Langham Dining Room -- Worth It?
As a Christmas present, my parents are treating me to dinner at The Langham Dining Room. I'm a big Top Chef fan and Michael Voltaggio was my favorite from this past season. I currently live on the East Coast and don't come back to Pasadena much, so I figured this would be one of my only chances to sample his food.
That said, I'm curious to know if people think the experience is worth it. My three family members and I have healthy appetites and, from what I can tell from people's Flickr photos, the portions look small. (I'm guessing we'll do the 5-course menu... Has anyone done it? If so, did you feel satisfied afterward?)
I know it's not *super* expensive, but it'll be four of us dining, so it's a decent chunk of money that I'm asking them to dole out for one dinner... I'd hate for everyone to leave hungry. My other concern is that Chef Voltaggio's preparations are a little avant garde for my mother (she enjoys fine dining, but isn't terribly into "molecular gastronomy."). Do the flavors hold up to the artistic plating?
I had a great dinner last night with 2 good friends - all of us were hungry and hard to please, and we left happy and satisfied.
First, to answer is it "worth" it and/or "enough"? We each ordered 5 courses, and between those, the homemade bread, a savory amuse and dessert amuse, and petit fours, there was definitely enough food - I think they key was I didn't feel like I wanted or needed more. There was a very refined level of execution and conception, and the service was excellent with a minor hiccup of having to ask for water refills several times. The room itself is a little stodgy and traditional, so it suits some and not others. Overall, I thought it was well worth it and would certainly go back ... when I have another special occasion to splurge.
Second, to answer about the taste and kind of food. I specifically ordered the Langoustine, Jidori Chicken, Lamb, Short Rib, and Fool's Gold - better descriptions in my photos, albeit they're a little fuzzy (I didn't want to use the flash in this kind of place!). I also got to try my friends' Pastrami Pigeon, Toffee Pudding and Lavander Macaroon. Every dish I tasted was well-seasoned, had a lot of nuances in flavors and textures, and was well executed, with a couple minor exceptions - 1. one of the pieces of lamb was cooked through while the rest was a good pink, but my friend's lamb was the similar, so that might've been intentional, 2. the short rib was room temperature and a little bland on its own, but the overall dish was still really solid.
My favorite dish was the Jidori Chicken - a great, tender texture on the chicken (cooked sous vide), with sweet and savory flavors mixing together, and a creamy texture brought together by a poached egg underneath with a little crunchiness of sunflower seeds. The whole dish had so many flavors going on, delicious and rich.
A couple other interesting notes - 1. at the 2nd course, they served another round of bread, a homemade truffled brioche with goat's milk butter, really delicious and fluffy and aromatic, 2. the amuses were a play on dippin' dots, with the savory being foie gras and cherry and the sweet being root beer and ice cream, both were light and tasty, 3. we got to check out the kitchen toward the end of service (we were the 2nd to last table there), and Michael Voltaggio was friendly and genuinely happy to hear we'd driven over to Pasadena just for the meal, asking what we had, if we had enough, what we thought, etc. He seems to genuinely care what the diners think, and he's promising some cool renovations in a few months, so I hope to go back later this year!
The Dining Room at The Langham
1401 South Oak Knoll Ave. Pasadena, CA 91106
I ate there this past Friday evening. I was not impressed. No, it wasn't BAD, but it didn't blow me away, either.
When I was ordering, I wasn't sure whether to do four courses or five, and the waiter alerted me that the portion sizes were small, so I decided to go with five.
I started with the seared foie gras, which was very good. I also had the sweetbreads, which seemed somewhat underdone (I have sweetbreads a lot, so I'm familiar with what the texture should be). The portion size on the sweetbreads was really small, though, consisting of two morsels each about a one-inch cube.
On to the main courses. I had the wagyu short rib, served with a few tiny tater tots and little dabs of white ketchup. The portion size on the short rib was okay, but it was barely warmer than room temperature. I almost sent it back, but didn't really want to bother. The second main course was the skate wing, and the portion size was ridiculously tiny. It was about the size of an average french fry. No, I am not kidding. This seemed like a bad joke.
For dessert, I had the sticky toffee pudding, which was good, although it too was on the small side.
I'm familiar with the concept of tasting menus consisting of small portion sizes, but the restaurants that do that typically serve 10-12 courses, not 4-5. I'm not an advocate of huge portion sizes, either, like certain restaurant chains. I just don't want to leave a restaurant feeling anything less than comfortably full, and unfortunately, that was the case with the Dining Room at the Langham. Furthermore, while each of the dishes tasted good, there wasn't a single one that made me wow with delight. (By comparison, I had an absolutely wonderful dinner two nights later at Animal in L.A. and it didn't cost anywhere near as much as the Langham.)
So, to answer the OP's questions... Did I feel satisfied with the amount of food I had after the 5-course menu? No. And I didn't feel that the food was overly avant garde, but while it was reasonably good, it was far from great.
I went early in December and had the 5 course menu. It was an incredible meal in that I was experiencing the passion of a young, interesting and talented chef right there on the plate in front of me. The food was vibrant, unusual, daring, and it tasted good, too. Have I had better meals? Yes, and for a lot less money. But the experience of eating Voltaggio's food executed in the way he conceived it was worth every penny. The meal filled me up, and I can eat. But if you're still hungry afterward, now's your chance to try to Southern California's famous In 'n Out Burger! There's one in Pasadena.
My wife and I were just there last weekend - we had a great time, and an excellent meal, but you raise a good question about portions and being satisfied that come to the heart of our conflict about the place having just been there.
The food - it's really pretty great - with all dishes being somewhere between great and excellent. Interesting but not bizarre combinations, good textures and beautifully presented.
The "molecular" bits - I wouldn't be concerned, they weren't over the top, added a bit of intrigue, but never got in the way. Sounds like you'll enjoy this part of things and nobody in your party will be too put off.
The portions - This is where the Langham fell just a bit flat. They are on the small side, as if they are designed for a 7 course or nine course, but if you order 4 courses, the meal ends up being a bit light. If it cost less, it may have been less of a controversy, since we ended up at the old "for this much $$, you really should get more protein" conversation. And my wife, who eats a lot less typically than me, is the one who brought it up. The fact that we each got a rich dessert helped get us over the hump and well into post great meal bliss, without that I'd have had some 'splaining to do. So I would definitely go for 5 courses or even the seven if you're really into it. Or, grab a couple of tacos a few hours beforehand... :-)
Memorable dishes for us were the autumn vegetables, a really great combo of root veggies and others with some inventive touches, the pork belly (fab) and the lamb loin dish. Flavors definitely held up. Desserts were excellent - there was a toffee pudding with banana that really popped. Service was really great all around.
We went on a Saturday, and the room was mostly full - that's a great development for the hotel. Food was always excellent, but it was never much of "popular" spot till now. They are closing in a couple of months to fully redo the room, which will be interesting to see and is pretty much needed - while its not shabby at all, it's not exactly up to date.
I think you'll dig it, especially if you go knowing portions aren't all that large.