The Tasting Kitchen

And on the 20th night, Lane created…..tajarin.

IMG_0452When AK Restaurant + Bar on Abbot Kinney Blvd in Venice abruptly closed its doors in June, they decided to make the most of this change and create a temporary transitional restaurant concept.  Chef Casey Lane of ClarkLewis restaurant drove down with devoted staff all the way from Portland Oregon to open what they call ‘a transparent culinary case study’.  For 8 weeks only, they will offer a constantly changing menu featuring bold flavors of Spanish, Moroccan and Italian influence using fresh seasonal ingredients.  The menu is comprised of a list of basic food items that are to be presented- oysters, farm egg, sausage, heirloom lettuce, cod, lamb, steak, pork, burger, etc.  The blank line following each item is then carefully handwritten each day by the staff, filled in with the evolving concept and preparation du jour.  The Italian wine and spirits list is also unique and unconventional, itself also changing to fit the menu concept.

IMG_0882Fortunately, I was lucky enough to score a table attended to by Maxwell, one of Lane’s trusted team members that he brought from Portland.  I have never met a server who was more knowledgable and passionate about the restaurant’s vision, food preparation and wines, than Maxwell.  The way he described each dish- the marinade, the length of time of preparation, the oils used, the spices and herbs, how coarsely something was ground, how firmly the potatoes were pressed onto the cast iron grill- and his incredible knowledge of each wine- which region of Italy it is from, how long the grapes were sweetened on the vine, how the subtle sweetness would complement the dishes we ordered- made mIMG_0456e just as excited and passionate about the experience.  Halfway through my dinner I started to wonder if he was actually the mastermind behind this project.  It was a pleasant reminder that it’s not just the food or restaurant decor that make a dining experience special- it’s the staff and their temperament.  If you can sense that they share the same passion, enthusiasm and philosophy as the chef, it elevates the meal to a whole new level.

We started off with the ‘Farm Egg’.  A whole fresh farm egg perfectly cooked in a small cast iron pan served with hand cut tajarin pasta in an italian sage brown butter sauce.  Tajarin pasta are egg yolk rich noodles from the Piedmont region of Italy which are cut into fine thin strands. This pasta was some of the best that I’ve had in a very long time.  Such incredible texture with the just the right firmness and density (what we call ‘koshi’ in Japanese), a robust and slightly chewy consistency reflective of fresh made pasta yet with a delicate finish.  These noodles were perfectly cut and seasoned, and it went exquisitely with the aptly paired Piedmont Cortese white, which had a nice rich muscat sweetness yet with a light finish.

The ‘Beans’ dish had yellow and green wax beans, quickly blanched and tossed with ground walnuts, hazelnuts and argan oil, served with burratta and jamon iberico pata negra.  Another dish that just blew me away and made me go on “Wow” repeat mode.   I never imagined that a simple bean salad dish would ever make me surrender like this.  The incredible textures of the crisp wax beans with the finely ground nuts and soft burratta cheese were incredibly pleasing.  The deep nuttiness of the argan oil coupled with the saltiness of the tender jamon iberico was amazing.  Every component of this dish played strongly in my mouth.  I could eat this every day.

Next we had the ‘Wings’, fried chicken wings in a flax seed and apple cider marinade with chopped spring onions. The wings were perfectly cooked with crispy flavorful skin on the outside and moist tender fall-off-the-bones meat on the inside.  The apple cider marinade was nicely sweet and tart.  These wings should come by the bucket.  They paired nicely with the Puglia primitivo red.

The ‘Mackerel’- marinated and grilled fresh mackerel served with cast iron grilled potatoes, sausage and piquillo peppers, with a maitake prosecco butter lemon sauce.  The mackerel was perfectly seasoned and blackened, and it was splendid with the intense smokey flavors of the sausage and peppers.  The sauce was not as memorable, but the overall dish was certainly packed with some powerful flavors.  It was beautiful with a glass of white Slovenian ribolla gialla that Maxwell again successfully paired for us.

The ‘Escarole’ salad had olive oil poached albacore tuna, dressed with fried capers and a viniagrette made from the tuna stock and lemon. The soft flavors of the poached albacore went well with the distinct sharp bitterness of the escarole, and I loved the crunchy texture and saltiness that the fried capers brought to the dish.

For dessert we had ‘Fruit’, the lemon semifreddo with pistachios and honey. The lemon gelato was nicely tart and smooth, though I was more intrigued by the complimentary glass of dessert wine that Maxwell generously served us (can you tell that I’m in love with this guy Maxwell?!).  The La Roncaia Picolit white, made from grapes sun dried on straw mats, was sweet like honey and smooth like silk.  Divine.

IMG_0488I wish I had more space in my stomach to try everything on the menu.  I’ll have to return soon before this temporary culinary experiment, more like a transitory art exhibit, closes and the new full fledged restaurant opens in that space.  Hurry and make your reservation soon before this magical experience disappears just as quickly as the wind.  They’re open for lunch and they have a walk-in communal table by the bar if you can’t score dinner reservations.

Update: The Tasting Kitchen, during its temporary run, has been so popular that it has continued on to remain as a permanent restaurant.  They’re now open for lunch too, and they still serve fantastic food and cocktails.

The Tasting Kitchen

1633 Abbot Kinney Boulevard
Venice, CA 90291-3744
(310) 392-6644

Random trivia: Cooking in a cast iron pan can really increase your daily iron intake, which is especially good for women who are at risk for iron deficiency anemia.  Researchers found that the iron in one serving of tomato sauce increased from under one milligram to almost 6 mg when cooked in an iron pan. The iron in scrambled eggs increased from 1.5 mg to 5 mg. Most surprising is applesauce. A 100-gram serving went from .35 mg of iron to over 7 mg when cooked in cast iron. Wow.

The Curious Palate

This is a long overdue blog entry about one of my favorite joints in Los Angeles, The Curious Palate.  It’s a very special and sacred place that my friends Mark Cannon and Elliot Rubin opened in Mar Vista last December.  Constructed with reclaimed material and  ‘green’ engineering, and designed with eco-friendly paints and antique flea market decor, this farm-to-table concept eatery represents everything that I love about food.  They can tell you exactly where they got all of their ingredients, whether from the local farmer’s market, a select fishmonger, a certain butcher, or a specialty cheese producer.  Their menu changes to incorporate seasonal specialties and flavors.  They offer an incredible selection of gourmet chocolates, oils, jams, cheeses and sodas.  They will welcome you with a warm smile and give you the best personalized loving service you could ever dream of.

IMG_8994

The newly opened beautiful patio

The newly opened beautiful patio

I’ve always been a huge fan of Mark’s cooking.  I’ve known Mark for many years now, as he is married to one of my childhood friends Emi who I’ve known since the 6th grade.  I could tell that he had an electic and refined taste in food by the dishes he ordered at our outing to Grand Sichuan when they still lived in New York City many years ago.  I was impressed when he cooked an elaborate 10 course meal for 14 people in their Brooklyn apartment.  I was touched when he roasted a delicious leg of lamb for us at his wife’s mini slumber party.  I was intrigued by the selection of exotic seafood that he bought during our stroll through Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo when we met up over one winter break.  So you can imagine, I was ecstatic when Mark and Emi decided to leave New York to move back to Los Angeles a couple of years ago to open a gourmet market and kitchen.

Chef Mark in the kitchen

Chef Mark in the kitchen

The Curious Palate is the brainchild of best friends Mark and Elliot.  The Curious Palate offers a wonderful selection of salads, some of which are dressed with Elliot’s famous balsamic vinegar dressing.  The vegetables soups and hearty double pork chili will nourish your soul.  The signature dish here is Mark’s Famous Mac and Cheese.  It’s made with Gruyere surchoix, goat cheese, blue paradise and sharp vintage cheddar.  Beware- it’s highly addictive!

IMG_3251They offer several main courses, of which I am a huge fan of the Bratwurst with cumin carrots and onions, and the Lamb Lasagna with spinach, roasted tomatoes, ricotta and fresh mozzarella.  They’re both absolutely delicious.  Next on my list of items to try are the Yucatan pork stew and the Miso braised short rib stew, but they always change up their menu to offer new innovative flavor combinations using fresh seasonal ingredients.

The Curious Palate is perhaps most famous for their wonderful sandwiches.  They have about 20 to choose from, and it is always a huge dilemma for me every time I step into that restaurant.  I’ve tried pretty much everything on their menu, but every time I go to the restaurant, it seems like their list of menu items written on big hanging blackboards keeps expanding.  My favorites are….

The Cubano: slow roasted pork, Fra’Mani ham, house cured pickles, cheese and mustard which they sell in the store, on a pressed rustic roll. The succulent slow roasted pork and Fra’Mani ham give the sandwich a wonderful smokey flavor.  The house cured pickles are just incredible.  This used to be my favorite sandwich until they introduced the pastrami reuben.

IMG_3246The smoked salmon sandwich: locally smoked salmon (they can tell you the names of the people who smoked it!), avocado, cucumber, sorrel and mustard seed oil on 5 grain bread.  The thick slices of smoked salmon are extremely tender and simply melt in your mouth.  I love the slight kick of the mustard seed oil and the citrus tanginess of the sorrel.  A wonderful play of flavors!

IMG_2110Sloppy Giuseppe (Italian version of the Sloppy Joe): slow braised lamb shoulder ragu and white bean puree on a brioche roll.  Absolutely tender and melt in your mouth good.  I’m actually a bigger fan of the Sloppy Jiao (asian version of the Sloppy Joe) with slow braised pork, scallions, shiitake mushrooms and spinach in a soy ginger sauce on a brioche roll.  It’s not currently on the menu, but I will start a petition to bring it back.   Here’s a photo of that delicious Sloppy Jiao that I so dearly miss:

IMG_3249Another wonderful sandwich is the BBQ Pork: Berkshire pork braised overnight, with BBQ sauce on a brioche roll.  It paired nicely with their homemade coleslaw.  Succulent tender pulled pork with its savory juices and drippings penetrating into the soft buttery brioche bun.  Mmmm…divine!

IMG_9006Other sandwiches that I recommend are the prosciutto panini (prosciutto, mozzarella, baby artichokes and red peppers on a pressed rustic roll), the meatloaf burger (their signature housemade meatloaf to die for, lettuce, caper mayo on brioche), and the blue paradise (flat iron steak, arugula, pickled scallions, blue cheese spread on a baguette).

For dessert you can try the chocolate chip cookies, scones, choco vivo brownies, or tarts made with house made pate-sable dough and organic custard with farmer’s market berries.  Accompany it with Intelligentsia espressos, lattes and teas freshly brewed in-house.  My choice beverages at The Curious Palate are their freshly squeezed orange juice and strawberry juicy.  Afterward, browse through the market to see their amazing selection of gourmet goods.  They have chocolates from Eclipse (12 types, including sweet basil-mint, sea-salt nib and blackberry sage), Lula’s, Bovetti, L’oven, Chocovivo, Michel Cluizel, Michael Mischer, Coco luxe, Café-Tasse and Kshocolat (try the Orange Cardamom).  Their fridge is stocked with drinks like Vignette wine country sodas, Fizzy Lizzy fruit sodas, Mill Road apple cider and flavored Kombucha.  Go home with any of the Breakfast in Paris preserves or Vila Vella honeys.  Or better yet, try the Curious Palate housemade raspberry, blueberry and strawberry jams.

IMG_9007Press your nose up to the cheese and charcuterie glass cases and admire the selection.  What will you have tonight with your bottle of wine?  Angelo and Franco ricotta and mozzarella?  French Brebirousse, Italian Blu di Langa, or Canadian super sharp vintage cheddar?  Shall we pair it with Fra’Mani salamis, guanciale, bresaola or Bratwurst?  And don’t forget the balsamic glazed strawberries, marinated beets, and marinated artichokes, all made with love and care by Mark.

The Curious Palate is now open for breakfast, and the citrus perfumed French Toast and smoked salmon omelette are to die for. 

Intrigued?  CURIOUS?

Then go!!

The Curious Palate

12034 Venice Blvd, Los Angeles 

 (310) 437-0144

Random trivia:   Rou Jia Mo is China’s version of the Sloppy Joe.  It’s chopped stewed pork stuffed inside ‘mo’, a type of flatbread.  Rou Jia Mo could be the world’s oldest sandwich or hamburger, since the history of the bread dates back to the Qin Dynasty (221 BC – 206 BC) and that of the meat to the Zhou Dynasty (1045 BC to 256 BC).