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.

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.

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.

The first course began with a Maine Lobster salad.

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.

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):

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:

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.

To finish off the meal, we were brought some mignardises.

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.

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

The famous blue door entrance to the restaurant.

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

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

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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”


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.

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.

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.


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”

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”


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

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

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

Next, the first of three desserts.

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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

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

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.