Monday, February 2, 2009

Gordon Ramsay. America Bites the Hand that Feeds You.

*For those who do not enjoy reading paragraph upon paragraph of prose (i.e. econ/science/engineering majors), please scroll down to the very bottom.

**NO PICTURES??! That’s right. I’ve decided to forego pictures until I get a Digital SLR. I could get color film for my Canon EOS 5 but then again, it’s always loaded with a half-finished roll of black-and-white. And from personal experience, a SHITTY FOOD PICTURE can do horrible injustice to a restaurant.


I like to think of myself as being an able eater. That is, I do not order a side salad and pretend that it’s a meal and whenever I say the words “Man, am I full,” it’s tinged with a self-congratulatory smile rather than the guilty mentality that I need to bolt home and do a million crunches.
Given that, one must take into consideration that even Achilles had his weak heel. Yes, I can readily finish a three-person serving of “Crystal Buns” (i.e. Egg custard enrobed by processed carbohydrates); yes, I can gulf down a fatty slice of Susina cake. Yes. But even with all that food cred, I balk at the notion of a slice from Sweet Lady Jane.
A piece of cake from SLJ is made up of roughly 98% sugar and 2% everything (if there IS anything…perhaps food coloring?) else. I was uncomfortably full for a total of 48 hours – and counting – after enduring a slice of their Princess cake. Sure, the cakes are painstakingly decorated but that’s all – there is no other delicacy in its preparation. Sweet Lady Jane is the realization of American brute gluttony – a gluttony which makes even a glutton like me run for the hills and desire to live the next 30 days on nothing but watercress and hummus.


Enter Gordon Ramsay’s.

This place was actually a set-up for personal food skepticism:

1) There’s the danger that the food will suck because the restaurant will try to ride on the mere coattails of its “celebrity’ chef association.
2) Said ‘celebrity chef’ is British and the Americans here are all too ready to lap up anything that is connected with that country. No joke. I have physically witnessed incidents wherein quite physically-attractive American females were excited by deformed male species simply due to the fact that said male species possessed a “British accent”
3) The restaurant is “Asian-fusion” and that in itself is a danger zone, especially in LA.

Having said that, point #3 actually worked out as an advantage – especially given the Sweet Lady Jane incident of two nights prior. Portions were far from stingy but given the “Asian” twist, were also a welcome respite to American sizes. There was also a careful delicacy which is so often absent in American fare; instead of having SALT and FAT as the primary components of savory dishes and SUGAR as the main ingredient of sweet dishes, Ramsay’s took on the eastern tradition of creating strong flavors by BLENDING several subtle ingredients. And for the first time in my life, I was thankful for the existence of “Asian Fusion.”

Despite the London’s awkward location, which, I must confess, I actually liked (it’s sure to shatter some American romantic ideologies when the LONDON hotel is situated right across from Aahs and is two blocks down from Hustler) and its SLIGHT inclination towards the gaudy with its ivory-and-gold interior, the restaurant itself is understatedly refined or, in other words, chic. Padded chairs of cream and subtle pink are positioned around tables set with bouquets of elegant white roses and it’s all done so that there is no “look-but-don’t-touch” sign hanging over the air.

In terms of the food, the confit beet salad with ricotta and endive was a perfect start. I’m big about root veggies so beets were right up my alley. Plus, I could tell that whoever put the salad together took care in how the dish was concocted: the ricotta wasn’t carelessly sprinkled over the salad, which would be too easy. Rather, it was subtly incorporated as the base layer (very unusual…but in a good way) so that I had a bit of creamy ricotta in every bite.

For the main, I opted for the Jerusalem Artichoke Risotto with artichoke chips, black truffle and sherry caramel reduction. I’m still on my meatless diet so I couldn’t get the Ox-Cheek but Sunny and Debs confirmed that the Ox-Cheek was, in their mid-chew words, “Awy-my-gawd. So tendre.” So what about the risotto then? I was a little skeptical at first. It looked like jook (i.e. Chinese porridge which costs an average of HK$1.50 per serving vs. the US$20 that Gordon charged for this dish, a la carte), and it did taste like jook. BUT, it tasted like jook WITH black truffle and isn’t that something to take into consideration? What I really liked about the dish was that the truffle flavor was distinct but yet, wasn’t overpowering to the point where you suspect the chef to have just thrown in a bunch of expensive ingredients with the hope that the LA yuppie crowd would lap it all up. I never bought into the whole Stanley Ho ideology when it came to truffles and other luxury ingredients; my Hong Kong upbringing has taught me that abalone which costs an arm and leg can still taste like classroom eraser while noodles prepared by the wife-beater-adorned old man in Causeway Bay can taste like a bowl of pure gold. And I think this upbringing explains why I liked to risotto as much as I did. That is, because the chef decided to make the common artichoke as much the star as the truffle. A bite of the risotto itself was alright. A bite of the risotto with the artichoke “chips” was effin’ fantastic.

And then came dessert. I was actually most looking forward to this course because: a) it was dessert and b) I was ordering the Coconut Tapioca. For those who don’t know me too well, I am ALLLLL about the coconut. Steamed, raw, baked, fried, rain, shine, winter, spring – I LOVE coconut. And since I firmly believe that the Southeast Asians are the proprietors of coconut preparation, I was more than ecstatic to see “coconut tapioca” on the menu. Not that the dessert (Chilled Coconut Tapioca - with candied ginger, passion fruit and milk chocolate-star anise ice cream) was disgusting or anything – I was more than happy to finish the whole thing – but it just wasn’t coconutty at all. To put it in more understandable terms, it was the exemplum of having ‘too much food on the plate.’ I LOVE coconut. I LOVE tapioca. I LOVE candied ginger. I LOVE milk chocolate ice cream. But if you put it all together…something’s bound to suffer. The dessert was definitely ambitious (and kudos to that) but in trying to combine all those bold Asian flavors, the dish lost any remnant of coconutness. So yes, I would give the dessert five shining stars if it had simply been a ‘chilled tapioca with candied ginger, passion fruit and milk chocolate-star anise ice cream.’ But alas, it was supposed to be a ‘COCONUT repeat-the-long-name-above’ and it didn’t exactly deliver that.

Service was friendly and if I were to name one flaw, it would be that the staff were too eager. And, if anything, that’s a good flaw rather than a bad one. Our waitress explained each dish upon its arrival and I thought it a bonus that they addressed the fact that the mushroom Veloute had short-ribs in it – a perfect demonstration of their concern for those with dietary restrictions.

I finished off the meal with a vat of their coffee which came in an Asian teapot (bonus note: their serve-ware is gorgeous). The coffee cost a hefty $6.00 but there was enough in that pot to satisfy the needs of a college kid during finals week. It was fairly mild though but then again, I didn’t expect much of coffee from a ‘British’ establishment in America (double whammy!)


All in all, Gordon Ramsay at the London hotel lives up to the hype even though it doesn’t transcend it. Personally, I would contemplate going again if I weren’t trying to fit in all the 238392 restaurants I have to patronize before I leave Los Angeles. Given that though, I would recommend it more as a Lunch Restaurant than a Dinner Restaurant; it’s a Miu Miu, not a Prada. It’s not a diss – after all, who doesn’t love Miu Miu?

FOOD: 4/5
SERVICE: 4.5/5

1020 N. San Vicente Blvd.

West Hollywood, CA 90069

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