Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Test Kitchen (Los Angeles, CA) [3]

Test Kitchen
9575 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90035
Wed 08/25/2010, 08:00p-10:20p

Reservations to Test Kitchen are arguably some of the most sought after in the City. As the first two guest chefs, Jordan Kahn and Ricardo Zarate wowed diners with previews of their upcoming restaurants: Red Medicine and Anticucho. Now, following in their footsteps is TK's first "mystery chef," Walter Manzke, who we last saw at Downtown's seminal French bistro Church & State. Manzke has yet to announce a concept, or even a name, for his first restaurant, making us all the more curious about what exactly he was going to be churning out here.

For the uninitiated, Test Kitchen, housed at the site of the recently-departed Spark Woodfire Grill, is the brainchild of restaurateur Bill Chait (one of the original owners of Spark) and wife Elizabeth, as well as Boyz Night Out co-founder Brian Saltsburg. Currently scheduled to run for about a month or so, Test Kitchen aims to serve as a laboratory where chefs can test out dishes for their upcoming restaurants. Future chefs include Michael Voltaggio (unannounced), Neal Fraser, John Sedlar, and maybe even the lovable team behind Starry Kitchen.

Fellow foodist types present this evening included: Abby of Pleasure Palate, Darin of Darin Dines, Holly of The Michelin Project, Ryan of Epicuryan, and kevinEats reader Vince (who I ran into in the bathroom at Hatchi).

Test Kitchen (Walter Manzke) Menu Test Kitchen (Walter Manzke) Menu Test Kitchen (Walter Manzke) Menu
The fixed menu, priced at $52, is a bit of a step up from previous nights, but what was more interesting was the addition of a "tapas" menu, featuring small plates meant for sharing. Cocktails, as before, were all $12. Click for larger versions.

The Big Tuna Spicy Bitch Mama's Boy
Julian Cox and Joel Black had crafted up three cocktails to go along with Manzke's menu, so naturally, we had to try one of each. First up was The Big Tuna (Bonito-infused Bourbon, basil, tarragon, bitters), which was, in a word, disconcerting, demonstrating an ocean-y, salty character that augmented the natural smokiness of the Bourbon, all while the basil and tarragon added strong herbaceous notes to the mix. Much more successful was the Spicy Bitch (Vodka, lime, strawberry, jalapeno, white peach puree), which showed off a great interplay between the sugary strawberry and vodka, replete with a fantastic lingering heat on the finish. Mama's Boy (Rum, cherry, cherry liqueur, lemon, Thai coconut foam) wasn't bad either, with the cherry highlighting the essence of the rum nicely, all leading to a great bit of tanginess on the close.

We started with a round of the tapas to share:

Corn Beignets
Corn Beignets [$6.00] | Parmesan, basil aioli
We began with some small corn fritters. I was afraid that they'd be overly sugary, but the beignets were surprisingly restrained, showing off the flavor of corn without going overboard. The basil, meanwhile, added a great, tempering zest to the dish.

Local Calamari
Local Calamari [$8.00] | grilled and fried, backyard arugula, black aioli
Squid was presented two ways. The fried version was tasty and simple, a nice contrast to the grilled version, which I absolutely adored. The grilled had a fantastic, fresh crunch to it and managed to really show off the inherent sweet-brine of the cephalopod, kicked up a notch by the squid ink aioli. Very good.

Bread & Butter
Bread & Butter [$8.00] | Vermont butter with sea salt, foie gras butter lavender honey
Bread alone was surprisingly tasty, though obviously, we were all here for the foie gras butter. It didn't disappoint, showing off a delectable sweetness backed by the lingering relish of foie gras. I wanted more!

Tomato Bread
Tomato Bread [$10.00] | sea urchin, Nicole olive oil
Here, I was expecting something akin to the traditional pan con tomate, but what we received was much more interesting. The interaction between the sugariness of the tomato and sweetness of the uni was genius, a perfect amalgam of complementary flavors, all with the overarching zing of olive oil.

Santa Barbara Spot Prawn
Santa Barbara Spot Prawn [$11.00] | grilled and fried
Our final prelude was spot prawn two ways. The grilled presentation's lemon-y, garlicky, buttery notes deftly complemented the natural flavor of the shrimp, and I also appreciated the decapods' crisp, supple consistency. However, I enjoyed the crunchy, profoundly savory fried heads even more--I'd put these up against sushi bar sweet shrimp any day!

1: Hamachi | Avocado, Green Apple, Yuzu, Jalapeno
Our meal proper began with a hamachi tartar. The yellowtail, taken alone, wouldn't seem out of place at a sushi bar, showing of a clean, slightly unctuous relish with a firm, yet supple texture. To this, the avocado added a palpable weight that heightened the fish's inherent character, all while the Granny Smith apple provided touches of crisp, juicy sweetness. The close, meanwhile, was all about the jalapeno, which added great pricks of heat to a long, lingering finish of briny savor. An almost ceviche-like dish, with a great interaction of floral, creamy, and tart flavors.

Thai Curry-Carrot Soup Thai Curry-Carrot Soup
2: Thai Curry-Carrot Soup | Maine Lobster, Coconut Tapioca
This gorgeously aromatic broth succinctly conveyed the quintessence of a Thai-style tom kha soup, demonstrating a fantastic combination of sweet, savory, spicy, smoky, and even nutty flavors. I appreciated how the natural sweetness of lobster was preserved, and highlighted by the coconut and carrot, all while the lemongrass and galangal added balancing touches of citrus-y sapor to the fold. I was afraid that the carrot would be overly sweet, dominating the lobster, but it was deftly utilized here, contributing its vegetal-saccharine taste, but without being overwhelming. Loved the bits of peanuts, too, as well as the textural element of the tapioca pearls.

Loup de Mer
3: Loup de Mer | Sungold Tomatoes, Mole Verde
Loup de Mer (literally "wolf of the sea") refers to Mediterranean sea bass, also known as branzino. Here, Manzke did a great job with the fish, presenting a tender, succulent example brimming with ocean-y savor. I also loved the bass' crisp, salty skin, and how the tomatoes added a tinge of juicy sweetness to the dish, while the sunflower seeds contributed a touch of nuttiness. The best part, though, was the mole verde, with its beautifully bright, piquant flavors that reminded me of a salsa verde! Absolutely lovely.

Beef Tenderloin
4: Beef Tenderloin | Chanterelle Mushrooms, Katsuo Bushi Broth
Beef, meanwhile, was presented in great fashion as well. I had no complaints about the meat itself, which was suitably tender, with an immensely satisfying beefiness to it. However, the key here really was that katsuobushi-mushroom dressing, which added an incredible depth of flavor to the meat, imbuing it with a profound, umami-tinged savor. I also loved the poached egg, which lent a perfect creaminess to the dish that melded flawlessly with the bonito broth. I enjoyed the use of spicy-salty yuzukosho in moderating the weight of the beef, too! My favorite course of the night.

Crème Brulee
5: Crème Brulee | Strawberry
Manzke's reimagined crème brulee was almost parfait-like in nature, a superb amalgamation of strawberry, strawberry sorbet, streusel, and custard. I really appreciated the interplay between the brazen sugariness of the strawberry and the relative levity of the caramelized cream. My favorite part, though, was the moderating effect and perfect crunch provided by the streusel crumbles.

Manzke impressed, no doubt. I actually liked every dish, which is a pretty commendable achievement. Tastes and textures just worked, and I loved the how the Chef was able to meld his classical French training with influences from around the world, Asia in particular. The meal left me wanting more, and I can't wait for his new place to open. Well done!

Chef Walter Manzke Chef Ricardo Zarate


Blogger Vegas and Food said...

Thanks for the post. I'm going tomorrow.

Thursday, August 26, 2010 2:32:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks for the great review, Kevin. Can you shed some light on the corkage sitch?

Thursday, August 26, 2010 10:14:00 AM  
Blogger Charlie Fu said...

Speaking of Spot Prawns, have you been to Pearson's port in Newport? Some days they have great spot prawns (live) that can be eaten on the spot raw or if take it home fire up the grill on high and toss it with a lil olive oil and salt. Both are fantastic ways and the guy's prawns are excellent, some of the best I've had and only $18.99 lb.

Thursday, August 26, 2010 11:26:00 AM  
Blogger Pandalicious said...

great write up! the calamari and hamachi look divine.

Thursday, August 26, 2010 5:00:00 PM  
Blogger stuffycheaks said...

Jealous, again. Sigh. Manzke sure does like his spot prawns. was chef zarate there to write up orders?

Friday, August 27, 2010 12:41:00 PM  
Blogger rickym13 said...

thanks for the post...going there tomorrow and looking forward to it!
are those prices for tapas per person or per table?
i was told that corkage is $20 per


Friday, August 27, 2010 1:22:00 PM  
Blogger bagnatic said...

wow, impressed once again. looks good and you sure do get into people's faces with that camera of yours!

Friday, August 27, 2010 2:06:00 PM  
Blogger Rodzilla said...

If I had to choose one of the 3 nights you attended, this would certainly be it.

Great photos and description as always.

Saturday, August 28, 2010 9:23:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Vegas and Food: Saw your post--looks like you had a good time too!

J: I believe it's $20 per bottle.

Charlie: I don't make it down to Newport often, so haven't been to Pearson's yet. You been?

Amy: They were! You planning on making it up here?

Stephanie: Yep, Zarate was serving as the expediter.

Ricky: So how was it? Those tapas prices are per order, and we split one order of each (except for the prawns, which we had two of).

Amy: You know it!

Rod: Thanks. Quite a few people were saying that this was arguably the strongest night yet.

Sunday, August 29, 2010 3:39:00 PM  
Blogger joanh said...

looks amazing! definitely can't check your blog before lunch..

Sunday, August 29, 2010 8:42:00 PM  
Anonymous nikki said...

Looks like he is bringing his point of view to Chicago. He is working with the melman brothers on their new spot.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010 6:38:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Joan: Maybe you should check, just to whet your appetite. ;)

Nikki: What are the details on the new spot? He's also consulting here in LA at Le Saint Amour.

Monday, October 04, 2010 1:07:00 AM  

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