Much great art is about balance. A wonderful symphony thrills you with ebbs and flows in tempo, crescendos and decrescendos. An exquisite painting or sculpture can mesmerize you with its use of contrasting and complimentary colors, materials, and textures. A brilliant novel may stay with you for days, weeks, and years by evoking a myriad of emotions, joy and sadness, anger and laughter. And the best of meals balances ingredients, flavors, techniques, etc. to leave your stomach satisfied and your palate wanting more. Chef Ben Bailly of Fraiche treated us to a parade of dishes showcasing his genius for balance, throwing together classic French and Italian concepts with innovative flavor combinations.
Sorry if this is a little gushing, but I'm not alone. Los Angeles is abuzz with praise for Chef Bailly's new jam, which is how we decided on Fraiche for Christmas dinner with my parents, Mom and Dad IFlipForFood, from whom I inherited my food loving genes. On the dreary evening of December 25th, we made our way over to the Culver City outpost of Fraiche and were pleased to be seated in the cozy and cheery enclosed patio.
The first thing to hit our table was this pretty bowl of marinated green olives (below) - a tangy little burst of flavor to wake up our taste buds with a few notes of orange.
Next was Mom IFlipForFood's favorite dish of the night, the vitello tonnato, veal steak tartare with arugula and parmesan, served on a crunchy round (below). This is a traditional Italian dish, prepared impeccably - the creamy sauce (flavored with tuna) went hand in hand with the buttery texture of the veal, and contrasted nicely with the saltiness of the parmesan slivers and subtle spiciness of the arugula.
Dad IFlipForFood ordered a salad of wild arugula, mushrooms, sunchokes, sun-dried tomato, pine nuts, and parmesan (below). While not quite the show stopper that the previous dish was, the ingredients were well proportioned and distributed, and the generous portion of sauteed mushrooms made it hearty.
Next, we got a "share" order of foie gras creme brûlée with green apple espuma (below), which came with slices of hearty bread. The first dip for my mom and I was less than ideal - we didn't dig deep enough and only got the sweet espuma. But once we cracked the crunchy top to get to the rich and amazingly velvety foie gras...um, whip? mousse? custard?...the flavors wedded for a unique and delicious marriage in my mouth.
Mom IFlipForFood also ordered a salad. As a recent convert to Brussels sprouts, she's always curious to see how professional chefs use them, and thus went for a preparation with shaved manchego, tiny cubes of chorizo, dates, and almonds, which was very lightly dressed with a piquillo vinaigrette (below). We both really liked how the barely cooked sprouts (blanched, perhaps?) kept their crunchiness, and their bitterness was great with the combination of the rest of the ingredients (especially the sweet meaty dates).
Being burrata fiends, Mark and I split the burrata-topped broccolini, with slices of Bosc pear, chopped hazelnuts and a drizzle of balsamic (below). Simplicity is beauty, and in that simplicity Mark found his favorite dish of the night. I would never have thought to put these flavors together in a million years, but they work together here to form a really unique bite.
Both the men ordered the braised Kobe beef cheeks with horseradish gremolata and barolo sauce, resting on a bed of celery root puree (below). This dish was very well executed, the meat was very tender, coming together with the puree like a rich stew. It was just a little... traditional.
I ordered the bucatini carbonara, a thick pasta tossed in a creamy sauce with crispy hunks of pancetta and grated parmesan and topped with a slow-poached egg (below). I took one bite and my brain said "whee!" This. This was lusciousness, pure and simple. I...can't adequately describe it, except to say it was lip-smackingly good.
Mom was convinced she had won the entree-ordering lottery with the crispy loup de mer, with sunchoke soubise, wild mushroom, crosnes, salsifi and bordelaise (below). I loved my own dish so much, yet wouldn't disagree. We pondered over the preparation for some time - the meat was so tender, yet the skin was perfectly crispy. And Mom loved the sunchokes, which I don't think she'd ever had before.
The men in my life share a love of sweet endings to meals, so both opted for dessert (my mom and I were stuffed). Dad went with the pistachio creme brûlée with an apricot sorbet and rosemary crumble (below). Chef Bailly does creme brûlée really well - this second one was just as tasty as the first, and hit my sweet (or, as it were, not too sweet) spot.
Mark is so predictable that my mom called it as soon as she saw the dessert menu - he ordered the chocolate coulant, with toffee and peanut butter ice cream (below). Mark nearly polished it off before I could even score a bite. Needless to say, I think we'd found another home run.
My parents were only in town for one day, so a big thanks to Fraiche and Chef Bailly, who made it possible for us to have a fantastic, singingly balanced Christmas dinner, without having to waste precious family time cooking and cleaning up. I'd venture to say this was our favorite meal in L.A. thus far, and I'm looking forward to returning for lunch someday soon to try the infamous truffle burger.