Annibirthday dinner at Maison Akira, Pasadena
Since my dad's birthday and my parents' anniversary are a day apart, we pretty much always combine the celebration into one event. This year, my dad chose his favorite, Maison Akira in Pasadena. My parents, sister, husband and I arrived promptly at 6:30 pm on Saturday, giddy with anticipation.
Maison Akira's decor is very old-school, traditionally formal. No minimalist vibe here- there are French-country-inspired printed curtains and yellow walls. We were seated at a round table in very comfortable chairs while the manager warmly greeted my parents (they're "regulars" so to speak).
The first thing you notice about the place is how quiet it is. Although most of the tables were occupied, you could actually HEAR your own dining companions while barely noticing that of the other patrons. I think it actually may be the quietest restaurant in Los Angeles. It was a nice change from the usual construction-level noise at most places these days. We perused the menu and, while my dad and husband opted for the Menu Rabelais prix fixe with wine pairing (4 courses, 2 wines $68.00- a steal), the ladies decided to go a la carte with one appetizer and entree each.
After cracking open a Gary Farrell Pino Noir which we had brought with us, we were presented with the amuse bouche. A slightly seared piece of albacore sprinkled with red sesame seeds accompanied a small slice of terrine made up of soba noodles and a yuzu/dashi gelee. Both were very light and delicious- the perfect way to rev up your appetite.
Next came the men's first course- the Warm House Smoked Salmon on Micro Green and Lentil Salad in a Ponzu Pesto Vinaigrette. Although I failed to take a photo of it, I have to say it was one of the highlights of the night (thanks to my husband who let me have some!). The salmon filet was extremely flavorful with just the right saltiness which combined so well with the creamy white beans and lentils underneath the fish. Being a big fan of both ponzu and pesto, I loved the slightly tart and very refreshing dressing. This was accompanied by a lovely French sauvignon blanc.
The men's second course looked as good as it tasted- the Braised Shiitake Mushroom and Goat Cheese Topped with Crispy Leeks consisted of 2 meaty slices of shiitake held together by a generous serving of tangy goat cheese. The veal demi glace that it was swimming in was delectable and mellowed out the sharpness of the goat cheese. It had a bit too much cheese for my taste, but we simply swiped the excess with the addictive mini baguettes from the bread basket and all was good in the world.
My mom and I both ordered the Chilled Maine Lobster Salad with American Caviar in a Lemon Mirin Vinaigrette and neither one of us were blown away. It came on a bed of cha soba (green tea soba noodles) which were overcooked. The lobster was on the bland side and even the generous dollops of caviar on each piece did not liven up the dish at all. My sister's Brandy Flamed Maine Lobster Bisque was also a disappointment- it was just "eh" and again needed more flavor. Since my dad makes The Best Lobster Bisque Of All Time, we have quite high LB standards and this one, as pretty as it was, just wasn't cuttin' it!
Onto the main courses. My husband chose the Grilled Miso Marinated Chilean Sea Bass in a Honey Lemon Jus on Roasted Provençal Vegetables which is Chef Akira's signature dish- and it didn't disappoint. The fish literally melts in your mouth - just delicious. My dad's Sautéed Rib-Eye Steak in a Green Peppercorn and Béarnaise Sauce with Vegetable Printaniér was also good, but having only had a small bite I can't really describe it well. Both men enjoyed the accompanying wines. Mom chose the Sansyo Pepper Dusted Tuna Served Rare in a Plum Wine Ginger Sauce with Wasabi Potato Mousseline which was excellent- especially the mashed potatoes. The greenest mashed pots you've ever seen, they are filled with the flavor of wasabi while lacking the extreme heat which would be overbearing. The Sautéed Canadian Scallops with Braised Endives & Chasoba Pasta in Lobster Jus that my sister ordered was good, but again- I thought the chasoba was overcooked. I have to say that my Pan Roasted Rack of Lamb in a Rosemary Sauce with Potato Mousseline & Seasonal Vegetables was absolutely DELECTABLE. The meat can only be described as succulently tender and juicy- I mean gnaw-on-the-bone-may-I-please-have-another succulent. I thought about keeping a bone as a keepsake but hey- it's a nice place so I probably shouldn't sneak scraps off the table. Truly the best lamb I have had in ages. The accompanying mashed potatoes and vegetables were nice but nothing compared to the star. The glass of Echelon Pino Noir that I ordered was a nice accompaniment.
Since it was my parents' anniversary/dad's birthday, the waitress brought out their signature dessert- a butter cookie basket filled with vanilla ice cream and fruit, topped with a pulled sugar dome. My husband had his choice of the dessert menu, which is a nice surprise since many prix fixe menus have a predetermined one. He chose the sheep's milk cheese with jam....I can't recall if it was boysenberry or blueberry but wow- the combo of the slightly hard manchego with the sweetness of that delicious jam was positively addictive. It comes with a tiny glass of fruity dessert wine (sorry- I failed to write this down!!). My sister's flourless chocolate cake looked beautiful but she thought it lacked the richness that is usually associated with that dessert.
Even though not every single dish was a homerun, I have to say we had such a wonderful time. Don't get me wrong- the food is outstanding for the most part. The service is impeccable without being stuffy, and the ambience makes it so easy to relax and really get comfortable. I haven't been there for lunch and look forward to going or getting one of their celebrated bento boxes to go. All in all, highly recommended for a special occasion.
Also- I'd like to take this opportunity to say HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my dad and HAPPY ANNIVERSARY to my parents- without whom I would never have developed such a love of food and cooking.
Maison Akira, Pasadena CA Restaurants