LA: Mélisse

Thursday, December 20, 2012

For Day 5 of the Seven Michelin Star Restaurants in Seven Days series, we're going to switch coasts and move from New York over to the West Coast and make a quick trip to sunny Southern California. On a short trip to LA in July 2012, J's Bestie wanted to show us what his hood had to offer us in terms of fine dining. A few weeks before we landed, he made a reservation for a party of 6 at Mélisse, a 2 Michelin Star restaurant in Santa Monica.

So here's a tidbit about Michelin Stars and LA that I didn't know until today as I'm writing this post - the last Michelin Guide published in LA was 2009! For further reading about this, see this 2009 article in by LA Times that talks about the suspension with a list of LA restaurants that earned their last Michelin Star, and this 2012 article, Do We Really Want The Michelin Guide Back In Los Angeles?.

Mélisse, quite adequately located on the famous Wilshire Blvd in Santa Monica

Not having done any research prior to coming here, my first impression of Mélisse is that it's quite modern. I really enjoyed their purple and white color scheme, it just helped set a more relaxed mood and unlike Per Se, which was lit by dim candlelight, I felt like I could actually see my food and my company here.

Mélisse's bright and open dining room

Since Bestie was showing us the best of LA, we all decided to go ahead and splurged for the 10-course tasting menu. He says that usually when he comes here, he goes for the 4-courses and loves it. As it turns out, we should have stuck to the 4-course tasting, I'll explain why as we go through the courses we had.

Amuse & Bread

Starting with the amuse bouche, we had tomatoes served two ways. Both were refreshing, I personally love goat cheese so I naturally gravitated towards the first amuse which was a tomato coated with goat cheese and pistachio. Then, there was a tomato jelly ball that just bursts with juices once you bite into it. This was a fun start to the evening. Then this was followed by a uni dish that was way too fishy for my personal taste. Perhaps I got a bad piece? Finally one of the servers brought out a plate of bread for us to choose from. I was told the basil was the best so that's what I chose. It was okaaaay (probably would have been a lot better if they warmed it first), but nothing to write back to mom about...

Tomatoes Two ways - L: covered with goat cheese and pistachio, R: molecular gastronomy, tomato jelly ball

Uni Amuse

Variety of bread - Bacon is amongst one of these
Basil Bread comes recommended, it's pretty good

10-course Tasting

The Egg Caviar, was BY FAR THE BEST dish we had all night. A soft boiled egg comes in a egg shell, and above it, a layer of lemon creme fraiche and of course, caviar. The idea is to use your caviar spoon to dig to the bottom and pull out each layer to eat together. This was delightful and we all agreed, the highlight. It comes with a layered flakey biscuit on the side that you can use to cover in the eggy goodness.

However, with that as the starter, the rest of the dishes became significantly more uneventful and definitely borders on forgettable. Sure, everything tasted pretty good, but I think I really just expected more. The presentation is flawless, but nothing in the flavor profiles of the dishes wow-ed me. The next 3 dishes all came with some type of broth added to the dish. I don't think it really added to any of it, except for the mushroom broth added freshly to the mushroom soup. But once again, nothing to call mom about.

EGG CAVIAR - Soft Poached Egg, Lemon Cream Fraiche, American Caviar - BEST DISH OF THE NIGHT!***

WILD JAPANESE YELLOWTAIL "INADA" - Squid Ink, Cucumber, Sea Grapes and Verbena

MOUNT SHASTA PORCINI VELOUTE - Green and Yellow Haricots Verts, Leek Whistles, Rich Mushroom Broth

"CHERRY TOMATO" - Santa Barbara Spot Prawn, Charred Eggplant, Lemon Basil

As with any French restaurant, you can expect your portions to be tiny, but I was pretty sad about my scallop which was cut in half. Seriously? I've bought scallops from Whole Foods thicker than this. Like I said, at least everything was plated beautifully, and with the bright lights and ambience of this restaurant, all my pictures turned out amazing. I guess you do end up eating with your eyes right?

HOKKAIDO SCALLOP - Roast Onion, Celery, Perigord Jus

WILD ALASKAN RED KING SALMON - Fennel Carrots, Sungold Emulsion

The Final Savory Entree

So after all of that, you get a choice between two entrees, lamb or pork. I thought my lamb was a bit boring and left me wanting more, but not in a good way - in the, "that's all your serving me?" way. While I ordered the lamb, someone else in my party ordered the pork and beans, which had an interesting smokey flavor to it that I did like and kind of wish I ordered. I've read other Yelp reviews that note the extra $50 supplementary charge for the Wagyu beef has a similarly small portion as well. Just warning you.

ELYSIAN FARMS LAMB - Roasted Cauliflower, Marble Potatoes, Toasted Pumpkin Seed

FOUR STORY HILL FARMS COCHON DE LAIT - "Pork n Beans" Braised Black Beans, Okra, Boysenberry infused Pork Jus

ST. MAURE CAPRIFEUILLE & BEEMSTER CHEVRE - 100 Year Old Mulberries, Wild Arugula, Cava Vinegar

Desserts Save the Day!

After some 7- courses of mediocre entrees, we were finally served some dessert. Personally I really enjoyed both the Chocolate and Caramel dessert, which was on the fun side since they served us chocolate ice cream almost in dippin' dots form, but the Summer Rose dessert really stole the show for me. Not only were the flowers growing out of my panna cotta and gelee in a glorious arrangment, but the rose ice cream really complemented the entire floral taste of the dessert. I thought the flavors in the dessert were so delicate and unexpected, that I felt myself taking the time to eat it slowly just because it was so beautiful to look at, wanting to savor every bite.

CHOCOLATE AND CARAMEL

CHOCOLATE AND CARAMEL

"SUMMER ROSE" - Almond Milk Panna Cotta, Ginger Gelee, Rose Geranium Ice Cream - ANOTHER HIGHLIGHT***

Petit Fours - the baked goods were pretty good but I'm not so sure about the berries served on the side, stem included

Final Verdict

Overall, I felt like Mélisse does what it does pretty well, but to a limited degree. Any more than their 4 best courses, you will find it difficult to find dishes that will stand out and apart from another. Too many of their courses just skates by for being so beautifully presented, and tasting not bad, but not great either. 

Also, I have to say, our visit to Mélisse was AFTER the foie gras ban in California on July 1, 2012. Based on many reviews I've read since dining here, there was a lot of positive response over their 10-course foie gras tasting that I just happened to miss. Perhaps if I had a taste of that, I'd be singing a different tune.

So, if you're in LA and looking for a fine dining experience, Mélisse would be a great place to try, with the caveat that you should order the 4 course meal, and then pick and choose which dishes you prefer instead of blindly going with a 10-course tasting based just on their positive reputation. And if you're living in any other food meccas, just wait until you go home for your French fix and perhaps go have some Chego instead.

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Mélisse | Yelp

1104 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401

(310) 395-0881

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