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.

The Hidden Kitchen – Paris

Through a twist of fate and good luck, my last dinner in Paris turned out to be an exclusive and memorable experience.  The Hidden Kitchen is a secret IMG_5968underground supper club held on weekends in a lovely apartment in the posh 1st arrondissement.  The gracious hosts who live in the apartment are a lovely young American couple who moved from Seattle to Paris a few years ago.  Braden Perkins, the chef, and his girlfriend Laura Adrian cook a 7 course meal with wine pairings for 16 guests who are lucky enough not only to know about this club, but also to make it onto the list.  Although my friend e-mailed a dinner request several weeks before our Paris trip, it was only the day before that we got confirmation that we were in.

I remember the moment we received the confirmation.  I told my friend excitedly “Yes yes!  Hurry and call them back before we lose our spot!”  It was tIMG_5991oo good to be true- the trouble of securing reservations at this special dinner in itself heightens the whole experience.  Then we got information on the secret location.  I will only tell you that it’s in a lovely part of Paris, oh about a 10 minute walk from the Louvre.  As we entered the building that evening and took the tiny elevator up to the designated floor, I remember feeling a bit nervous.  What is the meal going to be like?  What are the other guests going to be like?  Are we dressed appropriately?  The hallway was quiet and we didn’t hear a sound.  Were we even in the right place?  We knocked on the door, and the moment those large doors swung open, we were greeted by the sounds of laughter and rolling conversation, the smell of food wafting from the kitchen, a friendly handshake from Laura, and a glass of Gratien and Meyer mimosa.

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The apartment was beautiful.  Pristine wooden floors, crown moldings, ceiling to floor window drapes framing the beautiful view of the city, a marble fireplace, a perfectly set long table for 16 under a shimmering chandelier, and warm glowing candlelight everywhere.  The icing on the cake was their adorable Boston terrier Tattie who shared his love with every guest.

The guests were mostly American, and we also had a fun group of 4 Aussies and Kiwis.  Amazingly no French, even though we were in the middle of Paris.  It was strange to be in this lovely Parisian apartment speaking only English and talking about American culture and news.

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As we settled into our seats and perused the neatly presented dinner menu, Braden gave us a warm welcome and explained the amuse bouche- pickled onions and queso fresco on a squid ink cracker.  Braden came out before each course to introduce and describe the dish that he prepared in the tiny kitchen.

The first course was a fava bean ravioli with sweet peas in a green garlic spring onion sauce, garnished with dehydrated carrots, parsley and toasted crostini.  A nourishing ravioli dish with nice added crisp textures from the carrots and crostini.  This was paired with a Sancerre 2005 from Domaine de L’Estang Ligers, a light white that left a lingering sweetness on my tongue.

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The second course was a poached egg served with a chilled white asparagus marinated in white truffle oil and lemon, with a parmigiano mornay sauce and garnished with a hat of marinated leeks.  Contrary to its hearty appearance, this dish was a bit on the bland side and could have used a little more acidity.  Although the asparagus was a tad undercooked, it was nice to be eating fresh seasonal foods.  This was paired with a beautiful 2007 Chateau La Bertrande Bordeaux which was my one of my favorite wines of the evening.  It had a fine interplay of dry and sweet flavors.

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The third course was seared Atlantic salmon seasoned with salt and white pepper in a rhubarb bay leaf sauce, served with kohlrabi lime and nigella seed coleslaw, and a flaxseed cracker.  The salmon was perfectly cooked and went beautifully with the delicate rhubarb sauce.  It was paired with a 2005 Chateau de L’Aulée from Touraine Azay Le Rideau of the Loire valley, which had a sweet caramel flavor.

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The next course was a pan fried mackerel battered in buckwheat flour, served with chive feta, a poppyseed cracker, cucumbers and a red pepper sauce.  The crispy texture and light flavor of the cucumber complemented the superb mackerel that was incredibly fresh and delicious.  I wasn’t a fan of the red pepper sauce which tasted like Chinese sweet and sour sauce.  The dish was paired with an Aquilon 2007 Grenache-Syrah blend from Roussillon, which is close to the Spanish border.  I loved this wine which was deep and rich, and not too sweet for a rosé.

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The palate cleanser was a playful take on an American classic.  Called ‘The Derby’, it was a bourbon jello with lime sorbet and mint garnish.  The jello had a nice strong bourbon kick and the lime sorbet was refreshing.  This would be perfect for a balmy summer evening.  A simple, lovely and revitalizing culinary delight.

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The meat dish was a lemon zest and garlic stuffed pork roulade with a brown sugar crust.  It was served with white bean, fennel and frisée salad on a bed of basil pesto, an asparagus spear, a deep fried artichoke heart and lemon aioli dot.  Although I initially felt like the dish was too busy with so many different flavors and components, it all worked well and I really enjoyed it.  The overall balance of flavors was refreshing, although the meat was on the dry side.  It was paired with a Côtes du Rhone 2006 from Domaine La Millière.

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I loved the beautiful and unique presentation of the beet salad.  Wild arugula speared through a tart cherry looked like a miniature beet, though the real beet in this dish was a rectangular piece of tender roasted beet flavored with balsamic vinegar and a dollop of goat cheese on tart cherry purée.  A simple but well thought-out dish with strong bold flavors.  This was paired with a Mas Du Notaire 2007 Costieres de Nimes from Rhone Valley which was tart and still young.

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For dessert we had rhubarb mint sorbet with shortbread cake and macerated strawberries.  The strawberries were sweet and delicious and the sorbet was light and refreshing.  The shortbread cake was a bit of a disappointment- it was rock hard, unbreakable and inedible.

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The petits fours prepared by Laura from the top going clockwise: honey salted peanut caramel, rice krispy treat, blueberry pâte de fruit and tonka bean dark chocolate truffle.  I didn’t taste any since I’m not a petits fours type of person, but everybody else seemed to enjoy them.

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It’s truly amazing that Chef Braden whipped out a beautiful 7 course meal for 16 people all by himself from a tiny closet sized kitchen, all the while maintaining a perfect flow of service and also managing to come out to chat with everybody before presenting each dish.  IMG_6011Laura was a perfect and professional hostess, never ceasing to smile and always staying cool and calm as she effortlessly functioned as sommelier and server to a table of 16.  Even though we were all tourists in this beautiful city of lights, for those few magical hours that night it felt like we were hanging out with close friends back home.  It’s a special feeling to be welcomed into somebody’s home, to be invited into their sacred space as guests of honor, to be fed with food cooked from the heart and straight from the oven, and to be able to say goodbye to new friends with a warm hug and a ‘let’s keep in touch!’ at the end of the night.  This exclusive experience was worth every 80 Euros, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

The Hidden Kitchen

Random trivia:  Did you know that in Islam, the nigella seed is regarded as one of the greatest forms of healing medicine available?   The prophet Muhammad once said that the black seed can heal every disease—except death.