What’s the deal with pumpkins in 2014? Understandably it’s a popular seasonal item, and so media outlets are somewhat obligated to cover it. But it seems to have reached fever pitch in a way that’s unrivaled compared to previous years, with Oreos, spoof condoms, and other debaucherous cross-pollinations clogging our Twitter feeds. Can we move on to something else?
If pumpkin is mainstream media’s darling, then certainly seasonal wild game is its underground cousin. That’s where Melisse head chef Josiah Citrin comes in. Besides Patina, Melisse is one of the few places in Los Angeles featuring wild birds like grouse and partridge.
Citrin moved to Paris in 1986 and began working for Georges Vernotte, who hails from the idyllic Jura region of Eastern France. “The region has a strong hunting tradition,” says Citrin. “During game season Georges would go out and bring back whole pheasants and other game birds. It was an eye-opening experience.”
His interest deepened when he returned to Los Angeles in 1992 and began working for Patina. “There’s a classic and modern approach to take when it comes to wild game. Traditionally it’s roasted and served on toasted bread with wild mushroom sauce. Something very delicious and simple. At Patina, they were incorporating different vegetables and flavor profiles that gave it a modern touch.”
On the Melisse menu, starting from mildest to strongest flavor, you’ll see partridge, pheasant, wood pigeon, and grouse, all of which are sourced from a company in Scotland. “Partridge and pheasant are slightly sweet and have an herbaceous finish,” says Citrin. Flavor is dictated by location and diet—the sort of things a bird might eat off the forest floor. Wood pigeon is a darker meat that has hints of cherry to it, he says, and grouse has a slight tobacco and berry taste that really lingers on the palette.
Citrin’s pheasant is maple-smoked and served with celeriac, wheat berries, and sauce Albufera; wood pigeon is accompanied by charred cauliflower, black barley, Marche cherries, and sauce Perigourdine; the grouse is bolstered by burnt bread sauce, wild mushrooms, and chicken liver parfait.
“Preparing wild game requires a sense of old school cooking, which makes it really fun,” he says. “In general, something that tastes gamey has a sort of funk to it. It’s not overbearingly fresh. For example, dry-aged beef tastes different than regular steak. It has matured and has age on it, so the flavor is more pronounced, stronger, and has more umami that dances on your tongue.”
The only thing to watch for is, yes, the buckshot. “It happens every so often, so we always have to warn our customers.”
Melisse, 1104 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, 310-395-0881