Monday, October 4, 2010

Test Kitchen Review: Marcel Vigneron

Marcel is in the black on the left.  The bald guy bending down is Alex Resnik
Sorry, blurry pictures!
Marcel Vigneron, the runner up from Top Chef Season 2 has always fascinated me; I'm drawn by his obnoxious personality (is this guy for real, or is he just playing it up for TV) as well as his interesting, molecular gastronomy inspired food.  He's made several reappearances on various seasons of Top Chef and will be competing in this year's Top Chef Season 8 All-Stars, and is quite the polarizing but always mesmerizing character; I'm looking forward to seeing how he does this season.  Another bonus for Top Chef fans, Alex Resnik, another polarizing cheftestant from this season's Season 7 Top Chef (see: stolen pea puree controversy), was Marcel's sous chef for the evening.  When I saw that Marcel was doing a 3 night stint at Test Kitchen, I quickly made a reservation to check him out.  We went Sunday night to sample his 6 course tasting menu for $55 per person.

Amuse bouche: salty potato with cherry tomato over dried chlorophyll
 This was a nice little bite that burst into your mouth, although nothing particularly memorable about it.
KOMBU CURED HAMACHI: crispy rice, pineapple, avocado
This was my favorite dish overall.  The fish was resting on a very thinly sliced piece of pineapple, which didn't overwhelm the dish with sweetness but was the perfect foil for the delicate dish.  The foam was dashi foam, and I loved the hint of freshness from the shiso leaf with the faint heat from the very thinly sliced jalapenos, crunch from the rice crisps with the silky fish.
SCALLOBUT (Scallop and Halibut Cheek) with flavors of puttanesca, artichoke
I loved the scallop part of the dish, so smooth and silky and really went well with the various sauces and boldly flavored accompaniments on the dish.  There was a parsley puree, capers, anchovy (I love anchovies), and it was sprinkled with Kalamata olive powder.  I found the halibut cheek (on the right) to be a little dry.

WAGYU BEEF TONGUE AND FRIED EGG: radish, beet, arugula, beans
 This was a nice, somewhat deconstructed salad.  The beef tongue was chilled, as was the beets, radish and fresh arugula.  The egg was breaded, probably with panko crumbs and then fried, but the yolk was still nice and runny once you cut into it.  It was sitting on a puree of refried? beans and there were little cubes of bacon for that extra meatiness.  It was a nice dish.
VADOUVAN LAMB CHOP: cauliflower, amaranth, mint
 The lamb chop was coated with vadouvan spices, which is a little like a French / North African inspired curry spice blend, served on top of a cauliflower puree and cauliflower couscous with pomegranate seeds, preserved lemon, mint and almonds.  The lamb chop was topped with a fois gras foam, which I thought was cool.  Unfortunately, this was probably the most disappointing dish of the evening.  I expected it to be bursting with flavors, but it was a little bland.  Also, my dining companions found the meat to be a little tough and chewy, although my chops were ok.  I just expected this dish to be the best when I saw it on the menu, but it turned out to be all of our least favorite dishes.
RICOTTA FRITTER: baby peach panna cotta, agave
I liked the rich, cool creaminess of the baby peach panna cotta paired with the warm savoriness of the ricotta fritter. 

MACADAMIA "SPONGE CAKE:" textures of strawberries
This was Marcel's version of strawberry shortcake and while it looks deceptively simple, it was actually quite interesting.  There was a sprinkling of ground pepper on the plate and the foam to the left was peppery as well, which I think was an interest contrast to the strawberries and highlighted the flavor of the strawberry.  On top of the strawberry foam to the left was a sphere of fizzy strawberry that burst when you put it in your mouth.  It was interesting.  I didn't particularly care for the sponge cake as it was dry, but I did like the various peppery strawberry flavors.
We had a decent 2008 Argentinian pinot noir which was very drinkable and went well with our meal.  Overall, we enjoyed our meal; it wasn't perfect, but we did have a couple of dishes that we liked very much.  It was just enough food for me, although some of my dining companions were still hungry.  I'll be very interested to see what Marcel does next!  Service was pretty good; they did a nice job in describing the (complex) dishes.  It was pretty empty when we showed up at 6:30pm but packed by the time we left.  Overall, I liked the experience better than my previous Red Medicine experience at Test Kitchen.  I'm really disappointed that I missed Michael Voltaggio during his one night stint at Test Kitchen; I'll have to do a better job at checking in to see who's coming in next.

Test Kitchen
9575 West Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA  90035
Reservations can be made through Opentable

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