Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Coop Part Two: Memorial Day BBQ Brunch

Chefs Marcel Vigneron and Haru Kishi threw a brunch so good it felt like sin, this past Easter Sunday.  So when they announced that they were doing a second holiday brunch - Memorial Day weekend - under their emerging pop-up brand "The Coop", I was excited to see (1) what they would come up with to reinterpret that classic, all-American barbecue, and (2) if they plan to 'own' holiday pop-up brunches.  Especially since we ran into each other at a recent UCLA Science and Food lecture (the chefs were also spotted at Nathan Myhrvold's talk, where he spoke specifically about modernist bbq techniques) - I wondered if they would take any inspiration from those.

Another reason I was looking forward to the event?  It was to be held again at the so-gorgeous-it-can-reduce-you-to-tears Gonpachi space. 
Gonpachi the restaurant has folded, but the space, with its authentic, imported Japanese architecture and interiors, and lush greenery surrounding a serene koi pond, that on the whole make me think "zen temple meets tea house meets spa resort" is too amazing to let go to waste - I'm really hoping that either Chefs Vigneron and Kishi, obviously fans of the space, would take it over permanently at some point, or some other high caliber chef would come in and revive it, keeping the space exactly as is but infusing it with compelling fare that will draw diners and enough profit to sustain it.  (I was so excited about this second The Coop event, with incredible guilt I reserved with the blog email in hopes it would up my odds of getting in, given how packed it was last time as well!) 
Now that I've said my piece about the space - onto The Coop experience.  This was again to be a 5-course brunch ($42 per person this time), again with cocktails by Devon Espinosa. I don't know at what point it become de rigeur for me, but now I physically cannot have brunch without a cocktail. So my friend JK and I were both drawn to the Kentucky Punch Bourbon ($12) buffalo trace, lime juice, cucumber, mint - which turned out to be light, refreshing and was a perfect accompaniment to an indulgent meal of meats and other deliciousness to come. Just to try a different drink though I had Spiked Picnic Tea ($12) for my order, made with grey goose, passion fruit tea, lemon juice, strawberries.  I wasn't a fan of this one as it was simultaneously too sweet and too bitter - and I generally don't love pink drinks and hadn't expected this one to be one. Wish I had just gone for the Kentucky Punch Bourbon as well - at least JK shared a sip so I could taste it!
When it came to food, The Coop kicked off with a simply named 1st Course: PB&J and Compressed Watermelon Wedge, but what arrived was a clearly inventive plate.  The picnic food became, in Marcel & Haru's hands, an open-faced brioche toast topped with spherified pomegranate and blueberry puree, and peanut butter crumbs that we're guessing was flash frozen and then ground up.  The textures were a delightful surprise and skillfully executed as to be perfect for the first course - I especially loved that the peanut butter, usually a heavy goop, is so light and airy yet packed with distinct flavor, and that the spherication was a refreshing, clean, crisp burst of fruit and tartness versus the familiar sugary sticky mess, all counterbalanced by the squares of toast, cut at just the right size and thickness to serve as canvas and foil for the other elements. The chefs definitely know how to announce their arrival. 
On the other end of the plate: Compressed Watermelon Wedge these beauties were instantly addictive - they were compressed with cherry blossom infused vodka and lemon puree (so we were advised by our server).  We thought we tasted fleur de sel too, there was something crunchy on top that went perfect with the juicy slices.  Loved these too - that's 2 for 2 just in the first course! 
Onward went the march into 2nd Course: Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich, cole slaw, Hawaiian roll - there was no visible modernist wizardry here, but it was a simply freaking awesome chicken sandwich that we wanted 10 more of, immediately.  It was just so juicy and flavorful, with perfectly even breading all around, and an extra juicy crunch of cole slaw between subtly sweet Hawaiian roll buns.  So good. The Hawaii reference on a holiday meant to pay tribute to American soldiers, held in a Japanese space - could be seen as tongue-in-cheek, or equally, a respectful bridging of two formerly opposing sides, across time, with soul-healing food and its power to connect. Or it could just be that the rolls went really well taste-wise with the chicken (yeah I've been told I have a tendency to overthink everything :P)
3rd course: Binchotan Baby Back Ribs, Chorizo Baked Beans these ribs were perfectly portioned, fall off the bone tender and beautifully charred.  Binchotan it turns out is Japanese white coal made from oak, and doesn't release smoke or odours, making it a good choice for yakitori chicken.  Which the chefs used to cook the pork ribs.  Interestingly the plate came with a wedge of lemon - but I don't think we ever figured out if that was for the beans or the ribs.  I put it on my ribs and the citrus added a nice layer of tart juicy-ness. 
Then came the course inspired by Nathan Myhrvold's lecture: 4th course: "Slow and Low" Beef Brisket, Kentucky BBQ Sauce, Smoked Potato Salad chef Haru was kind enough to stop by our table to introduce this dish and explained that, inspired by Myhrvold's insights into best way to barbecue meats for maximum tenderness and retaining juices - they cooked this brisket slowly and with low heat - over, in fact, three days! To me the tender texture kind of reminded me of oxtail. Paired with the Kentucky *bourbon* barbecue sauce, it was perfection - I don't think either of us looked up til there was nothing left to lick off our plates.

Chef Haru also brought out the Smoked Potato Salad which was possibly the most dramatic presentation of the meal - the salad came with a glass cover filled with smoke, like the mysterious haze inside a movie gypsy's crystal ball, which only slowly reveals the contents below once the smoke dissipates.  And we loved and enjoyed every morsel of this salad too - with its fingerling potatoes, freshest tasting peas and ribbons of onion sprinkled with delicate leaves of green and shallots.  Interesting that they went smokeless with the meat, and instead used the smoke in the salad.
And for the sweet finish: 5th course: Corn Bread, Maple Cloud, Bacon Ice Cream, Candied Pecan this was a nice, simple, not groundbreaking but well executed dessert set.  Everything was just the right portion: I loved the little bite-sized cornbread with the maple marshmallowy dollops on top, and the candied pecans were perfect with the subtly flavored bacon ice cream.  Again I loved their attention to detail: the serving dish for the corn bread was shaped like an ear of corn!

All in all, score another coup for The Coop.

Thank you chefs for another amazing, and very memorable, holiday brunch!  Can't wait til the next one (July 4th perhaps?!)

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 6 bites
Ambience - 6.5 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$$ (3 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 100% (whenever they have their next pop up!)

The Coop BBQ Brunch at Gonpachi

Saturday & Sunday, May 27th 2012
134 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90211 

Twitter: @marcelvigneron 

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