Test Kitchen : Top Sous Chef
“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.
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 T, Amyshungry and 3starbackpacker. Brian 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