Monday, July 28, 2008

The Spotted Pig

Day 2, Brunch - Again, we found ourselves waiting patiently outdoors for the restaurant to open. And by patiently waited outdoors, I mean, we eagerly, yet awkwardly, opened the unlocked door to stumble in on the wait staff's pre-service meetings, got shot looks like we had just walked in on someone in the restroom and then feeblishly waited outdoors until a hostess came to inform us that they were now open. What can I say? I had read online that the place gets packed, we were attempting to make it to the ballpark in time for the first pitch, and skipping the restaurant all together was not an option. So please, Spotted Pig, forgive us for our over-eagerness and only take it as a compliment.

Chef April Bloomfield (Chez Panisee alum - go Bay Area!) has been on Iron Chef America and The Spotted Pig has been featured on Rachael Ray and Anthony Bourdain's shows, so when there wasn't a line of people behind us, it frankly surprised me and made me wonder, "Is this the right restaurant?" Perhaps people were still recovering from Friday night antics though, since about 20 minutes into our meal, the place really began to fill up. Not to mention, it's probably more of a dinner/late night snack scene with chefs and other food industry personnel dining after their shifts.

The restaurant serves seasonal British and Italian fare, using local ingredients when possible. We found ourselves in a cozy pub atmosphere that I could feel myself being a regular at (Picture above is of the first floor only since I forgot to check out the upstairs) and the wait staff was relatively attentive and friendly. Being the first meal of the day, we decided to forgo the menu items that I'd heard so much about (gnudi and burger) and instead ordered more typical brunch fare.

Ricotta and Lemon Pancakes with Maple Syrup ($16)

These actually beat my previously favorite pumpkin pie pancakes from The Griddle. They had a nice little crispiness on the outside with a light and fluffy inside from the ricotta. Blueberries and lemon always taste delicious together and the sprinkling of almonds added that extra touch. Portion-wise, when I first saw the pancakes, I worried about not having enough to eat. By the time I was licking my plate, my tummy was just right.

Cubano Sandwich with Arugula Salad ($15)

Research had turned up a lot on this little sandwich, so we decided it was worth the extra 15 minutes of preparation - and worth the wait it was, although it was certainly fun to make fun of Mr. A for his sandwich being the reason why we didn't yet have our food.

I don't think my review of the sandwich quite does it justice, so I'm turning to the help of Serious Eats here, who declares the Cubano at The Spotted Pig one of the best. "Chef-partner April Bloomfield uses heritage pork shoulder to sublime effect by brining it for three days, slow-roasting it, and then cooking it in duck and pork fat; the pickled jalapeno peppers add just the right amount of heat; Prosciutto de Parma or speck (smoked prosciutto) is a better quality ham than you will find in any other Cubano around the city; and the aged gruyere lends the whole thing a deeply funky flavor." We found the bread to be perfectly fresh, a little crunch and a little chewy. The meat had fantastic deep flavors and the pickles really added the perfect little spice kick. Oh, and the cheese. But then again, good cheese on just about anything makes me a little weak in the knees. Overall, though delicious, it was a tad on the salty side for us (another reason to order the pancakes to balance out that salt with sweet!).

Speaking of cheese, here lies our biggest qualm with our visit - our initial waitress didn't mention the specials! When we later overheard the other waitress mention a special including a glorious sounding grilled cheese, we were both quite disappointed...although we did end up order a grilled cheese to go that sure does beat any ball park food!

Next time I'm in NYC, I'll be sure to check out the late night dining scene here. Meanwhile, if you're in NYC, I'd recommend giving this place a try.

The Spotted Pig
314 W. 11th Street
@ Greenwich St.
New York, NY 10014
Tel: (212) 620-0393

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Yakitori Totto

Chicken skin, gizzard, chicken bones - these are usually parts of the chicken that I'd toss into the trash. Yet, our first meal in NYC found us at Yakitori Totto, contemplating between ordering these very items.

With a 7pm first pitch looming over our heads, we arrived at Yakitori Totto a good 15 minutes before it opened at 5:30. Surprisingly, we weren't the only ones with 3 or 4 other parties lining up behind us. Promptly at 5:30, the hostess came down to flip the "Closed" sign to "Open" and usher the growing crowd up the dark stairs and into the second story restaurant. Without any reservations, we were seated quickly at the bar and watched as the restaurant quickly filled up within the first ten minutes of opening.

Yakitori is a type of Japanese street food - "grilled" chicken, to be specific. Thanks to Yelp, I picked this restaurant as something relatively nearby the hotel, on the way to the ball park, and something different than the rest of the itinerary. At Yakitori Totto food is elevated beyond it's usual street status (although they do serve every imaginable part of the chicken), with menu offerings such as prawns, kobe beef, asparagus, etc. Service was quick, yet friendly, allowing us to walk out the door in less than an hour.

While I'll be the first to admit that we could have been more adventurous in our menu selections, we had a pretty decent sampling of the extensive menu:

Enoki bacon - enoki mushroom wrapped in a slice of bacon
Satsuma Age - homemade fried fish cakes mixed with vegetables
Kawa - chicken skin
Shitake - japanese shitake mushroom with salt and pepper
Harami - skirt steak
Hokuhoku - grilled garlic
Kuro Buta Negi Pon - organic pork with scallion and ponzu (our favorite)
Reba - chicken liver

Overall, taking the food, price, and (speedy) service, this was one of our favorite meals of the trip. I'd definitely recommend stopping by to mix things up as long as you get there pre-opening or have a reservation.

Up Next: The Spotted Pig

Yakitori Totto
251 West 55th Street

Link Love:
In New York's Best Cheap Eats
Ruhlman declares it the best chicken ever.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I <3 NYC

I'm back from NYC with my pockets lighter and my tummy quite a bit heavier.

With consulting, I've done a fair share of regular traveling. Fly out Monday, fly back Thursday or Friday for the weekend. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. And lucky for me, I've maybe been delayed three or four times in the three years I've been consulting. So of course luck has it that when I'm finally traveling for pleasure, we get delayed. Every single flight. Three flights in four days delayed.

But enough complaining, because really, the trip was wonderful and I really couldn't have asked for more. Despite the plane delay, we managed to still make it to Yankee Stadium in time to buy stadium tour tickets. We had created a pretty tight schedule between baseball games, meals all around town and Avenue Q - plus, we hadn't factored in our need to constantly trek back to the hotel to refresh in between events since I've managed to lose all immunity to hot, humid weather after living in California for several years, and gosh darn, it's hot and humid in NYC! I fully expected something to go awry, yet somehow, everything fell into place. I'll admit, when Game 2 went into extra innings, I was eyeing the clock nervously as my 7:30 reservation at Eleven Madison Park approached and was preparing my "food is more important than extra innings of baseball" argument in my head. Luckily, I didn't need it. Unluckily, the A's lost.

On the baseball side, we managed to score amazing tickets at the last minute to all the games AND I caught a ball! Most importantly, of course, we made it to all the restaurants on the plan and had enjoyable meals at each and every one.

Because several people have asked about my thoughts on the restaurants we visited and to avoid putting you to sleep with an extra long post, I'll spend the next week or so reliving the trip, posting each restaurant separately with pictures, food descriptions, etc.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

NYC, here I come!

In less than two days, I will board a plane headed to the Big Apple for 3.5 days of no work, baseball watching, and most importantly, FOOD. I have a little agreement with my Atheletic's fan traveling companion that I'll pick up the food tab in exchange for him picking up the baseball. Now, if you didn't know me, you might think he's getting the short end of the deal. After all, Subway three times a day can't add up to THAT much, can it?

If I could stomach that much food monotony, no doubt that ChuThis would never have been created. Three days is hardly enough time to even scratch the surface of all the restaurants and food related places I want to visit. My list of places to try in NYC that I've collected over the years is so overwhelming that it's been agonizing to eliminate them one by one to determine our eating itinerary (although the difficulty of getting a reservation at some of these places certainly trimmed the list down quickly). Yes, this trip revolves around food (and baseball).

I must admit that I'm a little hesitant to post my dining choices for the whole blogosphere to critique and comment on since I'm sure everyone has their favorites and not-so-favorites and I'm bound to hit some disagreement, but why else have a food blog?

A couple disclaimers before getting to the list - 1. Many of my top choices were almost impossible to get reservations (i.e. Per Se, Babbo, etc.) 2. 7pm and 1pm baseball games eliminate several meals

So, without further babbling, I'll be dining at...

Friday dinner - Yakitori Totto
Saturday brunch - The Spotted Pig
Saturday dinner - Eleven Madison Park
Sunday brunch - Prune
Sunday dinner - Union Square Cafe
Monday lunch - Hop Kee (My parents went on a date here many, many years ago. How can I not drop by?)

Here's your opportunity to chime in! What are your favorite go-to restaurants in NYC? If you haven't been to NYC, where have you always wanted to go?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Russian River 2008

10 people + 6 wineries + 2 cabins + 1 Mystery Box + 1 watermelon + Lots of wine = Russian River 2008

For the past two years, I've managed to miss out on my friends' annual visit to a friend's cabin that his grandfather built on the Russian River. Luckily, this year, I managed to free up the weekend for a fabulous weekend of good food, wine and company, which left me wishing I made the trip in previous years.

This third annual event lived up to all the good stories I'd heard, though I missed the Friday night festivities (which were QUITE the festivities judging by the still sleeping people when we arrived at 10am ready to go wine tasting) for a dinner at Range with some friends. Saturday morning consisted of a quick nap on the front patio to make up for the early start, followed by visits to Rochioli (warmup stop), Ridge (my personal favorite that did the worst damage to the wallet) and Papapietro Perry (loved the 777). Slight starving, we made a quick detour to Hamburger Ranch and Pasta Farm. One of the group asked the clueless server if they served "free range" pasta, since they are a Pasta Farm - I think the humor was lost on her. For a place that touts the best burgers, I was lefting wanting more...and more they gave us when they encouraged us to taste the freshly made ribs on the way out. Now stuffed and food comatose, we randomly selected Stonestreet (one of the prettiest wineries, but definitely the stuffiest attitude) Alexander Valley Vineyards (for the prices, I REALLY wanted to like the wines) and Stryker (we stopped here just because I liked the name) to round out the afternoon.

Back at the cabin, many napped while others relived their childhood's playing a couple vicious games of go-fish. Meanwhile, I plotted away how to use the Mystery Box from Thursday to supplement the massive amounts of steaks we had for supper. Oh yes, it was yet another Mystery Thursday and here's our newest box:
Greek Basil. Fennel. Potatoes. Torpedo Onions. Frisee. Portuguese Kale. Cilantro. Baby Carrots. French Breakfast Radishes. Chantenay Carrots. Scallions. Baby Spinach. Chioggia Beets.
Not to mention the 15 pounds of avocados and 10 bunches of basil that we separately pre-ordered...

Dinner that night was scrumptious, thanks to many helping hands!
Baby Spinach salad with roasted chioggia beets, sauteed onions, prosciutto, and grilled peaches
Roasted chantenay carrots and rosemary garlic potatoes
Grilled steaks
Oh, and what's the watermelon for, you ask? I suppose you'll have to come along to find out...

Monday, July 7, 2008

Home Sweet Home

The housewarming party has come and gone, and I suppose I'm now officially moved in. Thanks everyone who came (or sent their best wishes) and for letting me pretend to be a chef for a day!

I had this perfect plan to start party prep a week in advance, but plans are meant to be broken, right? When Saturday arrived and I still hadn't bought everything I needed, you'd think a reasonable person would lock themselves in the kitchen and get to work. But perfect San Francisco weather just doesn't come around that often and the warm sun was just teasing me all day long, so I spent most of Saturday outside soaking up the rays. Didn't you know basking in the sun gives you super cooking powers so that you cook with twice the speed of light? :P

I have to give a big shout out to my last minute "sous chef" friend, HL. The extra set of hands for those last couple of critical hours (and the reminders to breathe and eat) were priceless.

Unfortunately for the blogsphere world, I don't have many good pictures of the feast; I didn't even manage a picture of the entire spread. Part of the drawback of still being in cooking mode when guests arrive is that having 20 hungry people attempting to be patient before digging in makes you take really quick, not well thought out pictures.

It's nothing compared to the 70 person party that the White on Rice Couple threw a couple of weeks ago, but here's a quick peek at my housewarming party! (Recipes to come when I'm not quite so exhausted.)

Not pictured: Crabcakes with mango salsa, Lemon bars, Ribs, Salami pepperoncini rollups

The Healthy Side of the Spread - fruit salad, cucumber salad, green bean and tomato salad, orange and mint sugar snap peas, corn and black bean salsa, shrimp ceviche, bbq meatballs (ok, so those are quite so healthy)

Cucumber Salad

Shrimp Ceviche

Corn and Black Bean Salsa

Orange Mint Sugar Snap Peas

The Obligatory Munchies

Pesto Potato Salad and Tortellini Salad

Pulled Pork Sandwiches

Orange Carrot Cupcakes