Dinner at Melisse has become a holiday tradition for the past three years, and at this point, entering the restaurant is comparable to visiting old friends. Our most recent meal (and third Carte Blanche) hit the six-hour mark and–due to the concentrated deliciousness–reached a parlous level of hedonism. As is custom, upon being seated, a runner dropped off spherical grapes and goat cheese-coated grapes.
As tasty as the two preceding courses were, they were simple eclipsed by the next three: (1) wild Scottish partridge (a cube of confit and the breast) with white shelling beans, portabella mushrooms and finished with viscous game jus, (2) a florid breast of wild Scottish wood pigeon on black truffle brioche garnished with fried turnip, turnip purée and more game jus; this pigeon preparation is up there with Paul Liebrandt’s at Corton and Julian Serrano’s at Picasso.
And for the pièce de résistance Chef Citin appeared table-side with a foot-long knife to carve roasted grouse adorned by burnt bread sauce, potato Boulangère, baby leeks and not pictured potato mousseline. As he was carving, we chatted about the unmistakable aroma the birds exuded and Marco Pierre White’s use of bread sauce with game. It’s my understanding that whole bird orders– at EMP or WP-24, for example–net the diner simply the breast meat. After finishing the precise carving of the four grouse breasts, however, Chef Citrin took the pan back to the kitchen and roasted the legs, the flavor of which is tantamount to a distillation of the forest, as a special treat. Among the several hundred plates placed in front of me in 2011, this composition easily cracks the top ten.
Following up on that apogee wouldn’t be easy, but James made sure the slope wouldn’t declined much. He composed a hard cheese plate for me including some of my favorites, such as Comte and Manchego, and a creamier, more pungent plate for my brother. The accoutrement remained traditional: red wine poached pears, orange-apricot compote, honey, jujubee paste and walnuts.
Finally reaching dessert, we started the procession with a classic, mint-studded strawberry ice cream with fresh strawberries and vanilla pudding, followed up by a variation on the sticky toffee pudding we enjoyed in August–this time with caramelized apple, apple chips and hibiscus ice cream–and green tea ice cream sitting in a bed of whipped crème fraîche and green apple consommé. Thoroughly sated, we essayed to make a dent in the mignardises, which included dark chocolate chip cookies, pineapple macarons, canalés and, characteristic of Melisse’s pact with the Santa Monica farmers’ market, strawberries and raspberries.