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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

One Writer's Wolvesmouth Dream

Annie Lloyd |
November 8, 2013 | 11:39 a.m. PST

Staff Reporter

The first course of the evening was ribeye cap, tempuraed broccoli, tostones, broccoli stalk slaw (Annie Lloyd / Neon Tommy).
The first course of the evening was ribeye cap, tempuraed broccoli, tostones, broccoli stalk slaw (Annie Lloyd / Neon Tommy).
Start any conversation with a food-obsessed Angeleno and the conversation will naturally reach Wolvesmouth.

Craig Thornton and his hair’s private dining experience boasts the toughest reservation in Los Angeles. Thousands of people request to eat at his dinners and the curated guest list means timely emails don’t provide any advantage. All a person can do is describe him or herself in an interesting enough way to pique the Wolvesmouth crew’s interest. The difficulty is worth it — he officially entered the world of celebrity chefs last year when The New Yorker did a profile of him and his “secret supper club.” 

Despite this high-cult status, Craig Thornton creates a remarkably casual and friendly ambience during his dinner parties. The night begins after calling a specific number and following one of his sous chefs up to his loft. Plants line the open-air hallways and start creating an atmosphere of casual coolness. This experience solidifies upon crossing through the doorway into his apartment. Taxidermied animals occupy the edges of the room and haunting paintings cover the walls. Smoke permeates the air, providing an immersive feeling of the elaborate cooking going on in the kitchen. The guests drink from communal bottles of wine (the perks of BYOB) while introducing each other and reveling in the shared mystery. A woman from Santa Barbara chats with a man who’s managed to come back to Wolvesmouth for a return visit. A Silver Lake couple tells their frustrating story of finally getting in. Outside identities fade away in favor of becoming a 20-person unit ready to bond while eating for the next three hours.

But enough about the set-up. Let’s get down to the real reason we’re all here: the food.

A minimalist hand-written menu attempts to prepare the guests for the meal to come. Those efforts prove fruitless once we come face-to-face—or perhaps hand to mouth?—with the first course. A slice of ribeye cap grounds a course with a tempura broccoli, broccoli stalk slaw, tostones, a dried cherry, a finger lime and a coconut sauce. The meltingly tender steak has the most perfect deep pink color. In a current LA fraught with anti-meat crusades, the care and delicacy of the steak offers a refreshing (and mouth-watering) change. The soft yet crisp texture of the tempura broccoli elevates it to another level. 

The guests eat the first course with voracious speed and the hands of Thornton’s helpers are quick to swoop in and clear the plates (a pattern that will continue throughout the night). 

The second course offers a stark contrast to what everyone just tasted. The most exquisitely spiced butternut squash soup serves as the bed for crab, apple and a brussels sprout. The soup comes out at the right temperature, a feat in and of itself. It had cooled enough for everyone to promptly dig in but had retained enough warmth to feel like the fall comfort it was. 

Course number three comes after a longer wait time (and everyone was grateful to move around in anticipation of even more eating). A square of halibut sits in the middle of the plate flanked by two mascarpone onion jam profiteroles. Yellow wax beans, a snap pea, lemon jelly and romaine aioli finish off the course. Having the jelly and aioli of course necessitates doing every sort of combination (winner = jelly on halibut). 

Up next comes a rabbit croquette, a sopapilla, romano bean and hooks cheddar cheese resting in a poblano, sunchoke and apple puree. The warm and spicy rabbit is a welcome, earthy contrast to the strong lemon of the previous dish. The sopapilla is an unexpected addition because of its apparent sweet simplicity, but the texture of the dough and the cinnamon-sugar coating make for a perfect complement to the puree underneath. 

The fifth course stands out as the most visually appealing. Pork belly sits on top of roasted potato slices, crunchy almonds and blue lake beans. The star of the dish comes in the form of a deep-gray squid ink aioli. Its stark color contrasts against the white plate and the other color accents to create a mesmerizing effect. The gelatinous pork belly takes to the aioli in a way that highlights the salty murkiness of squid ink without overshadowing the flavor of the pork. 

The sixth course should actually be called the "Why-Does-Anyone-Ever-Eat-Anything-But-Squash-Blossoms" course. While the dish’s main component consists of both cooked and ceviche’d shrimp (delightful in their own right), the squash blossom steals the show. Simultaneously chewy and crispy, the perfectly seasoned blossom offers a savory revelation. That isn’t to undermine the rest of the course, however. Fried tortilla balls nestle in a pool of smooth chipotle sauce along with cotija and avocado. 

If there’s ever a time to call food "postmodern," it’s when discussing the seventh and final non-dessert dish of the evening. Fried quail stands on a layer of deviled-egg puree. Slightly pickled beets surround the quail and purple beet juice outlines the yellow puree. A mixture of pinquito beans, candied peanuts and corn nuts rest between the two quail legs. The southern comfort food—and classic convenience store snack—joined forces with the still-slightly-sweet beets to create an exciting contrast of flavor notes. The quail itself is also fried to perfection. The crisp skin contains small bites of juicy and tender bird.

Course eight brings everyone into dessert mode. Up first comes a bruléed crêpe oozing with caramelized sugar. Underneath, pear skin sorbet, poached pear, and buttermilk panna cotta give fresh flavors and a subdued sweetness in contrast to the crêpe. Cutting into the crêpe also provides a new experience each time—depending on how much crisp sugar in the bite, it could vary from silky smooth to crunchy sweet. The caramelized sugar retains just enough graininess to elevate it from byproduct to main player in the deliciousness of the dish. 

The final course takes a different direction from the first dessert. Black steamed sesame cake, olive oil parfait, and almond crisps sit atop dollops of a green tea cream. The cake’s light and airy texture differ from the cold, rough experience of the parfait. The nutty sweetness of the almond crisps rounds out the course’s variety of flavors.

When the meal ends, a sense of bittersweet feeling descends on the table. One of the best meals each guest has ever tasted now exists solely as a memory. The conversation becomes less communal as we put our donations in the mouth of the crocodile on the table. People crack jokes about joining the dinner following ours: a mere hope in the face of going back to the world of incomparable food. 

Reach Staff Reporter Annie Lloyd here; follow her on Twitter here.

Correction 11/11: The writer corrected the spelling of Craig Thornton's name throughout and adjusted some ingredient descriptions.



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