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Jul 22, 2009 09:11 AM

Melisse 10-yr Anniversary - The Ten Classic Dishes

Melisse's 10-year anniversary special features ten classic dishes - favorites of the last ten years. I was very curious what these ten classics are, and how good they are. The ten course meal goes for $150 per person. But that's not all. Corkage is a mere $10/bottle up to two bottles per table, AND each person takes home a $50 gift card.

Egg caviar
lemon creme fraiche, American caviar
Naturally a 10-course meal consisting of what's considered to be Melisse "classics" would include the egg caviar. Here American sturgeon caviar is used. Get all the layers in one bite - half-boiled egg, creme fraiche, and caviar. It's a delectable combination.

Tuna tartare
Pickled cucumber, avocado mousseline, Yuzu vinaigrette
A very refined dish. The avocado mousseline was amazingly smooth. Tuna tartar with avocado just did not excite me at first but this one was above and beyond others. It brought me back from all the excitement of "adventurous" dishes to perfection of a classic dish.

Mandarin Tomato Soup
Tomato tartare and sorbet
The juxtaposition of the warm tomato soup with the cold sorbet was quite interesting (though I think it sent my mouth into mild heat/cold shocks :P ). What was intriguing to us was how the sorbet does not melt during the time we were eating.

Seared Rougie Foie Gras
Black Mission Figs, Pain d'epice, Banyuls Reduction
Perhaps because it was preluded by such refined and wonderful dishes, in a rare but I guess not impossible occasion, I found the seared foie gras the weakest dish of the night. While the pain d'epice was great, I found the foie gras itself a bit 'stringy' and not particularly flavorful.

Lobster Bolognese
Fresh Cappelini, Truffle Froth
Even though Melisse is known as a French restaurant, their food is not purely French and Italian influences can be found in dishes like this one or the gnocchi that I had on a previous visit.
With that said, the lobster bolognese was my favorite dish of the night. The thin pasta strands were so delicate, and do I need to tell you my love affair with truffle?

Dover Sole "Goujonettes"
Sweet white corn, Chanterelle mushrooms, toasted almonds, Scallions
Moist fish with crispy skin and delicate sauce. Though I'm not sure about the transition from the boldly flavored bolognese to this delicate dish where the boldest flavor comes from the Chanterelles- the dish in itself was excellent.

Cote de Boeuf Roti
Potato Leek Torte, Summer Pole Beans, Wild Mushrooms, Herb Jus
Of course the heaviest dish had to come last when I was most full ... the two bites that I did have was excellent though. The beef was juicy and flavorful, pretty tender and actually a bit "gamey". I loved the creamy potato leek torte with crispy crust.

ReBlochon Tart
Honey Pepper Gastrique
Because of the word "tart" I expected a dessert dish similar to a cheesecake, but instead this was a nice creative twist on the cheese course. Apparently ReBlochon is best between May and September - perfect timing. Instead of a cheese board with condiments, here you have the rich creamy and smooth ReBlochon cheese with pastry crust, and your sweet/spicy gastrique.

Vanilla Yogurt
Strawberry Sorbet
So simple but done so well. A wonderfully tart and refreshing first dessert works very well as a palate cleanser. And yes we cleaned the plate.

Chocolate Souffle
Banana Mousse
I love chocolate souffle. And I love Melisse's chocolate souffle. Airy and fluffy souffle, the way it should be, filled with rich chocolate ganache. Heavenly.

After this meal I couldn't help but think my first mediocre visit to Melisse was an off-meal. The quality of the dishes put out tonight were excellent, service was spot on - they deserve their 2 Michelin stars even if Michelin won't bother coming back to LA next year. This ten course meal is a worthy experience - and hey we came home with $100 gift card and a most excellent leftover for lunch! Don't miss out.

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  1. I've had these dishes at Melisse before. I really don't understand why they got 2 stars. I found none of it surprising, none of it perfectly executed, except the extremely expensive egg.

    It all tasted like high-end hotel food. I know their chef is talented and cares a lot but there's not much creativity and the same dishes keep getting cooked every night. Although I can walk there (and had plans to do so regularly) I won't be doing so.

    5 Replies
    1. re: epop

      Why would you expect these dishes to be creative? It's a 10 yr retrospective menu, by definition the creativity was in the past.

      1. re: AAQjr

        I don't think epop would expect a retrospective to be creative; I believe s/he was commenting that, in general, Melisse's dishes are not very inventive.

        Too, while Citrin may care greatly, he doesn't really stretch himself nor the kitchen with creating new and exciting dishes, instead opting to vary his menu by rotating dishes from a somewhat limited collection -- thus epop's comment that "the same dishes keep getting cooked every night".

        1. re: a213b

          I'm not disagreeing with any particular person's stylistic preferences but do think on some levels that critique doesn't carry water. Food does not have to be dramatically novel or inventive to be fantastic. Nor is this a requesite to be "starred" by Michelin. Places like Taillevant have long garnered stars by having plenty of solid, yet somewhat basic dishes like whole roasted chickens. Once a restaurant creates a dish that is fantastic and loved by a lot of patrons, why would they take it off to do something else? There's a fine line between maintaining a successful dish (that many would be disappointed not to see available) and providing new opportunites.
          That said I hardly think the flavor profiles, and ingedients at Melisse are mundane. We're not talking Lawry's here. As well, most of the dishes on the menu have not been on it for years. So it seems like one would have to be going there once a month to feel like the menu is antiquated. One also can have variance by opting for the carte blanche, chef's menu. I don't believe the dishes are unusually creative, but that is probably by design. They seem relatively unique in aspects to me, yet still driven by fine ingredients and classic French technique. Personally, if I'm having a dish with trufle flavors, I don't want it too convoluted. For some that may be boring, I can understand that. They are better served by a place like Ludobites.
          I like Ludo's cooking, and actually enjoy an unusual, mole-gastro style. However, I feel like in doing unusual dishes there comes the chance of more of them not meeting with many people's fancy. I also feel like the absolute quality of the dishes at a place like Ludo-bites is risked when modifying the menu so completely each night.

          1. re: john gonzales

            I also feel that inventiveness or mole-gastro to be a requisite for a place to be great or Michelin-worthy. Well-executed classic french fares or steaks can be up there for me. I find it interesting that people expect creative inventiveness with these types of restaurants these days while demanding more and more tradition at sushi places.

            That said, even though the a la carte menu at Melisse may stay constant (if they're tried and true dishes, why take it off?) let's not forget that Melisse does have a seasonal menu that changes.

            Before this 10-yr anniversary dinner (and yes, it's a 10-yr retrospective so of course you've seen them before), I had the $65 4 course spring menu just a few weeks before that was completely different.

      2. re: epop

        I agree with your high end hotel food comment if you are referring to Michelin 1 and 2 star restaurants in French countryside hotels.

        Melisse is consistently one of the best meals in LA and worthy of 2 Michelin stars.

      3. A clarification: I'm perfectly happy with the classic repertoire, perfectly executed. Melisse doesn't do that. In my opinion it is only above average in terms of the execution.

        By a lack of inventiveness I meant that the tasting menu doesn't change often enough and I think the chef could do himself justice by being less stuck in his own routine. I realize the Original Post was about the 10 year retrospective but once again it is more or less everything I've had there from the few times I had the tasting menu. That's rather silly. There's no excuse for so limited a menu after 10 years.

        I see Citrin at the farmer's market but I don't see that reflected enough on the menu. I like the service and long for more quiet, formal meals. I walk right by Melisse without even thinking of going in.

        8 Replies
        1. re: epop

          It's clear from epop's "only above average" that we just have a different perspective.

          However, Russ, Karla, Mary & I actually went in last night for the Anniversary menu. Definitely the best meal I've had in quite awhile. It was right up ther with very extensive tasting meals we've had at Providence and Bazaar. If you are a fan, or looking for a special occasion; get there before the deal is up on 7/31. Actually, Josiah said he thought they would continue a form of this menu into the future, but without the gift-card perk.

          For wine aficiandos the $10 corkage for two bottles is also a meal enhancer. We ended up drinking four bottles and paid $80 total corkage. Actually, the list has broadened as far as moderate level wines, so the buy one get one corkage waived there is enticing as well. Kudos to them for doing something to appeal to the wine collectors.

          First off the redone interior is a significant improvement. The booths set around the perimeter (where we sat with Annette Bening & Warren Beatty behind us) are comfortable. The entire room is not stark, but much more stylish and modern, and has there's a more vibrant feel. The tableware is in keeping with the theme. I also noticed some background music, which I didn't remember. Not loud or obtrusive but sets a slightly more upbeat atmosphere.

          The service there was fantastic. Actually better than at some of the other classic meals I've been to recently. Very attentive, yet in keeping with California, friendly and unpretentious. The wine service is fantastic. We brought 96 Taittinger Comtes, 99 Jadot Montrachet-Chevalier, 02 Rochioli Little Hill Pinot, and 98 Ch. Pavie. Fresh, excellent quality, and appropriate shape for each wine. Upon arriving they discussed the line-up with us, got them all to the right temps, decanted, and served them off in perfect timing.

          Foodwise it was a big hit as well. We actually reflected on some of the food critiques in this thread and others. Personally, I was reminded of why I feel the food is so good. Our menu had most of what was originally posted here. On the overall the food is indeed not extremely novel. Josiah actually noted that he didn't understand that criticism, and by design has a somewhat cleaner, basic style. Still it is not simple food, or dishes even a skilled amateur could do. It's also quite obvious that what is put on the plate melds multiple flavors, and is definitely based upon top quality ingredients. It's also presented in very attractive form. The breads are great. In fact, too good, in that I always eat too much of them. Last night they had the regulars (brioche, ciabatta, french) but also a tasty basil bread , and one with bacon in it. Amuses were their classic goat cheese and pistachi crust, this time over a cherry tomato, and over a fig drizzled with honey.

          First off was a delicious slice of Hokkaido Scallop. Simply topped with micro-chives, a drizzle of good EVOO, and sprinkled with prawn salt. The scallop makes the dish.

          Egg caviar. Reviewed before and still great. I like it better than the egg a Ortolan or Robuchon in that the soft yolk is still there, but not the less desirable coddled white, but rather the lemon creme fraiche. Nice amount of american caviar. As an aside, the american caviar has made some good strides in recent years and is definitely a good option.

          Blue Fin Tuna Tartare, pickled cuc. base, avocado mousse top, with some Yuzu vinaigrette. Not unique, but really nice fine chopped tuna, which doesn't need to be convoluted..

          Mandarin Tomato Soup with tomato "tartare' and tomato sorbet floating in it. Nice effect in presentation. It is served room temp so that the sorbet doesn't melt in. Very good, simple but pure flavors.

          Alaskan King Crab. Fresh king crab. In a salad-like prep with hearts of palm, tomato chunks, and a passion fruit sauce. Ironic that the dish actually might have been just a tad too complicated or saucy. I thought perhaps less sweet, thinner, or just less of the fruit component would have allowed the crab to shine more. Still good.

          we had asked about the lobster bolgnese being subbed out and they made sure each couple got one of the crab and one of the bolognese. I preferred the bolognese by a smidge. To nit-pick I'd maybe have a bit less tomato, as the lobster, truffle froth and fine cappelini were such a fine and delicate flavors.

          Seared foie gras, hint of lavender, over a disc of a slightly spiced toasted bread, roasted peach, what seemed like a bit of dice kumquat? and light balsamic reduction. Home run. I love seared foie and this had all of my favorite components each done well and complimenting the other.

          Crispy Anago (fresh water eel). Subbed in for the the sole. The eel was tempura cooked, still soft, and served on sweet corn, scallion, almond relish with brown butter sauce. Flavorful, and deceptively rich as is a lot of the food.

          Cote de Bouef. Hard to concentrate after so much food, but this was a very deserving plate. Nice quality, thinly sliced beef. Everyone's was cooked just right including mine which I asked ahead to have cooked medium. The wild mushroom accompaniement was really flavorful and of some interesting mini varieties. The potato leek torte very good and interesting. Good fresh beans, including some yellows which I've loved since youth.

          Pear & Fourem d'ambert tart. Small and thin which was fine at that point. Really great. The pear, and blue yet creamy, not sharp Ambert with a honey-pepper gastrique went really great together.

          Chocolate souffle. With the extra touch of having the melted valhrona chocolate injected into each souffle at the table. Served with some banana mousse and chocolate sorbet. Yum.

          Vanilla yogurt with a dab of strawberry sorbet. Nice flavors as expected, nothing fantastic but an apropos palate cleanser.

          A little plate of cookies micro-pastry arrived, but I was toast.

          All in all a fabulous meal that succeeded on all fronts: setting, food service, wine service, food quality, and value. There are only a couple of other spots with even the capability to pull that off. IMO, no doubt that Melisse is as deserving of two stars as anywhere in town.

          1. re: john gonzales

            The Company was superb also. Excellent review.

            1. re: john gonzales

              I appreciate the difference in perspective.

              I've a feeling the wine and fun company skews the review.

              What I'm surprised about is this: don't you think you can get most of the Melisse meal at several other places in town?
              I certainly have had better meals in people's homes and would put Providence way above Melisse.

              As I've said, I actually don't want novel.
              What I do care about is finding a place with a great chef who executes above and beyond anyone I know
              and has the ability to alter his menu from time to time. That way I can go weekly or monthly and still experience things.
              I went to Melisse twice in a year and felt like I had the same (tasting menu)above average meal repeated. That's not right.
              When I moved to LA I thought I would be at Melisse very often. I guess that's why I'm disappointed. Instead I am busy planning excursions to Europe for my great meals.

              1. re: epop

                Surely you jest?!
                Qualifying a review that doesn't agree with yours as skewed by wine and company is presumptuous. As if those from Michelin, Zagat, Angeleno, other posters here were all on magic mushrooms when they found the experience top-rate. It makes about as much sense as me discounting your view because you didn't like Violet's mac'n'cheese, which most people loved.
                I will say that I am actually interested to know how many times you actually tried Melisse, how far apart, and how you ordered. I ask, because I looked at the menu carefully and still don't get how one cannot find variance in what is served. There are changing ala carte items, a seasonal menu, and a carte blanche menu in addition to the regular tasting menu. You also only need look at the menu to see all the fresh and top ingredients used.
                As you asked, I do think you can get a Melisse style meal at several other places. However being among the top few is pretty lofty company, and there aren't a handfull. I love Providence and have had some great meals there, including one with Russ. I will say that the service (IMO) at Melisse is just one beat more comprehensive. I also find it a finer room. So no, I don't see putting Providence "way above".
                I also find it hard to believe there are many meals in a private home to be had at that level of extensiveness, let alone service. Even so, we're then talking about the culinary top. You're certainly entitled to your opinion, but I think by the vast majority of accounts it's an excellent place.

                1. re: john gonzales

                  I was jesting because I thought the best part of your meal was your choice of wines.

                  I've been to Melisse about 8 times over 5 years. I went there 2 times in 6 weeks and had the tasting menu both times. That's what did me in, possibly. Nothing new came. I told them that I'd been there recently and they said not to worry.
                  I've been there for parties and with larger groups where a lot of sharing took place. I feel like I've had a lot of the menu.

                  I like the room at Melisse and want to like the food more than I do. BTW, I went to Providence and did the Chef's tasting last week. I think it is about on the level of Melisse. It depends on the dish. For example, Citrin's soft egg is leagues above. Tough to compare because their approach is quite different. Dessert was incredible at Providence (I love fruit). But the seafood wasn't so special. I've had much better versions of what Cimarusti made.

                  As I said I really want to like Melisse. I could be there regularly. But I don't go. I've had the argument with people I knew who worked there and they finally accepted my position. I see Citrin at the Farmer's Market regularly and yes he does buy great products. But the execution, for my palate, isn't there. It is fine for an annual meal, I guess. But I don't treasure the place.

                  The thumbs up of the vast majority doesn't prove it is excellent. Nor do critics. Angeleno and Zagat often miss the mark. Michelin has plenty of flaws, especially when dealing outside of their box. So many of the Hounds offer misleading advice, opinions based on little knowledge. Yet there are many others here who I really admire.

                  I'm not trying to take away from the pleasure you have there. Those evenings sound like a ball. And great company of course makes for great meals.

                  You dug up that Violet's opinion. Funny,

              2. re: john gonzales

                This was the menu Mrs. J.L. & I enjoyed last night... Enjoyed it immensely.

                The miku scallop dish will haunt my taste memory for quite some time to come. It achieved that rare 'umami" I long for in tasting culinary greatness. The seared foie gras was heaven.

                Bottom line: Exactly as advertised by the restaurant - Their Greatest Hits. I thought that the execution and the pace were perfect. All that, $10/bottle corkage, AND a $100 gift card at the end for us?! Are you kidding me?! Mon Dieu!

                BTW, you missed out on the petits fours at the end?! For shame! That canelé was to die for!

                1. re: john gonzales

                  Great review, John. One question about the corkage. You said "For wine aficiandos the $10 corkage for two bottles is also a meal enhancer. We ended up drinking four bottles and paid $80 total corkage."

                  So you brought 4 bottles. The first 2 would have been $10 each so the last 2 were charged at $30 each corkage? Is that right? Thanks for the clarification.

              3. We indulged in the anniversary retrospective a couple weeks ago and several of the courses were different from those listed above -- we didn't know about the corkage so we took the pairings which added $95 to each and we certainly didn't get a gift card --
                Actually, I was underwhelmed and found the service to be spotty and the timing between courses very strange -- sometimes extremely looong and sometimes almost rushed - a few of the courses were truly sensational and special - notably the egg, the fois gras and the cheese tart. However, the soup was salty with a "fried burrata pillow" that lacked the gooey wonderfulness of the burrata experience -- the lobster bolognese was boring - hardly my favorite dish of the evening - and all in all it was nice evening but not the kind you talk about and dream about for weeks after - maybe it was the 2 stars and I just expected too much... personally I preferred Providence and Ortolan and in the 2 star division, think Urasawa offers the better experience (albeit very different) hands down, any day. I would go back to Melisse and certainly think it is Michelin worthy - but better than its one star competitors? not so sure... at $245pp ($150 + 95 ... the gift card promo must have expired) the anniv. menu failed to knock my socks off... if anyone who had the menu in the summer has been back recently, I would welcome hearing a comparative narrative...