A recent dining experience at Roxanne's by a friend whose dining opinions I respect prompted me to remember the need to post on a forum available for public viewing my notes on a subjectively very poor meal there earlier this year.
The caption on the inside of the Roxanne menu read: "Serving the community at the intersection of sensual flavors, healthy lifestyle and ecological sustainability". I'm not sure about the latter two considerations, but a sensual cuisine this is not. Leaving aside any societally aware motivations or other motivations of the chef (which I do not address) in preparing this type of less-cooked, vegan cuisine, the bottom line is that the cuisine is not delicious. It's as if a classical French chef were to decide to relinquish butter and rouxs altogether -- it might be interesting, in the sense that seeing Cirque de Soleil is interesting, but it does not necessarily enhance the taste of the cuisine. And Roxanne's cuisine is neither sensual nor delicious in my mind. I am not returning unless a significant period of time elapses or she receives five Mobil stars (never, in my mind, with her current cuisine). Poor meal.
I debuted my small Olympus VN-900 digital voice recorder. I've had this for over six months now, but never had a chance to use it. This restaurant is a good venue, given the need for elaborate descriptions (the food is just weird, in a negative way). (The digital recorder later became useful at Trio, among other places)
The restaurant has an appropriate interior -- metallic spokes are large and adorn the ceiling of the dining area. Lots of wood, with blue chairs and banquettes in a comfortable-feeling fabric. Interesting metallic candleholders with cut out sections that radiated light in a deliberate and patterned way. The lamps adorning the walls were an intricate flower-shape and played with light/shadow effects as well.
-- Amuse was a tiny sushi-like roll (standing up, without rice mimic), with a small slice of watermelon radish mimicking the seaweed for the roll. Inside the watermelon radish exterior were various thin juliennes of other veggies. The saucing was sesame. Not bad, but also not good. The most interesting part of this thing -- and it wasn't interesting -- was the micro shiso leaf that gave a better flavor burst than the rest of the included items.
I ordered a 1/2 bottle of Veuve Clicquot, Yellow Label ($38; that's not a bad price; my local store sells this at $20), followed by a glass of Syrah for the truffle and yellow curry dishes (the latter could in hindsight have gone either way, on red vs. white). Bottled water is available, at least in sparkling format, only as the Ty-Nant (in a blue bottle of course).
(1) Sea Vegetables Salad with Kaisou, Pineapple Yuzu and Hijiki Vinaigrette ($2 supp).
This was presented on a large white square plate with four segments. Beginning from the bottom left-hand corner and proceeding clockwise, the four items were as follows:
-- A little bowl of hijiki seaweed (blackish, dark-purplish color) marinated in sesame and ginger (limited amount) and other Japanese-sensation items: This was alright, but, again, I note it was not delicious. Neither was it refreshing. Its texture was smooth, although the individual seaweed pieces were distinct.
-- Wakame (mostly) with pineapple yuzu sauce. Here, the seaweed was more in the form of thin sheets and the texture was soft. Wakame and certain other seaweeds do convey some sentiments of the sea, but, again I did not find the preparation pleasing. Pineapple is not an item I believe belongs in many renditions of savory dishes, and here the pairing was also not ideal. Yuzu was controlled in quantity and not bad in the dish. However, this was the best tasting of the four seaweed portions (that is not saying much).
-- Kaisou (Japanese sea lettuce) with cream-mimic sauce. This was an interesting dish to sample. Visually, this item very much resembled certain regular types of lettuce, yet when taken in, the texture is definitely that of algae/certain types of seaweed. Significant "crunchiness" (in the way that seaweed is crunchy). It had a cream-mimic sauce that was perhaps a play on salad dressing for regular lettuce. Intellectually interesting, but a flop in the mouth.
-- Mendocino sea palm fronds with apple and avocado. The sea palm fronds were limited in quantity in this dish, with the predominant portion of the dish consisting of thick juliennes of green apple and avocado that resembled each other visually but not texturally (with the apple being crisper and the avocado relatively ripened and soft).
Although a fork and knife are provided, chopsticks were also provided and were used in my case. Although seaweed imparts flavors of the sea, I would say that the general saucing of this dish left it a bit bland. I was glad to have sampled the dish, but I asked myself whether it was delicious and it was not -- bottom line.
(2) Pad Thai of Coconut Noodles, Cilantro, Thai basil, almond chile and sweet tamarind sauce
How nice that this dish was available as an appetizer, so that I could sample both it and the yellow curry entree. When I tasted it, I realized how nice it was that this dish was an appetizer, as I would not have to waste more of it.
The coconut noodles were supple, and did remind me of pad thai noodles a bit (although the coconut noddles were too smooth and not "starchy" enough -- neither did they absorb the saucing as well as regular pad thai noodle types). Below the noodles were apparently shavings of lettuce that were an unhelpful touch, "cheapening" the dish almost in my subjective assessment. The coconut noodles were mixed in with juliennes of carrots and red bell peppers, which added a limited amount of crunchiness (although these too were supple). There was also micro basil and micro cilantro, in sprigs. Overall, average. A dense saucing based on the tamarind tasted almost like peanut butter with something else added (it was not). Overall, disappointing. Why not have real pad thai?
Slightly helpful were the spicy dried cashews with a cayenne component, but I am being kind in mentioning them as these obviously did not lift the dish out of mediocrity.
(3) Perigord Black Truffle and Mushroom Crepe with Cream Sauce and Chives ($21 a la carte)
Golden flax (?) was the principal ingredient for the crepe, which was not of a poor texture. But again -- why limit oneself in the way Roxanne has and have to stretch to provide a decent crepe, when many wonderful crepe recipes exist? The crepe also had scallions and chives embedded in it. A decent amount of black truffle slices were on top of the crepe, which had been folded over to form a semi-circular shape. The aroma of the truffle was appropriate, although I wonder whether truffle oil had been added to artificially augment the aroma (a very bad thing in my book).
Inside the crepe was an almost negligible amount of cashew cheese -- more on this later -- and small diced cremini mushrooms (appropriate pairing of the black truffles, due to the more meaty connotations of this as prepared in this way). The spinach was nice and oily, but a bit of spinach in a bland crepe does not a dish make. Also inside the crepe was a bit of crunchy, slightly cooked celery, in small bits, that added a bit of crunch. This was perhaps the best dish of the evening, but this dish was average-minus in my mind.
Like in certain dishes I did not order, almond cream had been substituted for real creme in certain recipes. Here, the almond cream saucing was almost irrelevant -- no sensations of fattiness one gets from real cream. The sauce was significantly too neutral.
(4) Thai Yellow Curry with Garden Vegetables, Four Spiced Spinach and Creamy Whipped Parsnips (items (1)-(3) were collectively $38 for two appetizers and one entree; the pad thai is sometimes an entree, but on the evening in question it was an app)
This was a problematic dish, because the saucing integrating the curry (the mimic for the curry creamy sauce) was gooey and tasted unappealing. The sauce did not have a strong taste, but its texture was just yucky. The dish looked bad too, consisting of a lump of diced/cut vegetables (large serving, which obviously I did not finish) bound together by this ugly arguably off-grey-colored sauce. Included were, all chopped up (including diced): (1) small cherry tomato halves, (2) crisp cauliflower small segments, (3) cucumber -- slightly browned somehow, (4) nice peas, which were few and far between and (4) nice spinach (but too little of this). The cayenne-spiced cashews were once again used. Whipped parsnips at the bottom of this ugly bundle were not helpful. Overall, this dish was terrible-minus! It lacked the "warm comfort food", "will surprise you this is not cooked above the specified temperature" selling points from the dining room team member that led me to order it. :(
(5) Cheese Plate: Smoked almond cheese with white honey and dates and Herb marinated cashew cheese with sundried tomatoes and sun cured olives ($11 a la carte).
The almond cheese was matte and white in color, and its texture resembled slightly that of goat cheese. However, its taste was bland and unappealing. It had to rely on the nicely included Hawaiian white honey and the little cubes of softened cucumber to render it interesting. The accompaniments were nice, but that did not save the almond "cheese". The little slices of almond along the exterior of the almond cheese portion were irrelevant taste-wise. Apparently, both cheeses are made by grinding the nuts and then subjecting them to some sort of culture.
There was a huge mound of crackers accompanying the cheese, and placed in the middle of the two cheeses along a rectangular plate. The crackers might have been flaxseed or something like that. They did not taste good, that's for sure.
The other cheese tasted better (the cashew cheese), although again that is not saying much. The cheese here had been rolled in herbs (it was a largish mound, as far as cheese serving sizes go). The accompanying sundried tomatoes were crushed, but not pureed, and the olives were in tiny bits and integrated into the tomatoes (Kalamata, spelling). Anyhow, overall the cheese course was average-minus. Definitely not a substitute for good "real" cheese.
I finished the meal with a 2 oz "Warm lush chocolate with Mexican spices, served in an espresso cup. The chocolate was not bad, although it had too much cinnamon and nutmeg (this is a personal quirk, for I always find too much cinnamon in things, including in Keller's "coffee and donuts"). There was a sense of spiciness ("heat", tempered) that left a slight aftereffect in my throat. That was appropriate too.
This place has been overrated by a significant margin, in my mind, by the reviewers. :(
The washrooms are labeled with a tomato and a squash or similar vegetable. Inside the tomato washroom, I saw a Monet water lily print.
Service was good, perhaps better than that at Fleur de Lys (although that is not necessarily saying much). The maitre d' seemed somewhat young, but was earnest. Roxanne was not in attendance. I am not sure this place has a dedicated sommelier. The dining room team members who were bringing the food seemed to be providing recommendations on the wine as well (??).
This was the first time in recent memory I had seen a spider on a tablecloth. A largish spider was rapidly skirting around the portion of the tablecloth further away from me. I asked the maitre d' quietly to attend to it, and he brushed it onto the floor and recouped it using a glass. For the next 15 minutes, I wondered whether another spider might be loose in connection with the tablecloth or the floor. However, this was not a meaningful problem, and the restaurant handled the situation well. :0
Certain non-alcoholic drinks with various "healthy" and otherwise beneficial ingredients were being served in martini glasses.