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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Surf and Turf in Downtown LA

Here are tidbits from my dinela experiences.

1) If you like seafood, are near downtown during the lunch hour and don't get to go to the Water Grill on an expense account, you may want to try it.

The cucumber rolled spicy big eye tuna with hearts of palm puree, ruby grapefruit and tobiko (green fish eggs) was refreshing and spicy but nothing to write home about.
The grilled Columbia River White Sturgeon with coriander spiced yam, rapini, baby roasted beets, pearled barley and oregano, on the other hand, was very good. The sweetness of the beets went very well with the meatiness of the fish and that yam puree was so soft and with just enough of a kick to make it interesting.

The desserts were decadent and well-made.

2) If you are near downtown and like burgers, O Bar and Kitchen is a hidden gem that serves excellent sliders for great value. For $22, you get a huge butter lettuce salad, a set of 3 sliders with bacon, provolone, horseradish, aioli, and tomato confit, served with truffle parmesan tater tots and dessert. My companions and I were immediately skeptical of the place when the bread first arrived as the bottom of the breads were hard as rocks as if they had been microwaved. It didn't help that they also looked like bread you get in airplanes -- not a good sign, we murmured to ourselves. But the new bar/restaurant located at a lobby of a boutique hotel redeemed itself with its food. The mezze of hummus and other goodies to dip the pita triangles in was solid.

The tater tots were a bit greasy but the sliders were cooked perfectly (despite the fact that all three of us had asked for medium-rare, medium and medium-well) to our liking. The horseradish and other sauces that accompanied the sliders were just what the bloody red meat needed. Plus, they looked so cute! The big disappointment was the desserts. I practically went here for the desserts, most notably the chocolate churros and chocolate croissant bread pudding. One bite each was enough of a turnoff. Don't go for the desserts.

Water Grill
544 S. Grand Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90071
(213) 891-0900

O Bar and Kitchen
819 S. Flower Street
Los Angeles, CA 90017
(213) 623-9904

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Fancy Digs and Good Food at Gordon Ramsay

It's official. I went positively overboard with this dinela business. They had me at prix-fixe. It may have to do with my first dinela experience at The Bazaar being so memorable and titillating. But is that an excuse to subsequently eat at Grace, the Water Grill, Il Moro, O Bar and Kitchen, Ford's Filling Station and finally, Gordon Ramsay at The London all within a span of one week? Let's just say I won't be having any more chocolate mousse cakes or panna cotta anytime soon.

I've done the "hard work" for you and sampled all that these usually-out-of-reach restaurants have to offer. Apparently I wasn't the only one sampling because many of the restaurants have extended dinela menus until the end of February. So what are you waiting for? Get thee to The Bazaar, Gordon Ramsay and Grace! Yes, in that order.

Behold the confit beet salad with ricotta cheese, beetroot dressing and endive above, which was as beautiful to the eye as it was to the palate. Or the pave of sea trout with white cabbage and pickled ginger, kohlrabi and celeriac cream sauce to your right. The fish was fresh, crispy on the outside and clean-tasting -- minimally seasoned as to bring out its true flavors -- not drowned in a sauce, which was nice for a change. The braised ox cheek with port wine, horseradish creamed potatoes, glazed turnips and braising jus was melt-in-your-mouth delicious. I could really taste the mushrooms in the creamy wild mushroom soup and the desserts didn't disappoint either. I confess I'm not a huge dessert person so after a few meals, they started to blend. But I do recall them being not too sweet, which is important for me and a good balance of hot (e.g., molten chocolate cake) and cold (usually vis-a-vis ice cream or gelato). One appetizer I didn't care for was the rabbit and smoked bacon ballottine, although I loved the pickled vegetables "piccalilli" and toasted brioche that came with a luscious pate.

I was pleasantly surprised at the Gordon Ramsay because I had expected a lot of style over substance. But alas, while the decor was very Hollywood and we even spotted a model dining two tables away, the service was attentive and friendly and the food was excellent and clearly well-thought out. I love it when good ingredients speak for themselves and the Chef does his magic to turn a good food item into something great.

Grace, on the other hand, had good food but bad service. The Dungeness crab salad with English peas and meyer lemon vinaigrette was refreshing and very good. The braised beef short rib with red wine risotto, cavolo nero and red wine sauce was good but not transporting.

Gordon Ramsay at The London
1020 N. San Vicente Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90069
(310) 358-7788

7360 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 934-4400

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Bazaar: Lovely and Amazing

I am still recouping from the fantastic meal I had at Bazaar, a beautiful Spanish bar/bakery/restaurant by one of my favorite chefs, Jose Andres. He has finally landed in LA -- after years of building his incredible restaurant empire in DC. Thanks to dinela, I ventured to this somewhat pricey and hard-to-get reservation, but boy, am I glad I did. I am happy to declare that LA finally has a respectable tapas joint!

Everything about the dining experience was first-rate, including food, service and ambiance. The prix-fixe dinner was $44, and included an appetizer of the famous deconstructed philly cheese steak sandwich described as "Air Bread Filled with Cheese and Topped with Kobe Beef." The tender-as-butter meat was perfectly cooked with just a blush of red for juiciness and as I bit into the air bread with cheddar cheese, I can't say it tasted like a Philly Cheese Steak but it didn't matter. It was more ethereal and a different experience from the down-home sandwich dripping with caramelized onions you'd expect from a Philly. After the first course, you can pick up to three tapas from the traditional ("Rojo") or modern ("Blanca") menus.

Before I get into what we ordered from the set menu, let me rave a little bit about its drinks menu. It had unusual cocktails, like a cotton candy mojito that was interesting. It also had pisco sour, which is my favorite Chilean cocktail of all time and some unusual sangrias made with cava, Spanish sparkling wine. Our friendly waitress made the cava sangria for us tableside, which assured me that it's not diluted wine we're getting for $42. The mix had orange peel, green grapes, raspberries and some other ingredients that made the sangria taste refreshing and probably perfect for a hot summer day.

Now for the very best part of the meal, which is saying a lot because most everything about this meal was just about perfect. I had read about the jamón Ibérico de bellota, acorn-fed, free-range Ibérico ham from Spain. I have fond memories of savoring some of the best hams when I traveled around Spain years ago and had been disappointed every time I searched for similar versions in LA. The search is officially over. This ham is not to be confused with jamón serrano, which is a less expensive variety that's not nearly as soft and delicious as the bellota. One couldn't even buy jamón Ibérico in the US up until recently and we apparently have Jose Andres to thank for. The razor-thin slices laid out on a plate of marble were so astonishingly delicious that it hardly mattered that we paid an extra $36 for one plate alone. It came with a plate of pan de tomate, toasted bread that has been rubbed with the insides of a tomato. The ham was excellent by itself but the bread added an extra dimension with the pairing.

I had also read about these so-called liquid olives originated by Ferran Adria of El Bulli fame (where chef Andres trained under him). This is another one of those "hype is true" moments. I like real olives but the little pearls of olive essence that pop in your mouth in an explosion of flavors is simply priceless. Genius. We also got real olives stuffed with piquillo peppers and anchovies (an appetizer I had served at dinner parties from his cookbook to rave reviews) in a tin can (they serve fancy mussels and oysters from the can -- must try that another time).

The choices were many and we made sure we got a good mix of old (from traditional menu) and new (modern). Since I have a weakness for anything fried, it wasn't difficult coming up with chicken croquettes with bechamel sauce and
buñuelos, or cod fritters. Having tried to make it at home several times to mixed success, I appreciated the artistry and care that it took to make the incredibly crispy croquettes that were oozing with tender chicken meat melded with the creamiest bechamel sauce. They were truly perfect.

The cod fritters were equally good and made even better by the accompanying honey garlic mayo sauce you dip them into to temper the saltiness from the cod. But even a fried food lover like me can't survive on fried food alone. The waitress recommended an arugula salad to balance out the heaviness.

It was a great suggestion that included arugula rolled into jicama like sushi rolls, topped with quinoa, Cabrales blue cheese, micro greens and raspberries on a bed of corn. It did just what it was intended to do -- add a healthy dose of refreshing crunchiness. And what beauty it was to the eye. Just look at those colors!

While still good, these dishes were not as spectacular as the rest. They included wild mushroom rice topped with

Idiazábal cheese and Galician lobster medallions with olive oil crushed potatoes and paprika. We wanted a rice dish to round everything out and got the lobster because it sounded good and also seemed one of the more expensive items we could get for our set meal (gotta milk it to the max in these tough times). My dinner companion said the rice seemed undercooked but it was fine for me. It was bomba rice that is the rice used for paella.

The lobster was tender enough but there was an herb or something that turned me off. It may have been the chervil herb that was sprinkled on top or something about the smoked paprika (pimenton) that didn't jive with the flavors. It gave out a strong flavor that I couldn't get into. Maybe it was related to the foam. Gorgeous presentation, though.

As great as it was, the meal wasn't over just yet. Dessert awaited and the waitress asked if we wanted to head over to the bakery section to check out the spread of offerings, which we dutifully did. I should mention here that the space is one big room designed by Phillipe Starck divided into various sections -- the bar, bakery and the restaurant. We were sitting against one of the walls on the restaurant side, plush with pillows for comfort.

Dessert was a continuation of the culinary revelation. Take a look at the colors and configuration of this baby! Even though beet meringue may not, at first, have a good ring to it, it was nothing short of amazing. Beet meringue with pistachio and berries, with a side of rasberry sorbet. I'm not even a big fan of meringue but the moment I bit into one of those halves, the lightness of the texture with a slight but definitely present sweet beet flavor just tickled the palate. Again, genius.

I ordered an apple bread pudding called Apples "Carlota" with saffron sauce and a sorbet that was refreshing. I was so intoxicated with the experience that I don't remember its flavor, just the soft texture that complemented the soft bread pudding very nicely.

In short, I can't wait to return. I have many other restaurants lined up for dinela, but I'm not sure any of them will meet the very high bar set by The Bazaar. It has a great outdoor seating area that I'm sure will be the place to be in the summer for happy hour or otherwise. I can't wait to return and sample the rest of the exciting menu. I daresay that Bazaar is actually better than his tapas joint, Jaleo, in DC. I haven't been to minibar but Cafe Atlantico and Zaytinya have always been stellar.

As Jose Andres likes to say over and over on his show, Made in Spain, this was truly an astonishing experience. I urge any Spanish food lover or any adventurous foodie to give Bazaar a shot.

The Bazaar
SLS Hotel
465 La Cienega Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(310) 247-0400