Given my affinity for handmade pastas and pretty much anything cooked in a wood-burning oven plus a a memorable meal with my family at ‘All Angelo (RIP) a reservation at Ori Menashe’s Arts district hot-spot, Bestia, was secured even before it received a glowing recommendation the night before by the team at Alma; a four top at the late hour of 9pm for myself and two friends, and as excited as I was for the meal a part in the back of my mind knew that eating after eight would be limiting to my early rising self – a situation I decided to remedy with some Red Medicine at six, after a long afternoon wandering Santa Monica Beach until sunset.
Bearing in mind my seminal visit to Jordan Kahn’s Beverly Hills locale some year and a half prior (http://endoedibles.com/?p=1395) I’ll simply state that not much has changed since my first visit – the room is still loud, the servers still hip, and the food still beautiful…as a matter of fact, the only thing that had changed was the menu; a good thing as I’d not feel obligated to reorder the porridge, but a bad thing in that no less than 10 items sounded fantastic. Seated for mere moments before my server, the first of two Jesse’s that evening, arrived to fill water I set my resolve to only order three dishes plus a drink and requesting both dessert and savory menus at the same time I subsequently spent the next fifteen minutes trying to decide how I’d stick to my original plan; no small feat, but one assisted by my server and his female colleague who independently recommended the same savory while I went with the two desserts I’d not yet tried.
Beginning first with a beverage, Rhum Barbancourt arrived after perhaps fifteen minutes and although perhaps better suited for a winter night in Ohio than a dinner pairing in So.Cal the combination of 8 year old rum, Hot Water, Sugar, Beurre d’Echire, and Sea Salt with Nutmeg was without a doubt the drink that all hot buttered rum should aspire to be – the creamy mouthfeel and hefty spices proving an ample foil to the rum while a light sweetness lingered on the finish. Again, not the best pairing with my menu selections but I wasn’t about to quibble as it went down smooth and far too fast, only a sip remaining when my savory course arrived.
Moving from drink to food, unabashedly in love with the congee/porridge during my first visit I inquired about Kahn’s current grain-based dish and met with raves from both servers placed my order, the plate arriving and finished tableside entitled “Toasted Grains” featuring rice, quinoa, faro, and spelt paired with mushroom pudding, egg yolk, charred onions, sprouts, matsutake mushrooms, and more bathed in ‘Aromatic Duck Broth infused with smoked tea, hazelnut, and malt’ – the entirety of the dish earthy and aromatic, diverse in texture yet shockingly subtle.
Reading my pacing admirably and collecting my plate before I considered licking it clean it would not be long before the first of my dessert courses would arrive and coming on the strong recommendations of a friend “Birch Ice” would not disappoint, even if the first attempted delivery led to a shattered disc lying on the table before me. Again neatly conceptualized and served in a large fishbowl with an almond praline acting as a ‘lid’ to be shattered into the composition the contents of the dish featured whole red currants and red currant gel, jasmine cream, orange blossom “bubbles”, and birch ice cream – each a distinct texture and flavor with strong aromatics juxtaposing notes of sugar and savory, soft meeting crunchy head on, and tons of inspiration – a truly beautiful dish showcasing Kahn’s pastry pedigree.
Last, and certainly not least, my second dessert of the evening was listed on the menu as “Milk Chocolate Cream – In the Japanese Method, Crispy Devil’s Food, Cucumber, Buckwheat, Lovage,” but what I received could best be described as the brightest and most intricate spin on a Snickers bar ever assembled. Beginning first with a wiry chocolate cylinder encasing Japanese milk chocolate ganache, almond, and buckwheat plus a vegetal amalgam of lovage, cucumber, nasturtium, and more each flavor served to highlight and meld the others into something at once sweet and slightly peppery but at the same time cool and nutty, the cucumber a linger on the palate while the chocolate and almond came to the fore.
Content but not full and enjoying the music I was left with the bill to linger as long as I liked and with the restaurant less than half full approaching 7:30 I spent some time chatting with my servers before settling the tab and making my way to the street en route for Bestia. Living only 5 hours from Los Angeles now I knew I’d be back to Red Medicine soon…I just didn’t realize I’d be back at 1:00am that evening to pick up my forgotten camera which the staff had conveniently placed at the hostess stand…the restaurant still at least half full, just as (in my opinion) the best restaurant in the city should be.
Moving on to dinner number two, the space even louder despite being twice the size and parking even more difficult despite its location, I arrived at Bestia early to find one of my friends already arrived while the other followed shortly; the three of us standing in the bar after checking in and being told our table would be readied in a few moments. Having already perused the online menu and finding only a few changes to the daily offerings I had in mind the things that interested me most and yet given the late hour I knew my capacity would be limited…both for food, and for photography given my missing camera; both situations my pals were happy to assist with.
Finally seated approximately ten minutes after our 9:00pm reservation, unfortunately near the bar yet fortunately with a direct view of the large kitchen it would not be long before my second Jesse of the evening would greet us with menus and weighing our appetites and his suggestions we ordered when he returned with our water; a drink for each of my friends and eight savory plates to be shared – an order Jesse noted to be “ample, but not too much, assuming you are hungry,” and with that he left us to chat and take in the large, open room with exposed ceilings, lots of brick, and plenty of wood abuzz with a full house of patrons and enough noise to be loud without being annoying or forcing you to yell in order to be heard.
With drinks in hand it would not be long before plates would begin arriving and despite the crowd I was very impressed by not only the timing of service, but also the thoroughness and elegance of each presentation, beginning first with the house Margherita Pizza and Roasted Marrow Bone with spinach gnochetti, dehydrated olives, crispy bread crumbs, and aged balsamic. Apologizing now for the quality of the pictures but starting with the pizza I must say that my first bites of Bestia’s food were not the revelation I expected – the pizza featuring a decent amount of char and bubble but the crust generally lacking flavor while the sauce was tomato but little else; a decent pie but not worth the stomach capacity with so much else to come.
Onto the marrow, generally not something I rush to order but appealing in this instance for the gnocchetti, it would prove unfortunate that the second plate of the night was equally flawed as the pizza – yet in an entirely different manner. Creamy and rich, nicely presented, and with a bold flavor profile of saline topnotes from the olives and the sweet finish of Balsamic it was actually the texture here that lacked as the breadcrumbs were largely undetectable while the dumplings were too soft, the entirety of the dish simply too mushy for my tastes; something that could have been circumvented with a rougher cut to the crumbs or perhaps a bit less time in the water for the pasta.
Stepping up from our first two dishes, Menashe’s oft raved Salumi Board arrived next – a “half portion” of superlative house cured meats more than enough to share amongst 3 or 4. Beginning first with an intense Black Pepper Salami and moving through Lomo, Coppa, and finally a Lamb Neck and Pork Belly Terrine topped with Horseradish cream each of the meats was bold and assertive while a side of grilled bread and accoutrements of Pickled Pears and Fennel, plus Green Goddess Moustard provided some much needed levity between bites. One of the better charcuterie boards in recent memory another great aspect of this dish was abided by our seat, where we watched the team assemble no less than twenty of these plates, each with the same great care as you’d expect of a cooked dish in the kitchen.
Close on the heels of the charcuterie was more meat and bread, this one the intensely mineral chicken liver crostino with Aged Balsamic and Sea Salt. Rough cut and paired with crusty bread this was more or less everything you could want from a restaurant unable to serve foie gras – rich and heavy, another good dish to share.
Heading into our main reason for visiting Bestia in the first place, again perfectly placed just as we were finishing the last of the meats, the first of two pasta duos would arrive – a pairing of Tagliolini al’Ortica and Fusilli Lunghi al Sugo di Agnello. Beginning first with the Tagliolini, a composition of hand cut stinging nettle pasta, mushroom ragu, and a poached egg with porcini bread crumbs, this would prove to be the only disappointment of the pastas largely because (much like the marrow) while the flavors were all impressive, the texture was sorely lacking – mushy pasta and textureless breadcrumbs but flavors rich with earthy aromatics.
Moving next to the Fusilli, where the Tagliolini lacked this one made up in spades with hand rolled pistachio pasta perfectly al dente and topped with a rich ragu of smoky braised lamb, crunchy gives way to creamy ricotta salata, and top notes of pistachio oil unlike anything I’d have expected – an aromatic every bit as potent as truffle oil and the textures of the dish all distinct yet the entirety of the plate melding nicely.
Kicking off our second pasta duo, two more pastas every bit as good as the Fusilli, the combination of Cavatelli alla Norcina with Ricotta Dumplings, Pork Sausage, Black Truffle, and Grana Padano plus Spagetti Chitarra with Scallops, Calamari, Wild Fennel Pollen, and Chili Fennel Sofritto arrived; both plates rife with aromatics and lightly dressed with their respective sauces; the former actually leading one of my dining partners to wipe/scrape/mop the plate so clean that I’m rather certain it returned to the kitchen spotless.
With everyone quite full, myself perhaps most of all, and the hour pushing 11pm (plus the drive back to Red Medicine to retrieve my camera) dessert was a questionable decision for my friends but having heard nothing but raves of two of the sweets we ordered them both; one good, the other an early contender for my year’s top-10. Beginning first with the good, “Coffee and Donuts” seemed a safe option and indeed it was, the Spiced Chestnut Zeppole a bit more dense than I’d have preferred but not a bit oily and nicely paired with whipped cream and coffee gelato, the smoky chestnut notes adding an interesting savory component to an otherwise sweet dish.
Moving next to the second dessert – one every bit as good as the rumors – the Valrhona bittersweet chocolate budino tart with salted caramel, cacao crust, olive oil, and sea salt was more or less everything I love in a dessert; the chocolate pudding intense and smooth, the crust even darker and more concentrated, yet the whole composition brought into focus by the sweet caramel and an ample shake of crunchy salt plus a light drizzle of quality olive oil providing a slightly grassy finish; a perfect dish that my friends found almost too rich, thus forcing me to finish off the last bite for fear of leaving any return to the kitchen.
Settling the bill (less than $50/pp after tax and tip) and bidding our farewells, my friends back to work the following day and myself back to Phoenix, we each made our way to our respective cars and with a drive back to Beverly Hills followed by the trip to my hotel I was left with plenty of time to focus on the meal that just was – not a perfect one to be sure, but one speckled with brilliance on all parts of the menu from appetizers to desserts in a space with plenty of buzz; in other words the sort of place where the food (and service) are way better than they ‘need’ to be, and a great place to share some drinks, plates, and good times with friends. A high volume spot, to be certain, I’m glad to see Chef Ori doing well and while the food isn’t quite as precise as that at ‘All Angelo I get the feeling Bestia will stand the test of time much better – no easy task in the Los Angeles dining scene.