Saturday, December 03, 2011

Wolvesmouth Underground Dinner (Los Angeles, CA) [3]

Wolvesmouth Underground Dinner
Los Angeles, CA
www.wolvesmouth.com
Sat 12/03/2011, 07:00p-12:15a




Yes, this was a 40-course dinner.

Forty. 4-0. XL. Two score. That seems absolutely, ridiculously insane, but if anyone's going to attempt such a feat, I'd leave it up to Craig Thornton, LA's preeminent underground chef. Indeed, for this very special Wolvesmouth dinner, organized by serial twitterato Remil for his birthday (the "Epic 40 at 40"), Thornton channeled the spirit of El Bulli to bang out a meal of near incomparable length and complexity. Certainly, this was my longest prix fixe experience ever, beating out the likes of Alinea and even Urasawa. Only à la carte marathons at Picca and The Bazaar have produced higher course counts.

caesar. brioche purée. braised baby gem lettuce. brioche.
1: caesar. brioche purée. braised baby gem lettuce. brioche.
We kicked things off with a sort of reimagined Caesar salad, with a perfectly toasted rectangle of bread pairing well with the tangy dollop of dressing, which really did recall the essence of the traditional salad.

85-day strip loin. shallot jam. pink lady apples. horseradish.
2: 85-day strip loin. shallot jam. pink lady apples. horseradish.
Normally, meat is aged from a few days to roughly a month, but tonight, we had the pleasure of experiencing a cut of beef that'd been aged for a whopping 85 days (some of us were reminded of Saison). The result of the extended process was a strip loin that was quite unlike any other that I'd had before, with an intriguing, mature flavor profile that really highlighted the inherent character of the meat. It actually went superbly with the sugary shallots, and I enjoyed the countering tang from the horseradish as well.

scallop. vinegar. mango. purple cauliflower.
3: scallop. vinegar. mango. purple cauliflower.
Amazing colors on this one, but smelling the dish, I was a bit concerned, because all I could get on the nose was the vinegar. Things came together on the palate, though, with a spot on, still slightly rare scallop pairing beautifully with the cauliflower, while the vinegar provided points of piquancy.

slow cooked carrot. lime, sheep's milk cheese. chicory-malt. carrot top.
4: slow cooked carrot. lime, sheep's milk cheese. chicory-malt. carrot top.
Here was one of the more interesting courses of the night. The sweetness intrinsic to the carrot was really accentuated by the cooking process, forming a base to the dish that was augmented by the lushness of the cheese. Meanwhile, the chicory and malt combined effortlessly to make for a fascinating interplay of warmly sweet, spicy, and astringent flavors.

uni tart. ginger. lime. uni sauce.
5: uni tart. ginger. lime. uni sauce.
A spicy nose of ginger was flawless when paired with the sweetly saline flavors of the sea urchin. The pastry base brought a moderating element to the course as well as some textural variation, but was a bit too crunchy for me. I would've preferred something flakier, crumblier.

mandarin concentrate. mandarin gelée.
6: mandarin concentrate. mandarin gelée.
Working as a sort of intermezzo, this dish showed off the pure, fresh, unmitigated quintessence of orange, and served as a nice jolt to my taste buds.

cornbread soup. kale. honey. lime, bacon.
7: cornbread soup. kale. honey. lime, bacon.
The soup was delicious, really doing a great job in capturing the character of the corn bread, its sweetness playing impeccably with the salty bits of bacon, while the kale made for a great touch of astringency on the finish. Just a lovely amalgam of Southern-inspired flavors.

fried green tomato. tabasco aioli.
8: fried green tomato. tabasco aioli.
Thornton continued his Southern bent with the best rendition of fried green tomatoes that I'd ever had: a consummate mix of succulent, supple, and crisp textures with a satisfying tartness that worked faultlessly with the creeping spice of the Tabasco. Yum!

Remil & O.E.
My gift to Remil: a 40 for his 40th.

pork belly. balsamic boston baked black eyed peas. smoked tomato.
9: pork belly. balsamic boston baked black-eyed peas. smoked tomato.
The Chef followed up with his take on "pork & beans," which was pretty fantastic. The meat itself displayed an immense, tender, porky goodness that I loved, and was beautifully balanced by the comparative austerity of the BEPs, while the balsamic added just a touch of sweetness to the fray. Very nice.

pimento cheese. corn fritter.
10: pimento cheese. corn fritter.
Another highlight of the meal brought together a corn fritter with a pimento cheese of Hook's cheddar and piquillo pepper. I adored the straightforward, comfort food tastiness of the fritter, and how it went with the cheesy, peppery-sweet spread. Classic flavors, but refined.

banana pudding. fruit salad. poprocks.
11: banana pudding. fruit salad. poprocks.
Thornton concluded his departure to the American South with his take on banana pudding. The essence of banana was clearly conveyed here, and delicious, while the "fruit salad" provided some levity to the mix. The pop rocks, meanwhile, added some textural fireworks to the dish, and made for a fun, whimsical close to this chapter of the meal.

date. marcona. serrano. cheese. piquillo. sherry vinegar.
12: date. marcona. serrano. cheese. piquillo. sherry vinegar.
Here, the kitchen drew inspiration from Spanish cooking, serving up a rendition of almond-stuffed dates wrapped in ham. It was a delectable bite, a great mix of nutty, sweet, savory, and spicy flavors that transported us to the south of Spain.

kohlrabi. caramelized onion. thyme. mascarpone.
13: kohlrabi. caramelized onion. thyme. mascarpone.
A subtle sweetness from the onion, a slight herbaceousness from the thyme, and the weight of the mascarpone all combined for an eating experience that recalled French onion dip!

duck breast. brussels sprouts. duck skin. duck sauce.
14: duck breast. brussels sprouts. duck skin. duck sauce.
One of my favorite courses of the night proudly bore the profoundly rich flavors of duck. The meat was wonderful alone, deeply immersed in the essence of the bird, but was even better when paired with the crunch and bitterness of the sprouts. Superb.

candy cap consommé.
15: candy cap consommé.
A candy cap is a variety of mushroom noted for its highly aromatic qualities. Here, a consommé prepared from it conveyed an earthy bitterness at first, which then transitioned to a maple syrup-esque sugariness that lingered long on the palate.

sweetbreads. lingonberry. potato purée. dill.
16: sweetbreads. lingonberry. potato purée. dill.
Here, Thornton was inspired by Nordic cuisine, delivering one of the best preparations of sweetbreads that I'd ever experienced. The ris was cooked perfectly, delivering a rich, yet refined and subtle flavor that really drew me in. The sweetbreads were then deftly counterbalanced by the creamy potato and spicy dill, while the lingonberry added a wonderfully tart accent to the dish.

pine soda. chanterelle. pine soda. chanterelle.
17: pine soda. chanterelle.
Our next course brought together a shot of pine soda along with a dollop of chanterelle cream. The mushrooms conveyed an immense, rich, heady earthiness that was tempered by the comparative levity of the soda. I believe the overall effect was meant to evoke the sensation of the forest, though the linkage could've been a bit clearer.

squab. maple jus. jerusalem artichoke. chestnut.
18: squab. maple jus. jerusalem artichoke. chestnut.
Squab is probably my favorite eating bird, and this course just reminded me why. The incredibly deep, heady flavors of the pigeon were wonderfully displayed here, joined by a crisp, delightfully savory skin. I appreciated the additional complexity imparted by the chestnut, while the maple added just a prick of sweetness to the dish that topped things off marvelously.

fresh fig. poached fig. hazelnut. roaring forties blue.
19: fresh fig. poached fig. hazelnut. roaring forties blue.
Next up was a bit of a "cheese course" featuring a cow's milk blue cheese. The Roaring Forties was actually quite mild for a bleu, with a salty, nutty character that paired well with the sugary figs.

toasted marshmallow. panna cotta. brown butter. rice krispie.
20: toasted marshmallow. panna cotta. brown butter. rice krispie.
And now, a sweet interlude. As expected, the mix of toasted marshmallow and brown butter was tremendous, but the star of the show here was that sphere of Rice Krispies goodness, which just went terrificly with its various accompaniments.

butternut squash. goat cheese. cookies. reduced apple cider.
21: butternut squash. goat cheese. cookies. reduced apple cider.
Given my disdain for butternut squash, I wasn't in love with this course, finding the soup rather sugary for my tastes. I appreciated the countervailing flavors of the cheese, but still, I wanted more to balance out that sweetness.

Kitchen Action
Action in the kitchen.

seared roman gnocchi. pesto.
22: seared roman gnocchi. pesto.
Though most of the gnocchi we have today is prepared with potato, Thornton's version here utilized only semolina, in true Roman fashion. It was pretty amazing, being light, fluffy, but with a lovely, crisp sear and refined savory flair that paired superbly with the aromatic, basil-tinged pesto sauce.

beet. morbier. green apple.
23: beet. morbier. green apple.
Beet arrived soaked in honey, which tempered my dislike for the root vegetable. The sugariness of the beet and the creaminess of the Morbier actually worked together nicely, while the apple served to provide some brightness to the bite.

chicken liver mousse. pickled pear. watermelon radish, brioche. fleur de sel.
24: chicken liver mousse. pickled pear. watermelon radish, brioche. fleur de sel.
A mousse of chicken liver was stupendous, one of the best versions I've had in fact. Its intense, characteristically liver-y flavors were at the forefront, but at the same time, I loved the countering tang of the radish and salt, as well as the bit of sweetness from the fruit. One of the highlights of the meal.

cashew cheese. broccoli.
25: cashew cheese. broccoli.
Another knockout dish was this seemingly simple cylinder of broccoli, paired with cashew cheese. This was a vegan dish, so the cheese wasn't really cheese at all, but puréed cashews mixed with yeast, water, and a variety of other ingredients. Despite that, we all appreciated its richness and depth, as well as its slightly nutty relish, and loved how it paired with the light, bright broccoli.

manila clam chowder. potato. crème fraîche. chive. bacon.
26: manila clam chowder. potato. crème fraîche. chive. bacon.
Thornton's version of clam chowder really showed off the inherent brine of the clams, which joined forces with the bacon to form some particularly intense flavors. I actually would've preferred it to be toned down a notch, though the potato did do an admirable job in moderating the dish.

dungeness crabs salad. toast. pickled cherry bomb chile. sour cream. lime juice.
27: dungeness crabs salad. toast. pickled cherry bomb chile. sour cream. lime juice.
Next up, another favorite. It's hard to go too wrong with crab salad, and the one here was fantastic, a beautiful blend of sweet, saline, and sour flavors perked up by a hint of heat from the pickled chile. Wonderful over toast.

rabbit. grape. hibiscus. red onion. cotija. jalapeño. cilantro
28: rabbit. grape. hibiscus. red onion. cotija. jalapeño. cilantro.
A somewhat Mexican-inflected dish brought out some of the best rabbit that I'd had in a while. The rabbit--tender and tasty--was still the hero in the course, but it was also great to see the various other facets of flavor at play. The juicy sweetness of the grapes, the tangy onions, the herb-y cilantro--everything just melded together fabulously here.

pork belly part 2. filipino garlic nuts. two-month pickled papaya. pickling liquid.
29: pork belly part 2. filipino garlic nuts. two-month pickled papaya. pickling liquid.
At this point, the meal took a detour to Asia. A small mound of pork belly arrived hidden beneath a circular spring roll wrapper. As such, we proceeded to roll up the various ingredients, making sure to include all the elements presented to us. The end result was pretty astounding, with the rich, fatty belly pairing utterly well with the tart, tangy fruit and crunchy nuts, all tied together by the light, sticky veil.

duck leg, green apple. orange. black vinegar.
30: duck leg. green apple. orange. black vinegar.
Duck leg arrived in "meatball" form, proudly displaying the rich, rustic nature of the bird, joined by the dark flavors of the vinegar, while the apple contributed some levity and crunch to the dish.

lobster. celery root remoulade. black sesame. cherry-white soy vinaigrette.
31: lobster. celery root remoulade. black sesame. cherry-white soy vinaigrette.
Lobster finally made its appearance in tremendous fashion, showing off a delectably crisp, snappy consistency along with its trademark sugary brine. The celery root added some body and weight to the course, but the crux of the dish was that black sesame, with its earthy sweetness that formed a stellar match with the lobster.

persimmon. wasabi peas.
32: persimmon. wasabi peas.
Up next was just about the most perfect slice of persimmon that I'd ever had, with a restrained sweetness mitigated by the crunchy heat of the peas.

yuzu curd. green tea. japanese black sugar. shortbread.
33: yuzu curd. green tea. japanese black sugar. shortbread.
And now, a proper, plated dessert of Japanese inspiration. Yuzu curd was airy, ethereal, and expectedly sour, but balanced by the astringency of the tea and sweet, crumbly shortbread.

delicata squash. orange blossom. mint. yogurt.
34: delicata squash. orange blossom. mint. yogurt.
I'm not terribly keen on squash, but Thornton worked it out fairly well here, countervailing the sweetness of the vegetable with the application of a light, bright yogurt.

yellow fin tuna. haricot vert. lorenzo #5 olive oil. 12-year balsamic.
35: yellow fin tuna. haricot vert. lorenzo #5 olive oil. 12-year balsamic.
Yellowfin arrived expertly seared, though fairly indistinctive on its own. As such, its accoutrements were key, with the olive oil bestowing a great weight and depth to the tuna, the balsamic imparting a certain tanginess, and the green beans adding a wonderful crunch and savory flair to the dish.

fluke. spinach. vinaigrette. shallot. chive.
36: fluke. spinach. vinaigrette. shallot. chive.
Fluke, happily, was pretty amazing, and probably the best preparation of the fish that I'd ever tasted. It came to the table at a perfect temperature, and displayed a profound depth of flavor that paired flawlessly with the slight bitterness of the greens, as well as the tart, tangy vinaigrette.

fried hobo fish. bacon. tartar sauce. tomato.
37: fried hobo fish. bacon. tartar sauce. tomato.
Here, we were presented with hobo, a fish that I'm not too familiar with. From a quick Google search, it looks like it's also known as red gurnard, which I'd had before in sushi form at Nozomi. In any case, it was damn tasty, with a firm, yet supple texture and a restrained flavor that paired well with the zesty tartar, amped up by a touch of salt from the bacon.

rabbit. mustard.
38: rabbit. mustard.
Our final savory course of the evening brought us what basically amounted to a rabbit meatball, enrobed in a karashi-like sauce. It didn't match the previous rabbit course (#28) in complexity, but instead presented a straightforward savoriness, one counteracted by the piquancy of the mustard.

lime pudding. coconut sugar. pound cake. coconut-finger lime frosting.
39: lime pudding. coconut sugar. pound cake. coconut-finger lime frosting.
Pound cake was fairly light, with a relatively subdued sweetness that played well with the acerbic nature of the pudding. The coconut-finger lime frosting, meanwhile, served as the proverbial icing on the cake.

tofu-doughnut mousse. roasted soy bean coffee.
40: tofu-doughnut mousse. roasted soy bean coffee.
We concluded with a cup of "coffee," its bittersweet, smoky, complex taste balancing out the overtly saccharine flavors of the concealed mousse nicely.

Wolvesmouth Crew
Thornton (second from right) wouldn't be able to execute a meal of this caliber without his crew, who assist the Chef in prep, cooking, plating, and dishwashing, as well as front-of-the-house service. The dinner went off pretty much without a hitch, and clocked in at five hours for 560 plates of food--quite an accomplishment in its own right.

Honestly, when I initially heard about this dinner at the Wolvesden, I wasn't quite sure if the Chef could really pull it off, but he delivered, in a huge way, giving us dishes that were simultaneously creative and comforting, yet still indicative of the trademark Wolvesmouth style. I think this meal really drove home exactly why Thornton is considered the most inventive, pioneering, and simply baddest-ass underground chef in the City.

11 Comments:

Anonymous uhockey said...

Excellent post - the guy is definitely a talent. Will have to get on the mailing list one I move out west in June.

Excellent pictures, as always Kevin.

Monday, December 05, 2011 7:19:00 AM  
Blogger Epicuryan said...

Damn I can't believe I left for DC early and missed this. Kevin ask Craig to do a 50 course for your housewarming ;)

Monday, December 05, 2011 12:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Marian the Foodie said...

I knew you would put up an awesome post and pictures. Love it! Remil invited me to this but I can't eat that much right now with all the eating I've been doing this season. Plus I had a wedding and bdays that night.

How did you feel after? Was it hard to eat all 40?

Monday, December 05, 2011 1:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Rodzilla said...

Wow. That would be damned impressive in a commercial kitchen. I'd love to know how long it took him to draw up that menu. Great post.

Monday, December 05, 2011 4:30:00 PM  
Blogger sygyzy said...

Honestly, I've never paid attention to Wolvesmouth posts here or elsewhere. Sure, I skimmed through it but never really gave pause but this one was worth commenting on. My jaw dropped after the first dish and remained that way through most of the courses. I was just thinking, just from a perspective of someone who does regular dinner parties for 4-6 people, who much of an effort this is for 21 diners (840 / 40). Unreal!

Monday, December 05, 2011 4:38:00 PM  
OpenID foodtruckadventure.com said...

I'm so glad I'm part of such an epic culinary adventure. Portions were just right and pacing was perfect. At the end of the meal, it left me full ( not nauseatingly full ) and satisfied. Kudos to Chef Craig & staff.

Monday, December 05, 2011 5:57:00 PM  
Blogger dj said...

wow! What happens if you're still hungry after this epic meal?

Monday, December 05, 2011 9:03:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Michael: For sure. But you're moving out here? Permanently?

Ryan: Unfortunately there's no way that'd be possible in my kitchen. It's already tough enough at the loft with his small oven and questionable stovetop.

Marian: Actually, I wasn't all that full. The pacing and portions were spot on, and pretty much everybody finished everything.

Roddy: If I recall correctly, he planned the menu in mere days!

sygyzy: Unreal indeed! I was surprised that he was able to pull it off so smoothly, in such a short amount of time. I was afraid that the dinner would stop at course 29, or take eight hours.

Emilie: For sure. Too bad we didn't really get to talk though!

DJ: You have some of the left over food. ;) At the end, I was sated, but not stuffed.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011 3:22:00 AM  
Blogger Krystle said...

so like you've said its underground they legally cant charge, its free? I am on the mailing list and was invited but didnt know if i could afford it... not even donations? how does this work?

Thursday, January 12, 2012 3:46:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

For a typical dinner, it's all donation based. You're not provided guidance on the amount, but usually people do $100 to $200.

Now, this particular event was organized as a private dinner, so there was a fixed cost communicated ahead of time.

Sunday, January 15, 2012 3:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Um... the plating looks like vomit. I feel like I'm taking.crazy pills. since when did things that look like poop become interesting?

Saturday, February 02, 2013 12:43:00 AM  

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