To relieve this blog of my annual self induced holiday slump, my dear friend and food adventure companion Kristine blogs for me about dining with Top Chef Michael Voltaggio at The Dining Room in Pasadena.
Forget the customary Sunday brunch after a morning of sleeping in or any notion of TGIF. My favorite day of the week is Wednesday and it’s all because of Top Chef.
After an exciting finale that had us on the edge of our seats (just which Voltaggio brother would take it?) there was no doubt that we just *had* to go to The Dining Room at The Langham to see what Chef Michael Voltaggio is all about in his own kitchen.
Strolling into the very posh Langham lobby, I wondered how Voltaggio’s whimsical and contemporary creations would mesh with the formality of the hotel that accommodates The Dining Room. Upon being seated my sister, Heidi, and I noticed the “ship” theme. Hmph. It’s not the most modern or stylish of spaces, but I think that is set to change in 2010. As of this upcoming January, The Dining Room will close its doors to “revamp” and remodel the front of the house. I have no doubt that they will liven up the demure space and give it a chicness that will compliment Voltaggio and his cuisine.
The menu offers the perfect variety.
We decided to go with the five-course menu, each ordering different items. That way, by the time we finished we would have tasted ten different dishes.
After starting off with a delicious bacon biscuit and truffle brioche with chevre butter (so delectable that I started nibbling instantly) I was reminded: “Oh, don’t forget to take a picture!”
First course was the Langoustine w/ Fennel “Slaw” and Porcini “lasagna” w/ bouillabaisse. Divine. The Langoustine was prepared perfectly, slightly firm but not a trace of the rubbery that is the hallmark of an overcooked shellfish. I could have had several more portions of this.
Japanese Shima Aji. The pickled baby peaches gave the dish a complimentary brininess; the Benito flakes gave it the balancing crunch. I do admit that the texture of the dashi sea sponge was a little “different” and I could’ve done with a slightly smaller cube.
My sister had never had foie gras before and decided it was decadent and wonderful. The aerated brioche and almonds gave the feathery dish a nice textural balance and when you cut into the foie gras there was a nice sweet apple-saffron “surprise” that oozed out.
Kurobuta Pork Belly. My favorite dish of the evening. Succulent pork belly sous-vide 48 hours (so said by our charming server, Joshua.) With pistachio beans, garlic chips, a pearl onion and coriander sauce.
Turbot dressed with butternut squash, Madras curry and a fun pumpkin seed granola. I love that Chef Michael never forgot that textural element in any of his dishes. Divine.
Chilean Sea Bass with fennel, quinoa, Billy-bi croquette. Again, it was amusing and fun to cut into it and get the perfect amount of sauce drizzled on the sea bass. Between the two fish dishes we enjoyed the lightness and flavors of the turbot more. (Had my husband been with us, though, I know he would’ve loved the sea bass. Some people just prefer a meatier fish.)
Veal Cheek with the cutest Hon Himeji mushrooms. A beautiful plate to look at. I thought for a split second that the lentil “balls” looked like braised blackberries. Again, what a captivating play on visuals. My eyes saw one thing and tasted another. And you have to give kudos to cuisine that can keep you on your toes. :)
The Wagyu Shortrib was prepared in a “pot roast” style. Earthy, comforting, cozy. My sister tasted nutmeg and thyme. I tasted marjoram and a little sage in the gravy. Served with confited potatoes and carrot “straws” this dish was the perfect way to wrap up the savory part of the meal. It was like a fleeting “hello and goodbye” of the holidays that are just ending.
As a little intermezzo we were presented with the most refreshing raspberry and yuzu “ice.” Shaped like the Dippin’ Dots that we enjoyed as kids, we appreciated the walk down Memory Lane.
We enjoyed the Fool’s Gold (chocolate and salty hazelnut praline w/ milk sorbet) and the Sticky Toffee Pudding with Lime and Banana Custard, and loved the flavorful but not-too-sweet aspect of both desserts.
The Fool’s Gold reminded me of Bryan Voltaggio’s mint and chocolate ganache during the Restaurant Wars episode and made me wonder if the brothers ever cook together and devise shared recipes.
At this point of the meal my sister asked a runner if Chef Michael was in the back of the house that evening. “Yes, Chef Michael is back there and if you ask your server he can ask if it’s okay to take you back there to meet him.” What!?! How great was this? As big Top Chef fans we were on Cloud Nine. With this bit of information there was no way in hell that we were leaving without meeting the talented Chef himself.
All in all, Votaggio’s food was stellar though the restaurant’s ambiance was a little on the dowdy side. However, we have plans to go back to The Dining Room after the renovation. Perhaps for a celebration dinner because of the price point (it was a spendy dinner for us, even if it’s not for some) but it is easy to see how this restaurant received and maintains its Michelin star.