Saturday, July 25, 2009

Back soon...

I have so many dinners to post thanks to a roadtrip down the coast of California and a roadtrip across America. I think this will keep me occupied for a good while. Bear with me.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Napa Valley Day 3: Terra

For dinner this evening, after a day of some really delicious wine (V. Sattui and Castello di Amarosa were our faves!), we headed into St. Helena to go to Terra.

Neither of us were that hungry, but the menu here looked fantastic.

For appetizer, my mother ordered the kampachi carpaccio with radish salad, yuzu tobiko and ponzu sauce. It was good, although the kampachi should have been sliced much thinner I think. Again, while it was a good rendition of a Japanese dish, I kept thinking that it would have been fantastic at a real Japanese restaurant.



I ordered the monterey grilled squid with chickpeas and chard. It was good, though a tad on the salty side. Also, the micro greens on top turned out to be micro cilantro. It had a very delicate flavor which my mother loved, but as a hater of cilantro, I picked it off.



For entree, we both had the lobster tail with abalone and scallop in a escargot sauce. No escargot was actually present, but the sauce actually had the slight flavor of escargot. It came with a couple sugar snap peas and oven dried tomatoes that were delish, as well as mashed potatoes and trumpet mushrooms. Everything was really delicate and delicious, perfectly balanced. I didn't finish my potatoes because I was trying to avoid the carbs, but it was creamy when I tried it. The oven dried tomatoes were extraordinary... firmer and fleshier than a regular stewed tomato, but not quite as raisiny as a full on sun-dried tomato. This dish was very very good.



For dessert, my mother ordered the orange risotto with passion fruit sauce. It actually came out kinda like a cannoli. It was good, but heavier than we expected. The plate was dotted with fruit though, including wild strawberries. If you've never had a wild strawberry before, they are amazing. Completely bursting with a flavor slightly different than the strawberries we've come to know.



I had the strawberry soup with ricotta fritters. This also was different than I expected. I expected more soup, less fritter, but was presented with four donut-type balls dusted with sugar in a strawberry sauce pretty much. It was good, but I'm not a fan of fried dough balls (not a donut person), so I wished there was more soup. But if you like this kind of stuff, it's very good.



Overall, I'd say this restaurant is very good, and I wouldn't mind coming back to try some of their other stuff. A lot of interesting combos and seasonal ingredients.


Terra
1345 Railroad Ave.
St. Helena, CA 94574
(707) 963-8931

Napa Valley Day 2: Risibisi and Redd

Day 2. We decided to venture into Petaluma to check out the town. We had lunch at an Italian restaurant overlooking the harbor called Risibisi. Very cute. Since we had early dinner reservations, we decided to go light.

We started off with bruschetta. The tomatoes on this were fantastic. Sweet and flavorful.



Then I had a salad with avocado, bay shrimp, grapefruit and yellow tomatoes with a light citrus vinagrette. Light and summery and just what I wanted.



My mom had the crabcake salad. She said it was good, but she wished there'd been less dressing on the salad and less remoulade on the cakes.



Overall, this place was nice. I liked how fresh the ingredients were.

For dinner, we went to Redd in Yountville. We sat outside in the patio facing a waning sun, which was nice, except for these two bees that seemed to take an unusual interest in our table and ours only. It became so distracting that we moved inside right before dessert.

To start off, my mother had the special salad, which was arugula, figs, plums, proscuitto and bits of pecans. She loved it. It was so bright and summery and colorful, and had such a great mix of flavors that I can't see how it couldn't have been good!



I had the lobster risotto, with watercress, truffle oil and a touch of lemon. Like last night's risotto, it was really light, thanks to the brightness of the acid.



For entrees, we each got the duck confit. This was offered in a smaller portion as well, which we did. It was atop a nice lentil bed that also had some bits of thin pork belly. It also came with foie gras meatballs, which were unusual but good. It had the taste of foie gras, but not fatty the way foie gras is.



For dessert, I got sweet corn fritters, which came with cherries and a vanilla corn ice cream. For people who think corn as dessert is gross, don't knock it! I love the sweetness of corn, though this dessert did make me feel like I was half eating some savory fair food. But it was quite delicious.



My mother got the summer peach "pudding". It had white and yellow peaches, sabayon, shavings of white chocolate, mint, fried almonds, small pieces of bread pudding and this light peach granita ice. She took a bite of it and groaned, and I asked her quickly, "Is it bad?" She shook her head and then declared it THE BEST DESSERT SHE'D EVER HAD IN HER LIFE. No joke. Throughout the whole time as she was consuming it, she kept marveling at how light and summery and delicious and perfectit was.



I really liked this place. The decor is very minimalistic, but I thought the food was quite good. I wasn't overly full after the meal, and everything was really satisfying and fresh without being too rich.


Risibisi
154 Petaluma Blvd N
Petaluma, CA 94952-2905
(707) 766-7600

Redd
6480 Washington St
Yountville, CA 94599
(707) 944-2222

Napa Valley Day 1: Auberge du Soleil

So here I am, spending the next few days in Napa Valley, San Fran and then making my way down the coast. I'm certain there will be some good eats along the way. Definitely so in the Napa/Sonoma region -- I love Californian cuisine.

Our first night, my mother and I had made reservations at Auberge du Soleil. The view here is freaking fantastic as it overlooks the valley. We had an early reservation - 5:45 - so the sun was still out and hitting the valley.

We took a look at the tasting menu which seemed really interesting, but my mother doesn't like lamb which was featured on there. Instead we opted for the 4 course menu which had options.

They started us off with a mushroom consomme soup with some vegetables. This was really light and delicate, a perfect starter.



For our first course, my mother and I both ordered the seared foie gras. This was on top of a slice of pain perdu, with apricots and almonds and a chamomile sauce.



For the second course, my mother had the risotto. This was with heirloom tomatoes, shrimp, parmesan, tarragon and yuzu emulsion. The sauce around it also had a hint of lavender. I loved the brightness of the flavors - it made the risotto a lot less heavy than it normally is.



For my second course, I had seared ahi tuna. This came with some seaweed, tapioca pearls, tempura mushrooms, glazed pork belly, and a dashi broth. This was really tasty, though the pork belly was a bit salty for my taste. It didn't come together nearly as well as I'd have liked -- maybe it's because it seemed to be Japanese inspired, and so I was looking for something much more authentically Japanese. Nonetheless, still good - flavors for the most part were well balanced.



For the third course, my mother had the prime beef with corn, romano beans and shallots. My mom said this was good, but to be honest we were so full at this point that I think she barely registered what it tasted like.



I had the spiced lamb for my third course. Included was a squash blossom stuffed with goat cheese, gnocchi, and summer veggies. The flavor of the lamb was delicate yet exotic, and so good. But again, I was so full by then, I don't think I could have fully appreciated it.



As a palate cleanser, they gave us a blackberry soup with lemon cream.



For dessert, I had trailside strawberries with a basil ice cream and these little nuggets of pastry (not sure what they were made of but they were good) and light cream. It was so good and summery, exactly what I wanted.



My mother had warm bing cherries with almond ice cream and cocoa nibs. The flavor of the dark chocolate and the sweet cherries worked together really nicely.



And here (with the pistachio off the top of the truffle and half a bite of the jelly) are the petit fours we were left with when the check came.



All in all, this was a really nice dinner, especially the service and atmosphere. However, I'm not sure the price justified the food. It was very good to be sure, comparable to pricey places in Manhattan. But I'd say that it's not quite on par with a Le Bernardin or a Bouley quite yet. I'd have been happy to pay say $90 for the 4 course tasting, but over $100 seemed to be pushing it for food that for the most part is pretty straight standard classical fare.


By the way, we came here because I couldn't get reservations at French Laundry. :(


Auberge du Soleil
180 Rutherford Hill Rd
Rutherford, CA 94573
(707) 967-3111

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Last Play Day in SD: Mama Testa's, 1500 Ocean, and Alchemy

It was my "last" day in San Diego this past Sunday. I put that in quotes because I'll be back a few more times this month to pack, move, and clean, but it'll be a lot of business (though I'm hoping to fit in quite a few more meals). So this Sunday was my last day to play with my "BFF" and partner in crime here in SD, CM.

In the morning, I dragged him to Mama Testa's so I could have one more taste of that salsa bar, their amazing guac and some tacos. I got the three taco combo, which has a carnitas, an alpastor (with pineapple!), and a my favorite yucatecos tacos. So good.



Later, around sunset, we decided to stop off at the aptly named Sunset Bar at 1500 Ocean in Coronado for drinks and some light bar food. This was my yummy blackberry julep.



I then went on to order two oysters. They were British Columbia oysters, and that's all I remember. It didn't come with any horseradish, but the mignotte was nice enough, and they had the most peculiar limes (the flesh was a light grapefruit color) that made it nice.



CM, who loves olives, got a plate of mixed marinated olives. This plate was HUGE.



We hung around for a couple of hours. The restaurant food that was passing by looked fantastic and we made a pact to come back one day when we were a little more well-off, and have dinner out here instead of sitting out by the bar.


Believe it or not, after that, we went to dinner. At Alchemy (yes, after our aborted attempt the day before). Immediately, I really liked the ambiance of the place. Very low key, cool. They were showing silent films in fact when we got in.

CM loves absinthe and so had to get it when he discovered the served it. It was cool to see the water carafe thing so that you could control how diluted you wanted it.



The menu was really enticing, with tons of small plates and seasonal ingredients. Reminded me a bit of Whisk n Ladle, though seemed to be much more low key than that. We ordered a bunch of things:

Peppers stuffed with Berkshire pork (shredded). It was very tender and good.



Grilled asparagus. We couldn't figure out what the sauce was but it was good.



Cabarnet soaked olives. Of course we had to get them!



Corn and avocado salad. I was so excited by this because I love corn and avocado. It had toasted pumpkin seeds, a "green goddess" sauce (whatever that is), cucumber wrapped around it, some lettuce and red onions... The flavors were fantastic.



Spiced chickpeas. So good. I think there was some cardamom in it that made it taste like Christmas. Haha.



More oysters, believe it or not, with a green gazpacho in a shot. The gazpacho was nice and light and the oysters were sweet.



I was kinda sad we'd discovered this place so late, because it was seriously good, and definitely some place I'd like to revisit one day. It's got a great ambiance, interesting menu, and cocktails, without being overly pricey. All the things I like for a restaurant on a fun weekend night.


I'm coming back to SD in a week with my mom and sister, and am hoping to squeeze in a meal or two more before I go. It went by so fast! So much left to eat, but ran out of time...



Mama Testa
1417A University Ave
San Diego, CA 92103
(619) 298-8226

1500 Ocean
1500 Orange Ave
Coronado, CA 92118
(619) 522-8459

Alchemy
1503 30th St
San Diego, CA 92101
619.255.0616

Happy Birthday America: Soltan Banoo and Candelas by the Bay

On July 4th, CM and I originally wanted to try Alchemy in South Park. However, when we got there, we found out that they were only doing a BBQ, given that they'd given the rest of their staff the day off. I love BBQ, but the problem with that is that CM is a vegetarian, and I wasn't about to subject him to cole slaw and potato salad as a meal. So off we went, in search of alternatives. Nearly everything in South Park and North Park was closed, so we went to University Heights, where we finally found ourselves a few options.

We settled on Soltan Banoo, which, to be honest, I'd never noticed before. It's a Persian place, right across from El Zarape and nestled next to Muzita, but for some reason always flew under my radar. They were very much open, and had tons of good veg and non-veg options. Everything on the menu looked fantastic, and I was torn. What is great about lunch is that they do a half portion on some of their platters, and then give you a side salad, which can be any one of their delicious salads. I decided to exercise this option by ordering zereshk polo with lamb (basmati rice with dried cranberries, barberries, almonds and carrots) along with their strawberry tabouli salad. It came out with chicken by accident, so they brought me a side of lamb. It was really good, the lamb tender and the rice a nice combo of flavors. The half portion was perfect, because it wasn't too heavy. The salad was also really tasty.




CM ordered the goat cheese salad, which was pears, walnuts and goat cheese on top of baguette. It looked delicious.



Not your typical July 4th lunch bbq, but really good nonetheless!


For dinner, we wanted to watch the fireworks on the water in Coronado, so we made reservations at Candelas on the Bay. We lucked out and got a table right near the windows, a perfect place to watch the fireworks.

First of all, their cocktails were delicious. I had a mango-chili martini which was good -- there was a slightly savory tart chili rim. This is a picture of their horchata cocktail, also very delicious.



And the tamarind cocktail.



For dinner, I had the Mexican bass, which was on top of a tomato stuffed with crabmeat. It was good, though the pistachio sauce on top felt a little over reduced.



CM ordered the ensalada cuernavaca, which was a salad with artichokes, goat cheese and plantains over spring mix.



I also ended up getting a dessert which was advertised as a strawberry tres leches. To be honest, this I wasn't all that impressed by. Too much cream. It seemed like a strawberry shortcake to me. I'd skip dessert here.



The ambiance here is very nice, and it was a perfect place for the fireworks because we didn't have to fight anyone out there. The food was decent, though nothing particularly spectacular, considering the price. I'd come back for cocktails though. Really yummy.

Happy July 4th!



Soltan Banoo
4645 Park Boulevard
San Diego, CA 92116
(619) 298-2801

Candelas on the Bay
1201 1st St
Coronado, CA 92118
(619) 435-4900

Revisited: Mama's Bakery

With so few days left in SD, I had to balance trying places I still wanted to hit up and revisiting old favorites. One of my favorites is Mama's Bakery in University Heights. It's so inexpensive and so delicious for what it is, so I went back a few days ago. This time I got the soojouk wrap (Armenian sausage with pickles, cucumbers, tomatoes, etc). I had it as a plate, and got the falafel salad and the lebni and zatar appetizer. I had no idea what the latter was; I knew the yogurt sauce, but no idea what sumac was. It was actually quite nice -- gritty, flavorful and complex in terms of its spices and taste. Really unlike anything I've had before. The wrap itself was delicious. Armenian sausage isn't as spicy as I'd like but it was really good with all stuff, and their flatbread is just good. The falafel here is also very delicious.




Mama's, I will most definitely miss you.

Cajun in Diego: Chateau Orleans

So a few months back, I found out that I had missed the Crawfish Festival in SD and was devastated. CM, being the good friend that he is, suggested we just find a cajun place to eat instead. We finally settled on Chateau Orleans because it had the most extensive menu and a few decent veg options for him. A few weeks ago, we tried to visit it on a Monday, only to find out they were closed. Last week we finally made it there.

The place itself is really cute and festive. The decor has the whole mardi gras atmosphere to it, complete with confetti under the glass on the tables and lots of fun posters.

For starters, they gave us cornbread. I'm very so-so on cornbread (one of the few incarnations of corn I don't lovelove), but this cornbread was warm and had bits of corn in it.



The meals also came with a garden salad. What I liked about the garden salad was that it came with watermelon!



For our mains, CM had eggplant piquant, which he said was very good. I didn't try it, but I'll take his word for it. It came with a side of potatoes and a weird creamed type corn. I tried the corn only because I love everything corn. The cream was too dense and mayo like I think, so it was just eh.



Originally I was just going to get the crawfish etouffee, because that's what I crave most in Cajun food, but then I saw the option to get etouffee, jambalaya AND gumbo for just a few more dollars, and so of course, I had to go for that. The plated it so that the rice was in the middle and the etouffee and gumbo were on either side, and the jambalaya lying on top. They were very tasty, though of course not at all as good as what I've had in New Orleans. But definitely hit the craving. I wish the etouffee roux had been a bit darker and had more crawfish (there was other fish in there), but it was quite good for what it was.



I hear they do a jazz brunch on Sundays, which would probably be tons of fun. Alas for me, I have no more Sundays in San Diego!


Chateau Orleans
926 Turquoise St
San Diego, CA 92109
(858) 488-6744

SoCal Wine Country: Smokehouse Restaurant at Ponte

CM and CJ and I went up to Temecula for a day trip recently, and decided to get lunch at the restaurant at Ponte Winery, called Smokehouse.

We were seated outdoors in the courtyard. It was a nice day and the courtyard was really nice, so this was great.



First we were given some bread with this green dipping sauce. I have no idea what was in this sauce to tell you the truth, but it was good.

CJ and I ordered two sandwiches, the portabella and the pulled pork sandwich. The portabella had red peppers, pears, arugula and goat cheese, and was really quite fantastic, though the bun was thicker than I'd like. I'd have preferred a ciabatta or even panini type bread instead of the huge brioche. The pulled pork was sweet and good, and had pickled onion on top. We got both with their sweet slaw, which had grapes in it, a nice addition.





CM got the grilled asparagus salad, with arugula, red peppers, and shaved gouda. He said it was good, and it looked delicious.



All in all, I'd say it was a great place to have lunch if you're in SoCal wine country. I love the ambience of being outside, and the cuisine is pleasant Californian fare.



Smokehouse Restaurant at Ponte Winery
35053 Rancho California Rd
Temecula, CA 92591
(951) 252-1770