Location: 2709 Main St, Santa Monica, CA 90405. (310) 392-9025
Date: January 10, 2020
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 outside remains tres (80s) LA.
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.
Closer in with the gang.
Our special menu.
The wine order.
2014 La Chablisienne Chablis 1er Cru Mont de Milieu. BH 93. This is notably ripe though the nose stops just short of expressing exotic fruit aromas and I particularly like the plethora of Chablis characters present on the pear and citrus scents. There is excellent richness, volume and density to the full-bodied flavors that possess plenty of minerality on the powerful lemon-inflected finale that is both persistent and quite dry. Very fine quality here. (Drink starting 2021)
Slightly spicy/sweet toro cones. This has been a puck staple for decades and it’s still fabulous.
With this begins what is one of the most extensive passed appetizer “flights” I’ve ever seen. Eight types and plenty of each!
Same with the Jewish Pizza, which is creme fraiche and lox. Delicious! This variant had a potato latke crust — I prefer the regular pizza crust.
Spring rolls with sweet and sour sauce.
2008 Domaine William Fèvre Chablis Grand Cru Valmur. BH 95. The reflections are the classic light gold-green hues of a fine Chablis. The barest touch of oak highlights the green fruit, menthol, saline and iodine aromas that precede the extremely stony, concentrated and driving flavors that are also blessed with ample amounts of dry extract that provides a much needed balancing element to the ripe acid backbone on the chalky and sappy finish. When Valmur is really good, it rivals Les Clos for the best grand cru in Chablis and this 2008 is really good. (Drink starting 2015)
2007 Gosset Champagne Celebris Rosé Extra Brut. 95 points. Really big, tight wine – so much so that this is difficult to assess. There’s really not much to say about this right now. 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir.
2007 Taittinger Champagne Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut. VM 96. Taittinger’s 2007 Comtes de Champagne will be nearly impossible to resist upon release. Soaring aromatics, mid-weight structure and soft contours give the 2007 its alluring personality. Lemon oil, white flowers, mint, chamomile and green pear add brightness and freshness throughout, with a persistent, clean finish that makes it impossible to resist a second taste. Today, the 2007 comes across as a slightly more open version of the 2004, with freshness that makes that wine so appealing, and a touch of textural richness that recalls the 2002. Although the 2007 does not have the explosive energy or verticality of the profound 2006, it will drink better earlier. The 2007 has been positively brilliant on the three occasions I have tasted it so far. (Drink between 2018-2047)
2008 Champagne Suenen Champagne Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Millésimé. 91 points. Steely. acid backbone, and with a bit of a chalky soil in the finish. Better the second day as the fruit showed more.
2004 Taittinger Champagne Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut. VM 96. I am thrilled with the way the 2004 Comtes de Champagne continues to evolve in bottle. A few years ago, the 2004 was quite focused and linear, in the style of the vintage, but more recently, the wine has begun to fill out beautifully. The 2004 remains bright, with a full range of citrus, white flower and mineral nuances that dance on the palate. A brisk, saline-infused finish rounds things out beautifully in a Comtes that impresses for its crystalline purity. I expect the 2004 will always remain a bit cool next to the more opulent 2002, but it is still drop-dead gorgeous. (Drink between 2014-2034)
2006 Taittinger Champagne Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut. VM 97.5. The 2006 Comtes de Champagne is striking, especially in the way it brings together elements of ripeness and freshness in a hypothetical blend of the 2002 and 2004. Smooth and creamy on the palate, the 2006 is all about texture. There is a real feeling of density and weight in the 2006, qualities I expect to see grow with time in the bottle. All the elements fall into place effortlessly. The 2006 has been nothing short of magnificent both times I have tasted it. Comtes de Champagne remains the single best value (in relative terms) in tête de cuvée Champagne. I suggest buying a case and following it over the next 20-30 years, which is exactly what I intend to do. There is little doubt the 2006 Comtes de Champagne is a magical Champagne in the making. (Drink between 2016-2046)
2007 Ferrari Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore. VM 93. Golden-tinged straw yellow. Enticing aromas and flavors of yellow apple, peach, puff pastry and herbs. Rich and with ripe, bright, lively lift extending the flavors nicely on the long creamy finish. (Drink between 2018-2025)
2006 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne Brut La Grande Dame. JG 94+. The final blending of the 2006 La Grande Dame was completed prior to Dominique Demarville joining the team at Veuve Clicquot, so we will have to wait for the release of the 2008 version to see his impact on this bottling. The 2006 Grande Dame is a blend of fifty-three percent pinot noir and forty-seven percent chardonnay and was finished with a dosage of eight grams per liter. The wine is excellent, wafting from the glass in a complex blend of apple, pear, wheat toast, fine minerality, a touch of smokiness and a nice note of caraway seed in the upper register. On the palate the wine is pure, full-bodied, deep and complex, with elegant mousse, fine focus and grip and a very long, vibrant and zesty finish. This is drinking beautifully, but has the balance to age long and gracefully as well. High class juice. (Drink between 2016-2040)
Tempura Ahi tuna sashimi with fresh uni sauce.
2004 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne Brut La Grande Dame. VM 93. Vivid gold. Heady aromas of orange, white peach and smoky minerals, with a note of buttered toast adding depth. Densely packed citrus and pit fruit flavors show chewy texture and a bright mineral quality that adds vivacity. Rich but lively and precise, finishing very long, with notes of candied fig and toasty lees.
2004 Krug Champagne Vintage Brut. VM 97+. Krug’s 2004 Vintage is absolutely mesmerizing. Layers of bright, chiseled fruit open up effortlessly as the wine fleshes out with time in the glass. Persistent and beautifully focused, with a translucent sense of energy, the 2004 captures all the best qualities of the year. Moreover, the 2004 is clearly superior to the consistently underwhelming 2002 and the best Krug Vintage since 1996. Readers who can find it should not hesitate, as it is a magical bottle. (Drink between 2017-2044)
1997 Louis Roederer Champagne Cristal Brut. JG 92. The 1997 vintage in Champagne was characterized by damp and cool conditions through August, but September was scorching. The resulting grapes were very high in malic acidity according to Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, but there was no malo in the Cristal base wines this year. The 1997 Cristal is a very pretty wine for current drinking, offering up a reasonably mature, transparent and classy nose of apple, lemon zest, a touch of smokiness, chalky soil tones, fresh almonds and a whisper of honeycomb. On the palate the wine is deep, fullish and à point, with good, but not great depth, refined mousse and very good length and grip on the complex finish. One gets used to the rock solid cores of most vintages of Cristal, and while this is far from fluide, there is still a touch less depth here than in most recent vintages of this fine cuvée. (Drink between 2012-2022)
2002 Dom Pérignon Champagne Luminous. 95 points. Absolutely fabulous right now, very dry for a Dom (e.g compared to 2006 we also had that evening), great balance. Drink or hold.
Potato wrapped seabass, wild mushrooms, red wine sauce. Interesting. A bit breaded.
From my cellar: 1993 Ruinart Champagne Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs. VM 94. Among the wines of the 1990s, I especially liked the 1993 Dom Ruinart, which was beautiful, especially considering this was an original disgorgement. Layers of honeyed fruit, licorice and mint were woven together in a captivating fabric. We also caught this wine at near peak, as it was firing on all cylinders. What a beautiful wine.
1996 Moët & Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon. VM 95. One of the more accessible wines of the year today, the 1996 Dom Pérignon impresses for its exceptional balance and class. Lemon peel, white flowers and mint are laced together in the glass. The 1996 is in a terrific place today where it can be enjoyed or cellared for a number of years. (Drink between 2014-2030)
1996 Henriot Champagne Cuvée des Enchanteleurs Brut. VM 94. Vivid yellow-gold. Kaleidoscopic aromas of citrus fruits, poached pear, mango, lees and licorice, with slow-building florality. Supple, palate-coating orchard and exotic fruit flavors are complicated by notes of herbs and buttered toast, with a smoky quality in the background. Seems younger than it did last year, showing excellent finishing clarity and persistent smoke and spice character. This really won’t let go of the palate, which is fine by me. I’d still hold this. (Henriot Inc., New York, NY)
1990 Moët & Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon. BH 95. This is a wine that I know extremely well from 750 ml and it’s one that is beginning to tire though I hasten to point out that it’s still enjoyable and just beginning to show signs of fatigue. However there are no such concerns with the same wine from magnum that remains magnificently fresh and while it’s clear that the aromas are mature, that’s not at all the same thing as describing the yeasty and baked apple suffused nose as tiring. There is equally good depth and vibrancy to the beautifully delineated flavors that are supported by a fine and firm mousse that allows the texture of a well-aged Dom to be easily appreciated. For my taste this has arrived at its peak though note well that it should easily be capable of effortlessly holding for years to come. (Drink starting 2015)
Grapefruit Aperol Tarragon Sorbetto — Cold pressed Fresh Grapefruit juice from my garden, Aperol and fresh Tarragon! — made by me for @sweetmilkgelato — Unique and bracing — #SweetMilkGelato #gelato #dessert #icecream #FrozenDessert #nomnom #dessertlovers #dessertporn #icecreamlovers #gelatoitaliano #foodporn #gelatolover #food #foodgasm #foodblogger #dessertgasm #desserttime #foodphotography #gelatoartigianale #gelatomania #dessertlover #icecream #icecreamlovers #sorbetto #grapefruit #aperol #tarragon
Passion fruit cheese cake with caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream. Nice cake actually.
Haven’t made this in almost 3 years — Rocky Road Gelato — Valrhona Chocolate base with marshmallows and pecans and house-made caramel and toasted kosher Marshmallow topping! — made by me for @sweetmilkgelato — oh my! — #dessert #icecream #FrozenDessert #nomnom #dessertlovers #dessertporn #icecreamlovers #gelatoitaliano #foodporn #gelatolover #food #foodgasm #foodblogger #dessertgasm #desserttime #foodphotography #gelatoartigianale #gelatomania #dessertlover #icecream #icecreamlovers #chocolate #valrhona #RockyRoad #marshmallow #caramel #marshmallow #pecan
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 the food was a bit better last year. Small variants this time around. The appetizers and soup were awesome this year, but flavors were too straight up on the other dishes. Execution was solid though.
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.