Monday, March 25, 2013

Sirena (Los Angeles, CA)

Sirena Restaurant
8265 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90048
Mon 03/25/2013, 07:15p-11:15p

Sirena Exterior

After being delayed for seemingly forever, Sirena ("mermaid" in Italian) finally debuted at the start of January. Set in the space of the former Pane e Vino (which shuttered in September 2011 after 20 years in business), the restaurant is the latest project from Sandy Gendel (Pace, Cheebo), Michael Sutton (Guys & Dolls, Lodge Steakhouse, Xenii, Geisha House, Goa), and Peter Garland (Porta Via, where Gendel served as opening chef). Jeremy Strubel (Rustic Canyon, Momed, Public, Libertine) was hired on a consulting basis to execute the place's Cal-Italian menu, while Kenneth Curran from the San Francisco Baking Institute was brought on to helm Sirena's baking program.

Sirena Interior
Sirena Patio
At the outset, Sirena was set to be penned by the Spacecraft Group, but the project eventually landed in the hands of Hamilton Architects before Fred Sutherland (Fred 62, The Olive), Dina Juntila, and Gendel himself stepped in. The dining room has a sort of aquatic theme going on, with the bar to one side, while the kitchen now features an Alan Scott-designed wood-burning oven. The famed patio out back, meanwhile, is more charming than ever.

Sirena Menu Sirena Menu
Sirena's lengthy, seafood-centric menu is a bit all over the place. The hyper-regional focus of Sotto this has not. Click for larger versions.

Housemade Bread & Almonds
Bread is made in-house daily, and arrived at the table alongside olive oil and almonds.

Oysters on the Half Shell
Oysters on the Half Shell [$19.00] | Half Dozen
Oysters were Kumamotos if I recall, and prototypical of the style, with a much-needed jolt of acidity courtesy of the included mignonette.

Santa Barbara Sea Urchin
Santa Barbara Sea Urchin [$19.00] | Crispy Risotto, Guanciale & Saba
Uni on top of crispy rice sounds like a great idea, but execution fell short. Indeed, the risotto was merely tough instead of crispy, and tended to overpower the delicate flavors of the sea urchin. I didn't get much from the saba (grape must syrup) either, though the prosciutto did add a hit of salt to the dish, and I appreciated the levity imparted by the greens here as well.

Antipasto Platter
Antipasto Platter [$20.00] | Prisciutto di San Danielle, Bresaola, Salami, Mesquite Grilled Seasonal Vegetables, Marinated Mushrooms and Peppers, Parmigiano Reggiano, Smoked Scamorza & Pizza Bread
The antipasto platter was an impressive spread, and overall a success. The various cold cuts were on point and satisfying, while the scamorza was the highlight of the course, with its smoky, salty smack. I enjoyed the pizza bread, too, which served as a nice counterweight to the other items presented.

Fried Squash Blossoms
Fried Squash Blossoms [$15.00] | Burrata, Ricotta, Parmigiano, Roasted Pepper Coulis, Fried Garbanzo Beans & Frisee Lettuce
The squash blossoms were clearly a highlight of the meal for me. They showed off a nice crunch to 'em, which melded beautifully with their creamy, cheesy insides, while the pepper coulis added a lovely piquancy to the dish. My favorite element here, though, was the inclusion of garbanzos, which added texture and a marked savoriness to the fray.

Maine Lobster Salad
Maine Lobster Salad [$20.00] | Burrata, Flora Bella Arugula, Clementine & Green Goddess Vinaigrette
A lobster salad was effective, though not particularly exciting. The cool, creamy burrata made sense against the supple chunks of lobster, and I liked the bitterness from the arugula here too. The juicy, sweet citrus was another great addition, while the vinaigrette did a nice job in tying everything together.

Artichoke Salad
Artichoke Salad [$15.00]
Next up was a special of the evening. The artichoke was nice enough when taken with the greens, but the Parmesan I found overpowering, imparting a saltiness to the dish that stole the show from the star ingredient.

Grilled Octopus Salad
Grilled Octopus Salad [$16.00] | Baby Kale, Wood Fired Kumquats, Oven Blistered Cherry Tomato, Pancetta & Warm Sherry Wine Vinaigrette
I'm a huge fan of octopus, and almost always order it, but the version tonight was a disappointment for a couple reasons. The octopus itself was borderline mushy and nondescript, and could've benefitted greatly from a touch of crisp char. At the same time, the kale came overdressed, limp, and soggy, while the tartness of the kumquats didn't quite make sense to me either. Just muddled and clumsy overall.

Baby Broccoli, Fresh Ricotta, White Anchovy & Roasted Garlic
Baby Broccoli, Fresh Ricotta, White Anchovy & Roasted Garlic [$16.00]
Time for some pizzas, which definitely do not stick to the napoletana style if that's your thing. Our first of two was polarizing. I appreciated the bitterness of the broccoli here, and how that transitioned to the ocean-y salinity of the anchovy, all while the creamy ricotta base bound the disparate elements together. However, my dining companions weren't quite as enthused, finding the fishiness of the anchovy completely overwhelming. As for the crust, I actually enjoyed it, finding it crisp enough, with a bit of loft--it was almost Mozza-like.

Fingerling Potato, House Cured Pork Belly, Fresh Rosemary & Caramelized Onion
Fingerling Potato, House Cured Pork Belly, Fresh Rosemary & Caramelized Onion [$16.00]
Our next pie was much more approachable, with the potato pairing well with the pork, even if the belly was on the overly salty side. It did add a lovely crunchiness to the pizza though, and the herb-y nuances from the rosemary were much appreciated.

Risotto Frutti di Mare (Red)
Risotto Frutti di Mare (Red) [$20.00] | Manila Clams, Mussels, Shrimp, Bay Scallops, Shallots, Garlic, Parsley, Chili Flakes, White Wine & Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Being the risotto fiend that I am, this was of course a must-try. Things worked out pretty well here, with the various seafood items conveying their ocean-y savors thoughtfully, though texturally, the rice was of the soft side of al dente.

Tortellini [$22.00] | Pork & Prosciutto Filling, Roasted Carrot - Celery - Leek Broth & Shaved Parmigiano Reggiano
The tortellini, on the other hand, was much less successful. The combination of pork, prosciutto, carrot, and celery seems like it would make sense, but the flavors just clashed, resulting in a foul, jumbled mess. The word insipid comes to mind.

Brussels Sprouts - Pine Nuts, Crispy Guanciale
Brussels Sprouts - Pine Nuts, Crispy Guanciale [$8.00]
The Brussels was one of the few dishes that I couldn't really find fault with. Crisp, charred, and wonderfully astringent, the sprouts were spot on, and made even better with the addition of guanciale.

Wild Alaskan King Salmon
Wild Alaskan King Salmon [$26.00] | Shallot Herb Crosta & Riso Nero
At this point, we moved on to some more substantial dishes. Now, I appreciate a properly rare salmon, and this one was done nicely so, but it was fishy. And I don't mean a good fishy, which I enjoy, but a discomforting fishy that made me question the provenance of the salmon itself.

Niman Ranch Double Pork Chop
Niman Ranch Double Pork Chop [$32.00] | Wood Oven Roasted, Roasted Garlic - Pan Juice - Rosemary Sauce, Braised Mustard Greens & Baby Carrots
The pork chop fared better, but still wasn't close to a prime example of the dish (for that, see Playground). The meat came out a tad overdone, with a somewhat disconcerting texture, and though its flavor was agreeable, it was dominated by the liberal use of rosemary. Various veggies provided a temper to the heft of the chop, though I wasn't keen on the limpness of the carrots.

Roasted Fingerlings, Cipollini Onion & Balsamic
Roasted Fingerlings, Cipollini Onion & Balsamic [$8.00]
Nothing wrong with some hearty roasted potatoes, though the onions didn't seem necessary.

Oven Roasted Asparagus & Parmesan
Oven Roasted Asparagus & Parmesan [$8.00]
Asparagus could've been done better. The spears came out on the tough side, and their inherent bitterness, which is part of the beauty of asparagus, was hidden by the salty sprinkles of cheese on top.

Sirena Dessert Menu Sirena Dessert Menu
Desserts here are the responsibility of Pastry Chef Heather Taylor, who comes to us from Cake Junkie bakery in Bryan, Texas. Click for larger versions.

Ricotta Fritters
Ricotta Fritters [$10.00] | House Made Ricotta, Passion Fruit & Strawberry Crème Fraiche
Ricotta fritters were a touch dry on the inside, though properly crisp, with a pleasant sweetness that made sense with the tart fruit nuances in the dish.

Butterscotch Bread Pudding
Butterscotch Bread Pudding [$12.00] | Candied Pecans, Toasted Marshmallow, Brown Butter
Bread pudding arrived hot and hearty, with a boatload of nutty, sweet flavors vying for attention. Unabashedly sugary, and oh-so comforting

Sorbet Trio
Sorbet Trio [$10.00] | Seasonal Flavors
The requisite sorbet/ice cream dessert is something that I almost always avoid, but the threesome here I actually enjoyed. The banana ice cream did a great job capturing the essence of the fruit (recalling a version I'd had recently at Rustic Canyon), while the strawberry sorbet was positively bracing. Last up was the pistachio, the sweetest of the trio with the nut coming through toward the finish.

Rhubarb Crostata
Rhubarb Crostata [$12.00] | Almond, Goat Cheese & Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
Taylor's rhubarb dessert reminded me of a similar strawberry ricotta crostata that I'd tried at Tar & Roses in Santa Monica, not a bad thing mind you. In fact, it was my favorite of her creations, with the fruit melding beautifully with the pastry, all while the ice cream integrated and enveloped the dish.

Jeremy Strubel left Sirena not long after the place opened, and as such, the restaurant has been running without a chef for a while now. Unfortunately, the absence of any tangible direction in the kitchen shows. Though there were a few standouts, the food in general lacked any particular zeal or inspiration, while flavors were often times blunt and muddled. Desserts were more on point, but overall the cooking reeked of mediocrity. Changes in leadership and direction are needed if Sirena's to remain afloat. The location's actually quite nice, and the service, coordinated by Michael Nemcik, was laudable as well, but management needs to seriously reevaluate here, perhaps gather some inspiration at Bestia or Sotto, and bring in an actual chef to revamp and execute the menu.


Anonymous TCH said...

" dining companions weren't quite as enthused, finding the fishiness of the anchovy completely overwhelming...."

Time for new friends.

Thursday, April 25, 2013 4:14:00 AM  
Anonymous TCH said...

" dining companions weren't quite as enthused, finding the fishiness of the anchovy completely overwhelming...."

Time for new friends.

Thursday, April 25, 2013 4:14:00 AM  
Blogger sygyzy said...

Wow this menu looks amazing. The dishes really speak to me. I am surprised the uni on crispy rice dish fell short. It sounds Japanese enough that I wonder if it'd be executed better at such restaurant?

Thursday, April 25, 2013 9:30:00 AM  
Blogger Allan said...

First time I read a little something from you without the glow...Nice to see you don't eat well all the time.

Thursday, April 25, 2013 10:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Elizabeth M. said...

Justin and I went here during our last visit to Pasadena not too long ago. We really enjoyed the food. He ordered the rib eye I believe abd I went with the HUGE prawns, they were delicous.

I also agree that the bread pudding was heavenly. It was like what mom used to make back home!

Thursday, April 25, 2013 10:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Eileen said...

I thought uni on top of crispy risotto sounded so good. The picture looks great as well. But from your description, i didn't turn out that well. But that had given me inspiration to try this at home. :-)

Your post always amazes me. Great picture, and love how well and detailed you write about each dish. You really should be a professional food writer!

Friday, April 26, 2013 2:53:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

TCH: Well, there's always good fishy and bad fishy. ;)

sygyzy: "Amazing?" Are we reading the same menu here? As for the uni/rice dish, it's not a bad idea, but yeah, it'd probably be better executed elsewhere.

Allan: Did you miss my report from Gordon Ramsay? I actually eat poorly quite often; I just don't post about it generally!

Eileen: Thanks for the kind words. Let me know if you ever end up making the dish yourself!

Monday, June 03, 2013 6:17:00 PM  

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