Friday, October 10, 2008

"How Is Everything?"

I never know quite how to respond when servers sweep by to inquire how the food is. Most of the time, I assume the question is perfunctory, like the "how are you" question that people throw at each other in passing in elevators or hallways at the office. No one really expects a genuine answer to that question, but sometimes when servers ask and wait as though they are looking for a real response, I fall into the trap of answering. Call me Charlie Brown.

In my profession, when I can give specific criticism, that means the work product I received is not bad, possibly even quite good in the overall scheme of things. When the work product is in a condition that I cannot identify specifics to fix but instead just need to take the whole thing back and redo it, that is when things are truly problematic. So when my answer to the server's question is "fine," and I'm pushing food around on my plate, it is not good, but what am I going to say? Your food sucks, and I can't even begin to explain everything that is wrong with it? So I don't bother and instead say "fine." Then they walk away, and so do I.

Every once in a while, I end up answering honestly, but then almost always regret it as soon as the words, "the ___ was underseasoned," or "this combination doesn't really work for me," tumble out of my mouth. I may think I'm providing feedback that is being requested, but then I see the look of panic cross the server's face that reads, oh crap, they hate it so we need to replace it, comp it, give them something else, or comp dessert, or some variation thereof-- none of which I want. For the most part, the only time I answer substantively to the question, "how is it," is when I think 90% is good, but it could be better.

From the server's perspective, I can certainly appreciate that their sole objective is to make a seemingly unhappy customer happy, but it is never my intent to make people jump through hoops. I tend to ask if I want something fixed and I believe there is someone capable of fixing it for me. But I also understand that servers have to deal with the quandry of people who secretly want something else but will insist otherwise while continuing to complain (something I have never understood).

So what happens in my case? I tell the server, "the pasta is a little overcooked," in response to his or her question. The server freaks out and offers to give me something else. The manager or front-of-the-house (or sometimes even the chef, eek) comes over to try to "fix the problem." I say no, that's fine, I don't want anything else, things were generally great, I was just answering a question honestly. They don't believe me and give me a free dessert, which I am too full to eat, but I now feel guilty so I try to eat as much as I can (and not say anything about the fact that the dessert is really not chocolate panna cotta as described, but more like a somewhat clunky chocolate pudding trifle). And then I proceed to grossly overtip because I still feel guilty (e.g., $35 on a $90 check). Because for the most part, I really did enjoy my meal; I just thought it could have been better because the kitchen is clearly talented.

You would think I would have learned to keep my mouth shut. "Does this make me look fat?" No, honey, absolutely not. You look fine.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Magnificent Seven

Among the chefs who continually impress and inspire:

Jeremy Fox: Such a bad ass that he doesn't even need protein to impress diners with his culinary prowess.

David Kinch: Such a bad ass that he can open a restaurant where he wants to live so that people come to him to experience his two Michelin star fare (he deserves all three).

Johnny Monis: Such a bad ass that he does all tasting menus all the time in his matchbox kitchen and is named in Food & Wine's Hall of Fame Chefs (rightly so) only one year after he is named among the Best New Chefs, all at the ripe old age of 28.

Sang Yoon: Such a bad ass that he serves food the way he wants, no substitutions, no modifications, take it or leave it.

Dennis Leary: Such a bad ass that he himself is cooking breakfast, lunch, and dinner in his two restaurants, with no investors to tell him what to do.

Sam Sugiyama: Such a bad ass that at age 60+, he works alongside his cooks every lunch and dinner, running effectively two restaurants in one, with modern ginza-style omakase sushi behind the scenes and a dragon roll/spicy tuna hellish extragavanza in the main dining room.

Sotohiro Kosugi: Such a bad ass that he can transplant his restaurant from Atlanta to Manhattan without missing a beat. If you want unforgettable Japanese cuisine but lack the net worth to splurge on Masa's, head down to the village and experience the most sublime and authentic fare of all time.

What these bad-ass chefs have in common:
They are all in their kitchens, touching, tasting, and/or seeing the plates that go out. Thank goodness for their obsessive-compulsive tendencies.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Omnivore's 100

See Becks & Posh (citing Very Good Taste)

According to the instructions, I am supposed to bold the items eaten and cross out any items I would never consider eating. For clarity, however, I have indicated yes or no next to the items, and I am not crossing anything off, as I am willing to try anything once.

1. Venison: yes (as well as venison jerky and venison sausage)
2. Nettle tea: nettle yes; nettle tea no
3. Huevos rancheros: yes
4. Steak tartare: yes
5. Crocodile: yes
6. Black pudding: yes
7. Cheese fondue: yes
8. Carp: yes
9. Borscht: I believe I have
10. Baba ghanoush: I believe I have
11. Calamari: yes
12. Pho: yes
13. PB&J sandwich: yes
14. Aloo gobi: I believe I have
15. Hot dog from a street cart: yes
16. Epoisses: yes
17. Black truffle: yes
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes: yes (olallieberry and pineapple, but not together)
19. Steamed pork buns: yes
20. Pistachio ice cream: yes
21. Heirloom tomatoes: yes
22. Fresh wild berries: yes
23. Foie gras: yes (for as long as possible)
24. Rice and beans: yes
25. Brawn or head cheese: yes
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper: no
27. Dulce de leche: yes
28. Oysters: yes
29. Baklava: yes
30. Bagna cauda: I believe I have
31. Wasabi peas: yes
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl: yes
33. Salted lassi: I believe I have
34. Sauerkraut: yes
35. Root beer float: yes
36. Cognac with a fat cigar: cognac yes; fat cigar yes; but together not sure (prefer scotch with cigar)
37. Clotted cream tea: no
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O: yes (but not past the age of twenty-one)
39. Gumbo: yes
40. Oxtail: yes
41. Curried goat: curry yes; goat yes; curried goat no
42. Whole insects: yes (but I did not know what they were at the time; I thought they were some type of roasted nuts)
43. Phaal: I believe I have
44. Goat’s milk: as an ingredient yes; straight no
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more: yes
46. Fugu: no (sadly now illegal to import into United States)
47. Chicken tikka masala: yes
48. Eel: yes
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut: yes
50. Sea urchin: yes
51. Prickly pear: yes
52. Umeboshi: yes
53. Abalone: yes
54. Paneer: no
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal: yes
56. Spaetzle: yes
57. Dirty gin martini: yes (but prefer martini with twist)
58. Beer above 8% ABV (alcohol by volume): I believe I have
59. Poutine: yes
60. Carob chips: yes
61. S’mores: yes
62. Sweetbreads: yes
63. Kaolin: no
64. Currywurst: yes
65. Durian: yes
66. Frogs’ legs: yes
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake: yes; yes; no; yes
68. Haggis: yes
69. Fried plantain: plantain yes; deep-fried no
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette: I am not sure (not opposed to any offal, particularly in sausage form, but no specific recollection of chitterlings)
71. Gazpacho: yes
72. Caviar and blini: yes (separately and together)
73. Louche absinthe: no
74. Gjetost, or brunost: no
75. Roadkill: ?? What constitutes roadkill? I suppose I have never scooped up roadkill and eaten it, so no
76. Baijiu: yes
77. Hostess Fruit Pie: yes
78. Snail: yes
79. Lapsang souchong: yes
80. Bellini: yes
81. Tom yum: yes
82. Eggs Benedict: yes
83. Pocky: yes
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant: yes
85. Kobe beef: yes
86. Hare: rabbit yes; hare no
87. Goulash: I believe I have
88. Flowers: yes
89. Horse: no
90. Criollo chocolate: no
91. Spam: yes
92. Soft shell crab: yes
93. Rose harissa: harissa yes; rose harissa no
94. Catfish: yes
95. Mole poblano: yes
96. Bagel and lox: yes
97. Lobster Thermidor: yes
98. Polenta: yes
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee: yes
100. Snake: yes

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Oscars of Food?

The results of the James Beard Foundation Awards for 2008 were announced earlier this week. Some observations on what I found to be surprise winners:

Central Michel Richard got Best New Restaurant. While I have tremendous respect for the big man himself (who I think does food tricks better than Grant Achatz and Jose Andres when he is not phoning it in) and the burger and "Kit Kat" dessert are indeed quite clever and tasty, I cannot imagine that this is actually the best new restaurant that opened in 2007, regardless of the fact that it is markedly better than Citronelle (among my picks for the Emperor Has No Clothes Award, not an official JBF category).

Terra won Outstanding Service. I love the food at Terra, and it remains one of my favorite restaurants consistently for the past decade, but best service? Maybe best casual service, but this one was a head scratcher. Per Se definitely. Jean-Georges of course. Masa's in San Francisco. Charlie Trotter's in Chicago. Not that service at Terra falls short in any way, just not something that comes to mind when I think of Terra. The fried oysters with pork belly, on the other hand, absolutely.

Craig Stoll of Delfina won for Best Chef Pacific over David Kinch of Manresa. Delfina is well-conceived and well-articulated comfort food, but not in the same league as Manresa, which more appropriately belongs in the French Laundry/Jean-Georges/Charlie Trotter's category.

The biggest shocker was in the Rising Star Chef category. My favorite chef of all time (because of his complete crazy obsessiveness, innovation, diligence, and creativity), Johnny Monis, was edged out by Gavin Kaysen. Not to take anything away from the team at Cafe Boulud, but were you impressed with Kaysen's showing on Next Iron Chef? (It was not materially better at Cafe Boulud).

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

F.O...

Father's Office
1018 Montana Avenue
Santa Monica, CA 90403
(310) 393-2337

3229 Helms Avenue
Culver City, CA 90034
(310) 736-2224

Chef Sang Yoon
Evenings only Monday through Friday
Open at Noon on weekends
(No reservations; no table service)

Father's Office on Urbanspoon

Last tried: June 2009
Previously tried: May 2008

Whenever I hear the claim "best burger" uttered, it is almost always a hyperbole that is bound to disappoint, to the point where the concept of the "best burger" has become almost as mythical as leprechaun gold at the end of a rainbow. With the Office Burger at Father's Office in Santa Monica, however, I have hit the jackpot.

Juicy ground beef-- and I mean juicy, with glistening meat juice droplets visible with each bite-- on a chewy roll, smothered with a bacon-onion compote, caramelized to the point where it looks like thick dark fudge, and topped with a surprisingly mild and delicate yet rich combination of melted gruyere and Maytag blue cheese, accented by vibrantly green fresh baby arugula. This burger is absolutely to die for and completely deserving of the title of "Best Burger." I first heard about this burger on Daniel Boulud's television series, After Hours, and no offense to the great chef's legendary foie gras stuffed burger at db Bistro Moderne, the Office Burger wins hands down.

One minor thing I found curious is that Chef Sang Yoon, creator of this mind-blowing burger, does not mandate how the burger should be cooked. The place is well known for its no substitutions policy. After tasting the Office Burger, I can see why he permits no permutations (so people with dairy issues are either flat out of luck or have to deal with their own digestive consequences later). I tend to like opinionated chefs who know what they are talking about, especially so dead on, so the FO policy did not bother me, but I did find it curious that the same dictatorial policy does not apply to how the burgers are cooked.

As to other dishes, I tried the grilled asparagus with crispy serrano ham and crumbled hard-boiled egg in a sherry reduction. The sauce was a shade too sweet for my taste, but it did balance out the saltiness of the fried bacony ham and creaminess of the egg with parmesan shavings. The asparagus had great flavor, brought out by the perfect grilling, but the thick variety would have worked better instead of the pencils, which became a bit lost under all of the other elements of the dish.

Do not miss the matchstick fries with garlicy aioli to complement the phenomenal burger (not dried and crunchy like most matchsticks but crisply thin with soft fluffy potato innards). No ketchup or salt anywhere, but trust me, you will not need or miss them. In addition, although I personally prefer wine with my burger (a dry rose works really well with the Office Burger), there are over 30 different artisanal beers available on tap, and the servers/bartenders double as beer sommeliers. At 4pm on Friday, there was a line down the block waiting for the doors to open. I see why people would drive over twenty miles across Los Angeles, fighting the traffic and the crowds, to get a taste of this burger.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Just Desserts

I have more of a salt tooth than a sweet one. Since I generally prefer savory to sweet, I am probably more critical of desserts than the rest of the menu. But when the following chefs are offering their creations, I would be ecstatic to be presented with an all-dessert menu:

1. Brooks Headley (formerly with KOMI)
2. Boris Portnoy (formerly with Campton Place)
3. Carlos Salgado (formerly with Coi)
4. Tim Dahl (Blackbird)
5. Kendra Baker (formerly with Bar Tartine)
6. Deanie Fox (formerly with Manresa)
7. Karen Hatfield (formerly with Cortez)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Monday Grousing

Items I wish restaurants would retire for a while:

  • butternut squash soup
  • seared scallops
  • creme brulee (trio/duo/flavored/whatever)
  • multiple desserts on tasting menus (5 savory courses and 3 desserts may technically be an 8-course menu, but come on!)
  • mignardises (does anyone eat them?)
  • gougeres

Recurring preparations that I still enjoy as long as executed well:

Items that I love but rarely see executed well:

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Spanish Revelation

El Quinto Pino
401 West 24th Street
New York, NY 10011
(212)206-6900
Chef Veronica Santos
"Dinner" nightly

El Quinto Pino on Urbanspoon

Tried: April 2008

It has been a long time since any food discovery has excited me this much-- well, to be accurate, since I have experienced a truly new food discovery. I would probably count among them my encounters with Komi, Kiss, and Manresa (3 years, 7 years, and 3 years ago respectively), but otherwise it has been a while since any taste has really knocked my socks off.

The uni panini at El Quinto Pino did it. The New York Magazine critics have rarely steered me wrong, and on this they were absolutely on point. The warm, thin, diminutive, baguette-like sandwich, hot off the panini press with the bright yellow-orange scallops of uni still intact and unmelted (with the texture slighly thickened similar to when sushi restaurants opt to torch the top, and also reminiscent of homemade, slightly curdled hollandaise sauce-- not that I have had any experience with that...), is of the perfect size and perfect taste profile. The mustard seed oil that Chef Veronica Santos drizzles inside the sandwich provides the same sinus kick of slightly too much fresh wasabi or a bit of the good horseradish you used to get at old-fashioned prime rib houses. The chewy buttery bread combines seamlessly with the creamy buttery uni, and the end result is nothing less than blow-off-the-top-of-your-head delicicious.

Not that the rest of the menu is anything less impressive. The white anchovies marinated in olive oil were beautifully meaty yet delicate (be sure to soak up the residual flavored oil with the magnificent bread from Tom Cat Bakery). The fideua with cuttlefish in a saffron aioli made me want to cry with its combination of salty, sweet, rich-savory, spicy flavors and multiple colors and textures (despite being just a wee bit on the salty side). The generous slices of pork head cheese with pickled cauliflower and carrots were rich, creamy, salty, and decadent, with the pickled vegetables adding the ideal piquant accent and a zing of freshness to the glorious meat terrine.

The space is tiny, tiny, tiny-- with a row of seats along the bar and a few more scattered around the wall. Go early if you want to grab one of the bar stools, otherwise it is standing room only, with one bartender and one server attending to the entire "dining room." The bartender's recommendations on wine were spot on to match the intriguing small plates. The chalkboard menu-- literally, chalkboards above the bar, nothing printed-- is a bit hard to read but put yourself in the knowledgeable bartender's hands, and she will not steer you wrong.

I love this place! I haven't been this excited since I tried Momofuku ramen for the first time.

Friday, March 28, 2008

So Very Close...

The Refuge
963 Laurel Street
San Carlos, CA 94070
(650)598-9813
Chef Matt Levin
Chef de Cuisine Michael Greuel
Lunch and Dinner Tuesday through Saturday

The Refuge on Urbanspoon

Last tried: August 2009
Tried: March 2008

The concept of Refuge is intriguing, albeit possibly a bit schizophrenic. The place is described as a "wine pub," and that is exactly what it is-- a pub with a television over the bar, a row of bar stools, and banquettes lining one side of the rectangular dining room, serving burgers and sandwiches, along with a fantastic wine list, most of them procured from Kermit Lynch.

The kitchen serves a mean seared foie gras appetizer accompanied by a fried brioche round, warmed cherries, candied pecans, and a tangle of frisee greens. (The greens were a bit stringy and the brioche a little hard, but the sweet pecans, cherries and foie were magnificent in both flavor and texture.) The charcuterie selection is generously portioned (it could easily feed four adults), served with thick slices of grilled bread in addition to crackers, apricot compote, cornichons, and grainy mustard. Among the charcuterie selections, I was least crazy about the "pastrami rillette," which was simultaneously bland and somewhat gamey with an alarmingly pink-orange hue. The pork rillette, on the other hand, was rich, fatty, and satisfying (though it could have used a bit more salt). The prize on the plate was the chicken liver "mousse," which was seasoned perfectly with the exactly right grainy yet smooth texture and the ideal not-too-livery but reminiscent of foie gras taste. I could have had that for dessert.

What I was most looking forward to trying at the Refuge was the thick-cut pastrami sandwich on rye, self-proclaimed to be in the style of the famous Katz's Deli in New York, a necessary pilgrimage for me when I visit Manhattan, no matter how inconvenient, specifically for that one-of-a-kind, nothing-else-like-it-in-the-world addictive taste. I was quite happy to see that the comparison was not entirely without merit. The Refuge's pastrami is indeed thick, fatty, and soft. Had I never tasted the original, I would think it was the best pastrami I had ever tried. If I were to nitpick, the seasoning is a little too sweet, and the texture of the meat is a bit too gummy, similar to pressed meats. The saving grace is that incredible wine list. I must say I have never before had the pleasure of imbibing a 2005 red burgundy with my pastrami sandwich.

Did I mention the fries and beer on tap looked really tempting too?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Places I've Eaten in Lake Tahoe

**Places I would go back to eat
*Closed

22 Bistro
Balboa Cafe*
Blue Coyote Grill
Fireside Pizza
Jiffy's Pizza
The Lodge Restaurant
Mamasake
Moody's
Oasis
Pizza Shack
PlumpJack Cafe
Sol y Lago*

**I struggled with how to say this, without sounding like a horrible spoiled yuppie, but eventually came to the conclusion that it is unavoidable. This whole blog is about indulgences anyway. Since I could find little information about dining options in the Lake Tahoe area, I decided to list what I have tried in this post.

Lake Tahoe (and nearby Truckee and Tahoe City) is generally devoid of good food. Obviously, food and wine are not what the area is known for, and the places that try to fake it, like PlumpJack Cafe and The Lodge, present the worst of all worlds-- bad expensive food. Also, sushi in the mountains is the scariest thing in the world, and there is not enough spicy sauce in the world to disguise that fact. So the italics notation in this instance refers to the best of what is available, as opposed to places I would necessarily seek out.

Jiffy's Pizza, purely for takeout (although they also deliver), is a good example of making do with what is available in the area. For a gang of snowboarders and ski instructors, they make decent pizza that is not terrible. If you find yourself lured by the cozy-looking wood cabin bearing the sign Pizza Shack, keep driving-- you will thank me. Having said that, Moody's Bistro does a killer pork belly, as soft as caramel custard and practically as sweet and rich. It also has a wine list that makes the extra driving distance in the weather worth risking.

Friday, February 15, 2008

How the Other Half Lives

Sawa Sushi
1042 East El Camino Real
Sunnyvale, CA 94087
(408)241-7292
Chef Steve ______
Hours unknown

Sawa Sushi on Urbanspoon

Tried: February 2008

Sawa Sushi is a fascinating place.

The restaurant has a cult following from Silicon Valley devotees, many of them high level execs from tech companies and their clients sporting jeans and fleece jackets (or with girlfriends or wives sporting large pieces of jewelry) who can afford exorbitant prices for sake and fish, without the blink of an eye or the glimpse of a menu (none exists for either food or drink).

Contrary to reports of mistreatment by the eccentric chef unless you are a regular or recommended by a regular, I was treated just like everyone else seated at the long sushi bar, all of whom had clearly been there multiple times before, possibly within the same week. I won't deny that the place has a very clubby feel, but I did not feel excluded in any way in terms of the dishes served or the manner of service.

Sawa has an impressive sake selection, all Daiginjo, with the boxes displayed behind the sushi bar. Everyone seemed to opt for the "special sake," a very fragrant and opulent sake called Kakunko, and they were drinking it like water. (Given that Kakunko costs $150 for a 720 ml bottle at True Sake, I don't even want to know what their bills looked like at the end of the evening-- mine was plenty high without it). Sawa also seems to go to some lengths to procure pricey ingredients, including Miyazaki beef bearing a certificate of authenticity, including identifications of the cow's lineage as well as the names of its mother and father.

I really did want to love this place. It has an interesting energy and imparts a feeling of Alice in Wonderland going through the rabbit hole, highlighted by its strip mall location, neon signage, and coarse furnishings, capped by a Korean chef who seems to prefer speaking Japanese but will break out in English as needed.

Unfortunately, the ingredients, no matter how expensive, were less than stellar, not helped by haphazard knife skills. The daikon strands were stuck together, the fish pieces were chewy (I do not mind large sizes, but they do need to be cut properly to optimize its texture), and even the lofty credentialed beef was tough. The opening ankimo was the only dish that I truly enjoyed. While I loved the snow crab in the second dish, I found the pairing on the same plate with overcooked shrimp, in a sauce reminiscent of Kraft diet Italian salad dressing, to be jarring. The hirame with sea salt was refreshing but unremarkable, and the saba, which is normally fishy even on a good day, came in unbearably large pieces, with a warning from the chef that there may still be bones. What? What am I paying for?

The ika "somen," despite the perfectly prepared sauce, was marred by the chewy "noodle" strands of squid. This clever idea, while not novel, only works when the squid is tender and fresh. If I hadn't given up, I would still be chewing that squid. The toro was of course tasty, but I have had better in terms of both quality and presentation. The uni was likewise lovely. Yet somehow it loses something when served in a giant, unadorned mound. I suspect even caviar would become tiresome if someone plopped a giant canister in front of me.

It was at least an interesting view into the life of the Silicon Valley elite.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Deceptive Intent

BLD
7450 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 930-9744
Daily 8am to 11pm

BLD on Urbanspoon

Inadvertently tried: January 2008

This is the first time where I have been angry after having eaten decent food.

I have been wanting to try Hatfield's, ever since the Chefs Quinn and Karen Hatfield left Cortez in San Francisco at the end of 2005 to open their own place. As soon as I found out that I would be traveling to Los Angeles, I called Hatfield's to secure a reservation. This was about a month ago, and we confirmed our reservation a few days before our travel date. That day, however, the flight to Los Angeles was delayed, so I called Hatfield's from the plane to let the restaurant know that we would be arriving 20-30 minutes late.

After stumbling to the corner of Beverly Blvd. and Vista Street and having handed my rental car to the valet, I rushed in through the glass door and made my apologies to the maitre d' station for being late. I explained that I was the one with the 8pm reservation who had called from the airplane to let the reservationist know that I would be late, and that I was finally here, at 8:25 pm. The maitre d'-- sporting a discreet afro-mohawk hairstyle and a pink polo shirt-- took our name and stated that there would be no problem but it would take a few minutes to prepare our table and that we could wait at the bar. We thanked him for his understanding and walked over to the bar area. While we waited with drinks in hand, we perused the gourmet food display in the corner of the restaurant, including the small bottles of balsamic vinegar and silver canisters of fleur de sel, and took in the decor of the dining room, which was very different from what we expected-- more like a minimalist diner with stark tables packed very close together. I tried not to be disappointed until I at least tasted the food.

After being seated, I noted that the menu was similarly casual, with mostly burgers, large, hearty salads, and heavily laden sandwiches. Although the menu offerings still sounded good, they were quite different from what the Hatfields had done previously-- small tastes, elegant, and refined. When our server came to take our order, I explained that we were fans of Chefs Quinn and Karen Hatfield, had just flown in from San Francisco, and that we were very excited to try their new restaurant, and asked whether the kitchen had recommendations on what we needed to try. She looked a bit taken aback at this question, so we asked whether they were on premises tonight. Still looking somewhat crestfallen, she muttered something about the chefs being at a photo shoot in Santa Monica, but offered suggestions from the menu of what she liked.

I had a giant bowl of squash and chestnut soup, followed by a large charcuterie platter. The salumi, presented with toasted baguette slices and marcona almonds, were clearly homemade, well-seasoned, and tasty, but I was disappointed that there were no cornichons or anything vinegary or spicy to cut the fat. I was also surprised to see that the menu incorrectly identified a Viognier from the Rhone Valley as a Languedoc wine. Although the "tater tots"-- which were deep-fried potato dumplings the size of golf balls stuffed with ground meat and raclette cheese-- were slightly burned and clumsy in flavor and execution, the steak salad was very well prepared, with garlicky crunchy croutons and adeptly dressed fresh mizuna greens in a piquant smoked paprika vinaigrette. The mussels were somewhat overcooked but the spicy broth was satisfying and the accompanying fries were crisp yet fluffy, albeit a bit oversalted.

Our server, while friendly and solicitous, seemed nervous and frantic in rushing around the packed dining room floor, yet still managed to pour our wine and offer dessert suggestions. I explained that we were very full but could not leave without sampling Karen Hatfield's dessert creations. She recommended the yellow cake with vanilla ice cream. Like everything else, it was gigantic and looked more like something that would be served at P.F. Chang's than by Karen Hatfield. Nonetheless, it was rustic and delicious. We asked for the check and decided that the Hatfields certainly decided to go in a completely new direction. Trying not to be too disappointed, we asked for the check.

When the check arrived, I noticed the address at the top: 7450 Beverly Blvd. I had been searching around for 7458 Beverly Blvd. I also noticed the letters on top of the address: "BLD."

It turned out that Hatfield's is located adjacent to BLD Restaurant on Beverly Blvd. and share the same valet parking service. I did not know this and had never even heard of BLD restaurant (or Grace Restaurant, for that matter, which is the more formal estalishment that apparently operates BLD). All I knew was that I had been driving around in the dark, searching for 7458 Beverly Blvd. BLD occupies the corner of Beverly and Vista and is much larger than Hatfield's, which is slightly recessed from the streetfront. The glass door leading to BLD is also located directly in front of the valet parking station and bears only a cryptic sign with the letters "b," "l," "d," designed to look like silverware on a place setting. There is otherwise no other signage on BLD, and the BLD menu has no reference to the restaurant name or even its address.

I sheepishly walked into Hatfield's afterward to apologize for inadvertently skipping out on my reservation. The person at Hatfield's was livid. Apparently, I was not the first victim of this scam, and BLD had "stolen" customers from Hatfield's before. It was then that I learned that BLD does not even take reservations.

When we went back to BLD after straightening out the misunderstanding with Hatfield's to get validation for the valet parking, the maitre d' remarked with a knowing smile, "So did you enjoy your meal, HERE AT BLD?"

If BLD were struggling for customers, I might have been a bit more forgiving, but it was packed, and looking over what happened during the course of the evening, the restaurant's conduct was clearly intentional. Seriously, your food is not so bad that you need to steal customers. And they say lawyers are scummy...

Ambivalent About Momofuku

First, am I the only person who thinks "Momofuku" does not mean Lucky Peach or refer to the name of some obscure ramen person from...