While I tend to eat low-end, my love of good food causes me to scrimp and save so that I can eat high end, which I define as over $50 per person, a few times per year. (My motto is wear shabby clothes, drive old cars, eat good food). Over the last 5 years, between savings and the kindness of relatives, I've been able to hit a fair amount of the high-rated and high-priced LA eateries at least once.
Generally, I'm hesitant to weight in on High-End Dining trips (HED trips), as I hit only a few a year and will almost never repeat a visit in the same year, but I can certainly tell you what I love.
A weekend ago, for my birthday, I was lucky enough to be taken to Melisse, in Santa Monica, and enjoy the 13 course (I think it may actually have been more) carte blanche tasting menu. I have to say that this was one of the most extraordinary meals I've ever had. Over the years, I've had tasting menus at Spago, Sona and Providence and I've been to Melisse twice before, including one carte blanche menu, which I remembered fondly. This trip, however, was the best such meal I've had, including the past visits to Melisse, and the highlight was The Egg.
The egg is a Melisse signature dish that I'd had two years ago and had been dreaming about ever since. I was thrilled when it showed up again. It is a poached or soft-boiled egg, with a slight bit of cauliflower puree served in an egg shell, topped with crème frâich and caviar. It is the most rich, luscious dish I've ever had. The salt of the caviar, the rich, fluffy cream and the drippy, viscous egg yolk, all scooped up in one little mother-of-pearl spoonful, make for a silky texture and a taste that is as rich and heavenly as pure cream. Really, it's a rather simple dish. It doesn't have any molecular gastronomic effects. Its elements are very pure, egg and cream cooked perfectly and combined in a way that creates what must surely be the path to nirvana.
This is not to say that I have anything against molecular gastronomy. Another dish I enjoyed was a delicious apple soup, topped with apple foam and dotted with "apple caviar" -which I gather is a gelatin made with a syringe-like apparatus, and then there was the beef...
Beef sous vide. The sous vide technique, as I understand it, consists of placing meat in a vacuum packed plastic container and cooking it in warm water for a long period (in this case 72 hours). It retains all of its juices and comes out a perfect pink. This was juicy, tender and hugely flavorful beef; some of the best beef I've had. I wonder if you can replicate this with some Saran Wrap at home?
Lastly, big kudos to the cheese plate. I'm a bit of a cheesehead (will write about that more in the future), and I expect a lot out of high end restaurant cheese service. I want to talk about the cheese, its age, producer, composition and country of origin. Cheese is a growing, living and constantly aging thing, like wine, and restaurants that serve a cheese plate should put as much thought and expertise into its selection and service as they put into their wine selection.
Instead, however, many restaurants treat the cheese plate as an afterthought, something that Americans don't dig and don't know about. I've been mystified by how little the waiters at some restaurants know about the cheeseplates they serve. Not so, Melisse. The cheese board was excellent, including a wide variety of cheeses (maybe 40 or so). We tried a fairly generous number of selections, all well aged and interesting, and the waiter was knowledgeable about cheese and able to discuss its origins.
Anyway, if you want a splurge, and I do mean a splurge, but one that you will remember, check out Melisse.