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
  • B├╝ryan 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.