Saturday, November 06, 2010

The Tasting Kitchen

As of last Tuesday, A. and I have been married for four years. This time around we've been together for about eight and a half. Long ago, when we were in college we spent a rocky two and a half years together. Adding that up, we come to eleven years all together.

Not bad! Some might even say surprising.

We decided to wait until the Friday evening to really celebrate. With Fe. slumbering at my parent's house, the night was our's.

There is a lot of pressure to pick the right restaurant for all of the important occasions. Last year we went large and dined at The Dining Room at the Langham, with Michael Voltaggio at the helm. That was extraordinary. I wish I had been blogging back then.

This year, with only one of us gainfully employed, we weren't going that big. I was thinking Lazy Ox or Osteria Mozza again, because I love love love them both, but A. had something else in mind. The Tasting Kitchen in Venice.

I had read good things and was game.

Running this plan by our dear friends and partners in many foodie escapades, RiRi and Jophes, as Fe. calls them, I started having doubts. Maybe The Tasting Kitchen wasn't special enough, or was the kind of place at which you dined only if you happened to have another reason to be way the heck out on the other side of town. I started thinking Mélisse and began to lose confidence.

A. suggested I get a grip. I calmed down.

The doubts started resurfacing when we were driving down Abbot Kinney. My god, it was insanity. There were people and food trucks everywhere. What on earth had we stumbled into? I later was informed by my sister that this madness happens every first Friday of the month on Abbot Kinney.

Too many people.

There were more doubts when we walked into the restaurant. A. turned to me and asked, "is this what Portland is like, now?" Right. We kept reading about how the chef, Casey Lane, came from Portland and had imported his Portland aesthetic to Los Angeles.

What we witnessed was more west side night life than Portland. The young folks clad in black seemed more interested in having a hip place to drink and shout at each other over the music (at least it was BeachHouse!) than in dining in a restaurant that focused on serving honest, local, seasonal food.

I was very skeptical. But I swore to A. that I would forgive the restaurant its scenster-vibe, if only the food would deliver. I'm like that every time we go to a new restaurant -- optimistic and hopeful, always ready and willing to be wowed. I am rooting for the restaurant -- on its side completely, until it lets me down.

Though I was rather unimpressed by the casualness of our waiter, I must admit that he did not once lead us astray. We ordered cocktails. He suggested something with Rye and Apple Jack, which I loved. It was a little bit like a less-sweet Manhattan. A. had a Rotten Scoundrel, which contained aquavit, fernet, and something else.

The menu is intriguing. At first, it was hard to puzzle out how best to order. The waiter led us in the right direction, suggesting that we start with a cheese and charcuterie platter. Or maybe that was A.'s suggestion. In any event, the waiter had us on track in no time, even suggesting a great bottle of wine to complement our meal.

The meat and cheese board that we received was extremely well curated. Forgive me for not remembering the specifics, I was very busy getting caught up in the moment. There were four cheeses, three of which were satisfyingly stinky. Two were from Ireland, including a blue. Nestled between the cheese were figs and walnuts and a sticky smear of honey.

I had been hoping for the rillettes, even asked the waiter to put in a good word for us, but no such luck. I thought I'd be just a little heart-broken, but the rustic country paté was so good that I got over it fast. The prosciutto was sweet and striped with fat. There were also two salamis; the best possessed a little heat.

In reading Yelp, I noticed that everyone was gaga over the bread served at The Tasting Kitchen. It's understandable. People do tend to go nuts over warm, crusty bread. It doesn't hurt that there was apple butter and sweet butter with Maldon salt to spread all over. Just stop by La Brea Bakery and ask for the peasant loaf, and you too can be enjoying this at home. Be sure to throw it the oven for a spell, to insure maximum satisfaction.

Next we shared the Fritti Misti. This was a completely different experience than the Fritti Misti we enjoyed at Mozza, two weeks prior. This batter was sharp and crackly -- really really good. There were squash blossoms stuffed with ricotta, thin wedges of sweet onion, and delicate leaves of crisp parsley. The ping pong-size balls of house-made mozzarella were pure salty and gooey pleasure. I'm not sure I've ever tasted deep-fried olives before, but the Lucques were a definite hit. All could be dipped in a perfectly acceptable aioli.

The pastas at The Tasting Kitchen are supposed to be excellent. We decided to share one -- rigatoni with lamb and anchovy. The presentation wasn't much (and the rigatoni looked strangely like penne), but it didn't matter a lick, once we tasted the dish.

The braised lamb was gorgeous, rich and deeply satisfying. The use of anchovy was very clever. They go so well together. The anchovy gives the lamb added body and a mysterious savory element, while not tasting a bit fishy. Anchovies are such brilliant and delicious chameleons.

I liked the wisps of dandelion greens hiding here and there, and the shaved Pecorino Romano lent the dish a solid salty finish. I am anxious to try to recreate this at home.

Thankfully we were on to our final dish. I say thankfully, not because the food was lacking or we weren't having a super time, but because we were so tired. Our reservation was at 9:30. That is really a bit too late for us to start these days. With Fe. keeping us on an early schedule, we conk out earlier than we used to. The other issue was the extended waits between dishes. The place was packed, so I'm guessing the kitchen was slammed, but the service was seriously slow-go. I can't take that when the evening starts late.

By the end, all I wanted to do was lie down. I was completely passed out in the car on the way home.

Having said all that, I am glad we ordered the cod with parsnips and shaved black truffle. Very glad. All the menu said was -- cod, parsnip, truffle $35. I wasn't sure what was coming. It turned out to be black cod that was cooked beautifully and sported a perfectly crisp skin. The fish was resting on a bed of mild parsnip purée. The shaved black truffles were strewn over the top.

I can't complain about perfectly cooked fish and black truffles.

I wish we had possessed the stamina and appetite for dessert, but by nearly midnight we were done. I would happily revisit The Tasting Kitchen in Venice for cocktails and/or dinner. For us it was a success.

The Tasting Kitchen
1633 Abbot Kinney Blvd.
Venice, CA 90291

1 comment:

the actor's diet said...

great review - i'm going here tonight and can't wait!!!