Somni means “dream” in Catalan and this place is the dream of Chef Aitor Zabala and Chef José Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup. It is inside the SLS Hotel Beverly Hills and offers a surprise tasting menu of about 20 courses. The menu changes with the seasons and mostly as an individual item at a time and they did have a printed version of the tasting for you when you finished. They received a 2 star Michelin rating in the new California Michelin Guide. You entered into the hotel lobby, which felt more like a mini department store, where you waited to be ushered into the dining room. The dining room is a lovely light wood curved counter with plush chairs for 10 people. The large group of chefs work at the several counters in front of you and also in a back area that is less visible. The white surfaces look pristine with the light woods and marble and small spotlights hang over every seat so you can enjoy the artistry of the dishes. Some art is on the back walls but the real art is in the kitchen in front of you. It felt elegant and serene. Service was amazing along with questions easily answered by any of the chefs that served you. It was a totally delightful and delicious experience. I suspect that this is the work of manager Eric Jeffay (who we met at D.C.’s Minibar) and is well versed in providing the finest service. I encourage you to go if you get the chance the food is gorgeous, as is the room, and explodes with flavor.
They served a few snacks in the waiting area as well as a welcome champagne. While there you can decide if you want wine pairings with your tasting and they offered 3 different levels of wines from $175 to $500 per person. We chose to look at the wine list and found our own wines to order. They brought out “Almond Shell” a candied almond in a dish of raw almonds. The edible outside strongly resembled the shell of a real almond but inside was creamy almond goodness. It was great.
“Little Piggy” was a paper thin piece of potato that was cut into a pig shape. The potato had been dipped in spice and fried to a perfect crisp. It was cute and fun but also tasty. I loved the crisp, the presentation and flavor.
After being seated the first bite was “hojita” cocktail or lime juice on maple leaves with balls of mango. It was refreshing.
Next was a 4 bites served together. A chicken skin was topped with liver mousse. It had excellent flavor and texture and looked like it had been cut off an ear of corn only it was brown. Raspberry tart with tarragon was a composed raspberry on a meringue with a dot of tarragon sauce. It was great. Panellets was a crispy rice with cheese. It had a moist center and crispy outside for a really fun, tasty bite. Lastly was the porcini or two thin cut out mushroom shapes sandwiching some porcini cream fraiche. It was a little salty but the mushroom flavor was divinely overwhelming.
Pizza margherita was an egg white ‘crust’ topped with concentrated tomato water and a little cheese. It was the lightest pizza you’ve ever had but packed with flavor. It was excellent.
Beets, yogurt and horseradish was a beet sillouette cut out on goat cheese snow and purée alongside beet gazpacho with chervil, pinenuts, and housemade horseradish. The pinenut flavor really rounded out the strong beet flavor. This one was good but not as strong as the previous ones.
Santa Barbara spot prawns were presented whole after being smoked (2 and a half minutes) and grilled. It had a really smokey flavor and was barely cooked. It was really good, not at all pasty and the smoke was a subtle flavoring in this giant shrimp.
Shiso Tartare was covered with borage flowers and served on top of tempura fried borage leaves. It was beef tartar and absolutely delicious – a mixture of wonderful textures and tastes. Thumbs up.
Seeds of Life was made with caviar with yellow squash seeds. Bone marrow, cauliflower and chicken escabeche combined to add a purée and sauce underneath. The squash seeds had a pop similar to the Golden Osetra caviar. The purée underneath provided a lovely textural contrast to the popping seeds on top as well as blending very well. It all combined for a little textural explosion in the mouth. It was a winning blend of land and sea ingredients.
Ensaïmada was a Spanish spiral pastry that is yeast based. It had a brioche like quality and was stuffed with porcini mushrooms and onions. It was served with a parmesan butter topped with basil flowers and salt. It was excellent – a tender and flavorful bread and didn’t really need the butter as it was the essence of buttery goodness. It was wonderful.
A strawberry negroni was in the shape of a strawberry standing on a little paddle. It was made with strawberry purée, aperol, vermouth and liquid strawberry. Inside was liquid strawberry that screamed with ripe strawberry flavor. It was delicate and yummy.
Hearts of Palm and White Asparagus was a work of art and filled with great flavors. The sliced rounds of white asparagus and hearts of palm were surrounded by a circle of Loire Valley smoked trout roe all sitting on top of a custard of horseradish almond milk. The asparagus had absolutely no bitterness as it was peeled and had been cooked with a touch of sugar. It was another wonderful dish.
Kohlrabi and Snap Peas were peas in a bowl made from a kohlrabi surrounded by flowers. Inside the bowl they were surrounded by a mousse of kohlrabi and truffle gelee. The peas were tiny and sweet and filled with wonderful pea flavor. They were the insides of sugar snap peas which elevated this dish to the amazing level. A great blend of intense flavors.
Sun and Shadow was a pasta filled with Dungeness crab and cilantro accented with dots of black garlic and peanuts and a sauce of coconut milk powder. It was a great blending of flavors. The peanuts were in a brittle that added a crunch which was a delicious enhancement of the tasty crab. Another wonderful dish.
Favas and Jamón was another work of art dish. The fava beans were around a small artichoke accented with a chocolate mint sauce and morels. A ham stock reduction that was gelatinized encased some of the favas which added a richness and a touch of salt to the dish. It was fun to eat and left a clean aftertaste.
Turbot and Tea was made with a dry aged Spanish turbot and a housemade teriyaki sauce made with lemon verbena. It was the fatty wing of the turbot and had been glazed to a sticky sweetness. It was incredibly moist and kindly they gave us a wet towel to clean up with after eating it with our hands. Yummy.
Cochinillo emmolada was a piece of an Iberico pig with butternut squash purée, carrots, cilantro flowers and the broth made from the bones of the pig. The white stripe on the plate was cream fresco and the dark stripe was huitlacoche or corn smut. The stripes were decorated with pieces of freeze dried corn. The pork was good but it’s hard for a piece of meat to compete with the intricate courses that preceded it.
The cheese course was called A Cow and her Milk. It was a cookie dough cut-out of a cow on top of a mix of vanilla, apple and hazelnut cream. This one had more look affect than flavor fun and I’d only give it an okay.
Fresas con Nata translates to strawberries with cream and this was a strawberry sorbet with chantilly cream. The strawberry look-a-likes on the top were actually strawberry jelly, where all the strawberry juice had been extracted. The sorbet was filled with strawberry essence for a wonderful taste treat.
Forest Leaves was made with a chocolate sorbet and 2 leaves made of raspberry and blackberry. Some cocoa crumble, almond, chocolate sticks and chocolate sauce were a nice contrast with the tart leaves. This one had lots of nice textural contrast and good flavor but was not overly sweet.
Cheesecake Bomb was a very light meringue, topped with freeze dried blueberries and strawberries and filled with a tasty cream.
Mochi is a Japanese pastry made with glutinous rice. This one was filled with rice pudding and the pastry was mixed with dulce de leche.
Lastly was Xuixo which is Spanish deep fried sugar coated pastry. This one was like a puff pastry filled with chocolate ganache that was topped with caramel. It was as delicious as it sounded and looked.