Thursday, July 01, 2010

Patina (Los Angeles, CA) [2]

141 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Thu 07/01/2010, 07:45p-01:40a

Patina Exterior
Patina has always been one of the standbys in the LA dining scene--never really drawing too much attention to itself, but consistently reliable, a bastion of fine dining for hungry Angelenos. And since its inception in 1989, the restaurant has served as the proving ground for a generation of chefs; past alumni include: opening Chef de Cuisine Traci Des Jardins (Jardinière), Mark Gold (Eva), Octavio Becerra (Palate Food & Wine), David McIntyre (WP24), Josiah Citrin (Melisse), Raphael Lunetta (JiRaffe), Walter Manzke (ex-Church & State), David Myers (Sona), Eric Greenspan (The Foundry on Melrose), Steven Rojas (ex-Saddle Peak Lodge), and Ian Gresik (Drago Centro). Of course, the newest addition to this formidable lineup is Patina's latest Executive Chef: Tony Esnault, who is, according to S. Irene Virbila, "the best chef that founder Joachim Splichal has had in years." SIV recently wrote a glowing four-star review of the place, which, along with a friendly letter from Patina Catering General Manager and kevinEats reader Johannes Masserer, inspired me to pay the venerable spot another visit.

About Tony Esnault: Born in the wine-centric Saumur commune of western France, Esnault, who often spent summers on his grandparents' farm in the Loire Valley, was inspired at an early age to seek a career in the kitchen. He attended the Lycée Hôtelier François Rabelais in Lyon before beginning his formal restaurant career in 1990 at Paris' Michelin-starred Le Montparnasse 25 (starting in pastry). Following, he transitioned to the two-star Carré des Feuillants, then to the three-star L'Auberge de L'Ill in Alsace. 1996 saw the Chef move to mentor Alain Ducasse's legendary Le Louis XV in Monaco. After working with Ducasse for three years, Esnault immigrated to the US to cook under Sylvian Portay (Louis XV's former Chef de Cuisine) at San Francisco's Ritz-Carlton Dining Room.

In 2002, Esnault transferred to the Ritz-Carlton in Boston, but the hotel (the first in the chain) eventually closed in 2005. At this point, he reunited with Ducasse and became the Executive Chef at New York's Alain Ducasse at the Essex House; he achieved three Michelin stars here in the 2006 edition of the red guide. The famously excessive Essex House restaurant shuttered in 2007, and Esnault was a natural choice to head up Ducasse's new "down-market" venture, Adour (which garnered two stars from the Michelin man). The Chef's tenure here would only last about a year, and in 2008, he begun collaborating with Martha Stewart. Then, in September 2009, Esnault moved to Los Angeles to helm the kitchens at Patina.

Patina Interior
Patina used to be located at the Providence space at 5955 Melrose, but moved to its current digs at the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2003. The Main Dining Room, which seats 150, has been slightly altered since my last visit, with a geometric wooden table now enveloping one of the main structural supports, newly upholstered banquettes, and lighter shades of paint. Unfortunately, that yellow-ish lighting that that wreaked havoc with my photos back in '07 is still here. In addition to the main space, there's also a Private Dining Room for 30, a Patio for 55, and a kitchen-adjacent Chef's Table for nine (where we were seated).

Patina Menu Patina Chef's Table Menu
The menu now is largely Cal-French, with perhaps less Italian influence than its had in the past. Diners are normally greeted with à la carte selections and a choice of two tasting menus, but, as mentioned above, we opted for the Chef's Table, which features a special degustation normally priced at $145pp, plus $70 for wine pairings by Sommelier Sylvestre Fernandes (it was reduced to $95 and $50 for us, however). Click for larger versions.

Pain Epi Bread
A troika of bread was offered, with my first selection being the pain epi. A prototypical example of the style, it went beautifully with the supple, subtly saccharine butter.

Velvety Nettle Velouté
Amuse Bouche: Velvety Nettle Velouté | BURGUNDY SNAILS, CELERY, FENNEL
Our meal began with a resplendently verdant velouté imbued with the very essence of celery. Not being a fan of the vegetable, I appreciated how its flavor was apparent, yet somehow restrained. To this potage, Esnault adds a trio of Burgundian snails, wonderfully textured, with a great savory butteriness to boot. The greenness of the celery and fennel combination deftly tempered the weight of the escargots, while the tiny buckwheat galette mixed things up texturally. All in all, a strong start to the meal--when I was finished with everything, I even made sure to sop up the remaining broth with my bread.

Green Olive Bread
Next up was a green olive loaf. Breads of this type can often be overwhelming, but the olive here was surprisingly subdued, with only a delicate tartness on the midpalate.

Marinated Hamachi
Clemen, Vinho Verde 2008
The meal proper began with a hamachi sashimi dish, a version of which I had at Adour back in December 2008. I preferred this iteration. The fish itself was stronger, showing a somewhat fatty, fishy character that one'd expect with good yellowtail. It was tasty alone, but the crux was the geoduck slivers, which added a sweet brine to the amalgam that really intensified the hamachi. Countering the yellowtail were a variety of accoutrements that aptly played off each other and the fish: the tantalizing sweetness of apple, the crunch and salt of the crostini, the cool crispness of cucumber, and the creaminess of avocado. The array of accompaniments was especially effective when paired with the stone fruit-floral-mineral notes and bright acidity of the paired Vinho Verde.

7-Grain Bread
Our final bread was a 7-grain, which was easily the most complex of the triad, as well as my favorite. Interestingly, one of my dining companions likened its flavor to that of Corn Flakes!

Duck Foie Gras Terrine
Sauternes, Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey 2006
Next, we were presented with a slender parallelepiped of foie gras, the sapor of which was unmistakably liver-y in essence, and which seemed to heighten with continued mastication. I'm typically wary of overly fruity concomitants, but I was surprised how effective, and how apt, the peach was in this application--it had just the right amount of sweetness to accent the foie. The flaky country bread, meanwhile, served as a fantastic temper and base for the liver.

Seasonal Vegetable Mosaic Seasonal Vegetable Mosaic
3: Seasonal Vegetable Mosaic | "JUS DE CUISSON," LEMON OIL
Vouvray, Domaine Pichot 2008
Here, Esnault presents one of his most well-known dishes, which can almost be compared to a cooked, composed, and compressed version of Michel Bras' famed gargouillou. It is a skyline of seasonal vegetables, bathed in "cooking juice," with minute dollops of lemon oil. I do not recall the exact list of ingredients, but surely included in the admixture were beet, turnip, carrot, asparagus, celeriac, and radish. The result was a hefty, rustic, almost stew-like dish, cohesive, yet with each vegetable clear and distinct in character. Fortunately, it was noticeably less sugary than the version at Adour, good news for the paired Vouvray.

Creamy Morels Risotto
Supplement: Creamy Morels Risotto | ASPARAGUS, PARMIGIANO REGGIANO
Rjgialla Selènze, La Tunella 2006
The risotto on my last Patina visit was revelatory. This version didn't quite achieve such lofty heights, but still was nonetheless quite tasty, albeit a touch overdone. The use of morels lent a heady, smoky, earthy savor to the risotto, which, along with the Parmesan, was perfectly countered by the light, bright notes of the greens.

Butter Poached Maine Lobster
Patz & Hall, Sonoma Coast, Chardonnay 2008
The lobster was some of the best I've had in a while--supple yet snappy, with its inherent sweet brine still intact and brilliant, but augmented by the luxuriousness of butter. Further weight was added by the accompanying lobster jus, tarted up with the inclusion of white wine and Armagnac, while the vibrant veggies did wonders in adding a countervailing force to the dish. Very nice, especially when eaten with the Chard, a slightly oaky, citrus-tinged, quintessential pair with lobster.

Dorade Royal 'Au Plat' Dorade Royal 'Au Plat'
Dorade Royal 'Au Plat' Dorade Royal 'Au Plat'
Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Domaine du Vieux Lazaret 2007
Dorade, a.k.a. orata or gilt-head bream, is a fish that I don't get to enjoy too often, which is a shame, because it was excellent here. Prepared tableside by General Manager Christian Philippo, the fish had just the right amount of brine, a fantastically savory flavor that was just what I was looking for. Its consistency was soft, yet with a bit of resistance--spot on, really, some of the best cooked fish I've had in a long time.

Californian Squab Cooked 'en Cocotte'
6: Californian Squab Cooked "en Cocotte" | WILD MUSHROOMS, ENGLISH PEAS
Torre di Ceparano, Sangiovese, Fattoria Zerbina 2005
Squab rarely disappoints, and this was no exception. In fact, it was one of the strongest preparations I've had to date. The confit leg was dense, heavy, falling-off-the-bone tender, but the real star of the show was the sous vide breast. It had a particularly prodigious, profound, immensely satisfying relish that I absolutely adored. The bird easily stood alone, but I did also enjoy the rich, umami-soaked smack of the mushrooms, as well as the relative levity of the peas.

Cheese Cart Fromage
Supplement: Fromage
At this point, it was time for the presentation of the cheese gueridon. We let the fromager select for us, and he came up with the following quartet, served with dried apricot, candied pecan, and two types of bread:
  • Etorki - The first cheese was the Etorki, a sheep's milk varietal hailing from French Basque country. Firm yet supple in texture, it had a nutty, rich flavor that went quite well with the apricots.
  • Pont-l'Évêque - A soft, smooth, salty cow's milk cheese from Normandy. Given its similarity to Brie or Camembert, it's not surprisingly that I rather liked it.
  • Époisses de Bourgogne - This washed-rind cow's milk cheese from Burgundy is quickly becoming one of my favorites. It has a soft, gooey consistency and strongly pungent aroma, along with a rich, salty sapor to match.
  • Blu di Bufala - We ended with a blue cheese from Italy, our fromager's favorite. Easily the strongest flavored cheese in the group, it showed off a characteristic bleu zest, with a bit of spicy saltiness to go along with its earthiness.
At this point, it was time to bring out the sweet stuff, which, at Patina, is the charge of Pastry Chef Waylynn Lucas. We last caught up with Lucas at Saam at The Bazaar, where she was turning out some innovative desserts, such as her "Nitro Floating Island." Lucas left The Bazaar in late 2009, and became the Executive Pastry Chef at the Penthouse restaurant in Santa Monica's Huntley hotel. In November, she was the guest chef at Breadbar's monthly Hatchi dinner series, and in May 2010, she started heading up the pastry department at Patina. Meanwhile, on July 7th, Lucas will be participating in a special Iron Chef dinner at Sashi in honor of Chef Makoto Okuwa (Masaharu Morimoto and Michael Voltaggio will also be cooking).

Strawberry Composition
Jurancon, Clos Uroulat 2007
Strawberries in various forms--sliced, glass, jus--were vibrant both in flavor and color, while the herbaceousness of tarragon and arugula served as an intriguing counterpoint to the sweetness of the fruit. The yogurt, on the other hand, moderated the whole interaction, and the "dessert crouton" provided some textural variation.

Crispy Chocolate Hazelnut
Smith Woodhouse, 20 Year Old Port
Upon seeing this dish, I was instantly reminded of Michael Voltaggio's "Fool's Gold," as well as Michel Richard's "Kit Kat Bar." Flavor wise, it wasn't too far off either; the hazelnut provided a great bit of nuttiness to offset the overt sugariness of the chocolate, while the ice cream served as a fitting accent. I rather enjoyed the dessert's lovely, crisp-creamy texture as well. In addition to the Port, we were also served a 1945 Rivesaltes with the dessert. Unfortunately I don't remember the producer, but the grenache-based fortified wine showed plenty of raisin-y, dark fruit charm, with a bit of nuttiness for good measure--superb.

Tea Cart Lavender Earl Grey
With the meal dispensed with, we were presented with another gueridon, this one holding cylinders of loose leaf tea. I opted for the Lavender Earl Grey, our server's favorite, a sweetish, floral Assam tea that my dining companions likened to "spa tea" and "freshly laundered linen." I also tried the French Plum black tea and Jasmine Pearls green tea, both of which were excellent as well.

Mignardises consisted of a green tea cookie, passion fruit marshmallow, guava pâte de fruits, and chocolate macaron.

After the meal, Chef Esnault and I chatted for a bit about how business has been affected by the state of the economy, with more and more people shying away from fine dining in the classic sense. I personally think that the "LA" mentality plays a part, too, but nevertheless, it's great to see that Patina is still serving up one of the City's remaining "traditional" fine dining experiences, and the food is probably better than ever, too. With Esnault at the helm now, a revisit to this gastronomic institution, this grande dame of LA dining, is a proposition worth considering.

Tony Esnault Waylynn Lucas


Blogger Cookie Chomper said...

■Époisses.. you lucky B! ;)

Monday, July 05, 2010 11:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Jai said...

The meal looks awesome... its funny, Patina's never really been high on my radar. I suppose I just take it for granted. And pic #3 (the vegetable mosaic) is one of the very best photos I've seen you take. Well done! (P.S. Looks like you've lost weight... no wonder I've seen less frequent postings!)

Monday, July 05, 2010 1:35:00 PM  
Blogger stuffycheaks said...

the colors are so vibrant. I keep forgetting how good Patina is and how many amazing chefs its spawned. A true la classic

Monday, July 05, 2010 9:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Darin said...

I think Patina is largely forgotten amidst the newer, trendier spots. Looks like a good meal, and a marathon at what..6 hours?

Tuesday, July 06, 2010 8:44:00 AM  
Blogger bagnatic said...

oh it looks good kevin! the colors from your pics just pops, especially the seasonal veggie mosaic. nice.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010 10:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Komal Mehta said...

Wow this looks amazing, to think of all the times I went to the concert hall/Dorthy Chandler and didn't think to eat here.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010 6:52:00 PM  
Blogger Andrew Froug said...

I decided on Patina after the LAT review, and had a really great meal. The taragon and arugula granite really worked with those strawberries. Glad to hear you enjoyed it as well!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010 7:12:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Cynthia: Lol indeed. That was the one cheese I specifically requested as part of the platter. ;)

Jai: Yeah, the place sort of does fly under the radar, I guess since it's been around so long. But unfortunately, I don't think I've lost weight; perhaps those pictures are just flattering. ;)

Stephanie: I was thinking the same thing too about the colors!

Darin: 6 hours, but the last hour or so (at least) was spent chatting with the chefs (Michael Voltaggio and Josh Goldman even stopped by unexpectedly!).

Amy: I like the Vegetable Mosaic photo too, but I think that the photo would've been even better had the lighting been even and consistent in the room.

Komal: Well now you know. ;)

Andrew: That's great to hear. Other than the strawberries, did you try some of the same dishes that I had?

Thursday, July 08, 2010 3:22:00 PM  
Blogger nelehelen said...

Yes, the vegetable mosaic photo is BEAUTIFUL! And Epoisse is my favorite cheese! oh how jealous i am... I won't be able to head to Patina (or anywhere else) until after October, so I'm glad I can (and I actually always do) live through your reviews!:)

Thursday, July 08, 2010 3:47:00 PM  
Blogger Andrew Froug said...

I tried bites of the risotto, which I thought was good but a little one-note.

I also had the vegetable mosaic, which I really enjoyed. I was chuckling to myself while eating it because the veg were cooked to French doneness. Back at cooking school, my two best friends always argued with our chef when they'd prepare veg because they thought the French always overcooked them. But I thought the mosaic's texture was luxurious and the sauce bound the elements well.

I'll have to come back for the tasting. I remember looking at another table and seeing very generous portions.

Monday, July 12, 2010 11:12:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Helen: How come you won't be able to go out? What's happening in October???

Andrew: Ha! Love the commentary about the doneness of the veggies. :)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010 3:10:00 PM  
Blogger nelehelen said...

I'm going to Tokyo in October! :) So, I must save up as much as I can so I can eat like a queen there.. lol

Thursday, July 15, 2010 12:54:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Nice! So what's on the culinary itinerary for Tokyo?

Friday, July 16, 2010 12:30:00 AM  
Blogger nelehelen said...

i have an excel spreadsheet all done already! i'm so anal about planning... haha well, the two that i am most excited for is aronia de takawaza and sushi saito! i'm debating if i should try ryugin or not. japan is so expensive! :/ any places you recommend??

Friday, July 16, 2010 9:52:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

The Excel sheet sounds like something I'd do lol. I don't have much in the way of recs, but I'd definitely consider Ryugin.

Friday, July 16, 2010 4:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations on another great post and meal. Pardon my ignorance, but since I'm not an Angeleno, what do you mean by "LA" Mentality.

Thursday, September 23, 2010 3:06:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

The constant pursuit of the new, the hip, the emphasis on the "scene" over the food.

Sunday, September 26, 2010 6:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Josh Lindsay said...

I ate at Patina three weeks ago and had the best dinner of my life. Their newest iteration of their foie gras dish (with figs and port reduction) must have been the best dish of my life. I have some cousins visiting around the holidays and thought about taking them here. Initially, we wanted to go to The French Laundry, but it does not fit into our schedules. So, the idea is to bring them to the best restaurant in Los Angeles. If I could afford Urasawa, I would take them there, but I feel comfortable taking them anywhere else. So, what restaurant do you think would serve up the best meal right now, possibly on line with The French Laundry? Thanks in advance for your advice!

Friday, November 05, 2010 12:26:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Josh, it's great to hear that you enjoyed yourself here! Since you liked Patina so much, why not come back? In terms of FL-like restaurants, there's not much else here in LA besides Providence and Melisse.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010 4:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Josh Lindsay said...

Thanks for the advice. I would have loved to have gone back to Patina, but we ended up going to Melisse last night. The Ten Tasting Menu was very consistent, and their egg caviar in particular was amazing. Hope you go back soon :-).

Sunday, November 28, 2010 2:13:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

That's good to hear about Melisse. I do need to get back there sometime. The "Ten" menu is something new.

Sunday, November 28, 2010 5:40:00 PM  

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