Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Charleston (Santa Monica, CA)

The Charleston Restaurant and Gastrolounge
2460 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90403
Thu 05/24/2012, 07:45p-09:55p

The Charleston Exterior

When we last caught up with Jet Tila, he and compatriot Alexandre Ageneau were holding another iteration of Bistronomics over at Breadbar. Since then, the Chef has finally left his former digs at Las Vegas' Wazuzu for good, done some consulting for BRÜ Haus in West Los Angeles, filmed a television pilot, and shot a new series called Off the Menu for PBS (in Thailand no less). If that wasn't enough, he also held another pop-up in Vegas in February, and another just recently at the Colburn School. Oh yeah, and he debuted The Charleston on March 29th.

The Charleston is a bar-lounge-supperclub-nightclub-music venue (just don't call it a gastropub!) opened in concert with partners Trey Martin and brothers/BRÜ Haus owners Mike Lee and Jack M.Y. Lee, and features Tila's take on American comfort food in a "gastrolounge" setting. There's live entertainment (which spans the range from jazz to cover bands to DJs) pretty much every night, and the space even hosts periodic pop-ups. In fact, just a few weeks back Evan Kleiman did a one-off dinner highlighting favorites from her recently departed Angeli Caffe. We'd actually been wanting to try the place out for a while now, and in fact, we were supposed to come at the beginning of May, but a last-minute cancellation by Tila resulted in a detour to the nearby Milo & Olive (the Chef did end up comping most of the meal to make up for that inconvenience).

The Charleston Interior
The Charleston commands the building that formerly held Angel's Piano Bar & Supper Club (and before that, Holly's West Lounge, Lincoln Steakhouse, and Rooke's Round Table), which shuttered at the end of January. Much of the original 1930's aesthetic still remains, and in fact, the team hasn't done much more than spiffy up the place and add in some new paint, lighting, and electronics. The room is organized around the bar, which can get crowded, and also features a few booths and a smattering of tall tables, all arranged around the smallish stage.

The Charleston Menu
The Charleston's menu features fusion-y American comfort food, all reasonably priced, and there's also a completely separate brunch menu if that's your thing. To drink, think a fairly standard beer selection, a handful of wine, and an old school-ish cocktail list with a modern twist. Click for a larger version.

The Charleston Victoria's Secret Sazerac
The Charleston [$14.00] | Buffalo Trace Whiskey, Green Chartreuse, Dom Benedictine and orange bitters
Victoria's Secret [$12.00] | 1800 Tequila, St. Germaine, Strawberries, lime, agave, Sparkling wine
Sazerac [$12.00] | RI 1 Whiskey, lemon peel, sugar, Peychaud bitters, Angostura bitters with absinthe wash
Since the cocktails form the main alcoholic draw, we started with a threesome. Up first was The Charleston's signature libation, which showed off a great base of bourbon, all intermixed with the complex herbal characteristics of the Bénédictine and Chartreuse, with just a bit of citrus overtones; it was actually my favorite cocktail of the night. The Victoria's Secret (named after one of the lovely servers) was also quite delicious, with an in-your-face sugariness on the attack leading toward the heaviness of the booze on the finish--a nice summer quaffer. Finally, we had The Charleston's take on the classic Sazerac. It was easily the stiffest of the trio, and played the heftiness of the rye whiskey against the multifaceted bitterness imparted by the combo of Peychaud's and Angostura.

Bacon Mac n' Cheese Bites
Bacon Mac n' Cheese Bites [$9.00] | Crispy gooey breadcrumb coated mac n' cheese pieces
We began with crunchy cuboids of macaroni and cheese, which showed off a simple, satisfying savoriness, nicely accented by a tangy dollop of the accompanying marinara sauce.

Short Rib Tacos with Shaved Brussel sprouts and Korean Salsa
Short Rib Tacos with Shaved Brussel sprouts and Korean Salsa [$9.00] | Slow roasted short rib and roasted brussel sprouts on corn tortilla
Next up was Tila's take on Roy Choi's iconic Kogi tacos. They were actually quite tasty, one of the highlights of the meal in fact. The meat itself I found tender, juicy, and hearty, with a slight sweetness deftly contrasted against the bits of Brussels sprouts. The paired salsa imparted a bit more heat to the course, but wasn't even necessary for me.

Sweet and Spicy Wings
Sweet and Spicy Wings [$9.00] | Crispy fried and bathed in sweet chili siracha
Chicken wings were on point as well: nicely crisp, yet moist, tender, and succulent on the inside, with a great mix of sweet and spicy flavors.

Pulled Pork Sliders [$11.00] | Slow smoked pork shoulder, creamy coleslaw on country roll
Pork sliders were as tasty as you'd expect, with the sweet, savory pork pairing perfectly with the cool, crisp, refreshing smack of the slaw.

Jet 75 Minted Mule Side Car
Jet 75 [$13.00] | Hendrick's Gin, simple syrup, Lemon Juice, Brut Champagne
Minted Mule [$12.00] | Russian Standard Vodka, lime juice with Goslings Ginger Beer
Side Car [$12.00] | Remy Martin Cognac, Cointreau, lemon juice and simple syrup
Time for more cocktails. The Jet 75 was a version of the iconic French 75, which conveyed a balanced presentation of gin and citrus flavors, all moderated by the sparkling wine. My favorite of the troika, though, was the riff on the Moscow Mule, and its refreshing interplay of lime and ginger elements. Last up was the Sidecar, very classic in essence with its mix of sweet, sour, and boozy flavors.

Smoked Mac & Cheese [$9.00] | Béchamel, smoked cheddar & gouda
A traditional mac 'n' cheese was certainly pleasurable. Here, I enjoyed the sheer cheesy gooeyness of the dish, as well as its crisp crust and smoky tinge. My only concern was that I would've liked the pasta a bit firmer.

Chicken n' Waffle
Chicken n' Waffle [$14.00] | Buttermilk brined fried chicken, Belgian Waffle & Maple Syrup
Here, Tila pays homage to Roscoe's with his version of the famed chicken and waffles dish. The chicken was tender and hearty, with a subtle sweetness and interesting crunch, courtesy of the use of panko in the breading. Meanwhile, the waffle was spot on as well: crisp, yet light, with a satisfying, saccharine, syrup-y smack that paired swimmingly with the bird. A winning combination to be sure.

Charleston Burger
Charleston Burger [$13.00] | Smoked cheddar, arugula, onion marmalade & sun dried tomato aioli
The eponymous Charleston Burger was certainly worthy of consideration. The meat itself was well-cooked and satisfyingly savory, melding flawlessly with the cheddar cheese. The onion jam added just the right amount of sweetness, while the arugula served to temper the entire dish. Very nicely integrated overall. Accompanying the burger was a side of garlic and herb French fries, which were delectable as well, with a great herby zing that went wonderfully with a dab of sun dried tomato aioli.

Sausage, Fennel & Arugula
Sausage, Fennel & Arugula [$13.00] | Crumbled country sausage, shaved fennel & arugula
The combination here of sausage and fennel was certainly enjoyable and robust, with the arugula offering up a well-placed lightness to the flatbread. The most interesting thing here, however, was the crisp, yet quite substantial crust, which actually reminded me of that of Pizza Hut's pan pizzas!

Charlie Sheen Tiger Bloody Mary Spanish Manhattan Ally Cat
Charlie Sheen Tiger Bloody Mary [$11.00] | Sambal Chili Sauce, prosciutto, salt, fire roasted tomatoes and capers
Spanish Manhattan
Ally Cat
At this point, we were in the mood for some more "interesting" cocktails, and the bar responded with their Charlie Sheen-inspired Bloody Mary from the brunch menu. It was probably the best version of the drink I've had, with a fantastic, complex blend of savory and spicy flavors, deftly finished by the prosciutto-salt rim and garnish of pickled carrot and fried caper-stuffed tomato. We also tried two more "experimental" concoctions, which should be appearing on the cocktail list shortly. The first was the Spanish Manhattan, which featured chorizo-infused whiskey along with a garnish of Maraschino cherry and sliced chorizo. It was a bit perplexing at first, but it actually worked out, with the savoriness and spice of the sausage going well with the weight of the booze, all while the cherry added a whisper of sweetness to things. Rounding out the triune was the Ally Cat, again named after one of the servers. This one was based on Jameson Gold Reserve Irish whiskey, joined by honey and sage, making for a balanced, delicious drink, with a definite honeyed sweetness and pungency from the sage.

Pork Belly Bao Buns
Pork Belly Bao Buns [$11.00] | Five spiced braised pork belly, steamed buns, pickle, hoisin sauce
It seems like everybody's doing some sort of bao these days (I suppose we can thank David Chang for that), but Tila's here are set apart by the fact that the gwah bao buns are fried. The result is a crispy, yet pillow-y, and almost doughnut-y consistency that I rather enjoyed, which played perfectly off of the decadent, fatty cuts of pork belly: uncompromisingly porcine, yet with a tinge of sweet spice, keenly set off by the shards of pickled carrot and scallion.

Shepard's Pie
Shepard's Pie [$12.00] | Braised short rib, seasonal vegetables, topped with whipped potatoes
Tila's shepherd's pie was appetizing as well, with the rich, dark flavors of the short rib pairing with the veggies in classic fashion, all moderated by the smooth, mild mashed potatoes.

Chorizo Hash and Eggs
Chorizo Hash and Eggs [$15.00] | with choice of eggs and toast
To round out the dinner, we requested a couple of items off of the brunch menu. The chorizo hash was the first to arrive, and it was just what I was looking for: spicy, savory bits of chorizo, mixed in with onion and topped with tangy strings of scallion, all balanced by soft, fluffy egg.

Chocolate Brioche Bread Pudding French Toast
Chocolate Brioche Bread Pudding French Toast [$12.00] | Chocolate brioche bread pudding with maple syrup
Finishing things off and serving as our dessert course was undoubtedly one of my favorite presentations of French toast. The chocolate was really the key here, providing a rich, satisfying undercurrent of sweetness that just tied everything together.

In discussing The Charleston, Tila once stated that he viewed the place as a "bar with great food." To that effect, he's been largely successful, doling out straightforward, approachable, easy-to-enjoy items that don't get in the way of the booze or the band onstage. The food was tasty for the most part, and well-executed, and I couldn't really find any major fault with it. At the same time though, perhaps the cooking's too comfortable. Tila's clearly capable of more, and it'd be nice to see the more ambitious cooking that I know he can deliver at The Charleston. I guess I'll just have to wait for him to do a pop-up there.

Monday, May 21, 2012

5x5 Chefs Collaborative (Los Angeles, CA) [4]

5 x 5 Chefs Collaborative Dinner at Providence
5955 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90038
Mon 05/21/2012, 08:40p-12:00a

Providence Exterior

When the 5x5 Chefs Collaborative series debuted in 2007, it was one of the first events that really brought together chefs from multiple restaurants, thus paving the way in a sense for the numerous cooperative dinners that we see today. The 5x5s were a hit, and continued throughout 2008 and 2009, but then disappeared from the scene, only to return this year. The 2012 season benefits the Special Olympics, and kicked off in April with a dinner hosted at Melisse. Here's the complete schedule:

• Sunday, April 29 at Melisse (guest chef Ludo Lefebvre of LudoBites)
• Monday, May 21 at Providence (guest chef Jeremy Fox)
• Monday, July 16 at Angelini Osteria (guest chef Michael Tusk of Quince)
• Monday, August 20 at Bouchon (guest chef TBD)
• Sunday, September 16 at ink. (guest chef Chris Cosentino of Incanto)

In a particular dinner, each of the five "core" chefs and one guest chef prepare one dish in a multi-course meal, with dessert coming from the host restaurant as well. This year's fab five are: Gino Angelini of Angelini Osteria, Michael Cimarusti of Providence, Josiah Citrin Mélisse, Rory Herrmann of Bouchon, and Michael Voltaggio of Ink. It's interesting to note that only Cimarusti and Citrin remain from the original 2007 line-up.

5x5 Chefs Collaborative Menu at Providence 5 x 5 Chefs Collaborative Providence Beer List
Here we see the night's menu, priced at $150 per head, plus $75 for wine pairings ($150 for premium wine pairings) from Sommelier Drew Langley. We also opted for some beers from Providence's newly expanded list as well. Click for larger versions.

hefe weizen, kankiku, 'kujukuri ocean beer'
Speaking of those beers, the first was the Kujukuri Ocean Beer Weizen [$13] from Kankiku Brewery in Chiba, Japan. Though it was labeled a weizen, it wasn't quite like any hefeweizen that I'd had before. There was definitely some wheat character, but also a strong, funky, citrus-y component in there as well, joined by a marked maltiness and a tinge of spice.

Providence Bread Selection Providence Butter and Salt
Breads on offer tonight included seaweed, black olive, and bacon varieties, and came accompanied by salt and Providence's signature circular pats of butter.

the uni or the egg a scallop in the weeds
chips and dip chips and dip
Amuse Bouche | the uni or the egg / a scallop in the weeds / chips and dip [Michael Cimarusti, Providence]
The meal got off to a promising start with a troika of whimsical amuses. Uni custard arrived married with almond milk, and we sucked out the sweet, saline liquid from a perfectly punched hole in a hollowed out egg shell. A "taco" presented us with a tartar of ponzu-cured scallop and sushi rice, all enveloped in nasturtium, its tangy, peppery relish playing off the sugary brine of the scallops in complex, stellar fashion. They saved the best for last, though. Salmon skin crisps were fantastic, with an intense, umami-laden smack and delightfully crunchy consistency that was delicious either with or without the rich, luscious demisphere of cured trout mousseline.

blue crab
1: blue crab | blue crab jelly, rice milk ice, ice plant, tomato pickle [Michael Voltaggio, Ink]
junmai dai ginjyo, kanchiku
A custard of blue crab showed off the in-your-face sweetness and brine of the crustacean, balanced against the tart, tangy flavors of the tomato, while the ice plant added crunchy hints of piquancy to the mix. The rice milk provided a further temper to the dish, and also offered a bracing temperature contrast. A pure, playful, heady celebration of crab meat, deftly paired with the crisp, subtly saccharine junmai daiginjo sake.

twice shucked peas
2: twice shucked peas | pod consommé with white chocolate, chocolate mint and macadamia [Jeremy Fox]
laurent perrier, "brut l-p" m.v.
Here, Guest Chef Jeremy Fox presented a reworking of a dish that he served two years ago at Animal, and it was easily the most cerebral course of the night. Peas were laboriously double-shucked, making for a great textural component and really exemplifying the pure, unmitigated essence of the vegetable. The crux, though, was the use of chocolate, which added sugary and minty overtones to the dish, their creeping, delicate sapors intermingling with the peas in contemplative manner. The flavor combinations were a bit unconventional, but they worked.

scotch ale, great divide brewing co, 'claymore'
Our next beer was the Claymore Scotch Ale [$8] from Denver's Great Divide Brewing Company. This one was pretty intense, with a good amount of caramel, smoke, coffee, and roasted malt flavors all intermingling on the palate. At the same time however, it was still fairly dry, and not overwhelming in its potency.

ravioli al nero di seppia
3: ravioli al nero di seppia | ripieni di granchio, salsa ai ricci di mare [Gino Angelini, Angelini Osteria]
sauvignon blanc, happy canyon, habit 2011
Squid ink ravioli arrived stuffed with crab and dressed in a sea urchin sauce. The pasta was pretty much spot on, pleasant in bite, with a superb interplay between the two facets of sweetness from the crab and the uni. They complemented each other commendably, while the sea beans added pinpoints of saltiness to the fray. I especially appreciated the pairing of the Sauv Blanc here, which sort of served to intensify the flavors on the plate.

spanish mackerel
4: spanish mackerel | chorizo, marinated firefly squid, pickled jingle bell peppers, young fennel cucumbers and extra virgin olive oil jam [Rory Herrmann, Bouchon]
rosé of nebbiolo, "majoli" tenuta sella 2011
Herrmann's mackerel arrived with cuts from both the head and the tail, joined in the middle by a line of chorizo, forming perhaps a scombroid analogue to Morbier. The fish was on point: savory and lusty, with a lovely trace of heat from the sausage. The use of squid augmented the inherent brine of the mackerel even further, while the jam and various veggies at play contributed lightness and balance to the dish.

wild yeast ale, shizen bakushu, 'hakuseki'
The last beer of the evening was the Hakusekikan Shizen Bakushu [$13] wild yeast ale. Not surprisingly, this one was funky, tart, woody and sour, with a good acidic backbone and just a bit of hoppiness toward the end.

dry aged lamb loin and braised shank
5: dry aged lamb loin and braised shank | courgette, santa rita hills porcini, green almonds, lamb jus [Josiah Citrin, Melisse]
syrah, "out of the shadows" soliste 2009
A loin of dry-aged lamb came to the table rare, perhaps too rare for some, and was teeming with ovine goodness, interspersed with pricks of saltiness, while zucchini and green almond formed fitting counterpoints to the meat. The shank, meanwhile, arrived stuffed in a squash blossom, and was just as you'd expect from the braised preparation: rich, tender, and luxurious, a deep, dark umami-bomb almost futilely moderated by the greenery on the plate.

manjari 64%
6: manjari 64% | espresso, sweetened condensed milk, gianduia, ube [David Rodriguez, Providence]
madeira bual, "historic series", rare wine co.
Valrhona's Manjari from Madagascar was the star of the show in our dessert. Incredibly dark, dense, and decadent, its subtly fruity, bittersweet essence went swimmingly along with the intense espresso flavors present. Lovely textures here to boot--like chocolate covered coffee beans.

Petit Fours Breakfast Pastries
Petit Fours
A tray of mignardises brought us cascade hop pâtes de fruits, peanut butter cups, chocolate truffles, and kaffir lime macarons (watch out for the rocks though). A separate box of breakfast pastries, meanwhile, contained cherry scones, blackberry financiers, and lavender shortbread cookies.

After a prolonged break, it was great to be able to see the 5 x 5 Chefs Collaborative back in action again. The dinner was certainly as memorable as I recall the 5x5's being, and once again, it was interesting to see the incongruities between each Chef's style and how they worked past that to create a cohesive meal. Though the line-up has changed considerably throughout the years, the group's original goal of bringing chefs together while helping out a cause remains as strong as ever, and I do hope that they can continue the series in the future--so no more three year hiatuses please.

Monday, May 14, 2012

C.H.E.F.S. Foie Gras Dinner at The Royce (Pasadena, CA)

C.H.E.F.S. NorCal vs SoCal Foie Gras Battle "The Whole Duck" at The Royce
1401 S Oak Knoll Ave, Pasadena, CA 91106
Mon 05/14/2012, 07:45p-11:40p

The Royce Dining Room

With the impending foie gras ban slated to go into effect come July 1st, it's no surprise that we've been seeing a bevy of foie gras-centric dinners pop up in the past few months, and I only expect that number to rise as we get closer to the deadline. Surprisingly, I'd actually resisted the urge to attend any of these events until this particular series of four simultaneous dinners, hosted by the Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming Standards. C.H.E.F.S. is a group of California-based chefs, restaurateurs, and other industry professionals that opposes the ban on foie gras, but instead supports a higher standard for the ethical treatment of animals as well as more humane, sustainable farming practices. The organization sponsored a "NorCal vs SoCal Foie Gras Battle" featuring chefs from both Northern and Southern California, cooking four concurrent meals at The Royce, Animal, Lemon Moon, and Melisse.

C.H.E.F.S. NorCal vs SoCal Foie Gras Battle 'The Whole Duck' at The Royce Menu
And here we see the evening's menu, which came priced at $200 per head, with half that amount representing a charitable donation to C.H.E.F.S. The cost included wine pairings, with bottles graciously donated by select California wineries. In addition, since we were seated at the Chef's Table, we were able to enjoy two additional bonus courses, prepared by Chefs Féau and Cimarusti. Click for a larger version.

The Royce Bread Selection
Bread, as always, was baked in-house, and tonight included pumpernickel, baguette, olive, and bacon varieties.

Foie Gras Roulade Smoked Black Truffle Bread
Bonus: Foie Gras Roulade
We commenced with a foie gras torchon, wrapped in pan-seared foie gras, and served with a rhubarb compote and leek ash. Initially, I got a lot of the sugariness from the rhubarb, which then gave way to an intriguing, complex interplay between the disparate preparations of liver, with the two jockeying for position on the palate both in terms of taste and texture. At the same time, the strata of leek ash offered up an overarching bitterness that deftly contrasted the heft of the foie. The course also came accompanied by a smoked black truffle bread, which added a further bit of smoky, savory weight to the dish.

Foie Gras and Cherry Blossom Parfait, Barley, Sea Beans and Shiso
1: Foie Gras and Cherry Blossom Parfait, Barley, Sea Beans and Shiso [Doug Keane, Cyrus, Healdsburg]
Mumm Napa Brut Reserve NV
Next up was a parfait of foie gras, which included in its list of ingredients chicken stock, sake, gelatin, sakura stock, seaweed, mirin, and ginger. The pâté itself was smooth and airy, yet powerful, with a delicate, yet heady smack of foie gras flavor that married well with the subtly sweet, floral cherry blossom gelée, which also provided a lovely textural contrast. Poached sea beans, meanwhile, added pinpoints of salt to things, while the microshiso contributed overtones of countervailing mintiness. My favorite element here, though, was that barley, with its fantastic crunch and lingering earthiness.

Artisan Foie Gras Torchon and Bigeye Tuna with Mustard Fruit and Saba
2: Artisan Foie Gras Torchon and Bigeye Tuna with Mustard Fruit and Saba [Peter Armellino, Plumed Horse, Saratoga]
Testarossa Winery "Plumed Blanc" 2010 Arroyo Seco
A disk foie gras torchon cured in salt came lodged in a block of seared bigeye tuna, with the amalgamation then topped with mostarda. The tuna itself was clean and dense, with lovely pricks of salinity from the Maldon salt. You don't see fish with foie all that often, but the combination actually worked here, with the two components seemingly amplifying each other, with neither becoming overpowering. At the same time, the strip of toast provided a pleasant textural element to the dish, and I appreciated the piquancy from the mini-quenelle of mustard fruits as well.

Foie Gras Custard, Spring Vegetables, Smoked Sturgeon, Rye
3: Foie Gras Custard, Spring Vegetables, Smoked Sturgeon, Rye [Micah Wexler, Mezze]
Cornerstone "Stepping Stone Corallina Rose" Syrah 2011
A custard of foie gras was lovely, with the light, ethereal gel adroitly imbued with whispers of smoke from the cubes of sturgeon. It went just swimmingly with the earthy tang of the rye crumbles, and the combination was keenly moderated by the myriad of crisp, bright veggies, which included sugar snap peas, English peas, favas, Nantes carrots, and scapes. Very nicely integrated.

Foie Gras Sauté with Grilled and Partially Dehydrated Strawberries
4: Foie Gras Sauté with Grilled and Partially Dehydrated Strawberries [Michael Cimarusti, Providence]
Hill Family Estate Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc 2009 Napa
Here we had seared Rougié foie from Canada, joined by black sesame streusel, a black sesame tuile, foie gras powder, roasted strawberries, and a strawberry-hibiscus syrup. It was a masterful course, with the liver showing off a delightfully eggy consistency and a mild, delicate, yet forceful foie gras relish. The various forms of strawberry, meanwhile, contributed just the right amount of sweetness to the mix, and I appreciated the countervailing smack and crunchiness of the black sesame as well.

Pan Roasted Duck Breast with Forbidden Rice and Foie Gras 'Risotto,' Pickled Ramps, Duck Confit, Cherry Jus
5: Pan Roasted Duck Breast with Forbidden Rice and Foie Gras "Risotto," Pickled Ramps, Duck Confit, Cherry Jus [Victor Scargle, Lucy at Bardessono, Yountville]
Arkenstone "Obsidian" Howell Mountain 2007 Napa
Here, duck arrived in three very different fashions: confit, breast, and foie gras mousse (fitting as the ban may have implications for other parts of the animal). The breast was nice, but the least interesting of the trio. I much preferred the confit, which showed off delectably dark, savory tones, intertwined with a fascinating touch of sweet spice. The foie gras "risotto" was also a hit, with the liver adding a wonderful gravity to the rice, as well as the dish overall. Bok choy, meanwhile, did an admirable tempering the strong flavors at play here with its much-appreciated vegetal bitterness.

Dry-aged Beef 'Boullion,' Foie Gras Fondue, Tarragon Printed Pasta, Crimini Mushroom Dry-aged Beef 'Boullion,' Foie Gras Fondue, Tarragon Printed Pasta, Crimini Mushroom
6: Dry-aged Beef "Boullion," Foie Gras Fondue, Tarragon Printed Pasta, Crimini Mushroom [David Féau, The Royce at Langham]
Ackerman Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Napa
Our final savory course of the dinner brought us a cube of foie gras, enveloped with shaved foie gras, on top of which a beef bouillon was poured. The liver itself was expertly cooked, and classic in essence, with its heady relish on full display. However, what I liked even better was the broth, which conveyed a profound, refined beefiness, but one laced with delicious foie gras overtones. The pasta, meanwhile, served to moderate the dish, and also provided a point of textural interest as well.

Bonus: Pistachiola
The additional dessert we enjoyed was the so-called "pistachiola," a portmanteau of pistachio and granola. The two components were joined by honey, black sugar, raspberries, and a delightful sorrel sorbet. The course was a resounding success, with a great interplay of flavors between the tangy, sugary fruit and the nutty bits of granola, all while the sorrel added a refreshing, bracing tartness to the dish.

Pacific Rose Apple Tart 'Roti', Vanilla-Calvados Ice Cream, Roquefort Papillon
Dessert: Pacific Rose Apple Tart "Roti", Vanilla-Calvados Ice Cream, Roquefort Papillon
Charles Hours "Urolat" Jurançon 2010 France
I was somewhat disappointed that dessert lacked any foie gras, but the course was thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless. In fact, I'd quite liked it during my second visit to The Royce. Sweet slices of Pacific Rose apple came attached to a smoky, almost gossamer crumple of paper-thin phyllo, resulting in a fascinating mix of tastes and textures, and combined wonderfully with the sweet, yet slightly boozy vanilla-calvados ice cream. Crumbles of Roquefort, meanwhile, contributed a sharp, salty, counterbalancing component to the fray.

And there we have it: my first foie gras dinner. Part of the reason that I'd been so tentative about these types of events was that I was afraid that I'd be assaulted by huge, overly sweet portions of the stuff, which, given the considerable heft of the liver, would be overwhelming. Rather, tonight, the Chefs here were able to present foie gras in its various forms and facets, keeping things interesting enough, and light enough, to make me want to keep going. As for the "battle" component of the meal, I'd have to give the "W" to the boys down south.