Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Favorites’ Category

Manresa – Los Gatos, CA

My meal at Manresa did not begin at the restaurant, but at Love Apple Farms, 13 miles away. I’ve long wondered if the farm was chef David Kinch’s secret weapon to deliciousness. Is this what separates Manresa from other restaurants? Is this why David’s cooking is so reflective of the surrounding area, like a fine Burgundy wine?

Visiting the farm and chatting with owners Cynthia Sandberg and Daniel Maxfield clarified everything. It would be remiss to think about Manresa without thinking about Love Apple Farms and vice versa. David forged a relationship with Cynthia around 10 years ago, and it has grown into an exclusive partnership. David is given carte blanche on deciding exactly what to plant, resulting in access to ingredients that I imagine few other chefs in the country do.

Walking the farm’s rows engages your senses: every few steps and you smell something new. Herbs, fruit, and vegetables –many of which were foreign to me– are everywhere. I wish I had more time to spend at the farm, but dinner beckoned.

As part of Manresa’s 10-year anniversary celebrations, chef Kinch partnered up with chef John and Karen Shields, formerly of Town House Restaurant in Chilhowie, Virginia. Together, they served me nine courses that were amongst the most memorable I’ve had in recent memory.

Read more

Roli Roti – San Francisco, CA

It seems implausible that the best Italian porchetta sandwich I’ve ever had in my life, a deliriously sinful symphony of swine, comes out of a food truck in San Francisco.

But once you see the unusually long queue and catch that first unforgettable whiff of pork wafting through the air, you will reconsider. It tickles your arteries with anticipation.

The Roli Roti truck is a mobile rotisserie. On one side of the vehicle, collosal columns of pork and chicken rotate slowly on spits while their drippings bathe a pile of roasted potatoes below. Roli Roti truck virgins are so mesmerized they start snapping cellphone pictures and forget to fall in line.

Standing behind those columns of meat stands Thomas Odermatt. He looks a bit like Thomas Keller to me, but maybe that’s just me. Son of a Swiss master butcher and owner of the Roli Roti truck, he’s taken great effort to ensure his porchetta is not merely roasted pork stuffed with herbs.

Read more

Best Dishes of 2011

It is hard to believe that my little patch of cyberspace is over a year old. I half-expected it to fizzle out after a few months, and never did I imagine it would put me in touch with so many passionate food lovers and chefs.

2011 was the best year of eating I’ve ever had, and I’m incredibly blessed to have shared many meals with dear friends.

I’d like to commemorate my first anniversary with a recap of the fifteen best dishes I had in 2011 (started with ten but that proved too difficult).

– This list is in no particular order (ranking them proved to be impossible).
– Likewise, this is not a list of “perfect dishes” but rather ones that moved me in one way or another– a reminder of what a great year of eating 2011 was.

Read more

Saison – San Francisco, CA

Six weeks ago, I experienced a meal that left me gob-smacked.

It upended expectations and altered perspectives. I can’t remember the last time a meal made me think this hard about food.

Chef Joshua Skenes is doing something truly refreshing at Saison. He speaks a different language and cooks with a different vocabulary. One I haven’t seen in many Western restaurants in America. Whereas others add flavor through an additive process (more ingredients, more complexity, more embellishments), Skenes takes away. His food uses deceptively simple cooking techniques to fully extract an ingredient’s maximum natural flavor.

Fully extracting an ingredient’s maximum natural flavor. Upon first glance, this may sound trivial; but imagine eating the most intense-tasting squab you can conjure: rich, dark, oily, irony, and chocolatey, caressed by that great gamey flavor. That is exactly what Skenes served me.

He unlocks an ingredient’s pure flavor with shocking proficiency. Fish and meats are carefully aged from weeks to months to deepen flavors. Live spot prawns are lightly poached in the very seawater it was caught– simplicity giving way to complexity. Hand-foraged flowers and herbs shock and delight. And of course there is the open wood-burning fire hearth. Used in nearly every dish, the crackly flames imbue everything they touch with a rustic charred goodness that launches flavors into the stratosphere.

I can say without creeping into hyperbole that Saison is the best meal I’ve had all year.

Read more

Red Medicine – Los Angeles, CA

Jordan Kahn’s Red Medicine might just be the most misunderstood restaurant in Los Angeles.

The local media (for the most part) have written lukewarm reports of the restaurant; likewise, food-loving friends expressed pallid thoughts, ranging from “disappointingly mediocre” to “overpriced Vietnamese cuisine”. Of course, one can’t help but wonder if palates were biased due to Red Medicine’s public outing of the Los Angeles Times restaurant critic, S. Irene Virbila, in December 2010. It certainly didn’t leave a pleasant taste in anyone’s mouth.

My first experience with Red Medicine was in early February. I ordered a good bit of the menu but like many, left feeling uninspired. The meal was too heavy, too sweet, and devoid of nuance (more on that later). It was certainly not worth writing a blog post on.

But with some family and friends visiting me in Los Angeles, I decided to pay Red Medicine a return visit. We tackled most of the menu, and it was then I realized Jordan’s strength: vegetables and herbs!* The dishes I had were so good I returned in a few weeks with a good friend to relive my favorites.
Read more

Soban – Los Angeles, CA

The abrupt closing of a beloved restaurant is always a shock. I’ll never forget the day my favorite Szechuan restaurant at the time, Lucky Dragon, closed in the fall of 2007. Expecting to spend the next hour wiping away peppercorn-laced sweat from my brows, I instead found myself staring at a locked door with a handwritten sign saying the restaurant was now permanently closed. My once near-weekly ritual of scarfing down crimson cauldrons of water-boiled fish and piles of blisteringly good fried chicken cubes was no more.

Sad as the demise of Lucky Dragon may have been, life moved on. There were other equally good Szechuan joints around the corner, and I found love in Chung King. Their food numbed my tongue and won my heart.

But what happens when a restaurant closes and there isn’t another to fill the void? With its cozy wooden booths, Sa Rit Gol resembled a country inn and served home-style Korean food. The banchan spread, renowned for its scope and quality, numbered well into the double digits. I loved it. Various kimchi teetered that fine line between fresh and funk, tangy and spicy; bits of candied dried anchovy were deliciously pungent. Some days you’d find baby octopus stir-fried with gojuchang or lotus root gently simmered in a sweet broth.

I fell head over heels for their famous eun dae goo jorim, cod braised in a sweet-spicy sauce so addicting it could double as heroin. My favorite part was the accompanying slices of luscious daikon, edible sponges soaking up the wonderful sauce. Likewise, their pork belly barbeque was stellar. The primal, fatty slabs of meat were nearly worth the inevitable triple bypass heart surgery. And who can forget the delicate mung bean pancakes, magically held together by a gleaming, gossamer crust.

When it closed, I felt lost. Where else would I spend my nights gorging on incredible home-style Korean cooking, fueled by beer, fortified by soju? My search went on for over a year. Olympic Cheonggukang was good but didn’t possess the refinement or selection. Kobawoo House came the closest (their bossam and mung bean pancakes are amazing) but the banchan was no match. And certainly not a soul bested Sa Rit Gol’s legendary eun dae goo jorim.

But sometime last year, my friend Steph told me a new restaurant, Soban, had opened up a few blocks west of where Sa Rit Gol used to be. She said it served some of the best Korean food I’ll ever have, and she was right. My search for great homestyle Korean food finally ended.

Read more

Angelini Osteria – Los Angeles, CA

Asking me what my favorite Italian restaurant is in Los Angeles will elicit a pavlovian response: “Angelini Osteria”.

I have a special place in my heart and stomach for osterias- their very nature conducive to laidback, delicious, and fun meals. For the uninitiated, an osteria is a casual eatery similar to a neighborhood tavern where one enjoys rustic Italian food alongside carafes of wine. Chef Gino Angelini understands this.

Despite having cooked for former Presidents and Popes, his namesake restaurant remains unpretentious and friendly. The waiters, with their thick Italian accents, even charm my mother. And if you’ve ever met my mother, you know this is a herculean task- at least one my father will attest to. Tables are crowded but not overly so; the food is fantastic, resonating of the Italian countryside. I’ve never walked out without having at least a glass of wine -though it usually ends up being an entire bottle-, a sure explanation as to why my countless visits to Angelini’s over the years always end with a wider waistline and an even wider purple-tinged smile.

With my entire family visiting Los Angeles last week, I treated them out to lunch. It was gluttonous reminder that when it comes to honest, soulful Italian cooking-the type you’d normally expect from an Italian grandmother-, Angelini’s Osteria is peerless in Los Angeles.

Read more

Canelé – Los Angeles, CA

Let’s get straight to the point: I’m obsessed with Canelé’s Baked Pancake with Meyer Lemon Custard. A simple concoction of flour, eggs, sugar, milk, and too much butter, it’s so good I’ve spent the past four Sundays in a row hunched over the ethereal puffs, wondering if I’d discovered nirvana.

Like many discoveries, I stumbled across greatness by accident. The pancake sits inconspicuously on the menu, snuck in between a salad and sticky bun under the “sides” section. On my first pass, I missed it and had a forgettable fennel-cured salmon with creme fraiche on pumpernickel. I was a few bites in when someone else’s order of baked pancakes caught my nose and eye. The alluring scent of butter and sugar practically strong-armed me into ordering one on the spot.
Read more

Wolvesmouth – The Joy of Refinement

Some might call Craig Thornton’s obsession with food OCD. I call it passion. A document on his computer filled with menu ideas, ingredient pairings, and preparations is so long it could double as a culinary dissertation. He’s a stickler for flawless produce, scheduling his day around picking up the best meat and fish. But despite the heaps of praise his underground supper club, Wolvesmouth, has garnered, Craig simply can’t sit on his laurels. He’s always refining dishes, continually pushing himself in a never-ending quest for perfection. Is it achievable? It doesn’t matter– the process of constant refinement almost defines Wolvesmouth.

This past Wednesday, I was invited back to the Wolvesden to partake in another one of Craig dinners, and it was here I experienced the joy of refinement.
Read more

Wolvesmouth – Los Angeles, CA

Wine bottle in one hand and cellphone in the other, I stepped out of the cab and dialed the number that was sent to me a few hours ago. A man met me at the door, escorted me up a flight of stairs, and I found myself at Wolvesmouth, Craig Thornton’s underground supper club (more details here).

Walking into kitchen, I found Craig hunched over a pot of mashed potatoes, continually tasting and evaluating its texture with jedi-like focus. He didn’t say a word, keeping to himself and focusing on the food. My eyes wandered to a pile of morels being meticulously brushed clean, and a tray of perfectly prepped sweetbreads later appeared on the counter. In the corner, vacuum-sealed lamb loin submerged under the steady hum of an immersion circulator, and I overheard someone saying rabbit was on the menu tonight. Craig sure didn’t skimp on ingredients!

15 minutes passed and Craig was still mixing and tasting the potato puree. With the amount of care lowly potatoes received, I wondered how much more love Craig lavished on the more expensive produce? I arrived at dinner knowing it would be a delicious showcase of composition, flavor, and plating, but I didn’t expect Craig’s immense respect for produce to be what resonated long after the meal ended.

Read more