Saturday, January 30, 2010

Restaurante Moo - Barcelona, Spain
In the lobby of the chic Hotel Omm in Barcelona is one-star Restaurante Moo, overseen by the Roca brothers - the three chef/owners of the much celebrated three-star El Celler De Can Roca in Girona. Can Roca is one of the restaurants on the forefront of avant-garde Catalan cuisine; having read the two reviews from Chuck, it had been one of my to-visits ever since. Unfortunately, we did not have time to make it to Girona on this trip, so Moo would have to suffice as the closest thing to getting a sense, however far removed, of the Roca's creations.

It must also be noted that the Cap de Sumillers at Moo is Roger Viusà Barbara, who won Best European Sommelier WSA in 2008. The world's best sommelier, and a very gracious fellow to boot.


Foie gras mousse in cherry candy shells - quite good.

"Our appetizer" - Oyster on crostini with julienned green apple, celery, and hazelnut sauce

Our Russian salad
Fino Piedra Luenga. Bod. Robles /G/ Montilla-Moriles / Pedro Ximenes

Ensaladilla rusa, a Spanish variation of Russian salad, is pretty ubiquitous in Spain. Here, Moo replaces tuna with chunks of barely-seared toro, and puts a lighter touch on all the usual ingredients: baked red pepper crisps, potatoes, green peas, shaved pickled carrot, and a dollop of vinegary mayonnaise. High quality ingredients on their own, unified by a modern, sensible interpretation of the Spanish/Russian classic.

Scallop with chervil
Dom Mouscaillo 06 /B/ Limoux / Chardonnay

Sea bass with green beans and ginger
Pezas da Portella 06. Val de Sil /B/ Valdeorras / Godello

The bass was seared nicely and accented with some strong but delicate aromas from the accompanying ginger/haricot vert slivers and broth. Done well, but nothing too exciting here.

Lamb’s Shoulder with paprika
Roda II 98 /T/ Rioja / Tempranillo, garnacha

Cooking sous vide and/or at low temperatures is a signature style of the Rocas; the lamb here is prepared to achieve a texture similar to suckling pig, with a thin, nearly-crackling layer of skin. Well-flavored, but a tad dry.

Pigeon with stew cereals
Cims de porrera 00. Coop Agrícola de Porrera /T/ Priorat / Grenache

The medium rare pigeon slices, subtly gamey and untouched by additional seasoning, were completely overwhelmed by the side of quinoa and barley. In addition to being oversalted, the cereals were unpalatably hard and chewy. An unbalanced dish and my least favorite course of the day.


The previous course was somewhat redeemed by the cheese course; manchego comes in two styles: subtle and smooth as a gelato, and sharp and spicy in its natural form, both brought together by a tart green apple puree.

Mango, coconut and wheat
Saint Aubin 08. Dom. Delesvaux /D/ Coteaux Du Layon / Chenin blanc

Donato degli Antinori /D/ Vin Santo/ Trebbiano

The concept of Restaurante Moo works well as a trendy restaurant in a swank hotel. It serves up a solid tasting menu that is fairly well-executed and beautifully plated, and the wines are excellent. The food itself is nothing to write home about: not wildly inventive, if rather ordinary. There is no show stopping meal here, but there really could be no comparison to Can Roca, tucked away in Girona where the three brothers are actually running the restaurant. Come to the hotel in Barcelona for the bar/people watching, but take a trip to Girona for the food.

€100.00 - Joan Roca’s Tasting Menu (~$170 - September 2009)
€40.00 - "Wines that harmonize"

Restaurante Moo
Rosselló 265
08008 Barcelona
+34 934454000

Labels: ,

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Tapaç 24 - Barcelona, Spain
El Bulli announced today that it is serving no meals in 2012 and 2013 but will instead refocus and noodle on new ideas. Unfortunately, it's one less reason to hop a plane to Spain; though, who really needed a reason to begin with?

So, if you find yourself sans EB reservations in Barcelona, you can count on one of the restaurants of Carles Abellan, best known for his acclaimed Comerç 24 and for having apprenticed under Ferran Adrià. Apparently he was hired to work for 15 days but stayed around for 15 years, which tells me he's probably pretty darn good at his job! Tapaç 24 is his casual tapas restaurant in Eixample that employs some of the modern techniques he learned during his tenure at EB.

Gaspatxo l'alfàbrega €4.5 - Gazpacho with basil oil.

Albergínia & Mel €5 - Fried eggplant with honey (unpictured). Delicately fried cubes of eggplant, with a thin caramelized crust from honey. Very good. 

Gambitas €16. The lightly fried shrimp (with all parts intact) was very fresh and featured some succulent, sweet flesh. Simply prepared and quite good.

Coca de recapte €6 - Flatbread with sardines. A creative take on the traditional Catalan food: crunchy bread is spread with a creamy bean dip with tomatoes, then topped with fresh sardines dressed in olive oil. The sardines were high quality, but altogether this was surprisingly bland and just ok compared to our other selections. 

Hummus €5.5.

Entraña con chimichurri €8 - Skirt steak with chimichurri sauce. This was very tasty and my favorite plate of our meal. Skirt steak is grilled medium and thinly sliced; the pieces are then drizzled with hot chili oil and topped with red pepper bits, fresh herbs, and sea salt. The beef packed a ton of flavor and the generous addition of hot oil made this one very addicting.

Tapaç 24 is a fun, casual place that serves up modern variations of traditional tapas featuring some very fresh seafood. Some plates are more memorable than others, but primarily everything is good quality and quite tasty. The cozy space, which centers around a pulsing open kitchen, creates a noisy, lively scene of young expats and locals. If you are still not satisfied by the healthy beer and wine selection at T 24, this politically-minded bar right around the corner cannot be missed.


Tapaç 24
Diputació 269, Eixample
Barcelona 08007
+34 934 880 977

Gran via de les Corts Catalanes 603
Barcelona 08007
+34 93 301 65 24


Monday, January 25, 2010

Ad Hoc - Yountville, CA
Ad Hoc sure comes off as one flaky restaurant. Back in 2006, Thomas Keller opened shop and intended for it to be short-lived, aiming to eventually open a burger place or something similar. At the time, I was still in college on the other side of the country and remember feeling distinctly disappointed that I would miss out on Keller's second aptly-named-common-Latin-phrase restaurant. You see, I had to put all those years of dead language studies to good use. Turns out Ad Hoc stuck around longer than planned, and I had a chance recently to sample TK's hand at upscaling the downmarket on a Napa shenanigans weekend with J, J, and P (and a surprise run-in with L).

Admittedly, my expectations going in were high. I had an excellent experience at The French Laundry and a lesser but still good one at Per Se (entree courses were lackluster; signature canapes were good). Ad Hoc is known to be the holy grail of fried chicken (don't mind if I do!), but alas, we came on the wrong day. In any case, I had in mind to expect attention to detail and high-quality ingredients in other forms of non-chicken from Keller's charmed kitchen.

Salad of Baby Mixed Greens
Salad of Baby Mixed Greens - cara cara and blood oranges, ruby grapefruit, toasted pinenuts, belgium endive, kalamata olives, citrus dressing

A massive heap of crisp greens and particularly good pine nuts arrived; the dressing was also quite good. Overall, it was a standard, fresh salad - quality not hard to find in in many good Bay Area restaurants. The portion size was somewhat off-putting; I wasn't at all compelled to keep filling my plate but the folks at Ad Hoc strangely (i.e. pragmatically) want you to eat a whole lot of salad.

Marinated Hanger Steak
Marinated Hanger Steak - toscano kale, creamed turnips, rosemary potatoes,  lemon scallion vinaigrette

The vegetable sides were the highlight of the course, and as it turns out, the entire meal. The roasted rosemary potatoes were very, very tasty. Each bite-sized piece had a thin, crisped layer of skin that was bursting with flavor. The creamed turnips and kale (not pictured) were delicately prepared. The steak was good-quality, but ultimately forgettable compared to its brilliant vegetable counterparts.

Rosso di Langhe
Rosso di Langhe - apple-endive chutney, palladin toast

This, like the salad, felt like a filler course to me.

Flourless Chocolate Cake
Flourless Chocolate Cake - amaretto semi freddo

Ad Hoc's concept just doesn't entirely work for me. Keller has always said he strives to elicit the "God, I wish I had just one more bite of that" reaction with his food. With the exception of the rosemary potatoes and creamed kale, the sheer quantity of each course and lack of variety became a burden in this meal. I would like to see the kitchen improve the first course, or incorporate more sides at the very least.

One meal at Ad Hoc is equivalent to about a sixth of one at The French Laundry. It is clearly cheaper in nominal terms,  and you still technically eat at a Thomas Keller restaurant. And fine, maybe you insist on the casual environment and can't enough of the family style because you're convivial and love to share out of a large All-Clad pan. But $49 is simply overpriced for what you get, and the TK brand alone does not justify forgoing better options in the area. Moreover, you can get better upmarket comfort food elsewhere. For a true Thomas Keller experience, skip this and book the real thing (for a good time, call +1-707-944-2380).

$49 per head; 4 courses, family style. Portions shown above (excluding dessert) are for 4. Menu dated 16-January-2010. 

Ad Hoc
6476 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599-1294
(707) 944-2487

Labels: ,

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Shake Shack : Taylor's :: NY : SF







At any given point in time, Americans are debating. Not only over bank regulation or healthcare policy, but also over burgers, burritos, and other Bs. Debating about burgers is as much of a staple of American culture as the sandwich itself. Five Guys vs. In-N-Out vs. Shake Shack vs. Taylor's is a fray on which I will resign from taking any side. Along the same vein, one can discuss at length the merits of NY and SF, Biggie and Tupac; but it's tough to definitively say which is better. They're just different flavors. The side you definitely don't want to be on in the burger debate, though, is that they're "just burgers".

In other news, I am moving to New York. Burgers will continue to be eaten. Now, the SF bucket list begins.

Shake Shack
Madison Ave and East 23rd St. 
Southeast Corner of Madison Square Park 
New York, NY 10010
(212) 889-6600

Taylor's Refresher
933 Main Street, 
St Helena, CA
(707) 963-3486


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Coi - San Francisco, CA
Let me start out by saying that I did not enjoy my meal at Coi. And as such, I am a barbarian. If you do not like reading words from a Neanderthal, it would behoove you to stop reading, NOW!

Good, you're still here. I enjoy experimental cuisine, and understand that, although not mutually exclusive, tastiness and interestingness are often a tradeoff. But while not everything strikes me as delicious, I do appreciate all the intellectual thoughtfulness (and whimsical rigmarole) that goes into a meal. I enjoyed Alinea greatly; wd-50, not so much. There is just something - perhaps ambition, restlessness - about the genre that keeps me coming back.

Coi is probably as close to that as you'll get in San Francisco. There is just so much fresh produce and happy cows and ambling chickens that the local restaurant scene would rather focus on ingredients; and for good reason. But Coi is very different from the alchemists in Chicago, NY, and Barcelona. Conversely, it takes more of an Ubuntu approach: exploring the full potential of ingredients and their context with some modern techniques. It's more an appreciation for seasonality and locality than a show to turn things into gelees and frozen orbs. Ok; I would say that I get it. Coi had been on my list since I moved to SF, so I was excited about this meal with I and H. However, our meal left much to be desired (say, sustenance).

Caramelized pear and root beer

Frozen Mandarin Sour - satsuma ice, angostura bitters

Satusuma shaved ice with accents of bitter. Nothing very interesting to note, except maybe, whoa! Flavored shaved ice.

Geoduck Clam - black radish, bean sprouts, yuzu, shiso

Comparable to a good omakase first course. Ok.

Beet and Goat Cheese Tart (broken, inverted) - rye, dill

A variation of the classic beet and goat cheese combination; good. It is deconstructed! Come on, even Bix was more creative with their beet and goat cheese than this.

Sunchoke-Buttermilk Soup, Hot/Cold - Asian pear, cocoa nib, mint

While the soup was actually really good - the pear worked extremely well with the sunchoke - the temperature (the focal point here) was just unpleasant. Cold soup was poured tableside over the hot ingredients, but the combination was unpalatably lukewarm with absolutely no temperature differentiation between the broth and contents. The "hot/cold" was meaningless since we could not detect either.

Fall, Pastoral - young carrots roasted in hay, radish powder, soyoung's pecorino

It is indeed a lovely fall evening in San Francisco. The local carrots, per description and taste, are nubile. They were roasted on "a bed of hay", which our server really emphasized, so they taste smoky. Flavorwise, they're not all that different from lowbrow carrots; not sweeter or more complex or anything. But I think I get it. I am eating fresh, local ingredients that are questionably well prepared; all of Fall is embodied in these carrots.

No, I actually don't get it. As non-delusional young adults, we were laughing because this was just silly. Daniel Patterson argues that elite kitchens should challenge the antiquated customs of fine dining; that gilded luxury ingredients do not a good meal make. He believes that chefs should instead revalue and start using previously thought to be lowly ingredients, and subsequently transform them with creative and often deeply personal forms of expression.

This course is what I consider the epitome of a rarefied and inaccessible food movement. This is a $120 tasting menu. It is much more pretentious serving roasted carrots than foie gras at this price point; and to validate it with some preachy food philosophy is downright offensive. Carrots are the new caviar? Give me a break.

Monterey Bay Abalone Grilled on the Plancha - nettle-dandelion salsa verde, spicy breadcrumbs, lemon zest

This was the course that we anticipated most. Sweet and crunchy, the abalone was very simply prepared: grilled, sliced, and dressed with lemon zest and breadcrumbs; it was elegant, extremely flavorful, and a great showcase of high-quality ingredients. The course was very good (we each ordered another near the end of our meal because we were still hungry).

Savory Chanterelle Porridge - pig's feet, garlic confit, wood sorrel

At this point in the meal, we're still pretty hungry (I apologize again, I'm a barbarian). You can imagine how excited we were when we saw pig's feet as the next course. We started digging in; cutting a piece of the woodsy chanterelle transparent film (inventive) and wrapping it around each mound of porridge. Texturally, the collagenic porridge and slippery film were mush. We hungrily wondered where the pig's feet was; and it turned out they were minced finely into the porridge. Only subtly flavorful, the porridge was extremely restrained.

Chicken/Egg - slow-cooked farm egg, crisp chicken skin, chard, green farro

This was really good, and reminded me of the egg I had at Arzak. Texturally similar, both slow-cooked eggs were topped with crunchy bits; Coi's chicken skin version was more interesting and flavorful, though too agressively salted.

Camembert (Herve Mons) - sweet and spicy greens

I was tickled by the meticulous and exacting effort that went into arranging the leaves on the plate.

Steamed Kabocha Squash Cake - apple, pomegranate, vadouvan

Caramelized White Chocolate Parfait, Semi-Frozen - huckleberries, anise

We left feeling flummoxed, not to mention hungry. Not only is it celebrated by the critics (two-stars), but locally, Coi is surrounded by a lot of hype. We went in expecting to be impressed, if not by taste then by inventiveness; instead, we were confused, even slightly guilty, we did not enjoy our meal. I ultimately concluded that my palate is not refined enough to enjoy this food because I'm a barbarian. This was a caustic comment that someone left on my Alinea post: "Ridiculous - a perfect example of people with more money than sense". I beg to differ on the Alinea experience, but it is awfully fitting and damning here.

$120 - 11 course tasting menu (Nov 2009). 18% service charge automatically added per party.

373 Broadway
San Francisco, CA 94133-4512
(415) 393-9000

Labels: ,

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Providence - Los Angeles, CA
For those of you who don't know me in real life, my exasperated companions can tell you that I sometimes fall privy to a gripping obsession of cities. It's quite rational, really: I like new experiences, and exploring / living in new places is what I consider to be one of the greatest joys of life. Well, here is the seemingly irrational part: I have recently have become obsessed with Los Angeles - in many regards, the antithesis of NY. You drive everywhere, the traffic is merciless, and everyone and their mothers are trying to "make it"; but, the weather is beautiful, the scene is a lot of fun, and sometimes getting away from the grind is a treat in and of itself. Wash.

And since I'm in my phase, I will take a small detour from my Spain recaps. I spent a weekend in LA about a month ago for work, and was excited to try Providence, a two-star seafood focused restaurant headed by Michael Cimarusti of Top Chef Masters fame. B and I secured a Saturday night reservation and though we arrived much later around 10 (sorry B, my bad), the staff was super accommodating about my request for a tasting menu (I think tasting menu last call is around 9). I opted for the 5-course tasting menu (the only one time allowed for) and added an extra course for good measure.

From left: gin and tonic gelee, mojito, and cardamom carrot soup

Providence likes to get the party started with some form-altered aperitifs. Everything tasted true to its alcoholic forebearer; and as an added bonus, the mojito was a minty throwback to the exploding orbs a la Arzak.

Japanese kanpachi - rice cracker, crème fraiche

Similar concept to the tuna/hamachi tartare with toasted rice at Redd. The crackers turned out to be a little overpowering for the undressed kanpachi, which I preferred to eat by itself.

Santa Barbara sea urchin - served in a farm fresh egg, champagne beurre blanc, fines herbes. Added as a supplement to my 5 courses

It is difficult to discern the slow-cooked yolk, uni, Champagne butter sauce, brioche croutons, and fines herbes individually, and brought together in this melting pot of an eggshell, this was sinfully rich and buttery. While it was very good, I actually would have preferred a lighter variation with a bigger emphasis on the uni, which was overwhelmed by all the other heavy ingredients.

Hokkaido sea scallops (Japan) - chanterelles, haricot vert, applewood smoked bacon, jurançon sec

Perfectly seared and delightfully massive.

Wild striped bass - burdock, shiso, lemon

Tenderloin of veal - crushed butterball potatoes, spring onions, hazelnuts, spring garlic confit

The veal, prepared sous-vide, was really tender but not too flavorful. This made way for the real treats: springtime trappings in the middle of Winter, which, lest I forget, doesn't exist in LA.

Chocolate bread pudding with avocado puree and corn tortilla ice cream

Providence is known as much for the seafood as for its creative dessert tasting menus, and Adrian Vasquez is known to be a complete pastry whiz. Combining some unlikely flavors which actually work really well, Vasquez's techniques reminded me a lot of Sam Mason, who was still at wd-50 when I went a few years ago.

Chocolate canelé, coffee ice cream, and hazelnuts

Overall, the meal was very good. The latter half was a little underwhelming, as Cimarusti's more creative side was really allowed to shine earlier in the amuses and appetizers. Since our late arrival only allowed for a limited tasting menu, I'm excited to come back to try the chef's menu, which I think would feature some of Cimarusti's more adventurous concoctions. Service was absolutely stellar. Our servers were knowledgeable, witty, and kept it real.

An aside about the Escort Scene
Like many high end, much-talked-about establishments in LA, Providence has a vibrant escort scene. The age disparity is not the ultimate giveaway. It's the forced civility of the awkward first date encounter, with disproportionately a lot more talking (i.e. didacticism) from the paying party and mere nodding and smiling from the other. And why wouldn't you choose Providence? It's sophisticated, the food is great, and waxing poetic about the Hokkaido scallop can sound really suave. It is a similar scene at San Francisco's own RN74. M and I learned this the hard way.

$85 - 5 courses
$110 - full tasting
$160 - chef's menu

5955 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 460-4170

Labels: ,

Friday, January 15, 2010

Pintxos Bar Hopping - San Sebastián, Spain
Crushin' it at Bar Ganbara

Basque Country is a magical land where one's capricious tendencies can be well rewarded; it really pays to be restless and indecisive, and to want everything (I can really do well in this town!). During our brief stay we got to experience a cornerstone of the social scene that is the pintxos bar hop. Here, making the rounds means popping into a bar and grabbing a drink along with a few pintxos (around €2-4 each), before moving onto the next one. Although the selection varies from one tavern to the next, most pintxos feature common ingredients (stuffed bell peppers, baby eels, anchovies, cheese, etc.) on a piece of bread. You grab a plate and just pick up the ones that catch your eye from the counterspread. Pintxos really are the greatest thing since unadorned sliced bread.

First stop: Restaurante Bernardo Etxea
Enthralled by this glass case of gnarly seafood, we waddled in after our meal at Juanito Kojua. Ample photo evidence on the walls suggested that Meryl Streep, Samuel L. Jackson, and other motion-picture pooh-bahs like this place. Well I also liked this place, though no one cared to document it (until now!).


Warm sheep's milk cheese with a slice of tomato and a drizzle of balsamic

Clockwise from left: Sardines with green peppers and cheese; warm mushroom tart; warm red bell pepper tart

Some bar off Plaza de la Constitución 

Angulas (baby eels) - this and other variants were great

And another (on a street right near Basilica de Santa Maria) 

And yet another

Egg, mushroom, tomato

Bar Ganbara 
Sausage and doodads

Shrimp salad

San Sebastián boasts the most Michelin Stars per capita in the immediate vicinity. On the one hand, you could go and sweep up all the stars (Gotta Catch 'Em All!); or, you could live how the other half lives - by crawling the bars and scooping up many a pintxos in this giant cocktail party of a city. Because that would be an insufferable fate indeed.

Bar Ganbara
Calle de San Jerónimo 21
20003 Donostia, Spain
943 422 575

Restaurante Bernardo Etxea
Calle del Puerto 7
20003 Donostia, Spain
943 42 20 55