Monday, November 24, 2008

The John Dory

Last week while I was in New York, my dear old friend Jay and I were invited to a friends-and-family pre-opening dinner at The John Dory, a new fish restaurant in Lower Chelsea, right next door to Del Posto. The same team that brought you The Spotted Pig has just added The John Dory to their portfolio. Chef April Bloomfield was there, along with Ken Friedman and Joe Bastianich, and a few of the other partners. I was excited to see David Lynch working there as well. David is a brilliant sommelier who worked at Babbo for years, most recently as the manager and wine consultant.

As I entered and gazed at a giant fish tank, the theme of the restaurant became apparent: fish. Just as The Spotted Pig is all about pig paraphernalia, The John Dory is all about fish imagery in every shape and form, on every surface imaginable. The bar, which has rows of fish encased in plastic, was especially interesting--think Damien Hirst.

Jay is the most sentimental person I know. He brought two bottles of white wine, both from the 1996 vintage, the year we started working together on the wine column for House & Garden. Both bottles had appeared in stories we had produced for the magazine.

The first wine we opened was the Chablis Grand Cur “Les Clos” by Dauvisat. The next was the Clos Windsbuhl Riesling from Domaine Zind Humbrecht. These are two of my favorite food wines in the world, and I was so happy to be sharing them with Jay.

Since this was a friends-and-family night, we were the guests of the restaurant. These dinners are a chance for the restaurant staff to get their bearings, work out kinks, and basically get up to speed before the official opening. All I can say is, if this night was a sample of what’s to come, The John Dory is going to be a hit from day one. I was already inquiring about reservations, considering the seating is limited. I believe the capacity is roughly 60 seats including the bar.
We started with an amuse bouche of House Smoked Char with homemade potato chips.

Delicious, loved the textures, and the char was light and not overpowering. Next we ordered the Nantucket Bay Scallops crudo and a selection of east coast and west coast oysters. We started with the Chablis. When they poured our first glass, I immediately noticed the color--a beautiful green gold. The wine had the perfect characteristics of this vineyard and the varietal--flinty and minerally, perfect acidity, amazing fruit. Some people might think this wine is an infant, but I think it is drinking perfectly at this moment. The oysters and the Chablis were an insane combination. The oysters were fresh, plump, and juicy, and it was a joy to have the Chablis to wash them down. The oysters came with a cilantro mignonette, which was quite good, but ultimately I am a purist, and I love my oysters with just a little squeeze of fresh lemon. The Nantucket Bay Scallops crudo were equally amazing.

Next we ordered the restaurant’s namesake dish, the Whole John Dory for two with salsa verde. We also ordered (at the suggestion of Joe Bastianich) the grilled rib-eye for two with a smoked oyster and bone marrow sauce. At that point, we opened the Clos Windsbuhl. Oh my God! The nose was full of white peach and apricots and a fabulous sweetness in the middle followed by a perfect dry and acidic finish. This wine is just spectacular. It was ideal with the John Dory. The meat of the fish was so succulent and firm, and the wine just melted away the fish. This was pure bliss.

The steak was equally profound. My only complaint, if you can call it one, is I wanted more of the divine sauce (although I am sure I could of just asked for more!). It was a brilliant kind of English oysters and steak moment.

The John Dory hits the right notes in so many ways. I couldn’t be happier because it is located just down the street from where I live. Like the Spotted Pig, I’m sure it will be impossible to get into, but who cares? It is worth the wait, and I for one can’t wait to go back.

The John Dory
85 10th Avenue

Sunday, November 9, 2008


Anyone who knows me well knows that I am always hesitant to sit down for a dinner that consists of many courses. No matter how amazing the food and wine may be, an endless meal can be torture. What can I say? Bastide in Los Angeles changed my mind about all that. My first visit was this past summer, and I’ve been back several times since. The restaurant blows me away every time.

Bastide is located on Melrose Place, and it offers one of the most elegant dining experiences in LA, especially if you sit outside. You enter through a courtyard and the restaurant is in a small building beyond. There are several small rooms and no more than a dozen tables. Bastide’s owner Joe Pytka, who is a very successful video director, has been at the helm through the restaurant’s various incarnations. After several chefs and a renovation by legendary French designer Andrée Putman (which closed the restaurant for over a year), the baton was passed to chef Paul Shoemaker and sommelier Pieter Verheyde. Paul, a transplant from the restaurant Providence, is one of the most creative young chefs I’ve come across in a long time. I first met Pieter when he was sommelier at Alain Ducasse’s first restaurant in New York. He is an incredibly passionate and knowledgeable wine steward, and at Bastide, he has one of the greatest wine lists in the country to work with.

I’m not sure where to begin when it comes to the food. On my first few visits, the menu was divided into four- or seven-course tasting menus with additional wine pairings. On my last visit, they were offering an a la carte menu as well as an eight-course tasting menu. For my money, if you want to get the most out of your Bastide experience, put yourself in the hands of the chef.
Last night we started with an amazing amuse of King Crab Croquettes. One of my friends is allergic to crab, so they substituted little square fried chickpea panisses, which were so light that they evaporated in your mouth. On a previous visit, we started with a vegetable fritto misto that, again, was so light it melted in your mouth.

Our next course was an oyster shooter with something on top, which I can’t remember because I was so enraptured by what came along with it: fresh uni on top of an apple gelée with small diced apples and an apple foam. It was outrageous. It was one of those combinations of flavors and textures that totally transport you. Then came a small demi-cup of lobster bisque with perfectly poached pieces of lobster. Everyone at the table could not stop raving about it.

Our next course was the star of show--Nantucket bay scallops with celery, lemon and shaved white truffle served at room temperature. My friend Bret said it was the best scallop dish he has ever had, and I would have to agree with him.

We then had a beef course that was also out there, in the best way--perfectly cooked sliced steak with a salt and pepper crust. At a certain point, well into my meal, I reached a state of gastronomic ecstasy and stopped taking notes. To be perfectly honest, I am not writing food reviews per se, but sharing my experiences. So instead of a complete rundown of the menu, let me just say that the experience was heaven.

And then there are the wines! Every time I visit Bastide, Pieter turns me on to something brilliant. Last night he poured a mystery wine for a blind taste test. At first, I thought it was a French Burgundy, maybe Mersault. The finish though was really short, so I was a little dumfounded. It was very elegant--some oak was present, but it wasn’t overwhelming. The wine turned out to be a California Viognier called Failla, 2001, with fruit from Alban Vineyards. Once again, I was blown away.

The extensive wine list would take me hours to get through, so I usually let Pieter take charge. If you want something specific, I’m sure they have it, but I think it’s all about putting your trust in Pieter. We also had a 1999 Marquis Dangerville Volnay Champans from Magnum, a Brunello Di Montalcino, and a variety of other great white and red wines.

For me, Bastide has been like making a new best friend in a city that is still new to me. It’s also a place that has stripped away my prejudice against tasting menus--whether I want a long meal or a short one, they always accommodate me. I love the playfulness and creativity of the menu, and I know there are more fantastic experiences to come at Bastide.

8475 Melrose Place
West Hollywood California

Sunday, November 2, 2008

What’s Up

I’m Coming Back

For the past few months I’ve been going back and forth from my home in New York to Los Angeles where I’ve become food and wine editor at the newly launched Los Angeles Times Magazine. I’m loving this gig but it has been hectic to say the very least. Now that things are settling down some, I'll be getting back to some blogging this week.

A Surprisingly Genius Experience

Once in a rare while I discover a great food experience that, if you know me, you know I’ll describe as “genius.” That’s my word for food, décor, ambience etc. that, to begin with, is neither over the top nor overly simple. “Genius” also describes a food experience that takes me by surprise and is, in its own unique way, “perfection”--another favorite word that I award sparingly.

I ran across “genius” a few months ago while I was scouting my first food story for the LA Times in Oxnard, California. My assistant and I were in pursuit of sea urchins so we drove up to meet some sea urchin divers. When we arrived in Oxnard, we were starving. You should know that Oxnard is not exactly Marseille; it’s better described as a sprawling suburb of Los Angeles with lots fast food joints.

We drove to the pier and spotted some people eating at a no frills dive. As we got closer we saw they were knocking back some amazing looking seafood and my heart starting racing. There were tanks with an intriguing variety of crabs, and as I went inside the shack, I spied a tank of Santa Barbara Spot Prawns. We ordered the spot prawns, steamed and grilled, and the crab too.
I was in heaven. The seafood was fresh and extra delicious and the spot prawns stole the show—perfect texture, sweet, and elegant. This is what I always dream about finding--a seafood restaurant with the catch of day prepared as simply as possible. They also served rice with the seafood as well as classic sides like fries and coleslaw. There is no liquor license but a store nearby has a decent selection of beer and some mediocre California wines.

The best part of this escapade was that I got to come back to do our photo shoot at this location a few weeks later. I’m sure you know that I came prepared with a bottle of Condrieu, some Meyer Lemons, and every intention of ordering all the things we’d had before. We did and had another success all around. “Genius?” Oh, yeah!

H.C.Seafood Co.

3920 West Channel Island Blvd.
Oxnard, California 93035