Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hatchi at Breadbar (Los Angeles, CA) [4]

Hatchi at Breadbar
10250 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90067
Thu 07/29/2010, 08:15p-10:45p

Breadbar Exterior
When we last encountered Chef Makoto Okuwa, he was serving up a 23-course dinner at his Manhattan Beach hot spot, Sashi. Since then, the former Masaharu Morimoto protégé made an appearance on Iron Chef America, losing, unfortunately, to Michael Symon. After showing up at Michael Voltaggio's final dinner at The Dining Room, Okuwa's latest move landed him squarely at BreadBar, where he was able to try his hand at Hatchi, the restaurant's monthly guest chef series.

For the uninitiated, Hatchi is a sequence 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), Brian Redzikowski (May '10), and Walter Manzke (Jun '10). Next Month, Chicks with Knives will serve up "Love & Kisses & BBQ," while September brings us "Girando Le Isole: A Menu Inspired by the Islands of Sicily and Sardinia," courtesy of Pizzeria Ortica alums Steve Samson and Zach Pollack.

Foodie types in attendance tonight included Alexandra B. and Amy K. from Yelp, Christie of Pardon My Crumbs, Darin of Darin Dines, Holly of The Michelin Project, Ila of I Nom Things, Linden of The Gastronomnom, and Mike of Right Way to Eat.

Makoto Okuwa Hatchi Menu
Above, we see Chef Okuwa's menu, entitled "Power of Miso," an ode to the ubiquitous Japanese ingredient. Click for a larger version.

Breadbar Epi
Breadbar Epi [$4.00] | Miso Butter
Breadbar's standard baguette arrived with three types of miso-infused butter. First was the white shiromiso, the mildest of the trio, showing off a pleasant sweetness on top of your typical buttery goodness. The red akamiso, on the other hand, was much heavier in savor, with a dark, umami-tinged essence. The barley-based mugi miso, finally, was somewhere in the middle, showing off a marked saltiness at first, while transitioning to a rather sugary finish.

Okuwa Watermelon
Okuwa had crafted three cocktails to pair with our meal, the first of which was his eponymous Okuwa Watermelon, made with shochu, lemon, gomme (sort of a gum arabic emulsified simple syrup), and, of course, watermelon. This chuhai-esque libation demonstrated juicy, delicious watermelon flavors initially, while the back end hinted at the slight nuttiness of the shochu. I appreciated how the cocktail was sweet, but not cloyingly so--a perfect drink for summer quaffing.

Miso Butter Poached Loch Duart Salmon
Miso Butter Poached Loch Duart Salmon [$8.00] | Feta Cheese, Micro Basil, Tomato Foam, Pesto Powder
Our first course of salmon came to us from Scotland's Loch Duart, one of the leading purveyors of sustainably farmed salmon in the world. I found the fish tremendously tender, succulent, and just beautifully cooked. The use of miso gave the salmon a subtly sweet attack, which deftly countered the slight brininess on the finish--superb. Meanwhile, the feta, basil, tomato, and pesto lent a somewhat Mediterranean cast to the dish, though the feta was a bit too domineering at times. Finally, I absolutely adored the textural contrast imparted by the air bread.

Asian Donuts Peach 'Taco'
Asian Donuts Peach "Taco" [$8.00] | Smoked Lobster, Miso Frozen Yogurt, Paddle Fish Caviar
Wrapped in yam potato shells, these were perhaps the most unconventional "tacos" that I've ever had. The smoky savor of the lobster was quite apparent at first, but this then led to the somewhat overbearing sweetness of peach and white miso, while the finish was dominated by the lingering brine of caviar. Unfortunately, given the rapidly crumbling shell and melting yogurt, the dish was difficult to eat, leading to uneven, unbalanced bites that didn't let the flavors meld as they should.

California Baby Squid and Tuna Sashimi 'Nuta'-Style
California Baby Squid and Tuna Sashimi "Nuta"-Style [$8.00] | Pickled Scallion, Wakame Seaweed Chips
Next up was one of my favorite courses of the meal. The squid came cooked to a wondrously supple consistency, and was stuffed with a lovely blue crab salad that deftly complemented the cephalopod's natural sweetness. At the same time, the pickled scallion and green onion purée, augmented by the application of sweetish vinegar sumiso and briny squid ink miso, provided sharp pricks of piquant power that served as superb counterpoints to the relative mildness of the squid--excellent. The tuna, meanwhile, was certainly up to par, tinged with a nice wasabi burn; but given the strength of the squid, it was overshadowed.

Shiso Mojito
Given the similarity between shiso and mint, using the leaf in place of, or in addition to mint is a no brainer. In fact, I'd had a similar drink three years ago in Denver at Zengo. In any case, the Shiso Mojito (shisojito? shishito?) here was composed of shiso, lime, rum, cachaça, agave, plum, and sesame seed (on the rim). The result was quite delicious, actually, with the sesame-umeboshi adding a fascinating nutty-sour finish to the combination of minty-tart flavors and earthy booze. I did find it fascinating that Okuwa added cachaça, making the drink somewhat of a mojito-caipirinha hybrid.

Sushi Rice Salad
Sushi Rice Salad [$8.00] | "Shikai Maki" Cucumber, Prosciutto, Tuna, Fontina, Miso Emulsion
During his tenure at Morimoto, Okuwa was known for his signature shikai maki, an elaborate square-shaped roll featuring tuna and prosciutto. At Breadbar, he presented a version with tuna, fontina cheese, and cucumber, all encased in a soy paper wrap. Taking a bite of the maki alone, I noted mild flavors of tuna, interspersed with a bit of gravity from the cheese, all leading to a cool, cucumber- and nori-tinged finish. Very enjoyable. The accompaniments, however, really took this dish to the next level. I appreciated the additional savoriness courtesy of the miso and ham, but what was even more appealing was the homemade Sriracha, which lent a fantastic heat to things. Also quite delectable was the mélange of beans and chickpeas in the dish, both of which added substantial weight and earthiness.

Taiwan Miso Ramen Soup
Taiwan Miso Ramen Soup [$8.00] | Ground Steak, Bean Sprouts, Red Hot Chili, Crispy Egg Noodle
At Sashi, I had Okuwa's signature Taiwan ramen noodle soup and loved it. I was expecting something similar here, but boy was I wrong--this "soup & sandwich" course was almost like a deconstructed version of the former dish! I first attacked the heady stew, and immensely relished its profound, spicy smack, imbued with the earthiness of wood ear mushroom and the zest of lemon verbena and mayu (a sauce of charred garlic). As good as the soup was, the "slider" was arguably better. Described by my dining companions as a fancy MOS Burger, the burger showed off fantastic hearty, peppery, and beefy flavors, beautifully balanced by the paired bean sprouts, the slice of naruto fish cake, tamago, and egg noodle "buns." A table favorite.

Nihon Teien
My final cocktail of the evening was the Nihon Teien, comprised of Grey Goose Le Citron, agave, apple juice, cucumber, and cucumber foam. The name means "Japanese garden," and given that nomenclature, I would've appreciated some more herbaceous notes on this one. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the cocktail, with its unabashed cucumber-y bouquet, strong flavors of apple, mild alcoholic burn, and salty finish.

Dengaku 'Trio'
Dengaku "Trio" [$8.00] | Braised Wagyu with Summer Truffle, Crispy Tofu with Kinome, Polenta with Chorizo
Our final savory of the night came in the form of dengaku, a style of grilling in which foods are coated in sweet miso and cooked. I started with the wagyu. Cooked so tender as to barely require chewing, it tasted deep, dark, and positively bovine (though not particularly truffle-y); one had to be careful, however, not to overwhelm the meat with the heavy savor of the accompanying Nagoya miso. Next up was the tofu, which had that great textural interplay of crisp exterior-fluffy interior that I crave. Its subtle sapor played nicely with its concomitants of sesame and kinome (Szechuan peppercorn leaves, used to make sansho). Finally, I devoured the polenta, the delicate flavor of which was marvelously countervailed by the piquant pinch of chorizo.

Caramel Miso Cream
Caramel Miso Cream [$8.00] | Almond Cinnamon Crumble, Apricot Sorbet, Butter Milk Foam
My last experience with a miso-based dessert at Providence left me a bit disconcerted, but fortunately, Okuwa's were a bit more approachable. The cream put forth prodigious notes of caramelized sugar initially, but this then led to a strong, savory miso finish with a touch of cinnamon; it was actually a bit overwhelming. Thankfully, the dessert was made whole by the application of the apricot sorbet, buttermilk, and pistachio, all of which beautifully tempered the caramel cream, finishing the dish.

Pliable Yuzu Curd
Pliable Yuzu Curd [$8.00] | Candied Raspberry, Chocolate Sponge, Dry Miso Powder, Sweet Miso Chips, Coconut Sorbet
We ended the evening with an almost Voltaggio-esque dessert. The curd, taken alone, had a pure, almost bracingly sour yuzu flavor that played surprisingly well with the gentle sugariness of the chocolate and saltiness of the miso. Simultaneously, the raspberry provided overarching notes of berry sweetness, while the close, again, was imbued with the essence of miso.

Okuwa's homage to fermented soybean was a risky move, given miso's ability to be rather off-putting, but he pulled it off admirably. The Chef was really able to highlight the various faces and facets of miso, and how the ingredient can be incorporated into cuisine in so many drastically different ways. Standout dishes included the ramen soup, squid, and sushi rice salad. Given that I've had Okuwa's food at Sashi, I can say that what he presented tonight was considerably different--more complex, more creative, more challenging--more my style.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Bastide (West Hollywood, CA) [3]

8475 Melrose Pl, West Hollywood, CA 90069
Mon 07/26/2010, 06:00p-09:40p

Since debuting in 2001, Bastide has firmly established itself as one of LA's most famous, and infamous, dining destinations. At the whim of its notoriously erratic, ill-tempered owner, Joe Pytka, Bastide has gone through a series of chefs: Alain Giraud, Ludovic Lefebvre, Walter Manzke, Paul Shoemaker, and now, one Joseph Mahon. I was quite impressed by Mahon's handiwork during my previous visit, so when I was invited to this special event to kick off the new "Mondays at Bastide," I jumped on the opportunity. Here's how it works: every Monday from 5:00-7:00, for $15, guests will be able to sip one of three wines by the glass, sup Bastide's signature Soju Martini, swig a weekly-changing cocktail, and savor small bites from the menu. Not a bad deal, if you ask me.

Joining me this lovely summer evening were: Caroline of Caroline on Crack; Dana Harris, editor for, author of The Knife, and creator of All About Eat; Diana of Diana Takes a Bite; Elina Shatkin, West Coast editor for Toque Magazine and author of Guzzle & Nosh; Eric Rosen, restaurant and wine contributor for and author of Eric the Epicure; Erin Magner, assistant editor at Angeleno magazine; Esther of e*star LA; Hadley Tomicki from Grubstreet; Jeff Miller, Los Angeles editor for Thrillist; Lindsay William-Ross, LAist co-editor; and Tony of SinoSoul. Meanwhile, representing Bread and Butter PR were Melissa Barto and Monique Ianos.

2006 Argyle Brut
As soon as I arrived (the first to do so), I was greeted by Melissa, and then, mere seconds later, handed a glass of the 2006 Argyle Brut by Bastide Sommelier Dario Dell'Anno. A sparkler from Oregon's Willamette Valley (58% Chardonnay and 42% Pinot Noir), the tipple demonstrated a crisp, chalky minerality, balanced by overtones of citrus and pear. A bit of yeastiness was present too, along with some lingering heat towards the end.

Canapé 1: Rillettes | Pickled Cherries/ Cashews
Monique and Hadley joined us soon after, and we subsequently moved into the courtyard to enjoy some sumptuous passed hors d'œuvre, the first of which was this delightful pork rillettes. Fantastically porcine in savor, the rillettes was deftly complemented by the sweetness of the cherries, while the cashews added just a hint of nuttiness and a superb crunch. Nice!

e*star LA
Cameras abound!

Chilled Corn Soup
Canapé 2: Chilled Corn Soup | Poached Shrimp/ Orange/ Curry Oil
Next up was a lovely summer soup. The curry oil really gave the potage a bold, heady aroma and a great tinge of spice that aptly balanced the sugariness of the corn. Meanwhile, the shrimp--still snappy in consistency--added considerable depth and character to the dish.

Yellowtail Tartare
Canapé 3: Yellowtail Tartare | Coconut/ Cilantro/ Capers/ Lime
Our final canapé came in spoonfuls: yellowtail tartar. Thanks to its various accoutrements, the hamachi was a fantastic showcase in light, bright, sweet, sour, and herbaceous flavors, paired with a slight puckering acidity--my favorite of the troika.

Group Photo
After spending the better part of an hour milling about and quaffing Argyle, we were instructed to take a seat at this point. The meal proper was about to commence...

2008 Éric Texier Condrieu Opâle
Dell'Anno then poured the 2008 Éric Texier Condrieu Opâle, from France's Northern Rhône. Though oft described as similar to a German Riesling, this was, in fact, an off-dry Viognier. I loved the wine's immensely floral nose, backed by tons of melon and stone fruit on the palate--perfect for fun, summer sipping.

Watermelon Salad
1: Watermelon Salad | Fried Chicken/ Tomato/ Feta/ Mache/ Aged Sherry Emulsion
In a city overrun by fried chicken, Mahon's version is still a force to be reckoned with. Delectable salty and succulent, the thigh paired wonderfully with the sweetness of the watermelon and tomato, while the feta added a palpable heft to the dish. Finishing things off beautifully was the marked tang of the mache.

2007 Domaine Alfred Chardonnay Chamisal Vineyards
The pairing for the next two courses was the 2007 Domaine Alfred Chardonnay Chamisal Vineyards, offering up flavors of toast and oak, with some apple and lemon in there as well.

2: Squid | Chickpeas/ Cucumber/ Chorizo/ Fennel
Here was another strong course from Mahon. I loved the squid's texture--tender, but yet with a bit of bite. The cephalopod's natural brine was heightened by the saltiness of the chorizo, which also contributed a prick of lingering heat on the finish. The fennel, meanwhile, provided a pleasing crunch to things, and also served as a zesty counterpoint to the dish.

Group Photo Group Photo

Tomato Risotto
3: Tomato Risotto | Artichoke/ Herb Salad/ Goat Cheese
Regular readers will know that I'm somewhat of a risotto fiend, so I was definitely looking forward to this next course. The rice was effectively imbued with the weighty smack of tomato, and was further augmented by the inclusion of chèvre. At the same time, the artichoke served as a further point of interest in the dish, and I really appreciated the herb salad as an offset to the other ingredients at play.

2001 Joseph Sabon Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Wine #4 brings us to Southern Rhône, and the 2001 Joseph Sabon Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This was a hefty wine, with a peppery, almost meaty nose. Such flavors continued onto the palate, where they were joined by notes of dark berry, wood, and spice.

4: Salmon | Beluga Lentils/ Snap Peas/ Port Wine Sauce
And here we come to my favorite course of the night, and one of the strongest presentations of salmon that I've ever tasted. The fish was cooked sous vide, then poached in olive oil, giving it a supremely succulent, tender, oily consistency and a stupendously savory relish. The salmon easily stood alone, but was also aptly accented by the piquant port reduction (which I'd feared would be overpowering), the earthiness imparted by the lentils, as well as the bright, green flavors of the peas.

2004 Michaud Syrah The Pinnacles
Our meat course called for the 2004 Michaud Syrah The Pinnacles, from California's Central Coast. This wine demonstrated tons of berry flavors, intermingled with peppery spice and herbs, and perked up by some firm tannins. A weighty wine for the lamb to follow.

5: Lamb | Carrot Puree/ Olive/ Grilled Zucchini/ Natural Jus
Lamb came perfectly cooked, showing off the animal's characteristically strong flavor, backed by a certain smokiness deftly tempered by zucchini. Interestingly, I thought for sure that I'd find the carrot purée overly saccharine, but instead, it was subtle, delicate, and a fitting accompaniment to the gravitas of the lamb.

Group Photo Group Photo

Chocolate Pudding Cake
6: Chocolate Pudding Cake | Peanuts/ Coconut Rum Ice Cream
This was perhaps the most conventional of the dishes that we had. Chocolate and ice cream is a classic, but effective pair. Here, the ice cream was tarted up with the addition of coconut and rum, while the peanuts imparted a nutty tinge to the dessert, as well as a great textural counterpoint.

Bastide Media Menu Bastide Menu Bastide Menu
Our special degustation is shown on the left, and I've also included photos of the standard à la carte selections. Click for larger versions.

Overall, this was an immensely enjoyable evening at Bastide, and in fact, I wish that we'd gotten to try more of the menu, as Mahon's cooking is as articulate and on-point as ever. Note that normally, the restaurant doesn't offer tasting menus, but they are available upon request. I think I know what I'm getting next time...

Joe Pytka's Bentley

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Lucques (West Hollywood, CA)

8474 Melrose Ave, West Hollywood, CA 90069
Sat 07/24/2010, 08:40p-11:25p

Lucques Exterior
I'm not sure that I'm ready to call Lucques an institution quite yet, but Suzanne Goin's seminal LA eatery is certainly headed toward that direction.

After working for Todd English at Olives and Mark Peel at Campanile, Goin started the restaurant in 1998 with business partner-cum-sommelier Caroline Styne. Lucques became wildly successful, thus paving the way for Goin's growing culinary empire, which now spans Lucques, AOC, The Hungry Cat (with husband David Lentz), and Tavern. I'd been meaning to pay this LA icon a visit for some time, and an invitation from kevinEats reader Collier (who'd organized the recent WP24 dinner) provided a perfect opportunity to do so.

Lucques Interior
Lucques Patio
Lucques is situated in the former carriage house of silent film star Harold Lloyd, redone to Goin's specifications by designer Barbara Barry. The goal was a sort of understated elegance, as evident in the space's brick walls, exposed trusses, flagstone floors, and inviting fireplace. One side of the room is home to a tiny 10-seater bar, which was, in fact, the inspiration behind Goin's wine bar, AOC. The most coveted seats, though, are out back, in the covered, ivy-enveloped garden patio.

Lucques Menu Lucques Drink Menu
Above, we see Lucques' seasonal, sustainable, Cal-Med menu, as well as the restaurant's drink selections. Click for larger versions.

Bread Basket Butter, Salt, Almonds
Bread was merely acceptable, but did come in a coiled bannelon basket. More intriguing were the olive oil-toasted almonds, eponymous Lucques olives, butter, and fleur de sel.

roll west
This was going to be a cocktail sort of night--I could feel it--so I began with the Roll West [$14], with Maker's Mark, cherry Heering, Schaner Farm citrus, and Galliano. The drink at first was shamelessly sweet, but its body was hot with the essence of the bourbon, moderated by overarching tones of citrus and herbs.

sweet corn soup
sweet corn soup [$12.00] | with roasted poblanos and toasted pepitas
The meal began with a pleasant surprise. I'm not a soup kinda guy, but this one managed to turn me, at least for a night. Reading the menu, I was concerned that the dish would be overly sweet due to the corn. However, though its quintessence was forcefully and succinctly conveyed, the nutty pepitas, in concert with the tangy cilantro and heat of the poblanos, managed to successfully moderate it, allowing a stunningly beautiful amalgam of flavors to coalesce.

lamb kibbeh-nayah
lamb kibbeh-nayah [$18.00] | with cucumber salad, purslane and garlic flatbread
Kibbeh refers to a minced meat dish popular in the Middle East, with kibbeh nayeh being a raw version, akin to a tartar. I loved the rich, deep flavors of the lamb here, and how it was so deftly complemented by the zing of cucumber and the cool, creamy yogurt. The flatbread, meanwhile, served as a moderating base for the whole interaction. Very nice.

moscow margarita rhum thai
The second round of drinks afforded me the opportunity to try the Moscow Margarita [$14], a great blend of beet-y sweetness and heat comprised of 2009 Tequila Ocho, lime, house spice blend, and yes, roasted beet. I also had the Rhum Thai [$14], with 10 Cane rum, lime, jalapeño, basil, and cilantro; this one demonstrated a great mishmash of sweet, herbal, and spicy flavors that I rather enjoyed as well.

ricotta dumplings
ricotta dumplings [$18.00] | with summer squash, pecorino and salsa verde breadcrumbs
Dumplings arrived irregularly shaped, but tasty. Delightfully creamy with a mild tang, they were deftly accented by the salty pecorino and the refreshing savor of summer squash. Particularly enjoyable were the breadcrumbs, which added a fantastic textural element to the dish.

market fish
market fish [$29.00] | with corn, fresh garbanzos, lamb's quarters and chili-cumin butter
The market fish was sea bass, as well as my favorite dish of the meal. It was spot on texturally, with a flaky, firm, yet supple consistency paired with a fantastically crisp skin that just begged to be eaten. The bass' savory, succulent flavors were perfectly matched by the bright, bold smack of the included vegetable medley, and I loved the hint of heat courtesy of the chili-cumin.

mississippi mustang 2008 Melville Pinot Noir Estate
Lucques features a periodically changing special cocktail, and on this occasion, it was the so-called Mississippi Mustang [$14], with Maker's Mark, nectarine purée, bitters, turmeric, coriander, and simple syrup. This was a thick, viscous concoction, with a strong, almost cloying sweetness on the attack, which was then balanced by the heady relish of whisky--quite lovely. For my final drink, I did succumb to the allure of wine, and thus ordered up a glass of the 2008 Melville Pinot Noir Estate [$11.50], from California's Central Coast. Think bold berry flavors, oak, and vanilla, with a strong peppery finish.

mustard-grilled chicken
mustard-grilled chicken [$26.00] | with young spinach, soft egg, pine nuts and parmesan pudding
Chicken oft gets overlooked on restaurant menus, but dishes such as this show that the bird can be just as big and as bold as its red-fleshed brethren. It showed off deep, dark flavors of chicken, beautifully countervailed by the sheer, runny lusciousness of the egg, while the bitter greens and zesty mustard aptly offset the bird's heft. Finishing things off here was the gorgeous nuttiness and crunch imparted by the pine nuts.

country-style pork chop
country-style pork chop [$29.00] | with cornbread-chorizo stuffing and glazed bing cherries
The pork turned out to be my least favorite course of the night. I found parts of the pig to be a bit tough in texture, and while the porcine relish that I expected was there, it was somewhat overshadowed by the cherries and cornbread stuffing. I also would've liked more spice from the chorizo.

Lucques Dessert Menu
Dessert comes to us courtesy of Pastry Chef Christina Olufson. Click for a larger version.

beignets [$12.00] | with peaches, bourbon caramel and butter pecan ice cream
Beignets were delivered piping hot and filled with luxurious, creamy, buttery goodness. They were tempered somewhat by the light, refreshing zing of peach, while the bourbon caramel added distinct boozy tinge to things. The strongest accoutrement, clearly, though, was the ice cream, with its slightly nutty relish that complemented the pastry superbly.

profiteroles [$12.00] | with vanilla ice cream, apricots, pistachios and chocolate
As good as the beignets were, I liked the profiteroles even more. Stuffed with ice cream, the globules of puff pastry were fantastic on their own, but even better when paired with the nutty bits of pistachio and fruity, tangy slices of apricot. Immensely satisfying.

A restaurant from the City's native daughter, Lucques is quintessential LA, having served up rustic, unfussy, yet sophisticated "comfort food" to hungry Angelenos for over a decade. It's classic, timeless even, but still manages to give diners a breath of fresh air at each meal. In a city forever chasing the latest fad, Lucques is exactly what we need.