Went to a special promotional dinner at Lola's ( www.lolasla.com ) last night, where they paired up with Modern Spirits ( www.modernspiritsvodka.com ), a LA vodka maker, for a seven-course small plate dinner (matched with seven flavored vodkas, three of which I've had before.) For $35 a person, it was a fairly good deal so I went and here's how the evening panned out. (Also, I'm fairly sure I saw other Chowhounds and food bloggers there! Let me know if you went.)
Having arrived early, I sat @ the Bar and decided to have some of their Happy Hour specials ($5 vodka cocktails made with Blue Ice.) I had a Lemon Drop & a Cosmo which were both dangerous (in the sense that they didn't taste alcoholic but packed quite a punch,) but that was to be expected with Lola's--a martini hotspot in LA and supposed originator of the apple-tini (and to the likely disgust of martini traditionists... you know, the gin kind.) I also had their hush puppies, which were stuffed with potatoes, jalapenos and cheese -- it was good but didn't really have that corn-like hush puppy quality that I expected (and reminded me more of Pizza Huts "Que Papas" -- the spicy cheesey tater tot.)
After enjoying in my happy hour delights, I was seated and the Modern Spirits owners-makers introduced themselves to me personally (and making their rounds among the dining tables.) Very nice and knowledgable people.
Course one: mixed green salad with bloody mary vinaigrette with a spicy chilled shrimp, paired with Celery Peppercorn vodka. The vodka was surprisingly tasty ~ light crisp celery scent with a pretty subtle pepper bite. The salad was OK -- with the exception of a few veggies (which I guess soaked up the vinaigarette differently), it tasted more onion-y than Bloody Mary like. The shrimp was also not particularly spicy, but not bad otherwise.
Course two: Teriyaki Beef Tartar in Soy Ginger Glaze with Lotus Root Chips and candied ginger vodka pairing. The dish was impressive, the raw beef practically melts in your mouth and was well-matched with the teriyaki sauce. The lotus chips reminded me of tempura batter, but nuttier. The candied ginger vodka (with its sweet-and-spicy aroma) was good, but the scent was a bit overpowering - esp. given the subtle nuances of this dish.
Course three: Grilled Pork loin with applesauce, goat cheese mashed potatoes and pear lavender vodka. The pork chop was unimpressive (overcooked and therefore dry) though the applesauce was not bad (and was brought out quite well with the vodka.) The potatoes didn't have much of a goat cheese taste (actually more garlicky than anything else.)
Course four: Poached salmon in a citrus cream sauce & flash fried spinach, with Grapefruit Honey vodka. Probably my favorite of the savory courses, the salmon was quite buttery and the sauce was just creamy and tart enough (for me, most places tend to overdo it on one or the other.) The fried spinach was also a nice, delightful, crispy side dish. I'm not sure if the vodka improved upon the dish though--but then again, I've had that one before and traditionally used it with sweet dishes. (I will say though the Grapefruit Honey Vodka makes for some wonderfully wicked cosmopolitans, leaving everyone wondering what that little extra something is.)
Course five: Curried lamb satey and spiced, creamed lentils with Tea vodka. This whole dish was a pleasant surprise! I don't care much for lamb or lentils, but the curried & spiced flavors play out very well in layering flavors so that it didn't taste too lamby. I also didn't expect much out of the tea vodka, but it had very good notes of caramel, vanilla and flowers.
Course six: Hard cheese & melon plate in a balsamic reduction with black truffle vodka. It was a simple and good dish, the balsamic was a nice touch. The vodka has very subtle earthy notes, which was unfortunate when paired with this dish because the cheese flavors easily overwhelmed it. I'm sure this vodka would be much better highlighted if paired with just the melons.
Course seven: Chocolate orange paté with caramelized orange segment paired with chocolate orange vodka. The pate was good (deep chocolate taste and a not-too-powerful orange tang,) though a bit too soft in texture (it could feel it falling apart when diving in with my fork.) I wish I gotten more of the orange segments though (which were a little sweet, sour and crunchy.) The paired vodka is good too, but hard to distinguish from the dessert and consequently, didn't stand out on my palate.
All in all, it was a pretty good experience and a nice change of pace from wine-paired dinners. But a vodka-paired dinner can get pretty intense (I had 4 full glasses of iced water throughout the dinner and spent the entire meal & 30 minute afterwards in a mellow buzz, though I guess that could be attributed to my 2 pre-dinner martinis as well.) Nonetheless, it's something I'll look forward to checking out again in the future (and during my conversations with the makers and from the Modern Spirits web site, they will be doing a few more vodka-tasting dinners in the SoCal area soon.... one at Sage on the Coast in the OC and another on the Westside in August, so stay tuned.) Another nice perk: discounts on Modern Spirits vodka (which I planned on buying soon anyways) at a local wine/liquor store.
And of course, Lola's, being home to so many different "martinis" and having food that's not bad in taste or prices, will likely be revisited again, esp. with out-of-town friends.