Sunday, April 6, 2014

Tasting Kitchen Venice Beach


Toms Coffee Collaboration
Getty Villa
Day two we spent the afternoon at the Getty Villa and then off to Venice Beach to walk Abbot Kinney searching for Dixon Rand Customers.  If you have never gone to the Getty Villa it is worth while to see the amazing collection of Greek and Roman Architecture and Antiquities.  It is set in the most amazing location in Malibu. 
After the museum we drove to Venice to walk Abbot Kinney Blvd which I can only sum up as a haven where wealthy hippies and young hipster creatively collaborate and live.  The street epitomizes the future of retail and communal dining.  While you are there you need to go to the Toms Coffee Store to see what I mean.
Tasting Kitchen Great Ambiance
Cheeses all with a bite
For dinner tonight we went to the Tasting Kitchen, we got there early so we could wait out the LA traffic.  The restaurant is very open with a lot of glass several levels and with a NoCal Coastal ambiance.  Our server Kara did an awesome job of guiding us around the menu and helped us pick 4 great dishes to share.  We started out with a Cheese dish made up Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Stichelton and Monte Enebro all of the cheeses were hardy with bite and went well with the Huckleberry preserves and Walnuts.
Next came a huge bowl of steaming Mussels steeped in Saffron Cream, Fennel and lots of freshly baked dipping bread.  This was a meal in itself it was so sumptuous with a fantastic Mediterranean flair.  I cannot tell you how good the sauce was with the bread, I think we ate a whole half loaf just soaking up the broth.    The fennel added another dynamic by providing a little licorice taste and a good crunch to balance out the Mussels.  It literally infiltrates your taste buds.  The Asparagus came out just at the right time it was a great way to cleanse our palette with the cold crisp asparagus with grapefruit, truffled honey and almonds. 

Creste Di Gallo
It did the perfect job to prepare us for the Creste di Gallo (Pasta looks like Macaroni with a Mohawk) with Calibrian Sausage.  This was a hearty dish perfect for the crisp cool day the pasta had substance and the Sausage Sauce had a great bite, richness and heat to it.  The Tasting Kitchen was a great find and I would highly recommend it when you are in Venice.  The restaurant is comfortable the staff is very knowledgeable and the food is very good.
This was a great way to end our getaway weekend to Los Angeles.

Baco Mercat Downtown LA

Our weekend had just begun and after our great afternnon we headed out to dinner at Baco Mercat which is named for it's Baco which is flat bread loaded with meats, cheeses, yogurts and spices developed by Owner Chef Josef Centeno.  As people are discovering Los Angeles is quickly becoming the restaurant leader in the west.  There are more and more new restaurants with chefs coming from other regions to make their mark.  Chef Josef started his career in NYC and has gained notoriety with his restaurant groups terrific menus.  Baco Mercat is right in downtown and it is decorated in the manner of the ever growing public house craft style.  Nothing fancy just focusing on great food.  What makes these restaurants different from others they do not get hung up on one menu for the year, they are constantly changing it up to feature what is fresh and seasonal.  Baco Mercat can be tackled in two distinct ways starter and entree or small plates which is my preferred eating ritual. 

Pork Sugo

Yellow Beets
Our server Katherin provided some excellent suggestions and steered us with 5 choices.  Baco Mercat really features vegetables and so we started with the Baby Yellow Beet Salad.  We have become to love fresh beets, when combined with a little spice, some vinaigrette, yogurt and sumac it really tests the taste bud and helps cleanse the palette.  Next up was the Caramelized Cauliflower which as far as I am concerned was the star of the night.  It tasted hardy, it had heat, it had the yogurt to cut the heat it had fennel to make it complex.  It still hangs on my palette, if it was the last dish of the night I would have been satisfied, but it wasn't so up next was the Hand Torn Pasta with Pork Belly Sugo.  I love anything Pork Belly because it is so sinful and so it was.  Home made sheet pasta, with Kale (to Balance out the Sin of the Pork Belly Sugo), Soujouk and Pine Nuts.  This dish was another creative home run with it's heat and Mediterranean hints. 
My Favorite Cauliflower
Is it Soup or Stew, it is good
Green Beans
I love a meal when your tongue is woken up with several tastes in succession. 
On came the Blistered Green Beans with chunks of fresh roasted tomatoes, Fenugreek and Basil.  This dish was refreshing but I remember saying to myself that I could make this and probably will provided I can find the Fenugreek.  The final dish was the soup and it was worth waiting for because it was the combination of good things that are not recommended by the AHA but are very satisfying to indulge.  The broth was hearty and salty the meat had the right amount of fat and was tender, the soup was more of a stew and had many textures, pasta provided some bulk, the mushrooms were mini sponges and added additional texture it was topped with a sunny side up egg just waiting for the yolk to be broken to provide a richness and some fresh cilantro to ad a little bitter peppery bite. Overall it was more of a spicy stew something you might find in New Mexico, it was a great finishing dish.
Baco Mercat is a very good restaurant comfortable ambiance, great staff and above all great consistent food. This is the type of restaurant every big city should have.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Weekend in LA

Pancake Lasagne
Chorizo Waffles
Nothing like a weekend getaway.  Typically we go to San Francisco but this time we decided to drive to our destination besides LA is quickly becoming the new hot restaurant spot.  We checked into the Hotel Wilshire one of the two Kimpton LA properties and went up to the roof for a quick bite.  To our surprise the The Roof on Wilshire was hopping and every table was occupied for the moment.  Why wouldn't it though the weather was spectacular and the food looked delicious.  While we waited for our table to be made up we both ordered their specialty drink with Cucumber, and Habanero to kick off the weekend. 
This restaurant is one of several Eric Greenspan eateries.  Eric was one of the first celebrity chefs in LA with his restaurant The Foundry and his defeat of Bobby Flay on Iron Chef.  Anyway back to the food.   JoAnn had the Pancake Lasagna and I had the Chorizo Waffles.  Both were unique and tasty mine was a crispy waffle with bits of Chorizo that you could dip in Agave syrup with a side of a Sunny side up Egg in rich Mole Sauce.  Interesting concept that really worked it wasn't overly sweet, spicy or savory it was a great balance of all.  The Pancake Lasagna was a layers of Pancakes, Canadian Bacon, Cheese and Egg with a drizzle of syrup.  Hands down the winner for taste and simple creativity.  So if you are in the Mid Wilshire area and looking for a great place to stay or just hang out on a nice day go the The Roof on Wilshire it will not disappoint great food with a relaxed vibe.
While there I met Eric's business partner Jay Perrin and he told me of a great new fine dining restaurant they will be opening near The Foundry.
From the restaurant we walked over to the Diane Von Furstenburg exhibit at the LACMA which was one of the exhibitions we wanted to see while in LA.  JoAnn has been waiting for 2 months to go to the event and it was well worth it.  Number 1 entry is free, number 2 it covers the history of the wrap dress which occurred during the 70's an iconic creative time in the history of the US. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Bar Tartine San Francisco

We took a quick two day trip to San Francisco and was lucky enough to get in one of the hardest reservations in the city Bar Tartine.  Bar Tartine is in the Mission District which has established itself as the in place for San Francisco urban living.  Both Mission and Valencia streets have the newest hippest restaurants, bodegas and retail shops which are primarily focused on providing services to the residents not necessarily tourists.  Bar Tartine's Chefs Nick Balla and Courtney Burns have earned significant accolades, I see them as this new breed of Chefs that are bringing the world to us one taste at a time.  Bar Tartine does not have significant signage and will not over whelm you with formality it is designed in the public house genre and is in existence to serve interesting, complex and great food.  I like restaurants like this because it sets new standards in creativity and qu
ality and will push the dining experience.  Like others I have reviewed in the last year Bar Tartine was a semifinalist in James Beards 2013 List and I was not disappointed.
Half of a great restaurant experience is working with your server to make sure you order the right things ours was Katie and she was a very good food guide.  Bar Tartine is a family style restaurant which happens to be my favorite kind because I can share without getting in trouble.  We started with the brine pickled root veggies mostly colorful Beets and Carrots which was a good palate cleanser.  This was quickly followed by the Smoked Potatoes with Black Garlic which was the memorable food we had eaten in months.  It is one of those seemingly simple dishes that you can still taste one week later because it left it's own signature on our palate.  We had ordered a spread of Cultured Squash in Sunchoke Oil which accompanied the most amazing bread I had had.  The bread baked at Tartine had the moist texture of a great bread pudding and was so sweet and flavorful.  The bread needed no topping it was great by itself.  Next up was Kale with Sunflower Tahini, Rye and Yoghurt this is a healthy dish I have a hard time remembering without a picture prompt, it was good but it was not as memorable as other parts of the meal. 

Fisherman's Stew savory
The entrĂ©e dish was Green Chili Fisherman's Stew with Collards.  This is a dish that has several flavor profiles that unveil themselves after your first bite.  This is a very complex dish first you taste a fresh green bitter bite of the collard followed by savory meat base broth coating the tongue, then a subtle but growing green chili bite.  This dish was very good the fish was firm and very fresh, there were broth soaking mushrooms fresh vegetables making this dish the star of the night closely followed by the Potatoes.
Carob Mousse
Dessert was on tonight and we started with Carob Mousse with Goat Cheesed and Black Walnuts followed by Pound Cake with Sweet Potato Pound Cake and Chestnut.  The Carob Mousse was perfectly unsweet and savory every bite was awesome, the Pound Cake with the Sweet Potato Ice Cream was perfectly sweet with that yoghurt bite.  honestly I had never had desserts that were so fulfilling yet did not make me feel guilty that I had it.  It was just wonderful food!!
So if you have a chance to get into Bar Tartine you should grab it this a great experience with a nice local vibe.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

2013 Restaurants of the Year

Chris Shepard of Underbelly
El Claustro Lobster Salad
SeaBass in Granada
This year was a pretty great eating year! I went to a lot of different cities globally and was able to write up 20+ restaurants. It also showed up on my waist where I gained another 1/2 inch.  I went to several countries this year and well over a dozen different cities and have chosen 'the best' to share with you.  It is important to note that I started using the James Beard Annual Nominee List to help guide me in restaurant selection the US.
Melt in your mouth Waygu
My nominees for best Restaurant are Underbelly in Houston, Animal in Los Angeles, Empellon Cocina in New York City and Incanto in San Francisco.  They were all good but my favorite was Chris Shepard's Underbelly.  I can still recall the tastes of the food and Beef that literally melted in my mouth.  Chris was also the most engaging of any chef this year and I will bet we will see more on a national scene.
My favorite International Restaurants were Havis in Helsinki and El Claustro in Granada; both were of great quality but El Claustro was my favorite because of the creativity, tastes, venue and the company I was with, my wife.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Dutch in Miami Beach

The Dutch
We went to a very cool art event in Miami, Art Basel Miami which is the largest contemporary art show in the Americas.  It consists of many venues that show both established and up and coming collectible contemporary art.  We went with a small group of like minded individuals (Ann our hostess, David, John, Muriel, Beth, Kris and of course Jo Ann) to have fun, enjoy the art and consume some great food.   Art Basel was amazing but in conjunction with the art show was Design Miami which is the Contemporary home design show of the year.
Jeff Koons
I had high hopes of hitting several great restaurants while we were there and was not disappointed.  One restaurant worth noting is The Dutch at the W South Beach.  The W South Beach is one of the most dynamic party scenes in South Beach, so where else would a group of 8 Baby Boomers hang out during one of South Beaches largest events of the year.  The Dutch is a Andrew Carmellini inspired restaurant with its roots in NYC.   Andrew who is a James Beard award winner has several successful collaborations mostly in his home base NYC.

Colorful Beets
Oyster Sliders Yum!
Lets get to The Dutch, whenever I walk in a W hotel I come to the realization that without my reading glasses I cannot see a thing because it is so dimly lit or because i am too old to be there but there is a transformation from the youth glitz to The Dutch which reminds me of a brand new  American country kitchen, bright, lots of wood, color, food in jars you get the picture.  I am getting used to this retro Americana look it is simple and clean.  I did not pay much attention to the service, it was a big group, I got a great entree recommendation and was well taken care of so it seemed to be OK.  We were here for the food experience and I do not know how the other 7 were feeling but I was pretty excited.  Good thing about a big group is that there are a lot of choices so there are plenty of food photo ops. 

Flounder Basil Polenta
Snapper with Green Curry
For starters I had the I had the Oyster Slider and the Lobster Slider, they might sound pedestrian but they were both spectacular.  The Oyster slider was on a light sesame roll that was there to hold this great taste together.  The Oyster was deep fried and crunchy on the outside and melted in your mouth in the inside, the herbs and sauce brought out the briny taste of the oyster to make it a great bite.  The Lobster roll was just as tasty with a large chunk of Lobster meat and a great creamy complimentary sauce.
The entrees all looked spectacular I had the Florida Flounder with Basil Polenta and Heirloom Tomato Chutney.  The Flounder was recommended by our server Genie and I am glad I had listened.  the fish was perfectly cooked not over done and the Basil Polenta was creamy and delicious.  OK now i have not had Basil Polenta but I have to tell you that it had that great punch of Basil without the bite.  The Tomato Chutney pulled the taste together so the taste was a piece of Fish with a dollop of Polenta and a drag of Chutney which produced a tangy, buttery bite.  The other meals on the table looked great as you can see.
I would recommend The Dutch it is fun with great food.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

An Animal in Los Angeles

No Name but it is Animal
I have been looking for a reason to go to LA for the last year to go to either Animal or Son of a Gun we ended up at Animal which turned out to be a great decision.  Both restaurants are the brainchild of Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, these guys have multitudes of awards and 3 James Beard Nominations.  Animal is on Fairfax Ave. an area where there are several Jewish Delis and Bakeries and Skateboard stores, kind of an eclectic area.  Be sure to have your navigation system on because there is no sign just a black painted facia with a set back entrance.
Shrimp and Rabbit Spring Roll
The restaurant is not large or fancy I would compare it to the new design look of American craft purveyor which is rustic and simple.   I had just been to Publican the week before so I thought I was in for a similar treat but this was going to prove to be better.  Our server James immediately welcomed us and walked us through the one special of the evening (Steak No Thanks) and then helped us through our order.  This is a very good menu that changes frequently, the night we went it was most everything Pork but since the menu changes frequently Animal remains relevant.  We live in San Diego and several restaurants with a similar theme have opened over the last few years, the big difference is that they do not change their menu and thus stifle any creativity.  Enough of my editorial lets get to the meal. 
Shishito with Katsuobushi
Pork Head
Animal is a family style restaurant which makes the evening oh so much more special because you can share several plates instead of just getting your entree.  JoAnn and I ordered 5 plates and each one was just as wonderful than the previous.  Our first plate was Shrimp and Rabbit Sausage Spring Rolls with wild herbs and Green Curry.  The Spring Roll had substance, it was savory and with the combination of the bite of the herbs and the heat of the Green Curry it was a great way to start the meal.  We love Shishito peppers and when on the menu we always order them because they are always fresh and offer a heat found nowhere else in the meal. This case the star of the meal was not the Pepper but the Katsuobushi which is shaved Tuna Jerky and as you can see they did not spare any.  The taste of the meal was spicy hot, savory/umami, salty and lemon, I can still imagine the taste.  Next we had the Crispy Pig Head it really is only the meat of the pig cheek sitting on a short grain rice stack with a Soy Egg and Bull Dog Sauce which I can only describe as creamy tart hot sauce that tinges the palette.  All I can say about this dish is no one component can stand on it's own but together it is wonderful.  There is the crunch of the Pork, the bite of the Soy Egg, the rice as a serving platform and the sauce that provides some heat, sweet and tart. 
Pig Ear with Fried Egg
Phew even as I type this I remember the taste of this meal so vividly.  Next was the Ricotta Gnocchi with a 6 hour Bolognese, the Ricotta Gnocchi was light and creamy not your typical heavy potato Gnocchi.  It was perfectly matched with a Bolognese sauce made with Beef, Pork and Veal which was sweet with a touch of acid from the tomato another great dish.  Last in the line up was the Pig Ear with Chili, lime topped with a Fried Egg.  The Pig Ear is boiled then sliced into strips and then deep fried so they are crunchy as you can see it is topped with a Fried Egg visually very cool the egg yolk was almost orange.  This dish was rich and the lime added a great bite along with the chili. 

Salt and Pepper Ice Cream
Even though most people would give up after all those great flavors there was one more item I had to have the Bacon Chocolate Crunch Bar with Salt and Pepper Ice Cream.  The Ice Cream is the star here and perhaps it is punctuated by the Bacon Crunch Bar but again many great flavors combined in a way to make it delicious.
This restaurant is a must go to in LA, the food the service and the memory on my palette justify all the awards.  Shout out to James our server, he knows his food and provided me with some other great restaurants in Chicago for when I go next.