Tuesday, April 27, 2010

North America's Best

On Monday, April 26th, S. Pellegrino revealed this year's winners of the World's 50 Best Restaurants.

Well, well, well. Guess who moved up three spots to #7 and trumped Per Se as North America's Best Restaurant. (drum roll please)

Chef Grant Achatz is an inspiration given what he has gone through in the last few years. A cancer survivor, James Beard award winner and a world-renowned chef.

Ranked #7 in the world in 2010. Not bad at all.

This recognition was well deserved and I was lucky enough to dine here twice last year. It looks like another pilgrimage to this fine establishment is warranted.

Monday, April 26, 2010

No Reservations: Washington, DC

A trip to DC isn't complete without a "no reservation" adventure. The theme for this outing was gourmet burgers. I'm a burger fanatic. I'm that person who would order a burger if it was on the menu at a world-class, fine dining establishment. You better believe I will order it. I don't care if it costs over $20+. The burger is my ultimate comfort food, even above the grilled cheese sandwich. Besides, if it's on the menu at a Michelin-starred restaurant, it must be good.

My first burger stop was Central. I love the fact that this place was accessible by the Metro. Near the Federal Triangle station, I walked an additional three blocks to Michel Richard's bistro-like resto. I had a reservation here but I hate eating late so I arrived about a half and hour early hoping to get an earlier seating. Again, I was told I will be seated near my reservation time, so I cancelled my late seating and ate at the lounge.

When I was walking to Central, it about 50 something degrees outside. That's cold for this Cali girl. Instead of ordering my to-go cocktail, I opted for a pot of tea.

The item I ordered right away was the Cheese Puffs ($7). These were fluffy, round pastry puffs made with gougeres cheese. The puffs are very light and can literally melt in your mouth. Sorry, no photos because I devoured them before I even had the chance to take out my camera. Beware, these are highly addictive.

I was at a crossroads with my entree selection. I came for the burger but there was so many items to choose from that I had second thoughts. The item that sealed the deal was the Lobster Burger. What caught my eye was the $29 price tag. I was thinking, "This burger has to be good to be priced at $29. It's $10 more than the second most expensive burger on the menu." I came to Central before dining at Citronelle so I had no clue what I was in for.

When the Lobster Burger arrived, I was in awe. The burger was made of lobster tail with scallop mousse and sandwiched together in a buttered brioche bun. Oh lord, this burger was outrageously delicious. It was juicy, decadent and oh so good. This is my kind of burger, no vegetables getting in the way. ha! Remember, I'm a non-vegetable eater (will eat if needed).

(left) Lobster Burger - $29
(right) Michel's Chocolate Bar - $9

I ended the evening with Michel's Chocolate Bar. Basically this dessert is Michel's take on an American chocolate bar (aka Kit Kat bar). The chocolate was luscious, creamy with a bit of crunch from crispy wafers. I also loved the vanilla ice cream that had specks of vanilla bean.

Central Michel Richard
1001 Pennsylvania Ave
Washington, DC 20004
(202) 626-0015

Good food means big tummy. I had to take a walk around our nation's capital before I headed back to the hotel. On the left, a shot from Pennslyvania Avenue in front of the White House. On the right, the Washington Monument from President's Park. I was a bit hesitant to walk around the city after 9pm but I felt safe since there was security everywhere near the White House and tourists were still walking around taking pictures.

Next stop, Palena

The next evening I headed to my last burger stop, Palena. Again, easily accessible by the Metro at Cleveland Park. This cafe is literally across the street from the Metro station. Once you get out of the station, look to the right and it's right there across the street next to a gas station.

I arrived a few minutes after opening at 5:30pm. Again, DC was chilly so I ordered another pot of tea.

When it came to my order, I knew I wanted the famous Palena cheeseburger and fry plate. I did contemplate getting the half roasted chicken but I didn't have 45 minutes to spare and I was hungry (skipped lunch altogether to dine here).

About two pieces into the bread basket (not pictured) and one pot of tea, my burger and fry plate arrived.

Palena Cheeseburger - $12

The burger is seven ounces with trimmings of kobe beef in a house-ground mix and topped with a northern Italian cheese with hints of truffle. The bun, also house-made is smeared with garlic-scented mayonnaise. Pickles and mushrooms are served on the side. For once I added some type of vegetable (mushrooms) to my burger. Tasty!

I loved the texture and composition of the burger but it was a wee bit on the salty side. After reading more into the burger, that unexpected splash of saltiness was intended. I won't rule this burger out because I literally ate the entire thing plus the vegetables. For $12 this is a steal when it comes to gourmet burgers. I ate the vegetables, people! That says a lot.

Fry Plate - $11

A fried assortment of french fries, onion rings, dauphine potatoes and marinated lemon rings. Wait? Lemon rings? Yes, lemon rings. At first I thought it was a citrus flavored potato but I took another bite and peeled back the batter which revealed the lemon rind.

? Semifreddo - $10

A lot going on in this semi frozen delight. According to epicurious.com, semifreddo is Italian for "half cold", and culinarily refers to any of various chilled or partially frozen desserts including cake, ice cream, fruit and custard. The chocolate quenelle was very rich in flavor and the cake portion had a spongy texture but not in an angel fruit cake kind of way. It was different, especially with the contrasting orange and raspberry fruit garnishes.

Afterthoughts: This burger outing was interesting because both burgers offered something new to my burger repertoire. Did I find my ultimate burger? Close, but not quite. The Lobster Burger is up there in the exotic category. DC has some mighty fine gourmet burgers but we all know Five Guys has nothing on the west coast In-N-Out Double Double. That's the only burger I will have with all of the fixings, except the onions.

3529 Connecticut Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20008
(202) 537-9250

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Washington, DC: Citronelle

Citronelle, located in the Georgetown suburb of Washington, DC is considered one of the finest in French cuisine. In 2007, Citronelle was a recipent of a James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef, Michel Richard, and Outstanding Wine Service, Sommelier Mark Slater. At present, the kitchen is manned by Chef de Cuisine, David Deshaies, and wine service by Sommelier Kathryn Morgan.

During my week stay in DC a month ago, Citronelle was one of the places I wanted to visit since there was speculation that Citronelle may close. Given this may be my last DC trip, a visit to Citronelle was warrented. Booking a reservation here is not as difficult as minibar by Jose Andres. You can book an online reservation on OpenTable but prime dinner times tend to book quickly, such as 7pm. My reservation time was at 8:30pm which is not my ideal time to have dinner, especially since I wanted to conquer the Promenade Gourmande, a dining experience that would last three hours.

The atmosphere at Citronelle was relaxed and inviting. I dined here on a Friday evening and the place was PACKED. It seemed like the place to be on a Friday night. Even at 9:30-10pm, there were still people coming in. I saw near the back of the room were small intimate rooms used for private dining.

From one side of the dining room you can see the main attraction, the exhibition kitchen. Enclosed behind glass-windows, you can see the action of the kitchen. Within the kitchen, a chef's table with a seating of eight is available. But that night, it too was occupied by the luckiest to have landed the front row kitchen seats.

I arrived at the restaurant by cab at 8:15pm. I was told I will be seated near my dinner reservation at 8:30pm so I hung out at the bar lounge in the meantime. I like the fact that the bar is completely separated from the dining room. I hate it when the noise from the bar distracts me from my dining experience. I pay big bucks to dine here, I don't need people hoving over me while I eat.

While I waited, here is what I ordered. No surprises here.

Bubbly Mojito: rum, champagne, mint & lime - $13
Cheese sticks - complimentary

As 8:30pm rolls around, still no table. At 8:45pm, I go to the hostess desk and ask if I can still do the Promenade Gourmande since the website stated it was only served until 9pm. The hostess reassured me the timing was fine and I will be seated shortly. Finally at 9pm, I was seated. My rather long wait was rewarded with a unexpected surprise later in the evening.

As I was seated, my server knew what I was there for, the Promenade Gourmande, a 9-course tasting. I didn't bother looking at the menu because I wanted this entire experience to be a surprise to my palate and senses.

Table scape: Large white plates with Michel's signature on them.

Bread service: Sourdough with salted and unsalted butters.

Loved the bread. I actually had a few of them which I normally don't do. I can't help it when it's just sitting there on a plate. Funny thing that happen was the bread was so warm that the butter ended up sliding off the bread onto my lap. Luckily I had a dinner cloth over my lap.

1. Amuse Bouche
From top to bottom: Ratatouille Taco, Mini Crab Cake, Smoked Salmon with Basil Oil and Jicama Crepe with Potato and Procuitto

2. Chestnut Soup

3. Nantucket Bay Scallops, celery

4. Halibut, lobster saffron-broth

(left) Raspberry Caipirinha: cachaca, raspberry vodka, berries - $16

I've started to order caipirinhas as a beverage of choice ever since my first introduction to it at Saam at The Bazaar in Los Angeles. I'm becoming more accustom to vodka than rum and perhaps one day I may take mojitos off my cocktail list as with the cosmo. I treat cocktails like handbags. You use the same one for a few seasons until you find another that's more exciting and appealing. Caipirinha is my Balenciaga while Mojitos are my classic Gucci that I throw around. Cosmos are like Prada that sits in my closet collecting dust and a shot of Patron is a Coach bag (every college girl has one and owns tons of them). I digress.

5. Lobster Burger (right)

Arguable the best seafood burger I've had. I had a preview of this at Central, Michel Richard's bistro-like establishment in DC. Move over Salmon Burger, you have nothing on this lobster burger.

Get this, after I was done with the fifth course, guess who arrives to the restaurant? Chef Michel Richard! I saw him in the kitchen wearing a black chef's coat greeting the folks sitting at the Chef's Table, but I didn't think he would actually show up to my table. When he arrived at my table, I wasn't facing him, instead he gently pushed back my shoulders and when I thought he was sniffing my hair, he landed a kiss on my forehead! He then came around and introduced himself as the owner of the restaurant and we chatted for a minute. He was concerned that I was eating alone but I replied that I was in town on business. I enjoyed our brief encounter and his demeanor is classically French. His passion for food and making his guests happy is larger than life. Ok back to the food.

6. Lamb, rack, jalapeno-cumin sauce

To be honest, I'm not a lamb person. It's always a site to see when others order it but it is a bit gamey for me. This lamb preparation was simply palate-changing. It's probably because of "the sauce" but hey it's enough to get me to give lamb a second chance.

7. Short Rib, prime, braised 72 hours, raisin-peppercorn sauce

Cheese cart of domestic and imported cheeses

Four types of cheeses served with raisin-pistachio bread.

9. Eggs-Ceptional Lemon Meringue
10. Pear Chocolate Tart

11. Petits Fours
Raisin madeleine, chocolate cookies, chocolate-hazelnut bar and chocolate covered grape

At the end of the meal, I was given a copy of the menu.

As well as a book, Les Grande Tables Du Monde, 2010.

Afterthoughts: Michel Richard's interpretation of French cuisine is sumptuously playful and palate-changing. The staff maintained a very high level of service while being unpretentious and friendly. My server kept me on my toes the whole time. I was pretty lucky to have met Michel Richard and his pursuit to perfection can be seen by the smiles of satisfied guests that keep returning to this establishment day in and day out.

Things to know:
  • Citronelle is located in Georgetown which means it's not accessible by the Metro. Valet parking is available on-site and the attendants can flag you a cab.
  • Price Range: $$$$. 3-course menu is $105 and the Promenade Gourmande is $190, with wine pairing $280.
  • Reservations can be booked online or by calling the restaurant at 202.625.2150.
  • If you can't get into the dining room, the bar lounge area serves both the lounge and dining room menu. You must order the Lobster Burger!
  • Dress Code: Business chic or dressy, no jeans.
  • A signed copy of Chef Michel Richard's book, Happy in the Kitchen is available for $50.
3000 M St NW
Washington, DC 20007

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

San Diego: Cafe 222

I promised that we would do more San Diego posts this year, so here we go.

Cafe 222 located in downtown San Diego, near the Gaslamp District in the residential District. Since 2003, Cafe 222 has been a winner of the Golden Medallion for Best Breakfast. According to their website, owner Terryl Gauve took the proceeds that she made from a made-for-television movie to open Cafe 222. Learn more about Terryl Gauve, here. It's a very interesting read.

Anyhoot, what drew me to this place was it's feature on the Food Network show, 'The Best Thing I Ever Ate". Iron Chef Bobby Flay raved about a dish called Peanut Butter and Banana Stuffed French Toast. Sounds pretty gooey to me, but I like gooey and I love french toast. Aside from ordering foie gras and a mojito, my breakfast item hands down is french toast.

When we first tried to dine here on the weekend, the place was packed. It was the afternoon I was leaving to San Francisco so we had to pass and come back another weekend. The time finally came last weekend when I actually woke up on time before 11am. We didn't want to arrive during the lunch rush hour so we got to the cafe around 1pm. We were fortunate enough to find parking and didn't have to wait long at all, maybe 10 minutes.

The cafe is located on the corner of 2nd and Island Avenue. The place seemed small from the outside but there are a number of tables and bar stools inside. We opted to stay inside since we weren't sure when the rain would be rolling in.

As soon as we were seated, a server came by to greet us and gave us some time to look over the menu. I already knew what I was ordering but I took a quick glance at the other items and wanted to order more. We settled for an item each and agreed to come back for more next time.

We started off with fresh orange juice. By the time we were half way done, our food arrived. Here's what we ordered.

The Mexican - $9.75
Chiles, tomatoes and cheddar topped with Mexican gravy, green onions, cheddar, and sour cream. Served with tators and toast.

Loved the colors on the plate and the mexican gravy gave the eggs a bit of a fiesta kick. Overall, nice. Not my first choice in breakfast selection but Marc managed to eat it all.

Peanut Butter and Banana Stuffed French Toast - $7.75
Wheat bread, peanut butter and bananas grilled until brown and topped with powdered sugar.

Whoa, nice presentation with the peanut butter oozing out from the sandwich. The only thing healthy about it is it's on wheat toast? You must drudge the sandwich in syrup, alone its a bit salty for my tastes. Add the syrup and everything is all gravy. Who doesn't like peanut butter? I'm not a banana fan so I didn't care for it so much. Overall, good. Something different for a change.

We plan to come back in a few weeks to try the other items on the menu such as: Pumpkin Waffles, Biscuit Benedict, and the Madame Croaked.

Cafe 222
222 Island Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101

Friday, April 9, 2010

Washington, DC: minibar by Jose Andres

minibar by Jose Andres, what can I say other than it made my trip to Washington, DC a memorable one. Enough to make me want to come back for more.

I'm not going to get into the history of the restaurant or the chef because we all know about it, seen his work in pictures all over the blogsphere or read about it in notable trade mags like Bon Appetite, Food & Wine, Saveur, etc. One of my first experiences of his work was during an episode of Iron Chef America beating Chef Bobby Flay (whaat!) followed by a feature in the DC episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservation show.

This is serious eats. Not meant for all, really.

No, really. I mean, there are two seatings with six diners at a time. If you do the math, that's roughly 3,120 diners a year (open five days a week, closed on Sunday and Monday). This year, I was one of the lucky 3,120 diners to land a seat with my first try. No worries, I'll have a separate post on how to properly land a reservation here.

I digress.

Ok, two seatings with six diners at a time. Basically the layout is like this, think chef's table in a sushi bar-like setting and you get to interact with the chefs while your meal is prepared. Cool stuff. I like it!

minibar is essentially a restaurant within a restaurant. When I arrived at Cafe Atlantico, I was about 20 minutes early so I hung out at the bar while I waited to be escorted upstairs. I liked the latin-vibe of the restaurant. It's a place where you can go out for happy hour after a long day at work. Business chic, yet casual and not obnoxiously stuffy. It's definitely a different vibe from The Bazaar.

I'm a cocktail kind of gal so I started off with one of my favorite cocktails, a mojito.

(Left) Magic Mojito - cotton candy deconstruction of the classic mojito (rum, mint, sugar, soda & sugar cane.
(Right) Caipiruva - lebion cachaca, housemade grape soda, & St. Germain elderflower liquer served in a tall glass with St. Germain "pickled" kumquats.

After the first seating concluded, the second seating was escorted upstairs to the "minibar". Here's a number of photos of the bar layout.

Look, a cotton candy maker. The chefs declared this machine the BEST cotton candy maker, EVER.

Interesting kitchen gadgets, including a computer screen. The magnet below reads "Beware of Attack Chef".

The hand sculptures freaked me out a bit. I was watching them closely to find out if they would move or not.

The three chefs on deck that night were Chefs Jorge, Nate, and Ryan.

The 27 (29) -course menu is divided into four sections: Munchies, Flavors & Textures, Desserts and Sweet Surprises. Munchies are typically courses with one or two bites. Flavors & Textures and Desserts had special utensils and Sweet Surprises reverted back to single bites.

Note: There were two courses I couldn't identify. After reviewing the menu, it didn't seem they were listed. Then again, I was a bit tipsy during the entire meal so I will 'blame it on the alcohol' for my lack of detail.


1. Hot and Cold Pisco Sour
A new version of a pisco sour cocktail with a frothy egg white topping and a contrast of hot and cold.

2. Beet "Tumbleweed"
Fried julieanned beet

3. "Cornbread"

4. "Bagels and Lox"
Smoked salmon roe, fresh dill, cream cheese

5. "Ferrero Rocher"

6. "Mojito"
Mojito-flavored liquid encapsulated using calcium chloride

A sneak peek of our next course. Yes, those are real rocks, but not edible.

7. Flourless Blue Cheese and Almond Tart

8. Steamed Brioche with "Caviar"
Steamed brioche, caviar and topped with lemon air

9. Tomato Crisp with Anchovy

10. Tempura White Asparagus

11. Cotton Candy Eel
Cotton candy eel with shiso leaf, wasabi, and ginger

Flavors & Textures

A tasting is not complete without special utensils. These ones are unique because one end looks to function like a fork/pick while the other side is a spoon. We were advised to return the utensil back to its stand after each course. Of course like a little kid, I kept forgetting.

These particular utensils were not crafted for minibar. Instead Chef Jose Andres picked these up during his travels.

12. Smoked Oyster with Green Apple

13. Zucchini in Textures
Zucchini gelee, zucchini seeds, zucchini mousse

14. Dragon's Breath Popcorn
Caramel corn dipped in liquid nitrogen

Yes, I ate it before taking a photo of it. The photo would have came out blurry anyway due to the plumes of smoke.

15. "Guacamole"
Tomato sorbet, wrapped in thin slivers of avocado, crunchy tortilla chips, lime juice

16. ?
A new dish that I forgot to write down notes on. It had carrots obviously and I recall mentioning that I would eat more vegetables if carrots were made this way all the time. One of my favorites of the night.

17. "Sun-Dried" Tomato Salad

18. Charcoal Salmon Toro with Black Garlic "Tzatziki"

Hmm, dry ice or liquid nitrogen? What do you think?

19. ?
I seriously forgot what this course was. By looking at the photo, squash flowers were involved and some puffy croutons. Someone please help me!

20. New England Clam Chowder
Potato puree, sweet caramelized onion paste, whipped bacon cream, chive oil, clam foam, fresh clams, bacon bits

21. Parmesan "Egg" with Migas
Quail egg yolk within a parmesan yolk, fried bread wafer, black truffle

22. Cigala and Chufa

Chef Jorge lightly torching the wagyu beef while preparing the "Philly Cheesesteak" course.

23. "Philly Cheesesteak"
Air bread, creamy cheddar, Wagyu beef


24. Kumquats and Pumpkin Seeds

25. Thai Dessert
Coconut milk ice cream, frozen peanut powder, lemongrass tamarind gelee

This was a much better version than the one I had at Saam. The frozen peanut powder didn't overwhelm the dish, see here.

Sweet Surprises

26. Mango Box
Translucent mango, white chocolate box, topped with black olives

27. S'Mores
Passion fruit marshmallow, dark chocolate (I can't remember if graham cracker was used here).

28. Bacon and Chocolate

29. Fizzy Ball
Lemon-lime flavored cotton candy with sodium bicarbonate.

I almost choked on this. A bit strong for my tastes.

Finally the bill. It came inside an egg and our chef smashed it in front of us to reveal our bill.

At the end of our meal, we were handed a menu listing every course that was presented to us. This is the first menu I've receive that was actually printed on transparency paper. Nice touch!

Afterthoughts: This would probably be the best low-key, relaxed tasting I've done to-date. What I love, NO DRESS CODE. After being in work clothes for majority of the day, putting on a nice pair of jeans and a sequined top is my style of a relaxed look for dinner. Anyways, I thought the meal was not overly filling where I didn't need to be rolled out in a wheel barrel. Unfortunately, I was a bit more tipsy than usual so I hope I didn't offend anyone (especially the chefs) with my probing questions or photo taking. I had a great time and would definitely recommend this place to anyone visiting this fine city.

Over a year ago Think Food Group CEO Rob Wilder mentioned plans to expand minibar from its existing 6 seats to 18-24 seats. If it ever happens, be sure I'll be planning my next trip out to DC.

Next time, no Magic Mojito - great stuff but it will leave you thinking you've done something wrong (haha!).

minibar by Jose Andres
Second Floor
405 8th Street NW, Washington, DC 20004
(202) 393-0812