Cooking at home with duck breast

In the continuing series of ‘Cooking at home with…’, where my good friend Chef Haru Kishi and I engage in a monthly ritual of cooking together in my kitchen, we chose duck this time for our theme protein.  I love and look forward to these days where we choose a theme ingredient, go to the farmers market for inspirations, construct a multi course dinner menu, and cook all day in my kitchen.  Cooking is my form of meditation, and one of the only times that I can empty my mind of distracting thoughts and feel ultimate bliss in a state of nothingness.  Chef Kishi and I have cooked a lot together, sharing lamb saddle, white truffle, black truffle, suckling pig and lobster with our friends.  It’s a treat to be able to cook with somebody who I’ve developed a comfortable rhythm with, who knows his way around my kitchen, who pushes me to be a better cook and always teaches me valuable tricks of the trade.  I had a sudden yearning for duck that particular day, and we headed to the farmers market to see what seasonal ingredients we could prepare it with.

There was an abundance of beautiful and vibrant vegetables at their summer peak, like heirloom tomatoes, squash and colorful beans.  LA Funghi was overflowing with a variety of aromatic mushrooms, and we bought a bag of baby shiitake caps.  Small Gaviota strawberries packed with juicy sweetness and a hefty watermelon called out to us.  When we spotted petch siam eggplants, purple okra, Thai basil and lemongrass stalks, Haru got inspired to make a Thai curry for the duck.  We bought 2 plump Muscovy duck breasts at the butcher shop in the Farmers Market on Fairfax and 3rd, and headed to Thai Town to get ingredients for our curry.  Although we got a little side tracked by a khao kha moo pit stop at Ruen Pair, we managed to accomplish our mission by purchasing Kaffir lime leaves, coconut milk, red curry paste and coconut palm sugar at the Thai market.

Garlic, shallots, kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass went into the pan for a quick sautée to bring out all of its wonderful aromas.  Thai red curry paste, coconut milk and coconut sugar was then added to make a spicy and rich coconut curry.

Green and purple okras and petch siam eggplants were cleaned and trimmed for the curry.

The Muscovy duck breasts that we purchased were enormous- I didn’t know that ducks could get so big.  They were pan seared in their own fat to a perfect medium rare with a beautiful crisp to its delectable skin.

All of the dazzling farmers market vegetables that we purchased that morning were gradually added to the Thai curry- purple and green okra, petch siam eggplants, mexican midget cherry tomatoes, pattypan squash, squash blossoms, bok choy, baby shiitake caps and Thai basil.  Lastly, the seared duck breasts were laid to rest on the vegetables.

Our dinner guests, a chef and a mixologist, arrived just on time to watch the glorious crowning of the curry.  The mixologist made us a round of cocktails using Grey Goose La Poire pear vodka with mangosteen juice, and we sat down at the dinner table to start the meal with a delicious watermelon and heirloom tomato gazpacho that Haru made.  The sweet and perfectly acidic creamy gazpacho, made with sherry vinegar and olive oil, was poured over burricotta cheese and a watermelon cube marinated in blueberry vinegar and orange blossom tea, and garnished with basil ribbons, gold flakes and a drizzle of olive oil.  Simply delicious, this cold and refreshing cup of fruity gazpacho was the perfect way to start a mid-summer dinner.

Italian Yellow wax beans and French green beans were blanched in boiling salt water and tossed with a ground hazelnut and argan oil dressing.  Sweet and juicy nectarines, intensely savory and perfectly fatty slices of jamón ibérico de bellota, burricotta cheese and smoked salt were draped over the beans for a simple salad with complex flavors.

A meal prepared by Haru and I is never complete without a little extra bling, whether it’s shaving ridiculous amounts of truffles on top or garnishing with sparkly gold flakes.  The Thai curry with seared duck breast was finished with seared foie gras morsels and served with Thai jasmine rice.  The dutch oven was brought directly to the table, and we all savored this amazing curry that was packed full of sweet vegetables and juicy duck.

I made a simple lemongrass, mint and black peppercorn granité as a palate cleanser to follow the curry, and we munched on juicy Gaviota strawberries throughout the rest of the evening.  Another fulfilling and perfect day of shopping, cooking, eating and drinking with dear friends- la joie de vivre!

Random trivia:  Did you know that ducks are able to swim in freezing water and stand on ice without any problems because their feet have no nerves or blood vessels to feel the cold temperature?

Ogasawara Hakushakutei 小笠原伯爵邸ー Tokyo, Japan

In case you haven’t heard me say this enough times in my blog already, Tokyo has surpassed Paris as the most gourmet city in the world, winning the most Michelin stars on the 2010 guide and boasting the most 3-starred Michelin restaurants of any city.   It was only a matter of time, as I know first hand that there is really no city quite like Tokyo where you can walk into any restaurant or hole in the wall and come out satisfied.  Even the 7-Eleven convenience stores serve gourmet rice balls and take away bentos that are to die for.  I’m proud to call this wonderful city my second home, and I was excited to explore more Michelin star restaurants on my annual trip home over the winter holidays.

Some important friends were in town, and I was given the responsibility of choosing the perfect place to celebrate the end of 2009.  As I perused the Michelin guide, a certain restaurant caught my eye.  Ogasawara Hakushakutei (which means Count Ogasawara’s residence) grabbed my attention for a few reasons.  First of all, it was housed in a historic mansion that used to be inhabited by a Japanese count.  Secondly, it offered creative Spanish cuisine by a Spanish chef.  Lastly, I couldn’t believe that it was practically around the corner from our house, the same house that I grew up in.  How did I not know about this place all these years?

Chef Gonzalo Armando Alvarez Melchor, who trained in Barcelona, took over as executive chef at Ogasawaratei in 2009.  They offer set course menus for both lunch and dinner, which reflect traditional Spanish concepts with a touch of contemporary mischief using imported Spanish delicacies and local Japanese vegetables.  I took one look at their sample menu online, and I knew that we were in for a real treat.  I was delighted to see that they also had a café and bar that served classic Spanish tapas like tortilla de patatas and pescaditos fritos.

The Grand Salon

As I walked up to the restaurant on the pebbled pathway, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  Here in the middle of Shinjuku district, the busiest district of the most densely populated city in the world, was a beautiful mansion built in 1927 that had been left protected and well preserved.  An old iron lamppost, the kind that you see on the cobblestone streets of Paris, cast a soft glow of light onto the tree that shielded the terracotta tiles on the roof of this Spanish style villa.  The grand entrance had a red carpet that led to the reception desk, after which the staff escorted us past the Grand Salon and the fountain courtyard to the waiting lounge.  Stained glass windows, a majestic chandelier and antique wooden furniture adorned the beautiful lounge where a female pianist played classical music all night long.  Creaky wooden floors and marbled pillars in numerous private dining rooms throughout this 2 story residence demonstrated old world charm and integrity.  I felt like a butler in coattails wearing a monocle would show up any minute, and in fact it practically happened.  Perfectly coiffed staff wearing crisp black tuxedos guided me every step of the way through my royal restaurant voyage, treating me like I was the mistress of the house.  The grand dining room, next to the Moorish influenced cigar room with a blue-gold ceiling and mosaic tiles, was pristine, clean and sharp.

The level of professionalism that I observed in the staff was first class, and it simply did not compare to any other restaurant that I have ever been to.  Swift, sharp, intelligent, courteous and calm, every person was at the top of their game.  I felt really comfortable here because I knew that I was in good hands.

La ligera crema de ajo blanco y bastón de Jamón Ibérico de Bellota crujiente con queso de Arzúa-Ulloa

We started our tasting menu with an ajo blanco mousse flavored with olive oil, ham and raw almonds, and garnished with fine bread crumbs and chopped chives.  The mousse had an incredibly light flavor that was enhanced by the subdued saltiness of a layer of tomatoes and anchovies that we were surprised to find at the bottom.   Although this dish had an overall rich velvety texture, there was still a hint of graininess from the ground raw almonds which I really enjoyed.  Our garlic cream mousse came with a crispy baton slathered with Arzua Ulloa cheese, black truffle powder and crusted jamón ibérico de Bellota .  Oh, if they would only package these tantalizing baton chips by the dozens and sell them in supermarkets, this world would be a better place.

Los guisantes bajo un velo de caldo de Ibéricos, erizos de mar y un aceite de piñones ahumados

A warm silky blanket of Iberico broth gelée tucked a family of tender young peas into their porcelain crib along with their jamón ibérico companions.  Each fresh pea burst with flavor in my mouth as it also released a veil of smoky aroma from the pine nut infused olive oil.  The salty bits of chopped ham, the crunchiness of the chopped pine nuts and the creamy ooze of the sea urchin all danced on my tongue in a textural dance off.

El calamar impregnado en Sanpoukan, hilos verdes, tallos de acelgas y canela cassia

I loved the playful presentation of the citrus flavored squid dish where the head and the legs engaged in a private tête-à-tête.  The squid was marinated for 30 minutes in Sanpoukan juice (a Japanese citrus) before it was grilled à la plancha.  The moment this plate was placed in front of me, I could smell the faint aroma of Sanpoukan tickling my olfactory cells as I admired the architecture of the presentation from all angles.  The swirls of sliced green beans had a great crunchy texture as well as the small dices of red and yellow swiss chard stalks that embellished its surface.  The alternating dots of squid ink and cinnamon paprika sauce were the perfect acccompaniment to the exquisite and tender cephalopods.

La Cigala, cubitos de Hino-Na aderezados con un aceite de ajos confitados y salsa de queso de Galicia

We all loved the delicate grilled scampi that lounged on a mattress of white Tetilla cheese sauce and a pillow of Hinona turnips that had been marinated in confited garlic oil.  5 dots of green parsley oil looked lovingly at the majestic piece of succulent and juicy shrimp as they tried to jump on to the swirly mattress of creamy Galician cheese.

El foie à la plancha, salsa de uvas, arena de azúcar moscabado y virutas de macademia

Grilled foie gras is always a crowd pleaser, especially with the crowd that I was dining with on this special evening.  The succulent foie gras was perfectly seared with a coat of dark brown muscovado cane sugar and topped with light snowflakes of shaved macadamia nuts.  Peeled naked grapes and figs escorted this noble monarch of Liverville down the royal carpet of rich red wine and green Swiss chard sauce.  This was one of my favorite dishes of the evening.

The grilled foie gras went especially well with our bottle of house red wine that we ordered for our dinner.  Palacio del Conde de Ogasawara’s 2006 Ramón Bilbao limited edition Tempranillo was exquisite.  I was impressed that this restaurant had a special house wine made by the one of the most famous and reputable bodegas in Spain.  I was even more impressed by the startling high level of service here at Ogasawara.  I keep a collection of wine labels, and have a special wine label kit where I stick a clear adhesive sheet to the label, peel it off and store it in a special folder.  I forgot to bring a sticker, or étiquette de vin, and asked them if I could take the empty bottle home with me.  Within minutes, the sommelier returned with the wine label already placed on an étiquette sheet for me to take home.  I was speechless.

El arroz negro con sofrito de sobrasada, pimientos salteados y flores de nira

This was my other favorite dish of the night that simply blew me away.  The arroz negro, rice cooked with black squid ink, had a dazzling texture that was like mochi rice.  It had fantastic ‘koshi’, a dense texture that became richer and more elastic with each chew.  Small morsels of spear squid mixed in with the arroz negro also added an auxiliary level of ‘koshi’ texture to the dish.  Annular drizzles of yellow saffron sauce added an ethereal aroma that perfumed the dish, while a Majorcan sobrasada sausage sofrito added tang and smokiness.  Sautéed yellow, orange and red bell peppers contrasted the arroz with its crunchy texture while a Japanese garlic chive (nira) flower graced this heavenly plate like a star on a Christmas tree.

La lucerna escalfada en un caldo azafranado, puerros cocidos en las brasas y caviares de colores

I didn’t care much for the fish dish, made with an unusual fish called a gurnard or sea robin (and called houbou in Japanese).  The fish filet, served in a saffron sauce with hearty Incan potatoes, was a tad overcooked and didn’t have much flavor.  Shimonita leeks were prepared in a traditional Catalan style of cooking calçots, which are Spanish scallions.   At a calçotada, a calçot cookout celebration at the end of winter in Spain, the outer layer is charred over an open flame,  then wrapped in newspaper to keep them warm and tender.  Afterward, the blackened skin is carefully peeled off to enjoy the soft and tender flesh.  I loved the touch of  molecular gastronomy in the garnish, with dainty colorful paprika ‘caviar’, made by spherification, brightening up the dish.

La presa Ibérica, pure de navos de Kioto, romero y salsa de turron

The savory portion of our tasting menu ended with a bang with the tender and juicy cut of Iberian pork presa, which is a succulent cut of shoulder meat. The sweetness of the red wine sauce was in perfect balance with the richness of the luscious pork fat, and crunchy sprinkles of sweet turrón nougat rounded out all of these flavors.  I loved the hints of select Japanese vegetables used throughout the course, such as the Shogoin turnips from Kyoto which were puréed into a silky spoonful of delight.  Bright green leaves of sautéed spinach were curled back into a shoulder stand and awaited their turn to strut their stuff down the catwalk on my tongue.

La sopa de mandarina y espuma de vino tinto

Our pre-dessert palate cleanser was a refreshing soup of mandarin orange mikan capped with a baby pink foam made with Spanish red wine.  The fine miniscule espuma bubbles released a rapturous burst of wine and citrus bouquets as they dissolved and disappeared in my mouth.

El mousse de chocolate y café, trufa con sablé de queso y helado de haba tonka

The sleek and velvety coffee-flavored chocolate mousse gave way to a hidden center of Galician tetilla cheese filling that tasted like a firm version of Mascarpone.   Cinnamon cookie crumbles held their own and formed a crunchy foundation for the soft mound of chocolate mousse as a roll of cheese sablé dusted with chocolate powder saluted 2 succulent cherries marinated in eau de vie.  The most amazing scoop of tonka bean ice cream waited next in line on the dessert assembly line, imparting a wondrous flavor reminiscent of vanilla and almond. 

Dulces pequeños

Delightful petit fours of chocolate almond and green tea cookies finished our sensational meal at this historic mansion.

Was this restaurant worthy of 1 Michelin star?  For the spectacular and creative food, the spot-on attentive service and a rare opportunity to dine in an illustrious historic estate?  I say 2 stars.   After dinner we took a walk outside to their beautiful backyard.  As we strolled through the perfectly manicured garden and gazed up at the stars through the wrought iron gazebo, I tried to imagine what it was like here 70 years ago when the Count would have his lavish balls and afternoon tea parties.  I could almost hear the scratchy tunes of Duke Ellington playing through the phonograph as women in flapper dresses and cloche hats pranced about on the lawn while their husbands smoked cigars and talked about Al Capone’s latest misconducts.  Being on the grounds of Count Ogasawara’s mansion was a time trip to a special era, and it seemed far removed from the flashing neon signs and noisy pachinko parlors of Tokyo’s concrete jungle.

Ogasawara Hakushakutei

Palacio del Conde de Ogasawara

10-10 Kawada-cho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 162-0054

03-3359-5830

Random trivia: Did you know that tonka beans are illegal in the US?  These black wrinkled seeds have a magical aroma that is reminiscent of vanilla, almonds, cinnamon and cloves.  It’s frequently used in perfumes and tobacco.  The seed and its oils contain coumarin, which is a potent anticoagulant.  For this fact, its import and use in food has been strictly banned by the US Food and Drug Administration.  (Pssst… if you search online, there are places where you can order it on the black market)

Mercat de la Boqueria- Barcelona, Spain

A trip to Barcelona wouldn’t be complete without at least 1 trip to the fantastic Mercat de la Boqueria, one of the largest and most famous marketplaces in Europe.  Although you will be one of about a thousand tourists at any given time, it’s a must-see place that showcases the local food culture, fresh catches from the sea, and most importantly the live spirit of the hard-working merchants.  Located in La Rambla in the Gothic Quarters half-way between Plaça Catalunya and the beaches (right in front of the Metro stop Liceu), it’s easy to spot the wrought iron entrance to this famous market.  Although the market can be historically dated back as far as the early 12oo’s, it settled into its current location in the early 1800’s.

Just in front of the entrance is a wonderful jamón shop that specializes in the marvelous jamón iberico de bellota, cured ham made with free-range acorn-fed Iberian pigs that have the most flavorful and aromatic fat.  The men behind the counter will skillfully shave as little or as many slices as you want, from a wide range of selections.  You can also buy pre-sliced vacuum sealed packs to take home with you.  I had a few slices of the Joselito Gran Reserva 2006 ham- the intense nutty aroma instantly perfumed my nasal passages as the tender marbled fat melted quickly on my tongue, leaving a faint delectable aftertaste and a smile on my face.  At 169 Euros a kilo, it wasn’t cheap, but it was worth every bite.  There are many more jamón stalls scattered throughout the market, so you can get your fix every few minutes as you slowly browse.

I loved walking through the meat section, slowly checking out the infinite displays of beautifully prepared organ meats from all types of animals.  Most people may quickly pass by these butcher cases in horror or disgust, but I had my nose pressed tightly up against the glass, imagining the tasty dishes that would be created from the fresh tripe, tongue, hoofs and brains.  If only I had enough time to eat everything here…

The seafood stalls also offered a wide variety of local fish and mollusks, even some that I had never seen before.   Everything looked absolutely fresh and beautiful.  They even had about 10 stalls solely dedicated to Bacalao, the Catalan specialty of dried salt cod.  My favorite photo from the Boqueria market is this close up of the razor clams.  Raw, uncensored and strangely erotic, these live navajas looked so delicious.

During my stay in Barcelona, I strategically chose a hotel in the Gothic Quarters that was a short walking distance to the Boqueria market.  I knew that I would be frequenting this market at all times of the day, and my plan worked perfectly.  One of my favorite activities to do was to enjoy the fresh fruit juices at any of the numerous fruit stalls by the entrance to the market.  For only 1 Euro a cup, they offered a wide variety of juices from orange, strawberry, kiwi and mango, to watermelon and pineapple.  I was hooked on the bright magenta colored dragon fruit juice that was light and refreshing.

The wonderful Boqueria market is closed on Sundays, but open from 8am on all other days.  The amazing tapas bars, freshly squeezed fruit juices and hand-carved slices of Jamón Iberico de Bellota are waiting for you.  Come to Mercat de la Boqueria, the heart of Barcelona, and experience how this city center pumps energy and life into the souls of all who fall under its spell.

Mercat de St. Josep de la Boqueria

Random trivia: According to legend, the dragon fruit was created thousands of years ago by fire-breathing dragons.  After the dragon was slayed, the collected fruit would be presented to the Emperor as a treasure and proof of victory.

Rivera Restaurant

Culver City is SO last year.  Downtown LA is the hot culinary mecca of the moment in Los Angeles, as new bars and restaurants are opening just as quickly as the Ritz Carlton tower is going up.  From Liberty Grill to Wurstkuche, Drago Centro to Bottega IMG_9082Louie, there are more reasons to flock to downtown LA now.  Even after the exponential surge of kitchy downtown lofts and swank hotel bars a few years ago, it still seemed like downtown was dead; there never seemed to be a good enough reason to congregate there.  After events at the Staples Center or the Disney concert hall, my friends and I would opt to return to the west side for dinner and drinks.  Now Angelenos are willingly drudging through horrible freeway traffic and paying expensive parking fees in order to indulge in the latest dining adventures there.

IMG_9075The most notable on the scene is Rivera, a Latin-themed restaurant recently opened by chef John Rivera Sedlar.  The impressive menu incorporates Latin flavors from his extensive travels through South America, Mexico and Spain, southwestern comfort from his upbringing in New Mexico, and French techniques from his culinary training.  The large beautiful space is split into many sections, each with a unique theme and design.  IMG_9079A minimalist square communal table stands next to a sushi counter-esque ceviche bar that looks out onto the busy open kitchen.  On the other end is the elegant and dark Sangre room, illuminated in eerie shades of blood red from the large chandelier above and golden yellow through the backdrop of tequila bottles.  Flanked in the middle are specially made tequila tasting chairs, more dining tables with gorgeous leather banquettes, and the classy tequila bar.  They even have outdoor counter seating where you can get an unobstructed view of the majestically lit LA Live complex.  The contemporary space is sexy, dark and mysterious.

We started with the patates xips, Kennebec potato chips with caviar, microgreens and chipotle lime cream.  It was a nice starter to complement our Brut champagne, although one thing I’ve learned about caviar is that ‘more is better’- another heap of caviar would have elevated this dish from great to perfect.

Tortillas florales, housemade Nixtamal tortillas with ‘Indian butter’.  Chef Sedlar explained to us that the maize was freshly ground in the kitchen and handmade the traditional way ‘by our señoras’.  With chives and edible flowers pressed into each warm piece, these adorable earthy tortillas with the smooth and creamy avocado butter brought me one step closer to understanding and appreciating the culinary history of the Americas.


Caballito de sopas dobles- 2 Latin soups with different flavors and different temperatures.  A layer of warm lamb velouté with black beans was layered on top of cold refreshing potato vichyssoise.  It was an interesting and inventive concept, and I especially loved the creaminess and flavor of the potato soup.  Although the lamb velouté tasted more like a sauce than a soup at first, once the 2 soups came together inside my mouth, I realized the delicious intention behind this dish.

At this time the sommelier opened an absolutely delicious bottle of 2006 Alto Moncayo Garnacha, Campo de Borja Spanish wine for us.  It was a good decision to trust him with the wine selection, as their wine list was overwhelmingly extensive.  It was an impressive collection that had selections from Portugal, Spain, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, and an even more amazing selection of sherries, marsalas and ports.  The Alto Moncayo was one of the best Spanish wines that I have had in a long time.  After my meal at Rivera, I hunted it down at the Woodland Hills Wine Company and bought a half dozen for myself.

Chile pasilla relleno- pickled pasilla chile with burrata cheese, served chilled.  The pasilla chile was marinated for a day in vinegar, salt and sugar, and had a deep smokey flavor with an acid kick.  As Chef Sedlar proudly presented the dish to us, he explained that this was his interpretation of the classic chile relleno.  “People normally think of chile relleno as a big green chile with lots of goopy melted cheese.  You’ll find that this one has an intense flavor” he said, with kind gentle eyes and a friendly smile.  “It’s also a dish with a political statement”, he added with a wink. Indeed, stenciled above the pasilla in brick red chile powder was that street sign that most of us have seen near the Mexican border on the 5 South.

Choros al Vapor- mussels with aji amarillo-pisco broth.  Aji amarillos are yellow Peruvian chiles, and pisco is a South American grape liquor.  This dish to me was a bit too mellow and almost fruity and sweet, lacking in robustness and depth.

Jamón Ibérico de Bellota pata negra- of course, how can we not order this?  An absolute joy, as always, to have this succulent flavorful cut of the finest ham in the world.  Paired with the Alto Moncayo wine, I would have been happy just eating this all evening.

Mole Kurobuta pork chop- an intense mole sauce coating a juicy succulent kurobuta pork chop.  This dark and rich mole sauce was absolutely exquisite.  It was a perfect blend of smokey chile flavors with the slight bitterness of cacao.  I usually don’t like dark mole sauces as they tend to be too sweet for my taste, but this one was polished and flawless.

Carne churrasco prime ‘eye’ of rib-eye steak with cabrales cheese, onion foam, aji amarillo sauce, purple potatoes, yam, carrots and green onions.  It was a well-executed dish, but the fantastic pork chop with mole sauce was a hard act to follow.

Estudio en flan- three different styles of the classic flan with progressing degress of sweetness, with three complementary sauces.  The first flan was light and fresh like a panna cotta, made with vanilla beans and paired with a blackberry curry sauce.  The second flan was like a traditional custard flan with a medium consistency and smoky caramel flavor.  This, paired with a lime mint sauce, was my favorite flan.  The third flan, served with strawberry jus, was thick and dense like a block of cheese.  Overall this was a delightful and innovative dessert that paired wonderfully with a glass of tequila de mujer, a vanilla infused tequila that was a Rivera special.  Tequila with dessert?  I was hesitant at first, but the knowledgable sommelier was right again. This tequila was divine.

Olive oil cake with 2 sorbets (créme fraîche and strawberry), with spanish balsamic sherry vinegar marinated strawberries.  This was another winning dish with an incredibly moist cake and marinated strawberries that had a perfect balance of tart and sweet.

As I finished the fabulous meal, I listened to Chef Sedlar talk about his passion for tequila as he pointed to the beautiful walls of the Sangre room lined with glass bottles of high grade Jalisco tequila.  Each bottle is kept under lock and key, and for a $1200 membership, you can get your name engraved on the side of your bottle.

IMG_9068The dishes at Rivera were bursting with flavor and imagination, and the wine and tequila were amazing.  The ambiance was sexy, and the contemporary decor was avant-garde with a touch of class.  The staff was incredibly warm and attentive, and I fell in love with Chef Sedlar’s grace and charm.  Rivera is a new beacon of culinary radiance in the once lifeless downtown LA.

Rivera

1050 South Flower Street
Los Angeles, CA 90015-5100
(213) 749-1460

Random trivia:   Last year scientists discovered that they can make synthetic diamond crystals from tequila.  Even the cheapest brands of tequila, at $3 a bottle, were good enough to make diamonds.


The Bazaar

The Bazaar in the SLS Hotel is a magical carnival of sensory stimulation, a multi-circus act of vibrant colors, outrageous artistic concepts and powerful flavors that saturate every cell in your body.  It’s an exciting world that takes you away to a wonderland mesh of design and taste.  From the moment I entered the swank Bar Centro until my last sip of herbal tea in the rococo Patisserie, I felt like I was sleepwalking through a multitude of wild and fantastic dreams.  Every section of the Bazaar has a different design concept, but all are theatrical masterpieces of Phillip Starck.

Bar Centro

Bar Centro

Bar Centro, with its flourescent yellow background, is dark and mysterious.  It’s furnished with leather couches lined with expensive suede throws, velvet pillows, tall banquettes that hide whispering lovers from the crowd, and a large communal table with spinning movie projection discs glowing softly in the darkness.

img_47471

The bar gets creative with their cocktails, using liquid nitrogen and organic emulsifiers to create an original spin on traditional drinks.  We toasted the commencement of our bizarre Bazaar journey at the Bar Centro with a bottle of Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve champagne.  A bold fruity richness with a zesty citrus finish.  C’est magnifique!

Moss vitrines

Moss vitrines

To the right of the bar are tall glass vitrines showcasing select objects for sale by Manhattan design shop Moss.  Each case houses a unique array of fun toys and household items, from squished up teddy bears to enamel combs to porcelain birds to decorative silver plates.  Also for sale are enlarged candid paparazzi photos of famous celebrities at their best and worst (Brad Pitt with Zahara in the park to Gwyneth Paltrow dodging the lens with an outstretched hand).  Each item makes you wonder…why, what, when, where, who, and how???

Famed Spanish chef José Andrés, who trained with Ferran Adrià of El Bulli, has 2 sections in his restaurant.  The contemporary Blanca side, where we sat, has pristine white and pink armchairs and glowing lampshades.

Entrance to the Blanca

Entrance to the Blanca

There are large wonderful photos of bodies in motion, playfully displayed throughout the restaurant.

Blanca counter

Blanca counter

The traditional Rojo side, set behind large grey draping curtains, plays on black and red, with bold chalk drawings of animals and vintage photos of Spanish matadors.  This is the side where you can see the busy open kitchen busting out the wild creations on the extensive menu.

Rojo

Rojo

We ordered the chef’s tasting menu along with a beautiful bottle of 2004 Chateauneuf du Pape, Tardieu-Laurent from Rhone, France.  I embarked on this mesmerizing molecular gastronomy tour with 2 professional chefs and a refined foodie friend.  It was the perfect set up for a perfect evening.

For starters, my favorite creation of the evening, the Philly Cheesesteak.

Seared tender slices of Wagyu beef on oval shaped air bread with melted cheddar cheese.  The air bread is a hollow light thin crust of bread that contains dripping melted cheese.  This was one of the most sensational dishes that I have ever tasted in my life.  The delicate lightness of the air bread coupled with the wagyu beef that melted just as fast as the warm cheese penetrated deep into my taste buds, making me purr with delight.

Next we had one of my absolute favorite foods in the whole world.  I have dreamt of this day when I would finally be reunited with Jamon Ibérico de Bellota.  This is the most prized cured Spanish ham in the world, made from free range black Iberico pigs raised on acorns.  Due to import regulations, The Bazaar is one of the few places in the United States where you can eat this.  The woodsy aroma and deep sweet flavor of the glistening marble fat that melts on your tongue is indescribable.

Pa’amb tomaquet, a traditional Catalan tapas of ripe tomato, Manchego cheese and garlic rub on toasted bread, was the perfect complement to the jamon.

Next we had a signature Ferran Adrià dish, the traditional and modern olives.  First we sampled traditional olives stuffed with roasted piquillo pepper and anchovies.  It was nicely briny and salty, and the green olive flesh was meaty and succulent.

The modern olives, made by spherification, were served tableside by our server.  He came over with a glass jar containing perfectly round green blobs floating in olive oil.  He scooped them out with a small ladle and very carefully placed them on white porcelain serving spoons.  It’s pure olive essence packed inside a thin delicate membrane that bursts inside your mouth with only a slight amount of pressure.

Papas Canarias, salty wrinkled potatoes prepared Canary Island style with mojo verde sauce.  I loved the soft velvety texture of the potato skins.  The potatoes were perfectly cooked inside, and the green parsley, cilantro, garlic and olive oil sauce was light and fresh.

Next was a playful presentation of soy marinated salmon roe cones with crème fraîche and dill.  The crepe cones were thin and delicate, and the roe was both sweet and salty.  A delightful bite of bursting roe bubbles and sour creaminess!

The following dish was a very bizarre take on the shrimp cocktail.  Plastic pipettes containing cocktail sauce pierced through the shrimp flesh garnished with chive flowers, dill and sesame seeds.  Our server instructed us to take small bites of the shrimp while squeezing some of the cocktail sauce into our mouth at the same time through the pipette.  I wasn’t a big fan of this dish.  It was too much work for too little taste.

I really enjoyed this next modern Caprese dish.  Liquified mozzarella balls (same concept as the modern olive spheres) with roasted peeled cherry tomatoes in a basil sauce.  We were instructed to eat the mozzarella balls, cherry tomato, basil sauce and crackers all in one bite, and boy was it a superb and delightful bite.  The cherry tomatoes had a slight vinegary acidic tone, going well with the dark earthy genovese, crunchy crackers and soft liquid texture of the intense mozzarella balls.

Tuna ceviche and avocado roll with cornflower chips and micro cilantro.  A classic combination of avocado and tuna that can never go wrong.  It’s rich, creamy, and flavorful.  The cornflower chips added a wonderful crunchy texture to the dish.

Japanese tacos with grilled eel, shiso leaves, cucumber, wasabi and chicharron.  I didn’t care much for this dish, it was very predictable.

Miso linguine with tomato, salmon roe and lemon.  The dashi flavor of the noodles was very strong, maybe a bit too strong for me.  The textures of this dish were delightful though, with the slurpiness of the slippery noodles and the bursting salmon roe. It served as a nice refreshing palate cleanser before the heartier meat dishes.

A signature fun Bazaar dish of cotton candy foie gras.  They have a gigantic stainless steel cotton candy machine next to the Patisserie where they make these.  Our server instructed us to shove this massive piece of fluffy vanilla scented cotton candy containing chilled salted foie gras into our mouth in one bite.  We put our inhibitions aside and did exactly so, and what a sensational play of flavors it was!  The whispy texture of the cotton candy that collapsed down onto the succulent cube of foie gras coated with crunchy sea salt was sensational.  A genius that Andrés is…

I loved the boneless chicken wings with green olive purée.  First of all, how can you go wrong with fried chicken?  They were crispy and flavorful on the outside and juicy on the inside.

One of the best executed dishes of the evening where we could really appreciate the true flavor of the food was the oven roasted cippolini onions with clementines, passion fruit and pumpkin seed oil.  The onions were wonderfully caramelized, and their dense sweetness paired nicely with the tart clementines.

The braised veal cheeks with California oranges was another delightful savory dish with that perfect balance of citrus tartness and rich veal jus.  The braised meat was extremely tender and melted in my mouth.

To finish off the dinner, sautéed cauliflower ‘couscous‘ with quinoa, pomegranate, dried raisins, pine nuts, cauliflower purée, harissa and lemon.  The ‘couscous‘ here is actually made from finely chopped cauliflower florets.  The sweet and smokey Moroccan flavors of this dish went well with the braised veal cheeks.

Wow, we ate a lot of fine dishes.  And we still had room for dessert!  After a quick kitchen tour we went to the charming Patisserie for sweets.  The pink and white dessert counter is lined with beautiful glass jars and containers filled with delightful colorful treats that are visually pleasing.  A true Alice in Wonderland experience.

Candy jars in the Patisserie

Candy jars in the Patisserie

Beautiful pastries

Beautiful pastries

The patisserie offers exciting sweets such as passion fruit marshmallow, white chocolate lollipop with black olive and sea salt, pineapple gum drops, and lemon ginger bonbons.  We had 2 wonderful desserts.  The hot chocolate mousse with pear sorbet and salty hazelnut praline was beautiful.  The contrast of warm and cold, smooth liquid and juicy solid fruit was delightful.

But my big surprise for the evening was the floating nitro coconut island with passion fruit, banana and vanilla.  WOW, amazing.  The external shell of the white coconut sphere that is hard frozen with nitrous instantly collapses into the molten center with the spoon.  The textures of the external shell and the internal goo is wondrous, and the passion fruit seeds explode with tart crunchiness.  This dessert was really fun to eat, and I had a big smile on my face as I approached it from all angles with my spoon.

Our evening at The Bazaar was fantastic, superb, delightful and fun.  The service was impeccable, the wine selection thorough, the Starck interior design genius, and the food amazing.  It was a thrilling and inspiring adventure into a magical culinary world, and a wonderful sampling of traditional versus modern gastronomy.

The Bazaar at the SLS Hotel

465 S La Cienega Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90048

Random trivia:  Did you know that couscous has twice as much fiber as an equal portion of oatmeal?