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Restaurants & Bars 6

Melisse - longish review

Tom P | Aug 31, 200408:32 PM

The SO and I went to Melisse on Saturday night – first timers. We will definitely be going back.

The hostess was about as gracious and warm as could be when we entered. (The same was true for making reservations, not often the case in LA.) She gave us a lovely booth, which surprised me as it was our first time at the restaurant. We could not have felt more welcome. In fact, the service in general was outstanding. We had an excellent waiter, but everyone on the staff was ready to help. The wait and bus staff all are constantly, yet unobtrusively, checking each table, so it seemed whenever we needed something, or it was time for things to be cleared – poof, it just happened.

I was set on getting the roast chicken for two, as I had heard and read about it and I love, love, love a great roast chicken. The rest of the menu was very tempting, however… one of the reasons we will be going back. The menu consists of a la carte items as well as a number of tasting menus (including a ‘chef’s tasting menu,’ where everything is a surprise) but one thing I appreciated, that you don’t often see, is that you can order anything a la carte, even items on the tasting menus.

But on to the food. (We had cocktailed already, so we tried a half bottle of white and a half bottle of red. Both were reasonable and excellent.)

We each received two amuse-bouche (sp?) from the kitchen, before and after ordering. The first was a tiny square tart that was filled with a thick roasted tomato and red onion sauce, almost a chutney, topped by an herbed goat cheese cream. It was wonderful, just bursting with the flavor of tomato and onion. The second was a tall, thin shot glass filled with cucumber gel on the bottom, a cucumber foam on top (we were instructed to mix them before trying it) and chunks of lobster. This, too, was terrific. And we began to think that one of Josiah Citrin’s techniques is to get fresh ingredients and prepare them in a way that really brings out the flavor of a particular item. The cucumber shot, for lack of a better term, just sang of fresh cucumber, and the other ingredients, including the lobster, enhanced the cucumber taste rather than drew attention from it.

We each ordered n appetizer, and the waiter suggested the kitchen splitting them in the back, so we could each try them from our own plates and have an ‘additional course.’ The first was an heirloom tomato salad. The presentation was beautiful, even though they split it onto two plates, and the tomatoes were fresh and dressed with a light vinaigrette. Tomato fans, we enjoyed it very much. The second starter was even better, sweet corn ravioli with brown butter and shaved truffles. Again, the corn took center stage. The pasta was excellent, as were the sauce and truffles, but this dish tasted of Sweet Corn through and through. The SO felt it almost sacrificed other flavors for the purity of corn taste; others might agree. I loved it.

Then came the roast chicken. It is about $44 a person, and comes in two courses. I had read they would carve it at the table, but we were both surprised when Josiah Citrin himself presented the chicken on the cart and carved it at the table. He was quite gruff, but asked us some questions and talked a little bit. He was clearly focused on the presentation, though. He carved the chicken and, after spreading some mashed potatoes artistically on the plates, arranged the white meat over the potatoes, then spooned the most glorious morel mushrooms to the side. It was all enhanced by the jus of the chicken. This was comfort food at its finest. I may have had as good of white meat chicken as I had that night, but I have not had much better. And combined with the presentation and the decadent sides, it was a treat.

Then came the best of the evening. After the plates were cleared, the dark meat was served. Citrin makes a salad of tomatoes, vegetables, and the dark meat, as the second course. It was heavenly, and the vinaigrette was the best I have ever tasted. We later learned it was made with Manni olive oil, an extremely expensive olive oil from a small producer in Italy who sells it only to a few restaurants around the world. Mixed with a good vinegar and the chicken juice, the homemade vinaigrettes I proud myself on seemed pitiful.

We ate so much and the tastes were so good, we decided to forgo dessert. Even still, with the check a lovely array of small cookies and petite-fours were served, all top notch. As I said, we will definitely be going back. Some of the other items we saw looked even better than the chicken. I would love to try the Chef’s tasting/surprise menu.


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