Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Arterra (San Diego, CA)

11966 El Camino Real, San Diego, CA 92130
Tue 01/23/2007, 06:10p-08:30p

Yes, Arterra is indeed situated in a hotel. Not a good sign. A Marriott in fact. Really not a good sign. I've had the opportunity to stay at a number of Marriott's during my travels and have been rather unimpressed by their restaurants to say the least. So given that, I'm really not sure how this particular Marriott got such a good one!
In any case, Arterra is the creation of celebrity chef Bradley Ogden, who is best known for his eponymous eatery in Las Vegas. The original executive chef was Carl Schroeder, who late last year hung up his toque to venture out on his own. Taking his place is Brian Pekarcik, Schroeder's former sous chef. While it remains to be seen whether Pekarcik can continue Schroeder's legacy, he seems to be doing a great job at the moment.

Since Arterra is a hotel restaurant, it has to serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. As a result, the space is rather cavernous, though that means table spacing is quite generous. I was seated near the bar/sushi bar area of the restaurant (right photo). The bar was quite busy during the start of my meal and things got a tad loud, but things quieted down significantly as the night progressed.

I had the 7-course Grand Tasting menu, which is comprised of smaller portions of items on the regular and dessert menus. We also have a sushi menu. Click for larger versions.

Four different types of bread were on tap, including a cornbread muffin (my favorite). The butter was smooth and spreadable (one of my pet peeves is when the butter is cold, hard, and difficult to spread).

Amuse Bouche: Swordfish Salad
Think of your classic tuna salad, only more complex and luxurious. A great way to kick off the meal. Delish.

1: Crows Pass Apple & Pear Salad - Chino Farm Pomegranate, Comice Pear Fritters, Candied Walnuts
Anglim, Roussanne, Paso Robles, 2005
The spherical piece of the left was a goat cheese fritter I believe. Overall I got too much fruit from this dish and would've liked to have more contrast. The Anglim had a fruity aroma and taste that went well with the fruit in the dish; it also showed slight minerals and was actually quite enjoyable.

2: Ahi Three Way - Tartare, Roulade, Carpaccio, Orange-Chili Vinaigrette
Core, Rose, Santa Barbara, 2004
I first tried the tartare (that's a quail egg on top) by itself and found it to be merely competent; but once I mixed in the condiments (pesto, onion, I'm not sure what else), the flavors really came to life. The roulade was a savory bite, I wish I could've gotten a few more! But the standout in the threesome for me was the carpaccio. I've would've never thought to serve it with soba noodles and mushrooms in broth, but it really worked out well here. The paired rose was pleasant enough, though nothing really stood out for me.

3: Seared Filet Of Turbot - Dill-Potato Mousseline, Fennel Flan, Roasted Baby Vegetables, Caviar Buerre Blanc
Casa De La Cruz, Pinot Noir, Sonoma, 2005
This was actually my first experience with turbot. I normally shy away from it but no longer! The texture of the fish was unlike any other I've had before, almost firm and spongy. The taste was also rather unique. Loved the fennel flan and all the complements they put with the fish too. The paired Pinot was sort of the quintessential Californian expression of the varietal, with a lot of cherry and tobacco notes.

4: Crab Stuffed King Salmon - Crispy Gnocchi, Haricots Verts, Roasted Pepper & Turnip Sauté, Béarnaise
Mission Hill Family Estate, Chardonnay, Canada, 2002
Garnished nicely with haricots verts and pepper "salsa," the salmon itself was quite creamy, good but not outstanding. The best part of the dish was the gnocchi, which was simply the best I've had. However, I felt the Chardonnay I had with this was a bit too lean and earthy.

Intermezzo: Green Apple Sorbet
Like biting into an apple. Super-intense yet spot-on flavor. Brilliant.

5: Trio Of Lamb - Black Olive Crusted Rack, Sous Vide Osso Bucco, Braised Ravioli, Jerusalem Artichoke Purée
Hall, Merlot, Napa, 2003
The rack was prepared rare, the way I prefer, but the taste was too sweet for me, perhaps due to the sauce. The ravioli was not only the biggest I've ever had, but also the best, with a juicy, flavorful filling of tender lamb. As for the osso bucco, I've never tasted it before, but perhaps I'll be having it more after this. Rich, creamy meat that just broke apart on touch, talk about falling off the bone! The cup in the background was filled with mint jelly. As for the Merlot, I'm generally not a fan, but I liked this. In fact it was my favorite wine of the night: luxurious, jammy, notes of fresh berries, chocolate, and cherry.

Sushi à la Carte: Toro
I was seated in plain view of the sushi bar, so naturally I was tempted to order something. At first I had trouble as there was only one sushi chef, and he was very busy. But as the night progressed, things slowed and I could get my order in. The toro wasn't as oily as I'm used to, though it did have the rich taste and melt-in-your-mouth goodness that I expected.

6: Cheese Tasting - Grayson, Meadow Creek Diary (Galax, VA) & Ewes Blue, Old Chatham (Hudson Valley, NY)
I used to regard the cheese course with derision, but now it's something that I actively look forward to. So I was a bit let down when I received only two selections, though the two I received were indeed quite good. I'd have to give the nod to the blue though. Nice selection of accoutrements too.

7: Valrhona Chocolate Tasting - Milk Chocolate Panna Cotta, Duo Of Ganache; Tart & Whipped
Bella Late Harvest Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, 2004
I'd describe the item on the left as ice cream-like, though richer and denser. The piece of the right was filled with liquid chocolate and was thus similar to those molten chocolate cakes you see everywhere. The Zin was a super-concentrated, thick wine with tons of berry that went superbly with the chocolate. The wine was actually complementary (I guess they figured I was already spending quite a bit!).

Don't let the fact that Arterra is located in a Marriott of all places put you off. It is a genuinely good restaurant, with some of the best presentation I've seen in a while, hotel or not. I now know that it is indeed possible to have world-class dining in a mundane hotel chain, but Marriott needs to work on improving quality across all its locations. In that regard, it still has a long way to go.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Café Tu Tu Tango (Orange, CA)

Café Tu Tu Tango
20 City Blvd W, Orange, CA 92868
Sat 01/20/2007, 10:05p-02:00a

Café Tu Tu Tango is located at the Block in Orange. Their theme is that of a Spanish artist's Bohemian loft, and indeed, there were actually artists painting away while we dined. The food emphasizes tapas, or small plates.

We started with some nice sparkling red sangria. Later we moved on to Jäger bombs (Jägermeister and Red Bull) and I also ordered a bottle of Freixenet Cordon Negro (the Cava that comes in the black bottle).

Tuna Carpaccio and Fresh Salmon Tartare
Thin sliced ahi tuna topped with capers and dijon aioli; served with salmon tartare, Thai chili oil and fresh diced avocado. Pretty good, I liked how they combined salmon and tuna, two of my favorite fishes to eat raw.

Stuffed Mushrooms
With bleu cheese, roasted garlic, scallions and fresh thyme; served with horseradish remoulade. Great tasty little morsels, this was a favorite of the table.

Shrimp and Pesto Pizza
Grilled shrimp, basil pesto, oven roasted tomatoes, Parmesan and mozzarella cheese. The crust could've been a bit crispier, but otherwise was nice.

Beef Napoleon
Beef tenderloin medallions stacked with portobello mushrooms, sauteed spinach and dijon mustard sauce. This was the weakest dish of the night for me, as I thought the tenderloin medallions were a bit too similar to thin hamburger patties.

Crispy Calamari
With two dipping sauces, spicy tomato sauce and roasted red pepper remoulade. I don't think I've ever met a dish of fried calamari I didn't like, and this was no exception.

Chocolate Souffle Cake
A pretty standard soufflé cake, which meant it was quite good, though nothing special.

Almond Flan
Not bad, but not as good as the flan at Taléo.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Summit (Colorado Springs, CO)

19 Lake Cir, Colorado Springs, CO 80906
Tue 01/09/2007, 09:00p-10:10p

Summit is the newest restaurant at the Broadmoor and serves up American brasserie fare. It is also one of my favorite eateries and one of the ones that I wanted to come back to the most. Summit is headed by executive chef Bertrand Bouquin, who also heads up the newly re-opened Penrose Room. I imagine Chef Bouquin will be working at the Penrose more often now, but I'm sure his staff will have no problems maintaining the quality.

Summit gets my vote for the best decor in the Springs (I'm sure that'll change once I revisit the Penrose Room however).

Hearty bread is served with a soft, spreadable, salty butter.

Shrimp Wrapped in Applewood Smoked Bacon: Candied Yams and Rosemary, Onion Sprouts
Bacon-wrapped scallops are the norm so why not extended that paradigm to shrimp? It certainly works well here, with the bacon's smoky flavors complementing the subtle sweetness of the shrimp nicely. I had my server pair this course and the next with a wine; she chose the Albariño, Burgáns, Rías Baixas, Galicia, Spain 2005, which I really enjoyed.

½ Maine Lobster Salad à la Russe: Diced Green Beans, Carrots, Turnips and Celery
This was, without question, my favorite dish of this entire trip. A half-lobster perfectly cooked, flavored simply, with a mix of vegetables reminiscent of potato salad. Wow.

Roast Quail Stuffed with Mushrooms and Arugula: Spinach Sauté, Cinnamon Glazed Baby Turnips, Carrots
I believe this was my first experience with quail, though hopefully not my last. It is an intensely flavored bird, though I can't really compare it to chicken, duck, squab, or really any other fowl. My one complaint was that it was served with bones intact, which made eating it a bit tricky.

Chocolate Tart
A competent chocolate tart that wasn't nearly as creative as the rest of the meal. The ice cream was a welcomed addition.

Summit has a "Favorites" menu that doesn't vary much (ordered the gnocchi last time I was here), as well as a changing "Seasonal" menu, from which I ordered this time.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Plate (Colorado Springs, CO)

9420 Briar Village Pt, Colorado Springs, CO 80920
Mon 01/08/2007, 09:00p-10:10p

Without a doubt, Walter's Bistro is one of my favorite restaurants in the Springs. Unfortunately, I was unable to dine there this past trip; however, I did pay a visit to Plate, the new restaurant from Walter Iser and Ryan Blanchard, Walter's Bistro's executive chef. During my visit, the dining room was surprisingly unfull. Maybe it was just that I came rather late (9:00), but that certainly doesn't bode well for the longevity of the place. Perhaps the restaurant's rather remote Northern location is not conducive for customers. I certainly hope Plate sticks around.

An artful "wine rack" complements Plate's decor, one of the best I've seen in the city. Speaking of wine, I had a Santa Julia Viognier, Mendoza 2002 with my meal, along with a Champagne-tini (Chambord and Iceberg vodka, topped with sparkling wine) to start.

The bread is ciabatta style, very similar to the kind I had at Walter's. The butter is smooth and salty, just the way I like it.

Barbacoa: Spicy beef with blue corn tortillas
The only other time I've had barbacoa was at Chipotle, the fast casual chain. The meat here was similar, though I'd say fattier and more luxurious, and went surprisingly well with the tortilla chips. The chips proved to be quite tasty themselves and I eagerly finished up the whole plate, even when the topping ran out.

Lobster Wellington: With a brandied cream sauce
A take on the classic beef Wellington: tender lobster stuffed in a puff pastry in a rich cream sauce. Delicious.

Crab Cakes
As I've stated before, I'm weary of ordering crab cakes, though I often can't resist. Well I'm glad I did here! The cakes had a generous amount of crab and paired superbly with the corn salsa.

Ahi Tartar: Sesame wonton chips and soy glaze
The tuna itself seemed to be mixed in with some tomato and was pleasant, though not stellar. It was nice to scoop the tartar onto the sesame chips, although I didn't make much use of the soy glaze.

Potato Crepe
These were stuffed with mushroom and quite delectable, though rather heavy.

Cheesecake Tempura & Fruit Sushi: With fresh berries, chocolate fondue and chocolate chopsticks
This instantly struck me as the most fascinating item on the dessert menu. I'm a huge sushi fan, so how could I resist? The "tempura" was quite good though the "sushi roll" didn't have quite enough fruit for my tastes.

Vanilla Bean Cheesecake
This was actually a special item not listed on the menu. I nearly never order cheesecake at a restaurant but I'm glad I did here! This was simply the best cheesecake I've had in recently memory. I was afraid it would be heavy but this was light and airy, with an absolutely wonderful vanilla flavor.

Plate's menu is centered around different types of cuisine: New American, French, Spanish/Latin American, Japanese, and Italian. I made sure to order one item from each region, though next time I'd probably order fewer dishes but try the entrées (I did all appetizers). Click for larger version.