Eva restaurant

When Hatfield’s closed down at its Beverly Boulevard location, I almost felt a little sorry for the poor soul who would try to open up a new restaurant in that same space.  It’s never easy to be the following act, especially after such a well known and loved establishment like Hatfield’s.  When I heard that Chef Mark Gold, the established chef who previously headed Cafe Patina and worked as executive sous alongside Michael Cimarusti at the Water Grill, was moving in, I still nervously clenched my fists at his upcoming project.  A few months ago he opened Eva restaurant there, named after his grandmother who instilled in him a love and curiousity of cooking at a young age.  I usually steer clear of newly opened restaurants for at least 3 months, but after reading positive reviews from established LA critics, I decided that it was time to give it a try.

As I opened the familiar door to the restaurant, I was surprised to be greeted by Mark Gold himself, smiling and patting me on the back like an old friend.  He was one of the most friendliest chefs that I’ve ever met, and I found his radiant enthusiasm for life very endearing.  He was beaming with pride as he told us about some of the dishes on the menu that evening.  We also talked extensively about his culinary adventures through Tokyo before he personally showed us to our table.  I found out that he has a weakness for Maisen tonkatsu, which I also share.

The decor was the same as when it was Hatfield’s- simple, elegant and contemporary with an indoor dining room that faces the semi-open kitchen, and an outdoor patio that wraps around the front half of the building.  I loved the hip modern staff uniforms made by SussDesign, which not only looked comfortable, but also looked like an ad for Armani Exchange.  The young friendly staff looked especially ravishing in their white t-shirts, sky grey knit vests and figure flattering pinstriped grey trousers.  I would gladly work for any company that has this as their uniform.

We started our meal with the peeky toe crab with yuzu gelée, radish and parsley.  The tender morsels of crab meat were paired perfectly with the crunchy textures of the cucumber slivers, radish kick and refreshing acidity of the citrus dressing.  This light and delicate appetizer was a premonition of a fantastic and memorable dinner.

Foie gras terrine with apple marmalade, sesame and brioche was my favorite dish of the evening.  I’ve had many excellent foie gras dishes in my life, but this is now in my top 3.  The generous block of tender foie gras melted like butter as I effortlessly cut through it with my knife.  I was simply amazed at how well it paired with the aromatic apple foam and the delicious apple marmalade.  This was the first time that I had a foie-apple pairing, but it blew me away.  I still think about this dish a lot; in fact, I have been obsessing about it and even told one of my chef friends about it.  I must return to Eva to relive that monumental moment when I first tasted this incredible dish that turned my foie gras world upside down.

Hamachi with fennel cubes, citrus foam and grapefruit wedges was another tart and refreshing seafood appetizer.  This also had a cucumber and radish garnish which added a crisp texture and uplifting flavor to the dish.

Pumpkin ravioli with smoked nuts and finely grated cheese was a comforting bowl of winter wonders.  Both the sauce and ravioli filling were creamy and rich, and the crunchiness of the nuts provided a pleasing contrast of textures.

Nancy’s scallops with bomba rice, crispy chorizo and brussel sprouts came highly recommended by our server.  The plump meaty scallops were seared to perfection, perched tall and proud on a bed of bomba rice risotto as they were fanned by the strikingly beautiful green leaves of their brussels sprout concubines.  Little did they know that the quiet nibbles of chorizo were secretly plotting a coup d’état.  Once inside my mouth, the chorizos exploded with vigor and savor to overtake my taste buds in a gratifying and honorable revolution.

‘Linguini and clams’ made with udon noodles, garlic, bacon and littleneck clams was a sensation.  I was looking forward to trying this dish, as Chef Mark Gold had told me about these special Inaniwa udon noodles that he discovered on his prior trip to Japan.  It seems like an oxymoron to have light flavor and dense texture (which we call ‘koshi‘ in Japan), but that’s the distinct quality of these types of Japanese noodles.  It was the perfect choice of carbohydrate to pair with the hearty flavors of bacon, sweet onions and clams.  Despite its creaminess, the sauce didn’t seem heavy at all with these noodles, and the freshly chopped parsley also kept the overall flavors fresh and sharp.  This, I could eat every day.

Poached beef with cauliflower, chanterelles and salsa verde was also exquisite.  The thick cut of sous vide beef was tender and moist, and the surface was seared to a savory smoky crisp.  Although the assortment of chanterelle mushrooms, cauliflower, carrots and croutons were a bit dry and frail, the snapping flavors of the salsa verde brought up the energy level of the dish.  By this time we were happily finishing off our fantastic bottle of Domaine du Vieux Lazaret 2007 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, whose smooth and well rounded flavors paired exquisitely with the beef.

Flourless chocolate cake with crème fraiche and walnuts was surprisingly light.  Flourless chocolate cakes tend to be like a slab of concrete, but each bite of Eva’s cake practically turned to liquid in the warmth of my mouth.

Lemon pudding with citrus foam and thyme leaves was another lesson and discovery in sensational flavor combinations.  I tried a bite of just the tangy pudding cake itself, and another with a few thyme leaves, and there was no contest.  There was something about the rustic earthiness of this herb that amplified and polished the citrus flavors.  This dessert inspired me to experiment with herbs and sweets in my kitchen.

Our dinner at Eva was amazing.  I was especially happy that I discovered new remarkable flavor combinations to open up my mind and my palate.  The staff was friendly and smart, and everybody seemed genuinely happy to be a part of the Eva family.  As an added bonus, sous chef Brian Huskey came out to chat with us and he gave me a packet of the Japanese udon noodles to take home.  I plan to honor these delicate Inaniwa udon noodles that came all the way from Akita prefecture, and enjoy them as a simple zaru udon dish.  Thank you Brian!

In the meantime, I hope to return to Eva very soon for their Sunday suppers.  It’s the best deal in LA right now.  Every Sunday from 3pm to 9:30pm, they serve a prix fixe family style dinner for $35 a person which includes food, dessert and wine.  It’s not a typo and it’s not a computer glitch… it’s really $35 a head.  Hurry and make your reservations.

Eva restaurant

7458 Beverly Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036-2701
(323) 634-0700

Random trivia: When describing the texture of udon noodles, in Japan we often talk about ‘koshi‘, which refers to how chewy or dense the noodles are upon mastication.  Udon noodles are made by combining flour, water and salt, and kneading this dough carefully yet powerfully.  The flour used for udon noodles contains gliadin and glutenin, 2 types of glycoproteins which form into an elastic and cohesive protein called gluten when mixed with water.  By adding salt, these glutens form a stronger mesh that becomes even more dense and chewy, thus forming this texture that we call ‘koshi’.  By adjusting the amount of salt in the mixture, one can also adjust the ‘koshi’ of the final product.

Hatchi series at the Breadbar- Marcel Vigneron

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?

Breadbar

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?

Spago

The one and only Spago in Beverly Hills by Wolfgang Puck, his flagship restaurant that put him on the map. It’s still standing strong after all these years.  It had been at least 5 years since the last time that I ate there, but it was still as crowded as ever and as delicious as ever. Spago is 1 of only 3 restaurants in Los Angeles to win a 2 Michelin star rating in 2008.  I had a wonderful meal in their outdoor terrace by the water fountain on a sunny Los Angeles day.

Beautiful dainty canapés with a glass of bubblies for starters:

Tuna tartare with bubblies

Tuna tartare with bubblies

The first canapé we had was spicy tuna tartare in a sweet sesame tuille with daikon radish sprouts and bonito flakes.  The tuille was a little too sweet for my liking, but it was nice to experience the different textures of crunchy, moist, flaky and crisp in one bite.

Hamachi and smoked sturgeon

Hamachi and smoked sturgeon

Next we had Japanese hamachi (yellow tail) marinated in a soy-yuzu dressing with pumpkin seed oil, with shiso leaf and marinated mountain burdock root garnish.  A very tangy spoonful with a strong citrus kick.  Personally, I wasn’t too crazy about this.  The soy yuzu dressing overpowered the hamachi, and I couldn’t taste that wonderful fattiness that I love about hamachi.  I think the dish would have gone better with a less fatty white fish like halibut.

My favorite canapé was the house smoked sturgeon on lemon herb blini with sweet onions, chives, dill crème fraiche and salmon caviar.  I love anything that is smoked, but this sturgeon was absolutely delicious.  A perfect smokiness that was subtle enough to still allow the sturgeon flavors to shine through.  The lemon herb blini added the perfect amount of citrus acidity paired with the rich crème fraiche to bring everything together.  I would go back to Spago just to have another bite of that.

Anchovy and quail canapé

Anchovy and quail canapé

Our last canapé was a dried baby anchovy ring with soft boiled quail egg, microgreens, dill, anchovies and olives.  A wonderful fusion of different textures, saltiness and flavors in one bite.  Canapés are such a delight, aren’t they?

I had to order the oysters, since they are one of my favorite foods.  We had Fanny Bay and Kumamoto oysters on a beautifully decorated and garnished cold plate.  I loved the vibrant colors on this dish- a feast for the eyes.  Spring is here!

Oysters, oysters, oysters!

Oysters, oysters, oysters!

One of Wolfgang Puck’s favorite childhood recipes, the Austrian chicken bouillon with julienned vegetables.  Chicken buillon seems like a boring dish, but it’s one of the most difficult to execute well.  Because of its simplicity, it’s very easy to tell how good or bad the chef’s techniques are.   This one was comforting, the kind that makes you sigh with relief.

Chicken bouillon

Chicken bouillon

Bouillon

Bouillon

Next was a small tasting of a seasonal pasta dish.  Fresh spring green pea ravioli with parmesan cheese. I love seasonal dishes where you can taste the full potential of the ingredient.  I loved the combination of the sweet pea purée inside the raviolis and the fresh firm peas that burst inside my mouth.

Pea ravioli

Pea ravioli

Finally for the main courses.

Flounder

Flounder

Steamed ‘Hong Kong style’ flounder with baby bok choy, shiitake mushrooms, snap peas and green onions in a Hoisin sauce.  The flounder was perfectly moist and sweet, and the dish was as good as anything you could get in a top rated Hong Kong restaurant.

I had the Snake River Farm’s Kobe ‘Szechuan’ Steak with stir fried bok choy, choy sum and shiitake mushrooms.

Snake River Farm's steak

Snake River Farm's steak

The wagyu beef from Snake River Farm is one of the best that you can get domestically, and is very close to the Japanese wagyu beef.  The steak that I had was wonderfully marbled and dripping with flavor.  I could have easily mistaked it for Japanese beef in a blind taste test.  Absolutely tender, perfectly smokey, and marvelously fatty.  Every bite of meat melted in my mouth with ease.  Delicious!

http://www.snakeriverfarms.com/

Finally, for dessert, we had blackberry granita with lemon cake.

blackberry granita with lemon cake

blackberry granita with lemon cake

and 12 layer chocolate cake with Tahitian vanilla gelato….

chocolate cake

chocolate cake

We were way too full to finish either dessert.  The blackberry granita with lemon cake was too sweet for me, as well as the chocolate cake, but the Tahitian vanilla gelato was wonderful.

After all these years, I can see why Spago is still immensely popular and manages to fill their tables.  The ambience and service are top notch, and the food really pleases all 5 senses.  Spago is a classic establishment that can always be counted on for fine dining and an excellent experience.

http://www.wolfgangpuck.com/

Random trivia: Did you know that the swimbladder of Beluga sturgeon is used to clarify certain wines and beers?  Therefore, many vegetarians don’t consider these particular brands of alcoholic beverages to be truly vegetarian.