For years, during the month of my birthday which is also around Christmas time, I would begin to wishfully indulge in the idea of a friend offering to take me to Melisse, a highly acclaimed restaurant specializing in contemporary french cuisine with 2 Michelin stars. Needless to say, that did not happen.
Not one to give up easily, I finally had an opportunity to try this restaurant that had been on my mind for so long. I did all my research on the various menu selections, checked the reviews and recommendations, and was ready to go.
We arrived before 6pm. A young looking Asian couple was already standing in the lobby. While waiting, I took the chance to check out the bathroom. It was small, and not the fancy bathroom that I had somehow imagined. In fact, the whole restaurant seemed smaller, less elegant and grand than the images that I had conjured up in my mind based on photos I have seen online. The lobby/hallway area gave me the impression of some Santa Monica art gallery.
My eating companion and I both ordered the “Ten” menu. A server came with a tray of breads, I chose the bacon and the pesto ones. I was surprised by the fact that the breads were not warm, a bit hard actually, and lacking in flavor; surprised because the French is known for having good breads. The waiter came with a complimentary amuse-bouche of a thinly sliced piece of a marinated scallop; it was really just a sliver, the taste was exquisite and fresh. The portion size sort of set the tone for the rest of the meal. Most of the dishes were really one bite or less. Later on during the evening, it did sink into me that this was a “Tasting Menu”.
The second amuse-bouche, grape served 2 ways, one coated with goat cheese and pistachio, and the other on a spoon, was fun to eat. The grape popped inside the mouth, and the flavor was a perfect balance of the sweetness of the grape and the mild creaminess of the cheese. The signature dish, Egg Caviar, soft poached egg with American caviar and crème fraîche was cooked perfectly, but could use a bit more caviar to enhance the flavor even more. Next came a raw Wild Japanese Mackerel with Chrysanthemum, pistachio, black mustard. With mackerel being one of my favorite fish, I wholeheartedly enjoyed the fishy taste of the dish; however, I was thinking that the dish was not very french. The Spring Onion Veloute, and the Green Asparagus in Perigold Reduction were both excellently executed, the asparagus was perfect in form and freshness.
At one point, I had to ask our waitress if the plates can come out faster after each course, since there was about a 10 to 20 minutes interval between each taste. I was getting really hungry after consuming just bits of food for over an hour’s time.
I enjoyed the Santa Barbara Spot Prawn even though I usually don’t eat much prawns nor shrimp. The prawn was crisp and fresh. The Scottish Salmon with fava beans, stinging nettle, nantua sauce was a fish perfectly cooked, tender with subtle flavors. I must say that because of the rather small portions of the previous dishes, I was, blissfully and genuinely, enjoying the Liberty Duck Breast with roasted carrots, white beans. The duck was impeccably prepared, cooked to perfection, and there were more than one piece of duck! Now my stomach was beginning to feel more satisfied.
With cheese being one of my favorite food, especially that of french cheeses, the next course, Fourme d’Ambert was exactly what I needed. The cheese was sublime, creamy and smooth, I wished there were more. As for dessert, I asked the waitress if I could have the Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate, instead of the choices listed on the “Ten” menu. She was nice enough to check for me and told me it was possible. The dessert consisted of a Chocolate mousse, Chocolate soufflé, and Chocolate salted caramel tart. Because all three desserts were of chocolates, I soon found it hard to distinguish among each of the individual taste, but the textures were different enough for me to appreciate each one; and I found myself scoffing up all the creamy soft mousse, and leaving behind a bit of the tart and soufflé. The meal was finished off with a small tray of macarons, canelés, and cookies. The little treats looked delicate and appealing, but I found the textures to be too hard, and the taste lacking in any flavor; this was another surprise to me much like the bread earlier.
Perhaps after so many years of yearning to try this restaurant, perhaps there was too much expectations, perhaps I wanted more than just a small taste of some of the offerings, I left the restaurant feeling a bit sad that I was not completely smitten by the whole experience.
Melisse: 1104 Wilshire Blvd. Santa Monica, CA 90401 Phone: (310) 395-0881