Tuesday, February 28, 2012

“Carpe Diem” at Tasting Kitchen

I already knew that I loved Tasting Kitchen when the Cute Gardener told me he would be taking us there this past weekend. It was the first restaurant I went to with some visiting friends when I moved to Venice Beach and it made an immediate impression on me. At that time I had drooled over a cod filet on pea puree and a golden beet salad with diced chunks of the tubers.

Known for many impressive things, what I recalled the most was the super attentive wait staff, the artisan cocktails that took ten minutes to make with care, the big block shaped and slow melting ice cubes, and the way each course of a meal was brought out and explained by a different server.

Earlier that day, we had been at an engagement party for two people who had crafted their own cocktails after consulting with the mixologists at the Tasting Kitchen bar over a recent dinner. So we started with a drink each. He had a Noisy Beau with Bulleit bourbon, chartreuse, and mead and I had my favorite barrel aged Negroni (how come all the drinks I like are on the gentlemen’s menus?).

This time we decided to take the plunge into the $80 a person, five course tasting menu, served family style to share. I rarely trust a restaurant that much to take that culinary dive and my man's trust was riding on my opinion that the restaurant was stellar. A little nerve-wracking but what the hell, you only live once.

We scored the best table in the dining room, farthest away from the front door, which by the end of the night always swooshes in people by the droves who come for the bar or wait patiently on the long wall adjacent flowerbed full of wine corks for a table to open up. With a nice little curtain between us and the bar, we felt like we were in our own little space which made it more romantic in the already dimly lit albeit constantly conversation and glass clinking filled place.

The food parade ensued.

Our amuse bouche came in tiny little tea party cups full of sweet parsnip cream soup topped with a dollop of crème fraiche. Funky touches like mismatched plates added to the charm.

Our first course was an entrée sized barbecued octopus on cranberry and lima beans, smoky with hints of celery…

…paired with a divine milky burrata dressed simply in olive oil and cracked peppercorns side by side with the most luscious pile of tangy leeks dotted with spicy minced radish.

Next came a frisee and red cabbage salad with Berkshire pig lardons and a pile of parmesan snow.

One of my highlights was this savory pasta dish with fennel sausage, squash blossoms and shaved Pecorino.

Main course entrée number one was a perfectly cooked piece of halibut with a creamy texture in a rich beurre blanc sauce…

...and number two, a scrumptious pork plate with sous vide tender loin slices and a spare rib with al dente parsnips.

Just when we thought we couldn’t stomach another bite, we were delivered a dessert of tiny olive oil cakes, nutty pistachio ice cream and a deliciously eggy bread pudding with caramel sauce and blood orange slices.

My body went into shock at about that point which is why I didn’t have the energy to raise my hand again to take another photo of the chocolates that were brought with the fantastic dessert wines at the end.

The poor Cute Gardener left the place feeling as if he had just completed a Man vs. Food challenge considering I only ate about a quarter from each plate.

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