Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Bazaar by Jose Andres at SLS

A week after my DineLA inauguratory dinner at the Bazaar in the SLS Hotel, I still don't quite know what to think about the restaurant. What is it that makes it a "bazaar"? There aren't any famous bazaars in Spain. Perhaps the 24 karat golden squirrel coin bank or the $1,000 paparazzi photos that HC pointed out constituted a bazaar. I briefly contemplated the reaction my waiter would have if I tried to haggle the price of the jamon Iberico. But how is this supposed to be a reflection of the food. As I found out that night, the Bazaar is more of a description of the atmosphere than the food, which is most of the reason I'd go there anyway.


If rich people ever shopped at a bazaar, I wonder if they'd still appreciate the bargaining and haggling as much. I sure felt like a shopper looking for the best combination that my DineLA $44 would get me. My choice of three tapas, a "Philly" cheesesteak, and a choice of dessert for $44 would only be a deal if I looked at the more expensive selections. Therefore, most of my picks, and those of my companions, were seafood heavy.

We did opt for the jamon Iberico de bellota made of acorn-fed Spanish pigs because, how could we not? Mattatouille refers to jamon Iberico as pork crack. Indeed, that sandy texture of cured meat is one I could keep in my mouth forever. Almost as good as Ore's culatello at Totoraku.

Perhaps the division of the menu into "rojas" and "blancas" was meant to reflect proper wine pairing, but I chose almost indiscriminately based on price. While that may be a terrible thing to say for a foodie, I was here for a deal and it was Chinese New Year after all. If I'm not going to get proper Chinese food, I was going to get my money's worth.

Hence the obligatory canned king crab with raspberries and raspberry vinegar, the most expensive "canned" item. While the raspberries were a refreshing touch, the crab lacked any deep flavors of its own. In fact, the fruit overwhelmed the shellfish, which made the entire dish somewhat off. Several other seafood items including kumamoto oysters, mussels and scallops were available in tin also. According to the menu, Spain is one of the foremost canning regions, and this was Chef Andres' ode to the rich tradition. However, none of the items are actually canned; they're merely served in a tin.

How would you make a fancy Philly cheesesteak? I don't know how many people would reply by filling air-bread with cheese and topping it with rare slices of Wagyu beef. Imagine biting into a savory puff pastry filled with melted cheese.

I can't say I only chose the expensive items. Having made sure the total of my selections surpassed $44, I chose the watermelon tomato skewers with Pedro Ximenez reduction for something more experimental. Pedro Ximenez is a white grape and sweet dessert wine, though the dish's flavors were dominated by the fruit. I was caught in the balance between the acidity of the tomato and the sweetness of the watermelon. Both seemed to benefit from the other, even if they were vying for my palate's affection.

Ah, by now you've probably realized that it takes just as much stamina to get through a Bazaar review as it does a dinner. Although I can't enthrall you nearly as much as Kevin can. My sea scallops with Romesco sauce were tasty, but not very particular. The Catalonian sauce derived from almonds, hazelnuts, roasted garlic and tomatoes sounds much more interesting than it tasted. I got a nutty flavor from this common Spanish sauce, but it paled in comparison to Alain Giraud's pistachio emulsion scallops.

Those were my selections for the night, but our table had plenty more visual treats.

Mini steamed uni buns

Tiny foie gras sliders

Lamb loin with foraged mushrooms and pureed potatoes

Clockwise from center: tomato and olive oil toast, jamon Iberico de Bellota, tzatziki sauce for the sweet potato chips, and an over-eager eater

Lobster medallions

And food porn picture of the year: hanger steak

Dessert was done right with just as many choices to keep things interesting.

My floating island nitro-inflated coconut puff with passionfruit syrup gradually deflated as we dug into the rest of the sweets.

A visit to the Bazaar is fairly incomplete without looking through their cocktail menu. My Jose Andres' Gimlet had an entire lime floating in the center, while my girlfriend's Magic Mojito was strained over cotton candy. Among some other unique cocktail accouterments were chocolate ice, salt foam, spherified olive juice and liquid nitrogen caipirinhas. For $16 a drink, choosing the flashiest presentation may be the best way to spend your money.

As I first mentioned, most of the fun of the Bazaar experience is in the decorations, the furniture screaming for attention. One note about the men's bathroom--the walls are all mirrors. I don't know if that does it for some people, but I don't need to see myself from three angles while taking care of business. I also don't need anyone who walks into the restroom to be privy to the aforementioned sight. There some hits, but also a few misses. For example, I'd avoid the toro nigiri on watermelon with soy foam. Still, Bazaar is quite a dining experience, full of all the commotion of a real bazaar. Just don't expect a bargain.

The Bazaar by Jose Andres
SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills
465 S La Cienega Blvd
Los Angeles, 90048
(310) 246-5567
$44 DineLA menu, $36 for Jamon Iberico, $16 cocktails, $10 valet


Saturday, January 24, 2009

"The Single Best Thai Restaurant in North America"

Not my words, Jonathan Gold's. But as the resident LA critic extraordinaire, Gold's recommendation certainly warranted an investigation. So on my post-new year's trip to Vegas, I convinced my friends to go Lotus of Siam. I can't say if S. Irene Virbila's claim "that there's nothing as good--or lip-numbingly hot in LA" is true since I haven't properly explored Thai Town in North Hollywood, but I can say that Lotus of Siam can be worth the trip.

I'll be the first to admit that I don't know enough about Thai food. I like the flavors in the cuisine, but I really don't have the exposure to write on it with any sort of authority. So when HC tipped me off about Lotus of Siam, I was slightly concerned that I wouldn't know good Thai food even while breathing in the rich aromas of lemongrass, tamarind, and the obligatory fish sauce. On that note, I came into the restaurant with a group of eight and just asked the waitress to give us her best recommendations.

As this was an impromptu trip, I apologize for the iPhone pictures. Our waitress brought out a platter of golden koong sarang, wonton and bacon wrapped prawns, perhaps their best dish of the night. I knew things were off to a good start as soon as I crunched into those crispy shrimp. You know the old spiel, "anything wrapped in bacon..." The grilled seabass papaya salad made me feel much better about the appetizer. There's always an accompanying guilt when eating things so indulgent as bacon shrimp, but the purity of the white fish on clean greens also did something to cleanse my spirit.

Although I asked for a soup tom yum soup, the waitress told me she'd being out the seafood soup pictured above. I'm not sure if this was a seafood tom yum or if it's some sort of different soup base altogether. Either way, it was hot and filled the mouth with a longing for another spoonful. On one of my friend's requests, we ordered the beef panang curry, which had a delightful richness of coconut milk and herbacious Thai basil.

I wasn't too excited with the crab fried rice. I couldn't taste nor see any crab pieces in the dish. The flavor wasn't especially memorable either. Maybe their pineapple fried rice would've been a better bet. Seeing the nua sao renu charbroiled beef with tamarind sauce on the online menu inspired me to order the same for our table. It may just look like a mountain of meat, but it's actually pre-sliced and easy to pick up. It was probably oversauced given the quality of the beef though.

Not quite full, we added fried garlic prawns after a request for more shrimp. I had never seen shrimp prepared this way, partially shelled, but still attached at the tail and then deep fried. It resulted in a sort of molting shrimp with edible shell. I still couldn't get through more than one shell though, it's too crunchy and indigestible. We additionally had the crispy duck over drunken noodles, another star for the night. The long flat pad se-ew noodles soaked up the sauce of the duck.

Our dessert of sticky rice, fried bananas and coconut ice cream was a well-rounded plate designed to bring those three components together. Different textures, such as the silky ice cream and the sticky rice contrasted with the crunchy batter of the bananas.

Now when I say that Lotus of Siam is worth a trip, I didn't necessarily mean a drive from Los Angeles. It's certainly worth a dinner from anywhere on the Strip (being about 3 miles off-Strip). But I wouldn't leave California for this food with the diverse Thai options here in town. Still, I wouldn't consider a foodie's visit to Vegas without a meal at "the best Thai restaurant in North America."

Lotus of Siam
953 E Sahara Avenue
Las Vegas, NV 89104
(702) 735-3033
Reservations are best at least a day in advance, of course hardly anything in Vegas is so well-planned
$200 for eight people


Saturday, January 17, 2009

RumDood's Rum Tasting Beta

Being a food blogger gives me certain opportunities. Sure, I get PR updates from restaurants and other events in the area, but it's the fantastic network of eaters (and drinkers in this case) that I value the most. Last week, I had the privilege of attending RumDood's inaugural rum tasting event in his home. That photo above is just one of Matt's sagging countertops bearing the weight of prodigious bottles of liquid merriment. Of course, an impromptu potluck and collection of other food friends ensured the night would end well...even if it ended at the Chapman General ER. No, no one had alcohol poisoning from the rum, but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't alcohol related.

I recently surpassed a hundred entries in this Food Destination/Gilded Palate blog; over the course of nine months or so, I'd say that's pretty successful. Readership, that's another matter. However, this blog is as much for me as it is for anyone else, and in researching (aka eating) I have learned so much about cuisine and LA in general. One area that I feel I have slightly neglected is the "drinking" side of eating, drinking and being happy. I developed a taste and appreciation for sake at Tokyo Table and a respect for wine at Totoraku, but harder liquor has proved elusive for me. Of course, when I say "respect for wine" I mean in the sense of drinking so much of it that I overwhelm my initial dislike. Yet, wine, sake and beer are beverages that one can enjoy in moderation and for which someone can develop preferences. To develop a taste for rum, I needed expert guidance.

Enter Matt, the RumDood himself. An invitation arrived in my mailbox for a long drive down to Orange County for what could only be night of informative lecture, Q&A, and enough rum to make your eyeballs float. Sure enough, I was greeted with a Dark & Stormy, my new drink of choice. Rum, ginger beer, and a twist of lime--simple, manly enough, and drinkable. Note: ginger beer is not the same as ginger ale; please do not confuse the two.

We sat down to a superstar of a rum; the Ron Zacapa Centanario apparently has won so many awards that the mere mention of it would send Cap' Mo to the bottom of Davey Jones' locker. Indeed, as a non-sipper, I had an easy time drinking this rum straight. Now I could go through the explanation of the solera aging process, the Guatemalan mountains from which it came, or the difference between distilling sugar cane honey versus molasses, but Matt explains it so much better in his own review. My impressions were certainly smooth and sweet, a pleasant spirit to drink neat.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, the Pusser's British Navy Rum and Clement VSOP, British and French styles respectively, were much harder to down. They were mostly too hot to really discern any characteristic flavors beyond burning. Ah, the n00b trying to explain something way over his head. While the Zacapa had a fruity personality, the Pusser's and Clement were metallic and vegetal. If this was the kind of rum that the British navy used to serve its sailors, I have a newfound respect for these manliest of men.

Matt next walked us through an explanation of the barrel aging process of certain types of rum using the Appleton Estates line of Jamaican rums as examples. Rums start white and take on darkening shades after years of sober waiting. Their flavors also mellow out and the alcohol becomes much less harsh. As I tasted these Appleton rums, starting with the youngest V/X (five-ten years), then the 12, and finally the 21 year rum, I could feel each one progressively easier to drink. While the youngest would be best as a mixer, I could see myself taking the oldest one neat or on the rocks.

Lastly, we tried El Dorado 21, an older rum without rich complexities. It still drank very well, and had hints of cherries.

Rum Master Matt explaining the importance of proper rum tasting glassware

After the tasting,we lounged with some "real mai tais". That's when we started rummaging through the endless bottles, looking for other drinks of interest. Unfortunately, my interest was in the green Obsello Absinthe bottle in the bottom left corner of the first photo. We couldn't get it open, so eventually we settled on the La Fee instead. Matt was kind enough to walk me through the entire sugar cube process, which makes such a high proof spirit much more palatable. As I'm no cocktail expert, I'll just explain what I think I saw.

1. Place sugar cube on slotted spoon set over a stout glass.
2. Pour about a shot of absinthe over the sugar.
3. Light cube on fire (and turn off lights for some glowing green effects)
4. Drop sugar into absinthe and pour six parts of water.

With the drink so watered down, it tasted like lightly flavored black licorice. I was a little let down by the hype surrounding absinthe, but my ruminations were cut short when people started panicking. In a valiant effort to get through the wax seal of the Obsello, Fiona had lost the fight with a chef's knife. On a side note, that's the same chefs knife that came with my parents' sushi set--nice knife, obviously sharp. Luckily, we got Fiona to the hospital without serious incident.

It truly was an eventful evening. As always, good food company leads to fun times. I certainly had my horizons broadened, and I am extremely thankful to RumDood for his hospitality. I'll forever drink to him when I reach for my rum. And yes, I'll forgo the Bacardi from now on with so much better out there.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Asa-tisfying Bowl of Ramen

After my disappointing Indian experience at Addi's Tandoor in Torrance, I was ready to give up on the South Bay. Of course, inomthings put me back on track, explaining that I was just not looking in the right places. She rattled off an exciting list of Japanese places for me to check out. Seeing as how I'm frequently driving down there anyway, it was time for me to check one of them out.


It's not like I didn't know that there was outstanding Japanese food around Torrance. My trips to Musha and Izakaya Bincho (formerly Yakitori Bincho) were incredible, some of the favorite restaurants in LA. In fact, Asa is next to Sanuki no Sato an excellent udon-ya.

Having heard that ramen and takoyaki are the two things that Asa does best, I couldn't say no to either. Nor could I say no to this wonderful juicy chicken karaage. Fried nice and fluffy, it felt wholesome to put in my mouth without that repulsive slick of too much oil.

For the octopus, we chose mochi cheese takoyaki. For those unfamiliar, it is pieces of octopus battered, fried, and topped with sauce and bonito shavings. I'm not knowledgeable enough about takoyaki to make this claim definitively, but this felt like the bacon-wrapped hotdog of the fried octopus ball world. Biting into one of these morsels instantly brought back childhood memories of pulling the gooey strands off an extra cheese pizza. After this, I don't know if I can ever go back to mozzarella sticks.

Coming off my lackluster trip to Daikokuya, it took me a few weeks for my spirit (and my stomach) to crave ramen again. Daikokuya's ramen is NOT THAT GOOD. Yes, all you otaku fanboys can curse me in broken Japanese. But have a bowl at Asa and tell me that its ramen doesn't pwn Daikokuya. The noodles were thin, yet firm. Both the light assari style and heavy kotteri broths had a rich shoyu flavor and a ton of umami. The soup makes you smack your lips twice after the last drop is gone. I liked the bamboo shoots, which offered some texture contrast, but the chasu was irresistible. Maybe they don't use Berkshire kurobuta pork like Daikokuya claims, but I could easily go the rest of my life without having another one of those oinkers in my ramen if I could have Asa chasu instead.

Ultimately, I would go back to Asa because their ramen does what ramen should do. It is a comforting bowl that warms the body and makes me happy. If your ramen doesn't do that, then you know where to go.

Asa Ramen
18202 S Western Ave
Gardena, 90248
(310) 769-1010


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Berkeley Detour: Chez Panisse

When evaluating an establishment with as storied a history as Alice Waters' revolutionary restaurant, I can't help but feel the pressure to be positive. She was certainly a pioneer of "Californian cuisine." I dread the heaps of scorn from the neo-hippies if I were to say something bad about Chez Panisse. Luckily, I am relatively positive in my evaluation.


I must make a qualification before my review: I went to Chez Panisse for the Monday night menu. For those unfamiliar with the menu structure, this is incredibly significant since there is only one set menu per day, meaning there are no menu choices. Mondays are the most rustic, hearty foods, usually three courses of a salad or appetizer, big entree, and dessert. Tuesday through Thursday, the menu gets an additional course and I imagine the portions slightly smaller. Otherwise, I can't imagine these skinny Berkeleites (sp?) getting through a four course meal. The food moves slightly more upscale, finally culminating in the Friday and Saturday five course meals (Sunday is closed). To give you an idea, this week's Monday entree is baked trout in salt crust and the Saturday entree is beef tenderloin.

Did I know all this when I made my reservations? I only knew that the Monday menu was $60, the Tuesday-Thursday $75, and the Friday-Saturday $95. Therefore, I'll qualify my review by saying I went on the cheapest night with the most rustic food. I would have to go back for a Friday/Satuday dinner to get the whole range.

Also, this review is for the Chez Panisse Restaurant downstairs. The upstairs Cafe is not reservation only and has an a la carte menu instead.

So what did I get for my $60--beans. A cassoulet to be more precise. Never been a fan of beans, but then how many Asians are (soy, red, and yellow excepted)? But I'll get to the entree after a description of this quaint establishment. From the outside, you'll see a building resembling a wooden cottage, slightly recessed from the street with a simple sign. The restaurant is old, and it shows. Yet, as I was walking through the doors and greeted by the maitre'd, I felt that they tried a little too hard to be a "fine-dining" establishment. It seemed as though there was a clear separation between the casual cafe and the serious (or stuffy depending on your persepctive) restaurant. Well with all that pretense, you'd think they'd have my table of four ready for my 9 pm seating. We waiting a good half hour before being seated, though the host was kind/professional enough to offer us a round of free drinks.

When we finally got seated, we were greeted by two sourdough loafs and a bowl of olives reminiscent of Lucques. Though I'd venture to say that these olives with pinches of coriander and fennel were even better than Suzanne Goin's. The spongy soft, whole wheat bread would could serve as a meal in itself. I want to say I could taste the freshness, but I might just be biased. If I hadn't known where the bread was from, I probably wouldn't have realized it. Although I will say as a Bay Area native, sourdough yeasts in San Francisco are superior to everywhere else in the world.

Having been seated thirty minutes late, I was even more miffed when each course came out so slowly. If they had two seatings, we certainly were already in the late one. There isn't much excuse for the late service. Finally, when the salad of Annabelle's chicories with Meyer lemon and anchovy vinaigrette made it to my table, we've already gone through three of loafs of bread. Not as fishy as you might imagine anchovy vinaigrette to be, the salad was a visual delight of vivid greens. In this case, if I couldn't taste the freshness, I could certainly see it.

Knowing now what a cassoulet is, I probably would've opted for another night at Chez Panisse. But besides the beans, this cassoulet au confit de canard had mountains of meat: duck leg confit, braised lamb shoulder, garlic sausage and even a surprise pork belly not listed on the menu. All the meats brought this dish together. Even though I don't like beans, I eagerly mopped them up to eat with that snappy casing sausage, crispy duck, or succulent lamb.

Funny that I had just read finished The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffrey Steingarten, which featured a chapter on granita before our dessert came (after an agonizing half hour I might add). More precisely, clementine sherbet coupe with lime-lemongrass granita. I'm not sure why lemongrass is such a hit now, but outside of Southeast Asian soups, I don't like to taste it everywhere. The granita, think fancy snowcone, was incredibly sour. The bits of candied ginger and grapefruit peels helped cut through the tartness, but it was the meringue stick that did the most. Nothing like a whipped egg whites and powdered sugar to balance out an ultrasour dessert.

We received an oddly folky plate of mignardises of chocolate tea truffles and pistachio pralines. Biting into the truffles, I was surprised to discover a liquid center. The pralines were just like pistachio brittle. Given the slow service and hearty, but not-fancy-enough-for-the-money-food, I was somewhat letdown by my trip. However, I know I won't be a stranger to the Bay, so one day it's going to be that Saturday menu for me. When I have the dungeness crab cakes and grilled rack and loin of lamb, I'll have the full range of the Chez Panisse experience.

Chez Panisse
1517 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, 94709
$60 for Monday menu


Friday, January 9, 2009

dineLA Restaurant Week 2009

Ah, it's that magical time of year again--two weeks of prix fixe meals at some of LA's best restaurants. This year, the two weeks will be broken up into January 25th-30th, February 1st-6th. Here's the full list of participating places. So rather than have one set price, dineLA pulled an iTunes and is offering meals divided into three price tiers.
($)Deluxe Dining:$16
($$)Premier Dining:$22
($$$)Fine Dining:$28
($)Deluxe Dining:$26
($$)Premier Dining:$34
($$$)Fine Dining:$44
As you'd imagine, most places are "fine dining," which makes me question that category altogether. Here are some places that piqued my interest:
My picks...

Asia de Cuba ($$)
I wouldn't come here again so soon, but my last visit was rather pleasant. I've had the Alaska miso-cured butterfish that's on the menu this time and I'd easily recommend it. The venue is cozy and the prices are high, so now would be a good time to take advantage of the deal.

Beacon ($)
Besides the fact this is billed as a "fusion" restaurant, I've heard good things about the owners. It might be worth checking out for the lower end.

Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. ($)
Haha, no.

Chinois on Main ($$$)
I've been meaning to check out Wolfgang Puck's Asian side for awhile. However, they are only offering lunch for Restaurant Week.

Citrus at Social ($$)
From the pictures I've seen, Citrus is a beautiful restaurant. HC seemed to enjoy his trip with a similar menu.

Comme Ca ($$$)
It seems like this place will never cool down.

Gordon Ramsay at the London West Hollywood ($$$)
I was surprised to see Chef Ramsay making an appearance on this list. You would think he'd be above it all. But this might be a good chance to sample some of his dishes for a tighter budget.

Grace ($$$)
I've yet to try Neal Fraser's restaurants, neither Grace nor BLD. Yet, I doubt it would be a crying shame if I left LA without going to either of them.

La Cachette ($$$)
This has been on my try list for some time ever since I noticed it on LA Mag's top 75. It's convenient for me, and given my busy season schedule I don't think I'll be able to go far. So I've made a late Friday reservation here. Will definitely get an additional order of their famous foie gras.

Simon LA ($$)
I've wanted to try Kerry Simon's restaurant across from the Beverly center for some time, but it seems that no one ever wants to go with me. Their desserts are supposedly hardcore comfort food. Although that doesn't seem to be the case with this Restaurant Week menu.

The Bazaar by Jose Andres ($$$)
Usually I like to avoid the overhyped restaurants, but Kevin's dual posts have convinced me to rethink Chef Andres. He just seems like a cool guy. Hopefully his food is as good as his personality.

Water Grill ($$$)
Some bloggers seem to be going here. I like David LeFevre, but I'm not quite feeling Water Grill this time around.

Wolfgang's Steakhouse ($$)
Having been to CUT, there's a part of my palate that yearns to taste the Wolfgangs battle it out in beef. I'm also curious how much filet mignon you can get for $34. I expected a strip steak instead. However, if I did end up here, I'd have to try mighty hard to eschew those lamb chops.

Xiomara on Melrose ($$)
I want to say Xiomara, but the menu doesn't seem fun enough for me.

So here's my list. I'll try to make 3-4 of them this year after only going to Cobras and Matadors last Restaurant Week. Remember to request the Restaurant Week menu when you get to these places.

Let me know where you think you'll end up. Comment if you have some suggestions for me, or if you think these picks are just way off the mark.


Sunday, January 4, 2009

Providence Dessert Redux

Thanks to a special invitation from Tony C of SinoSoul, I had an opportunity last month to meet up with plenty of dessert enthusiasts at Providence for Adrian Vasquez's eight course dessert tasting menu with wine pairing. There were some hits, some misses, but mostly plenty of ice cream.

Considering this was a desserts only meal, I headed to Thai Town in North Hollywood for some quick dinner first. I would tell you about the wonderful curries, sausages, and rice dishes I had, but Tony ordered everything. I had no idea what I ate, just that it was a bad idea to overindulge before eight courses of desserts.

After wavering back and forth for about a second, I decided to pay $30 more to get the wine pairing. I might never have a meal like this again; why not go for the full experience? The first course, served as an amuse bouche at my last visit was the spherical mojito raviolo, a soft bubble of liquid that bursts with an explosion of tart lime juice and rum. Although it was similar to the one from my last visit, this time it felt warm and not quite as refreshing. I would rather take my cocktails cold, in a glass or spherified.

The second course was the first course from my last visit: kalamansi gelee floating in a white chocole coconut soy milk pool and shaded by a litchi-shiso sorbet. Another familiar dish, but significantly less amazing the second time. Its pairing with a Choya NV Ume Blanc plum wine kept the Asian theme of this dish with hardly a hint of alcohol. The cute miniature goblet was also a visual treat. Light wines for light desserts; apparently the rules are similar for dessert pairing.

As you can tell by the raviolo, the chefs at Providence aren't afraid to make use of kitchen technology. The sous-vide Jonalicious apple with barley ice cream, pine nut puree, and North star dried cherries was prepared "in vacuum" at a precisely controlled temperature to seal in flavors while allowing for ultra long cooking times. The combination of ingredients evoked images of eating cereal on a farm. Overwhelming barley flavor plus ripe apples had an Autumn flair. The paired Velich 2001 Muscat-Beerenauslese was a fruity Austrian wine with grape and apricot aromas.

Ah, "deconstructed" is certainly a word like "fusion" that turns me off immediately. Unfortunately, this is exactly how the waiter described the pumpkin "pie" a la mode with curry ice cream and pecan streusel. Curry and pumpkin flavors go well together; it wasn't the first time I had seen some sort of squash curry before. Combined with the Husch 2006 late harvest Gewurztraminer, I managed to get over my prejudice towards industry buzz words. I suppose the streusel formed the "crust" for this "pie," but a pie is so much dependent on that balance of flaky and tender crust that this definitely should not have been called a pie at all. I suppose calling it an arrangement of "pie-like" ingredients wouldn't have been too appetizing.

Though the ingredients for the milk chocolate-whisky panna cotta include Bailey's ice cream, a coconut milk raviolo, and nothing with peanuts, I still got the overwhelming sensation of peanut butter. Though if it tasted like peanut butter, the texture was silky smooth, nothing like peanut butter. It paired best with the Castello di Meleto 2003 Vin Santo del Chianti Classico, a Tuscan chianti that coats the mouth and had a curious tang of dried figs.

Though the sixth course is listed as one item, it was basically two different dishes. I began to feel as if Chef Vazquez would die if one of his dishes didn't come with ice cream. This ice cream certainly had the taste of burnt caramel, but without the oversweetness of pure sugar. The chocolate gingerbread and poached pears were the closest thing I had to a pastry, an issue I'll elaborate on later. Taylor Fladgate's 20 year old Tawny Port certainly had the aged oaky flavor of something 20 years old.

For the deeply rich course, I assume the equivalent of a main course, the waiter brought out chocolate ganache with peanut butter pretzels and Chambly Noir ice cream. The dense chocolate glistened mountain glistened and beckoned. Even the weird Sam Adams "Utopias" beer didn't deter from the chocolate. I've been looking forward to this Sam Adams liqueur ever since Joel Stein reviewed it in TIME. However, it tasted too odd to really pair with anything.

Finally, the dessert to the desserts was my favorite course of the evening. Normally, I'm not a fan of white chocolate, but these white chocolate crimson berry tea lollipops didn't have the cloying oiliness of white chocolate. In fact, the lollipops were refreshing opposites, a gusher of icy, fruity tea. Be careful to eat this in one bite, as our waiter advised us many times.

Though our dessert tasting lacked an amuse bouche, we still had mignardises of barley caramels, espresso truffles, and olive oil gelees. The espresso truffles and olive oil were exactly as I remembered before. The caramels had the annoying consistency of taffy as it got stuck between my teeth.

My impression of the night was a slight letdown. Though I don't think any visit to Providence can be a complete disappointment, I felt that the desserts didn't offer enough variety. To be fair, there was plenty of innovation, but the dishes were often too modern and lost the comfort appeal of dessert. Understandably, since it was so many courses, not one course could be really rich. But because of this restriction, the desserts failed to satisfy the primal cravings I get when I plunge into a cake or a pile of cookies.

5955 Melrose Ave
Mid-Wilshire/Hancock Park, 90038
(323) 460-4170
$30 3-courses/$45 wine; $40 5-courses/$60 wine; $50 8-courses/$80 wine