Stefan's at L.A. Farm
3000 Olympic Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90404
The desire to try anything new in Los Angeles is met with the longing to be a part of anything Top Chef, and Angelenos are graced with not just one but three Top Chef cheffed restaurants. Ilan Hall, winner of Top Chef Season 2, has The Gorbals up and running downtown. Michael Voltaggio from thie current season is cooking up high end noms at The Langham Hotel in Pasadena and Stefan Richter, the cocky Finn finalist of Top Chef Season Five has revamped L.A. Farm in decor and menu in Santa Monica. This week we headed via the 704 from Echo Park to Santa Monica to meet Holly of The Michelin Project and her friend D (heretofore referred to as HFD) to check out Richter's confident swagger in person and his efforts in the kitchen. All were greeted at this corner of the bar right next to the front door by Richter himself and his shit-eating grin.
Before sitting down to dine, we tasted some cocktails at the bar. Holly ordered a specialty cocktail that tasted to me decidedly like a Cosmopolitan. Stefan told us later, "It's not a gay drink, I love it man." He and D shared a few of these throughout the evening.
HFD tried something of citrusy marvelousness. Citron vodka, grapefruit and a splash of orange. It was really bright, and not overly sweet.
Several restaurants around town have slightly alternative approaches to menus. Reservoir in Silver Lake offers several different proteins and a variety of market based plate "set-ups" to choose from so you can create your own plate. Bistro LQ offers small and large portions of almost all entrees and appetizers so one can create their own tasting menu. Stefan offers a long list of very small plates in addition to regular sized entrees and appetizers. This list was extremely tempting. As Stefan hung out at our table, D and Stefan egging each other on to be manly and have more drinks, we asked how to approach the menu. He suggested trying several of the tiny plates then an entree. We considered doing to entire menu of small plates, and he said not to, just to choose a few. Each small plate is really only one bite, etc. Being well behaved we did as we were told.
Kumamoto Oyster, Absinthe Jello, Fennel Vinaigrette
I was initially a little worried about the flavor of this, being a licorice hater. However, j'adore kumamotos. The worry was for naught because the only flavor present was the deliciously perfect oyster. Um, don't put the white stuff the oyster is sitting on in your mouth. It is salt. Oysters, wonderful. Salt, not.
Fried Olives & Veal, Mozzarella
Ordering this at Stefan's behest, no one really touched it except me. It's basically a salty meatball. It was tasty enough, and while I didn't get overly excited about it I don't think it is grounds for elimination.
Like a Big Mac
Yes, indeed. Tasted almost exactly like a Big Mac. Stefan suggested we order two and cut them in half. Ultra-mini sliders. Yum.
Beef Tartare with Poached Quail Egg & Bread Stick
Here he offers a perfect little beef tartare. I love a slightly cooked egg, not too runny but just enough to add some yolkiness to the beef. The beef itself had a nice salty brininess to it, I am assuming from mustard and capers. I was having too much fun to ask too many details about the menu. This is a very likely rendition of beef tartare, and one of my recent faves. The bread stick is a complete throw-away. Grilled bread or some thin wafers would be better here, the bread stick is awkward and not that interesting. Despite the bread, this could win a quick-fire challenge.
Parmesan Truffle Mousse
Disappointed in the parmesan mousse with truffle. Texturally reminiscent of cream cheese the flavor of the parm came through and so did the truffle. But I was expecting something much lighter. This was shockingly dense.
However, it was served with small triangles of brown bread which was a much better pairing than the tartare/breadstick choice.
I love the wine list. It is small and focused, and all bottles are offered full bottle or simply by the glass. And the service was nothing short of perfection. Our waitress indulged us by bringing D out two different reds to taste, and when she realized what he liked about the one he chose, she brought a third she thought he would like better. Bearboat 2006 Pinot Noir, and it was delicious.
Veal Chop, Cauliflower Puree, Roasted Shallots, Green Peppercorn Sauce
Normally not a veal eater, I had been watching the Food Channel earlier when someone was making mashed cauliflower. I love mashed cauliflower and could not resist its call. The veal chop was incredibly disappointing, so fatty the majority of it was inedible. Because the rest of our food seemed pretty high quality ingredient wise, I think this cut was a fluke. The cauliflower was rewardingly delicious. Because of the fatty cut of the meat, I wouldn't have wanted to send this to the judges.
Shrimp & Scallop Risotto, English Peas, Dill, Champagne
D surprised me by ordering a risotto, something he never ever caves on. Fortunately, this was right up his risotto alley. Not heavily creamy, the texture of the rice was light and lovely. Plenty of visible shrimp pieces, and while the dill was extremely forward it didn't overpower the peas or shrimp. A very nice risotto, I would go more lightly on the dill.
Mini-Ravioli, Truffle, Foie Gras
Gently stuffed with foie, the ravioli in a light truffle sauce were good but not great. I nibbled at a couple of these and found the flavor of truffle to be subtle, not overpowering. I would have liked to taste the foie a little more. Featured as a main ingredient in the dish, I wanted more foie-ness. But the pillows were nicely al dente, and the serving was satisfyingly large without being huge.
Seared Day Boat Scallops, Pea Puree
After D and I debated over the scallops, HFD ordered them instead and boy did she score. This was the best dish of the evening. Just a hair too darkly seared, the scallops were nevertheless delicious and the pea puree was immense in flavor, thick and vegetal in texture. This was a wondrous dish, worthy of going back for on another visit and worthy of winning immunity.
Red Wine Ice Cream Lollipops
The novelty of this was not lost on me, the spoilsport non-sweet eater, we all had to have one. On the outside and layered in between turns of vanilla, is ice cream flavored boldly with red wine. In the very center is crunchy chocolate spun around the end of the stick. Loves.
Both the presentation and the flavors.
Lemon Grass and Ginger Panna Cotta
Loved the ice cream popsicles, loved the panna cotta even more. I wonder if Stefan is behind the creation of these desserts. Flavored so hugely from ginger and lemongrass, with small chunks of pineapple sprinkled on top. We argued about what the red circle is in the middle, my mind going to candied prosciutto. This is what 2008-2009 has done to me. Everything unidentifiable is bacon. When Stefan returned with another round of drinks for D and himself he told us it is actually an ultra-thin oatmeal cookie. It was yum.
Mousse au Chocolat, Baumkuchen
This was anticlimactic. The mousse was not cold enough, IMO, although it was certainly chocolatey. Just not thrilling. Baumkuchen is a layered cake with chocolate around the outside, popular in Europe and Japan. Baumkuchen reminds me a little of a Kit Kat. This one was a tiny stage supporting the mousse.
Reflecting on this post and on Stefan's at L.A. Farm in general:
I need to learn to use my white balance. And Adobe needs to figure out how to help my install the Photoshop I paid for this morning and stayed on the phone for 3 hours with tech support in India to try to get up and running, to no avail. Also, thinking back on previous more well described food experiences, D mentioned at one point in the evening, "why not just eat?". So, instead of asking 30 questions about every dish that crossed my path, I simply enjoyed the experience and will let the photos and my simplistic explanations speak for themselves. It was a blast to eat there and chat with Mr. Richter. Honestly, he is as friendly as hell. TV editing portrays him as a nervy, brash son-of-a-gun. However, in his own restaurant without production attempting to spin a good yarn out of his antics, he was convivial and participatory with all the patrons in his dining room. I watched him behave so and I enjoyed his company. If I were in the neighborhood, I would eat at Stefan's again. I already know what I would and wouldn't order.