12.07.2009

Grace; perhaps needs a grace period.


Last week, Yvonne and I graced Grace with our graceful selves. Actually, I am far from graceful – in fact, quite the opposite – but I do love alliteration. I have heard about Grace for years, now, but never anything specific or powerful in any direction. A couple I know had an anniversary there once and were really impressed. But it’s quite hard to gauge their food opinions since they are big fans of the Cheesecake Factory.

Anyway, Grace had sort of fallen off my radar until very recently during a particularly libatious evening at Campanile. Taylor’s friend Eduardo - who is the wine director at Grace – was among our posse at the bar. Meeting and talking with him compelled me to hurry over to get my Grace on.

Yvonne and I had an 8:15pm reservation for last Friday night. We were planning to use our Blackboard Eats coupon for a $38 prix fixe meal (if you guys don’t know about this site, you are missing out). We were seated immediately at a nice table against the wall.


The atmosphere is elegant, warm and clean. It does give off the air of an occasion restaurant. It doesn’t seem to be the roll in for a bite, or a neighborhood-y type of place. In fact, I see why the friends I mentioned had an anniversary there. It looked as though Yvonne and I were among a lot of dates – almost all two tops.


We each ordered a glass of prosecco and perused their Blackboard Eats menu, which consisted of three courses:

Kabocha Squash & Roasted Chestnut Soup
Grilled Sonoma Lamb with byaldi confit and tomato demi glace
Seared Market Pear with a buttermilk ice cream sandwich, blood orange syrup, oat praline

Unfortunately, Yvonne is not fond of lamb and I am not a big fan of hot fruit. So we actually ditched that menu and opted to both go with the tasting menu, which gives you your choice of two appetizers, two entrées, and one dessert ($65). We also went the extra mile for Eduardo’s wine pairings ($40). This way we could taste a huge cross section of the menu.

When we finally figured out all that we wanted (we had to order everything at once) we ordered this:

Appetizers
Butter Lettuce Salad with buttermilk blue cheese, cherry tomatoes, smoked bacon and blue cheese vinaigrette
Grilled Japanese Octopus with warm chickpeas, olives and charred tomatoes
Roasted Pumpkin & Sea Urchin Risotto
Sautéed La Belle Farms Foie Gras with quince, brioche, pomegranite and cocoa nibs

Entrées
Sautéed Day Boat Scallops with sunchoke celery root puree, forest mushrooms and red wine nage
Sautéed Mediterranean Branzino with leek fondue, fall squash, hazelnuts and sage
Braised Pork Shank with rapini, smoked shallot & chorizo home fries with a cider sage sauce
Grilled Tenderloin of Wild Boar with brussels sprouts, Yukon gold potato spaetzle and a violet mustard sauce

Dessert
Sticky Toffee Pudding with brûléed bananas, toffee sauce, hazelnut gelato
Doughnut Flight:
Salted Caramel with bourbon pecan ice cream
 Mascarpone with coffee ice cream
 Pumpkin with graham cracker ice cream

Before you say it, yes, we were absolutely wanton with food this evening. Unbridled, lavish ridiculous food. Looking at the list typed out is almost embarrassing. Or impressive.

Our server had a voice a la Don LaFontaine and as my back was to the restaurant, each time he approached I was pleasantly startled. He assured us he would bring out all of our dishes in the most appropriate order and promised he would bring our bread as soon as they had finished making a new batch of butter. Admirable.

Our warm roll and soft butter arrived moments later along with Eduardo and a couple of glasses of riesling. The bread was great and had good crumb, but the butter desperately needed a sprinkle of flaky sea salt on top. Yvonne asked Don for some and he promptly delivered something he promised was sea salt but was very fine. Boo-hoo, no Maldon for me.

Our salad and octopus arrived next. I very much enjoyed the salad. I love butter lettuce and the tomatoes were fresh and sweet. The buttermilk cheese and dressing was perfect and the bacon was thick, smoky and slightly soft – just the way I like it. The octopus dish was a bit of a disappointment as it was very heavy and salty. I would have liked to see something bright and fresh thrown into the dish to offset the olives -  perhaps celery leaves, fennel or maybe even a tiny bit of mint. The octopus was also fairly tough, seemingly overcooked.


Eduardo then brings us an Uruguayan gewürtztraminer/viognier/chardonnay blend to have with our next batch of food. I was surprised by this wine. I am rarely fond of any of those varietals, but I found the wine to be subtly sweet and complex. However I am not sure it worked with our dishes. The foie gras was scrumptious, but the accompaniment was very odd. The brioche was very eggy and the quince was apple. Yvonne actually was accurate when she claimed it tasted like foie gras apple pie. As you all know I am not hugely fruit friendly. So perhaps we can leave it at that. 

The risotto was so exciting at first, sea urchin is one of my all-time favoritest things in the world. The flavors immediately jumped right onto my palate in the most delectable fashion. Pumpkin and sea urchin – YUM. BUT, the risotto was a bit too al denté for me – not enough to deter me from eating the entire dish, but it would have been PERFECT otherwise – I mean, a show stopper. That kind of saddened me.


Moving into our first entrée course Eduardo brought us each a glass Beaujolais. This is, by far, one of my least favorite wines in any context. But to pair them with such powerful seafood dishes… Oy. I would have thought a more precocious red or a bold and aggressive white, myself. I would have thought a bordeaux or, dare I say, a roussanne – but never a Beaujolais.

The branzino was nice. The purees underneath were powerful and seasonal. They could have used a little more butter or oil or something to help emulsify or soften them, but the flavors were spot on. The cut of fish was done nicely, skin on top, crisped and salty rich. The scallops were cooked almost perfectly. They needed about 30 seconds longer or a higher heat at less the time. I liked the mushrooms, immensely. The puree was either absent or unmemorable, and the red wine nage was very salty. Again, this could have been helped a little bit with the wine pairing. It needed something that would have brought out the scallops and cut through the salt.

I believe, but don’t quote me on this, Eduardo poured a tempranillo for our final savory course. The braised pork shank made Yvonne happy, but I found the flavors muddled with one another. The pork was indeed divine, but the rapini was tough and the chorizo was cut like pepperoni with the potatoes. I would have preferred chunks. Much like the octopus dish, this needed something in it to cut the bite. But I will add that perhaps this dish would be perfect with the right wine instead - perhaps a zinfandel or a cabernet. The tempranillo was tannic and bitter, whereas I wanted a big, round, warm, bold wine to stand up to the meat and its flavors. A mourvédre would have been perfection.


I really liked my wild boar. It was cooked to perfection; tender, flavorful, and beautiful to look at, and the violet mustard sauce was just delightful. But the spaetzel was really, hard and had the effect of stale bread crumbs. It absorbed none of the sauce and had no give. I really wanted this meat and this sauce to have something – hell, a slice of white bread, like you’d get with barbecue, would have even worked (well, not so much in this environment – but you get the idea). Here’s the other thing – I am kind of a brussels sprout aficionado, and these were entirely uninspired. Give me some sage. Give me some hazelnuts. Give me brown butter. Give me a good sear and a soft interior. Otherwise we are working with the definition of why most kids hate brussels sprouts. Sorry, but these really bummed me out.


At this point we asked Don if we might move our operation to the bar for dessert. As you all know, I generally prefer to dine at the bar, so I wanted to clock a little time there. This is when Eduardo introduced us to Elia the bartender. We loved Elia. He was affable, attentive, fun and funny. He also paired some dessert wines, bourbon and some sparkles with our desserts that were absolutely fantastic. He even shared with us one of his buckeyes that someone sent him from Ohio. We also really enjoyed our desserts. The salted caramel doughnut was awe-inspiring.


I think that Grace is lovely. I think that Grace’s menu is even more lovely. But I think that Grace fell short in execution. Almost every dish we tasted had some element that was off. Needed salt, too much salt, over cooked, under cooked, al dente, too many bells and whistles on the plate, etc. The execution of the food seemed to lack inspiration and was far from graceful. I know they are moving to downtown LA in 2010. Perhaps that is exactly the splash of cold water on the face they need to get all bright-eyed and bushy tailed again. I will certainly visit them there and see. I’m nothing if not gracious.
Grace on Urbanspoon
Grace Restaurant in Los Angeles

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