Chocolate bread pudding with bourbon caramel sauce
I will freely admit that I don't have very high expectations of restaurants once I leave a major city. Despite the way that some food critics portray the Los Angeles dining scene as a joke compared to those of New York City or San Francisco, I'd say Los Angeles has enough great restaurants to thoroughly spoil anyone, including me. So when I was taken to Eric's by a friend of the chef to enjoy the restaurant's special eighth anniversary menu, I had my suburban restaurant radar on. The warning signals in my mind started flashing even more when I saw that the restaurant was attached to the Palm Garden Hotel, since I haven't really had any good hotel food experiences in my lifetime, even at $500 a night places. Thankfully, the food far exceeded my expectations, and at prices that would make any Westsider thoroughly jealous.
Bruschetta and olives
Most of our group took advantage of the $30, four-course anniversary menu. At many restaurants, including Eric's, an entree alone can cost $30, so this pricing was quite a steal. I wondered if the portions would be miniscule or if they would only be offering inexpensive dishes like pasta, but they weren't. Corkage was free, and plenty of fresh-baked kalamata olive bread was included, too.
The first course was twin bruschetta crostini with an Italian olive tapenade and a balsamic tomato pomodoro and a small wine glass of green and reddish-brown olives. The tangy bite of fresh garlic and the juiciness of tomatoes that hadn't been ruined by refrigeration paired nicely with the lightly grilled triangles of chewy bread, and the olive tapenade was surprisingly flavorful--bad olive tapenade often tastes like the can its olives came from.
We sat on the enclosed patio next to the gas fireplace, which we definitely needed on the chilly January night. The view outside the windows was nothing but lush greenery, but the atmosphere was cheapened a bit by the plastic chairs. Perhaps this part of the restaurant is often used for more casual purposes.
Eggplant and portabello tower
After the bruschetta, there were several choices for each course. I had been craving breaded eggplant, but couldn't find any on my last visit to Trader Joe's, so I knew I had to try the eggplant and portabello tower. Also, the other choices were soup and salad, so I wanted to choose the most unique option. Despite sitting in a red bell pepper sauce, the breaded eggplant retained its crispiness. The eggplant was perfectly cooked, neither too spongy nor too runny, and the dish was beautifully presented. The asparagus retained its smooth skin, crispness, and bright green color, like properly cooked asparagus should. When Chef Robin Nishizaki came out to talk to us about the meal, he said that he created the dish as a twist on the classic eggplant parmesan.
For my entree, I chose the filet mignon over the grilled salmon, seared scallops, prime rib fettucini, oso bucco, and seared ahi. It was a tough choice--I could have eaten almost any of them, but I opted for the filet because it was such a great deal. I ordered the filet medium rare, which I realized after taking the first bite was more pink than I could handle (believe it or not, this was the first steak I had ever personally ordered at a restaurant). Though not as tender as some (admittedly more expensive) steaks I've sampled, the table agreed that the meat was excellent. The garlic mashed potatoes had a wonderfully smooth consistency, but they were too buttery for my taste. The sauteed broccoli, baby carrots, and asparagus were all very good, though it would have been nice to have a different vegetable after the asparagus that came with my eggplant. Normally I might not have noticed this minor flaw in the meal, but I had recently finished reading a book by a waitress who used to work at Thomas Keller's Per Se, so my perfectionistic side was probably in overdrive.
Since we knew the chef, we got a bonus dessert of his own creation: cheesecake churros. I can't imagine a more sinful dessert than deep-fried cheesecake topped with caramel, chocolate, and whipped cream, and it was delicious. My only complaint was that I couldn't eat as many of them as I might have liked because I was already incredibly full from the rest of my meal!
For dessert, I chose the creme brulee. The generous portion had a delicious carmelized crust. The addition of fresh strawberries and blueberries, both in the custard and on top of it, were an interesting twist, but I think I'm a traditionalist when it comes to this dish.
This extra-fantastic anniversary deal was only temporary, but the regular menu prices are quite reasonable: small plates are $6-$13, and large plates are $20-$34. $34 will get you a generous portion of lobster. While Eric's is not a destination restaurant, I think that anyone living in the area or staying at the hotel would be pleased by the food, the service, and the prices.
Eric's Restaurant and Bar
495 N Ventu Park Rd
Newbury Park, CA 91320