Sunday, February 21, 2016

Laurent Quenioux Cooks at Home: You Will Eat Cardoons and Fiddleheads and You Will Love Them

Mezcal cured wild salmon with horseradish espuma
Chef Laurent Quenioux can be hard to pin down, but once you find him and buckle in for his Ma Maison tasting menu, you will not be sorry. After his elegant and imaginative Bistro LQ closed on Beverly, he cooked at Vertical Wine Bistro off and on for several years while doing a series of over-the-top dinners involving marijuana, massive quantities of white truffle and pretty much the most impressive cheese cart in town. He still does pop-up dinners in restaurants like Sangers & Joe in Pasadena, but the real action these days is in his Garvanza living room (or on his patio), depending on the season. Hence the Ma Maison name -- there's no relation to the 1980s L.A. restaurant.

Artichokes Barigoule with bottarga crumbs & bone marrow, & a genius wine pairing with Chateau de Trinquvedel's Tavel Rose
We were invited to try the "First Spring Series" dinner heralding the products of the season, sharing a 10 course tasting menu with 10 other people and one adorable and exceedingly well-behaved toddler. The menus change radically from season to season, with very few dishes repeating. His style is heavily informed by his classic French training, but he's been in L.A. for decades now, delving into the local Latin American and Asian food scenes. It's not unusual to find ingredients like masa or pandan in his dishes, though the Ma Maison dinners skew a little more French than some of his other gigs.

Free range hen, wild spring onions
Around the dinner table was a great mix of people -- including an extremely knowledgeable San Marino woman who has been following Quenioux since his days at pioneering hidden foodie temple Bistro K, the baby's parents and their friend who were all well-versed on every morsel of the L.A. dining scene, and a couple from Brentwood who were bemused but impressed to find themselves in deepest Highland Park after randomly Googling "cheese dinner."

Alaskan king crab waits for clam chowder to be added
Quenioux is meticulous about sourcing, looking for local products like Chino's Label Rouge hen and polenta from Grist and Toll. He forages some ingredients, uses arugula from his garden and even shot two ducks in Paso Robles for a wild duck ballotine whose earthiness was tempered by tart pickled kumquats. Here are five of my favorite things from the indulgent dinner.

Octopus with cardoons & lemon air
 1) Cardoons. For some reason I'm not sure I've ever tried the celery-like vegetable that is said to have a hint of artichoke flavor. But cooked as a base for supple Spanish octopus with plenty of lemon butter, its flesh became soft, creamy and altogether captivating.

Fiddlehead ferns, morels, polenta
2) Fiddlehead ferns. Combined with the first morel mushrooms of the season and coarsely-textured polenta, the dish was like the first trip to a warm spring forest after the winter chill.

Quenioux explains the cheeses, including "social cheeses"

3) The cheese cart, of course. Many unpasteurized varieties, some of them smuggled into the country, make this a spectacular finish to an already-elaborate dinner. One of my favorites was the bright orange Mimolette, a French cheese similar to aged gouda. Various fruity condiments and homemade truffle honey put this cheese cart up there with the best.

foie gras with rye bread poridge and civet jus
4) Foie gras with with a savory, not sweet, orientation: Frankly, coming at the end of the meal and wanting to save room for the cheese course, the foie risked being de trop. But cooked rare, the Hudson Valley liver quivered under a warm blanket of rye bread porridge in a pool of wild-tasting civet jus (no, not the ringtailed racoon-like animal, but the rabbit stew). Without the usual fruity accompaniment, it was another foray into the spring wilderness that paid off with big flavor.

coconut cheesecake, green tea tuile, pandan ice cream, pineapple with galabe sugar

5) The pandan ice cream -- How many French dinners have you been to where most of the guests were already familiar with pandan? This was one food-friendly crowd. But we all loved the pale green delicately-scented ice cream with coconut cheesecake and pineapple candied with fancy Galabe raw sugar.

The wine pairings were all terrific, with an all-French list befitting the Sologne-born chef. A great mix of china, friendly, expert service and a fascinating mix of diners in addition to the imaginative and expertly-executed menu make this one of the most compelling dining experiences in town at the moment. Even without the ant eggs, cockscomb or 420, Quenioux is cooking up some beautiful modern French tastes. The suggested price for the underground Ma Maison dinners is $120 with $45 for wine pairing; make reservations on


Miles said...

wow. i'm in!

Stormy Haze said...

His commitment to sourcing particular ingredients is really quite impressive! The food looks lovely!