Sunday, January 8, 2017

INTRO: Creative, Intimate Chef's Table & Art Gallery Secret Supper Dining Experience in North Hollywood

With three of Hollywood's biggest powerhouses - Disney, Warner Bros and Universal - and their resident creative communities within miles of each other, it's been shocking that we haven't seen more innovation on the dining scene in the surrounding neighborhoods to pique imaginations and expense accounts.

 So it was extremely exciting to hear about INTRO, a brand new, secret supper club that's just landed in a former dance studio just down hill, in a non-descript stretch of Lankershim.  The concept is a Chef's Table tasting menu served in an intimate art gallery space, paired with eclectic music for a dining experience unlike any other in this part of the valley.

As befitting a secret club, the entrance is unmarked, but after double checking the street address, and pushing cautiously through the door, you step inside a cozy space with brick walls painted a dark bluish grey, adorned with contemporary art pieces,

Photo credit: acuna-hansen
and rustic chandelier casting a warm glow over the beautifully decorated table, and reflecting off glasses of champagne over which flows the casual chatter of strangers getting to know each other - all adding to the feeling as if you're part of the opening scene of a movie, ripe with anticipation of what's about to unfold.

We kicked off with a personal introduction from Chef Paul Shoemaker (with an impressive resume of service at Michelin-starred Bastide, Providence, Alain Ducasse, French Laundry, and Water Grill as well as local favorite Firefly), and curator / co-owner Rob Ciancimino, speaking to their respective passion for local sourcing (for Chef Paul including foraging in Malibu hills, and showcasing the essence of California’s agriculture and resources through dishes with casual sophistication, made with playful techniques and flavors, for Rob to find the best of local artists to highlight).

Then a trio of cocktails in creatively presented form made its way to us - these weren't regular drinks though, but crafted to be eaten!

  • Bourbon Cider Liquid Rav
  • Oyster, Champagne, Beet Juice Caviar, Passion Fruit Fizz: this was a fun take on the oyster shot, but with a sweet / tart twist
  • Cold Fever, Gin Tonic

Then came the Pre-Amuse that blew many at the table away. Foie Gras Truffle Mac Daddy and Foie Gras "Dime Bag".  As regular readers know, I'm a huge fan of foie so I may be biased - but it also means I've had a LOT of it in various forms - but never like this.  Taking a risk with a nodd and a wink to what food lovers often reference as addictions to ingredients they are partial to, Chef Paul has creatively come up with foie powder wrapped in a transparent 'dime bag'.  At first even seasoned writers and food bloggers at the table were pleasantly surprised by the execution on this, and chuckles were heard around the table as we bonded with our neighbors over how to approach this - whether the bag was to be opened and poured into our mouths, or...?  Turns out the bag is made of edible rice paper, and the powder inside, mixed with crisp, crunchy pepitas was subtle sweet meets savory, earthy and nutty.  I 'inhaled' the bag in no time - addictive, indeed.  Consider my bouche very amused.  Haven't had this much fun at any restaurant in a long time, valley or otherwise.

The macaron, though in more familiar form, was also mind-blowing in flavor - intoxicating with the fragrant of truffles and decadent earthiness of foie cream between fluffy cloud like cookies with a crisp exterior - texture very much in Parisian style.
After that platter I knew I would love the journey of the unexpected at INTRO.  And the main portion of the meal hadn't even started yet.

Next up was the 'formal' Amuse, of salmon skin chicharrone, smoked salmon roe, creme fraiche and salmon cone. Classic and a tasty, refreshing kickoff to the courses that follow.

Bone Marrow / Truffle Ravioli  with parmesan reggiano - rich and decadent spoonful of meat butter meets culinary gold with the super aromatic truffle shaved over the top of a mushroom stuffed raviolo.

Scallop elicited audible moans of pleasure around the table - no exaggeration.  A perfectly cooked scallop with unusual accompaniments was responsible: Chef Paul served it up a baked avocado mousse that was rich and luscious yet full of levity, yuzu ponzu for just the right amount of acidity to balance the richness, caviar for burst of brininess that takes you back to the ocean, and smoked sesame as the finishing touch.  Many diners said this was their favorite dish of the night - I would as well, if not for the foie dime bag which is still top of mind and palate.

Butter Poached Maine Lobster coral nage, basil soil

Variation of Beets goat cheese crumbles, mello, candy walnets, beet macaron, passion fruit

Pate A Choux Gnocchi smoked maple gel pork belly, honey poached cranberries, pine nut soil, pig skin.  The pork belly just melted in our mouths.

Pasta with Truffles truffle fondue, espuma and fresh truffle - simply prepared with just a few ingredients, but so fresh and delicate yet satisfying at the same time. 

Our fish course was Monkfish persimmons, bottarga, reduction of coca and ginger.  The monkfish was so perfectly cooked that we involuntarily sat back, eyes closed for a brief moment, just taking it in.

Then came the meat course: Prime  Hanger epoisses, potato fondue, potato chip, pistu, sauce bordelaise.  The use of luscious, pungent epoisse cheese was brilliant - I never wanted to eat another piece of steak without it again.  And the potato chip, also not usually seen with steak, helped add bit of crisp to counterbalance the decadence of the creamy cheese.

Here's a shot from the other side, as I loved the presentation of the leeks so much as well.

Then as pre-dessert, a shimmering plate was placed in front of us called Gold Mine - a golden nugget with gold dust burst around it, as if it were a meteor-like treat that landed in a desert of edible gold sand - the plating was so beautiful it should qualify as #foodart.  Chef Paul explained that it was meant to be a high end version of a nostalgic childhood treat - like laffy taffy flavored and presented for adults: passion fruit, macadamia, strawberry saffron fluid gel.  Delish.

For our last dish, pastry chef explained the inspiration came from something he spotted by the side of the road while he was driving: a beautifully gnarled, very dead tree, but which had a bit of green peeking through the soil beneath it.  The death and rebirth, and concept of from ashes will come renewal, left a strong impression, and from that memory came Dead Tree made with gianduja ganache, brown butter, chocolate trees.  Beneath the chocolate soil, chef had even buried a green colored piece of white chocolate to represent that glimpse of hope and renewal that he saw in nature.  I couldn't think of a time when we needed that message more, than at the end of 2016.  True artists capture the zeitgeist, and food artists translate that beyond the visual to a multi-sensory experience that resonates with your palate as well - and chef has accomplished that nicely here.

All in all, an amazing experience and very good fine dining deal, and I would definitely return again soon, so excited for this side of the Valley to have a tasting menu of this caliber!  

This supper series is by special engagement only - while Chef Paul and the team wait for their permanent space to be built out next door, in the space formerly occupied by Osteria Firenze. The full fledged restaurant will serve a la carte as well as tasting menus sometime in 2017.  Til then, INTRO will be serving their creative tasting menus, which will change seasonally, Friday and Saturday nights only, starting at 7:30pm with bubbly, first course served at 8:00pm.  Every month will also feature a different fine artist, and their art will stay up throughout the month for guests to view and purchase.

Check it out soon!

*Disclaimer: this meal was hosted.

INTRO Art Gallery & Chef's Table

4200 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood, CA 91602

Friday and Saturday nights only, starting at 7:30pm.  $125 per person, prix fixe 12-courses

Parking: street meters on Lankershim


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