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While on a trip to San Francisco we decided to swing by Nopa for some lunch. Upon our arrival we were quickly seated in the upstairs dining area and started to look at the menu. Unfortunately the bacon flat bread pizza from The Best Thing I Ever Ate was not on the menu so we had to go a different direction. I ordered goat cheese bread pudding, whiskey braised pork with jalapeno biscuits, and of course a side of bacon. I thought about ordering a specialty beer but at those prices, it was not going to happen.
Before I talk about the food, I am going to say this now, our server was awful. He wasn’t rude just sort of indifferent. He never told us his name, never looked us in the eye, and barely asked us if we liked the food. I thought for a minute that maybe the hipster theme translated to the service but then our food was brought out by someone else. This server was friendly, talkative, and excited about the food. Too bad we only saw her once because she would have made us feel much more welcomed. I will always knock a restaurant for bad service especially one that is going to cost me more than $50 for lunch. They should probably work on that.
First my bread pudding arrived with the goat cheese on the bottom. While I wasn’t overly impressed by the presentation, the flavors were pretty good. The bread pudding was moist but I was surprised that the goat cheese was mostly at the bottom. I expected the cheese to flow across the entire dish but alas, you had to dig to it. I really liked the pickled beets perhaps better than the pudding itself. Enjoying the vegetable side will be a theme in this meal. The arugula was completely unnecessary.
My entree came out next with my side of bacon (Not pictured but decent). I was very surprised by the presentation. I was not expecting it to come out as a kind of stew. I really like my pork but this was a little bland. It was cooked really well though and melted in my mouth. The only thing that was truly memorable from this dish was the brussel sprouts. These were slightly charred and delicious soaked in the pork broth. Tasty veggies aside this was a disappointing entree. The two biscuits also left me a little wanting. If you call somethings jalapeno cheddar than it better be just that. These biscuits just tasted like normal biscuits where I was hoping for cheesy and spicy flavors.
I was expecting so much more from our trip to Nopa but sadly it was only mediocre. At the price point I was hoping for a more engaged server and better flavors but it seemed that all I was paying for was a nice seat at a sleek modern eatery. While I do love my beets and brussel sprouts when they are the things I remember best from a meal that included pork and goat cheese, you have a problem. The meal just did not come together how I would have hoped and I will probably not return to try it again.
See if you like Nopa and tell me I was wrong, check out their website here
The Foodie and the Fatty
Guest Blog by Kafele J. Khalfani (@kafele)
As Steve is a foodie and I am a fatty, I go where Steve tells me to go to eat. Last night, I tried Devi (www.devinyc.com 8 E 18th Street New York, NY 10003). Steve normally has a recommendation for every restaurant. The reco for here was a Hot Pepper Stew. It wasn’t on the menu, despite Steve’s demand to fire them, I stayed for dinner.
Clearly seeing that I was going to eat them out of house and home, they recommended we do the Three Course Tasting Menu, which I somehow did twice cause…well, yeah.
Devi is having their liquor license renewed so they don’t have alcohol. I did have a lovely Ginger Ale Chiller that was awesome. It was like ginger ale with a kick. LOVED IT!
We were then given a complimentary shooter. I have no idea what the waiter said it was because (1) it was loud (2) I can’t hear and (3) his accent was thick. I think I heard pomegranate. I drank it hoping I wouldn’t be sentences to months in the Underworld like Persephone. The shooter was hot and spicy, like an angry gazpacho. LOVED IT!
First appetizer was a paneer & zucchini tikka. It looked good. It tasted fine, but it’s not something I would have again. Mainly because I don’t like zucchini and I have no idea what paneer is. Also my date ordered it. MEH.
SIDE NOTE: Yes, I was on a date. And he was the world’s slowest eater. At one point I had to ask if he wasn’t hungry or if he was a slow eater. He wasn’t that hungry at which point I heard the announcer from Mortal Kombat say “FINISH HIM” and I destroyed the rest of the food.
Second App was a Chicken Kastoori Kebab – totally awesome. Huge piece of chicken. Well-seasoned and with a side salad made from what my date called “the stuff they put on the burritos at Chipotle”, which the rest of us call avocado. (Please note, he’s kinda cute so I’m letting that burrito comment slide). LOVED IT!
The entrees were a Chicken Vindaloo (pretty much an Indian staple) and Tandoor Grilled Lamb Chops. The Vindaloo was good. Enjoyable. Just enough spice, good sauce. Nom. Nom. Nom. LOVED IT!
The Lamb Chops were also good, but they suffered because I had some AMAZING lamp chops at Enoteca Maria (http://www.enotecamaria.com/wp/) a few months ago that brought me to tears. Enoteca Maria – - one reason to come to Staten Island. But Devi’s chops were good. LIKED IT
Totally bombed on the dessert picks. Pista Kulfi is an indian ice cream with pisachop and rose milk. The best way I can describe the ice cream would be a milk flavored Italian ice with soy juice. And I hate break pudding. But date ordered Emperor’s Morsel “Shahi Tukra”. It was like if you eat French toast before you put it in the pan. Not their fault, but boo to desert. DOUBLE MEH.
The ambience of the restaurant was a very subtle Indian. Overhead light fixtures, drapes in the back part of the restaurant for some booths. The uniforms of the waiters. Music was loud enough that you couldn’t hear people at the next table unless you really tried.
Wait staff was attentive and quick. Clearly they have an optimistic view of water glass refilling as I was never at glass half full. The manager was great and made lots of recommendations for what to eat. Also made recommendations to save money. LOVE IT!
Overall Review: 7/10
Check out Devi’s menu here
- My 5 Foodie Links (theflyingfugu.com)
- The Spiciest Dish in the World (and How to Make it) (theflyingfugu.com)
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On a summer trip to visit the kids up in Seattle I finally reached my 100th restaurant. After a few votes for different options and some logistical decisions with three children, we settled on a lunch excursion to Le Pichet. Le Pichet is a french restaurant that specializes in Charcuterie, which is the art of salting, smoking, and curing meat. You really can’t go wrong with a plate of cured meats for lunch. The only issue with this visit was that the items on the list were not on the lunch menu but we made due anyway. We sat outside on a sunny day and ordered our meal. For the table we went with the Grand Assiette, or in layman’s terms, huge plate of meat. After a few minutes the appetizer arrived with the chef’s selection of eight different varieties of meat, cornichons (My favorite pickle) and lots of bread.
Basically this plate had everything. Duck liver terrine, Serrano ham, salami, pork pate, chicken terrine, and the most intense, Langue de Boeuf or beef tongue. All the meats had their own unique flavor but my favorites were the Serrano ham which is a Spanish highlands salt cured ham, the duck liver terrine, and of course the beef togue. All three had a dramatically different flavor and texture. The Serrano ham was sweet and salty, that you could tear apart piece by piece. Texturally was chewy but not too tough and melted in your mouth from the long curing. The terrine had a serious duck gaminess but it was smooth and creamy. Eating the liver gives you an intense flavor of the animal and you could definitely tell you were eating duck. The nice additions to the terrine were pork and green peppercorns. These two ingredients added more depth of flavor, especially the peppercorns. Now we get to the beef tongue. I had never eaten tongue before and was excited to give it a go. No way around this the tongue was some serious eats. Intense flavor and really chewy; undeniably beef. It appears that the more unique part of the animal, the more intese flavor you will get. I could have eaten those three all day and, well, I decided to order more.
Since the rest of the lunch menu was not that interesting to me I decided to go for a Tartine, an open faced sandwich with mustard, cornichons, and my two favorite meats. I went for the beef tongue and duck liver terrine. I’ve already described them so I won’t do it again but I was not disappointed with a huge sandwich of the two. The mustard added some tang and broke up the fact that I just consumed a ridiculous amount of cured meats. The one thing I have left out until now was the bread. A country bread, nice a soft on the inside but with a hard crust, it stood up really well to the rich meats and tangy mustard. All around the Tartine was a great sandwich and one I would eat again.
All in all Let Pichet was a great choice for my 100th restaurant off the restaurant list. While I was dissapointed that I was unable to get the Raclette Savoyarde, I was definitely not let down by their extensive collection of Charcuterie. I would recommend that you visit and put your fate in the chef’s hands, sort of like what you could do at a great sushi restaurant, you will not be let down.
Overall Review: 7/10
Take a look at Let Pichet’s huge Charcuterie menu here
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While waiting for my flight to leave Phoenix, I stopped in at Pizzeria Bianco with my friend Renee. This pizzeria is a transplant right out of Italy with it’s own wood oven right in the dining room. I love seeing pizzerias set up like that, it is just a lot of fun to watch them cook your pizza only a few feet from your table. Take a look at what we got to see:
Prior to chowing down on pizza I had to order my first recommended dish, the Spiedini, Italian fontina cheese wrapped in prosciutto. The wrapped cheese was then skewered and cooked to be served nice and warm. Probably better than the pizza, this dish may be the best thing I’ve eaten in Phoenix. The cheese was warm and creamy and the deliciously salty flavor was layered along side the crispy and salty sweet prosciutto. Often salt on salt is too much but this combo just worked perfectly and kept me coming back for more. If I hadn’t already ordered my pizza I might have just went with a few more orders of the cheese and called it a day. It really was that good.
A few minutes after our appetizers, my pizza arrived. I broke my own rule and ordered a pizza without a red sauce because it was the other reccomended dish off my restaurant list. The Rosa pizza consisted of some of my favorite ingredients so I felt like it was ok to deviate from my norms. First it had a wonderful crust on which to build. Thin and crispy with a bubbly crust, but what would you expect from a super hot wood fire oven. The toppings started with cooked down red onions, and unlike Mr. Scott Conant, I love me some red onions. The bite of the onions was balanced out by the cheeses especially the fresh Parmesan. The last topping and by far the least likely on a pizza were the pistachio nuts. The great thing is that I love pistachios also! All of these ingredients mixed together on a pizza created a depth of flavor that made me happy to have taken the risk. I would definitely reccomend this pizza to people who want to stray from the norm but in the end the prosciutto wrapped fontina skewers significantly out shined the pizza.
Overall our meal at Pizzeria Bianco was a memorable one. Not much I could complain about. The service was good, the ambiance was like most pizzerias and the food was on point. I could eat that appetizer every day, too bad I don’t live nearby. Next time you are in town and want some quality pizza on the western side of the country, check out Pizzeria Bianco.
Overall Review: 7/10
Take a look at the menu here
Take a look at my first Spago review here
After my first review of Spago, the general manager called me and asked for us to come back for another chance. We decided to give it another try especially when they sent me a $150 gift certificate in the mail. Now, I understand that they were really focused on us during the meal and some of the extras were unique to this one experience but overall it was a much improved night.
Our waiter, which was the biggest issue last time, was awesome. Ben was very attentive, explained everything very well, and checked up on us regularly. We didn’t want for anything the entire night. During the meal I paid attention to our waiter with other tables and somehow even though he was slammed, each table received just as much attention as we did. The ambiance was great and since we sat outside there was no issue with temperature. The music also seemed like it was selected just for me; I swear that I heard 75% of the music on my Pandora that day. It was a beautiful night and one worthy of our last meal in LA before moving away.
Within five minutes of our arrival the manager was out with champagne welcoming us back to Spago, what a nice touch. We were waiting for menus but he told us that before they allowed us to order he had a few surprises in store. Little did I know that it would be an hour before we actually ordered. First he brought out ahi tuna wrapped in a cone with sesame seeds. Delicious! Next, he brought us a blini (Mini savory pancake) with creme fraishe, smoked salmon, an salmon roe. Sometimes I am thankful that Virginia doesn’t eat seafood because this was awesome. It tasted like Judaism on a plate! The last bite he brought out was by far the best. It was a bacon, yes bacon confit inside a savory puff pastry. Too bad Virginia eats bacon, I could have eaten dozens of those. It was an explosion of bacon flavor in a tiny individual bite.
After about an hour we ordered and just like the last time our food was amazing, but that is not surprising for a Michelin star restaurant. The menu had changed completely since the last time and the new options were incredible. As an appetizer I ordered the Maryland crab cake which was one of the best I’ve ever had. And I’ve had crab cakes in Maryland. The presentation was masterful with what tasted like basil puree (But maybe pea) in tiny balls along the edge of the plate and a small salad on top of the cake. The star of this dish was the crab, as it should be. There was almost no filler, just enough to keep it together and that was great. Surprisingly, what made it so good was the spice. The crab cake was spicy! The saddest part of this dish was that I only got one but I definitely needed to save room for the rest of the meal. As a side note, Virginia ordered the agnolotti appetizer and the manager took the liberty of shaving summer truffles on top at no charge. I was worried because Virginia hates mushrooms but these truffles were light and she loved them!
For dinner I ordered the Cantonese style roasted duck with lo-mien noodles and Shiitake mushrooms. It was beyond ridiculous. The waiter told me that Wolfgang himself orders this dish when he eats at Spago and I see why. The duck was beautifully cooked and super crispy and the 5-spice rub made the flavors pop. Paired as the main contributor to the sauce were mandarin oranges. Sweet and cooked down well they transported me to a traditional but elevated Chinese restaurant. You wouldn’t think that this dish would be presented at Spago but it definitely was. The entree was so good that I could resist picking up the legs to get every little morsel off the bone. I’m sure I embarrassed Virginia but it was worth it. The lo-mien on the side was just as good but nothing could compare to what was on the main plate. Sorry noodles.
For dessert I ordered a raspberry souffle with raspberry ice cream and chocolate sauce. This was possibly the best souffle I have ever eaten. It was cooked perfectly, I don’t think it would have collapsed if I just stared at it for an hour but I could not resist. I dug in and took my first bite. It was so rich and sweet from the chocolate but the tartness of the raspberries surely shined through. For an additional chocolate note they served a sauce to be poured on top. Ben warned me not to pour it all in but I’m rebellious and ignored him. I am so glad I did. The sauce was unbelievable, thick, chocolaty, and sweet it added a whole other level to the souffle. And when it became too rich, you could go in for some raspberry sorbet and cold whole raspberries. Despite the massive amount of food I had eaten I almost licked the plate clean. If I was at home or alone, I probably would have licked it but alas Virginia makes me act like an adult. Sadly, I did not get a good picture because it was dark out but you get the idea.
Overall a much better experience that the first trip and though we can not get back the night after my first marathon, this went a long way towards making up for it. Based on this night I would go back when we are in town. It didn’t hurt that though we ate so much, with the comped items and the gift certificate our final bill was only $73 and our bottle of wine cost $50. Not a bad cost for a five star meal. Something else really cool that I appreciate about Spago is that their menu changes constantly so every time you go you can have a completely different eating experience. For some restaurants this wont work but Spago puts effort into the menu changes and it shows. While this trip to Spago was without a doubt a 10/10, my final rating reflects an average of my two dinners
Overall Rating: 8/10
Check out their ever changing menu here
Virginia and I headed in to Los Angeles to pick up some skirt steaks from the farmer’s market and swung by Father’s Office for the office burger among other things. Father’s Office is a gastropub that is extremely busy for dinner and since you have to seat yourself and order at the bar, it was a good thing we came for lunch. From what I understand it is a battle for seats and food in the evenings. This would be a nice hangout if it wasn’t so pricy and in LA. The layout is clean and modern with a lot of space both inside and out. We grabbed some menus took a look and ordered some food. I also ordered a tasty craft beer from their enormous selection of mid to ridiculously expensive varieties.
Our appetizers came out first, sweet potato fries with a garlic and blue cheese aioli and some fancy bone marrow. The fries were dusted with salt and some herbs; a smart move meant to connect the sweetness of the fries with the savory notes in the aioli. The fries were cooked well albeit a little greasy but this was the first time I enjoyed dipping sweet potatoes into a non sweet condiment. I also liked the way they were served. It looked like the fry basket they were cooked in, very clever.
Next, I moved on to my roasted bone marrow. The dish was two pieces of bone with a few toast points on top of a parsley salad. On the side was a small pile of sel gris (grey sea salt) meant to add onto the marrow once it was out of the bone. This was a tasty appetizer, well roasted marrow and perfectly toasted bread. The salad was a throw away and I believe just meant for color but the salt did draw out the richness of the marrow. My comment on this dish is that for the price I would have liked the bones sawed in half. I don’t particularly like digging inside bone at a restaurant, if they had cut the bone lengthwise after roasting it would have looked nicer and would have been easier to scoop out onto the toast. A successful dish but not for the feint of heart because marrow has both a unique texture and a strong beef flavor. You have to be a true carnivore to enjoy marrow, good thing I am.
As we finished up out appetizers my burger arrived. The highly talked about Office Burger. This burger was some non nondescript meat on a bun with some unique toppings. It was the toppings that made the burger but at least the meat wasn’t a cheap base. I go on rants from time to time about using good meat for burgers and hot dogs so I am glad they didn’t choose to skimp on the beef. The toppings were inventive and all things that I like. Caramelized onions for sweetness, bacon for, well, bacon. Two kind of cheese, Maytag blue and Gruyere. The cheese was what made this burger special. Both added saltiness to the burger but then diverged a bit. The blue cheese was sharp and crumbly while the Gruyere was a little sweet and creamy. Combined they created a depth of flavor that made the burger memorable. The last topping and the smartest was the addition of arugula. This bold, mustardy, peppery green cut through all the rich flavors on the burger and allowed you too keep coming back for more. Any other green would not have stood up to the cheese, onions, and bacon. Smart move by the chef. All in all this was a solid burger and well worth the $12 price tag.
While I would not go out of my way to come back, Father’s Office is a good local haunt and one I would frequent if I lived in the area. Solid food and solid beer but a tad overpriced. I wonder what it really looks like on a Saturday night but since I don’t deal well in a packed environment, I will just take other people’s word for it.
Overall Review: 7/10
Check out their menu and beer options here p.s their website is somewhat annoying
After cleaning up and changing after the LA Marathon we headed over to Spago for a post race dinner adventure. We arrived a few minutes early and had to wait in the corner until it was time to seat us. This was a very nice restaurant with an open kitchen and some nice art. They had some issues with the temperature during our meal so it was either freezing or burning hot which was strange for such an expensive restaurant. After about fifteen minutes we were at our table and ready to eat.
I’m going to try not to make comparisons to Scarpetta because they are different genres of food but I will do it for the service. While Scarpetta was expensive they created an experience through their service that allowed you to forget the prices of the food. Spago was the complete opposite. Maybe they could smell the middle class on us but I felt out of place and completely unwelcome throughout the entire meal. When we walked in we were barely acknowledged while “regulars” got a grand welcome. We were sent to a table with two chairs so I had to stand, no one came over to help us all sit together let alone ask if we wanted drinks. I was even wearing my marathon finishers medal and not one person even looked at me let alone acknowledge the marathon. Our waiter seemed disinterested in us and we waited a while to order because they served the people they knew first. The person who paid the most attention to us was the bread guy so I am thankful for that at least. With such a cold and uncaring service it was hard to appreciate the food that we ate. At Scarpetta we didn’t want to leave but at Spago all I could think about was how late it would be when we got home. Kind of sad for what would end up being a $300 meal.
We ordered our food and then experienced the weirdest bread service. They had a guy whose sole job was to serve us bread one piece at a time. After each finished piece he would come back with his tray of bread and serve you another of your choosing. I’m not sure I understand that but whatever the strange part was that while the bread was served fancy it was in no way fancy itself. In addition the butter may as well have been supermarket brand. It was not spruced up in any way and did not seem to fit with the way the bread was served. Anyway, I ate like eight pieces of bread so I made our guy earn his paycheck that night.
After a little while and in a dining room that had become twenty degrees hotter since we arrived, our appetizers appeared. I ordered the risotto with Maine lobster, stone crab, lemon, garlic, and basil. This was a very well done risotto, creamy and full of flavor. The lobster and crab were cooked to perfection and made the dish extremely rich. While you would think creamy seafood risotto would be very heavy the lemon and herbs kept it tasting fresh and light. This was a very good combination of flavors and a well thought out dish. I polished it off pretty quickly partly because it was delicious and partly because I was really hungry from the race.
Next came the entrees accompanied by intense cold now that they turned on the air conditioning. My dish was the seared Maine diver scallops. Now this entree was inspired, I have to give props where they are due. First of all, they gave me four full scallops which made me feel OK about the $39 price tag. Usually for that price and for diver scallops, you would get two, maybe three, so the size of this entree made me happy.
The presentation was gorgeous and obviously prepared with a deft hand. Layered on top of whole peas, a pea puree, and a balsamic reduction, these scallops were perfectly seared and delicious. The most impressive part of the whole dish was the foam lying on top of the scallops themselves. While it did not add a huge amount of discernible flavor to the dish it just looked so cool on top and as you can see made the picture frame worthy. Mixed together the flavor profile was unique and made me want to come back for each bite until only sauce and some greens were left. The peas, in my opinion, were what made this dish. Whole and pureed they tied everything together and added a fresh taste to the seafood. Just like the cauliflower they day before, these peas were the shocking superstar of the night. No what I would have thought with diver scallops on top but a reality nonetheless. The sad thing is that the menu changed since we ate at Spago so the scallop recipe calls for a different supporting cast so this may have been the one and only time I ate this dish. Sad but better than never getting it at all.
Though I was pretty full my list item was dessert so I had to press on. Kaiserschmarren is impossible to pronounce and was Wolfgang Pucks favorite as a child. That is why it is on the menu at a restaurant next to deconstructed this and foam that. I am not a huge dessert or pancake fan and this was a combo of the two but surprisingly enough I liked the Kaiserschmarren.With a chunky strawberry sauce on the bottom, the pancake looking dessert was anything but. The outside was fried, fluffy, and soft but when you got inside you discover what makes it a great dessert. The recipe calls for creme fraiche in the batter and then a soft meringue mixed in. This made the inside of the cakes, complete mush in a very good way. Impressively sweet, right on the edge of too much this was a great dish and a perfect way to end the meal. Mixed with the strawberries it really felt like breakfast but so much better. I would order this again and with the recipe, I can try to make it at home.
I am really torn with my review of Spago. The food was very good and I really can’t complain about the meal but the service was pretentious and somewhat upsetting. If I am going to come to a fancy restaurant I expect to be treated like their favorite customer every time. I just did not get that feeling in any way at Spago, to be honest I felt like they did not want us there from the start. With that coupled by the weird bread service, the disengagement from our waiter, and the huge temperature shifts, I cannot give Spago a great rating because it just was not fun. Eating out should be an experience, if I wanted to shovel in food and go home I would go get fast food at a drive through. If I am going to spend my entire month’s food budget on one meal, I expect to be treated like I belong to be in the room. It is for this reason that I won’t be back even though the food was undeniably delicious. Thankfully I won’t miss the sea scallops because the menu has already changed.
Overall Rating: 5/10
You can find the ever changing Spago menu here
In the next few paragraphs I am going to talk about my experience at Scarpetta Beverly Hills. Our adventure that night was one of the best I have had in a long time and possibly ever. I will say right now that this restaurant received my second perfect rating for many reasons so if you want to stop reading now and make a reservation for tonight I won’t hold it against you. If not, please read on.
The night before I ran the LA marathon we decided to do an upscale carbo load dinner. We drove out to Beverly Hills for our six o’clock reservation. We arrived a bit early so they sat us at the bar where we ordered some wine and snacked on delicious candied almonds and homemade chips. While the wine was a bit expensive they actually serve it to you in a carafe which gets you almost two glasses. I ordered a red which was very smooth and a great complement to what would prove to be a fantastic meal. After a few minutes they sat us in the upstairs section of the restaurant and we settled in to feast on a modern Italian meal. We met Dan our waiter and he talked with us about the menu. I also let him know that I was running in the marathon the next day and that it was my carbo load dinner.
After we put in our order they brought out the bread basket and spreads. Most places will give you some homemade bread and some butter but not Scarpetta. No, they gave us three different kinds of bread including Stromboli bread! A pinwheel of bread, meat, and mozzarella cheese baked to perfection. It didn’t end there though, they brought along three different kinds of spread. First a simple citrus infused olive oil on the left. Next to that butter, but not just simple butter, a sweet marscapone butter. Last but certainly not least a roasted eggplant carbonara. While the first two were good the eggplant was ridiculous. I could have eaten that all night and when our busboy noticed how much we enjoyed it he slipped us a second container. That is that type of service I always want to have and I will add to that thought a bit later on in this review. A great start but now we were ready for some appetizers.
I could tell at the beginning of this meal that the staff at Scarpetta were well trained, organized, and efficient. The presentation of the appetizers was proof of that. Each dish was brought out by a different person and as they timed it by a cue from Dan each of us had food in front of us at the same time. Now I admit that we over ordered but we all shared and I needed the calories for my race so whatever. My official appetizer was the raw yellowtail topped with pickled red onions. This was a mild appetizer, with a nice bite from the onions but not too much to outshine the fish. A really good appetizer though not the ones I want to focus on in this review. What I will say is that I did find it funny that Mr. Conant served red onions on a dish since he tears people apart on Chopped over them but I guess if you pickle them it’s OK. Take this into account future Chopped contestants.
Now my mom ordered creamy polenta with a fricassee of truffled mushrooms, a fancy name for an equally fancy dish. Served in two parts it allowed you to mix in the mushrooms at your own pace. This was a nice touch because you never know how much mushroom one person can handle especially with the intense flavor of truffle. While I would not order polenta if I was alone I count myself lucky that my mom did. The presentation was really cool and the flavor was amazing. Extremely rich so it was hard to finish which meant that I got to eat some! The polenta was super creamy and great all by itself but when mixed with the mushrooms the dish was brought to a whole other level. The flavors are hard to describe but they are something to remember. I agree though that you have to share because the polenta and truffled mushrooms are too much for one person to handle.
The final appetizer that I want to talk about was by far the best one. In the center of the table they placed two lonely scallops to which I declared “Only two!?” Little did I know the flavors they imparted on these two scallops make it seem like you had so much more. Twice in this meal I had a dish where each bite made me want to lean back, close my eyes, and enjoy. This was definitely one of them. The sea scallops were cooked perfectly with a wonderful sear on each side yet soft and chewy on the inside. Add to scallops a delicious sauce, mushrooms, and sunchokes and an awesome dish begins to coalesce. The surprising and most unique aspect of this dish was the cauliflower. I would never have thought to add cauliflower to scallops but now it is all I can think of. The subtle crunch mixed in with the sauce and the soft scallops made everything come together. For this item it was imperative that each aspect be on each individual fork full. I love to have a dish like that because it means that a lot of thought went into each ingredient and how they worked together. Nothing on that plate was there by accident and because of that fact two scallops were more than enough. Order these when you go or you will be sorry.
As we were waiting for our entrees to arrive the manager came out to check on us. Kendra was really nice and spent a bit of time with us making us feel welcome and appreciated for coming to the restaurant. It was nice to see them so attentive and that is why they are probably full up every night. We also spoke about the fact that I was running the next morning and she told me that I was the first marathoner to come in for a carbo load dinner. It was a fun conversation that would have been enough but there was more to it at the end of the meal.
Our entrees arrived with a few sides. We ordered the potato gnocchi with truffle and Parmesan and the broccoli rabe with ceci beans, caramelized shallots and garlic chips. The gnocchi were superbly prepared, creamy, and rich. I don’t normally eat gnocchi but Virginia did and she thoroughly enjoyed them. I want to talk about the broccoli rabe for a minute. This was a vegetable at its best! With ceci beans (chickpeas) and crazy good garlic chips you would think the broccoli would be lost but that is why they used broccoli rabe. The flavor of the rabe is bolder and more assertive so it could hold up to the other ingredients and yet the garlic was present in every bite. If you don’t like garlic this side is not for you but then we have no reason to eat out together anyway so do what you want.
Though I was starting to fill up it was time for dinner. Once again our dishes were served in unison and since they were all covered the wait staff unveiled them together by cue of our waiter Dan. This type of presentation makes you feel like royalty and we hadn’t even tasted the entrees yet! I decided to go outside the box and ordered the short rib agnolotti. Agnolotti, as I learned, is a mini stuffed pouch of pasta which in this case was stuffed with braised short rib, mushrooms, and horseradish. Such an interesting combo, I had never had horseradish in pasta but Passover was a few weeks away so why not! Just to mix it up Virginia ordered the actual list item, the tomato and basil spaghetti and she said she would get it again.
My pasta was cooked in brown butter and accompanied by hazelnuts and Parmesan cheese. Yes, hazelnuts. At this point I had thrown out everything I thought I knew about Italian food and just let it happen. Everything about this pasta was different and a little crazy but my god it was incredible. The angolotti was fresh handmade and cooked a little al dente as it should be. Simple but incredibly important and generally impossible to find in the chain world of Italian food today. The filling was something special. The short rib was soft and full of flavor but the surprising stars were the horseradish and hazelnuts. The two ingredients that were the most out of the box were by far the reason why this entree was so damn good. This was my second sit back and enjoy dish of the night and I think it was really due to the delivery. Each agnolotti was one bite and allowed you to get every ingredient every time. This allowed me to eat slowly which was good because I was so sad to be finished. This pasta rivaled the meals we had in Rome and that is saying something.
It was now time for dessert and I was full but that wouldn’t stop me. I looked for something light and settled on the coconut panna cotta with guava soup and caramelized pineapple. This whole dessert was a nice pallet cleanser because it was cold and fruity sort of like a melted sorbet. I really enjoyed it and it just looked really cool. I really find it impressive when you get a bowl or a cup of something and the colors are layered. In this dessert it was two layers next to each other which was visually pleasing and only created by a intense attention to detail. I nice ending to a wonderful meal.
The food alone at Scarpetta would bring me back again but it was the service that has convinced Virginia and I to move our anniversary celebration from Duane’s and the Mission Inn to Scarpetta and the Montage. Dan and the waitstaff had a wonderful knowledge of the food and were so attentive and friendly that you felt like a member of the family. This is hard to do in an upscale restaurant and often ignored completely. The chairs were huge and cushy which made us not want to leave since we could have slept in them. All of that would have been enough but Kendra, the manager, sent it over the top. I mentioned earlier that she spoke with me about the marathon I was running the next morning and she did not forget. As we were getting ready to pay she came back with a gift bag. The gift bag was full of supplies for the run from the Montage hotel. It had water, nuts, fruit, and a hat. It was also accompanied by a card wishing me good luck in the race. I was completely floored by this gesture. This was not something restaurants do for a first time visitor but Scarpetta apparently does. I was touched by this and it really speaks to the character of the employees and the commitment they have to their craft. With management like Kendra it was no surprise that they have waiters like Dan.
Our adventure at Scarpetta was one that we will embark on many more times and it will be my official carbo load dinner for next year’s LA marathon. Now, it is quite expensive, about $100 per person but twice a year it is completely worth the investment in your taste buds. In all honesty this was one of the best meals I have ever had including our ten days in Italy. Not just Italian meals, it was better than almost any place I had ever been to. It was not just the food, it was the detail in the ambiance and the commitment to fabulous service that vaulted Scarpetta to the top of my list. But yes, the food was unreal. Just like Buddakan in Philly, Scarpetta is a must go when you visit LA. Make your reservation and thank me later. Scott Conant, you done good sir.
Overall Review: 10/10 – No question
Check out the wonderful options as Scarpetta Beverly Hills by clicking here
I took a trip to drive a friend to the airport and figured while I was near Los Angeles at 8am I might as well check out a restaurant on my list. The breakfast pizza at Little Dom’s perked my interest so I headed out there and arrived a few minutes after they opened. I was the first customer of the day which meant I would get some fresh food and good service. Little Dom’s is a well put together Italian restaurant with some very good decor and nice comfortable booth seats. I grabbed my seat and looked around. The one thing that stuck out was the old school bar. Fully made out of wood with a nice outdoorsy picture above the back. This bar looked like a place where made men would hang out if we were on the east coast and this was the 1960′s. I felt the need to put a suit on and order some hard liquor, too bad it was only five minutes after nine.
I perused the menu just to check it out knowing very well what I was too order. I asked for a glass of grapefruit juice and the highly lauded breakfast pizza. This would mark the first time I had eggs on a pizza in addition to speck. What is speck, you ask? Well I had that same question. Speck is a type of prosciutto that is both salt cured and slow smoked. The big difference between speck and other prosciutto is that speck is deboned before the curing process. After the curing process it is cold smoked over a week and then aged for around six months. Such a process is the reason why prosciutto is so salty, flavorful, and expensive.
My juice came out quickly and as is getting to be the norm, my five dollars got me a glass fit for a child. Two gulps and it was gone, long before my pizza arrived. I really wish restaurants would stop being cheap when it comes to juices, it would make me so much happier. That feeling of frustration ebbed as soon as my pizza arrived. Served on a wood plank on top of some parchment paper this pizza looked marvelous. Just take a look, this pizza was just too pretty to shrink the picture.
The bread was super thin and wonderfully crispy, fresh out of a wood fire oven. The mozzarella was melted beautifully and was extremely stringy. I cut into the perfectly cooked eggs and spread the yolk across the pizza. The speck was a little hard to cut but the manager went and procured me a sharper knife to aid in my adventure. Everything about this pizza was well thought out and worked perfectly together. The speck was soft and salty which was balanced out by the creaminess of the egg yolk. The crust was just like the toast you would use to soak up the egg only better. The cheese and light application of sauce made sure you remembered that this was a pizza even with the breakfast items on top. Last but not least the basil was a great addition and made me reflect on the pizzas we had in Naples. Lightly charred, fresh, and flavorful it tied the whole dish together in a great way. Each bite was better than the last and I finished it way too fast. My first breakfast pizza was a great success!
Little Dom’s didn’t let me down and I would recommend it if you want to try a great breakfast pizza though I would discourage ordering any fresh squeezed juices. With such a delicious breakfast option I am sure that the rest of the menu is cooked with great care. I would encourage you to try it any time of day because this is Italian food like you would get in New York City.
Overall Review: 8/10
Check out Little Dom’s and their many pizza options here
Article first published as Restaurant Review (San Diego): Cafe 222 on Blogcritics.
On the last morning of the NASPA conference in sunny San Diego I decided to head over to Cafe 222 for some breakfast. I figured, it was only a few blocks away and I could go for what has been hailed by the Food Network as the best stuffed french toast around. The restaurant is pretty unassuming in its corner spot, I actually had a little trouble figuring out where the front door was located. Their website is much more fancy then the place itself but that’s OK, I’m not one to judge. The staff was very polite and even offered coffee while you waited for your table, but since I was alone I was quickly sat at the counter.
Without hesitation I ordered the peanut butter and banana stuffed french toast and an over medium egg on the side. The only reason I ordered the egg was to have an equal comparator across diner breakfasts. If they can cook an egg to order you know they have this breakfast thing figured out. Since eggs are either cooked well or not, I will say that it was cooked perfectly and move on the the main attraction.
My stuffed french toast came out quickly and boy were they not kidding by the title. This bread was stuffed to the limit and I was not complaining. First off let’s talk about the bread, they must let it soak forever because it was delicious. Just enough egg and some cinnamon to boot. They cooked it just long enough so it was nice and crispy on the outside but still soft and fluffy on the inside. The filling was also delicious, peanut butter and bananas are some of my favorite things so if you put them together in between bread you’ve got a dish for me. My one comment is that the ratio was a bit off, it needed another half of a banana to balance out the massive amount of peanut butter on the plate.
I covered the french toast with a nice helping of maple syrup, smoothed around the huge scoop of butter, and dove right in. Since the dish was hot the peanut butter was softened and a little less sticky. This made it mix really well with the mushy (In a good way) bananas. The problem with peanut butter is that when it cools down the stickiness comes back so you had to eat this fast. Not a problem. Each bite was a fantastic combination of textures and flavors, even the powdered sugar was a great addition that added a touch of class to the dish. I think I managed to get 3/4 of the way through it before the peanut butter seized up but with the richness of it all I really did not need to finish. Yes, I actually left part of the meal on the plate, it was just too much to handle. All around this was one of the best french toast dishes I’ve had let alone stuffed french toast. It also looks pretty nice on film as you can see from the picture to your left.
Cafe 222 is a fun breakfast stop for a morning in San Diego and they serve some serious food. They don’t have a ton of seating so make sure you get in early or the wait could be lengthy. The banana and peanut butter stuffed french toast was top notch as was the over medium egg. Next time I am in San Diego I will surely go back. My big problem will be can I resist the french toast and go for something else. If I can then the corned beef hash is next on the docket.
Overall Rating: 7/10
Check out Cafe 222 and their funky menus here