Thursday, October 15, 2009

Dessert for Dinner at Restaurant Omakase in Riverside

3720 Mission Inn Ave
Riverside, CA 92501-3216
(951) 788-8820

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.


weezermonkey said...

I don't love molten chocolate cake. Don't shun me. I'm allergic.

I'm impressed you found something decent to eat in my hometown. :)

gastronomnom said...

Hmmm, probably not a reason to go to Riverside and given that I'm rarely there, I think this review is the closest I'll ever come to Restaurant Omakase!

Kristine said...

WHAT!?! I can't believe the wine pairing was an *additional* $100. I totally agree with your review, L. Your photos are glittering! Loved the lighting of the restaurant, though, even though all the courses were a tad bit too sweet and the chef had a heavy hand with the salt.

H. C. said...

looks nice, but not great enough to be a destination restaurant (even if our sweet lady of virbila blessed it with two stars.) But maybe en route to and from Palm Springs, which I'm actually diving to Halloween weekend.

And yeah, it's pretty crazy if the wine pairings cost more than the meal... the LATimes review seem to indicate that it's $100 including pairing though. I guess I'll check and definitely ask should I pursue that option if I go.

Food, she thought. said...

I would never shun you, publicly.

Being that we were the only customers of the entire evening that night, I would be surprised if this little sweet spot makes it through the recession.

Thank you darling.

I read that in SIV's review as well, and that's what I was expecting. However, I am SURE that's not what the waiter said. Maybe he misspoke.

Anonymous said...

i have been there too, i thought it was actually really good! i think your mistaken, it's $100 with wine not for wine & if you get the 7 course it's $135 with wine!

anyhow, there wines are really good!

Anonymous said...

Wine isn't an additional 100, its 100 total including the meal! I have dined here several times I assure you, look at the pictures of the menu you took, its clearly listed here.

Although your pictures are beautiful and your opinions seem well thought out, I disagree with you on most. I find the Pumpkin soup to be very balanced, not too sweet at all.

Sure a molten cake has been done, but what sets it apart is the in house made ice creams that are paired with it. I have had brown sugar sea salt, black pepper, and basil to name a few. You wont find that at cheesecake factory!

Food, she thought. said...

Anonny 1,

I believe you that the price is $100 with wine pairing, but I can assure you that is NOT what the waiter said. He said an additional $100. I wrote it down immediately after he said it, I am looking at my notes. However, the one glass of wine I did have was lovely.

Anonny 2,
Neither the price of the prix fixe is listed nor the price of the wine pairings. Look at the photos again. My issue with the sweetness of the food is less about the soup (was delicious, as noted), which I loved and my dining companion did not but more about the trajectory of the entire meal. And molten chocolate cake? Sorry, fail in my book.

Kristine said...

these anonymous peeps seem very defensive... *scratches head*

Anonymous said...

I am writing anonymously becuase I am not a member of this site?

ryan said...

I must say, i am a bit bothered by this blog post. I live on the west side & eat all over LA & beyond. I travel to the inland empire all the time for work & have been dining at omakase since they opened. How many restaurants change their menu every month, week & or day? How many restaurants have a garden grown just for them? Lastly, how many restaurants have the wines they have? And let me tell you something else, the fact that they have made it 3 years in riverside is amazing, everytime i go they are at least half full, just because you go 1 time in three years & they are slow on a tuesday night, doesn't mean they are not going to make it, that is ignorant. They deserved more credit, because they are good people that work very hard & will probably outlast the majority of our LA spots, look at SONA!

ryan said...

Also, the prices are clearly listed on the menu, not on your photos, but your photos are only portions of the menu, not the entire page. There prices have been the same for like 2 years, which i have always found impressive.

Food, she thought. said...

Anyone can post here, registered or not, as long as they keep it clean!!!

So, what you are really bothered by are the comments section rather than the post itself. In the post, every concern I wrote about was legitimately objective. RO gets credit for their work with local gardens & wonderful
ingredients. There was one issue regarding their slowness that was left out as it waS unnecessary for sharing. After some further exploration & comments in this section, I edited carefully the concern/misunderstanding about the prices. Personally, I find the defensiveness of the comments here a little odd. I went to dinner at Restaurant Omakase and was served items from the menu in a "spontaneous" tasting menu, which is clearly not what the menu suggests, in the pictures. The food was good, but all courses had very sweet elements as the forward note. Neither of these statements are opinion. I hope RO lasts. It's a lovely little spot with a wonderful concept. And I wish there had been more clients there that night, perhaps we wouldn't have felt so rushed.

Kristine said...

I agree about wanting RO to last; in no way was L's blog entry one fringed with malice or hate. I think she was being honest about her experience and her opinion (this is something that everyone has the right to exercise: they're opinion.)

I am K, the other diner, and I loved many things about Omakase: the ambiance, the vision, the fact that it is one of the very few fine dining places in the area. I, too, felt that there are certain changes or improvements that can be made ... but that goes with almost every establishment. The thing is: experiences are subjective and vary from person to person.

That being said, I will probably go back to RO and give it another go. Perhaps it was an "off" night for my experience and I am hoping next time it will be better. :)

Anonymous said...

You shouldn't find defensiveness odd, you should find it refreshing. Fans of RO are hardcore and we don't like to see our little gem treated in a way it does not deserve. It proves that you may have been there on a "off" night since so many others have not had similar experiences.

Anonymous said...

Give it another go, you wont be disappointed. :)

Cara said...

Great post, Liz. I appreciate the objectivity and fairness of your entries, leaving the reader to come to their own decision about whether or not they may/may not choose to further investigate a venue.

Tricerapops said...

wow - what discourse this entry has provided? after suggesting it via twitter, i was waiting for your review. RO does have a loyal following and i think the fact that it's tucked away in riverside helps add to the allure and heightened loyalty/defense. i grew up in the inland empire - and fine dining can exist in the outskirts of southern california, and there is a market for it. RO is a good example of that, and it does deserve the credit. i felt your review was balanced and fair, and i appreciate that you took the time out to share your thoughts.

Food, she thought. said...

Thank you. I think it merits further investigation. Next time I am in the neighborhood, I may give it another whirl, K in tow.

Unfortunately, I had very high hopes based on the Yelp reviews that appear the least biased. I don't see why Southern California, on the outskirts of the urban centers, cannot support fine dining. The Bay Area and Napa seem to do it extremely successfully. With a major university nearby to RO, I would think Riverside could sustain a top notch spot. Not extremely fond of argumentation over objective comments, but I certainly always welcome discourse. Thank you for your input via Twitter. Dining there and reporting in has certainly been an interesting experience.

Tricerapops said...

i gather you get around a lot - and it's good that you have an open mind to try out all these places, and you certainly perform the due diligence before venturing in to try a spot out.

i would say that equating napa/bay area environs with riverside/the inland empire is a bit unfair - the income per capita is off and i imagine tourist numbers would skew heavily to the side of the former (providing more $$$ to the market). i know i mentioned that there is a market for fine dining in the area - but it's certainly not to par with other areas in california - which is why there are places few and far between, in the fine dining bucket.

so for that reason alone, and the plethora of options overall at all price points - I'm glad i live closer to LA.

Food, she thought. said...

I don't think it's an unfair comparison population-wise, but definitely culture-wise, Napa or surrounding areas to the Bay Area to outerlying Riverside or Orange counties. I do get around a lot, but not to many places that have a dining culture worthy of exploring. Not to decry the places that I go, I meet a lot of interesting people and see alternatives to the way we urban folk experience the world. It keeps my mind open!