Last time I went to a Hatchi Dinner Series dinner at Breadbar in Century City, (now former) Chef de Cuisine of the Dining Room at The Langham in Pasadena and yet to be Top Chef 6 winner Michael Voltaggio wowed us with an array of textures and flavors while delving into his expansive knowledge of molecular gastronomy. I was thoroughly impressed that evening and I will admit, that is when I started having a chef/man crush on him.
I was also supposed to go to Marcel Vigneron’s Hatchi dinner in December of ’09, but I ended up having to work with Chef Ludo at Ludobites 3.0 at Royal/T in Culver City, so I was forced to give my spot to a friend.
Then back in January, I was introduced to Walter Manzke, who at the time was the executive chef at Church & State Bistro in Downtown LA, when I had lunch there with Nicola, Andee, and A.K courtesy of a 30% off lunch coupon from Blackboard Eats. I was quite impressed with the food overall and having a brief chance to meet and chat with Chef Manzke, he quickly became a chef I look up to and began to follow.
Finally a couple months ago when it was announced that Chef Manzke would be the guest chef in the Hatchi Dinner Series for the month of June, there was a scramble to secure a reservation within the 4 hour time frame. I actually will admit that I did not find out about the dinner until it was already too late, but fortunately for me, my eating partner of sorts, Felicia, threw out a blast and asked if anybody wanted to jump in on her party of 6, which I was quick to snare up a spot.
The anticipation leading up to the evening was definitely buzzing. It turns out there were going to be A LOT of folks from twitterverse there that evening. After a few minutes of minor confusion and waiting, we finally were situated on the outskirts of the outdoor patio, RIGHT next to the hostess stand. I might as well have been sitting next to the escalator.
We were presented with menus and asked for water. Upon looking at the menu, the theme of the Chef Manzke’s menu was “Around the World in 8 Dishes”. I believe the Hatchi guest chefs usually have a theme with their menu. Michael Voltaggio’s theme was “An Experience of Textures & Flavors”. Usually the menu is posted up several days prior to the evening, however, I normally avoid looking at the menu prior to going in because I feel that takes away from any anticipation for the food I have. It’s one of my few rules I have when it comes to these kind of things.
At the great deal that is $8 per dish, with the exception of Ivan and Laura who shared, we all decided to get all 8 dishes. The only potential problem with that, as we learned first hand at the Voltaggio dinner, is that they might try to bring out all 8 dishes at once. We made sure to tell our server to space out the dishes, which she said of course she would. Maybe in these 11 months, they learned their lesson.
After a few minutes, we were presented with what we thought was the first dish, but it actually turned to be an amuse bouche. A grilled shrimp skewer with ceviche “sauce”. Presented playfully as a shot, the shrimp was cooked just right and the sauce added a subtle acidity.
For the first course, we were brought a dish that was inspired by Mexico. Yellowtail Ceviche with jalapeno and tomatillo sorbet. The yellowtail was really fresh and had it’s subtle richness. I did not get too much jalapeno, but the tomatillo sorbet as well as the avocado puree were both great contrasts to the fish. The bits of citrus added a pleasantly visual contrast as well as a touch of acidity.
Next we visited Thailand courtesy of a white corn curry soup, with mussels and coconut tapioca. This dish was very balanced and full of flavor. The corn definitely was able to stand up to the subtle curry while the texture was silky smooth. There were more than just a mere 3 or 4 mussels, which were cooked perfectly. Finally, the coconut tapioca provided a gentle textural contrast as well as impart a hint of coconut, rounding out the authentic flavor that the country is known for.
Moving along to Spain, we were brought a Santa Barbara Spot prawn, with garlic and sherry. A single prawn cut in half, was cooked just perfectly and the tapenade on top added a bright brininess to the dish. I personally love any kind of shrimp (or shellfish for that matter), so it was definitely nice to see Chef Manzke’s interpretation of a classic tapas dish utilizing this ingredient.
Returning to Southeast Asia, this time Vietnam, the next dish was a modern variation of a rather classic dish of the country: the banh mi. Pig’s Feet slider to be exact. Well, I take that back. I mean, sliders are not necessarily “modern”. But I digress. I will admit the crust on the trotter was maybe a little too thick, but the flavor was definitely there. The pickled vegetables were the only element that actually lead the mind back to a classic banh mi sandwich, but it definitely did help. The two accompanying sauces were good, but were not necessarily needed in my opinion.
Our next stop, Italy, brought forth a pasta dish: English pea ravioli with a soft egg and parmesan. While I appreciate the use of the ingredients (including a perfectly slow cooked egg) and the good execution of the dish, it just didn’t really do it for me. Luckily I was not the only one at our table with these sentiments.
Continuing on to France, the next dish was a dish reminiscent of his days at Church & State, a flatbread pizza. More specifically, a “tarte flambé”, with caramelized onions, bacon, and gruyere cheese. Um…. Did someone say “bacon”? Why yes, yes I did. I am also a lover of all forms of pizza, so this dish really was quite comforting to me. There was a wonderful balance of tastes with the sweetness of the caramelized onions, the saltiness of the bacon, and the subtle tanginess from the gruyere cheese. The outer edges of the crust did seem to be a little overdone, but that fortunately did not hinder the dish.
Making one more stop in Southeast Asia, we next visited the Philippines via a leche flan with pandan and coconut ice cream. The flan was delicious and silky, yet seemed kind of dense. We conceded that given the presentation, having a denser flan would help prevent breakage when transferring the sliced from pan to plate. The pandan was subtle and the coconut ice cream brought a nice balance and coolness to the dish.
Our final destination took us to Japan. For our 2nd dessert, as well as the final dish of the evening, was chocolate fondant with bing cherries, black sesame ice cream and green tea. The chocolate fondant itself was not necessarily my favorite, but the bing cherries brought nice slight tartness while the black sesame ice cream brought a pleasant level of nuttiness to the dish. The green tea, which actually was slightly reminiscent of a smoothie, was quite nice in serving almost like an aperitif.
Service was much better than our other Hatchi experience. Our server made sure to space out the dishes. Whoever had brought out our dishes were able to explain what we were having, which is a good managerial move. Just because some of them are getting paid only to bring out food and clear dirty dishes and not necessarily take orders doesn’t mean they shouldn’t know what they’re bringing out.
While there were lots of hits mixed with a few misses, overall I thoroughly enjoyed my meal. I think Chef Manzke definitely knows what he’s doing and has no problem delivering on the ever-increasing buzz surrounding his food and his cooking. While he is a chef that doesn’t necessarily delve into contemporary practices such as the use of liquid nitrogen, he definitely has done quite a good job in keeping up with what the people enjoy as well as mainstream food trends. I am highly anticipating the opening of his own restaurant, whenever and wherever that may be.
Bravo, Chef, bravo.
Hatchi Dinner Series
@ Bread Bar, Century City
Guest Chef, June 2010: Walter Manzke
10250 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90067