Wednesday, May 29, 2013

San Diego Quick Trip

Went for a quick trip to visit my new great-nephew in San Diego.  A little over 2 days and hard decisions about where to eat.  It worked out pretty well.  I used Eater San Diego’s 38 Essential Restaurants as a guide and family recommendations to back them up. My nephew highly recommended Aqui es Texcoco in Chula Vista (1043 Broadway) where we had a lunch feast with out of the ordinary Mexican food.  The main ingredient is lamb, which I don’t see too often on menus at cheap Mexican places. Started with a marvelous lamb broth with hominy followed by 3 lamb tacos (rib meat, grilled,  and cabeza). They were joined by huitlocoche and squash blossom quesadillas and guacamole with cactus. Everything was delicious, altho in last place was the huitlocoche, of which I had very high expectations. The house-made sangria was great too and the service was so welcoming and friendly, I’d happily return any time. 

I managed to fit in one fish taco from Nine Seas/ German Mariscos  taco truck in South Park.  One good- sized piece of fish with just the right amount of coating and served with cabbage and sauce.  Everything is made fresh as you wait so you’ll probably have a little wait. Lime and more sauce are self-serve. And it’s only $1.75.  They have a famous marlin taco for $4 said to be quite large.  I had just finished a decent breakfast at Big Kitchen across the street (3003 Grape) so I could only handle the one taco.  Big Kitchen is a great old hippie place refreshingly un-San Diego with famous breakfasts and lunches.  Their old claim to fame was that Whoopi Goldberg once worked there, but it’s sustained itself on good food at good prices.  Eggs done just right, good bacon, good home fries.  A classic.

Another consistently good breakfast can be had at The Mission.  We had brunch at the Mission Beach original (3795 Mission Blvd.).  The Breakfast Rosemary is just a darn god breakfast, great rosemary potatoes, scrambled eggs, and rosemary toast.  Excellent cinnamon bread toast makes a pleasant meal served with fresh fruit, and the blueberry pancakes are huge and yummy.  Very good hot chocolate.  Close by, in Pacific Beach, we had one ofthe best seafood dinners ever at The Fishery (5040 Cass St). We took advantage of Tuesday Tastings and would go back any Tuesday I’m in San Diego. For $28 plus $12 for wine pairings, you get a 4 course beautifully prepared menu. We adored the first course of fried oysters, the salad of faro with fresh cherries, and the just caught white sea bass.  Each main ingredient has perfect accompaniment, such as tangerine slices with the oysters or a rich mayonnaise with the bass.  Perfect wine pairings, a fresh fruit dessert, and excellent service put this restaurant at the top of our favorites. 

I had high hopes for take-out food from Sab E Lee Thai in Linda Vista (2405 Ulric).  None of the 6 dishes thrilled, although the seafood salad had plenty of seafood and flavor and the papaya salad satisfied. The pad see ewe was mediocre and the catfish larb was mainly spicy.  Combination fried rice was a good foil, but the fried chicken was overcooked.  We had a more satisfying lunch downtown at Lotus Thai (909 Market), where I enjoyed the mas-su-mam beef. It’s pretty close to the new main library, so both are worth checking out once the library opens in September.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

New York Spring

Ah, Spring in New York, 40 degrees, no wait 80 degrees, sunny, no wait, rainy and cold.  But you can always find safe harbor in some great restaurants.  So here are my 2013 munchings:

Pizza: Always have to get a major pizza fix in NY. Best pizza had this trip was at Luzzo’s (211-13 1st Ave.).  I had never heard of it atho it uses a 100 year old coal oven so I think it's been around awhile.  2 of us shared a beautiful salad and a large margherita, Highly rated in Zagat and for good reason.  I returned to Motorino but this time at East Village site (349 E.12th). Their amazing lunch deal of a choice of 4 pizzas and a fresh salad for $12 cannot be beat.  The margherita was totally satisfying, with a nicely crisp crust  and the right proportions of sauce to cheese.  Only disappointment was their recommended pizza wine, which was lightly fruity but bland.  Another new delight was at Don Antonio (309 W. 50th) which has a mother restaurant in Neopolitan ??and known for their Montorano Starita, an individual-sized pie, lightly fried crust with sauce, smoked mozzarella cooked in  a wood-fired oven. A Pontina ?? salad with spring greens, fresh mozzarella and grape tomatoes made another perfect lunch.

Since it’s always important to try new Italian restaurants, we did our duty at Locanda Verde, very famous and hard to get in.  We went early and besides middling service, had some very good food.  The asparagus appetizer was superb with a poached duck? egg blessing the thick and luscious spears. The Locanda salad with dried cherries and speck was delightful. We went with pastas.  I had to order “My Grandmother’s ravioli” , which ended up being nothing that special besides the nostalgic naming. The daily pasta was a spinach noodle with a light pork ragu. A side of roasted carrots with olive, citrus, and yogurt was perfect.

The best dish of the trip was the crispy watercress salad with shrimp, squid, and chicken at SriPraPhai in Woodside, Queens (6413 39th Ave). I’ve never tasted anything like this spicy, flavorful, texturally magnificent dish.  I’ve been trying to find it on Thai menus in the Bay Area without success.  The other outstanding dish was fried soft shell crab topped with chili, garlic and basil. Noodle dishes and curries were fine too, but the first 2 are big winners and worth the long ride to Woodside.  Our other borough dining treat was at Walter’s in Fort Greene, Brooklyn (166 DeKalb), where we feasted on ceviche, fresh fish, excellent fried chicken, superb Brussels sprouts, and key lime pie.  A cool, neighborhood gathering spot.

A day spent at Grounds for Sculpture in southern New Jersey included a great lunch at Rat’s, which offers a 3 course lunch prix fixe for about $25 with good choices for each course.  I had a yummy onion soup and a barley risotto, a nice variation on grains. The hamburger is beautiful and they follow a farm-to-table philosophy. House made gelati were all excellent.  The sculpture park is a delight and worth the hour train trip from NYC.

More Manhattan dinner highlights were: A return trip to the bar at Keen’s (72W.36th) where we shared oysters and their unique and fantastic mutton chop. The Manhattans are nice and strong, the rolls and butter perfect, and it’s a fun scene, reasonably priced.  Modern Korean fare with especially good kimchi was enjoyed at Danji (346 W. 52), an in-spot where we got seated at the bar after a ½ hour wait among young marketing mavens. The excellent bartender with good wine and food advice made it all OK. Spicy yellowtail sashimi, cool and lovely fresh pea soup, chorizo paella were highlights, altho the well-known pork belly sliders have been eclipsed by other restaurants.  Everyone there seems to order them tho.  The best Greek meal I’ve ever had was our dinner at Pylos (128 E 7th)  where everything was prepared perfectly, service was excellent, wines were good, portions large, prices reasonable, and the pita was unbelievable.  The gigante beans  the grilled octopus, and the whole bronzino were of special note.  I wanted to try everything on the menu.

Lunches provided many memorable moments.  The 3-course lunch at Nougatine by Jean-Georges is a fantastic deal at $32.  I paid an $8 supplement for the best foie gras terrine I’ve ever had with a slightly spicy passionfruit meringue on top as my first course.  Sheila had a lovely tuna tartare. Our entrees of roasted black bass and crispy baked chicken showed off the cooking expertise with the main ingredient complemented by perfect preparation and side dishes. Each bite is a pleasure. The famous warm chocolate cake and the vanilla ice cream with rhubarb puree ended almost perfect meals.  We loved our wines by the glass featuring real treasures, especially a pinot gris from Alsace, even though at $17-18, they don’t come cheap.  And we saw Jean-Georges himself.

 A great pastrami sandwich at the classic Katz’s was the expected treat and our visit to the new location of 2nd Avenue Deli (162 E. 33rd) brought us  terrific pastrami and corned beef, as well as matza ball soup. The pickles were better than at Katz’s although I like Katz’s pastrami better. A gift of a small chocolate phosphate made this meal at one of the last full Kosher restaurants special. One of the oldest dim sum parlors in NYC is Nom Wah (13 Doyers St—a fascinating little street) was fun but Bay Area dim sum is better. This is  a no-cart  place where the shrimp dumplings shine.  I finally made it to Dinosaur BBQ in Harlem (700 W125th) but was mildly disappointed by the pulled pork and brisket lunch plate.  Less than I had hoped for. The cole slaw and beans were both very good.

I had a perfect and simple breakfast at Clinton Street Baking Co (4 Clinton) in the Lower East Side.  The buttermilk biscuit sandwich filled with light and fluffy eggs and cheddar with tomato jam accompanied by perfectly crisp hash browns left me so satisfied I gave my thanks to the chef.  Their muffins and cookies are good too. Great cookies were bought at Levain  (167 W. 74). $4 each but huge and even I think worth the price.  Sublime smoked sable and Gaspe nova lox on bagels came from the legendary Russ and Daughters,  and some great bagels from Bergen Bagels in Brooklyn.  We were disappointed in the “legendary” bagels from H&H Midtown Bagels East (1551 2nd Ave),.  Everything cannot be perfect but our 11 days in New York were all in all very fulfilling, enriching, and a little nutritious.