Monday, November 12, 2012

Royal Treatment at The Royce

When you are an avid foodie who eats out four times a month and your tastes run from the lowbrow taco shop to the three star Michelin dinner, you pretty much know what to expect from the bottom of the spectrum to the top of the spectrum and all the variations in between. You know you are going to have a casual, jeans wearing, no nonsense, serve yourself salsa in paper cups, plastic fork experience at the strip mall Hispanic neighborhood carne asada joints but you don’t care because you are there for the way they make the beef and the pork so authentically that you could never duplicate it at home. And when you put on the heels and the lipstick comes out of the cosmetics drawer so that you can look the part in a pristine dining room where some famous chef resides sweating over his kitchen so your exquisitely rare meat is dotted with the precise amount of gourmet garnish on the plate you know you are going to pay a hearty price for the pleasures of being catered to so lusciously.

But every once in a while you have an experience that is so elevated and so individualized that you wake up the next morning with the aftertaste of ultimate satisfaction on your tongue and wonder if it were all just really a dream. That’s how I woke up this past Saturday after a night out with the Cute Gardener at The Royce.

The Royce is located in Pasadena’s prestigious and swank Langham Hotel where even the hallways boast crystal chandeliers and a sense of early California citrus ranch and oil baron history. Recently remodeled, it boasts a classy white dining room with plush seats, muted white and black exquisite abstract drawings and splashes of blue throughout. As we sat, we were immediately offered an aperitif of Mendoza sparkling rose from Argentina.

This was followed by a creative amuse bouche of smoked tofu in mini lettuce cup, a blistered and bread-crumbed shishito pepper and a sweet little cup of belly warming butternut squash soup. This was all before we even uttered an order.

Our waitress was so attentive that she asked if we wanted to work with the sommelier for our meal when she noticed us strategizing our orders together noting that we would probably be sharing. The sommelier became a remarkable companion throughout the evening starting with our appetizer course where he brought out and poured two wines for me knowing that my dish could go either with a full and jammy white or drier Chablis. I ended up enjoying a Zind Humbrect Gewrztraminer 2011 Alsace with my diver scallop carpaccio sprinkled with bonito horseradish “rape” and chopped Oregon state chestnuts.

The CG was given a Caroline Parent red burgundy to match his roasted pheasant soup with parsnip emulsion and Muscat grapes. Both of us were stunned with the smoky richness of the pheasant mousse on top of the long, thin crostini that floated in the soup. The soup was poured at the table – another touch of old school yet rarely seen elegance.

For the entrée, I chose my go-to of lamb, which came with two generous round filets, perfectly roasted in curried garlic honey sauce with charred and tiny onions, fat Christmas lima beans and a sorrel emulsion. I enjoyed a Jake-Ryan Cellars zinfandel alongside the juicy, medium rare meat.

The CG had the seared squab which was delightfully served with roasted fig halves, swiss chard, matsutake mushrooms and cocoa nibs.

There were a lot of diners around us in the house and not very many of them looked that happy. We wondered if people who have a ton of money come to take even their ability to have luxurious dining experiences for granted and become bored because it certainly couldn’t be the food that was causing everyone to appear so blasé. To spice up the atmosphere, at least for the staff, we did something a little crazy next. For our first dessert, we ordered an appetizer plate of heirloom shelling beans ragouette with celery and shaved white truffle for $60. We were definitely going to enjoy and appreciate our one time experience in the land of the rich. I had been itching to try the white truffle delicacies and this seemed like the proper time and place to do so. It was worth it with flaked slivers of buttery, rich truffle atop sublime foam and the pretty amazingly cooked beans. The sommelier was so confused yet pleased by this order that he comped us some red wine during this course.

Finally, for dessert, we ordered the picandou du lot goat cheese with tomato jam, which was funky in the best ways and paired interestingly with the jam.

We were stuffed to the gills and ready to go but were delivered yet another plate of small chocolates ranging from milk to pepper white to espresso dark chocolate. And then, to top off the night, as we were about to exit the grand glass doors back into our normal lives, the host grabbed us and ushered us in to the stately wine room where he poured me a free glass of grappa and some brandy for my mate and brought in the chef David Feau to meet us. We were so impressed with everything and we told him so and as he shook our hands and thanked us in French, I knew that this evening would remain up there in my top five dining experiences for quite some time.

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