German-born wine importer Rudi Wiest combined efforts with the Langham Hotel’s Chef Craig Strong to make a memorable tasting in Pasadena. We were seated in the grand room known as “The Dining Room”. Our waiter, Joshua came and explained that we would first be sampling four wines with four hors d’oeuvres. Soon the four empty glasses in front of me were filled, with a large plate to follow. The first pairing I tried was the Okonomierat Rebholz with a Kumamoto oyster with green apple sorbet. The 2003 Okonomierat Rebholz, a dry Riesling, had a strong aroma. As the smells were registering I was made keenly aware of the absence of any fruit or floral tones. The earthy smell of minerals was strong and made me curious to discover the taste. I took a long, lingering sip and paused for a moment before swallowing. I am a fan of dry wines and this was one I relished in understanding. All the while, a flat spoon was in front of me with the oyster and sorbet. I must admit I might have never thought to serve sorbet with any kind of seafood. Thankfully Craig Strong did as the freshness of the oyster and the crisp, sweet taste of the sorbet was magical. After this powerful little bite the remaining sips of my Okonomierat Rebholz seemed a bit looser going down. The bar was set from the start and I knew I would be flying on clouds before long.
I was excited to move on to the 2007 Gunderloch Jean-Baptiste, Riesling Kabinett and house cured duckham. The duckham was thinly sliced and surprisingly soft for cured poultry. I had first cut away a small piece to taste the duckham on its own. The way I was intended to enjoy this lean duck slice was with a cluster of persimmon, Asian pear and ginger. These three ingredients were so finely shredded that they were impossible to distinguish alone, but made for a lively compliment to the salty duckham that was wrapped around it. Going from tasting the duck alone to with the fruit and ginger was electric and provided a surprising thrill. The accompanying Riesling was bright, slightly sweet with apple and pear tones.
I was on a role with Rieslings so moving on to the Gunderloch Nackenheim Rothenberg and crab salad couldn’t happen fast enough. The wine had a lower acidity and brought herbs and tropical fruit accents together with a refreshing balance. The crab salad was bite sized, set on a sesame tuile with a kumquat on top. The tuile and the crab seemed to both be instantly atomized once I bit into them. After this delicious morsel the apricot in the wine became sweetly more apparent.
Last of the first four was Wegeler’s Rudesheimer Berg Scholssberg and a foie parfait on toasted brioche. The foie gras was wonderfully accented with pecans and raisins. The toasted brioche offered slight resistance before collapsing and mirroring the texture of the foie gras. I found the low acidity and the sweetness to be a bit much in the wine. That’s not to say it was flawed, but for me it was a bit too sweet.
Now as we moved on to the second phase of the meal our portions were a bit bigger, which was welcomed given the fact that the sweet shrimp tart was next in the queue. The shrimp was served in a warm bisque broth and herb oil that made the tart below practically disintegrate as my fork pushed through it. The combination of pastry crust, shrimp and bisque broth made me feel delightfully spoiled. The shrimp was paired with a 2007 Salway Pinot Gris that had a hint of sweetness that was light and crisp.
Chef Strong has a marvelous ability to combine a wide range of flavors into a dish with fluidity and continuity. Our next course demonstrated that skill; a raspberry topped filet of king salmon sat upon spinach risotto with a rhubarb, celery root and vanilla bean puree. The salmon was very dense and rich, cooked to perfection. When united with the berry and the risotto it was like observing a great debate that I couldn’t take sides in. I sipped a 2006 Meyer-Nakel Pinot Noir as I enjoyed the salmon. The wine has a nice spicy taste to it as well as a rich cherry tone with a mild mineral finish. For having such contrasting flavors, this wine was very complimentary.
Our last course was a pineapple and almond financier’s cake with a 2003 Bert Simon Muller-Thurgau Berenauslese. The cake appeared to have just come out of the oven as it was a bit too hot to eat at first. I didn’t mind waiting a moment for the cake to cool because the crème fraiche ice cream on the side was so delicious. When I plunged my fork through the soft spongy cake my eyes widened as it struck the pineapple at the bottom. The bursting acidity of the hot pineapple was befriended admirably by the almond flavor of the cake. Too good to be true, what a fitting closing course to this meal.
Langham Hotel Pasadena
1401 South Oak Knoll Avenue
Pasadena,, CA 91106