Rogue Upstairs with Chef Tien Ho- Los Angeles

Underground supper clubs.  Secretive, exclusive privileges granted only to those who are lucky enough to know somebody who knows somebody, or to those diligent food-obsessed detectives whose persistence will eventually pay off in the form of an invitation to an incognito world of food and wine.  It may take you to a warehouse or lead you into a private mansion, sometimes even through the attic of a furniture factory (I have done all three)- but at the end of the road there is always a special meal, one that will never repeat itself except in the memories of those who experience it.  New to the world of LA supper clubs is Rogue Upstairs, with its very first dinner featuring a wonderful collaboration of Momofuku alums.

The dinner was set in a beautiful apartment upstairs from Silverlake’s Intelligentsia, where attendees were welcomed with champagne and canapés to a breathtaking balcony view of the hip neighborhood.  The real charm of the space, however, was inside, a home turned art gallery where each piece of art had a story that the host, Stella Café owner Gareth Kantner, was more than happy to share- mostly of starving artists whom he discovered, sculptures that he commissioned or acquisitions made during his extensive travels.  He has exceptional taste in art- this man who seems to know everybody in LA, and whom everybody in LA seems to know- and as we were about to see, an extraordinary gift for throwing an amazing dinner party.

The first guest chef to start off the Rogue Upstairs series was Chef Tien Ho, Vietnamese born and Houston raised chef who, after working as sous chef for Café Boulud, quickly rose to Momofuku fame.  He ran the kitchen at Momofuku Ssäm Bar for 4 years before opening Momofuku Má Pêche where his modern interpretation of Beef 7 Ways (Bò 7 món) broke new ground in contemporary Vietnamese cuisine.  Having just left his position at Má Pêche, Rogue Upstairs was graced with his presence and his food for 2 special nights in collaboration with another Momofuku alum, former GM and beverage director Cory Lane who oversaw the wine pairings.

California Uni/Peach/Scallion

Generous heaps of succulent Santa Barbara uni topped with diced peaches and scallion slivers made for a most phenomenal amuse, paired with 2007 Domaine Rolet Crémant du Jura sparkling wine.  There were multiple servings for all 14 guests who swooned and swirled with every sweet spoonful.

Chicken Liver Toast/Pickled Daikon/Cilantro

Warm canapés of chicken liver toast topped with pickled daikon, pickled carrots, cilantro and red chile sauce were the best rendition of bánh mì in a bite, the tangy acidity of the vegetables working well with the luscious liver pâté.

Part of the charm of underground supper clubs is to meet interesting people and make new friends through a common love of food and wine, and this predominantly Silverlake and Los Feliz crowd was no exception.  There were photographers, dancers and yoga instructors at the table, of all nationalities and backgrounds, all enjoying Chef Ho’s special meal and free flowing glasses of wine to a backdrop of contemporary art.

There were bottomless bowls of crispy shrimp chips and deep fried black sesame chips, light airy crackers of rice and tapioca flour that were augmented with Chef Ho’s special cashew butter- a nutty spread of toasted cashews infused with the most subtle hint of fish sauce and garlic that made it simply irresistible.

Scallop Crudo/Cucumbers/Dragon Fruit/Kaffir

Cucumbers, diced pears and little black dragon fruit seeds added delightful crunchy textures and subtle sweet nuances to the tender scallop crudo, a plate of elegant flavors but for a bold spike of vibrant Kaffir lime oil drizzled with restraint.  The wine pairing with a 2007 Dr. H. Thanisch Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Kabinett, a beautiful Riesling with bright citrus notes, was particularly fantastic and memorable.

Roasted Prawns/Spinach/Chanterelle/Sauce Choron

The meatiest of roasted prawns, its taut flesh bursting with juicy sweetness, sat atop a bed of sautéed chanterelles and spinach, brought together with a creamy and pleasantly acidic Choron sauce and paired with a 2010 Matthiasson Sauvignon Blanc/Ribolla Gialla blend from Napa Valley.  Simple and classic, yet superbly executed and incredibly delicious, this was the dish that amplified the crowd’s level of excitement to a festive frenzy.

Rice Noodles/Chicken/Lemongrass/Chinese Broccoli

There was comfort and love in the bouncy rice noodles curled into garganelli, chewy little tubes of pasta tossed in a bowl of ground lemongrass chicken, Chinese broccoli and crispy fried shallots.  It was a long time Má Pêche classic that many of us Angelenos were happy to experience for the first time, a satisfying plate of heart and soul paired with a 2010 Scholium Project La Severita di Bruto Sauvignon Blanc.

Hanger Steak/Eggplant/Tomato/Thai Basil

A majestic tower of eggplant caponata and tomato Thai basil bruschetta stood tall behind two seemingly innocent beef medallions, which upon close inspection revealed themselves as cuts of hanger steak molded with meat glue.  It was a clever disguise, one that would have easily gone unnoticed if not for the chef’s confession, but one which we would promptly appreciate after the first bite into the most tender and flavorful piece of meat.  The meat course was paired with a bottle of 2009 Frith Grenache from Napa Valley, a personal wine project of Cory Lane’s that showed tremendous potential.

Grapes/Rosemary/Honey/Cinnamon Ice Cream

Velvety cinnamon gelato from Il Laboratorio del Gelato in New York was served with wedges of oatmeal crumble and plump grapes sautéed in butter, honey and rosemary, the refreshing notes of rosemary filling our palates with each successive bite.  There were endless refills of cinnamon gelato for the table along with generous pours of 2007 Rieussec Sauternes to conclude the meal.

With amazing food from a celebrated and loved chef, unique wines to explore and a beautiful venue in a hidden location that added to the mystery and allure, the first dinner at Rogue Upstairs had all the makings of a successful underground supper club, but there was so much more to this one.  There was a genuine joie de vivre shared by all who entered through the door, a contagious spirit emanating from the Rogue Upstairs hosts who treated newcomers with as much familiarity and love as their close friends.  By the end of the dessert course the crowd had tripled and the music amped, and it had become a hub of wine, conversation and even more food- a home away from home.  Keep your antennae raised for news on Chef Tien Ho’s upcoming ventures and future Rogue Upstairs dinners.  Come for the food and stay for the fun.

Rogue Upstairs

Random trivia: Did you know that a hanger steak is a cut from the diaphragm of a steer? The diaphragm is one large muscle, cut into two parts- the hanger steak and the outside skirt steak.

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さんだ Sanda- Tokyo, Japan

Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Chanel are arguably the top 3 powerhouse fashion brands that have been dressing, tressing and decorating beautiful women from head to toe for decades.  Their easily recognizable logos are splashed all over bags and clothes on international fashion runways and magazine covers.  Similarly, in the beef realm we have Kobe, Matsuzaka and Yonezawa, the 3 famous sandai wagyu brands that reign supreme in the bovine world with their unique method of breeding and exquisite marbled meat.  These respective haute couture and haute cuisine trios are international icons with A-list star status.

And then…there’s Hermès. Incomparable in craftsmanship, each carefully hand-constructed by dedicated artisans, ultra luxurious and a timeless classic.  The illustrious Birkin bag (a larger version of the Kelly), for one, is a fashion legend that is known to fetch up to $19K with a 6 year waiting list.  Such is the Sanda gyu in the wagyu world, a more exclusive beef brand in a league of its own with only a handful of farmers who raise less than 1000 cattle per year.  While Sanda gyu is served selectively at upscale steakhouses like Aragawa for a price that could buy an Hermès clutch, one can sample this highly prized beef at a more affordable restaurant in Tokyo called Sanda after its illustrious namesake.

The only catch is that you won’t be sinking your teeth into juicy cuts of sirloin and rib eye steak.  Sanda restaurant, tucked in a quiet neighborhood behind the Tokyo Midtown Complex in Roppongi, only serves Sanda wagyu offals.  Every part of the glorious specimen of Japanese cow is treated with utmost respect and served elegantly in kaiseki style, elevating beef organs to a 1 Michelin star status.  My first meal at Sanda 6 years ago, in the Akasaka location that has since closed, was a life-changing experience.  Luscious cuts of cow blood vessels, intestines and reproductive organs opened my eyes to a whole new world of innards and showed me the path to offal nirvana.  It was time for me to make my pilgrimage back to this holy shrine for an awakening of the senses and transcendence into offal enlightenment.

前菜:アキレス腱ポン酢

Due to the interesting selection of cuts, the chefs serve each course without an introduction.  ‘Try it first, then I will tell you’ is their motto, as they watch each diner’s reactions with mischievous smiles.  The restaurant blooms with conversation and laughter as playful exchanges between guests and chefs come naturally.  The first course, for one, had me stumped.  A dainty starter of soft semi-translucent strips with chopped scallions, spicy momiji oroshi grated daikon and ponzu sauce was all about texture- pliable with a subtle crunch, a pleasant elasticity and bounce against my teeth, all owing to the high collagen content of julienned Achilles tendon.

ハツモト中華風

Then came the hatsumoto, directly translating to ‘the root of the heart’, aka ascending aorta, the largest main artery that stems from the left ventricle of the heart to deliver oxygenated blood all throughout the body.  Thick batonnets of aorta with the texture of semi-firm cheese and a mellow buttery savor were exceptionally delicious tossed with sesame oil, shaved Tokyo negi and togarashi chile, one of my favorite bites of the evening.

ハチノス胡麻和え

Another sensational hit from the tasting menu was the hachinosu honeycomb tripe, the second stomach of the cow, with its firm chewy texture and ever so delicate hint of wonderful gaminess, balanced by the creamy white sesame dressing that made the sake flow easily.

フワ辛子醤油

Sanda is quite possibly one of the only restaurants in the world to serve beef lung and do it so elegantly, showcasing its bold minerality and iron flavor in a simple preparation with soy sauce and Japanese karashi mustard.  Referred to as fuwa by the chefs, taken from the onomatopoeia fuwa fuwa to describe something soft and fluffy, these pink cuts of pulmonary tissue were indeed spongy and light, juxtaposed against the delicate crunch of the cartilaginous bronchioles.

椀物:牛タン団子のスープ

The stand out course of the evening was the beef tongue and throat cartilage dango meatball soup, a densely packed yet soft flavorful meatball with finely chopped bits of crunchy cartilage for fun marvelous texture.  The enticing aromas that wafted through my nares and the warmth of the delicate broth that seemed to spread down my esophagus straight through to my toes left me sipping this bowl of comfort in silence with a long lingering sigh of content on the finish.

刺身:レバーの刺身

Glistening crimson red slices of liver sashimi adorned with white sesame seeds and chopped scallions were creamy and silky like crème fraîche, surprisingly sweet with absolutely no iron flavor characteristic of this organ.  A quick dip in salted sesame oil rendered these delightful segments even more slippery on the tongue, making for an intense session of culinary foreplay.

牛トロ寿司

Harami, commonly known as hanger steak from the cow’s diaphragm, was prepared as delectable sushi, one topped with wasabi and the other with Japanese karashi mustard for a side by side of eastern and western interpretations.

揚げ物:ミノの唐揚げ

As the chef placed this deep fried dish in front of me, I caught his look of challenge in eyes.  ‘Guess which part of the cow this is,’ he seemed to say with his smiling eyes, as my taste buds pondered over this elastic piece in deep thought.  Springy, pliable, but with added layers of juicy flavor through every successive bite, it was obvious that it was a part of the digestive tract.  It was mino, the first stomach, deep fried with shishito pepper and dipped in sea salt and curry powder, a delicious morsel to complement our sake.

煮物:ほほ肉のシチュー

It seemed unfair to be served only 2 bites of Sanda’s breathtakingly delicious beef cheek stew, tender cuts of richly flavored meat braised in red wine long enough to melt its connective tissue layers into liquid umami.  Having fallen under its hypnotic spell, I slurped the sauce down to its last drop with no shame, chasing this liquid gold down with a Japanese plum wine made from red wine infused plums.

焼き物:四種

For the grilled course, the chef presented the 4 beef selections of the evening.  Plates of coarsely chopped daikon radish and finely chopped cabbage were served to enjoy with the fattier cuts of grilled meat, while 3 types of soy sauce (wasabi, garlic and ginger) were presented to use as dipping sauces.

膵臓

Pancreas was surprisingly light, lean and tender, reminding me of grilled chicken thighs, going well with the wasabi soy sauce.

ほほ肉

Thinly sliced beef cheeks had a little more texture and robustness, augmented by the zing of ginger soy sauce.

やん

A first for me, the next grilled course was called yan, the thick knobby portion of connective tissue between the 2nd and 3rd stomach of the cow.  Definitely more chewy and dense, this morsel was all about flavor- the more one chews, the more flavors are extracted, until the jaw fatigues and cannot chew anymore.

ハラミ

Harami, the rear diaphragm, was unexpectedly fatty and juicy, turning into liquid fat at the first bite.  Dipped in wasabi soy sauce, these were intensely rich bites that went well with the crispness of coarsely chopped daikon radish.

鍋:牛タンのしゃぶしゃぶ

4 perfect thin slices of Sanda beef tongue were presented across the counter for the final wagyu course, a shabu shabu.

ギアラ、しびれ

Wrapped around crisp stems of mizuna greens, the delicate slices of tongue were tender and delicious, but the star players in the ponzu dish were the bite sized servings of savory giara, the 4th stomach of the cow, and shibire, buttery sweetbreads/thymus glands that simply melted in my mouth.

〆:中華麺                                                                                                                        デザート:黒胡麻アイスクリーム

Slurping ramen noodles in a light beef based broth, spiked with green onions and a generous sprinkling of coarse black pepper, followed by a simple dessert of dark black sesame ice cream, was the perfect way to end the inspirational meal of beef offals.

Only in Japan can such an experience be possible- a full course kaiseki of beef innards, expertly prepared and elegantly presented to be worthy of a Michelin star, for the quality of the Sanda wagyu brand naturally renders its innards at a similarly high quality.  Not once did I feel like I was having entrails, waste products normally thrown to the hounds, for the freshness of the ingredients, the delicacy of the flavors and the beauty of simple plating elevated the dining experience to one of luxury and finesse.  For a lavish adventure into organ meats, pay a visit to Sanda and allow the friendly welcoming staff to guide you into a whole new world of beef.

Sanda                                                                                                                            Wagyu Restaurant                                                                                                         4-5-9 Roppongi                                                                                                    Minato-ku, Tokyo Japan                                                                                 03-3423-2020

Random trivia:  Cows ‘moo’ in English, but they make other sounds around the world.

Afrikaans: moe-moe                                                                                                   Bengali: hamba                                                                                                              Dutch: boeh                                                                                                                   French: meuh                                                                                                          Hungarian: bú                                                                                                            Korean: um-muuu                                                                                                         Thai: maw maw

Hatfield’s

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Hatfield’s Restaurant in West Hollywood has been a solid establishment for many years, receiving recognition and praise from numerous gourmet magazines and critics.  I don’t know why I waited so long to dine there- in fact, I dined there the week before they closed down the Beverly location.  It was high on my radar since the time I read the article in Los Angeles Magazine some few years back when they won Best Restaurant of the Year.  I was excited to finally try Quinn Hatfield’s food and wife Karen Hatfield’s famed desserts.

The store front is almost easy to miss, but once inside it’s a peaceful zen haven from the hectic streets of Los Angeles.  Soft glowing candlelight on top of perfectly ironed white tablecloths illuminate the simple minimalist decor which is tended to by courteous and attentive servers who stand tall, straight and confident.  We were offered complimentary starters of sweet corn chowder and deviled quail eggs with smoked trout.  The deviled eggs with smoked trout were wonderfully flavorful with a smooth creamy texture, and the sweetness of the summer corn chowder reminded me of happy childhood memories.

The warm cuttlefish salad with sunchoke purée, sautéed maitake mushrooms, baby arugula and crispy artichoke was my favorite dish of the evening.  It was only their 2nd day of serving this dish, and I hope it will remain a staple on their menu.

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The cuttlefish was thinly sliced and cooked rare to maintain a tender and delicate consistency.  The components of this dish were all simple and  uncomplicated, and the preparation was unassuming and unpretentious.  Yet, it was one of the most incredible dishes.  It paired wonderfully with the sharp dryness of a glass of Voignier.

I was interested to try the roasted Bobo Farm foie gras with pain d’epice crust, beluga lentils and apple rosemary purée.  I’ve had plenty of Hudson Valley Farms foie gras, but never tried the Bobo Farm version (both from upstate New York).  It was quite lovely with a nice fatty robust flavor and delicate tender consistency.

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I wasn’t crazy about the apple cider purée at first when I tasted it solo, but when paired with the foie gras it mellowed out the fattiness of the foie really well.  The maitake also when eaten solo was just okay, but when combining all of the components of this dish together in one bite, it made sense.  This dish paired fabulously with a glass of Albariño that had a wonderful sweet intensity and depth yet with a light finish.

Next we had the slow roasted pork belly with brown butter asparagus, apricot mustard and fines herbes salad.  This was another dish, like the foie gras, where all of the components needed to be eaten together to truly enjoy the chef’s vision.  Still, the apricot purée was way too sweet for my taste and overpowered all of the other flavors.  The asparagus and leeks were cooked to a perfect consistency and the pork was nicely tender.

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I’m not one to ever order fish entrées as I’m usually never impressed, and this was another experience in which I was right.  My dining partner ordered the Branzino filet with roasted haricot vert, red onion soubise, dried apricot, crispy almonds and caper crunch which was just okay.  The dish was plated beautifully wtih vibrant colors and layers of different textures, but none of the flavors really popped out, and the apricot bits added an overwhelming sweetness to the dish.

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On the other hand, my meat dish of pan roasted hanger steak and slow cooked horseradish dusted short ribs with spring onion confit and smoked potato purée was a delight.  Both cuts of meat were superbly tender, but I especially enjoyed the perfectly roasted hanger steak.  There was a lot of incredible flavor and juice in each slice of steak, and the reduction sauce was simple, classic and delectable.  A beautiful pairing with a rich glass of Malbec.

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I was really surprised that the component I enjoyed the most on this dish was the smoked potato purée.  In case you haven’t noticed, all of the dishes have some type of vegetable or fruit purée generously carpeted under the other components.  I didn’t particularly enjoy the super sweet apple cider or apricot purées in the previous dishes, so I wasn’t excited to pick at yet another purée.  This was probably the best mashed potatoes I have ever tasted in my life.  With a perfect rich and creamy consistency and the most insane smokey flavor, these potatoes were marvelous.  I think I put down my fork and used my fingers to wipe off the last visible bits of potato.

For dessert I thoroughly enjoyed the sugar and spice dusted beignets with Venezuelan chocolate fondue and vanilla malted milkshake shot.  The cinnamon dusted beignets were heavenly- these warm pillows of delight were so cushiony soft like big marshmallows that I had to eat them quickly before they floated up into the sky.  The warm Venezuelan dark chocolate fondue was rich and sumptuous, and the vanilla malted milkshake shot was even better.  I can’t believe they only give you a small shot glass- give me a pint! This dessert was aptly paired with a glass of 10 year Tawny port.  Perfection.

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The chilled Santa Rosa plum soup with vanilla-candied ginger ice cream and almond macaroon sandwich was okay.  The plum soup was certainly refreshing with a nice balance of sweet and tart, but I wasn’t crazy about the macaroon sandwich.  A bit too heavy and starchy for the end of this meal.  However, it was elegantly paired with Moscat d’Asti dessert wine that was light and fruity.

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Overall my meal at Hatfield’s was pretty impressive.  Quinn Hatfield has good command of seasonal ingredients and I love his no-fuss style.  In this age where chefs try too hard to fancy up their cuisine with powdered this, nitrogen frozen that or foamed these, it was refreshing to have a no-nonsense good meal with simple fresh ingredients and solid execution.

Hatfield’s

6703 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 935-2977

Hatfield’s recently closed down their Beverly Boulevard location, and re-opened in the previous Red Pearl Kitchen space on Melrose Avenue.  Meanwhile, Chef Mark Gold has taken over the Beverly space and opened his new restaurant Eva.

Random trivia:  Maitake in Japanese means ‘dancing mushroom’, named because the shape of the mushroom resembles that of a dancing nymph.  It is also believed that the origin of the name comes from the fact that maitake are rare and precious, so those who found it danced with joy.