I have been looking forward to Test Kitchen LA for the last several days. I was checking my tweets on Twitter over the weekend when I happened upon one from @TestKitchenLA tweeting about their upcoming event on December 8. In summary, five sous chefs under 25 will be serving up appetizers and entrees: Chefs Phillip Lee, Jon Butler, Kirstyn Brewer,Troy Sazzman, and Allen Buhay, along with guest mixologist Alex Day of Death & Company, Julian Cox and David Fernie were featured for the evening. I was particularly interested in the work of one chef–Allen Buhay. This talented 24-year old already has an impressive culinary resume. Allen attended the California School of Culinary Arts in Pasadena and by the time he was 18, was completing an externship at Jean Georges, a 3-Star Michelin restaurant based in New York City. He has worked with Chef Matt Carpenter and Chef Mike Bryant at David Haskell’s now defunct Bin 8945 and at various Steven Arroyo restaurants, including 750 ml and The Stork in Los Angeles. He was also part of the team as sous chef with Greg Bernhardt and Walter Manzke that opened Church and State (I visited Test Kitchen LA back in August shortly after it opened for a Walter Manzke event). Allen currently lives and works in the Windy City of Chicago and has made the trip out to the City of Angels to join four other talented chefs for one night of culinary bliss at Test Kitchen LA.
I immediately logged on to Test Kitchen LA’s site to try and secure reservations and to my horror they were fully booked! I was totally bummed! That is, until I saw a tweet from fellow blogger on Twitter that she had secured a reservation for four (4) and was looking for “dates” to fill them. I immediately tweeted and offered to be one of her “dates”…half-joking, half-serious. I didn’t know if she was teasing or if she was truly serious, but then again, I didn’t want to miss out on an opportunity to try the cuisine of a rising Filipino chef! It turns out, she was serious and I was thrilled (thank you Emilie!). I was even more excited to learn that I would finally meet another blogger whose work I follow and with whom we have traded many tweets. She would be part of our dinner party–it was turning into a girls blogger night!
5:00pm couldn’t come soon enough. I left my office and quickly jumped on the freeway en route to Test Kitchen LA’s location on Pico & Beverwil in West Los Angeles, just East of Century City. I was a few minutes late (and suspected that I would be since I was coming from the Pasadena area) but I didn’t expect to be the first one to arrive. I was asked by the manager when the rest of my party would be arriving and I told him that they were right behind me. I began to get nervous. I was already 15 minutes late, which is usually the maximum time that a restaurant will hold a reservation before they release it to someone else. Thankfully, Emilie arrived about 5 minutes later and we made the decision to be seated, crossing our fingers that Carol, who was coming in from Whittier, would soon arrive.
Emilie and I ordered drinks–or rather, I ordered a drink (she opted for water since she was driving). There were six featured cocktails on the menu:
- Smoke & Mirrors – islay scotch, fresh lime juice, mint leaves and absinthe
- Site Hound (my pick) – gin, fresh lemon & grapefruit juice, scarlet glow syrup, aperol
- La Velencia – chamomile infused rye, manzanilla sherry, fresh lemon juice, yellow chart
- Boukman Daiquiri – rum, cognac, fresh lime, cinnamon bark syrup
- Bartenders Choice – pick your poison, leave the rest to the bartenders
- Mocktail – fresh juice, choose your flavor and leave the rest to the bartenders
The Site Hound packed a punch and I particularly loved the tartness of the grapefruit juice in this cocktail and the cool metal “straw” (instead of a regular swizzle stick).
The manager came by our table again and told us, very politely, that 30 minutes had already gone by and they really needed to start serving. Fortunately, Carol arrived right before the appetizers were served. Our party complete, we were ready to begin our culinary adventure.
Our servers brought out a plate of five mini appetizers on one tasting plate, or “5 Amuse” — one offering from each chef.
Chef Troy Sazzman’s offering was a Mohito Lolipop . Popping it into our mouths, the frozen mohito “shell” quickly disintegrated into a liquid shot of the well-known Cuban cocktail, the “Mojito”. Mint and lime gave way to a firm, gelatinous center (tapioca?). It was slightly chewy and we weren’t sure what to make of it.
We moved on to the the first of two “shots”. Prepared by Chef Kirstyn Brewer, this appetizer shot included pineapple, ginger, basil and rum and garnished with prosciutto. We were told to eat the prosciutto first and chase it down with the shot, allowing both the shot and the prosciutto to meld together. The shot was good but I felt it needed something else to cut through the saltiness of the prosciutto.
The next appetizer that beckoned us to try next was Chef Jon Butler’s interesting marriage of texture and flavors involving Kumamoto oyster, sea urchin, cauliflower and whey. Wow! I slowly savored this appetizer. The delicate oyster was extremely fresh. The sweetness of both the oyster and the sea urchin, along with the cauliflower and whey which was almost yogurt-like was perfectly balanced.
We moved on to the Green Mussel “Margarita” Shot by Chef Phillip Lee. This appetizer also came with a set of instructions: take the green mussel first, followed by the margarita shot and then with the “pick”, scoop out the sea urchin at the bottom of the shot glass. Scooping out the sea urchin was tricky.
Last but not least is Chef Allen Buhay’s Tuna Tartar, Tapioca & Bonito. I loved this appetizer. Beautifully presented, the smoky tuna tartar was the heart of this dish. All the flavors melded together well and was beautifully executed–and best of all, it did not come with instructions! LOL!
We were now looking forward to our dinner entrees. After a few minutes, the first entree was served. Chef Jon Butler’s Atlantic Diver Scallop was artfully plated: three perfectly seared scallops served with a Singapore Curry foam, compressed Asian Pear cubes, thai basil oil and dollops of coconut & parsnip. The dish had so much potential but alas, it fell short for me. Great flavors abound but it didn’t come together. It was missing something…
Chef Phillip Lee’s Warm Hamachi was placed in front of us next. A beautiful, simply plated dish, the warm hamachi was served with sweetbreads and grapefruit, as well as spinach and a hint of mint. I was the only one of the three of us who have never had sweetbreads before so I was a bit nervous. Sweetbreads are the thymus glands of veal, young beef, lamb and pork. When I tried this dish, I was not prepared for the delicate flavor and creamy, yet firm texture of the sweetbread. Paired with the warm hamachi, this was a successfully executed dish. What I found was missing from the dish, however, was the grapefruit. No hint of it was found in the dish.
I was surprised to see Spicy Chicken Wing on the menu. It didn’t sound special or unique or inventive enough to be part of a “test kitchen” menu. But I wanted to keep an open mind. The dish was plated with one drumstick (from the wing) and the main part of the wing itself (which was boneless) atop a spicy sauce made with coconut, basil cream, red chili and lime. We were told that this dish was spicy so I prepared my palate for incoming heat. The chicken itself was incredibly tender but it wasn’t as spicy as I thought it would be BUT unlike the scallop entree, it had flavor.
Saving the best for last was Chef Allen Buhay’s Pork Belly. Pork belly! I was so looking forward to this dish. When the plates arrived, we took a minute to contemplate it. The sweet scent of mirin, soy and rosemary gently wafted upward which silently told me that this was no ordinary pork belly entree. It was reminiscent of an elegant pork adobo but on an entirely different level! The pork belly was simply gorgeous. Pan seared and finished off in the oven, Chef Allen topped each pork belly with a crust made with crispy pork skin (chicharron) and served it with coconut rice, pickled papaya and a frisée green salad. The pork was tender and full of flavor. The coconut rice was incredibly creamy and smooth with a hint of sweetness–I actually thought it was risotto. Everything worked well together and I slowly savored this dish to the very last bite! I wanted seconds, and yes, it was that good!
Chef Troy Sazzmann ended the evening with his Schwarzwalder Kirschorten Mousse with Baumkuchen and Schatten Morrelen. Put simply, quenelle-shaped chocolate mousse with a thin slice of a fifty layer (yes, I said fifty) cake and a drizzle of cherry sauce. Very good and what a nice way to end a successful evening.
Sadly, Test Kitchen LA ends its run this Monday. It had a successful run here in Los Angeles and I hope, just like LudoBites, that Test Kitchen LA will return. Overall, it was a successful evening and it was highlighted by an invitation from Chef Allen to visit the kitchen after we finished our meal (see separate post to follow on a behind the scenes look at Test Kitchen LA’s “kitchen”).
Thanks to the talents of Chefs Kirstyn, Allen, Lee, Butler and Sazzmann for an enjoyable meal; Test Kitchen LA for their patience while and Chef Allen for our sneak peek into the kitchen. A personal thanks to Emilie for securing reservations and inviting me to be one of her “dates” along with fellow food blogger Carol–you guys were fun to hang out with. Let’s do it again soon!
TEST KITCHEN LA