3.21.2008

Restaurant Review #205: Desserts at Patina, Downtown Los Angeles


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.


Dining room

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.


Petit fours

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.


Exterior

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.

Patina
141 S. Grand
Los Angeles, CA 90071
Patina website

Lunch: Tuesday-Friday,11:30am-1:30pm
Sunday, 11:30am-1:30pm on performance day only

Dinner, nightly:
Performance Evenings, 5:00 - 11:00 p.m.
Non-Performance Evenings, 5:00 - 9:30 p.m.
Patina on Urbanspoon

5 comments:

H. C. said...

Ooo all the desserts looked lovely! Wished they offered a dessert sampler/tasting menu option for patrons. But I totally agree with the pastry chef's thinking of a light yet satisfying dessert even after a filling meal. Then again, I do admit to having a killer sweet tooth.

And did you happen to meet Caroline at the tasting?

Foodie Universe said...

H.C.,

No, I didn't meet Caroline because we dined on different nights. Her review was up before I even made it to the restaurant (but I didn't let myself read it until I went, lest I ruin the surprise or develop a biased opinion)!

I agree, I think they should offer a dessert tasting menu all the time. I wonder why they don't?

Chubbypanda said...

Lol. PR firms in Orange County usually send me books or invite me for frozen yogurt tastings. A complimentary degustation - the Holy Grail of PR invites!

Sandy said...

I ended up going into Patina for dessert after I read your review, and let me just say they were fantastic!! I told the server I read your review online about the desserts, and the pastry chef himself wanted to present the desserts to me (quite a cutie too I must say). Thanks for letting us know about Patina's desserts!

Anonymous said...

What a great review and lovely pictures. I can't wait to go. The pastry chef's desserts look amazing. Thank you for giving me an excuse to eat dessert!