Richard Foss

The Great Room for families [restaurant review]

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A North Redondo restaurant offers a different take on family dining.

Isabella Jacobson enjoys a croissant at the kid-friendly The Great Room. Photo by Brad Jacobson (CivicCouch.com)

One of the most condescending things you can say about someone’s cooking is to call it “kid food.” It’s a term is reserved for the most unformed of palates, and it has a specific meaning. Is the recipe rich, sweet, and one-dimensional? Was there an element of novelty or cuteness in its presentation? Is cheese sauce embedded in something that goes crunch? It’s kid food, and will get no respect.

Kid food does have a place in the world, because those with a mature sense of flavor can eat and even enjoy unsophisticated items while children usually refuse anything with funky, bitter, or spicy elements. So it’s a surprise if a restaurant whose primary market is adults accompanied by children serves anything that those adults would actually go out of their way to eat.

The Great Room is such a place. When interviewed earlier this year owner Philip Wen called it “a hangout for parents and their kids.” The space includes a living room-style space and conventional dining room, and two supervised playrooms. On any given day you’ll see high chairs deployed at several tables.

My wife and I went there with our son, who hasn’t been in a high chair for some time. He is over six feet tall and works as a bartender. He looked with approval at the beer list while we scanned the food options and considered what wines to match with our choices. The menu isn’t complicated, heavy on burgers, pizzas, and salads with a few starters and pastas. The is a kid’s section that has the expected items like mac and cheese, chicken tenders, and a small burger, but other items are definitely aimed at a more sophisticated audience. It’s a rare child who appreciates a bowl of spicy linguini Fra Diavolo, but they offer it as well as sandwiches with horseradish aioli. A selection of pizzas offer the most popular compromise between the two worlds – it’s the official food of adults dining with children.  

We ordered a steak wrap with salad, side of fries, shrimp pesto pasta, and salmon salad at the counter, were given a number, and headed to an open table. A server brought our wines, a Cuvaison Sauvignon Blanc and Rodney Strong Pinot, with our son’s The Dudes pilsner. The pours were fair for the price, and I was amused to see that they use stemless glassware that is less susceptible to being knocked over by small hands.

The kitchen was having a hectic evening because a local school was having an event in the adjacent room, and our server apologized for the delay in serving our meals. We didn’t think the delay was particularly excessive, and were happy that everything showed up at about the same time and freshly made.

The steak wrap was a thick whole wheat tortilla with tri-tip, sautéed onions, jack cheese, and a horseradish aioli that was nicely balanced. Horseradish is a powerful enough flavor that it often overwhelms everything else, but here it and the garlic mayo were partners. It wasn’t a mind blowing item, just a very good steak wrap that any restaurant might be proud of. (For those who don’t like whole wheat tortillas, plain and spinach are also offered.)

The salmon salad was simple in concept, a large dinner salad of greens, tomato, sweet pepper, purple onion, and cucumber with a large piece of nicely grilled fish perched on top of it. The surprise was the generous amount of Old Bay seasoning, a condiment based on celery salt with generous amounts of paprika and both black and cayenne pepper and other seasonings. Old Bay is a great companion to seafood and integral to Mid-Atlantic cooking, but it was applied a trifle too generously here. I suggest you ask for it to be applied in moderation, because had that been done this would have been a fine item.

The balance was more assured in the spaghetti with spinach and shrimp in pesto cream sauce, even though the dish didn’t exactly match our expectations. Pesto usually has an assertive basil flavor and green color, but here the spinach and basil were about equal partners with a healthy amount of Parmesan cheese in a mild garlic cream sauce. The combination worked and despite the fact that the portion was generous we ate every bit.

A few desserts are offered but were all on the sweet side, and they would have required another trip back to the counter to order anyway. We had eaten plenty as it was, and headed off into the night. Dinner for ran $82 with two glasses of wine and a beer, a bit higher than might be expected but not unreasonable. The Great Room fills an odd niche, a family restaurant of a new kind for a generation that is dealing with issues of autonomy for children and work/life balance for adults. I can’t vouch for the child care side of things, but they have the part about serving good food figured out.

The Great Room is at 2810 Artesia Blvd., Redondo. Open daily 8 a.m, closed 10 p.m. Sun. – -Thur. 11 p.m. Fri., Sat. Parking lot, wheelchair access good, beer and wine served. Menu at thegreatroom.us, phone 424-999-1333.  ER

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