Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Blind Tasting Menu

I decided to have a “Thanksgiving” dinner at the Dining Room, Langham Huntington Hotel, Pasadena. The Langham purchased the former Ritz-Carlton Huntington back in January 2008 and I had Thanksgiving dinner 2007 at the Dining Room. I wanted to find out what has happened, if anything, to the Dining Room restaurant and chef Craig Strong.

It was a Thursday in April, Chef Craig Strong was still cooking there at the Dining Room and I was thankful that the Langham decided to keep Chef Craig and support him. So, for my “Thanksgiving” dinner, I went with the Blind Tasting Menu. Chef Craig came out and we discussed my likes/dislikes and the overall direction of the meal. Since I was going to a steakhouse the next night, no steaks. Other red meat would be okay, like game. Fish. Seafood. Pork. Something more on the lighter side. After that discussion, the kitchen proceeds to surprise me with at least seven courses during the night.

Here’s my blind tasting menu for the evening:

mini caviar blini

minced crab on a square wafer with grapefruit on top

breaded scallop over pea shoots

cucumber “noodles” with sliced salmon and caviar

stuffed calamari with arugula

sauteed foie gras, lobster and boba in a lobster sauce

liquid polenta topped with serrano ham and shaved truffles

veal with morels and English peas

roasted pineapple piece layered with a crispy mint wafer and mint sorbet

Spanish virgin: yogurt sponge cake with crema catalona foam, extra virgin olive oil ice cream, and a shortbread biscuit topped with berries

As for the wines, I started with a familiar ZD Chardonnay, Napa Valley. After I finished my white wine, the sommelier suggested this Pinot noir from Monterey. I’m afraid the pepper tones overwhelmed the other flavors of the Pinot noir, and I like pepper. Mind you, inherent with any culinary adventure is a certain amount of risk.

The tasting menu was fine. I’m pondering whether it was the flavors themselves or my perceptions of me eating this dinner in a “hotel restaurant.” Did the food taste subtle or bland? I wouldn’t have mind bolder & more intense flavors in my courses. The breaded scallop was my favorite. Admittedly, I’m a sucker for a good scallop. The cucumber course could have had more interchange between the coolness of the “noodles” and the saltiness of the not-so-salty caviar. The bread-stuffed calamari was okay. The problem with seafood like calamari or octopus is the not-so-tender texture of eating a rubber tire. Truth be told, I was exaggerating. Adding boba with the foie gras and lobster was quite novel. The boba’s chewiness didn’t necessarily take away from the rest of the dish. As a concept, I might need to try that again. The jury is still out, having some dinner. The liquid polenta made for a great soup course, hearty and flavorful with the ham and truffles on top. What an amazing use of polenta! The veal was delicious. The roasted pineapple pre-dessert tasted wonderful. The crispy mint wafer offered a good textural contrast to the fruit and the sorbet. The Spanish virgin was so light, a delightful ending to my blind tasting menu.

Chef Craig has some big plans for this restaurant, and Langham is going to support him. The Dinng Room recently hired a sommelier. Chef Craig will continue his dual role as chef de cuisine and pastry chef. He wants the restuarant to be one of the top places in the LA area, a high-end restaurant that happens to be in a hotel. There will be a learning curve of sorts for everyone: the cooks, the servers, the hotel staff, the diners. I sense that everyone is up to the challenge. And this diner, as well.

The Langham, Huntington Hotel & Spa, Pasadena
(Formerly The Ritz-Carlton, Huntington Hotel & Spa)

1401 South Oak Knoll Avenue
Pasadena, California 91106
(626) 568 3900

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Los Angeles Culinary Scene: Downtown LA

For many years, downtown LA was dead after 5 p.m. People just don’t go out to dine in downtown LA. The only places to eat at night would be in hotels, near the Music Center or Chinatown. That’s about it, folks. Oh yes, don’t forget the Original Pantry, “We never close. We're never without a customer.” Most of the places to eat in downtown were open during the day, serving breakfast and lunch to those working in downtown LA.

Then, the Los Angeles City Council passed the Downtown Adaptive Reuse Ordinance (Ordinance 172571) in June 3, 1999. Ever since that ordinance, developers have been taking old historic buildings and turning them into updated residential spaces, live/work lofts, condominiums, and apartments, even to this day. Today, over 30,000 people live in downtown LA. And the number of restaurants and bars have increased. Ralph’s Supermarket has returned to downtown LA in over fifty years. And there are plans to transform Seventh St. into a downtown version of Restaurant Row. Now, if Trader Joe’s would just move into downtown ...

The culinary scene is getting better, I suppose. I do have a concern about the plethora of corporate chain restaurants and the apparent lack of more fine dining and independent restaurants.

Historically, downtown Los Angeles has a few restaurants that has stood the test of time: Philippe’s (1908) ; Pacific Dining Car (1921) ; Original Pantry Cafe (1924) ; Clifton’s Cafeteria (1931) ; Phoenix Bakery (1938) ; Langer’s (1947)

And here are a few sections of downtown to consider in your culinary adventure: Olvera Street ; Chinatown ; Fashion District ; Little Tokyo ; Grand Central Market ; Arts District ; Bunker Hill ; Financial District ; South Park ; Historical Core ; Bunker Hill ; Civic Center

Besides those restaurants already listed, here are some others that show the variety that’s available in downtown Los Angeles: Traxx ; Ciudad ; San Antonio Winery ; Nick’s Cafe ; Sam Woo ; Empress Pavilion ; Golden Dragon ; CBS Seafood ; Mayflower ; Spring St. Barbecue ; Asian Noodles ; Sushi Gen ; Kagaya ; Izayoi ; Curry House ; R-23 ; Fisherman’s Outlet ; 6th St. Bar & Grill ; Grand Central Market ; Noé ; Water Grill ; Engine Co. No. 28 ; Seven Grand ; Seoul Jung ; Patina Group ; Palm ; Arnie Morton ; Daily Grill ; California Pizza Kitchen ; McCormick & Schmick’s

Okay, here are a few photos, all taken from Downtown Los Angeles:

Until next time,


Friday, April 18, 2008

Los Angeles Culinary Scene : an introduction

This is the city ... Los Angeles, California. Mind you, it’s been said that Los Angeles is not a city: it’s thirty-four suburbs put together. Either way, the Los Angeles area is huge! The island of Manhattan in New York City has a land area that covers 23 sq. miles, slightly more than the cities of Santa Monica and Beverly Hills combined. Contrastly, the city of Los Angeles covers an area of 469 sq. miles, and that doesn’t include the rest of the County of Los Angeles, whose land mass covers over 4000 sq. miles.

The County of Los Angeles has 88 incorporated cities. Here is a partial list of these cities within the County of Los Angeles:

AlhambraArcadiaAzusaBeverly HillsBurbankComptonCulver City

DuarteGardena Glendale Glendora Huntington ParkLancaster

Long BeachMonroviaMontebello Monterey Park • Palmdale Pasadena

RosemeadSan GabrielSanta MonicaSouth Pasadena Torrance

West Hollywood • Whittier

And here are some communities and geographical designations within the incorporated city of Los Angeles:

Atwater VillageBoyle Heights • Downtown Los Angeles • Eagle Rock •

East Los Angeles Echo Park Hancock ParkHighland ParkHollywood

Koreatown • Little Armenia • Little Tokyo • Los Feliz • Reseda • Silverlake •

South Central • Thai Town • Van Nuys Venice • West Los Angeles •

West Valley • Westwood

And I haven’t even include Orange County, Ventura County, Riverside County, and the other counties that make up the area known as Southern California. At this point, you’re wondering why I’m giving this geography lesson when this is supposed to be a food blog. Good question. Let me paint this scenario:

Someone from outside the LA area writes a post on a food discussion website and asks, “I’m coming to LA next week. Please recommend me a really great restaurant. Thanks!” And if you notice, people living in LA will probably ask that person some pointed geographical and travel questions, like “Where in LA will you be staying? Will you have a car? If so, how far do you want to travel? What time of the day will you be driving?”

Folks, the Los Angeles area is HUGE!! Geography plays a significant factor in deciding where to go to eat. I know people who live in Santa Monica who think that driving to Beverly Hills for dinner is too far, never mind driving to downtown LA or to San Gabriel Valley. We’re not New York (i.e., Manhattan) or even San Francisco, where many of the restaurants are close together, relatively speaking. Mind you, LA does have some wonderful local, neighborhood restaurants. It just depends what neighborhood you’re in.

I hope this introduction, albeit geographical, helps you to understand the vastness of the Los Angeles area and its culinary scene.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Welcome to The Food and I, the blog where I write about The Food. That would include the food I cook at home, the food I buy at various stores and markets, the food I dine out and eat at various restaurants and houses of family and friends. You get the basic idea, ehh? Culinary cruises, culinary comrades, culinary cohorts, and of course, cuisiniers, or cooks! Yes, I’ll put a few photos into the blog, along with some links (as in Internet links, not sausage links necessarily). Links to restaurants, food-related stores, food section in newspapers, as well as other culinary blogs and/or websites.

On my next few posts, I’ll probably start with an introduction to the Los Angeles culinary scene, as well as intros to surrounding areas, like Las Vegas, Santa Barbara, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera ...

Until next time, just sit back and enjoy ...