Monthly Archives: May 2012

Chaya on South Flower in Downtown Los Angeles


Art deco bar that I fell in love with

Signature Cocktail: Speak E-Z-T

Crunchy Yellowtail Crudo

Pinot Noir Braised Short Rib and Wagyu Beef Aburri Duo

Thats me!

Miso Marinated White Sea Bass

Warm Chocolate Criossant bread pudding


Downtown isn’t my first choice to go for a night out but this particular adventure was inspired by a glowing recommendation from a close friend.  It was also a special occasion (taking my man on a date).  After getting completely lost for 20 minutes in the convoluted one-way streets of downtown we finally reached our destination: Chaya Downtown.

The Chaya Downtown feels more upscale than the restaurants other location in Venice as the decor seems both newer and nicer.  It is strewn with chandeliers and an etched mirror bar that I could not take my eyes off of all evening (or perhaps it was my dazzling reflection!).  The clientele seems to be classier too, but that is probably because of the nature of the area (think Asian business men).

Chaya has an eclectic menu to say the least; you can order anything from sushi to homemade pasta.  In an effort to experience the range of options the menu has to offer we began the meal with the Crunchy Yellowtail Crudo with garlic jalapeno ponzu.  This was just what we needed to calm our nerves after getting lost.  It was light, yet was bursting with flavor.  The fish was extremely fresh and flavorful on its own yet the other ingredients only enhanced the fresshness even more.  The roasted garlic added a smoky flavor I wouldn’t ordinarily think to pair with raw fish, yet it added complex flavor.  The jalapeno provided just the right amount of heat to get AND keep my attention. Even the crunch on the yellowtail was unique, it was these little crunchy ball type things that soaked up all the flavor of the ponzu and didn’t lose any of the crunch.

Eric (‘boyfriend’) was brave enough to try one of the signature cocktails, made up of many many ingredients.  He ordered the Speak E-Z-T which included Russian standard platinum vodka, ginger beer, punished mint, squeeze of lime and candied ginger.  While the drink came off tough (just look at that heavy duty mug it comes in), it is actually a light refreshing cocktail.  No harsh taste of alcohol, just the light flavor of mint, ginger and lime I could imagine myself sipping it sitting on a wrap-around porch in Madison, Wisconsin in the summa-time. (Go Badgers!).

For the main course we ordered the Pinot Noir Braised Short Rib and Wagyu Beef Aburri Duo two meats, one plate.  I’ve had pinot noir braised short rib in the past and it has tasted exactly like pinot noir, NOT what I want my meat to taste like.  With this dish, the short rib had the rich essence of the pinot noir without the heavy wine flavor.  It was smooth and tender and melted onto my fork and into my mouth.  The mushroom risotto was my favorite part of the dish and had a rustic flavor that paired well with the short rib.

On the other side of the plate was the Wagyu Beef Aburri.  The combo had an Asian essence  without feeling out of place next to the rustic short rib.  The meat was tender and had a light wasabi marinade.  I preferred the braised short rib to the wagyu, but it was all-excellent.  The short rib was just one of those melt-in-your-mouth moments and nothing on the table compared (except the dessert which I will get to in a little).

We also ordered Miso Marinated White Sea Bass, which has for now restored my faith in fish.  The Sea Bass was fresh and cooked into a delicious buttery soft fish-cloud.  It was light and flaky with each bite oozing with miso flavor.  It sat on top of sticky rice that had a mellow coconut flavor but played nicely with the miso sauce when mixed together.  The eggplant had the tenderness of a ripe heirloom tomato, each bite melted into my tongue and disappeared in my mouth like cotton candy.  I’m not the biggest fan of bok choy soley because it’s stringy and limp and surprisingly tough to pin down and cut into small bites, but on this dish there were smaller versions that were pleasantly much more manageable.

Finally, the crowning glory of the meal was the Warm Chocolate Criossant bread pudding with a scoop of dulce de leche ice cream on top (it’s the dessert that kind of looks like an octopus).  This is their signature dessert and it was divine.  Every bite had the rich buttery-ness of a croissant but the baked gooeyness of bread pudding.  Then you would hit bites of chocolate and it would be a game changer.  Don’t get me started on the dulce de leche, chilly and warm, caramel and chocolate, crunchy and soft, every bite had you spooning for more.

I would highly recommend Chaya Downtown as a dinner option before any Downtown activity.  Every plate around me (yes I was drooling on the tables next to me) looked just as delicious as the ones I was being served.  Chaya Downtown you get Two Forks Up! Oh, and I’d like a second bread pudding to go please!

http://www.thechaya.com/

Brunch at Taste on Melrose in West Hollywood

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Smoked salmon strata with asparagus, caramelized onions and goat cheese with an arugula and sun dried tomato salad. Strata is like a mix between a quiche and a frittata. DEEELISH!

www.tasteonmelrose.com

Son of a Gun on 3rd in West Hollywood

In order of appearance:

Buratta with Uni (Sea Urchin)

Lobster roll with celery and lemon aioli

Amberjack crudo with galbi vinaigrette and pink lady apple

Octopus confit salad with mirepoix and chili

Mussels with tarragon, pernod, fennel and toast

Sean giving the mussels the sniff test


Shrimp toast with herbs and siracha mayo

Brandade with soft egg, arugula and grainy mustard

Fried chicken sandwich with b&b pickle slaw and rooster aioli

Linguine with clams


Eric with the linguine

Warm scone with macerated strawberries and cream dessert

Son of a Gun has been one of my most anticipated restaurants to review on Two Forks Up.  This popular LA restaurant has been buzzing since its’ opening a little over a year ago.  Not only did I have to make my reservation 2 weeks in advance, but to get a decent time I had to make it for a Tuesday!  Needless to say this restaurant has taken off in the LA dining scene.  Similar to its meaty counterpart Animal (both restaurants have the same owner) all of the dishes are designed as small plates to share. We ordered a ton of dishes all of us enjoying the “main-course-ish” more than “appetizers” (They are in quote because that is the order in which the dishes were served).

The first dish that was brought out was the buratta with Uni. I think buratta is one of the most over used ingredients in Los Angeles.  It is literally on the menu of every single restaurant. This variant was served with sea urchin, aka Uni.  This was my first time eating Uni, and I really enjoyed it.  It has a little grittiness as well as a little saltiness but in the end the flavor was mellow and not too fishy.  The buratta and the Uni played nicely off each other.  The portion was a little small and I finished the dish wanting more.

The lobster roll with celery and lemon aioli was the biggest let down of the night.  The lobster salad was overpowered with the flavor of mayonnaise and contained no large chunks of lobster whatsoever.  Without the squeeze of lemon on top it would have been too heave of a dish for me.  Luckily the lemon brought a much needed acidity to the overly thick lobster salad.  I guess when you’ve eaten a lobster roll at Lunch in the Hamptons (said in snooty voice), nothing else compares.

Next came the amberjack crudo with galbi vinaigrette and pink lady apple, which was nice but not especially memorable. A sweet ginger dressing coated the fish that ALMOST overpowered the flavor of the amberjack.  The pink lady apple was a noteworthy addition as it added the crunch to the dish but it wasn’t too crunchy that you missed the smoothness of the perfectly sliced fish.

Ironically, the best part of the octopus confit salad with mirepoix and chili was the mirepoix (a celery carrot and onion mixture). While you might be thinking “Duh Lauren, it’s a salad the lettuce is supposed to be the most important component,” however, at Son of a Gun I was expecting the octopus to be the star.  Instead, the octopus was fried into an unrecognizable piece of chewy something. If I hadn’t seen the tentacles I would have sent it back citing that they substituted calamari. I was looking forward to the heat of the chili infused into the salad however it was served as slices and the taste was pretty much non-existent.  The lettuce and mirepoix were perfectly dressed with a simple lemon vinaigrette.

The mussels with tarragon, pernod, fennel and toast was the crowd favorite.  While were similar to a mussel dish I ate at Meet, this mussels dish was baked in a delicious cream sauce that did not resemble its broth-y counterpart.  While the cream may give you the impression that the dish was thick and heavy in actuality the flavors were bold and playful.  You could taste every component of the dish, especially the fresh and tender mussels.

“Where’s the shrimp?” We found ourselves asking when the shrimp toast with herbs and siracha mayo was delivered to the table.  After further inspection we realized that it was baked into the bread, a decision that left our table a little dazed and confused.  This was the number one dish I was told to order by friends, websites and the wait staff, yet was not exciting in any way shape or form. The overall sandwich was buttery and yummy but, if you are looking for a strong shrimp flavor you aren’t going to get it here. Would I order this again? No. Did it taste good because it was fried and covered in butter yes.

The brandade (Brawn-Daud) with soft egg, arugula and grainy mustard was a last minute addition to our order but ended up being one the top dishes of the night. Brandade is an emulsion of salt cod and olive oil mixed with whipped mashed potatoes.  It had the look of cream of wheat but was infinitely more flavorful.  On top of the brandade sat a perfectly poached egg that we punctured and mixed with the rest of the dish. Each ingredient added a special something to each bite.  The arugula gave it peppery lightness while the grainy mustard gave it a mustard flavor without being overpowering. The yolk gave the dish a thick creamy quality that when spooned onto the buttered toast soaked into the crevices, giving each bite a crunch covered in salty, creamy goodness.

The fried chicken sandwich with spicy b&b pickle slaw and rooster aioli was an interesting order for a fish restaurant but it turned out to be quite the eye-opening experience.  I have never tasted chicken quite as perfectly fried as this.  The outside was thin and crispy while the inside was bursting with juice and tenderness.  Alongside the chicken was a pickled slaw with jalapeños that added a vinegary and spicy addition to every bite.  Tasting those two things together made me want to instate a law that all fried chicken must be eaten with this perfect slaw counterpart.  It was summer in a sandwich and would make a great lunch dish if you are looking for a quick bite in the area.

The linguine with clams was my personal favorite however, the cheese stands alone on this one because no one at the table shared my sentiments.  Not too thin and not too thick, the sauce on the pasta was the ideal balance of heat and spice. Each and every bite, including the spoonful’s of sauce at the end melted in my mouth.  I was told it could have used a few more clams but that is because I probably ate them all.

We ended the night with the warm scone, macerated (marinated) strawberries and cream dessert.  The scone had a hard shell with a soft and spongy core.  The typically dry breakfast treat was neutralized with the fresh strawberry juice in which it sat.  The cream on top was infused with lavender which gave it an herbaceous finish at the end of each bite.  It was the perfect dessert if you don’t want anything too heavy and filling.

All in all, Son of a gun was a GOOD meal.  The restaurant has a great ambiance, the people who work there are friendly and the food is different and delicious.  I would have to say that the hype of Son of a Gun got the best of me and I was expecting more than what it turned out to be.  I won’t be going back to Son of a Gun in the near future, opting to try a new restaurant instead.  Son of a Gun you earn One and Three Quarters Forks Up from me! And the quest for mouth melting food continues.

 http://sonofagunrestaurant.com/

Patina on South Grand Ave

First impression: playing with the cheap and weird centerpiece

Somewhat impressive bread plate

Carrot velute with chive oil

Olive oil black cod confit with baby bok choy, ramps, razor clams and parsley emulsion

Green garden risotto with ramps, English pea, zucchini and parmigiano reggiano

Complimentary dessert cookies and candies

Carved out in the side of the Disney Concert Hall sits the high end restaurant Patina.  Serving fine French cuisine, this restaurant has more pomp and circumstance than an Ivy League graduation.  Its too bad that I don’t have good things to say about this restaurant as I was treated (not by the restaurant) to this meal but I just hope that this review can prevent other unknown diners from making the same mistake we did.

It was a cold and windy Saturday night downtown. I wish I could say that the area was booming with hipsters who have migrated to the gentrified area but outside of the confines of the MOCA opening, there wasn’t much besides the lonely valet attendant. It was getting late and my entire group was hungry. Patina was decided upon because it was close and a couple in the group had previously eaten there had a pleasantly memorable dining experience.

It started out fine and dandy.  The maitre’d was friendly as he sat us on the terrace and ensured us that the kitchen would stay open late to accommodate our grumbling bellies.  We were then greeted by another waiter who placed crisp white napkins on our laps.  It was when I finally looked up from the menu to the table in front me that I noticed something was amiss.  In the center of the table were cheap centerpieces surrounded by plastic dinnerware. In contrast with the exorbitant menu prices I was quickly alerted to the reality that this dinner might not be everything I hoped.

A waiter brought around a tray of three varieties of bread to choose from, a French baguette, a dinner roll and an olive ciabatta. I had the olive ciabatta.  After which we were presented with an amuse bouche to invigorate our palates.  The amuse was a carrot velute and tasted like a sweet carrot from a home garden, caramelized, blended and served as a soup. Garnishing the dish was a chive oil that added a salty bite to the sweet soup.  Not technically an amuse by Top Chef standards since I couldn’t eat the entire thing in one bite but it was warm and tasty nonetheless. Looking back I think the amuse invigorated my palate with its bold flavors a little too much because immediately following the soup, began the downhill descent.

For the main course my friend Amanda and I decided to split the Olive oil black cod confit and Green garden risotto.  The Olive oil black cod confit was served with baby bok choy, ramps (wild leeks), razor clams, and a parsley emulsion.  While the dish was visually stunning, it lacked any sort of flavor whatsoever.  The confit cod was oily and bland. The parsley emulsion while bright in color, did not bring any brightness in taste.  It simply wallowed in the bottom of the bowl like the algae layer of a forest pond.  The clams seemed completely out of place on top of the cod because they presented no differentiation in taste or texture from the fish as both were mushy and flavorless.  Finally, the one point of light in the dish was the Parmesan croutons as decoration on the top.  It was a relief to finally eat something of flavor, even though that flavor was salt.

The Green garden risotto was the one saving grace of the meal. Several diners ordered the dish and all seemed to really enjoy it. I personally know I was eating it because I didn’t want the fish any longer. Served with ramps, English peas, and Parmigiano Reggiano, It lacked the smooth creamy texture and layers of flavor of other risottos I have tasted.  I assumed the abnormally large chunks of zucchini mixed in to the risotto were an attempt to distract the diner from the other flavors that in my opinion were absent from the dish (they must have had the night off). The blandness was somewhat counteracted by the Parmesan cheese but all in all the dish was boring , unoriginal and only memorable for its negative qualities.

Finally, when we finished Patina’s version of torture, we were served a complimentary dessert of three different cookies that consisted of a grapefruit gelee, a mini pistachio macaroon and a butterscotch square.  Surprisingly, the mini pistachio macaroon burst with big, authentic pistachio flavor.  The grapefruit gelee also tasted distinctly like grapefruit, while some may find that impressive, I am not fond of grapefruit so no points from me on this candy.  The butterscotch square (I’m not completely sure that is what it was but going with it for now) was dry and oily and not really worth talking about.

It pains me to give this review, but it is unacceptable for complimentary dishes to outshine the entrees that patrons will actually be paying for.  All the dishes looked promising with their vibrant colors and impeccable presentation, but unfortunately, my vision was the only sense that was stimulated by this meal.  My taste buds left neglected and unsatisfied and the couple who had recommended the restaurant apologized.  Patina you receive my first One Fork Down review.

http://www.patinarestaurant.com/home.php

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Meet in Paris on Culver

Salade D’Endive with roasted walnuts, dried cranberries, arugula, caramelized pears, Roquefort cheese and a walnut dressing

Tomato Tarte Tatin with Tomato confit, bosc pears, bleu cheese, frisee on puff pastry

Far: The Baja Mussels Near: The Provençale Mussels

Side of Frites (French Fries)

Daily Special: The Halibut


Pan Seared Scallops with Lobster sauce

Weekly Night Specials Menu

I have had the opportunity to eat at many of the restaurants in Culver City.  It seems that since the development of downtown Culver City, the upgraded enclave now has everything from high-end sushi (K-Zo) to easy Italian (Ugo).  All of which provide me no particular draw to eat at any of them. Meet in Paris (Meet)  elicited an enthusiasm in me that rejuvenated my love for the area, as it introduced me to a new part of the downtown that sits right outside the busy center. Meet in Paris, is a quaint French restaurant with contemporary and bold flavors. It takes authentic French food to a new level and left my mouth watering days after the meal.

My party and I decided to order a variety of dishes to share.  We started with the Salade D’Endive (its absolutely pronounced awn-deeve), and Tomato Tarte Tatin.  The salad contained roasted walnuts, dried cranberries, arugula, caramelized pears, Roquefort cheese and a walnut dressing.  All the elements were chohesive, and while it had many familiar ingredients, I felt as though I had tasted them for the first time in the way they are supposed to be tasted. All of the ingredients were plentiful and fresh and when eaten all together in one bite provided the perfect blend of bitter, sweet and salty.  Not to mention, the chewiness of the cranberries mixed with the crunchiness of the walnuts provided a contrast of textures that made each bite unique (this may seem like an extreme way to describe a salad, but let me tell you it was one of the best I have ever tasted).

The tomato tarte tatin is not a dish I will share in the future.  While also delectable it was extremely delicate and hard to split equally amongst four hungry diners.  I being a food blogger (lofty voice), had the first/best bite which was perfect. The filo dough was crispy, the goat cheese was salty and the tomato melted in my mouth.  The pesto drizzled on the dish was a great way to add flavor to each bite.  Not the best pairing with the salad because there was a lot of cheese on both but everyone at the table enjoyed the dish nonetheless.

While the menu at Meet has all the elements of a classic French restaurant like Fondue, Escargots, Paté, and Foie Gras it’s mussel dishes are a departure from tradition in the best way possible.  Both the specialty of this restaurant, and the source of my adoration, the Les Moules Frites (mussels and fries) come in 12 different varieties each broth more sounding scintillating then the next (see the menu for a full description).  For the main course we ordered the mussels to share, enabling the diner to order two separate bowls, each with a half a pound of mussels and a broth of your choosing.  We ordered the Baja mussels which comes with chipotle, tomatillo, cilantro and tequila and the Provençale mussels, which consists of shallots, garlic, tomato, thyme, fennel, fresh tarragon and Pernod (a French absinth).

The mussels were “literally” (Parks and Rec reference) the best mussels, I have EVER tasted. I had an epiphany eating them when I realized that every order of  mussels I have eaten up until this point have been over cooked and chewy. Each and every muscle in my dish at Meet was steamed to perfection and when dipped in the aromatic broth provided a bursting mouthful of flavor.  When I asked our waitress how they could possibly achieve the impossible task of an entire bowl of perfectly cooked mussels she told me that each batch of mussels is made to order thus, ensuring the freshness of your dish. The Baja mussels achieved a balance of spice and tang that made me want to drink the broth with a spoon.  It had the heat of the chipotle yet at no point was it spicy.   The Provençale mussels tasted like a more traditional French mussel dish.  What won me over was the effervescentness of the thyme and tarragon mixed with the garlic.  I love garlic and you could definitely taste it in this dish.

In addition to the mussels my table decided to order the Pan Seared Scallops served on a tomato confit with lobster sauce.  I have not tried Lobster sauce with scallops and I found that it added a nice heaviness to the lightness of the scallops.  The scallops were perfectly cooked, however, I let mine get a little too cold before eating it because I was focusing all my attention on the mussels.  Next time I think I will just stick with the mussels alone because they were more than enough food.

Speaking of next time, one of the best qualities of this restaurant are their daily specials.  On Monday nights all Mussel dishes are 30% off and all beers are 50% off.  On Wednesday’s, they have all you can eat Mussels for $25.95 as well as various other specials on the other nights of the week.  So, if your mouth is watering as much as mine is after reading/writing this post this feel free to email me at twoforkslauren@gmail.com and we can set a date to meet at Meet.

Meet you get Two Forks Up!

http://www.meetrestaurantla.com/

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