Review: Seviche

3 August 2014

I had a good day before in Louisville, but it also meant a hangover from the bowels of hell… Ugh…

I barely functioned most of the day but got some productive time in, thank goodness. But what I was most looking foward to was another great meal down Bardstown Road as last night, this time at Seviche — a tip from my good friend Simon Majumdar. And damn, this was his best tip yet.

I parked a bit away and walked down the busy road and found Seviche. I was happy to take a hi-top near the bar as I was solo, and had a wonderful night. I looked at the menu and I was already happy. Server told me that with my ceviche selection he’ll wait before we order further — a smart idea.

I decided on the 5-ceviche tasting…yeah…wow…

ceviche1

Yeah…like, wow. The wahoo tiradito, the crawfish, lump bluecrab on the main plate, then the line-caught ahi and shrimp. Wow. Each were done sublimely, and the extras were just beautiful. I scooped up every bean and corn alongside the seafood. Little did I think in Kentucky I can have some of the best seafood in the US. Wow.

The wahoo was especially tasty in these large discs, as were the sauced ahi in the first bowl. Damn, I was happy. At this point tho chef wasn’t in his CdC came by and brought me a little extra treat:

octopus

Nice! Sorry the picture’s not very good, but the octopus was one of the best I’ve had in the US. It was flavourful and tasty, without the pastiness or blandness of an over-worked item that I see too often in sushi bars by people afraid of the true texture of the octopus. It has texture, let it rule, sushi chefs!

I enjoyed the tasty octopus immensely and my server asked me if I was still game, and I was. So I chose a special he said the kitchen was especially proud of — the moqueca.

moqueca

This was fantastic, a cornucopia of fruits from the sea, from octopus to various dishes, all bathing in a coconut base. Perhaps it misses the tomato aspect of a more traditional moqueca, but ti was a coconut treat for me! All of the seasoof were cooked perfectly, as was the broth. The macadamia nut rice that came with it was insufficient, we needed more to enjoy the full flavour of this dish! Awesome!

I have to say this was one of the best meals I’ve had this year. For one, the execution for the menu items was utterly fantasic — that’s hard to say for many of the “best” places around the world I’ve been to. It shows the care the kitchen has placed in the food, even when chef is not in town. A rarity, and something that carries in Louisville as experienced last night also at Lilly’s. A talented town for food!

And did I mention how friendly this place was? Like all of Louisville? Wow…

I left the restaurant extremely happy, having had a fantastic meal and been shown that even a smaller city can have talent that can not just craft a great menu, but execute all aspects of it. Kudos to all of the back-of-the-house folks, but also the front. Great service. If anything has added to my just-now falling-in-love with Louisville? Wow…

TOTALLY RECOMMENDED!

Seviche
1538 Bardstown Road
Louisville, Kentucky

Road Trip Part 1: Go West, Old Man…

Ever since I left NYC and re-acquired a car, I’ve been looking to take a longer road trip. Timing never sorted out too well, so I was forced to make it during the warmest and busiest time — early August. Nevertheless, it was something I looked forward to, having long drives and visiting some new places and revisiting some places I’ve not been for ages.

So on the first day, last Friday, I headed on the road for the mountains — up the Appalachians, to be exact. I had planned to get a bit into West Virginia before stopping for the day, as I rather keep my daily driving limit at a sensible level — partly to not lure me into the disease of driving faster and faster as the hours pass. Having been a veteran of cross-country driving before, I know how it can be when you go from New York to California in 3 days…or violate the hell out of speed limits between Virginia and Connecticut…

I chose Charleston as the first day’s stop, as it is basically en route to my planned destinations, and was not a tough drive, only 373 miles (exactly 600km). It was bound to be hilly so didn’t want to push too much. But it was a remarkably smooth trip that took only just over 5 hours — the average speed on these roads were about 80mph, and I was slightly above it especially during the quiet lengths.

I decided early on to stop in Charleston as it is the biggest town en route in that target zone, and I wanted to do my small bit to help the state capital, which went through a horrible period when the local water supply was poisoned by a chemical spill. I wasn’t there to drink the water (the ONLY time I’ve ever brought bottled water with me on a roadtrip), but to help the local economy.

Charleston is a cute town on the banks of the Kanawha River, really small — one of the smallest state capitals. After checking in and dropping my bags, I had a bit of a drive around this town. Cute, and great life around the riverbanks. I had not eaten all day so decided to go to Bridge Road Bistro for an early dinner.

I have read mixed reviews about this place way up in the hill across the river (apparently the “upper class” area of town), but they seem to be the only top place that really focuses on local products and produce — and that’s the point of trips like this. Not just to support the local economy, but to enjoy the best of what the local area has to offer. Why bother eating a steak from Nebraska if you’re in West Virginia for 1 day?

Well, Bridge Road Bistro doesn’t look like any bistro you’d ever see. It looks actually like a Denny’s or an IHOP inside…it took me back a bit… I chilled out, sat down, and looked over the menu and ordered items that focused on local items.

stuffed_peppers

My starter was stuffed local banana peppers. I really wish it focused more on the peppers than the bland sausage and the boring marinara… Oh well. Then the main, local lamb.

lamb

This was much better, the lamb cooked well and flavourful. The sides were a bit of a disaster though. Still, good local lamb. I then went for a dessert, and whoa…

carrot_cake

This carrot cake was bigger than a brick… Let’s say I had to take most of this with me after a bourbon to go. I headed out satisfied, though have to say this was extremely pricey. Wandered back and tried to catch up on some sleep…

The next morning I was up early and took off early for the next leg, alongside a few stops on the way. My final destination was only 277 miles (445km) away, Louisville, but was planning to stop at both Lexington and Frankfort for a few short hikes. It was a quiet Saturday morning with little traffic, so I was running far ahead of schedule. But it was also getting warm…uh oh…

I arrived in Lexington, and made my way to Lexington Cemetery. I have a strange and macabre interest in hiking in historic cemeteries. I left my car at the entrance and hiked around the historic site. It’s easy to navigate as the tomb of legendary politician Henry Clay was an easy reference point.

Clay_tomb_01

I enjoyed hiking the hilly cemetery for the next hour or so, visiting some key gravesites (such as Vice President John Breckinridge). I did find it very interesting that there are far, far fewer flags placed on key historic graves here as I saw in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery, and a very noticeable absence of Confederate flags (again, compared to Richmond).

Soaked in sweat, I jumped back into my car and drove on off and headed further west, with next stop the state capital, Frankfort. I deliberately skipped the top tourist attraction in town, the Buffalo Trace Distillery – that would have ended in disaster for me… Instead I go macabre again and park at the entrance of the large Frankfort Cemetery.

This sprawling and very hilly cemetery was perfect for another good hike, and it gave a wonderful panoramic view of the state capital.

Frankfort_panorama_04

I wandered up and down hills, even needing to climb up sharp hills on all 4s, and explored several historic corners of this still-active cemetery. Many people focus on Daniel Boone‘s grave, but I found others more interesting, from the state military memorial to that of Vice President Richard Johnson. Also found the graves of General Simon Bolivar Buckner (Mexican-American War, Civil War) and his son General Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr (WWII) — the last general killed in that war at its dying days on Okinawa. This sadly, ironically comes a day before another US general lost his life in a warzone.

crittenden

Another irony of US history was down a sharp hill where the Crittenden family are buried. The main monument is to Senator John Crittenden, author of the “Crittenden Compromise” as a last-ditch effort to prevent a war between the states. It failed, and the resulting war saw 2 of his sons fight on separate sides; General George Crittenden for the Confederacy, and General Thomas Crittenden for the Union.

It was now getting really hot and I was soaked in sweat again, so made my way down the hills to get back in my air-conditioned car for the last drive. I was still pretty early and was soon at the outskirts of Louisville at a good and early time, so I dropped into my 3rd (!!) cemetery of the day, the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery. Our poor 12th president, served for only a year before dying, was interred 4 times — once temporarily in DC, once in a more modest tomb here (originally was his family cemetery), then finally at the mausoleum pictured, and the final indignity was being exhumed by a coroner 20 years ago for a toxicology test that showed he was NOT poisoned

Zachary_Taylor

And even more sad, perhaps in the vernacular of the 1880s when it was erected by local authorities, the monument adjacent to the mausoleum contains rather odd spelling of locations of Taylor’s battlefield victories…see for yourself, especially the bottom one… “Beuna Vista”???

I headed into downtown Louisville and checked into my hotel. Downtown seems pretty dead and there’s tons of construction, so I just walked and found one of the few bars that are open and had a wonderful afternoon of bourbon and beer and burger. Extremely friendly people in this town, something that’s very noticeable.

I had a bit of a rest later before I headed to dinner at the well-regarded Lilly’s Bistro in the busy Bardstown Road area of town. Very happening area, tons of people out. I liked Lilly’s the minute I went in. Great menu, nice atmosphere, excellent service by more friendly staff. It’s contageous! Strangers buying strangers rounds of drinks, it’s in the air!

heirloom_tomato_salad

I began dinner with an heirloom tomato salad. Good stuff, the dressing was a nice spicy touch that’s a bit different from most tomato salads. I enjoyed this, though maybe a little light consider that I was still working off the bourbons from the very late lunch and the wines here… But I had a solid main coming…

Seven_Deadly-Sins

This was the infamous “Stone Cross Seven Deadly Sins” — a feast of everything good from a pig. There was some fabulous belly, home-made jowl bacon, and a tasty tenderloin. The greens were made from bacon fat, the tiny trotter cake on the far right. And the beans just made it awesome. Wow, this is a pig fest and it was fabulous. One of the best pork dishes I’ve had this year.

I enjoyed the rest of the night here, drinking even more bourbon and having a wee peach ice cream. Fabulous stuff, and it was cheaper than last night in West Virginia. This is excellent execution and craft, a wonderful introduction to Louisville — and it’s growing on me very, very fast!

I cabbed it back to my hotel and ended up drinking at the hotel bar with people buying each other rounds again…there is something in the air here, it just makes everyone super friendly.

The rest of the evening, blissfully, was a blur…

Bridge Road Bistro
915 Bridge Road
Charleston, West Virginia

Lilly’s Bistro
1147 Bardstown Road
Louisville, Kentucky

Review: Del Campo

22 July 2014

I was running around Washington DC the morning of last Tuesday getting a few things done before an upcoming roadtrip. But it was rather humid, and my tolerance of DC’s summer weather was diminishing by the millisecond. So looking at a few of the places I wanted to try in the area, I settled on Del Campo.

It wasn’t too busy, but I opted to sit at the bar. A nice space, one that would have an astronomical cost in NYC, with high ceilings and so forth. Bar was comfortable and I looked at the menu. I had things to do in the afternoon, so decided to be responsible. Kept myself to a cocktail called jamon de melon — a strange concoction with smoked cantaloupe syrup and the glass ringed with flakes of prosciutto. Not bad, refreshing.

I ordered a nice solid lunch, the bone-in shortribs, with a side of greens.

shortribs_marrow

As it came out I ordered a glass of wine and looked at this excellent dish. They comped me a nice piece of marrow as well. The meat was excellent, as you can almost feel the herb smoked flavour. This is a big thing, as they have a smoker and they smoke just about everything — meats, veg, even cocktail ingredients. Excellent item, didn’t need any sauce at all. The marrow was just a nice touch.

I was actually happy enough to order another cocktail, this time the “Admiral Benbow” which was rum-based with more smoked stuff. Then got even smokier with a “bottled” old fashioned, which they also smoked the glass during the prep. They do like their smoke here…

By this point I realised I was drinking too much and not gonna be able to finish my errands, so I just stayed to drink another few cocktails before taking my leave. I dragged myself back to the Metro and as I was about to walk into my apartment, I turned and went drinking boilermakers nearby for the rest of the afternoon and evening.

Needless to say no need to write that part of my day in this review…needless to say a bit of it was a blur…

But Del Campo was a pleasant surprise, and definitely a nice place to eat and/or drink. I now know a good place close to Metro Center to eat, excellent.

Del Campo
777 I Street NW
Washington, DC

Richmond, oh Richmond…

8 July 2014
Richmond

I decided to take a few days off South despite the weather, a hot and humid typical mid-Atlantic mess. But I have been out of car for awhile, so needed to run….so I took a few days to Richmond. Yes, you saw 2 reviews already, but this puts the trip together…

It was a short drive, less than 1.5hrs down (my beloved Audi…), and I headed to my hotel downtown. I then immediately headed out before the lunch period closed at a nearly place I was told to check out, Comfort.

I sat and had a lot of nice bourbon for lunch and a pork chop…

blackened_pork_chop

Well, it was actually pretty awful…jeez…WTF? The bourbon was good but the food was awful. Pork chop was sliced into sawdust… Beyond overcooked…flavoured okay, but geez… I was a bit out of it thinking of lunch… A dried hickory slice, tho the drink was good… Headed back to my hotel a little distressed how this trip started…

I enjoyed watching Germany thrash Brazil during the first half of the World Cup match so I walked out to a place called Postbellum to watch the 2nd half and to have dinner. Well, so-so move. The menu looked excellent, and the cracklins were nice to start, but…

fried_sprouts

This was awful, the brussel sprouts starter… Nuts, nuts, nuts… I love nuts, but this was a damn mess. And worse? They brought the main when I was still working on it…and the main?

smoked_ribeye

What I thought was good…smoked ribeye. Well, nope. Not that good.

Not sure what to say, but that was a pretty mediocre meal. I went to Postbellum for its reputation as a new good place, but execution is definitely not there…a sad and normal story… Poor execution and poor service. Bringing my main when I was working on my starter is a huge no-no… I wouldn’t come back…

Next day I headed to lunch at a tested place, and went to Pasture. It was a cousin of yesterday’s not-so-great Comfort, but I was told it was good. And it was dead-on right.

green_beans-meatballs-ham_ribs

Lunch consisted of meatballs, which were scrumtious; ham ribs (in them unique Alabama “white sauce”) which were succulent, and some string beans. Darn these are nice. Nice healthy and big meatballs, the ribs were awesome too. An excellent lunch! Comfort for drinks, Pasture for food!

That afternoon I spent some time wandering in Hollywood Cemetery, one of the most historic graveyards of the US. It’s a mess inside and no easy navigation, but I found what I wanted to find.

One of the oddities of the US are presidential tombs of lesser-known presidents. There were 2 at Hollywood Cemetery — the tomb of both President James Monroe (5th — not so unkown), and of President James Tyler (10th).

prez

Now I know Monroe was well-liked for various things, but “Tyler Too” less so… Nevertheless, if you are a historian you’d appreciate this. And just to remind you were in Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy, there’s also this…

Richmond-Davis_01

Yes, Jefferson Davis. Kept well, with flags. Many Confererate graves are well-kept with flags Much better kept than Monroe or Tyler. Says a lot.

I headed out from the buggy and rainy cemetery soon after for dinner at The Roosevelt, as I chronicled a few days ago. Excellent meal, as I said.

Next day for lunch I enjoyed food at a cute place called Pork Chop & Grits Cafe, an excellent soul food place in downtown. Guess what I ordered?

fried_pork_chop

Yep. This was a juicy pork chop with greens. Excellent! Probably the most honest and solid meal in Richmond, definitely not to miss! Awesome!

Later that evening I meandered to my meal at Lemaire, as I wrote about earlier. I kinda missed the pork chop, you know?

Good time at Richmond despite the heat and humility. After my years in NYC I had forgotten how close Richmond is. I know I will be back again soon.  A cute and learning excursion…

Comfort
200 West Broad Street

Postbellum
1323 West Main Street

Pasture
416 East Grace Street

Pork Chop & Grits Cafe
219 East Clay Street
Richmond, Virginia

Review: Lemaire

10 July 2014
Richmond

My final day in Richmond proved to be a wet and messy one, not surprising considering it’s the middle of July in the mid-Atlantic. At least it drops the humidity a bit. After last night’s excellent dinner at The Roosevelt I picked for this evening’s dining experience the other top-rated place in town, Lemaire.

Now unlike The Roosevelt, Lemaire is an upscale restaurant located in the very posh and historic Jefferson Hotel — one of the nicest hotels you’ll ever visit in the US South. With the former governor appearing in court nearby on a corruption charge, I had expected a busier restaurant and bar — but it was only about half full when I arrived (though the bar was pretty busy and loud).

I bypassed the bar and was seated at a nice centre table. On offer on the drinks menu was a “make your own” Manhattan. This reminds me of the “make your own” Negroni at NYC’s excellent Lincoln, so I happily explored the options. For tonight’s enjoyment I based the cocktail with the smooth Prichard’s Rye, accompanied by the schizophrenic Punt e Mes vermouth. For a special touch, I requested the Fee Brothers Black Walnut Bitters to further bring out the oak in the rye. This made for an excellent balance. Mmm…

I placed my order as I enjoyed my cocktail, relaxing in the classy dining room. One small annoyance as I went through the wine list was the lack of local wines. Virginia has some excellent wines, very underrated. And even in the bottle list it was a little lacking. And with my order, I didn’t want to go by bottle, so had to go by glass.

My starter arrived soon, a half dozen Shooting Point oysters, which came from the Eastern Shore of Virginia (the VA part of the Delmarva Peninsula).

1-oysters

These oysters were tasty, a little more rough than the usual bland ones you get at many oyster bars. Some people may not like these, but it has character. I enjoyed them, especially with some nice chardonnay from the excellent Barboursville Vineyards not far from Richmond. I really wish they had a better selection of wines from there, as I’ve always enjoyed them. But a fabulous Virginia set.

I have to say the service was a little off at times, as it seems they either all crowd in or all disappear. Perhaps they are understaffed during a slow period in Richmond. Oh well. Then my main course was presented.

2-sorghum_loin_pork_chop

This was a thick pork loin chop glazed with sorghum. The flavour was excellent and it wasn’t overcooked, which is very important. The chard and turnips were nice additions to the dish, though the way it was plated it was rather hard to cut without being messy. Excellent, though had to do with a so-so Oregon red.

It was a pretty good dinner, perhaps not as good as last night, but solid. I decided to go with the cheese plate as it featured local cheeses. And since they had a nice Tokaji Aszú on the menu I went for it. Unfortunately the cheeses were extremely bland and had little nuance, and it really was a poor selection. So I had another glass of Tokaji to commiserate the really poor cheese.

It was generally a good dinner and a good place for a nice meal, with good oysters and a nicely done pork chop. However, they really should have switched the local focus — forget the cheese, focus on the local wines. I love the featuring of Virginia products in the capital of Virginia. Otherwise, aside from the little hiccups in service, it was a good evening. Last night was still better though.

I headed out and wandered back to my hotel and had a nightcap at the bar before going to crash out. Had thought of going to hit the bars, but having to drive home in the morning the last thing I needed was to be struck down with a nasty bourbon hangover, so…sigh…

Lemaire
101 West Franklin Street
Richmond, Virginia

Review: Roosevelt

9 July 2014
Richmond

When I planned my trip to nearby Richmond, I was studying various menus to see what would be best for my 3 dinners in this charming southern town. And after some disastrous recent experiences with poor execution, I did a bit of online research too. And after all that, the restaurant in Richmond that rose to the top of the list was The Roosevelt.

I had resisted going to places that required driving, as I really do not like to limit my consumption for the purpose of driving sober, but I made an exception for this evening. I arrived for an early booking and happily sat at the bar of this charming little wooden house just east of downtown.

The sun was still peeking into the restaurant as I enjoyed a cocktail to start, what they called “Secession Happens” — playing at the history of this former capital of the Confederacy — a nice spiced rum drink concoction with citrus that really hit the spot on a hot day. I ordered and relaxed.

Soon my first course arrived, the spicy fried pighead with toad-in-the-hole:

1-pigface

Very tasty morsel of pork here, spiced extremely well. The runny egg added to the overall flavour and helped to moderate the spiciness. Excellent stuff, one of the better “pig’s head” dishes I’ve had in awhile, with excellent flavour and texture inside and out. Excellent execution.

I enjoyed some local white during that course and continued into my main course, the catfish.

2-catfish

I usually don’t order catfish as it’s never cooked well (unless fried in a rather decadent way), but something made me choose this today. And it was a good choice. The fish was tender and juicy and plump, fantastic. It sat on a bed of bean succotash with a broth that’s sourced from peppers. An excellent mixture of flavours that complemented the very specific taste of the catfish. Once again, excellent execution.

I decided on a dessert but had to forego the after-dinner drink due to driving (despite the short distance back to downtown, where I was staying — I don’t violate those rules). It wasn’t easy, with the nice selection of bourbons and whiskeys staring at me… But I went for a very rich dessert, the “foie gras” pound cake…

3-foie_poundcake

What is it? It’s a pound cake, but richer — as foie gras was apparently used in its making. I couldn’t really taste it nor discern any difference from a regular pound cake though, but it was a nice dessert. The caramel gelato topping the cake was a nice touch, really balanced this out.

Sadly, I took my leave after this, knowing if I didn’t have to drive I’d be happy to spend more time here enjoying the drinks. But alas, I drove out here, so it’s time to drive back downtown. This was a fantastic meal, and it shows that even in smaller markets a fine menu and excellent execution can result in a meal that blows away some of the “hottest” restaurants in major markets (like the disastrous Bestia of Los Angeles and the rather unpleasant meal at August in New Orleans). The execution here completely blows away that of the aforementioned restaurants and many more. Kudos to the kitchen.

If you ever go down to Richmond, it’s worth it to check out The Roosevelt. It’s cute, comfortable, and excellent. Some of the best execution I’ve enjoyed in months. Will look forward to going back one day when I’m down there again.

The Roosevelt
623 North 25th Street
Richmond, Virginia

Review #4: Il Grano

21 June 2014

A trip for me to LA without a visit to Il Grano would be a wasted trip. I never pass up the chance to visit my favourite restaurant in the world and experience the genius cooking of Sal Marino. Perhaps the most underrated chef in California, if not America, Marino comes up with some of the most amazing tasting menus, often on the cuff.

After last night’s rather poor dinner at Piccolo, I was dying for a good meal. Of my more than half dozen meals at Il Grano, I’ve never had anything that wasn’t close to spectacular on the food front. You can see some of them in earlier reviews from January 2013 (review #1), August 2013 (review #2), and November 2013 (review #3). Ironically, some of my best meals there were ones I didn’t review — which just shows how bloody good this place is.

I arrived on a busy Saturday evening and was escorted to my “usual” table. I was a little shocked when the menu was left for me…and had trouble counting the dishes…

menu

No, this is not a joke or a misprint. This was my menu, a 21-course tasting menu. Marino had designed this as a Summer Solstice tasting for the 21st of June, and I took a deep breath. This is gonna be a wild ride!

As I enjoyed a bubbly the first course arrived, a tomato tasting from Chef’s garden.

01-tomatoes

I need to apologise. After a few days of functioning well, the camera on the new phone went nutty again this evening, and this photo (alongside a few others) ended up with wee focus issues. But this was a cute start, reminding me of of last year’s heritage tomato fest here (review #2). More reminders of that meal came on the second course.

02-cherry_gazpacho

Chef loves to make small gazpacho tastings during the summer, which is extra refreshing in LA (despite it being a relatively cool summer day/evening). This version is made from black tartarian cherries, and it was just perfect. I’ve not been a big fan of fruit-based gazpachos but this was fantastic!

03-tuna

Happily I moved into course three, the tuna tartar, with a generous helping of truffles. Honestly, after several nights of fantastic sushi omakase, first at Kiriko and second at Nozawa Bar, I’ve had my fill of tuna. Nice, but overload for me this past few days.

04-snapper

The fourth course continued with crudo, this time with a beautiful piece of snapper. I’m sad the photo was focus-challenged, because this was a beautiful piece. Chef sliced me a wonder belly portion of the snapper — a rare opportunity to enjoy the rare cut. Wow, this was excellent. From someone who is not the world’s greatest snapper fan, this was stunning.

05-scallop

The crudo wave kept coming, as next up was a beautiful Hokkaido scallop. The shellfish was sweet, balanced by the interesting mascarpone and the devilish pickled green peppercorn crowning the dish. Very cool stuff. I enjoyed some fine whites as the seafood tour-de-force met with a timely interlude.

06-peach_burrata

Chef Marino loves his caprese, and he often does unique takes on this Italian staple combination. This time, alongside a very creamy burrata, was a juicy grilled peach and home-grown arugula in between. Extremely tasty on their own, but utterly beautiful together. I am so sad this photo didn’t come out right, as this was such a wonderful visual item as well…

I kept trying to fix the camera during this meal…not the time to tinker with it mid-stream, but I had a feeling these photos were not coming out right (and sadly, I was right). It didn’t do several of these early dishes justice, especially where the light was not great…

07-king_salmon-fennel

We return to seafood after that interlude with a house-cured King salmon and fennel salad. Honestly this one was way too salty, which kind of took too much out of the fish. A rare miss, but when you have 21 courses…

08-stuffed_peppers

At this point a friend of mine had sent over a glass of very fine bordeaux for me, just as the next dish was presented. Chef had two peppers stuffed with different cheeses and fire roasted them. Excellent, melt in your mouth stuff. Sorry for the picture again.

I went to thank my friend, sitting on the far side of the restaurant at a banquette. Turns out his wife (a well-known food blogger) wasn’t feeling well and had taken early leave, but asked him to stay to finish doing research on the entire tasting menu (he was also doing the 21-course special). He was many courses ahead, but we decided to merge and I moved to his table. This was a pleasant surprise as we kept each other company talking food for the next few hours as I caught up to him.

09-butterfish

The next dish was one of the highlights of the night, grilled butterfish with porcini. I love butterfish, and this was a fantastic preparation. Rich but not overwhelming, it worked fantastic with the porcini and wee bit of truffle. Mmm, fantastic. And as you can see, this table was brighter, and that didn’t wreak havoc with my new phone’s idiotic auto-focus…

10-mackerel

Following that wonderful fish was another fantastic fish, a beautiful piece of Japanese mackerel. Extremely rich, this piece presented a deep and unadulterated flavour, accented by the small bits of purslane. Another excellent dish!

11-kisu

We crossed the half-way mark with dish #11, Japanese kisu (whiting), encrusted with a rosemary-tinged breading. It brought out the neutral flavour of the whiting very nicely like from a fantasy English chippie. Tasty.

12-sphaghetti-polipo

I was still going strong as we transition into the pasta segment, starting with a tasty spaghetti with octopus and pepper. Chef may be celebrated for his crudo, but his pasta is utterly amazing. Cooked perfectly, the pasta takes in the flavours of this dish so well — unlike last night’s disastrous pasta dish that tasted like 3 separate items plopped together at the last minute. The flavours here were symbiotic. Mmm…

13-lobster_risotto

We continue with the pasta segment with this wonderful risotto, made with the fabulous Acquerello carnaroli rice. The richness of the Maine lobster comes full force in this beautiful dish, bearing a creaminess and fullness that one desires during a risotto craving. Wow.

My dining companion was doing about 1 dish for my 3 until I catch up, and we continued to chat on while enjoying some of the amazing wine he had brought. He is a wine collector, and the wines he bring are always fantastic. Though I was on pasta and seafood, the unobtrusive reds worked very well. Fantastic to enjoy such a tasting menu with someone so knowledgeable about food and fine dining!

14-halibut

After the pasta interlude we return to fish, this time a brilliant halibut. One of Chef Marino’s ultimate abilities is to leave the flavourful strong fishes to its own devices, but to accentuate the lighter fishes to bring out its full essence. Halibut is usually not one of my favourites, but this piece was spectacular. Full flavoured, this piece retained a strong texture without compromising on the taste. Excellent!

15-king_salmon

We revisit the Alaskan King salmon next, a rich and beautiful serving of this excellent fish. Wonderfully rich, the slices of this vivid treat were specifically tailored for my love of oily fish it seemed…beyond tasty, mmm… But it was this dish when I started to feel I’m close to hitting a wall. It has been a lot of food, and my pace has slowed noticeably.

16-rabbit_milanese

Just in time we move to the meats, which Chef always realise that in a tasting it should be done in appropriate portions and selections as to not overwhelm. The first of the meat dishes is a beautiful rabbit milanese. A perfectly sized portion for this tasting extravaganza, it brought out the delicate taste of the rabbit successfully. Excellent!

17-anatra

Finally we arrive at course #17, the last of the savoury dishes — and one that Chef outdid himself. A beautiful serving of duck breast, cooked perfectly and sliced to get the most out of each bite. I love duck, and this was a perfect way to end this amazing tasting meal!

My readers know I’m not the biggest dessert fan, and my friend was frankly fading as well — he began his tasting menu 2 hours before mine! So we decided to ask Chef to bring out all the desserts so we could just sample them.

18-gorgonzola

I managed to get a photo of the first, the cheese course — a tangy dolceatte gorgonzola. Honestly it was a little too much at this point, the piece wee too big after 17 wonderful courses. Tasty, but I could not finish it at all.

Unfortunately, at this point I was spent and didn’t manage to take photos of the final dishes, which came out together — alongside Chef Marino. He joined us for some wine and we chatted about this amazing tasting menu. He so loves his craft it is a joy just to talk the dishes with him.

At this point our mutual friend had to leave, so we bid him a good night. Those wines of his were fantastic, an added treat to this tasting extravaganza. I chatted on with chef over some more wine and grappa into the night and closed a fantastic night of dining.

Why I love Il Grano is not just the talent of Chef Marino, his ability to bring out the best of each ingredient and to create masterpieces after masterpieces, but his utter love and devotion to his craft. He does not compromise, he does not self-promote at the expense of his craft. The ingredients he grows himself or acquires himself at dawn hours, fighting top sushi chefs for the same beautiful seafood as the best omakase sushi bars in town. He cooks everything himself, and often even serves. He brings the best of an Italian small family-owned trattoria together with a Michelin-level presentation.

Frankly, if I had the chance to pick my final meal, it would be at the hands of Sal Marino. And I wouldn’t even want to see the menu — or need to.

Amazing…

Il Grano
11359 Santa Monica Boulevard
West Los Angeles, California