Monday, May 23, 2011

LQ Fooding Around in LA at Starry Kitchen (Los Angeles, CA)

350 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90071
Mon 05/23/2011, 07:00p-09:30p

Starry Kitchen Exterior

As you've probably heard by now, Laurent Quenioux's Bistro LQ has shuttered. The sad news was announced in March, and since then, the Chef has continued his role at Vertical Wine Bistro, where he became Executive Chef late last year.

In his spare time, Quenioux has also been working on launching "LQ Fooding Around in LA," his own pop-up dinner series that's debuting at none other than Nguyen and Thi Tran's Starry Kitchen. Starry Kitchen is mainly a lunch spot, and only offers up dinner Thursdays and Fridays, so it made sense to have Quenioux come in and do dinners Sunday through Tuesday, every other week. LQ@SK will officially debut the first week of June, and will last anywhere from three to six months. In addition, starting this week, the Chef will also have a dish (think boudin noir banh mi) on Starry Kitchen's lunch menu.

Starry Kitchen Interior

LQ @ SK Menu
At Starry Kitchen, Quenioux will dishing up a five-course (plus amuse) prix fixe menu, priced at a reasonable $45pp. Given that this was a preview dinner, a complementary all rosé wine pairing by Jill Bernheimer of Domaine LA was also provided. Click for a larger version.

Amuse: Escamoles
Now here was a first for me. Otherwise known as "insect caviar," escamoles are a Mexican delicacy of ant larvae, typically harvested from the base of maguey or agave plants. The examples here, taken from Oaxaca then brought Stateside through Tijuana (at $67/lb I'm told), weren't offensive at all, but rather quite tasty. The larvae were fairly mild on their own, with a slight earthy relish that went beautifully with the citrus and veggies, and I especially liked the tang from the nasturtium and how that played against the tortilla. Lime-spiked beer, meanwhile, served as a fitting chaser to the dish. I could've used a few more of these!

Bread Lounge
A passable plate of bread was provided by upstart Downtown bakery Bread Lounge.

Nguyen Tran Nguyen Tran Nguyen Tran Nguyen Tran Nguyen Tran
Nguyen can get quite worked up when describing a plate.

Oxtail compote, pickled spring vegetables, Mustard Tapioca
1: Oxtail compote, pickled spring vegetables, Mustard Tapioca
2007 Raventos i Blanc "de Nit" Cava, Spain
A compote of oxtail showed off a ridiculous tenderness, as expected, and also conveyed a sweet spice that deftly complemented the beef's inherent savoriness. It was a flavor combination that actually linked up quite well with the rather restrained relish of that mustard tapioca. At the same time, I appreciated the countervailing tartness and crunch from the pickles.

Nguyen Tran Marian Bacol-Uba
Nguyen and Marian exchanging "Asian pose" faces.

Tai snapper, citruses, zucchini, tomatoes, Kohlrabi, smoked black sea salts
2: Tai snapper, citruses, zucchini, tomatoes, Kohlrabi, smoked black sea salts
2010 Francois Chidaine Touraine Rosé, France
Snapper arrived suitably soft, with a subtly peppery tinge. It was certainly serviceable, but I wanted bolder, more lusty flavors here; it was almost like the kitchen was holding out on us. Though the veggies (the peas especially) paired well with the fish, I didn't feel that the tai quite stood up to the citrus.

Teriyaki rabbit albondigas, teriyaki foie gras, miso, green Garlic tempura
3: Teriyaki rabbit albondigas, teriyaki foie gras, miso, green Garlic tempura
2010 LIOCO Indica Rosé, California
Given my historic distaste for overly saccharine foie, the mere thought of a teriyaki preparation threw up a big warning flag for me. Fortunately though, the sauce was delicately applied here, adding a touch of sugariness to the liver, but not overwhelming it. The foie was actually quite delicious, and actually served as a surprisingly fitting complement to those delightfully savory rabbit albondigas meatballs. Both elements, meanwhile, were perfectly balanced by the bright flavors of the tempura'd green garlic, as well as what I believe was shiso. A lovely dish--as Christina said: these balls are good!

Veal sweetbreads, Morels, Chanterelles, shishito peppers, yuzu kosho
4: Veal sweetbreads, Morels, Chanterelles, shishito peppers, yuzu kosho
2000 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Rosado, Spain
Sweetbreads rarely disappoint, and indeed, these Starry Kitchen-inspired nuggets were some of the best that I've experienced in a seemingly long while. Wonderfully crisp and teeming with flavor, the sweetbreads were a joy to eat alone, and even better when taken with their bed of forbidden rice. The mushrooms helped to elevate the weightiness of the dish even further, while the yuzukosho lent a piquant counterpoint to things. The key here for me though were the shishitos, which had a nice bit of heat that cut right through the sweetbreads. My favorite course of the evening.

Chocolate chipotle mousse, lime serrano gel, Cinnamon soil
5: Chocolate chipotle mousse, lime serrano gel, Cinnamon soil
Now this was pretty neat. The mousse showed off a prototypical chocolate sweetness initially, but then transitioned to a lovely bit of creeping chipotle-infused spice on the palate. The churro and cinnamon crumbs really did a nice job in tempering the heat, and I adored the peppery kick of those cilantro flowers. Nice!

Christina Liu, Laurent Quenioux
Christina and Chef Quenioux.

All in all, a delicious showing from Chef Quenioux. He was really able to show off his eclectic style, providing us with a suite of dishes that, for the most part, were successful in marrying his French roots with some unexpected culinary influences. It'll be fascinating to see how his cooking evolves over the months here at SK. As for what's next for Quenioux, the Chef is still working on some collaborative projects, and will be making an appearance at this year's Plate by Plate tasting benefit as well. However, he's also stated that his "roots remain in Pasadena," so look out for a permanent restaurant on the East Side in the coming year.

Starry Kitchen Interior

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Ibaraki Benefit Dinner at Comme Ca (West Hollywood, CA)

Ibaraki Benefit Dinner at Comme Ca
8479 Melrose Ave, West Hollywood, CA 90069
Wed 05/18/2011, 07:00p-11:10p

Comme Ca Exterior

On May 16th, some of LA's most vaunted chefs gathered at Breadbar Century City to host a dinner benefitting disaster relief efforts for the quake-devastated region of Ibaraki, Japan. The event was hosted by Breadbar's Noriyuki Sugie, a native son of Ibaraki, and showcased the talents of Hiroyuki Urasawa (Urasawa, Ginza Sushi-ko), Michael Cimarusti (Providence, Water Grill), Walter Manzke (Church & State, Bastide), David Myers (Comme Ça, Sona), and Ramon Perez (Sona).

Comme Ca Interior

Tonight's dinner, hosted by Myers, was a follow-up to Monday night, and featured a younger set of chefs: Jon Shook & Vinny Dotolo (Son of a Gun, Animal), Roy Choi (A-Frame, Chego), Michael Voltaggio (INK, The Dining Room), and Jordan Kahn (Red Medicine, XIV), in addition to Sugie and Myers himself.

Ibaraki Benefit Dinner at Comme Ca Menu Ibaraki Benefit Dinner at Comme Ca Drink List
Our menu this evening was a six-courser priced at $110pp, while wine pairings were available for an extra $30. In addition, Julian Cox was in the house with a special quartet of $10 cocktails on offer. Click for larger versions.

Julian Cox Clamoring for Attention

Pisco Punch Sublimation
Pisco Punch | pisco portón, pineapple, lemon, lime, star anise, vanilla bean
Sublimation | karlsson's gold potato vodka, lillet blanc, benedictine
Speaking of those cocktails, naturally we had to start with a twosome. The Pisco Punch was superb, demonstrating a complex sweetness kissed with overtones of vanilla, while the tartness of the citrus fruit formed a wonderful backbone with the pisco. The Sublimation, meanwhile, was also quite delicious, with a delectable herbaceous flair that paired well with the vodka--it sort of reminded us of a boozy ginger ale!

Miso Peanuts & Lotus with Green Powder
Amuse Bouche: Miso Peanuts & Lotus with Green Powder [Kuniko Yagi]
Placed before us on our table was a trio of snacks from Sona's former Chef de Cuisine, Kuniko Yagi, presented in an origami tray designed by the chef herself. I started with the "sandwich" of miso and peanuts, which showed off surprisingly deep, earthy flavors of fermented soybean, all moderated by the comparatively mild peanuts. Next was the lotus root, which was delectably savory, and almost potato chip-like in character. Last up was the senbei-like cracker, the most complex of the threesome, with a nice interplay of sweet and buttery flavors, all leading to a lingering, spicy finish.

Kelp Cured Fluke
1: Kelp Cured Fluke | spicy grapefruit [David Myers]
Jean Philippe N.V. Brut, Savoie, France
The meal proper got off to an interesting start with Myers' fluke, which was done up in kobujime fashion, a process in which fish is treated with konbu. The kelp absorbs excess moisture from the fish, resulting in a bolder, more assertive flavor; I last experienced this technique at Mori Sushi shortly before the restaurant was sold. In any case, whatever was done worked here, with the kelp deftly augmenting the fluke's inherent relish. At the same time, the tart, piquant smack from the citrus served as a fitting counterpoint in the dish, and I loved the peppery kick from the pink peppercorns as well.

Caesar Salad Soup
2: Caesar Salad Soup | pumpernickel, aged lard [Nori Sugie]
Domaine de Vedilhan Viognier, Vin de Pays D'Oe, Narbonne, France, 2010
What we had here was basically a Caesar salad in liquid form. The salad's traditional flavors were faithfully hinted at, though not conveyed outright, and went surprisingly well with the bittersweet flair from the lard and bread combination. This was a hearty, heartwarming soup, surprisingly rich, with an almost "hammy" savoriness to it. I especially appreciated the vegetal counterpoint provide by the microgreens. Actually, I found it a bit fascinating that Sugie used pumpernickel and aged lard here, two items that were prominently featured in his course on Monday. I guess he was determined to make full use of those ingredients!

David Myers Sandwich

Lemonade Waterloo Garden
Lemonade | chamomile-infused tequila, combier, cocchi americano, lemon, honey
Waterloo Garden | rhubarb-infused beefeater gin, campari, lemon, watermelon, sage
With our cocktails drunk up, it was time to go another round. The adult Lemonade had a great foundation of tequila, all layered with contrasting sweet and herbal flavors that worked beautifully--it was just a bit better than Mike's! As much as I liked the Lemonade, I enjoyed the Waterloo Garden even more, with its juicy watermelon base perked up by the slight astringency of the Campari and a touch of pepperiness from the sage.

Ling Cod
3: Ling Cod | pho fumet, herbs, lime, bok choy [Vinny Dotolo & Jon Shook]
Vivier Rosé of Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California, 2010
What was presented tonight was actually very similar to a dish that I had at Son of a Gun opening night, one that used pink grouper in place of lingcod. I preferred this version though. In essence, this was what I imagine a lingcod pho would be like! This fish itself was firm, lean, and meaty in body, with a subtly sweet savor that played wonderfully with the course's intense, heady Southeast Asian flavor. Very satisfying--I wanted a bigger bowl.

kimchi, century egg, salsa roja, salsa verde
Cracklin' Beer Can Chicken Cracklin' Beer Can Chicken
4: Cracklin' Beer Can Chicken | kimchi, century egg, salsa roja, salsa verde [Roy Choi]
Boont Amber Ale, Anderson Valley Brewing Company
Choi put forth his famous beer can chicken, which happens to be the signature dish over at A-Frame. As expected, the half-chicken was just about perfectly cooked, arriving at the table moist, tender, and draped in its wonderfully savory skin. The bird actually stood very well on its own, though I did appreciate the quartet of accoutrements presented, the two salsas especially. Nice crunch from the moo (daikon) kimchi as well, though I didn't quite understand the pairing of the egg.

Chef's Coat
Our lovely server showing off the signed chef's coat that was being auctioned. I took a shot at it, but ended up being outbid (though I'm told that they might be willing to do a second signed jacket...).

Veal Cheek
5: Veal Cheek | anchovy-potato, parsley root, lemon ashes [Michael Voltaggio]
Vivier Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon, 2009
Voltaggio was put in charge of the meat, and he decided to go with veal, a somewhat risky proposition. Indeed, I often find veal boring, but what we had tonight was just about the antithesis of humdrum. The meat itself was probably the most tender preparation of veal that I've ever eaten (chewing was barely required), and conveyed a delightfully robust flavor, ever so slightly tinged with an undertone of sweetness. This then paired with the almost bittersweet taste from the citrus, while the anchovy-potato served as a smart addition to the dish, counterbalancing some of the flavors at play while also mixing things up texturally.

David Myers, Jordan Kahn

'Abstract Calligraphy'
6: "Abstract Calligraphy" | kazuya akimoto [Jordan Kahn]
Kokpe 10 yr Tawny, Portugal
Clearly, the prize for the most abstruse menu description of the month goes to Kahn, who chose to create a dish inspired by the artwork of Kazuya Akimoto, an abstract expressionist painter from Tokyo. Reconditeness aside, the dessert was pretty spectacular. It utilized a lovely base of black sesame, which had a sweet nuttiness that played well with the combination of yogurt and chocolate, while the use of malt and fennel added a great savory flair to the dessert.

This dinner was a marked departure from the relative serenity of Monday night. Given who was in the kitchen, it wasn't surprising that the evening turned out loud, bold, and brash. This energy, this excitement was translated to the food, with the chefs turning out an impressive series of dishes that deftly conveyed their individual styles on the plate. A successful evening to be sure, and that's not even taking into account the over $20,000 raised!

David Myers Speaks, Everyone Listens

Monday, May 16, 2011

Ibaraki Benefit Dinner at Breadbar (Los Angeles, CA)

Ibaraki Benefit Dinner at Breadbar
10250 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90067
Mon 05/16/2011, 06:00p-09:15p

Hiro-san and Ken-san prepping Joe Miller and David Myers converse

My last visit to Breadbar Century City was almost a year ago, for Hatchi, the restaurant's now-defunct pop-up series. What brought me back was an even more compelling dinner, one featuring some of LA's most celebrated chefs, all cooking in support of disaster relief efforts for the quake-ravaged Japanese prefecture of Ibaraki.

David Myers and a fan Kuniko Yagi and tall foppish guy

The event was hosted by Breadbar's resident "Chief Gastronomy Officer" (and Ibaraki-native) Noriyuki Sugie, and featured the likes of David Myers (Comme Ça, Sona), Michael Cimarusti (Providence, Water Grill), Walter Manzke (Church & State, Bastide), Hiroyuki Urasawa (Urasawa, Ginza Sushi-ko), and Ramon Perez (Sona). Sugie has partnered with the governing body of Ibaraki Prefecture and Kiuchi Brewery (makers of the famed Hitachino Nest beer) to set up a special relief fund, and all proceeds from the dinner will go toward the rebuilding of a destroyed school and construction of a shelter for children in Sugie's hometown of Hitachi.

Joe Miller claps Chefs look bored

Tonight's dinner will be followed up with another on the 18th, hosted at Comme Ça by Sugie's compatriot Chef Myers (the two met at Charlie Trotter's), who also has ties to Japan. Since shuttering Sona almost exactly a year ago, he's opened a David Myers Café and two SOLA patisseries in Tokyo, in addition to debuting an additional outpost of Comme Ça at the new Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas. Wednesday's dinner will feature the talents of the "authenticity club," namely, Jon Shook (Son of a Gun, Animal), Jordan Kahn (Red Medicine, XIV), Michael Voltaggio (INK, The Dining Room), and Roy Choi (Chego, Kogi), in addition to Sugie and Myers himself.

Ibaraki Benefit Dinner at Breadbar Menu
This evening's menu was a six-course prix fixe, priced at $110 per person, while wine pairings from Mark Mendoza (sommelier at Comme Ça) and Christina Turley (ex-Momofuku sommelier and eldest daughter of Turley Wine Cellars founder Larry Turley) were available for an additional $30. In addition to the named chefs, note the signatures of Jacob Kear (ex-Lukshon), Kuniko Yagi (Myers' former Chef de Cuisine at Sona), and Ryan Howard (a chef from Comme Ça Las Vegas). Also in the kitchen were Margarita Manzke and Jon Butler (assisting Chef Manzke), James from Providence, as well as Urasawa's assistant Ken-san. Click for a larger version.

Pumpernickel, Aged Lard / Artichoke Barigoule / Caramelized Eel, Sansho Pepper Caramelized Eel, Sansho Pepper
Pumpernickel, Aged Lard Artichoke Barigoule
Canapé: Pumpernickel, Aged Lard / Artichoke Barigoule / Caramelized Eel, Sansho Pepper [Nori Sugie]
NV Jean Philippe, "Brut, Blanquette de Limoux," Languedoc, France
We began with a trio of hors d'œuvres from our host Chef Sugie. I went for the spoon of caramelized eel first, and really appreciated its sweetness, which recalled that of a traditional preparation of unagi. At the same time, the Sichuan pepper added a prick of pungency to the bite that helped balance things out. Next was the tab of pumpernickel, topped with shaved lard. Here, I liked the bittersweet, almost astringent flavors at play, and how the lard added a palpable sense of weight and richness to the canapé. Last up was the barigoule, Sugie's take on the classic Provençal dish of braised artichokes. I'm not generally a huge fan of artichoke, but here I enjoyed the sheer tenderness of the vegetable, as well as the slight piquancy of its foam topping.

Breadbar Bread
Given that we were at Breadbar, the bread was expectedly strong.

Tartar Duo - Hokkaido Scallop and Marinated Salmon Roe, Wasabi, Shiitake Mushroom / Toro, Osetra Caviar, Takuan, Scallion
Hokkaido Scallop and Marinated Salmon Roe, Wasabi, Shiitake Mushroom Toro, Osetra Caviar, Takuan, Scallion
1: Tartar Duo - Hokkaido Scallop and Marinated Salmon Roe, Wasabi, Shiitake Mushroom / Toro, Osetra Caviar, Takuan, Scallion [Hiro Urasawa]
Hananomai Sake "Katana" Junmai Ginjo, Japan
Urasawa stepped up with a twosome of tartar for our first proper course. I started with the scallop, and found a nice interplay between the sweet, delicate hotate and the sharp brininess imparted by the ikura, all moderated by spicy overtones of wasabi. The toro, meanwhile, was even better. The lusciousness of the fish just worked marvelously with the salty smack of caviar, while the combo of scallion and takuan (pickled daikon) did a great job in tempering the bite.

Soymilk Panna Cotta, Santa Barbara Sea Urchin, Geoduck Clam and Fresh Wasabi Soymilk Panna Cotta, Santa Barbara Sea Urchin, Geoduck Clam and Fresh Wasabi
2: Soymilk Panna Cotta, Santa Barbara Sea Urchin, Geoduck Clam and Fresh Wasabi [Michael Cimarusti]
Epiphany 2009 Riesling Santa Barbara County, California
Cimarusti's "fishbowl" was certainly the most visually arresting piece of the night. Here, the interaction between the panna cotta and uni was superb, with the two elements playing off each other perfectly, forming a luscious amalgam of sweet, creamy, ocean-y goodness. At the same time, the paper thin slices of geoduck further intensified the salinity in the course and added a nice bit of crunchiness as well, while the various veggies helped to moderate and ground the dish.

Santa Barbara Prawns, Thai Curry, Spring Pea Santa Barbara Prawns, Thai Curry, Spring Pea
3: Santa Barbara Prawns, Thai Curry, Spring Pea [Walter Manzke]
Jean-Marc Brocard, 2009 Petit Chablis, Burgundy, France
A healthy-sized Santa Barbara spot prawn arrived perfectly cooked, showing off a delightfully supple texture and crisp snappiness. Its subtle, subdued sapor was deftly complemented by the contrasting flavors of the spicy, yet sweet curry and bright, green, vegetal pea purée. All the while though, the prawn still managed to be the hero of the dish.

Charcoal Akage Beef, Maitake Tempura, Tsukemono
4: Charcoal Akage Beef, Maitake Tempura, Tsukemono [David Myers]
Fat Monk 2009 Pinot Noir, Central Coast, California
Our pièce de résistance, so to speak, brought us a rather disconcertingly blackened cut of akage-wagyu (red haired wagyu) beef. The meat had a bit of bite, along with a fantastic amount of "beefiness." Its taste was stupendous, and demonstrated a simply profound depth of bovine flavor, all accented by a tinge of bitterness from the char. I also appreciated the pairing of mushroom tempura, as well as the countervailing tartness of the various pickles presented.

Sakura Cream, Black Okinawa Sugar, Alpine Strawberry, Cherry Blossom-Yogurt Sorbet
5: Sakura Cream, Black Okinawa Sugar, Alpine Strawberry, Cherry Blossom-Yogurt Sorbet [Ramon Perez]
Mizbasho Sparkling Sake "Pure," Gunma, Japan
Finally, Perez wraps things up with a dessert showing off his typical artistry on the plate. Here, I enjoyed how the sakura (cherry blossom) cream formed strong base for the dish, a stage on which the other ingredients could really sing. There was an expert balance of sweet and tart flavors going on here, all heightened by a touch of savory flair. Very nice textural variation as well.

Hiroyuki Urasawa Michael Cimarusti
Walter Manzke David Myers
Ramon Perez Noriyuki Sugie
At the end of the meal, the chefs were each given a chance to speak (and pimp t-shirts--yes, we bought some!).

Some mignardises at the bar to close out the evening: chocolates, marshmallows, and green tea macarons.

All in all, a wonderful evening, full of great food, great company, all for a great cause. The chefs managed to exceed my expectations, putting together a menu that showed off their individual styles while still remaining cohesive. Given the strength of this meal, it'll be interesting to see what the "young guns" come up with on Wednesday!