Friday, June 26, 2015

Berkeley - Chez Panisse

After the most disappointing dinner of my life, I really wanted to redeem the rest of the trip. Luckily, I was able to snag a last minute reservation at another bucket list item restaurant - Chez Panisse. Obviously I didn't learn from the day before's experience because I was immediately excited and my expectations were high. This time though, everything worked out!

The menu changes daily, which is fantastic. Alice Waters was a big pioneer of the farm to table movement in California and it really showed in her dishes. Plus, the restaurant itself is adorable!

Acme bread for the table

little gems, green goddess dressing, radishes

local halibut tartare, heirloom carrots

fazzoletti, pesto, local tomatoes

duck breast, pan fried potato, English peas

flourless chocolate cake

apricot galette

I can't rave enough about the meal I had here. THIS is exactly how duck should have been done at Ad Lib ... soft, tender and perfectly medium rare. I think it was the best duck I've ever had, which only served to enrage me more about the previous night's dinner. If you get the chance, definitely go to Chez Panisse ... SO GOOD.

Chez Panisse
1517 Shattuck Ave, Berkley, CA 94709

Monday, June 22, 2015

Napa - Ad Lib at Royal Oak (Silverado Resort)

When French Laundry closed for renovations/expansions a few months ago, the ever-innovative Thomas Keller looked to the Silverado Resort in Yountville/Napa and opened a pop-up concept. Since the pop-up is a takeover of one of the country club's restaurants, TK decided to do a homage to the country club cuisine.

Nancy, Hua and I headed there over Memorial Day weekend, keeping our fingers furtively crossed that TK would be at the restaurant, carving beef wellingtons or tossing Caesar salads tableside. It would have been amazing! We were fan-girl-excited at this very thought.

front view of the Silverado Resort

Since there were three of us, we decided to go with three appetizers, entrees for four, a bunch of sides and a few desserts. Nancy and I traveled far to eat here; don't judge. Plus, since this is a temporary concept and though there is no actual end date, we didn't want to miss out on any amazing dishes. Basically we experienced FOMO to the max.

Bread was served to the table warm and the butter/salt combination was delicious. We were off to a great start. Excitement levels high at this point. Plus, we kept craning our necks for TK to appear.

duck liver mousse, kumquat jam

lamb carpaccio, compressed cucumbers, pearl onions, mint crème fraîche

classic Caesar salad, prepared tableside

Appetizers were solid. The Caesar salad could have used like, double or triple the amount of lettuce for the dressing that was on it, but I generally like very lightly dressed salads. The mousse was good but I wasn't too fond of the lamb carpaccio. Nancy and Hua liked it though. I liked how good looking our server was ...

prime beef short-rib "wellington" (serves two)

Liberty Farms duck breast, mustard fruits, sauce "bigarade"

grilled Elysian Fields Farm lamb t-bone

With these entrees for *ahem* four people, we also ordered a bunch of side dishes. Basically we ordered everything that looked interesting and/or delicious. Cause treat yoself.

crispy fingerling potatoes with caramelized sweet onions

crispy cauliflower with garden dill and sour cream

garden carrots glazed with wildflower honey

The entree round is where the meal started to fall apart. The beef wellington was really good, but honestly, it's hard to mess up or overcook short ribs. They get MORE tender the longer you cook them! Short ribs are very forgiving. The duck was a bit overcooked; more on the medium side than the medium rare that we requested. The sauce was also very thick and very sweet.

Our biggest beef was with the lamb (haha). It was definitely cook to well done - the meat was gray all the way through with no hint of pink, and ended up being tough and chewy. It's very, very rare that I send something back to the kitchen but for a $54 dish ... they should be able to execute it properly. Then the second one we received was still overcooked! Albeit slightly less overcooked, but it was still medium-well. The server asked us to cut into the middle (she hoped it would be more pink) but nope, fail. However, she did say that she would take it off the check.

Sides were solid but the carrots were also a bit overcooked. They were almost a bit mushy. The potatoes were well crisped but I feel like I could have made them myself - they're just roasted.

pineapple upside down cake, rum syrup, roasted macadamia nuts

meyer lemon chiffon pie

There was no saving desserts after the entrees. The pineapple upside cake had a weird crumbly texture and the whipped cream on top tasted exactly like the whipped cream on top of the mango pudding at dim sum (it took me a week of thinking to figure that out). The lemon curd and meringue was good on the chiffon pie but the crust was thin, brittle and slightly tasteless.

The bill came out to over $100 per person, before tip - and this was with the $54 lamb taken off the tab. As Nancy said, we spent a pretty penny for sub-par Thomas Keller food.

Honestly, I've never been more disappointed in a meal in my life. It's not to say that I haven't had worse food but our expectations were high, especially at a restaurant with Thomas Keller's name attached to it. Especially since Nancy and I flew up from Southern California to eat here. And TK wasn't there that night either! If I had gotten a picture with him, it would have at least saved the night a little bit. I understand the country club homage concept so I wasn't expecting French Laundry level plating but in terms of execution ... at least make the food taste good!

Conclusion: sad faces all around.

Ad Lib Pop-Up
1600 Atlast Peak Rd, Napa, California

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

CUCINA Enoteca Irvine

Are you already excited by all the food in the picture above? I am! I've never thought of Irvine Spectrum as a dining destination. However, when I was invited to dinner at Cucina Enoteca, I was game to give the place a try. And I was pleasantly surprised!

The menu is varied with large and small plates, which is great for either a full on dinner or just some appetizers with drinks. You can go for a cheese/charcuterie board, vasis (mason jars full of antipasti dips), bruschettas, appetizers, pastas, pizzas, and entrees. Also, the food arrived FAST (within 15 minutes of ordering) so if you're going to watch a movie across the way, no worries - you'll get in and out in record time.

Since we were so overwhelmed with options, we decided to go family style.

vasi - burrata, roasted garlic

grilled octopus, pickled beech mushroom, charred spring onion, acqua pazza aioli, black garlic and corriander vinagrette

chopped salad, escarole, radicchio, casalingo salumi, caciocavallo, pickled shishito, parmesan crouton, ceci bean, castelvetrano, garlic oregano vinagrette

risotto carbonara, pancetta, pea, pecorino, farm egg

short rib pappardelle, cremini mushroom, carrot, parmigiano

linguine+clams, salametto piccante, chili, white wine brodo, fettunta

tiramisu in a jar, mascarpone mousse, lady fingers, chocolate
dark chocolate budino, crème fraîche, amaretti cookie

As previously stated, I was extremely surprised by how great this meal was! We attacked the food as soon as it came so some of the pictures are not perfect (egg yolk broken, salad scooping in action) so I apologize .. but everything was well executed, season perfectly and arrived at the table piping hot, even though it all came out within 15 minutes of us ordering.

My only gripes are that half of the seating is outdoors so if you're sensitive to the weather, you may want to make a reservation and request an inside seat. And we ordered a non-alcoholic soda. the "aquazul" (strawberry, mint, lime, ginger, soda) and it was $7, which we thought was a bit steep. My friend probably didn't look at the price before she ordered it because she was a bit surprised.

CUCINA Enoteca Irvine
Irvine Spectrum across from movie theatre
532 Spectrum Center Dr, Irvine, California

Monday, May 18, 2015


A few weeks ago, I was able to meet up with Weezermonkey for lunch (yay!) and we decided to check out Redbird, a newly opened restaurant in DTLA. The space is formerly the Vibiana Cathedral on the outskirts of Little Tokyo so needless to say, it's well-lit and gorgeous. The day was hot, so we opted to go for a lighter lunch. And I just realized that the above photo was taken by her.

new caledonia shrimp, grits, cocoa nib chipotle mole

burrata salad, sweet and sour pears, duck proscuitto, pistachio, red watercress

gnocchetti sardi, Maine lobster, black trumpets, nettles, tomato confit

grilled prime hanger steak, crushed peewee potatoes, wild broccoli, black garlic gremolata

A bit on the pricey side but all-in-all a great lunch! The hanger steak was amazing ... well cooked and tender. It was probably the best deal on the menu for lunch. The chicken potpie also looked really good but the weather was way too hot to have potpie. Too bad we skipped dessert cause it would have been interesting to see if the greatness would continue. Until next time ...

Can't wait to try the next place with you, Weezermonkey!

114 W Second St, Los Angeles, CA

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Seattle - Staple & Fancy

Our last night in Seattle was spent at Staple & Fancy, which incidentally was right next door to The Walrus & The Carpenter. There are a TON of amazing places to eat at in Seattle but Lady Ducayne (who left the trip at the end of the Vancouver leg) raved about the family dinner at Staple & Fancy. For $50/pp, we got the below items which was tailored for our party of three.

We were able to sneak a peek at the table next to us and see the items that they got for family dinner and some were a bit different, as they had a party of four. You can also order a la carte if you don't want to partake in family dinner but for the amount of food we got? Totally worth it!

Family meal consisted of "a bunch" of appetizars, a pasta, two entrees, a cheese and a dessert. As stated, if there are more people at the table, then the number of pastas/entrees/desserts increase.

housemade speck, crouton, microgreens

radicchio, frisee, arugula salad with proscuitto, candied walnuts, parmesan

cornmeal fried oysters, Calabrian chili aioli

mozzarella, housemade tapenade

seared ahi tuna, red peppers, avocado puree, cucumbers

parsnip puree, fried sage

beef tartare

pappardelle pasta, beef bolognese, root vegetables

swordfish, cauliflower, fingerling potatoes

strip loin, braised escarole, pancetta, parsnip puree

l'tour cow/goat/sheep milk cheese from France, quince paste, marcona almonds

dark chocolate hazelnut terraine, salted caramel, chocolate gelato

panna cotta, huckleberries

The last dessert was extra, as one member of our party loved panna cotta and couldn't resist getting it.

I can't rave enough about how good this meal was. If you find yourself in the area, I definitely recommend going for dinner one night. At one point, I honestly loved it more than The Walrus & The Carpenter (sacrilege!!) ... and as of now, I'm still debating. Sorry, oysters.

Staple & Fancy
4739 Ballard Ave NW, Seattle, Washington