Saam – Cutting Edge Molecular Gastronomy in Los Angeles

Saam is a restaurant inside a restaurant, nestled in the deep recesses of Bazaar in the SLS Hotel.  Very prestigious, exclusive, and unique, I thought this Molecular Gastronomy extravaganza would make the perfect venue for my birthday.  Six of us went to enjoy the 25+ course tasting menu along with the “Jose’s Experience” wine pairing, which each couple split.  We had an amazing evening.  Service was attentive but not overbearing.  Including pre-dinner cocktails, we were there around 5 hours and it just flew by.  Having been to most of the great molecular gastronomy restaurants in the world, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I had been to Bazaar a number of times but while enjoyable I never was blown away.

Saam definitely takes it to another level.  Some of the menu items are similar, but they are definitely executed better ingredients and with extra precision.

While it was a great dinner all-round, ultimately creativity did play the upper hand over taste with some of the courses.  While the wine pairing included very generous pours and “revisits,” at $250 pp just for the wine it was not cheap.  But considering it included many high-end bottlings such a nice Lamy Chassagne Montrachet, 1950 Muse Rivesaltes, Grahams 1999 Vintage port and much more it was fairly priced. We made the right move by sharing one pairing per couple. All-in with the food, it was about $900 per couple.  It was a great and delicious evening but I don’t think I need to go back a second time. For the same money, I do very much want to go back to Alinea.  I wish it was closer than Chicago.

SNACKS

Beet and Yogurt
Coco Thai
Fresh Almond “Yogurt”
“Our Nigiri” Shisho Tempura
Oyster Cracker
Surf Clam
California Spot Prawn
Carrot “Baguette” Foie Gras Butterfly
“Sunflower” Artichoke Teriyaki
Empanadas

Agua Fresca

Blossoms

SAVORY
Guissantes con Trufa
Fisherman Mortar
Sole and Nasturtium
Raya
Rambutan
Iberico

AVANT DESSERT

Valdeon

A SMOKY MOMENT

Dragon’s Breath

DESSERT

Popcorn, Salted Butter and Milk Jam
Pistachio Foam, Passion Fruit and Raspberry
Candy Cap Macaron
Salted Peanut
Almond and Lemon Bon Bon
Blonde Chocolate Sable
Raspberry and Chocolate Pate de Fruit

Chef Attor Zabala

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SNACKS
Beet and Yogurt
Coco Thai
Fresh Almond “Yogurt”
“Our Nigiri” Shisho Tempura
Oyster Cracker
Surf Clam
California Spot Prawn
Carrot “Baguette” Foie Gras Butterfly
“Sunflower” Artichoke Teriyaki
Empanadas

Agua Fresca

Blossoms

SAVORY
Guissantes con Trufa
Fisherman Mortar
Sole and Nasturtium
Raya
Rambutan
Iberico

AVANT DESSERT

Valdeon

A SMOKY MOMENT

Dragon’s Breath

DESSERT

Popcorn, Salted Butter and Milk Jam
Pistachio Foam, Passion Fruit and Raspberry
Candy Cap Macaron
Salted Peanut
Almond and Lemon Bon Bon
Blonde Chocolate Sable
Raspberry and Chocolate Pate de Fruit

Chef Attor Zabala

 

Foodie Blogger Documentary That Gives Us All A Bad Name

It was from 2014, but I finally got around to watching “Foodies: The Culinary Jet Set” on Netflix. It told the story of the influential subculture of elite foodie bloggers by honing in on the backstories of six very diverse bloggers from different parts of the world.

What struck me as I watched the interviews was how interchangeable this documentary’s takeaways could have been with any number of documentaries I have seen that featured people dedicated to the point of obsession with their particular hobby or interest.  This movie could have been about weightlifting, poker, art collecting, fast cars, fine wine, so many to choose from.  These individuals are driven to collect/accumulate where they can achieve a high level of status.  Sometimes the item is a thing, and sometimes it is an experience.

I was especially struck by one very arrogant blogger who liked to brag to strangers how he achieved significant financial success which enabled him to fund his food travels.  It was apparent he was moving from one competitive pursuit to another, as he is the only (known) person to have eaten at all 3 Star Michelin restaurants in the world (for a given year.) He was “collecting” (conquering?) these restaurant experiences as his life’s mission.

The blogger was shown alienating chefs and service people at every turn, but having no idea how incredibly overbearing he appeared to others.  At one point during a face to face confrontation  with a world famous molecular gastronomy chef over what most would agree was an obviously subjective food complaint, he referred to himself as a “Self-Anointed” expert who doing the world a favor by offering up his opinions.  Chef readily agreed with the self-anointed part, and the blogger had no idea to the extent of the mockery.

In the end, what the bloggers all had in common was an almost OCD obsession with dining at high end restaurants around the world, just for the sake of doing it.  They mostly dined alone and wore very intense, clinical expressions I would associate with a violin player in an world-class orchestra, not someone enjoying their dining experience. There was a subtle discrediting as well.  Two of the bloggers were very young and had money from their parents to support their dining habit.  They obviously lacked perspective. A recurring topic in the film was the bloggers’ credibility to “review” the restaurants, a very justified concern as there are no official “criteria” that make a food blogger an expert.

My reaction? Perhaps everyone is forgetting the primary reason for going out to eat.  Personally, I revel in the intellectual side of a remarkable dining experience or a great glass of Burgundy.  But my passion extends to the joy of the meal; the play on all the senses and the sharing of this pleasure with my dining companions.  Above all else, these meals are meant to be happy, to elicit joy.  Ask any passionate chef what makes them tick, and they will talk about making people smile with wonder and happiness when they are enjoying their food, their creative expression of themselves.

Can I check off many of the top restaurants in the world off my list? Absolutely.  And my blog is about the pursuit of many more.  But where dining at these restaurants ceases to also be about joy as the highest priority is where I step off.  These bloggers showed no passion for the overall experience and as a result were nothing but satires of themselves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have seen the same personality traits in those highly driven with individual competitive sports such as weightlifting or Poker,

 

 

 

so focused on the intellectual, or competitive nature that they were devoid of passion

 

Osechi Ryori at Shunji, Los Angeles, CA

Michelin-Rated But LA Discontinued Michelin Stars

Jan 1st 2016: We had the most amazing dinner at Shunji -Japanese Cuisine-. Incredible Osechi Ryori New Year’s Day extravaganza and wonderful people made for a truly remarkable and memorable evening. Yes, that is Yama-San at the next table.  Scot came to the rescue when he needed an old Riesling opened after the cork got pushed down.  Then the wine started flowing from table to table after that.🙂  Looking forward to a Yamakase visit soon…

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Yamakase – Over the Top Sushi Experience by Ex-Hump Chef, Los Angeles, CA

March 03, 2015
Over-the-Top Omakase dinner at Yamakase, the very exclusive sushi restaurant that required me to write a letter just to get a reservation. One seating, 9 people. The dinner was about 4 hours, a food marathon of over 24 courses. Yamakase is considered a Urasawa knockoff, and I can see why. Every ingredient was top of the line, and often rare. Chef Yamamoto-San (The Hump) told a story about each dish, and it often included comments like “only in season two weeks” and “I am only chef in LA/USA who can get this item.” It was an extremely tasty meal, but it is not exactly authentic. It is not Kaiseki. I would describe it as an extremely opulent fish feast. I appreciate that almost every item had rich accompaniments. If you look at the picture you will note Truffle, Uni, Crab, Caviar, Toro, Foie Gras, soft-cooked quail eggs, often all of them, were on every dish. I love all these items but it was very rich and palate- exhausting. And I missed the simplicity that comes from just showing the fish off with a simple soy-dashi enhancement. Three funny moments. 1) When he handed out the certificate proving the meat we consumed in one of the dishes was Kobe it included the cow’s nose print. TMI. 2) At one point when I was asking the very friendly chef about a bit of technical detail on one of the sauces he told me I “think too much” and I “should just eat.” And finally, at the end of the night he announced to the room that sorry he was out of business cards (akin to Totoroko it is how you get around the arduous reservation process.) However, on our way out when no one else was looking they pulled out a stack of cards and handed us one with very warm words about welcoming us back again in the future. Yay we made the cut! All-in-all I am really glad we went and I would go again, but I still think Shunji -Japanese Cuisine- Yuko Sakurai reigns supreme.

Maude: 2 Dinners. Tomato and White Truffle, Los Angeles, CA

Like a Michelin, but not a Michelin

September and November 2014

..And then there’s Maude. We are very excited to have a restaurant like this in LA, finally! The staff are truly professional, and many of them have cute Australian accents – I assume Curtis must have hand-picked them. The whole feel of the place reminds me of what I have experienced in Spain, France, Japan, Vegas, NYC. Solid, well-executed, super-inspired and original. It was like going to a really good show on Broadway that is very well-directed. I can’t describe any other restaurant in LA that can pull this off. So much better than places like Bazaar, Providence, Rivera, etc. And as for the food itself, I adored the way Chef paid homage to the tomato. I felt like I was a judge on Top Chef. Could I nitpick it? Yes. But I won’t, they are undeserving of this kind of disrespect.

Going back for White Truffles in November added more pressure.  $250 pp ++ for wine, corkage, etc.  While wonderful, I don’t think it was worth the extra $$$.  The restaurant is wonderful, but I would recommend sticking to the more “mundane” ingredient themes as besides being half the price, it is actually more difficult to make them spectacular.  Better dinner AND better value that way.

Tomato Pix:

 

White Truffle Pix:

 

 

 

 

 

Nihon Ryori Ryugin, Tokyo, Japan

3 Star Michelin

June 1st, 2014

Nihon Ryori Ryugin – 3 star Michelin, #33 on top 50 restaurants in the world. Finally, I am happy to report that this time, I agree.🙂 This was definitely by far our best meal of the trip. In common with the other Kaiseki dinners we had, their approach was again to use food and presentation to show harmony with nature, with the seasons, with art. Everything was brilliantly executed and delicious, service was impeccable. If you go to Tokyo and only want to pick one high-end dinner, I think this is the one. As an aside, this is the first and only restaurant I have ever seen to offer tea pairings. They were all house blends and home brewed, served in wine bottles and wine glasses. The pairings were brilliant.

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Birdland, Tokyo, Japan

1 Star Michelin

May 30th, 2014

Thoughts on the Michelin-starred and well-renowned yakitori restaurant Birdland- located next to Jiro. I was very curious to see how a michelin rating would elevate typically humble pub food. Certainly I appreciated the lack of smoke and the beautiful (kirei) atmosphere. The chicken is of gve highest quality. All free range and cooked rare. It is reasonably priced, the wine list was one of the most approachable of our whole trip. The chicken livers were plump and juicy and probably the best we ever had. But fir me there was something “off” about the place. If it was in LA, i would describe it as”hipster.” There was something just a little but disingenuous about the whole thing. The courses were delivered in random order. The head chef (itamae) was only peripherally involved in what was coming off the grill. The servers and grillers were the same people. Everything was good don’t get me wrong- but it lacked something. Maybe it lacked the grease in the way philly cheesesteaks taste best in philly where they take on the flavor of a grill seasoned with the steaks of yesteryear. Or maybe it just lacked the love. That said, i think this restaurant is perfect for introducing people to yakitori, but for people like us who have had yakitori dozens of times i think it would not be impressive from a pure foodie standpoint, but it is a great place to take friends for a fun and tasty night out.

We were not allowed to take photographs, so instead I am including some photos of a no-name yakitori place we went to in “piss alley” where no one spoke english. The guy next to us at the bar had a daughter in San Francisco and he called her while we were at the restaurant to help translate.  The highlight of the meal was a chicken fallopian tube with egg, pictured below.  The gizzard was also delightful.IMG_5345IMG_5346IMG_5347IMG_5349

 

Nodaiwa, Tokyo, Japan

1 Star Michelin

May 28th, 2014

Unique Eel restaurant experience at Michelin-starred Nodaiwa. Many interpretations of eel, some we loved, some merely interesting. One cultural note: a big deal was made over the fact they use “natural” (wild) eel which is sustainable but rare due to the cost, but the soup contains shark fin. Jiro is right next door, the closest we are getting to it.

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Tenichi Ginza Honten, Tokyo, Japan

3 Star Michelin

May 27th ,2014

Had fancy tempura dinner at the highly rated Tenichi Ginza Honten, the same place where Clinton, Sinatra, and other famous people went who were scared of raw fish. It was certainly tasty but very expensive. But i was surprised that they used the same oil blend and same tempura coating for both the fish and veggies. I have been to hogh end tempura places in Torrance where each item was given unique treatment. I don’t think this was the best tempura we ever had, but i did appreciate the variety and local ingredients.Select pictures below:

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Takazawa, Tokyo, Japan

May 26th 2014

Amazing Kaiseki dining at Takazawa. Chef Takazawa deliberately shuns Michelin ratings. I have no doubt if he let them rate him he would be a 2 or 3 star. His wife manages the front of the house alone. Max seating is 10. We likes this restaurant much better than Narisawa. Some modern elements but mostly classic Japanese flavors with a twist. Each dish was very intricate and unique. Most are pictured here. Chef gave us a personalized menu in broken english with the title “Enjoy your imagination.” Worth noting – this is literally the first time we ran into americans the entire trip. And of course they were loud, overbearing, and inappropriate. They literally made me cringe.

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Ginza Kyubey, Tokyo, Japan

1 Michelin Star

May 24th, 2014

Select photos from Ginza Kyubey. So many people referred us here as the best sushi bargain – high quality low prices if you go for lunch. We each chose a midrange price set- scot got all sushi, mine included sashimi and sone other appetizers. It was very good. It was definitely not as good as the higher end sushi places we went to, but at $130 per person i would not call this place a “bargain” when top of the line is $200 a person. Also, i found it a little gross that the chef cut his finger (tiny cut) but was using the same towel to catch the blood as he did to clean the knife. Ew.

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Les Créations de Narisawa, Tokyo, Japan

3 Star Michelin

May 21, 2014

So we tried the legendary Narisawa- one of the top 50 restaurants in the world. All I can say is you should thank us for taking another bullet for you guys. Crazy expensive. I get why it is 3 Michelin. The service and ambiance are classic french. The food is of the highest possible quality, all local and sustainable. The techniques used require great technical precision. Love the nature and Forrest themes used in the dishes, which do tell a story. But in the end they use too much butter, some of the flavors are repetitive, and for a restaurant that is supposed to be japanese it was really more french. It reminded me of Arzak in Spain or Pujol in Mexico City but not as good. Cool experience though. And I got to eat dirt- I mean real dirt not the molecular gastronomy dirt. Terroir jokes were made.

All-in-all, it was an amazing experience worthy of the 3 stars.  But the actual flavors were disappointing. It was a little too much flash without the flavor. Having just been to Spain in pursuit of the best molecular gastronomy in the world, I have to say Narisawa just doesn’t execute as well.  For my taste, in Japan I preferred Nihon Ryori Ryugin or Takazawa.

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Kuwano Sushi, Tokyo, Japan

1 Michelin Star

May 19th, 2014

Last night tried a place recommended to us by yoshi-San of Mori sushi. ( chef was his teacher) A tiny tiny place w only 8 seats. 1 Michelin star. Major contrast vs Kaneska- similar fish but so much more intricate seasonings and flavors. Omakase was more Kaiseki than sushi. Really amazing intimate experience. Customers super friendly as well- this guy in the photo kept buying us champagne, burgundy, and sake while we complimented the very pretty and much much younger lady who was with him. This explains why we have far fewer pictures of this extraordinary meal than many others.

Bite of the day was the ankimo that was steamed and roasted and infused w dashi and sake flavors. Much more custard-ey than typical with an interesting skin.

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Tofuya Ukai, Tokyo, Japan

1 Michelin Star

May 19th, 2014

Considered one of the top 20 restaurants in Tokyo, Tofuya Ukai is part restaurant and part Zen garden.  Truly one of the most peaceful and leisurely meals we have ever enjoyed.  Loved the subtle flavors and precise preparations.  It was a nice change after eating so many heavy meals.  We adored their famous dish, Tosui Tofu, which is eaten together with rich soy milk and a special broth.

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Sushi Kanesaka, Ginza, (Tokyo) Japan

Two-Star Michelin

May 18th, 2014

Our first two star Michelin sushi restaurant. Honestly I was quite confused when I heard a sushi place could be considered two Michelin stars. But we were impressed. Was it more expensive than top places in LA? Yes except for urasawa. Was it better? Hmmm. The place only seats 10. Service was perfect. Rice was some of the best I have had. And we had a few items that we considered the best version we ever had, such as the Hokkaido crab and the anago (eel). And there were a few items that we never had before- exotic and tasty, especially two clams. But No, I don’t think it was “better” than places like shunji or Q. Maybe Mori. Pictured is the chef showing off his amazing knife skills on some tamago.

During dinner Chef Sanpei-San showed us a fun trick at the sushi bar. If you rub this previously flat clam (ark clam of some sort) in the right way it shows it’s appreciation. Can’t make this stuff up…

 

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Chef was careful to demonstrate the clam standing at attention after he gave it some love.

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Q Sushi, Los Angeles, CA

Feb 8th, 2014

Simply extraordinary.  I have never had Edomae sushi this authentic and this good before.  Chef Hiro-San and his staff are gracious, engaging, and a delight.  Each piece of sushi was carefully prepared and presented as a special treasure.  Chef Hiro-San welcomed and appreciated our feedback on each piece.  Each piece of fish was uniquely prepared to bring out the essence of each.  Not only were the sauces and marinades used to accentuate the flavors, they also brought out the best textures. While it is easy to say I loved the Toro, it was the more mundane bonito and tai (snapper) that shocked me with their tastiness.  Chef Hiro-san has a gift – and as an added bonus he is very nice to the guests unlike Nozawas/Zo/and Shibucho et al. Omakase was $165 pp ++ and worth every penny.

When I read sushi reviews I judge the credibility of the reviewer by what other sushi restaurants they love/hate.    I love Shunji for Kaiseki.  Nozomi in Torrance is very good for sushi. I even like Kampai in Westchester if you avoid the western stuff. I hate and will never return to places like Matsuhisa, Katsuya, the new Sasabune and their peers because of the overpowering westernized sauces, fake wasabi, and sub-par and sometimes precut fish.  I think Sushi Zo is terrible because he mixes ginger juice into the sauce for several of the fish.  Sushi Sushi is simply boring because he uses the same sauce for most of the fish.  Kiriko and K-Zo are ok but very westernized and overpriced for what you are getting.  I hate the rice at Sugarfish – too sweet.  And I don’t think much of the quality of their fish, either.

If you truly understand and appreciate the fine art of authentic Japanese sushi, go here.  If you think Katsuya has good sushi, just don’t go here. You will hate and not understand Q.