Sunday, June 26, 2011

Raphael - Chef Adam Horton Brings Artistry to Studio City

How many kids from 5th grade are you still friends with? Or even remember the full names of?  Life-long bonds are rare to come by, and food loving residents of Studio City / the SFV are particularly appreciative of the friendship of Alon Raphael (owner of high-end family-owned namesake restaurant Raphael) with Chef Adam Horton (Saddle Peak Lodge, Test Kitchen), which dates back to Carpenter Elementary school, and which this year led to the talented chef's arrival to elevate not only the revamped eatery but the Valley fine dining scene.  Gourmands both local and outside the SFV find themselves literally and immediately moved by the pair - straight to the chic, recently renovated space on Ventura Boulevard. 

After a particularly grueling work week,, "Director" and I decided to head to Raphael for culinary therapy.  We were instantly charmed by the exterior wall, formed by a 'living' fixture of vertical burlap-sack-like pockets housing succulent plants. And our eyes only continued to widen once we were led through the beautiful gold / chocolate marble-floored interiors of the serenely sophisticated dining room, and given the night's menu.  Since it was a first visit for us both, we decided to go with lots of starters so we can sample more dishes. Then it was our server's turn to have his eyes widen to see two 'smallish' Asian women order so many plates - we found it amusing and endearing when he, concerned for our safety, offered to pace the dishes for us (presumably to avoid our spontaneous combustion all over the new furniture?)

First up was the Crispy pork belly “Panzanella” ($12) with house made French sausage, brioche, nước chấm, capsicum, herbs and pickles.  This was essentially a great, decontructed Vietnamese banh mi sandwich - with tender pork belly that had a carefully balanced fat to meat ratio, and farm fresh, intoxicatingly fragrant herbs.  The brioche could have had a lighter, fresher taste but we enjoyed the beautifully plated dish overall.



Next up: Tuna Tartare ($13) with green curry “glass”, green papaya, coconut, kaffir lime, crispy taro, lemon grass, basil, cilantro.  The name of the dish may be deceptively simple, but we knew from the inspired list of ingredients right below, that this was going to be anything but.

This dish turned out to be probably the most inspired of the ones we had that night - tuna tartare reimagined with a vibrant, skillful mix of textures, colors and flavors celebrating the splendor of land and sea. Fatty chunks of raw bluefin tuna are counterbalanced by crunchy crystallized shards of green curry and light, crispy savory taro chips, which are in turn balanced by the overflowing greenery of fragrant herbs crowned by edible flowers.  Kaffir lime adds clean citrus to cut through the sweet / savory flavors, while green papaya bridges the texture of the fish to other ingredients on the plate.  Add to that orange dots of a sauce made with sriracha for a hint of heat on the side, and you've got a creative take on an otherwise ubiquitous dish that seems to evoke the ideal and vital beauty of nature itself.

Steak Tartare ($15) hand-cut filet mignon, house-cured dill pickles, capers, with toasted brioche.  I loved the smooth texture and rich flavors of the beef, but thought the mound was a bit overdressed with all the different toppings.  I would have liked more room for the quality and natural flavors and textures of the beef itself to shine through.
We could never find the will to turn down Diver Scallops ($15) - and Raphael serves theirs in a less formal style than the other dishes- on a bed of English pea, with black garlic sauce and uni reduction. The scallops were supple and subtly sweet, and absolutely lovely. Crunchy peas and soft brothy greens served as a nice balance to the scallops.  However, as a big uni fan, it was a bit disappointing to find the uni was only in the reduction (when it is actual uni pieces - with plump texture combined with unique, briny taste that I love and had expected) .

Our last savory dish was Mussels with Spanish chorizo ($15).  Loved the clean saffron broth infused with meaty flavor.  Sorry no pictures for this one, as it was getting dark by the time we got to this dish in our 5 hour dinner!

Though we did not have any mains with this meal, I have definitely made a note to come back for the 48 hour steak with bacon onion jam.

We barely had enough room for dessert, but were lured by the descriptions and decided to go first with the Broken Blueberry ($9)- a visual feast and sculptural feat made of panna cotta with beet ribbon (that looks like a translucent, gravity defying fruit rollup for grownups, but brittle) and berries.  Will have to come back during daylight hours to get pics of this one!

Followed by Banana Bread Pudding ($9) - with housemade peanut butter ice cream, peanut brittle and tempura bananas that tasted like perfectly ripened bananas fried in churro batter. I thought the tempura bananas were divine and actually preferred this to the bread pudding, which I found a bit too dense and soggy.

 On top of great food, amazing ambiance and impeccable service, we were also happy to have been able to knock off $50 from the bill thanks to my OpenTable Spotlight deal!  Though the menu is a bit on the pricey side, at least for our budgets, and not a place for regular indulgence - we're thrilled to have this fine dining option in the valley! 

All in all, a great and masterful addition to the neighborhood.  I have a feeling with Exec Chef Adam Horton at the helm, Raphael's bond with the community of SFV and Greater LA will be one that stands the test of time.

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 6 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 6.5 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$$$ (4 bite marks mains)
Probability of return visit - 90%

[To find more deals like the one used here, check out my Get More Bites Outta Your Budget page, and follow me on Twitter for up to the minute finds!]

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Raphael
11616 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, CA 91602
Ph: 818.505.3337

Parking: Valet for $5 or meter parking on Ventura Blvd (hard to find at dinner time)
Website: raphaelonventura.com
Look for reservations: Opentable.com
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Raphael on Urbanspoon


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