Saturday, December 27, 2008

Currant- San Diego restaurant

Taken by the Currant
Hands down, Currant (140 W. Broadway) has the best onion soup I’ve ever eaten…and it didn’t even have cheese! What it did have was tender morsels of beef short ribs surrounded by the liquid essence of caramelized onions. Some of that richness could also have been attributed to black truffles and marrow toast floating in the center….mmmm, marrow.

I ordered the lobster potpie for my entree and it was PIPING hot (for about 30 minutes), scorching the taste-buds with every bite. It didn’t really have the creamy bechamel background it promised and was more of a reddish broth. I do have to say that once it finally cooled down, I did realize the multitude of Maine lobster chunks mobbing the ceramic dish. Worth the wait.

Fish and chips spilled out across the plate from their paper sack in a greasy wrestling match. The fish were clearly outnumbered by their fry counterpart, leaving my hubby hungry for more.

The special of the evening was fresh fettuccini with shredded duck and chanterelle mushrooms in butter, white wine broth. My only complaint was I wanted a little more sauce to coat the pasta, but otherwise it was divine.

Wine bottles ended up being half off (the entire list) and we ordered a Cabernet, while my mom ventured for the raspberry lemon drop. It was a success- in full. The sophisticated French flare mirrored black and white on embroidered booths and along the checkered tiled floor. It was upscale enough for a special night out, with their use of indulgent ingredients, but homey enough to stop in for a bit of soup at lunchtime (which I intend on doing very soon...maybe to-marrow.)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Julian pie Company

Apple of my eye
I have to start out by saying that usually I like my sugars more savory than sweet (like pasta and breads), so right away I knew Julian Pie Company was special. Those sly devils had me eating pie by 11am... and even ordering a scoop of cinnamon ice cream on top.

With an air of Willy Wonka splendor, an assembly line of workers piled pies high with apples. A hand-cranked, fruit-peeler churned furiously in a blur of twisting arms.

My hubby started out our order with his favorite - pecan pie. It was a bit too gelatinous for my liking and he agreed. My mom got the last slice of strawberry rhubarb- man, that was good! Our mouths puckered from its tart perfection, but it was my pie that took the cake. Boysenberry/ apple with crumb topping formed a symbiotic blend of soft berry and crisp apple.

The (literal) fruits of Julian Pie Company’s labor showed that sometimes the old-fashioned approoach was still the best. Oh, and did I forget to mention that they make hot, apple cider donuts?

Friday, November 28, 2008

San Diego restaurant- Confidential

San Diego’s best kept secret
It was like a page ripped from “Sex and the City”…except my mom was there. But then again, it was because of her visit that I managed to coax the girls downtown so I could try Confidential.

I had been salivating ever since I’d heard Chris Walsh, executive chef of Bite, was involved (kitchen now headed by, “Top Chef” contestant Richard Sweeney), where global tapas made up the menu and encouraged everyone to share. It was easy to see how this venue transformed into a chi-chi dance club as the night drew on with streams of purple and fuscia light crawling the drapery.

Sterile, silver railings led their way up to the loft, but we stayed on solid ground in a booth of white leather. The four of us squeezed in next to each other, since no one wanted the miniature stools (with no backs) that poked out from beneath the table. Seriously, they were up to my knee and would have put a severe damper on my dinner if I was forced to sit there for an entire meal. But I wasn’t, so we settled in like comfortable peas in a pod.

Tuesday: ALL night EVERYTHING is half price. Ok, I’m not talking just food. I’m talking cocktails, bottles of wine, EVERYTHING. Needless to say, we cleaned up on this deal.

Cocktails: ($6) F*@%#n’ Blackberry Bellini muddled berries with fresh lemon, Effen vodka and a splash of Roederer Estate Rose. It wasn’t syrupy sweet and the bubbles kept it light- I would come back for this alone.

Amuse bouche: Nadia, our attentive and adorable, Russian server brought us a little something to wake up the tastebuds- dried apricot with gorgonzola- I was pleasantly surprised by its fruity/ pungent match.

Dates: These had a date with my mouth, wrapped in bacon and stuffed with hunks of parmesan, but I only tasted disappointment when a noticeably smoky flavor hit my tongue. My fault- it did say applewood smoked bacon, but this was extra smoky- beware.

Sliders: All of us wanted lamb sliders, so we put in a few orders. Lamb’s true tang was present, but softened with a symbiotic yogurt sauce followed by a side of crispy deliciousness (garlic fries.)

Duck: Since they were out of the duck spring rolls, we went with the duck confit slider. This was somewhat of a let down after the lamb. The moo shu ketchup was way too sweet, but even without, I couldn’t have told you if it was duck or pulled pork. It was good, just not ducky.

Deconstructed pizza: A basket of parmesan flatbread appeared with three tumblers of toppings- warmed goat cheese, roasted garlic and oven roasted tomatoes- playful and tasty, but more of a snack spread than a pizza.

Check: Our bill was delivered in a small manila envelope (like the one holding answers in Clue) marked Confidential, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep this place a secret. The price was right and the lack of crowds on weeknights made going downtown a breeze (three hours free parking in Horton Plaza.) Before the masses came pouring in after realizing a Top Chef contestant was running the kitchen, I would be back while I could still get a little glamour for half the price.

Friday, November 14, 2008

San Diego restaurant- George's Rooftop Terrace

The lighter side of George - Curious?

It’s my mom’s first stop whenever she hits the west coast- George’s at the Cove (1250 Prospect St, La Jolla). Not the hoity-toity downstairs, but the open-air, ocean terrace with a view that leaves no doubt in her mind she’s in Southern California.

During this visit we had stupidly waited until Saturday, when the terrace is at its busiest. There weren't any open reservations when we called, so our estimated wait time was 45 minutes- it only took 20. Their addition of an upstairs bar had time passing all the quicker, as I barely had time to sip my pinot grigio before we were seated.

Cocktails: La Jolla lemonade- ruby red grapefruit infused vodka and lemonade. Now this could turn lemonade stands into a high commodity.
Daily special- blueberry infused vodka and lemonade- this was ok, but I’d stick with the original.

Seating: For the first time in all my visits, we got the bird’s eye view- a front row seat to the ocean with only a thin piece of glass separating us from the cliffs. This is the reason to come here - jagged cliffs, crashing waves and a seat among the palm trees.

We lucked out with the grub this time too.
Food: Tender lamb bites with peas, katamala olives and artichokes were served over penne in a red sauce - excellent. A scoop of minted ricotta sat like the cherry on a sundae, its clean creaminess completing the dish flawlessly.

Special du jour: Mahi-mahi with blueberry vinaigrette flaunted fruity/tart precision, matched well with Swiss chard and mashed potatoes. Light and summery - an ideal seaside lunch.

The best part: A bill that fit our budget. Though the selection is small- mostly burgers, salads and sandwiches- items range between $10- $15. In La Jolla this is unheard of, especially with a view like this. Sometimes the food is hit or miss, but the view consistently scores five stars.

Friday, October 17, 2008

San Diego bar- Triple Crown Pub

You got game? Triple Crown does.

I raised my voice over a track from Wu Tang’s “36 Chambers” and ordered a pint. The barkeep gave me a once over to see if I was on the up and up, but by my second round he treated me like one of the gang. With the comfort of a worn (blue collar) shirt, I settled into the waft of stale suds and friendly competition.

My buddy was already shooting darts on the patio, next to the ping pong table. After a quick game of cricket, we headed inside for a little shuffleboard. When we had enough of that, we headed over to the pool tables (sidestepping the foosball table along the way.) Geesh! Now that was a lot of play time. But even those that remained benched, made for an enthusiastic (if not a bit drunk) cheering section.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Pomegranate- San Diego Restaurant

Strange Fruit- Pomegranate, a Georgian Peach

I was hit in the face. A friendly ghost of fragrance flooded Pomegranate (2302 El Cajon Blvd) with its intangible, but undeniable presence. Carried by the nostrils like Wimpy detecting hamburger fumes, we landed at a rustic, wooden table with lamps more appropriate for a living room than a dinner table.

Pomegranate was old school, a Siberian Lodge of sorts that served hard to find, traditional Georgian fare (as in Russia, not Atlanta.) The names of past patrons floated in loopy swirls, covering the walls, a yearbook from those that graced these halls before us (my own autograph scribbled in the ladies’ room.)

Drinks: Water - flavored with cucumber (nice touch)
Wine - served in juice glasses, two varieties at $3 a glass*
1) Georgian wine - mouth-puckering sweet
2) Malbec - tasted like dirt
*Corking fee - $14
Vodka - measured out by the finger-ful. Hmm, was it a two or three finger night?

Salad: Carrot salad - pulsed with a neon aura that reminded me of some unstable substance like plutonium. Shredded carrots were mixed with mayo, garlic, maybe ginger (I’m guessing.) It was creamy, crunchy and packed a bite - tasty and unlike anything I’ve had before.

Beet salad - the same preparation with beets did not go over as well, for me anyway. The consistency was a little too wobbly, but my fellow foragers gobbled up the extra portion greedily.

Apps: These potato dumplings showed me how to love again. A steaming bowl of “starch covered starch” came topped with sour cream and my past nemesis…dill. I usually find this herb overbearing, but these fresh cut snippets brought an earthy freshness to the melting sour cream “broth.”**

Pork dumplings - on my second visit, I got a little too excited and ordered the meat dumplings by mistake (the entire menu is in Georgian…well, with English translations- my fault!) and though it was a successful detour, it didn’t match my prior love affair (and no dill!)

Entrée: Stuffed cabbage**- If you come here for one thing, this is it. It was the edible poster-child for HOMECOOKING. This wasn't your run-of-the-mill menu item and would be a painstaking task to attempt in your own kitchen. I could not stop eating it. It just kept unfolding like a present of ground pork and onion. Even when my belly was round with contentment, my fork kept sliding onto the plate for one more taste (undeniably one of the best dishes in town.)

Lamb stew - sautéed with carrots, potato and meat, this dark stew was pungent and hearty, but didn’t make it on my list of keepers.

Lamb skewer - meat was strung on a blade like dense, unpolished jewels and laid out in gleaming tender chunks (my hungry man's favorite.)

Special: Lamb meatballs - these were moist and softball-sized mixed with mint and garlic.

Who would ever guess that this blank storefront could put out food with such character? From the first bite of Pomegranate there was no question that this is a true Georgian peach.

**must order items

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Los Angeles- Pizzeria Mozza

Pie crusts (and molds) were meant to be broken
This would be your neighborhood pizzeria’s rich, city cousin. Walls of earthy, Tuscan gold and reds were the first hint that, though this might mimic a stereotypical pizza joint, some serious dough had been dropped to sling pie gourmet-stlye.

That was to be expected from Chef Mario Batali, along with partners Nancy Silverton (aka the mozzarella maestro) and Joseph Bastianich, who carried their high-end motif over from Mozza’s Osteria (next door) to the Pizzeria’s more casual vibe (641 N. Highland Ave.)

Fresh peppers and lemons popped as usable artwork along the pizza bar, a wood burning oven in the background. Tables danced cheek to cheek on the dining room floor - close quarters to say the least, but with familial appeal.

Our server, however, did not exude the same warmth as his venue. He would be playing the stock character- “LA waiter”- designer glasses framing a rushed and superior demeanor, as if we had just crashed his dinner party. But our wayward host was a minimal distraction compared to the food.

Appetizer: Stuffed squash blossoms with ricotta ($12) – Perfect pockets of delightfulness. “Nature’s Cheeto” exploded in hot, melted bursts from the tender valise of blossom. It had me considering a second round immediately and possibly another in lieu of dessert.

Salad: An anchovy vinagriette, rather than “dressing,” was drizzled over mixed greens with stalks of frisee and flashes of radicchio ($14.) We were left with its garlic-y afterglow and pearls of parmesan wisdom that even had the anti-anchovist at the table raving about its non-fishy finish.

Pizza: pies contained four squatty slices, arched on imperfectly shaped pizza crust, with the artisan individuality of a snowflake.

Sausage/rosemary pie- ($15) I wanted to take a sauna in its steam of smells. Can scents by lick-able? The sweet perfume was strong enough to overwhelm the neighboring table, who inquired, “What IS that?” and then ordered one of their own.

Squash blossom/Burrata pie ($18) - as mentioned, my addiction to the squash blossoms began early in the meal and picked up here, paired with Burrata mozzarella and tomato. Burrata’s consistency was similar to that of a Cadbury cream egg. It oozed. It ran. It pooled around the flesh of the blossoms and added a little give to the crunch of the crust.

Dessert: Gelato - (three scoops, $7)
1) We ordered the olive oil gelato, having already sampled it once at the Osteria (next door), and reveled in the memory of its savory, sea-salt sprinkles.
2) Giandiua (hazelnut) had a nutty roundness that meshed flawlessly with its chocolate background.
3) This chocolate chip mint (CCM) ruined me for life. I had been swindled, bamboozled, led astray by my past CCM experiences. But here, it was like chewing on a stalk of mint with a cold rush that ended in the deep swirl of dark chocolate. Its ivory hue ensured natural ingredients and a clean finish, leading me to believe that all other CCM’s were just green with envy.

Biscotti plate- this sampling was like an edible jigsaw puzzle, fitting various shapes on a plate to form one concise picture - decadence. Pieces ranged from delicate toasted almond cookies to the teeth cracking goodness of hazelnut biscotti.

Top it off: Before we left, I noticed we were sitting near Stephen the sommelier from the first season of Top Chef. He had his signature wide-topped tie and well-fitted suit, a decanter of red to his right. I leaned over and said, “You should have won.” It was a lie, but I had to say something. Chatting it up with celebs while eating at a “very now” place is sooo LA- didn’t you know daaarrling?

Street parking easily accessible (valet $8.50)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

San Diego pizzeria- Ciro's

Ciro’s (1226 University Ave) reminds me of Disneyland, where I’m nickel and dimed for every ounce of enjoyment they can suck from my soul.

A 50 cent charge is included on debit purchases under 10 dollars and since a majortiy of their business is pizza by the slice (two slices and fountain soda for six dollars) and since I never carry cash, this is annoying.

It’s also disturbing that an extra side of blue cheese is close to a dollar and even more disturbing that they almost forgot to give it to me. I caught that, but only noticed the absence of my celery and carrots when I got home. If you’re going to gouge people, at least give them what they paid for.

But they really don’t seem to care what you paid for, if you’ve ordered or whether you’ve been standing there for 10 minutes while they call Joey to see if he’s, “up for getting trashed later.” But the tip jar is proudly pushed to the front of the counter for their stellar service (why am I tipping you for handing me a slice and a cup?)

The pizza is thin crust and tasty, but the margarita pizza is the only one I would make a special trip back for. Chopped tomatoes instead of sliced made this a noteworthy version with a perfect balance of garlic and basil.

And the wings, they would be ordered again. Their original blend gave a little sweet, a little spice and plenty of meat, but get ready to pay through the nose if you order 25 wings and like blue cheese.

Clearly built for the drunken stragglers of Universal who are willing to pour out their pockets for a bit of late night grease, Ciro’s looks much different in the light of day. The attitude, effort and additional costs make it easy for Ciro’s to remain a one night stand.*

*I did just receive a $5 off coupon for delivery, so maybe I’ll invite Ciro’s back to my bedside again (but only if I’m looking for a late night booty call.)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

San Diego bar- Hamilton Tavern

Tap--- tap--tap___ Telegraph white__ served on tap- tap____
Like Ahab in search of his white whale,
I was Rehab in search of my white ale.

I had heard of this rarity, this Telegraph white, but was not prepared for a smoky glass of liquid barbeque. This hickory switch (up) stung my senses and branded beer its own food group, which seemed to be the norm at Hamilton’s Tavern*.

*Makings of a modern day beer hall:
1) Beer tap studded ceilings
2) Belgian craft beers, local and microbrews
3) Over 130 bottles, along with unlikely tap features like, Port Party Pants
4) Pool tables, fuse ball tables, darts and shuffleboard
5) Greasy bar treats

Food orders were placed through a window manned by the surly, female chow-slinger who reminded me of a speakeasy bouncer that had just received the wrong password.

It was worth her glowering:

Beer soup- Learn it, live it, love it. You might leave ten pounds heavier if you actually treated it like a bowl of Campbell’s with its heavy cheddar and beer base, but it’s a fry’s best friend and random spoonfuls washed down my burger like an oyster shooter’s beefy cousin. The bowl was bigger then my head, bigger than Frankenstein’s head, bigger than Great Grape Ape’s head….Four of us shared a bowl and still didn’t come close to finishing.

Burgers- I debated between the Hamilton (avocado, bacon, manchengo, onion jam and house bbq sauce- yum!) and l’america burger (cheddar, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle), so I went with the choice that would make Uncle Sam proud (and I felt obligated since it looked like his long lost brother was sipping an Anchorsteam in the corner.)

L’ America was a two handed burger, but didn’t have an insurmountable wall of meat (1/2 lb.) All bites were balanced with precise burger to bun ratios and its distinct char easily made it one of the best in town.

Wings- I was thrilled with the wings, but my standards are different than most. I like them petite and crunchy (no disgusting, wobble skin), so they might be too small for some, but for my needs they were first rate (battered in Wahoo wheat beer and homemade wing sauce.)

6) Jukebox- Wow, when was the last time I heard, “Stairway to Heaven?” Probably when it turned 100,000 on the odometer of my eardrums, just as, “Shook me all night long” had left the party sometime during high school. But their comfortable lyrics were like sliding into a favorite T-shirt that had been pushed to the back of the drawer and by the end we were howling a rousing rendition of, “Stand by your man.”

Come early if you want a table (only four in total, along with two booths by the pool tables) and dogs seem to be welcome patrons.

Call me Ishmael…For I will regale this tale to the masses.
Call me a cab… I might be at Port Party Pants for a while.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

San Diego restaurant- Super Cocina

Holy Mole- Rediscovering a Mexican mainstay
It might have been my 5’9, WASP-y, blonde friend that made us stand out at Super Cocina (3627 University Ave), or the way I pronounced my emphatic, “Hola!” with the “H.” Either way, the woman behind the counter dismissed our language barrier and just started ladeling samples from her sauna of steaming pans.

We had just entered…

The Taqueria Zone: Imagine you have stumbled upon a speck of an eatery, a rundown concrete box, whose cafeteria-like nature pushes plastic trays with pre-sectioned plates amongst the click of red and yellow tile.

The twist: Instead of non-decipherable, mystery meats from some hair-netted, kitchen Frau, traditional Mexican dishes are heaped with familial generosity into tangible tastings of patience. Chaffing dishes simmer meats to “fall off the bone” status and waft the sense/scents of Sunday dinner, where passed-down recipes run the kitchen:

Chicken mole- (dark brown) I had whole-heartedly dismissed mole from my repertoire, disliking its bitter, chocolate aftertaste, but this stood out with a distinct, peanut finish that had me questioning my prior prejudice.

Spicy pork- (red) fiery and tender in a roasted chili sauce, I labeled this “shredded heat” for its texture and spice.

Pork Verde- (green) this mild sauce didn’t lack forward flavors. Garlic and cilantro were punched up for a refreshing depth to this sometimes blander option.

From these favorites (and other options like carnitas, tacos and burritos), I chose two items for under $5 (including beans and rice), so I had to go with the spicy pork... and chicken mole. That’s how life-altering the mole was- they had converted me in minutes.

Not only had Super Cocina revolutionized the way I thought about mole, but about food in general. How many dishes had I written off that had another side to show me?

The mole wouldn't have even gotten a second glance if I hadn’t been offered a taste. The willingness of the staff to educate us with multiple samplings ensured pleasure from whatever was ordered and erased any chance of miscommunication, even if we spoke different languages.

I also threw in an empanada for good measure (fried dough is always a winner) and the horchata is one of those rare delights that’s just gross enough to work (who knew milk’s sweet, lumpy cousin could be so tasty?)

I recommend going before 7pm since the fresh pans usually stop flowing around then (they close at 8:30.) Take-out also makes sense if you want to sip a cerveza when downing a bowl of “shredded heat” because sadly enough, they don’t serve alcohol here. What they do serve: epiphanies by the plateful.

Friday, July 11, 2008

San Diego bakery- Heavensent

(Hell) Bent at Heavensent - Saying Hell no to the halo

In a rush, I went against my better judgment and decided to pick up dessert at Heaven sent. I had remained distant (emotionally, geographically it was just blocks away), after several unsettled spats between their treats and my taste-buds. This recent trip of desperation only solidified why I Hades this place so much.

My cake-loving companion and I set off to choose a couple delights for a birthday celebration, but this wasn’t an easy task by any means. Mainly because the entire staff had the attitude of an annoyed teenager whose mother kept badgering them to clean their room (apparently, I was mom.)

We received a blank stare with our order (free of charge), as the girl (later referred to as Teen Trauma) searched our faces, to see if the new season of Candid Camera had picked her as the butt of a joke where “crazy customers” ordered more than one item. With body language bordering on tantrum status (stomping feet, audible sighs) she began collecting our outrageous order of THREE desserts.

“This is to go,” we mentioned, trying to cut her annoyance by clueing her in that it wasn’t all for us, but that just meant she had to get a box. Now she was pissed.

I was almost scared to ask for a chocolate malted at this point, but since it was 90 degrees outside, I took my chances. I lost. When I asked for the drink “to go”, Teen Trauma said, “I can’t do that.” Of course this made absolutely no sense, but neither had any of her other behavior, so I figured once they handed it to me in a glass, I would ask for a to-go cup and do it myself.

We waited at a nearby table when Teen Trauma 2 (the male version) sidled up with a parfait topped with bananas and malt balls. What the...? Again, I had to wait in a line as long as Purgatory and again Teen Trauma seemed exasperated by my presence. I told her that I ordered the drink, a chocolate malted, “You know, like a milkshake?”

“I’ll refund your money back.”

Um, how about offering me what I originally ordered? It would be nice to make a profit and give the customer want they wanted, wouldn’t it? It didn’t matter. Call me bat girl because I was gone faster than one out of Hell.

As for the desserts, their passage through my pearly (white) gates didn’t leave without judgment:

Guinness stout chocolate cake- the dark chocolate cake with cream cheese icing was tasty, but I’d rather spend my money on the actual beer- the name made it a novelty, but didn’t warrant a $7 price tag.

Cheesecake- cut them into triangles if you want, but three sides of “blah’ are congruent to “blah.”

Angel food cake- finally this lived up to its namesake and made for some summertime sinning with fresh strawberries and REAL whip cream-everything was balanced, airy- dare I say, heavenly.

Too bad that was my only glimpse into the light because it wasn’t enough to make me a believer. Their penance would be paid in profit losses and diminishing clientele, but that would be their cross to bear (claw.)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

San Diego bakery- Golden Donut

The Midas Touch
A faded, plastic ring meant to signify crispy batter, sagged above the ordinary, almost invisible font, “Golden Donut,” and reminded me more of buying tires than eating sweets, but this covert treasure squeezed four fundamentals of baking into their shoebox-sized shop (quality, freshness, variety and price) like jelly into a...

We walked into a smell of confections so strong that I rushed to shut the door, its precious scent escaping like heat from a house in winter. Pepto- Bismal colored counters stretched along glass cases with apartment levels of diverse pleasure (all with appetite-accessible floor plans) and the penthouse boasted the best.
Two of my favorite words - “butter” and “milk”- together formed the title of my top contender in the pastry arena. Mini-loaves, the size of individual cornbreads, were the most indulgent and most addictive piece of dough around.
Buttermilk serving suggestions:
glazed- everyday.
chocolate: celebration!
plain: could I get away with using these as rolls at my next dinner party?

…and only $3.85 for a box of six, it was clear that my accomplice and I would be sticky sick with sugar highs before the day was through.

With a knowledgeable air of a tenured professor, the woman behind the counter pointed out and named each delight we questioned, using her tongs with practiced agility. “Move down if you want to talk,” she ordered other customers blocking the register, but it held a familial softness more like, “Shoo!,” from a mother whose children were underfoot while cooking.

Lenient with their selection (i.e. buttermilks count as a donut in the six-pack), the box filled up fast with powdered raspberry jam, chocolate icing and cinnamon sugar. Mini chocolate and vanilla donuts flaunted high-end accessories like nuts and rainbow sprinkles for the same effect of a string bikini - attention whores (better throw them in the box too*.)

*Warning- Do not try Golden Donut if you have any plans of dieting soon. It will ruin you for swimsuit season.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Los Angeles restaurant- Osteria at Mozza

Mozz-art for the mouth

Aperitiv: My mind kept wandering off the road and down the avenues of possibility that sprang from the words, “mozzarella bar.” I was still trying to wrap my brain around this myth-like monument featured at Chef Mario Batali’s, Mozza (6602 Melrose Ave), when my aunt and uncle’s overnight layover in LA gave me the perfect excuse to insert myself into this culinary conundrum.

After pre-ordering a bottle of wine by phone, Mozza called back to inform me it would be $4 higher than originally quoted. It was a minimal difference, but their attention to detail gave me a firm handshake of a first impression before I even stepped through the door.

Amuse bouche: With all the giddiness of a school girl, I replayed the Osteria menu (vs. the Pizzeria, next door) in my head as we dipped into dark chocolate woods (including wine racks creeping close to the ceiling), contrasted by cloudless sky colored walls. Cherry red, meat slicers gleamed with all the appeal of a new bike and porcelain pedestals laden with caramelized leeks and asparagus flaunted roasted sugars like the Willy Wonka of vegetables.

We managed to scalp front row seats at the marble-topped mozzarella bar, manned by the legendary Nancy Silverton (expert cheese maker/restaurant partner) wielding her curds and whey. Our waiter, James*, fiddled with my uncle’s new camera and after telling us he had been a photography major at NYU (“Get out, we’re from NJ”), that was all we needed to create an instant bond (bond with James = James bond). *all mozzarella and pasta decisions were made upon James recommendations.

He handed us our first, complimentary bite of the evening that spread goat cheese, black olives and greens on a toasted baguette. Can taste-buds become fluent in Italian? Si et grazie.

Cheese course: Though many campfire tales had been told of Burrata mozzarella, nothing could prepare me for the reality. Slicing it was similar to the effects of biting into a Cadbury cream egg, but the oozing center was composed entirely of fresh cheese. Caramelized leeks and sturdy garlic bread only intensified this mild rendition with some sweetness and substance ($15.) To say I was blown away is an understatement.
Proscuitto and Burrata ($15, pictured above) also played its game of dismantling my pre-conceived notions of “mozzarella” like gazing into a funhouse mirror with a rearranged sense of the familiar. I couldn’t get over the texture. Two golf sized balls of mozzarella sat on a plate, wallpapered with proscuitto, but their consistency reminded me of a poached egg with a thin, outer layer that peeled back from the “yolk” (ham and eggs- Mozza style.)

Octopussy: James swore up and down that the octopus ($18) was like no other and repeatedly mentioned its tenderness with tourettes-like intensity, so again we listened to our James bond, our own 007 (yes, he speaks Italian and scuba dives) and if I hadn’t known it was octopus, I would have guessed it was a buttery pork chop. This was a must order item 1,000 times over, and though I'd never been a fan, this easily scored a ten(tacle.)

Pasta course: A giant ravioli with ricotta and egg yolk center ($18) might have been my favorite dish of the evening. Skeptical about a runny yolk (but reassured by James), my doubt was washed away with sage brown butter, homemade pasta and parmesan. My only complaint was that I wished I were at home, so I could have licked the plate.

True comfort food blended orecchiette pasta ($18) with the artery slowing serenity of sausage, swiss chard and the panko-like crunchiness of fresh breadcrumbs.

Meat course: Their crispy half duck ($29) achieved multiple awards from this judgmental jaw:
1) #1 crispiest skin on a duck
2) #1 juiciest meat on a duck
3) #1 original accoutrement*

*Wasabi pears were just another imaginative and complimentary dynamic to this dish served atop a wooden cutting board with a large enough knife to reenact carving Thanksgiving dinner all for myself.

My aunt “mmm-ed” over her thinly sliced steak ($26), candied with aged balsamic and tart from sheets of parmesan resting amongst mixed greens. My uncle’s monkfish ($29) in a red diavolo sauce was tasty, but my duck easily earned top billing.

Dessert course: Olive oil gelato and rosemary cakes with rosemary brittle ($11)- need I say more. I was suddenly a judge on Iron Chef. This was a whole new realm of dessert and I reveled in its savory, sweet seduction. Olive oil gelato ingrained rock salt sprinkles, while the brittle consisted of a sprig of rosemary encased in a clear piece of crystallized sugar and tasted as if eating the sprig itself (without the stem.) Mini cakes were pillows that fluffed my palate for satisfied exhaustion after a job well.

In a word: Memorable.
In a few words: I go to bed dreaming of the yolk/ricotta ravioli.
Final words: absolutely worth the trip (or several); ask for James.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Tipping is not a city in China

Rachel Ray’s $40 a day (and all you have to do is stiff your wait staff)
I just caught an old episode of Rachel Ray’s show, “$40 a day” and I remembered why I have such distain for this woman. It’s not just her forced excitement (you might actually try chewing your food before saying, “Yummo”), but the fact that her dalliances through each city only allows for a 10 percent tip to servers (even my grandparents tip more than that!)

This is not the way to travel. If you don’t have money to tip properly, then you don’t have enough money to eat out. Tip needs to be factored into the price before ordering. Why should the server suffer just because Wretched Ray decided to splurge on the red snapper?

I'm sure she imagines the peons fetching her food are lucky just to bask in her Ray rays, but I'm sure the short straw ends up waiting her table (worst sentence in restaurant rhetoric- “I’ll just have some water”). Not only is she stiffing the staff, but she is encouraging other travelers to do the same. It makes for an unappreciative way to see the country.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

San Francisco restaurant- Fog City Diner

Clear Skies at Fog City
Black and white checkered teeth smiled along Fog City Diner’s abdomen. It was a surreal experience expecting Mel’s diner (kiss my grits) and instead receiving a symphony for the senses. Classic counter and booths were present, but hair nets wouldn’t fit the bill here. It was the diner with a socialite’s makeover, hit with a gigantic powder puff that buffed out the crude wrinkles and crags of diner’s lowbrow reputation and kept the charm, while classing her up a bit.

Dessert cases backed by mahogany reflected light on spacious booths that radiated warmth through a tiny lantern and engaging waiter. Charred corn chowder also helped chase away the chill with a throw of bacon and though traditionally a thick soup, it didn’t sit heavy. Light enough if fact, for me to continue on with goat cheese and roasted eggplant stuffed piquillo peppers served with an olive dressing similar to tapenade. Their individual efforts paired together tighter than the A- team for one elite technique.

Dare I say truffle fries with asiago cheese? I would, but my tongue is still trying to scrounge any last particle of this food-a-graph from my memory. Duck confit shredded in spring rolls with shitake mushrooms, while shrimp cones whimsically scooped the savory perspective on sundaes with avocado toast, cilantro and pumpkin seed “sprinkles.”

Fog City spooned out home cooking like mom used to make, if your mom was Julia Child. Their humble persona exemplified life without cutting corners and placed upscale cuisine in a diner booth, where classy still remained comfortable.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Palm Springs restaurant- Zin Bistro

Original Zin- Zin Bistro breaks a culinary commandment

The downfall of mankind is usually associated with an apple. But was it a golden delicious or mackintosh? Perhaps Eve mistook one variety for another and by assumption, condemned our fate.

My own expectations had landed me in a similar situation (on a much smaller scale) at Zin Bistro (198 S. Palm Canyon Dr), where my choice was not what it seemed and inevitably led to my dining demise.

My mother and I discovered Zin Bistro’s oversized, open-air windows a bit too late (having just finished a mediocre meal of pizza and wine), but promised we would return the next evening to sample the glowing delicacies of their autumn menu. The main reason for our return: tempura squash blossoms stuffed with goat cheese in a light, tomato sauce.

The “Zin” stood for Zinfandel and their numerous wine awards were scattered behind the hostess stand. We chose a back booth to cut out some of the window breeze and landed in a mauve, cushioned booth across from the kitchen. Our waiter appeared and accommodatingly took our appetizer order along with the drinks. I chose cream of mushroom soup, blending silky earthiness with truffle oil, while my mother ordered her squash blossoms.

Squash blossoms arrived like miniature parcels waiting to be unwrapped, but after the first bite my mom said, “Something’s not right. Does this taste like blue cheese to you,” (as much as my mom loved goat cheese, she hated blue cheese.)

My bite included pungent veins of blue, revealing that indeed this was not what we were expecting. Chevre is the creamy, tangy version usually served when ordering "goat cheese" off a menu. Our waiter noticed our distress and after chatting with the chef, he assured us it was goat cheese. And I said, “This is chevre?”

“Yes,” he mumbled, as he let us try another bite and I pulled out another chunk of blue. After the second audible disagreement with the chef, our waiter asked if we would prefer something else as he cleared the uneaten plate. We didn’t.

For entrees, we both had macadamia encrusted mahi-mahi with sautéed spinach and mashed potatoes. Lackluster to say the least, I chided myself for not going with my first instinct, the braised rabbit, but unfortunately I wouldn’t never make it back for seconds.

At the end of the meal, the manager came over to ask us what the problem was with the squash blossoms we hadn't eaten (before she took them off the check.) We explained that we had expected chevre because:
1) In all the years of ordering goat cheese at restaurants, it has consistently been chevre (unless specified.)
2) It has become the generic, universal terminology for “goat cheese.”
3) The waiter told us it was chevre.

Her curt demeanor and pinched face made it was clear that she did not come over to satisfy, but to justify. Her answer was, “There are hundreds of goat cheeses, just as there are hundreds of cow cheeses. This was Humboldt Fog.”

Definition: The Hulk of goat cheeses, Humboldt Fog had enough muscle to wrangle palates into a headlock (similar in pungency and texture to blue cheese with bits of chunky mold.)

Meaning: It's potent profile gave all the more reason to note this on the menu.

We answered that yes, we were aware of different types of goat cheese, but when a precedent has been set, you can’t turn the tables at your discretion. If I ordered a cheese pizza, I'd assume it would be with mozzarella. Would I send it back if instead it was topped with cheddar? Absolutely- rules can't be changed mid-game. The manager’s attitude sat worse than the squash blossoms and made an unmemorable meal instantly memorable, but for all the wrong reasons.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

San Diego bar- Nunu's

Nunu's is good news

Nunu’s (3537 5th Ave) still has a strong (as its drinks) reputation as one of San Diego's premier dive bars. Blending Elks lodge aesthetic with 70's lounge swagger, booths coated in deep red vinyl line the outer wall with enough room to fit the whole crew*.

*weekend crowds force involuntary acts of acceptance to a slew of unknown “booth buddies."

Drinks are “face-wincingly” potent, which make tunes from the digital jukebox all the easier to dance to. Heavy handed barkeeps and petite perimeters on the patio induce further interaction with strangers (or at least make for a good amount of eavesdropping!)

Great drinks - yes
Great service -yes : when crowded- no
A San Diego institution- always

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

San Diego restaurant - Grant's Marketplace

Deli Wish Granted
Grant’s Marketplace (2953 Beech St.) floated in like a fairy godmother after I wished on my east coast roots to find a true, deli sandwich in San Diego.

My standard being: quality cold-cuts, thinly sliced, layered upon first-rate bread and adorned with proper condiments- not as an option, but as a steadfast rule.

Grant's seemed to have read my rulebook, but more likely they had written it. Boar’s Head meats (no turkey roll here) lured me with its bacon-like beacon from our familiar friendship back east. The bread could also hold its own, which showed guts, since most places out here treat it with secondary status- oh, how wrong they are. Besides the regulars (wheat, white, etc.), Grant's offered marbled rye and crispy, rosemary loaves from Bread and Cie (local bakery.)

This rosemary bread was essential for my first-meal-of-the-day favorite, traveling off breakfast's beaten path and directly into the “Rosemary Avocado Smash”( rosemary olive oil bread, avocado, basil, salt and pepper.) While eating my "oh, so San Diegan" dish, this town's deli potential gained some ground.

Classics like the messy warmth of a Ruben or the salty coolness of a BLT were rivaled with "freshies" like Caprese (tomatoes, mozzarella, basil) and “Smokin’ Joe” (roast beef, cheddar, bbq sauce.) The "Californian" quickly became my #1 (a metaphor for my present "state" of mind?) with turkey, white cheddar and avocado.

Grant's rounded out their reputation by swinging a mean ladle when it came to homemade soups and left me with the question, what's more important - oxygen or turkey corn chowder? Stocking shelves with unexpected finds like pancetta and high end wines, they still make sure there's enough bottles of Coke and Stewart’s root beer to sip with your "sammy".

My standard (ended up) being: Grant's standard.

It's easy to become a fixture once you grow some roots, so I'll be here often, at an outside table, just gaining a little east coast perspective from this west coast deli.

(open 6:30am-9pm)

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Boston restaurant/bar- Matt Murphy's Pub

Every element of this Irish pub was saturated in authenticity from setting to staff. We drew back a curtain that blocked Boston’s chill and entered Matt Murphy’s (14 Harvard St) as if wandering off the moors into a warm sanctuary. Lighting glowed from some old-time source like kerosene and threw dim shadows on worn, wooden tables, whose crude construction could have been the handy work of a past uncle.

The gregarious group at the bar played their jukebox of banter, guffawing and their first hit single- light hearts amongst heavy beers. The crispy fish and chips were not the usual version of England’s national, thick, fried treat. This Irish design wore a light enough coat that the fish could actually be seen and pulled apart in tender clumps- I could have eaten three orders of this.

The pulled barbecue pork sandwich was my second favorite, matching pungent, Irish cheese with sweet sauce for a symbiotic combo that made me wonder if Ireland’s disputes couldn't be resolved with a lesson from the sandwich- melding opposites into one superior reality. The Jewel offered a vegetarian option that layered goat cheese and veggies for another oddly, light option to surface at an Irish Pub.

The staff’s bona fide brogue and familial manner (i.e. passage through kitchen to use the restroom, waitresses leaning across you to serve) were the final triumphs to make me want to “go green” daily.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Palm Springs- Wagon's Ho

Thousand Palms Oasis
She told me the only way to get to the oasis was a two hour, covered wagon ride. “Come on, we’ll be like the pioneers.”

My mom was always doing this- forcing insurmountable feats of sightseeing, commonly off the beaten path and ending amongst a menagerie of forgotten rest stops. I had to remind her of the OK Corral incident of 94’ where she insisted that, “Since we’re right here,” we could watch the “performance” of “actors”. Let’s just say all the saloon girls were probably from original saloons- nothing like a ninety year old hooker to give you a hankering for history.

I winced each time she questioned a clerk or picked up a pamphlet in search of her wagon train. The fact that no one knew about it was another great sign. We finally got our hands on a sun bleached flyer depicting sweaty tourists wedged on two hard planks beneath a dirtied canvas. Woefully she studied it, “Oh, I thought it would be just us, listening to the driver’s stories.”

But that wouldn’t make sense for an attraction of this magnitude, now would it?

So on our last day in Palm Springs, my mom “discovered” that we could get there ourselves. Sprung from arid dust and heat, palm trees became evident about 20 minutes out- a preview of sorts. Moments later, we trampled a trail reminiscent of King Kong's native island with enough prehistoric-sized vegetation to make me wary of pterodactyls swooping down to grab me. Only a short walk (15 minutes) to the oasis, I would have surely bludgeoned myself in a wagon that took two hours for this portion of the trip-why?!

The slight of hand that had placed this lush sanctuary here amongst nothingness was like nature’s Las Vegas. It was a thing of Ali Baba and the 40 thieves or a Bugs Bunny cartoon (“Open sez-me”) - a real oasis, and though it was only a pool of water, its position deigned it surreal and precious- worth the walk (yes Mom, worth it OK- but not as in OK Corral OK.)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

San Diego restaurant- South Beach

This is the last stop before you hit sand. South Beach's(5059 Newport Ave) weather-beaten bar only accepts cash and IDs patrons at the door (even during lunchtime), but continues to lure me with my favorite fish fantasy - the mahi taco.

It's not all mahi tacos I crave, only South Beach's concoction of shredded cabbage, melted cheddar and the thin white sauce (still mysterious in origin) atop this piece of fish, geometrically fitted to the tortilla's specifications. Every time I try to order something else (Rockefeller would surely grumble to know the oysters here shared his name and the lobster tacos aren't even a close second), I realize that they are the sole reason for my return.

It's not for their dysfunctional policy where food and drinks are ordered separately, forcing patrons to navigate the crowded bar whenever thirsty. Or for the criminal acts of line-cutting that ensue from their free-for-all philosophy about seating. Or for one of the grosser bathrooms in San Diego (mix sand with drunks and see what comes up).

It's for the personification of summer on a plate. Give me two mahi tacos with a pint of Hefeweizen and its all gravy baby.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Vegas Wedding- Wynn Casino

A Wynn - win situation

We arrived 40 minutes early because the groom insisted in his finest Jersey manner, “No one better be late.” So with some time to kill, we decided to kill some brain cells- off to the bar.

We ended up at the Parasol Up lounge on the Wynn casino floor that looked like the inside of Jeannie’s bottle, forcing me to wonder why she was always trying to escape- these were nice digs. Plush pillows and sofas were spread out in deep ambers and mahogany that reminded me of Arabian Nights, if they had hired an impeccable decorator.

I was still a little queasy from the night before and couldn’t decide on what to drink until I saw the bartender’s handheld juicer for squeezing citrus. I knew my answer- Grey Goose, club and fresh lime juice. Wow! Way different than just adding a slice of lime, this citrus worked as the main component in this refreshingly, light libation that would ease me into another night of countless toasts.

The wedding: The Lilac salon softened its five rows with hazy, pink light as if looking through rose colored glasses, which I guess is the best way to start a marriage. Its intimacy made me feel as if we had won front row seats to my favorite concert (and were the groupies picked to party with the band later.)

The reception: My favorite part of the evening was the food (besides all that jazz about lifelong commitment and happiness). There was no sit down dinner, no seating chart- this was Vegas baby and heavy appetizers circulated for the entirety of this reception. Like lions smelling flesh, we had unknowingly positioned ourselves next to the point where all appetizers entered. We caught every server by the arm and brusquely asked, through mouthfuls of prior offerings, what was on his tray.

Short ribs over mashed potatoes gave my belly the necessary comfort after days of poolside drinks. The parmesan risotto also stuck to my ribs and coddled me with its buttery cream. The lamb chops couldn't have made me happier than if I were Sheri Lewis and the mini cheeseburgers were like shrink-rayed versions of any succulent burger add advertising “all the fixings.” It kept coming- crab cakes, chicken with peanut sauce...and then there was dessert.

An entire station was dedicated to this “after-dine delight” (similar to feelings from “afternoon delight”) like a fantastical tea party for adults. Miniature cheesecakes were donned with bells of blueberries and crème brulee sat primly in miso soup spoons (me-so loved it!) Digesting all that this day held, the cappuccino and espresso machine whirred in the background while I resigned myself to indulged contentment and reveled in one of Vegas’s rare Wynn-win situations.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Boston shop- Johnny Cupcakes

Eye Candy
Now, I could have my cake and wear it too. Johnny Cupcakes (279 Newbury St.)faked the appearance of a bakery, but upon closer inspection through their glass, pastry cases, I realized clothes were the sweet treat here. The ultimate emblem of cupcake and crossbones graced T-shirts asking “Have you had your cupcake today?” or “Make cupcakes. Not war.”

Keeping these cool threads in refrigeration cases or displayed on baking sheets, the novelty came at a price (about $35 a T-shirt) with pierced and tatted scat-cats running the joint, as if waiting for their older, non-existent boss to return.

“It reminds me of the Emperor’s New Clothes,” said my boyfriend’s stepfather. It was true- the stark store worked its magic with bare bones and a fanciful idea that whipped success out of nothing...kind of like cupcakes- convincing the masses one tray at a time.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

San Diego restaurant- Baby Back Jack's

I want my money back, money back, money back …ribs

Baby Back Jack’s (1290 E. University Ave) puts the meaty in mediocre with a plate that looks enjoyable with well endowed rib meat, but disappoints with weak flavor and soggy texture. It seems reasonable at $7.95 for ribs, fries and a side, but that’s no deal when everything is sub par. Although edible, it was unmemorable and the coleslaw (with pineapple), pasta and potato salad were worthless, bland additions to this “hrmph” meal.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

San Diego bar- Kensington Club

You know you've arrived at Kensington Club (4079 Adams Ave) by its super strain of hipster, cool cats crowding the bar. This joint might look like the place where fans of The Stray Cats would come to die, but its rocking jukebox (that never plays your own requests) pumps out enough favorites to have you soulfully reciting lyrics into your beer. Amongst slicked hair and dark lighting, long pool games in the back are played on its only table, keeping competitors and drinks going down easy. A large slab of concrete creates a crude dance-floor, evoking eons of teen basement bashes and hole-in-the-wall hi-jinx to be revisited.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

San Diego restaurant- Donovan's Steak and Chop House

Disney’s Haunted Mansion in its heyday, before the ghosts arrived and when high society graced its doors, was the feel upon entering Donovan’s. We squinted to adjust to dark wood and non-existent lighting, antique chandeliers eking out the dimmest of watts, but enough to glimpse the well stocked bar with a lazy-Susan of fruity condiments shining like precious gems. We were welcomed enthusiastically by the entire staff and our waiter, Lucky, who was as valuable as his name implied.

We started out with a cocktail and when my scotch-loving sweetie ordered Macallan 12 year with two ice cubes, Lucky suggested, “Would you prefer our gigantic ice cube specifically for single malts?” This perfectly square glacier fit like a puzzle piece into the glass for a novel, classy touch. Lucky was also an expert with the wine list and helped us choose the light bodied Chianti (Isole e Olena, 2005) that is now my reigning favorite.

The service and décor was top notch, but unfortunately the food fell a little short. Fried calamari was tender, but not memorable and the fact that it was served with tartar sauce furthered our disappointment. Crab cakes were engorged with lump meat, but their addition of raw, red pepper overwhelmed the dish. Lump crabmeat can (and should) stand on its own without any extra filler (also served with tartar sauce- can we get a little diversity in the condiments people?)

I got the 14 oz center cut veal chop as my entrée and about 6 oz of that was fat. What? Fatty veal, I’ve never heard of such a thing! I still regret not saying anything to Lucky, who would have promptly solved the problem in some way I’m sure. My eating accomplice ordered the lamb, which was superb and perfectly cooked, so I forced him to share. The skillet potatoes with peppercorn gravy (upon Lucky’s recommendation, of course) were one of my favorite attractions here with thin, round slices covered like a mud-wrestler in peppercorn gravy and sautéed onions.

Donovan’s old money vibe could be felt from the starched attendants to the high prices and reminded me of a night at the theater where I needed to use my “inside voice”. The atmosphere dripped sophistication from its dark booths (already reserved by bejeweled, older couples that had been coming here for years) and secured its hushed etiquette like a stylish neckerchief. The time transcending appeal of this “functioning Haunted Mansion” and Lucky were probably the best part of the meal, which didn’t say much about the food. It also wasn’t enough to blind me to Donovan’s obvious shortcomings- summed up: pricey and dicey.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Vegas restaurant- Rosemary's

Rosemary’s and Time- This sage sanctuary has Vegas stepping off the Strip

The taxi ride was longer than I remembered, but that was probably because any recollection I had of Rosemary’s (8125 W Sahara Ave)was about the food. Twenty minutes off the Strip, Rosemary’s graces its own strip (mall), where Chefs Michael and Wendy Jordan continue to rival any contortionist Cirque show for creativity and execution.

A flash of Mary Poppins extracting a coat rack from her carpetbag flooded my mind as I stepped from molten asphalt into a bath of beige and black. Somehow this desert mirage remained immune to the venom Vegas spit on the Strip. There was a whiff of reality here (along with deep breaths of garlic) and our initial steps inward lowered our temperature 10 degrees.

They had expanded the space since my last visit in 2003 and it suited them well. An outstretched bar beckoned us with an array of elixirs and Venetian tendencies (as in Venice, Italy, not the Venetian, Vegas), basing neutral hues behind vibrant artwork. This “breath of fresh air entrance” flowed into the warm yellows and soft sconces of the dining room.

Our twenty something waitress was enthusiastic, but much too comfortable with her use of the word “sucked,” which hacked through the fine décor like a pick axe. Her dialectic destruction was buffed out by the open arms of an amuse bouche and I accepted the crispy wanton topped with salmon mousse and citrus aioli as a refreshing, bite-sized “welcome”. Choices of bread like pecan wheat or macadamia white chocolate also opened with gregarious “how-do-you- dos.”

Besides “gutter mouth gal”, service was a highlight here and a main reason for my return. Collaboration of courses played out in a choreographed routine, where waiters lifted silver covers and distributed plates in unison. Jazz hands- appetizers had arrived. Smitten as kittens we mewed with delight at the saucers placed before us, but upon tasting the first option, hissing (and spitting) became more our demeanor.

Hugo’s Texas BBQ shrimp with Maytag blue cheese slaw was a Hugo disappointment. Smokey was the bandit, unmentioned and unwelcome, in the barbeque sauce with its distinct embers lingering on my palate like match-heads. I was more disappointed by an insufficient menu description than the actual dish (some people like smokey) and this formidable food decision weighed on my mind as heavily as the soggy, blue cheese slaw accompanying it.

The grass wasn’t much greener on the salad side. I thought I was down at the boon docks with the smell that emanated from my Caesar and though anchovies are a necessary component for this classic, they in no way should be the prominent flavor (or smell).

I hesitated to think that maybe my idea of the food was remembered too grandly from either multiple bottles of wine or a love for this opulent oasis, but then it appeared as a bird? A plane? No…Fabulous Fig! Donning a proscuitto cape and accompanied by his goat cheese sidekick (stuffed, snuggly inside), this salty, sweet superhero saved the day (a triumphant cheer went out over the crowd) and just like that, the cogs of this well (olive) oiled machine slid back into place.

Possibly to make up for my prior disappointments, culinary karma delivered one of the most prolific entrées ever to grace my lips. I believe that day my journal entry read, “Today I became a woman.” Their veal filet had me throwing my head back and grunting involuntarily, similar to the overplayed scene from “When Harry met Sally…” Green lentils exploded like salty sparklers and bacon confetti rained on the sherry mustard butter sauce like it was a holiday- it sure felt like one. This could possibly be the best piece of meat I’ve ever had (#1 meat entree nationwide).

The rack of lamb also managed magnificent feats of flavor, seeping natural juices into Kalamata olive mashed potatoes and blending with the rosemary bordelaise (a reduction of red wine, shallots and demi-glace) to form a potent jus.

We didn’t have room for dessert, but that didn’t matter- they brought it anyway. Peanut butter truffles, dark chocolate truffles and lemon squares were presented as their “after dinner amuse bouche” and was a tasty metaphor that symbolized what Rosemary’s brought to the table- tangible appreciation.

Playing to each olfactory sense, Rosemary’s fine tuned performance gave an experience, rather than just a meal. Even our two unfavorable selections were forgiven like a teenager’s bad attitude, squashed by the overall success of the show. Coined as a rarity here, Rosemary’s elcits one of Vegas's most jaw dropping (and closing) illusions, where humble elegance outshines the neon bulbs.

Wed - (Ladies night) fifty percent off for women
Sun – fifty percent off wine bottles
*discount gift certificates can also be purchased at some Costco stores

Sunday, May 11, 2008

San Diego restaurant- Antique Row Cafe

Antique Stale

Too bad the quality of food at Antique Row Café (3002 Adams)isn’t as high as the staff’s enthusiasm because their customer service makes you want to go back for more. But, the crowded walls with Marilyn and Elvis memorabilia don’t have the same effect as the Hard Rock Café’s precious cargo and instead appears as if a garage sale threw up in the dining room. Mounds of musty clutter looms upon dank paneling and sags over the faded roadmap upholstery. Hopefully their unexpected (and unexplained), eternal weekend wait will veer you away from brown, egg flaps (omelets) and sandwiches featuring stale bread with thick, generic lunch meat.

Friday, May 9, 2008

San Diego- "I Like Ike" (Turner?)

After my stolen car was recovered, I started working more hours as a massage therapist for an upscale, personal training center (see West Coast follies). Their client base dealt with several athletes from the Chargers and Padres, so it wasn’t out of the ordinary when they called with a client that insisted I speak through his agent. Upon hearing the name I thought, “Why would anyone use that as an alias?”

The only other possibility- he was who he said he was.
I stumbled over the words, “THE Ike Turner?!”
My 20-something, “squeaky clean” manager (later referred to as Squeaks) sat on the phone a minute before asking, “Who’s that?”

Who’s that?! Had he not ever heard of Tina Turner’s abusive husband? Ike was more notorious for wife beats than song beats and I told Squeaks to go rent, “What’s love got to do with it.”

I left a message on the agent’s phone, “Um, if this is THE Ike Turner, I’m not interested.” By the time I got called back a couple hours later, I decided that I wasn’t comfortable doing the massage either way since no one knew the client. His agent apologized for the delay and assured me that yes, it was the famous Ike Turner and no, he wasn’t so bad, but had just gotten some negative press over the years.

“I won’t be able to help you,” I repeated, but the agent insisted and then went on to name all the positive aspects, like Ike’s girlfriend would be there (yeah, big help) and reminded me that he was an old man at this point.

Did that really matter? I could care less how old he was. I wouldn’t want to massage an old Nazi either. Just because he was defenseless now, didn’t mean he wasn’t responsible for past behavior. No one could tell me what, Ike “deep-rooted issues with women” Turner, was thinking while I massaged him (“That’s right- you BETTER rub Ike’s leg!”) Take your back pain Ike (like Tina took all those punches) and roll on down the river.

A couple weeks later I was playing Trivial Pursuit with some friends and the orange question (general knowledge) read, “Who admitted to punching and kicking Tina, but not beating her?” Of course I had to bring it into work and show Squeaks that this man’s wife beating was so well documented that it had been incorporated into a pop culture board-game.

If that hadn’t shown him, I guess the NY Post headline the day after Ike died would- “Ike Turner beats Tina to death.”

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

San Diego restaurant- Commonwealth Cafe

I prefer walking to this diorama-sized diner that sits aside Bluefoot bar to ease some of my guilt about gorging bacon cheeseburgers. Beneath Hulk neon (in strength and color) drunken faces seem just a bit greener.

The size of a Manhattan apartment, Commonwealth’s prim rows of neatly organized ladles and grandmother-esque pedestals, offering homemade carrot cake, are as much of a draw as their menu. The best part is sharing the Wealth by grabbing a beer at Bluefoot while waiting for food (you can even eat it there too.)

Juicy burgers soften the varnished sheen of its sturdy bun (noticeably delicious), but sliders can sometimes sneak by with a downgrade in flavor as well as size. Although, they do make for a cheap companion ($3.25 for 2) when fries feature as entrée.

Curly or straight? Fry-dom for the people- it’s your choice. Blue cheese fries (curly) are almost like a bowl of noodles (utensils mandatory), but my favorite pick flames the sweet perfume of chili cheese (straight fry) - if only I could bottle the scent. Wings were a little big for my liking (aka “radioactive wings”), but my boyfriend, Bubba (a valid moniker since he grew up south of the Mason-Dixon Line), was thoroughly delighted with the abundance of meat and vinegar tartness mixed with the heat.

Amusing additions like the Texas football (Fritos, chili and cheese) and cinnamon toast sound even more appealing after a night of drinks at Bluefoot.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Las Vegas restaurant- Prime Steakhouse

A game of high steaks at the Bellagio

The drone of hopeful millionaires waned as the six of us dipped into the paneled honeycomb of Bellagio’s steakhouse, Prime. We had drifted away from the hoots and hollers of night owls and seemingly onto the set of a high budget film that hadn’t decided whether its focus was Old Hollywood, Gone with the Wind or French Victorian. Blue, velvet drapes careened from ceiling to floor, busting from a girdle of gold chords that could easily fashion Scarlett’s next dress. Fountains flitted outside the window like children intent on a game of tag and added just enough Disneyland amusement to complete this abstract portrait.

Despite swiveled heads and rubber necks we arrived at our table unscathed and dwarfed by an immense painting resembling Venus’s sister (staring wide-eyed at our plates to ensure we ate all our vegetables). An ocean of carpet, thick enough to swallow any signs of dropped silverware, necessitated “Alice in Wonderland-like” gold knockers on the back of each chair for easy towing.

Auditioning for the stereotypical role of “Jeeves”, our waiter ascended with a raised nostril of disgust (Scene 1: sniffing dirty sweat sock) and upon ordering drinks (Scene 2: serving a stiff cocktail of contention), one of my culinary colleagues murmured, “I feel like the waiter thinks he’s better than me.”

We laughed, but the apparent exasperation wasn’t funny. Jeeves’s superiority was stifling from the first wrinkle of his nose to his wafting stench of arrogance, and not only did it lessen our experience, but lowered the overall standard of the restaurant. A true upscale establishment ensures the customer’s comfort at all costs and Jeeves couldn’t even spare a dime.

Our annoyance was overridden by a dining cart bearing silver orbs of secrecy, each cover lifted and replaced in the edible version of “find the queen”. My fork first tore at symbiotic landmarks of top grade tuna and avocado wading in ginger/ soy with its light, rejuvenating effects similar to a Fountain of Youth (for the palate). The salad set posed an ordinary looking Caesar like a diminutive wallflower, but beneath his classic cover laid a defined body and final punch of citrus that lifted his status to “crowd pleaser Caesar”.

Unfortunately, the crispy goat cheese fondue did not rival Caesar for top billing and was a disappointment in concept and taste. This tomb of fondue bandaged goat cheese (head to toe) in a fried, phyllo sarcophagus that trapped the necessary tart-n-creamy catalyst. “The curse of teeth rotting sweetness” attacked an unassuming frisee salad with grapes and pear vinaigrette (its pungent antidote only inches away).

The “meat and greet” came next with the promise of the protein packed main course that had led us here. My lamb chops, encrusted with chili crumbs, were ordered at medium rare, but arrived closer to rare. Still delectable, I ravaged them, dipping sporadically in the bevy of sauces accompanying the meal (béarnaise, spicy pepper, etc.) The steak au poivre was paved with a thick asphalt of peppercorns (not a pothole of naked meat to be seen) with a potency that could remove tar. The tearing and coughing induced by this dish might be used as protection in a dark alley- the original pepper spray.

Two of our other carnivorous constituents ordered the porterhouse- one requesting medium rare and the other medium. A couple bites into the meal, the medium rare “requestee” found himself in the middle of medium man’s steak. Medium man had already manhandled the “mis-steak” placed before him (cooked almost exactly like the other) and munched happily on what he thought to be his order. This was inexcusable- not only did these prices demand perfection (around $50 a steak), but the moniker of “steakhouse" insists on the chefs’ aptitude for mastering meat temperatures. This was a blunder that couldn’t be overlooked as easily as Jeeves’s snippy quips and would be the resounding memory of the meal (though thoughts of their lumpy, heavily salted mashed potatoes would be reminisced of fondly).

I could now empathize with Dr. Malfi’s attraction to Tony Soprano. I was immediately enamored with this piece of work’s over-the-top and muddled alter egos, but inconsistency and a mafia sized payoff eventually marred my fond feelings. As Prime puckered for its “kiss of death” in my final farewell, I still admired its larger than life character, but couldn’t trust Prime’s rep enough to invest that type of dough.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

NJ restaurant- Captain Jack's

Captain Jack's will get you hooked tonight (CLOSED)

Sowing an orchard of tightly knit, gingerbread cottages amongst perennial “moop” (mom and pop) shops, Ocean Grove caters to the ebb and flow of Jersey Shore tourism while tending to locals year round. Captain Jack’s (68 Main Ave) earns its prestigious moniker with a menu focused on the deep, not only through fish-laden fare, but in depth of flavors, presentation and plotting a course that’s nothing short of smooth sailing.

Attentive and gracious, our waiter recited the evening’s specials while opening our wine (BYOB) and advised us on our first order (of business). Do not pass go, do not collect $200, go straight to…the homemade potato chips. These starchy slices took the chip off any shoulder by dousing it in a cheesy concoction that could only conjure up fond feelings. The true hero of this dynamic duo was the warm, weighted comforter of slightly browned cheeses, wrapping arteries in its gluttonous folds of indulgence. No Velveeta in this mix of Gouda, white cheddar and provolone that necessitated sharing with friends before overdosing on five pounds of melted cheese alone.

Fried calamari paid out in light, tender tokens using minimal breading, quality freshness and a mouth puckering, tempura sauce (ginger/soy essence) to elevate this app to ‘lord of the rings’. Mixed greens with blue cheese and candied pecans complimented each other in a steadfast pairing as the adult ‘sweet-tart’.

Entrees opened with the macadamia encrusted snapper, tasting as “caloric-ally” engorged as the nut encasing it –opulence at its finest. Swimming amongst shrimp buerre blanc and docking on a mashed potato reef, this snapper navigated its way to top of my poll. Fresh, high grade tuna surfaced with a trio of complimentary chums who brought out the best in their fishy friend- seaweed salad cooled, pickled shitake mushrooms puckered and wasabi cream cleansed.

We sidetracked from scales and weighed the options between two plucky preparations of duck. The half duck with blackberry/soy lost out to an orange/ginger glazed breast and a quarter of dark meat. Encircled by meticulously sliced medallions, cranberry relish glowed beneath a teepee of crisp skin and succulent thigh meat (shredding with the smallest provocation). The contrast of duck on this dish gave a variety of focal points while remaining cohesive-job well done.

From fish to fowl, we couldn’t have been more pleased. In an area where the seafood and tourist trades are highly competitive markets, Captain Jack’s thrives as an affordable, weekly go-to by delivering a quality product with every meal. Though there are many fish in the sea, few are prepared as tastily as those that leave Captain Jack’s galley.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

NJ restaurant- Brandl's in Belmar

Brandl’s gives fresh thought to upscale American fare(photos courtesy of Brandl.)

Posing 9th Ave courtyard reflections in their expansive, display windows (engaging in the summer, but drafty in the winter), Brandl’s converted storefront has earned its place as a staple on every one of my NJ visits. Surviving almost a decade in Belmar’s seasonal, shore community, Chris Brandl’s clairvoyant ability to dictate food trends has earned him a little Manhattan in downtown Belmar. The only catch – this posh cuisine includes a pompous attitude at a big price. Is it worth patronizing a place that patronizes you, solely for the food? For me, this one is.

The intimate layout was drunk in with a quick gulp (deep scarlet walls spattered with artwork and thick, upholstered drapes.) Our welcome by the wooden maitre d’, who’s icy greeting extended from host to server in slow winter months, proved colder than any window draft.

The Iceman cometh to pop our cork (BYOB, now also offer wine) and curtly recite dinner specials, as warm bread wafted like silent apologies from the busboy’s basket. Further reparations were made with the deconstructed Caesar salad, where whole Romaine leaves were grilled and rather than wilting, bloomed in rich, smoky contrast to oven-roasted tomatoes lining the plate. Garlic soaked dressing and large shards of parmesan interpreted this translation of a classic into my tongue’s fluent favorite (#1 Caesar pick nationwide).

A structurally sound tower of tuna tartar and avocado brought the house down with wasabi crème fraiche and citrus soy additions power-washing the palate.
My crab-cakes runneth over with lump crabmeat and the mango chutney with cilantro oil (caramelized shallots with whole grain honey mustard in winter) gave complexity to these miniature morsels without masking the star (side photo).

Threads of the familiar wove through upscale entrees beginning with the Lazy Lobster, aptly named for incapacitating its victim by arriving de-shelled and ready for feasting. Succulent jewels of claw and tail meat plumped beneath a velvet carpet of asparagus risotto finished with cream and vanilla- so rich, it left me feeling like royalty (It’s good to be the king.) A few succulent bites were all that could be scavenged from two teeny lamb chops, but size didn’t matter when it came to this positive portrayal that extracted all of the lamb’s essence without leaving an overpowering tang. Their petite nature was further forgiven with the billowy, tartness of a goat cheese/caramelized onion cake that rounded out the dish.

For a walk on the “wild side” (literally) we ventured for wild boar chops (top photo), whose distict pungency was softened by wild mushrooms, crispy gnocchi and a touch of truffle honey. I could get used to this game. Kona crusted buffalo tenderloin reflected adventurous ambition, but the coffee coating surrounding the tender meat wasn’t my cup of Joe.

Dessert time chimed with tiramisu and its delicate layers of cream followed by the subtle punch of espresso, soaked cake- a pleasure to the eye and palate. The dark chocolate soufflé (ordered 45 min in advance for 2) arrived looking impressive, accompanied by a small pitcher of melted chocolate, but even after being poured, the cake was extremely dry - not worth the money or the wait. The gelato, or should I say overpriced ice cream was disappointing for the obvious difference in taste. If you’re advertising gelato, it needs to be gelato (especially at $4 a scoop)! It’s best to stick with appetizers and entrees- the portions are small, but scrumptious.

Winter offers a $30 three course prix-fixe menu
BYOB optional

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

New Jersey - College Funnels

It’s illegal to pump your own gas in New Jersey and though there’s no rhyme or reason to this rule, if you disobey, you will be scolded and shamed back into your car by a disgruntled attendant.

So besides being called a “yankee”, there was another part of moving to Tallahassee that I had to get used to when attending college in FL- the self serve gas station. All went smoothly, until senior year when I got into a car accident that dented my car's rear end. Since it still drove fine, I didn’t pay much attention until the next time I went to pump gas. Dent = impossible insertion of gas nozzle.

Putting my college education (and financially strapped status) to use, I decided that instead of getting it fixed, I would go to Auto Zone and buy a funnel.

The plan: I would stick a flexible funnel in the gas tank and all my troubles would be alleviated for $5.95. Of course it wasn’t as simple as that. The problem was that every gas station had different pressure on their pumps and sometimes when I would squeeze, there would be a burst of gas, which flew out of the pump and directly onto me. Needless to say I was very popular at school.

“Hey did you get Tuesday’s notes?”
“No, ask the girl that smells like gas.”

I finally had to put my funnel to rest when I graduated and was returning to NJ, realizing I wouldn’t be able to ask for $10 of regular and then pass my funnel out the window.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

San Diego restaurant- Hash House

Skillets bearing behemoth portions always make me wonder how the wait staff doesn't have carpal tunnel from the massive mounds of food they carry. This is a definate spot when impressing out- of-towners for an unduplicated experience in gluttony. Breakfasts, "Flinstone-ian" in size, would leave even Fred with leftovers.

The bacon waffle acts out the most devious of sweet and savory fantasies, satisfying every wicked craving. They hit the nail on the hand-hammered pork loin, crisp with yellow tomato, spinach and bbq cream. Sage fried chicken with maple reduction, eggs, bacon mashed potatoes and biscuit also performs amazing acts of "breakfastry".

But, is this where I go regularly on weekends? Never. Besides the wait, the attraction of mammouth portions wanes when you have eight pounds of eggs to cart home (not too good the next day) and no visitors to impress.

But I still have love for a place that lists a 20 oz. Bud can in a paper bag on its menu.

Friday, April 25, 2008

San Diego restaurant- Lucky Buck's

The Jinx

Not long ago, I saw a banner reading "voted best burger in town" waving outside of Lucky Buck's (1459 University Ave). I twisted my head in revulsion trying to reread these words that could only be decoded as "the judge of this contest burned his taste-buds off in a childhood tragedy".

Lucky Buck's advertises gourmet burgers and burritos, which must mean Burger King is true royalty. Just because it's labeled gourmet doesn't make it so (meaning: pepper jack cheese does not equal sophistication.)

No such thing as medium rare here, since the cook mercilessly presses every last drop of juice from the charred patty.A new accessory for the palate, the charcoal clutch, gave a lip pursing effect that had me spitting nails (or nail-like gravel of meat.)

Buck's stale, stripped garage aesthetic gives a dirty feel to the place (or maybe it's just the loose topping/condiment station). Their waffle fries and onion rings aren't half bad, but it's not worth another trip back to this jinx.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

San Diego restaurant- the Better Half

The 'Half' has the Whole Package

Rule 1: Give me free food and I’ll be back.
Rule 2: Give me phenomenal free food and I’ll be back for life.
Rule 3: Give me multiple offerings of phenomenal free food and I’ll be sleeping here.

Somebody get out the cot.

Quaint quarters welcomed us into a cave-like glow where Chef John Kennedy swept in and out of the dining room, visiting tables and toting his sassy sense of humor like a favorite teacher where every student was his pet. The dinner bell had rung and it was time for class.

Lessons of the ‘Half’ life

Lesson 1: Half and half – Owing its name to the fact that they only sell half bottles, our forty-three dollar, Baker Lane (Hurst vineyard) pinot noir was worth every penny. A cask wouldn’t have been enough, so the half bottle didn’t come close, but their idea of pairing a white for the first course and red for the second makes for an excellent multiple choice. Allowing outside wine of any size for a five dollar corking fee also brings up the GPA.

Leson 2: Toast of the town - Is there anything better than an amuse bouche? This bite sized morsel of gratitude boasted a toasted baguette swirled with goat cheese, sundry tomatoes and micro-greens. FREE

Lesson 3: Beet feats - Not much of a beet lover, but along for the ride with one, the “leaning tower” of beets was sculpted in svelte architecture and though not my favorite, it impressed (and ap-Pisa-ed) me.

Lesson 4: Signature salad - I was skeptical when I saw strawberries, candied walnuts and fig vinaigrette. It sounded much too sweet, but somehow it all blended into a delicate mix with greens and bursts of tartness from goat cheese. All doubts dissolved on my tongue.

Lesson 5: Ice cream cleansing - Maybe the most important lesson of all, cleansing the palate. Miniature ice cream cones bearing lemon sorbet were inventive, practical and playful. FREE

Lesson 6: Down and trout - For extra credit, the pecan encrusted trout appeared on tonight’s specials with maple compound butter and herbed rice pilaf, bathing me in its sweet and salty afterglow (top photo).

Lesson 7: Tongue and cheek - As soon as that veal cheek hit my tongue, its tender texture floated down my throat. The aftertaste was potent from the savory, chocolate sauce similar to mole with a French flare (depth without overpowering), along with lentils that also softened the dish like a kiss on the cheek.

Lesson 8: The long and the short (rib) of it- Cabernet short ribs voluntarily shredded off the bone served with cauliflower and horseradish mash that had a consistency similar to a browned couscous. Veggies that taste like starch- I’m all in.

Lesson 9: Sprout-prise! - Sautéed and chopped, Brussels sprouts appeared like a tasty quarter pulled from my ear. FREE

Final exam: Brulee relay- We handed off the maple glazed crème brulee to one another, ending our well-rounded education with sighs of stuffed triumph.

They had passed all my tests. In a time where economic strain had most restaurants feeling the pinch, the Better Half’s dining room still bustled in calm reliability. Our waitress, Kelley, revealed that the menu would soon be revised for Spring, which only gave us more reason to study new courses here. Their ability to change with the times, maintain success in a plummeting market and engage the community through a chef that’s a “man of the people”, the Better Half gets my vote for the “Stove-al” Office with Kennedy as President.

Monday, April 21, 2008

San Diego restaurant- Island Prime

‘Prime’ Time gives viewers mixed messages

A light fog seemed to have drifted off the water and into Island Prime's (880 Harbor Island Drive) dining room, creeping low on wooden paneled walls and dimly lit tables, stark of linens. A kaleidoscopic view of all aquatic fronts reflected in countless countless bay windows, resting beneath raised rafters, and forced me to switch seats twice before choosing San Diego’s downtown lights over harbor reflections.

A Titanic ensemble ranged in apparel from jeans to formal wear, creating an unclear impression to whether this was an elegant experience or a high priced hoot-nanny. I was torn between my pleased palate and wilted wallet.

Our waiter immediately arrived to fill drink orders and inform us that he would be indisposed for a few moments with a newly seated table of six. Impressed with his direct communication, we were never questioning his brief, yet noticeable absence as we were plied with cocktails and pancake battered muffins that reminded me of an upscale carnival treat.

But the most memorable part of the meal arrived in the form of an inspired, salad accessory that I plan on campaigning to become a staple of the American table- the tempura, fried anchovy. This warm, crispy burst of saltiness arrived like a feather in Caesar’s cap and was far superior to any crouton. The salad itself was a foggy memory as I reveled in the delight of a newfound, deep-fried friend. I wanted 100 more of them. Our clams casino were gone faster than cash in its gambling namesake, shelling out moist, garlic breading with hits of citrus in each dime sized bite.

A ‘study in lobster’ focused on three individual preparations of the Maine variety, making a sweeter, more succulent entrance than the west coast, Mexican lobster. Opening with bisque, a heartfelt “hallelujah” escaped my lips before an opaque blanket of pink velvet enveloped my tongue. Claw meat arrived like a present resting on my spoon and I admired someone doing their homework on what makes superior bisque- cream, sherry and lobster- easy as 1-2-3.

In a clever sequel, the mini grilled cheese and lobster sandwich warmed comfort food cockles, while the third theory translated a Mexican tostada with shredded lobster and black beans. I liked this last choice least and formed the same conclusion I had in prior studies- lobster is best “au natural”, but with its impeccable and playful presentation I would take this course again.

Not a fan of scallops, but admiring their hazelnut coated preparation served with a goat cheese risotto cake, I asked if the snapper could be done the same way. Accommodating my wish I received the flaky, luxuriance of snapper matched with the tart decadence of savory cake. My dinner colleague ordered NY strip steak with pancetta in a pinot noir reduction, which was adequate, but as he noted, “nothing to jump up and shout about”.

Sideshow acts ranged from freakishly common sautéed mushrooms to jaw-dropping, truffle macaroni and cheese. Introduced to the earthy delicacy of truffles for the first time, my counterpart wrangled with the concept that this Kong-sized strain of flavor could spawn from one ingredient. This potent pasta indeed rivaled the great ape as eighth Wonder of the World.

Rounding out the event was the potted brownie performing sautéed bananas splits as vanilla ice cream skated on a sweet brulee shell, finally cracking under the weight of plunging spoons. It scored a 7.2 by the judges and was a worthy competitor.

As much as I enjoyed each avenue of this meal’s tour, my resounding memory was the absorbanant price. With entrees ranging between $29.95-48.95 it’s impossible to make this your regular Saturday go-to, but even for special occasions its casual nature makes it difficult to drop that kind of money at the ‘Prime’ anytime.

A compromise is struck at C-Level, Island Prime’s subdued sibling that occupies the same structure and sits to the left of the bar. Its less expensive menu features highfalutin appetizers (ahi tuna stack) and entrees (lobster mac-n-cheese) indulging in an identical view at a fraction of the cost. C-Level still allows the finer things in life to be experienced while wearing flip-flops, but lets you leave with part of your paycheck.