Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Maison Giraud (Pacific Palisades, CA)

Maison Giraud Restaurant
1032 Swarthmore Ave, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272
Wed 11/23/2011, 07:00p-10:30p

Maison Giraud Exterior

After Alain Giraud's Anisette shuttered in 2010, the Chef gave us a tease of what was to come during his stint at Test Kitchen later that year. It was a promising peek, and we Angelenos waited in anticipation for the debut of Maison Giraud, which was supposed to open in May. However, the all-day restaurant and French bakery experienced delay upon delay--not surprisingly--before opening up for breakfast last week. Dinner bowed on Monday, and I was eager to try out Giraud's take on seasonal, brasserie-esque, Provençal-inspired cuisine.

About the Chef: Giraud was born in Paris, 1959, to a family of restaurateurs. Culinarily, he was largely inspired by his grandmothers, and was exposed to the kitchen of his parents' establishment, Hotel des Voyageurs, at an early age. He worked at Auberge de la Sarton and Mas d'Artigny before graduating from the Nîmes Culinary School in 1976. Following, he cooked at L'Ermitage Meissonnier in Avignon for four years, then moved to Paris, staying at Hotel de Crillon and Grand Vefour for a couple years each; all three were rated at two Michelin stars at the time. In 1986, Giraud went to the south of France, where he cheffed at the Hotel Imperator in Nîmes, Le Réverbère in Narbonne, and Restaurant Léonce in Florensac.

In 1988, Giraud made a big change in his life, moving to Los Angeles (with a brief stop in NYC) to cook under the legendary Michel Richard at Citrus, where he attained the rank of Chef de Cuisine. Afterward, he took on a role as Chef Director of the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, opening up Provencal eatery Lavande in January 1998, a restaurant that garnered considerable acclaim for Giraud. Later that year, he even cooked at the James Beard House in New York. From Santa Monica, he partnered up with the notorious Joe Pytka and launched Bastide in 2002 (with Providence's Donato Poto serving as GM). The restaurant was a hit, even receiving a rare four-star review from the LA Times and getting Giraud Bon Appetit's Chef of the Year title in 2003.

The stresses of executing at such a high level wore on Giraud however, as did disagreements with Pytka about the direction for the restaurant. He decamped from Bastide in 2004, then launched his own catering and consulting company: Four Stars Private Cuisine. In 2008, Giraud partnered with Mike Garrett and Tommy Stoilkovich to create Anisette Brasserie in Santa Monica. The bistro experienced success at first, but ultimately folded in September 2010. From there, Giraud started work on his new, eponymous restaurant/bakery/retail store project in the Palisades, which is where we stand today.

Maison Giraud Interior
Maison Giraud occupies the spot left vacant by the long-standing Dante, which shuttered earlier this year. One half of the building houses the restaurant (pictured above), while Lavender Blue, a home decor and accessories boutique by wife Catherine Giraud (whom the Chef met while working at Citrus--they married in 1990), sits next door. The restaurant was remodeled by designer/architect Cosimo Pizzulli, and seats 44 diners, with another two dozen or so on the patio and sidewalk; there are also 12- and 18-person private dining rooms.

Maison Giraud Dinner Menu Maison Giraud Dinner Menu
Maison Giraud's menu is uncomplicated, a well-edited list of appetizers and mains with perhaps a daily special or two thrown in for good measure. Click for larger versions.

Maison Giraud Wine List Maison Giraud Wine List Maison Giraud Wine List
The wine list is similarly focused, with a smattering of reasonably priced French and Californian selections, along with a handful of beers. Click for larger versions.

Burgundy, Roland Thévenin, Vin de Bourgogne, FR 2009
We asked our server to pick a bottle to go with all of our dishes, and he selected the 2009 Roland Thévenin & Fils Vin de Bourgogne [$38]. It was a solid choice, a relatively light-bodied red that was pretty much just what I was expecting from a young French pinot noir.

Bread and Butter
Bread is, of course, baked in-house, and was quite lovely.

Oysters on the Half Shell
Oysters on the Half Shell [$12.00]
We began with a special menu item: Kumamoto oysters from Baja, Mexico. They were somewhat more elongated than I'm accustomed to, but still showed off that signature Kumamoto flair, with a firm, snappy bite and sweet, subtle brine. Great alone, but even better with a dollop of that tangy, pungent mignonette sauce.

Pan Roasted Baby Squid
Pan Roasted Baby Squid [$13.00] | Pine Nuts, Basil Emulsion, Marinated White Beans
I'm a sucker for squid, so I was really looking forward to this dish. Fortunately, the squid did not disappoint, with its great mix of sweet and saline flavors and a delightfully chewy consistency. It was superb when combined with the aromatics of the basil, while the white beans did a great job lending depth and weight to the dish. A must try.

Seared Scallops
Seared Scallops [$14.00] | Leek Fondue, Meyer Lemon & Pistachio Sauce
Scallops were spot on--still slightly rare in the middle, but with a nice touch of caramelization on the outside. Their refined, ocean-y savor was delectable alone, but the leek and lemon added a marked piquancy to the dish that provided a bit of balance.

'Camille's' Potato and Rosemary Flat Tart
"Camille's" Potato and Rosemary Flat Tart [$10.00] | Potatoes, Crème Fraîche, Rosemary, Gruyère
Apparently, the story behind this dish was that it was created for Giraud's daughter Camille when she was going through a vegetarian phase. I'd like to thank her for that, as the tart was one of the highlights of the meal, an impeccable amalgam of potato, cheese, and rosemary that was comforting, rustic, and delicious all at the same time. I especially appreciated the crispness of the crust, as well as the lightness imparted by the romaine.

Charcuterie Plate
Charcuterie Plate [$13.00] | Homemade Terrine, Cured Cuts, Grilled Bread, Condiments
Next, we were greeted by a charming plate of charcuterie, replete with grilled bread, whole grain mustard, and gherkin pickles. Saucisson sec and soppressata were just as you'd expect, both conveying a great salty savor with a whisper of spice. Speck, meanwhile, showed off just a touch of tanginess, but my favorite was the housemade terrine of duck and foie gras, with its deep, rich flavors countervailed by a hint of nuttiness from the pistachio. I really hope that Giraud and company decide to do more of their own charcuterie in-house in the future.

Farm Eggs Town & Country Farm Eggs Town & Country
Farm Eggs Town & Country [$10.00] | Light Mushroom Custard, Rustic Egg Cocotte
Our final starter was farm egg, served two ways. The "town" preparation was a mix of mushroom and egg custards, with a pure, refined essence of champignon deftly balanced by the creamy presence of oeuf. The "country" presentation, on the other hand, brought us a "cocotte" of scrambled egg, mushroom, and bacon. It was much more rustic in character, with a delightful interplay between the salty bacon, earthy 'shrooms, and egg.

Alain Giraud
The Chef checks in with us.

Mediterranean Sea Bass
Mediterranean Sea Bass [$24.00] | Roasted with Clams, Chorizo, Baby Spinach, Piquillo
Moving on to the main courses now, we began with a wonderfully prepared seabass. I adored its white, supple flesh, as well as the fish's superb salinity and beautifully crisp skin. It was delicious alone, but I also appreciated the additional brine imparted by the clams, as well as the tempering bitterness of the spinach. Excellent broth, as well.

Arborio Risotto
Arborio Risotto [$18.00] | Mushrooms, Aged Parmesan, Fresh Herbs
Risotto, naturally, was a must order for me. The rice was cooked to a proper consistency, being firm, yet slightly chewy. The dish showed off plenty of earthy, savory mushroom character, along with the additional richness of the Parm, but I wanted something more to counteract all the heft. The herbs did add points of levity, but I felt the dish needed more balance.

Duck 'Antonin'
Duck "Antonin" [$25.00] | Roasted Filet, Leg Confit, Root Vegetables, Sauce Charcutiére
Our final savory course of the evening was this gorgeous duck dish. The breast was consummately cooked, and some of the best canard that I've had in a long while, with a profoundly rich, satisfying smack that went flawlessly with the relative austerity of the paired potatoes, carrot, and turnips. The confit'd leg added further savoriness, but wasn't even necessary in my opinion.

Maison Giraud Dessert Menu
And with that, we were off to the desserts, which here at Maison Giraud, are the charge of Baker-cum-Pastry Chef Noubar Yessayan. The Lebanese-born Yessayan attended the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Pasadena, and was hired at Bastide immediately after graduation. Following, he was recruited to join Giraud at Anisette, and quickly became the restaurant's boulanger et pâtissier. At the start of 2010, Yessayan started providing breakfast pastries to Intelligentsia Coffee, and has also consulted for Paul Shoemaker's Savory in Malibu. Click for a larger version.

Vacherin Glacé
Vacherin Glacé [$9.00] | Lavender Ice Cream, Strawberries, Meringue
Muscat Beaumes De Venise, Delas, FR 2008
First up was Giraud's signature dessert, a take on the classic French vacherin, which is basically a meringue with cream and fruit. It was fantastic, with a flawless blend of flavors between the creamy chantilly, tart strawberry, sugary raspberry coulis, and wonderfully floral lavender crème glacée, all wrapped up in a crunchy meringue shell.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Crunch
Chocolate-Hazelnut Crunch [$8.00] | Dark Chocolate Mousse, Hazelnut Crunch
Muscat de Rivesaltes, Domaine de Cazes, FR
Here, Yessayan pays tribute to Michel Richard's famous chocolate bar, which I'd had not too long ago at his bistro concept Central in Washington DC. I actually liked it better than the original, with its beautiful marriage of chocolate and hazelnut flavors moderated by the application of a light citrus sauce and bits of passion fruit pâte de fruit. Loved the crunch of the nutty tuile, too.

Chocolate Soufflé
Chocolate Soufflé [$12.00] | Traditional Soufflé, Crème Chantilly, Crème Anglaise
Ruby Port, Fonseca, Portugal 2005
If you're a fan of soufflés, then make sure to give the version here a try. It was a completely classic preparation of the dish, but perfectly done--light, airy, with a rich, but not overwhelming chocolate-y sweetness that went swimmingly with the duo of crèmes.

Vanilla Blanc Manger
Vanilla Blanc Manger [$8.00] | French Panna Cotta, Passion Fruit Sorbet
Coteaux du Layon, Dom. Jo Pithon, FR 2003
We ended with a blancmange, a panna cotta-esque dish tarted up with fruit and almond slivers. It was lovely, a great mix of tastes and textures with a wonderful blend of flavors between the cream and the tangy sorbet, along with a delightful counterpoint provided by the nutty "brittle."

A single espresso [$3.25] to close out the night.

Jackie Mazzuca, Alain Giraud
Giraud with Sous Chef Jackie Mazzuca (Anisette, Mélisse, Waterloo & City) at the end of the night.

Well, Giraud's back in business, and I'm happy to report that the Maison was worth the wait. The food was mostly spot on and delicious, and at the same time, comforting, but just creative enough to keep things interesting. The Chef has returned with a vengeance, putting forth a perfect neighborhood spot with cooking that's good enough to draw people from across the City.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article
Alain Giraud has found a genius as his pastry chef!

Sunday, November 27, 2011 12:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very good job, as per the usual sir. I really like restaurants like this. They may not be reinventing the wheel, but there is a lot to be said for doing more simple dishes with such great execution.

Sunday, November 27, 2011 1:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you are absolutely right.
Chef Alain Giraud 's terrine is delicious!
Exquisite simplicity!!!
Bernard V.

Monday, November 28, 2011 2:20:00 PM  
Blogger Rodzilla said...

This looks really promising. They seem like very reasonable prices for food that looks like it's leaning towards the upper echelon of dining.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011 9:11:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Anon: Indeed. I hear his breakfast pastries are quite something as well!

Chris: I think it's just about the perfect type of cuisine for the location. The Palisades wouldn't really embrace something *too* adventurous methinks.

Bernard: Certainly--in the future, I hope the Chef decides to venture more in that direction!

Roddy: The prices weren't too bad at all, especially given the wealth concentrated in the surrounding area. Really, it's some of the best French-focused cooking in LA at the moment.

Friday, December 02, 2011 1:41:00 AM  
Blogger gwen2xs said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011 9:44:00 PM  
Blogger gwen2xs said...

after three visits to the maison i can only say...quel dommage.
if only the food were as lovely to the palette as the photos in this article are to the eye.

steak-well sauced but medium to mediocre meat.
pistou-utterly bland.
risotto-servicable, but lacking the al dente rice texture which marks a truly great risotto dish.
market vegetable salad-ice cold and straight out of the pre-plated refrigerator drawer.
scallops-excellent and the exception to most of the food i have sampled so far.
squid-the one dish i would return for.

sorry to be a buzz kill, (and it may be that maison is still 'settling in' in terms of service and actual prep.) but once the new hotness wears off, i doubt this restaurant will be doing much more than riding on its chef's earlier fame.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011 9:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I finally got around to writing up my own report on MG. Holidays had me backlogged.

Thursday, December 15, 2011 7:09:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Gwen: That's unfortunate, though at least we can agree on the squid and scallops. I really hope that the place holds up in the future.

Andy: Yeah it's been a while since I've heard from you. Good to see some of their day-time offerings.

Saturday, December 17, 2011 2:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Marjorie Perloff said...

Disappointing. Maison Giraud poses as brasserie but you have get reservations weeks ahead of time which is hardly what one does at brasserie. Wine list is a joke and we weren't even asked if we wanted wine. No maitre d' in sight last night (party of 5), no sommelier.
Food quite good and inexpensive but atmosphere very bland,room much too noisy, and the service was atrocious. Our waitress brought two souffles (ordered for birthdays we were celebrating) and didn't even give the rest of us plates or forks--we had to ask. All in all, more Pacific Palisades than French and no style@

Thursday, December 22, 2011 10:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


The photos on your blog are fantastic. Your posts are extremely thorough with respect to the number of dishes you try at each restaurant. However, I beg of you: please don't overuse the "thesaurus" function on MS Word. Really. Your sentences often don't make sense. I have looked up some of the words you use in the dictionary, only to find that the fifth or sixth definition of the word was the one you intended. You can just say that things are "delicious" or "porky" or "juicy"; your readers will get the point. And more importantly, any of your readers who have an ounce of understanding of vocabulary and the English language in general will not be left with a giant WTF at the end of reading your blog.


Friday, December 23, 2011 12:48:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Marjorie: I don't think you can really fault the restaurant for the difficulty in securing reservations, since that's all based on customer demand.

Though we didn't really have any issues with service, I know others, like yourself, have experienced problems; hopefully that aspect will improve in the coming months. At least we agree that the food was good.

Annie: Delicious, porky, juicy--all words that I use regularly. At times, though, you have to venture out beyond basic vocabulary; doing so is part of what makes the English language so intriguing. That being said, I have tried to cut down on overly flowery prose. If you have any particularly egregious examples of inappropriate verbiage, please point them out and I'll reevaluate.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011 2:19:00 AM  

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