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SECOND HELPINGS

Achtung! Something's Stirring at Ritz-Carlton

December 06, 1990|Max Jacobson | Times Orange County restaurant critic Max Jacobson often returns to restaurants he has found lacking to see whether things have improved. This is one in an occasional series of "Second Helpings."

The Ritz-Carlton hotel in Dana Point has a new chef in the Dining Room, and he is already doing great things.

His name is Boris Keller, and he is from Munich, Germany. Keller worked as a sous-chef with Eckart Wiztigmann in the fabled Tantris (one of only three restaurants in Germany with three Michelin stars), and most recently had his own restaurant, Boris, also in Germany and also honored by Michelin with a star.

Keller is talented, that's for sure.

He's not shy, though: He will be the first to tell you that one star in Germany is worth two in France. And after eating his food, I can easily see his point.

This is food that soars, food at a level you just won't find anywhere else in Orange County. Appetizers like the perfect salads, zucchini flowers with black truffles that are as delicate as a spring shower, and a carpaccio of venison and duck liver, served in a magical swirl and drizzled with walnut oil, are the kinds of dishes most chefs can only dream about.

Keller works wonders with main dishes, too. Veal piccata with black pasta, a simple dish with thick-sliced veal, may just be the best veal dish I have ever tasted. Souffle of sea bream atop its own filet might be precious for some, but it was just right for me, a gently flavored souffle somewhere between a quenelle and a mousse in texture.

You'll want to eat these desserts, too: praline mousse with fresh fig, Gewurztraminer cream with fruit, and the pastries and chocolates the kitchen pampers you with before they present you with the check.

It's good that they know how to soften the blow. This is a big ticket even for those who have a healthy budget for dining out, and prohibitively expensive for those who don't. But I'm happy to report that the restaurant now is a must for anyone who takes food seriously, and I expect that it will get even better soon.

The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, 33533 Ritz-Carlton Drive, Dana Point. (714) 240-5008. Open nightly for dinner, from 6 to 10:30 p.m. All major cards.

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