Sunday, September 13, 2009

Dal Rae (Pico Rivera, CA)

Dal Rae
9023 Washington Blvd, Pico Rivera, CA 90660
Sun 09/13/2009, 07:20p-09:30p

In the restaurant business, where eateries open and close with seemingly reckless abandon, Dal Rae, founded in 1958, must seem positively prehistoric. Brothers Ben and Bill Smith opened the restaurant in May of that year, and despite being in business for over half a century, the menu, and the vibe, have remained largely static. Ownership of Dal Rae was eventually passed to Ben's sons, Kevin and Lorin, who'd grown up immersed in the family business. They've successfully continued to secure Dal Rae's status as an iconic, "old school" eatery, and pride themselves on the restaurant's personalized service and long-time customers and staff, some of whom have been dining at or working at the restaurant for over 30 years. As an interesting aside, there was once another Dal Rae, located in Fullerton at the intersection of Harbor and Bastanchury--it had a "colorful" history.

Dal Rae Interior
The interior, renovated most recently in 1999, is pretty much what you'd expect: classic trimmings, lots of dark wood, and some big-ass booths. Lighting, however, was considerably brighter than I'd anticipated. In addition to the main dining room pictured above, there's also a bar/lounge replete with live entertainment, as well as a patio area (where smoking is permitted). There's even free WiFi, just in case you have the urge to live tweet a meal!

Dal Rae Menu Dal Rae Menu Dal Rae Wines by the Glass
With over 100 items, the menu is vast to say the least, with nearly all your favorite continental classics represented. Steak Diane? You bet. Veal Oscar? No problemo. The wines by the glass list, disappointingly, is largely focused on typical American producers, with a French and an Italian sparkler representing the only international flair. Click for larger versions.

Relish Tray
A relish tray, containing two types of peppers, pickles, radishes, carrots, and celery, was quick to appear on the table.

Bread Basket Cheesy Garlic Bread
The relish was followed up rapidly by the bread basket, filled with three types of bread: sourdough, sesame breadstick in plastic, and a spicy crispy flat bread. Later on, a delicious cheesy garlic bread was also presented.

Gloria Ferrer Brut NV Carneros California & Castello Banfi Brachetto d'Acqui 'Rosa Regale' Piedmont Italy
We began with bubbles: the Gloria Ferrer Brut NV Carneros California [$9.75], basically your prototypical dry California sparkler, and the Castello Banfi Brachetto d'Acqui "Rosa Regale" Piedmont Italy [$9.75], a very sugary, very viscous libation that was reminiscent of the FRV100 I'd had at LudoBites and Church & State.

Oysters Rockefeller
Oysters Rockefeller [$15.95]
Sure, I've had "oysters Rockefeller" before, but I believe this was the first time I'd had the real deal. The dish, first developed in 1899 at Antoine's in New Orleans, consists of oysters on the half-shell, baked with chopped bacon, spinach, Pernod, Parmesan, and Hollandaise. It was indeed named after the one-and-only John Davison Rockefeller, because, as with Rockefeller, the oysters too were very "rich." Getting back to the dish at hand, the oysters' flavor was very subtle, appearing mostly on the finish, and the mollusks were there mostly for texture; I wonder what type of oyster was used, definitely not Kumamoto that's for sure! Taste-wise, things were dominated by the complex of cheese and bacon, a delectable duo--savory, salty, and suitably stout--with a slight smack of spinach as well, and perked up by the optional application of lemon. All in all, I quite enjoyed this.

Cottage Fried Potatoes
Cottage Fried Potatoes [$8.95]
For our side, we were debating between the creamed corn and sautéed spinach, but settled on these potatoes at the urging of our server. It was a great recommendation; served with onion and jalapeno, the dish was delicious indeed--I especially appreciated how the potatoes still had a bit of a crunch to them. The taters were mild in flavor on their own, but went beautifully with the cheesy sauce, accented by the tang of onion and pepper.

Beringer Chardonnay 'Private Reserve' Napa Valley 2006 California & Francis Coppola Pinot Grigio 'Bianco' California Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon 'Estate' Alexander Valley 2006 California
Now, for white wines, we went with the prototypical Beringer Chardonnay "Private Reserve" Napa Valley 2006 California [$12.50] and the very light Francis Coppola Pinot Grigio "Bianco" California [$8.25]. And a red to go with the steak: a single glass of the surprisingly good Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon "Estate" Alexander Valley 2006 California [$14.00].

Lobster Thermidor, Dal Rae & Dal Rae Famous Pepper Steak Lobster Thermidor, Dal Rae & Dal Rae Famous Pepper Steak
Lobster Thermidor, Dal Rae [$44.00]
Dal Rae Famous Pepper Steak, Prime New York (16oz) [$37.95]
It was now time for our mains, which our server conveniently split up into two plates. First up was the Lobster Thermidor, named for Victorien Sardou's play of the same name. A French dish, it was created in 1894 at the Parisian restaurant Marie's. Here, it consisted of sautéed lobster with mushrooms, onions, cream sauce, Hollandaise, and Parmesan, browned, served in a shell. Again, this was a very weighty dish, with the creamy, luscious sauce taking center stage. However, despite this gravitas, the lobster was still apparent, both texturally as well as on the finish--decadent, and quite delicious.

The steak, however, wasn't quite as ambrosial. Perhaps I've just been spoiled by CUT-level steak, but I found the meat somewhat tough, and weak on flavor. However, the course was saved somewhat by the topping of pepper, scallion, bacon, and bell pepper, which proved a lovely accoutrement to the strip. The classic combination of steak and lobster, our own version of surf & turf in a sense, also came with green beans, which were unexpectedly good; I'd imagined something very mushy and limp, but these had a nice, light snap to them.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes & Rice Pilaf
Entrées at Dal Rae come with your choice of side, and we went with nicely-lumpy garlic mashed potatoes and a surprisingly tasty, not tired, rice pilaf.

Dae Rae Dessert Menu
Though we were sated at this point, we always save room for dessert. The dessert menu, with all your usual suspects, is shown above; click for a larger version.

Tableside Banana Flambe Tableside Banana Flambe
Ahh, the joys of tableside preparation...something that's becoming rarer and rarer these days. Who doesn't enjoy a good flambé? It's like dinner and a show.

Banana Flambe
Banana Flambe for 2 [$8.50 per person]
Though not explicitly named on the menu, this was basically Bananas Foster, a dessert created in 1951 at Brennan's in New Orleans. Here, it consisted of bananas sautéed with butter and brown sugar, which were then flambéed in a concoction of Amaretto di Amore, DeKuyper crème de banana, and Ron Antigua rum. The bananas were thus served with nuts and peach, over vanilla ice cream. I quite liked the end result, with the ice cream proving a great base and temper for the caramelized bananas, accented deftly by the use of almonds. The once piece that seemed out of place was the peach, which was overly sugary compared to the rest of the dish.

Though I came into Dal Rae not expecting much, I must say that I liked my time here for the most part. Sure, there's not anything new brought to the table, but given the modern, molecular, avant garde, intellectual fare that's all the rage these days, perhaps sometimes it's good to step back and return to these straightforward, comforting classics, which never seem to go out of style completely. Obviously, there is a place for ostensively anachronous institutions like Dal Rae; it's been around for 50 years--they must be doing something right! Just go in knowing what to expect, and you'll be fine.


Blogger Kung Food Panda said...

Mike and I tried Dal Rae last year during DineLA, and while I thought the place was nice, the special Dal Rae pepper steak was slightly disappointing. The meat quality was OK, and as you said, it was masked by the sauteed peppers and onions.

I might go back again, but prob not for DineLA. I enjoyed the service and the classic building. It's hidden quite well in Pico Rivera next to the Jack in the Crack. LOL

Wednesday, September 16, 2009 2:15:00 AM  
Blogger weezermonkey said...

How'd you end up here? It doesn't seem like the "cutting-edge" stuff you typically dig.

This is a fave amongst the old attorneys at my work. Like really old. Heh.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009 8:12:00 AM  
Blogger MyLastBite said...

I love all these old school dishes! Makes me want to dress up like Holly Golightly or Jackie Kennedy...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009 9:30:00 AM  
Blogger citynitz said...

MmmmMM...that banana flambe looks delish, but the peach does seem a bit out of place...interesting. =)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009 10:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That banana flambe looks divine! This is a legitimate question- would a non-banana lover like it?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009 5:38:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Danny: Yep, I'd read Mike's review of the place, so I was a bit wary. It turned out better than I'd expected, though their famous pepper steak was ironically the weakest item of the night.

Weezer: You're absolutely right, but my dining companion wanted to go, hence. ;)

Jo: It's alright once in a while. I would like to see you as Holly Golightly though. Halloween is coming up...

Jackie: Next time I gotta get the cherries jubilee. =)

Anon: I wouldn't say "like," but I think you'll find it tolerable. The banana really isn't the dominant flavor. ;)

Saturday, September 19, 2009 6:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We may not agree that Melisse will be the first 3 Michelin Star Restaurant in LA but I totally agree with your assessment of Dal Rae. It's a Oasis in the Desert of Pico Rivera and nothing has changed in the 32 yrs I've been hanging out there for lunch. Now I live in Hawaii so it's mute point but my DR acct was still available when I was in LA recently. Russkar

Saturday, September 19, 2009 7:56:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Russ, why are you in Hawaii now? Last time I was at Urasawa (my choice for the first 3-star), Hiro-san was asking about you.

Sunday, September 20, 2009 4:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Shayan Rostam said...

First and foremost, I want you to know how much I admire bloggers like you for dedicating so much time to share your restaurant experiences with readers like me. The first review of yours I read for was my all-time favorite restaurant, CUT. From there, curiosity got the best of me and I have not been able to stop reading your blog since.

What caught my eye in your review of the Dal Rae restaurant, along with several other recent entries, are the history of the establishment and the background of its chef or owner you provide. Your introduction of the restaurant made me immediately respect it, knowing how difficult it is to compete in the restaurant industry, let alone maintaining the same customers for several decades. In addition, your entries always include a strong description of the venue and the photos do a good job of complementing your interpretation. This is a great way to draw the reader in and allow him or her to really imagine what it is like to step into the restaurant for the first time.

Continuing down your post, I see that you always order quite a few appetizers and several drinks before the main course. Dinner usually consists of two or more large plates followed by dessert. Again, your detailed critique of every dish combined with excellent photography gives the reader a good idea of whether or not this is the type of restaurant he or she would like. I also like that you subtly allude to the service of the restaurant by making comments like, “A relish tray, containing two types of peppers, pickles, radishes, carrots, and celery, was quick to appear on the table.” All too often, a restaurant is graded predominantly on its service rather than the food itself. Although I admit service is very important, sometimes restaurants are written off after one go because it may have just been an off day for the waiter. It is good to see a critic that focuses on what matters most, rather than getting too hung up on one aspect of the overall experience.

All in all, your blog not only presents itself as an educated, non-biased source for restaurant reviews, but it is also a learning tool for those of us who are trying to determine what really makes a restaurant successful. And as I have learned from your review of Dal Rae and many other dining spots, a lot goes into making a restaurant stand out from the crowd. In your opinion, what elements must exist for you to want to go back? How often have you found yourself at a packed restaurant just to find that it is only busy because it is at a convenient location? How important are the non-essentials to you, like parking, service, atmosphere, location, et cetera? These are the aspects of the restaurant industry that I am trying to get a better grasp on (in addition to the obvious essentials), and I figured who better to ask than an established foodie?

Shayan Rostam

Sunday, September 20, 2009 10:45:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Shayan, thank you for the kind words. I'm glad that you've been able to enjoy the blog!

Recently, as you mentioned, I have begun trying to incorporate more about the histroy and background of a particular restaurant, in order to provide some context to the reader. This is not always easy unfortunately, and can involve considerable research. I pride myself on attention to detail and completeness, two hallmarks of kevinEats that I believe have contributed to the blog's success over the past year.

And now, your questions:

1) In your opinion, what elements must exist for you to want to go back?
I actually don't go back to restaurants all that often. But I do look for: good food that is also distinctive in some way; a menu that changes regularly; exclusivity; passable service; a special event or some other element that creates a sense of urgency.

2) How often have you found yourself at a packed restaurant just to find that it is only busy because it is at a convenient location?
Very rarely, surprisingly. If I find that a restaurant is undeservedly packed, it's more likely that it's because the place is safe/nonthreatening or is billed as some sort of trendy/hip spot.

3) How important are the non-essentials to you, like parking, service, atmosphere, location, et cetera?
By far, for me the most important facet of a restaurant is what's on the plate. Parking isn't an issue as long as there's valet. Service just has to be competent and not grossly inadequate. Atmosphere isn't really a big deal unless I'm physically uncomfortable. Location matters, though I do regularly drive 30+ miles to dine.

Monday, September 21, 2009 4:58:00 PM  
Blogger Shevonne said...

Hi Kevin,

I think you have a really awesome blog here. Thanks for the food reviews, they are really useful for moms like me on the go who don't have to waste time looking for places to eat.

Share this with others in my Pico-rivera mom community.

Keep up the good work.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009 6:07:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Just found your site. Been reading your reviews.

The Dal Rae also had a location on Normandie near Hollywood Park, was popular with race crowd.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010 11:51:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Francis, you're talking about the original location at 10511 S Western Ave right? Apparently that one opened in the 1940's, then closed in 1968.

Friday, February 12, 2010 1:44:00 AM  
Anonymous LivingMCM said...

Great review!
I am a retro revivalist, and I only eat at mid-century establishments if I can help it. I recently enjoyed a meal at Dal Rae, and I will definitely go back. I agree with much of your post.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016 10:47:00 AM  

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