Saturday, October 16, 2010

I Liked It! I Really Liked It!

Kip's, 403 Main Street, El Segundo 310-529-1132

Kip's was favorably reviewed by Richard Foss, in the Easy Reader, and he knows food. Then Kip's put an ad in the paper that Richie saw and cut out -- for the ad said, "French-Country, Cajun-Inspired Good Food!"

It drizzled yesterday, it was a day for comfort food. El Segundo was quiet, as it always is. Kip's is a long, narrow cave of cypress-painted walls, industrial pipe ceiling and dark wooden tables and chairs accented by crisp, white table linens.

Richie ordered a draft Stella, I had a glass of water and we perused the menu. He decided to have the baby beef tenderloin with garlic green beans and fingerling potatoes. ($14.95) He's a fool for green beans. I wanted the three course "Lunch at Kip's" and started off with roasted garlic soup., followed by a Cajun Caesar salad and then grilled BBQ shrimp on Forbidden rice. ($16.50)

We were offered our choice of sourdough or jalapeno sourdough and naturally we went for the hot. It arrived and was warm - from the oven, I thought as I bit into a buttered slice and then, no, nuked and it shouldn't have been. It was soft, not chewy.

We looked around and at 12:20 on a Friday there was a table of four men and us. More people arrived as time went on, but I was too busy eating to count them. It was quite nice with only a few people, a serene atmosphere. The only complaint I've heard about Kip's is that it's really loud at night -- no soundproofing materials. Hey! they could hang Cajun quilts!

The soup was thick --and was basically potatoes and roasted garlic. Richie said, "You can sure taste the garlic!" which is a good thing. It arrived with parmesan shavings strewn across the top. They never had a chance to melt with me -- I scarfed that soup down!

Caesar salad has its own identity -- tossed romaine lettuce and a specific salad dressing. The Cajun version came as traditional but with a slight dusting of what tasted like paprika and cayenne peppers. The lettuce was crispy fresh which it sometimes isn't at other restaurants.

Four, big barbecued shrimp topped the Forbidden rice. The story on the rice -- which is black, by the way -- is that the Emperor loved it and forbade his peasants to eat it. This version tasted sweet and the chef later told me he uses a sesame-chili oil in it. Dots of yellow corn brightened the black of the rice. All of the above was good and I cleaned my plate (a rarity.)

Richie loved the long slivers of his garlic green beans, but the fingerling potatos startled him at their arrival on his plate -- they were purple which threw him off. While I liked the idea of a faint dusting of sea salt on the potato skins, my first impression was: salt! (Not that potatoes are particularly flavorful on their own.) His tenderloin was a beautiful piece of meat, the fat had been trimmed off and it was cooked to exactly rare.

Feeling expansive, I asked about dessert. Owner (with his wife Tammy) Kip Long replied that he does serve dessert at dinner, but ... lunch ... I pointed at the Fig Melba and sighed. I'd really wanted to taste it because Foss went nuts for it. Mr. Long said, "I can make you one!"

"Oh, no. no! Don't go to all that trouble!," I protested. He said, "I can do it..." and smiled teasingly , so I said, 'Gimme!" with a big grin.

Fig Melba should have been called "Essence of Autumn With a Foreshadowing of Winter." It arrived in a piping hot oval baking dish -- a dark syrup that bathed blueberries, strawberries and, of course, the figs (Fall) and a great lump of vanilla ice cream (Winter.) $10 and we shared it, ooohing and awwing the while.

As we were leaving, I asked Mr. Long to please thank the chef for me and he said, "You can meet him and tell him yourself!" I was thrilled -- I'd never met a live chef that had just cooked my meal! Wow!

Chef Johnnie Messina was slim and efficient looking in a black chef's coat. He smiled, we all shook hands and I began my thanks.

We discussed the food-- he said it's brown sugar and water, reduced, for the Fig Melba sauce and that he gently presses the fruit as it cooks so as to release more flavor. I wondered aloud if anyone had ever made a Tabasco reduction and what it would add to the Forbidden rice without the vinegar, Tabasco's primary taste. He laughed and said he'd tried making a Tabasco reduction, but without any protein in the mix, it just didn't work.

I'm enthused about Kip's (obviously) and now I want to go to the Sunday Gospel Brunch, 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Listen to some of the offerings --

Coconut shrimp with sweet and sour ginger marmalade -- three for $8.50; six for $16.
Eggs Creole - two poached eggs on crisp potato pancakes with shrimp-Andouille gravy $16
Cajun Bubble and Squeak - two poached eggs over a potato patty with shrimp hash browns and a chili Hollandaise. $18
I know I'd get an order of Hog Planks - thick, crisp bacon candied in brown sugar and topped with crumbled, roasted hazelnuts. $5

These are all inventive foods with a visceral understanding of what tastes good together. Kudos to Chef Messina.

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