Even though I was born and raised in Southern California, I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for a locale at the complete opposite end of the cultural and geographic spectrum – Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Every summer my brothers and I would spend three weeks in the sleepy Midwest city where my mother grew up – making faces at the giant brown bear at the Zoo, playing tennis at the local college near my grandma’s house, and visiting nearly every park in the city.
My fondest memories of Sioux Falls, however, involved all the food we were allowed to eat while we were there on vacation. We’d gorge ourselves silly on my grandmother’s ginger cookies, lick hot grease off our fingers from the fried chicken at Bob’s Cafe, and one Sunday during our stay, we’d troop to the local country club for an epic brunch buffet.
Brunch at the Westward Ho (yes, that’s the actual name of the country club) was the highlight of every trip to Sioux Falls. There was an endless array of pastries, pancakes and thick Belgium waffles with real maple syrup. There was an omelet bar, a salad bar, a carving station with roast beef and turkey, a hot bar with mashed potatoes and other savories, and an entire table devoted to dessert, including an ice cream sundae station.
It was a food paradise, but nearly impossible to eat everything available to us. After years of going to the brunch, however, my brothers and I learned to focus on our favorite items instead – for me this meant the waffles, country-style potatoes, turkey, fruit, and, of course, the desserts. I delighted in every bite, and still consider the brunch one of my favorite food memories from my childhood.
Even though I delight in taking many bites these days, I haven’t been to a brunch buffet since moving to Los Angeles nearly six years ago. I didn’t think anything like the Westward Ho’s spread existed here, so was positively ecstatic when Cathy from Gastronomy Blog invited me to accompany her to a media event at Scott Conant’s Scarpetta at the Montage this past Sunday for the debut of their new brunch buffet.
I was even more excited upon reading the laundry list of offerings the culinary teams at Scarpetta and Montage would be whipping up for the decidedly decadent affair. They promised (and subsequently delivered) a sushi and raw bar, a pasta station – with Scarpetta’s famed $24 spaghetti, an egg station for customizable omelets and frittatas, waffles and pancakes, a carving station, fruit, pastries, bacon, sliders and crustless peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for younger diners, and an artful cheese display by the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills. And to finish? “An extraordinary dessert presentation by award-winning executive pastry chef and Food Network’s most-winning champion, Richard Ruskell, who is currently competing on Last Cake Standing.”
I was full just reading the description of everything that’s included in the $68/person mid-day masterpiece of a meal.
Of course, as a seasoned brunch buffet diner, I knew I’d be able to handle it. After all, I’d been perfecting my buffet strategy since I was three feet tall (nearly half the height I am today). The name of the eating game is selectivity, and after taking careful surveillance of the offerings on Sunday, and sampling only small portions of each before going back for more of my favorites, I was able to focus my energies on the best of the brunch.
To start, I went straight for the daintier offerings – the salads, raw bar and the grilled branzino with spring garlic vinaigrette. The grilled asparagus paired with a tangy tomato dressing was a perfectly pleasant way to begin the meal and was my favorite item from the salad bar that also included mixed greens, Caesar salad, roasted beets, and roasted cauliflower with minted bread crumbs. While vegetables are usually a hot commodity for me, I didn’t dabble too heavily in the greens – especially after tasting the grilled branzino, a dish that is also offered on the regular Scarpetta dinner menu.
Grilled whole with the skin on, the flaky white fish retained much of its moisture and tasted incredibly fresh – particularly when paired with the spritely, well-balanced spring garlic vinaigrette. I went back for seconds of this dish toward the end of the meal.
As a rule, I’m not particularly partial to raw bar offerings, but I spared a bite for the yellowtail with olio de zenzero and pickled red onion, also an item from the regular Scarpetta menu, before heading on to heartier pastures.
While Scarpetta offers a host of traditional breakfast and brunch dishes like pancakes, waffles, French toast, scrambled eggs, bacon, oven-fried potato wedges, omelets, and frittatas, I elected to select the more unique items available. The small bites I took of the bacon, artichoke frittata and potato wedges didn’t dazzle me enough to tempt me away from the more dinneresque offerings.
The roasted lamb with mint salsa verde was an immediate victor, as was that darn $24 spaghetti, which I couldn’t seem to stop eating. This second time around, I realized that the secret to the dish’s popularity isn’t in the sauce, it’s in the noodles. Texturally, the egg yolk-heavy thick ropes almost remind me of lo mein. Despite my previous claim that the spaghetti isn’t my favorite item on Scarpetta’s menu, I found it absurdly addicting on Sunday – even when faced with a buffet of other foods competing for my attention. With its mushier texture, the other pasta on tap – ricotta raviolini with baby stewed tomatoes – was quickly lost in the shuffle.
Since I couldn’t enjoy Chef Ruskell’s desserts because of Lent, I let the Cheese Store representative put together a plate of their cheeses for my brunch finale . He loaded my plate with a smorgasbord of their offerings, including epoisses, but the highlight for me was the Buffalo Pecorino with truffle honey. While I was disappointed I didn’t get to partake in the vanilla-cream filled donuts, the yuzu meringue tarts and the rice pudding trifles, it more than satisfied my need for one last decadent bite.
While I still miss those Sunday brunches at the Westward Ho in Sioux Falls, Scarpetta’s feast brought back all those fond memories of being a kid in a food paradise. And with the charming patio and adjacent European-style courtyard, in this case, it actually felt like paradise.
225 North Canon Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210