Monday, October 5, 2009

Desert Rose Gourmet Mushroom Tasting: Big girls eat mushrooms

If someone told me that I would be attending a gourmet mushroom tasting a few years ago, I would have laughed in their face. Not just a little giggle, but a hearty guffaw that some might consider unladylike. The effort might have even inspired me to start snorting (which is sometimes the case when I’m laughing extremely hard).

Up until approximately 22 months ago when I discovered the joy that is porcini mushrooms at Mario Batali’s Babbo Restaurant in New York City, I loathed all mushrooms. The shape offended me (in particular the button ones that, when sliced, look like noses with nose hair), the texture repulsed me, and I found the flavor to be mostly off-putting. I would always order dishes sans shrooms or pick them out to give to my dad if the kitchen couldn’t remove the unwelcome fungi for me. All of that changed, however, when I pierced my fork into a plate of Batali’s Garganelli with porcini mushrooms as part of the pasta tasting menu at Babbo in December 2007. The meaty porcinis were a textural revelation to my palate, and I soon followed up my adoration for them with an appreciation for shiitakes, and later, with most of their cousins as well.

Walking through the iron gates to the charming patio at the Desert Rose restaurant in Los Feliz last Tuesday night, I couldn’t help but smile at the irony of the situation. It was impossibly comical to me that in just 22 months I’d gone from loathing all mushrooms to enthusiastically attending a six-course dinner explicitly focused on them. I felt a bit proud of myself – like I wanted to announce to all the random vegans, food bloggers, winos, etc. in attendance that “[I was] a big girl now.” Or at the very least, bigger than I was when I made gagging noises whenever my dad ate mushrooms in front of my brothers and me growing up.

The complimentary tasting event, hosted by Citysearch, began with pours of our two wines for the evening – the Brander Sauvignon Blanc and a peppery Australian red wine that was perhaps a little heavy for the delicate shrooms provided by Hokto Kinoko Company. Of course, I’m never one to complain about heavy reds unless they come in a box, cube or in a bottle with the label “Charles Shaw.” This red was no two-buck chuck, so I was a happy camper (when camping means staying in four-star cabins with running water).

To begin our mostly vegan feast, Desert Rose provided us with two of their house dishes – a Baba Ghanouj (roasted eggplant puree) with pita, and Yabrak (Lebanese Stuffed Grape Leaves). Up until I read the description on the menu card provided for us, I was under the impression that the Baba Ghanouj was actually hummus – not lush heaps of pureed eggplant. I enjoy hummus, so that was a good thing. Grape leaves are still on my list of things that make my nose wrinkle (olives are also included), so I’ll leave my sentiments on the Yabrak undisclosed.

Our six mushroom courses included a wide-range of preparations and textures. I was surprised that in most of the dishes, the mushrooms took a backseat to the other elements on the plate. In some instances, like with the harissa glazed roasted king trumpet mushroom tajen, I felt the accompaniments were an unnecessary distraction. I wished I could have just had a big bowl of the sweet giant trumpets instead – a startling discovery for someone with my former history.

Harissa Glazed Roasted King Trumpet Mushroom Tajen

Of all the courses, my two favorites were the Maitake-Walnut Daiya Cheese Stuffed Medjool Dates and the Mushroom Flan with Gruyere and Crispy Kataifa (the only non-vegan item of the night). The sweet elements of both dishes complimented the savory shrooms well, and I loved the different textures going on in the flan (even if I still have no idea what crispy kataifa is exactly). I also thought the Beech Mushroom Lentil Soup with Smoked Paprika Oil and Baby Spinach was a nice plate. Or, more accurately, bowl plate. Either way, the rather standard preparation warmed my chilled bones like the heat lamps on the patio should have, but didn’t (they were too far away from my face).

Maitake-Walnut-Daiya Cheese Stuffed Medjool Dates

Mushroom Flan w/ Gruyere and Crispy Kataifa

Beech Mushroom Lentil Soup with Smoke Paprika Oil and Baby Spinach

Beech Mushroom and Maitake Mushroom Falafel with Tahini-Lemon Sauce

Beech Mushroom and Maitake Cabbage Rolls with Tomato Lemon Broth

While I would have liked the evening to have ended on a sweet note (ie. with a big bowl plate of very un-vegan ice cream and bread pudding – my current dessert obsession), I still left Desert Rose filling satisfied with my overall experience. So many of the tasting menus and hosted dinners in Los Angeles require the consumer to spend hours at the gym to effectively burn it all off. The meal at Desert Rose was a welcome departure from the gluttony that has become more the rule than exception when dining out. Eight plates is by no means a “light” supper, but I enjoyed pretending that I was doing my body better with plates of mushrooms instead of plates of pasta. Of course, when those plates involve both pasta and mushrooms, it’s another story. Batali can cook me a gluttonous meal any day of the week – except Sunday when I skip the gym to go to church.

Desert Rose
1700 Hillhurst Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027-4419
Phone: (323) 666-1166


Gastronomer said...

High five, Big Girl! Mushrooms are so earthy and good.

If an appreciation for mushrooms is an indicator of maturity, my dear boy Vern is still a small boy :-(

Jenn said...

I used to be the same as you. I loathed mushrooms for as long as I could remember. But now I love them like a best friend. Ok, maybe not. But close.

yutjangsah said...

I love shrooms. Little ones, big ones, brown ones, white ones. I particularly love the oyster mushroom and the trumpet mushroom. I hope u give grape leaves a chance. They are one of my faves. The canned ones from Trader Joe's used to be a guilty pleasure of mine.

weezermonkey said...

I'm a little girl. ;)

Diana said...

Cathy - Mushrooms, tomatoes AND avocados?!? Is this why you are marrying him? So he'll give you all of the above off his plate? Not too bad of a deal...

Jenn - Haha, maybe like sorority sister close?

Sook - I think that was one of my first occasions trying the trumpets. It was a most pleasant and aggreable experience. I'll work on the grape leaves.

Sharon - Haha, yes. But I have faith that one day you will grow up big and strong!

Heather said...

i just cannot eat mushrooms. i've tried. the town i'm from in italy has a whole mushroom festival. it lasts for weeks. everyone loves them. but not me. just can't do it. glad you had fun though!

Anna A. said...

Holly Shrooms everything looks delicious! And you were so close to me. I had no idea you never liked shrooms and just realized you don't like olives (remembering you and Joan at Corkbar) sorry I gave you olive bread!

Ashley said...

ditto. gimme more of those king trumpets and dates. if it was up to me, i would have eaten six courses of those two items.

Cinnamon-Girl Reeni♥ said...

I would jump at the chance to eat all these wonderfully prepared mushroom dishes! Otherwise I have a difficult time eating them. I keep on trying though, in the hopes my palate will change. The problem is the texture, not so much the flavor.