So here’s my first post…
And I think it’s appropriate that my first post would be to share one of my favorite experiences!
After celebrating my last birthday with a night of pizza, wine, and karaoke with about 35 of my closest friends, I decided this year would be something a bit more mellow and with just one special person. This year, I decided to revisit one of the happiest places on earth for a food-aholic like me.
I present to you… my evening at The Kitchen!
First off, finding it can be a bit of a challenge. It’s located off Howe and Hurley in an unmarked building across from a strip mall that includes a Ross and a Subway. You know you are going to be well taken care of; there is a security attendant monitoring the lot at all times.
We entered through large glass doors to be greeted by one of the staff. Long white curtains partially obscure the entry from the parking lot, adding to the air of exclusivity, as if you are stepping from the world of the mundane and ordinary into one of sheer delight and imagination. “Pladson,” I reply when asked for the reservation. We are shown to our seats at the end of the bar, my favorite place to sit to watch the action. It was also a pleasant surprise, since I was told there were no available seats there when I made my request.
The stage has been set: All spectators are seated. The players are waiting in the wings to get the proverbial show on the road. The room is pervaded with smells of exotic mushrooms cooking down to a delicate reduction, onion soup that has been simmering for hours… slow roasted beef tenderloin waiting to be carefully sliced and married with sauteed brussel sprouts and green peppercorn sauce.
Our guide on this gastronomic adventure of epic proportion is Noah Zonca, Chef de Cuisine. Not only does he speak in the language of food as experience, but he is a consummate performer, a chaperon who not only tickles your tongue and stomach, but your funny bone as well. Noah grandiosely explains what lies in store for us and we wait, expectantly… hungrily!
Yes, this isn’t just a regular meal… this is a night where food is the headlining act. This is a night where the staff of The Kitchen takes you on a seven act play of culinary delights.
The only way to start out the night is with a glass of sparkling wine. Douglas, the wine steward, recommended a delicious Brut from Domaine Carneros.
Just as the last drops of this delight were being emptied from the glass, the first course was being plated: Randall’s French Onion Soup with Swiss Gruyere and Black Truffle. This was not your ordinary French Onion soup. This was created using a variety of onions including yellow and pearl onions, cipollini and chives, all from local farmers markets, and cooked down with red and white wines, cognac, and port. I think Noah may have said there was some whiskey involved as well!
After that heavenly experience came the salad course. By now we decided to open up a bottle of Frank Family chardonnay, a housewarming gift from some dear friends. It made me realize that it had been a long time since I had had a truly delicious chardonnay! It went wonderfully with the frisee and endive salad. This was a harmony of the bitter endive, the texture of the frisee, the crunch of Chandler walnuts from Lodi, the pomegranate sauce (sourced from their receptionist’s yard!), the sweetness of apples from Apple Hill, and the smoothness of Central Point blue cheese, a subtle and not overpowering blue from Oregon. To top it off, lardo made by Noah’s sous, Stan, made it one of the most decadent and texturally interesting salads I had had in a long time!
The finished product:
Next came the Intermezzo: Sushi, Sashimi, and Crudo. Unfortunately they ran short on oysters, but the albacore, hamachi, and maguro were heavenly… THIS is what sushi is supposed to be like. The tuna was some of the most flavorful and delectable I had ever had. There were some sushi rolls, however the sashimi was definitely aces for me!
After this course was finished, Number Three was up. This was by far my favorite: The Kitchen’s Dungeness Crab-Maine Lobster “Melt.” A delicate puff pastry lazily housed a butter-poached Maine lobster and dungeness crab mixture which included house preserved lemon and Modesto sourced goat cheese for an even richer flavor. It was surrounded by chervil water and caviar.
By now, we were ready for some red wine. Douglas recommended a bright, cheery, non-earthy Pinot Noir for the occasion: Lady Slipper from the Carneros appellation.
The main meat course was up next! I did not partake fully (more on that later!), so instead of the regular dish, the expert cooks whipped up a peppercorn crusted seared ahi for me. But first, let’s get to the dish! This was a slice of sheer heaven for any carnivore. Beef from Montana Ranch was grilled, then slow roasted at a low temperature before making its way to us, medium rare. While I would be appalled at anyone cooking this any longer, they are more than happy to accommodate anyone who wants their tenderloin burnt to a crisp! It was crusted in ground telecherry peppercorns and set atop a poached egg sauce and a reduction of some kind. The coup de grace, however, were the frittes. These were slices of potatoes fried, not in zero transfat vegetable oil. No. These were fried in pork and duck fat, yielding the most flavorful, crunchy fries imaginable. You could cut the beef with a fork, trust me, I tried. Indeed, it was so tender, I bet you could cut it with a rubber coated toddler spoon.
The finished product!
They made a special peppercorn crusted ahi tuna for me:
But I just couldn’t resist!
And then came the white-gloved tea service. And when they say “white glove,” they mean it. The “tea dude” has monogrammed white gloves. Not only do they serve excellent French press coffee, they are expert tea “makers,” with herbs and teas they grow. They’ll also create any blend you wish and steep it not a second too long, or too short. This is where iPhones came in handy!
I selected Nancy’s Blend, an amazing mixture of herbal teas, the majority of which was lavender.
And finally dessert!
Toasted macadamia nut-warm chocolate cake with vanilla bean ice cream, coconut foam and a sugared tuile.
The evening finally wound down as people slowly filtered out, their bellies full and minds quieted by wine and chocolate. We hung back, taking our time and chatting with Chef Noah. It wasn’t until after midnight when we finally exited “Disneyland for Foodies” and headed back home.
The man himself… Randall, who spent a ton of time with us, chatting about everything from his kids to social media. When we ran into him at Selland’s a few days later, he remembered us, introduced us to his son Josh, and even remembered that we were there for my birthday… and he remembered my name.
The entire philosophy of The Kitchen is mi casa es su casa. They encourage you to wander around the kitchen, enjoy a glass of wine by the fireplace on the patio, even chop a few things, if you want. Because everything is prepared before your eyes, you get a feel for the time, effort, and care they put in every single dish. They are attentive, gracious, and eager to tell you all about what you’re eating. Here are some shots from within.
While it is not cheap to experience The Kitchen, it is well worth every penny for foodies. You can return to any course you wish (I had seconds of the Third Act!) and even repeat the entire menu if you want to. I have no idea if anyone ever has… I’ll just have to remember to ask Randall next time I visit!