Friday, April 27, 2012

Lazy Ox Canteen (Los Angeles, CA) [2]

Lazy Ox Canteen
241 S San Pedro St, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Fri 04/27/2012, 07:45p-10:25p

Lazy Ox Canteen Exterior

Since its debut in December 2009, Lazy Ox Canteen has been a fixture on the Downtown LA culinary scene, and has helped cement the City's center as a hotbed of dining. The restaurant, a pet project of IDG head Michael Cardenas, largely owed its success to longtime California toque Josef Centeno. Centeno's brash, eclectic cooking earned him legions of fans, and even allowed him to open his own place, Bäco Mercat, earlier this year. The success of BM, however, has forced the Chef to decamp from the restaurant that he helped create, leaving The Ox in the hands of one Perfecto Rocher, who Cardenas had hired earlier to helm the kitchens at his oft-delayed Spanish concept Taberna Arros y Vi.

About the Chef: Rocher spent his childhood in the Valencia region of Spain, and was exposed to good food--paella in particular--at an early age. His parents and grandparents were in the restaurant industry, and the young Chef spent considerable time working in the family business. At the turn of the millennium, Rocher moved to London, taught himself English, and started working as a dishwasher at the Manor House Hotel in Chippenham, eventually making his way through a number of restaurants in England. After a few years in the UK, he relocated to the US, landing in San Francisco and finding employment on the line at Gary Danko. From there, Rocher transitioned to Picasso in Las Vegas, then to David Kinch's landmark Manresa. Following, the Chef returned to his home country to work stages at Arrop in Valencia, Martin Berasategui's eponymous restaurant in San Sebastian, as well as Ferran Adrià's legendary El Bulli (where he garnered an appreciation for Catalan cooking).

Rocher then moved back Stateside, again to San Francisco, where he became Chef de Cuisine at Campton Place. After a deal to cook at Chez Papa Bistrot (along with plans for a solo project) fell through, he ventured to New York to work at Le Bernardin. He quickly got sick of the cold, however, and thus settled in Southern California, taking over the kitchens at BLVD restaurant in the Beverly-Wilshire in March 2010 (he cooked for Barack Obama during his stay there). Rocher even got a piece of the Test Kitchen craze, hosting a dinner with Walter Manzke toward the end of that year. After his stint at BLVD, he made a few guest appearances at Soho House, then joined forces with Michael Cardenas to launch a Spanish eatery in Culver City, before taking over the reins here at Lazy Ox in March.

Lazy Ox Canteen Interior
Inside, not much has changed on the ground floor of Sakura Crossing, which is probably a good thing. The dim lighting (think 1/8s and f2.5 at ISO3200), liberal use of wood, the tight tables, the chalkboard menu, they're all there still. Just about the only thing that's different is the presence of Rocher's grinning countenance in the open kitchen.

Lazy Ox Canteen Menu Lazy Ox Canteen Wine and Beer List
Rocher has retained the basic layout of the Lazy Ox menu, with its dynamic array of "chalkboard dishes" joined by a steadier selection of favorites, though the food features a more Spanish slant, not surprising given the Chef's background. Fortunately, the restaurant's list of rustic, somewhat obscure, reasonably-priced wines has remained pretty much the same, as has the beer selection. Click for larger versions.

hopf helle weisse germany
Speaking of those beers, I started with the Hopf Helle Weisse [$10] from Miesbach, Germany. It was delicious and refreshing, one of the tastiest hefeweizens that I've had in fact. I found it very well balanced, with a good mix of hoppy, wheat-y flavors joined by a marked lemon-y character and a hint of banana and spice.

roasted bone marrow
roasted bone marrow [$6.00] | garlic, thyme, horseradish & tobiko
Bone marrow, natch, was a must-order, and it did not let us down. The marrow was expectedly rich, fatty, and positively decadent, an unabashedly potent explosion of flavor beautifully tempered by the tang of the included horseradish and herbs. Heavenly over the crisp strips of toast.

brussels sprouts
brussels sprouts [$10.00] | bacon & pecorino
Brussels sprouts were also on point: satisfyingly firm in consistency, with a delectable mix of bitter and savory flavors, all amped up by the saltiness of the bacon and the focused weight of Pecorino.

salpicon [$15.00] | piquillo pepper & mandarin orange
A salpicon is a chopped mixture of various ingredients, all tied together by a sauce of sorts, and this particular presentation was superb, one of the highlights of the night actually. Fresh cubes of yellowtail formed the base of the course, and the fish went just swimmingly with the tartness of the citrus, the herb-y kick of the cilantro, as well as the piquancy of the piquillo, which really did a great job binding all the disparate elements together.

huevo 'Andoni'
huevo 'Andoni' [$16.00] | french fry puree & chorizo oil
Of course, the menu just wouldn't be complete without the requisite huevo dish, and here we had one ostensibly inspired by the cooking of Spain's vaunted Andoni Luis Aduriz (of Mugaritz fame). The egg itself was spot on: runny and lush, deftly augmented by the salty, spicy bits of sausage, while the potato purée served to ground and moderate the dish.

beer-braised grilled octopus
beer-braised grilled octopus [$16.00] | tomato confit, fennel, olives & alcoi moscatel vinagreta
Octopus arrived expertly cooked, with a supple consistency that still provided a satisfying bite. Its delicate sweetness, accented by an astringent char, was a natural pairing to the tomato component in the dish, while the fennel gave things a light, bright, anise-laced kick and crunch.

oxtail [$14.00] | sunchoke puree & shanghai reduction
Oxtail was all that you'd expect: wonderfully tender, with boatloads of deep, dark, brazenly bovine flavors, accented by a subtle sweet spice from the Shanghai sauce. The sunchoke, meanwhile, worked well to cut the sheer heft of the meat, and I appreciated the countervailing bitterness from the spinach as well.

coconut risotto
coconut risotto [$14.00] | blood orange & tataki sauce
Even though I'm a risotto fiend, I was a bit unsure of this initially given my slight disrelish toward coconut. I was afraid that it wouldn't work in the dish, so I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered how well integrated it was. The coconut wasn't overwhelming at all, but provided just a whisper of sweetness in the background. I quite appreciated the richness, creaminess, and texture of the rice, in addition to the tart, fruity flavors of the blood orange. Very nice.

seared fijian albacore
seared fijian albacore [$20.00] | lentils, bacon & apple
The albacore was nice enough, but was my least favorite course of the evening. I appreciated the heavy, earthy weight of the lentils, as well as the salty smack of the bacon, but the fish was sort of lost here, overpowered by its accompaniments. It just didn't all come together in the end.

reutberger kloster dunkel beer germany
In preparation for the heavier courses to follow, I ordered up another German beer, the Reutberger Export Dunkel [$11] from Sachsenkam. This was obviously a considerably darker brew, with a good backbone of malty sweetness joined by a bit of fruit and touch of hop bitterness. Quite good, and very drinkable.

braised short ribs
braised short ribs [$27.00] | pesto, creamed mushrooms & rabbit liver
It's hard to go wrong with braised short ribs, and tonight it did not disappoint. The hulking brick of meat was consummately cooked to a tender, luxurious consistency, just teeming with beef-y savor. The mushrooms were a great pairing with the ribs, and I loved the green, bright, offsetting zest of the pesto sauce as well. Despite the deliciousness of the meat, my favorite thing here was actually the fried rabbit liver, which added a fantastic crunch and heady, earthy relish to the dish.

"callos" [$15.00] | tripe stew & chickpeas
Our last savory course of the meal brought us callos, a Spanish tripe stew with chickpeas. This was intense, with an incredible depth of flavor that would've nearly overwhelmed the palate had it not been for the moderating effect of the garbanzo beans. A heavy, hearty dish, to be treated with care!

Lazy Ox Canteen Dessert Menu Lazy Ox Canteen Dessert Wine List
Time for dessert. There's no dedicated pastry chef at Lazy Ox, so Rocher handles all the sweets himself. Click for larger versions.

yuzu banana trifle
yuzu banana trifle [$9.00] | mountain berries
Rocher's take on the classic trifle was excellent, with a superb interplay between the jammy sweetness of the berry against the comparatively light flavors of the sponge cake and banana. I loved the slight citric overtones of the yuzu as well. Very nicely integrated.

vanilla panna cotta
vanilla panna cotta [$8.00] | poached fig and port reduction
Though it didn't quite reach the lofty heights of the trifle, the panna cotta was tasty as well. There was a great balance here between the sugariness of the fig-port combination and the vanilla, with a jolt of sweetness coming in initially, then leading to the mild, delicate tones of vanilla toward the midpalate.

Perfecto Rocher
Chef Perfecto Rocher at the end of the night, looking a bit frazzled perhaps.

We enjoyed a lovely meal overall, and despite the loss of Josef Centeno, things are still looking good for Lazy Ox. Rocher's cooking comes from a different culinary point-of-view, but it's one that can be just effective, and just as delicious. The food's probably a bit more subtle, a little less punk, a little more jota, and a lot more Spanish (or Mediterranean), but I think it'll preserve the legacy of The Ox just fine.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

CR8 Purotekuta (Los Angeles, CA)

CR8 Purotekuta Underground Dinner
Los Angeles, CA 90019
Thu 04/26/2012, 06:30p-11:10p


The year is 2112 in Bilbao, Spain. Sophia, a timid six year old girl, carries a hidden truth. She was born a natural Samurai.

Sophia learned to walk just after six months and her parents wondered how this could be. After a year, she began to talk. She started speaking in Japanese first, not Spanish. Her parents had no explanation for this. She was very loving and protective of her family. Her mother is Adelina, a kind woman who is very much like Sophia. Her older sister, Valencia, is a bit rough and likes to bully Sophia.

Her father, Alejandro, has incredible talent as a metal forger and studied architecture, as well. Sophia spent endless hours helping her father forge various metals for houses and cutlery for the locals. Her father was always astonished at her precision and talent.

As Sophia sleeps, her dreams guide her with new information about her dormant skills. At six, she woke up in the middle of the night and walked outside amongst the last of the few remaining trees. She then saw a glowing figure; a cloaked woman dressed in a Japanese ceremonial robe. Floating above the ground, the woman explained to Sophia, "Now is the time for you to start your training." Sophia asked, "but why?" "You are "Purotekuta," "The Protector," an ancient Samurai from the Hokkaido region of Japan. He heroically stood up to hundreds of invaders, over several battles, to save the people of his small village thousands of years ago. But, due to an unforeseen and untimely death, the Gods vowed to keep his spirit alive and reincarnate him when it was time. Sophia is his reincarnation.

"Do not be afraid," said the woman. "You need to train to be ready when you are twelve years old." Suddenly, out of the ground, dirt and mud began to form a small figure. It turned into a small wolf that appeared at her side. The woman said, "this is your guardian who will train you and help you for the rest of your life." Sophia was not afraid anymore and bent over to pick up the wolf cub.

Hugging him intensely, she named him "Chikyu," which is the Japanese word for Earth. Sophia looked up and the woman was gone, never to be seen again.

Now she felt empowered and no longer questioned what she was supposed to do. With Chikyu's training, by the time Sophia was nine, she was fast, agile and lethal with a sword. She even created her own protective armor. The Guggenheim museum had been empty for years and she used to go into the basement everyday and train with a sword she made in her father's metal shop when he was not around. Instinctively, she knew how to forge this sword in the old Japanese ways of folding the metal over and over again, hundreds of times, to give strength to the piece.

Life is difficult now in 2112. Several global wars have all but raped Mother Earth of her once beloved natural beauty and bounties. Families are forced to spend most of their waking hours foraging what food they can find and farm mostly root vegetables just to survive.

Yet, there were certain people in the world that did not live this way. They have unlimited power and even land with lush fruits and vegetables and livestock. But amongst this wretched situation, there are nine ingredients that are almost instinct. These ingredients are spread throughout the world. They are more precious than gold and are kept highly guarded.

Technology is very advanced and there are many forms of travel. There is one way to travel anywhere in an instant with the help of a special mineral found only deep in the earth. With this mineral held close to the chest and humming certain vibrations, one can travel anywhere. When Chikyu arrived, he brought one with him. Sophia's dark eyes glow a violet color during her transportations.

The ruler of Bilbao is a ruthless man named Alvah. As head of the government and a self-proclaimed "Gourmande," he has a tight grip on all the people with his strict laws and regulations. If any of them are broken, the only punishment is death.

Alvah and his guards arrive at Sophia's house while she was off playing in the woods. They are there to collect their ration of food grown by Alejandro. This time he refuses to give them anything. "We are starving and the potato harvest has been slow," say's Alejandro. Alvah becomes furious and tells his guards to arrest the entire family.

In the distance, Sophia feels the intense vibrations of her mother and sisters fears. She runs home and at that moment she sees the guards holding her family. She digs up her case that holds her sword from underneath the house. Two men run to grab Sophia and with one move she disarms both of them. She stands in a very angry Lotus position with her sword drawn directly at one of the guards. "Let my family go!" Alvah and the family stand in silence at what they had just seen.

Impressed with her skills, Alvah had the idea of making her the one to retrieve the eight rare ingredients for him. "I will give you a choice Sophia. I want you to collect some things for me. Do this or you can watch your family die one at a time." They cut off two of her mother's fingers just to make a point.

"Ok, Ok, I will go, just stop hurting her, please." says Sophia. Alvah gives her a map and tells her to go.

Sophia's adventure continues...

...And so began Purotekuta, the latest installment in Roberto Cortez's CR8 dinner series. Having experienced two previous dinners, I was delighted to be invited to attend the latest iteration. This might've been the Chef's most ambitious, most experimental yet, with the cooking tied to a tale of an ancient samurai warrior reincarnated in post-apocalyptic Spain, on a mission to gather a list of nine sacred ingredients from around the world. With the initial background mailed to us prior to the meal (see photo above), we were then treated to how the story unfolded as the evening progressed.

Roberto Cortez Roberto Cortez
Kama Sutra Cocktail Roberto Cortez
But first, each CR8 dinner begins with a special cocktail, and tonight Cortez whipped up his Kama Sutra, a blend of mango purée, amchur (dried, powdered mango), white rum, and Cointreau, all topped with lime-ginger mousse and a sprig of cilantro. It was a refreshing start to the night, with the sweet, fruity base of mango playing off the bright tang of the foam nicely, all over the weighty base of liquor. I really liked the overarching herbaceousness from the cilantro as well.

Purotekuta Table Setting
Purotekuta Painting   Purotekuta Table Setting   Purotekuta Painting
Cortez and company are known for going all out when it comes to their dining environs, and tonight was no exception. Note the lighting fixture, custom-made of molded wood by local artist Alistair Chang, as well as the table, constructed out of four reclaimed doors especially for this meal. The Chef even commissioned two paintings to visually detail the story of Purotekuta.

Enchanted Paella Saffron: La Mancha, Spain

"Enchanted Paella"

After Sophia is forced to go on her journey for the ingredients, she decides that the first one she will steal belongs to Alvah. If he is going to take her family, then she's going to take what he cherishes most; the Saffron that is guarded by his men. He owns a small patch of saffron in La Mancha, Spain. She arrives and immediately draws her sword and begins to cut down all the crocus flowers and she puts them in her sack. Alvah's men are caught off guard and by the time they gather forces to stop what is happening, she has transported away. Not a single flower was left behind.
Saffron Bomba rice cream, dehydrated tomato confit, red pepper pudding, pea puree-shoots, crunchy chorizo, fire roasted shrimp/mussel broth, soccarat crisp. Our first course brought us a deconstructed paella of sorts. What struck me here was the shrimp and mussel broth, which had an intense, ocean-y aroma and loads of heady, umami-rich savor. It set the stage for the dish, which really did recall the essence of paella. The saffron cream provided notes of its trademark pungency, moderated by the rice as well as the light, green flavors of pea, while the chorizo provided a salty, spicy kick to things. I appreciated the pricks of tartness from the dehydrated tomato as well, along with the crunch of the soccarat (the crisp, brown layer of rice that forms on the bottom of a paella--think of it as the Spanish version of nurungji).

Emperor's Uni Uni: Hokkaido, Japan

"Emperor's Uni"

Sophia teleports to Hokkaido. She arrives with an odd feeling, and recognizes the terrain and the land from her previous life. She begins to tear up, as overwhelming feelings encompass her. She and Chikyu head for the sea. In the distance is one man. No guards, no armies, just one man. He is Katagiri Katsumoto, one of the greatest samurais who ever lived. She has to get in the water. She runs and he cuts her off! They draw swords and exchange three moves, and then he stops. He cannot believe what has just happened. He recognizes her, at least his soul does. He bows to her. She tells him why she is there and what she must do. He suddenly turns around and dives into the ocean. Moments later, he has a small pouch. Inside, the last five uni shells. He gives them to her and tells her to go. "Be safe Purotekuta" he says. At that same moment, six bullets pierce his chest from sniper guards at the top of the hill. She is gone in seconds.
Avocado tartare, uni sabayon, frozen jalapeno, shinseiki pear, Blis sake cured steelhead caviar, pickled grapes, lime leaf, chive oil. Next up was perhaps my favorite dish of the night. The tartar itself was spot on, proudly conveying the lush, creamy, fatty nature of the fruit. At the same time, the urchin put forth its own brand of briny goodness, and worked perfectly in augmenting the inherent richness of the avocado. The chive oil was wonderful as well with its countervailing tang, and I loved the pricks of salt from the trout roe. I also enjoyed the superb balance of sweet-sour-spicy flavors from the combination of grapes, jalapeño, kaffir lime, and pear here, in addition to their varying textures.

Spring White White Asparagus: Baden Wurttemberg, Germany

"Spring White"

The Bundeswehr Army in Germany coats the countryside of Baden Wurttemberg, under rule of the notorious Gunter Peterson. Sophia and Chikyu knew this feat would be almost impossible. Being that the stalks are grown below ground, she teleports directly on top of the mounds. She draws her sword and with an intensified motion, she splits the earth. It cracks open releasing the asparagus. Swiftly, she jumps and, with one motion, catches the asparagus in the air as if she was catching butterflies with a net. While in mid air, she teleports out.
White asparagus textures, mint, dungeness crab, grapefruit curd, dill sponge. Here, Cortez presents a hot and cold temperature contrast. The crab took center stage, with its cool, sweet quintessence deftly accented by the astringency of its spinach wrapper and accompanying dill, while the hot, hearty white asparagus broth added weight, depth, and body to the mix. Minty overtones, meanwhile, enveloped the dish, linking all the disparate components together.

The Seed Poulet: Bresse, France

"The Seed"

The renowned French bodyguards, all ex-mercenary assassins, guard the Poulet de Bresse. Food has always been a top priority to the French and, during these times, the president has strong rule of the last great poultry. As soon as Sophia appears in the concrete building, she is under heavy gunfire. The mercenaries were ready for her. She scrambles to hide and drops her mineral before she takes refuge behind a pillar. She sends Chikyu to retrieve a chicken. Closing her eyes, she draws her sword. She runs towards the mineral and feverishly deflects the bullets with her sword. She yells for Chikyu to hurry. He suddenly appears with an egg in his mouth and jumps in her arms. She manages to get them out of there, but Chikyu is wounded.
64C egg expression, toasted seed meringue, thai basil veloute, buttermilk. A two-hour sous vide egg arrived perfectly cooked, its yolk runny and gooey, a model of lushness and luxuriousness adroitly perked up by pinpoints of Japanese salt. The crux of the dish, though, was that fantastic Thai basil velouté, which showed off a tremendous pungency that brightened and moderated the egg just perfectly. Finishing things off was the 22-hour dehydrated meringue, which gave the dish a sweetish tinge combined with a pleasantly savory jolt as well.

Trapped Funghi Morels: Oregon, USA

"Trapped Funghi"

The guardians of the morels are not any government of tyrannous ruler. They are known as the "Tree People," still human, but generations removed from other humans, and have resorted to living in the trees. Some of the last remaining forests are in Oregon and these inhabitants forage and trap everything. It is said that people who wander into this area never come out. They are precision trappers; ones that bring instant death. Sophia teleports in and tells Chikyu not to move. She uses her vibration senses to feel for the location of the traps. The traps are everywhere and these people start to attack. She has no choice but to defend herself. One after another they fall. All wounded, but immobilized. She then cuts as many morels as she can find and puts them in her bag. She is now exhausted, and has some battle wounds.
Morels, sesame praline, spring alliums, mushroom sabayon, cardamom, homemade coffee oil, ginger. Oregon morels were served here in amazing fashion, their intense, heady, earthy sapor beautifully conveyed on the nose and on the palate. As good as the mushrooms were, the accompaniments in the dish worked flawlessly as well. I especially appreciated the sweet, spicy notes from the candied ginger, which worked wonders against the rich, nutty morels, in addition to the tangy, slightly bitter relish of the onion. Another stupendous course.

Glacial Brine Halibut: Alaska, USA

"Glacial Brine"

Tuna is long gone and the rarest of most prized of the world's fish is Alaskan Halibut. Oddly enough, Alaska and its waters are owned and guarded by a Russian Czar and his mafia. These waters are patrolled by submarines, hover boats and drones with "human DNA radar." Sophia's mineral is growing ever smaller after each use. She wonders if she will be able to fulfill her mission before it runs out. They arrive on the shore and a loud, sonorous alarm belches across the land. She dives in the water with her sword as a spear. The mineral helps her keep a breath as long as she needs. Within ten minutes she has a halibut, and resurfaces. Chikyu has fended off twelve men with his speed and strength.
Halibut confit in fennel oil, white miso champagne risotto, gellied ham. Our next course was a rather monochromatic one, featuring Alaskan halibut caught the previous day, brined, then poached in fennel-infused olive oil. The fish was completely on point, with a firm, yet supple consistency and clean, delectable flavor, gorgeously enhanced by the aniseed kick of fennel, as well as the salty punch of the ham jelly. I also adored the Carnaroli risotto, with its delightfully al dente texture and delicious, enrobing dressing of shiromiso-Champagne. Another highlight of the meal.

El Último Iberico Pork: Extremadura, Spain

"El Último"

Spain's most feared mafia gang has one other precious ingredient, the last Pata Negra Iberico pig. Genetic duplications have all but failed. He is extremely large and very old. Sophia knows of this gang, but by now she has no fear. The thought of her mother being tortured truly brought out her inner warrior. "I won't let anyone get hurt." Sophia appears just as they are moving the pig. She sees them and they see her. Drawing her sword, she runs towards them as fast as she can. Six of them fall into formation and draw guns. She is too fast! Like a ballet dance to highspeed music she cuts the hand off of each one of them still attached to the weapon. She rolls on the ground towards the pig, which Chikyu has already pinned down. Moments later they are gone.
Black vinegar Iberico Carrilleras, wheatberry, foie gras emulsion, beet puree, brussel sprouts, maple. Our final savory course was a rare cheek cut of Black Iberian pig, prepared sous vide with a black vinegar glaze. As expected, the pork was falling-apart tender, with an intense, in-your-face, unabashedly porcine relish that I found immensely satisfying. The foie gras augmented the potency of the hog even more, while the beet added a well-placed touch of sweetness to the fray. Brussels sprouts, meanwhile, contributed a point of levity to the course, and I loved the crunch of the wheat berries as well.

Dragon Flower Lychee: Guangdong, China

"Dragon Flower"

Ninjitsu warriors with special skills, and throwing stars, line the valley of the Guangdong region. A slight fog coats the landscape as Sophia appears. She is quite startled that she doesn't see anyone. Instinctively, she knows that she is being watched. She hears a buzzing noise and she realizes that she is being ambushed by stars. She draws her sword and deflects all but one that pierces her left rib cage. She hits the ground. Eight Ninjas attack her from all sides with swords. It is a very long battle. She has minor cuts, but all of them lie on the ground badly wounded, but still alive. The Lychee Kingdom has proved to be more dangerous than ever expected.
Lychee textures, tapioca, mascarpone elderflower ice cream, caramelized strawberry water. In our pre-dessert course, we were presented lychee in multiple forms: purée, tapioca, gel, and fresh. It was wonderful to be able to experience its different facets, and I thoroughly enjoyed tasting the bright, refreshing sweetness of the fruit. I was afraid that the caramel component would be overwhelming here, but instead, it worked perfectly alongside the lychee, providing an additional layer of sweetness and complexity to the course. Great textures, too.

Phantom Porcelana Porcelana Chocolate: Chuao, Venezuela

"Phantom Porcelana"

The people of Venezuela have regressed into a culture much closer to nature and resemble the tribes of their ancestors who lived thousands of years before them. They have incorporated frequency vibrations and telepathy to enhance their region and food sources. Sophia arrives and is filled with an energy she has not felt before. She knows this place is sacred. A shaman approaches her with open arms. She starts to cry. She tells him of the horrors that have been forced upon her and her family, and what she has to do. He can feel her ancient spirit. He says the cocoa does not belong to them; it belongs to the earth. If one of her children needs her elements, she should have it. The children start to play with Chikyu. The shaman helps cut down some of the remaining Porcelana cacao and he says to her, "Don't forget to breathe, every breath is precious." They see her off. She and Chikyu are back in Spain in half a breath.
Amedei Porcelana, banana, herb salad, oak wood ice cream, roasted malt, red wine, olive oil, tonka bean. Finally, we had here a cross section of Amedei Porcelana chocolate cream, bordered with chocolate meringue powder. The chocolate itself was dense and rich, with a bittersweet, nutty flavor that paired beautifully with the fruity sweetness of banana purée. A subtle wood ice cream was genius, and I also appreciated the delicate spice imparted by the tonka bean. Excellent tangy, peppery overtones from the herb salad as well to wrap things up.

Brasserie Cantillon Gueuze 100% Lambic Anchorage Brewing Company Whiteout Wit Alpine Beer Company Pure Hoppiness Rogue Ales Chocolate Stout 2010 Bodega Chacra Pinot Noir Barda
To drink, I brought along the Brasserie Cantillon Gueuze 100% Lambic, Anchorage Brewing Company Whiteout Wit, Alpine Beer Company Pure Hoppiness, and Rogue Ales Chocolate Stout, while fellow blogger Tomostyle provided a bottle of the 2010 Bodega Chacra Barda Pinot Noir from Patagonia, Argentina.

Cortez managed to deliver once again in perhaps his most ambitious endeavor to date. The Chef really got to showcase his style here, putting forth a meal that really drove home his unique flair and culinary point of view. Flavors were precise, plating was artistic, and I appreciated how everything tied into the storyline. In a dining landscape dominated by homey, rustic, approachable cooking, it's a breath of fresh air to experience something just a bit more cerebral and high-concept.

Sophia arrives back in Alvah's palace. She says, "I have your ingredients. Let my family go." Alvah checks the bag and smiles. "Now let my family go," says Sophia. Alvah says "Unless you work for me or your family dies and I will make all of Bilbao's people suffer." Quickly, Chikyu leaps in front of Alvah, snatching the bag out of his hands. Chikyu throws it to Sophia. The guards ambush Chikyu and hold him. Sophia says "Let go of my family or you don't get your ingredients." Alvah walks up to Chikyu with his sword and says, "is this you want to happen with your family?" He stabs Chikyu in the chest. Sophia cries with rage. "That's what I thought," he said. Sophia pulls herself together, and says "oh, I think you forgot one of your ingredients." She takes his Saffron out from her coat. Alvah is furious and orders his men to kill her. Sophia thought about her vow of not killing anyone ever. But, now she knows she would have to break that rule. She fights his men, and slaughters them. She was now bloody and injured.

Alvah says, "Now you will pay little girl." Their fight is an epic one. She remembers a game Chikyu had taught her during their training. This dance she used to perform with Chikyu is called "Ryu no taki," The Dragon Falls, a fighting technique that is unheard of, as it breaks all Samurai rules of allowing oneself to get too close to the enemy. There is no room for error. You allow them to attack with their sword drawn, and at the last moment, and at the same time, you drop your sword in a swift move to the left. Stepping in very close, then quickly lifting up the blade from the bottom position, you pierce them through the stomach followed by a release and full swing to cut off the head. She is nervous but knows this is the only way. He is dead within seconds. She releases her family. They are in tears as she collapses and takes her last breath. Her injuries were just too great.

Because of the stance against the government, the people rise up against the government troops and a democracy in Bilbao is born. The city starts to mend itself through the bravery of a twelve year old little girl, with a soul stronger than a thousand years of Samurai strength.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Cooks County (Los Angeles, CA)

Cooks County Restaurant
8009 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90048
Mon 04/23/2012, 07:45p-10:30p

Cooks County Exterior

It seems fitting that I followed up the recent LQ+SK 420 Weed and Herb Dinner with a meal at Laurent Quenioux's former stomping grounds, now transmorphed into Cooks County. The new, market-driven, hyperseasonal restaurant, which debuted on November 7th, is the work of husband-and-wife duo Daniel Mattern and Roxana Jullapat, both late of AMMO in Hollywood. They are joined by another husband-and-wife team, Barbrix owners Claudio Blotta and Adria Tennor, who serve as Beverage Director and General Manager, respectively. Interestingly, all four partners worked at Campanile at one point or another.

About the Chefs: The man in charge of Cooks County's kitchen is Daniel Mattern, who was raised in Chicago but spent most of his adult life here on the West Coast. He went to college in Eugene, Oregon in the early 1990's, studying political science, and during his tenure there, started his culinary career at a Mediterranean-Middle Eastern restaurant called Cafe Soriah. A few years later, Mattern moved down to Southern California to attend the CSCA in Pasadena, where he graduated near the top of his class. It was also here where he would meet his future business partner and love interest, Roxana Jullapat. After graduating, he returned to Mark Peel and Nancy Silverton's Campanile, where he had previously apprenticed. From there, Mattern went to Suzanne Goin's seminal Lucques, then became opening Sous Chef (and later CdC) at Goin's AOC wine bar. In early 2007, Mattern relocated to South East Portland to take over the kitchens at Clarklewis, replacing former chef Morgan Brownlow. While there, he befriended Casey Lane, who would later open The Tasting Kitchen in Venice in 2009. Mattern returned to LA to work at Axe, then took the lead position over at Amy Sweeney's AMMO in December 2009 (replacing Julia Wolfson) before leaving to work on Cooks County, his first solo project.

Roxana Jullapat, for her part, runs the pastry department at Cooks County. She's a native Angeleno, but spent her childhood in Costa Rica. After pursuing a career in journalism during college, she started baking at Cafe Figaro in Los Feliz. Jullapat then attended the California School of Culinary Arts, and followed Mattern to Campanile, Lucques, and AOC. She also worked a stint at Opaline with David Lentz (Suzanne Goin's husband), then cooked at Bastide under Alain Giraud. In 2007, Jullapat joined Mattern at Clarklewis in Portland, and started working at AMMO in March 2010 as well, before leaving to conceptualize Cooks County.

Cooks County Interior
The old Bistro LQ interior, replete with its white tablecloths and monumental cheese cart, has been completely revamped. The ceiling has been opened up, revealing a tapestry of wooden beams and air ducts, resulting in a brighter, airier, warmer, more rustic ambiance. A hole has been carved into one of the walls as well, allowing for a view into the kitchen and counter seating for six. One drawback to the renovations: the place is loud.

Cooks County Menu
Cooks County's menu focuses heavily on "urban rustic," Cal-Mediterranean-ish, market-driven fare, as evinced by the litany of farms and ranches listed on the bottom of the carte. To drink, think a focused selection of eclectic wines from across the globe, not to mention a small smattering of beers. Click for a larger version.

Rinaldini Pronto Secco Lambrusco
Given our recent, pleasant experience with Lambrusco over at Ari Taymor's excellent Alma pop-up, we started with more of the same. The non-vintage Rinaldini Pronto Secco [$30] from Emilia, Italy fit the bill nicely. It was consummately balanced, with a boatload of berry character, but still dry and with a good bit of minerality. Yum.

Spretzel [$3.00] | mustard dipping sauce
We began with the restaurant's signature "spretzel," basically a pretzel made with spelt wheat flour. It was marvelous, with a fantastically crisp, yet supple texture and a satisfying relish beautifully amplified by sharp pinpoints of salt. The spretzel was certainly tasty alone, but the accompanying mustard added a great, tangy kick to things as well. A must try.

Sugar snap peas
Sugar snap peas [$10.00] | prosciutto, farro, lemon & mint
A salad of sorts showed off the bracing, green, unmitigated flavors of pea, which I adored. Lemon and mint, meanwhile, added lightness and an additional piquancy to the fray, while the prosciutto lent weight, body, and salt. Farro, finally, served as an interesting textural component, and also worked to ground the dish. Quite nice.

Grilled Delta asparagus
Grilled Delta asparagus [$11.00] | tangelos, wild arugula & warm black olive vinaigrette
Thick spears of asparagus were sweet, succulent, and supple, teeming with their signature astringency and perfectly amped up by a tinge of bitter grill char. Citrus and arugula functioned to subdue the potency of the Deltas, but the crux of the dish for me was the black olive, which offered an amazing, countervailing piquancy that just set off the asparagus wonderfully.

Squash blossom risotto
Squash blossom risotto [$18.00] | spring onions, zucchini, toasted almonds & parmesan
Given my penchant for risotto, this course came as no surprise. It was perhaps the lightest version of the dish that I'd ever had, and I actually wanted more heft, more lusciousness from the Parmesan here to go against the fresh, bright taste of the onion and zucchini. I was also unconvinced about the presence of the almonds, with their crunch seeming a tad discordant to me.

Hand-cut tagliatelle
Hand-cut tagliatelle [$19.00] | fava beans, green garlic, walnuts & sheep's milk ricotta
Tagliatelle arrived expertly cooked, supple in consistency, yet with a bit of a bite as well. The pasta was enrobed in a saline, vegetal bitterness (which some will find overwhelming) from the greens utilized, while the ricotta contributed a counterbalancing, creamy, luxurious heft to the dish. Favas, meanwhile, added a textural element, and the walnuts, an overarching note of nuttiness.

Idaho trout
Idaho trout [$18.00] | French lentils, asparagus, spinach & mustard
Trout came to the table fanned out flat, and its flesh was mild and white, with a nice char, but unfortunately, the fish was marred by numerous pieces of bone. As such, I actually found the accompanying "salad" more enjoyable, with its lovely mix of tangy flavors from the greenery, all tempered by the savory, earthy weight of lentil.

Wood grilled duck breast
Wood grilled duck breast [$23.00] | sautéed farro verde, roasted artichokes & pea tendrils
We chose the duck for our final savory course, and it came out pretty much flawless. The bird itself was cooked spot on: tender, juicy, and teeming with deep, duck-y flavor. I also appreciated the farro here, and how it formed a delicate base for the meat, as well as the considerable brightness of the pea tendrils. Easily one of the highlights of the meal.

Cooks County Dessert Menu
Naturally, we saved room for some of Roxana Jullapat's desserts. Click for a larger version.

Chocolate Buck Cake
Chocolate Buck Cake [$10.00] | cardamom coffee ice cream
We'd originally requested the "Black & Tan Ice Cream Bar," but given that the kitchen had run out of it, our server suggested this instead. The cake itself was tasty enough, though not particularly interesting despite the incorporation of buckwheat. Far more intriguing was the cardamom-coffee ice cream, with its delectable mix of sweet and spicy flavors.

Pink Grapefruit & Meyer Lemon Fool
Pink Grapefruit & Meyer Lemon Fool [$9.00] | coconut cake, meringue & shortbread hearts
Jullapat's so-called "Fool" is akin to her take on the classic trifle. It was absolutely lovely, with the tartness from the citrus fruit playing faultlessly against the delicate sweetness of the coconut cake, while the shortbread cookies served to moderate the dessert. This one came together oh so nicely.

Though we didn't see the culinary fireworks that once inhabited the building under Laurent Quenioux's rule, Mattern and Jullapat have put together what seems like a winning combination here. The meal wasn't perfect, but was enjoyable nonetheless, with straightforward, approachable fare featuring uncomplicated presentations of product that really let the ingredients shine. Fans of Bistro LQ may bemoan the less involved preparations now, but fans of the Lucques school of cooking, meanwhile, will feel right at home.