Friday, August 1, 2014

The Color Redd

Since this trip to Napa was longer than out traditional two-day tip, we were able to branch out and try new restaurants instead of our usual offerings.  A friend of mine recently traveled here and recommended Redd.  And as luck would have it, it's located directly across the street from our hotel.  While I always prefer to try a restaurant such as Redd for dinner as that is when they really get an opportunity to put their best menu-foot forward, our schedule only allowed for lunch.

The menu is simple, broken into appetizers (3 ounce servings of protein) and entrees (6 ounce servings of proteins), but they also have a five course tasting menu for $60, with an optional wine pairing for an additional $35, provided the entire table participates.  Since we have dinner plans, and since our trips here are all about eating, we passed on the tasting menu.

Our shared appetizer was the yellow fin tuna and hamachi tartare.  The presentation was simple and pretty, and was served with a large serving spoon and fork, but that was it.  It was awkward spooning the tartare onto our plates to then be eaten with a fork.  In our opinion, the fried rice should have been thin rice cakes that the tartare could be spooned onto.  The other thing I noted about the dish was how large the cubes the fish was cut into, rather than a fine tartare.  Now, admittedly, I was not expecting the superfine texture of a Morimoto tartare, but I also wasn't expecting pieces that were 1/2 inch thick.  The flavor of the fish was excellent, and the fried rice made a nice crispy compliment.  It was just awkward to eat.

Yellowfin tuna and hamachi tartare, avocado, chili oil, fried rice, cilantro

My husband selected the lamb meatballs for his entree.  I had been considering them as well, but since I know we have a heavy dinner planned for this evening, I wanted to go for something lighter.  The presentation of the dish was simply gorgeous and redd.  I was able to snag a taste of the meatball (yummy), the tomato broth (tasty) and the mint yogurt (minty).  I also snagged a tomato, which was fresh from a garden.  That is one great thing about Yountville, I don't know if its because of the the French Laundry garden or what, but the produce is all fresh and amazing.  This is what the so-called farm-to-table restaurants in Los Angeles are attempting to achieve.

Lamb meatballs, summer squash, couscous, spiced tomato broth, mint yogurt

I decided to go with smoked trout salad with the hope that it would not be slathered in mayonnaise, and I was not disappointed.  The salad is served with a slice of brioche toast sliced in half.  The baby beets were cooked perfectly and were the right amount of sweet to go with the smoky fish.  The top half of the fish was sprinkled with egg white and the bottom with egg yolk.  The trout was smoked just the right amount, so that it had the flavor and texture of smoke, but without the "barbecue" flavor.  And the horseradish creme fraiche only slightly dressed the fish.  My only complaint with the dish was that the lemon vinaigrette was a little too pungent, but thankfully it was only tossed with the frisee.

Smoked trout salad, beets, lemon vinaigrette, horseradish crème fraiche
We decided to pass on dessert, though all of the selections were extremely tempting.  All in this was a great, California lunch in a great atmosphere.  Next time, though, I'm coming back for dinner to see what they really have to offer.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Back to Napa

Time for the annual trip to Napa, and that means that our first stop must be at Morimoto in Downtown Napa.  This year we arrived early and were able to take advantage of lunch instead of dinner, so I'm able to talk about different menu items than the ones I posted last year.

Wednesdays in Napa are very quiet, so we were able to dine while hearing what the other said, which was a challenge with last year's Friday night dinner.  Our waiter asked us if we had any questions about the menu, and I only had one "How do you decide?"  I had already been thinking about just ordering from the appetizers, and he actually recommended it stating that some of their most unique items are listed there.  He recommended ordering 3-4 appetizers and supplementing with sushi.  Okay, no twisting of my arm needed.

Morimoto has two tartares on his menu.  Last year we decided to try the hamachi tartare, but this year we went back to the tried and true toro tartare just because I prefer toro to hamachi.  Everything else about the dish is the same: perfect.  The tartare is served with nori paste, wasabi, sour cream, chives, guacamole, and a crispy sesame puff, along with a soy dipping sauce so that you can create the perfect bite.  Realistically, they are all perfect bites.

toro tartare – wasabi, nori paste, sour cream 

Next up was the wagyu carpaccio which I tried to convince my husband was absolutely awful.  My tease failed and I had to share the heavenly dish.  The beef was perfectly tender, just a hint of searing, and the sauce was the perfect compliment.

wagyu beef carpaccio – yuzu soy, ginger, sweet garlic

The kitchen decided to serve the sushi next since our remaining two appetizers were on the heavier side.  We are big fans of saba, so to see horse mackerel on the menu, we knew we had to try it.  We also really wanted to try the amberjack.  All of the sushi was fresh and simple.  The kitchen didn't add any sauces to the enhance or change the flavor of the fish.  There was, of course, soy on the side and wasabi served with the dish.  One thing to note: the prices listed on the menu are per individual piece of sushi and not per pair as is more traditional.  So be careful when ordering if you're worried about money.

Clockwise from top left: hamachi / yellowtail, aji / horse mackerel, kyu-ri / pickled cucumber, kanpachi / amberjack, saba / japanese mackerel 

There are no words to describe the next dish.  No words that could possibly give it the justice it deserves.  All I will say is this: I love the pig and I feel for those who are unable to eat pig due to dietary or medicinal reasons.  You might recall how much I loved the pork belly at Hinoki and the Bird.  Well, I only like it in comparison to this.  I never wanted this dish to end.  And when eating the congee mixed with the natural juices of the pork, along with jus, it made me happy that the dish wasn't over just yet.  Our waiter said that next time we need to order the sticky ribs, but I can't imagine them being better than this.

kakuni – ten hour pork belly, rice congee, soy-scallion jus

And for our final dish, we were served our hamachi tacos.  The wonton taco wrapper was light and airy and the fish was served very naturally  A light way to end our meal.

hamachi tacos – avocado, yuzu koshu, lime

I can't wait to go back to Morimoto try even more dishes (and have the pork belly again).  Having been to both his Napa and New York locations, perhaps its time to venture to Philadelphia and Waikiki to see what they have in store for me.

Hey Lucy!

First night in Yountville and we actually don't have reservations anywhere.  Mostly because we were wait-listed at The French Laundry, but also because with our having such a late lunch at Morimoto I wasn't sure what we would be up for.  As the night went on, the hunger pangs began to develop and I pulled open my Open Table app.  I had already identified the casual dining, no reservations needed restaurants, but my husband heard there was antelope on the menu, and off to Lucy at Bardessono we went.

The Bardessono hotel is located just off Washington Street behind Bouchon.  It was a nice night, so all of the diners (what few there were) were out on the patio.  The two-top tables are set up in such a way that the two diners sit next to each other facing the backs of the diners at the two-top in front of them.  The menu is simple and easy to read, but they hand you an iPad to select your cocktail and that was the biggest disappointment (or, only, to be frank) as it worked very slowly and delayed the ordering process.  I've seen this work at other restaurants, so perhaps they just need to work on their app.

Drink and food orders were placed and we were asked if we wanted bread service.  I appreciated the question, as sometimes I don't and feel bad for the wasted bread that could have gone to needy people.  The bread was very good, probably from Bouchon, served with a room temperature butter sprinkled with black sea salt.  Then out came an amuse bouche fresh from their garden.  A simple spring roll with fresh vegetables in a ponzu sauce.  The ponzu must be made in house as it was very citrusy.  The spring roll was good, but even though it was small, the rice paper to vegetable ratio seemed a little off.

Ponzu spring roll from the garden

Now I am not the biggest carrot fan on the earth, especially not cooked carrots (nightmares of Hanukkahs past continue to haunt me of my mother's previously-frozen crinkle cut sweetened carrot "dish"), so I let the husband order the carrot salad.  Of course when it arrived there were jokes like "Would you like some carrots with your carrots?" and also, "You're going to start resembling Susan Dey from the Partridge Family."  The husband was quick to point out that some of the carrots were white (or yellow depending on your vision).  I believe those were the ones that were confited.  He said that it was the carrot chips that really made the dish as they added a much needed texture.

Freshly Dug Carrot Salad (confit carrots, carrot chips, curry shallot dressing, carrot fronds)

I, on the other hand, went for the "It's not a caprese" salad.  When you hear that the salad includes house-pulled mozzarella its natural to get excited.  Well, don't bother.  The mozzarella was dry and dense, and had a grainy texture to it.  When I have tomato and mozzarella salads I expect my mozzarella to be soft, to be what the markets call "fresh mozzarella."  This might have been fresh, but it simply wasn't good.  The tomatoes were fresh and tasted like garden grown tomatoes.  The basil had a very faint basil flavor and the balsamic was the perfect acidic bite, not too acidic and not too sweet.  I would have liked a little more salt on the dish, but that is a personal preference.

Ginaquinta tomatoes, house pulled mozzarella, basil, apple balsamic

Well, it started to get dark out before the entrees arrived and since I don't want to be one of those diners whose flash disrupts the entire restaurant, you'll need to forgive the next few photos.  Time for the antelope dish that brought us here.  I had a quick bite of the antelope, and it seemed okay to me.  The husband really enjoyed and wanted to gnaw on the bone right there in the restaurant.

Broken Arrow antelope chop, ratatouille,   tomato-ancho jus

I went for the lighter scallops.  It should be noted that the menu offers two sizes for their entrees: a 3-ounce and a 6-ounce depending on your hunger.  I ordered the 3-ounce, but I think I may have ended up with the 6 as that's what the bill said, and it looked like more scallop than I was expecting.  No real complaints here though.  The scallops were amazing.  Perfectly cooked.  Soft, yet warm centers.  Only downside was the dish came with more fresh tomatoes.  Don't get me wrong, I love fresh tomatoes, but I just had a whole plate of them as a salad.  I feel like I should have been told about this when I said I wanted to start with the tomato salad.  The corn pudding was good though I didn't want to combine it with the sherry reduction, as is what ended up happening.  But the scallops were truly the star of the plate.

Diver scallops, corn pudding, mustard  greens, pineapple tomatillo salad, spanish sherry reduction

The end of the night came and we decided to pass on dessert as we do have a lot of eating to do while we are here.  Thankfully right before the check came they brought us two small bites that perfectly capped the meal.  They were rocky road bars made with dark chocolate, so not too sweet.  The host told us that these are his favorite and the reason for his very slight belly.

Rocky road bars

The night was over and we walked back to our hotel pleased.  Was this the best meal I've ever had in Yountville?  No.  But it was a good meal and I would definitely recommend it.

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!