3720 Mission Inn AveRiverside, CA 92501-3216
Traveling as frequently as I do for work and rarely to places with much in the way of culinary interest, (some might say that in California there should always be good Mexican food around, but how much Mexican can one eat? I eat a lot of Mexican), I was excited to discover Restaurant Omakase on my radar via a few restaurant review sites. Restaurant Omakase is not a Japanese restaurant. Rather, it is a restaurant that encourages the diner to allow themselves to be put into the chef's hands for creation of their meal at his whim in that given moment. Above, please see a list of possible ingredients that might be included in the chef's tasting menu the evening I dined at Restaurant Omakase. We did indeed cave on the 5-course tasting menu, and two of the ingredients from the list were utilized in our supper.
Above is the explanation Restaurant Omakase gives to its diners, describing the nature of a chef's menu and their boutique approach to wine. While unusual in a restaurant of this caliber to explain an omakase/chef's menu dining experience, I think it is worthwhile to have the qualifications in the menu as it is located in a neighborhood where dining experiences such as this are (next to Restaurant Omakase) non-existant.
I enjoyed my evening at RO with a good friend who is an adventurous and food loving soul. And a shutter bug. We both are learning how to use our DSLRs to their fullest, and there is nothing more fun than doing so with someone else engaged in the same activity. Playing with settings, macro lenses, lighting, composition, etc.
We started with a bottle of sparkling water.
I ordinarily don't garnish my bottled water with fruit. However, I learned from S. Irene Virbila in her 2008 review of Restaurant Omakase that the chef, Brien Clements, works in partner with the Citrus Variety Collection at nearby UC Riverside to offer beautiful local citrus. Additionally, Chef Clements gets much of his produce from Randy Reeves 1-acre plot of land nearby. This was true at the time of SIV's review, and still holds true to this day according to one of our servers. That orange slice was citrus perfection.
Our amuse-bouches of the evening were a pair of gougeres, a savory little pastry with cheese mixed right into the batter.
Occasionally, I have had gougeres where the cheese part is detectable from the batter. Here, however, the cheese was completely integrated into the batter, indecipherable in mouthfeel but detectable in flavor. (This was K's favorite course up until course 4).
For the first starter, fairytale pumpkin soup with soft cheese (ricotta), brioche croutons and vanilla oil. Autumnally delicious, but very very sweet. K has a much larger sweet tooth than I and she couldn't finish hers. It was wonderful, though, with the vanilla being subtle if you took a nice mixed spoonful of ingredients, more forward if the ratio of vanilla to other ingredients was a little higher.
For the third course, we were served Maine lobster over a salad of pear, radicchio & fennel with a spice emulsion.
This course was also delightful, the juiciness of the pear making the salad rather sweet. I tasted no spiciness in the spice emulsion. I am not sure what Chef Clements was going for here or what the ingredients were in the emulsion, seen to the bottom left of the above photo. The flavors were not so strong they overwhelmed the perfectly cooked lobster, but again, the impression this dish left was rather sweet on the palate.
My favorite course was a poussin two ways. The breast on top was roasted with a crispy herbed skin, and the leg underneath was perfectly confited. Surrounding the dish is a pomegranite jus (sweet), and underneath are chunks of butternut squash (sweet fall squash bounty) and curry oil. I thought this dish as a whole was soundly delicious. But again, a couple of sweet elements after all the sweet before. This dish was probably the most well balanced between sweet & savory with some acid and spice thrown in for good measure, but after the previous two sweet dishes, the refrain was tasting a little overly repetitive.
Cheese course. This was hands down K's favorite. To the right are thin slices of Pink Lady apple decorated with large sugar crystals. In the middle is a piece of brioche, reminding me very much of French toast. Crunchy not quite all the way through, and nicely buttery.
A goat cheese is the protagonist on this plate, doused in a lovely peppered honey.
For dessert, out strolls a chocolate lava cake with ginger ice cream. Everyone loves a molten chocolate cake. EVERYONE, don't lie. However, a molten chocolate cake is nothing special to me. I could order this at the Cheesecake Factory. It wasn't special and I didn't eat it. For my palate, Chef Clements should have reversed the order of the courses, omitting the molten cake and serving me instead the fairytale pumpkin soup for dessert.
I was disappointed by a few things the other night at Restaurant Omakase. I came expecting the chef to create some dishes extemporaneously. However, nearly everything we ate came directly from the regular menu. Soup, on the menu. The salad under the lobster was a small course from the menu. Poussin, on the menu. Molten cake, not on the menu and has no place in a restaurant with these aspirations.
Service was genial but fast. So fast they nearly served us the next course while clearing the previous course. I have both read and been told by previous diners that the wine pairing brings the 5 course prix fixe from $60 to $100, however my server that evening gave me an entirely different impression. Perhaps he misspoke when he stated that wine parings for the $60 "omakase" were an additional $100. Reading a review elsewhere prior to my visit, I thought it was $100 including wine pairings, which I might have caved on. But given the rapidity of our service, I doubt I could have done justice to a $100 wine pairing, or even a $40 wine paring whichever the truth may be.
What I did love? My company. I haven't known K long, nor do I see her often. But when I do, it's always like I have known her forever and see her every single day. And that made the meal perfection.