Charcuterie – Blackstrap Ham with Coriander, Dark Rum and Molasses / Duck Rillete with Parsley and Capers / Leek, Ash and Porcini Sausage / Chorizo / Foie Gras Terrine / Mole Salumi with Red Pepper, Chocolate and Cloves / Pork Liver Terrine wrapped in Pancetta / Tete de Cochon / Pretzel Bread / Toasted Brioche
Cured Salmon, Shiso, Sunchoke, Grapefruit
Chestnut Agnolotti, Curry Squash, Pumpkin Seeds, Brown Butter
Fire Roasted Pork, Glazed Cheeks, Grilled Rack, Smoked Belly
Boneless Shortrib – Braised and Grilled
30-Day Dry Aged Duck, Duck Confit, House Cured Duck Speck, Grilled Pear, Hearts of Palm
Creamed Endive / Cauliflower, Garlic Brown Butter / Smokey Eggplant Caponata, Macadamia
Celery Sorbet, Goat Cheese, Watercress Granita
Passion Fruit Glace, Mango, Cashew, Chocolate
Bone Marrow Caramel, Green Apple Pate de Fruit, Chocolate Covered Hazelnut
Modestly impressed by Maude, though the monthly-item concept and Curtis Stone’s popularity seem to be a bit more relevant to the place’s success than is the quality of the food, it was with tempered expectations that reservations were made at the Australian Chef’s Gwen on Friday evening, the idea of a big Meat Restaurant and Butcher Shop seeming quite the novelty in Los Angeles’ ever finicky dining scene.
Located on Sunset in Hollywood, a relative dearth of nearby fine-dining options undoubtedly playing in the restaurant’s favor, Gwen opened earlier this summer and although early reviews of the $95/pp tasting menu have largely been positive, rumors of diners leaving hungry seemed somewhat foreboding for a “Steakhouse,” particularly one with a menu that appears on its surface to offer a dozen courses or more.
Featuring one of America’s few authentic Asadors, the large fire-pit in the kitchen as eye catching as the rest of the restaurant is cozy and low-key, diners are greeted by professional servers first offering Cocktails and a Wine list with nosebleed inducing prices, the menu “kept a secret” but easily accessed by way of similar a la carte plates available at the bar.
Using Tock for reservations, though credit cards do not appear to be billed until after one’s meal, it was after a few questions about portion-sizes and supplements that an order was formulated, the Duck-for-two selected as an entrée with two additional entrees added for the surprisingly small charge of just twenty-five dollars per.
Discussing recent events over low-volume music, another rarity in LA restaurants, it was mere moments before “courses” one through nine arrived, the housemade Charcuterie each individually listed with just as much relevance as the entrée on the menu, the Leek, Ash and Porcini Sausage and smoky Mole Salumi both noteworthy, as too were the chunky Pork Liver Terrine and Headcheese.
Admittedly an impressive operation, the cured meats both at the table and in the butcher shop undoubtedly labor intensive and the results of a lot of care, round two was a stack of Sashimi-grade Salmon, Shiso and Grapefruit with the earthiness of Sunchoke really only detectable as a basenote grounding the dish and perhaps as an introduction to the hearty seasonal flavors to follow.
Happy to tuck into the comforting Chestnut Agnolotti, though a larger portion than just four envelopes would have been appreciated, Meats at Gwen look to make up for the rapidly arriving mid-courses, the simplicity of an Asador-roasted Pork Chop allowing the quality of a heritage breed to shine while more intrigue was found on a side-plate featuring barbeque-style Cheeks atop a thick slice of Smoked Belly.
Taking a European Fine-dining cue in letting patrons select their own knife it was into Boneless Shortrib that ate more like Steak that the blade cut deep, the 30-Day Dry Aged Duck a far more impressive example of what the kitchen staff is capable of as Hearts of Palm and thinly sliced Speck are offered alongside the rosy Breast with a sidecar of confit Leg and Cracklins’ served in a broth that was a touch too salty.
Finding the “sides” a bit lackluster, though they too are listed linearly as though “courses” on the menu, pre-dessert continued the ever-disappointing trend of Salad masquerading as Ice Cream while the Chocolate Shelled “Passion Fruit Glace” was at least a bit more palatable than others desserts using the cloyingly sweet Fruit, largely due to the dense Cashew Cake at the base.
Completing the whole meal in just over ninety minutes, not especially ‘rushed,’ but far shorter than the typical tasting menu, Mignardises including a chewy Bone Marrow Caramel and sour Pate de Fruit were delivered along with the bill, a not unfair price even with auto-grat, but more than enough to reinforce words spoken by others that Stone would be well served to ditch the fixed-price and make Gwen a more traditional Steakhouse more than capable of outperforming any other in the area.