Location: 2709 Main St, Santa Monica, CA 90405. (310) 392-9025
Date: January 11, 2019
Cuisine: Asian Fusion
Rating: Still good decades later
When I first moved to LA 25 years ago, Chinois was already a vibrant pillar of LA’s hot high end dining scene. It represented the kind of cool “fusion” of east/west cuisines that was so novel at the time, and almost never seen (by me) back on the East Coast.
The interior has been kept up, and still has that funky late 80s hip modern style. And while this is a long way from the starker more “rustic/urban” decor that is popular now, I still think it looks good.
For today’s Sauvages lunch — which is the annual Tête de cuvée Champagne lunch — we set up “next door” in the private room. I’d no idea this was even here, but it’s huge.
This is a newer Chablis producer I’m very fond of:
2012 Christophe et Fils Chablis 1er Cru Mont de Milieu. 92 points. Medium yellow. Quite ripe fruit but a whiff of seashell behind this. Pretty plush feel-you definitely sense the wood influence. More pear and yellow apple than citrus fruit character, some spice (unusual for Chablis), late iodine and limestone, lowish acidity. The wood plus ripe fruit plus low acidity make it veer in the direction of more southerly climats, but there is just enough Chablis character to identify it as such. To be drunk over the short term, that’s for sure.
2017 Domaine Huet Vouvray Sec Le Mont. JG 94. The 2017 Sec bottling from the Le Mont vineyard is another gem from Domaine Huët. The bouquet is bright, pure and nascently complex, offering up scents of lemon, apple, quince, bee pollen, chalky soil tones and a topnote of spring flowers. On the palate the wine is deep, full-bodied and more closed in personality than the Le Haut Lieu Sec, with a bit of the backend dustiness of shutdown young Vouvray already starting to throw its weight around, but with excellent depth at the core and impressive focus. The finish is long, beautifully balanced and intensely flavored, with great energy and grip. This is dynamite wine in the making but unlike the Le Haut Lieu Sec, I would be tempted to tuck this away in the cellar right away and not drink any bottles during its first couple of years, as I have the sense that this is going to shut down quite briskly and it will be pointless to waste bottles early on, particularly given how much potential there is here for down the road! (Drink between 2028-2060)
Today’s special menu.
Slightly spicy/sweet toro cones. This has been a puck staple for decades and it’s still fabulous.
Same with the Jewish Pizza, which is creme fraiche and lox. Delicious!
Sweet and sour scallops. Very nice.
Wagyu with asparagus. An amped up version of the cocktail classic.
Mini crab cakes.
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.
1988 Salon Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut. VM 97. After the lackluster 1990, things get back on track quickly with the 1988 Salon, a wine that is absolutely peaking today. From one of the all-time great vintages in Champagne the 1988 Salon exudes power and explosive intensity, with superb balance and pulsating acidity that gives the wine its drive. A host of candied lemon peel, hazelnut, smoke, licorice and anise overtones meld into the super-expressive finish. Disgorged à la volée, with no dosage.
1996 Ployez-Jacquemart Champagne Liesse d’Harbonville. JG 95. The Réserve Liesse d’Harbonville is Ployez-Jacquemart’s Tête de Cuvée and it is a fantastic example of the 1996 vintage. The wine is barrel fermented four to five year-old Burgundy barrels and does not go through malolactic fermentation. It is made from a blend of seventy percent chardonnay and thirty percent red grapes, and then is aged a minimum of ten years in the cellar prior to disgorgement and release. The bouquet on the 1996 is deep, complex and truly stunning, as it soars from the glass in a blaze of apple, nutskin, tangerine, brioche, beautifully complex minerality and a topnote of citrus zest. On the palate the wine is deep, full-bodied and quite intensely flavored, with a great core of fruit, refined mousse, snappy acids and great length and grip on the complex and very intense finish. A terrific bottle of bubbly that is still on its way up and should prove to be one of the reference point wines of this great Champagne vintage.
1996 Moët & Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon. BH 97. A distinctly reticent but elegant nose with a purity of expression that is truly impressive to experience as it’s relatively high-toned and while the yeast comes up with air, it’s relatively muted at presence, combining with intense, precise and superbly detailed and complex flavors that culminate in an explosive and wonderfully long finish. This may very well rival the sublime ’90 in time even if it’s not quite as concentrated. This is still a baby so there is absolutely no rush whatsoever.
Potato and leek soup with crostini topped with black caviar. Really nice rich (creamy) soup that paired perfectly with the champagnes.
2002 Louis Roederer Champagne Cristal Brut. VM 96. The 2002 Cristal (Re-Release) is just as arrestingly beautiful as it has always been. Exotic, powerful and sensual, the 2002 is just starting to show all of its cards. The 2002 was magnificent when it was first released. Since then, it has only grown in breeding. In this vintage, Cristal is silky, sensual and open-knit, with enveloping fruit and striking textural resonance. It’s great to see the 2002 showing so well. I had high expectations when it was first released, and those expectations now appear to have been more than justified.
1999 Billecart-Salmon Champagne Cuvée Nicolas-François Billecart. VM 93. Bright yellow-gold. An exotically perfumed bouquet evokes fresh pear, iodine, white flowers and toasted brioche, with gingery spice and mineral notes adding vibrancy. Rich and weighty but quite lithe and focused, offering sappy orchard and citrus fruit flavors and a chalky mineral nuance on the back half. Closes on a smoky note, with excellent focus and lingering floral character.
2000 Philipponnat Champagne Brut Clos des Goisses. BH 95. This is more mature than the 2001 with a beautifully layered nose of yeast, lemon rind, brioche, dried flowers and spice hints. There is excellent volume and superb intensity to the firm mousse that despite the firmness exhibits a very fine bead. This is exceptionally impressive in the mouth with the same striking complexity of the nose coupled with positively gorgeous length. A knockout that could be drunk now with pleasure or held for a few more years first; personally I would opt for the latter but either way, this is a classic Clos des Goisses.
2000 Krug Champagne Vintage Brut. BH 96. A wonderfully layered and nuanced nose features an intense yeasty character to the maturing fruit that displays interesting phenolic characters, in particular petrol, along with aromas of apple, pear and soft citrus hints. In contrast to the nascent maturity expressed by the nose the flavor profile is still tight and backward with a genuinely gorgeous texture, all wrapped in a strikingly persistent and highly complex finish. For my taste the 2000 Brut is at an inflection point as the nose does offer enough maturity so that it’s really quite pretty whereas the palate impression is substantially younger. As such it really just depends on how you prefer your Champagne because I suspect that the nose will be very mature by the time the still very youthful flavors attain their majority. For my taste preferences it would be no vinous crime to begin enjoying this now but be aware that this will age for a very long time. The best approach is probably to buy 6, or even 12, bottles and enjoy them over a longer period of time.
Seared Blue Fin Tuna with fresh Santa Barbara Uni. This was an insanely delicious dish — it was all about that uni sauce.
2004 Dom Perignon Champagne. VM 97. A wine of nuance, precision and understatement, the 2004 remains all grace. Time has softened some of the contours, but the flavors remain fresh and vibrant. Medium in body, the 2004 can be enjoyed now or cellared for several decades. This is a gorgeous showing from the 2004, a wine that has been captivatingly beautiful from the first time I tasted it years ago. There is something effortless about the 2004 that is hard to capture with words. The 2004 doesn’t quite have the obvious breeding of the 2008 and 2002, nor the obvious power of the 2003 or 2006, and yet it is harmonious, sublime and totally sensual.
2006 Louis Roederer Champagne Cristal Brut. VM 97. Broad, ample and resonant on the palate, the 2006 Cristal dazzles with its pure richness and volume. Readers need to give the 2006 another 4-5 years in bottle, perhaps longer, as the wine appears to be shutting down a bit. Tasted next to the 2002, today the 2006 is a bit less opulent but just as intense, layered and deep. This is a fabulous showing. 10,000 cases imported in the US.
2006 Billecart-Salmon Champagne Cuvée Nicolas-François Billecart. 93 points. nother great 2006 Tete’ level champagne. I’ve drank other people’s btls of this from prior vintages but this was the first plunge on my own with the 2006. Good idea! Specifically bought this with our 40th Anni in mind but was tempted by a Tait Comte & Dom P too. Said to be 60% Pinot Noir mix of Premier & Grand Crus from Montagne de Reims / Grande Vallée de la Marne along with 40% Chardonnay from Côte des Blancs. This was killer tonight and uniquely different from the more feminine Comte I often go to for special occasions. This showed tremendous power and intensity while still delivering refined elegance. The palate is a zesty, bright & driven mix of; mineral dominated citrus, trace stone fruit, spice and brioche. Racy & intense and at the same time richness and expansive fruit. And,not remotely oxidative, yea! Ultra fresh and alive. Just fantastic!
2002 Piper-Heidsieck Champagne Cuvée Rare. BH 91. The very fresh and nicely complex nose reflects notes of green apple, yeast, pain grillé and plenty of citrus characters. The clean, succulent and fleshy medium-bodied flavors are shaped by a moderately firm effervescence while offering good depth and length on the vaguely sweet finish that some may find more than they prefer as I did. To be sure this is a lovely wine with fine depth but I prefer a drier style.
Loup de mer wrapped in won ton skin atop sauteed vegetables in Riesling sauce. Really nice textural play with the soft fish and the crispy wonton.
Our hostess presides.
2008 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne Brut La Grande Dame. 93 points. Pale straw color.pastry dough aromas. Notes of fresh lemons and limes with a fine minerality. Solid bead. Give this plenty of time. 92-93+ points.
2008 Vilmart & Cie Champagne Premier Cru Coeur de Cuvée. VM 96. The 2008 Coeur de Cuvée (magnum) is positively brilliant. It is also likely to require quite a bit of time to be at its very best. Even so, the 2008 shimmers with tension, energy and polish. Lemon confit, chalk, chamomile and white flowers are all finely cut in this chiseled, super-expressive edition of the Coeur de Cuvée. The 2008 boasts incredible fruit density and structure, with distinctly mineral and graphite notes that develop in the glass. In a word: dazzling! Unfortunately, there are just 395 magnums to go around. Disgorged November 2016. Dosage is 7 grams per liter. (Drink between 2018-2028)
2008 Dom Perignon Champagne. VM 98+. The 2008 Dom Pérignon is fabulous, but quite remarkably, it was even more open when I tasted it a year ago. Bright, focused and crystalline in its precision, the 2008 is going to need a number of years before it is at its best. Lemon peel, white flowers, mint and white pepper give the 2008 its chiseled, bright profile. Several recent bottles have all been magnificent. What I admire most about the 2008 is the way it shows all the focus, translucence and energy that is such a signature of the year, and yet it is also remarkably deep and vertical. In other words, the 2008 is a Champagne that plays in three dimensions. (Drink between 2020-2058)
2009 Louis Roederer Champagne Cristal Brut. VM 96. Rich, creamy and radiant, the 2009 Cristal captures all of the natural generosity of the vintage while also retaining a good bit of freshness and aromatic intensity. Immediate and totally sensual in its allure, the 2009 will drink well with minimal cellaring. All things considered, at this stage, the 2009 comes across as relatively restrained for a wine from a warm year.
Stuart felt he needed a red:
2003 Domaine du Pégau Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Réservée. VM 94. Deep red. Strikingly complex nose offers powerful scents of red berries, spicecake, cured meat and potpourri. Velvety red berry and kirsch flavors stain the palate, picking pick up candied lavender and fruitcake nuances with air. The spiciness builds on the finish, which echoes the cherry note. This wine was most noteworthy for its power in the early going (I rated it 92-94 shortly before it was bottled) but has become more graceful and now conveys a stronger impressive of pure, spicy fruit.
Braised short ribs sake soy glaze, truffle oil drizzle and potato puree. A big chunk of nice soft osso-bucco-like beef.
My cryptic notes.
From my cellar: NV Drappier Champagne Rosé Brut Nature Dosage Zero. VM 90. Pale orange. Mineral-accented red berries and citrus fruits on the nose, complemented by hints of candied rose and white pepper. Stony and precise, offering lively strawberry and orange zest flavors that expand slowly with air. Closes spicy, stony and tight, with very good clarity and floral persistence.
A simple dessert by the house with a bit of cake, whipped cream, (boring) ice cream, and fruit sauce.
Torta di Frutta alla Mandorla Siciliana Gelato (Sicilian Fruit & Almond Tart) made by me for @sweetmilkgelato — toasted Sicilian almond base with Homemade Sicilian Marzipan Cake and Candied Sicilian Lemons & Oranges — #SweetMilkGelato #gelato #almond #ToastedAlmond #Mandorla #lemon #orange #cake #AlmondCake #CandiedFruit
Blackberry Passionfruit Amaro Sorbetto! — like a frozen aperitivo — made by me for @sweetmilkgelato — #SweetMilkGelato #gelato #dessert #icecream #FrozenDessert #blackberry #passionfruit #amaro #cocktail #sorbet #sorbetto
My BYOG streak continues!
Overall, Chinois still has a sharp kitchen and great service. This was an atypical meal for Chinois in that everything was custom, nothing off the menu. It was less “fusion” or less “Chinese” than the menu food with more subdued flavors (to pair with the Champagne). But I think they did a bang up job and every dish was delicious.
The Champagnes were amazing. Not a bad bottle in the group and both the older and younger ones were delicious in their own rights.
I think the decor has aged great and is actually more unique now.