Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Gregarious, Casual, Fine Dining at The Foundry On Melrose

I’ve always wanted to try The Foundry On Melrose, and taste the creations of Executive Chef / Owner Eric Greenspan. He was former Executive Chef at Patina, and once took 6 weeks off to cook with Ferran Adria at El Bulli. The L.A. Times has written a few articles about the gregarious, talented chef, and the descriptions of his dishes have always sounded delicious. I was finally able to try The Foundry for Brunch earlier this summer, followed by a second visit this past week.

True to its name, The Foundry On Melrose is located along one of the liveliest sections of Melrose Avenue, with an understated, classy storefront. It's a beautiful day and the perfect setting as we're seated at a nice table in their private, outdoor Garden Dining Room. The Foundry disarms you from the moment you step inside, with a down-to-earth, but classy interior and clean, modern table settings.

For the Prix Fixe Brunch, we began with the Yellowtail Sashimi with Saffron, Olives and Green Asparagus. Being in a city where the competition is very high for delivering top-quality Sushi and Sashimi (and having just come back from a trip to Japan experiencing legendary fresh fish), the Yellowtail here doesn’t compare, but it was still enjoyable. While it was lacking in the knifework and cut of Yellowtail, the combination with the aromatic Saffron, Olives and Green Asparagus made it a unique and lively starter.

We also tried the Duck Confit and Potato Hash, Sunny Up Egg and Violet Mustard as the second starter. The Duck Confit had a nice flavor to it, wonderfully rich and exuding slow-cooked-love, but it was made into a Hash with the fresh Potatoes, and as a result some of the best parts of a traditional Duck Confit were lost, such as the duck skin being nearly non-existent (mashed into the shredded Hash). But getting over my sadness at the loss of the duck skin, when the meaty, tender chunks of Duck were combined with the Potatoes, the yolk from the Sunny-Side Up Egg, and the fragrant tang of the Violet Mustard, it was wonderful! :)

Our Main Courses arrived next, starting with the Poached Jidori Chicken, Goat Cheese Waffles, Squash and Tomato Marmalade.

Chicken Breast can usually be dried out or chunky, but Chef Greenspan's execution made it shine: Picture-perfect poaching kept the Chicken Breast tender and very moist. It was topped with a light Soy Sauce-based sauce, and the Tomato Marmalade balanced the dish with a fresh sweetness that added to the bright, brunch atmosphere. It didn’t hit me until later, but this was essentially a fancy version of “Chicken & Waffles,” except in Chef Greenspan’s interpretation. The Goat Cheese Waffles were admirably unique, with small bursts of Goat Cheese as you worked your way through the Waffles, but the Waffles began to get soggy from the juices and sauce it was laying in (and the Chicken on top of it). If you can get beyond that, this was a great Brunch dish and a fun twist on the Chicken & Waffles classic.

Their Beef Short Ribs and Hangar Steak, with Charred Spring Onions, Fingerling Potatoes and Baby Spinach was another expertly prepared dish, with the Beef Short Ribs being the standout. The Ribs were braised for many hours, making them very tender and easy to pull apart with little effort. The rich, deep red wine braise was a classic complement, and helped to really focus this dish.

The Hangar Steak was good as well – not as good as a great steak at a top steakhouse, but solid nonetheless. It was perfectly cooked (medium-rare) (with an end piece being medium) and had a simple seasoning of salt and pepper, which combined nicely with the sauce from the Beef Short Ribs on the same plate. The Spring Onions (sourced from local farms (as is all the produce that Chef Greenspan uses)) were wonderfully fresh and sweet, while the Fingerling Potatoes were rather typical (nothing bad, but nothing standout).

The Roast Salmon, Fennel, Crushed Potatoes, and Vermouth Sauce was deceptively surprising: When it arrived, it looked like an overcooked piece of fish, but taking a bite revealed the complete opposite. The Roast Salmon had a nice, crispy exterior (which is especially delectable with Salmon Skin), and the interior was moist and juicy, perfectly cooked. The distinct, fragrant Vermouth Sauce added a nice change of taste from the usual Salmon preparations.

Of the two desserts offered for this brunch, my favorite was the Yogurt Parfait, with Stonefruit and Almond Crumble, but even that was hit-or-miss. The Yogurt combined with the Almond Crumble was amazing, with the Crumble having a very fresh Almond and Cinnamon flavor combination. The Stonefruit however was just too tart and syrupy for my tastes (but visually stunning). It was very jarring with the rest of the dessert and I wouldn’t order it again if given the choice.

I’m not the biggest chocolate fan in the world, so the Chocolate Cookies, with Chocolate Ice Cream and Chocolate Milk wasn’t that interesting for me. (^_~) The Ice Cream and Milk were a nice pairing, but the Cookie was the unique part. It had chunks of nuts and orange zest, but the Cookie itself was a tad too hard and made it a bit uncomfortable to eat. It was so hard that even trying to break it apart with a knife and fork were impossible(!). It had to be bitten into, to break off pieces of the cookie.

Overall, it was a delightful brunch, and I couldn't wait to return to try their dinner menu. On a side note, The Foundry has currently stopped serving Brunch on Sundays with the onset of cooler weather. Chef Eric Greenspan mentioned that he'd start it back up again after the Winter season, and then he offered this more plausible reason to me on my second visit: "Besides, it's Football season [laughs]." :)

When we arrived for dinner, I was struck by just how beautiful and *warm* The Foundry feels at night, without any of the fuss normally associated with fine dining, but still providing a classy dining experience. The live entertainment sets up in the front of the restaurant, with lounge sofas and the bar area to grab drinks and listen to the music if you want.

For our second visit, Chef Greenspan came out and personally greeted us (and all the tables at the time), striking up conversations wherever he went. He's truly Joviality personified. :) We decided to try the Chef's Tasting Menu. It started off with an Amuse Bouche of Bay Scallops, Artichoke Puree, Artichoke Chip and Citrus Marmalade.

The Scallops exuded a fresh sweetness, and the beauty of this dish was the interesting balance of using the inherent sweetness from the protein (Scallops) to balance the tart from the Citrus Marmalade and Artichoke Puree. Very nice.

The Bread Service started with a Tomato Brioche that sounded better than the end result: It turned out to be a surprisingly sweet Tomato-Sugar "Glaze" that pushed it into the realm of dessert rather than something at the start of dinner.

Our first course arrived soon after: Tuna Tartare, Sweet Potato, Soy, Orange, Lotus Root. Like the Amuse, Chef Greenspan really likes to play with textures and balance: The tender chunks of Tuna Tartare played foil to an extremely smooth puree of Sweet Potato and Lotus Root (whereas normally the Tartare is the tenderest portion of the dish, here, the Puree was velvety smooth and rich).

The Puree was more like a very fine Pate in many ways (even aromatically), and then both the Tuna and Puree were brought together beautifully with fresh Shiso Leaves. Excellent.

The second course arrived a few minutes later: Roasted Cod, Tangerines, Dates, Olives, Piquillo Peppers, Potato Gnocchi. This was a fun dish, with the individual ingredients beneath the Cod serving as pairings, to allow the diner to eat the Cod with whichever flavor combinations they enjoyed most (I thought the Cod worked beautifully with all of the options, but the Piquillo Peppers and Dates probably had a slight edge).

And a note about the Cod: Pan-seared and then finished by roasting in the oven, this was one of the most juicy, flaky, moist preparations I've had for a fish outside of Chef Cimarusti's best at Providence. I only wish they used a fattier fish like Gindara or Chilean Sea Bass, but that's just a personal preference. This was an outstanding piece of fish in its own right.

The Potato Gnocchi were two very large pillowy ovals of Potato goodness. Very light and airy, and a unique version of the standard Gnocchi found in Italian restaurants.

About this time, we a heard joyful, bellowing laugh coming from inside the kitchen. Reports of Chef Eric Greenspan being a jovial, gregarious person were spot on: On both of my visits, I could hear Chef Greenspan from the outside Garden Dining Room while he was laughing and chatting it up with people inside the restaurant! It's disarming and infectious and caused our neighbors and our table to smile. :)

Bread service continued with Homemade Focaccia and "Grilled" Balsamic Vinaigrette. I have no idea how they "grill" Balsamic Vinaigrette, but the result was a very smoky, tart dipping sauce that was interesting, but not my favorite way to enjoy good Focaccia.

We continued with Lacquered Quail, Autumn Squash, Pomegranate, Parmesan. I've been on an unlucky streak of average-to-disappointing preparations for Quail, so I was cautiously optimistic that Chef Greenspan would break that streak and deliver something decent for a Quail dish. I was wrong: Chef Greenspan delivered the best Quail dish I've had in the last 2 years, thoroughly ending the unlucky streak I had with this bird! :)

Each piece of the Quail was tender, just-cooked-through-to-perfection morsels of juiciness! And the Pomegranate Reduction served as a great Autumnal complement to the Quail.

After relishing the beautiful Quail, I looked at the interesting "side salad" of bits of Frisee poking out behind a beautiful Sunny Side-Up Quail Egg and thought to myself, "This should be decent; sadly, the vegetable portion of a great meat dish is usually an afterthought." And I was delightfully wrong again: Breaking the Quail Egg Yolk and taking a bite of the oozing "salad," I was completely blown away by what was one of the best things we tried the entire evening. Spaghetti Squash, Butternut Squash, Red Curry Squash melded together with the liquid gel of the Quail Egg Yolk and Frisee, only to be suddenly pierced through by such a stunning, nuttiness that I had to literally stop, close my eyes and smile. Freshly roasted Pumpkin Seeds were a thing of beauty and the combination of flavors was something that surpassed the Quail itself! Outstanding!

This next dish was something I was really looking forward to. I had heard many great things about the Pork Belly at The Foundry, so I was very eager to see what this was like. :) It turns out, their Mustard Glazed Pork Belly, Brussels Sprouts, Quince, Manchego Cheese was very good. The Pork Belly had a great crispy exterior, with a great suppleness in the center. The Mustard Glaze was interesting (a different flavor than what I'd normally associate with it), and it was a touch too salty, but when eaten with a bit of the naturally sweet Quince, another harmonious balance was achieved. :) It wasn't as good as the amazing Pork Belly I had at Craft last month, but it was very good.

Another interesting offering from the Bread Service appeared at this point: Homemade Biscuit with Honey Garlic Butter. This was a cute, mini-Biscuit, still fragrant from baking, but the Honey Garlic Butter felt a bit too sweet.

Continuing on, the Beef Tenderloin, Eggplant Puree, Potato, Mushrooms, Harissa arrived next. This was a very nice preparation for Beef Tenderloin, with each piece being truly supple without excessive marbling. However, I've been spoiled on Grade A5 Wagyu, so my appreciation for this dish is somewhat diminished. It's truly beefy, tender and very juicy, but if I'm having a slab of Beef, I'd rather have a small bite of A5 Wagyu and I'd be far more content. :)

The Cheese course arrived next, featuring 4 different Spanish Cheeses this evening: Nevat (Sheep's Milk, Catalonia), Zamarano (Aged Sheep's Milk Cheese), Montenebro (Goat's Milk Cheese, Vegetable Ash Coating), and Valdeon (Cow and Goat's Milk Blue Cheese).

The Nevat was by far my favorite, being a Sheep's Milk Cheese with a texture like Brie, it was mild, creamy and delicate. The Zamarano was more pungent and a hard cheese, but still enjoyable with the house-made Dried Cherry Chutney. Their Golden Raisen Caper Puree was just a bit too bizarre and sharply pungent for my preference. The Montenebro got decidedly more odorous and sharp, and finally the Valdeon was something I couldn't handle. It's not as bad as Durian, but it was close. :)

The final course of the evening was their Filo and Apple Basket, Currants, Pistachios, Honey Ice Cream.

The Filo Basket was freshly-fried, piping hot and absolutely delicious with the Honey Ice Cream and Pistachios. However, the Currants and sweetened Apple chunks were just too sweet, to the point of cloying after a couple bites. In the end, I ended up eating the Filo Basket and the Honey Ice Cream and leaving the Currants and Apples.

For our Sunday Brunch, the service was competent, but nothing standout. We had to get our waiter's attention a few times for refills on drinks and other needs. For Dinner, the waiter that served us was lacking in knowledge about the Tasting Menu courses, so when they were presented, he punctuated each description with "and, uhm..." pauses, and we got more detail by looking at the menu (on a side note, it seems to be isolated to only our waiter, as the waitress serving the table next to us rattled off clear descriptions and was very helpful to the needs of her customers). Besides that, the service was fine (with our plates cleared out of the way within a minute or two of finishing each course), etc.

Plate prices range from $15 - $33. The Foundry's Brunch Prix Fixe is $39 per person (before tax & tip) (but is currently not available until after the Winter season), and the Chef's Tasting Menu is $80 per person (before tax & tip). They also have a price fixed Sunday Dinner Menu for $29, $39, or $49 for 2, 3, or 4 courses. And Chef Greenspan "relishes" (his words :) in creating Vegetarian Tasting Menus for anyone in the party wishing to have that option instead.

One of the most unique things about The Foundry On Melrose in comparison to other "nice dining spots," is that they have Live Jazz every Thursday, Friday and Saturday (starting 9:30 p.m.) with no cover charge. You can enjoy the Live Jazz in the front bar and lounge area, or sit in the Garden Dining Room away from the music to enjoy a quiet dinner if you so choose. In addition, they have "Bluesy Tuesdays," every Tuesday with Live Blues performers and Chef Greenspan's take on Southern food, with his version of things like Fried Chicken and Waffles, Fried Green Tomatoes, etc. (ranging from $4 - $7 for these appetizers).

The Foundry On Melrose succeeds because of the heart and soul of the restaurant - Chef Eric Greenspan - who delivers a delicious, fine dining experience, but in a relaxed setting. He calls his style of food "Fancy Schmancy" (^_^), and his humble, down-to-earth attitude with his great chef skills exudes throughout The Foundry. From the locally-sourced, fresh Produce, to Chef Greenspan's creative twists on textures and flavors with his Chef's Tasting Menus (that changes about once every 2 weeks), to the Live Jazz, The Foundry On Melrose is a delightful evening on the town. Recommended.

Rating: 8.0 (out of 10.0)

The Foundry On Melrose
7465 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90046
Tel: (323) 651-0915

Hours: Sun, 5:30 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.
Tues - Wed, 6:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.
Thurs - Sat, 6:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.
Note: Tues - Sun, Lounge Menu available until 1:00 a.m.
Closed Mondays.


H. C. said...

Excellent post as always ~ I too can't wait for the Foundry to restart their brunch service (when the prices are more reasonable for me to go on a whim). Bummers I'll be missing out on their Appetite Stimulus special.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi H.C.,

Thanks. :) I look forward to your review when you go.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin