Thursday, August 27, 2009

FoodDigger Event @ Church and State (Downtown LA)

A few months ago, we had another exciting dinner sponsored and provided by the good people of FoodDigger. If you don't remembered them, check out my blog post of Giang Nan which was my very first invited dinner by these swell fellas.

This time around, they wanted to introduced a few new additions on their websites allowing bloggers an easier time to submit their reviews. If you have seen some of my reviews with icons on the bottom of some of my restaurant reviews where you get an idea on what I think of the restaurant (besides my grade). The linkback is reciprocated as well from the FoodDigger's website where they sent their readers to the full original contents in my blog. This is almost like getting in on the ground floor of a new website and being part of it very early.

They also have other news that night and wanted to introduce it in a very hot place at this moment in downtown LA. The chosen dining destination is called "Church and State" and was just recently given a 3-stars review by LA Times restaurant critic Ms. Virbila. The restaurant was a great choice as the praise was lavished by Ms. Virbila. To appreciate Church and State's rapid rise from an miserable beginning, you will have to get know the chef in the kitchen.

That chef would be Walter Manzke.

Church and State Bistro had a rough start early on last year where they opened to a solid success, but with poor execution. If you read Ms. Virbila's early summary of the place, you would have assumed the place is a mess. The restaurant itself was located on the ground floor of the ancient Nabisco Biscuit Co. building that is surrounded by factories and dock yards. The location is also only a few blocks away from MTA's parking lot that stored majority of the MTA buses. The best advice anyone would give is to not wandered off too far from the restaurant late at night as the neighborhood is a complete slum yard that only a few places can be considered a beacon of light, dim ones at best.

Given the grim environment around the neighborhood, the owner Steven Arroyo was still unfazed and undeterred in making this restaurant a success. Mr. Arroyo was the brain behind the Cobras and Matadors franchise and partnered up in his new Umami Burger restaurant (he owns half of the share along with partner Adam Fleischman in the new joint remodeled from his old C&M). Just like most of his establishments, it's a cool place to be, but the food is always secondary to the ambiance.


Hiring Walter Manzke was a major coup considering he was the only active head chef in Los Angeles to be awarded three 3-stars in reviews from Ms. Virbila while being the head chef (Patina, Bastide, and now Church and State). To many of his supporters, chef Manzke is a miracle worker that can turn around a restaurant's fortunes in a quick hurry and install a discipline like no others.

Now armed with being in charge of coming up with new bistro menu every other days, chef Manzke have change the perception of the place where it used to be that ambiance and environment comes first. To counter that perception, Chef Manzke is now making the food to be main attraction in coming to this place. It doesn't mean that the place is not going to be hip as witnessed by many of our dining mates. It went from business types to young crowd in a matter of hours (Ms. Virabila described it like a story taken from "Curious Case of Benjamin Button").


Being given an assigned seat, I was able to sit next to Eddie and Marshall from FoodDigger and discussed a few things about the plans and updates about their site. Will, the community manager was welcoming others in our group such as the writers behind the blogs of Gastronomy Blog, I Nom Things, Kat's 9 Lives, kevinEats, Kung Food Panda, LA and OC Foodventures, and Weezer Monkey.

As we get started and waiting for our food to arrive, we were able to munch on some Canapé and a fresh loaf of baguette. As we looked around this festive room now filled with joyous laughter and a few banters about which color of background goes well with your photos (the inevitable and unavoidable blogger talk), some of first dishes started to arrive.

Beignets de Brandade de Morue - Salt Cod, Saffron Aioli

As I was chewing a few bite of this delicious fried cod fritters that was served, I just can't help noticed my fellow blogger companions who have various different set of point and shoot cameras or the emerging SLR hounds. As I was enjoying every morsels of this well battered fritters with a scent of saffron aioli and the scrumptious cod, I just can't helped the fact that everyone was excited on to position the food for their photos. This would not be the first nor the last time that had happened where a big group of photo hounds descended upon the same plate of food.

Iced Kumamoto Oysters

"Bistro Sushi" - Smoked Herring, Fingerling Potato Salad

The iced oyster and the smoked herring were also getting some needed my stomach and taste buds. I was giddy when I saw a very fresh sets of oysters neatly stacked for of us to see. There were a bucket on each side of the table. You got to hand it to us photobloggers, we have the patience because I wouldn't wait to swoop in and take my share of the oysters. It hit the spot immediately to satisfy my initial appetite growl. Luckily for the smoked herring which was on a plate by itself for everyone, was almost like a amouse as it can be eaten in one quite bite (according to my mouth).

Some of my favorite dishes of the night were well seasoned Santa Barbara prawns which got great flavors from other ingredients of Lemon juice and olive oil and the Main Lobster that was named after one of our very own FoodDigger host, Marshall. I think the lobster is probably the best of the night even though I think a ringer was install in this plate, but you get a variation of different lobsters whenever Chef Manzke presented in his menu. Coupled with the asparagus from Hog's Farm in Salinas, California made this an attractive pair due to wonderful coupling of fresh vegetables with the Maine Lobster. The prawns was absolutely a winner as well as it was delicious.

Gambas à la Niçoise - Santa Barbara Spot Prawns, Lemon, Olive Oil

Asperge à la Tashiro - Maine Lobster, Hog Farm's Asparagus

Escargots de Bourgogne - Snails baked in Garlic and Parsley Butter

The escargot baked in garlic and parsley butter in a small porcelain bowl was massively raved by our LA critic, Ms. Virabila as the "don't pass up" when you can get a chance to order. I didn't understand her rave until I dip the snail in the rich butter sauce under the cloud of a chicken pot pie. First, the baked escargot was one of the best escargot I ever had, but to dip in this rich and savory sauce that tasted like a rich broth soup was just unfathomable. I truly wanted to steal Marshall's bowl because he wasn't eating it initially and because it was that good. Seriously, "don't pass up".

Right now, there is something that people were excited about. The charcuterie are freshly prepared by Chef Manzke daily and cut for our enjoyment. As you can see from the picture below is the various meat that is on display at a slab of a cutting board (noticed how many cameras are getting positioned to take this photo?). Chef Manzke also had a jar filled with pork rillettes where he freshly made with pork made from pork fat with prunes and Armagnac. There was a special treat with a jar of rich foie gras sauce and a basket of brioche for the charcuterie.

This I thought was the end of the evening and the charcuterie would send us on our way....but a big pleasant surprise came from the kitchen.

Assiette de Charcuterie - Selection of Artisan and Housemade Pâtés, Saucisson Sec, Terrine de Foie Gras with Port-Wine Gelée, and Rillettes de Porc with Prune Confiture and Armagnac

We were treated to a few more dishes to end our evening. Very unexpected I think.

One of the big dish that was very popular in this bistro was the flammenküche. It is essentially a pizza without tomato sauce and topped with Caramelized onions and bacon. Very light, not greasy with Gruyère Cheese that was very delicately baked to perfection. Better than your average Papa John's pizza and an easy item to satisfy anyone. It's not to going to compete with the best gourmet pizza of the world (like Pizzeria Mozza), but it is one of the more satisfying interpretation of a delicious easy pizza to make.

I got carried away when we saw the Moelle de Boeuf, the roasted bone marrow in the frying pan presented coming into our table. At this point, I was already satisfied and stuffed, but I just couldn't resist a bite of the bone marrow. That turned into a gorge of half of the bone marrow all by myself. Tender and moist with a bowl of crouton breads to make a small bite size finger snack was all I needed to make it a very memorable night.

It was hard to eat the steak frites because of the huge amount of food at this point, but the fries was too hard for anyone to stop eating. LA and OC Foodventures and I was just mowing the fries down as we both gotten addicted at this point. So far nothing have worked to stop us both from stuffing ourselves into a lifesize pinata. The steak was not bad, but it was the fries that carried the top billing in that duo.

The dessert platter was just over the top. It put us all in culinary ecstasy where we can now all know we die very happy after this meal.

Flammenküche - Caramelized Onions, Bacon, Gruyère Cheese

Moelle de Boeuf - Roasted Marrow Bone

Steak Frites - Frites au Lard, Sauce Béarnaise

Dessert - Crème Brûlée, Cherry Tart, Apricot Tart, Croustade aux Baies, Pot de Crème au Chocolat

As we look back, I would like to thank FoodDigger for inviting us and treat us to one of the best feast we ever had. It seemed like everyone enjoyed the food and the company of the evening. One weird episode to conclude the night.

Not sure if it was a blog follower or a Yelper that knew a few of us (mostly Kung Food Panda and I), where this person came from the table next to us and proceed to give Kung Food Panda a few stomach poke and atta boy shoulder pat to me. Very surreal and frightening at the same time. It didn't exact freak us out, but we got to tell that dude to calm down (too much drinkie perhaps?). Big fan of Kung Food Panda and Pepsi Monster? Perhaps.

Check out the new icons and other layouts below and at FoodDigger to see what we thought of Church and State. Here's the link to the review of the place given by some of the participants on that evening.

Church and State
1855 Industrial St
Los Angeles, CA, CA 90021
(213) 405-1434

Church & State on Urbanspoon

Church & State in Los Angeles

Thursday, August 6, 2009

All-Star Meetup @ Hatchi at BreadBar by Michael Voltaggio (Century City)

Last week was a star gazing at its finest. We're not talking about the usual celeb sightings that you routinely get at Century City, but rather we speak of the bloggers sightings! Seriously, how often do you see Bloggers in the middle of Mid-City other than Beverly Hills.

We're also not talking about Blogger proms or blogger conventions where bloggers meet bloggers, but rather an Average Joe coming to a restaurant will instantly know these camera hawks are not up to no good like some paparazzi.

Instead of worrying about which designer brand was the movie star wearing or which music star is shacking up with which reality TV wannabe, what most people wanted to know was: which camera is the prefer choice of the blogger and more importantly.... which lens are they using?

Big names was lounging around the outdoor mall of the Westfield Century City Mall waiting to be seated where I spotted Oishii Eats (sans her hubby, ahh C'mon D!). Many have arrived early with much anticipations and have been seated where luminaries such as kevinEats, Only Eat What Feed Your Soul, The Foodie Traveler, My Last Bites, and supposedly When Tara Met Blog who arrived much earlier have all gotten their tables. Our table was no slouch in filling in with the big shots such as LA & OC Foodventures, E*Star LA, Hey Hey Scensters, Kung Food Panda, Princess Kitty, and Folie à Choisauce.

Veal Sweetbread - Poached Egg, Pea Consomme, Coffee-Cardamom Soil

Why the fuss for a blogger party in the Westfield Century City Mall? For one night only, a special dinner prepared by Season 6 Top Chef contestant and current Chef de Cuisine at The Dining Room in Langham Hotel, Michael Voltaggio was able to lure in these types of enthusiastic crowd.

Let's get this out of this way as most people will point out the chaotic and spotty service. It was a rough going as some early patrons overstayed and enjoyed the restaurant atmosphere a while longer by ordering more wine. No harm in that. Kitchen was trying to catch up with the food that was ordered. Some were rushed with 4 dishes in the same time and arriving in out of order of sequences. It happens.

There was no way of avoiding this type of traffic with the only hope of redemption rests in the chef Voltaggio's cooking as the saving grace. Was it enough to overcome the early deficit? Without a further ado....

Japanese Tomato Tartare - Green Almonds, Parmesan "Overeasy", Tapenade Powders

The background of chef Voltaggio was briefly mentioned in my post about having a picture taken with him when a few of us attended a dinner at his former employment in Saam which is the private room in the restaurant "The Bazaar by José Andrés". Recipient of AAA Five Diamonds Award and finalist for the James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant instantly makes him an uprising star in a town crowded with former Top Chef contestants hoping to make a mark in LA (Ilan Hall, Stefan Richter, Tiffany Faison, Antonia Lafaso, and Fabio Viviani).

Chef Voltaggio is one of the new wave of chefs who practice molecular gastronomy, but balanced it with modern techniques that favors the presentation and the flavor to match with the ingredients being presented. It was a treat to meet him at The Bazaar where he brings out some unique dishes to his repertoire and many of us were geeked to find out what he might have in store for us when he takes over the duty of chef de cuisine at Langham. As you can see, his one night viewing at The Bread Bar attracted big numbers of bloggers want to take advantage of the $8 per dish special that was advertised for the monthly Hatchi (Eight dishes for $8 each).

Artichokes "Barigoule" - Salmon Belly, Philadelphia Cheese, Smoked Salmon Roe

Hamachi Crudo - Smoked Egg Yolk, Sea Sponge, Watermelon, Wild Rice

Veal Sweetbread - Poached Egg, Pea Consomme, Coffee-Cardamom Soil (2nd Helpings)

The pictures that are posted in the chronic order it had arrived in. As it pointed out in obviously terms, the Veal Sweetbread was the first to arrive (should be the 4th). We love the poached egg which was one of the simple dish that chef Voltaggio have stated in Top Chef's bio which he love to create. The coffee cardamom added a sweet contrast to beautifully poached egg and the savory veal that was supposed to be the spotlight. It was the poached egg that won us over.

The Japanese Tomato Tartare was a big surprise we didn't expect because we thought there was an egg whites on top of the tomato tartare, but it was rather a thinly disguised Parmesan cheese covers the well seasoned tomato. It's well noted that a tomato and cheese substituted for the beef and egg, but it worked beautifully as the light dish starting off early in our course will gradually prepare us for the heavier savory dish that will come up.

The salmon and hamachi that followed the veal sweetbread and tomato tartare were both provided in a beautiful presentation. Both dishes were greeted with the accompanied vegetables in a well thought out plate that will highlight the flavor profile of the dishes. For the hamachi, it was on top of a fresh watermelon with a dash of egg yolk for sauce. Being fresh as it was, the hamachi being mixed with fresh components would just melt in your mouth and you still can take in the flavor for a bit while after your initial bite. The salmon belly with cheese was a strange choice for mixture of flavors, but sandwiched between the artichoke, it did taste very smoothly with the amount of balance. It did seemed to look like a cream cheese on a sushi, but it worked out much better than my initial reaction.

Crispy Chicken Thigh - Cuttlefish, Green Garlic, Sweet and Sour Mushrooms

Wagyu Beef - Short Rib, Saul's Pastrami, Tamarind, Broccoli Textures, Horseradish "Styrofoam"

How did the final two savory dish worked out? It's too bad that Veal Sweetbread went first because it was suppose to join these duo as part of the bigger middle of the line up.

Here's the magic for the Crispy chicken with cuttlefish, it tasted great with the Belgium beer that was provided to us by the head of the service staff. No joke, the beer washed down beautifully of the well cooked crispy chicken and the tender cuttlefish (looked like a string of noodles) and was the best pairing of the night in terms of which alcohol beverage goes great with which dish. If we can figured a savor dish for Fat Tire, I'm all in.

The Wagyu beef with a string of pastrami underneath had a sweet sauce lavished over both of them. For kevinEats, it reminds him of a Tamarind sauce, for me I thought it was of sweeter soy sauce. I make sure to get a piece of the horseradish Styrofoam that was shaped like a sugar cube and toss it in to the green broccoli sauce, both would counteract against the sweet sauce that was on the Wagyu beef. Hot off the stove, the beef was tender and the pastrami underneath serves as a great wrapper around the ingredients and beef. Both dishes ended well for us before the desserts as the food served as a memory loss potion for the earlier chaotic service we have gotten.

Fool's Gold - Hazelnut Praline, Salty Caramel, Nitro Coffee Mousse

Miso Cake - Jasmine "Rice Cream", Strawberry, Yuzu

The desserts both have its moments and was the closer for the night. The fool's gold was a playful reenactment of a dish that resembles the great find of the gold rush, except this was better than your average gold findings. The chocolate mousse and the salty caramel was going to be an appetite killer if you started it off with those two combination. Make sure you get hazelnut praline first before frolicking in this "fool's gold". It's not the ice cream you thought it was going to be.

Luckily some of us decided to get started on the Miso cake first before further digging on the fool's gold. The miso cake had an interesting component on the plate which confuses me as a slice of spam. On further inspection, it was a sliced of savory ham that mashes with the sweet rice cream. Before we continued, we decided to drink the last two pairing of the wine to see if compliment well with the desserts. Lo and behold, it actually did served as a great elixir to mix the flavor profile of sweet and savory very well. The fool's gold of salty caramel still need to be eaten last, but at least we know something can counterbalance that after taste.

Overall, all of us did enjoyed experiencing the dishes that chef Michael Voltaggio have to display before his big move to Langham Hotel on the same week. It's enough of the preview we needed to make a visit to the Dining Room in the near future.

Weird arrange of order of dishes at first, but all well that ends well is what it matters.

As in for the blogger meetup in the Bread Bar, I cannot tell you on how many passerby have remarked that "it's probably a Blogger convention" when they see a half dozen cameras going on simultaneously in the same table whenever a dish come out. For one night, it was exciting to meet the superstars of the Foodie Bloggers world all arriving to the same arena for the same adventure. Similar interests with different methods are all on display. You can say it's one of those party where everyone shares their crafts and trades to the similar enthusiasts.

I can only hope another all-star meetup that can exist in a tiny arena happens in the distant future.

Hatchi at BreadBar by Michael Voltaggio
10250 Santa Monica Blvd
Century City, CA 90067
(310) 277-3770