Bastide (LA) – Crazy, Magical, Delicious

(Note: Bastide has closed since this review was written. Ludo will hopefully open a new restaurant sometime in 2007. Meanwhile, you can catch his wife on The Apprentice.)

The Anticipation
After reading various posts about the wonders of Bastide from eaters I trust, it became the highlight of my trip to LA. After racing down the 101 at highly illegal speeds, traffic foiled us and we were still late for the 8pm reservation. We arrived 1 hour late but they were more than understanding.

The Service
This was the most enjoyable meal i’ve ever had – the staff tried so hard. The service was professional yet relaxed and playful. The restaurant wasn’t busy so maybe they had time to be jovial but each member of the team did an outstanding job. Our server Nick was funny and helpful; and the sommelier, Gregorie, was outstanding. When asked he could do a non-alcoholic pairing, he looked up, thought 2 seconds, and said why not. He & the chef were busy matching teas, herbs, & fruit for the rest of the night. He hung out w/ us for quite a long time and entertained us w/ stories of the culinary underbelly.

Amuse Bouche

Shooter of Strawberry Juice, Quail egg, sake, & basil
This set the stage for the evening – a completely different take on taste, texture, & temperature. The flavors were vibrant yet complementary – the dinner started off right.

Deconstruction of Bloody Mary
Vodka gelee, spicy tomato sorbet, & celery foam – and they follow it up w/ an even better dish. Similar concept, but more focused. Again, the flavors were bright.

Passion Fruit w/ Mint
The mint was frothy on top, the flavors again big & bright – after sucking down the test tube, we both looked at each other w/ silly grins… and then burst out laughing. This food was fun!

Chicken Cromesqui
Finally – a misstep. It’s was a pinch to remind us this wasn’t a dream. Ok, but the batter wasn’t as elegant as i would’ve liked nor was the filling spectacular – it didn’t quite pop like, say, Manresa’s Corn Cromesqui (which i ate the previous week.)

Foie Gras Lollipop
This was decadent, rich, and wonderful. It was playful, whimsical, but oh so good. The foie gras was a soft mousse covered in almonds and a balsamic vinegar. The vinegar was aged and reduced and it could be easily mistaken for a chocolate sauce. Like each dish before, i would have been perfectly happy eating these all night.

The Mains

Ceasar’s Salad Bastide
Wow… wow…. wow…. This can be Ludovic’s final statement (and possibly anyone’s for that matter) on deconstruction w/ sorbets. The lettuce sorbet was concentrated w/ an earthy lettuce flavor but the finish had a slight sweet taste. Excellent stuff.

Yellow Tuna Tartare w/ Sea Urchin, Smoked Oil, & Soy Sauce Ice
The last dish had 3 wows; this one deserves 4 or 5. The fish was of superior quality (an 8/10) but this dish was all about taste & texture, not ingredients. At first, i thought the soy sauce ice would make the dish too cold but the texture of the soy sauce ice & tuna played off each other, while the uni provided a ‘soft’ bridge for the flavors to combine.

At this point, it was the best meal of my short, American-based life (yes, I need to get out more.) It had the concentration and intensity of flavor i fell in love with at Jean Georges, but even more creative than mad Wylie at WD50. The best of both worlds. Alas, races are not won w/ fast sprints from the gate…

Foie Gras Panini w/ Mozzarella, Apricots, Pistachio, Strawberry Chutney & Selim Pepper
Delicious but not perfect – the bread was a little too thick and it drowned out some of the flavors. The slightly seared foie gras pairing with cooler mozzarella made an interesting, and fulfilling, duo. The chutney resembled a “massive fruit roll-up”, which, in the spirit of the meal, is a massive compliment.

Steamed Wild Daurade w/ Carmel Melon Broth, Shaved Fennel, & Kumquat
The fish was solid but it didn’t have that Bernardin quality (a curse that i could be afflicted with forever) The Carmel Melon broth was good, but i found it a tad weird. It remember it not quite working for me, but my notes don’t explain why.

Parmentier of Oxtail Beef in Coffee Jus w/ Summer Truffles
At first salty, this dish grew on me. The coffee jus had a deep, rich flavor that stood up well to the thick & creamy potatoes. It was clear the menu was taking a more traditional approach with some experimental accents, so rather than bemoan the loss of sorbets (surely they must return for dessert), buckle down, and enjoy heartier fare.

Roasted Venison w/ Fresh Almond, Red Jus, Boysenberry Red Current, & Beets/Turnips
I don’t remember much (had a lot of wine at this point) but the celery puree accompanying the venison was exceptional. A hint of celery essence – this part is memorable b/c i hate celery.

The Desserts

Les Fromages de Norbert
I don’t know too much about cheeses except that i generally like them all – so we asked for one of each :) All of them good, but nothing stood out.

Peach & Thyme Sorbet w/ Sparkling Wine Gelee
The sorbets are back with a vengeance – when eaten together, your eyes grow larger than your smile. Intense flavor that literally bursts in your mouth thanks to the sparkling wine gelee.

Champagne Strawberry Consomme, Cherry Tomato, & Parmesan Ice Cream Sandwich
If i remember correctly, the tomato was slightly frozen/chilled. I remember liking this dish… The parmesan ice cream sandwich was even better as the ice cream was salty w/ some sweetness. The parmesan cookie was a little too much as the taste lingered in your mouth for just a bit too long.

Persian Mulberries, Sage Cream, Warm Olive Oil Cake, & Honeydew Granita
No recollection, hand-written notes are too scribbly.

Overall Impressions
This was one of the top 3 meals i’ve had – right behind Jean Georges & Le Bernardin. The meal started off very strong but it couldn’t keep the momentum in the later stages. However, it was downright fun. It was witty w/o being pretentious and challenging w/o being inconceivable. The flavors were strong, intense, and vibrant. The textures were out of the ordinary yet sensuous. The temperature element was not jarring, but complementary to the other ingredients. I haven’t eaten at El Bulli, Moto, or Alinea so i can’t compare it to its peers (if they can even be called that), but this was *a lot* better than WD-50 (which i really like) in every way.

Ludovic will always be on my radar. Jokingly, we asked them if they would do an all ice-ceam/sorbet menu (why not?) and everyone’s response was the same:

Nick, the waiter: “Haha, you don’t know, he’s crazy, don’t give any more ideas!”
Gregory, the sommelier: “He’s always looking for new challenges; i bet he could easily surprise you”
Ludo, the chef: ” (devious smile) I can do that!”

An excellent experience and an amazing restaurant – I suddenly have a reason to drive down to LA (as if the lure of wide open roads and 500hp was not enough already.)

- chuck