Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Pinot Gris Blind Tasting Party

Since I moved to my humble but cozy abode in Los Feliz, I have wanted to have a housewarming party. I love my new place. It's on an adorable tree-filled street of cute little houses right in the middle of the action of Hillhurst and Vermont. The building is from the 1950s and the majority of my neighbors are older Armenian couples who are lovely and kind. (One lady just came to my door five minutes ago with a shy knock, holding out a plate of cookies and apologizing that she does not speak English, but smiling and motioning for me to take them. What a sweetheart. By the way, the cookies, little butter/sugar cookie rounds, each filled with a date and chopped walnuts and sprinkled with powdered sugar, are from scratch and are amazing. Another one of my neighbors has fixed my screen door, which had fallen off its hinge, while I was at work, without even saying anything to me.) I love my location because I can walk to whatever I need- groceries, cute restaurants, dive bars, coffee, dry cleaning, tailor, yoga, pilates, etc.!-, it's great for walks and runs, and it's always quiet and relaxing on weeknights when I get home from work ready to unwind.

The Plan

A few weeks ago, once I had enough furniture that I was happy with (though I am in sore need of artwork!), and could count my L.A. friends on more than two hands, I decided to go for it and plan a great party. Since most of my friends don't know each other, I wanted to do something that would create topics of conversation and make it easy for people to chat and get to know each other. I decided to do a blind wine tasting based on one I went to with my friend M.J. a few years back. It was in the Hollywood Hills at a beautiful home. The host had a bunch of different wines covered with brown paper bags marked with numbers in marker. The game was guess the price. The cheapest of the 8 wines was $6 (this was just before the rise in popularity of 2 Buck Chuck) and the most expensive was $600, with every price in between. It was fun to taste each wine together one at a time, and hilarious when even the most snooty wine snobs who were so sure they were right picked a $16 wine above a $200 wine. The moral of the game was in line with the wine mantra I have learned from the most knowledgeable and fancy wine experts I have ever met: a good wine is a wine you like. Period! Wine is very personal. Learning the characteristics of different grapes and regions enhances your enjoyment of wine, and learning how to describe a wine's qualities make wine tasting and drinking much more fun and social. But if you love that 2 Buck Chuck Sauvignon Blanc, which coincidentally I am enjoying right now cut with some lime seltzer to accompany a bowl of edamame, then it's a good wine.

Anyway, I thought this would be the perfect party theme, and most importantly give us all an excuse to drink lots of wine.

The Wines

I decided to do the price game and stick to one grape, Pinot Gris (a.k.a. Pinot Grigio) because it is one of my favorite refreshing summer whites and gets a bad rap from some wine snobs, which makes me more adamant about liking it because darn it, it's yummy! I went to Silverlake Wine (which is awesome, by the way) and with their help got my three nicest wines. I went to Trader Joe's for the rest, which were considerably cheaper.

These were my picks and the order I served them in:

#1: Barefoot Pinot Grigio - California (Trader Joe's, $4.99)

#2: Prima Terra Pinot Grigio - Italy 2005 (Silver Lake Wine, $14.39)

#3: Pavi Pinot Grigio Delle Venezie - Napa Valley 2005 (Silver Lake Wine, $10)
#4: Villa Cerrina Chardonnay Pinot Grigio (yes, it was a blend!) - Italy 2006 (Trader Joe's, $3.99)

#5: Torri Mor Pinot Gris - Oregon 2005 (Silver Lake Wine, $22)

Party Prep

I went to Bevmo and bought a little prize for the winner who could guess the order by price (little "wine glass name tags" which go around the stem of a wine glass, to identify your glass at parties, for $2.99) and wrote up a cute Evite. Then I decided what food to make. I had just taken the "Cocktail Party" class at my favorite cooking class, Hip Cooks, and decided to make two appetizers from that class- cucumber rounds with ahi tuna sashimi seasoned with soy, sesame, hot chili oil and green onions, and feta and white-wine-sauteed mushroom quiche tarteletts. (Both came out perfect and were delicious!) I also put out green grapes and chopped veggies, and a friend brought over a beautiful loaf of crusty bread and some Rondele garlic cheese spread. Another friend brought a case of San Pellegrino which he helped me serve to people in between tastes (Thanks, J!). I moved furniture around to make "social clusters" and read up on Pinot Gris so I'd be able to explain the background of the grape (arose from a freak genetic mutation in Pinot Noir in medieval times. Who knew!) and answer questions. Put together a chill iPod playlist, and I was ready to go.

As people arrived, my butterflies about nobody showing up and me being left to eat ahi tuna and drink ten bottles of wine alone -- which I must admit was not the worst alternative scenario ever -- flew away. Soon, the place was packed! A couple of my nice elderly neighbors even stopped by (I had invited them, too), and were finally able to communicate since my friend K. speaks Armenian.

Hostess Strategy

Hosting the party was such a blast. I would hit a fork to a glass to get everyone's attention, and announce the next wine by number. I had two bottles of each, and the 25 people who showed up all got good tastes of the wines. (Next time, I will probably do 3 of each if I have so many people again!) I got to chat with everyone as I walked around making sure they had each wine. They all got along spendidly, having lots to talk about by asking each other what they thought of the different wines. The conversation was flowing faster than the vino. The food was devoured (next time, I'll make more!) and my place got really hot from all the bodies. The smokers all bonded on my back patio, and I went out to say hello periodically. I had index cards and pens by the front door which everybody took and wrote their guesses on. At the end, I looked at all of them and found one person who had gotten them all right - the lovely C.!- who then won the prize, which I had wrapped up with paper and a tiny bow. Everybody applauded her. People were amazed to find that they loved some of the cheaper wines far more than the more expensive ones. (I personally never drink wine above $10 on a daily basis at home, so I considered the $14 and $22 wines pretty schmancy!)

One wine that most everybody loved and I thought was tasty, crisp, juicy and delicious like a green apple, was the Prima Terra Pinot Grigio (#2 on the list above). I would definitely buy a couple more bottles of that to keep in my "wine cellar" (a 16-bottle one I bought on sale at Target which is fantastic). The Villa Cerinna blend (#4) was also a winner with the crowd. It is refreshing and very easy to drink, and at $3.99 it's a an everyday wine worth checking out.

Conclusion: Good Times!

In sum, the party was a smashing success. Many of my friends told me it was one of the best parties they have been to in a long time. I had a fabulous time, too. It was under control and, well, adult, but it was also a great time! Also, cleanup was a snap-- a couple of friends stuck around after and helped me clean, and I swear the next morning my place looked even neater than it had before the party. The next day, I emailed out the wine list with prices and where I bought them so people could pick up their favorites to drink again.

I highly recommend having a party following this model if you are nervous about showing everyone a good time, because the wine game does the entertaining for you. Other games I have thought of are guess the grape, guess the region, or "one of these things does not belong" using any characteristic you choose. You can do as few as three wines, or as many as you wish. You can also spend however much you want to spend. Overall, the whole party did not cost me very much at all, and I felt that it was money well-spent because it was so wonderful and so fabulous to see my friends all getting along and enjoying themselves. I can't wait to have another wine tasting party!

If you have any suggestions for hosting a great wine party, please share in a comment.

:-p Cheers!

Monday, July 30, 2007

Pesce - What a Catch!

Pesce is a neighborhood seafood restaurant in Russian Hill. I had never been there, but after an evening of shopping for wedding dresses (for my friend) and work clothes (for myself), she suggested it as a place to grab some dinner. I am always up for good seafood, and Pesce didn't disapoint.

It is a really cute and cozy place - sort of rustic, but still nice. Daily specials are on the walls, including oysters they have that day. There is a nice bar and a good number of people were sitting there having dinner. We had a reservation and got a table, and were seated right away even though we were early.

We started off with a bottle of something I can't remember - and since they don't have a website, I can't tell you what it was. It was a red wine and I hadn't had it before - some sort of mix of grapes that I hadn't heard of. The waitress suggested it though and it was really good.

Next we moved on to oysters. This friend and I both adore them (as does Patch), so we had a half dozen - two of each oyster they had that day. They were REALLY good - creamy, very fresh, so briny and delicious, and huge. Pesce serves them with a mignonette, and a little cocktail sauce, which I ignored because I just love the vinegar/shallot/oyster combo too much to screw with it.

Pesce is small plates meant to be shared, and that is exactly what friend and I did. Keep in mind that we are big eaters - the waitress was obviously surprised by how much we ordered. We started off with two dishes. First was a really delicious caesar salad, one of the best I've had in the city. It was heavy on the anchovies, and came with a big garlic crouton covered in an anchovy paste - yum. It was probably over-dressed, but I am a big salad dressing fan, so that was ok with me. Especially considering how good the dressing was. The other starter was not fabulous but it was solid - tuna marinated in olive oil and served with white beans and mint.

For our entrees we had two dishes as well. One was a lingiuni with fresh crabmeat. It was good - not spectacular, but very flavorful, and the pasta was cooked well. It was sort of a light dish - not too creamy. Our other entree was halibut poached in a white wine tomato sauce. That was really good, but it needed to be served with rice or pasta or polenta or something to soak up the yummy sauce. They did serve it with a big bread thing, and we made do with that.

We also ordered a side of the potatoes au gratin - one of my favorite dishes on earth. It didn't disappoint - creamy, cheesy, with a little singed crust on top. I basically polished that off myself.

The dessert was also really good, but sort of simple - basically a big brownie sundae, with vanilla gelato and whipped cream, in a tall sundae glass. It was sort of nice not to be eating fruit tarts, which is the dessert of choice in the summer time.

All in all, Pesce was good. The price was right too - for all that food and the bottle of wine, the bill was 100 dollars, which I think is pretty reasonable for a big meal AND wine AND oysters. It was nice to be somewhere with a pretty good variety of carefully prepared seafood. Its no Aqua - but thats ok. Neighborhood joint should be more casual. If I was in the area, I would go back there for sure.

Food - (3.25)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Experience -(3.25)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Overall - (3.25)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

For an explanation of our rating system, CLICK HERE!

For yelp reviews of Pesce, CLICK HERE!!

Nothing fishy about it! Go to Pesce.


Saturday, July 28, 2007

sacramento ahoy!

Emilia here! I'm in sactown for the weekend, visiting my best friend and her hubby. We are going to a great restaurant, banderas, which I will review when I get back. Patch is out of town this week, but she saved some posts and I have lots of good reviews ready to go. Have a great weekend everyone!


Friday, July 27, 2007

Garden Box Service: Didn't Bowl Me Over!

Last night, I had a wonderful evening watching Sarah Chang play with the L.A. Phil at the Hollywood Bowl. I LOVE the Hollywood Bowl. I have been once before, with Emilia, to see Ben Folds open for John Mayer. It's amazing to be outside, especially at dusk, enjoying beautiful music in a beautiful setting. Last night, during the first piece by Brahms, the birds twittered during a pastoral-y part and it was just heartbreakingly beautiful. I often see the L.A. Phil at the Disney Concert Hall, and I always go alone because there are usually no takers for a classical show on a Saturday night. After seeing this beautiful concert, though (the other parts were Bruch and Schumann) my companions were eager to come with to the next DCH concert!!! The Bowl really is an ideal setting for the Phil.

We had the pleasure of using the firm's garden box, which is excellently located (I could see Sarah Chang's hair clip!) and fun and fancy feeling. We decided to order the three course meals offered by the Hollywood Bowl box service, catered by Patina. I also pre-ordered the Red Rock merlot and Korbel sparkling wine (for some reason, they were really lacking in quality champagne) for the table to drink in addition to a couple of bottles of Barefoot Cab and Chardonnay (both really decent for $5.99) that I brought in my bag.

The service was really good- these guys know what they are doing as far as getting three courses in and out of your box in an hour. They cleverly use good quality plastic plates along with real utensils and sweep through with plastic bags to clear each course. They also had handy ice buckets for our wines and plastic wine glasses and champagne flutes.

The food was just ordinary, though. I was expecting for the price (expensive) that it would be really good, like restaurant food or really nice catering. It was pretty good, but it was nothing special. I ordered the "Lento": "Belgian endive salad with baby arugula, Roquefort, grilled Asian pear, walnuts and aged sherry vinaigrette; Choice of citrus mojo-marinated pork loin chop with roasted plantain mash and grilled BBQ onions; Or oven-roasted salmon filet with lobster mashed potatoes, grilled white corn cobbette and chive oil; Sweet peach cobbler with vanilla creme anglaise". I got it with the salmon.

Sounds really fancy, right? But in fact, it was quite ordinary. The salad was okay but not great (the greens weren't super fresh). The salmon was huge and unremarkable. The hearty serving of mashed potatoes had no relationship to lobster except that they were pink- no lobster flavor or meat was discernible. The corn was just a little piece of corn on the cob, and reminded me of a school cafeteria for some reason. The dessert was sort of plain, canned-tasting peaches with oatmealy topping. Overall, okay, but for $39 and with the description on the menu, I expected more.

My companions got the other meals, "Adagio" and "Andante". (Cute names, no?) They also sounded a lot better on the menu than they looked and were probably not worth the mark-up. I noticed that many of the box "regulars" around us brought all of their own stuff. Some people in a box two down from us had a cardboard box with a handle that had a gourmet picnic in it, pre-made, which looked really good. Even though they were incredibly rude and ate it during Sarah Chang's performance (wait until intermission, fools!). I decided that all being said and done, if I had to use my own money, I would rather find or make a simple but lovely gourmet picnic and bring my own booze-- remembering to ask for one of their ice buckets for the white if possible. I am glad I tried the box dining though, just because I wanted to see what it was like and firm things are a great opportunity for such exploratory ventures.

Last time, for John Mayer, Emilia made some simple but delicious picnic dishes in her trademark style to go with sandwiches I picked up from Alcove on Hillhurst and brought to-go. She made a fabulous pasta salad with sundried tomatoes and fennel and caramelized onions, and a delicious fruit salad that I hope for your sake she someday posts the recipe for, both in little glad containers, one for each of us, with plastic cutlery (all very easy). She also brought a bag of delicious homemade chocolate chip cookies for dessert, and a bag of chips. Yes, all that AND a bag of chips! We were not allowed to bring our own wine*, but at least we had the fun of drinking a bottle from the Bowl's food shop out of a giant plastic cup. Classy. Em and I are going to see Rufus Wainwright sings Judy Garland (I know, it doesn't get much more fabulous than that) in September, and we plan to bring sushi and take the Red Line so we can wine to our hearts' content.

So, the three-course box experience was fun, but next time, I would definitely do the picnic thing. Besides, it's fun to plan and bring yummy picnic food. Of course, I hope I get to use the firm box again, because it was wonderful. But even without the box, the Bowl is too awesome to miss. If you are in L.A. and haven't gone in a while, get your butt over there! It's definitely part of the icing on living in this crazy town.

If you have picnic tips for the Bowl, please comment.


Hollywood Bowl box service:

Food: (2) Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Experience: (3) Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Overall: (2.5) Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

For an explanation of our rating system, CLICK HERE!

*- Correction! Earlier I thought that wine was allowed at the Mayer show, but it was not. You have to check the Hollywood Bowl site for specifics on what is allowed at which shows. I guess fans of this new fangled rock and roll music make b.y.o.b. a riskier proposition than for us sophisticated classical music fans ;-) Everybody knows how CARAZY those Mayer fans get. Woooo.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Trattoria La Siciliana - Brava!

Do they say brave in Italy? I have no idea. But "hell yes" didn't seem right for this title. For "hell yes" is what I say when someone asks me if I want to go to Trattoria La Siciliana ("TLS"). I don't go there very often, because it is in Berkeley, and I live in San Francisco. And for some reason the bay bridge is a barrier over which I rarely cross, even for a great meal. But my aunt and uncle live in Oakland, and we we meet for dinner, this is one of the places we go. On this occasion my mom was visiting my aunt, so my cousin and I trekked across the bridge in anticipation for a great meal.

I should disclose that my cousin used to be a hostess at TLS, and I think we got even better service because of that. But I have been there many times without her and it has always been really fabulous.

The first thing that I love about TLS is the bread dipping oil. The bread itself is not spectacular - I wish they would start using ACME or even Grace. But it is decent normal bread. The dipping oil is what makes it fabulous. It is olive oil loaded with spices, garlic, and salt - no vinegar. It is GOOD. So good that we usually stuff ourselves with bread sopping in it before our food even comes. They sell it by the bottle, and I always mean to by some, but I think I might eat it all in a week, so I have yet to bring dipping oil home. I should probably just try to make it. But I digress......

After the bread we had an appetizer - Aspagargi e Prosciutto. Fresh perfectly grilled asparagus spears are wrapped in prosciutto, and served with a balsamic vinaigrette glaze and fresh shaved grana padana cheese on top. This stuff is so good my family has started copying the recipe and serving it at parties. The cheese is really pungent and the asparagus is still a little crunchy. We mopped up every bit of the sauce and cheese.

TLS serves family style for groups of three or more, and we opted to share two entrees. The first was a special which they have often - Linguini alla siciliana - linguini sauteed with fresh tomato sauce, caramelized eggplant and red peppers, sicilian olives, aeolian capers, imported anchovies, and basil. This is SO good. So flavorful - the eggplant and peppers are like candy. Like Patch I love salt, and this is very well seasoned. We almost always order it - and it is really really delicious.

Next we shared the fish of the day, which was salmon, marinated and grilled, served with a lemon/olive oil sauce on top of spinach sauteed in garlic, with a few roasted peppers on the side. This was crazy good. We had to send it back at first because my aunt thought it was a little undercooked, but they brought it right back and it was perfect. I think I've mentioned that I don't really like cooked greens, but I seriously ate almost all of the spinach. It was so good! I need to start making spinach like that - so flavorful, I just loved it. We were all lapping up the lemony sauce, pouring it onto our portions of salmon. The salmon was really delicious, cooked perfectly (in the end).

We skipped dessert because we had plans to hit up an ice cream shop down the street, but the chef sent us each a shot of homemade strawberrycello - like limoncello but with strawberries. It was icy-cold and so delicious - I could have guzzled a big glass, though I might not have made it back home over the bridge afterwards.

All in all it was a really great meal. We split a bottle of sangiovese, which was really perfect with the meal, even though a white might have been better (we were all in the mood for red). I would and will go back there when I'm in Berkeley (and not in the mood for chinese, because I also love King Yen next door!). A warning though - make a freaking reservation. I don't know why but Berkeley people don't seem to understand the idea of making a reservation. There is ALWAYS a line out the door at this place - but if you have a reservation, you don't have to worry about it! The yelp reviews complain on and on about the long wait - pick up the phone and CALL THEM. Also, go early. Its worth the wait!!!!!

Food - (3.75)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Experience - (3.75)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Overall -(3.75)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

For an explanation of our rating system, CLICK HERE!

For yelp reviews of Trattoria la Siciliana, CLICK HERE!

mama mia - I'll be back!


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Sushi Sasabune: Omakase It Ain't So!

I hate writing poor reviews about places since I understand that the restaurant business is tough. But after hearing so many raves about Sushi Sasabune in Brentwood (on Wilshire), I was really looking forward to enjoying some great, super-fresh fish. I had been warned that the setting, reminiscent of a cafeteria, was less than enticing, but that the delicious food made it all worthwhile.

Sadly, this was some of the worst sushi I have had in a long time. And sushi is not like pizza, which is good even when it's bad (in my opinion, anyway!). Sushi is BAD when it's bad. Horribly bad, and hard to get down even. Unfortunately, last night, Sasabune was like that.

I started the meal with one of the restaurant's two Chardonnays, which was sweet but fine. Five out of six at our table ordered the omakase.

Omakase: Oh my goodness this is bad.

Now, omakase, in my experience, is supposed to be a delightful and thoughtful conversation between the sushi chef and the diner. The chef is supposed to pick the choicest items of the day, and present them in a deliberate procession of tastes and textures that create a delicious food narrative for the diner. The omakase is not supposed to be a set sequence of the same dishes every time. At the best places, I have seen the chef sneaking a peek at my reaction to what I ate, or the chef taking his time to think about what to present next.

At Sasabune, "omakase" is a euphemism for routine dinner for the masses. Its primary purpose seems to be to make life easier for SASABUNE. Every time the next dish would come, the waitress would arrive with a huge tray of little plastic plates which reminded me of soy sauce platters with a couple of pieces of nigiri on each one. Now remember, we had five people having omakase. On the tray would be probably 10 teetering plates. I felt like I was buying peanuts from a vendor at a ball game. Very, very expensive peanuts (thank goodness we were on an expense account!).

Albacore appetizer: no lifeguard on duty.

Before the nigiri conveyor belt even started rolling, the opening dish made me very suspicious because it literally grossed me out. It was a very cold, like, straight-from-the-fridge cold plate with ten or so little slices of albacore, literally DROWNING in a puddle of sickly sweet ponzu sauce. My dining companion A. noted that her plate even had a plate mark on it- the plates of fish had not only been in the fridge, but they had been STACKED. Shudder. I know just from making a basic tuna sashimi appetizer that you don't leave raw fish sitting in sauce because the sauce will cook it. This albacore was so mushy, it made me ill. It disintegrated in my mouth on the first bite. I couldn't take it. I ate two bites. The first was exploratory. The second was incredulous, "just checking" to see if the first bite was for reals. And it was. Some of my tablemates liked this dish, praising the fish for being so "soft". There is a difference between sushi that melts in your mouth, though, and sushi that disintegrates and dissolves in your mouth. This sushi was without question the latter. It was unpalatable. I have to also say that the wasabi was very odd. I have no idea what was up with it. It seemed whipped.

No sauce, no thank you.

Then the nigiri came. The fish included halibut, salmon, yellowtail, more albacore, and an uninspiring medium toro, among others. For some of the nigiri, the waitress would say "No sauce!". I usually hear this when eating something really flavorful and delicate, sometimes a light fish which the chef has already seasoned with a squeeze of lemon and a dash of sea salt, or maybe a touch of soy dabbed on top like a kiss. Last night though, "No sauce!" became a warning of mediocre things to come. Every piece of fish that got a "No sauce!" at Sasabune was painted with what seemed to be that same sticky-sweet ponzu sauce from the dreaded albacore appetizer, totally masking the taste, but unfortunately not the sub-par texture. Mushy, mushy, mushy. How many times had these poor little fishes been frozen and thawed to get like this? Or sat in fridges?

The cuts of the fish were also some of the worst and most inconsiderate I have ever seen. Usually, one of the delights of excellent sushi is that the chef skillfully makes the fish into a little, perfect piece, that sort of tapers on each end and sits delicately and attractively on the ball of rice. Every piece at Sasabune looked like it had been hacked off by an amateur with a sharp knife. They were rectangular, offered no benefit to the mouth whatsoever, and looked unprofessional and unappetizing. Also, nothing was cut to order, it appeared. Everything was done ahead of time. Frown.

The rice was also a downer. It was warm-- really warm-- and tasted like vinegar. It was so crumbly that you couldn't pick up a single piece of nigiri, with hands OR chopsticks, without having the rice ball completely fall apart. This sushi rice was horrifying. Oh the indignity!

Crab roll: does anybody know the heimlich?

But the last straw was the "grand finale" that the hoardes of Sasabune lovers I had spoken to prior to the dinner lavished with much praise: the crab hand roll. It looked innocuous enough, but at the first bite I suddenly stopped mid-chew to ask if anyone at the table knew the Heimlich. I was serious-- I had giant pieces of crab shell in my roll. One of my dining companions who had enjoyed the meal thus far commented that it must mean the crab was really fresh. But still, my table mates encouraged me to be completely disgusting and spit out the crab-- because I couldn't swallow the shells. I didn't eat any more. The worst part: as we were leaving the restaurant, we saw on a counter a huge, teetering stack of crappy-looking little plastic containers labeled "Crab Meat", just sitting there. Shudder.

Conclusion: a sad day for sushi.

I didn't even see the bill, but I know it was very expensive. Maybe Sasabune was good once, or maybe it's just horribly inconsistent, but I could not in good conscience ever recommend to anyone to go after my experience last night. I must assume that this place is simply riding on its reputation to keep it in the top ranks of sushi restaurants in L.A. I will not be going back.


I hate doing this but like a young George Washington, I cannot tell a lie:

Food: (1)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Experience: (1)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Overall: (1)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

For an explanation of our rating system, CLICK HERE!!

For Yelp reviews of Sushi Sasabune, CLICK HERE!!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Vernors - An Oldie but a Goodie!

I absolutely adore ginger ale, because it always reminds me of the comfort of being home sick as a child and being brought peanut butter and butter toast and glasses of ginger ale in bed by my loving mom. I drink it always when I'm nauseated for whatever reason (it works!) and often on the plane. Sometimes when I'm feeling saucy, I drink it with gin. Canada Dry is the brand my mom gave us, so it still holds a special place in my heart (and taste memory!). A couple of years ago, while with an ex and now friend from Michigan, I tried a ginger soda that really packed a punch: Vernors. (That's not a typo, there really is no apostrophe.)

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Image from: www.wikipedia.com

I recently found Diet Vernors at my local grocery store and I couldn't resist buying it. I hate diet soda and refuse to drink it as a matter of policy, but they were out of regular Vernors and I just had to taste it again to see if it was how I remembered from when I drank it from a glass bottle in dingy yet not-without-its-charm Detroit: bitingly gingery, tongue-tingling and yummy!
And it was! The diet was very similar to the original and was actually really good. Refreshing, zingy. It also has hints of sweet vanilla along with the strong ginger flavor, which makes it taste really distinctive. It's like one of those fancy gourmet ginger beers, but without the attitude.

According to Wikipedia, Vernors was actually invented in Detroit in 1866. Its slogan is "Barrel Aged, Bold Taste!". Apparently, with vanilla ice cream in a float it is a "Boston cooler". That sounds fabulous to me, I can't wait to try it. It is also the first American-born soda (supposedly) and is popular in Florida because lots of retired Detroit folks live there. Cool!

So, ginger ale fans, if you see Vernors at a store near you, don't hesitate to give it a try. It'll cure whatever ails you! I warn you that it is very sweet, but if you're in the mood for a strong and BOLD, sweet ginger soda, it'll really hit the spot.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Foreign Cinema - oui, si, yes!

I must preface this post by saying that I have only ever been to Foreign Cinema for brunch. I've heard dinner is good but not as good as brunch. I've just never been. So all ratings in this review are for brunch and brunch only.

With that said, FC is my favorite fancy brunch in San Francisco. There are other places that I really love - Mabels and Absinthe, to start. But Foreign Cinema as a total experience - food + the best atmosphere + the best coffee ever = great amazing delicious brunch. I go there two or three times a year and it has never, ever disappointed me.

This past Sunday was no exception. My group of SF galpals gathered to celebrate my roommate's birthday, and the whole morning was really great. I started out with a giant cup of coffee with cream and sugar, and a mimosa. The mimosa was the perfect balance of sweet oj and bubbly - tasted alcoholic but still refreshing. And the coffee - oh man. The coffee there is like crack, but not as bad for you. Or something. It's good, that's all I can say. One of our friends had a big bloody mary which I took a sip of and it was very tasty. Water glasses were constantly refilled. Drinks were good! The bread and butter, plus little pinch bowls of sea salt and fresh-ground pepper, helped to keep us satiated.....until the pop tarts arrived.

Oh, the homemade pop tarts - the flavors on Sunday were apricot and mixed berry. SO good. They look like pop tarts, and they taste like the most delicious flaky fruity pop tart you have ever had. The four of us split two and it was a nice way to start the meal.

For my entree I had two fried eggs deglazed with balsamic, and served over a bed of wilted greens and roasted rosemary garlic potato hash. It was really awesome - my first time trying it but it was delicious. I'm not a huge fan of wilted greens (this was broccoli rabe) but these were good, and the potatoes were great. My roommate had the french toast, which was battered and served with this amazing orange marmalade. Yum, yum, yum. We all split a plate of french fries, as we are on a quest to find the best french fries in SF. These didn't place, but the waiter read our minds and brought plenty of ketchup, so we were happy - and the fries were really good. No luna park or absinthe or zuni.....but good. Another friend had a great frittata with a ton of goat cheese and crispy rosemary potatoes, and the last of us had seared tuna served with orange watermelon, which I had never seen before. She said it was great and cleaned her plate.

I ate about a loaf of bread and was SO full....but their dessert menu could not be ignored, especially since we were celebrating a birthday. We split a lavender strawberry shortcake, with orange-marscapone and whipped cream. It was heaven - the flavors were so gentle, nothing too sweet, nothing too strong. Absolutely delicious, even if I could only force down a few bites.

All in all it was a lovely brunch - per usual. And the atmosphere really pushed it over the top. FC has a beautiful outdoor patio, with some sunny and some shady spots. Inside is very quaint with lots of brick and foreign films on the back wall during dinner. The waiters are very knowledgeable and attentive - our coffee cups were never empty. And the price wasn't bad either - with tip it was about 180 dollars for four people, and one of us had two drinks (everyone else had one and coffee). If you are looking for a nice brunch spot in the city - for family, for a date, or a girls morning out - look no further. The only thing foreign about the place, besides the name and the films, is that I have nothing bad to say about it!!!

Food - (for brunch only)(4.0)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Experience - (4.0)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Overall - (4.0)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

For an explanation of our rating system, CLICK HERE!!

For yelp reviews of Foreign Cinema, CLICK HERE!!



Sunday, July 22, 2007

Alegrias - Food From Spain

Last summer I spent a month travelling through southern Spain - Barcelona, Alicante, Granada, Sevilla, and Madrid. And I ate a LOT of tapas. Tapas everywhere, along with a ton of rioja and tinto verano, and delicious cold Alhambra beer. Spanish tapas aren't the fanciest foods - they are generally hearty, rustic, but very tasty small bites that people share along with a big pitcher of sangria. They are eaten in the middle of the day and late in the night. In spain they were delicious almost everywhere - from the big famous tapas bars in Madrid, where you pay a euro or two per dish, to the tiny themed bars of Granada, where they come free with you drinks - and the more you drink, the tastier and heartier the tapas get. I loved the food there - I'm crazy about small plates. But I have not had an eating experience here that matched those tapas in Spain. That is, until Saturday night.

Alegrias is one of those restaurants I've passed a dozen times. Its in the Marina district of SF - a neighborhood I generally don't go to, and if I do, its to drink -- not so much to dine. But this weekend I had guests in town - my cousin A., her husband Y., and their baby, I. A. and Y. met in Granada when she was teaching there and he was studying there. They fell in love, got married, and then he moved back home to the U.S. with her where they had their gorgeous son. They live in my hometown, which REALLY lacks in yummy or interesting food choices - especially for two people who have lived in Europe. I really wanted to take them somewhere fun and reminiscent of their time in Spain, and Alegrias REALLY fit the bill.

We all started with a drink - sangria for me, a glass of Rioja for A., an Alhambra for Y., and milk for the baby. And then we ordered the tapas. We started with the tortilla of the day, which had cheese, spanish chorizo, and caramelized onions. It was really delicious - tortillas can be very dry, like any egg dish, if not made properly. This one was moist, the chorizo was smoky, and it was served with a dollop of really delicious aioli on top - not too strong, but creamy and perfect with the tortilla.

We moved on to the croquetas, which were my favorite tapa of the night. They were perfect - the filling of potatoes, ham, and cheese, was creamy and smooth. They were lightly fried. They melted in your mouth, and were served with more of that great aioli.

We also had the patatas bravas - fried potatoes covered in a spicy tomato sauce. The potatoes were very finely diced, I probably would have liked them bigger. But the sauce was good. The gambas al ajillo - shrimp with olive oil and garlic - were just as I remember them in Spain. The prawns were cooked perfectly and the garlicky oil was great for bread dipping. The pinchos morunos (pork loin skewers in a spicy moorish sauce) were also great. The pork was moist and juicy and they were well-seasoned. Lastly we had the palpos fritos - little fried octopus - which were crispy and delicious with lemon juice squeezed on them.

All in all it was a very good Spanish tapas experience. I've been to a ton of other tapas places in the city, and while I enjoyed them all, this was the most authentic spanish experience I've had in the city. The restaurant was romantic and cozy, not pretentious at all. It was refreshing not to be somewhere where I constantly feel underdressed. The waitstaff was amazing - they immediately appeared with a highchair for the kiddo, along with a baby book which kept him entertained for most of the evening. Best of all, the bill for all of that food and drinks was 80 dollars.

I would definitely head to Alegrias again. In a month or so my brother and his girlfriend, who is Spanish, will be in town, and I will take them there!!! While I've had better food in the city, this is the only restaurant that has made me feel like when I step outside, I will be in a cobble stoned plaza full of spaniards and funny dogs, with some impressive cathedral in the background.

Food - (3.25)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Experience - (3.5)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Overall - (3.5)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

For an explanation of our rating system, CLICK HERE!

Check out Alegrias yelp reviews here!

Me gusta Alegrias!

Emilia (comida es mi vida!)

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Lola's - Martini Heaven!

I had an absolute blast at LOLA's.

The place, which is on Fairfax in West Hollywood, is sort of unremarkable inside, looking kind of like an average, loud neighborhood bar with a pool table and the football game playing on a flat screen TV. It was too dark to read the menu without tipping the tall candles on each table dangerously close (get some little table lamps, Lola's! Or at least better candles). The place was packed with people when we arrived. It was a good, diverse crowd, which I appreciate. I talked to actors, a bunch of awesome Aussie and Kiwi dancers who are stopped over in L.A. to rehearse for a show on a cruise ship, marketing guys, industry types galore, locals. It was a friendly and fun crowd, not too crazy or too cool for school as many L.A. crowds are and I detest.

To eat, I ordered the macaroni and cheese, and I asked if they could put bacon in it. (P.S.: It's not on the menu, but they'll add bacon, chicken, broccoli, or whatever else you ask for in the mac and cheese...I was just really craving some grease!). I have to say, this was a fantastically awesome mac and cheese-- all the rave reviews I have heard were totally accurate. It was creamy and dreamy and ooey and gooey. It was not just creamy like some mac and cheeses, it also had lots of gooey mozzarella cheese in it that connects your fork to your plate like a little bungie cord as you raise a bite to your mouth. It was salty, but not too salty in my opinion (though I do love salt in an unhealthy way). It was topped off with a parmesany-bready, thin little crumbly crust on top. Man, it was amazingly good. It was so comforting, too. I highly recommend it. It's definitely one of the top 3 I have ever had. It also provided a great soak-up base for the ensuing boozing.

The cookies are supposed to be awesome, too, but we forgot to order them because we got distracted by...MARTINIS!

The menu is 50+ strong as you can see here. They have the classics, plus so many funky ones. The best thing about them is that none of the ones I tasted (and I tasted many...tasted, I said! Geez, don't judge me! Hehehe...) were too sweet. They typically had a splash of the various ingredients, just enough to give a hint of flavor. The drinks, which are overwhelmingly vodka-centered, are fun largely because of the creative monikers they are given in the menu, and the interesting combo of ingredients that evoke the theme of the name. Just reading the menu (which at the place, lists the ingredients) gave me all sorts of ideas for fun martinis I could make at home or for a party.

Here are the martinis I tasted, big ups to my lovely girlfriends who eagerly passed theirs around for all to try and our great waitress who helped us choose in moments of uncertainty:

-Pickle Martini. I am a pickle and vinegar freak so I ordered this to start. It had sweet gherkin juice in it with vodka and a little gherkin floating in it. It was tasty, but after drinking half, all the pickle juice seemed to pool and I felt like I was drinking straight pickle juice. That type of practice will put hair on your chest! So I sent it back. The concept was great but the execution needs a little work. It is new on the menu so hopefully they will keep working on it.

-Canteloupe Martini. This was delicious. Melon vodka, canteloupe puree, garnished with juicy canteloupe balls on a skewer. The drink was a lovely canteloupe color. It was not too sweet, but was delicious and refreshing. Loved it.

-Ocean's 11 Martini. Beautiful and elegant, this was again vodka, plus parfait amour (an amazing violet/rose petal/orange liquer which I had to look up on the internet, but I am so going to buy now) and edible flowers floating on top. This was one of my favorites. It was just so glamorous, strong and simple with essence of flowers. Lovely.

-Key Lime Pie Martini. Way less sweet than your typical key lime pie martini, and really refreshing. It was lime, vanilla vodka, and a splash of cream if I remember correctly. Notice as the list of what I tasted progresses, the ingredients become a bit fuzzier...!

-Clockwork Orange Martini. This was really tasty although I am usually a bit disturbed by cream and alcohol together (unless it's Kahlua, Amaretto, Bailey's or other dessert liquer). Vanilla vodka, a splash of orange juice, and a splash of cream. Creamsicle goodness. I think a vanilla vodka and orange juice mix is a great idea for a cocktail.

-Chin Tok Martini. This was basically a lychee martini. It was delicious, lighly sweet, and refreshing, garnished of course with lychees!

By the way, the "Garlic Mashed Potatoes" martini is not at all scary, as I noticed the Yelp reviews implied. It's just a regular martini with a garlic-stuffed olive. I've had this before at home and it's delicious. Same with the "The Big Cheese" one, it's just got a blue cheese stuffed olive which I have also done, it's really yummy. So never fear.

I have heard the dessert martinis are amazing, but I shall have to go back to try them. And I will go back. I had a fabulous time. Varied and creative cocktails are the drink menu's promises, and Lola's totally delivered.

Macaroni and Cheese (I can't speak to the overall food): (3.75) Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Drinks: (3.75) Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Total: (3.75) Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

For an explanation of our rating system, CLICK HERE!!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Piccino: Food - 10, Service - 3

Anyone who catches the musical lyric reference in the title gets a virtual gold star (or diamond, or whatever it is we do around here).

Last night was my second visit to Piccino, a new tiny pizza bistro in my neighborhood of Potrero Hill/Dogpatch. Both times I've been the food has been really strong, but last night the service was....weird. It was weird. I will definitely want to update this review after going a third time and also trying a main course since I've only had the pizza, but I'll tell you my impressions thus far.

Piccino is tiny little place - 3 small tables inside, counter space, and then maybe 5 or 6 small tables outside. In creating the place, the owners got the look and feel right on. Little copper tables, clean easy ikea silverware and plates, nice colors - it feels right in there (unlike my impression of another neighborhood spot, Jay's Deli, but that review will have to wait for another day).

As Patch has mentioned before, a restaurant can have great ambiance and the food can still suck. Luckily that is not the case with Piccino - the ambiance is good and cozy, and the food is better than good. The menu is small, local, and seasonal. I have only been for dinner, when it features a few starters, 4 or 5 pizzas including one daily special, three or four main dishes, and a small section of desserts - along with a wine list, local beers, and coffee and espresso drinks.

The first time at Piccino my roommate and I tried two pizzas - she had the Margherita (tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella with basil), and I had the daily special, which was garlic sausage and meyer lemon and parmesan, and some other goodies that I can't quite recall. Last night she had the Margherita again (vegetarian) and I tried the pepperoni. All three of these pizzas were very, very good. The crust is thin and perfectly crispy - one problem I have with the crust at A-16 (to be reviewed one day) is that it tends to get soggy. Not so at Piccino. The pizzas are a little on the small side, but with a starter and dessert it is the perfect dinner portion for me (and I'm a good eater. I've been known to eat disgusting amounts of lesser-grade pizza in one sitting. I swear I have a separate stomach for the stuff, like a cow. Except I don't eat grass. Whatever.). The toppings are really delicious -the garlic sausage was spicy without being too greasy, and the garlic wasn't overpowering. On my pepperoni there was a perfect slice on each quarter of the pizza, along with deliciously fresh mozarella, which also graced the roommate's pizza. The tomato sauce is well-balanced, sweet but not too sweet, and nothing needs salt or is too salty. The pizzas here are really, really good. I honestly think they (the pizzas, not the mains or starters) rival A-16 and Delfina Pizzeria for best roman-style pizza in the city; just remember that the size of the pizza at Piccinos is smaller. While I would share a starter and a pizza at the other two places, at Piccino I definitely want a pizza to myself.

Speaking of starters, they were great last night as well. I had the gazpacho, which I was so excited to see on their menu, because I had been craving it all day and planning to make it this weekend if I can drag myself to the Ferry Bldg early enough tomorrow morning for tomatoes. The gazpacho was delicious - tasted of all the great summer tomatoes that are out right now, and had a drizzle of really fruity olive oil on top. My only complaint would be that I prefer gazpacho with some chunks of chopped veggies, and this one was processed smooth, but that's just me - the taste was spot on. Roommate had a salad of greens and strawberries with a balsamic dressing - simple but tasty. I also had a glass of chainti, which was perfect with the pizza and REALLY hit the spot.

Piccino has great, yet simple desserts. Last night we tried the Plout Tart and the cookie plate (roommate thinks heaven is a place filled with cookies, she loves them, and they are great here). The tart was REALLY good - the filling was fresh tasting but not too sweet, the crust was light and buttery, and it was served with just the right amount of fresh whipped cream. The cookies were also delicious, especially the jam-filled ones. All in all it was a really good food experience.

The service, however, was sort of lacking. I feel weird even writing about it, because the server was totally nice - but odd. First of all he didn't write down our order - fine, I know people are all into memorizing orders these days. But after bringing me my wine, he came back and said "yeah, dude, I totally want to make sure I got your order right because as you were telling it to me I was like, there is no WAY I'm gonna remember this." And he had gotten it wrong. Gazpacho, one of the two salads you have on your menu, and the two most basic pizzas on the menu every day - is that so hard? And if it is, just write it down! This kid continued his antics all night; roommate and I both felt like he was high on something. He would bring us our food or pepper or a napkin and then sort of hover there awkwardly. When I asked him which tart he prefered (there was also a lemon raspberry on the menu), he told me that he hadn't tried either of them, but that pluots were "totally in season," but also that pluots "might not be sweet," and he didn't know which one would be more sweet. I almost suggested that he go ask someone who did know since that seemed the obvious thing to do, and something he should have come up with on his own, but I just went with my gut and ordered the Plout. He also forgot to bring out our cookies. The pizzas were also brought out WAY too hot - they needed at least 60 seconds to cool before they got to us, and we were not warned, and my mouth IS burned. Lastly, when I ordered a latte, he informed me that they were out of espresso drinks. But the way he said it was just odd. He kept apologizing for it over and over (and for the fact that they didn't have decaf for the roommate), and wouldn't just drop it and bring me my regular drip already (by the way, they serve Blue Bottle Coffee, which is great). Either apologize and offer me my regular coffee for free, bring me a cookie, or just leave me alone if you don't have my latte. Its hard to explain, but it was odd. I felt uncomfortable the whole night and I'm really easy going.

So - in sum, I would definitely go back there again. I'm sure I will, and often. Its 2 blocks from my house and the food rocks. Simple, tasty, nicely presented. However I hope I don't get that server again.

Food - (3.25)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Experience -(2.75) Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Total - (3) Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

For an explanation of our ratings system, CLICK HERE!!

SF Chronicle Review of Piccino
Yelp Reviews of Piccino

also mentioned in this month's Gourmet mag, but I couldn't find a link online....


Thursday, July 19, 2007

100 Easy Summer Meals - Thank you Mark Bittman

I came across this fabulous article in the New York Times today - Summer Express: 101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less. It sparked my creative juices for cooking, and Patch's too! So we each went through and picked out three recipes, which we are committed to trying before Sep. 1. We will report back our results and our favorites.

Patch's choices are:

- 3 Cut eight sea scallops into four horizontal slices each. Arrange on plates. Sprinkle with lime juice, salt and crushed chilies; serve after five minutes.

- 65 Sauté squid rings and tentacles in olive oil with salt and pepper and garlic; add chopped tomatoes. Cook until the tomatoes break down. Serve over pasta.

- 81 Combine crab meat with mayo, Dijon mustard, chives and tarragon. Serve in a sandwich, with potato chips.

She plans to serve them all at a dinner party - first course of mini crab sandwiches, second course of scallops, third course the pasta, with Chardonnay.

My choices are:

- 53 Put a tablespoon of cream and a slice of tomato in each of several small ramekins. Top with an egg, then salt, pepper and grated Parmesan. Bake at 350 degrees until the eggs set. Serve with toast.

- 37 Frisée aux lardons: Cook chunks of bacon in a skillet. Meanwhile, make six-minute or poached eggs and a frisée salad. Put eggs on top of salad along with bacon; deglaze pan with sherry vinegar and pour pan juices over all.

- 11 Warm olive oil in a skillet with at least three cloves sliced garlic. When the garlic colors, add at least a teaspoon each of cumin and pimentón. A minute later, add a dozen or so shrimp, salt and pepper. Garnish with parsley, serve with lemon and bread.

I will probably just make these for myself for dinner - maybe I will make the top one next week for my roommate and I, as she is a vegetarian.

Stay tuned for updates on our adventures in easy summer cooking ;) After reading this article, I am officially starving......good thing I am going to Piccino tonight!


Say Cheese! The Laughing Cow

We. Love. CHEESE!

Emilia and I have a shared love of all things cheese that dare not speak its name. And so, since cheese is a) the only thing in my fridge 80% of the time (though it prefers to have at least a couple of beers in there for company), b) the only thing I eat everyday without fail and c) irresistible to me when accompanied by the word "plate" or "cart", I'd like to make a practice of sharing my favorite cheeses with the LawyerEats crowd on a regular basis. If you are lactose intolerant or vegan or for some other reason cannot eat cheese, then I cry for you, Argentina. Try soy cheese, it's just as good. (LIE.)

I always loved cheese, as did my sister who would literally melt it over every food she consumed between the ages of 5 and ah, how old are you now Vigi? (Hehehe no but I'm serious.) But I first started to develop a real respect for it when I spent a summer in Paris at age 18. I lived with a cousin of my mother's (the French Canadian side) in a flower-filled Parisian suburb called Thiais. Every night after dinner, with great flourish, the lovely lady of the house would bring out the cheese plate. The couple were neo-hippies (in the best way) and ate practically a macrobiotic vegetarian type diet the rest of the time, but cheese was never rejected.

So, with that background, I present to you one of my favorite snacking cheeses, which I knew in my French Canadian childhood as "La Vache qui Rit" (literally, "the cow that laughs")...


The Laughing Cow, which is French-owned, makes a variety of delicious, light cheese products that are just so handy for throwing on any number of cheese delivery devices. My fridge at home and at work is always stocked with one variety or other. (Right now, at home, it's all of them!)

Mini Babybel - this is the one that I ate most as a child. There is nothing like holding that firm, smooth little wax round in your hand and pulling the tab to reveal Pacman-esque, firm but mild cheese goudaness. I also love how the cheeses are in a little fishnet, that is so fun. The regular variety in the red wax is tasty and perfect sized for a packed lunch (I bring them on the plane) or little hungers (petits faims, in French...doesn't work as well in English but you know what I'm saying.) I also love the yellow-wax one called "Bonbel" which tastes a little milder, and the "Light" one when I want a more airy Babybel. I haven't tried the "Gouda" variety yet-- if you have, please comment!

My favorite way to eat it: on its own, with a glass of nice brown ale to accompany. For photo, go to: http://www.thelaughingcow.com/lc/lc.nsf/ProductsL2-MiniBabyBel?openpage

Wedges - I looove the wedges. They are by far the most versatile and easy to eat Laughing Cow, in my opinion. I also love how they are wedge shaped in their little round cardboard pie box. I have tried all of the varieties except Light French Onion, which I have never seen except in legend. If you have had it, please comment! I have tried: Original Creamy Swiss (very creamy, mild, and slightly tart, awesome on toast with berry jam); Light Swiss Original (35-calorie version, a bit lighter in texture and great on green apple slices); Light Garlic & Herb (I'm a sucker for it, I just eat it out of the foil like a ne'er-do-well). All of the wedges in this family are soft, easy to spread, and light in flavor. You can also do really fun things with them as far as creating appetizers for friends or putting them in sandwiches.

My favorite way to eat it: one Light Swiss Original spread in the center of a cooking omelette with caramelized onions, sprinkled with fleur de sel (a really nice sea salt) and topped with salmon roe.
For photo, go to: http://www.thelaughingcow.com/lc/lc.nsf/ProductsL2-Wedges?openpage

Light Gourmet Cheese Bites - I only recently started getting into these, though I remember eating them often when I was little. I love the ingenious foil wrapping on these tiny little cubes. These are essentially the same as the Light Creamy Swiss but in different format. The size makes it perfect to spread onto a cracker when you just want a bite or two. I also like to pop them in my mouth and eat them that way.

My favorite way to eat it: on a "TLC - Original 7 Grain" cracker. The sweet, nutty taste of the cracker really complements the mildly tart flavor of the cheese.
For photo, go to: http://www.thelaughingcow.com/lc/lc.nsf/ProductsL2-CheeseBites?openpage

I buy my Laughing Cow cheeses at Trader Joe's, but you can get them at most grocery stores. And no, they did not pay me to write this post...but if they want to pay me in cheese, OUI OUI!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

G.M.'s Wine Dinner - July, 2007

When I first started my job several years ago, I made friends with a fellow attorney. She and I spent a lot of time shopping and going out to eat together, and she told me about a monthly dinner party that she attended with her husband in the East Bay. She would tell me about these legendary dinners - the food, the wine, the casual atmosphere, the quirky crowd. And then one day she invited me to go along.....

And seriously - my culinary life in the Bay Area has NEVER been the same!

The brilliant man behind these monthly parties shall remain nameless, at least on this blog - I will refer to him as G.M. He is not a professional chef - he has a normal job in finance. But he is an amazing home chef and wine connoisseur. Twenty-five years ago he started these dinners as a wine tasting party - 25 bottles of merlot in brown paper bags. Decades later the party has evolved to include some of the most amazing food I have ever consumed, accompanied by perfectly paired wines. G.M takes a set amount of donations from the friends he invites to cover the cost of the food and wine, but no more - this is not an underground restaurant. It is simply the most amazing dinner party I have ever attended, donations accepted. Once you come a few times you get on the email list for the parties, and can bring others. I have brought many friends, including Patch, over the years.

G.M hosts these dinners almost every month - usually taking June off for vacation. The dinner parties are held twice per month, so that everyone on the guest list can attend, and the size of the dinners range from 12-30 people. Most months are themed - December is standing rib roast, January is cassoulet, March is Italian feast, etc. There are two middle eastern dinners per year, and August is Heirloom Tomato month. The provencal feast comes in the spring - imagine perfect fresh homemade aoili, served with tons of fresh and slightly cooked spring vegetables, seafood, roast chicken, acme bread - divine. And then of course, there is a leg of lamb and potatoes, and then fruit and moscato d'Asti or an amazing cheese course from the cheese board in Berkeley.

Speaking of Acme and the cheese board - one of the best things about this dinner is that G.M. has access to ingredients that very few home chefs ever touch. He has truck privileges at the farmers market in Berkeley, and therefore picks his fruit and vegetables before they ever get to the stands. He has his meat specially ordered and sausage ground fresh at Cafe Rouge. His bread is from Acme, his cheese from the Cheese Board, and his wines are direct from his good friend Kermit Lynch - the premier wine importer in the bay area.

One of the best things about the dinners in general is that, while the food is perfect and the wine divine, the dinner itself is so casual. Real silverware and wine glasses are used, but the plates and napkins and bowls are all paper. Saves G.M. a lot of time cleaning up for such a crowd. In addition, he somehow manages to make everything with a small arsenal of equipment - an oven, a giant bbq, a stove, a few pots, several giant clay casserole dishes, and a variety of large silver bowls (plus a food processor and some great knives).

I look forward to this dinner every month. But this past month, the July 2007 dinner, was especially fun. July is one of the few months without a theme, and therefore the whole menu was a surprise.

We started with an apertif - Petillant de Savoie, Quenard. A soft bubbly wine, from the foot of the Alps, it was the perfect pre-meal champagne-esque drink. Very fresh, extremely delicious, and now on my list of things to buy soon.

People at the dinner help set up, clean up, and serve and prep courses. I had the pleasure of helping with the first course. G.M. seasoned and marinated shrimp in olive oil and spices, then dusted it with corn starch and quickly fried it, 30 seconds tops. We then ladled a puree of cannelini beans processed with some pastis, garlic, and various other spices, right onto the middle of a plate. In the middle of the puree went a fresh salad of amazing red heirloom tomatoes mixed with onion, olive oil, plenty of salt, and mint. Three of the fried shrimp went on the puree surrounding the salad. The whole thing was served with acme rustic baguette - oh. my. The puree itself was amazing, I could eat a bowl of that every day. The course was fresh-tasting, and the shrimp was slightly crunchy without being greasy or heavy. The tails were completely edible. People were scraping their plates.

The shrimp was served with a lovely rose - a 2006 Saint Chinian, Mas Champart. This is G.M.'s favorite rose of the 2006 vintage, and is very reasonably priced. It was tasty, fresh, and juicy - everything a good rose should be. Rose is one of my absolute favorite wines in the summer time - so fresh and refreshing, so far from the bad bad rose's of the 80s. If you aren't drinking them this summer, shame on you - go buy this one!

The next course was a crostini. A large slice of oven-toasted acme bread was spread with a thick layer of cheese - goat cheese mixed with a little blue, so sharp and pungent and creamy and delicious. On top of the cheese was a perfect slice of red heirloom tomato, and the whole thing was drizzled with olive oil. Oh my. Some people tried to slice their crostini with a fork and a knife, but I just picked that thing up and started eating, olive oil dripping down my wrists. I'm not touching something like that with a knife, I don't care how bad it looks. Food like that is meant to be eaten with your hands, preferably outside. It was SO good.

The wine served with the crostini was a 2005 Cotes du Rohne, Trignon. It was delicious, but sadly the winery has been sold, and Kermit reports that the new owner is a weasel and has ruined the wines. This was the last taste of wine from the former owner - and it was good, but sad to say goodbye.

Sadly, the next wine (a waiting wine) was corked. Sort of a funny story, actually. The wine was a 2004 Paesan, Guido Porro. I was helping G.M. with the main course, but came to have a taste of the wine. Patch was talking about how she thought the wine had a nose of brie cheese, and wasn't THAT weird. I took a whiff and smelled oysters - briny, salty oysters with mignonette. I reported this to the table, and people started nodding in agreement, and wasn't it weird for a wine to have a nose of oysters. G.M. arrived at the table, and we told him that we thought the wine had a nose of brie and oysters. He took one whiff, made a sour face, and said "only if those things smell like a newspaper that has been watered and left to mold in a car. It is corked." A giant "ah, this makes sense" went up amongst the populace. There is a lesson here - wine should never have a nose of stinky cheese or briny sea creatures. It was funny to watch people sipping it and saying "oh yes, brie, its quite delicious." CORKED!

G.M. took a few of us down to his cellar to pick out some replacement wines. One was a special wine of his - a 1990 Burgundy by Robert Chevillon, Nuits Saint George, Los Perrieres. It was a really bold wine - smoky and woody tasting, with a great nose. It almost had the color of a port. It was like nothing I've ever had - not exactly my absolute favorite wine, but really delicious and interesting.

Next G.M. served the main course. It was supposed to be divine skirt steaks from cafe rouge, but when he got there he saw a giant cut of pork, rubbed in spices and rolled, and he couldn't resist. He slow-roasted it in the oven, topped with the crackling skin, fat soaking into the meat. Amazing. Everyone was served a cut of the pork with some of the skin on top - it was seriously delicious. I had a little bite of the buttery fat with each piece of pork, and it was just perfect. On the side G.M. made one of my favorite dishes - red potatoes roasted with tomatoes, green peppers, garlic, onions, and tons of olive oil. The tomatoes caramelize and become incredibly sweet, as do the peppers. It is a really simple dish but tasted amazing with the pork.

There were two wines with the pork. One was another special bottle - a cab, and sadly I forgot to write down what it was. Really sad because it was my favorite wine of the night (besides the moscato) - I will email G.M. and see if I can find out what it was.

The other wine served with the pig was a 2000 Chianti Classico Riserva - and it was perfect with the pig. The wine is from Villa di Ceggiano. A really bright tart wine, with a long finish - yum. I love a nice chianti (name that film!).

To finish off this perfect meal, G.M. served my favorite dessert. I love a cheese course, but in the summer nothing can beat peaches and nectarines from Frog Hollow Farms - especially with a glass of Moscato d'Asti. On Saturday it was nectarines - one of the most perfect, delicious pieces of fruit I've ever had. It was perfect just by itself.

And the moscato - ohhh the moscato. G.M. serves it at almost every dinner, because it is that good. It is the best sweet wine I have ever had - it isn't too sweet, but it pairs perfectly with fruit. I know G.M. gets this particular Moscato d'asti from Kermit - all I know is that it has a tree on the label. And is heaven in a sparkly, sweet, delicious wine.

This was the perfect dinner for me - I left full and happy without feeling sick from consuming too much delicious food. Some of the dinners are so good that I can't resist the impulse to keep eating, but this was a very well organized and deliciously prepared dinner. It set me up for next month - heirloom tomatoes. Labne sandwiches with perfect tomatoes, blt's where the bun is dipped in the bacon fat before serving, gazpacho.....I can taste it now...

Is it August yet?

cheers ;)


A postscript from Patch:

Amen, Emilia, Amen. I have to mention that the crostini course seems deceptive in its simplicity. The thing was so incredibly delicious that I declared to the whole table, "If I were on death row, this could be my last meal." And I stand by that statement. When is a tomato not a tomato? When it is incredibly fresh, perfectly ripe, and hand-picked by G.M. And tastes like the essence of a thousand of the subpar tomatoes that you and I normally get to eat on a regular basis. It's really another creature entirely.

Also, the pork with the crackling skin and potatoes was so good that I took it home in a tupperware I smuggled in for leftovers (which G.M. found amusing) and had at it again later that night, cold. It was still so good. I was going to bring it on the plane next day but forgot. There was much gnashing of teeth.

Finally, the nectarine was the best I have ever had. The. Best. Ever. I rarely say things like that when it comes to food, because I've had so much great stuff. But this was just...it made me want to cry. Emilia can verify if you don't believe me. Also, G.M. has great taste in cigars, a part of the denoument of the meal that I was happy to enjoy.

I planned my trip to SF for that particular weekend because of this feast. And I shall do it again. Heirloom tomatoes, do your worst! Beautiful meal, beautifully captured by Emilia.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Tres Agaves = Tres Malas Experiencias

So.....Tres Agaves. Before this past weekend I had only been there for margaritas and chips and salsa at the bar - which were fine. However an experience I had there previously should have set me up for the disappointment of this past weekend. A couple of months ago I was sitting there at the bar having a nice cold margarita on the rocks with a galpal from work. I remarked to her that the margarita, while good, was not the best I have ever had. Because I had margaritas with Patch when I visited her one summer in Chicago, at Rick Bayless' restaurant, Topolobampo, and it was the freaking best thing I have ever had in my life. We GUZZLED them all night - something I have never done with margaritas. It was like drinking lime-flavored heaven in a glass. And while the margarita at Tres Agaves was good....heaven it was not. I was speaking quietly about this to my friend, and the bartender overheard and came over and gave me a lecture about how Rick Bayless does x thing wrong, and the bartender did it right, yadda yadda yadda - picking a fight with me about this stupid cocktail!! And it WASN'T as good! I'm sorry! Maybe I was being a little rude, but I paid for the drink and was planning on paying for more of them until the little argument. I told him I thought his drink was quite good and I would tell him I liked it best if that would make him feel better. He left us alone and we went on to District.

So anyways, maybe after that little experience, I should have known I would be disappointed with Tres Agaves once I actually got the chance to eat there. But I had high hopes. The restaurant has been on Michael Bauer's Top 100 Bay Area Restaurants List for years. I am generally a little wary of upscale Mexican, but experiences at Topolobampo in Chicago, and Mamacita in SF (which I will write about at some point) lead me to believe that this might be a good thing.

I was wrong. Wrong wrong wrong.

I will start with the good though. We had a reservation and they seated us immediately, even without our entire party there, which I thought was great. They immediately brought us two big bowls of chips and two kinds of salsa - a chopped pico de gallo, and a cooked tomato salsa. The pico de gallo was sort of watery and lame in my opinion - especially considering the great tomatoes available right now. But I really thought the cooked salsa was excellent. Very very tasty, would give my Latina mother's salsa a run for its money (it would lose, but it would be a close race).

Another good thing - some of my friends had a special margarita made with jalapeno, which they all loved - the Sweet Heat. So I would recommend that. We ordered a couple of pitchers of regular margaritas, and they were ok. Not great. They were fine. Too expensive in my opinion - 36 dollars for a pitcher with 4 sub par margaritas. But we enjoyed them.

The food, besides the salsa, was not impressive. I wasn't super hungry, so I ordered one of the $12 ceviches - ceviche being one of my most favorite foods in the history of the world. I had the bacalao - rock cod with chile de arbol, avocado, onion, cilantro, and tomato. It was ok. It was tiny, first of all. And it was served in a tall shot glass basically - which made it hard to eat. The fish was ok. The brine was too limey and watery at the same time - needed more salt, more avocado. Patch had the Durado ceviche - albacore with lemon juice, preserved lemons, cucumbers, and habanero. I had a taste and it was better than mine, but the same tiny glass. My friend R. ordered the chicken sopes, which were absolutely pitiful looking - three tiny (maybe 2 inches in diameter) sopes with pathetically dry chicken and a little chile on top. She remarked that it looked and tasted like it had been under a broiler. Another girl ordered the queso fundido, which also did not look particularly appetizing. The server brought us a bunch of sides to the table - refried beans with chorizo, vegetarian pinto beans, cabbage salad, and tortillas. They were all just ok. I sure didn't taste any chorizo in the refried beans.

The servers also seemed in a hurry to clear our table. Once we ordered the food was out way, way too quickly - we had little time to sit and chat. Once we were mostly done the food was whisked away quickly. But then the check. never. came. Finally after about 45 minutes of sitting there we flagged down our server and made it out of there.

Part of the problem with Tres Agaves is its location. It is a block from the ballpark home of my beloved San Francisco Giants. The before and post game crowds can be very annoying, and are generally looking for their food to be quick and easy. But if that is the kind of place Tres Agaves wants to be, and the crowd they want to cater to in general, they need to lower their prices.

All in all, I was not pleased. I would stop in for a drink and some chips and salsa before a game at the bar, but I will not eat another meal there if I have any control over it. Mamacita across town is just too good - not to mention the deliciously cheap and authentic Los Jarritos.

Food - (2)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket(1.5 for food, but it gets a boost because of the yummy Sweet Heat cocktail)
Experience - (2)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Total - (2) Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
* For an explanation of our rating system, CLICK HERE!

Yelp Reviews for Tres Agaves
SF Chronicle Review for Tres Agaves

Upcoming Venue: Lola's

This Friday two of my girlfriends, the indomnitable and adorable Michelle and Kris, are taking me out to Lola's, one of their favorite bar/restaurants in West Hollywood. The place is famous for its martini list, which consists of over 50 creatively named concoctions. As a martini aficionado, I am slightly suspicious of anything that calls itself "martini" and isn't 99% cold-shaken gin with a bottle of dry vermouth waved in its direction for 3 seconds or less and a couple of olives hanging out poolside. But in an attempt to not be the snob we all know I want to be, I'm ready to explore these cocktails for what they are-- not martini martinis, but funky cocktails in a martini glass. Can I accept that? You bet I can.

Lola's is also known for its comfort food including mac and cheese and fried hush puppy things. I'm all for that! So, I am looking forward to diving into Lola's offerings, and as always, you all will be the first to hear about it.


Monday, July 16, 2007

Sebo: Sidenote

Just a sidenote from me on sebo - while patch has been lucky enough to enjoy sushi in japan, I myself have (Sadly) only consumed it here in the good old u.s.of.a.....in NYC, Seattle, LA, and San Fran. And I will say that it was probably the nicest fish I've had ever. Definitely by FAR and away the best sushi I have had in San Francisco. So please, if you are in SF, go there, eat fish, be merry. And if you have a favorite sushi place in the bay area, comment and let us know!!!!


Saturday, July 14, 2007

Sebo: A Bastion of Unilicious Serenity


It was wonderful! We had such a great, fun time and the sushi was very good.

The physical place is serene and simply decorated, with green tea ice cream colored walls, lots of shiny wood and dramatic lights glowing behind white screens along the wall. The outside is very simple and understated. We came in and easily sat at the sushi bar, which is thoughtfully designed with the fish storage recessed so you can watch the preparation of the sushi up close and without obstruction. We asked one of the chef/owners, Dan, to serve up whatever he thought we might like until we cried uncle, and ordered a bottle of cloudy Kizakura sake. (A little sweet for my taste, but still refreshing.)

Dan served us up a couple of different sushi and sashimi combinations, including wild big eye tuna (ruby red, lean and delicious), sardine (looked like little Lexuses on our plate, so shiny and pretty!), blue banded sprat which was also lovely, amberjack, horse mackerel, super fresh sea urchin (a.k.a. uni), wild scallops that were tender and tasty, big fin reef squid that was a bit chewy, monkfish liver (a first for me!) and perfectly fine ikura (I am an ikura freak, as I told Dan...I'll put salmon roe on anything...but that is another tale for another time.) Noticeably quality pickled ginger and wasabi was served on the side. Dan also served each of us a delicious charred-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside piece of Neiman Ranch beef in a bowl on top of garden-fresh sliced golden tomatoes and perfectly ripe avocado, with a tiny bit of some kind of ponzue-esque balsamic drizzle on it. I liked that the little piece of beef was sliced up in the style of a piece of fatty sushi, like toro. It was really different and very delicious. Em couldn't stop raving about it.

The sushi was very good. It was not the best sushi I've ever had, but it was up there and very respectable. It passed the have again test: I would definitely go back. Standouts were the uni and the monkfish liver (a.k.a. ankimo, as my native Tokyoite friend Mari recognized it when I was telling her about the meal). The uni was from Hokkaido and Dan told us they get it maybe a dozen times a year, and it is really special. It was smaller and browner than any uni I've ever eaten. However, the texture was perfect, like eating a creamy feather, and the flavor was really intense and wonderful. It was probably the best uni I have ever had, and I have had some serious uni in my time! And apparently uni is not even in top season right now. Lucky us. I ordered another piece at the end of the meal, it was so good, even when I was nearing my stomach capacity limit. Em was an uni virgin until last night (chicka-woh-woh) and now has set a high bar for other uni to hit, which gratifies me greatly. She was fascinated by its flavor, which is so unique the only thing I can compare it to, when it's good, is canteloupe and oysters have a musky baby. When it's bad, uni is BAD: unpalatable, mushy, and tastes like vaguely sweet, slimy dirt. This one was perfect and put me in a state of urchin-induced bliss.

The ankimo looked like a liver from high school bio class, which I found simultaneously exciting and sketchy. I made Em eat her piece first, even though I am not usually intimidated by eating viscera. Dan sliced it up really thinly, placed it gently on the little pad of rice, and wrapped it with a strip of nori (the seaweed wrap on sushi). It was sooo good. It was incredibly creamy, melt-in-your-mouthy, and had a really meaty, light flavor. Loved it. Sort of like a foie gras's Japanese cousin.

We finished up with a big bottle of Orion beer and a small bowl of cherries they gave us. (And later, hit up Citizen Cake for a rocky road cupcake to split later over a very nice Taz 2004 Zin, whose remainder glass I am now sipping on post-hike. That's how we roll!)

Dan made the experience for us, we both agreed. He was so charming and witty, and he gave us lots of great information about the various dishes we ate. He was just super nice and lovely. If you go, he is the one who looks a lot like Paul Rudd-- just add some hipster black square-frame glasses, beautiful Japanese countryside arm tattoos, and impressive knife-yielding skills. He got into sushi when he became friends with sushi chefs while working in fish wholesale on the East Coast. He also is a culinary school and Cornell grad. He was very welcoming and knowledgeable. Clearly, he and his business partner, Michael, have worked really hard on making Sebo work-- and it has definitely paid off.

Overall, Sebo was a delightful experience. I would definitely recommend checking it out. The icing on the cake: the bill was very, very reasonable for all the nice things we ate.

Food: (3.5) Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Experience: (4) Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Overall: (3.75)Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

For an explanation of our ratings system, CLICK HERE!

Yelp Review
SF Chron Review


Friday, July 13, 2007

Stay Tuned...Fabulous Food Weekend Ahead!

This evening I am flying up to SF to hang with Emilia. In addition to some lovely spa time at our favorite spa in Japan town and a hearty hike in the Muir Woods with friends, we have two very exciting foodie items planned. The first is dinner at Sebo, which supposedly has a rocking omakase. Cross your fingers for us that we make it to the sushi bar! They have no website that I know of but you can get some info here:
Yelp Reviews
Bill Addison SF Chron Review

Second is dinner at one of Em's friends' houses. He's a really amazing guy with tons of friends and a passion for gourmet food. Once a month he hosts dinners and those lucky enough to get invited are welcomed into his beautiful Berkeley home and enticed with a multi-course themed menu and incredible wine. (One of the more memorable dinners I attended was AIOLI themed. There was an entire course of tasty things to dunk in the creamiest, most ridiculous homemade aioli ever. Wow.)

Everybody crowds into his living room, which he packs with big tables. I went a couple of times in law school. For anyone who has ever aspired to throw a dinner party, this lovely man and his fabulous feasts are inspiration! He also predicates each dinner with an incredible email that describes, in excruciating detail, each of the courses including notes on the various super-fresh ingredients he is incorporating based on what he finds at the market, as well as different cooking methods. The emails are as vivid as they are drool-inducing.

So, stay tuned!


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Fiber Finds

Em and I have both resolved in the past months to include more fiber in our diets, aiming for 25-30 grams per day-- which my doctor father has been advising me to do for years. Fiber is fantastic. It helps your digestion, keeps you free and clear of old debris and toxins (if you know what I mean), and fills you up so you don't get hungry quickly after eating. Fiberful foods like grains, cereals, fruits and veggies also have lots of other great qualities, like lots of vitamins and nutrients, plus delicious flavor, satisfying textures and color. Since I started conciously eating more fiber, my stomach has felt flatter, my digestion has felt better, and I have just been happier overall. Yay, fiber!

In our quest to find high fiber yet tasty foods, Em and I have found a few great gems.

Gem #1: Gnu foods bars. They are delicious (my favorite is banana walnut) and have an amazing amount of fiber- 12g per 140 calorie bar. You can find them online at www.gnufoods.com. They are moist, chewy, surprisingly filling, and perfect for breakfast or a snack. I keep a bunch in my office.

Gem #2: Whole grain crisps. There are many varieties. I have tried and liked Akmak, Wasa, and Rykrisp. All are great with soft cheese, peanut butter, jam, dipped in hummus, or with cream cheese and smoked salmon as Em loves to have them for breakfast. Most have 3g of fiber and about 60 calories for two crackers.

I recently found the holy grail of crisps though, at Whole Foods: Kavli, Golden Rye variety. I was so excited when I found these babies in the Union Square Whole Foods in New York, I bought a box and brought them back with me to LA on the plane! 7g of fiber and 60 calories for two crackers. There are other flavors, but only Golden Rye packs this much punch fiber-wise. It's also very tasty. The crackers are light and don't have an overpowering rye taste, but rather just a hint of rye tartness to them. Crispy and cardboard like in a good way, and quite dusty, with a solid crunch. They are quite dry, which makes them great for really soft and moist toppings. I had them with a superb Hudson Valley camembert I bought at Whole Foods, and also with garlicy Rondele spread left over from a party I threw a couple of weeks ago.

Gem #3: Berries. Berries are one of the best low-calorie and high-flavor (and high pleasure) sources of fiber out there. For example, 16 medium sized strawberries have 6g of fiber. And only 100 calories. That's a lot of strawberries! Blueberries and blackberries are also excellent sources.

It is best to get your fiber in natural form (i.e., not through supplements) and with so many tasty options out there, searching for fiber can be a great way to experience yummy and interesting new foods to add to your diet. Remember to drink lots of water to help the fiber work its magic. Trust me, your body will thank you!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Moroccan Food is Rockin'!

While in NYC, my boyfriend and I had a long discussion about Moroccan restaurants. The reality about Moroccan food seems to be that it's made best at home. Most restaurants, with very few exceptions, can't get it right. I think there are a couple of factors that add to that. First, what I just mentioned-- the whole home-based nature of the cuisine. Second is the lack of familiarity with real Moroccan cuisine. Hint: it does not involve hummus or pitas! Thus, most people can't really say "Hmm, I feel for Moroccan today," the way I feel for sushi on every day that ends with a "y". Moroccan food as I have experienced it traveling in Morocco (Casablanca, Fez, Tangier, Chefchaouen, Essaouria, and more) is more Mediterranean than I ever expected. The food I ate at homes in Fez and North Coast was unbelievably delicious and more akin to the types of things I have eaten in Nice or even Croatia than the type of Middle Eastern, Lebanese-style food most people assume you would get in a place with a strong Arabic culture. Just look at where Morocco sits on the map, though, and the truth about the food makes perfect sense.

And how's this for truth: it's freaking AMAZING FOOD. Once you get comfortable with the idea that there is one huge, artfully arranged plate in the center of the table which everyone reaches into (usually with the help of a chunk torn off the traditional round wheat bread) and eats from, usually unveiled with panache from underneath a giant clay tajin, you can really appreciate both the presentation and the fantastic, intense flavors and perfectly cooked meats and vegetables.

Some of the stuff I remember (because I'm an elephant when it comes to crazy good meals): turkey in the tajin with some kind of delicious, sizzling ginger sauce; all kinds of lamb so tender and flavorful that it felt like some kind of meat I had never had before, in all kinds of savory sauces like an amazing quince sauce I remember; fish in tomato-based sauce that was literally the best fish I've ever eaten, and probably the best tomato sauce, too. Every other bite had a chunk of the most intense tomatoey goodness you could imagine, yet somehow it didn't overpower the delicate and tender white fish. And of course there were lots of fresh and delicious vegetable salads, fresh mint everywhere stuffed in the super-sweet green verbena tea and mingling with veggies and sauces, fresh figs that break your heart they are so delicious and do wonders for your digestion, delicious flaky little cookies that taste like almonds.
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Sipping mint-stuffed hot tea on a Fez rooftop.

And the couscous. Oh, the couscous! It is divine. Bright yellow, crumbly, flavorful, full of the most delicious broiled tomatoes and other veggies that you've ever tasted. At the ports we wandered through in a fishing area on the coast-- now THAT was an experience-- we sat at plastic tables and ate piles of fresh grilled sardines. You could look them in the eye as you ate, but it didn't stop me from devouring the little guys-- salty, crusty, flaky and not in the least bit fishy or greasy.
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I was a complete mess at the end as we ate with our hands, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.
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And of course, the beautiful Coke cans in Arabic were pretty sweet. I'm a sucker, I took a photo.

I am a big believer in traveling to places just for gastronomic experiences. Someday I'll write about my road trip through Belgium, brewery and monastery hopping all for the love of beer-- another tale for another time. There are some quite fine Moroccan wines, though many of the locals don't drink them for obvious reasons. Even without a glass at dinner, though, the meals I had could not have been more divine. They're on my mind now as I'll be visiting again the first week of August. I will be sure to share all the delectable finds this time around with all of you readers!