From Wicked Green to Delicious Red

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Don’t tell anyone, but I’d never seen “Wicked.”

I know, I know.

Chris had experienced it four times, and lectured me constantly about going.

However, this deprived novice actually committed every single Ozian song to memory three years ago, when she auditioned for Elphaba in the National Tour. Crazy, huh?

So, when I found out the production was coming to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts this month, and that I actually had a free night to attend the show, flying monkeys couldn’t keep me away.

Having heard nothing but accolades since its opening night on Broadway seven years ago, and knowing full well that “Wicked” has won 35 major awards, including a Grammy and three Tony Awards, and is currently the 17th longest-running Broadway show in history, my expectations defied gravity – and thankfully, floated like Glinda’s bubble until the final curtain dropped.

“Wicked” is emotional, spellbinding and so deliciously satisfying, on so many levels, it leaves you wanting more. So, I’ll definitely be going back before it disappears from Segerstrom Hall…for good.

But now—

What is this Feeling?

Fervent as a flame;

Does it have a name?

Yes. Yes! Hunger. Unadulterated hunger!!

Sorry, please forgive my lyrical lapse, but I simply couldn’t resist breaking into one of the songs. I’ll now segue awkwardly into post-show dining…

Where to dine after the performance? Chris and I didn’t have far to travel. The Yellow Brick Road from Segerstrom Hall led us not to the Emerald City, but Leatherby’s Café Rouge.

All aglow with red-hued lighting, Café Rouge’s modern interior and clean lines offered a distinct departure from the emerald staging we’d witnessed earlier, yet infused us with a new level of excitement. We anticipated a culinary cabaret was about to unfold.

A panoply of Café Rouge offerings.

General Manager Johannes Masserer, and Dining Room Manager Sebastian Schildhorn, suggested a wine flight to best accompany our menu selections.

“What do you recommend from the appetizer menu?” Chris posed to Johannes.

“Ahhhh well, we have a number of signature late-night dishes to choose from—“

“You and the chef choose for us,” I piped in. “We enjoy being surprised.”

“Then I’ll pair a few wine tastes for you,” Schildhorn offered. “The 2009 Project Paso Old Vine Zin and Peju Province 2006 Napa Cab will be perfect, but we’ll start you with the 2009 Coppola Chardonnay, which really surprised us when we tasted it.”

Executive Chef Ron Pangilinan came out to greet us, and his youthful appearance and smile had a charming, munchkin-like quality, but that’s where the resemblance ends. Pangilinan’s skill in the kitchen is pure wizardry – and there’s no smoke and mirrors here.

“Chef, these dishes are visually stunning,” I stated. “Works of art.”

“Thank you,” Pangilinan said humbly. “I like to do modern presentations of the food I’ve grown up with.”

“What do we have here?” asked Chris as we began sampling the various dishes.

Café Rouge’s Chef Ron Pangilinan.

“Marinated octopus salad, with tomatoes, capers, olives and sherry vinaigrette; Japanese Hamachi with chilli, green apple, jicama, and avocado sorbet; Hudson Valley foie gras torchon on brioche with strawberry pearls, blueberries, and strawberry sorbet; Proscuitto di San Daniele with asparagus, salsa verde, and quail egg; and grilled lamb meatballs with harissa, cucumber tzatziki and eggplant.”

“I think I’ve been hit by a house,” I laughed. “The flavors have incredible impact.”

“Certainly gives new meaning to the phrase tongue twister,” Chris chuckled.

The Crunchy kit kat cake with Port Chantilly and chocolate hazelnut ice cream, as well as the Coconut panna cotta with mango-passionfruit and cayenne pepper coulis arrived, and both blew us away like a Kansas tornado.

“Café Rouge is not a typical modern restaurant,” Masserer smiled. “People come here on their way to or from a show and they’re not looking for adventure, but for comfort food. Chef manages to find a balance that offers both.”

Like Stephen Schwartz’ musical, Chef Pangilinan flips comfort cuisine on its axis, gives it a spin, and offers us a new perspective on an old classic.

Now that’s wicked!

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