Wednesday, April 11, 2012


"Mamma Mia" update:

15 shows in 11 different venues across 3 states - the Shubert Theatre formerly in Los Angeles, The Ahmanson in Los Angeles, Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles, Orange County Performing Arts Center, the Pasadena Playhouse, the Long Beach Civic Auditorium, the Cadillac Winter Garden in New York, Orange County Performing Arts Center again, the San Diego Civic Theatre, Mandalay Bay again, the Fred Kavli Theatre at the Civic Arts Plaza in Thousand Oaks, the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert, Segerstrom Center for the Arts again (formerly the Orange County Performing Arts Center) and the Pantages Theatre again.

We've exhausted all of the venues in Southern California that would host the show, so we need to start venturing to Northern California and other states to add more venues to the count.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Napa Rose - dinner review - April 6, 2012

We had reservations for the Chef's Counter for the 8:30 seating. We arrived a little bit early, but the folks who were there for the 5:30 seating had already left, so we were immediately taken to our seats. We were a little disappointed that Executive Chef Andrew Sutton wasn't working that particular Friday night, but Chef Gloria and Chef Alex were there, and Chef Francisco came out a little bit after that.

We hadn't been at Napa Rose in a while and so were interested in seeing what was on the regular menu - which was all completely derailed as soon as we saw the Vintner's Menu.

The husband and I both decided we were having the vintner's (he had the wine pairings, I had my customary Washington Apple martini). We did browse the regular menu just to see what was on it and discovered quite a few items on both the starters/salads menus as well as the entrees menu that looked intriguing. We might need to make a few more return trips to sample everything we're interested in.

We put in our order and then I endured the difficult task of being very hungry and sitting right next to the pass and watching other people's food as they were ready to be delivered. Seriously, EVERYTHING looked so good. We tried to figure out what everything was based on what the main component looked like and what the accompaniments were, and what we'd just read on the menu.

We had just noticed these cute little cones in a holder when one of the runners picked them up and brought them to us - turns out that was the amuse bouche for the night.

Amuse bouche - sesame seed cone with cilantro-citrus-cured hamachi and pesto at the bottom, topped with wasabi tobico caviar.

The first course was then brought over - veal carpaccio and asparagus. The asparagus was a lovely accompaniment to the very thin veal slices.

First course - veal carpaccio pinwheel and warm California asparagus, toasted pine nuts and sun gold tomato vinaigrette.

Next up was the lobster and spring vegetable risotto. I loved the colors of the dish, which was pretty yummy too.

Second course - lobster and spring vegetable risotto, morel mushrooms, fiddlehead ferns, applewood ham with English pea broth.

In between the courses, we had been watching the pass as various dishes came through. The swordfish, the sustainable fish of the day (I forget what it was, but it was a whitefish and looked very good), the short rib, the lamb porterhouse with braised lamb shank, the petit filet, and various salads and starters all looked amazing. But we were puzzled by one item that kept showing up. There were plates being prepared that had accompaniments and a sauce but was otherwise empty. And then on a separate plate was just a fish. And it seemed that the two were being taken away together. The kitchen was very busy this night, but we managed to ask what they were, and we were told that they'd gotten a shipment of 40 Dover sole, and they were cooking it whole and then plating it table-side. It turns out that the woman who was two seats over from the husband had ordered it, so we had the perfect view of what actually that entailed. We were a little surprised when it turned out that it was the general manager, Philippe Tosques, who was doing the preparation and plating of the sole.

General Manager Philippe Tosques preparing and plating the Dover sole while Chef Francisco and the pastry chef look on.

First, Philippe took off the top and the bottom of the fish and put them aside on the little plate for the discards. Then he filleted one side of the fish and moved it to the side. He then removed the middle boney spine, leaving the other side filet on the plate. Then he had to put the top filet back on and then transport it onto the plate with the accompaniments and sauce, which you can see in the picture. The clarified butter in the little sauce pot was then drizzled on top.

As Philippe was prepping the fish, quite a number of other chefs and servers and runners gathered around to watch. We thought it was because they wanted to see if Philippe did it properly, but it turns out that Phillipe was the one who was doing ALL of the prep and table plating when the sole was ordered, and they were all watching to learn how to do it. We were told later that at one point, 7 of the sole was ordered at about the same time, 3 at one table and 4 at another. Philippe couldn't possibly do them all himself because the food would get cold before he could get around to doing all of them, so others ended up volunteering to help out as well.

By the end of the evening, about half of the sole had been sold, so there were still some available for Saturday night.

With Act One of the show now over (we didn't know at the time that there would be an Act Two later), it was time for the main course, and the main reason we'd ordered the vintner's in the first place - rack of lamb.

Main course - Colorado rack of lamb with a roasted garlic crust, fried zucchini blossom, garden market vegetables and sangiovese essence.

Lamb, garlic and fried zucchini blossom - surely I've died and gone to heaven? How does heaven become even more wonderful? When we discovered that the menu description didn't quite include every bit of goodness contained in that dish. Inside the lovely fried zucchini blossom was braised lamb shank. It was seriously amazing. The husband and I commented that a few of the fried zucchini blossoms with lamb shank would make a wonderful appetizer in and of themselves, and I also thought that a few on a bed of mixed greens would also make for a nice salad. Of course, the lamb itself was divine.

At various times during the course of dinner, various patrons came by the pass to greet the chefs and offer their thanks for the wonderful meal. At one point when this happened, it occurred to me that the voice sounded very familiar, so I turned around to look. It was Chef Sutton himself in regular clothes. He was actually dining at the restaurant on this evening with some guests, and when he saw us, he came through to say hello to us and the couple at the seats next to us. It seems he was having a wonderful meal himself, which was nice.

As we were just about finished with our entrees, it was time for Act Two. One of the managers (I didn't get his name, but I know I've seen him there for quite some time.) was going to attempt to filet one of the Dover soles - which would then be his dinner. He ended up doing it at the pass, with Philippe and Chef Francisco giving him pointers.

The manager prepping the Dover sole as Chef Francisco looks on.

The half-prepped Dover sole and the little plate of discards.

The Dover sole about to be de-boned. Philippe told the manager that pressing down on the spine with a spoon first would help loosen it from the meat.

Voila, the finished product. (I think this was before he put the clarified butter on it.)

We hadn't had a chance to talk to Philippe on prior visits, but with all the Dover sole prep, we got to chat with him for a bit. We had noticed earlier that instead of the usual napkin that was placed on the counter for the Chef's Counter seats, they instead had leather-bound placemats, embossed with the signature Napa Rose logo. We had been told that they were Philippe's idea, so we were able to talk to him for a bit about the placemats. They are a really nice addition to the setting and much more practical for the plates to sit on than just a napkin.

Ignore the front part of the picture - I'm including this picture because it's the best picture I have of the placemat, even though I didn't end up getting a picture of the logo, which is on the upper left corner.

OK, right, back to the food.

It was time for dessert. While the husband was thrilled with the vintner's dessert selection (he loves carrot cake), I wasn't quite as interested, so I opted to pick something from the regular dessert menu instead.

Dessert menu.

I'd seen the tiramisu as it was on the dessert pass, and it looked intriguing, so I ordered that. I also couldn't resist also ordering one scoop of the blood orange sorbet. The manager and other staff had quickly convinced me that it was perfectly reasonable to order more than one dessert at Napa Rose. They're experts - who am I to argue?

Vintner's dessert course - carrot pecan cake with rum raisin sauce and cream cheese gelato.

A new take on tiramisu - espresso mascarpone semifreddo and Bailey's pot de creme.

Blood orange sorbet.

Desserts were delicious, as expected.

A wonderful dinner and a fun and informative show. What more could you ask for?