Thursday, November 04, 2010

Test Kitchen (Los Angeles, CA) [20]

Test Kitchen
9575 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90035
Thu 11/04/2010, 07:15p-09:30p

I think that the shutter of Alain Giraud's Anisette brasserie in September surprised a lot of us, me certainly. After some speculation, word eventually came that the Chef is working on a new restaurant concept in Pacific Palisades, to be named Maison Giraud. The Maison will be a smaller, more accessible affair, with an attached bakery and shop--add it to the list of notable openings in the coming months! Of course, a preview of the new spot at Test Kitchen was certainly in order.

Test Kitchen (Alain Giraud) Menu Test Kitchen (Alain Giraud) Purveyors Test Kitchen (Alain Giraud) Cocktail List Test Kitchen (Alain Giraud) Wine List
Not surprisingly, Giraud's $70 seven-courser represented one of the more expensive Test Kitchen outings. Wine pairings tacked on an additional $30, while cocktails were the charge of bartenders Julian Cox and Brian Summers. Click for larger versions.

Les Domaniers, Cotes de Provence Rose, France, 09
Our perpetually on-point server Aaron started us off with a gratis glass of the 2009 Les Domaniers Cotes de Provence Rosé, a light, dry, food-friendly wine that he particularly enjoyed. Thanks Aaron!

Brioche, Mini Baguette Fleur de Sel Butter
Bread was baked in-house (Maison Giraud will have a small bakery attached) and consisted of brioches and mini baguettes paired with a fleur de sel butter. The baguette was solid, just like you'd expect, but was overshadowed by the brioche--flaky and savory on the outside, but with a soft, airy interior. The beurre, meanwhile, showed off a delicate lightness initially, but possessed an unmistakably salty, savory finish--nice.

THE FENNEL COUNTDOWN [$12.00] | mirabelle plum brandy, green chartreuse, fresh lemon, fennel air
CHAMPS ELYSÉES [$12.00] | cognac, yellow chartreuse, fresh lemon, angostura bitters, lemon peel
Not surprisingly, we quickly ordered up the first two specialty cocktails. The Fennel Countdown showed off an unmistakable anise-tinged aroma, but the fennel flavor was actually pretty subdued on the palate, contributing, along with the Chartreuse, a lovely herbaceousness to the drink that played well with the brandy and lemon. The Champs Élysées, on the other hand, was slightly hot, with an almost smoky flavor and a finish filled with the lingering bitterness of Angostura.

Giraud's amuse bouche consisted of slivers of fennel-marinated salmon, fennel cream, dill, and Pink Lady apples. It was delicate cut of fish, conveying signature salmon flavors along with some very restrained notes of fennel. The cream contributed a stronger taste of aniseed, while the apple's crisp, juicy sweetness was appreciated as well.

2: L'OEUF | Duo of Farm Eggs "Town & Country"
Bailly Lapierre, Cremant de Bourgogne, Reserve Brut, France
Up next we had farm egg, served two ways. I started with the "Town" presentation, which was an amalgam of egg custard and porcini powder. With this one, I really enjoyed the pure, creamy, lush essence of egg, beautifully countervailed by the earthy aroma of mushroom. As good as it was, the "Country" preparation was even tastier. Comprised of scrambled egg, onion, bacon, cream, and served with toasted brioche, I loved how the brazen saltiness of bacon was so perfectly tempered by the tangy application of scallion. Classic flavors, but so, so gratifying--one of the highlights of the meal.

3: LES LEGUMES | Farmers Market Vegetables Soup, Basil & Almond Pistou
Les Domaniers, Cotes de Provence Rose, France, 09
We were presented with a bowl of pistou, which is a condiment containing basil, almond, garlic, olive oil, and Parmesan. To this, our server poured a soup of seasonal vegetables (which probably should've been a bit warmer), and we were instructed to thoroughly stir the resultant commixture. The resulting broth was rich in basil essence, with an aromatic, vegetal relish augmented by the weight of the cheese. Surprisingly satisfying--I appreciated how each vegetable was uniquely and distinctly presented (though their individual flavors could've been brighter).

CHATEAU DU SANG [$12.00] | blanc de chambery, bourbon, house made fig jam, absinthe mist
FRENCH 75 [$12.00] | french gin, lemon, sugar, champagne
Blood is thicker than water, as evinced in the Chateau du Sang, or Castle of Blood. This was a heavy, viscous concoction, with the strong, sugary character of fig nicely balancing the power of the booze, all with subtle undertones of absinthe. The final cocktail of the evening, the French 75 was thoroughly refreshing, demonstrating a great interaction between the lemon and gin, all complemented by a delectable trace of sugar.

4: LA COQUILLE SAINT JACQUES | Sautéed Scallops, Pistachios and Meyer Lemon Emulsion
Chateau Laures, Entre Deux Mers, France, 09
This was probably my favorite course of the evening, and one of the best scallop dishes I've had in a while. Dressed in a white wine butter sauce, the scallops were gorgeously cooked, with a refined brine and pleasing peppery tang. The lemon, meanwhile, did a great job in balancing the dish, and I adored the nuttiness imparted by the pistachios.

5: LE VEAU | Roasted Veal Loin, Mushrooms, Black Truffle Sauce
Chateau de Bousquette, Saint Chinian, France, 07
As seems the case with most veal preparations, the meat here was somewhat tepid flavorwise, and also a touch dry unfortunately. That being said, the dish was saved by the heady relish of truffle, which did a fantastic job heightening the punch of the veal. I also appreciated the strong, earthy aroma of the mushrooms (bluefoot, nameko, buna-shimeji), which, again, added a certain amount of gravity to the dish.

Dessert Cocktail
To pair with our dessert course, resident bartender Brian Summers mixed up a special complementary cocktail for us: a potent mix of Appleton Estate Extra 12 year old rum, coconut milk, condensed coconut water, housemade canela syrup, St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, Don's Mix, and lime juice. It was a light, tangy libation, with strong notes of rum tempered by wonderful flavors of holiday spice.

6: LA FRAISE | California Strawberries, Malt Ice Cream, Vanilla Cream
La Forge Estate, St Jean de Minvervois, Muscat, France, 06
Gaviota strawberries from legendary producer Harry's Berries were marvelous as expected, bursting forth with bold, bright berry flavor. This unabashed sweetness was then deftly moderated by the almond-infused vanilla cream, making for a straightforward, well-balanced dessert. One of my dining companions even compared this to a "Chinese birthday cake!"

7: LES MIGNARDISES | Selection of "Gourmandises"
We concluded with a trio of delicacies: almond and butter fancies (like Chinese almond cookies), chocolate madeleines (nice citrus flavors to offset the chocolate), and cassis pâte de fruits (like eating jelly, "spread this on toast").

Amazingly, this was actually my first time tasting the Chef's cuisine, and the results were promising--an effective marriage of California market-driven fare with the tradition of Provençal cookery. Add Maison Giraud to my list of must-try restaurants.

Stephane Bombet, Alain Giraud Alain Giraud

Previous Test Kitchen posts: Guillermo Barreto - Diego Hernandez - Ismene Venegas (10/27), Ricardo Zarate (10/16), Javier Plascensia (10/13), Marcel Vigneron (10/1), Suzanne Griswold - Rachael Narins (9/30), Adam Horton (9/27), Steve Samson - Zach Pollack (9/23), Joshua Smith (9/21), Amy Pressman (9/20), Shelley Cooper (9/17), John Sedlar (9/15), Amanda Baumgarten - Dylan Hallas - Dan Moody (9/14), TiGeorges Laguerre (9/6), Vartan Abgaryan (9/4), Neal Fraser (8/31), Michael Voltaggio (8/29), Walter Manzke (8/25), Ricardo Zarate (8/24), Jordan Kahn (8/18).


Blogger me said...

the scallop looked divine!

Monday, November 08, 2010 12:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Marian said...

When are you going to Test Kitchen again? I'd love to join you guys. Sorry I can't make it this Saturday to Kitchen 1540. I'm really really bummed about not being able to go =(

Monday, November 08, 2010 4:06:00 PM  
Anonymous kmannens said...

Eloquent and visually stunning review as always, Kevin.

I was at test Kitchen on that very same night and I thought the food was good, but unremarkable. I expected more innovative cuisine from a chef with Giraud's resume. Highlights of the night for me were the duo of farm eggs and the roasted veal loin. 

For a place that prides itself on its "mixologists", the 2 cocktails we had  were sub-par; I can't remember the name of mine (not a good sign), but it tasted just like sparkly bitter without any further complexity - although it did have a finish of acid reflux. Not something I personally appreciate in a cocktail, or any drink for that matter. I also tasted the Peche Mode, but the name of the cocktail was the best thing about it.

I had the wine paring and felt yet again it missed character: each wine stood solid enough on its own, but lacked satisfactory symbiosis with its corresponding dish.

My main issue with this venue however is the place itself. First of all the noise levels inside are truly deafening. We were lucky enough to be seated outside in the veranda, but I can imagine you would have to shout at the top of your lungs to make yourself heard inside. Even in the veranda, it bothered us. Second, the interior looks like a English pub serving fish and chips with stale beer instead of a venue experimenting with fine cuisine. It also looked (and I do admit this is a pet peeve of mine) that the tables for 2 people along the walls were way to close to each other. If there is one thing that totally ruins a dinner experience for me it is being forced to listen to my neighbor's conversation. Admittedly, we were there on a Friday day from 9pm till 1030pm, but as soon as the place is half-full you are going to have a hard time hearing your dining companions. The message here is: if you are planning for a quiet or romantic dinner, you better avoid Test Kitchen, or at least insist getting a table in the veranda.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010 11:07:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Me: It was!

Marian: Not sure about the next TK dinner. November is a pretty busy month, so nothing planned yet.

Kevin: Certainly, more innovation would be welcomed, though I don't know if it really fits the mold of his new place, which I understand is to feature "simpler" food. What he did at Anisette was strictly bistro fare, so perhaps his days of Bastide-style dining are behind him?

As for the cocktails, I generally enjoy them, but there have been some misses. What was the Peche Mode? It wasn't one of the speciality cocktails listed on the menu. Also, I've actually never had the wine pairing at Test Kitchen, so I can't comment on that. I've heard mostly good things, though.

The venue, indeed, isn't ideal at all. I often do have trouble talking to my dining companions when the place is at capacity, and the decor is lacking. Definitely not a place for a romantic dinner. I'm willing to give them a pass because it's only a temporary arrangement; this would not be acceptable for a permanent restaurant.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010 4:46:00 PM  
Anonymous kmannens said...

What was the Peche Mode? --> unfortunately I did not take the cocktail menu. Our cocktail menu was however completely different than the one you have above. We also had different amuses; so it seems they update their menu in the course of the evening.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010 7:28:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

How strange that they would do that! Are you sure we were there the same night then?

Thursday, November 11, 2010 3:48:00 PM  
Anonymous kmannens said...

Are you sure we were there the same night then? --> My bad, you are correct. I was there the day after, on Friday.

Friday, November 12, 2010 2:56:00 PM  

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