Monday, January 26, 2009

I have been looking forward to trying Ambrosia out for OC Restaurant Week. They were top on my list to try since they seemed to have some nice reviews though few. I used my GPS to map out the location, but this didn't help at all because the front is very hard to notice. Luckily I had their number on my cell and called to ask where to park and the exact location again. After I U-turned it was much easier to catch a glimpse as I drove by and turned into the next street where I found the parking entrance. Apparently they are located in the OC Pavilion and the parking is behind Main Street. We went on a Wednesday night and the parking was free. I would call just in case to check what days are free.
They have some sort of live entertainment nightly that changes. When we were there they had a pianist and a cellist. HW had a hard time finding the place so I was there waiting for a while. Of course I took the time to look around and check out some of the reading material. They seem to have a cheaper "Farm Fresh" menu for Thursdays. Everyone was very friendly and the hostess casually chatted with me. After HW arrived we were seated immediately. Their dining room is located behind this glass window that I had been looking at the whole time. The whole time I was sitting there I could smell the delicious aroma of garlic wafting throughout the rooms.
At first glance when I walked past the window I felt like I was walking into a dreamy open tropic area. I will agree with other people that it is very old school but I found the place charming. It was a dark setting that was illuminated with lights decorated upon fake foliage. They have a mirror behind the last set of booths that make the place seem endless and spacious. We were seated right in front of the live performers, which I don't normally like and it was quite funny to see their facial expressions while they play. Sitting close to the stage makes me think we were in a Jazz lounge or a 50's lounge.
HW and I were taking in the environment as they brought us our bread and butter. The presentation was super cute in my opinion where they draw out the butter from the dish and the bread was soooo cute! It's in the shape of a retro-70's flower. We both really enjoyed the bread, both in presentation and taste. It came out fresh piping hot and a variety to choose from as each petal was different. We almost filled up on the bread and you should really save it for later to soak up the sauces. I also really liked the classy way they brought out the lemon slices for my water atop a wine glass rim.
They started off the night by bringing us an Amuse Bouche of a Lobster and Corn, Potato Salad. The taste was fine and in a bite-sized spoon. There was even a dab of Caviar to enhance the flavor.
For our appetizer we had to choose their signature dish of Shrimp Scampi Flambéed Table-side in Cognac Garlic Butter. I wished the place was lit just slightly more so I could take more photos. It was really hard to catch anything but the flames since it was quite dim in there. Another sad part was I left the new camera I am borrowing at home! So I had to resort back to my own camera that was almost running out of battery too! lol
I think the manager was the one preparing at table-side. He was super friendly and fun, especially with his "unique" mustache. ^_^ It was a very nice show as he starts off by putting his hand over the pan to make sure it has reached the right temperature before anything is thrown in the pan. Keep in mind that you might be splattered with the oil even though you don't see it. Each ingredient was artfully thrown into the pan and sautéed.
Everything smelled wonderful and we were anxiously awaiting the final product. The flames were high and fun to see. This was definitely the best choice for appetizer. They actually used pretty big shrimp that were bigger than 21/25 and we both received 4 pieces. I really enjoyed the sweet flavor of the Tomatoes that gave the whole dish a soft sweet acid needed to raise its complexity. HW and I both really enjoy the taste and portion of the appetizer. We really should have saved all the bread to dip it in the wonderful sauce. I liked how the shrimp was cooked just right. They were translucent but not undercooked and had just the right bite.
I almost wanted to lick my plate after I was done since I had run out of bread. Word to the wise, don't use the bread with sweet bits of Cranberry inside because it offsets the delectable flavor.
As usual, I am a sucker for Foie Gras and how can I resist not trying their take on the dish. For this season they are calling it the Black "FOIE'rest" Composition with Artisan Foie Gras, Morello Cherries, Cocoa Nibs and Brachetto di Acqui 'Bubbles'. This was definitely an interesting concept and I don't think I have ever had Morello Cherries. The Cocoa Nibs was really like a Molten Chocolate Lava Cake, which I thought was pretty tasty and had a nice texture. I wished they gave a bigger piece of Foie Gras... but don't we all ^_^. The cherries were not bad but they did start to overpower the delectable juicy flavor of the Foie Gras. I actually really enjoyed the bubbly because it added another texture and complexity to the Foie Gras. Many say that it should always be paired with a sweet wine during consumption. My main complaint was that this dish was not very cohesive. I applaud them for the effort but that cake was totally out of place and if I tried to eat it with everything it would just ruin the palette. They all worked well as separate components but together... it just wasn't quite right.
Sadly, things just started to go downhill from here. Service up until here was very attentive and well paced but they started to get busier... then we became neglected. At first HW was full from the appetizer and couldn't imagine stuffing 2 more courses down... then time passed... and some more... the conversation continued... by this time we were both questioning when our food will next apper. Even HW was complaining that she needed her main course by this time. The Steak Frites were definitely not worth the wait. It's Flat Iron Steak with Hand-Cut Rosemary Frites and Caramelized Onion-Bacon Jus. I debated for a really long time on which main course I'd like and in the end I chose quantity of meat over a more thought out dish. When I saw the dishes of other tables, I knew I made the wrong choice. The steak was not overcooked but the cut was definitely not that great. It is a Flat Iron Steak so there was a huge tendon running through. The sauce was all over the place in taste and didn't compliment the steak. I will say that the fries were fabulous. Even though they were very thick steak cut fries, the center was airy and delectable with a crisp exterior. The only thing that saved this dish were the fries.
Now came the worst part. I saw that they had a Maine Lobster Potato Au Gratin as a side for $8. How could I say no? I should have! Normally Au Gratins are smooth and delicate to the touch. They should really be melting in your mouth. Even HW noticed at how much effort I put into cutting through the layers! I was putting so much force and effort on my fork, yet I couldn't break through the brick that they called Au Gratin! I was about to bust out the steak knife and go crazy on it. The flavor and taste were flat and bad, so I didn't even want to bother. That had to be packed up for home for someone else. My goodness... I get chills just thinking about how bad this dish was and we all know how much I love lobster... but blech!
For dessert we decided to order different things and share so that we may try some more variety. We both actually wanted the Organic Madagascar Crème Brûlée with Fresh Raspberries, which would have been the best choice. The presentation was very simple. I thought the flavor and texture was pretty good. You could see the ground Vanilla Beans on the bottom and the Burnt Sugar on top was done nicely. It was not overly sweet or too creamy. I really wished we had both gotten this dish.
The other dessert the server recommended was "Harry's Berries" Strawberry Cheesecake with Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce and Strawberry Ice Cream. At first glance you would not be able to tell this was a cheesecake, it looked like a cake. When I took the first bite, I really enjoyed the complexity in textures. They have thin flaky wafers atop to add the crisp, cheesecake, then ending with a fine texture. What failed was the cheesecake in the center. I felt that it was very thick and creamy. It was more like a mousse than cheesecake. Let's just say I took this home for other people to eat it so I wouldn't have to waste the calories.
All in all the meal started out good but just started going South after that. We had a nice server and everyone was very attentive... in the beginning... towards the end they didn't even refill my water when I needed it since I still have my cough. The only things I really enjoyed was the Crème Brûlée and the Shrimp Scampi. At the beginning of the meal I was thinking about coming back on a Thursday to try out their other menu but now I don't know... If they were able to maintain the consistency it would have been a very nice meal but it just all fell apart towards the end. I no longer can endorse or support this place, even though I really wanted to in the beginning... sigh! They also left a phone message at my house to ask about our evening. It shows that they care, but there is just too much I have to say...

Ambrosia
801 N Main St
Santa Ana, CA 92701
(714) 550-0811
Ambrosia on Urbanspoon

5 comments:

5 Star Foodie said...

That's so unfortunate. It definitely had a promising beginning. Sounds a lot like our dinner at per se.

Matt said...

creme brulee is awesome. based on the sound of your experience, you should have just eaten a few orders of that.

TeriBeri said...

Did you get any lobster in the au gratin? Are you sure that was au gratin? At least the creme brulee was good. I'm always in search of a good creme brulee. I had a really bad one last week (different restaurant.)

Kat said...

Oh no! Poor 5 Star Foodie! That is not good b/c you pay an arm and a leg for Per Se... but I kind of have to agree... My experience at The French Laundry was about the same... but maybe not as bad. Some stuff was good but for the most part... overrated IMHO... Service was great though and the best part was I got to go for free O=)

Haha Matt, if I only knew! I would have opted out of most of the meal and just ate a ton of creme brulee... at least I ended on a good note lol

TeriBeri... There was a rubbery lobster inside... At first I thought the Au Gratin had potential b/c it was so cheesy but then I realized it was just rubbery plastic-ness =*( It definitely wasn't your typical au gratin. I know this may sound weird but I love Lawry's creme brulee haha... also the one at Mr. Stox is not too bad if you ever go there you should try them out. They bake fresh fruits inside to give it that extra oomph.

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