Considering that Adam took over 130 pictures of London restaurants we ate at, it was only natural that we start chronicling our thoughts and opinions about the food we eat. We've totally become accidental foodies. It all started out when Sheila started calling Adam "the human trash compactor"; since he eats almost anything. But somewhere along the way we started having discussions about food and seeking out culinary adventures when on travel. We bring a unique perspective to this arena as we're both vegetarians (no meat, poultry, or fish). I suspect we will both have varying opinions on the food, and hope to not only have a record for posterity, but provide some fun, useful if not amateur insight.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

torchy's tacos, the epitome of austin's food scene

Austin's food truck & stall scene is legendary. There are vacant lots turned into beer gardens and outdoor music venues that have several airstream-style food stalls severing up some of the best food in Austin. One such place is South First Street, a block west of famed South Congress. We were tipped off to Torchy's Tacos by friends who have frequented it a few times and said their veggie options were amazing. They have a few outposts throughout the city including brick & mortar locations, but we decided on the one closest to our hotel in a trailer park.

Of the four or five stalls in this converted lot, Torchy's Tacos was the most popular with a line about 15 deep at 11:45am on Sunday. A real mixed crowd as well, which gives this city it's soul - a graduation party, young well-to-do families, a few tourists, hipster musicians, and uber cyclists. Prices are per small soft taco at about $4.00 each. We decided to try two different tacos (The Independent and Fried Avocado) and an order of chips & salsa. 

The Independent - fried poblano mushroom strips, refried black beans, roasted corn, escabeche carrots, queso fresco, cilantro, avocado with ancho aioli served on warm corn tortillas. This was our favorite, especially the ancho aioli sauce that packed a punch. We could have eaten several; a great elevated taco. The corn and carrots were slighted sweet so there was really nice balance of natural sweetness from the veggies, heat from the aioli, saltiness from the queso. I really enjoyed the combination, not something you would find a traditional taco. This elevated taco with earthy flavors was totally unexpected from a food stall. We're definitely fans.

Fried Avocado - fresh avocado chunks fried, pico, lettuce, cheese with poblano sauce served on warm corn tortillas. Somewhat like a traditional taco because of the pico, lettuce, cheese toppings, but with the twist of fried avocados. Considering Sheila is not a huge avocado fan, she would have preferred a thinner slice of avocado. I would tend to agree as the avocado ratio was a bit high. However, that was our only negative. The pablano sauce had really nice heat and creaminess. The corn tortillas (double layer) were light and airy. The veggies were wonderfully fresh. We both recommend trying it.

Chips & Salsa - homemade corn tortilla chips and fresh roja salsa of fire-roasted roma tomatoes, chilies, grilled onions, garlic, cilantro, and poquito lime. A fairly mild salsa, these were definitely addictive. The chips were fresh, very, very lightly salted and more salsa than we could have wanted. Despite Sheila complaining about having chips all week (she'd been there for the week), she had her fair share. 

Torchy's Tacos is the epitome of Austin's food scene, expertly prepared and inventive food with fresh ingredients served from a food stall at dirt cheap prices. Basically quality food for the masses! Don't make the trip to Austin without trying Torchy's, you'll be craving it for weeks afterwards. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Uchiko, a culinary experience in Austin

Paul Qui fame skyrocketed with winning Top Chef Texas last year. He was the Executive Chef of elevated hot-spot Uchiko in Austin, which serves is some of the most amazing food we’ve ever had. The hype is real.

Located in North Austin, the cars in the parking lot, entrance area, and modern storefront resembles a swanky Hollywood bar rather than a farm to table Japanese restaurant. Nevertheless entering through the door, you’re transformed into haven of dark woods, warm Edison bulbs, red brick accents, and metal/glass enclosures. The noise level was quite high, but we were seated towards the back in a large booth overlooking the open kitchen. Our waiter graciously helped up navigate through the menu and recommended several of our dishes after we told him we were vegetarian. All dishes were family style, so we decided on a mixed of five.

Shishito Yaki - Spicy grilled shishito peppers with sriracha dipping sauce. Packed with heated on both levels (peppers and sauce), this was a great sinus-clearing starter. The peppers were wonderfully grilled in their natural state, meaning no seasoning. The sauce was flavored well, but was a bit too hot for my taste. We were actually surprised at the quantity, could have served a table of four so just keep that in mind.

Brussels Sprouts - Crispy brussels sprouts with lemon chili. The best brussels sprouts that we’ve eaten in our entire life! Came to the table warm and fragrant; this dish had an Asian flair to it. This was probably due to the lemon chili, which was perfectly balanced with sourness and heat. The brussels sprouts were quick fried and still retained their earthy quality. I recommend that everyone who visits Uchiko order this dish.

Yokai - Golden beet, myoga, rice, and avocado wrapped in soy paper. Essentially sushi rolls, this dish was on the menu with salmon, but the waiter was able to make it vegetarian. We didn’t really know what to expect, but were pleasantly surprised. The beets and myoga were served warm with the cool rice and avocado; all the ingredients were fresh and balanced. Overall this was a great dish, but not unique, given that in SF we have similar vegetarian sushi options.

Diachi - Sunchokes with crosnes, turmeric, and brown butter. Sheila felt the dish was prepared very well with complex flavors. However her first bite was sandy/grainy, because one of the sunchokes was not washed. I felt the dish tasted like it should have with the crosnes (Chinese artichokes) providing the crunchy elment, and turmeric & brown butter providing savory elements. We ordered this off the daily menu, so no guarantee it’ll be around next time,

Fried Milk - Three ways with chocolate milk, toasted milk, and iced milk sherbet. As our waiter noted, this is the most popular dish on the menu. We enjoyed parts of it, but collectively there was too much going on. The chocolate milk was prepared as powered sprinkling along the plate bottom. I have to admit it was a bit chalky. The toasted milk was coated in corn flakes then fried. This part tasted a bit bland. The ice milk sherbet was quite good, rich and creamy with being overly sweet.

Uchiko was memorable. Think about it, this is a modern farm to table Japanese restaurant in the middle of Texas. It’s quite the scene with a very long wait list. I’m giving it a 8.5 and a most go for any trip to Austin. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Pierre Lafond, Modern Californian Cuisine in Old Santa Barbara

Located in the heart of Old Santa Barbara on State Street, Pierre Lafond Wine Bistro is a Modern Californian restaurant and wine bar that serves up inventive dishes with a large list of vegetarian options. The dishes are seasonal and veggies locally grown, something that us Cali folk have come to expect. Sheila and I went there the day after Thanksgiving for dinner and it did not disappoint. We decided early on to opt for two mains and dessert along with a wine pairing thinking this would be enough. It turned out to be way too much food, but that meant we had great leftovers for the next day!

Quinoa and sprouted mung bean salad with roasted corn, kale, grape tomatoes, red onion, and avocado in a lemon vinaigrette - A warm salad which was surprisingly balanced and very tasty. The braised kale and quinoa made this a very hearty dish. The avocado added some butteriness to the dish and helped cut the acidity from the dressing. Sheila felt that the avocado was a bit much, but to each their own. The roasted corn was very good, sweet and plump with just the right amount of charred smokiness. At $18, this was meant to be a main course. We ended up splitting it, but still a bit pricey for a "salad". Although I would order this again, Sheila begged to differ. She felt that the quinoa and mung beans got lost with the bold corn, kale, and avocado flavors.

Pumpkin and root vegetable risotto with curried carrot jus - So we continued the hearty veggie these with this dish. Cooked al dente with a subtle curry flavor, this dish hit the spot on a cold night as it was served piping hot. It goes without saying, but the root vegetables provided a nice earthiness and similar heartiness. The carrot jus cooked with curry spices provided subtle heat and had  a slightly Moroccan bend. The pumpkin, purple cauliflower, potatoes, and squash maintained their flavors as the dish was equally good the next day eaten cold. This also was a main we shared and at $22 it certainly was not inexpensive. In the end, we both agreed that we should have just ordered this one dish to share.

Pumpkin bread pudding with cinnamon ice cream - We asked our waitress for a dessert recommendation and she instinctively said to get the bread pudding that night. I appreciated the fact that she also told us that many patrons had been sending back the sea salt chocolate tort because it was too salty. So the pudding came out warm with a dollop of cinnamon ice cream atop and butterscotch sauce neatly placed adjacent. The dessert was rich and decadent, but not bursting with sweetness. The pumpkin bread pudding was just the right size to share and the right warmth. The ice cream did not overpower; it was more cinnamon-infused. This was a recipe we should have asked the chef for, it was that good.

Both Sheila and I would go back to try some of their other dishes. I give it a strong 8 out of 10. However it is rather expensive, so expect to spend approx. $90 (w/ tax and tip) for two. It's worth it though.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Farina Pizza in the Mission...

In an already crowded restaurant scene, Farina Pizza opened it's doors at the corner of Valencia & 18th. Yes, this puts is within walking distance of five other venerable spots - Pizzeria Delfina, Beretta, Arnell's, Little Star, and Mozzeria.  So what differentiates Farina from the others - the Italian imports, literally - from the ingredients and countertops, to the gas oven and chefs. Farina prides itself on replicating the authentic neapolitan experience, which is rare in a era when SF restaurant have touted the concept of farm to table, organic, and sustainable.

One recent Tuesday evening, Sheila and I decided to spontaneously visit this beautifully designed spot of clean white subway tiles, carrera marble counters, harvest wood tables, stainless steel fixtures, and artisan glass.  We arrived around 6:30pm and had the option of sitting at a communal table or the bar. We decided on the bar which overlooks the pizza prep station and oven. Good thing we got there early, because within 30 mins the place was packed and there was a  pretty long wait list. Needless to say, they don't take reservations.

The menu combines several fresh salads, pizzas, and pastas - made in the traditional Italian style with imported produce.  We went straight for the pizza with each of us ordering our own (margherita and ortolana)

The margherita pizza (San Marzano tomatoes, fior di latte mozzarella, romano cheese, olive oil, basil)  was served piping hot from the gas oven as it should be; we actually watched the entire preparation from our  seats. The crust was slighted charred and not too salty. It had a great chewy factor (glutenous) which we've found to be a hallmark of neapolitan pies. The fior di latte mozzarella was silky smooth and wonderfully delicious. Sheila found the pizza to also have a nice cheese to tomato ratio. She would rate the magherita as better than Zero Zero and equally on par with Keste and Co in NYC. However, she prefers Delfina's crust. Although there something to be said about Farina's ambience and overall experience. 

Ortolana pizza (fior di latte mozzarella, eggplant, mushrooms, and bell peppers) - Similar to the magherita this crust was chewy. I thought it lacked a bit of seasoning, but nevertheless had a good balance of char and gluten. The eggplants, mushrooms, and bell pepper had been roasted with olive oil, but yet retained their earthy flavors. I agree with Sheila's assessment of the fior di latte mozzarella, one of the best I've ever had. The only thing missing for me was some sauce, after a while the pizza started to dry out. Overall good balanced flavors, but I'll try a different pie next time.

All in all, cool new hot spot in the Mission. This gives us another traditional neapolitan pizza place to add to our list. And at $15 per pie, the price point is on par with the others listed above. If you want the closest thing to classic Italian pizza, go to Farina. It's worth checking out. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Gather in Berkeley...

We've been wanting to visit Gather in Berkeley for several months now after seeing the rave reviews on Check Please and then hearing that half their menu is always vegetarian! Here's an excerpt from their website - "A place where you can find seasonal food, carefully sourced and thoughtfully prepared to appeal equally to vegetarians and omnivores ... the feeling of a restaurant created from beautiful reclaimed wood and natural materials." 

Over this past Labor Day weekend, we made the trip over the Bay Bridge for a brunch at this much talked about spot. The restaurant is bright and airy, given it's prime corner location across from the campus entrance. It's also beautifully decorated with reclaimed wood tables, banquettes made from old leather belts, and herb plants hanging from the ceiling.  

The brunch menu has a combination of both savory and sweet items, including a number of vegan dishes. Sheila ordered the Acme walnut french toast with roasted plums and creme fraiche. I went for corn pancakes with maple braised strawberry compote and mascarpone. We also decided to share the yukon gold potatoes. 

Sheila's french toast - They serve it either with one or two slices. Sheila decided on one ($8). Although the portion size was right, it was too sweet and there was nothing to really balance the flavors. Even though the walnuts added texture, it actually made the dish heavier. On it's own, the plum compote was delicious, but combined with the syrup and french toast it was overwhelmingly sweet. Sheila summed it up by saying it was: "good, but I've had better." 

Adam's corn pancakes - The standard serving comes with two medium-size pancakes ($12). The corn batter was light and fluffy. Each pancake was perfectly cooked through and on it's own was really flavorful. The mascarpone gave it a good balance of savory and sweet. My biggest gripe was with the strawberry compote. Initially tart, each subsequent taste turned increasingly sweet, perhaps due to the maple braising. I would have preferred fresh strawberries or a strawberry infused mascarpone; rather than the heavy handedness of my compote. Good concept, not executed to my taste buds though. 

The yukon potatoes - It was our only savory dish ($5). It was very well seasoned, slightly spicy flavors, and came to the table piping hot. Everything you would expected in a good side of potatoes. The serving portion was great to share; Sheila and I found ourselves reaching for the wedges quite often to counter our overly sweet main dishes. Instead of ketchup, the potatoes were served with a cold tomato chutney, which had a bit too much vinegar. We both understood the intent, but would have just preferred some Heinz.  

All in all, the concept of Gather's dishes is good, but they were too sweet for our taste. I'd be curious to see how they handle the savory dinner dishes. Perhaps we'll give Gather another try for dinner in the future.  

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Cotogna, worthy of a James Beard award!

In a crowded SF food scene, Cotogna definitely has star power. It's to be expected with Chef Michael Tusk having recently snagged a James Beard Award for Best New Chef - Pacific Northwest. We decided on a late Saturday lunch/early dinner in order to secure a reservation. But since it was the weekend, we didn't get the opportunity to try three-course pre-fix menu. However despite that, we'd say it's very well deserved of the accolades received.

Tucked away behind the FiDi and adjacent to North Beach, historic Jackson Square is a quaint neighborhood with it's collection of late 1800/early 1900 brick buildings now home to art galleries, interior design studios, and specialty furniture shops. So you wouldn't expect a restaurant the quality of Cotogna (sister to Quince) around here, especially in such close proximity to North Beach. But trust us, Cotogna is the real deal. It's rustic Italian gem with a organic sustainable menu that changes daily and a lively, yet inviting venue.

As is typically the case, we shared an appetizer, had our own mains, and then shared a dessert. First up was Cotogna's homemade bread (available upon request). Focaccia drizzled with olive oil, red chili flakes, sea salt, fennel, and dried oregano - served on a dark wood slab. A wonderfully earthy thin loaf that was light and airy; the addition of chili and fennel, gave it a faint kick which went really well with our cocktail drinks.

Then came our purslane, cucumber, cherry tomato, and feta salad. I know I alway say this, but SF restaurants always get their hands on the freshest, ripe fruits and veggie around. Purslane, although considered a weed in the US, is a leafy micro-green typically served in Southern Europe on salads. Never had it before, but really enjoyed the texture and taste. The cherry tomatoes and cucumbers were extremely juicy and crispy, respectively. I'm typically not a fan of feta because it can overpower a dish. However, this salad was very well balanced due to the tartness from the balsamtic vinaigrette dressing.

Next I had the eggplant tortelloni with smoked ricotta and basil pesto. Seven delicately placed stuffed pastas came on a large Heath ceramic bowl with a layer of genovese basil on the bottom and smoked ricotta nibbles on top. To my pleasant surprise, the pureed and lightly seasoned eggplant did not consume the entire entire. They were a bit sweet, but that was balanced well by the salty basil pesto. The smokiness of the ricotta really came through in an unexpected way; providing another layer of beautiful earthy flavors. Even Sheila, who doesn't eat eggplant, really enjoyed the complex flavors of this simply prepared dish. I would order this again and again, but with a daily changing menu this may be my only chance.

Sheila went for the genovese basil, fior di latta mozzarella, and sun gold tomatoes pizza. Head scratcher, right? I'm the one who always orders pizza, but this afternoon the ingredients were speaking to her. Needless to say, this was a great choice. The beautifully charred crust, amazingly fresh tomatoes and red onions, and smooth/rich mozzarella made this a winning dish. Not overly cheesy, you taste the juiciness of the tomatoes, earthiness of the basil, and sweetness of the red onions with ever bite. Yes we eat a lot of pizza, but this one was different. Why, you ask? It's all about the chewy inside crust and bubbly outer crust, which is a sign of great gluten development. And because of this the taste remained awesome even after the pizza got cold on our table; something that I can't say for Delfina or Gialina. Actually the pizza reminded us of Keste's in New York!

Last up was the cheesecake with hazelnuts and blueberries. Another delicately prepared dish with a crumbled butter cookie based, light and airy ricotta cheese, and whole & macerated blueberries. In a word - decadent. It was not overly sweet, in fact the blueberries added a hint of tartness to this dish. The crumble crust kept things from getting too dense. And the roasted hazelnuts (whole and chopped) scattered around the cheesecake added to the depth of flavors. I really nice way to end our meal.

Cotogna is a destination restaurant I recommend going to. The exquisitely prepared dishes capitalize on the array of fresh, organic, and sustainable ingredients available in the SF Bay Area. They do rustic Italian right!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Piccino in the Dogpatch...

The Dogpatch neighborhood of SF is not known as culinary destination. However over the past few years, there's a been a gentrification as the IT industry continues to drive growth further down from SOMA. A few month's ago, I wrote about Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous. This time it's Piccino, an inviting restaurant on the bottom floor of a Victorian building. The open plan california-style italian restaurant has a large bar area overlooking the kitchen and communal tables spread throughout dinning area. 

At the recommendation of our waitress, we order several small plates for sharing, starting with a salad of strawberries, shaved fennel, arugula, mint, and toasted hazelnut. Sweet and tart, fresh and crunchy, this salad had a nice overall balance. You normally expect walnuts and goat cheese, but this take was a welcome departure. Definitely worth trying. 

Next up, we went for the falafel plate. This was a head scratcher to see on the menu, but that didn't stop us from trying it. Served on a cucumber yogurt, the falafel were crispy on the outside and very moist on the inside. It not uncommon for falafels to dry out if overcooked, so needless say we enjoyed them. Despite how great they were, we've had stick to the italian dishes instead. 

For the main, we decided to share a margherita pizza. Served on a wood board with parchment paper, the pizza came out piping hot. As you'd expect, all the ingredients were simple and really fresh - tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil. The dough was slightly chewy; not as crispy in comparison to Delfina or Gialina. What was unique though is that this pizza didn't get cold and soggy. We both figured it was because it was served on a wood board that absorbed any excess moisture. Funny thing is, it didn't take us long to finish the pizza because of how good it was. 

For dessert, we shared the stonefruit crostata with brandy zabaglione, and spiced walnut. This wouldn't have been a normal choice, since I always opt for chocolate. Not sure what got into me, but it was definitely the right move. It had the right balance of fruit and dough; and was not overly sweet. The fruit (which I believer were plums) was appropriately the star of the dessert. The zabaglione and the walnuts were a nice touch, but not memorable. 

All in all, a great restaurant off the beaten track. And with a large communal space makes, Piccino is ideal for larger parties. Go try it! 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

mozzeria...heartwarming gourmet pizza

San Francisco has no shortage of pizzerias, so the opening of another one in the Mission District was a bit perplexing to me. Then I heard about the premiss for Mozzeria, a wood-fire Neapolitan pizza restaurant, owned by a deaf couple. Even more heartwarming is that the owners are deaf and they employ several deaf people that work in the restaurant. What wonderful human and community spirit! Melody Stein, the co-owner, is a third generation restauranteur who before opening Mozzeria, also spent several weeks in Italy learning the final art of pizza making.

The restaurant is located on 16th and Guererro on the ground floor of a Mission Edwardian. The interior can be described as modern rustic with a beautiful carrera marble bar counter, dark cherry dining tables, bright red dining chairs, and warmly lit Edison bulbs. Let's just say I want my house to look like that! Towards the back, but in prominent view is large wood-fire pizza oven. Given the oven's location, it almost acts like a heater. However on the night Sheila and I visited it was unseasonably hot in SF, which meant we were boiling inside.

The menu is a mix of small plates (salads, cheeses, meats), a few pastas, and several pizzas. The wait staff was extremely friendly and helped to recommend a few dishes for us veggies using sign language. We ended up selecting a Rainbow Beet Salad, Japanese Pumpkin Ravioli, Ortolana Pizza, and Lemon Curd Cheesecake.

Rainbow Beet Salad. Sheila and I shared this starter salad of fresh beets, goat cheese, arugula, citrus, and horseradish. On paper I wasn't sure about citrus and horseradish, but to my surprise the contrasting textures and flavors worked very well. The acidity and bitterness of those two ingredients were balanced by the sweetness of the goat cheese and crispness of the arugula and beets.

Japanese Pumpkin Ravioli. This was Sheila's order of Japanese pumpkin, walnut gremolata, arugula, sage brown butter. The homemade pasta was cooked slightly al dente and Sheila found it very filling. The brown butter gave the dish a sweet taste. Sheila noted that there wasn't anything to balance that out like spice or acid. Nevertheless, she did enjoy the fresh busting flavors.

Ortolana Pizza. This was my pizza order of eggplant, red onion, red peppers, and pomodoro sauce. I also added on mozzarella. Piping hot and cut into four large slices, I started eating it from center out. This totally reminded me of La Porchetta, our neighborhood pizza joint when living in London. The eggplants had been grilled to a slight char, the onion had been caramelized, and red peppers had been roasted. Individually these toppings would have worked, but my senses were confused when they were all combined on one pizza. It tasted like a mixed grilled veggie sandwich, but on a pizza. The caramelized onions overpowered the other toppings with too much sweetness and the mozzarella didn't add enough saltiness. Of course, I'm an equal opportunity pizza eater, so despite my comments I still would eat this pizza every day.

Lemon Curd Cheesecake. A New York style cheesecake with lemon curd and raspberries served on a graham cracker chocolate crust. The cheesecake was light, rich and smooth; the crust was dense and crackly; the lemon and raspberries were fresh and tart. Overall, the dish wasn't overly sweet and we were absolutely fine with that. I can tell you that they don't skimp on the portions here, but neither of us were able to finish the slice.

You feel joy dining at Mozzeria because of the sense of humanity. The food is cooked from the heart as if you were sitting in the owners' home. And therein lies story, the Stein's are cooking for their family (the patrons), but the food needs to be refined for the masses. That's not to say that it wasn't good food, I just think Sheila and I have been spoiled by living in SF where there are dozens of great gourmet pizzerias.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Copper Indian in Charlotte

My frequent trips to Charlotte haven't necessarily meant that I've been able to try some of the better restaurants in the Queen City. However this last trip was different, I convinced two colleagues to join in a meal at Copper, a highly regarded Indian restaurant in the Dilworth neighborhood.

With it close proximity to the tech triangle of Raleigh, Charlotte has started to attract a pretty large population of Indian-Americans. Even over the past year, I've heard of new places opening up, which is great if I feel like a home-cooked meal while away on business. 

Copper is located in a picturesque 1900s cottage with each room serving as a quaint dining space. Interior is modern Asian with pops of vibrant colors mimicking bright spices. The menu is a mix of traditional Northern Indian curries and modern Indian-spiced infused Western dishes. Our waiter was kind enough to recommend several dishes to share. 

Samosas (pastry pouch of potatoes and peas) - Lightly fried and golden brown, these samosas came to our table piping hot. The crispy exterior and perfectly spiced potato and peas filing made this a great starter to our meal. Copper's samosa was certainly above average. 

Saag Paneer (spinach and cottage cheese curry) - Fresh and light, this saag paneer was well balanced in flavor. However it did lack some heat, meaning spicy. The added cream provided a slightly sweet taste, which I didn't mind. Typically I find Northern Indian curries too heavy handed with butter or garam masala, so I appreciated Copper's restraint. This was my favorite dish of the evening. 

Garlic Naan - freshly made and lightly spread with butter and garlic, Copper's garlic naan was on par with any I've had in California. For me the best naans have air pockets between the layers,  a few charred bubbles, and softness in dough (low gluten). Copper does their naan very well.   

Chole Bature (garbanzo bean and tomato curry) - Now this had the potential for being a great dish if it wasn't for being under-seasoned. The elements were all there, a nice rich tomato curry base, perfectly cooked garbanzo beans, garlic and ginger undertones, and a light cream drizzle. I just wish the chef had added in some cloves, cinnamon, and red chili powder. Perhaps next time. 

All in all, Copper was quite good. I'd definitely come back, but would ask the chef to crank up the heat!    I'd give it a 6.5 out of 10; worth a visit when in Charlotte.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

jean-georges' abc kitchen

ABC Kitchen is located in the Union Square neighborhood of Manhattan. It's the vision of famed chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Per their website, the restaurant is focused on local, sustainable, organic, and seasonal produce. This is not a new food concept for San Franciscans, but in the NYC this makes headlines. The interior of ABC Kitchen mirrors it's food concepts - a medley of harvest tables, edison bulbs, french countryside motifs, and exposed raw materials.

We made reservations for a Friday lunch, meaning we were seated in a completely packed restaurant beside power lunchers, european tourist, and NYC socialites. I definitely recommend making reservations because even during lunch the wait was 45 mins unless you could score a table at the front bar. Service was pleasant as we were seated within 10 mins of arriving. The size of the restaurant is deceiving as our hostess escorted through the three rooms before finally seating us in the casual cafe area.

The seasonal menu constantly changes and on this day there were several vegetarian options. Sheila and I decide to order a separate starters and share the main course. We decided on the roasted beets with house-made yogurt; lentil soup with celery root, parmesan and herbs; and ricotta ravioli w/ tomato sauce.

The beets, both golden and red, surprising complemented the house-made greek yogurt. This was a light and refreshing dish which was a perfect start to our meal. The airy yogurt was slightly thick as greek yogurt should be, yet was not overly tart or sour. The size was a bit small, otherwise Sheila could have had this as her main course. We would order this again.

The lentil soup was vaguely reminiscent of a home-style curry we typically make at home called maag. The twists were heathy texture and the inclusion of celery root and parmesan, which add a depth of buttery flavor. However, I have to say that the parmesan added too much saltiness which ended up overpowering everything else. We'd pass on this next time, especially at $13.

The kitchen was kind enough to pre-split our ravioli which ensure that we had an equal ratio of pieces and sauces - a nice touch. A real fresh al dente pasta with an equally fresh and creamy ricotta filling. Perhaps it was rolled and filled to order? Highly unlikely but you could have fooled me. The tomato sauce was a fine balance of sweetness and tartness with a very subtle herb flavor. The best part of the dish was by far the ricotta. We'd recommend this one, despite it's $23 menu price.

Overall the concept for ABC Kitchen is authentic in a city where there are unlimited eatery options. The ambience, fresh produce flavors, and inventive vegetarian dishes makes it an intriguing dining experience. Sheila and I would return even though it ended up being an expensive lunch meal ($60), but what else would you expect from a Jean-Georges restaurant.

Monday, February 20, 2012

a visit to france without leaving glen park!

Le P’tit Laurant is a French bistro located in the heart of Glen Park village, a neighborhood we know well for those who have visited us. As vegetarians, we tend to pass on French cuisine because there’s typically nothing to eat of substance;Le P’tit Laurant is a wonderful exception though, that we’ve had the pleasure to eat at.

Upon entering, you feel transported to Parisian bistro, with old antiquities, tin plaques, old vine decanters, fleur de lys silverware, and Pastis/Ricard bottles. All of the wait staff are French, which always makes for an enjoyable experience ordering food. Tip, this place gets very busy so it’s well worth it to make reservations a couple of weeks in advance. They also have a three-course tasting menu from Sunday through Thursday, for $25 per person, which is a great bargain!

We made early dinner reservations on Sunday evening and were promptly seated at a corner table, which was great for people watching inside and outside the restaurant. The waitress even came by to explain every vegetarian option they had available that night, a nice touch. With 15 minutes of us arriving the place was completely packed, but the noise level was fine and we could easily continue our conversation.

We decided to order separate appetizer and share an entrée and dessert. Sheila opted for Crottin de Chavignol chaud et salade (warm bread with a pat of melted cheese served over mixed green salad). I started with Napoleon de Betterave et mozzarella, vinaigrette au balsamique (fresh mozzarella and red beet napolean with balsamic dressing). For our entrée it was the L’assiette végétarienne du Chef, on this night stuffed zucchini with fresh tomato sauce, carrots, sweet potatoes, and onions. And for dessert was had the Profiteroles glace vanille sauce chocolat (profiteroles with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce).

Crottin de Chavignol: A very balanced and satisfying salad to start the evening. The dressing for the greens was a slightly sweet, which complemented the somewhat earthy flavor of the cheese. The greens themselves were perfectly fresh, what you certainly come to expect from SF restaurants. Placing the pat of cheese on the piece of toast was a great idea that preventing wilted greens. This also allowed Sheila to control the consistence of each bite. Definitely would order this again, perhaps even as a main.

Napoleon de Betterave: A beet and mozzarella pairing may seem odd, but this dish completely worked. I was swayed by the waitress’ recommendation. The presentation alone gets my vote with layers of beets, greens, mozzarella stacked 3 inches high, drizzled with balsamic dressing. Each bite brought out another layer of flavors. First the bold red beets came through, followed by the mild yet mature mozzarella (almost tasted smoked), then the fresh greens and balsamic cleaned my palate. Individually each component wouldn’t have been exciting, but together this dish hit the right notes. I would also order this again.

Stuffed Zucchini with Fresh Tomato Sauce: In a word it was DELICIOUS. When you first looked at it, the dish looked like a simple stew. But one bite unlocked an explosion of flavors consisting of carrots, sweet potatoes, zucchini, onions, and tomatoes, and cream. The veggies were tender yet maintain a nice bit. The tomato cream sauce was the perfect dipping stew for our warm table baguette. We could have eaten that only all night and would have been perfectly happy. The hollowed zucchinis that sat in the center of our stew were filled with a sprinkling of cheese, zucchinis, red peppers, and carrots. The zucchini itself was firm and provide a nice textural change and crunch to the tender veggies of the stew. The severing portion was definitely enough to share amongst two people.

Profiteroles: The waitress advised that Le P’tit Laurant was known for this dessert. There were three roles and each came with a petite scope of vanilla ice cream. The entire plate was then covered with warm semi-sweet chocolate sauce. The first few bites were fantastic, the crunch of the profiteroles, the cool sweetness from the ice cream, and the warmth from the sauce. However, the profiteroles themselves became soggy quickly due to the amount sauce. This was certainly a dish where the sum of the parts tasted much better than each individual component. It bordered on being too sweet primarily because of the sauce. Of course having a sweet tooth meant that I literally wiped the bowl clean. I think next time we’ll opt for the cheesecake or pain perdu. But we’ll let you be the judge.

Our bill came to around $60, which included a ½ carafe of red wine. I thought this was very reasonable price for a satisfying meal; note that the entrée itself was $17. All in all, Sheila and I thoroughly enjoyed our meal and will be going back once the seasonal menu changes again. I would recommend Le P’tit Laurant wholeheartedly, not just because it’s in Glen Park, but because it really does embody what a bistro is all about – taking simple ingredients and elevating them into a noteworthy dish, served in a cozy neighborhood atmosphere, with charming wait service.