March 15, 2018
The snow is incredible. Three feet and still coming down. We haven’t been able to leave the house for days now – the driveway is impassable – and I’m feeling isolated and alone.
But lemons make everything better. On days like this I find myself going to the refrigerator, reaching for a lemon, running my fingers across the peel and allowing the fragrance to float into the air. It’s an instant reminder that this weather won’t last, that spring will come.
And then I make a lemon tart.
Begin by making the tart shell. If you have some nuts on hand – I like cashews in this crust but almonds or hazelnuts are also excellent – carefully toast a handful, then grind them up with 3/4 cup flour, 1/4 cup confectioners sugar and a pinch of salt. Cut half a stick of cold butter into the mixture with two knives, then stir in 3 tablespoons of olive oil and an egg yolk. Press the mixture gently into a 9 inch tart shell with a removable bottom. Chill if you have time; if not, bake in a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes and allow to cool.
To make the filling, grate the zest from one lemon. Then squeeze 4 lemons and mix the juice with the zest, 3/4 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons cornstarch, 2 whole large eggs plus 2 large yolks. Whisk over medium heat until the mixture begins to boil; keep whisking for a couple more minutes. Remove from the heat, add ¾ of a stick of butter, cut into pieces, and whisk the mixture until the butter has vanished. Spread into the tart shell, allow to cool, then chill for at least 2 hours.
March 3, 2018
The first thing you notice about the food at Mourad is how incredibly beautiful it is. Mourad Lahlou, doesn’t cook; in love with color, shape and texture, he paints each plate. Something as simple as a turmeric and strawberry drink arrives looking like a southwest sunset, a crescent of blood orange slowly setting in the center. A dish of olives is strewn with flower petals – instant party – and even though you didn’t mean to, you reach for one.
Chicken wings – chicken wings!- are the loveliest landscape, all soft mounds and melting colors, the tender meat glazed with lemon and burnt honey with broccoli flowers scattered across the plate.
Lahlou coaxes flavors you’ve never imagined out of the most ordinary ingredients, and suddenly you’re somewhere else, Marrakesh perhaps, hearing the muezzin calling in the faithful.
He even contrives to make luxury ingredients seem somehow new. Caviar, snuggled beneath crisp curls of cucumber, is partnered with neither toast nor blini, but soft warm pillows of bread.
Salmon is very smoky, so smoky it is barely fish but some new substance surrounded by fennel and kissed with blood orange.
Kefta meatballs arrive looking like a St. Lucia wreath, the most delicate lamb you’ve yet encountered.
And Lalou’s version of b’stilla- which speaks more loudly to the mouth than to the eye- is irresistible. It is filled with duck, curry, almonds and…is that a touch of banana?
Desserts- well you have to try them. Pistachio cake, just a small sliver, is crowned with citrus.
And chocolate is a jolt, its dark side coaxed out beneath the sweetness. It’s the perfect flavor to send you out the door.
March 2, 2018
Los Angeles is filled with chefs who are determined to reconsider the whole notion of what a restaurant might be. Dining at all these experimental places – Vespertine, The Rogue Experience, Maude – has been exhilarating. Dialogue, the latest of the lot, was no exception.
Dave Beran, who worked with Grant Achatz in Chicago (he was the executive chef at the brilliant Next) thinks about a meal as a conversation between chef and diner; he’s not just feeding you a meal – he’s telling you a story. Each dish is a segue echoing the one before and introducing the one to come. Although the food is not remotely Japanese, this struck me as a Western version of a kaiseki meal. Beran’s aim is to take you on a sensory voyage through the seasons.
We began in winter, with an interactive version of the classic Canadian tire d’arable, where maple syrup is poured onto ice to become a kind of candy. In this case you twirl it onto a stick of roasted burdock. The temperature is hot and cold, the flavors sweet and slightly bitter.
Next up, maple again, this time paired with trout roe. I first had this combination at a breakfast Jose Andres cooked (he served it on tiny pancakes), and I’ve loved the forceful dance of flavors ever since.
This innocuous looking little imp is called “crab in the parsnip snow,” another textural tango of airy, soft, sweet and cold.
Fermented carrot with a little pillow of zabuton steak.The flavors, after so much sweetness, were a welcome jolt.
This candied leaf of shiso was hiding a little pillow of rice with caramelized miso, a tender way to move us out of winter into a sprightly spring.
It was followed by a completely kinetic dish: little mint candies buried in chocolate nibs came to sudden life as the bowl was shaken. I was so busy laughing with delight I forgot to take its picture.
Mint again, this time with osetra caviar, smoked sturgeon and cucumber. (I love caviar; not sure I love caviar with mint. But then I’ve rarely found anything that can beat caviar on its own.)
This lovely little bouquet contains razor clams, geranium, lovage and almonds. A single refreshing bite; another way of thinking of surf and turf.
Another bouquet, another tangle of tastes and textures. This is poussin, with all the classic herbes de Provence. I kept thinking of twigs breaking beneath my feet in a springtime forest.
The segue here is a leaf of tarragon. The flavors are rhubarb and l’explorateur cheese.
What do you see here that you’ve seen before? What you have not seen before – and in my opinion do not see often enough – are lily bulbs. They have the most intriguingly gentle taste and seductively crunchy texture.
Crisp little black kale sandwiches filled with avocado. The avocado toast of the future.
Sunchoke. Artichoke. Olive.
Lamb. Fermented strawberries. Nasturtium leaves. And on the side, pommes aligot. Pure. Simple. Delicious.
From spring lamb to the strawberries of summer. One little bite of liquid strawberry and olive oil. It looks – and tastes – like dynamite.
Have you ever seen anything lovelier? All through dinner the chef has been plying his tweezers, carefully creating these little tarts of wild fennel and wood sorrel.
High summer now. An astonishing fizz of raspberry and rose.
And finally a piece of cake.
You go out the door, dazed and dazzled by the journey. And as you make your way out of this strangely hidden little restaurant (you need a secret code to gain entrance), you do truly feel that you’ve had an almost wordless conversation with the chef. He’s discovering this new home of his, Los Angeles, and taking great delight in sharing it with you.