Friday, November 27, 2009

Watching Top Chef has been a Wednesday night ritual for me since the show's debut. I initially got drawn to the program due to Season 1's setting in San Francisco. I was happy to take any glimpse of home, wherever I could find it. It wasn't long before I was addicted to watching the dishes and the drama unfold.

Instead of watching Top Chef two Wednesdays ago, Eddie and I ventured out to Pasadena for dinner at The Dining Room at the Langham Hotel, where current cheftestant Michael Voltaggio is Chef de Cuisine. GoogleMaps actually did send us on an adventure through some of the hotel's narrow, winding side streets, which resulted in much "oohing" and "aahing" as we passed by incredible, multi-million dollar homes.

The magnificence of the Langham certainly fit in with the neighborhood. Based upon its appearance the hotel had a lot of potential to be snooty, but all of the staff members we encountered were friendly and hospitable. Even if we did roll up in a very dirty, 12 year old 4Runner.

The Dining Room currently feels very formal and slightly stuffy. However, there is a planned renovation beginning early next year. As I expected on a Wednesday, it was a fairly slow evening. We were tucked away at a table along the back wall, not unlike this one.

Shortly after being seated, our waiter asked if we would like to see a menu. I confidently replied, "No." Eddie & I were there for the chef's tasting menu; we wanted to get right down to business. Our waiter seemed stoked at this news. That made me happy. In fact, all of the servers who waited on us that evening were incredibly friendly and happy, as was the sommelier. As a guest, I could feel the sense of teamwork between all of them.

I have to admit though that my happiness level dipped a bit when I saw our amuse bouche: Chips and salsa with queso fresco. This looked like powder with a dollop of jelly. I eyed it suspiciously before scooping everything up into the teeny tiny teaspoon that accompanied it. Much to my delight all the ingredients melded together in my mouth and tasted exactly like chips and salsa with a bit of queso fresco. We were off to a good start.
Three types of rolls were offered. I couldn't resist the bacon bread. You can never go wrong with choosing bacon.
Our first course was Japanese Shima Aji with pickled baby peach, sea sponge and bonito. There were a lot of elements to this dish, but they all worked very well together.
Chocolate brioche accompanied by an insanely rich, creamy butter was served just prior to our 2nd course.
The 2nd course: Langoustine with young fennel and lobster mushroom lasagna, served in a lobster bisque. This was the star of the night for both of us. Its light look was deceptive. This was so rich and flavorful. We could have easily eaten an entire chef's menu consisting of this dish served numerous times.
Our 3rd course: Foie Gras with aerated brioche, concord grape and sunchoke. We were split on this one. Eddie was not a fan; he prefers seared foie gras.
I liked the foie gras, but could have done with less of the concord grape. So I just let a lot of it ooze out. I'm picky about mixing sweet and savory flavors, so this was really a personal issue and not reflective of the chef at all. The real surprise for me here was the aerated brioche. It was like biting into a cloud of tastiness.
4th course: Turbot with butternut squash, madras curry and pumpkin seed granola. We were slightly split on the dish again. Eddie took a bite of granola with the turbot and didn't care for it. He ended up ignoring the rest of the granola altogether. I, on the other hand, saw the granola, then saw the small drops of yogurt on the plate and ate the granola with the yogurt. Granola + yogurt = yum. Turbot + all the other ingredients - granola = yum. I was quite happy.
5th Course: Pastrami Pigeon with swiss cheese, sauerkraut and rye. We were back to being agreement on this dish. Neither of us had eaten pigeon previously. This was a great introduction to it.
6th course: Jameson Farm Lamb with vadouvan, pickled tongue, celery root, raisin and peanut butter. I was really struggling to eat another bite by this point in the meal. So I skipped the crouton after sampling it and half of the celery root puree. Instead I focused in on the lamb. It's all about priorities people.
Pre-dessert: raspberry sorbet.
Dessert was Fools Gold: chocolate ganache, salty hazelnut praline and milk sorbet. This might look a little familiar to viewers of Top Chef: Las Vegas. This was tasty, not too heavy and a perfect end to our meal. Or so we thought.
Mignardise: pate de fruit in edible paper, mini macarons and dark chocolate lollipops with pop rocks hidden inside. I cannot tell you how happy these lollipops made me. I felt like a kid again. I was grinning from ear to ear as my head filled up with the tinglyness of pop rocks. Dear Mr. Voltaggio, can you please box and sell these? I promise I would buy a lot of them.

We had a wonderful evening at the Langham and are already planning a return trip after the renovations are complete. I really can't say enough about the quality of the food and service. In the meantime, as Top Chef: Las Vegas winds down for the season, we are Team Michael Voltaggio all the way!


weezermonkey said...

(1) How much? How much?

(2) Pastrami pigeon? How cool!

(3) I can't say I'm a fan of chocolate pop rocks. You should ask CurryClaire how I reacted to the ones we got from The Bazaar at the Great Chefs event.

Great review. Can't wait for our visit in December!

Stefanie K. said...

That all sounds amaaaazing and I'm a huge Top Chef fan, but Michael is SO arrogant on the show. It's a turnoff :( ...his brother and Kevin just seem much more humble and down to earth. Michael might be a great chef, but it's hard to root for him when he's so cocky. Anyway, I'm totally jealous. I'd be ecstatic to eat the food of any of the chef's from the Las Vegas season (except for maybe Robin :)).

Ann Marie said...

I know a lot of people are turned off by Michael's attitude on the show, but I believe his cooking speaks for itself. He may be cocky, but he can also back that ish up. Also, I think that his staff would not be nearly as wonderful as they are if he were truly a douchebag.

A Feminist Gold Digger said...

omg I think Michael is such a freaking d-bag!

I'm glad he at least served you bacon rolls.

Insomniac said...

I'm a firm believer in "it's not cocky if it's true" lol

Yay - so glad to hear this! We'll be heading their on Friday!

I've been checking out the menu for quite some time - great review!

Baby Mama said...

YUM! I'm going to put this on my list of places to check out... even if I'm totally hoping Michael goes down and Kevin takes it all!

tam pham said...

i'm a fan of both brothers. however, i'm more team bryan than i am team michael.

amazing meal.

amber said...

My ILs want to go there with us one night, so I'm glad to hear that it was so tasty!

dapotato said...

so wanna go. hubs won't take me because i still think both brothers are hot even if michael is a d-bag.