Hotel restaurants have certainly come a long way in the culinary world. I can remember when hotel coffee shops were often my only option—and usually my last resort.
Now resort dining has taken on a new meaning: fine cuisine with noted chefs who create memorable experiences for both hotel guests and visitors.
Such is the case at two new hotel restaurants I visited last month: Bourbon Steak in the Montage Beach Resort in Dana Point, and Journeyman’s Food & Drink in Hotel Fullerton in Anaheim. They’re on opposite ends of Orange County and decidedly different in style, but both offer superb cuisine and ambience that have been lingering in my memory and on my palate:
New Mina Venture
Bourbon Steak is the new steakhouse by Chef Michael Mina, who closed his successful Stonehill Tavern in December, around the time the resort was completing a makeover.
It’s led by Executive Chef Bryan Brown, Sommelier Michelle Morin and General Manager Amber Ault. The ambiance is modern and sophisticated but comfortable, with superb views of the resort and the ocean.
The menu offers mainly new items, although a few of Chef Mina’s signature dishes remain. It is, as the name suggests, heavy on steaks, from flat iron to ribeye and A5 wagyu striploin.
Fellow foodie Shelly Zavala and I were invited to Bourbon to sample the menu, which began with three types of seasoned French fries fried in duck fat, with three dipping sauces. For us, that beats bread and butter, although that arrived, too, freshly baked with soft butter on the side.
Next came Michael Mina’s signature Caviar Parfait—layers of smoked salmon, creme fraiche and potato cake topped with caviar.
According to our server, Chef Mina invented the dish on his honeymoon in Hawaii. Apparently he always travels with chilled caviar, and after a particularly trying day during which the newlyweds were accosted by a wild boar, Mina found an open convenience store and selected a few items to go with the caviar. He replicated the recipe with better ingredients once back on the mainland, and a legendary dish was born. Great story, and great dish.
Accompanying the first two dishes was a lovely Chartogne-Taillet Cuvée made especially for Mina, a 60-40 blend of chardonnay and pinot noir.
The wine shifted from France to California’s Mendocino county and a beautiful chenin blanc, which went perfectly with our next dish, a showstopper.
A steaming shellfish platter arrived, overflowing with oysters, shrimp, half lobster and king crab perched atop a bed of rock salt. That alone would have been enough, but to complete the dish our server poured hot lemongrass broth onto the pile of seafood and salt, creating a steaming, showy platter of pizazz.
But wait, there’s more. Can’t go to a steakhouse without ordering steak. But not just any steak. A cart was rolled tableside, on it a wood platter under a clear glass dome filled with smoke. The lid was removed to reveal the hay-smoked Snake River Farm ribeye cap, sliced tableside and served with caramelized potato and green peppercorn. We added sides of black truffle mac and cheese and broccolini.
A sturdy tempranillo from Spain paired well with the steak, which we agreed was sensational—perfectly cooked, tender, with a welcome smokiness. And of course, the mac and cheese was over-the-top delicious.
Despite being full, we managed to demolish dessert, which was accompanied by a splendid dessert wine from Hungary that was a cross between a sauterne and ice wine.
“The details of the menu, drinks and food were spectacular, and the professionalism of the staff was outstanding,” noted Shelly as we waited at the valet for our car. “The food and wine pairings were superb. The steak sliced tableside melted in your mouth.”
“More than just a wonderful dinner, this was an elevated experience,” I responded. “All the elements came together to exceed our expectations.”
1 Monarch Beach Resort, Dana Point 92629, (949) 234-3405, monarchbeachresort.com/
Fresh From Fla.
From the outside, Hotel Fullerton is a world away from Monarch Beach, but step into the adjacent Journeyman’s Food & Drink restaurant, and you’re transported to a post-modern setting that doesn’t look like it belongs a few yards from the 91 Freeway, much less in Orange County.
The proprietor is Executive Chef Zachary Geerson, a 27-year-old native of Ft. Myers, Fla., who escaped his culinary confines and came to California with a passion for creating inspired cuisine.
Much-lauded chef Pascal Olhats loves to champion young talent and told me about Chef Geerson. Coincidentally, Geerson and I were expert commentators at a chef battle last fall involving Chef Pascal. At the time, Geerson told me about his upcoming endeavor, which came to fruition last month.
Chef Olhats and I went to Journeyman’s recently to experience the cuisine, which Chef Geerson told us was “progressive American, if I had to define it. I don’t want to say modern American. Progressive helps us to have a dialogue with the guests without talking to them.”
His menu is handwritten on notebook paper and photocopied, allowing him to change it depending on the food or mood that strikes him that day.
Our first question to Chef Geerson was for the meaning behind the restaurant’s name.
“We wanted something that meant who we were and what we do,” he explained. “My friends were having an argument one night about the culinary industry, debating whether it is an art or a craft. The fundamentals of cooking is a craft, and a few chefs understand that craft so well they can lift it up to be an art. We played around with that mentality and realized there are three stages: apprentice, journeyman and master chef. We consider ourselves in the journeyman phase, so we created a restaurant that can only get better as we get better.”
Hard to imagine Chef Geerson can get better than the dinner we experienced that night.
Journeyman’s features a four-course, prix fixe menu for $80, with wine pairings available for $50. Each course features four options, so Chef Olhats and I selected different items we thought might highlight Chef Geerson’s artistry.
“I did not intend to have a prix fixe menu, but it seemed necessary in this kind of concept,” he said, “and the scope of what’s possible. That prix fixe menu is the most genuine way for me to be able to show you what I think is the epitome of good culinary ideas.”
Just the amuse bouche alone, which Chef Geerson described for us, signaled something above the norm.
“Laotian sausage-inspired foie gras marshmallow, ginger, lime, cabbages, and micro cilantro. I made an infusion of shallots, garlic, lime leaf, ginger, rendered foie gras scraps, infused into whole milk, added gelatin, whipped it, and set it into a tray.”
One course featured smoked salmon roe with asparagus, merengue, egg white powder, and dried mushrooms, another scallops with daikon radish fermented in brine for five days, micro cilantro, mint, basil, fish sauce, sugar and ginger.
The Poached Sablefish was flaky and buttery, and poached in bouillon, accompanied by foraged mushrooms from Oregon, baby heirloom carrots, and beurre rouge made with cote du rhone. The lamb, sous vide with dried oregano, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, olive oil, then cast-iron roasted, was divine. Even the dessert of cocoa, caramelized cauliflower and butterscotch with panna cotta, nutmeg and coriander seeds was a perfect blend of sweet and savory.
The menu lists each dish simply, but once delivered and explained, the nuances of each revealed a chef well on his journey to becoming a master.
1500 S. Raymond Ave., Fullerton 92831, (714) 635-9025, email@example.com, journeymanfood.com/
New Take on Old Fave
Leatherby’s Cafe Rouge has long been my go-to spot for pretheater dining at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, so imagine my surprise when I went to a media tasting earlier this year to sample the new menu and see the reimagined restaurant.
My jaw dropped when I stepped inside and saw the changes—make that transformations. Gone are the large booths, replaced with stylish tables and updated decor that’s created a new look for a new menu.
Leatherby’s is now being billed as “a steakhouse that celebrates the essential classics with a modern approach to championing the bounty of land and sea, focusing on the transformative moment when food meets fire.”
Translation: a traditional a la carte menu that blends classic fare with modern influences.
The menu comes courtesy of Executive Chef Greg Stillman, who opened Leatherby’s in 2006 when the new concert hall was built but left for other Patina Group restaurants. “The new look is a complete 180 from the old one,” Chef Stillman told me. “I love it—it’s beautiful. And we decided if we were going to do a revamp on the image, we should do the menu, as well. We decided the steakhouse style would be best suited for this location.”
Chef Stillman noted that many Leatherby’s diners have been dining there for years, so the new menu has taken some getting used to, but last time I tried to get a reservation at Leatherby’s before seeing a show at Segerstrom Hall, it was sold out. Obviously, the new menu is working.
At the media tasting, I was able to sample a range of Chef Stillman’s dishes, from starters, such as baby beets and foie gras, to entrees that included steaks, seafood and fowl, plus some sides and desserts. I’ve since been back for dinner, and one night sat at the bar enjoying a glass of wine and a side of mac and cheese.
Leatherby’s is open only on nights the Segerstrom Center hosts performances.
615 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa 92626, (714) 429-7640, patinagroup.com/