Salon de The de Joel Robuchon (Taipei, Taiwan)

Salon de The de Joel Robuchon
Bellavita Mall 3F
No. 28 Song Ren Road
Taipei, Taiwan
Dining date: 2/6/14

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For my first meal in Taipei (which happened to be solo), I figured I’d ease into it by dining somewhere sort of familiar and possibly more Western-friendly (turns out Taipei has been one of the more English-friendly international cities I’ve been to). Joel Robuchon has two restaurants in Taipei, his ‘casual’ L’Atelier and his even more casual Salon de The. Plans to dine at L’Atelier were already booked later in the trip, so I stopped by the Salon for lunch.

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Similar to my experiences with La Boutique de Joel Robuchon in Tokyo, the Salon de The includes a retail patisserie serving a fairly large variety of breads, pastries, cookies and sweets. Definitely a nice stop for a quick treat.

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Ramen Burger (Los Angeles, CA)

Ramen Burger Pop-Up
77 N Raymond Ave
Pasadena, CA 91101
Dining date: 9/8/13

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Keizo Shimamoto’s Ramen Burger is America’s latest food mania since debuting just over a month ago. Shimamoto has served his burger a few times at Brooklyn’s Smorgasburg, generating extremely long lines comparable to the cronut. Already, it’s inspired other restaurants across the country to create copycat versions in order to capitalize on the buzz. This past weekend, the Ramen Burger made its West Coast debut in a limited release (~500 burgers at Torrance’s Mitsuwa Saturday and ~300 at Pasadena’s Osawa Sunday). Even though the event was announced just a few days before the weekend, word spread very quickly and people came out for the burger…big time.

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Saturday’s event had some of the longest lines I’d seen in LA for a food item with an estimated 1,200 people attempting to try the creation (many more were likely deterred upon seeing early images of the line). I decided to attend the Sunday pop-up in Pasadena; luckily, those lines weren’t nearly as long. Still, the wait-time for a burger was multiple hours, the majority spent in the sun on a day where temperatures approached the low-90s. The pros brought lawn chairs and umbrellas, making themselves comfortable for the long waits.

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Gordon Ramsay BurGR (Las Vegas, NV)

Gordon Ramsay BurGR
Planet Hollywood
3667 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Dining date: 5/12/13

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Gordon Ramsay has been a busy man in Las Vegas, opening three restaurant concepts in three different hotels within about 8 months’ time. His latest is his most casual and approachable – a burger joint within the Planet Hollywood hotel. Coming off of dinner the previous night at Gordon Ramsay Steak, this would be our second consecutive red meat meal from Ramsay.

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Holsteins (Las Vegas, NV)

Cosmopolitan Hotel
3708 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Dining date: 5/12/11

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While looking for a lunch option after the Vegas Uncork’d Grand Tasting, I brought up Holsteins, something that would be casual and satisfying. I’ve heard consistently good things about the restaurant, a burger joint inside the Cosmopolitan Hotel. My cousins, aunt and grandmother had yet to check out the new hotel, so a visit here would serve a dual purpose.

While there are a number of non-burger smaller plates and a few salads, the crux of the menu is definitely the burger. With about 15 different full-size options and 8 more slider-size options, the menu is quite varied. Some of them are pretty interesting. There’s even an option to add toppings such as lobster and BBQ beef brisket. Nice. A strong craft beer list and almost 20 milkshakes (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) boost the drinks menu, as if a burger and fries weren’t enough calories.

We tried a couple of the appetizers and each ordered a burger.

IPSWICH CLAMS Fried Crispy, Green Goddess Sauce

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The clams were slight chewy and bready but definitely meaty and kinda juicy. Some of them were a little sandy though, which put me off.

TRUFFLE LOBSTER ‘MAC N CHEESE’ Creamy Tallegio-Mascarpone Sauce With Maine Lobster And Black Truffle

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This sounded so decadent and I’d heard so much about it; it was a must order. The macaroni had a nice chewy texture with small chunks of lobster in a creamy cheese sauce. Not too rich – pretty good. I thought the truffle flavor was lost, however.

NOM NOM BURGER Kobe Beef, Cheddar Cheese, Potato Chips, 1000 Island Dressing

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My cousin went for this burger but I didn’t try it. I did, however, sample some of the potato wedges/steak-cut fries and found them to be very good. Crispy on the outside and hot and fluffy on the inside. Mmm.

‘BIG FAT GREEK’ Greek Spiced Lamb With Feta Cream, Lettuce, Tomato, Red Onion & Olive Relish, Tzatziki Sauce

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My grandmother opted for this lamb burger. I found it kind of overcooked though I enjoyed the flavors of the lamb with Greek spices.

‘THE RISING SUN’ Kobe Beef, Teriyaki Glaze, Nori Furikake, Crispy Yam, Spicy Mayo & Tempura Avocado

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This was my favorite of the burgers and a damn good one. The teriyaki glaze provided a savory sweetness, while tempura avocado was crispy and creamy at the same time. Spicy mayo and nori furikake added some extra punch; there were a lot of flavors going on but I found them to be well-balanced. Excellent.

Shoestring fries were good too, though my personal preference was with the thicker cut variety.

MEAT BALL GRINDER Italian Style w/Marinara, Provolone & Pesto

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I had early dinner plans and wanted to try something a little bit different so I went with these meatball sliders. Each of the flavors were pretty distinct between the meat, provolone, peso and tomatoes; the sliders were good but nothing special altogether. I probably should’ve ordered something more exciting.

My cousin and I also tried a couple of milkshakes.

FROZEN GRASSHOPPER Peppermint, Chocolate, Crème De Menthe, Van Gogh Chocolate Vodka

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OREO Oreo Cookies, Bailey’s Irish Cream

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I thought these were both strong with my favorite being the frozen grasshopper. Like mint chip ice cream in a glass with a touch of alcohol. These were pretty generously sized (the glass was only 2/3 of it, with the rest in another cup) so definitely best for sharing…especially with a whole burger.

I found Holsteins to be somewhat of an up-and-down meal. Strong points were definitely the Rising Sun burger, both french fry varieties and the milkshakes. The two smaller plates/appetizers we ordered weren’t bad but both fell slightly short. My main qualm was with the temperature of the burgers – we had at least one that was definitely overcooked here and a couple of burgers we ordered to-go on another visit (just two days ago) were clearly overcooked too (my Rising Sun, ordered medium-rare, showed no pink at all).  For a burger place, I found a pervasive issue like this to be rather inexcusable.

The restaurant mascot, a pig dressed as a cow, makes an appearance all over the place.

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UMAMIcatessen (Los Angeles, CA)

846 S Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Dining date: 3/3/12

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UMAMIcatessen is the latest concept from the ever-busy Adam Fleischman (Umami Burger, 800 Degrees Pizza), his interpretation of a deli featuring a number of mini restaurant concepts including Umami Burger. The setup kind of looks like a food court (although it’s currently all full service seating), with the restaurants on the outside and seating in the middle.

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The Cure, with consulting chef Micah Wexler (Mezze) is a kosher deli with many of the usual suspects such as pastrami on rye, corned beef, and a matzo ball soup. P!GG, from Incanto and Boccalone’s Chris Cosentino, is a pork-centric concept with a ton of hams available, as well as a few sandwiches and snacks all featuring the pig. Umami Burger brings its notable burgers (and a few sides and salads) to the deli and “& a Donut” rounds out the food options with its fried-to-order menu of donuts. For libations, Spring for Coffee is the second outpost of the Arts District coffee shop and The Back Bar serves a slew of cocktails, wines and beers.

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UMAMIcatessen soft opened this past Saturday and, as expected, was pretty busy. Our party of 4 was able to get a table relatively quickly though (~15-20 minutes), and sat down to the menu’s dizzying array of options. The menu is somewhat daunting with its choices; we focused in on Umami Burger and P!GG for the savory items, ordering all of the fried snacks from P!GG (100% lard fried).

First, the drinks. Almost all of the beers (draft and bottle) had run out by the evening, so we went with a few cocktails.

Downtown Rise milagro tequila, orange marmalade, mango puree, fresh lemon juice, agave syrup
Velvet Mule beluga vodka, velvet falernum, fresh lime juice, ginger beer, angostura bitters
Citrus Tree bacardi superior rum, lychee liqueur, red and green grapes, fresh lime juice, sugar

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I went with the Downtown Rise – fruity and sweet, a stereotypical girly drink. I liked it though. I didn’t try the others, but did hear the Velvet Mule was on the watery side.

P!GG Style Fries pickled peppers, ham puree, brainaise

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I first noticed that the fries alone were quite good – very crispy, well-salted and fluffy on the inside. It was topped with an aioli made with pig brain (“brainaise”), pureed ham and pickled peppers. I liked the porky flavors which added much of the depth of flavor. The perfectly executed fries were what made the dish for me, though.

Crispy Pig Ears parsley, lemon, brainaise

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The “brainaise” made another appearance with these delightfully crispy and crunchy pig ears.

Pork Corn popcorn, juniper, rosemary

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Of the snacks, this was the least exciting. It was pretty much popcorn with a porky essence, but rather monotone in flavor.

Cone O’ Cracklins sherry vinegar, sage

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The fried pig skin was light, airy and crunchy without feeling greasy. I thought this was a good example of cracklings especially with the herb essence and what I think was paprika.

French Fries ham puree

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This was a simpler version of the P!GG style fries – here the same french fries were topped with just the ham puree. It still achieved a rich, porky flavor at half the price of the signature dish ($10 vs. $5).

Truffle Beet Salad truffled ricotta, smoked almonds, wild baby arugula, truffle dressing

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I opted to pass on the salad as I was stuffing my face with fried goodness. Each of us ordered a sandwich to eat alongside the snacks.

Pork Liver Pate caramelized onions, arugula

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The distinct liver flavor came through on the sandwich, complemented by the peppery arugula and sweet caramelized onions. A decent sandwich, just not the most interesting.

Hoof & Mouth pickled carrots, onions

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This was a more interesting sounding sandwich with a jaw & hoof terrine sandwiched in between toasted bread with pickled carrots and onions (definitely resembled a banh mi!). Maybe it was just the section I had, but I thought the thin slice of terrine got lost in the other ingredients. The bread was a little bit hard to chew too.

Earth Burger mushroom and edamame patty, white soy aioli, truffled ricotta cheese, cipollini onions, butter lettuce, slow roasted tomato

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We didn’t have any vegetarians at the table, but this burger came highly recommended. The vegetarian burger didn’t disappoint and may have been the surprise of the evening. The mushroom and edamame patty had a sort of a meaty texture to it, while full of savory flavor from the mushrooms, truffled cheese, soy aioli, onions and tomato. I wouldn’t say I’d order this instead of say…the truffle burger, but this was probably one of the best vegetarian burgers I’ve had.

Truffle Burger house made truffle cheese, truffle glaze

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I’ve had this in a previous visit to Umami Burger and it was a favorite. It was just as good as I remembered it with the soft brioche bun, medium-rare beef and white truffle-scented cheese and glaze. Simple but pretty delish (and a relative bargain at $10)!

For dessert six donuts were available, fried to order. Strauss Dairy soft serve will be a regular accompaniment, but it wasn’t available yet.

carrot cake rum raisin, cream cheese (cake)

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The cake was rather dense – not too moist but not dry, with sweet raisins and a cream cheese frosting. The carrot flavor in the donut was definitely evident.

tres leches cajeta, ceylon cinnamon (cake)

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This cake was more moist with a bit of a vanilla flavor, though I was expecting it to have been dipped in something (the menu said to allow 5 minutes for soaking). A light whipped cream topped the donut.

FG&J foie gras mousse, forest berry jam, peanut (yeast)

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At $8, this was probably the most expensive donut I’ve ever had. It was filled with a foie gras mousse; the flavor was subtle but evident, complemented by a sweet jam and a crunchy peanut topping. Very interesting flavors with the peanut butter & jelly and the foie gras & fruit combinations both working in tandem. Of all three we tried, I think this was the most successful…though I wanted a bit more foie flavor in the mousse.

I found UMAMIcatessen to be an interesting concept (surely a hip interpretation of a deli), though not as eye-opening as 800 Degrees Pizzeria. I think the main draw will be Umami Burger’s burgers since they’re just more interesting than the simpler, more traditional sandwiches from The Cure and P!GG. Still, The Cure and P!GG present much more variety and the ability to mix things up particularly with the sides and snacks. The donuts were a fun way to end the meal, though I didn’t think the execution was quite there yet. Still, with so much to offer and the Umami brand behind it, I can tell this will be a popular place.

Marlowe (San Francisco, CA)

330 Townsend St
San Francisco, CA 94107
Dining date: 12/22/11

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Marlowe opened at the beginning of last year and has been a popular spot for its neighborhood bistro fare. Its consistent popularity has already led to another restaurant from the Marlowe team – Park Tavern, one of the bigger restaurant openings in SF this year. Marlowe is probably best known for its burger, often cited as one of the best in the city. It was also named one of the best new restaurants in 2010 by SF Chronicle critic Michael Bauer.

Each year for the last few, myself and fellow grandchildren take my grandmother out for her birthday. Not quite as ballin’ as my dad’s birthday dinner for her, but we put a lot of thought into it and always find something equally satisfying. Marlowe was the choice this year.

The menu is fairly focused, with a few options in various menu categories: appetizers, “pots,” snacks, soups/salads, mains and sides. We ordered a variety of appetizers/small plates as well as an entree each (plus one more burger for good measure).

Warm Deviled Egg aged provolone, pickled jalapeño & bacon

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Served warm, the eggs were complemented primarily by smoky, crispy bacon and a mild provolone. I didn’t really pick up any of the pickled jalapeno, but this was still a good bite or two.

Crispy Brussels Sprout Chips lemon & sea salt

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Lightly crispy with smoky charred ends, these were quite tasty…though some pieces were a little oily. Because they were so thin, the leaves/chips quickly became soggy in any residual oil. Some lemon provided a nice touch of both citrus and acid.

We also ordered a few “pots” served with crostini/lettuce.

Warm Marinated Mussels & Monterey Calamari grilled country bread & green garlic aioli

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Duck Liver Mousse roasted Medjool dates, pickled mustard seeds & crostini

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Dungeness Crab & Rock Shrimp Louie gem lettuce, eggs mimosa & tabasco

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Of these three, I liked the crab and rock shrimp Louie best. The seafood and lettuce cups  felt light while having quite a bit of flavor, particularly with a splash of lemon or tabasco. I thought the mussels and calamari pot was difficult to eat on the crostini, with the small pieces continually falling off the toasted bread. The duck liver mousse was a good one, with the rich minerality playing well with the sweetness of the dates.

Between the six of us, we sampled three different entrees.

Grilled Niman Ranch Pork Chop spinach & ricotta bread pudding, prosciutto & parmesan cream

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My grandmother got this entree. Very juicy and quite flavorful, this was an excellent chop. A little bit of a smoky flavor was present too, adding an extra flavor profile to the pork.

Marlowe Burger caramelized onions, cheddar, bacon, horseradish aioli & fries

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Ah, the much anticipated burger. The meat was cooked a nice medium-rare, though it wasn’t quite as thick as I anticipated. The meaty flavor was there, with a really good smoky char on both the meat and toasted bun. However, I thought there was too much bread (the bread:meat ratio was high) on an otherwise good burger. Overall, disappointing given expectations.

Certified Angus New York Steak Frites red wine- porcini jus

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A good steak, tender and flavorful. It was cooked right on point, and the red wine-porcini jus was quite delicious as well. The fries were the same ones that came with the burger – crispy yet fluffy, pretty good fries. Perfect for dipping in the jus. A simple dish; this was very satisfying.

TCHO Chocolate Cream Pie Graham cracker & chocolate cookie crust, cocoa nib, sea salt

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Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta Affogato Amaretto & lemon biscotti

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We were trying to save room for later, but a meal is not complete without dessert, right? We opted for these two choices, one was fine and one was very good. The chocolate cream pie had the expected chocolate flavor with some nice crumble textures. Nothing special. I thought the affogato panna cotta was more exciting, with the creamy panna cotta doused in a shot of espresso. The bitterness of the espresso countered the sweet vanilla panna cotta quite nicely – addicting!

Marlowe was good. I can’t say anything was special enough for me to return though. Of all of the dishes we ordered, the burger had the highest expectations and fell short. However, the other plates were executed fairly well with the pork chop being the standout entree. And the panna cotta affogato was memorable.

The second part of this evening was a meal at Nopa and an even better pork chop.