Craft – 1/5/09

Craft
10100 Constellation Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90067

Craft is probably best known for being one of Top Chef’s Tom Colicchio’s restaurants.  Tom Colicchio was a renowned chef before the TV show, making a name for himself in the New York restaurant scene with Gramercy Tavern. While many TV-celebrity chef restaurants are pretty underwhelming, I think Craft is one of the better ones. It’s located in Century City with a concentrated business crowd, especially during lunch. The interior is full of natural light, a slick and modern space.

On my last trip to Craft during the October 2009 DineLA series, each member of our party of 5 received a $10 dining certificate to join them another time. As I was the only one who actually lived in LA, I found myself with $50 to use at Craft on my next visit. We elected for the 3-course  prix fixe lunch. The first courses were an option of a soup of pasta. Below is the celery root purée.

I didn’t really care too much for this soup as it tasted too much like celery. I know, that’s the point right? But I had one at Bouchon recently and I enjoyed that one, as it brought about a much more subtle celery root flavor.

The other appetizer was a chestnut agnolotti. Definitely tasty, with the dough having a nice chew. The pasta dough was a little bit thick, however. A relatively smaller portion made you want one more bite.

The first entrée was a hangar steak. Nothing extraordinary about it, but it was good – cooked well with good flavor.

The other entrée was Maine lobster with lima beans and spinach. I liked this dish. Having had some pretty good lobster recently, I was kind of picky and thought the flesh was a little chewy. However, it was cooked well, and I enjoyed the accompanying spinach and beans.

Next up were desserts. The first was a cranberry crisp with cajeta ice cream (a Mexican caramel). I like that most of Craft’s desserts are served warm with ice cream, and I’ve had a couple of cobblers here before and enjoyed them. The crisp was good and warm with a nice crust, and the ice cream was definitely interesting – in a good way.

The other dessert was a sort of banana upside-down cake with banana ice cream. This dessert was definitely banana overload. The cake was nice and warm, and the ice cream was not overwhelmingly banana. However, I probably preferred the first dessert.

Craft is a pretty decent restaurant. I wouldn’t mind having another lunch or dinner here. Prices can be moderately high, however, so one might be better suited trying other restaurants first before coming back. This is my second time for lunch, and I’ve been once for dinner, and they’ve all been pretty enjoyable. The highlight to me are the meats – there’s a wide array of different meats on the menu.

Aziza – 12/27/09

Aziza
5800 Geary Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94121

Aziza is a Moroccan restaurant – the only one I know of that has a Michelin star. As a result, I thought this would be a pretty interesting place to try as I don’t eat Moroccan food too often. It’s located in a residential neighborhood in the Richmond District of San Francisco, an unassuming area where you would not expect to find such a highly-regarded restaurant.

The interior is colorful and comfortable.

The menu is a la carte, but the restaurant also offers a 5-course tasting menu which showcases some of the specialties of the restaurant, and also allows the diner a chance to choose some of the dishes on the menu to build their own. We went with this tasting menu, and steered it towards some of the dishes we wanted to try.

The first course was a soup of chicken bouillon with a Medjool date puree and farro.The soup had a rich chicken flavor, and the puree added some texture and substance. Good, hearty soup, but nothing special.

The second courses were:
beets
bibb lettuce, shallots, citrus, tarragon

chicken wings
brussels sprouts, rosemary, almond, apple

I enjoyed this dish, as I do like boneless chicken wings. However, I found the meat a bit soft, there was not a lot of texture to the meat.

meatballs
grape, jícama, herb vinaigrette

The meatballs were spiced nicely, but were rather small. I got hints of it, but there was not enough in each bite – larger meatballs would have allowed a little more chewing time in the mouth.

The third course:
basteeya

chicken, almond


I had high hopes for this dish, as it resembles a sort of chicken pot pie.  Interestingly, the size of the basteeya is the same whether you have two people or three (and the price of the meal is the same), so you are much better off sharing this in pairs. The dish did not really come together as expected. The meat was a little dry and got lost in the dough a little bit.

Next were the fourth courses, or the entrees:
atlantic cod
vadouvan, marble potato, leaves

A nice looking piece of fish here. It was cooked well with a nice sear and a moist interior.

lamb shank
barley, prune, cranberry, scallion

The lamb shank was one of the dishes I read a lot about going in. First of all, I could’ve done without the prunes – they were overpowering. The barley was made into a sort of barley risotto, which I don’t recall ever having before. It was rich and delicious, something I hope to see again. The lamb’s presentation was nice, and was a pretty large size. However, I thought the meat was falling off the bone almost too easily – it was lacking some of the texture that meat should have and was almost..dare I say..mushy. I think it was perhaps just cooked too long.

seafood
puntarelle, baby leek, saffron, hon shimeji mushroom

This dish was tiny compared to the cod, and especially the lamb (even though this was the most expensive on the menu). It’s really kind of an appetizer-sized dish with two sea scallops and some clams. The dish was good, but was rather unfulfilling due to the size.

Lastly, the fifth courses (dessert):
quince
buckwheat crêpe, apple fritter, ginger ice cream

There was a warm crepe filled with apple and quince, with ginger ice cream. This dessert was pretty good, and the ginger ice cream was subtle enough to not overpower everything.

hazelnut
dacquoise, pear, burnt honey ice cream

I loved the presentation of this dish. It just looks pretty..however, the dish was just okay.

chocolate
sesame mousse, cocoa spice cake, cranberry

The ‘chocolate’ was a mousse cake, but was rather light in flavor.

In all, Aziza was an interesting restaurant, but it fell a little under expectations. It’s a casual restaurant with a reasonably priced tasting menu ($62) and a flexible wine pairing ($20-40 depending on how much you want to spend). It’s definitely a good way to try a Michelin-starred establishment while trying a cuisine that isn’t mainstream. However, none of the courses really stood out as exceptional, and none were bad. I felt that a number of courses had potential but was just missing something.

Christmas 2009 – 12/25/09

Since before I was born, my family has gathered at my aunt’s place in Alameda for lunch and at my grandmother’s for dinner (a very similar setup to Thanksgiving). This year was no different.

LUNCH

First off, was lunch in Alameda. The food is served buffet-style, and my aunt makes most of the dishes.

There are a number of finger foods served, including egg rolls, meatballs, shrimp toasts, and chicken wing ‘lollipops.’ The latter was one of my favorites, and is a chicken wing and drumette folded up into a lollipop shape and deep fried.

A wide array of dishes are also served. One of the staples is chow mein.

A new side dish this year was a curried rice dish, with cashews, raisins, peas and chicken.

Caesar salad.

Another new dish – quinoa with tangerines and peanuts.

Another classic is fried wontons. I tend to snack on these throughout the day.

Pan-seared shrimp.

A new dish this year was pork belly. My uncle’s creation – it had a very crisp skin and was not overly fatty.

Another dish my uncle made was pork ribs.

Desserts included a cake from Schubert’s Bakery in San Francisco.

And a cake from Sweet Stop in San Francisco.

Homemade apple turnovers.

As a take-home, my cousin baked these treats.

It is always a challenge to find room for dinner after all this food. We end up eating throughout the day, with the main lunching coming around 1230 and desserts coming out at 2-3. Dinner tends to be early, around 6, so there’s a brief window to work up an appetite.

DINNER

For dinner, I brought an extra special bottle of bubbly to celebrate with.

My grandmother made a soup of a chicken and pork base with mushrooms, dates and dried bean curd.

The centerpiece of our meals is always a beef roast. Traditionally, this has been a New York roast, and this year was not an exception.

Another meat option this year was whole roasted squab, which is stuffed with a Chinese sticky rice.

My grandmother makes a huge pot of this sticky rice, and it is served as a side (as well as stuffed in the squab above).

My grandmother also stir fried some fresh crab. The crab was broken down, cracked, and stir fried with ginger, green onion, and some whiskey.

For sides, there were yams,

asparagus,

mashed potatoes,

and gravy.

The dinner table, as shown below, was just totally full of food.

There were a number of desserts available, including the cake below, which is a duplicate cake from the one served at lunch from Sweet Stop. Interior photo below.

St. Honore cake from Victoria Pastry in San Francisco.

A homemade chocolate pie.

This was a pie with an oreo crust, rich fudge filling, and homemade whipped cream. At first glance, it looks like a lot of whipped cream. But it’s very light, and a generous amount really goes well with the rich and dense fudge. Delicious.

This Christmas, as in past years, did not fail to be full of food. For me, Thanksgiving and Christmas (as well as the American Wine & Food Festival) have to be some of the highest caloric intakes of the year.

Ad Hoc – 12/28/09

Ad Hoc
6476 Washington St
Yountville, CA 94599

Fried chicken night. Served every other Monday, this is probably the most famous dish served at the restaurant. So popular, the chicken brine and mix is sold at Williams-Sonoma (which I’ve tried to make). So, I had to come out and try it here for myself…and I’m glad I did.

The menu for the night, of course, centered around the fried chicken. There was also a celery and apple salad, cheese course, and ice cream sundaes as the other courses. Note that the menu is signed by chef Dave Cruz.

Celery and Apple Salad
arkansas black, pink lady & sierra beauty apples, little gem lettuces, herbed walnuts, creamy celeriac dressing

There’s not a ton of celery in this dish, but celery and apples do work as a combination. The apples were crunchy and sweet.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken
butter braised radishes & kohlrabi, tfl garden pea shoots, brussels sprouts, yukon gold potatoes

Ah, yes. What I came here for – the chicken. It was cooked a little darker than I expected, but it was very crispy. The meat was extremely tender and moist – the brine does wonders for the chicken. Delicious.

The accompaniment to the chicken was this small dish of potatoes, radishes, kohlrabi, brussels sprouts, and pea shoots. This dish was fine, but the highlight here was definitely the chicken…so much so, that we asked for more (staff at The French Laundry earlier had recommended doing so). I was surprised by how moist the breast meat was, as that’s much harder to do than the dark meat.

They brought out one more piece for everyone – definitely worthwhile to ask for.

Crawford Family Farm’s Vermont Ayr
cranberry quickbread, persimmon jam

This cheese was very mild. The housemade cranberry bread and persimmon jam were both good.

Ice Cream Sundaes
popcorn ice cream, peanut brittle, chocolate sauce

Popcorn ice cream, peanut brittle, chocolate sauce…sounds wonderful. And it was. The popcorn ice cream was nicely flavored, and went well with the peanut brittle and chocolate sauce.

This was definitely a great meal, and I was stuffed after eating all that chicken. Ad Hoc fried chicken night lives up to its expectations and produces some very moist and flavorful chicken with a nice crunchy batter. I hope to be back for fried chicken next time I am in the area, but I also want to try some of the other dishes Ad Hoc has to offer.

The Restaurant at Meadowood – 12/26/09

The Restaurant at Meadowood
900 Meadowood Ln
Saint Helena, CA 94574

Continuing my tour of the food in the Napa Valley, a stop at The Restaurant at Meadowood was in order. Both The Restaurant at Meadowood and Cyrus are constantly compared to The French Laundry, as they are both two-starred establishments that have earned numerous accolades in their own right.

This restaurant is part of a large hotel and resort, the Meadowood. A lot of its produce is sourced from the gardens on the hotel grounds, and chef Christopher Kostow was recently named a “Best New Chef” by Food & Wine magazine in 2009.

The decor is very clean, modern and elegant. I noticed that there were lots of windows and that this would probably be a great place for a lunch or early summer dinner with all that natural light coming through.

The restaurant offers a tasting menu, as well as an a la carte menu. We decided to sample a number of the dishes off the a la carte menu, as they sounded more appealing.

The kitchen first brought out a number of amuse bouche, including a cheese-filled pillow, baby beets in rye, and a parsnip custard with tea and matsutake mushrooms.

Our first course consisted of a tasting of potatoes and foie gras.

Tasting of Potatoes Bone Marrow, Smoked Sturgeon, Brook Trout Roe

I love potatoes, so this dish was a must. The one on the far right was like a tater tot, but cooked confit in pork fat. Definitely my favorite.

Foie Gras, Meadowood Garden Apple Four Preparations

The preparations are, from left to right: smoked, in a pastry-like tart, within a candied apple, and pan seared. By far the most interesting was the one within the candied apple, but I found the apple to be too overpowering. My favorite was the simple pan searing.

The bread service was one of the best in recent memory. There was only one option, a simple french roll, but each and every time it came out piping hot. Breaking into it released wisps of steam to reveal the very light and airy interior. The crust was crispy, but not overly so. Very nice.

Next came our entrees. We each ordered an extra course so that we could sample every entree on the menu.

Giant Humboldt Squid and Egg White Soy, Cauliflower, Swiss Chard

The squid was very nicely cooked and tender, but I don’t think the egg added too much to the dish.

Pacific ocean trout Garden vegetables, chicken broth

This was a great dish. The fish was cooked very well and was moist and succulent. The vegetables were also fresh and flavorful.

Poached and Roasted Wagyu Beef Chanterelles, Brescianella, Truffle

This was the most tender beef I’ve eaten in recent memory. It was rather mild in flavor, but melted in your mouth. It wasn’t quite as marbled and fatty as some of the wagyu beef I’ve seen, however.

Suckling Pig Quince Confit, Brussels Sprouts, Honey

There were multiple pork preparations here including the belly and tenderloin. My favorite was the tenderloin in the middle, which was wrapped in bacon – juicy and tender.

Pre-dessert – creamy sorbet with a mint granite

The first dessert was a dark chocolate custard. There was a very rich flavor, and the custard texture was nice.

Our other dessert was a tasting of citrus, which had a mixture of citrus atop a cheesecake with a yogurt sorbet.
The first of the mignardises were warm financiers with housemade ricotta. Warm and delicious.

And finally, to end our meal were chocolate bonbons covered with ganache. There was a creamy chocolate interior that burst when you bit into it.

At the end of the meal, we got a chance to tour the kitchen. Much larger than The French Laundry, but just as clean and orderly.

Chef Kostow was not in the kitchen on this night, so sous chef Chris Dettmer (pictured at bottom, right) was in charge.


The restaurant did live up to expectations. Was it was good as French Laundry? No, not in my opinion. But it’s a very good restaurant in its own right. The execution was spot on with each dish, and the presentation was fantastic. The flavors were there, but none of them really stood out as really outstanding.  My favorite dishes of the night were the ocean trout and the wagyu beef.


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.

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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.