The Hatchi 8 series, an innovative 1-night only event featuring a guest chef who compiles an original menu of 8 dishes for $8 each, continues its successful stint at the Breadbar in Century City. After a wonderful performance by Chef Remi Lauvand in September (who is now at Cafe Pierre in Manhattan Beach) and a disappointing night by Chef Eda Vesterman in October, I was excited to attend this month’s dinner by Marcel Vigneron, the recognizable cocky villain from Top Chef Season 2. I’m amazed at the power of the media and the ever growing popularity of reality TV shows, as Vigneron has become so famous that he is even on Wikipedia. Regardless of his annoying attitude and outspoken nature, he is an accomplished chef who trained at the CIA and worked at ‘Chef of the Century’ Joël Robuchon’s restaurant in Las Vegas. Vigneron, who just left his stint as sous chef at The Bazaar a week or so ago, is a master of molecular gastronomy and a lover of foams. I was interested to see what he would do for his Hatchi dinner called “Modern Global Tastings’.
The restaurant was completely packed and there was a buzz of chaos in the air. Service was backed up and table turnovers just weren’t happening- from my observation while waiting an hour for my table, it was a combination of poor timing and confusion in both the kitchen and the front of the room. Still, the staff was trying their very best and I appreciated the gracious hospitality that they gave us while we waited.
The amuse bouche was a pomegranate blueberry spherification, a large plump grape-sized blueberry inside a sweet blob of fruity jelly. I loved the bursting textures of this jiggly spoonful, and it was a pleasant welcome after a long wait.
By the time we were finally seated, it was already past 9pm and I was deeply saddened to find out that they had run out of the hamachi sashimi dish that was garnished with kumquats, iceplant, momo chan and a splash of piment d’espelette. I ran into my dear friend Chef Benjamin Bailly from Petrossian Caviar, who told me that the hamachi dish was excellent. Grrr…Luckily I was still in a good mood thanks to the medium-bodied velvety smooth bottle of 2004 Primitiu de Bellmunt, Priorat that I brought. This Catalan wine was quite amazing.
The Dayboat Scallops with cauliflower couscous on a bed of seaweed was delicious. Colorful dots of cauliflower purée in Easter colors of pink, yellow and purple added a cute touch to the plate. The perfectly cooked seared scallops were meaty and plump, and the slightly grainy texture of the couscous coupled with the firm crunch of the seaweed added an extra dimension to the dish.
2 of my fellow diners claimed that the Langoustine Ravioli was their favorite dish of the evening. A succulent piece of langoustine nestled inside a wonderfully thick ravioli looked longingly across the sea of thom khai foam to its perfectly coiffed lover, an avocado wrapped mango topped with basil seeds and coconut milk powder. With the aid of a fork and knife, these 2 star crossed lovers were quickly reunited in a celebration of coconut and lemongrass aroma. The silky avocado sheets gently glided across my tongue in joyful union with the chunks of juicy mango whose heavenly sweetness petted my taste buds into submission.
The Lyonaise Salad stuck pretty close to its classic flavors and Vigneron didn’t do anything too molecular or crazy in his interpretation. The thick runny yolk was wonderful with the thin cuts of savory bacon and the zesty vinaigrette, but I noticed that we suffered the consequences of being seated late once again- we got breaded eggs that looked like a Scottish egg, rather than the intended ‘nesting’ egg with twigs of deep fried potato ribbons enveloping the poached egg. They probably ran out of frisée too, as the salad was heavy on arugula and other baby greens.
Yet another slight tragedy in being seated during the busiest time of the dinner service was the miso honey black cod dish order. The sweet, tender flavorful cod was served with a sesame oil powder in an aromatic dashi broth and garnished with nasturtium flowers and leaves. The dish was served as you see it in the photo below. I’m not easily fooled though- I know that the warm broth was supposed to be poured tableside, but the dish was still delicious so I’m willing to let it go.
My favorite dish of the evening was the Vadouvan Lamb with crispy light lavosh, pickled onions, yogurt powder, a sprinkle of sumac and Vigneron’s interpretation of tzatziki. Small crunchy cucumber balls with a nicely tart sour yogurt cream went superbly with the great cut of lamb chop. The perfectly cooked lamb was to die for, and if it weren’t for such a packed venue I would’ve started gnawing on that bone. Nothing on this dish failed, and everything was delicious. I couldn’t believe that I was eating this for $8.
Grass fed ‘Corned Beef’ was the title of this next dish. A large tall piece of sous vide beef short rib stood towering over Saul’s pastrami, dehydrated black trumpets and a potpourri of corn. The playful corn medley featured baby corn, corn purée and popcorn. The thinly sliced pastrami slices were beautifully marbled and stunningly flavorful, and I would have been happy just having a whole plateful of it, especially since the short rib was a bit on the tough side. Both of our red meat dishes were perfectly paired with a bottle of 2006 Rey Grenache from Paso Robles.
The complimentary ‘palate cleanser’ from the kitchen was a classic Bazaar delicacy, liquid nitrogen cooked caramel popcorn, aka ‘Dragon’s Breath’. As soon as we popped these frozen bites into our mouths and bit down, cold white liquid nitrogen smoke came swirling out of our mouths and nostrils. A true Kodak moment.
The green chartreuse soufflé came out warm, fluffy and airy. Although the consistency and the taste was a little too eggy, I loved the subtle anise kick that the chartreuse imparted to the dish. The vanilla ice cream with orange zest and almond crumble was exquisite.
As if the fruit spherification amuse and the nitro popcorn weren’t enough bonuses to the dinner, we were also surprised by a plate of mignardises. Cute tiny chocolate macaroons and pillowy marshmallows rounded up this sensational dinner.
Vigneron’s contemporary interpretation of classic global dishes shined at the Hatchi series dinner. I was really impressed with his innovative creations and compelling combinations of flavors and aromas. He didn’t go too overboard with his usual display of molecular gastronomy, but just enough to keep us smiling. Normally the 8 dishes of the Hatchi series are supposed to have 6 savory dishes and 2 sweet dishes, and I’m not sure why Vigneron decided to do 7 savory dishes instead. He even did 3 extra bonus dishes on top of that, perhaps creating a little too much work for his kitchen staff, resulting in the inconsistent plating and skewed timing of service flow. Nonetheless it was a great performance and each dish was worth well over $8. Now that he’s left The Bazaar, I wonder what’s next?
January 28th: Ricardo Zarate- Peru Mucho Gusto
February 25th: Iso Rabins- Forage
Random trivia: Did you know that the classic paisley design came from India and was inspired by the irregular shape of the mango?