Nov 4, 2006
Football Schmootball. Mushroom Mondays. Nine Thirty Restaurant at the W Los Angeles. Westwood, CA.
Nine Thirty at the W Los Angeles.
It’s fall and it’s Monday night. Yeehaw!! Y’all know what I’m gonna ask! Are you ready for some…mushrooms?!
Hank Williams Jr. and his rowdy friends wouldn’t be caught dead in the restaurant of a chic boutique chain hotel on football night, but thanks to Nine Thirty Restaurant at the W Hotel in Westwood, football isn’t the only option on Monday nights, now mushrooms are too.
Mushroom Mondays is what this fungic evening is dubbed. I’m very pleased that Nine Thirty is having this special night because I am quite fond of the fabulous fungi, the edible, non-toxic variety especially. Although, I’m even keen on one of the potentially poisonous versions like the false morel, if it’s properly cooked so as to render the mushroom harmless yet yummy. False morels are also called brain fungus because the appearance of the mushroom’s cap resembles a wrinkled brain lobe. Or, could it be that it takes some brains to figure out how to eat them without making yourself ill. I don’t know, I’m not that bright.
Screw football. How 'bout some shrooms?
A good example of my lack of smarts can be witnessed through my mushroom gathering skills. Once, as a silly, young lad frolicking through a woodsy area of town, heading to my play date, I happened upon a cluster of woodland mushrooms. I didn’t know a thing about foraging wild mushrooms but was feeling a little snacky. So I got down on all fours to closely examine a bunch of brownish-orange fungi and decided that they looked edible, even friendly. I plucked out the meatiest ones and popped them in my mouth. They were the worst tasting things I had ever eaten. Terribly bitter. So I spat out what I didn’t already swallow and prayed that what I did swallow wouldn’t cause hallucinations like trees chatting me up and trying to grab me or, worse, cause me to keel over on the spot. This experience freaked me out and I learned my lesson: Do not forage for wild mushrooms if I don’t know what I'm doing. Thank you, toadstool, for the lesson.
Not so fast. Apparently poisonous mushroom class wasn't over just yet, not by a long shot. A little bit later I found myself smote with a terrible bellyache that led to frequent trips to the loo and the discharging of some very hazardous waste. Suffice it to say, I never again nibbled on strange mushrooms, especially those that could double as a Smurf’s condo.
This is shelter. Not a snack.
The great thing about Nine Thirty’s Mushroom Mondays is that I don’t have to risk my GI tract for fresh, fragrant fungi. Somebody who knows what he’s doing is gathering the mushrooms and working them into imaginative creations for me. It’s like having my own personal forest gnome who scurries about the woods, wearing his little gnome hat, hunting for mushrooms with the fleshiest shafts and caps and the earthiest and sweetest aromas. He hovers the ground like a truffle hunting Dyson, leaving no stump or bark unferreted. At day’s end his airy satchel brims with an assortment of mushrooms that any mycophagist would cream over. If my gnome makes it back without being devoured by a forest hog-beast, he will then compose the most divine meal, mingling chanterelles or hen of the woods or trumpets of the dead into every plate, every tidbit that is served.
If my gnome were human, his name would be Jack Yoss, the Executive Chef at Nine Thirty. Chef Yoss has some major chops coming from San Francisco’s renowned Postrio. He brings to Nine Thirty a modern flair combined with the farm-to-table freshness in his cuisine.
Wild mushroom soup shot.
My fungi feast started off with a shot. This sort of shot didn’t require me to lick salt off of any part of my or anyone else’s anatomy. It was a shot of wild mushroom soup. This little palette teaser did wonders to arouse my appetite as well as the rest of my senses thanks to the soup’s coffee emulsion. The wild mushroom soup shot tasted like the best and richest of all the cream of mushroom soups I’ve ever experienced concentrated into a small dose. It was intoxicating. What else was in that shot glass, I had to wonder?
Duck confit and black trumpet spring roll.
Black seemed to be the theme of the next mushroom offering. This was the duck confit and black trumpet spring roll served with a black truffle ponzu sauce. This “spring roll”, which is actually more of an egg roll since it’s fried, had a gratifyingly crispy and toothsome texture. It was a hefty and lively roll with lots of sweet duck meat. The intriguing black trumpet mushroom is known by several aliases, e.g. horn of plenty, black chanterelle or, my favorite, trumpets of the dead, and is unmistakable in appearance: horn shaped, thin, leathery, eerie and black as pitch. This dark fungus contributed sweet, earthy notes to the roll. Dip it all into the black truffle ponzu for a nice spectrum of flavors, though I personally could not pinpoint the flavor of the black truffle oil in the ponzu sauce.
Warm chanterelle salad.
The warm chanterelle salad was a tasty tangle of arugula, frisee and chanterelle then topped with a soft poached egg. The vegetable combination created an array of nutty, bitter and gentle peppery flavors. The chanterelles added a bit more pepperiness along with a satisfying meaty texture. The salad was tossed in a sweet dressing which balanced it all nicely.
Pan-roasted hen of the woods mushrooms.
One of my favorites was the pan-roasted hen of the woods mushrooms with crème fraîche, truffle oil atop grilled sourdough. This was a decadent dish designed to take full advantage of the mushrooms robust and nutty flavors. Creamy and sweet, this plate was emptied in seconds.
As an aside, hen of the woods mushrooms is also known in Japanese as Maitake. Some mushrooms have little nutritional value, however, Maitakes have been used in Chinese and Japanese medicine to help boost immune system responses as well as a host of other health benefits including weight loss. Maitake can be found at health stores in capsule, pill, powder and liquid forms. Forget broccoli!
Hon-shimeji mushrooms with foie gras.
The hon-shimeji mushrooms with sautéed foie gras in a Madeira sauce was texturally varied and interesting with the crunchy mushrooms and the dense and creamy foie gras along with the thick sauce. The taste was also as varied. The hon-shimeji’s nuttiness with hints of shellfish and the sweet, salty beefiness of the Madeira sauce came together well. However, disappointing was the vieny, sub par foie gras that was a chore to eat and was more bitter than butter. I'm all for outlawing bad foie gras.
Chanterelle mushroom mac n' cheese.
Finally, the most popular order that night as voted by my table was the chanterelle mushroom mac n’ cheese. Easily dismissable as pretentious comfort food, this hearty selection was explosive in cheese flavor. This plate also had great texture contrast with innovative crispy cheese shards sprinkled on top of the gooey, creamy cheese sauce. And the mushrooms? What mushrooms? The chanterelles were buried in this cheesefest and any inkling of them was hopelessly drowned in the deliciously cheesy bog.
Mushroom Mondays at Nine Thirty Restaurant in the W Hotel Westwood is whimsical and almost magical. I would have loved to see a broader representation of the fungi family like shiitakes, oysters, morels or even a portly porcini. Maybe that’s too much mushroom mayhem for one night. Or maybe Chef Yoss is simply saving that roster for his Mushroom Manic Mondays. 'Cause that'll be my fun day!
Nine Thirty Restaurant
W Los Angeles – Westwood
930 Hilgard Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90024
Mushroom Mondays Menu
Plates: 7$ – $16
Only on Mondays.