Roast Beast: An Evening at the Wildlife Waystation

Tonight I had the privilege of attending a celebratory dinner for Big N’s company at the Wildlife Waystation in the mountains of the Angeles National Forrest.  What a magical evening it was.

The Waystation takes in exotic animals of all kinds who no longer have homes.  Examples include a grizzly bear who retired from a long career in show business, to tigers whose owners thought it would be cool to have a tiger until it grew up and mauled them, to homeless chimpanzees who found their way to the Waystation after the laboratory that performed experiments on them for years closed down.  Started by Martine Collette in 1976, who still runs the joint and regales her guests with crazy stories while pouring exotic libations, the Waystation is currently home to over 400 animals and runs solely on private donations and volunteer labor.

Montana 2

We started the evening with a tour of the more people friendly animals (and wouldn’t you know it, I only had my crappy iphone with me, forgive the pics).  Meet Montana, the elderly white tiger with arthritis, and Sheba, a 23 year old beauty who came right up to me and met my stare with her kind blue eyes.  We met lions, a grizzly bear, a brown bear, several rowdy Chimpanzees with wicked senses of humor, and even a Liger!  We saw spider monkeys climbing their cages, capuchins chowing down on bananas, wolves playing together in their pack, heard a jet black panther purring (a deep guttural sound), and listened while the lions talked to each other at a volume that could be heard for miles (see video below).  What’s amazing about this place is the animals come right up to you, not more than three feet from you (the minimum safe distance the Waystation likes to enforce, except for the chimps, which require a 20 foot gap to ensure safety from their playful but incredibly accurate water spitting antics).

After our tour we entered a lovely tented area and dined together with the sounds of exotic birds chirping in the distance and buzzing our tent.  For dinner the Waystation served chicken, salmon, and roast beast (beer marinated tri tip), along with garden fresh vegetables, and moist chocolate cake for dessert, all made in Martine’s 1938 cottage on the 160 acre property.

Sheba 2

The Waystation is currently closed to the public (and only hosts special events), but hopes to reopen within the year once they can afford a few Code updates.  Our dinner helped raise needed funds that allow the Waystation to take in any exotic animal in need of love and care.  If you’re looking to spread the wealth, consider adding the Waystation to your list of worthy causes.  You can even sponsor your own animal.

Date Night: Ink

Last week’s date night was a special one. I’ve explained that I’m a fan of Michael Voltaggio’s.  I made reservations weeks ago (because that’s what you have to do to get in) for his new restaurant on Melrose Blvd, Ink.  All week long I was buzzing with excitement.  Will they be snotty there (I hate that)?  Will Mr. Voltaggio himself be on the line cooking?  Will I hob nob with the celebs?  Thursday couldn’t arrive soon enough.Ink Date Night

Anticipating that Ink would be a bit edgy, like Voltaggio himself, I kept my outfit to the theme.  I rocked leopard print jeans, tuxedo blazer, skin hugging silk cami, a Dior bag that I picked up last year with some Vegas winnings, green glass statement ring, and heel-less suede Mary Janes from that crazy shoe artist, Jeffrey Campbell .  (How do you walk in heel-less shoes you ask?  Very carefully).  Here’s a peek at the outfit.

As for Ink, first I’ll tell you this is a place to see and be seen. We walked in at 6:30 on the nose and were seated right away.   The restaurant’s interior and exterior are gray gray gray, waiters wear gray aprons (which makes them seem more approachable and not snobby at all, thankfully), flatware sits atop gray rocks, food is served on gray dishes.  I think Mr. Volt has a favorite color.

I happily spotted the man himself on the line from the peekaboo window to the kitchen. (Incidentally, I hear if you dine earlier you’ll have a better shot of seeing him on the line as he tends to leave before the end of the dinner shift).  Not wanting to miss the action, I took the seat facing the kitchen, while Big N faced the restaurant. He tells me that he spotted lots of celebs: Ashlee Simpson, Jon Favreau, Martin Scorcese, and Jamie Lynn Spears, to name a few, though I’ll have to take his word for it because he only told me who he spotted after they left (maybe he didn’t want me to embarrass him with my rubber neck). That’s my husband for you.  But I forgave him as soon as the food started arriving.   [A couple sitting next to us (the man was a character actor I haven’t yet been able to identify by name), saw me eyeing the expensive bottle of Burgundy he brought with envy and poured us a glass.  Actors are nice.]

Ink focuses on small plates with molecular gastronomy flair. The menu contains just 16 of them (which change with the seasons), ranging between $9 and $23, and are arranged from lightest to heaviest and served in the order they appear. We ordered 7 between us, which was plenty.

Starting us off was the charred avocado, sliced thin and wrapped around sweet Dungeness crab and charred with a brulee torch.  It was accompanied by whipped cream flavored with fish sauce, crispy mushroom crackers, and caramelized maitake mushrooms.  Not a bad start to the evening.  The crackers complemented the creamy avocado and the crab was delicate and fresh.

The next dish was probably my favorite of the evening: young carrots with their roots, rolled in coffee-cardamom “soil” and dipped in a spicy coconut curry sauce, all sitting on top of nitrogen frozen coconut milk ice.  The dish was beautifully presented and arrived at the table still smoking like dry ice.  The carrots were perfectly al dente and the flavors were surprising yet not too far-fetched.

Next was Big N’s favorite, so much so that he actually ordered another plate of it for his dessert so he wouldn’t have to share it with me.  This was the beef tartare, finely chopped raw beef with hearts of palm, sea bean chimichurri, cheesy crackers, and nitrogen frozen horseradish.  The combination of flavors in this dish truly leaves no room to debate Mr. Voltaggio’s brilliance.  The goal was to get a little bit of each of the elements in every bite to fully appreciate what a party the combination created in my mouth.

Next was the lamb neck, served with chickpea poutine (little chickpea sausage thingees), yogurt curds, and chive puree.  This dish slightly missed with me.  I thoroughly enjoyed all of the side elements, but the lamb itself was a little sweet and too sticky, as if it was overreduced in the sauce.

The sea bass (not pictured), with shishito peppers, kelp pasta, fennel, and saffron-mussel broth, was nearly flawfless, and of course perfectly cooked.  Followed by the pork cheeks, with charcoal oil, a single long “macaroni” stuffed with what I believe was fontina cheese, and sauteed leeks with crispy leek roots.  Again, the sides of this dish were perfect, but the pork cheeks were a little gamey and not all that exciting.

For dessert, while Big N was enjoying his second helping of tartare, I ordered the apple.  Anybody who saw Voltaggio’s season of Top Chef knows the man can put together a dessert, and this one paired classic apples, caramel, and walnuts in an exciting and amazing way.  The apples were simply uncooked balls of Granny Smith, with a generous helping of creme caramel topped with a vanilla (coconut?) sabayon, apple gelees, and walnut crumble.  Heavenly.

Though two of our seven dishes weren’t my favorite, overall Ink delivered.  I would have been more disappointed with my experience if every dish was perfect.  I actually appreciate that Ink takes risks, while realizing that not every dish will please every palate.  It makes me want to return when the menu changes with the seasons so I can try more of Mr. Voltaggio’s new haute American cuisine.

Note- if you decide to go, a friend went to Ink the same week I did and highly recommends the Octopus, a dish we didn’t order this time around.

Ink is uber trendy at the moment, so be prepared to plan ahead.  You have the best shot of getting a reservation nearly a month in advance, which is a good thing right now because I hear that starting in January Ink will be featuring a chef’s tasting menu for about $70 per person, plus $45 extra for wine pairings.  I can never resist a good tasting menu.

Date Night: Red Medicine

My brilliant husband came up with a brilliant idea.  Less than thrilled that my restaurant job has me working every Friday and Saturday night, he instituted a mid-week “date night” so the two of us can sit across the table, look at each other, and reconnect.  Plus it gives us the opportunity to dine at a hip new restaurant and wear our Sunday best, opportunities that are few and far between for this momma.  Our maiden date night voyage: the controversial Red Medicine in Beverly Hills.

First, a plug for the outfit** because what’s a good date night without a flirty outfit? Date night outfit
The accessories

Outfit in place, we dined at Red Medicine, the restaurant that made headlines when upon first opening the chef photographed a notoriously anonymous food critic without her permission then refused her service.  To top it off, they posted her picture online so other restaurants could do the same.  Pretty ballsy move for executive chef Jordan Kahn, whose pedigree includes French Laundry and Per Se, though I didn’t learn of the controversy until after dining there.

The concept purports to be a loose spin on Vietnamese cuisine.  From the menu we ordered the spring rolls, late season legumes, ocean trout, lamb, and Wagyu beef.  The spring rolls were delicious, but for $15 for one roll cut in half, I expected it to be a little more earth shattering.

What sets this restaurant apart from others is the artful plating technique, where root vegetables and exotic greens are deliberately placed with tweezers in a way that resembles a mini rain forest on top of the dish.  Nearly all of the dishes employ this technique in some capacity, so though clearly impressive, it becomes expected and thus overused as each successive dish arrives table-side.

The late season legumes made sliced radishes and peas look and taste more extravagant, as the stunningly colorful plate tricks the mouth into believing even ordinary and mostly raw vegetables are a prized delicacy.

The house cured ocean trout was another winner, accompanied by a cotton candy like styrofoam that complimented the smoky flavors of the trout.  I had never eaten lamb belly before, and the lamb dish was a vision in red (though it didn’t photograph well), and was tender and juicy, though a bit crowded by the plate’s other elements, which became lost in the melee.  The miss of the evening was the Wagyu, which of course was the most expensive item we ordered.  The small 2″x3″ brick shaped cut was under seasoned and hence it fell flat.

For dessert we ordered the coconut bavorois, presented in a low ball glass that made the layers inside look like an ant farm terrarium.  It arrived about 1 minute after we ordered it, a sure sign that the dessert was made and assembled completely in advance, but it was perfection.  As Mr. Kahn’s background lies in pastry, I expected the desserts to be stellar and this one did not disappoint with its creamy custard like coconut pudding layer and coffee/chicory flavored “dirt” crunchies.  Alas it didn’t photograph well.

Service was quick but our waiter was a little dry and showed no personality outside of his functional duties to take and bring orders.  The ambiance is hipster to say the least, but loud, very loud, so don’t expect to bring a date here for a romantic eatfest.  For a place that’s open until 2 a.m., it’d be interesting to see if the cacophony and energy continue throughout the night.

I can recommend Red Medicine for the overall unique experience, though I’m positive I won’t be braving La Cienega very often for return trips.

*The Outfit: Maeve silk top from anthropologie (I paid full price but it’s now on sale), vintage chevron BCBG tulip skirt, Calvin Klein pumps.
**The Accessories: Stuart Weitzman clutch, Amrita Singh earrings, Michael Kors rose gold watch, Murano glass ring that I bought in Venice ages ago

Second to None: Hatfield’s Restaurant

I found Hatfield’s by searching Yelp for “Best Tasting Menu” in the Los Angeles area.  It ranked number 2, behind Providence, and I was surprised it wasn’t on my radar despite garnering industry accolades left and right.  I’ve been to Providence twice, both times for the tasting menu.  The first time we did 10 courses and by course 8 I was waving the white flag and resting my head on the booth.  The second time we were smarter and went for 7 courses, and I made it through to the end without my head hitting the table.  2nd Best Tasting Menu sounded like the perfect choice to treat our favorite fellow foodie friends (alliteration, check), D+A, who were in town from the STL.  D+A are as adventurous as we, and were game to try the Chef’s Spontanee Tasting Menu, with wine pairings.  Since we were celebrating A’s birthday as well, I booked a taxi to take us from Pasadena to the Westside so we could imbibe with impunity.  Smart thinking, no?

Upon entering Hatfield’s I immediately noticed the chic neutrals and understated art.  The restaurant had an open dining room and open kitchen (I love when I can see the chefs cooking my food!), and you can see Mr. Hatfield himself at the mast finishing off the plates.  While tables are lined up next to each other as you’d find in a Parisian bistro, guests are not crammed in like proverbial sardines.  Staff were friendly and enthusiastic and took the time to explain each element of the dishes and wine pairings.

Starting us off was a smoked salmon amuse bouche with a little bubbly- just the way I like to get my tummy loosened up for a big meal.  Next, Hatfield’s famous “croque madame,” a play on the French dish using hamachi, proscuitto, and quail’s egg.  While the dish for me wasn’t reminiscent of its Parisian namesake, I enjoyed it nonetheless, especially the perfectly poached quail’s egg atop a toasted slice of brioche.  The next dish was a highlight- warm cuttlefish salad, mushrooms, and artichoke puree.  You rarely see cuttlefish served in fine dining restaurants but was well received here.  The cuttlefish was tender and flavorful and the mushrooms perfectly complemented the texture of the cuttlefish, a surprising but sensual flavor profile.

Coconut soup with a crispy sweetbread skewer followed.  I never want to order sweetbreads as a main course but in a tasting menu I find myself more adventurous, and the sweetbread skewer was just one bite sitting on a creamy slightly warm broth of coconut milk and mushrooms.  While the soup was a bit heavy considering we had so many courses to go, I enjoyed its unique presentation and the confidence shown by serving sweetbreads.

Scallops with an apple foam was a lower point in the meal, but still nothing to complain about, followed by a duo of squab and fois gras.  Like the coconut soup, this dish was heavy and I started to fear I wouldn’t make it until the end.  I powered through with the next dish of pork belly.  Who doesn’t love pork belly?  Forget about it.

I wrongly assumed the pork belly would be the last savory dish before dessert until the waiter informed me that 7 courses meant 7 “savory” courses, not 7 total.  I quickly had to adjust my stomach and prepare for the final savory dish: a duo of wagyu and short rib.

4 desserts followed: 2 “pre-desserts” (2 of us were served one pre-dessert and the other 2 another), and 2 more “main desserts” (served the same way).  All in all, counting the amuse bouche and the sharing of 4 different desserts, we were treated to 12 courses.  Talk about palate fatigue.  By the end I was happily intoxicated with both food and wine, and dreading the long cab ride home (which, as it happened, didn’t end so well for me).

Wine selections were chosen with care.  I found the wine selections distinctly lacking in snobbiness, as the sommelier did not hesitate to present a Sta. Rita Hills pinot or Italian Vermentino along with more unique bottles.  My favorite wine of the night was a red frizzante from Lambrusco paired with the beef duo.

Hatfield’s clearly focuses on the food.  Plates were artfully presented but not trying so hard to appear avant garde, and taste took center stage over flashiness.  I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the restaurant to others, though I may caution against choosing the Chef’s Spontanee Menu unless you pre-plan to skip breakfast and lunch.

We enjoyed our evening immensely.  While it may have scored only 2nd place on Yelp, we found it second to none.


Brand New Bag: The Raymond

It’s been ages since I’ve reviewed a restaurant, though this blog proclaims to be a foodie haven.  The truth is, I’m a little sheepish about taking pictures of my food in a restaurant, and I’m a lot forgetful when it comes to actually remembering to bring my camera with me.  I’ll admit that my husband spoils me when it comes to eating out.  We’ve been privileged enough to dine is some of the best restaurants Los Angeles and Pasadena have to offer, and a few other towns too.  These days it’s been a little more challenging finding places that have the right ambiance and enough space when we’re toting our baby in the infant carrier but we make do. Fin doesn’t sleep quiet as soundly as he used to when he was first born, though he’s a pretty good sport when it comes to letting his parents enjoy a meal out once in a while.

Last week we introduced friends H+M to The Raymond, in Pasadena.  The Restaurant is located in a small Craftsman house that was the caretakers cottage for the old Raymond Hotel, originally built in 1886.  The cottage features a lovely outdoor patio for cocktails al fresco and a warm and cozy ambiance inside with several different rooms that make you feel like you have the place to yourself.  The menu is seasonal (I love that) and executive chef Tim Guiltinan (a Le Cordon Bleu alum) has really upped the ante since he took over last year.  His dishes are beautifully composed and cooked to perfection.  Wait staff is friendly too.  I started with the Salad of Forgotten Roots (with the forgotten roots being lotus, radish, and other neat things), the Tenderloin with smoked potatoes and maitake mushrooms for my main, and a pound cake with chocolate mousse and strawberry ice cream for my (shared) dessert.

Forgive the low res pics.

For wine, we went big and ordered the 2008 Sea Smoke Ten, a pinot noir from the Sta. Rita Hills area.  Though Big N and I taste often in this appellation, I had yet to try a Sea Smoke, which sells high end cult wines to those in the know.  It delivered.  Stewed cherries and strawberries on the tongue, and floral notes on the nose, the wine had a nice long elegant finish.  Perfect for a party of 4 to share on a night of splurging (which included a bottle of Proseco bubbly to get the night started right).

We’ve enjoyed dining at the Raymond on several occasions, but I think the Chef’s got a brand new bag because he did us a solid with that meal.  Go to the Raymond.  You’ll be happy you did.