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Very very good Cabo San Lucas Breakfast FOUND!

Spring break 2013 and the tourist hordes and cruise ship minions are everywhere. Fortunately, an exception is Restaurant Campestre,,,which is just as good as billed by the OP. The kid and I enjoyed a huge fruit plate, large order of tocino (local bacon) and eggs scrambled together, chicken quesadillas (three plump ones), juice and a Topochico for about $20.

We were literally the only non-Mexicans in the joint. Friendly service. Didn't ask for an English menu because the kid's Spanish is good.

Highly recommended. Will return (probably in a day or two)...and Magnetic1 is correct. It's not right on Hidalgo. It's one block west. We drove and used Google Maps and had no difficulty finding it. Long walk from town if you're walking.

--mcz

Mar 25, 2013
mczlaw in Mexico

Goan and African food in Lisbon?

Wanted to bump this thread to solicit any updates from the Lisbon regulars who post here. Will have five days in Lisbon at the end of this week. Of course I will try trad Portuguese, but am most interested in food from the former colonies. Porky Indian (my short hit on Goan) and tastes from elsewhere intrigue me. Thx for any new info or reiteration on the old.

Ed.: I have no particular budget constraints and saw one Goan restaurant recommended in a 2011 NYT article: Cantinho d Paz.

--mcz

Oct 15, 2012
mczlaw in Spain/Portugal

Pre-Isaac N.O. Report--Abbreviated

Just heading home to PDX after a quick weekend in the Big Easy. Unfortunately, the view was a little skewed by the impending hurricane visit....but here we go:

1. R'evolution....was revolutionary. Well, not quite that, but it was a top-tier meal, easily the best I had during this mini-tour and one of my favorites anywhere this year. I skipped the long list of steaks, sticking to the La. specialties except I did splurge on the caviar staircase with domestic osetra plus a few other less extravagant roes. A beautiful if somewhat challenging to eat presentation. I suggest a mother of pearl straw as the most efficient utensil since the spoon tended to push the precious piles of caviar and accompaniments all over the place. Was also pleased with the "Death By Gumbo"--halved stuffed quail in a rich roux-darkened broth. Likewise crab beignets, delicate-crackly batter shell with abundant rich lump crab inside, each of the four pieces served over a different flavored remoulade. Also ordered and enjoyed the lamb trio: small servings of three cuts of lamb. Though I got in really late (1030pm), they seated me at the chef's table in the festive Market Room which allowed me to watch some of the kitchen work. Service was doting. Loved the look/feel of the other dining rooms as well, both darker and more formal.

2. Felix's: Was open. No booze, cash only. Divey but friendly. Plump, fresh oysters, sweet shrimp with the remoulade, decent gumbo. A positive if slightly strange experience due to constant apologies over lack of booze (I don't drink, so didn't care). I have no problem with cash only for a less expensive meal. Seemed to be the consensus; didn't notice anyone leave when they got the word.

3. Galatoire's--Lovely spot, but clearly faded glory in terms of culinary achievement. Saw one couple there who looked like they may have dined on opening night in 1905. Just kidding, but there were a few very seniors in there. (If they are like my parents, pity on their server.) I enjoyed my sauteed redfish with Sauce Yvonne, though the plate had a fair amount of excess oil. The sauce--with mushroom, sliced artichoke and lump crab--was delicious though it might have been gilding the lily since the fish was so mild and delicate. Crab salad "maison" would have been better if they'd bothered to use market tomatoes instead of the flavorless supermarket type. I enjoy lump crab, though I hate to say it doesn't hold a candle to my home state's Dungeness. Enjoyed the lush turtle soup, served with a little pitcher of sherry on the side. Would have preferred they add the sherry. I feel like at first I put in too little then too much.

4. Frank's: Central Grocery was closed and I needed a little muff for the flight home. Frank's seems a credible backup, to say the least. Let it sit in the hotel room fridge overnight to let the oil seep into the bread and munched half of my half between MSY and LAX. Best lunch anyone had on that plane. Adore the olive salad. First time for me for a muffaletta. Enjoyed.

5. August: So what if you went to one of New Orleans' top tables and almost no one else showed up? That describes lunch today as Isaac began tracking toward town. There was me at one table and couples at two other tables. Servers outnumbered patrons and were wonderful. Loved the brick-walled, multi-chandeliered, high-ceilinged front dining room. Food was outstanding...including the three extra courses they slipped me when I was the only one there. Foie gras torchon, marvelous; peach and chanterelle salad, the same. Also enjoyed the gazpacho blanco, basically a cold almond soup perfect for the climate. But the potato gnocchi, little pillows with lump crab meat and black truffle in a rich sauce were a godsend. Simply marvelous and a John Besh specialty, I was told. Dessert was a spectacular deconstructed-style banana pudding. Lots of fun components and delicious too.

That's it. Fun trip. Best to New Orleans and all of you who live there as you deal with Mother Nature's latest onslaught. Glad I finally made it. I will return.

--mcz

Aug 27, 2012
mczlaw in New Orleans

Felix's?!?

Reporting live from the counter @ Felix's FQ...1/2 dozen oysters, shrimp remoulade, seafood gumbo. love the divey but friendly atmosphere. Oysters plump, shucked fresh; shrimp sweet; gumbo somewhat undereasoned. No booze, cash only. OK by me.

--mcz

Aug 26, 2012
mczlaw in New Orleans

Ft. Lauderdale Late Night?

Currently en route from the Pac NW...I don't deal well with drunk 20somethings under any circumstances...not since I was one about 30 years ago...The izakyas (Japanese tapas) sound great, but probably not with a 30 minute drive @ midnight. So, I'm tempted primarily by the Southport raw bar (despite the wacky website).

Appreciate all the suggestions. Will get my Cuban fix Sunday lunch down in Miami. Trying to remember the name of the place (frutaria or jugaria?) that has the fresh juices, sandwiches (mmmm...lechon), etc. Will figure it out, but that place is amazing.

Reviewed some of the other FLL threads here, sounds like a bunch of good choices for Sunday dinner.

Ft. Lauderdale Late Night?

Arriving close to midnight Saturday (5/19) for first Ft. Lauderdale visit. Staying at the W. Will have car from FLL airport.

Any place decent or better? Love Cuban/S. American, but at midnight, I'll take what I can get.

Thx.

--mcz

Marque {Sydney}

What can I say? Hubris (and the herd instinct) knows no bounds...but Waku Ghin is another thread. My experience there, however, did keep me from booking Tetsuya on this trip--that and Testsuya's demotion from three to two hats by the SMH.

--mcz

Jan 30, 2012
mczlaw in Australia/New Zealand

Marque {Sydney}

Must disagree with the foregoing overgenerous assessment of Marque, especially after dining there one night after a true 5* meal at Quay. Quay certainly deserves the 3-hat, 19/20 from SMH. By contrast, Marque is overrated by a hat and at least one point. Here's why:

As much as I enjoy modernist-leaning restaurants, what distinguishes the great ones is their near unerring ability to combine incongruous or unusual ingredients into a harmonious whole. Application of exciting modern techniques in service of great food is also a common thread. The other side of the coin is the category of places that tend toward a Dr. Whoopee’s Magic Kitchen approach to modernist cuisine: too much, clumsily done.

Marque missed the mark on at least two dishes.. The potato course OP loved so much was significantly flawed. Sea urchin is a precious, rich and distinctive ingredient. As even OP recognizes, it was lost in the butter/potato gravy into which it was mixed willy-nilly with bone marrow. I’m frankly not sure it was even in there as I was unable to discern even the slightest uni flavor in this dish—I couldn’t see any either--and, equally, I asked myself, what possible purpose did the addition of sea urchin serve? The coffee powder, by contrast, was very noticeable, but again, it added nothing to this dish. In truth , the coffee aroma detracted from the potato/butter/marrow richness and was a senseless addition to this dish. Make no mistake, this was a rich and tasty course, but at a restaurant like Marque, I’m looking for sophistication, or at least a good sense of humor, and this dish didn’t make the cut.

The other disappointing dish was the wagyu beef course. I get that the chef was going for a taste allusion to the hamburger, which is pretty irreverent and, therefore, admirable. The problem here is that you have this beautiful slice of 9+ wagyu served with a dill pickle spear. The pickle completely obliterated the subtle beef flavor of the wagyu. What a waste. Less would have been more here.

The balance of the dishes were excellent: tomato variations with only-in-Australia marron—a subltly sweet outsized crawfish; the fish course with dabs and piles of this and that complementing the cod perfectly; the slow-cooked smoked duck egg; and so on.

A couple other notes, however: (1) either serve bread or don’t. One table in the dining room was offered bread, probably because they asked. I don’t believe anyone else was. Personally, I enjoy a slice or two during the course of meal—usually for sopping sauce—but can do without too. I'm sure as hell not going to ask for it when it's not in evidence. The lack of consistency is a negative. (2) When the OP says this was a “reasonably priced” meal, my instinctive reaction is to question OP’s sense of reason. Seriously, this was a luxury meal with a luxury price tag: around $200AUD. It was slightly less than Quay, but not much. I harbored no allusions, and have paid more for a great meal (and way more for a mediocre meal at Waku Ghin) but no one should be caught unaware.

If you only have one luxury meal in Sydney and are struggling to choose between Marque and Quay, my advice is to go with Quay. I am in the midst of an Australian eating tour and hope to report on a number of other places: Quay, Din Tai Fung, Temasek, China Beach. Or if you're lazy like me, you can check out the 140 character versions over on Twitter under hashtag MCZeatsOZ

--mcz

Jan 30, 2012
mczlaw in Australia/New Zealand

Must eat food/places in Cuenca and Valencia area

Bummed to learn Ca'Sento is closed for Las Fallas and through the end of March. Just called to make a rez for 3/18 and this is what I was told. So sad.

--mcz

Feb 09, 2011
mczlaw in Spain/Portugal

Singapore: Which Hawker Center?

Can definitely see the undependability of the hawkers being a problem with Makansutra’s listing of hours. Went to Old Airport Road today for a 3-hour solo marathon sampling and discovered that at least two that should have been open weren’t. A gentleman who I shared a table with just shrugged his shoulders. Oh well.
I did want to report that after six (or was it seven) dishes today, there was a winner. That would the rojak from Toa Payoh. It was a delight in contrasting flavors and textures…crunchy, sweet with a hint of citrus tartand a solid spike of chili heat, fritters and fruit and the sauce to die for. A spectacular dish. Runner up: the Chinese-style mutton soup from Hougang Jin Jia. This was earthy, gamy stuff with a lovely ginger tang, plenty of chunks of well-stewed mutton rib meat, accompanied with a dish of sour-hot chili sauce. Other dishes I tried (no losers today. . .all rated 2+ chopsticks in Makansutra): sour plum-lime juice from Jimmy’s; a curry puff and black pepper chicken puff from Wang Wang; otah (one fish and one prawn) from Lee Wee & Brothers; crunchy, porky ngo hiang from Xin Dong Fang; and the 3-in-1 (yam and sweet potato sandwiching sweet glutinous rice) crunchy from the fryer.
I was pretty full, but walked it off. . .now off to Waku Ghin for dinner. . .but that’s another report.
So, my local expert friends. . .Geylang Serai for some Indian treats? Where for your favorite examples of Malay and Peranakan treats? Make it personal. . .don’t care about “best” since that will never work, will it ;-) ?

--mcz

PS. . .any of you in s'pore still welcome to join me....Saturday or Sunday are open for more gourmet gluttony in the service of professional curiosity ;-)

Oct 21, 2010
mczlaw in China & Southeast Asia

Singapore: Which Hawker Center?

Let's start with this: I eat and enjoy nearly everything. I have the new 2011 Makansutra and have been combing through it. The centers I mentioned above seem to have a fairly large concentration of places with high ratings in Makansutra.

So,I am initially curious if those of you who live or frequent Singapore hold the guide in high esteem. Do most Singaporeans consider it authoritative? Would I be smart or silly to only visit stalls that have 2.5 or 3 chopsticks in the guide? Would that be a fair minimum standard?

Beyond that, which hawker centres do you prefer to go to when you are out for fun and food with good friends or family? And what makes them your "go to" places?

BTW, I should specifically include M. Gomez in on this since it appears she is also a Singaporean. But, obviously, anyone who lives in S'pore or spends a lot of time there eating, I would love to hear from.

Lastly, since I now know that CH does not have a private messaging system, anyone who might wish to respond privately with ideas or a willingness to chow with me for an afternoon or evening, feel free to email to mczlawATpacifierDOTcom .

Thanks.

--mcz

Oct 16, 2010
mczlaw in China & Southeast Asia

Singapore: Which Hawker Center?

Bumping this thread...Getting ready for my 2d visit to s'pore 18-25 October. Based on research here and in the new Makansutra, probably going to visit Maxwell Rd., Chinatown Complex, Old Airport Rd. and a couple other north and west. Thoughts? I'm working on a newspaper story on Singapore hawker centre food, so more suggestions welcome. Also, since I couldn't figure out how to pm the S'pore residents on this board, I would like some expert company. Looks like at least Four Seasons and klyeoh are the ones I want to meet. Pls get in touch. Can hardly wait to re-visit a few of my favorites, though I'm skipping the durian stand in back of Chinatown cmplx this time ;-)

--mcz

Oct 14, 2010
mczlaw in China & Southeast Asia

Vancouver Trip Report, 8/27 through 8/31/10 (Lots O' Places)

The names of the other places escape me. I did go to Caffe Artegiana tius morning and it was excellent. So it and 49th Parallel were both top notch. I'm sure there are more, now that I read the coffee thread on here. But now I'm sitting at YVR and it will be a while until I get to sample the others.

--mcz

Sep 01, 2010
mczlaw in B.C. (inc. Vancouver)

Vancouver Trip Report, 8/27 through 8/31/10 (Lots O' Places)

Winding up a five day visit to Vancouver (after 15 years a stranger) during which finding great food was a top priority. Based on recommendations from this board and a few elsewhere, these are the places I tried (in rough chronological order): Rain City Grill, Sun Sui Wah, Blue Water Cafe, Congee Noodle House, Market, Sea Harbour Seafood, Guu (the Original), Refuel, Vij's. Also checked out the Richmond Night Market late on Saturday, Granville Island Public Market on Sunday and paid a couple visits to Bella Gelateria near Canada Place (and my hotel).

Overall view colored by the fact that the weather was sunny and gorgeous except for today (Tuesday) when it rained constantly pretty much all day into the evening. Am visiting from Portland my with 13 y/o daughter who is not a terribly adventurous diner and can be a trifle surly when her culinary preferences aren't being catered to. Want to thank Fmed for his thoughts and ideas and company one evening.

A few detailed comments:

1. Rain City Grill is doing farm-to-table local cuisine in an earnest and mostly successful fashion, but to be honest, there are at least a half dozen places in Portland that do it better. Having said that, I liked the way the dining room was set up with actual table cloths, carpeting and an effort to add an element of elegance. For a lot of reasons--some good, others not so much--Portland has a tough time with elegance.

2. Sun Sui Wah--Wonderful dim sum. Classic, ball room-sized dining room. Vast array of selections, all served fresh and hot in large portions. Didn't miss the carts although the computerish looking order card made me think I was taking the SAT again after a few decades. Grossed out the kid by working through an order of duck tongue and taro root while she enjoyed her outstanding piggie poetry: baked bbq pork pastry, steamed and baked bbq pork buns. I also fell for the chicken/ginger bun.

3. Blue Water Cafe ranks a solid A in my book. Beautiful, bustling room; outstanding range of seafood dishes; superb execution. Separated open kitchen and sushi prep station/counter gives diners a couple nice distractions. This is the kind of place Portland lacks (other than the much less impressive, much more corporate but still oddly venerated Jake's). Premium priced but worth it to me.

4. Congee Noodle House was where one of your local restaurant writers took us for lunch on Saturday. After a brief exchange in Cantonese, we had his favorite sea bass congee that was excellent and half a soya chicken that even the kid enjoyed. Simple place obviously well off the typical tourist trail that I felt privileged to try.

5. Market--weary after lots of walking and eating, this had the benefit of convenience to our hotel. Burgers were juicy and fine despite the loony refusal to cook them under well-done. Had a nice tom yum with coconut milk and chicken too. Overall, however, I wouldn't give Brand Jean-George another nickel after this meal (and another at the recently opened steak house at the Aria in Vegas). Mediocrity seems the B J-G credo these days. A shame to see a celeb chef stop caring as his surrogates keep opening new places with new concepts about every 10 minutes.

6. Sea Harbour. A nice shlep down to Richmond (though the place is only about 100 yards north of the Aberdeen Sky Train stop) for tony Hong Kong-ish dim sum. Much smaller portions and higher prices than @ Sun Sui Wah. Still, had a few unusual items, most notably the silky black chicken steamed in lotus leaf. Looks like they buried a few bird parts before the ritual wrapping and steaming. Once you get past the revulsion of eating black, rotten looking food, it wasn't so bad. Wasn't that great either, though. Loved the green-tinged deep-fried rice balls filled with black sesame paste, though I (and the kid) prefer red bean or yellow.

7. Guu--HEY, COULD YOU TURN THE MUSIC UP A LITTLE LOUDER!!! Fmed assured me this is all how it's done in Japan, so who am I to argue with overamped tunes and servers shrieking their orders to the kitchen? My travels have taken me over many parts of Asia, but not yet Japan. My ears are already blown out from too many Grateful Dead concerts to count spanning the 70's and 80's, so it wasn't really that oppressive--other than the server's/kitchen's inability to produce two grilled pork belly and garlic skewers in less than 20 minutes. Overall, I did enjoy the food a great deal as I do my favorite izakaya joints in Portland, Tanuki and Biwa.

8. Refuel-- A unanimous recommendation from Fmed and our writer friend for the West 4th Street wander my daughter and I planned this day. The drenching rain put a damper on our spirits which may have affected my perception of the meal. Our server, who I will designate Ms. Moonbeam, had a resolutely pleasant if vacant demeanor and seemed to operate in some kind of temporal phase shift. Meaning the service operated at a crawl even though we weren't in any particular hurry and the room wasn't exactly bustling. Loved the tomato soup. The pulled pork in the pulled pork sandwich special was rather stringy and dry, despite my efforts to revive it in the small pool of so-so bbq sauce that came with it. The kid's burger was OK, she said. Lots of mediocre fries on both plates. We passed on dessert.

9. Every good thing that's been said about Vij's is true. We arrived at 5:15 and were about 25th in line. Got seated in the first wave. They brought around the nosh on platters even to those of us who were seated. A little of this, a little of that. Sidebar: man, lots of beautiful women working here; in fact everyone except the one lucky gent who told me he's the manager and lucked into this job after a nightclub career. My old buddy Karl from PA would call that "falling into a bucket of shit and coming up with a blue suit on." Sadly, Mr. Vij was not there tonight, but his minions are well-drilled and were on top of every detail, beginning to end. They were always there when you needed them, but I still didn't feel like I was being hurried through. Lamb lollipops were all they were cracked up to be. For starters, we enjoyed the samosas, curried liver pate and an accidental bonus dish of portobello mushroom curry. The kid had the beef tenderloin dish which she actually ate (minus all vegetable matter) without too much bitching. She dug into the mango/pistachio kulfi with me such that we ultimately had to agree to alternating bites until it was gone. We got out of there about two hours, fifteen minutes after arriving, so two hours of table time.

10. Quick hits. . .Bella Gelateria has probably the best gelato at the highest prices I've ever eaten. Avoid conversation with the owner: it's like talking to a a born again anybody who must spread the word with intensity. Fmed listened; I hid. . . Richmond Night Market redeemed by fresh mangosteen, otherwise mostly junk food (and junk generally) doubtless with a few exceptions I wasn't sharp enough to locate. Reminded me lots of night markets in SE Asia. . .49th Parallel Coffee Roasters was the only great espresso I had during this visit. I expect better next time ;-) or maybe I just missed out on the others. . .For great charcuterie, one simple word: OYAMA (I may have to vote the Obama/Oyama ticket in '12 just because it sounds so cool). These folks have it dialed in.

Thx Vancouver. See you again soon.

--mcz

-----
Vij's Restaurant
1480 11th Ave W, Vancouver, BC V6H1L1, CA

Guu
838 Thurlow St, Vancouver, BC V6E1W2, CA

Congee Noodle House
141 Broadway E, Vancouver, BC V5T1W1, CA

Sep 01, 2010
mczlaw in B.C. (inc. Vancouver)

The New XLB Champion in Vancouver

Thx much fmed and greyelf. No dealbreakers just need something competent or better overall. Last good xlb I had was in SF @ Yank Sing, so it's been a long dry year. I will try one of these places for sure. (Also been tracking all the dim sum discussion. Dim sum here in Portland is fairly poor, reputed to be great up your way. Anyway, will avoid being OT so again thank you for the xlb update).

--mcz

Aug 11, 2010
mczlaw in B.C. (inc. Vancouver)

The New XLB Champion in Vancouver

Thx for the bump. Heading up from Portland end of August. . .any updates on the xiao long bao champions? The only decent source here (a neat little cart) changed hands a year or so ago and closed within a few months.

--mcz

Jul 24, 2010
mczlaw in B.C. (inc. Vancouver)

Las Vegas - Bartolotta review

My bad for being less than clear. I was referring to the hostess station. Servers there do tend to be brusque, though in my experience not incompetent or outright surly. Just not the warm and fuzzy that many prefer.

Jan 15, 2010
mczlaw in Las Vegas

Las Vegas - Bartolotta review

My visits to Bartolotta have been about 180 degrees different than this account. One of those visits - three in total - was with my parents who are neither big nor adventurous eaters, and they loved it too. Agree with the other reply that said you need to order the fresh Mediterranean fish to get the best out of this menu. Likewise, Bartolotta is tough to hit at its optimum if you are on any sort of limited budget.

One hint here as with pretty much any fine dining place on the Vegas Strip: whatever night of the week, busy or quiet, it's always best to book ahead. Drop ins don't get a lot of love.

--mcz

-----
Bartolotta Ristorante Di Mare
3131 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109

Jan 14, 2010
mczlaw in Las Vegas

Las Vegas--City Center Restaurant Summary--Four in Three Nights: Julian Serrano, Sirio, Jean Georges Steakhouse, Twist

Returned from a three-night visit to Las Vegas yesterday. Gastronomic goal: eat all fine dining dinners at the newly opened City Center complex.

Managed four dinners in those three nights (see comment below). Caveat: all these places have been open less than a month, normally a disqualifier for me to make any negative comments. However, given the enormous resources behind each of these projects along with the hype, I'm invoking an exception to the rule, noting that ymmv based on evolution over time.

So quick summary:

Julian Serrano (Aria): C. Underseasoned, undercooked and underimagined. Overall a big underachievement from the chef/operator at the wonderful Picasso. Pacing of service was screwy too. Soup courses just served when the squadron of hot tapas arrived. Sad especially at top dollar.

Sirio (Aria): A-. After the Serrano debacle above, was still hungry. Went upstairs to Sirio (named after Le Cirque boss and run by his son) and enjoyed a delightful cheese plate (a very generous serving), perfectly cooked risotto with abundant end of the season shaved Alba white truffle and then a type of molten chocolate cake with caramelized banana and banana ice cream. Would have preferred the main dining room to the still-nice bar/cafe area but we were late drop ins and said up front we weren't interested in doing a full meal.

Jean Georges Steakhouse (Aria): B. You spend a fortune to construct a stunning space but order heavy 6-top table tops that aren't supported their single support pillar base and wobble badly as a result. Ooops. Great steaks except for overcooking a couple of them by at least a few degrees. Ooops x 2. Some didn't like the char (I did). Various sides/apps/salads quite serviceable: sweetbreads with chestnuts fabulous as was a burrata with cranberry compote. Good desserts too. Service helpful but surprisingly unpolished and/or undertrained. Ass't Mgr. proudly told us this is number 29 for Brand. . .er Chef Vongerichten. It shows. With the abundance of excellent steakhouses in Vegas (Cut, Prime and The Palm my favorites), this is unlikely to be a return stop.

Twist by Gagnaire (Mandarin Oriental): A. Extraordinary by any measure. Compares favorably to Robuchon--much better suited to those who disdain formal, French-style fine dining service. Rank it near the top, on par with experiences @ Alinea, Tetsuya and Guy Savoy (Paris and Vegas). Not to say it was casual/eccentric in the wd~50 sense, but youthful servers well-conveyed the kitchen's spirit of joy and adventure. I had the tasting menu (six courses, $185) which was integrated seamlessly with meals enjoyed by others who did not partake in the Full Monty. Flavors and textures were creative but avoided the bleeding edge of modern gastronomy. We had table on the windows, with fine view of the Strip. Agree with prior poster on the wonders of the signature langoustine five ways. The foie gras "degustation", four variations shared by our table as an appetizer, was at once venturesome (foie gras terrine layered with fig jam and served with thin-sliced ginger bread toasts) and restrained (thick slice of perfectly seared and salted foie gras with barely a garnish). Decor was expectedly plush in shades of gray with mauve accents. Kitchen is lovely, though as yet incomplete (rotisserie not yet in service)--pastry station has slab granite all around and a view of the Strip; a nice distraction for the pastry crew; garde manger station is sealed off from the rest of the kitchen has its own a/c unit.

And one final note for those who care. . .Aria buffet doesn't hold a candle to its Bellagio counterpart. Gotta eat a hearty breakfast!!!

--mcz

Jan 14, 2010
mczlaw in Las Vegas

SF--Newest of the New & Great?

Annual dad/daughter weekend in SF coming up in a week or so. We are visiting from Portland where I keep up with all that is new and wonderful here.

Dad eats all; daughter (age 12), though worldly eats limited--and tends toward plain pasta, burger, steak, occasionally stepping out, but godferbid no fruit or veg. Even with these disparities, past trips have included a host of great meals: Quince, Coco500, Zuni, Farmer Brown, Boulevard, Town Hall, Ton Kiang, Incanto, A16, NoPa, Slanted Door, Tadich Grill and several others I don't recall.

This trip we are booked for Delfina and Chez Pannise,but need a couple more (plus a lunch or two). Hog Island Oyster has been highly recommended by a former San Franciscan and our hotel concierge has suggested Spruce, but I wanted to know of the latest and greatest from those of you on CH. Ideally, I'd love to try somewhere avant garde (I adore well-conceived and executed molecular cooking) or otherwise high-end (the niche lacking in Portland) that would somehow be able to please the kid too.

Realizing the ideal may be impossible, what are the 2009 openings you locals find to be the most inspired and/or of highest quality? No particular budget limitations, just want to stay in the city for these meals.

Abundant thx (and if I can ever assist with Portland choices, I'm happy to do so).

--mcz

Aug 25, 2009
mczlaw in San Francisco Bay Area

Hoi An, VN--Good Eats

A pic of the bun gio dish described above:

Feb 13, 2009
mczlaw in China & Southeast Asia

Hoi An, VN--Good Eats

Just wrapping up my visit to Hoi An--a small town near the coast in central Vietnam (about 15 miles south of Da Nang). Some highlights:

1. Cao Lau: this is one of the regional dishes the area is known for. The noodle is what makes it special. It's a thick, flat or oval, rough textured wheat noodle. A handful of these noodles--cooked al dente--goes into a bowl, gets a half ladle of DARK pork broth, some bean sprouts, fresh local herbs (with wonderful strong flavors--of lemon and licorice, for example), a few slices of meat and a scattering of deep-fried crispy won ton chips. I had this dish a couple of times, priced around $1.50; best was at a little sit down stall in the Central Market, but everybody serves it. BTW, word from local sources is that the dish is not made elsewhere because it can only be made with the local water. That part sounds like b.s., but a consult with a Portland, OR-area (where I live) noodle guru confirms that his own obsessive effort to duplicate cao lau has been unsuccessful.

2. Mango Rooms: Yes, it's the subject of the usual, suspect puffy talk in the guide books. In this case, however, the accolades are deserved. The owner, Duc, has traveled extensively in the US and has adopted the market-driven ingredient focus so popular in the Pac. NW and Bay Area, and increasingly elsewhere in the US. The catch--at least for street food devotees like me--is that he's doing the fusion thing, adapting local ingredients to dishes and techniques from throughout his travels. Still, the crostini served with a bowl of potent mango curry was an eye-popper; thin-sliced panko crusted "tempura" veggies were double-crunchy and greaseless; and the seared duck breast was cooked to mid-rare perfection, served over a sauce with multiple components that I should have written down, but including just a touch of bittersweet chocolate. This was a fine meal and Duc is a fine person to talk with about local cuisine--ironically being a street food fan himself--after 4.5 years back here in his home town.

3. In fact Duc recommended two places where, incidentally, I was the only westerner in the neighborhood. The first, an outdoor patio type place out on the road to Cua Dai beach, is called Quan Bien Moi, a seafood specialist. I was there for lunch. I dutifully (per Duc's suggestion) ordered "grilled fish" that, in a classic understatement, turned out to be bits of local white fish, topped/mixed with fine slices of tender young lemongrass, coconut, la lot leaves and god knows what else. The fish combo is flattened to a thin circular cake on a square of banana leaf which is then roasted over coals. It is served with a plate of green herbs, cucumber slices and lettuce, a small bowl of chilied fish sauce and some paper thin triangles of rice paper (rice flour/water sheets or banh). The idea is take some veg and fish, roll them up in a piece of the rice paper and dunk in the sauce. I did so repeatedly.

The rendering of the Vietnamese name for the dish is not very distinct on the note I have in front of me, but it appears to be ca otuoil ng. The owner--a friendly 30ish woman, sat with me after she served (I was there myself, it was lunch time and I was the lone customer at the time)--and noshed pieces of her homemade rice flour and sesame baked flat bread (rather like lavosh or papadum) with me, though she didn't dip in the brick-red chili sauce she served with it. Not sure exactly what kind of chilies, but it reminded me a lot in color and flavor of an arbol chili dip. I think the dish might have gone for about $3.

4. My second Duc-motivated mission was to try the bun gio cha nam nhieu rau at an area up an alley off Phan Cho Trinh St. (about 100 yards west of Le Loi St.). He said you have to go between 3:30 and 4 in the afternoon because that's the only time the dish is available. The venue is right in the middle of town, but the location up the alley is invisible from the street, so you have to know to go up there. When you arrive, there are a few tiny tables and even tinier little red stools plus the kitchen operation itself--a big pot sitting on the ground being stirred by the presumptive cook, a stack of bowls nearby along with a crude dish washing station. Talk about an underground operation--but there was a good crowd when I arrived, breathless, around 3:45. I disregarded the funny looks at the sweaty Caucasian and flashed the piece of paper with my order on it to the person apparently in charge. Then I lowered myself gingerly onto one of the stools that must have risen about 8" off the ground and been maybe 6" square. Oy.

This soup was served a few minutes later and it was transcendent: a light (though still spicy) pork broth, poured over the ubiquitous bun (thin white rice) noodles, thick slices of pork hock, herbs and the most amazing fish balls I've had in SE Asia. The fish paste is mixed with whole peppercorns and plenty of other spices (because they sure as hell aren't the bland rubbery things I've had too many times) and must be real wet when they are first boiled because the end product is irregularly shaped, not even close to a true sphere. Anyway, I scarfed it up. At about $1 for the bowl, I was tempted to order another, but I needed to be off and besides it was after 4--nearly closing time.

So that's the report. Singapore next where food centers galore await.

--mcz

Feb 13, 2009
mczlaw in China & Southeast Asia

pdx dinner with 85 year old and 1 year old

since the one year-old eats in a lot of nice restaurants, i'd let him pick.

two top drawer joints w.s'breads: paley's place and alberta st oyster bar. both are open sundays and generally meet your criteria though i haven't headed north in a while so have not tried the seattle restaurants you mention.

--mcz

Jun 19, 2007
mczlaw in Pacific Northwest

Ko Samui or Hua Hin

Enjoyed dinner @ Bangpo Seafood tonight. The shrimp paste in coconut shell appetizer (khoei jii) is a dream: so simple in presentation, so complex in flavor. Also had an extraordinarily rich tom ka with local crab meat and a fish (phonetically: pla chelam patya) dish pepped up by plenty of garlic and ginger along with a good sized cluster of green peppercorns. The latter was served with the unique coconut milk steamed rice (khao man thua khiaow) you describe in your blog piece. The app and a small plate of pineapple and watermelon chunks were brought out automatically. Not sure if I was charged. Definitely don't care. Not with the entire meal (with a decent little tip) costing less that 300B, or about $8.50. I may never vacation in Europe again.

Mar 23, 2007
mczlaw in China & Southeast Asia

Bangkok--OTK/ATK Market

Currently touring Bangkok, aided by fellow Hound, extramsg.

The Aw Taw Kaw (or Or Tor Kor in the Time Out Bangkok guide) was a psychedelic swirl of tastes, smells and colors.

One item, however, stood above the durian, unfathomable varieties of rice, fresh passion fruit juice and pork several ways:

FRESH MANGOSTEEN

Accept no substitutes.

--mcz

Mar 11, 2007
mczlaw in China & Southeast Asia

Shula's Steak House? Portland.

Less than enthusiastic alert.

Overly bright room, strangely configured. Dopey shtick: menu on football, introductions to the various shrink-wrapped cuts o' meat. Service was sweet, but inexperienced. And the steaks. . .nothing you can't get six other places in town.

As long as you aren't paying, grin and bear it--you won't die. If the invite is to go dutch, you should probably be shampooing your hair that night.

--mcz

Nov 24, 2006
mczlaw in Pacific Northwest

PDX source for birch beer?

Nope. In the inspirational words of Horton the elephant, I meant what I said and I said what I meant.

Oregon Wine Jelly is/has been a regular vendor at Portland Farmers Market on Saturdays on the Portland State University campus. Birch beer aplenty.

--mcz

Nov 09, 2006
mczlaw in Metro Portland

PDX source for birch beer?

George, or more formally "Oregon Wine Jelly," always has a stash of birch beer at his booth @ Portland Farmers Market on Saturday. Now that the Market is winding down, not sure if George will be there. His other offerings include root beer, ginger ale, spruce beer, cream soda and some other flavors. The booth is on the north side of the south aisle at the Market.

You can double check with the Market to see if Oregon Wine Jelly will continue attending through season's end: 503-241-0032.

--mcz

Nov 08, 2006
mczlaw in Metro Portland

SF Feeding Frenzy--Farmer Brown, Aquerello, Incanto, Boulevard, Quince (and more)

Last night of five here in Baghdad by the Bay (if that nickname makes any sense at all any more) with my daughter, Gracie, proprietor of Portland's finest underground bagel bakery. We have been eating well. Here is the too-quickly-edited report:

Dinners at: Farmer Brown; Aquerello; Incanto; Boulevard; and Quince.

Other meals/nosh at : Tadich Grill, Tango Gelato, Bittersweet, Ton Kiang, Tartine, Mitchell's Ice Cream

Farmer Brown: Southern home cuisine. Little corn muffins with strawberry/pepper jam come with the meal and could be the meal. The jam could have used an extra pepper jolt, though. Fried chicken was very tasty, though not terribly meaty. My gumbo had a good bite to it, though less than an adequate portion of protein. Pulled pork san was acceptable. Mac and cheese side was a cheesy/creamy delight. The hand-cut steak fries were OK. Chocolate cake w/ creme fraiche was simple and fine, though nothing to get terribly excited about. The service made up in friendly enthusiasm what it may have lacked in experience. Most ambivalence about the decor and vibe. Lime green ceiling, chocolate brown strandboard squares for floor, distressed metal (grain silo chic?) on most vertical surfaces--clever but odd. Loud, repetitive, electronic R&B-ish tunes were awful. Dodgy location offputting. Michael Bauer gave this two-month old restaurant 2 stars. That may either be generous or about right. I'd need to go back a couple times. On my personal A-F scale, I'd give it a B-.

Aquerello: The location in the chapel of an old mortuary gave this spot a tone of undue sobriety--at least judging by the mien of the servers. I don't need servers yucking it up, but this is still a meal, not a church service. Food, on the other hand, was wonderful. In the interests of full disclosure: my reservation was made by a former chef here, and the owner gave us special attention, meaning a seven-course tasting menu for moi that left me staggering by the end. Since my daughter--the increasingly sophisticated diner at age 8.5--had different items than I did, I tried a lot. Here's a list: tomato water w/ braised celery slices (amuse); roast sweet peppers w/ poached quail egg; hamachi tartare; seared scallop on a corn cake; four pasta sampler (oversimplifying: cheese ravioli, lobster panzerotti in spicy sauce; tubular pasta w/foie gras and sweet marsala sauce; gnocchi w/ meat ragu); squab stuffed w/squab forcemeat; breaded veal chop topped with roasted chantarelles. There were desserts too. This was an over the top meal. Nothing I hated; most things I thought were very good to superior. Aside from overly somber service, my only criticism is that the foie gras sauce was way too sweet. Beautiful room too. I'd give this a B+ (A- if the servers lightened up a bit).

Incanto: Friends live in the Noe Valley, so they wanted us to try it. Quite enjoyable, though cramped and again plagued by too serious (though efficient) service. Maybe San Franciscans buy into the restaurant-as-church thing? God, I hope not. The house-cured charcuterie plate was transcendant. My daughter sampled the honeycomb tripe in tomato sauce app some us ordered to share. It only cost me a $5 bet to get her to try it, but she said it was good. It was. Gracie's handkerchief pasta w/ pork ragu was to die for, as were slow-roasted lamb neck and braised pork shoulder mains. Balance of dishes elude me. General impression, however, was positive. A solid B.

Boulevard: My favorite of the restaurants we visited. Lovely large room. Lots of dark wood, elegant lamps. I read "Belle Epoque" somewhere, which seems about right. I loved the look of the counter and would happily have sat there if we didn't have a nice table for two. Friendly and efficient service. One of the servers stopped by to chat about the Ferry Bldg Market b/c he heard me talking with our server about it. Food was wonderful. I went with three starters: the seared foie gras w/apricot wedges and a plum sauce and tiny slices of buttered brioche. Red abalone w/fried oyster mushroom. Soft shell crab linquine. Only the latter showed any sign of weakness, with the pasta knotted up into a little ball under the overly cartilaginous crab. Gracie had the fillet with fried potato squares and green bean/bread crumb melange which they kindly deconstructed so Gracie could eat her chunk of meat w/o interference (god forbid) from the other elements (which I ate and loved). Desserts were excellent: Gracie had the ice cream sandwiches. I had the chocolate tart. Berries served with both were a nice counterpoint. An A-.

Quince: Our final night's repast. Dining area evokes the living room of a classy, but simple old house. Server to patron ratio ensures wonderful service. Each dish (both those we had and saw others have) was a masterpiece. The cheese/prosciutto crespelle w/ leek fondue was a delight. Gracie's starter, an outsized ricotta raviolo in brown butter was mindblowing in flavor intensity and delicacy. My agnolotti "dal plin" combined a multi-meat filling with a sage butter sauce I couldn't get enough of. Fortunately, the tiny bread rolls (olive and cayenne) and grissini were replenished automatically when only one item remained. This occurred throughout the meal. For a main, I had the pork, comprising pork loin slices and a spicy pork sausage with red chard. This was a fine course, though the loin on its own was a tad underseasoned. With an assist from the sausage and accompanying jus, no added salt was required. La nina ordered the rib eye, with gorgonzola-topped small red tomato halves and fried shallots. Gracie wouldn't touch her accompaniments, but I didn't mind helping. The sweet and tangy tomato/blue cheese hit was mind blowing. The meat was a little less so, I suspect due to the inherent nature of a rib eye. It seems there is always going to be a little fat or gristle. This is why I tend to favor a fillet in a fine dining combination. I loved my melon "zuppetta" with little melon gelatine cubes plus raspberry sorbetto and mulberry granita for dessert. An A-, with the minus only because of cramped quarters along the banquette where we were seated.

Other passing thoughts:

Tartine: Oy vey. For both the savory and sweet items, with coffee, it is so worth a trip. Clearly, this is well known.

Mitchell's: Yes, great ice cream and amazing, unusual flavors. Not worth a 30 minute wait, though. Sorry.

Ton Kiang: Remains the best dim sum I have had anywhere. Curious whether Hong Kong next spring will change my mind.

Tadich Grill: Faded glory. I am saddened.

Bittersweet: Pacific Heights. Is snooty-hip the standard in this 'hood? Good chocolate, not great.

Tango Gelato: See above. Yeah, I'm sure they are all great, but why don't you recommend one? This was watching the cool dude counterperson deal with the next group having a tough time choosing. To us, the counterperson managed a few monosyallabic utterances. Again, though, I have had much better gelato, so what's up his ass?

That's all for this year. I love visiting and eating in this town. So glad it's not far from Portland.

--mcz

Aug 05, 2006
mczlaw in San Francisco Bay Area