She said, he said about XIV

Birthday Dinner @ XIV

On my birthday this year, the BF treated me to dinner at a place we’ve been meaning to go to for a while: XIV. The last time we tried to dine there, we were unsuccessful because even though their site said they were open that Sunday night, they weren’t. This time, we made reservations to make sure they were open when we got there.

The decor in XIV was the first thing we noticed. There were highly embellished, antiquated looking furniture, but with a post-modern flair like this weird antler chair in the corner by our table. There were also cow-hide armchairs, roaring fireplaces, and ugly modern art. You could say that the decor is eye-catching.

Birthday Dinner @ XIV

The tasting menu at XIV is broken up into three sizes: 8 dishes, 11 dishes, or a whopping 14 dishes. The BF and I decided to do the 8 dish tasting menu just to see what the kitchen could put out. Even though most of the menu is laid out as if the dishes were served tapas-style, we ran into some confusion. XIV has an entirely vegan, separate menu. We thought that, like at AOC, he could pick 4 dishes and then I could pick 4 dishes and then we could share. Oh, if it were only that easy.

Apparently, the way the vegan menu works is like this: one of us picks 8 dishes, and the other will also have 8 dishes of the same kind. So if I chose 8 dishes, he would get 8 vegan dishes corresponding to the dishes I had. Since I was about to let the chef pick what he wanted to send out, this was a hitch in my plan. In the end, I let the BF choose 8 dishes he wanted off the vegan menu, and the kitchen would send out 8 omnivore versions of what he had.

This confusion wouldn’t have existed if they had just called them ‘courses’ instead of dishes. Since we both got our own plates for each version of the dish, it was more like we were sharing 8 of the same courses.  I mostly stuck to my own dishes and he obviously stuck to eating off his dish. Even though ordering was more difficult than we had initially thought, we both decided it was an interesting way to present each course.

Our thoughts on each course after the jump:

Birthday Dinner @ XIV

She said: To start with, we ordered some drinks. The BF got this incredibly savory French wine, and I ordered a caipirinha which was simple and refreshing.

Birthday Dinner @ XIV

She said: Heirloom beet salad with burrata. I’ve had it up here with beet salad, but I even I have to admit the beets in this salad were terrific. Flavorful, just enough bite, and just the right amount. The dressing was well balanced. A small dollop of burrata, a piece of beet, and a wipe of dressing made a very pleasing bite of food.

He said: I thought the beet salad was great — a cut above most of the many beet salads I’ve had in the past year or two. The beets were perfectly cooked, the dressing flavorful, and the presentation beautiful. The olive oil and wild arugula were perfect accompaniments. A simple dish, well executed, can impress even the most jaded palate. This was an auspicious beginning to the meal.

Birthday Dinner @ XIV

She said: This was a cheesy risotto. The sharp, but creamy flavor of the cheese overpowered most of the asparagus taste in this asparagus risotto. I think there was also some foam on top, which I didn’t care for. The risotto was cooked to a decent texture that wasn’t too al dente, but also not complete glue either. It was like a cheesy flavor explosion in my mouth. I liked it.

He said: Foam is so 3 years ago, and I didn’t think it added anything to the dish. That being said, I thought this was one of the better restaurant risottos I’ve had. It was light-tasting and slightly acidic. The asparagus flavor was subtle, and not at all overpowering, and the rice was cooked about the right amount.

Birthday Dinner @ XIV

She said: The BF had ordered the pine nut terrine and the omnivore version of this was supposed to be foie gras, but I had mentioned to the waiter that I didn’t want foie gras. They brought me salad for this course instead. The salad was pretty ordinary as far as salads go, but the dressing was good and tangy and the shaved pieces of cheese on top were a much appreciated touch. The salad definitely isn’t as decadent as foie gras, but not a bad salad overall.

He said: I had the pine nut terrine which was served with a rhubarb mixture and some crispy flatbread. I had expected something more along the lines of a layered terrine. I didn’t quite see how all the ingredients fit together, but it seemed clear that they were supposed to be combined. The other components weren’t a completely harmonious combination, but they did liven up the pine nut terrine, which was a little plain by itself. Another review mentioned an earlier version of this dish as being a playful twist on “peanut butter and jelly.” I don’t know if that was intentional, and I didn’t think of it at the time, but it’s an interesting way to think about this dish.

By this point, I was feeling pretty good about the meal — all of the first three courses were fairly well thought out, and despite being a little put off by the concept at first, it felt really nice to be “sharing the experience” of my non-vegetarian dining companion.

Birthday Dinner @ XIV

She said: I was pretty curious about this Japanese mountain caviar. The caviar itself, which I think was some sort of eggplant seed, was kind of a let down. It had the slippery, ball-like texture of caviar, but not that much taste. I was more wowed by the small circles of food it sat on: a potato hash brown thing, and what I think is an egg. It was like a deconstructed breakfast. A delicious, deconstructed breakfast.

He said: The vegan version of the Japanese mountain “caviar” dish was one that fell flat for me. Not only was the presentation lacking, but the dish was also awkward to eat — the “caviar” had no form, and was almost impossible to pick up with a fork. Essentially, they took out the non-vegan components of the original dish, but didn’t replace them with anything; there was just nothing to this dish. While I’m so over the “round stack” style of presentation used for the non-vegan version, this was even worse. With a little more imagination, they could have replicated the idea of the other dish by making a small vegan potato pancake and using a nut-type cream similar to the the one they used for the terrine.

Birthday Dinner @ XIV

She said: If I remember correctly, this was tai snapper. It was battered with tapioca flour and fried, which made an interesting combination not unlike fish and chips. The batter was crunchy and solid while the fish inside was moist and flavorful. The piece I had was too large to eat in one bite, but too tough to cut with the side of my fork. I wish they had given me a knife for this dish. The sauce on the broccoli rabe was reminiscent of the salad dressing sushi places use on their salads, but made better with some zesty ginger. Because of the ginger, the entire dish tasted very Asian.

He said: I think the menu mentioned “charred” broccoli rabe. It didn’t seem charred at all, but it was delicious and well seasoned, though maybe a little on the salty side. I believe the seasoning was Asian-inspired. There was some sort of starchy croquette underneath, which was pleasant, and provided an interesting textural counterpart. I really liked eating this dish, but it did seem like another case where they basically just took the meat out, so conceptually, I found it maybe a little lacking.

Birthday Dinner @ XIV

She said: Next came the Alaskan halibut, which was a little more tender. The green sauce which I assume was made from peas complemented the otherwise bland fish nicely. I don’t remember seeing any morels in my dish, which was disappointing. Maybe the morels were used to make the sauce on the gnocchi like pieces of cavatelli because those were mouth-wateringly flavorful. I didn’t even mind that they were over-salted. The savory mushroom flavor was extraordinary.

He said: I was excited that they still had such a spring-inspired dish, though nervous because I had been told that pea season was already over. When the dish came out, my first thought was “Veg-All”. I was somewhat disappointed by the carrots and peas — I’m sure the peas were fresh, but they didn’t have the taste of fresh-from-the-vine peas, and they didn’t seem to have any oil on them, so they looked a little dry. The carrots didn’t do a whole lot for me either. The morels were delicious, and perfectly cooked and seasoned, but there were only a few small pieces in the whole dish. I know morels are expensive and require a lot of preparation, but given that the dish was small and contained no meat or fish, I feel like XIV could have thrown a couple more in. The single pea shoot did taste nice.

Birthday Dinner @ XIV

She said: My favorite course of the night was this tender, juicy rib-eye. It was seasoned perfectly, a stunningly pink medium rare, and melt-in-your-mouth tender. Combined with the mashed potatoes and cipollini, they were definitely heavenly. I could just order an entree size of this and be happy.

He said: I’d have to look at the menu again, but I don’t remember ordering this one at all. I believe it was roasted cipolini onions along with some sort of Japanese mushroom. The onions didn’t do a lot for me, but the mushrooms were good. Another “hold the meat” dish that didn’t quite stand up on its own.

Birthday Dinner @ XIV

She said: Yes! More meat! The pieces of beef on this plate were flavored the same way as the previous plate, but not as tender, which I assume points to it being a different cut. The menu says it was crispy bone marrow, but it didn’t taste like any bone marrow I’ve ever had. If I hadn’t had such a fantastic bite of meat previously, I would have thought these were pretty good as well. I didn’t much care for the beef tortellini. It wasn’t that it was bad, but the filling just reminded me of generic beef stew. The wrapper was also a strange, gummy texture. I did like the mysterious, crunchy vegetables on this dish. I think they might have been celery root?

He said: The bland vegetables on the end seemed like kind of an afterthought, but the mushroom tortellini were the star of this dish. The wrappers had an odd flavor, and were kind of doughy, like frozen wonton skins. The filling was delicious and savory, and had a nice texture. By this point, I was wishing we had gone for the 11 course meal, but instead, it was time for dessert.

Birthday Dinner @ XIV

He said: When the gf went to powder her nose, I had asked the waiter if there was something they could put a candle in for her birthday. The waiter said that actually, they had an “edible candle”. Curious to see what that would be like, I told him that sounded perfect. Trying not to give away the surprise, I watched them light the “candle” with a large pastry torch, cover it with a glass lantern, and carry it over to the table.

She said: I was so confused when the waiter put this plate with a candle on it down in front of me. I almost blurted out, “You got me a candle?” The waiter assured me the entire candle was edible. How weird, but cool! This definitely beat out the generic slice of cake with a candle in it. The edible candle was delicious down to the half-burnt wick. It was strawberry gel and cream inside a hard white-chocolate-like shell. What a unique but delicious way to celebrate a birthday.

Birthday Dinner @ XIV

He said: I had to order at least one of the vegan dessert options on the menu. Of the three options, my choice was clear – the brandied bananas with vanilla sorbet. The dish was served with toffee, nuts, and some chocolate syrup. The presentation was very artful and modern. The vanilla sorbet was not especially subtle, but was quite tasty. The brandied bananas were good, but somehow I’d imagined something a little warmer and more comforting. For sheer sugar shock and gooey richness, I prefer the somewhat less subtle “Bananas Foster Split” at Madeline Bistro, but compared to the vegan dessert options at most restaurants (sorbet, fresh fruit), this was a great way to end the meal, and quite in keeping with the style of the place.

She said: I’m glad we finally had dinner at XIV. After the initial menu confusion, everything did seem to work itself out, just as the waiter promised. My side of the meal was pleasant and delicious overall, but I wished that dinner was more exciting and consistent for the BF. A few of his dishes seemed like mere afterthoughts while others, like the risotto were more complete.

It looks like we’re planning to return at a different time though, because after our meals were done, the BF was still looking lustfully at the mushroom burgers which were coming out of the kitchen.

He said: Overall, I was very impressed with my first visit to XIV. The vegetarian and vegan menu items are generally well thought out, and the quality of the food was good. Minor quibbles: some of the dishes were ever so slightly over salted, the timing of courses seemed a little erratic, and a few of the vegan dishes really needed a little more substance, or a less literal “translation” from the non-vegan version. The stronger vegan dishes seem to come early on (maybe because so many of the appetizers are veggie friendly to start with), and I thought this took away from the overall experience.

8117 Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles CA 90046
(323) 656-1414

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