Rustic Mondays at Fraiche Restaurant

When the 9.0 magnitude earthquake shook Japan on March 11, 2011, and massive tsunamis engulfed the northeast coast of the country, the world watched with sadness and grief at the immense loss of life.  In the midst of this devastation, many have stood up to make a difference by donating their time, money and services for Japan.  Chefs and restaurateurs in Los Angeles have also done their part in raising awareness for relief efforts by hosting dinners where a portion of the proceeds go to charitable funds.  One such fun and delicious event was hosted by Chef Benjamin Bailly and Chef Ricardo Zarate at Fraiche Restaurant in Culver City, where proceeds from the dinner went to Operation USA.

The dinner was the first to kick off a weekly series called Rustic Mondays, featuring a guest chef and his or her prix fixe 3 course dinner in conjunction with Chef Bailly’s 3 course offerings. For a mere $35, diners can choose from either Chef Bailly’s dish or the guest chef’s dish for each of the 3 courses.  Rustic Mondays are not meant to be a competition of chef vs chef, but more of a collaboration and celebration of culinary diversity.

Chef Bailly, who now oversees the kitchens at both Fraiche locations (Culver City and Santa Monica), represented his French heritage while Chef Ricardo Zarate, who was recently crowned Food & Wine’s Best New Chef 2011, came strong with his signature Peruvian delights.

Chef Bailly started off the first course with a Salade Gourmande, a large filling plate of baby greens, haricot verts, sautéed mushrooms, sweet candied tomatoes and goat cheese croquettes tossed with hazelnuts and a very subtle truffle vinaigrette.  A perfectly poached egg bled its thick bright yellow sap onto this salad while the warm goat cheese croquettes proved to be the highlight.

Chef Zarate’s Ceviche Mixto with tender squid, large meaty succulent shrimp, scallops and covina tossed in a Leche de Tigre sauce was the most successful and delicious dish of the evening.  His famous signature dish, a delicately flavored bowl of fresh seafood with bold contrasting textures from crunchy fried corn kernels, diced red onions and airy camote, reminded me through every successive bite why he won the prestigious Food & Wine award this year- unpretentious, simple, humble and delicious.

The seared Scottish salmon in Bailly’s Saumon Aux Lentilles was perfectly cooked, a sweet moist piece of fatty fish that paired wonderfully with the creamy country mustard sauce.  The Puy lentils ragout, while blissfully injected with bacon essence, would have fared better with less cooking time and cleaner textures.

Zarate’s Pachamanca was a double fisting meat lovers paradise, a simple yet satisfying entrée of braised lamb that melted in my mouth, next to a generous serving of equally tender pork belly cooked with a crispy crackling layer of skin.  Meat and potatoes, and in this case Peruvian potatoes with fava beans and baby carrots, were elevated to sophistication with Zarate’s divine sauce.

The French sure know how to please a woman, and they always strike where it counts.  Bailly’s beautiful Paris-Brest hit the spot with its soft airy buttery pâte à choux and its glorious praliné crème studded with cocoa nibs.  2 servings of this beautiful pastry still left me longing for more.

Sol y Sombra, a refreshing cold dessert by Zarate, contained fun delightful textures from its mixture of dried plums and almonds on quinoa con leche with a drizzle of purple corn syrup.

Rustic Mondays, a global celebration of Los Angeles chefs, was off to a wonderful start at Fraiche Restaurant with our beloved Chef Zarate as its first guest.  Future guest chefs will include an amazing line up of some of our most famous and cherished talents.  In addition, Deysi Alvarez and Jody Barton will be creating unique cocktails to pair with these dinners, such as the Algorrobina made with egg yolk, carob syrup, cream and pisco, my favorite drink of the evening.  Thank you to Chef Bailly and Chef Zarate for contributing a portion of the dinner proceeds for Japan earthquake and tsunami relief.

Fraiche Restaurant

9411 Culver Boulevard
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 839-6800

Random trivia: Did you know that pâte à choux, made from butter, flour, eggs and water, refers to the light airy pastry dough that is the basic template for many other dishes that we love to eat?  Flavored with cheese they become gougères, mixed with potato purée and fried they become pommes dauphine, shaped into elongated tubes and filled with cream they are éclairs, and they are also what make croquembouches, profiteroles, beignets and crullers.

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