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Everything posted by biskuit

  1. I'm in Atlanta - it's not that the Rittenhouse doesn't have distribution, but that it SELLS OUT!
  2. Just picked up the new Bulleit 95 Rye, 95% rye mash, 90 proof, probably made at LDI who does Templeton Rye as well (though these are definitely not the same thing w a different label). It's a real nice sipping whiskey for $25, but is surprisingly lacking in rye character. I did a little comparison w Rittenhouse BIB and Russell's Reserve at http://www.thirstysouth.com/2011/03/01/three-fine-ryes/ The Rittenhouse BIB is a ridiculously good deal, picked mine up for $15. But hard to find.
  3. We were there back in September. Full report at The pintxos are incredible and an incredible bargain as well. We hit Akelare for lunch and it was fabulous. It will set you back a lot of cash though, the exchange rate is a lot better now, but we spent $600+ per couple for lunch with some nice wine. I believe the menu is roughly 150 euros per person. It was great, but there is no doubt that the pintxos bars offer a MUCH better value. We had a really fabulous lunch over the border at L'auberge Basque, about an hour away, and also a very nice bargain.
  4. We were there last year - see our full trip report at - lots of photos, give it a minute to load, scroll down for San Sebastian pintxos report. In Bilbao, El Globo had some great pintxos. We also ate at the bistro at the Guggenheim and were underwhelmed. Not recommended. San Sebastian is a dream come true - pintxos hopping that will blow your mind, see the trip report above for some highlights, too many to mention.
  5. There are diverse opinions of course. I live in Atlanta now and grew up in Memphis. I don't think Atlanta is worth your stop frankly. In Memphis, I would say the one must is Payne's. Cozy Corner might be #2. Skip Corky's. Rendezvous should be approached w the understanding that it's an institution known more for its uniqueness than the quality of its BBQ. A&R, BBQ Shop, Germantown Commissary, are all solid choices. Not a fan of Interstate, too much sauce. Between Nashville and Memphis, I am a very big fan of B.E. Scott Bar B Que in Lexington, TN. They cook the whole hog way. Very good. 10880 Highway 412 West Lexington, TN 38351-6282 (731) 968-0420
  6. Just looked back at this post, great stuff, glad I saw it before our trip (similarly shared in detail in the thread below!), and glad to relive a few Spanish moments again.
  7. So, now that I've covered the “big” meals of the trip, I need to mention the pintxos. Pintxos is basically the Basque version of tapas. Our first pintxos experience was in Logrono, a decent sized town in Rioja, where the area around Calle Laurel is the main pintxos strip. The area was packed with locals, young and old, families, singles, everything. Great vibe. Basically good, inexpensive, fun, alcohol-fueled eating. One small pedestrian street dotted with bars offering either one specialty (like Bar Angel and their mushrooms)... These mushrooms were fabulous, heady with garlic and olive oil, dotted with a bite size shrimp on top, served on a slice of bread as most pintxos are, which was perfect for soaking up the olive oil and juice from the mushrooms. Most of the other bars offered a more diverse menu of local delicacies and traditional bites. Here is what I thought was called “granjito,” though I can't find a translation of that – it was basically a whole fried bird, head and beak and bones included, doused in a spicy pepper sauce. Very crispy. I had to try it, but wouldn't necessarily recommend it. Pata Negra specializes in jamon iberico bocadillos (sandwiches). We tried one with queso and one with tomato and anchovy, both delicious. Also had a nice glass of Tobia Rioja Crianza here. Most of the bars offered house tintos and blancos, plus a small selection of slightly pricier wines. Pata Negra had a nice variety of Riojas and other Spanish wines. A more modern bar called Plan B, closer to what is typical in San Sebastian, was pushing their “foie al Pedro Ximenez” and the locals inside were all digging in to delicious little plates of this – not as refined a product as you'll get in San Sebastian, but very good. We asked what they recommended to drink with it, and they provided a delightful glass of Marques de Caceres “Satinela Semi-dulce” - a late harvest Rioja white, not quite syrupy, very nice with the foie gras indeed. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- San Sebastian is the pinnacle of pintxos, especially the Parte Vieja down by the water, old streets packed with bars and people, both local and tourists. Many of the bars have very serious chefs, who compete to produce the most amazing little bites in town. Like Logrono, it is alcohol-fueled, fun, and an insanely good food and wine value (especially considering that it's very easy to drop $400 per person on lunch at a place like Akelare or Mugaritz). San Sebastian departs from Logrono in the aspirations of its pintxos chefs and in the dedicated foodies who flock to reap the benefit. Over the course of three nights, we had probably 10 bars in the Parte Vieja and 4 more in the Gros across the river, an area that is more residential, where the bars are isolated islands for the most part rather than a full on pintxos district. My favorite without a doubt was Fuego Negro, the most fun, inventive, and delicious pintxos bar we hit. I had been advised to try their “crab, avocado, anise” which was simply fabulous – shredded crab meat mixed with “coral,” a creamy avocado mash, and a licorice ice cream with bite. LOVE it. Of course, we had to try the foie, spectacular and another ridiculous bargain – I think it was 3 euros. Sardine with pineapple sweet and sour, delicious.: Simple – very good assortment of olives: More simplicity, tomato+anchovy+garlic, made by the quality of the ingredients: You can see that they maintain a nice balance of ingredient focus with artful and delicious combinations. La Cuchara de San Telmo is another one of the acclaimed spots, that focuses completely on pintxos to order rather than laying out the plates that you pick and choose from. We had a great foie, some lovely mushroom risotto, and this specatcularly good duck breast: Taking the cake for most inventive spot was Zeruko, which had a large menu of pintxos to order and a large spread out and ready. Apparently they are one of the most awarded spots for their creative fare. Yet another foie, this was our third stop of the night and all three offered great foie dishes: “The Rose” - this was the most crazy, petals of fruit leather, filling of a mixed seafood salad, I think there was a lightly fried basil leaf and something tempura in there too. And drinkable rose water in the vase. Very interesting, but more a novelty than a great dish. “The bonfire” - this was both a novelty and a very successful dish – bacalao that you lightly smoke/cook over coal at your table, a thick tartar-like sauce on toast, and a vial (not vile) of intense sea “water.” La Cepa, famed for their jamon, which surrounds you inside... great stuff. Priciest item we had in any pintxos bar! I think it was 10 euros for the plate pictured below, still not a bad deal for jamon de jabugo. Their version of the “gilda” - olive, tart green pepper, anchovy – was perfect. Even the beer tap is a leg of jamon... Gandarias, hopping crowd, had a great veal solomillo here. Wish we had tried more. Txepetxa, famed for their large selection of anchovy pintxos which is what they stick to, here are two: Borda Berri, pork “ribs” with mushroom sauce – awesome. I think these are the same folks at Cuchara de San Telmo – similarly good menu of pintxos made to order, hard to choose from. Over in the Gros quarter, our favorite stop was Bar Bergara. Where one of their signature dishes is their “Txalupa” (not to be confused with Taco Bell's chalupa), which actually means boat, but in this case is a concoction of sauteed chopped mushrooms and prawns in a cava and cream sauce over a pastry “boat” with melted emmenthaler on top. We ordered a second one after the first, which was a rare occurrence given all the things we wanted to try. More nice pintxos from Bergara, I think all three of these featured anchovies in some form, the one on the left being a tortilla with anchovies: We also hit Hidalgo 56 in the Gros for some lightly fried prawns, and stopped in to what was once the most heralded pintxos bar, Alona Berri, but which seems to be in a bit of a decline. Again, I can not emphasize enough that San Sebastian pintxos hopping is one of the most amazing food experiences to be had in this world. Unique, inspired, affordable, fun, and totally of the local culture. Another reason to do the Akelares and Etxebarris of the world for lunch instead of dinner! ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Bilbao also has a well regarded pintxos scene, unfortunately we only had time to hit one bar, El Globo, where we had some fabulous bites, including a spectacular fried artichoke with crispy jamon and a delicious roquefort and nut pintxo – I wish we had been able to explore Bilbao's pintxos bars to a greater extent:
  8. Continuing our journey.... The meal I was most excited about on this trip was not Akelare, it was Etxebarri, out in the countryside in the tiniest of tiny villages, Axpe. Maybe it was Anthony Bourdain's visit on "No Reservations: Spain" that made the notion of a meal at Etxebarri seem so important, so anti-establishment, so ... delicious. (at least three other tables, Americans and Canadians, were all there because of Anthony Bourdain - Etxebarri surely owes him a share of receipts) Or maybe it was the relentless accolades I kept reading, or my friend who went there a few months ago and said I should go there twice and forsake another meal somewhere else. I mean, this is a place in the middle of nowhere, the tiniest little village somewhere between Bilbao and San Sebastian. A place in the middle of nowhere that is literally a pilgrimage stop. A pilgrimage for foodies, especially those baptized by St. Anthony Bourdain, shown the gospel of a fanatical man who invented his own grills and instruments, meticulously experimented with different woods and coals to find the perfect match for each dish. In any case, I tried to dampen my own extreme expectations, because I know when expectations are too high, disappointment is sure to follow. So, dampen, dampen, dampen I did, to the point that I was expecting something simple, something good, yes, but something simply good. Well.... that was blown away when course number two arrived. But that's getting ahead of myself. The road from San Sebastian to Etxebarri is not the most scenic in the world, at least compared to the road to Akelare or the road to L'auberge Basque. Yes, it starts with rolling hills, and ends under looming mountains, but in between is a whole host of industrial no man's lands. On top of the warehouse row barrage, there was a barrage of rain pouring down on our car throughout the drive, deep heavy clouds shrouding the view of the mountains most of the time. The rain continued throughout the meal, though we were happily ensconced inside the old stone walls of the restaurant and didn't really care about the outside world by that point. Axpe appears suddenly after many turns that lead you to believe you must be going the wrong way. First, a single farmhouse, then a quick collection of four or five stone buildings, a church, a courtyard, Etxebarri. That's about it. We parked, made a dash through the rain, walked through the awkward dimly lit downstairs bar, up the stairs, and into what is many insist is one of the great temples of grilling in this world. And so it began... Amongst the four of us, we chose to do three of the 12 course tasting menus and a smattering of other dishes to enable us to try a few more things. Foie gras, grilled grouper, a beef filet to compare against the bone in steak. Keeping my mind on simple was easy at first - the menu reads exactly this: Handmade chorizo Handmade smoked butter Tomato Grilled goose barnacles Grilled Palamos prawn Grilled mussels Grilled frog’s legs Grilled baby squid Grilled salt cod Grilled beef on the bone Wild fruit infusion, fresh goats cheese ice cream Figs, smoked milk ice cream Simple, right? Grilled this, grilled that. A tomato. Butter. Chorizo. What could be more basic? And the chorizo kept up the illusion momentarily. It WAS simple. It was good, yeah, but simple. Chorizo on bread. And what we were drinking? Local txakoli, Itsas Mendi. Simple again, good and simple. We ended up ordering a second bottle just to make sure it was still good. All of 18 euros. Then course number two came. Handmade smoked butter. Now the whole simple notion started to unravel a bit. Butter, yes. Smoke, sure. And then we took a small tentative bite. A bit of butter, a bit of the flakes of breadcrumb, a bit of... grilling heaven. The smoke intensity was phenomenal, the butter flavor clear and rich, the salt and the slight crunch of the breadcrumbs providing the necessary texture. Stunning. Mind altering. Butter. Simplicity be damned. So now my expectations were blown away. The courses that flowed over the next couple hours mostly (mostly) validated the accolades. This is a cuisine, an approach, a restaurant like no other I've ever encountered or am likely to encounter again. This chef is not after Michelin stars or celebrity, he is after perfection, a very specific form of perfection where fire meets pristine ingredients from the nearby countryside and shore. He's on to something. So I'll now launch into the blow by blow account of each course. Tomato: I'm not sure what this was exactly. Well, it WAS a tomato. A more sincere and elevated taste of tomato has never crossed my lips. Superb. Foie gras: This was very good foie gras. Nothing crazy, nothing particularly distinctive, but very good, and a very large portion. Grilled goose barnacles: Percebes. Scary looking little boogers. My wife wouldn't touch the stuff, the more for me. These are among the most immaculate tastes of the sea one can find, firmer than an oyster, brinier than a scallop, cleaner than a clam. Taking them apart was delightfully easy, and the reward inside was simply lovely, despite the mean outward appearance. Grilled Palamos prawn: Yes, this is among the most perfect prawns served in the world. Break off the head, suck in the deep rich juice, dig in to the tender, slightly smokey meat. Yes. Simple perfection. Grilled mussels: After two dishes that literally were simplicity themselves, the mussels arrive with an incredible, sweet carrot sauce that again blows your expectations away. Knockout. Grilled frog’s legs: OK, I'm not sure I "get" frogs legs. I know these were really good frog's legs, but to me, they are basically skinned chicken wings. The crunchy garlic on these was really nice, and, yes, I finished my own portion and my wife's. They were good, but not something I would order on their own. Grilled baby squid: Now squid, I like. It's a dish that can go horribly wrong when not cooked just right. Too rough, too rubbery, too chewy, too bland. This was the perfect baby squid. Seriously. Likely the very best squid I have ever had, and, yeah, pretty simple. Grilled grouper (ordered a la carte): Perfectly cooked, nice crispy skin, some lovely vegetables alongside. Delicious though a bit uninspired to tell you the truth. Grilled salt cod: By this point, frankly, we were getting full. None of us even finished this dish. It just didn't deliver anything compelling. Based on our meal, fish is not the kitchen's strength, though shellfish and mollusks clearly are. I even noticed that they used a much more interesting plate for this dish than for any other, compensating? Grilled beef filet: Good. After Asador Alameda (and before the next course) this was a bit of a letdown, and that surely is due to the choice of ordering a filet vs. another cut. What did make this dish really nice though was the amazing grilled red pepper served alongside the beef. Wow. Now that was good. And when you have a bite of the beef, with the red pepper, followed by a glass of Roda I Reserva 2004... well, now, THAT is VERY good. Grilled beef on the bone: So, our expectations dampened once again on the prior couple courses, the monstrous plate of meat for the table arrived. After the smoked butter, this was the standout dish of the meal, the most elemental meat eating experience I have ever had. A caveman moment. A carnivorous carnival. The very epitome of meat plus fire. Yeah, it was that good. Nearly blue rare in the middle, crisply and densely charred on the outside, a smokey infusion coating the meat in every bite. I doubt I will ever have a steak like this anywhere else in the world. Wild fruit infusion, fresh goats cheese ice cream: Wow. The third amazing cheese-based ice cream of the trip and every bit as good as the others. A simple, stunning dessert. Figs, smoked milk ice cream: Again, the man has a way with ice cream and fruit. Fabulous flavors and texture. Delightful. Heavily sated, practically sedated, we moved on to coffee (maybe our best of the trip actually, quite good, though I don't think he grilled it). Some almond-y, macaroon-y type cookies a perfect foil. Etxebarri is an anomaly. There is no meal quite like this anywhere else. It is resolutely of its place, out in the countryside, sheep and cows in the field nearby. You have to be wanting what it is they do to make the trek out there, and I imagine that the vast majority of pilgrims walk away happy. Our meal was fabulous overall, a revelation at times, though a few dishes simply didn't deliver, and I have to say that the service was spotty. We had to ask for water three times before it was brought to the table. Our meager Spanish and their meager English made communication slightly difficult, and the two women who were managing the room were fairly robotic in their actions. They seemed to be programmed to deliver each course and not divert their eyes for any other purpose. I've read about an Australian sous-chef who has provided great service to a number of people, but he was evidently not there the day of our meal. Also, we had hoped to see the kitchen, but there was one large table that came in an hour after us and the kitchen wanted to stay focused on their cooking rather than show off the place, even for just a minute. Understandable, yes. Despite those bumps along the way, we did indeed walk away very happy. Cherishing a unique meal. And dreaming of smoked butter.
  9. And now on to L'auberge Basque, http://www.aubergebasque.com/, a Michelin one star with a young chef who trained under Alain Ducasse - Cédric Béchade, 32. My parents read about the restaurant in Travel and Leisure, where the chef offered this lovely summary of his philosophy in the kitchen - “Every menu is built around the idea: Take what’s best, right now, then take something traditional, something of this place, and then figure out how to make them modern together.” They have an open kitchen, which we were lucky enough to be seated by, and the chef was meticulously finishing the plating for every beautiful dish that went out of the equally beautiful kitchen. The restaurant is located in tiny Helbarron St Pée sur Nivelle, 7 km from St Jean de Luz, a bucolic drive out into the French Pays Basque hills. The dining room is modern and visually clean, attached to an old rustic farmhouse converted to a modern inn, and the dining room has a large wall of windows opening out onto the green countryside, farms and hills. A lovely setting for a fine meal. There were several menus on offer when we arrived - a three course set menu for 25 euro, a four course for 38 euro, plus a la carte or a larger menu degustation. Well, the first two were too good a deal to pass up - we ordered two of the three course menus and two of the four course menus, no overlapping dishes, for the four of us. This was a meal marked by creativity, bridging Basque, Spanish and French influences deftly and artfully. The chef's meticulous nature is evident on every plate. And it is a true bargain at those special menu prices. The room was full with what appeared to be locals to the area, but this place is definitely worth seeking out, even from San Sebastian about 40 minutes away. The service was a mixture of polish and youthful inexperience - after I got home, I read about their lauded sommelier and noticed his photo - for some reason, he was helping out with the service, but was not the one who came to our table to discuss wine (nor did he stop by to help refill our empty glasses on a few occasions). I'm willing to overlook those issues though for such a promising meal at such bargain prices, especially as the culinary highs were so very high. Two of the dishes on these affordable menus may have bested anything we had at Akelare - on par at least, if not better. Nothing we tasted was less than very good, and the Basque touches made for a meal that you simply won't find in Paris or New York. So here's the rundown with brief commentary on each dish: Pepper popcorn and blood sausage crisps: At least I think the crisps were blood sausage, a common Basque treat. The popcorn was crisp and enticingly peppery - from local Piment d'Espelette. Amuse - tuna fish with pepper jelly: Very interesting, the clear gelatinous pepper jelly had an off-putting texture, but the flavor came together so nicely with the tuna fish when spread on a piece of good crusty bread. Green apple and berry gazpacho with foie gras mousse and vegetable chips: This may have been the dish of the trip, rivaling anything at Akelare or Etxebarri. A fabulous marriage of flavors, textures, colors. The light mousse flavored with foie gras was buried under the gazpacho, adding a rich creaminess to the sharp acidity and sweetness of the fruits. Vegetable chips, basically like the packaged Terra chips (that's good in my book!), added a welcome crunch. Le Marmitako des pecheurs, refroidi aux Txakoli, patates douces au piment d'Espelette (tuna a la Marmitako (a Basque stew), cooled in Txakoli, with sweet potatoes and Espelette pepper): Simply wonderful and perfectly of the area. Le Merlu de Ligne de Saint Jean , au the Lapsang Souchang, pomme fondant au persil, piment doux de Gernika (Line caught Hake St. John, with Lapsang Souchang tea, potato and fondant of parsley and Gernika sweet green pepper): another amazing, incredible dish of elegance and beauty. The fish medallions were perfectly cooked, tender with just the right firmness, a delicate tea sauce underneath, and a gorgeous and enticing green and white layered "fondant" of sweet green Gernika peppers and potato. Again, as good as anything at Akelare, which is saying a lot. Lamb loin with polenta, red and spicy green peppers: The rich meat paired well with a creamy, grit-like polenta, and a mixture of flavorful peppers. Very good. Cheese course, les fromages: a nice selection of cheese, both local and from further afoot. Always love a good cheese course - these cheeses were clearly well taken of. La Reine Claude, poelee au mielle de Bruyere, gaztanbera et gaufre au thym ("Queen Claude," plums cooked in heather honey, crepe with gaztanbera cheese and thyme): this one didn't do too much for me, not bad, but nothing too impressive either beyond the visual delight of the formed crepe. Peach with cheese ice cream and almonds: Now this one was good, the cheese ice cream (one form or another of which appeared on our meals at Akelare, here and Extebarri, all fabulous renditions) was a perfect foil for the sweet poached (I believe) peaches with crisp almond and firm whipped cream. Coffee and a few more sweet treats: we had this outside on the beautiful patio with a view of the countryside, delightful. For the wines, we asked for local or regional suggestions and enjoyed a very interesting Domaine Arretxea Irouleguy 2007, a local tannat blend that was earthy with nice dark fruit, also a very enjoyable viognier-like Riente Albarino 2006. The wine menu was a nice mix of (mostly pricey) French and (mostly affordable) Spanish wines! Up next... Etxebarri!
  10. Continuing on from Rioja... as good as Asador Alameda in Fuenmayor was, we had a feeling, a strong feeling, that the meals would get better as we traveled to San Sebastian. Our plan was for three "big" lunches - Akelare, Etxebarri (on the way to Bilbao) and L'auberge Basque (over the border in the hills in France) - followed by pintxos for dinner each night back in town. I'll go into detail on each meal, but first a bit of background: choosing where to eat was very difficult - with Mugaritz, Arzak, and Berasetegui all getting serious consideration. In the end, I heard way too many negative comments about Mugaritz. Etxebarri was the most uniformly lauded, so that was an easy call. And Akelare sounded like the closest thing to a sure bet amongst the rest, with the view giving it an edge over Arzak for the experience. L'auberge Basque was a bit out of left field, but the idea of driving up into the hills in France for an up and coming 1 star chef was very appealing. As well as the thought that Arzak and Akelare might be a bit too similar to do on consecutive days. The three restaurants we ended up with all delivered fabulous meals, as did the San Sebastian (and, to a lesser extent, Bilbao) pintxos scene. The big lunch and pintxos dinner approach also worked well - no way could I do an Akelare for lunch then another major sit down meal for dinner (though in reality, I might have eaten almost as much grabbing various pintxos, and definitely consumed more foie in pintxos bars than at any one sit down meal!). So in the end, our planning seemed to be good. First up, Akelare. The drive up to Akelare from San Sebastian offers some stupendous views, first back over San Sebastian from Monte Igeldo, then out the ocean, then, on the other side of the road, the green valleys and hills inland. The property is nestled atop a cliff overlooking the ocean - spectacular view - but the property is currently in a state of construction under and around the main restaurant, marring the view slightly. They were not working on the construction while we were there, and I imagine they make a point of not interrupting diners, which will make for a very slow project (building out a small luxury hotel around the restaurant). The main dining room is fairly sparse and modern, with the focus on the large glass windows and their view of the seas. Two "degustation menus" were on offer, as well as a la carte, and our table of four decided to go with two of each of the two tasting menus. One was titled "Aranori" and one "Bekarki" though there was no clear reason for that. To sum things up, spectacular, creative, delicious, stimulating, decidedly Spanish. A few of the dishes were revelations (wild mushrooms with "egg noodles" and the vegetable "ravioli" come to mind), a few were stronger in concept than in delivery though still very good ("peach in syrup" and the first few bites of the "milk and grape in parallel evolution"). Nothing really disappointed. Service managed the nice balancing act of professional and friendly. The wine selection was very good, and we focused on options from nearby Rioja - choosing the spectacular Remelluri blanco and a very nice, big, deep, smoky Izadi Seleccion 2001. Here's the rundown of courses with very brief commentary: Amuses: Gazpacho shots: perfect, exceptional, incredibly smooth and bright Lolipop!: another simple visual treat, playing with the idea of a savory take on a candy form Bonbons: Zurrukutuna (cod with garlic), Black Pudding Rollers, Oysters eaten with Shell, Artichoke and Almond “Polvoron”: What a visual treat. The oysters in edible half shell (white cocoa if I remember correctly) were spectacular bursts of the sea, the black pudding rollers were sinful little debbie bites of goodness. Crab and its Coral: stunningly beautiful and delicious, a warm crab claw and cold crab surrounded by miniature "false" vegatables - a horseradish shaped from horseradish gel that served as a perfect foil for the cold crab, a mushroom made of mushroom meringue, and a real miniature cucumber so tart. Little Pearls and Porous Foie Gras, Toasted Peanut Bread: melt in your mouth foie in two unusual forms, small pearls and what must have been a liquid nitrogen frozen foam that had a cold crunch at first before melting into familiar foie decadence. Mollusks in the Net of the Fisherman: another visual stunner, another dish that popped with the essence of the sea, using dried tiny shrimp for texture, garlic powder based net, and a tremendous assortment of perfectly cooked mollusks - the razor clams being my favorite. Prawns and French Beans cooked in Orujo Fire: prawns flambeed in Oruju tableside, simple and delicious with a nice tinge of burnt crispiness around the shells. Wild Mushrooms and "Egg Pasta": a seemingly simple dish that was among my favorites, the incredible mushrooms playing with the soy (and sesame?) puree, extruded egg whites and yolk "noodles" adding richness and balance, strong hints of Japanese cuisine here Vegetables Ravioli: pure, intense, beautiful vegetables centered around an indulgent melt in your mouth lardo ravioli, wow. Red Tuna with Onion Threads and Roasted Peppers: when the elements of this dish were combined in one bite, it really really worked nicely - the rare firm tuna, the rich smooth pepper puree, the crisp and sweet onion - perfect. Integral Red Mullet with Sauce Fusili: maybe the least successful savory course in my mind - though I did love the fish stock reduction coating the mullet (thus, integral) - as the gelled fusili sauces were a bit more strange than good, and their texture did not add to the dish. Roasted Baby Pig with Tomato Bolao and Iberian Emulsion: wow good, tender meat, crisp skin, sweet apple sauce that started as a thick jelly then melted into the emulsion - a lot going on and it all came together beautifully. Loin of Lamb roasted in “Live Coal”: cool idea - black squid tempura coated vegetables that look like coal under the lamb - really really nice. Milk and Grape, Cheese and Wine, In Parallel Evolution: I just love this conceptually, the notion of milk and grapes in a paired progression. The first two bites set up the concept but really don't deliver a great bite - but the next three are all seriously excellent - the idiazabal with membrillo, the torta del casar with pedro ximenez soaked raisins (WOW WOW WOW), and the roquefort ice cream, all incredibly crave-worthy. Xaxu and Coconut Iced Mousse: just delicious, the smooth coconut mousse was fabulously good. “Peach in Syrup”: better concept than delivery in my opinion - what looks like a peach is spooned out of a jar of syrup onto the plate, but a tap of a spoon reveals it to be a (beautiful, perfect) edible shell containing a peach puree. Certainly a visual impression, but I just didn't care too much for the end product. Another Apple Tart: a delicious apple cream mille-fueille topped with extraneous white cocoa "paper" with printing on it - very good, but the "paper" was simply overkill. Chocolates, Pear Leather cover: Again, like the apple tart, this dish suffered a bit from an extraneous gimmick - the pear "leather" sealing a bowl of delicious chocolates. With dessert, we also enjoyed delightful glasses of Jorge Ordonez Malaga Old Vines #3, fabulous, pure orange blossom and honeysuckle. What a way to end a beautiful meal with a beautiful view. (lots more photos on our trip flickr set - here)
  11. Just returned from an incredible trip to Basque country in Spain (and a bit in France). Outstanding food, wine, scenery, architecture, art, etc. I'll start with a quick recap of Rioja, with the preface that the food in Rioja was very good, but paled considerably in comparison to San Sebastian (nothing shocking there). We were uniformly disappointed in the wines poured at the wineries themselves, but very happy with what we were able to order in restaurants at very fair (i.e. retail equivalent) prices. Best meal in Rioja: Asador Alameda, Fuenmayor We expected the incredible steak, like none you will find in the US in its earthiness and, yes, incredible fat. What we did not expect was the artistry of a fabulous lobster and seafood salad course, or the delicacy of a simple gazpacho amuse, or the depth of flavor in the croquettas. Great meal. Here's the steak - chuleton de buey: Runner-up: Hector Oribe, Paganos More creative, but also less "of Rioja" as many of the dishes would not be out of place in a progressive US restaurant. The pigeon and duck dishes we had were both perfectly cooked, tremendously flavorful. Lovely foie gras. Delicious zucchini "ravioli" stuffed with suckling pig (I think). And an incredibly good rendition of cheesecake for dessert! Very enjoyable meal. A lovely lobster salad: Good stuff: Pintxos on Calle Laurel, Logrono We hit Logrono for Pintxos on a Sunday night and loved the experience of partaking with the locals. Mostly traditional (vs. San Sebastian's more inventive pintxos scene). From simple mushrooms to jamon iberico. A highlight though was a rustic foie in pedro ximenez, served with a nicely sweet Rioja "semi-dolce." The foie: Don't bother: La Posada Mayor de Migueloa Maybe not quite a tourist trap, but not much better in my opinion. The simple white asparagus saved the day. Their house wines are not bad, but nothing to write home about. Other places we would have loved to have hit but couldn't make - Casa Toni, El Portal del Echaurren in Ezcaray, As for winery visits, I would highly recommend the tours at Lopez de Heredia and Bodegas Baigorri, for two polar opposite takes on Rioja. Quick stops at Ysios for the architecture and Remelluri for the scenery are good ideas, the Gehry designed Marques de Riscal hotel is spectacular. Tons of photos of the food and more on flickr at http://bit.ly/90LJp - so far I've just uploaded the first couple days in Rioja. San Sebastian and Bilbao to come as time permits!
  12. We're going in September, and after much deliberation are hitting Akelare and Mugaritz, both for lunches. And then Extebarri the day after those on the way to Bilbao. I'm honestly most excited about Extebarri, then Mugaritz, then Akelarre. It was a close call between Arzak and Akelarre, but I've read A LOT of negative comments on various boards (here and elsewhere) that made me cross Arzak off. Could be a mistake, but c'est la vie. Also looking forward to pintxos hopping just as much.
  13. Excellent reports, folks! Bumping this to ask about eating in La Rioja, Marques de Riscal in particular - anyone eaten at their restaurant??? I've read the chef from El Portal in Echaurren is behind it, so it should be good, right? In Rioja, we're thinking of doing Hector Oribe and Asador Alameda for lunches, and one night of pintxos in Logrono. The other night is open (hence the question on Marques de Riscal). After that, San Sebastian is confounding - how to decide between Mugaritz, Arzak, and Akellare (among others). I'm leaning Mugaritz and Akellare, but could be convinced otherwise. Doing lunches at both, and pintxos in San Sebastian for late dinners those nights. Etxebarri is a definite betwen San Sebastian and Bilbao. Then, likely to hit one of the Guggenheim places in Bilbao, as well as pintxos there at night. Any further suggestions appreciated!
  14. Hit Payne's, Cozy Corner, and more over the past few days. Payne's is still the greatest sandwich in the world IMHO (chopped pork, hot sauce, slaw). See some photos I took last time I was in town at http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=paynes&w=59833804%40N00 Cozy Corner was impressive, especially the rib tips and SLICED BEEF SANDWICH (WHAT??? that's not Memphis BBQ! but it's good). Cozy Corner is an anomaly. One of the most heralded Memphis BBQ spots, but their style is totally atypical - sliced beef on a long seeded bun?? Cornish hen as the most famous item on the menu??? Crazy. But it's good. Real good. It had been a couple years since my last visit, so I was looking forward to sampling a good bit of the menu. We got the cornish hen, sliced beef sandwich, rib tips, chicken, and plenty of sides - bean, slaw, spaghetti, sweet potato pie. All good. My dad, who doesn't eat pork, yet loves trying to skirt that at local BBQ spots, declared this his favorite beef BBQ sandwich ever. It was deeep, dark, smoky and rich. Fabulous. Rib tips were awesome. So meaty and just the right amount of fat. Smoky, crisp bark, tender meat. Love it. The famous cornish hen was actually a bit dry, and probably our least favorite item on this outing. Photos at http://www.flickr.com/search/?w=59833804@N...y+corner&m=text Also hit Quick Chek for some good sandwiches, though they were out of muffaletta bread, which was what I was hoping for. And Blue Plate for breakfast, solid but far from spectacular. OK if you're in the neighborhood.
  15. get over to Payne's on Lamar ASAP for lunch - order the sandwich. another BBQ spot - Cozy Corner for cornish hen BBQ another good idea - Gus' Fried Chicken downtown
  16. Bourdain did mispronounce Grant Achatz, which I'm guessing was an intentional dig!
  17. Oh, I should mention that this year's meal included a surprise appearance from an Alinea cookbook recipe - the "dry caramel" with maldon sea salt. It was a fun starter for the evening. And the fennel grissini were not from the FL cookbook, just another complement to the sang royale cocktails I was serving (also not from FL).
  18. I just did a third annual "french laundry meal" for New Years. I continue to be impressed by this cookbook - the recipes are mostly challenging and require forethought/planning. It's a great learning experience. And the results are phenomenally good. Two dishes this year were particularly amazing - the chocolate veloute mentioned above, and the black sea bass with vanilla saffron sauce. Neither are especially "hard" - but they are time consuming and involve many interwoven parts. I also did the walnut cream and poached pear soup, the gruyere gougeres, the potato tasting with truffles, and the lemon sabayon tart. All very good, but not as spectacularly excellent as the above two. For rundowns of prior years efforts, you can see these photo albums - 2009: http://flickr.com/photos/kaplanbr/sets/72157612006921556/ 2008: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kaplanbr/sets...57603697458801/ "Peas and Carrots" (lobster crepes!) "Surf and Turf" (monkfish and braised oxtails!) "Coffee and Donuts" (cappucino semifreddo and donuts) "PB&J" (PB chocolate truffles and concord grape "jellies") one I called "Eggs" (white truffle custard w black truffle ragout) and "Chips and Dip" - a recipe I found online from Keller for fingerling chips and green goddess dip 2007: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kaplanbr/sets...57600210905325/ the amazing cones with salmon a truffle version of the "Chips and Dip" crab salad "Fish and Chips" PB&J and Coffee and Donuts
  19. I had lunch at FLIP today. Great little place, fun, interesting and flat out good food. 3rd day open and they are drawing big crowds that will not be disappointed.
  20. http://www.peachtreeroadfarmersmarket.com/Chef Linton Hopkins founded it. ← The market has grown nicely and is a great alternative to the Piedmont Park market (especially if you live in buckhead and enjoy the convenience of a parking lot). The H&F bakery booth is a major attraction, expect a long line unless you are there right when it opens.
  21. Glad you liked it. Here are the flickr phtos for anyone interested - http://flickr.com/search/?ss=2&w=59833804%...chef+liu&m=text Maf - banh mi is a great sandwich. For first timers, the BBQ pork or chicken is the "safest" - but the "dac biet" (I think that's what it's called) is what I'd recommend - it is a mix of meats, including pate, which adds a lot of depth.
  22. I recently did a day trip out to the area around Lexington and Henderson, TN, in between Nashville and Memphis, known for its whole hog BBQ traditions. Thanks to the Southern Foodways Alliance for the inspiration! See http://www.southernfoodways.com/oral_histo...R00_essay.shtml My favorite and what I think is the best keeper of the flame is Scott's in Lexington, nearly 50 years old. Great place. Great devotion to a seldom practiced art. About 15 miles away is Siler's Old Time BBQ, another fine spot to taste whole hog magic. There aren't many places left that take the traditions so seriously. Get your butt over though and try some BBQ!!! If you're ever driving down I40, the detour is a must. I also posted a detailed recap of my day of BBQ hunting on an Atlanta food blog - http://rowdyfood.typepad.com/rowdyblog/200...-hog-bbq-i.html - if you care for more detail on some photos.
  23. Alternatively, go get a manicure at Nails by Joann on Beaver Ruin at Indian Trail and ask her where to get good "Banh Mi". She is also good for directing you towards a good bowl of Pho. Update: I called her and asked. Joann says to go to Market 99 at buford Hwy, 8th & Square is the corner in the market they are on, look for a place called "Quoc Xuong". They have the very best one. ← That's Quoc Huong. 5150 Buford Hwy. They are definitely among the best. My other favorite is Lee's Bakery, closer in to town, 4005 Buford Hwy. See a few Quoc Huong photos at http://flickr.com/search/?q=banh&w=59833804%40N00
  24. I grew up in Memphis but was never much of a tamale fan until I moved to California. Southern tamales are a whole different beast than what most people think of when they hear the word. Thanks to the Southern Foodways Alliance, I discovered a few old spots in Corinth, MS to get my Southern tamale fix. Dilworth's is the real deal. Drive thru only. Friendly as can be. True Mississippi. The tamales here are the shape of thick long pencils, and the corn and spices and heat work wonders together. Go. Seriously. If you are anywhere in the vicinity of North Mississippi. Ace's wasn't open, and was looking pretty rough around the edges. Locals report it's gone downhill. PJ's #2 wrapped up our brief tamale tour, a roadside trailer basically. Not quite as good as Dilworth's, but still worth a stop. Check out lots of cool photos I took in my flickr Memphis set - http://flickr.com/photos/kaplanbr/sets/72157600219294361/
  25. An ex-Californian now living in Atlanta, we try to get back once a year or so to visit friends and do all the wonderful things we love to do around San Francisco. This trip was great, beautiful weather, great hiking, lots of great food. First, a quick rundown of most of the food we ate, then a detailed trip report. If you want to see a version of this with photos embedded (too much trouble here), you can go to http://www.atlantacuisine.com/cgi-bin/efor...8723088/142#142 and scroll down to where you start seeing photos. OR, if you want some photo overload, not just food, but also flora and fauna, check out my flickr photoset at http://flickr.com/photos/kaplanbr/sets/72157604543710396/ Super way good highly recommended: Sushiran (Sausalito) - better than ever, incredible meal Santa Ramen (San Mateo) - better than ever, the kurobuta pork rocks Fish (Sausalito) - great place on the water, northern california all the way A16 (San Francisco) - on par with Delfina, which is high praise in my book Los Amigos Taqueria (Pescadero) - wow carnitas taco from a gas station, gotta love it Very good, recommeneded: Pancho Villa (San Mateo) - my old standby, always good Duarte's (Pescadero) - the "half and half" soup rocks, had a great "Arrogant Bastard" on tap, the pie - meh Boulange de Polk (San Francisco) - a bit of France in San Francisco Arcangeli Grocery (Pescadero) - two words .... artichoke bread Ciao Bella (lots o places) - the lychee moscato gelato was excellent, but others not so great, so taste before you buy Tartine (San Francisco) - not as good this time as in past, probably because we hit it at the end of the day and things had been sitting around for a while Good, worth a stop if you're nearby and in the mood: Ti Couze (San Francisco) - fun place, good savory crepes, nice hard ciders to drink Flying Fish Grill (Half Moon Bay) - good fish tacos and fish and chips, always a nice stop on the way to the beach Taqueria San Jose (San Francisco) - decent al pastor, carne asada not so great Ton Kiang (San Francisco) - good dim sum, not quite as good as I remember it though Noodle Shop (San Mateo) - good xiao long bao, very rich, the opposite of delicate Boudin (San Francisco) - chowder in the sourdough bread bowl is always good Good, but wouldn't recommend it: Quince (San Francisco) - the food was good to very good, but the service had serious issues - too snooty yet awkward at the same time Taqueria La Corneta (Burlingame) - doesn't compare to others Ferry Plaza bits and pieces: Blue Bottle Coffee - awesome "gibraltar" AKA "cortado", but the drip coffee wasn't my cup o tea Fatted Calf - others had highly recommended the fegatelli, I wasn't impressed (everything else looked good though) Cowgirl Creamery - simply excellent cheese shop, as always Lulu - great house made potato chips Acme - excellent bread, as always at the farmers market, so many amazing wonderful local things, this is what makes eating in california great Now the detailed report... (photo embedded version linked to above) Day 1: We arrived into SFO around 11am, and of course had to go straight for burritos first thing. Pancho Villa in San Mateo used to be my local taco and burrito spot. They use good fresh ingredients, have an outstanding salsa bar, and very good carnitas (my favorite). A trip without Pancho Villa just doesn't seem right, and we got there for lunch on our very first day before hanging out with friends in Central Park in San Mateo. Always a good time. Day 2: The next morning, we were headed up to Mt Tam for a hike, and decided to drop in to Ton Kiang for dim sum on the way up. It was still early, so there was no wait. We ate a LOT of food, mostly seafood dim sum - shrimp, calamari, oysters, softshell crab. All good, but didn't wow me as it had in the past. We hiked most of the day around Mt Tam, starting at Stinson Beach, taking the Dipsea Trail to Steep Ravine, up, and then back down on Matt Davis Trail. Gorgeous views, amazing wildflowers, probably my favorite hike in the Bay Area. Post hike, we hit another of my favorites, meeting up with friends at Sushi Ran in Sausalito. Our last trip there wasn't quite as good as other meals before it, but this one blew them all away. Excellent sushi, cooked dishes, exquisitely prepared vegetables for our non-fish eating friend, awesome meal. Day 3: A take it easy day, enjoying the local parks, then hitting another local favorite which was not so great last time but had recently moved to a new (much larger and nicer) location - Santa Ramen. Better than ever - if you like soup (who doesn't?) you need to visit Santa some day. I made a quick solo trip out for some dumplings later that day when my kids were on a "playdate" - Noodle House in San Mateo makes some very good XLB, hearty, lots of soup inside which is my first criteria for good XLB. The dumpling itself may have been a bit too thick, but these were very enjoyable - better than what I've had in Atlanta at Chef Liu and Frank Ma's. Day 4: Out to the coast, via Half Moon Bay. An early lunch at another old standy, the Flying Fish Grill. Good seafood shack on the side of the road always hits the spot. Had a great time at the beach at Pillar Point with the kids, then headed on down towards Pescadero, home to Arcangeli grocery, Los Amigos taqueria, Duarte's tavern, Harley Farms goats, Phipps Country Store for beans, and not very much else. Very high quality to quantity ratio!!! We hit Harley, Phipps, and Arcangeli before heading further down the coast to Costanoa, and came back by on the way up the next day for Duarte's and Los Amigos. Harley and Phipps are both great stops with kids (or without), and the bread at Arcangeli is always great, especially if you are lucky enough to get it warm out of the oven (or buy the half-baked and take it home with you). Explored and spent the night in a cabin at Costanoa, which is a lovely spot, especially with kids. Tons of hummingbirds buzzing the flowers, great views, nice outdoor hot tub, fires for roasting s'mores. Really great. We were lucky in that it was not crowded at all, we nearly had all that to ourselves. Day 5: Quick breakfast at Costanoa (surprisingly good) then down the road to Ano Nuevo for a hike out to see the elephant seals. Another lovely walk, lots of interesting animal discoveries along the way, and then the "weaners" - the young seals that stay behind for a while after the adults have left. Drove back up to Pescadero afterwards for some grub. Duarte's was very good, great green pepper and artichoke soup (half and half), nice bread and crab melt sandwich, VERY good Arrogant Bastard beer on tap! I was pretty full, but had to hit Los Amigos across the street since I had heard good things. The carnitas taco there is probably the best I've ever had. Kept on driving up the coast, all the way to San Francisco. Checked in to the Argonaut hotel down by Ghirardelli Square (cool place!), then headed out to meet friends for dinner at Ti Couz and a walk around the neighborhood there with its crazy blend of cultures (Indian ice cream, trendy shops, taco shops, etc.). Ti Couz hit the spot. It's not the best place ever, but they serve really good crepes, have a nice cider selection, and make surprisingly good and unique salads. Then the debate - dessert crepes at Ti Couz? Rose ice cream down the street?? Pastries at Tartine??? We opted for Tartine, and I must say it was probably not the best time of day to go there - everything was delicious, but I could tell the banana cream pie had been sitting around a bit too long. Still loved it of course. Day 6: Lots of fun today... Ferry Plaza to pick up food for a picnic, over the Golden Gate Bridge to the Bay Area Discovery Museum (GREAT place for kids 7 and under), out to the Tennessee Valley for a hike to the beach, then a fabulous dinner at Fish in Sausalito. Fish is everything right about Northern California, amazing quality ingredients, simple but excellent preparation, very nice beer and wine selection, beautiful view and casual feel. Everything we had was delicious and photo-worthy. Our friends took us up the road to Ciao Bella in Corte Madera for some gelato. I must say that the lychee moscato was outstanding, a few others I tasted were just so-so. Day 7: Vacation in Northern California is tough! So much to see, do, eat... Took the kids for breakfast at La Boulange de Polk for a bit of France in San Francisco. It was great. Then we did the cablecar ride up Hyde Street over to Chinatown, which is almost as good as a ride at Disney, certainly with better views. Explored Chinatown and North Beach, then headed over to A16 for an awesome Italian lunch before hitting the beach at Crissy Field on a gorgeous day. Finally, headed out down to Hillsborough to stay with friends again. Our friend Tim treated us to a very nice bottle of Turley Zinfandel. Another great day. Day 8: Saturday again. Since we were up early anyway, we headed back in to the city for the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. One of my favorite places in the whole world. Amazing local stuff. Spring is a nice season to be there as well - no tomatos or pluots yet, but great greens, flowers, and the year-round staples. A "gibraltar" at Blue Bottle lived up to the hype, and their drip coffee was certainly photogenic if not my taste exactly. So many other amazing things to taste, buy, gawk at. Had a nice tamale at Primavera among other delights. After the Ferry Plaza, we scooted across town to meet some other friends at the playground at Golden Gate Park. What a great place, kids going wild and having a blast. We even got to watch a few minutes of lawn bowling across the street. Hit Taqueria San Jose for lunch in the Mission - apparently Batali called this his favorite spot, and while it was very good, and wouldn't say it was the best by any means. Al Pastor was the highlight. Back to Hillsborough to clean up before heading back in to the city for dinner at Quince. I had high expectations, that is always my downfall. We had a good meal, but there were lots of service letdowns, and the meal overall simply didn't measure up to meals I've had at Delfina or Chez Panisse Cafe or Zuni (or Fish or A16 earlier in the trip). No photos of this one, just as well I guess. The evening started with us arriving early and letting them know we'd be walking around the neighborhood if something opened up. There is a lovely park with good views just up the street, and Japantown is a few blocks away - we hit an art gallery (pop Japanime art). Our reservation time came and went with us waiting on the sidewalk outside the restaurant. They don't have a bar or even an entry way for that matter. The hostess did ask if she could get us anything as the minutes ticked away - we weren't sure if she was actually offering to comp us a drink - and we ordered some nice glasses of wine. I noticed that they had a bottle of the Poire Authentique we had at Ti Couz at more than double the price! Finally seated, our waiter finally came over to talk, then rushed off in the middle of walking through the menu to see to someone else more important than us. He had some confusion also on some of the changes to the menu (vs one that was posted outside) as they had run out of a few dishes as the night progressed (we had an 8:30 reservation and were seated shortly after 9pm). We ordered, and got a nice amuse of lobster over a green garlic puree (or was it green onion?). When the waiters brought out course one, there was much confusion and deliberation over setting down plates in front of the right person at the exact right time, with one poor guy looking desperately at another as he lowered and raised and lowered and raised the dish a few times before finally setting it down. Humorous, and a bit sad! The overall air of the restaurant managed to be both snooty and awkward, which is a hard combination to achieve. Even the sommelier wasn't much help as I asked about a few wines - we ended up with a Qupe Syrah and nice gruner veltliner that tasted a lot like a de-fizzed champagne. And fortunately, I did think the food was pretty good. I had a very nice tagliatelle with veal and mushroom ragu. And I loved the desserts actually, though my wife didn't care for them. Oh well, you win some, you lose some. Still a nice evening out with friends to wrap up our trip. Day 9: Simply packing, a quick trip down Burlingame Avenue for a sub-par lunch at La Corneta, then off to the airport. All in all, a fabulous, amazing, wonderful time back in the Bay Area.
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