Friday, August 28, 2009

Patina Group Celebrates Coastal Organic Farms' Tomato Harvest

Patina Group

Nick & Stef's Steakhouse
330 S Hope St
Ste 12
Los Angeles, CA 90071
(213) 680-0330

Cafe Pinot
700 W 5th St
Los Angeles, CA 90071
(213) 239-6500

801 S Figueroa St
Los Angeles, CA 90017
(213) 614-7800

Thursday evening, the Patina Group partnered with Coastal Organic Farms to pull out the stops in a media preview of the First National Tomato Festival celebrating 2009's tomato harvest. The entire East/West coast Patina group is participating including Patina, Kendall's, Tangata and more. This week, Vanessa Kristal gathered a group of bloggers, tweeters, writers to meet chefs at Nick & Stef's, Cafe Pinot DTLA and Zucca, chat with Paul and Maryann Carpenter from Coastal Organic Farms and to enjoy some of the tomato bounty of the 2009 season.

Other bloggers in attendance included Neil from Food Marathon, H.C. of LA-OC Foodventures, the lovely Estar from e*star LA, Gastronomyblog was represented, Lindsay my moules frites co-conspirator from LAist, Matt from DigLounge was in the house (and I always forget his name), and Hadley from Grub Street LA which is fast becoming my favorite news site. As much fun was had socializing as tasting and drinking.

Our walking tour of DTLA started at Nick & Stef's. Nick & Stef's is doing something very fun in DTLA this summer. Every Thursday on the patio they offer $6 cocktails, BBQ, live music and a giant flat screen TV for baseball from 3:30-9.

The patio was jumping when I arrived and when I left.

Tomato tasting guests were escorted to a long festive table, set with many varieties of heirloom tomatoes from Maryann and Paul's farm in Santa Paula.

Great White Heirloom

Coastal Organics farms on 17 acres and grows more than 60 organic vegetables year around. They sell twice weekly at the Santa Monica Farmers' Market, and their veggies are served at many restaurants in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. I could not have had a better conversation partner for all three restaurant visits than Maryann. This woman should write a book about her life as a local organic farmer.

Black Zebra Heirloom

Coastal Organics provides tomatoes for both the Los Angeles and Las Vegas Craft restaurants, for Wilshire, the entire Patina Group and all of Suzanne Goin's restaurants. Maryann spoke at length to me of the wonderful relationships she has developed with the chefs in her 30+ years farming beautiful organic veggies. She eats in their restaurants, attends their weddings, babysits their children, has them in her home and spending time in her fields.

Brandywine Heirloom

We also chatted about our love of food and cooking. Maryann loves to cook from Sunday Suppers at Lucques. Prior to publishing her short rib and horseradish creme fraiche recipe in Gourmet magazine (where my mom got it along with the masses), Suzanne sent the recipe to Maryann snail mail style, telling her she could easily replicate her favorite Lucques dish at home. Truly, I think there is a book in this woman on the life and times of an organic farmer in Southern California.

Our three-course menu started at Nick & Stef's with an heirloom tomato salad. My favorite course of the evening, this dish piled high three kinds of heirlooms, grilled pineapple and micro-greens.

Cherokee, Black Zebra and Brandywine heirlooms all piled one atop another with beautiful cherry heirlooms rolling around the side of the plate, waiting to be stabbed with a fork and devoured.

Chef Kiepler also noted the importance of Banyuls vinegar to the salad. Banyuls is made from a fortified wine (similar to a port), aged five years in wooden barrels to develop gastronomic aromas such as green olives, vanilla, prunes, and fresh walnut. The mixture of this vinegar with the grilled pineapple was startlingly delicious.

Before leaving, the entire party was escorted to the meat locker and introduced to Nick & Stef's hot beef collection. Well, hot in the rhetorical sense anyway.

According to their press release,

"We use only the top 2% quality beef known as "prime grade Black Angus." Our steaks are cut to order and grilled over oak and apple wood- sealing in their rich flavors. As one of the few U.S. restaurants with a display aging room on-site, we dry-age our New York and Rib eye for 28 days at 35 degrees and 85% humidity- conditions that allow the beef to reach its peak flavors. All steaks are served a la carte and accompanied by a wide range selection of signature sauces and sides. We are also famous for our Caeser salad, prepared tableside."

D and I have been eating at Nick & Stef's since they first opened 10 years ago this fall. I have never had a bad meal there. Fantastic steaks, delicious sides with lots of veggie choices, good wine list and great service. It is probably my favorite Patina Group restaurant.

We left Nick & Stef's en masse and headed through the sunsetting cityscape streets of DTLA, walking toward Cafe Pinot.

Cafe Pinot is a beautiful restaurant, in the DTLA library square. I haven't loved every meal I have had there, but I have also had some that were stellar. I suppose it has depended on who is in the kitchen. One of the bloggers commented during the walk from N&S to CP about the rapid turnover of chefs at the Patina Group restaurants. Well, I don't know about that, but I do know my food at Cafe Pinot has sometimes been inconsistent. Not so at N&S, but never mind.

Cafe Pinot has the same thing going on every Thursday as Nick & Stef's, although their patio was much quieter. CP doesn't have N&S's easy access to a series of high rise lobbies releasing hundreds of white collar business people between the hours of 5 and 7, which I suppose is why their patio was empty except for the media group. This friendly guy, however, was grilling up some delicious hamburger patties.

Out strolled a server with some beautiful summertime hors d'ouevres.

Ahi tuna and salted watermelon in olive oil. There is nothing better in the summer than lightly salted watermelon. The tuna can go kick rocks. (Not that it tasted bad, it was great. The watermelon was the star.)

Mixing and mingling.

As our small herd strolled through the restaurant we got a peek into the inner workings of the kitchen. I tried to snap pics before the onslaught of a gazillion flashbulbs. Open kitchens are a source of endless fascination to the customer. I wonder if the chefs find them annoying? At Cafe Pinot, there is a glass partition between the subjects and the floor show. Ingredients this tempting might make it supremely difficult for patrons to keep their mitts to themselves. Bells, heirlooms, dried artichokes.

Truffles. I would have stolen these and ran had there been no partition.

We strolled through the restaurant with its walls and windows open to the night air and out onto the back patio that shares the square with the front entrance to the library.

Below is the second hors d'ouevres offered: crab, a skinless cherry heirloom, avocado puree and tomato gelee. Everyone gasped at its deliciousness, but I have to admit to being so busy enjoying the wine and Maryann's company that I didn't finish mine.

A horrific shot of a white Chateauneuf du Pape below.

Many bottles of Chateauneuf du Pape have been poured under my roof, and I never realized someone made a white from this region. Why wouldn't they?

I found it to be lovely for a summer evening, light and unchallenging but extremely alcohol forward.

Above, Cafe Pinot Executive Chef Kevin Meehan explains the innovative prep of our halibut. To really highlight the entire tomato plant and all its wonders (not including its frequent guest the horny tomato worm), Meehan infused olive oil with tomato vines and leaves. Anyone who has grown or picked a tomato plant should be familiar with its deep earthy sticky green leaves and stems, infusing olive oil with this wondrous summer scent is ingenious. Meehan then used the olive oil to slow poach the slowly in a method similar to sous vide.

This was unlike any halibut I have ever tasted. The flesh was incredibly moist and loose, not meaty and slightly stiff the way I typically think of halibut. Meehan expressed dismay that the bright pop of green oil on the plate was not clearly visible in the dim light on the patio, but I saw it clearly then and see it clearly here in my photo. The only problem I had with the dish was Meehan's generous portioning and how awful I felt that I could not finish that deliciousness.

Here, Meehan shows Maryann iPhone pictures of his efforts at tomato farming at home. He explains all the different methods he is trying this year, staking, not staking, different varietals, location, etc.

With Meehan in the kitchen, I might rethink my previous inconsistent experiences at Cafe Pinot and head back in for a couple meals. His passion and approach to both the halibut and his tomato plants impressed me.

DTLA could not be more beautiful on a hot August night.

After a long stroll, a relief after the hors d'ouevres and the giant portion of halibut, we arrived at Zucca. Zucca, Patina Group's most focused Italian offering in DTLA, has long been a favorite of mine. I have spent many an evening there at the bar drinking Italian wine, eating delicious Italian seafood and watching the Lakers win, lose or draw. I wish they would get better TVs.

As the evening drew to a close, the crowd's energy started to wane and the hour grew late, a server brought out the final tomato dish. Heirloom tomato sorbet. Icy, this reminded me more of a granita than a sorbet. I think of sorbets as smoother. But I don't really know that much about the different kinds of ice cream/sorbets/yogurts/granitas. I should, they are one of the few desserts I enjoy.

This.was.amazing. Adding sugar to heirloom tomato, I would have thought not, but oh my yes. Just yes.

While the media people, bloggers, journalists and tweeters finished their cafes, I bid Maryann and Paul goodnight, slipped out to the corner of 8th and Figueroa and slid into a taxi homebound.


kevinEats said...

Who ended up attending this event?

Food, she thought. said...

KEVIN! You always ask some detail I forget to include. Please see edited top of post. TY!

kevinEats said...

"dude from DigLounge" is Matt. ;)

Food, she thought. said...

There are too many Matts blogging. Someone is going to have to change their name.

e*starLA said...

That was fun! :) It was great being at the same events with you so close to each other. Definitely loved the poached halibut.