Recipes for restaurants

The Three T’s of Ink.

February 23, 2017

Here’s the problem: the first courses at Michael Voltaggio’s Ink. are so sneakily delightful that by the time the steak arrives, you’re unable to give it the respect it deserves.

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For this is a great piece of meat, beautifully aged and gorgeously seared, filled with that elusive primal beef flavor.  (That little frill of puffed tendon is a nice touch.)

I was also taken with this Japanese red snapper, cunningly peeking out of the mushroom pepper pancake in which it was swathed. The flavor was intense, the textures exciting.

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But alas, I could not do justice to either dish; I’d been too excited by everything that came first.

Voltaggio treats temperature as the third element in his cooking (along with taste and texture). His endive and blue cheese salad is a perfect example:

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This is a simple dish, a familiar combination, but in Voltaggio’s hands it’s entirely new. He’s frozen the cheese, and as it slowly melts in your mouth, you experience the flavors in entirely unexpected ways.

He does something similar with foie gras, freezing it into lovely little curls, then setting it atop radishes and setting it on hazelnut butter.

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Served like this, you experience foie gras as if you’ve never encountered it before.  At first you taste only the hazelnut, but as the foie gras warms up, its flavor leaps forward. There’s a similar textural effect when the crisp crunch of the radish is overtaken by the increasingly soft and seductive foie gras.

The chef also has his way with fried calamari, which arrives looking like some sinister sea monster. But this is the crispest calamari you’ve ever eaten, and after one bite it becomes so irresistible you simply keep on eating.

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Voltaggio’s signature dish is the egg yolk gnocchi, another textural tour de force that goes somersaulting through your mouth, changing with each bite.

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There’s so much here – melting onions, tiny crisp croutons, shaved appenzeller, and then those little gnocchi, which evaporate as your mouth closes around them. This is like onion soup gratinee on steroids – and very hard to stop eating.

Ink. serves exciting food, and it’s a  perfect place to consider when you’ve got a group that includes people with traditional tastes (those steaks!) along with extremely adventurous eaters. The room is dark, casual, and a bit noisy – but the service could not be sweeter.

 

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A Small Bite of LA

February 19, 2017

IMG_9511You’re unlikely to find prettier food than what they’re serving at  the ultra-hip Destroyer in Culver City; it’s a true feast for the eyes. Whether you will consider it an actual feast is another matter.  The chef Jordan Kahn (his previous restaurant was Red Medicine), likes to introduce odd ingredients to one another, and my own sense is that they often don’t get along.  English peas, job’s tears, gooseberries and frozen cream made an exquisitely interesting salad, but I found his take on the now-ubiquitous steak tartare, despite its delicate airs (that’s it down below)…

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rather heavy.  Beneath those feathery vegetables was ground beef (along with a fair amount of naked beef fat), blobs of smoked egg cream, oddly slimy pickled mushrooms and radishes. 

Here’s how he serves roasted baby yams:

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wrapped up in lettuce, with avocado, yogurt and lemon and dusted (like so many dishes) with tarragon powder. 

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To be honest, my favorite dish (the one that seemed most conventional, and most like a meal), was the least photogenic: a big bowl of riced potatoes with chicken confit, roasted lettuce and hazelnut splashed with yuzu. I will leave it to your imagination: it was both delicious and substantial.

Had a really wonderful dinner at Wally’s in Beverly Hills, that began with these adorable mini-bagels (the bagels were remarkably light, and spread with sprightly lemon ricotta rather than cream cheese), and smoked salmon.

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Then there was this spectacular salad. The burrata, persimmon, beets and pomegranate were very content to snuggle up witheach other.

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I loved the pot of clams and spot prawns, roasted in a wood-burning oven and topped with curried lobster butter.  As you might imagine, Wally’s has a memorable wine list. (No wonder Beyonce and Jay Z like to dine in the private dining room!)FullSizeRender (15)

Had a lovely meal in the high airy atrium at  Spring.  It’s the perfect place to lunch downtown: I can’t get this textbook version of salade nicoise out of my mind.  Yes, it’s a simple dish, but it was in perfect balance, a tangle of  yellowtail tuna, olives, tomatoes, anchovies, green beans, tiny potatoes, celery and fennel that made each bite distinct and different from the one before.

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Lovely dessert too:

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Two more little tidbits.  I couldn’t stop eating the red endive and fennel salad I had one night at the counter at Osteria Mozza; A few shards of cheese, and then the sweet and sour dance of a date and anchovy dressing. I liked it even better than the endive and blue cheese salad at Flora in New York, and that’s saying something.

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Finally, I have to mention the completely appealing smudge of fresh English peas at Jar.  (I’m so partial to the restaurant’s  Jidori chicken, rich with lemongrass and garlic, that I dove in before I remembered to snap its picture.)

The peas reminded me of a dish the late Michael Roberts pioneered (at the LA restaurant whose name will now not be mentioned). Long before the current craze for innovative guacamole he was constructing his own sly version out of frozen peas. Jar uses fresh peas, which is even sweeter.

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Signor Pepe’s Pizza

February 13, 2017

FullSizeRender (9)Franco Pepe travels the world, preaching pizza.  He is an earnest man, a perfectionist, a control freak, who makes every chef he visits nervous. Every single ingredient must be up to his standards.

When he leaves his small Pepe in Grani pizzeria in Caiazzo, outside Naples he travels with his own wheat; nothing else will do. He’s fussy about tomatoes; they  must be Piennolo del Vesuvio tomatoes (he has them preserved in jars).  Anchovies, of course, will only do from Cetara and Signor Pepe prefers the olives from his hometown. As for mozzarella, here’s Chi Spacca’s chef, Ryan Denicola, on the subject. “We got buffalo mozzarella from four importers, and he rejected them all.  They were too soft inside. He won’t use mozzarella unless you can see the layers in the cheese, like rings in a tree.”

And when he’s mixed the dough, he runs around whatever kitchen he happens to be in with a thermometer, searching out the perfect place to let it rise.

The result?  The most perfect pizza you will ever eat.

Signor Pepe spent last weekend in Los Angeles, teaching pizza classes at Chi Spacca. He was a wonder to watch, deftly patting out the dough, covering it with cheese and putting it into the oven for less than a minute.  At the very end each pizza is hefted on the peel, lifted to the fire and toasted on top, much as you would a marshmallow around a campfire.

The result? Simultaneously soft and crisp, the crust bakes up into something very much like a cloud, cradling whatever toppings Signor Pepe chooses to add.

FullSizeRender (6)My favorite was Il Sole nel Piatto (sunshine on a plate) with buffalo mozzarella, anchovies, basil, extra virgin olive oil and olives. The flavors simply exploded on the palate.

Fried into calzone, the dough becomes crisp, fragile and  virtually greaseless; I had a hard time believed it had ever encountered oil.

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Pizza Scarpetta.  In Italian table talk, fare la scarpetta means “make the little shoe.”  It’s what you do when you tear off a piece of bread and scrape the last bit from your plate.  And this pizza, with is stunningly intense tomato sauce, insists you eat every last tidbit. Fantastic!

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Onions. Cheese. Cream  By this time I was in a pizza coma, eating blindly, unable to stop.

Sadly, I neglected to photograph the “wrong Margarita,” which the chef makes by cooking only the mozzarella, then adding squiggles of tomato sauce and basil oil after the pizza emerges from the heat. A challenge and an exclamation from the man who many think is the greatest pizzaiolo in the world: “I will make it mine!”

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Eating Asian in LA

February 11, 2017

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That is the $18 chirashi lunch at Soregashi, a modest little sushi bar my friend’s Hiro and Lissa recommended.  Lovely food – great prices.

But I’ve been eating well everywhere in LA.  The day before that lunch, Hiro, Lissa and I dropped in at Aburiyaraku, a very trendy Japanese restaurant on La Cienega, where we indulged in this luxurious combination of poached egg, sea urchin and salmon roe; if there’s a more appealing spoonful of goo, I have yet to encounter it.

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The restaurant also makes its own tofu,

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arranges beautiful plates of sashimi

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and if you’re in the mood, will gladly serve you slices of raw wagyu liver

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Another night we indulged in Korean food at Gwang Yang BBQ,  the most serene barbecue outpost I’ve encountered here. Ensconced in the luxury of a private room, the waiter (you summon him with a buzzer), covers your table with lovely panchan,  the little side dishes that are the introduction to every Korean meal.

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You can move on to icy steak tartare laced with cool crisp slices of Asian pear

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Robust meat-laced pancakes

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and all manner of noodles before the waiter fires up the grill and starts cooking your meat.  What you want to try here is the galbi; it has a delicacy I’ve not encountered before, the garlic and sugar muted so you can really taste the excellent beef.

For an entirely different experience of Asian food, you might stop in at the always packed Pine and Crane in Silverlake, line up at the counter to order and then attempt to find a seat in the spare, sunny dining room.

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These pea shoots are a fine beginning.

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A fairly irresistible Taiwanese omelet….

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and very clean-tasting Dan Dan noodles.

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Mid East Flavors in Los Feliz

February 7, 2017

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Hiding beneath those lovely leaves of mint and cilantro are the crispest, flakiest little pastries filled with an enchantingly lemon-scented mix of chicken and pine nuts.  It’s the perfect way to start a meal at the airy new Kismet in Los Feliz.

I lived in this neighborhood for ten years, back in the eighties, and it’s something of a shock to stroll down this formerly derelict block and find it filled with hip new restaurants.  (Go Get Em Tiger is just a few doors down; McConnell’s is practically next door.) With its clean lines and blond wood, this newest entry is as cool and calming as a spa.

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The food is equally attractive. You might begin with this refreshing marinated feta served with roasted squash, crisp green apple and the slight bite of nasturtium leaves.  Scoop some up with pieces of bread, and you find it hits every flavor note.

But what you definitely don’t want to miss is this crisp, flaky bread – a version of the Yemeni malawach –served with a soft-boiled egg, labneh, tomatoes and spice paste. The bread looks innocent, but in its rich, buttery flakiness it is pure seduction. 

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 The restaurant is the creation of the two Saras – Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson, who both worked at Blue Hill and then Glasserie before coming west to open Madcapra in the Grand Central Market. (As rents in Gotham keep climbing, expect to see more young chefs make the move to the left coast.) I haven’t been for dinner yet, but the menu offers many pleasures, including a rabbit feast for two that I can’t wait to try. 

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