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.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Sunny Spot (Los Angeles, CA)

Sunny Spot Restaurant
822 Washington Blvd, Venice, CA 90292
Fri 11/18/2011, 07:00p-11:00p

Sunny Spot Exterior

Someway, somehow, I'd managed to wait almost an entire year before making it out to Roy Choi's last venture, A-Frame. Given how much I enjoyed that restaurant, however, there was no way that I'd be so lackadaisical this time around. And indeed, we ended up with opening night reservations to Sunny Spot, Papi Chulo's latest and greatest, a place where every day is a holiday, a homage to Caribbean-inspired creations that could be likened to "A-Frame goes on vacation." Helming the kitchens is Beechwood alum Chris Houlihan, while A-Frame's Beth Kellerhalls returns as Pastry Chef.

Sunny Spot Interior
The former Beechwood building has been transformed by Sean Knibb (who also did A-Frame) into a kitschy, ornate, tropical space, with bold colors, lush textures, and a sense of whimsy--I'm not in love with the vibe, but it'll certainly do. Sunny Spot is divided into three distinct spaces, seating roughly 180 in total: a bouncing Front Room, a more sedate Patio, and the Rum Den (pictured), the most formal environment and the only one to take reservations.

Sunny Spot Menu Sunny Spot Drink Menu
Sunny Spot's menu is surprisingly lengthy, composed, as is the trend these days, of reasonably-priced plates meant for sharing. The food is complement by a focused list of beverages, including cocktails from A-Frame's Brian Butler. Click for larger versions.

IMPERIAL FIZZ [$12.00] | rye, jamaican rum, angostura, egg white, lemon
AIR MAIL [$12.00] | barbados rum, sorrel, lime, champagne
I'm a sucker for frothiness in my cocktails, so I naturally gravitated toward the Imperial Fizz, which showed off a great mix of bittersweet and tangy flavors, while the egg white added some weight and textural play to the drink. The Air Mail was good, though not quite as successful, with loads of tartness from the sorrel and lime, though not much Champagne character.

broiled HAMACHI COLLAR garlic thyme butter, lime, banana chili glaze
broiled HAMACHI COLLAR garlic thyme butter, lime, banana chili glaze [$14.00]
We kicked things off food-wise with some hamachi kama, a super fatty, ridiculously tender cut of fish that was practically oozing oil. It was everything that you'd expect from yellowtail collar, with the added richness of butter. Balancing out all this luxuriousness was the lime and chili glaze, along with a pleasant bit of astringency from the char.

WHAT A JERK WINGS double coasted, double fried
WHAT A JERK WINGS double coasted, double fried [$11.00]
Here, Choi tries to pay tribute to Jamaican jerk chicken. The wings were suitably tender, and still succulent, with a dark, sweet, spicy smack and pricks of lingering heat on the finish.

sugar cane FRIED PIGS FEET chili vinegar
sugar cane FRIED PIGS FEET chili vinegar [$6.00]
If you're a bit queasy about pig's feet, give these a try. They were pretty non-threatening, with a crisp, yet fatty consistency perked up by plenty of chewy bits. The trotters were rich in porcine goodness, with the accompanying chili vinegar adding a much-appreciated touch of piquancy.

DIABLO PRAWNS rum glaze, garlic butter, herbs
DIABLO PRAWNS rum glaze, garlic butter, herbs [$13.00]
Diablo prawns, unfortunately, were a letdown. I found them overcooked, and the flavors seemed muddled, flat, with the only thing of interest being a sharp spiciness that stuck to my palate.

FISH BONE FISHERMAN'S STEW shrimp, clams, cod collars, snapper scraps, halibut
FISH BONE FISHERMAN'S STEW shrimp, clams, cod collars, snapper scraps, halibut [$12.00]
This homely looking stew was easily one of the highlights of the meal. The broth itself possessed an incredible depth of flavor, with loads of fishy, briny notes leading to a perfect amount of heat on the close--I wanted some bread to sop up the remaining liquid! The seafood was also quite commendable, with each item distinct and true to form, making for a rustic and immensely satisfying eating experience.

trinidad rum, dolin blanc, galliano, cio ciaro SUNNY OLD-FASHIONED
DICTATOR [$12.00] | trinidad rum, dolin blanc, galliano, cio ciaro
SUNNY OLD-FASHIONED [$12.00] | nicaraguan 12 yr rum, honey, allspice, angostura
Time for round #2. The Dictator was pretty delicious, with refreshingly bittersweet flavors intermingled with the weight of the rum. The Sunny Old-Fashioned, meanwhile, was a tropical twist on the classic cocktail, with a lovely sugary spiciness that I enjoyed; great use of the honey here.

slow roasted G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time) pickled mango
slow roasted G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time) pickled mango [$15.00]
Next up was another stand-out course, and quite possibly my favorite preparation of goat ever. The meat was supple and flaky, with a profound, heady savor loaded up with sweet, smoky, and spicy flavors (with no detectable gaminess). It was delectable alone, but I really appreciated its accoutrements of ripe, juicy mango and crisp lettuce. Taking all three elements together was pretty spectacular.

pickled DRAGON FRUIT [$6.00]
In the world of fruits, the dragon fruit is probably the coolest looking one of them all. Also known as a pitaya, it displayed a kiwi-esque texture and a mildly saccharine flavor amped up by a marked tartness from the pickling process.

passion fruit SQUID coconut, chilies, mint
passion fruit SQUID coconut, chilies, mint [$11.00]
Upon taking a bite of this, I was instantly reminded of a similar dish that I'd had recently at The Slanted Door. As was the case there, I loved the squid's soft, supple consistency, but found the dish overly sweet. Fortunately, the chilies and mint added some much-needed punch, but I was looking for more of that zing.

DRY HARBOUR [$12.00] | pot still rum, lime, absinthe, habanero pineapple shrub
CHILCANO BAY [$12.00] | pisco, lime, ginger, lemongrass, fernet branca
Time for more booze. I liked the Dry Harbour, with its complex interplay of sweet, then herbaceous, then spicy flavors that really worked for me. The Chilcano Bay was also quite fetching, with an almost savory character and tons of lip-puckering goodness from the combo of ginger and lemongrass.

MUH-F*K*N MOFONGO overripe plantains, bacon, garlic, black pepper
MUH-F*K*N MOFONGO overripe plantains, bacon, garlic, black pepper [$5.00]
This was my first time trying mofongo, which is a Puerto Rican dish of fried plantains. Choi's version wasn't much to look at, but the flavors were there, with subtle hints of sweetness going along with a great, garlicky savoriness and overarching notes of bacon. It was actually quite charming, though I would've liked some more textural variation in the dish.

GRILLED RIB EYE pickled dandelion greens, mustard seeds, banana chili sauce
GRILLED RIB EYE pickled dandelion greens, mustard seeds, banana chili sauce [$22.00]
I wasn't thrilled with the ribeye, which I found far too thin, with a rather unsatisfying consistency. The meat was fairly tasty though, with a good bit of bovine relish and a pleasantly charred exterior. The dressing of banana and chili was somewhat disconcerting to me, but did do an admirable job, along with the dandelion salad, in moderating the power of the steak.

CUBAN HEATER pigs cartilage terrine, prosciutto, provolone, pickled jalapeno, mustard
CUBAN HEATER pigs cartilage terrine, prosciutto, provolone, pickled jalapeno, mustard [$11.00]
Here was another one of my favorites: the Chef's take on the classic Cuban sandwich, substituting terrine for roast pork, prosciutto for standard ham, provolone for Swiss, and jalapeños for pickles. The end result was fantastic, a delightful mélange of tastes and textures with the pork taking center stage, augmented by the luscious cheese yet moderated by the zestiness of the pickles and mustard. A must try.

brown sugar scotch bonnet SHORT RIBS
brown sugar scotch bonnet SHORT RIBS [$15.00]
Our final savory course of the night brought us short ribs, which are almost always a good bet. Taste-wise, these were spot on, with a great mix of smoky, savory, spicy, and sweet flavors that showed flashes of galbi influence. My only quibble was that I wanted the ribs to be more tender.

Time for the sweet stuff: A goblet of coco-ginger sorbet really hit the spot, with a wonderfully smooth, lush, pure coconut flavor accented by just a smidge of ginger spice. I could've eaten a pint!

house made CARAMELS Maldon sea salt, toasted cashews
house made CARAMELS Maldon sea salt, toasted cashews [$4.00]
Caramel, salt, and nuts--it's a winning combination to be sure, and did not disappoint us here.

NOVEMBER PIE SWEET POTATO SOUFFLE with walnut crust, toasted marshmallow ice cream
NOVEMBER PIE SWEET POTATO SOUFFLE with walnut crust, toasted marshmallow ice cream [$6.00]
Rounding things out was the soufflé, which managed to be a pleasant surprise. I adored the perfectly flaky crust, and appreciated the restrained sugariness of the sweet potato as well. And that ice cream? Gimme a pint too. Everything just came together wonderfully here.

Overall, we enjoyed a night of mostly good eats, with a few misses here and there. There were some issues, but nothing that can't be fixed, and although the food isn't at the refinement level of A-Frame's yet, I'm confident that it'll get there given time. It looks like the hits just keep on coming for Roy Choi.