Posts filed under ‘Eatin’ Out of Town’
Normally, a trip to New Orleans is for pleasure, but because of an amazing turn of events, Jeff needed to spend a week working in our favorite city. Michele of course came along for half of the stay. This extended visit allowed us to sample an unusually large group of new places and revisit a few old favorites. Of course we enjoyed our obligatory Shrimp Po Boy at Johnny’s and Gumbo at Mr. B’s. Beyond those staples, with one exception, dining was a positive experience. It was a good week!
The perfect ending – This used to be a Shrimp Po Boy!
Without exception, the highlight of the week was our visit to Le Petite Grocery. This Magazine Street gem serves a wonderful amalgam of French and Louisiana food in a perfectly delightful environment with a staff of extremely knowledgeable and cordial folks. Michele enjoyed a butter-soft Bibb lettuce salad, then Shrimp and Grits. She feels no shrimp tastes quite like the Gulf Shrimp served in New Orleans and this selection was close to perfect. Normally a more reserved eater than Jeff, she was moments away from scrapping the plate to enjoy every morsel. Jeff had the Roasted Sweetbreads (which also seem to be just a bit better in NOLA) appetizer and the Rabbit entrée. Both were exquisite. Dessert was a comforting Butterscotch pudding. Not one morsel could have been better. This one is on our list for a return visit whenever we are back in town.
Almost as good was a recommendation we picked-up from New Orleans Magazine. Eat New Orleans in on Dumaine at the farther extents of the French Quarter. Jeff went there for lunch with the crew from work and each plate was better than the next. Suffice to say, much passing around was performed. Jeff had a bowl of the Chicken & Andouille Gumbo and it was excellent. The Crawfish Étouffée special and Roasted Stuffed Pepper he tasted were also top-notch. We all shared a Crawfish Boullette appetizer that was universally praised. After such a successful meal, we’re looking forward to trying a dinner. It has to be just as good, as the menu is virtually the same. Can’t wait!
John Besh’s latest spot is Borgne located in the Central Business District on Loyola Avenue in the Hyatt Hotel. They specialize in seafood fished within a 75 mile radius, insuring a quality level we have come to expect from Besh. Michele fully enjoyed the Fish in a Bag, that day featuring Sheephead, a Gulf variety that was offered as the special all week, all over town. If you’re from Cleveland, Sheephead might sound familiar. We have no idea if they are the same variety, but if so; don’t be surprised if you see Michele with a pole sitting on the shore of Lake Erie! Jeff had the Oyster Spaghetti, just like it sounds, but with a cream-based sauce. The Grilled Romaine Salad and Crawfish Croquetas appetizers and Lemon Olive Oil cake dessert were also very tasty. While far away from the typical New Orleans “action,” we did fully enjoy this meal.
For lunch on another day, Jeff experienced his first sandwich at Mother’s, a New Orleans institution. The Famous Ferdi Special is a combination of house baked ham, roast beef, “debris” and gravy. It was an excellent Po’ Boy, but way more than any human needs to eat for lunch.
While Jeff was overeating at Mother’s, Michele was doing the same at Red Fish on Bourbon Street. She had the hickory smoked Barbeque Redfish and proclaimed it amazing. Because of those large lunches, dinner that night consisted of the appetizer sliders for Jeff (Very Good!) and the Seafood Gumbo for Michele (Very Good!) at 5 Fifty 5 in the Marriott Hotel on Canal. Not bad for hotel food.
Sylvain on Chartres
Once Michele left town, Jeff joined his coworkers for dinner. In the same magazine article that recommended Eat New Orleans, they also suggested Sylvain as a local place in the Jackson Square tourist area that served interesting, dynamic foods. Again, they were right. Jeff ordered the Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad as did a number of others at the table. The sharpness of the sprouts was tempered by apple, pecorino and hazelnuts. The pan fried Pork Shoulder was a real treat, while Jeff’s coworkers enjoyed the Beef Cheeks, Fish Special and Gulf Shrimp Pirlou. All around, this was a real find. As we searched for reservations in the coming days, we noted that Sylvain was booked most nights. This reasonably new spot must be garnering a good reputation.
The city was packed with people and it was really tough to get reservations for most of the rest of the week. Jeff wanted to try Dominica; John Besh’s other new place that has been attracting national attention. His coworkers really wanted to stick with more Louisiana-based cooking, so we exchanged one Besh with another and visited one of our NOLA favorites, Lüke. Lüke claims to be a French place, but we always felt it was much more German/Alsace in feel. Jeff enjoyed the Crawfish Bisque and Jägerschnitzel. Both were expertly prepared and Lüke’s house brewed beer worked well with this fare. Around the table, the Lapin special, Shrimp En Cocotte and the Choucroute Garnie Mason (a collection of pork cuts and sausage) were praised and enjoyed. This remains an excellent and popular place.
Luke on St Charles Street
During our visits to Bayona (our favorite New Orleans restaurant) we have often passed the Louisiana Bistro as we walked down Dauphine Street. It is small, the posted menu seemed interesting and year after year, it stayed open. Jeff decided it was time to try this little place after a number of other places were booked. They were able to squeeze us in and we discovered another hidden gem. The table shared flash fried Oysters and Boudin Ball appetizers. They were gone in less time it took to cook the oysters! Jeff enjoyed the Duck Confit and his coworkers also expressed satisfaction with their choices. The staff here was especially engaging with heaps of hospitality.
Years ago, we had an enjoyable lunch at Olivier’s Creole restaurant. With few options on a busy Sunday night Jeff and a coworker made reservations for dinner. While we had little choice, we wish we would have tried someplace else. After a week of excellent food, we finally hit a clinker. The Crawfish Étouffée was watery and lifeless and Jeff’s associate indicated the Shrimp Creole was boring (Creole food is many things, but one of them is not boring!) Unfortunately, Olivier’s is not what it used to be.
To complete the trip, Jeff planned a late lunch/early dinner at Herbsaint. Shortly after Herbsaint opened, Jeff and Michele dined here. Chef Link has since gone on to open Cochon, one of the best places in town and both have earned James Beard awards. As expected, lunch was perfect. The Chicken Andoullie Gumbo was rich as Warren Buffett. The beer battered Soft Shell Crab was crunchy, soft and flavorful and the flash fried Brussels Sprouts were flakey and delicious. Herbsaint is indicative of why we love New Orleans food. The foodstuff is different, the preparation is excellent and the memories last…at least until the next visit!
http://johnnyspoboys.com/511 St Louis Street New Orleans, LA 70130 504-525-8037
http://www.mrbsbistro.com/201 Royal Street New Orleans, LA 70130 504-523-2078
http://www.lapetitegrocery.com/4238 Magazine Street New Orleans, LA 70115 504-891-3377
http://eatnola.com/900 Dumaine Street New Orleans, LA 70116 504-522-7222
http://www.borgnerestaurant.com/601 Loyola Avenue New Orleans, LA 70113 504-613-3860
http://www.mothersrestaurant.net/401 Poydras Street New Orleans, LA 70130 504-523-9656
http://www.redfishgrill.com/115 Bourbon Street New Orleans, LA 70130 504-598-1200
http://555canal.com/555 Canal Street New Orleans, LA 70130 504-533-5638
http://www.sylvainnola.com/625 Chartres Street New Orleans, LA 70130 504-265-8123
http://www.lukeneworleans.com/333 St. Charles Street New Orleans, LA 70130 504-378-2840
http://www.louisianabistro.net/337 Dauphine Street New Orleans, LA 70112 504-525-3335
http://www.olivierscreole.com/204 Decatur Street New Orleans, LA 70130 504-525-7734
http://www.herbsaint.com/701 St Charles Street New Orleans, LA 70130 504-524-4114
April 28, 2013 at 3:55 PM
During Jeff’s last visit to Orlando, he took a work associate to K Restaurant; a place both Jeff and Michele heartily enjoyed both times we visited. During conversation with the waiter, Jeff commented that it was hard to find good independent food in the “City of Chain Restaurants.” K and The Ravenous Pig were about all that was available. The waiter agreed, but explained that the owners of Ravenous were opening a new place right down the road called Cask and Larder. On his most recent trip, Jeff gave it a try and the waiter was right. It was a good addition to the Orlando food scene.
Cask and Larder brews their own beer and the menu is almost as inviting as the food options. Jeff tried the IPA which had a bit less “hoppy” taste than normal, making it an interesting choice. He later tried the Black Ale, also a very gentle drink, milder than a stout or porter, but with enough snap to provide enjoyment.
The menu is filled with interesting options and one could easily overdo it or plan two more visits while ordering for the evening. They have a collection of oysters, which is not unique, but they also have a collection of artisan hams, something we’ve never seen before. Jeff really wanted to try the hams, but the waiter suggested it was sized for sharing. Darn! Instead he opted for the Short Rib Tamale, a beautifully prepared tamale stuffed with melt in your mouth meat and sitting in a pool of slightly sweet caramelized onion broth. The tamale slowly absorbed the broth, but not enough to destroy the texture and flavor. It was an excellent first course.
The entrée section consists of locally fished seafood, locally sourced meats and a number of tempting vegetable side dishes. Jeff decides on the Grilled Quail with a whiskey glaze. Quail can be a bit of a pain to de-bone, but he has always found it worth the while. This one was no exception. Excellent all around.
The only negative was with the dessert. The Moon Pie (yes, like those Moon Pies you remember as a kid, but these are made with first-rate chocolate and house made marshmallow!) was accompanied by a Banana Semifreddo that was harder than “semi-frozen” and not very “custardy”. It also looked like it had spent too much time in the freezer. Because the Pies were so good, Jeff wouldn’t discourage ordering it; just check the side dish carefully.
When the 2012 James Beard semi-finalist list was published, another new name with an Orlando address was featured. Jeff decided to try it the next day. The Rusty Spoon is located in the historic downtown section of the city, near the old train station. The place looks like a saloon from the front, but has been nicely stylized inside to appear more pub-like. These were comfortable surroundings.
The menu was divided into a variety of eating options, Rusty Tails, First Plates, Leafy Greens, Handhelds, Pastas, Sustenance and Sweet Finish. On the recommendation of the waitress, Jeff started with the Butter Poached Clams. This was a beautiful pile of tiny, local clams, each tender and flavorful. The ale-based broth was so good the accompany slices of grilled pugliese bread were almost not enough to mop it up, but Jeff valiantly powered through and finished almost every drop. Excellent!
For his entrée, Jeff ordered the Braised Lamb Collar. Pockets of delectable, tender meat are trapped around the collar bone waiting to be picked out. It was very good, as was the lentil based side. The strawberry crisp dessert was built for two and unfortunately, uneventful in addition to being somewhat soggy on the inside. Not the best way to end an otherwise good meal.
Work seems to continually drag Jeff to Orlando. Now, there are four decent places to dine, should he need to go there again.
http://www.caskandlarder.com/ 565 West Fairbanks Avenue Winter Park, FL 32789 321-280-4200
http://www.therustyspoon.com/ 55 West Church Street Orlando, FL 32801 407-401-8811
http://krestaurant.net/ 1710 Edgewater Drive Orlando, FL 32804 407-872-2332
http://www.theravenouspig.com/ 1234 North Orange Avenue Winter Park, FL 32789 407-628-2333
April 14, 2013 at 8:06 PM
We were in Las Vegas again and purely by accident, tried the two newest Gordon Ramsay restaurants. We have not yet been to his steakhouse in Paris because neither of us is a huge steak fan. We’ll probably get their, but we’re not in a hurry.
One evening, we were just not that hungry and decided to walk over to the Earl of Sandwich, Michele’s favorite place in Las Vegas for a quick meal. They are fair priced, with good ingredients and a pretty tasty fast food offering. ($6-7 and don’t forget to try the Ghirardelli Brownie!) On our way, we noticed, BURGR. (The GR is in an alternate color and obviously stands for Gordon Ramsay.) After having dined at his place at The London in New York, we respect his simple, straight forward approach to cooking. Ingredients are always fresh and well prepared with little fuss or muss. We decided to change plans.
This is a vibrant, electric place. A “Sports Bar” and a burger joint elevated to a new height. Michele enjoyed a Soba Noodle Salad and Jeff quickly devoured a Maytag Blue Cheese Burger. We both shared some of the excellent fries with dipping sauces. For dessert, we elected to share a Chocolate Hazelnut Pudding milkshake because of the excellent and accommodating waitresses’ recommendation and she did not steer us wrong. It was rich, creamy and well worth the mall walk needed to burn off!
The next night we had tickets for impressionist/ventriloquist, Terry Fator at the Mirage. We really enjoy BLT Burger located in the Mirage, but just had hamburgers at BURGR the previous night. The waitress, the night before asked us if we had tried Ramsay’s new place in Caesar’s Palace and the bug stuck in our heads. We made reservations at Gordon Ramsey’s Pub & Grill.
Jeff was working in Las Vegas and Michele was there to play, so she arrived early and the Fator show started soon, so she ordered for both of us. Michele will do this occasionally and Jeff really enjoys the mystery. The only problem was the beverage. Pub and Grill has over eighty beers on tap and Michele doesn’t drink! No problem. When Jeff finally arrived he asked if they had Boddingtons and enjoyed a beer he hadn’t had on tap since his last trip to Hong Kong.
Michele fully enjoyed the grilled Salmon. Jeff’s surprise was a perfect Shepherd’s Pie. A side of fries was TOO much, with the cut so large, it was like eating a whole potato. On the waiter’s recommendation, we ordered Ramsay’s signature dessert, Sticky Toffee Pudding. The dark brown cake is accompanied with a creamy brown butter ice cream side. Excellent!
One point of interest at the Pub and Grill is the uniforms. Imagine a mix of England’s Doc Martens, early 19-hundreds newsboy digs all wrapped in chains and you get the picture. Las Vegas is a strange and amazing place.
Food in Las Vegas is good, but most is far too expensive and while the Ramsay establishments are good, the prices are higher than even New York. If you’re looking for value, you will not find it in Vegas. If you’re looking for “good” we can hardily recommend the newest of the Gordon Ramsay restaurants.
http://www.gordonramsay.com/us-restaurants/las-vegas-restaurants/gordon-ramsay-burgr/3667 Las Vegas Boulevard Las Vegas, NV 89109 702-785-5555
http://www.gordonramsay.com/us-restaurants/las-vegas-restaurants/gordon-ramsay-pub-grill/3570 Las Vegas Boulevard Las Vegas, NV 89109 877-346-4642
http://www.earlofsandwichusa.com/ 3667 Las Vegas Boulevard Las Vegas, NV 89109
February 9, 2013 at 11:25 AM
Jeff was off again to Southern California to work. It was a tight schedule that would only permit one decent evening of food. A few hours before his flight time, he called a friend and met him in Manhattan Beach for an inventive dinner of small plates in what has to be among the hottest places in the Los Angeles metro area. MB Post is inches away from the ocean, the front open to invite the cooling breezes and by 6:00PM, filled to the brim with anxious eaters.
The menu is segmented into bread, cheese, cured meats, vegetables, seafood, meat and sugar. Our especially accommodating server recommended 2-3 dishes each, but of course, they would make more, if needed! We started with the Bacon Cheddar Buttermilk Biscuits. They were moist, flavorful, piping hot and that allowed the delightful maple butter to seep deep inside, so every bite was a treat. We were off to a good start.
We decided to each choose two plates and share. This is the house recommendation, also. The roasted Brussels Sprouts were halved, topped with emmenthal cheese and hazelnut along with some grilled sage leaves. The combination of tart sprouts and tangy toppings was a treat. Our follow-up vegetable was a grilled sweet corn, with chilies and roasted peppers over polenta. This was a nice mellow yin to the sprouts tangy yang.
We moved onto the seafood plate with Seared Diver Scallops served over a corn puree with succotash and interesting pickled nectarines. This was very good, but the menu was filled with very viable alternates, we were sure would have been just as tasty. Our meat dish was Cavatelli mixed with a tomato-lamb ragout and feta cheese. Again, a wonderful blend of flavors and textures. It seems as though, regardless of what was selected, the result would have been stunning. Our table neighbors happily devoured the Chicken Pot Pie on one side and skirt steak on the other. At the communal tables that wrap around the bar, food was being devoured with the same gusto. It is good to eat in a popular place that serves wonderful food. Inspiration comes from all sides!
To finish, we split “The Elvis” a mélange of chocolate pudding, peanut butter mousse and bacon. Desert named after the “King” was a fitting finale to an excellent collection of exciting food. So when is Jeff going back to LA? It can’t be a moment too soon!
http://eatmbpost.com/ 1142 Manhattan Avenue Manhattan Beach, CA 90266 310-545-5405
July 10, 2012 at 10:41 PM
Six weeks prior to his visit to Chicago, Jeff called The Girl and the Goat for a reservation. None were available, despite his seven day window! The friendly receptionist informed him that the full menu was served in the bar and seats were available, “If he arrived before 5:30.” After that, there would be a wait.
An unexpected production of Eugene O’Neil’s, “The Iceman Commeth” prevented his planned Sunday visit to the restaurant, but work ended early on Thursday, so Jeff and his coworker headed for the “Goat” arriving just after 5:00 PM. Indeed two seats were available at the window-side lounge-tables. Michele decided not to go to Chicago with Jeff and he expected to visit the city’s excellent restaurants alone. Going to The Girl and the Goat with another person afforded him the options of trying twice as many dishes and that was a good thing.
The Girl and the Goat is a “small plate” restaurant. This concept is probably most popular in the Windy City, with a number of interesting places featuring this communal-type grazing. Extra plates are at the ready encouraging diners to dig-in.
The GATG menu is divided into “V” vegetable, “F” fish and “M” meat with a side rotating card of breads and goat dishes offered on a separate menu. The accommodating wait staff suggests 2-3 dishes per-person and encourages sharing.
Jeff and his work companion started with the “V” and ordered the excellent Chickpea Fritters. This was a creamy fritter, blended with a rich mozzarella and a spunky onion side. They also had the Roasted Beet with crème fraîche and a touch of white anchovies. The only disconcerting note provided by the aggressively crunchy (and likely unnecessary) bread crumbs. They then moved onto the “F” category with perhaps the star of the menu, Hiramasa Crudo. (Hiramasa) Japanese Amberjack is (Crudo) raw, sliced thin and topped with a Lego of crispy pork belly, drizzled with a chili aioli and thin sliced caperberries. Wrapping the fish around the pork probably violated every law relative to vegetarian dining, but produced an orgasmic oral experience. The Frog’s Legs were a tasty fried treat that invited finger-licking.
For the “M” portion of the meal, Jeff and his work friend tried the Goat Empanadas. These were succulent pockets of shredded goat meat stuffed into doughy envelops of crunchy goodness. The “Pig Face” was a mystifying entrée of pork cheek and jowl topped with fried egg. The goal is to slice all of the crunchy pork goodness with the egg and sauce into a mélange of porcine wonderment and it worked. This was a true treat.
After nearly two hours of sitting side-by-side, Jeff and his workmate became chummy with their tablemates and the six started to exchange comments and leftovers. Jeff was able to try the Roasted Cauliflower with pine nuts and mint (excellent) Grilled Baby Octopus salad (remarkable) Ribs (!!) and Escargot Ravioli (Wow!). When the dessert menu arrived we ordered two and split it six-ways! It is that kind of place.
Indeed, The Girl and the Goat is the “hot” place to dine in Chicago, but I wouldn’t worry about making reservations. The REAL “hot” spot is among the lowly who dine in the communal areas of the bar. Make some new friends and eat with the commoners in the bar.
Jeff did eat elsewhere in the Chicagoland area. Serving the same type “small plates” and encouraging sharing was GT Fish and Oyster. He and two coworkers sampled the Bento with fresh tuna sashimi, salmon and hamachi; roasted cauliflower served with mint and a snappy yogurt sauce, a beautifully flavorful, dark and crunchy soft shell crab, Mussels in a rich tomato broth, mini fish tacos and the most excellent Stinging Nettle Ravioli. Toss in a few fresh oysters (a different selection is offered each day) and a wonderful meal was served.
Again, with friends from work, Jeff tried Bistronomics. This is a modern version of what Michele and Jeff usually call, “Pub Food” based on countless meals in pubs across Ireland and Great Britain. Not too fussy, but oh, so good. Jeff started with the dynamic Cauliflower Soup with a Veloute Cheese. Perhaps Jeff is remembering the name wrong, but it was an incredibly good and rich cheese that did not overpower the cauliflower broth. The pan roasted Duck Magret was served with rutabaga and a “not sweet” winter fruit and honey-lemon sauce. The duck could have done with a moment more in the finishing oven to relive it from a touch of toughness, but the flavor could not be argued. Baked Alaska, split three-ways was a nice end to the meal. Like the pubs in Ireland, one meal invites you back for a second and a third….
Alone and in the suburbs, Jeff sampled Vie. This is a highly regarded place with a creative menu that did not disappoint. Each morsel was perfect and the modern interior was relaxing and inspired a memorable evening. The staff had only one goal, to make your visit successful and that they did!
Jeff started with a perfectly prepared set of quail appetizer and then the roasted asparagus salad that featured fluffy red quinoa, ricotta, and pickled fiddlehead fern all topped with spicy pepper vinaigrette. Both were excellent. His entrée was a real treat. A slow-cooked lamb leg was topped with lamb bacon rounds and surrounded by smashed peas, fingerling potatoes that were prepared with a touch of curry and pickled leeks and rich lamb-mint jus. It was easy to become lost in the pure joy of eating this luscious meal. During his fritter dessert, the house manager stopped by the table to check on his meal and invite him back. If Jeff ever finds himself in Western Springs again, you can be assured he will return! With a tea menu almost as large as the wine list, Michele may be tempted to come along.
A number of years ago, Jeff worked multiple weeks in the Chicago suburbs. One of the evening treats was sampling assorted Chicago Hot Dogs. A favorite quickly arose. While a chain, Portillo’s serves up a damn good dog. This trip, Jeff sought out an old haunt and dug into one of his favorite “guilty pleasures” a Chili-Cheese Dog at Portillo’s. Yum!
Spiaggia makes a point of reminding you that gentlemen are required to wear a jacket during dinner. If only the sartorial results of the assorted patrons were as successful as the culinary, this second floor dining room might be the most beautiful place to eat in Chicago. Certainly, the plates that emerged from the kitchen were a wonder to behold, each more beautiful then the next and each course, heavenly.
Jeff started with the Iberico ham accompanied by house made cheese. It was light and delectable. The second course was a perfect risotto, made memorable by its beautiful green color. For the entrée, Jeff ordered what he rarely does, strip steak, but it was no ordinary beef. Tagliata di Manzo is expertly trimmed, grilled to perfection and melted in the mouth. To finish, a cheese plate with soft subtle creamy and tart, aggressive bleu. This was a special meal.
Finally, a trip to Chicago is not complete without a visit to the Purple Pig. This crowded place, right on Michigan Avenue near the river is always jam-packed with people and brimming with great, reasonably priced food. The wine list is likewise well priced. Jeff has visited each time, alone, so it has been easy to slip into one of the remaining seat at the bar or communal table. Parties are almost certain of a wait.
Jeff has enjoyed a number of things on the menu, but decided to try a new collection. This time he tried the sliced asparagus with a parmesan olive oil dressing that was so good, it disappeared almost quicker then it arrived. The Pigs Ear is covered with earthy kale, pickled peppers and a fried egg. Before eating, the diner julienne’s the whole resulting in a mouthful of crunchy pork, tart kale and tangy pepper. Again…gone in a flash! For dessert, the faro and ricotta “Crema” was topped with chocolate sauce and nicely softened the festival of flavors during the meal. At some point, Jeff will likely try something a second time at the Purple Pig, but with the creative team constantly coming up with new ideas, it may be a while!
It could be argued that Chicago, not New York is the food capital of America. They are constantly reinventing ways to eat. New ideas in restaurants seem to come, not from San Francisco, but instead Chicago. Going there to visit is always a treat because there is something new to eat and some new way to think about food is around the corner. What could be better than that?
http://www.girlandthegoat.com/809 W Randolph Street Chicago,IL 60607 312-492-6262
http://gtoyster.com/531 N Wells Street Chicago,IL 60654 312-929-3509
http://bistronomic.net/hostalt/840 N Wabash Avenue Chicago,IL 60611 312-944-8400
http://www.vierestaurant.com/4471 Lawn Avenue Western Springs,IL 60558 708-246-2082
http://www.portillos.com/ Multiple locations
http://www.spiaggiarestaurant.com/980 N Michigan Avenue Chicago,IL 60611 312-280-2750
http://thepurplepigchicago.com/500 N Michigan Avenue Chicago,IL 60611 312-464-1744
May 3, 2012 at 10:06 PM
This was our forth trip to Puerto Rico. We love the island, the sun and friendly population. We have also enjoyed a number of good meals on this island paradise. Our first visit, over thirty years ago took us to La Zaragozana, the legendary Spanish restaurant in Old San Juan. It was so good; a few years later we dined there again and again enjoyed it. On our last visit, we learned, sadly that it had closed, but we luckily found a new favorite, Ajili Mojili. This was a small, busy place, tucked away off the Condado that served luscious Puerto Rican cuisine. We left for this trip expecting another remarkable meal only to learn from the concierge that another San Juan favorite has disappeared. Like deja vu, all over again, we found a favored spot had fallen prey to fate.
Following in the path of favorites, La Zaragozana and Ajili Mojili, we now proudly add the name, Budatai. Located across the street from a new park on Ashford Avenue where the old Convention Center was located, Budatai is a second story room with a wonderful view of the park and ocean beyond. The space is filled with dark wood, warm people and great food. So good in-fact, we did something we NEVER do on a vacation…we went their twice! The appetizer we had on the first night set the stage for all the food to come. When asked for a suggestion, our exceedingly cordial and helpful server immediately recommended the Herame, a thin sliced fish in yuzu (a Japanese citrus) ceviche with matchsticks of carrots and a touch of garlic and sesame oil. When the fish was gathered around the orange, the combination of the silky seafood and the tart citrus is an unexpected blast to the taste buds. After the first bite, we knew we had stumbled into a treasure. The next visit we started with crunchy calamari, larger rings than normal, but very tender and served with beautifully grilled onions and sauce.
For our entrees Jeff tried the seared Ahi Tuna that was butter soft and topped with a sprinkle of roe. The plate was accompanied by taro gnocchi, wasabi peas and an interesting Kombu (Asian kelp) sauce. He also enjoyed the second night’s slow roasted half-duck in a Peking sauce. The skin was crispy, the duck meat was tender and the dish was served with an excellent mofongo (a traditional Puerto Rican fried plantain dish.) Perfect!
Michele ordered the Cod, served “chop suey” style with Brussels Sprout leaves and tempura bacon. It was so good, she almost ordered it again on our second visit, but our waiter convinced her to try the grilled salmon paired with a mild green chili sauce and a light quinoa side. It was a good decision and she couldn’t have been happier.
For dessert, we had the Banana Tart one day and the Bread Pudding duo (one dish chocolate, the other cocoanut) the second night. Both were elegantly prepared and clearly the work of a clever chef.
Comments about Budatai cannot go without a mention of Michele’s tea. A colorful mix of mint, citrus zest and lemongrass, if this was alcohol based; she’d have needed a designated driver! Like everything at Budatai, it was truly special.
The other restaurants in this very continental city were less successful. That was a surprise to us. We tried Aguaviva in Old San Juan, right off the Plaza Colon. The interior featured some cute jellyfish lighting fixtures and we sat at a cozy corner table, but we were here for the food. The cod fritter appetizer reminded Michele of conch fritters, with perhaps a bit too much filler. Michele had the special Bass that was simply seared with a touch of pepper and little else, allowing the fish to speak for itself. It was served with grilled vegetables and a side of lobster mashed potatoes. She felt the fish bland and the mashed good. Jeff snuck a taste of the mashed potato and was less enamored. He did however enjoy his pan seared grouper served over a jalapeno cachapa (a pancake like, cornbread) with a tomato stew atop. We were both very happy with the flowerless chocolate cake served in a white chocolate sauce, but overall, we had hoped from more from this well regarded business.
We had a nice lunch of Empanadillas and chicken BLT (unfortunately, with bland fries) at the Parrot Club in Old San Juan. While Michele enjoyed a Caesar salad, Jeff had a very creative mushroom based cream sauce linguine at Di Zucchero. If we had another evening in San Juan, we’d likely try a full meal at this busy and chic Italian eatery. After discovering our little breakfast spot on the Condado had gone the way of La Zaragozana and Ajili Mojili, we found a tasty cup of luscious Puerto Rican coffee and Chai Latte at Picachos, a local coffee shop that carefully prepares each cup. Things change, new opportunities arise.
One place we will not return is, Casa Lola. When we found out Ajili Mojili had disappeared, we asked the concierge where to go for traditional Puerto Rican food. Apparently, we needed to qualify the request with the adjective, “good.” Our bad! Casa Lola does serve traditional food, but unfortunately, it is not very good. Michele fared better than Jeff with grilled Mahi-Mahi, served with cubed carrot and a tasty Puerto Rican sausage. Jeff unfortunately ordered the dried and over-cooked grilled pork tenderloin with milky risotto. (NOT described as such on the menu!) The disappointing dessert was a promised lemon tart that turned out to be a lemon cheesecake (cheesecake, the one dessert we collectively dislike.) All and all, a waste of money.
In conversation with our waiter at Budatai, we learned that he was previously employed at Ajili Mojili, working his way up from busboy to front of house manager. We also learned that while we were away from the island, the cozy little spot moved to the much larger, much more prominent spot on Ashford Avenue that is now occupied by Casa Lola. Like so many restaurants, Ajili Mojili increased its size in hope of added fame. The result being a reduction in the quality of the food and an inability to maintain the reason patron frequented the original place. Ajili Mojili committed suicide.
We’ll be back to Puerto Rico. We still love the vibe. Inevitably, one of our favorite places will disappear. The great thing that longevity teaches us is that when history disappears, a new, sometimes more interesting alternative will take its place. When that happens, we’ll be there to sample the great food of Puerto Rico, one of our favorite islands.
http://www.ootwrestaurants.com/page.cgi?pag=1a1056 Ashford Avenue San Juan, PR 00907 787-725-6919
http://www.oofrestaurants.com/364 Fortaleza Street San Juan, PR 00901 787-722-0665
http://www.oofrestaurants.com/363 Fortaleza Street San Juan, PR 00901 787-725-7370
http://dizuccheropr.com1210-1214 Ashford Avenue San Juan, PR 00908 787-946-0835
http://www.picachoscafe.com/1020 Ashford Avenue San Juan, PR 00907 787-977-8681
http://casalolarestaurant.com/1006 Ashford Avenue San Juan, PR 00907 787-998-2918
March 10, 2012 at 9:57 AM
Last year, prior to a trip to Orlando, we did a lot of research to find good food in the land of corporate meals. You can’t go a block without stumbling into a chain serving lackluster [fill-in the blank.] After a little work, we learned about K Restaurant and Wine Bar. It was everything we hoped for and when Jeff’s work again called him back to the area, we both knew immediately that another trip to K was imminent. We are happy to report; our second meal was just as good as the first. This is a first-rate place.
Jeff started with a beet and goat cheese salad, followed by a perfect duck breast with confit risotto and topped with red cabbage. It just does not get much better than this! Michele traveled that day, so she forwent a salad and jumped right into a perfectly seared salmon alongside potatoes. As we remembered, all was excellent.
In our research this year, we came across what sounded like the new “king” in town. The Ravenous Pig has garnered some impressive reviews and customer comments. The next day, we drove to Winter Park to see for ourselves. Reservations for Tuesday at 6:00PM were not available! The host suggested that the bar area was typically not filled and it served the same menu. Taking a chance we arrived at a bustling business, the bar tables already filled! No fear however, outdoor dining was available and six seats at the chef’s counter were also open. We of course took our seats at the counter and spent the next two hours ogling the parade of goodies coming from the kitchen. The only thing bad about the seat was our inability to choose just one to eat! Eventually, we did and there is good reason for this place to be filled. Food could not have been better.
Michele ordered the rock shrimp Tacos appetizer as her main course. She unfortunately had a large lunch. She desperately wanted to also try the Farmer Salad, as it looked wonderful exiting the kitchen, but knew much of the food would go to waste. Despite her being full, the tacos disappeared instantly. The shrimp was plump and tasty and balanced nicely with the cabbage, avocado and cilantro filling. Jeff had worked all day without a bite, so he was just the opposite, ready to eat! He ordered the Shrimp and Grits appetizer and it was remarkable. The shrimp were perfect and the chorizo oil gave it a touch of heat. He combined this dish with some excellent Biscuits laced with Gruyere cheese and served with sea salt butter. These are a must, if you go.
For his main entrée, Jeff ordered the stuffed Quail. A beautiful blend of fennel sausage and a mixed soffrito topped the tiny birds that in-turn sat over a bed of polenta. It was perfect. Michele shared in the S’more Tart dessert. The marshmallow top was fired a beautiful brown and the bottom, crunchy graham crackers. A delightful cocoa ice cream sat to the side. This was a wonderful end to the meal.
After Michele left town, Jeff took two business associates to a well regarded Cuban restaurant, Padrino’s. Jeff had an excellent Black Bean Soup and tasty slow cooked pork, Lechon Asado, although the yucca side was less successful. Another person had tempting ham Croquetas and a Cuban sandwich he pronounced very good. The third person was less than happy with his House Salad and grilled pork chops. They appeared blanched and looked as tasteless as he claimed. If you decide to go here, order carefully, the wait staff was of little value in assisting in the selection.
Orlando is the home of the magic kingdom and more corporate food per square mile than most places in America. This just means that discerning palates must work a bit harder to find good food. In the long run, the effort is well worth it.
K Restaurant (There appears to be something wrong with their website, kwinebar.com)1710 Edgewater Drive Orlando, FL 32804 407-872-2332
http://theravenouspig.com/1234 N Orange Avenue Winter Park, FL 32789 407-628-2333
http://www.padrinosbistro.com/home.htm13583 Village Park Drive Orlando, FL 32837 407-251-5107
February 15, 2012 at 2:28 PM
Jeff needed to work in Orange County/Los Angeles and took the opportunity to try a few restaurants that had been on his radar. Two James Beard finalists in particular sounded interesting, Wilshire and Fraîche. Both were reported to excel in “New American” cuisine, using fresh ingredients and exemplary cooking technique. He is happy to report that reality met expectations and both meals were excellent.
Fraîche has two locations, one in Culver City and one in Santa Monica on the 3rd Avenue Promenade. Jeff visited the Culver City outpost. It was an inviting space with a casual vibe on a chilly (for LA) Tuesday evening. He started with what would be the best part of the meal; the braised brisket was served with fingerling potatoes over a milky cheese fondue. The beef was fork tender and when combined with the cheese it was an inventive and tasty treat. For the entrée, Monkfish filets were seared crispy outside and moist and tender inside and served over a bed of spinach and whipped potatoes puree with a lemony white wine sauce surrounding the stack. For a diner who rarely orders fish, this was a treat. Dessert was a beautifully formed Chocolate Coulant (basically, a chocolate cake with a warm oozing center of chocolate) served with toffee and peanut butter gelato. It was wonderful!
The next evening, Jeff moved to Santa Monica and despite the temptation to visit the second Fraîche, he and a business associate/friend visited Wilshire on Wilshire Boulevard. Jeff’s friend had dined their before and suggested the semi-enclosed rear patio, that despite the chill in the air was kept toasty warm with portable space heaters. Alfresco dining in November is something new for a Cleveland boy like Jeff!
The meal was excellent. Jeff started with the Little Gem Salad that consisted of greens with cherry tomatoes, bleu cheese, egg and small cubes of excellent bacon. Each forkful was a flavor treat. His dining partner ordered Maggie’s Farm Caesar Salad and pronounced it tangy, aggressive and good. Jeff found a number of things on the menu that sounded good, but the warmth of the Wild Boar Pappardelle was too much of an allure. It hit the spot with al dente noodles and a nice mixture of vegetables and flavorful meat. His friend had what would have been his second choice. The special of the evening was venison loin and it was a beautifully cut with perfect coloring and none of the gamey flavor than can often plague this dish. Dessert was fresh fruit with passion-fruit whipped cream over a cookie base and it was perfect.
Travel can be so much more enjoyable when a good meal ends the day. After battling Los Angeles travel for a few hours each day, both Fraîche and Wilshire proved to be wonderful codas to hectic days.
http://fraicherestaurantla.com/ 9411 Culver Boulevard Culver City, CA 310-839-6800
http://wilshirerestaurant.com/2454 Wilshire Boulevard Santa Monica, CA 90403 310-586-1707
November 19, 2011 at 11:52 PM
Jeff was back in Phoenix and since his last visit, a few new places popped onto the radar. Michele did not join him, but his trusty co-worker was willing to try what we had unearthed.
The temperature in October is much more humane and people were out and taking advantage of alfresco dining. The Greenhouse is located in Kierland Commons, an outdoor shopping plaza with a number of upscale retailers and some national chain restaurants. The Greenhouse is part of the Fox Restaurant Concepts group that runs a number of nicer eateries in the area. As Jeff and his co-worker drove around the somewhat confusing plaza, we asked some shoppers for directions. “You’re not going to eat their, are you?” one of them asked. “You should look at the menu before you go in. Some of the food is weird.” After a few glances at the exciting menu, both Jeff and his friend agreed to go in. Clearly these Phoenicians were of the McDonald’s or Applebee’s variety because the offerings were very exciting.
Jeff had expected to order the bacon-wrapped Pork Tenderloin, but the waitress mentioned the short ribs were remarkable and his mind was changed in an instance. Good thing, because they were indeed fabulous. This is not a dish Jeff orders often, but when prepared well, it is great. Served over whipped potatoes with caramelized onions, it was perfect meal for a perfect evening. His dinner companion ordered the pasta with spinach, tomato and shrimp and raved about it for two days. Yes, we are going to eat there and perhaps again, if back in Phoenix.
The real treat of the trip, however was Barrio Café. This was some of the best Mexican food Jeff has had the pleasure to eat. Guacamole is prepared tableside with pomegranate, cilantro, onions and other goodies, mashed into fresh avocados and served with hand made tortilla chips. It was excellent. Jeff then had the Posole Verde soup, not because he needed it, but because it sounded so darned good and guess what? It was! Pork, tomatillio and hominy were topped with fresh cabbage, radishes and onions. This was a remarkable version of this classic Central American soup. Finally, for an entrée, Jeff could not resist the Cochinita Pibil, slow-roasted pork with a collection of Mexican spices, sour orange and salsa. The pork melted in your mouth and the spices and salsa were added in a way that turned the dish into a sensation. Despite being WAY too full, Jeff scraped every dish and washed it down with his favorite Mexican food accompaniment, Negra Modelo beer.
Upon entering, Jeff’s friend and co-worker read the introduction in the menu. It indicated that for the last two years, Barrio Café has been a James Beard award finalist and Phoenix Magazine has awarded it “Best Mexican Restaurant” in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009. He wondered out loud what happened to 2010 and 2011 and then noted the copyright of the menu was 2009. Without question, this has to be the best Mexican food in any year.
“You’re not going to eat their, are you?” Yes ladies and we hope may others sample the Greenhouse and Barrio Café. Unlike those pedestrian ladies in the parking lot, we enjoy good food and think anyone with functioning taste buds will enjoy this food. We’re sure you will.
http://www.foxrc.com/the_greene_house.html15024 North Scottsdale Boulevard #100 Scottsdale, AZ 85254 480-889-9494
http://barriocafe.com/ 2814 North 16th Street Phoenix, AZ 85006 602-636-0240
October 15, 2011 at 11:53 PM
In the last year, Jeff has been to Denver three times. During the first trip he enjoyed dinner at Rioja and TAG, almost next-door neighbors on Larimer Street. A few months later he was back in the city and had the opportunity to try Cho Lon a remarkable Asian fusion restaurant that serves some of the most inventive Chinese/Asian food he’s ever had. This trip, Jeff went back to some favorites and tried a new place. Again, he was amazed at the creativity found in the mile-high city.
Upon arrival, Jeff wanted a quick-small meal. The flight was on time, but sat on the runway for an extra ½ hour. After check-in, he ran down to TAG and ordered a glass of Lebanese wine (yes, wine from Lebanon!) and the pork tenderloin dinner. This was a beautifully grilled section accompanied by a stuffed chili filled with corn, bacon and snap peas that exploded over the pork and onto the wonderfully pungent Guajillo (chili) sauce. A perfect, quick, reasonably light meal.
The next day, Jeff hoped to return to Cho Lon. The memory of the Gruyere dumplings and stir-fry Brussels sprouts was calling. Unfortunately, he could not get a reservation. Just in case, he showed up at the front desk hoping to squeeze in a kitchen-bar seat to enjoy the show. No luck. The reason no seat was available is that this was their one-year anniversary and they were having a special multi-course extravaganza for $150. The place was packed. If Michele was along, we may have done it (?) but not after a full day of work. Instead, he ran over to Rioja and grabbed a bar seat for an enjoyable dinner. The fig tart was a perfect starter and based on recommendation, he had the Kurobuto pork chop. It was decadently tender with a fabulous black truffle crème fraiche and smoked bacon vinaigrette surrounding the chop and cheddar “tatter tots”. After ordering dessert and tasting one bit, it all seemed familiar. He had again ordered the Lemon Sabayon Tart, just as the first visit and the meal (and dessert) were as delicious as the first time.
During both previous visits, Fruition was fully booked. Determined not to miss what is generally regarded as the best restaurant in Denver, Jeff made reservations a month in advance. The wait and the planning were worth it. This was food at its best.
Jeff started with the Potato-Wrapped Oysters Rockefeller. An impossibly thin potato slice was wrapped around the oyster before frying. The potato become something like a potato-chip and the oyster inside was succulent and perfect. The tangy spinach bedding added a second layer of complexity to the meal with the parmesan-leek emulsion the topper. Jeff tried to stretch out every bite to make this amazing dish last. These were probably the best cooked oysters Jeff has ever had. Ever.
It must be pork month in Denver. For an entrée, Jeff honed in on the pork chop and the duck. After a consult with the waitress, it became clear that he would have a pork dish three days in a row. Regardless of how good the others were (and as indicated, they were good!) this was the paragon. The chop was extra thick, but cut like a slice of Irish butter and possessed that same buttery taste. It sat upon a goat cheese and corn pancake that was surrounded by a grilled vegetable succotash and tomato vinaigrette. Like the appetizer, Jeff slowly enjoyed each morsel.
Desserts all looked good, but the Gorgonzola Dolce sounded the most interesting and it was. A slice of creamy Gorgonzola cheese was surrounded by sliced figs, die-sized pieces of Olive Oil cake and pickled red onion marmalade. Three collections graced the rectangular plate. This was a genius combination and one which Jeff will not soon forget, just like the entire Fruition experience.
A year ago, Jeff had never in his life been to Denver and now he has had the opportunity to sample some of the best food the city has to offer. Isn’t life interesting? Isn’t food grand?
http://www.riojadenver.com/ 1431 Larimer Street Denver, CO 80202 303-825-2588
http://tag-restaurant.com/ 1441 Larimer Street Denver, CO 80202 303-996-9985
http://www.cholon.com/denver/ 1555 Blake Street Denver, CO 80202 303-353-5223
http://fruitionrestaurant.com/ 1313 East 6th Avenue Denver, CO 80218 303-831-1962
October 8, 2011 at 11:42 PM