With his classic-meets-modern menu, Langham chef Craig Strong tantalizes patrons’ taste buds with artfully inspired dishes that are almost too pretty to eat.
Craig Strong’s gastronomic handiwork is proof positive why the terms “culinary” and “arts” make such a delicious pair. Chef de Cuisine of The Dining Room at The Langham Huntington Hotel and Spa, Strong is elevating cooking to an art form with edible masterpieces so gorgeous, they are as striking on the plate as they are on the palate.
“If we are going to use Michelin or the LA Times or Gayot as a rating system, most of the people who are highly-rated are on the Westside but I think that this is an area of town that has great tradition and great resources to eat out and has a food culture,” says Strong. “I want to be part of developing that and I think it’s getting better all the time.”
Indeed, The Dining Room has received positive reviews from all of those publications—it most recently garnered the prestigious Michelin star rating—which has raised the bar for hotel restaurants and Pasadena eateries alike.
A graduate of L’ Academie de Cuisine in Washington D.C., California-born Strong started working with a master pastry chef at age 15 and continued honing his craft throughout high school. He began his career at Ritz-Carlton hotels in Philadelphia and Barcelona before coming to The Langham eight years ago. Strong describes his style as “a modern interpretation of classics”, such as conventional rolled crepes topped with orange Creamsicle ice cream to show his sense of humor.
“I have to do what I feel is right in my heart. And I feel that what I do fits Pasadena and it’s because I listen to my guests and come out and visit with them,” says Strong, who describes Pasadena’s culture as a bit more conservative than that of other local cities. “People come here in jeans and a nice shirt, but they may be wearing Ferragamo shoes and a Rolex. They drive up in a beautiful car, but they want to be relaxed and when they sit down, they still want refinement around them and want the food to be the highest quality of ingredients.”
While The Dining Room’s traditional décor is juxtaposed by his personable, table-side visits with diners, Strong also colors outside the lines by inviting guests to bypass the menu and have an elegant and creative tasting of dishes such as pea puree accented with mint sorbet or a diver scallop topped with crisped chicken skin—all of which are a mystery until they arrive at the well-appointed table.
“It’s comfort but intellectually stimulating at the same time, and the analogy that I’ve always tried to use is I want a foot in the past—which is my classical training—and a foot in the future simultaneously,” says Strong.
In the next two months, The Dining Room will receive slight alterations to better reflect Strong’s personality. The Terrace—the more casual of the two Pasadena Langham eatery incarnations—will be changing its concept to become a brasserie-style restaurant that somewhat resembles a café.
“We want to make The Dining Room more bright and relaxed, but the concept will not change,” says Langham Huntington Hotel and Spa executive chef Denis Depoitre of the eatery’s makeover. “We have two different restaurants and we want to be two different concepts.” The Terrace, Depoitre notes, is the “best al fresco dining you can find around.”
Dishes such as tagine, a standard North African dish served family-style, may very well appear on the new Terrace menu, and since Depoitre and Strong say this will be the first brasserie in Pasadena—and a truly authentic one at that—they hope the Westside crowd will pay a visit as well.
“It’s got to be a restaurant that is exciting for the community,” says Depoitre, who, like Strong, keeps close tabs on his restaurants’ demographic, which includes families, young professionals and retired couples who visit The Terrace or The Dining Room regularly or for a special occasion. “I want to be a leader in what we do here and set trends but not be trendy or something that is not based on solid roots and a foundation,” Strong says. “Pasadena has a culture behind it that is warm and a real sense of community, and I want to be part of that.”