Monday, December 13, 2010

Test Kitchen (Los Angeles, CA) [23]

Test Kitchen
9575 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90035
Mon 12/13/2010, 07:30p-11:30p

Test Kitchen Exterior

All good things must come to an end?

Monday, December 13th marked the last night of Test Kitchen, LA's seminal restaurant-without-a-chef (not the other way around). The brainchild of Rivera co-owner Bill Chait and budding restarateur Brian Saltsburg, Test Kitchen has helped define the City's culinary Zeitgeist over the past few months, showcasing an ever-changing selection of rotating cooks, all anchored by resident chef-at-large Ricardo Zarate. To celebrate Test Kitchen's short but wildly popular tenure, one ultimate, blow-out charity benefit finale was planned, featuring some of the pop-up's most popular guest chefs: Neal Fraser, Alain Giraud, Walter Manzke, Amy Pressman, Steve Samson/Zack Pollack, Michael Voltaggio, and, of course, Zarate himself.

The night's proceeds benefitted Gettlove and Share Our Strength, and sponsors included Beautiful Creatures(?), sustainable and eco-friendly seafood supplier Eco Pez, Fiji Water, Intelligentsia Coffee, L.A. Specialty Produce, La Quercia, the National Pork Board, Newport Meat Company, beverage marketer/distributor Wine Warehouse, spirit/wine distributor Young's Market Company, and wineries Baker Lane, Blandy's, La Fenêtre, Martian Ranch, Stoller Vineyards, and Torbreck.

Notables guests in attendance this final evening included: Chefs Adam Cole and AJ Ramirez from Ink (the upcoming Michael Voltaggio project), Chef Adam Horton from Saddle Peak Lodge, Chef Alex Reznik (formerly of Ivan Kane's Café Was), Chef Amanda Baumgarten from Water Grill, Andrea Rademan from the IFW&TWA, Chef Ben Bailly from Fraiche, Bill of Street Gourmet LA, Chef Chris "CJ" Jacobsen from The Yard, Chef Christian Page from Daily Dose, Christine of the defunct Folie à Choisauce, Chef Dan Moody from LudoBites (and his soon-to-be pop-up), Darin of Darin Dines, Chef Elderoy Arendse (formerly of Fraiche), Elliott of F for Food, Chef Eric Greenspan from The Foundry on Melrose, Chef Gary Menes from The Hall Courtyard Brasserie, Chef Haru Kishi from Chaya Brasserie, Jo of My Last Bite (with husband Peter), Chef Josiah Citrin from Melisse, Julian a.k.a. DJ Jewelz, Mozza manager Kate Green, Chef Kevin Meehan from Café Pinot, Chef Kris Tominaga from Joe's, Chef Marcel Vigneron from Bar 210, Marian of Marian the Foodie, Noelle of the departed Drink 'n' Dive, Nguyen and Thi Tran from Starry Kitchen, Chef Ori Menashe from Angelini Osteria, Chef Perfecto Rocher from Blvd, Ryan of Epicuryan, Shawna Dawson from SauceLA, Pastry Chef Sherry Yard from Spago, Uri Burstein from Prescriptive Music (supplier of the tunes for Test Kitchen), Pastry Chef Waylynn Lucas from Saam/The Bazaar, and many more that I'm sure I missed.

Peter, Brian Saltsburg, Jo Andrea Rademan, Bill Chait's girlfriend
Left: Of course, the first people we run into are Jo (just look at that smile) and husband Peter, shown here with TK co-founder Brian Saltsburg.
Right: Food and travel writer Andrea Rademan, chatting with Bill Chait's girlfriend.

Ryan Tanaka Representative from Share Our Strength, Jo
Left: No dinner here would be complete without a sighting of Test Kitchen's resident photographer Ryan Tanaka.
Right: Jo, this time posing with a representative from Share Our Strength.

Walter Manzke Klein De Bow, Michael Voltaggio
Neal Fraser Walter Manzke, Jon Butler
Michael Voltaggio Jon Butler, Margarita Manzke
Scenes from the kitchen: Walter Manzke, Klein De Bow, Michael Voltaggio, Neal Fraser, Jon Butler, Margarita Manzke.

Test Kitchen (Closing Time) Menu Test Kitchen (Closing Time) Beverage Menu
Closing time--cue the Semisonic. The menu featured eight courses, priced at $150, plus an additional $40 for wine pairings. Click for larger versions.

Scott Baird, Josh Harris, Alex Straus, Julian Cox
Cocktails, meanwhile, were the charge of Scott Baird & Josh Harris of The Bon Vivants, Alex Straus (most recently of Hemingway's), and resident barman Julian Cox.

Del Rio
Del Rio [$12.00] | Tequila, Orange, St. Germain
I decided to do a wine pairing for the first time ever at Test Kitchen, given that the cocktail list hadn't changed since my last visit. There was one exception though: the Del Rio, a new off-menu concoction. It was actually quite tasty, with a bright, floral, citrus-kissed aroma leading to herbal, sweet flavors with a hint of heat. Not bad!

Lobster Tartar
1: Lobster Tartar | Cucumber Mango Ceviche Sauce, Caviar, Sweet Potato Chip [Ricardo Zarate]
2009 Baker Lane Syrah Rosé
We began with a ceviche from Ricardo Zarate. The lobster was sweet, with marked undertones of ginger joined by just a hint of heat from the aji amarillo. At the same time, the mango heightened the natural sweetness of the crustacean--though I could've used a bit less of it--while the American sturgeon caviar gave the dish a nicely salty finish. Perhaps my favorite items here though were the sweet potato chips, which lent a great textural play to the course.

Dan Fredman Joyce Stein
Guest sommeliers for the evening Dan Fredman and Joyce Stein.

Oxtail Consommé Oxtail Consommé
2: Oxtail Consommé | Mushroom Royal, Black Truffles [Alain Giraud]
Blandy's Rainwater Madeira
Next up was perhaps the tastiest consommé that I'd ever experienced. The soup's bouquet was imbued with a beefy, umami-tinged essence, but its flavor was actually quite restrained, showing off the rich taste of shimeji mushrooms. The crux of the dish, however, was the chicken-black truffle quenelle, which added a heady, hearty flavor to the dish that I adored.

Alain Giraud
Giraud's consommé gets two thumbs up.

Sea Scallops
3: Sea Scallops | Green Apple, Hazelnuts, Cauliflower [Walter Manzke]
2008 Stoller Vineyards Dundee Hills Chardonnay
Manzke presented a solitary scallop, topped with chopped hazelnuts, over a green apple-cauliflower purée and green apple foam. The scallop itself arrived perfectly cooked, and I appreciated the countervailing flavors of the apple and cauliflower. The hazelnuts, meanwhile, augmented the bivalve's natural sugariness, but I would've liked a tad less crunchiness from then.

'EcoPez' Turbot
4: "EcoPez" Turbot | Fungi, Seagrass, Ash Oil [Michael Voltaggio]
2009 Martian Ranch Santa Ynez Viognier
To create the ash element used here, Voltaggio burned leek and mushroom over an open fire, dehydrated and ground up the remains, then mixed the resultant amalgam with EVOO. The fungi, meanwhile, was represented by button and shiitake mushrooms. The fish itself was deftly pan seared, showcasing a firm yet supple flesh paired with a delectably crisp skin, and went beautifully with the ash, mushrooms, and light, tempering flavors of the seagrass especially. Arguably the best preparation of turbot that I've ever had.

One of the benefits of always sitting at Table 44 ("the kevinEats table") was our server Aaron. He always took good care of us.

Toasted Wheat Strascinate
5: Toasted Wheat Strascinate | Lamb Ragu, Braised Greens, Pecorino [Steve Samson & Zach Pollack]
2008 Torbreck Woodcutter's Shiraz
Strascinate refers to a ear- or disk-shaped wheat and semolina pasta, traditionally from the Puglia region of Italy. The pasta was, of course, housemade, and had a slightly doughy consistency that I enjoyed. The strascinate went superbly with the rustic flavors of the paired lamb ragu, and I appreciated the subtle bitterness from the Swiss chard used. I quite liked the salty overtones of the Pecorino as well.

Grilled Pork Tenderloin
6: Grilled Pork Tenderloin | Squash, Chestnuts, Bacon, Violet Mustard [Neal Fraser]
2008 Josh Klapper/La Fenêtre Pinot Noir
Undeniably tender, succulent, and profoundly flavorful, the tenderloin here was one of the best pieces of pork that I'd ever tasted. The meat easily stood alone, but I also appreciated the smoky nuttiness of the pepitas, as well as the astringency of the nasturtium. However, the chestnut and squash purée was a touch sweet for me; the dish would've been perfect had it just been left off the plate.

Alain Giraud
Chef Giraud gets working on those menus.

Pear Pandowdy
7: Pear Pandowdy | Gingerbread Ice Cream, Pear Bourbon Hard Sauce [Amy Pressman]
Intelligentsia Coffee
Tonight was actually my first time having a pandowdy, which is basically a dish of sliced fruit, baked with sugar and spices in a deep dish, then covered in a thick, crisp, crumbly battered crust, often served with ice cream. Here, the dessert was almost bread pudding-like in certain parts, and I enjoyed its sweet, spicy character as well as the boozy flavor of the accompanying Knob Creek hard sauce. Note the "Jewish man" decoration of rye flour.

Compartes Chocolatier Chocolates Compartes Chocolatier Chocolates
8: Compartes Chocolatier Chocolates | Special flavors created for Test Kitchen [Jonathan Grahm]
Legendary chocolatier Compartes provided a selection of truffles to close the meal. Flavors included Macallan 18, peanut butter, rosemary truffle, and raspberry ganache, among others.

With dinner dispensed with, we wandered into the kitchen...

Marian, Joy Lynda Kim
Left: Lovely ladies Marian and friend Joy.
Right: Chef Lynda Kim snaps a pic.

Cole Dickinson Brian Saltsburg
Left: Michael Voltaggio's Chef de Cuisine Cole Dickinson wins the award for most tats.
Right: The instigator.

Neal Fraser, Cute chef Amy Pressman and her chefs
Left: Fraser has good reason to smile.
Right: Pressman and her angels: Renee Faris and Leslie Slocovich.

Sherry Yard Margarita and Walter Manzke
Left: The inimitable Sherry Yard.
Right: The Manzkes.

Amy Pressman, Walter Manzke Steve Samson, Zach Pollack
Left: Amy Pressman and Walter Manzke.
Right: Steve Samson & Zach Pollack (sorry for the subpar photo guys).

And now, on my way out...

Pawing girl, Eric Greenspan Unknown couple
Left: Pawing Eric Greenspan.
Right: Who are these dashing people?

Kevin Meehan, Joy, Marian Noelle
Left: Kevin Meehan, with Asian persuasion Marian and Joy.
Right: Who else, but Noelle?

Ricardo Zarate Bye Bye from Nguyen Tran
Left: The man behind it all: Test Kitchen's resident chef, Ricardo Zarate.
Right: Bye-bye everybody!

Test Kitchen Gift Bag
The Gettlove gift bag, replete with random cookies, Water Beads, a coupon for a free DVD of The Happy Movie, Gettlove literature, and a stylish Test Kitchen apron.

And with that, we come to the end of a brief era in Los Angeles gastronomy. It was a fitting conclusion to Test Kitchen, with the chefs putting up a strong suite of dishes that really did justice to the concept. What's next? The building housing Test Kitchen, now known as "The Townhouse," will serve as home to Samson & Pollack's upcoming Southern Italian eatery Sotto on the first floor, while the second floor will house Zarate's upscale Peruvian restaurant Picca. Finally, the tiny third floor will be dedicated to a small bar helmed by Julian Cox. Look for the restaurants to debut in the February-March timeframe, with the bar coming sometime afterward. Meanwhile, we haven't heard the last from Chait, Saltsburg and company--there have been rumors circulating that the pop-up will, well, pop-up again somewhere else in the City, and perhaps even across the country. Stay tuned; this story ain't over yet...

Previous Test Kitchen posts: Elderoy Arendse - Ori Menashe (12/11), Walter Manzke - Perfecto Rocher (11/30), Alain Giraud (11/04), 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).


Anonymous The Thirsty Pig said...

The Del Rio looks and sounds tasty. Looks like it was a fun evening.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010 7:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sick recap Kev-- as always thank you very much for sharing an experience not many of us are able to enjoy (I didn't realize the price was dropped to $150 from $500!).

I especially enjoyed all the behind-the-scenes photos of the chefs at work-- looks like everyone is all smiles! :)))

Wednesday, December 15, 2010 8:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Michael said...

That Is Amazingly Disappointing.

Best Wishes To The Powers That Be Being Test Kitchen. I Actually Print For Them, So This Is A Blow.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010 9:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The end of an era. Well, for now, anyway...

Great recap, Kevin. 21 TK dinners, I'm sure, is some sort of record. And a hefty mortgage payment ;)

Interesting to see how the Townhouse plays out over the next few months.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010 7:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Marian the Foodie said...

Asian Persuasion?! LOL!!! Great recap and pictures as always. Always nice seeing you around. =)

p.s. That first pic is so close up?! Gah!!!

Thursday, December 16, 2010 12:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even though the dictionary might say so, you can't just substitute the word "amalgam" for "mixture" as you so often do. It just comes off looking awkward and falsely elegant. Same story with "chew" and "masticate".

Thursday, December 16, 2010 1:16:00 PM  
Anonymous thirty days said...

hi kevin! thought you might get a kick out of this.... :)

Friday, December 17, 2010 11:39:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Jimmy: Fun indeed--it was definitely a party in there. I wish I could've stayed longer, but I had work the next day.

Daniel: Eric Greenspan wasn't smiling. ;)

Michael: Huh? I don't follow.

Linden: 23 dinners, actually; #22 has yet to be posted. Word is that Test Kitchen will be returning sometime next year.

Marian: Close up, but still pretty. You can totally tell that he's into the Asian girls though.

Anon: Point taken, but it'd be boring to use "mixture" and "chew" all the time.

Carolina: Is this the same Carolina who works at Saam? Sounds like your stage at El Bulli will be an incredible experience. It's a shame that I never made it out there.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010 4:13:00 PM  

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