Asian Spice Trail Food Porn

IMG_1421The Cute Gardener has a habit of following ex-Patina chefs around Los Angeles. I don’t blame him because anyone who can hold high court in Patina’s exquisite dining room is bound to evolve on their own once leaving those hallowed kitchens.

I have a habit of following the trail of exotic Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavors around Los Angeles always looking for the next pickled pepper, puffed bread or sour cheese that will tickle my fancy.

Together these two habits brought us to Acabar where we heard Patina and Palate alum Chef Octavio Becerra was creating a taste bud’s tour along the ancient Asian spice trail. Housed in a Moroccan-style pimp’s palace of a building complete with lots of mirrors, mosaics and a lounge area reminiscent of an opium den, I was a sucker from the moment we stepped foot through the gaudy, over-sized golden door.

I haven’t done a flat out food porn blog entry in ages but this restaurant merits it completely. Original concoctions, bold and addictive flavors, and a respectful nod to the proper quantities of spice had me scrambling to remember ingredients and recipes in my head all evening so that I could attempt to imitate them later at home.

IMG_1424We were told to order the porn bread early as it would take 25 minutes to cook and we did. Who could resist with a name like that? I was envisioning cheesy and crusty sin. It did get delivered to us, slipped erotically from a hot metal tube onto our plate but resembled more of a mushy sweet potato cake studded with aged cheddar and bacon than bread. Still, the flavors were delicious and I could have eaten the whole log alone not to mention the almond honey butter that compelled me to stoop so low as to actually lick the knife.

IMG_1422The best dish of the evening was a long and horizontal plate filled with caramelized cauliflower, braised perfectly tender with simultaneously buttery and tangy sauces of currants, dill and za-atar. The accompanying pile of pickled peppers was the best I’ve had in a decade.

IMG_1425More like dense little meatballs than what I usually consider arancini, these mini rice balls were stuffed with lamb, crispy risotto, winter squash and went soothingly well with a mint and pickled walnut salad.

IMG_1427I normally order shrimp toast when I see it because I love the concept. I always imagine it will be plump bits of shrimp and the crispiness of toast but what I normally find is soggy breaded shrimp pastes or the like. This was exquisitely fried to a puff with a dandy little fried egg on top, encapsulating nice bits of rock shrimp, Thai basil and notes of fish sauce.

IMG_1432The krispy kelebek dessert, although verdict is out on how authentically made, was a flaky, heavenly pile of sweet layered dough accented with persimmon, cassia and rum preserve and a honey pistachio labneh. Just those three words: honey, pistachio and labneh spell Unorthodox Foodie in Armenian.

The roasted pear duo tartlette’s tart shell was too hard for the beautiful fruit inside of it but I let the CG polish that off while I dove into the cinnamon, tahini, date ice cream. Another three words that describe objects created for my specific tongue.

A cocktail list by historical eras offered up fun ways to order drinks. I, of course, chose an archaic sazerac of cognac, rye, Peychaud’s bitters and an absinthe rinse while the CG went for a classic Cuban of cognac, apricot liqueur and lemon, which I fancied immensely. For dessert we shared a nice light rum, of which choices were many alongside a rambling bourbon and other spirits menu.

Patina’s Class Act

IMG_0145The Cute Gardener has been extolling the virtues of Patina Restaurant and its alumni chefs ever since I’ve known him and we’ve had the pleasure of tasting dishes by many of these exquisite masters over the course of the last two years amongst the Southern California culinary landscape. Last night I had the pleasure of trying the restaurant out before a concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall (which Patina is conveniently connected to) and feel equally entranced by the truly class act presented by the whole experience.

There’s something special about getting dressed up for a world-class performance and being fed a world-class dinner beforehand. Walking into the understated and minimalist dining room past an old school elegant cheese tray I knew I was in for a treat. We were given a great booth and then proceeded to be pampered by a bevy of special touches that elevate a great restaurant from a sea of wannabes starting with the fact that the soft-spoken and sharply professional waitress came carrying both black and white napkins to the table to see which was more appropriate for our attire. We settled in with perfectly mixed cocktails: a Le Voyageur made with pisco, campari and lemons juice for me and a Printemps Precosse of Tanqueray, spiced kumquat syrup, Champagne and lime for the CG and watched the artistry begin.

IMG_0146An amuse was offered of creamy carrot puree soup floating with an oval of toast. The CG informed me that the amuse is given to everyone no matter what even if a person merely stops in for a cheese course or a bowl of balsamic reduction strawberries at the end of a performance. This was followed by a bread course of which a large wooden box was presented with a choice of freshly baked plain baguette, whole-wheat roll or green olive ciabatta.

IMG_0147Based on their reputation for good soups, I had to try the asparagus veloute. A bowl arrived with a few curls of the vegetable alongside strands of pink pickled allume and a large crispy, breaded farm egg over which was poured a vibrant green and thick broth. A spoon sliced through the egg revealed gloriously runny yolk that swirled lusciously into the dish adding a luxurious heft to the dish.

IMG_0148The crispy veal sweetbreads came in a generous trio, perfectly accented by a touch of black truffle and a creative display of caramelized miniature cipollini onions, tiny polenta log and pencil asparagus. The sweetbreads were smoky meat treasures that I had to eat in small, delicate bites not wanting the pleasure to end.

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I am obsessed with pork belly and enjoy the fact that it can be presented in so many different ways but this was my favorite so far. Only a thin layer of the skin was kept on and the belly was rolled up like a roulade so that with each forkful I received a crunch of crispy skin, a soft layer of buttery fat and another more densely textured sliver of meat. The spinach laden with golden raisins and translucent radish disks gave the meat a nice kick. The sweet and sour sauce was poured over the dish steaming tableside.

IMG_0151The lamb arrived with a nice funk juxtaposed with a rainbow of carrot varieties, exquisitely charred to counteract the rare meat.

IMG_0154We couldn’t resist a cheese course and the tray was rolled up to us for our choosing. We opted for a super cream, an ash ripened goat and a hardened and aged beauty to run the full gamut.

IMG_0155After we made our choices, slices were taken in front of us and then laid onto a place with guava jam, raisins, filberts alongside a plate of the best fruit studded toast I have found to date.

IMG_0156Finally, as full as we were, we couldn’t resist a handcrafted passion fruit chiboust which was a circular disk of extremely light custard with a brulee topcoat surrounded by a sea of teeny diced exotic fruits like kiwi and mango. A wafer roll filled with carbonate mango sorbet provided a nice bitter twist to the otherwise super sweet dish.IMG_0157

To top off the elite performance, our waitress delivered a final plate of candies, a special send off to seal the memory of this unforgettable place.

One nice point about Patina is the fact that our server asked us if we were going to a concert and when we replied yes and told her what time it was, she made sure our meal was perfectly timed to meet our curtain call. Our receipt actually showed timing notes and we were there for close to two and a half hours and the expediting turned out wonderfully.

Utterly charmed by the flawless dinner, we made our way into the concert hall high on the good feelings that come from being catered to in such a professional way with the realization that we had absolutely not one critical thing to say about the whole experience. That’s a rare feat to encounter and was worth every penny – making Patina my favorite restaurant of the moment, and one I will return to on special occasions in the future.