Location: 1104 Wilshire Blvd.Santa Monica, CA 90401. (310) 395-0881
Date: December 15, 2010
Cuisine: California French
Rating: Awesome. Top of its game!
My foodie friend EP wanted to do a final Foodie Club night before he left for year end vacation so we hastily (24 hours) gathered a few like-minded gluttons. It took a bit of calling to find someplace that had space and was willing to allow the mega tasting menu on short notice. This same group had gone to Melisse last March, and we arranged to return. Chef Josiah Citrin promised to mix it up, and do something extreme. We were game! (hint hint) The result is this modified Carte Blanche Menu ++ special edition.
The first amuse is a Melisse staple. Grapes two ways. Out of the spoon are half grapes coated in goat cheese and pistachio. On the spoon sphereized grapes dusted with pistachio. The first has a nice contrast of the sharp cheese and the fruit, the second is an explosion of grapeness.
There were four of us, and I had brought 3 bottles of red, but the Sommelier wisely suggested I pick a white off the list to start. Knowing the chef I opted for this Chablis. I love good Chablis. Parker gives this one a 93. “The Dauvissats’ 2006 Chablis La Forest (a.k.a. “La Foret” a.k.a. “La Forets”) smells effusively of peony, citrus, and peach. It is strikingly bitter-sweet in its alternation of peach and citrus with peach kernel-like cyanic bitterness; displays deep chalkiness; and finishes with amazing grip and length. Past the nose, this is one of the least generous of 2006 Chablis, being remarkably tight and for a young 2006, but very impressively concentrated. The 2005 rendition was almost severe in its concentration, yet also very impressive. It should merit following for 10-12 years, and is probably best rested for a year or two. The 1999 tastes glorious, and youthful today; the still almost sharply-citric 1996, like liquid chalk and white truffle.
Vincent Dauvissat’s 2006s were finished with both alcoholic fermentation and malolactic transformation by January. Overall – and particularly in the Grand Cru range – Dauvissat’s 2005s are marginally less exciting than his 2006s, and in certain instances, surprisingly, more opulent and exotically ripe. In both recent vintages, Dauvissat’s wines (even the generics) are pushing 14% alcohol, although in tasting the 2006s in particular, you’d never guess this.”
And there is perhaps nothing better in the world to pair Chablis with than a bit of oyster. This “Carsbad Del Sol Oyster, Finger Limes and Chives” was as Chef Citrin called it, “essence of oyster.” Dominated by a pleasant brininess, like early morning at the sea side. This is not for everyone, but if you are a seafood lover like me. Oh boy. And the mineral tones of the Chablis just sang with it.
Next up is this “Hokkaido Scallop, Santa Barbara uni, Cauliflower, Lemon.” Pretty isn’t it? The scallop was luscious, but the uni was to die for. Not even a hint of fishy, it had a rich nutty tone. I was temped to lick the dish.
Because this is such a delightfully elaborate (aka EPIC) meal, I’m going to show the sequential presentation of many dishes. This “Artichoke soup, Parmesan Fritters, white truffle” begins with the solid ingredients. There is a bit of relish underneath the fritter.
Then the soup is added. The soup itself was the perfect infusion of cream and artichoke. Every spoonful counjured up the vegetable. The fritter was a little cheese explosion. Bravo!
No trip to Melisse would be complete without the classic, “Egg Caviar, Lemon Creme Fraiche, American Osetra Caviar.” It’s a classic for a reason. The Creme Fraiche is so good, and there is raw egg yolk at the bottom. Amazing combo, particularly with the little toast stick.
We killed the Chablis during that round of “starters” and it was time to move onto this bad boy. The 1991 Hermitage La Pavillon! 100 points of perfection. “This is a Le Pavilion of mythical proportions. Produced from extremely old vines, some dating from the mid-nineteenth century, with yields averaging under 15 hectoliters per hectare, this is the richest, most concentrated and profound wine made in Hermitage. The 1991 Ermitage Le Pavilion follows the pattern of the 1989 and 1990-it is another perfect wine. The saturated black/purple color is followed by a compelling bouquet of spices, roasted meats, and black and red fruits. Enormously concentrated yet with brilliant focus and delineation to its awesomely endowed personality, this extraordinary wine should age effortlessly for three plus decades. Very powerful and full, yet displaying silky tannin, this is a seamless beauty! Anticipated maturity: 2001-2035.”
And the bread arrives. I went for a piece of bacon, and a basil brioche.
“Seared Foie Gras & Pheasant Consomme, Foie Gras Agnolotti, Chanterelle Mushrooms, Shiso Infused Pheasant Consomme.”
The soup is added. The ingredients themselves were great. But it was the broth that was mind boggling. Combining the rich taste of pheasant, with the bits of fat melted off the fois in the consomme, with the bright tones of the Shiso (a leaf I adore, in the mint family). Oh my. It was incredible. It reminded me of the broth from the Urwasawa meal we had 10 months ago.
And the hits keep on rolling. “Santa Barbara Ridge back Prawn, Pummelo, Shellfish Jus.” The sweet meat of this puppy meshed perfectly with the citrus butter tang of the sauce. I had to use the remains of my bread to mop it all up.
What is an epic French meal during truffle season without some fresh white truffles!
“White Truffle Risotto, Carnaroli Rice, Mascarpone, Shaved White Truffles.” There is a little Risotto under that sea of truffle foam. It had a nice soft cheesiness to offset the delicate Umami flavors of the truffles.
Now we’ve killed half a bottle each and it’s time to go bordeaux. Parker gives this 96 points. “What sumptuous pleasures await those who purchase either the 1996 or 1995 Pichon-Lalande. It is hard to choose a favorite, although the 1995 is a smoother, more immediately sexy and accessible wine. It is an exquisite example of Pichon-Lalande with the Merlot component giving the wine a coffee/chocolatey/cherry component to go along with the Cabernet Sauvignon’s and Cabernet Franc’s complex blackberry/cassis fruit. The wine possesses an opaque black/ruby/purple color, and sexy, flamboyant aromatics of pain grille, black fruits, and cedar. Exquisite on the palate, this full-bodied, layered, multidimensional wine should prove to be one of the vintage’s most extraordinary success stories. Anticipated maturity: 2001-2020. The 1995/1996 vintages are two of the greatest back to back efforts Pichon-Lalande has ever produced, including the 1982/1983 vintages.”
Erick and Simon are starting to show the wear and tear of the evening’s pleasures.
“Eastern Tile Fish ‘Amadai’, Kohlrabi, Black Trumpet Mushrooms, Carrots, Cucumber Infused Consomme.”
As the consomme went down the sensuous summer smell of cucumber wafted back at us. The fish was perfectly done, but it was the consomme that I really found marvelous here.
And now for the main event. Two roasted Scottish Woodcocks!
“Scottish Woodcock, Truffled Brioche, Navet, Sauce Perigourdine.”
After saucing. In the front is a bit of breast on the brioche, at the back half the head and beak, and on the right the thigh and leg (and claw). First of all, the sauce had this rich truffle quality that was just outstanding. Then the breast was a perfect medium rare example of poultry at its finest. Chef Citrin informed us that these puppies had been aging for 3 or 4 weeks! It was wonderfully gamey. Seriously gamey. Intensely gamey. The thigh had a rare almost bloody quality. But oh so good.
Chef Citrin shows us off an example of the bird (he’s the white sleeved arms). Wild caught in Scotland. He personally plucked the feathers on ours.
I have to show off the remains because you can see the bird brain a bit better. That long sticky thing by the knife is the beak, and there the skull with half the brain. We were pressured into sucking on the brain, some of us with more gusto than others (Erick!). It had a rich taste, not unlike bone marrow.
The game goes into overtime with the final savory, “Venison Loin, Juniper-Praline Yam, Chanterelles, Chickory, Poivrade Sauce.”
Sauced. This venison was perfect, incredibly tender and flavorful. The Yam was like a desert, incredible, almost like pecan and pumpkin pie together.
Spiced pears and candied cumquats.
One of my favorite cheese in the world, Eppoisses. Strong, gooey, stinky!
Lower left: Pont-l’Eveque
Orange center: 18 month aged Gouda
Lower right: Fourme d’Ambert
Right center: Bourgogne (i think)
Upper right: Epoisses de Bourgogne
Upper left: Selsurcheres (sic, couldn’t spell well enough to find on google), goat cheese
“Vanilla Yoghurt, Strawberry Compote, Strawberry Sorbet.” I’ve had this before, but I didn’t mind. Basically strawberries and cream. Yum!
After warming up with the 1995, we rolled back to the 1989 Lalande. Incredible! “Speaking of superior vintages, Pichon-Lalande’s 1989, although not as profound as the 1995, 1994, 1986, 1983, or 1982, is a beautifully made wine. It exhibits a deep ruby/purple color, and a sweet, roasted nose of rich cassis fruit, herbs, and vanilla. Lush and round, this medium to full-bodied, nicely-textured, layered Pichon-Lalande possesses low acidity, outstanding ripeness, and beautiful purity and balance. It is already drinking surprisingly well, so owners should not hesitate to pull a cork. It should continue to offer rich, seductive drinking for another 15+ years.”
Another dessert repeat — but again we didn’t mind. “Chocolate, Chocolate, Coffee, Chocolate Souffle, Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch, Coffee and Mascarpone.” The souffle gets its little injection. All are great, but the coffee and the crunch are my faves.
I’ve had passion fruit desserts at Melisse before, but this was a slightly new take. “Passion Fruit Parfait, Lemongrass and Coconut.” There is tapioca in the “soup” beneath. Very interesting complement. Very south east Asian in flavor profile, and refreshing.
The petite fours. I’m not a huge cannelle fan. The fruit with Creme Fraiche was great though. I’d have preferred the classic marshmallows and pate de fruits myself, but this is about my only “complaint” with the entire meal, so I think I’ll survive.
Our special custom menu.
Reuben and I before the meal. I neglected to get a photo of how we looked 4.5 hours later!!
Chef Josiah Citrin pulled out all the stops for this meal, and it showed. Hands down spectacular! The restaurant has two Michelin stars, and it deserves every ounce of them. Personally, I’d put this meal up against any I’ve had in France at a three-star. The service is amazing too. The setting is not as fully formal as some French three-stars, or the service quite so orchestrated (that level is more amusement than actually pleasant), and there are no zany carts for teas and sugars, but the food and creativity demonstrate Melisse’s deserved position as one of America’s top kitchens. Not only were the ingredients worthy of a Roman Consul’s plate, but the masterful command of flavors were in full view.