Saturday, July 09, 2011
The Dynamic Female Duo of Chef de Cuisine, Sara Johannes and Executive Pastry Chef, Sally Camacho at WP24
In a profession that is still primarily male dominated, it was an extra pleasure to attend a hosted media dinner at WP24, a restaurant owned by Celebrity Chef, Wolfgang Puck, but led in the kitchen by Chef de Cuisine, Sara Johannes and Executive Pastry Chef, Sally Camacho. WP24 was so named using the initials of Wolfgang Puck and because it's on the 24th floor of the Ritz Carlton hotel and the focus of the restaurant is on serving Modern Asian Cuisine, primarily centered around interpreting traditional Chinese food.
Having eaten my way through many various regional Chinese restaurants in San Gabriel Valley, I have to say that I wasn't sure how I was going to feel about the food at WP24. With every bite, would I be wishing that I was at one of those small mom and pop Chinese restaurants on Valley Boulevard instead? It was definitely going to be an interesting evening, but it definitely started well when I took a sip of one of their signature cocktails, the Passionfruit Cosmo. Although I'm not much of a drinker, I did find it tart and refreshing.
By the way, one thing to mention is that most of the dishes we tried that night were from their lounge menu, but Chef Johannes did manage to give some samples from their regular menu as well. Starting us off was a Sushi Platter of Sushi with White Tuna Roll, Spicy Tuna Roll (scallions,chili aioli, kaiware sprouts and sesame oil), Rainbow Roll (California roll, salmon, tuna, shrimp and hamachi), Dragon Roll (tempura shrimp, asparagus, cucumber, barbecued eel) and Hamachi Nigiri. Nothing necessarily stood out, but everything tasted fresh.
Next were the Chinese Crystal Dumplings with king crab, shrimp and kurobuta pork. Given their size, they seemed more like a bao than a dumpling, but once I took a bite, it definitely had the slight chew of a dumpling wrapper. Overall, I remember liking this dumpling when I ate it. Other than that, it wasn't very memorable. Honestly, it seemed a tad fussy to me. I like dumplings fairly plain with just a little chili, soy sauce and hot mustard and I'm good to go.
What came next were the “Chow Fueng” Rolls with braised kobe beef cheeks with chilies, scallions, cilantro, crispy garlic and hot sesame oil. I absolutely loved this dish. The coolness and mild flavor of the rice roll along with the bang of flavors that came from the other ingredients made my taste buds very happy.
Open up and say "Aaah" said the Steamed Baby Bao Buns that arrived at our table next. The filling consisted of slow braised “red cooked” pork belly with Chinese honey-garlic glaze. I didn't know what being "red cooked" meant so when I came home, I looked it up and found the definition here. Basically, it's is a slow braising cooking technique that imparts a red color to the prepared food. While I found the bao bun itself to be a bit too thick and too bready for my taste, I enjoyed the pork belly filling and how the addition of the cucumber added a nice bright crunch to the overall dish.
Lettuce Cups with Jidori chicken, rice sticks and pickled ginger-serrano vinaigrette were next on the agenda. I like the crunchy component of the rice sticks and light crispness of the lettuce and red cabbage. What really blew me away was the pickled ginger-serrano vinaigrette. It gave the ingredients a lovely kick of spice and heat.
One of my favorite dishes of the night was simple, but delicious or should I just say a simply delicious Curry Tempura Green Beans. Oh my gosh, I could eaten a whole plate of them just by myself. I've had tempura dishes before, but the addition of the curry brought this particular tempura dish to a whole different level, a better one.
Following the those green beans were Prawn Toast with sweet & spicy garlic chili. Unfortunately, I didn't care for this dish very much. I liked the spicy garlic chili sauce, but I found the Prawn Toast to be a bit greasy for my taste.
The next three items were items that were on the regular menu, starting with these Quail Wings which had a citrusy glaze. Quail has often times been a hit and miss with me, but if I could have quail like this all the time, it would be a hit every time.
Tempura Scallops came next, but didn't do much for me. While the scallops were cooked perfectly, the sauce that topped the scallops was a bit too salty for me to enjoy the dish.
Our last savory dish before dessert was the Singapore Style Chili Prawns with fresh crab, fried garlic, chili, scallions, shallots and pickled ginger. The strong flavors of the garlic, chili and ginger gave zing to the prawns and was a perfect bite.
Next came a trio of desserts from Chef Camacho which included a Marjolasian with layers of dark chocolate, white espresso mousse and cashew nougatine, a Cinnamon Financier with market fresh raspberries and finally, a Vanilla Panna Cotta. They were all quite tasty, but my favorite dessert of the night was one that we all got sample when we went on a kitchen tour.
I should also mention that Chef Puck also came by to say "Hello" to all of us and he was the one that like Pied Piper, happily led us into the kitchen for a look see. I have to say that Chef Johannes definitely took it in stride when a bunch of food blogger paparazzi came in and started taking pictures.
Here are more kitchen photos as well as food photos to take a look at.
From Chef Johannes, we made our way to Chef Camacho who was hard at work whipping up my favorite dessert of the evening. While we were waiting, Chef Puck let us pick from a fresh batch of green tea cookies. There's just nothing like fresh cookies out of the oven.
While Chef Camacho was putting the finishing touches on her dessert before handing some out for us to try, it was fun to see Chef Puck alongside her doing some sampling on his own. By the way, a note about Chef Camacho, she beat out five other Pastry Chefs in Paris on April 6, 2011, earning her the opportunity to represent the U.S. in the Valrhona C3 Culinary Competition in Madrid in early 2012. Now that's Pinay Power! :-D
Finally, here is what Chef Camacho made for us. A Calamansi Vacherin with calamansi curd, Szechuan peppercorn meringue, macadamia crumble, vanilla bean ice cream and Thai basi. If you didn't know, Chef Camacho is Filipina, as am I, and calamansi is a popular fruit in the Philippines. It was awesome to see one of our native fruits used in such a unique way. As for that dessert, I loved the tart, peppery and sweet nutty flavors it invoked.
When our meal ended, the city view was absolutely gorgeous and when you're on the 24th floor, how could it not be, so I hope you enjoy the pictures below.
As for the meal itself, the presentation of the food was lovely, but without substance, pretty is as pretty does. However, I found most of the food to be really good and I could see myself going back on my own dime, although for more a special occasion than on a regular basis.
A meal at WP24 is about 4 to 6 times or more than you'd pay for that small Chinese restaurant in San Gabriel Valley. The menu is not a la carte. Instead, you have 2 tasting menus to choose from, a 3 course for $80 and a 4 course menu for $110. It's a meal that's definitely going to cost you quite a few bucks, but given the location with its fantastic view, the beautifully presented food that also tastes good, the ambiance and for some dishes, table side service, it would be a good splurge.
One thing new that has been added to WP24 or specifically the lounge menu is the "Tastes of 24", where for $24, there is a daily three-course menu featuring signature dishes from their dining room that is perfectly sized for one. It's available Monday through Saturday from 5pm-7pm. I'd say that price is steal and may be just the right incentive to pay a visit to WP24. Heck, it may even bring me back sooner than I expected.
900 W Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90015