10 Courses at Melisse
As it was C's birthday this weekend I decided to plan a little (actually.. not so little) dinner at Josiah Citrin's restaurant, Mélisse. The restaurant was named after the lemon balm herb indigenous to the Mediterranean. Upon arrival, we were seated at a table which had a little welcome waiting for us.
A little birthday note along with a box of chocolate truffles. Great way to start off the four hour dinner we were in store for. The menu options for the evening were a 15 course Carte Blanche, 10 course tasting, and a four course pre fixe. We decided to go with the 10 course so that we could get a decent selection of what the restaurant has to offer.
I decided to bring a bottle of 2010 Cakebread Chardonnay Reserve that I had been saving for a special occasion. Melisse has a nice policy of waiving the corkage fee if you choose to order a bottle, or half bottle, from the restaurant. Our sommelier, Lauren Levesque, was gracious enough to help us decide on a nice red wine to complement our dinner. We decided on the 2009 Hirsch Vineyards Pinot Noir. The restaurant can also prepare keepsakes of your wine labels to take home if so desired.
Next, staff brought out some amuse-bouche to wet our appetites. First was a cherry tomato prepared two ways and shishito peppers. Chef Josiah Citrin frequents the local farmer's market for the freshest of ingredients. The menu can change as often as daily based on what piques his interest. The tomatoes were a great selection and were prepared as part of the amuse-bouche. The first of the tomatoes was prepared using a molecular gastronomy technique and served on a spoon. These little guys just burst when consumed. A fun little technique that's become quite popular. The second preparation was covered in goat cheese and crushed pistachios. The shishito peppers were served plainly grilled.
On a side note, if you'd like to explore the scientific chef in you, check out the molecular gastronomy kits made by Molecule-R. They have kits for cuisines and cocktails. It could be a great way of dressing up your presentation at dinner parties.
The servers next brought out some blackberry soda which was served with a tableside carbonator. On a personal note, I have to give the place credit for indulging my OCD. I had spilled a drop of the deep red soda on the pristine white tablecloth. The staff promptly brought over a white 'sticker' which was perfectly sized to cover up my spillage. Great attention to detail.
Egg Caviar Soft Poached Egg, Lemon Creme Fraiche, American Caviar
This dish was pure luxe, including the manner in which it's served. A soft poached egg sits inside a hollowed out egg shell. A layer of creme fraiche follows, topped with caviar. The spoon that's provided seemed to be made of something which resembled shell, with a slight iridescent, and super smooth texture. The recommendation was that we used the spoon to dig to the bottom of the egg and incorporate each layer into the creamy bite. The dish is also served with a puff pastry which could be dipped into the egg directly.
Wild New Zealand Tai Snapper Santa Barbara Uni, Fermented Apricots, Toasted Buckwheat
Rich, luxurious, buttery Santa Barbara uni melded with the subtle flavors of the Tai snapper to create a unique flavor profile that played delicately with the apricots. Couple this with the nice crucnh of the toasted buckwheat and we have a unique take on sashimi that rivals those found in most sushi restaurants.
Green Zebra Veloute Summer Zucchini, Squash, Tomato Sorbet
As a lover of tomato soup, this was one of my favorite dishes of the night. The dish was served as a bowl of tomato sorbet. The zucchini and squash veloute is then poured on top tableside. The mixture of cold sorbet and warm veloute creates a nice blend of flavors and textures.
Aori Ika Lemon Cucumber, Mexican Tarragon, and Black Sabayon
Aori Ika, or Bigfin Reef Squid, is a very popular cuttlefish in France. In certain regions of France they are eaten aw marinated in lemon juice, olive oil and spices on top of freshly toasted bread. The Mexican tarragon included in the dish has a bit of bitterness to it. The sabayon is made with squid ink which gives it its dark color. The cucumber is prepared three ways, as a wedge, cooked stem, and then as a lemon cucumber sauce that is poured tableside when presented.
An interesting fact noted by staff was that Chef currently works with a forager who hunts through woods, forests, and bogs to find wild ingredients for the restaurant. This is quickly becoming a trend with restaurants and is utilized by other restaurants such as Daniel, Momofuku, and Atera.
For our entrees we had the choice of Cape Cod Scallops or Veal Loin. I opted to go with the scallop and C the veal so that we could get in an extra selection.
Cape Cod Scallop Scallop Butter, Pink Lady Apples, Wild Manzanita Berries
The scallop was served beautifully in its own shell along with a scallop butter and brunoise diced Pink Lady Apples and Manzanita Berries on top. This definitely had all the savory elements of an entree. Although it's seafood, the sommelier recommended we begin delving into our red wine for this, and the next few dishes, to accompany the rich flavors.
Brentwood Corn Agnolotti Australian Perigord Truffle
The Perigord Truffles is a recent discovery coming all the way from Australia. Unfortunately, there has been a recent trend of fake truffles being developed which are flavorless and odorless. They can then be easily mixed in with crates of truffles with France, diluting the shipments being received by restaurateurs. Since Perigord Truffles have been newly discovered, they tend to be more pure without contamination. As you can tell from the photo, they topped the pasta with a generous serving of truffle. Although this dish is served as pictured, the restaurant also provides you the option of adding four grams of black truffle to any dish for an additional cost.
White Striped Bass Braised cabbage, Yucca Flowers, Morel Mushrooms
The striped bass was served with creamed capers, morel mushrooms and a braised cabbage ad yucca flower sauce poured tableside. I generally am not a huge fan of capers but in puréed form it becomes a bit less pungent.
21 Day Aged Liberty Duck Eggplant, Lentils de Puy, Black Elderberry
Presentation of the duck was impeccable. One side of the dish featured the duck, aged for 21 days to bring about a richer flavor and to make it more tender, along with an elderberry sauce and a lentil puree. Stripe on the back is an elderberry reduction. On the other side of the dish a slice of Chinese eggplant is presented with black elderberries served on a leaf. Duck is always beautiful with some fruit notes, made famous by classics like duck a l'orange, with this variation having delicate hints of currant and berry flavors.
Marcho Farms Veal Loin Lamb's Quarters, Haricots Verts, Chanterelle Mushrooms, Baby Onion, Natural Jus
While the tender, succulent veal loin is the star of the show, the medley of vegetables on the plate almost upstaged the delicate piece of meat. Paired with a crisp, sweetbread, along with earthy, slightly peppery chanterelle mushrooms, the farmers market Haricots Verts (French green beans which have a more tender and complex flavor than North American varieties), combined with a baby pearl onion and wakame, helped to add a subtle blend of sweetness and complexity to the dish, which is all soaked up in the natural jus and perfect when combined. Easily one of the best dishes of the night and worth every bite.
Tartiflette Reblochon, Smoked Bacon, Potato
Reblochon is a French cheese from the Alps region of region of Haute-Savoie. Tartiflette is also a dish that's popular in the Huate-Savoie region. It is generally made with potatoes, reblochon cheese, lardons and onions. The version served at Mélisse was prepared with reblochon, bacon, and potatoes. though it resembles a mini cheesecake or a Chinese egg tart, it definitely didn't resemble the taste of either. It reminded me more of a gourmet mac and cheese with bacon. Capturing some of the greens into each bite helped to break up the heaviness of the cheese.
Chocolate Caramelia Cremeus, Ricotta and Salted Coffee
In celebration of C's birthday our dessert was served with a single candle, and a glass of complementary port wine.
Cobbler Yellow Peach, Persian Mulberries, Macadamia Streusel, Chamomile Ice Cream
This deconstructed peach cobbler was served with a dollop of chamomile ice cream. The trick with deconstructed dishes is to get a bit of everything in order to rebuild the taste profile. This dessert is definitely a play on one of my favorites and was executed beautifully. The ice cream was very light and didn't overpower the flavors of the fresh peaches from the farmers market.
Of the place's I've dined at which provide petit fours, Melisse's selection was on par. Served were fruit gelee, fresh nectarine slices, chocolate truffles, mini chocolate chip cookies, french macarons, and vanilla cream caneles. By this point we were pretty full so we had them box these for us. After dinner, in addition to C's cup of coffee, Lauren also brought out two glasses of the house tea which helps aid in digestion.
During our meal, Chef Citrin was kind enough to stop by to for a quick chat and photo. We paid our compliments to the chef for the amazing meal he and his staff had prepared. Chef Citrin is one of the original founders, along with Raphael Lunetta, of one of my other favorites in Santa Monica, Jiraffe. Josiah sold his interest in Jiraffe to Lunetta and in 1999 opened up Mélisse. Since then the two good friends have partnered and currently run Lemon Moon. After the conclusion of our meal, we were honored to have the opportunity to tour the kitchen. The Maitre d', James Spencer, walked us through to the kitchen and gave us a brief of the different stations and functions of the kitchen. From an outside perspective it appeared to be organized chaos, however, after further examination we realized it ran like a well oiled machine. Quarters were smaller than I anticipated and was bustling with people, each focused on his/her unique responsibility. Across the top of the room was a banner which read "In Pursuit of Excellence". What a great reminder of the caliber and level of quality that Mélisse strives for. It's no wonder that they've received two stars by the Michelin Guide, five stars by Forbes Travel Guide, and rated #1 by Zagat guide in categories of: Top Food in Los Angeles, top Wine List Los Angeles, and top American-French Restaurant for Food in Los Angeles (to name a few of their many awards). Not only were we provided a wonderfully tasty meal but also educated on the different techniques, ingredients, and care that goes into each dish. It was a memorable experience and many thanks to Mélisse and staff for all of their hospitality.