Archive for the California Restaurants Category

CALIFORNIA DINNERS #8 – IZZY’S STEAKS AND CHOPS (SAN FRANCISCO)

Posted in Izzy's Steaks and Chops (San Francisco), Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , on October 24, 2010 by ballymote

 Our last evening on the West Coast and we are following the recommendation of our absent friend, John G., and heading to Izzy’s for some steaks prior to our “red eye” flight back to Philly. We had just concluded a spectacular day in the city by the bay with a tour of Alcatraz and an awe-inspiring performance by the U. S. Navy’s Blue Angels as they performed their feats of fearless flying over the bay which was jammed packed with hundreds of boats.

We had certainly worked up an appetite and when our taxi driver dropped us off on Steiner Street we entered Izzy’s and were escorted to our upstairs table for a round of drinks while we waited for Gerry and Joann to arrive separately.

Legend has it that Izzy was a very generous saloon keeper in this area at the turn of the century (19th) and his place was always known to be a place where strangers were welcomed and they could find a hearty meal at reasonable prices. The current prices at Izzy’s still seem to be reasonable.

We still weren’t sure if we were going to be happy with our meal but we knew from the very beginning that our wives’ were happy with our server, Nate. It’s so embarrassing to us as males to be viewed by the opposite sex as simply “eye candy”. Anyway, Nate did a good job of keeping them entertained and seeing that our dinner service was first-class.

Gerry and Joann arrived with one the bottles that we had purchased as a group from Del Dotto following our tour of the caves. The story behind this 2007 Del Dotto, Vineyard 887, St. Helena, Cabernet Sauvignon is that Steven Wynn, the Las Vegas casino mogul, tasted this wine from the barrel and wanted two barrels for a private party. It turned out there was only one barrel available so he had it blended with another barrel he liked so that all of the guests would be drinking the same wine. Our bottles were from a small lot that remained after the Wynn purchase. Is it true? Who knows, but the story is good and the wine is even better!

Most of us started our meal with the old reliable wedge with bacon and Maytag Blue Cheese. This salad, in my opinion, is a little bit like chocolate chip cookies, it’s very hard to make a bad one and there are simply varying degrees of goodness to them. This one was pretty good but not the absolute best.

I am going to have to venture a guess that it was Joe B. who did not join the rest of us in choosing the Maytag Salad. He had created a week-long history of ordering the local tomatoes and I think his final dinner included one last order of the local produce. Once again, they looked nice and fresh and had that just-picked appearance.

Appetizers out of the way, it was now time to eat some meat. I think we all went for a filet mignon of some type.

 Most had the filet with a side of baked potatoes and carrots and onions. Everyone seemed pleased with their filets.

I had my filet “blackened” and ordered it with Izzy’s Own Potatoes and Creamed Spinach. I love great sides with a steak and these were very good. I had ordered my filet done “medium” which was a first for me as I ALWAYS ask for medium-well. We agreed that my steak arrived medium-rare and I ate it anyway and thought it was good. I don’t think I am ready to make this a permanent change but I can certainly now stay with medium. The blackening added an extra flavor touch to my entree.

 Gerry isn’t a filet fan so he ordered the Bone-in Ribeye.  He was a little disappointed in the quality of the meat as there was quite a bit of “gristle” throughout.  He still managed to consume most of the dish which may have simply meant that, like the rest of us, he was hungry, Overall, we enjoyed our final West Coast dinner at Izzy’s. Our trip was coming to an end and we headed to the airport for our flight home. Gerry and Joann were staying on for a couple more days, including attending the Eagles – 49er’s game the next day at Candlestick.

We all felt it was a wonderful trip and if any of you are out in the San Francisco area and happen to run across six hearts lying somewhere near the Bay….they are probably ours!

CALIFORNIA DINNER #7 – CHARCUTERIE (HEALDSBURG)

Posted in Restaurant Charcuterie (Healdsburg), Uncategorized, Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , , on October 23, 2010 by ballymote

 Our main reason for dining here on a Friday evening was that our first choice, The Dry Creek Kitchen, had no tables available until 10:00 P.M. Still, it looked like a good place and had lots of good reviews so once seated at our window table we looked forward to our last meal in wine country,

We had just completed a wonderful day which included a great tour of Bella Winery and Caves followed by a visit with our friend, Scott Lindstrom-Dake at his Thumbprint Cellars Tasting Room just across the street from Charcuterie .

We picked up a couple of bottles to have with our dinner as corkage here was a reasonable $15.00 per bottle. We had the 2007 Thumbprint Cellars “Threesome”. This erotically named wine contains equal parts of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cab franc. Our other bottle was the 2007 Thumbprint, Ramazotti Vineyard, Syrah. Both of these wines were very good although Thumbprint wines can quite often be found back East at lower prices that what they are sold for in Sonoma.

We began the meal with a couple of enticing appetizers. I have to confess that two weeks after the actual dinner I can’t recall exactly who ordered what but on the left is the Baked Nut-Crusted Brie with roasted garlic served with crostini. It wasn’t bad. On the right is “The Charcuterie Plate”, featuring Rosette de Lyon Salami, Duck Rillette, Pork Pepper Pate, Garlic Salami, olives and cornichons. I’m not a big “charcuterie” fan so I can’t tell you whether this was good or not. I did not hear raves from around the table.

Each of our dinners came with a choice of soup or salad. I believe the soup was another pumpkin squash which seems to be on most menus out here at this time of the year. Both the soup and salad were fine. As for entrees the six of us found three that drew our interest.

 A couple of folks chose the Chicken Strips Piccata over Rigatoni Pasta with white wine lemon, tomatoes and caper sauce. It looked good but no one seemed excited about it and I think there was an overall disappointment with this dish.

Whatever degree of disappointment was shared by the Chicken Strip Piccata people, it could not match the disappointment that my wife, Kathy felt toward her choice which was one of the “specials” on that evening. She had ordered the Roasted Double Cut Pork Chops, stuffed with sweet corn, roasted Bermuda onions, tomato and fresh herb and served with brussel sprouts and garlic mashed potatoes. She had to send the entire meal back as the pork chop was undercooked. She waited a lengthy time for its return and her only regret is that it DID return. She clearly remembers this dish as the worst of the entire trip.

 It would only be fitting that I join the others in bashing my entree but I’m afraid I can’t do that. I absolutely LOVED my choice of the Fusilli Pasta with Smoked Chicken, sun-dried tomatoes served in a basil creme sauce. It may just be one of the more memorable entrees of the entire trip. The sauce was perfect, the chicken tender and flavorful and the pasta cooked perfectly. I’m hungry all over again just writing about it.

So, you can see there were mixed opinions about Charcuterie.

We closed out the meal with a few yummy desserts, chocolate cake with mocha ice cream, some nice chocolate profiteroles and some mocha chip ice cream on its own.

Not the best meal of the trip for many but, I thought my entree was certainly a contender.

CALIFORNIA DINNER #6 – CYRUS (HEALDSBURG)

Posted in Cyrus (Healdsburg), Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 22, 2010 by ballymote

 For a lot of people coming to wine country, it’s a coin flip. The French Laundry or Cyrus. Both of these restaurants represent the best that the two valleys have to offer in the way of fine dining. Thomas Keller’s French Laundry is the heavyweight champion of Napa while Chef Douglas Keane’s Cyrus in Healdsburg reigns as the premier haven for “foodies” in Sonoma. It’s probably a little tougher to get a reservation at TFL but both will set you back some serious sheckles by the time you get your final tab. I had mentioned in a review that I did on TripAdvisor. com that we chose Cyrus because the bank would only lend us enough using our homes for collateral to afford Cyrus. The question thus becomes…..it it worth it?

Cyrus is an elegant restaurant. From the moment you are seated the catering begins. There are immediate choices to be made. Do we pass on the Champagne & Caviar Cart? We do. Do we want the five or nine course Tasting Menu. We opt for the five. Would we be including the wine pairings with each course? We choose to forego this and each choose our own wines to accompany the courses. My wife and I select glasses of red and white. For the white we have the 2008 Ramey, Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay, for our red we have the 2006 Copain, Hawks Butte, Syrah, Yorkville Highlands. Both wines are excellent and we each have two glasses of both which served as the perfect amount for our food. Gerry and Joann went with a nice half-bottle of the 2006 Chateau de Beaucastle, Chateauneuf du Pape. Tough to go wrong with that one. Joe and Carol had an Italian wine, not sure of the producer but it was a Rosso di Montalcino.

It has been exactly two weeks since our dinner at Cyrus and I have given a lot of thought as to how I was going to do this review. I’ve decided the review will be from only my point of view on what I had to eat and how I felt about the entire dining experience at Cyrus. At the end I will give my reasons for this variance in style.

An amuse bouche tower relating to the taste sensations of sour, sweet, salty, bitter, pungent and umami was presented. Each just a quick burst of one of these flavors.

It should be noted that each food item presented was worthy of a matted and framed picture. The kitchen does a masterful job of plating each dish for dramatic effect.

My first course was a beautiful Thai Lobster and Greek Salad.

This was followed by

Foie Gras Torchon with Fig and Pistachio, and Buttermilk Biscuit. Looks good, tasted better.

I should point out that throughout the evening we were constantly offered their wonderful fresh bread and rolls. I probably had six of them they were so good.

This is the Sugar Pie Pumpkin Soup, Chestnut Confit and Toasted Pepitas.

 Medai (Japanese Butterfish) with Sweet Corn and Scallions, Lemon Verbena. This was very light and flavorful. One of my favorites.

Sweet Corn and Black Truffle Risotto. Another delicious highlight of the meal, beautifully presented.

 Crispy Poussin with Potato Mousseline and Haricots Verts, Fine Herbs. Exquisitely cooked, fresh chicken.

I’ll show both desserts here as I had the first and my wife had the second.

This is my Mint Chocolate Chip, Lemongrass and Grains of Paradise, Hot Chocolate. Prettier than it really was. My wife’s red Velvet Cake. Must everything be deconstructed??

We were sent home with a Mignardise, a nicely boxed and very tasty Brownie which got to live for three more days before I had it with a morning cup of coffee.

So there it is, dinner at Cyrus. It’s not unlike going to the theatre. You have your main server who is assisted by a never-ending parade of assistants and busboys who are constantly removing plates and silverware and replacing them with shiny new utensils. It’s apparent they have performed this routine hundreds if not thousands of times. Was it the best meal I have ever had? No, only the most expensive. That’s not a complaint. I think you are paying for a food experience. One of our group ran into Georges Perrier, Chef/Owner of Philadelphia’s legendary Le Bec Fin restaurant, the week after our return. He mentioned to the Chef that he had been to Cyrus the prior week and that he hadn’t been blown away by the food. In his inimitable French accent Georges replied “ahhhhh..you have to learn to enjoy the moment” And that is probably better than I could have put it. Cyrus is about enjoying the moment. I did. The others will have to speak for themselves….in the comment section here, if they so choose!!

CALIFORNIA DINNER #5 – THE HOT BOX GRILL (SONOMA)

Posted in The Hot Box Grill (Sonoma), Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , on October 21, 2010 by ballymote

This isn’t one of those Wine Country restaurants that you read a lot about. In all of my weeks and months of research I never once heard of it. We would never have even noticed it perched on the left side of the road on Rt 12 as you head out of Sonoma. We were there on Wednesday evening only because it was recommended to us by Chef Max Porter-Elliott at the Mayo Family Winery Reserve Tasting Room. Thank you, Max, good choice!!

Let me start by saying that The Hot Box Grill is small. I’d say it seats maybe 30 or 35 people. We made a reservation for 8:00 P.M. but our table still wasn’t open so we sat outside for a while and were offered a complimentary glass of wine.

I had a glass of something I had never heard of, the 2006 Idle Cellars, “Laddie’s Vineyard”, Syrah. This one was produced a mile or two up the road in Sonoma. It was full flavored and delicious with peppery notes of dark spices and deep black berries. This was a good start, a wine I had never heard of at a dining spot I had never heard of, either.

Once seated, our server, Tomas, made us feel welcome. He produced some warm bread and drew our attention to the huge blackboard that takes up almost all of the back wall. On it are listed the evening “specials”. Tomas read them out for us for the benefit of those in our group who can’t read (you know who you are!)

We had pretty much decided to make this a “no wine” night so, having finished my complimentary Syrah, I moved to one of the local sodas while others went with beers. I remember Joe B. had a Scrimshaw Pilsner from North Coast Brewing Company.

We started off, as usual, with appetizers and there was a lot to choose from on the menu.

 Jerry and Joe had the Heirloom Tomato Salad, I think this made the third straight night for local tomatoes so I guess Joe thought the California version was on a par with New Jersey. Joann had a very interesting Trout Mousse with home-made fennel crackers. Carol, Kathy and I had the Pear salad, with Point Reyes Blue Cheese, hazelnuts and whole grain mustard vinaigrette. Everything was tasty and fresh and we were now looking forward to our main course.

Jerry’s was an interesting choice, he ordered the Deep fried cornish game hen, sweet potato gratin, hot box hot sauce, Norm’s cole slaw. He really enjoyed his meal. The hen was prepared nicely with a crisp coating and the sauce was just right for the dish.

Kathy had one of the night’s “specials” the Orichetta and Cheese, the tiny little pasta swirls were cooked to perfection and the tangy cheese was excellent.

Carol and Joe B. both went with the Seared pork tenderloin, apple/bacon pan sauce, celery root puree, butternut squash, brussel sprouts. Like just about everything else we ate this one was a first class effort. It’s obvious that Chef Norman Owens, the original chef at the wildly popular Cafe LaHaye in Sonoma is on his way toward another winning food mecca.

JoAnn had the Crispy chicken paillard, arugula, fingerling potatoes, baby artichoke, sweet onion soubisse. The sauce looked wonderful and the little noises of satisfaction which I heard coming from her direction was evidence enough that she liked the dish.

I thought about the chicken, I wanted the chicken, I ordered the Grilled spice rubbed hanger steak, duck fat fries, béarnaise sauce, seasonal veggies. The veggies were fine, the hanger steak was very good, the duck fat fries were DEEEEEEEEELICIOUS! Finally, fries with substance and flavor on the west coast. I have been looking for these all week.

There is something to be said for expectations. Last night, at Bottega, we had high expectations and were let down. Tonight, at this virtually nondescript little dining spot, we expected little and were highly impressed. We evn decided to have dessert.

On the left, we have the California” Ice Cream pie, Grapenuts crust, rum raisin ice cream, meringue

On the right is the Chocolate Mousse Banana Cake. We had a bunch of forks and together we made quick work of both of these yummy sweet morsels.

We came away from the Hot Box Grill with our hunger satiated and full of the good vibes generated by this soon to be discovered Sonoma restaurant.

CALIFORNIA DINNER #4 BOTTEGA (YOUNTVILLE)

Posted in Bottega (Yountville), Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , on October 20, 2010 by ballymote

There was little doubt at any time in the planning stages of this trip that Bottega was going to be one our destinations. All of us were anxious to experience the culinary skills of Owner/Chef Michael Chiarella (Food Network TV star). We arrived much too early for our 8:00 P.M. reservation (my fault, as I had thought we were scheduled for 7:00 P.M.). We did some window shopping which is all one can do in both Napa and Sonoma after 5:00 in the evening. It makes no sense to me, or the rest of us, why shops would close at 5:00 P.M. when this would be the perfect time to cater to the tourists who have spent the day visiting wineries and are looking to fill the hours prior to dinner with some shopping. We sat on the terrace for a while and had a drink and soon we were seated at our table in the chic, fashionable eatery.

Once again we had brought with us a bottle we had purchased earlier. Tonight it was the 2006 EMH/Black Cat Cabernet Sauvignon, just a shade less appealing than last night’s 2007 vintage but still a wonderful wine. From the Bottega wine list we chose one of Michael Chiarella’s own wines, the 2006 Chiarella Family Vineyards,  “Eileen”,Cabernet Sauvignon. I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of this wine and it was also reasonably priced on the wine list at only a few dollars above retail.

Before I even start on what we ate I should probably say that none of us considered this a great dining experience. It’s even a little hard to pinpoint why. The food, overall, was good, not great, the service a little slow and it felt like we were one of many tables that our server had and we certainly had our turn but it felt like “our turn”. 

For starters I had the Burrata Caprese, Joe had the House-cured salumi and some of the others had the Butternut squash soup with creme fraise and pumpkin seeds. Carol had a spinach filled ravioli for her pasta dish .

What Gerry had for his pasta dish, his wife Joann had as her entree,

  • House-made egg pappardelle veal, pork & porcini mushroom Bolognese, rosemary, parmigiano-reggiano. I tasted it and thought it was very good, Gerry liked it, too, but Joann felt it was rather bland.
  •  

    For my entree I had the Toasted Trade Spice Fulton Valley Chicken Breast sweet corn & potato velutata, arugula & shaved corn salad, sherry vinegar pan sauce. It was pretty good. Joe had one of the fish “specials”, I believe it was halibut. He thought it was fine.

    Carol and Kathy both chose the Smoked & Braised Natural Short Ribs preserved Meyer-lemon spinach, smokey jus. Carol thought it was good, Kathy was disappointed. Although the meat was tender she felt it lacked flavor. We also ordered the truffled fries for the table. I had read more than one review claiming “the truffle fries are to die for”. You die for them. I’m not; they were just OK.  As I mentioned earlier, there was just something about the entire meal that made everything slightly unfulfilling. It may be that we went in with expectations set too high. Chef Michael walked thru the dining room and stopped at a few tables but much to Carol B.’s dismay (she’s a huge fan) he didn’t get to our table. Eventually, he changed from his white Chef jacket and sat with some friends to enjoy his own meal. As we were walking out, I asked him if he wouldn’t mind posing for a photo. Carol was mortified that I would disturb him while he was eating. She is totally correct. It is NOT something I should have done but, he was very gracious and got up and told Carol and my wife, Kathy that, “it’s no trouble at all”

    Michael Chiarella was very nice to take the time to pose with us. He also makes a very nice Cabernet. I also have read enough reviews on Bottega to know that it’s usually a great dining experience. We just didn’t feel it on this particular night.

    CALIFORNIA DINNERS #3 – AD HOC (YOUNTVILLE)

    Posted in Ad Hoc (Yountville), Wine Dinners with tags , , , , , , on October 19, 2010 by ballymote

    Our Monday night dinner took us to Thomas Keller’s (Chef Owner of The French Laundry) other restaurant, Ad Hoc. This is a unique dining spot in that it features just one dinner menu each night. It usually features an appetizer, a main course, a cheese course and a dessert. On this particular Monday evening they were featuring their famous Buttermilk Fried Chicken which customarily is served every other Monday.

    Unlike here in the Philly/South Jersey area there are NO BYOB’s in California and corkage charges are applied when you bring your own bottle to any of the restaurants. Some of them will waive the corkage on a one for one basis. In other words, if you buy one bottle from their wine list you can bring one bottle of your own and the corkage fee is waived. That’s what we did at Ad Hoc bringing a 2007 EMH/Black Cat Cabernet Sauvignon which we had purchased earlier in the day while visiting the winery. We purchased a 2006 Dillon Vineyard, Chardonnay which was produced right here in Yountville, from the Ad Hoc wine list. The Chardonnay went well with our starter and the cheese course while the Cabernet was perfect with the fried chicken.

    We all started with the Panzanella Salad, heirloom tomatoes from the French Laundry garden, english cucumbers, palladin croutons, kalamata olives, shaved red onion and basil cream. This was a very tasty rendition filled with absolutely the freshest of veggies. Joe B. in particular really appreciated the quality of the produce.

    Our waiter, Dan, and the hostess, Julia were everywhere, delivering plates of food and making sure all of the guests had what they needed. There is a nice relaxed atmosphere at Ad Hoc that goes a long way toward making the dining experience enjoyable.

     Once the salad plates were cleared we were presented with a heaping bowl of Buttermilk Fried Chicken served nice and hot with a family style bowl of duck fat potatoes, roasted bell peppers, savoy cabbage and shaved fennel slaw to complete the evening’s feast.

     The chicken was delicious, the potatoes very good, but we pretty much all agreed that the shaved fennel cole slaw was very bland. It wasn’t enough to put a real damper on the meal but it was a bit surprising that it lacked any flavor.

    The cheese course was  interesting, a Cana de Cabra, which is a soft Spanish goat’s milk cheese, was accompanied with lola rosa, late summer melons and toasted pistachios and the salad-cheese combo was very good.

    The meal was topped off with a tasty dessert.

    Raspberries – n -Cream Sorbet with an elephant ear cookie. Great flavors on the sorbet, crisp and light cookie and the meal was complete. At $49.00 per person it’s a pretty good deal, especially for Napa.

    I’d say we were three for three in the good dinner department with all six of us looking forward to the next one.

    CALIFORNIA DINNER #2 – COLE’S CHOP HOUSE (NAPA)

    Posted in Cole's Chop House (Napa) with tags , , , , on October 18, 2010 by ballymote

    When planning for the trip I had left a couple of nights free for some spontaneous dinner plans. As the date for departure drew closer I figured that Gerry B. who had not yet made any specific choices would be craving a good steak on a s Sunday evening so I sort of steered him toward the best place for steaks in wine country. Cole’s Chop House is located in downtown Napa and is one of two restaurants (Celadon) owned by Chef Greg Cole. We drove over from Sonoma after a long day of driving. We had driven from San Francisco in the morning for breakfast in Tiburon and then after checking into our Sonoma hotel, continued up to Santa Rosa for the Sonoma County Harvest Fair. Suffice to say, we were all hungry. Our dinner was delayed slightly when our GPS, which had been accurately guiding us into Napa announced “you are now arriving at destination on right”. We had forgotten to tell the geographical wizard machine that we wanted to EAT…..not SHOP! Fortunately, the Cole’s we were looking for was only a block away from this culinary imposter.

    Cole’s Chop House was bustling on this Sunday evening as the hostess led us to a nice round table. We decided to start off with a round of  martinis as we studied the menu and although I can’t tell you what martini everyone had I can say they were all good and we enjoyed them immensely. I think we were all focused on the steaks as there would be little sense in choosing anything else in a place widely known for its top shelf meats.

    We needed something big and bold for our wines and we chose the 2006 Chateau Montelena, Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2007 Filus Reserve Malbec, Mendoza Argentina. Ironically, we would be visiting Chateau Montelena the very next day. Both wines were big enough to do justice to our steaks.

    We did have a little variety in our appetizers as a couple of us chose the classic Wedge of iceburg lettuce, cherry tomatoes and Maytag blue cheese dressing. This is a salad that is difficult to screw up and Cole’s didn’t screw it up. Carol B. had the Lobster and Shrimp Bisque in a Puff Pastry and she thought it was good while Joe B. selected the Heirloom Tomato Salad.

    Our steak choices were either the 10 oz. filet on the left or the Bone-in Rib Eye on the right. We ordered some sides for the table including Creamed Spinach, Baked Potato and Mushroom Caps. Here is how my plate looked just prior to my devouring every morsel. The steaks were done to perfection and the side dishes just completed the meal. I think all of us really enjoyed the experience at Cole’s Chop House. One of the reasons the meal was so enjoyable was the service.

    Our guy, Mike, was the consummate professional. He attended to our every need without being intrusive. As we were finishing our dessert we began asking him some questions about himself and he really opened up and was charming and entertaining. We even mentioned that learning some things about him added to our dining experience and he offered that “many diners don’t want to know anything or hear anything from me and it’s important I not offer anything but good service unless the customer indicates that preference”. Two weeks later, Joe B. is still bringing up Mike’s professionalism and comparing each new server we have with the standard set by Mike at Cole’s.

    We concluded our feast with a couple of desserts. On the left, the Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee and on the right, the winner and still champion, the Warm Chocolate Brownie with Caramel Ice Cream and Chocolate Sauce. Too bad the Friendly’s chain already coined the name “Happy Endings” for their desserts because these two were just that. Prices at Cole’s are pretty reasonable considering the quality and quantity of food and it was a great choice of eating place for our first night in Wine Country.

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