Tuesday, December 9, 2008

"The time has come," the Walrus said, "to talk of many things:"

8117 W Sunset Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90046
(323) 656-1414

Monday night we found reasons to celebrate. Eight years together and our combined ability to weather this challenging year, still with plans to conquer the universe. We headed to Michael Mina's XIV for a quiet supper to reflect and scheme.

Blogging has definitely changed how I approach eating out. We used to have traditions, habits, comforting places we went and asked for the same table and ordered the same things. This has changed. I now rarely want to eat at the same place twice. And since this was a special occasion, I wanted to hit one of the places at the high end of my to-do list. Michael Mina it is, since we always love his food wherever we end up eating it, Nob Hill in Vegas being far and away our favorite.

His book is not so subtly merchandised throughout the restaurant, as it is elsewhere in his previous XIII establishments.

I mentioned in passing to the hostess that we were celebrating our anniversary, and they made us wait a couple extra minutes for the table...where the general manager left us a lovely Happy Anniversary card, handwritten, and treated us to a glass of Michael Mina sparkling wine made by Iron Horse vineyards. It was full bodied and round, sparkled in the candlelight and was the perfect foot to get started on for a lovely evening.

"Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—
Of cabbages—and kings".

We ordered the 11 course tasting menu. 11. Was this fool hardy? It was fool hardy by maybe 3 courses. They also have an 8 course option. I had read in other reviews that the courses are very tiny, the prix fixe menus are a deal and we didn't want to think, so we dove in. They started us off with a warm naan, atop a creamy mixture of feta and and a sprinkling of herbal dust. Toasty, slightly puffy and warm. A wonderful alternative to a bread basket.

Our next dish out were twin platters of ahi tuna tartare, with ancho chili, pears (teeny tiny nearly imperceptable cubes), mint, pine nuts (?) and sesame oil. The sesame oil overwhelmed all flavors except the tuna. But the pairing of those two alone is enough to make my mouth happy. It was a delicious if not necessarily new in concept.

The third item to arrive was a lovely little arthropodic salad, with potatoes that seem to match the heirloom fingerlings in my fridge right now, strongly flavored celery, chestnuts and light shavings of a pungent dark truffle. Simple, light and wonderful.

"And why the sea is boiling hot-"

Next up, a delicate heirloom tomato salad, with gem lettuce, one long only slightly riple slice of avocado all pleasingly dressed with a bacon vinaigrette....then, and then....bacon bits sprinkled liberally on top. Very fresh, very vibrant, playful in the mouth.

Our wondeful server, in response to my husband's request that we not spend 4 hours eating an 11 course tasting menu, made sure that the food arrived fast and furious. So fast and furious I had to ask them to slow it down. I am not a fast eater. However, this risotto course was lovely, even if it had to sit a few minutes while I finished my salad. Porcini risotto with Meyer lemon and castelmagno cheese. There was a nice cheesy foam around the outside, I could clearly taste the citrus, but what the hey is castelmagno cheese?

Wiki says,

"Castelmagno is a semi-hard, half-fat cheese produced from whole cows milk, obtained from cattle of the Piedmontese breed fed on fresh forage or hay from mixed meadows or pasture. On occasion some milk from sheep or goats may may be added to the cows’ milk. Aside from being eaten on its own Castelmagno can be part of countless recipes, such as in fondues or veloutes and can be eaten along with rice, pasta, polenta, thinly sliced raw beef meat (carpaccios) or grilled vegetables."

I might be wrong in assuming the foam used castelmagno cheese as its cheesy base, but I am thinking yes.

The next fish dish, yay, was an ocean trout. This was served with a curried fennel, light on the fennely anise flavor, maybe due to the preparation. Also, some lovely little sea beans gave the dish some starch to balance the strong flavor of the fish, and sliced concord grapes to add some sweet acid. I loved this one.

"And whether pigs have wings."

This dish was my favorite. Jidori chicken, cooked pefectly, so juicy. A decent slice of breast sat atop a truffled elbow mac and cheese with a caramelized onion sauce. This was really mac and cheese. The truffle flavor was not as strong as in the lobster dish earlier, but the cheesiness with the juicy Jidori breast was so satisfying, mac and cheese and protein perfection. He snuck in a little broccoli for good measure.

Whoever was cooking really treated us to something special. On the regular menu, the Kobe beef is a $35 supplement. Out it came as our first beef course. Tender, juicy, tasty little Kobe beef filets atop chanterelles and haricot verts. This was simple, but maybe the best Kobe I have had. I have only had it a few times. The first and most notably at Bradley Ogden some years back. This was better. Maybe it was less overwhelming due to its size. The accompanying mushrooms and haricot verts made it a complete dish in its beautiful little way. I truly appreciate this as a course during our anniversary dinner. This was special.

The last main course of the evening was a small-ish chunk of Worcestershire braised short rib. By this point I was aping the appearance of Violet Beauregard, post-blueberry pie course. I just nibbled at this, but it was perfection. Short ribs are penultimate only to ox-tail on my top ten list of "red meats to eat". I wish I could have done this one better justice.

Brown, sticky, braised and glazed on the outside. On the inside, just medium, falling apart gently as you prod it with the fork. Le sigh.

The next favor our wonderful server did for me was our cheese course. My one request at the beginning of the evening was that there be no more than one dessert course, because dessert always disappoints me. Instead the kitchen sent out a double cheese course so beautiful I could cry. No dessert for my dear husband of 8 long years, and he has a huge sweet tooth.

*insert maniacal laughter*

The first was an aged mimolette. Mimolette?

Wiki says,

"Mimolette is a cheese traditionally produced around the city of Lille, France, and also in some areas of Belgium and the Netherlands. It was originally made by the request of Louis XIV, who wanted a French cheese to resemble Edam. In order to differentiate it from Edam, however, he had it colored orange. A cow's-milk cheese, it normally weighs about 2 kg (approximately 4.5 pounds). Its name comes from "mullet". When young its crust is supple, but with age it becomes harder. It has a grey crust and orangish flesh. The orange color comes from the natural colorant, achiote. Due to its appearance, this cheese is often mistaken at first glance for a cantaloupe. The greyish crust of aged Mimolette is the result of cheese mites intentionally introduced to add flavor by their action on the surface of the cheese. Mimolette can be consumed at different stages of aging. When younger, its taste resembles that of Parmesan. Most cheese-lovers appreciate it most when "extra-old" (extra-vieille). At that point, it can become rather hard to chew, and the flesh takes a hazelnut-like flavour."

This was clearly the extra-vielle, because it was almost crunchy in consistency. So.damn.good. Served with little chunks of chamomile juniper shortbread, and underneath that foam a sweet apple gellee, very stiff in texture.


This cheese serving captivated me. Monte Enebro, with "ash and mold". The "ash" is actually a licorice dust, and the "mold" must be the ever so slightly and prefectly mustily aged goat's milk cheese itself.

Monte Enebro?

ArtisanalCheese.com describes,

"Monte Enebro is handmade in Avila, Spain, by legendary cheesemaker Rafael Baez and his daughter Paloma. The Baezs make their complex goat's milk cheese from pasteurized milk and innoculate the logs with the same mold used to make Roquefort, adding to Monte Enebro's complexity and distinctive appearance....as it ages, the texture becomes denser and the flavor acquires more intense, pungent finish. Pair this cheese with Sauterenes or a Spanish desert wine."

Despite my deep seated hatred of anything licorice, I found the ash fascinating. And the cheese gobstoppingly delectable, soft almost gooey, ripe and a tiny bit smelly. I just ate it with a fork. The accompanying foam was odd, almost rubbery, and I have no clue what it was made of.

Hennessey XO and some candlelight.

And the now somewhat inevitable trip to the loo down the Alice in Wonderland-esque mirrored hallway.

I was curiouser and curiouser to see if there were any traces of the Coconut Teaszer left behind.

There was no cocaine residue on the counters, and no IV needles in the bin. Mais, bien sur non! The transformation is complete.

We had a wonderful time, service was personalized, elegant and friendly. The Mina team has done a wonderful job creating something unique. I hope the unorthodox style of asking customers to dine similarly en masse with their parties will not put too many people off after the initial fervor dies down. The food is wonderful and this gem is a lovely addition to the Los Angeles culinary scene. This pig has wings.


Frequent Traveler said...

Sounds - and looks - absolutely lovely !

What a scrumptious way to celebrate your anniversary :)

Epicuryan said...

Glad you made it out to XIV. Looks like a very good dinner. Although it looks like you skipped dessert. If you do go again I highly recommend the white chocolate cube.

That link to ArtisanalCheese.com is going to come in handy for reviews. My knowledge of cheese is seriously lacking.

Food, she thought. said...

Thank you Annie, it was scrumptious.

Tangbro: I skipped dessert and considered it a treat. Artisanalcheese.com is cool indeed. You can even BUY cheese there!

kevinEats said...

Please do give dessert a try next time! I thought the desserts were some of the strongest dishes of the entire meal (and remember I tried all 35 items on the menu!).

The pastry chef, Jordan Kahn, hails from French Laundry and Alinea, and the depth of his training is quite evident I think.

Anonymous said...

It's "curiouser" actually.

Food, she thought. said...

anonymous: spelling is not a skill I overly value, but I fixed it just for you.

kevin: i just do not see myself rectifying my dessert oversight next time. yesterday was my birthday, and I didn't even have dessert then! i always would rather have an after dinner drink.

Frequent Traveler said...

Ate there last night for their 14 course tasting, and thought the cavaiar parfait, the tuna tartare, the foie gras terrine and the lemongrass custard were mind blowingly excellent !

But the price for the caviar parfait and the kobe beef were absurdedly high.