Gourmet Junkies

March 2, 2010

The Tar Pit’s Little Pitfall

Chef Mark Peel, from Campanile fame, has opened a new, gorgeously slick cocktail lounge that smacks of an old time Supper Club complete with sexy waitresses donning big flowers behind their ears and vintage black dresses.  He nailed it!  This place is smooth…… creamy walls, sinewy brass railing sectioning off areas and crystal chandeliers that reflect in the palm-frond mirror grates that grace the room.  The lighting is perfect so moi was even more impressed.

We are approached by a darling waitress with an English accent who pointed out that there was a lovely cocktail menu.  Hmmmm….  what to have. My dinner partner ordered one of the fancy drinks, The Gin Gin Mule, which he thought was interesting but too sweet, while I went more classic.  Here comes the PITFALL….. it took 25  minutes for the drinks to arrive!  Geez. Our waitress quickly tried to smooth things over with a VERY sweet little libation while we waited for the ones we ordered. What?  They can bring a drink we DIDN”T order in 2 seconds flat, but can’t bring the one we DID order for 25 minutes?  Really?  We still were kept waiting so she brought us the Deviled Eggs, which were quite tasty.  Finally, our drinks arrived.

On to the Menu:  I think what Mark is trying to do here is bring back a bit of nostalgia to the LA Restaurant Scene, and boy do they need that.  But, as yummy as the menu sounds, we were a bit disappointed overall, and I will get to the last part of “over-all” in a minute.  We ordered small plates from the Bar Menu so we could get a sampling of a few dishes.  We started with the Artichokes Trastevere with a Cynar Aioli. (Cynar is an Artichoke-based Italian liqueur that is rumored to relieve stress)… okay.  The large Artichoke hearts are breaded, deep fried and served with the Aioli.  I thought they were pretty good while my other half said “Eh!” On to the Saffron-Scented Shrimp, a dandy-looking Shrimp Cocktail with a Seville Orange Remoulade that just fell short.  I don’t know what it is these days, but whenever I order Shrimp, it comes tasting watery, flat and just plain boring.  Our next dish hit the SPOT…. oh boy… Duck Sliders!!!!  We both could have stuck our faces into these baby’s!  Man are they good! The BEST sliders I have ever had…. thin slices of succulent duck in an Orange Gastrique that just melt in your mouth.  Our last dish was kind of Spanish-Tapas-like: Sauteed Fennel Pork Sausages with Potatoes, Onions, Peppers in a Rouille (garlic, breadcrumbs, saffron and chili peppers made into a paste… always served with Bouillabaise and sometimes called “French Rust”).  This reminded me of Spain and the little bars and tapas places who served this kind of food.  I loved it.

So here we come to the “over-all” portion of this review.  When we sat down, we both remarked how beautiful this restaurant is, how mellow it seemed and that the combination of the great interior, good lighting and ambiance provoked thoughts of finally finding a drop dead beautiful restaurant, led by a drop dead wonderful chef that we would come back to time and time again.  THEN: IT GOT SO LOUD THAT WE COULD NOT HEAR ONE ANOTHER WHEN WE WERE SITTING 6 INCHES APART!!!!!!!!  Now, don’t get me wrong…I LOVE noise in a restaurant, it makes me feel alive, fun and “with it”, but this was beyond, really.  I’ve been to Mozza Pizzaria (very loud), Cecconi’s (pretty darn loud), Church and State (yes, loud), but nothing can compare to the noise level at Tar Pit… it was deafening.  Now, I ask you, WHY?  Do restaurants HAVE to be that loud?  Just a little loud is just fine, but when you honestly can’t hear the person next to you I think it is time to tone it down just a bit. The music was blaring and what started out to be Sinatra-like sounds became just plain loud and completely annoying.

I loved this restaurant, don’t get me wrong, but my dinner partners said they would not come back because of the noise level.  I can’t give you a recipe for noise, but I will give you my recipe for Limoncello Grilled Shrimp and Asparagus but before I do that…. go and try Tar Pit and let me know if I’m becoming an old, cranky lady or is it too LOUD???? And, try the drinks… they are stellar.

Limoncello Grilled Shrimp and Asparagus

24 large prawns, shelled and cleaned

1 cup Caravella Limoncello

1/4 cup minced fresh rosemary

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1/2 cup white wine

Metal skewers

48 fresh asparagus spears, trimmed and washed, then tossed in a little olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt and pepper

1. Mix together the Caravella Limoncello, rosemary, salt, pepper and white wine.  Place prawns in a large ziplock bag, pour in the marinade and chill for several hours or overnight.

2. Drain the shrimp and with a sharp knife, pierce each prawn down the center, being careful not to split it along the entire length.

3. Carefully thread 2 asparagus spears in the hole and place on a sheet pan.  Brush with a bit of the marinade.

4. Prepare the grill and grill prawns until just cooked and asparagus is tender.

Makes 24 Appetizers   Serve with Limoncello Pomatini’s (recipe follows) or a crisp white wine.

Limoncello Pomatinis

1 ½ ozs. Vanilla vodka

½ ozs. Caravella Limoncello

1-2 ozs. Pomegranate juice

1 splash of  Lime juice

Place all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake vigorously.  Strain into a chilled martini glass and enjoy!!

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February 16, 2010

Bouchon Bites Back

Okay, I’m probably going to get hell for this, but I’m going to write about it anyway.

First of all, let me say I LOVE THOMAS KELLER…. LOVE him! I have been to most of his stellar restaurants (French Laundry, Bouchon Napa and Per Se in NYC) and have always come away swooning over his absolutely delish food, so when my fiance said we were going to Bouchon (Keller’s latest eatery in Beverly Hills at the Montage Hotel) I was ON IT!  So excited. What to wear, what to wear, what to wear??

Now, the Montage doesn’t actually “house” Bouchon… it is located across the little park in the center.  We found it and entered where we were directed to go after looking for a sign).  Well, now… we entered what looked like  the lobby of a condominium building.  There was a staircase to the left, a counter/desk thingy and not much else.  Where do we go?? Well, I guess UPSTAIRS!!  We climb the stairs to find ourselves in another sort of “lobby” and are directed down a long hallway to the bar area.  If you know me, you know I’m usually up for anything, but this whole arrangement seemed very dis-jointed to me.  Not a great welcome from the GREAT KELLER.  Oh well, on with the evening….

We were a little early and decided to have a drink at the bar. Opps!  Can’t do THAT.  The bar was completely crowded with diners.  That in itself is a good thing… one can eat at the bar (one of my fave things to do) BUT there was absolutely no place to sit, or stand for that matter, and sip a cocktail.  Kind of weird.  I would think they would at least have some kind of area set aside for those waiting for their friends for dinner or someone just wanting to have a drink at Bouchon.  Don’t think  this was very well thought-out. We stood in a corner with our drinks waiting for our dinner partners.

The dining room is really pretty… the lighting is elegant and it has a soft, warm feeling. The bar area, while the same colors, lacked something… it just seemed a little un-finished and plain.  On to din-din……..

We sat down and were immediately approached by our waiter…. he was engaging without being overly so, but what I thought was really un-Keller-like, he read the evenings specials from a little book he had.  Now, I’ve owned a restaurant so I think I know a little bit about service and it just seems to me that it isn’t too much to ask of your waiters to LEARN the specials for the evening.  There were only 3-4 items.  I know, picky, picky, but it is Thomas Keller’s place for heaven sakes!!

All of us ordered different dishes:  One Trout (supposed to be very good!), one Chicken (also touted to be excellent), one Duck (ordered “medium”) and one Mussels (that would be me, since I’m a Mussels Freak AND I wanted the Frites!)  Our friends had been to Bouchon 3 times and have had a good dinner each time, which is one reason we decided to try it… the other being it is THOMAS KELLER.  So, here is where I’m most likely to make a few enemies…. it just wasn’t that great.  Not great at all.  Disappointing. And I sooooo wanted it to be as stellar as his other places.   Now, granted, this is supposed to be a French Bistro and country-ish French food, and I took that into consideration, but it just fell flat for ALL of us.  Our friends said it just wasn’t as good as it had been before.  Maybe they were having a tough time in the kitchen, I don’t know, but  the Duck, (ordered “medium”) came out almost rare, the chicken just wasn’t as good as our friend had tasted before, and my Mussels were bland and tasteless.  Mussels need to be gutsy, garlicky, the broth full of flavor to the point of wanting to put your face in it and suck it up, or at the very least, eat a whole loaf of bread trying to get every ounce of sauce. This Mussel dish just didn’t have that. Sorry.  That’s just the way it all came down.

Now, the Good News:  The Frisee and Lardon Salad was PERFECT.  The Bibb Lettuce Salad was GORGEOUS, the Frites the BEST IN TOWN and the bread is excellent.  The service was very good and they had a good wines-by-the-glass list for those who only want a glass of wine. And the other good news is that I will try Bouchon again since it is THOMAS KELLER and I love and adore him.  I even have his cookbook.

So there you have it.  I will go back and I would encourage you to do the same and let me know what you think. On a scale of 1-10 we all gave it a 6-7 and I guess our expectations were a bit lofty, but it’s Keller!!!!!

So, now in honor of the Great Mussel, I shall give you my recipe for Mussels and hope you enjoy them.  ALWAYS buy the freshest mussels you can find: I recommend Santa Monica Seafood.  Call before and find out when they were delivered. They should be fighting when you pick them up!

Deb’s Mussel’s:

6-8 Servings
20 minutes prep
10 minutes cooking

For the Croutons:

8 thick slices of dense white Italian bread
1/3 – 1/2c olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled

For the Mussels:

6 qts very fresh mussels scrubbed and soaked*
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup minced shallots
3-4 cloves garlic thinly sliced
Sea salt & freshly ground pepper
1/4 tsp thyme
1/2 bay leaf
2 C light white wine (Sauvignon Blanc)
7 T butter
1/2 c cream
1/4 c chopped fresh parsley

To make the Croutons:

Preaheat broiler.
Brush the bread with olive oil and place under the broiler until golden brown on both sides.
Remove and immediately rub with garlic cloves.

Set aside.

To make the Mussels:

1. Sort through mussels, discarding any that are open or light in weight. DIscard any that are very heavy as they may contain a lot of sand.

2. Scrub the mussels with a stiff brush under running water and trim the protruding tufts of hair. Place the mussels in a tub or basin of cold water and soak for 1- 2 hours. Drain well.

3. Pre-heat a large deep kettle, add the olive oil and saute the shallots until opaque. Add the garlic, herbs, salt and pepper and saute over medium heat until garlic is soft. Do not allow garlic to brown.

4.  Add the white wine and mussels. Cover the pot and gently steam mussels until they open, about 5 minutes.

5. Spoon hot mussels into large soup bowls and keep warm.

6. Bring sauce in kettle to a boil. Add butter and cream and whisk sauce until butter is melted and sauce is bubbling.   Add parsley and correct seasoning adding more salt & pepper if needed.
7. Pour hot sauce over mussels. Top with toasted garlic croutons & garnish with fresh chopped chives and dig in!

If desired you may vary the recipe by adding:

1. Pancetta & fresh sliced mushrooms. Sautee with shallots until pancetta is crisp and mushrooms browned & proceed with recipe.
2. Chopped fresh tomatoes added with the white wine before steaming mussels.

If you do not like mussels, you can do the same recipe with shrimps in their shells.

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