Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Restaurant Week 2010: Whisknladle, La Jolla

Restaurant week happens twice a year in San Diego. During that time diners are given the choice of numerous restaurants’ three course prix fixe menus at 20, 30, and 40 dollars. Some options are of questionable value, as restaurants (to no fault) attempt to provide good value while still turning a profit.

At the $40 level, Whisknladle stood out from most. While at the highest price level, their tasting menu was essentially anything from their actual menu. No compromises.
With most entrees nearing $30, their prix fixe was an exceptional value.

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Boasting the same quality local ingredients of their smaller counter service sister site, Prepkitchen,
Whisknladle’s menu is diverse in its offering of rustic but upscale New American comfort food.

Above, the first course flatbread is a crisp skin, artisanal in both texture and shape, topped with bacon, cheese and champagne grapes. It’s both pleasant to the bite and airy enough to indulge in.

The charred bone marrow with capers, shallots, lemon, and parsley is not the saltiest of bone marrows and was served a bit bloody for my taste. As a smear on the accompanying toast, it is overly indulgent; much too rich to enjoy.

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The chorizo date fritters, however, are delectable bites, melding together Mexican and Moroccan flavors.

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Whisknladle’s flatiron steak in artfully cooked. This one, cooked medium, is both tender and well seasoned. It is layered atop a bed of onions, potato crisps and other seasonal vegatables.

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The squash ravioli, which again boasts local vegetables, is decadently flavored with butter, hazelnuts, and sage.

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For dessert, a clear highlight is Whisknladle’s country apple tart whose taste isn’t overly sweet; the restraint in this dish makes it an ideal dessert after first two courses.
It is served with crème fraiche ice cream and sprinkled with rosemary candied walnuts.

For those who care little about restraint, the peanut butter pudding is decadent dessert personified. Much too generous in size, it tastes great in moderation; it goes well with its accompanying gingerbread bites. But the strong taste of peanut butter beneath a layer of chocolate caramel and candied peanuts is overkill in both size and flavor.

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A lively atmosphere makes Whisknladle ideal for larger parties. Its service is brisk and cooperative. Fans of New American cuisine will find Whisknladle a nice addition to a growing list in San Diego that now includes such wonderful choices as Urban Solace and Searsucker.


Whisknladle
1044 Wall St, La Jolla
CA 92037

http://whisknladle.com/about.html

The Linkery "Farm Week," North Park

For being one of the few upscale casual San Diego restaurants with a big city point of view, you want to love The Linkery. You want to love it for being in North Park. For using local seasonal and organic ingredients. For its ever-changing menu. For its feisty owner, Jay Porter. Conceptually, it is the perfect “anti-restaurant” restaurant.

Then there’s execution: Is it okay to stamp “Tips are not accepted” on a receipt that automatically adds an 18 percent service charge? And, more importantly, given the ethos of being local and organic and sustainable, does the big picture add up to good food?

While the rest of the restaurant world in San Diego either did or did not take part in Restaurant Week, the Linkery’s Jay Porter upped the ante in efforts to spite the restaurant celebrating concept. His response: A $25 vegetarian prix fixe menu celebrating “Farm Week.”

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As a vegan first course, the Linkery’s organic grilled summer squash dressed in cask-aged Shoyu sauce and ginger tastes hearty and healthy. As part of a vegetarian prix fixe, it makes sense, but unless you’re vegetarian, would hardly merit ordering as an appetizer.

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The second course, a house-made ramen with sweet and sour eggplant lightly bathed in a Kabocha squash broth, is topped with pasteurized quail eggs. Pork belly can be added for an extra four dollars.

A novelty vegetarian, I originally ordered the pork belly, which didn’t make it to my plate. That was quickly amended, and it made all the difference in the world. The ramen’s texture is rich though softer than al dente, the dish overall a bit sweet due to the eggplant and the squash broth. But the addition of the egg and pork belly’s salt combine to give the dish a well-rounded taste. The dish’s downfall was an almost lukewarm broth.
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The third course, an organic Taza chocolate truffle dressed in smoked sea salt and set atop strawberries and orange wedges is a guilt free closer. The dish is both rich and ironically palate cleansing. This, again, is a fine dish for prix fixe, but would be an afterthought on an actual dessert menu.

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At heart, the idea of being both pig and vegetarian for the night is appealing; therefore, the Linkery’s offering is ideal and tasty if well executed.
For all its creative edginess, The Linkery can sometimes be hit or miss, but that’s the result of constantly evolving seasonal menu.
Luckily, the Linkery’s been mostly a hit.

The Linkery
3794 30th St
San Diego, CA 92104

(619) 255-8778

www.thelinkery.com

Monday, September 27, 2010

Los Angeles: The Foundry on Melrose

After reading a couple of my entries, one could easily render me a culinary star gazer. Or even a stalker of celebrity chefs.

Celebrity chefs: If you’ve cooked your way on to my favorite tv show and you’re less than a three hour flight away, I am coming to get you. Or your food anyway.

Sure, it’s a tacky fetish, a fair-weathered fondness for fifteen minute of fame foodists, but chasing celebrity chefs is empowering. To think that for around a hundred dollars one can become part of the fantasy inside of your television is both democratizing and surreal.

After all, when was the last time you were able to rub elbows with George Clooney?

This is what led me to LA’s The Foundry on Melrose. After a stint as a finalist on season two of the Food Network’s Next Iron Chef, Eric Greenspan, earned his place on my stalker’s list.

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While skeptics may say it’s impossible to be impartial with a starstruck heart, the mouth, in this case, will not lie. Food will or will not please the palate, regardless of celebrity status. This time, Greenspan clearly wins.

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Instead of bread baskets, Greenspan keeps people eating by intermittently serving a series of bread bites. Above, these biscuit-like discs covered in marmalade and topped with cheese shavings had only one drawback: There should have been eight more.

Below, the focaccia bites are equally tasty in their acidic dipping sauce.

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As part of a prix fixe three course market menu (39.), the Foundry’s tomato and watermelon salad is served with basil and burrata and flavored in a soy vinagrette. While tasteful in small portions, next time I’d opt for the steak tartare, as the vinagrette was a bit too tangy.

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Above, more bread bites - this time with flavored butter.

Greenspan’s true talent comes in both the presentation and flavor profile of the Foundry’s entrees. This tea poached yellowtail on a bed of soy onion risotto and candied ginger meshed a light and refined tasting fish with the comfortingly heavy seasoning of the risotto; a taste which will evoke feelings of nostalgia for homemade onion soup (29.)

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As one of the choices of the Foundry’s Market menu entrees, the crispy skin salmon
is more mildly seasoned, but still a thoughtful balance of sweet and savory. It is served on a platform of nectarines, capers, and cauliflower.

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Ironically, while the objective was to give my attention to the chef, Greenspan consistently visited our table to provide details to his dishes. Above, Chef Greenspan oversees presentation as dishes go out.

For the market menu dessert I chose The Foundry’s peanut butter bread pudding for its mere whimsy, but ultimately, the dish was more pleasing than expected, taking pantry staples to the next level and producing a rich and exceptionally upscaled revision of sometimes messy classic. This one is served with peanut butter ice cream and grape sauce.

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While the initial ambiance evoked a less than casual atmosphere, The Foundry is more casual than it lets on; service was thoughtful and unpretentious. As for the food, the menu revealed both maturity and creativity, possessing flavor profiles that make it easy to understand why Chef Greenspan was selected as a Next Iron Chef contestant in the first place. Or maybe that’s the food groupie in me talking.
Don’t take my word for it: “Allez cuisine.”


The Foundry on Melrose
7465 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90046
Phone: (323) 651-0915

http://www.thefoundryonmelrose.com/

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Village Pizzeria, Coronado

Not all pizzas are created equal.
Some are begrudgingly tossed, belligerently topped with adolescent disregard. Some are cajoled into submission with delicate fingers. A pizza’s taste value is surely a relative thing.
In each case, whether it’s Arizona’s Pizzeria Bianco, or the surly but loyal corner dive, pizza is universal American comfort food.
A literal slice of democracy pie.

Taste value being relative, Village Pizzeria’s taste is a value of its own.
It’s not gourmet. It’s not a last resort. Somewhere in between, this Coronado establishment offers great taste at a good price.


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In terms of the proverbial “pizza joint Greek salad (8.),” this one’s a keeper with the freshest of feta and genuinely crispy cucumbers.

Village Pizzeria has two locations, one in downtown Coronado and a bayside site as well. At the bayside site, below, diners sit outdoors with ocean view, under a vinyl covered roof.

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Below, the large sized Californian pizza features chicken apple sausage and roasted red peppers. While fatty proteins like pepperoni give a pizza a more pronounced if not decadent taste (read greasy), Village Pizzeria’s Californian is tasty and baked deservedly well. It’s a flavorful pizza that delivers a crack when bitten in to. At around $25, the pizza easily serves 3-4.

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For nights when you feel like playing tourist in your own town, but refuse to be taken out of your comfort zone, VP is a sound place to go.


Village Pizzeria
Coronado Ferry Landing
1201 First Street,
Coronado, CA 92118
(619) 437-0650

www.vpcoronado.com

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Analog Bar, Downtown San Diego

After a long workday, appetizers and drinks can often become unimportant afterthoughts. The tending to tasks that never end, the dealing with people who want more from you than they’d ever expect for themselves leads one to howl indifferently, “Get me a drink and some buffalo wings!”

The usual appetizer cliches ensue: microwaved chicken taquitos, even more microwaved potato skins and quesadillas become the foundation upon which drinks do their job - numb you. Then there are places like Analog.

Here in this modern, but rock and roll inspired bar, appetizers take center stage in a performance that can best be described as flavorful, creative, and edgy.

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Above, Analog’s mini brioche classic cheeseburgers are served in trios or pairs with housemade pickles, white onion and Analog’s “stereo” sauce (10). Small and tasty, there’s little to feel guilty about with these bites.

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Analog’s self proclaimed “best grilled cheese EVER” might just actually be that good. With gruyere, mozzarella and truffle cheese, this buttery sandwich is served with a smear of honey. It’s a definite showstopper (9).

Below, the potato spiral with a side of stereo sauce and spicy ketchup could have been saltier or tastefully greasier. Instead, it’s a light (and again guilt-free) garland of potato disks ready to be torn for dipping.

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Below, Analog’s popcorn brussel sprouts are flash fried and served with parmesan cheese and bacon bits, complete with their own retro popcorn box (6). Ultimately, this dish is worthy of an encore.

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Analog is unpretentious and fun. And during happy hour, most appetizers are half price.

In addition to appetizers and a full bar, Analog does serve full sized entrees of equal promise and creativity. And while all this may not be reason enough to want to return to work, it will make days go by faster.

Macro food shots by http://www.eddeezy.com/

Analog Bar
801 Fifth Avenue
San Diego, 92101
(619) 233-1183

http://analogbar.com/

Anaheim: OC Foodiefest

Not long before the Los Angeles Street Food Fest was set to begin at the end of July, Orange County had announced its own food truck celebration for August 28.
While my gut told me that there was far too much celebrating going on, I knew that, like all good things that go viral, this trend cannot go on forever.
So it was off to Orange County for yet another celebration.
This time, the event featured slightly fewer vendors - fifty. But this time, all of the trucks were “gourmet.” The event quickly took a second leg up on the LA festival: Taking place outside of the Anaheim Honda Center, food vendors featured their goods inside their trucks.

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After my ravenous race to consume my VIP ticket’s $70’s worth at the L.A. event, this time, I came prepared with two caramelized kernels of wisdom:
  1. Pay general admission and you won’t feel the need to overindulge.
  2. Don’t overindulge. Let the world be your tasting menu.
Here’s how that went:

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First course (above): While all three of the Sea Birds truck’s offerings were creative and far from overbearing, their lime flavored Organic Watermelon cup served as the ideal amuse bouche: fresh, minty and light. It proved a wonderful starter for a horribly hot sunny day.

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Second Course (Above): The Ahn- Joo Korean gourmet truck’s rice cylinder skewers wrapped in bacon were like squid without the fishiness. Oh, and obviously with bacon. Already in line, a dessert starter from the Ahn Joo truck was also in order: their sweet and crispy fuji apple egg roll was like Wonton Apple Pie, if there even is such a thing.
Third Course (Below): Celebrity Chef Ludo Lefebvre was on hand to serve his now famous fried chicken. Usual skepticism aside, Ludo Bite’s chicken ball with bearnaise sauce was indeed the real deal. Light and crispy, it fit the definition of upscale fried chicken. Lefebvre’s cole slaw was both spicy and tangy - an honestly good interpretation of the classic without the excessive creaminess.

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Fourth and fifth course: The Lime Truck’s guilty pleasure had to the foie gras mousse, but foie on a hot day just didn’t seem right. Instead, the Shellfish Ceviche with blue crab and lobster made for a pleasant snack.
Well seasoned and acidic, the Heirloom tomato gazpacho was both a refreshing and thoughtfully seasoned soup. The fact that the soup was served as gazpacho meant every note could be tasted. That said, it was the ideal palate cleanser.

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Sixth Course (Taco Time): Below, the Knockout Taco Truck offered many eclectic choices of proteins in taco form. For a classic taste, the carne asada taco was done right - nicely chopped steak brightened with a toss of Cotija cheese. For something different, the Albacore tuna taco was served in fried form, crispy - its fish still meaty.

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Plenty of dessert trucks were on hand for the final course, including the now famous Na Na Queens featured on the Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race. Among others , were the ever popular pancake making Buttermilk Truck as well Cool Haus, the ice sandwich truck.

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But the final course went to the Morsels Bakery truck, which actually bakes its goods “in truck.” Above, their strawberry shortcake was as good as any homemade version of the dish, in handy portable form.
Below, the buzz worthy Flying Pig truck was constantly busy. But the most popular choice, and the longest line went to the Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race’s darling and now celebrity Misa and the Vietnamese Nom Nom truck. Thanks in part to the show, their line consistently ran with over seventy plus patrons.

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With a great variety of gourmet offerings and plenty of walking room for in between meals, Orange County’s first Foodie Fest was an excellent experience. And while the food truck trend may be a just that - only a trend - here’s hoping there's just enough gas in the tank to keep it going for another year.
http://www.ocfoodiefest.com/