Friday, November 28, 2008

XIV, West Hollywood, CA

When we first made our Thanksgiving-weekend reservation for Michael Mina's newest restaurant, it was, as usual, just the two of us. Then it became four, as our visiting New York foodie cousins (who came with us to Cut) wanted to partake in another extravagant dinner. As word got out, our dinner grew to 8 as more family members wanted to come along on what was sure to be a culinary adventure.

However, our head-count started to dwindle the night of, as one cousin had a work engagement, one had to bow out last minute due to a stomach bug, and then another left early in the meal for the same reason. (Our New York cousins have promised to make it up to us with an excursion to L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon when we take a trip to New York in May. We forgive them.)

Even though our spirits were down after the sudden turn of events, the rest of us gathered in a corner booth in the semi-enclosed outdoor seating on the Sunset Strip for a shared culinary experience. With Giada De Laurentiis eating nearby and other B-list celebrities roaming about, we had high expectations for this new culinary and celebrity hot spot.

Before we get to the meal, it's important to know how the XIV ("Fourteen") dining experience works: Every selection on the menu is a small dish, prepared for the entire table, each for $8 per person. So, aside from a vegetarian option here and there, we each enjoyed the same dish at each course, beginning with the complementary pre-appetizer below:

with yogurt sauce
This is XIV's version of warm bread and butter for the table. Each of us was treated to a few crisp triangles of nan with a tangy yogurt sauce. As hungry as we were, the small plate likely saved each of us from ruining our appetites with more.

ancho chile, pears, mint, pine nuts, sesame oil
Chili, pears, and mint? Somehow the combination of flavors melded perfectly, making this one of the best dishes of the night. Every one of us licked our plate. We were definitely off to a good start.

stewed cherries, brown butter, sage
Another favorite, these dumplings were both sweet and savory. Not one of us felt guilty about slurping up every drop of the heavenly sage and brown butter sauce.

preserved meyer lemon foam, castelmagno cheese
This was a very delicate risotto, which, compared to the rich dumplings still lingering in our months, tasted a bit bland. However, the lemon meyer foam added a unique refreshing and citrusy element, which saved the dish from being a total disappointment.

spaghetti squash, matsutake mushrooms, foie gras dashi
Delicate yet somewhat bland, the cod was a bit of a disappointment. The flavors and elements of the broth were interesting, but they didn’t permeate into the fish – leaving something to be desired.

truffled mac & cheese, caramelized onion sauce
Chicken is something we seldom order in a fancy restaurant (sorry to be elitist, but it really is rather boring), but the truffled mac & cheese got our attention. But instead of being wowed by the mac & cheese, it was the incredibly moist chicken and really surprised all of us. Although lacking in flavor, it was more than made up for by the rich caramelized onion sauce. I’m not sure that we will easily be enticed to order chicken again at our next fancy dinner, but Michael Mina proved that his chicken can at least compete with the big guns.

celery root puree, glazed mirepoix
Not the best we’ve ever had, but certainly tasty. The celery root puree was a nice change from the standard mashed potatoes or polenta that usually accompanies short ribs.

salsify, medjool dates, thyme, walnuts
The winner of the night according to some members of our party, the lamb was perfectly cooked and sat on a bed of salsify and sweet pureed dates. With the addition of walnuts and thyme oil, it was a perfect combination of flavors and textures.

mozzarella ice milk, elderflower, violet
The pastry chef at XIV has worked at French Laundry, Per Se, and Alinea – So I was certainly expecting something magical and this dessert definitely delivered. Here are the components:
Chocolate cream: Ganache with a fluid crème anglaise base
Mozzarella milk ice: Mozzarella infused into milk. Tasted
exactly like mozzarella but sweet
Silver sauce: Made out of ground silver and elderflower liqueur
Ube purée: Purple Ube yam from the Philippines, sweetened with
sugar and blueberries
Violet sauce: A fluid gel made from agar agar, infused with violet
aroma from France
Crunchy chocolate mousse: A dehydrated chocolate mousse rested
on top

The other great thing about this unique dessert was that we each had our own serving so we didn’t have to fight over it. Genius! All desserts should be served this way.

Verdict? This is the 4th Michael Mina restaurant that we have visited, and there were some definitely some hits and misses. First, we weren’t quite sold on the concept behind the individual tasting portions and everyone being served the same dish. Although there was a vegetarian option for each small plate, if a few people aren’t sold on a dish then the rest of the party can’t really order it. In addition, because it took so long to plate small dishes for 7 people, some of the hot food arrived lukewarm. Another miss was that the partially covered outdoor patio was up against the sunset strip and there was a lot of street noise - I would recommend sitting in the beautifully designed interior. Although some of the dishes were impressive, there was still much to be desired. Hopefully in time XIV will iron out some of the kinks and join the ranks of Michael Mina’s other fine establishments.

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