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Friday, April 24, 2009

Church and State Blogger Wine Dinner

For our latest FoodDigger blogger dinner, we had the pleasure of working with Chef Walter Manzke of Church and State. Formerly of Bastide, El Bulli, Patina and most recently, Bouchee in Carmel, Walter joined forces with restauranteur Stephen Arroyo and Yassmin Sarmadi in December of '08. And he didn't come alone. With him, he brought along Josh Goldman as Maitre d' and sommelier, and a number of staff from Bastide. Josh was previously GM of Bastide and a former sommelier at Bin 8945.

Walter, who is old friends with FoodDigger founder Marshal, agreed to come up with a four course meal with wine pairings. Bloggers in attendance included H.C. of http://www.la-oc-foodie.blogspot.com/; Sharon of http://www.weezermonkey.blogspot.com/; Cathy of http://www.gastronomyblog.com/; Kevin of http://www.kevineats.com/; Mike of http://www.pepsimonster.com/; Ila of http://www.inomthings.blogspot.com/; Danny of http://www.kungfoodpanda.blogspot.com/; and Kathleen of http://www.kats9lives.com/.

After some back and forth with Walter and Yassmin in the weeks prior to the event, our four course meal became an 11 course extravaganza of a chef's tasting menu. Walter was given carte blanche of the menu, and decided on the fly what would be served. Josh noted that in addition to his duties as maitre d', it was quite the task to pair 9 wines for our party of 12 as Walter decided what would be served.

Our dinner began.

Apertif of Floc de gascogne. A vin de liqueur fortified with armagnac, it was served with ice and orange zest. This sweet wine had hints of almond and honey.

Beignets de Brandade de Morue- Bacaloa, or salt cod, mixed with mashed potatoes and deep fried as fritters. With barely any potatoe, these beignets were amazing, especially accompanied by the saffron aioli.

Iced Kumamoto Oysters-Served simply on a bed of ice with lemon wedges and a red wine mignonette. Kumamoto oysters, originally from Japan, are now farmed in Washington, in particular bays that have similiar characteristics to the Japanese waters whence they originated. Always a favorite of mine, with their delicate sweetness and brine.

The initial dishes were paired with a Hugues Beaulieu-Coteaux de Languedoc. This white wine paired nicely with the oysters, with hints of grapefruit and lemon.

Gambas a la Nicoise- Santa Barbara spot prawns, halved and broiled, then topped with lemon and olive oil. Sweet, tender...simple and delicious, topped with a vegetable relish.

Bistro Sushi-a tiny, molded slice of fingerling potatoe salad topped with smoked herring. The smokiness from the herring dominated the dish. I like it very much.

The shrimp and herring were paired with a 2007 Domaine de Persenades-Cotes de Gascogne. Refreshing hints of citris and floral notes made this wine from the southwestern region of France a great pair for both dishes, although the smoked herring almost overpowered the wine.

Assiette de Charcuterie-This was a selection of housemade pates and meats that included saucisson sec(dried sausage), foie gras terrine with port gelee, pork rillettes with prune confiture, among other items. The charcuterie was incredible...one of the signature offerings of Walter's menu. It paired with an N.V. Terres Dorees FRV100 Beaujolais.

Asperge a la Tashiro-Hog Farm's Asparagus topped with Maine lobster. Hog Farm, owned by Ray Ranscioni and located in Carmel, began over 30 years ago and produces a thick and beautifully tender asparagus. The lobster, generously donated for the meal by Marshal, was poached and topped the steamed asparagus, which was lightly seasoned and dressed with olive oil. Marshal included a few extra lobsters, intended as gifts to Walter and Yassmin. Walter, however, chose to create this dish and dedicate it to Marshal, and included it on his menu for the night. Apparently, Josh saw a number of orders come through, so hopefully, it will become a mainstay.

Escargots de Bourgogne-snails in garlic and parsley butter, placed in a tiny ramekin and topped with puff pastry. I can honestly say this is the best escargot I've ever had. Pushing the flaky baked pastry into the melted butter allowed the already butter-rich topping to absorb more butter and garlic. Truly awesome!

The asparagus and escargot were paired with a Domaine Boisson-Cairanne Grenache. I'm not a fan of Rhone wines, so I wasn't thrilled by the pairing.

Flamenkushe-A flat bread topped with caramelized onions, bacon, gruyere and veggies. The bread was light and airy, and the smokiness of the bacon lardon and the sweetness of the onions dominated the dish. Some opinions were that it was too sweet, but I found it delectable.

This paired with an '07 Maupertuis La Guillaume-Auvergne. Guillaume is William in French, so I had no choice but to love it.

Moelle de Boeuff-Roasted marrow bone. Marrow bones, about 8 inches long, halved and seasoned simply with salt and pepper, were roasted. Served with toasted slices of brioche and a radish relish, this was my 'heavenly light shining down on me' dish/moment.

The marrow was paired with an '07 Domaine Cros de Romet-Cairanne. I can't really remember the grenache/syrah blend's pairing, as all that comes to mind is that rich flavor of roasted marrow tempered by the radish relish.

Steak Frites-Frites au lard, with steak. Accompanied by a Bernaise and Beaujolais sauces. Quite franky, after the richness of the marrow, I was done, especially after finding it was too rich for some and luckily having much more than my share. The beef was a bit overdone at medium, making it a bit tough. I enjoyed the sauces, as it allowed a segue on my palate from the marrow. Kevin noted that it overpowered the beef in a negative way. I agree that it did overpower the beef, but I think it was necessary after the marrow.

Paired with an -06 Domaine Etxegaraya.

Dessert-Creme Brulee, Cherry tart, apricot tart Croustade aux Baies Pot de Creme au Chocolate.

This gorgeous platter of desserts looked amazing, but my senses were in overdrive. I did not partake in this last dish, but I heard the 'hmmms' from numerous bloggers. I did, however, partake in the pairing of Julien Fremont Cidre Brut Par Nature.

Overall, the meal was amazing. Incredible food, thoughtful wine pairings and phenomenal company are always a recipe for a memorable meal. Walter came through with this special meal, and he even found a number of opportunities to chat and take photos. Special thanks to all of the bloggers who made it out for the evening, and also to Walter and Josh for making this 'one of best events yet', to quote Kevin. Based on the glazed looks and satisfied smiles of Mike, H.C., Danny, Kathy, Kat, Kevin, Ila and Sharon, I would agree.

These events are great fun and we thank the bloggers for their continued support. Only with their support can we truly make our visions of a viable restaurant resource a reality. If you're a blogger whom we haven't reached out to yet, let us know and share a future memory with us.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Saam-The Restaurant Within A Restaurant

The restaurant within a restaurant. Continuing with his concept of having a restaurant within a restaurant, Chef Jose Andres has now introduced Saam. Much like MiniBar in Cafe Atlantico, Saam is a separate restaurant inside the Bazaar. Saam offers a chef's tasting only for $120 per, and provides a 20 course experience of Bazaar's cuisine, in addition to some items not offered at the Bazaar. Unlike MiniBar, which only offers seating for six, Saam can accomodate closer to 40.

Named after Sam Nazarian, Chef Andres' partner and founder of SBE, Saam allows for the enjoyment of the cuisine in a more formal atmosphere, with attentive waitstaff at your beck and call. We came here tonight for a reservation of seven, and were blown away. The cuisine, apparently having matured and perfected since our initial visits, was enjoyed in a much different fashion than it has been in Blanco or Rojo, Bazaar's two dining rooms. The quieter, more formal setting only enhanced the dining experience and the ability to appreciate the food. Our 20 course meal began as soon as Brian and Jan arrived, joining Javier of http://www.teenageglutster.com/, Kevin of http://www.kevineats.com/, Ryan of http://www.tangbro.com/, Mike of http://www.pepsimonster.com/, and myself.

We began with a complimentary chef's cocktail, the salt air margarita. It's a margarita topped with salt and lime foam. The foam plays the part of the salted rim, and was infused in every sip. Then the food began:

Sweet potato chips: Super thin cut slices of sweet potato, fried and accompanied by a yogurt, tamarind and olive oil sauce. Simple, but so good.

Cotton candy foie gras: A cubed piece of foie gras terrine, covered in cotton candy, on a stick. The sweet cotton candy made for a playful companion to the richness of the terrine.

Olive oil bonbon: A olive oil from California with a green and nutty flavor, was encapsulated by a candied exterior. As you can see, the exterior was like a glass syringe.

Caviar steamed bun: A Chinese bao stuffed with creme fraiche and topped with paddlefish caviar and salt foam. The saltiness from the caviar and foam contrasted well with the slight sweetness of the bun and cream fraiche.

Bagel and Lox Cone: The cream, filling the crispy cone, was topped with salmon roe. Simply, it was delicious. The saltiness and texture of each individual salmon egg bursting in my mouth paired well with the creme inside.

Olives Ferran Adria: Juice made from the finest olives of the season from Spain, dipped in a calcium bath and sodium alginate. Dropping spoonfuls of the olive oil juice into the calcium bath forms a skin, giving liquid olives. Always a winner here.

Jose's Ham and Cheese: Air bread filled with cheese and topped with thinly sliced Jamon Iberico. A sophisticated interpretation of such a simple sandwich, this bite sized portion was heaven in my fingers.

Sea Urchin Conservas: Sea Urchin served in a can, over what was described as close to a pico de gallo, with the vegetables minced finely. Not as good as what we've had in the past at Bazaar, but still very refreshing.

Boneless chicken wing: Deboned wing, topped with olive puree and greens. Another favorite.

Shrimp cocktail: Santa Barbara spot prawn, poached rare, with a syringe of broth made from the head. One of the highlights of the evening, with the sweetness of the shrimp sharpened by the broth in the syringe.

Nitro gazpacho: Made exactly in the same fashion as the nitro caiparinha, gazpacho is added to a bowl with liquid nitrogen, almost freezing the gazpacho and provided a creamy texture to this clean and delicious dish.

Bluefin tuna toro: A tender slice of toro accompanied by compressed watermelon, a slightly poached quail egg and salt foam. Though I heard some opinions that the sweetness of the watermelon didn't work with the toro, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The watermelon brought out some of the fishiness of the toro, and the quail egg yolk brought back the richness.

Norwegian Lobster: Another favorite, a sliver of lobster over fresh seaweed, accompanied by a broth in an espresso cup made from the head. The essence of lobster is revealed here in marvelous fashion.

"Smoked salmon": A one ounce to one and a half ounce portion of brined salmon, poached, was served with a tzatziki sauce that went through the spherification process similar to the olives Ferran Adria. The salmon was moist, with hints of the brine. Quite nice.

Not Your Everyday Caprese: A cherry tomato, compressed, with the 'sexy tomato seeds' and a mozzarella sauce prepared with the spherification process. Topped with a pesto sauce, this made a normal caprese seem pedestrian.

Tournedos Rossini 2009: Our final savory dish of the evening.

A dish was created in honor of Italian composer Gioachino Rossini, a noted gourmand. In Chef Andres' new interpretation, a piece of A-5 Japanese wagyu is topped with a truffle gelee, mushrooms and slices of foie gras. This extremely rich and decadent dish was a great finish to the savory dishes. I cannot adequately explain how delicious this dish was.

Dragon's Breath Popcorn: Candied and carameled pieces of popcorn, dipped in liquid nitrogen. Eaten with mouth closed, a puff of smoke comes through the nose. This dish has come under a bit of fire in the recent past. Intended by Chef Andres as something playful and unexpected, numerous internet writeups have taken the surprise away, causing Chef Andres to essentially remove it from the rotation.

Chocolate Biscuit Coulant Michel Bras- a mini chocolate souffle like cake over a bed of whipped creme flavored with cardamon and sugared ginger pieces. The souffle was runny on the inside and the cardamon added an interesting flavor contrast. Pleasant, but still trying to decide how much I enjoyed it.

Coconut in 'Half Shell': Coconut creme in a cocunut flavored edible shell. Passion fruit sauce made this dish Fiji on a plate.

Petit Fours: Candied passion fruit, chocolate drizzle on a stick and saffron truffles. Although the truffles were way too sweet, this was a great ending to a great meal.

At the end of the meal, our server got us a tour of the kitchen, where chef de cuisine Michael Voltaggio thanked us for our patronage. Our group of seven caused a bottleneck in the kitchen, but no one seemed to mind. Each and every person in that kitchen welcomed us like family, including Marcel Vigneron, of Top Chef fame. We stayed much too long in the kitchen, talking food with Chef Voltaggio. They even took the time to take pictures with us, and offered us full run of the place. We graciously got the heck out of there, as we saw how busy they were.

Saam is a true success that allows for the diner to have an option to enjoy the meal in a formal setting. In some instances, the lack of quality in food is exposed when eaten in a nicer atmosphere(try Father's Office). In the case of Saam and the Bazaar, the food was allowed to shine. This was truly a special meal.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Authentic Regional Mexican Food...In LA?

Surprising to some, but burritos are not authentic Mexican cuisine! I know it must be a shocker to some people, but authentic, regional Mexican cuisine is much more complex than what you'd normally find in most LA Mexican restaurants.

Because of what Javier of http://www.teenageglutster.blogspot.com/ described as serendipity, he had the opportunity to meet Chefs Ramiro Arvizu and Jaime Martin Del Campo, both of La Casita Mexicana. Jaime and Ramiro were two chefs Javier became acquainted with while watching Univision's Despierta America. Gathering up his courage, he walked up to these two television personalities one day at the Gold Standard and began a new friendship. After a lengthy conversation on food, specifically regional dishes of Mexico, the two chefs generously offered to host a dinner for Javier and some of his pals. So, a special night was born at La Casita Mexicana, where a lesson, and amazing Mexican cuisine, were had.

Javier sent out an email, and we all converged on this tiny restaurant in Bell. As we all settled down in our seats, the chefs began the evening by showing us ingredients used in different regions of Mexico. Dried chiles, black corn, cactus...there were so many things I've rarely or never seen. It was evident, though, the chefs' passion for their food. They inspiringly conveyed their desire to showcase what Mexican food is truly about.

They then began the meal by making three salsas in thier molcahete, or mortar and pestal.

-Salsa de Jitomate con chile serrano y cilantro Mexicano.

-Salsa de Tomatillo de Milpa con semillas de calbaza y chiles de arbol tostados.

-Salsa Cruda de Tomatillo y Hoja Santa.

All three were beautiful. However, the chefs would not allow for chips, as they were concerned that we would fill ourselves up too quickly. They planned on serving 18 dishes that night, so they were so right!

The dishes were:

Sopa de Pescado con Hoja Santa(fish soup with Hoja Santa leaf)-A clean fish soup with a squeeze of lime.

Chile Jalapeno Rellenos de Atun-Jalapeno chiles stuffed with Tuna. Very good, with the spiciness muted by the removal of the seeds and the veins.

Queso Azteca-4 different types of cheeses blended with Epazote, and baked in a fresh banana leaf, then grilled on flame. A bit salty, a bit tangy...bested any queso fundido I ever had growing up. Served with fresh made tortillas.

Tomalitos de Huitlacoche-small tamales filled with corn fungus. My 1st experience with huitlacoche...definitely not my last. The beautiful earthy flavors of the fungus opened my eyes to what was once considered a pest to corn harvests.

Enchiladas de pollo con tres moles-Three enchilas, each topped with a different mole.

Each mole, consisting of well over a dozen ingredients, was painstakingly created by the chefs. Experts in mole, the chefs served up six different types of mole this evening.

Enchiladas Rojas de Queso Cortija. Made in the Michoacan style, these simple enchiladas consisted of tortillas dipped in chile sauce and filled with grated Cortija cheese. Really simple, yet marvelous.

Mole de Almendras con carne de puerco-Almond mole with slow cooked and shredded pork.

Mole Blanco-made with white chocolate over chicken breasts.

Puerco Adobado-reminiscent of a Filipino pork adobo. The smokiness from the dried chiles made this dish a winner.

Cochinita Pibil-Pork roasted with achiote and habanero, wrapped in plaintain leaf

Pescado en Salsa de Tamarindo con Chile de Arbol-Sea bass with a tamarind sauce. One of the weaker dishes, but still quite good

Cecina al chipotle-dry cured beef sauteed and covered with a chipotle sauce. By far my favorite dish, as the concentrated beef flavors from the curing really came through. The chipotle only accentuated the flavors of the beef. Dish hails from Veracruz.

Chiles en Nogado

These stuffed poblano chiles topped with a mile cream sauce were indescribably delicious.

Churros Rellenos de Cajeta-Churros stuffed with caramel. Not anything you'd find normally in LA...or Baja, for that matter. Crunchy on the outside, sweet and creamy on the inside. Paradise in a bite.

Flan de Calabaza de Castilla-Pumpkin flan. The massive flan served 20 of us, and was only half gone!

Ponche de Jamaica con Jacotes y Nuez-Hibiscus punch with chopped pecans and Jocote fruit. Sweet and nutty...a great drink.

Flan de Calabasita-Zucchini Flan

Toronja Grajeada con pasta de Chocolate Mexicano-These were crystallized pieces of grapefruit rind, with a dipping sauce of super thick Mexican chocolate. To create the dried grapefruit rind requires a 24 hour process involving multiple techniques. Originally served to cardinals of the Catholic Church. A truly religious ending to a religious meal.

Throughout the evening, the chefs answered any and all questions and were amazingly gracious. They not only enlightened us on what true Mexican cuisine was, but they showed us their passion with the foods they created. Our evening at La Casita Mexicana will not be one soon forgotten. Many thanks to Javier for having the huevos to begin a conversation with these two super chefs, and many thanks to Ramiro and Jaime for an unforgettable night.