Thursday, May 30, 2013

Night + Market (West Hollywood, CA) [4]

Night+Market Restaurant
9041 Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90069
Thu 05/30/2013, 07:50p-10:10p

When I first visited Night+Market back in March 2011 shortly after it opened, I was a lil' wowed. Kris Yenbamroong's cooking was unlike any other Thai that I'd had before, a modern, hyper-regional exploration of his country's cuisine that was only made possible by the carte blanche that he'd been given in his new, minimalist space adjacent to his parents' old-line Thai joint Talesai. I knew he had something special here, a game-changer. I expected the place to catch on, but I'm not sure if anyone envisioned N+M to blow up as much as it has, and by blow up, I mean that shit cray. Let's recap: Not bad for a former film student with no formal training right?

Night + Market Menu Night + Market Menu and Wine List Night + Market Specials
Night+Market's menu remains much the same, a meat-centric celebration of ostensibly street food-inspired Thai cookery. I don't think items such as the pig tail, pork toro, sausages, or the wonderfully pungent kao kluk gapi will ever leave (nor should they), but I did spy newbies such as the nam prik ong and larb lanna. The Chef's newest inspirations, though, can be viewed on the hand-written specials menu that you should probably order (heavily) from. The wine list, meanwhile, is as cool and esoteric and reasonably-priced as it's always been, though I did notice that the number of Rieslings has doubled (to two). Click for larger versions.

Pascal Potaire Touraine Les Capriades Piège à Filles Rosé
Speaking of cool, esoteric, and reasonably-priced wines, we went baller style and ordered a magnum of the piège à filles rosé "girl trap" (bubbly côt/malbec), les capriades, loire '11 [$79]. It's one of the pétillant naturels that Yenbamroong's pushing right now, and he's right on the money. He describes it as "bubbly party time wine," and that's basically what it is. Think fun, breezy, and fruity, yet crisp, citrus-y, acidic, and dry, with just enough depth to make it a bit more than a mere summer quaffer.

koi tuna
koi tuna [$12.00] | raw. isan tuna ceviche. *spicy*
We delved right into the specials menu with a tuna version of the popular koi soy steak tartar. The fish was pounded into submission here, a smooth, silky, subtle base on which the amalgam of bright, acidic, and yes, fiercely spicy nuances could be heard. I loved the fragrant zing of the herbs here, which lent a modicum of levity to the in-yo-face flavors at play.

nam kao tod
nam kao tod [$9.00] | crispy rice salad w/ spicy sour pork, ginger, chile, peanuts...
Nam kao tod is probably one of my favorite Thai specialties of all time, one that I first discovered at my local haunt Renu Nakorn. Night+Market's was like an amped up version of that, a bolder, lustier presentation that nonetheless shows off a faultless mélange of contrasting tastes and textures. That uncompromising balance is what gets me about the dish every time, a hodgepodge of disparate elements--sour, savory, spicy--that manages to work in perfect concert.

pad pak kanaa
pad pak kanaa [$9.00] | chinese broccoli sautéed w/ garlic & chile
Yenbamroong's not really known for his facility with vegetables, instead focusing his efforts on more porcine pursuits, but the Chinese broccoli served tonight was stellar, probably the best presentation of the ingredient that I've had in fact. There was a fantastic crunch and bite to the kai lan, and its trademark bitterness was proudly showcased, flawlessly countered by the dark, savory flavors here, all while a creeping heat underscored the dish.

pork toro
pork toro [$7.00] | grilled fatty hog collar. with 'jaew' northeastern chile dip
The pork "toro" has firmly established itself as one of Night+Market's signature dishes, and it's obvious why. It's an uncommon preparation of pig, unabashedly pork-y on the palate, with a springy, spongy consistency that seems to ooze fat when bitten into. All that richness is fortunately tempered by a tinge of char astringency, as well as the blast of piquancy from that jaew condiment. I still think this should be renamed pork kamatoro...

sai uah | chiengrai herb sausage & sai krok isaan | isaan sour sausage
sai uah | chiengrai herb sausage [$6.00] | w/ noom salsa, cucumber
sai krok isaan | isaan sour sausage [$6.00] | fermented pork sausage. eat w/ raw cabbage, chile, peanuts. served a lil pink on the inside
The kitchen then sent out a duet of Night+Market's housemade sausages. The sai uah variety was wonderfully gritty and rustic, a hit of salty and spicy flavors beautifully countered by the liberal application of various herbs. Tasty alone, but even better when taken with a dab of noom, a slice of cucumber, and a couple slivers of ginger--the perfect bite. Sai krok Isaan, meanwhile, arrived in spherical form, a jolt of sour, ferment-y goodness that's probably not for everyone. It was, though, definitely for me, as I reveled in the tanginess of the meat and how it melded so seamlessly with the crunchy bits of peanut and bird eye chile.

panang en neua
panang en neua [$14.00] | beef tendon panang w/ roti
Phanaeng curry is a relatively common sight on Thai menus, but the version here really stands heads and shoulders above any others I've had. The meat was so, so tender, with a marked beefiness that went superbly with the wonderful aromatics and subtly sweet nuances in the dish. And damn, that roti flatbread was something else too; it's good enough to be offered separately as a side.

beef grapow
beef grapow [$11.00] | chile, garlic, thai basil. topped with a crispy fried egg
I'm not gonna lie; we ordered this because of the fried egg (it makes everything better right?). It was much more than just the egg though. The star of the show here was the namesake kraphao, or Thai holy basil, which lent a delightfully aromatic flair to the beef, making for a much more honest, less watered-down version of the dish than you typically find. The egg was just the icing on the cake.

mango and sticky rice
mango and sticky rice [$8.00]
For dessert, the Chef gave us what amounted to probably the best khao niao mamuang I've had. We're right in the midst of mango season, and fruit was spot on--dense, juicy, supple, and sweet--and went perfectly with the sticky rice. However, what really set this apart for me were the savory, crunchy crumbles of mung bean atop the rice, which added that extra bit of kick that took the dish over the top.

ice cream sandwich
ice cream sandwich [$4.50]
We ended with pretty much my favorite ice cream sandwich ever, one that married coconut ice cream, coconut sticky rice, condensed milk, evaporated milk, and toasted mung beans in a sweet roll. The multifaceted sweetness here was maaahvelous, a tour de force of coconut-y goodness that paired gorgeously with the slight char of the bread, all while the mung beans added a fantastic crispness to the dessert. An absolute must try.

The accolades that Yenbamroong's experiment in aharn klam lao has garnered are well deserved. But even if you look past all that, there's some damn fine cooking going on here. The food's as strong as ever; flavors are bold, hearty, and yes, quite spicy at times, a real departure from the formulaic Thai one typically encounters. Night+Market's so of-the-moment it hurts, a beacon of unbridled cookery that's quickly becoming one of the City's destination eateries. Despite all the successes though, the Chef is still confined by the limited space and setup of this location, and as such, is currently building out Night+Market 2.0, which should be debuting in the coming months in the Silver Lake area. More to come...

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

PettyCash Taqueria (Los Angeles, CA)

Petty Cash Restaurant
7360 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Wed 05/22/2013, 07:30p-10:20p

PettyCash Exterior

The biggest taco-related opening of the year has revealed itself in the form of PettyCash, a brand new postmodern taqueria set in the space formerly occupied by John Sedlar's Playa (and Neal Fraser's Grace, before that). The Bill Chait-backed (Sedlar is still a partner) restaurant features a menu by Walter Manzke (whose transcendent pig ear nachos at Test Kitchen perhaps foreshadowed his role here) and taco Wunderkind Guillermo "Oso" Campos Moreno from Tijuana's Tacos Kokopelli, with local blogger Bill Esparza running interference. PettyCash officially opened on May 21st after weeks of "secret" password-requiring preview dinners, and is walk-in only at the moment.

PettyCash Interior
Playa's former digs have been chopped and screwed. Though the basic layout remains, one side of the 150-seat room is dominated by a wall mural by graffiti artist RETNA, while communal benches have been installed, and the oft-ignored back room brought back to life with high-topped tables and shuffleboard. The vibe they were going for is described by marketing materials as "Tijuana circa 1986 meeting East LA circa 2013."

PettyCash Menu PettyCash Cocktails and Beer List
PettyCash's menu reads well, an of-the-moment interpretation of street food that Manzke and Campos are quite proud of (and indeed, it includes some of the latter's standbys from Tijuana). Tacos are meant to be the focus here, but there's a strong cast of supporting players as well, including those aforementioned oreja de cerdo nachos. The libations are equally as engaging. Given that this is a Bill Chait joint, cocktails are overseen by Julian Cox and are definitely worth a try; the beer selection is pretty damn respectable too. Also, be sure to pay special attention to the array of Mexican spirits on offer (Esparza's area of expertise I understand): tequila, mezcal (the new tequila), sotol (the new mezcal), bacanora, and yes, even raicilla (you'll probably have to look that one up). Click for larger versions.

Chips and Salsa
Housemade chips were gratis, as were the two salsas: one tomatillo, and one spicier, smokier variant. Interesting note: during previews, there were apparently three salsas provided, so I'm not sure why one was removed.

Ceviche Negro
Ceviche Negro [$12.00] | pacific sea bass, squid ink, mango, peanuts
Perhaps inspired by Kokopelli's famed "Black Harder" dish, our first course of the evening managed to be one of my absolute favorites. I loved the unexpected, almost disconcerting tint of the sea bass here, and how it melded seamlessly with the simultaneously earthy, nutty, and spicy notes at play. There was just a fantastic depth of flavor here that really made the fish sing.

Chicharrones [$6.00] | pineapple-carrot hot sauce
Chicharrones were marvelous, the best pork rinds I'd ever had in fact: light, airy, and utterly crunchy, with a superb savoriness to boot. They were delicious alone, but the hot, sweet sauce was the perfect accoutrement, popping and crackling upon being slathered on the fritters.

Pig Ear Nachos
Pig Ear Nachos [$12.00] | crema poblana, soft egg
Manzke served this a while back at his stint at Test Kitchen, and it sort of blew me away back then. I'm happy to report that the dish is back in full force at PettyCash, and is still the best version of nachos I've ever eaten. The pig ear was clearly the star here: crisp, chewy, and undeniably pork-y little slivers that balanced beautifully against the zesty nuances of the cilantro and crema, while the chilies added just a whisper of heat to things. If that wasn't enough, the egg imparted further luxuriousness to the dish (a runny egg makes everything better right?), making for a delectable amalgam of tastes and textures. A must try.

Cook Ranch Pork Ceviche
Cook Ranch Pork Ceviche [$9.00] | nopales, pickled red onion, avocado
Now this was a new one: pork, but in ceviche form. I didn't even know you could do that. The dish really turned out quite well though. I loved the texture on the meat, which was firm, yet supple, yielding. It was almost like a dense fish, and indeed, functioned just the same here, serving as a great base on which the countervailing flavors of cactus, onion, and avocado could really dance. Give it a shot.

Kanpachi Ceviche
Kanpachi Ceviche [$17.00] | tomatillo, avocado
Following up on the pork was a much more conventional ceviche featuring kampachi. The fish was great texturally, and the sour, tangy, yet slightly sweet flavors were classic in essence, yet undeniably effective.

Aguachile en Molcajete Bichi
Aguachile en Molcajete [$12.00 + $9.00 + $6.00 + $8.00 + $9.00 + $12.00] | homemade clamato, wild Sonoran chiltepin
Next, Manzke sent out an impressive molcajete (or mortar) filled with aguachile and a number of mariscos: Kanpachi, Kumamoto Oysters, Littleneck Clams, Octopus, Gulf White Prawns, and Live Santa Barbara Prawn. I quite liked the presentation, with the sweet-spicy-sour broth balancing and highlighting the distinct, ocean-y flavors of the seafood, each of which contributed to the textural mélange here. Pairing with the aguachile was a delightful mason jar of bichi, an intense, multifaceted, and quite profound seafood broth that provided a palpable heft to go with the levity and whimsy of the main dish.

Fly by Night
Fly by Night [$8.00] | Petty Cash scotch medley, Saler's gentiane, King's ginger, angostura, peychaud bitters, grapefruit twist
Naturally, we had to try each of the seven cocktails on the menu, the first of which arrived "on draft." It really was like nothing that you'd expected from a Mexican joint; in fact, I'd had a handcrafted version of it not long ago at Sotto! Redux notwithstanding, this was a weighty, boozy concoction that deftly played the base of Scotch against the citrus-y, bittersweet, and spicy influences present. Nice.

Cheesy Churros
Cheesy Churros [$5.00] | green mole-corn dip
The popular cheesy churros tasted exactly as advertised, giving us the crisp, yet creamy texture of a churro, with a savory tinge. I actually enjoyed eating them alone, but my dining companions appreciated the slight sweetness in the accompanying dip.

Deep Fried Quesadilla
Deep Fried Quesadilla [$8.00] | white prawns, cabbage, roasted tomato sauce
A deep-fried quesadilla was a fun little dish. For me, the prawns here were more for texture, with the quesadilla showing off sort of a general savory character that paired in classic fashion with the smoky, spicy salsa and light, crisp shards of cabbage. Tasty.

Oaxacan Old Fashioned / Petty Cash Margarita / Banana Hammock
Oaxacan Old Fashioned [$8.00] | Reposado tequila, Oaxacan mezcal, house agave, angostura bitters, orange oil
Petty Cash Margarita [$10.00] | blanco tequila, lime, citrus-spiked agave nectar
Banana Hammock [$10.00] | Petty Cash rum blend, banana infusion, fresh lime, tamarind, cassia, dehydrated banana chip
The second "draft" cocktail, the Oaxacan Old Fashioned, was a south-of-the-border riff on the classic, with the smoky weight of the mezcal forming the main thrust in the drink, set off against the citrus notes present. The requisite Petty Cash Margarita, meanwhile, was pretty much a standard version of the traditional cocktail, but with the addition of agave nectar. It was actually quite delicious and well-integrated, with a lovely balance of sweet and sour nuances over a base of tequila. Last up was the whimsically-named Banana Hammock, which was as tropical as its name (and appearance) would suggest, with a marked banana fruitiness joined by a good amount of sweet, aromatic spice--definitely deserving of its umbrella.

'Pocho Style'
"Pocho Style" [$7.00] | flour tortilla, zucchini flower, jack cheese, crema
Next up was an expert rendition of the ubiquitous "American" style quesadilla. It was a comforting, familiar dish, with a delightful cheesiness to it that paired well with the slight crunch of the four tortilla, all while the crema offered up a countering tanginess to things.

Al Pastor
Al Pastor [$4.00] | adobo-chile rubbed pork shoulder, onions, avocado
Our first set of tacos brought us the al pastor, which gave us some tasty bits of chile-imbued pork that worked well enough against the piquant counterpoints of onion and avocado. My concern was that texturally, the meat just sort of blended in with everything else, and needed to stand out more. In terms of consistency, the star here was the tortilla, a blend of supple and crispy that really made my day.

Dorados [$4.00] | crispy rolled potato tacos, avocado, tomatillo, cotija cheese
The tacos dorados were reminiscent of the flautas that I sometimes pick up from my local Mexican joint, not necessary a bad thing mind you (especially since they're basically the same price!). It was a classic interpretation of the taquito in effect, a blend of a savory potato filling and super crunchy tortilla wrapper that made absolute sense when taken with the avocado and shredded cabbage on top.

Baja Fish Taco
Baja Fish Taco [$4.00] | beer-battered pacific sea bass, pico de gallo, cabbage
The taco de pescado, meanwhile, was undoubtedly one of our favorites. It basically amounted to a completely traditional fish taco, but one that was superbly presented, with the fish really taking center stage, yet matching perfectly with its various accompaniments

The Obligatory Vodka Drink / Nacho Libre Buck Dynasty
The Obligatory Vodka Drink [$9.00] | Vodka, fresh lime, rose water, ginger, candied rose petal
Nacho Libre [$10.00] | pisco, lime, caramelized pineapple syrup, Jamaichael Jordan, egg white, creole bitters
Buck Dynasty [$10.00] | your choice of spirit, lime, house fermented ginger beer
Our last round of cocktails brought us the last three on the list. The aptly-named Obligatory Vodka Drink (is vodka the red-headed stepchild of the liquor world now?) was better than most fortunately, with a refreshing ginger tang to go along with the aromatic qualities of the rose. The Nacho Libre, meanwhile, was quite intriguing, featuring a wonderfully sweet, spicy, floral base of Jamaichael Jordan (hibiscus tea, clove, Mexican cinnamon, raspberry) that reminded one of my dining companions of a "wax candle." Last up was the Buck Dynasty, which came in our choice of base spirit. Naturally, we let the bartender decide, and were given mezcal. It wouldn't be the first liquor to come to mind for me, but it actually worked out really well, with the booze imparting a smoky undercurrent to the drink that melded seamlessly with the bright, sour tastes at play.

Cook Ranch Pork Carnitas
Cook Ranch Pork Carnitas [$4.00] | salsa verde, guacamole
Getting back to the tacos, the carnitas variety was very, very pork-y, with a surprising intensity to it that was set off beautifully by the piquancy of the salsa and guac. Texturally though, I would've liked some crispy bits as well, as those browned edges are certainly part of the joy of eating carnitas.

Charcoal Grilled Octopus
Charcoal Grilled Octopus [$4.00] | chile de arbol, peanuts, jack cheese
The "Kraken" was probably the dish most literally translated from Kokopelli's repertoire, and for good reason it seems. It was one of my favorites of the night, with the octopus arriving just tender enough, with a lovely char and a palpable potency to it, gorgeously foiled by the spicy pricks from the arbol chile. If you get only one taco, make it this.

Charcoal-Roasted Portobello Mushroom
Charcoal-Roasted Portobello Mushroom [$4.00] | asparagus, jack cheese, pipian
I don't think I'd ever had mushroom as a taco filling before, which, after eating this, is a shame. The earthy, salty, savory character of the portobello was nicely conveyed here, keenly moderated by the slivers of asparagus thrown in, while texturally, the 'shrooms were spot on as well. A very appealing vegetarian option.

Prime Beef Striploin Carne Asada
Prime Beef Striploin Carne Asada [$4.00] | refried beans, guacamole
The carne asada taco, unfortunately, was my least favorite of the bunch, as I found that the meat itself actually got overshadowed by the other components here. The beef really needed to be the hero in the dish, but got a bit lost among the beans and avocado.

Mezcal / Sotol / Raicilla
With the cocktails out of the way, we made sure to sample PettyCash's much-bandied about artisanal Mexican spirits program. We began with some Minotauro mezcal (3,000L/year production) from Tuitán, Durango that's made from the cenizo maguey. You know you're in some serious company when this non-Oaxacan mezcal is the mildest of the bunch, but that was the case here. The smokiness was still there of course, but there was also a distinct earthy flair to it, along with a surprising smoothness. Also from Durango was La Valentina sotol, made from the non-agave desert spoon. It's the stuff in the huge 14-gallon jug at the bar, and was almost like a more intense version of the Minotauro to me. Finally, we tasted the Tlacuache raicilla, of which only 1,000 litres are produced yearly from the agave Valenciana plant. Hailing from Jalisco, this was probably my favorite of the bunch, with its sweeter, more complex, multifaceted character. Overall, a worthwhile exploration into some lesser known, handmade Mexican spirits--note though, that these craft liquors do not come cheap, each ringing in at $25 a pop.

Crispy Brussels Sprouts
Crispy Brussels Sprouts [$7.00] | morita-cauliflower crema
With the tacos dispensed with, we went back to the menu and requested everything that we'd not had already. The Brussels sprouts were first up, a commendable preparation of one of my favorite veggies. I loved their almost over-the-top savoriness that transitioned to a brilliant bitterness on the close, with the entire process tempered by the creamy, spicy base of chipotle crema. My only complaint was that I wanted bigger chunks of the sprouts, to better appreciate their texture.

'Roof Top' Baby Green Salad
"Roof Top" Baby Green Salad [$8.00] | cucumber, radish, pepitas, sungold tomatoes, avocado-lime dressing
I'm not much of a salad eater, but the version here was surprisingly to my liking. The bright, crisp, refreshing snap of the vegetables was spot on really, a welcomed respite from the heavier flavors that we'd been enjoying. I especially appreciated the nuttiness of those pepitas, as well as the creamy, enveloping tang of the dressing. The Cielo Verde garden lives on!

Baby Beets
Baby Beets [$8.00] | grilled corn, black quinoa, kale, tamarind, pistachio, cotija cheese
Regular readers will know that I'm not a fan at all of beets, and unfortunately, this didn't do much to change my disinclination. The elements here, individually, made sense to me, but things just didn't come together with the beets as the main ingredient.

Guacamole [$8.00]
Our final course of the night brought us a near-perfect rendition of guacamole, one that really did a nice job in showing off the avocado itself. I wish we would've started with this!

'Dirty' Horchata / Damn Handsome Cold Brew Coffee
"Dirty" Horchata [$4.00] | long grain brown rice, pecans, Chinese cinnamon, evaporated milk
Damn Handsome Cold Brew Coffee [$4.00] | La Granja rancho, Columbia, full-body, on tap (try loco-style w/Horchata)
Unfortunately, there's no dessert menu to speak of at the moment, but from what I understand, Margarita Manzke will be implementing one in the near future. That being said, we had to make do this evening with some liquid "desserts." Make sure to get the horchata, as it just might've been the best example I'd ever tasted, with a flawless balance of sugary and spicy that went down so easy. The coffee, as the name implies, was damn tasty as well, and I'm not even a coffee drinker.

Walter Manzke, Oso Campos, Bill Chait Guillermo 'Oso' Campos Moreno, Marisol, Walter Manzke
The PettyCash team, comprising Walter Manzke, "Oso" Campos, Bill Chait, and tortilla maestra Marisol. Not pictured: Bill Esparza (who vanished temporarily during the photo opp).

I do miss Playa, but PettyCash seems like a worthy restaurant to fill that void. It's more casual than its predecessor, both in terms of the food and the vibe, and cheaper to boot. I don't want to see everybody going in that direction, but for the location, I think it'll do well, sort of hitting a sweet spot that'll hopefully give it a bit more lasting power. Case in point: one of my dining companions said that he wished the place was closer to home, so he could go after work. That being said, some may decry PettyCash as not being authentic, but that's sort of missing the point. It was never Manzke's or anyone else's goal to be truly authentic. It's more like Mexican-inspired, with varying degrees of inspiration depending on the dish, and in fact, I think the kitchen's at its best and most intriguing when they wander a bit further away from strict Mexican sensibilities. That "improvisation" is what I liked the most about the place, and I'd love to see further exploration of that arena (as well as reservations!). In any case, "Oso" will be here for a few more weeks to make sure everything's going alright before returning home, and as for Chef Manzke, he's still busy at work on Republique, which is slated to debut in the old Campanile space later this year. I hope we haven't seen the last of John Sedlar, either.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

LQ Foodings at Vertical Wine Bistro (Pasadena, CA)

LQ @ Vertical Wine Bistro
70 N Raymond Ave, Pasadena, CA 91103
Sun 05/19/2013, 08:30p-11:35p

Since shuttering his namesake Bistro LQ in March 2011, you could say that Laurent Quenioux has been exploring his culinary wanderlust. Though he's been stationed at Vertical Wine Bistro since November 2010, the Chef has staged a number of popular "Foodings" throughout the Southland. The pop-up dinners kicked off in 2011 at Starry Kitchen, with Quenioux wrapping up that year with a stint at Le Saint Amour with Walter Manzke, a brief appearance on Top Chef: Texas, and a completely over-the-top 18-course white truffle dinner. In March 2012, the Chef ended his tenure at SK, but soon thereafter, paired up with the Trans again at a couple of controversial weed/herb dinners. Then, in May, he held another fooding at Good Girl Dinette in Highland Park, which was followed up by a run at Beverly Hills' Barney Greengrass a couple months later. This current series at Vertical extends a number of dinners he did in February this year, and lasts through early June. Quenioux is joined here by Sous Chef Daniel Vasquez and Pastry Chef Anthony Huynh, both longtime veterans of Bistro LQ.

LQ Foodings at Vertical Wine Bistro Menu LQ Foodings at Vertical Wine Bistro Wine List
The LQ "Fooding" menu comprised five courses at a reasonable $48, while wine pairings by Domaine LA added on another $28pp. And of course, there was also the option of Quenioux's legendary, probably-best-in-the-City cheese cart and its 38 selections of imported, mostly-non-pasteurized, French fromage. Click for larger versions.

Bread Lounge
A crusty, rustic sourdough from upstart baker Bread Lounge (located right around the corner from Downtown hot spot Bestia) was served with a sweetish butter and olive oil by 41 Olive.

Kir Vertical Around The World The Lolita
Kir Vertical [$12.00] | Prosecco, St Germain Liquor, Fresh Mint
Around The World [$12.00] | Cucumber, Hendrick's Gin, Agave Nectar, Elderflower Liqueur, Yuzu Juice
The Lolita [$12.00] | Plymouth Gin, Blueberries, Agave Nectar, Brown Sugar, Lemon Juice, Prosecco
To whet our appetites, we commenced with all three of the evening's cocktails. The Kir Vertical was pretty standard fare, giving us a back and forth between the prosecco and mint over an undercurrent of St. Germain sugariness. Meanwhile, the Around The World was a prototypical cucumber cocktail, with a classic interplay between the vegetable and the elderflower, all while the yuzu added a pinch of levity to the mix. My favorite of the bunch was The Lolita, a well-integrated drink which had a great fruity sweetness to it, all balanced by an intriguing spiciness and an interesting element in the form of that agave.

Hokkaido Scallop smoked for 6 hours; Toasted Waffle, Nori Butter; Roasted Bone Marrow, Crayfish, Grated Celeriac
Mise en Bouche: Hokkaido Scallop smoked for 6 hours; Toasted Waffle, Nori Butter; Roasted Bone Marrow, Crayfish, Grated Celeriac
NV Terres Dorées Cremant de Bourgogne Chardonnay
Our amuse bouche course featured a trio of treats. Moving front to back per our server's direction, I started with the bone marrow. It displayed all of the slick, fatty flair that you'd expect from the stuff, which, combined with the crayfish, formed a rich, lush, almost bisque-like experience that complemented the seafood without overwhelming it. I appreciated the hit of brightness from the celeriac as well. Moving on, that nori butter was fantastic, showing off all of the seaweed's ocean-y, umami-laden savoriness against a light, fluffy waffle background. Last up was the scallop, a dense, sticky example that was positively imbued with an almost hammy smokiness; it was pretty intense alone, but the yuzukosho-esque condiment on top was a stupendous counterpoint.

Minestrone, Serrano Ham, Ramps Hazelnut Pesto, Amy's Farm Duck Egg, Rillette FG Macaron
1: Minestrone, Serrano Ham, Ramps Hazelnut Pesto, Amy's Farm Duck Egg, Rillette FG Macaron
2012 Domaine Sauvete Pineau D'Aunis Rosé Meli-Melo
Our first proper course featured Quenioux's take on minestrone. It was a delicious interpretation of the dish, an immensely savory potage with delightful points of piquancy and a wonderfully crisp egg in the middle. The foie gras-stuffed duck rillettes macaron was also appreciated, conveying a deft blend of sweet and salty flavors, finishing with a distinct tinge of pork.

Cold Poached Skate, Fried Capers, Watermelon Pico, Bonito Emulsion, Dehydrated Kale, Blis Char Roe, Dehydrated Beets, Morels
2: Cold Poached Skate, Fried Capers, Watermelon Pico, Bonito Emulsion, Dehydrated Kale, Blis Char Roe, Dehydrated Beets, Morels
2011 Domaine du Closel "La Jalousie" Savenniere
The Chef's skate was a standout for me. The fish itself was spot on, supple and mild, yet full of flavor, delicious alone and even better when taken with the juicy slab of watermelon and those earthy morels. It was one of the tastiest preparations of the fish I've had. My only concern was that the char roe was a touch smoky at times, and could easily dominate the subtleties of the skate.

Rice Porridge, Veal Sweetbreads, Uni Bottarga, Uni, Wood Sorrel
3: Rice Porridge, Veal Sweetbreads, Uni Bottarga, Uni, Wood Sorrel
2010 Monasterio De Corias, Maceration Carbonica
A lot of people seemed to love this course, and for good reason. It was a cozy, hearty dish, with the comfy flavors of the porridge working perfectly against the bright, green nuances of the sorrel, all while the uni offered up further luxuriousness to the dish. Perhaps the best part here, though, were the nuggets of sweetbreads, which showed off a flawlessly crisp texture and a mouth-watering savoriness that was easy to like. This was something I could just eat a big bowl of.

A3 Japanese Wagyu, Pan Drippings, Green Garlic Soil, English Pea Frozen Yogurt, Harissa Emulsion, Shaved Asparagus, Shaved Radish
4: A3 Japanese Wagyu, Pan Drippings, Green Garlic Soil, English Pea Frozen Yogurt, Harissa Emulsion, Shaved Asparagus, Shaved Radish
2010 Mas de Gourgonnie, Les Baux de Provence Rouge
The most substantial course of the evening featured super fatty (arguably too fatty, depending on the piece you got) cuts of real-deal Japanese wagyu. The beef was as lush and decadent as you'd expect, an explosion of bovine flavors that was expertly countered by a focused kick of harissa spice. Loved the offsetting bitterness and crunch here of the slivers of radish and asparagus as well.

Cheese Cart Cheese Condiments
Hard Cheese Soft Cheeses
It just wouldn't seem like a proper LQ meal without an appearance from the famed cheese cart. You can get three cheeses for $12, five for $20, seven for $28, or the whole shebang for $120 (crazy!). We asked the Chef to choose for us, and he came up with the following, divided into hard and soft selections:
  • Mimolette - Salty, nutty, dry, crumbly, with an almost caramel-like tone and replete with "illegal" cheese mites.
  • Gruyère - Relatively mild and gritty, with a nice earthy character to it.
  • Fumaison - Fun and funky, with a hint of wood and smoke.
  • Tomme de Belloc - Rich and savory, with a dense, yet appealing body. This is one I could probably eat a lot of.
  • Carré Mirabelle - Salty, soft, and smooth. Nice!
  • Munster - Sharp and floral, with a strong-tasting, yet appealing quality to it.
  • Filetta Corsica - Earthy and herby, with a mushroom-y character to boot. Very cool.
  • Chambertin - Époisses-like in both appearance and taste.
  • Camembert - One of my go-to cheeses: creamy, rich, and always a good decision.
  • Reblochon - One of the most intense cheeses of bunch--zesty with a palpable earthiness to it.
The decet was served with fantastic homemade accompaniments of butternut squash with ginger, tomatillo, blueberry gelée, Okinawan sweet potato with maple, strawberry with balsamic, as well as an optional truffle honey [$3], in addition to toast and nuts.

Caramel Miso Goat Cheesecake, Black Sesame Graham Cracker Crumb, Tofu Cream, Grapefruit Sorbet, Brown Butter Croquant
5: Caramel Miso Goat Cheesecake, Black Sesame Graham Cracker Crumb, Tofu Cream, Grapefruit Sorbet, Brown Butter Croquant
Dessert starred a delightfully savory miso-caramel that formed the base to the dish, working well with the bright, citric flavors of the grapefruit while the sesame Graham cracker crumbles moderated the interaction. There was an intriguing bitter undertone to the dessert that I liked, and texturally, the croquant was key, adding a well-placed crunchiness that absolutely made sense to me.

Daniel Vasquez, Laurent Quenioux
Laurent Quenioux, with Sous Chef Daniel Vasquez.

A chef popping up in his own restaurant may be a bit odd, but the event was largely a success, and judging from how crowded the room was, I'm guessing I'm not alone in that sentiment. It was nice see how Quenioux's food has evolved over the years, becoming noticeably more cohesive, more nuanced, but still imbued with his signature eclectic style. As for what's next, the Chef will be doing a few more stints around down, and will also be traveling and cooking in Europe in late summer. No word yet though on his long-awaited permanent spot.