Maude & Gwen

Roll back the clock about eighteen months, if you will. I’m working out at the gym, just a two blocks from my Lower Nob Hill apartment. It’s a small gym, but it’s very often quiet and empty. A few TVs hang from the ceiling by the treadmills and ellipticals, and they’re always muted. On this particular day, as I lift weights a few feet away, I glance up at a TV during a rest and notice a chef making what looks to be cupcakes. (I believe it was the Rachael Ray Show but don’t hold me to it.)

I’m not a cake or cupcake fan at all, and I don’t recognize the chef. Figure he’s just some TV chef shilling a new product. But as the captions roll by on the screen, I learn he’s not just making any cupcakes, but they’re carrot cake cupcakes. And if there’s one type of cake I do like, it’s carrot cake. It’s not dry like most cakes, it’s got some spices working their magic, and of course there’s cream cheese frosting. And the captions explain that the chef makes it for his wife – I believe as a birthday treat.

I continue to work out and, as the segment finishes, I happen to catch his name – Curtis Stone – and learn he’s an LA chef. OK, so that’s interesting. I go home, look up the recipe to add it to my collection, and discover that Curtis Stone has got quite the interesting background. And more importantly, his new LA (Beverly Hills) restaurant, entitled Maude, has a very cool concept. Every month, they pick a seasonal ingredient and build an entire tasting menu around that ingredient. What a novel idea!

Cantaloupe sorbet to cleanse the palate at Gwen.

Cantaloupe sorbet to cleanse the palate at Gwen.

Fast forward about a year, I’m back in LA, and my cousin Tiffani and I happen to be discussing all things food, and Curtis Stone comes up. We decide to check out the menu for Maude. While April’s featured ingredient was the uninteresting (to us) radish, May was garlic. And that got us both excited. A few weeks later, on April 1st, I was on my computer the moment tickets (yes, tickets) went on sale for the month of May. I snagged a table for two for us and the countdown to culinary greatness began.

When the big day arrived, Tiffani headed to me in the afternoon and we walked around the area as we bided our time before the 8:30 reservation. I had purposely stayed away from Maude’s Instagram feed, because I like being surprised by tasting menus. Tiffani had snuck a few peeks, so she knew some of what was coming, but not all.

We walked and were in awe. Cozy and small, with seats for maybe 30? But beautiful and tastefully decorated with vintage pots and cookware adorning the walls, and old culinary artwork framed and placed throughout. From that point on, it was all about the food (and the amazing service). I’ll let the highlights of our meal speak for themselves.

I don't exactly remember what this is and the menu isn't terribly helpful. But it was yummy.

I don’t exactly remember what this is and the menu isn’t terribly helpful. But it was yummy.

A favorite - the nettle soup with corn, bread and corn butter.

A favorite – the nettle soup with corn, bread and corn butter.

Scallop with soy.

Scallop with soy.

My knife selection for the meat course.

My knife selection for the meat course.

Veal tenderloin with fava beans.

Veal tenderloin with fava beans.

Dessert #1 - some type of panna cotta with crunchy deliciousness on top.

Dessert #1 – some type of panna cotta with crunchy deliciousness on top.

A few bites as a final dessert - including housemade takes on After Eight mints, marshmallows, and peppermint patties.

A few bites as a final dessert – including housemade takes on After Eight mints, marshmallows, and peppermint patties.

It was an incredible evening and I learned that night that Tiffani, upon eating the lamb course, was having lamb for the very first time! Very bold of her, but like me, we were basically willing to eat anything that the Maude crew set down in front of us. And it was all delicious.

A few weeks later, I noticed on Eater LA’s Facebook feed that Curtis Stone’s new place, while not open, was now taking reservations. I didn’t even know he had a new place in the works, but learning it was a meat-focused restaurant with an in-house butcher shop, I was all-in. I went on the website, bought two tickets – at the Chef’s Counter, this time – and surprised Tiffani after the transaction had gone through. After all, I hadn’t brought a birthday present to her celebration a few nights before, and I thought this was the perfect gift.

Luckily, the night I chose was one in which she was in town and not during her family’s many summer travels. And again, a fresh countdown of anticipation began.

Our view of the kitchen from the seats at the chef's counter.

Our view of the kitchen from the seats at the chef’s counter.

Despite working in kitchens myself, I always love watching other chefs work. So I take the chef’s counter spots whenever available, and on this night, it was an added bonus. Not only was Chef Richard a few feet from us all night – chatting us up, making conversation, explaining what he was doing – but Curtis Stone was there and we got to talk to him twice. Once as the meal was getting underway, and another as it wrapped up. I didn’t realize it until Tiffani said something afterward, but Curtis Stone was one of her early chef inspirations, back when she first started taking an interest in cooking. So it was an especially exciting evening for her, to meet this idol.

The charcuterie, pate and fresh focaccia to start off the meal.

The charcuterie, pate and fresh focaccia to start off the meal.

Not a big fan of beets, but these roasted, pickled and candied beets were worth eating!

Not a big fan of beets, but these roasted, pickled and candied beets were worth eating!

Chef Curtis Stone works with Chef Richard to get the smoking log ready for cooking sardines.

Chef Curtis Stone works with Chef Richard to get the smoking log ready for cooking sardines.

Chef Richard carefully places sardines on the smoking log.

Chef Richard carefully places sardines on the smoking log.

Huge sardines, cooked right in front of us.

Huge sardines, cooked right in front of us.

Salad course.

Salad course.

The most amazing pasta dish I've ever had.

The most amazing pasta dish I’ve ever had.

My knife selection for the lamb course.

My knife selection for the lamb course.

Lamb three ways - rub, tenderloin, merguez sausage.

Lamb three ways – rub, tenderloin, merguez sausage.

Lamb the fourth way - braised shoulder. With blue lake beans in the background.

Lamb the fourth way – braised shoulder. With blue lake beans in the background.

Sides for the lamb, including creamless creamed corn that was out of this world!

Sides for the lamb, including creamless creamed corn that was out of this world!

Official dessert - panna cotta with meringue and sorbet.

Official dessert – panna cotta with meringue and sorbet.

The beautiful tiramisu brought out as a bonus dessert for my birthday.

The beautiful tiramisu brought out as a bonus dessert for my birthday.

Inside the tiramisu.

Inside the tiramisu.

It’s a little hard to compare Maude and Gwen, as their approaches and styles are very different. But to me, I have to give the edge to Gwen for the better evening. Not that it was a competition, and not that there is any need to do a ranking. But the question is a natural one and, if pressed, I would say Gwen. But both meals were outstanding, and among the best I’ve ever had. But I do love lamb and we had it four ways, plus sitting at the counter watching everyone work, and that tips the scales. If you can make it to either (or both) places, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in the slightest.

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