15 June, 2009
Sometimes people can get a bad rep. Reality TV has done a great job of exponentially proving this to be true. Gordon Ramsay could be one of the best examples of the "bad rep" victims, since when hearing his name, images of people in tears and being cursed at instantly come to mind. However, there is a lot to be said about Gordo's style with food, dining and entertaining in his own turf. A recent visit to The London Hotel's showcase with his namesake changed my perception from a Gordo to be feared to a Gordo to be respected.
Recently even Ramsay hasn't escaped tough financial times like most others. The restaurant bearing his name is in the process of being sold by Ramsay to The London hotel, but after a few questions of the staff, I was assured that Ramsay is actually releasing his stake in the restaurant, but maintaining creative and management oversight. And that's a good thing.
This elegant setting immediately feels extremely warm and welcoming. The very friendly and attentive staff remove any scent of pretentiousness. Our treat for the evening was a five-course tasting menu and wine pairing. We were nestled in a private room that, aside from the extremely dim lighting, was an almost perfect environment for fine dining.
** Apologies for the dark photos, but lighting was a huge issue during our romantic dining...
Our host for the evening was a very friendly and knowledgeable Jeremy whose partner in crime, Sommelier Aaron, were superb hosts with the most. Serving food prepared by Executive Chef Andy Cook, the evening was kicked off with a chilled cherry and watermelon gazpacho topped with a tempura breaded lettuce leaf. It was the perfect beginning for a warm spring or summer evening, refreshing to the palate. Contrary to its name, it was not a sweet bite but quite savory and true to the gazpacho category.
The first course was a spring heirloom lettuce salad with truffle and aged parmesan. The light salad wasn't overpowered by the sometimes overwhelming truffle taste and aroma, but rather had a nice balance of earthiness and acidity in the creamy vinegarette dressing. Paired with a Willamette Valley Argyle Brut, the light crispness of the wine complemented (and complimented!) the tasty starter.
Our second course was a celery root gratin and roasted purple artichoke with pearl onions and creamed spinach. Creamy and smooth, the celery root emulsion and the sweet caramelized potatoes were like a savory custard dancing with flavor. The creamed spinach was nothing if not creamy and delicious. Our sommelier paired an Austrian Salomon-Undhof Gruner Veltliner, a vineyard with cellars that pre-date Christ!! The sweet subtle flavors of the wine are similar to a Guwertziminer, enhancing my already prepped appetite for the main event.
And yet, our main event was yet to come, but not before the tiger prawn ravioli with creamy fennel puree, deep fried basil and a light lobster bisque. If it sounds like a mouthful to say, just imagine the more-than-a-mouthful portion and flavors. The sweet tiger prawns were "stuffed like ravioli pillows of buttery goodness" (this was a direct quote from my table), and the deep fried basil was a pleasant surprise and somewhat shock - it must have been flash fried because basil normally naturally wilts from heat, and yet these leaves were still in tact and crispy. The Pouilly-Fuisse Les Vernays Burgundy was a heavier and richer wine, brightening the seafood and pasta flavors well.
Alas, we were ready for our main course, although at this point, we could have easily stopped and walked away from the table, quite satisfied and happy with our evening thus far. However, they twisted our arms and we stayed for the seared beef fillet with horseradish pomme puree in a braised ox cheek and truffle madeira jus. This tender cut was prepared medium rare, so tender we could cut it with the back of the fork. The potato puree was alive and vibrant with the burst of horseradish, and a warm blanket of truffle jus was the savory icing. A Spanish tempranillo, the most traditional of all Spanish wines, paired perfectly with the beef. The rich and full bodied Ribera del Duero Condado de Haza Alejandro Fernandez sealed the deal for the evening with its ripe berry flavors and smooth finish.
Somehow, we managed to fit in some dessert. With some more arm twisting, we enjoyed a dark chocolate with olive oil gelato, tangerine and lavender. The smooth pudding-esque finish was irresistable, and the sherry-like Madeira opened up the olive, citrus and flowery flavors melded in the gelato.
Gordo may be difficult on camera, but he's smooth as silk on the plate, and the restaurant bearing his namesake proved that. Hopefully during happier economic times, we will get to see more of Gordo's culinary visions in L.A. For now, The London Hotel will keep our anxious stomachs and salivating palates at bay, while "Kitchen Nightmares" and "Hell's Kitchen" will keep our fears in tact.
07 June, 2009
The recent renaissance of hip fashion and hip eateries emerging onto Fairfax Avenue in West Hollywood has brought new life to some ol' faithful dishes. Among the rise of nouveau and pricey gourmet gastrpubs comes Golden State, where your burger doesn't cost more than the couple of beers you drink with it, and it won't leave you angry for splurging on something that you used to buy from a drive-thru line. This burger joint is different, and you can tell the minute you walk through the door.
The simple menu consists of three American staples: burgers, sandwiches and sausages. But these aren't your dad's backyard grilled burgers or dogs. The burger is cooked perfectly medium with plenty of juicy pink beef patty to complement the rest of your colorful plate. Partnered with applewood smoked bacon and Fiscalini Farms white cheddar, fresh arugula, tomato and homemade aioli, the burger looks a bit like a model for how the ideal hamburger should look, but more importantly, taste. The sweet bacon and the creamy cheddar are the savory icing on this burger. You just may have to order two and take one home.
Not to be forgotten are the crisp delicious fries accompanying the burger. These are definitely not the afterthought. And Golden State makes their golden fries also standout by providing Curry Ketchup for those wanting a kick to their taters. It may not be for the traditionalists like me, but combining curry and ketchup will definitely pique the taste buds.
The special of the day (and a frequent and popular special, according to co-owner Jason Bernstein) was the Ale Battered Fish and Chips. The light Atlantic cod was fried in a tangy crisp batter and served over the same great fries (see above). The sweet flavor of the fish will make you forget the malt vinegar - well, I did at least, while the homemade tartar brings the whole dish together. There's no question as to why this is such a popular special among customers.
I possibly fed my eyes before my stomach during my visit, but there's something about a colorful plate of potato salad near burgers and beer that makes it irresistible. The bright red diced bell pepper and the green fresh parsley and chives please both the eyes and the palate. It just may inspire you to go home and reinvent mom's boring potato salad recipe... just don't tell her. And the plentiful portion is enough to split or take home (with that second burger you ordered).
Finally, for those familiar with the reinvention of gelato headed by Tai Kim's Scoops in Silverlake, knowing that Golden State has a distribution partnership with Scoops is music to their ears and gas in the tank. For those not familiar with Scoops, try one of the unique gelato flavors and experience seemingly clashing ingredients that meld so well together, you'll wonder why you can't buy a gallon of Lavender Chocolate or Peanut Butter Oreo at your local grocery store.
I would be amiss if I didn't mention the variety of local beers and ales Golden State offers. My visit was alcohol-free but the options were tempting and will certainly bring me back for a great burger and beer.
Golden State brings a warm neighborhood vibe to a fun neighborhood. Opening a restaurant during the Great Recession is not just risky but ridiculous to most. But great burgers and beer have survived tough times before. Here's to not just surviving, but thriving.