Gaga For Garlic! Chaya Venice's Garlic Fair 2011 - August 1 to 31. Chaya Venice. Venice, CA.
The House of Stink!
"Shallots are for babies; Onions are for men; Garlic is for heroes." - Unknown.
I love nothing better than a meal you can taste hours, maybe even days, after eating it. It's like a gift that keeps on giving. A flavor that keeps on lingering. An odor that keeps on odoring. There's no more assured way to achieve this sort of meal than to cook everything with garlic — that sweet, spicy and, of course, stinky fruit of the gods — and plenty of it. That's what Chaya Venice is attempting this entire month of August.
The Venice branch of the Chaya Family of restaurants is mostly favored for its menu of international fusion, sushi and creative seafood items. A sexy, contemporary restaurant with a spirit of classic fine dining, Chaya Venice is a one-size fits all occasions location where you have the options of an all night happy hour in the "meet market" lounge, the frenetic sushi bar or a sophisticated, airy and fairly formal main dining room. At the corner of Navy and Main in Downtown Venice Beach, it's a perfect match of clientele and venue, beautiful people and fashionable food. But for the month of August, things are gonna get a little pungent.
From August 1 to 31, Chaya Venice will go gaga for garlic and feature their special Garlic Fair menu. Chaya's Garlic Fair used to be a regular occurrence but was halted for a while (perhaps to air the place out). Now, as they say in Mr. Announcer voice, it's back for a limited time only!!
Garlic is a pal of mine. In fact, it's one of my Facebook friends. But, you know sometimes when you have that one friend who nobody can stand to be around, so you can only hang out alone together. Garlic might be that friend. But, if used cleverly, garlic can be worked into just about anything, even ice cream, and not be offensive.
Light on the garlic.
I prefer my garlic strong like my women. But, not all diners feel the same about the beautiful, biting bulb. Therefore, some of the dishes are more nuanced than something you might order at The Stinking Rose, let's say.
The chill out bowl of Momotaro Tomato & Watermelon Gazpacho with dabs of Burrata Cheese, a trio of watermelon balls and emerald droplets of Basil Garlic Olive Oil started this garlic feast in a revitalizing way and was an example of the light garlic touch that would define many of the plates.
Cream o' garlic!
Truffle Cream, Garlic Olive Oil & Crostini. Need I say more? This rich, smooth spread was the best thing I've ever put on a crusty piece of anything. Sweet, savory, silky with a dominant garlic profile, this cream had the kind of flavors I was anticipating coming to the Chaya Venice Garlic Fair.
Eat your ice cream, then you get veggies!
A singular salad, the Heirloom Tomato & Garlic Ice Cream Forme D'Ambert Cheese is loaded with quality tomatoes and tons of flavor. The impetuously strong cheese, however, upstages any garlic notes. The garlic ice cream was an interesting component on its own. A single cone of that would've been genius.
Chaya being an internationally inspired restaurant, it was only natural to see a Roasted Garlic Hummus with Pita Bread brought to the table. Although full of deep flavors of garlic and tahini, this basically basic hummus was less viscous than most.
Melts and fumes in your mouth!
Some juicy Baked Scallops in Garlic Herb Butter on Smashed Purple Potato were welcome simply because of the scallops. Once again, it was a flavorful and rich appetizer but subtle in garlic.
Loaded with Vitamin G!
Garlic and shrimp is a coupling that should get the blessing of any garlic lover. Chaya's Garlic Shrimp was a buttery delight filled with snappy shrimp and a nice dose of Vitamin G.
Mussel in on this!
Moving on to the mains (yes, we're only now getting to the entrées), a platter of muscular mussels suitable for the muscle bound body builders on Muscle Beach was set on the table. These Pan Steamed Mussels in Aji Amarillo Butter Sauce were massive and pregnant with the zesty, spicy flavors of the garlic broth. I've never enjoyed such huge mussels, and I mean that in a strictly seafood connoisseur way. This platter was the winner of the night. As always, you need to soak up all that concentrated flavor with some bread.
Want stinky fries with that?
Transforming the mussels into a moules-frites was a nifty mini fryer basket sprouting out Garlic Fries. Hot, crispy and...how do I describe it? Ah, yes, garlicky!
King Salmon & Prince Garlic.
Chaya really does do seafood well which is what I love about the Venice branch. A Sautéed King Salmon with Garlic Brown Rice Pilaf, Steamed Asparugus, Bok Choy and Sweet Soy Sauce featured a healthful, tasty and fresh slab of salmon, nicely sautéed and succulent with a little bit of Western and Asian flavors. The rice pilaf was the main garlic actor with delightfully fluffy texture.
Gotta plug your blue nose to eat this sea bass.
Another delicious fish dish: a Sautéed Blue Nose Sea Bass with Green Garlic Risotto and Maitake Mushroom Tempura was ever so delicate and moist. The garlic risotto rounded out the flavors and textures beautifully. Creamy, slightly pungent and sweet, it was a fulfilling dish.
Reinterpretation or misinterpretation?
Neither suki nor yaki, the Garlic Short Rib "Sukiyaki" Hot Pot was an interesting reworking of Japanese sukiyaki which is traditionally a hot pot where you'd boil meat slices and vegetables in a flavored broth. Served with a nice scoop of Sticky Rice, Cipollini Onion, Broccolini, Fingerling Potato and Organic Carrots, this special garlic item was a dud on a couple of levels: not much in the way of garlic flavor and not much of a hot pot. It's like announcing a bowl of cioppino and leaving out the savory, spirited seafood broth and substituting some of the key ingredients for others. The block of meat was tender enough but, when you prepare your mouth and stomach for soup and thinly sliced beef, it's just too much disconnect.
Like some meat with your garlic, sir?
...38, 39, 40! Whew, that's a lot of garlic cloves! Riffin' on the 40 clove garlic chicken recipe, Chaya decided to go with a nice juicy Grilled Rib Eye Steak to stack all that heavenly pungency upon. The supremely seared steak, tender and moist, mobbed with a sauce fortified by a roasted garlic army 40 cloves strong, delivered a sweet and pungent overall flavor. When I first read the description, my eyes widened with awe and anticipation for the garlic onslaught that would surely penetrate every fiber of my being for days, months, perhaps, decades. Instead, the roasting of the cloves took the teeth out of much of this notorious band of 40 and turned them into a pleasant layer of garlic flavor that didn't overwhelm nor whimper.
For all the garlic lovers in the house, I'll leave you with this...
“Without garlic I simply would not care to live.” — Louis Diat (1885-1958)
Like sand in an hour glass, the time to live this garlic feast is running out. Chaya Venice's Garlic Fair goes until August 31, 2011.
Um, does anyone have a mint or two? Maybe forty?
110 Navy Street
Venice, CA 90291-2553
Open Weekdays 11:30am-2:30pm, 6pm-11pm