Monday, June 22, 2009

A riff on peaches and cream at Santa Monica's Hotel Shangri-La

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[Note: I just heard that Nick, mentioned below, is no longer the pastry chef at the Hotel Shangri-La. Lots of turnover for a new venture. Now how am I going to taste that whole wheat ice cream? Darn.]

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.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Since many of us do not eat dessert, it would have been nice to learn more about the very talented chef (likely the sous) who made your delicious lunch as well. I am sure without a head chef there is some talent getting a chance to show their stuff there now but as usual they do not get the acknowledgement they deserve.

Erika said...

You're absolutely right - and whoever in the kitchen did make the soft shell crab that day gets a huge thumbs-up and thank you from me. Nick just happened to come out of the kitchen and stop by our table, but next time I'll be sure to go down into the kitchen and say hi to the rest of the crew.

Anonymous said...

the very talented sous chefs that have been running the kitchen in absence of the departed rosen, are travis lee (formerly of BLT Steak, Wilshire and Cafe Pinot) and Kayson Chong (formerly of Micheal Mina's XIV, and BLT Steak). They are both incredibly passionate, and brilliant up and coming chefs in their own right

Michelle said...

Bellini ice cream, fresh fruit, and a doughnut PLUS the hole! Surely this must be what heaven tastes like...

Lovely site, Erika!

Erika said...

Michelle - it really was quite a heavenly lunch. And the company was nice, too. Did I mentioned the restaurant looks out over the Pacific? Really couldn't be a better urban oasis.

Thanks for visiting!

Anonymous said...

The sous chefs are not that talented the ex-pastry chef Nicholas Theis was the one truly ran the restaurant. He wrote 90% of the dinner menu and kept moral in the kitchen. He will truly be missed.

Anonymous said...

was the one who truly*

Erika said...

So I'm not going to make a blanket prohibition against anonymous comments here, but I really do wish you would leave your name(s), Anonymous. Sounds like you have some inside info and perhaps a teeny tiny vested interest, and it would be really nice to be able to be open about that.

Nick did tell me he'd written much of the current dinner menu. The whole thing was extremely creative, IMO. I'm looking forward to hearing where he (and Noah) land next. In my kitchen, perhaps, for a tutorial on sourdough ice cream? Now that would be spectacular....

SinoSoul said...

Whole wheat ice cream. Sounds a bit like Scoop's brown bread w/ the grape nuts? Or not?

We all followed chef Noah Rosen's Shangri-La drama with a bit of fear. Any clue where the pastry staff will be in the future?

Erika said...

I haven't heard anything yet, but I'll let you know. Re: the ice cream, I haven't had Scoop's brown bread, but my understanding from Nick was that in his whole wheat ice cream, the cream itself is infused with wheat berries or something - no actual bread in the ice cream. If that helps clarify.

Nicholas theis ex pastry chef said...

Hi erika,
thanks for the lovely display of my dessert. . . i wanted to touch base with you earlier, but i got a bit caught up. . .so I have a couple interviews here in los angeles and i will keep you posted. Thanks and thank you to everyone who posted. . .

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