Thursday, June 24, 2010

Hatchi at Breadbar (Los Angeles, CA) [3]

Hatchi at Breadbar
10250 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90067
Thu 06/24/2010, 07:30p-10:30p

BreadBar Exterior
When we last caught up with Walter Manzke, he was closing out his tenure at Church & State. The former Bastide chief was instrumental in establishing C&S as one of Los Angeles' premier bistro destinations, but unsurprisingly, the challenge of preparing escargots de Bourgogne day in and day out grew tiresome, and the Chef yearned for something that would allow him to get more "creative." Since leaving the restaurant, Manzke has been hard at work fine tuning the concept, lining up investors, and scouting out locations for his first solo venture (along with doing some consulting along the way), but precious few details have emerged about the place. Would he stay close to his French roots, or venture towards Asia, a mix of both? I was hoping that Hatchi would provide some clues.

My dining companions for this meal included Fiona of Gourmet Pigs (who provided the reservation--thanks!), Helen of I'm Hungry and Proud of It, and Mike of Right Way to Eat (who taught me a new term tonight--UBD, or Unofficial Blogger Date). However, given that this was a Walter Manzke dinner after all, LA's foodie cognoscenti turn out in droves; this was easily the largest turnout I've seen, ever. Here's the list (apologies to anyone I may have missed): Aaron of The Savory Hunter, Alana N. (lushseaweed), Andrea of The Foodie Traveler, Austin of Living to Eat (he's also a Pastry Cook at Westside Tavern), Bill of Street Gourmet LA, longtime kevinEats reader and Modern Family crew member Brian Resnick (apparently, they're working on an episode inspired by my food blogging antics!), aspiring restaurant impresario Brian Saltsburg, Daniel of Exploratory Dégustation, David "the modernist" C. from Yelp, Famished Foodie, Felicia of The Food Ledger, Freda of Potatomato, Hong of Ravenous Couple (sans Kim), Ivan, Jacqueline "ItsMeCoffeeGirl" C from Yelp, legendary restaurant reviewer and producer Jay Weston, Chef Jon Shook from Animal, Josh of Food GPS, Josie of Uncouth Gourmands, Julie Wolfson from LAist, Lesley Balla from Tasting Table, Lesley Bargar Suter from Los Angeles Magazine, Liberty Huang from Boobs4Food, Linden of The Gastronomnom, Liz of Food She Thought, Pam of Rants & Craves, Matt of MattBites, Matt of Mattatouille, Nicola of Marathon Appetite, Noelle of Drink 'n' Dive, Patrica of Life with a Whisk, Rachael Narins from private supper club Chicks with Knives (who will be cooking at Hatchi in August), Ryan of Epicuryan, photographer-foodie-Twitterato Ryan, Father's Office mogul Sang Yoon, Weezermonkey, Shauna of The Minty, Shawna Dawson from Sauce LA, Stephanie of Stuffy Cheaks, Tin (who I'd met at LudoBites), Tony of SinoSoul, Yelper Vinh (who I ran into on my last Hatchi visit as well), Wasima, and last but certainly not least, Zach of Midtown Lunch. Whew!

For the uninitiated, Hatchi is a series of one-night-only dinners at BreadBar in which a special guest chef prepares an octet of dishes, priced at a reasonable $8 each. Past participants have included (in order of appearance): Debbie Lee (Jun '09), Michael Voltaggio (Jul '09), Roberto Cortez (Aug '09), Remi Lauvand (Sep '09), Eda Vesterman (Oct '09), Waylynn Lucas (Nov '09), Marcel Vigneron (Dec '09), Ricardo Zarate (Jan '10), Iso Rabins (Feb '10), Kumiko Yagi/Ramon Perez (Mar '10), Saul Cooperstein (Apr '10), and Brian Redzikowski (May '10). Next Month, Makoto Okuwa of Sashi fame will serve as the guest of honor, while August brings us the dames of Chicks with Knives.

Walter Manzke Hatchi Menu
Here we see the night's menu--"Around the World"--which, as the name implies, features gastronomic influences from no less than eight different nations. In addition to the victuals, former C&S bartender, Névé Ice founder, and "drink smith" Michel Dozois offered up a troika of cocktails priced at $12 each, while wine pairings [$40] were the task of Adam Vourvoulis (who met Manzke during his tenure at Bouchee in Carmel). Click for a larger version.

'Shrimp Cocktail'
Amuse Bouche: "Shrimp Cocktail"
We began with the Chef's interpretation of a classic shrimp cocktail. I devoured the shrimp in one bite, and loved its snappy texture and subtly sweet-briny savor, complemented by a bit of bitterness from the char. I then shot the remaining vial of liquid, a great jolt to my palate showing fantastically complex, vegetal, and citric flavors over a wonderfully tangy base.

Bread Bar Epi
Bread Bar Epi [$8.00] | Foie Gras Butter
Since we were at BreadBar and all, I would've thought that the bread would be complementary. That being said, I suppose you're not paying for the bread, but for the magnificent foie gras butter (as if butter needed to become even more decadent). The essence of foie was actually fairly subdued, a flighty hint of liver-y goodness that added an undeniable depth, a certain gravity to your typical bread 'n' butter. What was great was that the foie only made itself known in the midpalate, while the finish was all about that sticky sweet gelée (honey?) on top. This may have been the best butter I've ever had. There was also an option to order the epi with French Échiré beurre [$3], but why?

Evan's Julep Untamed Cherries
I was curious about Dozois' cocktails (I never got to experience his handiwork at C&S), so I promptly ordered up an Evan's Julep, sort of a tropical take on the classic Mint Julep, with mango juice mixed in with the Evan Williams Bourbon. I quite liked the interplay between the mint and the mango's unabashed sweetness, but the finish was strangely medicinal for me. Helen, meanwhile, had an Untamed Cherries, made with lemon juice, cherries, yellow chili peppers, and an organic rum, Crusoe from the Greenbar Collective. This one showed plenty of cherry on the attack, but the finish was all about that lingering heat from the pepper.

Yellowtail Ceviche
Mexico: Yellowtail Ceviche [$8.00] | Jalapeno, Tomatillo Sorbet
Nariwa Ozeki Shuzo "Ohkagura" - Okayama, Japan
Our first proper course takes us south of the border. Let's start with the yellowtail, which was supple, weighty, a bit fatty, just as it should be. The cilantro in the amalgam bestowed a lightness, a green counterpoint to the heft of the fish, while the tomatillo added a prick of tartness, and the citrus bits, a touch of sweetness. Nice!

White Corn Curry Soup
Thailand: White Corn Curry Soup [$8.00] | Mussels, Coconut Tapioca
2007 Robert Weil Kabinett Halbtrocken - Rheingau, Germany
This soup effectively channeled the heady, pungent, piquant essence of a Thai tom kha soup. The corn provided somewhat of a sweet base to the dish, but the crux of course was the brine imparted by the mussels. Meanwhile, the tapioca contributed a bit of textural play, while its coconut flavor effectively moderated the power of the course. Some of the best mussels I've had in a while.

'Banh Mi' Pig's Feet Sliders
Vietnam: "Banh Mi" Pig's Feet Sliders [$8.00]
2009 Domaine de la Madone "Le Perréon" - Beaujolais, France
The humble, ubiquitous bánh mì: I've had a haute version at BondSt, a burger-ized version at The Six, but this is the first one that I've seen made with pieds de cochon. This was arguably my favorite dish of the night, as I absolutely adored the rich, succulent patties of pork-y goodness, encased in delectable panko-crusted shells. As tasty as the meat was, the inclusion of pickled veggies was essential, their tartness playing a perfect foil to the heft of the trotters. The sliders easily stood on their own, but I did enjoy applying the two paired sauces--one appeared to be some kind of aioli, while the other reminded me of Sriracha--as well.

English Pea Ravioli
Italy: English Pea Ravioli [$8.00] | Soft Egg, Parmesan
NV Gruet "Blanc de Noirs" - Engle, New Mexico
Peas, Parm, pasta, and poached egg. It's hard to go too wrong with these ingredients. Upon mastication, the light, bright flavors of the peas vigorously burst forth from their ravioli wrappers, where they met with the luscious, creamy richness of egg, augmented by the weight of Parmesan. I would've liked some more saltiness from the cheese, though.

Hidden Secret
At this point, I requested the third cocktail of the night, which looked somewhat liked a goblet of witbier! Rather, it was the Hidden Secret, comprised of lemon juice, grape tomatoes, maraschino cordial, and True organic Gin. This was easily my favorite concoction of the night; I loved its complex mishmash of spicy, herbal, and sour flavors--excellent.

Santa Barbara Spot Prawn
Spain: Santa Barbara Spot Prawn [$8.00] | Garlic, Sherry
La Cosecha Manzanilla Pasada Sherry - Andalucia, Spain
Santa Barbara spot prawns seem to be the restaurant ingredient du jour these days, and here, Manzke uses them in his interpretation of the classic tapas dish gambas al ajillo. Unfortunately, one of my prawns was a bit overdone, but the other was perfect: sweet, snappy, and oh-so briny (reminded me of Providence's). I really enjoyed the prawns alone, and thus, for me, the accoutrements weren't even necessary.

Tarte Flambe
France: Tarte Flambe [$8.00] | Caramelized Onion, Bacon, Gruyere
2007 Friedrich Becker Pinot Noir - Pfalz, Germany
For his final savory of the night, Manzke returns to his old standby country, France, and an old standby dish from Church & State, flammkuchen. Originating near the Alsace region, the tarte flambée comprises a thin layer of bread, topped with various accompaniments, and baked in a wood-burning oven. The result is a pizza-esque contraption, with a delightfully crisp crust. Here, I enjoyed the interplay between the salty bacon and soothing Gruyère, but found the caramelized onions a touch sweet for my tastes.

Leche Flan
Philippines: Leche Flan [$8.00] | Pandan, Coconut Ice Cream
NV Jonata "La Miel de Jonata" - Santa Ynez Valley, California
Our first dessert was the Filipino take on the omnipresent crème caramel. The flan was somewhat denser than usual, with a stronger eggy note than I'm accustomed to. However, it was deftly balanced by the use of pandan and coconut, both of which lent a sweet, floral character to the dessert that really livened things up. Surprisingly good!

Volcán de mi Tierra Tequila Reposado
At this point, Bill was kind enough to pour me a bit of the tipple that he had brought: the Volcán de mi Tierra Tequila Reposado. I generally don't drink too much tequila, but this really was quite delicious, with a nose full of vanilla, which continued onto the palate, where it was joined by lovely nutty, woody flavors. Provecho!

Chocolate Fondant
Japan: Chocolate Fondant [$8.00] | Bing Cherries, Black Sesame Ice Cream, Green Tea
Rare Wine Company Historic Series New York Malmsey
We end our culinary voyage in Japan. The combination of chocolate and cherries is a classic one, but Manzke kicks things up a notch with the inclusion of kuro goma and matcha. The sesame ice cream provided a slightly nutty component the dessert that played nicely with the chocolate, while the green tea added a tinge of astringency to the mix.

Josie & Walter Manzke
Chef Manzke chats it up with Josie--just look at that smile!

Though I appreciated the calibre of cuisine Manzke was creating over at Church & State, I always knew that he was capable of--and wanted to do--more. With regard to the Chef, I once wrote that "I still yearn for a stage where he can cook with the inexorable flair, unbridled enthusiasm, and relentless ingenuity that I know he has in him." It looks like that time may have finally come. If the experience at Hatchi is any indication of the character of Manzke's new restaurant, then my high hopes are justified, and you can bet that I'll be there in earnest, opening night, of course.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Grace (Los Angeles, CA) [2]

7360 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Sat 06/19/2010, 07:00p-10:10p

Grace Exterior
My last visit to Grace was a bit of a letdown, but I'd always wanted to return and give Neal Fraser's contemporary American eatery another shot (hell, it's one of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's favorite restaurants, if that means anything). Grace is, of course, closing and moving to Downtown, so the final night of service at its location on Beverly gave me the perfect opportunity to revisit. Joining me were Austin of Living to Eat, Darin of Darin Dines (along with friend Diana), and Mike of Right Way to Eat (who, contrary to popular belief, is still alive and eating).

About the Chef: Born to an actress mother and musician father, Fraser himself took on acting as well, but wound up leaving the profession at age 10 after walking of out a John Cassavetes production. He began cooking professionally when he was 20, working the line at Eureka Brewery & Restaurant, one of Wolfgang Puck's earliest ventures. Following his stint there, Fraser enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in the autumn of 1990. While at the CIA, the Chef externed under Thomas Keller at the Checker's Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles, and also cooked weekends with David Burke over at the Park Avenue Café in Manhattan. After graduation, Fraser returned to LA and went to work at Spago; however, he hated his time there, and left the venerable spot after only three weeks. The Chef transitioned to Joachim Splichal's Pinot Bistro, then to Hans Rockenwagner's Rox.

Then, in 1995, Fraser partnered with a little known restaurateur named Steven Arroyo to open up Boxer at 7615 Beverly, located just a stone's throw away from Grace. The Chef achieved considerable success at Boxer, but would sell his stake in the business just three years later. Arroyo, of course, eventually converted the space to Cobras & Matadors, and went on to open a slew of restaurants, including the vaunted Church & State, helmed at first by Grace's former Chef de Cuisine, Greg Bernhardt. Fraser then landed an Executive Chef position at Rix in Santa Monica, and continued to garner accolades with his eclectic tasting menus, including a controversial all-hemp degustation (his Sous was a pothead) and an "Homage to Jean-Georges," where he recreated a JG meal sans recipes. In the fall of 1999, the Chef moved yet again, this time to Jimmy's in Beverly Hills, but the restaurant shuttered soon after his arrival.

Fraser spend the early 2000's catering and raising funds for Grace (he partnered with industry veterans Richard Drapkin and Brooks Townsend; actress Connie Britton is also an investor), which debuted in late February 2003 to considerable fanfare. Two weeks later, Fraser married his longtime girlfriend Amy Knoll, who currently helps run the front-of-the-house. 2006 saw the Chef compete and emerge victorious in Iron Chef America, trouncing Cat Cora in "Battle Pork," but he would achieve an even bigger accomplishment in '06: launching his casual all-day cafe concept BLD in the former Cafe Capo space. In mid 2007, Fraser started consulting on the menu for the revamp of Cole's Downtown, then appeared on Daniel Boulud's television show After Hours with Daniel (Daniel was the site of Fraser's most memorable meal) in December that year.

Grace Interior Grace Interior
Grace occupies the space formerly held by Muse, and was transformed to suit Fraser's vision by designer Michael Berman. The room seats up to 120 and has a warm, residential feel to it, a perfect arena in which to enjoy Fraser's haute-meets-comfort cuisine.

Grace Menu Grace Chef's Menu
Grace's menu changes periodically, though there are a few standbys, such as the "Grilled Tenderloin of Wild Boar," which has been on the carte since Virbila's 2-star review back in 2003 (she didn't care for it, by the way). We, naturally, gravitated toward the tasting menus. There's a five-courser at $65, but we all went for the seven-course Chef's Menu, priced at $100, plus $60 for Wine Director Eduardo Porto Carreiro's pairings. Click for larger versions.

Grace Cocktail/Beer List The Augustus
The bar features a small, rotating selection of signature cocktails (click for a larger version), and I went with the Augustus [$13], comprised of Drusian Prosecco di Valdobbiadene, Tio Pepe Palomino Fino Sherry, Campari, and a lemon twist. The Prosecco formed an effervescent base to the cocktail, with added depth and complexity courtesy of the Tio Pepe. The key, though, was the Campari and its bitter, herbal essence, which lent an overarching astringency to the drink that really served as a jolt to the palate.

Ciabatta Bread
Paired with a lovely butter, the ciabatta-esque loaf served as the sole bread offering.

Sashimi of Japanese Hamachi
1: Sashimi of Japanese Hamachi | fennel, radish, california olive oil, sea beans
NV Brut Rosé, Roederer Estate, Anderson Valley, California
One thing that I've always found peculiar at Grace is the lack of an amuse bouche (typically a de rigueur flourish at fine dining establishments); thus, we'll jump right into the first course. Eaten alone, the fish was prototypical yellowtail, with a soft, slightly fatty flesh and clean, yet somewhat oily essence. What I really enjoyed, though, was the acerbic tang of radish and fennel, which formed a great counterpoint to the relatively hefty hamachi, as well as the depth of flavor imparted by the olive oil. Finishing things off was a great tinge of sea salt on the close.

Sautéed Day Boat Scallop
2: Sautéed Day Boat Scallop | english pea risotto, morel mushrooms, asparagus, basil nage
2006 Chardonnay "Acero," Marimar Estate Family, Russian River Valley, California
Following was one of the best scallops that I've had in a while. I loved its firm, yet supple consistency--a perfect combination of raw and cooked textures--as well as its delightfully caramelized exterior and delicate flavor. The use of morels gave the dish a substantial, heady earthiness, but the best part was the interaction between the scallop and its bright, verdant, vegetal asparagus- and basil-infused broth. Interestingly, the only element I didn't quite care for here was the lobster, which seemed totally redundant, and rather overcooked to boot.

Olive Oil Poached Halibut
3: Olive Oil Poached Halibut | brandade, horseradish cream, sherry gelée
2007 Gewürztraminer "Estival," Viñedo de los Vientos, Atlantida, Uruguay
Given that I'm somewhat of a salt cod slut, I was quite excited about the brandade in this course. The fluffy cod fritter, not the halibut, was the real star of the show here, with a tremendously briny flavor that went surprisingly well with the more subdued nature of the halibut. The whole amalgam was perked up properly by the prick of piquancy provided by the sherry, which worked beautifully with the saltiness of the fish.

Sautéed Channel Island White Sea Bass
4: Sautéed Channel Island White Sea Bass | white beans, artichokes barigoule, pistou
2007 Alvarinho, Aveleda, Monção, Portugal
Here we have another very strong presentation of fish, this time a white sea bass. The bass itself was actually quite delectable, a tender, flaky filet with a piercing savoriness, augmented by the fish's fantastically crisp, salty skin. I also appreciated the sea bass' interplay with the pistou (basil, garlic, olive oil), as well as the gravity contributed by the white beans. The artichoke, however, wasn't necessary for me.

Slow Cooked Egg
5: Slow Cooked Egg | spring onions, pork belly, chanterelle mushrooms, white asparagus
2008 Zweigelt, Umathum, Burgenland, Austria
It's hard to go wrong with slow cooked egg, and this certainly was no exception to the rule. It really lent a luscious, all-encompassing creaminess to the dish that did wonders in emphasizing the saltiness of the crispy pork belly and bacon, while adding to the earthy heft of the chanterelles. The onions and asparagus, thus, were absolutely key in tempering the power of the dish. Very nice.

Oven Roasted Suckling Pig
6: Oven Roasted Suckling Pig | potato gnocchi, chanterelle mushrooms, white asparagus, pork jus
2007 Zinfandel "Dry Farmed," Rancho Arroyo Grande, San Luis Obispo, California
Our final savory of the evening was a surprisingly rustic preparation of pig. I found the meat enchantingly tender, succulent, with a robust "pork-y" sapor and a wonderfully crisp skin, and I quite appreciated how the asparagus, in concert with the corn succotash, moderated the ponderosity of the pork. I wasn't nearly as keen on the gnocchi, though.

Grace Dessert Menu
Above, we see Grace's dessert menu (click for a larger version), which has always had a sort of "homey" vibe to it. It all started with opening Pastry Chef Elizabeth Belkind, a Le Cordon Bleu/CSCA and Campanile alum, who, faced with a glut of strawberries, created the first jam-filled doughnuts for the restaurant. Belkind left Grace in 2006 to open a place with Reservoir's Gloria Felix (who'd worked at Grace early on in 2003); however, that partnership fell apart when Felix went on to star in Gordon Ramsay's Hell's Kitchen TV series. Belkind is currently heading up Cake Monkey Bakery (their Li'l Merri's are superb), a role that she took up in 2007.

The demand for doughnuts did not wane after Belkind's departure, and her successor, Robert Tarlow (Boule, Sona, Lucques), took things to the next level when he instituted a weekly doughnut night. Tarlow eventually left Grace in early 2008, replaced by Mariah Swan, the current Pastry Chef. A UC Berkeley alum, Swan decided after graduation that her heart belonged in the kitchen, and soon enrolled at the California School of Culinary Arts in Pasadena. She landed a gig as Assistant Pastry Chef at the departed Hollywood & Vine Diner before moving on to a baking position at Axe in Venice. Swan started at Grace in 2004, and, having worked under both Belkind and Tarlow, was well-positioned to take over the lead pastry role upon the latter Chef's departure.

Sticky Toffee Pudding
7a: Sticky Toffee Pudding | brûléed bananas, toffee sauce, hazelnut gelato
2001 Semillon "The Straw Man," Sine Qua Non Mr. K, Central Coast, California
Interestingly, instead of the entire table getting the same dessert, we were instead given a selection of five of Swan's creations to share. The pudding was nice enough, and sort of reminded me of a boozy chocolate cake. The toffee definitely enhanced the richness of the dessert, and the bananas were a fitting complement as well.

Chocolate Soufflé Cake Affogato
7b: Chocolate Soufflé Cake Affogato | vanilla malt ice cream, toasted almonds, espresso syrup
2001 Semillon "The Straw Man," Sine Qua Non Mr. K, Central Coast, California
The soufflé was more interesting, as it had an espresso syrup that I found quite becoming, complementing the heavy flavors of the cake nicely. I didn't get much in terms of almonds, though I did appreciate the tempering effect of the ice cream.

Honeyed Pain Perdu
7c: Honeyed Pain Perdu | lavender ice cream, meyer lemon curd, pistachios
2001 Semillon "The Straw Man," Sine Qua Non Mr. K, Central Coast, California
This was actually my least favorite of the desserts, though certainly, I didn't mind eating it. The pain perdu, by itself, had a subtle, slightly savory sweetness to it with an almost banana-esque flair, and I also liked the pistachio crumbles. However, the lemon curd was too strong for my tastes, and rather overwhelmed the rest of the dish.

Salt & Pepper Caramel Doughnut
7d: Salt & Pepper Caramel Doughnut | mascarpone ice cream
2001 Semillon "The Straw Man," Sine Qua Non Mr. K, Central Coast, California
DTAB had warned me that the doughnuts didn't live up to their former glory, so I was a bit wary going in. Fortunately, I'm happy to report that Grace's signature desserts did not disappoint. The S&P variety demonstrated plenty of sticky caramel character, but I was intrigued, and pleased, by the bit of savoriness that I tasted, especially on the finish.

Buttermilk Toasted Coconut Doughnut
7e: Buttermilk Toasted Coconut Doughnut | mascarpone ice cream
2001 Semillon "The Straw Man," Sine Qua Non Mr. K, Central Coast, California
As much as I enjoyed the previous doughnuts, I liked these even more. The buttermilk lent an amazing flavor to the dessert, and the use of coconut gave things an almost nutty character, while adding some textural variation as well. In fact, the entire assemblage reminded me a bit of a Danish butter cookie! Loved the mascarpone ice cream too (and I'm glad to see Swan using spheres of it instead of the hackneyed quenelle shape).

All things considered, this was pretty damn good meal--Grace, consider yourself redeemed. The food this time around seemed much more robust, confident, gutsy. It was sophisticated, polished, yet approachable and familiar--exactly what it should be.

So what's next for Fraser and company? Well, Grace will be resurrected in Downtown at the corner of 2nd and Main, inside the rectory building of the old Vibiana Cathedral, with an estimated opening date of sometime in the first half of 2011. Interestingly, this isn't the first time Fraser's considered DTLA: way back in 2007, he was slated to open a "hybrid" between Grace and BLD there. In any case, this space at 7360 Beverly has been taken over by Rivera's John Sedlar, who plans to open up a down-market version of his eponymous restaurant here. In the mean time, Grace's team is still available for catering gigs, if you're so inclined, and apparently, another BLD will be opening in Pasadena (at the corner of Holly and Raymond) sometime this year.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

WP24 (Los Angeles, CA)

900 W Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90015
Wed 06/09/2010, 08:00p-12:00a

Ritz-Carlton & JW Marriott Exterior Though Wolfgang Puck did not by himself create the Asian fusion genre, you can't argue that he helped popularize and legitimatize the cuisine with his seminal Cal-Asian eatery Chinois on Main, which he opened with then wife Barbara Lazaroff in 1983. Since then, Puck has debuted a countless number of places, but WP24, on the 24th floor of the new Ritz-Carlton at LA Live, represents his first full service Asian restaurant since the ill-fated ObaChine chain of the late 1990s. Though the contemporary Chinese-influenced menu at WP24 was developed by Puck and Lee Hefter (Puck's Corporate Executive Chef), daily execution of the line is the task of Chef de Cuisine David McIntyre.

A native Angeleno, McIntyre was a student at the University of Washington (studying business and psychology) when he first fell in love with cooking. His parents were early investors in Joachim Splichal's newly four-starred Patina, and through this connection, he was able to stage there. The Chef did return to U-Dub to finish his degree, graduating in 1997, after which he worked at Patina for a year before embarking on a culinary tour of Europe. Upon his return, McIntyre next move was to Puck's flagship Spago in 1999, where he worked his way up to the position of Sous Chef and eventually Kitchen Manager.

He would stay at Spago until early 2006, and later consulted on the opening of Puck's steakhouse CUT at the Regent Beverly Wilshire. McIntyre, naturally, wanted his own place, and thus, he moved to San Diego to open up his Cal-Modern eatery Crescent Heights (named after the Los Angeles thoroughfare) with wife Mariah. The restaurant, sadly, lasted nary a year before shuttering in June 2009, and following, the Chef was lured back to LA by his old mentor Puck and the promise of an Executive Chef position at the gleaming new WP24; McIntyre started here in January.

This dinner was instigated by longtime kevinEats reader Collier (who plans to open his own restaurant in the coming year), and joining me were several of his friends, as well as Christina of Food Je T'aime and Ryan of Epicuryan.

WP24 Interior Dark
WP24 Interior Light
The restaurant takes up most of the 24th floor, with the bulk of that space dedicated to a wraparound lounge with panoramic views of Downtown. We, however, were located in the surprisingly small, surprisingly dark main dining room, whose views are not quite as breathtaking, but nevertheless still impressive. Specifically, our party of eight was seated in one of two private dining rooms.

WP24 Menu WP24 Menu WP24 Cocktail List
Taking a look at the menu, it's clear that the kitchen is drawing inspiration mainly from the Chinese repertoire, with only occasional dalliances outside the country. We all went for the 9 Course Tasting Menu option, priced at $125 (add $70 for wine), though clearly, we received well in excess of the specified number of courses. Meanwhile, a simplified version of the menu, along with sushi (yes, you can get California Rolls if you must), is available in the lounge. Click for larger versions.

Sesame Crusted Prawn Toast
Amuse Bouche: Sesame Crusted Prawn Toast | Sweet Chili-Garlic Sauce
We were told that each table receives a complementary plate of prawn toast to begin, and indeed, this was a very gratifying way to kick off the evening. Eaten alone, the toast succinctly presented the essence of shrimp, but the included sauce added a sweet-hot relish to things that really completed the amuse for me.

Dragon's Fire Elderflower Umami Cocktail
Cocktails are uniformly priced at $14 each, and we chose a trio to start. I had the Dragon's Fire; made with Herradura Anejo, Grapefruit, Jalapeno, and Thai Basil, it demonstrated a pleasantly tingling, lingering heat with a hint of astringency from the basil. The Elderflower (Ultimat Vodka, St. Germain Liqueur, D'Arbo Elderflower), on the other hand, was strongly sweet and floral in nature, while the Umami Cocktail (Hendrick's, Ume Plum, Cucumbers, Shiso Leaves) showed off a complex saccharine-salty interplay backed by a piquant finish.

Spring Rolls
Spring Rolls | Maine Lobster, Prawns, 10 Spice Honey
WP24's spring rolls are subtly sweet, monolithic half-cylinders of dense, spongy, shrimp-y goodness, wrapped up and tied off with sheaths of delightfully crisp wrapping paper. Tasty enough on their own, the rolls were deftly augmented by the paired 10-Spice dip (like a super-duper five-spice?), the sweetness of which nicely emphasized the crustaceans' natural savor. A simple, but satisfying dish.

Wagyu Beef Turnovers
Wagyu Beef Turnovers
Wagyu beef in puff pastry? It's hard to go wrong with that combination. This Chinese-inspired "empanada" was stuffed with softly spicy, richly flavored, immensely succulent beef that was superbly subdued by its crisp, flaky crust. I could've eaten an entire plate.

Steamed Baby Bao Buns Steamed Baby Bao Buns
Steamed Baby Bao Buns | Sautéed Duck Liver, Sweet Bean Paste, Sour Ume Plums
These Momofuku-esque buns were a bit of a surprise. Wolfgang Puck has famously spoken out against the use of foie gras, and refuses to serve the product at his restaurants. Well, what we have here looks like foie gras, smells like foie gras, and tastes like foie gras, but apparently, it's just plain old duck liver (no gavage necessary). It was also mahhh-velous, one of the best preparations of hot foie gras--I mean, duck liver--that I've had in a while. The sweetness from the bean paste was just powerful enough, and I loved how the liver's potency was so effectively countered by the zesty scallion and cucumber.

Chili 'Dan Dan' Dumplings
Chili "Dan Dan" Dumplings | Organic Chicken, Chili Garlic Sauce, Crushed Peanuts, Green Onion
Next up was a Sichuan-ish dish, in the same vein as hot and sour wontons. The pleasingly piquant, pungent chili-garlic dressing did a great job in perking up the otherwise tame dumplings, while the use of green onions added a great vegetal smack to the dish. The peanuts were a nice touch as well.

Chinese Spring Chive Crystal Dumplings
Chinese Spring Chive Crystal Dumplings | Alaskan King Crab, Shrimp, Kurobuta Pork
One of my favorites bites of the meal came courtesy of these dumplings. The amalgam of crab, shrimp, and pork resulted in a delectable mishmash of savory flavors that went perfectly with the soft astringency of chive. What was arguably better, though, was the dumplings' flawless wrapper, a fantastic combination of soft chewiness and pan-fried firmness. The mustard, meanwhile, contributed an impeccable heat to complete the dish.

Figueroa Pearfect Asian
With our previous cocktails downed, I ordered up a Figueroa, made with Plymouth Gin, Aperol, Fresh Ginger, and Lime. I rather liked this one, with its sweet, herbaceous, floral character that deftly tempered the power of the gin. I also tried the Pearfect Asian, composed of Absolut Pear, Canton Ginger Liqueur, and Lime. This was a suitably saccharine, gritty, "girly" drink that really conveyed the essence of pear.

Crispy Glazed Wolfe Ranch Quail
Crispy Glazed Wolfe Ranch Quail | Garlic, Dried Chilies, Ginger, Black Chinkiang Vinegar, Rice Stick Salad
The next course was a bit of a mess to look at, but fortunately, it tasted much better than it looked. The bird had a sort of "sweet & sour" type citrus-y glaze, which imparted a fitting sugariness on the otherwise savory, succulent flesh, but the best part of this dish was its soft, subtle spiciness that really creeps up on you. I also enjoyed the great crunch of the quail's skin, as well as how the paired salad moderated the heft of the meat.

Spicy Assam Prawns 'Indian Spiced' Spicy Assam Prawns 'Indian Spiced'
Spicy Assam Prawns "Indian Spiced" | Curry Leaves, Garlic, Mustard, Yogurt, Cardamom, Fenugreek
"Like eating Indian food." Indeed. Here, the kitchen takes a departure from China and lands squarely in India. I enjoyed the interaction between the prawns' natural sapor and the sweet-spicy essence of the crustaceans' aromatic, heady, curried accoutrement. The use of coriander, meanwhile, gave the prawns a strong vegetal close. I actually quite liked the dish, but unfortunately, it got a bit cold since it was paired with the next course.

'Angry Lobster' Two-Pound Live Maine 'Angry Lobster' Two-Pound Live Maine
"Angry Lobster" Two-Pound Live Maine | Spicy Szechuan Chilies, Fried Garlic, Calamansi Lime, Black Bean Dust
It was a poor decision to plate this and the prawns together, as both dishes were compromised. In addition, the lobster was not presented to the table prior to plating (as the prawns were), another service faux pas. In any case, this was a wok'd presentation of lobster, one imbued with the familiar, hefty Chinese flavors of chili and black bean, perked up a notch by the calamondin. It was tasty enough, but some at the table felt--rightfully so--that the inherent nature of lobster was lost in the dish.

XO Fried Rice
XO Fried Rice | Maine Lobster, Fried Shallots, Budding Chives
When I was young, I remember thinking that XO sauce was actually made from XO cognac (from which its name derives). Though cognac, especially of the XO variety, is a popular libation in many parts of China, the sauce is actually merely an amalgam of dried seafood and various spices. That being said, here, it contributed a touch of ocean-y flair that nicely complemented the lobster, the inherent flavor of which was nicely preserved in the dish. Overall, a delicious presentation of fried rice.

Whole Roasted Duckling 'Peking Style' with Traditional Garnishes Whole Roasted Duckling 'Peking Style' with Traditional Garnishes
Whole Roasted Duckling 'Peking Style' with Traditional Garnishes Whole Roasted Duckling 'Peking Style' with Traditional Garnishes
Whole Roasted Duckling "Peking Style" with Traditional Garnishes
At this point, we come to the pièce de résistance. An entire roast duck was ushered out to our table to whet our palates, then brought back to the kitchen for slicing. We were subsequently presented with plates of the bird's dark, delectable skin and flesh. The meat was actually too heavy, too intense--it took on an almost foie gras-like richness--to eat alone. But pair the duck with the included accompaniments of hoisin, sugar, radish, cucumber, scallion, and steamed bun, and now you're on to something! The vegetables, in concert with the buns, did a perfect job in countervailing the sweet heft of the meat, resulting in stunningly balanced, simply stupendous bites.

Hong Kong Soft Noodles
Hong Kong Soft Noodles | Golden Spring Chives, Wild Field Mushrooms
To go along with the duck, we were provided bowls of Hong Kong-style noodles. They were a bit too oily for me, and thus made for a rather heavy dish. I did, however, enjoy the complementary flavors of mushroom and chive.

'Szechuan Style' Steak 'Au Poivre'
"Szechuan Style" Steak "Au Poivre" | American Wagyu "Kobe Style" NY Sirloin from Snake River Farms, Smoked Chili-Shallot Sauce, Scallions, Cilantro, "La You" Hot Oil
Chinese food isn't known for its use of high-quality cuts of beef, but the American wagyu here was every bit as stellar as the steaks Puck serves at CUT. This Sino-ized steak au poivre was incredulously tender--mastication was barely necessary--with a great bit of lingering, peppery spice that was beautifully tempered by the scallions and cilantro. A table favorite, with good reason.

Hunan Spicy Eggplant
Hunan Spicy Eggplant | Roasted Shishito Peppers, Chili, Crisp Garlic
Given that I'm not a huge fan of eggplant in general, I wasn't terribly keen on this dish, which was meant to accompany the steak. The aubergines themselves were melt-in-your-mouth tender, but I much preferred the shishitos and garlic.

WP24 Dessert Menu
Desserts at Chinese restaurants usually aren't much to speak of--ice cream, jello, sliced oranges--but obviously Puck wants none of that here. The sweet stuff definitely draws more from Western culinary traditions, and are the purview of Pastry Chef Sally Camacho. Click for a larger version.

About Sally Camacho: Camacho began her kitchen career at San Francisco's California Culinary Academy. After externing at the Caneel Bay resort in St. John, she return to the CCA and completed her degree in baking and pastry arts in 2000. The Chef then took a job at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills under Executive Pastry Chef Donald Wressell; her five years here formed the basis of her practical training. Then, in 2005, Camacho relocated to Las Vegas to assist Executive Pastry Chef Frédéric Robert in opening the Wynn. Her next move was down the Strip to Caesars Palace, where she took on a Pastry Chef position at Bradley Ogden. While there, she met fellow pastry chefs Jin Caldwell and Kristina Karlicki, and the trio wound up competing in the 2007 National Pastry Team Championship, taking home the silver medal. Camacho then moved to Florida, first becoming Executive Pastry Chef at the Fairmont Turnberry Isle Resort & Club in Miami, then consulting and teaching at the Ewald Notter School of Confectionery Arts in Orlando. She eventually moved back to California in 2009, however, and took on a Pastry Chef role at AK before joining Puck's team at WP24.

Pineapple Sorbet
Pre-Dessert: Pineapple Sorbet | Pineapple Cubes, Orange Crunch
Serving as a bit of a palate cleanser, we had here a relatively subtle pineapple sorbet, heightened by bits of tartish cubed pineapple and crisp flakes of dehydrated orange.

Calamansi Vacherin
Calamansi Vacherin | Schezuan Peppercorn Meringue, Calamansi Cream, Macadamia Star Anise Crumble
The key here was the interaction between the sweet, luscious lychee-vanilla sorbet and the tartness of the calamansi, all bounded by a bit of spiciness courtesy of the star anise crumble. I appreciated the inclusion of suprêmes of blood and regular oranges as well. Some of my dining companions took issue with the texture of the meringue, though personally, I didn't have a problem with it.

Pistachio Cherry Fondant Crumble
Pistachio Cherry Fondant Crumble | Murray Farms Cherries, Milk Chocolate Glacée, Curry Crisp
We closed with a lovely pistachio-brown butter cream cake, which had a delightful undertone of saltiness that played off the dark, jammy sweetness of the cherries and luscious creaminess of the chocolate quite nicely. I wasn't so sure about the so-called curry crisp though, finding the vadouvan-scented tuile rather jarring.

A note about the parking situation: Heinous, in a word. I was charged an unconscionable $35 for valet parking at the JW Marriott, the entrance of which is on the south side of Olympic. You can also park at the Ritz by turning in on Georgia (the two properties are internally connected), but the cost is identical. I'm no stranger to valet parking, but I can safely say that I've never been charged more for it in all my years of dining out (and people thought the $14 at XIV was bad). There was no posted pricing either, so I was left with a rather bad taste in my mouth at the end of the evening. I'd look into parking at LA Live to avoid the plunder.

A restaurant like WP24 has the potential to turn out horribly, horribly wrong, but fortunately, I was quite pleased with my experience here (discounting the parking debacle). I think that the place is much more than merely a "Chinois on Olympic." It seems like WP24's a step up in terms of finesse and execution, and I'd wager that it's more traditionally Chinese as well--which brings up a good point. The food here didn't strike me as all that "fusion-y," so to speak; for the most part, it seemed strongly based in classic Chinese cookery, but with a few twists here and there--Puck does Chinese, in effect. That's not a bad thing, mind you, as I found the food here superior to that at many "authentic" Chinese restaurants. WP24 may be gentrified, unabashedly expensive, even a touch obscene, but it's pretty damn tasty, too.