Friday, June 15, 2012

Mélisse (Santa Monica, CA) [2]

Melisse Restaurant "Foie for All"
1104 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90401
Fri 06/15/2012, 07:30p-11:55p

Melisse Exterior

With the controversial foie gras ban slated to take effect July 1st, now is definitely the time to get your fill of the stuff, and Josiah Citrin's Melisse--sort of the bastion of fancy French fine dining in the Southland--is just about the ideal place for such a thing. From now until the end of the month, the restaurant is serving up its "Foie for All" menu, an eight-course celebration of the fatty liver, each and every night.

Melisse Foie for All Menu
The "Foie for All" menu comprised eight courses at a price of $185, plus $95 for wine pairing by Sommelier Brian Kalliel. Click for a larger version.

Grape, Goat Cheese, Pistachio
We began with two canapés, one a reimagination of the other. The first was Melisse's longstanding signature amuse bouche: a demisphere of grape, goat cheese, and pistachio, which showed off a good interplay between the juicy sweetness of the fruit and the creamy, lactic tang of chèvre, all accentuated by the nutty, salty smack of pistachio. We also received a spherification of grape, which conveyed much of the same characteristics as the original, but with a stronger grape jelly component and a different set of textures.

Bread Selection
Bread, baked in-house, was on point, and included French country roll, basil brioche, brioche, ciabatta, black olive, and bacon focaccia varieties.

Foie Gras Cromesquis
1: Foie Gras Cromesquis
We had here Melisse's cromesquis, which reminded me very much of the "Fried Liquid Foie Gras" dish that Ludo served at BreadBar. It was basically a cuboid of foie, fried to croquette form, one that virtually exploded upon mastication, releasing a torrent of liquefied liver in the process. The essence of the foie gras here was forceful, yet delicate, nicely contrasted against the savoriness and crunch of its outer layer.

Foie Gras Royale
2: Foie Gras Royale | Blackberry Gelee, Caramelized Buttermilk Mousse
Bandol Rose, Domaine du Gros Nore, Provence
A royale of foie gras was delicious, with the heft of the liver playing perfectly with the jamminess of blackberry, while the buttermilk added a light, yet focused sweetness to complete the dish. A good show of both power and finesse.

Terrine of Foie Gras
3: Terrine of Foie Gras | Seasonal Flavors and Toasted Whey Bread
Quarts de Chaume, Chateau de l'Echardiere, Loire
The terrine of foie gras was spot on as well: unabashedly sugary initially from the cherry gelée, but with the intensity of the liver coming through on the midpalate. Dehydrated cherries and medjool dates added further sweetness to the mix, while the combination of whey and almond provided a nutty crunch and counterpoint in the dish. Nice peppery finish from the arugula, too, and I loved the accompanying toast.

Truffled Foie Gras Agnolotti
4: Truffled Foie Gras Agnolotti | Crisp Chicken Oyster, Summer Vegetables, Toasted Pistachio Consommé
Riesling, Spatlese, Veldenser Elinsberg, Max Richter, Mosel 2006
For our pasta course, agnolotti stuffed with foie gras were pretty tremendous, bursting on the palate with the liver's earthy, heady goodness. At the same time though, I really appreciated how the veggies served to moderate the gravity of the foie with their light, bright flavors and refreshing crunch. Rounding things out was a nugget of chicken oyster, which was delectable in its own right, displaying a rather profound, mouth-watering savoriness.

True Day Boat Scallop 'Rossini'
5: True Day Boat Scallop "Rossini"
Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Domaine de Nalys, Rhone Valley 2010
The scallop "Rossini" seemed to be a table favorite. The bivalve itself was well-cooked certainly, but the key to this dish was its topping of foie gras, which managed to augment the taste of the scallop without overwhelming it as I'd feared. Cipollini onions, meanwhile, did an admirable job tempering the weight of the flavors here, but I was somewhat concerned about the truffle, which wasn't very apparent.

Foie Gras and Dover Sole
6: Foie Gras and Dover Sole | Sweet Corn Pudding, Chanterelle Mushrooms, Brown Butter
Chassagne-Montrachet, "Vieilles Vignes", Fontaine-Gagnard 2009
In terms of having foie gras integrated into a dish, the Dover sole was probably the least successful course of the evening unfortunately. The fish itself was cooked just about perfectly, and was wonderful alone, with a fantastic aroma to boot. However, the liver didn't really add all that much. And furthermore, I found the sweetness of the corn and beurre noisette combination distracting, taking attention away from the sole.

Liberty Duck Breast Buttery Mashed Potatoes
7: Liberty Duck Breast | Cured and Whipped Foie Gras, Leeks, Peaches, Hawaiian Heart of Palm, Toasted Macadamia
Barolo, Brezza, Piemonte 2006
Appropriately, duck was featured in our final savory course of the night. The breast was somewhat firm, and nicely fatty, with fantastic depth, while the confit'd cube of leg was stupendously tender, with a splendid savory character. The thin, shaved slices of foie here actually did a great job in heightening the intensity of the flavors at play, and also provided a delightfully little temperature contrast as well. Leeks and hearts of palm, meanwhile, contributed a bit of much-needed lightness to the dish, and I absolutely adored the accompanying, super buttery pommes puree, which stands as some of the best I've ever had, right up there in Robuchon territory.

And of Course, Something Sweet with Foie
8: And of Course, Something Sweet with Foie
Bugey-Cerdon, La Cueille, Patrick Bottex, Savoie
Liver and dessert can be a tricky combination, but the kitchen really delivered with this one, presenting possibly the best foie gras-based dessert that I've had. We had here a foie gras mousse sandwich with strawberry, joined by foie gras ice cream and cubes of balsamic gelée. The essence of the foie was subtle yet omnipresent at the same time, and formed a fantastic interplay of flavor with the delicate sweetness of the berries and cream. Fun, playful, and delicious.

Next were some raspberries, to be dipped in crème fraîche and brown sugar.

Chocolate Chip Cookies Canelés Foie Gras Macarons
And to end the meal, some petit fours: miniature chocolate chip cookies, canelés, and some downright amazing foie gras macarons.

If you're a fan of foie, then Melisse's "Foie for All" is definitely worthy of your consideration. The menu as a whole was undoubtedly cohesive and well thought out, and at the same time, did a superb job in showing off the various facets of foie gras. Its intensity, its luxuriousness, and its refinement were all on display here, with the ingredient taking on a bevy of different forms and fashions throughout the night, sometimes as the hero of a dish, sometimes as more of a supporting player. From an overall perspective too, things are boding well for the restaurant. On my last visit, I praised the quality and execution of the plates, but was a bit concerned that the kitchen was getting a bit too comfortable. Now, with Chef de Cuisine Ken Takayama taking on a more prominent role, things seem to be headed in a promising direction--perhaps I should give that Carte Blanche another go...


Blogger Andrew said...

Thorough review as always, Kevin. Glad you liked the menu. As for going with the Carte Blanche, I've done it thrice but find it often proves to be too much food, even if I abstain from bread. The 10, however, seems to be just on the precipice of overindulgence. And I'd highly recommend the roasted chicken!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012 6:06:00 AM  
Anonymous agavin said...

Was your heart palpitating at the end of all that foie? I have a foie dinner at N/Naka on friday, it might be too much of a good thing... like the 27 course truffle dinner I once enjoyed. :-)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012 9:06:00 AM  
Blogger Alba Truffles said...

Concur on the chicken for two. Great dish!!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012 9:53:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Andrew: I just read your recent post on Melisse, and it does look like perhaps the 10 is the way to go. And I usually shay away from ordering the chicken at restaurants, but the one you had looked pretty amazing!

Andy: Ha! Yeah, I could feel it beating faster than normal, which was a bit unsettling. Let me know how the n/naka dinner turns out though--I'm curious about that one and it's all sold out.

Waleed: Another vote for the chicken! We'll have to add that on to a tasting menu.

Thursday, June 21, 2012 2:36:00 PM  

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