Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Travel Dish: Jer-Ne in Marina del Rey

A Short Journey to the Waterfront
4375 Admiralty Way (inside the Ritz-Carlton)
Marina del Rey, Calif.
PH: 310.823.1700
Open daily, 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Reservations, major credit cards accepted
Web site

When dining at hotel restaurants such as those in, say, the Ritz-Carlton or Four Seasons, the bar is raised pretty high. And you definitely pay for it in the bill. So why subject yourself to it? Welcome to the world of a captive traveler.

I found myself in such a situation recently when I was in Marina Del Rey (in the Los Angeles area caught between Santa Monica and LAX) for a brief business trip. I hate business travel because you never can enjoy the place you’re visiting and the meals are always pre-planned. But one night when busloads of my co-workers went off to designated dining spots, I literally missed the bus and was left behind at our hotel, the Ritz-Carlton. Without a rental car or any nearby recommendations, I went downstairs to the hotel restaurant, Jer-Ne, for a quiet dinner alone.

Jer-Ne is a play on the dictionary pronunciation of the word “journey.” And all this time I was going around pronouncing it with some fancy French accent, like zher-NAY, when it really was just journey. Anywho, the restaurant is a gorgeous spacious room off the front lobby. The space makes it a popular place for special occasion brunches.

I requested a seat outside in the heated deck because I wanted a view of the sunset over the marina as my dinner overture. The deck is typically reserved for bar patrons, but the front staff was accommodating and seated me outside overlooking the sailboats.

Side note: In the table next to me was a group of businessmen and one of them was smoking. I was surprised because I thought California had pretty strict laws on smoking in public places, but I guess Jer-Ne was working on some grandfathered technicality for its outdoor area. If I knew, I probably would have sacrificed the view to avoid the second-hand smoke with my dinner. Luckily, the group left by the time my appetizer arrived.

The menu by Chef de Cuisine Drew Sayes (who worked at the Four Seasons in Chicago) is casual and light, featuring a lot of fresh, seasonal ingredients. There were heirloom tomatoes and beef tartare, but nothing that struck me as unusual. So I settled for some fresh oysters with a white balsamic grapefruit granita and tarragon ($16).

I thought it was refreshing to have oysters with a little bit of granita, but I didn’t detect any trace of the white balsamic. The oysters were fine, but none of my servers could tell me what type of oysters they were or their origins.

For my entrée, I ordered the pork tenderloin served over soba noodles, baby bok choy and honshimeji mushrooms in a red curry sauce ($36). On paper, I thought this would be an exciting Asian-influenced dish, but instead it was just a bowl of thin soup with pork on top. It was almost an elevated interpretation of char siu ramen, but all the elements didn’t come together.
I could tell that the pork was quality stuff; it was tender and tasty. But it wasn’t supported well by the red curry broth, which was spicy but still more a broth than curry sauce. And the honshimeji mushrooms, very similar to enoki mushrooms, weren’t really my favorite.

I should also note that by the time my entrée arrived, the sun had completely set and it was virtually like eating in the dark out there by myself. While the heated lamps kept me warm, the single candle on my table and the side lanterns up against the exterior walls were barely enough to help me see what I was eating. (Which is why I resorted to flash photography. But it was OK since I was the only one dining outside at the time.)

My meal, however, was salvaged by the nice glass of Syrah that came with my pork (although it cost $16 for just one glass) and dessert.

I ordered the seasonal Grilled Peach Napoleon ($13) and it came out on a tasting tray with three components arranged as a smart approach to enjoying the dish. I started off with the peach napoleon, which was creamy and spongy and delightfully warm. I really wished it came as a bigger piece, but I reveled in the restraint of the presentation.

Then I continued with the next item on the plate, which was a clean gelee that acted almost as a palate cleanser, preparing me for the finale of the dessert tray—the ice cream. To be honest, I totally forgot what the flavor was of the ice cream, but I remember its creamy texture and firm taste. I’m pretty sure it was vanilla and it was good.

Overall, the service was excellent and accommodating, although they may not have been as informative on the ingredients.

If it’s been awhile since you’ve been to Jer-Ne, this may be a journey you may want to put on hold. While the quality of the ingredients is fresh and superior, the execution under this fairly new chef is lacking. There’s no disputing the waterfront view is a nice added ambiance, but at the current price point and location, the bar was still raised up high.

Single guy rating: 3 stars (go for the view)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star
= perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Jer-Ne Restaurant + Bar (Ritz Carlton) in Marina Del Rey

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