Tag Archives: dining room

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dining Room, MyLastBite.com
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
626.568.3900
Website

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!
EatingLA
EstarLA
FoodGPS
LAist:
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, MyLastBite.com

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

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Filed under Eating Out

Saam (Bazaar visit 9, Saam visit 1)

Dining in the new Saam restaurant makes you feel special. It’s located behind a secured, nondescript door near Bar Centro, at the Bazaar by José Andrés. Each of the twenty courses (one or two bites each) are brought out on individual plates, while you sit at one of the exclusive, coveted tables. To me, it feels like a sleek and sexy modern-day speakeasy.

Saam at the Bazaar, MyLastBite.comThe service? Impeccable. I haven’t been to Alinea yet, but I’m guessing the experience is close, or at least as close as we’re going to get here in Los Angeles! It’s like flying first class, where you’re treated like a celebrity and you know it. Especially true for an early dinner on opening weekend. We were one of the first to be seated for the Saturday evening service, and at times there were four staff members looking after the two of us.

The food? It was my ninth visit to the Bazaar and I knew the menu backwards and forwards, so I was pleasantly surprised to find each dish “kicked up a notch”, and thrilled to try a few new bites as well. I found myself mouthing “wow” to my husband Peter, especially when we were served updated versions of dishes we tried on previous visits.

“Saam: The Chef’s Tasting Menu” is printed on top of each take-home menu (rolled up and tied with a little black ribbon), a great souvenir to remember an elegant evening. But throughout our wonderful dinner, I couldn’t help but feel there was something missing. The food was the best I’d ever had at the Bazaar, so that wasn’t it. Our server Charlie was attentive, engaging and throughly knowledgeable. Carolina was nearby in case we had any needs or questions as well. Managers William and Felix stopped by to ensure that we (and later, each and every table) were enjoying the evening, but my dinner still felt incomplete. Why?

Because “Saam: The Chef’s Tasting Room” was missing the one thing I love most about the Bazaar (besides the food), it was missing the chefs.

My favorite tables at the Bazaar are one of the two “Tron” tables in the Rojo room. They’re not officially called “Tron” tables… that’s just what we call them because they have cool laser-like red lights beneath the surface. The few times I’ve been lucky enough to have a seat facing the open kitchen was at one of the these tables. I loved watching Chef Voltaggio warm up the “smoking” gun to finish off the salmon dishes. And as a fan of the show “Top Chef”, could there be anything better than seeing Chef Marcel Vigneron working the foam? By the way, I think the show portrayed him as an arrogant nitwit, because in person he’s a real sweetheart. 

After we finished our evening at Saam, we made our way to the Rojo kitchen where the kitchen staff was in full swing. It was busy, crowded and the room was filled with the frenetic energy that I missed. It sort of felt like I had been at the wrong party earlier.

Do I recommend Saam? Absolutely. Especially if it’s your first visit to the Bazaar. It’s quieter and more focused than either the Rojo or the Blanca room, and you’ll be carefully guided through a palate pleasing, high-flying experience. Heck, it’s not that I don’t like flying first class (the few times I’ve experienced it), it’s just that I like watching the crew even better.

Tasting Menu is $120 per person.

Saam at the Bazaar, MyLastBite.com
Course #1: Salt Air Margarita. Delicious as always.

Saam at the Bazaar, MyLastBite.com
Course #2: Sweet Potato Chips and Yogurt Dip. I love the anise flavor in the yogurt.

Saam at the Bazaar, MyLastBite.com
 Caviar Steamed Bun. Using the steamed bun makes for a nice twist on a classic.

Saam at the Bazaar, MyLastBite.com
Course #4: Olive Oil Bonbon This was such a treat!! I first saw this being made on “Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie” by Chef Andrés and his Minibar Chefs: Ruben Garcia and Katsuya Fukushima. It’s like a candy shell filled with olive oil. Into your mouth and it crumbles. SO AMAZING.

Saam at the Bazaar, MyLastBite.com
Course #5: Bagel and Lox Cone. Delicious as always.

Foie Gras Cotton Candy, MyLastBite.com
Course #6: Cotton Candy Foie Gras (foie gras rolled in corn nuts). Still a favorite and so good I forgot to take a photo before eating! (photo from previous visit)

Saam at the Bazaar, MyLastBite.com
Course #7: Olives Ferran Adria. My first love (and why I started taking Molecular Gastronomy classes last year!)

Saam at the Bazaar, MyLastBite.com
Course #8: Jose’s Ham and Cheese.  I LOVED the Jamón Ibérico with the soft La Serena cheese inside the “air bread”. This was one of the “kicked up” dish updates, similar to “Philly Cheesesteak”. La Serena is a creamy, aromatic (aka really stinky which I love!) cheese from Extremadura in Western Spain.

Saam at the Bazaar, MyLastBite.com
Course #9: Sea Urchin Conservas. Fantastic flavors AND presentation.

Saam at the Bazaar, MyLastBite.com
Course #10: Boneless Chicken Wing. Delicious as always.

Saam at the Bazaar, MyLastBite.com
Course #11: Shrimp Cocktail. The updated cocktail sauce was richer, almost creamy.

Saam at the Bazaar, MyLastBite.com
Course #12: Nitro Gazpacho. I always love when the Liquid Nitrogen cart rolls up! Gazpacho “cooked” in the nitro.

Saam at the Bazaar, MyLastBite.com
Course #13: Blufin Tuna Toro (and Norwegian Lobster). Both AMAZING.

Saam at the Bazaar, MyLastBite.com
Course #14: Norwegian Lobster.
Perfection in one bite.

Saam at the Bazaar, MyLastBite.com
Course #15: “Smoked” Salmon. Another favorite, the dish is finished using a “smoking gun”.

Saam at the Bazaar, MyLastBite.com
Course #16: Not Your Everyday Caprese (top). I recently learned how to make these liquid mozzarella balls!

Course #17: Tournedos Rossinii 2009. Wagyu beef, truffle and foie gras. MORE PLEASE!

Saam at the Bazaar, MyLastBite.com
Course #18: Dragon’s Breath (caramel popcorn “cooked” in liquid nitrogen). Currently only served in the Saam room, we’ve enjoyed it several times before. It’s FUN!

Saam at the Bazaar, MyLastBite.com
Felix Meana making Dragon’s Breath

Saam at the Bazaar, MyLastBite.com
Coconut in a “Half Shell”. Peter loved all three desserts. I was too full!

Saam at the Bazaar, MyLastBite.com
Chocolate Biscuit Coulant Michel Bras (above) and Petit Fours: Tablets, Bonbons

Saam, at the Bazaar by José Andrés, SLS Hotel
 465 South La Cienega Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 9004
(310) 246-5555
Dining date: 4/11/09

Mentioned above:

Tron, the movie

Tron, the table

Alinea (someday!)

Top Chef

Smoking Gun

Molecular Gastronomy Classes

Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie

Watch the episode with the Olive Oil Bonbon!

MiniBar

In the kitchen with the chefs

<< Bazaar Visit #8

Bazaar Visit #10 >>

All my Bazaar photos on Flickr

Saam at the Bazaar By José Andrés on Urbanspoon

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Filed under Eating Out, Molecular Cooking