Friday, September 28, 2007

Leatherby's Cafe Rouge (Costa Mesa, CA)

Leatherby's Cafe Rouge
615 Town Center Dr, Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Fri 09/28/2007, 09:50p-12:10a

Leatherby's was my third foray into the Patina group of restaurants, the first two being Catal and the flagship Patina. My expectations were not particularly high going on, since my dining companion's previous experience here was less than stellar. Our decision to dine at Leatherby's was a bit of a whim actually, as we needed somewhere open late to eat after our shopping spree at Bloomingdale's. Fortunately, we were in for a pleasant surprise...

Leatherby's is located in the beautiful new Segerstrom Concert Hall (the Segerstrom family holds vast tracts of land in Orange County and owns South Coast Plaza). The flow of customers is heavily dependent on pre-theater diners and tapers off considerably when there's no show.

The dining room is very modern and sleek, with plenty of glass and other stark surfaces. Tables are fairly well spaced, though we opted for one of the rather enveloping orange booths, which seemed to be covered in a material that just begged to be touched.

We originally ordered the tasting menu with Wagyu supplement, only to be told that the Chef would be preparing a special menu for us (I suspect they ran out of a few key ingredients). It actually turned out to be a good thing however, as I think the spontaneous tasting menu we had would've certainly been better than the standard menu. The Chef de Cuisine, Tim Guiltinan, even sat down with us to go over the menu in person. Click for larger versions.

I believe there were three varieties of bread: standard, olive, and cheese (my favorite, with a fantastically flavorful crust).

Amuse Bouche: Eastern Malpeque Oyster
Meibo Yowano Tsuki Sake Junmai Ginjo
Daikon Mignonette, Shiso. This was one of the best preparations of oysters I've had in recent memory, with the daikon lending a refreshing and tart note to the mollusk. It was milder in flavor than I'm used to (typical of Eastern oysters apparently), which I actually preferred. The paired sake had a good nose with hints of vanilla, though it was a bit harsher than I'd like on the palate.

1: Black Sablefish
Meibo Yowano Tsuki Sake Junmai Ginjo
Sweet Soy, Blue Oyster Mushrooms, Bok Choy, Scallions, Ginger. I don't have sablefish (aka butterfish or black cod) often, but perhaps I should. The fish had a great texture, firm yet flaky, and was superbly flavored with a mixture of scallions and ginger which lent a very Asian taste. The bok choy and the mushrooms in particular were great accompaniments.

2: Alaskan Halibut, Piquillo Pepper, Spanish Chorizo, Venus Clams
Bolgheri, Campo Alla Casa, Enrico Santini, 2004
Piquillo Pepper, Spanish Chorizo, Venus Clams. I was a bit wary of this dish when it came out, but I'm happy to report it turned out quite well. The fish had the signature halibut texture which I expect, and was done in a Spanish-inspired preparation which was a welcomed change to the typical variations of halibut. The included clams were superb and I quite liked the wine (effervescent, with hints of apple) as well.

Intermezzo: "PB&J"
Kyoho Grape Sorbet, Tahini, Toasted Brioche. Tahini is basically a paste made from sesame. The Kyoho is a Concord-esque slip-skin grape originally from Japan, well-regarded for its large size and sweet flesh. Chef Guiltinan told us that he and his staff made a big batch of sorbet with the grapes, but wasn't sure what to do with it, hence this intermezzo. It worked, and I liked it better than any traditional PB&J I've ever had!

3: Duck
Pinot Noir, Campion, Santa Lucia Highlands, 2002
White Truffle, Sweet Corn, Port and Foie Gras Reduction, Beet Leaves. A very flavorful preparation of duck, especially the skin, though parts of the duck were a bit chewy. Corn and truffles aren't a traditional pairing, but it went well with me. The beet leaves draping the duck were interesting, as they had a very tart taste, like they were candied. The duck-Pinot Noir pairing is a classic one, and this particularly spicy Pinot did the duck justice.

4: Snake River Farms Wagyu Ribeye Cap
Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, 2004
Fingerlings, Watercress, Au Jus. The meat was done rare, and was surprisingly tender, though not as oily, heavy, or rich as Japanese Wagyu. Notice how the marbling is very distinct, compared to the Japanese steaks at CUT. I appreciated how they let the beef stand on its own, with very simple accoutrements. The paired Cab was fairly intense, with less jammy fruit and more earthy notes of tobacco.

5: Chocolate Fondant
Rozes 10 Year Old Port
60% Valhrona Chocolate Mousse, Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, Raspberry. I quite enjoyed the interplay between the fondant (which seemed to contain some nougat-like chunks) and the ice cream. The Port was a bit lighter and harsher than I prefer though, and tended to overshadow the dessert a bit.

Both my dining companion and I came out of Leatherby's well sated and pleasantly surprised. From what Chef Guiltinan told us, it seems like Leatherby's is a restaurant still trying to find its own identity. Of course, it's greatly affected and dependent on the influx of theater diners, who provide a steady and important source of revenue, but who may be insidiously affecting the rest of us. Chef Mark Gold opened Leatherby's last year, and imparted an Asian influence to the food. After his departure, Guiltinan was made head chef; and now Lauren De Rouen is Executive Chef. According to Guiltinan, the restaurant is moving away from Asia and will likely be going toward a more Franco-centric influence. In any case, we definitely felt that Leatherby's has the potential to be one of the top restaurants in Orange County. It just needs to find itself before it can deliver consistently.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Lawry's The Prime Rib (Beverly Hills, CA)

Lawry's The Prime Rib
100 N La Cienega Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90211
Fri 09/14/2007, 06:50p-10:00p

Lawry's is a bit of a Los Angeles icon, but one that I've stayed away from, until now. The reason: I'm not a huge fan of prime rib (give me a steak any day), and Lawry's is all about prime rib (it is "The Prime Rib"), or so I thought. Then one of my colleagues informed me of a special ABC (Anything But California) wine dinner, in which a five-course meal would be paired with wines from outside California. The menu looked intriguing, so I thought I'd give Lawry's a shot.

After dropping your car off to the valet, a largish reception area greets you upon entering. We waited a few minutes here before moving through the capacious main dining room to the Vintage Room in the back.

The Vintage Room contains two long tables, each seating about fourteen. We sat at the end of one, next to two high school English teachers. They proved to be a great source of conversation and levity throughout the night. I'll never look at English teachers the same way again!

On the menu, note the signatures of Walter Eckstein, Executive Chef, and Steve Hosmer, Director of Education at Beam Wine Estates and our guide for the evening. Click for a larger version. Apparently, Chef Eckstein is a bit on the shy side and didn't want to come out, but he did provide a photo. Fight on!

Here, we see Steve opening a bottle of champagne via saber, Napoleon style. Catering Sales Manager Summer Stearns holds up the cleanly cut cork. Unfortunately, for liability reasons, we didn't actually get to drink from this bottle.

The bread came out warm, with a nice spreadable pats of butter.

1: Passed Hors d'Oeuvres
Croser Sparkling Pinot Chardonnay, Piccadilly Valley, Australia NV
We have: (1) Sesame Seared Tuna on Star Fruit, very light and refreshing, a great way to kick things off; (2) Gougères, a delectable, cheesy bread; (3) Potato Pancakes with Caviar and Crème Fraîche, my favorite of the trio, reminiscent of tater tots with a creamy twist, courtesy of the crème fraîche (the caviar was pretty mild).

2: Crab Salad with Avocado and Mango
Knappstein Hand Picked Riesling, Clare Valley, Australia 2006
The avocado and mango proved to be good companions to the crab, providing an interplay in tartness and texture. Surprisingly, the Riesling was much drier than I was used to (my previous experiences being with sweeter German versions).

3: Fennel-Scented Duck Breast with Pinot Noir Sauce
Wither Hills Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand 2005
I heard someone mention that their duck was a bit dry. Fortunately, I didn't have that problem, as mine was quite juicy and tender. However, I would've preferred a less robust sauce, as I found it a tad overpowering. Duck and Pinot is a classic combination, one that certainly worked out here.

4: Black Pepper Steak with Pomegranate Molasses
St. Hallett Blackwell Shiraz, Barossa, Australia 2005
Despite not being very fatty or marbled, the beef was quite delicious, cooked perfectly and flavored just the right amount. The pear-like thing in the back was actually a truffled pear. Shiraz is well-known for its spiciness, and that spiciness certainly held up well to the copious amounts of black pepper here.

5: Coffee Cream Tart in a Coca-Espresso Crust
Cockburn's 10 Year Tawny Port, Porto, Portugal
Unfortunately this was a bit uninspired compared to the preceding dishes, though it certainly tasted good, with strong coffee notes. Most entertaining factoid of the night: "Cockburn" is actually pronounced coh-burn.

After dinner, Summer was kind enough to give us a tour of the kitchen, one of the most complete tours we've had, actually. According to her, Lawry's is the number one consumer of prime meat in the Southland, which I can certainly believe.

This dinner definitely convinced me that there's more to Lawry's than just prime rib. The chef just needs to be given the chance to shine, and special dinners like this are a great way for him to show off the range of his culinary prowess. Though next time I'm at Lawry's, I'll be sure to at least sample the prime rib, I promise.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Metropolitain (Colorado Springs, CO) [2]

101 N Tejon St, Colorado Springs, CO 80903
Tue 09/11/2007, 05:00p-06:00p

This was my third visit to Metropolitain. See the report from my second trip here. The restaurant seems to be in a constant state of flux, so let's see what this most recent visit brings...

The decor is one of Metropolitain's strong points, and fortunately, it has remained one of the only constants in my three visits.

The menu underwent a drastic overhaul since my last visit; only a few dishes survived intact (e.g. Springs Shrimp, Artichoke Gratin, Sencha Salad). On my last visit, my server informed me they were moving away from the small plates concept to focus on higher quality ingredients; however, this time, apparently they've gone back! Click for larger version.

The wine expanded a bit since my last visit, though many selections have remained the same. Since I had to go to work after the meal (7PM-7AM shift, yikes!), I only ordered one drink, a glass of III Associates Chardonnay, Australia, 2002, which was passable. Click for larger versions.

Brown butter white wine and garlic. The first few mussels I had were quite good, but then I encountered a few that didn't seemed to be cooked through. Unfortunately these paled in comparison to the mussels I had days earlier at Summit; while I complained that Summit's were too small, these were too big! The included cheese bread was fantastic, however.

Fried Calamari
Lightly battered calamari with roasted red pepper pomodoro. The calamari itself was decent, but the paired pomodoro didn't taste quite right to me. I preferred to eat the squid sans sauce.

Pesto Gnocchi
Fried tossed with fresh tomato and pesto. I believe this was my first encounter with fried gnocchi, and it wasn't a great one. The gnocchi weren't particularly tasty, and were a bit tough and oily.

Angel hair with roasted garlic butter sauce. The scallops were cooked near perfectly, and were plenty flavorful to boot. The included angel hair was totally unnecessary though. This was the strongest dish of the night.

Sadly, this third visit to Metropolitain was also the most disappointing. The restaurant can't seem to keep still, constantly changing menus, concepts, and even chefs. What happened to the superb flatbread (or any bread at all)? I really appreciated the amuse bouche last time; where'd it go? It appears that Metropolitain has not been blessed with the stability I hoped for at the end of my last meal.