Kiwami

11920 Ventura Blvd. Studio City, CA 91604(818) 763-3910 • katsu-yagroup.com

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I definitely enjoyed Kiwami, after all, we are talking about a Katsu-Ya restaurant here people, one of the godfathers of modern sushi, but at the same time 4 and 5 stars seemed a tad steep when the only thing I had worthy of that much hype was the seared yellowtail with black truffles. Very expensive, but very generous on the truffles. Making it very worth taking out a second mortgage on your house.

Unfortunately nothing else reached the same bar though, falling somewhere between solid good and been there, done that. Not even the hanabe (spicy tuna on crispy rice) which he invented! It was a big snooze by comparison to the copy cats at Sushi Roku or Koi, which may not have been the originators of the dish, but have since created the Mercedes of hanabe to Kiwami’s Ford.

And speaking of Roku and Koi, both of them crush it on decor, service and saki selection. Whereas Kiwami seems like it is still stuck in the past, coasting on a glory far past it’s expiration date. But, to be fair, for Studio City sushi, it’s still a solid bet, no bones about it.

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Catch

 Hotel Casa Del Mar • 1910 Ocean Way Santa Monica, CA 90405 • (310) 581-7714http://www.bytheblueseasantamonica.com/restaurants-catch.html

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Catch is quite the…well, catch. Easily the best restaurant of the Pico-Ocean Hotel Trifecta (Casa Del Mar, Shutters & The Viceroy). One, Coast and Whist simply don’t hold a candle.

For lunch I strongly suggest the lobster BLT. Now obviously it’s pretty hard to screw up lobster and bacon on a bun, but there are nuances that differentiate goodness from greatness. The lobster is moist and tender. The bacon crisp. And the avocado creamy. All met with the sweet airiness of the brioche and you’ve got the makings for a super sammy. Creamy and crunchy. Savory and sweet.

For dinner you will be surprised to hear that the sushi is pretty on point. Granted in LA you can almost get great sushi at a gas station, so perhaps it’s not that surprising. The rest of the menu isn’t half bad either, offering up things from land and sea like a delicious grilled octopus and a watermelon, feta salad that’s more refreshing than meeting a waiter in LA who isn’t also an actor.

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The Ultimate Foie Gras (Terrine)

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As much as I love foie gras in the seared form, that affection is significantly tempered when it comes to terrine. Not that there’s anything wrong with terrine per se, but when you have the seared to compare it with, it’s hard to get excited knowing you are only getting the runner up fruits of a goose’s torturous labor. That said, there are a few exceptions to the rule, because the Ultimates below taste like anything but settling…

The Inn at Pound Ridge – Pound Ridge, NY

As if foie gras wasn’t already enough of a treat as is, Jean-Georges took it upon himself to cross-breed it with crème brulée and thus I give you foie gras brulée. A terrine baked into a crust with a caramelized, candied top. It’s so damn good you’ll never want just plain ole terrine again. The only problem with it I can foresee some people having is deciding whether or not it’s more of a dessert than an appetizer- rich people problems are the worst.

The Bazaar – Los Angeles, CA & Miami, FL

It’s going to take you a minute or two to wrap your head around the presentation of this one, but after one bite of the foie gras cotton candy, you’ll take significantly less time wrapping your head around the fact that you want to place another order of it, stat! To elaborate, they take a tiny brick of terrine and hide it at the core of the cotton candy ball on a stick. The result is a fun, melt-in-your-mouth experience, as the cotton dissolves instantly, enveloping the savory pate in sweetness.

The French Laundry – Yountville, CA

This is the most traditional of The Ultimates, served as a straight up terrine from a local farm that exclusively deals with Thomas Keller, which means the geese are probably fed foie gras before they themselves are turned into it. But it’s actually not the terrine that’s the star here. And while the brioche toast they serve it with is divine, it’s not that either. Interestingly enough, it’s the salt. But not just any salt. A medley of salts sourced from all over the world, including one that dates back over 40 million years! Granted that could easily be a crock of shit that they spin to justify the obscene price tag, but Morton’s or not, I felt quite special scarfing down my foie gras with prehistoric seasoning.

Tasting Kitchen

1633 Abbot Kinney Blvd. Venice, CA 90291(310) 392-6644thetastingkitchen.com

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One of my favorites in LA. Great décor. Great food. Great drinks. Great service. Which is a lot of greats. And why Tasting Kitchen is a home run no matter what you’re looking for. Dinner or drinks with a friend, a fun date night, it’s nice enough to take a client for dinner and it’s even casual enough to take your kids, mostly because the staff keeps it down to earth, unlike that blowhard next door, AKA G. Jelina. Speaking of which, since Tasting Kitchen is also right on Abbot Kinney, it makes a wonderful plan B should you not be able to get a table G. Jelina, which is probably all for the best since I like Tasting Kitchen better anyway.

Just about everything I’ve ever had there falls somewhere between good and awesome sauce. From the wonderfully fresh oysters to the simple, but brilliant pastas to a killer steak. everything walked that perfect line between inventive and effortless. And while I am tempted to call them a jack of all trades, it would actually be a bit of a slight, because they are better than that. So I’m going with a queen of all trades. Sorry, I can’t go king, but that would be an over promise, after all, there were no Ultimates. But perhaps that’s just a matter of time, because I can’t wait to go back.

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The Ultimate Foie Gras (Seared)

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For me, foie gras in the seared form is almost categorically an Ultimate. So fucking good it actually requires profanity. And so much better than terrine I’m not even sure why the pate version exists. It’s like watching an SD channel on your HDTV when you know full well that you have an HD version of the same exact station! Why? Yes, these are the things that keep me up at night.

But as remarkable as seared foie gras is, that blessing is also a curse, because it means chefs have to go above and beyond to stand out from the entry level awesome. Here are two brilliant examples of exactly that.

Animal – West Hollywood, CA

If you are as into foie gras as I am, you’ve probably realized that pairing it with an element of sweetness is a common go to among chefs, so much so that it has become table stakes. So, Animal decided to go one better, forgoing the jams and reductions in favor of a down home Southern preparation, placing the foie gras on a buttermilk biscuit with maple syrup gravy drizzle over the top. It sounds insane, I know. And it is… Insanely good. In fact, it’s so fan-friggin-tastic I think it single handedly overturned California’s ban on foie gras. Sorry geese, but sometimes you have to take one for the team. Oh come on, don’t be offended. Geese are nasty creatures and you know it. They had it coming. (I probably I just lost a follower or two, didn’t I?).

Blue Hill – New York, NY

This is the one and only time I have ever seen foie gras in the form of soup and I can’t speak highly enough about the unrivaled, unbridled joy it elicited. Forget Coke, I’d like to buy the world a foie gras consommé.

Made in a broth of the liver itself, filled with chunks of seared foie gras and earthy mushrooms. Such a treat in the winter and also worthy of an Ultimate Hot Soup distinction.

Cleo

1717 Vine St. Los Angeles, CA 90028(323) 962-1711www.cleorestaurant.com

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I’m not sure why this place is such the scene that it is considering the decor is pretty underwhelming by comparison to the usual LA scene. Rather tame compared to the likes of The Bazaar at SLS for example. That said, if eye candy is what you consider decor, than you are heading to the right place.

On the upside, when it comes to things that you appreciate with your mouth Cleo did much better, the Brussels Sprouts are indeed the shiznit, but if you’ve ever been to Ilili’s in New York, they are a carbon copy in terms of recipe and fall a close second in terms of taste. The artichoke flat bread was also a winner. The octopus was good, but nothing all that inventive. The pumpkin salad proved to be just okay, as was the beef stew thing. Oh, and the bread pudding for dessert was also a bit of a pass, especially compared to the one we just had the night before at Animal (my favorite place in LA, in case I haven’t made that abundantly clear yet).

As for the other thing you can put in your mouth- no, not that. Get your mind out of the gutter. I speak of  the special cocktails, which are VERY good. My fav being the Clementina which was designated-driver good.

So not quite up to the hype, nor up to it’s namesake, the face that launched a thousand ships, but a worthy outing if you’re curiosity is so peaked it’s about to kill a cat.

P.S. There’s now a Cleo in South Beach Miami too. As well as The Bazaar right across the street.

3 teeth

The Ultimate Calf Brains

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Animal – Los Angeles, CA

Not that I’ve eaten an extensive array of brains, but of the few I’ve had, I have to give it up to Animal. Not only were they so good that I could’ve cared less about the fact that I was eating a calf’s cerebral matter, they were so good that I would happily order them again. I know it sounds like Fear Factor type shit to some, and zombie food to others, but I swear it was so good it’s mental. Okay, puns aside, if Green Eggs and Ham taught you anything, you owe it to yourself to branch out and try these sweet, apricot-glazed morsels of magnificence. You will be a better person because of it.

The Ultimate Sweetbreads

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I’m not sure why, but there is a huge misconception as to what sweetbreads really are. But to clear things up for the misconceived, they are NOT brains. They are glands. Now, I can only imagine that if the thought of them being brains was irksome to you, the whole gland thing didn’t exactly move the ball either, but at least now you know what you’ll be rejecting the next time someone offers them to you.

Animal – Los Angeles, CA

There is virtually no part of the anatomy this place can’t turn into gold. And man do they spin some sweet-ass sweetbreads. The thing I love so much about them is that they don’t overly bread and fry them. So many other restaurants seem like they are trying to hide something as opposed to improve something. Well, Animal gets it. They let just enough of the savory through, and then contrast it with an outer shell of crisp sweetness, so that when you bit into it, the two collide like someone walking along the street with a bar of chocolate and another with a jar of peanut butter (as though anyone has ever done that, ever) and BOOM- Two great tastes in one gland-based dish. Reese’s advertising was so stupid in the 70’s, and yet I still remember it. Scarred for life I suppose.

Dovetail – New York, NY

When dealing with a delicacy that isn’t exactly the foie gras of fine dining, you have to try a little harder to impress. But therein lies the razor’s edge. How much trying can you do before it becomes overdone? Like at The Gander, for example, overdone to the point where they actually miss the point and you taste absolutely nothing of the sweetbreads. Well, I’m not exactly sure what the answer is, but whatever Dovetail is doing is hella right, taking the sauce and batter right up to the very threshold of pomp, without crossing the line. In fact, it’s so good you’ll be all like “foie who?” Assuming you talk like that, which, dare I say, is a bit annoying.

Blue Plate

1415 Montana Ave. Santa Monica, CA 90402 • (310) 260-8877 • blueplatesantamonica.com

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Great addition to the walkable Santa Monica scene. Think of it as a little taste of Cape Cod far, far from home. From the decor to the food, this place has it down.

They also have good beer, fresh oysters and terrific red curry mussels (be sure to ask for extra bread to sop up the sauce- like an entire loaf maybe). And stick the landing with a pretty amazing Key Lime Pie. That’s the makings for a pretty happy mouth right there.

The only let down is the Lobster Roll. Not that it was flat out bad, I mean c’mon, it’s lobster meat piled on a hotdog bun, but compared to the Northeast, it’s just “eh.” However, if you’re nursing a lobster roll fix and the only thing that will cure it is more cow bell, then it will definitely suffice.

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Matsuhisa

129 N La Cienega Blvd. Beverly Hills, CA 90211 • (310) 659-9639 nobumatsuhisa.com

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The food is really quite something here, but that’s to be expected. I mean Nobu isn’t an icon of Japanese cuisine because he doesn’t know his ass from albacore. What isn’t to be expected however, is how horribly cheesy the décor is, covered in hand-painted murals that look like something out of the halls in an elementary school. And on top of that, there are trophies and mementos everywhere as well, like Andre Agassi’s tennis racket, and not done in a tasteful or even kitschy artful way either. Nor even campy like The Palm. More done like a twenty-something guy’s first apartment with no sense of how to make an environment appealing. As a result, it is SO distracting that it brings the entire experience down.

But if you must, there is little I’d say to dissuade you when it comes to the menu. Everything is tops.  But the one dish you would be criminally negligent not to order is the black miso cod. Nobody does it better, which is in large part due to the fact that he invented the dish.

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