Seven Courses of Sin. The Outlaw Dinner. Noé Restaurant at the Omni Hotel. Los Angeles, CA... Damn, It Feels Good to be a Gangster.

Thelma: You're a real live outlaw, aren't ya?

J.D.: Well, I may be an outlaw, darlin', but you're the one stealing my heart.

– Scene from Thelma & Louise

Do these cooks look like outlaws?

The end is near. The future is now. And I have seen both. The food fascists and those who are arrogant enough to legislate “what foods are acceptable to eat” are closing in on our consuming choices. The anti-animal protein faction abandoned their impotent sweeping strategy of the evangelical, i.e., screaming to anyone who walks by that “meat is murder”, but like zealots foaming at the mouth, they will not stop threatening our epicurean independence until we develop three more stomach chambers and start chewing cud. So instead, their tactic de rigueur is the surgical strike, blasting away entrée by entrée, delicacy by delicacy, and, potentially, food group by food group until we are essentially embalmed by soy products. Put all of the various foes of food together and you get the slippery slope you hear about all the time; now your refrigerator and pantry have become very slippery places. Ban foie gras here, sous vide illegal there, live lobsters not allowed for sale at supermarkets, wild morels need to be domesticated. Eerily this approach mimics modern warfare where the object is no longer the massive invasion but rather a more precise picking off of particular targets: Culinary assassinations.

Rarely do I venture into Downtown Los Angeles, especially after nightfall. I’ve lived in LA for most of my adult life and have a variety of excuses of why I don’t go there after dark: excuses that span from the skid row undead who rule the town at night to nightmarish visions inspired by the cinematic masterpiece Blade Runner to the fact that there still isn’t much of a downtown nightlife which doesn’t involve conventioneers or crack.

Tonight was different. I was more than willing to go into the bowels of downtown to confront all my downtown, after dark hang-ups just so I could get a taste of the future of dining. Illegal dining. Black market meals. The Outlaw Dinner.

“Nobody tells me what to eat,” I seethed to myself, “Nobody but my mother.” And she would have no problem letting me eat all that promised to be on the night’s tasting menu.

noe sign

As I handed my keys to the valet, I looked up to the third floor of the Omni Hotel Los Angeles towards Noé Restaurant and wondered if what I was about to experience was to be the speakeasies or eateasies of tomorrow, as the case may be. Noé is a sleek, modern place with its alluring lighting design and clean composition. It faces the gleaming California Plaza which has the unique charm of being the end of the line for the legendary funicular railway Angels Flight. The front desk and waitstaff have the manner and appearance of an international utopian space program – multi-cultural, neat, clean, well groomed, professional, pleasant and efficient. The guests in the dining room were not much different from the staff. Many were actually dressed for an evening out. (I’m not talking a pair of True Religions and a t-shirt either.) This place doesn’t reek of the clandestine, back alley, smoke-filled speakeasies of Prohibition decorated with eager showgirls and fueled by illicit ale. I can’t imagine a small army of jack booted Feds raiding an elegant establishment like Noé and roughing up its clientele while a foie gras fighting Eliot Ness flashes his sparkling badge and shouts out everybody’s Miranda rights. We are, however, diners in a brave new world, so anything is possible.

Every speakeasy has a password and an admission price: Tonight’s was “Outlaw Dinner” and ninety-five bucks. Every speakeasy has a specific purpose. At Noé’s Outlaw Dinner, the purpose was to celebrate and to indulge in those foods that will be forbidden, restricted or are already banned in places where the very act of cooking or eating certain foods can be punishable under penalty of law. Although nothing served was illegal in Los Angeles (at least, not yet), the spirit of the evening was still one of delectable defiance.

Outlaw Dinner Chef, Robert Gadsby.

Executive chef Robert Gadsby is the mastermind and the mob boss behind the Outlaw Dinner. Glen Ishii, the chef de cuisine, is his enforcer. This kitchen combo of a culinary Al Capone and Frank Nitti demonstrated to the packed restaurant how very delicious it was to be bad, with the embattled foie gras as the star of the night.

It’s the final countdown for the eradication of foie gras in the City of Chicago. August 22, 2006 is when the Windy City’s controversial foie gras ban goes into effect. So it was only appropriate that foie gras took the stage first. The “Foie Toast Bacon and Eggs” was the modest moniker for this fancy nibble of fatty goose liver snuggled by a strip of smoky serrano bacon atop a stamped out piece of toast. Maybe it was just nostalgia but this dab of foie gras was the best I’ve ever had. But how could I already be looking back on something when it’s still here? I’m overly sentimental that way. To paraphrase Alfred Tennyson: “’Tis better to have eaten foie gras and lost than never to have eaten foie gras at all.” I thanked the goose that produced this dreamy and creamy piece of absolute pleasure. Research has claimed that maltreatment of livestock results in inferior tasting food. If that is the argument, then the goose from which this fatty liver came must have been living quite well.

bacon eggs
First Course: Foie Gras Menu.

Coupling with the “Foie Toast Bacon and Eggs” was a whimsical, pre-dinner dessert: “Foie Gras Bonbons with Pop Rocks”. The chocolate covered round of foie gras crowned with cherry flavored Pop Rocks looked like something out of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Research Institute. And in an odd Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup maneuver, the marriage of chocolate and foie gras actually results in a peanut butter flavor but on the slightly salty side. “Hey, Chef Gadsby, your foie gras fell into my La Maison du Chocolat chocolate! What’s up with that?”

First Course: Foie Gras Menu.

Foie gras’ offense for making it onto the most hated food list is well known, but Pop Rocks has its own notorious past full of gossip and murder. “Mikey”, that ‘70s kid from the Life Cereal commercials who would eat anything, was rumored to have taken his gluttonous reputation too far by ingesting a lethal combination of Pop Rocks and soda pop. The mixture of the two items proved to be explosive and killed John Gilchrist aka “Mikey” by blowing up his stomach. This is why the death-dealing candy was taken off the market in 1983. The Outlaw Dinner’s “Foie Gras Bonbons with Pop Rocks” was paired with champagne, a bubbly beverage, thus making this naughty dessert potentially a very volatile and very deadly endeavor.

If you grew up with that incredibly well-distributed, pre-internet, urban legend about Pop Rocks, then you know by now (hopefully) that it was just a very imaginative tale that possessed enough rationale to make it seem credible. I’m not sure if even Chef Gadsby realized the candy’s sordid past when he used it as a topper. Gadsby’s reasoning for using Pop Rocks was to include an aural dimension to food which is rarely experienced. So was the champagne pairing just a coincidence? Or was he really trying to kill us all and turn us into Soylent Green?!

Second course consisted of the momentarily restricted in Los Angeles, morel mushroom. The morels were gently suspended as a terrine and teamed up with “Sweet Bread Nuggets”. The slurpy morels terrine was the most satisfying slime I’ve ever sucked down. The pork gelatin (I suspect) and the lusty morels succeeded in achieving an optimum flavored terrine – essence of earth and swine – and thereby making this outlaw diner very happy.

terrine nugget
Second Course: Morels Menu.

“Sweet Bread Nuggets.” Sounds like something divine you’d wait in line for at Krispy Kreme, don’t it? Sorry. Sweet bread is euphemism for the thymus organ. But to me thymus organ is just as seductive as an illuminated Krispy Kreme “Hot Now” sign. This ingenious deep fried nugget of organ parts testifies to the fact that anything deep-fried is really, damn tasty.

Third Course: Absinthe Menu and Cocktail.

Before the Outlaw Dinner’s third course I was an absinthe virgin. I’ve heard the wild absinthe stories. I knew of its famous and infamously unstable enthusiasts like Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Hemingway. I learned of its ill effects such as seizures and hallucinations. And of course I was aware of the Green Fairy who has an uncanny resemblance to Kylie Minogue. But like a dumb groupie, I didn’t care. I just wanted to be with absinthe for the first time in my life. I wanted to party with it. Burn down a five star hotel room with it. Go on a hundred-city Monsters of Metal tour with it. I finally surrendered myself to absinthe and it rocked! Some call it liquid crack. It's as wonderful as a chilled shot of Nyquil. I call it lust at first sip, and, for my sanity, I’m glad it’s illegal.

Fourth Course: Hemp Seed Menu.

Naturally what follows a nice, wet smooch from the Green Fairy is hemp seed. “Ceviche of Kampachi with Hemp Togarashi” or Chronic of the Sea as I like to call it. I’m just playing. Hemp and marijuana aren’t the same thing. Sure, they’re both cannabis but the THC (a psychoactive ingredient) level in each is different. The psychoactive content in hemp is substantially small and has virtually no intoxicating effects. THC is what gave hemp such a hard time crossing over to the mainstream. Hemp seeds are a part of the mix of spices used to make the togarashi sauce that flavored the oh-so-buttery, fatty Kampachi (related to yellowtail). Yes, your honor, I’m guilty of gluttony in the first degree. Make my last meal kampachi with hemp togarashi.

sous vide
Fifth Course: Sous Vide Menu.

Sous vide is a cooking technique Jane Jetson would embrace and probably use. It’s like space age cooking with the use of vacuum sealing and plastic bags. But she’d better not be cooking sous vide in Manhattan in the year 2006, otherwise she’d best be ready for a visit from Robocop. Like many other low and slow cooking methods, the point is to retain as much flavor, texture and nutrients as possible. Sous vide is a less forgiving technique than, say, braising, and authorities fear that in the wrong hands sous vide cooking may be a health risk though there hasn’t been any reports of any illnesses resulting from vacuum cooking. The fifth course's sous vide swordfish was unremarkable. The blocks of fish were flash grilled after their sous vide treatment which I felt resulted in a coarse and dry product – isn't that what sous vide shuns? I'm not quite sure what the technique added to the fish but it actually tasted inferior to swordfish I’ve enjoyed in the past cooked by traditional means.

Sixth Course: Unpasteurized Milk/Cheeses Menu.

My family owned and operated a drive-thru dairy back in the late ‘70s. Aside from the easy access to Hostess Sno Balls and beer signage, we could guzzle down as much raw milk as we wanted. My mother encouraged this because she believed in all the health benefits attributed to raw milk and felt raw milk was superior to pasteurized milk. The taste of raw milk was burned into my taste buds thanks to its boldness and supremely creamy texture. The unpasteurized cheeses in the sixth course consisted of a sheep’s milk Camembert, Langres and Spanish Manchego. I am a believer in the notion that raw milk makes a more dynamic tasting cheese, and it was true for all three of these luscious, imported wedges.

Seventh Course: Forbidden Dessert Menu.

Heaven in the seventh course. Chef Gadsby and his outlaw posse started off the dinner with foie gras and concluded with foie gras, bookending the evening in a most decadent way. The entire outlaw dining room washed down the night’s criminal comestibles with a killer foie gras hot chocolate dotted with toasted marshmallows and spiked with volcanic chili. Chef Gadsby thrilled us all night with his culinary mischief and pulled off a final prank with a dainty demitasse of frigid “foie gras hot chocolate” where the “heat” comes from a nice sprinkling of chili powder.

There are many meals I’ll never forget for many different reasons. Chef Gadsby’s Outlaw Dinner is one I shall forever remember because of his intense passion for food, his desire to communicate this passion to food lovers, and his admirable talent for breaking the rules.

“You are remembered for the rules you break.” – Douglas MacArthur.

(The Encore Outlaw Dinner will be served at 7pm on Monday, August 21 - Foie gras will be banned in the City of Chicago the very next day - Location: 676 Restaurant & Bar, Omni Hotel Chicago, 676 N. Michigan Ave., 312.944.7676. $95. Reservations highly recommended. The last one in Chicago was sold out.)


Colleen Cuisine said…
oh dang, you went to this? I'm so jealous. I unfortunately heard about it the same day it was happening and wasn't able to go. Thanks for the great review and photos though - I feel like I was there!!
Anonymous said…
Eddie, Not sure if this is the case for Manchaco, but it actually is legal to import unpasturized cheese into the United States if it's aged more than 60 days. For some reason, I think that Manchaco (because it's semi-soft) is aged 60 days. It's certainly not the case for Camberet (or Brie for that matter), so you can feel secure in your outlaw-ness...
Eddie Lin said…

that would've been so great if we ran into each other at noe. yeah, you would've enjoyed it. well, at least you have pinkberry. freak. ;-)


yes, agreed. actually nothing there was illegal. the raw cheeses were all less than 60 days including the manchaco. even the absinthe was sans wormwood - the illegal component in the green fairy.
Juliet said…
Looks and sounds heavenly! You really do write so well to make me crave foods I have never eaten.

Keep fighting the good fight against the evil food nazis! They must not take away our right to eat freaky!
Juliet said…
Oops. I forgot. I did have sweet bread once when I was 15. At a Middle Eastern restaurant. My dad ordered it, and I had a taste. My dinner was lamb tongue. Yeah, I started young with the "I'll try anything once" attitude. And, obviously, it's genetic.
Eddie Lin said…
hey juliet,

thanks again for stopping by. i will keep up the good fight or at least i won't shut my big mouth.

when i was 15 i'm certain i still thought sweet breads were something more related to hawaiian sweet bread than chest organs. wow, what a tasty combo that would be! the ultimate sweet bread sandwich. i'm gonna make one. thanks for the inspiration.
elmomonster said…
From Thelma and Louise, to The Untouchables, to Tennyson, then Willy Wonka, and even Soylent Green, you've packed this review with more crazy, insane ingredients than your chef did your dinner. I'm dizzy.
Eddie Lin said…

how dare you forget the geto boys' "damn it feels good to be a gangsta"? made famous by the cult film fav "office space". man, that movie always makes me think of orange county, especially south o.c.

i'll forgive you this one time.
Gourmetish said…
That sounds like so much fun. I'm dying to try absinthe! Since I'm a po' gangsta myself, it was great being able to live vicariously through you via your story and photos. Thanks, Eddie!
Anonymous said…
You support the legalization of drugs?
Eddie Lin said…

there is an absinthe loophole like the one the chef used for outlaw dinner. as long as there is no wormwood in the absinthe then all is well. but wormwood is the infamous component that makes the drinker a little loony so absinthe without it may seem hollow. although the one i had at the outlaw dinner was really nice and buzzy. you could always go to europe and drink the real thing.


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