Pardon the wordy review, but following is a three-hour tour of grandeur.
We make an impulsive, unresearched U-turn on Melrose while dinner-hunting, which can be hazardous, and give the Mini to the valet. We are whisked past the elegantly darkened bar area, seated and given menus. We blink a few times while swallowing our "I wasn't entirely ready for this" fears, then give in to the Chef's Tasting Menu*. This entire first paragraph happens within two minutes.
We are immediately taken care of by the tall, whip-thin and efficient Jackson, who starts us on our journey of immense quality. New flatware and plates are exchanged with every course; new half-glasses are filled with a courteous explanation of each. Between many of the courses are diminutive joys: tiny roundels of cheese-topped biscuit, squares of spongy focaccia with herbed butter.
Each of the five courses will be paired with a wine; let's get to it. The Albacore Tartare is almost a paté, so delicate that the muddled oranges on top melts into the tuna. The decorative lotus root has been sliced thin into chips. Bianca has ordered a vegetarian tasting menu, so relishes a Blood Orange Salad with Beets, of amazing texture and complexity.
Wine: 2000 Von Buhl Sekt Brut, from Germany. This is very good, not headachy and nose-tickling like so many sweeter sparkling rieslings.
Already we are mightily impressed.
Squid and I are not bosom buddies, but the Calamari "A la Plancha" with slices of grapefruit, a chorizo piquillo marmalade, and brushes of truffle oil, is so brilliantly assembled, mixed so luxuriantly and so skillfully that I savor warmth and coolness in the same bite.
Wine: A Santa Barbara chardonnay we didn't care much for, but then chardonnays are bitchy things. See headachy comment above.
I am also not a huge fan of cooked salmon, since it so easily descends into "peach-tinted pencil eraser" flavor, but the Crispy Skin Salmon is easily one of the top salmon dishes I've ever had, pale and demure, the skin crunchy and charred. The potato gnocchi and garlic puree are perfect minions for this anadromous monarch.
Wine: a 2007 Bodegas Ateca "Atteca", a garnacha from Calatayud, Spain, which rules. Its legs are thin but it's got a lot of personality; we're nuts for Spanish varietals anyway.
By this time we're happily tweaked on wine.
The New York Strip is stunning. Just a forkful of wild mushroom dipped in the steak's juices is a mouth-shutting experience. Fingerling potatoes and anchovy butter complete this medium-rare masterpiece, and the tiny halves of grapes, while a surprising inclusion, fit well. Bianca has an Onion Risotto, almost a rice porridge in consistency, with simple yet breathtakingly tasty onion rings atop. To accomodate these two disparate flavors, Jackson proves his worth by offering us a choice between the paired wine (a California cab) and a Becker Pinot Noir, from Germany; we choose the latter. After the meal we will ask Jackson if we could see the label again so we can remember it; he simply pulls out a bottle with nearly a third left and gives it to us in a Foundry bag.
Dessert. Sugared Doughnuts, cushy ellipsoids of goodness, like beignets but with crystalized sugar instead of powdered. The pineapple and saffron marmalade was expertly made but not our mood; it would go superbly with a breakfast toast. The chocolate hazelnut dipping sauce, however, is (____)**; the combination of doughnut and sauce must be like when gods have weddings. We forego the Bonny Doon dessert wine since we're comfortable, but also think that this magical dessert would be orgasmic with a 10-year-old port.
The pairings were overall a success; the only thing we'd say is that the wines, being generally young, aren't so much overpowered by the excellent food as simply outclassed and overawed by the charisma and umami of each thought-provoking course. This says something about the food, not the wine. Mr. Greenspan is an unsung genius, at least until someone writes a song about him.
Is this pricey? Yeah. A Chef's Tasting Menu with wine pairings and a generous tip comes just shy of three hundred. But it's worth every damned cent, and we are put in a good place by all this. They also have individual plates and wines for those wishing to dip their feet.
* The chef being Eric Greenspan, you see.
** Please insert your closest exclamation to "OMGWTFLOLZ" here.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), West Side/West Hollywood, American )
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