Posts Tagged ‘California cuisine’

Cuisine: Modern American.

Visit: October 2012

Price: High (starters between $10-$20, mains in the $20-4$0 sphere).

Chef: Some people discover and follow their passions throughout their entire life. Stephen Rogers, the chef at Press as well as a former classical pianist and vocal coach, is surely one of them. Moving from music to food was more like a switch from one sensual pleasure to another. From beauty of sound to celebration of taste with food, the chef seems to follow his heart. Judging from the delicious food I had at Press, he brings his heart to the plate.

Scharffen Berger chocolate soufflé with imprinted press.

Atmosphere: Vibrant,cosy and unpretentious. Set in a vineyard while just next to the St Helena highway its location is both authentic and convenient. Entering in you pass a long walnut bar where you can savour a cocktail or a glass of wine before and after dinner (or lunch). The large dining room feels so spacious not only because of its size, but also the high ceiling built like stable roof. It is cosy though with large fire places and outside dining area, the place feels quite romantic. Walk to the back and you can watch the busy kitchen staff cooking vigorously. The Press is a popular place for the winery owners and locals with penchant for great meat, seafood and wine, so clothing is not as important. Nevertheless, if you dress smart-casual then you will feel that the evening is perhaps more special.

Romantic and discreet: The Press inside

Food: It is all about tasty fresh food and wine. The Press has one of the best local wine cellars in Napa Valley. No wonder, when its owner is the current Dean and DeLuca proprietor Leslie Rudd, the penchant for great food and wine must display itself in his restaurant. The freshest seasonal ingredients, mostly locally sourced and cooked to satisfy high-profile taste

Crab and lobster cake.

Start with a crab cake here as it is more than that. The Maine lobster and crab cake served with avocado emulsion on the side is stuffed with high quality seafood. There are no potatoes or any cheep fill-ups as in many versions of this Americanized Asian dish. It is rich, tasty, surprisingly refreshing and so Californian with avocado and sprouts accompanying the cake. With a glass of an aromatic and rich white wine, such as Sonoma Chardonnay, this is really tasty start.

If you prefer something lighter, then opt for the Butter lettuce salad with fine herbs and mustard vinaigrette. It seems simple, but the ingredients are so fresh and of high quality that you will love it. It is ideal before a steak or other meat main course as it leaves some space for all the animal stuff.

The steak at Press is delicious and many diners come here just for it. The Prime beef, including Rib-eye, is sourced from legendary Bay Area butcher Brian Flannery. Prepared at wood-fired grill the Dry-aged rib eye USDA Prime shows off its potential. The meat is full of flavour and cooked just right so some juice moistens the dry meat.


You can eat the steak just like that served with yellow corns and some greens or level the dining experience up with one of the Press’s seductive sides.

Go for either the Crispy onion rings, Creamed spinach, Truffle mac and cheese or the Roasted Maitake mushrooms as they are all excellent.

A chimney of onion rings

In a fish mood? The choice is interesting at Press so no disappointments here. I went for a Grilled Walu fish which I have never seen before and after being assured by the waiter that it is really good, I did not hesitate to make the dinner my first tasty encounter with walu. The Grilled Walu is served with California inspired cranberry bean, fresh garbanzo, yellow wax bean, tomato and garden basil. Such a bean and veggie party with a flaky and moist fish calls for a glass of white or even an older red wine from Napa. The 1983 Cabernet Sauvignon from Heitz Cellars was surprisingly good with it. I think the texture and depth of the beans made this pairing possible.

The bird-eating fans can go for one of the poultry mains. We had a lady chef, who relishes squab, dining with us. Naturally, she went for the Grilled Bandera Quail since it was the closest to her favourite food. Served on French lentils, Lacinato kale, Nueske bacon together with fresh and juicy figs it looked super-complex, but apparently it was delicious as the chef appreciated it a lot.

Grilled Bandera Quail

The food is delicious at the Press but I would advise to leave some space for desserts. The signature Scharffen Berger 70% chocolate soufflé with a jug of creme Anglaise and vanilla ice cream on the side is addictive. The chocolate-loving part of humanity will be surely enchanted by this soufflé. It is dense yet soft, balanced yet deep and can be customized to your taste by adding more of the liquid cream inside the hot soufflé or dipping your spoon into the vanilla ice cream with the chocolate.

The Press has also delicious homemade ice creams and sorbets and British sweet delight of Strawberry shortcake with rhubarb compote and Swanton organic strawberries.

Drinks: From classic cocktails to bar tenders own creations, you can have fun with drinks at the Press. I am a wine fanatic so I went straight to the cellar. The cellar of the restaurant is unique. It is rare to find old vintages of wines from Napa Valley, but this cellar is exemplar of this rarity.  You can find over a century old wines here. You can be celebrating a special occasion as we did, but you do not need to since the prices are mostly quite reasonable. Go for a 1980s or 1960s vintages of top Bordeaux and expect to pay a fortune, but not with Napa. A bottle of wine from that period can cost you around US$150 and it still rewards with pleasures of a mature wine.

Red line-up: Heitz 1983 Cab & Martin 1966 Zinfandel

Starting with a bottle of white Chardonnay from Stony Hill 1989 vintage, I was assured that the local whites can age well. Not sure if all, but some for sure. It had a nutty almost oxidised taste, still good acidity and long aftertaste.

Moving to reds with a 1983 Cabernet Sauvignon from the legendary Heitz Cellars I was impressed how well the wine held itself. The Cab was soft with woody touch of a cigar box. The oldest bottle we tried that night was a 1966 Zinfandel from another legend in Napa’s wine production – the Martini winery. Zinfandel used to rule in Napa, but in the past 20 years it was not as fashionable as the local producers would wish so they planted more of Cab and Merlot instead. What a shame though as this grape is showing very well in this location. From 1966 with only 12% of alcohol this Zinfandel was still alive. It is interesting to drink anything under 14% of alcohol from California these days and with this Zinfandel you can taste that the alcohol does not need to be high in order for the wine to age well. The has reached its peaked though and I would not see enjoying it much in two years from now. Despite that fact, I appreciated it now in 2012. It had almost a bourbon aroma and subtle woodiness that makes it an interesting companion with a cigar. The acidity and tannins were declining but still held the body straight up with only a mild repository of fruit. A very unique and educational wine tasting, for sure, so be ready to go for something older at the Press and do not waste this opportunity to taste local history.

Opening hours:Dinner from Wednesday – Monday: 5:00 PM – 10:00 PM.

Address: 587 Saint Helena Highway,  Saint Helena, CA 94574, USA

Contact: +(1) 707 967-0550

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Cuisine: gourmet Californian

Visit: April 2012

Price: high, sharing of a number of dishes is recommended and popular.

Chef: Travis Lett is an environmentally conscious talent from New Jersey, just across from Manhattan. He has not a proper chef’s training, yet he is so creative and food conscious that his restaurant is still, after years, crazy hard to get a dinner reservation at. Bookings two weeks ahead are rare even at three-Michelin stared establishments, in Gjelina it is the rule, unless you are willing to wait an hour or longer for a table.

Fresh ingredients are the key: Hawaiian Amber Jack with Jalapeno Vinegar, Blood Orange, Cilantro & Sesame

Atmosphere: It is hard to spot Gjelina on the cluttered Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice. There is no sign screaming GJELINA, blinking and tempting you inside. On the other hand, once you find it, you will never forget its wooden facade and incognito entrance. As I did returning here after almost two years. Little has changed since then. The food is outstanding, wine list engaging, Staropramen (Pilsner) beer from Czech Republic on the tap and the trendy crowd eating, chatting, standing or just observing the deliciously looking plates as they pass around in the waiter’s hands.

Wooden design inside & the bar

Food: The thin-crusted pizzas from wood-burning oven are a must. That what comes on the top of them is not the usual stuff one would expect on a slice of pizza. Vegetables from Santa Monica’s farmers market are part of the deal. From okra to kale, using the freshest produce is the key to his success. Sourcing great meat and cheese is his another strength and reveals the chef’s penchant for finding the right ingredients. The quality shows in the raw Hawaiian Amber Jack with Jalapeno Vinegar, Blood Orange, Cilantro & Sesame appetizers. You cannot cheat raw fish and this one is incredible and refreshing.

The chef’s bravure shows in the original fusion of ingredients he fearlessly mixes up as Van Gogh once did experiment with his color palette. Vincent Van Gogh, the famous Dutch painter said: “I know for sure that I have an instinct for color, and that it will come to me more and more, that painting is in the very marrow of my bones.” If you switch the word color for ingredients then it would fit for Lett. Just ponder about this pizza topping made of Duck Sausage, Nameko Mushroom, Mozzarella & Garlic Oil or this one with Asparagus, Sottocenere, Garlic, Shallot & Sunny Egg or the who-know-what-it-is blend of Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, Beet Greens & Taleggio. Not salivating yet? I do just thinking about it.

Crispy mushroom pizza

A salad from Tuscan Kale, Shaved Fennel, Radish, Lemon, Ricotta Salata & Breadcrumb is one of the tastiest salads I have ever tried and no wonder, it has stayed highly popular on the menu for a while. Even the no-ever ‘saladers’ will appreciate this one. I would not call it salad after all. Let’s just say it is supper yummy.

Also their version of a Caesar salad is innovative and fresh. Lighter than the often heavily sauced traditional one.


From the veggies another kale dish is worth trying – Grilled Russian Kale with Shallot Yogurt & Toasted Hazelnuts is crunchy and creamy at the same time. It is a highly nourishing side dish/appetizer as the iron and chlorophyl in kale with high protein and oil in nuts and digestion-aiding protein-packed yoghurt together create a super-meal.

Kale with yoghurt and hazelnuts

I saw the Grilled East Coast Squid with Lentils, Red Peppers & Salsa Verde on our neighbor’s table and had to order it how tasty it looks! It turned to be an incredibly palatable plate originally combined. The squid with lentils is a great match.

Grilled squids with lentils

The Chickpea Stew with Greens, Cous Cous, Spiced Yogurt & Harissa is legendary and has not disappointed many who tried this Moroccan inspired plate. The spicy harissa paste is mellowed by a thick yoghurt and a grainy cous cous. Ideal for vegetarians.

Plate of Artisanal Cheeses with Membrillo, Honeycomb & Toasts is perfect with wine to share. The selection depends on what the chef finds interesting on the day of purchase and it is guaranteed that it is fresh. Spanish membrillo or a thick jelly paste from this sweet fruit grown in Spain is great sweet match to stringer cheeses.

Drinks: Their home-made Iced Tea is the best I have had so far. It is refreshing and you can sweeten it yourself so you can make it as you like.

Ice tea

The wine-by-the glass selection is world-wide and niche so experiment, experiment and be surprised! I hope positively. I got a Grenache Blanc from Topanga Vineyards (Arroyo Seco, California 2009). Grenache is not very typical for California and I gave it a shot and was pleasantly surprised by its crisp yet aromatic taste. The wines are not cheap. A glass starts on $13. The selection of the wines by the bottle is intriguing with adventurous choices from Georgia, Greece and when I was there even from Uruguay. If you do not want to hazard too much stay with France, Italy or Spain as there is plenty to choose from. Creative cocktails are tempting, but I am a wino so I stuck with it. If you try, let me know which one is good and I will switch to that next time.

The only drawback is that you have to park yourself, an annoying task for the expats living in the LA valley culture.

Contact and opening hours: +1(310) 450 1429; Mon-Fri: 11:30am – Midnight; Weekends: 9am – Midnight

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Cuisine: International, contemporary rustic cuisine

Visit: March 2012

Location: 11648 West San Vicente Boulevard, Brentwood, Los Angeles, CA 90049, US

Price: high, yet the quality and big portions make up for it.

Stargazing through the restaurant's roof

Chef: A chef and sommelier duo Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne are well-known on the LA’s restaurants scene. They own Lucques and AOC wine bar in West Hollywood. The lately open Tavern though, is their most complex and ambitious project to date.

There is a bar, a spacious greenhouse hosting the restaurant and a gourmet shop/bakery called Larder. All that under one roof, so according to the time of the day you can choose whether to come for a quick breakfast or get a freshly baked baguette from the Larder, a lunch or dinner at the eponymous restaurant or just a drink and snack at the bar.

Larder delicatessen

Food: Spiced carrot and beet salad with queso fresco and green harissa is not cheep for an appetizer ($16), but it is delicious and big for a pre-main course dish. Multi-colored carrots are shaved over harissa paste and the fresh cheese adds creamy texture to a crunchy mass of veggies.

Spiced carrot and beet salad with queso fresco and green harissa

Roasted root vegetables with prosciutto, buratta and abamele are also pricey for a starter ($17) and a bit smaller than the spiced carrot salad. The prosciutto and buratta are of outstanding quality though and the glazed vegetables with abamele are intensely flavored with the honey-like sauce (Making abamele: “honeycombs are pressed to extract all honey and pollen which is then reduced in copper pots, creating one of the most ancient products of Sardinian gastronomy”Source: http://www.gourmetsardinia.com/s_abbamele.html) matching perfectly the fatty cheese and meat on the plate. Ideal with a glass of Pinot Noir.

The signature dish is The devil’s chicken with braised leeks, onions and mustard breadcrumbs ($27), but we were advised to get a duck instead since the devil’s chicken is regularly on the menu and the other dishes are added seasonally.

The Duck confit with farro, black rice, pea shoots, tangerines and dates was much more expensive ($36) than the signature chicken. It was excellent in terms of combination of different flavors, the duck was great and the meal hearty as most of the food at Tavern. The sweet dates were an interesting alternative to a plum compote and other sweet condiments served usually with duck. The tangerines added zest and juice. The pea shoots lightened up the otherwise heavy meal.

Duck confit with farro, black rice, pea shoots, tangerines and dates

Since the chef Suzanne Goin cooks according the produce she finds on Santa Monica market I was curious how her fish turns out. The Market fish with cous-cous, spring vegetables, mint yogurt and kumquats ($29) sounded exotic to me. red snapper caught the eye of the chef on the market so it was served with the Morocco-inspired sides. The cous-cous was disappointingly blend, but after mixing it up with the creamy mint yogurt, zesty kumquats and oily vegetables it got more flavor. As I mentioned the latter was a bit more oily to my taste which combined with the already oily pan-fried fish resulted in a hearty dish where one would expect something lighter.

Market fish with cous-cous, spring vegetables, mint yogurt and kumquats

Drinks: The wines by the glass are mostly from California. We tried the white blend from Chien which was very interesting and accompanied the fish well. A BTG Chardonnay was okay as well as a Chenin Blanc from Habit. From the reds other disappointments were a blend of Syrah and Grenache from Beespoke as well as an out of balance Cabernet Franc from Lang&Reed. One would expect that at a restaurant where a sommelier is one of the owners, the wines by the glass would be better. I must add that they were not cheep. The AOC is generally a much better place to have a great glass of wine. It is possible that we were just unlucky with our choice, with the exception of the white wine from Chien which was off the beaten track in Santa Barbara. This type of wine is made as the Austria’s popular Edelzwicker fresh blend.

A good selection of scotch, bottled as well as tapped beer and cocktails straight from the bar satisfies the non-wine oriented yet alcohol drinking population.

The dessert lovers will relish a strawberry-rhubarb buckle with gaviota strawberries, streusel and buttermilk ice-cream. It was like a crumble baked with rhubarb and strawberries. The buttermilk ice-cream is unique and according to my sweet-tooth the best part of the dessert.

The strawberry-rhubarb buckle
gaviota strawberries, streusel and buttermilk ice-cream.

Atmosphere: Neighborhood restaurant with generations-spawning clientele. Since the bar is an entry to the restaurant, it adds vibe and buzz to the dining area. One can take on stargazing while waiting for the ordered meal as the entire roof is made from glass. Romantic souls will find it intriguing.

Contact & opening hours: +1 (310) 806-6464

Breakfast: Mon-Fri 8am-11am; Brunch: Sat-Sun 10am-2:30pm; Lunch: 11:30am-2:30pm; bar menu: from 3pm daily;

Dinner: Mon-Thurs 5:30pm-9:30pm, Fri-Sat 5:30pm-10:30pm, Sun 5pm-9:30pm;

Larder delicatessen 8am-8pm daily

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