I do not know how I first heard about Test Kitchen LA, but since it first debuted in August of this summer, the restaurant and concept have received rave reviews. But then again, why would it not considering the restaurant has had some of the best chefs in Los Angeles showcase their talents there?
From Test Kitchen’s website, here is the concept:
Test kitchen is the product of many people’s efforts, but the concept of Bill Chait and Brian Saltsburg. Test kitchen is a showcase for chefs by restaurateurs and allows for experimentation and testing of new ideas and concepts. Visiting chefs will be serving dishes they are working on for future restaurant projects. Mixologists provide innovative pairing opportunities and avenues to express their craft. Each chef will be working alone or in consultation with Ricardo Zarate, who is currently finalizing his own restaurant.
I had been wanting to go and experience the restaurant firsthand, but the opportunity had never really presented itself, until I learned that my former boss and friend, Chef Gary Menes, executive chef at The Hall at Palihouse Hotel, was going to be doing an eight-course vegetarian tasting menu on November 8. Considering that the dinner was a few days after my birthday, it would be a great way to celebrate turning thirty. My parents also joined Claire and me.
amuse: faux tuna belly ceviche: The bite consisted of watermelon, lime, cilantro, which was fresh and lively. (Sorry for the graininess of the picture.)
1st course: japanese sweet potato and leek veloute, endive, yogurt, asian pear: The two other times I have had Chef Gary’s cooking, his soups were always amazing – smooth, rich and complex, and this offering was no different. Japanese sweet potatoes are not as sweet as the type we normally associate with Thanksgiving, so the soup was not overly sweet. The endive was presented as a marmalade that added a vinegary component to the dish, while the yogurt added a creaminess. We all used our fingers to get as much soup as possible.
2nd course: carrot, bloomsdale spinach, purple artichokes, preserved lemon: The carrot was cooked sous vide, making the carrot very tender, but not mushy, and preserving the flavor. The spinach added a great nuttiness to the dish, while the preserved lemon sauce added a brightness to the dish.
3rd course: cauliflower roti et puree, apple, mustard seeds, brussels sprouts, vinaigrette aigre doux: Cauliflower was presented in both a roasted form and pureed, which was rich and creamy.
4th course: fennel, orange, pernod, baby broccoli, forbidden rice: This was probably my least favorite dish of the night. There was nothing wrong with it; I simply did not find the fennel very interesting, although the use of orange in the dish really helped to brighten the dish. However, the forbidden rice was quite tasty.
5th course: tahitian squash, wheat berries, grapes, dandelion greens, pickled shallots: This was my favorite dish of the night as I loved the combination of flavors: the sweetness of the roasted squash and grapes to the tang of the pickled shallots.
6th course: parsnips, stone ground grits, trevisso, garlic, parsley: The best way to classify the overall impression of this dish was bitter but in a good way between the parsnip and the trevisso, with the grits adding a nice component to the dish. I just wish there were more grits. (Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of this course.)
7th course: “petite pois francaise”, snow peas, smoked pearl onions, potatoes, hearts of romaine, jus d’onion: One could call this the meatiest of the dishes presented, especially the sauce, which was so incredibly rich and nuanced, I would have sworn that there was some sort of meat in it. I was tempted to pick up my plate and lick it clean it was so tasty. The dish was presented almost as a hearty stew, yet without the mushy, clumsy feel that sometimes accompanies a stew, added by the fact that Chef Gary cooked every component separately, yet still managed to have all of the flavors combined. Amazing.
8th course: quince, vanilla bean, mascarpone, black pepper, vincotto: This dessert was a great way to end a fabulous meal. The spiced cake along with the mascarpone and quince simply screamed fall.
This was a great meal in all respects. We all left quite satiated, and not missing meat at all. It reminded me of the bounty of produce and the beauty of vegetables. Too often I simply try and find a vegetable so that I can have a balanced meal, but here Chef Gary reminded me that vegetables can shine given the freshness and the preparation.
Thank you Chef Gary for another wonderful meal!