Friday, March 21, 2014

Country food in the desert?

For years I have driven past a restaurant along the 10 between Los Angeles and Palm Springs thinking that someday I gotta go there and try the food.  Well, that day finally arrived.  If you're familiar with the interstate route, then you know that in the city of Banning they have a KFC Buffet and a Starbucks drive-thru, but they also are home to Gramma's Country Kitchen.

If you read the Yelp reviews you think you are walking into a Cracker Barrel, but I wouldn't agree. I felt more like I was walking into a grandmother's home with all of the knick knacks on the wall, and the brick fireplace in the middle of one of the dining rooms.  They also have a display case showing off their homemade pies and cakes which I so desperately wanted to try, but my diet wouldn't allow.  Instead I was excited to see what was on the menu.

The general look and feel of Gramma's

I ordered the open faced meatloaf sandwich for my dinner.  It automatically came with mashed potatoes, but I had a choice for my other side and surprisingly chose carrots.  I say surprisingly because I really don't like cooked carrots, but these were extremely tasty.  They weren't overcooked and they weren't sickenly sweet, two of the things I hate most about cooked carrots.  Should I mention that I like baked carrots, as in carrot cake?  I digress.  The mashed potatoes were made from scratch and you could tell because they had whole potato chunks in them.  The meatloaf itself was thinly sliced (not sure how one does that) and sat on top of two slices of white bread and smothered in gravy.  It was exactly what I needed, though I realized on the car ride back to LA that the meal had been very salty and that I needed fluid and/or something sweet to take the salty flavor from my mouth.
Open Faced Meatloaf Sandwich with carrots and mashed potatoes.
My husband, on the other hand, decided to go with breakfast.  He selected an omelette with his two sides being hash browns and biscuits and gravy.  I snagged a bite of the biscuit and it seemed more cakelike than flaky, but I'm not complaining.  The gravy didn't seem to have much flavor though, and there weren't any sausage nuggets inside.

Biscuit with country gravy
As for the omelette, my husband told me it seemed more like a scramble than an omelette, but that it was still really good.
The Kitchen Sink Omelette (country ham, crispy bacon, tender beef, sausage, green onions & cheese)

If you want a simple, good meal and are driving on the 10 near Cabazon, I recommend pulling over at Gramma's.  I personally can't wait to go back once I'm off this diet and really get to enjoy the menu.  I'll be sure to post a new story when I do.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Three Amigos

Trois Mec is the hottest restaurant in Los Angeles right now based on every article you read.  The LA Times calls it "The Golden Ticket."  Esquire Magazine listed it in its Best New Restaurants list for 2013.  Eater includes it in its 38 Essential Los Angeles Restaurants.  LA Weekly named it the best new restaurant of 2013.  And the accolades go on and on.  So I obviously had to try it, so I went to their website to look into how to make reservations and that is where the adventure began.

There is no phone number to make reservations as there are no reservations.  Trois Mec sells tickets to eat at their restaurant.  Yes, tickets.  See the restaurant is in a converted pizzeria so they only have 26 seats and instead of following in big brother Animal's footsteps, the founders of Trois Mec must have decided that if people really wanted to eat there, then they would be willing to pay for their meal upfront - and that's currently $75 per person, plus tax and 18% gratuity.  Tickets go on sale every other Friday morning at 8am for an upcoming two week period, so I marked the date on my calendar thinking this would be like buying concert tickets and I would have this in the bag.

The ticket buying experience was the single worst "entertainment" experience of my life.  I think it literally took years off of my life.  The website is not designed for the level of traffic involved with a ticket on-sale so only the truly dedicated, or those who are willing to pay people to do this for them, will successfully get tickets.  Long story short, after 45 minutes of trying during which I argued with my husband and drove to work, I finally got tickets and completed the transaction on my tiny iPhone screen.  Since the restaurant has three tables for a party of four, one table for a party of six and a counter that holds four parties of two, I ended up with tickets for a party of four.

My husband and I then had to decide who to bring.  It was like a Sophie's Choice between our friends and ultimately we chose a couple who are foodies like us.  We explained to them all of the technicalities: meal is prepaid, restaurant is in a crappy strip center bearing the name of a pizzeria, and I have no idea what could be on the menu.  They were in!  At least until the day before when their children got sick and then shared their germs with their parents.  So in spite of Trois Mec being "The Golden Ticket" we couldn't pay anyone to go with us.  And if the reservations had been like a traditional restaurant I would have been able to either change the date or reduce the number in my party.  Instead, my husband and I reached out to practically every friend we have in both LA and Orange counties which basically highlighted to all of them that they weren't our first choice.

So after pulling into the Yum Yum Donuts parking lot and finding a spot, we walked down to the Raffalo's Pizza where the front door has no sign at all, but you know you're there because there are space heaters hanging from the rafters.  You see, if you don't have the first seating of the night you are forced to stand outside until your table becomes available.  We walked in curious as ever as what to expect since even Google maps says the restaurant is a "compact spot with global tasting menu."  Thankfully the mystery was quickly over as our menus where waiting for us at the table.  Beverage choices: water, sparkling water, Coke, Diet Coke, wine.

First up: snacks. The first snack was buckwheat popcorn which had a flavor similar to salt and vinegar potato chips. They were one if those things that you ate because it was in front of you and not because you enjoyed them.

Buckwheat Popcorn

Our second snack was a sunchoke chip.  Our server made a point of stressing that it was chip singular.  I can't recall how else it was described, but there was definitely something creamy inside. It was a tasty bite.

Sunchoke Chip

No one at my table caught the name/description of the third snack because all we heard was O Nigiri Sushi Rice Ball and to the best of my knowledge there is no such thing as "O".  That said, it was enjoyable. Even if I didn't know what it was.

Nigiri Sushi Rice Ball

Our fourth snack might have been my favorite dish of the night. Garlic Bread. Oh my gosh. Buttery. Garlicky. Heavenly. Literally dripping with butter. I so badly wanted more than just one bite. 

Garlic Bread

Our first plate was a crab ceviche with radish flower. It was very limey and delicious and the buckwheat popcorn gave it a needed crunch.  While we were given both a spoon and fork to eat it with, I found that the spoon was the only utensils needed..

Avocado, citrus, crab ceviche, buckwheat popcorn

We decided to go with the optional meal supplement of the scallops.  When in Rome....  The dish was interesting and was not a favorite of anyone at my table. The scallops were served on top of a cauliflower purée with some yummy sesame chips and some powder that tasted like a radish. We asked our server when he came to collect the plates what the powder was and he said it was cauliflower. Huh. Good but I wouldn't order it again. 

Nantucket Bay Scallops, tandoori, sesame, cauliflower

Our third dish was probably the most interesting of the night. Miso flan served with brined and grilled cabbage and a horseradish condiment.  We weren't sure how to eat it and one of my friend's said "I'm Armenian, we roll everything up" and with that he made his own burrito of the dish.  I chose a more conservative eating approach of just cutting things into small bites and eating them together.  The dish was very umami and unique,

Grilled cabbage, smoked almond milk anglaise, miso flan, fennel pollen

Next up came the starch course.  I mean, what else do you call a course dedicated to potatoes?  To quote Jonathan Gold of the LA Times "slightly undercooked Weiser Family Farms potatoes passed through a ricer directly onto a plate of brown butter, onion soubise and Salers cheese from the Auvergne, then sprinkled with dried Japanese bonito flakes. The texture is not cloudlike but substantial, not just grainy but super-grainy — the onion sweetness, the funk of the cheese and the smokiness of the bonito not overpowering but enhancing the mildly acerbic sharpness of real potato flavor. If ever there was an anti-Robuchon potato dish, it is this one, constructed by a chef who knows the rules all too well … a potato actually served by itself as a main dish."  Couldn't have said it better myself.

Potato pulp, brown butter, bonito, onion soubise, salers

The fifth dish was the rib cap which has become a very popular cut of meat in high end restaurants of late. The meat was served medium rare, thinly sliced, and was very tender.  Even my friend who prefers her meat well done appreciated how good the not horrifically overcooked meat was.  We were all curious (nervous!) about the smoked peanut butter, but it was actually really tasty. Probably because it was fresh peanut butter and not from a jar. 

Beef rib cap, charred broccoli, smoked peanut butter, crispy shallot

I was admittedly nervous about the dessert and asked what "creme de brie" was in hopes that it wasn't what it most obviously was. But, it was exactly that - creamed brie cheese. See, I like brie, but brie does not like me.  So I approached this dish very cautiously in hopes of eating as little brie as possible.  The dish was served in layers with the toasted barley on top, then some cream, the apple butter, and finally the brie.  I think I would have enjoyed the dessert more had I been able to just "dive in".

Apple butter, creme de brie, toasted barley, hay

Mignardises finished our meal.  Mignardises are simply small desserts and tonight we were given two: a black sage marshmallow and a sunchoke ice cream choux.  Neither was a hit with our party.  Upon tasting the marshmallow my friend cried out "Tastes like mouthwash."  And it kinda did.  I mean, it was blue green, and once you got past the extremely strong sage flavor, it left a mouthwashy flavor in your mouth.  As for the choux, she proclaimed "Tastes like artichoke!"  And I was pretty sure that wasn't a compliment.  To me it was just bitter and not worth the calories.

Sunchoke ice cream choux and Black sage marshmallow

The whole experience just seemed like a restaurant with too much hype to live up to.  I mean, maybe I was there on an off night, but seeing as how I'll never go through the ticket buying experience again, the odds of my going back are slim to none.  Well, until I make my millions off this blog and can hire someone to face the on-sale on my behalf.  Until then, time to floss after my mouthwash.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Pot of Gold Inside the Rainbow

Two years ago my husband and I embarked on our own version of Iron Chef America during a two day stay in New York City.  During that visit we ate at restaurants (or Italian mega marts) of as many Iron Chefs as we could including Geoffrey Zakarian, Alexandra Guarnaschelli, Bobby Flay, Masaharu Morimoto, and Mario Batali.  And during our recent Cleveland trip we got our Michael Symon card.  And I've also been to the restaurants of honorary Iron Chef's Wolfgang Puck and Emeril Lagasse, so it was a matter of time before we would get our Jose Garces card since he has a restaurant only two hours away, and I'm glad we finally did.

Chef Garces has two restaurants located within the Saguaro Hotel in Palm Springs and for this trip we chose the fine dining spot, Tinto.  If you're not familiar with Palm Springs let me tell you that this hotel is one that you can't miss.  The architecture is from the 1950's, but its bee updated with all of the colors of the rainbow - literally.  In front of the hotel is the hotel van which may as well be a Volkswagen van from the 1960's with its rainbow color scheme.  Lets just say that the decor fits the area.  The interior of the hotel is just a kitschy with a display of Barbie-type dolls in multiple dioramas showcasing all that the hotel has to offer.  Makes me wonder what about this hotel made Chef Garces say "There!  My restaurants must be there!"

You'll be relieved to know that the hotel's decor did not rub off on Chef Garces as he built a classic looking restaurant.  We were given the opportunity to sit outside, and since it was a warm day in January, we took advantage of it.  Space heaters are placed in the rafters above the seating, and they also have fire pits set up in more casual seating areas.

Exterior patio seating

Once seated outside we were handed our menus and our server explained that the food is from the Basque region: Southern France, Northern Spain.  She then recommended that we try the Chef's Tasting Menu of four courses including 11 dishes if we really wanted to get a variety of the menu. She also mentioned that the wine list is mostly from Spain as well as the beer, but since I was eating Spanish food, I was drinking Sangria.  One thing to note, with as many Iron Chef restaurants as I have been to, this was the first restaurant where they made a point of referring the chef proprietor as "Iron Chef Garces."  Kinda like how now he's not Paul McCartney, but Sir Paul McCartney.
Back of the menu explaining the name/inspiration

First up was the Pan de Majorca bread (yes, redundant, but that's what they said when they put it on the table) with smoked tomato goat cheese.  This is their house bread and I found it heavenly.  It was buttery like a croissant. Cheesy. Decadent.  Mmmm was my first reaction. The spread to me was just Eh, but my husband preferred it over the bread. Thankfully the bread was tasty enough to not need an accompaniment.

Pan de Majorca with smoked tomato goat cheese

Next up was the Marcona almonds and mixed olives.  Getting these two dishes alone proved what a deal the Tasting Menu was as individually they are $5 each.  The almonds are smoked on site and served with olive oil and salt resulting in a subtle flavor.

Marcona almonds and mixed olives

The next cold tapas, or pintxo, was the Jamon Iberico de Bellota which is cured acorn fed Spanish ham.  Texture-wise it reminded me of prosciutto, but it tasted sweet, yet salty.  The fatty ends were creamy in my mouth, but still a little too fatty for my taste.  The ham is aged for two years and is served with bread that my husband preferred.  

Jamon Iberico de Bellota

Next up was the cheese plate which included three cheese including manchego.  Admittedly I didn't catch the names of the other two cheeses.  Also served on the plate was sliced apples and something that I originally noted to be "jellied goo," but later learned was dulce de membrillo or quince paste which is commonly served with manchego.  I was actually quite fond of the dulce de membrillo and was pleased when it appeared again later in our meal.  Considering that it was part of a rather large tasting menu the platter was a bit much for just two people.  I actually left most of it for my husband to enjoy.

Cheese plate

So I think I accidentally ordered the bean salad. When our server was explaining the Tasting Menu she wasn't clear as to which dishes were to be included, so I simply asked if the bean salad was on the menu as it included quail eggs and I don't eat quail.  Her answering wasn't clear as to whether it was or whether it would be as a result of my question, but either way, we were served it.  And I'm glad we were as I think it may have been our only vegetables of the night.  The beans were perfectly al dente and the tuna didn't have strong canned-tuna flavor to overpower the dish.  Overall it was a very flavorful salad.

Chilled Bean Salad (ventresca tuna, toasted hazelnuts, buttermilk lemon vinaigrette, sans quail egg)

Bacon Wrapped Dates.  Mmmm.

Coachella Dates (bacon, almonds, pearl onions, valdeon fondue)

The menu says Lamb Brochette.  And yes, it mentions bacon. What it really was was bacon wrapped lamb brochette.  It's served in a shot glass with an eggplant puree and sherry jus.  Just dip and stir. Eat the lamb and when done with the brochette, drink the remainder as a soup. Ah-mazing. It wasn't gamey, but it was still lamby nonetheless.  My husband told me he would leave me for it.

Lamb Brochette (lamb loin, eggplant, bacon, sherry jus)

The one dish I most excited for was the Spanish Tortilla. I've seen Chef Garces prepare it on TV before, so I had high expectations.  I can say that it was light and fluffy, but I'm honestly not sure if I liked it. It was the most subdued dish yet.  Our server noticed that we barely ate it and assumed it was because we were saving it to eat with the steak as is customary, but seeing as how we had no idea what we were being served, I'm not sure where she came to that conclusion.  Some foreshadowing here: I tried it with the steak and it still wasn't good.

Spanish Tortilla (Weiser Farms potatoes, saffron aioli, red watercress)

After five cold tapas and three hot tapas, we finally were served large plates or raciones.  First up was the halibut. I actually like fishy fish, so the salsa verde was a much needed burst of flavor for the bland fish. I definitely preferred the cockles and the sauce on them was extremely tasty. 

Halibut (cockles, roasted spring onion, salsa verde)

Our second entree was the Wagyu Culotte Steak. Culotte is the cap of the top sirloin.  Caps seem to be the in thing lately, though usually its the cap of the rib eye.  The steak was perfectly chewy and full of flavor, but the accompanying potatoes only had subtle flavor. And as I mentioned earlier, the steak did not improve the taste of the tortilla.  My one complaint about the steak was that the sauce was a little too sweet. 

Wagyu Culotte Steak (roasted fingerlings, Idiazabal cream, membrillo)

We were allowed to choose our own dessert to finish our meal.  My husband surprisingly selected the donuts.  The donuts were a perfect blend of dense and airy, if that's at all possible, but that side of date ice cream is what made the dish.  It was amazing and not too sweet. The honey was a great compliment to the donuts. 

Buñuelos (doughnuts, date jam, spiced honey, date & olive oil ice cream)

As we were enjoying our coffee and rubbing our extremely full bellies, suddenly a second dessert appears.  Without any explanation, our server presents us with a second dessert.  She says something about how it was unexpected and she understands if we need to take it to go, but that we need to eat the sorbet before it melts. So suddenly now we have the tarta. It was the perfect texture, airy and yet dense just like the donuts. I was wary of the blood orange sorbet after my experience at Hatfields, but thankfully it was not too tart and very enjoyable.  And somehow, we mostly finished the second dessert.  I just wish I knew why we were served it. 

Tarta (cheese tart, blood orange, meyer lemon sorbet)

The saddest part of our meal was that with as full as our tummies were after 12, yes 12, courses, we had to sit in our car for the long two hour ride home instead of going on a nice walk to aid in the digestion.  My husband asked if we could come back again, and I said we could as long as we didn't order the Tasting Menu.  No one needs to eat that much food.  But perhaps next time we can try Chef Garces's other restaurant at the Saguaro.  There were a couple of misses, but overall this was a great dining experience.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Time For An Oil Change?

Over the summer I caught an episode of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives and Guy was at a restaurant in Phoenix that served the most amazing looking pancake ever.  Since I grew up in Phoenix, though I almost never go back, I made a mental note of the restaurant on the off chance I would have an opportunity to go there.  Flash forward to late December and I'm booking a trip to Phoenix to see my close friend and his family, and while we're on the phone talking about the trip he says that he wants to take me to St. Francis for breakfast on Sunday.  What a happy coincidence!!!  Especially since my mental note had failed me until just that moment.

Back home in L.A. if you aren't at a breakfast spot by 9am, then you can expect long lines getting in to any restaurant.  St. Francis doesn't even open until 9am, so we arrived at 9am on the spot as we were a party of six and needed to make sure we got a table.  We arrived just in time and were seated in their loft area.  While we were up there I realized that the restaurant was in a converted oil-n-lube garage and still had the roll-up door.

Without hesitation I ordered the Iron Skillet Pancake.  I knew it would be sweet and I would need something salty to counteract it, so I made sure that my husband ordered a side of bacon.  And boy was I right!  The pancake was pure decadence.  It was fluffy, with the chocolate chunks melted perfectly inside.  The warm caramel apples were on top and merged with the maple syrup.  And the creme fraiche added the needed creaminess to the whole dish.  My only regret is that I was dieting, so I limited how much of the pancake I would eat, and ended up leaving slightly more than half on the table.  I had originally hoped that my husband would finish it, but he was full of sweetness from his own breakfast, and turned off by the chocolate.  I definitely need to go back when I'm not dieting.

Iron Skillet Pancake (olive oil, dark chocolate, caramel apples, maple syrup, and whipped creme fraiche)

One big positive of St. Francis is that children under 10 eat for free.  And they also get to order the Iron Skillet Pancake.  Its the same size as the adult version, but it doesn't come with the caramel apples or the whipped creme fraiche.

Iron Skillet Pancake - Kiddo Version

My husband decided to indulge in the cinnamon roll.  It was probably at least six inches long.  I only had a small bite, but it was yummy.  And my husband was thankful that I had ordered him that side of bacon as he too needed something to counteract the sweetness in his mouth.

Cinnamon Roll with caramel sauce

My friend, on the other hand, chose to go the more traditional route and ordered the eggs benedict.  That said, St. Francis foregoes with the traditional Canadian bacon, and instead lets you choose between prosciutto, smoked salmon, and avocado.  The dish looked delicious and I did get to taste the crispy potatoes which appeared to be fingerling potatoes that pop when you cook 'em.

Eggs Benedict (poached eggs, english muffin, hollandaise sauce, crispy potatoes with smoked salmon)
My friends are always trying to find ways for me to come visit them more often, and I think they might have found their hook.  I can't wait to go to St. Francis again for breakfast, and want to try them for the other meals of the day too.  Yummers!

Don't Tell The McCoys

Nothing could be worse then having a birthday on New Years Day.  I could bore you with a lengthy list of reasons, but I think you should just trust me.  Or, how about this nibble as an excuse: nothing is open.  That's right, since all of the restaurants stay open late the night before and often have special menus, they decide to give their staff the day off and are closed on New Years Day.  So my choices are often limited.  This year my husband selected Hatfield's from the list of limited restaurant options.  Thankfully it was actually on the list of restaurants I wanted to try, so its not like we were stuck going to Outback Steakhouse.  The one bummer from the evening is that I lost all of my notes from the night, so this review will be based on memory.  Wish me luck!

The restaurant is on the northwest corner of Melrose Boulevard and Citrus Avenue, two blocks west of Highland, so you would think you would find the valet on Melrose right?  Nope, its on Citrus next to the restaurant, so if you're heading west on Melrose after turning off of Highland, be prepared to do a u-turn to get to the valet.

The interior of the restaurant is simple in neutral colors with the main pop of color coming from the pots and pans hanging over the kitchen.  Also the bar has a bright wall of color to contrast with the dining room's neutrality, but you have to be facing that direction to notice it.

Have you ever had that experience where you see another waiter and wish he was yours?  Part way through our meal we had that moment as we watched another waiter explain to a neighboring table that items from the prix fixe menu can be ordered a la carte.  It would have been nice to know that before we placed our order - not that I have any complaints about what we ended up with, but I probably would't have gone with the Vegetarian Prix Fixe menu had I known I could just pick items from it.  But, when else can I have a piece of cauliflower as an entree?  For the record, the Vegetarian Prix Fixe was $56 and was comprised of the Butter Lettuce Salad, Ricotta Agnolotti, Brown Butter Roasted Cauliflower, and my choice of dessert.

The meal started off with an amuse bouche, but unfortunately all I can remember about it is that it was barely one bite, it had dungeness crab in it, and it was tasty.  Great review, eh?

Crab amuse bouche

First course for me was the Butter Lettuce Salad which was very tasty.  The lettuce required slicing which I find to be an annoyance, but I got over it.

Butter Lettuce Salad (compressed pear, manchego, roasted pecan, apple cider vinaigrette)

The husband decided to go with two appetizers for his first and second courses - we were celebrating after all.  I don't normally eat octopus after a bad sushi experience (rubbery!!!), but this was very tasty and not rubbery at all.  Still, I can't say that I'm convinced to try the cephalopod again.

Japanese Octopus a la Plancha (green garbanzo, roasted globe carrots, asparagus, ginger chermoula)

The husband's second course was the roasted carrot and sweet potato soup.  Thankfully the sweetness of the two vegetables was cut by the pork belly and the sweetbread.  Having once tried sweetbreads at Butter in NoHo in Manhattan, we still haven't been sold on the taste of this delicacy.

Roasted Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup (crispy pork belly and sweetbread, maitake mushrooms)

My second course was the ricotta agnolotti.  The pasta itself was perfect, accompanied by butternut squash cubes in a perfect sauce.  The problem was that the ricotta stuffed inside the agnolotti was bland and unseasoned.  In fact, it was bland for even being plain ricotta.  Perhaps this was a brand issue.

Ricotta Agnolotti (butternut squash, sherry brown butter, parmesan)

Time for the entrees.  Thankfully we had learned that the lamb was a small serving of only two rib chops, which prompted my husband to have ordered the second course.  I'm not sure how a restaurant can claim that two rib chops is an entree sized portion, or how they can justify charging $38 for such a small portion, but Hatfield's did both.  That said, the lamb was cooked perfectly and which the potato puree was green from the chives, it was quite creamy though it only seemed to get its color from the chives and not much flavor.

Date & Mint Crusted Lamb (roasted heirloom root vegetables, fresh chickpeas, potato chive puree)

My entree, as mentioned earlier, was a slice of cauliflower.  If I weren't dieting, I would be outraged as seriously, cauliflower as an entree?  But I'm dieting, so cauliflower was my entree.  Surprisingly the cauliflower was quite filling and perfectly complimented by the plantains and raisins.  I can't say I enjoyed the celery root puree, but my guess is its because I learned I don't like celery root and not because it was prepared poorly.

Brown Butter Roasted Cauliflower (toasted almonds, celery root puree, golden raisins, plantains)

For the dessert I selected the coconut tres leches cake as I'm quite fond of tres leches.  I'm glad it was included in my meal as it was quite small.  I loved the compressed pineapple and wanted more of it.  And the cake itself and coconut toffee was yummy as well, but all I needed was one bite of the blood orange sorbet to know that I didn't want any more of that.  It was tart and completely contrasted with the tastiness of the rest of the pastry.
Coconut Tres Leches Cake (compressed pineapple, coconut toffee, blood orange sorbet)

Coconut Tres Leches Cake, up close

My husband was inspired by my dieting and decided to go with the ice cream/sorbet trio and selected the three most unusual flavors available.  All three flavors were yummy, but I enjoyed the pineapple chili the most.
Ice Cream & Sorbet Trio: Medjool Date, Butterscotch-rosemary, Pineapple Chili

At the end of the meal they presented us with a complimentary dessert of two tiny cupcakes.  Since they were chocolate, my husband passed on his and I got both.  Yeah, so I was dieting, but it was my birthday and I had cauliflower as an entree.  Yum Yum.

Complimentary dessert: mini espresso chocolate mint cupcakes

I really wish I hadn't lost my notes as this would have probably been a better review, but c'est la vie.  My husband said he would gladly go back to Hatfield's, but I can't say that I agree with him.  While I enjoyed my meal, it didn't rock my world.  That said, I want to thank the management of Hatfield's for being open on New Years Day and recognizing that not everyone wants to stay inside all day watching football and recovering from a hangover.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Trip Through the Chunnel

Our close friend decided to celebrate his birthday in Las Vegas and selected Gordon Ramsay's Steak in the Paris Hotel and Casino as the location for his birthday dinner.  I was skeptical having eaten at Chef Ramsay's restaurant at the London Hotel in West Hollywood as the portions were freakishly small and after having spent $200 on dinner, I still needed to take my husband through the drive-thru in order for him to have a complete meal.  But, this was not our birthday dinner so we stayed quiet about our concerns.

We walked through the casino to find the unusual entrance to the restaurant.  It reminded us of a tunnel, but no one said anything to us as we entered.  We checked in and were asked to spend a few minutes in the bar while our table was set up.  When we were called we were brought back to the inside entrance of the restaurant and at the point our hostess explained that when we entered the restaurant that we left Paris via the chunnel and were now in England.  That's actually kind neat, but maybe that should have been explained when we first arrived in England and not minutes later as an after thought.

We were escorted through the main dining room heading towards the upstairs seating when our hostess stopped us and pointed to the ceiling fixture in the center of the room.  She then explained to us that the fixture represents Chef Ramsay's hand movements.  No explanation of what movement his hand is making, just his hand movements.  Took everything inside me to not giggle as the hostess was explaining this to me with a straight face.  This was only the beginning of Chef Ramsay's displays of arrogance.

Chef Ramsay's hand movements as a ceiling fixture

We were seated upstairs and were directed to a bi-fold on the table containing the Hell's Kitchen Limited Edition Tasting Menu.  If everyone at your table orders the tasting menu for $145 per person (and its an all or nothing order) then you get to take home the accompanying autographed photo of Chef Ramsay.  Arrogance display number 2.

We were then given our menus that were engraved with the same representation of Chef Ramsay's hand movements, along with a logo of Chef Ramsay holding two knives.  Arrogance display number 3.  God forbid you forget for even a moment whose restaurant you are in.

The Wheel of Meat (my name for it, not theirs) is then brought to the table and each cut is introduced and explained.  We are also told that the meat is hand selected by Pat LaFrieda of New York and dry aged for 28 days minimum in his Himalayan salt room.

Wheel of Meat

The bread plate is then brought to the table and it was difficult to not eat each kind of tasty bread, but alas, I had to share.

I chose the English Chowder as my starter.  It was very yummy and not terribly creamy, and I loved finding the citrus pearls that popped in my mouth.

English Chowder (smoked haddock, scallops, fingerling medallions, citrus pearls)

Everyone else at the table ordered the onion soup.  I was able to have a taste of it and while it was very flavorful, I actually found it to be too sweet.  And for those who don't know, Welsh rarebit is cheese sauce on toast and has nothing to do with rabbit.

British Ale Onion Soup (Boddington's Pub Ale, caramelized onion broth, Welsh rarebit)

I have been a fan of Beef Wellington ever since I was a teenager when it was served as the main course at a wedding.  I have since even made it twice for Christmas dinner, once using a filet loin and once as individual wellingtons using filet mignons.  It is not often on restaurant menus due to its complexity, and as this menu states, the length of time required for cooking.  But I felt tonight that my dinner dates could wait the 45 minutes it would take for my Wellington to be prepared.  I actually think in the long run that the extended wait was a blessing as it gave us time to digest our soups and the bread.  While the Wellington was prettier than any version I've prepared, I was actually disappointed in the taste as I found it to be bland.  I'm not certain if any pate was coated on the meat as is traditional.  It simply tasted like meat inside puff pastry and I like my recipe better.

Roasted Beef Wellington, glazed root vegetables, potato puree, red wine demi-glace

My dish came with its sides so I allowed everyone else at the table to decide the sides and I simply had a taste of each.  Both the potatoes and the mac & cheese were yummy, but I felt bad as everyone else was so focused on their steaks that we left most of the side dishes behind.

Fingerling Potatoes (parmesan, truffle) and Mac & Cheese (blue, cheddar, parmesan, truffle)

Admittedly I never had a taste of the asparagus, which is a shame as I love asparagus.
Grilled Asparagus (chanterelle relish, asparagus spears, aged sherry)

When we were shown the Wheel of Meat the server focused a great deal of time on the American Wagyu Rib Cap as the rib cap is rarely on restaurant menus.  The rib cap is also referred to as the tastiest part of the cow.  That was all the men needed to hear as both of them ordered it as their main course.  And while I was only allocated one bite, I must agree that it was yummy.

American Wagyu Rib Cap (beef marbling score of 9 or higher)

We did not order dessert that night as there was birthday cake waiting for us back at the hotel.  That said, we all left with our tummies filled to the brim - the complete opposite of my last Chef Ramsay experience.  I would strongly recommend Gordon Ramsay's Steak not only to any Celebrity Chef Foodie, but also to anyone who wants to enjoy a good steak while in Vegas.  It was a great experience and I'm proud to say that I was again able to withhold my giggling at the ceiling fixture when we were leaving the restaurant.