Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Royce (Pasadena, CA) [4]

The Royce at The Langham
1401 S Oak Knoll Ave, Pasadena, CA 91106
Wed 02/29/2012, 07:15p-12:00a

The Royce continues to impress, and my friends liked the restaurant's recent truffle menu so much that they were eager to return. A special dinner celebrating the terroir and cuisine of South West France was the perfect opportunity to give the place yet another go. Co-hosted by special guest "Ms. Foie Gras" Ariane Daguin, founder of artisanal meat purveyor D'Artagnan, the night featured Chef David Féau's take on foie gras, cassoulet, and other regional specialties from Gascony and its surroundings, complemented by wine pairings from GM-slash-Wine Director Eric Espuny.

Eric Espuny Pouring Ployez-Jacquemart Champagne Extra Brut Passion
We started off with a reception in the wine room, where we enjoyed a bottle of Ployez-Jacquemart Champagne Extra Brut Passion and chatted with Espuny, himself decked out with a beret in true Basque fashion. The bubbly was lovely: delightfully dry, with keen notes of apple and stonefruit along with a clean acidity.

The Royce South West France Menu
The standard menu for the evening was a six-courser priced at $95pp, plus $55 for wine. However, given that we were seated at the Chef's Table, we opted for an extended 11-course degustation at $180pp plus $70. Click for a larger version.

Amuse Bouche Quartet Amuse Bouche Quartet
Les Amuses de Musketeers comprised four little bites. First up was a tartare of bonito with guindilla piment des Landes: think light, bright, refreshing flavors, with a perfect touch of Basque heat from the peppers. We also enjoyed a Russian banana potato sphere on a stick, coated with Bethmale cheese and bacon. With this one we were talking classic, savory flavors in a hot and hearty package. A peppercorn-glazed foie gras croque-en-bouche was tasty as well, with a great interplay between sweet, peppery, caramelized flavors and the earthy, lingering essence of the liver. Finally, we had a foie gras torchon encased in an Armagnac-soaked pruneaux d'Agen, with showed off a faultless interaction between the sugary fruit and lush, luxurious foie; Féau calls this his "French Kiss," and rightfully so.

The Royce Bread Selection
Bread, of course, is baked in-house, and varieties on offer tonight included black olive, baguette, pumpernickel, pain noir, and bacon brioche.

1: BEETS | CAVIAR | purple beet sorbet, osetra caviar, kefir lime
This visually-striking plate was perhaps the most intriguing beet dish that I've ever had. The inherent sweetness and character of the root vegetable was apparent in both the sorbet and pressure-cooked presentations, but was adroitly tempered by the application of the tangy crème fraîche. At the same time, the tartness of the kaffir and salty notes of the caviar also provided pinpoints of countervailing piquancy to offset the sugariness of the beets, making for a complex, contemplative course.

2: SALAD | LAURAGUAISE | butter lettuce, confit gizzard, foie gras, blistered raspberries
Rarely does a salad excite me, but this one certainly did, inspired by the Lauragais area of France and featuring duck in various forms and facets. The foie gras torchon was spot on, luxurious and decadent, while the breast conveyed delectable notes of savory, smoky goodness. The star of the show, though, was the confit'd duck gizzard, which demonstrated an incredible depth of flavor that was quite unlike anything that I'd eaten before. All this heft was wonderfully balanced by the light, crisp shards of lettuce, while the salad's dressing and bits of raspberry provided bright, tangy counterpoints of flavor.

3: BLOOD SAUSAGE | TORCHON | blood sausage, foie gras, caramelized apple terrine, bitter greens
The flavor of blood sausage can be overwhelming, but here it was presented in a delicate, yet still robust manner. The boudin noir showed off its trademark earthy, metallic character, but the caramelized apples and foie did a great job in softening and complementing its flavors, while the greens provided a piquant, bitter contrast. The overall effect was a rustic, yet refined dish, making this easily the best presentation of blood sausage that I'd ever experienced.

4: FOIE GRAS | ORANGE BLOSSOM | sautéed foie gras, orange blossom
As regular readers will know, I'm often times not a huge fan of hot foie, but this might've been my favorite chaud preparation ever (the only other one that comes to mind was a version I had at Guy Savoy). Hudson Valley liver arrived seared to utter perfection, melt-in-your-mouth decadent and trembling, brimming with classic foie gras flavor and accented by pricks of salt and a wonderful astringent char. It was the epitome of the marriage between power and finesse, and easily stood alone. However, I also appreciated the additional complexity provided by the shaved raw foie and tempura'd orange blossom, while a blossom-infused espuma provided a wonderfully tart, ethereal, and almost medicinal counter to the heft of the liver.

5: GARBURE | LE PAYS GASCON | cabbage & white bean soup, duck confit
Here, the Chef pays tribute to the classic Gascon staple of home cooking, the garbure. The vegetable-based broth contained cabbage, turnip, carrot, and beans, among other ingredients, and was a prime example of hearty, rustic cookery. Shreds of duck confit provided additional depth to the dish, and I also appreciated the soup's peppery bite as well. We ended this course with the Southwestern tradition of chabrot, in which we mixed red wine with the remainder of what was left in our bowls, and downed the resultant mixture.

6: DOVER SOLE | THAI MANGO | dover sole fillet on the plancha, forbidden rice, thai mango, zen garden peas, green onion, pollen
Filet of Dover sole was cooked flawlessly a la plancha: spongy, springy, and supple in consistency, with a delectably mild, savory-and-sweet relish interjected by pricks of salt. Meanwhile, a sauce of fennel pollen and peas provided a bright, green accent to the fish, while the rice and rice foam served to ground the course. A masterful presentation of sole.

David Féau Shaving Truffles
Here, we see Chef Féau unloading truffles for our next course...

7: PORK | HAUTE GARONNE | grilled house made pork belly sausage, cannellini beans
...A reimagined, refined version of cassoulet, slow-cooked with duck fat. The focal point of the dish for me was the incredible white wine-poached saucisses de Toulouse, with its heady, aromatic, and profoundly savory, salty flavors. Though the sausage was the hero, I also appreciated the moderating effect of the cannellinis, while the deep-fried beans added a great textural element. We can't forget about the black truffle, either, which instilled an overarching, integrating earthiness to the entire dish.

David Féau's Meat David Féau's Slicing Beef
Tableside presentation of a gorgeous slab of beef.

8: BEEF | POTATO | mishima wagyu rib eye cut, hedge hog mushroom, sea salt fava beans, dfc potato, perigourdine sauce
For our last savory course of the evening, Féau presented a beautiful rib eye cut of Mishima wagyu. The steak was pretty amazing--tender and barely cooked, with a tremendous beefiness and richness cut by a delightfully charred crust and wonderful saltiness. The truffle-infused perigourdine sauce, meanwhile, added a further undercurrent of savoriness to the fray that took things even more over the top. The tempura'd mushroom was a nice touch as well, but what did a really great job in balancing out the dish was Féau's signature "DFC potato," which combined a fondant, espuma, and crispy fried strings all into one.

9: PICANDOU | DU LOT | peppercorn rubbed fresh goat cheese, tomato jam & acacia honey
Féau's cheese courses are always interesting, and tonight he presented a hemi-disk of Cabécou chèvre from the Tour du Lot area of France, aged four days in a coating of ash. The ash gave a peppery, astringent taste to things, and worked superbly with the mild, creamy, subtly tangy goat cheese, while the tomato jam and honey supplied a perfect countervailing sweetness to the mix.

10: MERVEILLE | PRUNEAUX | orange scented "beignet", black plum sauce
Merveilles are a type of beignet, and here they were lovely: parallelogram-shaped, crisp, and flaky, with a tasty interplay of both sweet and savory relishes and tinged with just a whisper of citrus-y aroma. They were certainly enjoyable alone, but the key to the dessert was the prune sauce, which added a wonderfully deep, saccharine smack to the mix that just paired in stellar fashion with the pastries.

Flaming Armagnac David Féau Flambé
Some theatrics for our next course--a good tableside flambé is hard to come by these days!

11: PASTIS GASCON | LE GERS | from the gers county, caramelized apple cake, armagnac
Our final course of the night brought us a pastis Gascon, a specialty of France's Gers region composed of layers of thin phyllo-like pastry sandwiched with caramelized Armagnac-soaked apples. It was a real treat, with the buttery, flaky, and slightly astringent cake playing off of the sugary, boozy apples rather nicely, all while the prune-Armagnac ice cream (I wanted to take a pint of the stuff home!) served as a perfect contrast to the pastry.

The Royce Chocolates The Royce Chocolates
The Royce's signature chocolates included a fleur de sel dark, an espresso powder milk, and an espelette pepper white.

Chef Féau and company managed to outdo themselves once again, serving up a dinner that managed to put a delicious, modern twist on the culinary traditions of South West France. The Royce has been remarkably consistent over my multiple visits, and in fact, the kitchen has only gotten stronger, delivering tonight a near-flawless meal that perfectly showcased Féau faculty with refined rusticity. I've been a fan of the place for a while now, and it's great to see the restaurant finally get some recognition, with The Royce just recently receiving a nod from Los Angeles magazine as one of 2011's Best New Restaurants, not to mention Féau's receipt of a James Beard nomination for Best Chef: Pacific. Some wonderful things are happening over here in Pasadena.

Chef David Feau, Ariane Daguin, Eric Espuny David Féau, Eric Espuny, Ariane Daguin

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

LudoBites 8.0 at Lemon Moon (Los Angeles, CA) [2]

LudoBites 8 at Lemon Moon
12200 W Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064
Wed 02/22/2012, 08:30p-12:00a

February 22nd marked the conclusion of another chapter in the LudoBites saga, held this time at Josiah Citrin and Rafael Lunetta's Lemon Moon. After attending opening night, I deemed v8.0 the strongest yet, so I was curious to see how the menu would hold up all the way to the end.

LudoBites 8.0 Menu LudoBites 8.0 Wine List LudoBites 8.0 Wine List
And here we see the menu for the final night of LudoBites 8, a particularly lengthy carte featuring a whopping 17 courses. As in the past, a small list of wines was hand-selected by Domaine LA to pair with the food. Interestingly enough, Jill Bernheimer and Whitney Adams (Brunellos Have More Fun) were actually dining tonight, so sommelier duties were handled by Maxwell Leer, whom you may recall from The Tasting Kitchen in Venice. Click for larger versions.

BrewDog Punk IPA
We were in a beer type of mood this evening, so we ended up bringing a four-pack to share. First up was the BrewDog Punk IPA, which I actually really liked. I'm generally not huge on IPAs given their considerable hoppiness, but this was nice, with a very retrained bitterness laced with sweet, floral flavors that definitely worked for me.

Burgundy Gougères
Burgundy Gougères [$5.00]
Kicking things off were some rather large gougères: flaky on the outside, yet slightly creamy and funky on the inside. Rather tasty, though I would've liked a touch more cheesiness here.

Chicken Tandoori Crackling
Chicken Tandoori Crackling [$5.00]
I really enjoyed this dish during my last visit, and the cracklings were arguably even better this time around. I loved the pure, unmitigated essence of the liver, with its smooth, creamy tour de force of chicken-y sapor accented by pricks of salt. What made the bite even better, though, was that crispy skin, with its immense savoriness and crunch that complemented the mousse perfectly. A great show of both power and finesse.

Uni Crème Brûlée, Coffee
Uni Crème Brûlée, Coffee [$34.00]
Ludo's uni crème brûlée has proven to be one of the most popular items on the menu. In fact, by the time we sat down, the kitchen was down to their last three servings (props to our server for grabbing two orders for us). What really surprised me here was how much the price of the dish had gone up, from $18 previously to a lofty $34 now. As I understand it, the reason for this increase was due to the substitution of pricey Japanese uni for Santa Barbara sea urchin. Nonetheless, the crème brûlée still showed off a smart mix of sweet and salty flavors, a deft interplay between the sugary custard, salty ikura, and the simultaneously saccharine, saline uni. I did notice that the dish seemed smokier, perhaps due to more caramelization on the crust or the coffee, with a consistency that was more austere.

Sweet Shrimp, Miso Cream, Beans, Smoked Salmon
Sweet Shrimp, Miso Cream, Beans, Smoked Salmon [$16.00]
Amaebi showed off a pleasing texture, along with a subtly sweet, briny essence that was further enhanced by the use of miso. The salmon, meanwhile, contributed a smoky, savory flavor profile to the fray, while the beans served to ground and temper the dish.

Brouwerij Van Steenberge N.V. Monk's Café Flemish Sour Ale
Our next beer was the Monk's Café Flemish Sour Ale, from Belgium's Brouwerij Van Steenberge. This was a tasty brew as well, a bit vinous and tannic in nature, with a restrained, fruity sourness balanced by a touch of malty sweetness, finished with a pleasant smidge of funkiness.

Lobster Salad, Yuzu, Honey
Lobster Salad, Yuzu, Honey [$16.00]
Medallions of lobster claw and tail came topped with a daikon "coin," honey-buckwheat vinaigrette, and lemon zest. The use of honey here augmented the inherent sweetness of the lobster, but went a bit too far in that direction, resulting in a "sweet 'n' sour" sort of character laced with pinpoints of salt. I really wanted to taste more from the crustacean.

Black Truffle (French) Scrambled Eggs
Black Truffle (French) Scrambled Eggs [$35.00]
It's hard to go wrong with eggs and truffle, and indeed, this was pretty fantastic, something that I could just eat a huge bowl of. I loved how the truffe added a veil of earthy, aromatic flavors to the lush, creamy eggs, while bits of onion(?) contributed a countervailing tang and textural contrast to the dish. Just a perfect mélange of eggy and truffle flavors that I found immensely satisfying.

Celery Root Soup, Foie Gras, Mushrooms, Ash
Celery Root Soup, Foie Gras, Mushrooms, Ash [$22.00]
On opening night, Ludo served up a lovely soup of Foie Gras, Tamarind, Turnips, Daikon, and this was a wonderful follow-up to that dish. I'm not a fan of celery root generally, but here it was put to perfect use, serving as a fitting counterpoint to the rich, heady broth, infused with the earthy relish of mushroom. The foie gras, meanwhile, was flawlessly integrated into the soup, adding a certain gravitas to the dish, while the ash contributed a delicate astringency to top things off.

Big Eye Tuna, Tahitian Vanilla, Somen, 7 Flavor Vinaigrette
Big Eye Tuna, Tahitian Vanilla, Somen, 7 Flavor Vinaigrette [$25.00]
Visually, this reminded me of the Raw Wagyu Beef, Somen Noodle, Peanut Vinaigrette, Watermelon dish from v5.0, but taste-wise, this was completely different. The vinaigrette was absolutely fascinating, with its mysterious mix of tart, sweet flavors and creeping hints of spice, all intermingled with whispers of vanilla on the palate. It worked out surprisingly well with the somen, and the tuna, with its satisfyingly supple body, actually served to moderate the dish.

Brouwerij Van Steenberge N.V. Gulden Draak (Dark Triple)
The Gulden Draak ("golden dragon") was another beer from Brouwerij Van Steenberge in East Flanders, and what was interesting about it was that it's a tripel that's actually dark (instead of being a pale ale). It was excellent, my favorite beer of the night, conveying a remarkably malty, fruity sweetness balanced by a light spice and marked notes of alcohol. Very cool.

Monkfish Liver, Cucumber, Cornichons, Mustard Seeds
Monkfish Liver, Cucumber, Cornichons, Mustard Seeds [$20.00]
Another opening night redux brought us one of the more interesting presentations of monkfish liver that I've encountered. A hefty chunk of ankimo showed off a pleasant, slightly gritty consistency along with a rich, heady relish imbued with the essence of the sea. The sheer gravity of the liver paired well with the tart, tangy flavors on the plate, with the pickles of Japanese and hot house cucumbers, mustard, and greenery adding a counterbalancing sourness and crunch to complete the dish.

2005 Adega Regional de Colares 'Arenae' Malvasia
At this point, Maxwell brought over a taste of 2005 Adega Regional de Colares "Arenae" Malvasia from Portugal for us to try (from a bottle provided by Jill of Domaine LA). It was pretty amazing, reminding us a bit of a manzanilla sherry with its refined, refreshing mix of nutty, dry, tart flavors.

Steamed Foie Gras in Apple Cider, Apple Tapioca, Buckwheat
Steamed Foie Gras in Apple Cider, Apple Tapioca, Buckwheat [$34.00]
Once again, Ludo shows off his facility with foie. Here, it came cooked in apple cider and apple vinegar, then accompanied by apple gelée, apple tapioca, and small spheroids of buckwheat. I was afraid that the fruit would render the foie gras overly saccharine, but it was spot on, providing a wonderful amalgam of sweet, yet tart flavors to balance out the liver. The key, though, was the buckwheat, which added a fantastic savoriness to the dish along with a perfect textural component.

Scallop, Cauliflower Panna Cotta, Yogurt-Madras Curry
Scallop, Cauliflower Panna Cotta, Yogurt-Madras Curry [$19.00]
Scallops arrived nicely cooked--slightly rare, with a sweet, saline savor. The yogurt-curry foam provided a suitable counterpoint to the natural taste of the scallops, complementing but not overpowering them. However, the cauliflower didn't quite jive with me (and I'm a huge fan of cauliflower). Its light, vegetal essence just didn't seem to fit in with the other, stronger flavors at play.

Thai Snapper, Eucalyptus Oil, Potato, Leeks, Manzanilla
Thai Snapper, Eucalyptus Oil, Potato, Leeks, Manzanilla [$26.00]
Snapper arrived wonderfully tender, with a mild, delicate, eucalyptus-enhanced flavor and delightfully savory skin, all beautifully complemented by the salty slivers of potato and charred leeks. The beet, meanwhile, contributed a bit of smoky-sweet flair, but wasn't absolutely necessary to enjoy the dish.

The Bruery 4 Calling Birds
Our final beer of the night was The Bruery's 4 Calling Birds. This was a dark ale done in a winter style, a heavy, viscous brew displaying a marked fruity essence accented by delicious notes of sweet spice. It tasted like Christmas!

Veal, Black Olive Tapenade Crust, Orange Caramelized Endive, Clementine Beurre Blanc Veal, Black Olive Tapenade Crust, Orange Caramelized Endive, Clementine Beurre Blanc
Veal, Black Olive Tapenade Crust, Orange Caramelized Endive, Clementine Beurre Blanc [$28.00]
Cooked in black olive oil and coated with an olive tapenade, veal came out looking somewhat like a lump of coal. Fortunately, it tasted much better, one of the best preparations that I've had in a while in fact: tender, nicely charred, with subtle flavors of olive throughout. At the same time, the orange juice-endive added a marvelous crunch to the dish, along with a great countervailing bitterness.

'Newport Pride Natural' Hanger Steak, Red Beets, Shallots, Goat Cheese
"Newport Pride Natural" Hanger Steak, Red Beets, Shallots, Goat Cheese [$25.00]
Our final savory course of the evening comprised a hanger steak from local purveyor Newport Pride Natural. The onglet itself was delicious, though not terribly tender, with a great depth of bovine flavor adroitly played against the creamy tang of the accompanying chèvre. I also appreciated the tartness of the shallots here, and amazingly enough, the pickled, crunchy beets worked out superbly as well.

Creamy Saint-Nectaire, Salted Praline Butter
Creamy Saint-Nectaire, Salted Praline Butter [$10.00]
The fromage course brought us a dish that was supposedly inspired by the childhood favorite of Handi-Snacks. We had Saint-Nectaire, a cow's milk cheese from Auvergne, France, that showed off a delightfully nutty, pungent character that I rather enjoyed. The cheese was joined by lardo, and then sandwiched between sheets of toasty brioche, making for a delectable eating experience. The salted praline butter added some further sweetness into the mix, but was purely optional.

NV Pacory Poire Domfront, Normandy, France
Our final libation of the evening was the NV Pacory Poire Domfront, Normandy, France [$20]. This was basically a pear cider, conveying sweet, fruity notes, a touch of spice, along with a lively acidity. Pleasantly gluggable.

Brown Butter Almond Cake, Apples, Salted Caramel, Orange Creamsicle
Brown Butter Almond Cake, Apples, Salted Caramel, Orange Creamsicle [$13.00]
Time for dessert. Almond cake came loaded with rich, buttery goodness, finely accented by the mashed apples and finished with a bright, refreshing citric tartness.

Orange Creamsicle Ice Cream
We liked the orange creamsicle ice cream so much that they brought out two extra quenelles of the stuff.

Lemon Meringue, Poppy Seed Crumble, Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Lemon Meringue, Poppy Seed Crumble, Extra Virgin Olive Oil [$13.00]
We finished with a reworking of the Lemon Meringue Tart from last time. It tasted fairly similar to the previous version, with a tasty mix of sweet and sour nuances, all tempered by the charming crumbles of poppy seed.

Michael Nemcik Michael Nemcik
A Toast
The aftermath--time to drink up.

And there we have it. Another round of LudoBites, arguably the strongest yet, has come and gone. As for what's next for Ludo, Krissy, and company, the ninth iteration of the touring restaurant is coming up surprisingly soon--LudoBites "Nine-0" kicks off on March 6th and runs through the 17th. Here's the kicker though: it'll be in Hawaii. And I'm not even talking about the relatively convenient Oahu, but in Kailua-Kona, wherever that is. Sadly, I think this is one that I'm going to have to miss out on (though I will try to win the getaway package here).

Ludo & Krissy

Previous LudoBites posts: v8.0 at Lemon Moon, v7.0 at Gram & Papas, LudoBites America, v6.0 at Max [1], v5.0 at Gram & Papas [1], v4.0 at Gram & Papas [1], v3.0 at Royal/T [2] [1], v2.0 at Breadbar [1].