1401 South Oak Knoll Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91106
My first trip to The Royce back in 2010 was definitely one the standout meals of the year and a total sleeper. Michael Voltaggio was undoubtedly a tough act to follow but Chef David Feau has done so spectacularly thanks to his sophisticated yet contemporary Cal-French cuisine. I meant to revisit The Royce earlier and likely would have if it weren't so far off the beaten path. It finally took the allure of combining truffles with Chef Feau's already delicious cooking to overcome my inertia.
AMUSE - potato leek soup with espelette oil, tofu purée with ponzu and firefly squid, duck mousse profiteroles with caramel au poivre
The meal opened with a trio of small bites from the kitchen. The potato leek soup was a thick savory potage with a touch of herbal smoke from the espelette. The tofu purée was even more impressive juxtaposing a bright citrus tang with the bitter earthy salinity of the squid. The final morsel of the trio was a rich liver mousse coated with buttery pastry and a caramel candy shell with a creeping pepper on the finish.
01: OYSTER | BOUCHÉ - "pied de cheval" oyster, tartare "cuit" toasted pain noir, sherry vinegar black truffle butter
The meal proper began with a "pied de cheval" or horse hoof oyster is a large old European oyster that takes many years (up to 25) to grow and can reach 10oz in weight. The larger oyster has a deeper heavier brine perfect with the lightly toasty bitterness of the bread and sweet fragrance of the truffle.
02: BLUE FIN TUNA | RADISH - blue fin tuna just warm, black truffle gelée, radish salad
Contender for strongest courses of the night, the tender flesh of the fish is infused with a piercing smoke and the gelee adds a lissome savory fragrance while the radish gives a contrasting bitter ring. The dish has an endearing simplicity that epitomizes Feau's contemporary style.
03: DOVER SOLE | ENDIVE - dover sole á la poêle, crunchy endive bergamot lemon, cauliflower mushroom charred truffled leeks
I've had sole before but never quite like this; the tender supple fish is rich with the aroma of butter, a touch heavy but very classically French. Accompanying the fish is the most spectacular endive, crisp succulent and coated with a brilliant lemon tang and a ragout of mushrooms rounds the dish out with a earthy gravitas
04: LENTILS | PEAS - green lentils du puy "ragoutte", english peas, perigord shaved black truffle
Feau continues to astound with a singularly delicious presentation of lentils du puy. While the truffle stands out, the natural flavors of the lentils and peas make their presence known. The gritty texture of the lentils are preceded by a tender snap while the porous nature of the legumes absorbs the alluring essence of the truffles. The crisp green peas adds a sweet vegetal cast to the mix.
SUPPLEMENT: FOIE GRAS | WATERCRESS - foie gras royale, buckwheat crêpe, cress-concord grape
Feeling that the nominal seven course menu might be a touch light, we selected four of the most interesting a la carte courses to supplement the dinner. First up was a seared foie presented with crepe, watercress and grapes. While the seared foie was immaculate, the accompaniments felt quite muted by comparison.
SUPPLEMENT: EEL | ZINFANDEL - eel-zinfandel "matelote", pork belly, gold turnips and button mushroom
This was the only real letdown of the night. By the time the dish got to me the belly was nowhere to be seen and without it the eel was decidedly monolithic. More than that the eel had a thick spine that felt disconcerting to chew through. Our server explained that it was needed to give the eel structure.
SUPPLEMENT: VENISON | PLANTAIN-BOURBON - roasted young venison loin, plantain confit, mashed parsnips, carrot bourbon sauce
This was one of the stronger a la carte dishes. The deer was wonderfully tender while the sauce has a rustic woody burn to well suited to the gaminess of the meat. Though I don't care much for bananas, I thought their nuanced sugariness helped to offset the weight of the meat.
SUPPLEMENT: PARTRIDGE | CELTUCE - puff pastry partridge pie, foie gras, black trumpet mushroom, celtuce
The final supplement was a partridge pie. This was my first experience with the bird, instead of the typical game bird richness, the partridge had a lean white meat texture seasoned but a surprising porcine savor on the palate. The pie was saturated with a darkly rich sauce to compliment its flaky butteriness. Though the course lacks some of the refinement of the lighter courses, the weightiness would be appropriate for an entree.
TRANSITION: BONBON - truffle crusted foie gras, radish
After a short detour, we returned to the truffle tasting and the kitchen sent out bonbons of foie gras covered in truffle to get us back in the proper mindset. Not much to explain how could this pairing be anything but sublime.
05: BEEF | POTATO - mishima wagyu rib eye cut, roasted king oyster mushroom, sea salt fava beans, dfc potato, perigourdine sauce
Mishima beef originally hailed from a small island south of Honshu. Unlike Kobe beef, Mishima has not been cross bred with European cattle. This particular rib eye came from Hawaii, and our waiter claimed it was the closest one could get to true wagyu in the states. While not the fattiest, the beef had a lovely grain and soft supple texture. The classic accompaniments of mushroom and potato are elevated to match the exquisite cut of beef.
06: MORBIER | APPLE - morbier cow's milk cheese, steamed cauliflower, pacific rose apple, black truffle honey, comme une raclette
After a number of complex heavier courses, Feau returns to form with a simple composition of cheese and apple. The cooked apple has a muted sweetness to go with the equally mild cheese and it is the crisp bitterness of the arugula leaf that stands out most clearly.
INTERMEZZO - persimmon sorbet, kaffir lime tart, torta de queso, chocolate pot de creme
A quartet of desserts follow the cheese. Though I can't stand fresh persimmon, there was something addictive about the sorbet; the sweet ripe fruit is tinged with an herbal finish reminiscent of a fruit tea. Of the three little pastries my favorite was the torta, a seamless marriage of savory sweet pastry.
07: CHESTNUT | PORT | VANILLA - chestnut mousse and port gelée, milk chocolate truffle sorbet, vanilla butter sauce
The final dessert consisted of a creamy chestnut mousse over a base of sticky sweet gelee; a captivating mix of ripe fruit, vanilla, and soothing winter spice. Even more than the mousse, the sorbet was a thing of beauty, creamy sweet chocolate infused with salty earthy musk, reminiscent of the truffle milk from LQ@SK.
CHOCOLATE - espelette white chocolate, illy espresso milk chocolate, fleur de sel dark chocolate
The meal ended with a quartet of leaf shaped chocolate tablets. My favorite was the espresso milk chocolate, sweet yet shot through with notes of bitterness.
I was expecting a great meal but Feau outdid himself. Though the a la carte dishes had some rough spots, the tasting menu is sheer poetry on a plate. The chef uses truffles masterfully, a luxurious flourish to underscore each dish rather than dominate them. With this meal, Feau confirms his position as one of Southern California's most exciting chefs, though I doubt he will get the recognition he deserves while at The Royce.
Friday, February 10, 2012
1401 South Oak Knoll Avenue