I am in love with Chef Dakota Weiss.  More specifically, I am in love with what she’s doing with food.  At her new restaurant, Estrella, on the Sunset Strip, she is blending ingredients that are risky, bold and at times questionable.  When you read the menu, you stop and think, “Really?  Would those things taste good together?”  Then you ponder a little longer and decide "I'm ready, let's try this!"  Not only was the cuisine exceptional,  the cocktails, designed by Gia St. George, were also fantastic.  Weiss’ cooking involves the best senses;  you see, you smell, you taste and then you feel.  She also knows what’s up seasonally and uses that to her ultimate advantage. 

Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n Roll
Altos repasado tequila, mezcal, lime, ginger syrup, rosemary honey and nutmeg
A thrilling tequila cocktail - I loved the mezcal and rosemary facing off with each sip.  I prefer my alcohol to be on the sweeter side, the ginger helped with that, but I loved the edge of the tequila.

Artichoke Guacamole
Oven Dried Heirloom Tomatoes & Tortilla Chips
When I arrived this was already on the table.  I first noticed the shade.  It was a lighter green than traditional guacamole and the deep red tomatoes sat stark in contrast.  With a crisp chip I took a taste.  The artichoke was more present than I expected, and delicious.  I had to slap my own wrist to keep from eating the whole thing before more food came out. 

Sliced Figs, Turkey Chorizo
Pomegranates, Mint, Raw Almonds
This was one of my favorites.  Something that sounded a little strange, but was intoxicating at first bite.  The spicy and sweet combo is always a win for me.  I loaded the the spicy chorizo, juicy fig, and pomegranates on my fork - they smashed together in my mouth and I knew Weiss was onto something...and bravo on the use of the seasonal figs and pomegranates! I would absolutely order this dish again.

Roasted Bone Marrow
Confit Quail, Kabocha Squash Spaetzel and Red Wine-Truffle Jus
Bone Marrow is one of Weiss’ very favorite things on earth, so duh, it’s on her menu!  And when you’ve scraped out ever last bit of marrow, you use the hollow bone as a luge for a shot of sherry! This is an experience not to be missed and could become Estrella's signature.

Hamachi Crudo
Confit Squash, Citrus, Thai Chile, Truffled Pumpkin Seeds
This was my best experience with hamachi ever and I will be craving it often.  The way all of the flavors came together upon each slab of hamachi was delightful.  These ingredients sounded like they were randomly selected out of a hat, but they worked impressively well together.  I especially loved the citrus, spice and crunch.

Honey Fried Chicken, Corn Bread
Yes, yes, yes!  I had great anticipation for this plate!  Honey-fried anything sounds like something I would LOVE.  This batter was light and airy compared to the fried chicken batter I’m accustomed to. It wasn’t as light as a tempura, but almost.  The honey was present, but not overly so. The chicken under the crisp was hot and tender.  This is the only way I want to eat fried chicken now!  

Caramelized Branzino
Wild Mushrooms, Lobster-Egg Yolk Cream, Olives, Carrots
Branzino is such a lovely fish, isn’t it?  It could be prepared numerous ways and always taste amazing.  Weiss’ choice to caramelize it was intriguing.  In my opinion this technique really sealed in moisture that may have escaped otherwise.  The bits of lobster sitting in yolk took this plate a step further across culinary boundaries.  Some could argue it was too much, but I felt the intention of this dish was to be fabulous and what's more fabulous than Branzino and Lobster?  I rest my case.  It wins.

Sweet Potato Pie
Caramelized Carrot-Cream Cheese Ice Cream, Pink Peppercorns, Sage and Cinnamon Cream
OMG. This dessert should win a freaking James Beard Award for best autumn dessert of all time.  I mean really though.  The “pie” was a pillowy stack of sweet and savory pureed and baked potato.  The ice-cream on top was ridiculous - cinnamon spicy, cream cheese tart and so rich and creamy.  It would be impossible to not remember this dessert for the rest of my life.

Cast Iron Skillet seared Honey Pound Cake
Strawberries, Bee Pollen - Avocado Semifredo, Basil
A mesmerizing mix of flavors from glossy honey to matte basil.  This marked my first encounter with bee pollen, at least that I’m aware of.  I didn’t know what to expect with the bee pollen-avocado semifredo, but it was an exceptional contrast to the tart strawberries.  The pound cake soaked up every shade of flavor.

From reading this review I’m sure you get the sense that there is a lot of flavor-play going on in the Estrella kitchen.  It is described to be a Latin American-inspired dining experience, but I think the soul of this restaurant is more expansive than that.  Clearly these flavors are an influence, but they don’t define where Estrella can go.  Make your wish upon her, I dare you! 

 Q & A with Chef Dakota Weiss

FP:  What is the one spice you can't live without?  
DW:  I would have to go with Ceylon Cinnamon.  Most people think of cinnamon as only something served with sweet foods.  I feel cinnamon is great with both sweet and savory foods.  It has such an intense flavor and goes with so many other flavor profiles.  Sometimes you can add just a pinch to a dish for an extra kick.
 
FP:  If you could cook dinner with any chef past or present who would you choose and why?
DW:  Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin.  Although not a true chef but instead an Epicure, a philosopher of food.  His knowledge of food, where it came from, how or what it was made with.  I would love to listen to him talk for hours about food and hospitality. 
 
FP: What is your favorite holiday dish to prepare?
DW:  All-time favorite dish to prepare and eat is a Cheese fondue for Christmas Eve.  My mom has been making the Fondue up until my sister and I were "good enough" to take over the reins.  I like it classic with tons of garlic and sherry.  I love to play around with different items to dip but I always head straight to the bread first.
 
FP: Where do you find menu inspiration?
DW:  Honestly, I find it everywhere!  I believe it starts with the season and what's available at the Farmers Markets. Then once you have an item to work with you start to play around with ideas in your head and at that point it could be a color you love or a song you just listened to that can invoke inspiration.  Sometimes I'll find myself just walking from my office to the kitchen and in that "mental prep" time it will just hit me.  
  
FP: What makes LA a special food city?
DW:  LA is such a great food city.  There are so many great "pockets" all around town and each having their own neighborhood gems.  From Korea Town to Pasadena to Santa Monica.  LA is such a diverse city, we have so many great chefs from all over the world.    We have the best Farmers Markets to get our food from as well as local seafood and meat and dairy providers.

Rating: XXXX

Estrella
8800 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90069  
310.652.6613
www.estrellasunset.com

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