Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Test Kitchen (Los Angeles, CA)

Test Kitchen
9575 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90035
310.277.0133
www.testkitchenla.com
Wed 08/18/2010, 08:00p-10:45p




Blame Ludo.

After all, it was he who popularized, and legitimized, LA's current fascination with the pop-up restaurant. The concept has had its vocal share of detractors, but here to add more fuel to the fire is the Test Kitchen. Housed at the site of the recently-departed Spark Woodfire Grill, TK is the brainchild of Bill Chait (one of the original owners of Spark) and wife Elizabeth, as well as Boyz Night Out co-founder Brian Saltsburg (the instigator). Currently scheduled to run for about a month or so, Test Kitchen aims to serve as an arena where chefs can test out dishes for their upcoming restaurants. First up to bat is the team from Red Medicine: Chef Jordan Kahn, GM Noah Ellis, and Bar Manager Matthew Doerr. They'll be showcasing a contemporary Vietnamese menu from their new restaurant, scheduled to open in the coming months.

Following Kahn's stint, the kitchen will be turned over to Mo-Chica's Ricardo Zarate, who, joined by Chef Amy Pressman, will preview victuals from his upcoming anticucho restaurant--which is slated to take over the second floor of the building--on the 24th. Mixologists Julian Cox and Joel Black will also be in the house, performing test runs for R26 and Project 9575, respectively. In addition, future participants have been rumored to include Walter Manzke, Michael Voltaggio, John Rivera Sedlar, and even the lovable Starry Kitchen.

Fellow foodie types in attendance this evening included: Bill of Street Gourmet LA, Christina and Jennifer from Project by Project (who helped out with Plate by Plate this past weekend), Javier of Teenage Glutster, Jo of My Last Bite, Shawna Dawson from Sauce LA, and Ryan Tanaka (rydka).

Test Kitchen
The rather staid interior has pretty much been preserved from the Spark Woodfire Grill days, and not surprisingly, doesn't seem to fit the cutting edge nature of the food served here.

Test Kitchen (Jordan Kahn) Menu Test Kitchen (Jordan Kahn) Menu
The night's 12-course, family-style menu was priced at a very reasonable $40 per person, while all cocktails could be had for $10 each, and wines for about the same. Click for larger versions.

RADISHES, coco-butter, lime, dried soy
1: RADISHES, coco-butter, lime, dried soy
Upon tasting our first course, I was instantly reminded of similar radish-centric dishes from Chris Kostow, Jeremy Fox (during his stint at Animal), and Michael Voltaggio. As with those creations, the radish's crunchy consistency and a piquant, peppery flavor were highlighted here, giving my palate a refreshing jolt. To this acerbic attack, the coconut butter (made from the fat of coconut milk) lent a marked sweetness, while the close was dominated by the soy salt "soil." I would've liked a bit more lime, though.

cured AMBERJACK, lime leaf, french melon, nuoc cham, bird chili, mint
2: cured AMBERJACK, lime leaf, french melon, nuoc cham, bird chili, mint
Most chefs layer prosciutto atop melon, but Kahn aims for amberjack instead. It was a wise decision. I loved the succulent, saccharine sweetness of the melon and how it played with the nuoc cham-augmented flavors of the fish, while the mint, lime, and chili contributed an overarching herbaceous-tangy spice. Just a beautiful mélange of flavors, and a table favorite.

#5 - Plymouth Gin, Lemon, Cherry Heering, Kombucha, Sparkling #3 - Redemption Rye 2yr, Luksusowa, Pickled Peaches, Lime, Mint, Ginger Beer #2 - Plymouth Gin, Bonal, Strawberry, Lemon, Long Peppercorn
Our first round of cocktails:
  • #5 - Plymouth Gin, Lemon, Cherry Heering, Kombucha, Sparkling - This was the first time I've ever heard of having kombucha (fermented tea) in a cocktail, but I absolutely adored its piquant acidity, and how that so adroitly equalized the sweetness of the cherry, all over a base of citrus-y gin.
  • #3 - Redemption Rye 2yr, Luksusowa, Pickled Peaches, Lime, Mint, Ginger Beer - This next cocktail effectively combined vodka and whiskey, forming a lovely concoction heady with the essence of ginger, moderated by a bit of alcoholic heat and the pickled prick of peach.
  • #2 - Plymouth Gin, Bonal, Strawberry, Lemon, Long Peppercorn - Here, a strong nose of strawberry transitioned to the complex, herbaceous notes of Bonal, while the finish was dominated by a certain spiciness, courtesy of long peppercorn. Very nice.
  • (Not pictured) #4 - Weber Haus Cachaça, Condensed Milk, Coconut Milk, Nectarine, Lime, Blended - Icy and gritty, this was definitely the most intriguing of the libations, showing off an almost lactic-esque tartness that we found a bit disconcerting. Perhaps some more lime would help balance things out.
TOMATOES marinated in an infusion of their vines, silky tofu, crunchy tofu, herbs
3: TOMATOES marinated in an infusion of their vines, silky tofu, crunchy tofu, herbs
Another one of my favorites was up next. The delightfully juicy tomatoes--sweet but slightly vegetal--were deftly complemented by the silky tofu, which provided a palpable weight and depth, therefore adding layers of complexity to the fruit. The herbs, meanwhile, lightened things up with their zesty astringency, and I adored the textural element of the crunchy tofu.

BRUSSELS sprouts, caramelized shallots, fish sauce, prawn crackers
4: BRUSSELS sprouts, caramelized shallots, fish sauce, prawn crackers
Here, the inherent bitterness of the vegetable was effectively accented by the sulfurous tinge imparted by their char. What I loved, though, was the use of shrimp crackers, which lent a crispy, briny sweetness to the course that really completed the dish for me.

saigon tartine- PORK belly, pâté, coriander, carrot pickle, green chili
5: saigon tartine- PORK belly, pâté, coriander, carrot pickle, green chili
A tartine generally refers to a open-faced sandwich, and here, Kahn's version honors the ubiquitous banh mi. I quite enjoyed the apparent, yet restrained character of pork present in the tartine, while the various vegetables served to impart a tart, tangy counterpoint to temper the weight of the meat. I could definitely see myself eating a full-sized version of this.

green PAPAYA, crispy taro, rau ram, fried shallots, peanuts
6: green PAPAYA, crispy taro, rau ram, fried shallots, peanuts
This was probably the best version of a papaya salad that I've had. I thoroughly enjoyed the crisp, juicy, subtly sweet strands of papaya, and their perfect interaction with the minty rau ram and nutty peanuts (which, along with the taro, also added a satisfying crunch to the dish). Beautiful, bright flavors.

caramelized CHICKEN dumplings, lemongrass, scallion, bibb lettuce caramelized CHICKEN dumplings, lemongrass, scallion, bibb lettuce
7: caramelized CHICKEN dumplings, lemongrass, scallion, bibb lettuce
Meat in balled form rarely disappoints, and this was no exception. The bird showed off rich, dark flavors of savory-sweet goodness, which were superbly countered by the scallion and citrus-y tang of lemongrass. I also appreciated the slight heat imparted by the Sriracha-based sauce, but I would've liked to have seen even more.

baby CARROTS, fermented black bean, star anise, coconut, tarragon
8: baby CARROTS, fermented black bean, star anise, coconut, tarragon
This was the weakest dish of the night for me, simply because I found the black bean overwhelming. The dish didn't really convey the essence of the vegetable, and similarly, the other ingredients were masked as well. I also would've liked a crisper texture on the carrots.

#1 - Pimm's No. 1, Lemon, Celery, Cucumber, Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray Weinrieder Gruner Veltliner DAC, Weinviertel, Austria 2008 Zind-Humbrecht Gewurztraminer 'Wintzenheim', Alsace, France 2006
Booze, round two:
  • #1 - Pimm's No. 1, Lemon, Celery, Cucumber, Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray - Probably my favorite of the five cocktails, with just a fantastic interplay of tangy lemon, peppery celery, and cool cucumber flavors.
  • Weinrieder Gruner Veltliner DAC, Weinviertel, Austria 2008 - A very food-friendly wine, this showcased the typical GV minerality, spiced up with a bit of fruity, florid lusciousness.
  • Zind-Humbrecht Gewurztraminer 'Wintzenheim', Alsace, France 2006 - A rather honeyed nose on this one, leading to juicy flavors of melon and lychee on the palate, moderated by a good touch of steeliness.
bay SCALLOPS, pomelo, young ginger, tamarind syrup, puffed tapioca, charred friseé
9: bay SCALLOPS, pomelo, young ginger, tamarind syrup, puffed tapioca, charred friseé
This course probably would've been better with larger sea scallops, as the bay scallops employed had a somewhat difficult time standing up to their accoutrements. Nevertheless, the dish was still effective, with the pommelo accenting the bivalves' natural sweetness, while the frisée served as a bitter counterpoint, leading to a distinctly tamarind-tinged finish. I also quite liked the textural component of the tapioca.

BEEF bavette, bacon X.O., chinese eggplant, chinese celery, lime, palm sugar, sesame
10: BEEF bavette, bacon X.O., chinese eggplant, chinese celery, lime, palm sugar, sesame
A bavette is also known as a flank steak, and here, it was well-accompanied by an unabashedly aromatic, savory, lingering XO sauce that admirably stood up to the beef's potency. I did find, however, that the sauce could be slightly overpowering at times. Simultaneously, I appreciated the slight bit of sweetness imparted by the palm sugar, as well as the moderating effect of the paired veggies.

PEACHES, crème de cassis, raspberry, condensed milk
11: PEACHES, crème de cassis, raspberry, condensed milk
Our first dessert honors the classic Peach Melba (peaches with ice cream, topped with raspberry sauce). I liked how the sweetness of peach was augmented by the use of cassis and raspberry, then balanced by the relative levity of condensed milk. My favorite things here, though, were the bits of what I believe was dehydrated peach, which lent a fantastic chewiness to the dish.

COCONUT bavarois, coffee, thai basil, peanut croquant, chicory COCONUT bavarois, coffee, thai basil, peanut croquant, chicory
12: COCONUT bavarois, coffee, thai basil, peanut croquant, chicory
Our final dish of the night was arguably my favorite. The dessert demonstrated a perfect interplay of tastes and textures, with the delicate sweetness of the coconut cream expertly countervailed by the astringent bits of coffee. Meanwhile, the peanut croquant added an encompassing nuttiness to the course, and I loved the bit of savoriness that I tasted on the finish. Masterful.

There were a couple misses, but overall, Kahn delivered a gorgeous suite of dishes that definitely whetted my appetite for Red Medicine; the Chef is clearly a talent to watch out for in this town. Thus, for me, the debut of the Test Kitchen was a resounding success. I love the concept, the food, the line up of chefs, and nobody else in LA is doing anything like this. Hopefully then, the Test Kitchen will outlive its advertised one-mouth duration, and I can't wait for Zarate's turn on the 24th.

Jennifer, Christina, Aaron, Brian Saltsburg, Jordan Kahn

18 Comments:

Anonymous Jai said...

I got to sample some of Ricardo's fare Mon night for the Boyz Night Out preview. Very good & definitely unique. The Red Medicine preview looks awesome, it'll be exciting to try it out. Also, loving the concept of the Test Kitchen -- looking forward to previews to come.

Thursday, August 19, 2010 9:47:00 AM  
Blogger Charlie Fu said...

great review, will have to live vicariously through you. Had reserved a table for last night a few weeks back but we got a new place and need to save money for the next few months *sigh*.

Once again, great review. I'll be living through your eats for a lil while :P

Thursday, August 19, 2010 10:56:00 AM  
Anonymous danfromwestlakevillage said...

I am going tonight but could not get resv before 10pm. Ya think it will be running on time and/or still have all dishes remaining?

Thursday, August 19, 2010 1:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Dr. Logan said...

Great review Kevin!! I am attending with a friend tomorrow, and I am excited to try the food Chef Khan has created. Question about the last picture, What is up with the guy's mane in the back? That hair can kill!!

Thursday, August 19, 2010 3:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Korosh Parizadeh said...

that review rocked!!! I can not wait to try it, although I hope it is not too expensive because I am really cheap. Having a fine head of hair myself, I really enjoyed that old dude's hair. He should be going bald by now, not having a mane that could rival a lion.

Thursday, August 19, 2010 3:45:00 PM  
Blogger stuffycheaks said...

jealous!! wanted to check this one out but couldn't fit it into my schedule. Did you read foodgps write up on Kahn? Inspiring

Thursday, August 19, 2010 3:48:00 PM  
Blogger bagnatic said...

sounds awesome. love reading your blog for belly info you hungry, hungry man!

Thursday, August 19, 2010 7:02:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Jai: I believe the food Zarate served on Monday is different than what he's presenting at TK. How were you able to get into BNO?

Charlie: It was actually surprisingly affordable: $40 for 12 courses, where else you gonna get that right?

Dan: We didn't really have any issues with timing or running out of dishes, but we were also at 8:00p. 10:00p is a dicey proposition given that it'd only be their second night of service.

Logan: The guy is noneother than Brian Saltsburg, one of the people behind TK. You'll meet him tonight. ;)

Korosh: Don't worry, it's only $40, and future TK events won't run much higher than that either. Please complement Brian's hair in person when you attend!

Stephanie: Yep, I read it. Waiting for part 2!

Amy: Indeed! You planning on making it out here?

Thursday, August 19, 2010 9:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Brian Resnick said...

Nice review dude. I'm going on the 24th at 8pm. Will you be there?

Friday, August 20, 2010 1:58:00 PM  
Blogger Charlie Fu said...

after tax/tip drinks, $70 a person... that's $70 that can go into 1 inch more on an LED TV :D

Friday, August 20, 2010 5:45:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Brian: You can count on it!

Charlie: Priorities, man. ;)

Friday, August 20, 2010 8:04:00 PM  
Blogger mbrigha said...

Great review and nice blog. My wife and I are heading there tonight. Looks like you really get your money's worth, no?

Saturday, August 21, 2010 9:18:00 AM  
Blogger bagnatic said...

plans, plans, there's always plans to do stuff...i'll try to make it to this one though but boy kevin, you always post stuff that i feel i NEED to go. *sigh*

Saturday, August 21, 2010 10:21:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

mbrigha: Definitely get your money's worth. How did it turn out?

Amy: Any plans yet to make it out to TK yet???

Sunday, August 22, 2010 4:33:00 PM  
Blogger bagnatic said...

no?

how do i squeeze my booty in if m. voltaggio does his thang? hook it up dude!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010 2:14:00 AM  
Blogger Wasima said...

Love the photos you took, and so agree with you on the dishes as well as the juxtaposition of the traditional setting against cutting edge food.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010 1:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Taliny said...

Look pretty damn good - Thanks for the great photos -- definitely adding to our list of go tos

Monday, August 30, 2010 11:56:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Amy: Too late for that! Maybe if he decides to come back...

Wasima: Thanks! Apparently, they've removed the shades on the light fixtures to help the decor, though I can't say it does much.

Taliny: Did you ever make it out?

Monday, September 06, 2010 3:03:00 AM  

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