Tuesday, January 27, 2009

More Charlie Trotter on United

Mustard thyme scented chicken with warm horseradish potato salad

Charlie Trotter's meals were featured again on United's flight out of SFO today. But this one didn't quite do it for me. The sauce on the chicken was extra sweet, while the potato salad was very sour. Sure, they were complementary to each other and the strong tastes were probably intentional for a pressurized cabin, but it was a bit too strong. At least the HKG-SIN leg featured a plane with the new business class seats. No such luck on the long haul over the Pacific though.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Nettie's Crab Shack, San Francisco

Grilled Half Crab and Skillet Cornbread

Mmm...this place was great (2032 Union Street, 415-409-0300). When I heard that an East Coast-inspired crab house had opened in San Francisco (but of course featuring local dungeness crab instead), I had to come down. We came at lunch time, so we were too early for the Sunday night crab feed, but they did have this grilled half crab available, and it was delicious.

Unlike the yaki kani at Kani Doraku in Osaka, the grilling process here contributed a mildly smoky aroma to the flesh, which I was just delighted with. The meat still stayed moist despite half of the body being exposed, and a light seasoning helped to accentuate it further. I didn't even need to touch the butter on the side.

Now, I certainly still like crab that has been steamed or boiled, and the Swan Oyster Depot is still one of my all-time favorites. But I really enjoyed what Nettie's did with this, and I can't wait to come back on a Sunday evening to really get my hands dirty in that (steamed) crab feed.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

In-N-Out Double-Double Protein Style

Double-Double Protein Style

Where is the bun in this In-N-Out burger, you might ask? I got mine "protein style," which meant that the bun got replaced by lettuce. You can't see it, but inside all of those greens were two patties, cheese, and grilled onions. It more or less still tasted the same, although this version worked better for me since I love the freshness of lettuce but am not a huge fan of bread.

Savory Bread Pudding from our B&B in Napa

Savory bread pudding with parmesan cheese, basil, and fresh tomatoes served with fire-roasted salsa

Our bed and breakfast in Napa was pretty cool. In addition to the fireside wine and cheese tasting yesterday afternoon as well as chocolate-covered cherries waiting for us after dinner, they provided a gourmet breakfast this morning, featuring a savory bread pudding with cheese and salsa. The exterior was a bit hard, but that was probably our own fault for sleeping into the breakfast hour. Either way, the inside was still soft, warm, and tasty, going well with the fresh salsa on the side.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Ad Hoc, Yountville, California

Marble Potato & Fennel Confit Salad

A couple of years ago, Thomas Keller opened up a new restaurant called Ad Hoc (6476 Washington St, 707-944-2487). It was meant to be casual, but despite this, the restaurant still featured fixed-price menus. So I figured that the staff would be doing some hard-selling of wine tonight, given that every single diner would be paying the same $49 charge for food. But that was not the case at all. Not only did the waiter not push any wine, he suggested tap water. This restaurant was completely unpretentious: the staff was friendly and laid-back, the food was served family-style, and even a Johnny Cash song or two played overhead. What a pleasant surprise!

Through all of this, every single dish in this four-course meal was spectacular. Tonight's menu started with a Marble Potato & Fennel Confit Salad before moving onto the Snake River Farm's Kurobuta Pork Loin and lentils. What shone about these was the sheer freshness and quality of the ingredients; the meat of the kurobuta was already savory and tender enough on its own, but including a bit of the fat with it just propelled it into heaven. The third course was my favorite part of the meal: Idiazábal, which was a Basque cheese made from sheep's milk, paired with maitake mushrooms on top of a crispy rich toast. It was incredibly savory and downright delicious. The meal closed with a flaky pear tart that I easily inhaled despite the fact that my stomach was ready to explode from the three courses earlier.

Was there anything that I didn't like? Well, I wasn't a huge fan of the Blue Apron Ale, an in-house beer that was apparently created by the Per Se team in New York (thus also giving them the ability to charge a whopping $24 a bottle). I mean, yes the flavor was deep and sophisticated like an American microbrew often is, but that's exactly why it didn't resonate with me, as I prefer a much simpler English ale. That aside though, this meal was easily one of my all-time-favorites. If my meals at both Ad Hoc and Bouchon have been this good, then a French Laundry experience will definitely have to enter the picture one of these days. If only it weren't so darned hard to get a reservation there.

Caspers Famous Hot Dogs, Hayward

Hot Link and Chili Bowl

The shriveled-looking thing in the foreground might evoke jokes about cold water shrinkage, but I assure you that it was one darned tasty hot link. Assembled with freshly-sliced condiments just seconds prior, it was full of so much bite that I'm still salivating just thinking of it. I loved the abundance of plump beans in the chili bowl too. I'm not sure why they wrapped the hot dog so tightly in the paper to create that odd appearance though.

Actually, I didn't even know that this long-time East Bay chain existed until recently, but I liked it enough today to consider it one of the better hot dog shops on the West Coast...next to Pink's in LA of course. It still wasn't Hot Doug's, but by no means am I complaining. Besides, it's not often that one sees Chicago-esque slices of tomato on hot dogs over here.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant

Gordon Biersch Garlic Fries

Back in the day, Gordon Biersch was the Bay Area microbrewery that we used to frequent during summer breaks. Of course the beer was the main draw, but the other item that was uniquely Gordon Biersch was their famous garlic fries. I seem to remember a lot more fresh minced garlic piled on top of this stuff before (particularly when they started selling it at Candlestick Park), but the serving that we got tonight still packed quite a greasy garlicky punch.

Now Gordon Biersch has become a big commercialized chain, complete with packaged products and - interestingly - an overseas location in Taiwan, of all places. I'm not sure how the rest of the food menu fared, but the beer and a nibble of the garlic fries was just what I needed when meeting some old friends at their Palo Alto location tonight.

Flame-Grilled Chicken from El Pollo Loco

Flame-Grilled Chicken

I haven't been here in ages, but I sure miss it. El Pollo Loco is a fast-food chain specializing in chicken, the marination of which makes for a mouth-watering flame-grilled bird. Being Mexican though meant that there was not only fresh salsa available on the side, but also whole serrano peppers upon request. To me, eating this stuff without a bite of the searingly hot pepper just isn't the same thing.

Next time I come back here though, I'll have to remember to ask for corn tortillas. I hate flour tortillas, and it had been so long since I'd been here that I forgot that I needed to specify corn tortillas when ordering.

Bill's Cafe, San Jose, California

Chicken Fried Steak and Eggs

Oh man, that pretty much just blew past my cholesterol allowance for the entire day...and all before 8 AM! This was from Bill's Cafe, another group of local breakfast places in San Jose. Open only for breakfast and lunch, the menu featured a number of the requisite morning items, ranging from omelettes to pancakes and even some Mexican items (including michelada, surprisingly).

I would have been happy with something half-decently healthy like a simple bagel and lox, but silly me goes out and grabs one of the most artery-clogging items out there: chicken fried steak, which was not only doused in country gravy, but also came with three eggs, hash browns, and biscuits. Don't worry, doctor: with discipline I navigated myself around two of the egg yolks and most of the gravy, but the other side of me was frustrated at leaving so much of that tasty chicken fried steak uneaten. No, those mini-pancakes in the background were not part of my meal.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

99 Chicken, Santa Clara, California

Hot Spicy Sauce Chicken

This place sounded interesting at first. Located along a strip of largely Korean outlets (2781 El Camino Real, 408-244-5599), these guys specialized in chicken and beer, Korean-style. I wasn't quite sure what that meant, but I definitely was curious, so it was great that a friend of mine suggested that we meet here tonight. It looked downscale enough from the outside, with its tacky appearance and giant neon signs touting "beer" and "chicken." So was this basically a Korean version of buffalo wings? Sounded like my kind of place.

Unfortunately, it wasn't. While the chicken was indeed lip-scorchingly spicy, the red sauce was also very, very sweet - so sweet that I really couldn't eat it, and pretty much stopped after a few legs (by the way, those were full-sized drumsticks - not the little buffalo wing-sized ones that I thought they were going to be). I could have done without the stale popcorn and tiny salad bar provided gratis on the side too. But the light Korean beer did go very well with the chicken, perhaps making the beverages my favorite part of the meal.

Now that I look at it, I have had something like this before - at a Korean chicken chain that had expanded to Singapore, where I similarly had concerns about how sweet the sauce was. If only they made a non-sweet version - perhaps salty like kimchi - in which case I'd probably be all over this stuff. In the meantime, I think I'll be sticking to proper buffalo wings.

Pinkberry, Santana Row, San Jose

PinkberryIt looks like Southern California's Pinkberry has finally opened up north (360 Santana Row #102, 408-557-8135). I wasn't quite sure what the big deal was about this place as it looked like just an everyday frozen yogurt with fruit on top, but this was very tangy and rich...ultimately one of the better tasting ones that I've had. Even if it was just a passing fad, at least it was partially justified.

Luu New Tung Kee Noodle

Beef Satay Rice Stick

Whoa - I didn't realize that these guys opened so early in the day. But noodles for breakfast worked out nicely for us. After an early morning arrival into SFO today, we headed straight on down into the valley to stop at their Mountain View outlet (520 Showers Drive, 650-947-8888) for my all-time-favorite "large #2." The noodles were a bit mushier than I was hoping for, but it didn't matter. I just loved how refreshing the fresh basil, cucumber, and squeeze of lemon were.

UA Econ Class Continental Breakfast

UA Economy Class Breakfast

Hmm...United was doing these boxed breakfasts this morning. They used to do hot meals on this route's economy class, right? At least the flight was nearly empty.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Cradle Brand Sweet Corn from Hokkaido

Hokkaido Corn

In another episode of expensive Japanese produce, here was a S$5.90 (US$4) cob of corn from Hokkaido. I didn't really see the point in this one though. While it was mildly sweet and larger than some of the local corn available here, it wasn't so good that I would pay a premium for it. I'm sure it'd be better if it were fresh and properly prepared rather than microwaved in that plastic vacuum-sealed packaging though.

Lau Di Fang Scissors-Cut Curry Rice

Scissors Cut Curry Rice

If the food in the photo looks like a random pile of "economic rice," that's because it more or less was. I was more interested in this because of the odd-sounding name. It was called such because of that breaded pork cutlet in the foreground, which was cut with a pair of scissors before being thrown onto the plate. It pretty much tasted like I expected it to: lukewarm, greasy, and nothing too remarkable, although the whole garlic cloves in the cabbage as well as the coconut-heavy curry were pleasant surprises.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Juiced Rawbars, Republic Plaza

My Salad

This may not have been much more than just a regular old salad, but I'm glad to have finally settled in on a lunchtime salad place (thanks for the tip). The service is efficient, the ingredient spread is respectable, and it's near the office. Actually, the first time I came here (9 Raffles Place #B1-08, 6535-3230) my selection was so forgettable that it took a while before I came back again. But the second time, I finally found the right combination of ingredients that now I'm coming here regularly, even if the fresh juice that I usually get on the side is a bit pricey.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Donna Carmela, Greenwood Avenue

Spaghetti al Pomodoro e Basilico

There are a few things that I could nitpick on about this place (2 Greenwood Avenue, 6463-4206). I once got noodles that were a bit softer than I preferred. I had encounters with some staff that kept staring off into space. And I have a pet peeve about places that don't take American Express. But despite all of this, something has continued to draw me back here on multiple occasions.

Indeed, I've been coming here many more times than La Braceria around the corner despite how much more emotional bang I get from their competitor. Maybe it has been the S$5 (US$3.40) wine by the glass. Maybe it was a savory saffron risotto that I had the other day. I suspect that it has just been because of how humble everything was. They don't even serve any second courses here - it is more or less just pasta, and somehow, I've been hooked.

One could argue that this is something that one could just prepare at home. But I've liked coming here, as it has all been very hearty and down-to-earth (I suppose explains their "traditional home style cooking" tagline). If I ever get the craving for some simple pasta and a glass of wine, then this place will no doubt come to mind. I may not have liked everything about it, but something about it has been good enough for me to come back.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Lawry's Prime Rib Yorkshire Roll Up

Prime Rib Yorkshire Roll Up

These things may not look attractive, but they sure tasted good. See, Lawry's Singapore was running some "tea time" specials in the afternoon, where S$12 (US$8.30) got you a beverage and a little plate of these things, which were pretty much bits of prime rib and bell peppers rolled up into Yorkshire pudding and then sliced up. There was even some piping hot au jus in there for extra flavor and moisture. Yum - I gobbled these things up in seconds.

What was the catch? Well, it was meant for "tea time," so it was limited to hours like 2:30 - 5 PM or something. Fortunately that worked out well for me today as I was so busy at work that I missed lunch. By the time that I realized that I was hungry, it was late enough in the afternoon that I could catch this special deal. Maybe one day it will be worth taking the late afternoon off just to catch tea time here and then migrating over to Morton's afterwards for those free steak sandwiches during Happy Hour.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Peony-Jade Restaurant, Clarke Quay

Baked Cod Fish with Chef's Sauce

I'm usually not a huge fan of these modern Cantonese restaurants but I did like a couple of the items we got from Peony-Jade down at Clarke Quay (Blk 3A #02-02, 6338-0305) tonight, including this delicately creamy cod that sat on some mango sauce. This place seems like it's more for weddings and private banquets rather than walk-in dining though.