Sunday, October 26, 2008

Jim Denny's Lunch (Road Trip, Sacramento)

A few months ago my most cherished dining partner and I were invited to a wedding in the great city of Sacramento (*snicker*). Since I'm far too cheap to pay $30 for the two of us to take a shuttle to our hotel, I had my good college buddy Joey pick us up with the lure of free food.

Primarily hunting for brunch food in downtown Sacramento, we stumbled across a large sign. JIM- DENNY's Lunch

The ragged looking shack filled with people sitting at a counter top pushed us to figure out why people were eating here (that and no other restaurant seemed to be open at 10am as well as an awesome looking metal chicken).

This restaurant is a great example of a restaurant that lives on the idea of a short order cook. Greasy, big and hearty portions of food heaped on large heavy plates. Since the inside was completely packed (and smokey, greasy, and hot) we sat outside on a cool Sacramento morning.

Yes, you're absolutely right, their outside looks like the outdoor furnishing section of a Target/Wal-Mart. These seats were not at all comfortable... which only got worse due to the food taking 30+ minutes to come out. Was the food worth the wait?

I'm not going to lie to you dear reader, at a restaurant like this you will not be blown away by the complex layers of flavor or the teasing of your taste buds with ingredients that tickle your grain. What you get are big portions of decent food at a decent price.

First up, the breakfast burrito.

This burrito was so large, they couldn't fully wrap it up.. so you couldn't lift it up and bite into it. It's served with salsa, guac, and sour cream.

The burrito is filled with sausage, ham, potatoes, egg, tomatoes, pepper, and cheese. Nothing was undercook/overcooked, it was properly seasoned. All check marks for your standard breakfast burrito.

Next up, the oiliest dish I have ever laid my eyes on. A Breakfast Croissant sandwich.

Stuffed with a 6 strips of bacon, egg, cheddar cheese and super buttery croissant, the sandwich made me fat just by looking at it. But what more can you ask for? When you want a breakfast sandwich it has all the ingredients necessary. I'd like a few slices of tomatoes, but *shrug* I think the purveyors of the restaurant would disagree and take away from the idea of "FATTENING LARGE PORTIONS".

Now comes Jim Denny's version of Denny's Grand Slam breakfast.

This is a major league grand slam, not a AA minor league one from Denny's. Heaps of crisp hash brown, thick sausage, perfectly runny sunny eggs that just drip over the has browns, and delicious thick bacon. To top it off, the largest pancake I have ever laid my eyes on. (Knife used to show how large it was)

I could not even finish half of this pancake. It was so thick, doughy, and sweet.. mouthfuls of happiness.

Mr. Pancake face approves of this large and filling meal!

Jim Denn's Lunch (closed sunday/monday)
816 12th St
Sacramento, CA 95814


Friday, October 17, 2008

Pizzeria Mozza (Los Angeles)

Pizza Pizza Pizza! Mama Mia it's hard to get good pizza this day and age! Not just well made pizza but pizza that is filled with inspiration and creativity. Sausage this, pepperoni that, it's all the same! Slap on an Italian sounding name and the masses will swarm to any tomato sauce out of a can pizza joint.

But Nancy Silverton, Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich thought of something different, they wanted great pizza with fresh ingredients and compelling combination. They opened Pizzeria Mozza, probably the hardest pizzaria to make a reservation at in the 48 continental states.

Call: put on hold, there's actually a recorded voice that tells you what place in line you are (oddly enough.. our whole dinner there I never saw them pick up the phone more than once... leads me to believe it's fake?)
Call answered: I ask for 3 different dates and I was told "we are fully committed that evening." Finally I told them tell me what day you AREN'T committed and they booked us a table.

After an agonizing week of waiting to eat at Pizza Mozza the day finally arrived!
Stepping into the restaurant I understand why it was so packed. It's a pretty small restaurant, you have two bar seating areas and about 15 tables for guests.

The eating partner and I eat relatively fast while the people around us... woo they ate dessert longer than we ate our whole meal.

The pizza is cooked in a big open wood fire oven, those white hats in the back are popping in and out pizzas at a record pace.

We decided to start off our meal with a little appetizer. White beans alla Toscana with extra virgin olive oil & saba.

The white beans are grinded to a soft almost creamy consistency. The beans are meaty and rich in flavor which amps up even more with the great olive oil they pour liberally over the beans.

After we stuffed ourselves with bread and beans we ordered two very different pizzas to share. First off, the pizzas made with a thin bottom and a nice fluffy but crispy crust. So the pizza is not doughy but it has enough substance where the ingredients don't overwhelm the pizza.

First up, Tomato, mozzarella, sausage, salami, bacon & guanciale

Oily, fatty, decadent, concentrated meat flavor. All the meat was so flavorful, especially the guanciale which is essentially an unsmoked bacon. It's a very salty and mouth coating meat, the saltiness seems to give way to all the oil from the rest of the pizza. This is a meat lover's pizza on crack!

Next up Egg, guanciale, radicchio, escarole & bagna cauda

Radicchio is a spicy almost bitter Italian leaf (the purple and green you see there) almost like arugala but with more of a bitter aftertaste. Escarole is just endive, also a slightly bitter leafy green. Now you're probably asking .. this pizza just sounds horrible so far. Never fear my dear readers, the rest of the ingredients make it work well together.

The bagna cauda is a sauce of garlic, anchovy , and olive oil, these ingredients are very anti-bitter. In addition the uncured salted ham with a slightly cooked egg try their best to reign in the bitter greens. So you get an epic battle in your mouth. Occasionally you get a bit of a more "bitter" bite... I think this problem could have been easily cured if they put more uncured ham (hehe)... if there's one big knock on this restaurant it's the lack of meat on a near $20 pizza.

Is this place everything people hype it up to be? Sure. Where else do you have pizza with very traditional (yet exotic) Italian ingredients? It's an adventure worth stopping in at least once.

Pizzeria Mozza
641 N. Highland Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90036


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Hatfield's (Los Angeles)

Every summer I head back to Los Angeles as I take my hiatus from San Diego. This summer came to an end and what better way to end a summer than to eat at a nice restaurant? Restaurant of choice? Hatfield's (now a 1 star rated restaurant in the 09 Michelin Guide!)

A small restaurant, about the size of your closet, Hatfield's seats around 35-40 people. The bar is right next to the entrance and our table was right next to the bar, which was separated by a window that had an outdoor alley way of 2 tops to seat more guests. You feel cozy and warm due to the soft light colors that adorn the restaurant. I've heard alot of good things about the restaurant and I was excited to try it.

Having a party of 5 we decided to do al a carte dining.

First up was an amuse bouche of creamed corn and deviled egg.

A spiced deviled egg followed by a warm sweet corn elixer that tickles the back of your throat. A sweet and savory start to what will be a pretty fine meal.

For the only appetizer I took a picture of House Made Corn Agnolloti with Dungeness Crab, and Shaved Summer Truffle.

The sauce is a thick and creamy sherry beurre fondue that is almost overwhelming in it's sharpness. Unlike the Corn Agnolloti at Spago, this was on the savory side (opposed to sweet) , you get the undercurrent of warm crab and the saltiness of the truffle. It's a good appetizer, but not quite as good as the corn agnolloti at Spago (which now is the pinnacle of all agnolloti in the world for me). Also there were probably 5 pieces of agnolloti in here, slightly disappointing for $20.

First Entree was the special of the day, Roasted Pork Tenderloin with a Cranberry Dressing.

Moist juicy pork served on a bed of soft mashed potatoes. I don't like cranberries so that was a bit of a turnoff for me, but the pork was cooked to perfection with just a bit of flavoring from the au jus.

Next up is the Olive oil Poached Halibut

The halibut is served on a bed of asparagus and Hon Shimeji mushrooms. Even though the dish looks heavy, it's actually prepared in a very simple manner. The fish is poached in olive oil so you get a softer flakier fish that stands alone in a natural flavor. The vegetables are a compliment but they don't "add" to the flavor of the fish. It doesn't need to, the fish was perfect.

Then there was the Date and Mint Crusted Colorado Rack of Lamb.

The lamb was served on a nice bright green potato chive puree with fava beans, heirloom carrots, and turnips. The lamb is mild almost veal like opposed to the gamey mutton and very tender. No complaints on this dish what-so-ever.

The final entree was the Pan Roasted Hanger Steak and Horseradish dusted Short Ribs.

The beef is served two ways, in the very fatty/oily/flavorful hanger steak and a soft lucious short rib style. Both ways compliment it's respective ingredient pairings and are as different as night and day in flavor profile.

The Hanger steak is served with a smoked potato puree. If you've never had hanger steak (one of my favorite cuts) it's a very rich, meaty, and oily piece of meat. But at the same time it's a bit rough but that oily consistency gives it an extra layer of flavor that you don't get with normal meat. Hatfield's does a great job preparing theirs, the meat was tender yet has the "chewy" aspect of hanger due to all that tendon that was a burst of flavor with each bite.

The short ribs are classic short rib, deep dark concentrated flavors of meat that's been cooked for hours and hours. The horseradish wasn't as prevelant as I'd like it to be, but it was still a very well executed dish.

Since we only had one appetizer.. we went BUCK WILD with the desserts!

First up Fresh Peach Crisp

Large chunks of roasted cinnamon and peach ladden the thick outer crust. The crisp is adorned with plenty of warm crispy brown sugar.

Next is their version of donuts and milk.

This is a dessert. This is what all other desserts need to aspire to be like. The "milk" is a chocolate milkshake that's so creamy and thick with a hint of coffee in the back that makes you want to drink more and more. It's paired with 2 fluffy fried beignets and a decadent chocolate syrup.

The final dessert Chocolate Flourless Cake with Peanut Butter

The chocalate cake is baked with a glob of peanut butter inside. So once you pierce away and it's soft airy exterior you get treated to a gooey lucious sweet peanut butter. It's paired with equally as rich peanut butter ice cream. Woo wee, I gained about 5 pounds eating these desserts.

And on top of it with the check, they served each person a little cupcake.

What Hatfield's may lack in fancy dining areas they make up for in perfectly executed dishes that are proud of the simple and direct flavor combinations that tease your tastebuds and make you want to come back for more.

They also have a 7 course tasting menu for $75, which isn't too shabby!

7458 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Square One (Santa Barbara)

My dearest dining partner and I took a trip to Santa Barbara to visit some wineries and explore the Santa Barbara area. We visited Larry Schaffer (Tercero Wines) at the Fess Parker winery, Larry is making some out of this world Rhone Style blends in Santa Barbara-area, his Cuvee Christie (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) is a dense concentration of bright cherries and ripe red fruits, delicious! Then we made our way into Santa Barbara.

After checking into the crappiest motel I've ever stayed at for over $130 a night it dawned on me.. Santa Barbara isn't really as pretty as the pictures show .. at least the beach and downtown weren't. Luckily there was a diamond in the rough. Square One

Located off of Main street Square One is making some very fine inventive and daring cuisine. I looked forward to each and every dish that we ordered wondering what surprises were in store. I was not disappointed. We were treated to one of the more imaginative menus I've seen in quite some time.

The restaurant itself is rather small, about 6-7 tables and a bar sitting area... but plenty of sunlight filters into the restaurant.

Instead of doing the set tasting menu (which didn't have anything we really wanted) we ordered directly off the menu.

The first item served was the Amuse Bouche, Duck Confitt with Arugala and Currant Dressing

Unlike more amuse that tend to be something refreshing to awaken your pallet, this dish was a strong concentration of Indian spices and intense flavors of gamey duck and off-bitter arugala. I wasn't sure if the chef was crazy or we were in for a real special treat for the rest of the meal.

Our first appetizer was Fried Abalone with Mustard Pearls and Sweet Celery Carrot Reduction

I was surprised to find Abalone on the menu, but definitely not disappointed. The coating was a fine layer of fried panko crisp. The abalone itself was soft and smooth with a light meaty flavor. The real flavor from the dish came from the mustard pearls, little bursts of flavor with each bite. Yumtastic.

The next dish got me real excited. Fried Jalapeno accompanied by Rock Shrimp Ceviche in Avocado Foam and Ruby Grape Fruit.

The ceviche is served on a bed of ice ready to be devoured. Creamy chilled avocado foam acts as a pillow for the Ceviche. This is a twist on the traditional ceviche. Instead of lime/lemon they use grapefruit citrus, so you get a very unique and less tart flavor in the shrimp. Mixes really well with the foam.

What I really liked about the dish was the pepper. It was prepared in a Chile Relleno style with a hot crisp batter on the outside. When you cut the pepper the cheese oozes out. The pepper was perfectly spicy, it hit your tastebuds and settled there for long enough for you to savor the heat. The next dish was their famous Kobe Burger served with home-made Ketchup, Mustard, and Aoile and a side of Onion Rings.

The mustard was crunchy and spicy and the onion rings were made in the same mind numbingly good batter as the pepper in the previous dish. The hamburger was well spiced, good but nothing special.

And the star of the evening... Pan Roasted Quail with Buckwheat pancakes

The quail was served with a reduction with mustard greens. When I say WOW I mean WOW. This dish really blew my socks off. It looks like a mishmash due to all the dark colors (probably the one thing the dish needs to improve on) but the quail was so flavorful and moist I almost picked it clean to the bone. The buckwheat had a mild flavor that helped as an accompaniment to the quail.

This is definitely a restaurant that needs to be on your TO VISIT LIST whenever you visit Santa Barbara.

14 E Cota St
Santa Barbara, CA 93101


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Roseville (San Diego)

Commemorating my return to San Diego for the year I decided to host a blind wine tasting dinner. But considering I was going from San Diego for 3 months I didn't really have my finger on the pulse of San Diego's current fine dining scene. Luckily my friend Kevin had informed me of a great new restaurant that opened in Point Loma, Roseville.

I know... Point Loma? Fine Dining? It's good I didn't doubt him because we were in for a treat. Owner George Riffle opened this restaurant after opening Blanca, Quarter Kitchen, and managing Laurel. He's put together a splendid operation with Chef Amy DiBiase centered around French Bistro dining. The decoration is warm and well appointed and the noise level is just right. A short list of dishes and carefully selected wines greet you on the two page menu.

Check out this awesome leg of pig! I'll get back to it later in the evening, it's quite the oink!

As with all of our wine gatherings, we have a ridiculous amount of wine glasses littered on the table.

Your eyes do not deceive you! Captain Jack joined us for this dinner as well! Exemplary wine service, the waitresses assigned to our table were quick to refill our champagne glasses and get us a plethora of glasses.

Now on to the food!

First appetizer Asparagus Salad

Shaved asparagus mixed with watercress and pan fried pancetta. Wild baby greens and a perfectly cooked farm fresh egg on top of the salad accompanied by a truffle vinaigrette. The dressing was light and the asparagus was shaved ever so slightly as not to overpower the delicate nature of the dressing and the egg. The pancetta brought it all together with a salty base.

Next App Foie Gras

Foie gras served with a peach cream. I was surprised by the pairing, I've never had foie with such a rich, creamy compliment. It worked out really well, they balanced each other out.. the foie was incredibly flavorful and I wanted to lick the cream off the plate..

Another App... Carlsbad Mussels

I didn't get to try the mussels in this dish but based on my later experiences, their mussels are very well done. Succulent and meaty with not a hint of sand/salt water. And look at the portion size! Huge!

First entree Seared Diver Scallops

The scallops are served on top of lightly pan roasted purple potatoes and topped with watercress and grapefruit.

Next up, Braised BerkShire Pork Cheeks

Tender meaty fall off the fork cheek cooked with vegetable ragout and a honey lavendar glaze with braising jus. You can smell the fragrance of the lavendar waft up ever so lightly mix in with the smell of pork broth. Yum!

My entree, Herb crusted Lamb Rib Eye

Served with a side of summer squash tian ( layers of zuchinni squash, yellow squash and peppers) and a black olive jus. Like all the other dishes, the meat is done so PERFECTLY at this restaurant. The deft hand that cooks this meat should be applauded. What shouldn't be applauded is the ridiculously rich black olive jus. It was overwhelming... lamb by itself is a very flavorful and gamey meat but the black olive sauce just overpowers it. Loved the lamb, didn't like the sauce one bit.

And back to that pig you saw way up top... Black Iberian Pig (Jamon iberico)

This pig is free range and ONLY eats acorn. Only 5% of the Iberian ham is this type. $120 a pound and over $2,000 for the leg you saw up there. This plate was $50, everytime they serve a plate like this (special order.. gotta talk to the owner) they lose money. How do you describe such perfection in meat? The perfect medium between oil and richness with a deep satisfying cured pork flavor. Thinly sliced so the intensity of the flavor didn't overwhelm your taste bud. The table agreed.. the most perfect piece of cured meat you could ever have.

And due to some confusion... we ordered two =P. Since we paid $100 for two plates of meat.. they gave us some free cheese and fruit! (wow!)

Service was a bit slow that night, but for a party of 14 the food came out perfect, not a dish over cooked or under cooked.

Since I enjoyed the restaurant so much I brought a dining partner with me this past weekend. George (the owner) informed me during our last visit that they would be implimenting a new fall menu (which isn't updated on the website). We decided to try the new dishes!

We started off with the Endive salad with Roasted Pear.

This looks small but it's actually split between my dining partner and I. They were kind enough to plate it for both of us without even asking!
Cinnamon flavored soft roasted pear with toasted walnuts with an endive, St. August cream, and mixed greens. A great start to the meal with the light but complimentary flavors. I very much adored the pear =).

They changed the Fall Menu's Pork Cheek to this preperation

This time it was prepared with a pork gravy on mashed polenta. The polenta is pretty grainy which was a bit of a turn-off. But like list time the meat was moist and was extraordinarily flavorful this time around.

Also ordered their special of the day, Fish and Shellfish Stew

Cooked in a tomato saffron broth with sea bass, clam, mussels, and shrimp it's a hearty stew for a cold night. I expected something soupier ala Pascal's but my dining partner loved the dish and the thickness of the stew. I thought the bass was incredibly moist, my only wish was for more bass!

Finally we had dessert, Julian Apple Crisp with Huckleberry

The crisp is served in a cute little cast iron pan and topped with a spiced cinnamon ice cream. I thought the huckleberry would be overwhelming in the dish but it wasn't overly tart. The apples were sweet and the crisp on top are baked perfectly! Another great dish by Roseville!

I HIGHLY SUGGEST YOU VISIT THIS RESTAURANT. IT IS GREAT! It's not "expensive" due to it's location.. dishes are 20-30 and appetizers are 10-15. You won't get a better quality to price ratio anywhere else in SD. Granted, it's not the best execution but you get way more than you pay for!

1125 Rosecrans Street
San Diego, California 92106