Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Melisse 5x5 Chef's Tasting, Santa Monica
Ever since I heard about the 5x5 tasting last year, I decided to save enough money to attend the next tasting. Once the 2009 tastings were announced, I started to research the different restaurants and guest chefs. At $150 per person, it took quite a bit of convincing to actually make a reservation, but I finally decided to treat myself to a special meal and the 5x5 at Melisse would be that meal. The most appealing thing about the tasting is not only the collection of top chefs from Los Angeles and the guest chef, but also that the chefs themselves make the dishes. Plus, I would be able to sample a dish from each restaurant without actually going to everyone of them. The five main chefs this year were Josiah Citrin, Michael Cimarusti, Gino Angelini, Neal Fraser and David Lefevre.
Passion fruit, asparagus-rosemary
The oyster arrived off center on a large white plate, which was quite disappointing in terms of presentation. From a first glance, there was no way to tell this was an oyster dish without the menu. The oyster was sitting on asparagus and rosemary topped with a thin sheet of passion fruit jello. The oyster had a very strong but good fishy flavor. The delicate flavor of the passion fruit worked well with the oyster. The asparagus and rosemary was very much overpowered by the oyster and I did not get much of the flavor. It was a fun and creative amuse bouche and a good start to the meal.
Hawaiian Big Eye Tuna
Sour Plums, Pickled Leeks and Sun Gold Tomatoes
The tuna arrived about 10 minutes later on a leaf shaped plate with vibrant colors. The three pieces of tuna rested on a very flavorful sauce topped with salty rice flakes and delicate flowers. The different components on the dish all brought out a different flavor from the tuna. The pickled leeks and flowers were two of my favorites. The crunchiness of the leek paired with the soft texture of the tuna was a wonderful balance. The tiny flowers packed a lot of flavor and permeated my mouth. Everything on the dish tasted fresh and all the components complimented the tuna.
Ciabatta and Foccacia
Next came four choices of bread and I selected the ciabatta and foccacia. The bread was nothing special, but I did enjoy the rich and flavorful butter served with the bread.
Carrots, fava beans, nasturtium flower broth
The lobster arrived in a white bowl cradling two large pieces of lobster laying in a beautiful flower both. I have never tasted nasturtium flowers before and did not know what to expect. The broth was peppery in flavor and did not taste anything like the flowers on the tuna. The lobster was very fresh and perfectly cooked. The subtle flavor of the broth allowed the natural sweet flavors of the lobster to shine. The carrots and fava beans were also a nice compliment. I really enjoyed the contrast of flavors between the bitterness of the fava beans and the sweetness of the lobster. This was my favorite dish of the evening.
Turbot Filet with Leek Veloute
Pioppini mushrooms, polenta crostini
I was really looking forward to the turbot dish because I had never sampled turbot before. The first thing that hit me about the dish was the aroma of the mushrooms. The turbot had a golden crust around the edges that gave the fish a great texture. The fish had a very delicate flavor and well complimented by the creamy crostini and veloute.
Red Wattle Suckling Pig
Lemon Thyme Risotto, morel mushrooms, ramps, burgundy reduction
The piece of pork arrived on top of the risotto with a whole morel mushroom, ramps and fried pork skin. The sauce was poured over the pork once our plates were set on the table. Parts of the pork were moist and tender and other parts were dry. One thing about the pork that struck my friend and I was the gamy taste. This was my least favorite protein of the evening. I did not care for the preparation of the pork nor the sauce. The rest of the dish was very enjoyable. The risotto was cooked perfectly, the ramps were good and the deliciously fatty and crunchy pork skin was the most enjoyable part of this dish.
Cumin Scented Lamb
Tomato Date Compote, garbanzo coulis, kumquat, pomegranate strewn couscous
Disappointed with the pork, I hoped the last dish would end the tasting on a positive note. The lamb arrived on a flat plate with a piece of loin on the left and shoulder on the right. The two pieces were separated by couscous and the plate was wonderfully decorated with fiddleheads, one of my favorite greens. The loin was rare and the shoulder was cooked well. Everything on the plate brought out a different flavor in the lamb, which was the most enjoyable part of the dish. The couscous was packed with flavor and the burst of juice from the pomegranate seeds highlighted the natural flavor of the lamb. The kumquat was also a welcomed addition to the dish.
Panna cotta, almond croquant
The dessert was wonderfully presented, which the Panna cotta sandwiched between vanilla custard and whipped cream. The smooth and flavorful custard combined with the panna cotta and whipped cream was heaven in my mouth. Definitely my favorite part of the dessert. Everything else was average and nothing special.
Hazelnut and Kumquat
The chocolates were surprisingly good. My favorite was the kumquat although the crunch of the hazelnut was enjoyable as well.
There was a small creature crawling on the yogurt of the strawberry dessert and it was quickly replaced. There was nothing special about this and the strawberries did not taste fresh.
Overall, I had an enjoyable meal. Was it worth $150? Definitely not. As someone who saved up months for this meal, I did not feel like it was worth it. There were some great dishes, like the Maine lobster, but for the most part, the meal did not have that "WOW" factor. The service was ok, with a few bumps here and there. The little creature in the yogurt definitely ended my meal on a negative note. Some of the chefs came by the tables to greet the customers and my favorite was David Lefevre. He was very personable and even made a few jokes. I'm glad I had the opportunity to sample a dish from each of the top chefs around Los Angeles. For those who can easily spend $150 per person on a meal, I would say it is a fun and cool experience. As for me, although the meal was enjoyable, I will not be spotted at another 5x5 anytime in the future. Perhaps I was expecting too much from this? But at $150 per person, I think I should be able to expect the best.
3.5 out of 5 Stars
1104 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90401
There is valet on 11th street and plenty of metered street parking.