Monday, October 25, 2010

The California Roll burger at 26 Beach

Recently I had the pleasure of devouring the colossal California Roll burger from 26 Beach in Venice. This ninth wonder of the foodverse came loaded with avocado, real crab meat, ginger, wasabi mayo, lettuce, tomato, an Angus 1/2lb patty, and is served with thick-cut fries which were like chunkier versions of In and Out's fries.

When this behemoth landed in front of me, I wanted to pick it up and just go all out Man vs. Food on this thing, eating it with no regard to burger spillage or, um, personal appearance. So as to not embarrass myself in front of my coworkers (or least keep it to a minimum), I cut it in half, then cut one half in two and repositioned the skewer to keep the other half in tact while leaning the other cut quarter against the skewered half to keep this leaning tower of burger from becoming a Hindenburg. I then grabbed a quarter of the California Roll burger and compressed it just enough so I could get my jaws around it, and guess what? It worked and I was able to get all of the flavors and textures with a well placed chomp.

The mingling of flavors of beef and crab and mayo and bun was something I had never experienced before with any meal. The deep beefiness of the Angus patty--cooked to a perfect medium rare--was counteracted by the creaminess from the crab and wasabi mayo mixture. Heat from the wasabi lingered for a bit but the avocado made for a cool finish to each bite. Expansive sheets of ginger added an interesting, snappy texture, while the house-made, pillowy soft bun did its best to bookend the ingredients. See that layer of lettuce and tomato on the first level? The 26 Beach chefs placed those there so as to provide a level foundation for the massive quantities of protein resting on the higher levels. And sure a few bundles of crab sneaked out during mid-chomp, but I was quick to shovel them back in to the burger with the provided eating utensils. Within ten minutes or so, this burger was out of sight and in my belly. A messy albeit delicious lunch experience.

So how much for this pylon of fusion goodness? 26 Beach charges a very fair $19 with fries, which for me was well worth the experience of consuming a burger topped with basically a California roll. My coworker ordered the Texas Burger with chili and said it was good but that the chili needed more spice, and another coworker ordered the Kobe burger and gave it high praise.

Do yourself a favor and head over to 26 Beach to try a truly unique burger. Just don’t try this on a first date; I mean at least wait until the third date.

26 Beach
3100 Washington Blvd
Venice, CA 90291

Friday, October 22, 2010

DineLA at The Foundry on Melrose

The DineLA event may have already passed but I was able to sneak in a few weeknight outings to take advantage of the special deals being offered by many of LA's finest restaurants. One such restaurant, The Foundry on Melrose, had been on my radar for some time, especially after seeing its chef and owner, Eric Greenspan, compete on Food Network's The Next Iron Chef. He may have lost--eliminated during the first round in fact--but that certainly didn't distract me from recognizing his many achievements in the culinary arena. From being executive chef at Patina to working alongside super-star chefs David Bouley and Ferran Adria, chef Greenspan has certainly established an esteemed reputation for himself.

For the DineLA event, his restaurant The Foundy on Melrose was offering a fantastic 3-course dinner for $44 and that included a complimentary mid-course, essentially making this a 4-course meal. I quickly made a reservation and summoned a few friends to partake in this deal with me.

We arrive to a packed scene on a brisk Thursday night and took our seats across from the quaint bar. All of us were prepared to order from the DineLA menu, which listed several options for each of its four courses. The full regular menu was available as well and I was tempted to supplement our meal with some of chef Greenspan's famous short-rib grilled cheese sandwiches. Maybe next time.

We placed our orders and then proceeded with satisfying our thirst with some BYOB wines.

My friend has been sourcing some excellent wines lately for our dinners, such as the 2007 Caymus at The Gorbals. Tonight she brought a wonderfully crisp 2004 Hewitt Cabernet Sauvignon, a well balanced wine that played nicely with our savory dishes. It was easy on the palate with light tannins but presented just enough enough complexity to hold your interest even after several pours. Not only was the corkage service very professional, it was free, making our DineLA dinner all the more sweeter.

Amuse bouche. I couldn't hear our server as he explained this dish, but it tasted like a puff pastry with a tomato sauce topping. These were quite small--even for an amuse bouche--but they were tasty nonetheless.

For my first course I opted for the Albacore Tartare with sunchokes, grapefruit, soy. The albacore has a slightly fishy taste to it but the consistency was nice and creamy and I liked the pairing of the albacore with the salty soy and fresh grapefruit. This fusion of saltiness and bitterness helped to mask said fishiness and in the end I actually enjoyed the overall experience of this course.

My friend went for the Lobster Salad with mushrooms, lime, cilantro, coconut as her first course. Along with a beautiful presentation, all the flavors and textures worked well together. I especially enjoyed the fresh lobster and the sauce which helped to heighten the flavors from the vegetables. The lobster was cooked perfectly and delicious on its own.

Bread service of rosemary focaccia was brought to us during the first course... were these biscuits with soft butter.

I chose the Celery Root Risotto with orange, Gruyere cheese, celery as my mid-course. The risotto was delicious and its creaminess was balanced nicely by the orange sauce which had just a hint of acidity. I love Gruyere by itself but here it was slightly dominated by the heaviness of the risotto, though the cheese did add some interesting texture. This was was one of the better risottos I've had in any restaurant.

For her mid-course, my friend went with the Mustard Glazed Pork Belly with Brussels sprouts, candied quince, manchego. On paper this dish looks and sounds amazing, but the pork belly was, unfortunately, overcooked and tough and nowhere near that dreamy slab of pork belly I had at Park's or the maple-braised variety from Cube. Some relief came from the mustard glaze which was very creamy and seasoned nicely, though it wasn't enough to distract my attention from the dryness of the pork.

Diners have three options for the third course and I gave in to this Miso Honey Glazed Duck with pears, eggplant, red peppers. The duck was perfectly cooked and seasoned, and the eggplant and peppers added some great earthiness to the dish but, as you can see from the picture, there was very little meat compared to the amount of skin. And while I do relish in succulent fatty duck skin, I was hoping for a meatier presence from this dish.

Perhaps I should have went with my friend's dish, Beef Tenderloin with shallots, potatoes, bordelaise sauce. Of course I got to try a generous piece and this upscale meat-and-potatoes plate turned out to be my favorite dish of the night. The meat was expertly cooked and I loved that the sauce wasn't overpowering but rather complimentary to the juiciness of the tenderloin. Both the shallots and potatoes were nicely cooked and not mushy. A superb dish in every aspect.

For the dessert course we selected each of the three available desserts plus one that wasn't on the DineLA menu.

Apple Raisin Cobbler with marscarpone, honey ice cream. A great combination of textures with the crumb topping, tart apples, and soft ice cream. As the ice cream melted, the soupy mixture of melted ice cream and crunchy crumb toppings made for an explosion of comfort food goodness.

Lemon Meringue Pie lemon curd with lemon segments. Everyone's favorite dessert was this take on a traditional lemon meringue pie. The lemon curd was bright and full of flavor and the "crust" was very flavorful and crispy. Some caramelization on the meringue added a bit more interest and texture while the lemon pieces brought a slight acidity.

Peanut Butter Bread Pudding with peanut butter ice cream, grape sauce. As I'm a huge fan of bread puddings, I wanted so badly to fall in love with this dish but the bread pudding was a little dry and the taste was underwhelming in peanut flavor. The ice cream--house-made of course--was delicious by itself and made up for some of the pudding's dryness.

Roasted Strawberry Shortcake with vanilla whipped cream, lavender ice cream. This was our non-DineLA dessert and I really enjoyed the light, flaky cake and fresh strawberries. Carving out a chunk of shortcake with a spoonful of strawberries and vanilla ice cream was a bit of challenge, but the resulting taste was worth the careful process. I cleaned this plate in short order.

And with that tasty shortcake dessert our DineLA dinner is complete. Overall I felt that this was a good meal and about what I was expecting from this establishment. Sure, the pork belly could have been more flavorful and the duck less fatty, but the excellent risotto and tenderloin made up for those shortcomings. Throw in the free corkage (and the excellent Hewitt Cabernet Sauvignon) and a solid dessert showing, and you have yourself a satisfying dining experience.

As we wrapped up our dinner service, chef Eric Greenspan stopped by chat with us and even posed in a group picture.

Good times indeed. My other DineLA outing was a gastronomical feast at Craft which left everyone in awe. I don't have many pictures from that dinner as I was too busy relishing in the night's activities, but I do plan to return to Craft very soon for their tasting menu.

The Foundry on Melrose
7465 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036