To offset the joyous deluge of promotional Valentine's Day dinner menus and Groupon chocolate deals that keeps our remote email accounts buzzing this time of year, we offer Mélisse chef-owner Josiah Citrin's new cookbook, In the Pursuit of Excellence, as a satisfying alternative. It's the sort of cookbook that's fitting for that romantic (obligatory or otherwise), impress-the-date dinner, as it includes “You really made that?!” palate teasers like the restaurant's infamous “egg caviar,” an egg yolk poached inside the shell and topped with caviar and served with cauliflower mousseline and lemon-chive crème fraîche (p.34).

The bonus? The cookbook will only set you back a few Amazon dollars more than that $20 egg caviar supplement on the restaurant's Valentine's tasting menu.

Many of the recipes, such as that Alaskan halibut with tomato confit, niçoise olives and a smoked bacon and fava bean emulsion, are definitely weekend, not Monday night, projects. Even the Citrins would agree, as they tend to be posole sorts like the rest of us come Monday night. And sure, the writing style errs on the side of formal, and can be a bit dry at times — or perhaps perfectly Michelin 2-star-restaurant worthy, depending on your dinner hour preferences. (“This decadent indulgence makes chocolate lovers very happy,” for example.)

Egg Caviar at Mélisse; Credit:

Egg Caviar at Mélisse; Credit:

But if you know Citrin, or have ever bumped into him at the Santa Monica Farmers Market, you know that what's on the plate is entirely the driving force. And also why it took Citrin so long to pen his first cookbook. “The point was to bring you through the recipes from the start to finish, so by the end [of the book], you know how to make a more complicated dish,” he told us.

All the more reason why Valentine's Day is the perfect excuse to try that lobster Bolognese. Because here, there is the homemade pasta (capellini) and lobster Bolognese sauce you'd expect, but also a lobster beurre monté (an emulsion made from lobster stock and plenty of butter), bruinoise vegetables and a brown butter truffle froth made with homemade mushroom stock. Yeah, we're hoping someone makes that for us on Valentine's Day, too. It wouldn't stink if they happened to take us to Paris, either.

For that love-day dessert? A passionfruit parfait with lemongrass milk and coconut sorbet. Or sure, after you've cooked your way through In Pursuit of Excellence, a little Roquefort with a glass of Sautérnes, as recommended in Citrin's handy cheese-pairing guide (p. 200), might be an excellent idea, indeed.

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