uhockey reviews day 1 Los Angeles: Pizzeria Mozza, Huckleberry, Melisse Carte Blanche
- uhockey Jan 11, 2011 05:44 PM
First of all - thanks to all for the recommendations, Chowhound continues to be the best resource I've yet found to optimize my experiences in the cities I visit. Having enjoyed 24 meals plus a few snacks over the course of 9 days in Las Vegas and Los Angeles the reviews will be slow in coming.
As usual, text will be posted here at Chowhound and full pictures will be available in the blog.
Thanks again, it was a truly memorable trip and hopefully my thoughts will help guide others to similarly great experiences.
Pizzeria Mozza and Huckleberry Cafe: Full review below, pictures in context in the blog.
The drive from LV to LA started out as a good one – traffic (and myself) moving at a 80+ MPH clip. Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and the rain plus construction put an stop to progress with a nearly 2 hour ten-mile-per-hour crawl approximately 45 miles east of Los Angeles. Never one to deal well with ruined plans of missed reservations I was miffed, but we called Pizzeria Mozza and told them we’d be late. The girl on the phone was nice and said they could hold the table up to 15 minutes…..unfortunately we’d arrive an hour after that and despite it being a Wednesday at 1:00pm the lineup was out the door and our table was gone…rumor has it the restaurant has been this booked for nearly 3 and a half years now.
Having already paid the $8 Valet charge and with expectations were high given the names involved with the restaurant (Batali, Silverton, and Bastianich) we gave our name at the desk and were told it would be “about an hour” before we could be seated at a table, but if we’d like to sit at the bar all we had to do was grab a seat when others stood up. Cramped, fast paced, busy, and loud we decided to take our chances and left our names only to have two groups of two stand up from the bar moments later. While we’d be seated separately and unable to share as much as we’d hoped, standing and being bumped into for an hour after driving for nearly seven was far less ideal.
Sitting with my sister while my mother and Aunt sat less than ten feet away I’ll note that we couldn’t hear a word of their conversation. For those who claim Otto and Babbo are loud, they’ve not been to Mozza. With The Who, The Stones, and The White Stripes blasting overhead and groups of people clearly loosened up by wine the decibel level was probably on par with that of a Lakers Game. Greeted by our server, a Californian looking young man named Eric B, our waters were filled and we were offered beverages which were declined – we were also given a paper bag of crispy grissini (breadsticks ) similar to those at Otto. I will note that while Eric was quite helpful and conversant with my sister and I during our meal he largely ignored my mother and aunt, failing to give them bread and talking with them far less than us.
Not wanting to over-order as I had large dinner plans for the evening, my sister and I settled on one appetizer and two pizzas. With orders placed we sat and chatted for approximately fifteen minutes before the appetizer arrived - Butternut squash bruschetta with applewood smoked bacon and sautéed bitter greens. Having really enjoyed previous bruschetta at Batali spots (Otto, Babbo, Osteria Mozza) I must say that the portions were significantly sized down while the price was scaled up – but the flavor was outstanding. With crisp and buttery country bread at the base and topped with a puree of squash laced with bitter greens plus a slice of bacon the flavors all worked nicely together with the subdued sweetness of the squash providing an ample foil to the salty bacon and potent greens.
For our pizzas I must admit the variety of options was almost overwhelming – at least 3x the number of choices as Otto. Attempting to sample two different ends of the spectrum our orders would focus on different cheeses and toppings despite our rather similar tastes in esoteric pizza toppings. For my sister, Coach Farm goat cheese, leeks, scallions, garlic and bacon would arrive still bubbling. Perhaps the least homogenous pizza I have ever tasted, the toppings to the crust were quite literally strewn on which, when combined with the uneven yet flawlessly crisp and buttery crust led to a different taste experience with each bite. Occasionally bracingly salty, sometimes over the top with onion or garlic, sometimes crisp, sometimes soft and creamy – certainly not your average pie, but one that justifies the considerable hype.
For my selection I opted for the Egg, guanciale, escarole, radicchio & bagna cuada. Again arriving in heterogeneous beauty with a crust that was seconds short of burned (for the better as it was crisp and yeasty) while I didn’t find this pizza to be quite as revelatory as my sister’s, it was another damned fine example. With fatty jowl bacon tasting briny and supple and the sauce reminiscent of a garlic cream the addition of the creamy and succulent egg was extravagant but excellent. Using the mildly bitter greenery to add some levity to the otherwise heavy flavors my only complaint about the dish would be the fact that the crust at the very center, where the egg was, seemed undercooked and a bit limp. Perhaps adding the egg at a different state of cooking would prevent this, or perhaps it was simply an effect of where my pizza was located in the oven.
Having heard nothing but brilliance of Pizzeria Mozza’s dessert program (and having seen the recipe for my object of desire) we proceeded to dessert which would arrive quite rapidly, perhaps only ten minutes after ordering. For my sister the decision was the coconut gelato pie with cookie crumb crust and gianduja chocolate sauce. Tasty and dense the ice cream pie was actually surprisingly light bite-for-bite and while I can’t say I fancy coconut under most circumstances, the way the mild gelato interacted with the slightly bitter dark chocolate sauce was quite nice.
For my selection the choice was obvious - the infamous budino which is perhaps the most famous dessert in Los Angeles today. Titled Butterscotch budino, Maldon sea salt with rosemary pine nut cookies the pudding was everything it has been rumored to be, with one caveat – it isn’t the best budino I’ve ever had. A complex interplay of sweet and savory with an overpowering and creamy pudding at it’s base, the addition of a top layer of rum sauce and the use of rosemary and sea salt acted to mellow the intensity of the butterscotch. Dunking the cookies for added texture and crunch the dessert was another excellent balance, albeit less complex than the other menu options. A great taste, but certainly not the “dessert of the year” budino that I tasted at Marc Vetri’s Philadelphia Osteria…I will admit, however, that I love having the recipes for both.
While I cannot comment on my aunt’s Margherita or mom’s Funghi misti pizza they both seemed rather pleased with their choices and both raved the budino that they shared. At $38 a person (with tax/tip and no drinks) for lunch Pizzeria Mozza most certainly cannot be considered a “deal” but the product they are producing is quite excellent. Having not experienced much of the Los Angeles pizza scene I really can’t say if it is “the best” in town, but having had other famous pizza’s elsewhere I have to say it certainly isn’t “the best” I’ve had – perhaps not even in the top ten, and with the advent of Mozza2Go I really can’t see the sense in booking a pizza date a month in advance or waiting over an hour as a walk-in.
Leaving Mozza we made the trek through the rain to get checked in to our hotel, unpack our bags, and get settled in. With traffic slowed by the weather the decision was made to head for Santa Monica – the location of dinner for the evening – early and with luck I actually arrived at the Pacific Ocean nearly two hours before dinner. Shopping and exploring as best as I could in the stormy weather I noted a location on the GPS I’d intended to visit on my last trip to LA – Huckleberry Café. Remembering the epic lines from my previous visit and realizing the store would be closing in approximately 45 minutes I made my way inside to see what, if anything, was fresh.
Greeted first by a friendly young man and then by a sleepy looking woman I noticed that although the store was soon to close for the evening, the ovens were still running and the baked goods were still plentiful. Explaining to me that they were open later than the stated hours for the holidays I inquired as to what was fresh and was told everything had been baked since noon…at that point I simply asked what was best and I was given a list of nearly a dozen things.
Knowing I had a big dinner ahead and that samples would be going home with me for the ladies to sample I decided to go with the three things that sounded best and after paying the modest tab each was wrapped or placed in plastic and bagged to go. Opened for tasting and then re-wrapped and placed in the car I will note that each of the items remained delicious until the next morning, though one (expectedly) did liquefy modestly while sitting in the car.
Beginning first with perhaps Huckleberry’s most famous item – the maple bacon biscuit – my first flavor of Huckleberry was an excellent one. With the taste was every bit as good as expected the fresh, buttery biscuit was almost scone-like in texture and absolutely stuffed with Niman Ranch bacon and swirls of 100% maple syrup. Good the day of but even better the morning after with a pat of butter in the microwave I’d say that although simple, the biscuit is every bit worth the praise it has received.
The second taste would be better than the first, largely because of my love of the namesake cookie. Titled “Snickerdoodle Muffin,” the name itself should give you an idea of what the overall taste sensation was, but to describe the texture is best described as something between a cream cheese coffee cake and a traditional cinnamon sugar doughnut. Light and airy with a “fried” crispness on the exterior yet fluffy and full of texture within, loaded with cinnamon and butter…..delicious.
The final item was the salted caramel – pricey at $2.50 but quite large the flavors were spot on. Melting only a little while sitting in the car the thick and supremely sweet caramel was matched nicely by the buttery shortbread crust and the addition of a shake of coarse salt added savoriness, texture, and a lingering palate sensation that was every bit as impressive as Mozza’s budino. Sampling only a bite of this before giving the rest to my aunt she actually thought the caramel better than the budino, or the caramels from Robuchon two nights earlier.
Having only gotten a quick sample of what Huckleberry has to offer on this visit the small café has jumped to the top of my places to check out breakfast on my next visit to Los Angeles – even if the breakfast menu changes between now and then and they eliminate the croquet and the duck hash I can be assured that there are at least a half dozen more bakery items I need to check out.
641 N. Highland Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90036
my only complaint about the dish would be the fact that the crust at the very center, where the egg was, seemed undercooked and a bit limp. Perhaps adding the egg at a different state of cooking would prevent this, or perhaps it was simply an effect of where my pizza was located in the oven.
That's the way it's supposed to be I believe ... and for my purposes, just the way I like it. True Neapolitan style.
Melisse: Full Review Below, Pictures in Context in the Blog.
Holding off on Urasawa until I have a finer understanding of the nuances of raw fish, Melisse was the last of the (now defunct) Michelin Two Star restaurants on my Los Angeles dining list. While not as famous as Spago and not as innovative as Providence, I felt somewhat regretful about having missed the restaurant on previous visits largely because Melisse seemed like the sort of restaurant I would love – Fine, French, Sleek, and focused on ornate presentations of locally sourced ingredients. With reservations booked well in advance for our first night in Los Angeles I’d be dining alone at this meal largely due to the cost – the prix fixe beginning at $105 and the Carte Blanche currently running $250.
Arriving at the restaurant early and having wandered the rainy streets of Santa Monica for approximately an hour after leaving the car at the $8 valet station I’d thankfully worked up a decent appetite before entering the large doors under an ornate awning that reminded me very much of Daniel in New York’s Upper East Side. Consistently rated either the best or second best for “Top Food” in Los Angeles by Zagat and helmed by Josiah Citrin, a chef whose resume includes stints at Chinois under Puck and Patina under Splichal my expectations were high and although I was informed that Citrin himself would not be present that evening when I made reservations I was sure it wouldn’t really matter as Chef de Cuisine Ken Takayama has been running the kitchen successfully on a day-to-day basis for nearly six years.
Arriving at the hostess stand and introducing myself I was greeted politely, but even though I was carrying a shopping bag the offer was not made to check it for me while I dined. Making my way though the festively decorated dining room I was once again reminded of Daniel with the raised edges of the room overlooking a central chandeliered area. Seated at a large and well adorned four top with thick linens and plenty of crystal and silver surrounding my charger the first person I would meet was actually the attendant who poured my water – house filtered tap that would be filled nearly every time I took two sips throughout the evening.
With ample lighting at each table yet a soft glow to the overall room I’ll note the feel of Melisse is certainly romantic in a sleek “LA meets Classic French” sort of way. The sort of way where soft Classical Christmas music playing overhead meets an automatic sliding glass door to the kitchen, the sort of way where one table has a man dressed in a Versace 3-piece suite and another has a guy in a hoodie and jeans, the sort of way where service is professional but somewhat aloof – i.e. sitting and waiting for nearly four minutes before a server would arrive with the menu – a server who handed me the menu, and explained the various options but did not know which wild game was available or the price of the Carte Blanche…thankfully, though I’m still uncertain as to why, she was replaced the moment I opted for the Carte Blanche but could be seen servicing other tables surrounding me throughout the evening. I will note here that an issue arriving later in the meal, an upcharge which was unexpected but certainly worth it, was likely her fault.
Taking care of me for the rest of the evening would be Douglas, a pleasant man who had clearly been at Melisse for some time. Capable and willing to discuss everything from sourcing to preparation techniques he represented my favorite type of server – the sort who seems to want to get to know the patron and is willing to offer his thoughts, as well. Offered wine or a cocktail I opted to begin things with a glass of Cremant de Bourgogne, Blanc de Blancs that was a bit brisk for my taste, but pleasant after acclimating to the flavor. A second mistake to the check would be attributed to this beverage choice, however, as I was charged for a much more expensive glass of Dom before the correction was made.
Assuring that there were no dietary restrictions though I’d prefer no beef the meal would begin with what has become the signature amuse at Melisse – Grapes in two forms. With the first taste arriving as half a frozen grape wrapped in Goat Cheese and Pistachio and the later an Adria inspired grape emulsion with Goat Cheese essence and Pistachio dust I really liked the exploration of temperatures and textures as the two flavor profiles were nearly identical, though entirely different.
Arriving post-amuse would be one of my favorite people at any restaurant – the bread man. Wielding a wooden basket laden with six options that arrived warm along with a subtly sweet locally sourced butter the choices for the evening were Bacon Ciabatta, Olive, Sourdough, Brioche, Basil Brioche, and Baguette. With the sourdough a tad hard for my liking I will note that the other options were all excellent though I stuck to the standard brioche and bacon ciabatta because both were soft, supple, and nicely paired with multiple courses…and per usual I ate way too much bread.
Starting off the menu proper would be a rather predictable course, but a tasty one - Kushi Oyster with Yuzu, American Osetra Caviar, Chives. Predictably briny and fresh the oyster/caviar pairing really never ceases to impress but whereas this is normally balanced with a tangy crème fraiche, the choice here to focus on lemony citrus and savory chives was a nice change.
Arriving as my second course would be something far more interesting, and far more complex than the Oyster. Described on the menu as Hokkaido Scallop, Santa Barbara Uni, Cauliflower, the dish featured all of the above arranged ornately and accented with mild lemon-uni cream and crunchy almonds. At once sweet, briny, creamy, crunchy, and vegetal this dish was the very sort of thing I expected entering Melisse – fresh local seafood and vegetables classically prepared but with Eastern accents.
Following the Scallop would be the first in a series of “wow” dishes – unsurprisingly given the menu’s progression, a soup. Poured tableside the Artichoke Veloute with chervil, goat cheese croquette, and white truffle foam arrived as only the spices, croquette, and a crispy artichoke in a cup. Adding the foamy soup and releasing the very essence of truffle as the steamy broth surrounded the croquette the presentation of this dish was not forgotten despite the elaborate dishes that would follow. Every bit as delicate and refined as Guy Savoy’s classic presentation the only thing missing was the truffled brioche.
At the end of the meal the fourth dish of the carte blanche would be the cause of a $65 upcharge on my bill – partially my fault, partially the fault of the servers. Having inquired about the dish and confirming I’d love to have it as part of the carte blanche I rather figured it would replace another dish rather than being added as a supplement, but in retrospect it was worth it…it was the best thing I have ever eaten. Titled “Truffle egg” with melting organic egg, shaved white truffle from Alba, truffle sauce and brioche, the dish arrived with explanation of its preparation – two “meringued” egg whites at the base and two at the top with a pair of sous-vide yolks within. Topped with buttery egg foam and resting in pool of truffled jus the “egg” was topped tableside with a substantial shaving of aromatic white truffles so potent I’m certain the table six feet away could smell it. Intoxicated by the aroma the first bite was purely truffle – earthy, lovely, powerful. With subsequent bites, however, the fluffy meringue and rich yolk stepped to the forefront mellowing the truffles ever so slightly. Using brioche only to wipe the plate clean the best way to describe the experience is eating a cloud of white truffles.
With the dining room manager stopping by to see how things were going and me gushing about the egg we chatted for a bit about my love for egg based dishes and foie gras, at which point he assured me that I’d likely be excited for the next dish which he would deliver himself – listed as “Seared Foie Gras & Pheasant Consomme” the dish was far more than that simple combination and featured not only the lovely seared liver, but also chunks of crispy confit pheasant in an aromatic broth laden with chanterelle mushrooms, sauternes, and shiso. As a lovely bonus, the small pasta in the dish were Foie Gras Agnolotti – rich and supple with foie terrine and packing a smooth gossamer finish.
Wiping the previous two plates clean with bread the next dish would continue the trend. Somewhere between soup and stew, “Coconut & Shellfish Nage” with chowder of Percebes, Maine Lobster, Aori Ika, Uni, and Chanterelles was miraculously light yet so packed with various seafood that each bite was an entirely different experience. Having never heard of Percebes it was explained that this was an imported form of barnacle and although the texture was similar to a clam, the flavor was sweeter and more briny. Paired with sweet lobster, creamy uni, and rich Japanese giant squid this was certainly a dish meant to wow with its ingredients, but in reality it was the simple way that the sweet coconut milk served to highlight each shellfish’s flavor that truly impressed me.
With Douglas returning to check in we talked about restaurants around town (he highly praises the kitchen at Providence and I certainly agree) and he informed me that since I was the only person in house who opted for the Carte Blanche that evening the chef wanted to send out a special surprise. Obviously never one to complain about such service my next presentation arrived with the same wooden box as the melting egg. Again topped tableside with perhaps even more truffle than the egg, White Truffle Risotto with Carnaroli Rice, Mascarpone and Shaved White Truffles was everything you’d expect from the ingredients – the smooth yet toothsome rice and mildly sweet cheese acting merely as backdrop for the aromatic truffles. While no toasted brioche was served, a simple request produced a slice within moments – another plate wiped clean, “manners” be damned.
The eighth plate of the evening would start the progression towards heavier protein dishes – a fish to be certain, but not just any fish, my favorite outside John Dory. Served again with Percebes, Wild Black Bass “En Ecailles” would pair a sous-vided filet of bass finished on a hot grill to make the scales crispy with Kubota Squash Gnocchi, Kohlrabi, Black Trumpet Mushrooms, White Carrots, and light cucumber consommé. Clear and clean the consommé itself was marvelous and the fish was perfectly executed. Less impressive were the gnocchi – more pan-seared pureed squash than true gnocchi and the White Carrots which were a tad bland. The weakest course of the evening, but I guess I can certainly forgive ‘good but not great’ sides when the central protein is so nicely done.
The menu would progress as expected next to bird – in this case a presentation from the wild game menu – Black Truffle Crusted Scottish Partridge, Marche Cherries, Celery, Foie Gras Jus, Potato Mille Feuille. With the expectedly succulent bird prepared medium rare it tasted quite unlike any poultry or fowl on a traditional menu – as a matter of fact, the lady at the table next to me had ordered this as her main course and did not enjoy it because it tasted “bloody.” From my perspective, however, this was perhaps the best fowl I’ve tasted outside a few select duck presentations and the Wood Pigeon I had at Picholine one year prior. Marrying the bird with a crust of light breadcrumbs and ample truffle served to make the flavors even more rustic and woodsy while the intense cherries and poached celery worked well together. Resting the entire presentation atop a potato that I can only describe as a sort of melting hash brown this was my second favorite course of a menu full of great courses.
My final savory of the evening would be another very solid presentation – an exploration of Jimemez Farms Lamb. Presented in four ways, all from the same animal according to my server, the dish featured braised shank, grilled sausage, and seared neck and loin. Paired with kohlrabi, carrots, and a Licorice/Olive Tapenade I will admit I would have preferred to see different vegetables than those from the eight course, but here the carrots were of the orange variety and more flavorful. The olive/licorice was interesting with the lamb but quite bitter on its own – the plate was no better or worse for it.
As a transition from savory to sweet Douglas would next arrive with the cheese carte. Featuring eighteen selections with each described by province, type, flavor profile, and Douglas’ opinion on its age and quality I will note that I did not get all the names, but of those remembered there were Brie de Meaux, Mimolette, Epoisse, Puget Oxford Blue, Gruyere, Comte, Gratte Paille, English Stilton, Roc Blu, Ladiosse, Dutch Gouda, Rocamadour, Fleur de Maquis, and Azeitão. Allowing Douglas to select a wide range for me the cheeses were presented with Pecan Currant bread, Walnuts cracked tableside, Kumquats, and port poached Pears. Noting that the Oxford Blue did not agree with my tongue as it was quite bracing, I particularly loved the Gratte Paille and Azeitao, both of which I’d never experienced before.
The twelfth course of the evening would be a palate cleanser of Vanilla Yogurt with Strawberry Compote, Strawberry Sorbet, and mint. House made the yogurt was simple, tangy, and smooth while the strawberry components were intense and lovely in texture. With a clean finish from the mint I was not surprised when my server told me that this used to be served in larger format as a dessert during the summer.
Ordering coffee – a $7 French Press of single origin Kenyan Estate sourced by LAMill I was largely underwhelmed by the choice largely because I simply don’t appreciate citrus tones in my coffee – it certainly wasn’t bad, but I’d have preferred more options. Arriving shortly after the coffee, my first dessert would be Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate – a quartet of desserts that reminded me much of desserts at The Inn At Little Washington and Jean-Georges. With chocolate injected via syringe at tableside the dish contained a hot Valhrona Souffle, Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch, Mascarpone While Chocolate Lollipop, and Coffee macchiato semifreddo. With each taste quite tasty I particularly enjoyed the subtle flavors of the Lollipop and the candy bar-like crunch of the peanut butter/wafer/ganache bite.
My final proper course would be another palate cleanser of sorts – titled Apple, Pomegranate, Dandelion-Burdock Soda the dish was actually better than the larger dessert and like the two forms of grape to begin the meal showed a bit of experimentation with an ingredient in both a natural and transformed presentation. With fresh pomegranate and mini-melon-balled chunks of apple sitting in the aromatic bubbly broth, the dish was then topped with crunchy dehydrated apple sticks and a dollop of apple sorbet. Crunchy, sweet, savory – a very nice way to finish.
Delivered with the check would be two trays of mignardises – the first with a pair of Caneles, Peanut Butter Cookies, and Gingerbread cookies and the second with Orange segments, Raspberries, Crème Fraiche, and Muscovado Sugar. Crunchy on the exterior and appropriately eggy within the caneles certainly stole the show from the other cookies, but dipping the raspberries in the crème fraiche and subsequently the sugar was simple and lovely as well.
After addressing the issue of the wine mistake and quizzically asking about the truffle supplement (which I assured them was no problem given the fact that the egg was amazing and that I received two white truffle courses, though I’d have still preferred been made aware when ordering) I settled the bill and thanked everyone for the lovely evening. Making my way to the street where it was pouring rain one my car was already waiting and I was headed back to the hotel within minutes. With the total bill including tax and tip topping $400 the question, of course, is whether the meal was worth it and although not every ingredient of every dish was a stunner, the number of exotic items and unique tastes were myriad while the service and setting were exemplary. For my dollar the best dining in Los Angeles is still Providence, but I’d not hesitate to return to Melisse and I would strongly suggest anyone who can afford the extravagance to go and order that incredible egg.
In my opinion, no - but keep in mind that one could do the Carte Blanche for $250 and for that you can only do 5-6 courses at Robuchon.
The 9-course (of which one is a sorbet and one is a single cheese) at Per Se with the Foie Supplement is now $335. Of course at Per Se the Gratuity and coffee are incuded.
The egg was +$65, the wine $16, and the coffee $7.
It is every bit on par with 3-Star Daniel in NYC, however.