Monday, August 18, 2008

Stalking Kris Morningstar at 750 ml

Located in an adorable neighborhood in South Pasadena on an adorable block with adorable shop fronts, situated on an adorable corner with signs and architecture reminiscent of the Whistle Stop Cafe and a light rail speeding mysteriously by every 20 minutes or so...

sits 750 ml, a wine bar & restaurant with Kris Morningstar of Blue Velvet temporarily at the helm.

We inquired delicately about Morningstar, asking if he was still in the kitchen, to which our server replied, "No, I think he went upstairs."

We couldn't have had a better atmosphere on a balmy Sunday evening, and we couldn't have had more personal service. Kip waited on us, guided us toward dishes that would suit our palates perfectly and made sure our meal was headed in the right direction. This is a man with a passion for food. He is pretty much passionate about all his endeavors, it would seem. He is founding a company called Eco-Kids, which makes a playdough-like product for kids and sells them in eco-friendly recycled and recyclable packaging. He actually brought a container out and I got to play with it. I love that salty smell of playdough. The packaging is cool, toys with an eco-conscience.

And, onto the food.

I started with a hamachi tartare, decorated with crispy pork belly flakes and diced summer melon. Hamachi is my favorite raw fish. But I would have liked more than two bites. I shouldn't be surprised, and I really wasn't. But I needed 2-3 servings of this to satisfy my appetite and tastebuds because it was a beautifully constructed dish.

Kip strongly reccomended the sweet corn agnolotti. In a review somewhere on the innerwebs, someone ate this and swooned. So D ordered this for an appie, and all reports were true. This dish is amazing. The pasta is house made, the corn is sweet and thick, and this dish was adequately sized for a starter. Kip tried to talk us into the entree size, and he was right. We would have eaten it all.

For an entree, I ate another small plate. This was a marguez sausage, on a fennel and olive salad with honey sauce. The mix of flavors was nice, and the size was hearty enough to assuage my hunger.

D ordered the tilefish. What the hay-yell is a tilefish, you ask? One of my reviews was referred to as the Cliff Claven of Chowhound, so I feel compelled to share with you what a tilefish is.

The University of Delaware has an informative little page on the tilefish:

"The tilefish is sometimes referred to by names such as golden bass or golden snapper. It is olive green or dark tan above, changing to yellow or rose on the lower sides. The back and upper sides are dotted with brilliant yellow spots, and the belly is white. The tilefish is further characterized by a fleshy protuberance on its back, just in from the dorsal fin, which looks like a miniature rudder balanced on its head. Although this species can reach 50 pounds, tilefish are usually marketed at 4-8 pounds. Crabs and crustaceans are their favorite foods.

Tilefish occur from Nova Scotia to the Gulf of Mexico and are most abundant from Nantucket to Delaware Bay. They are known to occupy a narrow band of the ocean floor on the upper part of the continental slope where a belt of warm water is found. A significant commercial fishery exists, especially off the Mid-Alantic coast.


According to the New Jersey Sea Grant Marine Advisory Service ("From Catch to Kitchen or Catching and Cooking Your Own Fish Dinner"), "If you love lobster, you'll like tilefish". This expression has been making the rounds. But those who know how tasty tilefish is and how well it sells have turned this saying around to "If you love tilefish, you'll love lobster".

Tilefish has firm, pinkish white flesh that provides a lobster- or crab-like taste. Once cooked, the meat is mild-flavored and succulent. The meat remains very moist after cooking; therefore, it is ideal for baking or broiling. Tilefish is delicious in seafood stews or chowders. This fish is excellent poached or microwaved, then cooled and used in a salad."

This particular dish was nice and tasty. Served on a bed of quinoa with grilled grapes and long slices of grilled eggplant, I am guessing this filet came from a tilefish of the 4 lb size. Not enough food for the big guy.

Despite the oftentimes small sizes of Morningstar's portions, I have every intention of following him to Casa. I love his flavors, and frankly, it gives me something to do with my time.

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