Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Raw Fish in the Desert: Kiyosaku Palm Springs

1555 S Palm Canyon Dr
Palm SpringsCA 92264
(760) 327-6601

During one of my winter work forays into Palm Springs last season, I found this husband/wife run sushi spot via the much maligned Yelp.  Reviews are rave, with very few exceptions*.  And although I have become their Facebook fan, I can find precious little information about them on the internet. They lack a home page or even an informational blurb on their FB profile. The odd amalgamation of folks over at Trip Advisor echo Yelpers opinions, saying that, "owner has been here for 30 odd years", "Kiyo and Terri, husband and wife and 2 staff run this relatively small sushi bar and limited Japanese menu", and even, "sushi was the freshest and best I've had since eating just outside the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo".

Kiyo-san works the sushi bar, supervises the back kitchen while his kimono and obi clad wife takes care of the front of the house.  Here solo one night, I sat at the sushi bar and both were quiet but very hospitable company.


The menu ain't cheap, but as I discovered one night when ordering a la carte from items not on the menu nor listed in the specials, I was served some delights at a hefty price. That night I ordered with Kiyo-san's help: giant scallop nigiri, uni. and albacore belly. With my sake and one other nigiri item I didn't commit to memory my total came to around $80 before tip. Now way the ladies in the back office would let me expense that lavish a dinner. I gladly sucked it up as a needed and deserved luxury in the midst of a busy season of travel. It was worth every penny.

I find the appetizers to be more reasonably priced, the nigiri not priced at what one would expect from a sushi hole in the wall in the desert.  However neither is the quality what one would expect from sushi in Palm Springs. It is astoundingly good. Simple and straightforward, rivaling any I have eaten in Los Angeles**.

At Kiyosaku, sake is served in a traditional masu container, originally used for measuring rice. You can see, Kiyo-san's wife serves with the cold sake overflowing the masu as a show of the host's generosity.  Service here feels very personal despite the fact that it is occasionally slow and the room is always packed.

Kiyosaku is reknowned for their grapefruit special, something Kiyo-san created. A partially hollowed out grapefruit filled with crab, raw scallop, tuna, salmon and daikon sprout.  On my first visit I was not even tempted to try it. I thought this must be a way to get rid of end pieces, albeit it in a beautiful presentation.  However, at the end of my visit, after experiencing the attentive service to a single woman with a book at the sushi bar and their kind queries about my comfort, I reconsidered.

During my next visit with D, the week of the Indian Wells tennis tournament, we came in late on Saturday evening and started with the grapefruit.  It is fabulous. Fresh, bright citrus and lots of beautiful raw and cooked fish slightly cured by the citric acid.  The generous slices of fish spilled over from the fruit into the container, and we had to dig deep into the bowl to get every last piece of fish.

This visit, sticking to the menu I ordered a simple yellowtail sashimi platter. Melt-in-your-mouth fresh.

D asked for the nigiri combo, which along with the grapefruit was more than enough and I might have snuck a piece or two when he wasn't looking.

*One Yelper gave three stars because the sushi was not innovative enough, "i have no problem spending a $100 on premium sushi--but when i've done so, namely at katsuya in encino, the sushi has been innovative, visually stunning and exceptionally flavorful. here--it was functional".  Which basically communicates to me that this is exactly my kind of sushi chef.

**I have yet to experience Urasawa.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Spring Menu at Da Vinci with Jason Fullilove

Da Vinci
9737 Santa Monica Boulevard
Beverly Hills, CA 90210-4201
(310) 888-0090

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.

First Course

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.

Fried Artichokes

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.

Second Course

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.

Octopus, Diver Sea Scallop

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.

Asparagus Ravioli

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.

Third Course

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.  

Squid Ink Linguine

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.

Fourth Course

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.

Da Vinci in Los Angeles

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Where to Eat This Week: Cart for a Cause

Starting Tuesday March 23rd, St. Vincent Meals on Wheels partners with Nobu West Hollywood to bring you a gastrotruck whose proceeds will benefit the Los Angeles chapter of Meals on Wheels.  

Cart for a Cause will ride every Tuesday starting this week through the fall. You can follow them on twitter, natch, and fan them on Facebook.  Expect to see chefs, the famous and infamous, up on the grill including the following confirmed: Alex Becker (Nobu West Hollywood), Susan Feniger (STREET), David Myers and Dong Choi (Comme Ça), Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook (Animal), Josef Centeno (Lazy Ox Canteen), Eric Greenspan (The Foundry), John Cuevas (Montage Beverly Hills) and Sal Marino (Il Grano).

Lunches = $10 a pop. Your $10 goes here:   St. Vincent Meals on Wheels is the largest privately funded Meals program in the country.  Operating 365 days a year, on average 4,700 nutritious meals a day are prepared and delivered to homebound seniors and others throughout the Los Angeles community. St. Vincent Meals on Wheels serves anyone who is homebound and in need, regardless of age, race, religion, ethnicity, disability or ability to pay.

Eat Your Neighbor's Produce Here! Forage, Silverlake.


3823 W Sunset Blvd
Los AngelesCA 90026
(323) 663-6885

This, from Forage's website,

Your urban harvests plus food from farms and ranches make our dishes. We invite you to join us, not just as our guests, but to collaborate with us. We're asking you to forage fruits and vegetables for us! Bring us limes from your backyard tree, or peas you're growing in your garden. We'll have a tasting in the kitchen, find out how you're growing them, and then figure out how best we can use them. Let Forage be a small example of how victory gardens and small farms aren't some pipe dream or privilege, but that it's something we all deserve and can have in our daily life. We hope you will not only drop by for food, but join us.

Forage definitely feels like community, from the people eating at tables spilling out onto the sidewalk and into the parking lot, to the side wall chalkboard mentioning "Lily & John's Lemons", or "Juanita's Beets" included in the daily menu, to the inclusiveness of vegetarian and vegan choices alongside offerings for their more carnivorous customers and Blue Bottle Coffee for sale on the counter.  The concept is simple.  Forage encourages people from the neighborhood to bring in the surplus from their harvests or the overabundance from their citrus trees to be used in the dishes tempting you from behind the glass in this almost deli-style cafe. Obviously, the generosity of the neighborhood is supplemented by organic farms, trips to the farmer's market (Silverlake Farmer's Market, I would hope) and visits from butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers.


On offer the late winter day I visited was Pig's Head Terrine, and don't think I wasn't tempted.

A beautiful farro salad with pine nuts, raisins, cavalo nero (black kale), citrus, rosemary and so on.  This made it into my lunch.

Above see Sierra Gold potatoes, and an open faced chicken salad sandwich with green apples (on which I almost caved).

Foraged citrus-beet salad to the left...

and roasted market vegetables to the right (went in my belly).

From the butcher came cage-free, all natural grains, hormone and steroid free spit-roasted Jidori chicken

On my car seat, luncheon bounty.  Quarter Jidori chicken, farro salad and roasted market vegetables.  Just under $8 for a beautiful lunch that felt like a treat.  Every bite was delicious.  

I passed on the sweets, but treats for the sweet-tooth inclined were well represented.  A coffee cake above and cranberry bar below.

Heavenly toasty meringues bigger than my head.

And all kinds of cookies.

Forage accepts foraged and harvested items from the community on Sundays between 3 and 5 PM.  Stop by with your goods, their chefs will have a gander and a nibble, and decide if they can be included in the weekly menu.  Also, the Forage website lists "Forage Calls".  These are seasonal items of which Forage is in need of to complete their menu. Right now they are seeking lavender, lemons, exotic citrus and lime leaves. Take a peek yourself and see if you have anything to offer!

Not only will I be visiting again, I plan to swing by this afternoon to pick up some goodies for tomorrow's in flight picnic.  Coming at you, Forage!

Forage in Los Angeles