Jar

In this City of Angels, it’s getting even harder to dine at an establishment that doesn’t have any connection to the popular showTop Chef. In fact, my last 4 blog entries about LA restaurants were all about chefs who competed on the show (Marcel Vigneron and Stefan Richter who competed on Top Chef, and Ludo Lefebvre and Michael Cimarusti who competed on Top Chef Masters).  It’s pure coincidence really, I didn’t plan it.  It’s just the state that the LA dining scene is in right now.  After all, even Top Chef maestro Tom Colicchio has his foot firmly planted in this city at his Century City restaurant Craft.

I recently had Sunday brunch with some friends at Jar, and it wasn’t because I was intent on continuing my accidental Top Chef tour.  We were looking for a nice brunch place around the West Hollywood/Beverly Hills area, and I remembered reading in the LA Weekly that Jonathan Gold praised Jar for its spectacular brunch. I was excited to try Jar, as I had never dined there before and I had heard of its numerous rave reviews.  I must admit that there was also a small part of me that was excited to try Suzanne Tracht’s food after being mesmerized with her inanimate and calm composure when she fired through the oyster shucking speed challenge during Top Chef Masters.

From the outside, it’s easy to miss this restaurant.  The thin name inscription is almost invisible against the nondescript drab brick building.  Once inside, you’ll be surprised at the stark geometric contrasts of dizzying round lamp discs, Neutra-esque low ceilings and sharp lines, and the modern furniture that is reminiscent of Eames design. The bar counter up front offers a great newspaper selection and makes it an ideal and relaxing place for a solo meal.

Jar is known as a modern chophouse where pot roast and steak are the most popular and loved items.  A place that specializes in hearty comfort food can’t go wrong with Sunday brunch.  Or can it?  We munched on their doughy coffee cake while we perused the menu.  Although I loved the dense texture of the cake, it was overpowered by the abundance of nuts.  The menu stuck pretty close to traditional brunch items like pancakes, scrambles, omelettes and french toast, but also offered more sophisticated versions of classics like lobster benedict and pot roast hash.

One of my friends got the club salad with bacon, avocado, beets, chicken and eggs.  The egg was perfectly soft boiled and the vinaigrette was light and refreshing.  It was a simple but safe and rather boring dish.

Shiitake mushroom and tomato scramble was also a good dish, but for over $13 it really wasn’t anything spectacular.  The accompanying home fries were dry and tasteless, and didn’t have that quintessential ‘cooked in oil with love’ flavor that brunch potatoes should have.

Oven roasted turkey sandwich with bacon, avocado, lettuce and tomatoes with homemade pickles and fries was a logistical nightmare.  The thick meaty slices of turkey were so heavy in this gigantic sandwich, that with every tiring bite all of the vegetables and avocado came spewing out all over the plate. The result was a complete mess that looked like a bomb detonated inside the sandwich.

I ordered the open faced prosciutto sandwich special with pesto, fried eggs, arugula and parmesan cheese.  I loved the savory layers of rich saltiness of the parmesan and prosciutto, which were beautifully complemented by the pesto sauce.  Although the egg was overcooked, overall this was a great sandwich that offered a lot of flavor.  The only downside was the rock hard bread that it was served on.  They had to get me a hearty steak knife to cut through that thing, and my upper arms got quite a workout.

The butterscotch pudding had a great burnt caramel flavor and luscious richness that reminded me of the butterscotch budino at Mozza.  Although it was a great dessert, our tastebuds got fatigued by its overwhelming sweetness after a few bites and we couldn’t finish this off even between the 4 of us.

Grapefruit sorbet brought a nice refreshing end to our somewhat disappointing mediocre brunch.  It tasted just like one of my favorite cocktails, campari grapefruit, and my palate was happily cleansed with this fresh and cheerful dessert.

On my way to the restroom, I passed by the bar and almost didn’t recognize the person sitting alone at the bar.  There she was, Chef Suzanne Tracht, sitting at the end of the bar reading the morning newspaper in shorts and a t-shirt, looking like she just rolled out of bed and was barely awake.  I wanted to tell her to get into the kitchen asap to put a stop to this mediocre food and protect the reputation and prestige that she had built for her restaurant before it was too late.

…but it was too late for me anyway.  It wasn’t just the passable food that won’t bring me back to Jar for brunch, but it was also the gloomy dark brown hues in the dining room, the cooped up feeling of being inside a room with low ceilings,  and the lack of natural sunlight coming in through the sparse windows that left me feeling depressed on this otherwise beautiful Sunday afternoon.  After all, we live in sunny Southern California.  Sunday brunch should be spent al fresco or at least in a more open and bright space where you can hear the birds chirping and the waves crashing.  A month later my friends and I had Sunday brunch at Coast at Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica.  Now that’s what I’m talking about.

Jar

8225 Beverly Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90048
323.655.6566 phone

Random trivia:  Did you know that the word ‘brunch‘, which is a combination of ‘breakfast’ and ‘lunch’, was coined by a British man named Guy Beringer in 1895?  Here’s a lovely quote from Mr. Beringer on the concept of brunch:

Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inticing.  It is talk-compelling.  It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.”

Michael Mina XIV

Have you driven by the Sunset strip recently and wondered what that huge neatly trimmed XIV plant is for?  It’s Michelin star and James Beard award-winning chef Michael Mina‘s newest restaurant, aptly named for his 14th restaurant.  And yes, it’s another Philippe Starck design collaboration, beautifully done like an old french chateau.  Once you step inside, you are transported to a different world with dramatic chandeliers, regal wooden bookcases, perfectly upholstered leather seats, candelabras and fireplaces.

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A romantic fireplace, dining by candlelight, and low light, so low in fact that it was impossible to take photos of the meal.

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Juxtaposed against this old world style interior is the modern open kitchen behind sharp stainless steel racks.  The kitchen was buzzing with excitement under the leadership of executive chef Steven Fretz.

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XIV kitchen, Chef Fretz in the middle

XIV kitchen, Chef Fretz in the middle

Behind the scenes: the kitchen

Behind the scenes: the kitchen

XIV’s menu is constructed around a small plates dining concept.  There are numerous choices under appetizers, entrees, cheese and desserts, and one is free to order a la carte or from 3 types of tasting menus.  XIV offers the opportunity to sample many different flavors and aromas through the 8 plate ‘Light Meal’ menu, 11 plate ‘Something More’ menu, or the 14 plate ‘Fourteen from XIV’ menu which is ordered for the table.  In these tasting menus, you also have the choice to have the chef select the dishes, or to choose them yourself.  We of course ordered the 14 dish tasting menu and chose the following dishes which I unfortunately could not photograph:

1) Ice Cold Shellfish trio: kushi oysters with champagne foam and tarragon powder, horseradish panna cotta with sweet shrimp, king crab with dijon mustard sauce.  The fresh kushi oyster had a wonderful brine that was accentuated, not overpowered, by the tarragon and champagne flavors.

2) Spring Garlic Soup with preserved Meyer lemon, parsley and country bread.  The creamy spring garlic soup had a garlicky kick that was green, young and fresh.

3) Tataki of American Wagyu skirt steak with moroccan spiced vegetables.  The beef tataki was not a true seared rare tataki, but rather a slice of cold medium steak albeit very tender and flavorful.  The vegetables were seasoned with a very earthy strong moroccan spice that didn’t  go well with the tataki.  The meat and the vegetables were each doing their own thing, and it was not a successful pairing.

4) Heirloom beets with burrata, wild arugula, aged balsamic vinegar and new olive oil.  Golden yellow, orange and red beets perfectly cooked and simply executed with the simple good flavors of balsamic and olive oil.

5) Foie gras terrine with rhubarb mostarda, saba and flatbread.  My favorite dish of the evening, the most flavorful and rich foie gras with a delicious sweet rhubarb jelly on top.  Since these are all small plates, the foie gras terrine was very small, and it left me begging for more.  One of the best foie gras terrines I have ever had.

6) Jidori chicken with fava beans, La Ratte potatoes, pickled ramps and onion jus.  The chicken was very juicy and succulent, but the dish and the flavors seemed too plain and safe for me.  I expected more surprises and innovative creations from Michael Mina.

7) Liberty duck breast with seared foie gras, leg confit, pineapple, and star anise.  Duck and foie gras are always a fail-proof combination, and they usually go well with a sweet fruit pairing (fig, cherries).  But pineapple? I was excited to try it, but unfortunately they didn’t mesh well.

8 ) Berkshire pork loin with crispy pork belly, pea leaves and salted cashew.  Here’s the thing about using pork belly.  It has become increasingly popular among restaurants all over the world only recently, but the Japanese have been cooking and eating it for centuries.  I have been spoiled by perfectly cooked pork belly in Japanese cuisine, and have never been satisfied with its execution in other types of cuisine.  This dish also fell short, as it wasn’t cooked to melting fatty tenderness.

9) California lamb chop with merguez sausage skewer, chickpea and raita.  This was a delicious dish where all of the components of the dish blended well together.  The smokey spiced merguez sausage with the rich lamb skewers, the red pepper sauce and earthy chickpea puree, paired with the acidity and creaminess of the yogurt raita.  Beautiful.

lamb chop with merguez sausage
lamb chop with merguez sausage

10) Japanese A5 strip loin with potato shallot cake, pinot noir sauce and spinach.  The Japanese A5 is an extremely high grade beef cut, and this dish comes with an extra charge that is worth every dollar.  An incredibly tender, moist, juicy, flavorful and memorable cut of beef with beautiful marbling.  (see random trivia section below for explanation of A5)

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11)Abbaye de Belloc cheese with quince, candied mustard seed and sorrel.

12) Selles-sur-Cher cheese with jackfruit, pistachio and mimosa flower.  I ordered this dishing hoping for fresh jackfruit, one of my favorite tropical fruits, but unfortunately it was candied, sweetened, and artificial.

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13) Grapefruit sorbet with greek yogurt and kaffir lime meringue.  I was excited to try Pastry chef Jordan Kahn’s desserts, knowing that he has worked at the French Laundry and Per Se, but I was disappointed with both dessert plates.  The folded grapefruit sorbet was too sweet, and the lime meringue tasted artificially flavored.  The yogurt brought nothing better to the dish, and I was done after 2 bites.

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14) Vanilla custard with mandarin sorbet, cream soda and nutmeg beignet.  The vanilla custard had an overwhelming fleur d’orange flavor that tasted like household cleaning solution.  The nutmeg beignet, however was warm and delicious.

IMG_454015) We ordered an extra 15th dish: Michael’s caviar parfait on a potato cake with citrus creme fraiche and smoked salmon.  We added this order after our 14 course meal, and were thankful for the decision.  It would have been a shame to end our meal with the 2 disastrous desserts.  The caviar parfait was absolutely wonderful, with all of the flavors of the salty caviar, light and creamy creme fraiche, and rich smoked salmon dancing harmoniously together in my mouth.

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Another highlight of the evening was discovering my cousin’s wine in the extensive wine list.  Simon Bize et Fils, Les Fournaux, 1er cru, 2006 was fantastic.  It was a joyous moment to find this rare wine in the restaurant.

XIV had a few dishes that flopped, but the others dazzled and impressed.  Drinks at the beautiful swank marble bar, followed by dinner in the vine covered patio for a tasting menu that includes the A5 steak, foie gras terrine and caviar parfait paired with a bottle of Simon Bize will make for a special evening.

Michael Mina XIV

8117 Sunset Blvd

Los Angeles, CA 90046

Random trivia:

So what the hell is an A5 beef?  It’s based on a grading system that grades beef on marbling, color and brightness, firmness and texture, color luster, and quality of fat.  It is reviewed by slicing the animal in between the 6th and 7th rib bone.  

The Beef Marbling score (BMS) is determined by how much intramuscular fat there is. This score can range from 1-12, and a score of 8-12 would get a grade 5 rating ‘Excellent’.

The Beef Color score (BCS) is determined by the comparing the meat flesh to the ‘Color Standards’. There are seven different shades of red with No. 1 being the lightest shade, and No.7 being the darkest. The flesh would have to be comparable to No.3-No.5  to get the top grade 5 rating.

Firmness and Texture are two different measurements within the same category, and in order to get the grade 5 rating, the flesh must be very firm and also have a very fine texture.

Color Luster and Quality of Fat are also different measurements within the same category. The fat is compared to the ‘Color Standards’ fat chart. There are seven different shades of fat, No.1 being pure white, and No. 7 being somewhat pink. Luster and Quality are visually appraised by the reviewer.

So if the Fat resembles No.1-No.4 and has excellent Luster and Quality, it will receive the grade 5 rating. To determine the overall grade of the beef, all the ratings in the aforementioned categories are  plugged into a chart, and the beef can receive 1 of 15 different final scores: A5 being the absolute best and C1 being the worst. Who knew beef was so complicated?

Gordon Ramsay at the London – Part One

Gordon Ramsay.  Need I say more?  We love him and we hate him.  We all love his food, and we love watching him throw a temper tantrum on TV. But we would never want to bring him home to meet the parents.

Thankfully, my experience at the Gordon Ramsay restaurant at The London Hotel in West Hollywood was tranquil and laid back.  I had a superb experience thanks to my wonderful friend Haru, the sous chef there.  Ramsay sold the restaurant to the hotel a couple of weeks ago, but it didn’t affect the tasty creations that came from the kitchen.  Chef Haru did an amazing omakase style meal for us.

The restaurant interior is gorgeous and decadent.  Here is one of the private rooms:

private dining room

private dining room

I fell in love with the bar- Miami chic meets Monaco vogue?  I would love to go back to have a drink there.

The bar

The bar

We started with a trio of canapés, beautifully displayed on a plate:

Trio of starters

Trio of starters

Cod spring roll, smoked salmon and cucumber roll topped with caviar, and beef carpaccio with watercress salad, radish, shallot rings and lemon oil.  I loved the hint of lemon oil in the beef carpaccio canapé.

Next, a cherry gazpacho with celery and green apple, accompanied with roasted hand-dived sea scallops and watermelon.

Cherry gazpacho

Cherry gazpacho

This was one of my favorite dishes.  It was very refreshing, with so many flavors and textures to tickle my tongue.  I loved the slight tartness of the gazpacho with the crisp textures of celery and apple.

And now….for my absolute favorite dish of the day.  Actually, it may have been my absolute favorite dish of the year.  The foie gras chawanmushi.

Chawanmushi is a traditional Japanese dish of steamed egg custard.  ‘Chawan’ is a Japanese ceramic bowl or cup, and ‘mushi’ means to steam.  My mother used to make it all the time with chicken, shiitake mushrooms and shrimp.  This was the first time I ever had such a creative take on this dish.  I apologize that you cannot see the custard very well in this photo, but underneath the bread, white shimeji mushrooms, edamame and daikon radish sprouts are sprinkled bits of crispy deep fried duck tongue.  The savory foie gras custard was rich and silky smooth, with a complex depth of flavor reminiscent of black truffle and 40 year port wine.  This dish is too good for words. It’s culinary ecstasy.

Next we had broiled black cod topped with pig’s tails and kumamoto oysters, with a celeriac purée and beef jus.

Yes, pig’s tails.  They have just as much tasty fat and meat as the pork belly does.  The cod was cooked perfectly and was very moist.  The simple light flavor of the cod went very well with the rich topping of oyster and crunchy pig’s tails.  I loved the beautiful yet simple presentation of this dish.

Roasted duck confit with braised red cabbage and mustard sauce finished the savory portion of the meal.

I love duck confit, and this one we had was superb.  The meat was very tender and succulent.  It was plump and moist, unlike most duck leg confits that I have had, which tend to be very dry and overcooked.  I wish the skin was a little more crispy, but otherwise it was close to perfect.

And now, mesdames et messieurs, may I present to you… the dessert orgy.

We were celebrating my friend’s birthday, and it was so sweet to get this raspberry sorbet from the restaurant.  Just to clarify, the chocolate writing was meant to say Happy Anniversaire (anniversaire is birthday in French).

We all loved this dessert, the confit of grapefruit with grapefruit sorbet, passion fruit and mint foam.

Such a refreshing and light dessert that served as a wonderful palate cleanser.  The grapefruit segments were juicy and sweet, contrasting with the tartness of the grapefruit zest and passion fruit, with a light airy lingering finish of the mint foam.  A superb dessert that was an absolute delight.

For you chocolate lovers out there, the Valrhona chocolate fondant with brown butter caramel and vanilla ice cream was delicious.

A chocolate fondant is like a lava cake, with a runny and molten center.  Underneath that frosted baked top layer is a thick pool of pure chocolate heaven.  Each bite delivered a rich silky smooth chocolate warmness throughout my mouth.  Such indulgence!

The next dessert was a chilled coconut tapioca with passion fruit, with candied ginger and milk chocolate & star anise gelato.

Another spectacular dessert.  I loved the different textures involved in this dessert- crunchy, silky, smooth, milky, and chewy.  The birthday girl loved this one.

And finally, my favorite dessert of them all, the dark chocolate cylinder filled with passion fruit, mint granite and coconut foam.

I was pleasantly surprised to break open the chocolate cylinder and see a gush of vibrant colors- green, whit and yellow.  And again, so many different textures to stimulate my tongue.  I should have taken a picture of the dessert after the cylinder was broken, but we finished it too quickly.  It was a beautiful dessert to look at and to eat- edible art.

I want to point out that all of these desserts came out at the same time.  Picture 3 very happy women sitting around a table filled with all of these delicious desserts, spoon in one hand with wide sparkling eyes and ridiculously large smiles.

I had the most wonderful dining experience here, and I owe it all to the wonderful sous chef Haru.  This is what it’s all about, when you can taste the chef’s love and passion in every bite.

Gordon Ramsay at the London Hotel, West Hollywood

1020 North San Vicente Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA 90069-3802
(310) 854-1111

Random trivia: Did you know that only domestic pigs have curly tails?  Wild pigs have straight tails.