Posts Tagged ‘lettuce’


Thursday, August 12th, 2010
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Benu has been the most anticipated restaurant opening in recent memory. Without a question. I was pretty thrilled to get one of the first seats on its second night. Unfortunately, it was a 9:00 seating so I knew it was going to be a late night considering I was going in for the full tasting menu. Walking up to the restaurant, there is an array of light beaming from the kitchen as large panels of glass separate the kitchen staff from the street-side gawkers. An austere and elegant courtyard welcomes the visitor, with the interior of the restaurant clean and similarly somber in its muted, beige and cream tones. For future bloggers, be warned that the ambient lighting late in the evening is not conducive to great natural photography so I apologize for the darkness of the images.

Sesame Lavash – served in a specially carved box which separated out the dark, crispy thin rectangles. Black sesame and salt was the predominant flavor and it would be a precursor to the evening that sesame was one of the most-used Asian ingredients.

2008 Alzinger Grüner Veltliner – Showing a tremendous amount of mineral and spicy qualities, I enjoyed this wine tremendously, but found it a bit too strong with too many citrus components for the following two dishes.

Thousand-year-old quail egg, black truffle, ginger, scallion – Our first taste and somewhat disappointing. I could not detect any black truffle and the extremely texture of the egg masked its flavors. Moreso than any ginger or scallion, it was the flavor of citrus oil with predominated.


Maison Riz

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

A decade ago, I used to live in Redondo Beach. And I return at least once a year – usually for business – and still dine with an old foodie friend who always keeps me apprised of new and interesting restaurants. There was some local buzz of a French/Japanese fusion restaurant on the pier, Maison Riz, which had only recently set up shop, complete with a very large, glowing sign.  We called to make sure we could be seated and was told that if we arrived within 15 minutes, there would be room. When we arrived, we could see that more than ¾ of the restaurant was entirely empty.

There was some quandary about the menu as we wanted to try as many dishes as possible. The restaurant offered a six-course Riz Tasting menu which we ordered along with some additional dishes. Our waiter was young and energetic (maybe just legal to drink) and although he tried to exude sophistication.

The first course was a quiche-like something. It was barely warm and made with a puff pastry that was extremely rubbery. The dish was flavorless and piled atop a mound of over-dressed, limp lettuce. This dish arrived before we had an opportunity to even place a drink order. We were pondering the wine list and asked if they had a sommelier. We asked three different people several times if they had a sommelier. The bus boy was not sure what we were asking for and asked a waitress to help us. We repeated the request a number of times and without admitting ignorance of the word, she responded that she would check with the kitchen. Pondering a sparkling sake, there was a chance that it was dry or sweet, but no one seemed to know and our waiter’s only response was that someone had tasted it last week and enjoyed it.

The second course was a small tasting of crudo. However, under the two raw seafood preparations, was a puddle of spinach, a few pink peppercorns, and  citrus oil. I know that one of the fish offerings was tuna, but I can’t tell you what the white fish was. On top of the two fishes was uni and caviar. It was layered far too high to gather all of the ingredients, but even with those I did get in my first bite, my initial reaction was “train wreck.” It was extremely reminiscent of the sickly-sweet perfume I wore as a nine-year old. There were too many disparate flavors and the muddled, strident tones of the ingredients conflicted with each other. Served alongside was a tuille of parmesan cheese studded with sesame seeds, but the cracker was woefully stale. Thankfully, our order of individual glasses of champagne arrived to help cleanse the palate. The dish was piled so high as to be laughable with the ¼ teaspoon-sized utensils offered. I believe this was intended to be more along the lines of an amuse, but instead of amusing, I was aghast. I made a comment that I would not be remotely offended if we wanted to cut bait and leave, but we agreed to give them one more try. As we looked at each other in horror as the bread basket arrived. What looked to be potentially beautiful, crusty bread was in fact bread that had either been steamed or microwaved. I’m not sure this was the straw that broke our camel’s back, but it definitely showed an astonishing lack of professionalism on the part of the kitchen.

Our third course was a salad that was described as “Crab Ceasar.” The travesty which was offered was yet another multi-layered concoction of discordant components; intensely strong pesto underneath fried, greasy shoestring potatoes, under overly-dressed miso/Ceasar greens, under a salad of crab meat which was gloppy in its mayonnaise-based dressing, which was under some shredded vegetable of indeterminate origin. Yes, you read corrently: Three different dressings in one “salad,” none of which were balanced or remotely appetizing. And to have all three composed in one dish was atrocious. It was here that we started calling for servers to tell them to stop the meal.  We were just on the border of the evening being early enough to salvage some potential dining time and we needed to make our escape soon if we were going to have an opportunity at another establishment.

Unfortunately, another course arrived. It was in an oddly useless piece of service ware; a deep, oblong bowl on top of which was a two-handled, ceramic “spoon” which kept it from lying flat on its own. In the bowl itself was crab ravioli garnished with two over-cooked, ruby prawns. The ravioli dough was gummy and the sauce akin to Chef Boyardee. In the spoon-like attachment were two prosciutto-wrapped cherry tomatoes. For whatever reason, they call this “prosciutto maki” and garnished it again with the horrendous pesto.

The manager had arrived as my companion explained that the meal was just not working for us. I was reaching for my purse to escape, when the manager begged the indulgence of continuing the meal. I will grant that the restaurant is new and that it takes some time to iron out problems, but with the short time I have to visit, I was in no mood to be anyone’s guinea pig. To his credit, the manager pleaded for a return visit and while it seems obvious the chef has had some formal training, he seems to be one that is newly graduated from cooking school with the idea that good food must be a complicated mélange of flavors, but it seems shockingly evident that the chef has little experience with taste components or flavor matching.

Looking at their website, the mystery continues in presenting themselves as offering “French-Japanese inspired cuisine featuring European culinary traditions and ingredients indigenous to Japan.” I was unaware that pesto and fried shoestring potatoes were indigenous to Japan. Their website promotes “a distinctive wine list highlighting petite vineyards.” When was Beringer’s White Zinfandel’s vineyards ever considered petite? Well, they didn’t mislead in one regard; they state that their “goal is provide all the necessary elements that will result in an unforgettable dining experience, creating memories that will last a lifetime.” Man, there is no chance of me EVER forgetting this dining experience. I wish I could.
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