Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ortolan Bordeaux Dinner August 26, 2009

8338 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 653-3300

Wednesday August 26th Ortolan offered a prix fixe 5 course Bordeaux accompanied tasting menu. Despite being arguably the most beautiful dining room in town with exceptional French fare, Ortolan is often quiet and I have feared for its lasting power during this recession. Last night cured me of those worries. Ortolan has undergone a few minor changes in seating arrangements, is now offering live music to accompany the Chef Eme dining experience, the place was packed.

In terms of seating, the long middle white banquette is now located along the back wall in the bar. This adds more cohesiveness in the decor between the front room and bar area. Also, the dark slightly rustic wood floor in the dining room is more visible adding a little casual balance to the formerly rather formal crystal chandeliers and white leather upholstered chaises in the dining room. I like the change. Our four top was seated next to an enjoyable jazz trio that became livelier as the evening wore on. Skillful and enjoyable, just occasionally a hair too loud.

Our friends D & Y are on Ortolan's special event mailing list, and contacted us early this week about the Bordeaux dinner. With so many places to dine in Los Angeles, and something enticing opening nearly weekly, I sometimes forget how much I love Ortolan and Eme's elegant food. So happy to have returned to enjoy it again.

Sheer rolled paper menus with the evening's prix fixe greeted us when we sat down.

Our server attempted to spirit them away, but neither Y nor I were having any of the spiriting. I placed mine securely under my newly returned grosgrain sunhat for constant referencing and morning-after perusal.

Amuse-bouches. To start us off right (prior, sadly, to any wine as we denied the tantalizing champagne cart) we were served two flavors of soup in four test tubes with little black straws. The orange ever so slightly warm soup was intended to be cantaloupe with prosciutto. I tasted simply pureed cantaloupe. I loved that the puree was not so pureed that bumps and lumps of the fruit were undetectable, I would have loved some salty smokey flavor of the prosciutto. The white tubes were filled with a cool cream of cauliflower soup that was divine. Light in texture and concentrated in flavor, slightly salty with a touch of light airy foam on top. Delicious.

Since I can remember, Eme has served this delicious warm eggplant caviar in an herb puree for spreading on bread, or if you are me, simply eating with a spoon. Last time I ate there, I loved it so much I attempted to make it at home. Mine wasn't nearly this elegant. Eggplant caviar is just an eggplant puree similar in texture to a baba ghannouj, but without the smokey flavors. Eme's is milder, with the pureed herbs underneath to back it up.

Course 1: Seared Scallop, Open Ravioli, Artichoke Puree & English Peas
Chateau Rauzan DEspagne 2005

An excellent starter, the scallop underneath looked very well trimmed, but the flavor was luscious and buttery. I love that the English peas underneath were clearly farm fresh and cooked al dente. Without naming the types of roasted mushroom on top, I was unable to identify them. They added the bold earthy flavor this mellow tasting dish needed. One person commented that this would make an excellent entree. All wines tasted this evening were blends, the Chateau Rauzan a blend of 45% Sauvignon Blanc, 45% Semillon, 10% Muscadelle. Drinkable for the non-white lovers and an innocuous paring with this subtley flavored dish.

Course 2: Salmon Roll, Risotto with Cuttlefish and Bordelaise Sauce
La Reserve de Leoville Barton 2004

This was the richest dish of the evening, with a generous portion of risotto underneath the fairly large size salmon serving rolled in kale. I like this method of prep by French chefs, rolling meat or other hearty ingredients in a steamed or cooked piece of green. You saw Hubert Keller do this to his lamb on the last episode of Top Chef Masters, I have also eaten this at Monet, a French restaurant in Ashland, Oregon.

I must ask that you excuse my photography for this post, my G9 was left behind in a hotel room in Victorville this last week and never recovered. I guess I will be getting a new camera soon despite all my months of debating back and forth. During the visit to Ortolan, I shot with D's Sony Sureshot 12.1 mp. Definitely a decent number of megapix, however nowhere near as much control as afforded by the G9. Le heavy French sigh.

The Leoville Barton served with the salmon illustrated the start of a well chosen progression of increasingly complex red wines. 75% Cab Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 7% Cab Franc, 3% Petit Verdot, this wine is light but has nice body. This is the type of wine I enjoy drinking at home in the evening, uncomplicated but still delicious.

Even with the questionable photography, you can see this was a vertically composed dish, the shots don't adequately show the beauty of the presentation. The very green wrap around the salmon. On top there is a thick white chip of something, I assumed it was squid, but now rereading the menu it must be the cuttlefish. I wasn't far off, though, according to Wiki. The cuttlefish is in the same family of squid and octopus, not fish but mollusks and among the most intelligent of invertebrates. This one was quoting Tolstoy while hanging out in the walk-in.

image courtesy of Big Movie Zone

Monsieur Cuttlefish. They have eight arms, but only two tentacles and range in length from 6-10". Wiki also adds that they have a sepia toned dye that Jews have recently been using to color their Tallit strings. Not only is the cuttlefish able to change color for camouflage, but they also have the ability to rapidly flash changing color warning fellow cuttlefish danger is nearby. Smart cephalopod.

Course 3: Lamb Confit, Zucchini Flower, Green Asparagus, and Basil Pesto
Les Hauts de Lynch Moussas 2006

This was the most beautiful dish of the evening, all the elements are easily visible, the rolling and perching of the asparagus made it almost too pretty to eat.

Normally not a huge fan of multiple shots of the same dish, Eme's work is so visually appealing and artistic, nearly every dish deserves to be seen in some detail. This looks more complicated than it tasted. The asparagus was fresh, the zuchini blossoms stuffed with the hearty lamb confit resting against a small pile of flavorful stewed tomatoes that added some lovely acidity to the flavors. I can find precious little info on the wine served with the lamb, however, I remember it being much bolder with a smoky note and dark floral aftertaste.

We were all entranced by this bright green powder. Sweet, with the consistency of chunky powdered sugar, Y thought this might be ground up green clovers from a box of Lucky Charms. Mais, non! It is rosemary powder. Uh, huh. I tasted no rosemary. But it was certainly fun and pretty.

Course 4: Seared Squab, Polenta with Fig, Grape and Bacon
Chateau Comte des Cordes 2006

For the most part, all the colors of this dish were similar except the polenta. We were served a nice section of squab breast, small but relatively boneless, easy for eating. Grape, fig and bacon (extremely thick bacon, pork belly, I thought) served with the pigeon stood up perfectly to the gameyness of the meat and made a perfect and hearty summer dish.

Le figue fraîche. The Comtes des Cordes wine, 75% Merlot; 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, was very bold, slightly dry but with some undertones of dark jammy fruit. I would probably not drink this solo, without food. However, with the squab it was parfait!

Course 5: Chocolat. Red Fruit Marinade with St. Emillion, Yogurt Sorbet, and Lemon Emulsion
Chateau Haut Charmes 2005

It was only at this late point in the evening that I became slightly dissatisfied with any part of my experience. This dessert was weird. A cold chocolate soup with blueberries, raspberries and strawberries swimming in the bottom with a cool lemon-mint emulsion on top. I loved the lemon-mint emulsion, in texture somewhere between a foam and a creme anglaise with a delightful summery minty flavor. The chocolate part underneath was chalky.

The temperature in the room at this point also became unbearable, the white leather upholstered chair was sticking to my silk covered sweaty behind & back. I admit to not feeling 100% earlier in the day, developing a migraine in the middle of my work in Indio, and having to pull over for a nap under a tree somewhere along the 10, then rallying to come to a dinner I was very much looking forward to. My companions did not seem as bothered by the heat as I. However, I had a lovely cool glass of Haut Charmes to keep me company and even without dessert it was wonderful. A blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, KL Wines says,

"Haut Charmes is a very special Sauternes bottling, made from the younger vines of the region's most legendary château. While we aren't allowed to actually reveal the source, it's safe to say its location in the Ciron Valley exposes the sauvignon blanc and sémillon fruit to conditions perfect for the development of botrytis. Charming, elegant and an exceptional value for what's in the bottle; Wonderful pineapple and coconut aromas that follow to the palate—stunning wine just like its big brother."

Enfin: Petit Four Canele Bordelais with Armagnac Ice Cream

Everyone else at the table did backflips for the canele. Y's D said it was like a cross between a souffle and a donut. While Y did not like the ice cream and said she could taste the armagnac, I could not taste armagniac at all but enjoyed the cold iceyness of this immensely. The texture was more like an ice milk than creamy like an ice cream, but it felt good in my hot tired little mouth.

I love Ortolan, and as much as I enjoy the food, I enjoy the Gallic attention to detail. This restaurant is designed and run by someone who knows how to develop a concept and see it to fruition. The Ortolan insignia is imprinted into navy blue wax closing the linen paper around our bill.

These little iron garden statues are at every table. We scored with the little bird, surprisingly heavy. Other tables sported crude replicas of la Tour Eiffel, or pine cones. I thought I saw a roughly hewn squirrel elsewhere. I wanted to run around and snap pics of every stature at every table, but restrained myself.

People watching at Ortolan is first rate. Beverly Hills adjacent PYTs, a couple in matching polo-white linen outfits, a bald man with an eye patch looked dangerous. I bet he had a gun. The meal and the company were wonderful and I found myself wishing I would think of Ortolan more often when dining out on a lark, instead of compartmentalizing it as a special occasion treat. Food is inventive without being odd or feeling like the concept is a stretch, the sommelier makes excellent choices, gives generous pours, and the entire staff is attentive without being overbearing.

After the wonderful meal, the wine, the car ride home, j'ai dormir sur les deux oreilles.

Ortolan has also been reviewed by these esteemed foodies: KevinEats, Gourmet Pigs and Pepsimonster.

A.O.C. in Los Angeles


Kristine G said...

beautiful blog ... too bad the food isn't as topnotch as their decor and design. i need to sneak into this place and jack their chandeliers, too. lol

La Sybarite said...

I don't get to eat at Ortolan often, qu'elle dommage. Lucky for me, reading this post was nearly as satisfying as a meal there. Next time, for god's sake, avail yourself of the champagne cart!! What could possibly be better than champagne on wheels?