TO LIVE & DIE IN LA: LIZ & JOHN. A CUT ABOVE THE REST
I may well have mentioned in passing, during the last few posts, my being less than whelmed by LA’s mid and fine level dining scene. There is however one place where I can always be guaranteed to have a memorable night filled with amazing food, great wines and, best of all, exceptional company.
Unfortunately, it is not a place I can recommend to you all as a must visit, because my favourite place to eat in L.A. is not in a restaurant but in the dining room of my dear friends, Liz and John Haskell. Over the last year and a half as I have been visiting the city on a more regular basis, Liz and John have taken Sybil and I under their wing and treated us to any number of great evenings. But, no invitation is more welcome that when Liz tells us she fancies cooking and John tells us he is going to open up a few bottles of “interesting” wine.
Last night’s supper came about after we had suggested to them that they might care to join us at CUT, Wolfgang Puck’s high end steakhouse. Instead, John offered to light up the grill at their house and Liz offered to cook a few things to go alongside a decent steak.
We knew from previous experience that when Liz offered to cook a few things that usually involved days in the kitchen preparing a multi course menu. Liz is a dining maven (for the record, she has eaten at The French Laundry over 100 times) and brings to bear all her many years of eating experience to what is prepared in her kitchen.
The meal began with starters served at the coffee table. The first course comprised two pates served with hot buttery brioche and glasses of two different styles of West Coast sparkling wine from Domaine Chandon in the Napa Valley. A perfect match and just as enjoyable with the next two courses, one of blini cups filled with crème fraiche and topped with caviar, the other using the same high end ingredient but this time served with eggs, slowly scrambled with butter for twenty five minutes and then returned to their shells for presentation.
After John had fired up the grill for the preparation of the main event, we moved to the dining table be presented with a bowl each of rich, velvety chestnut soup, laced with a shot of brandy just before serving. John poured us all a glass of Malmsey, which proved to be a terrific in combination with the gloriously luxurious soup. Luxurious would be the perfect word to describe a lot of Liz’s cooking. That does not mean that she always uses high-end ingredients. In fact, caviar apart, the ingredients used in the night’s meal were quite simple, but it is the attention Liz gives to their preparation transforms them into memorable dishes.
The main course of steak, potatoes and spinach was a perfect example, although admittedly the steak they prepared for us was no ordinary slab of meat from the supermarket. John had ordered a 40oz porterhouse from a company called Bryan’s Fine Foods. I had not heard of the company, but when John proudly showed off the raw porterhouse with its fine network of marbling, I immediately scribbled down the name to find out more about them.
Alongside the porterhouse was an equally impressive New York Strip from the same supplier. Both cuts of meat had been dry aged for forty days and gave off waves of meaty steam the moment John slapped them on to the grill. After they had been cooked and as soon as they had been rested, John carved them into big meaty slices making sure that each plate had plenty of each cut, while Liz added her own contribution, potato gratin and creamed spinach. So often in steakhouses, side dishes are no more than a diversion. Liz Haskell’s versions are, however, amongst the very best I have tasted, both again taking hours of preparation to get the desired result.
We staggered to the coffee table for the last two courses, cheeses from Andrew’s Cheese Shop in Santa Monica and a slab of persimmon pudding, which we doused in booze laden whipped cream and washed down with the last drops of a very fine 2001 Ridge Montebello Cabernet .
By the time we all looked at our watches and realised that nearly five hours had passed while we enjoyed our meal, wine and conversation, Liz had already begun to pack a goodie bag for us containing more of the persimmon pudding and some homemade chocolate chip cookies, in the unlikely event we got hungry on the way home.
It was the perfect end to another great meal at my favourite place to eat in Los Angeles. If any of you are fortunate enough to get to know Liz and John Haskell, you might just be lucky enough to experience it too.