1401 South Oak Knoll Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91106
In an odd bit of symmetry the first big opening of 2013 is followed by the year's first big closure: The Royce at the Langham Hotel in Pasadena. For many years The Dining Room under Craig Strong and then Michael Voltaggio was the gold standard for hotel restaurants in the area. With Voltaggio's departure in summer of 2010, the hotel turned the kitchen over to Patina-alum David Feau. Feau's sophisticated and inventive New American cuisine made The Royce one of few remaining bastions of fine dining in Los Angeles. Unfortunately the restaurant never really caught on with locals or hotel guests leading the powers-that-be to replace it with a steakhouse (shudder). With five visits in two years, the Royce is easily my most frequented restaurant so it was only fitting that I would be there on its last night to say goodbye.
"SENSES AMUSE - sucré - acid - salé - fumé - croquant
I've never been a fan of beets but their naturally high sugar content is singularly suited to a sorbet. The vegetable tinged sweetness is enriched by a covering of crème fraîche studded with salty exclamations of caviar. A dusting of Kaffir lime zest adds a citrus aroma that helps temper the intensity of the beets.
SPINY LOBSTER | DAIKON RADISH - raw marinated spiny lobster, horseradish daikon "remoulade", sesame beets, escarole
With the Lunar New Year fast approaching, lobsters have become increasingly hard to find. The bright saline pop of the lobster tail is augmented with a rich creamy horseradish remoulade. The beets didn't do much for me on this dish but the austere escarole helped cleanse the palate between bites. Delicate and refined but with incisive multifaceted flavor, this dish encapsulated everything I love about Chef Feau's cooking.
CLAMS | SEAWEED - steamed razor clams, "french kimchi", seaweed broth
I've had a handful of absolutely sublime razor clam preparations but this certainly wasn't among them. While the tender mild clams didn't do much for me, the broth was absolutely sublime; silky smooth with an umami-laced butteriness. The "French kimchi" smelled like the original but the flavor was much milder, an unconventional but effective compliment to the broth.
ARTICHOKE | LARDO - anzo artichoke "tulipe", white mushroom, lardo, mache bouquet
Given my general disdain for artichokes, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this dish. The tulip had a surprisingly direct smoky sapor deftly augmented by the unctuousness of the lardo. The artichoke pureè had an intense savory tang that was a bit harsh for my tastes though the palate cleanser of mushroom and mache provided a palpable sense of relief.
TURBOT | MUSHROOM - seared turbot cheek, celery fish stock, cauliflower "tofu", hedgehog mushrooms, ginko nut
The duo of turbot proved to be one of the most controversial courses of the night. I thought the filet had a satisfying dense tenderness, but some of my companions found the fish a bit boring. The cheek had a starkly different feel with a stringy yet muscular supple texture. The stock was made with the fish head and had a homey roast chicken like sapor. The accompaniments were all quite delicious as well particularly the yuzu tinged "tofu".
BLACK MULLET | FISH SOUP - seared black mullet fillet á la plancha, potato emulsion, canella fish jus, carrot-candy, fennel
This proved to be the most pleasant surprise fo the evening. The mullet a la plancha was satisfying in its direct simplicity but the soup was the real star of the show. Beneath the cloud of airy potato lay a dense bisque-like soup whose buttery savor had me craving more after every bite.
LENTILS | BLACK TRUFFLE - green lentils "du puy" & sweet peas ragoutté, pumpkin seeds, shaved winter black truffle
Our final meal at The Royce would have been incomplete without Feau's signature dish. Resting on the warm lentils, the intoxicating aroma of the prized fungus slowly fills the air. The taut plump lentils are mixed with sweet peas in a buttery soup. A generous helping of crisp pumpkin seeds gives adds a nutty counterpoint to the rounded buttery flavor of the rest of the dish.
WAGYU | TWO SERVICES
This was an expansion on a previous Wagyu and bone marrow course. First up was a beignet of marrow. Underneath the crispy fried exterior was a rendered semi-liquid fat that had an oddly fishy flavor when combined with the puree. Next up was a Wagyu rib eye cap done Rossini style. The beef had a delightfully toothsome grain and luscious marbling beautifully moderated by the bed of crisp nutty greens.
GOAT TOMME | WHITE TRUFFLE - tomme de chevre, crispin apple, hazelnut, piemonte white truffle honey
Even without the black and white truffle this would have been one of the most interesting cheese courses that I've had in recent memory. The thin slivers of goat cheese melt on contact leaving a creamy coat on the tongue while the apple and honey add a moderating sweetness to balance the chevre's gamy tang.
SUSHI RICE | LEMON GRASS - creamy vanilla "sushi rice", lemon grass milk
When I saw this dish described as "sushi rice" I was instantly intrigued. The dish turned out to be a variation of rice pudding with a floral tang from the lemon grass ice cream.
CREPE SUZETTE | WHITE CHOCOLATE - "crepe suzette", frozen chocolate ganache, valencia orange grand marnier, grapefruit ice cream
Though lacking the table side flames, this dish had the classic citrus notes enriched by a decadent chocolate ganache.
PETIT FOURS & CHOCOLATE - the royce selection
The final course consisted of a handful of chocolates and tiny pastries. The pastries included a chocolate nougat, queso torta and miniature key lime pie. The chocolates were the classic Royce trio: espelette white chocolate, illy espresso milk chocolate and fleur de sel dark chocolate
With a string of inventive, sophisticated and consistently delicious courses, this meal was a fitting way to say goodbye to The Royce.
Sunday, January 27, 2013
1401 South Oak Knoll Avenue