Sunday, April 27, 2014

Faith and Flower: Destination Dining in DTLA

With great restaurants launching seemingly every time you blink, it can be difficult to break out from the crowd - but Faith and Flower does it with a smart mix of talent in the bar and kitchen, elegant yet accessible ambiance, and a post meal beverage program that takes the experience beyond dinner, that thing you do before finding your entertainment for the evening, to the main attraction in itself.

Just as the restaurant name and concept references crossing of two eras: 1920s and modern day downtown LA (via the name of the street it's on, at those points in time) - the bar program also features craft cocktails inspired by the Roaring Twenties as well as more recent signature creations. 

We loved the counter seating that is conducive to quick bites with drinks whether solo or with a group (there is also a communal table in the bar area).

I had been pre-alerted to the amazing English Milk Punch, but apparently this takes so much preparation, it is only served in limited amounts per day and they were already sold out the night of our visit.  But Mixologist Mike Lay was a great host, who guided us through the rest of his drink menu.

We loved the light and delicious Ben Hur ($12) with Buffalo Trace bourbon, lemon, apricot marmalade, egg white, F&F aromatic bitters as well as the Oxford ($14) with Pierre Ferrand 1840, Denizen & Appleton ruma, Cloroso sherry, Capillaire syrup, orange shrub.

Both used fresh juices that made them taste like they are good for you.  Yes, craft cocktails are a favorite way to get at least some amount of fruit in our system.
Loved that the twenties meets modern day concept carries through the beautiful decor in the dining room.
Down to details like a formation of vintage hand mirrors, that you could imagine came from dressing rooms of Golden Era Hollywood, made to resemble leaves on a tree.  And the menu that comes in a classy bound book embossed with the F&F logo.
The ambiance is transportive, but we fell even more in love with the place once the food started to arrive. First up: NY Steak Tartare ($14) uni, miso cream, black sesame.  This is one of those dishes that combines ingredients you wouldn't often see together, but that make so much sense once you taste it that you wonder why you haven't encountered it already.

Regular readers know my obsession with sea urchin, so yes, I may be a bit biased as they 'had me at uni'.  But, this truly was surf and turf at its best: raw glorious deliciousness.  The steak is perfectly fatty, tender, lusciously smooth, with its natural flavors enhanced by the umami of miso and texture made cohesive with cream.  The plump tongues of uni lent rich, creamy, briny ocean funk, while tiny squares of seaweed and flakes of bonito provided contrasting levity.  All this is served up with round crisps perfumed with fragrant black sesame.

One of the best preparations of steak tartare I've had in LA and one that I definitely wake up craving and need to go back for, soon.

I had also been excited about the Uni Toast, but that wasn't available on the night, so we tried the Dungeness Crab Toast ($15) instead, with jicama, pickled sea beans, green goddess aioli.  Loved how the tartness of the pickled sea beans, and an unnamed source of subtle heat punched up the mild flavors of the fresh and generous chunks of crab.
My friend was in the mood for lobstah, so we also tried the Chilled Maine Lobster ($19) with cucumber, lemongrass gazpacho, a refreshing dish that also served as palate cleanser before we headed into main course territory.
Whenever I see quail on the menu, I almost always have to get it. And the Mushroom Stuffed Quail ($25) would be roasted in the wood oven, and served with madeira mushroom sauce.  We actually wanted the portions to be smaller on this one though in order to maintain the juiciness of the meat and crispness of skin. To us the texture was the equivalent of white meat chicken.  Loved the sauce though, which was wonderfully infused with rich wine flavor, delicious meat juices, and well balanced with savory, sweet, with subtle acidity. 
Our friendly server, Asha, did recommend a vegetable side, which we ended up loving: Warm English Peas and Gold Beets ($8) sheep's milk smoked ricotta.  I don't recall having had anyone else pairing peas and beets, but the savory softness balanced beautifully with the slight crunch of subtly sweet beets and creamy smokiness of the sheep's milk ricotta.
Then came the dish that's been drawing rave reviews across the board: Oxtail Agnolotti ($17) bone marrow butter, tangerine salsa, beef tendon chicharrones.

The previous dishes showed creativity, but this one was sheer genius.

With the roster of talent in the kitchen, and their Michelin-starred cred, it shouldn't be a surprise that a plate of this level would be produced - but it was on the whole revelatory: the bright citrus (I'd never seen used with pasta!) sent bursts of sweet and tart through the pillowy pasta packets, packed with flavorful tender oxtail, punctuated nicely by the crisp crunch of chicharrones strewn throughout.  And that the chicharrones were made of beef tendon vs the typical pork skin, giving it a denser, less airy consistency I thought helped it retain its crispiness against the sauce and juicy citrus pieces. Then there was the bone marrow butter: pleasing, decadent globs of fatty meaty goodness, little treasures to be discovered among the other ingredients on the plate. Brilliant, and instantly addictive.  The second time I went back to F&F, this was the first thing I had to get.

Do NOT leave Faith and Flower without eating at least one plate of this.

For dessert: Pistachio Feuilletine ($8) cheesecake puree, grapefruit 'confit', grapefruit sorbet.  For some reason I pictured the cheesecake puree playing a supportive role, but instead it was the main feature: beautifully piped and plated.  Unfortunately we were not fans of the dense (the puree was more like thick frosting) on only slightly less dense but still rich sweet grapefruit 'confit'.  But the grapefruit sorbet was bright and enjoyable.

We also got to try the Milk Chocolate Cremeux ($8) peanut butter crumble, Big Sur sea salt and caramel ice cream - which we enjoyed.  Made sure to get a bit of every element in each spoonful for full effect.

The food is already outstanding, but the post meal drink helps define an experience at F&F as dining/entertainment in one: F&F offers a number of absinthe experiences.  The one we tried was Absinthe 'Leap of Faith' ($20), which definitely wins award for Best Drama, right at our table.

First, Asha lined up a bottle of La Fee, a Listerine-blue/green colored absinthe, with containers of straws and matches.

She proceeds to pour some of the absinthe into a snifter, lights a match and ignites the liquid.  Out shoots blue flame, which reminded me for some reason of a Patronus (yes, big Harry Potter geek over here, and this analogy before I even had a taste of the famed, allegedly hallucinogenic in some forms, spirit).  A seahorse. Patronus. As in, force for good.

The flames are then poured into a waiting tumbler of root beer.

A cloth napkin is swiftly placed over the opening of the original glass, which is turned over, trapping the smoke.

Asha then instructed us to stick our straws into the overturned glass, inhale a puff of absinthe vapor, hold it in for a beat, then take a swig from the tumbler.  Tip: don't make the same mistake I did of thinking you had to inhale the smoke down to the bottom of your lungs.  Just take a shallow breath. Holding in the smoke is said to help open up your air passages, the better to allow the liquid absinthe root beer mix to travel quickly and release its flavors to maximum effect. 

The taste is actually better than any other absinthe that I can remember - still lots of anise fragrance and flavor, but much less intense and much more drinkable.

For those who have never tried absinthe and worry about its storied history - this is safe, legal, restaurant bar grade absinthe.  You're not going to hallucinate, or end up in the ER.  All in great fun, and I say something that makes F&F even more of a destination. This would definitely make your meal an unforgettable one.

If you are lucky enough to have a budget for large groups, there's a gorgeous private room at the back of the restaurant which ups the opulence of 1920s decor.

If I ever win the lottery, this is where I'd host the celebration.
Before I got down to recap my first meal, I already had occasion to return to F&F thanks to @conbon's birthday!

I had the Oxtail Agnolotti again of course, but also got to try two desserts that I fell in love with immediately (the pastry chef IS afterall French Laundry alum, and this is probably as close as I will get to that foodie mecca for a very long time...)

The first: Stumptown Coffee Creme ($8) with almond sponge, star anise meringue and coconut sorbet: loved the interplay of rich/light flavors and creamy, spongy (hand torn, fluffy cake) and crunchy (meringue) textures here.   The Hazelnut Chocolate ($8) 'Les Gianduja' chocolate mousse, hazelnut sabayon was also outstanding, like a giant chocolate truffle with a crunchy pie-crust-like-bottom.

We also had our fill of cocktails, of course, of which Vaudeville ($12) with Square One Botanical vodka, lemon, raspberry gum, F&F aromatic bitters, rosemary, Italian merengue was a favorite for its light, refreshing and nuanced sweet/tart/bitter/herbaceous taste.

And no birthday celebration, or visit to F&F, for that matter - would be complete without absinthe for the grand finale (see cool shot of this second round at the bar via @conbon's Instagram here).

Can't wait for the next time I get to go back to F&F: I already know what I need to order.

*Disclaimer:  The first meal mentioned was hosted.

Faith and Flower
705 W 9th St Los Angeles, CA 90015 (Ground floor of WaterMarke Tower)
Ph: 213.239.0642

Look for reservations (and OpenTable points!) here.

Parking:  Valet $6 for 3 hours (?) $8 thereafter 


Faith & Flower on Urbanspoon

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