If you’ve been living under a rock, you may have missed that the ban on selling foie gras in California has been lifted, though producing it in-state is still illegal. My feelings on foie gras are not as clear cut as you may think, but suffice it to say I do eat it, and I’ll leave it at that.
Last week, my friend Remil invited me to join him at VINU Wine Bar in Koreatown. The restaurant was offering a 3-course foie gras tasting for $25, and it included a glass of Pinot noir. I did check out the restaurant first on Yelp, and a few recent reviews mentioned that the foie gras was “tough” from overcooking, but at that price point I was willing to take a risk. I’m happy to report that I found no such issue with the dishes I had.
Foie Gras Bossam: The first course consisted of seared foie, bacon, raw Shigoku oyster, gochujang, and crown daisy wrapped in a Napa cabbage leaf. A take on Korean gul bossam, traditionally with pork belly and oyster wrapped in lettuce or cabbage leaves, this was a well composed dish. The unctuousness of the foie was counterbalanced by the brininess of the oyster and the brightness of the cabbage. Portioning was good too, with just enough foie to last through the 2-3 bites it took to consume the wrap. The restaurant’s Facebook/Instagram post called this “foie n’ bacon n’oyster oh my!” I called it delicious.
Foie Gua Bao: The second course consisted of almond-crusted foie, duck breast, orange gastrique, micro cilantro, served in a bao bun. A riff on Taiwanese gua bao, also traditionally made with pork belly, I could not resist dubbing this dish “foie gua bao”–with the orange gastrique, it also evoked duck à l’orange. Another well balanced dish, the sweetness of the bao bun and citrus paired nicely with the duck and foie. One could consider this the entrée of the tasting, as it was definitely heartier than the preceding course.
Foie Gras Board: The third course consisted of seared and raw foie, honey comb, bleu cheese, two different fruit preserves, Marcona almonds, and toasted bread. Clearly the dessert course, I liked experimenting with different combinations from the board. I found that the raw foie was best enjoyed on its own, while the seared foie could stand up to anything, even pungent cheese and sweet honey and jams.
Pecan Pie: For actual dessert, Remil ordered a pecan pie. He offered me a bite, but I am not a fan of pecans, so I declined. He did seem satisfied with it.
Carrot Cake: Apparently the restaurant was doing a photo shoot of various dishes at their bar, and afterwards one of the waiters offered to us the carrot cake they were using, on the house. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the cake lacked walnuts (as far as I could tell), as I’m not a fan of those either.
As mentioned, I checked out VINU Wine Bar online prior to my visit, since I had not heard of it. It made a brief appearance on Eater LA, but nothing on Chowhound. Yelp had 50+ reviews at a 4-star average rating. The individual ratings seem to range from 3 stars to 5 stars, as expected, but a handful of 1-star reviews caught my eye. Seemed that a conflict involving a birthday party had occurred recently, and perhaps the owner hadn’t handled it well at the time, but I was glad to see that she was very responsive on Yelp.
The service we got was excellent for the most part, but a few things did jump out at me, like the use of paper napkins. Now I have no problem using white bread as napkins at Bludso’s, but not using cloth napkins seemed a bit incongruous with the ambiance at VINU. Also, our waitress did not tell us anything about the Pinot* that came with the meal, which we thought was unusual for a wine bar, and she kind of disappeared after bringing us our check (she was otherwise very responsive).
*I am not an oenophile, so I will not attempt to evaluate the wine.
[Update: The chef/owner replied on Facebook that they had run out of clean cloth napkins that night, but that black linen cloth napkins are normally used.]
Overall, I was very pleasantly surprised by my experience at VINU Wine Bar. $25 for 3 courses of foie gras and a glass of wine is really hard to beat, especially when the dishes were well conceived and executed. I would definitely return for the foie tasting again and to try some of the other dishes on the menu.
VINU Wine Bar
3785 Wilshire Boulevard Suite 32
Los Angeles, CA 90010