Restaurant Reviews Archives – Eat Till You Bleed

Damn you Pigeon. I wanted to hate you, but instead I ended up loving you.

– Me, drunk sexting Le Pigeon at 2 am.

After 30 years on the front lines of many restaurant kitchens I can smell bullshit and phoniness in overhyped dining spots 100 miles away. I am an opinionated diner, OK a very opinionated diner. I know exactly what I like and exactly what I hate.  I have a hard time with cutesy food lacking flavor and soul, needlessly decked out with puree swirls and edible flowers. Done right it can be fantastic. Done wrong it is just another horrid food fad I wish would disappear. I saw the same phenomena occur when molecular cuisine arrived on our shores. Soon every chef had a larder full of chemicals and syringes. Incanting Ferran’s magic spells while attempting to transform ordinary food into flights of whimsy. Diners were awash in egg shaped mango spheres and bacon foams. At the same time arose the proliferation of social media. The cyberworld became cluttered with too many yelpers lacking a firm foundation of culinary knowledge and an independent perspective. The adherents of popular restaurants began to sound more like reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Moonies….

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Langbaan July 2015 Menu: Food Inspired from Central Thailand

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WARNING: This post is not for the faint of heart, nor any vegans who may not have fully understood the title of my blog page and it’s full implications. Good Ramen is serious porky business.

I start my blog with a confession. I have been a confirmed ramen addict for several decades now. The disease shows no signs of slowing even though, for the most part, I have stopped eating gluten and pork. The addiction began in earnest as a small child left to fend for himself and forage the near empty cupboards of 1970’s America. Instant ramen noodles seemed the perfect cost effective solution for parents of constantly hungry adolescents. Any child with half a brain could boil a cup of water, open the tin foil flavor packet, drop the waxed noodles in and eat. It progressed, or degressed depending on your point of view, to high school where I put the high in high school and had the munchies that needed constant tending.  Ramen was the perfect solution….

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Flutes of Champagne lined up like soldiers waiting to be deployed

Day Four: More Champagne, Can my Liver Survive this Onslaught?

“If you don’t have passion, you won’t make very good Champagne.”

Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy

We arrived back in Epernay with a sense of foreboding a soldier must feel when returning to the scene of a particularly horrendous battle fought only the day before.  I had imagined Epernay’s streets haunted by the ghosts of empty bottles from yesterday’s excesses.  The bright, relentless sunlight bore a hole through my aching brain….

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I have written and rewritten this post so many times I am starting to see cross eyed.  What started a simple post celebrating a classic French dish, Volaille Demi Deuil, or Chicken in Half Mourning has become an ever expanding education into an important and often untold chapter in the annuals of great cooking. I decided to share a brief version for all the great women Chefs and cooks I have been fortunate to share the ranges with.  So often it seems women Chefs feel alone and under appreciated in the kitchen.  This story belongs to them, it is their story….

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Keeping Portland Weird, one day at a time

OK, it’s about time I wrote a little about the fabulous food mecca that Portland is.  I haven’t lived in a city where my three main food groups, beer, coffee and pork belly, are so revered and celebrated. Scan the guide books and prepare to be amazed by the sheer number of breweries and coffee shops listed.  If you look further you will soon notice how many restaurants prominently feature sexy shots of pork belly in action.  You could spend your days driving down countless streets and numerous neighborhoods and still never fully see everything this amazing city has to offer.  Whether you want traditional brick and mortar restaurants or the most imaginative food carts and street offerings… Food is everywhere!

Here is a partial list of where we’ve been in our quest to live life to the fullest, Bacchus Style!

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Polite Provisions is the brainchild of Erick Castro and the guys behind famed San Diego bars Craft and Commerce, Underbelly and Noble Experiment.  The interior space  has the feel of an old time drug store with it’s tiled floors and faux tin ceilings mixed with fitting but eclectic touches like old street lamps and fire extinguishers.  The space is absolutely cool, hip and well thought out but the real draw is the amazing cocktails made from a selection of over 50 different bitters and forty six taps pulling everything from craft beers and sodas to draft cocktails and spirits.

Polite Provisions, San Diego

We had to drive to San Diego to pick up our beloved VW Westfalia from Pete at SD Westy.  When we arrived he told us we would need another hour or two to button up some loose ends and get our vanagon ready for the voyage back home.  Lisa had come equipped with a list of places to check out and things to do.  Polite Provisions on 30th and Adams was at the top of the list.  We stood outside in the rain waiting for the bartender to unlock the doors and let us in the gold framed wood and glass door.

Polite Provisions, San Diego

We sat down and checked out their amazing cocktail and beverage menu with so many great choices of pre-prohibition influenced libations I knew we were in trouble.  Go to their web site to check it out: http://politeprovisions.com/menu/politeprovisionsmenu.pdf  We started with two cocktails, one rum based and the other with Champagne.

Polite Provisions, San Diego

Now that we had drinks we needed to order food from Soda and Swine, the sister restaurant next door.  The premise is a meatball shop offering six basic meatballs which you can get in a variety of guises from a sub to pasta and back again.  They have amazing sides, like the Scotch Egg pictured below to over the top dirty fries topped with pork belly and other tasty treats.  They kindly deliver food to your table so that you won’t have to leave your cocktail unchaperoned.  The food is plentiful, fatty and deliciously served on half sheet pans.

Scotch Eggs at Polite Provisions, San Diego

While eating Pete called and said it would be a few more hours.  What a terrible place to have to sit and wait for your car to be serviced!

The Bar at Polite Provisions, San Diego

I could not more highly, or drunkenly, recommend Polite Provisions!

Cheers!

Dino Bugica has something incredibly and edibly special going on in Geyserville, California.  Dino is the Chef owner of Diavola, one of my favorite places to eat in the world.  What I like most is that it is a regular spot featuring amazing farm to table cuisine with an Italian touch.  The food is mind blowingly simple yet so rich and textured in it’s flavors and combinations.  The menu offers everything from amazing pizzas baked in his wood fired oven, like our perennial favorite the Cha Cha Cha, a house smoked pork belly pizza to pan seared Iberico pork loin in a white miso and mustard sauce.  Even dishes I would rarely if ever order, like tripe or tuna heart, are brought to majestic new heights at the Chef’s talented  hand.  If it is on the menu, I am ordering it.

Next time you find yourself in Northern California and you are wondering where to eat go visit Dino at Diavola Pizzeria http://www.diavolapizzeria.com/

braised Beef Tripe alla Fiorentina with a sauteed Farm Egg

Here is a gallery of photos I have taken over the last few years of eating there, enjoy!

Sanctuary

noun ˈsaŋ(k)-chə-ˌwer-ē

: a place where someone or something is protected or given shelter

: the protection that is provided by a safe place

: the room inside a church, synagogue, etc., where religious services are held

: the place where Beau MacMillan is a deity

About two weeks ago, I got this hair brained idea to get one last weekend before season begins at Figue Mediterranean and I will be too busy for anything except maybe nursing a Mai Tai next to my pool.  The restaurant world can be brutal and one needs a place of refuge where deities nourish your soul and stomach  I thought about a culinary tour of Los Angeles finest eateries or camping in the woods and sucking down a few choice bottles amidst legs of duck confit then it came to me…  go visit Chef Beau at the Sanctuary at Camelback Mountain in Paradise Valley, Arizona, even the name implies happiness.  We loaded our Jetta Sportwagen and headed through the desert to the Sanctuary.

The drive from Palm Springs is very easy and only took about four hours door to door, depending on how many playgrounds your three year old insists on stopping at.  We arrived at the Sanctuary and immediately felt the truly sincere and gracious welcome the entire staff gives.  I have been to many great resorts, hotels and inns in my life and sometimes have experienced staffs who are annoyed by your presence.  At the Sanctuary, they make you feel like your are a loved family member they haven’t seen in years.  Everyone from the valet to the check in attendant to the gentleman that shows you your room was beyond kind and helpful.

We were given the Turquoise X Spa Room, a wonderful two room suite with a great balcony and many other incredible amenities.  Lisa took to the room like a fish to water.  We called room service and ordered two cocktails to quickly get us into the vacation mode. We were meeting Chef Beau MacMillan, Beau Mac, for a pizza party thrown at a friend’s house and I needed to shake the road off.

I have known Chef Beau for many years.  He actually started working with me several years ago at a small restaurant in Carver, Massachusetts called the Cranebrook Tea Room.  As a Chef you have many youngsters work for you and it is hard to keep track of all the people you meet.  I had forgotten about Beau till one day he called Claudia Springs Winery, where I was working in 2010, to track me down.  My boss, Bob Klindt, being the great boss he was, took Beau’s info and said he would pass it on.  Bob called my office and said some guy named Beau was looking for me.  Being cynical,  I quickly responded ‘did he say daddy or IRS or any other keywords that may help me remember why that name was familiar’.  Bob chuckled and had me call him.  It took two phone conversations before I remembered Beau fully who now had become a national celebrity and TV star.  Yes, 14 years of not owning a TV made me rather ignorant when it came to pop trivia.  We eventually hooked up and did a lunch and learn program at Elements, the Asian inspired restaurant at the Sanctuary and a few other events Beau was gracious enough to include me in. Sometimes being a Chef is like being a father, you take such a personal interest in those who learned the craft under your tutelage, they make you proud then they leave the nest to forge their own life and identity.  Over time, they call you either from a psychiatric ward after they’ve gone postal or when life is particularly good. Thankfully Beau called me because life had shined it’s lovelight on him and blessed him with a joyous career.   When I googled Beau and saw both the Chef and the man he became it made me super proud.  Anyone who knows Beau or is fortunate to cross his paths quickly realizes what a genuine and wonderful person he is and what an immensely talented Chef he has become.  The Sanctuary is far better off having Beau leading the culinary charge or as an employee told me this last trip  Elements is Beau.  He could not have been more correct.

We had a few hours to kill before the pizza extravaganza and tried fruitlessly to get our son Beaumont down.  Every time we got close he popped up.  Eventually we headed to the party and hoped for the best.  To our, and especially Beaumont’s delight, the house we went to was a child’s paradise with slides, pool and Thomas the train train set.  I am so embarrassed I did not remember everyone’s name because they all were so amazingly kind and wonderful.  We drank Champagne, downed a bottle of Beaumont’s wine.  In 2010, little Beau’s birth year, I made a barrel of Cabernet Sauvignon with Bob Klindt to last Beau’s entire life and to have something to remember his Daddy by.

The party was awesome.  Beau and I threw pies and I made some baked figs like we do at Figue.  I had a great time… thanks to all that were there.

At the end, or at least as long as little Beau let us stay before the inevitable meltdown, we watched Guy Fieri’s new Food Network show with some of the folks involved.  Here is my short shameless plug: make a food show about the son of a Chef who grows up cooking and his relationship with food – a kids cooking program.  I know most shows are reality based competitions and I don’t know crap about TV but my little son started his life eating Duck Confit with Truffles and helps cook whenever he can.  OK, plug over.  The other thing I feel compelled to mention is Guy Fieri’s twin works for me…

We drove back to the Sanctuary not the least bit hungry and thirsty but managed to do some damage at the Edge Bar. I wish I could say I took that picture below but I “borrowed” it from the Sanctuary’s photo collection online.

We indulged in a few cocktails before heading inside to eat.

We thought about eating at the newly renovated Jade Bar but decided upon sitting at a proper table.  It is not often we get to dine without our son.

We enjoyed many fantastic dishes, shoo, they all were fantastic.  I apologize about the photo quality.  Normally I am a bit more anal about getting the shots right but somehow alcohol influenced mt skillset.

Fire Roasted Oysters, Spinach, Lop Chung, Hijiki Aioli, or what is left of it.  This is one of the best dishes I will ever eat.  I am an oyster snob.  I want nothing more than an oyster and lemon, maybe.  I never eat cooked oysters.  HOLY MOLY!

Hudson Valley Foie Gras, Shrimp Toast, roasted Scallop and Mandarin Teriyaki: a beautiful marriage of land and sea.  I order foie gras whenever I can because in California it is easier to buy Jamaican herbs than it is foie gras.

Octopus a la Plancha, pickled Mustard Root, Celery Hearts, Fingerlings and Smoked Paprika.  A great dish.  My only slam is now that at Figue we have a new way of cooking octopus it is hard to eat it any other way.  Beau’s was very good but our method is better.  Please do not take that as critical.  It is more like picking fly shit out of black pepper.

Artichoke Tart, local Goat Cheese, Preserved Lemon and Balsamic Chili glaze.  One word:  YUM!

We ate the Char sui Pork Belly which was out of this world stellar yummo.  We were so stuffed I felt like that scene in Monty Python where a waiter (John Cleese) is trying to feed just one thin wafer mint to a guy who already has gorged himself on the food, see here.  Caution it is disgusting!We came back to our room to find Beaumont had fallen asleep sitting up…  Oh what a joyous and stupendous night.  Lisa and I thank Beau and his team at Elements and all the kind folks at the Sanctuary for giving us that safe haven for the weekend.  It was paradise.  I strongly urge any one of my three readers to venture to Arizona and enjoy Beau’s magic…  For reservations and more information please go to the Sanctuaries web site: http://www.sanctuaryoncamelback.com/index.html

If you have never been to a Terry Theise tasting than you never have experienced a great Champagne tasting.  Terry has been described as several things but I like best what wine importer Michael Skurnik had to say “The Man, the Myth, the Legend! If it is true that the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom, Terry Theise has been there and back. A brief perusal of his writing makes it quickly apparent that the man has no reservations about conveying his thoughts and feelings on wine, life, sex, philosophy and general cosmology. In Terry’s world, it’s all inter-related. So, without further ado, we encourage you to jump headlong into the wonderful world of Terry Theise German, Austrian and Champagne Estate Selections. Prepare yourself for a psychotropic experience.”

Wow!  I think Terry kind of covers his philosophy on his own.  Needless to say the event is simply amazing.  Lisa, Frederic and myself drove to Los Angeles to attend the tasting at the Roosevelt Hotel.

The Roosevelt is a historical hotel near many Hollywood landmarks.  Here is a history from their website: “Bringing glamour back to the Boulevard, Thompson Hotel’s Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel reincarnation resonates with the opulence of its fabled past. The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel has a long history of catering to the show business elite. The hotel was founded in 1927 by a syndicate of Hollywood luminaries (including Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Sid Grauman, and Louis B. Mayer) to house east coast movie-makers who were working on the west coast. Hollywood Roosevelt hotel’s “Blossom Room” hosted the first-ever Academy Awards ceremony, on May 19, 1929. That was also the shortest Oscar ceremony ever, lasting just five minutes, as Douglas Fairbanks and Al Jolson helped give away 13 statuettes. Marilyn Monroe was a resident at the Hollywood Roosevelt for two years when her modeling career took off. Her first magazine shoot was taken on the diving board on the pool behind the hotel, which was recently removed. The hotel’s remodeled pool contains an underwater mural painted by David Hockney.”

The Roosevelt is slightly faded from it’s former luster years but still worth visiting.  The tasting was in their Public Kitchen and Bar (http://www.thompsonhotels.com/hotels/la/hollywood-roosevelt/eat/public-kitchen-and-bar)

The Champagne tasting itself featured 105 great sparklers.  The standouts for me included a simple and inexpensive Greek organic sparkler called Karanika.  Here is what Tom Stevenson had to say about the domaine  “I shall be keeping a very close eye on Laurens Hartman in the future. He has the potential to produce a world class sparkling wine and of all the budding new sparkling wine superstars I am currently following, Hartman is the only one not using classic Champagne grape varieties. Xinomavro’s naturally high acid and intrinsically low colour makes it the obvious choice for anyone trying to craft a sparkling wine that is expressive of its Greek roots, but seldom have I come across any artisanal sparkling wine that is as polished as Hartman’s 2010-based second release of Domaine Karanika Xinomavro Brut. It has a silky-smooth mousse that most champenois would die for. Okay, I could quibble about the wine, and I did face to face with Hartman, but it is already the best sparkling wine produced in Greece. With his 2011 on yeast and 2012 still base wine both show promise, it is only a matter of time and experience before Hartman crafts something truly world class.”  A decent bottle worthy of a spot on our by the glass offerings at Figue.

Frederic was simply gaga over a Portuguese sparkler whose name eludes me.  The jewel of the tasting, however, is the offerings from Vilmart et Cie, an absolutely stunning grower/producer.  Here what Terry had to say In the early days when I first approached Vilmart and started working with Laurent Champs, I had mixed emotions about some of the Champagnes. Please note what “mixed emotions” actually means. It doesn’t mean I doubted the worthiness of the wines or thought they were mediocre. It means I had different opinions about different aspects of the wines. I was thrilled with some, intrigued with all, and wondered whether a couple were too oaky.

Earlier in his career, I think Laurent was flying blind on the matter of oak, and his recent Champagnes have wisely—presented a more integrated and elegant  profile. Yet he is adamantly a vintner first, before he is a maker of Champagne: “We do wine first, then afterward we do Champagne,” he says. Every base wine, without exception, sees at least ten months in casks of  varying size and newness. Once in a while there’s a brief disconnect between fruit and wood immediately after disgorgement, but 2-3 years on the cork make for a dramatic metamorphosis. Matter of fact, I’ve found Vilmart among the most food-friendly of all my Champagnes, because they’re so gracious, so vinous, so lordly in their carriage. It’s clear to me Vilmart is a Champagne estate of unassailable consequence, a must-have for anyone Interested in the possibilities of this most suavely powerful and graceful of all wines. Casks are hardly the point anymore. Organic viticulture, (truly!) low yields, remarkable polish of fruit, and the deliberate patient pursuit of a vision of perfection make Laurent Champs’ estate a gemstone gleaming among the chalk. ”

The tasting is amazing in many respects like you pour your own pours for all the wines except Vilmart.  Last year, Lisa and I resorted to donning costumes and adopting strange accents in our vain attempts to fool the pourer into giving us more.  The 2004 Coeur de Cuvee was absolutely stunning in it’s elegance.  Probably one of the best Champagnes I have had the privilege to drink.  The 2005 was amazing too but lacked the strength of vintage that 2004’s presented.  Other notables from Vilmart et Cie included the NV Grand Cellier brut and the magnum of 2006 Grand Celler d’Or.  I strongly suggest visiting their property in Champagne and drinking their wine whenever the opportunity presents itself.  http://www.champagnevilmart.fr/

The other stars of the show included NV Cuvee Julie from grower/producer Henri Biilliot (beautifully floral fragrances),The rose brut from Chartogne-Taillet; the 2008 Millesime brut from Vallee de la Marne and the 2006 Grand Vintage Blanc de Blanc from Varnier Fanniere.  I want to thank George Pavlov of Wine Wise for the invitation.  It truly is a spectacular event.

“The most learned men have been questioned as to the nature of this tuber, and after two thousand years of argument and discussion their answer is the same as it was on the first day: we do not know. The truffles themselves have been interrogated, and have answered simply: eat us and praise the Lord.”

– Alexandre Dumas 

AMERICAN BERKSHIRE PROSCIUTTO AND BURRATA $18

Di Stefano Artisan Burrata, Brioche Crostini, Fig Jam

Since we’ve opened I have always treated the charcuterie bat like a sushi bar.  My cooks Michael and Chris kibbitz with guests offering them dishes that aren’t on any menu. It is a beautiful focal point for our restaurant.

Carpaccio of Octopus $18

Truffle Basil Aioli, Arugula and Asparagus Salad, shaved Manchego, Brioche Crostini

The octopus carpaccio is something I wanted to do for ten years now.  Last night was the first experiments.  I kept it fairly classic in liberal sense.  I mean we all know carpaccio Is raw beef drizzled with an olive oil dressing and garnished with shaved cheese. Invented in 1950 by Mr. Cipriani at Harry’s Bar in Venice.  The dish was inspired by the Contessa Amalia Nani Mocenigo whose doctor had recommended she go on a diet of raw meat.  Mr. Cipriani had visited the art exhibit of the famed Renaissance painter Vittore Carpaccio, known for his brilliant reds and whites.  Like any legendary dish, it mutates and morphs into something new.  Change always comes whether we want it to or not.  Our character is decided on how we handle it.

Turban of Sea Scallop and Burgundy Truffles $30

Spaghetti, shaved Truffles, Cabbage Salad, Beurre Blanc

This is one of my favorite Joel Robuchon inspired dishes.  A single strand of spaghetti is wrapped around the interior of a savarin mold, filled with scallop and truffle mousse and big hunks of scallop then steamed.

Turned out onto a pasta bowl, paired with a cabbage salad, slivers of fresh Burgundy truffles and an old school beurre blanc made with French butter.

While I had my camera out I took a few more food shots…

Buckwheat Pasta and Squid Ink Chitarra waiting to be cooked…

Squid Ink Chitarra Pasta in Guazetto $28

Greek Branzino, Mussels and Shrimp in a Saffron Tomato Brodo, Hand Cut Squid Ink Pasta

Kibbe│ Lebanese Lamb and Bulgur Wheat meatballs, Cucumber salad, Hummus – 14 

Daube of slow braised Wagyu Beef Cheek $36

baked Ricotta galette, Cherry Tomato confite, Pumpkin Seed Crumble, Micro Arugula

Sticky Toffee Cake

Moroccan Donuts and Harissa Hot Chocolate $9

house made Donuts, Cinnamon Sugar, spicy Hot Chocolate

Nothing gets me more excited as a Chef than the beginning of truffle season.  My first batch of truffles rolled in today from Burgundy.  While they are not as pungent or expensive as Perigord they still are beautiful and fragrant.  Here are my specials for tonight!  Please stop by Figue in the Palm Springs market for dinner and be sure to say HELLO!

SMALL PLATES

Di Stefano Artisan Burrata Caprese $16

slow cooked Cherry Tomatoes, Pesto, Sicilian Organic Citrus Oil

house pickled Currant Tomatoes, Fig Vincotto and Di Stefano Burrata

Salmon Crudo with Citrus and warm Merguez Olives $16

Mint and Citrus cured Salmon, drizzled with 1,000 year Olive Oil

Grapefruit, Kaffir Lime and Mandarin Orange, fried Sausage stuffed Olives

Salt and Pepper Moroccan Calamari and Octopus $18

deep fried Calamari and Octopus with Harissa powder, Green Charmoula

American Berkshire Prosciutto $18

Di Stefano Artisan Burrata, Brioche Crostini, Fig Jam,

Carpaccio of Octopus $18

Truffle Basil Aioli, Arugula and Asparagus Salad, shaved Manchego, Brioche Crostini

Turban of Sea Scallop and Burgundy Truffles $30

Spaghetti, shaved Truffles, Cabbage Salad, Beurre Blanc

Paleta Iberica de Bellota $42

Cinco Jotas pure bred Iberico shoulder Ham aged two years

Tomato Olive Focaccia, Green Tomato Jam, shaved Idiazabal Cheese

Warm Truffle Tart $95

Filo, Smoked Bacon and Candy Onion Jam, Burgundy Truffles

BIG PLATES

Squid Ink Chitarra Pasta in Guazetto $28

Greek Branzino, Mussels and Shrimp in a Saffron Tomato Brodo, Hand Cut Squid Ink Pasta

Buckwheat Pasta with Rabbit Ragu $28

hand rolled Buckwheat Pasta, Rabbit Ragu, Sicilian organic Citrus Olive Oil, aged Pecorino

Spit Roast Jidori Chicken $26

Chickpea Fries, Ratatouille, Preserved Lemon Jus

Daube of slow braised Wagyu Beef Cheek $36

baked Ricotta galette, Cherry Tomato confite, Pumpkin Seed Crumble, Micro Arugula

Whole Roasted Daurade Royale $38

Mediterranean Gilt Headed Sea Bream, Artichoke & Fennel Barigoule, Olive Tapenado

SWEETS & TURKISH COFFEE

Moroccan Donuts and Harissa Hot Chocolate $9

house made Donuts, Cinnamon Sugar, spicy Hot Chocolate

Turkish Coffee $10

Honey and Cardamom flavored Coffee served in a Copper Ibrik

Sunday night, Lisa and I got a reprieve from Warden Beau and were furloughed for three hours, just long enough to escape for dinner at nearby restaurant Morgan’s.  I have been wanting to eat here for a long time but it always seemed impossible.  I guess my mind wanders to LA hotspots rather than what is in my neighborhood.  Michael Vaughn, executive Sous Chef of the property, has been a regular customer at Figue and every time he comes in I always feel bad I haven’t visited one of his places always promising to get in.

We arrived promptly at 5:30 for cocktails at their beautiful bar for a round of leisurely drinks.  Lisa started with a Tangerine and Ginger Margarita while I had the Rum Old Fashioned.  The drinks were perfect.  I loved the decor of the bar area as it kind of reminded me of an old steak house with a it’s luxurious wood and glass.  The bar had a beautiful glass case with cheeses.  Next to the bar was a gorgeous outdoor dining area.  While we were enjoying our drinks Brian Recor, Chef de Cuisine, came out to visit.  Jimmy Schmidt is the name brand behind the concept but Brian is the guy who actually cooks.  I don’t mean to slight Jimmy, it’s just for the immediate purposes of filling my stomach with delectable bites I was more interested in Brian’s well-being.

The hostesses lead us to a beautiful table in the back corner of the dining room.  Our waiter arrived and offered the regular menu and a tasting menu featuring apples.  With too many good choices to decide from we picked one tasting menu and a few dishes of the regular menu.  We started with a plate of oysters topped with Riesling and Hard Cider Granita.  Normally I am a guy who wants brine and more brine but these oysters were delicious.  The brine complimented the sweetness of the granita.  Lisa started with a Gruet Brut and I had the ‘Le Cengle Rose’ from Provence.  The sparkler highlighted the Sea while my rose brought out the apples.  Two great choices for this dish.

After the oysters came their Apple and Chanterelle Ravioli from the tasting menu and Ahi Tuna and Pomegranate Tartare.  I had asked the waiter to pick whatever he wanted.  The Chef kindly sent out his Baja Shrimp glazed with spices and a ragout of cauliflower and white beans.  We both found the ravioli a tad too sweet but the tartare and shrimp were stellar.  With the round of appetizers Lisa and I shared a glass of Talbott Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia highlands.

Our main courses were Smoked Pistachio crusted Rack of Colorado Lamb served with White Beans and roasted Garlic dressed in a Pomegranate reduction and Lisa’s Apple Cider cured pan roasted Duck Breast.  Lisa paired it with the 2008 Vietti Castiglione Barolo and I had a zinfandel who’s name eludes me.  Both dishes were tasty and by now we started thinking about our curfew.

Lisa had forgotten about her dessert but thankfully the waiter remembered.  Her Apple Cinnamon Donut Poppers arrived drizzled in Cinnamon Brittle with Salted Caramel Ice Cream.  Sated we left, returning to warden Beau and his army of balloons.

To make reservations or for more information on Morgan’s or any of the other restaurants at La Quinta resort please go to their website.  It is a gorgeous property with wonderful rooms, shops and best of all several restaurants to choose from.  http://www.laquintaresort.com/resort/

These noodles could quite possibly be the best noodles I have ever eaten in my life! Tsukemen style literally translates to “dipping noodle”.  The noodles themselves are fabulous but what makes Tsujita’s noodles epic is the broth that is slowly simmered for 60 plus hours redolent with savory flavors of kurobuta pork, bonito and sardine.  These dipping noodles even come with eating instructions.

What makes it so special?  The flavor of the broth is indescribable.  Rich, delicious.  WOW in your mouth!  I strongly suggest going there asap: http://tsujita-la.com/

Just a short post today…  Lisa and I went to Beaumont’s parent/teacher conference at his Montessori school last night and used the occasion to power down dinner at an incredible sushi restaurant run by owner/chef Engin Onural.  Any parent will acknowledge the difficulty getting alone time.  That in itself is double edged, on one hand it is nice to go on a date with my wife and on the other hand I love my son so much and want to spend every second I can with him.  We took the time to eat al fresco and enjoy great food.

During the day I continued my weekly/yearly photo assignment of photographing the Desert.  Today’s focus was the Palm Springs windmills, eyesore to some and amazing natural technology to others.  I parked near the Amtrak station and walked around the area in a small sandstorm and shot these pictures.

We arrived promptly at 5pm with the sole intent on eating a few rolls and having a couple of Onurai’s incredible liquid libations.  The menu offers a typical assortment of sushi rolls punctuated by a few amazing not your normal sushi bar offerings like Onurai’s deconstruction of a prosciutto and arugula pizza.  I have to admit we were full when he came by our table and told us not to miss that one.

THE BOLD
Snow crab, avocado and cream cheese topped with thin sliced prosciutto served with arugula salad, sliced almonds, pomegranate seeds and pomegranate vinaigrette

What I love about this place is the Chef’s passion.  Being a Chef I love to see it, feel it.  It just makes the experience so much more rich and 3 D.  The Chef here is not Japanese, he is Turkish. That fact adds another layer to the complexity of flavors and the willingness to experiment and create something new.

The drinks are another realm of his experimentation.  The restaurant bills itself as a sake bar and lounge.  Lisa and I shared two creative and refreshing drinks, Flor Dulce and the Lotus.

FLOR DULCE
Sparkling wine, splash of hibiscus nectar with edible Hibiscus flower

Great, super friendly staff takes awesome care of you while there!

from their website:

Chic. Modern. Sophisticated. But also casual and friendly.
Ask around. The Venue is the cool hot spot on El Paseo in Palm Desert, popular with locals, out-of-town visitors and food critics who serve up rave reviews.

The Venue is artful, from its sleek décor to the original, ever-evolving menu, enthusiastically created by owner/chef Engin Onural. “This is my art,” he shares. “Each plate is a painting, but I use fish instead of paint.”

No detail is overlooked. Even the exotic specialty drinks are original works of art. Such as the Flor Dulce, which combines sparkling sake, edible hibiscus flower and hibiscus nectar.

Because Engin is a Sake Sommelier, you can also sample a surprising array of fine Sakes, as well as Asian beers and fine wines.

Everything is designed to enhance your enjoyment of a distinctive menu of sushi and other dishes that can only be called “unexpected.” The signature roll, The Venue, is not like any spicy tuna roll you’ve ever ordered. It’s topped with salmon, seared with a blowtorch, with a light sauce of micro greens and tabiko (flying fish caviar). The Bosphorus, which pays homage to Engin’s homeland of Turkey, features shrimp tempura, crab, avocado and escolat, with a hint of heat. That’s just two of the delicious possibilities on The Venue’s menu.

Visit often. You wouldn’t want to miss Chef Engin’s latest creations.

Make a reservation and eat there soon (and often!) http://www.thevenuepalmdesert.com/home.php

Squid Ink Chitarra Pasta with Uni $18

chilled hand rolled Chitarra Pasta with fresh Dungeness Crab

Sea Urchins and Zucchini Blossom Pesto

Diver Scallop, Piquillo Pepper Granite and Lime Crudo $16

Mexican Diver Scallops drizzled with Kaffir Lime Ginger vinaigrette

Piquillo Pepper Granite, Bautista Creek Finger Limes and Organic Sicilian Hot Pepper Olive Oil

Crunchy Moroccan Scallop $16

Mexican Diver Scallop wrapped in Potato, Green Charmoula Vinaigrette, fried Mint

Bistilla Spring Rolls $16Ras el Hanout spiced Chicken with Green Onion Spring Rolls, Marcona Dipping Powder

Di Stefano Artisan Burrata Caprese $16

Slow cooked Cherry Tomatoes, Pesto, Sicilian Organic Citrus Oil

House Pickled Currant Tomatoes, Fig Vincotto and Di Stefano Burrata

Carne Cruda $19

hand chopped raw Beef Filet Mignon tossed with Lemon Juice, smoked Maldon Salt, Arugula and Truffle Pesto, shaved Parmesan, Brioche Crostini

Turkish Coffee $10

Honey and Cardamom flavored Coffee served in a Copper Ibrik

Mignardises: Basil and Pine Nut Milkshake with fried Basil

Photographed by Chef Francois de Melogue 2013

Host Joni Ravenna filming at Figue Yesterday

Diver Scallop, Piquillo pepper granite and Lime Crudo $16

Mexican Diver Scallops drizzled with Kaffir Lime Ginger vinaigrette

Piquillo Pepper Granite, Bautista Creek Finger Limes and Organic Sicilian Hot Pepper Olive Oil

Squid Ink Chitarra pasta with uni $18

chilled hand rolled Chitarra Pasta with fresh Dungeness Crab

Sea Urchins and Zucchini Blossom Pesto

Joni’s Daughter enjoying our Halibut Tajine, halibut tagine│ Moroccan spiced Halibut, roasted Summer Vegetable Couscous – 32

Please visit Joni’s webpage at http://www.raventv.net/helloparadise.html

In the Chinese culture, the number “1 6 8” is filled with the promise of abundance, good fortune and prosperity, and means “may your journey be prosperous from beginning to end.” May your journey be prosperous from beginning to end…  That is an epic understatement when it comes to the talents and cuisine of Chef Hisashi Yoshiara.  Lisa and I went to 168 in Pasadena because of my connection with their General Manager Phil Roberson.  I was sitting at my desk working and had some fond thoughts of Phil exactly at the same time he texted me.  After some idle chat he told me about this cool pan Asian restaurant he was working at.  Being an avid fan of Asian fusion I could hardly resist the temptation.  I google where he worked and read up on their Chef.  I have to admit I came with super high expectations and was absolutely blown away by the food, service and atmosphere. We were promptly seated by the gracious hostess at an outdoor table in a beautiful small courtyard.  We chose outside because 93 degrees in Pasadena just seemed cool compared to the 108 degree day at home when we left La Quinta.  We chatted with Phil for a few moments and asked him to have Chef Yoshiara honor us with whatever he felt like cooking that day.  I absolutely love when Chef’s pick what I eat.  The complete surprise of the moment not knowing what is coming next is amazing.  I often wonder why restaurants do not offer that and why guests do not ask for it.  Try it next time you eat out.  You may get a course or two you do not like but overall you will get food you probably would not have ordered and after trying wonder why you never ordered that.  The surprise of having a table laid with eating implements and trying to figure out based on that what you are about to eat is amazing.  Chef Yoshiara is exactly the guy you want surprising you. Round One: Three Coolers and Asian Bagna Cauda Phil brought us three coolers to sip while our first course was being prepared.  All three were delicious but the Strawberry Basil one blew both our socks off.  The other two were an orange juice and star anise flavored one and a cucumber and mint one.  The orange one was good and perhaps could of used a bump more star anise flavor.  I like the cucumber and mint one a lot.  Lisa felt it was the plainest. Despite minute differences they were a fun way to start the meal.  Phil brought us two amazing cocktails, Red Dragon made with soju, watermelon and kaffir lime syrup and a wingspan, made with sake, house made ginger beer and honey mint.  Both were perfect and yummy.  Soju is kind of a distilled version of sake. While we were sipping our drinks the bagna caudo came out.  Now you are probably thinking ‘hey, what is an Italian dish doing on a pan Asian menu?’  Yes, so was I.  It turns out that first of all Chef made an Asian version deliciously crafted with white soy and more traditional ingredients and secondly he did it as a tribute to his Italian wife.  That may have earned him brownie points but got me into a bit of trouble with the Mrs.  I know have to put something Asian on my menu and tell my wife it is because I adore her that it is there.  The Bagna Caudo was brilliant.  We dipped bok choy, carrots, peppers and bit of bread into the insanely delicious anchovy and white soy dip.  I would have drank the remaining dip had we not been sitting so close to the waiter station.  It was that good. A spicy Ahi Tuna taco with Asian Guacamole followed.  WOW.  It was everything the name implies… crispy, crunchy, tasty, spicy, yummy.  I am not sure what else I could say.  As the picture clearly shows, the shell was absolutely spot on perfect. What followed next is a prime example of something I probably would not have ordered but holy crap is it amazing.  It was simply, and Chef forgive me for botching the ingredients, simply an eggplant steamed in miso sauce.  Yes, that simple.  Simple food is something people take for granted.  A lot of Chefs believe more is always better.  To me, the true talent of a Chef lies not in how much he can stick onto your plate but how much can the Chef strip away and blow you away.  This dish had two components.  No hiding behind slabs of foie gras, truffle shavings ort a plethora of other things… this was a simple fat slice of Japanese eggplant and miso sauce. The next dish absolutely made me cry in it’s beauty and taste. A potato wrapped sea scallops cooked and served in an emerald green pool or green Thai curry rich with galangal.  The sauce had this beautiful warming glow to the lingering taste.  The potatoes and scallops were just cooked so perfectly.  I could have eaten five more orders they were that good.  Phil served us a beautiful sake served in a shot glass sitting inside a small wooden box.  It is a sign of prosperity when you pour an over the top a shot of sake. The cool sake offset the lingering spiciness of the curry.  BRAVO! About this time we started to get fuller and wondered if this was the last main dish.  Chef prepare a beautiful dish of Alaskan Black Cod lacquered with Ponzu sauce and served with micro croutons and a steamed baby turnip filled with even more ponzu sauce.  It was amazing.  Those familiar with the chain of high-end Hawaiian restaurants Roys will be familiar with that fish though they call it Butter Fish.  The fish just falls apart in creamy heavenness.  Yes that is now a real word.  We finished eating and wondered what dessert would look like. Just then, our waiter brought a tray of serving utensils that indicated dessert was not forthcoming.  Two smaller bowls appeared then the mother ship came out the kitchen area and towards us.  Having peeked at the menu early I knew we were getting a ramen noodle soup.  The slight awkwardness of our waiter lended a wonderful level to the dining experience.  He was a young fellow who seemed just as excited about the food and 168 as we felt being newbies there.  It added to the Christmas like feel of wondering what you were getting next.  The noodle soup was made with Kurabuta Pork, noodle and thin shaved Japanese peppers.  It was phenomenal.  Phil paired this course with a Syrah that danced with the spicy flavors quite well. Lisa had hit saturation point.  I did too but could not stop eating the noodles and broth.  They were addictive.  By then the heat of the day coupled with too much food and alcohol got me sweating.  Phil noticed and dragged us inside for the dessert course. I normally am not prone to eating desserts.  It melted in my mouth and made me wish I had the balls to ask him for the recipe.  So feathery light and perfectly cooked.After dessert the Chef came out.  I complimented his abilities and vowed to return soon. It truly was an honor eating there.  Phil was an amazing host and we enjoyed catching up on his family and what was going on with his life.  I strongly recommend w=eating at 168 in Pasadena if you love Asian Fusion.  They are located at : 168 west Colorado boulevard, old Pasadena, ca 91105 and can be reached at 626-793-8008.  To see their web site please go to http://www.168pasadena.com/ Phil took us on a small tour of the vast complex.  Private dining, great bar, outdoor seating… cool, practical decor made with orange spray painted dead tree limbs Chef’s Play Ground Cool fixtures from their Sushi Bar

I love Barlata.  I am not sure exactly what tickles my fancy about the place.  I have eaten better tapas, had better service and seen better decor but yet something still pulls me to the place.  The last time I was there was a few short

hours after gorging at Cotogna.  I decided on Barlata as I can sit outside with my dog and my two year old son can run around without offending any serious diners.  Lisa and I were meeting dear old friend Jim Laffer and hopefully Cindi and Jackson.  We were the first there and immediately commenced ordering food and two bottles of Spanish wine.  We plowed through the menu of familiar dishes and laughed with Jim.  I love going to Barlata because it feels like putting on an old comfortable well worn shoe.  No surprises – you know exactly what to expect.  A perfect place to enjoy being.

One of my favorite category of dishes there are their Latas.  They use old tin cans as serving dishes.  It is a novel concept in our country where everything is disposable and we certainly dispose of it.After stuffing ourselves for a second time we headed to our car completely sated… I chuckled at the Beer is Good sign and thought of all my beer making buddies who would raise a pint at such a sentiment!

Barlata is located at 4901 Telegraph in Oakland.  Reservations can be made at: 510.450.o678 and you can see their menu at: http://www.barlata.com/index.html

I have wanted to eat at Cotogna for a long, long while. The seed was planted by Lee, our fearless leader at Figue, when he mentioned dining there and seeing the rotisserie of his dreams. He was so moved by the experience that he bought a similar model for our restaurant Figue  in La Quinta.  For the first few months, I waited and waited for it to be delivered, dreaming of spit roasting rabbit porchettas, lambs, pigs and chickens.  Rotisseries give food a flavor not matched by roasting or sauteing and a super crispy exterior.

our Universo Tuscany 180 Rotisserie with Jidori Chickens Spinning!

“I’ve always divided human beings into two categories: those who resemble a courtyard and suffocate you between their walls-

Then there are those who resemble a garden, where you can walk and be silent, and breathe.”

– Antoine de St. Exupery

Lisa, Beau and I had dropped off our VW bus for routine maintenance at Van Cafe in Santa Cruz in the morning.  The drive to the Bay was punctuated with lively conversation about seeing old friends we hadn’t seen in a long time and the impending eating marathon.  Our friend Peter, with whom I completed the Appalachian Trail with in 2000 would be there with his new wife Eileen and dear friend Gina and her three handsome boys.  We were looking forward to this for weeks.  Luckily we found a spot in front and shaded as Lucy the wunderhound had to stay there. Peter and his lovely wife Eileen showed up  Just as we pulled up.  

Peter and Eileen Cornell

All of us at the table doing what we all do best!

Gina had phoned to say she was running late so we started the onslaught of dishes.  The first few dishes were rustic as promised with great depth of flavor.  We started with Leek Sformato with Chanterelle Mushrooms, Pate di Campagna and Terra Firma Farm Tomatoes and Burrata.

We plowed through three bottles of a Sardinian red that on it’s own wasn’t the most interesting wine ever but coupled with the food danced.  The next courses brought Ravioli di Ricotta with a Farm Egg and Brown Butter, Heger Farm Corn Triangoli, Pappardelle with Lamb Ragu, Octopus with Pole Beans, and Heritage Red Wattle Pork.  The thing I loved the most about the pork was that the Chef did not feel the need to tell you what came with it… you simply ate it.  I think Americans are too scared of food in whole to do that with regularity across the country.  I loved it.  I did not notice anyone freaking out that all the secondi were presented that way.

To finish it off we ordered three Pizze…  Artichoke, Stracchino Cheese and Black Olives; Gypsy Pepper. Nepitella and Flor di Latte Mozzarella; and Happy Boy Farm San Marzano Tomato, Nettle and Sausage Pizze.

Thoroughly sated with indulged with Olive Oil Cake with Strawberries and their Dark Chocolate Budino with Cake Crumble.  Overall I thought the restaurant was fun to eat at.  I would definitely go back… it was great to see old and new friends…

Cotogna is located at 490 Pacific Avenue and can be reached at 415.775.8508, www.Cotognasf.com