House sweet it is

Pasatiempo - - Restaurant Review - James M. Keller

A cou­ple of vis­its had con­firmed that the Old House Res­tau­rant, the spa­cious pa­tri­cian get­away for grown-ups at the El­do­rado Ho­tel & Spa, was en­tirely ca­pa­ble of hit­ting the din­ing-out tri­fecta: ex­cel­lent food, an ap­peal­ing space (un­less you’re fac­ing the un­lit over­flow room on the south side), and a wait staff that views its work as an ac­tual pro­fes­sion. But there’s a fourth chal­lenge: con­sis­tency.

Sev­eral Old House din­ners ago I had swooned over the res­tau­rant’s Chilean sea bass, lightly crusted on the out­side, flaky yet moist on the in­side, and bathed in brown but­ter — a win­ning se­lec­tion in ev­ery way. Could the res­tau­rant do it again? Now it sat on my din­ing part­ner’s plate, along­side a slow-roasted tomato and lightly horseradished fin­ger­ling pota­toes, and as he took his first bite, his eyes opened wide. “Wait till you taste this!” I didn’t wait, ac­tu­ally. My fork was al­ready on its way, and the fish was as heav­enly as I re­mem­bered it. (Upon my in­quiry, the server checked with the chef to make sure the sea bass was sus­tain­ably sourced, and the server as­sured me that it was.)

It hap­pened again with the scal­lops, which showed up once in a “seafood trio” ap­pe­tizer along with a cup of lob­ster bisque and a crab cake. I or­dered them again as a full-fledged and gen­er­ously proportioned ap­pe­tizer all on their own. These are no or­di­nary scal­lops. These are kataffi­coated scal­lops, which means that each of the three shell­fish is en­shrined within a nest of thinly shred­ded phyllo-like dough, which crisps when baked. It’s a down­right sen­sual dish, with the crackle of the pas­try giv­ing way to the but­tery scal­lops con­cealed in­side. The mus­sels were ter­rific, too, swim­ming in a per­fectly emul­si­fied fen­nel-cream sauce, with pars­ley and car­rots thinly minced.

Not so im­pres­sive was a seafood paella in which the scal­lops were slightly burnt and slices of an­douille ex­ac­er­bated what was al­ready an overly salty sauce. At the end of the meal it re­mained nearly un­touched, which might have evoked com­ment from our server but did not. That same night, a request for ad­vice about a wine pair­ing re­ceived the re­sponse “It de­pends on what kind of wine you like.” These were un­char­ac­ter­is­tic lapses; on all other oc­ca­sions, our servers were at­ten­tive but not of­fi­cious, and ques­tions re­ceived pre­cise an­swers.

A tart Oberon Sauvi­gnon Blanc sup­ported the sea bass ad­e­quately, but even bet­ter was a 2007 Four Vines “Naked” Chardon­nay, bless­edly un-oaked, from Santa Bar­bara; both are avail­able by the glass. Wine en­thu­si­asts will find the list rea­son­ably priced, with an em­pha­sis on good vin­tages from Cal­i­for­nia, the Rhône, and down un­der. Good val­ues can be found among pinot noirs in the $40 to $60 range, and a few tro­phy bot­tles from Napa and Bordeaux tempt the deep-pock­eted. A 2001 La­tour will set you back $375, a 1999 Cheval Blanc $450 — a chunk of cash, to be sure, but you would be lucky to find the La­tour priced as mod­estly in a re­tail shop.

Those high­fa­lutin reds might come in handy when you em­bark on the meat side of the menu. The Old House prides it­self on its beef, the prove­nance of which is nei­ther lo­cal nor par­tic­u­larly pedi­greed; when you en­ter from the lobby of the El­do­rado, you pass a dis­play re­frig­er­a­tor in which stout cuts of cat­tle are be­ing dry-aged be­hind glass. Food en­thu­si­asts are cur­rently ar­gu­ing about the in­cre­men­tal ben­e­fits that ac­crue as beef ages be­yond 10 days or so, but I say go with the 12-ounce, 28-day, dryaged rib-eye. On one visit it came with hari­cots verts and not-over­dairied blue-cheese mashed pota­toes; on an­other with Hatch green chile mac and cheese and mush­room borde­laise. Both times the meat was richly fla­vored and pre­cisely cooked to the medium-rare re­quested.

A 12-ounce New York steak au poivre was pale in com­par­i­son and on the stringy side. I was sus­pi­cious of the idea of a veal T-bone with an­cho bar­be­cue sauce served with white as­para­gus, po­lenta fries, and “to­bacco onions” (thinly sliced fried onion rings sea­soned with cayenne). Veal and white as­para­gus are trea­sured for their mild­ness, an­cho for its pun­gency. Guess which wins in a to­tal knock­out?

The dessert menu could use some spruc­ing up: molten choco­late cake, chur­ros, and so on are yummy but not in any way sur­pris­ing, and they lack the in­spired orig­i­nal­ity that mark the Old House’s best work, which can be fine in­deed.

Old House Res­tau­rant 309 W. San Fran­cisco St., El­do­rado Ho­tel & Spa;

995-4530 Break­fast 6:30-11 a.m. daily; lunch 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. daily; lounge/bar 2-11 p.m. daily;

din­ner 5:30-10 p.m. daily

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.