Showing posts with label mussels. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mussels. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Croquer: Bar Tartine

San Francisco's Mission neighborhood has a need for new restaurants and bars about as much as I need second dessert. Yet amongst the hullabaloo, a constant star has always been Tartine Bakery. Though I'd peeked into the windows of their younger sister restaurant Bar Tartine, I had not had the pleasure to dine there.
Lucky for me, that is where Catherine decided we would dine for her 30th birthday. And did we!

As three of the four of us went to college in the Willamette Valley, the Adelsheim Pinot Gris seemed fitting for the celebration. The crisp, clean pinot gris provided a wonderful companion to the vegetable-forward Eastern European-influenced menu.

To start, we grazed on duck pate, rye bread, gooseberry jam, elderberry and coriander mustards. And chewy Tartine Bakery bread, of course.

A jar of green cherry tomato pickles added a bright accompaniment to the board.

Our succession of veggie-heavy small plates started with the smoked eggplant, cranberry beans, and garlic sausage. Rich and smoky, yet somehow (albeit sharing) I did not get a bite of eggplant!

Probably my favorite of the lot, the romano beans, potatoes, basil, and corn sauce was a stunner. So simple, yet we all silently fought over the last beans, and even scraped the tangy corn sauce from the dish...

Halászlé is a Hungarian fisherman's soup, here comprised of mussels, sturgeon, tomato, green chili, purslane, and fennel. The paprika broth is a bold and delicious base for mussels. A runner up for my favorite, though selfishly I wished for a couple more mussels!

The butter boletes mushrooms, yoghurt, turnip sauce, carrot, and radish was an earthy side in the disguise of a stand-aone dish. Not terribly memorable on the shadow of the Halászlé.

The side of summer squash, squash blossoms, and curried squash sauce was brought out last. We consumed it vacantly (read: on the side of ubiquitous), possibly due to the coursing order. Might have fit more nicely at the beginning of the meal.

The dessert left a little to be desired as well. Layers of sour cream custard, lemon curd, poppyseed, and a cherry/oat/walnut crumble suggested disparate flavors and sensations, but lacked a certain pride that any one of the contents of the Tartine Bakery case exudes.

After dinner we walked around the corner to spend the rest of Catherine's birthday sipping drinks upstairs in The Hideout, the back room bar at Dalva (3121 16th St.) The cocktails here are serious, such was the "Whisky In Church": Smokehead Scotch, Oloroso Sherry, and a splash of maple and pear syrup. Holy! Bittersweet amaro cocktails quickly lulled us into pleasant propensity.
The night was good.

Bar Tartine
561 Valencia St. San Francisco, CA 94110; 415.487.1600
Bar Tartine on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 11, 2011

Croquer: Son Of A Gun

It's no secret that I sort of worship Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook.
Their gut-busting ode to tasty carnage Animal is basically ChocoMeat's Shangri-la. So despite my slow growing love for devouring sea critters, I was still enthusiastically biased going into their new joint Son of a Gun. Hand me a bib and shell-cracker or whatever, I'll eat anything these guys can throw in a pot.

The 3rd street storefront (formerly Restaurant 3, and Cynthia's before that) has been gussied up the likes that Animal has never seen. Marine and boating gear fills most of the wall space whilst plaid-shirted servers circle a monolithic communal table (always open for walk-ins), and bartenders stir cocktails under a print of a monkey about to kill a parrot. The scene is set for beautiful food consumption.

While we waited for our table, Michael, Andy and I sipped on a round of dry Sazeracs. Upon moving to our table we were alerted that the kitchen was out of Alligator Schnitzel! I almost walked out right then! Considering the options we picked pretty easily, well prepped for the menu thanks to some previews we had read. But regardless, starting is always a given - Oysters.

S.O.A.G.'s Malpeque Oysters on the Half Shell with classic condiments were sweet, fresh and supple, nary a lick of grit.

Our second plate out was new to the menu, a Smoked Steelhead Roe with Maple Cream and Pumpernickel. After one smoky-salty-sweet-creamy-crunchy bite, an audible sound resonated in each of us. Very impressive and sophisticated dish. Highly recommended.

We couldn't finish these two items without some proper bubbly, and S.O.A.G. is stocked for just that. Michael picked out the Saint-Chamant a Epernay Blanc de Blanc Brut, one of the most bone-dry, delicate and handsome Champagnes I've ever tasted. A stunning compliment to the entire meal.

A modest Squid Salad with Garbanzo, Mirepoix, and Radicchio surprised our palates with complexity, character, and the perfect amount of spice. A silent warrior.

The Lobster Roll with Celery and Lemon Aioli is dinner roll size, topped with the tiniest potato chips ever made. Tasty, but fell under the radar with only a single bite. Dare I say too small to share?

The Mussels with Tarragon, Pernod, Fennel, Toast arrived in a deep bowl sans-shell - to get right to the point. The soupy pastis-kissed cream sauce was pure elegance. One of my favorite mussel preparations to date.

This is where the meal began showcasing some really unexpected surprises. An elevated classic, the Shrimp Toast Sandwich with Herbs and Sriracha Mayo was incredibly toothsome, and a collective highlight. Crispy, buttery, herby, spicy, and satisfying, we seriously considered ordering another...

Luckily the Fried Chicken Sandwich with Spicy B&B Pickle Slaw and Rooster Aioli appeared just in time to distract us, a large mound of non-oceanic awesomeness begging to be taken quickly. I have to say our entire table may agree with KevinEats that this is possibly the best chicken sandwich. Ever. Tender, juicy, piquant... perfection.

Now, as a blogger I am always embarrassed to admit that I am not a huge fan of fresh water fish. Maybe it was all those trips to the mountains as a kid, watching the trout we fished getting their guts removed by my uncles, occasionally dangled in my direction. I am happy to report that I'm recovering from these issues however and beginning to really enjoy a well prepared fish. The Idaho Trout, Carrot, Potato, Caper Dill Butter made me a believer. The flaky sweet flesh eased off the skin effortlessly and blended nicely with the roasted root vegetables. Somehow this seemingly straight forward dish was one of my palate's favorites.

By now we were pleasantly pickled but ready for one more drink to take us into dessert. We giggled at the "Temperance" (non-alcoholic) section heading of the drink menu, and found the bubbly cocktails. Andy and I opted for the Air Mail while Michael perused the digestifs. A twist on the classic Air Mail (rum, lime, honey, bubbly), S.O.A.G. spikes the bubbly with Chartreuse Green VEP and just a kiss of lime. Went well with our first dessert...

Incredibly simple, the Frozen Lime Yogurt, Graham Crumble, Toasted Meringue didn't need frills, it was balanced and refreshing.

Skeptical of the Flourless Chocolate Cake, Banana, Peanut, Coconut Ice Cream description, I actually quite enjoyed the deconstruction. The banana was brûléed, the peanuts glazed in a heavy caramel beside sprinkles of coarse sea salt. Sometimes deconstruction works, and a swipe of a spoon across this plate did it for me.

Speaking of skepticism, after asking what the Hoboken Special was, the table shared a guffaw over the answer - frozen chocolate custard and... Pineapple Fanta. But who am I to turn down a challenge? Bring it on, we said. And son of a gun, we actually enjoyed it quite a bit. All of it.

8370 W. 3rd St. Los Angeles, CA 90048; 323.782.9033
Son Of A Gun in Los Angeles on Fooddigger
Son of a Gun Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Croquer: Jitlada

I wasn't going to take any chances. The voice on the other end of the line asked the name attached to the special request for Jazz's special Thai burger. "Lisa," I lied (clearly). We had dinner plans at Jitlada for the following Wednesday, but I had been warned to call several days in advance as a courtesy. You see, Jazz's cult-like "secret" off-menu burger is made from scratch, with only from the freshest meat she has to go out and pick up special. And rumored only for her favorite customers. I've been to Jitlada, but Lisa was a bona fide regular. "I can't guarantee she will make it," the voice warned me. "Only if she feels like it that day." I nodded, as if he could see me, and thanked him for his help in this matter.
We showed up to Jitlada that following Wednesday early, to beat the dinner rush, finger's crossed. Once seated, we ordered Singhas and the infamous Steamed Mussels to start... The fresh New Zealand mussels are served simmering in a pot of aromatic lemon grass, chili, garlic and basil broth, an incredibly addictive soup once the mussels are all gone...
We sheepishly asked if the special burgers were in our stars, and all jumped in our chairs when our server said Jazz agreed to make them for us. The thick burger patties arrived embraced in lettuce leaves, topped with a slice of tomato, onions, sliced green chilies, Thai basil, and a sweet tangy sauce. The burger was juicy, spicy and happily at home with the Thai take on American "special sauce". I didn't want it to end...
Realizing it was about to however, we flipped to the BACK page of the menu - where the Southern Thai specialties live. No glossy color images there, just dense typed text tightly filling two pages. Pad Thai? Try Spicy Frog Legs or Phuket Lobster Tails. Oh, where to start?
The Morning Glory salad, of course. Crispy deep-fried Chinese watercress and shrimp make up this salad, with a house dressing and heavy hand of crispy onions. Texture heaven! This is a new favorite.
The Pumpkin Lamb Curry was the first item to make me cry (those familiar know that Jitlada is notorious for being one of the spiciest Thai restaurants.. ever. And proudly so). The lamb was flavorful even against the spice of the dry curry, cooled with sweet pumpkin.
The tastiest bite though would have to be the Crying Tiger Pork, another famous Jitlada dish. The meat is seasoned and cooked to toothsome perfection, spiced up by the accompanying chili lime dipping sauce. I debated ordering a another plate of it, but was reminded how full not only the table was, but my belly.
Jazz came by to say hello and see what we thought of the burger, sincerely concerned with our feedback. "My brother tells me to open a burger stand," she says of its popularity, "but it's too much work! I only use the freshest meat. I just went out and got that you know!" Yet all I could think was how soon can I come back? And how can I convince her to make me one again then?
5233 W Sunset Blvd. 323.663.3104
Jitlada in Los Angeles on Fooddigger
Jitlada Thai on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Croquer: Lazy Ox Canteen

Little Tokyo isn't just for ramen, mochi, and shabu-shabu anymore. With neighbors like Wurstküche, Señor Fish and now Lazy Ox Canteen, there's a rather pleasant culinary turf war that has downtown dwellers close-lippedly reaping their patient reward.
A small box in the ground floor of a contemporary loft building (just down the street from the fish market), Lazy Ox is a modestly calculated tavern by chef Josef Centeno and business partner Michael Cardenas.
With an interior that says 'Downtown Denver' or maybe 'North Portland', Lazy Ox is woodsy and cozy. Fresh cabinetry houses the wine list, massive chalkboards on the wall are scrawled with the day's fifty-or-so specials. This is what has people talking - Not the number of items on the ever-changing menu, but how good each and every one seems to be.
Completely overwhelmed while deliberating over the small plates options, Michael and I each ordered a St. Bernardus Triple Belgian ale to 'help us focus' as a small ramekin of toasted Cancha kernels was set before us.
Because it sounded delicious and jumped out on the printed menu, we started with the Bellwether Farms ricotta fritters with saffron honey - and not a bad gamble. The perfectly crisp fritters crumbled into molten cheese at the bite, a texture-lovers' heaven. The flavors were subtle, but a nice delicate starter.
The vegetable side of caramelized cauliflower with chile and pine nuts came out next, and may have been the boldest and tastiest flavor of the night. Lightly browned on all sides, each succulent piece of cauliflower was loaded with a smokey chile zest. I easily could have gone for another order...
The braised veal breast was quite the looker. Silky flesh sitting atop chunky potato salad, dripping with a complex, sweet jus. The veal was like butter, and I found myself scraping the sauce, sweet onions, and potato salad remnants into postscript bites until the plate was white. 
I haven't been ordering tons of mussels lately (due to a causatum that... needs not be shared on a food blog), but I couldn't deny the preparation on Lazy Ox's menu. Their mussels are "brick roasted" with basil, white wine, house-made sriracha & French feta... Served as any proud kitchen should, topped with charred bread for sopping up the remaining divine broth. And boy was it! Harmoniously spicy and cheesey, I pined for more toast to make this cast iron pan as clean as the veal plate.
We wavered on ordering another dish after the mussel shells left the table, our palates fully awake and excited. Our eloquent server, who had pointed us in the right direction all night mentioned that we had missed her favorite, and with a wink we knew we must trust her. Better than dessert, we savored every tender bite of the dashi-marinated yellowtail with avocado, hash brown & tonburi (a seed sometimes called "land caviar"). The fish was remarkably fresh and luscious, the avocado offering the suggestion of tartare without the pretense. I appreciated the gentle crunch from strategically placed sprouts and minuscule rice crackers. A meticulously geometric "hash brown" sat on the edge of the plate without obvious purpose, but was a nice little interval to remind me how much I had enjoyed my meal but that, alas, it was time to be done.

241 S San Pedro; Downtown LA (Little Tokyo) 213.626.5299
Lazy Ox Canteen in Los Angeles on Fooddigger
Lazy Ox Canteen on Urbanspoon