Melisse, Santa Monica (August 2011)

“You either want to do it right,” Chef Citrin said after the meal, “or you don’t.” He continued, “you either want to train your staff, or you don’t.” Excluding the intolerably long commute from the valley to Santa Monica, everything about our five hour and fifteen minute dinner was immaculate.

Melisse has become a restaurant of almost unhealthy veneration for me, and I’m convinced it has some of the best captains in the country. On this occasion, it was Ryan who would tend to our table. After being seated, he sidled toward us, explaining sotto voce that we should go with the 10 rather than the Carte Blanche as the former gets far more attention from the kitchen.

We started with their characteristically estival amuse of spherical tomatoes filled with an acidic vinaigrette and goat cheese and pistachio-crusted sweet 1000s followed by a Luna oyster en gelée garnished with finger lime, horseradish and chives and paired with a tropical fruit-tinged rosé.

Next, the simply titled egg caviar gainsaid by the panoply of lubricities: a soft poached egg, American caviar and lemon crème fraîche along with chives and a brioche soldier. And in a notable upgrade, it was served with a mother of pearl spoon.

And for my mother, an heirloom tomato salad with gorgonzola and a basil-olive crumb.

Moving on to the uncooked seafood offering, from left to right, there’s cucumber wrapped tartare of fluke, tomato half, sashimi of fluke, celtuce cream and celtuce with a squid ink-laced tomato vinaigrette. 

The summer melon soup with compressed watermelon, cantaloupe, Maryland crab and radish provided one paroxysm of flavor after another.

Melisse’s trio of foie remains one of the top five preparations it has ever been my privilege to eat, but it’s not a part of the 10. Instead, there was a blueberry-oat-crusted foie with caramelized mango, mango purée, huckleberries and nasturium.

The next two courses–a Santa Barbara spot prawn with almond-brown butter, corn and chanterelles and scale-on black bass with sea beans, mushroom purée and smoked garlic-mushroom foam–while good, couldn’t compare to the cylinder of Iberico pork shoulder with pork belly, lima beans, chard and dijonnaise.

In addition to the 10’s main course, we added three others: (1) the symphony of rabbit: roulade, phylo-wrapped confit of leg meat, rack, rabbit jus, a quenelle of cous cous and Brook cherries, (2) breast and leg of duck with, inter alia, figs and (3) leg, shoulder and loin of lamb. 

In lieu of the 10’s one cheese, Ryan treated us to a full cheese course; the standouts included a Gouda with pea-sized flavor crystals, Roaring 40s and Manchego.

Not uncharacteristically, we went a bit overboard on dessert, which was paired with a nutty Malmsey Madeira: (1) chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, (2) banana split replete with peanut butter cup ice cream, brûléed banana, Guanaja chocolate, (3) lemon madeleines alongside a strawberry parfait, (4) sticky toffee pudding with mocha malt ice cream and a rhubarb consommé, (5) passion fruit parfait with lemongrass milk and tapioca and (6) poached peach, ginger beer and Melisse sorbet. 

And to finish, farmers’ market figs, crème fraîche, turbinado sugar, canelés, chocolate chip cookies and the most amazing banana-chocolate macarons.