OH DO YOU KNOW THE CHICKEN MAN?
I was reading this article yesterday and it brought up one of my very best food memories from my first dinner at Melisse. My friend Elizabeth suggested we go there as she was celebrating a new job. At the time Melisse was only months old, but I was familiar with Josiah Citron from Jiraffe – so I was excited to try it.
My first impression of the restaurant was that it was rather formal and staid, certainly nothing like the uber-hip rooms you find in most L.A. restaurants where the scene is usually better than the food. If you're into "the scene". The other patrons certainly weren’t what you’d define as trendoids either. There was lots of blue hair and men in suits. With ties. Since the decision to eat here was somewhat spur of the moment I felt kind of intimidated as I slunk behind the hostess to one of the booths that lined the perimeter of the room – very aware of the stares from the Nancy Reaganesque women seated at the round tables in the center. We had shown up with no reservation, but it was about 9pm and they were able to accommodate us, and I have to say that the hostess was very friendly and did not throw the attitude that you often get from the people who work at the trendy hot spots around town.
Of course, this may be due to the fact that you drop some serious cash when dining at Melisse, so as long as your credit card clears and you are reasonably clean and well mannered they’re happy to have you. I about died when I opened the menu – appetizers were $9-18 and entrees started at $26 and went steeply up from there. They also have tastings that can be paired with wine if you like – and I do.
But as an underdressed first timer I decided to play it safe – and still my mind was blown. We ordered a bottle of Cakebread Cabernet and I started with the Mandarin Tomato soup. Knowing that the chef is an habitué of the local Farmer’s Market I figured it would be a very fresca soup – simple and delicious. It was a very fresca tomato soup, but first I was presented with a shallow bowl, at the center of which sat a leek and garlic flan. The soup was poured from a silver pitcher around this little molded dollop of flavor, so that with each bite I scooped a bit of flan and then dragged it through the soup. By the time I got the spoon to my mouth the flan was slightly melting, the flavors getting more intense and combining in the most marvelous way with the bright acid tang of fresh tomatoes. The flavors resonated into my head and I couldn’t help but close my eyes. I loved that soup – a lot.
For my main course I ordered fried chicken with truffled mashed potatoes, served with white corn and fava beans. Now this wasn’t the chicken referred to in the article – but it was the best fried chicken I’ve ever eaten. The dude does have a way with chickens. Mine was served, very lightly fried – no grease - with the breast sliced and the thigh deboned. I cut a piece and swiped a bit of the truffled mashed potatoes and I though I was going to die. I felt like that cartoon dog that would float up in the air every time he ate something delicious. The vegetables were so sweet and fresh I forgot I hate fava beans and inhaled them.
After those two courses, even though I was full, we ordered the cheese course which gave us a choice of three different cheese which were served with a dark bread replete with fruits and nuts. I am a huge fan of the cheese course – but it always comes so late in my dining extravaganzas I can’t really enjoy it because I’m eating on a full stomach.
And since I’m going for it I then go ahead and order dessert, because if you’re going to be in gastronomic agony it should be from eating phenomenal food and as much of it as you can. It’s not like I do this very often. Right?
So we got the flourless chocolate cake and port!
I got home about midnite and spent the whole night in pain from the rich food – like I said I don’t eat like that very often. And in spite of the sleepless night that meal stands out as one of the best I’ve ever had. I’ve been back to Melisse several times and it’s always wonderful – the service is divine in that they are attentive without being intrusive and so well informed. I never feel like an idiot for not knowing what lardons are.
I haven’t yet tried the $84 chicken, but based on my experience I bet it’s worth every cent.