Friday, December 18, 2009

Breadbar Hatchi with Marcel Vigneron: not a Restaurant Wars winner

One Thursday each month for a limited time only, Breadbar hosts the Hatchi series which features a guest chef for one night only, who creates a menu of eight small courses at $8 per plate. Previous chefs included Remi Lauvand (Citrus at Social), Debbie Lee (Gyenari and from the Next FoodNetwork Star series) and Michael Voltaggio (brooding sexy Top Chef winner). We signed up for the Hatchi series featuring Marcel Vigneron, Top Chef finalist from Season Two who is known as much for his molecular gastronomy techniques and foams, as for his argumentative attitude and confidence in the kitchen. The big haired, wolverine-looking Vigneron is currently sous chef over at Jose Andre's highly acclaimed The Bazaar restaurant.

It sounded to be a great night, eh? Talented rising star chef, strong resume, affordable courses, westside location. Unfortunately I left Breadbar Hatchi last night a bit disappointed. My dining experience was tainted significantly by the service, or lack thereof. I try to take into account many variables when I am writing a post. Yes, the quality of food is important, but I think the service is equally important. I felt that at Hatchi, the food was good (there were some good dishes, some average) but the service left a bad taste in my mouth. In order to determine if the good outweighed the bad, I am going to start a point system for this review and we'll tally them up at the end.

Breadbar is located at the Century City Mall. We walked into the warm restaurant, passing the outside patio and display of fresh baked good and into the small dining area. The menu is pretty simple. You may each choose all eight dishes as a tasting menu (which is what we decided on) or you could select a couple to share at the table. I flagged down a waiter for the wine list and he never came back. In fact, I waited over 10 minutes before anyone would even bring by a wine list or a glass of water. Mind you, it was only 7pm and the restaurant was half empty at the time. (-1)

Cheese bread was kind of dry which was ironic for a place called Breadbar that prides itself on making fresh bread! (-1)

We decided on a Spanish white wine. When we asked if the wine was sweet, our waitress was nice enough to let us sample it. (+1)

Amuse Bouche
Pomegranate blueberry sphearification
This tasted like jello on the outside with a blueberry in the center. It was an interesting sweet bite but it kind of really didn't do anything for me. It really didn't "wake up" my senses. But still, it was a fun, textural bite.

#1. Hamachi Sashimi~Espelette~momo chan~kumquat~ iceplant
Good first course which was delicious and simple. The pieces of fish were quite substantial. Initially, I thought it needed some acid but it worked well when paired with some momo chan, kumquat and a light dusting of espelette. (+1)

#2. Dayboat Scallop~cauliflower cous cous~seaweed
The scallop was cooked well and was plump and soft in the center. I loved the cauliflower puree dollops in pastel colors and the texture of the couscous and seaweed combination. The couscous was crumbly and the seaweed was stringy and chewy. The presentation was lovely as well. The dish looked like an easter egg where the scallop was the egg and the seaweed was the fake grass that it sat on. (+1)

The scallops were served literally a couple minutes after the hamachi was served. I thought it was silly of the waiter to even drop the plates off at our table. Come on, there were already two plates on a tiny wooden table. If you brought out dishes and noticed that the table was full and the diners had JUST received their previous plates, then bring it back to the kitchen! Don't just drop it off and walk away. This isn't Chinese family-style dining where there are five plates going on at the same time. This is a tasting menu for pete's sake! (-1)

#3. Langoustine Ravioli~Thom khai~avocado wrapped mango~petite basil~coconut milk powder I liked the ravioli with the big chunk of langoustine and a slightly thick wrapping. The foam of thom khai was intense and flavorful. (+1) Our waitress was able to tell us that the toppings were basil seeds when we asked. (+1)

The avocado encapsulated the diced mangoes.

#4. Lyonaise Salad~frisee~”nesting” egg~bacon~sherry vinaigrette~endive
This was visually eye catching. I loved the deep fried crunchy potato flakes that wrapped around a large poached egg. The bacon was thin and not too fatty and the frisee with simply dressed with a light vinaigrette. (+1)

Running egg yolk really elevates a salad.

#5. Misohoney black cod~nasturtium textures~broth~sesame oil powder
Broth was poured tableside. Asked we asked what the broth and white specks on the fish were, the waitress (not ours) confidently said it was Thom Khai and coconut powder respectively. We were thinking "Really?? They use the same base for both dishes? That seems quite unoriginal." Lady, those ingredients were from a prior dish! We soon found out that it was actually a seafood broth and sesame oil powder. She was obviously clueless. I hate it when I'm given incorrect information because I'll end up passing wrong information on my blog. (-1)

Thankfully the dish made up for it. The cod was buttery and sweet. There was a spicy green puree (of shiso leaf perhaps?) which complimented the sweet fish and salty broth. (+1)

#6. Vadouvan Lamb~Flavors of tzatziki~lavosh~pickled onion~sumac
The lamb was absolutely amazing. It looked really red which would scare off most people, but it was incredibly tender and did not have an overpowering lamb taste (+1). The lamb was flavorful and rubbed with Middle Eastern spices. Tzatziki is made primarily with yoghurt and cucumbers. It was surprisingly very good as it was slightly mild but you could still taste the garlic and salt. Even the lavosh was good; it was homemade, not dry and was seasoned well.

While we were halfway through our lamb dish, a waiter hovered around us for a couple minutes with our next course in hand. Are you kidding me?? We were already having two plates of heavy game meat and you wanted to set down two more of plates of heavier short ribs and corned beef dishes? It wasn't as though we were eating slowly and had messed up the timing in the kitchen. In fact, we didn't even pause at all while eating the lamb dish. And please don't hover around me, you know I can still see you, right? (-1)

#7. Grass fed "corned beef"~sous vide short rib~Saul’s pastrami~textures of corn~black trumpets
Loved the vibrant colors. The corned beef was paper thin and tender to a point that it reminded me of slightly thicker Serrano ham. The short ribs looked tough but weren't too bad although they weren't one of the most tender short ribs I have had and they most certainly did not melt in your mouth. The mushrooms were deep fried and I really enjoyed the corn puree and the grilled sweet baby corn. (+1)

Palate cleanser
While we were halfway through our beef dish, a waitress dropped off a palate cleanser. Should we wait till we are done with the beef to eat it? No, she said, you have to eat it now. Errrr... OK.. but it ain't gonna clean my palate after I return to my beef dish. This horrendous timing was getting REALLY old. Gordon Ramsey would not approve and would be shouting out obscenities and throwing kitchen supplies by now. (-1)

The little caramel corn cake tasted great and was filled with liquid nitrogen which led to us "blowing smoke" into the air. BTW this is very Bazaar-esque. The caramel corn was seasoned with truffle salt which was delicious because it added a fragrance and a sweet and sour combination. (+1)

Guess what? They tried to bring out dessert while we were finishing up our beef dish. I wouldn't have expected anything less. Because we were still on our savory course, we said we weren't ready. As a result, we had to wait another 20 minutes before the next wave of desserts came out. At least our waitress came by to let us know it would take some time. By that time, I was already agitated. They eventually brought out one, not two desserts. They didn't even know we had ordered two until we were halfway through the first one and we reminded them that there should have been a second one. (-1) I just have to say, our assigned waitress wasn't too bad (she was sweet, apologetic and knowledgeable) but most of the other waiters were pretty dense. They kept bringing by the wrong dishes. I would venture a guess that they probably brought by wrong dishes to my table at least 4 times, and I saw them bring by wrong dishes to the tables surrounding me at least 4-5 times as well. After a while, the diners just looked at each other and shook our heads. We were exhausted from saying "No, not ours". (-1)

#8. Souffle with green chartreuse
The souffle was good; hot out of the oven, very airy, eggy and puffy. The ice cream was flavored with orange zest and almond. (+1)

When our hot souffle came out, we didn't have utensils AGAIN. Eventually, a waiter brought by coffee spoons (sorry, they ran out of regular spoons). It was quite ridiculous to scope souffle with that petit spoon. (-1)

Petit fours of marshmallows and macaroon

It was definitely a full house last night. Chef Vigneron came out on multiple occasions to mingle with his favorite guests. We even got to meet Ricardo Zarate (of Mo Chica and who is hosting the next Breadbar Hatchi series) who came by our table. He's so soft spoken and humble.

So to round up the night, yes I enjoyed the food. Some were delicious (the lamb, the cod, the Thom Khai) but not that amazing to forgive the bad service. I just can't believe the level of service at this restaurant. This isn't a bakery or a takeout joint. And this isn't the 1st time that they have done the eight course Hatchi series. Breadbar, you should know better.

I just cannot believe the multiple occasions (around 10 times) when they brought over the wrong dishes to my table or the next table, and we were missing utensils (which happened at least 3 times). I honestly believe we were a little luckier because the tables beside us suffered worse service. Our reservations were earlier so the f* ups didn't happen until mid course. I felt bad for the party sitting beside us who had to wait 20 minutes between their amuse bouche and first course. Then the sole lady at the table did not receive her lamb course while everyone else got theirs. She finally got hers when the rest were done and were on to their next course. Worse still was the poor young couple on the other side of us. The minute they sat down and even before ordering (deciding between the tasting or just selecting a few dishes), they were immediately served the beef dish. Err... no amuse bouche first?? Shortly after, three other plates came by so they had four plates at their tiny table. It was quite laughable that the kitchen was forcing the heavy meat dishes on them right away. There was no sequence in serving their plates (at least ours was served in the right order). The menu listed the dishes in sequence and I am sure the Chef went to great lengths planning the menu so that it would flow seamlessly from dish to dish, so it was unfortunate that they were like an assembly line, churning out plates without factoring pacing or timing, and not even apologizing for forcing multiple course on diners all at once. (-3 because it's an annoying problem and it's one negative point for each of us three tables). I also don't like it when waiters don't present the dishes (-1). I feel that when you are participating in a tasting menu and the ingredients are so intricate and interesting, the waiters should at least tell you what you are eating. Maybe I've had one too many "nicer" dinners, but I suppose that's what I expect when I am having a several course menu crafted by the kitchen.

The service missteps were a big mistake by both the kitchen and the front of the house. I just don't understand what happened here. We both spent about $100 each and given that this is a fairly high profile event, I would expect service to be better (and not rushed) than a regular joint.

How fitting it was when I went home and watched the Top Chef Season 6 reunion. Cheftestant Laurine felt that she should not have been sent home because her food didn't suck as bad as Jen's. That's when Top Chef judge Gail explained that service at the front of the house was crucial and that's what customers are left with when they leave the restaurant. Laurine failed at the service portion of the challenge and was sent packing. I wonder who I would send home from Breadbar Hatchi...

Hits: lamb, langoustine ravioli, corn beef,
Misses: service!
Rating: *** for food, ** for service
Tally: -2

Hatchi at Breadbar
10250 Santa Monica Blvd.,
Los Angeles, CA 90067
(310) 277-3770


SinoSoul said...

Same thing happened at Hatchi for M. Voltaggio. While the concept of Hatchi series might be great, the execution seems poor, especially when a Top Chefer is involved. If the food is consistently brilliant, poor service might be at least tolerable. But if the food is hit and miss, then I'd rather skip the clusterF.

Thinking about doing a Top Chef LA dining tour. The take home point seem to be this: Top Chef participation does not automatically equate a great meal.

Gastronomer said...

A shame about the horrendous service. It really does tarnish a good meal.

stuffycheaks said...

SinoSoul: Sorry to hear about the similar bad service at MV's hatchi series. Such aa pity since the night must have had been great otherwise

Gastronomer: YES!! It WAS a pity because now, the 1st thing that comes to my mind is the service, and unfortunately not the dishes...