The Distinguished Gourmand: Allumette
The last time I stepped foot in Allston Yacht Club was way back in July. At that time, chef Miles Thompson temporarily took over the kitchen to bring his Vagrancy Project pop-up to a proper brick-and-mortar. I reviewed Thompson’s food, and I was floored. Is that something people say about a meal? That they were floored? I still posses a novice food-review vocabulary at best. My point is, it was an exemplary meal. And then Allston Yacht Club closed. I had to find a new spot to act as my regular Wednesday night haunt and favorite special occasion (ie. birthday) spot. It’s been a long five months. Those dark, AYC-less days turned me into a shell of my former self. Sometimes I would simply forget to eat. Because…if the place five blocks from my house is closed, where else could I find sustenance!?
You can imagine my elation when a) I learned that AYC owners Bill and Charlie were re-opening their doors and b) Miles Thompson would be taking over the kitchen on a permanent basis. The new restaurant would be called Allumette, the French word for a matchstick-sized knife cut. Two weeks ago on a routine drive down my street I saw a flurry of activity inside and raced to see if they had opened their doors. Alas, it was just a dry run with close friends to see if the kitchen could handle a full house. I tried to finagle my way into a seat but Charlie said to check back in a week. As soon as Allumette announced via Facebook/Twitter they were taking reservations, I picked up the phone and called in asking for a table for six. I’d figure out the five other people later. I just needed to secure my seat.
I’m not going to bore you with details about how the remodeled dining room looks or anything like that. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s dim. It’s inviting and a bit intimate. I think they can fit fifty people in there? Use your imagination. I’m terrible with spatial relations. In fact I flat-out failed my 9th grade Geometry final. No wonder I couldn’t hack it as a computer programmer.
I should say right off the bat (ha! after three verbose paragraphs) that this isn’t anything like Allston Yacht Club. A few people at my table complained about that, but this is a new restaurant, a new chef, and a new concept. Don’t expect five dollar chicken skewers, Cherry Coke pork belly, and a weekly grilled cheese sandwich special. No longer can you order “two of everything” and share with your friends. The menu at Allumette will change based on what’s in season. There are five menu headings — vegetables, shellfish, fish, meat and a small sharing section — and diners are asks to pick one of each item. Chef Miles then constructs a personal five-course tasting menu using your individual choices. No two people at my table had an identical meal, even if they ordered the same plates. Each diner’s experience is unique. That said, here’s the menu – as well as the drink menu – and an account of my first meal at Allumette:
Before my first course arrived, I received what would be the first of maybe five drinks I ordered off Allumette’s new cocktail menu. Bartender Serena Herrick comes from Harvard & Stone (I think you all know how I feel about that place). The drink menu offers some seriously good concoctions, but also a dud or two. The Gentleman’s Breakfast (The Famous Grouse-Egg White, Lemon, Ginger Honey Syrup, Topped with Atomized Candy Cap Bitters and Islay Scotch) was the best of the bunch. You Only Live Twice (Sake, Beefeater Gin, Velvet Falernum, Tangerine, Szechuan Peppercorn, Fresh Lime) was the most-ordered at the table. My Negroni Sbagliato #2 (Punt E Mes, Aperol, Graham Beck Brut, Fresh Sage) was just okay. The Last Ango (Angostura Bitters, Smith & Cross, Orgeat, Pineapple Gomme, Fresh Lime) was very good. The Smoking Gun (Vida Mezcal, Cynar, Calisaya) was not at all good. There’s a reason Mezcal isn’t often mixed in cocktails.
An amuse bouche arrived before the first course. House made focaccia alongside a mascarpone tater tot. Two yummy bites to start the meal.
My first course the Fried Oyster (Kimchi Ranch Dressing, Asian Pear Mignonette, Sea Spinach). The oyster was tiny, but fried to a perfect crispiness while remaining tender inside. As a fan of all things hot and spicy, the kimchi ranch was a delightful surprise. And by that I mean it was spicy enough to please my palate, though I imagine some people who don’t like such intense heat will consider it too hot.
My second course was the vegetable plate (Bitter Lettuces, Tangerine, Avocado, Smoked Soy Scream, Macadamia). I really, really loved this dish. The bitterness of the greens were contrasted brilliantly by the citrus from the tangerine and the fat from the avocado and cream. If I had to raise any complaint, it would be that the plate was a tiny bit over-dressed. That said, my friend received this plate as his fourth course and his was a touch under-dressed. No worries, we both agreed that this would be a must-order on any future visit. Fun fact: you can see almost-barely see my Negroni cocktail in the above photo.
Since Chef Miles constructs each diner’s tasting menu, none of the six people at my table sampled the same food at the same time (except fir the fried oyster). While I was consuming my bitter lettuces there was a lot going on around me. To my left was the Pork Shoulder (Bacon, Crosnes, Caramelized Onions, Feuille de Brick) which I had two bites of, and found to be delicious. I’m kind of over the whole pork-wrapped-pork thing, but I get it. It was fine. It’s near-impossible to screw something like that up. I also got to taste the Cavatelli (Uni Ragu, English Pea Puree, Braised Mushrooms, Fromage Noir). Between Allumette and Vagrancy Project, that cavatelli dish was one of the ten best I’ve tasted in my six years in LA. It had the most amazing, intense earthy — dare I say umami — flavor. Owner Bill Didonna mentioned how Allumette is now one of three places in LA that gets its uni from some top source. I think he said the other two places were Nobu and Son Of A Gun? Or was it Ursawa and Providence? I don’t remember. Maybe I should take notes if I’m going to review the food. Either way it was fantastic. Every element elevated the dish to make it truly special.
Our Intermezzo (I guess you could call it that? It was a second amuse bouche) was a miniature shrimp toast. Typically I don’t like eating something that still has its eyes attached, but I’m a big boy so I closed my eyes and ate it. This was my least favorite bite of the meal, but I didn’t order it, and the whole I’M EATING A WEIRD LOOKING THING’S EYEBALLS is my issue, not the chef’s. Around this time I also gave up on the cocktails and switched over to beer. I think the two they have on tap (as of my writing this) are an IPA (Eagle Rock Populist, I think?) and a Pilsener (Noble Ale Works Pistol Whip’d). Beer isn’t as much of a focus as the wine and the cocktails, but I’m happy the two taps carried over from Allston to Allumette.
My third course was Squab Breast (Date Soubise, Baharat, Cinnamon Labne, Grapefruit). I let a friend try it, and he thought the meat was a bit too tough, but I enjoyed it. I loved the combination of of the creamy soubise with sweet spice of the cinnamon and the bitterness of the grapefruit. There were a lot of bold flavors melding together in each forkful, and they played off each other splendidly.
During this course I was also lucky enough to taste the Szechuan Pork Dumpling (Cured Salmon Roe, Spicy Black Vinegar, Tarragon) and the Ocean Trout Crudo (Yuzu Ponzu, Brussels Sprout, Pickled Grapes). I liked mine the best of the three. The roe combined with the pork made for a somewhat salty combination, which will please some but was a pinch too much for me.
My fourth course was a Raviolo of Liquified Blood Pudding (Scallop Carpaccio, Caramelized Anchovy). I was hoping for flavors that would blow me away, but this didn’t quite reach the heights I envisioned. I thought the scallop might have been out of place atop the raviolo. It definitely needed another element to tie the plate together, I just couldn’t say what. I’m not a chef, remember? I can barely make myself a salad. Getting the proper lettuce to Peanut Butter Cup ratio might be my biggest problem.
I loved how the runny, liquified blood pudding spread across the plate and how its distinct flavor made its way into every bite. Like I said, I think the only ingredient on the plate that didn’t fit flawlessly would be the scallop. Otherwise its was wonderful.
I also sampled the Grilled Octopus (Sour Apple Syrup, Cardamom Butterscotch Potato, Sorrel), which I would definitely order again in the future.
My fifth course was the lone shared plate of the meal: Bavette Steak (Surf Clam, XO Sauce, Arrowleaf Spinach, Egg Yolk, Crepe) for two. It was, again, fantastic. The XO Sauce was sublimely spicy. Even hotter than the Kimchi ranch that came with the fried oyster. I loved it. Although it did not appear on my plate, my friend’s steak was topped with a fully intact egg yolk which sat waiting to be broken and enjoyed. I’m not sure why the yolk never made it to my plate, but honestly I was satisfied without it. Two people at the table complained that the steak was “tough,” but I’m pretty sure all flanks are tough to a degree. Right? Because it’s not from a fatty part of the cow, like the ribs. RIGHT? Somebody help me out. I don’t really know anything about food! That’s why I write these reviews! They’re supposed to sound awful, like I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about! …Anyway, it arrived at the table bright red and warm (not sizzling hot, meaning it was given proper time to rest), so I found no reason to fault the preparation.
Dessert was a Cheesecake Mousse (Frozen Cookie Dough, Walnuts, Maple Syrup) that disappeared before I even had a chance to snap a picture. I’m not a dessert person so I wasn’t all that interested in it, but I snuck my fork in for one bite and it was good.
I was very impressed with my meal at Allumette. When I consider the fact the restaurant had only officially been open for two nights, such a feat seems even more impressive. Like I said, this is most definitely NOT Allston Yacht Club. We sat down at 7:30, and ate and drank for three hours before our bill arrived. It was a slow meal (deliberately paced in a good way) that never felt S-L-O-W. Our server, Calvin, was informative, amiable, and made some wise suggestions. Perhaps most importantly, he kept us boozed up with speedy refills on our cocktails and beers. And, of course, Chef Miles once again proved his culinary brilliance by preparing a meal that already has me dreaming about my next visit. As recently as this morning I was chatting with a friend about what we will order on our next visits. I don’t know how frequently the menu will change, but truthfully that doesn’t matter. I couldn’t be any more effusive in praising Chef Miles’ abilities. In Allumette, he and Bill and Charles have built what I think will become a destination restaurant in Los Angeles. Lucky for me that destination is just a few blocks away.
Julie Driscoll – A New Awakening [MP3]
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