It had been over 1.5 years since we’d seen our good friends. But with all of us fully vaccinated, we decided to take the risk and met them at a new restaurant in their neck of the woods. Imagine our surprise when they brought up meeting at the new Le Méridien Hotel in Arcadia. Apparently 2020 wasn’t all closures as this hotel chain found time to build out an entirely new hotel during the pandemic, along with opening up a new restaurant known as Melange.
The Le Méridien Hotel was brand new and modern, but a bit small (from the lobby and general open areas that we saw). And a hotel restaurant usually isn’t noteworthy, but in this case, Melange is being helmed by Executive Chef Makoto Tanaka, formerly working at Spago, under Chef Wolfgang Puck and team. This sounded interesting.
The decore of Melange itself is very mundane. When we were seated and looked around, it very much reminded us of a typical “hotel restaurant” at a Hilton, Marriott, etc. Nondescript decor, laminated tables. But the proof was in the food, right?
Yellowtail Crudo (Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette, Jalapeno, Yuzu Zest):
This was rather by the numbers. The Yellowtail was generally fresh-tasting (not as bright as the freshest imports at our local high end Sushi Bars, but decent). The Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette was a good complement, but almost expected flavors.
At this point, we noticed Chef Tanaka was actually sitting in the corner of the restaurant talking to press. Our server mentioned he was giving some interviews already about himself and the restaurant (even though it had only just opened a few weeks). This obviously meant he was not cooking the food the entire evening. More on this later…
Asian Chopped Salad (Red Onion, Corn, Peas, Radicchio, Celery, Carrots, Avocado, Organic Baby Greens, Balsamic Walnut Vinaigrette):
For being a “Salad,” this was more like an “Appetizer,” as the four of us got about 2 bites each. Thankfully the flavors were refreshing and tasty, with lots of textures and pleasing flavors combining to really work here: Bright sweet corn, light bitterness from Radicchio, the Red Onion, Celery, Carrots and Avocado bits really melded together surprisingly well. I just wished the portion were larger, maybe about ~25 - 50% more would’ve made this feel like a real “Salad” on the menu (and more appropriate to share with 3 or 4 people).
Sizzling Whole East Coast Hirame (Black Bean Truffle & Chili Ponzu Dipping Sauces):
This sounded great. In execution? Not so much. First, there was nothing “sizzling” about this dish at all. Perhaps it was supposed to be served with some sizzling element (hot oil poured on top? A sizzling platter?), but instead we got 3 pieces of Deep-Fried Hirame Fish, and some dipping sauces. Looking at the skeletal structure of the Hirame (left on the plate), this felt suspiciously like not all of the meat made it to our plate (it was more like ~2/3 of the Hirame perhaps).
Regardless, it was sadly overcooked. Everyone agreed that their bites were dried out and completely overcooked. The Black Bean Truffle Dipping Sauce tasted mainly of a Chinese-esque Black Bean Sauce, with no Truffle flavor whatsoever. It was decent. The Chili Ponzu tasted like Ponzu Sauce.
At this point, seeing how badly this dish was executed, and seeing Chef Tanaka still sitting there talking to reporters, it just felt like whoever his kitchen staff was, they were clearly not trained well enough (at all).
Half Roasted Duck (Roasted Duck Breast, Duck Leg Confit, Dried Cherry Red Wine & Ginger Reduction):
Sounding rather straightforward, we still had hopes for this dish since a great Duck dish is always worth celebrating. This was even worse than the Hirame:
The Duck Breast was dryish and chewy. Overcooked. But the Duck Leg Confit (something slow cooked in Duck Fat!) was completely bone dry and chewy(!). How?! It is not hyperbole in saying it tasted like Duck Jerky. This is easily the worst Duck Confit I’ve ever had in my life.
We had to say something at this point and sent it back. Our server had no confidence that the kitchen staff could make it better (uhm…, at least he was honest), so we just had them take it off our bill.
Seafood Risotto (Lobster Fume, Shrimp, Scallops, Scallions, Grana Padano Parmesan, Sesame & Nori):
One look at the Risotto (above) and it’s clear that something was off. Taking a bite confirmed our fears: Dryish, the grains of Rice were chalky (raw). And it was burnt.
After mentioning the disaster of this dish to our server, he finally went over to talk to Executive Chef Tanaka, who then paused his press discussions (they looked like they were also enjoying various dishes that were brought out to photograph and film), and we saw him walk back into the kitchen.
Our server then said the kitchen wanted a chance to redo this dish, so we waited a good 15 minutes or so. It turned out Chef Tanaka decided maybe it was time he cooked something from the kitchen and help reverse the disaster of this dinner?
So the Seafood Risotto, Part 2, was personally cooked by Chef Tanaka:
Just look at the pictures and compare to the first Risotto we got. Night and day.
Taste-wise, it was even greater: This tasted like a legit, properly done Risotto. The Rice grains were toothsome and not raw, there were real pure flavors shining through here, oceanic, moist, the Shrimp, Scallops were all plump and just cooked through, there was actually sauce compared to the dried out first version. It was a very good Seafood Risotto.
He walked back out to the dining room and then continued to talk to the press.
At this point it was clear that the kitchen staff help that he assembled was just insufficient. We cut our losses and asked for the check.
Ostensibly, Melange sounded like it had great potential: An ex-Spago Chef opening up a new restaurant in Arcadia of all places. But the menu is limited and boring (Tuna Tataki, Crudo, Crispy Oysters, Crispy Tofu(?), Caprese Salad, mains that read like textbook offerings Lamb Chops, Steaks, Potato Gratin, etc.).
And even worse, Executive Chef Makoto Tanaka isn’t even cooking (our server confirmed that he usually just watches the line, and on this evening he was too busy doing press interviews (during prime dinner time)). The actual execution of the dishes ranged from competent to horrendous, with overcooked Hirame Fish, overcooked Duck Breast & Duck Leg Confit, and overcooked, dried out Seafood Risotto that was burnt (but also somehow raw(!)).
We’d normally give a restaurant another visit before writing it off, but the service, food and overall experience was so bad, we can’t bring ourselves to return.
(inside Le Méridien Hotel)
130 Huntington Dr.
Arcadia, CA 91007
Tel: (626) 777-6699