This post is the conclusion and culmination (Part V) of the larger mini-series titled "A California Christmas." Other posts in this series include Part I: Ten Ren Tea Station, Part II: Din Tai Fung, Part III: Sushi Gen, and Part IV: Mrs. Knott's Chicken Restaurant.
I would like to welcome my first guest writer, Peter! Peter does not have his own food blog (yet!), but loves good wine and good food. This past Christmas Peter and his wife, Chia Chi, generously treated us to Melisse as a belated birthday gift for Bryan. (Thanks Peter!) Peter is a huge fan of Melisse, so I thought it most appropriate to invite him to guest-write this post.
Two Michelin stars, ten courses, $100.
Add a $10 corkage for two bottles of wine, Melisse's ten year anniversary tasting is one of the best fine dining deals of 2009. My wife and I had the privilege of partaking in this belly-bursting feast twice last summer and it was amazing each time.
Grapes with pistachio encrusted goat cheese
This past holiday season, I had the chance to invite Jen and Bryan to this award winning
Amuse: paper thin scallop slices with a touch of sea salt, chives, roe, and seaweed
The concept behind the ten year anniversary is sheer genius. Take the ten favorite dishes ever made by the restaurant and treat your customers to it. Every established restaurant should provide a similar offering. Being the faux-sommelier of the group, I chose two wines I have been meaning to try. The first is a sparkling pinot noir, Argyle Extended Triage Willamette Valley 1999 (WS 95, 2009 Top 100 #18) and the second is a classic Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2006 (WS 96). The women favored the pinot and its bubbly goodness. The men like the more powerful red.
Bacon bread and basil bread
Chia Chi: Peter hates basil. Yet Peter can’t stop eating Melisse’s basil bread. Almost like a pesto brioche, we’ve never had anything like this.
Put it this way: we never crave for bread at restaurants. Yet, between the first and third time we went, Peter and I probably sampled every single piece of bread they had (resulting, partially, in the “belly-bursting” experience described in paragraph 1). All of the bread selections were excellent - French, ciabatta, brioche, bacon and olive bread. To be honest, we probably would have been quite happy just eating the free bread with a bowl of their soul-warming soup (see Wild Mushroom Soup below) for dinner.
Egg Cavier Lemon Creme Fraiche, American Cavier
Jen: One of Melisse's signature dishes, the egg caviar was absolutely divine. A perfectly cut egg shell is filled layer by layer: a barely poached egg, lemon crème fraiche, and topped with rich caviar. The tart crème fraiche cut the richness of the creamy soft egg and the salty caviar very nicely. Definitely one of my favorites. Plus it paired nicely with the sparkling pinot noir.
Wild Mushroom Soup Mushroom and Potato Hash, Truffle Mousse
Furthermore, the execution on this dish was perfect. The potatoes holding up the cold truffle mousse were identically cubed. The soup poured tableside was piping hot and velvetty smooth. The dollop of cold truffle mousse was canaled and served at such an ideal temperature that it kept its shape for over a minute after the soup was poured.
Jen: Just look at the intricate knife work on top of the fish! This dish was like a work of art, painstakingly created with machine-like precision yet artfully plated with a touch of whimsy. The fish was super fresh and paired beautifully with the crisp Meyer lemon sauce and the earthy black truffles. The tiny chopped celery on top added a surprisingly unique but fresh complexity, both in terms of flavor and texture. Excellent, excellent dish.
Seared Fois Gras Persimmon, Pain d'Epice, White Balsamic Reduction
Wild Stiped Bass
Gnocchi, King Oyster Mushrooms, Brown Butter Truffle Jus
Peter: The wild "stiped" bass was lacking. It lacked seasoning, it lacked flavor, it lacked pizzazz, it lacked an r in its name. The fish was cooked well, and the gnocchi was buttery soft (see my sidebar, "Gnocchi, the Italian Boba"), but the dish just didn't come together. It could be that the r-less version of bass is less flavorful than the r-ful version, but more likely it was a failed attempt to replace the addictive dover sole "goujonnettes" that seduced us on our first visit. Quite simply, the sole had more soul. Not the most memorable dish of the night. So forgettable that we actually forgot to take a picture of it. So, let's forget it and move on.
Dry Aged Cote de Boeuf Sauteed Wild Mushrooms, Brown Butter Truffle Jus
In contrast with the bass, the dry aged cote de boeuf was best the third time around. The chef must have responded to the complaints of previous tenth anniversary patrons who were incapacitated by the quantity of food and had to be rolled out of the restaurant. Usually, the boeuf course is when you start realizing that what your swallowing is awaiting right outside of your stomach and looking for room to get in. Compared to last time, the potato-leek torte was less buttery and half the size. I actually finished the torte this time. The aged beef was more flavorful and was cooked to a perfect doneness. I'm no expert on new-age cooking, but it appears that this expensive cut of prime cow flesh had been sous vided as a whole loin and then seared in a skillet before being sliced (see my sidebar, "Immersian Circulators: Build one in your Bathtub for $100"). The wild mushrooms were fresh and had a nice "gamey" flavor. It was excellent all three times.
Reblechon Tart Honey-Pepper Gastrique
Jen & Chia Chi: Bubbly cheesy goodness in a crusty puff pastry. This cheesy rich tart had a nice, strong cheese flavor that wasn't "stinky" at all (heh, I'm a wimp when it comes to the stinky cheeses, but this was totally fine). The salty cheese worked nicely with the honey, although Chia Chi thought there wasn't quite enough honey, and longed for more. At this point I was starting to feel stuffed, and thus the mesclun salad was a nice (albeit short) welcomed relief.
Chocolate and Caramel Mousse Chocolate Sorbet, Teachino Sauce
Jen: Solid execution, but short of "Wow." This dish was good, as most chocolate dishes can be, but was not particularly memorable. It probably didn't help that I was beyond stuffed at this point.
Strawberry Vanilla Yogurt
Jen: And finally, nearing the end. The strawberry sorbet tasted very real, like fresh strawberries from the summer. Together with the yogurt, it offered the perfect tart, palate-cleansing finish to a wonderful meal with great friends.
Jen: Over all, an exquisite meal for an incredible price. If you're in Southern California, and you're looking for a real treat, Melisse is the choice. It's a bit more subdued than a grandiose place like Daniel; and arguably the food is less perfectly executed than either Le Bernardin or Daniel. Nevertheless, Melisse is still very much worth a visit. The service is top notch, the environment is very relaxing (we sat next to a fireplace!), and the food is fantastic.
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