Starry Night at LQ @ SK "Fooding Around in LA"
In the late afternoon, we drove through the streets of Los Angeles, swerving through the belly of Koreatown and Hancock Park neighborhoods, as Darling was determined to have a good bottle of wine from the DomaineLA wine store.
"A sweetheart is a bottle of wine, a wife is a wine bottle." Charles Baudelaire
The traffic was such that we were set off our course, but no matter. We scurried through the whimsical Larchmont Avenue to get over to Melrose near Highland. Well, luck would have it that President Obama was making his own foodie run to Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles around the same time--- 4:30pm on a Monday afternoon in late October. Funny to think that we were making our own way through traffic to dine on French food while Obama was ordering up the No. 9 “Country Boy” -- three wings with choice of waffle, potato salad or French fries. Yes, the President's craving for waffles, chicken and fries caused some blocked roads and more Los Angeles traffic.
But finally, we arrived at DomaineLA. We had tried a few wines at their wine and cheese tasting (previous posting) which featured Chef Laurent Quenioux's sublime cheese cart. I fell madly in love with his cheeses (and Chef Laurent). Knowing that the chef was at Starry Kitchen (known as LQ@SK), we planned a dinner date to experience his artful cuisine. LQ @ SK is a collaboration between the culinary talents of Chef Laurent Quenioux and Starry Kitchen. And what a blissful marriage it is.
"A bottle of wine contains more philosophy than all the books in the world." Louis Pasteur
The wine we had in mind was one we had discovered at the DomaineLA wine and cheese tasting, Terres Dorees 'L'Ancien' Beaujolais. We liked it so much we wanted to enjoy a bottle with dinner. As I write this, I feel so spoiled. It isn't like I have led a life of luxury. You might think I have, but goodness, no. However, by some graceful sweep of fate, I am being whisked off to Starry Kitchen, and along the way, choosing a bottle of wine for the evening. Doesn't that sound luxurious? You see, I am used to driving around in a minivan with my three kids, all complaining and whining about one thing or another, bickering about who gets to sit in what seat, taunting and teasing each other until somebody cries. Inevitably, the one who is crying is me.
Luxury is not finding sticky candy wrappers and spilled drinks pooling their colored liquid in my minivan cup holders, or crumbs ground into the carpet, or a fossilized and forgotten chocolate croissant underneath the back seat that possibly had been there for months. My three year old daughter screeching that she needs cookies is slightly reminiscent of my own internal wail for something good, something that just hits the spot. For my daughter, it's cookies. For me, well, it's French cheese like Époisse or Brillat-Savarin. So I understand the feeling and calmly endure her shrieking while strapped in her car seat "I neeed coookieees" as if her life depended on cookies. Goodness knows I count my blessings, and certainly on those days when the chant is "mommy mommy" and "what are we having for dinner?"
And so it is a blessing to me that I am led around Los Angeles' restaurants by Darling, losing my vegetarian-ity by trying things I've never experienced before (ahem, saving me from another family dinner at California Pizza Kitch-- um, oh let's not mention that).
"A complete lack of caution is perhaps one of the true signs of a real gourmet: he has no need for it, being filled as he is with a God-given and intelligently self-cultivated sense of gastronomical freedom." M.F.K. Fisher
The delightful charm of my Darling is such that he takes me on food (and now, drink) adventures, so of course he had a surprise destination up his long sleeve. Of course, he did. So he took my hand and led me along, walking down this street and that, not telling me where. I followed as he led me through an art deco doorway to an elevator. I noticed the gold leafed ceiling in the lobby, taking it all in, curious with wonder, like a young girl in line for a Disneyland ride. The elevator was small and rickety but not nearly as precarious as some balconies I’ve blindly trusted when living in New Orleans. Suddenly a boisterous group of people came in through the main doorway from the street, crowding the elevator up to the 13th floor. There were several comments about the 13th floor, but I am not superstitious, and so when someone noticed the light to the number 13 was missing, I took it as a good luck sign. Zen-like optimism lends the notion that emptiness, a number missing, is a good thing. And it was. The doors opened and we went into another elevator. The elevator arrived at a Victorian-meets-eclectic styled bar, The Perch, overlooking the downtown skyline. Suddenly, the view, a glass of wine, and Darling. What more could a girl ask for? My wine glass runneth over. After a romantic drink on the patio, we had our reservation for two at Starry Kitchen. And that is something starry and magical indeed.
The skyline shifted into glittering golden yellow lights. We left the bar and briskly walked down the concrete streets of Los Angeles, which had transformed into a poetic setting. I felt light, inhaling the cool air of the evening. The sun had set and all the daytime colors sank into indigo shadows and asphalt grays. His warm hand leading mine, up to the Angels Flight street car. Up the rails and stop. Down the stairs to Starry Kitchen.
Our table was waiting with warm welcome from the Starry staff, along with a hello from Nguyen Tran and his wife Thi. Bouncy 80's flashback music melodic in the background filled the casual atmosphere. Chef Laurent waving to us in the kitchen, smiling away with a warmth of stoves and ovens, as the line chefs were concentrating on their creations. Starry Kitchen had a sunny ambiance about it, and yes, 'sunny' is the word that evokes, but starry also sparkles. Starry starry kitchen. Sparkling.
Our wine was opened, poured into our glasses, and the amuse bouche of a Carlsbad Oyster arrived, decorated with its dollop of lemon tapioca. After all, it was my very first oyster. Darling's eyes twinkled. We met on National Oyster Day. The briny lightness of the oyster slipped into my mouth. So this was what the mythical aphrodisiac oyster was all about. I wiggled in my chair, seeking the thrill throughout my body.
A taste more wine, a little refreshing cucumber water. The Oxtail Grilled Cheese. The most glorious grilled cheese of my life.
What made this even more decadent was horseradish bechamel. The plate was simply decorated with slivers of radishes, with tender oxtail gently pillowed upon a corner of the grilled cheese sandwich. This was my first oxtail experience. I'm a girl that loves a good grilled cheese sandwich. This took it to another level entirely.
The Cod arrived nestled into Lobster Bouillon, topped with a Kumquat Fennel Jam which brought together all the flavors magically in my mouth. The Lobster Bouillon when married with the moist cod was magic and sung in buttery flakes of succulence on my tongue.
Darling took his fork and softened my cod up like I was a little girl to feed. It was sweet that he did that because it mingled all the flavors together. "Thank you, Darling," I purred. Darling smiled a little bit. Really and truly, the cod with the lobster bouillon was magnificent when tasted with the kumquat fennel jam's sweetness.
Then the foie gras, smoked eel, and green apple dish came along. Local chefs have been making specialty foie gras dishes to celebrate its divinity before it is banned from California restaurants. Certainly, having been a life long vegetarian until now, I can sympathize with the banning of cruelty-influenced foods, but I'm also not one to get involved in controversies. Foie gras is a luxury food, and something I've only tasted in small amounts within the past few months. Centuries of foie gras and the history of its pleasures, dating back to ancient Egyptian times. For thousands of years foie gras has been savored. The Romans fed figs to the geese and ducks to ensure their fatty livers. I want to experience the sensuality of the foie gras, not get caught up in the politics of it all. Being a vegetarian since I was a child, I had a thoughtful disposition that involved a self-inflicted preference for broccoli and brussel sprouts, shunning the hearty steaks and bloody cuts of meats that never appealed, I closed my mouth to tastes of all animals. I did comprehend on some level the idea that eating violence per se wasn't a good thing as it goes against my pacifist philosophy, and definitely not the by-product I wanted in my stomach. But having said all that, foie gras. In my mouth. Dee-licious.
There are moments in life where you just can't imagine doing something that you are doing in that moment. What I mean to say is, I never in my wildest vegetarian dreams thought I would be eating Scottish Wood Pigeon in Vin Chaud Varnish with Lentils, Parsnip, Chantrelles in Poirvrade.
"A Cornish hen in the hand is only enough for one person." Unknown
Compelled by the tugging sensation of my knife cutting into the bird, carving a bite, I was curious about the experience I had long forgotten of chewing meat. I allowed the flesh of the pigeon to infuse itself through me, calling me into the realms of carnivore once again, and the unexpected pleasures of it. The vin chaud varnish was exquisite. Earthy flavor, sinking my teeth into its flesh, my blood absorbing the instinctive act I had denied myself for reasons I thought worthy, for preference to vegetables and a disdain for anything animal.
"A vegetarian is a person who won't eat anything that can have children." David Brenner
The Scottish Wood Pigeon was reminding my cells that ma petite pigeonneau had been eaten with great omnivorous delight by perhaps kings and queens, as Four and Twenty Blackbirds were baked in a pie, and pigeons were quite a savory delicacy to the French for hundreds of years. But pigeons themselves eat much the way I tend to eat most days---they eat pine nuts and figs, legumes, berries, wheat, corn, and olives. So this little pigeon was a plump bird full of vegetarian goodness, and I was a vegetarian now eating a pigeon.
The Persimmon Cake with Chai Tea Foam, Quince Gel, and Ginger Barley Ice Cream for dessert. We had several glasses of wine by this moment and I was feeling quite fuzzy with the beaujolais warming me up with its lusty grape essences. We began chatting with the couple next us who commented on the 80's music reminding them of a time when we were all much younger. Did we feel the same? Ah, merry with wine and oxtail grilled cheese, joyous with cod soaked in lobster bouillon, languid with foie gras and smoked eel, our bellies content with the delicately gamey Scottish Wood Pigeon, we all reminisced about the days when we were twenty to almost thirty years younger, and laughed about the way time passes as it does, so not to worry, we aren't alone. We are enjoying a fabulous meal, and life is good.
The artistry of Chef Laurent and his kitchen hands plating the desserts was fun to watch. I was invited into the kitchen and observed the way things were done. Everyone very jolly while plating the dishes.
And how could I resist cheese? In fact, it was the reason for dining at Starry Kitchen with Chef Laurent at the kitchen helm. Ah, Le Chef de Cuisine! What an alchemist. The dinner was memorable, full of his warmth and magic. Then the cheese cart came along, wafting its funky smell of odiferous elegance, with cheeses named after such gourmands as Brillat Savarin. The little pots of jams and spreads, a tiny pot of truffle honey, slices of baguette.
There were many to choose from, but the one I liked most was something with fig, tomatillo, and jalapeño. It was sweet and spicy, reminding me of a red pepper jelly phase I went through during my years in New Orleans. Sweet, tangy, spicy. Spread on the baguette, then selecting a pungent cheese. Heaven.
I didn't want to choose too many cheeses, three seemed enough, but Darling wasn't pleased that I only chose three. So he insisted I choose more cheese from the cart. The experience of eating cheese after such a meal is relaxing, and gives a moment to soak up that last taste of wine.
The cheese is rich with different consistencies, the flavor combinations created with the spreads and jams. Truffle honey made a subtle impression upon my palate when mingled with the cheese and bread. Cheese... voluptuous and wanton with aged sensuality. The cheeses were delicate with pungent mysteries unfolding in lush creamy textures, the tangy sweet spark of jam and honey, the sultry and somewhat dank bitter flavors that come with cheeses like this. Cheese like this is seductive even when full bellied and tipsy beyond my usual mirthful intoxication.
"After a perfect meal we are more susceptible to the ecstasy of love than at any other time." Dr. Hans Bazli Our beautiful dinner at Starry Kitchen ended with peeking into the kitchen to say goodbye to Chef Laurent, who welcomed us into his lair with such a jovial energy. "Be sweet to each other," Laurent said with a knowing smile, and we said our thank you and goodbyes until again. We went off into the starry night, happy.