Friday, October 20, 2006

Foodventure #4: 561 Restaurant (Pasadena) Vodka Pairing Dinner - Part Deux

( . . . continuing from Part Une of this Foodventure)

After 3 absolutely delicious appetizers, I'm getting ready for the entrees -- but not before being served the intermezzo:

Cantaloupe granita - simple, refreshing -- good genuine cantaloupe flavor, kinda wish there was more of that going on -- it was a bit more bland than the other granitas I've had here.

Refreshed with the intermezzo & a glass of iced water, my cleansed palate is ready for the flight of entrees, starting with . . .

Seared diver scallop on top of pastrami & cabbage hash, with a side of whipped cauliflower & smear of wild sunflower honey: oh yes! scallop! (my favorite of seafoods) and a perfectly seared one too (crunchy caramelized exterior quickly giving way to its firm yet creamy meat)!! The cauliflower were surprisingly good, and taste like airy mashed potatoes. The savory pastrami & cabbage hash were wonderful when dipped and contrasted with the honey (which tasted like a toned-down orange blossom honey with a little something extra.)

The drink to go with was a "salty dog" made with their grapefruit honey vodka. It's a great beverage (love the citrus-accented salt on the rim) but really didn't make the connection between that and the dish. Oh well, moving on . . .

Shockingly, service from this point took a bit of a nosedive - for the courses following, I wound up having to flag down servers for a missing accompaniment (paired drink, utensils, etc.) A former server myself, I understand things can get chaotic in the dining area (and it doesn't help that I have no regular server to turn to, typical of 561) - but having to flag down someone 3-4 times in one night was a bit annoying.

But onwards to entree #2

Roasted duck breast slices with duck-confit gyoza, served with tea-infused swiss chard & pomegranate gastrique and a glass of tea vodka: another amazing dish, the roasted duck (along with its super-crispy skin) was excellent eaten with the tea-flavored chard, which in turn went well with the vodka. The gyoza was tasty too, though the duck confit flavors were muted by the pom sauce, which was too sweet.

A better view of the entree, after I ate a few pieces and took it apart:

Ta-da! (yes, hard to tell the breasts (2nd and 4th pieces) apart from the gyoza - sorry again for mediocre pic quality)

For the third entree (and 6th pairing) -

Braised short rib with wasabi creme fraiche, garlic mashed potatoes, shallots & shaved truffles, alongside black truffle vodka: the rib was muy excellente! - tender, juicy, and falling off the bone with the bare touch of my steak knife. The wasabi creme fraiche was a wonderful complement to the rib and its syrupy, gelatinous juices. The shallot and the black truffle flavors were a bit muted in the grand scheme of this course (actually my only well-defined tastes of truffle here was when I was sipping the wonderfully-infused vodka or picking individual shaved strands off the meat.)

And for the grand finale -- dessert! . . .

Vanilla-white chocolate pierogies in citrusy glaze, orange gelato with flambeed oranges, and a shotglass of orange segments and chantilly cream (plus dots of dark choocolate)- yum, yum, yum! Such different sweets for a common theme!! (which itself is matched with their chocolate orange vodka in a snifter) The pierogies were a bit chewy, but once I got to its creamy vanilla-cheesecake-like center, the molar work was worth it. The crunchy, caramelized orange bits was wondrous with the creamy gelato & the shot was a wonderful mix of orange juiciness & rich velvety cream.

Before you (or I) think that was it, the server brought this little number with my bill:

Going from left to right, plum gelee, orange macaroon, chocolate-mint truffle. All pretty good, though the truffle had only a hint of mint in there (I was expecting more,) but no complaints for extra goodies. Mmmm...

The bill: $65 + tax/tip

My ratings:
Ambience/decor - 3.5/5 (it's pleasant for a cooking school restaurant)
Value - 4.5/5 (a bargain for what I got)
Service - 5.5/10 (very nice & knowledgeable servers but they could use better coordination, also rather hard to flag down, missing accompaniments, occasional long lag times between courses)
Food - 17/20 (overall very yummy stuff; a few misses here and there, but something I can overlook for their spectacular creations)
Bonus/Demerit - +2 for effort & originality in dishes & pairing.
TOTAL: 32.5/40 (a good place to check out every now and then for creative dishes at a reasonable price; but do have an adventurous palate when going for tasting menu.)

Other notes:
-They are doing this EXACT SAME tasting menu tonight, so if you like what you see here - better make that phone call.
-They also do tasting menu most weeks of the year (pausing for holidays & school breaks) on Thursdays and Fridays. 8-course tasting menu lunch is around $35 and 9-course tasting menu dinner is around $65 (typically wine pairings are extra)
-They do not open on weekends.
-The culinary school also operates the School Cafe next door, which serves more casual (and take-home) fare - menu changes daily.
-Street or lot parking (watch out for street parking if doing tasting menu for lunch - most are 1 or 2 hour parking so you may risk running overtime.)

Phew! (from the dinner and the image editing and upping and blogging) -- but all of it was worthwhile.



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