Avant Garde French

Rating: Brilliant, Confusing, Tasty, Orthogonal

_

Pierre Gagnaire is one of the elite crew of three-star Michelin chefs of a generation with Alain Ducasse and Joël Robuchon. And he’s the latest to venture forth into Las Vegas with an oddball new high end venture. Twist is mostly avant garde haute cuisine restaurant, with a little bit of a bent toward steakhouse? Maybe. Or at least he has a page of steaks and sides on the menu. I have to assume this is just Vegas pandering. We ignored it and went for a mega tasting.

Both the $7 million dollar build out (in the Mandarin Oriental) and the food itself is playful, intellectual, odd, and beautiful. Executive chef is of course, Pierre Gagnaire, with the onsite Chef de Cuisine being Pascal Sanchez.

In any case, the Foodie Club hit it with aplomb.


The distance cella of this culinary temple as seen from the approach.


The globes hanging above remind me of a non-magical Hogwarts cafeteria.


The bar. Notice the cracked egg wall decoration.


Echoed in the cover plates.


Tonights menu. We of course opted for the tasting. Seeing as six courses didn’t sound like enough (little did we know that most of the courses were in fact 3 or 4!) we threw in a foie gras supplement.


The wine list had some good offerings, but at the typical painful Vegas markups. We opted for a split of both the “classic” and “grand” wine pairings (depending on the person). One of our diners had a mostly vegetarian and fish menu, which the sommelier customized the classic pairing to.

So we open with a glass of classic champagne.


A series of amuses. Crispy lollipops filled with date purée and aged balsamic.


Chinese rice buns with carmelized onions, a bit of eel, and caviar.


Poquito pepper sauce. You just extract the little bread sticks and eat. Not so far off from a Spanish Romesco.


Gorgonzola and fig lollipops. Yum!


These were really good. Goat cheese and something. Sorry again!


Then to clear the palette, gelled anise. Like liqourish jello!

Overall, the amuses were very successful.


The bread was fantastic. From the crispy baguette (front left) to the amazing walnut raison bread in the back. The front right is a multigrain. Butter (not shown) was imported from Normandy.


A rose to go with the this first course.


These next three dishes together form the “twisted bouillabaisse.” This one is “Veloute of Cauliflower, ice cream of artichoke and olive oil.”


“Fish and saffron cocktail.” Red mullet, snapper, and sea bream rest in a gel of bouillabaisse! Had curious similarities to the bouillabaisse milkshake at Ludobites 7.0.


“Marmalade of red pepper, fennel confit and candied garlic.” This stands in for the traditional garlic toast.


Parker 90-91. “If Pascal Cotat’s 2009 Mont Damnes is not the place to look for sheer refreshment, that caution applies in spades to his 2009 Sancerre La Grande Cote, which pushes 15% alcohol and displays virtually inevitable finishing warmth as well as opulence. Musk melon, Persian melon, and passion fruit are wreathed in elder flower and narcissus. A sense of chalky underpinnings emerges on the wine’s silken, lushly-fruited palate. I would plan on enjoying this over the next 2-3 years and if I held any for longer would be vigilant.”


“Scallop & langoustine. scallops cerviche, mimosa langoustines, jerusalem artichokes gelée, celeriac & horseradish cream.” Like many of Twist’s dishes, very intellectual. The bottom is an artichoke gelée. The scallops like sashimi, but the real winner was the langoustine potato salad like stuff on top.


Yet another while to pair with this next dish.


“Kombawa Cod cake.”


“Bloody Mary Sorbet, ratatouille bavaroise.”


“Vegetable Gnocchi.”


With a spinach sauce.


Another rose.


This series forms the “surf ‘n turf” motif. This is “fanny bay oyster, scented with coconut milk and seasoned ginger, sapporo foam.”


“Nabrasaka Prime Beef Carpaccio, florida clam salad, shaved foie gras.”


“Chestnut soup, razor clams, sauteed mushrooms, caramelized hazelnuts.”


The soup being added.


And in its final form. This was the most successful of the trio.


A very fine medium sweet 2009 Riesling.


“Tomato and fig tart.” Lovely buttery pastry.


This being a “californian duck foie gras trio.” “foie gras terrine, rum glazed, served on summer fruits chutney with banana tartlet.” Certainly an excellent expression of solid strait up foe.


“Shaved foie gras, black currant sorbet, mustard seasoning.”


“Foe Gras Parfait, toasted sesame, red port syrup and diced duck breast.” By far the best of the trio, this was pretty amazing.


Parker 91. This highly unusual Italian white tasted like cloves! “The 2007 Cervaro della Sala (Chardonnay, Grechetto) is an especially fat, juicy version of this wine, with generous ripe fruit and a soft-textured personality. The oak is still rather prominent and the wine needs at least another year of bottle age, although it will always remain a very ripe, opulent, yet beautifully balanced Cervaro. Anticipated maturity: 2009-2015.”

Alaskan halibut. Shown table-side before plating.


“Alaska Halibut. Grilled halibut, smoked in the cast-iron cocotte, chicory fondue, fennel and Orange.”


With a beure blanc sauce.


And finished. A nice dish. A slight charcoal smokey flavor to the fish and the interesting fennel, orange, butter pairings.


The sommelier/wine director (Julie Lin) preps a bottle.


The next wine.


The Intermezzo. “Sorbet of red wine-pear, onion cream with roquefort, grated yukon turnip scented with walnut oil.” This wasn’t an entirely successful pairing. I like roquefort but it came on very heavy handed against the refreshing red wine sorbet.


Working the crazy decanter.


A chardonnay for the loup de mer.


“Brittany Loup de mer. Slices of loup de mer a la meuniere with green pepper. Shiso leaves & oyster plant, sauce champs-elysee.” No small amount of fish here!


“Carmelized shallot agnolotti with grapefruit juice.”


Two reds. Sant’Antimo Summus is a French-oak aged blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. It is a rich, weighty wine with a soft-textured expression of fruit, excellent length and fine tannins.


A blend of 25% Garnacha, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 15% Carinena, and 10% Syrah and aged for 12 months in seasoned French and American oak. Dark ruby-colored, it has an attractive perfume of cedar, red and black currants, black cherry, spice box, and mineral. In a relatively lean style for Priorat, this medium to full-bodied wine has some elegance as well as good depth and length.


Don’t stab me with the decanter!


“Wisconsin veal crepinette. Tenderloin Crepinette, pumpkin & shallot Gratin and Osso-Bucco Jus.”


“Fritto-Miso of Zucchini & Eggplant, San Daniele Ham.”


A trio of sticky yummy dessert wines.


In the glass. The right most like a medium sherry. The middle slightly carbonated and sweet, the leftmost botrytis (moldy grapes).


“Plums, Caramelized Plums, red currant gelée, Brandy Ice cream.” Like brandied cherries and cream.


“Amelie, green tea opaline, lemongrass ganache, glace royale citron.” Fantastic!


“Apple Royale, Cinnamon Gala Apples, Green apple-lime Granite, Cinnamon syrup.” Tasted like apples and cinnamon. Refreshing.


“Biscuit Chocolate Rue Balzac, chocolate glaze, banana-lime coulis, mojito sorbet.”


“Roma, parmesan sable, ginger confit, mascarpone cream, fresh figs, pisachios.” Vaguely sicilian in vibe.


Petite fours. A fruit thing front. A little macaron middle, and a chocolate square with pistachio cream in the back (my favorite).


Whacky stylings.

Butterfly bizarre.

The shofar decanter.

I have to agree with my colleague Kevin (his review of twist here) when he says that this cuisine is “unconventional, surprising, jarring even, with some truly unique combinations of tastes, textures, temperatures, and ingredients.” There were some “out there” dishes here, and I was a bit at a loss as to how the entire meal, and even individual dishes, or pairings or trios of dishes, fit together. But many tasted great, and even the ones that were confusing were highly interesting. Not everything work perfectly, but yet at the same time didn’t seem to suffer from an inferior palette. This is highly intellectual food, best perhaps compared to avant garde art that you enjoy, but don’t quite understand.

Service and presentation was top top top notch here. Everyone was very accommodating and skilled. It’s rare in the states to get this level of service. The wine pairings were superlative and interesting.

For more Food Club extravaganzas.

No Beef with Mastro’s

Restaurant: Mastro’s

Location: 246 North Canon Dr, Beverly Hills, Ca 90210. 310-888-8782

Date: September 17, 2011

Cuisine: Steak House

Rating: My favorite LA Steak joint

_

America is full of steak houses at every level from Sizzler to Cut. But I haven’t found one that I like as much as Mastro’s. Granted I’m not a plain steak fan (I prefer my beef more like this, or tartar, or even Fogo). But Mastro’s gets the steak house think right.

The Cannon drive entrance, just a block north of Spago. Inside the place is a ZOO. Sure this was Saturday, 8:30pm on Emmy weekend in Beverly Hills. But this huge restaurant was packed to the gills, including both bars. These are a sure scene. It’s hard to tell the merely underdressed and over siliconed ladies from the pros.

Our table was right in front of the rat pack. It was much more crowded than in this photo.

The PDF of the menu can be found here.


We were celebrating the engagement of one of my oldest friends so I brought some big guns from my cellar. This wine was the first truly GREAT wine I ever bought (circa 1996). This is the second to last of two cases I once had. It has constantly and without fail scored 100 points from Robert Parker. You will find no better expression of Syrah.

“The 1991 Hermitage La Pavillon follows the pattern of the 1989 and 1990 – it is another perfect wine. The saturated black/purple color is followed by a compelling bouquet of spices, roasted meats, and black and red fruits. Enormously concentrated yet with brilliant focus and delineation to its awesomely-endowed personality, this extraordinary wine should age effortlessly for three plus decades. In a short period of time (Michel’s first vintage was 1989) Chapoutier‘s Hermitage Le Pavillon has become a wine of mythical proportions. Produced from extremely old vines, some dating from the mid nineteenth century, with yields averaging under 15 hectoliters per hectare, this is the richest, most concentrated and profound wine made in Hermitage. There are rarely more than 500 cases.”


Everything at Mastro’s is well done, and that includes the bread. I’m partial to the pretzel rolls myself.


Five of us ordered the seafood tower. The quality of the seafood here is impeccable and the only thing we had to complain about was that there wasn’t enough! Really for five we would have expected the two or three story version 🙂 Still there were amazing shrimp, lobsters, claws, king crab (didn’t taste frozen), and oysters.


One of the things that really makes the Mastro’s seafood tower are the sauces. We have cocktail, a spicy mustard, and the Atomic Horseradish. They use this particular magic brand (you can buy it here). The stuff is — pardon my French — fucking awesomely potent. I’ve taken to buying it myself for home. No other horseradish is this punishing. It has a nice flavor too. I particularly like it mixed in with the cocktail sauce. It can have you literally pounding the table in pain — ahem pleasure.


Beefsteak tomato and mozzarella. With pesto.


Since both I and my newly engaged friend were born in 1970, I grabbed from the cellar this puppy. Parker gives it a mere 95 points. Sure it isn’t quite the 1991 Le Pavillion, but it gets extra credit for age. “The 1970 Palmer is one of the great wines of the vintage. It exhibits a dark, opaque garnet color, and an emerging, fabulously complex, exotic nose of licorice, over-ripe plums and blackcurrants, soy, cedar, and minerals. Rich and concentrated, with medium to full body, a sweet inner-core of fruit, firm but silky tannin, and a long, rich finish, this remains a youthful, potentially superb Palmer. While approachable, it will keep through the first 10-15 years of the next century.


Here comes the beef!

Like most steak houses Mastro’s serves up the entrees bare (all the better to extract more cash from you). This is the New York Strip.


The bone in filet (12 ounce). This is my favorite cut of steak. It has both the filet tenderness and some extra flavor from the bone.


The straight petite (8 ounce) filet.


And the bone in filet, oscar style. Yes this was mine. Like King Robert, I’m trying to eat and drink my way to an early grave. “Oscar Style” means that it’s topped with asparagus, crab cakes and bearnaise sauce. Bearnaise sauce (French: Sauce béarnaise) is a sauce of clarified butter and egg yolks flavored with tarragon and shallots, with chervil and tarragon simmered in vinegar to make a reduction. Lean and mean baby!


Salmon steak. Looking lonely.


But it need not fear, the sides are here!

This is “Gorgonzola mac & cheese!” Oh so light, oh so yummy.


And even better, the evil “king crab truffle gnocchi.” Yes that’s right. Cream, cheese, truffles, crab, potato. What could be better?

In case you don’t get the idea, you have to see it up close. Oh so good.


Then the light “lobster mashers.” That orange stuff, that’s butter.


And for those not seeking an instant heart attack, the “sauteed spinach” (cooked in butter).


We continue to suffer on the wine front as well with this third gem 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.”


So now we get to the desserts. This is “Mastro’s signature warm butter cake ala mode.” Basically a pound cake with an extra four sticks of butter or something. It’s really sweet and really good. Goes well with the magic whipped cream (see below).


Because of the incredible whipped cream here, we ordered up some fresh strawberries. Combine with below.

The photo is a little blown out, but Mastro’s has the most incredible whipped cream. You can just chow down on it my itself. Made fresh with really good cream and LOTS of sugar.


I couldn’t resist their key lime pie either. I LOVE key lime pie and they make a real good one. Plus it goes really well with the whipped cream.

Overall Mastro’s, while a zoo, and very expensive, is a spectacular steak house experience. You can really feel your heart palpitating as you roll out of here!

For more LA dining reviews click here.


The wines lined up in my cellar. I even brought a bottle of 1996 Dom P that I didn’t even open (not enough Champagne fans at the table). Another night.

Joe’s Restaurant – California Classic

Restaurant: Joe’s Restaurant

Location: 1023 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, CA 90291

Date: September 16, 2011

Cuisine: California Farmer’s Market

Rating: Consistently good

_

I’ve been coming to Joe’s since 1995 or 1996 and they are approaching their 20th anniversary any day now. In a major metropolitan restaurant scene, that’s an eternity. Chef Joe Miller was an early proponent of the ingredient driven “farmer’s market style” of California cooking that is very popular right now. And despite the restaurant’s venerable age, the menu is continually rotating and the dishes remain fresh and relevant.


The Abbot Kinney frontage.


Quaint bar. Further inside is a little maze of little rooms and a lovely patio that is perfect for brunch.


The daily tasting menu, which is a pretty awesome value.


And the regular menu.

I brought this 2006 Brunello from my cellar. It’s not rated, but it is good, being from a tiny producer who makes only 3,000 bottles a year.


The back for the vintage.


Joe’s has good bread. Particularly the butter toasty thing.


Olive tappanade and butter.


“Heirloom tomato salad, smoked garlic tomato vinaigrette, young greens, seared bread.”


“Bocconcini di bufala mozzarella, smoked o’henry peaches, plums, sweet pea, purslane, almonds, olive oil.” This was a really yummy combo. The fruit was perfectly ripe, the mozzarella fantastic, and all in combination, particularly with the nuts and the purslane pesto-like stuff, it was really yummy.


“Hiramasa Crudo. Pickled plum, shishito, flowering coriander, pickled garlic vinaigrette.” Also wonderful. Hiramasa is just yellowtail, but this was some very good fish, and the vinaigrette had a powerful tang that contrasted nicely with the sweet and sour plums.


“New zealand red snapper filet with potato scales and wild rice. Salsify, red wine sauce.”


“Sonoma lamb sirloin, figs, chantarelle mushroms, wild rice soubise, english peas, huckleberry jus.” Also a wonderful dish. Like rack of lamb, but without the bone. Slow cooked in the sous-vide. The rich jus and vegetables complemented nicely.


The dessert menu.


“Vanilla buttermilk custard. Market berries, bittersweet chocolate, pistachios.” I light fun dessert, with a berries and cream vibe.

It’s been a little while since I was at Joe’s and I somehow expected it to be more staid. The food is just as contemporary and relevant as any other ingredient driven Califonian. It’s not fat focused like the Gastropubs, or avant garde, but it is really good. And setting it far above many wanna-be followers of this tradition, each dish expresses a really balanced interplay of elements.

For more LA dining reviews click here.

Mori Sushi – A Top Contender

Restaurant: Mori Sushi

Location: 11500 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064. 310.479.3939

Date: September 14, 2011

Cuisine: Japanese / Sushi

Rating: Top sushi, but not cheap

_

In a town full of top grade sushi, Mori Sushi is consistently regarded as one of the best. It has it’s own particular style, somewhere between the Osaka school types like Sasabune and the classic Sushi Sushi.


The interior and sushi bar.

The following meal represents the “Omakase” the largest and most expensive ($170) of the chef’s options. Several truncated or more sushi centric variants are available. This is basically a series of hot dishes followed by flights of sushi.


Kohlrabi greens.


Housemade tofu, with homemade wasabi and soy. This is the soft silken tofu that I’ve had a number of times recently, like at Moko and Ozumo. This particular example was very nice and light.


Sashimi. Left to right: marinated sardines, abalone liver, baby abalone with yuzu/pepper sauce, shitake mushroom, pike eel jelly, marinated Japanese onion, and Japanese okra. The sardines were really good and sweet. The liver reach, like an ugly blob of chicken liver. The abalone tender. And the jelly like a cube of flavorless jello.


One of those subtle Japanese soups. Pike eel (the white stuff), yuzu (the green sliver), and Japanese eggplant.


Santa Barbara sweet shrimp (with the roe), red peppercorns, and in front: scallop, halibut, and octopus sashimi. All this is dressed “new style” with a bit of olive oil and pepper. The shrimp was very sweet and tasty.


Uni (sea urchin) tempura with salt. I forgot to photo it, but this photo is of the same dish at a different restaurant. It was nearly identical, and very good.


Halibut with kelp on the left. Seki buri (wild yellowtail) on the right. Both solid “normal” fishes of extremely high quality.


Big eye chu-toro on the left and blue-fun toro on the right. Yum!


Kohada (Shad gizzard) on the left, pickled in vinegar, and Spanish Mackerel on the right. Also very nice fish.


Grilled baby barracuda on the left with a really nice charred flavor and mirugai (geoduck jumbo clam) with miso sauce on the right.


An uni (sea urchin) duo. Santa Barbara on the left (sweeter), Hokkaido in the middle (very fine also) and very fresh Ikura (salmon roe) with yuzu zest on the right.


Tamago (sweet omelet) on the left and anago (sea eel) on the right, grilled, with a bit of BBQ sauce. The eel had strong grill flavors and less of the cloying (but yummy) sweet sauce than usual.


Toro cut roll. Soft and velvety.


A pair of homemade ice creams for dessert. This is sesame, which tasted it but was a bit gritty and not very creamy.


And ginger ice cream which was very soft and pleasant, like a french vanilla with a ginger kick.


Hojicha, roasted green tea to finish.

Overall, I found Mori Sushi to be top notch. But it’s not cheap (not in the least). The ingredients are top notch and you pay for it. It has a subtle restrained style. I slightly prefer Sushi Sushi with it’s larger pieces or Go Sushi with it’s more over the top flavors. It hands down beats out Sushi Zo in my opinion. Certainly Mori is in the top five or so places in town — and that’s saying a lot as LA is unquestionably the best place in America for sushi.

For more LA sushi reviews click here.

Morihiro Onodera (old owner) in the palm shirt. Masanori Nagano left (new owner).

The Hungry Cat chows Santa Monica

Restaurant: The Hungry Cat

Location: 100 w. channel road. santa monica, ca   90402. (310) 459-3337

Date: September 11 & 25, 2011

Cuisine: Seafood

Rating: Can never get enough seafood

_

I’ve been trying for months to find a convenient time to go to the new opening in our neighborhood, the Westside branch of The Hungry Cat. This particular spot, on the corner of PCH and Channel Road is a bit cursed. Years ago it was the Beach House, which got destroyed in the middle of the night by a crazy driver (who literally crashed into the dining room). Then it was the Brass Cap, a lousy and ill-fated brasserie. After 3-4 years empty it’s now reopened as The Hungry Cat. This is a very raw bar and seafood oriented joint.


I started with a “Dark and Stormy,” the classic Bermuda cocktail. Excellent.


The interior doesn’t look too different than it did in it’s previous incarnations, but it was always a pretty looking place.


Oyster crackers substitute for bread. I’ve always had a weak spot for these puppies, shades of my Eastern Shore of Maryland upbringing. The menu can be found here.


The cat has one of those reasonable corkage policies where they waive the corkage for each bottle you buy off the list. This almost always makes me buy a bottle.


“hawaiian albacore / cherry tomato / cucumber / opal basil / tomato water.” Lots of bright vinegar/citrus flavor hear. Plenty tasty.


“marinated hamachi / stone fruit / shisho / togarashi / lime.” Another nice sashimi dish, although none-too-much fish.


A special. Raw scallop, uni (sea urchin), various salad bits. The combo is great. The scallops tasty. The sea urchin was a little “fishy.” Maybe it’s the Sunday factor, I don’t know. Overall I enjoyed it, but slightly better Uni would have sold it.


“heirloom tomato / watermelon / red onion / persian mint / french feta.”


“heirloom tomato / opal basil / red onion / arugula / burrata / red wine vinaigrette.”


This is the two tier “medium” seafood tower. It was certainly good, although not quite as tasty as the Mastro’s one, but more reasonable also.


On top are shrimp (two types), a bit of trout caviar, Alaskan crab legs, and a half lobster.


Beneath are oysters, muscles, and two types of clams (littleneck and cherrystone).


A nice assortment of sauces.


Off the kids menu. Basic pasta with parmesan.


Fish and chips, also from the kids menu.


A softshell crab in a sort of thai chilli sauce. According to its killer, delicious.

Another special, lobster roll with fries. This was SOLID. As good as a lobster roll gets — and I’ve had plenty. On par with this one I had back east last year.


The dessert menu. But we were too full.

We didn’t try too many things. And I seriously have to come back with some crustacean lovers and get a huge raw bar tower, but I enjoyed this little feline foray. So I’ll return soon enough.

For more LA dining reviews click here.

Public Houses on the Rebound – Upper West

Restaurant: Upper West

Location: 3321 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica, Ca. 310-586-1111.

Date: September 10, 2011

Cuisine: Gastropub

Rating: Tasty

_

More and more gastropubs seem to be opening up. For those of you unfamiliar this is bar/restaurant with an emphasis on food, specifically tasty “comfort” food emphasizing fattening (i.e. tasty) ingredients. I wrote up two reviews of slightly similar Waterloo and City recently. Tavern is also a similar type of restaurant.


The location is conveniently off the Centinella exit (just west) of the 10.


The pubby interior.

From my cellar. Parker gives this silky Rosso 90. “The 2009 Rosso di Montalcino is totally beautiful and elegant in its expressive bouquet, silky fruit and understated, harmonious personality. This is a wonderful, impeccable Rosso from Le Potazzine. Anticipated maturity: 2011-2017.” I’d rate it perhaps 91-92, with a little boost for understated style.


The menu.


BURRATA. greenapple-blackberry panzanella / baby heirloom tomato / chamomile salt / fresh basil / dill-mustard vinaigrette.” This was a big hit. It’s hard to go wrong with so much Burrata.


BRAISED LAMB CREPES. madras curry / wilted spinach / israeli feta / lavender demi.” Very meaty. Not light, but certainly tasty. The meat reduction sauce was great.


ROASTED VEGGIE BURGER. housemade veggie patty / grilled pineapple relish / avocado / piquillo pepper / tomato aioli / toasted brioche bun.”


“BACON WRAPPED BACON. prosciutto wrapped-braised pork belly / heirloom tomato / melon / tomato syrup / cilantro vinaigrette.” I couldn’t resist the name of the dish, but I overdid myself here. It tasted good, but…


The fat content of the port belly (this is just the fat I didn’t eat) was a bit much! Then again I asked for it.

This is actually the second time we’ve been to Upper West. Both times I was impressed. Not blown away or anything, but all the dishes were well done and full of flavor.

For more LA dining reviews click here.

El Rincon Criollo – Cuban fun

Restaurant: El Rincon Criollo

Location: 4361 Sepulveda Blvd. Culver City, Ca 90230. 210-397-9295

Date: September 3, 2011

Cuisine: Cuban / Spanish

Rating: Garlic!

_

We took our son to the “train store” in Culver City (he loves trains) and this Cuban joint happened to be next door.


They curb sell with this cool 50s era car.


The menu. Mostly Cuban classics.


Bread of course.


Some croquettas (ham and cheese potato fry-balls) with banana chips. I’m not much of a banana fan, but these taste pretty much like potato chips.


And are extra good in this pure garlic sauce.


My son got plantains rice and beans. He loves bananas but for some reason knownst only to 2.75 year-olds would not try them.


But he did like this banana smoothy.


This is salmon in garlic sauce with onions. Rice, fries, and beans on the side.


And shrimp in garlic sauce. The garlic sauce is pretty uber actually, particularly poured over the rice. It did give me a carb coma though.


With the check are these weird little Cuban coconut caramels. Pretty good by my taste.

I’m not a serious Cuban aficionado — yeah I’ve been to various places a dozen or so times, but I’m no expert — but this was certainly tasty. And I do love garlic.

For more LA dining reviews click here.

Osteria Latini 3

Restaurant: Osteria Latini [1, 2, 3]

Location: 11712 San Vicente Blvd.Brentwood, CA 90049 310.826.9222

Date: August 20, 2010

Cuisine: Italian

Rating: Excellent neighborhood Italian

_

We have a regular rotation of neighborhood Italians. There are so many of them, but only a few make the cut as genuinely good. Osteria Latini is one of them. You can see my previous reviews here and here.


Olive and chickpea/squash/bean pastes.


The 1997 Biondi-Santi Brunello. This is a solid Brunello I had bought years ago in Italy (probably in 2000). It probably scores somewhere in the low 90s, maybe 91 or 92 points.


A special, lobster bisque.


“BELLA SALAD. Arrugola, pears, dry cherries, goat cheese, shaved parmesan.”


A special, calimari steak stuffed with lump crabmeat and drizzled in ponzu sauce. This is unusual, and certainly has a bit of fusion about it — but it’s good.


Gnocchi genovese (in classic basil pesto).


“ACQUERELLO RISOTTO. Organic carnaroli, sea urchin, truffle scent, lemon zest (Please allow 20 Minutes).” A very nice subtle sea urchin risotto. This special hand shaved rice takes 20-30 minutes to cook.


OSSOBUCO ALLA MILANESE. With saffron risotto.” Latini’s version of the classic dish. Certainly good with a very nice meaty bone. The risotto could have been perhaps a tad creamier.

Two “rounds” of freebee desserts. This mixture of prosecco, lemon sorbetto, and meringue is very refreshing.


Chocolate chip cookies and biscotti.

Osteria Latini is always reliable. They have a big menu of modern Italian favorites and pretty much everything is very good.

For more LA dining reviews click here.

Or for a legion of great eating in Italy itself, here.

Food as Art: Ludobites 7.0

Restaurant: Ludobites 7.0 [1, 2]

Location: 227 East 9th St, Los Angeles, 90015

Date: August 31, 2011

Cuisine: Eclectic Modern

Rating: Very interesting (& tasty) array of flavors.

_

Last year my friends and I very much enjoyed Ludobites 6.0 (review here), one of LA’s most notable “popup” restaurants. So some of us Foodie Club members camped out on OpenTable.com to score ourselves a large party reservation. It took five of us hammering independently on the computer to get one in the approximately 70 seconds the entire run booked up. And it was nearly a month in. But score we did.


The walls are festooned with Ludo’s amusing cock & swine logo.


This year Ludobites is back at Gram & Papas. I guess they do it here because the restaurant doesn’t itself serve dinner. The space is small and casual.


One of the big advantages is that G&Ps does NOT have a liquor license. This means that my special BYOBgrape juice” was corkage free. Good think I brought a cork screw.

Very nice Burg from my cellar. Parker 93. “I loved the sweet cassis aromas of the 2002 Echezeaux as well as its powerful, intense, syrupy personality. Medium to full-bodied and gorgeously ripe, it bastes the palate with thick black fruit flavors. In addition, this wine reveals great depth and a lengthy, fruit-packed finish. Projected maturity: 2007-2017.”


Le Menu. With eight people we ordered two of EVERY dish. Worked out just about right. There was a small issue of our sole vegetarian. Not a single dish on the menu is actually free of meat, and our request initially phased the kitchen. But they recovered quickly and offered to make veggie variants of a number of dishes which worked out excellently.


“Lavender Ginger Lemonade.” Non-alcoholic. I liked the strong ginger kick, but the lemonade was too sweet and not sour enough. I like my lemonade painfully sour and strong.


“Bouillabaise Milk Shake.” This tastes exactly like it sounds. Like a fish milkshake. Basically the same flavor profile as real Bouillabaise, but with milk. I can’t say it was my favorite dish. Probably least or second to least.


“Choucroute Tart Flambe.” This “tart” is really a pizza or flatbread. But it was fantastic. The ham/bacon on top was great, as was the cheesy creme fraiche and onion thing going on.


They also made us a vegetarian version which was very good.

Neiman Cabernet “Caldwell Vineyard” 2000. Parker doesn’t rate this, but it’s a top top notch cabernet, probably 94 points or so. The years and a lack of over oaking left it very smooth. I picked up this wine at the Redd Collection, a cool new tasting/wine dealer I met at the Food Club Ultimo Wine Dinner.


The chicken wings (below) came with surgical gloves to keep the hands clean!


“Burgundy Fried Chicken.” The real burgundy was finished, but the wings were very very tasty. Succulent and perfectly cooked with a sweet BBQ style sauce.


The remnants!


This is a custom vegetarian salad they made up.


“Squid, Black Ash, Chorizo.” The squid was nice and tender, and the orange “chorizo” sauce around the edge really tasty. I’m not sure I was super keen on the ash texture, but it was certainly a decent dish.


This spectacular Brunello (the 2006 il Cocco) is totally unavailable in America. I got it at the vineyard from the owner on my mega Italy 2011 trip. He makes 7,000 bottles of wine a year, perhaps 3,000 of Brunello, and does 100% of the work (fields and cellar) himself! Probably a 94-95 point wine.


Prawn ceviche, Aji Amarillo, Red Berries. This reminded me of a Red Medicine type dish. It had very interesting and strong flavors, with a lot of vinegar/lime.


“Salt Cod Panna Cotta, Whipped Fingerling Potato, Smoked Tapioca, Black Olive Bread.” This was an interesting dish. The cod itself was not dominant at all. It mostly seemed like a panna cotta, or even like one of those Japanese seafood egg custards like I got here at Takao (about a third of the way down). I liked the little tapioca balls too, and the bread added some nice texture, just needed a little more cod flavor.


“Oxtail Beef, Rainbow Carrots, Shallots, Green Salad.” This was one of my favorite dishes of the night. The beef was just amazing. And rest went really well too.


“Foe Gras, Corn and Coconuts.” Amazing and interesting dish. Another favorite of the evening. The foie was foie — and nothing wrong with that — but the corn coconut soup was awesome with it. Sweet like a corn soup, with the crunchy texture of popcorn, and with this coconut curry / lemongrass vibe on top. Wow!


My wife even got a vegetarian version, without the foie, which really was almost as good (good as the foie was).


“Pigs Head Compressed and Mimolette, Barbeque Gelee.” This sounds awful, but tasted just okay. Flavor wise thought it just tasted like some kind of meat sandwich with a really tangy mayo. The sweet sauce helped a bit. One of my other lessor dishes of the evening.


“Egg, Sea Urchin, Caviar, Champagne Beurre Blanc.” Really tasted a lot like scrambled eggs and caviar. Which was pretty darn good. The Uni (sea urchin) was present, but subtle. I could have done with more. But the egg and caviar thing is really good together, so I enjoyed it a lot.


This is no Uni version. The egg tasted stronger and saltier without the sweetness of the Uni, but it was still a very good dish.


“Plancha Tandoori Octopus, Yogurt, Cauliflower, Grapefruit.” The octopus itself was very tender with a nice tandoori flavor. The cauliflower texture was really interesting. I think the yogurt could have had more punch, or more of it, but still a nice dish.


“Duck, Cherry, Spicy Saucisse, Beets, Radish.” There are two meats in here. A sausage (which was really yummy) and a very nice rare duck breast. Both were excellent with the cherry sauce. The beet/radish thing seemed a little orthogonal, but it didn’t stop this from being terrific.


“Lamb cooked in fat Moroccan style Artichoke, Mint.” There was some serious fat on this lamb. Serious fat. But it tasted damn good with the cooked dates. That was the whole key to this dish for me, tender lamb with a sweet sauce.


The peeps, midway somewhere.


The meal took awhile and so we could have used an extra bottle of wine, but i only brought four. This dessert Riesling, the every reliable, Parker 97! “White peach preserves, luscious Persian melon, fresh red raspberry, cooling lime, green tea, iris and gentian are all projected on the nose of Donnhoff’s 2009 Oberhauser Brucke Riesling Spatlese, then take on a fleshy, silken, yet svelte form that combines infectious juiciness, invigorating salinity, uncanny buoyancy, and vibratory interactive complexity, leaving my tongue tingling and my head buzzing. The depth of savor here is such that to speak of nut oils or of shrimp or lobster shell reduction merely points in the correct, otherwise ineffable general direction. “Creamy, dreamy, transparent” were the last words I could pronounce in the presence of this natural wonder that will certainly be capable of spreading joy for at least the next quarter century. “There was a tiny bit of perfectly dry botrytis here,” notes Donnhoff, “and to get much over 90 Oechsle you usually need that.” Needless to say, its presence has in no way precluded the utmost purity of fruit, clarity, or subtly electrical energy of which Riesling is capable in this amazing site. “I-m warning you, they’re not necessarily better,” said Helmut Donnhoff with a grin when serving me his two 2009 vintage Auslesen.”


Now our whacky “cheese course” the “Pick-Up Stick Cantal Cheese, Curry White Chocolate.” The cheese almost tasted like slivered apple.


“Lavendar Tropezienne Tart, Aloe Vera, Lychee.” This wonderful pastry reminded me of a giant lavender Macaron. I love certain kinds of exotic herbaceous flavors like rosewater and lavender and I love custard.


“Chocolate Cake, Chipotle Ice Cream, Orange.” Wow! This was a 10/10 dessert (and the lavender was like a 9/10!). The chocolate slab was great, you can tell just by looking at it, but that ice cream. It tasted like bacon! Really. The combo was incredible, and a bit spicy.


“Pistachio Brown Butter Cake, Marcaspone, Red Berries.” This was the weakest of the three desserts, but it was still very good, with a nice pistachio flavor. The Marcaspone could have used a little more kick or sweetness.

Overall, maybe it was a good thing coming into Ludobites 7.0 after a couple of weeks. Things were really on point with the food. Service, which very pleasant, really isn’t up to the food standards. There is no slick Michelin 2 (or 3) star type management of the table like at a place like Melisse, but the attitude was fine and there were no problems. Water service was sluggish and we had to self pour our “grape juice” into water glass type glasses. But actually I don’t mind self pour or opening my own wines. I could have used some more water 🙂

But the food was really standout. A large variety of very creative dishes, and some were fantastic, particularly the desserts. So bravo.

Click here for a review of last year’s Ludobites 6.0.

The Food Club extravaganzas.

Or all LA dining reviews.


Me, with the big macro-lens-and-flash rig.


Mirella gets her crazy on.


Swag! (not that I bought any)

Quick Eats – Bar Pinxto

Restaurant: Bar Pinxto

Location: 109 Santa Monica Boulevard, Santa Monica, CA. (310) 458-2012

Date: August 19, 2011

Cuisine: Spanish Tapas

Rating: Quick little lunch bargain

ANY CHARACTER HERE

After seeing Fright Night we shopped around Santa Monica for a lunch place and decided to revisit Bar Pinxto. This is a genuine Spanish Tapas Bar, in that it’s a bar first, restaurant second. Still they have a wide variety of traditional Spanish Tapas (as they would in Spain).


There is a small amount of outside seating.


And the cute little interior space.


Being Spanish, olives grace the table. Bar Pinxto has a $15 3 course lunch menu which is an excellent deal and a lot of food.


First course was Gazpacho. This was certainly a good implementation of the classic form of the soup. Not quite as good as the Jose Andres variety at The Bazaar/Saam/Tres, but good. I like the fine pureed texture.


Classic Paella, one of the second courses. This was pretty traditional, with muscles and chorizo. It could have benefited from a few more ingredients, but was respectable.


Squid with squid ink over Spanish rice (basically paella). The squid was soft and tasty, although the portion was smaller than the paella.


Pot du creme, chocolate. This was a damn good chocolate cream/mousse thingy. Damn good. Sort of a chocolate version of Gjelina’s butterscotch one.

Overall, the quick Pinxto $15 lunch is an excellent deal. The food was good and pretty authentically Spanish, and you certainly get a lot for your money.

Click here to see more LA restaurants.