Monday, July 20, 2009

A Dream Meal That Lives Up To Reality @ Melisse (Santa Monica)

Once in a while, you always get that pit in the stomach that you hope this would be the best meal you ever had. Maybe you get that intuition all the time because of the price tag you will need to absorb at the end of the meal. Hence, it's better be that good for you to spent on a meal.

Last month, the restaurant Melisse had a special menu called "Summer Discovery Menu" which for a very reasonable price of $65, it will include a three course meal plus a dessert that was heavily hyped by the hostess of the dining group. That hostess was the Notorious P.I.G. who had promised that Passion Fruit Parfait would be out of this world.

So much hype, but I did had a great experience at Providence's 5x5 meal which included a dish from Melisse's chef/owner Josiah Citrin which blew my mind with his dish of Shellfish "Printaniere". That was one of the best dish I have ever had, so the anticipation for me to come here was huge.

Before our meal start off, chef Citrin gave us a refreshing drink of his Green Apple Consomme with a bit of Apple "caviar" (chunks of Apple bits). The starter was very playful considering the soup almost tasted like apple juice, but was very inventive in a way on how the consomme was able to pull it off as the starter as it was a delightful drink to start before the main course. A great way to heighten our anticipation on what was about to come.

Green Apple Consomme

For our courses, we decided to make a divide and conquer. We decided to pair off in group of two with each person ordering a different dish and sharing both dishes. In essence, we got all six main courses and both of the dessert. That way we can't complain later about missing out the other dish or had the "what if" questions later.

I teamed up with Kung Food Panda as the other group consist of the Notorious P.I.G., Mattouille, and Choisauce.

Our first set of Main courses was between Silver Fluke and the Potato Gnocchi. My favorite out of first duo was the Potato Gnocchi. This dish was very simple with bold flavors that let the taste stand out without adding too many other ingredients to it. It consists of summer squash, a dash of ricotta cheese and some green almonds on top of the gnocchi. It really tasted very delicious after you took the first few bites, you just couldn't eating it. I actually needed to take the plate away from KFP as he was hogging that dish.

The fluke, better known as summer flounder or a flatfish to some was very tasty as well. I think with a little dash of lime and truffle helped out a fresh fish dish that otherwise would had been hard to eat. It played very well in your taste buds as the combination of the ingredients does work well and makes it hard for you to decide on which dish in the first course should you choose. Luckily, we had both.

Potato Gnocchi - Summer Squash, Green Almonds, and Riccota Cheese

Silvered Fluke - Truffle, Lime, Wasabi, Chilled Mushroom Consomme

I took the liberty of ordering the Duo of Foie Gras as a side to my special tasting menu courses. Besides the two different Twice Cooked and Terrine Foie Gras was a confiture that tasted lemon and a chocolate servings in the plate. We also had a plate of brioche bread to go along with the foie gras. I think it was great as a dish itself as it was filling before I even get to taste the final two dishes.

It was funny seeing a few of my other dining mates trying to order more of the brioche thinking it was part of the complimentary breads that was passing out.

Duo of Foie Gras - $27 (Twice Cooked on top left and Terrine on bottom Right)

Our second set of courses in the special menu was consist of the choices between of Tea Smoked Ahi Tuna and the Curried Black Mussels.

The Ahi Tuna was looked like a cut of rare sirloin steak on top of the marinated Egg plant. I did enjoyed the tuna steak at Wolfgang's The Cut a few months back and found surprisingly tasty for a steak-like cut of a rare tuna. The rosemary sauce made enhance the flavor profile of the tuna and worked especially well when you eat it with the egg plant. The heirloom tomato on the side was a nice side feature that complete the overall effectiveness of the entire dish.

I did enjoyed the curried black mussels as well. It was not very well received by some of our dining mates as they felt the flavor was too much with too many ingredients overshadowing the mussels. Maybe the cilantro was too much on the other plate, but I really did enjoyed the simplicity of the mussels with the nice added breaded naan for the compliments for the dish.

Tough call, but I probably would go with the Ahi Tuna in a close contested race for the best of 2nd course.

Curried Black Mussels - Parsley, Cilantro, and Naan

Tea Smoke Ahi Tuna - Marinated Egg Plant, Heirloom Tomatoes, Lemon, and Rosemary

The fireworks really begin with the final pairings. As we wound down with the final sets, so far not a disappointing or underwhelming dish had come out of the kitchen and the dinner was moving swimmingly as we also enjoy our company at the table. Then, the end of all endings had bestowed upon us.

First off, either of one of the two dish would be an ideal choice to close out on any chef's menu. Both were that good and we wouldn't have it any other way.

The no-brainer of the night was to order the Hanger Steak Frites. Let me say that in one other instance at Bouchon (Thomas Keller's poorly conceived sequel in Vegas) was a major let down and the one at Walter Manzke's Church and State was well received. Confidentially, let's just say the dish was a big wow. Everyone understand about the steak, but it's potato fries that needed to wow a person over and chef Citrin's fries was an ecstatic winner. Dipped in the brown butter Bernaise, it was like an elixir that instantly gave your tastebuds a boost. The arugua salad and the hanger steak were excellent as well, but it seemed like we wanted to dip everything in that sauce.

The Cornish Game Hen came in with low expectations, but came out to be the biggest surprise of the night. I don't think anyone of us thought the stuffed poultry leg was going to be anything but a turkduckey. However, with each passing bite, it reminded me of the Buddha Chicken at the Duck House . The creamy polenta is something I can eat all night long along with the big button mushroom that was provided with the delicious stuffed game hen. I don't think you should passed this dish up when you get a chance. Easily, one of the highlights of the night.

In further consideration, I thought it was a dead heat between the two. I was just happy that I get to have a taste of both (even if KFP was chowing both down like there's no tomorrow).

Cornish Game Hen "Jambonette" - Creamy Polenta, Button Mushroom, Pear Onions "Jus Roti"

Hunger Steak Frites - Arugula Salad, Brown butter Bernaise, Red Wine Shallot sauce

The dessert was a moment of truth for our hostess of the evening, Notorious P.I.G. She claimed in her blog and was quoted a few times of saying that she was not in love with the restaurant, but with the dessert (as in the Passion fruit Parfait). After all the delicious dishes we had, the dessert was a make or break for her? Ha!

After a few teasing all around from everyone in the table, we can hear her giving out a few prayers before the dessert was passed out. After a few bite, let's just say she is off the hook.

With all the adulation being lavished on the passion fruit parfait, all of the sudden the P.I.G. looked very confident in dishing a few "I told you so" to some of us in the table. In one quick turnaround, she got her bravado back with all the thanks to chef Citrin.

With all the kiddings aside, the passion fruit parfait was delicious. The souffle drenched all around by lemongrass milk and was sandwiched between a coconut sorbet and a pistachio cookie. This was easily our favorite dessert of the night.

The poor strawberry shortcake never stood a chance as it was very solid and competent, but was overpowered and shadowed by the aforementioned Passion Fruit Parfait.

Passion Fruit Parfait

Strawberry Short Cake

If I ever had a best meal of 2009 award, this place easily deserved that honor. Great service throughout the night with each passing dishes progressing better and better. It ended with a big bang in the final course and closed out with a flurry with the excellent desserts.

I only writing this now not just because I want to share about this place, but because I'm going back again this week. Yes, I just can't wait to see what this place had in store for us.

1104 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 395-0881


Melisse on Urbanspoon

Melisse in Los Angeles

Friday, July 10, 2009

Our Photo with Top Chef 6 contestant Michael Voltaggio (and the runner up to Top Chef Season 2)

photo courtesy of kevinEats

A few months ago, a group of us decided to make a return trip to The Bazaar by José Andrés for the private room of Saam for their 20-course meal. (well, it's the return trip for everyone of us except for one person). One of these days, I'll have to finish the review for the spectacular dinner on that night.

However, our highlight of the night was that our dinner group get to meet the chefs in the kitchen. Brian and Will of FoodDigger, Kevin of kevinEats, Tangbro1 of Only Eats What Feeds Your Soul, The Teenage Glutster, and myself was treated to the grand tour of the kitchen and have gotten a few photo ops as well.

As you take a good look at the photo on the top, you will noticed that Marcel from Season 2 of Top Chef was on the far right between Will and Bryan. The man in the dead center is attracting a lot of attention this week and for a very good reason. He was the chef de Cuisine of the restaurant, Michael Voltaggio.

Considering this week with the announcement of Top Chef Season 6 contestants revealing that chef Michael was among the contestants for the show that was taped in Las Vegas. I'm a little geeked about this only the fact that he is probably the odds on favorite to win it all (just like the few favorites who stumbled in the finale like Richard Blais and Stefan Richter).

The funniest thing about the photo was that Marcel is the sous chef while Michael is his supervising boss. If you think that Marcel finishing runner-up in Season 2 with strong contestants, gives an impression that Marcel's boss must finish better than runner-up. Does it give Chef Voltaggio the inspiration and push for winning it all for season 6?

With a resume that included working in an "AAA Five Diamonds" restaurant and working in a James Beard Finalist award (for this restaurant, the Bazaar), it would boldly stated like wise, but you'll never know until a biased decision handled out to an undeserving winners year after year. Will I tuned in for this season of Top Chef?

Oh yeah!


ps. Another caveat, Chef Voltaggio will also be competing against his brother Bryan on the show as well. Sibling rivalry on the show? I hope it's better than the contrived Euro vs USA stupidity that was on last year's show.