Los Angeles Times’s co-critics dropped two reviews the day before Thanksgiving. Bill Addison took a microscope to Beverly Hills’s high-end tasting menu restaurant Somni, while Patricia Escárcega studied Sawtelle’s brothless ramen spot Mogu Mogu.
Addison clearly appreciates José Andrés’s Somni, where former Saam chef Aitor Zabala prepares a 20-course meal for 10 people. Both chefs developed Somni together, and the menu — without beverages — is $280 per person.
Addison is well-versed in sampling Zabala and Andrés’s food, where he tried dishes at D.C.’s Minibar and é in Las Vegas. But he considers Somni the best of the three. Somni translates to “dream” in Catalan, a word that Addison uses to describe the interior.
“Pendant lights dangle directly over each of the restaurant’s 10 counter seats. A spotlight shines on every diner. No fourth wall exists here. The Somni experience is a tightly scripted, directed and choreographed performance; an acting coach trained the opening team.”
Addison finds the menu “blurs the line between whimsy and academia, between applied theory and cheeky cleverness.” Zabala’s pizza margherita is made from powdered egg whites, tomato water, and dolloped with a mozzarella mousse. Addison seems grateful when spot prawns arrive at the table:
“I love when Zabala gets his hands on Santa Barbara spot prawns; he serves them unadorned and cooked to a precise snap. It’s a reprieve from the pyrotechnics, and it puts the wizardry that comes before and after into sharp relief.”
Escárcega dove into Sawtelle’s Ramen Row, where Mogu Mogu opened in April this year. The “spartan but cheerful dining room” is where owner Tomohiro Wada’s team produces a brothless ramen called mazemen, also known as “mixed noodles.”
Staff carefully guide diners:
“The house protocol is to stir the noodles for 30 seconds, blending all the toppings until they emulsify into sauce. On every table there are jars of vinegar flavored with ragged strips of red chile; about one-third through the bowl, Wada recommends anointing the noodles with the lightly spiced vinegar for a reviving whomp of umami flavor.”
The kitchen plays with toppings, “especially those that might be diluted or lost in a hot soup.”
“So there is cheese mazemen, noodles layered with minced pork, two wobbly onsen eggs, ample Jack cheese and ringlets of scallions. Like most bowls, it’s furnished with strips of nori and a hummock of blended fish powder. Stir it thoroughly and the dish turns fragrant and creamy, with salty, garlicky contours. Someone at the table will probably compare it to a Carbonara sauce.”