One of the things I love about Breadbar, on top of its phenomenal range of artisanal baked breads and goodies, are their fun events held in collaboration with other chefs and restaurants. Sometimes it could be a fondue night with their breads in eclectic melted cheeses, other times it may be a wine and dish pairing like RED with LearnAboutWine, and then there's the guest chefs events like Ludobites last year that was like a huge hit! Of course, the event with my name all over it is the 'Chocolate Tasting' held in collaboration with ChocoVivo's owner/chocolatier Patricia Tsai. So I met up with Fiona from Gourmet Pigs for this $30/person event.
Held in their newer, swankier Century City Westfield Mall location, which has the most horrific parking I've encountered this entire year, the event started off with Patricia giving us a brief lesson of how the cacao bean transforms into the chocolate that we consume, along with her fascinating stories of traveling to Mexico and Central America to observe the cacao plantations and select the ones that ultimately goes into the ChocoVivo products.
We also lived her lessons along the way, sampling the chocolate in various stages of processing from the crunchy cocoa nibs to a intense, thick and bitter pure chocolate liquor (and later a more palatable version with sugar added, though I personally loved combining the two for a bittersweet experience.)
That was followed by tastings ChocoVivo's signature hot chocolates, including the relaxing Chocolate Daisy with chamomile flowers and cinnamon and an exotic, Asian-inspired Shangri-La with goji berries and roasted sesame seeds. Defintely tastier than the plain ole mix-with-water cocoa in an envelope (which we did a side-by-side blind tasting of with their Simply Chocolate hot cocoa, shouldn't be a surprise to anyone as to which one won.) Being a choco-addict myself, I can definitely confirm many of Patricia's points about artisanal v. mass-produced and very processed chocolates, the latter having lost a lot of the subtle nuances, aromas and even textures -- producing a unremarkable product that's just sweet with a very flat, generic chocolate taste.
While we were tasting all these chocolates, Breadbar's executive chef Rogelio Marhx came out and demonstrated how the cocoa nibs are stone-grounded (eventually into the chocolate liquor that he'll use for his mole sauce.) All in all, a fun half-hour lesson and Q&A about chocolate production.
Moving onto the actual food portion, the five-course tasting menu! Already anticipating the the dark cocoa flavor in many of the upcoming dishes, I tried ordering a glass of Syrah only to find out I've been trumped by all the other event attendees and that Breadbar ran out of both Syrahs. But the nice server gave me a glass of the Rhone wine at a reduced price, which made interesting pairings with the chocolate dishes too.
Our first is a flank steak tartar with chestnuts and cocoa nibs sandwiched between a goji berry cocoa bread. I love the cute little raw hamburger presentation, and it was a fun and amusing first course -- with the soft flavorful meat juxtaposing against the crunchy bread and the earthy flavors of the cocoa.
Next came the arugula salad with roasted duck breast, foie gras terrine and chocolate vinaigrette. Here the chocolate taste was muted given the powerful flavors of the fatty duck breast slices, the peppery arugula and the salty terrine. But nonetheless it was a great salad and I had fun mixing and matching the different components of the dish.
The star of the meal was definitely the main course, braised short rib in a chocolate mole with kabocha squash polenta. The mole was insanely delicious, and a delightful mix of chocolate, chili, sesame and about a dozen additional ingredients pounded and blended in a rich, complex paste that's a great balance of spicy, smoky, nutty, sweet, bitter and chocolatey. The tender rib was a wonderful backdrop to soak up the mole as was the polenta with the subtle tinge of the squash.
Fourth course is a molten chocolate souffle cake with olive oil and salt. As big a sucker I am for rich chocolate desserts and sweet-savory combos, I didn't care much for this dish due to the mouthfeel of the center, which was rather fluid and liquidy and made me think that it was underbaked batter rather than an intended molten core.
Next sets of desserts came out better, chocolate beet mini cupcakes that were moist, not-too-sweet, and had an interest tart contrast with the beet frosting. I ate up two of these fast (and got another two take home!)
Finally (yes, there's a sixth course), their variant of the traditional s'more with chocolate marshmallows that we toast ourselves and spread onto Breadbar's bread chips. Without a pure chocolate element, the cocoa flavor here is more subtle than the traditional campfire version but it was still gooey delicious.
Overall and in spite of the souffle, I think this was one of the better themed tasting menus I've had -- which reflects chocolate's versatility as both a savory and a sweet ingredient and Chef Marhx's expert execution of these dishes. And yes, I'll even endure Century City parking (got charged $10 since I went over three hours here) to check out their future events, or even to casually dine in the rare instance that I shop there.
Breadbar in Century City
10250 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90067