Showing posts with label napa style. Show all posts
Showing posts with label napa style. Show all posts

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Lunch with Chef Michael Chiarello. Chatting About Top Chef, Good Television, Flavors, and More.

It isn't often that I get the chance to meet and greet a celeb chef, especially when he's not based in Los Angeles, so when an invitation came to meet Top Chef Master finalist Michael Chiarello, I took it despite the fact that I had to drive all the way to OC on a weekday afternoon.

The meet and greet took place at his Napa Style store in South Coast Plaza. When I arrived, he hadn't come out yet, but I was happy to see fellow LA blogger Mattatouille there already partaking in some of Chiarello's fine wines.

I've had his five wines during the blogger event a couple of months ago and really enjoyed all of them, so I was quite happy to partake again. This time they are serving the Eileen (Cabernet, named after his wife) and Roux (old vine Petit Syrah, named after one of his daughters - these vines are 97 years old and are the oldest vines in Napa).

While waiting for Chiarello to come out and lunch to be served, I made my way around the impressive spread of bread, dips, and cured meats which are available for purchase at the store.
Soon after the store manager started bringing in lunch, which was made from Chiarello's recipes and prepared at another South Coast Plaza restaurant for this event. Our simple but delicious lunch consisted of vegetable pizza and cauliflower alla parmigiana.
Since the lunch was at the Napa Style store where samples of various products are available, we had the brilliant idea of sprinkling some of their Truffle Salt on our cauliflowers. So. Good.
To finish off were two trays of chocolates, all of them are (of course) sold at Napa Style including Valerie's salt and pepper truffles.
There were also Rabitos chocolate fig bonbons that I really like.

Chef Chiarello came wearing casual clothing and a big smile, and many of the media people in attendance immediately went over to chat with him. I couldn't hustle through his older fans, so I just waited until later.

Chiarello was quite charismatic and an entertaining speaker, throwing various jokes and anecdotes (one of his quotes of the day: "I'm not particularly artistic but I am crafty.")

As expected, most of the questions revolved around his experience in the Top Chef Master competition - including how the editing process to create "good television" gave a very different impression than what actually happened.
The rest of the conversation traversed through his experience going out to see rabbits with daughter Giana who grew up seeing an ecosystem come to life, to juggling the demands of organic wine growing vs what is financially feasible. According to Chiarello, advocates for organic movement demand certain things but do not realize that means an extra $1 million investment for wine growers like Chiarello. Still committed to organic practices, Chiarello is working on an electric tractor for his vineyard.

His decision to open the Napa Style stores celebrates the increasing return of American consumers to the home kitchen (thanks to the recessions). The products available at Napa Style gave home cooks access to the same high quality and distinct artisan products Chiarello uses in his kitchen such as his various natural and flavored salts and olive oils. As for his selection of these products, Chiarello emphasizes what he calls "flavor" rather than taste, "flavors" that came about from the individuals involved in the creation process itself.

He also spoke of his experiences as a chef up until now, starting from Florida to his return to California with Tra Vigne in Napa and his latest restaurant, Bottega. To celebrate Bottega's anniversary last week, they held an all-week truffle menu! If only it was closer to Los Angeles ...

Monday, October 5, 2009

South Coast Plaza Food Extravaganza Part I: Hamamori & NapaStyle

These days what i had considered "mall food" has been taken to the next level, with the likes of Breadbar in Century City Mall and others. Among these, South Coast Plaza probably has unparalleled food options in Southern California, housing some of the most highly regarded restaurants in Orange County. Being LA-based, I haven't explored OC much, so when an invite to a blogger event at South Coast Plaza came along, I took this opportunity to get to know the South Coast Plaza restaurants.

Their PR person had apparently organized quite a night for all of us bloggers and writers.

The first day of our visit started out at Hamamori, a chic sushi restaurant on the 3rd floor of the West Wing.
We were greeted by James Hamamori behind the sushi bar, the owner/chef who also own Wasa in Irvine and Newport Beach.

We started with seared albacore with crispy fried onions, vinegar soy sauce

Next is a duo of vegetable appetizers: Shiitake Fries with creme fraiche, and Asparagus Tempura with Japanese rice crackers.

A series of special nigiris followed suit. The first two became the favorite of most of us. They are Hokkaido scallop with Himalayan pink salt, shiso, lemon, and Osetra Caviar, and Hamachi with Himalayan pink salt, lemon, and Japanese chili paste.

They were both very fresh and the seasoning and garnish was not overpowering but quite enhanced the flavor of the fish.

The last of the nigiri was Freshwater Eel with Foie Gras, finished with orange zest.

May I remind you guys at this point that I've been out of town for a while and have not had foie gras for ... oh, I don't know, a loong time. Anyway, I'm justifying why this dish excited me so much and I mindlessly ate my piece without taking a photo! Luckily Pleasure Palate let me snap a photo of hers. The foie gras just melted in my mouth and added this delicious creaminess on top of the sweet eel. So good.

The next dish was a fun hands-on experience of cooking Oregon Kobe shortrib on a hot lava rock from Mt Fuji!

The lava rock was super hot and cooked the thin short rib slices within seconds.
The tender meat slices were served with three types of sauces: steak sauce, apple sesame, and sea salt with chili pepper.

3333 Bear St, Level 3
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 850-0880
Hamamori on Urbanspoon
Hamamori in Los Angeles

After our starter meal, we continued on with an interesting tasting at Michael Chiarello's store, Napa Style.

Here we were divided into two groups that started with different tastings. My group started with the salt tasting.
These are salts that chef Chiarello himself likes to use in his cooking like the popular Gray Salt, Truffle Salt, and even Jurassic Salt - possibly the oldest salt there is, found covered under volcanic ash in Utah.

Next we move on to the olive oil tasting. We had a couple of very interesting olive oil here.
One was an olive oil that somehow had the fragrance of banana ... somehow. A bit strange.
We also tried some Blood Orange Olive Oil - had a nice zesty fragrance and would probably be very good tossed with some salad. We got a goodie bag after and I received the Meyer Lemon olive oil - still yet to try it.

Our last tasting was the wines from Chiarello's vineyard.
Chef Chiarello named his five wines after his children and his wife. These are the wines we tried:

1. Giana ($39), a 2005 Zinfandel named after his youngest daughter. This had a spicy nose and taste, though the aftertaste is surprisingly short considering how strong the wine tasted. Quite a nice wine and pairs nicely with food.
2. Felicia ($49), 2007 Old Vine Zinfandel named after his 2nd daughter. These vines are from 98-year old root stocks that are all farmed dry. One of my favorites out of the tasting, full boodied with a nice fruity taste.
3. Roux ($45), 2006 Old Vine Petite Syrah. This is a smoother and more balanced wine that the previous. It had a subtler nose and a smoother fruity taste.
4. Bambino ($49), 2007 Cabernet named after his little boy (Aidan). A sweet wine that has a bit of spicyness to it. I liked this one quite a bit too.
5. Eileen ($69 but a $55 special is currently running), a 2006 Cabernet named after his wife. This wine has a sweet nose and is smooth and full bodied.
3333 Bear St, Level 2

Disclosure: In the spirit of the FTC guidelines, although SCP is not paying us bloggers to blog about this event, they are incentivizing us for blogging early by offering a $100 SCP gift card to those who blog within 72 hours. Will I make it? I have 2 more posts to go and 24 hours, so we'll see ..

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