Monday, September 13, 2010

Melisse

I have a special treat for all my dedicated readers!  Today's entry has been written by my foodie friend, WonTuan.   Unlike my guest writer, I'll keep it BRIEF, and let him explain the why's, who's, and what's.


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So I guess I should start off by declaring that I’m the first guest writer for this blog—the rightful owner has apparently decided that she “could only say something is delicious so many times”.  I guess what that means is that she just really needed somebody to breathe some life into the stale drivel that was her semi regular posts (my interpretation), and so here I am, reporting for duty.  To set the scene and context, this dinner at Melisse was sponsored by a pharmaceutical company.  Depending on how successful the drug is (and oftentimes, how unscrupulous the drug rep is as well), the dinner may be more encompassing—choices off the regular menu, possibly with mixed drinks and usually with a selection of after dinner beverages.  If they’re cheap and stingy (as was in this unfortunate situation), the meal would come with a set menu, wine only, and here’s a first, exactly one cup of coffee after dinner and limits on the actual amount of alcohol!  I know—blasphemy!  Say goodbye to me ever prescribing Tygacil again.




Anyways, with that said, I don’t think this dinner was a true reflection of the quality of food that is normally presented at a restaurant with two Michelin stars.  The last time I went here (for another pharma sponsored dinner—yes, I’m a shill), it was yet another set menu, and I think the dishes were actually the exact same thing.  I wasn’t impressed last time, and shockingly, eating the same mediocre dishes a second time a year later hasn’t changed my opinion.


As I said, our dinner was a set menu.  While I have nothing against set menus, they’re oftentimes a harbinger of bad things to come.  Sure, there are exceptions (Providence, I’m looking at you), but usually, with a set menu at a pharmaceutical sponsored event, you have the wedding dinner—steak, chicken, or fish.  Such was the case this time as you can see, as we had a choice of salmon, chicken, or prime beef.  I chose the salmon, the blog owner (who will be named BO from this point forward) chose the prime beef, and my neighbor, Soprano Man, chose the chicken. 
The first item of food that came out was this enormous tray of bread.  Thank god we’re all thin Asians and not obese diabetic vets (or nurses) at the VA.  Starting from left to right, we had a choice of bacon, olive, ciabatta, plain, basil, and something boring looking (I forgot).  We were allowed to choose two (is that because this place is fancy schmancy?)—most people were drawn to the allure of bacon and the Incredible Hulk looking option, but I only chose the former. 







To say that I was disappointed is an understatement—gummy, cold, and bland were what I thought as I tried to pry the hunking mass of carbohydrates from the top of the roof of my mouth.  If an old person or young child ate this, they’d be at risk for choking and needing an emergency tracheostomy performed in the field.  This thing was like a ball of glue in my mouth.  Soprano Man shrilly cried that his basil bread was delightful, however.  He shared it with The Communist, who apparently agreed.  I didn’t get to taste it, as I was still sorely disappointed by the bread (and comparing it to the phenomenal version at, you guessed it, Providence). 





Our first actual dish was the amuse-bouche, a strange gelatinous concoction that came in a chilled shot glass.  It was salty, uniform in its texture, and overall, off-putting.  Yeah, not the greatest start for a restaurant with two Michelin stars.  The top layer was what I believe was a carrot gelee, and the bottom, its melon counterpart.  I think there was salt sprinkled on the top as well, which I would assume was to bring out the flavor of the carrot, but it just made me feel like a deer as everything tasted like a salt lick.  On top of this, it also came with a little spoon, as you can see, which I believe (from all my hours of watching Top Chef) is against the actual rules of an amuse-bouche—it’s supposed to be bite sized and consumed in one bite!  Anyways, even though it tasted weird, I ate the entire thing, partly because I was hungry, and also because I expected it to magically change flavors and suddenly start tasting good after it swirled around in my mouth some.  Nope, didn’t happen.





Rolled Goat Cheese with Tomato and Chopped Pistachios
The next “dish” was a rather sad looking bunch of dime sized goat cheese covered and pistachio encrusted grape tomatoes.  It sounded quite a bit more exciting than it actually was, because it basically tasted exactly like it sounded—tomatoes with goat cheese and pistachio nuts.  Meh.  I could probably make this at home, and it would probably cost a lot less as well.


Mixed Organic Green Salad shaved market vegetables, parmesan, summer truffle vinaigrette
 The salad, thankfully, came next and saved what would have been a disastrous start.  It was actually quite large (hurrah for the obesity epidemic and large portions!), and looked awesome.  It was delicate, perfectly seasoned, and had the ultimate ingredient.  You guessed it, truffles.  The truffle vinaigrette was earthy, warm, and played perfectly well with the sliced fennel and mixed greens.  This vinaigrette was really the star of the show—it was so good, I’m inspired to go out and buy myself a small bottle (or a vat, so I can bathe in it) to make my salads at home taste like this. Needless to say, I ate the entire thing.  I wasn’t the only one who thought it was the highlight thus far, as BO also had some of Ms Chatty Cathy’s salad (she came late and got an even LARGER portion).  The best thing is that I can still taste it in my burps as I’m typing this.  Somewhat akin to the perpetually lingering essence of durian, except that it doesn’t taste like stale ass.

Slow Cooked Scottish Salmon crushed potatoes, nicoise olives, tomato-fennel jus
The entrées arrived next, and were overall, a solid if not rather pedestrian affair.  The salmon was serviceable—not offensive, and not particularly exciting either.  I think that the flavors were certainly interesting, as it was served with some artichoke hearts atop a light salad of diced tomatoes, olives and crushed potatoes.  I wasn’t initially too impressed, but slowly warmed up to it as the flavors started to meld.  I guess I would say that I was pleased, but more because it was free.  If I were to have paid anything more than about fifteen bucks, I would have been a sad and bitter camper. 


Prime Beef Strip Loin heirloom carrots, swiss chard, maple-horseradish jus
I got to taste BO’s beef, which admittedly looked terrific.  It was presented on this uber modern square plate with things all placed just so, like a little piece of art.  Alas, the taste didn’t live up to the looks—it was as tough as shoe leather.  BO claimed it was because I got a side piece, sorta like the piece at the edge of the brownie pan, but I didn’t buy it.  Soprano Man thought his chicken was pretty unremarkable as well.  A moist piece of chicken—nothing more, nothing less.





Apple Tart Classic creme fraiche ice cream, sauce "terre et mer"
At this point, we sang awkwardly to the speaker, as it was apparently his 30th-50th birthday (he could actually be 50 for all we know, given that he’s Asian).  The dessert, an apple tart with a crispy bottom and craime fraiche ice cream with a thicky nutty caramel sauce, rounded out the night.  It was thankfully quite delicious and a solid conclusion to the meal.  Soprano Man agreed, as he continually exclaimed how unbelievably, mind-blowingly orgasmic it was.  The speaker's came with a teeny tiny candle, and we all sang Happy Birthday again—this time, less awkwardly since we now had a purpose with the faux cake.  (those bastards at Pfizer were pretty cheap—they couldn’t even afford to buy the man a proper cake for dessert!)


Overall, I’d say it was a solid meal, but nothing that couldn’t have been done at home by a fairly accomplished cook.  Was it two Michelin stars worthy?  Probably not.  It was more of something I’d expect at a decent mid-tier restaurant like Napa Valley Grille.  But of course, this was all in the context of a cheap pharmaceutical dinner, so it’s probably not reflective of the true quality that one would get if items off the regular menu were ordered.  I do have to say, however, that the same situation was present at Hatfields and Providence, and both pharmaceutical dinners were spectacular.  So I don’t know.  Until some sugar momma decides to fork out the cash and splurge on the tasting menu with wine pairings, I’ll probably never know if this place is worthy of its two Michelin stars.  All’s I know is that this dinner definitely wasn’t.  


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I thank WonTuan for his verbose contribution to my blog.  Please leave some comments if you'd like to see more from WonTuan and/or any other guest writers!






Melisse
1104 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401


 


 

4 comments:

Kimberly at September 13, 2010 at 2:00 PM said...

Oh Wontuan. I do enjoy your review. Although, overall it made me not want to try Melisse as badly anymore. Or at least kicked it down several notches. Maybe if they sell that truffle dressing that will be my extent of wanting to try Melisse.

Tuan at September 13, 2010 at 8:33 PM said...

well kim, i'd say that you got yourself a sugar daddy, so hopefully the next place you go to for that super special occasion will be melisse--what's a few hundies in the grand scheme of things?

and BO, reading it again, it definitely wasn't as long as some of your other posts. so much for calling ME verbose.

JN at September 22, 2010 at 2:00 PM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JN at September 22, 2010 at 2:00 PM said...

Thank you to WonTuan for his fresh perspective. Even though his words did not put Melisse in the best light, I think the fact that it was a pharma-sponsored dinner needs to be put into perspective. Don't get me wrong. I don't like Pfizer very much either, but that seems pretty cool that you got a free dinner at any-Michelin starred restaurant. With the way the health care system is going, you MDs might be eating Applebee's in the future. Hahaha!

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