Test Kitchen LA- Jordan Kahn, Red Medicine Beef Banquet

With the much anticipated and highly awaited opening of Red Medicine just around the corner, I was reminded of Jordan Kahn’s Test Kitchen dinner in the beginning of September.  Pastry chef prodigy Jordan Kahn took center stage at Test Kitchen for the second time to showcase menu concepts for his upcoming project with Noah Ellis, former head mixologist for the Michael Mina group, and Umami Burger founder Adam Fleischman.  The project is called Red Medicine, and they have taken over the former Hokusai space on Wilshire Boulevard to open a contemporary Vietnamese fusion restaurant with a unique modern twist.  Back in August Kahn headlined Test Kitchen’s debut with a fantastic preview dinner where he impressed with crispy brussels sprouts, pork belly tartines and the most sensational coconut bavarois.  This time the theme was Bò 7 món, a Vietnamese banquet of 7 courses of beef using American wagyu.

Bar bites included beer battered sweet potato fritters with crunchy turmeric, wrapped in lettuce leaves and dunked in nuoc cham, a satisfying starter with a great balance of sweet and spicy flavors.

Pho bo with brisket and rare beef in caramelized onion and star anise broth was met with mixed feelings from all diners at the table, especially the Vietnamese diner.  The meat cuts were incredibly tender and savory, like none I have ever had in a bowl of pho, but the hyper-concentrated overly-salty broth dampened the joy of the beef.  Most will agree that the broth is the most important element of any noodle soup dish like pho, ramen and laksa.  Although all of the other components in Kahn’s rendition of pho were perfect, the soup broke the dish.

LANGUE (tongue), daikon, cassava, peanut, salted plum: rolled sous vide tongue topped with crumbled cassava root and ground peanuts with a side of daikon radish ribbons on a bed of salted plum was a good dish with distinct crisp flavors, although the tongue had a distinctly gamey finish that wouldn’t have been able to stand alone without the radish and plum.

ONGLET (hanger) tartare, mustard leaves, chili paste, herbs: my favorite dish of the evening.  Tender beef tartare with the bitterness of mustard leaves and the jolting heat of homemade Sriracha sauce was a winning combination, especially when topped on crunchy and light shrimp chips and toasted baguette. 

ENTRECÔTE (strip), Boule d’Or melon, chlorophyll, fines herbs, fried shallot, lime: perfectly cooked beef, prepared medium rare, paired with many different flavors, some subtle like the sweet and watery Boule d’Or melon and others more pronounced like the fines herbs and homemade Hoisin sauce (made from raisins and yams), complemented by a touch of crunchy texture from fried shallots in a vibrant palette of bright green hues.  

OS À MOELLE (marrow), beef cheek ragout, rice powder, chicories, nuoc cham, onion pickles: a decadent and rich plate of crunchy then buttery deep fried bone marrow on a bed of beef cheek ragout, nicely balanced with the sharp and slightly bitter flavors of radish slices, onion pickles, sautéed chicories, friseé and a hint of nuoc cham.

CALOTTE DE BOEUF (ribeye), lemongrass-brown butter, pickles, herbs, nuoc cham, lettuce, rice cake: a perfectly grilled piece of beef, a delight to wrap in lettuce leaves with pickled carrots and daikon, then dunked in delicious nuoc cham.  Yet by this portion of the meal I am beginning to think the unthinkable- that there is too much beef and I cannot handle another bite.  The beef was beginning to feel like a block of iron weighing my stomach down, and I was craving some bún rice vermicelli to go with the protein. 

POITRINE (brisket), Vietnamese caramel, green peanuts, flowering brassica:  I was happy to know that this was the last course of beef, yet overwhelmed with the large mound of brisket topped with flowering brassica greens.  The brisket in the pho bo was amazing, yet the cut that we got for this course had a lot of fibrous gristle, too tough to cut with a knife.  Although the caramelized flavors infused into each fiber of the brisket was amazing, this was simply too much beef for one night.

CONSOMMÉ, espelette, coriander: we declined the final consommé dish after hearing that it was the same broth used in the pho bo.

LIME SABAYON, cucumber, jasmine, cashew, hyssop: with Jordan Kahn being an award winning pastry chef, naturally the dessert was amazing. The delicate textures and flavors of tart lime sabayon, cucumber foam, sesame streusel and dense cashew financier resuscitated me from my beef overdose, and in my excitement I forgot to take a photo.

Although this meal featured a hefty quantity of beef that even I couldn’t conquer, and some dense heavy flavors, the beautiful plating, the mixture of textures and vibrant color schemes all reflected the creative thought and intention that Kahn puts into his works of art.  He is without a doubt one of the more talented young chefs to grace the Los Angeles culinary scene, and many have been anxiously waiting for his upcoming solo venture at Red Medicine.  Stayed tuned for news on the opening, which is now rumored to be after Thanksgiving.

Red Medicine

8400 Wilshire Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA 90211

(323) 651-5500

Test Kitchen LA

9575 West Pico Boulevard

Los Angeles, CA 90035

(310) 277-0133

Random trivia:  Did you know that there are many theories for the origin of the word pho, the popular and loved Vietnamese noodle soup?  Some believe it came from feu, the French work for fire, as in pot-au-feu, while others argue for the Chinese word fen for rice noodles, and the Cantonese word hofan for rice vermicelli.

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Chambar – Vancouver, BC Canada

Civilized debauchery‘ is the catchphrase at Chambar, a sexy restaurant in Vancouver’s Gastown that has been going strong for the last 6 years, and for well deserved reasons.  Chef and owner Nico Schuermans and his wife Kari, who manages the front of house, have created a beautiful setting where diners can enjoy superb Belgian food and scrumptious Belgian ales.  Chef Schuermans was born in Rwanda, Africa, after which he moved back to his native Belgium with his family.  There, after graduating from culinary school, he worked at several Michelin starred restaurants like Comme Chez Soi, and subsequently moved around the world to London, Puerto Rico and Australia to further his culinary career.

It didn’t take a lot of convincing for me to put Chambar on my list of restaurants to visit on a recent trip to Vancouver, as it kept coming up on my searches with excellent reviews.  Exceptional Belgian food with hints of North African influences, a breathtaking cocktail and Belgian beer selection, superb pastries from a rising pastry chef named Eleanor Chow, an inviting dining room and bar area dimly lit by glowing red lamps, attentive service, rotating modern art to adorn the brick exposed walls and a hip Vancouver crowd jiving to sensuous jazz music couldn’t paint a more perfect picture for a Saturday night in the city.  The large L-shaped restaurant with a lounge area in the front was completely packed with the beautiful people of Vancouver dining in this seductive and gorgeous ambiance. There was no pretentiousness though, from the moment we were warmly greeted by the house staff to the attentive and courteous service that we received all throughout the evening.

Chambar is not just a pretty restaurant with good food- they are 100% committed to reducing environmental impact by supporting local suppliers in sourcing regional seasonal ingredients, using Oceanwise-certified sustainable seafood, cleaning and reusing Chambar Ale bottles, and participating in recycling programs with food waste going to community garden composts.  They strive to be a carbon neutral restaurant by using all natural environmentally friendly cleaning products, using biodegradable corn products and cardboard in lieu of plastic for takeout containers and consistently utilizing post consumer recycled paper for menus, cocktail napkins and stationary.

Chambar’s Belgian Beer menu is quite impressive, offering lagers, witbiers, blonde ales, trappistes, lambics and dark ales.  I chose Triple Karmeliet, a smooth and robust blond ale with a sweet fruity finish, that went wonderfully with a starter of grilled green asparagus with sautéed morels, black peppercorns & truffled mayonnaise and crispy parmesan tuiles.  The grilled asparagus had an amazing fresh flavor, accented by the wonderful waft of truffle aroma that enveloped the soft chunks of morel mushrooms.

All of their Les Petit Plats sounded enticing, like seared scallops with smoked Kurobuta pork cheek, a bison carpaccio with truffles and a spiced foie gras terrine with port reduction, but we opted for a plate called ‘Les Tapas’ which came with 3 dishes, each filled with delicious surf and turf offerings.

Smoked sardines with basil, sun dried tomatoes and shaved red onions were tossed in a light vinaigrette that added the perfect amount of acidity to the dish.

My favorite was the pan seared shrimp and calamari tapas with aji vinaigrette, cubed red, yellow and green peppers and caraway seeds. The squid was perfectly cooked to a tender consistency, melting under the luscious aioli as the crunchy peppers imparted a delightful juicy textural contrast.

Generous meaty chunks of king oyster mushrooms were sautéed with smokey chorizo and garlic and garnished with a heap of sunflower sprouts.

La brochette d’autruche, grilled ostrich skewers served with pearl onions pickled in sweet balsamic glaze, marinated prunes, five-herb pesto, capers, pine nuts, sunflower sprouts and crisp potato chips was fantastic.  The tender morsels of ostrich tasted like lean beef and paired superbly with the vincotto sauce and all of the condiments that added differing degrees of texture and acidity to enhance the flavors of the meat.

Les grosses pièces offerings like the BC spot prawn taster, slow roasted pork tenderloin, spice rubbed duck breast and braised lamb shank with figs and honey all sounded tasty, but we decided on the entrecôte grillée d’Argentine, a grilled AAA ribeye steak with chimichurri sauce, charred tomatoes, chorizo, baby arugula, watercress and crispy polenta.  The ribeye was grilled to a perfect medium rare, so tender that we barely needed to use our knives to cut through the fatty piece of delicious meat.  This was one good steak.

Being a Belgian restaurant, the house specialty is moules frites, and they offer 3 types of mussels- Coquotte with white wine cream, smoked bacon lardons and spring onions, Vin Blanc with white wine butter, braised celery and leeks, and the Congolaise which we ordered, with tomato coconut cream, smoked chile, lime and fresh cilantro.  A huge deep pot of mussels came to our table, piled high with juicy briny mussels that tasted amazing with the spicy coconut sauce.

Robert Stelmachuk, Chambar’s sommelier who used to work at Le Crocodile, was particularly helpful and kind to us that evening, and showed us around the restaurant, explaining its history and food with great enthusiasm.  He arranged a dessert tasting menu for us, an incredible array of artistic desserts created by its resident superstar pastry chef, Eleanor Chow.  I had already heard about her desserts from my server at Bluewater Cafe who gushed about her work.  She started our dessert course with an amazing passion fruit parfait, made with lime sponge cake, passion fruit curd, passion fruit seeds, a smooth and silky passion fruit ice cream and crispy tuile on top.  This slightly tart and refreshing dessert was the one that made me swoon with ecstasy.

A light orange vanilla sorbet reminded me of Orange Julius, a drink that I adored as a child, and the vanilla custard cream, garnished with thin pear slices, was one of the most flavorful and decadent custards that I have ever had the pleasure of devouring.  It was a straightforward custard made with simple basic ingredients, yet somehow this pastry chef managed to take it to another level.

Crispy and light mille-feuille with cherry compote and chocolate ganache mousse were excellent as well.

We were so stuffed by the end of our meal that we got the homemade chocolates brownies and white chocolate truffles to go. Needless to say, it was gone before bedtime.

As if Chambar’s amazing food, stellar service and magnificent restaurant wasn’t already enough to keep us happy, Nico Schuermans spreads his love in so many other fruitful ways for us to engage in ‘civilized debauchery’.  Chef Schuermans’ delicious Belgian fare can also be enjoyed at the casual Cafe Medina next door along with Eleanor Chow’s Belgian waffles with accompaniments of compotes, caramels and chocolate sauces that are especially popular for weekend brunch.   In addition, both chefs teach their tricks of the trade at The Dirty Apron Cooking School, another project that they are involved with in the Gastown district of Vancouver.  Here you can learn snout to tail butchering, sinful desserts that come with free panties and even an opportunity to meet your future spouse over fig compote in any of their singles cooking classes.

Chambar Restaurant

562 Beatty Street
Vancouver, BC V6B 2L3, Canada
(604) 879-7119

Cafe Medina

The Dirty Apron Cooking School

Random trivia:  Did you know that most birds do not have a copulatory organ, but the ostrich does?  In fact, the male ostrich has a retractable one that can measure up to 8 inches long.  Civilized….debauchery….?

Gresca- Barcelona, Spain

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La Pedrera

There’s a new culinary movement in Barcelona called ‘Bistronomia’, which combines the casual flare of traditional dishes reflective of the local food culture (bistro) and the more refined modern haute cuisine that is often found in Michelin starred establishments (gastronomia).   There are about 15 such Bistronomias in Barcelona which include La Mifanera, Cinc Sentits, Hisop, Alkimia and Embat.  Most are in the trendy Eixample district just north of the Plaza Catalunya, and all offer cutting edge cuisine with fresh local ingredients at more affordable prices.

Young 32 year old Chef Rafa Peña, a Barcelona native, heads the kitchens of Gresca as well as Spain’s bistronomic movement.  I decided to try Gresca for lunch, as I heard that they had an amazing lunch course for €19.  The tiny restaurant is just a few blocks west off of Passeig de Gràcia, the large popular shopping boulevard that boasts Gaudí‘s famous Casa Milà La Pedrera.  The space was tiny, accomodating only 7 tables that were beautifully set with crisp white linen tablecloths and shiny silverware.  The decor was minimalist and modern, and the service was generous.

IMG_8172The hostess kindly gave us an English menu and was more than eager to explain each menu item in detail for us.  Although the €19 set lunch menu seemed interesting (fresh sardines that day), there were too many intriguing items on their à la carte menu that I had to try.

After a delightful glass of parmesan crisps with paprika, they gave us the most amazing amuse bouche of foie gras with mango and chives.

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I started my meal with the octopus carpaccio with butifarra negra. The playful and geometric plating was astounding.  The thin slices of irregularly shaped octopus legs were like puzzle pieces, neatly laid out on a smooth background of Catalan-style blood sausage.  The periphery of the square display was framed with a refreshing crunchy ‘gremolata’ of mango, zucchini, lemon, cucumbers and onions that evened out the iron richness of the butifarra.  A rich smooth heap of potato purée waited patiently underneath as I carefully broke through its flamboyant cloak.

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The onion soup with gruyere and trumpet mushrooms (chanterelles) was quite intense, salty and smoky.  It was so concentrated in earthy essence that it could probably cure any common cold.  Diced vegetables brought a nice crunchy texture to this soup.

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I had the Gresca classic of Sant Pere fish with cockscomb and thyme.  The flavorful white fish had a delicate yet confident texture that stood up to the mighty collagenous  crests.  I loved these cockscombs that were tender enough to melt in my mouth but firm enough for me to feel a give on my teeth.

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The entrecote steak with potatoes and thyme was simply divine.  My dining partner told me that it was one of the best steaks that she had ever had.  At first, we were both surprised at how large the steak was.  How do they expect us to eat all of this?  Tisk tisk, how sad that so much good meat will go to waste, I thought.  But by the end of the meal, the dish was squeaky clean and we were groaning with pleasure.  Mmmmm….entrecote….

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When I return to Gresca on my next Barcelona trip, I would love to try the other Gresca classics: roast pigeon with ginger, smoked duck with langoustines, and a dessert of roquefort cheese with litchi and green apple sorbet.  I highly recommend this quaint Bistronomia where you will get wonderful and attentive service due to the small number of seats.  Make sure you call well in advance for a reservation, as they book up early.

Gresca

C/ Provença 230

Barcelona, 8036
93 451 61 93

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Random trivia:  Did you know that the cockscomb stops growing after a rooster is castrated?  Capons, which are castrated roosters, are highly prized in Europe for their tender and juicy flesh.