Entering on Grand Ave., I found my group of friends out on the beautiful garden patio sitting under twinkle lights strung in trees. Heaters kept us warm as we ordered a variety of items off Executive Chef Phillip Martin menu. Before heading up the kitchen at one of Patina Restaurant Group’s prettiest dining venues, Chef Martin was a chef at the group’s flagship, Patina and the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Raised in East L.A., Chef Martin learned how to cook essentially from his father, a baker. His fondest memories were sitting outside with his dad watching him grill meat for a family dinner. While at Le Cordon Bleu, Chef Martin interned at Drago in L.A. and Bouley in TriBeCa, New York City. When he returned to California, he was the chef de partie at Red Medicine in Beverly Hills, cooked alongside chef Ludo Lefebvre at LudoBites pop-ups, worked as a line cook at The Bazaar by José Andrés and became a sous chef at Alma. With all this experience, he now is in charge at Cafe Pinot.
To celebrate the autumn season, Martin recently unveiled a new menu highlighting fall flavors and a selection of comforting housemade pastas, vegetable forward small plates and savory proteins.
We each started with one of Cafe Pinot’s cocktails with names that include Double Black Manhattan, Heart of the Pina and Lavender Night. I selected the Sorbet Beret made with Absolute Elyx vodka, hibiscus flower tea and French wine-based aperitif lillet. It arrived in a tall glass full of ice with a pretty cranberry hue. This pleasing pink drink was garnished with a raspberry and orange slice.
The first starter to arrive was a bright pink hamachi crudo made with watermelon cubes compressed in a lot of mint. Sliced red Fresno peppers and tomatoes added additional color, while mint leaves offered a pop of green color into the bowl. There was a pleasing kalamansi citrus broth, that tasted like a cross between tangerine and kumquat. It was as sweet as lemon, as acidic as lime, as bitter as pink grapefruit and also offered a hint of passion fruit.
Thick slices of French bread were served on wooden planks with pats of butter. Also on a wooden board were small dark Little Gem green leaves. Underneath was Australian beef tartare mixed with jicama, mushroom confit, tarragon and a slightly burnt tangerine aioli.
A fennel salad arrived with slices of ripe pear, crushed hazelnuts, crumbled Humboldt fog cheese and crushed black pepper. It was a favorite around the table.
The one dish I didn’t try, yet others enjoyed were the crispy lamb sweetbreads enhanced with goats milk yogurt, sliced cucumber, leeks, mint and cumin.
The real star at Cafe Pinot is the pasta. We tried the cilantro chitarra, a thin, green pasta with a sprinkling of salty cotija cheese. Next to the noodles, the dish arrived with an array of perfectly cooked vegetables, including sliced yellow and green squash, red pepper and corn. “I could eat this daily,” said Martin. I could too. This dish is heavenly.
Another stellar pasta was his tomato agnolotti stuffed with fresh ricotta and tomato water infused with basil. Heirloom cherry tomatoes adorn the bowl and creme fraiche tops this dish. Agrumato oil is drizzled on top to give the fresh flavors a spike of citrus notes.
The most interesting pasta was the squid ink fettuccine topped with bread crumbs, garlic and chili flakes giving the smooth pasta a bit of texture. It’s finished with a row of shrimp on the side, adding scampi flavors.
My favorite protein was the steak au poivre with creamy confit fingerling potatoes, bite-sized heirloom pearl onions, and a sprinkling of chopped cilantro. What made this dish spectacular were the shishito peppers soaked in this glorious steak sauce.
Other proteins delivered to the table included seared salmon served with fingerling potatoes and shimeji mushrooms that offered pleasant, firm, and slightly nutty flavor. On the bottom of the bowl was a green hued buttermilk nasturtium sauce.
The most visually appealing entree was the sliced duck breast served on a bed of crunchy quinoa, sliced figs, charred fig jam and five-spice pho broth. What decorated this dish and added to additional savoriness was an egg cooked at 64.5 degrees. Piercing the egg with a knife, the yolk blended in with the flavorful pho broth. It was divine.
Dessert was an interactive experience that involved vaporing dry ice as Chef Martin stirred a large silver bowl, similar to a cauldron. Unfortunately the frozen foie gras on top of a caramelized banana brûlée with chopped hazelnut and maple sable was my least favorite dish of the evening.
Next time I will order the Devil’s food cake with glazed cherries, almond and spiced caramel chantilly.
With the winter theatre season approaching, Cafe Pinot offers a two-course pre-theatre for $42 per person. The menu features the Hamachi crudo, crispy lamb sweetbreads, or fennel salad that I enjoyed as a first course. Entree’s include rotisserie Jidori chicken, beef tenderloin, market fish or a vegetarian arborio rice porridge with foraged mushrooms, cauliflower, corn and shaved black truffle. Cafe Pinot promises to have diners in and out before the show, plus they offer complimentary parking for pre-theatre guests.
Address: 700 West 5th St. Enter on 535 S Grand Ave. (213) 239-6500.
Hours: Monday 11:30AM-2:30PM, Tuesday-Thursday 11:30AM-9PM, Friday 11:30AM-10PM and Saturday 5PM-10PM.
This review is featured in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News –