Champagne Mousse, citrus salad, puff pastry, tangerine sorbet, mint pearls
When I was invited to Patina by a PR firm representing Ian Gresik, Patina's pastry chef, I couldn't have been happier. We scheduled our dessert tasting for 8:00 on a Saturday. Unlike most restaurants in Los Angeles, Patina was relatively empty at that hour, which is probably because much of their business comes from pre- and post-concert patrons at the adjacent Walt Disney Concert Hall. In fact, the restaurant started filling up as we were leaving around 9:30 or 10:00. The ability to enjoy dining at an upscale restaurant at a prime dinner time without the noise and the crowds is a real treat in Los Angeles.
Patina's dining room is sort of an odd space that looks almost like it was wedged into the building as an afterthought. The restaurant is L-shaped, with a glowing orange bar when you first walk in and the dining room coming into view after making a right turn. In this case, the setup certainly works to make the restaurant inviting for both dinner patrons and those who just want to stop in for a drink. The dining room ceiling is vaulted in some areas and almost uncomfortably low in others--I'm not sure if the idea was to create a space that felt both homey and airy, or if the space simply dictated that the ceilings had to be this way. The lighting is very yellow, which has the unfortunate effect of making the room look a bit dated. The light creates interesting patterns on the wavy wood-paneled walls that line the room, though. Booths along the wall face outward towards the other patrons and so do not provide the intimacy that many seek in such a seating arrangement, though they are a welcome relief from the setup of a banquette lined with uncomfortably-spaced, tiny tables that is common in so many of the city's top restaurants. All of Patina's tables are adorned with small vases of fresh, carefully arranged orchids, and details like the short, bubbly orange water glasses seem carefully considered to match the restaurant's decor.
Our four-course dessert tasting menu consisted of miniature portions of a few of the treats that will be on Patina's spring menu. The first course, champagne mousse with citrus salad, puff pastry, tangerine sorbet, and mint pearls, was dazzling in its presentation. The mint pearls, a basic feat of molecular gastronomy, looked like caviar but had a consistency more like gelatin. They proved too elusive to hop onto a spoon for a solo taste-test, but combined with the dish's other elements, their subtle flavor added pizazz. Champagne probably described the mousse's color better than its flavor, but its taste was unique, with a subtle sweetness tinged with something slightly tart. The mousse's satiny texture can only be described as flawless. The puff pastry seemed over-baked and detracted from the dish's perfection, but given the amount of attention paid to the rest of the dish, its extreme crispness must have been intentional. The tangerine sorbet zinged with an intense citrus flavor.
Strawberry, lemon creme, mascarpone pearls, croquant ginger-strawberry sherbet
Strawberries aren't really a spring fruit, but Gresik says he would rather give his patrons what they like than adhere rigidly to a seasonal theme, and besides, the strawberries were surprisingly ripe. Gresik buys his ingredients at a local farmers market, which is key to achieving the intense and fresh flavors in his fruit-based desserts.
The combination of ginger and strawberry in a frozen treat was so perfect that I couldn't believe I'd never tasted it before (the brown sugar and ginger ice cream at Kiriko is another favorite of mine). The piquancy of the ginger enhanced the tartness of the strawberries. The lemon creme had a lovely texture, but seemed out of place amongst the more delicate flavors of the strawberries and the sherbet. The presentation was again carefully conceived, with the shape of the sorbet and the creme mimicking the organic shape of the strawberries, whose free-form presentation was tied together by the rigid geometry of the mascarpone pearls and the gradient red dot design (created with a tool, not done by hand).
Warm mojito souffle with lime sherbet
The warm mojito souffle sounded too trendy, and how could a souffle possibly taste like a mojito? I don't know, but it really did. The dish played on temperature, with the souffle arriving at the table piping hot and the sherbet served on an ice-cold spoon. The idea behind the setup was to poke a hole in the top of the souffle and pour in the sherbet, but purists will enjoy tasting these elements separately. While most sherbet seems a far cry from the fruit it's labeled after, by including a bit of lime rind, Gresik's lime sherbet actually alluded to fresh limes. I enjoyed this dessert, but more as a novelty than as something I'd want to eat over and over again, and I found the souffle a little too sweet.
Chocolate palet with affogato
The chocolate palet, a short disk of warm, rich, chocolate heaven, like a flourless chocolate cake but denser, came topped with a chocolate cigar that looked solid but was too delicate to touch without breaking it open and flooding the plate with a sweet, coffee-flavored substance. "Affogato " means "drowned" in Italian, and the term is also often used to refer to a dessert of ice cream drowned in espresso, which this dessert did, but in an unusual way.
Just when we thought we were at the end of the dessert tasting and I was commenting that I would gladly eat four more desserts, the pastry chef himself brought us a plate of petit fours, a variety of small desserts that may include cookies, pastries, and confections. In this case, the petit fours definitely leaned towards the confection side. We sampled a vanilla marshmallow, a sweet plum macaroon, a cinnamon truffle, an apricot gelee, peanut butter agnolotti, and a pistachio almond nougat. The agnolotti, a dessert take on a traditional Italian pasta, was the winner of the bunch, with its ethereal filling that captured all the flavor of sweet peanut butter with none of the heaviness.
When asked about the inspiration for his unique desserts, which are a welcome change from the tired selections that tend to grace even the most otherwise innovative menus, Gresik explained that he dines out a lot and thinks about what he would like to eat at the end of a filling meal. Rather than traditional heavy desserts like cheesecake or flourless chocolate cake, he prefers concoctions that are light enough to still be enjoyable even when you've already had plenty to eat. His desserts are very successful in that regard, and given their ingenuity, are even reasonably priced at around $12 each.
Next door - Disney Concert Hall
Parking at Patina is a snap, but the convenience comes with a price. You can either valet your car at the door for $8, or park in the concert hall lot, also for $8, then walk about two blocks to the restaurant. For those who hate entrusting their most expensive possession to strangers, it's nice that Patina has a non-valet option.
My experience at Patina was one of the best restaurant experiences I've ever had. The service was nearly flawless and Ian Gresik's desserts were innovative and delectable. Patina recently earned a coveted Michelin star, and I'm certain that Gresik's creations contributed to the restaurant receiving such an honor. I'm already planning to go back--I only hope the main courses are as delicious as I know the last course will be.
141 S. Grand
Los Angeles, CA 90071
Sunday, 11:30am-1:30pm on performance day only
Performance Evenings, 5:00 - 11:00 p.m.
Non-Performance Evenings, 5:00 - 9:30 p.m.
I have to admit, I'm not a fan of the cupcake craze. I can't believe it's not over yet. I just think it's all rather ridiculous. I can make an entire batch of twelve cupcakes for about $5, no special skills required except the ability to follow a Duncan Hines recipe, so why would I go to a place that charges me $3 or more for a single cupcake, even if it is dense, moist, and abundantly frosted? In the time it would take me to drive to a cupcake store, park, wait in line, and drive back, I could bake and generously frost twelve cupcakes myself and save $31. Sprinkles' cupcakes are $3.25 each, or $36 a dozen.
Were I to actually make it to Sprinkles myself instead of having a cupcake randomly bestowed upon me by an office party, I'd probably try cinnamon sugar and chai latte. Most of the other eighteen flavors I could easily make at home. Actually, I could probably make the cinnamon and the chai, too, with a little trial and error. As it was, I had a red velvet cupcake with cream cheese frosting. For the record, I think red velvet is a really strange concept. Who wants to eat that much food coloring in one sitting?
If you're wondering about the mysterious dot on the top, it indicates the cupcake's flavor. I think I would hate working there. "Is red velvet the light blue on red dot, or red on light blue dot?" Not every flavor is available every day, but you can check their website for a day/flavor grid. In addition to Sprinkles' regular flavors, there are also seasonal flavors, like vanilla peppermint, chocolate peppermint, and eggnog spice.
9635 Santa Monica Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
(All ranting aside, their website is a wonderful example of what all web design should be: easy to navigate, gorgeous, and highly informative.)
Chocolate bread pudding with bourbon caramel sauce
I will freely admit that I don't have very high expectations of restaurants once I leave a major city. Despite the way that some food critics portray the Los Angeles dining scene as a joke compared to those of New York City or San Francisco, I'd say Los Angeles has enough great restaurants to thoroughly spoil anyone, including me. So when I was taken to Eric's by a friend of the chef to enjoy the restaurant's special eighth anniversary menu, I had my suburban restaurant radar on. The warning signals in my mind started flashing even more when I saw that the restaurant was attached to the Palm Garden Hotel, since I haven't really had any good hotel food experiences in my lifetime, even at $500 a night places. Thankfully, the food far exceeded my expectations, and at prices that would make any Westsider thoroughly jealous.
Bruschetta and olives
Most of our group took advantage of the $30, four-course anniversary menu. At many restaurants, including Eric's, an entree alone can cost $30, so this pricing was quite a steal. I wondered if the portions would be miniscule or if they would only be offering inexpensive dishes like pasta, but they weren't. Corkage was free, and plenty of fresh-baked kalamata olive bread was included, too.
The first course was twin bruschetta crostini with an Italian olive tapenade and a balsamic tomato pomodoro and a small wine glass of green and reddish-brown olives. The tangy bite of fresh garlic and the juiciness of tomatoes that hadn't been ruined by refrigeration paired nicely with the lightly grilled triangles of chewy bread, and the olive tapenade was surprisingly flavorful--bad olive tapenade often tastes like the can its olives came from.
We sat on the enclosed patio next to the gas fireplace, which we definitely needed on the chilly January night. The view outside the windows was nothing but lush greenery, but the atmosphere was cheapened a bit by the plastic chairs. Perhaps this part of the restaurant is often used for more casual purposes.
Eggplant and portabello tower
After the bruschetta, there were several choices for each course. I had been craving breaded eggplant, but couldn't find any on my last visit to Trader Joe's, so I knew I had to try the eggplant and portabello tower. Also, the other choices were soup and salad, so I wanted to choose the most unique option. Despite sitting in a red bell pepper sauce, the breaded eggplant retained its crispiness. The eggplant was perfectly cooked, neither too spongy nor too runny, and the dish was beautifully presented. The asparagus retained its smooth skin, crispness, and bright green color, like properly cooked asparagus should. When Chef Robin Nishizaki came out to talk to us about the meal, he said that he created the dish as a twist on the classic eggplant parmesan.
For my entree, I chose the filet mignon over the grilled salmon, seared scallops, prime rib fettucini, oso bucco, and seared ahi. It was a tough choice--I could have eaten almost any of them, but I opted for the filet because it was such a great deal. I ordered the filet medium rare, which I realized after taking the first bite was more pink than I could handle (believe it or not, this was the first steak I had ever personally ordered at a restaurant). Though not as tender as some (admittedly more expensive) steaks I've sampled, the table agreed that the meat was excellent. The garlic mashed potatoes had a wonderfully smooth consistency, but they were too buttery for my taste. The sauteed broccoli, baby carrots, and asparagus were all very good, though it would have been nice to have a different vegetable after the asparagus that came with my eggplant. Normally I might not have noticed this minor flaw in the meal, but I had recently finished reading a book by a waitress who used to work at Thomas Keller's Per Se, so my perfectionistic side was probably in overdrive.
Since we knew the chef, we got a bonus dessert of his own creation: cheesecake churros. I can't imagine a more sinful dessert than deep-fried cheesecake topped with caramel, chocolate, and whipped cream, and it was delicious. My only complaint was that I couldn't eat as many of them as I might have liked because I was already incredibly full from the rest of my meal!
For dessert, I chose the creme brulee. The generous portion had a delicious carmelized crust. The addition of fresh strawberries and blueberries, both in the custard and on top of it, were an interesting twist, but I think I'm a traditionalist when it comes to this dish.
This extra-fantastic anniversary deal was only temporary, but the regular menu prices are quite reasonable: small plates are $6-$13, and large plates are $20-$34. $34 will get you a generous portion of lobster. While Eric's is not a destination restaurant, I think that anyone living in the area or staying at the hotel would be pleased by the food, the service, and the prices.
Eric's Restaurant and Bar
495 N Ventu Park Rd
Newbury Park, CA 91320