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Entries in French (7)

Friday
Jan272012

Bäco Mercat

*Post by Mark.

How do you even categorize the food at Joseph Centeno's Bäco Mercat? Are these sandwiches, gyros or tacos that we're shoving into our mouths? Are those flatbreads or pizzas coming out of the kitchen of The Lazy Ox Canteen chef's latest venture? In fact, they're bäcos and cocas, respectively, but the globe of influence behind the food is even broader and more difficult to define. While the flatbread cocas originate in Spain, their ingredients hail from as far away as Tunisia. We're touring Italy, China, France, Mediterranean and the Deep South. Peru? Why not? To eat here is to travel across multiple continents within the compass of a single bite.

 

 

 

While Mercat is Catalan for 'market', the concept of bäco is a far more personal invention of the Lazy Ox chef. A flatbread created by using unique fats and lebni (a strained yogurt), Centeno’s bäco is a hybrid of the world’s flatbreads. The words 'global' and 'taco' have been combined and truncated to brand the restaurant’s namesake dish. 

 

 

Even though the place was virtually empty when we arrived just a few minutes after opening, it was well on its way to filling up a mere 20 minutes later. Not surprising - the recent arrival of Bäco Mercat has to be a breath of fresh air for those working downtown. We found a seat at a table for two in wood-backed chairs reminiscent of a grade-school classroom. The restaurant is painted in blue and brown hues, with exposed brick and a rustic, industrial style that comes as a pre-requisite for restaurant openings these days.

 

 

A nice first impression: a small cup of fried, crispy "Bäco chips" (continuing the theme, a cross between breadsticks and chips), and an addictive sticky, smoky, spicy sauce. 

 

 

We were eager to start the meal with one of the aforementioned flatbreads. The El Cordero has a thin, crispy base blanketed with wonderful harissa-based sauce, which had some heat, and topped with flavorful bits of merguez (lamb sausage), as well as handfuls of arugula with hints of mint. Thankfully the word 'pizza' is nowhere on the menu, because this coca, with its cracker-like crust, is far from it. 

 

 

Next to arrive was a gorgeously refreshing beet salad fattoush with endive, red onion, grapefruit, parsley, baby radish, burrata. In place of the traditional bread, this fattoush comes with thick leaves of endive - the perfect delivery system to insure the lightly dressed beets, cheese and flavorful accompaniments make it to your mouth.

 

 

The "Original" bäco is the real reason we're here. And it doesn't disappoint in the least. Filled with pork belly, beef carnitas, cherry tomatoes, pickled red onion, mixed greens including mint, and a flavorful salbitxada (Catalan salsa), this dish completely wins us over to the bäco concept. The highlight of the original is the crispy-on-the-outside-tender-on-the-inside carnitas

 

 

We liked our first bäco so much we went for another. The beef tongue schnitzel bäco is loaded up with breaded, fried slices of tongue, pickles, greens and a smoked aioli. The tart sauce pairs well with unctuous, tender meat. We weren't convinced that the tongue needed schnitzeling, but it didn't hurt. Another really solid rendition of the bäco, but if you order only one? Go with the 'Original'.

 

 

Sure, we could spend all day sorting through the global influences, but the sum total feels as authentic as any individual component. Bäco Mercat is absolutely a trip around the world we'll be taking again soon.

Bäco Mercat on Urbanspoon

Tuesday
Dec132011

Josiah Citrin's 'In Pursuit of Excellence' Book-Signing at Mélisse

Post by Angela.

On the morning of my first real day in Los Angeles last year, after a 14-hour drive in 100+ degree heat, my mother and I checked out of our seedy Westside motel as soon as humanly possible and drove to the rental office on Wilshire to pick up the keys to my new apartment. While waiting for the office to open, we wandered the empty streets of Santa Monica and came upon a very unassuming restaurant front. "Hey, that's supposed to be one of the best restaurants in L.A.!" I mentioned to my mom. "Really?" she questioned, skeptical. I didn't blame her. From the outside, Mélisse looks as if it could be any old run-of-the-mill French restaurant. But those in the know...well, know better. 

Mark and I still haven’t made it to Mélisse, one of only three restaurants in the Los Angeles area to earn two Michelin stars in the vaunted guide’s 2009 edition (the other two are Providence and Spago), for dinner, but I like to think we’re saving it for a very special occasion. Nevertheless, we jumped at the opportunity to take a sneak peek at Mélisse at the book signing of executive chef, Josiah Citrin, who just published his first cookbook, In Pursuit of Excellence.  

 

 

We joined the throngs of Chef Josiah’s family, friends and admirers being funneled into the tiny restaurant. As we waited in line to purchase copies of the book, we marveled at the difference between outside and inside decor – the dining area at Mélisse could well be an art gallery, with a warm, rich palette of color and clean, elegant lines.

 

 

Book in hand, I made my way over to the chef to get his signature. As I waited, I flipped through the 240-page creation of Citrin in collaboration with Patricia Aranka Smith (writer), Matt Kiefer (food photography), Charles Park (location photography) and Mélisse Chef de Cuisine, Ken Takayama (food styling). Even without the chef’s autograph, this gorgeous book would make a great Christmas gift, whether the recipient aspires to try his or her hand at the recipes within, or just wants to bask in the beauty of the photos. SPOILER ALERT, MOM!!! This particular copy is destined for my mother – I’m hoping that, despite her initial skepticism of Mélisse's bona fides, she and I can share a meal there on one of her next visits.

 

 

And just what can you expect from the recipes in the book? Within its pages, Citrin divulges the secrets to some of Mélisse’s signature dishes, broken into categories: amuse bouches, soups, first courses from the land, first courses from the ocean, poultry and game, meat, cheeses and desserts. We were lucky enough to sample some of these delights, including grapes crusted with goat cheese and pistachios matched with a spherified grape (below, left), cones of ahi tuna tartare topped with a smooth avocado mousseline (below, right)...

 

 

..refreshing cucumber chawan-mushi (Japanese savory custard) layered beneath gazpacho and tomato gelee...

 

 

...luscious foie gras terrine topped with a subtle, sweet apricot-date condiment ...

 

 

...herby mushroom tartare (below, left), tiny, meaty sliders perched on black sesame encrusted brioche buns (below, right)...

 

 

...shot glasses filled with chocolate mousse (below, left), and delicate orange macaroons with chocolate filling (below, right).

 

 

The fare offered at the book-signing only whetted my desire to return for a full meal, but I may have to save up a little - Mélisse's tasting menu, Ten, runs $150 per person. In the meantime, I may copy a few recipes out of the book to try at home before wrapping it up and giving it to my mom. The book is available exclusively through Mélisse, the restaurant website, www.melisse.com, selected retailers and www.Amazon.com

Melisse on Urbanspoon

Thursday
Jan062011

Fraiche

*Post by Angela.

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.

Fraiche Culver City on Urbanspoon

Fraiche in Los Angeles on Fooddigger

Friday
Aug272010

Central Michel Richard

*Post by Angela.

After months of searching out 1,000 point reservations on Open Table and doing ridiculous things like making completely unnecessary lunch reservations, we finally earned a $100 Open Table check. We decided to use it at Washingtonian's #13 Restaurant of 2010, Central Michel Richard. Central, located in Penn Quarter is Chef Richard's less pricey establishment (he is also responsible for the #5 spot on Washingtonian's list, Citronelle). Needless to say, we were excited for our meal.

 

 

The interior was bright, unfussy and laid-back - much more casual that we were expecting for a restaurant praised so highly, which was a plus in our minds (we're not huge fans of snooty atmosphere). Central has done a good job of capturing the "bistro" feel. The service was equally unfussy and laid-back.

 

 

It was clear from the moment we began perusing the menu that we would have to order a lot of food - there was just too much that called out to us. We started with the pork belly confit with chile bbq sauce (below). The pork belly was tasty, as pork belly almost always is, and nicely cooked with a great crispy exterior. Nothing about the dish made it memorable, though - the chile bbq sauce was fine, but unremarkable.

 

 

We wanted to order some greens to balance out our meat-heavy meal, and settled on the salad frisee with lardons and poached egg (below). This was, for me, the best dish of the evening. The egg was perfectly poached, and once I slid my fork into it, the rich yolk combined in the best way with the tangy vinaigrette and fattiness of the lardons.

 

 

Next, we ordered one of Central's most widely touted dishes, the faux gras terrine and country pate (below). The first bite of the faux gras was incredible - beyond creamy and smooth, rich and buttery. The first words out of Mark's mouth were 'meat ice cream!' But with each successive dollop, the faux gras became way too much to handle, which, for us, is saying a lot. Though we are huge fans of foie gras, and had high expectations for the house speciality, we barely made it a third of the way through the given portion - further evidence of our disappointment (we generally lick every last plate clean). The pate, on the other hand, was less overwhelming - flavorful, with great chunks of pistachio.

 

 

For my entree, I managed to hone in on the tartare of filet mignon and french fries (below). It was good, mildly tangy, with top quality meat, but no competition for our favorite beef tartare. I just thought it could have used a little bit of a kick.

 

 

We couldn't stay away from the Brussels sprouts and bacon, and I'm glad we didn't. The sprouts were very good, lush, perfectly cooked (tender but not mushy), seasoned, and paired with the crispy bacon bits.

 

 

Mark ordered the fried chicken and mashed potatoes (below), figuring that the true test of a kitchen is how well they execute the simplest of dishes. By his standards, Central comes out a winner - the fried chicken was shatteringly crisp on the outside, juicy and tender on the inside. The mashed potatoes were good, but did not distract from the main attraction.

 

 

Somehow, Mark managed to find room for dessert (I don't know why I"m surprised, he always does), ordering Michel's chocolate bar, also known as "Le Kit Kat," with crunchy layers (below). We were amused by this upscale take on the candy bar, and Mark enjoyed it.

 

 

 I sort of wish we had stumbled across Central unawares, because I think we would have really loved the meal had we not had it built up so much in our minds. As it was, we thought it was a very nice meal, but were not as blown away as we thought we would be. Nevertheless, Central is a great option for a date night, or for entertaining out-of-town guests.

 

Central Michel Richard on Urbanspoon

Friday
May072010

Westend Bistro by Eric Ripert 

*Post by Angela.

I'm sorry, everybody.  I have to get something off my chest.  I think I'm going to have to break up with Mark.  Because I've fallen in love with another man, a Frenchman of all things, a silver fox who makes me so happy - makes my dreams come true, really.  That man is Chef Eric Ripert.

The stirrings of my heart began when I became acquainted with him through watching him guest judge on Top Chef.  I started to think my love was true after hearing that he was starting a radio show with my other food crush, Anthony Bourdain.  And I was completely in his thrall after dining at Le Bernardin in New York a few weeks ago.   But I realized I just couldn't hide my feelings anymore after our dinner at his D.C. outpost last night, Westend Bistro by Eric Ripert, located on the bottom floor of the Ritz-Carlton at 22nd and M Street.  Although Mark and I had heard a couple of tales of disappointment from others, every aspect of our meal was pitch perfect and impeccably executed.  While I know Chef Ripert doesn't actually cook at Westend - Chef Joe Palma, who came up in the kitchen of Le Bernardin, does his old boss proud as the Chef de Cuisine at Westend - it was easy to see his philosophy in every dish - simple food, cooked well.  I would go back in a heartbeat. 

When we walked in, Mark immediately noted how much he liked the big picture windows in the restaurant, letting in so much light - a necessity, given the dark, muted tones of the minimalist decor.  Mark began the evening with an orange mojito, which he seemed to enjoy. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While not quite the well-oiled machine operating out of Le Bernardin, the service was very good - efficient, friendly, and attentive to our every need.  Our water glasses and the bread basket never stood empty for more than a minute or two, which was a blessing as the bread was really terrific - crusty on the outside, chewy and soft on the inside.

 

 

Bowing to his addictions, Mark got the Molten Goat Cheese, with roasted beets, tarragon, spiced pecans and country ham (pictured below).  The dish was a revelation to him - he hadn't particularly liked beets growing up, and was just starting to tolerate them, but this dish made him actually begin to really enjoy beets.  Even though I've been a beet lover for a while now, I could see what he was saying - every flavor in the dish was precisely calculated to enhance and showcase the gorgeously cooked beets.  The dish was nicely finished with a sprinkling of what I'm pretty sure was candied orange peel.

 

 

Getting more into the bistro spirit, I got the Beef Tartare with quail egg and dixie relish, which came with toast points.  The keys to a good beef tartare are the quality of the beef and the seasoning.  This was not a good beef tartare.  It was the perfect beef tartare - the meat practically melted in my mouth, and was spiced up with what I think had to be freshly grated horseradish.  Combined in bites with the rich yolk from the egg and a bit of the tart relish, this was a dish I could have loved entree-sized.  Every night for the rest of my life.

 

 

For his entree, Mark got the BBQ lamb, with compressed watermelon, spring oninos, and mustard bbq sauce.  Upon eating his first bite of the lamb, Mark set his utensils down, swallowed, looked at me and said, "You have to try this.  I think you're going to be upset."  I thought he meant that it was bad.  What he actually meant was he thought I would be upset that I didn't order that dish.  I've never tasted lamb like that before - so fatty (in a good way) and tender it resembled perfectly cooked pork belly - and it was well paired with the tangy mustard bbq sauce.  I didn't try the watermelon (I'm allergic), but Mark loved the pickled watermelon rind layered over the compressed watermelon. This became another example (ala the beets) of foods that, because of this meal, Mark once tolerated and now covets.

 

 

For my entree, I got the shrimp and grits with chorizo, garlic, scallion and aleppo pepper.  While Mark was right, I did like his dish a little better, I really enjoyed mine as well.  The sauce and grits were both so rich and flavorful, the shrimp were spot-on (just barely cooked, so that they were still juicy), and the slices of chorizo injected the perfect amount of salty goodness.  I used some of the neverending bread to sop up my sauce.

 

 

Our server convinced us to get some greens with our dishes (perhaps worried about our health?), so we got a side of sauteed spinach.  While there wasn't anything particularly outstanding about it, it was perfectly cooked and seasoned, and for me, it was a welcomed fresh addition after my rich dish.

 

 

We finished the meal off by splitting the warm chocolate cake, topped with caramel ice cream.  Honestly, they could have brought us the worst chocolate cake in the world, and I'd still rave about the meal overall.  But the dish was actually very nice (if a little too rich for my tastes), with a crunchy top giving way to a gooey dark chcolate center. It was perfectly cooked.

 

 

So, fine.  So I don't have a snowball's chance in hell with Chef Ripert (I'm pretty sure he's been happily married for years, and they have a son).  And fine, Mark's not bad (and dances pretty well for a white guy), I guess I'll stick it out with him for now.  But...I'm still going to dream about Eric Ripert, or at least his food, for years to come.

Westend Bistro on Urbanspoon