Monday, July 14, 2014

A basket is all you need

It was Friday morning in Manhattan and my husband and I were in search of food before heading over to the Central Park Zoo.  I quickly pulled out Yelp! to search for good breakfast options (other than Dunkin Donuts) and found Sarabeth's.  Reservations were recommended, but the first available per Open Table was not for a few hours and I was hungry now.  So we walked over and took a chance.  We first saw the patio hostess who told us if we wanted first available that we needed to go inside and speak to the main hostess.  Made me wonder why there was two hostesses - very confusing.

When we went inside we were a little overwhelmed by how packed the place was, but the hostess told us the wait was only twenty minutes, so we decided to give it a try.  I was looking around the front room and I saw some jars of preserves with labels that looked familiar, but it really didn't click with me that I was in fact at the famous Sarabeth's known for amazing preserves.  I can't even tell you for sure where I have seen her products before, but I will be in search of them in the near future.

After twenty or so minutes we were escorted back to our table and I think my husband and I both felt we were in a Tardis as the restaurant was ten times larger than it had appeared from the outside and the lobby.  The ambiance was a classic New York restaurant that you would see in Sex and the City, probably because the girls ate there once.

The first thing I noticed on the menu was the 26 ounce Bloody Mary. Three and a quarter cups of tomato vodka heaven.  And the pickled vegetables on top were perfectly pickled and nice variety ranging from carrots and bell peppers to jicama.  I was determined to finish the whole thing, while still having at least one cup of coffee, and I was successful.  Lucky children at the zoo since I was blitzed.  Can I get more of those veggies?

26 oz Pickled Bloody Mary (vodka, house pickled vegetables)

My husband selected the Farmer's Omelette and chose a corn muffin for his side.  The corn muffin was what you would expect - a simple corn muffin.  But the preserves made it amazing.  And the omelette was very tasty as well. It should be noted that the choices of sides were muffins (English, corn, bran, banana, pumpkin), croissant, scone or toast, all served with housemade preserves.

Farmer's Omelette (leeks, ham, potato, Gruyere)

I wanted to go with the short rib hash, as I was feeling carnivorous.  The eggs were perfectly cooked and the meat and potatoes were good, but not amazing.  I should have saved such an entree for more of a diner-style restaurant rather than a place like Sarabeth's, but it was by no means not good, just not great.

Short Rib Hash (baked eggs, poblanos, tomatillo salsa)

But it was my side that made the whole experience simple amazing.  And so my one piece of advice would be for any visitor to Sarabeth's to simply skip all of the other breakfast selections and simply choose the Basket of Sarabeth's Muffins & Legendary Preserves.  This scone was the most amazing scone I have ever had before.  It was buttery, bu not overly flaky.  It was dense like a cake, but yet moist.  And once I added even the smallest amount of the most amazing preserves on Earth, it was literally heaven.  I wanted to take some to go, not that I knew when I would be able to eat it or that I had earned the right to experience more of its high-caloric goodness, but I just didn't want to say goodbye to it.

Side scone & preserves

If you're looking for breakfast while in New York, I highly recommend Sarabeth's.  Make a reservation and get the pastries.  Oh, and don't forget the Bloody Mary.

Possibly my favorite place on earth

A little over two years ago I first walked into the Eataly in New York City and was massively overwhelmed.  We had just eaten lunch in Chelsea before we walked our way here not knowing what to expect, and ended up only having some gelato.  Don't get me wrong, the gelato was amazing, but I wanted so much more!

Flash forward two years and this time I was prepared.  My husband and I woke up and made our way to Eataly.  We arrived a little after 10:30, so we had time to walk around before any of the restaurants started serving at 11am.  There are so many to choose from, but today we decided on La Pizza and La Pasta.  Can you guess what they serve?  La Pizza and La Pasta share a dining room, but are two separate kitchens meaning that if you order one dish from each that they could be served at different times.

First up was The Classic.  Honestly, after one bite, I didn't need to eat anything else - ever.  Everything about this simplistic dish was amazing.  I don't think I had ever thought of drizzling olive oil on mozzarella before, and now I can't imagine not doing so.  The mozzarella was perfectly soft, but not mushy.  The olive oil added the right amount of sweetness, with the sea salt adding the complimentary salty bite that you need and bringing out the flavor in both the mozzarella and the olive oil.

The Classic Mozzarella (buffalo mozzarella with sea salt and extra virgin olive oil)

The mozzarella was served with three slices of house made Italian bread, which was great to sop up the remaining olive oil left behind after the mozzarella was gone.  While the bread was perfect (crispy on the outside, soft on the inside), I just didn't want to fill up on bread.

House Italian Bread

For our pasta dish we decided to go with the gnocchi.  As you might be able to tell from the picture, it wasn't smothered in sauce.  Instead, it was complimented by just the right amount of lamb sausage and showered with fresh cheese.  Each gnocchi was perfectly soft, yet dense, unlike any potato gnocchi I had before and by which all future gnocchi will be judged.  Simply amazing.  Oh, and that bread?  Yeah, my husband used it to clean this plate.

Gnocchi con Salsiccia di Agnello e Melanzane (housemade gnocchi and lamb sausage with roasted eggplant and pecorino romano)

And finally we had to have pizza, of course.  The menu has two margherita pizzas on the menu: the basic and the fancy.  The two were separated by a mere $5, so of course we had to go with the fancy, or as they like to call it, the Verace.  So what makes it fancy?  Buffalo mozzarella from Naples instead of cow mozzarella, and extra virgin olive oil from Sorrento.  Simply amazing.  I'm sure the basic was just as good, but why go with basic when there is fancy?

Verace TSG (tomato sauce mozzarella di bufala from Napoli, fresh basil and extra virgin olive oil from Sorrento)

We finished off our meal by walking over to the gelateria to get some black cherry gelato just because we couldn't leave without experiencing even more of the food.  Eataly is literally heaven on earth and 2017 can not come fast enough when they finally open their first location in Los Angeles.  I'll probably be there every Saturday....all day.  Thank you Batali and Bastianich.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Time to fill 'er up!

My husband and I were in Central New Jersey for a family wedding and went in search of food.  I opened up my Yelp! app on my iPhone to see what was nearby and saw Quaker Steak & Lube.  Just the name had us interested, and we saw it was well reviewed, so off we went.  We arrived to find what looked like a former service station, with all of the accouterments to match, including door knobs in the shapes of gasoline dispenser handles and a faux gas dispenser outside.  Inside there are race cars suspended from the ceilings, motorcycles, and motor-themed memorabilia.

We were seated by the manager who welcomed us to the restaurant, explained the menu, and told us about upcoming events.  Then our server came and exhibited the same hospitality, but we told her we couldn't attend the upcoming events as we were from Los Angeles.  Well the next thing we know, the manager is returning having heard we were out-of-towners and hands us two complimentary t-shirts, making sure to apologize for any size assumptions, as he'd like us to provide free advertising.  We were both overwhelmed by his kindness.

We placed our food and drink orders and then I checked us in on Facebook to report the kindness of the establishment.  When I did so Facebook then showed me photos from other check-ins and I saw that they have a drink that comes with a rubber duck.  I'm a rubber duck collector and immediately regretted ordering their Unleaded Lube-N-Ade (freshly squeezed lemonade).  So when the manager walked by again I simply asked if I could have one of the rubber ducks.  Within minutes he returned with two rubber ducks provided I give him Likes on Trip Advisor and Yelp!  Consider it done!  If only he knew I was an amateur blogger!

Quaker Steak & Lube is known for their wings which come in all kinds (traditional, grilled and breaded boneless) with over 25 choices of sauces to match.  I decided to go with one of their Custom Built Combos as my husband and I were craving their pretzels.  So I picked the 4 grilled boneless wings with their Award winning zesty garlic sauce Golden Garlic and 3 premium pretzels served with beer cheese dip.  My husband loved that the pretzels were appropriately salted, but personally I thought there was too much sauce.  But I loved the beer cheese dip.  And the chicken wings were moist and the sauce was perfectly garlicky.  I also loved that the wings were served on top of grilled pita wedges as the wedges absorbed some of the tasty sauce and I could enjoy it even more.

Custom Built Combo: premium pretzels and beer cheese with 4 grilled boneless wings

My husband decided to go with their Texas Cheeseburger Melt which is a 1/2 pound Steakburger on grilled Texas Toast with melted American cheese and bacon and their Boom Boom sauce, which is a creamy garlic and red pepper sauce.  My husband asked for Lube Chips, instead of fries, and it also came with a fried pickle wedge.  Apparently it was a very good burger and the Boom Boom sauce had a nice kick.

Texas Cheeseburger Melt (Steakburger, Texas toast, American cheese, bacon & Boom Boom sauce)

Our experience at Quaker Steak & Lube was unlike any other casual dining restaurant we've been to.  The service was over the top, and yet genuine.  The food was good, and the ambiance was exactly what you would expect.  We were disappointed we couldn't have dessert, but we did have a wedding we needed to get ready for.  If you're near Central Jersey and hungry, head over to the Quaker Steak & Lube in Brick for a good meal without all the fuss.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

These are a few of his favorite things

Time for the annual birthday steak dinner for my husband.  I was originally going to go somewhere else when a coworker mentioned to me that there were new restaurants at the Americana at Brand.  A quick Google revealed that famed chef Michael Mina had just opened a branch of his Bourbon Steak chain at the mall, and with a name like that, how could I pass it up!  Plus I've heard great things about Michael Mina, so this would be a good opportunity to give him a try.

Now while I might be an amateur foodie, there are a few things I won't eat and one of those things is duck.  There is no rational explanation for why duck is considered a "forbidden food," so you just need to accept that it is.  Michael Mina is known for his duck fat fries, and they are served at his restaurants as an amuse bouche, so I was prepared to turn them away.  The server brought them much quicker than I expected and I felt guilty cutting her off with my "We don't eat duck!" declaration as she was starting to explain the dish, so imagine my relief when she said they no longer prepare them in duck fat.  Hallelujah!  I don't know what they were cooked in, and to be honest, I don't care either.  She explained the fry seasoning and dipping sauces too quickly for me to catch, so all I can tell you is that the middle sauce seemed like a Caesar and I didn't like it, but otherwise it was very tasty.

Amuse Bouche: a trio of fries not cooked in duck fat

For our appetizer we decided to go with the tuna tartare which is assembled tableside traditionally with a quail egg; however, quail is a "forbidden food" so we asked our server to substitute with a chicken egg.  It might have changed the taste a little, but I'm not sure how.  The plate comes with the diced tuna shaped in a circle and the accouterments on the side, but before you know it, its all mixed together and then shaped like a heart.  It took me a second to remember that the diced white pieces were pear and not onion, as that would have been overwhelming.  The dish was perfect and was served with the right amount of toast points.

Michael's Tuna Tartare (Asian pear, pine nuts, scotch bonnet, mint, sesame)

One of the unique aspects of Bourbon Steak is their bourbon cart.  The sommelier comes by and serves a trio of bourbons smoked tableside to accentuate ones particular flavor profiles.  When I first read that description I thought the smoking was particular to the individual diner, but its more about finding a flavor that will accentuate the bourbon.  Each flavor accentuator is smoked into the glass before the ounce of bourbon is added.

The Bourbon Cart

Tonight's trio were Rittenhouse Rye with Cinnamon, Elijah Craig with Star Anise, and Larceny with Orange and Lemon Peel.  As the drinks were for my husband, I can only tell you what he said which was that it was amazing how the smoke had accentuated the flavor of the bourbon, but he wasn't sure that it made enough of a difference.  Honestly, I think he was just excited to get to try three other bourbons.

The Bourbon Cart Trio

For our salad course my husband selected the beets.  I got an opportunity to taste a golden beet, and it was as good as it should be.

Heirloom Beets (cypress grove goat cheese, pistachio, golden balsamic)

I went with the garden kale salad, which is traditionally served with blue cheese, but I asked to be served without as blue cheese does not like me.  I'm honestly not sure what the chips on top were.  The salad was good, but honestly too large as I found myself tiring of eating kale.

Garden Kale (kumquat, golden raisins, candied pecans)

I wasn't sure what to order as I wasn't in the mood for steak and our server made the lamb sound so tasty, I couldn't refuse.  She said it was actually the dish that she recommends to foodies.  The dish is made up of two lamb chops, a lamb cigar, and lamb tongue.  The tongue was interesting, and I think, quite possibly, the first tongue I have ever eaten.  It was small, but I shared it with my husband.  The lamb cigar was heavenly.  It was, I believe, lamb shank rolled in a phyllo dough and fried.  And, of course, the lamb chops were heavenly, though I had to bring the bones home in order to get all of the goodness off the bone instead of embarrassing my husband in the restaurant.

Anderson Valley Lamb (medjool date, carrot couscous, harissa jus)

One of the specials that night was an American Wagyu Rib Cap.  My husband has loved this cut of meat ever since he first experienced it at Gordon Ramsay's Steak at the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas.  He said it was exceptional.

American Wagyu Rib Cap
For sides my husband selected the lobster whipped potato.  This picture was taken after my husband served himself a spoonful.  I'm not sure if it was intentional or not, but the whipped potato was looser than one would expect.  It was quite gloopy which you can sort of tell from the aftermath of a serving in the picture below.  Also, I didn't notice much lobster.  The flavor was good, but not what I would think of when ordering whipped potatoes.

Lobster Whipped Potato

For the vegetable he selected the Delta Asparagus, I think because he was curious what the seven treasures were.  He said the seasoning reminded him of something he would have gotten out of the freezer section of the grocery store.  I have to disagree with him as I thought it was fantastic.  One of the seven treasures is I believe a Chinese sausage cut thinly, but honestly I'm not certain.

Delta Asparagus with 7 Treasures

Dessert was a difficult decision to make, but ultimately we selected the bread pudding.  The bananas didn't seem very caramelized, but I'm not complaining.  The bread pudding was the perfect consistency, and not very sweet, making the buttered rum sauce the perfect compliment.

Pastry Case Bread Pudding (caramelized banana,buttered rum sauce)

Bourbon Steak was the perfect restaurant for my husband's birthday dinner, and I can't wait to go back again and this time, try the steak myself!

Not Distrito

We found ourselves back in the Palm Springs area again this weekend and decided to try Chef Jose Garces' other restaurant in the Saguaro Hotel, El Jefe.  If you try to research El Jefe on the Garces Group website all you really see is that its known as Distrito at its other locations, reservations are not available at this location, and the menu is not online.  So let me sum it up for you: its the hotel bar that serves nachos and tacos.  Now, don't get me wrong, the nachos and tacos are far from average, but the ambiance is a bar with limited seating.  It was actually hard to nail down what we were going to eat from all of the options, and yet the menu is listed on a simple laminated piece of paper.

We decided to try the goat tacos, because well, how often do you eat goat?  The tacos come three to a serving on a single tortilla, which I appreciated as I often find myself leaving the second tortilla behind as its too much "bread."  Be warned, the tacos are very saucy, so have your napkin handy.  The goat meat was tasty and soft, but not smushy.  The orange habanero salsa was not hot at all, which was a pleasant surprise.  And the tortillas are housemade, so they taste just right and aren't too corny.

Cabrito Tacos (goat, black beans, orange habanero salsa, goat crema)

A cabrito taco, up close

I've never had gazpacho before as I've been admittedly weary of eating cold tomato soup, but when I saw watermelon and crab in the contents, I knew this was the gazpacho I had to try.  The dish is served with the soup on the side for you to pour over the filling as you choose.  I was pleased with this dish.  I can't say that I had more interest than maybe four spoonfuls, but it was quite good and would probably be very refreshing on a hot summer day.

Gazpacho as its served, with the soup on the side for you to pour yourself

Gazpacho (watermelon, roma tomato, dungeness crab, chives)

I was most excited about the nachos, but unfortunately my server misunderstood which nachos I ordered and I ended up with the vegetarian Ignacio nachos and not the skirt steak laden Encarnacion.  The other primary difference between the two nachos is the beans, with the skirt steak being accompanied by refried beans and the vegetarian served with black beans.  I wish I had gotten the Encarnacion as I was disappointed with the Ignacio.  I did appreciate that the tortilla chips were made from the same tortillas used for the tacos, but there seemed to be too many of them and they weren't adequately covered with goo.  Also, radish should probably be the first ingredient listed as the nachos seemed covered in radish.  And while I'm not a fan of black beans, they seemed to be very few of them, which seemed unusual for a dish that lists the beans as the first ingredient.  If you are a true nacho fan, these are not the nachos for you.

Ignacio Nachos (black beans, tomato, queso mixto, jalapeno, chile de arbol, radish)

My husband wanted to try the yellowfin ceviche.  Its not a traditional ceviche as it doesn't have strong citrus flavor.  To get that you need to eat it with a small serving of the accompanying lime sorbet.  Also, the tostaditas that the ceviche is served with were too few and too small to be of any use.  I actually found myself using the lime on the rim of my margarita to season the dish, and the tortillas from the nachos to serve myself.  The fish was good and fresh, but this was not a ceviche to me.

Ceviche de Atun (yellowfin tuna, serrano coconut sauce, lime sorbet, tomatillo, tostadita)

If you want a quick easy way to dine on food prepared by an Iron Chef, then El Jefe is for you.  I'll probably go back to try more of the tacos, but that's probably it for me.  I'd much rather eat in the fine dining restaurant, Tinto, a few feet away.

Beef, and nothing but beef

A few weeks back some friends of our tagged themselves at a restaurant that looked intriguing.  I think I might be using the term restaurant loosely with Top Round as they probably belong on Diners, Drive-ins, & Dives.  So an opportunity presented itself and we took a trip down there for lunch.  The restaurant is located on the southeast corner of a busy intersection, so making a left into the establishment was no easy task, but we were pleasantly surprised to find ample parking.

Ordering is pretty simple.  Outside is where you order your meal based off of the menu posted to the wall, and then inside is where you order your dessert.  There is covered seating outside, and ample seating inside as well.

First up were the dirty fries.  It should be noted that their fries are hand cut in their kitchen and cooked in 100% beef fat.  I can't say I noticed the difference with the cooking liquid, but maybe its because my fries with smothered with so much yummy stuff.  Provel cheese is created through a combination of cheddar, Swiss, and provolone cheeses and has a low melting point.  According to Wikipedia you don't see it outside of St. Louis, but I guess they are wrong.  Anyway, back to the fries covered in a hearty gravy full of beef bites and glazed with their in-house Round Sauce, which is similar to Arby Sauce, but yet, not the same at all.  I actually found myself going up to their condiment bar to get more Round Sauce.

Dirty Fries (curly fried cooked in beef fat with gravy, provel cheese, caramelized onions & round sauce)

The sandwiches come simply wrapped with identifying stickers on top.  My husband and I couldn't decide between two sandwiches, so we got both and shared.

Our sandwiches

First up was the Horse & Hole.  An interesting name, but perfectly describes the simplicity of the sandwich: horseradish and mushrooms.  I loved this sandwich.  Everything was in the right proportion and the roast beef was freshly cooked to perfection.

Horse & Hole (provel cheese, horseradish cream, roasted mushrooms, sesame bun)

I was a little nervous about ordering the Beef on Weck because I wasn't exactly sure what Atomic Horseradish was.  Ironically, I think they forgot to put it on our sandwich because I didn't notice any horseradish at all.  My husband actually had to go up to the condiment bar to serve himself some of their freshly grated horseradish for the sandwich.  Yes, I said freshly grated.  No horseradish cream at the condiment bar, Hooray!  I found the caraway seeds and salt a little overwhelming for the roast beef, personally, so I spent more of my time on the Horse & Hole.

Beef on Weck (atomic horseradish, caraway & sea salt bun)

We passed on any dessert this trip, though I am curious to try their frozen custard.  All in, this was a good meal.  We thought it was more out of the way then it ended up being, so our likelihood of returning is high.  Its a great place to go if you want a simple, good roast beef sandwich without all the fuss.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Oh My!

About six weeks ago I received an email from L.A. Weekly with the subject "Steaming burnt miso ramen."  Naturally I was curious and clicked to open when I saw that there was a review of restaurant called Ramen by Omae.  Now, I know of an Omae, but when I clicked on the link I was surprised to find out that it was the very Omae I was thinking of. Chef Omae is famous to the average American foodie for his role as sous chef to Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, but to true international food connoisseurs he is a twice-awarded Michelin starred chef.  So what's he doing in Sherman Oaks?

Serving the most amazing ramen I have ever had in my life.  I told my husband that I don't even think I can enjoy Pho after eating Omae's ramen.  We had actually eaten ramen twice before in this very same location under a different name, and the name is the only thing that changed about the place.  The old restraurant was dark with booths, and Chef Omae's has literally lightened up the joint and added crystal chandeliers above the table tops.  Its a better atmosphere to be dining in, to be quite frank.

First up my husband ordered some edamame.  Two things to note: 1) it comes cold, and 2) juice squirts out of it like nobody's business.   Other than that, its your basic edamame.


In choosing your ramen, you only have a few choices: pork, chicken or veggie and then kogashi (burnt miso) or not.  Here's the description of what burnt miso ramen is according to the L.A. Weekly article. "Exactly what it sounds like. Order it and, behind the counter in the kitchen, cooks set explosive, leaping fire to the red fermented bean paste in a wok, before adding it to a tonkotsu broth that has been cooking for 40 hours. The milky, fatty, porky broth takes on a charred but sweet flavor, a lingering smoke almost like mesquite. It's absurdly seductive."  Yes, that's exactly what it is.  When selecting your ramen you also choose the type of noodle (yellow thick or white thin) and then how cooked your egg is (hard or soft boiled).  With no originality my husband and I both selected the pork kogashi ramen with yellow thick noodles and a soft boiled egg, and its probably a good thing we did as there was not going to be any sharing at the table.

After a few minutes one of the bowl of ramen appears and smells amazing.  I took my soup spoon and dipped it into the broth to take a sip, and was overwhelmed by the flavor coming from a broth.  I had died and gone to ramen heaven.  I then used my chopsticks to pull of a small bite of the pork, and in my mouth I tasted quite potentially the most flavorful pork ever.  My husband compared it to bacon, with its sweet and salty flavor, but it reminded me a little bit more of what Chinese barbecue pork should taste like.  Sadly the bowl only came with two slices.

Pork burnt kogashi miso ramen with yellow thick noodles and a soft boiled egg

My husband finished his bowl, but I brought half of mine home to enjoy later.  We immediately declared that we would be returning, and only half-joked that we would be back tonight for dinner.  There are many other ways to enjoy your ramen either with add-ons or their "make your own ramen" menu selection.  I can't imagine having anything except the kogashi again, but I should try to branch out and who knows, maybe I'll find that Omae has even more up his sleeve.

Other items should be noted.  The restaurant is honest about the hours its open.  For example, its open from noon to 3pm for lunch, but that means the last serving is at 3pm as they close the restaurant at 3:30pm.  Also, on the chalk board wall decoration they advertise that if you pay for your meal with cash that they will give you a 5% discount.  And as I explained to my husband when he noted by $1.20 savings, I can buy a cup of coffee at McDonald's with that.

So in summary: Go directly to Ramen by Omae.  Do not pass Go.  Do not collect $200.