Thursday, January 22, 2015

LA's best

Venice, California, January 21, 2015—
HEY, LOOK, it wasn't me said this is LA's best, it was the restaurant critic of the Los Angeles Times, Jonathan Gold, a man whose opinions I feel deserve a certain respect.

In truth it isn't the kind of place we normally patronize. Very expensive, in the first place. Japanese-French cutting-edge cuisine, for another. But now and then we feel obliged to dip our feet into today's currents, partly to see what we've been missing, more to see what we're up against.

I arrived in a state of high dudgeon. We were late because of the traffic. The restaurant's signage is so discreet we drove past it twice without noticing. The sign directing us to the valet park stand (obligatory here in Los Angeles) was almost equally obscure, and then when we did see it it turned out to be misleading. We spent ten or fifteen minutes driving around looking for the place; then we parked in front of a house, walked a block, asked someone, and were pointed to the right direction.

Big dining room, tables well spaced, fourteen servers on the floor for perhaps twenty tables. Everyone well dressed. Bizarre Rorschach wallpaper; discreet music.

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Fluke, radish, borage blossoms,
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Spaghetti in butter, white truffles
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Duck breast, applesauce, things
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Vanilla gélée, chocolate truffles, passionfruit macarons
Only three alternatives were offered: tasting menus at $150, 200, or 300 apiece, add $55 to $130 (I think) for wine pairings; add supplements if you want foie gras, caviar, truffles, or Wagyu beef. Hard to construct a meal out of all this, but we gave it a shot, choosing the restricted $150 menu (opting for only four of its six or seven courses) but adding a serving of pasta with white truffles.

We started with two or three amuse-geules: an egg yolk of grapefruit gélée in a spoonful of grapefruit-infused vodka; a nasturtium leaf taco-like shell housing a filling of puffed wild rice, julienned chives, and crème fraîche (delicious). Then a cup of mushroom velouté with a few green peas (delicious).

Then came the first real course: fluke sashimi — I forgot to mention that the chef here worked a number of years in Japan — rolled up and served with similar tiny rolls of sliced radish with tiny spinach leaves and borage blossoms.

Next came a truly delicious course, though to my taste very Japanese: a scallop, cooked (as everything was all night) to exactly the right degree, served with a garnish of finely chopped peanuts, discreet curry, and shredded, chopped coconut, all in a thin tapioca sauce. Brilliant.

We ordered a supplement to our four-course dinner: a serving of spaghetti, served perhaps slightly too cool, with a nice buttery sauce and a generous shaving of white truffles. This was good, no doubt about it: but the truffles can't be as fresh here as they are in Italy; some of the fragrance is gone…

My principle plate was duck breast with chanterelles, smoked apple purée, and celery root: good, but not memorable.

Dessert: first, a curious serving of tarragon ice cream in a chocolate-flavored meringue cup with ground-up coffee-and-cocoa powder in its bottom, surrounded by tiny, quite firm lemon and chocolate macaroon-like pearls. The tarragon seemed too strong a flavor to me, but it was a very interesting, very nice combination.

Then, more to my taste, a plate of friandises: a very light vanilla gélée cube, a dark chocolate truffle with a curiously grainy skin, and a passionfruit macaron. I liked everything about this little plate; it gratified eye and palate equally.

Chablis, Jean-Marc Brocard, 2009 (in half bottles), true to type and very nice; Pinot noir, JCR Vineyard (Santa Barbara), 2012; also very true to varietal, well made, quite ready to drink
Providence, 5955 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles; (323) 460-4170

Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

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