Friday, March 29, 2013

The Royce | Wood Fired Steakhouse - 03/28/2013

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

The Langham and the Ritz-Carlton before it, have always taken a more serious approach to hotel dining. In fact the Langham has been home to some of LA's most progressive cooking first with the Dining Room under Michael Voltaggio and more recently The Royce under Chef David Feau.

Unfortunately Feau's contemporary French cuisine never really caught on with the local crowd or hotel guests. Despite serving superb food the restaurant always seemed mostly empty so it was no surprise when the hotel management decided to take a restaurant in a new direction at the beginning of the year. While I was sad to see Feau leave The Royce, I was hoping the new Wood-Fired Steakhouse would be just the thing to replace the declining CUT as LA's top steakhouse. To the hotel's credit, they hired the perfect man for the job in Chef Anthony Zappola. The long time Craft alum had been part of Colicchio's company for the past 8 years, most recently as the chef de cuisine at the LA outpost.

OYSTERS - on the half shell, from the wood grill, gratin
Jean-Marc Brocard, Domaine Ste. Claire, Chablis, 2011
We started the meal off with a trio of oysters a raw Kusshi, grilled Crystal Bay, and a Gratin Misty Bay. The grilled preparation with its subtly smoky perfume would have been the star but for bits of grit and shell that accompanied it. The Kusshi was a touch saltier than normal but still quite tasty while the oyster gratin had a rich buttery flavor with a twinge of salty verve.

STEAK TARTARE - tabasco vinaigrette
Chateau Clarettes, Côtes de Provence Rose, 2010
No steak restaurant would be complete without a tartare on the menu. This one blends large chunks of toothsome steak with thick pieces of cornichon. I thought the Tabasco vinaigrette would be overly harsh but the sauce was a satisfying blend of vinegar and spice.

MARYLAND CRAB CAKE - sumac, roasted lemon yogurt
Chateau Clarettes, Côtes de Provence Rose, 2010
This was a solid crab cake built around a core of sweet meat but the surrounding batter was a bit distracting. The sumac and lemon yogurt provide a prominent acidity that helps balance the weight of the cake.

WAGYU BEEF CARPACCIO - spicy radishes
Chateau Clarettes, Côtes de Provence Rose, 2010
I ordered this dish hoping to compare it to CUT's preparation but the two couldn't be more different. CUT's version is very Asian influenced where this preparation is more akin to a beef prosciutto. The meat is salted and dried giving it a smooth even texture and a rich umami-salinity from the salt cure. The radishes provide a sharply contrasting bitterness that tempers the richness of the beef.

WHOLE ROASTED ORGANIC POUSSIN - kumquats rosemary jus
Argyle, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon, 2011
The chickens came presented on a cutting board dressed with rosemary and thyme. The bird itself is immensely flavorful with a taut dense slickness reminiscent of a game bird. I have to admit I would be tempted to order this again.

COLORADO RACK OF LAMB - vadouvan jus
Argyle, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon, 2011
It has been awhile since I've seen such gamy lamb, but aside from that this was a well prepared rack. The meat is tender and nicely complimented by the curried kick of the vadouvan jus.

HAWAIIAN PRAWNS - candied peanuts, chilies
Argyle, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon, 2011
Sadly the best part of this dish was the vegetables, thanks to the char imparted by the wood-fired grill. The prawns themselves were a touch limp for my liking though they did have a good bit of salinity to them.

Along with our non-steak entrees came three sides. The radicchio was as bold and bitter as you please with a pleasing crunch to boot.

SOFT POLENTA - mimolette cheese
I was excited to pair the polenta with the prawns, a sort of impromptu shrimp and grits, but the flavor was disconcertingly sweet thanks to a heavy dose of vanilla. The Mimolette was evident in a stringy sensation on the grits but the flavor was surprisingly absent.

SEA ISLAND RED PEAS - fresh bacon
Red Peas are a Jamacan name for kidney beans. The dense starchy legumes were seasoned with a mix reminiscent of salsa giving them a lively zest. I didn't get to try the bacon but with the abundance of fresh flavor I didn't miss it either.

Moving onto the steaks we started with the big guns, a Kobe-style beef from Gunma prefecture. The steak was a beautifully marbled A5 New York cut oozing with rendered fat and a heady buttery richness. You can believe that we ate every last piece of this wonderful cut even the gristle and silver skin.

FILET MIGNON - Moyer Farm, Grain-Fed USDA Prime, Pennsylvania
NEW YORK STRIP - Moyer Farm, Grain-Fed USDA Prime, Pennsylvania
The filet was the weakest cut of the night, the beef was certainty tender but lacked sufficient flavor for my tastes. The New York strip was much better, served on the rare side, the meat had a pleasing slickness and more apparent beefiness than the filet.

FILET MIGNON - Brandt Beef, 100% All-Natural, Brawley, California
RIBEYE - Brandt Beef, 100% All-Natural, Brawley, California
Though still wet aged, the Brandt beef was far more impressive than the Moyer Farm cuts. The meat is organic and has a lean steely character along with a smoky char from the grill. Again the filet was a bit mild but the rib eye had plenty of fatty goodness to go along with the simple seasoning of salt and pepper.

NEW YORK STRIP - Greg Norman Signature Australian Wagyu
RIBEYE - Greg Norman Signature Australian Wagyu
The Australian Wagyu blends traits from both the classic American beef and the luxurious Japanese steak. The meat has a slightly softer texture thanks to the added marbling but doesn't feel like eating pure fat.

Earthy and smothered with a creamy buttery glaze, these were quintessential steakhouse mushrooms.

The spinach was one of the best night's sides. The crisp leafy greens are coated with a luxurious truffle laden dressing that the entire table enjoyed.

Gourmet mac 'n cheese is always a treat and this was up there with the best of them. Along with the umami-laced cheese sauce there is a restrained but palpable sense of maple sweetness infused into the pasta

No steak dinner would be complete without some kind of potato dish and while I'm normally a sucker for gratin a bit bland and too runny.

MAPLE BRIOCHE BREAD PUDDING - candy cap mushroom ice cream
Desserts got off to a strong start with the maple syrup giving the brioche a French Toast like flavor. The idea of mushroom ice cream was intriguing but the flavor was more like a conventional vanilla than I was lead to expect.

GINGER BABA RUM - chestnut cream, rum ice cream
The second dessert was a baba al rhum and while I normally abhor rum cake, the spice of the ginger and caramel sauce help balance the booziness of the rum.

WEST COAST DUTCH BABY - market fresh berries and tahitian vanilla ice cream
The most restrained of the dessert, the Dutch baby is akin to a pancake fitting given the dessert is sometimes called a German pancake. The lightly sweet popover serves as the perfect wrapper for the vanilla and fresh berries.

FRIED CINNAMON BEIGNET - chocolate bailey's sauce
I'm typically a sucker for freshly fried doughnuts but these were a bit disappointing. Not that they were bad by any means but the texture was a touch too dense and doughy for my tastes.

CHOCOLATE LAYERED MOUSSE CAKE - vanilla malt milk shake
Utterly rich and sinfully decadent, this was pretty much everything one would expect from a chocolate cake.

The elevated steakhouse fare at the re-imagined Royce clearly has been designed with the an eye towards pleasing the local market. Any good steakhouse lives or dies by the quality of its beef and while The Royce's steaks are certainly enjoyable I would have liked to see more dry-aged selections. Zappola explained that dry-aged beef isn't as popular with diners hence the restaurant's decision to focus heavily on wet-aged cuts. With the transition from Feau to Zappola, The Royce has traded sophistication for accessibility but as this meal has proven that isn't necessarily a bad thing.


Darin said...

I don't know if it was just the lighting or angle, but it looked like the wagyu had very little pink. Wasn't impressed by the temperature gradients in many of the other cuts too.

Epicuryan said...

The wagyu could have been a bit redder but the high fat makes it tender regardless. I though the rest of the steaks were solid except for the two filets which were a bit overdone