Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Haven Gastropub (Orange, CA)

Haven Gastropub
190 S Glassel St, Orange, CA 92866
Wed 12/29/2010, 07:00p-08:35p

Haven Gastropub Exterior
A British portmanteau of gastronomy and pub, a gastropub refers to a pub (itself short for public house) that serves particularly high-quality food. The idea was born in 1990's London, but eventually spread 'cross the pond, quickly taking hold in the US. In LA, the archetype is perhaps best exemplified by the likes of BoHo, Father's Office, Ford's Filling Station, The Lab, Laurel Tavern, Lazy Ox Canteen, The Six, Waterloo & City, and The Yard. Inevitably, the gastropub movement moved down south, first manifesting itself in September 2007 with the opening of Crow Bar and Kitchen in Corona del Mar. Crow Bar was eventually joined by the likes of Haven in September 2009, and SideDoor at Five Crowns in December that year. As of this writing, these are the only three gastropubs in OC that this writer is aware of.

Located in the heart of Old Towne Orange, Haven represents the brainchild of Executive Chef Greg Daniels, GM/Beverage Director Wil Dee, and money man Ace Patel. Daniels began working in the restaurant industry in the late 1990's, but garnered his formal culinary education at the California School of Culinary Arts' Le Cordon Bleu program, graduating in 2005. Following, he took a position at Tradition by Pascal, where he worked for the famed Pascal Olhats until 2006. From here, he cooked under Andrew Sutton at Napa Rose, then began a stint as a consultant before joining the Haven team in 2009. Given the success of Haven, Daniels, Dee, and Patel will be opening non-traditional taqueria Taco Asylum at The CAMP soon, so watch out for that.

Haven Gastropub Menu
Aided by Sous Chefs Mike Wegrzyn and David Larsen, Daniels aims to present his version of "gourmet comfort food" at Haven. We were here to sample the restaurant's new winter menu, which debuted at the beginning of December. Click for a larger version.

Haven Gastropub Beer List Haven Gastropub Wine List
Of course, the booze is worthy of just as much consideration here. Click for larger versions.

Lindemans Framboise & La Chouffe
Beer was certainly called for, and so we began with Lindemans Framboise [$12] and La Chouffe [$9], a.k.a. "the beer that got me into beer."

'liver and onions'
"liver and onions" [$12.00] | crispy rabbit liver, onion jam, micro radish, micro dijon
First to bat was a take on the classic dish of liver and onions. The traditional version typically uses beef liver, but here rabbit liver (which I'd never had before) was the star. I appreciated the meaty consistency of the liver, as well as its crunchy exterior, but found the flavor a bit strong, even for me. The microgreens did help temper the dish fortunately. The onions did too, but were very sweet.

Seasonal Mushroom Risotto
Seasonal Mushroom Risotto [$16.00] | farro, mushrooms, truffle salt, chevre
As a risotto fiend, I just had to order this dish. Though I missed the consistency and mouthfeel of rice (versus the farro used here), this was still a tasty presentation of risotto nonetheless. I enjoyed how the earthy essence of the mushroom shined clear and through in the dish, making itself clearly known on the palate, where it was joined by the salty weight of the chevre.

Oxtail Poutine
Oxtail Poutine [$12.00] | red wine braised oxtail, cheddar cheese curds, pommes frites
Canada's national dish has made its way to Haven in fine form. Think of this as a refined version of your classic chili cheese fries. The oxtail, as you might expect, was thoroughly tender, teeming with rich, dark, bovine sapor. To this, the cheddar added further heft, further lusciousness, while the pommes frites did a great job in grounding the dish. One of the best poutines that I've had, comparable to Animal's famed preparation.

Crisp Braised Pork Belly
Crisp Braised Pork Belly [$18.00] | Saison Dupont reduction, celery root puree, fennel, mache, dijon mustard microgreens, apple vinaigrette
Pork belly was nicely tender, succulent, and full of pork-y goodness. I wasn't terribly keen on the celeriac purée, but definitely liked the lightness of the fennel and mache salad. I just wish that the skin were crispier.

Cassoulet [$24.00] | duck confit, pork belly, boudin blanc, cannellini beans
Our final savory was a cassoulet, basically a slow-cooked bean and meat casserole, very apropos for the winter season. I didn't get much from the pork belly, but really enjoyed the silky, delicate flavor of the boudin blanc, which was arguably the best I've ever had. The confit, meanwhile, was tender and savory, as expected. The crux here for me, though, was the use of cannellini beans. They added a hearty, rustic taint to the dish that I really appreciated.

Duchesse de Bourgogne
Ahead of the desserts, I decided to go for a bottle of the Duchesse de Bourgogne [$9], which was first introduced to me by Josh Goldman over at The Dining Room. I loved its tart cherry flavors, and my dining companion even described it as a "sour Arrogant Bastard!"

Haven Gastropub Dessert Menu Haven Gastropub After-Dinner Drink Menu
Now for the sweet stuff. Unfortunately, Haven had already run out of their new foie gras cheesecake, which we we'd really wanted to try--next time. Click for larger versions.

Irish Car Bomb
Irish Car Bomb [$8.00] | Guinness chocolate stout cake, Guinness ice cream, Irish Cream chocolate sauce, Jameson caramel
As most college-age drinkers will know, an Irish Car Bomb is a concoction of stout beer, cream liqueur, and whiskey. Here was the cocktail presented in dessert form, suitable for all ages. The chocolate cake was fairly typical, but I loved the inclusion of Guinness ice cream. Quite tasty overall.

Haven apple strudel
Haven apple strudel [$9.00] | apples, raisins, pecans, whipped bourbon infused maple syrup
We concluded the evening with a mean looking apple strudel. It was a classic preparation, showing off the tart sugariness of apple intermixed with a bit of nuttiness from the pecan, with the whipped cream topping adding further sweetness to the fray. Nice.

Though Haven may lack the refinement, polish, and sense of adventure of some of its LA brethren, it's the right concept for the neighborhood. The restaurant's accessible, satisfying fare and voluminous alcohol selection fit the bill nicely, and represent a welcomed addition to the OC dining scene. It's no wonder that Haven has quickly become a staple of Old Towne Orange, worthy of a revisit.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Gulfstream (Newport Beach, CA)

850 Avocado Ave, Newport Beach, CA 92660
Sat 12/18/2010, 06:00p-07:30p

Gulfstream Interior
Gulfstream may not seem like the type of place that I typically report on, but the restaurant holds a special place in my heart. In the early 2000's, my halcyon days of eating, Gulfstream was one of my most cherished places to dine. It managed to acquire this status due to a singular dish: the crab cakes. The cakes were a revelation when I first tasted them, a far cry from the over-breaded, over-cooked, over-seasoned monstrosities that I was used to. They were the best that I'd ever had, and remained the best despite considerable competition from authentic Maryland preparations, home-made versions, even haute Michelin-starred iterations.

Unfortunately, it'd been far too long since my last visit to Gulfstream--five years at least--so the question that I had in mind was simply: are they still the best?

Gulfstream Dinner Menu Gulfstream Wine List
Gulfstream is "inspired by classic seafood houses from America's culinary history," so it's not surprising that the menu is seafood heavy, and largely unchanging. Note that the availability of the crab is only guaranteed on Saturdays as a special, though they may be on offer other days as well. Click for larger versions.

Kirin Light
I started out with the restaurant's only bottled beer (curiously), a Kirin Light [$6].

#1 Ahi Tuna Burger
#1 Ahi Tuna Burger [$16.00] | pan-seared with thin-cut French fries
We started with one of Gulfstream's signature items, their tuna burger, which I'd had previously for lunch. I appreciated how the ahi wasn't cooked all the way, resulting in a supple, soft consistency in the center of the patty. Flavor wise, the fish was textbook tuna--delicate and delicious--and very well integrated when taken in concert with the lettuce, tomato, and onion. The paired mashed potatoes (substituted in place of fries) were light on salt, but still quite tasty nevertheless, and I enjoyed the corn kernels mixed in for texture.

Truffle Mustard
One of my dining companions decided to bring along some newly-acquired French moutarde au jus de truffle, or truffle mustard. It added a heady, earthy zing to everything it touched, and went particularly well with the mashed potatoes and crab cakes.

Pacific Red Snapper
Pacific Red Snapper [$30.00] | with rock shrimp zydeco sauce over mashed potatoes
Ever the pessimist, I half expected the snapper to come out overcooked, dry, and flavorless. Thus, imagine my surprise when the fish arrived cooked through, but still tender, moist, and savory, with a great bit of bitter char to boot. The snapper went rather well with its spicy zydeco dressing (a Creole-inspired sauce), and the shrimp, amazingly, were properly cooked, still snappy and briny in character. Quite nice.

Mustard Barbecue Beef Ribs
Mustard Barbecue Beef Ribs [$27.00] | with coleslaw and thin-cut French fries
Beef ribs were literally falling-off-the-bone, and teeming with the sweet, savory, smoky flavors of barbecue. The mustard, meanwhile, added a bright counterpoint to the otherwise dark flavors of the dish. I enjoyed the shoestring fries as well (though they were a chore to eat), with their crisp, crunchy consistency and slight herbal note.

Truffle Mustard & Ketchup
The fries went superbly with the admixture of truffle mustard and ketchup (Chinese restaurant style).

Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs 2007
With our beers dispensed with, we ordered up a bottle of the 2007 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs [$32], sort of a prototypical California sparkler: crisp and dry, with lemon, apple, and toast, backed by a good minerality.

Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes
Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes [$32.00] | with Pommery mustard sauce and coleslaw
The moment of truth: Is this still the best crab cake ever? I'm happy to report that yes, it still is. The most defining characteristic of Gulfstream's cakes is that they're almost all crab, with very little filler. This makes for a cake that's somewhat fragile, but positively brimming with the sweet, briny essence of crab. It's a crab cake that really tastes like crab--no cutting corners here. They were delectable alone, but even better when consumed with the piquant tang of the paired Pommery mustard. The sweet, peppery coleslaw wasn't half bad either.

Tres Leches Cake Tres Leches Cake To-Go
Tres Leches Cake [$10.00]
Though I used to come here for the crab cakes, I soon discovered another gem in the form of the tres leches cake, an off-menu special. It's basically a sponge cake soaked in evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream, with an undeniably satisfying sweetness perfectly accented by the hefty sugariness of the caramel. It was so good that we were compelled to order two more to go!

This was as satisfying of a meal as I've ever had at a casual-dining chain restaurant. Eating here was like revisiting an old friend--we're talking good, simple food, little pretense, and a hefty dose of nostalgia thrown in for good measure. She's still got it!

Gulfstream Exterior

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Fraiche (Culver City, CA)

9411 Culver Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232
Thu 12/16/2010, 07:30p-11:55p

Fraiche Exterior
Over the past year, Chef Benjamin Bailly made his mark over at West Hollywood's Petrossian, where he turned out caviar-centric fare that won the hearts and minds of legions of bloggers and foodistas alike. However, Petrossian just never hit its stride with the populace at large, and the restaurant was notorious for its slow business, often serving only a handful of covers each night. We all knew that this wasn't a sustainable situation; sooner or later, Bailly would be out the door. Sure enough, the Chef cooked his final meal at Petrossian on November 5th, and started up at Fraiche merely two days later with a totally revamped menu. Obviously, I had to check the place out, and a dinner organized by Danny of Kung Food Panda afforded me the perfect opportunity.

Fraiche Interior
Others in attendance included a lot of familiar faces: Christine, Darin of Darin Dines, Evelina and Wes of Two Hungry Pandas, Hong and Kim of Ravenous Couple, Julian of Jewelz, What Are We Doing Today?, Matt, Pam of Rants and Craves, Remil, Rosa of Dining with the Catty Critic, Ryan of Epicuryan, Weezermonkey, Will from FoodDigger, and Yulree of YFT.

But wait, there's more: Helen of I'm Hungry and Proud of It was also in the house, dining with a gaggle of girlfriends. Matt of Mattatouille was present too, as were LAist's Sam Kim, ex-Bastide chef Joseph Mahon, and David Haskell. Hell, even Ila of I Nom Things stopped by. Fraiche was the place to be on this Thursday night, apparently.

Fraiche Dinner Menu Fraiche Beverage Menu
The dinner menu and cocktail/beer list are shown above. Compared with what was previously on offer at Fraiche, Bailly's completely overhauled menu slants more heavily toward rustic French, but still features plenty of Italian influence for good measure. Plates are smaller, and prices lower, to boot. For this dinner, we enjoyed a family-style tasting menu paired with cocktails, priced at $50 per person. Click for larger versions.

Olives Bread & Butter
Olives, bread, and butter to start, natch.

Frisky Sour Yulree like
Festivus | Pine Liquor, St-Germain, Egg White
The gauntlet of libations by Fraiche bartender Kiowa Bryan kicked off with glasses of the Festivus, a new cocktail not yet on Fraiche's menu officially. I really enjoyed the interplay between the concoction's grapefruit-y sweetness and the boozy tinge of pine liquor. At the same time, the egg whites added a light frothiness to the fray that finished the drink beautifully.

Chicken Liver Parfait, Smoked Trout Rillettes, Piquillo Cheese Spread, Tonnato Dip
Chicken Liver Parfait | Green Apple Jelly
Smoked Trout Rillettes | Lemon / Chives / Crème Fraîche
Piquillo Cheese Spread | Chorizo / Manchego
Tonnato Dip | Tuna / White Anchovy / Capers
Soon enough, a quartet of potted meats were placed before us, accompanied by more crusty baguette bread. I began with Bailly's piquillo cheese spread, the Chef's riff on classic pimento cheese, substituting piquillos for pimentos, Manchego for cheddar, and chorizo for bacon. It was delicious, with the piquant pepper playing off the creamy cheese beautifully. I then moved on to the tonnato (tuna) dip, which I also enjoyed, its strong, seductive fishiness tempered deftly by the tangy capers and peppers. The parfait, meanwhile, showed off prototypical flavors of chicken liver, moderated by the application of cream and eggs, and accented by a touch of sweetness from the green apple. I ended with the trout rillettes, my favorite of the foursome. Its superb brininess was mouth-watering, and perfectly balanced by the zest of lemon and chive.

Eggplant Caviar, Olivade
Eggplant Caviar | Raisins / Marcona Almonds
Olivade | Ricotta / Olives / Roasted Tomato
The next spread gave us Bailly's non-meat jars. The eggplant caviar, or ikra, demonstrated a strong, smoky flavor, augmented by the sweetness of raisins and a bit of nuttiness from the Marconas. I enjoyed the olivade more, with its subtle olive flavor heightened by the lusciousness of ricotta and perked up by the use of sweet roasted tomato--tasty.

Turkey Dinner The Good Apple Poison Ivy
Turkey Dinner | Clove Infused Wild Turkey, Cranberry Juice, Cynar, Candied Orange Peel
The Good Apple | Granny Smith Infused Vodka, Fennel & Clove Infused Simple Syrup, Lemon
Poison Ivy | Vodka, Basil, Honey, Smoked Sea Salt, Cayenne, Lemon
The next round of cocktails was soon brought before us. First up was the Turkey Dinner, a hefty affair showcasing the bittersweet essence of Cynar and orange over a marked Bourbon base. The Good Apple was quite good indeed, with a sweet-herbal nose leading to heavy, sweet-savory flavors on the palate, perked up just a bit by the licorice tinge of star anise. My favorite of the bunch was the Poison Ivy, with the vodka-basil-honey providing a great sweet-pungent stage for the cayenne to sing.

Hamachi Tartare
Hamachi Tartare | Shaved Turnip / Lime / Espelette Pepper
Hamachi was expertly accented by the sharp tang of lime and the slight prick of heat of the espelette, while the shaved turnip served as an interesting textural element. Very nice.

Vitello Tonnato Danny & Darin zoom in on the veal
Vitello Tonnato | Veal Steak Tartare / Arugula / Parmesan
Vitello tonnato refers to a traditional Italian dish of cold veal, dressed with a tuna-based sauce. Bailly's version was an admirable take on the original, with the mild flavor of the veal going beautifully with its creamy, luscious topping. The arugula, meanwhile, added a bitter contrast to the dish that helped lighten things up. Effective.

Brussels Sprouts
Brussels Sprouts | Chorizo / Manchego / Dates / Almond / Piquillo Vinaigrette
Next up, a very strong presentation of Brussels sprouts. I really appreciated how their inherent bitterness was so deftly preserved and highlighted here. At the same time, the chorizo added a bright bit of saltiness to the fray, and the Manchego some tempering gravity. The dates were a somewhat curious addition, but their sweetness wasn't at all distracting as I'd feared.

Terre di Balbia SerraMonte Calabria IGT Pouring Wine
Spotting us all dining in the patio, David Haskell decided to send over a bottle of the Terre di Balbia SerraMonte from Calabria, Italy. Made from the Magliocco grape mostly, the wine was full of dark berry fruit flavors and spice, with just enough of a tannic kick to keep things interesting. A lovely pick from Haskell.

Bouchot Mussels
Bouchot Mussels | Fava Bean / Tomato / Chorizo
I wasn't as keen on the mussels, finding their consistency a bit too soft for my tastes. Also, though I enjoyed the fava beans and chorizo in the dish, the tomato was a bit overwhelming, hiding the mussels' natural savor somewhat.

Basil Risotto
Basil Risotto | Escargot / Lemon / Tomato
Basil risotto was tasty, with the rice nicely accented by the inclusion of the bright, piquant flavors of basil. The snails, meanwhile, served as savory focal points in the dish, and also made things more interesting texturally.

Seared Foie Gras
Seared Foie Gras | Frisée / Rhubarb / Pomegranate / Speculoos
Foie gras arrived expertly cooked, showing off the prototypical richness that I'd expect from the liver. Not surprisingly though, the combination of pomegranate, rhubarb, and speculoos (a type of sweet-spicy biscuit) made the dish overly saccharine, and although the frisée did help temper the course, it still didn't go far enough for me.

Bailly checks in
Bailly checks in with Danny on the progress of the meal.

Crispy Loup de Mer
Crispy Loup de Mer | Sunchokes Soubise / Crosnes / Salsifi / Mushrooms / Bordelaise
One of the highlights of the meal for me was Bailly's loup de mer, or Mediterranean sea bass. I thoroughly enjoyed the fish's rich, savory flavor, tender flesh, and crisp, salty skin. At the same time, the use of sunchokes and crosnes served to balance and integrate the dish, while the mushrooms and bordelaise added further weight to the course.

Joseph Mahon & David Haskell Sam Kim & Joseph Mahon & David Haskell
At this point, Chef Joseph Mahon and David Haskell (accompanied by Sam Kim) decided to make an appearance. The two were, of course, fresh off Magnum, their collaborative pop-up dinner series at Biergarten. I must say though, I'm not feeling the porn 'stache that Mahon's sporting these days...

Taglierini Neri Yulree & Danny attacking the taglieneri
Taglierini Neri | Maine Lobster / Cherry Tomatoes / Basil
Our first pasta course of the evening was this squid ink taglierini (thin ribbon pasta) with lobster. I adored the pasta's firm, al dente texture, and well as the sweet, briny flavors of its accoutrements, with the tomato in particular adding a lovely succulence to the dish. Very satisfying.

Lamb Papardelle
Lamb Papardelle | Tomato / Olives / Onetik Goat Cheese
Papardelle also arrived adroitly prepared. The lamb gave the pasta a rich, rustic, hearty flavor that was beautifully perked up by the inclusion of tomato and olives. Nice!

Hand Cut Maltagliati
Hand Cut Maltagliati | Pork Ragù / Scallion / Gruyère
The maltagliati was arguably my favorite of the four pastas. The pork ragù was probably the best version that I've ever had, with a profound porcine richness augmented by the Gruyère, yet perfectly countervailed by the peppery cuts of scallion.

Bucatini Carbonara
Bucatini Carbonara | Slow Poached Egg / Pancetta / Parmesan
It's hard to go wrong with a carbonara, and this was no exception. The combination of egg and Parmesan added an incredible weight and depth of flavor to the bucatini (hollow spaghetti), and I loved the saltiness imparted by the pancetta as well.

Ravenous Couple Lady and the Tramp
Using the bucatini in lieu of spaghetti, Hong and Kim pay homage to that famous scene in Lady and the Tramp.

Ben Bailly Ben Bailly
Wes shooting seriously Bailly serves up his Truffle Burger
We took a break from eating and moseyed on over to the kitchen to watch Chef Bailly plate and serve our next course: his signature Truffle Burger.

Truffle Burger
Truffle Burger | Onion Fondue / Boschetto / Truffle Aioli / Egg
Bailly's truffle burger isn't usually served at dinner, but the Chef made an exception for us. We should be thankful, as the burger was quite a sight to behold, and taste. The patty was expectedly decadent, succulent, teeming with a rich, heady savor accented by an almost foie gras-like lusciousness. The Boschetto cheese and truffle aioli, meanwhile, added even further luxury to the dish, while the arugula served to give the burger a tempering, peppery bite. The fries were, as expected, spot on as well.

Soft Polenta
Soft Polenta | Wild Mushrooms / Slow Poached Egg
Our final savory course of the night brought us Bailly's polenta. It showcased a faultless, gritty yet creamy consistency, with the mushrooms adding just that perfect amount of umami-tinged earthiness to the dish. The runny egg, of course, made things even better.

Ben & Will
Bailly with Will from FoodDigger.

Fraiche Dessert Menu Fraiche After Dinner Drinks Menu
Time for the sweet stuff! Above we see the dessert and after-dinner drink menus. Click for larger versions.

Pot De Crème & Praline Tiramisu Danny & Darin are on top of it
Pot De Crème | Manjari Chocolate
Pot De Crème | Caramel
Praline Tiramisu | Rum Espresso / Vanilla Bean
We started off dessert with two pots de créme--caramel and chocolate--both expectedly sweet, but both finished with a delightful salty tinge. Joining them were two jars of praline tiramisu: light and airy in body, with subtle vanilla and coffee flavors leading to shockingly boozy notes on the finish.

Chocolate Tart
Chocolate Tart | Tres Leches Gelato / Almond Crumble
Next up was a rich, dense chocolate tart, nicely complemented by the paired tres leches gelato, while the almond crumbles added a hint of nuttiness and an immensely enjoyable crunch to the course. My favorite of the sweets.

Fresh Eggnog Deconstructed White Russian Holiday Hot Toddy
To pair with our desserts, we were provided three off-menu cocktails. First up was a classic Egg Nog, which showed off a fantastic creamy sweetness under an overarching booziness, with just a lovely tint of cinnamon spice. We also had a Deconstructed White Russian, a fitting tribute to the original with a delicious interplay between the cream and vodka. Finishing things off was a Holiday Hot Toddy, made with rum, ginger, honey, gingerbread bitters, cinnamon, and hot water. It was a spicy-sweet concoction with a slight medicinal tinge, somewhat reminiscent of Indian tea.

Chocolate Coulant
Chocolate Coulant | Toffee / Peanut Butter Ice Cream
Here was Bailly's take on the ubiquitous "molten chocolate cake," first created, interestingly enough, by the famed Michel Bras. What set this one apart from the rest was the peanut butter ice cream, which did a great job in moderating the gravity of the chocolate (and I don't even like peanut butter). I also enjoyed the toffee bits for their crunch and additional nutty sweetness.

Key Lime Tart
Key Lime Tart
An off-the-menu dessert, the key lime tart lived up to its name, putting forth a lip-puckering sourness suitably subdued by its topping of crème fraiche and its sugary cake base.

Apple & Pear Clafoutis Cheating with the iPhone
Apple & Pear Clafoutis | Brown Butter / Candied Brioche / Caramel Ice Cream
We closed with Bailly's clafoutis, basically a commixture of pear, apple, brown butter, and brioche batter, baked in a pan. As you might expect, it was a hot, heavy dish, awash in fruity sweetness and adroitly accented by the caramel ice cream.

The young chef is off to a strong start here at Fraiche, and apparently, I'm not the only one who thinks so: the place was operating near capacity throughout most of the night. The cooking was, for the most part, quite tasty, more rustic versus refined vis-à-vis his work at Petrossian, and a good fit for the space. That being said, as this was a 20+ course dinner with 20 people, I didn't get to really savor the fare as much as I would've liked. A more relaxed meal with more time to properly digest and contemplate the food may be called for in the future.

Fraiche Group Photo