After I blogged about the Chocolate Afternoon Tea at the Langham Hotel, I was invited back to check out the Summer Select Prix Fixe Menu at their restaurant, The Dining Room. Again, I have to say thanks to Tara of When Tara Met Blog and the Langham Hotel. Given that The Dining Room was the only hotel restaurant to receive a Michelin star in 2008 under Executive Chef, Craig Strong, I was really looking forward to the meal; however, I should note that by the time I dined at The Dining Room, Chef Strong had taken a new position with Montage Hotels in Laguna Beach.
Before I talk about the meal that my guest and I shared, let me tell you about this "Summer Select" menu. First, it consists of three different appetizers, main courses and desserts and was designed by Chef Strong. Highlights include Beef Carpaccio, Pork Belly Confit and a Chocolate Tart with Whiskey Ice Cream. This menu is available Tuesday through Thursday nights and is priced at $59 per person, not including alcholic beverages, tax or gratuity. Finally, it is available until July 30, 2009. Now on to the food itself.
It all started with bread and I especially enjoy it when I'm a presented with a tray of different types of bread to choose from. Decisions, decisions. First, I tried the Brioche, which I liked, but I absolutely loved the Black Olive Bread, which was crusty on the outside, soft on the inside. I wouldn't mind having one right now with pats of butter.
Before our first course arrived, we were treated to an Amuse Bouche which was liquid polenta, quail egg and Serrano ham. I wasn't that much of a fan of the liquid polenta. On its own, it tasted like a salty cornmeal flavored soup. When mixed with the yolk of the quail egg, the salt was cut back enough so I enjoyed it a little better, especially when eaten with the Serrano ham. I think I would preferred a polenta pancake or cake, but perhaps that's too conventional to be interesting.
My guest and I ordered two different items items from each course so that we could sample at least two thirds of the menu. When it came to our appetizers, we shared the Squash Blossom Tempura and the Oven Dried Tomato and Grilled Eggplant Terrine. First, the Squash Blossom Tempura which were stuffed with brandade and came with micro greens and a Romesco sauce. This was actually my first experience with brandade, a puree of salt cod, olive oil and milk and it was an eating experience I enjoyed a lot. It reminded me of a better version of a tuna salad and I could see myself eating it with a cracker. As for the squash blossom, its preparation was on target. The light tempura usage gave just the right amount of crispness without overwhelming this delicate flower with too much batter. I also appreciated that the squash blossom themselves weren't mushy.
The second appetizer was the Oven Dried Tomato and Grilled Eggplant Terrine with baby lettuce, balsamic walnut vinaigrette and shaved aged goat cheese. I'm an eggplant lover so just the name of the dish already pre-sold itself. While not outstanding, it's a solid dish and prepared well, although I do think that the terrine needed a little more seasoning though. Perhaps, fresh herbs?
Soon it was main course time. I started out with the Pork Belly Confit with semolina gnocchi, Tuscan cabbage, carrot and cassis mustard sauce. The pork belly meat itself was fatty, juicy and tender, just the way I like it. What threw me off was the topping. I think it was some kind of hard cheese? I really didn't think the pork needed it and in fact, I found it to be dry and distracting; however, I absolutely loved the bitter notes of the Tuscan cabbage and the soft tart and sweet flavors coming from the cassis mustard sauce.
After I had my share of the Pork Belly, I sampled the Skate Piccata with fingerling potatoes, spinach, preserved lemon butter sauce and fried capers. Unfortunately, this was the most disappointing dish of the whole night. Simply, it was too salty. I think we honestly should have returned it and given the kitchen a chance to rectify the situation. Considering the level of service at The Dining Room, I don't think this would have been a problem, but having a Filipino sensibility of being too polite stopped us.
With appetizers and our main courses behind us, it was time for dessert. Unexpectedly, we were served a dessert amuse bouche which included a slice of chocolate pound cake, chocolate gelato (with coffee bean and vanilla) and a cherry brandy and tarragon sauce. One bite of the chocolate pound cake was enough since it was quite dry. The chocolate gelato with hints of coffee and vanilla was a hit and that cherry brandy and tarragon sauce was killer.
Finally, the two desserts we ordered arrived at the table. The one I tried first was the Lavender Panna Cotta with blueberries, candied almonds and lemon poppy seed cake. Just like the green tea panna cotta that I had at their Chocolate High Tea, this one was stellar. It was creamy and I could definitely taste the lavender. What I found interesting was that the the tartness of the blueberries and the sweet nuttiness of the candied almonds complemented as opposed to overshadowing the lavender.
I also enjoyed digging into the Chocolate Tart with the Whiskey Ice Cream. The chocolate itself was rich and dense, as chocolate should be (at times). Since I'm not much of a whiskey drinker, I can't say without any certainty if the ice cream tasted like whiskey or not, but I liked it and its light flavors complemented the richness of the chocolate tart.
At this point, I thought our meal was over, but not yet. To the right of our table was a table that held trays of various mini desserts and after our two empty plates got swept off the table, our waiter served us a plateful of these little goodies, which included Madeleines, Vanilla Bean Cakes, Shortbread Cookies, Coconut Roches, an Apricot Gelee and a Berry Gelee. Of the six, my favorites were the Coconut Roches, which tasted like macaroon cookies and both Gelees.
I did wonder if Chef Strong's presence would have meant a different dining experience, but that's really hard to say. After all, even the most talented of chefs and kitchens have better days than others. Overall, it'll be interesting to see what changes as a new chef is brought in and puts their own stamp on the menu.
For now, while there were hits and misses to this meal, I think that what was good was good enough for me to make a return visit one day, especially when the new executive chef is on board. After all, with an overall experience that included service that was spot on and a nice setting, the Dining Room still has a lot to offer and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next.
To see all the pics, go to:
The Dining Room
The Langham Hotel and Spa
1401 South Oak Knoll Avenue
Pasadena,, CA 91106