I, along with Kristen of Rock My Palate and some other bloggers, was invited to dine last night at Baleen at the Portofino Hotel and Yacht Club in Redondo Beach. Despite living in the South Bay for the past year, I’ve only started exploring the area. Located in the same area as Ruby’s Diner and Joe’s Crab Shack, Baleen is tucked away at the end of the road. Its hidden location made me completely oblivious to its existence, unfortunately, for this place is really a gem.
We started off the night with some cocktails in the dimly lit, poshly casual lounge area. I was immediately sold on the Passion Flower ($11) due to “passion fruit” being listed as an ingredient. Sweet and fruity, this rum-based cocktail was a nice and strong start. Kristen went with Strawberry Fields ($11) , a concoction of Cruzan Silver rum, strawberries, basil, lime juice and club soda. The basil was very pronounced in the flavor. If fruity drinks aren’t your thing, you can always have a beer (draft or bottle), a glass of wine or have the bartender whip you up something using ingredients from their well-stocked bar.
After drinks, we moved over into the equally dark dining area to start our meal. One smart thing Baleen did, considering how little lighting their dining room has, was to backlight their menus so they were readable. GENIUS!
For this dinner, we were served several shared appetizers, a salad, allowed a choice of a main dish and tasted 2 different desserts.
First up was the Duck Carnitas ($14) with cornmeal crepes, chipotle blackberry and apple slaw. While the duck was a little salty by itself, combined with the sweet blackberry sauce and crunchy apple slaw, it turned into a delectable, well-balanced bite.
The Dungeness Crab Cake ($15) were also tasty. I appreciated the fact that the kitchen did not skimp on the crab. Definitely make sure you get some of the lobster lemongrass sauce and almonds. Also, we got a double order; a single order only contains 2 cakes.
Next up was one of my favorite dishes of the night, the “Hole in One” ($13). When I was in middle school, I went thru a phase where I made and ate a lot of egg-in-a-hole. This dish took me back to those days but Chef Jesse Souza’s refined rendition is a hell of a lot better than the wheat bread and overcooked egg version I made. Thick-cut brioche, an over-easy egg (oh god, runny yolk LOVE!) , asparagus, mushrooms, shaved Parmesan Reggiano and a truffle vinaigrette, I was in breakfast-for-dinner heaven. Surprisingly, this dish is NOT on the brunch menu but Chef Souza did say he was thinking about a different version for brunch. I hope so!
With the restaurant located next to the water, it’s expected the menu contain some seafood. The Ahi Tuna Tartare ($14) is nicely done here with a seaweed salad topping the pillar of fresh fish and avocado placed on a bed of thinly sliced cucumber. Served with a side of crispy wonton chips, this is a refreshing starter.
Being an avid fan of bacon, this next dish, “BLT” salad ($12), was a hit with me. A carnivore’s wedge salad, this piece of greenery was topped with a thick-cut slab of porky yumminess that was braised for 2 hours and coated in caramelized sugar. The jalapeno ranch sherry bacon vinaigrette was also delicious with a hint of heat to it; I would buy this if they sold jars to take home. Also, wedge salad has become a bit of an inside joke for me and Husband after an episode of Modern Family (I “wedge salad” him all the time) so just thinking about this makes me giggle…and hungry.
For my main dish, I chose the grilled hanger steak (half $16 / full $28), a play on breakfast’s steak and eggs. Served with a side of potato-bacon hash topped with a fried egg and garlic spinach, I really enjoyed this hearty dish. The steak was cooked to a perfect medium rare.
Kristen got the Cane Sugar-Seared Ahi Tuna (half $19 / full $33) – slices of tender fish on a bed of sweet coconut rice, served with avocado wasabi mousse and papaya salad. I only tried a bite of the tuna and coconut rice; a nice dish if someone wants Asian-influenced flavors.
The table was also treated to Lobster Mac & Cheese ($14), one of the side dishes on the menu. I was impressed by the large amount of lobster in this dish. And truffle slices! While the cheese sauce was just a smidge too thin for my preferences, this was a winner in my book.
We got to taste two desserts, a chocolate madacamia torte and a lemon meringue pie. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not an avid fan of rich chocolate desserts which the torte was for me. Quite decadent… Husband would LOVE this since he’s a chocoholic. I adored the lemon meringue pie, however. The meringue was almost marshmallow in texture and the lemon was just the right amount of tart and sweet.
I should note that there was a wine pairing with the dishes. I’m not a wine person by any means but I liked all the different wines I tried; it made me sad that I couldn’t drink all the glasses what with being a light weight and nursing a baby. I especially enjoyed the ice wine paired with the lemon meringue. The pairings were done by the General Manager who used to work up in Napa so if you want a recommendation for your meal, he will not steer you wrong.
Overall, I was impressed with Baleen. The food is fabulous and the ambiance, elegant but intimate. It would make a great dinner date location or an ideal place to have brunch/lunch with friends. Don’t make the mistake I did and stop at Joe’s Crab Shack. Drive a little further (and enjoy complimentary parking) and stop in at Baleen instead for fabulous food and drinks!
4 1/2 NOMs for Baleen!
The Portofino Hotel & Yacht Club
260 Portofino Way
Redondo Beach, CA 90277