Friday, December 31, 2010

Highlights 2010

2010 was a very good year in food.  After complaining about how monotonous the restaurant scene was getting, a new generation of restaurants started cropping up.  

The year started out with a lot of sophisticated lunch sandwiches, but my regular rotation (when away from my office) included: sandwiches and chicharrones at Kitchenette, panuchos rice and beans at Poc Chuc, local flavor lamb or spicy boiled beef at Panda Country Kitchen, tripe tacos at  Tonayense Taco Truck, burger at Mission Burger, a cheese slice at Arinell’s, and a margherita pizza or porchetta sandwich at Starbelly

Spring kicked off with a trip to New Orleans, a great food town.  Across the board, I found the chefs in nola cooking proudly putting their personal stamp on their menus with an eye, or at times just a wink, to local traditions. I loved the local pride and the general food loving nature of the town. The road trip from New Orleans to Atlanta was good fun, loading up on fried chicken, grits and bbq.  As much as I enjoyed it, the heaviness of the food took some getting used to.  Several of the places I tried made Paula Deen look like a health food nut.  I adapted.  In Alabama, I most remembered the smoked chicken sandwich with white bq sauce at Saw’s BBQ in Homewood. It was something I’d never tried and made perfect sense because it paired of smoky flavor and horseradish.  The refined southern style of Highland’s Bar and Grill in Birmingham also stood out.  In Tuscaloosa, I enjoyed the shack-like bbq joints, if mainly for the atmosphere.   Though, to be fair, the experience might’ve been overshadowed by my off the charts sugar high from downing liters of sweet tea.  (Followed by a precipitous sugar crash forcing me to pull over for a roadside nap.)

Although I had many excellent meals during that road trip, the one that will always stay with me is a certain rack of  pork ribs and brunswick stew at Fresh Air BBQ in Macon, Georgia.  Something about the balance between sour, smokey and sweet was just perfect for me –hands down my favorite American style bbq.  (A late summer trip to Park’s BBQ in LA ended up as my favorite Korean style bbq.)

There’s too much more to say about the rest of 2010, including Turkey, NY, and Hawaii.  I’ll try to come back to this later.  I don't have time to make this list shorter, but here are my current highlights of 2010:
  • Wood Fired Oysters at Cochon, New Orleans
  • Shrimp and Oyster Po'Boy at Domilise's, New Orleans
  •  Freshly Shucked Oysters at Casamento's, New Orleans
  • Smoked Chicken Sandwich w/ White BBQ sauce at Saw's BBQ, Homewood, AL
  • Rack of Pork Ribs and Brunswick Stew at Fresh Air BBQ, Macon, GA
  • Pullman's Plank and Shrimp Grits at Watershed Restaurant, Decatur, GA
  • Pickled Shrimp in a Jar at Abattoir, Atlanta, GA
  • Pork Belly w/ grilled kimchi at Park's BBQ, Los Angeles, CA
  • Grilled Octopus, Chorizo and Chow Chow at Animal,  Los Angeles, CA
  • Chickpea stew from the tiny shop next to the bus station in Demre, Turkey.
  • Kofte at Kofteci Huseyin, Istanbul, Turkey
  • Büryan Kebap and Chicken Pilav in a Pastry Shell at Siirt Seref Buryan Kebap Salonu, Istanbul, Turkey
  • Beef at Eleven Madison Park (and tasting every item on their menu), New York, NY
  • Liang Pi at Xian Famous Foods, New York, NY
  • Compressed watermelon at Commonwealth, SF
  • Cooking Club (Lunar NY, What a Gas, Sound of Music, Diwali, Pizza Wars)
  • Braised Cauliflower, Leeks in a vinaigrette at Plum, Oakland, CA
  • Toroniku Ramen #7 at Santouka Ramen, San Jose, CA
  • Jonathan Kauffman returning to SF.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Holiday Eating

Plum - Dinner at Plum and we ordered the whole menu again.  It's getting better and better.  I can't think of any misses.  Highlights were the: Wild Greens Panisse, Leeks in Vinaigrette, Braised Cauliflower, Oyster and Potato Stew.   Desserts took a while to come and were good under the new pastry chef, though the parfait was cold and a bit stiffer than before.  The chocolate creme was delicious but not as impressive as the parfait and cheesecake.

Chez Panisse Cafe - Lunch at Chez Panisse Cafe - loved it and they happened to be doing a menu inspired by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock, a sign of a place with great class!  Loved everything: black sea bass cotechino, beets with romesco cauliflower, squid, fried oysters (tender and perfectly fried), hand cut pasta with mushroom ragu.  Grace likes the cafe more than the dinners she's had downstairs.  Though I've had limited experience with dinner downstairs, I agree that I prefer the cafe.

Mission Chinese Food - Each time I go there are new items on the menu and the other dishes evolve.  Standouts: rice porridge - a play on a westlake soup, deep flavor in the porridge itself, then topped off with bits of beef crab and other goodies, Taiwanese eggplant is indeed one of the best versions I've tried, Hainan Chicken Rice really clean flavors and delicious. Liked the salt and pepper crawfish but am a bit too lazy to have to pick out the meat.  The lamb soup reminded me of niou rou men.  On the cold appetizers, the tofu was nice.

Champa Garden - a lunch near J&A's place. A great meal.  Standouts were the fried fish dish with the gravy, the crispy rice in the appetizer platter, I loved the lao sausage in the app platter too.  Nice Larb and Noodles.  So good.

Koi Palace - duck dinner, lobster yi-men and a lemongrass beef dish.  W wanted the beef dish, it was full of umami though I probably wouldn't get it again.  A nice version of lobster yi-men though the lobster meat was not a sweet as I expected.  The peking duck was good as was the soup.  I thought the noodles with duck was ok, others said it was very ducky.  Overall a decent dinner though probably just on par with the food at New Canton in Sacramento.  Next time the Shanghai Style Crab two ways.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

BENU ***'

Ordered everything on the regular menu.

A few dishes that I remember:

Monkfish liver torchon cucumber, turnips, slated plum, brioche- smooth creamy perfectly executed cubes on top.

Matsutake Mushroom custard, crab and foie gras custard, ginko nut, green yuzu was a bowl of pure umami flavor, soy in it but well balanced - J&A felt it was a bowl of Japan.

 Abalone genobloise, cauliflower, caper, lemon, parsley - love the crunchy savory abalone with the bright genobloise.

Oak-acorn strozzapreti, iberico ham, miner's lettuce, grey truffle - loved this, familiar flavor of mook (Korean acorn jelly).  Loved the creative application of this to an Italian style of pasta.  My favorite dish of the evening: chewy nutty.  The grey truffle was so finely shaved we couldn't figure it out, but the whole thing worked well.

Risotto sea urchin, butternut squash, celery, black truffle - awesome savory, high quality sea urchin - rich and delicious.

Spanish Mackerel pain de mie, parsley root, carrot, preserved ramps - loved the pain de mie, though didn't notice the other elements

Sea bass, shrimp, beech mushroom, broccoli, lily bulb, eggplant, xo jiang - was o.k. not my favorite.

The dry-aged "pre sale" lamb was enjoyed by all - full of flavor, great texture.

Orange curd, pistachio ice cream, vanilla tapioca, tasmanian peppercorn - very good.

Chestnut custard, apples, cider, black truffle ice cream, arlette - I liked the chestnut custard, but was not a fan of the black truffle ice cream because it overwhelmed all the other flavors.

Soft chocolate ganache, feuille de brick, banana ice cream, Bourbon caramel, ginger - very good.

J loved the ceramics and the Korean and Japanese style of the place. We checked the designers later on and appreciated the attention to detail in every aspect of the restaurant and the use of KwangJuYo ceramics.

Friday, December 3, 2010

PLUM ***'

A very nice dinner at Plum in honor of J&A's birthdays. We tried most of the menu and were impressed.  Starting with the snacks, I liked the crunchy texture of the "chicharrones" a nice way to start the meal though it could've used some acid or other seasoning, though I couldn't stop eating them for the enjoyable crunch.  Among the vegetable based dishes, the potatoes with lardo and arugula was the standout, the lardo very thin and just melted away on top of the potatoes.  I also loved the burger which was a loosely formed patty made of short rib type beef caramelized on the surface and a soft texture as I bit into it -- deep beef flavor from the meat and the caramelized beef exterior.  A smear of slightly tangy and peppery horseradish mayo brought the whole thing together.  I knew I'd be back for this one.


Stopped by for lunch on the way back from Fremont.  Burger good as I remembered.  Mac n Cheese fries mostly noodle, not much cheese flavor.  Other items look promising.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Izakayas, Shave Ice and Salmon Skin

Gazen Tofu
Gazen Izakaya Tofu: Sweet sesame miso sauce (Saikyo), plain w/ sea salt and tea leaves, black sesame seed (Kurogoma)

Gazen Izakaya 2840 Kapiolani Blvd - tofu specialist, a dark club/bar atmosphere -- Tofu sampler and the Daikon Salad.  The other items on the menu are hit or miss.  The fried squid (or octopus?) and standard izakaya small dishes were decent.

Tokkuri Tei - salmon skin salad is great - crispy salmon skin, crunchy fish roe, greens in a nutty miso dressing, and creamy tofu. Squid pancake hearty and interesting sea flavor.  Mid range sushi also very good.

Tokkuri Tei - Salmon Skin Salad
Salmon Skin Salad

Maguro Ya - sushi/sashimi.  The fish is good here. They specialize in salmon, but we have not been disappointed by anything we've ordered here.  I get the teishoku for variety.

KCC Farmer's Market - I like the stand with the kalua pork cooked in an Imu - you have to ask them b/c they don't always cook it Imu style.  The bbq'd abalone is fine, though not worth waiting in a long line.  The spicy ausage on a stick is also worthwhile.

Tanioka's - out of the way, but a good poke spot.  Tako, spicy marlin and Japan clam.

Ginza Bairin - a tonkatsu specialist with a booth in Shirokiya.  Be sure to ask him to cook one for you rather than grabbing a pre-made bento.  Simple dish with the fried pork and spicy curry.  I also like the rice specialist in Shirokiya which is near this booth.
Goma Tei - not destination worthy but an option in Ala Moana Center - tan tan ramen, the soup is a little salty but good if you like sesame flavor.
YuChun - mool naem myun specialist.  Not exceptional but it's nice to have cold noodles in the hot weather.

Ailana Shave Ice - much more natural flavored syrups, mild.  A good option near Ala Moana Mall.

Tenkaippen - Their Kotteri Ramen is pretty good, though Yotteko Ya paitan spicy is still my favorite.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


J&A Hosted a Diwali extravaganza with guest chefs specializing in Marathi cuisine from the region of Maharashtra.

French Macaroon Tower - Happy Diwali
French Macaroon Tower

Diwali Slideshow
- Fresh lime soda
- Chaat: samosa w/chickpeas, pani puri, pakora, aloo vada from Vik's
- Shankarpari
- Daal
- Cauliflower/potato bhaji
- Cabbage/pea bhaji
- Aloo sukhi bhaji, two ways
- Eggplant bhaji 
- Fish curry
- Raita w/cucumber and peanuts
- Pooris
- Ghee and spicy chutney 
- Rice
- Shrikhand with melon/mango salad
- Cardamom-pistachio kulfi
- Sparkling Tower of French Macaroons with chocolate and salted caramel filling

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Fall in New York

Highlights: Eleven Madison Park, Xian Famous Foods, Soba Nippon, Lucky Eight. 

Culture Espresso - chocolate chip cookie which was gooey at the beginning of October but suddenly become small and crispy by the end of the month. Rumor is that they changed bakers -- too bad!  A side note, there seems to be a fair number of Australian people running coffee shops in NY or perhaps I just happened upon a couple of them.

Taim - Great hummus, super light falafel, slightly smaller balls than what I'm used to nice flavor.   I prefer Azuri.                        
Joe's Shanghai   - Crab XLB a bit flatter taste than I remember and the skins seemed a bit loose (too big for the filling), but still very juicy.  We ordered the Shanghai flat noodles w/ pork -- they were greasy but the noodles had a nice spring to them, I'd get them again.

Just Sweets - I got the patbingsu and G got the bean something. The shave ice was really coarse, but the toppings were fine.                      

Artichoke - Sicilian slice, crunchy crust, nice tangy sauce.  This is a highly seasoned very oily slice crispy and almost fried on the bottom. Love the combination of the crunchy rich bottom and the fresh tomato flavor of their sauce.  The natural acidity of the tomatoes works well.          

Don's Bogam BBQ - Pork belly - just o.k. the PB was sliced too thick and into little pieces; Kalbi was good but again the pieces were too small; I liked the hamul soon dobu good balanced flavor, and the banchan were good though they were a little skimpy with them.  Overall good bbq.                               

Katz's Deli - Pastrami - too salty – disappointing should’ve gone to Torrisi instead.                

BCD Tofu House - Seafood Soon Dobu - overseasoned, but decent tofu.  Lots of clams in the stew, only one shrimp.   The same as the one in LA.              

Fatty Que @ Madison Park Tent - Beef Brisket Sandwich - pretty good brisket lots of fatty bits and nicely charred, though not as tender as I expected.                        

Shilla - Yue Kae Jang - really beefy broth and lots of meat, pretty good rendition - I'd get it again. KimChi was a little on the acidic side.                  

Momofuku Ssam Bar - Tripe and Special Pork Bun - tripe was good, a cold vinaigrette salad spiked with some chili peppers. The pork bun was a play on a blt, it was a pork belly patty crisped up on smokey mayo with pickled radishes on a pillowy white duck bun.  The bun was super soft but a bit too big for the fillings. Overall very good, this place has always impressed me.
New Green Bo  -Crab XLB, pretty good, the skins are thicker than Joe's Shanghai, but there is more filling and the same amount of soup so it balances out.  The scallion pancake is just o.k. even though everyone seemed to be ordering that and the fried pork dumplings.
Degustation - Had about eight items from the menu, just o.k. Food not particularly impressive, somewhat overseasoned and the textures of the octopus and squid were a bit tough.  Some items, such as the fish, were lukewarm temp. If they were intended to be so, they could’ve benefited from being hotter.  If not, there was an issue there.  Even L who travels to Spain frequently for work, thought that the meal at Degustation was middling at best.  I’m not sure if the place has gone downhill or I caught them on an off night.

Il Pesce - Eataly - Antipasti, excellent.  Monkfish Liver - huge piece well seasoned and seared sitting on top of celery root and cubes of apple in a sherry vinaigrette, topped w/ sweet little dabs of apple jam; King Crab Salad - huge portion super fresh, bitter greens, grapefruit, really nice topped off with large grains of sea salt.  

Bleeker Street Pizza - Not good. Crisp crust but dried out cheese and hardly any tomato sauce on my Nonna Slice.                          

Gahm Mi Ok - Sul Long Tang, nice and homey, rice at the bottom rather than on the side.  About the same as the one in Oakland.                             

Ma Peche - Lunch take out: Banh Mi Maison - very good pate and meats well balanced, good crunchy baguette. Squid salad was drenched in fish sauce, so salty and over marinated I could not eat it, not sure if it was because it sat in a container for 20 minutes but I would not get that again and am not in a rush to return to the place.  Peanut Butter cookie from Milk Bar not bad, a little sweet to my tastes but good texture and crumb.               

Wondee Siam 792 9th Ave - Thai dinner.  Nice dried pork salad, the rest was o.k. Out of the special menu, I liked the snapper and the crispy pork with chinese watercress.  Other dishes were a little too sweet for my tastes.                            

Popover Cafe    - Popeye Popover - popover w/ strawberry butter.  Then popover stuffed w/ Norwegian Salmon, creamed spinach fried eggs and hollandaise.  good holandaise, spinach way too thick and did not eat it.  Salmon fine.  I think I'd get the plain benedict next time.  Overall the food here is just o.k. and priced for the neighborhood rather than for the food.

Di Fara  - Arrived at opening, still waited forty mins for three slices. Prefer the square to the regular slice.
Aldea    - Had about half of the menu.  Each course got progressively worse, but overall the food was o.k., possibly overshadowed by our experience at EMP the night before, but still I have no desire to return.

General Greene - good coffee, mediocre eggs, grits, candied bacon (two huge pieces).  The people are nice and I guess that’s all you need to have a neighborhood restaurant.

The Meatball Shop - Really cheap for a sit down restaurant in NY, enjoyed the special of the day, buffalo chicken meatball in blue cheese sauce, good kick, tender meatballs nice flavor but perhaps more breadcrumb in the filling than necessary.  Chicken meatball w/mushroom sauce good sauce and the chicken was surprisingly flavorful.                      

Momofuku Noodle - Group fried chicken dinner.  Disappointing fried chicken, roasted rice cakes good nicely balanced sauce, all sides: cauliflower, potatoes, and something else were good, the Southern style chicken had an over fried exterior, dark brown, slightly bitter burnt taste and smell, though it was moist inside. Moo shoo pancakes and accompanying sauces fine.  The Korean style wings were fine, juicy crispy and spicy but not particularly special.  Stopped by Milk and had a taste of the black sesame soft serve, way too strong a flavor, no balance or subtlety.                         

Marea   - Nice lunch, some good dishes and some ok items.  Liked the lobster with burrata and passion fruit, and the grilled octopus (nice smokey flavor and tenderness), The uni spaghetti was just ok, the pasta was good but the sauce lacked punch, the branzino was very nice, a large juicy piece, the signature octopus fusili dish was just o.k. the fusili detracted a bit from the excellent octopus. Seafood risotto was nice but not particularly exciting.  We hear that Alto is better.               

Great NY Noodletown   - Excellent shrimp dumplings in soup, nice fresh shrimp flavor with wood ear mushroom and some little kick, seafood fried noodles good though I did not like the scallops in the seafood, they tasted like they had been injected with something artificial, roast duck was just o.k., greasy and lacking crispy skin, no suckling pig available, flowering chive with sea bass, good, nice herbacious chive with sea bass chunks, probably would get the flowering chive with squid next time.                     

Matsugen - Lunch of Soba noodles.  Three ways, one cold sesame in the coarsest grain, very good, Second cold uni mix with finest grain and a bit of cold jus - good though probably not worth the high price, nice pieces of uni.  Third hot soba in a duck broth, the coarsest grain, this wasn't a good showcase of the soba as the noodles couldn't stand up to the hot broth and became a bit too soft.  The prix fixe lunch is a good deal.

Jacques Torres  - Chocolate chip cookie.  This is basically chocolate wrapped in a bit of cookie.  The cookie from here was 10x better than the crispy overcooked one at Chelsea Market, someone needs to tell Jacques that he needs to do quality control at the market. 

Xian Famous FoodsLiang Pi is as good as I remember, chewy noodles with a spicy sauce, so good.  Lamb face is a specific flavor profile for those that enjoy fatty bits, this one had a lot of greens and then just a bit of the fatty lamb face.  I think could be better if the ratio of vegetables, face and spice was balanced out by less veg or  some noodles.  “A” loved it.  The meat in the lamb burger is has a fair amount of gristle.  I like lamb and lamb fat, but gristle isn’t my favorite. I wish they used more choice pieces of meat, though I like the seasoning.  Perhaps I’m getting spoiled from the cumin lamb at Mission Street Food.

Al di La - Tripe - excellent, cuttlefish w/ oxtail over polenta - creamy polenta but sauce was a little one note, though the textures were nice. Brussel sprouts still not my favorite veg, the preparation was ok, but nothing special; tagliatelle w/ ragu was just o.k. pasta was fine though sauce was really lacking, the other pasta was a little too chewy though the sauce was fine, whole fish was really good, liked the agrodolce sweet and sour flavors with the moist juicy fish, loved the crispy skin on the sliced duck.                         

Del Posto - Lobster fra diavolo - very good, roasted vegetables w/ truffle oil - nice, cotechino over lentils, just o.k. sort of spammish, beef tartare was excellent, Orechetti pasta - good porky sauce, Garganelle quills - also nice, both sauce and pasta excellent, Arctic Char - beautiful piece of fish perfectly cooked and presented, seafood stew - also good, but could've used some more spice, the seafood in it was excellent, wheat pasta with bonito flakes, weird dish. Desserts - tartufo of espresso - strong coffee flavor, some chocolatey dessert, their signature - great, goat cheese balls covered in something sweet and served w/ celery ice cream, some cake was just o.k.  This was a good showing, but the service was a little awkward at times.  I’d come again for lunch.                    

El Quinto Pino    - Uni Panini - excellent, more wasabi flavor than I was expecting, but still very satisfying. Cute place excellent service.   

Kun Jip  - Yue Kae Jang - o.k. Jjul Myun - not the best I've ever had, the noodles were a bit soft. Hae Mul Pajeon - soggy and greasy. Service very good and the place is clean and reasonably priced.  The people running are very friendly and aim to please.

Soba Nippon - Excellent soba, they own their own buckwheat farm in Canada and use it to make the soba, they have a lunch deal if you order before noon.  I tried the traditional cold soba.  Definitely worth returning, perhaps try one of the soba salads in the future.   

Kang Suh - Kalbi Tang a fine version.  The kimchi is pretty good the soup is what it should be. 
Porchetta - just o.k. the service at the spot on 6th is good, the guy at the Brooklyn Flea projects the sense that he is doing you a favor by selling you a sandwich. Attitude could be forgiven if the sandwich was better, unfortunately it’s not so you don’t get a good sandwich or service that would make me want to return.

Ayada - whole fish w/ mango more tart than sweet, raw shrimp thing, taro pudding, jungle curry not great.  Favorites were sour curry w/ the egg pancake, sausage, crispy pork w/ chinese broccoli, larb!!

Red Hook Lobster Pound - Great lobster roll, plenty of fresh lobster and a nicely toasted bun.  This is the way the roll should be made.             
Brooklyn Soda Co. – interesting homemade sodas.  I like the tart brightness of the cranberry spiced soda. I would definitely have more of their sodas if I see them at restaurants.
Pizza Moto – at the Brooklyn Flea. Mushroom slice, very good not crispy but well balanced.                        

Lucky Eight - Crab good and huge, pride of lucky eight stir fry nice, beef ho fun wet very good.  I’d like to spend more time exploring Sunset Park.         

Chikalicious - green tea shave ice, the ice is very finely shaven, but all the azuki and ice cream amounts are inconsistent from visit to visit.

Momofuku Milk - pork bun, good though I prefer the daily special BLT style pork bun I had at Ssam.  The pork belly is a bit too thickly sliced but I like the good layer of fat included in each bun.                      

6th Street Kitchen - liked the curried carrot salad, the ceasar and the truffled deviled eggs. The rest of the menu didn't live up to the descriptions.  Though I could see potential in the place.  If they lowered prices or increased portion size, I’d return.

Motorino - lunch deal $12 for a salad plus a whole pizza! Spicy sopressata. Nice blistered cornicione puffed up. Thin though sturdy enough to hold up. Nicechew, though on the thinner crispier side.

Recipe - another lunch deal at this tony place only $12 for two courses. Decent foie gras terrine, though it was a little chilly like it was taken straight out of the fridge.  It would've been better served slightly below room temp.

Absolute Bagels - sesame w/ lox smear. Good bagel, not bready - decent chew.  I wouldn’t go out of my way but good if you are eating around Columbia.

DonatellaDonatella pizza, Diavola pizza, uni spaghettini and salads.  Impressed with the pizza, very thin low collar Neapolitan style w/o the wet center. Crust is tasty and had a bit of char.  Straciatella very decadent and works well. Diavola is only for a real sopresatta lover chopped up into matchsticks so you get it on every bite. The crust is seasoned enough so the sausage takes the salt level over the top. Pepperoni lovers would definitely enjoy it though. The salads were good and they have a
very reasonable wine list.  Sfoglia for dessert- nice candied quince accents.

Motorino compared to Donatella - Moto is more NY Neapolitan - crispier and with a higher cornicione, the dough is tasty though not was well seasoned as Donatella's.  D's crust is very well seasoned maybe a bit too much so for the spicy sausage preparation.  Not as much of a cornicione, but chewy despite its thinness.  Reminded me most of a traditional Neapolitan pie without the wet center.  As I recall Numero 28 has the traditional Neapolitan style with the softer center, I actually prefer the NY Neapolitan, but I want to return to No. 28 next time in town.  I like all three of these places and would be happy to return.

Brooklyn Fare – after failing to get a reservation for dinner, I was curious to see the store.  I was close by so I walked over.  It’s just a typical gourmet grocery store. Nothing special in the prepared foods section.  The staff is nice and friendly however the Intelligentsia coffee served in the cafe is a little watered down, good thing they also sell the beans.

Mile End - Classic Poutine and Stumptown coffee.  Poutine as good as last time. Nice chicken gravy and soft gooey cheese curds.  The whole thing is a bit of a gut buster, perfect to eat right before a long flight.  Very conducive to sleeping for hours without having to eat airline food. 

Kee's - bought some chocolates to take back to SF.  I had to stop myself from eating all of them.  This one is my favorite out the chocolate shops I've tried in NY. 

Friday, October 22, 2010


I had very high expectations of this place for both food and service and it did not disappoint.  We had the entire menu and truffle supplement.  Loved the mignardises artfully plated, almost too beautiful to eat.  Liked that they sent folks from the kitchen to present them, always great to have a connection with the people preparing your food.  Chef Humm also came to the dining room to greet one of the tables.

Because we ate everything on the menu, it's difficult for me to remember specific dishes.  Everything was well executed, complete attention to detail, sophisticated and balanced flavors. It was probably the best meal I have had in terms of receiving consistently excellent dishes. Out of over twenty presentations, the only thing that didn't hit a home run with me was the pasta w/ truffle. The flavors were a bit muted, presumably to highlight the fresh truffle -- but even then the presentation of the whole giant truffle was fun.  The surprise for me was the beef dish which looked and sounded simple but was both tender and full of beefy goodness, deeply satisfying. 

It's not a casual restaurant and the decor is a bit austere, but the front of the house were gracious hosts and did a great job in making us feel comfortable.  Well trained, professional, but not stuffy -- bravo to Danny Meyer.  I would eat here regularly if I lived in NY.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sunday, September 5, 2010


Animal Restaurant - no name on the outside, we waited well past our reservation time, but they served us rather quickly once we were seated. 

Started with the Trout Salad - great flavors not too smokey light and delicious.  The next item was crispy pig ear sliced into thin strips and mixed into a melange of chili and brought together with a fried egg.  The rich yolk played well against the acidic lime flavor and spiciness. The pig ears were A's favorite dish of the night.  Next came the grilled octopus, chorizo and chow chow - also delicious, tender and pepper sweet and savory.  The petite basque melted with chorizo and toast, the combination was absolutely delicious, the spicy chorizo with the cheese was similar to a very savory pizza. 
That was the end of the lighter dishes, the pork belly sliders were great, an sweet and acidic sauce with a crunchy slaw and a toasted brioche that was perfectly crunchy. Really rich and delicious.  Not spicy at all, sweet and acidic.  The crispy rabbit legs were breaded and fried like fried chicken, th emeat was so tender we suspected that it had been braised before being fried.  The crisp exterior was not oily or greasiness at all, awesome aioli with herbs, fresh slices of heirloom tomato brought freshness and acidity to the dish.
Desserts were good.  I thought the bacon chocolate bar was sort of a gimmick because of the trendiness of candied bacon preparations.  I was wrong, it was nicely executed -- a crispy kit kat sort of texture, could be more salty but I loved it.  The tres leche with dulce de leche had good flavor but the cake itself wasn't as smooth and fine as we expected.

It has been a while since I ate at a restaurant where every dish was excellent, particularly when the kitchen is pushing some boundaries and taking some risks.  I loved Animal and it will be at the top of my list when I return to L.A.

Los Angeles II

We headed to Dim Sum in the morning and then to the LA Times Food & Wine Festival.


Elite - Dim Sum, good quality. Nice har gow, fried tofu skin, crystal puffs a white puff with sweet coconut filling, noodles w/ enoki mushrooms and abalone sauce - good noodles, but light on the sauce. Durian-filled pastry - durian flavor was very strong and only certain people will like it, but the pastry was great.  Overall I think Koi Palace is better, but it could be the setting. 

Old Country [?] - old school shave ice dessert place. Finely shaved ice red beans, peanuts, lychee -- all fine,though I wished there was more condensed milk or "black sugar" to sweeten up the whole dessert. A got strawberry milk and liked it, but the waitress looked really scared when he ordered it.

LA Times food & Wine Fest

The festival was a combination of wine tents, food tents by restaurants such as Campanile, and street food trucks.

Blueberry Lemonade - like it, much more watered down than the Lemonade on Abbot Kinney, though there was no mint. J&A liked the Lemonade version better ;) ]

Munchie Machine Truck - Peanut Butter, Jelly, Chocolate, Banana and Marshmellow sandwich. Nicely toasted, but not my thing. Didn't taste any banana, but apparently it was in there.

Dosa Truck - Slumdog - Indian Pesto, paneer, spinach potato masala and one Goa Goodness - spinach mushroom and cheese. Both were nice good flavors and balanced, though they got soggy quickly. A good idea for a food truck.

Kyochon - chicken wings, very crispy, somewhat spicy, a bit salty to my tastes.  Not that special.

Buttermilk - red velvet chocolate chip pancakes - great, cake donut holes - cream on the inside crispy on the outside - really good.

Campanile duck slider

Campanile - duck confit and cracklin on a toasted brioche, crostini with burrata - both were excellent, the crostini was very simple, but well seasoned and using the jelly from tomato rather than actual slices of tomato helped kept the focus on the creamy burrata.

Ragin Cajun Truck - gumbolaya - a mix of gumbo and jambalaya, a huge portion, not very spicy, but with some really good sausage and nice acid flavor.

After the food fest we had dinner at Animal, which I'll cover separately.

Jeon Ju - dol sot bi bim bap

Jeon Ju - Bi Bim Bap specialist in K-town - hole in the wall was but clean. I like the bi bim bap very nice ingredients and panchan, but it was fairly average. I'm not sure this was destination worthy.

Tous Les Jour - little bakery in the strip mall next to Jeon Ju. An assortment of little pastries. I had a sesame donut stick, J&A had a red bean donut. They thought that the red bean donut was very good and not too sweet.  They also got a pastry filled with chocolate cream and a honey castella, which were perfectly fine if not noteworthy.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Los Angeles I

PTL Duck

A long weekend of enjoying sunshine and great food in Los Angeles.

On the first day we made a foray into Westminster to check out the Vietnamese offerings. 

Pho Thanh Lich - Pho Dac Biet Special w/ filet mignon - nice broth with a subpar clump of rice noodles.  O.k., though not great.  Duck Soup Rice Noodle w/ Duck chop - really ducky soup flavor and nice vermicelli rice noodles accompanied by some duck.  I actually preferred this to the Pho, but it's only offered on weekends.

Asian Garden Food Court - this mall is a fun little walk into a completely Vietnamese environment.  The food offered looked interesting, I went for a shrimp cake and some bun cuon.  The bun cuon was a bit dry and needed more filling, the shrimp cake on a sugar cane stick was nice, but not noteworthy.

We walked over to a nearby fruit stand where we found lots of giant durian, bags of rambutans, mangosteens, bell fruit and dragon fruit.  We got some to eat later.

In the same little strip mall we found a Banh mi Che Cali and ordered three different sandwiches: one ham and head cheese another xiu mi (meatball) and one bbq pork.  The bbq pork meat was juicy and well seasoned, the meatball was also good and the ham and head cheese was straightforward.  Unfortunately, we all felt that the bread was just o.k. and agreed that we preferred the sandwiches at Saigon Sandwiches in SF.

On our way out of the area we stopped at Galloway's Pastries -- we had a chocolate mousse cake and a cream puff.  The cream puff was average while the chocolate mousse cake was very good.

We went to browse the aisles at H Mart, which was much smaller than we had imagined.  J got a few items and we laughed at one of the stands named Dae Jang Geum.  Next door was a dumpling shop that specialized in giant buns -- wang mandoo.  They tasted almost exactly like Chinese mantou.

Overall, we found many places in Westminster, but lacked a good guide or information on which spots were best.  As a result, we weren't particularly impressed, but I see there is definitely potential in that neighborhood -- if only we had a local with us to properly explore it.

Our next stop was Venice Beach area.  A & J had a blueberry mint lemonade from Lemonade and a double chocolate chip cookie from 3 square. We looked at some furniture and were surprised by the intelligentsia coffee line, then again Blue Bottle has equally enthusiastic devotees. We stopped into Jin Patisserie fror a hazelnut and a chocolate dessert.  Both were very good.

Our next stop was Almondine where we picked up a croissant, it was light and airy, though not particularly moist.

Finally, we ended up at Park's BBQ - ordered the #12 pork belly and the #3 seasoned kalbi. 
pork belly, kim chi bbq

This is the best Korean bbq I've ever had.  The meat was very high quality and well seasoned, not overly sweet and the panchan were spot on.  The pork belly is thickly sliced belly then grilled with kim chi, a great combination. The seasoned kalbi is thick and juicy, full of flavor not too sweet. I would come back for either and would love to try their American Wagyu. Panchan was just o.k., but we liked our service. J thought the bibim naengmyun was very good, with a nice balance of sauce, cucumbers, and asian pears, and the noodles were above average.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Pizzeria Mozza ***'

Pizzeria Mozza, as busy as I remembered it.

Broccolini with chiles & vinegar - our favorite of the night.
Arancine alla bolognese - o.k.

Bone marrow al forno - The grilled bread makes this dish and Silverton's bread is some of the best bread I've had.

Calmari al forno with fagioli & oregano - liked this, simple and straightforward.
Pizza - Rapini, cherry tomatoes, anchovies, olives & chiles - rapini was bitter/sour but not in a bad way, just be warned.
Pizza - Bacon, salami, fennel sausage, guanciale, tomato & mozzarella - our server described this as being super meaty but it was actually fairly balanced with some pieces of sausage and salami sprinkled about.

Butterscotch budino, Maldon sea salt & rosemary pine nut cookies - glad we got this old favorite.

Vanilla gelati

Thursday, September 2, 2010


This week I had a chance to check out Commonwealth with a few other folks.  The restaurant sports a fine dining menu in a casual environment right in the heart of the Mission.  The style of food is refined yet accessible and the value is outstanding. We sampled the majority of the from the menu and found each expertly executed. 

The standouts were the dishes at the top of the menu card.  The chilled summer squash soup was perfect for a summer evening, both rich and refreshing with some complexity provided by vadouvan and the crisp fried blossom.  The compressed watermelon dish was also a hit, the watermelon was sweet and bright, with a crunch texture that played against a savory dollop of creamy sauce. We also enjoyed their gnocchi which was light and creamy with the full flavor of mushroom and truffle coming through. This is a familiar dish executed perfectly and probably the most boldly flavored of the first courses.

We went on to have a variety of the entrees, the corn custard and sea urchin was a corn chawan mushi, the sweetness of the corn worked well against the sea urchin, with the heat of jalapeno kicking in at the finish. I thoroughly enjoyed this dish though the flavor of the sea urchin was not as prominent as I would've liked -- then again, I love sea urchin. Another success was the stuffed squid, the tamarind pork filling was juicy and the shelling beans were full of the flavor. The black cod dish and the hen with spot prawns were enjoyed by the others, but were not my favorites, though I did appreciate the execution and the thought behind them.
We ordered all the desserts they had available. The desserts were so good that as soon as we finished them we all agreed that we could eat seconds of every one of them.

The tasting menu had a few interesting items such as goat cooked in hay and a foie gras dish, that we did not have an opportunity to try.  All the first course dishes are worthy of ordering again as well as the entire dessert card. 

Considering that the menu echos the sophistication of Coi and Commis (even the clean white interior reminded us of Commis), I can't think of a better value for this style of food in the City.  I love seeing a kitchen take some risks and offer creative dishes, at their prices there's every reason to give them a try.  I'm looking forward to seeing how their menu evolves.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Had a good dinner at Morimoto this weekend.  We tried the following:

Toro Tar Tar - very nice presentation interesting nori paste and accompaniments.  One of my favorites of the night.

Tuna Pizza - a layer of thinly sliced pieces of tuna topped with aioli, olives and jalapeno on a large round cracker.  The crunchy texture of the cracker was great and in general the flavor combination was right on, though much spicier than I was expecting due to the jalapeno. Some of us felt that the quality of the fish might have been better, but then we came with very high expectations.  I suppose they aren't using the choicest cut in this type of dish.

Oyster Foie Gras - oysters in their shell topped with foie and teriyaki sauce.  I didn't get any of this, the other thought it was good, but felt that the teriyaki sauce masked the flavor of the foie gras a bit.

Foie Gras Chawan Mushi
- a small bowl of chawan mushi in a duck broth, the custard was rich soft and silky with a good foie gras flavor and a few small pieces of sweet duck breast.  The bit of wasabi served next to it provided a perfect counterpoint to bring out all the flavors.  Another favorite of mine.

Morimoto Bone Marrow
- a large bone bisected length-wise, topped onion and teriyaki and five spice flavored crust and topped with some panko.  Another rich dish with bold flavors. Crunchy, soft globules of marrow, and a stong favor of soy and five spice, enjoyable, though I would've loved a rice cracker, toast or some other item to spread it on.  Still it was tasty and unique (to me).

Whole roasted lobster 'epice' - a large lobster roasted with garam masala and accompanied with creme fraiche.  Lobster was well cooked, the sweetness played perfectly against the garam masala and the creme fraiche rounded out the flavors.  Another unique dish with an unexpected flavor combination.

Duck duck goose - this was a duck confit served with some slices of duck breast and a bowl of duck confit fried rice, with a small pot of broth to accompany it.  The dish was also supposed to have frozen foie gras, but I'm not sure where it was in the dish.  I was the last try the dish, so perhaps it was gone by the time I got to it.

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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Sound of Music

RSun78 (c) all rights reserved.
Swiss raclette sausages

Hosted by R.
A dinner inspired by the the music, setting, lyrics, or anything related to The Sound of Music. 

Swiss raclette with salt-roasted marble potatoes, pickled vegetables, and an assortment of sausages

"The lonely goatherd" braised goat shanks with spaetzle

Austrian Weiner Schnitzel and Rotkraut (Red Cabbage)

Creamy Sauerkraut Gratin with Duck Confit

Sauteed Kale with Garlic

"A Drink* with Jam and Bread" aka "Cream-Colored Ponies"

The Baroness's Pink Lemonade

Black Forest Cake

Austrian Jam Cookies

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Turkish Night

Hosted by S & E.
bulghur turkey kofte
Bulghur Turkey Kofte by Rsun (c)

Photos by RSun:

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


A little mom and pop Japanese spot right next door to Shanghai House in the Outer Richmond. The sign says Azusa but it's actually Miki's. Ramen is not on the menu but on the specials taped to the wall. I tried the tonkotsu shio spicy and had a taste of the tonkotsu miso spicy. Both had decent flavor and a layer of oil floating on top. Noodles had good spring to them but were not house made.  This is not a ramen specialist and I don't see that they are making their own broth, but I'd come back, because the simple topping of bamboo shoots and green onion are more to my liking than the overloaded bowls found around town.

We also tried the tabe kara age, the fried chicken wings were not particularly crispy but had good flavor and tenderness. HM guessed it was a simple seasoning of ichimi togarashi that gave it a hint of heat. Gyoza done well and worth getting again. Everything was straightforward, just the right thing to hit the spot on a cold and foggy evening.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Mandalay **

Rainbow salad - good though I prefer the one at Pagan.
Mo Hing Ga - better than all the other one's I've had around town.
Lamb Curry - not bad, but not something to order again. Somewhat standard curry.
Balatha - palata appetizer - o.k., but I didn't love the sauce, again prefer the one at Pagan.
Tan Poi Rice - saffron rice with some veggies and raisins mixed in. O.k. had a bit too much cinamon flavor for my tastes and I did not thing that the addition of frozen peas and diced carrots added anything to the rice.
Overall o.k. would eat here again, but likely order completely different set of dishes.

Monday, March 29, 2010

New Orleans III

Photos from NOLA

The next morning I woke up and really did not feel like taking a run.  Instead, we headed straight to Cafe du Monde. There was already a line a block long, but I went into the restaurant as instructed by our taxi driver, and viola, there were plenty of open tables inside. We polished off one order of three beignets and a couple of cafe au laits. 

Parkway Tavern for Po Boys. I know the others were a little skeptical, but as the place started filling up and the line started getting longer, I think they realized that there might be something here. I went for the surf and turf, roast beef and shrimp covered in house gravy. The roast beef was soft and almost shredded like a pulled pork, really a stewed rather than roasted beef, the shrimp was fresh and coated with a thing crispy breading – the best po boy I had tasted up to that point. I also tried a few of the fried oysters in H's sandwich, also great fresh oysters in a crispy, but not overwhelming batter. The sandwiches were dressed with gravy some lettuce and a tiny bit of mayo, I think they could've benefitted from some acidity, so I added some mustard. Both of them said it was a good call and I think that meant that they had low expectations.

Cochon. The most modern place I'd been to in New Orleans. Ikea style, lots of light colored hard wood. We started with cucumber spicy pickles, wood fired oyster roast and fried boudin with pickled peppers. The cucumber spicy pickles were very korean, the wood fired oysters were absolutely delicious, oysters baked on the half shell in a wonderful spicy sauce – I could've eaten many more of these. The fried boudin was also excellent better than what we had at boucherie, light crisp crust with a savory boudin mixture – not gamey at all. Next came the paneed pork cheeks with pickled green tomatoes, tender pork good flavor, though not particularly outstanding. The Louisiana cochon with turnips, cabbage and cracklins – was the most deeply flavored pig I'd had this trip. It was basically pulled pork formed into a cake, so juicy and just the right flavor. The cracklins added a nice crunch and were clearly housemade. Smothered greens had nice bits of bacon in them. Then we finished with the Pineapple upside down cake, which was a delicious carmelized shell surrounding a sweet tart pinapple cake accompanied by a lime sorbet. beautiful combo of flavors. The Lemon buttermilk pie was fine, nothing special, but o.k. Service was not very good, somewhat cold and it seemed that they were trying to rush us out of the restaurant despite the fact that there were many open tables and no one was waiting outside. They dropped the check on us, cleared the table and after we finished dessert and were relaxing and talking with each other they began to wipe and clean the table.

The next morning we went for a run and stopped for a quick bite at Central Grocery. The muffaletta was fine, the giarinera was better than Frank's next door, but I think I'm just not a muffaletta girl. 

After we freshened up we headed for Casamento's for oysters. Wow really great raw with their mixture of cocktail, horseradish and lemon sauce. They had a very clean flavor (not briny at all) and almost burst in your mouth as you ate them. I'm not usually a fan of very large oysters because they are overly meaty. These oysters were large, but the flavor was light and refreshing. We also sampled their gumbo, oyster stew and oyster loaf. The oyster loaf was the best of the bunch, two toasted slices of texas toast style bread with a pile of freshly fried oysters on top. The oysters were really delicious, though I think the breading was thicker than I like.

On to Lilette for lunch, we started with the chicken broth with poached egg, hmm, not really my favorite, too much celery and herb, this lacked flavor. The grilled beat salad with goat cheese and walnuts was delicious, I liked that the grilling added a char flavor to the beets and made them less sweet.

Our mains were beef cheek and gnocchi in a mushroom bacon sauce. The mushroom sauce was nice, but the beef cheek was just o.k. while the gnocchi were dense chewy and just a little overwhelmingly starchy. The better of the two entrees was the pulled pork which came of toasted french breaded ladled with jus and mayonaise. Honestly, I thought that the jus soaked bread was the best part of the sandwich and for some reason the french fries were particularly good. Dessert was awesome. Quenelles of crème fraiche on top of lavender honey garnished with pistachios and poached pears – a winning combo of flavors and textures. Nutella custard with fleur de sel, caramel cream and chocolate-hazelnut brittle was good though a little on the custardy side.

Then we walked around for a bit and ended up at Sucre and got some truffles. The next stop was Domilese's after a short train ride we came across this shack of a place.

Domilise's – shrimp and oyster po boy was excellent.  The shrimp had a nice snap and the oysters had a like crispy batter all of it went perfectly with the sauce.  This and Parasol's were the most old school po'boy shops we went to.  It was very hot that day and unfortunately they weren't running the a/c otherwise I'd rank this one as my favorite.

Parasol's – roast beef po boy.  The roast beef here is more like a long braised pot roast sandwich piled high with juicy tender chunks of beef, lettuce, cheese and a mayo sauce.  I would've loved a glass of red wine to cut through the richness, but that wouldn't fit this place -- it's the back room of a neighborhood bar.  This is my favorite roast beef sandwich.

Next Restaurant August & Stanley

Sunday, March 28, 2010

New Orleans II

I can't believe it's almost been a half a year since my trip.  I'm going to just post my notes.  No time to write.

Brunch at Commander's Palace. I completely understand why people rave about the service here. It is impeccable and the setting is very luxurious and traditional old school southern. Added to the setting was a foursome of debutants seated next to us wearing dresses and sitting with perfect posture and manners. The band is very smooth and professional, they've done this millions of times. The mood is festive and reminded me of an easter brunch with balloons tied down at each table. Now on to the food. We started with mimosas and a bloody mary, the bloody mary was strongly spiced and seasoned. I bit overwhelming for me. Ditto for the garlic bread starter, just overpoweringly garlickly. My dining companions loved it. We went on to the starters, two of us had gumbo while I had the absinthe dome oyster stew. Really delicious stew with an interesting flavor. Things were getting better after coming off on the wrong foot with the overpowering bloody and garlic bread. Next came Eggs cochon de lait with a pork debris gravy and mushrooms. This was excellent, the pork was tender well seasoned, smokey and one of the eggs was perfectly soft cooked, while the other was cooked until the yolk was no longer runny. The hollandaise sauce was very sparingly drizzled on top, but it was nice and lemony. I loved the pork debris gravy and mushrooms. This was a very good dish, save the one overcooked yolk. Dessert was strawberry short cake and a bread pudding souffle with whisky cream sauce. I enjoyed the bread pudding souffle, really a bread pudding topped wit souffle and then whisky sauce melting a hole through the center. Good flavor not overpowering and well balanced.

We walked around a it in the Garden District on Magazine street and saw quite a few people munching on huge piles of boiled crawfish in the beer garden next to the Bulldog. H thought they probably got it from the seafood shop across the street. too bad I was so full.

The Road Food Festival – I missed Lasyone's Meat Pies twice, they kept selling out! Anyhow, I tried pecan pie and a crawfish cake both were fine nothing outstanding. As I walked away, I saw a booth selling gumbo, chicken and sausage gumbo which I would normally pass up because it lacked any seafood. But I noticed that the restaurant Prejean's was from Lafayette, remembering that Lafeyette is in the center of cajun country, I thought I should give it a try as the style might be different than what I'd been having in NOLA, yet I was totally full, it was a small investment so I bought a bowl, thinking I'd eat a few bites to judge. It was thin not very stew like, slightly spicey, but not overwhelmingly so, full of flavor, no bitterness or interesting file flavor, really sort of clean and clear flavors coming through directly – a far cry from the somewhat muddied flavors from the other gumbos I'd eaten. In the broth was some rice, which was fine and there was nothing else, just the soup chicken and sausage and rice. Despite my full stomach I ate the whole thing. Then ran an errand and was thinking of going back for more. Alas it was too late and the festival was already in clean up mode.

That night we wanted to eat light so we cancelled our reservation at Dante's Kitchen. Instead we went to have BBQ shrimp at Mr. B's. We tried a few other items unremarkable dishes and concluded that yes Mr. B's BBQ shrimp – with very fresh large head on shrimp was great, the highlight of the dish is the sauce – which for some reason reminded me of the gumbo from Prejeans! Anyhow it was very peppery spicy finished with cream and balanced with acid and a bbq sweetness – we sopped up the sauce until we finished our entire loaf of bread.

We finished the night with a beignet from Cafe Du Monde. they were as good as I remembered them – crispy on the outside, airy on the inside with a good chew.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

New Orleans I

This was our first full day in New Orleans. The road food festival was already in full swing but we decided to take a very long walk to Elizabeth's for brunch.

Elizabeth's – This is an old style two story house in the Bywater neighborhood. The surrounding area is mostly residential so it's definitely had a neighborhood restaurant feel to it. The upstairs has high ceilings and a bar, while the down stairs has that crowded bustling feeling of a traditional breakfast diner.

I had the fried green tomatoes, poached egg and hollandaise. The hollandaise was great, I wish there was more of it. R had the cajun breakfast which was a mix of pieces of smoked pork with shrimp on a slaw and a poached egg. I loved the smokey pieces of pork in her dish. We each had a helping of grits, which were just normal grits. The service was excellent very casual and friendly. I'd definitely come back. The pralined bacon was fine, I imagine the excitement over it is more from the novelty of it before the candied bacon craze of the last few years.

We lunched at Boucherie, a small place fairly far from the FQ. We were very happy with a bowl of crispy fries topped with garlic and parmesan accompanied by the house vinegar. Onto a bowl of mussels and collards, which was good, though not extraordinary.  I did like the crunchy grit chips that came on top.

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Emeril's New Orleans

Emeril's New Orleans was our first dinner in town.   He has several restaurants in town and I was told that this was a good exemplar of the food he became known for.  We started with the Rabbit on fried green tomatoes this was probably our favorite dish of the night. Delicious rabbit tender and flavorful, not the least bit gamey, on top of crispy fried green tomtoes. Just a beautifully balanced dish.

Our second starter was the smoked exotic mushrooms on angel hair pasta with tasso sauce. The smokey mushrooms paired perfectly with the creamy tasso sauce which had a paprika and smoked ham flavor. Sometimes I find smokey dishes over smoked and so that the smokey taste overwhelms the rest of the components. The smokiness here was pitch perfect, though I think the noodles and the sauce could've been tossed together a bit more.  Some ended up stuck together as a chunk, but the noodles that were well coated in the sauce were great. 

We went on to the seafood gumbo, which was a very good version of gumbo, not very spicy but really well balanced a lot of different flavors melded together, but not a soft of muddied overcooked taste that you sometimes get with gumbo.  By the end of the week, I had sampled many gumbos and this one ranked among the best.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Alabama & Georgia - BBQ, Fried Chicken, and More

From Birmingham to Savannah and then back to Atlanta:

Highlands Bar and Grill
Oysters, Frito Misto, Chicken Sous Vide – all well executed nothing suprising but good clean flavors and very good service.  Seems like a popular after work hangout of professionals in the area.  I would definitely return it’s farm to table style done well. Deceptively simple looking belying its sophistication. Birmingham, Alabama.

Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Dreamland - ribs had nice char on the outside and were moist but the meat was chewy, not tender.  The meat was really grey in color and flavorless other than the sauce.
Dreamland BBQ, Tuscaloosa AL

Archibald's Tuscaloosa
The pulled pork is moist succulent and has a very subtle jus, though a little underseasoned to my tastes.
Archibald's Pork
Archibald's half rack of ribs was much better than what I had at Dreamland. More tender, but still chewy good char on the outside, I liked the sauce better than Dreamland, but overall just ok.

I made a stop at the Waysider in Tuscaloosa for a quick breakfast. This place is old school a real glimpse of traditional breakfasts like a fried egg, country ham with red eye gravy, grits, biscuits and friendly service.

Waysider Fried Egg, Grits, Country Ham and
Saw's BBQ - I had the pulled pork and the smoked chicken sandwich with white sauce. I loved the chicken sandwich. Juicy pulled chicken with a nice Alabama style horseradish cream sauce.
Saw's Smoked Chicken w White BBQ Sauce

The pork was my favorite of the three in ham, nice sauce good balance of tenderness and smokey charred exterior.  Homewood, Alabama.
Saw's Pulled Pork

Bright Star - this place is like walking into a time machine. The service was incredibly friendly and eager to please. Recognizing my interest in the menu, they comped me a seafood gumbo.  The place was very busy at lunch. The food is all pre cooked then brought out to the diners, who looked like regulars. I had the fried snapper throats, rice and spinach casserole, sweet corn and a tossed green salad. I could not get over the 70's decore. It looks like none of the furniture has been changed for the entire time they've been open.  The snapper throats were fine, obviously fresh and very crispy crunchy exterior, flour based crust. I really liked the sweet corn which tiny little pearls of corn, they must've been boosted with a bit of sugar. 
Bessemer, Alabama.

Martin's - I was just too full to do a meat and three. I had the fried chicken which I thought was very good. No fancy seasonings, just very straightforward fried chicken -- juicy and super crispy crunchy exterior that held up really well as you bit into it.  Montgomery, Alabama.

On the way to Atlanta, I stopped at a highway side farm-stand-peach-emporium called Peach Park. They had peach pie, peach ice cream, peach cobbler, and rocking chairs where you could sit and enjoy your peach ice cream topped peach pie and gaze at a peach statue. Peach Park
More Peach Park Photos.

Savannah, Georgia
Mrs. Wilke's Kitchen – it's a smorgasbord of low country cooking and comfort food. Everything is good, but there are just so many little tastes it's a bit overwhelming and difficult to get the full effect of any single item.  If there weren't such long lines I would love to eat here and just have chicken and two or three sides to get a complete taste.  The experience of sitting at a large table with others is good fun. Sat next to a retired mother of two super friendly woman from Michigan who loves her daughters and loves to visit historic areas. Good fried chicken. Just way too much food.

Mrs. Wilkes

Also had a shrimp and grits at a place on the waterfront not very good, the shrimp were very small and grilled had o.k. flavor but the grits were somewhat lumpy and dry and the tasso gravy was thick and heavy – I think it was probably a good example of the dish, I just prefer the versions in NOLA.  I should've known better than to stop at a place right on the touristy waterfront.

Fresh Air in Macon
Fresh Air BBQ
My favorite BBQ of the trip.  I'm not usually one that goes for a sweet style sauce, but the ribs at Fresh air were juicy, tender without being mushy and the vinegar sauce glazed the meat providing a nice balance of flavors.  The place is just off the highway in a non descript strip mall.  Not exactly the sort of bbq shack I imagined but definitely the bbq itself was what I’d been hoping to find during this trip.  Macon, Georgia.

Fresh Air BBQ Ribs

After having such wonderful BBQ at the Macon branch of Fresh Air, I thought I'd swing by the Flovilla (original) branch of the restaurant. It was as described in a shack on the side of the Gray Hwy (an interesting two lane country road) – driving down that road made me sing Country Road Take me home because that really was what I picture when I hear that song. The Fresh Air in Flovilla was a disappointment. No ribs -- all they had was chopped pork bbq and brunswick stew. The brunswick stew was pretty good, better than a lot of other places and the sauce on the chopped pork was tasty, though I really wished I had just gone back to the branch in Macon. The more I ate the stew the more I liked it. I realize it's the sauce mixed into the stew that has the flavor. Flovilla, Georgia.
I also stopped over at Old Clinton BBQ – a shack of a place with a lot of history. The young women working in the shack are so nice, unfortunately the ribs though nicely charred on the outside, had little flavor.  I suspect they just didn’t have enough turnover.
Old Clinton BBQ

Finally returning back to Atlanta I stopped at Fox Bros BBQ. Hooray! Gabriele my server chatted with me about my trip and wanted me to enjoy Atlanta, she recommended a two way platter with ribs and chicken wings. The wings aren't something I'd normally order, but she was right.  In fact, they were better than the ribs – tender smokey well seasoned.

The sides were also excellent: Frito Pie served in the bag.   She mentioned that it isn’t that common to get frito pie served that way anymore.  She grew up an hour south of Atlanta and she used to have it at the school cafeteria growing up. Definitely not an Alice Waters approved school lunch.

Frito Pie

The other side dish was Fox-o-roni – a mac n cheese covered with brunswick stew. Also very good. I'm tempted to go back just for the sides! The ribs were fine, really bbq'ed smoked with a nice bark on the outside. Just not as flavorful as I like, they needed the bbq sauce to provide all the interest.

I hit a few more spots in Atlanta including Abbatoir which I enjoyed very much.  I would put it at the top of my list for places to return to everything we had was good to excellent, though unfortunately I can’t recall all the details now.  I also sampled a few donuts from Sublime Donuts.  They had some creative ones including a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup donut.  The donuts themselves were very standard bland type which worked well as a canvas for the peanut butter filling and chocolate added to the top.

Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Donut

I had a memorable meal at Watershed Restaurant, this was a must do even though Scott Peacock was no longer the chef.  After having great luck cooking from The Gift of Southern Cooking the book he wrote with Edna Lewis, I had to try the fried chicken.  I started with the shrimp grits on a pullman's plank, which was a delicious bowl of shrimp mixed with grits into a creamy topping for a loaf long cut of toast.  I would order this again and will try to reproduce it at home. 

Watershed shrimp grits and pullman's plank

The fried chicken was exactly as I expected, juicy, tender well seasoned, - a very good example of fried chicken served with light biscuits some smooth mashed potatoes and nicely cooked green beans. 

Watershed Fried Chicken-1

I ended the meal with the "Very Good Chocolate Cake".  The cake is perfect, simple, straightforward no unnecessary elements, just extremely moist cake with a great chocolate icing.

Daddy D’s and Ria’s Blue Bird, both near the big cemetery – I thought the food was fine, both places have a lot of character but not noteworthy from a culinary perspective.

I also gave Woodfire Grill a try.  I admit I was curious based upon watching Kevin, the bearded chef on TV.  I wish I had some positive things to say about the food, most of the dishes just didn’t work.  Though a lot of it looked good on the plate, so many of the dishes didn’t come together.  Even L thought that it was not very good.

Highlights:   Highlands,  Saw’s BBQ, Fresh Air in Macon, Fox Brothers, Abbatoir

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