Black truffles at Sage - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Dinner - Wednesday, December 28, 2011

I think that Sage and its sister restaurant Cilantro are probably at the top of the fine-dining scene in Malaysia. While we've visited the latter numerous times, this was our first visit to Sage - it is overseen by Chef Daniel, the former right hand of Cilantro's Chef Takashi Kimura.

Although they function autonomously, both chefs confer on menu planning to minimize overlap between the two restaurants (though this seems hardly necessary, as both have quite different styles). In comparison to Cilantro, the food at Sage is much simpler, with minimal fuss and very straightforward flavour combinations. Since 'tis the season, we decided to indulge in their black truffle menu this evening.

Amber - Central, Hong Kong

Lunch - Monday, December 19, 2011

One cannot visit Hong Kong these days without acknowledging its burgeoning Western dining scene - from the McRobuchons and established spots like Bo Innovation, to smaller scale affairs like Liberty Private Works. Although this trip was primarily focused on Cantonese and Teochew cuisine, we resolved to visit one European restaurant.

We selected Richard Ekkebus' Amber in the Landmark Mandarin Oriental based on a smashing write-up by the folks over at QLI, as well as nods from a few knowledgable friends. We were not disappointed - this was one of the best classically-inflected meal we've had in some years, and the service was absolutely phenomenal (there's definitely something to be said for Asian obsequiousness). To top it all of, the degustation menu ran only $240 each inclusive of beverages and tip (no tax in Hong Kong) - quite a bargain for food at this level.

糖朝 (The Sweet Dynasty) - Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon

Lunch - Sunday, December 18, 2011

One thing that constantly disappoints me about Chinese cuisine in the USA is the dearth of places offering Cantonese-style desserts (especially 糖水 - sweet soups). Thus, it wasn't surprising that immediately after landing and making ourselves (somewhat) presentable, we set out to sate ourselves on said food. Our host-companions suggested a popular spot in Tsim Sha Tsui, and we happily agreed to be spirited there. The Sweet Dynasty is like scores of other little snack shops in Hong Kong, but they are famous for their 豆腐花 (tofu pudding), a personal favourite of ours and a must-have on any trip to this city. Of course, we had to order a number of additional items as well to shake off the post-airplane food trauma...

TBL3 at Georges California Modern - La Jolla, CA

Dinner - Thursday, December 1, 2011

Given the resounding success of our previous TBL3 meal under Trey Foshee's care, we were eager to revisit as the seasons turned from the sunny warmth of the summer months to the chill of December (relatively speaking, of course - we do live in San Diego, after all). This time, we returned with another couple to share the experience with them. For their opinion on this dinner, follow this link.

One thing I miss about dining at Georges in the summer is watching the sun set over the water during dinner, hunting for the elusive green flash in between bites. However, with no external distractions this time around, we trained our attention completely on the table and the 14 stunning courses that were unobtrusively placed, removed and replaced in admirable clockwork fashion over four magical hours.

Wine Vault & Bistro - San Diego, CA

Dinner - Sunday, November 13, 2011

We've been regular customers and staunch supporters of the Wine Vault & Bistro ever since our first meal here, 16 months ago. The ever-present owners, Chris and Mary Gluck, organize terrific winemaker dinners featuring everyone from boutique producers all the way up to the Mondavis - Chris's focus is typically on moderately-priced wines with an excellent quality-to-price ratio. Appropriately enough, this philosophy is also strongly reflected in the food. For my money, the Wine Vault probably has the highest QPR of any restaurant in the city (very good 5-course menus run only $30!).

Modern Gastronomy Dinner at Blue Point - San Diego, CA

Dinner - Saturday, October 15, 2011

Having eaten our way through the heyday of overtly modernist establishments (with some very nice highs and rather sad lows), we're typically leery of new places advertising molecular gastronomy menus. However, when our friend James from gastrobits invited us to a "Modern Gastronomy" dinner in San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter, we heeded his call - at only $100/person for 14 courses, it was an acceptable risk, especially given the promise of good company.

Thus, ten of us assembled on a rowdy Saturday night (the place was packed!) to share our stories, our wines, and partake of Chef Daniel Barron's interpretation of "the art and science of cooking".

Intermezzo 4 - Jacobsen's Farm

The media buzz about the French Laundry pop-up at Harrods brought to mind a recent visit to Jacobsen's Farm in Yountville. This tiny farm supplies exclusively to the TKRG properties, and as expected, the produce is superb. Our tour of the property revealed prime examples of many interesting plants, particularly chocolate mint, wild arugula, white Alpine strawberries, cardoons, wormwood (!), and the beautiful succulent pictured below (sadly, underused in this country).

Ficoïde glaciale - Jacobsen's Farm, Yountville, CA (2011)

The Chef's Table at Providence - Los Angeles, CA

Dinner - Tuesday, September 20, 2011

With San Diego establishments mired in the drudgery of Restaurant Week, we elected to bring our out-of-town guests to Providence to celebrate their wedding anniversary in style. I made reservations for the Chef's Table (a private nook separated from the kitchen by a glass partition), adding to the festive nature of the occasion. Dinner was, as expected, wonderful. I maintain that this is one of, if not the most, polished restaurant in Los Angeles.

*Note* As this blog approaches its first birthday, I realize that it has strayed slightly from its original purpose of being (primarily) a photo-journal. Beginning with this post, I plan to emphasize larger pictures and significantly reduce the amount of boring text - after all, a picture is worth a thousand words (and who really cares what someone else thinks about a dish anyway!). Perhaps this time, I'll actually allow the food to speak for itself.

Julienne - Santa Barbara, CA

Dinner - Sunday, September 18, 2011

Julienne is a cute shoebox of a restaurant in downtown Santa Barbara, a relative newcomer to their dining scene. It is owned by Justin and Emma West, a young couple living their dream, so to speak. The space is remarkably tight (comparable to Commis, but with a denser layout of tables), but the two of them and their small team dance very well. The atmosphere is very relaxed, and the simple rusticity of the food matches up well.

TBL3 at Georges California Modern - La Jolla, CA

Dinner - Tuesday, August 9, 2011

After reading some recent posts from ChuckEats and the ulterior epicure, we realized that we had written off Georges at the Cove prematurely. While the triple-level restaurant's regular menu is relatively staid (albeit solidly executed), one can (with suitable advance notice) enjoy the full extent of the kitchen's talents - an arrangement that stemmed from ChuckEats' correspondence with Executive Chef Trey Foshee. Recently, we had the pleasure of being the first official guests to partake in this new experience, christened TBL3.

Ubuntu - Napa, CA

Dinner - Sunday, July 17, 2011

Having greatly enjoyed our meal under Aaron London's care on our previous visit, we decided that a return for dinner was necessary on this trip.

Given that we had just run the Napa-to-Sonoma race in the morning, we were starving way before our appointed reservation time (this despite some rather large burgers at Gott's and a nibbling tour of Jacobsen Orchards). The restaurant was bustling when we arrived at 7.00 in the evening. One thing I love about Ubuntu is the amount of natural light in the room, and the airiness of the space. Corny as it sounds, the open environment has a soothing, relaxing effect.

Saison - San Francisco, CA

Dinner - Friday, July 15, 2011

This was a meal shared with Gary of Veal Cheeks, our last before he ended his stay in the Bay Area. Saison has been on our to-visit list for a long time (since before it was a regular restaurant, if I recall correctly), and Gary has written favorably about his previous visit. As is our routine, we caught a late flight into town and rushed to make our 7.30 pm reservation, speeding through the light traffic on the road.

We (surprisingly) ended up being 10 minutes early, and were seated immediately. The environment at Saison is warm and inviting, bare and rustic but for a few flourishes - a large plant arrangement dominates the indoor seating area, whereas the oven and open hearth commands the attention of those seated in the outdoor section. Complimentary champagne was poured for the table, and after opting to order a single bottle of wine for the evening (a beautiful 2008 Meursault from Domaine Joseph Voillot), dinner commenced.

addendum at ad hoc - Yountville, CA

Lunch - Saturday, July 16, 2011

Thomas Keller has literally infiltrated every level of cuisine, from the ultra high-end (The French Laundry), to mid-level dining (Bouchon), to family-style dinners (ad hoc), and now take-out (addendum). Perhaps it is only a matter of time before he invades the local supermarket's frozen food department? Of course I jest, but it is fascinating to see how he has made his mark along each step of the rung. No place showcases this more than the town of Yountville, where Keller's establishments are incubated and where they naturally flourish.

addendum is a brilliant way to bring Keller to the masses, giving the customer a taste of one of America's most celebrated chefs for the lowly price of $16.50. It only serves lunch 3 days a week, and the food is parceled out on a first-come-first-serve basis, typically running out well before their stated closing time of 2.30 pm. On a hot Saturday afternoon, we decided to brave the legions and make a stop for a quick picnic lunch of fried chicken and barbecue.

Red Medicine - Beverly Hills, CA

Dinner - Saturday, June 11, 2011

A last-minute trip to LA necessitated a rather hastily-made dinner reservation this weekend. We had been meaning to visit Red Medicine for some time, and it turned out to be the perfect occasion as one of our dining companions has a soft spot for Vietnamese food (although we neglected to inform him that the food was more inspired rather than authentic).

I first experienced Jordan Kahn's artistry at Alinea, when he temporarily took over the pastry department after Alex Stupak's departure. I was impressed by Kahn's work, but shortly after, he left for New York and I lost track of him. It seems that he bounced around a bit, but finally discovered his personal vision here in LA.

Intermezzo 3 - Bouchon Bakery

I really like Bouchon Bakery - they produce some of the best French breads and pastries this side of the Atlantic. Thomas Keller's obsession with perfection is embodied in the precision and consistency of their baked goods. I never miss an opportunity to pick up something from the bakery, even if it's something as simple as a strawberry-rhubarb macaron (my favourite), a croissant, or an éclair (see below). The delicate puffiness of their choux pastry and flavour of the whipped cream literally make Bouchon Bakery's Chantilly éclairs the cream of the crop (pun intended).

Chantilly éclair - Bouchon Bakery, Yountville, CA (2011)

The Restaurant at Rancho Valencia

Dinner - Sunday, May 15, 2011

Who would have guessed that such cutting-edge cuisine existed in the isolated and conservative San Diego suburb of Rancho Santa Fe? Certainly not this uninformed diner - all the credit must go to Gourmands Review for the discovery. This was a surprisingly modern meal in the rustic, bucolic setting of the Rancho Valencia resort. Executive chef Eric Bauer (formerly of the local restaurant Anthology) and chef de cuisine Aaron Martinez (who has worked in the kitchens of Addison and In de Wulf) showed us the future of the dining program at Rancho Valencia, and it is lovely.

Cyrus - Healdsburg, CA

Dinner - Monday, April 18, 2011

Cyrus seems to fly under the radar. Sure, it has a perennial 4-star review from Michael Bauer and it's one of only three 2-star Michelin restaurants in the Bay Area, but it generates very little buzz in the online world these days. We had been interested in visiting Cyrus since it first opened, but it's location in faraway Healdsburg and the wealth of other Bay Area dining options have constantly conspired against us actually making it there.

We had made reservations to try Chris Kostow's tasting menu at Meadowood, but changed our minds at the eleventh hour. Given that we would be visiting Napa again in July, we put off Meadowood until then, finally deciding to pay our dues and visit the old guard (Cyrus is a matronly 6 years old this year). I hastily contacted Douglas Keane to arrange an extended tasting, giving him carte blanche with the menu composition, and he promised to whip up an appropriate progression. The timing of our meal was especially opportune, as I was very curious about what he had learnt from his recent culinary fellowship in Japan. What followed was a veritable whirlwind of food and alcohol.

Poularde cuite en vessie at benu - San Francisco, CA

Dinner - Saturday, April 16, 2011

"Hi, this is Corey Lee, chef at benu," said the youthful voice on the other end of the phone. It was noon on the day of our scheduled meal, and he was calling to hash out the details of our dinner - a tasting menu incorporating the poularde cuite en vessie, which must be ordered at least two days in advance.

I had been impressed by Corey Lee's food during his time as chef de cuisine at The French Laundry, so when benu opened its doors, I knew that we had to visit. At his former position, he faithfully and purposefully executed Thomas Keller's vision - here, it would be solely his. I was curious to know how he would incorporate his Korean heritage into this new restaurant. In particular, would there be meaning to the liberal use of Asian ingredients?

I left the details of the menu to the chef, giving him free reign. Fast-forward 7 hours, and we were standing outside the restaurant, admiring benu's kitchen before dinner. Walking into the reception area, we noticed our dinner companion (the erudite Gary Fine of Veal Cheeks) already seated, and we promptly joined him. Gary is as engaging and convivial a dining partner as one could ever hope for, and four hours flew by like the blink of an eye.

Ubuntu - Napa, CA

Lunch - Sunday, April 17, 2011

When Jeremy and Deanie Fox left Ubuntu last year, there was mild panic in the food world. The yoga-studio-cum-vegetarian-restaurant had achieved significant acclaim with them in the kitchen, and people wondered whether Ubuntu would ever be the same. Sous chef Aaron London was promoted to the top position, and there've been some conflicting reports about the food since he assumed the mantle. We made it a point to stop in for a quick bite, to see how the restaurant had evolved. To my surprise, I found the experience much more Fox-esque than I had anticipated.

Blanca - Solana Beach, CA

Dinner - Tuesday, March 8, 2011

We came away from our Snout-to-Tail dinner at Blanca quite impressed, and had resolved to make a return reasonably soon. Our anniversary turned out to be the perfect excuse. In advance of our visit, we arranged an extended tasting menu with Chef Gavin Schmidt - given the profusion of pork at our previous meal, we requested a lighter degustation this time around, with emphasis on vegetables and seafood. I'm pleased to say that the chef succeeded with flying colours.

Intermezzo 2 - Ba gua (肉干)

Ba gua (肉干 - yoke gon in Cantonese; also known as long yoke in Malaysia) is a Chinese dried-meat product, traditionally made with minced pork that is shaped into thin slices and barbecued (although chicken and turkey versions are becoming increasingly common). Ba gua is popular in regions with a large Hokkien Chinese presence, and is especially sought after during festive seasons like the Chinese New Year. In Malaysia, the good stuff runs $5-7/lb - I purchased the ba gua below at a whopping $25/lb from Little Red Dot Kitchen, a small operation based in Sunnyvale, CA.

At its best, ba gua has a perfect balance of sweet and salty, with a hint of smokiness - the overall flavour should appeal to ones senses on a primal level. The mouthfeel will be slightly oily (but never overly greasy - the sign of poor-quality ba gua), and you should be able to really discern the texture of the meat in your mouth. Like great barbecue, there should be some char on the surface of each slice, but nothing overly burnt - this can be assessed and appreciated visually as well.

So how did the Californian ba gua fare? Honestly, not bad. It scratched an itch, and it's actually a decent representation of ba gua for the uninitiated. Would I buy more? Perhaps - the price is exorbitant for what it is, but the product is unique. But really, what I need to do is take a crack at making my own.

Ba gua - Little Red Dot Kitchen, Sunnyvale, CA (2011)

Relate at Bistro St. Germain's - Encinitas, CA

Dinner - Saturday, February 26, 2011

Billed as San Diego's first pop-up restaurant (to my knowledge, an accurate claim), Relate is the creation of Chef Dan Moody - most will know him as Ludo Lefebvre's sous-chef at the recent iterations of LudoBites. In his own words, Chef Moody's style is "contemporary French with a down-home American flair" and his goal with Relate is to "offer high-end food without the high-end price tag". We dined here on closing night with a group of local food enthusiasts.

Providence - Los Angeles, CA

Dinner - Sunday, February 6, 2011

I've wanted to visit Providence ever since Michael Cimarusti left Water Grill to start the restaurant with Donato Poto in 2005. Yet every time we planned a trip to the West Coast, it got left off the books. This all changed when we moved to San Diego. Now that we're less than a 2-hour car ride from the restaurant, we were finally left with no excuses. Plans were made, hotels were booked, bags were packed, and off we drove to LA. This was the second dinner of our weekend jaunt (for the first, see the previous post about The Bazaar).

Providence occupies the former Patina space, which is situated on a quiet stretch of Melrose Avenue less than half a mile east of Batali's Osteria Mozza and Susan Feniger's Street. The restaurant itself is elegant, dressed in earthen tones both outside and inside. Upon checking in, we were led to a table along the wall of the half-full room (the restaurant stayed between half and three-quarters full throughout the night - we were the penultimate guests to depart). Shortly after being seated, our server arrived and asked us about our dining preferences. He mentioned that Chef Cimarusti could customize a tasting menu with luxury ingredients or play around and improvise/riff on some dishes - "the sky's the limit," as he said. Although we were tempted, this was our first visit, so we decided to stick with the "standard" Chef's Tasting menu ($175) in order to grasp the essence of the restaurant.

The Bazaar - Beverly Hills, CA

Dinner - Saturday, February 5, 2011

Saturday night at The Bazaar is always a bit of a circus, especially later in the evening when we typically prefer to dine. Fortunately, this night we were seated on their covered outdoor terrace, which is isolated from the incredible indoor din - it was a pleasant night for semi-outdoor dining. Of course, in true LA style, we had to contend with a drunken guest who knocked a large floor lamp over in our direction, shattering the bulbs and strewing broken glass everywhere.

Aside from that alarming hiccup, our experience was smooth throughout the night, lubricated by the friendly and competent service characteristic of Jose Andrés' restaurants. Still quite sated from a large (and very passable) Malaysian lunch at Belacan Grill in Tustin, we ordered relatively few items. I do not mention the cocktails we drank here because they weren't particularly memorable, and are quite frankly grossly overpriced at $16 each - consider us permanently spoiled by the immeasurably better (and cheaper) cocktails at the Violet Hour.

Intermezzo 1 - Octopus ice-cream

I was looking over some old photos today, and came across the following picture. Since this blog was created to catalog our most memorable experiences, it only seemed fair to include it here - one of the worst things I've ever tasted in my life. To this day, thinking about it still makes my stomach turn...

Octopus ice-cream - Namco Namjatown Ice Cream World, Tokyo, Japan (2008)

Snout-to-Tail dinner at Blanca - Solana Beach, CA

Dinner - Monday, January 10, 2011

It started on Chowhound - a casual aside about the new chef at Blanca, murmurs of good meals there, mutterings about cooking whole hogs. The discussion gained momentum, and the result: a snout-to-tail dinner for 12 in Blanca's private-dining room, featuring some very memorable dishes.

Chef Gavin Schmidt (seen at right) is the top toque at Blanca, replacing Jason Neroni who departed in mid-2010. As a testament to his skill, the chef's resume includes stints at San Francisco establishments Aqua (sous chef) and Campton Place (executive chef). Notably, he also served as chef de cuisine at Coi (Daniel Patterson's two-star temple of gastronomy). It didn't take much convincing to get Chef Schmidt on board with the plan, and the 2 months in between conception and execution quickly ticked away until the night finally arrived.

I'll note that we dined at Blanca under Gavin Schmidt once (September 2010) before tonight's meal, and completely enjoyed that experience as well. On this occasion, we had the added bonus of some convivial and highly knowledgeable dining companions. A few caveats to this report: (1) work issues caused us to be ten minutes late for dinner, and we missed a family-style house-made charcuterie board featuring various parts of pig and a reportedly excellent blood sausage; (2) we also missed the first two canapes served during the pre-dinner, including a pork belly kimchi taco; (3) due to the size of the party and the ongoing conversations, we took minimal notes, so allow for some slightly distorted memories.

Kaiseki at Aburiya Raku - Las Vegas, NV

Dinner - Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Aburiya Raku really needs no introduction - so much has been written about this tiny and unassuming establishment, both online and in the press. Situated in a small Chinatown strip mall a few miles away from the hustle and bustle of the Las Vegas Strip, Chef Mitsuo Endo's highly-vaunted skills have garnered accolades from all corners. Because of its late opening hours (it's open from 6 pm - 3 am every day except Sunday), it has also somewhat famously become a haunt for chefs seeking some after-work nosh.

A few months ago, we heard that Raku had begun offering a kaiseki menu, so naturally we had to check it out for ourselves. A week before arriving in Vegas, I called the restaurant and was told that there were two kaiseki options: a 10-course menu for $100, or 15 courses for $150. I made arrangements for the 15-course menu.

We arrived just before 7 pm on the night of our reservation, and noticed that the restaurant was already packed (granted, it's not hard to fill the place when they only have ~30 covers). We were led to a private room and after making some sake selections, the procession of food began. I'll note here that throughout the night, the pacing of dishes was consistent and our server was excellent at making sure our sake and hojicha glasses were filled.

China Poblano - Las Vegas, NV

Dinner - Tuesday, December 28, 2010

China Poblano is a new concept from José Andrés, one of his three restaurants in the brand-new Cosmopolitan hotel (the other two establishments are Jaleo and é by José Andrés). As the name suggests, the restaurant combines the flavours of Chinese and Mexican cuisine, with some characteristic twists here and there.

The restaurant has two separate kitchens for Chinese and Mexican menu items, and these are connected to takeout windows where passers-by can order items to-go. We had originally planned to have lunch here, but after perusing the menu, our stomachs got the better of us and we switched our reservations to dinner that same day. Upon arriving at dinnertime, we were seated at a communal table - service was fast and efficient, and we quickly got around to ordering some items. The menu is thematically divided into 3 "cuisines" - Mexican, Chinese, and Chinese-meets-Mexican.