Saturday, March 26, 2011

Farewell to Mario's La Fiesta

After reading an article that the original owners of Mario's La Fiesta were retiring after 52 years of running the restaurant, J and I headed back for a bit of nostalgia. As we searched for the address we discovered that they were no longer at their original Telegraph location, but across the street nearer to People's Park. When we arrived and looked over at the original Telegraph location, we immediately felt out of date.

Any concerns that things had changed substantially were quickly dispelled when we discovered the present location had the same decor, tables and benches that made the booths in the original location. The menu looked exactly the same as it was over a decade ago, even the prices appeared unchanged. We both looked at each other in disbelief. It was a bargain back then, so much so that one of my closest friends on a tight budget would always get a super burrito which probably weighed about two or three pounds to have food that would last him for the next few meals. I remember loving the vegetable soup they served at the beginning of each meal and that this was the place that introduced me to agua fresca.

I ordered red beef enchiladas and an agua fresca and asked whether they were still serving the vegetable soup. The server smiled and said yes of course. We were excited to find that the soup tasted exactly the same as did the salsa always sitting on the table and the unsalted bowl of chips. At that point I started to remember what the red enchiladas tasted like and the times I had eaten them, once an infamous night when I had overdone it. Then our dishes arrived and I felt transported back in time. The red sauce that I had forgotten was now completely familiar like having a chance meeting with a long lost friend and finding that you can pick up exactly from where you left off so many years ago. J said that her favorites were the same as well. We talked about the old days and the amusing things we did as kids. I'm not sure whether it was all the memories tied up with Mario's or the idea that as much as I've changed over those years something somewhere had remained exactly the same, but these were some of the best enchiladas I've had in a long time.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Souley Vegan*

We had a sampling of various items, mostly traditional soul food side dishes. Everything had a lot of flavor, though not necessarily to my tastes. One thing I really enjoyed was the toastie. It's a burger of sorts with a fried tofu patty crunchy exterior with a creamy interior and a sweet tart and spicy barbecue sauce to cut through the tofu. Items I'd get again: toastie w/ fried tofu and bbq tofu, potato salad, collard greens. Oakland.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Oliveto Whole Hog 2011 ****

Highlights were the terrine of pork trotters with spiced fruit compote, the proscuitti and the alla reuben preparation. Last night they were preparing the reuben with shoulder instead of tongue. We also enjoyed the polenta with ragu of pork heart and the chocolate caramel tart.

The presentation of the zampone was fitting for the occasion, cross sections of the leg cut into large rounds of cotecchino wrapped in skin and then one entire trotter -- toes and all on the plate. I liked the flavor of the cotecchino though others were overwhelmed by the fat of the dish and preferred the other items. Same with the gnocco fritto, which highlighted the excellent lardo and guanciale, but was overshadowed by other excellent dishes.

Everything was excellent to very good. This was my first time back since the chef change and it feels like the kitchen hasn't missed a beat. Looking forward to returning for the regular menu.

Crisp terrine of pork trotters with spiced fruit - excellent

Corned pork tongue "alla Reuben" - excellent

Tasting of prosciutti*: Olli Ossabaw, La Quercia acorn-fed Berkshire - excellent

Gnocco fritto: small pillows of fried dough with lardo, guanciale, and pancetta - good

Red Flint polenta with rag├╣ of pork heart - good

Pancetta-fried potatoes - ok

Zampone - trotter stuffed with cotechino - ok

Prosciutto Wrapped Sea Bass - ok

Chocolate Caramel tart w/ candied bacon - excellent

Puff Pastry w/ blood orange and raspberry - good

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

BAKER & BANKER**

We had everything on the menu except for the salad. Starters were better than the mains. The Tuna Tar Tar and duck liver pate was excellent particularly on the house brioche - dense yet light. The house bread basket was also a hit with the ultra soft and fragrant honey bread and the savory foccacia. Also enjoyed the smoked trout latke - good balance of flavors and textures. Difficult to go wrong with the maple glazed pork belly and perfectly poached egg, though I think the proportion of belly to egg was a bit off -- needed more pork belly.

The only appetizer that didn't strike my fancy, was the white bean with asparagus soup. It was just little too heavy creamy muting any asparagus flavor.

Out of the entrees, I liked the halibut the best, well cooked flavorful, crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, nicely seasoned sauce that paired well with the fish. I also enjoyed the black soy glazed sea bass w/ foie gras, full of umami flavor but the delicious glaze somewhat of overpowered the foie gras and the fish -- though I'd still get this one again. Two dishes that were less impressive were the duck, which had a very strong punch of orange zest that overpowered the other flavors. The farro risotto was fine, nutty and had good texture, but I didn't like the sweetness of the sauce.

XXX Chocolate Cake was excellent.
Apple crisp with cheese ice cream - o.k though the texture of the crumble on top was a bit dry and not actually crispy.

Overall its a nice neighborhood restaurant. There were some good appetizers, and all the baked goods and pastries were very good.  I'd be interested in returning to check out the bakery.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous

My current favorite ice cream shop in the Bay Area.  Creative flavors that are well executed and consistently good, not overly sweet - full of flavor instead of sugar, nice texture, love the feel of the shop and the people.  Candied Violet, Earl Grey, Pistachio, Peanut Butter Malt, Ball Park.