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To kick off 2020, Maude journeyed to South Australia as the region to be the focus of their tasting menu from January through March. South Australia is in the southern central part of the country where it is nicknamed the "Wine State. It is home to Adelaide, the Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Clare Valley and Coonawarra. It is a diverse region that includes the coastline and the outback, providing an array of ingredients including wattleseed, quandong (a native peach), mountain pepper, lemon myrtle, native watercress, pandanus and strawberry gum, to showcase in a delicious menu. In addition to the diverse ingredients foraged, the Maude team was also influenced by the fresh seafood sourced from the coast. Oysters, mussels, cockles, limpets, spiny lobsters, Eastern School prawns, and freshwater crayfish are all thriving in the southern waters. They were inspired by chef Maggie Beer, an Australian legend who runs a cooking school and farm shop which is home to peacocks, olive groves, a quince orchard and a lake. And they visited Hutton Vale, where 3,000 merino sheep roam and are raised for their wool and meat. We began with a bottle of Rieslingfreak No. 4 Riesling from Eden Valley that was fresh and aromatic with notes of lemon, lime, white flowers and slate with bright acidity. Our meal started with two plates. One had oysters cooked in lamb fat and hiramasa (yellowtail kingfish) with finger limes. The other plate has celtuce (stem lettuce) with kumquat and coconut, and a tuile cone with wattlesead, potato and black truffle.
We started in Western Australia, then traveled to Sonoma, followed by Champagne. For the the fourth and final menu of Maude 2019, the team, consisting of Executive Chef Chris Flint, Wine Director Andrey Tolmachyov, and Pastry Chef Yesenia Cruz traveled to Tuscany, Italy. Making Siena their hub, they spent an immersive week filled with eating and drinking and now created a menu to share their discoveries. The cuisine of Tuscany is based on the Italian idea of cucina povera (“poor cooking”). It is a cuisine known for its simplicity. There are no complicated seasonings or elaborate creations, rather the focus is on fresh, high-quality ingredients. And this is exactly what Executive Chef Chris Flint executed. It was a menu that was clearly inspired by Tuscany and the presentations were simple. But the flavors were anything but simple, and paired with a selection of old Tuscan wines that my dining companions brought, our Maude journey to Tuscany was another wonderfully memorable meal. Our meal started with four small bites. 
The last time I had dinner in Encino was in 2016 at Chef Phillip Frankland Lee's Scratch|Bar, a restaurant on the second floor of a strip mall that offers nightly tasting menus featuring seasonal ingredients. Two years ago, hidden behind Scratch|Bar, he opened up Sushi|Bar, an Omakase Speakeasy that serves a 17 course sushi meal for $125 per person. I love sushi and am always game to try a new place and added this to my list. And finally I made it for dinner. Sushi|Bar is not your typical sushi bar and much more like a speakeasy. We made our reservation for 6pm and were told to arrive 30 minutes early for a welcome cocktail. We arrived at the mall, took the escalator to the second floor and found an unmarked door with a doorbell. We rang the bell, gave our names, and were invited in to a small room with a bar and some tables. We had arrived promptly at 5:30pm and we were the first people there. We were welcomed with a drink of sake, lemon juice and ginger. And, as we enjoyed our drink, a few more guests arrived took seats and had their drinks. Promptly at 6pm, we were invited to follow the hostess into Sushi|Bar. There were a total of six of us. Sushi|Bar can accommodate a total of eight people at a time. There are actually two sushi bars, one with reservations at 6pm and 8pm and one with reservations at 5pm, 7pm and 9pm.