Ahi Tuna Tartare
8117 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles
We visited XIV Wednesday @ 9 pm
Dish we will try to cook – Ahi Tuna Tartare $19
With the opening of XIV (pronounced 14) in October of 2008, Chef Michael Mina added the fourteenth restaurant to his already impressive empire. Now, he is up to seventeen restaurants: one in Arizona, Florida, New Jersey and Washington D.C., seven in California, two is Michigan, and five in Nevada. With careful attention paid not only to the food, but to the decor as well, XIV is the epitome of fine dining on the Sunset Strip. Located on Sunset at the corner of Crescent Heights, this is the place to see and be seen.
While this blog is our review on XIV, it is interesting to read about Chef Mina on his website. Together with partner Andre Agassi, Mina formed the Mina Group in 2002 and began collecting numerous top rankings and rave reviews including the James Beard Award for Best California Chef. Before heading to one of his restaurants, we encourage you to take the time to read a little about him and his work.
Mina worked for five years with famed New Design style designer Philippe Starck on the interior of XIV. Starck has designed many restaurants in LA, including Katsuya and The Bazaar at SLS Hotel. We describe the interior of XIV as over the top expensive yet inviting and comfortable. You feel like you’re walking into to a club with loud, thumping music being pumped throughout the space. The walls are lined with books on bookshelves reminiscent of a library. In the center of all the books sits a huge fireplace adorned with Corinthian style marble pillars on each side and large framed pieces of artwork and gilded mirrors dispersed among the bookshelves. The restaurant itself is massive, holding 190 people and each table is leather topped with mismatching chairs. Two large chandeliers hang above the long bar, just past the entrance area.
We were about 5 minutes late for our reservation, and had to wait about 30 minutes on top of that to be seated. Apparently we were visiting on a very busy night. After complaining and threatening to walk out, we were given complimentary glasses of champagne, which convinced us to stay. Once seated at our table, the waitress was super friendly and accommodating. We chose the ahi tuna tartare (ancho chile, pears, mint, pine nuts, sesame oil) as our starter, braised lamb tagine (saffron couscous, almonds, dates, vadouvan lamb jus) and oak grilled “hanger steak” (duck fat frites, braised mushrooms, bone marrow, bordelaise sauce) for the main course dishes and decided on the XIV candy bar (malt ice cream, bittersweet brownie, whiskey caramel) for dessert.
Instead of serving the typical bread basket, we were served naan with feta cheese and greek yogurt. We especially enjoyed being served with two plates of the appetizer so we didn’t have to share. The naan was excellent and the feta was creamy, with a slight bitter aftertaste from the yogurt.
The ahi tuna tartare is served tableside with the quail egg sitting atop a tower of diced tuna in the center of the plate. In each of the four corners surrounding the tuna sits diced pears, chopped chilies, pine nuts and four slices of toasted bread, crust removed. Oil is drizzled in a spiral around the plate. Mint is the final garnish to the dish. The server then scoops the quail egg from the tuna tower and mixes it with the pears, chilies and pine nuts before combining the mixture with the tuna. (The picture we show are the top of the blog is before they assembled the dish for eating). We both loved this dish. It was a little bit sweet from the pears, a little spicy from the chilies, a little salty from the sesame oil and a little crunchy from the pine nuts.
Quickly following the appetizer, we were served the braised lamb and hanger steak courses. Both dishes were expertly done, of course, with special attention paid to all the little details. We were pleasantly surprised by how down to earth the food was. Sitting in such an opulent atmosphere, we half expected to be served bite size morsels of food that was overly fussy and still feel hungry when we left. But these dishes were inviting and filling. The lamb was tender, no knife needed. Moroccan in flavor, the lamb was accompanied by pearl onions, diced dates and salted almond slivers. The braise was a bit sweet and we also tasted cumin in the sauce. Reminiscent of a beef stew, but taken up a several, several notches. We were just as satisfied with the steak, ordered rare, which was nicely seasoned. The mushrooms was our favorite part about this dish, while we wish the duck fat frites would have had a bit more flavor. We really couldn’t taste them much at all. The bordelaise sauce was a balanced sweetness to the savory of the beef and richness of mushrooms.
To finish out the evening, we thought it appropriate to have the XIV candy bar for dessert. We were so impressed by the first two courses, but not as much with the third. While the dish satisfied our craving for something sweet, we weren’t wowed by the dish. We ordered the candy bar over the other offerings mainly for the whiskey caramel sauce and couldn’t help but compare it to the Commander’s Palace creole bread pudding soufflé with warm whiskey cream. XIV could have been much more heavy handed with the whiskey in the sauce for our liking.
We’re not typically super impressed by the overly crowded, overly priced restaurants on the sunset strip, but XIV is one in which the food more than fits the price and makes the hassle of Hollywood worth the drive. And of course, it is always fun to people watch, especially in such a comfortable dining atmosphere. The parking can be a bit of a pain, if you’re dining after 10pm you have to valet the car but before 10pm you can try to find street parking. We also recommend making a reservation and being on time. But once you deal with those two matters, we’ll guarantee you an evening in Hollywood that you’ll want to repeat again and again. There are different menus depending on if you are visiting for dinner, a fixed priced dinner or a patio menu if you’re there more for the drinks and just want a little food to go along with it. And lets not forget the food, it refuses to be over shadowed by the décor and hype. So really, Michael Mina did think of everything.
(prices reflect the cost of the package, not the portion we used.) The rest of the ingredients we already had in the kitchen.
White Bread $4.99
Asian Pear $2.99
Sesame Oil $3.69
Green Anaheim Pepper $.66
Fresno Chili Pepper $.10
Ancho Chili Pepper, ground $2.59
Santa Monica Seafood Market
Ahi Tuna, yellow fin (1 steak) $16.04
Safe & Save Market
Quail Egg, one dozen $1.59
Below is our take on Michael Mina’s ahi tuna tartare. While we have no idea exactly how he prepares his, we looked online at recipes and then combined that knowledge with the flavors we tasted in the original dish and went from there.
Makes 1 appetizer plate, about 2 servings.
Ahi Tuna Tartar
3/4 lb Sushi Grade Ahi Tuna
1 TBSP Pine Nuts
1 Anaheim chili
1 red Fresno chili
1 bunch Mint
2 slices white bread
1 quail yolk
Pinch ancho chili powder
1 Asian pear
Sea salt and black pepper
Hardware: 2 1/2” ring
Deseed and brunoise Anaheim and Fresno chili. Next, peel pear and brunoise. Cut the crust from the bread, making the bread a perfect square. Cut the bread diagonally and toast lightly. Next, chiffonade the mint. Separate yolk of quail egg from egg white. Finely dice tuna into 1/4 inch cubes. Lightly drizzle tuna with sesame oil and mix together.
In the center of a large plate, use a 2.5 cylinder to make a tower of ahi tuna. Place yolk of quail egg on top of tower. Around the four corners of the plate, place the pieces of toasted bread, a serving of pine nuts, small serving of chilies, and serving of diced pears. Sprinkle ancho chili pepper over entire surface and add a bit of chopped mint. Finish by drizzling sesame oil in a spiral motion from the tuna tower to the rim of the plate. Once you’ve served the dish tableside, scoop the egg yolk from the tuna and mix with the pear, chilies and pine nuts. Combine this mixture with the tuna and mix well, incorporating the sesame oil, ancho chili pepper and mint. Once well mixed, create a triangle out of the ahi tuna tartare and enjoy.
Above shows finished plate ready for eating.
Rating- We give our dish 3.5 out of 5 stars.
The true secret to this dish is using fresh, quality ingredients. It took us several stores to find all the components but once we had them, creating the ahi tuna tartare is rather quick. Obviously, no cooking is required, just a lot of chopping.
The two areas we feel were a little off from the original XIV version are the type of pear used and the sesame oil. We weren’t sure exactly what type of pear was in their dish, but since ours tastes about the same, we may have used the right one. Once we plated out tartare, we realized they must have used a toasted sesame oil instead of a regular sesame oil since theirs was darker in color. We also feel we should have bought a bottle to drizzle the oil, which would have allowed the oil to spiral rather than run all over the plate.
Other than that, we feel our plate matches theirs rather closely and is a success. Ahi tuna tartar might be on the pricier end of appetizers to serve guest, but would definitely make an impression. We look forward to using this recipe at a get together and we’ll probably even prepare it for dinner for ourselves since we love eating ahi tuna.
How would you rate our recipe? We look forward to hearing feedback from you guys. If you’ve visited XIV before, what’s your impression of the food and atmosphere. Have any of you eaten at any of the other Michael Mina restaurants around the country? Feel free to email us if you have any questions on the recipe and don’t forget to vote for next week’s restaurant!