This post is the conclusion and culmination (Part V) of the larger mini-series titled “A California Christmas.”  Other posts in this series include Part I: Ten Ren Tea StationPart II: Din Tai FungPart III: Sushi Gen, and Part IV: Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Restaurant.

I would like to welcome my first guest writer, Peter!  Peter does not have his own food blog (yet!), but loves good wine and good food.  This past Christmas Peter and his wife, Chia Chi, generously treated us to Melisse as a belated birthday gift for Bryan. (Thanks Peter!)  Peter is a huge fan of Melisse, so I thought it most appropriate to invite him to guest-write this post.

Enjoy the post!  Peter is an engaging and hilarious writer, and I hope to hear more from him in the future!
Melisse sign

Two Michelin stars, ten courses, $100.
Add a $10 corkage for two bottles of wine, Melisse’s ten year anniversary tasting is one of the best fine dining deals of 2009.  My wife and I had the privilege of partaking in this belly-bursting feast twice last summer and it was amazing each time. Melisse amuse
Grapes with pistachio encrusted goat cheese
This past holiday season, I had the chance to invite Jen and Bryan to this award winning Santa Monica establishment.  To my great delight, the ten course tasting was still being offered (albeit without the $50 dollar gift certificate give-aways).  The corkage was much higher at $30 for the first bottle and $20 for the second, but we live in un-enlighted Massachusetts where corkage is outlawed in most townsFor how I feel about corkage, see the sidebar on “Corkage is Evil: Die Die Die.”  Even at $150, it was a no-brainer to try it a third time.
Melisse amuse 2
Amuse: paper thin scallop slices with a touch of sea salt, chives, roe, and seaweed

The concept behind the ten year anniversary is sheer genius.  Take the ten favorite dishes ever made by the restaurant and treat your customers to it.  Every established restaurant should provide a similar offering.  Being the faux-sommelier of the group, I chose two wines I have been meaning to try.  The first is a sparkling pinot noir, Argyle Extended Triage Willamette Valley 1999 (WS 95, 2009 Top 100 #18) and the second is a classic Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2006 (WS 96). The women favored the pinot and its bubbly goodness.  The men like the more powerful red.
Melisse bread
Bacon bread and basil bread

Chia Chi: Peter hates basil.  Yet Peter can’t stop eating Melisse’s basil bread. Almost like a pesto brioche, we’ve never had anything like this. 

Put it this way: we never crave for bread at restaurants.  Yet, between the first and third time we went, Peter and I probably sampled every single piece of bread they had (resulting, partially, in the “belly-bursting” experience described in paragraph 1).  All of the bread selections were excellent – French, ciabatta, brioche, bacon and olive bread.  To be honest, we probably would have been quite happy just eating the free bread with a bowl of their soul-warming soup (see Wild Mushroom Soup below) for dinner.
Melisse Cavier egg
Egg Cavier Lemon Creme Fraiche, American Cavier

Jen: One of Melisse’s signature dishes, the egg caviar was absolutely divine. A perfectly cut egg shell is filled layer by layer: a barely poached egg, lemon crème fraiche, and topped with rich caviar. The tart crème fraiche cut the richness of the creamy soft egg and the salty caviar very nicely. Definitely one of my favorites.  Plus it paired nicely with the sparkling pinot noir.
Melisse Mushroom soup
Wild Mushroom Soup Mushroom and Potato Hash, Truffle Mousse

Peter: Soups are meant to warm your soul and the soups at Melisse do just that.  In our summer visits, the second course was an unctous tomoato soup with a tomato sorbet resting on cubes of seasonal tomato.  Our winter variation used more hearty ingredients like mushroom and potato.  Regardless of the ingredients, the effect in your mouth is the same.  The interplay of the hot, earthy soup and the cold, sweet mousse heightens your palate’s awareness of flavors causing an explosion of umami.  After licking the bowl clean, you are left longing for more.

Furthermore, the execution on this dish was perfect.  The potatoes holding up the cold truffle mousse were identically cubed.  The soup poured tableside was piping hot and velvetty smooth.  The dollop of cold truffle mousse was canaled and served at such an ideal temperature that it kept its shape for over a minute after the soup was poured.

Melisse duo of hamachi
Duo of Hamachi & Tuna Celery, Meyer Lemon, Black Truffles

Jen: Just look at the intricate knife work on top of the fish! This dish was like a work of art, painstakingly created with machine-like precision yet artfully plated with a touch of whimsy. The fish was super fresh and paired beautifully with the crisp Meyer lemon sauce and the earthy black truffles. The tiny chopped celery on top added a surprisingly unique but fresh complexity, both in terms of flavor and texture. Excellent, excellent dish.
Melisse Fois Gras
Seared Fois Gras Persimmon, Pain d’Epice, White Balsamic Reduction

Bryan: This was good, but not as good as Alex. [editor’s note: Bryan is a man of few words]
Melisse lobster bolognese
Lobster Bolognese Fresh Capelinni, Truffle Froth

Peter: I never understood surf and turf.  I am convinced that most establishments see surf and turf as an excuse to put two expensive ingredients, lobster and filet, on the same dish so they can overcharge for the luxury.  Especially now that lobster is $3 a pound, seeing lobster dishes costing northward of $30 is criminal.  See my sidebar on “Lobster: Why the cockroach of the sea should be cheap.”  But once you taste the lobster bolognese at Melisse, you will understand what surf and turf can offer. Take freshly made capelinnli, infuse it with a meaty, rich bolonese, mix in perfectly cooked chunks of sweet lobster, then top it with a truffle foam. What results is culinary orgasm. The three distinct flavors of lobster, ground beef, and truffle keeps your taste buds guessing so that you are compelled to keep going back to the dish for more.

Wild Stiped Bass
Gnocchi, King Oyster Mushrooms, Brown Butter Truffle Jus

Peter: The wild “stiped” bass was lacking. It lacked seasoning, it lacked flavor, it lacked pizzazz, it lacked an r in its name. The fish was cooked well, and the gnocchi was buttery soft (see my sidebar, “Gnocchi, the Italian Boba“), but the dish just didn’t come together. It could be that the r-less version of bass is less flavorful than the r-ful version, but more likely it was a failed attempt to replace the addictive dover sole “goujonnettes” that seduced us on our first visit. Quite simply, the sole had more soul. Not the most memorable dish of the night.  So forgettable that we actually forgot to take a picture of it.  So, let’s forget it and move on.
Melisse steak
Dry Aged Cote de Boeuf Sauteed Wild Mushrooms, Brown Butter Truffle Jus

In contrast with the bass, the dry aged cote de boeuf was best the third time around. The chef must have responded to the complaints of previous tenth anniversary patrons who were incapacitated by the quantity of food and had to be rolled out of the restaurant. Usually, the boeuf course is when you start realizing that what your swallowing is awaiting right outside of your stomach and looking for room to get in. Compared to last time, the potato-leek torte was less buttery and half the size. I actually finished the torte this time. The aged beef was more flavorful and was cooked to a perfect doneness. I’m no expert on new-age cooking, but it appears that this expensive cut of prime cow flesh had been sous vided as a whole loin and then seared in a skillet before being sliced (see my sidebar, “Immersian Circulators: Build one in your Bathtub for $100″). The wild mushrooms were fresh and had a nice “gamey” flavor. It was excellent all three times.
Melisse cheese tart
Reblechon Tart Honey-Pepper Gastrique

Jen & Chia Chi:  Bubbly cheesy goodness in a crusty puff pastry.  This cheesy rich tart had a nice, strong cheese flavor that wasn’t “stinky” at all (heh, I’m a wimp when it comes to the stinky cheeses, but this was totally fine). The salty cheese worked nicely with the honey, although Chia Chi thought there wasn’t quite enough honey, and longed for more.  At this point I was starting to feel stuffed, and thus the mesclun salad was a nice (albeit short) welcomed relief.
Melisse chocolate dessert
Chocolate and Caramel Mousse Chocolate Sorbet, Teachino Sauce

Jen: Solid execution, but short of “Wow.” This dish was good, as most chocolate dishes can be, but was not particularly memorable.  It probably didn’t help that I was beyond stuffed at this point.
Melisse yogurt
Strawberry Vanilla Yogurt

Jen:   And finally, nearing the end.  The strawberry sorbet tasted very real, like fresh strawberries from the summer. Together with the yogurt, it offered the perfect tart, palate-cleansing finish to a wonderful meal with great friends.
Melisse fruit & cookies
Jen: Over all, an exquisite meal for an incredible price.  If you’re in Southern California, and you’re looking for a real treat, Melisse is the choice.  It’s a bit more subdued than a grandiose place like Daniel; and arguably the food is less perfectly executed than either Le Bernardin or Daniel.  Nevertheless, Melisse is still very much worth a visit.  The service is top notch, the environment is very relaxing (we sat next to a fireplace!), and the food is fantastic.

1104 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 395-0881
Melisse on Urbanspoon

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  1. says

    Outstanding review! This has been starred and kept for further reading and visiting 😉 We’re in SoCal and although LA is a bit of a drive, this looks worth it. Thanks for such a thorough review!

  2. Peter Sun says

    Re: Jessica@Foodmayhem

    I am not certain they will continue the ten course tasting since we’re entering the eleventh anniversary year. I certainly hope they make it a permanent fixture.

    And to be clear, it was $150 when we went in December because the $50 dollar per person gift certificate was no longer being offered.

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  4. jentinyurbankitchen says

    I never use flash while taking pictures of food inside restaurants. The Lumix has a large aperture and therefore lets in enough light without flash. I generally use the [P] (program) setting, although sometimes I will use Aperture Priority Mode (depending on how much light i need!)

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