Saturday, September 12, 2009

5x5 Chef Collaboration Dinner @ Providence (Los Angeles)

One of the interesting topic surrounds sports was that if you can form a great team consists of the greatest players of its generation, would that be an easy domination for that great team? That's why there was a concept of "Dream Team" for Olympic Basketball with mixed success. This is a good idea if there is a chemistry that works well together ('92 and '08 Olympics), but disastrous if it was an incoherent mess ('04 Olympics).

Hence, the question relating to the foodie world would be if the kitchen was filled with 5 of the best chefs in town, will you get the best meal of your life? The 5x5 concept was an idea that was put in a bold experiment that was being provided with a beautiful restaurant (such as the Providence on Melrose) served as the Colosseum venue to please the audience. In that sense, it was the diners.

The idea of five different main courses prepared by five different chefs put images of a relay race of an Olympic race instantaneously. In order to have a good start, the first dish need to set a good tone. Then the rest of the dishes need to carry on in a consistent progression and with the final dish end in a spectacular final dash to the finish line. Appetizers and desserts are not required in this 5x5 Olympiad, but all of the five dishes of that 5 (courses) by 5 (chefs) will have to maintain its consistency. Team work and chemistry are essential and keys to that goal of winning that race (in this case, satisfying the whims of the customers who paid $150 thinking it will be the meal of a lifetime).

If you ever watched Top Chef, you will always see contests that required team work in the team competitions where the contestants often were not having communications among each other to carry out the progressions. Each dishes were treated like a baton being handing off from one dish to another. One dish can come off savory, but the next one would come off sweet, you do not want to see a mishap like that in an expensive $150 five course meal. Which was the big intrigue to see if any of the top chefs in this town can worked well together to bring out the best meal for the diners who are paying $150 per head on that night.

To start off, Michael Cimarusti (head chef/owner of the Providence) was providing us with a quartet of Amuse Bouche before the main courses comes out. Chef Cimarusti was sitting this one out as he graciously provided the venue and opened up his kitchen to five different chefs that will showcase their work that night in the fable 5x5 meal.

I don't know if was a tradition, but I guessed the host of the venue would always provide an amuse bouche or a quick starter for the guests to munch on before the dishes arrives. I went back to Providence 6 weeks later and enjoyed a wonderful meal with a different arrangement of edible one-biters as well by Chef Cimarusti.

Quartet of Amuse Bouche (Hokkido Scallop, Sea urchi Roe on Tomato, Greyhound cocktail Spherification, and Tasmanian sea trout over salmon skin)

The first one on the left was the Hokkido Scallop surrounded with puffed rice over bed of Sriracha and mayonnaise. The center two pieces of the amuse bouche were the sea urchin roe on top of tomato and the Greyhound cocktail spherification.

To start off the night in the right tone, sometimes it only takes one bite to realize you will have be in a treat for a wonderful meal. I always have various different amuse bouche at other fine dining places as well. In many ways, I have many one biters that are similar to what chef Cimarusti's amuse, but has always been impressed with his interpretation and playful look on a liquid nitrogen drink. The greyhound cocktail was something I never had before, but love how it held together in the liquid form and dissolved once it reached your taste bud.

21a by you.
Sea urchi Roe on Tomato and Greyhound cocktail Spherification

The last of the starter was the Tasmanian sea trout over salmon skin, with soy sauce crème fraîche. My impression about the sea trout, Hokkido scallop, and the sea urchin roe were wonderfully presented and have a great taste. Nicely throughout in terms of what to add appropriately and each of the seafood specialty was something I can imagine eating as a whole dish at Providence.

Overall, I had a great impression of what Providence was going to offer in the menu. Eventually I would make a visit here in the short immediate future to get some of his offerings in his 9 course tasting menu.

Hamachi Sashimi - Ton buri, Asian pear, red radish and fennel (by David LeFevre of Water Grill)

The first dish of the night was by a talented young chef from Water Grill, David LeFevre who gave us his interpretation of a Hamachi Sashimi. It had a nice little tonburi, which was seeds of fireweed that has texture and taste closely resemble a caviar. Truth to be told, I honestly thought it was caviar until I took good close look of it. The hamachi was fresh and very delicate where it just melt in your mouth once you took a bite. Very delicious from the start where the tempura with slices of sweet Asian pear was paired on the dish as side for contrast against the hamachi.

The tempura had a mixture of Dungeness crab wrapped in shiso leaf with a tart cream on top to give it a crispy bold taste. Adding a sweet pear underneath was an act of counter reduction against a little bitterness of the shiso. It worked well enough as a compliment pair against the hamachi and complete the overall dish much to my surprise as I initially thought the tempura was unnecessary.

Unexpected, but much to my amazement, it was one of the dishes I really liked that night.

Shellfish "Printanière" - Santa Barbara prawns, abalone, Japanese sword squid, clams, lemongrass-shellfish emulsion (by Josiah Citrin of Mélisse)

My favorite dish of the night was from my favorite chef of the moment, Josiah Citrin of the restaurant Melisse. For this shellfish dish to include bits and pieces of albone, a Japanese sword squid, claims, and some Santa Barabara Prawns to go along in one harmonious way, the dish turns out to be a divine classic.

Truly, a remarkable dish that made me a believer and a big fan of chef Citrin. In fact, after the dish, I told chef Citrin I would be visiting him very soon. At this Spring discovery menu dinner that night one month after this 5x5 dinner, he came up to our table and indeed remembered our conversation of about my intended visit to Melisse.

If I have one dish to remember my evening, it would be this dish of chef Citrin's Shellfish Printanière.

Sautéed Wild Striped Bass - white carrot purée, nettles, fava beans, fennel pollen (by Neal Fraser of Grace)

Next dish was very highly anticipated by yours truly was from Grace's Neal Fraser. A beautiful wild striped bass that had a sidekick of a white carrot puree. The thing that bothers at first was the look of the carrot puree because I thought the color was not very pleasing to look at. However, I find it very refreshing to have a carrot puree to have this sweeter taste than the usual potato puree that usually accompanied a fish dish.

The nettles and fava beans that was sided with the striped bass offered an interesting contrast. Not necessary for the benefit of the fish because it didn't enhanced the flavor profile of the bass, but it does a contrast to counter reduce the savory rich complex taste of this bass. Helpful because it made the rich flavor of the fish stands out. Luckily the fish did not have any unnecessary tangy, fishy smell. One of the great ingredient to increase the enhancement was add a Lemon, it increases the smell, but masked the flavor. For us, the big favor the chef did for all of us was let the fish standout by itself with the bass being sauteed enough to give crisper outside and tender inside of the skin.

A competent contemporary dish that was aimed to please, was able to handle off the baton of progression to the next dish with comfortable room of lead.

Barley Timbale - peas, artichokes, foie gras, mushroom sauce (Gino Angelini of Angelini Osteria)

The fourth main course of the night was a favorite of a few of my dining mates. Essentially on how this dish is to come out was that it was a barley risotto layered inside of a wrapped spinach with a hint of foie gras and a tomato on top of the spinach.

The main component on this dish to me was the barley layered with the other vegetables. The barley was wonderfully cooked to almost perfection. The vegetables of spinach and tomato complimented the barely very well. The mushroom sauce also helped enhanced the flavor of the dish. The foie gras was the side addition rather the main component of this dish, actually is better off as the supporting cast as the barley was rightfully the highlight of this entire plate.

Roasted Duck "Apicius" - spiced pineapple, rhubarb and celery root (Alex Stratta of Alex)

The hammer of the night and the main guest chef in this 5x5 course was an out of town special guest, Alex Stratta who is the head chef of his namesake restaurant in Las Vegas called "Alex". The much acclaimed chef garnered the impressive Mobil Five Diamonds rating for his restaurant Alex and have won acclaims for Best Chef in Southwest from the James Beard Foundation.

Chef Stratta presented his dish of Roasted Duck "Apicius". The aforementioned word of Apicius was often attributed to classic European fusion cooking that dated all the way back to the Roman times. It was often suggested that Roman Emperor Marcus Apicius were credited for the collection of Greek recipes that would attributed to the fabulous feast that was hosted by the Roman foodie Emperor. Over the centuries, many of the classic cooking and recipes from the Apicius era were the influences of many different types of European fine cuisines.

The roasted duck on that night had some interesting spices and celery roots that gave an arousing aroma that heightened the intricate taste of this well rested roast duck. It was cut at the right time as it was able to maintain the juiciness without drying out the texture of the meat. The sauce with a hint of a few sweet ingredients in the sauce that can offer enhancement in the flavor profile while adding the richness to the juicy duck.

Excellent way to end the main course of this example of a great fine dining. I think it started it off in a fast and ferocious way, maintain in the middle , and ended in a full sprint. Relating to a sport race, it's a blowout race.

Un Café à Bordeaux - canelé ice cream, coffee parfait and toasted hazelnuts (Adrian Vasquez of Providence)

Inside of canelé ice cream


The deserts was an added treat for us later on after this meal. It was often cited that Adrian Vasquez, pastry chef of Providence serves the best deserts in Los Angeles. For many, deserts is often the closer to a fine meal where it could complete tone of any epic meal. On this was no exceptions.

The canele and ice cream parfait were well composed and these delicious sweet creamy deserts that were badly needed to end the parade of fine savory dishes. The mignardises candies were also very welcome as well.

In retrospect, to find out each of these fine dining establishments and asked them to provide you with one of their better dishes to help showcase their work was a great idea. For $150 that was the price tag, it was worth it. Part of the proceeds of the $150 tab goes to the Southern Chapter of the Special Olympics makes it much more worth while.

Even though this meal happened back in April 28, I have very fond memories of each of those dishes. Thanks to kevinEats for organizing this outing for us as Will & Brian from FoodDigger were able to join us, as well Kung Food Panda and Tangbro 1 from Only Eat What Feeds Your Soul!.

5 x 5 Restaurant participants

Providence (Host, amuse bouche, desert)
5955 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038
323) 460-4170

Water Grill
544 S Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90017
(213) 891-0900

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

Grace Restaurant
7360 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036-2501
(323) 934-4400

Angelini Osteria
7313 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036-2534
(323) 297-0070

3131 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109
(702) 248-3463

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Place That Housed Beer Lovers @ Animal (Los Angeles)

A month ago, one of my friend Linden confided in me that his two new favorite restaurants of the year were LudoBites and Animal. He and his lovely fiance, Amy had invited a group of us to LudoBites and showed us around on what to order at one his new favorite place of the year. It was a fantastic meal that night as we ordered almost everything in the menu.

Given that the success of that meal from LudoBites was an excellent choice by Linden, I was more than curious about his other choice for the favorite "new place" of the year where he had mentioned about the decadent foie gras that was served here and the pork belly that was to die for.

It doesn't take me very long for my head to come up with a bright idea to visit Animal very soon. It comes very naturally I guess to suggest that I would like to visit this place to see if it fulfill the same satisfaction as I had at LudoBites.

CasinaVel Del Prete (Barbera d' Asti - 2007 Piedmont) - $47

The much ballyhooed and acclaimed chef duo of Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo known as the "Two Dudes" because of their TV show on the Food Network, which they have shown their audiences to defy conventional cooking as they have ushered in new ways of cooking for traditional American cuisine. Discussions about categorizing their food as New American would be still be too conventional for them as they continue to push the envelope on re-inventing the old classic dishes.

In many ways, the Two Dudes reminds me of the "Too Hot Tamales" of Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger. Just like the Tamales, the duo of Shook and Dotolo worked in the same restaurant before traveling to a new city together. In fact, the funniest similarity is that Shook and Dotolo both became TV personalities at Food Network on a show called "Two Dudes Catering". Just like the Tamales were able to do early on in their career was to reach to vast audience in define a niche for themselves and expose the type of food they want to cook.

The show worked out very well for the Dudes as it gives them both a chance to exert their personalities in their cooking without the retread of boring conventional cooking methods. It's an entertainment for the television broadcast, but does the unconventional cooking methods worked in the kitchen?

Throughout the night, I would get to see how the free spirited chefs with no boundaries and have many times on their show proclaimed "they play by their own rules" would leave their indelible mark in their cooking. In some way, it works. While other times, it left me wondering.

One of my friend Holly from The Michelin Project and her good friend Kat's 9 Lives had invited a few of their friends from the OC and various Yelpers to complete this dining extravaganza. We had a dining companion who was very well versed in ordering wines for our tables because the selections of wine was very limited in the menu. That was one beef I had with this place because the few wine bottles we had ordered doesn't seemed to fit with the courses we had (which the wines were suggested by the staff) .

In matter of fact, one of the beer our dining companion chose was much better suited than the two wines we had ordered for majority of the dishes.

Foie Gras, Biscuit, Maple Sausage Gravy - $22

Pig Ear, Chili, Lime, Fried Egg - $10

One of the dish that was agreed upon unanimously before we even looked at the menu was the pig ear. I think everyone was giddy because they thought it would be soft and tender like a liver. The ear was cut like a shredded strips and was topped with a fried egg. The playful look soon gave way to the chili and lime that accompanied the pig ear made it more spicy. The new hot taste was exciting and added an unexpected element to this exotic dish.

The big hoopla of the night was the very first dish that came out: Foie Gras with maple sausage gravy on top of the biscuit. The Foie Gras was cooked just about right where it delicately place on top of biscuit where it can be easily cut as it was very tender and would melt instantly right in your mouth.

Once you take a bite of the foie gras, the flavor just exploded right into your taste buds. The maple sausage gravy was something I couldn't stopped eating as well. It's not quite mushy like an average puree, but was very creamy with delicious bold flavor. The sausage is part of the supporting cast of the maple flavored gravy. Both worked with the biscuit, as all the components comes together for the foie gras.

Pork Belly, Kimchi, Peanuts, Chili Soy, Scallion - $12

One of the more inventive dish of the night was the kimchee pork belly. The pork belly was an absolute delicious succulent piece of heaven you want to repeatedly eat all night long. Their interpretation of of adding kimchee salad reminds me of an abstract Ceveche salad with pork belly replacing the hot shrimps as the components.

This is one of the dish that I thought the Two Dudes was able to redefine and made it one of their own. It was very unique in the fact they incorporated a Korean dish onto their menu and remade the pork belly dish as a fine example of anything goes with it.

Holus Bolus (syrah) 2007, Santa Ynez Valley - $50

Barbecue Pork Belly Sandwiches, Slaw - $10 each

Two other things that goes well with pork belly, the second wine we have ordered and the cold slaw. Finally, the wine have worked with a dish. We ordered a syrah (Holus Bolus) which has a nice robust flavor in the wine that compliment very well the pork belly sandwich we have just ordered. The cold slaw replaced the lettuce as the pork belly sandwich became Animal's version of a mini slider.

Fine interpretation of a classic burger? Perhaps. $10 for each slider? That was the reason it gave me some pause.

Sweetbreads, Creamed Spinach, Capers, Hen of the Woods - $12

Quail Fry, Girts, Chard, Slab Bacon, Maple Jus - $28

Balsamic Pork Ribs, Herb Butter - $37

Succotash (goes with the pork ribs)

Flat Iron, Artichoke hash, Truffle Parmesan Fondue - $25

The main courses are for most part the big attraction in wanting to fill up the tank while emptying your wallet. Their Balsmic Pork Ribs are excellent and very tender where the meat just fell off the bone. Well prepared and seasoned, it was one of the big surprise of the night. For $37, it was also the one dish that we were watching our budget. To go splurging without a discern taste, yes it would be worth it. Value for the price? To make that call, let's see if any pork ribs would cost that much in real life and judge it from there against other ribs. (To be honest, I had better ribs that was for half of the price for the same size of slab of ribs).

Two of the more challenging dishes were the sweetbreads and the quail leg. Let me get to the positive first about the quail leg, I thought that was the best main course of the night. Probably slight edge over the balsamic pork ribs. I thought it was very well breaded and very juicy in the meat that for a few second you would forget to swirl it around the maple jus. You probably don't need it as it can be a standalone dish without too many other components in that plate.

Unfortunately, it can't be said for the sweetbreads and the flat iron. From the look of the photos above, both dishes were surrounded and ganged up by supporting elements that was probably needed to cut down by two to three ingredients. The sweetbread isn't a main course, but might as well be enjoyed as such. It had a mushroom of Hen of the Woods (pretty much known as "Maitake" mushroom) where it got lost in the plate as other garnishes were all over the plate.

The flat iron suffered a worse fate, the truffle parmesian fondue overwhelm the smell and flavor of the steak. Its taste totally got lost where I'm not sure which component of that dish was suppose to be the main one, even though the flat iron was the first item listed in the dish.

For most part, a lot of these garnishes or ingredients could have worked. In all confessions, I did like the sweetbreads and quail legs by itself. If it is needed to add other components, it's still would be fantastic dishes. Forced upon to eat it with the said garnishes and ingredients, many of our dining mates wound up scrapping it off and leave it on the side. Eventually, maybe we can dipped it in the sauce or eat it separately.

Panna Cotta, Saba - $7

Bacon Chocolate Crunch Bar, S&P Anglaise - $7

Tres Leches, Dulce de Leche - $7

Brown Butter Berry Tart, Whipped Creme Friache - $7

The deserts are probably on par with some of my favorite restaurants, but would not be in the same class as some others (Melisse, Providence) that can end the night on high note. Yes, I could definitely say that Panna Cotta and Tres Leches were interesting desserts, but lack the high expectancy of the tartness we usually come to expect from these two popular desserts.

My favorite desert (and the most ignored in our table. *sigh*) was the bacon chocolate. I was in love with the bacon as it had a bit of the salt. It tasted very delicious with the chocolate bar and with the crunchy bar dipped in that Anglaise cream is an absolute delight. The Bacon Chocolate bar is probably the only thing that prevent me from disregarding the entire deserts lineup.

I do think their style of cooking would be greeted by the masses that are looking for something unconventional, but yet tasted so delicious. In retrospect, I did think most, if not all of their dishes were well thought out and were fantastically delightful when the place reaches the table. Presentation of the garnish on certain dishes can cut back a little to showcase the main proteins on the dishes.

If they can figured out on how to get more wines that matches with their dishes, they make a killing in this place with alcohol. Beer selections that include IPA is on hand. Seriously, no joke on this one, the beer worked wonders that night with so many of the dish which I have to say the selection of Paulaner Hefe-Weizen is the best. One more thing, Mexican Coke is served here.

When they start serving Mexican Pepsi, I'll surely be back in an instant.

435 N Fairfax Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 782-9225


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