Being in a city as big as Los Angeles, with its countless restaurant openings/food events/pop-ups happening seemingly simultaneously, can be completely overwhelming. Even in our short time here, because of time constraints, financial reasons, or sheer exhaustion, we've managed to miss out on a number of unique, limited-time dining experiences, and ended up at home whining about regrets. Not this time. We managed to snag a reservation at Test Kitchen, an ever-revolving showcase of chefs experimenting and testing new ideas and concepts, during the final days of its five-month run (the venture's last dinner was on December 13).
Created by experienced L.A. restauranteurs Bill Chait and Brian Saltsburg, Test Kitchen is (was, I guess), housed in a sprawling red townhouse in Beverlywood (above), with no signage to indicate the food adventures awaiting within.
Inside, the space was very dimly lit, and a little crowded. The decor, with the exception of the long, open kitchen and substantial bar, was nothing to write home about. But I guess that's the point - the focus is, and should be, on the food being presented.
The night we visited Test Kitchen, Chef Eric Greenspan of The Foundry On Melrose was treating diners to modern Jewish Cusine, coinciding with - not coincidentally - the last night of Hanukkah. Neither Mark nor I knew when we made the reservations that we would be getting down, Chosen-people-style, and prior experiences with Jewish cuisine had left me kind of "meh" on the subject, but we were excited to try anything Chef Greenspan wanted to serve.
The meal started with an amuse bouche, an adorable little potato and caviar knish (below, left), topped with salmon roe. Biting into the crispy little bundle, we found a burst of salty tastiness. Next to arrive was a platter of three bread-dip pairings (below, right), rye with chicken liver spread, pita with hummus and black Mission fig challah with duck fat. I loved the simplicity of the lemony hummus and warm pita, and the subtle sweetness of the challah paired with the straight up decadence of the duck schmaltz. But my favorite of the three was the rustic rye with the unctuous, velvetly chicken liver spread.
Mark ordered the Seahorse, Seahell (not sure if that typo was intentional or not) stocked full of ramazzotti amaro, antica, beet juice, fresh ginger and lime. We both agreed that the beet juice really made the drink something special. I tried on the Stupid Dresses for size, which was brought together with whiskey, creme de peche, cynar, thyme, fresh lemon and egg white. I enjoyed it a lot, but it was a little too...whiskey-ish for me to consider getting another.
As the next dish arrived, we were intrigued by Chef Greenspan's play on gefilte fish, a beautifully composed plate of thinly sliced black cod, beets, horseradish, shiso, and shining cubes of jelled broth. The light and refreshing flavors and textures of the dish melded together in our mouths just as nicely as they came together on the plate.
The course I was most excited for was the trio of latkes. Chef Greenspan presented diners with (from back to front in the photo below) a traditional potato latke, topped with pear and black pepper and served atop pastrami-cured duck, a celery root and red onion latke, finished with American caviar and plated on a dollop of green tomato marmelade, and a beet and carrot latke, topped with house-cured salmon and served with golden beet jam. All three were delightful bites, but I especially liked the sweet earthiness of the beet and carrot latke and beet jam paired with the salty salmon topping. Mark, on the other hand, preferred the bold flavors of the celery root and red onion latke.
Also impressive was the twist on traditional Matzoh ball soup - here, Chef Greenspan offered a spongy kreplach, or dumpling, served with razor thin shavings of fennel, a wonderous disc of black truffle, and a nugget of chicken, sous-vide, all swimming in a delicate broth (below).
So pleased with our meal thus far, we couldn't resist ordering a bowl of potato pierogies (below) with date puree and harissa sauce. These little dumplings were nice, but not what I was expecting, and a little dense for my liking. Still, while they may have represented the "low point" of the evening, we polished them off in no time.
The final savory course of the meal was also its pinnacle - a sumptuous mustard-glazed brisket, served with savory crusted potato kugel and a burnt onion and frisee salad (below). The meat was so tender that it melted beneath slight pressure from our forks, and so gorgeously juicy and perfectly salty that my mouth is still watering at the very memory. The brisket was so powerfully delicious that it wiped away any memories I have of the kugel and salad. But I can assume, from the excellence of the rest of the meal, that they were also very good.
The end of the meal was celebrated with a plate of warm, spiced doughnuts, served with persimmon puree and an egg cream shooter (below). The shooters, cut with sparkling water, tasted like a warm, sweet shot of bubbly. I loved the persimmon, but Mark found the crispy, spiced doughnuts to taste best on their own.
It was such a fun experience we'll definitely be going back... oh... wait. How about this? We loved the concept so much, we hope to see it pop-up again very soon. It wouldn't surprise us to see copycat productions springing up around L.A. in the near future either.