Restaurant: CR8 by Roberto Cortez [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]
Location: East Los Angeles
Date: May 9, 2018
Cuisine: Modern Art
Rating: Absolutely Amazing
Roberto Cortez’s CR8 is one of the most stunning dining experiences I’ve been too, and so when after years away from Los Angeles he returned to the city for a 3 night engagement I had to take out a whole night.
Roberto is certainly the most creative and artistic chef I’ve ever had cook for me, which alone would be stunning, but after attending four of his events his food continues to be stunning. Dishes impress for both artistry, complexity, and flavor.
For his latest CR8, Roberto Cortez (left) has teamed up with Matthew Biancaniello (right), a master mixologist, to add a set of elaborate cocktail pairings to Roberto’s stunning cooking.
Tonight’s dinner is themed after Frida Kahlo, the famous Mexican artist (married to fellow artist Diego Rivera). Roberto loves to theme his dinners broadening them from “mere” hedonistic fare into artistic and cultural experiences.
The location is at this old social hall in far east LA, known as the York Manor, a newly renovated historical landmark in Highland Park, California — it was brutally far in traffic (just for the record).
Kinda an interesting building.In maybe not the loveliest neighborhood.
On the left is maestro Roberto Cortez and on the right his cocktail partner in crime, Matthew Biancaniello.
Our evening begins in the garden behind the building.
With Matthew’s first creation: Stinging Nettle/Bergamot Pimms Cup with stained cucumber slices, beet and tumeric.
This was one of my favorite cocktails of the night as it was a bit sweeter than most (and I have a sweet tooth). Like many, and like many recent dishes and drinks, it features lots of flowers. The color contrasts were stunning and I enjoyed the crunchy cucumbers.
Roberto printed up this stunning — and I really mean stunning — art and information book for the evening.
Mixing wine and the dizzying array of cocktails isn’t the easiest. I’d pretty much call the evening a wine fail even though the actual wines were great. They blend fine with the food, but just not the bitter notes in the cocktails (which themselves pair with the food).
From my cellar: 1996 Taittinger Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs Comtes de Champagne. VM 97. Taittinger’s 1996 Comtes de Champagne is another highlight. The flavors are only now beginning to show elements of complexity, a great sign for aging. Gently spiced and buttery notes suggest the 1996 is about to enter the early part of its maturity, where it is likely to stay for another decade or so.
The table setup is lovely – an almost literal garden.
Each dish has a lovely conceptual page in the book. Roberto probably shot the photos himself. He’s a fabulous photographer.
Flor de la Vida – White asparagus flower pozole, gelee de maon, pina, jalapeno, bergamot, huacatay.
The first pairing cocktail: Roasted lobster shell infused Aquavit with goat milk, morels, goose barnacles, onion and gruere served warm. Yeah, those are actual ingredients in the drink! It was strong, with a slight sour milkiness. Matthew’s flavors are very complex and it’s sometimes hard to pick out individual elements.
The “soup” for this dish was actually served in this separate “spoon/glass” then merged in:
Like many of Roberto’s dishes the whole was greater than the parts. It was a bit spicy, floral, with strong asparagus and ham notes and even a touch of sweetness. Really fabulous.
The blood symbolizes some of the physical (and spiritual) pain and trauma in Frida’s life, like I imagine her impaling in a 1925 bus accident — very much a bummer, but certainly fuel on her artistic fire!
Sangre – Red clay beets, beet panna cotta, blood dressing, pickled mustard, raspberry, apple, yogurt, bulls blood. This ain’t your typical beet (I almost typed blood) salad. It was very bright flavored and the mustard seeds were amazing.
Wild bay leaf, Mezcal, papaya, wild juniper infused white balsamic, blended with cacao nibs on top. Potently mezcal!
The cocktails are super interesting but I like the fruit and acid tones of wine — Champagne pairs with everything!
Left some art of my own on the plate.
From my cellar: 2010 Do Ferreiro Albariño Rías Baixas Cepas Vellas. 91 points. Figured I’d need a flexible pairing wine. Dense and buttery nose initially with a hint of boiled eggs (not in a bad way). Complex, salty nose with pronounced minerality, like air by the sea – damp iodine. Also fennel, florals rather than fruits. Concentrated palate with high accidity, also very chalky. There’s tannin of the skin contact and certain filling from it. With time in the glass it develops a very beautiful floral aromatics.
And the pages turn.Sol y Vida – Yeast fermented rice, ember charred liquid mushroom, cepa, coffee, red wine, leek ash. If you look back at previous CR8 dinners you will see variants of this dish, and as always it’s a favorite. The crunch and softness of the rice is wonderful with the coffee/sweet sauce tones.
Four part Caesar Salad with Dolin Blanc Vermouth, Romaine, Parmesan Rind, Anchovy juice and Crouton. Hmmm.
Seb brought (because he only has one white wine): 2013 Vincent Dauvissat (René & Vincent) Chablis 1er Cru La Forest. VM 91-94. Bright, subdued aromas of pear drop and citrus fruit. Densely packed and saline in the mouth, offering terrific stony energy and depth along with a sexy impression of sucrosite . Still tight, austere and uncompromisingly dry for all its richness. More obviously soil-driven than the foregoing samples–really classic stony Chablis premier cru.
Roberto loves candles. The first dinner I did of his they were popping in the salt all night.
The artist at work.
Paleta de Colores – Salmon Belly Pop, calamansi miso, chive blossom, chicken skin, XO butter.
I’ve never had salmon in lollipop form before — it ruled. Very soft, but firm enough to pick up, with sweet and tangy and rich notes. The XO butter was amazing.
Sea bean bourbon old fashioned with almond liquer and candy cap angostura bitters and viola ice cube. I like old fashioned’s.
Chastity belt? (couldn’t help myself)
El Secreto – Crab Salpicon, kale, sourdough broth, pumpkin seed, woodruff, poblano. Delicious inside the slightly bitter leaf burrito.
Homemade Mole Liqueur. He infused the Liqueur with dozens of things. Very complex.
1997 M. Chapoutier Côte-Rôtie La Mordorée. VM 90+. Full ruby-red. Black raspberry, black cherry, licorice, mocha and woodsmoke aromas; some high tones. Very rich but currently rather unforthcoming in the middle. Flavors of black cherry and shoe polish. In an awkward stage today, with a bit of edgy acidity.
Best dish coming?
Cocinera Artista – Rose petal mole, lobster, wild scallion root, soft pecan, bound coconut (with the drink in the background).
A close up on the food because this lobster mole was just awesome. Truly stunning flavors, with more than a bit of rose.
Ogo seaweed infused gin smoked garlic, Surinam cherries, parsley. Strong!
Suenos Liquidos – Barbacoa Liquido, barbacoa bouillon, pinon cream, black salt, tomatoes, brussel sprout leaves, mustard, dill, arugula. This was a reconfigured version of one of my favorite dishes in Liquid Forms, and it was even better here. Very meaty “soup” although fairly salty.
Shot of Pechuga Mezcal with Blood Orange reduction , chia, turmeric, wheat grass foam sangrita. So a shot and chaser. Quite strong flavors and high alcohol on the palate.
This Frida painting clearly represents her terrible spinal surgery. Ick.Espinas y Cenizas – Burnt sugarcane duck, sesame prailine, fennel, morel, ginger, coffee, hibiscus, ash, garlic. This dish had a very interesting format where you were supposed to try bites of the duck with each of the “condiments”, each symbolizing an element of Frida’s pain. Quite lovely actually.
Cold Hot Chocolate with tequila, wild black sage, chipotle and rose geranium roasted marshmallows with ash from the Thomas fire and pine pollen. Very strong alcohol flavors.
And finally we reach the dessert stage, which begins with:
Tangerine Lip Balm. Yes, you put on a lip flavor first.
Mi Bebe – Arroz con leche crema, lavender, almond, canela, aloe vera, tangerine lip balm and lace. An absolutely fabulous creme and fruit type dessert. Very Mexican too.
Aquavit, lavender, calamansi-served warm.
Raices – Porcelana Underground, Chocolate, spruce oil, mushroom flan, malt, pine syrup, nuts. Porcelana is one of the world’s best chocolates. I looked at using some for gelato. It’s 40X as expensive as Valrhona and would require about $440 of chocolate for one batch of gelato — won’t be going there.
Triple Pine Cone Eggnog with Greek Coffee. Wowzer!
Three flavors of gelato by Sweet Milk Gelato (me):
White Chocolate Lime-Berry – lime infused milk blended with Valrhona Ivoire white chocolate and laced with frutto di bosco coulis.
Gianduja – Valrhona chocolate with Hazelnut Regina (the queen) from Turin
Black Madeira – Blackberry Madeira sorbetto
Special coffee cocktail Matthew “whipped up.” Paired very nicely.
Again Roberto shows off his unique mastery of the culinary arts. His number one strength (and he has many) is his uncanny sense of food harmony. This isn’t laser focused ingredient expression style food like Saison, it’s symphony of flavors. I’d liken it to Mozart too, as it has that rococo lightness, where the complex elements blend together into a lovely whole. This is not easy. Other hyper-intellectual chefs often have discordant notes, like at Maude or Twist or Mugaritz. Nothing stands out of place with Roberto’s cooking. The flavors and textures blend seamlessly.
Matthew Biancaniello’s beverage pairings were really interesting. The man is like Roberto’s liquid twin stylistically. As my wife put it at a previous CR8, “I never imagined drinks could be so creative.”
The whole Frida thematic was as elaborate as Roberto has ever been.
I should also note that because of the cocktails my wine pairing efforts were (way) less successful than at Roberto’s previous meals (Dark Illuminated Forest, Purotekuta, and Savage Romanticism). The strong herbal, alcoholic, and citrus notes in Matt’s drinks, while lovely and evocative themselves, knocked out the fruit sensitivity on my palette. This had the effect of suppressing the sweetness or fruit from the wines and rendering them overly acidic. I don’t think you can easily mix these two beverage profiles at the same time. Personally, although the cocktails are interesting, I’d just go with the wine — I find it more “even” (and less bitter).
Overall, I really adore this sophisticated cooking as its a synergy of the creative, intellectual, and hedonistic!
It’s also worth noting that I had recruited a couple foodie friends who were new to CR8 and they pretty much all declared this one of the best meal experiences of their lives!
A couple of us felt like second dinner — not that we were hungry at all — in fact I was full enough to be nauseous (plus the combo of LOTS of different alcohols) but we wanted to hang out so we went to this Little Tokyo Mall.
Very typical old school LA Japanese Izakaya.
A couple rolls. I really wanted some rolls (for the rice) to settle my stomach. Vegetable roll.
Salmon skin roll or something like that.
Agadashi tofu (fried tofu with ponzu). I always like this dish.
Some kind of dynamite. Can’t remember.