Friday, March 20, 2009

DineLA 2009: Simon

Simon LA was chosen as the first stop on our Dine LA blitz because of the impressive appetizers we sampled at the Behind the Unseen event held there. Simon Kerry, who is known as the rock and roll chef, stood in the kitchen staring intently at the dining room, which was not empty but definitely not bustling. The servers were bursting with enthusiasm and friendliness. They responded to our bad jokes by adding their own quips, and their positive energy was contagious.

The decor of Simon LA, which is nestled into the Sofitel and adjacent to Stone Rose, is hip and stylish, but maintains a mellow and relaxing vibe. The taupe interior and comfy Eames-inspired chairs that are offset with metal features and glossy black surfaces makes the dining room feel like a room you could live in.

The menu is solid, and dotted with bits of whimsy. There are surprises throughout the meal and for the most part food is handled with a deft hand. Occasional problems with execution kept it from being a perfect meal, but only one dessert was truly a letdown. The regular menu holds lots of intriguing possibilities and I'm sure there are many surprises yet to come, such as the big puff of cotton candy that arrived at our table at the end of the meal.

The first course: SALAD: A salad of rocket and shaved fennel in a light dressing with pine nuts, blue cheese, and tangerine was a blank canvas marked with sharp flavors in small bits, Nicely balanced between the sharpness of the cheese and the sourness of the tangerine.

SOUP: The aroma of pork rises up from the lentil soup as soon as it is set down. It was a good combination of whole and blended lentils. Delicious and comforting at first, but did not hold my attention enough to make me finish an entire bowl. The soup was accompanied by a charming lagniappe, two dainty ham & white cheddar grilled sandwiches brought on a childlike excitement.

The main course. SEA BASS: The most successful dish of the night was unquestionably the California sea bass, two thick planks of fish perfectly cooked. The Piccata style sauce could have overwhelmed the delicate fish but did not. Banana potatoes and spinach were treated with such care, it made me wonder what Kerry could do with a spa menu.

SKIRT STEAK: Skirt steak, though quality meat, was still a skirt steak, which is one tough cut. The generous portion was seasoned with cumin, which made it almost as Indian as Southwestern. The unusual addition of pine nuts in the black beans worked surprisingly well.

One dish fell apart. Lemon marshmallow pie with passion fruit marinated raspberries sounded much more appealing than it was in reality. It is true many an argument has broken out over the campfire as to when a marshmallow crosses the line from toasted to burnt. But the marshmallows atop the small lemon tart were burnt to black and that flavor overwhelmed even the tart intensity of the lemon curd, which was slightly runny, probably due to the heat used to roast the marshmallows. Even the crust was thick, tough and unremarkable. This one needs re-thinking.

For the finale, the dessert course, the chocolate mousse cake is probably the best bet, reminiscent of 1950s layered desserts. The bottom layer is combination of chocolate and thin wafers. It tastes almost like an Aero bar. The top and middle layers are a darker and a lighter chocolate mousse, topped with little bits of chocolate-covered puffed rice, almost like Cocoa Krispies.

and a bonus

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