“Out of the Blue” is a series of casual, private dinners hosted by COOP HIMMELB(L)AU in their Los Angeles Studio. COOP HIMMELB(L)AU is a world renown global architecture firm based in Vienna and Los Angeles. It’s CEO and Design Principal is the co-founder Wolf D. Prix, he is a pretty incredibly man.
The location of the L.A studio is in a high rise on the edge of MacArthur Park on West 6th Street. A 4 square block park with a dramatic city skyline view surrounding a geese filled lake. This 130 year old public land is largely dominated by Latin American drug gangs (mainly meth), notably The Crazy Riders who formed right here in the mid-80s along with the Columbia Lil Cycos which formed on Columbia Avenue nearby.
With the continual influx of Salvadoran immigrants since the early 2000s, the transnational MS – 13 gang from the Pico-Union area locked up most of the turf west of Downtown. As a result, the park is relatively quiet and safe; features all night soccer matches across Wilshire Blvd., extensive free parking, and an upcoming Pupusa Festival (the 4th annual).
This was a frustrating pop up to find; the invitation didn’t have any directions and no one seemed to know anything about it. We resorted to sneaking in the building and finding another person with a bag filled with wine who had more information than we did.
We found the floor and walked down a dark hallway to another door with no signage whatsoever, opening said door to find an expansive open air room with a fantastic view and swanky dressed Europeans.
I thought this would be a great opportunity to feature the wines of Cantele and Bele Casel, recently sent to me by my dear friend and mentor Dr. Jeremy Parzen. I wanted to really see the difference between the glera grape ‘col fondo’ (the bottom) without the lees removed as in the old style, and the newer (post 1970) filtered style of production.
Col Fondo prosecco finishes fermentation in the bottle, with the remaining yeast falling to the bottom of the wine leaving this sediment, which is said to be very high in vitamins. These wines hail from the newly created Prosecco appellation of Asolo, sandwiched nicely between the Veneto and Friuli in north eastern Italy.
The col fondo was cloudy and gently sparkling and threw some considerable sediment. Definitely had some bread dough and under ripe stone fruit as well as a slightly savory, tarragon note that I really enjoyed. The acidity was nice as was the mineral present on the finish; this wine had a freshness and rusticity that went perfectly with our initial courses.
I think my guests preferred the traditional Bele Casel Prosecco, (which is a perennial favorite) that we started with, yet I would drink col fondo all day/night.
Next we got to the Cantele Negroamaro Rosato, a wine really dear to my heart from my days first tasting Southern Italian varietals at Sotto. I walked around the large tables sharing this wine (from the Salento IGT in Puglia) with several guests. This wine has a beautiful color, bright strawberry, and watermelon flavor backed by pronounced acidity which made it a big hit.
This wine is done in the salasso method, in which the juice is bled off the musts after limited contact with the grape skins. I had several people come over asking to take a picture of the bottle.
Chef Maïté Schwartz and Chef Heather Bouge helmed the kitchen alongside Carmen Nicole of La Boum. Not only are these ladies talented and professional, but they are all very beautiful which i’m certain adds to their cuisine in immeasurable quantities.
I think the beauty of the cooking here was that the simple things were done very well. The first course was an elegant plating of spring garlic and thyme grougeres. These were a perfect internal temperature warm and gooey inside with a nice crust.
I would have to say, that by far my favorite dish of the evening was the Radish Two Ways – raw and braised with a miso butter, sherry and additional brown butter. The addition of turnips which were bursting with juice and flavor really got me excited. I ate this dish heartily.
The shrimp roll was playful and creative; I loved the use of little pockets of brioche giving this dish a great visual appeal. The brioche was expertly toasted with a nice singe to each side. Melted leeks and fennel were the predominant flavors and the garnish of soft herbs.
We now moved into one of my favorite wines from the Veneto in Inama Soave Classico. Garganega is the grape here, and it is grown on in a temperate climate marked by unique ancient geological seismic events called “bradyseism” – volcanic ridges generating a soil extremely rich in trace elements and minerals. I am in agreement that this is some of the best soil in all of Italy and it shows in the wines; minerality with body and acidity, deep floral aromatic intensity.
The Soave worked really well with the next these courses, especially the Scallop Crudo, with sunchokes, mushrooms, meyer lemon and hazelnut.
This dish was plated so beautifully, and the flavors were a great marriage, but I felt that the scallop was a little to thick and overtook the balance.
The next few courses in the Prince Edward Island Mussels with little neck clams, chorizo, harissa, and preserved lemon and the Triple ‘P’ – Toasted Pasta, Pork Belly, Peas (with Tendrils) and Ricotta were a challenge to drink with Salice Salentino Riserva, but this wine disappeared quickly nonetheless.
The bivalves were delicious, though we all collectively mentioned how we wanted a crust of bread to soak up the fantastic broth – the preserved lemon was the highlight for me, the perfect marriage with chorizo. I am a huge fan of peas, and the toasted pasta dish was bursting with spring color and lots of texture, really enjoyed it.
The Salice Salentino is an extremely well made wine, and had an extraordinary acidity given it’s moderate alcohol level. A favorite of the table with rich baking spices, oak, and black cherry this 100% Negroamaro worked well with the beef course matching the spices in that dish.
As is always a challenge in a large format pop–up, the temperature wasn’t quite where it needed to be on the beef dish, which was braised beef cheeks also with miso, pickled shimeji mushrooms, shallots, on a buckwheat blini.
I loved the mushrooms here, which provided nice texture and acidity but I found the blini didn’t work with the large portion of beef cheeks. I think a smaller portion of the cheeks, and another texture element might have helped this dish. I did think the seasoning was great.
One thing I would say about the menu is that the evolution of the courses wasn’t quite linear, and as a result we found ourselves rather drunk and full by the time the last three came along. Though exactly not the fault of the kitchen, the portion sizing wasn’t quite intuitive and as the delicious dishes came in rapid succession our table wasn’t quite sure how to meter our eating.
When a dish as beautiful as the Triple P hit the table, it was instantly devoured, unfortunately leaving little room for the successive courses.
The dessert course was another highlight – Salted Caramel Budino with Lemon Hazelnut Biscotti. This biscotti was so fantastic I must have eaten 5 of them. The Chefs here understood that salt in desserts should be applied in pinches; the salt application here was perfect, in stark contrast to the excessively salted desserts i’ve had in the past. Classic and delicious.
While the flavors were very unique, going from classic Southern Californian with flecks of Mediterranean to some Far Eastern elements. I would love to see what the ladies could do with a more thematically focused menu.
I would love to attend another event at this beautiful space with such high quality cuisine, paired with some fantastic wines.