Fraiche – Ultimo Wine Dinner

Restaurant: Fraiche Santa Monica

Location: 312 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90401. Phone : 310.451.7482

Date: July 13, 2011

Cuisine: Cal French Italian

Rating: Epic!

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Last weekend I was eating at one of my favorite local spots, Sam’s by the Beach and chatting with the owner, Sam. He mentioned that he was co-hosting an epic wine dinner at Fraiche in Santa Monica and that he had two available spots. As soon as he sent me the food & wine menu (below) I called up my Foodie Club partner in crime and we jumped on it. You’ll see why in a second.


Of course the food looks great, but the wines! While anyone who pays attention to the wines I bring will have noticed that I almost never drink from the New World — I am willing to make exceptions when no less than eight Parker 100 pointers are involved!

The event was held in Fraiche Santa Monica’s lovely back room (shown here on another occasion in its normal configuration).


For us it was arranged with a single table.


And an extensive staging area for the wines.


Here’s Sam, supervising.


Along with our other hosts: Amir Ohebsion president of the combined Fraiche operation on the right, and Mazen Mustafa their brand new Executive Chef on the left. Believe it or not he started on Monday (this dinner had been planned for some time) and had to leap into the fire first thing.


As a little amuse we had some classic bruschetta (I’ve had just a tad of that lately, like here), with marinated tomatoes, garlic, and mozzarella. The marinate was enough for me to handle the tomatoes and I enjoyed the crisp brightness of the flavors.


A little olive oil and balsamic on the table. There was bread too of course, but I forgot to photo.

So we begin with the wines. All of the wines at this dinner came from The Redd Collection, who was also co-hosting. Click their link for an inventory of their wines.

1985 Dom Perignon, Parker 96. A mature champagne in perfect shape. “Fresh and lively, with remarkable intensity, fruit, and perfume. An example of how effortlessly some vintages of Dom Perignon can age.”


1990 Salon Le Mesnil. I found it brighter and fruiter than the Dom. Wine Spectator 97. “Brilliant stuff. Vinous, with a patina of nutty maturity offset by a citrus and honeysuckle-tinged freshness, all embraced by a taut silky structure. The best is the finish, a kaleidoscope of biscuit, fig and walnut that goes on and on.”


Accompanying the champagnes we have a trio of fishes. “Santa Barbara Sea Urchin with American caviar and pea puree.” Yum yum. Some really great Uni, showcased perfectly. Notice the Uni/Caviar combo which Go uses so often at Go Sushi.


“Yellow Fin Tuna Tartare with Russian Caviar.” The flavors here were really bright and delicious. One of the best tuna tartars I’ve had. Similar to Sam’s usual tartar, but without the “secret ingredient.”


“Kampachi Sashimi, watercress, and black truffle.” Nothing wrong here!


2007 Peter Michael Point Rouge Chardonnay. The finish on this went on and on. Certainly the best non-white-burgundy Chardonnay I’ve had. Parker 98. “The 2007 Chardonnay Point Rouge (280 cases) has moved out of the restrained state it was in a year ago, and now exhibits splendidly intense, nearly over-the-top levels of honeyed tropical fruits, hazelnut, almond paste, quince, and peach liqueur. Full-bodied, thick, and rich yet braced by considerable acidity, this is a remarkable tour de force in Chardonnay that should age for a decade or more.”


2006 Marcassin Estate Chardonnay. Very very good, just not quite so good as the Peter Michael. Parker 96+. “As for the 2006 Chardonnay Marcassin Estate, it is a more mineral-dominated wine displaying a liqueur of crushed rocks/wet stones, pears, and subtle smoky, honeysuckle, quince, and citrus oil notes. It also possesses exceptional length and richness as well as a full-bodied mouthfeel. Given the history of the vintage and the challenging conditions for Chardonnay, I would suspect these wines will evolve quickly by Marcassin’s standards, meaning they are probably best drunk in their first decade of life.”


“Bouillabaisse — modern.” Here we have some fish, muscles, clams, corn etc, but we have them reinterpreted in a light broth instead of in the classic tomato and garlic broth. The newer style showcased the freshness of the fish to a T.


1937 Chateau Caillou Sauternes-Barsac. This bottle was a gift from Frank Sinatra to a local collector! It was almost almond/rose colored, sweet but not unctuous. Probably a tiny bit past its prime, but still delicious, particularly with the foie below.


“Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras, grilled Nectarine, Aged Balsamic.” Pretty much straight foie, but fabulous. There was a bit of nectarine puree, and the fat of the duck paired perfectly with that and the Sauternes. The Nectarine was stuffed with pistachios and was amazing!

Now on to the reds. We start with a trio of Rhone style blockbusters.

2008 Sine Qua Non Grenache “The Line.” This was the lightest of the three, but still having that thick front of the tongue quality that most Rhones have. Parker 96-98+. “The 2008 Not Yet Named Grenache will be aged in barrel for around 20 months as opposed to the extended time the 2007 experienced. Composed of 87.5% Grenache, 11 % Syrah, and 1.5% Viognier, it initially appears to play it tight to the vest, but I think that’s part of 2008’s vintage character. Many vineyards had significant frost issues in 2008, and those who waited to harvest fared better. Manfred Krankl did not finish picking until the end of November, which no doubt explains the extraordinary purity, richness, and aromatic and flavor complexity found in this wine. Although slightly more muted aromatically than his other Grenache cuvees, when the wine hits the palate, there is tremendous density and power as well as an inner core of steely richness, and a flavor profile and length that build incrementally. It is not the sort of wine you pick up and are wowed by. But the more you think about it, as well as the longer it sits in your mouth, the more nuances and aspects emerge. This should be another superb example of Grenache from the New world’s number one practitioner of that varietal.”


2007 Sine Qua Non Next of Kyn Syrah “Cumulus.” This was my favorite, the brightest and closest to a great Hermitage. Parker 94-96. “The debut release from the new home vineyard on the steep hillsides of Ventura is the 2007 Next of Kyn Syrah Cumulus Vineyard. Composed of 96.5% Syrah and 3.5% Viognier, it sees only 20% new oak in its upbringing. From a six-acre parcel of vines, it may be sold under a different label than Sine Qua Non. Krankl had not made up his mind at the time of writing. In any event, it is a very impressive debut release that should be bottled after 25 months of barrel aging. Sweet notes of creme de cassis, camphor, acacia flowers, licorice, pepper, and meat are followed by a wine with fabulous intensity and purity, a full-bodied texture, and a long finish. Unfortunately, only 125 cases were produced … from six acres!”

From here on down, it’s all 100s baby!

2007 Saxum Syrah “James Berry VYD.” Parker prefers this, which was delicious, and utterly massive — in need of a bit more cellaring. Parker 100! “Utter perfection, and one of the most profound Rhone Ranger wines I have ever tasted is the 2007 James Berry Vineyard Proprietary Red, a blend of 41% Grenache, 31% Mourvedre, and 28% Syrah (15.8% alcohol). It would be an amazing wine to insert in a tasting of the most profound 2007 Chateauneuf du Papes. As with many prodigious wines, the extraordinary freshness, purity, equilibrium, and singularity of this effort is breathtaking. Its dense purple color is accompanied by an extraordinary, incredibly pure, all enveloping, intense, sweet nose of black raspberries, kirsch, spring flowers, spice box, and pepper. Full-bodied with not a hard edge to be found, it is stunningly concentrated with unreal purity, a voluptuous texture, and remarkable freshness for a wine of such power, depth, and concentration. This 2007 will be approachable young, although I would not be surprised to see it close down given the relatively elevated proportion of Mourvedre, and it should drink well for 12-15 years.”


General Manager Vito hard at work on setting up the reds. Doing this many pours is actually hard work!


The Rhone styles and the sauternes on the table.


“Duck breast and turnips,” pretty close to straight up. This was a lovely piece of duck, cooked (or not) to perfection. It didn’t need more, as it the wines paired perfectly.

And we begin a trio of perfect Cab based Californians. They were all so good, and I was getting drunk enough, that this round blended into just a prodigious ode to Cabernet.

2007 Scarecrow. Parker 100! “Scarecrow’s inky/purple-colored 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon is a prodigious effort. It reveals a liqueur of crushed rocks intermixed with a smorgasbord of spring flower, blueberry, creme de cassis, and assorted blue, black, and red fruit characteristics. It also possesses extraordinary concentration, but what sets it apart is the fragrant aromatics combined with uncommon purity and elegance for such a full-bodied, massively concentrated wine. Its perfect balance suggests it can be drunk at a relatively young age, but it should easily evolve over 30-35 years. Congratulations to all involved!”


2002 Shafer Hillside Select. Parker 100! “One of the world’s most extraordinary Cabernet Sauvignons is the 1,800-2,400-case offering of Shafer’s Hillside Select. It was a treat to re-taste the utterly perfect 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select. A dark purple color is accompanied by a gorgeously powerful nose of pure creme de cassis, pain grille, flowers, licorice, and spice box. Full-bodied with multiple dimensions, superb purity, layers of fruit, and a blockbuster finish, it is an amazing offering. This wine should drink well young yet evolve for 2-3 decades.”


2007 Sloan Estate. Parker 100! “The 2007 Sloan, now in bottle, has lived up to the extraordinary quality it exhibited from barrel. A world-class, perfumed nose of charcoal, espresso roast, white chocolate, black currants, sweet plums, Asian soy and a Grave-like scorched earth aroma soars from the glass of this dense purple-colored wine. Full-bodied and seamlessly constructed with a multidimensional mouthfeel as well as a phenomenal finish, this 2007 carries considerable tannin, but at present it is concealed by the wine’s luxurious levels of fruit, glycerin and intensity. This spectacular 2007 should drink well for 25-30+ years.”


“Seared Wagyu Couloote Steak, served with fried baby broccoli.” This meat was fantastic, just perfectly soft and juicy. The broccoli was amazing, like little popcorn.


But this beef jus that went with it was the real stunner. Amazingly rich. Everything of course went perfectly with the perfect Cabs.

And now we have the Cab blends, and even more blockbuster trio.

2007 Screaming Eagle. Parker 100! “The most profound Screaming Eagle since the 2002 and 1997, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon (an 800-case blend of 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc) offers up a prodigiously pure, complex nose of cassis, spring flowers, licorice and black currants, the latter component being so intense and lingering that it makes this cuvee stand apart from other Napa Valley wines. Full-bodied in the mouth, like a ballerina on her toes, this wine glides gracefully across the palate with a cascade of purity, equilibrium and compelling complexity. Extraordinary balance and elegance combined with power make for an utterly stunning wine that should drink well for two decades or more. Even though the estate is being reconstituted and a new winery built, this wine still came from the old sector of the vineyard (15.5 acres) that was used by the previous proprietor, Jean Phillips.”


2002 Harlan Estate. My personal favorite of the group. Not only massive, but just so bright and fruity! Parker 100! “Very deep garnet-black colour with a purple rim. The nose is still a little closed giving notes of blackberry, black cherries, dark chocolate, tobacco, cigar boxes and cinnamon. The palate displays faultless structure and balance: very finely grained, firm tannins, medium to high acid and incredible intensity. Perhaps paradoxically, this wine is at once rich and full bodied yet exquisitely elegant. Although taut, it is already irresistibly tempting to drink. Epic finish with lingering flavours of Chinese dried plums, truffles, and an interesting iron/stony nuance. Drink 2009 – 2030+. Tasted November 2008.”


1997 Harlan Estate. Parker 100! “The 1997 Harlan Estate is one of the greatest Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines I have ever tasted. A blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, with the rest Merlot and Cabernet Franc, this enormously-endowed, profoundly rich wine must be tasted to be believed. Opaque purple-colored, it boasts spectacular, soaring aromatics of vanilla, minerals, coffee, blackberries, licorice, and cassis. In the mouth, layer after layer unfold powerfully yet gently. Acidity, tannin, and alcohol are well-balanced by the wine’s unreal richness and singular personality. The finish exceeds one minute. Anticipated maturity: 2001-2030.”


To go with this trio of stunners we have “Grilled Venison Chops, shaved black truffles, mushrooms, and a squash puree.” Not quite as amazing as the beef (that was REALLY amazing), but great too.


Just a small sampling of the glasses on the table. Unlike some, I was keeping up with mine and only had the Cab blends. But some folk were starting to worry, “Oh my God, if I don’t finish all these perfect wines Dionysian Maenads will flay the skin from my flesh!”


Passion fruit sorbet as pre-dessert. I love passion fruit, and this was one of the best passion fruit sorbets I’ve had. I spent about fifteen minutes eating it incredibly slowly by shaving off just a sliver on the spoon, then adding to the mouth-mix an alternating trip of perfect wines. It was actually, IMHO, the best pairing of the night.


R.L. Buller Calliope Rare Muscat. Yum Yum! Parker 100! “Giving aromas of dark brown sugar, black strap molasses, licorice and preserved walnuts, the deeply brown colored NV Calliope Rare Muscat is again incredibly sweet and viscous with a good amount of acid to balance and is decadently rich and nutty / spicy in the very long finish. All these vintage blended fortified wines are bottled to drink now and though are stable enough to hold, they are not designed to improve with cellaring.”


This was about as good as “Chocolate Lava cake with vanilla Ice Cream” gets. The extra elements added a little texture, but the inside of the cake had that perfect runny chocolatly goodness. It of course went perfectly (getting a lot of use out of that word tonight) with both the Cab blends and the Muscat.


Good to the last scrape.


The full line up!

This was some rather serious dining, and some even more serious drinking! Really an embarrassment of riches. I was very impressed with the cooking. It betrayed both hints of Sam’s signature (and awesome) palette, and a bold kind of styling and presentation that I am guessing comes from our budding new Chef Mustafa (who has cooked in many great kitchens before this too). The dishes pretty much concentrated on fantastic ingredients and bold but not over-layered flavors, which showcased perfectly (there it is again!) the epic wines.

Click here for some tamer meals at regular Fraiche Santa Monica or Culver City or:

here to see more Foodie Club posts.

Locanda Portofino – In the Neighborhood

Restaurant: Locanda Portofino

Location: 1110 Montana Ave. Santa Monica, Ca 90403. 310-394-2070

Date: May 20, 2011

Cuisine: Northern Italian

Summary: Tasty neighborhood Italian

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For whatever reason Los Angeles has a lot of Italian restaurants. There’s a lot of competition and innovation, and as far as I can tell we’re about tied with NY as the best town in the US for this wonderful (and justifiably popular) cuisine. This also means that there is a total and ridiculous excess of neighborhood Italians. I’ll try any of them once, but I pretty much never go to 75% of them a second time. There are just too many good ones to eat some ho-hum boxed pasta. In any case, Locanda Portofino is one of the good ones.


The menu.


I’m very partial to Amarone. They’re pretty much all drinkable (and grapey).


“Ceasar salad.”


“Bresaola con rucola. Thinly sliced cured beef with virgin olive oil, lemon, rucola and shaved parmigiano.” A very nice rendition of this classic.


“Penne vodka. Penne with light cream tomato sauce, shallots and vodka.”


“Tagliatelle alla boscaiola con salsicce. Green and white egg tagliatelle in a light cream sauce with pancetta, ground sausage, mushrooms and green peas.” I love love this pasta. It’s not far off from al carbonara either, but isn’t eggy in the same way. I love the combo of the peas, the two types of pig, and the peas. No wonder my cardiologist gives me a hard time.

Pretty much anything on the menu here is well done, but this was just Friday date night and so there are only a couple pics. Still, if you live on the Westside, forget those chain Italians, or the lame kitchen “red sauces” and go to Locanda Portofino, Delfini, Palmeri, Osteria Latini or the like. Or if you want higher end: Capo or Drago.

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.

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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!

Sam’s by the Beach 3D

Restaurant: Sam’s by the Beach [1, 2, 3]

Location: 108 W. Channel Rd.(PCH), Santa Monica, CA90402. 310-230-9100

Date: May 14, Sept 4, & Oct 30, 2011

Cuisine: Cal French International

Rating: Stellar food and unparalleled service.

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I already covered the background to Sam’s in my FIRST REVIEW. Let’s just say this is a local place with an unusual and inventive menu that’s worth a drive.


An amuse of tuna tartar on endive.


I’d never heard of this “lesser” Bordeaux, but Sam opened this half-bottle and it was very nice. Characteristic Saint-Emilionsmooth. The 8 or so years gave it just enough age to settle the tanins.


The glass.

Today’s menu.


“Roasted Beet Salad, mixed with onions and tomato in Aged balsamic dressing, served with Feta Cheese croquet.”


This salad was a special, heirloom tomatoes and sashimi grade salmon with a bit of greens, orange, and a mustard vinaigrette.


Another special salad, this time with Santa Barbara shrimp (with roe), corn, and a lovely vinaigrette.


Sam’s grandmom’s butternut squash soup. Vegan with some olives. A lovely bit of fall flavor.


A special today, boar lasagne. The sauce is a tangy tomato cream sauce. This was a really good lasagne. The boar meat was tastier than ground beef.


“Vegetarian Crepes. Homemade Crepes filled with Swiss chard, wild mushrooms and zucchini served in tomato coulis.”  This is a very nice vegetarian option, and surprisingly hearty. The sauce is bread dippingly yummy.


Sam’s has a pizza oven and a variety of pizzas served mostly on Sundays. This is the margarita.


And the Shawarma pizza, which given my penchant for homemade interesting pizzas, I found very interesting. The sauce is a bit more like a harissa, and the pizza is covered with shawarma and pine-nuts.


And served with a tangy yoghurt dip. Good stuff.


Medditeranian seafood soup. But it comes with the traditional toastes and garlic aioli.


Prepping the breads.


The soup itself. Lots of different seafood and a fantastic tomato garlic broth.


With the toasts. They sog up nicely and make for gooey garlicky goodness.


“Grilled Wild Salmon. Served with braised Swiss chard, Pine Nuts, and roasted Sunchoke, with fresh oregano sauce.”


Special rack of Lamb in a dijon mustard vinaigrette. The lamb was tender. The sauce has a fantastic vinegary tone, bright with the mustard, but not overpowering. I had to sop it up with bread afterward. Served with various vegetables and ratatouille.

Green apple sorbet, with a true apple mouthfeel (even a bit mealy, like real apples).

His creme brulee is straight up traditional, and it’s the second best I’ve ever had in the world (there was this one in Avignon…).


My personal favorite, the bread pudding. Topped with a creme anglais, it is warm, rich, and soft, with a chocolate botom.


A few freebee biscotti for dessert.


The room (or technically, half the room).

For other reviews of Sam’s, see here or here.

Rustic Canyon 4

Restaurant: Rustic Canyon [12, 3, 4]

Location: 1119 Wilshire Blvd. Santa Monica, Ca 90401. 310-393-7050

Date: May 13, 2011

Cuisine: Farmer’s Market Californian

Summary: Excellent Seasonal New American

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As a seasonal market driven California restaurant Rustic canyon can be counted on to mix up the menu a bit fairly frequently. It’s a friday night favorite for us, and we return every two months or so. Many of the specific dishes change, but the overall types and categories stay consistant. If you are interested in the previous meals at Rustic Canyon, meal 1 heremeal 2 here, and meal 3 here.


The front.


Today’s current menu.


Spanish style – olives on the table.


I got a glass of Riesling.


“Burrata, roasted artichokes, fava beans, stinging nettle pesto, ramps toast.” This is sort of like make your own cheese bruschetta as the blog of Burrata (here for more on this wonderful cheese) can just be slathered on the toast.


“Asparagus soup, asparagus tips, smoked bacon.” It was of course the lardons that made this entire dish.

“Roasted beets & farro, roasted beets, feta, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, red onion, fennel, yogurt.”


This was a special, not on the menu. A squid ink homemade pasta with botarga and fiore di sardo (Sardinian peccorino). Very nice, with a sweet and briny flavor.


The desserts, which are very good here, but we were full.

Check out other LA meals here.

The Lobster claws at the pier

Restaurant: The Lobster

Location:  1602 Ocean Ave. Santa Monica, California 90401.  310.458.9294

Date: April 29, 2011

Cuisine: Seafood

Rating: Great view, decent food.

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Every couple months we go to the Lobster. It’s located right at the top of Santa Monica Pier and has a tremendous view of the pier and the ocean, lots of seafood, and a lively scene. It is a little overpriced, but view spots tend to be.


The top of the pier.


The main room inside, with views of the ocean.


The menu.


Typical sour-dour seafood resteraunt bread.


A kind of chimichuri dipping sauce for the bread.


The wine list. I got a couple glasses of the ever reliable J.J. Prum Kabinet Riesling.


“Organic Country Fresh Farms Baby Greens. Fennel, Cherry Tomatoes & Shaved Parmesan with Red Wine Vinaigrette.”


“Manila Clam Chowder. Applewood Smoked Bacon & Weiser Farms Fingerling Potatoes.” This was a slightly different take on the New England clam chowder. I liked the clams in the shell factor, certainly makes it pretty. The broth had a nice flavor, but without the thick creamy whiteness of the totally traditional variant. It was a bit more like a corn chowder, or certain types of traditional Irish soups.


“Grilled Wild Columbian River King Salmon. Coleman Farms Baby Broccoli, Caramelized Onion, Weiser Farms Fingerling Potatoes & Tart Cherry Gastrique.” This would have been good except for the fact that while it was ordered medium well, it was medium-rare, and the pink inside didn’t have the firmness it should, but had turned into that kind of salmon mush. We actually sent it back. Cooked right it would have been fine.


“Butter Poached Lobster. Tutti Fruitti Farms Sweet English Peas, Wild Mushroom Ragout & Lobster Mash.” I usually get this, and there’s a reason. I love lobster. I love buttery bisque-style lobster sauces. I love pees, and mash potatoes go well with all of the above. Really, what’s not to like.

The hopping bar scene. It was even more crowded outside on the patio.

The Lobster is fairly typical of mid-high end ocean-view American places. The food is better than Gladstones (see below), and if you order right can be very good, but it certainly isn’t a stellar kitchen. Still, it can be a fun place and a very enjoyable meal, particularly if you enjoy our favorite North Atlantic crustacean.

For two reviews of Gladstones, check HERE and HERE.

Ice Cream & Coffee

Restaurant: Sweet Rose Creamery

Location:  225 26th Ave, suite 51, Santa Monica, 90402  310-260-CONE

Date: April 17, 2011

Cuisine: Homemade Ice Cream

Rating: Very REAL ice cream.

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We were at the Brentwood Country Mart and I noticed this creamery I had wanted to try for a while. They make real homemade ice cream using only the traditional and natural ingredients. None of those emulsifiers and artificial flavors.


The board of flavors.

There aren’t a lot of flavors, but those they have are ver good.

There is even “Caffe Luxxe” coffee ice cream (we’ll see the coffee itself in a second).

This is salted carmel and mint chocolate chip. The carmel was delicious, sweet, carmely, and the fleur de salt on top a perfect contrast. The mint tasted entirely like cream and REAL mint leaves, not that artificial stuff. The chips were nice and rich. The mint in particular reminded me of my Mom’s homemade ice cream from when I was a kid.

My son demanded, “I want chocolate!” so here it is. Rich and creamy.


Caffe Luxxe coffee ice cream underneath coconut lime sorbet. The mix was odd. The coffee was good, but the coconut lime was amazing. It tasted lime Tom Yum Gum (the Thai soup).


Salted Caramel (again).

Then, since it was right here, a quick stop at LAs best coffee place. They have 3 branches actually, all in Santa Monica / Brentwood.

The masters at work.

And the incredible result. These capachinos don’t even taste like normal coffee. The milk is so expertly foamed that it seemlessly blends in to make a completely silky uniform texture. Not a hint of bitterness.

Luxxe also carries Mararons from Paulettes!

For another luxury snack, check out gourmet macarons.

JiRaffe is no Joke

Restaurant: JiRaffe

Location: 502 Santa Monica Blvd. Santa Monica, CA 90401. 310.917.6671

Date: April 1, 2011

Cuisine: French American

Rating: Santa Monica Classic

 

To me, it seems JiRaffe has been here forever. It opened in 1996, and to have made it 15 years in Santa Monica is no small feat. The space next door (which is a really nice two floor space) has had 7 restaurants in the same period! JiRaffe remains not only in business, but busy — and good. It is headed by Chef/Owner Raphael Lunetta and serves creative California adapted French influenced flair with a concentration on farmer’s market ingredients. Lunetta was ahead of the recent trend exemplified by places like Gjelina, Rustic Canyon, and Fig. His style is more classic, but not in the least outdated.

The nice two floor space. There is a loft (not visible) with a number of tables too.

The cocktail menu.

“Blood Orange Cosmopolitan, Grey Goose Vodka, Key Lime and Fresh Blood Orange.” This is the kind of real cocktail I like to see, not the saccharine kind of concoction I got the other week at Gladstones (see here), but a drink made from fresh ingredients and no flavored alcohols. It was tart, but really flavorful.

The appetizers.

A variety of breads.

The amuse, a mushroom cream cappuccino. Very tasty, almost truffle flavored and very rich. They actually goofed slightly and brought this after our appetizers, making it more of an intermezzo, but it didn’t matter.

“Roasted Organic Beet Salad, organic beets, carmelized walnuts, dried cherries, goat cheese cream, banyuls-ginger vinaigrette.” This dish has become ubiquitous, but I suspect JiRaffe was one of the earliest to offer it on their menu (it might have been an 80s Wolfgang Puck invention, but I’m not sure). This particularly implementation has always been one of the best I’ve ever had. The sweet of the beets pairing beautifully with the sharpness of the goat cheese, and the chewy crunch of the walnut/cherry combo adding to the effect.

“Purple Peruvian Gnocchi, rock shrimp, pearl onions, mandarin tomato concassé, herb infused tomato nage.” Although these gnocchi look like the grubs I encountered in china (as a breakfast condiment for congi), they tasted delicious. The sauce was extremely buttery, and paired perfectly with the soft little pillows and the tender shrimp.

Les entrees.

“Crispy Scottish Salmon with parsnip puree, white wine braised fennel, and an aged balsamic nage.” Note that the fennel was substituted out here for spinach.

“New Zealand Lamb Rack, yellowfin potato samosas, vegetable moussaka, thyme-scented lamb jus.” The lamb itself was delicious, exactly what you’d want. The jus perfect as well. My only complaint was the samosas which were very bland, tasting only of potato. I’m not such a plain starch fan. They were okay soaked in the jus, but I would have preferred a strong curry flavor or something.

JiRaffe also has a VERY yummy looking dessert menu, but we were too full to partake. The full menu can be found HERE.

Overall JiRaffe is a Santa Monica classic, and for good reason. This is a solid kitchen and everything is very tasty. The menu remains consistant. It does change, but in a slow evolutionary way, mostly swapping out seasonal ingredients and preserving what is essentially the same dish. They could experiment a little more, but they do have a good thing going.

More Modern Dim Sum

Restaurant: Xino [1, 2]

Location: 395 Santa Monica Pl, Ste 308, Santa Monica, CA 90401. (310) 755-6220

Date: April 1, 2011

Cuisine: Modern Dim sum

Rating: Ordered lighter this time for a delicious and reasonable meal.

 

Another gorgeous 78 degree LA day, with that perfect mix of warm and ocean moisture in the air. So we headed back to Xino, one of the new promenade restaurants with a huge roof deck and somewhat modernized Dim Sum. For my first review, click here. Our first time we had a few issues all of which we managed to avoid here. We had ordered too much food, as the individual dishes, despite being dirt cheap, are fairly large. There’s also a lot of fried stuff on the menu, so if you want a bit lighter, order carefully. Still, it’s all tasty.

Xino has a really nice deck. You can see the couch-style booths in the background too.

Again we ordered straight from the extremely reasonable Dim Sum menu. This is all Hong Kong style small plates. There are no carts, but it’s made to order. This time we made sure to specify in NO UNCERTAIN TERMS that they needed to bring out the dishes slowly (last time they hit us with 11-12 simultaneously!). They brought them one at a time today and it was no problem.

Notice also that the fried section is much larger than the steamed section, and that the specialties are also mostly fried. They’re good, but you have to know what you’re getting. We tried to order only a couple fried things.

Condiments. Chinese mustard, hot sauce, and soy sauce behind.

“Shrimp Dumpling ‘Ha Gow‘ Shrimp, Bamboo sShoots, Rice Wrap.” Classic Cantonese dumplings. Good examples of the type.


“Shanghai Dumpling, Pork, Ginger, garlic, Vinegar & Ginger.” These are basically the classic soup dumplings, but very good examples of the type, and nicely served with the vinegar in the little cups so that they don’t break apart on the steamer. Wow!

“Crispy Chili Calamari, Jalapeno Vinaigrette.” These were seriously tasty. The fry was heavy, but deliciously and a bit sweet, as was the jalapeno sauce. In some ways almost like a desert, but yummy.

“Salt & Pepper Soft Shelled Crab, fresh chili, spring onion, toasted garlic.” This is Xino’s take on the classic (chinese) lightly friend shrimp. The traditional version has a bit less fry, but requires you to peel the shell to eat them. These have been pre-shelled which is nice. Certainly tasty, and good with both the mustard and the jalapeno sauce above.

“Shrimp & Chives potstickers, shrimp bamboo shoots, chives.” These were nice, a bit lighter than the classic pork potsticker (which they also make).

“Pork Siu Mai, Pork, Shrimp, Shitake, carrots, Egg Wrap.” Another typical dim sum dish, executed very well.

“Seafood Spinach Dumpling, shrimp, spinach, bamboo shoots, rice wrap.” These slightly green fellows are a little different. There was a lot of shrimp in there, but it did taste slightly fishy. Not bad, but the pairing with the spinach also was just slightly funny. Personally, I think these would be awesome with basil instead, or even a bit of pesto — but that’s modern me.

“Baked Pork Buns, sweet pork in glazed flaky baked bun.” These were a slightly new take on the classic that really worked. The sweet red BBQ pork inside was very typical, but what was different was the crispy light AND SWEET outer shell. It reminded me of a Beard Papa cookie shell!

This is a photo of the pastry cookie shell from Beard Papa, it wasn’t at Xino, but it was awfully similar to the pork bun! Still, the pork bun really worked. Sweet on sweet, with a nice interplay of crunch/flaky with the gooey meat.

“Lotus Leaf Wrapped Sticky Rice, ‘Lo Mai Gai’ egg, chinese sausage, dried shrimp.”

Examine the goodies inside. Good, although the more traditional Palace (review here) has a very slightly tastier version.

Not only is the food good, but look at the price! $47 (with tax) for all that food! I think Xino might be even cheaper than the traditional Dim Sum in the area!

For another Xino meal CLICK HERE.

For a review of traditional west side Dim Sum, CLICK HERE.

Fraiche Santa Monica

Restaurant: Fraiche Santa Monica [1, 2]

Location: 312 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90401. Phone : 310.451.7482

Date: March 19, 2011

Cuisine: Cal French Italian

Rating: On the way up.

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This particular location adjacent to the Barnes and Noble on Wilshire near the promenade has a fairly checkered past. Two or three years ago the Fraiche group turned it into Riva. This was supposed to be a coastal Italian, but to my taste wasn’t really Italian at all — although they made a decent Pizza. In any case, it failed and they rebooted it as Fraiche Santa Monica with an entirely new menu and staff, albiet an identical interior. This is sort of a spin off of the Culver City location (REVIEW HERE).

One corner of the back room. I didn’t have much of a wide angle lens (food after all). It’s a pretty nice space.

The wine by the glass list.

“Bourgogne Pinot Noir, Les Chapitres de Jaffelin, Burgundy, 2009.” As a burghound this was about the bare limit of drinkability for Pinot Noir. A little sour and acidic and decidedly unbalanced. But then again, I rarely expect much from “Bourgogne” (Burgundy which is not AOC to a particular village or vineyard).

The bread was hot out of the oven, and very nice and crunchy. Oilve, mashed and oiled.

Today’s menu. This is actually the second time I’ve eaten at Fraiche SM (I did so once right after they opened) and in the meantime they have moved the menu to be much closer to the new one at Fraiche Culver City (detailed review of that here).

“POACHED PEAR SALAD, Endive, baby wild arugula, candied walnuts, Point Reyes blue cheese, red wine vinaigrette.”

“Baby Beets, House Made Ricotta / Orange / Pistachio.” Sweetness of the beets meshes with the cheesy sauce. Beet salads have become very passe, but when well done (like this one), I like them.

“ROASTED PEPPERS ARUGULA & BURRATA, Shallots, 12 year old balsamic and extra virgin olive oil.” This was as good a Burrata as I’ve had at a restaurant. They still aren’t quite as sensual as my own take on the cheese.

Valpolicella Ripasso, Classico Superiore, David Sterza, Veneto, 2008.” Much better than the generic Burgundy. This was a fine wine of the type. Grapey, but not as much so as an Amarone.

“MUSHROOM RISOTTO, Arugula, Pine Nuts, Pecorino.” Nice nutty, mushroomy risotto.

AGNOLOTTI, Mushrooms,  mascarpone, truffle butter.” These are really good. The pasta is nice fresh egg pasta. It tastes mostly of butter and mushroom. Butter!

“GARGANELLI, Mushroom Bolognese, Parsley, House Made Ricotta.” I actually expected this to be a meat pasta, but it’s vegetarian with the “ragu” being made from mushrooms. It was tasty, particularly the ricotta which, being homemade, was more like a real Sicilian Ricotta than one usually gets here. The mushrooms leant it a fairly rich taste, but it wasn’t heavy at all (like a meat one would be).

“Rigatoni, Beef & Pork Ragù / Scallion / Gruyère.” This one was great. basically a Bolognese, but really good. Close even to one of my ultimate pasa favorites, the lamb ragu at Capo (SEE HERE).

We were too full for desserts but Fraiche has really good ones, so I snuck in a photo of the Budino from a trip to the culver city joint. You can look there for a bunch more dessert photos. The dessert menu is nearly identical.

“Carmel Budino, Vanilla Mascarpone, Sea salt.” Mildly carmel/creamy with that nice salt factor. Good, but not quite as good as the similar dessert at Gjelina (SEE HERE).

Fraiche SM seems to be settling into its groove. It was better than last time, and quite a bit better than Riva. It isn’t a lot different than the Culver City location, but the menu is slightly smaller, and missing the assorted “pots of stuff” that are fairly unique over there. It does still have the very good fresh pastas. I need to try I nice meaty one.