Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Test Kitchen (Los Angeles, CA) [5]

Test Kitchen
9575 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90035
Tue 08/31/2010, 06:45p-09:40p

Neal Fraser Hot on the heels of Ricardo Zarate's "Cebiche Night" comes Grace's Neal Fraser, here to give us a taste of Grace at The Vibiana, the Chef's new Downtown "dream" restaurant set to debut early next year. Fraser and company shuttered the longstanding Beverly spot on June 19, and the location will be taken over by none other than Rivera's John Sedlar, who is set to open up another Pan-Latin eatery in the space (it will not be called R26, though, despite early reports).

Other gastronomes in attendance tonight included: Jo of My Last Bite; Mozza manager Kate Green; sommelier Melinda Mrachek; and Ryan of Epicuryan.

Test Kitchen (Neal Fraser) Menu Test Kitchen (Neal Fraser) Menu Test Kitchen (Neal Fraser) Menu
Following in the footsteps of Walter Manzke, Fraser chose to serve up a five course tasting menu (priced at $49), preceded by a quintet of shared "snacks." Cocktails by John-Pierre Rivera (Grace's resident bar man) and Joel Black, meanwhile, were $12 each, with the wine pairing by Joshua Klapper set at $40. Click for larger versions.

Roof Garden 1785
We began with a duo of cocktails, starting with the Roof Garden (vodka, fresh sweet and sour, soda water, thyme, mint and sugar). This was a very approachable, refreshing tipple, with pleasant sour and herbaceous notes offsetting the slight heat of the vodka. The 1785 (Bourbon, lillet blanc, orange slice), meanwhile, had an aromatic, orange-tinged bouquet, followed up by a great interaction between the citrus, the bitter-ish lillet, and the weightiness of the whiskey.

Naturally, we had to order one of each snack to share:

Grilled Octopus
Grilled Octopus [$12.00] | Pickled Watermelon
Grilled on an open fire, the octopus revealed a fantastic char that deftly complemented its brine, and I also appreciated how the cephalopod's inherent sweetness was heightened by the compressed watermelon. My only issue with this course was that the octopus was a bit too chewy in consistency.

Pied de Cochon
Pied de Cochon [$10.00] | Spicy Aioli
Pig's trotters were marinated for two days, shredded, balled up, then fried in a panko crust. The result was a delectable sphere of pork-y goodness, rich yet restrained in savor with a fantastic crunch. I rather liked how the Old Bay-based spicy aioli contributed a lingering finish to the course, expertly balancing the weight of the meat. This definitely reminded me of Walter Manzke's version at Hatchi.

Grilled Prosciutto Wrapped Figs
Grilled Prosciutto Wrapped Figs [$10.00]
Arguably my favorite of the snacks, the grilled figs conveyed a fantastic sweet-salty interplay, with the smokiness of the prosciutto gradually transitioning to the saccharine finish of fig. Think of these as high-class bacon-wrapped dates!

Jo Flashes Us Jo Flashes Us
Jo flashed us.

Chilled Peach Soup
Chilled Peach Soup [$5.00] | Sherry Gelée
Made with reduced peach and rice wine vinegar, the soup exhibited delectable peach notes on the nose and palate, with the sherry adding just a hint of astringency to the mix.

Chilean Seafood Ceviche
Chilean Seafood Ceviche [$12.00]
Perhaps taking a cue from Ricardo Zarate, Fraser served up a solid scallop, rock shrimp, and mussel ceviche. I quite enjoyed the texture of the various shellfish, as well as how the citric marinade so aptly complemented the seafood. Great lingering heat, too.

Cevichetini Jo Loves Her Cevichetini
Jo liked the ceviche so much that she decided to pour the remainder of the liquid (scallop and all!) into her double-vodka, creating a "Cevichetini" of sorts. It was a rather unpleasant experiment to say the least, and recalled the bonito-infused Big Tuna from Walter Manzke's stint here.

Wild Seabass
1: Wild Seabass | Slow Cooked, Spicy Lobster Ceviche
2008 A Côté Chardonnay, Santa Barbara County
Sea bass was exceedingly tender, barely requiring mastication. It had a rather delicate flavor, which was augmented by a certain herbaceous tang, as well as the bold, piquant acidity of the lobster ceviche. Very nice.

Jo Photo Jo Photo
Jo's photography technique involves the use of an iPod flashlight.

Culto Aromatherapy
Our next round of cocktails brought us the Culto (silver tequila, fresh sweet and sour, sour cherry Italian syrup), which had an almost tamarind-like tartness to offset the power of the tequila. It actually reminded me of a more approachable version of the D.F. cocktail from my last meal here with Michael Voltaggio. We also had the Aromatherapy (gin, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, tonic water); I rather liked its fantastic interplay between sweet and herbal elements, all over a sharp base of gin.

Day Boat Scallop
2: Day Boat Scallop | Sautéed, Chanterelle Mushrooms, Peas, Fava Beans
2008 La Fenêtre Chardonnay, Sierra Madre Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley
The scallops were arguably the strongest course of the meal. They showed off a heady, intoxicating briny aroma that was apparent even as they approached the table. Cooked to a slightly raw consistency, the bivalves still had plenty of their intrinsic sweetness intact, which was beautifully countered by the earthy weight of the chanterelles. I also adored the pea-fava-spinach purée, which lent a bright, vegetal character to the dish.

Brian & Jo
Brian and Jo engaging in horseplay.

3: Pork | Braised, Slow Cooked Egg, Frisée, Corn Velouté
2008 La Fenêtre Pinot Noir, Los Alamos Vineyard, Santa Barbara County
Pork belly was tastefully subdued, yet still possessed a pert porkiness that I appreciated. I enjoyed its tender consistency and crisp crust, and how the slow-cooked egg, in concert with the corn velouté, added a luscious creaminess to the whole dish. I cherished the countervailing interaction between the salty lardons and light frisée, as well.

Bread Lounge Sourdough
To sop up the remainder of the pork liquid, Brian brought out some sourdough from upstart private bakery Bread Lounge.

Rib Eye of Beef
4: Rib Eye of Beef | Grilled, Black Garlic Flan, Horseradish Gremolata, Braised Greens
2007 La Fenêtre Syrah, Alisos Vineyard, Santa Barbara County
Our final savory course of the evening brought us a beautiful cut of rib eye. Suitably tender and cooked to a perfect medium-rare temperature, the beef was expectedly savory, and yet beautifully moderated by the tangy horseradish-caper-parsley-lemon gremolata. I wasn't as crazy about the black garlic flan though, finding it a bit heavy, a bit sweet for the course. I did, however, enjoy eating it up with the aforementioned bread.

Jo Sexting
Throughout the night, Jo was texting none other than Michael Voltaggio, who had returned, apparently, from a "shrimp run."

For our dessert course, we paired the Sonnet (gin, dolin blanc vermouth, lemon wedge), a light, somewhat sake-like libation with a great lemon edge to cut the gin.

Ricardo & Jo
Ricardo Zarate, of course, was helping out this evening as well.

Panna Cotta
5: Panna Cotta | Vanilla, Market Berries, Salted Caramel
2008 A Côté Red Blend, Santa Barbara county
A straightforward, but effective dessert here. I really enjoyed the dense, creamy, sugary panna cotta, and how it was so deftly enhanced by the application of tangy-sweet strawberries. Meanwhile, the caramel provided a weighty, savory element to ground the dessert.

Kate & Jo
Jo with Kate Green, who helps manage both Mozza restaurants.

I rather liked my last meal at Grace, and Fraser's stint here at Test Kitchen has continued that trajectory, with robust, lusty food that managed to show off the Chef's sophisticated, yet accessible approach. You can bet that I'll be at Vibiana, opening night, natch!

So it turns out that Voltaggio was in the house, upstairs in fact, prepping for a cooking demonstration at Williams-Sonoma Beverly Hills the following day.

Jo & Michael
The requisite photo with Michael.

48-Hour Beef
Beef, to be cooked sous vide for two days in a Polyscience immersion circulator. Other tools furnished by W-S included the Vitamix, Caso Blue Two, and Smoking Gun.

In The Walkin-In
In the walk-in.

Michael Voltaggio Josh Goldman
Michael Voltaggio, Cole Dickinson, Klein Debow, Josh Goldman Michael Voltaggio, Cole Dickinson, Klein Debow, Josh Goldman
Michael Voltaggio, Cole Dickinson, Klein Debow, Josh Goldman Michael Voltaggio, Cole Dickinson, Klein Debow, Josh Goldman
Voltaggio's crew--who will be helping him open the new restaurant--includes his GM-cum-sommelier Josh Goldman, as well as chefs Cole Dickinson (hi Vicki!) and Klein Debow.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This looks like a really solid menu. Exactly what I would expect from Neal Fraser. Interesting how some chefs at Test Kitchen have decided to step out of their box and others have just expanded on what they do best.

Oh, did you get a better lit table?

Wednesday, September 01, 2010 4:51:00 AM  
Anonymous MyLastBite said...

Super FUN evening! Thanks Kevin & Ryan.

Now to work on a GOOD tasting Cevichetini recipe!

Wednesday, September 01, 2010 7:59:00 AM  
Blogger Bobby @ Gourmands Review said...

Amazing that you went to Test Kitchen 5 times already. you'll never have to go to another restaurant again if you keep this up. Great reviews as always, looking forward to Voltaggio's project..

Wednesday, September 01, 2010 8:50:00 AM  
Blogger Active Foodie said...

It looks like you guys had a wonderful dinner, a lot of fun (and a lot of drinks)! Looking forward to his new restaurant downtown!

Wednesday, September 01, 2010 8:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Darin said...

This has easily become your second home in the past couple of weeks! The revolving door of chefs at TK really makes it (too) easy to come back to. Glad to hear Fraser is still producing some great food, reminiscent of our last meal at Grace.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010 9:51:00 AM  
Anonymous Gastronomer said...

Kevin! Thank you very much for staying up late to finish all these TK posts. I love reading them every morning :-)

Wednesday, September 01, 2010 10:17:00 AM  
Blogger gourmetpigs said...

A shame that the Grace reopening is so far away! So will you be going to Test Kitchen for every chef? :)
Thanks for the invites so far and sorry I haven't been able to make it - but I plan on joining you soon.

Thursday, September 02, 2010 12:03:00 AM  
Blogger Dmagz said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Thursday, September 02, 2010 10:52:00 AM  
Blogger nelehelen said...

Sad i missed this one! But I did see Voltaggio and crew at the Williams Sonoma event.

I'm gonna start calling you test kitchen slut =P

Thursday, September 02, 2010 4:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Komal Mehta said...

I am really looking forward to Grace in its new form at one of my favorite spaces in downtown LA. Kevin consider this me asking to get in on your opening night reservations!

Thursday, September 02, 2010 9:50:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Proud of you Cole! That's my boy!... Sorry just had to say it.

Friday, September 03, 2010 8:28:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Linden: Infinitely better lit, and as far away as possible from the windows!

Jo: Any luck on that cevichetini? Needs lime I think. ;)

Bobby: Yep, and I have about 10 more reservations. You and Steph planning on trying it sometime?

Sonja: You missed out. ;)

Darin: Lol indeed. It's becoming a bit ridiculous, actually. And yes, definitely reminiscent of the last dinner service ever at Grace.

Cathy: I'm surprised that you haven't been yet! How come?

Fiona: Not every chef, but a good amount of them. I'm actually going to be out of town on business next week, so I'll have to miss a bunch of 'em unfortunately.

Helen: I prefer whore.

Komal: I'll see what I can do!

Rob: And how is he your boy?

Monday, September 06, 2010 3:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Komal Mehta said...

I'll take that :). By the way have you moved in yet? I believe I owe you a Chaat tour of Little India!

Wednesday, September 08, 2010 9:44:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Unfortunately it looks like move-in day is a couple months away. I'm still getting the interior painted, doors, trim, bathrooms, kitchen, then once that's done, I need to furnish the place!

Monday, September 20, 2010 11:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Grubtrotters said...

I thought the salted caramel ice cream was incredible. That and the steelhead tartare with caviar.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010 8:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Grubtrotters said...

OMG, just realizing we didn't attend the same Neal Fraser dinner at the Test Kitchen. I thought maybe you just had a different menu than I did, but alas, no. Last night's dinner was great, too.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010 8:48:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Lol. I saw your Neal Fraser post as well. Looks like your night might have been even better!

Friday, October 29, 2010 4:42:00 PM  

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