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.... :)