Monday, May 11, 2009

The Cheerful, Beautiful Sunday Champagne Brunch at The Terrace (The Langham Huntington Hotel & Spa, Pasadena)

While it was only recently that I was fortunate enough to visit the award-winning The Dining Room at The Langham Huntington Hotel & Spa in Pasadena, my fondest memories have been visiting The Terrace restaurant, first when it was part of The Ritz Carlton Huntington Hotel Pasadena, and now as part of the The Langham Huntington Hotel. The Terrace is home to the famous Sunday Champagne Brunch, and this past weekend was the perfect opportunity to visit The Terrace again.

Pulling up to The Langham Huntington Hotel feels like you're being thrown back in time, to another era. Surrounded by countless groves of oak trees, there's a quiet serenity and luxuriousness about the hotel and The Terrace restaurant.

While the Sunday Champagne Brunch is offered in both their Grand Ballroom and The Terrace, it's only at The Terrace that you're able to gain such a sunny, cheery ambiance, as The Terrace has large ceiling height windows that lets in a gorgeous amount of natural light, while overlooking the private garden and pool areas.

The Sunday Champagne Brunch at The Terrace also features live jazz music (mellow tunes) with friendly musicians always obliging to take requests.

The layout of the Sunday Champagne Brunch is also on the fun side, with separate stations spread out across the entire dining room area (in different corners and sections) encouraging patrons to walk around and see what they like. One of the most popular sections would have to be their Seafood Bar, marked by a beautiful ice sculpture and their Shrimp Cocktail, Jonah Crab Claws and Hama Hama Oysters.

In the center of their dining area is the Small Plates / Appetizers section, which serves up a wide variety of interesting-sounding dishes each week (more on this below).

On the other end is their Omelette and Breakfast Area, serving items such as Bacon and 3 different Sausages, Sauteed Mixed Potatoes (featuring 3 different types of potatoes) and the Omelette station where they make Omelettes to your liking.

Next to that is the Salumi and Cheese sections, featuring a nice array of import and domestic offerings.

Near the entrance is the Fresh Pastries section.

With the lavish and colorful Dessert section right next to it. (I got full just looking at all of the Desserts :)

Continuing on, there are two Carving Stations serving up items like Roasted Duck Breast, Prime Rib and Honey Glazed Ham, along with additional Entrees (which differ week-to-week).

Then there's the mini Sushi Bar section in the far corner, featuring a standard selection of pre-cut fish.

Finally, there's the Crepe and Waffle Station, with a cook on standby to make them to your liking.

Sitting down at our table, the server offers Champagne, Fresh-Squeezed Orange Juice, Mimosa, Coffee and Tea (or any other drink that they can procure (for example, one of my guests wanted a cup of warm Soy Milk, and they happily brought that out (no extra charge)). I began with a Chamomile Citrus Hot Tea (The Langham serves Mighty Leaf Teas, which, while not the best, are a good upgrade from places serving Tazo and Lipton).

I begin with a fresh-made Egg-White Vegetarian Omelette, topped with Avocado. The Tomatoes, Mushrooms, Spinach and Bell Peppers taste fresh and clean, with the creaminess of the Avocado rounding things out.

Their Sauteed Mixed Potatoes (I tried a Red and Peruvian Purple Potato) are cooked perfectly through, with a nice peppery note with each bite.

For today's Brunch, they set up a station making Bacon-Wrapped Fig, Fennel and Frisee, in a Sherry Wine Garlic Vinaigrette.

It sounds promising (you can never go wrong with Bacon-Wrapped anything (^_~)), but unfortunately it's just a touch too sweet, with the Sherry reduction overpowering everything else.

The Nicoise Salad with Ahi Tuna and Fingerling Potatoes is a good version of the classic, with the Green Beans cooked to the point where there's just a slight crisp bite. The Ahi Tuna tastes fresh and the Hard-Boiled Eggs mixed in provides a great backend layer, binding everything together.

Another small plate on today's menu is the Chicken, Spinach and Chorizo Roulade with Cilantro Hummus. The Chicken is a bit dried out and tough (using Chicken Breast), but the Cilantro Hummus is excellent! A gorgeous creaminess, with just the right notes of Cilantro poking through with each bite. Really fresh and herbal. :)

The Fromage Blanc, Serrano Chip and Melon Pearls is another almost-there-but-not-quite dish: The Serrano Ham Chip is delicious and crispy, and a great pairing with the Fromage Blanc (which tastes pure and creamy), but both of these are done in by the Melon Pearls, which for some strange reason are extremely sweet. Add to that, the strong Melon fragrance, and it's overdone.

I visit the Seafood Bar next, trying all 3 items offered up today, beginning with their Shrimp Cocktail (Shrimp from Vietnam).

The Shrimp Cocktail is simply outstanding! :) Really clean, fresh-tasting, butterflied large Shrimp with firm, yet supple meat. Everyone at the table couldn't stop eating these. :)

The Hamu Hamu Oysters from Washington didn't fare so well: They didn't taste very fresh and are slightly gummy (on my previous visit, last year, the Oysters were very good).

Finally, the Jonah Crab Claws from Boston are overcooked and taste a touch briny.

Their Roasted Veal Loin with Celery Root Salad is a pleasant surprise: While the Veal Loin is served medium, it's wonderfully tender and very fresh-tasting. The Celery Root Salad complements the Roasted Veal Loin perfectly, providing herbal, spring-like notes with each bite, but never dominating the dish. Two other guests at the table try it as well and concur; this is probably one of the best Veal dishes I've had in the last 6 months. Delicious. :)

The Baked Salmon with Plum Ginger Marshmallow sounds too good to pass up, so I try an order. Sadly, it seems the kitchen has a fondness of sugar that undermines this dish as well: The Salmon is just fine, but the Plum Ginger Marshmallow (and the Plum Sauce that it's sitting in) turn this into a total sugar bomb. :(

Heading over to the first Carving Station, I order their Red Wine Roasted Duck with Creamy Polenta.

The Duck Breast is carved upon order, and it's shockingly good! Perfectly cooked Duck, with light accents of Shallots, Honey, Olive Oil and Red Wine all blend together in harmony. The Duck has no gristle and is almost fork tender. For a Duck dish that doesn't involve perfectly crispy skin (ala Peking Duck), or a gorgeous Duck Confit, this is easily the best Duck dish I've had in the last 2 years. :)

At their Entree area, their Oven Roasted Stuffed Game Hen with Corn Bread Stuffing, Brussel Sprout Leaves and Tarragon Sauce is the opposite of the Roasted Duck: The Game Hen is too dry, and with Corn Bread Stuffing, it has sucked out any possible juice from the Game Hen and you get a layer of dried out Game Hen with mealy Corn Bread Stuffing.

At the second Carving Station, their Prime Rib is served rare through medium in doneness. Their Prime Rib has had varying results over my visits (due in part to how long the end piece has been sitting exposed from the last cut / request). The Prime Rib today is good, tender and juicy, but a touch lukewarm. The Au Jus sauce and fresh Horseradish are classic accompaniments and help to round out the dish.

Trying their Salumi section, the Speck is a decent version, smoky and salty, it pairs well with the various bread offerings.

The Sopressata is surprisingly mild and light tasting, with sparks of pepper coming through.

The Tartufo is a beautiful porky delight, extremely fragrant and not salty at all, probably my favorite of this section.

Finally, the Salami Rosa is very moist and tender (more so than the Honey Glazed Ham at the Carving Station) and another nice selection.

Next up, I try their Smoked Wild Salmon from Norway. It's creamy, fatty, tender deliciousness. :)

Their Beef Chimichurri on the other hand is very disappointing: Completely overcooked (well-done) chunks of Beef Skirt Steak that is rendered so tough and dry that the *texture* overpowers the sauce; it's that distracting. The Chimichurri Sauce tasted a bit underspiced as well, with the oil and garlic barely poking through the toughness of the Beef.

And through morbid curiosity I decide to try a piece of Sushi from their Sushi Station: Hamachi (Yellowtail) Sushi. (Note: It's never a good sign when the sushi chef has no idea where the fish is from. :P) The Hamachi is... average at best, tasting slightly old and fishy, but there's no gristle. The Rice is absolutely horrible, though (a dry, clumpy mess). :(

At this point, it was time to move on to something sweet (anything sweet :) to remove the bad Sushi taste from my palate. I visit their Crepe and Waffle Station and have them make a Fresh Waffle with Fresh Strawberries, Raspberries, Blueberries and Blackberries.

Served piping hot (right off the Waffle Iron), I add a dab of the fresh Brown Sugar Butter and use a bit of the Vermont Maple Syrup (they hand out cute little bottles to each guest :). And it is absolutely delicious! (^_^) It's so light and airy (a nice batter recipe), crisp and piping hot. All of the Berries taste fresh and sweet (with a nice touch of tartness from the Raspberries). The Pure Vermont Maple Syrup however is the perfect finisher. Another excellent item. :)

I decide to switch over to an African Amber Tea, which uses the African Rooibos Leaves mixed with Hibiscus, Vanilla and Mango. Once it begins to steep, it releases a beautiful fruit aroma.

The Lemon Raspberry Tart is an overpowering, artificial Lemon overdose; too sweet and artificially lemony for my tastes.

Their Carrot Cake, however, is surprisingly mild (not too sweet), very moist and creamy and a good baseline dessert here.

The Coconut Rum Flan is mouth-wateringly delicious! :) Excellently prepared, very creamy and silky, the notes of Coconut and Rum are perfect supporting notes for the Flan itself.

The Dark Chocolate Brulee is a bit too bitter for my tastes. Dark Chocolate is fine in small doses, but here, it's just too much Dark Chocolate at once and really overpowers the senses.

Lastly, their Pecan Tart is probably their best dessert after the Fresh Waffles. An extremely light, slightly sweet, dessert, with a very fragrant, nutty Pecan essence (and Pecan chunks) with each bite. Excellent! :)

As we were leaving, as part of the Mother's Day Sunday Brunch, they provided a little gift for all the mothers at each table. This year, it's a cute, rustic Flower Watering Pot with fresh Flowers. :)

Before we left, we took a stroll through their Poolside Garden, and the Center Courtyard Garden as well, a perfect way to walk off some of those calories. (^_~)

Service at The Terrace is spot on, with a small army of servers clearing dishes and resetting the silverware whenever it was needed. During my visits, the service has always been professional, courteous and spot-on. The Sunday Champagne Brunch at The Terrace is usually $75 per person (before tax and tip), but on Mother's Day it's $95 per person. For any of the Sunday Brunches, the price includes bottomless drinks (all kinds of teas, coffee, champagne, fruit juices, etc.) and food.

The Sunday Champagne Brunch at The Terrace has its share of average to mediocre dishes, but it also has some good standouts as well, such as their succulent Shrimp Cocktail, Veal Loin, Red Wine Roasted Duck, Fresh Waffles and Berries, amongst other things. While there are cheaper Sunday Brunch options around town, one thing that The Terrace Sunday Champagne Brunch always delivers is a relaxing, cheerful, beautiful setting to enjoy a lazy Sunday meal. (^_^)

Rating: 7.2 (out of 10.0)

Sunday Champagne Brunch at The Terrace
The Langham Huntington Hotel & Spa, Pasadena
1401 South Oak Knoll Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91106
Tel: (626) 585-6218

Hours: Sunday, 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.


pleasurepalate said...

That brunch looks really good. I definitely want to check it out. :)

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Abby,

Yah, if you're in the mood for a pleasant Sunday Brunch, The Terrace is always nice. Let me know how your visit goes. :) (and I still have to try their Afternoon High Tea thanks to you. :)

Mama said...

What a great post. Everything looked beautiful (but too bad they didn't taste as good as they looked).

Do you have any other recs for Sunday brunch elsewhere?

Andy said...

I ate at the Sunday brunch once when the hotel was still called the Ritz-Carlton. I agree with you, there were a few tasty items here and there, but as a whole I thought it was pretty mediocre. It was disappointing to my parents, who had heard about the brunch for so many years and finally decided to splurge :(

But the champagne helps and the beautiful surroundings was definitely amazing!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi pink,

Thank you. :) Yah, there were some misses for sure, but some really good items as well.

For Sunday Brunch in a similar vein, I'm still searching (there are a few places that I need to try a few times more to make sure :). I'll be sure to let you know. Thanks.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Andy,

Thanks. Yah, unfortunately as with many buffet-style settings, there's a high chance of streamlined food. In all my visits, I usually average about 3-5 really good dishes, with the rest being ~OK to mediocre. But the setting and Champagne and other drinks really help :), and I'm more than happy to load up on their delicious standouts for the day (e.g., the fresh Shrimp Cocktail, Veal Loin, Roast Duck Breast, etc.). I hope they can improve the quality and execution of the dishes that didn't work some day.

glutster said...

Been wanting to go to the 'tea room' buffet now for a while, need to check this out too though.

Just realized that I didn't post the address for La Monarca, check it out.

H. C. said...

Everything looks so heavenly, are you and pleasurepalate teaming up to try to make me broke (albeit deliciously so?)

And I hope the brunch stays similarly tasty-elegant after Chef Strong's departure.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi teenage glutster,

Definitely let me know if you end up trying either the High Tea or Sunday Champagne Brunch. I hope you have a good time. :)

Exile Kiss said...

Hi H.C.,

Thanks. Hehehe :), no, no, Abby and I wouldn't think of doing that. :)

And, yes, I agree: I hope The Dining Room and the Sunday Brunch remains or improves after Chef Strong leaves.

pleasurepalate said...

H.C.: You do a great job spending your money on all your yummy outings without any help from me or EK! :-P

TJY57 said...

Hey E.K.

Just wanted to let you know I have really been enjoying your reviews from up here in San Luis Obispo County. I am a So Cal native and really miss the fine dining. Your great photos and detailed descriptions allow me to live vicariously through you. I especially like that you post the prices you paid. Can't wait to try Urasawa in B.H! I've bookmarked that review. I do a little reviewing myself. You might want to checkout reviews similar to yours I've done on TRIPADVISOR.COM on Madrona Manor and Cyrus Restaurants, or just searc for "TJY57" for all my reviews. Keep up the GREAT work.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Thomas,

Thank you so much for your kind words! (^_^) I look forward to hearing your thoughts on Urasawa; I hope you have a wonderful time! :)

And thank you for the info on your reviews. I'll be sure to keep them in mind when I need them. Thanks!

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