Monday, March 29, 2010

The Dining Room - 02/26/2010

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

At long last, The Dining Room. The lone Michelin starred restaurant in Los Angeles that I had yet to visit. In reality the meal was a celebration of sorts, the start-up two of my friends worked at was about to be acquired. We settled on The Dining Room hoping that Chef Voltaggio would be willing to do something special for us and we were not disappointed. We arranged to sample all 21 menu items, split between two people. In addition we asked for and were granted the private dining room, which is normally limited to parties of 8 or more.

Beluga Caviar - Classic Accompaniments, Blinis 2010
Pierre Peters, Champagne Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru, Le Mesnil, France
I managed to track down a place that was still selling Beluga caviar. I originally advocated a dedicated Beluga tasting but was overruled by Kevin who suggested incorporating it in a complete meal. Chef Voltaggio was kind enough to accommodate our request, going so far as to come up with a special caviar service that incorporated both classic and ultra-modern accompaniments.

Representing the new, Chef Voltaggio's "Blinis 2010," dollops of creme fraiche frozen using liquid nitrogen. The frozen creme fraiche had an airy texture and mild sweetness very evocative of a classic blini. As the creme fraiche melted, its natural tang came to the fore giving. Next up was a more traditional service using timeless accouterments of blinis, creme fraiche, and egg salad, all made from scratch that very day. The roe itself was stellar, with a delicate balance between sweet nuttiness and subtle salinity that I have never experienced with caviar before. Hands down the best caviar service I've ever had, I only wish I had bought a bigger tin!

To drink we brought a Bollinger Grand Année but yielded to the expertise of our sommelier Josh Goldman. The Pierre Peters he suggested proved to be well suited to the row, dry and yeasty, the austerity paired well with the richness of the roe.

Amuse: Sake Gelée - Fraises des Bois, Strawberry Tonic
The amuse consisted of an absolutely brilliant strawberry concotion bursting with layers of fresh berry flavor tempered by a slight burn from the sake.

01: Langoustine - White Asparagus, Tiny Eggs, Fried Calamari
2007 Paul Pernot, Puligny-Montrachet, Burgundy, France
A barely touched langoustine marked the start of the official menu. Just what you'd expect from barely cooked shellfish, soft and slick with an inner resistance. The nori was integral to the dish adding some ocean notes and punctuating the sweetness of the shellfish. The fried calamari was a bit surprising, with a piercing saltiness and robust crispness that reminded me of a pork rind, the intensity of this morsel at odds with the subtle nature of the rest of the dish. The saline and minerality of the wine tied perfectly to the essence of the calamari and langoustine.

02: Japanese Shima Aji - Jamon Iberico, Sea Sponge, Finger Lime
Terres Dorées, FRV100, Effervescent Gamay, Beaujolais
The paired course was a Japanese Shima Aji. Softer and milder than I remember, the hard pops of the finger lime added a distinctive mouth feel and light tang to the fish. For me the sea sponge was the kicker, a mix of mirin and dashi, the sponge gave the fish enough flavor to stand up to the decadent Iberico ham on equal terms. The pairing was a sparking Gamay delightfully sweet and light, a fine contrast for the power of the ham.

03: Garden Harvest - Vegetables of the Season, Warm Burrata
1999 S. Tissot, Vin Jaune, Arbois, France
We were each given our own serving of this course. With 20 distinct vegetables, the chef was afraid we wouldn't get the full effect if we only ate half a serving. This style of vegetable composition called Gargouillou was pioneered by Chef Michael Bras. The bright colors lend the dish a fresh lively air and the disparate elements combine to form a a broad array of flavors and textures. The sherry-like character of the wine complimented the darker bitter elements of the dish but was a bit strong for the sweeter and lighter vegetables.

04: Tasmanian Sea Trout - Hibiscus, Pink Peppercorn, Puffed Mushroom Cracker
2008 Sant'Elena, Traminer Aromatico, Delle Venezie, Friuli Venezie Giulia, Italy
Perhaps the most brilliantly prepared trout I've ever tasted, lusciously tender with a rich sea essence accented nicely by the floral bite of the pink peppercorn. The hibiscus added acidity but the intensity was a touch overwhelming. The Sant'Elena proved to be an incredibly aromatic wine, the tropical fruit nose fitting more with the hibiscus and peppercorns than the fish itself.

05: Octopus - Buttered Popcorn, Piquillo Confetti, Cilantro
Dewazakura Brewery, Izumi Judan, Yamagata Prefecture, Japan
The rest of the group quite enjoyed the octopus but I thought the texture was a touch tough though the smoky piquillo was the perfect accompaniment. The popcorn while tasty didn't match with the lighter body of the octopus. The full-bodied Izumi Judan added a notable essence of Juniper, whose refined herbal flavor helped rein in the intensity of the dish.

06: Foie Gras "Froid" - Apple, Saffron, Marcona Almond, Aerated Brioche
Lustau, Solera Reservera, Don Nuno, Dry Oloroso, Jerez, Spain
The next set of courses was a hot/cold duo of foie gras. The cold foie looked like a typical cylinder but that would just be too simple, instead the interior was filled with a jammy sweet apple juice. The aerated brioche was an interesting departure from the crisper brioche that normally accompanies a cold foie preparation. The sherry was a drier example, with deep essences of of wood and nuts, a bit austere for my tastes.

07: Foie Gras "Chaud" - Celery, Medjool Date, Mustard Sabayon
Lustau, Solera Reserva, Emilín, Moscatel Sherry, Jerez, Spain
A spot on preparation of warm foie gras. Cooking tends to intensify the foie's natural flavor hence the need for an accompaniment to balance the unctuousness. More and more restaurants are pairing hot foie with bitter or vegetal accompaniments which I find far superior to the more traditional preserved fruit. Another sherry from the same producer but this time with a thicker more viscous mouth feel and more apparent sweetness, a no brainer for foie.

08: Veal Sweetbreads - Green Olive, Lemon, Romaine Lettuce
2007 Dönnhoff, Riesling, Nahe, Germany
Continuing on with the organ meat next up was a single cube of sweetbreads loaded with the typical offally character. As with the hot foie, the heft of the sweetbreads is countered using brisk acidity and herbaceous components with a hefty dose of succulence from the lettuce. Intriguing pairing a riesling with sweetbreads, but the fruit forward nose and sweetness balanced the richness of the sweetbreads.

09: Kurobuta Pork Belly - Bok Choy "Kim Chi", Kabocha Squash Preserves, Peanut Butter Powder
Hitachino Nest, Real Ginger Brew, Kiuchi Brewery, Japan
Pork belly should be a gimme dish, the rich layers of fat are hard to screw up. But the dry dull lean portions can really drag this dish down. Here the fat was semi-molten and the meat supple and tender giving the belly a savory component. The sweetness of the squash preserves added to the weight of the dish but the vegetal spice of the kim chi proved to be a deft counter. The ginger beer might have been the most apt selection of the night, the spicy bite and ginger paired seamlessly with the pork belly.

10: Pastrami Pigeon - Swiss Cheese, Sauerkraut, Rye
Duchesse de Bourgogne, Ale, Brewery Verhaeghe, West Flanders, Belgium
Typical preparations of pigeon tend to focus on the savoriness of the bird but here the meat was thoroughly infused with the distinctive brine of a Reuben sandwich. Paired with classic accompaniments, the bird served as an admirable replacement for the corned beef with a substantial meatiness not typically associated with squab. Just as the flavor of the bird was intensified, so too was the pairing. The explosive sour cherry of the Duchesse reminded me of a pinot noir concentrated several times over, perfect with the boldness of the pastrami pigeon.

11: Jidori Chicken - Winter Truffles, Egg, Sunflower Root, Sunflower Seeds
2007 Geyerhof, Ried Richtern, Zweigelt, Kremstal, Austria
Contrasting the meatiness of the other bird is a sliver of perfectly cooked chicken. Though the headline ingredient, the chicken was hardly the star of the show with. Rather it was the combination of the silky egg yolk whose hearty flavor worked wonders when combined with combined with truffles. I was expecting a white to go with the chicken but Josh chose an Austrian Zweigelt, an enjoyable blend of fruits predominantly dark cherry with some underlying spice.

12: Skate Wing - Brown Butter, Scrambled Cauliflower, Caper Powder
2008 Mormoraia, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Tuscany, Italy
The first of the "middle" courses was a skate win steeped in a potent brown butter sauce. The capers and bitter cauliflower helped counter he heaviness of the brown butter. The dish also came with a side of seaweed mashed potatoes whose starchiness also went a long way towards balancing this dish and refocusing attention on the fish. The abundant stone fruit and acidity of the wine sliced right through the heft of the brown butter.

13: Mediterranean Sea Bass - Mussels Billi-bi, Fennel, Quinoa
2007 Chateau La Rouvière, Rosé, Bandol, Provence, France
A quintessential sea bass, mild firm flesh with a backing of perfectly crisp skin. The creamy mussel soup adds a briny essence enlivening the lightly flavored fish coupled with the light shading herbal sweetness of the fennel really completed this dish for me. The rose offered well defined strawberry notes on the nose and a soft peppery bite on the palate, subtle and quite enjoyable with the fish.

14: Milk-Fed Veal Breast - Risotto, Broccoli, Fiscalini Cheddar
2008 Julien Frémont, Cidre Brut, Normandy, France
I wonder if Chef Voltaggio was going for some sort of breakfast vibe with this course. The veal, typically a bland meat was so flavorful I could have easily mistaken this for ham an expressive and hearty mix with the creamy risotto and melted cheddar. An intense farmhouse cider, the funky nose played very well with the rustic nature of the dish.

15: Jamison Farm Lamb - Vadouvan, Nori-Spaghetti Squash, Yogurt, Fried Rice
2007 Bibich, Riserva, North Dalmatia, Croatia
My first thought was chili corn nuts which probably has to do with the combination of the curry essence of the vadouvan and the tanginess of the yogurt. The dish deserves a much more elaborate explanation but for the life of me all I can think of is that corn nuts. The Bibich is a blend of Croatian grapes related to the Zinfandel varietal and displayed similar notes of pepper and dark fruit.

16: Wagyu Short Rib - Smoked Potato "Tots", Nantes Carrots, White Ketchup
2001 COS, Nero d'Avola, Sicilia, Italy
Short rib often come laden with plenty fat, coming from Wagyu stock the amount of fat boarders on heart stopping. Some bites of the beef felt like eating rendered essence of pure beef. The meat is absolutely delicious but hard to enjoy alone in all but the smallest quantities. The "sexy tomato seeds" from The Bazaar make an appearance here and help immensely to cut insanely powerful unctuousness. A big powerful wine would be needed to stand up to the short rib and the COS was just that, abundant jammy fruits as well as herbs and tobacco and even some meatiness.

17: Japanese Kuroge Beef - Marrow Toast, King Trumpet, Bordelaise Sauce
2000 R. Lopez de Heredia, Viña Tondonia, Reserva, Rioja, Spain
After having my senses blown by the short rib the steak tasted almost normal by comparison. The accompaniments were relatively tame by the standards set so far. Still at this point a classic steak was probably all that my worn out palate could appreciate. A rioja with some sour fruit and minerality as well as a somewhat rustic complexion that tied the dish to the marrow and earthy mushrooms.

Intermezzo: "Cookies & Milk"
We all laughed when we saw this dish, think Dippin' Dots meets Oreo Cookies.

18: Lavender Flower Macaron - Crème Fraiche Panna Cotta, Vanilla-Passion Sorbet, Floral Cotton Candy
2000 Patricius, 5 Puttonyos, Tokaji, Hungary
This is my style of dessert combining the bright acidity of fresh fruit with a simple sugary sweetness. The floral cotton candy and lavender macaron drive this dish but the tangy panna cotta and dazzling sorbet keep the dish light and lively while the sugary sweet tokaji took some of the edge off the acidity of the dish itself.

19: Baba Au Rhum - Textures of Coconut and Pineapple
2004 Weingut Rosenhof, TBA Chardonnay, Illmitz, Austria
This was more a study of fresh fruit than a pastry with the rum heightening the tropical feel of the dish. Humorously, the vibrant fruit flavors can be summed up in three words "white gummi-bear"

20: Fools Gold - Chocolate, Salty Hazelnut Praline, Milk Sorbet
1989 L'Étoile, Cuvée Réservée, Grand Cru, Banyuls, Roussillon, France
This was the only course I've tasted previously, having been on the menu at Hatchi. The base is a rich chocolate ganache topped with a classic hazelnut accompaniment that tastes like a cross between salted caramel and a Ferrero Rocher. The sorbet cleanses the palate after each sugary bite, just like washing down a thick brownie with a glass of milk.

21: Sticky Toffee Pudding - Jasmine "Rice Cream", Lime, Banana Custard
1998 Domaine Fontanel, Rivesaltes Ambré, Roussillon, France
I was expecting more salty/sweet goodness from this course but the pudding turned out to be substantially lighter than the Fools Gold. Instead I got the disconcerting fragrance of the Jasmine "Rice Cream" which reminded me a lot of dinnertime at home.

I had the opportunity to get an early look at The Dining Room under Chef Voltaggio at Hatchi. I remember thinking the food was still a bit rough around the edges and the influence from his time at The Bazaar too apparent. Since then he has grown by leaps and bounds, using some of the same techniques but putting his own personal stamp on the food. I came to the restaurant with high expectations and this meal utterly shattered them. It wasn't just Chef Voltaggio who went all out for this meal but the Sommelier Josh Goldman who paired 21 distinct wines, one for each course. I can't wait to see what the two of them have in store for us at the revamped Dining Room.

No comments: