Sky Room at La Valencia - La Jolla, CA

Dinner - Friday, December 21, 2012

The setting is the Spanish-influenced La Valencia Hotel, a ninety-year old institution nestled along the La Jolla coastline. The chef is Luke Johnson, formerly of the locally-lauded Red Velvet Wine Bar. The occasion is... la fin du monde.

With the Sky Room scheduled to permanently shutter at the end of the year (part of an overhaul of the hotel's food and beverage department), our friend James arranged a dinner to celebrate its end, aptly scheduled on December 21. We had missed Luke Johnson at his previous post, and we were determined not to lose track of him again, come hell or high water - thus, we found ourselves in a black jewel box overlooking the glittering Christmas lights of La Jolla on a quiet evening at world's end.

The Chef's Counter at Saison - San Francisco, CA

Dinner - Saturday, November 17, 2012

Our last meal at Saison was over a year ago, when we shared the meal with Gary Fine in the dining room. I don't know why it took us so long, but we finally made it back.

With just the two of us this time, we made reservations for the chef's counter - somewhat fortuitous, since Saison announced their closure about a week after we secured our seats (if I recall correctly, the new space will not have a kitchen counter). We ended up sharing the counter with two solo reservations, both being gentlemen who work in the industry -  a young bar manager from Seattle, and the seasoned director of operations at Delfina.

Royal Mail Hotel - Dunkeld, Australia

Dinner - Sunday, October 14, 2012

This meal has been a long time coming.

Ever since I first heard about the dining room at the Royal Mail Hotel (the source of this information has been lost in the mists of time), it has been a magical place to me. This compulsion was compounded by pictures I saw of my brother's dinner there a few years ago - the lineage to Andoni Aduriz was evident (Mugaritz remains one of my favourite meals of all time).

Nestled in the sleepy town of Dunkeld at the southern foothills of the Grampians mountains, the hotel is a low-lying and unassuming place - we would've driven right past it were it not for the fact that we had five pairs of eyes in our car. Dinner at the restaurant necessitates an overnight stay at the hotel (unless you're the kind that likes driving long distances in the middle of the night), and guests are treated to a sumptuous breakfast with all manners of house-made products the morning after - sadly, not covered in this post as I did not take any pictures.

Marque - Surry Hills, Australia

Dinner - Saturday, October 20, 2012

Surry Hills seems like a really fun neighbourhood. On a Saturday night, it was crawling with people of all ages, boisterously enjoying food, drink and each other's company. Crown Street, where Marque is located, is jam-packed with restaurants and cafes (whose quality I cannot judge). By comparison, Marque has an extremely subdued exterior - we walked right past it and only doubled back when we did a double take at Kylie Kwong's place right next door.

Inside, however, the space is energetic. We were slightly worried about our meal when we heard that long-time head chef Pasi Petanen had left his position a few months ago to strike out on his own. Our concerns were unfounded - Mark Best himself was present and helming the kitchen, and the food was completely on point (as you will see).

NB: I apologize for the strange lighting in the photos - we were seated in a very dark corner of the restaurant.

Quay - Sydney, Australia

Dinner - Friday, October 19, 2012

Quay has one of the most gorgeous night-time views of any restaurant I've eaten in, rural or urban. Your mileage will almost certainly vary, with two major factors coming into play: (i) seating - we were fortunate enough to be seated at the best table in the house (at the north end of the restaurant, where the floor-to-ceiling windows wrap around in a semicircle), with panoramic views from the Sydney Harbour Bridge, to the Opera House, all the way back to the edge of Circular Quay; (ii) obstructions - of our four nights in Sydney, we were again lucky to dine there on the only night that a giant cruise ship was not blocking the restaurant's entire east-facing view.

Of course, good food and good views come at a hefty price. The eight-course degustation at Quay runs $220 (a four-course prix fixe menu is $160), a significantly stiffer pricetag than all the other restaurants we dined at on this trip. Was the meal worth the admission fee?

Attica - Ripponlea, Australia

Dinner - Saturday, October 13, 2012

Although we were very disappointed at missing the Ben Shewry guest dinner at Manresa earlier this year, we certainly made up for it by making the trip to Attica proper.

The restaurant's star has been on the rise in the past few years, due to Shewry's use of native Australian ingredients and his "earthy" menus - just the type of cuisine that appeals to us.

The restaurant is black, like a studio set, with draped curtains and minimalist furniture. Spotlights direct your attention to the food in front of you, so organic that it is a jarring contrast to the industrial environs. With the degustation being the only option on weekends, relatively few choices are required of the diner (drinks, essentially) before the food arrives. And arrive it does, in the humblest of beginnings.

Intermezzo 6 - Consolation

I posted a disappointing time in Long Beach this weekend, in what should've been a very easy race. I was keeping up with the 3:15 pacer until I was waylaid by a terrible case of side stitches 3 miles from the finish line - this from someone who virtually never experiences them. In any event, I had to run-walk the remainder of the race (although I was proud of my kick in the last half-mile) and finished way off my goal time, and 3 minutes over my PR.

Such a performance did not deserve the congratulatory breakfast I had planned at the one-and-only Roscoe's Chicken & Waffles, so we settled for a consolation meal on the way home. Eat your vegetables, kids.

Rapini, cherry tomatoes, anchovies, chili - Pizzeria Mozza, Newport Beach, CA (2012)

Misión 19 - Tijuana, Mexico

Dinner - Saturday, September 1, 2012

Our first experience with Javier Plascencia's cuisine took place earlier this year on American soil, at an El Take it Easy pop-up dinner. There, he presented a short tasting - five dishes representing five of his restaurants. We were impressed.

So, when the Dining Diva (who is well acquainted with Plascencia) volunteered to organize a trip across the border to Misión 19, we jumped at the opportunity. Our motley crew of 12, which also included my friend gastrobits, were mostly Baja novices - indeed, this was my first visit to Mexico ever (I have groused about various visa issues in previous posts). Meeting at the US-Mexico border, we crossed on foot, and cabbed to the restaurant, a scant 5 minute ride away.

"Food for Words" at Georges California Modern - La Jolla, CA

Dinner - Sunday, August 19, 2012

When Chris Kostow and Trey Foshee join forces for a meal, it's bound to be a success. Bound by a common thread (the former having worked for the latter), these two generations of chefs weaved a seamless menu at a charity dinner to benefit Words Alive, an organization that works to foster a passion for reading in the community. We were fortunate enough to attend this fundraiser, making a few new friends and enjoying some good food.

Intermezzo 5 - Sacher-Torte

This is one of Vienna's most famous delicacies, dating back to its creation by Franz Sacher in 1832. It is a (fairly dry) chocolate cake coated with apricot jam and an icing of dark chocolate. Strong-tasting, but not overly sweet, allowing the quality of the chocolate to come through. Sacher-Torte is traditionally served with unsweetened whipped cream and a cup of good coffee to counter its dryness.

To this day, its recipe is a closely-guarded secret, although there are undoubtedly many pretenders to the throne - indeed, legal battles have erupted over claims to the "Original Sacher-Torte". The cakes are available in a number of sizes -  the one below is the second-smallest size (16 cm diameter), purchased from the Café Sacher in Vienna.

Sacher-Torte - Hotel Sacher, Vienna, Austria (2012)

Georges California Modern - La Jolla, CA

Dinner - Saturday, July 14, 2012

I don't want to give the impression that TBL3 is the only worthwhile experience at Georges at the Cove. Following are pictures from a recent meal with dishes from the regular California Modern menu, as of the date above.

NB: In addition to the dishes we ordered and paid for, the kitchen sent out a number of complimentary courses - I have marked those with asterisks (*) in the captions.

Providence - Los Angeles, CA

Dinner - Saturday, June 23, 2012

Our most recent meal at Providence was once again with guests from out of town. For the first time, we were seated in the cellar room to the right of the main entrance. I liked it - more private than the main dining room, without the isolation of the chef's table. We'll have to remember to request this space in the future (although it is not necessarily conducive to photography due to the extreme mixed lighting in the room - thus, I apologize in advance for the photos).

The tasting menu was quite a departure from previous progressions (for the better, in my opinion). As I've given background ad nauseum about the restaurant in earlier posts, I'll get right to it and let the pictures tell the evening's story.

The Restaurant at Meadowood - St. Helena, CA

Dinner - Saturday, June 16, 2012

We arrived at Meadowood with high expectations after a smashing dinner at Manresa the previous night. Since it's recent renovation, the restaurant has done away with fixed tasting menus (and also eliminated their shorter prix fixe option), and now "customizes" the meal to seat each table. As usual, we gave the kitchen free reign to design the progression as they saw fit.

Forage - Salt Lake City, UT

Dinner - Saturday, June 9, 2012

Chefs Viet Pham (pictured at right) and Bowman Brown were part of Food and Wine's Best New Chefs awardees last year. Despite the accolade, there's been a relative dearth of information (aside from a post by the ulterior epicure that caught my attention) about their shoebox restaurant - a converted house in a quite Salt Lake City residential neighbourhood.

With only one night in town, we knew we would spend it here. The space is sparse but comfortable, seating ~30 covers. A $74 prix fixe menu is served to everyone, with options being limited to beverage choices. We opted for the non-alcoholic pairing of juices and infusions, which turned out to excellent.

Osteria Mozza - Los Angeles, CA

Dinner - Sunday, May 20, 2012

I don't think Osteria Mozza has seen a slow night since the day it opened its doors - a testament to their consistently delicious food. Deservedly, Matt Molina recently won "Best Chef: Pacific" at the 2012 JBF Awards (granted, there were many equally deserving chefs who did not win). We strolled in for dinner on a Sunday, the night of the partial eclipse in Southern California. Perhaps there was that magic in the air - the restaurant was radiating exuberance. Nancy Silverton herself was front-and-center, putting the finishing touches on dishes in the Mozzarella Bar. But we were here to taste the dishes of the man behind the scenes, and we were not disappointed.

TBL3 at Georges California Modern - La Jolla, CA

Dinner - Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I'll say it first - there's no better place to enjoy a birthday meal in San Diego than Trey Foshee's dining room. As it turns out, the third time was the charm for TBL3. Not to say that our last two meals were sub-par - far from it. In fact, those meals were already heads and shoulders above anything in the area, but our dinner this evening reflected his team's continuing maturation through the process of conceptualizing these lengthy menus.

We made reservations for a 7 pm seating - in time to catch the sunset, and it was a glorious evening. Of course, April Johnson was constantly at hand to ensure everything ran smoothly, and her team (particularly Dan, our server) paced us nicely.

Pizzeria Bianco - Phoenix, AZ

Lunch - Saturday, March 24, 2012

Chris Bianco is practically a living legend. His eponymous pizzeria has likely received more accolades than any other pizza shop in the country. Its current location, the historic Baird Machine Shop in Phoenix's Heritage Square (where it has been since 1996), is a perfect fit for his rustic, simple, soulful fare.

Previously, waits for dinner seating at this shoebox restaurant would stretch upwards of 3 hours. With the introduction of lunch service sometime last year, I'd heard that the lines had been significantly reduced. Indeed, when we rolled in for lunch at 11.15am on a Saturday, we (luckily) managed to snag the last two seats in the place with no wait.

Javier Plascencia at El Take It Easy - San Diego, CA

Dinner - Monday, March 5, 2012

Javier Plascencia is a man in the spotlight - the chef from Tijuana (who actually attended culinary school right here in San Diego) has garnered numerous accolades in the past year - from a feature on "Mexico, One Plate at a Time", to being the subject of an article in the New York Times and a profile by one of my favourite magazines, the New Yorker. I'd only heard about Plascencia last February, when a post by Street Gourmet LA put him on my radar. His food looked fantastic, and since then, I've been actively looking for an opportunity to try it without crossing the border (visa issues ad nauseum).

Leave it to Jay Porter, outspoken owner of The Linkery and El Take It Easy, to bring Plascencia here for a pop-up dinner at the latter establishment. While I've never found the food at Jay's restaurants particularly compelling, I deeply respect his love of our region's product, and his efforts to promote true farm-to-table cuisine in San Diego. So, perhaps it is unsurprising that we would see this union of the two men, given their common goal of highlighting the local bounty.

Addison - Del Mar, CA

Dinner - Friday, February 17, 2012

Addison, the Grand Del Mar's fine-dining restaurant, claims more awards than you can shake a stick at - among others, it bills itself as Southern California's only Forbes five-star, AAA five-diamond restaurant. These are certainly not accolades to be sneezed at, but somehow we'd never felt compelled to visit in the past 20 months living in San Diego. One can tell from reading our blog that classical French cuisine rarely makes it onto our radar these days, in no small part because we were completely spoilt by our last trip to France a few years ago.

It was only when searching for a restaurant to celebrate our anniversary that we began to consider Addison. Sadly, our friend Elizabeth Harcourt, formerly one of their sommeliers, relocated before we could make good on a promise to visit her there. However, she did put us in the care of Addison's head sommelier, Angelo Ingrati, who made sure we were well-watered and who came up with some inspired wine pairings for the evening.

A Simple Supper with Gavin Schmidt - San Diego, CA

Dinner - Friday, February 10, 2012

A Simple Supper is an underground dinner club run by Jorie Kopycinski, who has been working with Gavin Schmidt (ex-Blanca) of late. As is the norm for these pseudo-clandestine affairs, correspondence is carried out with Jorie via email, and the location of the dinners changes frequently.

When we found out that Gavin was leaving our sunny climate to return to the Bay Area at the end of February, we immediately made reservations for this final dinner - a last hurrah, if you will. And so, we found ourselves (and ten or so like-minded strangers) at a curious house with a gorgeous kitchen in downtown San Diego on Friday night.

Kaiseki at 天 (Ten) - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Dinner - Tuesday, January 3, 2012

 (Ten, i.e. "heaven" or "sky" in Japanese) is a relative newcomer to the high-end Japanese scene in this country - it is the first branch of its parent restaurant, which is located in Sydney, Australia. 

In a surprisingly rare move for Malaysian establishments,  claims to source much of its fish from Tsukiji market. Also uncommonly for Malaysia, 天 employs two experienced Japanese chefs - Chef Hiroshi Miura (trained in cha kaiseki) and Chef Atsushi Nishibuchi (an Edo-mae sushi itamae). We visited with the express purpose of trying their kaiseki menu.

Cilantro - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Dinner - Friday, December 30, 2011

After our dinner at Sage, we were very eager to dine at Cilantro as soon as possible, in order to directly compare the two restaurants - was the circle complete? Had the student finally surpassed the master?

As luck would have it, we were able to snag a dinner table on short notice. When we arrived, we were led to their private dining room, which none of us had ever eaten in - it turned out to be quite a pleasant experience, isolated from the general hubbub of the restaurant (of course, one tends to run the risk of being ignored by runners in these spaces). We chose the prix fixe option as the a la carte seasonal specials looked more interesting than the items on their degustation menu.