Leonardo Da Vinci
Last week D and I headed out from the east side to Beverly Hills to check out Jason Fullilove, former chef de cuisine under Ilan Hall at The Gorbals, in his new digs with his new spring menu. Spring has sprung and it's delicious. Spring menu = $50, $80 with wine pairings. This is a seriously good deal.
Amuse Bouche: Salmon, Cucumber Water
For an amuse, the Chef Jason sent out a salmon nibble with dill in cucumber water. A lovely start.
Da Vinci has been a restaurant in that precise location on Santa Monica Blvd at Wilshire next to the Buena Vista Cigar Lounge (our defunked old favorite Overstreet's, still a great place for a smoke and a sip) and the more countrified Italian Da Pasquale for going on 38 years. And you know what some people say...location, location, location. This is a great location.
For my first course I naturally had to try the fried artichoke...with parsilage, garlic and preserved lemon. These did not seem fried to me, they seemed roasted. With a beautiful crispiness to just the very outside leaves, they were al dente inside and just delicious. The descriptor of fried immediately makes me think of a fritto misto in the hands of a lesser chef, lightly breaded and a little greasy. These were the opposite of that. Just a touch of slippery oil on the outside, the vegginess of the choke was the key element. Paired with Mason Sauvignon Blanc which was near the top of my favorite wines for the evening.
Beet Salad, Humboldt Fog
D started with the heirloom beet salad, watermelon radish, mache, and pistachio vinaigrette. He loves vegetables that taste like dirt, the beets were nice against the sweet nuttiness of the mache. At the rear of the plate was a hearty wedge of Humboldt Fog, my favorite goat cheese. Maybe my favorite bleu cheese. Very goaty bleu cheese, FTW. D sipped surprisingly happily at a Licia Albarino.
On the evening of our visit, Arthur the owner was walking tables. Da Vinci had been open just shy of a month post remodel. The main dining room is big enough to feel airy, but also has a kind of intimate quality. Up the staircase to the east they are building a small private dining room. And I was really drawn to the bar area, naturally. On the west side of the space, the bar area is small with a couple tables and a nice sized TV for sports watching.
Diver sea scallop with grilled octopus on pureed cauliflower and sauteed celery with a light garlic sauce. I think cooking squid and octopus is kind of a precise job. Basically because I love cephalopods but hate them overcooked even a little. This was grilled perfectly, with the flavor of the fire but still a nice give when you bite down. D thought the scallop was undercooked which actually means it was cooked perfectly. No shiny charred bits on the end, nothing rubbery on the inside. The wine pairing here was El Coro Blanco, and I enjoyed it although not as much as the previous sauvignon.
D commandeered the arsparagus ravioli when it arrived, served with Anselmi Veneto. He loved this. Loved. With grilled asparagus atop cherry tomatoes and shavings of pecorino cheese, this would make a great entree. Hand made pasta, hand cut and hand stuffed.
The ravioli was bursting with pureed cheesy asparagus yumminess.
As I look back at my snaps, I keep saying to myself that this or that were my favorite dish of the night. A week later, a good sign. Sometimes I walk away from a meal and the romance fades after a couple of days. Instead the impression I am left with is that this is food made from quality ingredients, put together well. As I chatted with Chef Jason during the meal, he described his food as modern and started to expound. Instead, he said, "wait and see". What I experienced was definitely Italian food constructed for a contemporary palate with none of the machinations of molecular gastronomy. Which was kind of a relief. Most of the produce comes from Santa Monica Farmer's Market and is organic when they can get it.
The pasta course. Squid ink linguine pomodoro, loup de mer, mussel, clams, lobster claw. What I loved about this was the sauce. It reminded me a little of a French tomato based fish soup. I thought there was lobster shell used in the making of the sauce, but our waiter told us Chef Jason had used pieces of fish in the cooking. Not a huge tomato sauce fan normally, I would love the recipe for this. The fish flavor really smoothed out the acidity of the tomatoes. Deloach Pinot Noir 2006.
And the portions on both pasta dishes were dangerously generous.
Whole Wheat Tagliatelli
I only got one snap of the whole wheat tagliatelli with mushroom ragu and lemon thyme. It was just not that photogenic, but it was tasty. I have been a sceptic of whole wheat pasta because sometimes it has a graininess that can scratch my throat. But this vegan dish was really delicious (vegan, minus the cheese shavings). You would never miss meat with the hefty texture and flavors of the mushroom ragu. Again, large portion. Palladio Chianti.
Foie Gras Terrine
Intermezzo. Foie gras terrine with brandy reduction and two little flower petals on top. Just a bite. Silky terrine, sticky reduction, soft foie flavor. Tiny size, huge impact.
As mentioned before, Chef Jason Fullilove hails most recently from cooking alongside Top Chef Ilan Hall at The Gorbals (where I met him) as chef de cuisine, before that at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas after a couple Italian restaurants in NYC by way of a couple middle-range hotels. He sharpened his chef skills at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, and has landed at Da Vinci in Beverly Hills in the worst economy since the Great Depression. Making really good food that I hope does not go unnoticed.
Poussin, Orecciette, Truffle
Meat course: poussin (baby chicken) on orecchiette with mushroom ragu and shaved truffle. This was not on the menu, and made me wonder if Chef Jason had gone through my blog with a fine tooth comb to ferret out my obsession with roast chicken. This is probably the only thing I could have been served that would have made me want another bite. Roast chicken is my go-to food at almost any time, any season, any mood, any weather. This one was pretty good. My love for roast chicken and Chef's generosity with the truffle shavings made me want this to be my favorite course but I thought the chicken was a hair overcooked and the orecchiette was surprisingly dense.
Pan Roasted Salmon, New Potato, Swiss Chard, Crab Hash
D's meat course was a little closer to perfection. He was served the pan roasted salmon on a bed of new potato, swiss chard and crab hash with cherry tomatoes. I loved the slight char on the fish, and the hash was like eating an unformed and unfried crab cake...soft, savory, satisfying potato and very crabby.
During this course we switched wines. I drank D's Domaine Mellot "La Chatellenie" (definitively my fave of the evening because I drew little hearts next to it, on the inside I am still an adolescent girl), he drank my Girard Petite Syrah.
Meyer Lemon Panna Cotta
Dessert. One thing that usually turns me away from a set menu is having a dessert course foisted on me. There are two exceptions: offering a cheese course as an exception, or panna cotta as one of the dessert choices. (Chef Jason, have you been studying my blog? I really feel stalked here. Roast chicken, truffle, artichokes, panna cotta). I LOVE panna cotta. Meyer Lemon panna cotta with butter cookie crumbs. The crumbs tasted to me like a nice shortbread cookie, and the lemon panna cottta was fabulous. I would come across town just for this dessert. (I am serious about this dessert ambivalence stuff, not even chocolate moves me).
Housemade Ice Creams
As dessert was served, Chef Jason came out again to chat with us about our food and the experience in general. When I met Jason, he was still cooking downtown at The Gorbals. We drank martinis that night and nommed on some of the funky savory food. Sitting at the bar overlooking the kitchen at Gorbals, Jason cooked while we chatted with him and at the end passed across the bar a few of their delicious (funky) desserts. I asked Jason about his skills in the pastry department, and he replied that while not formally trained in pastry, he thinks it's a key skill to have to be a well rounded chef. He honed his chops making sweets in the hotel kitchens of his past. I was just as well pleased with the dessert offerings at our table last week as last fall at The Gorbals. However...as he chatted with us, we ate..and hence the half eaten dessert shots. D ate housemade ice cream, Meyer lemon sorbet, chocolate and something pink with a beautiful sugar wafer.
Ruby Port, Pineau des Cherentes
Dessert wines: on the left Fonseca Bin 27 Ruby Port, to the right something new Pineau des Cherentes. Pineau de Cherentes is a fortified wine made from fresh grape juice into which is added aged cognac. Delicious. And officially too much wine to drive. We left the car on some random side street in Beverly Hills.
Disclaimer: Chef Jason invited D and I in, and he footed the bill for the meal. I am doing less and less of these sponsored meals (and less and less blog posts altogether, so maybe the ratio is the same). What caused me to shift my lazy behind from my eastside entrenchment was a previous relationship with the chef. We met under fun and friendly circumstances at The Gorbals, and stayed in touch via email afterward. He shared desserts, I shared my pictures free of charge. I knew when Chef Jason was moving and was eager to taste food that came from his kitchen and his mind, albeit through this Italian filter.
Overall, I found the quality of ingredients to be top notch and the preparations something special but not special enough to be weird, off-putting, haute cuisine, or funky. This is a meal I would love to share with my gourmet cooking and eating mother, a place I would stop in again for a quick bite at the bar or for spontaneous romantic meal in the BH. I mentioned it before, but $50 for this meal is a steal, and add an extra $30 for wine pairings and you might have the best deal in town for the quality of ingredients, construction of dishes and care of presentation. Thank you, Chef, for a beautiful meal. See you soon.