Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Top 10 Tastes of California


tupac17616
 Share

Recommended Posts

Just a small note on some logistics--- Tartine and Mitchell's Ice Cream are close by together in the Mission district so they could be lumped together.  It's It ice cream bars are typically sold in the frozen case of small corner convenience stores or at gas stations.  I'm not sure if they are down in LA or not but I'd check the freezer case at each gas station you  hit.  You might run across them this way.

Roughly how many lunches and dinners do you think you'll have in SF in addition to the places you already have reservations for?  And can you recap what you have reservations for in the Bay Area so far?

Thanks, ludja. That info about Tartine & Mitchell's is quite helpful. Figuring out where the places on our list are in relation to one another is tough. Lumping the places together in certain neighborhoods would be great, as my dad has expressed interest in doing a "food crawl" in San Francisco, similar to those I've taken him on in NYC, where I just pick a neighborhood and take him to place after place grabbing small bites at each one.

The most likely scenario will be one late night, one full day and one early morning in San Francisco itself, with more time in the bay area on the front end.

Tuesday night after dinner at Manresa we'll probably spend the night in the Palo Alto area. Wednesday during the day I'll be checking out Stanford. Wednesday night is the 6:30 reservation at Chez Panisse in Berkeley. Then we'll probably drive into our (yet-to-be-booked) hotel in SF. That way, we have late Wednesday, all day Thursday, and very early Friday morning in SF (our flight is at 10:30ish, so we'll be returning the rental car around 9:00, but ideally we'd hit a nice breakfast spot before then :wink: ). So the only way we wouldn't have the entire day Thursday in SF is if The French Laundry has a cancellation for Thursday and we do that. There's no way to know the odds of that happening, though, so we're definitely looking at the SF options.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If you stay in the commodore hotel, you'll be a block away from fleur de lys. Plus, in the downstairs they have a pretty good restaurant. I strongly suggest you stay in a boutique hotel rather than one of the big corporate ones, they are much more unique, most are very nice, and some come with nice little extras.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Can you explain what was so bad about SLJ?  I'd seen some kind of berry cake or some sort on their website that looked quite good, but with words like that coming from the Official eGullet Queen of All Things Sweet, maybe I should re-think. :smile:

I think they are known for their mile-high cakes covered with (what I assume to be very sweet)frosting, which I'm not really into, so I got the tarte tartin instead. (Apparently, the frostings are very sweet, as I read on EG after our trip.) The tarte tartin was completely burned black and the caramel was really bitter. We each took a bite, but it was unedible. Henry got a plain croissant (which every decent bakery should be able to do well, right?) and it was the driest, breadiest croissant he's ever eaten. The croissants from Safeway are better, seriously. We boxed up both items and threw them away once we got out the store.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As for SLJ, I usually go there late at night for their cakes, which are rather sweet. The cakes are definitely NOT your savory type of desserts. SLJ does make a really good trifle with lots of whole berries and whipped cream, light, airy, no calories ... :rolleyes:

tupac, I did an amazing thing: I placed a phone call to Jar restaurant and actually talked to a live hostess and asked her some questions about the Mozarella Monday. Here's the lowdown:

M.M. is continuing, with or without Nancy Silverton. "But her cohorts will be there," said the hostess.

M.M. is only served at the bar area. That includes the bar itself and a little bar alcove area that has a few tables. Not in the main dining area.

M.M. does NOT take reservations. It's first-come, first-serve. So, that reservation for Jar on Monday night is only good for the main dining area and not M.M.

If M.M. is still on your schedule, there's two other things for you to consider: Los Angeles Rush Hour Traffic and the all-day drive to Palo Alto/Manresa on Tuesday. From Pasadena to Jar, it can take at least one hour minimum driving time. I'm basing that time on my driving time from downtown LA to that area of the Beverly Center shopping area. During LA rush hour, you might experience LA road rage. You may not want that, it's up to you. Second, you probably want to be rested for your Manresa dining experience. If that's the case, a local Monday night dinner in Pasadena or one of the nearby neighborhoods (even downtown LA) is not a bad option. Manresa is one place you don't want to go there tired.

I hope that clarifies the M.M. situation. I wanted to make sure you got the correct information, tupac.

Russell J. Wong aka "rjwong"

Food and I, we go way back ...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've been trying to stay out of this, but here I am again. rjwong has made some good points. I'd do everything on the west side on Saturday and Sunday. Spago makes sense to me on Saturday night. Maybe lighten it up a little and stay closer to Pasadena on Monday.

On Tuesday, if you don't feel like driving up the 101, I would drive to the Burbank airport (don't they call it Bob Hope now?), dump the car, and fly up to San Jose. Even with the current airport hassles, you are going to save a lot of time and you aren't missing anything by not driving up the I-5. You can be in San Jose by noon, and find something to do until Manresa.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On Tuesday, if you don't feel like driving up the 101, I would drive to the Burbank airport (don't they call it Bob Hope now?), dump the car, and fly up to San Jose.  Even with the current airport hassles, you are going to save a lot of time and you aren't missing anything by not driving up the I-5.  You can be in San Jose by noon, and find something to do until Manresa.

I don't think this will be any faster. A friend just told me that it took him over 8 hours of overhead (security checkpoint delay, flight cancellation and delay, take-off delay, etc.) for a 2 hour flight from Chicago to Atlanta.

Going into Burbank and fly: 1 hour to dump the car and get to the terminal, 2 hour to get through security check, you may have a delayed or cancelled flight, you may have a take-off delay, 1 hour flight time, land at San Jose, another hour to get to the rental car counter and parking lot... trading this for a 6 hour drive via I-5. I don't think the time saving (1 to 2 hour if all goes well) is all that much.

Edited by hzrt8w (log)
W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
Link to comment
Share on other sites

On Tuesday, if you don't feel like driving up the 101, I would drive to the Burbank airport (don't they call it Bob Hope now?), dump the car, and fly up to San Jose.  Even with the current airport hassles, you are going to save a lot of time and you aren't missing anything by not driving up the I-5.  You can be in San Jose by noon, and find something to do until Manresa.

I don't think this will be any faster. A friend just told me that it took him over 8 hours of overhead (security checkpoint delay, flight cancellation and delay, take-off delay, etc.) for a 2 hour flight from Chicago to Atlanta.

Going into Burbank and fly: 1 hour to dump the car and get to the terminal, 2 hour to get through security check, you may have a delayed or cancelled flight, you may have a take-way delay, 1 hour flight time, land at San Jose, another hour to get to the rental car counter and parking lot... trading this for a 6 hour drive via I-5. I don't think the time saving (1 to 2 hour if all goes well) is all that much.

Burbank/Bob Hope Airport is not LAX!! Carlsbad is offering a viable option, even with the current situation. Southwest Airlines is offering special one-way trips from Burbank to San Jose for $49 with a 14-day advance purchase. tupac has about 2-3 days left to take advantage of that offer. And there are several flights offered nearly every hour, even flights at 11 a.m., 12 noon, etc. ... Driving from Pasadena to Burbank/Bob Hope Airport takes about 30 minutes. This option is worth looking into, tupac ...

BTW, Ah Leung, you can fly from Sacramento down to Burbank for $49 as well with that same special offer. How about some yum cha?? :biggrin:

Russell J. Wong aka "rjwong"

Food and I, we go way back ...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

...

SF AREA

Ferry Building Marketplace (this one is basically a sure thing)

Tartine (this place looks really good)

Citizen Cake (My dad and I both have huge sweet tooths)

XOX Truffles

Bay Bread Boulangerie

Mitchell’s Ice Cream

It’s It Ice Cream Cookie Sandwich (where to find one?)

Tadich Grill (cioppino)

Fish

Koi Palace

Mayflower

Fook Yuen

Zen Peninsula

Yank Sing

Golden Gate Bakery

AA Bakery

Joy Luck Place

Aziza (this one looks interesting)

Canteen (only considering for breakfast)

Piperade

Jardiniere

Bix

...

Incanto

Quince

A16

...

...

The most likely scenario will be one late night, one full day and one early morning in San Francisco itself, with more time in the bay area on the front end. 

Tuesday night after dinner at Manresa we'll probably spend the night in the Palo Alto area.  Wednesday during the day I'll be checking out Stanford.  Wednesday night is the 6:30 reservation at Chez Panisse in Berkeley.  Then we'll probably drive into our (yet-to-be-booked) hotel in SF.  That way, we have late Wednesday, all day Thursday, and very early Friday morning in SF (our flight is at 10:30ish, so we'll be returning the rental car around 9:00, but ideally we'd hit a nice breakfast spot before then  :wink: ).  So the only way we wouldn't have the entire day Thursday in SF is if The French Laundry has a cancellation for Thursday and we do that.  There's no way to know the odds of that happening, though, so we're definitely looking at the SF options.

Some things could depend on where you get your hotel, but basically if you want to get dim sum and go to the Ferry Building those will each take up a chunk of the day. You could go to Tartine or Bay Bread Boulangeries early in the am; maybe even on the day you leave depending on the timing. If you get the TFL reservations then it seems that would pretty much fill up the day.

If you don't get reservations for TFL then I would tend to pick from the more 'casual' places you have listed. (this would be a personal preference for me given the meals at Manresa and Chez Panisee). Your dinner reservation at Chez Panisse is early but if you get up there with time to spare in advance you can have a nice glass of wine, cocktail or innovative non-alcoholic drink beforehand, nextdoor at Cesar's; a nice, 'hip' tapas place next door to Chez Panisse. If you want to do something back in SF after the CP dinner that might depend on where you're staying.

From the list of the more casual places you have listed:

Aziza (this one looks interesting)

Canteen (only considering for breakfast)

Piperade

Jardiniere

Bix

...

Incanto

Quince

A16

...

I've been to all except Incanto and Azizia. Of that list, Jardiniere is more formal than the others. I very much enjoyed a celebratory meal there and the atmosphere was nice but it has been over 6 years since I've been there so can't comment on it now. It would be interesting if someone could relate a recent experience there.

Between Quince and A16, I would probably pick Quince as it is a bit more formal and the food we've had twice there has been flawless. (I can't do a direct Incanto/Quince comparison but from what I've read they are probably equivialent in quality even if the style may be somewhat different).

I"m a fan of Chef Gerald Hirigoyen and like his restaurant, Piperade. I've been wanting to try Azizia after reading people's reviews.

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

First....why not UC Berkeley?, there really is no reason to go to Stanfurd (I assume you're shooting for grad school?), and I've heard the environment is a lot better for grads here than at Stanfurd (undergrads might be a little different, but their football team sucks right now, and the sandstone buildings look like they're made out of mud). [...] There are of course many more things to put down, and some would argue over what to taste, but really you just need to go with your gut and take some chances when you're out driving around.

I may also stop by UC Berkeley. They are also right near the top in my field of interest (mechanical engineering). Basically, I am perhaps the most indecisive people on the planet, so I figured I should limit my options from the start. Right now, I'm only considering MIT, CalTech, Stanford, and Columbia (where I go now). Maybe I should re-consider and add UC Berkeley into the mix...

By the way, your recommendation to just go with my gut and take some chances as we drive around is a good one. Having every single detail of the trip planned out would be incredibly lame. :cool:

If you stop by UC Berkeley, take a trip to Berkeley Bowl, and Monterey Market, if you have time. Parking is horrendous at the Bowl, but the place is amazing. You could see all the stuff you would have available to you for cooking, if you went to UC Berkeley. :wink:

Christine

Link to comment
Share on other sites

BTW, Ah Leung, you can fly from Sacramento down to Burbank for $49 as well with that same special offer. How about some yum cha??  :biggrin:

Naw... There are no good yum cha places in Burbank! :wink:

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
Link to comment
Share on other sites

only a little more than a week to go tupac! have you finalized any of your decisions? don't feel defensive, i totally understand the "eyes bigger than stomach" syndrome...also in your case the eyes are bigger than your schedule :biggrin: . i'm sure you'll be happy with most any of the choices on your list. just have a good time and don't sweat it.

have fun checking out schools...again, we hope the small taste of the bay area or california in general will cause you to want a bigger chunk and you decide to attend grad school out here.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

[...] in your case the eyes are bigger than your schedule [...]

You can say that again :biggrin: I am really excited about the trip, as it's just right around the corner.

I'm not too worried about planning everything out right now, though. I think we'll mainly just go with our gut feeling about what we feel like eating on a given day. I'll make a few more reservations just in case, but I don't want to give us a whole itenerary or anything. The lack of spontaneity would suck the fun right out of it. Here is my current (way longer than necessary) list of places we may check out:

LOS ANGELES AREA

Lucques (already have reservation for Sunday Supper)

Athenaeum at CalTech (invited by the school)

Tacos Baja Ensenada

El Parian

Langer’s

Philippe’s

Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles

Pie n’ Burger (more interested in the pie than the burger)

Hatfield’s

Grace

Josie

Table 8 (salt-crusted porterhouse for 2. My dad is a meat guy.)

Jar (not interested in regular menu, but are post-Silverton Mozzarella Mondays still worth it?)

Spago

Providence (will my dad hate this place if he doesn't like stronger flavored fish or raw fish? He loves shrimp, lobster, scallops, oysters. Enjoys salmon and mild white fleshed fish like snapper/bass. Hates rare tuna. Doesn't like clams or mussels... Also, is the dessert tasting menu any good?)

Sona

EuroPane

Susina Bakery

Jinn Patisserie

Boule

Frances Bakery

Bread Bar

Sweet Lady Jane

La Brea Bakery

Kee Wah Chinese Bakery

Fosselman’s

Cheese Store of Beverly Hills

Gioia Cheese Company

General question: How far in advance do the top LA restaurants require one to make reservations? I find it odd that here I am less than ten days from the trip and there are tons of options on OpenTable still. In NYC I'm used to many restaurants taking reservations up to a month or two in advance. Not that I think one city's situation is better than the other. I just want to better understand what dining in LA is like. I don't want to think of it as a bad sign or a lack of popularity that many restaurants still have availability, even for a Saturday night. Please enlighten me on this point if possible.

Another question: What neighborhood or area of LA would you recommend for a food crawl, where we just pop into several different places and grab something small at each?

BETWEEN LA & SF

In-n-Out Burger (basically a sure thing)

Tacos (breakfast/regular/fish)

La Super Rica (doubtful as they don’t open til 11am) -- Santa Barbara

Lilly’s Taqueria (ditto) -- SB

Taqueria El Bajio (this one looks good) -- SB

Rose Café -- SB

Minnow Café – SB

Pete’s Pierside Café -- Avila Beach

Cabo San Luis -- San Luis Obispo

Taco Temple -- Morro Bay

Chapala Restaurant -- MB

Ruddell’s Smokehouse -- Cayucos

California Market -- Carmel

Pie & Ice Cream

Avila Valley Barn -- San Luis Obispo

Linn’s Fruit Bin -- Cambria

Gizdich Ranch -- Watsonville

Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream -- Arroyo Grande

Costa de Oro Winery -- Santa Maria

Swanton Berry Farm -- Davenport

Love Apple Farm (heirloom tomatoes) -- Ben Lomond

Cracked Crab -- Pismo Beach

Splash Café -- PB

Big Sky Café -- San Luis Obispo

Giant Artichoke -- Castroville

SAN FRANCISCO AREA

Manresa (already have reservation for Grand Tasting Menu)

Chez Panisse (already have reservation downstairs)

Ferry Building Marketplace (basically a sure thing)

Berkeley Bowl

Tartine

Bay Bread Boulangerie

XOX Truffles

Citizen Cake

Mitchell’s Ice Cream

It’s It Ice Cream Cookie Sandwich

Tadich Grill

Koi Palace

Yank Sing

Golden Gate Bakery

AA Bakery

Aziza

Piperade

Canteen (only considering for breakfast)

The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton ("salt-and-pepper" tasting menu)

Fleur de Lys

Incanto

Quince

A16

Risorante Milano (only for zabaglione, not for dinner)

The French Laundry (hopefully the cancellation gods are on my side)

Ad Hoc (if it will be open yet)

Couple of questions:

What area of San Francisco would be best for a food crawl, popping in at several different places to grab something small?

Also, what kind of options for good food are open 24 hrs in the SF Bay area?

And where would you recommend for a very early (~7-ish) weekday breakfast?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My first recommendation would be to attend the African Marketplace Festival, which will have food booths from various African/Caribbean restaurants. It will be going on every week-end from now through Labor Day. Here are some pictures I took (some are of me) from the 2003 festival. I'm going again this week-end.

For Ethiopean food, try Meals by Genet on Fairfax, and for Izakaya Japanese food, try Mushu in Torrance or Santa Monica - one of my favorite dining experiences. My sister will be visiting from Austin in a couple of weeks, and these are places I would take her. I was in San Antonio about a year ago and had a good experience at Cajun or Creole restaurant on the riverwalk.

The Sunset Junction Street Fair will be going on while you are here, but it's not a great place for food, although The Cramps will be performing on Sunday at 9:00 p.m.

I've done food crawls in Artesian (Little India), Japantown, Sawtelle (north of Olympic), Abbot Kinney in Venice, Melrose, and Main Street in Santa Monica. It depends on what kind of food you want. I also like Sunset Plaza on Sunset Blvd, which is popular with Euro tourists.

Edited by LarsTheo (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Jar (not interested in regular menu, but are post-Silverton Mozzarella Mondays still worth it?)

IMO, no.

Providence (will my dad hate this place if he doesn't like stronger flavored fish or raw fish? He loves shrimp, lobster, scallops, oysters. Enjoys salmon and mild white fleshed fish like snapper/bass. Hates rare tuna. Doesn't like clams or mussels...  Also, is the dessert tasting menu any good?)

I'm certain Providence can accommodate your father. tupac, do you mean "no clams", as in chowda'?? And yes, the dessert tasting menu is really good. Adrian tends to do savory desserts. Mind you, his sweet "breakfast" dessert was outstanding!

General question: How far in advance do the top LA restaurants require one to make reservations? I find it odd that here I am less than ten days from the trip and there are tons of options on OpenTable still. In NYC I'm used to many restaurants taking reservations up to a month or two in advance. Not that I think one city's situation is better than the other. I just want to better understand what dining in LA is like. I don't want to think of it as a bad sign or a lack of popularity that many restaurants still have availability, even for a Saturday night. Please enlighten me on this point if possible.

Los Angeles is different from NYC. There are not as many diners in LA as one would expect. The "buzz and the scene" is a reality in LA. I remember reading in the LA Times how the LA restaurants are all trying to get the business of the same 500 customers who dine regularly. And everything is really spread out. Places are not crammed together as in Manhattan (so I've heard). Also, the summer months tend to be slow. Things will pick up in the fall, and then comes Thanksgiving & the holiday season ...

Another question: What neighborhood or area of LA would you recommend for a food crawl, where we just pop into several different places and grab something small at each?

Old Town Pasadena, Hollywood, Thai Town, Koreatown, Little Tokyo in downtown LA, Farmer's Market/The Grove on Fairfax & 3rd, Restaurant Row (La Cienega Blvd. & the Beverly Center) ... This probably sounds more touristy than anything else. Mind you, you might want to source some items yourself at a farmer's market & Gioia Cheese. The Hollywood farmers' market opens on Sun. morning. And if you want the burricotti, that will have to be ordered ahead of time from Gioia Cheese and picked up at their headquarters in South El Monte.

Russell J. Wong aka "rjwong"

Food and I, we go way back ...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...
just to give this a bump...tupac, where are you?  you should be tooling up the 101 or 5 right about now and we're waiting for an update on your l.a. meals!

hope you're having a good time with your dad.

Back to Texas last night. Back to NYC this afternoon. I am insanely tired. But, oh, what a trip. Reports, pictures, etc, still to come...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

just to give this a bump...tupac, where are you?  you should be tooling up the 101 or 5 right about now and we're waiting for an update on your l.a. meals!

hope you're having a good time with your dad.

Back to Texas last night. Back to NYC this afternoon. I am insanely tired. But, oh, what a trip. Reports, pictures, etc, still to come...

Uhh, the excitement..

We are leaving for Los Angeles tuesday morning and will be taking a route similar to yours. Hope to catch a preview here....

Link to comment
Share on other sites

just to give this a bump...tupac, where are you?  you should be tooling up the 101 or 5 right about now and we're waiting for an update on your l.a. meals!

hope you're having a good time with your dad.

Back to Texas last night. Back to NYC this afternoon. I am insanely tired. But, oh, what a trip. Reports, pictures, etc, still to come...

Uhh, the excitement..

We are leaving for Los Angeles tuesday morning and will be taking a route similar to yours. Hope to catch a preview here....

Aww, man. If I was a bit more on top of things, I could provide pictures, commentary, the works for our LA stops. Hopefully the Cliff's Notes version will be of some help:

-- Salt-Crusted Porterhouse Steak for 2 at Table 8 was outstanding

-- Sweet Lady Jane was incredibly mediocre. I wouldn't go back.

-- Roscoe's Chicken & Waffles was delicious. Would definitely return.

-- Jin Patisserie in Venice was good, but not great, and not worth going out of your way for.

-- Boule bakery was wonderful. Pistacho eclair, pistacho & meyer lemon macarons, a selection of 12 chocolates, all delicious. This was my favorite food stop in LA.

-- Lucques was a solid meal, but service and ambience were lacking, IMO.

-- EuroPane in Pasadena had wonderful croissants

-- Pie n Burger in Pasadena was not bad. Pie was very good. But I thought the burger was inferior to In-n-Out.

By the way, if your path takes you anywhere near Los Gatos, I would highly (highly) recommend Manresa. Our grand tasting menu there was simply incredible. Arguably the best restaurant meal I've ever had.

Also, Chez Panisse in Berkerley was wonderful.

Tartine in San Francisco was also very good, and turned out to be my favorite food stop in SF.

I could keep going, but am unsure of your specific path, and don't want to bore you...

Wherever your travels end up taking you, have a great trip! And be sure to report back :cool:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Aww, man.  If I was a bit more on top of things, I could provide pictures, commentary, the works for our LA stops.  Hopefully the Cliff's Notes version will be of some help:

Hey! Tupac's back! ... and I mean the eGer tupac17616, not the other one ...

I could keep going, but am unsure of your specific path, and don't want to bore you...

Keep going! We won't stop you. Who says you're boring?

-- Salt-Crusted Porterhouse Steak for 2 at Table 8 was outstanding

-- Sweet Lady Jane was incredibly mediocre.  I wouldn't go back.

-- Roscoe's Chicken & Waffles was delicious.  Would definitely return.

-- Jin Patisserie in Venice was good, but not great, and not worth going out of your way for.

-- Boule bakery was wonderful.  Pistacho eclair, pistacho & meyer lemon macarons, a selection of 12 chocolates, all delicious.  This was my favorite food stop in LA.

-- Lucques was a solid meal, but service and ambience were lacking, IMO.

-- EuroPane in Pasadena had wonderful croissants

-- Pie n Burger in Pasadena was not bad.  Pie was very good.  But I thought the burger was inferior to In-n-Out.

Table 8, that's on Melrose Ave., with chef Govind Armstrong, right?

SLJ was that bad, ehh?? I might have to re-evaluate my taste buds on that place.

What did you two order at Roscoe's? Scoe's #1? Herb's #3?

Did you try any sorbets at Boule?

Pasadena has a few good places tucked in there. Were you surprised?

By the way, if your path takes you anywhere near Los Gatos, I would highly (highly) recommend Manresa.  Our grand tasting menu there was simply incredible.  Arguably the best restaurant meal I've ever had.

Also, Chez Panisse in Berkerley was wonderful.

Tartine in San Francisco was also very good, and turned out to be my favorite food stop in SF.

You do have photos et al.? It looks like you didn't make it to The French Laundry, ehh??

Russell J. Wong aka "rjwong"

Food and I, we go way back ...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I could keep going, but am unsure of your specific path, and don't want to bore you...

Well, I guess, when you have time.................

WE WANT IT ALL ! :rolleyes:

From restaurants, to schools to Dad's take to scenery............

OK, maybe you need to do another 'retrospective' blog on this one.......... :wink:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

WE WANT IT ALL !  :rolleyes:

Such a demanding crowd! :raz:

Well, if I don't get this thing started, I'll never finish, so I'd better get crackin'. It seems ImageGullet fills up quicker than I realized, so I'll be playing with the image sizes a bit in the posts, and this will be the trial run. That also means I won't be posting many of the beautiful pictures of the scenery, the two school campuses, etc. Suffice it to say we both thought California in general was an incredibly beautiful place. Especially Santa Barbara and the drive up the Pacific Coast Highway. We both thought those were the highlights, scenery-wise.

Anyway, without further ado, here's our California trip, in a (very big :biggrin: ) nutshell:

DAY 1 -- Saturday

After an uneventful (and, thankfully, direct) flight from San Antonio to LA, we find ourselves in the City of Angels for the first time. Our first stop is at the hotel in Pasadena to unload our bags and relax for a minute. But we didn't (or at least I didn't :wink: ) come here to relax, so pretty soon it's time to hit the LA night.

There are dinner options aplenty; the city is our oyster after the 4,000+ different recommendations I feel like I've gotten for this trip. Somehow, we'd narrowed the field for tonight's dinner to four: Providence, Hatfield's, Grace and Table 8.

Providence would undoubtedly have been my choice had I been solo. A place whose strength lies in its tasting menu, Saturday was the only appealing night for such a meal, as Sunday we already had plans and Monday would be the night before Manresa. I wanted to be ready for Manresa. Providence will be a definite stop the next time I am in LA, though.

Hatfield's and Grace both looked quite good to me. In fact, they looked practically indistinguishable, both serving up very approachable New American food in a somewhat casual setting. My dad thought both menus were appealing as well, but tonight, the man had steak on his mind. Which brought us to...

TABLE 8

I knew this place would be a must-stop for us from the moment I read about a certain dish that is not listed on the menu here, but is a house specialty: Salt-Crusted Porterhouse Steak for 2. You see, my dad is a steak guy. Sure, he'll eat other foods. He'll enjoy other foods. But not like steak. Any placement of said meat on a plate before his eyes renders all side dishes futile.

Once I'd mentioned this particular steak at Table 8 to him a few weeks back, I knew it would be downrght mean for us not to make this a stop in our LA culinary adventures. So in the end, I left the choice of restaurants up to him, and off we were to Table 8.

We walked in a few minutes after 8:00pm. The place is barely 20% full, if that. I'm a bit worried, as a quiet restaurant is one thing, but an empty one is quite another. Brushing my worries aside, we stroll up the the hostess stand and grab a table for 2. A spacious corner table with a nice view of the place. Some bread and tapenade arrive while we peruse the menus. We take a look at the cocktail menu, which skews a bit too vodka-centric, so we pass on the drinks and just stick with water. Several minutes later, our appetizers arrive.

Calamari with Clams, Chorizo, Cranberry Beans & Salsa Verde ($12)

gallery_18974_3556_5282.jpg

My dad enjoyed this very much. He also thought the wording of the dish on the menu was important for less adventurous diners. If it had been "Clams with Calamari...", he said he wouldn't have ordered it. Interesting. Clever on the restaurant's part, then, I suppose. After all, the calamari were no more plentiful than the clams. Anyhoo, wanting to save room for the steak that was to follow, he passed off the second half of his appetizer to me. I thought it was decent, but lacking in spice. The chorizo and seafood combination seems to be the restaurant surf 'n turf du jour, but it is one I enjoy. I just thought this presentation of it was somewhat bland, not particularly assertive. When I eat chorizo, I want to taste the spice. Better yet, I want to feel the spice. I was scarcely able to do either with this dish. Not bad, just not great.

Lobster Stuffed Squash Blossoms with Oak Roasted Tomato Coulis ($16)

gallery_18974_3556_8080.jpg

My appetizer was the weaker of the two. I rarely pass up the opportunity to order squash blossoms, but this was a disappointment. The tomato coulis was bland. The entire dish was undersalted. The filling itself was fairly tasty, but overall, this dish promised much more than it delivered.

Salt-Crusted Porterhouse Steak for 2 ($75)

gallery_18974_3556_4982.jpg

gallery_18974_3556_19926.jpg

gallery_18974_3556_4692.jpg

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the maaaaaain event! This was definitely a hit. They bring a nice thick porterhouse steak to the table on a cast-iron serving piece, and proceed to ceremoniously crack open the salt shell on top, unleashing the most incredible aroma. After a little spiel about what goes in the crust (kosher salt, egg white, coriander, fennel seeds, star anise, black pepper, red pepper, LOTS of thyme, if I remember correctly) and how long they bake the steak (27 minutes...why couldn't they be more specific? :biggrin: ), they take the steak back to the kitchen, slice it up, and return with some vegetables to supplement (escarole, shell beans, mashed potatoes, roasted carrots). I thought the flavor might be lacking since the steak hadn't been seared before baking, but this thing was incredible. Perfectly seasoned, prefectly cooked, tender, juicy. One of the best steaks I've ever had, no question. And at the risk of being promptly kicked out of NYC for saying this, I'll admit it was even better than Peter Luger, in my opinion. :shock: (Still love the burgers at PL, though.)

Up to this point, we'd considered doing the dessert tasting menu at Providence to follow the meal. But the steak packed a punch, so we figured 5 courses of sweets wasn't the most appealing option at the time. And besides, I knew nothing of the pastry chef's reputation, so I figured the mere existence of a dessert tasting menu was no guarantee of its quality, so we'd better not chance it. Anyway, we take a look at the (limited, boring) dessert menu at Table 8, and end up choosing..

Churros with Dulce de Leche, Milk Chocolate Sauce & Cinnamon Ice Cream ($9)

gallery_18974_3556_648.jpg

Not a fan. We both thought the churros were dry. Not stale dry, but overly-crunchy dry, if that makes any sense. The milk chocolate didn't really do much for us, either. The cinnamon ice cream was the most flavorful thing on the plate, but unfortunately there was so little of it and it was served at too cold a temperature for it to be easily enjoyed with the other things on the plate. The plating (or lack thereof) left plenty to be desired, too. Call me picky, but for $9, I want the dessert to look good, too.

The night is still young, though, and we were both underwhelmed by the dessert at Table 8. But at well past 10:00 in a city we don't know, where are we to go to satisfy our sweet tooths?

A word to the wise: Friends don't let friends make choices based merely on convenience or lack of available options.

Without knowing of any other nearby options for dessert that are open late (Providence was unfortunately no longer an option by this time), we made our way to...

SWEET LADY JANE

Ling is right, she warned me. But there was nothing else open at this late hour. The place was just a few blocks from Table 8. And how bad could a bakery be, we thought? Well, don't let the siren song of these neon lights lure you in here late at night when you think it's the only option...

gallery_18974_3556_13127.jpg

I love dates. They are out of date bars. Stay strong. There must be other tasty options. Aha! We spy the our prey in the back of the case, and ask for a slice...

Triple Berry Shortcake ($6.50)

gallery_18974_3556_7310.jpg

gallery_18974_3556_21126.jpg

Dry. Dull. Flavorless. Culinary low point of our stay in LA. I could go on...

Next time you're in the neighborhood late at night and looking for a sweet fix, just keep on driving, and hope for some better luck elsewhere...

After 2 lackluster desserts, we decide we'll live to eat another day. Taking a stroll down Melrose and La Cienega, we happen upon an Entertainment Weekly Emmy party and spy some TV celebrities. As the people next to us ooh and ahh from across the street, I'm quickly reminded of how little TV I actually watch anymore. I have no idea who most of the people are, aside from the dude from the Allstate commercials. :laugh: A little more walking down La Cienega and drooling over some nice cars (L.A. has some sick cars, by the way), and we're ready to call it a night. Back to the hotel in Pasadena. And sleep. To be continued. There are many more good eats in California ahead for us...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

DAY 2 -- Sunday

Today is the sight-seeing day. Which sights, you may ask? Well, we have no idea. We'll figure that part out later. After breakfast. :wink:

ROSCOE'S HOUSE OF CHICKEN N WAFFLES

Given the fact that this place was literally 5 minutes away from our hotel, I love soul food, and my dad thought chicken & waffles sounded like an intriguing combination, I knew this place was a must-try. I was also looking forward to comparing it to Amy Ruth's in Harlem, the first place where I'd ever tried chicken & waffles. Something about all the sweet/spicy, soft/crunchy, hot/cool contrasts in this unique dish makes it so good. There was no question what we were after here...

Scoe's #1: 1/4 Chix prepared southern style, 2 waffles, our own private mix ($8.95)

gallery_18974_3556_5669.jpg

Breakfast of champions. Absolutely delicious. The chicken is juicy and flavorful on its own. The waffles are fluffy, if a little thin. The syrup is not cloyingly sweet. A few drips of hot sauce to add an extra kick. All this together in each bite brings an immediate smile to my face. Tack on a side of cornbread (a bit dry, nothing special), and I am full and happy, as is my dad. I considered Sweet Potato Pie (I am a sucker for it), but we know our sweet tooth will be satisfied later. Not much later, in fact, at...

JIN PATISSERIE

Somehow, we decide that we'll start the sight-seeting at Venice Beach and work back eastward the rest of the day. Who are we to argue if a certain bakery just happens to be between us and Muscle Beach? :cool:

This place seems as serious about their tea (which neither my father nor I really enjoy) as their desserts. Still full from the chicken & waffles, and vowing not to eat again before dinner, my dad refrains from getting anything here. I, of course, do not. :biggrin: I start with...

Passion -- Mascarpone Passion Fruit, Fresh Mango ($5.25)

gallery_18974_3556_18409.jpg

A very light cheesecake, topped with a thin passion fruit glaze, and filled with pieces of fresh mango. Light and refreshing. Clean flavors. Good, but not great. With a menu full of mostly chocolate and/or tea related desserts, though, I figure it was a safe bet. I'm glad I tried it, but probably wouldn't repeat.

Pistachio Macaron ($1.10), Fleur de Sel Caramel Chocolate Piece ($2), Chocolate Sticks ($4.50)

gallery_18974_3556_16481.jpg

gallery_18974_3556_10089.jpg

Passing up some of their more exotic flavors (rose, lavender, green tea, passion fruit, etc), I stick my favorite macaron (macaroon?...I don't know French :cool: ) flavor -- pistachio. This is a bit dry for my taste, having a pleasant crunch but not the slight chew I look for in a good macaron.

The fleur de sel caramel was tasty, but hard to judge fairly since I at it after it a 3/4 melted :hmmm: More on that later...

The chocolate sticks (one dark chocolate cacao nib, one pistachio, one fleur de sel), I can't comment on, as they were a little thank-you gift for the CalTech assistant responsible for setting up the meetings for my visit. But if her big smile when she later told me thanks is any indication, they must have been okay. :raz:

Later that afternoon, cruising down La Cienega, thinking of our next sightseeing stop, we just happen to drive right by....

BOULE

How convenient. Guess we'll have to stop in. And, boy, am I glad we did. This place was a hit. A sucker for anything with pistachios in it or on it, I immediately spy my first victim...

Pistachio Eclair ($3)

gallery_18974_3556_213.jpg

In a word: delicious. I could eat a dozen of them. Hell, I could eat two dozen. Just the right amount of sweetness. And a sign of the good things to come...

12-piece variety piece chocolate box ($28), Meyer Lemon & Pistachio Macarons ($1.25 each), Spiced Mango Pate de Fruit ($1.25, not pictured)

gallery_18974_3556_9147.jpg

gallery_18974_3556_19741.jpg

My dad enjoys the spiced mango pate de fruit while I ooh and ah over all the wonderful options. I try a bite of it, too. Good stuff. They offer us tastes of the gelati and sorbetti in the case in the back. No flavors really jump out at us. We pass. Back to the cases to search for more goodies.

The macarons were outstanding. The best on the trip, definitely, and among the best I've ever had. As good as those at Fauchon in NYC, which is my favorite place here for macarons. Very distinct flavors. A bit crisp on the outside, perfectly smooth and chewy on the inside. Creamy filling. Just wonderful.

I am normally not a big chocolate guy, but these looked beautiful and many of the flavor combinations sounded too good to pass up. I wish I'd taken a picture of the beautiful assortment, which was intended as a gift for my mom, but I guess it wasn't meant to be. They melted in the 1/2 hour I showed my dad around the CalTech campus. On top of that, as I was taking a picture on campus, my digital camera went berserk and started making this nasty buzzing sound instead of retracting the lens. Great timing. :hmmm:

At this point, frustrated by both the melted chocolates and the broken camera, we look for a nearby Best Buy. After we park the car, we both glance down at the box of chocolates.... It is time.

We each take a plastic spoon in hand and go at it, ravenously disposing of the dozen chocolates in no time. We both feel better now. Who says chocolate isn't comfort food?

By the way, the best flavors of the bunch were Citrus Campari, Sicilian Pistachio, and Passionfruit Ivoire, we agreed. And does it make a major food nerd to admit that I was more upset about a possible drop in the chocolates' quality after having melted than I was about the actual melting of the chocolates? Regardless of the melting, these are some of the best chocolates I've ever had.

I would go back to Boule bakery in a second. For me, it was easily the best food stop we made in LA. (For my dad, of course, it was Table 8, because of the steak :raz: )

On a side note, thank goodness for the Product Replacement Plan. Thank goodness for Best Buy. They switched out my camera for a brand spanking new one and we were on our way.

Dinner that night had been planned well in advance. Actually, it was the first reservation I set for trip. Needless to say, I went in with high expectations...

LUCQUES

I read great things about Suzanne Goin. A Chez Panisse alum, she is not surprisingly known for developing close relationships with the farmers whose produce is given room to shine on her menus. Her cookbook garnered many awards last year. I figured this meal would be a great introduction to California cuisine. In NYC, many restaurants bill themselves as doing "Greenmarket cuisine", but for all my pride in this city, I know we don't have access to anywhere near the quality of produce grown in California. I also hoped this meal would be a nice precursor to Chez Paninsse on Wednesday. Anyway, enough rambling on my part. On to the meal...

"Sunday Supper" (3 courses/$40 set menu)

The meal begins with some pleasantly chewy and crusty bread, some almonds tossed in olive oil and sea salt, and delicious Lucques olives (and truth be told, I don't like olives). Things were off to a nice start. We opted to each order one of the two main course options, so we'd be able to taste more dishes. After a while, out came the food came...

Summer Salad of Peter Schaner's Eggplant, Cherry Tomatoes, French Feta and Black Olives

gallery_18974_3556_9706.jpg

This was quite flavorful. Tangy vinaigrette dressing was applied sparingly, keeping the greens vibrant and crisp rather than drenched and soggy. Clearly very fresh vegetables. Very pleasant way to begin.

Pancetta Wrapped Trout a la Creme with Shaved Summer Squash and Young Spinach

gallery_18974_3556_343.jpg

This was good, and my preference among the two main courses. Thankfully, it had been assertively salted, resisting the tongue-coating blandness that cream-based dishes often suffer from. The juices from the pancetta and trout were soaked up by the squash and spinach below, creating a very tasty creamed spinach on steroids. The fish was flaky, if just a tad overcooked. Overall, a solid dish, though.

Duck braised in Rose with Rice Soubise, Alex's Baby Red Onions and Spiced Peach Relish

gallery_18974_3556_22496.jpg

I was glad to see duck leg rather than the ubiquitous duck breast that seems to be the norm in higher end restaurants these days. This was quite good, and was my father's preference between the two mains, so it worked out just right. The duck was tender, juicy, and pleasantly meaty in flavor. It had clearly been given a thorough sear before being braised in the wine, resulting in a flavor that was earthy enough it stoof up well to the sweetness of the the caramelized onion and the spiced peach relish (which could have benefitted from more spice). On their own, the elements of the dish were one-dimensional and a bit boring. Together, the combination of flavors was a pleasant one, and I, too, thought the dish worked quite well. I still want to know what the heck rice soubise is, though. :biggrin:

Chilled Cavaillon Melon Soup with Basil and Last-of-the-Season Strawberries

gallery_18974_3556_4856.jpg

Very light and refreshing, which was a good thing after a meal during which I had consumed way too much bread, butter, almond, and olives thoughout. Aside from watermelon, I typically don't enjoy cantaloupe or other similar fruits, but this was not bad. The strawberries were tasty as well. Fruit soup is not really my thing, either. I would've preferred just a bowl of fresh, ripe fruit, but that's just me. My dad thought this was pretty mediocre, nothing special. I had the same conclusion.

A word about the service and ambience: The hostess greeted us with a warm smile and was very understanding after we'd been driving around LA lost for the past hour or so (I called to let them know this, of course, but they were unable to help with directions.), and arrived over 45 minutes late for our reservation. After that, the service was a little spotty. Our waiter was a little, how do I put it lightly?....Laissez-faire. :biggrin: Basically, he took our orders and was pretty much AWOL the remainder of the meal. I don't mind busboys delivering food from the kitchen. But I don't think it's too much to ask that the person who will receive the tip at the end of the meal ought to be at least partially responsible for facilitating my enjoyment of it. Water refills. More olives. More bread or butter. At least do something. I don't think that's too much to ask. I would've rather tipped the busboys who seemed to be the only ones who cared in the least about our experience. Ah well, what can ya do?

Oh, and the ambience: too dark! Turn on a light, light some candles, something! It's one thing not to be able to take good photographs (the "Indoor" setting on the camera is your friend), but it's quite another when you can't even see your own food. My dad was already a bit uneasy about relinquishing all control and doing the set menu thing, and now he could barely even see the things he was having to eat. I eat out frequently, so am used to restaurant lighting issues, but this was extreme. Only similar place in NYC that comes to mind is Peasant, and that place is dark. The noise level was not unbearable (aside, perhaps, from a certain neighbor of ours who loudly sppke of his friends' struggles with crystal meth :huh: ). The music was soft and pleasant, not overbearing. But the lighting was horrible. So bad, in fact, that my dad said he liked the food much less just because of it. The food at Lucques and Chez Panisse were certainly of a similar vein, but the ambience at CP puts Lucques to shame. We both enjoyed the food at both restaurants, but neither of us have any desire to return to Lucques again. Chez Panisse, on the other hand, we would go back to again and again and again.

Back "home" to the hotel to sleep. Need to be rested. The next day is my CalTech visit, and who knows what food that may bring. :smile:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...