Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sons & Daughters (San Francisco, CA)

Sons & Daughters Restaurant
708 Bush St, San Francisco, CA 94108
Tue 07/31/2012, 08:00p-10:45p

Sons & Daughters Exterior

To kick off my recent NorCal trip, I paid a visit to one of SF's latest and greatest newcomers, Matt McNamara and Teague Moriarty's Sons & Daughters, located in the City's TenderNob district. The Animal-style duo, almost unknown prior to the opening of the restaurant, have made quite a splash in the past year or so with their product-driven, progressive Californian cuisine, which many look toward as the future of Bay Area cooking: that is, the blend of modernist concepts with a firm commitment to "farm-to-table" ideals (as evinced by their one-acre farm in Los Gatos, tended by Cacye Hill). The two actually met in culinary school in 2004, reportedly a result of their shared interest in home brewing.

About the Chefs: A Bay Area native, Matt McNamara attended the University of Colorado at Boulder, and also began his professional kitchen career at about the same time, working as a baker at the Grana Bread Company in Carbondale, Colorado. This was followed up by an internship at the well-regarded Montagna at The Little Nell in Aspen, and later a stint at the famed Eleven Madison Park in New York, under Daniel Humm. He studied at the California Culinary Academy, and following graduation, worked the line at San Francisco's Poleng Lounge. In 2006, McNamara moved back to Carbondale to serve as Sous Chef at Restaurant Six89. He stayed there for two years before leaving to stage in Europe, landing at Dal Delicato in Naples, Italy; the Michelin three-star L'Arnsbourg in Baerenthal, France; and Vincents in Riga, Latvia. Upon returning Stateside, McNamara apprenticed at both Alex and Guy Savoy in Las Vegas, and then at Jean-Georges' eponymous flagship in NYC. He then returned to Northern California and became a private chef before starting work on his own restaurant.

Teague Moriarty, for his part, also hails from NorCal, Santa Cruz in particular. He too began his culinary career as a baker, at Emily's Bakery in his hometown, and also worked at the City's Whole Foods. Like his partner, Moriarty attended the CCA as well, graduating from the school in 2005. Following, he began cooking at San Francisco's Limón Rotisserie, then moved to B Restaurant & Bar across the Bay in Oakland. Moriarty later secured a Sous Chef position at Gregoire in Berkeley's famed Gourmet Ghetto (the home of Chez Panisse). He left in 2009, however, and began working as a private chef, all the while planning Sons & Daughters with McNamara and honing his modernist techniques.

Along with co-owner Travis Curtis, McNamara and Moriarty debuted Sons & Daughters in June of 2010, in the building formerly home to Fredy Fahrni's Cafe Mozart. Just three months later, Michael Bauer dropped a solid 2.5-star review in the SF Chronicle, a rating that was upgraded to a full triple a year later. Michelin, meanwhile, also granted the Chefs a star, and the restaurant enjoyed good press from Bon Appetit and GQ as well. Business was (and is) booming. In 2011, they brought on a full-time pastry chef from Boston, Kevin Gravito, and laid plans for Sweet Woodruff, a casual take-out place run by Manresa alumnus Isaac Miller (it bowed in January). Their latest accomplishment? Being named "2012 Rising Star Chefs" by the Chronicle.

Sons & Daughters Summer Tasting Menu Sons & Daughters Vegetable Tasting Menu Sons & Daughters Wine List Sons & Daughters Wine List
As for Sons & Daughter's menu, it's definitely been ratcheted up a notch since the restaurant's debut. They opened with four courses at $48, plus $36 for wine, with all the dishes available à la carte as well. These days, it's an eight-courser priced at $98 (there's also a slightly cheaper veggie menu), with an additional $69 added for pairings by Sommelier Carlin Karr. Note signatures from Chef de Cuisine Duncan Holmes (ex-Saison), Sous Chef Val Cantu (ex-Benu), Tony Luangrath (ex-Saison), Timofei Osipenko (ex-Benu), and stagiare Kathy Ayers. Click for larger versions.

Marin miyagi    Trout roe    Buttermilk Marin miyagi    Trout roe    Buttermilk
1: Marin miyagi    Trout roe    Buttermilk
BRUT CHAMPAGNE  .  Lancelot-Pienne 'Blanc de Blancs' Grand Cru  .  NV Cramant
Kicking things off was a duet of amuses. First: a lone Marin Miyagi oyster, topped with lime granité and opal basil. There was an intense (perhaps too intense) sourness up front, leading to a clean, refined brine on the finish, joined by a bracing temperature contrast courtesy of the granita. More to my liking was a buttermilk chicharron with smoked crème fraîche, green onion salt, dill, and trout roe. This was straightforward in concept but fantastic in execution, with a beautiful balance between saline and onion-y flavors, all moderated by the lush, creamy crème. Great textures, too, and lovely with the accompanying crisp, apple-y, mineral-tinged sparkler.

Fort Bragg sea urchin    Local seaweed    Purslane
2: Fort Bragg sea urchin    Local seaweed    Purslane
ALBARINO  .  Do Ferreiro 'Rebisaca'  .  2010  .  Rias Baixas
The kitchen followed up with a beautifully-composed salad, highlighting the natural sweetness and luxuriousness of sea urchin, as well as its inherent salinity. The uni was spot on, even garnering the approval of one of my urchin-hating dining companions. As delish as it was though, the tempering taste and crunch of the seaweed was crucial as well, forming a dish that really showcased the essence of the sea, tied together by an enveloping dashi vinaigrette.

Buckwheat Toast
Serving as the first item of our bread service was a "cute" piece of buckwheat toast. Taken alone, I found it delightfully buttery, crisp, and delicious, but the bread was taken to another level with the application of the accompanying yogurt- and sea-salt-laced butter.

Marigold greens    Radish    Tomales bay mussel
3: Marigold greens    Radish    Tomales bay mussel
GRUNER VELTLINER  .  Hiedler 'Loess'  .  2011  .  Kamptal
I'm quite the fan of fried mussels, and here the Tomales Bay varietals were totally on point: crisp on the outside yet wonderfully creamy and saline within--I could've eaten a whole bowl of 'em. As good as the mussels were, though, the crux of the dish was the chilled marigold gazpacho, which provided an eminently robust, citric, minty, kick-in-the-pants jolt of verdant relish, that, along with the crunchy radishes, counteracted the bivalve in superb fashion. The sheer brightness in the course was a good pair for the accompanying Grüner, with its heady dose of minerality and quintessentially strong food friendliness.

Next up was an archetypal sourdough roll, nice and tangy, rather spherical in shape, and with a satisfyingly crisp outer layer.

Beet    Vadouvan    Quail bush
4: Beet    Vadouvan    Quail bush
RIESLING  .  Doennhoff  .  2010  .  Nahe
Beets were surprisingly palatable to me, pleasantly firm in consistency, their sweetness deftly offset by the creamy and vegetal components in the dish. In addition, I really appreciated the pickled mustard seeds here, and how their astringency helped to ground and moderate everything. Great wine pairing too, with the Dönnhoff showing off a classically off-dry Riesling character.

Local salmon    Summer squash    White strawberries
5: Local salmon    Summer squash    White strawberries
REBULA  .  Kabaj  .  2009  .  Goriska Brda, Slovenia
The salmon was about as flawless as they come, a perfect example of a cooked specimen. I loved its supple, yet still slightly resilient consistency, as well as its wonderfully saline flavor, amped up by the fish's gorgeously crisp, salty layer of skin. The salmon would've been heavenly alone, but the accompanying sweet and spicy fumé broth was a superb complement, accenting the fish in stellar fashion. I also appreciated the various vegetables at play here, as well as the tart, tiny strawberries present.

Pretzel Bread
Our final bread of the evening was arguably my favorite, and perhaps the best pretzel bread that I'd ever eaten. I absolutely adored the salty kick on this one--yum.

Squab    Marcona almond    Fennel
6: Squab    Marcona almond    Fennel
PINOT NOIR  .  Evening Land  .  2009  .  Vosne Romanee
The most substantial course of the menu was this prototypically prepared sous vide squab, done to just the right temperature, making it juicy and tender, and teeming with deep, earthy flavors. Fennel, meanwhile, imparted a delicious crunch and astringency to the course, and even the juicy suprêmes of tangelo made sense. I was a bit concerned about the use of almond in the dish, but its nutty flair actually worked, too. One of my dining companions, who'd never had squab before, loved the dish upon first bite, and so did I.

Melon    Geranium    Salad burnet
7: Melon    Geranium    Salad burnet
An intermezzo before dessert: the sorbet of germanium was a taste to behold, an energizing jolt to the senses augmented by the minty salad burnet, dampened in part by the sugary cubes of melon by its side. Very nice.

Chocolate    Eucalyptus    Chocolate mint
8: Chocolate    Eucalyptus    Chocolate mint
FLORA  .  Matthiasson  .  2010  .  Napa
Dinner ended on a strong note. A Napoleon of dark chocolate conveyed a saccharine, mouth-watering bitterness, interspersed with notes of mint and fruity hints of Bing cherry. Tasty. However, the star of the show was the marvelous eucalyptus ice cream, with its exhilaratingly refreshing, herbaceous flavor that played perfectly against the chocolate--a real breath of fresh air.

Chamomile-Lavender Madeleines
To close: some delightfully floral chamomile-lavender madeleines.

McNamara and Moriarty have got a winner on their hands in the form of Sons & Daughters. Their cooking represents a welcome evolution of a culinary scene that has moved beyond mere "figs on a plate." The food shows an avant garde bent, but pays homage to the farm-to-table cookery that Northern California is known for. Technique is utilized to the maximum, sure, but it's not necessarily made obvious to the diner. Instead, the Chefs are doing a bang-up job in showing us all that's great about fresh, local, seasonal product, but just presenting in a slightly new light. These guys are killing it at this point, and I'm betting that they'll only get better with time. Two stars doesn't seem too far away.

El Farolito Exterior Pollo y Sesos Tacos
Carne Asada Taco El Farolito Interior
El Farolito Interior Carnitas y Cabeza Tacos
Though quite happy with the meal at Sons & Daughters, we weren't quite full at this point and thus headed out to the Mission in search of the district's famed burrito. Our intended destination was the well-regarded La Taqueria, but alas, they'd already closed by the time we arrived. Downtrodden, we settled for El Farolito, where, ironically, I enjoyed not their burrito but five types of tacos: pollo, sesos, carne asada, carnitas, y cabeza. Not bad, though nothing mind-blowing.

View from Twin Peaks
After stuffing ourselves with tacos, we headed up to Twin Peaks to catch a panoramic view of the City from Christmas Tree Point. That particularly bright row of lights is Market Street.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Saddle Peak Lodge (Calabasas, CA) [2]

Saddle Peak Lodge Restaurant
419 Cold Canyon Rd, Malibu, CA 91302
Thu 07/26/2012, 08:00p-12:20a

Saddle Peak Lodge Exterior

My last visit to Dr. Ann Ehringer's longstanding Saddle Peak Lodge was almost exactly three years ago to the day. Back in 2009, Chef Adam Horton still held the reins here, and it was around then when he really started making a name for himself on the culinary scene in LA. Since that time, Horton's decamped, replaced by his former right-hand-man, Christopher Kufek. Given the change in leadership, I figured that it was time to give the grand dame another go.

About the Chef: Kufek is a Los Angeles native, born in the affluent West Hills district of the San Fernando Valley. The 28-year-old Chef actually started out as a carpenter at age 17, working on private jets, high-end residences, and other such frivolities (in fact, he's in the midst of renovating his own condo at the moment). When Kufek turned 21, he decided to switch to a career in the restaurant industry, initially as a way to meet more women (makes sense--I can't imagine there are too many female carpenters). He moved in with some friends in Santa Barbara, and began his culinary career at the bottom, working as a dishwasher at the now-shuttered Cafe Buenos Aires on State Street. Naturally, he eventually began cooking there, but then moved back to LA a year later to start slanging pasta at Maggiano's (yes, that Maggiano's). The gig lasted two years, and at the end of it, Kufek was itching to work at a real restaurant.

In pursuit of that goal, he showed up on the back doorsteps of Saddle Peak Lodge, continuously for several weeks, and eventually head chef Steven Rojas (ex-Patina) caved and offered him a job. Kufek started at the amuse bouche station, then worked his way up to a Sous Chef position in a year's time. During this period, he also staged at a number of restaurants in the San Diego area, including the renowned El Bizcocho at the Rancho Bernardo Inn, under James Beard award winner Gavin Kaysen. Coincidentally, in July 2008, Kaysen would leave El Bizcocho to head up Cafe Boulud in New York, replaced by none other than Steve Rojas. Given the kitchen shuffle, Adam Horton took over as Executive Chef, with Kufek becoming CdC. Horton, however, left SPL at the start of 2011 to relaunch Raphael in Studio City, taking Sous Chef Heather Bogue and Pastry Chef Kasra Ajdari with him.

Given the chef shake-up, Kufek is joined in the kitchen these days by his Sous Chef Jaron Gugliuzza. Gugliuzza hails from Calabasas, California, and is a 2004 graduate of Agoura High School. He began cooking at an early age at his father's catering company, a motion picture caterer called Cafe on Location. The family eventually moved to Texas, where Gugliuzza worked at a few local restaurants, but he would eventually move back to Los Angeles to attend the Academy of Culinary Education. During his tenure there, he worked the line at RH at the Andaz, under Chef Sebastien Archambault. Upon graduating in 2011, he joined the team at Saddle Peak Lodge as a line cook, and was recently promoted to Sous. Interestingly, Gugliuzza's classmate Bree Vivante also took a position at SPL, but in the pastry department.

Saddle Peak Lodge Interior
The interior hasn't changed much from my last visit, and is pretty much what you'd expect from a longstanding, game-focused restaurant situated in the near wilderness. The main dining room, once a bordello, recalls a hunting lodge, replete with mounted animal heads and lots of wood. It's also very, very dark, and one of the most challenging shooting situations that I've ever encountered.

Saddle Peak Lodge Chef's Tasting Menu
The menu options here at Saddle Peak Lodge comprise both à la carte as well as five- and nine-course tasting menu options. By special arrangement, we were provided a special degustation, priced at $45 per head. To drink, think a sizeable California-centric wine list, a surprisingly decent array of beer, cocktails, and a separate selection of Scotch. Click for a larger version.

Honey Badger The Pig Apple About Figgin' Thyme
Honey Badger [$15.00] | Aberlour 12 year scotch, Drambuie liqueur, lemon juice, lavender honey, shaken and served on the rocks
The Pig Apple [$15.00] | Buffalo Trace bacon-infused bourbon, Carpano Antica vermouth, Paychaud's bitters and candied bacon
About Figgin' Thyme [$15.00] | Bombay Gin, orange juice, fig balsamic vinegar, strawberries, thyme, muddled and served on the rocks
To wet our whistles, we began with a threesome of cocktails by new Sommelier/Manager Jen Carter, who started here in January. The first was the Honey Badger, my favorite of the trio, which showed off a tasty mix of citrus and honeyed flavors, all with overarching floral and herbal notes and a boozy kick toward the finish. The Pig Apple, meanwhile, was much more in-your-face, with loads of porky goodness up front, leading to a marked bitterness on the midpalate, with the weight of the bourbon coming toward the end. As for the bacon itself, it was wonderful, with a great mix of sweet, smoky, and porcine flavors; one of my dining companions even likened it to "Chinese pork jerky." Last but not least was the About Figgin' Thyme, the lightest drink of the troika, with its bracing gin base deftly augmented by the herb-y tang of thyme, all while the strawberry and fig-balsamic added a lovely sugariness to the fray.

Pretzel Bread
Bread was of the pretzel variety, and quite good, especially when taken with plenty of the soft, sweet, salty butter supplied.

Tomato and Burrata
Before the meal proper, we were treated to a series of three canapés. First up was a spoonful of heirloom tomato, burrata, caramelized shallot, and pumpernickel. Naturally, the pairing of mozzarella and tomato made perfect sense, reminiscent of an insalata Caprese in essence, and I adored the nutty crunch of the pumpernickel here, which served as a near-perfect counterpoint in the bite.

Corn Soup
Next up: a demitasse of corn soup, replete with roasted corn, onion, tarragon crème fraîche, cilantro, and lemon zest. It was a tasty little potage, with a definite corn sweetness up front, leading to a slightly herbaceous spiciness. Hearty and heartwarming.

Poached Salmon and Caviar
Our final canapé, surprisingly, was actually a reworking of a course from my last visit here. It was a very classic combination of poached salmon and caviar, all on a potato blini. The fish itself was creamy and soft to the touch, with a subtle brine that was duly heightened by the dollop of roe on top, while the blini served to moderate the course. Tasty, but I really wanted more textural variation in the bite, which seemed a bit too uniform.

2008 Flying Goat Cellars Goat Bubbles
With the meal proper about to get under way, we ordered a bottle of sparkling wine, the whimsically-named 2008 Flying Goat Cellars Goat Bubbles [$45] from the nearby Santa Maria Valley. This was a tart, tannic rosé, unquestionable dry, with some light berry flavors joined by an undercurrent of crisp minerality

Prosecco Gelée
1: Prosecco Gelée | lemon foam, Osetra caviar, basil oil
Kufek commenced with a fairly avant garde course. Here, the salty zing of the caviar was on proud display, balanced against the boozy base of prosecco jelly, all while the lemon served up overtones of citrus-y tartness. A refreshing course, and one that actually reminded me of a similar "Champagne & Caviar" dish that I'd had a while ago at AnQi.

Peekytoe 'Watermelon Gazpacho'
2: Peekytoe "Watermelon Gazpacho" | garlic, bell pepper, heirloom tomato, basil, pea greens, pickled watermelon, cucumber
Here we see a deconstructed gazpacho of sorts, with many of the traditional dish's ingredients represented. The quenelle of peekytoe was clearly the hero here, conveying a delectably sweet salinity that was further enhanced by the watermelon. The various vegetables at play were on point as well, and I loved the bright finish imparted by the pea tendrils. A light dish, full of summer-y flair.

Albacore Sashimi
3: Albacore Sashimi | Hawaiian papaya, red onion, cilantro, avocado, orange-ginger, pea tendrils
Albacore was light and fresh, augmented by the almost bracing acidity of its various accoutrements--a real jolt to the palate. Avocado, meanwhile, added an ascertainable weight to the entire dish that grounded the zingy tastes at play. Nice.

Rabbit Roulade
4: Rabbit Roulade | bacon, mushrooms, Fuji apple, sage, huckleberry
A roulade of rabbit was nicely savory, with some heady flavors present that were only heightened by the umami-rich mushrooms and bacon. Apples, meanwhile, provided an offsetting crunch, but overall, I wanted more kick, more verve to the dish.

Dover Sole
5: Dover Sole | brown butter sauce, grilled zucchini and Japanese eggplant, bell pepper, artichokes
A Dover sole was presented to us whole, then filleted and served tableside. The fish, accompanied by lemon-caper brown butter, was on point, with a firm-yet-yielding bite and mildly savory relish that was adeptly accented by the citrus-y notes in the sauce. At the same time, the vegetables on the plate were commendable as well, with the carrot and fingerling potato being especially enjoyable.

At this point, we enjoyed a shot of slivovitz (a sort of Croatian plum brandy) with the Chef. It was my first experience with the liquor, and I rather liked its undertones of fruity sweetness.

Alaskan Halibut
6: Alaskan Halibut | grapes, tarragon, dates, hazelnut, cauliflower, lemon and Brussels sprout leaves
Halibut was nice, flaky and firm in consistency with a subtle, yet satisfying savoriness that was duly offset by the enveloping lemon-y notes in the dish. However, I wasn't huge into the grapes and dates here, finding them a tad sweet, but did appreciate the use of cauliflower, as well as the astringent taste and crunch of the Brussels sprouts.

Muscovy Duck Breast
7: Muscovy Duck Breast | baby leeks, morels, white asparagus, blood orange, coffee dust, pinot noir
Muscovy duck, unfortunately, was a touch dry, though it did show off a good flavor, nicely paired against the earthy morels and subtle bitterness of asparagus. The incorporation of blood orange, meanwhile, added a sweet 'n' sour component to the fray, though I wasn't quite as convinced about the use of coffee, finding its acridity a bit distracting.

Elk Tenderloin
8: Elk Tenderloin | brandied cherries, cipollini onions, butternut squash, crimini mushrooms
A petite tenderloin of elk was lean, yet tender, with a venison-esque quality to it and a delectable savoriness up front, along with a creeping gamy character toward the close. The meat was certainly tasty alone, but I also appreciated the cherries, which weren't overly saccharine, as well as the earthy flair of the 'shrooms and sweet-tangy cipollinis.

9: Brigante | pickled green apple, honey foam, fruit and nut bread
Transitioning to the sweet stuff now, our fromage course was a triangle of Brigante, a sheep's milk varietal hailing from the island of Sardinia in Italy. It was an easy-eating cheese, with a delicate, creamy essence and soft, smooth consistency. As such, the Brigante paired well with the crisp cuboids of apple, as well as the airy dollop of sugary honey foam. Great with the accompanying bread, too.

10: Beignets | sweet peach, bourbon caramel
Beignets were lovely, loaded with a hot, peach-y sweetness and showing off a perfect texture that was a blend of crisp and luscious. They were delicious alone, but what took 'em over the top was the bourbon caramel, with its boozy kick that formed a fitting foil to the fritters.

Chocolate Molten Whiskey Cake
11: Chocolate Molten Whiskey Cake | Guinness ice cream and Bailey's whipped cream
We concluded with the kitchen's take on the ubiquitous molten lava cake, which I typically don't like seeing on menus. What made this iteration interesting, though, was the use of not one, but three types of alcohol. The cake itself was expectedly rich, oozing with dark chocolate-y goodness but taken up a notch by the woody quintessence of whiskey. At the same time, the Guinness ice cream and Bailey's Irish cream added further facets of booziness that did an admirable job in balancing out the heft of the cake.

It seems like Chef Kufek is doing just fine here, continuing in the tradition set forth by his predecessor Adam Horton. The cuisine suits the hunting-lodge-turned-restaurant environment, offering up tastes that are rustic and traditional in essence, but with a few twists and modern techniques thrown in for good measure. The food's interesting enough, refined enough, but doesn't stray too far from what diners expect of this romantic, old-world restaurant.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Vagrancy Project (Los Angeles, CA)

Vagrant at the Yacht Club
1320 Echo Park Ave, Echo Park, CA 90026
Mon 07/23/2012, 08:00p-12:10a

Allston Yacht Club Exterior

One of the latest pop-ups to, well, pop up on the scene is Vagrancy Project, the brainchild of former Son of a Gun Executive Sous Chef Miles Thompson. He's setting up shop at Bill DiDonna and Charles Kelly's Allston Yacht Club in Echo Park, taking over the joint Mondays and Tuesdays through the end of August. This "residency" is actually the second part of Thompson's grand plan. The first was a series of elaborate underground dinners hosted at the Chef's tiny Hollywood apartment, which kicked off on February 11th. Next comes this pop-up, and then an honest-to-goodness, permanent restaurant if all goes according to plan.

About the Chef: Chef Miles Thompson, a mere 24 years old, was raised in the small, idyllic town of South Salem, New York. He started his restaurant career locally, taking up a position washing dishes at the age of 13, and started cooking professionally just a couple years later. During this period, he also dabbled in acting, and even starred in Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know, which won the Caméra d'Or at Cannes in 2005. In 2007, Thompson moved to LA and quickly secured a job at Nobu, working as a lead line cook under Alex Becker after BS'ing his way through an interview. Following, he transitioned to Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo's seminal Animal in 2010, then helped open their acclaimed seafooder Son of a Gun. He left SoaG late last year, and worked a stint alongside underground dining visionary Craig "Wolvesmouth" Thornton. Following, Thompson partnered with Aubrey Huestead (wine director for Son of a Gun) and launched the Vagrancy Project in February. The dinners were a resounding success, and on June 11th, the Chef debuted his cooking at the AYC.

Vagrancy Project Grand Tasting Menu
As for the menu, it comprises a five-course prix fixe at $70pp, plus an additional $50 for wine pairings, as well as an à la carte selection of dishes at the bar. We actually requested a combination of the two menus, resulting in a 13-course degustation at $125 per head. In addition, Nathaniel Oliver (ink, Church & State, Harvard & Stone) tends the bar, offering up a unique cocktail list to pair with the eats. Click for a larger version.

BTL SVC Frisco
We arrived early and took a seat at the bar, which just so happened to be occupied by none other than Devon Espinosa, the former ink and Tasting Kitchen barman who's now mixing it up at Pour Vous. He was here to support his fellow bartender Nathan Oliver, and in fact, the two of them are in the process of launching BTL SVC, a line of ready-to-drink, bottled craft cocktails. We were actually able to sample the duo's first creation, called the Frisco (read about Frank Bruni's quest for the drink here), which was a combo of Rittenhouse 100 rye whiskey and Bénédictine, perfectly blended and diluted. Patrons are encouraged to pour the drink themselves, over a block of Névé ice and garnished with a twist of lemon zest. I was a bit skeptical, but the end result was pretty fantastic, with the boozy weight of the rye deftly balanced by the sweet, spicy, medicinal relish of the liqueur, all while the lemon added just a whisper of tartness to the fray. Espinosa and Oliver could really be on to something here!

The Lost Abbey The Angel's Share
From BTL SVC, we moved on to The Lost Abbey's Angel's Share, a bourbon barrel-aged ale graciously provided by Chef Jason Quinn. This was a fairly creamy, almost sticky beer, with low carbonation and tons of vanilla on the nose. Taste-wise, we're talking more vanilla, along with loads of caramel, oaky, and boozy flavors.

Hamachi and Strawberry Tartar
Thompson started us off with an amuse bouche comprising a hamachi and strawberry tartar dressed with yuzukosho vinaigrette. The yellowtail itself I found fresh and fatty, with a slight fishy character that paired nicely with the piquant Japanese condiment, all while the strawberry provided an overarching veil of sweet 'n' sour flavors.

1: Oyster | Kimchi - Pied de Cochon - Jus de Cuisson
Our first course proper got us going with a singular Luna oyster, enveloped in kimchi gelée, then paired with a block of supple pied de cochon. The marriage of pork and oyster is an uncommon one, but it actually worked out rather well here. I appreciated the bracing brine of the bivalve, moderated by its kimchi wrapper, and how that flowed to the pork-y goodness of the pied. At the same time, there were some notes of sweet-spice and umami that tied everything together, and I liked the levity imparted by the pickled radish, scallion, and agretti as well. Some interesting interplays between texture and temperature going on here, too. Very cool.

The Bruery Tart Of Darkness
The next beer was The Bruery's whimsically-monikered Tart of Darkness. This was basically a hybrid of a stout and a sour, and as such, showed off a puckering tartness on the front end, which then led gracefully to some lovely chocolate and coffee notes on the close. I'd never had anything quite like it before.

2: Garlic | Blade Steak - Tarragon - Grenobloise
Given how well the steak was cooked, the question arose at the table of whether or not the meat was done sous vide--turns out that it was not. The beef (described by the Chef as the "garnish") was beautiful, with a wondrously satisfying chew and a delectable bovine sapor that paired swimmingly with the garlic as well as the Grenobloise elements of caper and lemon. The chili paste added a lovely touch of lingering, countervailing heat to things (though it was a bit too spicy for me), while the green goddess dressing tempered and integrated the entire dish. Loved the crunch of the lettuce here as well. Definitely one of my favorites.

The Lost Abbey Red Poppy Ale
We had here another bottling from The Lost Abbey, their Red Poppy Ale. Done in the Flanders Red style, the beer blended bright bursts of sour cherry flavor against a sharp, almost lactic funk, with a marked sugariness and even a touch of wood-y spice on the finish.

3: Escargot | Country Sausage - Green Tomato - Black Eyed Pea
The escargot was almost unanimously our favorite course of the night, and just might be the most inventive use of snail that I'd ever witnessed. With the incorporation of country sausage and gravy, fried green tomatoes, okra, and black eyed peas into the dish, the flavors of the South were on proud display. The escargot was spot on and delectably tender, while the tomatoes added a fantastic textural component that balanced out the snail gorgeously. The BEPs, meanwhile, did an admirable job grounding and moderating the course, making for a flawless mélange of flavors overall.

4: Merguez | Squid - Sultana - Escarole
I'm quite the sausage fiend, so it's no surprise that I was a fan of Thompson's housemade Merguez, made from a blend of lamb and pork and encased here in an outer layer of soft, supple squid. The tubed meat really showed off a lovely savoriness, counterbalanced by just a touch of herbaceousness. My concern here was the escarole salsa verde, which conveyed a certain astringent character that was perhaps a bit too much for the sausage, overpowering the meat at times.

Untitled White Cocktail
At this point, Oliver delivered to the table this untitled white-tinted cocktail, an admixture of Boyd & Blair potato vodka, lemon juice, St. Vincent orgeat, and lemon verbena, all with a mist of green Chartreuse up top. It was delightful, displaying an almost medicinal sourness up front, but then transitioning to a blend of sugary and herb-y flavors on the midpalate, perked up by hints of lemon-y tartness.

5: Scallop | Hibiscus - Sword Lettuce - Plum
Next up were some of the biggest scallops that we'd seen in a long while. They were a prototypical example of the mollusk, a tasty mix of sweet and saline relishes, all in a supple, satisfying package. Indeed, it was really the sweetness that was key here, linking up with the saccharine flavors of Santa Rosa plum, rhubarb, hibiscus, and brown sugar molasses to make sense of the dish, all while the yogurt served to add a lush, creamy, and integrating component to the course.

6: Takabe | Chamomile - Watermelon - Yuba
Thompson presented here a dice of takabe, or cured Japanese yellow stripped butterfish, set in watermelon, chile, and salt, with a chamomile-laced yogurt. The fish melded surprisingly well with its accompaniments, the sweet-floral nature of the dish actually working with the takabe. However, I would've liked heartier, more substantial pieces of the fish to better appreciate it. My favorite element, actually, was probably the fried yuba curd, with its fantastically crisp consistency and lingering touch of savory spice.

Chorizo Pork Tail
7: Chorizo | Grapefruit - Robiola - Toast
In her recent piece in the LA Times, Jessica Gelt raved about Thompson's chorizo dish, likening it to a "bizarro Welsh rarebit." I wasn't quite as enamored with it, however, finding the sausage somewhat domineering in the dish, overwhelming the Robiola cream somewhat, and I really didn't get much from the grapefruit. The Chef paired the chorizo with a slab of pork tail, topped with lobster cassoulet. The tail was pretty stupendous, tender and conveying a superb porcine savor that was adeptly countered by the included veggies and snappy bits of lobster.

Chicken Liver
8: Chicken Liver | Tomatillo - Black Cod - Basil
A lone raviolo arrived stuffed with chicken liver, its earthy, heady relish on proud display, counterbalanced by the enveloping sweet spiciness of what I believe was caraway. The cod, meanwhile, offered up a mild tasting, yet fatty component to the dish, while the snap peas were great with their light, green flavors and satisfying crunch.

Drie Fonteinen Schaerbeekse Kriek
Our next beer, the Drie Fonteinen Schaerbeekse Kriek, came from my personal stash. This was basically a fancier version of the brewery's regular kriek, made with the legendary wild sour cherries of Schaarbeek, Belgium. As you'd imagine, there was tons of tart, tangy cherry on the palate, which played nicely against the dry, funky, oak-y barnyard flavors present. A quintessential kriek, really.

John Dory
9: John Dory | Boba - Miso - Shiitake
Thompson's Dory was another highlight of the meal. The fish was well-cooked, firm to the bite, with a savory, buttery character that was smartly paired with the sweet-yet-earthy essence of candied shiitake mushroom, as well as the umami-laden miso tapioca "risotto." The celtuce, meanwhile, added some well-placed brightness to the course. Definitely some fascinating tastes and textures going on here.

The Bruery 2 Turtle Doves
The final beer was The Bruery's 2 Turtle Doves, a Belgian style dark ale made with pecans. It was pretty delicious, with a lot of dark fruity character initially on the nose, even more dark fruit on the tongue, and a good balance of coffee, cocoa, and nutty flavors to round things out.

10: Chirashi | Tamago - Maple - Tosa-zu
Our last savory course of the night brought along a scattering of ingredients, the Chef's play on the chirashi bowl. We had in our possession tamago egg omelet, ayu (sweetfish), beef tongue, salmon roe, nectarines, maple, nori, crème fraîche, and tosa-zu vinegar. It was a unique blend of differing constituents, each item being distinct and true-to-form, yet with everything coming together in a seemingly cohesive fashion: a medley of disparate tastes and textures, all underscored by a distinct ocean-y overtone. I was especially fond of the smoky, savory, supple tongue, as well as the sweet-fishy smack of the ayu. Loved the crunch of the puffed rice here, too.

Frisco Cocktail
Oliver then sent out a version of the Frisco cocktail served earlier, this one made with Buffalo Trace bourbon instead of rye. Compared to the drink above, it was somewhat lighter in character, with less of a boozy kick and a slightly fruitier taste.

11: Cheesecake | Walnut - Maple - Sour Cream
Moving on to dessert now, the first comprised a whipped cheese cake paired with a sour cream curd, maple syrup, walnut oil, and a graham cracker sablé. It may not have looked like much on the plate, but the flavors were delicious. The key was the interplay between the sugary maple and tart, lactic tanginess of sour cream and cheese, all moderated by the nuttiness of walnut. I loved the sweetness and crispness of the graham cracker "crust" here, too.

12: Bavarois | Brown Butter - Lemon - Berries
I'm usually not a huge fan of lemon desserts, oft finding them overly sour, but this Bavarian cream of lemon curd was to my liking. There was definitely a persistent tartness to the dish, but the use of brown butter and a yuzu-mulberry compote definitely balanced things out a bit, all while leaves of Persian mint added a whisper of lightness to the mix.

I came in here not knowing quite what to expect, but this “kid” can definitely cook, and cook in a style that was so different than what he was serving up at Animal or Son of a Gun, which was sort of surprising to me. Thompson’s food here is actually more complex, more ambitious, more cerebral than I’d imagined, with unique, unexpected flavor combinations and juxtapositions that mostly work. He’s really got a well-defined style going for him, and I have high hopes for his prospects in the future--definitely one to watch for sure. As for the Chef's next move, he envisions Cottage (his permanent spot) debuting late this year, as a small tasting menu-only type of restaurant, seating around two dozen diners. It sounds like just the type of intimate, chef-driven place that I like the most, and you can bet that I'll be showing up there post-haste once it opens.