SoCal, Part 1: Pasadena

by Sarah on April 13, 2010

No Michael Voltaggio sightings last Thursday night, but I was satisfied with the knowledge that he was in the kitchen, a mere few feet away from me, with his hands in my food.

Yes, that’s right.  Thursday night, my friend K and I were at The Dining Room at the Langham Hotel, home of Top Chef winner and hottie Michael Voltaggio.  Remember this?  I made this reservation because we had a trip to Palm Springs planned (more on that later) and I’d been salivating over the menu for many many months.

Needless to say, after 6 hours of driving to Pasadena from Sacramento, we needed a beer.  We strolled around the nearby outdoor mall thing, had a drink and meandered back.  Reservation was at 7:45.  No problem, because my phone said it was 6.  When we arrived at the hotel, we discovered that my phone is wrong, and it was actually 7:50.  Dude, I FA-REAKED.  Thankfully the restaurant was nice enough to let us come anyway but you should’ve seen the mad dash in that hotel room trying to get changed and out the door, not to mention my driving through mansion-filled neighborhoods on the way.    This was the beginning of what would turn out to be a totally surreal evening.

The Langham is FANCY, y’all.  Real fancy.  They had complimentary valet parking.  I thought about staying there so we wouldn’t have to drive after dinner, but that would’ve killed my thrift shopping budget for Palm Springs–and that just wouldn’t do.

My first glass of prosecco sure tasted good after all that rushing around.

Our amuse-bouche:  Tomato gelee lollipop and caviar gougere.  I could’ve died and gone to heaven right then.

Next came our assortment of butters and breads.  The butters are (from left) salted French butter, unsalted goat and an unsalted French butter.  The breads beyond were a sourdough and a bacon roll.

A little later this little puff of perfection arrived.  Truffle brioche.  The top was crunchy with salt and the insides were somehow simultaneously soft, flaky and pillowy…and were so buttery and satisfying.  I wanted to just shove the whole thing into my trap, but  I didn’t want to startle the other diners so I refrained.

We decided to go with the Chef’s tasting menu, 7 courses.  I had my heart set on one dish that wasn’t on the tasting menu and the Chef graciously let me swap out one of the courses to try this stunner.  This is the one on my fantasy order from that December blog post.

Octopus–Buttered Popcorn, Piquillo Confetti, Cilantro.  We did the wine pairings also and this was paired with a dry sake.  The octopus was tender and sat on a puddle of what tasted exactly like buttered popcorn.  Odd, but I loved it.  The combination was rich but light and not greasy.  The piquillo confetti is the orangey ring on top and a bit of it with each bite gave everything a nice kick.

K got the Langoustine–White Asparagus, Tiny Eggs, Fried Calamari.  It was paired perfectly with a 2007 Franck Pelliot Altesse.  This was amazing also, with a big taste of the ocean and a nice crunch from the calamari.

This dish was bananas.   Not literally.

Foie Gras Terrine–Strawberry-Yuzu, Arugula Cake, Minus 8 Vinegar.  Served with a NV Jean-Paul Brun Effervescent Gamay.  Perfect dish, perfect pairing.  The strawberry-yuzu jelly on the outside was a perfect foil for the creamy and silky foie gras inside.  The little green arugula cakes tasted  a little sweet and herby and were a nice accompaniment.

See those little reddish balls?  That is the vinegar.  So cool!

This is about the time when one of our dining neighbors got into a huge fight in a combination of Russian and English.  The mom was yelling at the daughter to take the 5 year old boy up to the room, and the man was complaining that he wasn’t even hungry.  Who the hell takes a kid to an $80 per-plate minimum, Michelin star restaurant?   I wanted  to go and slap them upside their heads.  I guess they don’t understand that some people have to actually save their money and plan for meals such as these.  So rude!  Our nice server rolled her eyes at me and gave me an extra heavy pour on the next wine for having to listen to those fools.

Next up was the Arctic Char—Green Garlic Tapioca, Black Olive, Puffed Mushroom Cracker.  Served with a 2009 Fairhall Downs Sauvignon Blanc.  The char, which I love anyway, was light and silky and the garlic tapioca was a total knockout.  The mushroom cracker was similar to a rice cake in texture but had a mushroom flavor to knock your socks off.  The black spot is the olive sauce.

Veal Sweetbreads Tempura–Kale, Buttermilk, Mustard, Potato Puree.  Does this look like Eggs Benedict, or what?  The puffy white stuff is the buttermilk.  In texture, it was like the foam on a latte but creamier.  And tangy.  A nice foil to the rich and crunchy sweetbreads.  The kale was cool too, it was crispy like a chip.  And those little cubes?  That is the mustard.   This dish was served with a 2007 Eric Kent Chardonnay.  Happiness!

One of my favorites!  Four Story Hills Farm Suckling Pig–Banana Polenta, Morels, Ramps.  I hate bananas too, and I ate this and loved it.  The pork was unreal.  Crispy on the outside yet totally succulent with that rich fatty flavor that only pork can provide.  Those are the morels on top of the pork cubes and a crispy ramp draped across.  Nice for us Westerners to get a taste of a ramp, I’m tired of reading about all those East Coasters and their ramp season.  This was paired with the very delicious 2005 Braida Bricco dell’Uccellone Barbera d’Asti from Magnum.  Wowza.

Last savory course.  Japanese Kuroge Beef—Fried Béarnaise, Young Turnips, Bordelaise.  Fried bearnaise?  Dear lord, help me.  That is the little ball on the end and it was great with the tender beef.  We got to drink from a Double Magnum on this course!  1998 Oddero Rocche di Castiglione Barolo from Double Magnum.  I was also getting quite drunk by this time.

What the heck?

Palate cleanser.  Green tea dippin’ dots.  Well, that’s not what they called it, but I don’t really remember what they called it.  It was tasty and did the job of cleansing my palate.

I had the Fools Gold–Chocolate Sorbet, Salty Hazelnut Praline, Cocoa Tuille.  This was paired with a port but I failed in my recording in what it was.  Creamy, crunchy, chocolatey, salty.  Pretty much a perfect dessert.

K chose the lighter tasting Lavender Flower Macaroon—Crème Fraiche Panna Cotta, Vanilla-Passion Sorbet, Floral Cotton Candy.  She had a tawny port with this.  This dessert was divine.  The cotton candy!  Just barely floral, it was perfect with the tangy panna cotta and fruity sorbet.  Delightful.

Oh hell no, we weren’t done yet!  Caramels in edible rice paper, baby macarons and an ultra chocolate lolly.

Cutie-pie cookie.

So we closed the place down.  At some point we went to powder our noses and there was a complete television crew setting up for the filming of some stupid reality dating show.  I nearly tripped over the mats and cords all over the place.  Back in the dining room, this is about the time when I decided to moonwalk back to the entry of the kitchen to see if I could see Voltaggio, but common sense tells me he went home long before.  Of course our long suffering server saw me, so then I felt like an idiot.  We gave her a big tip so don’t worry.

Drunk with happiness, delicious food, a lot of wonderful wine tastings and my best girlfriend.  Can things get any better?

More So Cal to come, stay tuned!


The Dining Room at The Langham

:: A Michelin Star Restaurant ::

1401 South Oak Knoll Ave.

Pasadena, CA 91106


Wine Spectator Award of Excellence 2009 :: 2009 Silver Magellan Award Winner

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