Chefs Club – review

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I think the only thing more astonishing about former Ducasse chef Didier Elena’s idea of creating a menu based almost entirely out of career-defining signature dishes from some of the world’s leading chefs – is the fact that no-one else thought of it before. The concept is about as simple as a putting together a mix-tape of all your favorite songs. The hard part must have been trying to convince two dozen celebrated culinary masters to permit strange cooks in a foreign kitchen to loyally, faithfully and reliably deliver their coveted hits without the benefit of regular oversight, approval or rejection.

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In addition, the generously open kitchen at the NoLIta based Chefs Club had to be decked out with every conceivable kitchen appliance and gadget in order to facilitate the fastidious preparation of entirely dissimilar dishes. Whatever. What counts is that they actually pulled it off. But let me state quite categorically that anyone who thinks they can simply order something made famous by the likes of Eric Ripert (Le Bernadin), Daniel Boulud (Restaurant Daniel), Ori Menashe (Bestia), Margarita Manzke (Republique), David Kinch (Manresa), Curtis Stone (Maude) or Marcus Samuelsson (Red Rooster) without having to dine at any of their formidable establishments, is as unacceptable and unforgivable as spending a weekend on the Vegas strip satisfying the need to ever visit the real Paris, Monte Carlo, Venice, Egypt, the Bellagio or even New York for that matter. (Don’t get me started…)

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If you consider for a moment what a humungous asset it would be to open a restaurant knowing you already have 25 award-winning dishes by 25 highly accomplished chefs locked up, the rest should be easy, right? And by all means the gorgeously seductive Rockwell-designed room on the north side of the Puck building with its rustic brick ceilings, moody lighting, monochrome marble tops and a massive salt rock precariously suspended above the dining area, should pretty much seal the deal. I would also suggest that the meticulous crew do a masterful job of delivering on all the chefs’ expectations. How do I know? Only eight crumbs of our appetizers remained after a faster disappearing act than a litter of hungry puppies could have mustered. Can you blame us?

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Charred Octopus (Curtis Stone) – Chefs Club

Was it Curtis Stone’s heavenly saffron aioli that accompanied his tender and succulent Charred Octopus, or Diego Oka’s magnificent Lobster a la Piedra drowning in a scrumptiously spicy leche de tigre (tiger’s milk) that took top honors? And by how much did Alex Stupak’s innocent-enough-looking Vegetable Crudite with the most earth-shatteringly amazing smoked-cashew dip trounce Matthew Aita’s profoundly crispy and glorious Broccoli Pizzetta with just a hint of chili-walnut pesto? You’ll have to find out for yourself.

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Broccoli Pizzetta (Mathew Aita) – Chefs Club

But it’s the final stretch that gets in the way of this being a truly magical success story. I’m not referring to farm-to-table either. I’m talking about the final, final stretch. That last 50 feet: from kitchen-to-table!

As I pointed out several blogs ago, some of my pet restaurant peeves include when a waiter hasn’t yet mastered sufficient command of the English language to articulate and elaborate on the menu clearly enough for a guest’s comprehension – much less understand what it is they are trying to order. Or when a team of efficient bussers proudly delivers only 3 out of 4 entrees, leaving one of your guests with nothing but blank anticipation between knife and fork while everyone else is already harmonizing in a chorus of ooooh’s & aaaah’s.

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Paupiette of Sea Bass (Daniel Boulud) – Chefs Club

Or the biggest disappointment at trying to smile through chef Aita’s delectable Grilled Swordfish with tangy zucchini tapenade, or having to contend with a sublimely succulent and crispy Dry Aged Duck Breast over a lighter-than-air wheat porridge by Gavin Keysen, or enduring chef Boulud’s crispy wafer-thin potato-wrapped Paupiette of Sea Bass surrounded by a standing-ovation-worthy Syrah sauce, or gritting one’s teeth until the last bite of Ruby and Sather Duke’s wonderfully tender Smoked Pork Collar with pickled peaches for sweetness, grainy mustard for fire and toasted nuts for crunch – all regrettably served well below room temperature. And while genuine, heartfelt apologies (and comp’d desserts) are always appreciated in hindsight, one has to wonder what kind of magical talent it takes to make fifty degrees disappear – just like that!

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Blistered Shishito Peppers with Pesto butter – Chefs Club

http://www.chefsclub.com/

 

Bestia, Los Angeles review

If landing a table at Bestia wasn’t challenging enough (I could teach a puppy to play chess in less time), when you arrive at the graveyard of derelict factories on the darkest of alleys in the so-called “Arts District” of downtown Los Angeles – a mere Molotov cocktail away from skid row – that uncomfortable lump that you feel in the pit of your stomach is a curious mixture of anticipation and regret: The thrill and satisfaction of finally being able to sample one of LA’s white-hot “it” places, diluted by the frightening realization that this might very well be your “last supper!” But you surrender your car keys to the shadowy figure emerging from the darkness anyway, realizing that there’s just no going back.

The former warehouse is a crowded hive of exposed light bulbs, raw bricks, time-weathered steel girders and industrial doors. And in stark contrast to all the old wood, antique bric-a-brac and semi-middle-aged crowd, there is youthful electricity oozing from the asymmetrical hairdos of the gaggle of handsome, black T-shirted twentysomethings, whose charm and hospitality are only eclipsed by their cocky confidence as they rattle off recommendations from the exhaustively prolific menu. Even the open kitchen, running the length of the room, exposes more than just the hearty preparations of 41 items – it reveals an even cockier bandana-clad cooking crew of even more twentysomethings. The kids have clearly taken control of the ship – and they’re teaching the grownups a thing or two about a thing or two! Not that we tried to or anything, but there wasn’t a single query that could stump our waiter. Even the origin of the stemware was just another aspect of his limitless lexicon of information.

Executive chef Ori Menashe has created far more than just an eclecto-rustic Italian test kitchen. His prowess as a truly gifted salumiere, pizza & pasta maker, and his uncanny ability to sidestep conventional ingredients to give his hearty dishes an unpretentious reinvention, will inspire future snout-to-tail toques, who from hereon out will be referred to as the “Post-Bestia Generation”.

Sea Urchin Crostino - Bestia

Sea Urchin Crostino

The plates grow in sharability as you move down the page. Things start timidly enough with Homemade Country Bread (Menashe grows his own yeast), which reappears toasted under a variety of Crostinos, from Chicken Livers with herbs to Sea Urchin (the latter having to regrettably yield its briny flavor to the garlic and chilies).

Farro Salad - Bestia

Farro Salad

But then there’s a noisy explosion of options, building from the delightfully sweet and tangy Farro Salad in a pickled chili and avocado dressing, to the much-blogged-about Roasted Marrow Bone, and of course the adorably photogenic aged-wood plank of 4 or 5 impeccably house-cured Salumi (including duck), with sour pickled vegetables and a mild, mermaid-green mustard for company. Thanks to the revocation of the California law, Foie Gras Terrine has returned to the menu, and the spreadable ‘Nduja sausage makes a number of spicy appearances – as the flavor driver for Mussels and Clams and as a feature in one of the three San Marzano tomato-based pizzas.

Salumi - Bestia

Salumi

I’m always a bit weary that an octopod can become mushy when tossed in a dressing. But chef Menashe keeps his cheerful Grilled Octopus and Calamari moist, tangy and shatter crisp, with a refreshing and citrusy chili vinaigrette. His pastas aren’t just house made, they’re house leavened! The melt-in-your-mouth worm-shaped Pici with hearty chunks of deliciously salty lamb ragu and crunchy breadcrumbs will emit a sigh of delight from even the staunchest of Italian die-hards.

Pici with lamb ragu - Bestia

Pici with lamb ragu

Given that Bestia means beast, the selection of land animals is surprisingly short, but the family style Prime Aged Ribeye, fileted to boast a succulent pink interior that tears apart effortlessly, delivers a simple, salty, fire-grilled, tender morsel of umami heaven.

Aspen Ridge Prime Aged Ribeye - Bestia

Aspen Ridge Prime Aged Ribeye

Pastry chef Genevieve Gergis (Menashe’s wife) peppers her half dozen desserts with seasonal fruits like persimmons, tangerines, winter lemons or pink lady apples, but the olive oil and salted caramel Valrhona Chocolate Budino is by far the strongest contender.

Grilled Octopus and Calamari - Bestia

Grilled Octopus and Calamari

Bestia might well be LA’s turning point in defiance of convention, categorization, expectation and formality, heralding a brand new genre of dining on the left coast.

http://www.bestiala.com/