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.
7360 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036