Sunday, August 31, 2008

5x5 Chef's Collaborative (Los Angeles, CA) [2]

5x5 Chef's Collaborative
544 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90071
Sun 08/31/2008, 08:00p-10:35p

This was dinner number four of the 2008 5x5 Chef's Collaborative dinner series, held at Water Grill. My first visit to Water Grill was some years ago, right when then Executive Chef Michael Cimarusti left to start Providence. Thus, in a way it was quite fitting to be back for the 5x5, to have Cimarusti back in the kitchen at Water Grill after all these years.

At each 5x5 dinner, each of the five "core" chefs and one guest chef prepares one dish in a multi-course meal; dessert is made by the pastry chef of the host restaurant. The participating chefs this year are: Gino Angelini (La Terza, Angelini Osteria), Michael Cimarusti (Providence), Josiah Citrin (Melisse), David Lefevre (Water Grill), and Walter Manzke (ex-Bastide). The first of the series was held at Providence. Dinner number two was supposed to be held at Bastide, but was cancelled due to the firing of Executive Chef Walter Manzke. The third was at Melisse, which I had to miss due to work. This was number four, with Giuseppe Tentori of Boka, Chicago. Five is at La Terza (which unfortunately I won't be able to attend), and I've heard rumors that a sixth to replace Bastide will be held at Alain Giraud's Anisette.

Water Grill can be divided into two halves, with one being a dining room (lower right photo) and the other a bar-lounge area where the entrance is located. We were seated at the most north-western table in the restaurant.

The special seven-course 5x5 menu was $150 plus $65 for the optional wine pairing. The menu is signed by all chefs save for Giuseppe Tentori of Boka, who had to attend to an emergency back in Italy. Click for a larger version.

Sourdough, black olive, and French breads were offered, with my favorite being the olive.

  • Kanpachi with Pineapple and Daikon Chip - The addition of pineapple to the kanpachi made the whole amalgam too sweet for me, as I had difficulty detecting the fish. The daikon really came to the fore, actually too much so for my taste; I would've preferred a thinner chip.
  • Risotto Balls with Saffron, Papaya, and Andouille Sausage - When I heard risotto ball, I was expecting something like what I had at The Courtyard; rather, risotto made up the minority of the ball. In any case, the sweet-salty interplay between the papaya and sausage was interesting, though I can't say that I was completely sold.
  • Foie Gras with Orange Konjac Jelly and Orange Zest - A very mild piece of foie was highlighted by the subtle sweetness of the orange jelly. The piece of orange zest, meanwhile, added a pronounced tartness to the finish. This was the best of the trio.

Amuse Bouche: Uni with Fennel Sorbet and Tonburi [by David Lefevre of Water Grill]
Bruno Gobillard, Vieilles Vignes, Brut, Champagne, France NV
What I initially mistook for caviar turned out to be tonburi, a type of dried seed from Japan with a texture similar to real caviar; its taste was far less salty I thought though. Nevertheless, the uni was a solid example, though it really melded in with all the other ingredients rather taking center stage. The crispness and mild flavor of the radish salad made a great contrasting accompaniment to the roe.

1: Big Eye Tuna Sashimi [by Giuseppe Tentori of Boka]
Villa Sparina, Gavi di Gavi, Piedmont, Italy 2006
With Petite Mache, Jicima, Watermelon, Pineapple, Quinoa, Overcooked Quail's Egg, and Shellfish Emulsion. This looked like something out of Providence. The use of the various fruits added a touch of sweetness to the fish, which was otherwise quite mild. More importantly, the fish's flavor was not overpowered. I loved the quail egg, and the quinoa was an interesting textural twist.

2: Pan Roasted Sea Scallop [by Michael Cimarusti of Providence]
Hogl, Gruner Veltliner Federspiel, Wachau, Austria 2006
With American Caviar and Yukon Gold Potato. With this dish, Cimarusti doesn't stray too far from convention, or deliciousness. A near-perfectly cooked scallop, elevated by the briny tang of caviar and the zing of lemon, was tempered with bits of potato that added some well-placed crunch. One of my dining companions liked this to a less "melt-in-your-mouth" version of a preparation of scallop at New York's three-star Le Bernardin. Not having had said scallop, I cannot compare, but I had no complaints here.

3: Santa Barbara Spot Prawn Risotto with Asparagus [by Gino Angelini of La Terza and Angelina Osteria]
Jaffurs, Viognier, Santa Barbara, California 2007
The prawn was very tender, too tender in my opinion. It lacked the crispness and bite that I like. The risotto, meanwhile, was done al dente, giving the rice a very pleasant mouthfeel; I liked it better than the prawn. The use of asparagus in the risotto was superb.

4: Roasted John Dory [by Josiah Citrine of Melisse]
Quattro Mani, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, Italy 2006
Mushroom Tart, Chorizo-Torpedo Onion Marmalade, Red Wine Mushroom Jus. This was a letdown, as the fish was soft and flaky, but very nondescript and a bit boring. It didn't stand up to the very aggressive sauces on the plate. The mushroom tart was a good attempt to rescue the dish, but it lacked crispness.

5: Hawaiian Mero [by Walter Manzke formerly of Bastide]
Demetria, Syrah, Santa Ynez Valley, California 2005
With Kobe Oxtail and Red Wine Sauce. I was not a fan of the fish. It was rather rubbery and nearly flavorless, reminding me a bit of the sea bass I had at Café Hiro, but worse. Fortunately the rest of the dish was better. To the left we started with celery root topped with bacon and onion. Then there was roasted carrot topped with bone marrow and chive; the carrot was the star here. Finally, we had roasted potato topped with Wagyu oxtail, my favorite item on the plate; the richness of the Wagyu oxtail worked marvelously with the stark simplicity of potato.

6: Yogurt Parfait [by John Park of Water Grill]
Joseph Phelps Eisrébe, Napa Valley, California 2006
With Cherries, White Nectarine Sorbet, and Clementine Sauce. I loved the presentation of the parfait here as a solid block. It's mild acidity made it a great canvas for the rest of the items in the dessert. I especially enjoyed the richness of the cherries and light tartness of the sorbet. Impressive.

A rather large plate was first presented, consisting of churros, Valrhona chocolate shortbread, peanut butter and jelly, pistachio macarons, chocolate macarons, peach petit fours, and chocolate bonbons. Next, we were given chocolate ice cream lollipops à la Michael Mina, which were, of course, delicious.

This was a solid meal, but not up to the level of the 5x5 at Providence. The dishes didn't seem as sharp, as focused, or as bold. And the restaurant itself didn't have the buzz, the excitement of the first meal. It just seemed like dinner as usual, which is unfortunate, as this was indeed a special event. I won't be able to attend the next dinner at La Terza, but hopefully I'll see some of the energy return if the Anisette dinner ever gets off the ground.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Café Hiro (Cypress, CA)

Café Hiro
10509 Valley View St, Cypress, CA 90630
Fri 08/29/2008, 07:50p-10:10p

I'd never been to a restaurant quite like Hiro Ohiwa's eponymous eatery, Café Hiro. Ohiwa's menu isn't Japanese; rather, it pays homage to the influx of foreign foods that have made their indelible mark on modern Japanese cuisine. At Café Hiro, diners will find a fanciful fusion of Japanese-, American-, Italian-, French-inspired dishes, which show the depth of Ohiwa's training both in Japan and France, where he worked at a number of Michelin-starred restaurants.

Café Hiro is located in a nondescript strip mall alongside numerous other eateries. Free parking is plentiful.

A mishmash of disparate pieces, the interior decor is eclectic to say the least.

A wide range of dishes are available on the regular menu, which is augmented by a daily specials board. Note the signature of Chef Ohiwa. We ordered a six-course tasting menu for $50. Tasting menus are not normally offered, so it's best to call in advance if one is desired. Click for larger versions.

A small selection of wine, beer, and sake complements the food; we ended up going with a pitcher of Kirin Draft [$13.00]. Click for a larger version.

1: Buffalo Mozzarella and Beet Salad
The mozzarella had a light, creamy body and a slightly tangy flavor; its taste and texture reminded me of Burrata. Though I'm not a huge fan of beets, the use of beets here added a bit of sweetness to the salad, and the radish, while very mild by itself, contributed a satisfying crunchiness to the dish.

2: Grilled Scallops [$7.50]
Asparagus, Yuzu Vinaigrette, Kelp Salt. The scallops had a great texture, and their naturally mild flavor was set of deftly by the addition of yuzu. The asparagus, meanwhile, had a delectable smoky grilled flavor and was a great contrast to the scallop. The salt wasn't absolutely necessary, but when used sparingly, added a touch of saltiness to augment the flavor of the mollusk.

3: Tuna Carpaccio [$9.00]
Fig, Soy Beans, White Miso Sauce, Shiso Oil. I was afraid that the fish would be oversauced, but that simply wasn't the case. The tuna's flavor was indeed mild, but the fig, along with the miso and shiso, imparted their flavor while preserving the character of the fish. The soy beans were a great contrast in texture.

4: Beef Tataki
Australian Wagyu, Anchovy Sauce, Cabbage. Anchovy is a very strongly flavored fish, so the use of anchovy sauce here was a touch overwhelming; I liked the tanginess it added to the beef, but perhaps less would have been more in this case. Nicely seared on the outside but raw on the inside, the Wagyu beef was heavily marbled and thus quite tender, albeit a bit chewy. The cabbage tempered the anchovy flavor, and its crunch added a well placed contrast in consistency.

5: Peking Pork [$8.00]
Steamed Buns, Asian Herb Mix, Hoisin Sauce. Think Peking duck, but substitute pork for duck. The pork itself was ridiculously soft, rich, and quite fatty. Paired with the sweetness of the hoisin and bitterness of spring onion and wrapped in a steamed bun, the combination was superb. Upon biting into the wrapped buns, I had a hard time discerning the actual pork, as it was so tender. After eating this, I was left hankering for some actual Peking duck!

6: Roasted Chilean Sea Bass, Mushroom Risotto [$19.00]
The sea bass, much to my surprise, had a rather hard, flaky texture, and unfortunately, wasn't particularly juicy or flavorful. The risotto wasn't really risotto, but more like a thickened serving of sushi rice prepared in a similar manner; its texture was definitely much softer and stickier than a traditional risotto, which is fairly al dente. Nevertheless, infused with the aroma of mushroom, it was quite delicious.

A picture menu lists the five desserts offered. From what I understand, these rarely, if ever, change. The Blanc-Manger sounded interesting, while the Banana Mille-Feuille was a daily special. Click for a larger version.

7a: Green Tea Blanc-Manger
A blanc-manger, or blancmange, is a sweet dessert made with cream and sugar thickened with gelatin or cornstarch. It can take on many flavors, in this case green tea. I liked how the custard layer actually tasted like matcha, and the layer of red bean on the bottom added some much needed sweetness.

7b: Banana Mille-Feuille [$6.00]
A mille-feuille is a pastry made of layers of puff pastry and sweet custard filling. I didn't think the pastry was anything special, but I did quite enjoy the banana ice cream, with it subtle yet profound banana flavor. This was a great way to end the meal.

Take Out: Chicken Cutlet Curry [$13.00]
Curry Sauce with Tender Chicken Breaded and Fried to a Golden Brown. I wasn't quite full by the end of the tasting menu, so seeing as how I was in the mood for curry, I decided to order some chicken curry to go. Apparently, Hiro's curry sauce is made from scratch; I couldn't tell, but it was as good as any curry I'd had prior.

After our meal, Chef Ohiwa came out to speak with us and sign menus.

After hearing some glowing reviews of the place, I must say that Café Hiro delivers. The restaurant serves up great food in a somewhat unexpected setting, and to top things off, the menu represents a fantastic value as well. Will I be back? You can count on it.