Could not authenticate you.followers
My beloved Ritz Carlton Huntington Hotel in Pasadena became the Langham about two years ago. While the property is still stunning with its lush 23 acres, and the rooms are still spacious and comfortable, there are a few things that have changed, namely their signature chef, Craig Strong, moved to the Montage last January. The new chef de cuisine in the Dining Room is Michael Voltaggio.
We spent last Friday night at the hotel, celebrating our 22nd wedding anniversary. We had a beautiful room on the ground floor, with a patio opening to the grand lawn. We invited some good friends to enjoy a bottle of champagne on the patio before our dinner. It was shaping up to be a great evening.
We called for an 8pm reservation the day before, and were told they were fully committed at that time, but they could get us in at 7:30. We were running a little late, and had trepidation that our reservation would be cancelled, since there was no flexibility on the reservation. When we arrived at 7:45 with a bit of anxiety, we were happily seated – in a near-empty dining room. While we perused the menu, we were offered a glass of the house champagne, Henriot, which was fine. We were there to enjoy a nice toast to our anniversary. When we later received the wine list, we discovered the house champagne was $25 per glass, while two other offerings that were barely mentioned as an aside, were $12 and $14. Here we were $50 into our dinner after five minutes.
Next, our waiter explained how the menu worked. There was a chef’s tasting of seven pre-selected courses at $110 per person, or the alternative four courses which we could select on our own at $79 per person. This was not what we had particularly bargained for, but we thought, okay, it would be a dining experience. We ordered our first course and were met with “Oh, you must order all four courses at once.” So, not only are we told how many courses we must order, but also when. Another sip of my $25 glass of champagne, please.
We inquired about several of the dishes on the menu, like the popcorn octopus, which was prepared sous-vide style. I interrupted the waiter, asking what exactly is sous-vide, since it is a term I was not familiar with, even though I know my way pretty well around a kitchen. Basically, it is a cooking process where the food is sealed in plastic and cooked in 140º water for 48 hours. I was puzzled, wouldn’t that just leach all of the soul and flavor out of the food? During a long dissertation about the popcorn butter, the waiter described in great detail the 8-hour process (not exaggerating) by which they prepared this “sauce”. (Think of buttered popcorn in a blender.) Another dish that intrigued us was the beef cheeks, also prepared sous-vide-style. Michael ordered the soft shell crab, the octopus and the beef cheeks. I selected the Japanese kampachi wrapped in Iberico ham, followed by the halibut cheek and the ever-so-intriguing roast suckling pig.
I studied the wine list, looking for a nice, full-bodied red to accompany our dinner. Most wine lists are categorized by grape and region. Some however are categorized by region, then varietal. Their list is categorized by region only, and not by grape. It was very difficult to navigate and even more difficult to find a bottle under $100. Did the sommelier forget we’re still in a recession? We settled on wine by the glass, a meritage that was reasonably priced with a generous pour.
Our first courses arrived: a lonely piece of soft shell crab that was easily one quarter the size of any you’d get at a sushi restaurant. The kampachi was so very thinly sliced, it was difficult to get any kind of flavor from it. Next was the highly anticipated octopus, which was limp and bland with a teaspoon of the acclaimed popcorn butter on the plate. The halibut cheeks were the size of a triscuit and just as salty. We were feeling frustrated at this point, but still had our main course to come.
When my roast suckling pig arrived, I saw two pieces of pork on a plate the size of a Twix bar – fun-size! When the waiter approached the table and asked “is everything ok?” I could not hold back. I said, “Is the joke on me? Is the emperor wearing any clothes?” In these tough financial times, how can you serve portions like this at these prices? I’m not looking for the “Claim Jumper” portion, but at least serve me more than four bites of pork.
At that point, we decided to forego dessert and leave. Despite the waiter’s offer to take care of the bill, we insisted on paying for it. We then decided to taxi to one of our favorite Pasadena restaurants, the Parkway Grill. We ended up having a wonderful time enjoying each other’s company, and sharing a wonderful appetizer, since we were still a little hungry.
The next morning, we found ourselves laughing about the experience. We quickly dressed and enjoyed a wonderful breakfast at the Terrace restaurant on the patio. The enjoyment of our breakfast quickly went south yet again when we picked up our car from the valet. Michael’s brand new car was delivered to him with a nasty door ding that was ascertained by the valet manager to have happened while they were in possession of it. So we spent the next 20 minutes filing a damage report. But the coupe de grace was yet to come. Unfortunately, an hour after arriving home, I discovered that my antique aquamarine ring that Michael gave me for our 20th anniversary was missing. I remembered removing it to put on some lotion, and setting on a table in our room that morning. I rushed back to the hotel, feeling confident they would have it. The Loss Prevention manager and I interviewed the maid, the bell attendant and the laundry person, all of whom said they knew nothing about the ring. The ring my husband bought for me in Argentina, an antique from the 1930s, was gone, mysteriously disappearing from the room which we had just checked out of an hour before.
I certainly miss my Ritz Carlton Huntington Hotel, the place where I celebrated my 40th birthday with 150 guests and where I thought my daughters would get married. Unless the Marriot Corporation decides to re-purchase the property, I don’t see those plans coming to fruition.
Publisher Michael Villalpando contributed to this story.
This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.