There’s nothing I love more in life than traveling and eating. I love my hometown of Los Angeles, but on any given day I’d rather be overseas exploring foreign lands and sampling exotic delicacies. Both through work and for fun, I’ve somehow managed to travel to over 15 countries in the last 2 years- and this doesn’t even include my annual trips to Japan to visit my family. Traveling the world is exciting, but with unpacked suitcases and travel gear perpetually scattered all over the floors of my house, even this enthusiastic globetrotter can feel weary of planes, trains and automobiles sometimes. Fortunately, at the most recent Hatchi dinner event at the Breadbar in Century City, I was able to take a virtual trip around the world without packing my carry-on or even leaving my zip code.
The Hatchi dinner event, created by Ironnori concepts in collaboration with the Breadbar, has been introducing a guest chef every month for a special evening of 8 dishes for $8 each (Hatchi means 8 in Japanese). With past appearances by both up and coming chefs and already established chefs, enthusiastic diners have had the opportunity to enjoy innovative and delicious food for a bargain price while chefs have enjoyed complete freedom to showcase their vision. I’ve had some spectacular dinners at the Hatchi event with Remi Lauvand, Marcel Vigneron, Ricardo Zarate, Saul Cooperstein and Brian Redzikowski. For June, in a rare motion of featuring a well established and already famous chef who really doesn’t need such a venue to promote himself, Hatchi featured Walter Manzke, formerly of Bastide and recently the anchor behind Church & State. Since leaving the restaurant a few months ago, Manzke has been searching for a new place to call home, amidst much talk and anticipation from his LA fans who fell in love with his hearty bistro fare at Church & State. His Hatchi dinner, called ‘Around the World…in 8 dishes’, featured dishes that represented flavors from 8 different countries, from the Far East to just south of the border.
As we perused the menu, an amuse bouche of shrimp cocktail shooters came to the table. Lightly grilled shrimp on skewers were sweet and succulent, while clear cocktail sauce in a shot glass went down quite easily, surprising us with its unexpectedly deep and complex flavors. The lack of color at first tricked my brain into assuming that the liquid was going to taste like something watered down, but how surprising that it tasted just like refined cocktail sauce with a clean tomato water-like flavor.
Warm and toasty Breadbar epi bread was offered for an extra charge with either French Echire butter or foie gras butter, and without hesitation or even a second thought, we ordered the rich and decadent block of what almost tasted like pure foie gras coated with honey gelée and accessorized with gold flakes to up the bling factor.
The first stop on our global Manzke tour was south of the border in Mexico, represented by a yellowtail ceviche dish with tomatillo sorbet, a dollop of avocado cream, microgreens and citrus wedges. The cold tomatillo sorbet was surprisingly refreshing and light, working in unison with the citrus to complement the fattiness and juiciness of the tender yellowtail sashimi.
Flying across the Pacific Ocean, we arrived in the Land of Smiles, Thailand, for one of my favorite dishes of the evening. Although I love a good mussel dish, I’m rarely ever impressed with any restaurant rendition- this one was different. The perfectly cooked mussels were plump and savory in the white corn curry soup which was silky, sweet and bursting with flavor. Little round tapioca pearls and whole peanuts hiding inside of the white soup added playful textures to each spoonful of coconut milk heaven that I hastily ladled into my mouth down to the last drop.
Manzke’s interpretation of the classic Vietnamese banh mi sandwich came in little slider buns hugging a thick juicy wedge of deep fried breaded pig trotters with fresh crisp vegetables. The braised trotters were made into a juicy croquette that exploded with fatty flavors into a molten pool of heaven inside my mouth, and I almost wished that there was a bigger presence of pickled vegetables and an addition of jalapeño to cut through the heaviness. Sriracha and aioli dots on the white plate were so small that they didn’t quite function as a sauce, although the small dip that I managed to get on my banh mi was excellent.
Jetting across the Asian continent in a non-stop flight to Europe landed us in one of my favorite countries in the world, Spain. One of the highlights on my trip to Barcelona last year was the scrumptious plate of gambetas at Tapaç 24. Little did I know that I would get so close to that heavenly plate of sweetness here in Century City in Manzke’s dish of Santa Barbara spot prawns fried in garlic sherry sauce and garnished with a heap of chopped green olives, almonds and tomatoes. The key to a perfect plate of shrimp is using fresh shrimp, and I could tell that these crustaceans were still alive in the kitchen when they hit the hot pan because of its plump flesh, delicate flavored orange eggs and green innards that I sucked clean off the shell. Table manners went out the door as I used the entire palmar surface of my flattened index finger to sweep the sauce off the plate into my mouth.
A quick high-speed train ride on the TGV with a transfer in Paris Gare de l’Est landed us in Alsace, close to the French German border, for a savory tarte flambée made with caramelized onions, bacon and gruyere. The tarte was pre-cut into square pieces so that we could dive right into these wonderful delights made on the perfectly baked thin crispy canvas.
Going down south into the Italian boot using a summer Eurail pass, we enjoyed our molto bene pasta dish of English pea ravioli with parmesan cheese shavings and a soft poached egg that oozed rich yellow yolk all over the dish. The pea ravioli filling was creamy and sweet, although a bit boring after the modernized banh mi and spot prawn dishes.
Instead of taking the transatlantic route back home, we went through Southeast Asia to the Philippines for some leche flan with molecular sweet coconut pandan. The dense and sweet caramel flan was topped with crunchy rice crisps, coconut ice cream, heavenly and luscious coconut foam and a shard of sugar glass that we all enjoyed.
What’s a trip through Asia without a stop at Narita airport? The final destination on our global tasting tour was my home country Japan, Land of the Rising Sun. There really wasn’t anything Japanese about the chocolate fondant with Bing cherries, black sesame ice cream and arare rice crisps, nor the hot chocolate in a shot glass topped with green tea foam, but we didn’t really care at this point- as with any long journey, we were getting full and saturated, and ready to head home.
Taking a trip ‘Around the World…in 8 dishes’ means that we come right back to where we started. As we were winding down from dessert, we got a fellow visitor to the table who presented us with a first class ticket back to the Americas. My good friend Bill Esparza brought over a bottle of Volcán de mi Tierra tequila that whisked us right back to Mexico where we commenced our exciting journey with a fantastic dish of yellowtail ceviche. I closed my eyes as I felt the heat of the smooth tequila spreading through my esophagus into the core of my body to intoxicate me further into a state of bliss. When I opened my eyes, I was back home in Los Angeles. 8 countries in 3 hours- was it a dream, or did it really happen? I smiled as I looked down in front of me and saw the proof: like stamps in a passport, the colorful food and wine stains on my Walter Manzke Hatchi menu were evidence that I indeed made this culinary journey around the world.
Century City Mall
10250 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90067
Upcoming Hatchi events:
July 29th- Makoto Okuwa: Power of Miso
August 26th- Chicks with Knives: Love & Kisses & BBQ!
September 30th- Steve samson
Random trivia: Did you know that falling coconuts kill approximately 150 people every year – 10 times the number of people killed by sharks?