Tuesday, July 8, 2008

LA Story – A cinematic experience

My culinary school schedule makes it impossible for us to take our usual long vacation this year. Anytime I have a holiday off from school I jump on the chance to travel. The July 4th holiday proved to be such an occasion and I was able to stretch the long weekend and go to Los Angeles. L.A., some people hate it, some love it – it is a very interesting place where the entertainment industry drives everything. My very first trip to L.A., I was baffled by the expanse of the city limits it just goes on and on. L.A. is compiled of lots of different neighborhoods each with a character all its own.

Let’s not forget the food, “Californian Cuisine” is a fusion of flavors and cultures influenced by local farm-fresh ingredients. On my many trips I’ve searched for good food in a town focused on body image and appearances. Many talented, ground-breaking (now celebrated) chefs have put LA on the map for foodies such as the culinary talents of Wolfgang Puck, Suzanne Goin, and David Myers just to name a few.

The other night, I was extremely happy to score reservations at Campanile Restaurant headed by Chef Mark Peel. The building was originally built in 1929 for Hollywood legend Charlie Chaplin to use as his office. Unfortunately, Charlie never got to use the space once it was completed since he lost it in an ugly divorce settlement with his first wife – so the Hollywood story goes. When I walked into the restaurant I had no preconceived ideas of what to expect. The restaurant resembles a Spanish-style mission with the main dining room in the center and soaring stone walls and a modern glass skylight to contrast the old and new. Large ceramic tiles give the floor a warm rustic feel and a trickling fountain in the main dining area provides a focal point in a space that one can’t help but want to examine from different angles.

Atmosphere and design are very important aspects that help impart the feeling of a restaurant even before you pick up a fork. As I reviewed the menu I was thrilled and saddened to see so many dishes that I would have liked to order. It is always hard to choose an entrée after salivating over so many choices.

I started with a pear martini to relax from the day and decided on a Roasted Beet Salad with Baby Arugula, Salami, Burata Cheese and Walnuts dressed with a light vinaigrette. The salad arrived stacked with roasted beets and was beautifully composed. An artful dish that had a wonderful flavor that eased me into my pick of entrée.

I couldn’t help myself – when I see duck on the menu I usually always order it and tonight was no different. A seared duck breast served with confit duck leg, polenta and a fig sauce tugged at my heartstrings – I had to have it.

The duck breast was cooked perfectly, a nice medium pink with a crispy skin. The confit leg and thigh had an intensity of flavor that only cooking in duck fat can produce. Creamy polenta and the sweet chewy figs in the sauce complemented the dish. I savored an old-world Pinot Noir from France with every swirl and bite.

I couldn’t pass up dessert because I knew I would be happily sated with a sweet concoction dreamed up by Pastry Chef Nancy Silverton. I couldn’t resist the Sticky Date Steamed Pudding with Crème Fraîche Ice Cream - the tartness of the silky ice cream balanced the sweetness of the steamed pudding – simply delicious.

The sunny warm days are certainly a draw in a town made famous by the glitz and glamour of the movies. Admittedly, I’m not much of a movie buff but there’s nothing like seeing a film in a L.A. movie theater – the whole experience is a walk down the red carpet.

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