How and where to make a good time even better
By Dan O'Heron 12/25/2012
I’m not planning to drink a lot over the holidays. That’s for amateurs, or people who are enthusiastic about something but not very good at it.
It’s not my time anymore to be with those who make food less of an indulgence than a necessity to coat the stomach.
Instead, I’m looking to join that pleasant circle of people, not snobs, who believe that the calculated pairing of food and wine is more fun. In Pasadena, I expect to have my fun at either Sushi Roku or Vertical Wine Bistro.
Leading up to New Year’s Eve, I’m choosing Sushi Roku — I owe them something. Opening here 12 years ago, this was where I first got a good look at how sushi chefs conjure visual sensations from little piles of rice, seafood and seaweed.
And here, I learned it’s OK to use one’s thumb and middle finger to pick up a morsel to eat, but it’s not OK to rub chopsticks together unless you want to start a fire.
In celebrating the 12th anniversary, there are a few days left until noon on Dec. 31 to enjoy dandy five-course meals with 12 chef specialties for $48. The selections include a high-fat but firm textured yellowtail sashimi with diced chiles, and Hanabi (“fireworks”) spiced yellowfin tuna.
Among others, there’s low-fat, delicately mild Japanese sea bream served with sea salt and yuzu dressing. Yuzu is a sour Japanese citrus fruit distinctly different in taste and aroma from Western lemons and limes. And, there’s king crab with a French-style beurre blanc composed of champagne, vinegar and shallot into which chunks of cold butter are whisked to thicken and smooth.
All should go well with a seasonal rice sake wine like milky nigori. A waitperson will tell you if I’m wrong.
You’ll love the service. Even at lunch, you’ll be greeted by a rousing “Irasshai, Irasshai” welcome from the chefs, an amenity especially nice for guests who had been made to feel dispensable back at the office.
New Year’s Eve at Sushi Roku will ring in an “Omakase” five-course dinner menu at $70 a person. “Omakase” is a term that roughly translates, “Leave it to the chef; trust me, I’ll give you my best.”
You’ll begin with a Kumamoto region oyster, complete with sea urchin, osetra caviar and a citrus/soy dressing. Next there’ll be antipasto offerings that feature three different, fully provisioned specialties: salmon, eggplant and bluefin tuna. Next, a salad features halibut sashimi, dressed with apricot yuzu.
Entrees present a choice of six pieces of sushi, each varied with a custom sauce, or there’s filet mignon steak with heralded ginger sauce and shishito, a hot-peppered mashed potato. The third choice is grilled sea bass with mushroom cream sauce and steamed asparagus.
The meal ends with a chocolate à la mode brownie and a midnight champagne toast.
Should I instead decide to dine at Vertical Wine Bistro on New Year’s Eve, it would be with a bit of a tut-tutting, as I’d be among those who cluck with sounds of mutual and self interest. And why not? A four-course creation by Chef Laurent Quenioux, a James Beard Foundation Award nominee — priced at $89 per person, plus $39 for wine pairings — proves that 2012 was a pretty good year for us.
And the wines may have had better years. Crab bisque or wild mushroom soup is matched with 2008 Brewer-Clifton, Rita Hills Chardonnay. A first course, offering choices of an endive and orange blood salad or roasted beets — each with delectable sauces or a fig, arugula and manchego cheese tartlet — is paired with 2010 Laetitia Estate Pinot Noir.
A 2007 Allegrini Palazzo della Torre Corvina Veronese (Italy) is poured with choices of seared scallops, rack of lamb, filet of beef or roasted artichoke, each with special et ceteras.
Dessert options and cheese platters are mated with a 2009 Jaboulet Muscat Beaumes de Venise, of Rhone France.
So where to go to dinner on New Year’s Eve?
What a plight to be in, with two fine dinner options — Sushi Roku or Vertical Wine Bistro — on the same night. Let’s try both. After all, on holiday celebrations, gluttony is not a deadly sin, it’s a cardinal virtue. Any restaurant owner will tell you that.
33 Miller Alley
At One Colorado
70 N. Raymond Ave.,
Photos by Danny Liao