40 Hours in San Francisco

I spend the first half of this week in San Francisco for work. Although I wasn’t even there for two full days, I was fortunate to be able to enjoy two great meals.

Chez Panisse – 1517 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA

Straight off the plane, I headed to Berkeley on Monday for lunch with my grandparents and aunt who happened to be in town. My grandparents have lived in Berkeley for years and wanted to give my aunt and I a chance to try Alice Water’s famous Berkeley restaurant. This restaurant opened 40 years ago and started the homegrown, health food concept that  is now visible across the nation. Alice Waters is a passionate advocate for a food economy that is “good, clean, and fair.” The restaurant experienced major damage from a fire in the spring and just re-opened about three weeks ago. The menu at Chez Panisse changes daily. We ate upstairs in the more casual café and enjoyed all of our selections (though we we not overly impressed with the service.) I ordered a little gem lettuce salad with poached shrimp, grape fruit and crème fresh. Then I had a pizzette of leeks and clams. My aunt ordered a fried calamari dish that was served with a zucchini salad. My grandmother ordered a beautiful looking tagliatelle with a fresh pesto made with parsley.

I didn’t take any photos of the food but here my aunt and I are outside the restaurant.

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The Slanted Door – 1 Sausalito, San Francisco Ferry Bldg #3, San Francisco, CA

After a great lunch in Berkeley with family, I went back to the city to quickly check into my hotel before dinner with my colleagues at The Slanted Door. We sat in the private room which was perfect for our group because it was mostly enclosed by a glass and had a curtain that blocked the noise from the main dining room.

Since we were in the private room, we had to order from the prix fixe menu. We left the ordering up to one person in our party and lucky for us everything he picked was great. (We did have one vegetarian in our group so he received his own items in place of those he couldn’t eat.) Our three appetizers were:

  • crispy imperial rolls with gulf shrimp, pork shoulder, glass noodle, roasted peanut
  • barbecued willis ranch pork spareribs with scallion, cilantro, honey-hoisin sauce
  • grapefruit and jicama salad with red cabbage, pickled carrot, candied pecan.

I thought the spring rolls were just on par with any others I have had elsewhere. The pork spareribs were very tasty (I do love anything with hoisin) but messy. Fortunately, the waiter bought us damp towels once we were done with the appetizer course. I thought the grapefruit and jicama salad had good flavor but it was 95% red cabbage. I would have enjoyed more jicama.

For the entrée round, we ordered:

  • cellophane noodles with green onion, dungeness crab, sesame
  • sesamepan-seared day boat scallops served with lotus root, fennel, chayote, grape tomato, red curry sauce
  • organic chicken claypot with caramel sauce, thai chili, fresh ginger
  • grass-fed estancia shaking beef, cubed filet mignon, watercress, red onion, lime sauce.

I’m not a big scallop fan but everyone seemed to enjoy them. The cellophane noodles were a huge hit. The chicken had great flavors but it came out after the other items so I could only manage a taste because I was so full.

For our vegetable, we ordered the dirty girl farm spicy haricots vert with beech mushroom, roasted chili. They were a good compliment to the other items so rich in flavor.

For dessert, we were served homemade donuts with a butterscotch dipping sauce and a cheesecake that came with a blackberry sauce and featured an amazing crust.

Lava Lounge – 527 Bryant St, San Francisco, CA

On to the real reason I went to San Francisco….on Tuesday evening, I hosted about 125 guests for a reception and also took about 60 clients to the Giants/Red Sox game. The only food I sampled at Lava was the truffled tofu fries and they were amazing! They were lightly battered and tossed in truffle oil  and served with lemon soy-dipping sauce.

Here are some photos from AT&T Park:

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Although my trip to San Francisco was quick, it was a success overall. I had a chance to visit with family, hosted a successful event and enjoyed a few great meals! Next time, I’ll have to make sure to get some sightseeing in.

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Eating Our Way Through New Orleans…

A few weekends ago, I went down to New Orleans for my friend Megan’s bachelorette party. I had only been to the Big Easy once before (in college for Habitat for Humanity) and had never had a chance to fully explore the city. One of the best parts about my weekend there was the amazing food that we got to try. The flavors found in all of the dishes made me feel like we were in a different country! At almost every restaurant, I had to ask our waiter to explain dishes to me because they used ingredients I had never heard of! I couldn’t believe I had never sampled food like they have in New Orleans before! Below is a summary of our meals:

Friday – Lunch at Luke (333 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans)
John Besh is a local chef who has nine restaurants in New Orleans. Luke is a great lunch spot frequently by many of New Orleans’ professionals. We were excited for our first taste of New Orleans after an early morning flight from Boston. The whole menu looked amazing so we made sure that between the six of us, we all ordered a variety of items so we could sample as many of John Besh’s creations as possible!

IMG_1594We started with a half dozen Gulf oysters. Growing up spoiled by the fresh oysters from Cape Cod, we were all curious to sample these local treats. As you can see in the photo above, they were HUGE! (Some of us had trouble taking them down.)  I’m not sure I can go back to “tiny” Wellfleet oysters after this!

IMG_1595Our waiter also insisted that we try Luke’s Baked P&J oysters made with herbsaint and a persillade crust. They were essentially breaded, garlicy goodness. Personally I enjoy raw oysters much more but for those of us in the group that struggled with the palm sized raw oysters, they enjoyed these thoroughly!

For my meal, I took ordered Friday’s special which was “Court-bouillon” consisting of redfish, crab, shrimp, oysters and Louisiana popcorn rice. IT WAS AMAZING. So amazing that I didn’t have time to take a picture! It was a thicker dark sauce filled with all sort of seafood with a scoop of rice on top. It almost looked like the gumbo that some of the girls ordered but it was thicker and saltier. I scarfed it down in just a few minutes. It came with a cup of soup and I chose the crab and corn bisque which tasted so fresh and had giant chunks of crab! The other girls ordered the Salad de Poulte Grille which contained grilled chicken, pickled stone fruit, fromage blanc and proscuitto and the day’s special which was a Softshell Crab BLT. I mean, hello! How delicious does that sound? Well it was even better than you could imagine.

Friday afternoon Happy Hour – Dominica (123 Baronne Street, New Orleans)

While dining at Luke, we met chef Aarón Sanchez (from the Food Network’s Chopped) and his business partner, Octavio, who also owns all of John Besh’s restaurants. They suggested we head over to Dominica (another John Best restaurant) for happy hour. We had some time to kill before the girls from DC arrived so we walked over there right at 3pm for the start of happy hour. Massachusetts doesn’t have happy hour so we figured why not take advantage?! Happy hour at Dominica features half off cocktails, pizzas, wine and beers and we made sure to sample all of the above.

IMG_1599Above is a picture of our bride with a clam pizza.

Aarón introduced us to Dominica’s chef and co-owner Alon Shaya and when we asked him for dinner suggestions for that evening, after listing of a few other options, he recommended we just dine there! We went home to shower and meet up with the other girls, who had now all made it to the hotel, before coming back for dinner.

Once again we were greeted with an overwhelming but delicious looking menu. We ended up ordering whatever Chef Alon recommended for us. In addition to the items below, we ordered Roasted Cauliflower with sea salt & whipped goat feta; Squid Ink Tagliolini with blue crab & herbs (AMAZING); Spaghetti served with Louisiana chanterelle mushrooms & butter.

IMG_1616A beautiful meat and cheese platter with all of the accompaniments

IMG_1617Octopus Carpaccio with fennel & citrus

IMG_1618Crispy Squash Blossoms with heirloom tomato, olive vinaigrette & labneh (Can you believe Megan had NEVER tried these before? ;-) )

IMG_1619Crispy Kale

Saturday Lunch – Johnnies (511 Saint Louis Street, New Orleans)

Saturday afternoon we went to a famous New Orleans spot for their well known po’ boys. Unfortunately I wasn’t feeling that well so I didn’t try anything here. However, the girls loved their muffalatas as well as their fried shrimp po’ boys. I did, however, drink about my weight in their sweet tea and I can say that was two thumbs up!

Saturday Dinner – NOLA (534 Saint Louis Street, New Orleans)

When in New Orleans, you have to go to Emeril Lagasse’s NOLA, right?? It was a perfect blend of classic Creole food with an upscale twist. With 12 of us all looking to try as many items as possible on the menu, we opted for his 5-course tasting menu. For just $49, I highly recommend doing this if you have the chance.

First Course

Untitled0I chose Miss Hay’s Stuffed Chicken Wing with Homemade Hoisin Dipping Sauce (left). I’m not sure exactly what it was stuffed with (or how to even stuff a chicken wing) but it was so tasty. The stuffing seemed to be some sort of sausage and breading but the best part was the sweet hoisin sauce on the chicken skin. It wasn’t sticky at all but instead the flavor seemed to be injected into the chicken. Other choices for the first course were the Gumbo of the Day which was an Andouille Sausage and Duck Gumbo (center) or Crispy Smoked Duck and Mushroom Boudin Balls with Tomato-Bacon Jam and Creole Mustard Aioli (right).

Second Course
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For our salad course, I chose the NOLA Caesar of baby green and red romaine lettuces which featured Focaccia Croutons, Shaved Reggiano Parmesan and Dijon Anchovy Vinaigrette (left). The other options were Assorted Baby Lettuces with Marinated Grape Tomatoes, Belle Ècorce Farms Goat Cheese, Pistachios and Herb-Balsamic Vinaigrette (center) or NOLA Panzanella Salad with Vine Ripe Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Red Onion, Toasted Focaccia Bread, Feta Cheese, Romaine Lettuce, and Red Wine Herb Vinaigrette (right).

Third Course

Untitled2My selection for our third course was my favorite of the whole meal. I went with one of NOLA’s most popular items the Garlic Crusted Drum which was a fish cooked in the wood burning oven with brabant potatoes, crimini mushrooms, bacon and sauce beurre rouge (left). It was a perfect blend of sweetness with savory hints. The other options were a Pan Roasted Salmon with herb couscous, ratatouille, red chili raita and preserved lemon butter sauce (center). I really enjoyed the third option, Shrimp & Grits which came with sautéed Gulf shrimp, grilled green onions, smoked cheddar grits, apple smoked bacon, crimini mushrooms and red chili-abita butter sauce (right). Whether or not you chose the tasting menu, I HIGHLY recommend that the Drum and the Shrimp & Grits gets ordered by someone in your party.

Fourth Course

Untitled3I only was able to snag two pictures for this course. My selection was the Fried Buttermilk Breast of Chicken (top) which came with bourbon mashed sweet potatoes, country ham cream gravy and sautéed sugar snap peas. It was scrumptious. Now I know why people in the South have more obesity problems than people in the North….amazing food like this! The girls that ordered the Pan Seared Filet Mignon with cauliflower purée, confit wild mushrooms, herb roasted bone marrow and garlic bordelaise (bottom) all declared it the highlight of their meal. The third option was a Grilled Pork Chop with brown sugar glazed sweet potatoes, toasted pecans and caramelized onion reduction sauce.

Fifth Course

IMG_1648The options for our final course were all amazing but I could only manage a bite of each I was so full! I chose the Key Lime Pie with blackberry compote, passionfruit coulis and graham cracker whipped cream (above). It was refreshing and rich at the same time. The other options were a Warm Chocolate Bread Pudding with popcorn ice cream, chocolate sauce, bourbon caramel sauce and popcorn brittle or a selection of house-made ice cream or sorbet. PHEW

Sunday Pre-Brunch – Cafe du Monde (800 Decatur Street, New Orleans)

Believe it or not, we followed up Saturday night’s dinner with brunch and a pre-brunch snack at Cafe du Monde. If you’re in New Orleans, you have to go to Cafe du Monde. That’s really all that needs to be said. Lines may seem long (both to sit or for to-go orders) however it moves quickly because tables free up often. There is no hostess to seat you, so while many wait in one long line, it’s basically a free for all so I suggest just grabbing any open table you see.

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Sunday Brunch – Cafe Amelie – (912 Royal Street, New Orleans)

We had brunch reservations at this a beautiful garden restaurant on Sunday afternoon. However, it poured all morning so we were stuck inside. The food was great but I think we missed out on a big part of the ambiance.

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Nevertheless, I chose the smoked salmon BLT which was a perfect hangover breakfast!

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Sunday Dinner – Felix’s Restaurant & Oyster Bar (711 Iberville Street, New Orleans)

By our last night we were dying to try the Charbroiled Oysters we had heard so much about. We went to Felix’s, one of the spots in New Orleans known for this delicacy. To make these, they basically squirt raw oysters with a garlic oil and plop them, in the half shell, on an open flame. The result is baked oysters without the breading. The result is amazing.

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As is Felix’s Jambalaya!

IMG_1694Overall, I thought the best part about New Orleans was the food. We had so many great meals and I look forward to recreating the flavors soon in my own kitchen!

City Landing

The other day my friend and I made our 2nd visit to City Landing on the Greenway. City Landing opened last summer when Sel De La Terre closed right near the Aquarium. I personally think that this restaurant has some of the best food in the city of Boston. The menu features a wide selection of intriguing options with many on the healthier side. This restaurant also feature a huge gluten free and vegetarian menu.

On this visit my friend and I split the Crisp Calamari with a sweet chili drizzle and the White Pizzetta that had chicken-apple sausage, oven-cured tomatoes, portabellas and arugula.

Crispy calamari from City Landing

White Pizette from City Landing

It seems that the people of Boston have yet to discover City Landing but with food this good, I’m sure that it’s just a matter of time until this becomes a popular destination. Also with Nebo opening just down the street, the Financial District is becoming a hot spot for weekend eats.

Funny how a melody sounds like a memory

Last night I got back from my much anticipated trip to Nashville. This was my 5th (almost) consecutive year going down for CMA Fan Fest. I went for the first time in 2008 and then have gone every June since 2010. This year we had our biggest crew ever with about 25 of us in total. The trip was absolutely amazing. If you don’t know what Fan Fest is (you are missing out!), it is an 4 day long country music festival that raises money for music programs in public schools. All of the artists perform for free so that all of the proceeds can go directly to the programs. It features all of country music’s major artists performing on Nashville’s Riverfront during the day and then at LP Field at night. Highlights from this year’s line up included Zac Brown Band, Phil Vassar, Luke Bryan, Craig Campbell, Eric Church, Miranda Lambert, Taylor Swift, Joe Nichols, Sara Evans, Brett Eldredge, Kip Moore, Little Big Town, Hunter Hayes, Lady Antebellum, Blake Shelton, Jerrod Neimann, Jake Owen, David Nail, Corey Smith, Florida Georgia Line, Dierks Bentley, Keith Urban, Brad Paisley, The Band Perry, Jake Owen and Carrie Underwood. Phew!! That was only the acts that I can remember!! You can visit the CMA’s website for the full line up. Highlights from the show will air on August 12th on ABC.

Despite this being one of the best vacations of my 27 years, we did experience a few snags. The first would be the surprise performance by Lenny Kravitz. If you follow me on twitter, you may have an idea how I feel about this. Lenny came out and performed a 45 minute set which was one of the longest (if not THE longest) out of the 4 nights. The crowd was completely unfamiliar with his songs besides American Woman and Fly Away. After multiple attempts to coax the crowd into singing along to one of his other songs and being met with silence, Lenny then decided to extend the song with a 10 minute guitar solo. He clearly didn’t read the crowd…..or the camera men when they tried cutting him off about 10 minutes earlier. He finally flipped off the crowd and stormed off the stage in anger. I truly don’t know what the CMA was thinking by having this “surprise SUPER MEGA STAR” featured. One can only assume there were some type of backstage politics involved. I won’t even get into the decision to have Jason Aldean (a real country artist) join Lenny on stage for one song and then leave.

The only other snag was Sunday night’s concert at LP Field. Due to an impending thunderstorm, each act was limited to 1-3 songs instead of their planned 5-7. Poor Jake Owen was only brought on stage for one song before he was told to get off. Brad Paisley and The Band Perry were both allowed two and Carrie Underwood had time for three. We all know Mother Nature cannot be tamed but because of the rushed acts, the concert let out over 2 hours before the rain actually began. I do want to commend all of the artists for handling their shortened time gracefully. After all, they donated their time to be there when they absolutely could have been paid to perform elsewhere.

Here are some highlights from our trip:

CMA Fest 2013

Above: Kip Moore, Eric Church, Brad Paisley, Zac Brown Band at LP Field

Nashville

Clockwise: Some of the ladies of the trip, Vanderbilt’s football field from our hotel window, Craig Campbell at the Riverfront, Quitting my day job and learning to play guitar, Phil Vassar at the Riverfront

While in town, we stopped for dinner at my all time favorite restaurant, Whiskey Kitchen. Our meal highlights included WK Bourbon Poppers which were bourbon BBQ glazed chicken poppers, seasoned sweet potato fries, ranch; Aristocrat Wings flavored with truffle, parmesan, parsley, black pepper; The Southerner which was a quarter pound biscuit, peppered bacon gravy, cheddar cheese, topped w/ fried egg and with choice of side choose from: fried chicken, smoked ham, fried green tomato, or steak (I went with the tomato)Whiskey Kitchen, Nashville, TN

Only 360 days until next year’s trip to Nashville. So blessed ^

Blue Dragon

After attending Boston Bites Back at Fenway Park last week, my friends and I decided it was about time we tried event organizer Ming Tsai’s newest restaurant Blue Dragon. Located just down the street from us in the Fort Point neighborhood, this is Ming’s second restaurant venture. His first, Wellesley’s Blue Ginger, is known for its delectable entrees. Though I haven’t had the chance to visit Blue Ginger I was fortunate enough to stop by Blue Dragon not once, but twice in the past week. The menu consists of smaller plates which are perfect for sharing and gives the diner a chance to try numerous items in one visit. TWO visits to Blue Dragon allowed me to try a good number of items on the menu.

On my first visit, my friends and I sampled a few drinks from the drink menu to start. They weren’t exactly what us 27 year olds were used to as the drinks were extremely flavorful and well thought out.  Between the three of us, we sampled the Gimlet, Haumea and one drink that consisted of Sake, Bourbon and Sweet Potato. The plethora of flavors that came through in these drinks were an indication that an amazing meal was in store for us.

We started with the Whipped Hummus with Spiced Pita Chips, Braised Beef and Chinese Celery Potstickers and Kung Pao Asparagus. The spices in the pita chips brought great flavor to the snack while the potstickers melted in our mouths.

Our next course consisted of Bison Mini Burgers with Teriyaki Caramelized Onions and Shiitakes, Himachi Kama (below left) and Garlic-Sake Clams with Udon Noodles (below right). We were overwhelmed by the menu so these were the items that our waiter recommended to us. I think he advised well because when Ming Tsai himself stopped by our table he was pleased with the plates we had chosen.

Hamachi Kama from Blue DragonGarlic-Sake Udon from Blue Dragon

We couldn’t resist dessert after seeing a few waiters walk by with this amazing looking treat. There is only one dessert on the menu and for good reason you would be making a huge mistake if you ordered anything else! How amazing does this Deep Dish Chocolate Chip Cookie Served Warm and Topped with Ice Cream and Soy Caramel Sauce look?

Chocolate Chip Cookie from Blue Dragon

On my second visit to Blue Dragon (a mere two days later) I reordered some of my favorites from my first visit so that a different group of friends could experience them but I got to try a few new items as well. This time we ordered the Lobster Bahn Mi special that I totally forgot to order the first time. We also tried the Crab Rangoons with Uni Sauce which were nothing like the cream cheese filled version you’re used to. They were like pockets of crab encased in a lightly fried skin. I am not a crab rangoon fan because of the “traditional” version we know from Chinese restaurants but I’ll eat Ming’s rangoons anytime! We also ordered the Hamachi Carpaccio with Avocado Puree and Crostini (below left), Korean Chicken Wings with Fresh Kimchee,  Soy Glaze and Garlic-Chili Braised Octopus (below right) and Pad Thai with Scallops and Bacon.

Hamachi Carpaccio from Blue DragonBraised Octopus from Blue Dragon

Blue Dragon doesn’t take reservations which makes sense due to the size of the restaurant. Each time I was quoted a wait of about an hour (even at 8pm on a Monday). The bar is a great place to kill time though and by the time you’ve tried one of Ming Tsai’s dishes you’ll realize that the meal is more than worth the wait.