Wednesday, March 07, 2012

CR8 Dark Illuminated Forest (Los Angeles, CA)

CR8 Dark Illuminated Forest Underground Dinner
Los Angeles, CA 90019
Wed 03/07/2012, 06:35p-12:35a

During Roberto Cortez's last underground dinner, CR8 Texture Lab, the Chef managed to impress with his artful, high-concept, and, of course, delicious cooking. Cortez has followed up with CR8 Dark Illuminated Forest, the fourth installment in the dining series, inspired by the contrasts between light and dark and the urban jungle that is Los Angeles. The series ran from March 5th through the 7th, and this final dinner was particularly special, with the Chef putting together an 11-course tasting menu designed specifically to pair with beer (some of which I personally selected for the evening).

Roberto Cortez Winter Melon Bite
Cortez kicked off the evening with some cocktails, specifically his Winter Melon Bite, made from Herradura silver tequila, homemade chile de árbol-infused vodka, compressed cantaloupe purée, honeycomb, muddled mint, orange, and lime, all topped with a St. Germain mousse. It was lovely, with a intensely fruity, sugary, almost lychee-like nose transitioning into a boozy complexity on the palate, all finished with a tinge of heat from the chili peppers. I loved the frothiness imparted by the elderflower foam as well. Interestingly, the Chef mentioned that he was inspired to make cocktails after tasting some of Matt Biancaniello's creations at Library Bar, and I could definitely discern some of his influence here.

Cramped Kitchen
Here, we see the team prepping in a rather cramped kitchen of dubious functionality. Four small electric burners and a faulty oven certainly didn't make things easy for them.

Dark Illuminated Forest
Candles on Dining Table
Cortez outdid himself this time, creating arguably the coolest, most intriguing dining environment that I'd ever experienced. It really drove home the concept of a Dark Illuminated Forest, and I loved the candle-lit mountain of a centerpiece. Also, pay special attention to the "chandelier" of tree branches, which the Chef constructed himself.

liquid moules frites
1: liquid moules frites
Orval Trappist Ale
Served on a homemade birch log plate, Cortez's amuse bouche riffed on the iconic Belgian dish of moules frites, traditionally a course of steamed mussels in broth, served with French fries. It was a great start to the meal, with the salinity of the mussels playing nicely off of the savory richness of the pommes frites mousse. I also enjoyed the crunch of the celery tempura here, while the Orval gelée did a perfect job in capturing the sweet, malty, yeasty essence of the Trappist ale.

leftover christmas garden
2: leftover christmas garden
The Bruery Orchard White
Our next course made use of a Christmas tree oil that the Chef made from his very own Christmas tree. Now that's hardcore. The oil lent an overarching, yet subtle pine-y flair to the dish, which featured pear in multiple forms: leather, cubes, and shaved "paper." The sweetness of the fruit actually paired well with the lactic tang of the Brillat Savarin, and the cheese contributed a marked creaminess to the course as well. At the same time, the heavier flavors at play were beautifully accented by the nuttiness of the walnut powder, and I really appreciated the slight astringent factor from the arugula and other greenery. Overall, a very smart dish showing off a lovely mix of disparate textures and tastes.

sleep patterns sleep nectar
3: sleep patterns
Deus Brut de Flandres
Poached with thyme and butter, chicken arrived at the table wonderfully tender and succulent, with a delicate savor deftly contrasted by crunchy, salty bits of skin. Meanwhile, the included "Sleep Nectar" of chamomile veloute lent an intoxicating floral character to the entire dish, and I loved how the fruity, yeasty funk of the beer complemented the flavors at play.

navajo brioche aromatic
4: navajo brioche aromatic
Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye
For course four, Cortez aimed to showcase bread as the star of a dish, not merely an accompaniment. He presented a Southwest-inspired Santa Fe cornmeal brioche that showed off a delightfully earthy depth of flavor that was perfectly mimicked by the rye beer. The Allium ash-coated "logs" of mesquite campfire butter, meanwhile, added fat, smoke, and an onion-y accent to the course, while a combination of chorizo and Abiquiu red chili powders lent a countervailing heat to things.

faux stout
5: faux stout
Estrella Damm Inedit
Some cognitive dissonance going on here in our next course. Though it looked like we had a single shot of Guinness, the dish was actually liquid black truffle, thickened with a black Venere rice purée, and joined by an oak-aged Blis maple sabayon. I tasted the intense, sugary bite of the maple syrup initially, followed up by loads of truffle flavor on the midpalate, while the finish was immensely savory and satisfying. The soft, refreshing flavors of the paired Inedit beer, meanwhile, balanced out all the other strong flavors present without overpowering the "stout."

duchesses' noodle
6: duchesses' noodle
Duchesse De Bourgogne
The deliciously fruity yet tart flavors of the Flanders red ale were matched with a meandering "noodle" of foie gras mousse. The earthy, decadent relish of the liver was proudly conveyed, yet beautifully balanced by the overt sugary sweetness of the dried cherry drops. I also appreciated the umami-rich counterpoint provided by the caramelized shiitakes, and the tiny fennel fronds imparted wondrous pricks of piquancy to the dish.

star brassica
7: star brassica
La Chouffe
Here, seaweed water-cooked potato, sous vide egg yolk, house-pickled mustard seeds, and cucumber strips were doused in a charred broccolini dashi bouillon. The heady, slightly astringent broth did a flawless job in integrating the dish, playing the weight of the potatoes against the light, bright cucumber, while the egg served as a creamy, luscious base to the interaction. Also superb were the crispy strings of what I believe was leek, which added delightful overtones of onion-y goodness to the dish.

thunder in the east
8: thunder in the east
Hitachino Nest XH
Cortez aimed to incorporate both Chinese and Japanese flavors into this next dish. Pork belly was appropriately fatty, tarted up by the use of ginger, but also imbued with a tremendous smokiness that was adroitly moderated by the bamboo rice risotto and greenery. The combination of shrimp sauce and sambal imparted further complexity and depth to the course, and I quite liked the citric undercurrent of flavor contributed by the lemon verbena oil. Loved the crunch of the rice cracker shards as well. The Japanese, sake cask-aged dark ale was a fitting complement.

bovine symphony #8
9: bovine symphony #8
BrewDog Paradox Smokehead
Our last savory course of the evening brought us red wine-braised wagyu beef cheeks, crusted in coriander. As expected, the meat was plenty tender, and showed off an abundance of deep, dark, and beefy flavors, accentuated by the robust coriander seeds, and all nicely moderated by the dish's base of polenta. A cream made from Strathdon Blue cheese and topped with candied lemon peel provided a soft, tangy counterpoint to the beef, but wasn't strictly necessary. A table favorite.

la's first snowball
10: la's first snowball
Hitachino Nest Ginger Brew
The first dessert was simply a joy to eat, recalling the flavors of Southeast Asia. The sweetness of the crushed coconut cream "snowball" transitioned marvelously to the tart, sour smack of its viscous lemongrass and kaffir lime center. Dill, meanwhile, contributed some wonderful, overarching aromatics to the dish, and pomegranate seeds provided textural variation and tiny bursts of sweetness.

xocolatl 2012
11: xocolatl 2012
Left Hands Milk Stout
For our final course of the night, Cortez was inspired by the traditions of chocolate in the Aztec and Mayan cultures, and the dessert itself even arrived on an Aztec sun stone plate constructed by the Chef himself. Triangles of Amedei Chuao cream displayed a fantastic bittersweetness, accented by the nuttiness of sesame and sunflower seeds, and paired wonderfully with the black quenelle of pure Mexican vanilla. Meanwhile, chile meringue and paper added a certain crunchiness to the mix, and also gave undertones of spice to the dessert. An orb containing atolli popcorn and corn husk caramel was provided as well, with the liquid inside serving to tie all the various elements together nicely. Edible gold foil was even used, a reference to the gold mugs that Emperor Moctezuma employed to drink his xocolatl.

Beer Lineup
The beer pairings for the evening. Contributions from my personal stash included the Bruery Orchard White (my favorite witbier, discontinued sadly), Duchesse De Bourgogne, La Chouffe, Hitachino Nest XH, and the incomparable Islay scotch cask-aged BrewDog Paradox Smokehead.

Once again, Chef Cortez managed to delight, surprise, and satisfy, putting together a meal that really showed off some thoughtful, complex, and delectable flavors, in addition to the sheer artistry and panache of his cooking. In fact, it can be said that Cortez has transcended the mere moniker of an underground dinner, instead providing patrons with what he likes to call a "dining installation," a further nod to the seemingly unavoidable intersection between art and food.


Blogger sygyzy said...

Wow first of all did you change or customize how your site looks in a mobile browser? It's amazing and looks way different than on the desktop. Anyway, great job on the review. I though this was one of your better reports. You know, Cortez is from Santa Barbara but chooses to cook in LA. I don't blame him; there isn't an audience here.

Friday, March 09, 2012 1:34:00 AM  
Anonymous agavin said...

Wow. Just 3 nights and he mixes up a third of the dishes. Compare with monday night!

Friday, March 09, 2012 7:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Kevin. Kind of random, but you should check out the Simpson's Episode about Food Bloggers. Pretty funny.

Sunday, March 11, 2012 4:30:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

sygyzy: Nope, I haven't changed any settings at all. I'm curious, how does it look different? In any case, I know that Chef Cortez was from SB, but didn't he move to LA recently?

Andy: Wow indeed. I think we got the better end of that deal though. ;)

Anon: Ah yes, you're talking about The Food Wife. I've definitely seen that episode, and appreciated the somewhat obscure foodist references within.

Monday, March 12, 2012 6:15:00 PM  
Blogger Ruaraidh said...

First up, what fantastic looking food and how I wish I was there to eat it. Secondly, how did you get the Strathdon Blue? We haven't exported any through Neal's Yard for a while as we have had terrible trouble with it turning pink and brown but hope to re start soon. One day I will lever myself out of Scotland and try your incredible cuisine. Kindest regards. Ruaraidh Stone, Tain, Scotland.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012 12:29:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Wow, what a pleasure it is to have the cheese maker stumble across this post!

Unfortunately I have no idea how the Chef got hold of your Strathdon Blue. You can try contacting him through his web site to find out.

Monday, March 19, 2012 1:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Roberto said...

Kevin, thanks again for bringing the great beers! My new beer journey has been quite wonderful and pairing food and beer is one of my new passion!

Oh, I got the Strathdon blue from a friend who knows a friend, not easy to get!

Saturday, March 31, 2012 10:54:00 PM  
Anonymous agavin said...

Kevin, are you going to this weeks CR8 event? I'm headed there in about an hour myself with -- taking a cue from your beer pairings -- a set of eight wines I matched to the courses.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012 4:02:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Nice! So how did it turn out? I'll actually be there on Thursday.

Thursday, April 26, 2012 1:51:00 AM  
Anonymous agavin said...

It turned out great, although it will take me a few days to write up. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 26, 2012 3:09:00 PM  
Anonymous agavin said...

Here we go, the Purotekuta write up!

Saturday, April 28, 2012 7:41:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Great work Andy! I just posted my report here as well.

Sunday, April 29, 2012 4:24:00 AM  

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