Sunday, September 28, 2008

Nuts for Nuts?

[Mystery Eater here]

Have you given up on your local Vons because of low-quality produce, or sparse selection of exotic spices and other goods? On a recent trip to the local Vons, however, something delightful and innovative awaited...

Nut Station?
Nut Butter Central?
Squirrels' Paradise?

Whatever its official name (which wasn't discernible from the kiosk), this particular Vons had various fresh nuts (almonds, cashews, peanuts, honey roasted peanuts, etc), and several stations where you could create your own nut butter! Peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter... mmm. Visions of various nut butters with sliced bread, fruits (apples, strawberries), and vegetables (carrots, celery) began to dance in my head...

Like a squirrel scurrying around to collect a fresh bounty of nuts, I was eager to see what these "nut stations" entailed. Simple-- fresh nuts were put in the canister, and with a pull of a lever, it would churn the nuts into fresh butter! Empty plastic boxes with matching lids are at your disposal, and your can "churn" as much butter as you'd like!

Pictured above is the organic peanut butter and and chocolate chips at 4.99/lb. It looks slightly unappealing (like numero dos, to put it nicely). However, the flavor is good-- a nice balance of smooth chocolate chips and chunky peanut butter. Another interesting (but more expensive one) was the cashew butter at 8.99/lb.

For the lazy, there are pre-packaged butters-- not as fun, and not for those lacking in willpower. I could see myself, plopped in front of the television, eating away until peanut butter seeped out from my pores.

Anyway, perhaps your local Vons will surprise you, with its updated decor and nut butter creation station. Let me know if you find any other interesting kiosks at your local supermarket-- fresh herb station? make-your-own smoothie bar? You may be surprised to find what your local supermarket holds... and please, share your findings!

2495 Truxton Road
San Diego, CA 92106

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Market Restaurant and Bar (San Diego)

I've been relatively disappointed with the fine dining in Los Angeles. For the cost I don't feel I'm getting the best possible meal on each dish when I go (i.e. Providence). But after spending a summer in Los Angeles I came to a realization... the fine dining scene in San Diego is FAR better than I had previously thought. Now I have yet to have a mind blowing dish like those I've had in LA/SF but it's a good consistent product, just lacking in service.

A great example in San Diego of good food and classically average San Diego service is Market Restaurant and Bar in Del Mar. The restaurant prides itself in California Modern cuisine (my favorite!) with the use of seasonal ingredients, so you see a revolving menu. My one big problem with this restaurant is the tacky decorating, a really atrocious sage color wall , yuck.

The girlfriend and I partaked in their daily tasting menu, 4 courses with certain supplementals. Sorry about the lighting, they suddenly drew the shades after our 2nd course.

First up, Amuse Bouche. Stewed plum with a crisp duck skin, baby cilantro and feta cheese.

Light and refreshing, the plum was perfectly sweet and the small bit of cheese offered a nice contrast. I had both of them, =P.

Next up, the bread basket!

French bread accompanied by the BEST BREAD EVER MADE. Warm and filling corn muffins. Chunks of corn with green onion mixed in with a mouthful of corn meal. A fluffy and sweet delight! I had at least 4.

We ordered an appetizer to share before we started on the tasting menu, if the words "crab" and "stack" on on a dish, I'll order it faster than a fly on meat!
Stuffed cucumbers with shredded crab and roe on top of marinated kelp.

Three large stuffed cucumbers oozing crab from the top.

The dish is dressed with sesame oil and ponzu sauce to give it a nuttier and richer taste. The cucumber does a great job of preparing your palate for the richness of the sauce and crab. The crab composed of large chunks inside the cucumber and thin shavings on the top.

First course on the tasting meu, Chilled Avocado Soup & Tomato-Dill Sorbet

The soup is mixed with a cucumber shaved radish salad, Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes, and Lemon Essence. I'm personally not a huge fan of any time of chilled soup. I found the dill sorbet to be a bit off putting due to it's intense flavor. On the other hand my partner in crime really like it and enjoyed all the fresh combination of flavors as a started to the meal.

My appetizer was the Blue Cheese Souffle and Organic Stone Fruits (aka peach).

Apricot Preserve is topped over the Souffle and a mixed salad of Butter Lettuce, Candied Almonds, and Blue Cheese. I LOVED the play of the rich concentrated flavor of the preserve mixed with the intensity of the blue cheese. The Souffle itself was perfectly cooked , it just burst open at the slightest touch.

Our first second course is Sherry Glazed Escolar "White Tuna"

The soft and well cooked tuna is placed on a bed of somen noodles with garlic soy base. The base itself was a bit salty, but tuna tends to be a bit meatier so the noodles + the fish did a decent enough job of toning down the saltiness of the sauce.

2nd 2nd course was the Bacon Wrapped Maine Dayboat scallops

They are served on a bed of Cous Cous and topped with a sweet pepper relish. I want you to take a close look at the size of the scallops.

THESE THINGS WERE IMMENSE. It was like eating a piece of steak. The scallops were thick and juicy but a "tad" bit overcooked. I'm a fan of slightly undercooked scallops so it's just my preference. But this was another "meaty" seafood dish. I personally would have prefered the two seafood courses to be lighter, but you really get your bang for your buck at Market.

Our 3rd course was pretty similar. My partner had the Cabernet Braised Prime Beef Shortribs and my dish had the shortribs plus Brandt Farms Prime Filet.

For the sake of space I shall show you mine.

First is the Cabernet Braised Prime Beef Shortrib.

It sits on a Onion Potato Puree with sweet corn and glazed Cipollini Onions. This meat just rips apart when you stab into it. It's richly marinated with the infusion of cabernet. The meat is of upmost quality and mixed with the corn and the puree it's heavenly. You would lick this plate clean.

Next is the Brandt Farms Prime Filet

Mushrooms, green beans with a 5oz filet placed on top. A creamy Bearnaise sauce tops the steak itself. I wasn't too sure about the sauce before I tried it because I felt the steak itself would be "fatty" and rich enough, but it actually was a very nice compliment. It helped with the earthiness of the mushrooms and came out as a balanced dish. Of course the Prime Filet as was tender as a baby's bottom.

Since it was our anniversary they gave us a free shortcake dessert as well as our standard desserts


We then had a Roasted Plum Sour Cream cake.

Served with a side of Ginger Ice cream and Cinnamon Almond Streusel. The cake itself was magnificant. So moist and full of flavor with a light crunch along the edges to have that texture combination that makes your mouth giddy.

And their famous "Market Bar"

Market's take on a candy bar. It's lined on the bottom with Peanut crunch then topped with chocolate mouse cake and served with peanut ice cream on top. Along the bar there are caramelized banana bits. If you are looking for a decadent dessert this tops the list. Really as chocolatey as chocolate gets.

I feel it was a pretty good deal at for this meal, we ate roughly under $100 a person including a glass of wine. If you like California Cuisine this casual restaurant should definitely be a stop.

Market Restaurant and Bar
3702 Via de la Valle
Del Mar, CA


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sorry for the delay

In the midst of writing a new entry, about half way done.. but I have a big assignment due in the next few days so I've been concentrating on that for the moment. You'll see the update soon! It's a doozy!


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Ad Hoc (Napa)

Thomas Keller of French Laundry fame has opened a host of restaurants in the U.S. One in particular that he's always been looking to open is a Hamburger / Bottle shop in Napa, California. While he was trying to figure out the intricacies of the menu to be up to TK standards he found a great place to put the restaurant. Instead of rushing the hamburger restaurant, he decided to just put up a "fake" restaurant at the space that served family style meals , 4 set courses a day. So he put up a big sign at the front with "AD HOC"

The restaurant got so popular that TK decided to just keep the restaurant. The place is now well known for having some of the best fried chicken this side of the Mississippi (served every other Monday).

The restaurant itself is not that large. You're looking at about 20 tables with a few large 7-8 party tables. As well as a bar to eat at. Around the restaurant are black boards with the menu written out (the same menu on each blackboard but different people writing it!).

Notice all those bottles up there?

Thomas Keller Beer!

Blue Apron Ale, a belgium style Ale brewed specifically for Thomas Keller. Pretty interesting stuff, not as hoppy as I expected and more fruit forward. $30 for a 750ML.

At Ad Hoc they don't tell you the menu until 2pm that day. So if there are certain types of food you don't like or... you are as picky as Stanford law admissions this might not be the restaurant for you.

When you walk in they give you a cute manila folder with the menu and wine list in it.

You get some nice bread to begin with

On to the first entree!

Salad of Baby Mixed Greens
shaved ham, pickled red onions
soft boiled egg, cobb dressing

The onions and dressing are served on the side. You get a large wooden bowl of baby mixed green with slices of avocado, fatty ham and the most beautifully cooked eggs. The egg was a bit soft, the yolk and white are not cooked all the way so they silky smooth with the salad. What a delicious salad! I wish I had gotten more!

Main Entree was
Liberty Farms Duck Breast
jacobsen orchards plums, broccoli rabe
carolina rice and spanish pardina lentils

My oh my oh my. A giant piece of duck breast baked in the oven and then sliced, served over a big plate of lentils and crisp/fresh green beans. The plum sauce was a bit sweet, but this dish had a Chinese influence too it, almost taste like Chinese Roast Duck opposed to French style fatty duck. Good dish!

Cheese Plate:
St. George
marshall’s farm wildflower honey
spiced nuts

Figs and Pecans with a large chunk of St. Georges cheese. We had two bowls of the pecans, wonderfully toasted.

Finally dessert,
Panna Cotta
mixed berries & vanilla crisp

Fresh baked and crispy Vanilla Crisp with the creamy goodness of the panna cotta is a great topper to the evening.

I highly suggest that you visit Ad Hoc if you're around the area. For around $65 a person after tax/tip you're getting a hearty meal with all the basic food groups =P.

Ad Hoc
6476 Washington St
Yountville, CA 94599


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Celestino Ristorante (Los Angeles)

My least favorite cuisine is Italian. I'm not sure what it is, but I almost always feel disappointed after eating Italian food. So when Dave Corey of Core Wines was having a dinner to show off his current and future releases at Celestino Ristorante in Pasadena I was a bit hesitant on putting my name down. Of course.. when I finally decided I really wanted to try the wines Dave was pouring there wasn't any space left for me! After a bunch of begging and pleading, I was able to tag along.

Since I haven't really decided if I want to put a spotlight on my wine drinking I want to show you a few pictures of the mayhem that occurred.

Calm before the storm, just a few bottles before everyone arrived.

A variety of wines from Core, white/red/dessert

Some Rhone blends, Spanish/Rhone Blends. Good stuff. If you'd like to read more about the wines click here!

Everyone getting settled in

And here we are in full force

Now I know you didn't come here to see a table of wines, so here's the food!

Quick preface: The service was great, especially for such a large party. Each person got an appetizer + entree and each dish came out perfectly as if the party composed of only a few people.They set us up with a private room so we wouldn't bother the other patrons *wink*!

First up Swordfish Carpaccio with orange and fennel salad

Razor thin slices of swordfish drizzled with a light lemon based dressing. The dressing was a bit tart and it tended to overwhelm the thin swordfish which was having trouble standing on its own. But what really worked was when you put together the fennel salad and the swordfish together. A tad sweeter than coleslaw and a whole lot less thick, the sweetness of the fennel (if there is such a flavor) matches really well with the swordfish. THis is one of those dishes that needs to be eaten as a whole and not piece by piece.

Beef Carpacio with capers and Parmesan Cheese

What can you say? It's beef carpacio. Sharp Parmesan to match along with the same lemon sauce that's on the swordfish. Not quite as good...*duh.. no fennel salad.

Seared Foie Gras

This item isn't on the menu, Leslie asked the waiter if they were serving Foie and bam here we go.. a chunk of foie.

Next up Risotto with Red Beets and Goat Cheese

Sweet creamy goodness. This is one of the better plates of risotto I've had in awhile. The grains are a tiny bit over cooked, but in my book it's better to be overcooked and a bit soft than under cooked and hard (staring at you Providence!). I was surprised the dish was as intensively flavorful as it was, the ingredients mixed well together and didn't overwhelm you with the "green" of the beet or the bitterness of the goat cheese. Very good dish, well executed. Could have used a bit less cream cause it was rather heavy.. glad I didn't order it because I wouldn't be able to eat more than a few bites.

Wide Fettucine with roast pheasant and mushroom sauce.

Sorry for the half eaten picture. It was so delicious that it just couldn't last. The noodles were long wide well cooked pieces of fettuccine covered in a rich creamy mushroom sauce and pieces of pheasant. One couple ordered this as their 2nd course and offered to us a few bites. We were so overwhelmed by the texture of the noodles and the richness of the sauce that one fellow diner immediately ordered a second dish, then another person ordered a 3rd order of it... the waiter decided just to give us 5 plates of this for free for everyone to try =P.

The next dish was Spiral Pasta with Rapini and Sausage

This was easily my favorite dish of the night. Doughy yet not too chewy pieces of flavorful al dente spiral pasta. A light broccoli sauce mixed with bits of sausages is mixed in with the pasta. You can tell this pasta is made on the spot, some of the spirals aren't fully formed and each piece is completely uneven. What a delight to have this dish, the flavors were great and the pasta couldn't be any better.

Next up Tortelloni stuffed with pumpkin, cream-butter sage sauce

Finally my pasta, Black and White Tagliolini with Scallops and Saffron Sauce

The dish is pleasing to the nose, the fragrance of the ink pasta, saffron, warm cream, and scallops hit me and I couldn't stop sniffing. When I finally dug in, I was greeted by a sturdy cream sauce laced with saffron mixed in with once again perfectly cooked noodles. Needless to say, I devoured this dish.

We also had some dessert.. but they weren't very memorable.

Panna Cota

Pear Tart

This restaurant surprised me. I was not expecting such a treat when we pulled up to the restaurant. The noodles were all so PERFECT the sauce/meat/seasoning was just secondary to it. I highly suggest this restaurant.

Celestino Ristorante
141 S. Lake Ave
Pasadena, CA