My twenty-sixth year of life passed last month and to celebrate that momentous occasion, as well as Kathy and I passing the California Bar (yah! more attorneys!), Kathy treated me to the Chef's Tasting menu at The Dining Room at the Langham Hotel in Pasadena. More famously known as the restaurant in which the the newest winner of Top Chef, Michael Voltaggio, resides as the Executive Chef. After watching Michael's creations on Top Chef and realizing the restaurant he works at isn't too far from me, I had dreams of going there to have dinner. As luck would have it, my girlfriend is generous and treated me as a birthday gift/surprise.
The restaurant is located in the Langham Hotel in South Pasadena. Tucked into the back hallways of the hotel, it occupies a small space in the overall property. The restaurant itself is going to be closing Q1 2010 for a remodeling. It's currently in a more.. "old school" setting that doesn't really match the imagination of the cuisine.
Kathy asked me what I wanted to eat.. and I said Seven Course Chef's Tasting please! They have three options at the restaurant. You can order 4 courses or 5 courses off the menu.. there is no ala carte option. The final option is the previously mentioned Chef's tasting.
The tasting started off with three breads from the bread basket for our first bread tasting.
Bacon bread, Country-style sourdough, and Black Olive bread.
According to the waitress, the black olive is the most popular.. but it was the only one I didn't get.. since I hate olives.
The bacon bread (left) was filled with smoked bacon goodness. The bread itself was light and airy and I thought it was a bit overpowered by the bacon. It's not that I don't like bacon bread, the bacon bread at Providence was incredible.. but I just wish.. there was more of a dough flavor on this one.
The Country Style was a nice loaf of bread. Didn't stick out to me as anything special.. other than it was warm, went great with butter, but still lacked that dough-ness I like in bread.
We were promptly served the amuse bouche
White Chocolate topped with passion fruit foam and cavier
This dish was the start of what I believe is one of the more whimsical dinners I've had in a long while. The dishes are playful and carefree, as if you were served a joke and once you ate it, it'd put a big smile on your face.
Rich white chocolate is matched by the citrus zest of the passion fruit. The fruit flavors bring out the sweetness from the chocolate but make it more streamlined so that it doesn't over power the brine of the cavier. The cavier flavor was also subtle and gave the dish a very clean, refreshing taste.
Served once again a bit quick.. was our first appetizer of the evening.
Japanese Shima Aji
The Aji was served raw with a light ponzu style dressing and a small dab of fresh wasabi. First, I love Aji. Without a doubt, my favorite fish for sushi... so to have a nice piece like this was a boon indeed. Aji is oily and meaty, the meat isn't soft like tuna/salmon but has a sturdier texture but it is incredibly rich in flavor.. the sea sponge that accompanies it, to the best of my knowledge was intended for texture and not as a flavor component. It was soft and nearly melted in your mouth.
The accompanying Bonito flake was prepared in a way to make it taste like bacon.. which I found entertaining. And the pit-less pear added a nice compliment of sour to the dish.
After our first appetizer we were served our second bread course.
Black Truffle Brioche
This is hands down. HANDS DOWN the best bread I have had at a restaurant in a long long time. The brioche was SO moist , it was like biting into a cloud. On top of that there was truffle all up in its heezy so you got that rich buttery texture to go with the brioche ... I was in cloud nine. Then you add in a delicious goat cheese butter? man.. life doesn't get much better when it comes to eating bread.
After God's gift to bread was served, we were given the next appetizer,
Langoustine is a "Norway Lobster", but for all intent and purposes .. taste like a lobster, has the texture of a lobster but the size of a large fresh water shrimp. The Langoustine is served on top of a "lasagna", which for all intent and purposes is mushroom mash with one piece of noodle. Do not let that description fool you, this was Kathy's favorite dish and I also enjoyed it. The pasta was just the perfect thickness and was cooked just right... one of the finest "piece"(s) of pasta I have ever had the pleasure of tasting. The mushroom "mash" was so creamy and rich I thought it was Foie Gras.. you mix that in with the porcini sauce and you have a very hearty Fall dish.
Our next appetizer was served up after we sopped up the porcini sauce.
Another playful interpretation of a classic dish, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The piece of Foie is lightly frozen and has a surprise waiting in the center.
Concord grape jam! gooey and sweet, it goes perfectly with the nutty flavor of the foie. That combination worked great for me. The component that I didn't like was the brioche. The concept was cool... light pillowy bread but one of the pieces tasted like Windex and it tainted it for me. Odd experience. A+ for creativity, B- for execution.
Our first entree of the night was seafood
I've never had Turbot so this was a surprise to me. It looked like halibut but it had a steakier and less flaky texture. I guess it would need to be a meaty type of fish to hold up to the dark flavors of the butternut squash and granola. Surprisingly, my favorite part of the dish was the granola. It was sweet and crunchy and paired really well with the oil content in the fish. It was the type of dish where if you ate it without the granola it would have been okay, but eating it with all the parts really made it a few notches better.
Our first meat course of the day was
Pigeon. I know.. Pigeon. The flying rat. When we first got it I wasn't sure if I heard it right. But man oh man that is one fine piece of Pastrami. There was this really savory hickory flavor to it and it almost tasted like smoked ham. The meat was fatty like duck breast but not quite as meaty. Some of the best pastrami I've had, even though it was probably carrying someone's mail a few days ago :P
Our final entree was
Jameson Farm Lamb
Vadouvan is a curry spice, a combination of onions, shallots, garlic, and Indian spices.. the lamb is seasoned with it and sliced in a large chunk. A fantastic piece of lamb, with no gameness, just big bold flavor and cooked a perfect medium rare. The PB tempura really hits the spot. The outside shell is a fluffy coating of crust and inside is a nice piece of nutty peanut butter. You mix that natural sweetness with the pickled tongue and you have a nice blend of flavors to match with the depth of the vadouvan spice. This was my favorite dish of the night by far and it really impressed me how such a small piece of each item could pack such a powerful combination of flavors.
In between our entrees and the dessert, we had the dessert appertif.
Raspberry and creme ice cream
or as I normally call them.. Dip and Dots. :P. The creme really strikes me in the dish, it presents it self far clearer than the raspberry does. The sweetness of the raspberry is there fighting side by side for dominance with the creme but it has that kick of sour that these berries normally have on the finish that is really refreshing with the ice cold dots. I'd like a large one to go!
our dessert for the night was their signature
Chocolate, salty Hazelnut Praline, Milk Sorbet, cookie reef.
This dessert was breathtaking. A play on the ocean floor, it's almost like a child's drawing put onto a plate. When we first heard the dish they said Chocolate Ganache I thought "Oh I hope Michael did this dish better than his brother Bryan did!". Fortunately, he did and for all the crap he gave his brother about it on Top Chef he was able to deliver it on his end. The ganache was so rich and chocolaty and when you have it with the hazelnut praline, it almost tastes like an Almond Roca. When you toss in the surprisingly decadent milk ice cream and salt it tastes like the Haagen Dazs Reserve Fleur De Lis Caramel ice cream. This is not an insult. I love that ice cream. I love the way sea salt brings out the richness in a dessert dish and it was applied excellently here.
One of the best desserts I've had the pleasure of having in a long while.
Finally we had some candies to end the night
The only thing that was really special was the chocolate lollipops. When you bite into them you suddenly feel a crackle and pop in your mouth. They had made the lollipops with pop rocks. So every bite you get POP POP POP POP. Really fun and an entertaining end to the meal.
The meal was excellent, from top to bottom one of the best meals I've had in Los Angeles (and I've been fortunate to go to a chunk of the top restaurants). Like I said before, I really enjoyed the forethought that was put into the creation of these dishes. They weren't just dishes that tasted good, they were dishes that gave you an emotional reaction. You felt when you ate the Turbot and Langoustine that you were eating in November, it was fall and the leaves were falling outside. When you had the lollipop you felt like a kid again... and I think that was the intention.
As well, the service was mostly excellent. The manager walked me to the restroom when I asked him for directions (inside the hotel, outside the restaurant) and we chit chatted for a bit. We had multiple servers who were always ready to help us with our questions/requests. The ONLY problem I had was.. all this took 2 hours to eat. That's a REALLY fast paced meal. I even asked them to slow it down. We probably had 3-5 minutes between each plate removal to the new plate... that definitely needs to be worked on.
Either way, I highly suggest trying this restaurant. Either before the year ends or when they come back with the remodeling. Hopefully by then, the drab OLD interior will be gone and there will be something more modern and fresh to match the delightful cuisine.