There are a lot of freebies and promotion deals to be had in our wonderful city, but I can’t say I’ve run across the offering of an entire dinner in exchange for the test drive of a car, before. And now, we have.
You have probably already heard about Le Grand Fooding: Crush, the posse’s upcoming inaugural event in Los Angeles on April 26-27. In fact, tickets went on sale a month ago, and a glance at the event website’s signage would indicate they’ve already sold out the duo of dates.
Therefore, it would be cruel of me to rehash that participants include Nancy Silverton (Mozza), Ludo Lefebvre (Trois Mec), Josef Centeno (Bäco Mercat, Bar Ama), Roy Choi (Kogi BBQ, Chego, A-Frame, Sunny Spot), Jordan Kahn (Red Medicine) and Carolynn Spence (Chateau Marmont) as well as Parisian chefs such as Inaki Aizpitarte (Le Chateaubriand), Gregory Marchand (Frenchie), Jean-François Piège (Restaurant Jean-François Piège) and for VIPs, Sven Chartier (Saturne). …And yet!
I have had four Umami burgers in my life and I have really enjoyed only one of them, which is probably due to the fact that all four were consumed after the quick Umami Burger expansion to Santa Monica, Hollywood and so forth. Thus, I found them to be largely inconsistent.
Just last week, I passed the La Brea location and there was a line of at least 20
Yelp reviewers people waiting outside to get seated. I gave the same roll eyes that I reserve for those who drive in to my neighborhood expressly for Saturday night bottle service.
But this…”catessen”…is a whole new ballgame. So nothing really prepared me for how much I enjoyed pretty much everything at Adam Fleischman’s UMAMIcatessen friends and family nightÂ in Downtown LA.Â And is the theatre revival on Broadway ever thankful for this pre-performance dining spot, which is basically a 7,000 square foot bazaar furnished with repurposed furniture in the 1929 Art Deco Ninth and Broadway Building. Down the street at a later date we can welcome Two Boots Pizza, Ace Hotel and Clifton’s Cafeteria reopening. The Cure (read: Kosher “style”), Umami Burger, P!GG, Spring for Coffee selections, & a Donut and of course, the fabulousÂ Back Bar all offered tasty treats and swillerific swigs. Top notch.
The best bite of the night was the just-unveiled-that-night Shrimp Burger with Yuzu-Kosho, which embodied that namesake fifth taste in every way. No soggy lettuce, mind you,Â sat between the buttery, airy bunsÂ but a bit of seaweed in keeping with that shrimp bite.Â It also packs a delicious,Â slight kick thanks to the yuzu-kosho. Also exclusive to this location was the ever delicious Wasabi Potato Salad topped with Sashimi. It’s ingenius and probably the most refreshing taters you’ll ever have, but I’d be lying if the sashimi isn’t the easiest thing to pick off the appetizer, with my somewhat guiltfully leaving some lonely spuds behind.
But let me backtrack, here. It can’t be overlooked that P!GG isÂ aÂ welcoming of Chris Cosentino, of San Franciscan fame,Â into the Los Angeles foray.Â Don’t forget the Pork in a Can Lardo on crostini nor the Cone O’ Cracklins, the latter of which were delightfullyÂ airier than I expected. The Country Pate with cornichons and green peppercorn was pork-solid, as well, and delicious. And don’t forget the “Brainnaise” (whole hog is key), which comes atop P!GG Style Fries. But at the center of the P!GG menu are curedÂ selections from Spain, Italy and the U.S. The Mini Potato Knishes from The Cure were also little bits of pastry heaven. The Matzoh Ball Soup is not to be overlooked, either, since there are crunchy little chicken cracklins dispersed amongst the matzoh. The Corned Beef and Pastrami assessment will have to come at a later date.
And I would be negligent if I didn’t address the delicious cocktails helmed by Adrian Bigg. My favorite was the 9th and Broad, made with Woodford Reserve bourbon, Carpano Antica formula, Apricot liqueur and Jerry Thomas decanter bitters. The essential drink, of course, is the Bourbon Pig, essentially bacon fat washed Bulleit with Angostura, sugar and pig ear garnish.
As for gin lovers, I loved the Red Sapphire, made with Bombay Sapphire gin, St. Vincent raspberry syrup, Earl Grey tea syrup, Maraschino, fresh lemon juice and egg white. Don’t judge a cocktail by its cover, as this was a, yes – light, but perfectly balanced cocktail despiteÂ the temptation to dismiss it as aÂ girly drink. So tasty.
Feeling more like beer? Ten draft beers are available for your pleasure. And the Spring for Coffee was a perfect, mid-meal pick-me-up. Now that is really good coffee.
And don’t forget dessert. The beignets were delightful as was the perfectly moist, rich donut.
So get yourself down to the UMAMIcatessen. Your appetite for whole hog, burgers, cocktails and all the extra fixins demands it. It’s really not just about burgers, anymore, and at once worthy of all the hype that surrounds Umami.
All food and drink were hosted.
As someone who has held a tenure at the same company and building for over 5 years, I’ve seen lunch places come and go from my little perch on Wilshire Blvd. I like to joke that we are in the real “Slums of Beverly Hills” since we, inÂ the stretch closest to the L.A. line, hold a 323 area code instead of the usual 310 everyone west of us is assigned. The most varied of lunch options is a short drive to Miracle Mile because of the food trucks. And yes, I do, thanks to my frustration with the lack of options as well as my resistence to Trimana – the chain deli across the street which unabashedlyÂ microwaves their eggs in plain sight of their customers.
I’ve been in that space at the intersection of Gale plenty of times before, with Red Medicine being the 3rd changeover entityÂ I’ve witnessed. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon’s dark, dingyÂ bar called The Continental was the scene of learning exactly which co-workers I never wanted to go drinking with, ever again. Hokusai, a Japanese spot,Â offered $7 cash-only, combination bento boxes – the best lunch deal in the vicinity.
Now, Red Medicine is my next-block, one-stop-shop for the best bÃ¡nh mÃ¬ Beverly Hills (and the vicinity) ever did see. Their bar beckons me; liquid lunches are as enticing andÂ accessible as ever, thanks to Matt and his house-made juices and sodas.Â I enjoy his Pimm’s Cup (onlyÂ in L.A. during January is this acceptable, y’see) and his Singapore Sling. The others, I can’t wait to try. Yes, this is Beverly Hills but the cocktails at Red Medicine areÂ also only $10. Fernet lovers (or nay-sayers, depending on whom you ask): They carry MalÃ¶rt, probably one of the only places this west of Chicago to do so.
But back to solid lunch. The main selections are the BÃºn Cháº£ ($12-$15)Â and BÃ¡nh MÃ¬, both of which I have had – with pork belly – and have been extremely happy with. Let’s not fool ourselves: We’re not in Westminster nor Vietnam, and there’s nowhere in Beverly Hills you’ll get away with eating for less than $10. But if you want those flavors with an avant garde flourish, Red Medicine is your best bet. After all, the sandwich is a full foot long. The quality of the BÃ¡nh MÃ¬ is alsoÂ held up in no small part by the Bouchon bread, which I’ve noticed has been tinkered withÂ and increasingly toastedÂ (over 3 sandwiches during 3 different occasions). The cilantro is super fresh as is the deliciously pickled, crunchy carrot. Sliced jalapenos give the sandwich a good kick while the modest helping of mayoÂ addsÂ just a hint of sweetness. If you need some more spice, look no further than the house-made sriracha sauce, plated on the sideÂ – a delicious andÂ freshÂ rendition of the famous Rooster Sauce.
Feel like noodles, or looking for aÂ lighter lunch? The BÃºn Cháº£ delivers a fresh helping of noodles as well as the same, delicious and also noodle-likeÂ carrots. There are more pickled vegetables than in the BÃ¡nh MÃ¬ to match the light, sweet, vinegar-based and refreshing dressing.Â It’s a fancy patch of noodles that you can order with wagyu, pork or chicken but there’s no short-changing the flavor.
Controversies aside, I’m glad Red Medicine moved in. Things looked auspicious when I dined their Test Kitchen run at the debut of TK, itself, and I’m happy to see that once all the kinks (kitchen and PR, alike)Â are ironed out,Â it looks like Red Medicine may be the restaurant to break the curse of Gale and Wilshire. Bring on lunch!
Pop-ups are all the rage, lately, especially in Los Angeles. Test Kitchen, however, brings that concept to another, oxymoronic level in that it is a “permanent” pop-up, of sorts. Yes, Test Kitchen serves exactly the purpose of how it sounds in the first place, and is indicative of a food culture and city in which it is normal for talented and even famous chefs to be homeless. Test Kitchen is the couch they squat, and Jordan Kahn’s, Noah Ellis’ and Adam Fleischman’s (Umami Burger) new Vietnamese outfit to open in the fall on Wilshire, Red Medicine, was the first to do so in a fully booked 5-day run ending last Sunday.
Luckily, Mattatouille let me crash his 2-top reservation that day, and as to be expected there were tons of industry and bloggy types to brush shoulders against. In my lone experience during Jordan’s run, I could see hardly any drawbacks to the system. The pacing in all 12 courses was expedient (yes, there were 12) and the prix fixe pricing was dirt cheap at $40. The dishes that were hits really went out of the park; the dishes that were misses for me were arguable and interesting conversation pieces with others in attendance. One thing’s for sure, though: Jordan’s imagination was ever apparent in every course and kept all diners sitting at the edge of their chairs.
Favorites included the pork belly tartine – it was paired perfectly with pickled carrots and coriander, given weight by the pate and finished with the perfect kick at the end thanks to the back-burning green chili. I enjoyed it in a single bite yet savored it for minutes thereafter. Another grand slam was the Cured Amberjack, balanced atop sous vide french melon and topped with lime leaf, nuoc cham, bird chili and mint. It was an amazingly refreshing yet complex dish that really complemented the fish.
One of my other favorites was the tomatoes, which were a delicious example in sustainable cooking and farming, having been marinated in an infusion of their vines. The unmistakeable tomato flavor was paired up with silky and crunchy tofu – a refreshing departure from mozzarella and creme fraiche. The silken tofu had nuances of a creamier food thanks to the vine infusion oil but when I realized I wished there were more on the plate it was clear how light the dish was. Leafy greens and purple basil gave it good aroma, green color and foliage.
One of the dishes that I enjoyed but Mattatouille happened to disagree with was the bay scallops, dressed with young ginger, tamarind syrup, puffed tapioca and charred frisee. It was my first time experiencing frisee served that way and this provided much of the flavor – a nice twist on a green that has normally been regarded as a garnish. The puffed tapioca was a nice spin on hominy, making the intermixed bay scallops (read: small) somewhat an ingredient in a seafood salad. It challenged how I indiscriminately favored big juicy scallop steaks up until this point. Touche.
The baby carrots were a nice, firm yet sweet texture underneath the also sweet fermented black bean – my favorite sweet-savory dish on the menu in contrast to the brussels sprouts (carmelized shallots, fish sauce, prawn crackers), which I didn’t think quite worked but others had actually liked. The anise on the baby carrots as well as the coconut and tarragon really kept things aromatic and interesting.
It was a special night in overcast Santa Monica, when the rising star chefs (and mixologists) of Los Angeles came out to dance. Their individual tablesÂ showcased a dish of their choosing, with propped-up lamps shining into the coastal darkness. The Fairmont Miramar was the setting, with FIG hosting the bungalow-side VIP receptionÂ to precede the walk-around gala held on the hotel’s turnaround.
FIG,Â headed up byÂ Chef Ray Garcia,Â was up for the sustainability award. Representing their fresh and inventive menu were spoonfuls of apricot tortellini – subtly sweet but tangy and way more complex than I could have imagined a sweet bite of pastaÂ could be. Also generously passed around were fingerling potatoes and chips topped with creme fraiche and Petrossian caviar. The generous part was undoubtedly the option to add a spoonful more of caviar atop each potato – a point Petrossian chef and James Beard Rising StarÂ Chef semi-finalistÂ Ben Bailly agreed with. RosÃ© champagne complimented each of our beginning bites, but nothing prepared me for what was to come during the main program of the night.
The main sponsor of the night was Highland Park, and what a fortunate arrangement that turned out to be. Highland Park 18 was being served neat or on a big NÃ©ve ice rock. On the other end, Eric Alperin of the Downtown Los Angeles bar The Varnish served up The Highlander, a simple yet beautiful treatment to Highland Park 12 which the likes of Thomas Keller was also spotted sipping.
“The Highlander” by Eric Alperin of The Varnish
1/2 oz cherry Heering Liqueur
2 oz Scotch Whisky (Highland Park 12)
Stir in a whisky glass over a big rock of ice.