Adventures in Dining

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Hawkers Asian Street Fare, May 29, 2011 May 29, 2011

Filed under: Little Saigon — hpandaw @ 10:45 pm

We’d read a review about this restaurant in Orlando Weekly, and being big tapas fans, we decided to make the long trek out to Mills Avenue.  Hawkers did not disappoint!  The interior reminded us strongly of Chipotle’s interior, with lots of corrugated iron.Our waitress was very friendly, making a beer suggestion to my husband (they offer 90 different beers by the bottle, mostly ranging in price from $4 to $7) and giving us ample time to look over the menu.  We decided to each select a dish to share, then each have one dish for ourselves, since I do not eat meat, and my husband had decided in advance to try the roast duck banh mi sliders.

Our first dish was the Asian fried green beans, lightly battered and tossed in five spice seasoning for $4.50.

This was delicious!  We ate them in about 30 seconds flat.  The beans were a bit oily, but in a good, street-food type of way, and the five spice seasoning lent an exotic flavor to the beans.

Next came the South Asia shrimp curry for $6.50.  

We really, really liked this dish.  The coconut milk was a nice touch, and the shrimp were large and very flavorful.  We ordered a side of white rice for $1 to eat the curry over, and I was somewhat challenged to eat this with chopsticks, but I managed.

In addition to the white rice, I had also ordered a piece of roti canai, thinking that I would sop up the shrimp curry with this. 

The roti was outstanding, buttery and flaky, and I could have eaten seven more of these!  The menu mentioned that it would be served with the “signature spicy curry dipping sauce,” so I was astounded to find that this dipping sauce had chunks of chicken in it!  I didn’t eat the chicken chunks, but, since I don’t eat meat, I would have asked them to hold the dipping sauce if I’d realized what it contained.  My only complaint about the restaurant is that I wish they had marked the menu to identify vegetarian dishes, which would have made it a lot easier to navigate.  Currently, the menu has symbols for spicy dishes and for “Hawkers Signature Dishes,” a symbol that I always find to be singularly useless.  Why tell me what your signature dish is?  What does that even mean, in practical terms?  Why not have a special section called “Hawkers Signature Dishes,” instead of “Hawkers Originals?”  The inclusion of both, without identifications that might have actually helped diners order, is a pet peeve of mine, not just on Hawkers’ menu, but on menus at other restaurants, as well.

My next dish was the $6 Hawkers fish tacos, one of the Hawkers Originals, and it was the weakest of all the dishes we tried. 

The five spice fish inside the tacos were woefully under-salted, and the shredded cabbage was dried up and didn’t seem to be fresh.

My husband’s next dish was also a Hawkers Original selection, the aforementioned Banh Mi sliders with roast duck for $6. 

He thought they were a touch heavy on the bread, but that was to be expected with a thick baguette. The duck was flavorful, though not very tender, and he liked the light mayonnaise dressing, without which he felt the duck would have been a bit dry.  The cucumbers in this dish were reportedly “great,” and complemented the duck nicely.  The bread was not chewy, and tasted fresh.

The total for roti, curry, green beans, tacos, rice, banh mi sliders, a Coke, and a Southern Tier IPA was $36.22 after tax and before tip.  We left the restaurant STUFFED, and definitely felt that we could have ordered probably one fewer dish than we did, though we had wanted to try multiple items.


Tapas Garden and Wine Bar, September 26, 2010 May 28, 2011

Filed under: Indian Rocks Beach — hpandaw @ 1:10 am

We’d read good reviews of this place on and thought it would be a good place to eat dinner, since we both love tapas.  What a mistake!  We were the only people in the restaurant on a Saturday night, which should have told us something, considering that other restaurants in the area had full parking lots.  It actually reminded us a lot of the show Kitchen Nightmares, where the restaurant was deserted and the standards had slowly slipped over time (we’re giving them the benefit of the doubt that they weren’t always this awful).
We arrived during “happy hour,” which ostensibly should have entitled us to $5 tapas.  After we were given the check, with full priced tapas on it, we overheard another server (not ours) tell the second group in the dining room that the $5 tapas was tapas that was not on the menu.  Unfortunately, our server did NOT tell us this.  He was very nice and friendly, but seemed quite callow, given the absence of his notification about the tapas specials and the fact that he didn’t offer us dessert or to order more tapas, even though we said that we’d start with 3 and would probably order more.  There were other strange things about the service like, with an entirely empty dining room, they gave us the table next to the bathroom.  The woman who seated us didn’t pull out our chairs or spread out our napkins, which was another indication of the unpolished service that we received here.
The food, though, was the big problem.  We wanted to start with three different tapas, but they were out of the one that sounded most appealing to us, the fried green tomatoes with crab meat.  We ordered the ceviche, four crab croquettes, and the shrimp al ajillo.  The ceviche turned out to be a garden salal with precisely TWO shrimp, sliced lengthwise, and a half of a bay scallop, which was cut into two pieces.  

Not exactly what is usually indicated by the term “ceviche,” especially for $7.50.  Doesn’t it look like a house salad?

The crab croquettes, which were described as “filled with crab and cheese,” turned out to be plain potato croquettes.  Neither crab nor cheese was in evidence here.  The shrimp al ajillo, at $7.95, was a giant rip off.  This, of the three dishes, turned out to be the only one that was what it said it was: shrimp with garlic sauce.  However, $7.95 at Tapas Garden buys you 6 medium-sized (26-30/lb) shrimp.  Woo hoo!  

I’m posting a photo, though it’s only got 5 shrimp, since I forgot that we were photographing the food and had eaten one of the shrimp before I remembered this.
I was so irritated at this point by the misinformation and misleading descriptions that we just paid the check and left.  I didn’t even finish my glass of wine because I was so irked.  I would definitely advise avoiding this restaurant unless you would like to pay too much for mediocre food with either excessively small portion sizes or misleading ingredients like “ceviche” or “crab” croquettes.


Alinea, August 6, 2009 May 21, 2011

Filed under: Chicago — hpandaw @ 8:24 pm

When we entered this restaurant, we felt a bit as if we were in Alice in Wonderland.  We walked down this corridor until we got to the end of it, but there was no sign of a door.  As we stood, looking at each other blankly, a door magically opened on the side of the hallway – surprise!
We chose to go with the 22-course Tour since we were so excited about the food here.  We both began with a course of steelhead roe with traditional garnishes. 

While it tasted like roe with traditional garnishes (brioche toast, crème fraiche, etc.) it was anything but.  The chef had transmogrified the garnishes into foams and creams so that there was absolutely no texture except for that lovely, salty pop of the caviar.  The brioche toast foam was the oddest thing: a foam that tasted like a piece of toasted bread.  We were both overwhelmed by this dish, and our culinary tour was off to a great start.
Our next dishes were slightly different.  Mine was black cod in iceberg lettuce with cucumber and Thai distillation.  My husband’s was pork belly with iceberg lettuce, cucumber, and Thai distillation. 

This was a lovely dish!  The Thai distillation was served in a small glass, and it tasted like lemongrass and fish sauce and all those other flavors one associates with Thai food.  The iceberg lettuce wrap, though, was the best part.  The crispy lettuce contrasted beautifully with the soft, flavorful cod.  The wine served with this was Abbazia di Novacella Kerner, Valle Isarco, Alto Adige 2007.
You know you’re in for a unique dining experience when your server’s instructions are to “Pick up the guitar pick and eat everything on it in one bite.”  This next course was oxalis with juniper, gin, sugar, and citric acid.  The citric acid was so sour!  But the bite was so light and refreshing.  My husband couldn’t decide if his palate had just been cleansed or blown away by the citric acid.
The course that followed was one of my favorite: lilac with scallop, shellfish, and honeydew. 

This was beautifully done.  The white, creamy disks tasted like lilac perfume melting in my mouth.  The scallop and shellfish (razor clam) were wonderful with the sweetness of the honeydew and the perfume of the lilac, and there was a saltiness to the broth that was addictive.  It sounds like such an odd combination, but it worked marvelously.  The wine paired with this was Albert Mann “Vielles Vignes” Auxerrois, Alsace 2007.
After all of these light and innovative dishes, the next course was a shock to the system. 

Mine was a ragout of vegetables, pate brisee, while my husband’s was a pigeonneau a la Saint-Clair.  What I learned from this trip is that apparently I am a big fan of salsify.  This course was an incredibly flaky, buttery, rich pastry, filled with vegetables and the most delicious, creamy, rich sauce from L’Escoffier.  It was perfect, and it paired so well with the wine, “Alter Ego” de Chateau Palmer, Margaux 2004.  I enjoyed this so much that I ate almost all of it, which was probably a mistake considering that I had another 18 courses to go!
What followed was very strange to eat. 

It was a black truffle explosion with romaine and parmesan.  Our server told us to eat this in one bite and to close our lips around it, since there would literally be an explosion of black truffle in our mouths.  He was right!  As soon as we bit into it, the liquid gushed into our mouths.  Black truffles have never tasted so rich and wonderful.  This was another favorite of mine.  Since it was only one bite, it was a good size for a tasting menu this extensive.
The next course was the one that we both agreed was the weakest. 

It was a tomato course with fig, nicoise olive, and pine nuts.  Before bringing out our dishes, the servers brought a large bowl of tomato greens on top of super-heated rocks.  This sent lovely aromas of fresh tomatoes to us while we ate this dish.  The tomatoes were good, and very fresh, topped with pureed olives and olive oil sorbet, but we thought it was just okay, especially compared to the dishes that precluded and followed this course.
My next course was apple with butterscotch and thyme, while my husband’s was bacon with butterscotch, apple, and thyme. 

This was served hanging from a very funky piece of metal that had been custom-designed just for this dish.  It was good, light and refreshing, but I wasn’t overwhelmed by it.
The following dish was another interesting one: sweet potato with bourbon, brown sugar, and smoldering cinnamon. 

It was served in what looked like a mutilated whisk.  The cinnamon stick, which we used rather like a popsicle stick to hold while we ate the sweet potato, was smoldering on the end, so it emitted a spicy aroma.  This was good, but a bit too greasy and rich for me.  The sweet potato with bourbon and brown sugar had been battered and fried.  It reminded me of something one might eat at a fair, though the couples at the tables around us kept referring to it as a “churro.”
Unfortunately, we didn’t get a picture of the next dish, since we were told to eat it immediately.  This was a small disk of mustard, passionfruit, and allspice sorbet, served on a pin.  We have a photo of the empty dish and pin, but the disk was on a tight timeline.  It was another one that didn’t wow me; the mustard was very spicy and tart, but it was a good palate cleanser after the rich sweet potato.
The next dish, hot potato, cold potato, black truffle and butter, was another really interesting one. 

It was served in a tiny bowl made of wax, with a pin stuck through the side of the wax bowl.  The bowl itself was filled with a creamy, chilled potato soup, while the pin held two small cubes of cheese and a hot potato ball topped with black truffle.  When we pulled the pin out of the wax bowl, the potato and cheese dropped into the cold soup, providing a nice contrast both of texture and of temperature.  This wasn’t my very favorite dish, but it was quite good, and it was definitely interesting.  The wine with this was a Bruno Paillard “Premiere Cuvee” Brut Rose, Reims.
This was followed by yuba with shrimp, miso, and togarashi. 

It was an interesting twist of fried yuba bean paste, wrapped around by shrimp covered in sesame seeds, with a miso sauce at the bottom of the dish.  I enjoyed this, which again, had a very interesting presentation, though these flavors were more familiar to me.  The server told us that in order to make this dish, they would cook the yuba until the skin formed, then they’d peel off the skin.  They kept doing this over and over, until they had enough skins to make into the stick and fry the yuba.
My next dish was fluke with peach, fennel, and shiso, while my husband had foie gras with peach, fennel, and shiso. 

This was delicious.  I’m usually not a fan of fennel, but I enjoyed this very much.  It was a small bite but very refreshing.  My husband’s foie gras was creamy with a slight sweetness from the peach.  He didn’t think it was the best foie gras he’d ever had, but he enjoyed it very much.  Because it wasn’t seared, the way foie gras usually is, it was creamier and sweeter.
This was followed by a dish of crab with carrot, five spice, and lychee. 

It was surprisingly sweet, and so light that I enjoyed every bite.  The crab was such a mild flavor, but the five spice paired well with it and didn’t completely mask or overwhelm the crab.
My next dish was sturgeon with powdered A-1, potato, and chips, while my husband’s was wagyu beef with powdered A-1, potato, and chips. 

Both the sturgeon and the wagyu were seared, and the mashed potato cake was coated with potato chips for a crispy crust.  It was very good, and the potatoes had a cheesiness, as if they’d been coated in Cheez-Its instead of regular potato chips.  The powdered A-1 was interesting, and it added a nice flavor to the meaty sturgeon.  The wine paired with this was a K Vintners “Milbrandt” Syrah, Wahluke Slope, Washington 2006.  We both really liked this wine.
Our server then approached us, handed us each what looked like a small plastic bag of powder, and said, “Put this on your tongue and let it dissolve.”  It was a lemon soda, a fizzy lemon powder, and it tasted like fun, if that makes any sense.  The plastic bag was actually made of corn starch, so it melted away on my tongue, to be followed by the tart yet sweet fizziness of lemon soda.  The server was so funny; he joked, “Now that you’ve swallowed that mystery packet, from a guy whose name you don’t know, let me tell you about your next course.”
The next course that followed was the most challenging for me to eat, primarily because it contained another one of those exploding balls. 

This one was a watermelon ball with lime and nasturtium, and we had to eat it in one bite, closing our mouths around it immediately, or else the watermelon would squirt everywhere.  I felt really weird trying to open my mouth wide enough to fit this inside, and my husband was videotaping me and kept making me laugh, so I had to have several attempts before I succeeded in getting the watermelon ball into my mouth.  It was delicious, though, very light, sweet, and flavorful.
The watermelon ball was served with two other dishes: bubble gum with long pepper and hibiscus and a transparency of raspberry and yogurt.  The bubble gum was another one that gave me trouble, since it was tapioca balls that had to be sucked out of a tube.  I guess I didn’t suck hard enough because I wasn’t able to get all of it in one bite, as the chef had intended.  The first suck was delicious, though, very sweet and fruity and slightly tart, all with the chewiness of bubble gum provided by the small balls.  I suspect these might be tapioca, but I have no information to either confirm or deny this.  It took me a while to get all of the balls out of the tube, and they weren’t wonderful without the hibiscus sauce.  The transparency of raspberry and yogurt looked like a tiny, red plastic fan.  It was good, though, like a crispy fruit roll-up.
Next came another dessert course: rhubarb with goat milk, onion, and lavender air. 

This was served on top of a pillow filled with lavender air, so that we continued to smell the lavender air while we were eating, as our dish pressed down on the pillow.  The onion had been made into an onion cotton candy, which was so much fun!  The desserts were playful and exciting: as much fun to eat as they were beautiful to look at.  The wine with this course was our favorite, Elio Perrone “Bigaro,” Piedmont, Italy 2008.
The final dish was performance art: chocolate, blueberry, tobacco, and maple.

The servers rolled out a Silpat tablecloth, and added something to the black vase on our table that made smoke from the dry ice start pouring out of it.  The sous chef came out from the kitchen and began spreading ingredients around our table: pickled blueberries, dashes of tobacco cream, candied walnuts, and applewood consommé in gel balls.  He gave us each a chunk of the frozen chocolate mousse, which was so cold that smoke issued from our nostrils and mouths.  This was really good, and it was also great fun.  We got to play with our food like two kids!  The consommé gel balls popped and oozed consommé all over the tablecloth, and we had so much fun composing each bite.  The wine served with this was a Smith-Woodhouse 1994 Vintage Port.
After this, we had a very dark, rich coffee, and then dinner was over.  We arrived at 7:30, and left at 11:30.  It was such an amazing, memorable experience.


Kitchen Table, Charlie Trotter’s, August 5, 2009

Filed under: Chicago — hpandaw @ 8:20 pm

This kitchen table was very different from the one at Victoria & Albert’s restaurant.  To begin with, the table here is literally in the kitchen, not set in an area to the back, so servers just stand around the table, and sometimes move behind you to get items stored on the counter right behind the table.  The view is the same; the big difference is that at Victoria & Albert’s, you’re in an island apart where you can see everything and interact with the chefs, but still have your own space.  Here, you’re right in the middle of the action.
Our chef for the evening was Michael Rotondo, who we remembered from the Bocuse d’Or.  Charlie Trotter did make an appearance early on in the course of our dinner, so we talked with him a bit, and he suggested that we visit his wine cellars and studio kitchen before leaving.  The only thing that marred the experience for us was the entry midway through the dinner of Chef Mathias Whatsisname, from Restaurant Charlie in Las Vegas.  He was extremely, blatantly rude to the staff right in front of us, which we found a bit disconcerting.  For example, at one point, he asked a server sarcastically, “Why are you making so much noise, Michael?  Do you want everyone in the restaurant to know that Michael’s here tonight?”  This was typical of his interaction with the staff, and we felt awkward, being put in the position of witnesses to others being insulted or treated rudely.
We began with three amuses bouches: Kumamoto oyster with sake, hamachi with ginger and guava, and uni with English cucumber. 

The oyster was my least favorite; I didn’t like the texture of the sake gel around the oyster; it was pairing slimy with slimy.  I really enjoyed both the hamachi and the uni, though.  They were both very light, refreshing, and flavorful.
Our first course was cold-poached cod cheek with heirloom tomato relish. 

My husband enjoyed this very much, but, again, though the flavor was good, I didn’t care for the fatty, chewy texture of the cod cheek.  Texture is very important to me, just as much so as flavor, and this texture bothered me.
The next dish was a lemon verbena spoon bread with honey and chervil.  The herbed spoon bread was excellent, so refreshing, and it was such a unique flavor combination for us.  The honey had been dehydrated, and it paired nicely with the lemon verbena.
A confit of Alaskan Sockeye salmon with rose & black tea was next, and this was lovely. 

We’d never had salmon paired with rose and black tea before, but these aromatics went so well with the salmon. My husband said it was the best salmon he’d ever eaten.
We parted ways on the next dish.  My husband, the meat-eater, went for the Swan Creek Farm rabbit loin with ricotta and Vidalia onion marmalade, while I had the Swan Creek Farm Ricotta and Vidalia onion marmalade. 

Rabbit with fried cheese sounds like an odd combination, but it was probably the best rabbit he’d ever eaten- cooked just right to have both tenderness and robust, albeit mild, flavor.  The onion marmalade was outstanding and had such a deep, rich flavor.  The ricotta was light, but it wasn’t my favorite thing.  It reminded me a bit too much of fried mozzarella sticks.
We next had a Portuguese sardine with white peach consommé.

My husband’s was paired with Spanish chorizo, while mine was paired with celery root.  I didn’t expect to like this as much as I did.  The fishiness of the sardine was nicely balanced by the peach consommé, and, though the sardine was fried, it wasn’t too oily or heavy.  The chorizo added a great spiciness to the dish that nicely contrasted with the sweetness of the peaches.
Our next dish was an ash baked eggplant with green curry and chanterelle mushrooms. 

Unfortunately, I wrote these recaps about a week after the dining experience, and I cannot remember this dish at all, so I will assume that it was unmemorable!
We parted ways again, and my husband had a whole roasted squab breast with wild licorice and kumquat. 

I had salt-crusted beets with anise hyssop and wild licorice.  This was kind of a bizarre dish, since the foam was so thick and mounded that it looked like mashed potatoes.  There were only 6 small beets here, so I found myself digging under the foam looking for actual food!  While the foam had a good flavor, I didn’t enjoy eating it by itself.  I would have preferred a smaller foam to food ratio here.
Again, I’d forgotten to say that my pescatarianism didn’t extend to eating octopus, so our next dish was grilled octopus with squid ink and rashiri kombu. 

I ate a bit of this, so as not to appear rude, since it was my omission, but I didn’t enjoy it very much.  The tips of the tentacles were over charred and couldn’t really be eaten.
My husband’s next dish was Crawford Farm lamb tongue with black mission figs and charred cinnamon. 

He enjoyed this very much; both the consistency and the texture reminded him of roast beef.  The tongue was thinly sliced and mild in flavor.  I had grilled tai with carrot and horseradish, which, again, I cannot remember.
Next, my husband had triple-seared tochigi wagyu with umeboshi and bonito.

I had halibut with fermented black garlic and miatake mushroom. 

It was interesting to see how the different chefs at each of these three restaurants used the same ingredients, to such different effects, and black garlic was one of those common ingredients.  The wagyu came off more like a butter than a beef, which might appeal to some, but seemed like a waste to him.  This halibut was quite good, but I preferred the flaky texture of the grouper that I’d had the previous night.
Our next dish was one that the server called our cheese course, though cheese was noticeably in the minority here, overwhelmed by a gel. 

It was the pecorino di pienza morchiato with cocoa seed and pequin peppers.  My husband did not care for the cocoa seed and pepper gel, and I found the flavor to be a bit too bizarre, very dark, but with that odd gel texture.  This was probably my least favorite of the dishes that we were served here.  Almost two years later, I still have flashbacks of the cocoa seed and pepper gel, and they are always extremely unpleasant, tongue-curling flashbacks.
Our next course, a lychee sorbet with green tea and toasted rice, was outstanding. 

It was so light and refreshing, and the green tea paired so well with the flavor of lychee, while the toasted rice added a nice texture contrast.
For dessert, we had raspberries with honey and sage, Michigan cherries with sugared almonds, Arbequina olive oil-chocolate chip parfait with red wine, and chocolate sorbet with cacao fruit & smoked vanilla. 

I enjoyed this very much; it was sweet and delicious without being too heavy.


Victoria & Albert’s Restaurant, August 4, 2009

Filed under: Disney Restaurants — hpandaw @ 8:15 pm

We were delighted, as always, to have the opportunity of dining at the Chef’s Table at Victoria & Albert’s.  This experience is always the highlight of our anniversaries.
We were seated and began with a series of amuses bouches. 

The deviled quail egg with American caviar was excellent, very light, fluffy, and refreshing.  The tomato carpaccio with charred octopus was my least favorite, not because the octopus wasn’t good, but because I should have told them that I’d prefer not to eat octopus.  This was completely my fault; I said pescatarian, and I didn’t qualify.  The tomato with this was delicious and very flavorful, while the octopus had a smoky flavor.  Next was the heirloom tomato sorbet with olive oil powder.  This was interesting: a savory sorbet with a tartness to it.  We then moved on to Italian buffalo mozzarella with pine nuts, which was also very light and delicious.  Our final amuse bouche was tomato fennel custard baked in the shell.  This was lovely, so creamy and rich.  I scraped every last bit out of the egg shell!  The wine pairing with this dish was the Pommery Royale Brut NV, which was dry and quite enjoyable.
Our next course was a sesame crusted Big Eye tuna with tat soi salad and tamari honey foam.  The sesame-crusted tuna was excellent; it had a lot of flavor, and the tamari honey foam was a wonderful complement.  My favorite part of this, though, was the tuna carpaccio.  This was melt-in-your-mouth tender and delicious.  My husband’s wine with this was the Marcel Deiss Pinot Blanc Bergheim, Alsace 2005.
The next dish had an interesting presentation.  It was “cold smoked” Maine lobster with apple-relish salad and curry.  The lobster itself was covered in a curry yogurt that was light and added flavor without overwhelming the subtle taste of the lobster.  The small plate with holes in it was served on top of a larger plate of dried ice, producing the icy “smoke” that flowed around the lobster.  The wine was Caymus Conundrum, California 2001, which is one of our favorite whites.
We moved on to two small bites on one plate: Florida grouper with Zellwood corn and bamboo rice ragout and Monterey abalone with toasted capers and Meyer lemon.  The grouper was my favorite of the two dishes.  It was light and flaky and flavorful: just what a fish should be.  The Zellwood corn was excellent, so creamy and smooth, and it complemented the grouper beautifully.  My husband preferred the abalone.  I don’t see the big appeal with this; I thought it was pretty good, but not wonderful.  The Meyer lemon butter sauce was superb, though; I wanted to tilt the plate up and lick every last drop. The wine paired with this was a Langtry Sauvignon Blanc Guenoc Valley Estate 2007.
My husband and I parted ways with our next course, since he was moving on to meatier things, and I was sticking with the pescatarian route.  He had duck breast, sausage and confit with salsify, cherry sauce.  The breast was very tender, and barely required a knife.  The most flavorful of the three was the confit.  The cherry sauce was a nice, tart accompaniment.  His wine pairing was a Toad Hall “Lavendar Hill” Pinot Noir, Carneros 2006.  This was a good wine, quite light and fruity.  My dish was a Gulf shrimp with rhubarb and cherries.  The shrimp was plump and quite good, but my favorite was the salsify.  It turns out that I am a huge fan of salsify!  Who knew?
My husband then moved on to the Niman Ranch lamb with spring vegetables and celery root.  The lamb was seasoned wonderfully, and lacked the typical over-gamey-ness of many lamb dishes.  The celery root puree was great, and the turned vegetables were very pretty in their colorfulness, if not terribly tasty.  Paired with this was a Castillo Perelada La Garriga Samso, Catalonia 2005.  I had a wild mushroom tortellini with yellow chanterelles, black truffles and vegetable consommé.  I enjoyed the depth of flavor in this dish very much, though I am ashamed to say that I am not a fan of black truffles.  They don’t detract from the dish for me, but they don’t seem to add much.  The yellow chanterelles were excellent, though, and the consommé was so flavorful that this dish was quite hearty.
My husband’s next dish was a tasting of Australian “Kobe” beef tenderloin and Japanese Wagyu strip loin with oxtail jus.  Ah, the beef course- the sirloin won on pure taste.  The tenderloin won on texture, but even the sirloin was a picture of tenderness.  Both had a great sprinkling of large salt crystals that added to the perfect sear.  Oxtail jus accompanied as always, but was provided on the side in its own mini-pitcher.  This touch was much appreciated since he prefers the natural flavor of the beef sans jus.  The third portion was a roasted/braised beef done in the style of their usual pork course.  The beef worked just as well as the pork, with all the savoriness concentrated in a small shredded mound.  He thought the pork couldn’t be beat, but this gave it stiff competition.  The wine served with this was my favorite: the Benziger “Tribute,” Sonoma Mountain 2005.  This wine was high in alcohol, but had a very complex, enjoyable flavor.  My dish was Coho salmon with California asparagus, crab and sauce béarnaise.  The Coho salmon was wonderful.  It was cooked so that the bottom was well-done, but the top of the filet was rare, making for a beautifully tender piece of salmon.  The crab and tarragon balls were light and mild in flavor, but because they were fried, it was a bit difficult for me to eat them at this stage of our dinner!  I felt that I was too full to do justice to this dish.
We then moved on to the cheese course: Coach farm’s goat, Gouda Beemster XO, 36 month aged Parmigiano-Reggiano, Thomasville Tomme, and Colston Bassett Stilton and cheesecake.  The Gouda did not appear on the cheese plate, but Chef Scott brought us out a piece to taste, since he’d used this cheese earlier in the Zellwood corn ragout.  My favorite of the cheeses was the Coach Farm’s goat, which was light and creamy and not as tart as some goat cheeses I’ve had.  The cheesecake was excellent, very smooth and faintly sweet.  The wine paired with this was a Quinto do Crasto late bottled vintage Porto 2002.
Our first dessert course consisted of blackberry sorbet, vanilla bean crème brulee and caramelized banana gateau.  Of these, the crème brulee was my least favorite.  It was good, but it was a fairly standard crème brulee.  The banana gateau was very light and fluffy, and it reminded me of a really good version of the banana pudding that I used to enjoy as a child.  The blackberry sorbet with the crystallized violet was excellent; it was very refreshing and enjoyable.
The second dessert course was the chocolate course, to which we are always too full to do justice.  This was a Tanzanian chocolate pyramid, Hawaiian Kona chocolate soufflé, and Peruvian chocolate ice cream and puff pastry.  I’m not a huge fan of the Peruvian chocolate ice cream, just because it’s not quite sweet enough for me.  The chocolate pyramid was very creamy and delicious, though, and the Kona chocolate soufflé was incredibly rich and decadent.  At this stage of the game, though, I’m always too full to really enjoy something so rich and decadent.  After dinner, we rolled out of the restaurant and upstairs, just in time for our view of the fireworks from our bedroom window!


Taste of the Himalayas, April 7, 2010

Filed under: California Wine Country — hpandaw @ 8:12 pm

We decided to try the Taste of the Himalayas, a restaurant that we’d read about on Yelp.  It was such a pleasant change from the heaviness of some of our meals.  I had the vegetable tandoori, which was flavorful and mild – it liked the exotic spiciness of some Indian foods that might have upset the delicate balance I’d reached with my stomach.  My husband had the paneer delicacy, which was saag paneer.  He was offered a choice of spiciness: mild, medium, or hot, and he chose medium.  It was a bit too spicy for me, but it was definitely delicious.  Saag paneer is always a favorite of ours.  The rice and naan that accompanied this were also excellent.  The rice was firm, not sticky, and the naan was rich and flavorful.  For dessert, we had gulab jamuns in honor of Dave from the Flight of the Conchords.  These were off the chain – they were beautifully spiced, and the sweet, honey-flavored syrup was great.  I’d only had gulab jamuns with a rose flavor, so the honey flavor was an interesting but delicious change.


Redd, April 5, 2010

Filed under: California Wine Country — hpandaw @ 8:10 pm

This was our last night in Napa Valley, and we decided to follow the recommendation from the tasting guide at Silenus and dine at Redd.  This was our favorite meal of the week, both because of the quality of the food and because of the attentive, friendly, yet unobtrusive service.  We opted for the 5-course tasting menu.  I told our server about my dining preferences, and then we were off for our culinary adventure!
My first course was sashimi of hamachi, sticky rice, edamame, lime ginger sauce.  This was excellent!  It was so light and yet so flavorful. The slightly crunche edamames perfectly complemented the meltingly soft hamachi, and the lime ginger sauce added nice depth to this simple yet beautiful dish.
My husband’s first course was yellowfin tuna tartare, asian pear, avocado, chili oil, and fried rice.  This was also meltingly tender, and it was perfectly spiced.  It pushed the envelope but stopped just short of being too spicy. I’m sensitive to heat, and I thought it was perfectly done.
My next course was caramelized diver scallops, cauliflower puree, almonds, and balsamic reduction.  This was also delicious.  The scallops were perfectly done: tender and so flavorful.  The cauliflower puree added a bit of a darker flavor to the dish which made it more interesting than most other scallop dishes that I’ve had.
My husband’s next course was Atlantic cod, coconut jasmine rice, clams, chorizo, and saffron curry nage.  This was another excellent course.  He really liked the chorizo, and I was able to taste a bit of his fish that didn’t have any chorizo contact. The fish itself was so tender, but it had a lovely crispy skin that contrasted beautifully.
After this, the chef sent out an additional course: a plate of creamy pasta with spring vegetables.  This was very nice, though we agreed that it could have used a bit more salt.  The bites that had shaved parmesan in them were perfectly salted, since the parmesan added salt to the bite, but when we had bites without the parmesan, these were the ones that needed salt.  I really liked the peas, which I expected to be sweeter, but which were nicely al dente and savory.  My husband likened the noodles to ramen, which was kind of fun.
My next course was skatewing, calamari, chickpea and pepper ragout, pinenuts, olives, aioli.  This was probably my least favorite of the dishes.  It had yellow raisins in it, which I’m not a big fan of, and it was very Mediterranean in flavor. Some people might like this, but it’s not really my style.  The skatewing, too, while well done, was not my favorite type of fish.  I tend to like thicker and juicier fish like tuna or sea bass, so it just wasn’t my preference.
My husband’s next course was glazed pork belly, apple puree, burdock, and soy caramel.  He thought that the apple went really well with the pork, which was tender and moist.
My next course was wild Alaskan halibut, onion fondue, spring peas, and five spice.  Again, the peas were nicely al dente and not sweet or mushy like some peas I’ve had (frozen or canned!).  The halibut was much more my style of fish, moist and light and delicious.  The five spice was very interesting with this dish, and I liked it.
My husband’s next dish was prime New York steak and shortribs, celery root puree, bacon and cipollini onion ragout.  He preferred the texture of the short ribs, with their deep and dark taste, and he really enjoyed the bacon and ragout.  This was a nice surprise.
My husband’s dessert was peanut butter, milk chocolate gianduja, and peanut honeycomb parfait.  This was fabulous.  The peanut butter and milk chocolate gianduja was rich and creamy, with a nice crispiness to it.  The peanut honeycomb parfait was delicious, light and creamy, but with the really nice crisp of the honeycomb.
My dessert was vanilla bean fontainebleu, rhubarb ice, and farina fritters.  Of these two dishes, I wasn’t really sure how the fritters connected with the fontainebleu, so I was left feeling like I had two very different, completely unrelated dishes on one plate.  The farina fritters weren’t very sweet, and I just didn’t care for them.  The fontainebleu, though, was gorgeous.  It was light, not too heavy and rich at all, but creamy and delicious.  The rhubarb added a nice sweetness and tartness to this creation.  Definitely a winner!