Bottega – 12/26/09

Bottega
6525 Washington St
Yountville, CA 94599

I’ve wanted to try Michael Chiarello’s Bottega for a little while now. I used to watch his show Easy Entertaining on the Food Network every weekday morning as I got ready for work. I’m also a big fan of rustic Italian food, so a trip up to Bottega on my next trip to Yountville was in order. Even more exciting was that Chef Chiarello was in the restaurant for lunch this day.

 Bottega   12/26/09

The restaurant is pretty casual, with an interesting burnt orange colored theme to the restaurant.

 Bottega   12/26/09

 Bottega   12/26/09

 Bottega   12/26/09

 

As we would be eating at the Restaurant at Meadowood that evening, a lighter lunch was in order. We decided to try the polenta (which we had heard good things about from multiple sources), a couple of pastas, and an entree.

Polenta Under Glass, caramelized wild mushrooms, balsamic game sauce

 polenta Bottega   12/26/09

polenta2 Bottega   12/26/09

This was an interesting dish. I’m not sure exactly how it’s prepared and how the glass influences the dish, but it was a well-made polenta. The difference was the balsamic sauce, which really made the dish by adding an extra flavor dimension and umami. The mushrooms were nice too.

Whole Egg Taglierini, Manilla clams, Calabrese sausage, garlic, basil, parsley, white wine

taglierini Bottega   12/26/09

This was a pretty dense pasta, I think due to the egg whites being used in the pasta as well. It has a very al dente chew to it, leading some to maybe think it was undercooked. The clams and the sauce were good, not overly salty. I probably would have wished the pasta to be a little less chewy though.

Garganelli with tomato braised rabbit sugo, wild mushrooms & ricotta

garganelli Bottega   12/26/09

This was a delicious dish, and my favorite of the meal. The garganelli was perfectly cooked, the rabbit chunky and tender, and just very good together.

Adriatic Seafood Brodetto monkfish, mussels, rock cod & fresh Monterey calamari, forno-confit tomato broth, olive oil-crouton, paprika-saffron rouille

brodetto Bottega   12/26/09

The first thing that struck me was the portion size. The sizes of the pastas were pretty good, but this entree was kind of on the small side.  The fish and squid were cooked well. The mussels were especially good, very juicy and exploding in flavor. The crouton was a little oily for my tastes, but was crusty and soaked up the broth well.

I was pleased with my experience at Bottega. It was pretty much as expected, and I’d definitely come back – especially for some pastas. A big plus was being able to meet Chef Chiarello, who was warm and welcoming.

Quince – 12/24/09

Quince
470 Pacific Ave
San Francisco, CA 94133

For my first meal after The French Laundry, we went to Quince to celebrate my grandmother and aunt’s birthdays on Christmas Eve. The restaurant recently re-opened after relocating to a larger space in the Financial District of San Francisco. The space is very elegant and modern, and uniquely, one of the first things you see is the kitchen from the exterior.

 Quince   12/24/09

 Quince   12/24/09

 Quince   12/24/09

As it was Christmas Eve, the restaurant was offering a special 4-course menu, as shown below. I’m not really a fan of ‘special’ holiday menus – sometimes I feel like it gives the restaurant a chance to charge more for less (it does), and I usually like to try some of the dishes the restaurant is known for.

menu1 Quince   12/24/09

The first course began with a Maine Lobster salad.lobster salad Quince   12/24/09

There was a lot of lobster on the plate, which is a good thing. I thought the ratio of lobster to fruit and vegetable was rather high, though. Lobster was cooked well, however.

Second course is a fagotelli of housemade ricotta.pasta Quince   12/24/09

This was a nice pasta. The pasta was al dente and the filling smooth and creamy. Chanterelles added a nice touch. The third course was an option between goose and beef.

The goose, prepared in two ways (the breast and in a sausage):goose Quince   12/24/09

The goose was disappointing. The meat was rather tough and had some gristle. The sausage was flavorful but rather dry. The spit roasted rib of beef was better:beef Quince   12/24/09

For dessert was the “buche de noel,” which was actually a mousse concoction resembling a buche de noel. This was pretty good – light and not too sweet.buche de noel Quince   12/24/09

To finish off the meal, we were brought some mignardises.mignardises1 Quince   12/24/09

mignardises2 Quince   12/24/09

There was a chocolate brownie, coconut gelee, and a gingerbread cake. The coconut was probably my favorite with a bright coconut flavor, followed by the chocolate brownie.

Quince was a little disappointing, largely due to the main entree (and maybe because I had a great meal the night before)). The other courses, however, were solid. The holiday menu definitely was not a great deal on this night. I probably would come back to try their regular menu, especially pasta tasting menu, as I was a fan of their pasta dish.

The French Laundry – 12/23/09

The French Laundry
6640 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599

The French Laundry is a food temple – a trek that any gourmand in America must make at least once in their lifetime. I first went in July of 2004, and it was easily the most anticipated meal of my life. I remember not being able to sleep much the night before. The restaurant had just gone through a renovation and had not announced an official re-opening date. I was playing around on OpenTable one night and stumbled upon an availability.  I remembered having to wake my dad to tell him this news, and use his credit card in order to confirm this reservation.

I had gone again in December of 2006, and now in 2009, figured it was time for a re-visit. It’s gotten noticeably easier to get a reservation on OpenTable. With a little persistence, I was able to snatch a 5:30 (in my opinion, the ideal time for a group not staying overnight) reservation over the Christmas holiday. Armed with a new camera (thanks Angela!), I was excited for this next trip.

fl sign2 The French Laundry   12/23/09

fl restaurant medium The French Laundry   12/23/09

Upon entering the premises, you walk into a garden and outdoor waiting area.

front medium The French Laundry   12/23/09

The famous blue door entrance to the restaurant.

door medium The French Laundry   12/23/09

The dining room is cozy and has a very warm and elegant feel to it.

dining room medium 500x332 The French Laundry   12/23/09

dining room2 medium 500x332 The French Laundry   12/23/09

Each table is set up with fresh flowers and the signature clothespin holding the napkin together.

table medium 500x332 The French Laundry   12/23/09

The menu has two options: the chef’s tasting menu and the tasting of vegetables. The menu for the day is here: French Laundry menu – 12/23/09 and the chef’s tasting menu, which we all had, is shown below. There was also an optional supplement offering white truffles from Alba, shaved over an option of housemade tagliatelle, gnocchi, or a Carnaroli risotto.

menu medium The French Laundry   12/23/09

The amuse bouche served here have been staples over the years. The first is the Gougères, which are cheez-it flavored light cheesy bread puffs.

gougeres medium 500x332 The French Laundry   12/23/09

The second is the salmon tartare coronet with creme fraiche. Simple and tasty, they make a great start to the evening.

coronet medium The French Laundry   12/23/09

Next was the first main dish of the night, also a staple of the menu.

“OYSTERS AND PEARLS”
“Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar

oyster pearl medium 500x332 The French Laundry   12/23/09

This is a really creative dish and a nice play on words. The oysters are trimmed and set into this tapioca sabayon with a dollop of caviar. Really delicious.

The next course had an option of a winter squash soup and a foie gras terrine.

SPICED WINTER SQUASH SOUP
Chestnuts, Arkansas Black Apple, Watercress and Maple

soup medium 500x332 The French Laundry   12/23/09

There was not much to the soup. It tasted of squash with a little spice, but not much else.

MOULARD DUCK “FOIE GRAS EN TERRINE”
Flowering Quince, Honey-Poached Cranberries, Celery Branch and Black Truffle

terrine medium 500x332 The French Laundry   12/23/09

This was pretty good as a terrine goes, as I usually do not like them. The accompanying brioche was delicious and came with three finishing salts.

The next course, a seafood one, was a choice between a bass and scallops.

SHALLOT-CRUSTED ATLANTIC STRIPED BASS
Salsify, Spinach, “Soubise” and Red Wine Reduction

striped bass medium 500x332 The French Laundry   12/23/09

This was a great dish with a nice crust and a moist flesh. Definitely cooked well.

NANTUCKET BAY SCALLOPS “POÊLÉES”

Cauliflower, Satsuma Mandarin, Pine Nuts, Arugula and Niçoise Olive “Paint”

scallops medium 500x332 The French Laundry   12/23/09


This was one of the more disappointing dishes of the night. I definitely prefer sea scallops to bay scallops because they’re just meatier and less prone to being overcooked. I don’t think the scallops were overcooked in this case, but the olive ‘paint’ was just way too overpowering for this dish.

The next dish, served to everyone, was a highlight.

SWEET BUTTER-POACHED MAINE LOBSTER
Forest Mushroom “Pain Perdu,” Sunchokes, Brussels Sprouts and Pomegranate “Aigre-Doux”
The lobster was cooked beautifully. The mushroom ‘bread’ was a nice earthy accompaniment, and the brussels sprouts and pomegranate were also a good compliment.

lobster medium 500x332 The French Laundry   12/23/09

SHAVED WHITE TRUFFLES OVER CARNAROLI RISOTTO

After the lobster course was the truffle supplement. I chose the white truffle to be shaved over the risotto. This dish is quite an experience as well, as the server will bring the huge truffle around in a box to be smelled and then will proceed to shave it on top of the risotto. It was then finished with a little brown butter.

risotto medium 500x332 The French Laundry   12/23/09

The risotto, prepared with shallots, butter and grated truffle, was really well-made on its own. The truffles, as well as the brown butter, completed the dish and made it unforgettable.

risotto2 medium2 500x332 The French Laundry   12/23/09


The next course was an option between white quail and rabbit shoulder.

WOLFE RANCH WHITE QUAIL
Chorizo, Cardoons, Sweet Peppers, Panisse, Spanish Capers and “Pimentón”

white quail medium 500x332 The French Laundry   12/23/09

This dish was the single most surprising for me of the night.  White quail, as explained by the server, was a cross-breed between chicken and quail. I had never heard of this, let alone tried it, so I had to order it…and was glad I did. The breast was so juicy and moist, shocking as it was white meat (closer to chicken than quail).  The leg was good as well, but by comparison, paled compared to the breast.

“ÉPAULE DE LAPIN FARCIE AU CERVELAS”
Baby Fennel, Michigan Sour Cherry, Pistachio and “Sauce Périgourdine”

rabbit medium 500x332 The French Laundry   12/23/09


The rabbit shoulder was stuffed and glazed. Not a bad dish, but it wasn’t as good as the white quail.

ELYSIAN FIELDS FARM LAMB SADDLE
“Pommes Purée,” Nantes Carrots, Snap Peas and Béarnaise Reduction

lamb 500x332 The French Laundry   12/23/09

The lamb is prepared sous vide for 80% of the cooking, and seared for browning the rest of the way. This was a great piece of meat that was juicy and tender, and not too gamey.

The next course was the cheese course. Not being a fan of the cheese course, I opted to substitute this out for a potato gnocchi dish. Everyone else, however, stuck with the cheese.

“SCHARFE MAXX”
Hobbs’ Bacon, Roasted Romaine Lettuce and Tomato Compote

cheese medium 500x332 The French Laundry   12/23/09

The substitute dish, a russet potato gnocchi, served with brown butter and grated black truffle, was very simple and good.

gnocchi medium 500x332 The French Laundry   12/23/09

Next, the first of three desserts.

“DARK AND STORMY”
Maui Gold Pineapple Sorbet, Spiced Gingerbread and Gros Michel Bananas

dark stormy medium 500x332 The French Laundry   12/23/09

This was a light dessert, serving to cleanse the palate and give a sweet introduction to dessert courses.

Our next dessert was specifically requested off the menu, due to the fame it’s garnished over the years. Luckily for us, the kitchen obliged.

“COFFEE AND DOUGHNUTS”
Cappuccino Semifreddo with Cinnamon-Sugar Doughnuts

coffee donut medium 500x332 The French Laundry   12/23/09

This was probably the best doughnut I’ve ever had. Warm and soft – it was just delicious. The semifreddo had a rich coffee flavor to it (I took a scoop to show the “coffee” under the “milk froth”), but the highlight was really the doughnut.

The final dessert was a choice between two dishes.

“GÂTEAU SAINT NIZIER AU MANJARI”
Mango-Chili Relish, Valrhona Cocoa Nibs, Lime Foam and Coconut Milk Sorbet

choc cake medium 500x332 The French Laundry   12/23/09

This was a flourless chocolate cake, and I really liked the coconut milk sorbet. The lime foam, topped with sea salt, was not really necessary, in my opinion.

BAKEWELL TART
Huckleberries, Marcona Almonds and Crème Fraîche Sherbet

tart medium 500x332 The French Laundry   12/23/09

This was an interesting dish. A little bit doughy, a little fruity – this would be a nice end to the meal.

MIGNARDISES

The mignardises for the night included a pecan tart, caramel and chocolate covered macadamia nuts, and assorted chocolates.

pecan tart medium 500x332 The French Laundry   12/23/09

choc medium 500x332 The French Laundry   12/23/09

The pecan tart and macadamia nuts were not remarkable, but the chocolates were good, especially the pumpkin (orange and white colored at top). Unfortunately, we were so full that we were not able to try all of the flavors.

At the end of the meal, the bill comes out on a laundry tag, a fun touch that the restaurant has had since its inception.

laundry tag medium The French Laundry   12/23/09

In addition, we each got some shortbread cookies to take home.

shortbread medium 500x332 The French Laundry   12/23/09

We were lucky enough to be invited into the kitchen at the end of our meal.

kitchen medium The French Laundry   12/23/09

kitchen2 medium The French Laundry   12/23/09

We were told that Thomas Keller had been in the kitchen and left an hour earlier (DAMN!). However, it was great to be able to check out the kitchen, which was spotless. I was surprised by just how small the kitchen was, and how it was able to serve such an array of dishes in such a small space.

In all, it was a great experience. I was a little anxious that it wouldn’t live up to expectations, because they were quite high, and I had been hearing a lot of peoples’ concerns about Chef Keller’s decreasing involvement in the kitchen. However, the restaurant definitely lived up to my expectations and proved to be a fantastic meal.  We were all very pleased, and I can’t wait for my next trip back.

Drago Centro – 12/8/09

Drago Centro
525 S Flower St. Suite 120
Los Angeles, CA 90071

 Drago Centro   12/8/09

Drago Centro has got to be, for me, one of the most frustrating restaurants in Los Angeles. Food-wise, it’s one of my favorites in LA. The pastas are just delicious, and their entrees and desserts have also been solid each time. However, it’s the service that kills me. It’s completely unpolished. It’s very inconsistent and frequently lacking – for a restaurant of this caliber, it falls way short.

I’ve eaten here 5 times now since it opened in November 2008, and have gotten a good picture of what to expect from the food and service.  I feel like the service is generally unpolished, but that you do get better service if you’re older and/or in a suit. The service was actually very good the one time I came with my parents, but has fallen flat each other time. Problems have been everything from inattentive waiters, forgetting wine pairings with food, and serving a dessert with bacon bits to someone who is a pescaterian (it was made known at the beginning of the meal).

On this latest occasion, 6 of us tried the new Eat & Run menu that debuted the Monday prior. The new 3-course menu for $25 is advertised as catered to the business crowd and is aimed at getting you in and out in around 30 minutes. In all, we were there for about 90 minutes. However, I will not rant here about the timing and service. The food is the showcase – the 3-course this day was:

le lattughe miste
mixed baby lettuces, shaved parmesan, red wine vinaigrette

la coda
braised oxtail, soft polenta

il tiramisu
individual tiramisu

The salad was simple and fresh. There were only three ingredients. Lettuce, parmesan and the vinaigrette. I tend to like salads like these to start meals, and the parmesan was a nice saltiness to the vinaigrette. 

salad Drago Centro   12/8/09

Another in our party ordered a la carte and had the lobster bisque.

lobster bisque Drago Centro   12/8/09

This was a rich and flavorful bisque, with a good lobster flavor that was not overpowering.

The main entree was the oxtail, which had a surprisingly generous portion of 3 oxtail chunks over soft polenta and a rich sauce.

oxtail Drago Centro   12/8/09

This dish was delicious. The oxtail was nicely braised and tender with a rich sauce made from the braising liquid. The soft polenta was a nice complement as well, its soft texture mixing with the chewy, yet tender meat.

We also got an order of what has traditionally been my favorite dish at Drago Centro. The pappardelle with pheasant and morel mushrooms is one of my most memorable dishes of 2009.

pappardelle Drago Centro   12/8/09

It’s a very rich, creamy sauce with nice chunks of pheasant and homemade pappardelle. I remember the first time I had this it was so so good. Now, after I’ve had this each time I’ve had it, maybe I’ve gotten a little tired of it. It’s still quite tasty, but I can’t see myself eating a whole plate of it anymore. Still great for sharing.

For dessert came the tiramisu.

tiramisu Drago Centro   12/8/09

The problem with this tiramisu was the custard:lady finger ratio was way too high. See picture below.

tiramisu 2 Drago Centro   12/8/09

There was very little in the way of the lady fingers. The custard was sweet and tasty, and probably could have been good on its own. However, as a tiramisu, I expected more lady fingers.

The decor is nice – tall ceilings and windows let in a lot of natural light.

dining room Drago Centro   12/8/09

There is an impressive wine tower as you walk in. All glass, it fits in with the decor.

wine tower Drago Centro   12/8/09

The bar area is separated by the hostess stand and wine tower.

bar Drago Centro   12/8/09

My overall impression of Drago Centro remains the same. The food is top-notch and some of the best in the city. You can go well with just some pastas (I like the pappardelle with pheasant and garganelli with sausage), or stick to one of the entrees (the branzino and osso bucco have both been good). The decor is nice and open. However, the service is really lacking and takes away from the whole experience.

Steak – 12/7/09

Lately I’ve been trying to find the butcher shop with the best steaks in LA. Steaks are something I cook on a somewhat regular basis, and I feel I can now cook a good one consistently. A while ago, I told myself what I would only cook USDA Choice steaks until I knew I could cook consistently – it would be tragic to overcook a Prime piece of beef. So, now has come the time.

I had read LA Mag’s food lover’s issue where they had a segment on butcher shops in LA. Last weekend, I checked out one of them, Alexander’s Prime Meats, in San Gabriel, which had USDA Prime beef from Harris Ranch. Taking a look at the meats, I was a little disappointed as the marbling on them looked akin to what I would expect for a Choice grade piece of meat. I decided to try out a rib-eye anyway and found it good, but not too tender and not outstanding – basically, I couldn’t distinguish it from a good Choice steak.

This past weekend I checked out Marconda’s Meats in the Farmer’s Market on 3rd and Fairfax. They primarily serve certified Piedmontese beef from a ranch in Montana. Piedmontese cattle, originating in Italy, are known for its tenderness and lower fat content. Taking a look at the steaks, the New York really caught my eye.img00199 20091206 1343 Steak   12/7/09

A picture of the steak I purchased is below.steak Steak   12/7/09

Immediately, I noticed the steaks’ marbling. It looked like what I thought looked like USDA Prime, much more marbled than the ones at Alexander’s.  So, I had to try one out.

My preferred cook-at-home steak method is to get a cast iron skillet as hot as possible, sear both sides, and then to put it on a rack and finish in the oven. This creates a nice crust on the steak, while maximizing the pink meat in the middle of the steak. One of the ways I judge how well a steak is cooked, aside from doneness, is how much brown area there is on each side of the steak. Ideally, this will be minimized, and leaving juicy medium rare meet in the center.

I seasoned the steak with garlic salt, pepper, and a little olive oil.steak seasoned Steak   12/7/09

Then, it was placed in the superhot cast iron skillet to sear.steak sear Steak   12/7/09

After being finished in the oven, I took the steak out with an internal temperature of 125 degrees.  I let it rest to let the juices redistribute, and it settled at about 133 degrees after resting.steak cooked Steak   12/7/09

I decided to cut up the steak on a cutting board first to really get a look at the meat. This was the moment of truth!steak pieces Steak   12/7/09

steak cut Steak   12/7/09

steak cross sectiom Steak   12/7/09

I got a pretty good sear on the crust; however I think I seared it a little too long on each side. The brown around the outside of the meat was thin but noticeable.  The meat was definitely more tender and had a nice flavor. It wasn’t as juicy as other steaks I’ve had though. Unlike the steak from Alexander’s, I could tell a bit of a difference from a Choice grade steak. Was it the best steak I’ve cooked? Hard to say. Maybe…but I’ll have to keep searching.

Seafood Risotto and Chocolate Cake – 12/6/09

There aren’t too many things as soul-satisfying as a nice risotto on a cold day. Even better – one full of seafood. Thus, on this winter night, a seafood risotto was in order. Also, I had recently read Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s molten chocolate cake recipe and it sounded so incredibly simple and easy, I figured I had to give it a try. The menu was complete.

Now, I found myself at four grocery stores on Sunday, trying to get the right ingredients. I don’t think it was so much the lack of selection of the stores, but maybe the fact that I’m picky…really picky when I cook – I want everything to go right. The chief ingredient decisions were:

What type of seafood to use?
I ended up using fillets of swai, shrimp, mussels and bay scallops. These were all pretty easy to work with, and I thought they’d all go well.

What type of cheese to use?
Most recipes call for Parmesan here. So I found a block of Parmigiano Reggiano to use – I like the mildly salty and nutty flavors in this cheese. I’m not as picky about the whole cheese-seafood thing.

What type of chocolate to use?
Ideally, I wanted Valhrona. Jean-Georges recommended it, and Thomas Keller always uses it – so naturally, this was the choice. However, I couldn’t find any. However, I had seen on America’s Test Kitchen that Ghirardelli chocolate came in first in testing for baking chocolates, so I got a package of their bittersweet chocolate.

Making a risotto is actually rather simple. My recipe was to saute some onions and garlic, add Arborio rice, add white wine, and then continually add heated stock until the risotto is al dente. At that point, I would stir in some fresh parsley, the cheese, and the seafood (which i would pan sear separately).

The risotto, almost fully cooked.risotto Seafood Risotto and Chocolate Cake   12/6/09

The addition of the seafood to the risotto.risotto seafood Seafood Risotto and Chocolate Cake   12/6/09

The seafood plated.risotto plated Seafood Risotto and Chocolate Cake   12/6/09

The chocolate cakes were next. My recipe involved melting the chocolate and butter in a double boiler, whisking eggs and sugar separately, and then whisking the egg mixture into the melted chocolate. Finally, flour was whisked in to create a batter, and this was poured into buttered ramekins and baked at 450 degrees.

The chocolate cake coming out of the oven.choc cake Seafood Risotto and Chocolate Cake   12/6/09

Chocolate cake plated.choc cake plated Seafood Risotto and Chocolate Cake   12/6/09

I guess I’d have to say I was satisfied with how the meal turned out. The risotto was delicious and was the most important part of the meal, and I thought it was cooked pretty well. The chocolate cakes, while not molten, were still tasty – next time I should be able to perfect it.