Some background: we're on our semiannual stay of four days here in Pasadena, seeing plays. (Tonight, Romeo and Juliet.) We're here with a couple of old friends who share our taste in theater and, in general, in restaurants. I thought a steakhouse would be a good choice for a pre-theater supper, and there was one right on the block occupied by their hotel. (We do not share tastes in hotels.) So what could go wrong?
The Contessa and I arrived twenty minutes early and stood outside a locked door through which we saw the dining room and a collection of perhaps a dozen men in rather formal black and white, standing in what was clearly a fairly serious meeting. Their was a light drizzle, but we were under cover. Finally I explored futher and found the front door unlocked, a young woman at the host atand, and our friends seated at the bar.
We joined them for a Martini (me) and a Notini (my Companion, who likes hers half gin, half vermouth). Ah, the bartender said brightly, an Astoria, that's called, or sometimes a Hoffman House. He approved my request: three to one, gin, dry vermouth, shaken, up, with a twist.
Then a host showed us to our table, a capacious booth in the room we'd looked hungrily into a few minutes earlier. A busser brought the water we requested, and bread, and a plate of three different butters, whose names I didn't catch.
Next came the waiter, who brought menus and the wine list, and proceeded to explain every section of the menu. "Explicate" might be a better word: I learned it in my literature studies sixty years ago — I believe the word's been replaced more lately by "deconstruct," which always puts cement dust and rubble in mind.
This is no familiar steakhouse offering New York, Filet mignon, Porterhouse, the occasional chop, perhaps Prime Rib roast, and the obligatory (and rarely good) chicken and fish entrees. This is the steakhouse of tomorrow. There was a considerable Japanese presence, our waiter was quick to point out, and there was the now requisite Wagyu, both traditional (and perhaps authentic) and American. There were small plates and share plates and what I'm beginning to think of as private plates, those things one does not share.
We were brought amuse-bouches, so identified by our waiter (though he did not bring them; that was left to another fellow, neither busser nor waiter). Mine was unlike the other three, as I'd confessed to my inability to deal with crustacea: I had something that tasted a bit like a soft lemon mousse, with a shaving of asparagus on it, and the butt-end of a stalk of white asparagus, and a strew of, I guess, tiny bits of candied lemon zest.
From there I went on to the grilled asparagus salad you see above, with a poached egg, with miner's lettuce, asparagus confit,and yuzu brown butter — a very good plate. And then an eccentric steak tartare, thick with "marrow cream" "bleu cheese powder", whatever they are, incorporated into the chopped beef, and garnished with smoked carrot.
I had a side of truffle fried potatoes, too: not French fries, but flash fried fingerling potatoes, served in rather a gloppy truffle butter seasoned with togarashi and furikake. I told you there was a Japanese influence at work here: the former is simply a kind of chili pepper; the latter one of those dry Japanese condiments grinding up fish, seaweed, sesame seeds, sugar, salt, and monosodium glutamate, according to Wikipedia — the sort of thing for which I have no use at all.
Dessert was spectacular, we all agreed: a delicate semifreddo in a pool of rhubarb coulis, with a couple of meringue wafers thrust in the top as garnish, and lots of interest provided by bits of this and that. Sorry I can't be more specific.
All of these things were discussed and detailed at considerable length by our waiter, who gave us great attention. This is a very service-oriented restaurant: there must have been half a dozen people appearing at our table during the meal.