Three Restaurants, One Night (Animal, Red Medicine, Hatfield's), My 24-Hour Food Tour Saturday Write-Up
I've been a little busy chasing the foie these past few weeks that I had forgotten to write up the Saturday stops of my little 24-hour food tour. [The Sunday stops have already been writtten up in two parts, first the Taiwanese/SGV stops during the day (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/854601) and then the stop at Wakasan in the evening (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/854696).] So without further ado...
(You can read the play-by-play of how my evening went in this previous thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/854184. For this post, I am focusing on the food itself.)
I started with a Sünner Kölsch [$12], a mild, smooth beer that went pretty well with both dishes that I had that at Animal, the first of which was the pigtail [$11], prepared "buffalo style".
The pig tail, cut into a half-dozen pieces, had a nice classic buffalo sauce coating it. It probably could have used a little more heat, but I'd rather be able to taste the food than have to chug an aloe drink after consuming some super-hot wings. Eating pig tail was not unlike eating chicken feet. I could put the individual pieces in my mouth, roll them around to strip the edible portions and then spit out the bones.
The skin on each piece was crisp even while sauced, and one piece was nearly all fat underneath. Only one piece had the particular porcine unctuousness to it, the one with most meat on it. The rest could have been from any animal. Not sure how to feel about that. At least it was delicious!
The second dish was foie gras with biscuit and maple sausage gravy [$25]. The piece of foie was denser than others I had had, and lightly scored before being seared. The browning from the sear was perfect and added the lightest crispness to the outside of the foie. The biscuit and maple sausage gravy gave a sweetness that contrasted well with the savoriness of the foie, and were strong partners for the intensity of foie gras.
I opted for something non-alcoholic at Red Medicine, and decided to have the house-made ginger beer [$6, IIRC] that they use in some of their cocktails. I am a big fan of ginger ale and beers, my favorite being Maine Root's ginger beer. The ginger beer at RM was not quite as spicy as Maine Root's and had more citrus to it, but it was refreshing, and I needed something to cleanse my palate and settle my stomach a bit after the heavy dishes at Animal.
The only dish I got at RM was the heirloom rice porridge, with egg yolk, hazelnuts, ginseng, and echire butter [$17], with the Santa Barbara red uni added on [$10]. When it arrived in front of me, the bowl just smelled of rich butter. The congee was very hot, which forced me to slow down, which was a good thing.
Taking the advice of several people on CH, I did not mix the egg or the uni into the congee, which was also topped with crushed hazelnuts, crispy chicken skin crumble, and dollops of green sauce. The uni was slightly bitter, sweet, nutty, and added a fantastic brininess to the bites of congee I had with it. The egg yolk was thick and smooth and played well with the butteriness of the congee. I did have a few spoonfuls with both egg and uni, and surprisingly the yolk mellows out the uni, so that none of the flavors overshadowed each other.
I had a Bee's Knees cocktail [$10, IIRC] from the "classic" section of the drink menu at Hatfield's. It was made with Bellringer gin, Albuquerque honey, and lemon juice. It had a stronger alcohol flavor than I generally prefer, but the combination of sweet and sour made it another pleasant palate cleanser after the hot, buttery congee at RM.
The bar, where I sat, had bowls of popcorn, which the bartender said was popped using garlic-infused oil, then tossed with rosemary, and drizzled with shallot oil. It tasted less complex than it sounds, and I mean that as a compliment.
The first dish I ordered was the seared Bobo Farms foie gras, served with apple-rosemary “butter”, caramelized cippolini, and molasses toast [$25]. The very large piece of foie had a very caramelized sear, which surprisingly did not crisp the outside or add much flavor to the foie. The consistency underneath was rich and fatty, and the balance of sweet (apple butter, cippolini onions) and savory (foie) is was excellent.
Having polished off the Bee's Knees, I order a Bitburger Drive, since I did have to drive later. I had heard that Bitburger made some of the better non-alcoholic beers, and I wasn't disappointed. I don't drink N/A beers often, but based on my recollection, I'd rank it a bit higher than Kalibur and much higher than regular O'Doul's (I hear O'Doul's Amber is actually pretty good, but I've not seen it in restaurants).
The second dish I had was the popular Croque Madame [$19], with yellowtail sashimi, prosciutto, sunny side up quail egg, and grilled brioche. When it arrived, I flashed back to earlier in the evening, as the brioche exuded a heady butteriness that would have held its own against the echire butter of RM's congee.
The best way to describe the croque was "balanced". Even though the dish led with the aroma of butter, the brioche was light and crisp and not overly oily. The hamachi was not overpowered by the prosciutto. The sauce, which my my recollection seemed more hollandaise than bechamel, did not weigh down the dish either. Everything just worked really well together, and it was a comforting way to end the tour.
[Full-size photos, with captions, at http://theoffalo.com/2012/07/three-re...]