Sunday, October 26, 2008

Leatherby's Cafe Rouge (Costa Mesa, CA) [2]

Leatherby's Cafe Rouge
615 Town Center Dr, Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Sun 10/26/2008, 06:45p-08:50p

On my last visit, I wrote that Leatherby's was a "restaurant still trying to find its own identity." That was 13 months ago, and unfortunately the restaurant has still not found its way. In that span, Leatherby's has gone through a number of head chefs, with each trying, and failing, to find a formula that works. Enter Don Schoenburg, a self-described "fixer," brought in to turn things around. Prior to Leatherby's, Schoenburg was Executive Chef at Tradition by Pascal, a well-regarded French eatery in Newport. In our discussions with the Chef, he talked about his deep understanding of the Orange County palate (vis-à-vis Los Angeles), and it was obvious to us that he had a keen eye on the business side of things as well, even claiming to know the exact costs of the ingredients on our plates!

Chef Schoenburg informed us that the Leatherby's space would undergo a dramatic remodeling in the near future. The area shown above will be converted into a lounge, with totally updated furnishings and new lighting. To go along with this, a happy hour and wine bar concept will be instituted.

The menus turned out to be fairly similar to what we encountered last time. We decided to try the Four-course Prix Fixe [$45.00] and the seasonal Mushroom Festival Four-course Prix Fixe [$48.00], while supplementing with two courses. Click for larger versions.

We started the meal off with a beer, the fantastic La Chouffe pale ale from Brasserie d'Achouffe [$36.00]. Brasserie d'Achouffe, founded in 1982, is a relatively new Belgian brewery located in Achouffe, and this was my first time having any of their beers. La Chouffe is an unfiltered blonde beer, refermented in the bottle as well as the keg. It was one of the best beers I'd ever tasted, with strong fruity notes that hit you initially, followed up with a light spiciness and mild hoppiness. Superb! We then moved on to a red wine, the Jacques Girardin Les Gollardes, Savigny Les Beaune, 2006 [$77.00]. The wine was extremely light, both in color and body, with loads of light red fruit on the nose, followed by a bit of cherry and smoke on the palate. Finally, we were treated to complementary glasses of Alvear, Pedro Ximénez, Montilla-Moriles, Solera 1927, an intensely sweet sherry that held its own against the desserts.

Surprisingly, the bread selection was exactly the same as before: baguette, cheese, and olive, with my favorite once again being the cheese.

1a: Mushroom Terrine
Balsamic reduction, toasted pecan. Though described as a "terrine" by our server, the mushrooms seemed merely sautéed to me. In any case, the natural flavor of the mushrooms was nicely accentuated by the bitterness of arugula and tartness of balsamic, while the pecans added an intriguing textural contrast.

1b: Wild Mushroom Cappuccino
Porcini dust. This was basically a mushroom soup, looking like a convincing copy of cappuccino. It was a rich, hearty stock that really showcased the earthy flavor of mushroom. The creamy, frothy texture was an added bonus.

2a: Arugula Salad
Wild arugula, oven dried tomato, fresh mozzarella and roasted garlic dressing. Eaten alone, the arugula provided a strangely satisfying bitterness that easily held its own against the garlic dressing. The key here, though, was to eat the mozzarella and tomato with the greens and note their flavor against the arugula's background of bitterness, almost like a slightly twisted insalata caprese.

2b: Warm Watercress Salad
Thom ka kai marinated mushrooms, toasted cashews. Thom ka kai, or tom kha gai, is a Thai hot and sour soup made with coconut milk, lemon grass, and chicken. It definitely gave the mushrooms a unique Thai tinge, which I rather liked, and which went well with the watercress' own unique tang. I would've preferred the cashews a bit crisper though.

Supplement 1: Southern Rock Lobster Salad [$15.00]
Mache, citrus supremes, grapefruit vinaigrette. The sweetness of the mache base paired well with the sweetness of lobster, but this combination was lost in the other flavors of the dish. The citrus, vinaigrette, and pomegranate seeds all resulted in a sourness that hid the natural flavor of the lobster, which should've been the star here.

Supplement 2: French Trio [$18.00]
Escargot, sweetbreads and foie gras. The escargot was my favorite item in this troika. It was a traditional Bourguignon presentation, cooked in garlic butter, and served atop a delightful puffy pastry. The foie gras, meanwhile, was a typical preparation and a bit too sweet for me. Finally, the sweetbreads had a nicely cooked, golden brown exterior that gave way to a richly flavored, slightly gamey interior; overall it was quite nice.

3a: Quail
Black truffle sausage, butternut squash, chanterelle mushrooms and Cognac sauce. The was easily one of the best preparations of "quail" I'd ever had. I use quotes as this wasn't really quail, but a quail shell stuffed with a truffled sausage made of chicken. It was quickly apparent that this wasn't a typical bird, once I saw that it was basically a large lump of meat, no bones, no entrails, with wings and legs attached. The sausage had a spongy textural a bit reminiscent of meatloaf, and was simply marvelous, especially when eaten with the quail's crisp skin. I was impressed at how well-integrated the sausage was; it was tough to determine where the sausage ended and quail began! The accompanying chanterelles were a nice touch, but the butternut squash purée was completely redundant.

3b: Prime New York Steak
Portobello mushroom gratin, sauce à la forestière. The gratin was interesting, basically a cheesy layer on top of a portobello mushroom. Forestière sauce is a rich, mildly sweet brown sauce made with mushrooms and beef stock. Here, it added a lot to the beef, which otherwise would've been quite boring. The beef itself was nice enough, but paled in comparison to the Wagyu steaks I've had at places such as CUT. Again, as with the previous dish, I didn't care for the butternut squash.

4a: Crème Caramel with Fresh Seasonal Berries
Crème Caramel, or simply flan, is a custard dessert with a layer of soft caramel on top. The custard portion was nicely dense, rich, and very sweet, while the berries added a contrasting tartness. A delicious dessert, but nothing groundbreaking.

4b: Ile Flottante
Slow-baked meringues, crème anglaise, bittersweet chocolate mousse. This, on the other hand, was much more interesting. "Ile Flottante" is French for "floating island," or a dessert consisting of an "island" of meringue floating in a "sea" of crème anglaise. The meringue consisted of both the light, airy uncooked variety (the "stem" of the mushroom) and the classic dry cookie-like version (the "cap"). Both preparations were quite mild, and benefitted from the surrounding ocean of sweet crème française.

Though not as strong as last time, this meal at Leatherby's was nevertheless quite enjoyable. In fact, I still think it's one of the best restaurants in Orange County. It is thus unfortunate to see the place in such a constant state of flux, which I've heard blamed on things such as an odd location and lack of marketing. I don't think the food is a problem. New Executive Chef Schoenburg has a reputation for turning places around, so it's my hope that he can work his magic here at Leatherby's.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Club 33, Disneyland (Anaheim, CA) [3]

Attn: Club 33
1313 S Harbor Blvd, Anaheim, CA 90803 (unofficial)
Sun 10/19/2008, 11:15a-01:15p

Since this was my third visit to Club 33, I'll skip the typical introductory material and focus on the eats. For some background on the place, please see my previous posts here and here.

To dine at Club 33, you'll need to visit Guest Relations and pick up your Park Hopper pass and tip sheet (left). Despite having a Park Hopper pass, I ended up not going on any rides or attractions that day, a waste I know! Click for a larger version.

The sheet above, placed at our table, provided the uninitiated with a quick background on the Club. Click for a larger version.

Sample lunch and children's menus are shown above. I had to pre-order my lunch, so the menu I used was slightly different than above. The price was $105, inclusive of choice of entrée, buffet, drink (sparkling wine, cider, juice, water), tax, and gratuity. Click for larger versions.

The wine list is heavily focused on California wines. Prices are quite reasonable, hovering around two times retail. Click for larger versions.

Though advertised as "Champagne," the complementary wine was actually the Bouvet-Ladubay Signature Brut, Loire Valley, France NV. It's made from Chenin Blanc, and goes for around $12 a bottle retail; it's interesting to note that the Bouvet is not listed on the wine list above. In any case, the sparkler was pretty palatable, with a bit of sweetness, nice bubbles, and soft notes of flowers and honey. In addition to the Bouvet, we could also have sparkling cider, juices, mixed juice slushes (second photo), and water. As for the water, the use of Glaceau Smartwater was a nice touch, definitely better than the tap typically served.

Unlike at previous visits, bread was actually provided at the table. The one on the left was a walnut bread, while the other was a fairly standard loaf.

The first buffet section contained four types of salad, as well as dressing.

Next, we have the makings of an insalata caprese (tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil), various cheeses, and fruit (watermelon, honeydew, cantaloupe, pineapple).

Now come smoked salmon (with crème fraîche, red onions, and capers), grilled vegetables, and cold cuts.

The final section contains cocktail shrimp, lobster tails, and crab claws. As you might imagine, this one was my favorite!

The dessert station tempts, but you must wait until you're done with the savories!

Finally, we see the bread station with its various accoutrements.

My first and second plates from the buffet. As you can see, I've learned from my previous trips to not fill up on veggies, but instead to head straight for the good stuff!

Mickey and Pluto paid us two visits during the course of our meal. They were a big hit with the youngsters (and those young at heart!).

New York Steak, Curried Banana Ketchup, Kennebec Steak Fries
What surprised me with the steak is that they didn't ask us what temperature we wanted! Although some of my dining companions would've preferred it rarer, it turned out alright, around medium I'd say. After having my share of Wagyu beef as of late, the meat here did seem a bit tough, but it was certainly workable (I was able to cut it with my bread knife). It lacked the nice marbling I like, but the flavor was there, though not as beefy or as rich as it could've been. As for the rest of the plate, the fries were a bit soggy, and I found the ketchup far too sweet (all I could taste was banana!).

Alaskan Halibut, Meyer Lemon Risotto, Minted Tabbouleh
This was disappointing. A good halibut (see Marche Moderné) has a firm, flaky texture that I find immensely enjoyable, but this was just soft and mushy. Furthermore, the fish's taste was weak, nondescript, and got lost in all the other flavors on the plate. Fortunately, the included risotto was nice enough, and the asparagus quite crisp and tasty.

Pan Roasted Chicken, Mac & Cheese Croquette, Pickled Sweet Carrot
I only got a small bite of the meat here, but thought it was the strongest dish of the trio. The chicken was tender, juicy, and flavorful, with a delectably crisp skin.

With the savory courses dispensed with, it was now time for dessert!

This was basically marshmallows in chocolate, sort of like a s'more. Everybody grabbed this dessert first for some reason. I don't know why, as it was a bit of a letdown to be honest; I expected more.

I'm not even sure what to call this. It was a cookie topped with a chocolate dome of some sort. The chocolate portion was fairly light, not too sweet, and thus didn't overpower the cookie. Quite nice.

This was a coconut macaroon, dipped in chocolate. It had a fantastic, delicate coconut flavor, which was then bolstered by the addition of chocolate. Very nice bite and mouthfeel as well. One of my favorites.

Again, I'm flummoxed as to what this was. I appeared to be some sort of chocolate cup, with a cream and cake filling. Decent, but nothing special.

A dark brownie-esque chocolate cake, topped with whipped cream and peppermint. We were told by the chef that this was the most chocolatey dessert, and he was right. It was also one of the best.

This was some sort of lemon pastry, with a tart lemon filling. I liked the texture and consistency of the dessert and its creamy interior, but the taste was far too sour for me.

Panna cotta above a fruit gelatin. The panna cotta itself was fairly mild, so it worked well with the sweeter gelée layer. Not bad.

The blackberry tart was, as expected, quite tart, though balanced somewhat by the use of chocolate.

This was a financier, a semi-spongy tea cake similar to a madeleine. Apparently, the name "financier" is said to come from the pastry's traditional rectangular mold, which resembles a bar of gold. It was fairly dense, with a mild sweetness to it, backed by a rich buttery flavor.

The mango pie had a rather bracing, delicious mango flavor that made it one of the strongest desserts.

The chocolate mousse cake was light and subtle in flavor, though sadly a bit nondescript.

Finally, the fruit-based cake was palatable but forgettable. At this point, we were getting so full that all we could handle were "slivers" of cake!

The Club 33 mints to close out the meal were a new addition on this visit. Taste-wise, they reminded me of Andes chocolate mints.

The Club 33 matchbook. We asked the hostess on the first floor for them as we were leaving. She seemed a bit hesitant in giving them to us, and asked who our server was (hopefully he didn't get in trouble!). She then went on to explain that the supply of the matches is quite limited.

As you can see, food-wise, Club 33 certainly isn't going to be winning any awards. Though certainly not atrocious by any means, the cuisine is rather tired and really only a notch above typical "hotel fare." But if you're focusing on the food, you're missing the point. The point of the Club is the exclusivity, the experience, and by that criterion, Club 33 certainly measures up. I'll definitely be back if I have the chance.