BASTIDE: ON THE CAROUSEL WITH THE HASKELLS
It has been a while since I last contributed to this here blog. There are, however, lots of good reasons for my absence.
For one, I have been gainfully employed for the last month or so. I am not allowed to say quite how yet, but will announce it as soon as I can. Suffice to say the return to a reasonably regular job has played havoc with my good humours and I have found little energy remaining to create when I come home in the evening.
Added to that the fact that I have not been eating out as much since I returned to the US for the same reasons as above and I have had precious little to contribute even if I could be bothered. So, a huge thanks to HP who has kept the good ship Dos Hermanos very firmly afloat with his wit and whimsy while I have been below decks.
What better way then to return to my blogging ways of yore than to discuss our recent meal with two of our favourite people in the world, John and Liz Haskell? This time, it was our turn to treat them and we all agreed on an early supper at Bastide on Melrose.
You can read Liz's report HERE (I of course have made use of her impressive note taking abilities when trying to recall what we ate)
Now, Bastide is one of those places that has been around for a while, but seems to have fallen off the radar because of its regular change of dining format and seemingly carousel approach to the employment of chefs. The latest incumbent is one Joseph Mahon, a young chef with an impressive C.V. that boasts Boulud and Bouley amongst its listings. John and Liz were already sipping on a glass of Prosecco when we arrived and, after a cursory glance at the menu, we decided to let the new-ish guy send out a tasting menu of smaller portions to show us what he could do.
The butter may have tasted as if it had been sitting around for a little too long, but fortunately house made bread, including Fennel & Olive, Apple & Cashew, Wheat and Raisin, was good enough to require a second helping and enough to see us through to the arrival of our first course.
A mouthful sized amuse of compressed watermelon, toasted pine nuts, celery leaf, feta water and parsley summed up the chef’s economic approach to plating and was a refreshingly lovely way to approach the nine courses that were to follow.
The next course, a corn soup topped with crisp nuggets of pork and a slick of curry oil could have been a contender. The soup was faultless, well seasoned and had a silky texture. The crunchy pork bites adding a perfect counterpoint. Unfortunately, the unnecessary addition of slivers of orange took the dish from pleasingly sweet to cloying in one bite. A shame. The next course redeemed matters immediately. A pork terrine too was seasoned properly and came served with a slick of grain mustard, frisee salad and pickled ramps all of which cut through the fattiness of the meat to good effect.
I was less impressed by the next course, a couple of slices of Yellowtail blanched in brown butter and then served with Chinese long beans, soy beans, shaved asparagus, radish with an apple soy vinaigrette. It was well received by everyone else at the table, but I have been eating an awful lot of crudo recently and the sight of yet another one, however competently made, which this was, did little to excite me.
The next plate to be put in front of us, a seemingly simple salad dish turned out to be one of my dishes of the evening. Two types of heirloom tomatoes were topped with grated goat cheese and served with a little Mache some avocado and a scattering of croutons. At a time when the words ‘seasonal” and “local” have been reduced to nothing more than marketing buzzwords, this dish summed up what those concepts can mean at their best. Stunning ingredients served in prime condition, being allowed to shine without the threat of fifty other ingredients. Lovely.
The next two dishes showed an equally light touch even if they were served in more hearty portions. Salmon on menus in the US is something I normally avoid. The one served up by Joseph Mahon, however, was one of the best I can recall in a very long time. Scottish Salmon had been poached in a mixture of olive oil and duck fat until it was medium cooked and then served with crunchy Beluga lentils, a few sugar snap peas and a port wine sauce which managed to complement rather than over power.
If I normally avoid salmon on US menus, I usually hide under the table quaking in terror when they mention lamb. 99.9% of people in the US (most chefs included) have not got clue number one about how to prepare or cook lambykins. So, the fact that I finished off not only my own portion but also most of Sybil’s and Liz’s tells you that this baby sheep (from Colorado) did not die in vain. French trimmed rack came served with baba ganoush, a concasse of tomatoes and a small amount of its natural juices. All good, but less impressive than the fact the chef had cooked it perfectly pink and allowed it to rest properly before serving it.
We were all fading a bit down the home straight at this stage, which makes the fact we agreed to a cheese course all a bit silly, particularly when I consider America as the place where good cheese goes to die. I am afraid the appearance of a very poor example of a cheese course at Bastide, which comprised small slivers of Petit Basque, Blue and Epoisse served with some slightly mealy apples slices, did little to dissuade me of that opinion.
Sorbets of Yogurt, Mango, Cherry did not meet with much more approval from the table and it was left to an excellent chocolate soufflé served with rum vanilla ice cream and mango chocolate sauce to save the latter part of the meal from total disappointment.
The bill, which included a couple of bottles of something interesting and well priced from Switzerland and something slightly less interesting and well priced from Castilla Y Leon came too, well quite a lot really. It also included a decent tip for superb service from a young woman called Tina who showed that time spent working at Per Se in New York had been put to good use.
Despite a few misfires, I was impressed with Joseph Mahon’s cooking, his respect for good ingredients and his simplicity of approach. It is a style that I suspect has been honed during his time in NYC rather than in LA, but plays well with the impressive larder available on the west coast. I will definitely be returning to Bastide and that is not something I can say about too many of the mid level restaurants I have eaten at/suffered through in Los Angeles.