Friday, February 10, 2012

Mélisse -- A Zagat Rated, Michelin 2-Stars Restaurant Review


Hope you still remember this gingerbread house that my kids created for Christmas.  You might wonder what does it have to do with my restaurant review on Mélisse, right?  Well, EVERYTHING!  That's because I submitted this particular picture to the Zagat 12 Days of Foodie Cheer Photo Contest and won a $500 gift card.  What am I going to do with this gift card?  EAT, of course!  LOL....I used it to dine at Mélisse to celebrate my birthday.  


Mélisse is a Zagat Rated and 2 Michelin Stars Restaurant located in Santa Monica, California.  I've been wanted to try this restaurant for a while but was a bit hesitated to go on my birthday.  Why?  Because of an “unfair” negative comment about Mélisse on a very popular restaurant review site.  One particular customer "complained" she had a bad experience there because of the wait time for the 10-course meal and food wasn’t spectacular, etc.  What is a girl who loves gourmet food, such as yours truly, going to do?  Make a visit to find out the truth!  That’s the “” spirit!  Winking smile

When I called for reservation, the hostess asked if we were celebrating any special occasion. I advised her it’s for my birthday celebration, hence, the little “Happy Birthday” card sitting on the table (see picture below).  Other than that, they had no idea I was going to take pictures for each course, write a review of the restaurant and the whole nine yards (This is also true as any previous Hotel or Restaurant reviews that I’ve done).  That way, I know I can get a true, honest, and fair review of the place as a typical consumer and not receiving any special treatment. 

(Another note about the “unfair” comment I mentioned earlier.  What had helped me to determine that particular negative comment was “unfair” is because we were advised, as we were reviewing the menu, that the entire experience would be around 2.5 hours if we order “The 10” (the 10 course tasting menu).  This is without us even inquiring.  Could that previous customer who provided the 'unhappy' review online not getting informed of the duration?  Possible... but based on the services that was provided, it seemed unlikely.)

We ended up ordering “The 10”, and the Server was right on target on the timing as well.  There was a little wait time in between each course, as expected, but we didn’t feel it was a long wait at all.  So, how was the food? Sit tight and you’re going to find out next. 

Before we begin, I just wanted to let you know that there was a sign right at the entrance area that says no flash light is allowed.  I bet many people were taking pictures of the gorgeous food there and caused some disturbance to other customers, hence, the restriction on the flash light.  With the somewhat dimmed light inside the restaurant, I apologize for the lighting on these pictures in advance.  I promise, I’ll make that up to you at the end!  Winking smile So stay tuned.

First, we started with an amuse bouche (see picture below).  The one on the left was liquefied goat cheese in red grape juice “shell”.  When I bit into it, there was a burst of goat cheese aroma along with the slight sweetness from the grape “shell”.  A nice play on the molecular cuisine.  The 1/2 sphere on the right is Red Grape covered with goat cheese and crushed pistachios.  The combination is wonderful and it was such a refreshing way to start the meal.


Amuse Bouche

While we were waiting for the first course, we were offered different kinds of breads.  My favorite was the one on the left (see picture below), Basil Brioche!  So good!  I’m going to try to replicate it at home in the future!  Winking smile  The one on the right was a Focaccia.  The crust was wonderful and the bread packed with sun dried tomatoes and other herbs, yum.


The two below were Olive bread on the left, and regular brioche on the right.  These two were wonderful as well.  I have to warn you, you can easily get filled up by the bread as they were so tasty and the supply was pretty much “endless”.  We were offered more bread as soon as we finished the ones on our plates.  I realized I better say “no” (it’s so hard though) because there were 10 courses coming out soon! The Maître d' and servers were all very friendly.  Some came to compliment on the pictures that I’ve taken (by looking at the display screen on my camera).


Each course was presented by the server and explained to us briefly on the ingredients and how it was prepared.  The second amuse bouche was Oyster with Passion Fruit Jelly.  I love the sweetness and tartness from the Passion Fruit Jelly as it’s so refreshing.  The oyster was super fresh and I could taste the natural sweetness from it.  

Amuse Bouche

The next course is Egg Caviar.  This was one of my favorite courses of the evening.  The soft boiled egg was rich and creamy.  Balanced perfectly with the slightly tart Lemon Crème Fraiche along with the briny and salty caviar.  The buttery biscuit was perfect for dipping!  hm….so rich and so good that I even forgot to take a picture inside the egg (sorry!) as I was too busy enjoying and savoring each bite.  I would go back to Mélisse any time just to eat this!

Egg Caviar—Soft Poached Egg, Lemon Crème Fraiche, American Caviar

Up next was Wild Florida Yellow Tail Snapper.  The snapper was serve raw, very fresh and lovely. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy the Fried Silver Fish as much because it got a little too soggy in the Fennel Broth for my liking.  The flavoring is wonderful though, especially the charred Grapefruit.

Wild Florida Yellow Tail Snapper—Fried Silver Fish, Fennel, Pink Grapefruit, Roasted Fennel Broth

This Chestnut Veloute was amazing. My hubby doesn’t even eat chestnut, but he kept "woo-ing” and “ah—ing” as he was enjoying this soup.  The flavor was intense and the texture was smooth and silky.  I especially love the crunchy Chestnut, Mushroom Hash, and the crispy Truffle Cromesquis on top for some contrasts on the textures.  I can definitely drink a BIG bowl of this soup as a meal on it’s own!

Chestnut Veloute—Chestnut and Mushroom Hash, Truffle Cromesquis

Next was Seared Foie Gras.  It’s rich, creamy, succulent, and outrageously good!  Another of my favorite from this menu.  I especially love the crust from the searing.  My husband and I both think that it was a very generous portion of Foie Gras to serve on a 10 course meal.

Seared Foie Gras—Santa Barbara Pistachio, Zapote Blanco, Ginger Lime Reduction

Up next was the Scallop.  The Basil Infused Carrot Emulsion was poured into our plate right at the table.  The Roasted Carrot puree is heavenly!  The sweetness from the puree and scallop were both amazing and complement each other very well. 

Maryland Day Boat Scallop—Roasted Carrots, Cauliflower Mushrooms, Basil Infused Carrot Emulsion

This Black Bass was my hubby’s favorite.  The scales on top of the Black Bass were crispy and crunchy.  The "doneness" of the fish was perfect and the light seasoning let the natural sweetness of the fish shines through.   

Black Bass “En Ecailles”—Kabocha Squash Gnocchi, Braised Radicchio, Eringi Mushroom, Rich Broth

For the next course, there was an option to select Prime Rib Eye Confit in Herbs or Slow Roasted Sonoma Lamb.  Therefore, my husband and I ordered one of each so we can try both of the dishes. The flavor of the Prime Rib Eye was wonderful.  I especially love the Truffle and Potato Galette on the side.  However, the texture of the Prime Rib wasn’t as tender as I would expected it to be.  On the other hand, the Braised Beef Short Rib exhibited 'melt in my mouth' kind of texture.  Very succulent!

Prime Beef Rib Eye Confit in Herbs, Grilled Over Apple Wood—Braised Beef Short Rib, Truffle and Potato Galette, Mustard Greens, Red Wine Herb Jus

The Slow Roasted Sonoma Lamb was amazing.  The flavor was rich and complex.  I bet it’s been cooked for a long time to achieve that tenderness and developed that deep flavor.

Slow Roasted Sonoma Lamb—Romanesco Cauliflower, Nicoise Olive, Japanese Yam, Lamb Jus

Here comes the Fourme d’Ambert (one of France’s oldest Cheeses, it’s a type of cow’s milk blue cheese that’s usually pasteurized).  From left to right.  This little curl on the far left was made with apple, sweet and tart.  Then, came this amazing blue cheese in it’s natural form. This cheese itself was to die for.  The little cube in the middle was apple Jelly.  Same type of apple but in a different form.  The fourth item from the left was the Fourme d’Ambert mousse.  The texture was silky and creamy.  So good that I decided to hunt down this cheese from my local market!! The green thing on the right was rather mild in taste after the flavorful blue cheese.  The texture was like avocado but I had no idea what that was.  The crust on the bottom was crispy, buttery and flaky.  I love the combination of creamy cheese and flaky crust!   

Fourme d’Ambert—Quince, Sorrel, Marcona Almonds

To accompany the up coming assorted desserts, I ordered a cup of cappuccino and my husband ordered a coffee.  The cappuccino was good, but surprisingly the pot of French pressed coffee was wonderful!  Especially when we both love strong coffee.  It’s rich and bold without any bitterness.  It’s smooth and silky as well!  Although it was almost 9pm, we couldn’t help but to finished up the whole pot (around 3 of these cups total)!


Here’s comes the Chocolate Trio.  We should have started off with the peanut butter mousse cake on the left because that’s the mildest in chocolate flavor among the 3 desserts here.  Don’t let the deep brown chocolate layer fool you.  Smile Then, the chocolate caramel mousse in the glass.  It was smooth and silky and melt in my mouth kind of goodness.  The most intense in chocolate flavor was the chocolate sorbet.  Since we thought we should finish the sorbet before it got all melted, we did it in the “wrong” order!  hahaha…nevertheless, these chocolate trio were amazing.

Chocolate, Peanut Butter and Caramel—Valrhona Abiano Sorbet, Mochaccino

Last thing on the menu was Apple, Green Tea and Crème Fraiche.  This is a unique and refreshing course, acting as a palate cleanser to finish off the meal.  We enjoyed it so much and we love the refreshing and crisp apple aroma lingering on our palates.

Apple, Green Tea and Crème Fraiche

The next item wasn’t on the menu.  I guess it was compliment by the chef?  I didn’t ask because I didn’t paid close attention to the menu when I order.  So, we didn’t even know this was “extra” until we started counting meals later in the evening.   It was a simple Strawberry and raspberries with cream and raw sugar… simple and fun.  I know my kiddo would love to have their berries served this way at home too!  Smile with tongue out


Last but not least, assorted dessert minis.  The one on the left were pineapple macarons.  My husband doesn’t even eat pineapple, but he enjoyed it so much.  After tasting it, he said it felt like he’s in Hawaii!  (I wished that too!) And I totally agree with his comment!  The pineapple flavor was very intense yet refreshing.  The ones in the middle were canelé.  I’ve been wanted to make these but haven’t had the right tools yet.  Hm…these were wonderful pastry with a soft and tender custard center and a dark, thick caramelized crust.  Last but not least, mini chocolate chip cookies.  What a wonderful way to end a meal!


So, when it’s all time to check the damage (paid up), I took out my Zagat gift card for the bill.  That was when the Maître d', Matt, asked me how I got such a large amount of credit on a Zagat gift card.  So, I explained how I got it and he asked if I also write a food blog.  After chatting a bit about my blog, Matt asked if I would like to visit the kitchen.  Of course I said YES right the way!  I almost jumped out of my chair too! hahahaha…. I bet not many people got the opportunity to do that and I really appreciate Matt’s thoughtfulness.  It’s really the best Birthday gift for a foodie food blogger!  So, come inside to the Mélisse’s kitchen with me, would you?

It’s busy inside the kitchen, yet, very clean and organized.


The picture below are different dishes lining up to get finished off before heading out to the customers.


Another side of the kitchen.  I was standing at a corner very closed to the kitchen entrance as I didn’t want to get in the way.  It’s very fast pace and seems crowded in there.


Remember I mentioned at the beginning of the post about the lighting and that I’m going to make it up to you?  Here comes more pictures of different courses I took inside the kitchen right before they were carried out to the customers!  See the difference in the color of the picture with better lighting?  Each dish was a piece of art!


What a gorgeous salad!


There were courses that had fresh Perigord Black Truffle on top, with supplement (we didn’t select those options) and the server would do the shavings right at the table!  See the size of this black truffle? Amazing!


See the “traffic” inside the kitchen?  Smile


Another beautiful creation from the chef.  I’m glad that I had a full stomach when I walked into the kitchen!  Open-mouthed smile Otherwise, I’ll be drooling over the plates!  Maybe I still did.  Shhh…..


Each dish got clean off before heading out to the customer.  I love how they pay attention to the details.


All cleaned up and ready to go.


This is Chef Ken Takayama, Chef De Cuisine of Mélisse.  See how focus he was working on the dish?  Each dish had to go through Chef Takayama (to get his magic touches) before heading out to the customer.    


This was the beautiful Black Bass with the crispy and crunchy scales.  I say it looks more like a painting in an art gallery, don’t you agree?


A picture of me and Chef Takayama.  It was such an honor to be able to meet and take a picture with the Chef!  I had an amazing experience at Mélisse.  I definitely will be back for other celebrations.


Price: $150 per person for "The 10" Tasting Menu

Wine Pairing option: $95 per person.  We didn't try the wine paring as we had a long drive home afterwards.  

If you have a special celebration and enjoy fine dining, I highly recommend Mélisse.  It might seems pricey but with the quality of food and services, I would say is worth the money. 

Check out their Valentine's Day Menu here if you're interested to take your significant other there to celebrate.

I was NOT compensated by Mélisse in any way to write this review.  All opinions are 100% mine and always will be.

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  1. What a great way to use the gift card!! I'm DROOLING!!! (Great photo).

    1. Thanks, Belinda. Wish you a wonderful weekend.

  2. What a great price to win!! :) And I wish you a happy birthday and I see you have celebrated very well :)

    1. Thank you so much! Yes, it was a wonderful B-day celebration. :)

  3. You prize winner you!!! Wonderful write up and congrats on the prize! Well deserved!


    1. Thank you so much, Dave. :) Wish you a wonderful weekend.

  4. Great way to enjoy the gift card in a memorable way! Glad that you enjoyed Melisse in Santa Monica. I think the food at Spago Beverly Hills is even better and the room is prettier, but...
    Hope Michelin starts doing a Los Angeles Guide again, although it's not likely to have any three stars anywhere.

    1. Thank you. Yes, I saw the review on your site and would probably try Spago next time.

      I know, hope Michelin will do LA again! They haven't been here since 2009! Oh well....guess we have to do our own rating then! LOL

      Take care and have a beautiful weekend!

  5. Wow your children made the gingerbread house? Amazing and so beautiful! Congrats on winning and Happy Birthday! What a great review and I enjoyed reading about each dish. Chestnut Veloute sounds like something I'd totally enjoy (I love chestnuts!), the scallop looks phenomenal and pineapple macarons!? YUM! I'd love to try this restaurant myself one day too when we are down in So Cal. And it's nice to be a food blogger, isn't it? A private tour in the kitchen! =D Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you so much for your message,Nami. Yes, my kids decorated the gingerbread house. It was our very first time building and making one together (with the kit, it's rather easy). Hope you'll try Melisse when you travel to LA. I can't wait to visit them again! :) Happy Valentine's Day to you!

  6. hey Amy your kids are sure very talented! I enjoyed your dish by dish review. Every dish looks and sounds impeccably delicious. I would definitely love to dine there if only I live a little closer :) And thanks for mentioning about the kitchen's like getting an extra course for free only better

    1. Thank you, Yi. I'm glad you enjoyed reading my review. Hope you'll try it out when you happen to visit L.A. :) The kitchen tour was amazing, I was like a kid in the candy store! LOL. Wish you a wonderful Valentine's Day! Take care.

  7. First of all...a belated Happy Birthday! Wow! what a wonderful post of your dining experience! I think that your photos were great...not dimly lit at all.

    Thank you my sweet friend for taking the time to visit, after I had been away for so long! It is always a treat to see your sweet comments.

    Blessings & Aloha!

    1. Thank you so much for your blessings and sweet comment. I always enjoy your visit as well. :) Wish you a wonderful day.

  8. What a great post. Enjoyed the restaurant tour. Happy Birthday! Come visit today. We have a wonderful recipe and the Improv Cooking Challenge.

  9. Congrats to you for winning the gift card. What a fun treat. Wow, what a meal. Just the bread alone would make me swoon. Basil brioche -- my heart be still. ;)

  10. The food presentation are perfectly beautiful! Great job!