Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Royce - 11/18/2010

1401 South Oak Knoll Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91106
(626) 585-6410

After a long-delayed renovation the restaurant at the Langham Hotel in Pasadena was ready to open, with a new chef to go along with its new look. I don't think there is any question that Chef Voltaggio made The Dining Room a bastion of progressive cuisine and one of LA's premier restaurants and any successor would have some big shoes to fill. To meet that challenge the Langham's management tapped Chef David Feau who worked closely with Guy Savoy before spending a decade as Executive Chef at Lutèce. In 2006 he came to Los Angeles to head Café Pinot and eventually rose to Corporate Executive Chef of the Patina Group.

The dining room maintains a sense of luxury befitting the Langham but combines it with a decidedly modern look. We were seated at the chefs table which is separated from the main dining room by a frosted wall. Similarly the kitchen is cut off by a wall of glass leaving the diners with only a vague view of where the magic happens.

When we arrived, we were greeted by Eric Espuny, formerly of Patina, now Director of Wine at the Royce. He directed us to the red wine room where we held a short reception complete with champagne. Eric explained to us access to the wine room was restricted to those dining at the chef's table.

BREAD - bacon, pan noir, rye, black olive
The bread is baked on premises and decidedly heavy and rustic, enjoyable but it would have been better warm.

CALF LIVER | PICKLED CONCORD GRAPES - sunchoke soup, cajun spices, smoked herring "friend"
Quartz Reef, Methode Traditionnelle, Central Otago, New Zealand
For the Dining Room veterans in our party, the amuse immediately drew comparisons to Voltaggio's, going as far as to use the same dark stone plates. The amuse was decidedly heavy, starting with a sunchoke soop that was remarkably sapid and smoky with a lingering vegetal finish. The puff pastry came filled with an invisible but forceful smoked herring mousse; the characteristic oiliness of the fish contrasting nicely with the buttery dough. Last up was a tiny morsel of calf liver, the potent iron tang of the offal was offset by a burst of acid from the pickled grape.

LOBSTER | POMEGRANATE - slopw poached lobster, coleman's farm butter lettuce, sweet onion, pomegranate hot and snow
Traminer, Sant'Elena, Friuli, Italy
Considering Chef Feau's roots, I expected a more traditional experience at The Royce. Right out of the gate Chef Feau showed us that he isn't afraid to break out the liquid nitrogen when it's called for; in this case to make a vividly pink pomegranate snow that provided a resounding temperature contrast to the dish. The salad proved to be a super multifaceted affair, the crispness of the lettuce complimenting the tender morsels of lobster whose characteristic flavor was further enhanced by the sweet onion and acidity of the pomegranate seeds.

CABBAGE | OYSTER - savoy cabbage and oyster velouté, crème fraiche mignonette, domestic caviar
Cheverny, P. Belker, Loire Valley, France
Oysters and caviar is a strong foundation on which to base a dish. Though I prefer raw oysters, the silkiness and concentrated salinity of the cooked Hama Hama was superb. The oyster came wrapped in a verdant lacy gauze of Savoy cabbage. The single leaf of deep green lacked the sulfurous funk of common cabbage and instead provided a sweet foil to the oyster. The wine was a Sauvignon Blanc that exuded a chalky minerality accompanied by a salinity on the palate; the perfect mate to the oyster.

PORCINI | PEAR - porcini and chestnut casserole "au four," parsley, kosui pear
Xeres, Del Duque, Amontillado, Viejo, Spain
Porcini is one of my favorite flavor accompaniment in risotto or other such dish but this was a uniquely memorable experience. the mushroom is a natural companion for the autumnal sweetness of the chestnuts while the pear adds a chill juiciness that balances the earthiness of the casserole. The wine is a fortified Sherry whose woody earth matches the heavy flavors of the porcini and chestnut.

SCALLOP | ENDIVE - diver scallop, cardinal sauce, braised endive, caviar, finger lime
Domaine Testut, Premier Cru, Chablis, France
Chef Feau was feeling generous, and decided to provide us with an extra course. The scallop itself is well cooked and buttery rich with its natural sapor enhanced by a generous spread of caviar. By contrast, the soft endive possesses a lingering bitterness that balances the weight of the bivalve. The crunchy bits of finger lime stood in such stark relief to the ocean born elements, adding a vibrancy of texture and flavor that captivated the entire table. The wine comes from a Domaine Testut in Chablis and carries the characteristic brine and minerality the terroir is known for.

SALSIFI | SALSIFI - salsifi four ways, puree, braised, ash, fried
François Chidaine Montlouis Sur Loire Les Tuffeaux, Montlouis/Vouvray, France
Salsify, also known as Oyster Plant for its faint oyster-like flavor has remarkable versatility and this course demonstrates that nicely. The braised preparation is likely the most natural tasting, savory with a touch of sweetness. The ash covered preparation retained the sweetness but the prickly coat of ash imparted a charred peppery bite. One of my companions liked the fried version to a sweet potato chip while the puree was exactly like mashed potato and absolutely delicious with the Cajun spice. Paired with this remarkably versatile vegetable is an equally versatile wine, a Chenin Blanc and one of the sweeter wines of the evening with flavors of honeyed stone fruit and almond.

BERKSHIRE PORK | DATE - apple cider braised pork belly, hallway dates chutney, carol potato
François Chidaine Montlouis Sur Loire Les Tuffeaux, Montlouis/Vouvray, France
I prefer my pork belly ostentatiously fatty and tender but I quite enjoyed this preparation despite being a bit on the dry side. The more restrained pork felt more in tune with the ripe date chutney and roasted apple. Again the ripe fruit and honey of the Chenin Blanc resonate with the character of the pork

JOHN DORY | VENT BASQUE - st pierre fillet, á la plancha, black bread, iberico ham, gundillas bacalao sauce
Irouleguy, Herri Mina
The next course blends elements of French and Spanish cooking from the Basque Country. The fish itself is fairly light and reminiscent of Dungeness crab, sweet with a gentle aroma of the sea. The topping consisted of piquillo peppers which added a rustic vegetal smack to the mix. Fitting that the wine selected to pair with the dish also hails from the Basque region, a bit more rustic than our earlier libations, this wine features notes of honey and apple but also elements of earth and salinity.

GUINEA HEN | CAVIAR - skinless roasted guinea hen, chestnut milk, domestic caviar, spinach leaves
IGT Toscana, Lagone, Aia Vecchia
The chicken itself was taut and lean with very little flavor on its own. I absolutely adored the use of caviar to flavor the chicken and bringing in a pleasing sensation of the sea to this dish. A Borgeaux blend from Italy the wine centers around a core of ripe sour cherry , but with elements of wood and vanilla giving it some complexity.

VENISON | LYCHEE - roasted venison loin, red cabbage ginger-lychee compote, sweet potato snap peas
Borie la Vitarelle, St Chinian
I've been fortunate to enjoy a pair of stellar venison courses during the past few days, wonderfully tender with a wildness lacking in beef, but yet not overly gamy. What sets this dish apart from most other venison is the choice of accompaniments. Most preparations pair earthy dark elements drawing on the gamy rustic nature of the deer and in those cases I've found such pairings superfluous, preferring the venison on its own. Chef Feau takes the opposite route, countering the weight of the meat with tropical lychee sweetness and levity from the ginger tinged cabbage. The wine Eric selected for our final savory was a syrah/grenache blend that offers the best of both worlds, bold peppery spice and lush jammy fruits.

CAMEMBERT | COING - salted crust russian banana potato topped with camembert, quince confit
Jurançon, Clos Uroulat
I love a good cheese cart as much as the next person but some of my most memorable fromage courses have been ones with a single cheese integrated into a unique course. The Jurançon is a full round wine sweet but with enough acidity to keep things lively.

CHOCOLATE | BLACK CURRANT - variations of chocolate textures
E Lustau, Moscatel Emilin
The meal finished with a study in chocolate, the rich flavor of dark chocolate was presented in tuille, souffle, and ice cream form. The black currant sorbet was integral, adding a tart frutiness that kept the dish from becoming too one-dimensional.

We were brought two plates of mignardises, in the first trio were a queso de torta, a creme brulee with a chocolate shell, and a fruit tart. The second plate consisted solely of chocolates: a white with espalette pepper, cafe au lait, and fleur de sel dark chocolate.

After the meal, Eric lined up the wines we drank in our Bacchanalian excess and he seems justifiably proud of his work. As with previous visits, the meal ended with a visit to the kitchen where Chef Feau greeted us warmly and assured us that by February the restaurant would be even better than what we tasted tonight.

The conscientious service remains unchanged from Voltaggio's day but the real question was whether the food would hold up and in that regard the Royce exceeded my expectations. Chef Feau's cuisine is elegant without being staid, adventurous without being inscrutable, and masterfully executed by a kitchen three days old. Considering Chef Feau's promise, I am eager to see how the restaurant develops in the coming months.


Komal Mehta said...

I get the biggest grin on my face thinking about that meal. The pictures came out great.

Rich said...

Hmm, the presentation definitely looks more "main-stream" than before (but still looks good). I like the makeover of the dining room - definitely goes with the food now.