Friday, January 8, 2016

Trois Mec - Los Angeles

Trois Mec These guys are an amazing team of Chefs
When the Chef or Food is special and the evening becomes an experience and you do not need Open Table to fill your restaurant every night you go to a ticketing system.  It is very efficient for the Restaurateur but a real challenge for the the customer, but as you know the Restaurateur is always right.  Trois Mec is one of a handful of restaurants in the US that have gone to the online ticketing method of reserving a table, although a pain it is part of the experience and establishes bragging rights that you got a Golden Ticket not unlike American Idle or Willy Wonka. Trois Mec which means three guys is a collaboration of Ludo Lefebvre, John Shook and Vinny Dotolo.  John and Vinny own Animal and Son of a Gun, Animal which I wrote up last year, both are very accomplished chefs.  Trois Mec is located in a small unassuming strip mall on Highland Blvd. in LA.  If you are looking for a sign you will be out of luck unless you are looking for Raffallo's Pizza thank god for Google Maps.
Our reservation was for 6pm which is the first of the evening, we got there early so we went to a restaurant next door Petit Trois for a cocktail.  Petit Trois is aptly named no more that 15 feet wide including the kitchen with eating at the counter or drinks 2 feet away on the wall table.  We got the drink of the night which was a Habanero Margarita.  Petit Trois is also a restaurant so if you do not have a Golden Ticket you should sit down and enjoy dinner there.
Chef Ludo-- He Scared Me

When the clock hit 6pm the hostess came to gather us to guide us to the seating I requested, the counter looking over the kitchen.  This is always the best seat because you are entertained by the action in the kitchen.  A big shout out to Lisa Provost for arranging the seat for us. On this night as we walked in stood Ludo, you know that French guy who instills fear into his team members on The Taste.  I immediately made my presence known by greeting him and asking him how his evening is going and asking if I can take pictures, immediately I saw that look of oh no am I going to have to deal with this guy all evening.  But no the kitchen is his office and I respect his domain and I will admit he did scare me a bit.

Trois Mec is a small restaurant with 8 seats at the counter and 4 tables for 16 additional lucky people. The counter is 3 feet from the chefs so it provides the perfect venue for expert viewing for food preparation skills.
Buckwheat Popcorn and Pistachio Tart
This is a tasting menu with approximately 8+ small plates brought throughout the evening, whatever the evening fair you get whatever wonderful meal you get.  Mind you each bite is of the utmost quality and has been curated for the evening.  If you wish to have a beverage you can buy beer or wine buy the Glass, Bottle or they will pair Wine or a Non Alcoholic beverage for each tasting.  JoAnn went with the glass of Wine and I went with the Non Alcoholic pairing.  The first several appetizers come out in rapid succession including crunchy Buckwheat Popcorn, a tiny Pistachio and Herb Tart, a Brown Egg Shell with a Yolk on the bottom and Cream on top, Crispy Tapioca Square and Custard.  I was busy taking pictures of the food, of Ludo and of his staff everything is happening so fast, stop I have to start enjoying this
Awesome Custard
and taking the experience in.  Our awesome server Leah was serving me my drinks and I felt the pressure of eating forming as sweat on my forehead.  Oh yeah Leah I almost forgot her because of my feeding frenzy.  Leah has been at Trois Mec for 1 year she and her husband moved to LA from Napa where she worked at Bouchon and he worked at The French Laundry, well that is impressive!
Egg Yolk with Creme
Back to the food the Buckwheat Popcorn needs to be eaten a few kernels at a time to get the best enjoyment of the salty crunchy taste.  The Pistachio Tart was tasty, of course I ate it wrong thinking the tart shell was ceramic and wondering when I broke it if Ludo would yell at me and put me in time out.  BTW that is when I realized I needed to slow down.  Of all the little taste starters my favorite was either the Egg Yolk covered with Creme served in a Brown Egg Shell or the Custard with a touch of Lime which had a sprinkling of something crunchy.
Before we start the next grouping I have reviewed several restaurants where Celebrity Chefs are on property but none that I have seen are as involved with their team and as serious about the food, presentation and quality as Chef Ludo.  He stood 3 feet in front of me all evening working with his team of 5 to serve 24 people, 12 dishes each or 288 plates.  Each plate was prepared in front of us, I have great respect for him, and his staff.  And that is the real reason I did not ask him another question the rest of the night until I said good night.  As a side note after we finished our first 5 plates he said well that is dinner have a great evening goodbye and then he kind of chuckled, for a fleeting moment I thought he was serious.
Cured Trout
Smoked Vegetable Voulete
Back to the food, now the serious stuff begins first main course is Cured Trout glazed with a Vinaigrette, with a Dollop of Yogurt and Ground Carrot side.  I have never eaten Trout, I caught over 100 trout this year (catch and release), the curing made the texture firm and the taste smokey when combined with the Yogurt and Carrot it was delicious, the Carrot added some sweetness.  What a great start, the pace had slowed down even though Ludo and his team were in full chef mode. Leah paired that dish with Apple Cider a great combo with the Trout.  
Second course was Smoked Vegetable Veloute with Black Truffle Chantilly.  The Veloute served as a soup base was combined with smoked vegetables that included Cauliflower and Asparagus.  The Black Truffle Chantilly did not have that pungent Truffle taste but was more earthy.  This was paired with Lemon Sage Tea, it tastes like it sounds, delicious.  
The third course is Rice, King Crab and Uni Butter, Avocado.  The Rice is fried in butter until it cakes, the cake is used as the base of the King Crab covered in Uni Butter.  So you get the Crunch of the Rice and the Uni Buttered Crab Leg with the richness of the Avocado Puree.  This was paired by a Spiced Italian Soda the only drink of the night they did not make in house.  
Update, Chef Ludo is still leading his guys, from time to time you can here them escalate as they encourage each other to put out perfect food.  
Cauliflower Porridge
Course number four was a Veal Cauliflower Porridge with Cinnamon and Dates, this one I was not paying attention to it so when I hit the date I thought this tastes kind of good but does it belong in here, but i came to my senses it was no mistake it was part of the meal.  This dish was not a favorite for my wife but I really enjoyed it the Cauliflower Porridge was creamy but had that great earthy taste a really well thought out dish.  The kind of dish you imagine you eat in France after a hard day of farming.  Along came Leah with our favorite drink of the night Mountain Shrub which is White Wine Vinegar fermented with Fir and Pine needles for 1 year then combined with 1 part simple syrup to 1 part Vinegar concoction and then carbonated.  
Dessert- Apple Butter Creme de Brie
Ah finally dessert, Apple Butter, Creme de Brie with Toasted Barley a perfect light desert to finish the night off.  the Apple butter worked well with the Creme just scenting it with Apple, this was combined with a Spice Chai Latte.  To wrap the food experience up we were given 2 Mignardises each a tiny Cream Puff and Dark Chocolate Truffle.
This was a very memorable evening of dining out, the hardest working Executive Chef in LA, an amazing group of Chefs and Sous Chefs by his side, very professional Servers and a Hostess that was on top of every detail all night.  Trois Mec is a must if you love food and the experience of watching professionals work.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Kettner Exchange -- San Diego

Kettner Exchange
We are always struggling to find good restaurants in San Diego where we do not have to go downtown worry about parking and wade through the throngs of weekend partiers.  There are several good restaurants that have opened in the last several years in the Little Italy District, one of them is Kettner Exchange.  Kettner Exchange is housed in a large new contemporary building with wall to ceiling windows, steel beams and plenty use of recovered wood that lap strakes the ceiling like a boat hull, and is featured in the kitchen, bar and eating areas. In the middle of the restaurant there is a piece of artwork that gives you the feeling a tree is growing through the middle of the restaurant with the myriad of branches mimicking a Banyan Tree.  Overall this is a very cool looking restaurant.  The Executive Chef Brian Redzikowski has a great resume starting in NYC at Le Cirque , moving to Nobu Matsuhisa in Aspen and Las Vegas at Joel Rubuchon's Mansion and the Yellowtail at the Bellagio hotel.  He has taken his breadth of cuisine and brought it together at KEX.  Brian also competed on Iron Chef america in 2010.
We were meeting four others and were seated upstairs.  As you walk up the stairs take your time hold the rail and read the stairs for an inspiring uplifting message.  When upstairs you notice that there is a second bar allowing the first and second levels to stand on their own as separate dining and drinking establishments.  The person we met had brought three others who were all Vegans each of them had been to KEX and were very happy with the menu of small plates that catered to their eating needs.
Soups, Udon and Butternut, Duck Meatball
Kale Salad
To start with several of us ordered their Vegan friendly Kale Salad everyone loved the freshness of the Kale, the leaves used are not the typical chewy Kale leaf but more tender and fresh, combined with Golden Raisins, Apple, crunchy Almond slivers with a drizzle of Lemon Parmesan dressing.  I had ordered a Chicken Katsu spicy Udon Noodle soup with Radishes, it was delicious and savory.  JoAnn had the Duck Meatball sitting on Anson Mills grits with Parmesan, the dish combined the richness and fat of the duck with heirloom grits grain.  There was recently an Anthony Bourdain show on Charlotte that featured Anson Mills and how they have used originally harvested seeds to recreate non GMO grains.
These were some of the favorite dishes, Kettner Exchange changes its menu often which allows you to enjoy this beautiful restaurant and have a different food experience each time.
The service is excellent, if you ask your waiter to help you choose on a local draft beer or a great glass they will gladly bring you a sample so you can make the best choice.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Spotted Pig,The Spotted Pig The Best Burger - Greenwich Village NYC

The Spotted Pig
Whitney Museum
We had just finished a great tour of the new The Whitney Museum in the Meat Packing district and had decided to walk to the Spotted Pig.  The Spotted Pig is the hardest reservation in NYC because they do not take them, it is not a large restaurant and it is extremely popular all day and night long.  The Spotted Pig is the creation of April Bloomfield who has an extensive culinary resume including some time working with Alice Waters at Chez Panisse which has an influence on her culinary style.  This is a simple comfortable Gastro Pub establishment.  The number one menu item is a hamburger, it is a top pick by Food and Wine for best hamburger in the world and it has a Michelin Star.
Ladies Meals
The Famous Burger
The Spotted Pig is a Pub in the sense of the word, you feel you are the east side of the pond in this old eclectic setting with a variety of your Grandma's stuff on the wall and adorning the floor.  It is always got a wait but lucky for us there was a lull in the culinary traffic so we captured a table and made ourselves comfortable.  I ordered the traditional burger while the ladies ordered the Grilled Cheese and the Haddock Chowder.
The burger is a real burger almost 1 inch thick and half a pound smothered with Roquefort Cheese with Dijon Mustard and a Sweet Toasted Brioche Bun.  It is served with shoestring garlic fries combine it with a beer and you are definitely rocking a great american taste treat.  By the way it is not easy dipping your skinny fries in ketchup.
Grilled Cheese and Haddock Chowder
The Grilled Cheese is made with Filone Bread which is an Italian Bread with the consistency of a French Baguette it is smothered with meltred Fontina, Taleggio and Parmesan.  The Chowder was a traditional cram based Seafood Chowder with Haddock, Potatoes, some Shellfish and a drizzle of Olive Oil. The ladies had some wine and we settled in for an hour to escape the cool air and take in the pub atmosphere.  This is a great restaurant to go to after a tour of the Whitney or shopping in Greenwich Village.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Kat and Theo Flatiron NYC

Chef Shah of Kat and Theos
Every time we go to NYC we try a new restaurant for this trip I picked as new restaurant in the Flatiron District called Kat and Theo.  Kat and Theo is a Mediterranean inspired restaurant under the direction and influence of Executive Chef Paras Shah, Besides Chef Shah there is a strong team including Mixologist Stephen An and Pastry Chef menu Serena Chow.  The restaurant is contemporary with the bar, kitchen, and dining up front with additional dining in the back.  The walls of the restaurant are the original brick of the building and the design invites both warmth and intimacy.  Like many of my restaurant reviews the kitchen is open and provides visual stimulation and culinary skill envy as the busy chefs prepare great food.

We started our evening with a couple of drinks Metal and Dust and the Mexican Firing Squad.  The Metal and Dust is a Lager based drink with a Oaxaca and Mulato Chile infused Tequila with lime and Mole bitters, the Mexican Firing Squad includes Tequila, Grenadine too much to describe for two really tasty drinks.

Delicious Octopus
Our server Eduard was passionate about the menu and provided some guidance on what he would recommend to try.  We started with Charred Octopus, the Octopus was prepared perfectly and were as tender as a well  cooked Scallop.  It was accompanied with White Bean puree with several flash fried White Beans that added texture.  The Octopus had a slight Citrus touch and was finished with Oregano, it was a beautiful plate.
Lamb Shank
We had decided to share the Braised Lamb Shank entree this dish was perfectly done, moist and tender steeped in Mediterranean spices, sitting on a bed of Wheat Berries, Crispy Smoked Lamb Belly, Carrots, and Fig.  The Lamb was perfect in that it did not have the strong lamb taste, the Wheat Berry and Lamb Belly provided some good texture to have something to chew on.  The Fig provided a sweetness that accompanied the Lamb perfectly.  Along with the Lamb we had Fried Artichokes which were sprinkled with Reggiano Cheese Walnut and Lemon Zest, a tasty accompaniment.
Fried Artichoke

Carrot Cake Yum!!
Before the desert Chef Shah came over and we talked about his time he spent in Spain interning at the famous El Bulli and that many of the taste influences came from his time working in Spain.   The restaurant was in it's first year and it had been a great experience during the initial build and ensuing year of servicre.   We told him that the meal was perfect and asked which desert we should try, he suggested the Carrot Cake.
Two nights before we celebrated my Birthday and bought some take out deserts, Carrot Cake and Cheese Cake from Juniors on 42nd.  Juniors is no known for its small portions.  Point is that I was concerned that this Carrot Cake would be another large eating endeavor.  Fortunately for us it was a perfect desert with Espresso and White Chocolate Ice Cream with a dusting of Pistachio.
The entire meal was very enjoyable and I would recommend that you enjoy a meal at Kat and Theos.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Ramen Master Class with Chef Ivan Orkin


Me and Ivan
Last week we went to NYC to get some weekend R&R and some great food.  We attended NYCWFF for our second time, the highlight event was the the Ramen Masters Class with Chef Ivan Orkin.  I have always loved Ramen since I was a kid, but what I soon found out I had always eaten Ramen lite. We lived in Hawaii and we ate a noodle creation very similar by the name of Saimin.   But  at our class we were about to learn from a master how to make a real Ramen.
Ivan's Book
My Creation
 Ivan studied Japanese Literature at University of Colorado and moved to Tokyo after graduation.  Ivan had always had a fascination with food and all things Japanese specifically Ramen.  After several years he moved back to the states with his wife, unsatisfied with his career choices he decided to chase his passion for food and enrolled at the Culinary Institute in NYC.  During school and after graduation Ivan had the opportunity to work in great kitchens and learn from some of the best chefs the secrets of the trade. He realized that a line cook's life was for a younger man, one without a family so he chose to become a 8 to 5 Executive Chef for the corporate world.  Shortly later his world collapsed, his wife passed away leaving him as a widower and a father.  Ivan spent several years going back and forth to Japan to reunite his sons grandparents with their grandson, on one trip he met his current wife.  Ivan stayed in Japan became more fascinated with Ramen and defied all odds and opened his first Ramen Shop.  If you want to learn more about his fascinating story you will have to buy his book Ivan Ramen.  Ivan now has 2 Ramen shops in Tokyo and 1 in NYC

The Ramen Master
Our day began at Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) which is across the street from the World Trade Center.  The school is in a beautiful building overlooking the Hudson River. The building is new and spacious and definitely a great place to learn about the food world. After registering we went into a cooking class room and was greeted by Ivan and his team.  There were 15 people at our class which was perfect size, which provided us all an opportunity to get hands on experience to learn how to make Ramen Chef Ivan.

Dried Fish for the Dashi
Ramen is a complicated food, when done well it takes many hours of preparation and attention to the best ingredients.  There are several components, the noodle, the fat, the Sofrito, Katsuobushi Salt, Double Soup (Chicken Soup and Dashi), the protein, the sliced scallion and the egg.  The instruction started out with a video highlighting the process for finding and preparing all the ingredients.  Ivan then went through how we could prepare these ingredients at home and then allowed us to make our first Ramen creation with personal help from Chef.  I would like to say this is a simple task but it requires a visit to your local Japanese Grocery store to get all the proper ingredients.  But I have to say the end result was delicious, I came to the conclusion that other Ramen I had eaten did not pay attention to the details that Chef Ivan had.  I have started his book so when eating Ramen next I will be on even footing with the chef to ask them how they make their Ramen.  I believe that Ivan would say there is no wrong way to make Ramen unless it is in the Microwave.
Hudson River


In years to come we will avoid the larger convention type events at NYCWFF the smaller hands on classes are a great experience and you have a chance to learn something new.  You meet great people and you get one on one assistance from a great chef.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Big Jones, Chicago

The Whiskey Bar
I go to Chicago frequently for business but I always stay in the suburbs which makes it very difficult to get downtown to go to some of the best restaurants in the US.  But this evening I found a restaurant that was a James Beard semi-finalist just north of Chicago, Big Jones.  Big Jones serves southern comfort food with it's roots from Louisiana, the Gulf Coast and Appalachia.  The restaurant is on Clark Street north of downtown among food establishments both old and new.  I was very surprised to walk in at 7pm and not see it bustling but it is the summer and it was a Wednesday but I could see it on a Friday night, filled with both families and single hipsters alike.
Fried Green Tomates
Big Jones is all about the food experience they stick with their theme from the alcohol all the way to the desserts.  The cocktails are unique and many are built around their featured liquor Whiskey but not just limited to.  I am not a big drinker but do like a citrus cocktail from time to time so after some convincing that my Hurricane would not be the same as Pat O'Briens sugary concoction I went with it.  Good way to start the dinner not a featured Whiskey drink but a great drink all the same.
Pickled Vegetables and Fruit
Benne Crusted Crab Cakes
We started out with several Appetizers including Fried Green Tomatoes, Benne Crusted Crab Cakes  and Pickled Vegetables and Fruit.  The Pickled dish included some really unique vegetables and fruit, including Sally Lunn Bread and Sweet Butter. Yep I said Fruit, in fact a Green Strawberry, the veggies included Fiddlehead Ferns, Yellow Beans, Pea Stems, Hearts of Palm and Cucumber (I thought that was called a Pickle).  This dish even though it sounds simple it is very different and from the reception at the table it was a big favorite.  The Fried Green Tomatoes were great and were topped spicy Remoulade and pickled Shrimp,  Very tasty, crunchy coating and well cooked. The Crab Cakes were coated in Benne sitting on an Acorn Squash Puree topped with a light Curry Sauce.  The Crab Cakes were loaded with Crab and the unique Benne coating was crunchy and light the Curry Sauce created a great unexpected taste.

Shrimp and Grits
Famous Fried Chicken
Chicken and Dumplings
The main course was as Southern Home Cooking as possible.  Fried Chicken, Shrimp and Grits annd Chicken and Dumplings.  I picked the Fried Chicken because it is their specialty, the dish comes with Butter Beans and Voodoo Greens (Whatever they are they are good).  the Fried Chicken is dredged in Cornmeal and Fried in Leaf Lard, Ham Drippings and Clarified Butter.  Talk about a Fried Chicken with a great tasty crunchy crust and moist inside, this chicken was great.  By the way the half chicken is a very large serving so you can share.  The veggies that accompanied it were savory and dripping with all things fat and tasty.  My Colleagues had Shrimp and Grits and Chicken and Dumplings.  When I grew up one of my favorite dishes I would make with my mom was Chicken and Dumplings, I would take Campbell's Cream of Chicken Soup lots of white meat from a boiled chicken and dumplings made with Bisquick.  Big Jones does not use my recipe, theirs is really home made, their stock is not as creamy, their egg dumplings were not like the baseball size I used to make and the Chicken was accompanied with Butter Beans and Carrots.  Overall lighter than expected and worth trying.  Last but not least the Shrimp and Grits (which was my second choice looked great and my colleagues said it tasted great.  they said the shrimp was perfect and just a slight amount of heat to give it that Gulf Coast experience.
Sinful Dessert
If you feel full do not look at the dessert menu because you will definitely break down and partake, like we did.  We picked the home made butter pecan with donuts which was slathered with a whiskey syrup.  I try to avoid desserts but this one was fantastic just a lot of good flavors.
Next time you are in Chicago I would recommend if you want to try great Southern home cooking come to Big Jones

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Paper Dosa Santa Fe New Mexico

Chef Karuppasamy
Sunset In Santa Fe
Every now and then you need a change of scenery.  We decided to pack up the dogs and move to Santa Fe for 2 weeks.  Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in the US over 400 years old when it weas the capital of Northern Mexico.  It is at 7000 feet and has clean air and great weather patterns that change very quickly and create some awesome colors in the sky and against the hills.  On this trip we decided to do away with the more high end restaurants and go to the latest newer openings of highly regarded restaurants.  On one evening we went to Paper Dosa which features South India Cuisine.   Paper Dosa is outside the main Historic Santa Fe and sits in a small center off of Cordova Avenue.  The interior is larger and was light and open, you could see the kitchen from every table.

Dosa with Potato filling Sambar and Chutneys
Delicious Lamb Curry
Dosa is a fermented crepe made of rice batter and black lentils.  The Dosa is served with Sambar (Lentil Based Stew), coconut chutney and tomato chutney.  If you are a vegetarian or Vegan Paper Dosa has great dishes for you.  But along with the great choice of Dosa's you can also order Lamb, Prawn or Chicken Curry.  
We love Indian food so we took a sampling of the entire menu we got two Dosa's and Lamb curry.
A Dosa is served with a potato filling that has different flavor choices like Masala, White Truffle or Spinach and Fennel.
The Dosa is kind of a do it yourself burrito where you spoon out the flavored potato filling and add the Chutney's.  I broke pieces off of the Dosa and made it more of a Taco than a Burrito.  The Masala Potato stuffing had great heat and the chutneys provided a great cooling effect.  The Truffle filling was less hot but was filled with great flavor.  The Lamb Curry was tender and was packed with flavor and heat.  We definitely ordered too much for 3 people but I have to admit it gave us a great opportunity to sample this Southern Indian cuisine that was new to all of us.  Next time you are in Santa Fe make sure to stop by Paper Dosa.