SAUCY EXPERIENCE IN LONG BEACH : A SAUCY ENCOUNTER AT LONG BEACH SKYROOM
“Please leave a message after the tone.” I did, respondingin my best Simone Signoret voice. “Salade de mache aux fromages fondants, medaillons de veau aux pamplemousses roses et flan de betterave rouges, sauce champagne-vanille. The Skyroom. Long Beach. Want to come?”
My friend called me back. “Long Beach?” he said.
“Lobster,” I whispered. “Blinis with Beluga caviar. Wear a jacket.”
The architecture of downtown Long Beach and the harbor lights were quite beautiful at dusk. The Breakers Hotel, built in 1927 and recently restored, was solid, intriguing. I love adventures. And views. And festive French restaurants that treat you with care. We took the elevator to the room at the top.
Stylish, with glass bricks and rosy lighting, the art moderne decor is absolutely swell. Fragrant roses in perfect bloom, busboys outfitted in nifty silver-buttoned gear like the “Call for Philip Morris” man, it’s easy to be swept away by the panoramic view. Knowledgeable waiters, dressed in well-cut white, had impeccable manners and absolutely enhanced our evenings there. Service was well paced, thoroughly professional and leisurely, even though the restaurant was full. How nice not to be intimidated, or be urged to choose a pricey wine. How very nice that our waiter looked just like a French movie star.
The menu at the Skyroom changes seasonally. The menu de printemps is varied and large. In addition, numerous special dishes are announced each day. All of the produce was exquisite, from the sweet baby squash to the glorious strawberries gracing the homemade ice cream--bravo to the one who rises early for the market! All cuts of meat and fish tasted were first-rate as well. Their presentation was lovely to behold. A generous portion of salmon was perfectly poached. Saddle of roast lamb was as tender as could be. Medallions of veal were impeccable. Quail in a delicate puff-paste was full bodied and aristocratic.
Appetizers were piquant, imaginative. Oyster ravioli swam in a gossamer sauce while the radiccio/chicory/romaine salad was lightly tossed with a lovely vinaigrette. Unfortunately, none of the other sauces or dressings--save the nice variations on the chicory salad and that of the smoked fish on a soft bed of mache-- did anything to enhance their plats. My Francophile friend was seriously dismayed by the lack of focus of the sauces. I looked out the window at the celestial view as he removed the “sweet garlic parsley sauce” from the lamb. On a second occasion, another friend felt a similar way.
Shall I carp? Well, the purple basil cream did nothing to support the salmon and the Calvados sauce was less than right for the veal. The raw taste of saffron on the big sweet chunk of lobster was mostly odd. Julia Child says that sauces are the “splendor and glory of French cooking,” so caveat emptor if you wish for a transcendent meal.
The desserts, on the other hand, are stratospherically good. “I don’t even like dessert,” said my companion as he polished off the superb tart of fresh rhubarb and apricot set in a delirious butter crust. The creme brulee with Grand Marnier was subtle, the thin slab of chocolate mousse cake arrived afloat in a supernal white chocolate cream, the homemade ice cream was a vanilla-bean delight. I wish there was a choice of fresh fruit desserts as well.
There is a small, well-thought-out wine list, an attractive pianist at the bar and those oil derricks out there on the water look like some crystalline fantasy land. The Skyroom is expensive and needs to rethink the role of the sauce. It is also enchanting. I can’t wait to go back there to try the fall menu on my birthday.
The Skyroom at the Breakers Hotel, 210 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach, (213) 432-8781. Open Tuesday-Sunday: 4-6 p.m.; cocktails, 6-9:30 p.m., dinner. Entertainment nightly and on Friday and Saturday, 10 p.m.-1:30 a.m. Reservations necessary. All major credit cards accepted. Valet parking. Dinner for two: $60-$165 (food only).
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: The Chuck Louie-Margaret Wong empire has expanded again. The last restaurant they opened, the Mandarin Cove in the Crocker Center, is a place for people who are not too handy with their chopsticks. While the new Won Kee’s, 724 N. Hill St., (213) 626-6177, is within walking distance of the Crocker Center, this Chinatown restaurant is the sort of place that barely stocks forks. It is a big, rather plain restaurant whose pride is in the sheer number of dishes served.
You walk in through a deli area hung with barbecued ducks and chickens into a more formal room with a display of fish tanks. Not surprisingly, the menu lists all sorts of seafood, from lobster to sea cucumber, and all sorts of barbecued dishes, including some interesting Chinese charcuterie and a great deal of offal. There are many kinds of congee (rice porridge) which, with one of the many noodle dishes, would make a wonderful Chinese breakfast (The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day).