Monday, October 26, 2009

LA's Most Underrated Fine Dining Spot @ Simon LA (Mid-City)

Another edition of a dining review that took place during DineLA week where we found ourselves in a predicament that had never seemed to happen before.

We actually have to beg people to come to this restaurant.

My man Gastronomnom was working hard on the twitter and Facebook outlets to see if we can find a person to fill in the last spot in our table. In a bit of surprise, for the last two weeks leading up to reservation date, no one has decided to take up on the offer. Was it because people in LA are not familiar with Kerry Simon or his restaurant? Surely people must have heard of him if they know who Ludo Lefebvre is.

Kerry Simon is probably one the most unconventional of all fine dining chefs in LA. In many articles I have read, one of his most famous menu dish was the "Junk Food Platter" which consists of marshmallows, cotton candy, and other weird snacks that can substantially raise your calories count in one bite.

Chef Simon started his distinguished career by taking a job in a restaurant kitchen because he needed to raise money to buy a guitar for his first true job passion.... a music career! Often labeled as the "Rock n' Roll Chef", he fell in love with the kitchen and decided to stick with it as a career changing move he never regretted. In his impressive resume, it included an apprenticeship in the Michelin Three Stars restaurant of Jean Morels' L'hostellerie Bressane had worked along side with an upcoming culinary superstar in the '80s (you guys probably heard of a guy named Jean-Georges Vongerichten).

In an ascending career span, he was able to open up a restaurant in Las Vegas, aptly named "Simon". Very shortly after that, Chef Simon decided to migrate to Los Angeles and helped opened up "Simon LA" in the first floor of the very posh Sofitel Hotel.

Watermelon Margarita - $14

I can't decided if this place was going to be a loud club lounge settings as they have very chic bar right in front of the restaurant. Before I make any judgments, a Midwest couple coming out of the restaurant in their very casual tourist looked out of their elements, but did seemed to enjoy themselves. Probably hitting back to their hotel room to write to everyone back home on how they met a few celebrities in the dining room. (kidding, none were spotted that night)

The dining room was elegant and was very dim lighted for a very soothing romantic atmosphere. I guess I was expecting a lounge type restaurant that seemed to be in vogue these days for many West Hollywood restaurants that get converted into dance clubs at night, but was pleasant surprised on how very mature the setting was without giving that hint of a conversion.

Jumbo Lump Crab Salad - Avocado, Micro Greens and Grapefruit

For a New American fare, I was anticipating a steak fare for meat lover, some fish dish for seafood lover, and a vegetarian dish just round up the main course selections. I was figuring almost all of the DineLA selections played it safe to cover all three bases, but they would still need to impress to ensure for future repeat businesses from the frickle LA diners.

All three selections of the DineLA starters choices are salads. I took the Jumbo Lump Crab salad is the only one selection at the time with proteins in the salad. I really did enjoyed the salad with the avocado on the bottom of the salad providing a stark additives for the crab. It was a pleasing cleansers before the main dishes to come.

I took the initiative of ordering a watermelon margarita. Somewhat sweet, but a solid drink that goes well with this interpretation of Chef Simon's crab salad. Cocktail drinks in the menu was worth exploring for future visits.

Grilled Skirt Steak - Balsamic Roasted Root Vegetables

Much to my amazement, the grilled skirt steak I have ordered is probably the best steak so far in my DineLA experience. The medium rare selection was cooked to perfection as it was able to retain the juiciness and flavor with the texture of the steak not dried out when it was served. Balsamic root vegetables added some nice compliment and worked very well with the steak.

The steak was so good, it would be insulting to add A-1 steak sauce at this moment. It then got me thinking, if the steaks were cooked properly and seasoned correctly...would A-1 steak sauce be out of business? At this moment, who still uses that sauce anyways?

Cheesecake with Cotton Candy

One of the more bold and daring creations that Chef Simon has been marketed was for his desserts. I took a shot at the cheesecake only because it had the cotton candy. Yeah seriously, that was my only reason for ordering that dish. To my profound astonishment and going against rational that I had, I truly enjoyed the cheesecake. It looked like a half scoop of ice cream on top of the cookie, but it's really crust with a very rich cheesecake. Gastronomnom ordered the same dessert and was excited to find out it's cheesecake and not some random cream of cheese.

The cotton candy didn't do any harm to the dish or enrich the plate, which I think was only added for the show. Nothing more, nothing less.

Underrated and in many ways still uncharted for many of the LA diners. I think if the place got passes the initial press of their bizarre desserts and let their main dishes stand out, they probably can attracted serious foodies and casual restaurant patrons to dine here more than just the special occasions. The glamorous setting is a huge plus and the great service we have for the night definitely make our dining experience that night much better.

A return trip for other dishes in the future will be in the books. Definitely one of the most pleasant surprise in this go-around of the DineLA.

Simon LA
8555 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(310) 358-3979


Simon LA on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

New DineLA Visit to @ Campanile (Mid-Wilshire)

Earlier this year, I participated in few of the dining spots that were the participants of the seasonal DineLA week. It used to only last a week before expanding it to two weeks, but if it were successful, it get the extended run of 3 weeks.

The idea of DineLA week was to expose the restaurants scene in LA to casual diners who might not be privy to what each location's cuisine would be offering. Usually a hit and miss in the bargaining department because it's not always the best dish that get offer to the public, but in many cases a strong effort by the restaurant can result a repeat business from the casual diners who are looking to splurge on a full course meal down the road.

So in many ways, it is the best interest of the restaurant to put their best foot forward in ensuring that any repeat business is possible as any week night can be a lonely night in the reservation books.

Take a look at my last editions of Spring of '09 to get an idea on how DineLA have evolved: Bazaar by José Andrés , Border Grill, Dal Rae, Wolfgang's Steakhouse By Wolfgang Zwenier .

Our wine of the night chosen by Gastronomnom

To get started on one of the earliest visit for DineLA, one of our good friend (and a new blogger) Gastronomnom decided to reserve a table at the much critically acclaimed Campanile on La Brea Ave. Interesting enough, another new blogger FoodForFel have also joined us as well as Gastronomnom's fiance Amy, our long time friend Edgar, and our dining companion Veronica.

To get people familiarized with the menu concept, it usually involves a choosing of one of the starter, entree, and a dessert from the basic three choices in their brief DineLA menu. Be warn about this, it can be a hit and miss with great selections or a disastrous choice.

Poached Egg and Porcini Mushroom Cream

Roasted Beet Salad

Soup Du Jour

Our starters become a divide and conquer as we made split decisions in all three choices (with the majority of three going for Poached Egg, two going for Roast Beet Salad, and one for the soup of the day).

I decided to go for the roast beet salad for an easy cleansing of the palate. I wasn't quite sure about the poached egg because it was something that was either going to be a great dish having a running egg all over the persimmons or just a bunch of greens all over the plate. The soup of the day was nice looking warm tomato soup. In the end, I took the safer route with the roast beet salad and have no regrets (can't say the same for FoodForFel with her poached egg).

Roast Pork Loin - with mustard mashed potatoes, kale and crème fraiche

Steamed Mussels - fingerling potatoes, fennel and tomato confit

Before the main courses about to arrive, I took a very long observation of the restaurant here in Campanile where many in attendance that night was either wearing business slacks or very relaxed comfort clothing. Casual or business are both welcomed and mixed very well in the atmosphere of a historical building. This two story building was originally built for Charlie Chaplin (yes, the same Silent Movie Star) for supposedly his office back in the early days. When he got divorced from his 2nd wife, good ol' Charlie was forced to sell this place.

After decades of the place in changing hands, Chef Mark Peel who opened up the restaurant by purchasing this building with two partners, with then-wife pastry chef Nancy Silverton (where her La Brea Bakery was first to open - currently still right next door to Campanile) and Wine director Manfred Krankl, was able to restore the building and remodeled it with a restaurant in the main court yard complete with a bakery and bar on each of the side. Meanwhile, a few banquet rooms was upstairs overlooking the dining room of the restaurant. I was surprised to see the upper banquet room dedicated to the Silent Star with proclamation of "The Charlie Chaplin Room". You can't really missed it as you will get to see that room on your way to the restroom.

My delight of the night was how well cook my pork loin were as it was absolutely scrumptious and quickly devoured by yours truly. The mashed potatoes were a big hit for me as well where the side dishes are both excellent in complimenting the main protein. I also got a few bites from Veronica in tasting the steamed mussels. I have to admit I was skeptical at first, but did enjoyed the mussels as well. Alas, my big tummy wasn't able to take both full dishes.

Bourbon Bread Pudding - caramel sauce, creme fraiche

Funniest thing of the night, the only item we all agreed upon was the dessert in getting the bread pudding. It was lavished with sweet caramel sauce and a counter reduction of creme to balance it out in giving a great dessert. That was probably the only thing I can say that everyone was able to agree on, where various of opinions are given in some of the dishes.

The big question of the night, did Campanile do its diligence in attracting new patrons that otherwise would be intimidated in coming? With the price being preset for everyone ahead of time, it was easy enough, but did restaurant gives a favorable impression in return visit?

For me, definitely. Now I can't wait to try his other contemporary American cuisine dishes that he presents. Interesting side note, I was able to visit Mark Peel's former work place at Spago in Beverly Hills. You can actually see some of the inspiration transfer to Campanile. The Spago review will happen shortly, but check out places while you can. For $34 in that three course menu, it was well worth the risk to check out a new place.

624 S La Brea Ave
Los Angeles,CA 90036
(323) 938-1447


Campanile on Urbanspoon