Magnum pop-up at Royal T- Uni tasting dinner

The Magnum crew duo that is Chef Joseph Mahon and Sommelier David Haskell did their 3rd installation of dinner pop-ups recently at Royal T in Culver City, an event that showcased Mahon’s creativity in contemporary cuisine and Haskell’s keen talent for superb wine pairing.  All 3 nights of this pop-up dinner event offered tasting menus of 5, 7 or 9 courses that featured stellar creations like miso cured hanger steak and potato chip soup in addition to grass-fed beef sliders and oysters with brown butter as bar bites.

Wine, beer and sake pairings for each dish were carefully chosen by David Haskell who has worked at reputable establishments like Le Cirque and Aquavit.  Each pairing, which he poured and introduced himself for each diner at Royal T, had a specific vision and effect that he wanted the diners to experience.  Whether it was for the wine to draw out the sweetness of the fruits on the plate or for the sake to make a bold contrasting statement to the protein, each pairing had a story to tell.

On the last of the 3 nights, a special 8 course uni tasting dinner was offered to celebrate the sommelier’s birthday.  The Santa Barbara uni extravaganza was an ode to his mother Liz Haskell, a well known uni aficionado and enthusiast who was in attendance that evening.  Friends and family came out to celebrate Haskell’s birthday on this final night of a successful run where the Magnum crew donated 5% of dinner proceeds to the Japan Sake Brewers Association.  The servers also donated 10% of tips for this cause to support Japan earthquake and tsunami relief, an amazing show of generosity and good will.

The uni tasting began with a variation of the cured Thai snapper amuse bouche that was served on the previous nights.  The same luscious pieces of fish were now served wrapped around Japanese shrimp chips with pea sprouts and leek emulsion.

Santa Barbara uni on oysters with soy mignonette was my favorite uni course of the evening.  The simple, unadulterated briny flavors were harmonious with the acidity and minerality of N.V. Jacques Lassaigne Les Vignes de Montgueux Blanc de Blancs Chardonnay.

Uni draped over tuna tartare with creamy dashi aioli and nori flecks was also a delicious dish, paired with a 2006 Château Giraud G Bordeaux Blanc Sec.

Uni tartine came as geometric contemporary pieces of bright orange uni juxtaposed against round cucumber balls on brined halibut with a dash of ponzu sauce.  Haskell paired these with a 2005 Schoffit Vieilles Vignes, an Alsatian Chasselas.

The Uni cauliflower royale was served in both tasting menus, a glass filled with layers of uni, creamy cauliflower royale, fennel, diced apple, apple and cucumber foam and nori.  The 2009 Riviera Ligure di Ponente, an Italian Pigato, worked well to draw out the sweetness of the apples.

Uni and bone marrow pizza was paired with a 2005 FX Pichler Riesling Smaragd Oberhauser from Austria.

For the first of the 2 meat courses, Chef Mahon used uni with a Bordelaise sauce to flavor veal and shiitake mushroom tempura, a dish that was paired with a 2003 Jacques Puffeney Vieilles Vignes Arbois rouge.

For the venison dish with uni risotto and shiso pepper sauce, Haskell brought a 2004 Marc Sorrel Hermitage Syrah to complement the protein.

Yuzu crème brûlée was served for dessert again with poached apricots and kumquat, this time the caramelized crust done well.  This final dish was paired with Damien Delecheneau’s 2009 Domaine La Grange Tiphaine Rose Touraine Riage Tournant.

The uni tasting menu offered 7 interesting interpretations of the popular ocean delicacy, with the most simplest being my favorite- coupled with a delicate oyster with a dash of soy.  David Haskell’s wine pairings were impressive, his selections complementing Mahon’s food in the most pure, clean and unobtrusive manner to allow the uni to take center stage and shine.  It was a wonderful fun evening with great music from a live DJ and incredibly professional staff maintaining perfect flow of service.

The Magnum crew allowed me to work with them to set up a silent auction event to raise money for the Japan Sake Brewers Association.  With the incredible generosity and support from our friends in the food and beverage industry in Los Angeles, we were able to offer amazing auction items like tasting dinners with Chef Fabio Viviani, Starry Kitchen, The Thompson Hotel and Guelaguetza.  David Haskell auctioned precious wines from his personal cellar, including a 1983 Pothier Rieusset Les Rugiens, while California winery Presqu’ile donated 2 personalized signed bottles of wine and Rosso Wine Shop donated a private wine session.  Local bloggers MyLastBite, Ravenous Couple and Glutster showed their support by auctioning specialized food tours, and artisans Sugarbird Sweets, Scoops Westside and soba teacher Sonoko Sakai volunteered their crafts and goods.  Curious Palate chipped in with a gift certificate, and the amazing meat mavens Lindy & Grundy will be conducting a private one on one butchering lesson for the lucky auction winner next week.  Even Chef Thomas Keller of The French Laundry donated a personalized signed copy of the French Laundry Cookbook for the auction, which they kindly sent all the way to Japan for a Japanese bidder.  Beloved local chefs have also shown their generosity by offering to do private cooking classes and dinners- Chef Laurent Quenioux, Chef Christian Page of the Daily Dose, Chef Michael Voltaggio, Chef Walter Manzke and Chef Craig Thornton.

As if helping with Japan relief efforts and donating dinner proceeds wasn’t enough, the dynamic Magnum duo have donated their time and services to do 2 private pop-up dinners as a part of the silent auction, the first dinner occurring this weekend.  With the incredible support of all of these people and more, we were able to raise $12,000 to donate to the Japanese sake industry.  Thank you very much to everybody who was a part of this amazing collaborative effort!

Magnum crew

Random trivia: Did you know that the name urchin is an old name for the round spiny hedgehogs that sea urchins resemble?

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Magnum pop-up dinner at Royal T

Many people in the food and beverage industry in Los Angeles have stepped up to show their love and support for Japan after the devastating earthquake and tsunamis shattered the country on March 11.  The Magnum crew pair of Chef Joseph Mahon and Sommelier David Haskell was no exception.  The dynamic duo recently ran a pop-up dinner event in Culver City, the third installation after successful runs at Biergarten and Pal Cabron.  This time the pop-up dinner was at a Japanese cosplay maid cafe called Royal T, a most fitting backdrop for Chef Mahon’s inventive menu and Magnum’s efforts to raise money for Japan relief.

Chef Joseph Mahon, former executive chef of Bastide, incorporated hints of Japanese ingredients like miso, nori, dashi and yuzu both in his colorful tasting menu and the bar bites menu.  Dinner tastings were offered as 5, 7 or 9 courses with or without wine pairings.  His Magnum partner David Haskell brought life to each delicious plate with his brilliant wine, beer and sake pairings that together with the food narrated a beautiful story.  For 3 consecutive nights, the venue came alive with vivid installations of interactive kitschy art, funky pop music spun by a live DJ in the lounge and the friendly staff all sporting Magnum T-shirts.

The Magnum crew was kind enough to collaborate with me in fund raising efforts to donate to a wonderful charity in Japan.  The catastrophe of March 11 that has already claimed more than 14,000 lives also devastated the Japanese sake industry.  Sake has deep historical and religious roots in Japanese culture, and the fact that more than 200 breweries were affected (some completely destroyed) by the natural disasters will affect the country’s traditions, culture and economy forever.  Mahon and Haskell pledged to donate 5% of dinner proceeds to the Japan Sake Brewers Association.  In fact, the entire Magnum pop-up crew came together as one for this wonderful cause, with the staff also contributing 10% of their tips to the Japanese charity fund.

Chef Mahon started the tasting dinner with a delicious amuse bouche of cured Thai snapper with crumbled shrimp chips and pea sprouts.

Oysters were served warm with a generous drizzle of brown butter and lemon sauce, and crunchy green cucumber balls for textural contrast.  This dish was paired with a German Riesling, Von Buhl Brut from Bad Dürkheim.

Crispy salty potato chips imparted crunchy texture and playfulness into the potato chip soup with ramps and cucumber, and it was the luscious piece of fried oyster that was the shining star of the dish.  This was paired with a 2008 Slovenian Pinela from winemaker Ivan Batic.

Mahon’s Fennel Royale layered slick pieces of sweet sea urchin with apple foam, creamy fennel royale and flecks of nori powder.  The intense acidity of the paired 2009 Ligurian Pigato from Riviera Ligure di Ponente, Italy enhanced the fruity sweetness of the dish.

Silky crispy tofu with sunflower seed crust was accentuated with pickled vegetables, cilantro and dashi emulsion.  The pairing of Hitachino Nest White Ale was lovely, especially as it represented Ibaraki prefecture in Japan, one of the affected regions in the earthquake and tsunami.

Tender tuna slices encased around jicama, crab and mango were flavored with spicy mayonnaise and paired with a French 2008 Chenin Blanc from Francois Pinon ‘Silex Noir’.

Braised baby octopus with a nice subtle char on its surface was mounted on a creamy leek risotto with shaved cashews and a drizzle of savory pancetta vinaigrette.  A 2009 Jean-Paul Brun Chardonnay was paired with this dish.

Perfectly cooked moist ocean trout with lobster jus, garnished with fresh peas, pea sprouts, mint and oyster mushrooms, was paired with a 2009 Jean-Paul Brun ‘Villes Vignes’ Gamay.

Grass fed beef sliders with bibb lettuce and chipotle aioli were served both as bar bites and as adjuncts to the tasting menu on the first evening.  Cooked medium rare, perfectly moist and packed with flavorful juices, these sliders were beautifully done and one of my favorite dishes of the evening.  Haskell did a playful pairing with Kikusui Funaguchi Junmai Ginjo sake from Niigata prefecture in Japan, again one of the prefectures affected by the earthquake.

One of the other standout hits of the evening was Chef Mahon’s miso cured hanger steak, tender cuts of beef fully infused with the sweet earthy aromas of miso, plated with creamed spinach, shiitake mushroom tempura, sesame seeds and ponzu sauce.  The meat was paired with a 2008 Domaine de Majas ‘Three Trees’ Grenache-Carignan red.

The tasting menu ended with a yuzu crème brûlée topped with poached apricots and halved kumquats, paired elegantly with Damien Delecheneau’s 2009 Domaine La Grange Tiphaine Rose Touraine Riage Tournant.

The first evening of the pop-up event at Royal T drew in a full crowd, the packed room filled with happy diners who enjoyed Mahon’s food and the service from Haskell who personally poured every glass of wine with an explanation of each food and wine pairing.  Meanwhile, guests perused the silent auction table set up front, put together by the collaborative effort of acclaimed chefs, restaurateurs, local artisans and food bloggers who all donated private dinners, gift baskets, dinner certificates and many delicious food and beverage related auction items for bid to raise money for the Japan Sake Brewers Association.  The third and final night of the Magnum Royal T pop up event featured a special uni tasting menu to commemorate David Haskell’s birthday who paid homage to his uni enthusiast mother Liz Haskell.  Details of the uni dinner will follow in the next post.

Magnum events

Royal T

8910 Washington Boulevard
Culver City, CA 90232-2326
(310) 559-6300

Random trivia: Did you know that potato chips were invented by Chef George Crum in 1853 in Saratoga Springs, New York, when he tried to please a customer who sent back his fried potatoes to the kitchen for being too soggy and thick?  These thin crispy delights became a staple on his menu as ‘Saratoga chips’, and the rest is history.

Japan Earthquake & Tsunami Relief

I was in New Delhi, India, enjoying a ratatouille crepe of all things for an early lunch when I received the devastating news.  ‘A massive earthquake just hit Japan, is your family okay?’ a concerned friend informed me, and my leisurely day of shopping quickly changed into an afternoon of panic, fear and heartbreak.  I frantically phoned home, only to get an automated Japanese message saying that phone lines were crowded and to hang up and try again.  There were no TV screens where I was, and in the car ride home, my imagination went wild as to exactly what happened.  How big was the earthquake, where did it hit, and where is my family?  Lack of information led to more fear as I prepared myself for the worst.

It was March 11, 2011.  A 9.0 magnitude earthquake shook Northern Japan, triggering destructive tsunamis that wiped out many towns along the Pacific coast of Japan. This Tohoku earthquake was the strongest earthquake to have ever hit Japan, rattling this small island country that was highly prepared to deal with any earthquake but never for one this strong.  Buildings cracked and crumbled, coastlines shifted, streets caved in and towers leaned, but those initial few minutes of earthshaking were nothing compared to what was about to happen.  In the calm before the storm, people retreated back to their homes to gather belongings and assess damage, a move that would prove fatal for those who would fall victim to the powerful tsunami that came pounding down like a hammer.

Once back home at my brother’s house in New Delhi, my heart broke into a million pieces at the horrific images that were coming through the screen.  Entire villages being engulfed by the tsunami within seconds, people trapped in cars that were being swept away, roaring fires spreading into a blazing inferno, boats smashing into buildings and dissipating like dust, lively fishing villages reduced to piles of debris.  Such images took me back to last year’s Haiti earthquake, only this time it hit closer to home.  It took several hours for me to get in touch with my mother, who cried over the phone every time a strong aftershock overtook the house.  My father, who was unreachable for 6 hours, finally made it home at midnight after walking through the deserted streets of Tokyo.  All relatives and friends were eventually confirmed safe and unharmed, but I was already shattered with grief and sadness.

Meanwhile, in Rikuzentakata, Miyagi prefecture, Japan, one man stood dumbfounded in front of a pile of debris that was once his artisanal sake brewery.  Yasuhiko Konno, the owner of Suisen sake, narrowly escaped the tsunami that completely wiped out his brewery, destroying with it his prize winning hand-brewed sake plant and more than 200 years worth of history.  This respected community figure who produced some of Japan’s most famous sakes lost everything- his family tradition, his house and even 11 of his 67 loyal employees at the brewery.  These 11 deaths would join the appalling statistics of the Tohoku casualties: 14,133 deaths, 5,304 injuries and 13,346 people still missing.  Many people continue to die from post-earthquake related factors, such as exposure to cold weather, communicable diseases and infections, unsanitary conditions and inability to receive adequate medical care for pre-existing conditions.

The earthquake and tsunami caused extensive and severe structural damage, including heavy damage to nuclear power plants, a grave problem that still remains an active issue. Japan declared a state of emergency following the failure of the cooling system at the Fukushima power plants, mandating a massive evacuation and resulting in worldwide radiation fears.

The Japanese sake industry was not spared in the natural disasters either. Sake has been an important part of Japanese culture for the past 2000 years, playing a central role in religious and spiritual ceremonies as a symbol of purity, good fortune and new beginnings. Sake breweries in Miyagi prefecture, the epicenter of the earthquake, and Iwate and Fukushima prefectures were the hardest hit, many of them small family owned breweries that produce some of the most highest quality aromatic sakes. Yasuhiko Konno’s story is just one of many, with over 200 sake breweries affected and at least 10 being completely wiped out.

Even as a child growing up in Japan, I drank sake as a part of ceremonial rituals.  Sake is often consumed as a part of Shinto purification traditions, such as on New Year’s Day when the entire family, even children, sip on otoso to flush away the previous year’s bad fortunes and bring in the new.  Otoso is served in beautiful lacquered sets and passed around from the youngest to the oldest in the family.

At Shinto shrines, people offer sake to gods to solicit rich harvests and blossoming businesses for the coming year.  In a ceremony called kagami biraki, large wooden sake casks are split open with wooden hammers during weddings, store openings, sports events and other celebratory occasions.  During World War II, kamikaze pilots even drank sake prior to their missions in a last salute of loyalty to the Japanese Emperor.

I have reached out to my friends in the Japan Sake Brewers Association and the Niigata Sake Brewers Association in the hopes of helping the devastated sake industry. They have set up a charity fund where donated money will go directly into rehabilitation and restoration of all of the affected breweries.  Through a recent pop-up dinner event hosted by Magnum crew Chef Joseph Mahon and Sommelier David Haskell, together we were able to raise over $12,000 from a silent auction event that featured private dinners, cooking classes, vintage wines and numerous other food and beverage related events.  The money raised will be donated to the Japan Sake Association charity fund.  My hope is to continue supporting the sake industry in any way possible, for the industry faces a long road ahead to complete revival.  Replanting and tending rice fields, repairing damages to breweries, clearing roads of debris for transportation and reorganizing infrastructure are just some of the challenges that they face.  One delicious way that we can support the industry is by drinking more sake from the hard hit areas in Northeast Japan, as the sake brewer of Nanbu Bijin sake pleads in this video:

Over 200 sake breweries were affected in some way in 13 prefectures, although the hardest hit prefectures were Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima.  For more detailed information on which breweries were affected in what way, you can click on this link to ‘Sake Samurai’ John Gauntner’s report.  Perhaps the next time you go to buy or order sake for your dinner, you can consciously choose one of the Tohoku brands to show your support.