Monday, November 20, 2006

Sonoma: Off the Beaten Path

J and I headed up to San Francisco again to visit her brother. This was my third time up here this year and I love it more and more each time. We chose to fly instead of enduring the 4.5 hour drive. I've never flown to NorCal, so this was going to be a more relaxed trip. We arrived around 10 at night and grabbed a quick bite to eat. Tomorrow we would be going to Sonoma instead of Napa because we had heard that the region was perfect for making Pinots. I'm all for Pinot Noir because it is typically less tannic, fruity and smooth.

We started driving up the 101 into Sonoma's wine country around 9:30 am, accompanied with 4 other friends. The day started off extremely hazy and cold and we wondered if it was worth driving up there. Sonoma wineries are known for beautiful estates and Flickr-worthy scenery. After about an hour and a half, we arrived in Sonoma County.

We couldn't go wine tasting without a little padding and made reservations at a restaurant called El Dorado Kitchen. We settled on this place after three cancellations on reservations. We found out that the chefs of EDK worked under the tutelage of Thomas Keller. Okay, we are so there.

EDK is located in the Sonoma town square and neighbors the El Dorado hotel - a cozy, boutique hotel. We walked into the restaurant and were instantly transported to a West Elm catalog. (Page 82 of the Winter issue) Brown and white colors contrasted the dark colored wood furniture throughout the restaurant and made it a perfect place for Sunday brunch. Enough about ambiance, here's what we had:

Blueberry Muffin and Jam
I didn't have this but everyone loved it.

Biscuits & Gravy
Our friend had this said that it was too rich and salty. Minus all that, it was still a nice take on an American favorite.

French Toast
At last, we see a glimpse of Thomas Keller's influence. Beautiful, thick pieces of bread fried to a nice golden brown and topped with créme fraîche. Kind of wish I tasted some of this.

Eggs Benedict and Beef Bourguignonne Hash
Food envy kicked in once I took a bite of this. The eggs were beautifully poached and laced with a velvety hollandaise sauce. I thought the idea of using wine-braised beef in the hash was pure genius. This was awesome.

Fried Egg & Sopressata Salami Pizza
This was a case of misinterpretation. My eyes lit up when I saw this on the menu because (1) I love pizza and (2) I love eggs. I first saw this concept on a food special in Aspen. The chef of the ski resort made a pizza, and right before it was finished, cracked an egg on top of the pizza. It looked sick. When I got this, I was quite bummed. It was merely 2 things put together.. a pizza and 3 fried eggs. An interesting thing about this was the type of eggs used. I think they must have been from a special ranch or something because they were RICH and GOLDEN YELLOW like the eggs of Japan. I took a few bites of the fried eggs and had to set it aside. I just couldn't handle it.

Forest Mushroom, Goat Cheese and Truffle Oil Pizza
J ordered this and was turned off by how rich it was. The mushrooms and goat cheese served as nice toppings but the pizza was just drowned in truffle oil. It was sickening. I love truffle oil but only in moderation. Truffle oil is very high in demand and currently a hot trend. Chefs, for some reason think they can boost up the price of the dish if they add more truffle oil. It isn't THAT hard to find it in LA. Trader Joe's has a poor man's version for $10 and I think it works fine. Moderation! We tried to eat this a few hours later and still couldn't handle it haha.

Overall, the food is rich at EDK but still a great place to stop at before getting smashed bourgeois-style. If you eat here, I highly recommend sharing an entree with someone. Every one of us had doggy-bags by the end of the meal. I'm definitely coming back here again.

It was time to wine taste now. We ended up visiting four wineries in four hours. Last time we were in Napa, we stopped at seven wineries in 2.5 hours! It was fun winery-hopping, but this time, we wanted to take our time. Here's where we stopped at:

Sebastiani - very average wine. Although it's a Sonoma favorite, I didn't try anything that knocked my pants off.

Buena Vista - nice stuff. Smooth and enjoyable.

Gundlach Bundschu - wow, definitely my favorite. Unfortunately, at $36+ a bottle, we walked out of the winery with sad faces. = (

Cline - stellar wine at stellar prices. Wine ranged from $11-$30. This place was packed even an hour before closing and we really enjoyed it. The people were extremely friendly and didn't charge for tastings. Five for Free! I ended up buying 4 bottles of wine and parked it on the bench with our group. We drank 2 bottles and got really buzzed. At about 5 pm, we took off back into San Francisco. After all the rich wine and food, nothing sounded better than a fresh, cold cut of salmon, yellowtail and uni. We ended up at a very average sushi joint but didn't care because it was so refreshing to eat something light. If I were to choose between Napa and Sonoma, I'd pick Sonoma because the wineries are mainly family/privately owned. You don't see too many of the corporate big boys out there and there are definitely less tourists. Stay tuned for J's writeup on our San Francisco eats.

Thanks for reading. Read more!

Friday, November 17, 2006

San Francisco: Weekend Escape

Have a great weekend everyone. I'll be up in SF with J visiting her brother. We'll be back hopefully with good photos and food reviews. Hurray for FOOD. Read more!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Mmm... Death Pockets!

Once upon a time, I relied on canned corn, corned beef hash, Shake & Bake, Cup O' Noodles, soy sauce, Sriracha and Spam as a source for sustenance. Canned was the way to go back then when you were constantly broke. I made the most out of everything. Some days, I would have Nissin Ramen without the soup, topped w/ sliced spam and canned corn. Shake & Bake-coated Spam with rice and eggs. Chili dogs consisted of Albertson's franks in a bun with a nice glob of Sriracha chili. Gross I know. I died a little during my college years. But on the paydays from working the on-campus, non-taxed jobs, I'd be able to treat myself to... Hot Pockets!!!

Weighing in at 4-5 oz, these are monumental achievements in the world of trashy food. Each one contains 403 calories, 22 g fat, 52 g cholesterol and 906 mg sodium. Nice stats. Unwrap, slap on the sleeve, nuke and enjoy. Who couldn't resist this buttery pastry filled with MEAT and CHEESE. Thanks to the innovative technology of the cardboard sleeve... you can simulate that deep fried taste. You had to time these perfectly in the oven... 15-20 seconds over the suggested oven time, and you'd get molten lava coming out of there. Watchout! I've burned the roof of mouth many a drunken nights.

Which Hot Pockets did you guys eat? It seems that Ham & Cheese and Philly Cheesesteak are always the ones included in the 8 for $10 deal.

I recently watched this hilarious clip on "Hot Pockets" - performed by comedian Jim Gaffigan. The whole Jim Gaffigan CD is a fun look at food and things related to it. Check out the clip by clicking on the image.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=i4Z_eTJq3bY

Thanks for reading. Read more!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

An Evening of Excessive Estrogen

As a birthday treat for my friend HL, I offered to cook her dinner at her own place in WeHo. The last time I had dinner with her was nearly a year ago and felt it was time to wine & dine as we used to. Last week we discussed what kind of food would make her belly full. She proudly stated that she is not a picky eater. I proposed a few dishes and heard this in return...

"No squashes."
"No peppers."
"No mushrooms."
"No scallops."


Great, those are only four of my favorite things to cook and eat haha. After democratic discussions, we settled on a menu. Saturday, J and I spent the afternoon foraging for our culinary ingredients. As soon as we got home, we quickly prepped as much as we could. Although I'm used to bringing my whole kitchen to a client's place for catering, I really wanted to travel with the least amount of things. Cooking is never the hard part, it's the loading, unloading and cleaning that make it a strenuous task. We loaded up my plates, knives and food and drove down to WeHo.

HL's place is seriously a great place to have a dinner party. It really looks like a showroom from one of those West Elm catalogs. The kitchen was wide open and made moving around easy... and the guests were within sniffing distance. It's always a good thing to cook food near guests and stimulate their senses.

And just when I thought her place couldn't be more feminine, HL started to light candles. Like, more than you really needed haha. I counted... 1, 2, 3, 4... and a few more in the living room. Whoa. I felt like any minute, a seance would commence. It was me versus three girls.

As soon as we unloaded the groceries, HL and her friend M started pouring the wine. With nearly 6 bottles set on the table, there was going to be some serious drinking tonight. J had never met HL & M before but as most girls do, immediately started chatting away. While I cooked to the sound of sizzling hot oil and overhead fan whirring, I was slowly tuned out of their conversations. I could hear bits of pieces....

"Where'd you get those earrings?"
"I like your hair!"
"Forever 21."
"Make-up."
"Manicure."
"Sample sales."
"Romantic comedies."
"Oh boys."
"Oh my god."
"Cute!"
"I love white wine!"

No offense HL, but I was so outnumbered. I could feel my b*lls slowly shriveling haha. I should've cooked in a football jersey and taken beer bongs every 15 minutes. After about an hour of prepping/cooking and many glasses of wine... we were all buzzed and ready to eat.

Seared Ahi Tuna with Yuzu & Miso Vinaigrette Salad
The first dish was a lightly-seared Ahi Tuna salad with miso vinaigrette. I started by seasoning the fresh block of tuna with salt, freshly ground pepper and coated it with black roasted sesame seeds.

Seared Ahi Tuna with Yuzu & Miso Vinaigrette Salad
Before serving the Ahi Tuna salad, I added a few drops of yuzu juice to the tuna for the final kick to the groin. This was a simple, yet tasty dish that even salad-haters would enjoy. The tuna was nicely seared... warm on the outside, cold and soft in the middle. Also, the addition of thinly-sliced scallions brings out the greens.

Sauteed Shrimp with Thai Coconut Curry
I really enjoy indian food, but cannot eat much of it because I can't eat too much spicy food. I decided to use a Thai-style curry instead, which tastes milder and sweeter. The sauce was made with coconut milk, curry powder, ginger powder, finely chopped cilantro, fish sauce and sugar. The shrimp was marinated in olive oil, garlic, cilantro, lemon juice and S&P and quickly sauteed. The garnish is japanese red ginger and chopped cilantro. This was tasty. Next time, I'd like to grill the shrimp instead of sautéing it to get the nice charred taste.

New Zealand Lamb Ribs with Mango & Mint Relish and Saffron Cous Cous
I love lamb, but never get the opportunity to cook it often because my family and friends aren't big fans. Such a pity because lamb fat has such a refined, unique taste. Mmmm. Back at my apartment, I spent a good 30 minutes removing the lining on the lamb bones... a long and arduous task that my catering boss once told me, meant the difference between a good and bad cook. I thought hard about a sauce that would work well with the lamb in case it was 'too gamey' for the guests and read that lamb & mint go together like peanut butter & jelly. To make the dish sweet, I added mangos and jalapenos for another kick to the groin. I salted and peppered the lamb and added a spice rub I had made consisting of coriander seeds, ginger powder, cumin, paprika, cayenne and cinnamon. The aroma hit me as soon as I seared the lamb rack. Even the drunken chatterbugs stopped in their tracks to say so... and quickly resumed into more chattering. "Ok, so what were we talking about just now...?" I served the lamb medium over sauteed asparagus and saffron cous cous. Saffron rocks! The cous cous was light and fluffy and reminded me of cornbread. I liked this dish so much I helped myself to another 5 lamb ribs.


After 4-5 bottles of wine, we were still going. To top the night of estrogen with even more estrogen, HL served champage with blackberries. I had a sip and jumped back to my red wine. (I want to have children, someday.) Overall, I had a great time doing this dinner party and can't wait to do another one. Since then, I've regained my normal level of testosterone. Happy Birthday to HL and thanks for letting me do this! Thank you also to J for her knack for stellar food photography. I can always count on you to shoot.

Thanks for reading. Read more!

Blog Widget by LinkWithin

ShareThis