Sunday, June 27, 2010

5-course market menu at Providence

Back in May I got a tip that Providence was going to offer its 5-course prix fixe menu for a special price of $65 during the month of June to celebrate the restaurant's 5-year anniversary. The 5-course prix fixe is normally $85 and so the $20 savings was enough to entice me to finally give this place a try. This is an incredible deal for restaurant that was awarded not one but two Michelin stars last year. Top Chef Masters alum Michael Cimarusti leads the kitchen and is co-owner of the restaurant with Italian-born Donato Poto as the other co-owner. Chef Cimarusti's culinary focus is on serving wild seafood in its purest form, a fact which is definitely noted in the menu with nearly 70% of the items coming from the ocean. Chef Cimarusti worked in several New York kitchens before coming to LA and landing a job as chef de cuisine at Hollywood's Spago. He then jumped across town to Water Grill in downtown LA where was the executive chef.

I pulled up to the restaurant on a Monday night and met with 5 friends. I made our reservation for Monday night because I wanted to take advantage of free corkage on Mondays. With the special prix fixe price and the free corkage I felt like I was stacking discounts or coupons; there's nothing wrong with saving a little money!

Free corkage on Mondays saves you $30 per bottle of wine. Knowing that, we brought in a total of 5 wines and ended up finishing 4 of them by night's end. I brought in the Pacific Rim Riesling, a very dry dessert wine which we started our dinner with, and the Cirque Du Vin, a blended light-bodied red wine from Peachy Canyon vineyards, my favorite winery in Paso Robles. The free corkage does not apply to beers, a fact which I confirmed with the management, so it wouldn't be wise to show up with a 750ml bottle of Chimay Blue.

Our sommelier was incredibly helpful in deciphering our wines and decided for us how to pair them with the 5-course prix fixe. He even tasted our two Reislings to see if one was dry enough to pair with the amuse, and then proceeded to pour the Pacific Rim for each of us. Shortly after, bread is served and our amuse bouche arrives.

Bread service. Focaccia was supple, warm, very earthy in taste. The bacon roll was buttery, savory, and packed with crunchy bacon pieces. Our bread server came by several times throughout the night to replenish our stock; I think I consumed four or five of those bacon rolls.

Salt and butter. Very coarse salt and delicious, velvety butter did wonders to complement the fantastic bread selection. Buttering the bacon roll practically made for a complete meal on its own.

Amuse bouche - gin and tonic, mojito, yellowtail sashimi. The two "cocktails" on the left were very interesting in flavor and texture, like having a sip of a drink in gel form.

Mojito sphere (from amuse bouche). Refreshing and slightly bitter with a subtle lime presence. A fantastic way to cleanse the palate.

Yellowtail sashimi with crème fraîche, salmon roe (from amuse bouche). Gorgeous presentation with the gold leaf on top. Bright flavors from the sashimi held up to the salmon roe and creme fraiche.

Japanese kanpachi, crispy rice crackers, coriander, soy crème fraîche. First course. Kanpachi tasted fresher than most I've had at sushi restaurants. The rice cracker added texture. I loved the presentation with the dark stoneware to contrast the bright pieces of kanpachi. A few sprigs of coriander add visual interest. So simple and yet so elegant.

Santa Barbara spot prawns being prepared table-side. After hearing my friend Daniel rave about Providence's spot prawn dish, we couldn't help but to order these for the table. They're served as an order of 5, but Providence served us 6 so we could each have one. They're cooked under a layer of salt, then unearthed and prepared at your table. It's a somewhat entertaining process and I found myself to be quite immersed in the whole event. Many other tables were ordering the spot prawns.

Salt roasted Santa Barbara spot prawns, served with Spanish olive oil and lemon. The spot prawns presented for us, head and tail portions separated. I don't need to tell you this but the head is the best part :). A few of my friends didn't care for the heads so I was rewarded with eating an extra 2 heads. (OK insert jokes here)

Hokkaido scallop, Japanese eggplant, ramps, reduction of vadouvan and sauternes. Second course. A lone scallop sits on a reduction sauce. The scallop was very good, very fresh tasting, and cooked beautifully with a nice sear on the outside.

Wild Alaskan halibut, smoked paprika, weiser farms potatoes, grilled octopus. Third course. Presentation earns a 10 with the sauce, the halibut, and the little flower all stacked perfectly in the center of the plate, but the fish was overcooked and somewhat dry. The potatoes were creamy and delicious, but ultimately it was the dryness of the halibut that stood out the most :(. Another person at our table had the same impression of the fish, noting its dryness.

Marcho farms veal tenderloin, sweet peas, bacon, almond, and morel mushrooms. Fourth course. Delicious filet of veal tenderloin was cooked to a perfect medium rare and served with earthy, meaty morels. Everything worked well with this hearty dish--the juicy meat, the peas, the bacon, and of course the mushrooms. This had comfort food written all over it, and it turned out to be my favorite dish of the evening.

Yuzu curd, meringue, blackberry sorbet, jasmine. Fifth and final course was this dessert plate with curd, meringues, and sorbet. I was impressed with artful and precise plating, but unfortunately none of the components were particularly memorable. Don't get me wrong, this was a fine dessert, but I was expecting to be blown away by a dessert offering from a Michelin 2-star restaurant, even if was part of their lowest-priced prix fixe. The curd was nice and slightly firm, and the sorbet was fruity and, well, sorbet. I quite liked the meringues, however, and found myself scooping the berry sauce with meringue pieces.

Mignardises - macarons, salty sweet caramel, hazlenut ball. These were provided at the end of our meal. The macarons were good but not great as the shells were a bit soggy. The hazelnut balls had nice textures, but by far the best was the salty sweet caramels.

Overall I enjoyed the prix fixe menu, especially the veal tenderloin and the kanpachi sashimi, and I thought this was indeed an excellent value considering the quality and presentation. The service was outstanding at every level, with our server being very helpful and courteous. For each course, all six of our dishes were brought out at the same time by multiple servers while our main server gave us the dish's description. Our incredibly helpful sommelier completed the overall wonderful experience by pairing our wines and keeping our glass filled at all times.

Providence is offering this $65 special for the month of June, so if you're reading this and you can make it out sometime in the next few days, then by all means make a reservation to experience chef Cimarusti's cooking at a special price.

5955 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038

Friday, June 25, 2010

Hatchi series with Walter Manzke

Since it opened about two and a half years ago in downtown Los Angeles, Church & State has been a wildly popular restaurant and a favorite among the food critics. The French bistro has been blogged by many and reviewed by many esteemed critics, including LA Times' S. Irene Virbila, who gave the restaurant three stars. Up until a few months ago the kitchen was lead by chef Walter Manzke, but he recently departed Church & State to launch a restaurant of his very own, which is expected to see the light of day in early 2011. I never got to try Church & State and I regret that fact, especially since many of my food-obsessed friends have all raved about his food. So when I heard chef Manzke was making a guest appearance at BreadBar's monthly Hatchi series, I made absolutely made sure to secure my reservation for this one-time event.

I arrive promptly for my 7:30 spot which I booked more than two months ago, and met up with three friends. This event turned out to be quite the blogger fest as I immediately spotted several people armed with cameras. Fellow blogger weezermonkey was right in front of me as I waited for the hostess to seat us. Moments later we're led to a corner table inside the main dining room. We had already previewed the 8-dish menu online and so it was an easy decision to simply order two of everything. Yes 16 total dishes for the four of us--but keep in mind these are smaller plates, so that justifies our gluttony, right? The theme for tonight was Around the World in Eight Dishes, with each of the eight dishes representing a different country's cuisine.

The menu also boasted three special cocktails for the evening, all of which looked very good. I decided to pass, though, as my friend brought a very special bottle of Hewitt Cabernet Sauvignon from her friend's private wine collection. Our server promptly corked it and poured each of us a glass. This particular wine started out on a sour note with strong and overpowering tannins, but as time passed, the wine aired out allowing the tannins to subside and the fruitiness to shine. (Linda, if you're reading this, I want a bottle!).

As I mentioned already, we asked for two of each plate, and we also requested a demi baguette with the foie gras butter. Unfortunately the demi and the amuse bouche came out after our first course; apparently we weren't the only ones receiving items out of place as several other bloggers reported inconsistency with pacing and ordering. Nonetheless, here are the eats.

Mexico: Yellowtail ceviche, jalapeno, tomatillo sorbet. This was a simple and elegant presentation to start off the night, and I must say it came out rather quickly from when we placed the order. I enjoyed the fresh, ocean-like taste from the yellowtail and it paired nicely with the sorbet. The lukewarm temperature of the fish was slightly distracting and I would have preferred it to be much colder.

BreadBar epi. Our bread service showed up after the first course, but I won't complain because it was extremely good. In my opinion, which I know all 3 of my readers value, BreadBar makes the best bread in Los Angeles and this epi was no exception. Crusty on the outside and soft on the inside, the epi was warm and full of aroma. I had asked for foie gras butter, but instead we received the French Echire butter (thank you KevinEats for spotting that) which was too cold to be easily spread but then quickly melted once shoved inside a hand-torn piece of warm epi.

Amuse bouche. Our server couldn't quite explain what this was and so I can't recite much more detail other than saying it was a shrimp skewer with a shot of some type of "ceviche" sauce. The shrimp was tasty and cooked nicely, but the shot was uninspiring. It was also served warm and I think the taste would have been much more effectual had the shot been served ice cold.

Thailand: White corn curry soup, mussels, coconut tapioca. The black mussels were good on their own but I found them to be competing heavily with the curry soup, which was slightly dominating in taste with a strong corn flavor. The soup was also a bit runny; overall I'm not sure this pairing worked well.

Spain: Santa Barbara spot prawn, garlic, sherry. Moving on to our next course and it's a good one. I recently experienced the amazing spot prawns at Providence a few weeks ago (that review coming soon) and these prawns were about as good, albeit at a much lower price. They were cooked beautifully and seasoned just enough to heighten the taste. I consumed these quickly, head to tail, even taking in some of the antennae. Delicious.

Italy: English pea ravioli, soft egg, Parmesan. Softly cooked ravioli were filled with a mild pea puree, then topped with Parmesan shavings and served with a soft-cooked egg. The ravioli on their own were slightly monotonous in taste, but breaking the egg and mixing the yolk with the ravioli made for a very creamy and savory mouthful, with the Parmesan adding a hint of saltiness and texture. Very nice.

With the egg broken.

Vietnam: “Banh Mi” pig’s feet sliders. These were a huge hit with the table and for good reasons. The deep-fried pigs feet were delicious and very comforting, and the bun was soft and warm with a toasted underside. The bun-to-meat ratio was absolutely text book; with so many sliders I've had these days, the bun simply dominates the meat and condiments. Not so with these.

France: Tarte flambe, caramelized onion, bacon, gruyere. Our last savory course. Firstly, why is only half of the tart covered with bacon? I'm wondering if we got another person's order who had asked for half of the tart to be bacon-less? In any case, the tart was thin, crispy, and loaded with caramelized onion and gruyere. Crispy pieces of bacon added smokiness and texture--and more fat--to the pieces that were lucky enough to be dressed with said pork fat. Yum.

Philippines: Leche flan, pandan, coconut sorbet. My favorite dish of the night was this leche flan with coconut sorbet. Unlike so many other flans that I've had that were dense with a jello-like consistency, this one was soft and creamy, with a texture similar to softened butter. I loved how the milkiness was so present in each bite, and with the sugary pandan I felt as if I was eating a tres leches-like dessert. The coconut sorbet was refreshing and helped tame the overall sweetness.

Japan: Chocolate fondant, Bing cherries, black sesame ice cream, green tea. The last dish of the night and it was very unremarkable. I'm not sure what the chocolate fondant was meant to look or taste like, but it showed up looking burnt with a taste that was chewy and overcooked. I could taste very little of black sesame in the ice cream, probably because of the dominating burnt taste from the fondant. The shot of green tea was interesting in texture but far too mild in taste.

That final dish concluded our dinner and while there were some definite hits and misses with the outing, I'm absolutely looking forward to Walter Manzke's new restaurant, wherever that may be. Our server was attentive and kept our water glasses topped off, but again the dishes were out of order and we almost didn't get our amuse bouche. In fact we weren't even aware of an amuse bouche until our server asked if we had received it. Other bloggers complained they never received it, and one person mentioned that some of the dishes were running out too quickly. Others will agree with me that the service issues are mostly due to the ill-prepared staff at BreadBar; they are probably not accustomed to handling a pop-up like the one last night. Service issues aside, I've now become a fan of chef Manzke's cooking and I'm certain his new restaurant will be just as successful as Church & State.

10250 Santa Monica Boulevard
Los Angeles CA 90067

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Last week my cousin-in-law Holly came to stay with us for a week as she was trekking her way back from a semester abroad in Sydney to home-sweet-home in Toronto. During her stay, jet-setter Holly asked if we could venture out for some fine French fare. Well she certainly picked the right city in which to make that request! Let's see, we have Anisette, Comme Ca, Petrossian, Church and State, Bouchon, La Provence, La Cachette Bistro...we Angelinos are so fortunate to have such great options when it comes to French dining. I'll admit it took me a few moments to narrow my choices to a few selections, and in the end I went with Anisette for a variety of reasons. It's close to our house, and I've been there for brunch and totally fell in love with the food and the scene. Plus, I had a GroupOn offer in my back pocket :). So off to Anisette we go on our Friday night out on the town.

We arrive promptly for our 7:30pm reservation and as expected the place is packed, loud, and lively. We're quickly led to our table on the second floor, overlooking the main dining room. Nice.

The restaurant is housed in a former bank building with a decor that is distinctly brasserie: mosaic tiled floors, aged wooden fixtures, a zinc bar, and antique mirrors. Look up and you'll see the intricately detailed pressed-tin ceiling. Helming the kitchen is Parisian-born Alain Giraud, a four-star general in the culinary sense. Named Bon Appetit's chef of the year in 2003, chef Giraud is no stranger to the LA dining scene. In 2002 he opened Bastide on Melrose Avenue, a restaurant which earned a 4-star LA Times review, and prior to this he opened restaurant Lavande in the Santa Monica Beach Hotel. Lavande commanded high praise from from the critics, including Best New Restaurant by Esquire and Los Angeles magazines. Going back even further in his career, chef Giraud spent time at various Michelin-starred dining rooms in France, most notably l'Ermitage Meissonnier in Avignon and Grand Vefour in Paris

Anisette's menu boasts a variety of familiar French dishes, from onion soup to steak tartare to duck confit. The restaurant is currently offering a special Provence pre fixe menu. A reasonable $38 gets you a first course of ratatouille, a second course of either grilled lamb or bouillabaisse, and a dessert. This pre fixe seemed like a great deal since ordering the three dishes separately would amount to $46 to $48, so naturally I went with this.

Vegetable ratatouille terrine, basil emulsion. My first course of the pre fixe was this interesting take on a traditional French Provencal stewed vegetable dish. Shaped like a terrine but certainly void of any meat, this ratatouille was a bit underwhelming in terms of flavor and texture. I was expecting crispier and more pronounced components within the terrine, but instead the vegetables were slightly mushy and I had a challenging time discerning the different varieties. A creamy basil emulsion added an earthy and softly acidic flavor to the ratatouille. I also enjoyed the lightly dressed frisee and black olives, though in the end I would rather see more effort put in to the terrine itself.

Pan roasted sea bass, ratatouille, pistou. I loved the presentation with the wide slab of sea bass draped over the ratatouille, and an arc of pistou (a garlic and basil sauce) along the lower edge. The buttery sea bass was delicious with a slightly flaky texture and a crispy skin that was cooked to spotless perfection. Bright flavors from the pistou paired well with the mild fish and wasn't overpowering. This was my wife's dish and it was actually my first choice, but when she ordered it I decided to go for my backup (one of my rules when eating out!)

Steak au poivre with fingerling potatoes, seasonal vegetables, sauce au poivre. The outside of the steak was nicely seasoned and charred, and the inside was perfectly
cooked to medium rare. I tried a few pieces and found the steak to be quite delicious and juicy, but it was slightly chewy. Using prime aged beef would have certainly helped but of course that would have elevated the price to CUT or Mastro's levels. Nonetheless the steak was very good and Holly cleared her plate. End of story.

Bouillabaisse with safron broth, rockfish, rouille. My second course and it was outstanding on every level. Let's start with the rich, deeply flavored broth which tasted as if it had been simmering for days if not weeks. Generous servings of clams, rockfish and massive shell-on shrimp of the fork-and-knife variety kept me busy poking and peeling and chewing for quite some time. Slurping the intense broth with large bites of the fresh seafood virtually eradicated all unpleasant memories of the lackluster ratatouille. On its own the bouillabaisse is listed at $27 on the ala carte menu and believe me it's worth every penny.

We're finished with our mains and now it's on to desserts (as if we're going to pass up desserts in a French restaurant) The Provence pre fixe offered a dessert course of either fromage with dried fruit bread or a cherry almond tart. I had been in the mood for a savory cheese plate so the fromage was my first choice, but when Holly summoned the waiter for a cherry almond tart of her own, I decided to swap the cheese for the tart and then have her order Anisette's famed lavender ice cream. You've got to love eating out with other foodies =).

Lavender ice cream, strawberries, creme chantilly. Anisette regulars know of the restaurant's epic lavender ice cream but this was my first time experiencing this, and it certainly won't be my last. Intense, fragrant lavender really came through in the soft-serve style ice cream. Creme chantilly added a bit of over-indulgence while the fresh strawberries helped to tame the whole experience. Delicious to the last scoop.

Cherry and almond tart with balsamic ice cream. As much as I loved the lavender ice cream, I loved this tart even more. Bittersweet cherries paired so effortlessly with the sweet almond tart shell and the silky balsamic ice cream. I've been making tarts at home for the past few months, experimenting with different crusts and sweet fillings, but Anisette's pastry chef has taken me to school with this one.

Those two desserts put me at the tipping point in terms of fullness and I left extremely satisfied, especially after scooping the last few bites of the cherry tart (quite honestly one of the best restaurant desserts I've ever had). Our server was prompt, courteous, and not overbearing; I could see him quickly jaunting from table to table but he never appeared to be hurried whenever he tended to our table. Our dishes came out quickly with just the right about of time between my first course and the mains, and our water glasses were topped off frequently. The restaurant was probably at capacity when we arrived and when we left and so reservations are likely a must on Friday and Saturday nights. Also, the bustling scene combined with gratuitous amounts of metal and wood furnishings made us raise our conversational voices ever so slightly, but we didn't seem to mind. Overall, I can easily recommend Anisette as an excellent choice for authentic French in the Santa Monica area.

225 Santa Monica Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90401