L.A. is home to a fair share of Top Chef contestants. Betty Fraser runs Grub in Hollywood (read my review on it here), Ilan Hall recently opened The Gorbals in Downtown, Stefan Richter is at L.A. Farm and Stefan's on Montana, and Fabio Viviani runs Firenze Osteria in Toluca Lake. Past winner Michael Voltaggio used to be head chef at The Dining Room in Pasadena, but left recently to pursue his own project.
One of the most memorable Top Chef contestants is Marcel Vigneron. I affectionately refer to him as "Wolverine" due to his awesomely sculpted hair. Known for his creative molecular gastronomy inspired cuisine, he worked at The Bazaar in Beverly Hills before leaving to do his own projects. He occasionally pops up here and there, and when I saw that he was doing a three day stint at Test Kitchen in West L.A., I immediately booked it.
Test Kitchen is a unique restaurant. Chefs take over the restaurant for two or three days and come up with a prix fixed menu that features innovative dishes that they might not normally be able to create in another restaurant. The cuisine is frequently bold and daring. Sometimes you will get a few duds, but it's all in the name of experimentation.
Here's what we were served by Marcel this past weekend... Six course menu, $55 per person.
Kombu Cured Hamachi: Crispy Rice, Pineapple, Avocado
The pineapple is the yellow rectangle underneath the hamachi. It is thinly sliced and topped with seaweed, toasted rice, jalapeno, avocado dollops and foam.
Scallobut: Flavors of puttanesca, artichoke
A scallop and a halibut cheek sit next to a deconstructed puttanesca with anchovy, olive powder, roasted cipollini onion, tomato and toast. Parsley and garlic dollops frame the composition.
Wagyu Beef Tongue & Fried Egg: radish, beet, arugala, beans
Break open the fried egg and you'll find a perfectly runny yolk dripping out. Three types of beets, arugula, radish and beans adorn the Wagyu tongue.
Vadouvan Lamb Chop: Cauliflower, Amaranth, Mint
In the background is a cauliflower puree that is just saturated with butter. The lamb sits on top of an almond, pomegranate, feta and mint blend. It is topped with more foam.
Ricotta Fritter: Baby peach panna cotta, agave
The green thing on top of the panna cotta is a Japanese baby peach. It was just about the most delicious thing I have ever eaten. The panna cotta was brilliant.
Macadamia "Sponge Cake": textures of strawberry
The sponge cake was made all in the microwave, our waitress bragged. What a strange thing to be proud of, I thought. This was such an interesting dish. The cloud of strawberry foam was topped with this carbonated filled strawberry jelly. It popped in my mouth just like the "olives" at the Bazaar. The whole thing was lightly sprinkled with pepper and topped with celery leaves. It all worked, strangely enough!