Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Test Kitchen (Los Angeles, CA) [21]

Test Kitchen
9575 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90035
Thu 11/30/2010, 07:00p-10:15p

Toward the end of the recent Bocuse d'Or dinner at Providence, I chatted a bit with one of the participating chefs, Walter Manzke, and during our discussion, he filled me in on his return to Test Kitchen. Rumors of his reappearance had been circulating for weeks, so I was happy to see the speculation come to fruition. I wasn't surprised that he was coming back, but I was surprised to hear what he was going to be cooking. Inspired by his recent trip to Spain, Manzke was to team up with Chef Perfecto Rocher of The Blvd restaurant at the Beverly Wilshire to present an extensive menu of Spanish tapas.

Rocher, for his part, is a native of Valencia, Spain, and, like Manzke, is also a former stagiaire of the famed El Bulli. Rocher started out as a dishwasher at the Manor House Hotel in England, then moved to the likes of Gary Danko and Manresa in the Bay Area, Picasso in Las Vegas, Arrop and Martin Berasategui in Spain, and was most recently Chef de Cuisine at San Francisco's Campton Place (a follow-up gig at Chez Papa Bistrot fell through).

Other notables in the house tonight: 213 Ventures CEO Cedd Moses (Caña, Cole's, Seven Grand, Varnish, and more), Christina of Food Je T'aime, Jo of My Last Bite (with ex-husband Brent), Mozza manager Kate Green, Sous Chef Phillip Lee from Hatfield's, Ryan of Epicuryan, in-house photographer Ryan Tanaka, New York Giants co-owner and film producer Steve Tisch, restaurateur Steven Arroyo (Cobras & Matadors, Church & State, Potato Chips, Esquela), and Tsz of Gastrophoria

Our hostess Daisy, looking as beautiful and lovely as always.

Test Kitchen (Walter Manzke & Perfecto Rocher) Menu Test Kitchen (Walter Manzke & Perfecto Rocher) Wine List Test Kitchen (Walter Manzke & Perfecto Rocher) Bar/Cocktail Menu
Manzke and Rocher's menu of 20 "bites" (not courses, confusingly) was priced at a reasonably $65, plus $30 for wine pairing. Cocktails by Devon Tarby and Dave Fernie were on offer for $12 each. Click for larger versions.

Red Sun Buck In Memoriam
Red Sun Buck [$12.00] | hibiki 12, drysack, ginger, beet, lemon, effervescence
In Memoriam [$12.00] | spiced cider, apple brandy, merlot, citrus, mexican coke
As usual, we began with a duet of cocktails. I was enamored with the deep scarlet hue of the Red Sun Buck, and didn't mind its flavor either: tangy and boozy with a ginger-laced attack, leading to the sweetness of beet on the close. The In Memoriam, sort of a take on a sangria, was even better. I loved its interplay of sweet and spicy flavors over a weighty, vinous body of merlot--very nice.

Toastados 'rich and poor'
1: Toastados "rich and poor" | Marcona almonds and fried chickpeas
We were told that, historically, the rich in Spain ate almonds while the poor consumed chickpeas, hence this bowl of toasted Marconas and garbanzos to start. They both showed off a delightful crunch and saltiness, with the almonds hinting at a bit of sweetness as well.

2: Txakoli | Gindilla pepper, olive, boquerones
Next up was an intriguing shooter of sorts. The marriage of guindilla, olive, and boquerones (anchovy) deftly conveyed a fascinating interplay of tart, briny, and piquant flavors, which were subsequently tempered by the shot of effervescent, acidic Txakoli wine. A long, lingering finish on this one.

Iberico ham + Pan y Tomate
3: Iberico ham
4: Pan y Tomate | tomato bread, Arbequina olive oil
Jamón ibérico was delicious, as expected, with a silky, smooth consistency backed up by a delectably savory, almost melt-in-your-mouth flavor. The pan y tomate was more interesting, with the sweetness of the tomatoes going along nicely with the salty tang of the chorizo topping, all under the overarching weight of olive oil and garlic. My only concern with these two bites was that the bread was a bit too toasty; I would've liked something softer.

Cava and Meyer lemon Manchego Txurros
5: Cava and Meyer lemon & Manchego Txurros
A shot of Cava and lemon served as a sort of palate cleanser--intense and lip-puckering in its bright, citric tang. This was followed up with some gorgeous Queso Manchego churros, with a great bit of cheesy savor balanced by just a touch of sweetness. Delish, and somewhat reminiscent of the Chinese you tiao from which they are derived.

Papas Arrugadas
6: Papas Arrugadas | wrinkled potatoes, Mojo picon, mojo verde
I usually love papas arrugadas (wrinkly potatoes), but these lacked the characteristic punch that I was looking for. The taters were nicely textured, but I really wanted to taste more salt. At the same time, I wanted more heat, more zest from the included mojo picon, and the mojo verde was nowhere to be seen!

Two gazpachos
7: Two gazpachos
Here, the Chefs combined ajoblanco (a cold soup with almonds, grapes, and garlic) with a traditional gazpacho. The combination was quite effective--a refreshing potage with tasty, tangy, complex vegetal flavors over a backbone of oil and garlic.

Montadillo #1 + Montadillo #2
8: Montadillo #1 | Kumomoto oyster and bone marrow
9: Montadillo #2 | sea urchin, garbanzo aioli
Montadillos are bite-size sandwiches often consumed with alcohol in Spain. The first of the two featured my favorite oyster, Kumamoto, and bone marrow. The brine of the oyster was delightfully intense here, yet deftly balanced by the weight of the marrow. The urchin version was also quite tasty, with the ocean-y sweetness of uni tempered beautifully by the moderating effect of garbanzo. Again though, I wish that the bread here were softer.

His Hers
His/Hers [$12.00x2] | choose a genever cocktail
Devon Tarby and Dave Fernie were manning the bar tonight, and each came up with their own version of a jenever (a gin-like liquor) cocktail. His, Dave's, was smoky with a marked whiskey character, tempered a bit by the aroma of orange zest (one of my dining companions compared it to an Old Fashioned). Hers, on the other hand, was more floral, vegetal, and bitter, with a slight bit of citric sweetness.

10: Coca | sardine, tomato confit, ginger ice cream
Next was a take on a classic Spanish pastry: the coca. As expected, the sardine was imbued with a focused, fishy savor. I was a bit concerned about the tomato, but its sweetness, in concert with the pastry dough, did actually moderate the sardine rather effectively. I wasn't so keen on the ginger ice cream and coffee crumbs, however, finding them far too sugary for the fish. One of my dining companions even described this as "phyllo dough sushi."

Bunelos de Bacalao
11: Bunelos de Bacalao | fried salt cod and potato
I've become sort of a salt cod slut over the past couple years, and this was one of the strongest presentations of bacalao that I've ever had. I adored the unabashed saltiness of the dish, but I appreciated how the potato and olive oil grounded the fish, and how there was a bit of a vegetal element here as well. Absolutely lovely.

Mariscos + Gambas & Navajas + Calcots
12: Mariscos | bay scallops, mussels and clams
13: Gambas & Navajas | Spanish red prawn & razor clam a la plancha, Picaeta
14: Calcots | charcoal grilled green onions, romesco
Following was our most substantial plate, a cornucopia of various seafood: razor clam, clams, mussels, bay scallops, and Spanish red prawn, garnished with grilled calçot (green onion) and romesco sauce. All of the shellfish dutifully showed off their characteristic brine, with my favorite item being the clams, and I liked the inclusion of the piquant romesco and sweet-smoky calçot. I would've preferred a bit more cooking, though, as some of the seafood was a bit too rare for me.

15: Fideua | calamari, honey aioli
Here was a paella-like dish made with small, thin fideuà noodles, a specialty of Chef Rocher. I appreciated the light brine of the dish, as well as the marked garlic character of the pasta, but I wanted more calamari, as well as a firmer, more al dente texture on the noodles.

16: Dorada | Mediterranean Sea Bream, baby spinach, pine nuts, raisins
One of my favorite courses of the evening was the beautifully prepared orata, or gilt-head sea bream. I loved the fish's texture as well as its savory, mouth-watering flavor, deftly balanced by the slight bitterness of spinach. Very nice.

Pop Quiz Back Sage Pass
Pop Quiz [$12.00] | bourbon, italian vermouth, amaro, house chocolate-guajillo bitters
Back Sage Pass [$12.00] | gin, amaro, maple, lemon, sage
The Pop Quiz was a hefty, viscous, bittersweet concoction with a almost cough medicine-esque character. Meanwhile, the Back Sage Pass was sweet with a strong herbaceous character; I likened it to "drinking a Christmas tree!"

Tortilla Espanol
17: Tortilla Espanol | blood sausage, soft egg, potato foam, chorizo oil
I've never been a huge fan of blood sausage, but absolutely adored this preparation. The morcilla was fantastic alone, showing off a bold, heady savor balanced by what I believe was the inclusion of rice. At the same time, the potato helped temper the dish even further, and how could I not appreciate the lusciousness of that runny egg? Excellent.

18: Cerdo | Pork Belly, Rioja Sauce
Pork belly, unfortunately, was a bit of a letdown. The meat itself was a touch chewier than I'd like, and the flavors of Rioja, pear, and celery paired with the pig seemed a bit unbalanced. It almost had an Asian tinge to it, but not quite.

Mel I Mato
19: Mel I Mato | fresh cheese, honey
Our first dessert brought us a tiny quenelle of housemade goat cheese, topped with wildflower honey and a dehydrated quince paste "leather." I actually enjoyed this, finding the subtle saltiness of the cheese a fitting match to the brazen sweetness of honey and fruit.

Crème Catalan
20: Crème Catalan | baked custard, cinnamon, tangerine
We closed with a glass of crema catalana, basically Spain's answer to the vaunted crème brûlée. What struck me most here was the dessert's delightful trace of cinnamon spice, as well as the sharp citrus tang of the tangerine sorbet at the bottom. A table favorite.

Earl Grey Salted Caramel Macaron
Christina of Food, Je T'aime was kind enough to bring along some of her homemade Earl Grey Salted Caramel macarons. She is, of course, well-known as a bit of a macaron maniac, and this was one of her most ambitious efforts yet. It paid off, though, as the macaron was one of the best I've ever had, showing off a beautiful interplay between the fragrant flavors of the tea and the salted sweetness of caramel. I loved the rich, chewy consistency of the caramel as well, and how it played with the falling-apart delicate shells. Christina once claimed that her macarons were superior to those of famed Parisian pâtisserie Ladurée; now I see why!

The idea of Manzke and Rocher doing a collaborative tapas night seemed like a curious idea to me, but they worked it out admirably despite a handful of misfires. What I liked most about the dinner was how they managed to present Spanish classics in new, creative manners while still preserving the original character of the traditional dish. If either of the two Chefs are thinking of opening a Spanish restaurant, then I'm certainly game!

Walter Manzke, Perfecto Rocher, Christian Page

Previous Test Kitchen posts: 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).

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Café Pinot (Los Angeles, CA)

Café Pinot
700 W 5th St, Los Angeles, CA 90071
Wed 11/24/2010, 07:00p-11:45p

Café Pinot Exterior

On Monday, November 29th, Café Pinot's Kevin Meehan will be taking over the stoves at Test Kitchen, one-night-only. In anticipation of the event, the Chef invited me up to the restaurant to sample a tasting menu specially created to celebrate the fall season.

About the Chef: A native of Long Island, Kevin Meehan began his culinary career working at a local restaurant in his hometown. After graduating from high school, he enrolled in the Culinary Arts program at Johnson and Wales University in Providence, RI, and during his time here, externed at Brussels' Michelin-starred L'Alban Chambon at the Metropole Hotel, under Chef Dominique Michou. Following, Meehan moved back to New York to cook for Guy Reuge at his Long Island eatery Mirabelle. During this period, the Chef also worked stints at other local restaurants to gain further experience. He eventually relocated to Los Angeles and found employment at the legendary L'Orangerie, under none other than Ludovic Lefebvre. Next up was Bastide, where he served as opening Sous Chef for the inimitable Alain Giraud.

After Giraud's well-publicized departure from Bastide, Meehan became Executive Chef of the short-lived Citrine. Located at 8360 Melrose in West Hollywood, the location was formerly the home of the famed Ma Maison (Wolfgang Puck's first restaurant), Tulipe, Itameshi Ya, Jozu (where Suzanne Tracht cut her teeth), and Hamasaku, and is where Michael Voltaggio will be opening his first restaurant, Ink. Following Citrine's shutter in 2005, Meehan took on the Chef de Cuisine role at Patina (under Theo Schoenegger). Interestingly, he was first introduced to Patina through an internship he had at the original restaurant on Melrose (the current home of Providence). In any case, Meehan stayed until March 2008, when he became Executive Chef at Joachim Splichal's now-defunct seafooder Paperfish. He replaced opening chef Yianni Koufodontis, who left after three months following a devastating half-star review from SIV. After the restaurant folded, Meehan moved to Café Pinot, where he currently serves as Executive Chef.

Café Pinot Main Dining Room
Café Pinot Kitchen
Café Pinot Garden Patio
Situated adjacent to the Los Angeles Public Library's landmark central branch, Café Pinot's dining room features floor-to-ceiling windows affording diners striking views of the Downtown skyline. Weather permitting, seating is also available outdoors in the Garden Patio, next to the Library's Maguire Gardens.

Café Pinot Tasting Menu Café Pinot Menu Café Pinot Menu
Above, we see the special nine-course menu (with wine pairing) that Chef Meehan prepared. Though not advertised, tasting menus of various lengths are actually available normally; just ask. I've also included photos of the regular menu as well for reference. Click for larger versions.

Potato Chips
A small bowl of potato chips was quickly presented before us. They were superb, showing off a wonderful bit of saltiness and an absolutely lovely crisp yet pliant consistency.

Japanese Hamachi
1: Japanese Hamachi | black garlic / ruby grapefruit / candied ginger
allimante laugner, cremant rose, alsace, nv
Our first course of hamachi was suitably clean-tasting, with just a slight bit of unctuousness augmented by the weight of olive oil. The citric sweetness of the grapefruit was an apt pair to the yellowtail, while the black garlic added an even more saccharine focal point to the dish.

Yellow Fin Tuna Sashimi
2: Yellow Fin Tuna Sashimi | Peruvian potato / avocado / vadouvan curry
laboure-roi, les sanliers, reserve, burgundy, france
Tuna came out on a massive disk of salt; I resisted the urge to lick it and instead tucked into the yellowfin. The vadouvan spice was an interesting counter to the relative mildness of the fish, but the key here for me was the Peruvian potato, which, in concert with the creamy avocado, did a fantastic job in moderating the dish. I appreciated the lovely bitter tang from the greenery as well.

Pan Seared Diver Sea Scallop
3: Pan Seared Diver Sea Scallop | vichyssoise cream / leek fondue / potato crust
von simmern, rheingau, germany
Next up was arguably my favorite course of the evening. The scallop was expertly cooked, showing off a fantastic bit of brine that was perfectly balanced by the bright, vegetal astringency of the greens (pea shoots?). At the same time, the use of potato grounded things, and lent the dish a certain weightiness that was much appreciated. Very nice.

Wild Mushroom Risotto
4: Wild Mushroom Risotto | truffle shavings / parmesan frico / chantilly cream
tangent, ecclestone, california
As regular readers might know, the best risotto I've had came from my first visit to Patina over three years ago. Coincidentally, Meehan was the restaurant's Chef de Cuisine at the time, so it may very well have been him that turned out that infamous bowl of rice. Well, he did it again, presenting us with a risotto that was comparable to the 2007 version. The dish conveyed a wonderful luxuriousness, a certain amount of creaminess that was deftly augmented by the use of the Parmesan crisp. At the same time, I loved the interplay between the earthy mushrooms and the heady savor of the black truffles, making for a very well balanced risotto indeed. Immensely enjoyable.

Hidden Rose Apple
Before our next course came out, Chef Meehan presented us with a Hidden Rose apple, a red-fleshed varietal from Oregon just coming into season in November.

Brown Butter Poached Alaskan Halibut
5: Brown Butter Poached Alaskan Halibut | hidden rose apple / smoked bacon / petit chanterelles
tariquet, ugni blanc/colombard, cote de gascogne, france
Halibut came cooked to a supple, somewhat flaky consistency and was expectedly mild in flavor, a canvas for the other ingredients on the plate. I really appreciated the smoky saltiness imparted by the crisp strips of bacon, as well as the umami-rich taste of the chanterelles. However, I found the aforementioned Hidden Rose apple rather sugary, cloying in its sweetness.

Hudson Valley Foie Gras
6: Hudson Valley Foie Gras | hachiya persimmon / ginger bread streusel / pinot noir jus
chanson, bourgogne rouge, burgundy, france
Foie gras arrived seared to a near-perfect consistency, and showed off the extraordinarily rich, musky, buttery flavors that I was expecting. However, the paired persimmon and streusel especially were too saccharine for my tastes, masking the character of the foie somewhat.

Compressed Shelton Farms Chicken
7: Compressed Shelton Farms Chicken | savory pain perdu / dried fruit compote / brussel sprout petals
cotes du rhone, ogier, heritages, france
This next dish, designed to evoke the traditional flavors of Thanksgiving, instantly reminded me of a chicken dish that I had recently at LudoBites. Given that Meehan worked for Ludo at L'Orangerie, perhaps I shouldn't be surprised. The chicken was comprised of both white meat and dark meat sections, joined together using meat glue (à la Ludo). The result was a juicy, succulent, tender bird with a fabulously herbaceous flavor. The pain perdu, meanwhile, served as a hearty "stuffing," and I thoroughly enjoyed the astringency contributed by the Brussels sprouts.

Pine Cone Smoked
A smoldering pine cone from our next course.

Cote de Boeuf
8: Cote de Boeuf | pine cone smoked fingerlings / mirepoix soigné / bordelaise sauce
conscilience, santa barbara, california
Rib steak was beautifully cooked, tender, with a great crust, and teeming with bovine sapor. The meat easily stood by itself, though the veggies did help counter the sheer gravity of the beef. Of note were the fingerlings, with their rich, rustic, smoky savors pairing superbly with the meat.

Chocolate Mousse Gateau
9: Chocolate Mousse Gateau | hazelnut crunch / cocoa soil / bitter chocolate paint
elysium, black muscat, madera, california
Chocolate cake was tasty, with dark, sweet flavors nicely accented by the nutty crunch of hazelnuts. The paired ice cream, though not unexpected, was certainly a welcomed counter.

Despite a too-sweet preparation of foie gras, this was nonetheless an enjoyable meal overall. There were some great dishes presented tonight, and it was fun to see a bit more creativity and flair from Chef Meehan's repertoire. If you find yourself at Café Pinot, I urge to you put aside the standard menu and give him carte blanche.

Café Pinot Garden Patio

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Royce (Pasadena, CA)

The Royce
1401 S Oak Knoll Ave, Pasadena, CA 91106
Thu 11/18/2010, 07:00p-12:45a

The Royce Entrance
During Michael Voltaggio's tenure at The Dining Room, the Chef's cutting-edge creations undoubtedly revitalized the otherwise staid restaurant. Despite that, the juxtaposition between Voltaggio's progressive cookery and the restaurant's rather dated surroundings was just too incongruous, apparently, and hotel management was eager to renovate the space to better suit the cuisine. However, Voltaggio desperately wanted a place all to himself, and when he announced his departure, I don't think that any of us were terribly surprised. We were thus left, of course, wondering who his replacement would be. After an exhaustive search, the Langham recently named David Féau to take over the reins at the restaurant, now rechristened The Royce (after former owner/manager Stephen W. Royce).

About the Chef: Born in 1972 in Le Mans, France, David Féau grew up cooking at his mother's side. He began his formal culinary education at age 13 when he started a vocational cooking program, and at 16, moved to Provence for his first real restaurant job. Then, at age 20, Féau received his degree from the École Hôtelière, Hélène Boucher in his hometown of Le Mans. After graduation, he worked in Paris and surroundings (including a stint at Relais Carre d'Or with Jean-Claude Boucheret) before meeting his mentor, Guy Savoy. Féau started at the bottom at Savoy's eponymous restaurant, and after three and a half years of hard work, had mastered every single position on the line.

Wanting a new challenge, he moved to Bistrots de l'Etoile, a restaurant that opened in the late 1980's during the bistro revolution. Savoy had taken over the place, and tapped Féau to revitalize it. After just a year, l'Etoile was widely recognized as one of the best in the City. In early 1998, Féau moved to the Michelin-starred Le Miravile, where he became Executive Chef. Following, he returned to Guy Savoy and stayed for two more years, reaching the rank of Chef de Cuisine. Wanting to try his hand at something new, Féau then took an Executive Chef position at the Mediterranean-inspired Latitude 40 & Version Sud in Paris, but the restaurant quickly folded. He then returned to Savoy once again, and helped his longtime mentor open another restaurant, but after a few months, he decided that he wanted to strike out on his own.

The Chef encountered significant difficulty in opening his own place in Paris, and decided to move to New York at the urging of Le Bernardin's Eric Ripert. Ripert introduced him to Jacques Le Magueresse, a managing partner at André Soltner's legendary Lutèce, and in 2001, Le Magueresse quickly brought Féau onboard to help modernize the restaurant's menu. Once he finished with Lutèce in 2003, he took over the institution's Las Vegas location at The Venetian. 2005 then saw the Chef move to Georges Forgeois' Cercle Rouge back in New York, where he garnered significant praise for his reimagined bistro classics. In 2006, Féau relocated to Los Angeles, where he became Executive Chef at Café Pinot. Two years later, he was promoted to Corporate Executive Chef for Patina Group's West Coast operations, a role that he left earlier this year to helm The Royce.

Eric Espuny Eric Espuny
The Royce, Red Room
Upon entering the restaurant, we were quickly ushered into the Red Room, one of the restaurant's two wine cellars. We were then joined by GM and Wine Director Eric Espuny, whom I instantly recognized from my first visit to Patina over three years ago. He proceeded to pour us flutes of bubbly from producer Quartz Reef out of Central Otago, New Zealand. It was a delicious sparkler, showing off beautiful notes of apple and lemon over a faint backbone of yeast--very quaffable. We were then left alone for a bit, enabling us to chat and enjoy more wine, before being called to dinner.

The Royce, White Room
The Royce, White Room
Across the way is The Royce's White Room, which, as the name implies, houses the restaurant's white (and rosé, I suppose) wine collection. It's a colder space, both figuratively and literally.

The Royce, Dining Room
Completely renovated by Atlanta's Johnson Studio, The Royce's new space is keenly contemporary, in line with Féau's cuisine, yet not out of character with classic character of The Langham as a whole. In addition to the wine rooms described above, The Royce now features a glass-enclosed veranda with views of the garden, as well as an eight-seater Chef's Table. The former Private Dining Room has been done away with.

The Royce, Chef's Table
Separated from the main dining room by a flowery glass partition, the Chef's Table provides a glimpse into Féau's kitchen. Note that there's a $1000 minimum charge to sit here, which turned out to be a non-issue for my party of seven.

The Royce Chef's Table Menu
The 12-course Chef's Table menu of Féau's contemporary Cal-French fare was priced at $150 per person, plus an additional $75 for wine pairings by Eric Espuny. If you find yourself in the regular dining room, ordering is done à la carte, or there's also a five-course tasting for $85. Click for a larger version.

1: CALF LIVER | PICKLED CONCORD GRAPES | sunchoke soup, cajun spices, smoked herring "friend"
Central Otago, Quartz Reef, Brut, New Zealand, NV
Our meal began promptly with a trio of amuse bouches. I first tasted the sunchoke soup with black truffle and olive oil. It was perhaps the best preparation of sunchoke that I've ever had, a hearty, heartwarming potage that showed off a heady, intensely savory, almost briny character that I adored. Next up was a puff pastry filled with smoked herring mousse, with the brazen fishiness of the mousse playing beautifully off the relative mildness of the pastry. Finally, I tried the seared calf's liver with concord grapes, a perfect interplay between the juicy sweetness of grape and the mild savor of the liver. Overall, a very promising start to dinner.

House-Baked Breads Rye, Pain Noir, Butter
All bread is baked in-house by Chef Féau. Four varieties were on offer tonight, and I began with a beautifully-textured pain noir and a fantastic rye bread.

2: LOBSTER | POMEGRANATE | slow poached lobster, coleman's farm butter lettuce, sweet onion, pomegranate hot and snow
Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Sant'Elena, Traminer Aromatico, Italy, 2008
Féau's first course brought us the best "lobster salad" that I've ever eaten. The crustacean was expertly cooked to a supple, yet snappy consistency, while its inherent sweetness was deftly augmented by the inclusion of pomegranate (in both warm sauce and cold nitro powdered form). As good as the pomegranate was, the sweet onions, in concert with red miso emulsion, grapefruit, and currant tomatoes, were even better, and I loved the moderating effect of the lettuce. A wonderful study in contrasting temperatures and textures, beautifully paired with a fresh, spicy, floral Traminer from producer Sant'Elena.

3: CABBAGE | OYSTER | savoy cabbage and oyster velouté, crème fraiche mignonette, domestic caviar
Cheverny, Pascal Bellier, Loire Valley, France, 2009
Upon being presented this dish, I was instantly reminded of Thomas Keller's iconic "Oysters and Pearls." Flavor-wise though, it was a drastically different experience. The Hama Hamas showed off a lovely brininess--heightened by the caviar--that was adroitly counterbalanced by the mild cabbage and subtle tanginess of the crème fraiche, while the finish was awash in delectable, lingering tones of black pepper. The slight savoriness in the paired Cheverny worked very well with the flavor of the oysters, and I even made sure to sop up the remaining liquid with my bread!

Olive Bread, Bacon Bread
Here we see Féau's olive and bacon breads.

David Féau David Féau
Chef Féau stepped out of the kitchen to serve his casserole tableside.

4: PORCINI | PEAR | porcini and chestnut casserole "au four," parsley, kosui pear
Xérès, Amontillado, Gonzalez-Byass, "Del Duque", Spain, NV
The Chef's oven baked porcini mushroom and chestnut casserole was a quintessential, pure expression of the autumn season. I really appreciated the earthy, woodsy taste of the cèpes, while the chestnuts added a sweet, nutty, rustic tinge to the dish, a flavor profile mirrored in the accompanying Amontillado. Meanwhile, the shaved pear helped lighten things up with a crisp, saccharine succulence.

Extra: SCALLOP | LOBSTER ROE | seared diver scallop, lobster roe sauce, caviar, finger lime, braised endive, fennel
Chablis 1er Cru, Domaine Testut, Montee de Tonnerre, Burgundy, France, 2008
A surprise course of scallop was next. The bivalve, naturally, was deftly cooked to a beautiful sear, and of course, the salty kick of caviar and heady lobster was a great pairing with the mollusc. What was interesting here though was the use of finger lime, which gave the scallop an unforeseen, but not unwelcomed sour prick. The endive, at the same time, helped ground the dish.

5: SALSIFI | SALSIFI | salsifi four ways, puree, braised, ash, fried
Montlouis, François Chidaine, "Les Tuffeaux", Loire Valley, France
Féau's most unconventional dish of the night was this four-way of salsify, served puréed with goat cheese, braised, rolled in leek ash, and fried in Cajun spices. It was great to see the different faces of salsify, vastly distinct, yet each sharing common traits. The braised preparation was the most straightforward presentation on the plate, while the ash-coated version was the most intense, with a marked bitterness counteracting the weight of the root vegetable. My favorite though, was the fried variation, as I really appreciated how its Cajun spice paired with the relative subtle savor of the oyster plant.

6: BERKSHIRE PORK | DATE | apple cider braised pork belly, hallway dates chutney, carol potato
Montlouis, François Chidaine, "Les Tuffeaux", Loire Valley, France
Pork belly conveyed plenty of signature porcine goodness, with a nice interaction of crisp skin and tender meat. There were a lot of potentially saccharine items on the plate here--apple cider sabayon, caramelized apple, apple skin crisp, date chutney--and I was concerned that the sugariness would be overwhelming. Fortunately though, the sweetness was kept in check, making for a well-balanced course, and also went well with the marked notes of honey and stone fruit in the paired wine. The potato crémeuse, on the other hand, tempered the dish. One of my dining companions even described this as "Thanksgiving in your mouth!"

7: JOHN DORY | VENT BASQUE | st pierre fillet, à la plancha, black bread, iberico ham, gundillas bacalao sauce
Irouléguy, Herri Mina, France
Dory was delicious, flaky in consistency and beautifully accompanied by a topping of garlic, piquillo, espelette, and black bread that gave the dish a delightful sweet-peppery flavor. I could've done without the eggplant, but the inclusion of fingerling was genius. I loved how the relative mildness of the potato went with the salty Jamón Ibérico and the brazen brine of the bacalao (salt cod) dressing.

8: GUINEA HEN | CAVIAR | skinless roasted guinea hen, chestnut milk, domestic caviar, spinach leaves
Tuscany, Aia Vecchia, "Lagone", Italy, 2007
I believe that this was actually my first time having guinea hen. We were given both white and dark meat portions, with the latter being noticeably more luscious. The bird's flavor was somewhat fuller flavored versus chicken, though its texture was very similar. I really appreciated the lingering brine imparted by the caviar, as well as the tempering effect of the chestnut milk gelatin. My favorite element of the dish, though, was actually the spinach, which brought a fantastic bit of astringency into play.

9: VENISON | LYCHEE | roasted venison loin, red cabbage ginger-lychee compote, sweet potato, snap peas
Saint Chinian, Borie La Vitarelle, "Les Schistes", Languedoc-Roussillon, France
Venison arrived poached and pan seared to a nicely tender consistency. Taste wise, it was suitably meaty, with a beautiful peppery tinge that really went well with the spicy paired Saint Chinian. The Okinawan sweet potato and lychee gave the course a bit of sweetness, which was fortunately tempered by the pea purée and tangy red cabbage.

10: CAMEMBERT | COING | camembert croquette, persimmon, quince purée, cherry vinegar, mâche
Jurançon, Clos Uroulat, Charles Hours, France, 2007
This was one of the strongest cheese courses that I've had in a while. The texture of the cheese croquette was stupendous--crisp and crunchy outside, but wonderfully creamy inside. The accompanying sweetness of persimmon and quince was well thought out, while the mâche tempered the reaction.

Eric Espuny Akili Steward, Eric Espuny
Towards the end of dinner, Espuny presented all of the night's wine, and thanked our server Akili Steward for his wonderful service over the course of the meal.

11: CHOCOLATE | BLACK CURRANT | variation of chocolate textures
Xérès, Moscatel, Emilio Lustau, "Emilin", Spain, NV
Chocolate cake with fleur de sel was joined by chocolate tuile, chocolate gelée noodles, chocolate sorbet with olive oil, and black currant sorbet. It was nice to experience the different tastes and textures of chocolate here, while the currant provided a tart, fruity counterbalance. Very nice with the paired Moscatel and its chocolate, coffee, and date flavors.

Mignardises Mignardises
Some sweet bites to end the meal: a fruit tart with currant chutney, a classic crème brûlée in a chocolate ramekin, and a slightly savory cheese tart with a great graham cracker crust. Once we were done with that, another plate arrived, this one holding three types of chocolate leaves: white chocolate with espelette pepper, dark chocolate with fleur de sel, and a mild caffè latte chocolate.

Voltaggio's cooking was deemed too avant garde for the Pasadena crowd, so one of the goals of Féau's fare was to present a high level of sophistication and innovation, yet still be accessible for locals. In that regard, the Chef has succeeded with flying colors. He had some big shoes to fill, but he's doing a great job, putting out food that's exciting, yet approachable, and most importantly of all, still tastes good. This is arguably Michelin two-star caliber cooking we're talking about here, making Féau is a worthy successor indeed.

Eric Espuny, David Féau, Alex Ageneau