Thursday, May 29, 2008

Gregoire (Berkeley, CA)

Berkeley is the home of a variety of cuisines from all different cultures. The great thing about all these cuisines is the Berkeley twist that comes with each. One such example is Gregoire, inspired French cuisine, simple home style French food.. but with a twist... it's Take Out French Food.

Conveniently located in two opposite sides of Berkeley Gregoire is a small French restaurant with no tables, only "bar style" eating. While waiting for our food to be made there were quite a few take out orders being processed. I believe the bulk of their service comes from take out *duh*. The difference between this restaurant and another typical French restaurant is that it seems to me that all the cooks are just normal workers. The food is very simple, sauces are pre-made it doesn't look like they have to do much other than slap something onto a grill or slather some sauce on something.

We came for lunch for this particular meal, I've gone for dinner before and they are reasonably sized portions for about $20-25 a dish. Everything is served in the little brown box.

The restaurant is an open kitchen so you're sitting in the same area as the people are cooking. The bar stools are located right in front of the grill so after awhile it could get rather hot. (If you can't stand the fire, get out of the kitchen! hehe).

(Sandwich/salad prep)

(Grill + Soup/Sauces).

For our lunch we ordered the Seared shredded pork shoulder with balsamic baked red onions on Ciabatta and the Grilled skirt steak with spicy chimichurri on French roll.

Most of the meat they are using for the sandwiches seems to be pre packaged cooked meat. They toss it onto the grill to let it heat a bit but it doesn't look like anything is fresh made during lunch time (dinner time, everything is fresh). Don't let this deter you from the quality of the food.. it's still quite excellent.

The seared pork shoulder sandwich is composed of soft/moist smoky shoulder meat with just the right amount of fat to give it a flavorful bite. Very rich and meaty, an excellent dish for all pork lovers out there. Stuffed with grilled red onions and tomatoes the sandwich is then covered in olive oil.

The grilled skirt steak is taken from the Argentinian style sandwich made in the same style. The meat is cooked medium rare and the bun is toasted in the oven. The spicy chimichurri is put all over the sandwich. (which is a good thing).

Chimichurri is a marinade/sauce for BBQ meat in Argentina made up of large amounts of parsley, garlic, salt, and olive oil. This version at Gregoire adds in jalapenos and hot peppers to give it that perfect kick of salty and spicy. The meat is very tender, it's in slightly larger strips than I'd like because it takes too much effort to tear away at the pieces at times. The sauce really made the sandwich tho, all those combination of spices and oils really gets me going! *roar*!

The best part of this meal was that each sandwich was under $8. Flavorful, meat packed sandwiches on delicious toasted bread can't be beat at eight dollars.

So if you're ever in Berkeley, check out

Gregoire's Take out

Two locations

4001 B Piedmont
Oakland, CA

2109 Cedar Street
Berkeley, CA


Tuesday, May 20, 2008


One fair spring night before the onslaught of finals I joined in for a night of wine and fine food at Molly's Restaurant in downtown San Diego. If you've never been to this restaurant, it's actually located in the Mariott Hotel next to the San Diego convention center. The restaurant is geared toward being a very wine friendly venue with a small wine store located in their restaurant. The store has a small selection but has pretty decently priced wine. As well their wine list has some nice gems for a very decent price.

The restaurant is located right next to the pool and is lined with floor to ceiling windows so you can see outside to their very well decorated pool area.

Luckily for us we had a large party so we were put in their private dining room which sat us right next to the pool. The room is their Terrace room, an extension to the restaurant that was recently built. Soft lights, nice chairs, and good sound insulation, we were able to stay for hours on end and not be disturbed. When you have 18 bottles of wine to go through, it takes awhile =). Since I like to keep this as primarily a food blog (and I don't have tasting notes for the wine) I don't have any notes on the wine. But what I do remember was the 1966 Pichon Longueville Baron that Kevin brought. Remarkably vibrant for a wine older than me by almost 2x, an absolutely joy to start off with to match the amuse.

They also have great wine service here. They set out multiple different varietal stems for us and were always happy to bring more when requested. This probably means nothing if you're not bringing your own wine.. but for those that do... it's a nice service that they offer.

I only took pictures of my food and the person sitting directly to the left of me so unfortunately I don't have a large variety of dishes.

A quick Amuse Buche, Smoke Duck Breast with a dab of mustard and cured beans.

Smokey and fatty a perfectly fine amuse to tantalize my taste buds. Beans were chilled and flavored almost like pesto, high in parsley and olive oil.

Next up was the Forbidden Torchon. Foie Gras Torchon with wild arugula, poached pear and smoke sea salt.

Sorry this picture came out odd, I was taking a picture of someone else's dish =). I'm becoming a huge fan of smoke sea salt on foie. I think it balances out the normal rich saltiness from foie with a more sharp and precise flavor. You then add in a nibble of the bitter arugula and your tastebuds are in for a real treat.

Japanese Kobe Filet Carpaccio.

The beef is raw and topped with a horseradish aioli, truffled cheese. The one good thing about the dish was the sauce. The Aioli has light kick of horseradish and is perfectly creamy with hints of sea salt. Of course the problem is.. if you have Kobe beef.. what are you doing seasoning it with such a strong sauce?

The beef itself was the problem. It didn't come apart easily, was incredibly lean, and didn't have the fatty flavor I expect from Kobe. One of my dining companions requested the Kobe certification and it was an A5! (Kobe is graded A1-A5, A5 = best) I was shocked cause if not told it was Kobe I would have guessed USDA Choice.

Avoid this dish at all costs.

My main course was the Porcini crusted Branzino.

Branzino is a European Sea Bass, it's more along the lines of Chilean sea bass which is flaky and oily opposed to normal sea bass which is meaty and thick. Porcini is a type of Shroom, large wide caps that weigh at it's largest 2.2lbs.

A parsnip reduction and pea sauce are on the plate, as long as large cooked Porcini and fingerling potatoes. The reduction was sweet with celery, carrots, and onion notes. Goes well with the fish which easily soaks up the flavors of the sauce.

The problem was that without the sauce the fish couldn't stand by itself. It was utterly flavorless and unfortunately luke warm. The temperature was more a problem with the kitchen having to deal with serving 13 people at the same time if anything. But there was no taste on the fish and it really wasn't prepared all that well because the texture was almost mushy.

The texture could be from the length of time the fish was sitting there waiting to be served, so who knows... but the flavor or lack there of was unforgivable!

The best part of the dinner was the dessert. They make Banana Fosters table side.

Cinnamon, Brown Sugar, butter, rum

Heated and flamed in a pan by the waiter the seasoning melts and gets caramelized with the alcohol. Then bananas are chopped into the pan and cooked for a little while.

Finally the freshly cooked bananas are topped over the vanilla ice cream.

Distinctively flavorful vanilla bean with strong bursts of cinnamon and sugar make you gobble it up and hold your bowl out like Oliver Twist for seconds. Its greatness lies in the simplicity of the dessert, just a few fresh ingredients put together for a refreshing dessert.

I also ordered some green tea and I just wanted to show you what it came with.

Heavy cream, brown sugar, sugar sticks, and milk (the chocolate is for the espresso next to me)

And it comes in a very delightful green tea bag.

An enjoyable dinner.. although the food wasn't terribly exciting the service was good, the ambiance of the room was great... and having great wine and good friends always makes a dinner significantly better.

Molly's Restaurant
333 W. Harbor drive
San Diego, CA


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Urbane Solace

In San Diego we've seen a growth of restaurants in the North Park area. The majority of them offer a variety of comfort food and advertise themselves as down home cooking with a twist. One of the major hyped up players in the market is Urban Solace. So to see if all the hype was up to par a couple of friends and I brought a couple bottles of wine and stopped in at Urban Solace.

First up is their "world famous" cheese biscuits with orange honey butter.

Light and fluffy with just a hint of cheese. They were good, but I also like Red Lobster's cheese biscuits alot and I find them pretty comparable. These are thicker and more doughy but RL's has more seasoning and flavor. The butter was pretty insignificant, I really didn't find anything special in it. The apple and honey flavors didn't pop out like I thought they would.

Next appetizer was my favorite dish of all night, Pan Roasted Mussels with Smoked Tomato Butter

Wow! that's all I can say. The smokey flavor from the butter permeates from every bite with a rich tomato flavor. The mussels were cooked nicely, big pieces that were the right balance between meat and fat.

On to the entrees!

My friend Chris ordered Braised beef cheek.

Held by all 6 members of the party as a disappointment. Braised meat is usually soft, easily pulled apart by a fork, but this case was tough and stringy. Not much flavor involved either, almost as if the sauce and the beef were braised separately. This is a weird dish because beef cheek is so tender and flavorful. I guess it's better suited in thin slices and grilled =).

next Sharon ordered the Cornmeal crusted Artic Char with lemon butter
I just had a small sliver and it was okay. Nothing special. Artic char is just another fish that tastes like Salmon. Sharon said "I should have ordered something else".

Next up , Pulled Chicken and dumplings

Ah another good dish. Mushy biscuits mixed with pieces of chicken and dumplings covered in the gold ol' pot pie mixture. I guess this is a classic example of comfort food, incredibly rich and filling.

Finally my entree, the Monte Diego.

Baked egg bread stuffed with ham, fontina cheese , and grilled pears. I'm not sure what happened to this dish, but it was VERY poorly prepared. It's as if they finished mine 20 minutes early and just let it sit there.

The sweet potato fries were flaccid and mushy, the bread was almost soggy. Any good Monte Cristo has the crispy outside breading when they fry the whole bread. Either they didn't fry it enough or it was sitting out there forever.

The next knock on it has nothing to do with the service but the pear inside the sandwich. A classic MC is served with a berry jam on the side, the sweetness matches well with the salty fried sandwich. But the pear was just weird. They gave jam which I used, but the pear added a mushiness texture that paired HORRIBLY with the sandwich. Yuck.

I also got a side order of their Mac n Cheese.

Cherry tomatoes and the chunks of bacon were the highlights of this dish. Nice fatty pieces of bacon that seemed to be baked along with the tomatoes into the mac n cheese. Tomatoes when baked are significantly sweeter than normal, and you have that with cherry tomatoes and it really improves the dish. My problem with the dish was the cheese. It was pretty flavorless. If it wasn't for the strong flavor from the bacon it would have been a pretty simple and lame dish.

All in all I wasn't horribly impressed by Urban Solace. The dishes were inexpensive at about 10-16 dollars a dish so I wasn't sad about what I ate. I just didn't feel like it deserved the hype that it got. It certainly wasn't busy when we were there, but the service was incredibly slow (15 minutes between ordering the appetizer and the entree???) and the food just wasn't that great.

Another North Park let down. Oh well.

Urban Solace
3823 30th Street
San Diego, CA