Bistro 561 in Pasadena
I agree that this a place to try once. The good part is the awkward student service - I went back just for this. It is honest and endearing - nothing artificial or rehearsed. But you are really under the care of the professional waiters who are just ok. The menus are imaginative and adventurous.
BUT, there is no break in price despite the fact that much of their labor (the students) is paying them, wines are mediocre and expensive, the preparations are generally competent but, as you might expect with students doing some of the work, often less than exemplary. And you don't get a lot of time with the students, which IMHO is the only reason to go.
As mentioned, we went about a month ago & really enjoyed both the food & the service. We asked how often the menu changes & were told every 6 weeks to 3 months. Next menu due out in October. We tried the following dishes:
* Potatoes Allioli - Crispy Kennebec potatoes, garlic allioli, Basque paprika (not really recommended...this was a 1/2" slice of potato then diced into small squares - we had envisioned fries & were disappointed)
* Cannibal Squash - Tempura squash blossom, kabocha squash mousse, grilled zucchini, goat cheese & romesco sauce (I really liked this dish, though the squash mousse was a little "plasticky"/overprocessed)
* Grilled Ono - Black Thai coconut rice, Kaffir lime gastrique, hibiscus & five spice glaze, young ginger compound butter, grilled pineapple brochette (the hit of the evening - can't complain about this dish at all)
* Congilio Siciliano - Braised rabbit, molé caraïbe, Israeli couscous, black beer foam, pistachio dust (the rabbit was a little dry & I wasn't thrilled with the beer foam)
* Chocolate dulce de leche bar, chocolate sabayon mousse, mole lace, crema fresca (very yummy, I could have had at least 1 more!)
* Rhubarb tart with mustard ice cream and strawberry fennel slaw (see review elsewhere in this post)
I used to really love this place, but after a couple disappointing meals about a year ago, I haven't been back.
I'd say it's definitely worth a visit - especially if you are local. The students can hover about and be a tad bit skittish - some find it annoying, but I don't have a problem with it because I know they are learning and giving it a lot of effort.
The menu is usually adventurous with different combinations of food -- sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. It usually changes seasonally (or perhaps with the semester).
If you do go, please post back. You can also do a search on the board, as there are many write ups about it.
re: The Oracle
"The menu is usually adventurous with different combinations of food -- sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't."
I agree with that. With some of the dishes it seems like they tried too hard. But overall, I enjoyed it. And I must say, I experienced some of the best service there, that I have at any L.A. restaurant.
I enjoy the restaurant very much.
But just be warned, because it is a culinary school cum restaurant, there will be more bumps in the road than what you would normally find (and expect) in a regular restaurant. That said, when the place hits its notes (which is more often than not), it makes for a fine dining experience.
I have had their tasting menu on more than one occasion and have enjoyed it very much each time.
Also, service sometimes can be a bit awkward. Not bad, just awkward. Because some of the servers are students who are directed by one or two professional staffers, often you will have 6 or 7 people looking after you. 2 to change plates, 2 to swap out silverware, and another 2 to pour wine, and then 1 more to ask you how everything is. Sometimes its amusing, other times it can be a bit overbearing. Still, the service is professional and accommodating.
Enjoy if you go and report back.
We had that dessert about a month ago (except for the mustard ice cream...they subbed a peach sorbet due to lactose intolerance). A very mild rhubarb taste (slightly disappointing, we were expecting a little more "tang" - I know that's not the right adjective), the tart shell was nice though (like a crushed graham cracker crust if I remember correctly). The strawberry fennel slaw was also delicate, the strawberries were not "overwhelmed" by the fennel (it was crisp & could taste both ingredients individually). I didn't like the mustard seed sauce that was served under the sorbet. The mustard seeds were whole, but did not taste much like anything. Almost like a micro-boba (kinda chewy).