Thursday, September 27, 2007

Urbane Cafe. So Chic~ (SD)

I love sandwiches. I just love how all the ingredients express themselves so well together. Each ingredient enhances the overall enjoyment of the sandwich. The crisper the lettuce, the firmer the tomato, the tastier the meat, the more delicious the bread.. it all leads to a better sandwich.
So when a new sandwich shop opened up next to school I decided to give it a shot.

Cafe Urbane is a chain store (as much as 2 stores can be called a chain) that prides itself on selling sandwiches made with freshly cooked lean meats, homemade sauces, and a fresh Focaccia bread produced every hour. They have chicken to pastrami on their menu and some assorted soups and salads.

Like every chain store that tries to cater to the "gourmet" , it's not that cheap. You're looking at a $7 sandwich. To justify the $7 cost they add a small portion of their House Salad which is just mixed greens, some vinaigrette and some goat cheese.

The way the setup is at the store is extremely similar to Daphne's Greek Cafe.
You have a bunch of workers behind a glass pane filling your order. One person slices the bread applies the sauce, another puts the meat on, another drops on the salad and your order is ready.
For my meal I decided to get a Pastrami sandwich. Its a pretty simple sandwich, just pastrami, tomatoes, provolone, and some deli mustard.
Looks decently appetizing right? Sadly pastrami is not meant to be eaten like this, a slim skinnier cousin of its normal pastrami Deli self.
I mean look at it!
Its just swabs of mustard a little bit of cheese and 2-3 scant slices of "lean" pastrami. This was my mistake, I'm used to pastrami sandwiches brimming with meat and fat trimmings. This.. is for the health centric people looking to say "look at me! I'm eating a pastrami sandwich! look at how I don't even care about my diet!"

Apart from my disbelief that a pastrami sandwich could be smaller than a whole inch wide, the sandwich itself didn't taste half bad. It did lack in tomatoes (uh.. nice, 2 whole pieces of mini tomatoes) but the bread and the meat were decent.

The "fresh" (fresh as in.. 3-4hours ago? its lunch time! 12pm! where the hell is my fresh bread?! you aren't getting anymore customers than you will right now!) bread was soft, almost like a nice thick pita bread. I wouldn't go as far to call it foccacia but it was still a decent bread. I can just imagine it fresh.. so warm soft and tasty *drool*.

The pastrami was decent deli meat, it just needed some fat. It was so lean I thought I was eating ham at one point. If you had just told me this was a ham sandwich I would have believed you.

The salad.. I took one bite out of and didn't eat anymore. I normally love mixed wild greens but there was no flavor from the "dressing" so it tasted pretty bland.

Matt's Roast turkey sandwich was supposedly pretty good so its not a complete miss.

Urbane Cafe
5375 Napa St, San Diego, CA

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Pastrami in the Hat (LA/OC)

Up in Los Angeles/Orange County there are a chain of fast-food eateries by the name of The Hat. It started out as a real small take out joint where they have roast beef sandwiches and their "world famous" pastrami sandwiches. It expanded to a few more locations and starting having chicken sandwiches and burgers (why oh why?!). Huge portions, Orange Bang, and tons of different condiments (pepperoncini! Deli mustard!) make it absolutely delicious.
And just like any good California fast food (aka in-n-out) they have a "secret" menu.

Gleaned from inked words on tattered robes of Chinese Monks high up in the Himilayas, there are rumors that on said robes that The Hat makes something along the lines of.. Pastrami Chili Cheese Fries. These monks are all currently dead from heart problems due to these fries.

Since Kathy and I are gluttons for punishment (food) we decided to try the pastrami chili cheese fries.

Before we get to the sole picture, I want to give you some background on these fries.
#1. They are not cheap. We're looking at $5-6 dollars if I remember correctly
#2. They hold VERY true to the Hat's philosophy that all portions must be immense, and there should be enough pastrami to feed a small family.
#3. If the person at the counter looks at you funny when you order it, just say "I want chili cheese fries with an order of pastrami on top". The words pastrami chili cheese fries may confuse people.

Now on to the sole picture!
Kathy's hand is there just to let you see the IMMENSITY of the fries. Okay, she's a small Chinese girl with small (cute) Chinese hands but do not believe for one moment that these fries are not a monstrosity. If you go into this unprepared I guarantee you will be defeated. The funny part is that the fries are actually in a very small container, one of those small trays you get at Hot dog on a stick.

Initially we couldn't figure out how to eat it. We were so afraid that if we pulled one fry out from under the giant pile of meat that it would all tip over. But pull we did.

I poured mustard on mine and it was oily gluttonous heaven within my mouth. This isn't your sissy lean pastrami, this is big pieces of pastrami curled with fat and dripping with oil. I do wish the fries were a crispier. They use those really crappy cheap supermarket style fries. The fries that aren't quite steak fries and not quite normal fries? Just kind of a mish mash of starch.

If you were able to add some tomatoes to cut through the grease and crispier fries this dish would be PERFECT.

So if you want to find yourself a Hat near you (8-10 convinient locations) please follow this link!

The Hat.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Burger Lounge: The true BK Lounge or In&out wannabe (SD)

My eating buddy Matt recently moved into the high-rent district area of La Jolla off Prospect, with an apartment that overlooks the La Jolla Shores. So he called me to come over and grab a bite to eat. In my mind Prospect + bite to eat = $$$. To my surprise there are actually quite a few surprises in La Jolla Village for "cheap" (cheaper) eats. There's no Pho or $4.99 take out chinese, but there are quite a few decent selections for under $12 dollars.

The first place we went to was the Burger Lounge. A hip restaurant where the pretty and the rich of La Jolla can tell their friends "Oh My Goodness Becky I TOTALLLYYY had a hamburger today it was just like In&Out. Aren't I so ghetto fab? *hehe* *toss hair*".. *runs off to get a DUI*. Of course being in La Jolla this can't actually be a "ghetto" hamburger eatery, it has to be something much much more than that.

The Burger Lounge is a sterile looking, loud music bumping, sidewalk eating hamburger joint with cute serving plates. There isn't much space for eating inside, just a few simple counters alaSodapop shop.

You'll notice that the menu itself is rather limited, this is truly the perfect escape for the rich to say they had a hamburger without having to eat all the processed garbage from a fast food restraurant.
You have the requisite burger made from grass fed local cows, a turkey burger cause ya know.. that's healthy and we always want to eat healthy, a veggie burger (?? never understood the point of these), some fried chicken fingers, and some salad. They offer french fries and onion rings separately or together.

I myself ordered a hamburger with the works, grilled onions as well as regular onions with extra tomatoes and lettuce animal style. Wait.. we're not at In&Out. Stratch the Animal style. As well as a 1/2 and 1/2 (ff and onion rings).

Matt is on his "i dont want carbs" diet , the same one where he doesn't order waffle fries at Chick-Fil-A but orders THREE (yes 3) Chick Fil A sandwiches instead, so he just gets a burger and a milkshake.
Supposedly some of the best milkshakes in town.. and at $4.95 I say they better damn near well be. (Two milkshakes are pictured here, one for Matt one for Cassandra, I was healthy and had a Root beer =P) But... they weren't.

After you place your order they give you a nice sturdy metal placard with your number and a french girl who can barely speak english delivers you your food. Some confusion came about due to this language barrier. Do not worry , she may not speak English but she has plenty of friends that like to pull up to the side of the restaurant and blare "I'M A BARBIE GIRL". Apparently they didn't learn in Europe that the song was SoOOooOo last year.

Keeping to the whole sterile, too cool for school motiff my burger came like this.
A beautiful onion bun , with a plate reserved normally for appetizers at Nine-Ten. And do you see what's super duper cute? my fries and onion rings are in a take out container! How fun is that? (just a lil bit).
The fries and onions rings seem to have the same batter/seasoning. Salt with parsley and probably nice bits of garlic. They were both very crispy and actually very enjoyable. They were so fresh and pipping hot out of the oil that the fries actually burnt the inside of my cheek and I couldn't appreciate fully my experience in Berkeley's Ghetto Gourmet (Roar!).

You'll notice a plentiful amount of grilled onions on the burger , very fresh very delicious. My biggest problem with the condiments on this burger was the lettuce. A very boring piece of iceberg lettuce. If you're going to change me $7 for a hamburger at least make it NOT LOOK LIKE AN IN AND OUT BURGER. Put in some Red Leaf Butter lettuce maybe? I mean the hamburger already has thousand island dressing. Does In&Out know you're infringing on their trademark hamburger? You can put your burger in a fancy spancy onion bun (which was delicious by the way) but the burger has the same thin piece of beef, small slice of tomato, and crappy piece of lettuce that ALWAYS falls out of the burger.

There was barely any sauce in the burger, so you're really tasting alot of the bun, lettuce, tomatoes, and onions. Notice how I didn't mention the flavor of the patty??
You can't mention the flavor if there is no flavor. you'd think that when you pick up a burger and the juices are dripping out of it , there'd be some reminiscence of juicy flavors.

Oh no, not in this case. The meat patty is way too thin to hold any flavor in. It tastes like really lean ground beef which is great and healthy but apart from there there was nothing.
I'm not quite sure about my experience here. From the tone of my post you probably think I don't like it, but i'm still very much up in the air. I didn't think the patty itself had enough flavor, but I really liked the onions, the bun, and the fries. I devoured the thing so it probably can't be half bad.
Matt really liked his burger, so it could have just been me.

So give it a shot!

Burger Lounge
1101 Wall St
La Jolla, CA 92037

there was this crazy seagull just chilling in the street daring cars to hit it. It would run up to the sidewalk whenever a fry fell and then would hurry back into the middle of the road. When the traffic became too heavy it decided to claim its stake on the neighboring car's hood.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Vacation #1 final installment, Gary Danko

This will be the final installment of Vacation #1. I’ve decided to actually postpone talking about vacation #2 for awhile and we’ll just pretend I took a weekend trip there on a later date and came back with a memory card full of pictures. In the end I am a Southern Californian Boy and I really need to focus on Southern Californian eateries and events.

So graciously I present to you for your enjoyment, the final installment of Vacation #1 in San Francisco California....

*pulls back curtains*

The Restaurant Gary Danko.

One of the most well known restaurants in San Francisco, The Restaurant Gary Danko is a suave, cool restaurant that’s a mainstay in the luxurious high life of wealthy businessmen and lawyers of San Francisco . This place is so popular as the “it” restaurant destination of San Francisco that Kathy’s friend went there as part of her vacation the same weekend we went, the couple in the Taxi in front of us at the Westin went, and of course your ever loveable food blogger (myself) ventured miles to go as well. This could have very well all have just been a coincidence, but I think if you know anyone who’s done any sort of fine dining in San Francisco most likely it would have been at Gary Danko.

First off I applaud Mr. Danko, it takes a giant amount of cajones to name a restaurant after yourself. I can only count on one hand of all the celebrated restaurants in America that are named after the owner/chef, and even then a couple of them are just Japanese restaurants where the owner’s name just sounds like an exotic restaurant name. (OHhh URASAWA sounds like such a pretty name! Does it mean “beautiful flower of eternal love”? Uh.. no its my name.) Even Thomas Keller of French Laundry fame doesn’t have a restaurant named after himself. If you made a restaurant named Thomas Keller, I bet you’d have to wait a year for reservations. Such restaurants are left for the pompous in New York not us hipsters in California! I especially like the fact that when you call it’s never “Good Afternoon, Gary Danko”, its “Good afternoon, Restaurant Gary Danko”. Ah the cajones on you could match a large bull Gary. As pretentious as the greeting on the phone is, Gary Danko runs a good ship.

I found myself sitting around people all significantly older than me but I felt the service given to Kathy and I was wonderful. In the ever stuffy world of high-end dining a young couple could be looked down on and treated poorly just because of their age (*COUGH* DONOVAN’S *COUGH*).

If I had a knock against the restaurant that has nothing to do with the food is that the tables are awfully close to one another. You can hear the conversations of at least 3 of the tables around you very clearly.

Also it seems to be that a brigade of waiters serves you. I’m big into commitment; I want to be committed to something for the long haul ya know? If you’re committed you show you appreciate this person, that they are important to you. I want one waiter checking up on me, explaining my dishes, bringing me my check and etc. But at Gary Danko we had one person take our order, another person serve our food, another person serve my wine, another person to check on the wine that I was served, multiple people to clean the dishes (one looked like the general manager), and probably every single waiter came back to check on each of our dishes. I like commitment! Give me one waiter and one waiter only, luckily each waiter was of different ethnicity/size so I could tell them apart. Otherwise it’d be like me at TGIfridays looking for my blonde waitress. (to be honest I think we had one “head waiter” for our table, but I did see all the other waiters taking orders at other tables, so color me confused (confused = green).

The interesting thing about Gary Danko’s menu is the way they prepare your meal. I’d say its rather unique in its presentation. Unlike a standard Prix Fixe/Tasting menu where you have a set amount of courses picked out for you, at Gary Danko you have a choice between three courses to five courses broken down at different price ranges (65-95). You can pick five desserts if that suits you, five appetizers, or mix and match with entrees. They adjust portion size to match each type, you can even request an entrée size portion of an appetizer. There are about 8 choices on each part of the menu and you can combine at whim. Our eager law school minds thought to ourselves “what an amazing LSAT game problem this would be”.

Kathy settled with an appetizer and two entrees, and I did two appetizers and two entrees. We’re trying to lose weight (we as in I) so no sweets! I opted to allow their personnel to pair me up some wines by the glass which weren’t complete hit or misses.

While waiting for our meal we were presented with an Amuse Bouche. Light corn and cucumbers in a crisp cool tart broth. Not to degrade it because it was very tasty and refreshing, it tasted like the liquid from the house salsa from El Pollo Locco. Kathy doesn’t share my sentiments but I stick to it.

Kathy’s appetizer was the Lobster Risotto.

There are two dishes that everyone seems to suggest when you go to GD (Gary Danko cause he’s my homie) , the Lobster Risotto and the Foie Gras. This was the best dish the whole night. An appetizer was the best dish the whole night. I don’t want you thinking that the rest of the meal was bad, its just that the Lobster Risotto was so stunning that every 5 minutes one of us would say “wow that Risotto was really good”. The rice was so creamy and buttery (in the good way, not the “boy do I feel fat” way) and the Risotto was just littered with nice chunks of lobster. This dish deserved to be served as a giant entrée for all the world to see. I can’t get over how great this dish tasted, if I go back again that’s my entrée. I think there might have been some rock shrimp and corn in there, but man the giant chunks of moist meaty lobster.

My first appetizer was the previously mentioned Foie Gras paired with a Hungarian wine from the winery Kiralyudvar in the Tokaj vineyard. (surprise wine, never seen it never heard of it, think of a Riesling but not quite as sweet).

Now this.. is a bloated duck liver ladies and gentleman. Whomever puffed and mutilated this duck liver did a fine fine job. A very moist generous piece of Foie Gras covered in carmalized red onions on figs. The Foie Gras was absolute decadence. Pan seared to the perfect temperature the liver melted away at the gentle touch of my knife. The sweet Hungarian wine really matched well to tone down the natural saltiness of the Foie Gras.

My next appetizer was the Seared Ahi Tuna with Avocado, Nori, Enoki Mushrooms and Lemon Soy Dressing paired with a Mon Lis Chardonnay from the Sleepy Hollow Vineyard (easily my favorite location for Chards in all of California).

Sigh, I think this dish may have been my only minor disappointment. There is also a good chance I myself may just not like Seared Ahi Tuna. The tuna itself was of incredibly fine quality, structured yet soft, it was cut into the perfect two-bite pieces. My problem with tuna is that its just too meaty for me, I just don’t like meaty fish. Sigh. One fun thing about the dish is they make sure the plate is extra hot so it actually sears the tuna just a little while its sitting on the plate. I tried to make Kathy eat a piece by leaving it on the plate to cook to at least medium, but she wouldn’t have it. The wine? Great pairing, I’ve yet to encounter an oak monster, ultra buttery chard from any winery that sources from Sleepy Hollow. The subtle green grape and apple flavors did quite a pairing with the soy glaze.

Kathy’s first entrée was Striped Bass with Ratatouille, Gigante Beans, Niçoise Olives and Parsley Oil.

It was ordered out of respect for the movie Ratatouille. It was eaten out of respect for the little mouse, but even he could not persuade us to love the dish. It was just a decent fish dish, nothing to write home about. The fish wasn’t as flaky as I’d like it to be, but *shrug* what can you do. I’d skip this dish If I were you.

My first Entrée was Pancetta Wrapped Frog Legs with Sunchoke Garlic Purée, Potato and Lentils. I was hoping for a nice Pinot noir/Burgundy to match along with this, but when the waiter gave me a small white wine glass I was taken back. He poured me a Riesling from Domaine Ehrhart in France. A Riesling with bacon and frog? What an interesting combination.

After taking my first bite out of the dish I knew immediately why he picked a sweet wine to go along with it. The pancetta was very salty and since frog is not a very moist flavor conductive meat you taste a lot of the oils and richness from the pancetta with some frog to soften the blow. Mixed in with a little bit of the Garlic Puree and a sip of Riesling the dish’s explosion of salty flavor toned down. I really liked the sauce and the puree used in this dish. I eagerly lapped it up, at first to cover the saltiness , but after awhile just because I enjoyed it so much.

Kathy’s final entrée was the Roast Maine Lobster with Yellow Chanterelle Mushrooms, Corn and Tarragon.

Youch! I don’t know where they get their lobster but every single lobster dish they have here is just amazing. The lobster is glistening in the light, so white and fluffy it just waits to be eaten. The lobster had a light buttery taste to it, but not like Red Loster where your Maine lobster is drenched in butter before you eat it. The table next to had the entrée portion of this and it looked so good I was going to steal it run out and hop on a boat at the Wharf to safety back to San Diego (then I remembered I still had one more dish so I stopped).

My final Entrée is no longer on the menu, but its Bison paired with Almus, Cuvée Kemiji & Portay.
For those that haven’t had bison think of a richer, leaner, more flavorful cut of roast beef. I was half hoping this would be a steak, but I didn’t read the description carefully where it said “Roast tenderloin of Bison”. It’d be a sin to eat this piece of meat at anything over medium-rare. A red wine reduction was poured over the bison as the meat readily gobbled up all the flavor. This is a dish that you must try once if you’ve never had Bison. Gary Danko does a great job with it by making the slices so perfectly proportioned that you aren’t taking more than a few bites to swallow the meat and really enjoy the flavor. I can’t say that I loved the pairing of the wine with the meat, I really wanted something bigger, I wanted a predominate cab not a meritage wine. When I first drank it I thought “he must have poured me a Bordeaux on accident because I could have sworn he said Cabernet Sauvignon”! The dusty earthy tones of the wine matched it well, but I just wasn’t feeling it at the moment.
At the end of the meal they delivered a cute little plate full of little treats (if you notice it’s our 3 year Anniversary, how does Kathy put up with me taking her to all these amazing places?) which was probably the only time I’ve actually eaten the whole plate (or at least tasted) of complimentary finger snacks. And while you’re leaving they give a nicely wrapped dessert dressed in pretty gold ribbon and a shiny GD sticker for you to eat the next morning. This dessert so happened to be the greatest pineapple apricot cake I’ve ever eaten in my life. Three days after we received the cake it was still so moist that I said “oh my goodness” in the middle of the Life Plaza Parking Garage. I could not hide my excitement, I wish to buy that recipe and make it every day of the week.
I had a great overall experience at Gary Danko and all the suggestions given to me didn’t disappoint. I could easily understand why everyone we knew seemed to be eating there that weekend.
I also took a couple of side pictures that have really nothing to do with the quality of food (a little to do with the service I guess). For the ladies they have a small hook that they hang on the table so you can set your purse on it so it doesn’t take up space. That grabbed Kathy’s attention as a nod to their great service. I also took a picture of the restroom. (I know odd). It was a single restroom shared between men and women for the whole restaurant. I think because of that fact they really went all out in the restroom. You have gorgeous floral arrangements, cute little soap dispensers and a shoe buffer. I couldn’t quite get the shoe buffer to work, but I was grateful that they had it in case I ever did find out.

Gary Danko
800 North Point at Hyde Street
San Francisco, California