Friday, April 29, 2011

Pheast Underground Dinner (Los Angeles, CA)

Pheast Underground Supper Club
Los Angeles, CA 90066
Fri 04/29/2011, 07:30p-02:45a

Living Room

Though high-end underground dining has existed in some form or another for years here in LA, the movement really took off last year with the arrival of Craig Thornton's Wolvesmouth. Since then, several new underground supper clubs have popped up, the most promising of which appears to be Isaiah Frizzell's Pheast.

A self-described hillbilly, Frizzell hails from the small town of Columbia, Tennessee. Though his grandfather was famed country music singer Lefty Frizzell, he grew up poor, with his family moving constantly around the South for the better part of 12 years. The family finally disintegrated when he was 16, and the young Chef was left homeless in Dallas. Frizzell pursued cooking as a way to find himself, even going as far as to use food stamps to purchase luxury goods such as caviar and jamón ibérico, his copy of Larousse Gastronomique in hand. He eventually took on an interest in Indian cookery, then dabbled in vegetarian, macrobiotic, and even vegan cuisines (he once served as a vegan personal chef) before coming back to classic omnivore cooking once he started working in professional kitchens.

Inspired by the musings of Jeffrey Steingarten as well as Thomas Keller's seminal French Laundry Cookbook, Frizzell taught himself the intricacies of contemporary cooking (even getting versed in pastry), and eventually started working as a sous for Dallas chef Tony Gardizi. The duo would create spontaneous degustations of 10 or more courses, and through these dinners, Frizzell refined his skills, and more importantly, cemented his own personal culinary style. After some traveling, he moved from Seattle to Los Angeles late last year and settled in Los Feliz, a location that allows the Chef to easily partake in his daily hikes through Griffith Park, a constant source of inspiration for his cooking.

Frizzell eventually got involved with a razor, a shiny knife, helping the supper club with their last event here in Los Angeles. There, he met fellow chef Linda Lloyd, and the two launched Pheast. Entitled My Bloody Valentine, their first event, a 10-courser with wine and cocktails, was supposed to occur on Valentine's Day, but the event was subsequently cancelled after Lloyd pulled out because of family issues. Pheast's next event, held in Silver Lake, was at the end of March and featured products from The Cheesestore of Silverlake and McCall's. Frizzell then returned home to Dallas to cook before coming back to LA to work with Libry Darusman (from Mark Gold's Eva) at his Room Forty pop-up. Darusman, it turns out, would also be assisting in tonight's meal, held at a quaint residence in Del Rey, not too far from Waterloo & City.

Welcome Cocktail
Upon arrival, we were handed a welcome cocktail created by our host Nick, a friend of Frizzell's. A blend of Pig's Nose Scotch, orange, lemon, and star anise, finished with a clove-sugar rim, the drink deftly used the citrus to offset the weight of the whisky, while the anise and clove added a lovely sweet spice on the finish.

clam, uni, dashi, sesame, zucchini, cucumber
1: clam, uni, dashi, sesame, zucchini, cucumber
For our first course, a delightful trio of clams arrived sitting atop a "sand" of powdered shiitake, white sesame, and black sesame. I thoroughly enjoyed how the ocean-y savor of the clam played with the earthiness of the mushroom-sesame combination, and how the zucchini and cucumber served to lighten things up. At the same time, the uni sauce accentuated the brine of the dish, but was a bit overwhelming at times. The dashi shot, finally, contributed a marked umami complexity to the mix, and helped tie everything together.

yuba, milk skin, nasturtium, edamame, english pea, lavender, yuzu
2: yuba, milk skin, nasturtium, edamame, english pea, lavender, yuzu
Being somewhat of a pea and edamame fiend, I was especially looking forward to this course. Taken alone, the yuba was fairly blunt in flavor, but the tofu skin worked beautifully when eaten in concert with the light, bright pea purée and blanched soybeans. I also adored the floral component contributed by the lavender, as well as the prick of citric tang from the yuzu.

bouquet of greens with soil
3: bouquet of greens with soil
Dishes composed of raw vegetables and "soil" have become in vogue in the past few years, and here we get to see Frizzell's interpretation of the concept. He utilized purslane, broccolini, kale, carrot, and various flowers, set in a hazelnut-chicory-almond-salt-pepper-sugar soil, with the whole amalgam finished with a carrot, yuzu, olive oil, and S&P vinaigrette. The bitter, biting, unadulterated flavors of the greens were forcefully conveyed here, yet deftly countered by the gravity of the carrot broth, while the nutty "dirt" served to ground the dish. Quite nice.

Knife Balancing
Knife balancing skills.

artichoke heart, veal sweetbread, shiso, mango, longpepper mayo
4: artichoke heart, veal sweetbread, shiso, mango, longpepper mayo
Veal sweetbread arrived in tempura'd form, accompanied by a shiso-mango emulsion and long pepper mayonnaise. As expected, it was a delectable nugget of crisp, savory goodness, gorgeously accented by the heat of the mayo, while the mango added a slight tinge of sweetness. I wasn't quite as sold on the artichoke however, which didn't quite fit in the dish for me.

crab, honeydew, oat, stinging nettle, peppercorn
5: crab, honeydew, oat, stinging nettle, peppercorn
Crab was superb, supple and fresh, with a delightful sweetness heightened by the money melon and finished beautifully by the spice of pink peppercorn. I also appreciated the subtle astringency of the nettle purée, as well as the tempering effect of the oat groats. Just a very well integrated dish.

Preparing Chicken - Isaiah Frizzell Preparing Chicken - Libry Darusman
Preparing Chicken - Isaiah Frizzell Preparing Chicken - Libry Darusman
Preparing the chicken dish. When it comes to tattoos, Darusman might be the only chef in the city with more than Cole Dickinson (Michael Voltaggio's Chef de Cuisine at his upcoming Ink).

chicken, momofuku xo sauce, sugar snap, noodle
6: chicken, momofuku xo sauce, sugar snap, noodle
Standing erect, a chicken drumstick (my favorite part of the bird) arrived perfectly cooked, showcasing a profound depth of flavor further heightened by the deep, heady relish of the Momofuku-inspired XO. It was an immensely satisfying combination to be sure, one expertly balanced by the relatively subdued tastes of the snap peas and noodles. Chicharrón of chicken skin, meanwhile, added a lovely bit of textural variation to the dish.

Prepping Lamb - Isaiah Frizzell Prepping Lamb - Libry Darusman
Getting the tube meat ready for service.

crispy lamb rillettes, fingerling confit, pickled blue-foot, arugula
7: crispy lamb rillettes, fingerling confit, pickled blue-foot, arugula
Tonight's pièce de résistance was a disk of lamb rillettes, coated in panko bread crumbs and fried crisp. As you'd expect, the lamb itself was a tender, salty, unabashedly savory eating experience, an admixture of deep, dark flavors moderated by the confit potatoes, tangy mushrooms, and peppery arugula. I was a bit concerned about the cherries, but they worked surprisingly well in the dish, adding a refreshing bit of tart sweetness to things.

Plating Dessert - Libry Darusman Plating Dessert - Libry Darusman
Plating the sweet stuff.

rose, goat cheese, strawberry, raspberry, elderflower, pistachio, malt
8: rose, goat cheese, strawberry, raspberry, elderflower, pistachio, malt
Our multifaceted dessert consisted of rose cremeux, Nick's homemade lavender-honey-lemon goat cheese, almond sugar, strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups, raspberry and strawberry coulis, elderflower fluid gel, pistachio, and malt "cookie dough." I absolutely adored the intense floral character of the cremeux, and how that played with the tangy chèvre and unmitigated sugariness of the berry fruit. A lovely mélange of flavors, all finished with a trace of salt from the pistachio. One of my dining companions even commented that the dessert "tasted like Valentine's."

I had high hopes for Pheast, and indeed, Frizzell and company did not disappoint, putting forth a superb suite of dishes showcasing modern technique and an intriguing blend of global influences. We were able to speak with the Chef on multiple occasions throughout the evening, and his energy and enthusiasm were palpable, his motions and movements spry, but deliberate. He was cooking a mile a minute in an admittedly lilliputian kitchen, yet was able to turn out food that managed to surprise, delight, and impress us all. This "traveling kitchen band" is the most exciting thing to hit the LA underground dining scene since Wolvesmouth, so I recommend that you get in while you still can.

Isaiah Frizzell


Blogger Epicuryan said...

I always thought you were a breast guy not a leg guy... and Isaiah's knife balancing skills put mine to shame

Sunday, May 01, 2011 8:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Darin said...

I was just gonna comment on the knife balancing pic, but it seems Ryan beat me to it.

This sounds like it could be the next big underground meal, though hopefully the dinners can be shortened from its 7-hour length!

Sunday, May 01, 2011 9:25:00 PM  
Blogger Sam C. said...

Thanks for the post dude.

This dinner seems very unconventional with interesting ingredients.Glad you post this up!

Sunday, May 01, 2011 11:21:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Beautiful pictures, Kevin! Thank you and Ryan for coming to the supper and for writing such an awesome review.

Monday, May 02, 2011 8:50:00 PM  
Blogger Pink Foodie said...

I need to check out one of these underground dinners. Great photos. I especially like the plating of the second dish.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011 8:07:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What do these underground dinners cost? Thanks!

Tuesday, May 03, 2011 9:47:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Ryan: I like the convenience of the breast, but the leg I find more flavorful, and easier to pick up and eat.

Darin: Same type of knife too--Global. The time between the first plate and the last was more like 5 hours, still long, but not quite as lengthy.

Sam: No problem man, glad you enjoyed it!

Nick: Thank you again for hosting. I'll be in touch about those loquats.

PF: Yes, you do! I was quite happy with the plating as well; Libry had a lot to do with that.

Anon: The recommended donation is usually around $100.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011 1:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations Kevin!!!!!! You definitely deserve it man. All the places you've been to and the effort you put into your writings, adventures and such. Keep up the great work man. Best wishes.

AND this place looks absolutely delicious. I love the hay roasted squab. That's an old school Paul Bocuse recipe by the way. Loved that the chef paid homage.

Thursday, May 05, 2011 3:46:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

I appreciate the well wishes!

Thanks for the tip about the squab; I didn't realize that it was a riff on a Paul Bocuse dish.

BTW, I think this comment was meant for my Rancho Valencia post. ;)

Friday, May 06, 2011 1:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

great commentary and loving the supper club / underground idea! curious, though, how do they get around the whole licensing thing? is it because they don't actually charge anything for the meal.. just a "recommended donation"? - Jessica Yi

Monday, May 23, 2011 5:07:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

I wouldn't call it "licensing" per se. But yeah, there's no set price, so it's just like going to somebody's house to eat dinner.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011 4:55:00 PM  

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