Thursday, June 27, 2013

Yamakase (Los Angeles, CA) [2]

Yamakase Restaurant
Los Angeles, CA 90034
Thu 06/27/2013, 08:00p-01:40a

One of my favorite discoveries in recent times has been Yamakase, the semi-secret, omakase-only Japanese eatery opened by Chef Kiyoshiro Yamamoto and his business partner Stan Liu. I was really impressed by my dinner here last December, and had been thinking about a return visit ever since. This wouldn't be just any ol' meal though. No, I wanted a follow-up to our epic 1995 Champagne horizontal tasting at Urasawa. As such, we opted for a vertical tasting this time around, one featuring perhaps the most famous Champagne of them all: the house of Moët & Chandon's Dom Perignon. Oh, and it happened to be my birthday dinner as well!

Yamakase Interior
Above, we see the extent of the restaurant. Yamakase comprises not much more than a singular bar surrounding the kitchen, one seating up to 11 diners.

1978 Moët & Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon
We let Yama-san choose the ordering of wines, and he opted to go in chronological order, kicking things off with the 1978 Dom Perignon, the oldest in the group. It certainly tasted its age, coming in not very bubbly and with a distinct oxidative quality, giving in a sherry-like or maderized character joined by notes of nutty caramel. More interesting than good.

Hokkaido Uni
1: Hokkaido Uni
Moving into the food now, here was a spoon of Hokkaido uni, soft-boiled quail egg, and truffle salt, joined by a caviar-topped cucumber. It was a luxurious way to begin the meal, with the truffle-y overtones working beautifully with the sweet, creamy sea urchin, all while the egg lent a certain gravitas to the bite. I also appreciated the salty kick of the caviar here, as well as how the cucumber contributed both texture and lightness to the course.

1980 Moët & Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon
What a difference two years make! The 1980 Dom Perignon was much fresher, though still mature, with a distinct breadiness and just a whisper of oxidation, all balanced by a lively acidity.

Ayoagi, Kisu, Tairagi
2: Ayoagi, Kisu, Tairagi
Here was a troika of orange clam, Japanese whiting, and pen shell, lightly dressed and accompanied by Naruto wakame and sesame. The sharp, focused brine of the various seafood was proudly conveyed, well-integrated and replete with a great mix of disparate textures. I especially appreciated the kisu fish, which had a firm, satisfying bite to it that was almost shellfish-like. Fantastic earthiness from the sesame as well, which did a great job moderating the strong flavors at play.

Kyoto Tofu
3: Kyoto Tofu
Now, the first of Yama-san's signature spoon duets. In the front, we had Kyoto tofu with tomato, olive, and truffle salt, in effect a sort of reimagined insalata Caprese. It really did recall the classic dish, with the tofu serving as a fitting replacement for mozzarella, the whole thing nicely balanced and imbued with a tinge of truffle goodness. This was followed up by a spoon featuring the tofu along with Japanese sea urchin and soy sauce. Here, I enjoyed the mild notes of the tofu at first, which then transitioned seamlessly to the richness and depth of the uni, while the finish was again suggestive of bean curd.

Big Salt Rock
Yama-san grates from a massive block of salt that he's been using for at least 15 years.

Tai Hara
4: Tai Hara
Our first course of sashimi brought us snapper belly dressed in crab innards sauce and sprinkled with yuzu. I quite liked this, with the fish serving as a dense, yet supple base on which the citrus and earthy kanimiso could really dance.

1982 Moët & Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon
I'm happy to report that the 1982 Dom Perignon, my birth year wine, was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the evening. It was an eminently balanced bubbly, mature, yet remarkably vigorous, with a perfect toasty depth to it. A revelation in aged Champagne.

Kusshi Kaki
5: Kusshi Kaki
Kusshi oyster was the star of our second spoon duo. Up front, it was joined by Santa Barbara uni, yuzu, and Japanese sea salt. The citrus was key here, coming through forcefully on the attack, with the creamy, salty oyster-urchin combo making itself known from the midpalate to a long, lingering finish redolent of seawater. Bringing up the rear was Kusshi with blue crab, sesame cream, and truffle-infused egg. Here, the sweetness of the crab was the hero, joined by the nutty-earthy component from the sesame (though there was perhaps a bit too much of it), while the oyster once again came through on the close.

Kegani Hairy Crab
6: Kegani
Yama-san made an impressive display with these here hairy (or horsehair) crabs, which he dispatched right before us. They were prepared simply via steaming, and presented unadorned, thus giving us the true, tender, sweet essence of kegani. Tasty, though actually not all that different from your everyday crab.

1985 Moët & Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon
Despite the torn label, the 1985 Dom Perignon was another winner. I found it surprisingly crisp and youthful, with a fantastic interplay of citrus-y and yeast-y notes, all underscored by a slight boozy undercurrent. Smooth, and even easy-drinking.

Plum Somen Ladling
Here, we see Yama-san preparing our somen course. The pinkish noodles definitely caught our eye.

Hamo Somen
7: Hamo Somen
We're right around the peak of hamo eel season, so I wasn't surprised to see the conger pike featured tonight, joined by ruddy strands of umeboshi somen (a nod to the pickled plum typically served with the fish), junsai, and Japanese chive. I quite enjoyed this course, finding a great balance between the slightly tart noodles and the meaty, yet mild cuts of hamo, all while the chive added a modicum of levity to the fray. Interesting textural component from the water shield, too. Yum.

Here, Yama-san busts out his hamokiri knife and shows off his hamo honegiri bone cutting skills.

1988 Moët & Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon
With the 1988 Dom Perignon, we switched glasses to the more traditional Champagne flute meant for younger wines. The '88 was actually surprisingly mature for its age, great on the nose, with a fruity, caramel-y, acidic, slightly oxidized character. Probably past its peak.

8: Kanpachi
Kanpachi came from Kumamoto on Japan's southerly Kyushu island. The amberjack was blanched by a quick dip in hot water, then served with a sesame-ponzu condiment. Texturally, I appreciated the fish's firm, meaty consistency, while its delicate flavor was keenly complemented, yet not dominated, by the sauce.

9: Kuromaguro
Bluefin tuna from Spain was cured in soy sauce and sake, mixed in with wasabi and pine nuts, then topped with sea urchin. The marination process added a considerable depth to the dish, but the key was the wasabi, which contributed a spicy undertone to the fish that made it rather interesting, especially when taken with the crunchy nutty bits here. I would've preferred thinner slices though, to make for a smoother, silkier mouthfeel to the tuna.

1995 Moët & Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon
Our sole representative from the decade of grunge and O.J. was the 1995 Dom Perignon, which was all sorts of amazing. I loved the stone fruit undertones present here, and how the wine's crisp, citrus-y flavors interacted with hints of its toasty beginnings. A perfect balance between youth and maturity; I'm curious to see how this one develops.

10: Chawanmushi
Tonight's requisite chawanmushi featured Japanese sea urchin, Dungeness crab, baby scallop, junsai, and yuzu. It was a hot, hearty dish, a pleasant mish-mash of various tastes and textures overarched by pin pricks of citrus-y tartness.

Mushi Tai
11: Mushi Tai
Even more comforting was a soup featuring sake-steamed red snapper, root vegetables, shimeji, and kikurage, set in a Japanese gravy dusted with sansho pepper. I rather liked this one, finding it complex, multifaceted, with the briny, firm character of the fish melding well with the weight of the veggies, all while the pepper added an almost ephemeral spice to the dish. Lovely texture from the wood ear, too. Delish!

2002 Moët & Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon
Moving on now to the young stuff, the 2002 Dom Perignon certainly tasted of its youth. It was dry, minerally, and uncommonly crisp, with a somewhat tart citrus-y twang. Tight and a bit austere now, but there's probably a lot of potential here.

Beef Sashimi on Toast
12: Beef Sashimi on Toast
Raw beef was paired with crab and Italian truffle cheese, making for a sort of unholy cheese steak. It was as tasty as it sounds though, with the meat and cheese combo working in flawless fashion, all under a veil of truffle-y goodness.

2004 Château Pavie
Knowing that Yama-san would inevitably be serving some wagyu, I brought along a bottle of 2004 Chateau Pavie. It was superb, really reminding us of the joys of a top notch Bordeaux. I loved its dry, tannic, oaky, somewhat earthy character initially, when then transitioned beautifully to juicy notes of dark fruit on the finish. Impeccably balanced, nuanced, smooth, and uncommonly delicious--I want to try this again in a few years.

Wagyu Tenderloin Kagoshima Beef
Speaking of beef, here we see Yama-san slicing a beautiful cut of A5 Kagoshima tenderloin.

Kagoshima Gyuniku
13: Kagoshima Gyuniku
The aforementioned tenderloin was cooked to a medium-rare temperature, lightly doused with a soy sauce-onion condiment and truffle salt, then served with a small salad. The wagyu itself was particularly tender, gelatinous almost, with a marked beefiness that I found immensely satisfying. I appreciated the levity imparted by the salad here, but the sweet, tangy sauce wasn't all that necessary, as the beef could easily stand alone.

2003 Moët & Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon
For the sushi courses to follow, we opened our last remaining Champagne, the 2003 Dom Perignon. This one showed off the youthfulness of the '02, but on an even larger scale. Think lots of citrus here, with a dry, steely minerality and bright acidity. Refreshing, but definitely in need of some cellaring.

Chutoro Sushi
14: Chutoro Sushi
Medium fatty tuna was a great example of the style, a deft balance of fattiness and fishiness with a light hit of soy initially to set the stage. Magnifique.

Toro Sushi
15: Toro Sushi
The full fat version was even better, with the intensity of the fish complemented, but not overshadowed by the application of truffle salt and wasabi.

Ki-Aji Sushi
16: Ki-Aji Sushi
Here was a "special" type of aji sourced from around Kyushu, one that Yama-san mentioned was particularly difficult to find in the US (99% of it stays in Japan we were told). Indeed, it was very mild, very subtle for mackerel, with a delicate, nuanced brine that grew in intensity toward the finish. Very cool.

Awabi Kayu
17: Awabi Kayu
Our final savory course of the meal was undoubtedly one of my favorites, comprising a rice potage of six-day Japanese black abalone, yuba, zasai, and truffle butter. I loved the rich, hearty broth, positively imbued with umami-laced brine. The abalone itself was spot on as well, fantastic texturally and a great foil to the crunchy tang of the pickled mustard. Comforting and cozy, yet complex and multifaceted--something I could just eat a big heaping bowl of.

Eat Your Veggies
Yes, Yama-san's quite a ham for the camera.

Opening Wine Bottle with Knife Manually Uncorking Fancy Wine Opener
Good Ol' Corkscrew Success Biting the Cork
Now we come to the evening's pièce de résistance in terms of wine, which, unsurprisingly given its age, had a rather uncooperative cork, forcing Yama-san to taken on drastic measures to dislodge it.

1961 Château Guiraud
The 1961 Chateau Guiraud was a bottle that I'd been holding in my cellar for some time now, just waiting for the perfect opportunity to drink. Tonight was the night, and the wine did not disappoint at all. It was probably the best dessert wine I've had, and one of my most memorable wines overall, even surpassing the legendary '01 d'Yquem (though I'm sure that'll become much, much better with age--I'm still holding on to a bottle). The Sauternes was a gorgeous mahogany tone, and conveyed a subtle, subdued, refined sweetness that wasn't cloying or overly showy at all (a problem with younger wines). This was joined by some nutty notes, a tinge of acidity, and even some booziness, all making for a perfectly balanced, mature sticky. Still plenty of life left--this one really made me want to buy up more old Sauternes!

Asai Sorbet
18: Asai Sorbet
Dessert consisted of an açaí berry sorbet, a bright, bracing creation that put forth contrasting notes of sour and sweet--great as a palate cleanser.

Ars Italica Caviar Ossetra Caviar
19: Ossetra Caviar
We thought we were done at this point, but then Yama-san busted out a beautiful tin of Ars Italica Italian oscetra caviar that he'd just purchased in the morning. We then took spoonfuls of the salty, yet somehow creamy roe and ate it with the Guiraud, the Sauternes really bringing out the salinity of those globules. An over-the-top, luxurious, yet fitting conclusion to the meal.

Dinner tonight came out to a not-unreasonable $216 per person for food only, with all the booze purchased and brought separately (there's no corkage fee here). The meal served as sort of a confirmation that the Chef here has a unique style that's quite unlike that of any of his contemporaries in LA. Yama-san's got a certain brashness and irreverence to him that I adore, as well as a knack for presenting unique, luxurious ingredients in a fashion that blends tradition with some fusion-y elements. The end result is an experience worth seeking out to be sure--get a seat here if you can.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

IO by Playground (Santa Ana, CA) [2]

Invitation Only at Playground 2.0
220 E 4th St, Santa Ana, CA 92701
Sat 06/15/2013, 07:00p-09:45p

Playground 2.0 Exterior

My last experience at IO was something to behold, an ambitious, playful, and uncompromisingly delicious dinner that I deemed the best dining experience in Orange County. As such, it wasn't a question of if I'd return, but rather, when. Now, as we should know by now, a normal meal at IO is priced at $250 a head, inclusive of all food, beverage, tax, and service. However, for this series, entitled "I've Got Friends in Low Places," the price was reduced to a mere $180, a relative bargain that gave me a good excuse to go back. The reason for the discount? The focus of these dinners was placed squarely on vegetables and other underappreciated ingredients in the kitchen. Sounds interesting.

Team Introductions
Like last time, we got started with team introductions by Jason Quinn and a brief spiel on what IO was all about.

1: WELCOME COCKTAIL | aperol solace spritz
Our aperitif this evening was a reimagined Spritz, made with Firestone Walker's Solace wheat beer in place of prosecco. It really was a fitting substitution, with a blast of wheat-y, yeasty, spicy beer notes initially, which then transitioned gracefully to the bittersweet Aperol. Light, fun, refreshing, with a pretty cool color to boot.

2: EPIC FIRST BITE OF MEAT | stuffed savoy cabbage, Iberico de bellota collar, and ???? ???? filling, port caramelized shallots, potato purée
Our first course really was sort of epic, name aside. I loved the delicate, yet profoundly earthy, overarching nuances of foie gras here, which really played beautifully against the lingering, pork-y flavors of the Ibérico. The cabbage worked perfectly as a light, crisp counterpoint to the meat, and I much appreciated the tempering effect of that potato purée as well (though I could've done without the shallots). Yum.

3: FRESH HAWAIIAN HEART OF PALM CEVICHE | grapefruit, orange, jalapeño, tortilla
I'm generally not a fan of heart of palm, but really enjoyed this dish. In fact, it was probably the strongest preparation of the ingredient I've had, with the contrasting forces of sweet, sour, savory, acid, and a creeping undercurrent of spice working in perfect harmony. The textures here were also superb, and I especially enjoyed the crispy strips of tortilla. So here we have it: proof that it's perfectly possible to have a great ceviche without any sort of seafood, or even meat.

4: JICAMA: AN UNEXPECTED HERO | fish sauce, palm sugar, crispy shallots, lime, serrano aioli
A lot of what I wrote about the ceviche above can also be said for the jicama, which I'm also typically none too fond of. Here, I adored the textures as well, and the interaction between the lime, serrano, and fish sauce was spot on, really coming together cohesively to breathe life into an otherwise boring ingredient. Fantastic savoriness from the shallots as well, which really underscored the dish. Best. Jicama. Ever.

5: GUACAMOLE INSPIRED BY MAX | fried avocado, corn nuts, lime-jalapeño-avocado mousse, tomato, cilantro, red onion
Here was what amounted to a reconstructed guacamole. It really did convey the essence of the classic dish, rendered in differing textures and temperatures, though I would've liked some more onion, tomato, and cilantro to give the dish a bit more acidity. Loved the crunch of the Corn Nuts here.

The staff then busted out the liquid nitrogen and mixed up a prickly pear margarita with 7 Leguas Blanco tequila (the real deal progenitor to Patrón), Cointreau, and lime. Taste-wise, this was pretty classic, with a great balance between sweet and sour flavors. What struck me most was the blazing magenta hue of the drink, as well as the soft, almost fluffy textures present.

7: GRILLED SWEET POTATO | lime marshmallow, hatch chile powder, pecan
I'm no fan of sweet potato (finding it, unsurprisingly, overly sweet generally), but Quinn and company worked it out, tempering its sugariness with some countervailing flavor profiles, the heat of the chile being particularly apropos. As one of my fellow diners remarked, this "tastes like Thanksgiving."

We then commenced with a string of sashimi-style courses, with this first one serving as a sort of bridge between the influences of Latin America and Japan. It was none other than flute fish, or yagara, a real rarity that I'd only had before in sushi form at Shunka. It's a mild, delicate fish, serving here as a base on which the tangy, spicy aji amarillo could really sing.

9: BURNT MAUI ONION | albacore gently poached in ponzu, ponzu
Next, we had slices of albacore, lightly seared by being doused with hot ponzu, thus making for a great meaty bite to the fish. I also appreciated the sweet-savoriness imparted by the ponzu here, as well as how the onion gave the dish a sort of overarching char astringency.

10: BEET STAINED IVORY | ivory king salmon, horseradish, lemon, brioche, chive
Ivory king salmon is a variety of the standard fish that has an inability to process carotenoids, thus leaving its flesh white instead of orange. Here, it was given a splash of color via a beet cure. What surprised me was how well the horseradish cream cheese fared, imparting a lush, tangy character to the dish that really went along well with the fattiness of the fish. You could almost think of this as a sashimi-fied version of bagels and lox.

11: YUZU IS THE BEST CITRUS | shima aji loin, white soy
A beautiful platter of Japanese shima aji arrived next, dressed simply in yuzu and white soy. The pure, clean taste of the striped jack was dutifully highlighted here, accentuated by a splash of shiro shoyu and a fantastically ethereal whisper of citrus-y tartness from the yuzu.

Next, the belly of the striped jack was presented to us, doused in a black garlic vinaigrette. Here, the slightly more assertive relish of the belly actually stood up to the sweet-ish, syrupy sauce, which I was afraid would be completely domineering.

13: BUTTER LETTUCE WRAP | akaushi outside skirt, kimchi, ginger, scallion, peanut, crunchies
In my experience, I've found that American-grown wagyu just doesn't compare to its Japanese counterparts, but the Akaushi served tonight just might be an exception to that rule. I first tried the beef alone, and found it immensely flavorful, fatty, fantastically charred, and, unlike many skirts, properly tender. It was delicious to be sure, but the addition of the various accompaniments here really took the meat to the next level, adding beautiful layers of spice, astringency, and crunch. So good.

A sangria of cava, white wine, vodka, and melon served as a perfect counterpoint to the heady flavors at play, and also the marked the start of our Spanish adventure. It really was delightful, showing off light, fruity, refreshing nuances with just a hint of boozy weight.

15: WHITE ASPARAGUS | chorizo vin, marcona almond ice cream
I'm quite the fan of asparagus, and the presentation here was one of the most intriguing I've had. The bitterness of the veggie was proudly displayed, masterfully offset by the tang of the chorizo. The crux of the dish, though, was that marcona ice cream, which was fantastic, really conveying the true taste of the almond while tying the course together beautifully.

16: CALÇOTADA EN SANTA ANA | grilled scallion, romesco, porron
Next, a homage to the classic Catalonian ingredient calçot. The scallions were grilled, and thus imbued with a marked char and bitterness that made absolute sense when taken with a dab of spicy, tangy romesco.

Porron Porron Drinking
Along with the calçots came a porrón of beer, which Chef Quinn eagerly demonstrated for us.

Porron Spill
Others, however, were not nearly as graceful with it.

17: GRILLED STUFFED PIQUILLO PEPPER | idiazabal, pedro ximinez
Here was a spot on rendition of a traditional tapas dish, with the piquillo coming out sweet, smoky, and utterly juicy, a perfect complement to the salty, gooey Idiazabal hidden within.

18: ITALIAN WHITE WINE | 2010 Bera Vittorio E. Figli, Arcese, IGT
With this, we transitioned to Italy. This was a drinkable wine, thick on the palate, with an apparent fruitiness initially that's cut by a certain stone-y minerality and bright hit of acid.

19: THE SCHIZOPHRENIC ZUCCHINI aka THE RAW ZUCCHINI EXPLOSION | different textures and subtle nuances a la Ryan Carson
I'm generally not a huge fan of zucchini, but the dish really showed off the vegetable in the best possible way. It arrived in grilled, pickled, smoked, and raw forms, dressed in a red wine vinaigrette and topped with garlic chips. It was nice to experience the various forms and facets of the zucchini, a bevy of textures and tastes overarched by a focused smoky character, all leading to a lingering finish redolent of mint.

20: MILK SKIN CAPRESE | heirloom tomatoes, maldon, herb lemon vin
Here was a take on the classic insalata Caprese, but one constructed from an admixture of milk skin, olive oil, and heavy cream instead of mozzarella or burrata. The result really was reminiscent of the real deal, with the "cheese" serving as a great platform on which to enjoy the meaty cuts of tomato and the zesty herb-lemon dressing.

21: THE POWER OF LEMON AND OLIVE OIL | atlantic black sea bass
One of the highlights of the meal was certainly this black sea bass, which I'm going to say was the best version of the fish I've had. It arrived pretty much flawlessly prepared, firm, yet yielding to the bite, with a delicate, yet delectable taste that paired in stellar fashion with its accoutrements, making for a perfectly balanced dish. The power of lemon and olive oil indeed.

22: GRILLED CAULIFLOWER STEAKS | sultana- almond- caper relish, cauliflower purée
"Steaks" of cauliflower were firm, dense, and yes, even "meaty," amplified in essence by the surrounding purée. They showed off the inherent goodness of the vegetable commendably, accentuated by the tangy, sweet, nutty notes of the accompanying relish.

23: FAVA BEANS, LIVER, A NICE CHIANTI | frisée, croutons, lemon, bacon
"A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti." If somehow you've been completely out of touch with pop culture for the last 20 years, that's the famous line from Hannibal Lecter that inspired this dish. Of course, we were merely talking about chicken liver here, not that of people, but it was tasty nonetheless. The liver conveyed all the deep, earthy notes you'd expect, countered here by lemon and frisée, all while the bacon added some well placed jolts of saltiness to the fray.

24: A NICE CHIANTI | 2010 Paterna, Chianti Colli Aretini DOCG
And here we have the aforementioned Chianti, nice indeed with its dry, somewhat tannic nature and loads of dark fruit.

Max Hirsch and Risotto POTATO & PORCINI RISOTTO
25: POTATO & PORCINI RISOTTO | as simple as it sounds
As we know from my previous meal here, Max Hirsch is quite the risotto maven, and tonight he presented a version made not with rice, but with potato. It was as simple as it sounds, but also as delicious, with the potato and mushroom forming a delectable combination that worked wonders with the lush, creamy base of the dish. Fantastic texture on those cubes of patate, too. I wanted a larger bowl of the stuff!

26: BRAISED ARTICHOKE AND MUSHROOM RAGU | creamy polenta board, San Marzano
No, that's not a pizza, but rather a disk of polenta topped with a "ragù" of artichoke, mushroom, and San Marzano tomato. The lack of meat (a key part of ragù) didn't stop this from being delicious. In fact, I had a second serving of it, and reveled in the sauce's tangy, yet uncompromisingly savory relish, masterfully moderated by that creamy polenta.

At this point, Playground's Beverage Director Jarred Dooley came out to introduce our next libation. It was, unsurprisingly given his background, a beer, specifically a Persimmon Sour from Pasadena's Craftsman Brewing Co. I rather enjoyed it, really appreciating its classic interplay between sour, sweet, and funky forces.

28: ROASTED BEETS | caviar ranch dressing a la Richard Blais
The meal then took on a more "American" inclination, beginning with a caviar-ranch concoction inspired by a recipe from Richard Blais's cookbook Try This at Home: Recipes from My Head to Your Plate. Of course, Quinn took the extra step to make his own ranch, and the results were promising. As regular readers will know, I generally abhor beets, but the dressing here actually made them palatable, moderating the vegetable's blunt sugariness with a blast of salty, creamy, blue-tinted goodness.

29: CITRUS GLAZED COUNTY LINE CARROTS | purée, pickled tartare
This is one for the carrot fiends out there. There was a lovely crunch here from the glazed presentation, but the key for me was the tartar, which showed off a pretty remarkable tanginess that managed to effectively counteract the sometimes overbearing sweetness in the vegetable.

30: WESTERN BACON CHEESEBURGER | hold the bacon cheeseburger
Imagine a Western Bacon Cheeseburger from Carl's Jr (I'm sure we've all tried it at one point in our lives); now take away the beef, bacon, bun, and even the cheese. What you're left with is something that does a pretty remarkable job of mimicking the flavor profiles of the original burger.

31: UNICORN | bread, raw, roasted, pudding, hokkaido
We ended the savory section of the meal with a commixture of raw and roasted corn and cornbread, set against an enveloping dressing featuring Hokkaido uni. The corn really was the star of the show here, putting forth a sweetness that sort of melded along with the flavors of the sea urchin. Nice textures from the bread, too.

Our "cheese" course comprised a convincing preparation made from 90% coconut. Texturally, it was pretty much spot on, and taste-wise, it wasn't far off either, really conveying the flavors of cheese, but with a marked coconut-y undertone.

Quinn mentioned that one of his favorite cocktails is this here cobbler, and I can see why. It's a straightforward marriage of Amaro Montenegro, lemon, and simple syrup that somehow manages to be more than the sum of its parts. I just loved the aromatic, herb-y qualities in the drink, and how that worked against the sweet-n-sour nuances present.

34: BEET CHEESECAKE AMUSE | salt roasted beets, Granny Smith vinaigrette, cream cheese curd, pine nuts
Somehow, I managed to forget to snap a pic of this course (it happens on rare occasion), but you can see a photo of it here from Andy Gavin's report on IO. That's a shame, though, as I thoroughly enjoyed it. The lactic tanginess of the cream cheese was spot on, serving as a fantastic counterweight to the heft of the beet, all while the pine nuts added a delightful crunch to the dish. Just a great, well-integrated little bite.

35: CARROT AND CITRUS | Valencia orange cake, carrot and ginger marshmallow sorbet, candied walnuts
Here, we're talking the bold, spicy zing of ginger paired with the sweetness of carrot, all over a lovely base of citrus cake, with the walnut acting as an interesting focal point to boot. Fun, and a surprise to the palate.

36: CHOCOLATE AND REPURPOSED COFFEE | Bittersweet cremeux, coffee cream, chocolate-almond shortbread
We then began an exploration of the various faces of coffee. Here, coffee grounds were mixed with a cream sauce, making for a bittersweet counterpoint to the classically chocolate-y flavors at play.

Next, whole coffee beans (sourced from Portola Coffee Lab if I recall) were steamed for over two hours in the restaurant's combi oven. The result was a coffee experience unlike any other I've had, with an herbaceous, almost tea-like quality to the liquid that nonetheless conveyed the quintessence of the bean. Very cool.

Finally, we were given ground coffee steeped in Amaro Averna. In this case, the taste of coffee was front and center, keenly complemented by the sweet, viscous liqueur.

39: LEMON AND FENNEL REFRESHER | frozen lemon mousse, dehydrated lemon meringue, pickled baby fennel
Our last plate perked up the palate with its zesty blend of fennel and lemon...

40: GOOD NIGHT | Beni di Batasiolo. Barolo Chinato
...Thus clearing the way for this 100% Nebbiolo Barolo Chinato, a perfect digestif and after dinner sipper with its minty, herbaceous, spicy facets.

I've Got Friends in Low Places I've Got Friends in Low Places I've Got Friends in Low Places I've Got Friends in Low Places
This time around, we were given a printed menu at the conclusion of the dinner (a welcomed addition). Click for larger versions.

Quinn and his team once again delivered a standout episode of kitchen theater, melding modernity with tradition, highlighting ingredients in their best possible light while taking us on a trip to Mexico, Japan, Spain, Italy, and back. It was eye opening at times to see how some of the produce tonight was utilized and presented, and the overall experience tended toward fun, flippant, and facetious, yet was underscored by some serious cooking. I said it before and I'll say it again: this place needs to be on your culinary radar.