Saturday, July 7, 2012

Awe shucks, it's a Pig Roast!!

To celebrate independence day Muss & Turner's had a whole pig roast, 5 course menu. Having had chef's tasting menu dinners there before, we were really excited about this one.

To start off the first course was heirloom tomato salad with Tasso ham, cucumber, red onion, arugula, cilantro, and avocado vinaigrette:
Heirloom Tomato Salad @ Muss & Turner's Inc

Perfect fresh start... On to second course, grilled Apalachicola oysters, pork belly, spicy pique:
Grilled Apalachicola Oysters @ Muss & Turner's Inc

No words could properly give justice, hands down best oysters I have ever had!!

For third course had a Brunswick stew with rabbit, pork shoulder, tomato, corn, and lima beans:
Brunswick Stew @ Muss & Turner's Inc

Great flavor, and nice to have a different taste with the addition of the rabbit... To go with the stew there was cornbread with black pepper bacon butter:
Cornbread, Black Pepper Bacon Butter @ Muss & Turner's Inc

and yes, the butter was as good as it sounds, but then how can you go wrong combining butter and bacon...

Fourth course, and main entree, was the caja china roasted pork, coffee and molasses smoked beef brisket, mac n cheese, collards.
Caja China Roasted Pork, Coffee And Molasses Smoked Brisket, Mac N Cheese, Collards @ Muss & Turner's Inc

The pork was outstanding but have to say the brisket and the mac n cheese were amazing too, I am not a big collards fan so that was probably the one thing I wasn't crazy about.

To finish off the night the fifth and last course was dessert:
Peach Cobbler @ Muss & Turner's Inc

Peach cobbler, goat cheese ice cream, balsamic syrup and of course... bacon sprinkles! :)

What a perfect dinner to start celebrating the independence of this great country!!!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Don Julio Tequila Tasting Menu at Noche Vinings

Noche Vinings is part of the Here 2 Serve restaurant group here in Atlanta. At the helm of Vinings location is chef Tina Aleandri, who you might know from the TV show Chopped where she came in second. Chef Tina has been adding some more original Spanish tapas or small plates to the standard Noche menu and what I have tasted has been great, like this pan roasted tilapia with vegetable escabeche and these Spanish albondigas.

Last week chef Tina had a four course tasting menu paired with Don Julio Tequilas, all courses were great and have to admit the pairings worked well for each. It was nice to be able to taste the progression of tequilas (they all start as Blanco but then depends on how long it is aged) with the different courses.

To start off, had a lobster and crab salad wrapped in jicama, nice presentation, wonderful mix of flavors and texture, definitely off to a great start! This course was paired with Don Julio Blanco.

Next we had scallops in romesco sauce with asparagus escabeche
While chef Tina was downplaying the romesco sauce, it was very good! This course was paired with Don Julio Reposado.

As good as everything had been up to this point, next up was the real winner of the night:
Steak with chimichurri sauce and Peruvian purple potatoes. The chimichurri was prepared perfectly, have to say better than some of the ones I have had in South America. The Peruvian purple potatoes had a sweetness that helped cut the acidity of the sauce so the chimichurri actually went well with both... This course was paired with a Don Julio Añejo.

To finish off, dessert was a cherry cream ice cream with cherry coulis. While I am not a big ice cream person, this was really nice and once again went perfectly with the last tequila of the night, Don Julio 70.

All in all it was a great meal, hope that chef Tina gets to this kind of tasting menus on a more frequent basis...

Monday, June 25, 2012

Southern California

While I have enjoyed California through the years (first place in the US I ever went to) and at one point spent one week a month there, it had been a while since I had visited. Since it was a family vacation we left out most of the real high-end restaurants and instead focused on some we really wanted to try and we would all enjoy, running the spectrum from fast food staples like In N Out for burgers in L.A. and Rubio's for fish tacos in San Diego to Morgan's in the Dessert and it's James Beard award winning chef Jimmy Schmidt.

While we had some outstanding meals, it would be an extremely long and probably boring post if I went through all so will try to pick some of the highlights...

Knowing my love (and my 7 year old's) love of hamburgers, first off of LAX for lunch was In N Out. I had read the entire (not so) secret menu and knew exactly what I wanted, a double double with whole grilled onion and fries well done.

After all the expectation, I have to say that In N Out totally lived up to the hype. My son went as far as saying that was the best cheeseburger he's ever had. While I wouldn't go that far, we did have to make two more stops for him on the trip to get him more In N Out cheeseburgers...

Knowing that night we would all be tired due to time difference I opted for Italian (my comfort food) in Osteria La Buca on Melrose. Everything was great but the two outstanding dishes were the grilled octopus, one of my many food weaknesses, and the spaghetti in squid ink.

The octopus was cooked perfectly and not cut in rings, the potatoes and mildly spicy sauce were perfect complement, ranks up there with some of the best octopus I have had, and rare is the time I see octopus in a menu and not order it...

The spaghetti nero was loaded with crab, sea urchin, pickled jalapeños and tomatoes, total explosion of taste!! Wonderful dish...

My twitter friend @DeathBedFood had recommended Gjelina in Venice as the talk of LA foodies so decided to give it a shot and while all I could get was lunch reservations, it again did not disappoint. We started off first with the pork meatballs, I could have easily had three more orders of these, and probably spooned up the sauce like soup:
And the salmon pastrami sandwich was also amazing:
Had heard great reviews about Lette Macarons in Beverly Hills, and with all of us having a sweet tooth that was a must stop, we bought a selection to go and went to Urth Caffe for a Spanish Latte, only time I have had a true cafe con leche in the US.

Technically not supposed to bring any outside food into Urth so sshhhh!

In Santa Monica found this great little bakery, Rockenwagner Bakery that had this fantastic breakfast sandwich, egg, ham, cheese and avocado on pretzel bread.
Would gladly have one of these every day for breakfast...

Another place I had heard great things about and also was looking forward to was Fig Santa Monica, and again, it lived up and even surpassed expectations! Everything was amazing, starting with the amuse bouche

following with the appetizers
corn agnolotti, just the right amount of sweet corn and cream...
and the braised tongue in tomatillo sauce....on to the amazing entrees, the short rib and pancetta meatloaf
which not only had enough flavor with the short ribs and pancetta combo but the sauce was lick the plate good, and on to the sturgeon
with prosciutto and foie gras sauce... can I use "lick the plate good" again??

And so we go to San Diego... which for me meant fish tacos! While researching places the one name that kept coming up was Rubio's, despite being a fast food chain, so not having tried before decided to see for myself. Had a variety, including the traditional (fried), the grilled ono, but the winner was the grilled one with habanero and mango, really nice!

Next up on the list was Bencotto Italian Kitchen which had won best Italian in San Diego so we were ready for some good pasta!

Started with a very nice cheese plate, not just the selection of cheeses,  but what came with it, like the caramelized onion and fig compote...
The pasta dishes were great, simple but great flavor and consistency, favorite was the house pasta,
Tagliatelle Bencotto, which came with a pink pancetta sauce.

Next up was Morgan's in the Desert which again had received top marks and being my Father's Day dinner was set to be a special meal, which it definitely was!

We went "raw" with the appetizers, getting the beef carpaccio
and the tuna tartare
both very good and welcome cold app after a very hot day (115 degrees...).

My entree was one of the top dishes of the trip, the pork loin with a caramelized onion and bacon sauce... amazing!!
Loved that the staff was very accommodating as well, from taking the obligatory Father's Day pics, to the sommelier recommending the perfect wine, to our waitress taking our son to the kitchen to show him how they were making the s'mores dessert.

Back in LA after Palm Springs we spent our last day in Manhattan Beach which not only do we love but had the best weather to see us off, we stopped at Rock'n Fish just by the pier and had another great meal before coming home, these crab cakes with spicy sauce were outstanding.
There were many other good meals and a few places that we couldn't make it to, but these above are for sure the highlights of a wonderful and memorable trip through southern California, now wanting to go back.... :)

Thursday, May 31, 2012

An Evening with Le Cirque

Le Cirque New York did a tour of several US cities for pop-up events at private clubs, I attended the Atlanta event held at the Buckhead Club.

At the helm of Le Cirque since start of 2012 is chef Olivier Reginensi but the touch of Sirio Maccioni and family is still everywhere (pictures of prominent Le Cirque dinners with Sirio, including the king and queen of Spain, were displayed on way to dining room).

To bring an extra touch of authenticity to the evening, Le Cirque flies in complete set of their distinctive dinner plates for the occasion:

Here's the menu for the evening:
The amuse bouche looked like a small ice cream cone, salmon cream in a thin wafer crust
For first course we decided on the tuna tartare with curry and the soft poached egg with morels
Out of these two the definite winner was the morels dish, which was a generous serving and had great taste. I thought the tuna needed a little extra kick, the curry was nice but not enough spice.

We then moved on to the second course and had the porcini mushroom risotto and the potato ravioli

Really enjoyed both of these dishes but the winner here was the risotto, perfectly cooked and the mushroom sauce was delicious.

For entrees we had the filet and the the paupiette of black bass, which has been one of the longstanding dishes at Le Cirque.

Filet was served with Bordelaise sauce and was fantastic, melt in your mouth goodness, but the winner here was the black bass, served over leeks and a delicious Rocca di Frassinello wine sauce, every bite left you wanting more.

While there were wine pairings with each of the courses, since I am not that big of a white wine fan I pretty much went with the Stags Leap cabernet throughout (although fellow madridista and Spaniard Miguel Diaz, F&B Director for the club, did convince me to try the Napa chardonnay, which I have to admit actually went nice with the amuse bouche and the tuna).

And finally time for dessert!

Here we tried the creme brulee, the chocolate fondant and the Napoleon

As much as I love a good creme brulee, the winner here was the Napoleon, flaky, creamy, very nice...

To close out the night we had some truffles and macaroons (ate too fast so no picture...) and received a farewell gift of Sirio's book, The Story of My Life and Le Cirque

Overall, a wonderful experience, wish other restaurants of the stature/history of Le Cirque would follow this model for other pop-up events...

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Argentina and Brazil

Had a whirlwind trip to Argentina and Brazil, less than 36 hours in Buenos Aires and 24 hours in Sao Paulo. Started off at the new F Concourse at Atlanta Airport (Maynard H Jackson International Terminal), it is really nice and at least for now a lot faster to check-in, go through security. Be warned if you are local to Atlanta, the daily parking is NOT next to the terminal, it is a park and ride just down the road, so if you park there either you pay through the nose to park next to terminal (like me) or after a (probably) long international flight you will still have to wait on a shuttle to take you to park and ride... (BTW, I took picture below on private tour of terminal, don't try to take any pics when flying in at immigration or they will take your phone/camera)

Had been a while since I had visited either country, close to 8 years, so first thing I knew I wanted some good Argentinian steak. I chose La Brigada, which has been around for a long time and survived influx of tourists as well as being frequented by locals. There is not an inch of wall that is not covered by sports memorabilia (read, soccer) but even found a small flags of NFL teams (I looked for and found both my hometown Atlanta Falcons and my team the Denver Broncos).

Although I was alone, there is no wine by the glass here so I picked a bottle of a local Syrah and started with a longaniza, which they described as Italian sausage:
It was good but definitely a lot for just one person, probably should have gone with the morcilla (blood sausage) keeping in mind I had the bife de chorizo coming:
Huge cut of meat, although they were pushing the French fries I declined as wanted to enjoy every piece of meat just had bread with it.

Since I ate all of my steak I was tempted by the Budin Casero (homemade bread pudding):
And finished off with a cortado (espresso with a bit of milk):

To walk off the big/heavy lunch I decided to walk back to hotel down famous Calle Florida, where I ran into these Tango street performers, you can see in their faces how much they enjoy dancing Tango, performing...
Since I was dead tired from flying all night down to Buenos Aires (no sleep on the plane) I decided to stay at  the hotel and watch the Boca Juniors soccer game at the bar (I know lame, staying at the hotel but I was just dead tired...). I got this huge Chivito Uruguayo (steak, cheese, red peppers sandwich) that came with French fries and a fried egg.

The next day for lunch I decided to try a different place that had received a lot better reviews online than La Brigada, Parrilla La Cabrera. This place became so popular that they actually opened another one a block away to handle overflow... The decor was a bit nicer but be forewarned that even with the new place close by chances are you may have to wait. They have packed tables/chairs in every possible spot so it is very tight in there, but once in I did like the food better than La Brigada. (Pic below courtesy of TripAdvisor)

Fotos de La Cabrera, Buenos Aires

On to Sao Paulo, I used to spend a lot of time there but had not been back since the craft beer craze so wanted to try some of the new ones. First one, I wanted to try was Baden Baden Stout, as it had won the Gold Medal at the European Beer Star competition in Germany, voted best dry stout in the world. Even with those high expectations, it proved to be the best beer of the whole trip, will just have to see now if I can get state-side.
These are some views of Sao Paulo from the 28th floor of Hilton hotel, don't really reflect the fact that as far as the eye can see in any direction, there are skyscrapers...
I couldn't leave Sao Paulo without having some picanha, so was able to get these nice picanha brochettes served over farofa: