Last week my friend Sarah took me to lunch at the Hotel Shangri-La in Santa Monica. It's a beautifully renovated deco-ish building that looks as though it belongs in South Beach rather than California.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I will tell you that we ate there because Sarah does publicity for the hotel (which is also why I didn't pay for lunch). After my first visit to the Shangri-La, I wrote a little article about Noah Rosen, the chef who was heading the restaurant last month when it opened (he left shortly after the article was posted). Not a review - I don't really do reviews - but some random things I learned about him from our conversation during the half-hour I spent with him in the kitchen watching him cook this amazing wild Alaskan cod. But I didn't actually get to taste the food, so when Sarah and I made lunch plans, she suggested we eat there.
Despite the fact that the restaurant is between head chefs, I thought the kitchen turned out a pretty good soft shell crab open-faced sandwich:
It was light, not at all greasy, and it came with a salad of Little Gem lettuce (I think) with a delicate vinaigrette. I was pleased.
I'm not much of a dessert person, but Sarah talked me into sharing the donut. I wasn't expecting much, but then this gorgeous plate came out:
The sorbet on the left I assumed to be peach. But Sarah and I both tasted something boozy. When the pastry chef came out - Nick, last name a mystery, looks like he might just barely be old enough to have graduated from high school - he explained that it was a Bellini sorbet. Peaches and champagne. Of course. The peaches on the right, intense in flavor and soft enough in texture to make me believe they'd been cooked, had been marinated (raw) in orange juice with lemon verbena - that's the brown squiggle you see on the bottom slice of peach. The acid in the orange juice softens the fruit, especially when it's sliced thinly like that. It made the slices almost transparent.
Oh, yes, and the donut was fine. I suppose, anyway - I don't remember much about the donut compared with the sorbet and the fruit.
I got into a fascinating conversation with pastry chef Nick about ice cream. He likes making bread ice creams - yes, you heard me right. Whole wheat ice cream, he says, where the custard is infused with wheat bran. Sourdough ice cream. French toast ice cream. He promised to invite me back to the kitchen to show me how to make that one. I'm not the biggest ice cream fan, but now I'm obsessed with these unusual approaches - I can't imagine what they'll taste like, so, of course, I have to taste them.
The best part of the lunch was reconnecting with my friend Sarah. Our children went to preschool together and we'd fallen out of touch. My food blogging brought us together, actually - when the hotel opened and sent out a release about the new chef, I inquired about a sit-down, and there was Sarah's name on the return email. Luck? Fate? Small world? No matter. As Martha would say, it's a good thing.