Sunday, May 27, 2007

JAR, Los Angeles, CA

Jar is a modern day chophouse that focuses on American comfort food, but with an Asian flair. The restaurant is decorated in rich shades of brown, and infused with the artistry and flair of a 1940s Supper Club. The menu is simple but interesting, and has a nice balance of East-meets-West selections that compliment each other nicely. Written up in almost every magazine, we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to try another one of LA’s top steakhouses.

Lobster-stuffed Squash Blossoms

tempura, ponzu

Although I’ve had squash blossoms, Suni has never tasted them and what could be better for his first time than tempura fried, lobster-stuffed ones? The lobster stuffing was fantastic, and the tempura batter was crispy but not greasy. I think these qualified as a perfect introduction to squash blossoms, and I’m sure I can convince Suni to order them again, even though they do have the word "squash" in the title.

Duck fried rice

I was first introduced to Jar when I was having Thai food with a family member and she stated that they had the best duck fried rice she’s ever had. Suni and I love duck fried rice, and although it didn’t go with rest of our meal at all, we had to order it. The verdict? I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say it was better than the one Chan Dara USED to have, but it was in fact very tasty. Much lighter than the traditional greasy duck fried rice, Jar’s version was mild and full of fresh ingredients.

Jar’s Signature Pot Roast

carrots, caramelized onions

It always catches my eye when a restaurant has a “signature” dish. Even if it wasn’t Jar’s specialty, I probably still would have ordered their pot roast, which for me is one of the ultimate comfort foods. Moist, rich, and full of meaty flavor, this dish definitely hit the spot. The caramelized onions were a great addition as well. I only wish I had some fluffy bread or mashed potatoes to soak up all the yummy sauce.

Rib Eye

Before I started writing this blog entry, I had to ask Suni for his comments on his Rib Eye. He didn’t quite remember the dish - not because it wasn’t memorable, but because face it, we eat a lot of meat. But after he looked at the picture, the memories came rushing back and he immediately let out a Homer Simpson-like drooling moan. Although simple, this steak was incredibly flavorful, and definitely on-par with some of our favorite steakhouses.

Banana Cream Pie
vanilla ice cream, caramel sauce

They say that your taste buds change every 7 years. Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I used to hate foods that contained bananas. Anything beyond a plain banana or my mom’s famous banana bread was completely off limits. But lately I have started to love banana-based deserts – and Suni was more than willing to forgo the usual chocolate for something more interesting. Jar’s banana cream pie was absolutely perfect – a rich, creamy filling with fresh bananas, surrounded by a flaky crust and topped with homemade caramel and vanilla ice cream. We literally used our fingers to scrape up every last drop.

Friday, May 25, 2007

LOU, Hollywood, CA

Lou is a tiny wine bar/restaurant located in an unassuming strip mall in Hollywood. Although you would never know it from the outside due to the thick black curtain shielding it from the outside world, Lou is a dimly lit, cozy, and friendly place where all you need is a glass of wine and some artesian cheese to make the experience complete. Although it was relatively unknown when we visited, it was just written up in LA Weekly’s “99 Essential Restaurants” so I’m sure this hidden gem won’t remain hidden much longer.

Charcuterie and artisanal cheese plank
Dates, dried apricot with walnuts, candied almonds
How could we go to a wine bar and not order some cheese?
This "plank" had a nice assortment of soft, semi-hard, and hard cheese, which went perfectly with our wine flight of Biodynamic reds: (1) a Light-bodied, nay, ethereal Pinot Noir, (2) a dry, slightly earthy Bordeaux, and (3) a complex, smoky super Tuscan. We could have just stopped here and been happy....but we had to order more. Gotta give our fans what they want, right?

Pig Candy
Yes, you read that right. Pig Candy. Whenever anyone talks about Lou, they mention the Pig Candy. And not only because of the name, but because it really is worthy of being called their signature snack. This candy is made from Lou’s house-smoked, thick-cut bacon, which is then baked with lots of brown sugar. The result is a sweet, salty, and almost maple-like confection that is wonderful eaten by itself or with a sip of wine. As LA Weekly said, “You want some of this stuff. Really, you do.”

House-smoked duck breast
Hook’s 10 year cheddar, toast

The Hook's 10 year cheddar was one of our faves on the plank, and having it melted all over smoky duck and crunchy toast was an ultimate treat. This dish had the perfect combination of texture - creamy, chewy and crunchy, and a great balance of flavor - salty, rich, with a bit of sweetness from the duck.

Macoroni and Cheese

Just as the name suggest, there was nothing particularly fancy about Lou’s version of macaroni and cheese – just a downright classic version with only the best and freshest ingredients. Very cheesy, piping hot, with a nice and crunchy panko breadcrumb topping…classic and perfect.

Niman Ranch Flat Iron Steak
new potatoes, wild arugula salad
Although simple, this steak was incredible flavorful and cooked perfectly. The sauce they used for the marinade and glaze had a surprising amount of flavor and a nice balance of spices.

Valrhona pot au chocolat
whipped cream, peaches

Although we normally prefer warm chocolate desserts, this rich, solid, custard-like dessert was exactly as the name suggests – a pot of decadent chocolate.

Strawberry-rhubarb crumble with vanilla ice cream
I must admit – this wouldn’t have been my first choice in desserts. But our waitress, a friend of those accompanying us, brought us one because apparently we simply had to try it. And wow, was she right. While Suni scrapped up every last bite of the pot au chocolate, I concentrated my efforts on this warm, tart, and gooey dessert and savored every bite. The crumble floating on top was incredible – definitely one of the best cobblers I’ve ever had.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

VIOLET, Santa Monica, CA

This was one of those places that I kept hearing about and finally decided we just had to check out. New to the LA restaurant scene, Violet’s menu focuses on small plates featuring American and Californian favorites, along with some excellent wine pairings. Chef/owner Jared Simons, named one of the country’s hottest new chefs, changes his menu daily and personally helped us select our food and wine for the evening. But the real reason we went to Violet was to personally experience their version of Macaroni and Cheese. Raved about in every review, how could we not be lured by what Wine & Spirits said was “the best mac ’n’ cheese this side of Milwaukee?”

Baked Macaroni
serrano ham, leeks, gruyere cheese

This upscale take on the classic dish was one of the best and most interesting we’ve ever had. The Serrano ham made this dish nice and hearty, and added some lovely saltiness to contrast the creamy cheese and silky leaks. Topped with a perfect breadcrumb mixture, we scooped up every last bite of this memorable dish. The Violet website even has the recipe online for this favorite, though we haven’t had a chance to make it yet.

Mushroom Ravioli
brown butter, parmesan, sage

As big mushroom ravioli fans, we had to try their version, which was drenched (in a good way) in a rich and amazing brown butter sauce and topped with a hefty sprinkling of parmesan cheese . The wild mushroom filling was fantastically intense, and the sauce was so good that we used some leftover bread to soak up every last drop. My only complaint about this dish is that I couldn’t order a whole bowl full!

Braised Short Ribs
vanilla risotto, matsutake mushrooms

On a total short rib kick, I had to try these - especially with the intriguing “vanilla risotto” component of the dish. Although an unusual combination, the vanilla flavor was very interesting and complimented the meat well. This was another dish that we polished off with ease.

Flourless Chocolate Cake
vanilla bean ice cream, candied walnuts, orange marmalade
Rich, dense, warm and gooey – the ultimate flourless chocolate cake. Period.

Milk and Cookies
As a restaurant featuring American favorites, what could be more fitting then complimentary milk and cookies to finish off our meal? Of course, it was bittersweet since our check was placed right between the two glasses of milk…but it did help soften the blow.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

VILLAGE California Bistro and Wine Bar, San Jose, CA

Located on the hip and trendy Santana Row, this bistro and wine bar has the best of both worlds – great food and over 300 wines to choose from. Of course, we just HAD to order a bottle with the dishes below.

Micro Ratatouille, Crispy ‘Confit Style' Potato, Veal Demi Glaze

Suni opted for meat, of course, and wasn't disappointed. The veal demi glaze was outstanding, the meat tender, and even the squash very tasty.

Crab and Mascarpone Ravioli, Vanilla Buerre Blanc

Not on the regular dinner menu, this daily special featured local wild salmon from the nearby rivers - and I couldn’t pass up a chance to try it. The salmon was mild and cooked perfectly, while the stronger flavor of the crab and mascarpone ravioli balanced the dish nicely. Top it off with a hint of vanilla, and the dish was complete.


Our 3rd installment of our Michael Mina tour led us to lunch at Arcadia – a more business-friendly restaurant in the heart of downtown San Jose. Although not as posh as Nobhill or Michael Mina, we were allured by the fact that the menu featured some of our favorite dishes from his other restaurants.

Fuji Apples, Candied Walnuts, Point Reyes Blue Cheese

Whole grain mustard, slaw
We sampled a miniature version of these lobster corn dogs at Michael Mina in San Francisco, and were hooked. Tender lobster wrapped in classic corn dog dough - What could be better? Take a closer look….

A favorite from Nobhill in Vegas, we took the liberty of asking the chef if he could make it for us, even though it was not on the lunch menu. Luckily for us, he obliged. So rich, so creamy, and so much truffle…truly fantastic.

Because we were limited to a “light lunch” on this particular day, we reluctantly had to pass on dessert. However, our memories of the Root Beer Float from Nobhill led us to one conclusion – we had to have another. Instead of stuffing ourselves silly like we usually do, we opted to return after dinner that same evening to experience this comforting dessert, one more time.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

NYC 2007

When we started planning our trip to NY a few months ago, our main reason for going was to see the Yankees battle the Red Sox, perhaps for the last time before the Yankees say goodbye to their original stadium. However, it soon turned into a culinary adventure instead, with some baseball thrown in between our different food excursions. Determined to live it up and experience the best that NYC has to offer, we scoured Zagat and spent countless hours on the internet researching the absolute best places in the city. Ultimately, many of the restaurants that we visited were recommended by Andrea’s co-worker Hadley, who we have to thank for our happy tummies and empty wallets. Determined to fit in as many meals as possible in our short trip, we sacrificed sleep, grabbed our bottle of Tums, and hit the town ready to give you readers something to drool over.

Be sure to click on the images below and blow them up to full size to truly experience our NYC culinary adventure


After a mostly sleepless red-eye flight, a few trains into Manhattan, a quick breakfast and an early check-in at Hotel QT, we were ready to dive into our New York culinary experience. Gotham Bar & Grill is the type of restaurant that is clearly sophisticated, but at the same time, casual in a way that is uniquely New York, particularly at lunch. We arrived just as the staff was just wrapping up their prep for the afternoon, yet within a few minutes of sitting down in a nearly empty restaurant, it was fully packed for lunch. They must be doing something right.

Our original intent was to try out their surprisingly affordable ($27) prix fix lunch menu, but we each found ourselves lured by items on the main menu instead.

Artichoke Hearts, Pea Leaves, Black Trumpets and Prosciutto di Parma

Mushrooms, prosciutto, lobster and creamy risotto. Nothing to complain about there. The only things left on the plate after inhaling this perfect lunch portion were a few of the artichoke hearts which neither of us were a big fan of.

Bok Choy, Shiitake Mushrooms, Sticky Rice, Soy Lemongrass Ginger Emulsion

This version of miso black cod was delicate, moist, and mild. The bok choy and shitake mushrooms added some nice texture and flavor, while the rice was just the right thing to sop up the perfectly salty miso broth.

Chocolate Genoise, Layers of Mint Parfait, Warm White Chocolate Tea Sauce

Aside from a partially tainted photo opportunity owed to the tea sauce that flooded one side of the dish, our first dessert in New York was excellent. The layers of mint and chocolate make for a rich but refreshing dessert. And on that delicious note, our first meal was done, and it was time to finally rest for a while.


We love small plates. With a late dinner scheduled, The Stanton Social on the lower east side seemed like the perfect fit to fill the time and keep our appetites in check. It was tough to limit ourselves to just 3 plates, but the prospects of Babbo in the evening and the opportunity to return another night kept us from overindulging.

Truffled honey and watercress

Although we both are not traditionally fans of figs, the combination of figs, blue cheese, honey, and truffle was fantastic – had these been an item on the menu we probably would have ordered more.

Roasted corn mayo

They might look like simple corndogs, but one bite lets loose the crabcake inside. Rather than the typical crispness, the crab is surrounded by the buttery corndog batter and dipped (like a corndog) in a zesty sauce. It’s definitely a fun dish.


This plate doesn’t quite qualify as a “small plate” in my opinion, given that each of the 6 dumplings feels like it holds the weight of an entire bowl of thick French onion soup!

Caramelized Vidalia Onions & Truffled Goat Cheese Fondue

This mini “philly cheesesteak” style sandwich was the star of the afternoon. As with so many of our choices recently, the taste of truffle infused in the cheese finished off each bite. Between the soft roll, tender, flavorful meat, and the sweetness of the onions, this small plate had us wishing for a full-sized portion.


Babbo Ristorante & Enoteca is Mario Batali’s upscale, but cozy, new restaurant. The dining experience at Babbo involved premium food, but without the stuffiness that some restaurants of this caliber inherently posses. Our server encouraged us to share and split plates, made great recommendations, and when we seemed overwhelmed with the food and wine choices, he essentially put together a 3 course menu each paired with a 250ml carafe of wine (for one total bottle). We managed to pick a delicious dessert on our own.


With Peas and Pecorino

Served with 2004 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi “Podium,” Garofoli (La Marche)

This pasta dish highlighted the flavors of spring with its fresh peas and delicate pecorino sauce. Light and somewhat refreshing, it was the perfect starter course and went extremely well with the crisp white wine.

Sweet pea pesto and mint leaves. Spicy Lamb Sausage

Served with 2003 Bardolino Chiaretto Corte Gardoni (Veneto)

From refreshing and crisp peas we graduated to creamy and zesty raviolis with flavors of mint, pesto and the spice of lamb. This second course was a bit more rich and robust, and that subtle escalation was matched with the move from a crisp white to a more flavorful rose wine.

With “Scafata,” House-Made Pancetta and Brovada

Served with 2001 Aglianico del Vulture Re Manfredi (Bascilicata)

Finally we were hit with the boldest course, paired with a bold red wine. The duck was incredibly tender, a little sweet and savory kicked up by the salty pancetta. This was the dish that we remembered and were talking about days afterward.


Chocolate Biscotti, Pistachio Cake, Amaretto Cookie


Although we had an incredibly late night at Babbo and could have slept till noon, we weren’t about to miss out on breakfast at Norma’s. Voted the best breakfast in NY by several sources, Norma’s menu is fun and whimsical, and features such items as “Lox and Lox of Bagel” and “Foie Gras Brioche French Toast”. There’s even “The Zillion Dollar Lobster Frittata” which is served with 10oz of caviar – all for the bargain price of $1000. Norma dares you to expense this.

Watermelon, Raspberry & Pineapple

Norma’s breakfast version of an Amuse Bouche, this smoothie shot was the perfect thing to awaken our senses and get us ready for the day.

With Whipped Banana Brown Sugar Butter and Pecans

Still full from the night before, we opted to share breakfast and were glad that we did. These flap jacks were incredible and also incredibly filling. Made with chunks of sweet bananas, they were topped with a sweet brown sugar butter and candied macadamia nuts and pecans. It was so perfect as-is that it didn’t need the syrup it was served with.


While we had a visit planned for Daniel Boulud’s flagship restaurant later in this trip, there is one item on the menu of his DB Bistro Modern that we had to squeeze in between breakfast and a Yankee game. By now you know we’re always hunting for the next ultimate burger, and here’s DB’s entry:

Sirloin Burger Filled with Braised Short Ribs,
Foie Gras and Black Truffle, Served on a Parmesan Bun, Pommes Frites

This burger was so thick that we were forced to eat each half sideways, hotdog-style. We were a little surprised by the horseradish kick in the sauce, but nothing could take away from the sensation of discovering short ribs, foie gras and (yet again) black truffle INSIDE the burger.
Take a closer look: (you gotta click on this one to blow it up)