Thursday, July 30, 2009

Hatchi at Breadbar (Los Angeles, CA)

Hatchi at Breadbar
10250 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90067
Thu 07/30/2009, 08:00p-11:35p

Given the smashing success of Ludo Bites, it was inevitable that Breadbar would institute other such "pop-up-style" events. Hatchi, a collaboration between Breadbar and Noriyuki Sugie (progenitor of Crudobar and Bentobar), is a prime example. Billed with the tagline "8 Plates at 8 Dollars," Hatchi ("eight" in Japanese) is a series of dinners that brings an up-and-coming guest chef into Breadbar's kitchens to prepare an original, one-off, one-night-only collection of eight dishes (six savory, two sweet), priced at $8 each. Diners can chose as few* or as many dishes and they'd like (*minimum three), creating their own "tasting menu," in a sense. The Series debuted on June 25 with Chef Debbie Lee of The Next Food Network Star, which I unfortunately missed. Given that the second guest chef would be none other than Michael Voltaggio, I made sure to make my reservation early this time around (good thing, since the event ended up being completely sold out). Following Voltaggio are chefs Roberto Cortez (August 6), Remi Lauvand (September 24), and Eda Vesterman (October 29).

The timing of Voltaggio's performance couldn't have been better. As we all know, in addition to being a contestant on the new season of Top Chef, Voltaggio recently became the head chef at The Dining Room at The Langham in Pasadena (replacing Craig Strong, who moved to Studio at The Montage). Prior, he was, of course, the Chef de Cuisine at José Andrés' much-lauded The Bazaar/Saam, where he earned that infamous four-star review from Sherry Irene Virbila. Before this, Voltaggio was Chef de Cuisine of Hemisphere and Tavern Room at The Greenbrier in West Virginia. Interestingly, early in his career, Voltaggio worked as an apprentice at The Greenbrier, only to return a decade later after cutting his teeth at The Ritz-Carlton Naples and Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg, CA, where he was Executive Chef. Voltaggio's style, which he really came into at The Greenbrier, blends contemporary American foundations with a smattering of ultramodern techniques (some of which veer toward molecular), in the process presenting familiar flavors in new and inventive ways. I'd experienced his cooking before at Saam, so I was very curious as to what he'd come up with here, unencumbered by the penumbra of Andrés' shadow.

Breadbar Exterior
Wrapped in sleek sheaths of wood, Breadbar is situated in the Westfield Century City Mall, along with other eateries such as Gulfstream, Houston's, Pink Taco, and Rock Sugar. Thankfully, parking is free (for three hours) and plentiful in the mall's subterranean structure.

Breadbar Interior Breadbar Interior
The theme continues into the cozy interior, and by cozy, I mean hot--my dining companions and I were sweating up quite a storm in there...

Hatchi Menu
Voltaggio's menu for the night was dubbed "An Experience of Texture and Flavor: An Artistic Series of Small Plates Inspired by My Life as a Cook," with wine pairings by David Haskell (ex-owner of the now-shuttered Bin 8945 wine bar). Click for a larger version.

Artichokes 'Barigoule'
1: Artichokes "Barigoule" | Salmon Belly, Philadelphia Cheese, Smoked Salmon Roe
NV Francois Chidaine: Loire, France: Grapes: Chenin Blanc, Cab. Franc
Dinner began with Voltaggio's take on barigoule, a classic Provençal dish of braised artichokes in a light white wine nage. I started with the salmon, a heavy, oily portion that was prototypical belly. It was quite delicious on its own, but its savory, briny flavor was heightened by the salty, smoky ikura, while the "cream cheese" added a palpable weight to the fish. The key, thus, was indeed the artichokes, which were possessing of a distinctive tang that effectively balanced the gravity of the salmon. A pleasing start to the meal.

Japanese Tomato Tartare
2: Japanese Tomato Tartare | Green Almonds, Parmesan "Overeasy", Tapenade Powders
2006 Krizevic Winery: Kalnik, Croatia: Grape: Grasevina (Blue Danube Wine)
Upon cursory glance, one could've mistaken this dish for a classic beef tartare, topped with the requisite egg; such a thought would be selling the Chef's whimsy short however. Rather, Voltaggio substitutes tomato for meat, and cheese for egg--a beef tartare fit for a (lacto-) vegetarian, in a sense. I first tasted the tartare sans "egg," and found it actually not dissimilar from a classic insalata Caprese in sapor. Adding the Parmesan elevated the richness of the dish, while the green almonds provided a pleasing tart nuttiness, completing the experience. I was initially concerned that the tapenade would be overwhelming, but rather, it provided merely a subtle note of olive on the finish.

Hamachi Crudo
3: Hamachi Crudo | Smoked Egg Yolk, Sea Sponge, Watermelon, Wild Rice
2008 Ch. Revelette Rose: Aix En Provence: Grapes: Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Carignan
Here, we have a fascinating study in the interplay of sweet and savory. There was a lot going on, but the focus for me was the complex of hamachi, melon, and sea sponge. The yellowtail, in a sense, was a canvas; on one hand, it was kissed by the fruity essence of watermelon, with just a hint of rice, while on the other, the sponge and yolk provided a foil to an otherwise saccharine crudo, giving the whole amalgam a lingering, salty finish. Furthermore, the wasabi was instrumental in contributing a piquant tang, offsetting the gravitas of the rest of the dish. Finally, the wild rice gave things a delightful crunch, adding a bit of fun to a complex, contemplative dish. I couldn't help but compare this to the Bluefin Tuna Toro I'd had at Saam; fortunately, I found this preparation much more effective.

Veal Sweetbread
4: Veal Sweetbread | Poached Egg, Pea Consomme, Coffee-Cardamom Soil
Dios Baco Oloroso Sherry: Jerez, Spain
Taking the sweetbreads alone, I found them firm but creamy, immensely flavorful, yet not overwhelming, not gamy. Combining the coffee-cardamom "soil" added a marked bittersweet component that I quite liked, balancing the momentousness of the sweetbreads. For me, what made this course though was the egg, cooked at 140°F according to our server (to ensure consistency between yolk and white). The result was a creamy contrast, a divine element that simply brought even more depth, even more breadth to the sweetbreads, revealing a previously latent side to them that I found particularly enjoyable. Very nice.

Crispy Chicken Thigh
5: Crispy Chicken Thigh | Cuttlefish, Green Garlic, Sweet and Sour Mushrooms
Dues Beer: Flanders, Belgium and Champagne, France; Grape...dude it's BEER
I usually eschew chicken on restaurant menus, viewing the bird as bland, boring, but this course went a long way in challenging that perception. Alone, the chicken was excellent--juicy, flavorful, with a delectably crisp skin--easily one of the best incarnations I've had. What took it to the next level for me was the combination of cuttlefish and green garlic, which lent a fantastic, light, bright brininess that went surprisingly well with the bird. The 'shrooms, meanwhile, gave everything a pointed earthiness, steeped in the acerbic tang of sweet and sour. My favorite course of the night.

Wagyu Beef
6: Wagyu Beef | Short Rib, Saul's Pastrami, Tamarind, Broccoli Textures, Horseradish "Styrofoam"
2007 Dingac Winery: Peljesac, Croatia: Grape: Plavac (Blue Danube Wine)
Though broccoli may be the bane for some, I've always had a fondness for it. Here, the veggie was presented in three forms: thinly-sliced stalks, purée, and charred florets--a fancy broccoli and beef, thus. As for the beef, it was presented in short rib and pastrami form, the pastrami being my preferred variant, with a lean beefy flavor accented by lovely peppery notes and a bit of sweetness from the tamarind. The short rib, meanwhile, was similarly flavorful, but a bit tougher than I expected for Wagyu. In any case, the florets tended to emphasize the savory nature of the meat (a bit disconcerting, actually), but the best part for me was the interaction between the beef and the crisp, light broccoli stalks. For one of my dining companions, the best dish in the series.

Miso Cake
7: Miso Cake | Jasmine "Rice Cream", Strawberry, Yuzu
NV Jean-Paul Brun: Beaujolais, France: Grape: "Mousseux" Gamay
Eating this, I couldn't help but think of Frosted Flakes with strawberries! The most interesting element here, clearly, was the "rice cream," an ice cream with a distinct sweet, ricey flavor that recalled Ludo's Sushi Rice Ice Cream. It served a similar role here, providing a foil to the sugary sweetness of the berries. Our thoughts were mixed regarding the strip of coagulated strawberry, which had the consistency of ham, along with a bit of apparent savoriness as well--one of my dining companions likened it to a Fruit Roll-Up.

Fool's Gold
8: Fool's Gold | Hazelnut Praline, Salty Caramel, Nitro Coffee Mousse
2007 D. Ferrer Ribiere 130 Old Vine: Cotes Catalanes, France; Grape: Carignan
According to one of my dining companions, this tasted like a Ferrero Rocher candy! I can see where he was going with that. The presence of hazelnut was quite pronounced, too much so for me, in fact; I would've appreciated the chocolate taking on a more apparent role. Nevertheless, the dessert was still enjoyable, and I applaud the use of a salted caramel here, as well as the nitro coffee mousse, which was indescribably cold, light, and airy, almost like a meringue.

Hatchi turned out to be the event for local food bloggers. I personally encountered Andrea of The Foodie Traveler, Christine of Folie à Choisauce, Connie of Hey Hey Scenesters, Danny of Kung Food Panda, Esther of e*star LA, H.C. of LA and OC Foodventures, Jo of My Last Bite, Kate of Princess Kitty's Lala-Land, Mike of Right Way to Eat, Ryan of Only Eat What Feeds Your Soul, Tony of SinoSoul, and yes, even the elusive Lizziee of Refined Palate (David Haskell's mom!). Apparently Tara of When Tara Met Blog was also present, though I didn't spy her. Hell, even Marcel Vigneron of Top Chef fame (whom I met at Saam, and who was also at Ludo Bites) was in the house.

For me, Hatchi was nearly an unmitigated success. I love the idea, the concept, and food-wise, execution was almost spot-on. Service, however, left something to be desired; given the venue though, I'm willing to overlook the service foibles, based on the strength of everything else. I've already made reservations for next week's dinner with Roberto Cortez, and I can't wait.

More importantly, I was able to get a taste of what Voltaggio is capable of, by himself, sans the sway of our favorite Spanish chef. There's a lot of potential methinks, and I'm planning to visit The Dining Room this weekend, to see Voltaggio in his natural environment. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Blogger Prom (West Hollywood, CA)

Blogger Prom
8401 W Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90069
Wed 07/22/2009, 07:00p-10:00p

Ahh prom...for some, the highlight of the high school experience; for others, an evening of dread, anxiety, of awkwardness, fear, loathing, of embarrassment. Sadly, my prom experience tended toward the latter, a sentiment that I imagine is shared by many of my blogger brethren. Perhaps that's why the idea of doing a "prom" came so easily...a chance to relive the fantasy, to redo the wrongs of years past. As a 1999 graduate (I just had my 10-year reunion), the timing couldn't have been more perfect.

The event was the handiwork of the Prom Committee (a.k.a. "the popular kids"), eight of LA's most preeminent, prestigious, prominent bloggers: Caroline of Caroline on Crack, Esther of e*star LA, H.C. of LA and OC Foodventures, Lindsay of LAist, Marni of Happy Go Marni, Maya of Shop Eat Sleep, Natalie of The Liquid Muse, Tara of When Tara Met Blog. The original idea was to have a simple gathering of Los Angeles-based bloggers, but as more than a couple Committee members work in the public relations industry, they were able to exploit their sway to secure all sorts of schweet swag, support, and sponsorships, subsequently setting the stage for Prom.

Though holding Blogger Prom in a high school gym would've been pretty rad, the Committee found something even more bodacious: the rooftop of the legendary Andaz West Hollywood, which had just undergone a $35 million renovation in January. Originally opened in 1963 as Gene Autry’s Hotel Continental (the first high-rise hotel on Sunset), the hotel was bought by Hyatt in 1966 and became widely known as the "Riot Hyatt" over the following years, thanks to the antics of touring rock bands in the late 1960s and 1970s (the hotel is located near numerous venues such as The Roxy, Troubadour, and Whisky a Go Go). Led Zeppelin and its entourage occupied as many as six floors of the hotel in the mid-to-late 1970s; drummer John Bonham was said to have ridden a motorcycle through the hallways. The Doors' Jim Morrison took up residence at the Continental Hyatt House, and both Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards and The Who drummer Keith Moon have reportedly thrown television sets out the hotel's windows (there'll be no more of that, as the Andaz's balconies are now glass-enclosed sunrooms).

RH Bar Mixologist RH Bar Mixologist
Overestimating traffic, we arrived about 40 minutes early, and thus spent some time with our vivacious mixologist at RH Lounge.

Mr. Plant Lychee Cocktail
I ordered one of RH's signature cocktails, Mr. Plant, a homage to Led Zeppelin's frontman Robert Plant, made with No. 209 gin, cucumber, tangerine, agave syrup, and soda; I appreciated the gin's interaction with the various sweet components of the drink, while the cucumber made for a refreshing finish. My date, meanwhile, ordered a Lychee Blossom, a concoction of vanilla vodka, lychee juice, agave syrup, and lychees; the sweetness of this drink was much more apparent, with the lychee lending a sugary, juicy backdrop that tempered the intensity of the vodka.

The Steelo Pierre Gimonnet Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs
Since we did have 40 minutes to kill after all, another round of drinks was in order. This time I sampled RH's other signature drink, The Steelo, with Hangar 1 vodka, St. Germain liqueur, grapefruit juice, and blueberries; this was a more potent drink than the preceding two, though its power was balanced by the tart sweetness of the blueberry, St. Germain, and grapefruit. Having her fill of mixed drinks, my date went with some bubbly, the Pierre Gimonnet Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs.

The View The Pool
At around 7:00, the official start of the party, we wandered to the hotel's lobby to check in, drinks in hand, and then made our way to the rooftop...

Prom Punch Jungle Juice Flor de Maria
...And immediately made a beeline to the bar. The very fact that there would be booze here meant that it was automatically more bitch'n than high school prom. The fact that it was free booze, well that made it all the more gnarly. Natalie of The Liquid Muse developed two signature cocktails for Blogger Prom. The first was the Prom Punch Jungle Juice (quite a step up from the Jungle Juice of my college days!), made with flower-infused Pinky Vodka and garnished with a pink sugar rim and lollipop. Next, the margarita-like Flor de Maria, replete with homemade hibiscus cabernet syrup, was created to showcase Gran Centenario's hibiscus-tinged Rosangel tequila. In addition to these complementary cocktails, also provided gratis were Martin Millers Gin, the 2007 Boro Hills Sauvignon Blanc, the 2008 Ambas Malbec, and for the beer-inclined, Newcastle in its new DraughtKeg container.

Smoked Salmon Maki with Mango Sauce Marinated Smoked Salmon
Skewered Insalata Caprese Shrimp Ceviche
And now for the grindage, 'cuz a blogger gotta eat. Though I was sort of hoping for a proper sit down dinner, we had several tables of food set up, courtesy of the hotel restaurant RH and its chef Sebastien Archambault. The Texas-born, French-trained Archambault was formerly executive chef at Le Pirate in Corsica, which earned a Michelin star during his tenure. At RH restaurant, Archambault strives to create an honest menu of fresh, light, seasonal fare, and at this first station we were able to enjoy smoked salmon makis with mango sauce, marinated smoked salmon, skewered insalata capreses, and a delectable shrimp ceviche.

Forever 21
Since the theme du jour was "cheesy 80's prom," I expected to see my share of hot pink and black lace, but what I didn't expect to see were no less than five girls with identical or similar dresses; blame Forever 21 for that! Above, we see my lovely date Kayla, together with Michelle.

Cheese Station Cheese Station
Making our way indoors, we stopped by the cheese station, manned by Barrie Lynn (the Cheese Impresario) and featuring cheese by Cowgirl Creamery. For my drink (the Flor de Maria), Barrie paired a goat brie and a goat cheese with blueberry and pomegranate compote (which I subsequently dropped all over my white pants...grr). In addition to cheese, there was also a charcuterie station.

Inside Action Inside Action
Inside Action Inside Action
Bloggers are a motley crew.

Hot Food Bread and Eggrolls
Skewered Caprese Beef and Chicken Skewers
Field Mushroom Risotto with Parmesan My Plate
The hot food station served up an assortment of bread, mini eggrolls, more caprese, beef and chicken skewers, and a field mushroom risotto with Parmesan.

Inside Action Inside Action
As the night progressed, the space filled out nicely with the City's best and brighest bloggers.

Flower Boom Box
Jonathan Fong was responsible for much of the interior decoration, including this kitschy flower-studded boom box.

HC-cum-Newcastle: a winning combination.

Caroline: a strong contender for the cheesiest costume award!

Mini-Cheesecake Pops Mini-Cupcakes
To indulge my sweet tooth, Pure Cheesecakes provided mini-cheesecake pops, while Polkatots served up some mini-cupcakes.

Christine & Joe
Christine, with the dapper Joe of Silver Lake Wine.

Raffle! Raffle!
Raffle winners were announced in three rounds, but sadly, I didn't win anything (and there were some phat prizes too!).

8oz Burger Bar
Afterwards, we headed over to 8oz Burger Bar to take advantage of their Blogger Prom special: a Melrose burger, fries, and a soda, all for $8--not a bad deal. The burger itself was topped with blue cheese, arugula, garlic roasted tomatoes, and red onion marmalade, making is rather similar to a Father's Office burger.

Swag Bag
Last but not least: the swag bag. Stuffed in a Fresh & Easy reusable canvas bag were the following goodies: a "Born to Blog" t-shirt from The Gap, a Dark Mocha Almond bar from Kashi, a set of Hearos earplugs, the 2009 Los Angeles edition of Hungry? Deck, a Rosangel Tequila silk scarf, a Fruit + Nut bar from Bear Naked, a card for a free taco from the Border Grill truck, a complement of Wet personal lubricants (for post-Prom activities), a coupon for a free Six Dollar Burger from Carl's Jr., a bottle of Volcanic Ash Root Amplifier from David Babaii for WildAid, a coupon for a complementary English muffin from La Grande Orange, a card for a free mojito and a free margarita at Border Grill in Santa Monica, a coupon for $30 off at Madam Tussauds, a free pass to a show at The Viper Room, miniature bottles of Martin Millers Gin and Pinky Vodka, a coupon for a free fruit parfait from Pinkberry, a box of chocolates from Charles Chocolates, a 12fl oz bottle of the new Pepsi Natural, a $5 off coupon from Fresh & Easy, a coupon for 30% off at Live! on Sunset, passes for two to The Comedy Store, a free membership card for Club Pogo, the Season 1 DVD of The Big Bang Theory, a gift certificate to Pop Champagne & Dessert Bar, a poster, and a 10.5oz bag of Sun Chips Original (whew!).

So in the end, perhaps Prom was a bit self-indulgent, a bit self-involved, a bit self-masturbatory, but it was also wicked cool. My hat's off to the Prom Committee: you gals (and one guy) pulled it off; thank you again. In fact, why let this be a one-off occurrence? Let's make this a yearly event, because, you know what, bloggers are the new rockstars (note: last line should be read with tongue firmly planted in cheek!).