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