Monday, April 4, 2011

Grill 'Em All Truck - Breadbar Hatchi Truck Stop Pop-Up 8 Dishes 8 Dollars

Malls are steadily looking to transform into more than just a place to shop.  With complexes like Century City and Santa Monica Place at the forefront of the 'culinary evolution' - from aspiring dining experiences on rooftop terrace to high end food courts serving global fare - mall dining has its gaze firmly affixed on becoming more than mere utilitarian pit stops to refuel during marathon shopping sprees, but destinations /events that garner attention from gourmands.  There is still a lot of work to be done before they can achieve that goal - but as someone used to experiencing fine dining in malls in Hong Kong, I for one am cheering on their efforts.

BREADBAR is one of the trailblazers, with its focus on "artisanal bread in the classic tradition of French breadcraft...inspired by the French bakers of past centuries, and updated with a contemporary American taste." Combining "tradition and innovation with a passion for good eating", Breadbar first made headlines with Ludo Lefebvre's game-changing pop-up concept at its 3rd street location a few years ago.  It's since progressed to Hatchi guest chef series at its Westfield Century City location. The latest in the series, "Hatchi Truck Stop", featuring food truck chefs the last Thursday of every month, rolled into BREADBAR this past week.
"Hatchi," which means 'eight' in Japanese, has the original idea of offering diners eight inspired small plates priced at $8 each as a one-night-only engagement, smartly driving 'urgency to try'. Guests have to order a minimum of 4 dishes each including alcoholic beverages. This needs to add up to a minimum of $32 (which is almost 'one unit of Mozza') - so I did look over the list of trucks carefully before making my reservation for opening night.

The "gastrotruck" kicking off the series is Grill 'Em All, Food Network's "The Great Food Truck Race" winner. Grill 'Em All, helmed by Chef Ryan Harkins and Chef Mathew Chernus, is known for its rock 'n' roll persona backed by a menu featuring (I heard) incredible burgers and other comfort foods.  I actually didn't watch the show and was drawn purely by the menu items described for BREADBAR's Hatchi Truck Stop opening night, which included such Pavlovian words as "truffle", "foie gras", and "poutine". 

A big fan of food trucks as incubators for up and coming talent, who just may not be funded yet to launch their own brick and mortar venues - I see food truck chasing as sometimes involving both an element of rooting for the underdog and the thrill / vanity of discovering new talent. So I was excited about the Hatchi Truck Stop series, as it gives food truck chefs run of a full kitchen to exhibit their skills at producing higher end fare.

Tucked in the back of Century City, by escalators leading to AMC Theaters, BREADBAR has a cosmopolitan vibe that you would expect to see in a bustling neighborhood in Manhattan or San Francisco.  I loved that they went with modern / sleek vs. the expected rustic, in line with the traditional bread-making techniques they are marketing.
"Designer" agreed to check this event out with me, and when we arrived Thursday night, we were promptly seated at the communal bar-height tables on the 'patio'.  Menus were already waiting for us at each spot.

To meet our minimum, we each ordered 3 dishes plus a cocktail.  In terms of drinks, BREADBAR was featuring signature microbrews from Humboldt County's Lost Coast Brewery.  Not a big beer fan, I went with the Elderflower St. Germain cocktail ($10), which unfortunately reminded me of what you would get if you hand-squeezed several moist towelettes into a glass, except the citrus is orange instead of lemon.  Designer went with an interesting cocktail made of ginger beer, beer and fresh sprigs of mint ($10) - this was refreshing but not mindblowing and not something we would crave.
My first dish was Beer And Cheese Soup ($8) - with Frisee, Lardon, Bacon Vinaigrette.  Seemed like the chefs were having fun with the traditional pairing of soup and salad.  Beer with cheese in soup was a new combination for me and I was excited to try it.  I did like this soup - which had an interesting consistency that was at once creamy and 'sticky'.  The mix of savory and sweet was also interesting as well, and I love the quick toss of herbs on top for texture contrast. 

As for the frisee salad, much as I love bacon, this couldn't save the salad from being as washed out as an 80s' rock star.  The bacon vinaigrette did not come through at all in taste, the frisee was barely dressed, and the lardon bits though tasty were also a bit on the dry side - so that the whole thing did not come together cohesively.  I ended up just picking at all the bacon bits and leaving the rest.

Designer's first dish was Deconstructed Cleveland Polish Boy ($8) - Wild Boar Sausage, Blue Cheese Slaw, BBQ Pulled Pork, Cleveland Stadium Mustard, Steak Fries.  This was probably the most unappealing presentation of the night - I am not even going to repeat what Designer described it as, but it has to do with 'presents' you will often find on the sidewalk in neighborhoods with irresponsible pet owners. 

The pulled pork was actually incredibly juicy and rich in flavor, and possibly the best dish of the night.  The rest of the plate fell flat on stage - the sausage, which had so much potential with its exotic sounding meat, was not exotic at all in flavor - there just wasn't much flavor to be had, period.  The mysterious sounding 'stadium mustard' was also lackluster in the flavor department.

We both got the Poutine ($8) - Fried, Duck Confit, Gravy, Mozzarella based on the description.  I've yet to take my brother up on his offer of an authentic poutine 'tour' in Montreal, but I've liked all that LA has to offer so far, and was excited to see this on the menu at the BREADBAR event.  I liked this dish for the most part - the duck confit and gravy was rich, tender and flavorful - the fries served hot and crispy.  My only note was for the mozzarella - I know that poutine by definition involves cheese curds, but the mozzarella bits had a consistency that was a bit too rubbery for our taste - they were just short of the rubbery-ness of little erasers on the ends of pencils.  It would have been nice to get fresh mozzarella bits in as their own interpretation of the dish. A solid dish overall though, and a great deal - the portion size was generous and we could have eaten this as an entree.  As it is, we were able to take leftovers home.
Based on the description, the dish we were most excited about for the night was the Pierogi ($8) - "Stuffed with Pate de Foie Gras and Portobello Crimini Mushroom, Truffle Sour Cream", which includes a few of my favorite foods / ingredients on earth! We *almost* spent all 3 of our required dishes on the Pierogi.  Unfortunately, this turned out to be probably our least favorite dish of the night - the pierogi wrapper was thick, chewy and crusty on the edges, tasting like it came from a bag of frozen dumplings that has sat in the freezer far past its expiration date. Foie gras, best known for its luxurious, decadent, rich texture - did not have its signature features highlighted, but was instead a broken down, jumbled mess that is a mere shadow of its original state.  There was neither richness of texture nor taste.  The asian-inspired sauce was oily overkill, overwhelming any subtle flavors that might have been lurking in the pierogi filling.  I thought at least that we could enjoy the truffle sour cream - but was disappointed when we found we could not taste any hint of truffle flavor in the cream.

Even if we had room for dessert after all these dishes, we were too disappointed in the quality of our savory dishes to throw any more money into the meal.

All in all, while I applaud in concept BREADBAR's support of up and coming chefs with these pop-ups, and will undoubtedly be back for others in future - this particular event with Grill 'Em All Truck was not what I had anticipated.  And this out of all the food trucks listed is what I would most look forward to trying (I'm already addicted to Coolhaus and chase it down far too often).  Knowing that Grill 'Em All Truck's specialty is really burgers - I would still be up to try one the next time they roll into my neighborhood, but as far as more ambitious dishes go - I would say they still have several miles to go before they get 'there', if that is even their goal.

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 4.5 bites
Presentation - 4.5 bites
Originality - 4.5 bites
Ambience - 5 stars
Service - 5 stars
Overall experience - 4.5 bites
Price - $ (1 bite mark)
Probability of return visit - 65%

Breadbar LA
10250 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90067
Ph. 310.277.3770

Hatchi Truck Stop - last Thursday of the month March through December 2011


OpenTable (get points!):  Look for reservations
Eligible for Westfield Century City Dining Rewards program - bring receipts within 7 days to mall concierge for registration

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