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.
Mostly 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.
One 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 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
All my Michael Voltaggio photos on Flickr
Ferran Adria’s Liquid Olives
Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations
The dreaded Luis Garcia (el Bulli) Rejection email
LA Times: A rare four-star restaurant review: The Bazaar by José Andrés
Jose Andres Think Food Group
Jose Andres on Made in Spain
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
Don’t forget to watch Michael on Top Chef!!