Friday, August 26, 2011

A Great Pair: Tavern and Bonnacorsi

tavern, brentwood, still hungry
My recent lunch at Tavern showed when it comes to passion in the kitchen no one comes close to Suzanne Goin. The Brentwood eatery, which she started with her partner, Caroline Styne, has, in my opinion, finally found its footing—not an easy thing to do in a town where people want a restaurant to be perfect from the start. I always have been of the school that it takes at least a year for a restaurant to get its rhythm, and Tavern has done just that.
I think one of the biggest strikes against it has been the space—odd and confusing. You enter the take-out space, but the hostess is in the middle of the restaurant, which, especially if you you’re arriving for the first time, is really disorienting. You don’t get that initial hit of a boisterous bistro allowing you to connect right away with a dining experience.
I went for lunch with my friend Jay McInerney and the winemaker Jenne Bonaccorsi to taste some of her recent wines. (Bonaccorsi is making some of my favorite pinot noir and syrah in Santa Barbara county.)
tavern, brentwood, still hungry We started with the house-made sourdough that was served with some sweet butter and salt. It was killer. I have been obsessed with making bread myself, and I have to say that Tavern’s sourdough is the best I’ve had so far in L.A.
This was followed with one of the best salads I can remember having in a long, long time—made with Little Gem lettuce, crab, prawns, cucumber and radish, all tossed in buttermilk vinaigrette. It was perfectly dressed with a nice lemon finish and each and every ingredient was beyond fresh. I really appreciated that the lettuce was cold. I can’t tell you what a pet peeve it is of mine when you order a salad and the lettuce is room temp or warm. tavern, brentwood, still hungry
We had Bonnacorsi’s Vogelzang Viognier with the salad, which also blew me away. Jenne only makes 100 cases of this delicious wine, and I know I'm not going to waste any time getting on her mailing list. The wine was elegant, with notes of kumquat and honeysuckle and great acidity. It was extremely well balanced—not overpowering or cloying, as most California Viogniers tend to be.
tavern, brentwood, still hungry Our entrées included the Tavern turkey burger, chicken over lentils and steak frites. My turkey burger was exactly what I was in the mood for. The homemade brioche-style bun and all the fixings were great. Jay’s chicken looked delicious, and he loved it, and Jenne’s fries were perfect, especially dipped into the homemade mayonnaise.
tavern, brentwood, still hungry
We ordered the orange cycle for dessert and when it first came out it wasn’t what any of us expected—more of a parfait with layers of fruit and sorbets. I really wanted a more traditional orange cycle, but it was good nonetheless. The Meyer lemon tart was next. Its buttery, thin crust almost resembled an old-fashioned English meat pie. The thinly sliced lemons melted in your mouth. It was sublime.
As I left and walked past the pantry of cookbooks, cheeses, charcuterie, breads and prepared foods, I was really tempted to buy a few things. I thought that exiting worked better than entering, but no matter, I am coming back for sure.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Mango Madness

You would think they were selling freshly plucked black truffles from Lalbenque, France, what with the swarm of shoppers surrounding the Wong Farms mango stand this Wednesday at the Santa Monica farmers' market. The frenzy was quite a sight—so much for the notion of the laid-back Angeleno.
Wong Farms sells the most extraordinary, tree-ripened mangos from the Coachella Valley from mid August thru mid September. This was their second week at the farmers' market, and the word was out. Luckily, I had ordered my mangos the week before, so I was there to pick up my case. The frenzy was due to the fact that after 10 a.m., Wong sells whatever mangos are left that were not picked up from customers who preordered.
When I got there, the line was already long. But if you could taste this mango you'd understand why. As I was standing in line being pushed and shoved, a guy walked by and said he didn’t even care what they were selling, he was going to get whatever people were waiting for—it was hysterical.
They were selling the Valencia Pride mangos, and this was the last week for those (next week, they start with the Keitt varietals), and their Valencia Pride mangos are just unbelievable. First, once ripened, the texture is like no other mango I’ve ever had except in India. The flavor is intense, floral and almost perfumed—in a good way. I love to chill them and just spoon out the mango.
Last night some friends came over for dinner, and Stan scrapped off the remaining flesh from the skin and seed, threw it in a cocktail shaker, muddled it, added some vodka and ice and whipped up the most delicious cocktail. It needed nothing else.
Next week, the frenzy will probably be even crazier for the first of the seasons Keitt varietals. Order yours in advance. The mangos sell for $3.49 a pound and are worth every cent. Wong Farms, 760-265-9167.