Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Imagine entering the sushi bar where all is quiet after leaving the noise of the street behind. Where a sushi master is waiting to prepare a meal for you from the freshest fish. A private restaurant that is yours for the night. The chef sending out dish after dish of pristine fish as you sit in front of him and happily eat, with the whole restaurant dedicated to you. That is what I experienced on Monday night. Did I buy this meal at a benefit? Was I dining at Urusawa? No, I walked in off the street at Kiyokawa and had the rare luxury of literally having the talented chef and restaurant at my disposal as there were no other customers. Chef Sato (above) created a wonderful shellfish-free meal that I will be thinking about for some time.
Following some miso soup, which was served in a cup, the meal began with four kinds of sushi. Each one was lightly sauced by Chef Sato, so no additional soy sauce was needed. The halibut (top left) was particularly noteworthy. The journey had begun and I knew I was in capable hands.
Dramatically presented on a plate with a Spanish Mackerel were five pieces of sushi, including one with caviar and gold, onion with cooked onions (middle right) and two with freshly grated wasabi. Sato spoke about the importance of using all ingredients of high quality - why put commercial wasabi paste on pristine fish? So the rice was at just the right temperature and he uses a sharkskin grater to make fresh wasabi paste for his sushi. The Spanish Mackerel was only exceeded by the yellowtail.
The nigiri portion of the meal concluded with toro and salmon belly sushi. The toro was unctuous and had that melt in your mouth quality that comes from its sheer fattiness. The wasabi enriched the marbled fish and brought out more of the deep flavor and wonderful mouthfeel. The salmon did not dissapoint either, although the toro was more exceptional.
I had asked for ikura as part of my meal and so at this point in my meal I was presented with a small bowl of salmon roe on top of a bed of rice. The salmon roe had been marinated for over six hours in soy sauce and several other ingredients in the chef's secret recipe and each egg had the great pop you get from the best roe. When I was done, there was not a grain of rice or an egg of roe left in the small bowl. I could have eaten a large bowl of this ikura don.
I added in a foie gras course, having noticed it on the menu when I came in. The foie was pan cooked and then draped over rice, nigiri style, and wrapped with a small piece of nori. Thinly sliced black truffle completed the dish. This was rich and sweet, a luxurious dessert.
The final savory component of the meal was a negitoro handroll, chopped up toro with scallions and rice wrapped up in seaweed. Much preferable to an ice cream cone. This course was surprisingly just ok, not as amazing as the previous.
The final course of the evening was dessert: yuzu sorbet. The sorbet was presented in a champagne flute, and the acidity of the yuzu was a pleasant way to conclude the meal. It was hard to leave after such a luxurious and delicious meal. Chef Sato was gracious during the meal, happily speaking about the fish, the restaurant and his philosophy. This was omakase tailored to the customer, not the assembly line style that so many sushi restaurants in LA, even highly regarded ones have. Those spots give everyone the same thing, most commonly ending with a blue crab hand roll. Here not only was ikura built into my meal, and shellfish left out, but my reactions to the individual fish determined the next course's contents. Also, the chef was personable, and felt no need to play the brusque sushi master "role" so often see in Los Angeles.
Having the restaurant to myself was an unexpected delight not likely to be repeated, although I know I will be back soon for another meal at the sushi bar, even if I have to share the restaurant (and the chef) with other customers. I reluctantly relinquished my seat at the bar and stepped out into the night, full, happy and relaxed.
Kiyokawa: 265 S. Robertson, just South of Wilshire, Beverly Hills. Phone: (310) 358-1900. Website: www.kiyokawarestaurant.com
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
SmithHouse Tap & Grill opened last week in Century City on the ground floor of an office building on Santa Monica off of Beverly Glen that has seen several restaurants fail in the space. This time the curse appears to have been vanquished as the restaurant has been packed with neighborhood office workers and residents excited for a casual restaurant with over one hundred beers on tap. It wouldn't be an opening these days without a celebrity chef's involvement, so at SmithHouse the food menu was created by Angelo Sosa of Top Chef fame.
Not content to only bring on a celebrity chef, the SmithHouse team also brought in an A-List mixology team to create the cocktail menu. Jason Bran and Damian Windsor of the Roger Room on La Cienega and Simon Ford, the London-based global brand ambassador for Pernod-Ricard collaborated on the list of eight signature cocktails and six classics. Full cocktail list at the bottom of this post.
The Bitter Lady (above) is a take on the White Lady (a gin Sidecar) but with Campari instead of Cointreau. This gives this lady her bitter monicker. The Plymouth Gin, Campari, lemon juice, honey and egg white are shaken vigourously and then poured into a martini glass and garnished with a lemon peel. The sour cocktail was delicious and has some bite; an excellent way to begin a visit to SmithHouse.
The menu is bar food with some Asian influences, befitting Sosa's Asian accented style of cuisine. The menu is casual and is divided into appetizers, salads, sandwiches, burgers, entrees and sides. I tried the Let's Wing-ette, Sosa's take on chicken wings with a "Red-hot glaze" that are served with celery and are "cooled with Asian ranch" dressing streaked on the bowl. The wings ($9) were substantial but not especially spicy. Tasty and a good introduction to the menu.
The signature element of SmithHouse is the extensive beer on tap selection, approximately 120, which are kept in six temperature controlled zones and served in appropriate glassware. The beer program also includes five beer flights. Each flight is $10 and contains a selection of five different beers. The flights are The Fruit Basket, Belgian Flight, California Flight, Eastside Flight, and the European Flight. I sampled the Belgian Flight, pictured above, which consisted of Timmerman’s Strawberry Lambic, Blanche De Bruxelles, Unibroue Maudite, Allagash Curieux and St. Bernardus Apt. 12. The pours are generous and it is a fun way to get to sample a variety of beers at a fair price.
The beer list runs the gamut, because with 120 beers, they are not going to all be beer-geek obscurities. The list contains mass market crowd-pleasers such as Pabst, Pacifico and Stella, major US microbrews such as Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada, as well as a wide selection of craft imports such as Delirium Tremens from Belgium and American craft beers like Ommegang's Hennepin Saison, Racer 5 and Stone Sublimely Self Righteous Ale.
The SmithHouse Burger (above) is made with Vintage Blend beef and a bone marrow and parmesan crust. The burger ($14) was prepared medium rare, as asked, and was served with pickles on the side and a large bag of herb and parmesan dusted french fries (below). The burger came with lettuce and a healthy amount of dressing, so much so that when I took a bite a lot of liquid landed on my plate. This is a burger that certainly requires a napkin.
The beer list is extensive enough to find something appealing for a wide spectrum of beer lovers or novices. There are even five custom booths (like at City Tavern in Culver City) that have a selection of beer on tap right at the table. That is a fun innovation that is great for groups.
SmithHouse is basically upscale bar food in a comfortable environment with a way better beer and cocktail selection than you would ever expect in a place with a dozen flat screen TVs showing sports. It's less of a culinary destination than a cheerful and easygoing spot to relax and enjoy a drink with friends. If you are looking to see Sosa's culinary wizardry, than neither this nor the Malibu Inn (Sosa's other local consulting gig) will give you that experience. The prices are fair, the beer selection is unlike anything else on the Westside, and its convenient location is likely to keep it busy. If Verdugo Bar and Houston's had a love child and hired Space Craft to design a home, this might be it.
On the evening I visited the cocktail I ordered was the first one my bartender had made all night, which isn't surprising considering the beer focus of the establishment. The cocktail program has been designed by some of the best in the business, so it is worth exploring.
Signature Cocktails by Jason Bran, Damian Windsor & Simon Ford:
pimm's no.1, citrus tea, lemon grass
zacapa rum, lemon, orange, vanilla, passion fruit
don julio blanco, jalapeño sauce, cucumber, lime, salt
tanqueray gin, lime, grapefruit, honey, soda
Black N' Bulleit
bulleit bourbon, cassis, blackberries, orange
absolut orient apple vodka, apple juice, lime, cinnamon
The Bitter Lady
plymouth gin, campari, lemon, honey, egg white
absolut wild tea vodka, cantaloupe, lime
bombay dry gin, maraschino, crème yvette, lemon
plymouth gin, champagne, lemon
hennessy vs cognac, cointreau, lemon
absolut vodka, ginger beer, lime juice
bulleit rye, carpano antica, angostura bitters
bulleit bourbon, angostura bitters
SmithHouse: 10351 Santa Monica Blvd. at Beverly Glen, Century City, Phone: (310) 432-4360 Website: www.smithhousela.com
Monday, August 29, 2011
Fōnuts are here! That seemed to be the prevailing sentiment this week as fans of pastry chef Waylynn Lucas flocked to her new doughnut emporium and bought everything in sight leaving the shelves bare. The concept from Lucas and her partner Nancy Truman is doughnuts that are baked not fried. Lucas, who established a reputation as one of the premier pastry chefs in Los Angeles as the head pastry chef at the 4 starred The Bazaar by Jose Andres, the whole SLS hotel and 4 star Patina Restaurant, is finally her own boss.
Lucas (above) and Truman not only bake their doughnuts fresh daily but offer a variety of flavors that are gluten-free. Lucas mentioned that Truman can't eat gluten and so they sought to offer baked goods that were just as good as ones containing gluten. The flavors are not your ordinary corner doughnut shop but rather both sweet and savory and use natural ingredients. Sweet options such as Chocolate Hazelnut, Lemon, Strawberry, and Rum, are joined by savory selections such as Rosemary Olive Oil, Maple Bacon and Chorizo Cheddar. The doughnuts are priced between $2.75 and $3.75, which is not your corner doughnut shop pricing either.
I sampled the rum, strawberry and chocolate hazelnut (all above) varieties. The important thing to note is that although they are in the shape of doughnuts, they are more like cakes, as Zach Brooks of MidtownLunch recently noted. The rum was my favorite as it reminded me of the Baba Au Rhum I once tasted at Alain Ducasse in New York, except not quite as boozy. The fōnuts are light, significantly lighter than typical "cake doughnuts". The strawberry practically oozed strawberry flavor.
If you are craving doughnuts, than I do not think that a fōnut will scratch that itch, as it is a faux doughnut, anymore than eggplant "caviar" will satisfy your urge for sturgeon roe. However, I think fōnuts should be judged as their own category of pastry, and as such have a solid niche in the pastry firmament of Los Angeles. The fōnuts are selling like hot cakes (pun intended) and the shop will be closed Monday & Tuesday to rebuild inventory and prepare for the onslaught of week 2. The shop also sells LaMill coffee, which is a significant added bonus.
Fōnuts: 8104 W. 3rd Street @ Crescent Heights, Mid City. Phone: (323) 592-3075. Website: www.fonuts.com
Sunday, August 28, 2011
The Manhattan Beach former home of Beaches has been completely remade into a new restaurant, bar and lounge called appropriately enough The Strand House, as it sits on the Strand at the intersection of Manhattan Beach Blvd. The chef is Travis Lorton, formerly of Gjelina, and Neal Fraser of Grace consulted on the menu. This is the second significant recent opening in the neighborhood, following the debut of David LeFevre's M.B. Post, perhaps leading to a renaissance in dining options for the South Bay.
As at M.B. Post, The Strand House has been popular from opening day; on my recent visit the wait for a table was an hour or more at prime time. The Strand House has multiple levels, including a lower level bar (pictured above) that was busy when I arrived and only got busier. During dinner (the dining room is above the bar floor), I noticed that the stairs leading to the bar now had a velvet rope and bouncer guarding the entrance. The restaurant is very loud, which lead to some amusement when a waitress commented to us how much quieter the dining room was than the bar downstairs.
|Braised Rabbit Gnocchi|
|Sauteed Tai Snapper|
|Hand Torn Pasta Rags|
|Roasted Brussels sprouts|
Until The Strand House team executes on its proffer I can't recommend the restaurant as it is all potential, no delivery. With a reported $10 million investment in opening it, I hope they decide what they want to be when they grow up.
This meal was hosted.
The Strand House: 117 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Manhattan Beach. Phone: (310) 545-7470. Website: http://www.thestrandhousemb.com/
Friday, August 26, 2011
|Kate Grutman & Julian Cox|
The Vampire Shark, (above) a tribute to bartenders Julian Wayser and Dave Fernie, is served on the rocks and is made with a sex wax tincture. The flavor of the aged rum comes through as does some sweetness from the Luxardo morlacco cherry.
The easiest sipper on the menu may be the Holland Daze (above) as it is well balanced, frothy and appealingly garnished with mint. The name is a play on the main ingredient Genever, as it comes from Holland and the "daze" that many visitors to Amsterdam experience in coffee houses as well as a take on the ever popular Hollandaise sauce.
Il Cavallo Bianco (above) is a crisp and aromatic cocktail that is made with a pineapple and thyme infused Bianco Vermouth. The name translates as "The White Horse." Infusions are a Grutman signature, so it is not surprising to see some on the menu. What was surprising was how well pineapple and thyme went with the rest of the ingredients. This is a subtle cocktail that should appeal to fans of a classic gin martini.
|The Bicycle Thief|
The Dude Abides #2 (above) is made with double barrel aged rum, double cream and espresso among other ingredients. The coffee flavor predominates and it is frothy like an egg cream.
The 5th Amendment is a smooth and boozy Bourbon, wine and Ramazzotti based cocktail that seems designed to lure in LushAngeles, perhaps the #1 fan of Ramazzotti in Los Angeles.
If you get one snack on their menu, I recommend the chickpea fritters as they are light, airy, and have just enough cheese. A squirt of lemon and you are in business as these addictive snacks will seem to disappear from your plate with alarming speed.
Sotto Cocktail Menu:
Il Cavallo Bianco
Reposado tequila, pineapple.thyme infused Bianco Vermouth, Cocchi Americano, grapefruit peel
The Bicycle Thief
Scotch, Holland Gin, Italian Vermouth, West Indian orange bitters
Rye whiskey, Applejack, brown sugar cube, orange bitters, flamed orange
Vampire Shark (Tribute to Wayser & Fernie)
5 year aged run, Luxardo Morlacco Cherry, Mr. Zoggs sex wax tincture
The 5th Amendment
Bourbon, Barolo Chinato, Ramazzotti, Angostura bitters, orange essence, cherry
English Gin, Campari, Punt e Mes, Carpano Antica, burnt orange
Life Is Beautiful
Dry Vermouth, Cocchi Americano, Benedictine, Absinthe, lemon twist
Amaro Daquiri: Fall Redux
Rhum, fresh lime, Averna, pimento dram
Grappa Don't Preach
Vodka, Grappa, fresh strawberry and nectarine, lemon, Aperol, Fresno chili tincture
Bourbon, fresh pressed apple, Clear Creek pear eau de vie, fresh lemon, cassia-infused honey, dehydrated apple chip
Genever, fresh lemon, pistachio orgeat, maraschino sambuca bitters
Blanco Tequila, fresh grapefruit, Campari, agave nectar, San Pellegrino Aranciata, salt
The Dude Abides #2
Double Barrel Aged Rum, Cynar, double cream, espresso, Bassano bitters, egg yolk
Use Your Illusion
Rye whiskey, Amaro Nonnino, fresh lime, Velvet Falernum, grapefruit essence, Peychaud's bitters
Smart and Fennel
London Dry Gin, fresh lemon, housemade bitter orange marmalade, fennel-scented egg, fennel frond
Sotto: 9575 West Pico Blvd, West LA. Phone: (310) 277-0210. Website: www.sottorestaurant.com
Down a quiet alley in Culver City the red neon cocktail sign is illuminated. A door is guarded by a gentleman who asks you for the password of the day to gain entry. An illicit gambling den? A house of ill repute? No, Seventy 7 is the latest cocktail bar to open in the style of the neo-speakeasy. The small space is decorated in 1920s style and the waitresses look like they could begin dancing the Charleston at any moment.
You can't recognize the space as the former home of Japanese diner Tokyo 77 as the newly installed decor erases all trace of the past to transport customers back to the dark ages of Prohibition when liquor could not be openly served. The bar itself has an excellent collection of spirits including Whistle Pig Rye, Yamazaki Whisky from Japan, and Hendrick's, Plymouth and Beefeater gins.
|Photo courtesy of Seventy 7|
The space is beautiful and its a cool vibe, so I'd go back and get an Old Fashioned or Manhattan and enjoy the Flapper Era ambiance. It feels a world away from Culver City.
Seventy 7: 3843 Main Street, Culver City, CA. Follow them on twitter for the daily password: @seventy7la
Seventy 7 Cocktail Menu:
Peter Piper ($14)
Hendrick's Gin, fresh dill, cucumber, pickle juice and creme fraiche garnished with cucumber and a baby gerkin pickle
East LA Cafe ($13)
Rum Chata, Pearl Coconut Vodka, rhubarb bitters sprinkled with cinnamon
Moulin Rouge ($15)
Lucid Absinthe, Plymouth Gin, muddled strawberries, passion fruit puree, simple syrup
Blind Pig ($12)
Shot of Pig's Nose 5 Year Old Blended Scotch Whiskey and a beer
Velvet Underground ($12)
Champagne, Velvet Falernum, Creme de Violette
Jack and the Beanstalk ($14)
Gentleman Jack, Carpano Antica Vermouth, muddled watermelon, vanilla bean syrup
Wodka Vodka, vanilla schnapps, Godiva chocolate liqueur, graham cracker crust and toasted baby marshmallows
Plaid Bikini ($13)
Michael Collins Irish Whiskey, Pages Elderflower syrup, Yellow Chartreuse, grapefruit juice, old time bitters
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Larry's, the new Venice cafe named for artist Larry Bell, opened this past week just off the Venice Boardwalk, adjacent to the Hotel Erwin. The restaurant is a collaboration between Mark and Erwin Sokol of the hotel and Brendan Collins and Carolos Tomazos of Waterloo & City. Chef Collins designed the menu, which brings his charcuterie focused dishes to the beach, with no item over $15.
The restaurant, with its vibrant mural on the exterior, is hard to miss and brings a sophisticated menu and casual vibe to the Venice scene. The beer list is also of particular note, with 26 beers on tap plus additional bottle options.
I had lunch there this past weekend with some friends including the I Flip For Food duo Mark and Angela. We began the meal with the Duck & Pistachio Pate, ($12) with was served with seasonal marmalade, mustard, house-made pickles and toast (above). The pate was quite attractive and the favorite of some at the table, although for me it was overshadowed by the Potted Chicken Liver and Foie Gras Parfait (below). The parfait ($12) was smooth and delicious and when spread across the wonderful bread, it was like a savory dessert. Spoons kept on reaching into the little glass jar to get every bit of the parfait.
The pie of the day was a Pesto Chicken with Cherry Tomatoes ($14). The pizza is thin crust and was crisp without being cracker-like. As a pesto fan, I was very satisfied with this pie and look forward to trying the Heirloom Tomato Margherita pizza next time.
As the four of us were sharing food, the kitchen took the initiative to cut the Lamb Burger ($14) into four for us unprompted, which was a thoughtful touch we appreciated. The lamb burger was served on a ciabatta bun and a large cone of fries and an enormous pickle accompanied it. The burger was fine, but the fries are some of the best in the city. I'd return just for the fries, if nothing else (although I'd have trouble resisting the parfait) and a glass of beer.
The Organically Fried Chicken Caesar Baguette sandwich ($12) is fried chicken, a fried egg and a caesar salad all on a baguette. This dish (unpictured) was my least favorite of the meal, despite it being a fried chicken dish, which is one of my favorite menu items. There was a lot going on in the dish and the fried chicken was definitely not the star. It came with bacon, which we asked for on the side. The caesar element also included anchovies, which I give them credit for, but this is not a recommended dish.
We shared two desserts, the Sticky Toffee Pudding (above) and the Peach Crumble (below). While both were enjoyable, the sticky toffee pudding was the winner. The toffee sauce and the ice cream, with the powdered sugar combined to make this dessert sweet, but not overwhelmingly so. Order this dish, but you will be reluctant to share it. The Crumble was well executed but had a hard time standing out next to the Toffee. Note: our desserts were compliments of the restaurant.
The full beer list is below:
The bar area is brightly colored and comfortable, with two flat screen TVs and 26 beers on tap at the ready.
The entire seating area is an outdoor patio, perfect for the ocean breezes on a warm summer afternoon.
Larry's: 24 Winward Ave., Venice. Phone: (310) 399-2700. Website: http://larrysvenice.com/
|Cold Chicken Sandwich|
The Cold Fried Chicken sandwich made with fried chicken, lettuce, pickles, house-made ranch dressing and Gindo's Spice of Life pepper sauce. The sandwich is served cold, as the name implies, and the chicken had a nice crunch to it. The Gindo's provides a nice little kick and overall this is a tasty sandwich. At $4 it is the least expensive sandwich on the menu and a very good value. Not quite at Bakesale Betty territory but very satisfying.
|Fruit with Bags|
Street Fruit ($3) is cut up pineapple, jicama, mango, melon, chile and lime juice, again sealed in a sous vide bag. The street fruit is also a pleasing complement to the sandwiches, but packs a lighter punch than the Water Melon in terms of spiciness.
The sandwiches and sides are served in black bags with the customers names written on them, a fun and casual touch. Below is the full menu, which is written on school notebook paper style lined sheets.
Voltaggio told me he eats several of the sandwiches daily and his current favorite is the Maple-Pepper Turkey Melt, which I hope to try on a future visit.
Good food at a reasonable price in a neighborhood without many good value lunch options equals a winner. Is this fine dining? No. It is not supposed to be. It is a sandwich shop opened in only two weeks. If you are looking for Voltaggio's sit-down restaurant experience, ink , located down the block from ink.sack, opens in one month, so stay tuned.
ink.sack: 8630 Melrose Avenue, E. of La Cienega. Open Wednesday - Sunday, 11 am - 4 pm or until they sell out.