The Distinguished Gourmand: Vagrancy Project @ Allston Yacht Club

Miles Thompson, a 24-year-old chef who has worked in notable Los Angeles kitchens at Nobu, Animal, and most recently Son Of A Gun, served up my favorite meal of the year last night. Hell, I’d go so far as to say it was the best combination of plates I’ve had since visiting Blue Hill At Stone Barns last autumn. After launching an underground dinner club out of his apartment earlier this year, Thompson took over the kitchen at Echo Park’s Allston Yacht Club (a stones throw from my front door). It’s been billed as the next step on his path towards opening his own eatery, which he plans to call Cottage. If last night was any indication of his culinary intentions, Thompson is going to impress a lot of palates in the future.

The Vagrancy Project residency at AYC was billed as a five-course tasting menu that would seat 32 guests on Monday and Tuesday nights in June and July. There would be a separate bar menu where diners could order a la carte, but the tasting menu was definitely the preferred choice. The cost was $70 per person, with an optional $50 beverage pairing helmed by Nathan Oliver (whose resume includes both my least favorite bar in Los Angeles, and Michael Voltaggio’s .ink). Myself and three friends opted for the tasting menu and beverage pairing. It was expensive, but so totally worth it.

Of course, since there was no menu for me to use as a cheat sheet, this will probably be the most novice Distinguished Gourmand entry I’ve written in a long time. Plates were placed before me, and I swear to God sometimes I had no idea what the hell I was eating. So I’ll do my best to describe it, but I doubt it will make sense. Wish me luck.

While waiting for the rest of the tables to arrive (the dishes were to be brought out simultaneously, so all diners needed to be in attendance before we were served) we ordered some cocktails. The whiskey was to be served near the end of the meal, so we were told we should order something else to taste a wider variety of drinks. I received the twelve-year-old rum, lime, bitters, and sparkling wine cocktail. The rest of the table ordered the vodka, almond, lemon verbena, green chartreuse concoction. I preferred mine, but both were good. The combination of rum and sparkling wine seemed odd at first, but it tasted great.

[Image via The Vagrancy Project]

Service began with a covered bowl being delivered to the table. We were instructed to remove the lid, and use it to balance our silverware between plates. Beneath the lid in the shallow dish was our Amuse-bouche, which was called “Hamachi”. Strawberries, cucumber, and hamachi in fish oil. The combination of sweetness with the tartare fish was quite good. Someone at the table said they could have consumed a much, much larger bowl.

The first course of the night was called “The Garlic Plate.” It was paired with a Charles Bove method traditionelle Brut sparkling wine that was fruity and nutty. The plate consisted of a thin slice of steak served atop a combination of garlic chili paste and green goddess sauce. It was, without a doubt, a garlicky dish. But it was also fantastic. Even the lettuce that sat quietly near the steak was seasoned perfectly. If the Amuse-bouche wasn’t a strong enough signal that this was to be a unique dining experience, the Garlic Plate raised my expectations a great deal.

[Image via The Vagrancy Project]

The second course was called “Escargot,” and it was paired with very floral white wine (Szoke Irsai Oliver 2011). The snails were smothered in country gravy (oh my GOD was it good) and mixed with pickled okra, slivers of fried green tomatoes (one of the best preparations I’ve had) and a “slaw” that was a pretty loose interpretation of a slaw. This was my favorite dis of the night. The contrasting flavors and textures was simply outstanding. I think everyone at the table agreed it was the strongest dish that was served all night.

The third course was served with a red wine (Geyerhof’s Zweilgelt Ried Richtern ’09), which was my favorite wine of the night. It was funky. I liked it. It was a homemade ravioli filled with chicken liver, topped with a sliver of black cod and basil. It was good, but I wasn’t quite sure what the purpose of the fish was. On its own, the cod was somewhat bland, and combined with the basil and the ravioli it was overpowered.

Our intermezzo was a shot of peppery tomato juice with a chewy little snail at the bottom. We were supposed to shoot the juice and then consume the snail. Palates cleansed, we could continue on to the final savory dish of the night.

The last plate was called “Chirashi” and it was served with a Riesling from Domaine Erhart (Grand Cru Hengst ’10). I’m not a Riesling guy, but it was one of the better wines of the night, and it paired perfectly with the Chirashi. This was, definitely, the most unique, weird, and bizarre dish…maybe the weirdest thing I’ve ever eaten. It was a fascinating combination of contrasting flavors and textures. There was pickled monk tongue (did the server really say “Monk tongue?” I don’t remember, I was getting kind of buzzed by this point). There was tamago, sashimi, a glee made of dashi…it was so far out there I couldn’t stop swirling my fork around the plate combining all the different elements to create new flavors. It was amazing. My little note to myself on this plate just said, “FLAVOR BOMB”. Like I said, I was getting a bit tipsy.

Just before dessert we received our whiskey cocktail. It was Frisco-Rye whiskey, which came in a tiny little bottle. We were told to pour it over the ice, then take the garnishing rind of something or other, twist and spread it along the edge of the glass, then deposit in the whiskey. It was awesome. I’m not a rye guy usually but I could definitely put away a few of those cocktails.

Dessert was “Bavarios,” with a hint of lemon, berries, mint leaves and brown butter cake. It was both sweet and sour, and delicious. Given the option I usually decline desserts, but this one was definitely worth it.

When Chef Miles visited our table to see how our meal was, at first I thought he was just one of the servers. This is what happens when you don’t do proper research before eating an up-and-coming chef’s food. Given that I intended to review the meal, I probably should have done this beforehand. Instead I probably said something like, “It was fantastic. Thanks.” I didn’t try to engage in conversation because, well, I didn’t know I was speaking to the guy who had just prepared one of the best meals I’ve had in Los Angeles. Whoops.

Of course, once I got home, I did a little more research…and oh, if I had the opportunity to go back to speak to Miles again I would.

You guys, chef Miles isn’t just a budding young chef. He also acted in one of the most memorable scenes in movie history: Pooping back and forth, forever.

Nektar – Show Me The Way [mp3] (In memory of Sherman Hemsley)

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