Living To Eat

From My Taste Buds To Yours

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Archive for June, 2010

Grace: Revisted

Posted by Austios on June 30, 2010

On June 19, 2010, I had the privilege to have been invited by Kevin of Kevin Eats, joining Mike of Right Way To Eat, Darin of Darin Dines and Darin’s friend, Diana, for Grace Restaurant’s final night of service, before they permanently shutter their Beverly Blvd. location for a larger space in downtown. It has been reported that the space will be renovated and be reborn as “R26”, John Sedlar’s (Rivera Restaurant) apparent current project.

I have had dinner here once before, coming for DineLA in October of 2009. While that dinner was not a mind-expansion worthy experience, I was still quite very impressed with the caliber of Chef Neal Fraser’s cuisine and bold yet held back approach to the dishes. One of my favorite dishes that night was a heirloom tomato terrine with an herb salad, burrata cheese, and a passion fruit vinaigrette. Very crisp and refreshing flavors.

This meal, in my mind, was going to be a treat to myself for having just recently gotten a new job as well as taking advantage of having a Saturday night off, which most of you should have an idea is quite rare for someone who works in a restaurant. When I arrived at the restaurant, Kevin and Mike were standing outside as we were still waiting for Darin and Diana. Upon their arrival, we went inside to our table ready and awaiting us.

After some brief deliberation, in honor of their last night of service, we all decided to go big and get the 7-course Chef’s tasting menu for $100. At $60 per, Kevin and I split one wine pairing while Darin and Diana split another. As surprising as this sounds, I have to admit this is the first time I have ever ordered the Chef’s tasting menu ANYWHERE. I know… I’m a horrible foodie, shame on me.

I will have to agree with Kevin from his post that a lack of an amuse bouche is quite intriguing, as it’s almost guaranteed that if you are having a tasting menu or multi-course menu anywher, there is going to be an amuse bouche. Even when I catered a 7 course tasting menu last Autumn as part of my time as a private caterer, I had provided an amuse bouche and intermezzo, essentially making it into a 9 course meal. But I digress.

The first course started us off with sashimi of Japanese hamachi, or yellowtail for those of you who don’t know Japanese or sushi terminology. With fennel, radish, California olive oil, and sea beans, this was a rather nice and clean start to the meal. The fresh fennel and radish provided a bright contrast to the subtle fattiness of the fish, which was ever so slightly accentuated by the fruity olive oil. It was paired with a NV (non-vintage) brut rosé from Roederer Estates in Anderson Valley, CA. It matched the fruitiness of the olive oil.

Second course was Sautéed Day Boat Scallops, with English pea risotto, morel mushrooms, asparagus, and basil nage. The scallop was cooked perfectly, however, I don’t know what made the English pea risotto a risotto because I did not see, taste, or find any Arborio rice. The vegetables added a nice earthy balance to the dish. I do have to agree with Kevin in that the lobster sitting underneath the scallop was a little unnecessary and overcooked. This was paired with a 2006 Chardonnay “Acero”, from Marimar Estate Family in the California Russian River Valley. The moment the scallops hit the table, I could see why they brought out a Chardonnay.

Next course: Olive oil poached halibut with brandade, horseradish cream, and sherry gelée. The halibut was nice, but like Kevin, I actually enjoyed the brandade a little bit more. The horseradish cream provided a smooth and cool yet subtly spicy tang as the gelée offered a slightly sweet and sour note. Paired with a 2007 Gewürztraminer “Estival,” from Viñedo de los Vientos in Atlantida, Uruguay, I actually was not terribly impressed with how it went with the food. Not to say I could do better because I have the utmost respect for sommeliers and their finely tuned palettes, but it just didn’t work for me.

4th Course was a Sautéed Channel Island White Sea Bass with white beans, artichokes barigoule, and pistou. The fish was done just right and it’s light flakiness with it’s slightly salty and crispy skin was a nice balance with the creamy white beans and earthiness of the artichokes as well as taking a bit of herbiness from the pistou. This was paired with a 2007 Alvarinho from Aveleda in Monção, Portugal.

Our 5th course progressively moved onto land creatures, however this dish was a little off than something more straight forward. A slow cooked egg with spring onions, pork belly, chanterelle mushrooms, and white asparagus. It is naturally hard to imagine an egg as the focus of a dish when it is roommates with something as incredibly delectable as pork belly, but the piece of pork belly was rather small, intentionally, so that it would not overtake the egg as the “star” of the dish. The vegetables on the plate rounded out the subdued earthiness of the dish. This was paired with a 2008 Zweigelt from Umathum in Burgenland, Austria. I wasn’t a big fan of this pairing either. Again, it just didn’t do it for me.

For our last savory course, what is better than some sort of pork product? Well, perhaps some sort of beef dish, but once again, I digress. For this “entrée”, we were presented with an oven roasted suckling pig, served with potato gnocchi, chanterelle mushrooms, white asparagus and pork jus. The pork was well cooked with crispy skin, having great flavor and was seasoned well. The gnocchi were pretty standard and at least to me, seemed to be a little dense. I haven’t really had enough gnocchi to consider myself an “expert”, so perhaps that is just how they are supposed to be. I was however disappointed to see chanterelles and white asparagus make a curtain call appearance on consecutive dishes, no less within the same menu. I thought it was a “tasting menu faux paus” to use the same ingredients in more than one dish. When I used to do private catering, I rarely used the same ingredients in my dishes. I wanted to provide my clients with different flavors and textures, so using the same ingredient in different dishes would only hinder that goal. Regardless, this was still a solid dish. This was paired with a 2007 Zinfandel “Dry Farmed,” from Rancho Arroyo Grande in San Luis Obispo, California. This pairing worked quite well for me, as the pork helped bring out the stone fruit notes of the wine.

For dessert, which was a little bit of a surprise, actually was a selection of desserts, as opposed to all of us getting the same dessert. We were presented with a 2001 Semillon “The Straw Man,” from Sine Qua Non Mr. K in the Central Coast of California, which threw me off because the fruity notes of the wine made me to believe we were going to receive a fruit themed dessert. Instead, we had received the following:

Buttermilk Toasted Coconut Doughnuts – I have had a few of the doughnuts here at Grace before and they are quite good, so it is no surprise to see doughnuts as part of this selection of desserts. The doughnut itself was pretty standard with a rich, sticky glaze, but the toasted coconut brought the dish to a whole new level. The mascarpone ice cream was good, but I felt was unneeded in this dish

Salt & Pepper Caramel Doughnuts – These are the particular doughnuts I’ve had before. The combination of salty and sweet is just wonderful. If you have never had these doughnuts before, you can still experience Grace’s “Doughnut Shoppe” on Wednesdays down the street at BLD. Served with mascarpone ice cream, it again seemed unnecessary.

Sticky Toffee Pudding – I have previously had this dessert as well and it was just as good as the first time. The flavor reminded me of the toffee cake we have where I work, but this was more subtle and more simple. The toffee brought out a different level of richness to the cake, and the bruléed bananas and hazelnut gelato were perfect accompaniments.

Honey Pain Perdu – with lavender ice cream, meyer lemon curd and pistachios. The honey was quite subtle, as was the ice cream, while agreeing with Kevin, the lemon curd did seem to be prominent flavor of the dish. The pistachios provided a nice textural contrast to the fluffy pain perdu.

Chocolate Soufflé Cake Affogato – with vanilla malt ice cream, toasted almonds, espresso syrup. The cake was delicate yet rich and was wonderfully accented by the espresso syrup, which the ice cream brought forth a balancing creamy aspect. I again agree with Kevin and did not get much of the almonds. Actually, looking at the photo, it looks like they forgot the almonds completely.

When the night was complete, we were quite satisfied and overall very pleased with our meal. While there were some lowlights throughout the progression, there were definitely enough standouts to take center stage. While I am a bit saddened to see Grace close its doors on this location, I am very much anticipating it’s revival in its historic new space in Downtown LA.

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

Grace Restaurant in Los Angeles on Fooddigger

Grace on Urbanspoon


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A “Lighter” Side to Soufflés

Posted by Austios on June 1, 2010

There aren’t many dishes more classical than the French soufflé. I mean, the French have been cooking for longer than the United States has been a country, so what does that tell you?

To this day, a lot of people, chefs, and restaurants have their variations and own take on soufflés. While I am no expert at making soufflés nor a connoisseur, this post is just simply to bring a lighter side to a dish that a lot of us have probably attempted before and have either been lucky and had come out right, or utterly fail and fall faster than the Berlin Wall.

The word “soufflé” is actually the past tense of the French verb “souffler”, which basically means “to blow up”. (, yes… I had to wikipedia it and wasn’t something I knew off the top of my head). But what makes a soufflé rise? I’ll get to that in a second.

In case you don’t know, a soufflé basically consists of 2 components: a base and your levening agent. 110% percent of the time, your levening agent is going to be whipped egg whites. No, not magic or the free will of person who made it.

Once you figured out what your base is going to be, now comes the technical aspects of making the most beautiful highest rising soufflé. However, I’m not here to bore you with tips or a step by step instruction. I’ll let you figure that out your own.

First you have to whip your egg whites. Be careful not to overwhip your egg whites, as that will lead to a non-optimal rise in your soufflé. I’ll admit I have been guilty a number of times of slightly overwhipping my egg whites, but I have always still managed to make it work. Other tips include not slamming the oven should you feel the urge to check your soufflé. This is what ovens with windows were made for. If you don’t have a window in your oven, then you need a new oven. Don’t argue with me, just replace it.

One piece of intangible advice that I have been told over the years that I can also pass on to you is, “do not be afraid of the souffle”. It’s all in your head. If you think you’re going to fail at making soufflé, then chances are you’re going to fail at making soufflé. I’m not saying you have to bitch slap your soufflé and scream “who’s your daddy?!?!”, but just be confident.

I remember the very first time I attempted at making soufflé was backing college. Without any knowledge on intermediate to advanced techniques, it goes without saying that that soufflé failed miserably. And I’m talking about crashing and burning worse than the Hindenburg.

My 2nd attempt did not come until years later in culinary school, where I finally learned the proper way to treat and make a soufflé. I unfortunately cannot recall how that soufflé was in terms of taste, nor the grade I got. However, I did graduate so that should at least say something.

Another soufflé I have worked with was at my first job out of culinary school, at the now shuttered Mirabeau French Bistro in Dana Point. The place and kitchen was small, but quite popular because it was in the uppity area that is Dana Point. The view though was spectacular, as the Gelson’s Market shopping plaza the restaurant was in was naturally elevated above PCH, overlooking the ocean as well as catching views of both the Ritz Carlton and St. Regis hotels. Going in to work there in the mornings was quite refreshing. But I digress.

The soufflé, being in a French bistro, was obviously the most popular dessert on the menu. I would whip those to order, which sometimes sucked because if I had tickets for 5 souffles, it wasn’t like I could whip them all together in one batch because our recipe only made 2 souffles at once. The chefs were pretty anal about keeping it like that, so my hands were tied. The soufflé was very good though. It was served with a housemade vanilla bean ice cream and crème anglaise and was broken table side.

My next run in with a soufflé on the job was when I was the pastry chef at Scott’s Seafood. I went in executing the previous chef’s recipes and while I wasn’t there long enough to see any of my ideas be introduced to the menu, the desserts we had were still pretty good. The production of the soufflé here was the complete opposite than at Mirabeau. I would have to make a large batch of soufflé batter every 2-3 days, as the recipe had so much flour in it, it was basically a cake. Taste wise, you could even tell there was a ton of flour in it. That thing was never going to fall.

The last soufflé I’ve come in contact in terms of production for a restaurant was at Ludobites 4.0, at Grams & Papa’s in Downtown LA. As some of you know, I was asked to go work for a weekend just to fill in for someone who was out of town on vacation. It just so happened I was put on desserts, one of them being his chocolate soufflé. I had just had this soufflé as a diner a week prior, which I thought was awesome, so I was especially excited to see how it all came together.

Probably one of the great things about Ludo’s recipe is that it is literally 3 ingredients. I think the soufflé I made at Scott’s had like 7 or 8 ingredients. The soufflé at Mirabeau had 5. The next best thing was that I could make all of the soufflés ahead of time, so the only thing I needed to do during service was just pop them in the oven and keep track of them using a system I developed for myself utilizing Chef’s 4 timers and a sharpie. I’ll leave it up to your imagination just exactly what the sharpie was for.

This has to easily be one of my favorite if not the favorite soufflés I’ve had. So much that I couldn’t help but it order it again the second time I dined at Ludobites.

While I’ve probably had other soufflés elsewhere, I can really only think of 3 souffles that I’ve recently had at various restaurants that have been memorable.

The first that comes to mind, is the soufflé at Gary Danko in San Francisco. While I am not a close follow of Gary Danko, I have heard many praises about his restaurant, so when I went to spend a few days in the bay area back in February, I decided to make reservations. Actually let me back track here. I personally had ordered the Louisiana butter cake as my dessert, but my dining companion had ordered the soufflé, so I was able to have a couple of bites. It was an orange soufflé with raspberry sorbet and raspberry sauce. The soufflé itself was incredibly airy and soft, which tells me there were more egg whites in it than base. It was almost like a knife through butter. The 2nd clue was that the orange flavor was VERY subtle. It still, however, was a magnificent soufflé. This was almost like the Rolls Royce of soufflés.

The 2nd soufflé I can think of that I’ve had recently and I consider one of the better soufflés I’ve had, actually coincidentally came just the day before I had dined at Gary Danko. The prior day on my bay area trip, I spent the day in Berkeley, walking and eating my way through town and UC Berkeley, finishing the day with dinner at Alice Water’s Chez Panisse. And I dined downstairs in the restaurant and not upstairs in the café. As some of you know, Alice Water’s whole deal is slow food and sustainability, so the menu changes daily. That particular day, the dessert was a Meyer lemon soufflé with candied lemon slice. This soufflé was spectacular with a well balanced and slightly subdued citrus tang.

The last soufflé out of these 3 that have been memorable was a Gran Marnier soufflé at Fleur de Lys in Las Vegas. I was in town for a friend’s birthday and she made reservations here on the Sunday night we were there. I am a big fan of Hubert Keller and have always wanted to try Fleur de Lys, so when our group was talking about where to go, this place had gotten my vote. It also happened to be restaurant week in Las Vegas, so that was a little nice. This soufflé was a little more on the cakey side, but it was still much better than the soufflé I used to make at Scott’s. I do have to say, however, between this soufflé and the ones I had at Gary Danko and Chez Panisse, this was probably my least favorite of the 3, but again, still much better than some soufflés I’ve had elsewhere. Consider it the Acura of soufflés, still nice, but not quite like a Rolls Royce or Aston Martin but definitely better than a Camry.

Hopefully this has brought a “lighter” (no pun intended… ok, maybe a little) side to soufflés but also give you a glimpse of some of the soufflés I’ve come across and dealt with. Again, I am no expert in executing the perfect soufflé, as I’m the type of person that would rather eat them than make them.

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