Tuesday, March 22, 2011

LA Market: Making chicken a contender again

Menus terrify me.

I know it seems strange – particularly since I regularly go on the Mozza website to read theirs for fun – but when I’m at a restaurant, sitting at a table, with a menu in my hand, I’m so nervous I can barely hold it up straight.

“Do I want the fish of the day? The duck?” I’ll think. “I love duck… but I’m kind of in the mood for fish. Fish is healthy. Except the duck does come with quinoa. So that makes up for the fatty skin that I’m going to peel off and devour like a potato chip. Oh, but look… there’s a lamb special! With… saffron risooootto! And it’s only available tonight! If I don’t order it now, I’ll never be able to try it again!”

It doesn’t get any better when the server arrives to take my order. I’ll usually look up at him or her with distressed eyes, pleading with them to make the decision for me.

“What’s your favorite thing?” I’ll ask, hoping that they’ll throw me a lifesaver that’ll help me finally, painfully, come to a resolution.

I’ve come to loathe the politically correct answer, “Everything on our menu is good.”

It’s like they are actually trying to make my head explode.

So I’m grateful for the few menu items that don’t appeal to me. I usually never order any kind of steak (unless I’m at a steakhouse), I can typically nix anything that involves olives or foie gras (still not a favorite), and I always glaze my eyes over the chicken offerings. It doesn’t even come close to being a contender.

In my mind, chicken is something I eat at home when I’m feeling a lack of creativity in the kitchen. I’ll dredge a tired little flab of breast meat in flour, pan fry it until golden on both sides, and then simmer it in some sort of wine-saturated broth. It’s fine, occasionally very pleasant, but never exciting. Never something that I would feel inclined to serve to dinner guests.

So I was surprised when, at a recent media dinner at Chef Kerry Simon’s new restaurant LA Market at the JW Marriott in Downtown LA, the humble chicken dish was the menu item that completely stole the dinner show.

To my right was a steaming plate of glossy braised short ribs, collapsing into a potato puree. To my left, an inch-thick grilled rib-eye, serenaded with a gorgonzola polenta. In front of me, seared cod with delicate pebbles of black lentils.

There’d been gnocchi with jumbo lump crab and truffle parmesan cream too, a sultry local burrata with grilled farm bread, and a tuna dynamite appetizer with lump crab, tuna, sushi rice, and red chili aioli. LA Market’s new Executive Chef Nona Sivley, the winner of this past season of “Hell’s Kitchen,” was dining us to the nines. No stomach at our table in the middle of the spacious lobby restaurant would be left wanting at the end of the two hour meal.

Yet even after the luxurious burrata and the truffle-scented knuckles of gnocchi, all I could think about – all I wanted to eat – was the darn Brick Organic Chicken with organic farro, braised beet greens and citrus jus.

I was in awe of the taut, crisp skin, stretching across the surface of the brined chicken like a spandex sweater. The chicken itself is equally impressive – delicately scented with lemon and so tender it makes me wonder if Texas-native Nona is running a chicken massage parlor at the back of the kitchen.

The accompaniments are no less enthralling. The earthy farro is enlivened with sweet grapes and crunchy marcona almonds – the perfect wholesome counterpoint to the rustically prepared chicken.

Even as plates of food – a sushi pizza, a slab of country toast oozing with sautéed mushrooms – continued to wiz by me, I could barely lift my eyes to notice them. All I wanted was the chicken.

LA Market’s astutely prepared poultry dish presents a problem for my future restaurant excursions. No longer can I dismiss chicken from the menu as the boring or bland choice. LA Market has made chicken a contender again.

May the good Lord be with the next server who waits on me.

LA Market
JW Marriott
900 W Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90015
(213) 743-8800


Esi said...

I'm the same way! I rarely if ever order chicken when I go out to eat. It sounds good and so does that gnocchi with crab.

PS, I really need to stop reading your blog just before lunch. It makes me too hungry!

valentina said...

I have a weird relationship with chicken. I never ever want it, and then, suddenly, I'll see it spinning on a rotisserie, and I have to have it.

This one looks so good! However, I usually cure all chicken fixations at Al Wazir in Hollywood.

You wouldn't want to watch.

Gastronomer said...

"A a chicken massage parlor."

You make me LOL, DTAB. I can't wait to check out LA Market for myself :-) Junk food platter and roast chicken. Mmmm, boy!

Ashley said...

Ha! I love the description of your menu quandary inner monologue.

stuffycheaks said...

haha that's why i review the menus the couple days leading up to my dinners so I'll know exactly that to get. Glad the chicken worked out. its hard to justify ordering chicken unless they blow it outta the water.

weezermonkey said...

Hmm. Chicken, eh?

I can't say that my experience at LA Market warrants a return visit.

The Duo Dishes said...

Good point. It is usually not the first thing you choose at a new restaurant. Maybe the whole idea of exploring something unknown and fancy keeps chicken at the end of the list. You're so sweet to not only give him a chance but remind folks that he's no dud.

Diana said...

Esi - It always seems so boring compared to fish or lamb or duck or pork! Even pasta seems more exciting! But now I know. The secret is a ridiculously crispy skin. ;)

Valentina - Ohhh I'll have to try Al Wazir sometime! Sounds like maybe I should go alone so I can masticate in private?

Cathy - Can't wait to hear what you think of the chicken!

Ashley - Perhaps because you've seen it come out in real life?

Stephanie - I actually do too, but still have trouble deciding! Sometimes I think it makes it worse, so then I tell myself I'll just order what I'm in the mood for that night.

Weez - I wasn't all that impressed with the other dishes either, but I'd happily return for the chicken. It was really really tasty!

Chrystal & Amir - It actually makes me want to try recreating a similiar dish at home!