Monday, March 05, 2007

Foodventure #29: Celadon Galerie (near the Grove)

When I heard Celadon was opening in L.A. area about four months ago, I was squealing with the pure delight - thinking that the delicious & much-acclaimed Napa Valley restaurant of the name same is opening an offshoot in SoCal. That turned out not to be so when I visited this Celadon's Web site, whose theme is much more pan-Asian. Despite the mild disappointment, the dishes & drinks do look interesting, and after reading this positive review from Eating L.A., I'm sold.
Generally, I'm not a fan of Asian Fusion cuisine (having already had two lukewarm experiences in my young food blogging lifespan), but the featured food items seemed fun, unique and creative (with dishes like "Tuna tartar lollipops with seaweed salad and tempura rice" and "Maple leaf roast duck with date-balsamic reduction and okinawan sweet potatoes") so it's worth checking out to see if the execution is up to par.

Celadon's environs is a sleek, sexy, modern Asian - dark woods and dimmed lights accented with Buddha statuettes, hundreds of tea lights, stiff wooden benches and giant sake barrels. There is a lit fireplace with more comfortable-looking seating, and a martial arts flick is projected on the brick wall right on top of the flames, though the kung fu noises are muted and replaced instead with chill lounge music.
Arriving on the scene a few minute before my friend, I took the time to scribble a few notes on the vibe and treated myself to one of their signature cocktails - the Yuzu Voodoo - at the bartend's recommendation (even though my interest were piqued by the Chi-Devil and the Mighty Joe Yang, touted on the menu as aphrodisiac drinks for the gals and the guys). Made with absolut citreon, hypnotiq & freshly squeezed juice of yuzu (a tart citrus with a nuance of tangerine, and as of late, a popular semi-exotic fruit that has been appearing on fusion, pan-Asian and otherwise eclectic menus.) The drink was an interesting sweet 'n sour combo that definitely did double duty as a deceptively potent drink & a liquid amuse, and by the time my friend I arrived, my tastebuds and I are all fired up to eat.

We started off our meal with a Grilled ahi pizza, with meaty slices of tuna layered on top of pita bread wedges with pesto sauce, toasted pine nuts, a dash of parmesan shavings and a generous amount of "intensity herbs" (which I can best ID as mixed greens with cilantro and dill). Definitely one of the more original appetizers I've had in a while, and quite tasty too (even given my general dislike for cilantro) with the flavors of the fragrant herbs, salty tuna, garlicky-basily pesto, buttery pinenuts and sharp cheese well layered upon one another.
For the entree I went with the roasted scallops with balsamic-glazed strawberries and vegetable risotto - never being one to easily turn down scallops, this delightfully-sounding course was screaming "Try me!" so I did and I'm glad - the meaty, creamy scallops with a slight charred crisp was a great complement to the almost mushy, sweet-sour strawberries and wonderfully rounded off with a soft and savory risotto.
My friend decided to go for more turf and ordered a Flat iron steak with grilled cheese panini, red pepper romesco sauce and mushroom salad - decidedly one of the less Asian-esque of the stuff on the menu and the steak is a bit too bloody for my personal tastes, but nonetheless quite nicely prepared - and the sharp cheddar grilled cheese with the red pepper sauce was comforting and a bit sophisticated at the same time.
Since the entrees came in sensible, but substantial, portions - we had room for desserts, which I almost always consider a boon, particularly here, since one dessert course means multiple sweet treats. My friend ordered the simply named Bananas, which included a banana cream tart topped with cocoa powder, carmelized bananas with vanilla bean ice cream and a banana souffle. Overall yummy and bursting with enough aromas to make monkeys go wild. Souffle was a bit bland, though.
I got the Black sesame, comprised of sesame paste shiratama (sweet mochi-styled dumplings) in a syrupy sauce, a burnt sugar crisp studded with black sesame seeds, and a black sesame custard. Signifiantly sweeter than the bananas dessert, but again, a nice trio centered around a central ingredient. For a brief moment, I'd imagine myself to be a dessert Iron Chef judge.

All in all, I had a surprisingly wonderful experience here, and agreed with Eating L.A.'s diagnosis that this is Pan-Asian done right -- distinctly innovative dishes that really attempts to meld Eastern and Western flavors (as opposed to just topping something off with a soy-teriyaki concoction and serving it with a side of rice or noodles.) However, I also second Los Angeles magazine resident critic Patric Kuh's
observation that this restaurant is unusually quiet (it was near-empty when I arrived around 6:30pm on a weekend), perhaps - as noted by Kuh himself - many people think they know, and are turned off, by the whole idea of Cal-/Pan-/Fusion Asian cuisine. I thought I was one of those people, but Celadon changed my mind, now I hope it will do well in business and not wound up on LA Eater's DeathWatch.

And yes, I forgave it for its initially misleading name.

The bill:
Yuzu Voodoo - $9
Grilled Ahi Pizza - $12
Scallops with Balsamic Strawberries - $15
Flatiron Steak with Grilled Cheese Panini - $14
Bananas - $9
Black Sesame - $9
Pre-tax/tip total - $68

The ratings:
Ambience - 4.5/5 (Like its cuisine, a nice mix of modern European designs alongside traditional Asian-esque props.)
Value - 3/5 (On the fence about this one, for the price the amount of food is a bit smaller than what I would expect, but that does prevent me from pigging out; however, the desserts were worth every penny.)
Service - 8.5/10 (Prompt and efficient most of the time, with a few slight delays)
Food - 17/20 (Overall good, and I hold them in high regards for their efforts in experimentation, which makes for curious-tasting dishes.)
Bonus/Demerit - N/A
Total Rating - 33/40 (worth at least a try, and for me, worth returning to.)

Other notes:
- Street parking a bit trickier, it's on the Grove area and many side streets are permit-only; valet available
- Fairly vegetarian friendly, with a good amount of dishes that may be prepared meatless
- With a nicely varied crudo (appetizer) and yam cha (dim sum) menu, a group can easily do dinner tapas style

Celadon Galerie
7910 West 3rd Street (near Fairfax)
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 658-8028


Chubbypanda said...

Hmmm... Sounds interesting, particularly the black sesame dessert. I love black sesame paste.

poopycat said...

I've been curious about this place--thanks for being the guinea pig!

And food pr, huh? In full Napoleon Dynamite mode: LUCKY!


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