I am happy there is finally a fancy molecular, super elegant 2 star dinner in LA besides Providence that is not a gastropub style restaurant with dish rag napkins. We were lucky to book this for my 41st B-day for June back in May, the week before the first time Michelin guide was released in Los Angeles after a 10 year hiatus from ratings in Los Angeles. We were lucky to have booked before this as this was ranked one of the best in LA and bookings became impossible.
The ambiance here is intimate, exclusive, modern youthful and energetic. I like that it is only 8 seats per service. The decor was amazing.
The walls, which I thought were solid marble, were actually some type of Venetian plaster that looked like Quartzite, but the attendant there told me it was some other new material that looks like stone, but it a fraction of the weight given the lack of load bearing walls in the hotel. The name escapes me at the moment, but I wanted to use this for my house.
I did not even realize that the two almond shells were edible. I thought they were serving us some marcona almonds with the 2 almond shells as decorations, but it was the other way around. I was already duped before the first bite. The peach pit looking thing was actually a candy with almond paste/liquid inside.
This was aptly called “oak tree”, which seemed to have been made from chestnuts, given their flavor. I swear they had a 3D food printer here or something. Little leaves were a nice touch.
Before we were escorted to the molecular theater of the chef’s table, we had a welcome table for some sparking Reisling that was amazing, with an amuse bouche of “raspberry leaf”.
Such an immaculate newly built kitchen. Even the flower arrangement on the work station looked amazing.
We started with “hojita” which means “little leaf” in Spanish.
The menu did not really explain what was inside, but from what I remember it was a frozen lime and mezcal cocktail with spherified mango balls.
I liked the very Mexican reference of the molcajete (volcanic rock bowl) with the Hoja Santo reference to Mexican cuisine, as you can see in my Pujol Mexico blogpost. Speaking of Pujol, there was a special suprise from Pujol coming up in a dish served this night that I will mention later.
Loved this silver tray paying hommage to a “duck press”, which more accurately I should say, “chicken press”, with it’s actual barnyard appearance.
An apt recepticle for the chicken skin and liver mousse, which looked like corn on the cob.
Reminded me of :)Disfrutar in Barcelona actually. They have a similar looking dish, which I will post 10 blog posts from this.
In front of the nest was the raspberry and taragon tart.
Off to the side, the panellets, which were these smooth balls of manchego cheese covered in rice puffs, which is a take on a popular marzepan almond cookie popular on All Saints Day in the Catalan region.
The crispy skin and foie was truly amazing, and the sour taste of the moussed manchecho in the panellets contrasted nicely with the saltiness of the skin and the sweetness of the foie.
We got the super expensive reserve pairing to share along with two special bottles I brought, so we were well lubricated by the end of the night. We even tried some of our neighbor’s biodynamic wine from the other list in exchange for some of ours.
The Donhoff riesling went very nicely with this trio given it’s buttered corn profile that went with the creamy foie that was shaped like corn kernels, and the puffed rice panellets. Everything was so pretty and dainty.
This was simply called Porcini. It was shaped like a porcini mushroom, but was actually a cream pie, sandwiched by two mushrooms. That sounds really bad from a double entendre perspective. But, it was soooo good!
Next was a very “Tickets”-like “play with your food” concept. Talk about a carb-free pizza. They took juice from a pressed tomato, clarified it and through heat and pressure converted it into a powder that they then made into a merengue. It had a spongy foam-like texture, but the flavor was actually the essence of a margherita pizza.
They put actual cheese, tomato and basil on top of the tomato juice merengue crust. Delicious, had the umami of eating a pizza without the heavy feeling afterwards.
The orchestration and focus was nice to watch. It was a reminder that it takes 10 times the amount of time to arrange and plan a dinner beforehand and during, as compared to the time it take for the dinner to unfold and unravel before your eyes. This was a visual metaphor for my upcoming Spain trip that I had been planning for one year after booking El Celler de Can Roca and then arranging the whole trip around that reservation.
I liked the fact that they weighed the caviar to make sure everyone got the same amount.
This was the beet gazpacho with goat cheese and yogurt ice cream with a 3D paper print-out of “essence of beet”.
I really felt like they had a 3D food printer as a lot of the items we had were these little pop-up/cut-outs, like the “oak tree”, “mushroom”, and now the “beet”. It had horseradish sprinkled on it too. It reminded me of a Japanese daikon puree with some wasabi for kick, but with Spanish ingredients instead.
Oh ya baby, come to papa. I love spot prawns!
We know the seafood supplier here, US Sakasyu. They supply Hayato, Providence and our favorite hidden underground sushi spot that I’m still debating whether or not to blog about as I don’t want to make it harder to get a reservation there. But, damn these were good.
Santa Barbara spot prawns that were actually alive in the tank when we walked in. Come here my little lovely so I can suck your brains out.
This Sicilian white wine had a kick-ass mouth feel to it, silky, glycerine-like, and very aromatic. Shockingly good for the price. It’s a Mount Etna wine, here’s a link to the distrubtor. https://shop.kermitlynch.com/product/detail/17FGF02.html
This paired nicely with the prawn, but the next dish required some red wine. The next bite was probably the most umami’ed one of the night besides the pork which I will talk about later.
This was the shiso tartare. Loved the Russian doll container it came in.
Tempura’ed shiso leaf with steak tartar inside. They do a version of this at Daikokuya Ramen in Little Tokyo called the Fried Spicy Tuna, which is ground spicy tuna wrapped in a shiso leaf & deep fried in tempura batter.
This was beyond pretty. Loved the complete integration of the shiso plant. Shiso is Japanese mint, which in the photo was a shiso leaf battered in tempura. They used the edible flowers of the Japanese mint as garnish. Inside, the steak tartar that was inside the shiso leaf was like wagyu quality and aged in flavor. Spectacular!
Here’s how the shiso flowers look, usually served at kaiseki or kappo restaurants as garnish.
Here’s the red I was waiting for, some 1989 Hermitage. I love Northern Rhone wines, especially well aged ones. I can’t hang at the level of popping old Burgundy bottles every other night, unless it is a special occasion. I don’t brush my teeth with Montrachet every morning, but old Northern Rhone is in that sweet spot of well-aged and amazing, yet relatively affordable. In the hundreds range, not thousands.
Here was the squash seed and Osetra caviar dish that they were weighing out before. Such as pretty bouquet of food. Eye candy in addition to great flavors and textures.
Nicely done bone marrow consomme that was not too heavy for the delicate ingredients. It was on a bed of mashed cauliflower and chicken escabeche. This was called the “seeds of life”. Get it: eggs, seeds.
The 1955 Gran Reserva Rioja was such a kick-ass wine. Not corked or madeirized, just pure secondary notes, with some fruit left suprisingly. What a complex, elegant, yet bold wine. We were now very satisfied with the food and wine coming together half way into our experience.
Unwittingly we were dressed appropriately for the ocassion, matching the colorful Miro taxidermy that was hanging behind us.
This was a Spanish dessert from Mallorca called Ensaimada, that was exquisitely soft on the inside, but crunchy on the outside, like a brioche. We were suprised at the quality of the bread we ate on our Spain trip, which rivaled that of France. This was a nice precursor of what we would later experience on our trip. The “cultured butter” was amazing. It was well read and even knew about the latest operas in town. Hardy har har…
Ooouh, what’s this?..
Look, it’s sweating… Such as beautiful upside down strawberry aperol. It was sublime with regards to mouth feel, almost like liquid candle wax that coated your mouth. The slightest pressure led to an alcoholic explosion of vermouth and aperol in your mouth.
What a beautiful plate, looked like a giant white daisy. This was the hearts of palm and white asparagus.
The little circles you see are side by side rows of cross sections of white asparagus next to cross sections of hearts of palm. I understand that in the winter months they use black and white truffles, or whatever else may be in season, so I actually booked their truffle dinner in advance for Feb 27th, 2020 before I starting writing this blogpost.
I have no clue what the sauce consisted of unfortunately, but it was super creamy and surrounded by trout roe for good measure.
Next was the Kohlrabi and snap peas. The word Kohlrabi was on the tip of my tongue in the video above. I first learned about this bizarre supra vena cava looking vegetable when I ate at Benu in SF years ago. Apparently it is a Chinese stalk veggie. Not only was the dish visually stunning, but it was clean and refreshing half way through our meal.
It was so pretty I was afraid to eat it.
Lovely vegetal green flavor, but also super sweet, cold, and texture was crunchy, not mushy at all. Nothing beats peas that are in season and super fresh. Apparently with peas, even the time from when their stalks are cut can affect their freshness. I remember hearing this crazy farmer talking about this and how only people that pick vegetables have this inside baseball knowledge. It was something like you only have 1-2 days after being picked where it is at it’s peak freshness.
One happy birthday boy!!
We did not even see this dish mentioned on our menu, so it must have been some sort of add on, or maybe they forgot to type it into our menu.
It was an amazing giant ravioli filled with dungenous crab that was garnished with cilantro buds and cilantro flowers in a coconut gelee with black garlic paste dotted around it.
Fava beans engulfed in an Iberico ham gelee with morel mushrooms. The sauteed baby artichoke was excellent as well. Little did we know how central to the Basque cuisine artichoke was on our upcoming Spain trip.
Very savory dish where the chalky, nutty and smokey fava bean just melded with the pork fat to create an incredible marriage of pork and vegetables.
Here is another signature dish of the Basque region. Roblado. AKA, Turbot. This is the giant flouder looking fish that we devoured whole at the restaurant Elkano in Getaria near San Sebastian. This was just a small piece of the gelatenous goodness this fish gives.
Here is our insta link to the one we ate whole at Elkano in Getaria, Spain:
Here is the “tea” portion of the “turbot with tea”. I did not zoom in, but there was a cup with a kaffir lime leaf attached to it with a clothing pin that was so strong and fragrant, reminded me of a eucalyptus leaf, with regards to the intensity of the aroma.
Here comes one of the best dishes. It never really sank in that the filipino lechon dish that is the national pride of the Philippines has it’s roots in Spain. Even Mexico has a carnitas tradition, but the lechon dish seems to not have deviated much from it’s Spanish roots.
Here they are lining the dish with three sauces, huitlacoche, which is corn fungus; a famous Mexican ingredient, then a butternut squash sauce, as well as a fresh crema sauce. We started talking with the chef about how good the mole was at Pujol in Mexico City, and he smiled at us and said, “you will be very pleased because when our crew visited Pujol with Jose Andres, they gave us a freezer packs of their Mole Madre that is over 1000 days old.”
I don’t know if he was shitting me or what, but why would you say something like that at a restaurant of this caliber if it was not true. I was in shock that we were eating Pujol’s mole in LA. What a bonus prize of eating here on my B-day!
There is the Madre Mole from Pujol. I don’t think any other blog I reviewed on this restaurant mentioned this. I was happy we had this random conversation that led to the discovery of this fact. It could have just been that this was a limited supplement to the dish since the team had recently visited Pujol.
This was so damn good. Crispy skin and milky melt in your mouth fat from the cochinillo. This is the baby pig, which is even more tender. The 1000 day old mole to top off was just killer. What a dish to drink the 1955 Rioja Gran Reserva with, I was in heaven! They make this mole in the same style as the Spanish sherry in the Solera system, where they add new wine to old stock and keep recycling it until all the substrate has a little bit of the older stuff in it.
Then the Cow and Her Milk. It was an ice cream made from gorgonzola cheese with apple and caramel sauces in the eye of the scoop. Gorgonzola ice cream ranked right up there with some of the ice cream we’ve had at Antico, which is my favorite in LA besides Bulgarini.
Since I mentioned it, let me plug Antico’s ice cream:
Also, Bulgarini’s gelato:
Here was another relic of Spanish colonial conquest that we see as being so Mexican, “fresas con crema” (strewberries with cream) which every child knows in Mexico City as an after dinner delicacy. Even better, “fresas con nata”. Nata is the top layer of cream that is scraped off of fresh unpasteurized cow’s milk that is one of my death bed foods. It’s like the curds and whey that little Miss Muffet eats.
Oh God forgive me for posting this link. I typed Miss Muffet and this memory popped into my head.
In Mexico they eat this with bolillos, which are these brown sweet bread rolls, OMG, just talking about it makes me crave one right now.
Let me side bar quickly to school that ass with some Mexican knowlege: “Nata con Bolillo”, a cultural treasure.
Here they are pouring extracted strawberry juice on top of it. Erika was in heaven. Such a childhood food memory for her.
Loved the white ceramic cups they used for everything from wine to strawberry juice.
This bizarre looking things was either a bird’s eye view of a palm tree on a tropical island, or a sea turtle, or one of those 60’s office plants. This was the only dish I was not so crazy about. It was pineapple ice cream on a zuchini bread. It just looked uninspired and commonplace. I associate zucchini bread with 1996 Betty Crocker cook book Americana, and pineapple ice cream as some cheap, overly sweet flavor they sell at Rite Aid or something.
The concepts started getting a little tangential at this point, especially with the dessert mochi coming up. They were zigging and zagging all over the globe. Unless maybe they was sticking to the Philippeans again with regards to the Spanish colonial connection.
Luckily I was not let down for long. Here is the “cheescake bomb” station on one side and the rice pudding filled “mochi” station.
Here is the cheescake bomb. Literally looks like Jack from Jack in the Box after a bomb exploded in his face. The sour creaminess of the cheese of this inside-out cheescake was spectacular. In San Sebastian, they are know for their cheesecake, so I can see that this was a very Basque.
We were cheated out of trying this when we went to San Sebastian as La Vina was closed for renovations. Best cheescake in Spain, I’ve read.
This was one of the best desserts I have ever had in my life. So damn good! It had a texture like sandy, powdery flour from an East Coast pizza covering the mochi. Then the mochi skin itself was so soft and doughy. But, the rice pudding filling just sealed the deal for me. Rice pudding was my favorite dessert as a child, and we had it in a variety of ways when we were in Spain, especially at the famous steak restaurant that supposedly serves the best steak in the world, El Capricho. This dish also trickled down into childhood memories for Erika, with Arroz con Leche from Mexico. What a way to go out with a bang on this dinner.
Pardon my side bar, but let’s talk about Spanish rice pudding and all it’s derivations:
Final bite of the night. Xuixo. Which come to think of it sounds and looks like a “churro”. Deep fried sugar coated dough with choclate granache and caramel filling, similar to a churro relleno.
This Xuixo is apparently a dessert from the Catalan region of Girona, where El Celler de Can Roca is. It was like the first Cronut.
How do you wish someone a happy birthday when they are literally going to explode if they put one more piece of food in their mouth? You put a little candle on a baby ram, that’s how! Vale!!!!! Thank you Somni for making my birthday wish come true.