Last Sunday I saw Executive Chef Travis Strickland from Baltaire at the Taste of the Nation festival in Culver City. He prepared delicious Nueske cherrywood BLT lettuce cups topped with strawberry sambal and pretty flowering cilantro sprigs. It was a hit at the fundraiser benefiting No Kid Hungry.
Chef Travis is a chef with a big heart. As an avid runner and cyclist, he co-founded a 5K “Run for Their Knives” event, benefiting a memorial scholarship fund that promotes health and well-being in the culinary community.
I’ve been a fan of this chef ever since I had my first lunch at Baltaire years ago. He revived the restaurant’s tableside service, with servers sautéing Dover Sole in a French copper pan, before filleting and deboning it in front of guests.
Recently, I enjoyed Sunday brunch at Baltaire while sitting out on the light and airy outdoor terrace with a retractable roof. As I was admiring the serene green and grey hues offering a classy California vibe, my party and I received an amuse bouche of bright blue colored spiraling yogurt with fresh fruit compote, pecan granola, and a sliced strawberry on top.
While sipping Contratto Metodo Classico Millesimato Pas Dose 2012, I learned it’s the oldest sparkling wine house in Italy. The bubbles were nice to pair with Chef Travis special cinnamon monkey bread that was delivered in a black iron baking loaf pan.
Next we ordered three different toasts to share around the table. Chef Travis approached our table and told us that all the bread is made in-house with natural fermentation. Two were sweet – Nutella and sliced caramelized banana toast on a slice of homemade brioche with a brown butter streusel, and a ricotta and blueberry compote toast that had a touch of Meyer lemon and mint to enhance the earthy flavors. The more savory toast was layered with smoked salmon and avocado. It was adorn with pickled onion, radish, egg and a Basque crushed Espelette pepper.
A few friends at my table ordered the prettiest brunch cocktail, a lavender sensation known as The Lavender 75. It’s made with lavender infused Absolut Elyx and smoked honey syrup, with lemon juice before topped off with champagne. A sprig of lavender enhances this bubbly brunch classic. Bar Manager August O’Mahoney also makes a vegan cocktail named The Piccolo. It’s a take on the Cappelletti sour that is whipped with aquafaba (chickpea water). Baltaire makes hummus in house and reuse of the chickpea water. Not only does it cut waste, but it’s a delicious vegan egg white substitute. Aquafaba is ideal for those who fear raw egg whites in cocktails, or those who just don’t consume eggs. Some bartenders say aquafaba is a better substitute in sours and fizzes. What enhanced this cocktail was a little baking spice, lime and orange juice.
Our second course of brunch were an array of skillet dishes. After training at the Culinary Institute of America, Chef Travis cooked at the legendary Blackberry Farm in Walland, TN. This experience inspired him to create decadent thick orange cornmeal hot cakes. It’s a take on Southern Johnny Cakes or Hoe Cakes. The orange zest is a nice touch.
Wine sommelier Melanie Kaman recommended a beautiful Copain Tous Ensemble Rose’ of Pinot Noir from Mendocino County to pair nicely with the heavier skillet dishes. The bright salmon pink hue offered aromas of watermelon, strawberry, lemon blossom, and orange. The wine offered moderate acidity creating an enjoyable finish. It also cut the fattiness of the beautifully presented Chilaquiles with soft poached eggs arranged in a flower shape. What made this dish unique was the shredded cauliflower.
The last skillet was a Tunisian and Israeli dish called shakshouka. The skillet had eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, chili peppers, and onions, and spiced with cumin.
We enjoyed the last two brunch dishes with a glass of wine Karman recommended. She loves Oregon’s Willamette Valley Croft Vineyard 2014 Haden Fig Pinot Noir. The wine offered a bright cherry and raspberry essence with a juicy acidity. It paired perfectly with slices of harissa lamb with an almond and olive relish and duck fat potatoes. It also went well with the popular Prime filet Benedict layered with avocado.
Brunch at Baltaire will heighten your senses while enjoying the atmosphere, food presentation, cocktails and wine offerings. $$$ 11647 San Vicente Blvd. (424)273-1660.
This review was featured in the June 7, 2018 issue of the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea Newspapers.