Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Final Days of Foie in California: A 7 Day Diary

There are two ways to deal with things we don't understand.  Medicate it, or eradicate it.

That seems to be the conventional 'wisdom' of our time.  It takes too much effort to ask the hard questions, to get at truth behind issues and to come up with/ implement true resolutions.  So much easier just to go in for the fast, cleanly accredited fix and soundbite.

Not feeling well? Take a pill. Kids are overweight? Forbid anything with sugar. Vegans and animal rights activists bugging you about some obscure food that won't impact the majority of the voting public, definitely not enough for them to mobilize at the polls? Forget regulation - just kill it.

But the thing with taking the easy way out? It always comes back to bite you in the end. It's not always as simple as a pill, what else is going on in someone's life that's causing issues? If you don't get to the root of these issues, what happens the minute they stop taking medication? Are kids really overweight only because of what they eat at school? Or could at least part of the reason be that they have become less active, with technology taking over where physical activity was once the norm (ooh, do we need to ban technology then?), and by taking free will and the option to make good decisions out of the equation - what happens to their diets when they are not in school, will they see the forbidden as an even sweeter and more coveted prize? You got the vegans and PETA activists off your back on foie by giving them their legislation, do you think that's the last you'll hear from them? It's just the beginning of the anti-meat agenda.

I am neither lawyer nor vet - but are there not animal rights 'abuses' in the food system that are far more pervasive and dangerous to both animals and humans than foie that deserve priority in legislation and enforcement or at least regulation (i.e. feedlots and that chicken egg salmonella scare a few years back with more than 550 millions eggs recalled)?  Why are those not being addressed? In a state with $16 billion deficit, and over 1 million Californians unemployed, why were resources being deployed to address such a, in the grand scheme of life, frivolous cause?

Does passage of such legislation, limiting choice in an arena that does not justify the politicization, without scientific proof of claims - bode well for democracy or the ability to conduct our private lives without nanny state / big brother intervention?

And now that we are days away from enforcement of a law that has already passed in their favor, do people (especially government officials) really have nothing better to do than continue to protest about that same issue? (Hey, how about the budget deficit, education, or traffic congestion/alternative transportation(carbon footprint)? That affect human quality of life? Lives of all of your constituents?)  Is this in part some reflection on their inability to be effective (or latch their lives) on any other (worthier) cause? Is it simply easier to continue to beat a dead horse so they can feel some sort of victory over putting one small artisan producer out of business (vs impotence when faced with magnitude of well funded industries with broader support like chicken or beef)?

Arguments of lack of gag reflex and expansion of natural migratory (overfeeding) patterns aside, is it not more respectful to take a beak to tail approach to a food animal, respecting its sacrifice by not wasting any part of it?  And, since foie is a luxury item that fetches a premium price, it is a fact that foie producers have a vested interest in ensuring ducks/geese have high quality of life in order to produce a high quality liver. 

With that soapbox venting speech said, it's encouraging to see every day heroes step up in and out of the kitchen - and to hear that, like Chicago before us, there may be hope in ways to circumvent and hopefully eventually overturn this madness.

In the meantime, foie lovers around the city are celebrating the inimitable, endlessly versatile ingredient one last time - those who can't afford the $180 and up all foie tasting menus can still get their taste a la carte.  Here is my countdown to #Foiehibition:

T-7: ANIMAL  435 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles 323.782.9225

Foie Gras, Biscuit, Maple Sausage Gravy ($25) Animal is a foie fan favorite that has drawn crowds, in these final days, willing to wait upwards of two hours for a seat and a taste.  This dish is pure genius - mixing things that you would think are too rich to go well together but goes perfectly.  A gorgeous, buttery smooth generous lobe of lightly seared foie sitting on top of a thin, buttery crumbly biscuit and rich, creamy gravy riddled with bits of juicy maple sausage. I will miss you.

Foie Gras Loco Moco, Quail Egg, Spam, Hamburger ($36) - elevated take on a Hawaiian staple, pairing high and low ingredients: foie with spam, quail egg with humble hamburger and rice.  Beautifully presented with dots of sriracha for bit of heat and scallions for color and crunch.  Loved this.  You will also be missed.

Veal Tongue, Smoked Foie Gras, Pastrami Spices, Crab Apple ($14) - such an original and beautiful creation.  Art on a plate.  This was the least expensive of the three dishes I tried but probably tied with the Foie biscuit & gravy for my favorite.  The foie is made into a mousse that sort of has the consistency of ricotta cheese, and served with the most amazing tongue I've ever had - veal tongue with the texture of oxtail and spiced to taste like pastrami.  With the sweet-acidity of pickled crab apple to cut through it all nicely, burnt mustard on the side for flavor enhancement, and dehydrated pumpernickel toasts beautifully arranged atop the quenelle of foie, as if it was ready to take flight.  A fitting, gorgeous way to send off a beloved ingredient.

T-6: WATERLOO & CITY 12517 Washington Blvd., Culver City 310.391.4222

Hudson Valley Foie Gras, Armagnac Prunes, Brioche ($19) - Waterloo and City is one of my favorite places to eat in LA - offering accessible, affordable gourmet in a well designed but laid back gastropub setting.  And they serve amazing Hudson Valley foie - in an adorable mason jar, with a topping of jellied prunes, and brioche on the side.  Underneath the prunes, is foie in its purest form - I love these like I love the purity of fresh shucked oysters, with their pristine taste of deep, untouched ocean. This foie similarly has that amazing, pure untouched taste and unparallelled, luscious fresh aphrodisiac texture that truly justifies the foodie-phrase-du-jour: foodgasm.

Smoked Eel & Foie Gras Terrine, Picallili, Soy Gastrique, Brioche ($14) - Waterloo and City is known for their charcuterie, and this inventive pairing of smoked eel and foie in terrine is creative and delicious, with an interesting mix of smoothness and soft crunch.  Carrying on the Asian flavors evoked by eel, soy gastrique is used as condiment for a bit of acidity to cut through the richness of the proteins. All served with a lovely side of cornichon and pickled onion and brioche toasts.

Beef Wellington ($27) - a British classic, and a blackboard special that day, with a filet steak dressed in foie, then wrapped in puff pastry and baked.  This one, I didn't love - the meat was a bit too thick and chewy, and (caution: here comes the food snob) didn't taste as flavorful as grassfed beef usually does.  I also thought the way foie was used as coating for the dense brick of a steak sort of wasted its unique, luscious texture.

T-5: Mezze  401 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles 310.657.4103

Foie Terrine, Saffron, Pistachio, Grapefruit  ($24) - Mezze's melding of mediterranean dining traditions and flavors with 'California marketplace' inspiration meets with classic french foie here, beautifully.  A perfect moon of smooth, creamy foie terrine at just the right density, its rich earthy flavors perfectly balanced with the lightest of saffron jellies, and gently tart, juicy sections of grapefruit, and crushed pistachios for crunch. This was a gorgeous, artful plate that brings to mind Keats' famous words: "beauty is truth / truth beauty / that is all ye know on earth / and all ye need to know". 
I know pistachios are a med-cuisine staple, but it's also iconic to California - and this pairing of foie with pistachio, for me, come July 1st - is going to be like that one memory that summarizes your relationship with that one ex you can never get over - we were so happy together (in the mind of the lover), foie and California, but it just wasn't meant to be.  You can repress and learn to function like a normal person again, but you are walking around with a giant piece of you missing, something you'll have to learn to cope with daily.  Is it sad to hope that someday we'll be together again?

T-4: ink. 8360 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles 323.651.5866

Foie Gras, waffle, smoked maple, hot sauce ($23) Michael Voltaggio is genius.  I don't know if I'm way off the mark, but this dish to me tasted like Summer, with flavors and textures that evoked ice cream (waffle fragments atop thin creamy slab of luscious foie terrine), bbq (specifically, buffalo wings - with the smokiness from treated maple cream and dots of orange hot sauce) and campfires (smoked maple was served with a marshmallow-y consistency, making me think of s'mores!).  The last blissful summer with foie. 

This was such an amazing dish, I got two of them - in the same sitting.  Because I could, and very soon can't anymore. Summer of Foie nevermore, Lenore.

(If you go and sit at the bar, ask for Gabriella, she made me an awesome off-menu cocktail that tasted like it was made to go with foie.  It was loud and hard to hear what exactly was in it, but she did show me the bottle of vermouth that was used - Floc de Gascogne Laubade.  Get your last foie and vermouth pairing at ink. before time runs out.)

T-3: Petrossian 321 N Robertson Blvd West Hollywood 310.271.0576

Petrossian was on my list of must-stops in the last week before the foie ban is enforced - primarily for the mindblowing foie gras ice cream served with the tenderest, fluffiest flat-bread-like brioche and fresh raspberry jam, that I'd had once before and fell in love with.  I had to have a last taste of that, and decided to splurge on one full tasting menu here: Farewell to Foie, 5-courses for $100 (more affordable compared to others around town!).

Course 1: Summer Berry Gazpacho Armagnac Poached Foie Gras, Pickled Beets - this was a beautiful and original way to serve foie, with fresh sweet-tart softly crunchy berries paired with sour also gently crunchy pickled beets, to balance with the smooth, buttery blocks of poached foie gras - served in a cold berry 'soup' that's poured over the lot, at the table.  Was sad I wasn't quick enough with the camera to catch a shot of the ingredients pre-pour.

Course 2: Asparagus Salad black summer truffles, little gem baby lettuce, truffle jus vinaigrette, foie gras ravioli - this was a clean, relative light dish of radiant earthy flavors, combining two of my fav ingredients on earth: foie and truffles.  Lovely light bites for a second course. 
Course 3: Seared Foie Gras cherries, mint, pistachios - it's hard to beat the natural, indescribable texture of foie.  And sometimes it's at its most beautiful served simply - as in Waterloo & City's foie in a jar, or Petrossian's seared foie.
A close-up shot of the inside of that lobe, so you can see the perfectly even sear with the rich unadulterated buttery creaminess underneath.  I die every time.  And the sweet acidity of cherries and crunchiness of pistachios goes perfectly.

Course 4: Prime Flat Iron foie gras, onion, fines herbs, fresno chili - this dish was not my favorite, probably as I'm not a huge fan of red meat, and I was in the mood to enjoy foie at full blast before the ban - foie was sort of an embellishment versus the main attraction in this dish, and the steak was a little tougher and less flavorful than I expected, even at medium rare.  But the portion size was incredly generous, and you would definitely not need to hit up another restaurant after this tasting menu (as you might at other fine dining places, where you're barely getting a few bites from each plate). 

Course 5: Foie Gras Ice Cream brioche, raspberry jam, sea salt, honey - it's testament to the versatility and irreplaceability (yes I think I just made that word up) of foie, that it can be served in every way from simply seared to terrines to soup to sauces - over and in anything and everything - and even in dessert.  This is probably my favorite foie ice cream that I've ever had - not only is it lush, gorgeously creamy and fresh, every element that accompanies it is perfect.  It's basically a super sophisticated ice cream sandwich, but instead of cookies the scoop of foie ice cream is cradled in a flat-bread-like brioche that is incredibly soft and fluffy, served slightly warm to contrast with the chill of the ice cream, punctuated by natural sweetness of the freshest tasting raspberry jam and crunch of crushed peanuts, a hint of sea salt and bit of honey for light sweet finishing touch.  If you haven't tried it yet - I highly recommend you do this before July 1st.  This is the foie dessert I will miss and mourn the most.

Aside from the tasting menu, Petrossian does offer a la carte foie dishes that are available through June 30th: Goose Foie Gras with black truffle, port wine, pepper ($38), Duck Foie Gras with Black Truffles, armagnac, Perigord seasonings ($32), Duck Foie Gras, Armagnac, Perigord Seasonings ($28) and Pate & Charcuterie Plate with duck salami, duck rillettes, duck & pork pate with orange, duck & duck liver port pate ($22).

T-2: Gelson's  locations citywide

Trois Petits Cochons Mousse de Foie de Canard au Porto ($7.99) - I had an awesome Happy Hour with coworkers this night, but it went on for 4 hours which meant it was too late to go to any good restaurant that served foie.  But, I remembered that Gelson's sells these lovely (for chain grocery) duck liver and pork mousse with port wine! And realized I still had time to stock up so that I could still have foie in July! Thank you Gelson's!!! 

T-1: Waterloo & City (round 2) and The Royce at The Langham 
W&C: 12517 Washington Blvd., Culver City 310.391.4222
The Royce: 1401 South Oak Knoll Ave., Pasadena 626.585.6410

Hudson Valley Foie Gras, Armagnac Prunes($23) - yes, I went back to Waterloo and City for their foie in a jar.  It was still my favorite foie (taste and deal wise despite the $4 per jar increase on that last day before the ban) in the city.  The second time round the texture was different though - less raw foie like, more dense and terrine like, but so thick it was more like the consistency of a stick of butter that had been in the fridge for a while. Still amazing in taste, but I preferred the raw, softer, oyster-like texture of the first round.  Still it was one of my favs, and I got two jars - yes two - to get my fill before it's no longer legal to get out in the open like this.

Roasted Halibut, Clams, Foie Gras Sauce ($29) - Waterloo & City had a daily special, just for that last night before Foiehibition, with a beautifully roasted fish with clams stuffed with soft cubes of potato and fresh peas - all bathed in foie gras sauce.  You really can use foie in pretty much anything. 

I still love it most in rawish/seared/terrine/ice cream sandwich form, but this was a lovely dish as well.
The Royce: I waddled in, under the weight of my own liver which is fatty from the indulgence of the past week, for the most 'fine dining' experience of my week - in a beautiful hotel (yes in dreaded Pasadena but nonetheless a very nice one), and a chic, upscale dining room that wouldn't be out of place in a high-end Vegas hotel on the strip, or a high-end mall dining venue in Hong Kong.  In celebration of foie, chef David Feau was offering foie '30 Ways in 3 Days' - and you could make your selection from 30 preparations of foie starting at a minimum of 3 dishes for $75.  Since this was my second dinner, I went for 3 courses. At my server's recommendation, I started with Seared Foie Gras, Lobster with fava beans and eggplant caviar - this was my favorite of the three:  the lobster was way overcooked as to be very chewy, almost tough, which was a waste, but what was important that night was the foie, and the foie was perfect - evenly seared top and bottom, with a pure, unadulterated, yes, unctuous center.
Close up shot of the interior of that gorgeous foie, because I want to remember it (as one tear drips down ma face...)
On the verge of food coma, I didn't get a chance to take a shot of the menu so these may not be the proper names that I'm listing here...but my second dish was Foie Gras with Quail and Squab  - I was looking forward to this one as I love quail! And bird organ on bird 'steak' sounded like a winning combintaion. The quail came in a baby 'filet' cooked rare - and I enjoyed it with the luscious lobe of foie on top - but it wasn't mindblowing, definitely not of the caliber of the foie-stuffed-quail at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon.  I wasn't impressed with the squab 'drumstick' either - I wanted it to be more juicy, tender and flavorful.  And whatever was in the sauce and foam didn't do much for the dish either.
Foie Gras, Chocolate Sauce, Orange - this was supposed to be a week of celebrating the best of foie, so the last thing I was is negativity.  But, I also have to be honest, and this dish was one that I could only take one bite of.  The server highly recommended this as the best of the foie desserts, and the one that I'll leave remembering.  I'll admit I may be affected by this being my second dinner for the night, but this felt way too rich as to be unbalanced - the thick, dark, pungent chocolate sauce was overwhelming when paired with the hefty piece of foie.  The orange was I'm sure meant to cut through that with its acidity, but I really could not get beyond that first bite.  So, not the best way to finish out the last night of legal foie in California (I should have listened to Sinosoul and gone to Papilles!) - but nonetheless, glad to have had the experience and no regrets about not having tried the infamous foie menu at The Royce.

T-0 aka D-Day: July 1st Foiehibition is now in effect, and foie gras is no longer legal to be produced or sold in the state of California.  I'm glad I have leftover terrine and pre-purchased foie mousse to tie me over for a few days.

The true impact of this on culinary tourism, the ability of the state to attract new high-caliber talent, and precedence for government intervention in civil liberties, remains to be seen.  The hopeless optimist in me hopes for the law to be overturned, as it was in Chicago before us, and with the Prohibition before that (though of course, alcohol has many, many, far more vocal and well funded advocates than foie). 

Til then, lovers of foie and freedom, please support C.H.E.F.S. in their fight for sustainable and humane farming practices - a longer term, real, non-Fahrenheit 451-esque solution.


  1. It was great bonding over our shared appreciation for foie gras at the bar at Animal - and I know who you're referring to when you say some people waited upwards of 2 hours. The Royce and Petrossian are closing out my Foiehibition week, perhaps I will run into you there!

  2. Likewise! Love meeting fellow foodies, especially foie fans! I actually hit up Petrossian tonight (after a failed attempt to foie at Takami, which is all sold out) - was fantastic. The Royce looks amazing too - maybe our paths will cross again there? :) #SaveFoie

  3. Yes someone agrees with me on Waterloo & City's foie offerings! Chicken liver & foie mousse is amazing as well. Might go there tonight actually. Glad to see you focusing on the more affordable foie options.

  4. Hi Chris, thanks for stopping by - yes, love Waterloo & City's pretty much everything. Chicken liver & foie mousse has been a favorite but I figure chicken liver would still be easily accessible after the ban (albeit, minus the foie) so I saved stomach space for other foie dishes!

    Hope you got to get your fill - though I hear many chefs have been / will be going with the loopholes, so we can still get our foie in the city, some way, some how :)



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