Hog Island and Michael Mina

January 24, 2016 § Leave a comment

We just got about two feet of snow dumped on us here in NYC. Everything is currently coated in beautiful, fresh white powder and I felt like a little kid walking through the streets last night but since I know it’ll all turn disgusting, grey and slushy in no time, here’s another California post.

Hog Island Oyster Co. at the Ferry Building Marketplace: Artemis kept mentioning how she visits this place every time she makes a trip out to San Francisco and since I didn’t think I’d be able to go to Swan Depot, another famous seafood place, I decided to go to Hog Island for an early solo lunch at one of their counters during my second day. Started with some bubbles and their raw bar mix of five oysters. I quickly became addicted to their mignonette with cilantro and jalapeno and ended up ordering another half dozen at the end of my meal for dessert (again, not much of a sweet tooth).

I tried to be good and ordered their shaved brussels sprouts salad with pomegranate, bacon (OK, maybe not that good) and mustard dressing as well as two chipotle bourbon grilled oysters and two miso grilled oysters. So frikkin’ hot but worth burning my mouth for. I think the chipotle bourbon version was my favorite of the two and, given that broiled/grilled oysters tend to be pretty hard to pull off (so easy to overcook them) and these were perfectly cooked,  I was pretty effin’ happy. Also, towards the end of my meal, I saw Top Chef winner Michael Voltaggio chilling at the opposite end of the bar shooting the shit with the chefs and sampling a bunch of their crudo dishes, so next time, will definitely have to try those as well.

I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around and eventually made my way to the Mission. The line outside Bi-Rite Creamery actually wasn’t that long (maybe 10 minutes) so I figured I might as well see if it lived up to the fuss. Got a scoop of their strawberry balsamic, which was fine but didn’t pack as much balsamic punch as I would’ve thought, and the ricanelas (snickerdoodle/cinnamon) that I basically went batshit nuts for. Snickerdoodles always remind me of middle school, where at lunch we’d try to find ones that were barely baked and essentially still cookie dough. While I was enjoying my ice cream, I saw a kid drop his cone on the floor and proceed to have the most amazing, dramatic temper tantrum ever and all I could think was, “I feel you, bro.”

Admittedly though, I’d had a slight freak-out of my own earlier that morning when my high school friend Shirdoo messaged and said he’d no longer be able to make the 7:30 p.m. reservation at Quince that we’d made because he’d missed his flight from Austin (missing flights is apparently not an uncommon thing for him to do). After calming down (I was REALLY looking forward to going to Quince) and looking through OpenTable, I saw that Michael Mina actually had 9:45 p.m. reservations available for that day so it worked out fine.

The restaurant was spacious and beautifully decorated, though we noticed that we were definitely the youngest guests by far (and probably also the most casually dressed). We started with a glass of Bruinart rose champagne and decided to go all out and order the tasting menu and wine pairing, even though it meant we’d probably be finishing up around 1:30 a.m. Some amuses bouches to start…I don’t remember what any of them were though.

Onsen tamago – osetra caviar, uni and toast paired with 2004 Kathryn Kennedy “Cuvee Twenty Seven” Brut Blanc de Blanc from Santa Cruz. So happy when this came out…literally all my favorite things with super buttery toast.

Spanish bluefin toro sashimi with 2011 Vivera Etna Bianca from Sicily. Super fresh and the radishes added a nice bit of spice.

Cedar grilled sanma, a type of mackerel, with daikon and yuzu kosho paired with 2014 Andrea Felici Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi from Marche, Italy. This was actually one of my favorite dishes. Mackerel is a pretty underrated fish and grilled this way, it was super tender and flavorful and the yuzu kosho added some extra umami.

Morro bay abalone, baby squash and dashi paired with 2010 Marjan Simcic “Teodor” Ribolla blend from Brda, Slovenia.

Black cod, matsutake, watermelon radish paired with 2009 Domaine de Saint Just Chenin Blanc from Loire Valley. At this point, I don’t know if it’s because the wine started getting to us (the pairings were pretty generous) or he’s just super clumsy but Shirdoo actually dropped his phone in his bowl of cod while taking a photo, which earned some chuckles from the staff.

Gluttony on a plate – Maine lobster, foie gras, butternut squash, misome and truffle broth paired with 2013 Halleck “Three Sons Cuvee” Pinot Noir from Sonoma. Goddamn this dish was good. Generous portion of foie and beautifully cooked lobster. The colors were absolutely gorgeous as well..sometimes you can’t get too much of a good thing.

Tolenas Farm quail, pomegranate, persimmon, roasted baby beet paired with 2009 Chateau Cremade Rhone Blend from Provence. Definitely buzzed at this point and while I don’t really like cooked fruit in savory dishes, the persimmon provided some nice sweetness.

Japanese wagyu, salsify, maitake, hazelnut, sansho pepper paired with 2006 Serafini & Vidotto “Il Rosso della’Abazia” Bordeaux blend from Veneto, Italy. Really dug this dish and its beautiful earthiness. Beef was well-seasoned and a nice medium rare and the other elements were nicely balanced. I was getting pretty full at this point but had no problem finishing this dish.

Quince (hah), brown butter and lemon with 2010 Halter Ranch vin de Paille from Paso Robles. This veered on the too-sweet side for me so I could only take a couple bites, but I had a good time sipping the pairing. Our last course was a dark chocolate cake, cinnamon and apple paired with 2008 Kiraludvar “Cuvee Ilon” Tokaji but at that point I’d given up eating any more or taking photos and was just sitting in a fuzzy, happy daze.

We finally finished our meal around 1:30 in the morning and were the last people in the restaurant (though credit to the amazing, attentive and friendly staff as they never tried to rush us in any way and really made sure that we enjoyed ourselves throughout the meal) by the time we left. All in all, if you’re looking to splurge for a special occasion, I’d definitely recommend Michael Mina.

 

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Jardiniere

January 18, 2016 § Leave a comment

Super delayed post on a trip to San Francisco and my first time in California (gasp). As expected, a lot of my activities were planned around meals and restaurants and, for dinner the night of my arrival, we went to Traci des Jardins’ French-influenced restaurant, Jardiniere. Being from New York, I’d decided to walk there from my hotel (only about 30 minutes or so), not realizing that my route would take me through the sketchy-ass Tenderloin neighborhood, but I managed to get there in one piece (albeit, slightly shocked by the sight of multiple people shooting up heroin out in the open).

The restaurant itself was beautiful and maybe a little bit fancier than I’d anticipated, and we started out with some raw oysters with all the typical fixings, delectable little bites of sea urchin, lardo and zesty meyer kosho on crostini and a colorful salad of juicy heirloom tomatoes with crisp romaine, fried bread and crescenza (a soft, creamy and very delicate cow’s milk cheese). All the hype that I’d heard about California’s fresh and amazing produce rang true and I started getting super excited about tucking into a big meal after a morning of traveling.

For our next course, we ordered an absolutely killer gnocchi dish with lamb sugo and cabbage, which I absolutely fell in love with, the duck breast and confit with sweet corn and pumpkin seed mole and a side of creamy polenta and goat cheese. It turned out to be a ton of food (I still felt stuffed the next morning) but everything was delicious. You could tell that the pasta was made from scratch (so fluffy) and the duck was perfectly seasoned and prepared a nice medium rare. The polenta also had a ton of corn-y flavor and I appreciated the tangy accent from the goat cheese. Let’s just say that by the end of the meal, after a bottle of red wine, I was certainly succumbing to the charms of the West Coast.

A second time at Marea

October 31, 2015 § Leave a comment

Dinner with Bert, Cindy and Artemis at Marea a few months back (so behind on posting) included some seriously tasty food. Dainty amuse bouches, compliments of the chef, and some cocktails to start (Bert’s is the girliest looking of the three).

Starters of lobster with burrata (my favorite despite the weird combo of seafood and dairy), crab cakes with artichokes and seasonal soft-shelled crab.

For our pasta course, we all opted for the justifiably famous fusilli with bone marrow and baby octopus in red wine sauce. Always so satisfying and perfectly balanced.

Main courses included the giant seared scallops with potatoes and morels (again, one of my favorites from the last time I visited), roasted halibut with nettles and the most enormous portion of rack of lamb I’ve ever seen.

We were so stuffed by the time dessert came around that I didn’t even take photos but that didn’t stop us from first going to the bar at the NoMad Hotel and helping ourselves to some Manhattans and then even more wine at Lelabar. Such a fun evening with a great group of people.

Via Carota in Late Summer

September 28, 2015 § Leave a comment

From an impromptu dinner at the Via Carota bar sometime in late summer:

Juicy, fresh heirloom tomatoes with bottarga and scallions; thinly sliced beef carpaccio with porcini mushrooms, sharp parmesan and black truffles

Garlic scapes with grilled polenta and pancetta, something that would be equally great for breakfast (maybe with the addition of a fried egg)

Two classics – the fried rabbit with rosemary and garlic and the pappardelle with wild boar ragu, a killer pasta dish

Beautifully set panna cotta with olive oil, sea salt and macerated sour cherries – a perfect dessert with great texture and not too much sugar

Our view from the beautiful bar

 

Food of Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast

August 26, 2015 § Leave a comment

I spent my first week of August in what seemed to be a sun-soaked dream – sailing, swimming, eating and drinking along the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. My co-workers, Alice and Meredith, two chill and super nice Canadian girls we met via an online forum called crewfinder, Brooke and Shay, and our awesome (and cute) skipper, Ivan, spent 7 days living on our boat, the beautiful Violeta, as part of The Yacht Week, an organized event that took us to various locations, from busier ports to smaller fishing villages, and held huge parties at designated beach clubs or venues each night. We got to meet awesome people from all over the world and somewhere in between all the heavy alcohol consumption and dancing, we took in the natural beauty, culture and of course, food, that Croatia had to offer. I took so many photos during the trip but this post is just on the food, which for the most part was very simply prepared but because of the higher quality of produce/ingredient compared to what we get in the States, tasted absolutely phenomenal. Even the locally produced wines were on point and paired perfectly with the food.

A good number of the restaurants we visited during our trip were recommended by Ivan, who took such great care of us and made sure we never went hungry (which was super hard to do despite us being five girls!), so I actually don’t know some of the names but from what I could tell, most of the restaurants in the places where we stopped were mom-and-pop run eateries that focused on local specialties.

First stop – Split, Croatia. Meredith, Alice and I had dinner at a spot right by our hotel called Poseidon and dug into some local cheeses, olives and fruit to start. For our main, we split an enormous “Poseidon” platter that featured shrimp, large langoustine (think almost miniature lobsters), mussels, whole grilled fish, the whole shebang. Drizzle over a bunch of peppery olive oil, fleck with some extra salt and we were in seafood heaven.

The daily catch, we soon discovered was a normal thing. Typically, in NYC, being able to order a fish that just came off the boat that day is pretty rare but in Croatia, it’s totally expected for the server to bring you to a cooler full of sea critters caught just a couple hours ago and for you to pick whatever looks best to you. I absolutely loved it. We had these two grilled fish as part of our first official crew dinner in Milna.

I was also completely addicted to the langoustine, which are nosebleed expensive and usually offered by the piece at restaurants in NYC. The version below was at a restaurant in Hvar and came in some ridiculously tasty garlic, boozy sauce. Don’t be grossed out but it was so much fun to suck the innards out of the heads (as Mark Bittman of New York Times calls it, “god’s soup”).

My favorite stop by far though was Vis and the dinner we had the first night there was spectacular. We started with this enormous platter of cheese, tuna prosciutto (almost like smoked salmon), mussels and roasted vegetables and then moved on to the freshly grilled sea bream with roasted peppers, french fries and salsa verde. Again, so simple but so good (especially with copious amounts of EVOO drizzled all over). Something about the potatoes in Croatia made us keep ordering them – somehow they tasted so much more spud-y than those in the U.S.

My favorite dinner took place at Konoba Magic, a hidden gem in Vis that also had a vineyard on the premises. Per usual, we had dinner late at night so I would’ve loved to have seen the property during the day but one thing we noticed immediately when we arrived were these giant clay pots sitting right by a hot, hot fire.

We started our meal with the usual – cheese with homemade marmalade,  tuna prosciutto with arugula, anchovies with capers in (you guessed it) more olive oil. Is it possible to ever get bored of this kind of food? I don’t think so.

Ivan also recommended these insane fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with farmer’s cheese and anchovies, which was probably my favorite bite of the entire meal. They came with something very similar to tartar sauce and there was a collective moan of delight as we all bit into these clouds of awesomeness.

But turns out the real showstopper was being hidden in those large clay pots all along – behold peka, a local specialty of stewed veal shank, the creamiest potatoes and sweetest carrots you’ll ever have in your ENTIRE LIFE. Those damn potatoes, man. Oh yeah, and we finally managed to get a photo of our crew, about five days into the trip…

After Yacht Week ended (tears), Alice and I stayed an extra day in Split to decompress and take in some of the sights that we might have missed the first day, including the fresh market filled with beautiful looking fruit and vegetables. Loved seeing old ladies haggle for produce.

The second half of the afternoon was admittedly spent with me either passed out in one of the world’s most comfortable beds or under the giant shower head in our beautiful room at Palace Judita, one of the prettiest hotels I’ve had the pleasure to stay at (the receptionist was a frikkin’ hoot as well). Seven days of sleeping (or not) in a stuffy, tiny cabin and showering either off the side of a boat or in a public marina rest room with a queue of women waiting impatiently behind you will take inevitably take its toll after all. And they had AC! Such a luxury.

Luckily, even though Yacht Week was over, we were able to meet Shay and Brooke for one final (albeit incomplete) crew dinner at local restaurant Apetit before they departed for Italy and we headed back to the U.S. We pulled out all the stops and ordered grilled langoustine, grilled lamb with roasted potatoes, homemade tagliatelle with black truffle (apparently a big thing in Croatia) and small prawns and octopus carpaccio. A perfect meal with a little bit of everything to end one of the best vacations of my life.

Needless to say, I was kind of a wreck inside when it finally came for us to leave this beautiful country the next morning. Alice and I had a layover in Frankfurt and were feeling pretty glum, but a surprise and complimentary upgrade to business class certainly brightened things up a bit! Here’s one last shot of me almost fully reclined while eating some smoked duck salad with a glass of Bordeaux and watching Carey Mulligan being ridiculously gorgeous in Far from the Madding Crowd before dozing off for the next four hours (and I can never fall asleep on flights).

All I can really say now is thank you to everyone – Ivan, our awesome crew of Alice, Meredith, Shay and Brooke, all the super fun people we met on Yacht Week, the staff at Hotel Slavija and Palace Judita, Lufthansa, the locals, Croatia itself for being so goddamn beautiful, the universe for giving us all those free upgrades – for making it a trip to remember forever. I can’t wait to go back!

Truffle tasting menu at Babbo

April 24, 2015 § Leave a comment

Nothing like a black truffle tasting menu lunch at Babbo in the Greenwich Village to start off a relaxing weekend:

Beef carpaccio with shiitake and parmigiano, showered with black truffles – paper thin beef paired with sharp, nutty cheese made for a flavorful but surprisingly light start

Agnolotti filled with braised beef, covered in black truffles – probably my favorite course of the four because I am a pasta slut…especially when it comes to any version that comes dressed in a buttery sauce

Porcini-rubbed hanger steak with new potatoes and shaved black truffles – a pretty small portion but super generous with the truffles (as were all our courses, actually). Cooked perfectly.

Tartufo of vanilla gelato with cherries, Sicilian pistachios and black truffle shell – simple and straightforward dessert use of black truffles that I wouldn’t have considered

Mignardises

Rose’s Luxury

April 21, 2015 § Leave a comment

My last meal in Washington D.C. was a blow-out dinner with Fred, Joanna, Ameya and Murphy at the newly opened Rose’s Luxury, which earned the top spot in Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurants list for 2015 and is home to a chef who refuses to be pigeon-holed into any one particular type of cuisine or style of cooking. Initially, we planned to get in line around 4pm, knowing from reviews that there’d be a super long queue, but our late lunch at Hank’s and stop at the Phillips Collection meant that we didn’t get there until around 5. Turned out to be a pretty big mistake on our part as we ended up waiting until around 10:30p to be finally seated (luckily, most of those 5 and a half hours was spent drinking and playing shuffleboard at a nearby bar, not waiting outside).

By the time we finally got our foot in the door, we were delirious for some food and thankfully, our server immediately served us some toasty Japanese milk bread with whipped honey butter and fennel seeds. Perfect.

Given the enormous wait we’d had to endure and not knowing the next time we’d ever be back, we decided that we might as well try to order everything on the menu. To start: the smoked trout mousse with apples and chervil; sliced beef crudo, mustard oil, sea salt and watercress and chicken-fried oysters with raw oyster tzatziki. These were admittedly pretty small bites (we ordered seconds of the trout mousse and oysters) but so packed with flavor. Really loved the tart crunchy apple against the creamy mousse and those crispy crispy oysters with the cooling tzatziki. I could probably eat twenty of each of those bites and call it a meal.

Other small plates that we got were the famous pork sausage, habanero & lychee salad and the grilled avocado with tomatillo, poblano and cotija cheese. The lychee salad looked simple enough and you get to mix it all together after it arrives at the table but there’s such a great balance between the juicy sweetness of the fruit against the bite of the red onion and richness from the sausage and creme fraiche. The habanero also gives it some kick that burns the back of your throat. We also ordered a second of this dish.

Our pasta course comprised of the ricotta stuffed gnocchi with crispy sunchokes, mushroom butter and dill; mezze rigatoni “sausage & peppers” as well as a cacio e pepe that was on the house. My favorite of the three was probably the ricotta stuffed gnocchi – it definitely did not conform to what one normally pictures when thinking gnocchi and I loved its pillowy soft texture, the rich mushroom butter sauce it came swimming in, along with those crispy meaty sunchokes on top. The rigatoni was delicious as well, although a little more traditional but unfortunately, we all agreed that our cacio e pepe had been over-salted (though we still managed to finish the entire thing anyway).

For our next and last round of food, we got the Korean-fried catfish with cilantro and daikon pickles; hakurei turnips with spicy fish broth and tofu for something on the lighter side, the family-style smoked brisket, white bread, horseradish and slaw and finally, whole grilled quail with fall greens and mulled cider glaze. We were definitely struggling at this point; it was super late and we were among one of the last groups in the restaurants. Honestly, all I can really recall in my cocktail-wine-food-induced haze at this point is that everything was delicious, especially that spicy catfish, and each dish was unique and did not fit into any one particular category of cuisine. Chef-owner Aaron Silverman is doing a seriously good job of churning out great food in an environment that feels sophisticated but not stuffy.  The next time I’m back in D.C., I need to do a better job of planning my visit here because I will definitely be back.

Bowery Meat Company

March 19, 2015 § Leave a comment

A couple days after Momofuku Ko, Artemis, Chris, Tim and I had dinner at the relatively new Bowery Meat Company, operated by the same team behind the scene-y Lure Fishbar and Burger & Barrel. Our reservation was on possibly the coldest night of the year so the idea of tucking into some red meat and red wine sounded perfect. The interior is huge with a mid-century feel (lots of Eames chairs and the like that I wanted to just pick up and take with me). I’m also really digging all of these recent restaurants emphasizing spaciousness instead of cramming as many tables as possible into a given space. It makes a huge difference when you don’t have to yell over the conversation of the people next to you and you’re not elbow to elbow with your fellow diners.

Starters: hand-cut steak tartare with grilled bread and baby romaine, which wasn’t as memorable as some other steak tartares I’ve had and needed more acid or spice to cut the beef flavor (also, nobody at the table cared for the romaine), and Chinese BBQ pork belly with butter lettuce and pickled vegetables, which had good flavor and freshness from the pickles. My favorite starter was the dish of broiled oysters with garlic, romano cheese, bread crumbs and parsley. Normally I favor raw oysters because their flavor doesn’t get lost in accompaniments or sauces but these were barely cooked through and smothered in piping cheesy, garlicky goodness, so who am I to complain? We also received some complimentary croquettes (one meat and one basil, cheese) from our server that were quite tasty.

We also had a middle course of the duck lasagna for two with caciocavallo cheese and parmesan. The portioning is highly misleading because I’m pretty confident this lasagna, which comes out of the kitchen in an enormous, steaming casserole dish and is then divided table-side, could easily put four people of average eating capability in a cheese-carb coma, especially if combined with a magnum of Chateauneuf du Pape. It was SO good, especially on a night that was 10 degrees below 0 outside. At one point, I thought to myself that if I were to ever come here again with just one other person, I’d get the oysters and the lasagna and completely ignore the red meat (keep in mind we hadn’t gotten our steaks yet). I still kind of think that actually. I bet the lasagna would make for some amazing leftovers.

Our mains were the insane and beautiful 20 oz chateaubriand with charred brussels sprouts, parsley potatoes and sauce chasseur. No idea what a sauce chasseur is (a quick Google search mentions a sauce of demi-glace, mushrooms, shallots and sometimes tomato sauce) but it seriously made the dish. It kind of reminded me of salted toffee, with its sweet and savory qualities. I even dipped some of the frites in that ish.

We also shared the Bowery steak (Grub Street did a write-up about this interesting cut created just for BMC) with salsa verde and whipped potatoes; an enormous sour cream and onion hash brown of perfect crispiness, compliments of the kitchen; and a bottle of 2009 Saint-Estephe by La Dame de Montrose. Needless to say, by the time we finished our meal and went back out into the cold and windy night, we were well fortified by some seriously tasty (albeit heavy) food and wine in our system.

And because I hadn’t given enough money to Lelabar at that point, Artemis, Chris and I went and shared a killer bottle of 1989 (my birthday year!) Cos d’Estournel and 2013 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. There was a point late in the evening, which included a hilarious run-in with a co-worker, when I probably should’ve stumbled home but thanks to Chris’ enabling, I was persuaded to get a bottle of the 2012 Golgotha from Scholium Project in California. Only about 22 cases were made of this period and 2012 was a standout year that yielded an intensely perfumed wine that for some crazy reason, reminded me of those tiny Asian yogurt cartons you sometimes get at the end of a meal in a Chinese restaurant or eat when you’re a kid (not sure where I was getting the yogurt component – possibly because of its three fermentations?). Bizarre, I know, but strangely evocative of my childhood in the best possible way and I could not get this wine out of my head. About a week later, Chris and I went back to Lela and had the very last bottle and in despair, I went home tipsy, scoured the internet, found it at a store in Dallas and ordered three bottles. It will take all the will power I have to not drink them all within a month.

Spring approaches…

March 12, 2014 § Leave a comment

and all I want to do is sit outside and eat pastries all day. Please take me back to Paris.

Hot Doug’s

October 3, 2013 § 1 Comment

Hot Doug’s – first on the “where to eat” list of so many travel guides, shows, and blogs and a must for the food-obsessed’s first visit to Chicago. We got there relatively early in the day since we’d heard about long wait times but the line was barely out the door when we arrived. Menu choices ran the gamut from the classic Chicago dog to the famed foie gras and Sauternes duck sausage with truffle aioli, foie gras mousse, and fleur de sel, so we ordered a variety (plus the duck fat fries which are only available on Friday and Saturday) and tucked in. Big hits were the Chicago dog (it’s classic for a reason), the Texas smoked link, and the wild rice and Asiago bison sausage, which wasn’t as gamey as I thought it’d be. I actually wasn’t floored by the duck fat fries but they did the job of lending some crispiness to all the meat and starch. In the end, Hot Doug’s is definitely worthy of all the acclaim and fandom, a casual place where Doug himself still mans the counter and takes orders, the staff are super efficient at getting customers their food as quickly as possible despite the long lines, and the food is just frikkin’ delicious. 

Hot Doug’s

Menu

Well said

Smoked Texas hot link with Coca-cola BBQ sauce and habanero-jack sauce

Cheddar Jack-stuffed atomic bomb with ancho-chipotle aioli and cheese-stuffed hot peppers

Wild rice and Asiago bison sausage with chilli aioli and smoked Provolone cheese

Classic with everything

Cognac-infused pheasant sausage with fresh herb mustard, double creme brie cheese, and duck confit

 

Duck fat fries

Spread

 

Hot Doug’s
3324 North California
Chicago, IL 60618
773.279.9550

 

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