The Venue: Turkish Sushi?

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Just a short post today…  Lisa and I went to Beaumont’s parent/teacher conference at his Montessori school last night and used the occasion to power down dinner at an incredible sushi restaurant run by owner/chef Engin Onural.  Any parent will acknowledge the difficulty getting alone time.  That in itself is double edged, on one hand it is nice to go on a date with my wife and on the other hand I love my son so much and want to spend every second I can with him.  We took the time to eat al fresco and enjoy great food.

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During the day I continued my weekly/yearly photo assignment of photographing the Desert.  Today’s focus was the Palm Springs windmills, eyesore to some and amazing natural technology to others.  I parked near the Amtrak station and walked around the area in a small sandstorm and shot these pictures.

Windmills of Palm Springs and Sand Dunes 17 Windmills of Palm Springs and Sand Dunes 22 Windmills of Palm Springs and Sand Dunes 05

We arrived promptly at 5pm with the sole intent on eating a few rolls and having a couple of Onurai’s incredible liquid libations.  The menu offers a typical assortment of sushi rolls punctuated by a few amazing not your normal sushi bar offerings like Onurai’s deconstruction of a prosciutto and arugula pizza.  I have to admit we were full when he came by our table and told us not to miss that one.

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THE BOLD
Snow crab, avocado and cream cheese topped with thin sliced prosciutto served with arugula salad, sliced almonds, pomegranate seeds and pomegranate vinaigrette

What I love about this place is the Chef’s passion.  Being a Chef I love to see it, feel it.  It just makes the experience so much more rich and 3 D.  The Chef here is not Japanese, he is Turkish. That fact adds another layer to the complexity of flavors and the willingness to experiment and create something new.

Venue 06 Venue 05The drinks are another realm of his experimentation.  The restaurant bills itself as a sake bar and lounge.  Lisa and I shared two creative and refreshing drinks, Flor Dulce and the Lotus.

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FLOR DULCE
Sparkling wine, splash of hibiscus nectar with edible Hibiscus flower

Venue 08Great, super friendly staff takes awesome care of you while there!

from their website:

THE VENUE SUSHI BAR &
SAKE LOUNGE

Chic. Modern. Sophisticated. But also casual and friendly.
Ask around. The Venue is the cool hot spot on El Paseo in Palm Desert, popular with locals, out-of-town visitors and food critics who serve up rave reviews.

The Venue is artful, from its sleek décor to the original, ever-evolving menu, enthusiastically created by owner/chef Engin Onural. “This is my art,” he shares. “Each plate is a painting, but I use fish instead of paint.”

No detail is overlooked. Even the exotic specialty drinks are original works of art. Such as the Flor Dulce, which combines sparkling sake, edible hibiscus flower and hibiscus nectar.

Because Engin is a Sake Sommelier, you can also sample a surprising array of fine Sakes, as well as Asian beers and fine wines.

Everything is designed to enhance your enjoyment of a distinctive menu of sushi and other dishes that can only be called “unexpected.” The signature roll, The Venue, is not like any spicy tuna roll you’ve ever ordered. It’s topped with salmon, seared with a blowtorch, with a light sauce of micro greens and tabiko (flying fish caviar). The Bosphorus, which pays homage to Engin’s homeland of Turkey, features shrimp tempura, crab, avocado and escolat, with a hint of heat. That’s just two of the delicious possibilities on The Venue’s menu.

Visit often. You wouldn’t want to miss Chef Engin’s latest creations.

Make a reservation and eat there soon (and often!) http://www.thevenuepalmdesert.com/home.php

 

 

 

168: Our Amazingly Lucky Number!

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In the Chinese culture, the number “1 6 8” is filled with the promise of abundance, good fortune and prosperity, and means “may your journey be prosperous from beginning to end.”
May your journey be prosperous from beginning to end…  That is an epic understatement when it comes to the talents and cuisine of Chef Hisashi Yoshiara.  Lisa and I went to 168 in Pasadena because of my connection with their General Manager Phil Roberson.  I was sitting at my desk working and had some fond thoughts of Phil exactly at the same time he texted me.  After some idle chat he told me about this cool pan Asian restaurant he was working at.  Being an avid fan of Asian fusion I could hardly resist the temptation.  I google where he worked and read up on their Chef.  I have to admit I came with super high expectations and was absolutely blown away by the food, service and atmosphere.
168 25 168 27We were promptly seated by the gracious hostess at an outdoor table in a beautiful small courtyard.  We chose outside because 93 degrees in Pasadena just seemed cool compared to the 108 degree day at home when we left La Quinta.  We chatted with Phil for a few moments and asked him to have Chef Yoshiara honor us with whatever he felt like cooking that day.  I absolutely love when Chef’s pick what I eat.  The complete surprise of the moment not knowing what is coming next is amazing.  I often wonder why restaurants do not offer that and why guests do not ask for it.  Try it next time you eat out.  You may get a course or two you do not like but overall you will get food you probably would not have ordered and after trying wonder why you never ordered that.  The surprise of having a table laid with eating implements and trying to figure out based on that what you are about to eat is amazing.  Chef Yoshiara is exactly the guy you want surprising you.
168 06Round One: Three Coolers and Asian Bagna Cauda
Phil brought us three coolers to sip while our first course was being prepared.  All three were delicious but the Strawberry Basil one blew both our socks off.  The other two were an orange juice and star anise flavored one and a cucumber and mint one.  The orange one was good and perhaps could of used a bump more star anise flavor.  I like the cucumber and mint one a lot.  Lisa felt it was the plainest. Despite minute differences they were a fun way to start the meal.  Phil brought us two amazing cocktails, Red Dragon made with soju, watermelon and kaffir lime syrup and a wingspan, made with sake, house made ginger beer and honey mint.  Both were perfect and yummy.  Soju is kind of a distilled version of sake.
While we were sipping our drinks the bagna caudo came out.  Now you are probably thinking ‘hey, what is an Italian dish doing on a pan Asian menu?’  Yes, so was I.  It turns out that first of all Chef made an Asian version deliciously crafted with white soy and more traditional ingredients and secondly he did it as a tribute to his Italian wife.  That may have earned him brownie points but got me into a bit of trouble with the Mrs.  I know have to put something Asian on my menu and tell my wife it is because I adore her that it is there.  The Bagna Caudo was brilliant.  We dipped bok choy, carrots, peppers and bit of bread into the insanely delicious anchovy and white soy dip.  I would have drank the remaining dip had we not been sitting so close to the waiter station.  It was that good.
168 07A spicy Ahi Tuna taco with Asian Guacamole followed.  WOW.  It was everything the name implies… crispy, crunchy, tasty, spicy, yummy.  I am not sure what else I could say.  As the picture clearly shows, the shell was absolutely spot on perfect.
168 09 168 10What followed next is a prime example of something I probably would not have ordered but holy crap is it amazing.  It was simply, and Chef forgive me for botching the ingredients, simply an eggplant steamed in miso sauce.  Yes, that simple.  Simple food is something people take for granted.  A lot of Chefs believe more is always better.  To me, the true talent of a Chef lies not in how much he can stick onto your plate but how much can the Chef strip away and blow you away.  This dish had two components.  No hiding behind slabs of foie gras, truffle shavings ort a plethora of other things… this was a simple fat slice of Japanese eggplant and miso sauce.
168 13 168 12The next dish absolutely made me cry in it’s beauty and taste. A potato wrapped sea scallops cooked and served in an emerald green pool or green Thai curry rich with galangal.  The sauce had this beautiful warming glow to the lingering taste.  The potatoes and scallops were just cooked so perfectly.  I could have eaten five more orders they were that good.  Phil served us a beautiful sake served in a shot glass sitting inside a small wooden box.  It is a sign of prosperity when you pour an over the top a shot of sake.
168 11The cool sake offset the lingering spiciness of the curry.  BRAVO!
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About this time we started to get fuller and wondered if this was the last main dish.  Chef prepare a beautiful dish of Alaskan Black Cod lacquered with Ponzu sauce and served with micro croutons and a steamed baby turnip filled with even more ponzu sauce.  It was amazing.  Those familiar with the chain of high-end Hawaiian restaurants Roys will be familiar with that fish though they call it Butter Fish.  The fish just falls apart in creamy heavenness.  Yes that is now a real word.  We finished eating and wondered what dessert would look like.
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Just then, our waiter brought a tray of serving utensils that indicated dessert was not forthcoming.  Two smaller bowls appeared then the mother ship came out the kitchen area and towards us.  Having peeked at the menu early I knew we were getting a ramen noodle soup.  The slight awkwardness of our waiter lended a wonderful level to the dining experience.  He was a young fellow who seemed just as excited about the food and 168 as we felt being newbies there.  It added to the Christmas like feel of wondering what you were getting next.  The noodle soup was made with Kurabuta Pork, noodle and thin shaved Japanese peppers.  It was phenomenal.  Phil paired this course with a Syrah that danced with the spicy flavors quite well.
Lisa had hit saturation point.  I did too but could not stop eating the noodles and broth.  They were addictive.  By then the heat of the day coupled with too much food and alcohol got me sweating.  Phil noticed and dragged us inside for the dessert course.
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I normally am not prone to eating desserts.  It melted in my mouth and made me wish I had the balls to ask him for the recipe.  So feathery light and perfectly cooked.After dessert the Chef came out.  I complimented his abilities and vowed to return soon.
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It truly was an honor eating there.  Phil was an amazing host and we enjoyed catching up on his family and what was going on with his life.  I strongly recommend w=eating at 168 in Pasadena if you love Asian Fusion.  They are located at : 168 west Colorado boulevard, old Pasadena, ca 91105 and can be reached at 626-793-8008.  To see their web site please go to http://www.168pasadena.com/
Phil took us on a small tour of the vast complex.  Private dining, great bar, outdoor seating…
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cool, practical decor made with orange spray painted dead tree limbs168 28
Chef’s Play Ground168 26
Private Dining Area
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Cool fixtures from their Sushi Bar168 23 168 27