Last night I was invited to a Tasting Dinner at the Hotel Angeleno in Bel Air. A Joie de Vivre restaurant, 'West' has been revamped and the new digs is bursting at the seams with dinner-and-drinks-panache. I started with a Bacardi cocktail with almond syrup and then switched to one with muddled blackberry and mint that I loved. It was sweet without being too sugary and had just the right amount of sour tang.
We sat down at our table with a view overlooking Santa Monica and were served rose champagne and warm and crispy bites of baguette with butter. The top floor views were sparkling and so were the blown glass chandeliers. A sleek and shiny bar and big leather booths made this space even more inviting.
The 9 course tasting menu began with an amuse bouche of sunchoke soup with brown butter powder and shaved truffle. It was a great way to kick up our appetites and get the excitement bubbling up in the room. The soup was warm and the gentle truffle aroma was like a soft kiss on the mouth, building up our anticipation for the rest of the meal.
The first course was a roasted baby beet salad with triple creme goat cheese and a beet caramel. The goat cheese was made by the executive chef himself and was a heavenly mix of cream and warmth. The beet caramel added a divine dimension and depth to the dish that was sublime. The classic pairing was exceptionally good, and I found myself impressed, even by this dish which I have enjoyed many, many versions of in my lifetime.
The second was a seared foie gras with quince jam and ginger bread. The foie gras was beautifully seared, melting on the tongue and very rich. I was surprised by how large the portion was, and with 7 courses to go I wasn't sure if I should finish it all. Ahh, as if I could stop myself.
The third was a braised pork cheek with crispy potato and apple mustarda. The meat was soft and tender, and the potato crisp had a nice crunch. And the small bites of apple were a refreshing touch.
The fourth was a crispy egg with bacon jam and aragula. Here, the moment of truth lay in what would happen after I split the egg in half.
Success! The yolk was runny and the bacon jam and spicy aragula brought out a peppery flavor. I thought the bacon jam would bring an element of salt to the dish, but it was more on the sweet side. In fact, I expected the dish to be saltier and would have appreciated a few grains of sea salt to satiate the craving. It's not often that a fried food is lacking in that department, but I'm sure everyone agrees that it's preferable to be under salted than over salted.
Now that we were almost half way through the menu, it was time for a palette cleanser. The chef brought out an orange sorbet with lemon cream and topped with pop rocks. The small sugar crystals exploded on my tongue like fireworks and made us all laugh as we reminisced on our playground days. A fun pause in the meal.
The rest of the courses were shared plates. We greatly enjoyed the stuffed quail with brussel sprouts, chanterelles and pancetta.
The quail was stuffed with a creamy corn and herb mixture on the inside and had a golden brown crispy skin on the outside. The quail was succulent and juicy and full of flavor. The chanterelles and pancetta on the side smoothed down the bitterness of the brussel sprouts and made for a nice medley of smoky, earthy flavors.
The lobster macaroni with sun dried tomato and lobster foam was unbelievable. The macaroni was thick and the sauce was excellent, with the sun dried tomato adding a punch of flavor and hints of herbs and sweetness to the lobster. A favorite and a total crowd pleaser, I dare anyone to try this and not like it.
The seared scallops with raisin puree and rainbow cauliflower were seared with lots of butter and had a slightly crispy layer. They were thin for sea scallops, but perhaps they were flattened in the sautee pan. They were too rich for me by this time of the meal. The raisin puree was very sweet, and I liked the concept of the sauce and the cauliflower pairing. The rainbow selection of vegetables was beautiful and the meal certainly needed some fresh garden elements.
Dessert was a dulce de leche and chocolate aero with caramel ice cream and popcorn. The caramel sauce was blissful and milky and soothed me into a nice calm state. The ice cream could have been creamier, but the popcorn was light, airy and crunchy and brought a playfulness to the plate. I thought I might skip the dessert, but it wasn't overwhelmingly rich and I enjoyed every last bite.
The tasting menu at West exceeded my expectations. The ingredients were spectacular and each dish had a wine pairing to accompany it. Chef Mathew Woolf created simple and refined food that was flavorful and consistent. With exceptional food and drinks, I will make note of this place the next time I'm looking for fine dining and some joie de vivre.