A playfully named tasting meal, the newly-installed Tea Service at Fish or Flesh began approximately two weeks ago as an optional add-on to the (always fun) tour at the Lost Spirits Distillery in the Arts District. After a friend coaxed me to splurge on this $190 per person, ten-course tasting menu, I decided to give it a shot. (Note: A full Lost Spirits Distillery tour for each guest is included after the meal as part of this price. Each guest must be over 21 years of age to enter the distillery. Tickets must be purchased in advance online.)
The Tea Service at Fish or Flesh represents the realization of Chef Taylor Persh’s dream restaurant. Allegorically themed after H.G. Wells’ Island of Dr. Moreau, this concept offers customers a boozy “afternoon tea service” in an unlikely jungle setting. It initially sounds corny, but in actual execution, the ambiance proves to be convincingly immersive and thoroughly delightful. It’s all a bit topsy-turvy: Alcohol is often consumed as an ingredient in the food, and tea is frequently paired with dishes.
A self-described Valley Girl, Chef Persh attended culinary school in Northern California. Since then, she has helmed the kitchen at the now-defunct Westbound. Prior to that, she also consulted at Bestia and The Bazaar as part of a hospitality group. The Tea Service at Fish or Flesh represents Chef Persh’s greatest culinary challenge and joy to date.
The menu is posted on the official website. Currently, the chef plans on changing the Fish or Flesh menu on a seasonal basis. There is a significant amount of surprise and theatrical suspense built into each Tea Service at Fish or Flesh. No matter how much pre-meal intel a potential diner gathers prior to this meal, the fact remains that Fish or Flesh still must be attended in person to truly be believed. Non-drinkers be warned up front: The amount of total booze contained in the food at Fish or Flesh represents the equivalent of approximately 3-4 drinks (and this is even before the distillery tour begins). Thus, making sure there are appropriate transportation plans ahead of time is much advised.
And now, onto the meal!!!
A pour of brandy as we wait (and wait some more) to be seated…
The anticipation builds as we “trek” through the jungle, on our way to the tea service!
The tea service setting brings each patron into its dreamy world. We are surrounded with dim lanterns, antique woodworking, candles, fine silver and porcelain.
Champagne & Tea… Sabrage (!) is performed on a bottle of Bollinger Brut Special Cuvee, then served to guests in a china tea cup. This was followed by a (separate) spot of delicate Assam tea.
Welcome Cocktail: Brandy Alexander… An absolutely spirit-laden macaron as a starting course - Interesting and enticing!
Eggs in Eggs… A gorgeous Faberge egg case opens to reveal golden caviar on top of quail egg in a delicious nest!
The Tentacle… Japanese octopus, brushed with olive oil and grilled on binchotan, served with butternut squash puree and fennel pollen. This dish was definitely one of the highlights of my dinner.
More Tea… Ceylon Orange Pekoe, to be paired with the next finger sandwich.
Eel Salad Sandwich… Caramelized Japanese unagi on buttered challah bread. Phenomenal!
Exploding Grape… Peated whisky and pop rocks (!), all somehow injected into a single, very drunken grape - A unique texture and flavor play which I have never experienced before.
The Pig’s Head… High drama involved with the presentation and tableside prep of this protein course. Chef Persh brined the porcine head and neck for forty hours, then roasted it for six more hours. The entire head was brought out, and the chef broke it down in front of the table. This roast piggy yielded five marvelous small bites, including secreto neck cuts, cheek, crispy skin and eye socket. Various accompaniments such as raspberry brandy puree, baby potato with garlic basil and braised Cipollini onion, this scrumptious and messy portion of the meal definitely felt more reminiscent of Lord of the Flies than Island of Dr. Moreau!
A Jungle Bird Bite… Small intermezzo morsel of a doughnut hole, absolutely soaked in navy rum, chased with a bit of raw pineapple.
Rabbit’s Sacred Heart… Saffron white chocolate brand custard, brandied grape espuma lining the bowl, gold foil cracker.
Erotic Mignardises… Suggestive textures, and drenched in boozy profiles such as Jamaican rum and painkiller, this spectacular assortment of three desserts defies categorization (though Chef Persh certainly does her best to vividly describe them at tableside).
Service was friendly, professional and coordinated (gratuity is included as part of the total upfront price). The only issue I had during my seating was that we started the meal more than 45 minutes behind our scheduled time. But as this is only the first month of business for Fish or Flesh, I fully expect that operations will run smoother quite soon. To their credit, the front-of-the-house was well attuned to our delay, and served us all complimentary brandy as we waited. In addition, extra Champagne flowed throughout our dinner. This ploy obviously worked: I seriously barely even remembered that I had to wait!
Admittedly, I’m a sucker for trying out unorthodox dinners, but have been met with varying degrees of satisfaction afterwards. While past touted concept may have aspired to new heights, I’ve often found that the food disappointingly took a backseat. However, this is certainly not the case at Fish or Flesh. Here, Chef Persh prepares a magical meal which delivered on all fronts. I enjoyed the presentations and flavors immensely in every course. The Tea Service at Fish or Flesh offers its patrons a rare opportunity to savor intense bites, all while surrounded by a signature air of whimsy which only the Lost Spirits Distillery can achieve.
Tea Service at Fish or Flesh
Lost Spirits Distillery
1200 E. 5th St.
Los Angeles, CA 90013