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Test Kitchen with The Daily Dose

October 26, 2010

I’m still not sure where I stand on the locavore issue.

While I see the advantages of supporting local economies and reducing environmental impact, I’m blessed to live in a region that can support significant and diverse food production.

I’d hate to be a locavore living in Phoenix.

And besides, I do like my foie gras, imported truffles and single malt Scotch!

What I do know is that I like food that comes from a specific point of view. Be that cultural, gastronomical or, in this case, ideological. It’s that singular point of view that brings uniqueness, passion and, for lack of a better word, “soul” to the cooking.

On November 2, The Daily Dose, a locavore restaurant committed to sourcing all their ingredients within a 100 mile radius of LA, opens in Downtown LA in the Biscuit Lofts in the same stretch that houses Church & State, Swill wine bar and Royal Claytons.

But last Sunday, Test Kitchen hosted a preview day for the upcoming restaurant. Interestingly, it was the first time Test Kitchen has served brunch, lunch and dinner. Fitting, though, as The Daily Dose intends to cater to a local breakfast, lunch and dinner crowd.

Incidentally, this is not the first preview The Daily Dose has had. In May, the at-the-time-unnamed restaurant held a series of preview dinners to test the waters and has been eagerly anticipated ever since.

The restaurant is the brainchild of developer and restauranteur Sarkis Vartanian, with Chef Christian Page (previously of Savoy and The Harrison in NYC) heading up the kitchen. I had met Chef Page previously at Walter Manzke‘s dinner at Test Kitchen and we chatted several times throughout the night.

One interesting piece of information that he did reveal was that he and Sarkis are also planning on running an (as yet unannounced) underground supper club, with once or twice weekly dinners held at a nearby (but undisclosed) space, not at The Daily Dose. These will be single seating, family style affairs with a single price covering all food and alcohol. And they were also testing dishes for this concept at Test Kitchen that night, although these were off-menu “secret” dishes.

Off menu dishes? Of course that peaked my interest.

We started off dinner, as has become customary at Test Kitchen, with cocktails and bar bites. A “choose your poison” of tequila for the girl and The Elliot Spritzer (Aperol, lemon, champagne, fresh pomegranate) for me. I can’t say I loved either cocktail and, to be honest, the cocktail list left me rather uninspired that night. I really missed the usual presence of Joel Black and Julian Cox behind the bar. But tonight’s dinner wasn’t to be about the cocktails, it was about the food.

We were also joined for dinner by Liz of Food She Thought and her husband D, two of our favorite dining companions. The bar bites were served family style, as were most of the dishes that night.

Carlsbad Three-way | Carlsbad oysters, cucumber-habenero granita

These were a lovely way to start the meal. Fresh, briny and with a slight kick from the cucumber-habenero “granita”, although this had melted into a liquid by the time we ate it. Still, the flavors were spot on and I could have eaten a dozen. What’s not to love about a three-way?

Sonoma-eatballs | SoCal lamb meatballs, goat cheese mornay, paprika oil, fried parsley

These were slightly dry for my taste with an exterior that had toughened. Still, I happily chomped on mine. The benefits of being hungry at the beginning of the meal.

California pork belly, gastrique, chicharones, gremolata, bitter greens

Our first “off-menu” dish came out, courtesy of the kitchen. This was one of the dishes Chef Page was testing for their supper club concept and it was probably the best dish of the night. A large slab of pork belly, tender and succulent, even for pork belly. It’s a shame most of the other diners that night at Test Kitchen didn’t get to try this dish.

Once you go grassfed… you never go back | Wood grilled Dey Dey’s grass fed beef, Midnight Moon cheese, house ketchup & aioli, pickles

A grass fed beef burger with the bun replaced by a crusty flatbread. Oddly, the flatbread says lunch more than dinner to me but, having said that, this is something I’d definitely have for lunch. The patty was flavorful with a distinct beefiness and, in the absence of lettuce, tomato or other vegetal distractions, this burger was all about the beef and the bread, both of which were very good.

Potato chips, aioli

Our second off-menu dish courtesy of the kitchen. The potato chips were small, perhaps cut from fingerling potatoes. A nice accompaniment to the beef burger when you want that crunch.

On to the five course tasting menu, we began with a baguette, butter, quince preserve, and pork rillettes. The quince preserve was the star here, surprisingly outshining the pork rillettes, which on face value I’d expect to be my favorite.

Fired Up Mussels | wood oven roasted Carlsbad mussels, grilled ciabatta, compound butter

The mussels were very good, the residual garlicky broth in the shells teasingly delicious but the grilled ciabatta with the garlic and mussel broth soaked in was simple, comforting and extremely satisfying. Like sopping up the broth with crusty bread, minus the actual sopping up.

Oaxacan Blood Bath | mezcal, fresh heirloom tomatoes, woodfire oven roasted roma tomatoes, fresh celery juice, petron peppers, cilantro, dill, garlic, red bell pepper, beet horse radish, sal de gusano, pepper, lemon juice and more

My second cocktail of the night and the ingredient list read more like a shopping list than a recipe. It tasted like a more complex Bloody Mary with some nice spice and heat.

What’re You? Chicken? | Fried chicken thigh, rapini, honey vinaigrette, fresh cayenne, chicken leg cassoulet, pistou

Here we had chicken prepared two ways. I actually preferred the fried chicken, if I had to choose. But it’s hard to go past fried chicken. The flavors here were Asian inspired. Nice interplay between the sweetness of the honey vinaigrette and the fresh cayenne and the breading was not too heavy. The rapini could be considered the “healthy” component of this dish, I guess. The chicken cassoulet was actually very good too. Fall off the bone tender, warm and comforting on what was a rainy LA night.

Grass Fed Hash | coffee-cacao flavored Dey Dey’s corned beef hash, poached egg, greens, paprika oil

This is a dish I could crave for breakfast or brunch. Perhaps odd on a dinner menu but, in light of the flatbread burger and the subsequent French toast dessert, definitely in the theme of this breakfast meets lunch meets dinner meal. I loved that the top of the corned beef hash was fried crispy and crusty into almost a crunchy pie crust. Very satisfying to break your fork through. The 62 degree poached egg is something I could only aspire to do (well, without the assistant of an immersion circulator at home) with the yolk and white coming out at the same soft boiled consistency. If you live Downtown, do yourself a favor and stop by The Daily Dose for breakfast when it opens just for this.

Grass fed flank steak, turnip and date puree, olive oil

Around the chicken course, The Daily Dose general manager and “proud father” of this birthing restaurant Sarkis Vartanian stopped by for a chat. How are we liking it? Loving it. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Done. Have you tried any of the off-menu dishes? Yes, Christian sent out the pork belly and the potato chips. What about the flank steak? Flank steak?!?

You don’t mention another off-menu dish to a table of food obsessives and not expect to bring it out. And soon we had our third off-menu dish, courtesy of the kitchen. The flank steak was surprisingly tender given the cut and still nicely pink on the inside. But the sweetness of the turnip and date puree was deeply satisfying. Apparently they’ll be serving this dish sandwich-style, although I’d be disappointed if they lost that puree.

French Tickler | brioche French toast, honey & sour cream ice cream, pistachio tuille, raspberry syrup

To end the meal, a “breakfast as dessert” dessert. Now, French toast is always going to be a tough one to wow me with. I’ve yet to taste a French toast nearly as good as Canelé’s. But I loved the honey and sour cream ice cream here and I’m lactose intolerant! Thank God for Lactaid.

And so it was the end of another Test Kitchen meal. This one was no Michael Voltaggio or Walter Manzke or even “Top Sous Chef” fine dining inspired affair. No, The Daily Dose’s aspirations are very different. No different in quality but with a keen eye on affordability, locality and community.

And there was definitely a sense of community at Test Kitchen that night. Chef Christian Page spent much of the evening on the floor, stopping to chat at various tables, ever friendly and approachable. Sarkis, the consummate networker, worked his room like a proud and gracious pro. And of course, Brian Saltsburg‘s (and his hair) and Stephane Bombet‘s ever-present hospitality, making every food follower in the room feel like this was their second home. The only fixture missing was KevinEats. Luckily for us, as we snagged his table for the night.

I’m still not sure where I stand on the locavore issue.

But I do know I stand on the side of community and “soul”.

Test Kitchen
9575 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035
(310) 277-0133

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Welcome to the Wolvesden

October 22, 2010

Pop-ups are tomorrow’s food trucks.

The bleeding edge of food fanaticism right now is underground dining.

And the hardest seat to score in underground dining is one at the Wolvesden.

What’s the Wolvesden?

It’s an underground dining society run by Chef Craig Thornton, otherwise known as Wolvesmouth. A perhaps bi-monthly dinner in a secret residence, seating 8 to 12 guests per night, serving up 12 to 15 courses of whatever Craig feels like cooking. And he never repeats a dish.

Picky eater? The Wolvesden is not for you. You don’t get to order. Craig cooks, you devour. That’s the pact.

(L-R) Photos courtesy of @Amyshungry

How much would you expect to pay for a meal like this? Well, how much would you? That’s the question you must answer as it’s pay what you feel it’s worth. This one’s not about commerce. It’s about food as art, food as obsession and food as manifesto.

Make no mistake. This is not a restaurant. There are no servers, no white tablecloths, no rules. Think of it as a dinner party with new friends. With a one-man kitchen.

Craig shops, preps and cooks solo. A departure from his days at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bistro in Las Vegas. This is chef as auteur.

Bring enough alcohol to share liberally and your sense of adventure.

On the night we visited the Wolvesden, we were given an address to turn up to and a phone number to call once there. Where is it? Suffice to say “somewhere in LA”. This is underground dining, after all.

The night’s menu.

Sweetbread, potato, leek, chive

Skate, brown butter, carrot, sage

Beet, valdeon cheese, pineapple

Dungeness crab two ways, cauliflower puree, frozen grapes, tarragon

Arctic char, butternut squash puree, rye bread fritter

Heirloom tomatoes, bacon pound cake, bacon, basil, balsamic

Rabbit, tortilla puree, pickled red onion, huitlacoche, poblano

Duck, duck skin, sauce, green onion, cucumber

Wild boar, parmesan polenta, parsley, orange jus

Short rib, bone marrow stuffed prune, black truffle coffee meringue, chanterelle jus

Foie gras shortbread, praline vacherin, bitter caramel poached pear, Earl Grey panna cotta

Caramel corn ice cream, apple, peanut butter powder

This was 12 courses of inventive, thoughtful, boundary-pushing food. Tastes that skipped as easily from subtle to powerful as from comforting to shocking. In a meal of many highs, the comfort of the sweetbreads with potato and leek soubise stood out, as did the sweet and smooth butternut squash puree and arctic char, Craig’s play on Peking duck perfectly sous vide with duck skin crisp, the brightness of the wild boar and parmesan polenta, and the beautiful subtlety of the Earl Grey panna cotta and the foie gras shortbread.

It’s a shame you’ll never see these dishes again. Craig doesn’t repeat dishes.

But score an invitation to the Wolvesden and you’ll discover favorites of your own.


Well, that’s a secret.


** My photos from this dinner were also published by the LA Weekly to accompany their story on the Wolvesden.

Test Kitchen : Top Sous Chef

September 15, 2010

“It’s Top Chef, not Top Sous Chef.”

Tom Colicchio loves to run that line every season or two on Top Chef.

But tonight at Test Kitchen, it was Top Sous Chef.

Three rising sous chefs took center stage tonight to deliver a meal that was Executive Chef-worthy.

Dan Moody, Ludo’s sous at LudoBites.

Amanda Baumgarten, of Top Chef fame and sous at Water Grill.

And Dylan Hallas, ex-chef at the plagued Barbarella/Ursa space, and previously of The Tasting Kitchen, Bazaar and Osteria Mozza.

Contributing two courses each of a six course tasting menu, they delivered a meal that was surprisingly cohesive.

It was a familiar crowd at Test Kitchen. Having been there four times since it opened less than a month ago (previously for Jordan Kahn, Walter Manzke and Michael Voltaggio), it’s almost become the Test Kitchen family. Kevin Eats was at his usual corner booth, The Minty and F For Food were in the house, as were Ryan TAmyshungry and 3starbackpackerBrian and Stephane kept front of house running smoothly.

Joel Black knocked out great cocktails as usual.

Blogger Holly was in the kitchen as Chef Dan’s sous.

And Top Chef alum and now ex-Cafe Wa s chef Alex Reznik dropped by to expedite service.

The meal started with Chef Dan’s Foie Gras Powdered Donuts with Shallot Jelly Filling. Definitely influences of Chef Ludo here. This was the same infamous foie gras powder at LudoBites 4.0. Rendered foie gras and tapioca maltodextrin. The donut itself was a comforting start to the meal, the shallot jelly dressing looking like a sweet jelly filling but surprisingly meaty in taste. I would have loved to have tried these hot but unfortunately ours came out room temp. The filling was just a bit too firm for me. I would have liked it to ooze upon biting.

Accompanying this was Joel’s first cocktail of the night, the What a Jerk. Smith & Cross Jamaican Rum, Appleton 12 yr Jamaican Rum, St Elizabeth Allspice Dram, fresh lemon and honey, this was a smoky, heady, enveloping cocktail. All that was missing was a Cuban cigar.

Next up was Chef Amanda’s Soft Shell Crab with Corn Relish, Tomato, Bacon and Vinaigrette. Now, viewers of Top Chef probably remember her as the “cute one” but often criticized by certain other chefs. I’ve got to say, editing probably didn’t do her justice as she knocked this dish out of the park. The soft shell crab was meaty and crispy, her corn and bacon relish both sweet and smokily salty, and overall a beautiful looking plate. Inventive? Maybe not. But a satisfying, comforting dish I could eat again and again.

Dylan’s first dish, the Tartine of Chanterelle Mushrooms, Bone Marrow and Herb Salad was 86’ed by the time we ate. Unfortunate, as I would have liked to have tasted it but that’s the vagaries of a one night pop-up. It’s hard to judge the number of covers you’ll do on any given night.

We returned to Chef Dan’s next course, the Pan Seared Striped Bass, Vadouvan Beets, Yellow Coconut, Curry Hollandaise and Fried Spinach. The vadouvan bore the hallmarks of Ludo but the dish was all Dan’s. The striped bass was well cooked, the puree of vadouvan beets below adding sweetness and spice, the curry hollandaise taking us to the Subcontinent, and the fried spinach a textural counterpoint. But what made this dish was a wonderful frozen red beet, sherry vinegar and bacon fat sorbet that sat atop the whole dish, imbuing it with heat, acid and a refreshing iciness. A standout dish and one to keep in his repertoire.

Time for another cocktail, this time the Internal Affair. Tequila, fresh lemon, prickly pear, and cherry bomb jalapeno syrup. Tasting like a cherry magarita with a kick, the prickly pear added a greeness to it that I’m not sure I liked. Still, an interesting cocktail.

Amanda’s next dish was her Wild King Salmon with Sauce Soubise, Leek and Date Compote, and Sherry Reduction. A great story of small catch pre-spawn salmon by a rustically named fisherman in Alaska, but my salmon was rather dry. Still, the skin was nicely crisped and the accompaniments on this dish elevated it. A flavorful and smooth soubise, the sweet leek and date compote, and cubes of a lemon mousse fritter.

Finally, dessert and my first taste of Chef Dylan’s cuisine. A sweet and savory Burrata with Peaches. Made from imported Italian cream, the Di Stefano burrata was expectedly creamy and exhibited a smokiness. But the addition of honey and peaches, and the sparing use of sea salt added layers to the dish. A dessert for those that like a bit of savory in their sweet, Dylan’s Mozza experience came into play here.

Of course, there was another cocktail to accompany dessert. This time the Trinidadian Ice Cream. Zaya 12 year rum, vanilla ice cream, Angostura Bitters, caramel and flowering basil. I liken this to an adult float. Sweet, alcoholic, satisfying and potent. Definitely a dessert cocktail.

We were the final plate of food to come out of the kitchen for the night. Holly joined us at our table for a drink and we migrated to the bar for drinks and industry gossip with Chefs Dan, Amanda, Dylan, Alex, master mixologist Joel, Test Kitchen brains Brian, Bill, and Stephane, and the assorted blogger barflies.

The “boards of fame” came out in the kitchen for signature too. These have been signed by all the guest chefs at Test Kitchen.

Everything from simple signatures to the more flowery prose of Neal Fraser, “Grab your dicks and eat some food”, signed “Kenny Mother Fuckin’ Powers”.

Oh, and of course a final drink. A refreshing whisky and blackberry syrup potion whipped up by Joel.

Tomorrow, these sous chefs might return to the shadows of their executive chefs but, for tonight, the spotlight was all theirs.

Test Kitchen
9575 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035
(310) 277-0133

Test Kitchen - Amanda Baumgarten, Dylan Hallas, Dan Moody in Los Angeles on Fooddigger

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