Chef Michael Voltaggio, The Dining Room

Last year, when I learned that José Andrés would be opening a restaurant in L.A., it seemed like our town had won the culinary lottery. Being a fan of molecular (modern) cookery, I always felt slighted because we didn’t have the over-the-top kind of magical place that I’d only read about, or seen on television. Places like MiniBar, the six seat experimental José Andrés outpost in Washington DC. Or Alinea (and L2O) in Chicago, Wylie Dufresne’s wd~50 in NY and of course, El Bulli – Ferran Adria’s legendary restaurant in Roses, Spain. For the past few years, I even tried to score a reservation at El Bulli, but always received the dreaded rejection email from Luis Garcia. “I’ll get there SOMEDAY”, I would say to myself.

At the Bazaar, MyLastBite.comMostly I was happy living vicariously through the adventures of Anthony Bourdain. I would even cheer, as I watched him slurp down Ferran Adria’s Liquid Olive on “No Reservations”. And laugh with amusement as he snorted out vapors of José Andrés’ liquid nitro popcorn (aka “Dragon’s Breath”). I was content because I figured I’d get to try it SOMEDAY, if I was lucky.

When I read that the Liquid Olive would be served at The Bazaar by José Andrés, I couldn’t wait to get a reservation, and made sure I was there the very first day of service. As the waiter went through a list of possible appetizers, I stopped him and said “please just bring us THE olives!”. That first olive was so special, and it was sort of a “right of passage” that made me feel one step closer to a seat at El Bulli.

It took me twelve visits to the Bazaar, but I eventually ate every one of the 76+ dishes on the original two menus (a personal goal I set for myself). The chef de cuisine on each of those evenings was none other than Chef Michael Voltaggio.

Back in February, the LA Times gave the Bazaar “A rare four-star review” and restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila wrote: “In four meals here, I’ve never gotten a bad dish, or really even a boring one — whether Andrés was in town or his chef de cuisine Michael Voltaggio was in charge”.

I just want to note here: Out of my twelve stellar dinners at Bazaar, José Andrés was only there twice, and even on those evenings it was Chef Voltaggio in the kitchen. Don’t get me wrong, I adore José Andrés (his food, his books, especially his PBS show, “Made in Spain”) but let’s be honest… the guy is BUSY… what, with his restaurant empire and all! He had to feel pretty darn comfortable leaving his L.A. baby in the capable hands of Michael.

Chef Voltaggio at Bazaar, MyLastBite.comOne of my favorite moments with Chef Voltaggio came during our third visit. About half way through dinner, he surprised us by setting up a large bowl at the end of our table, and proceeded to “cook” bites of caramel popcorn in a bath of liquid nitrogen. WOW, “Dragon’s Breath”… it was a sweet crunch… then icy cold white smoke came out of our nostrils. Another foodie dream fulfilled.

Last week was the first time in MONTHS that I got to taste Chef Voltaggio’s cooking. He was the guest chef at Breadbar’s Hatchi series in Culver City. I’ll get that piece posted soon (lots of photos), but it was such a joy to taste his creative dishes in a fun, open atmosphere.

Luckily I’ll be able to taste Michael’s cooking anytime, now that’s he taken over the top spot at the The Dining Room at The Langham (a Michelin Star Restaurant). It’s located in the century old Langham Hotel in Pasadena. Beautiful grounds and classic interior, but I can’t wait to see how the restaurant evolves into a showplace for Michael’s food.

The restaurant website notes that “Chef Voltaggio’s menu features a selection of innovative small plates showcasing artfully inspired new American cuisine prepared using classic discipline and modern trends”. Translation: Delicious and FUN.

Last night Peter and I attended a tasting dinner with several other food writers (links below), and he and I are still arguing about our favorite dishes. Nothing disappointed, although I was worried when I saw lamb on the menu. I’m not a fan of lamb, but every once in awhile I’ll actually enjoy the preparation. Michael’s was fantastic and I’ll order again for sure.

One thing that surprised me was that there didn’t seem to be too much “molecular gastronomy” on the plate, and I mentioned that to Michael when we spoke in the kitchen after dinner.

He smiled and said “Well then, we did our job tonight”. Turns out he and his team used several modern techniques, including sous vide and liquid nitrogen, but it wasn’t a full-out evening of “molecular gastronomy in your face”.

The wines (plus one beer!) for the tasting menu were selected by sommelier-extraordinare Matthew Lathan. We first met Matthew at Chef Voltaggio’s Hatchi event, so we knew we were in for quite a ride when saw him at The Dining Room. He does something I rarely experience in fine dining establishments, Matthew makes wine pairings a rollicking good time.

This morning I read about food writer “Amateur Gourmet”‘s recent visit to El Bulli, and for the first time in years I didn’t have the immediate sense of jealousy. Of course I still hope to get there SOMEDAY, but because of Chef Michael Voltaggio… I’m able to experience the delicious things I used to only dream about. And the best part is, I don’t have to fly all the way to Spain to get it. The Dining Room is only twenty minutes away. Can’t wait to go back!

What we ate:

The Dining Room,
Top Photo: Our table is ready for wine pairings!
Bottom Photo: Amuse bouche of Powdered Foie Gras, Blue Fin Tuna and Dragon Fruit.

The Dining Room,
Pacific Yellowtail, Sashimi Style. Soy-Watermelon, Sea Sponge, Smoked Egg Yolk. Paired with 2008 Crios de Susana Balbo, Torrontes, Cafayate

The Dining Room,
Octopus, Buttered Popcorn, Piquillo Confetti, Cilantro. Paired with: 2005 Peter Howland Maxwell Vineyard, Chardonnay, Hunter Valley  (My favorite dish AND pairing)

The Dining Room,
Pastrami Pigeon, Rye infused Jus, Brussels-Kraut, Puffed Gruyere Cheese. Paired with: Unibroue 17, Strong Dark Ale

The Dining Room,
Turbot, Artichoke, Tomato Granola, Lime & Vanilla. Paired with: 2007 Salwey Henkenberg GG, Pinot Gris Qmp

The Dining Room,
Suckling Pig, Pistachio Beans, Onions, OJ, Coriander. Paired with: 2000 August Kesseler “S”, Pinot Noir, Assmannshausen (Peter’s favorite dish and pairing)

The Dining Room,
Lamb Chop Confit | Vadouvan, Pickled Tongue, Eggplant-Raisin, Fresh Hummus. Paired with: 2006 Villa Creek Avenger, Syrah/Mourvedre/Grenache, Paso Robles

The Dining Room,
Jasmine Rice Sorbet (pre-dessert). Coffee Cake: Bakes Honey, Espresso Mousse, Lemon Curd. Paired with: 2004 Paringa, Individual Vineyard, Sparkling Shiraz

The Dining Room,
A look at The Dining Room Menu (in the kitchen!)

Chef Michael Voltaggio (& his brother Bryan) on Top Chef: Season 6!

The Dining Room at The Langham
401 South Oak Knoll Ave.
Pasadena, CA 91106

NOTE: The restaurant is scheduled to close on Jan. 1, 2010 for renovation. I’ll post more details when I get them!

Dining Date: 8/11/09

Follow the Dining Room on Twitter

Michael’s Bio On Top Chef

All my Michael Voltaggio photos on Flickr

Langham Hotel

Mentioned above:

Dragon’s Breath Video

Such a pleasure to meet everyone at the Tasting last night!
SquashBlossom & Julie Wolfson
TarametBlog A great big thank you for the invitation!

With Jose Andres

Ferran Adria’s Liquid Olives

Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations

Amateur Gourmet at El Bulli

The dreaded Luis Garcia (el Bulli) Rejection email

LA Times: A rare four-star restaurant review: The Bazaar by José Andrés

Restaurants I will visit someday: MiniBar Alinea L2O wd~50 El Bulli

About Sous-Vide

Jose Andres Think Food Group

Jose Andres on Made in Spain

Michelin Star

Dragon’s Breath Note: It’s currently only available in the private Saam room (just fyi).

For beautiful photos of the Dining Room (and rave review) check out KevinEats

The Dining Room,

Don’t forget to watch Michael on Top Chef!!


Filed under Eating Out

19 responses to “Chef Michael Voltaggio, The Dining Room

  1. May I ask how much the tasting menu (just the food without the wine pairing) cost? Thanks.

    • It was a media event, so no cost. Funny thing… I already had a reservation for dinner on the same night! Cancelled after I got the invite, but am looking forward to a full dinner experience. : )

  2. I remember Chef Michael Voltaggio surprise “Dragon’s Breath Carmel Popcorn” that was an amazing dinner with you guys.
    Then when we went to the Breadbar’s Hatchi series dinner with all Chef Voltaggio cooking that was an unforgettable dinner.

    Love this post, makes me want to urgently go to The Dining Room at The Langham.

    Thank you Jo for this great post and for sharing your wonderful experience!

  3. Sharon Mangine

    Jo it was a pleasure for us to meet you and Peter at Hatachi and we both want to thank you for all the kind words and support of Michael as well as the other’s who have shared your excitement as wonderful reviews as well. We try to read as many of them as we can. As partial as we may be, we too, feel he is definitely a talent to be taken seriously and we will definitely get out soon to visit The Dining Room. We can’t wait to see what he and his brother will be up to on Season 6 of Top Chef……as their mother, I can only imagine………Bob & Sharon Mangine

    • Hi Sharon, It’s so exciting that you have TWO sons in the new season of Top Chef Vegas!

      You know how much I adore Michael… looking forward to meeting Bryan someday too.


  4. Ahh…looks like I went here about a week and a half too early!

  5. Wow, what an awesome feast! It’s a shame I don’t have an anniversary or birthday to celebrate anytime soon because this resto is steps away from home!

  6. The food looks amazing. I live close by there. I’ll have to try them out before the close.

  7. Wow! Great post. The photos are beautiful. The food looks and sounds amazing. (The pork AND the lamb caught my eye – yum). And I particularly like that you included the El Bulli rejection letter! 🙂 You’ll get there soon – I just know it. Adding the Dining Room to my long list of restaurants to get to.

  8. Hey Jo, these dishes look fantastic. I was waiting to see what Chef Michael had up “his” sleeve, and I’m so happy that he’s finally doing his own thing. He’s a great chef, very accommodating, and a shining star in a galaxy of young chefs.

    I love his ideology behind using molecular gastronomy techniques in his food. If you can’t tell we used it, then we did our job. That’s just so refreshing. Mind you, I love the trickery, but it really is all about the food. I think that’s what I found refreshing about a lot of the food at The Bazaar.

    Thanks for sharing these dishes with us, Jo. What a meal that must have been.

  9. tokyoterrace

    Looks like some great food! The presentations look beautiful- almost too pretty to eat! I said almost… The yellowfin made me homesick for sashimi in Tokyo! We have been in the states for 2 months and are headed back to Tokyo on Tuesday. Sashimi is my first priority when they get there! Great post- loved it! Rachael

  10. Beautiful , yummy site-love the pictures! Thank you! Betty

  11. very cool! i love the pictures.

    i nominated you for an award – thanks for the bacon ice cream 🙂

  12. Oh geez, yet another I’ll have to put on my list. I made reservations for The Bazaar because of your review. I’ll only be in LA for 2 1/2 days so I don’t think I’ll get to squeeze this one in this time.

    I also want to go to El Bulli really badly! Let’s make plans to meet there in year 2020…haha

  13. i sit on my chair this evening, starring at your pics..
    gee, i’m feel totally hungry.. need something to eat!
    anyway, i like your blog. nice one!

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