Friday, April 29, 2011

Bottega - Because A Return Visit Was Necessary (Yountville, CA)


About a year ago, while I was looking for an upgrade for my dSLR, Cathy of Gastronomyblog told me to wait until I had posted 100 reviews on my blog. Why 100 you ask? Since I was a slacker (and still is one) with my blogging, she figured setting a goal would get me to post more. it is, number 100. There's not a better place for number 100 than to revisit one of my favorite meals in 2010, Michael Chiarello's Bottega in Yountville.


Since my friends and I had a day of wine tasting, we decided to change it up a bit have start the meal with some cocktails. It's not the best I've had (Milk and Honey in NYC is my favorite), but these were still some refreshing concoctions.

Shaved Brussel Sprout Salad
Shaved Brussel Sprout Salad - marcona almonds, sieved egg, pecorino and whole citrus vinaigrette

For fans of the Top Chef series, this was one of the dishes Chef Chiarello made on Top Chef Masters Season 1. As a fan of brussel sprouts, I natually had to order this dish. I enjoyed the texture of this salad with the brussel sprouts and the marcona almonds, it provided a nice crunch. The egg and the citrus vinaigrette provided a nice creamy and acidic touches needed to complete the salad. Very nice.

Polenta Under Glass
Polenta Under Glass - caramelized wild mushrooms, balsamic game sauce

A favorite from the last visit, and as I said from the last post, I'd order it again. Nothing new to report other than I think I enjoyed it better this time as it was not as salty as I had remembered. Polenta and mushroom? Yes please!

Pork Belly & More
"Bacon and Eggs" - Pork Belly and Crispy Fried Soft Boiled Egg (Photo courtesy of loreleyheart)

Next up was the dish I saw on Food Network's "The Best Thing I Ever Ate," Chiarello's "Bacon and Eggs." But honestly, how could anyone pass up pork belly with a sugar brûléed top and a soft boiled egg that's battered in panko and deep fried to perfection? Was it good? Ya, it's was pretty damn good. The only thing missing were the roasted peppers from the dish I saw on the show, but really, I wasn't missing it. If you see this on the menu, order it. On the previous visit, we had a similar dish called "Green Eggs and Ham." That was a tasty dish, but this one was much, much better!

Truffled Fries
Truffled Fries (Photo courtesy of loreleyheart)

Another item we had from the last visit, the truffled fries. For those that love truffle flavor things, order it. For those that just like fries, order it. Hell, just order the damn thing. That is all.

Risotto del Giorno
Risotto del Giorno (Risotto of the Day)

This was probably the one dish of the night we weren't too crazy about. I really enjoyed the risotto from Bottega from the last visit and knew I had to order the daily risotto special. Originally we were told it was going to be a seafood risotto, then was informed they ran out of the fish and had to switch it to a ham (I believe?) version. While the texture of the rice was fine, I found the dish to be too salty and the ham version wasn't all that exciting. While I'll still order the risotto of the day here, I might be a bit more mindful of the ingredient used on that particular day.

Clam Pasta
Hand-cut egg linguine with Manilla clams, Calabrese sausage, garlic, basil, parsley, and white wine (Photo courtesy of loreleyheart)

Since the pasta dishes were the hit of the table last time, we had to get some this time around. We started with the hand cut linguine with clams and Calabrese sausage. Now this was a beautiful bowl of pasta. I loved the flavors of the clams and sausages together. This was truly delicious. I gotta give thanks to my buddy Benny for taking some of those shots as his food pics are much more kick ass than mine.

House-made egg pappardelle with veal, pork & porcini mushroom Bolognese, Sweet 100 tomatoes, rosemary & parmigiano
House-made egg pappardelle with veal, pork, porcini mushroom Bolognese, Sweet 100 tomatoes, rosemary and parmigiano

This was another delicious plate of pasta. I loved the meat ragu made from veal and pork. The pappardelle was just perfect. You can't really ask for anything better than found on this plate.

Confit of Half Duck
Confit of Half Duck - mostarda di frutta, Forni Brown greens, pomegranate salad, red wine duck jus

I tell everyone that goes to Bottega to order their duck confit. Why do I do it? Well, for one, I love duck, it's a truly remarkable animal. However, the duck confit here is, pardon my French, fucking delicious! Go order it! See, she did, umm, and I think she'll do it next time. Trust the Panda on this one. If you don't like it, I'll pay for it (BTW, I'm joking).

Twice Cooked Natural Pork Chop
Twice Cooked Natural Pork Chop - bacon wrapped tomatoes

This was a nicely cooked pork chop and I especially like the bacon wrapped product on top, though you can't go wrong with bacon, ever. However, the duck was better. Hey, I'm just honest.

Smoked & Braised Natural Short Ribs
Smoked and Braised Natural Short Ribs - preserved Meyer-lemon spinach, smokey jus

It's true short ribs is a bit played out in the past few years, but I do enjoy eating it. This particular short rib was quite nice and juicy. I especially enjoyed the side of spinach with preserved meyer lemon. All in all, a fantastic ending to the meal.

End of the meal? Where's the dessert you ask. Well, even though the popular theory states: there's always room for dessert. After 4 appetizers, 3 pastas, 3 main courses for a group of three, we simply could not taken in another bite of food.

Overall, the return visit to Bottega was successful. While I enjoyed the first visit more, the second visit was still wonderful. Chef Michael Chiarello still patrolled the dining room and kitchen like the last visit and the meal as whole was terrific. I'd recommend Bottega wholeheartedly to anyone that's planning to visit the Napa Valley area. Again, order the damn duck. Thanks!

Oh, and back to the camera story. I'm still using my original Canon (Go Canon!) XSi, but since I have the green light to upgrade, it's time to start looking again. Thanks again for all the inspiration and keeping my blog alive and kicking Cathy!

Bottega Ristorante
6525 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599-1300
(707) 945-1050

Monday, April 25, 2011

Wakuriya - A Hidden Gem In San Mateo (San Mateo, CA)


These days, I'm pretty excited in going back home to Northern California. One of the reason is the fact I have a great group of dining buddies to eat with. On a recent visit back, I was assigned the task of finding a restaurant in the area. Although given a virtual carte blanche, since this was a Sunday night, I was limited in terms of selections. I was suggested Wakuriya by Gourmet Pigs, and although I love Japanese food, I had my doubts at first. However, after reading her review, those doubts were quickly put aside. Did she give me a good recommendation? We shall see....

Complimentary Refreshment: white grape & nagomi sake
Complimentary Drink: White Grape and Nagomi Sake

After given a warm towel and the day's menu, we were also given a shot of a complimentary white grape and Nagomi sake. Refreshing and fruity. Delicious.

Sakizuke (Starter): homemade yaki goma-dofu
Sakizuke (Starter): homemade yaki goma-dofu
1. Sakizuke: Homemade yaki goma dofu (oven-grilled sesame tofu with wasabi sizzling in dashi broth on a hot iron pan)

I really enjoyed the sesame tofu sizzling in the pan. The tofu itself had a subtle, yet apparent sesame taste. The wasabi provided a nice kick to this dish.

Zensai (Appetizers)
"renkon manjyu" (lotus root cake)
2. Zensai: Assorted Appetizers (From Left:
braised "kamo" (duck) - negi miso sauce with "komatsu-na" (Japanese mustard spinach) salad.
"renkon manjyu" with fresh uni topping
seared Hokkaido "hotate" grape and daikon sauce

Next came the trio of appetizers. I would have to say the duck was my favorite of the trio. I really enjoyed the texture and flavors of the duck. Also, the lotus root cake with uni was quite nice, though I'm a big fan of uni in general. The sweetness from the grapes actually went pretty well with the seared scallop. All in all, a successful trio.

Mushi mono (steamed dish): tai to kabura no konabe jitate
3. Mushi Mono: Tai to kabura no konabe jitate (snapper and "kabura" (turnip), sun smiling valley farms shimeji mushroom, vegetable and clear noodles with "tororo-kombu" (shredded kelp) steamed in tiny clay pot)

Now this was very nice, especially for a chilly Fall evening when I had my meal at Warikuya. The snapper, mushrooms, turnip, and vegetables all combined into a fantastic kelp based broth. The only thing I was upset about was that I didn't get a bigger pot of this dish.

Tsukuri (sashimi): Today's Chef's Choice
Tsukuri (sashimi): Today's Chef's Choice
4. Tasukuri: Today Chef's Choice Sashimi (tosa shoyu (bonito soy sauce))

Sashimi, it's one of my favorites, especially a nice fatty cut of toro like the one pictured above. All the fish we tasted were fresh and quite delicious, but the toro was definitely my favorite!

Age mono (Deep fried fish): ebi shinjo no nasu hasami-age
Age mono (Deep fried fish): ebi shinjo no nasu hasami-age
5. Age Mono: Ebi shinjo no nasu hasami-age (deep fried shrimp cake sandwiched between sliced Japanese eggplant. Vegetable Tempura)

Another one of my favorites is the tempura. Unlike the usual sweet potato and shrimp, here we have an eggplant sandwich, with shrimp cake in the middle of the eggplant.The batter to the tempura was surprisingly light, and with the dipping sauce, it was quite pleasant to eat.

Hashiyasume: gelée
6. Hashiyasume: Gelée (fresh tomato extract sorbet and "shiso" sorbet)

This was just what we needed, a palate cleanser. I enjoyed the tart flavor of the tomato sorbet and the strong shiso flavor of the second sorbet. The shiso and tomato marriage was perfect!

On mono (hot dish): washugyu no sukiyaki
7. On Mono: Washugyu no Sukiyaki (simmered washu beef, vegetables and tofu in tomato flavored sweet soy sauce served with soft boiled quail egg in "me-nabe" (eye shaped iron pan))

Delicious tender washu beef. Soft tofu. Soft poached quail egg. All bathed in a tomato based soy sauce. Tell me if that sounds good. Ya, it was damn good! The best part was breaking the yolk in the pan and the creamy flavors accented the overall dish. This was pretty fantastic.

Gohan mono (rice dish): tai chazuke
8a. Gohan Mono: Tai Chazuke (tai snapper with sesame sauce over rice in dashi broth)

Next, we had a choice of rice dishes to close out the savory part of the menu. Naturally we decided to share both choices. First, I had the tai chazuke. Chazuke has always been something I enjoyed making at home (from the pre packaged powder), but this was definitely a notch above what I made at home. Here we have rice in a dashi broth was a tender piece of tai snapper. This was simple, yet quite delicious.

Gohan mono (rice dish): kani-tama an-kake gohan
8b. Gohan Mono: Kani-tama an-kake gohan (Alaskan snow crab in egg omelet with thickened dashi sauce over rice)

The last rice dish was good, but this one was even better, at least for me. I loved the crab omelet on top of the rice with the thickened dashi broth. The sweetness of the crab meat just goes so well together with the egg. I could easily eat 2-3 bowls of this stuff.

Homemade Dessert: delicate "shira-tama" mochi trio
Homemade Dessert: delicate "shira-tama" mochi trio
9. Homemade Dessert: Delicate "shira-tama" mochi trio (plain, "matcha," and cocoa and fresh fruit jelly, homemade "azuki-an" (sweet red bean paste), crème anglaise)

Now, I love dessert. I think most people that knows me well, know I love anything sweet (except donuts). So this isn't a biased remark, but I personally believe this dessert was the best course of the evening. This dessert was just really really good. I absolutely the fruit jelly, the 3 different mochi "pops." That crème anglaise was just fantastic. I could not have had a better dish to end my meal with.


I will have to say Wakuriya easily exceeded my expectations. The husband and wife team of Katsuhiro and Mayumi Yamasaki have made Wakuriya into one of Bay Area's best restaurants. So much so, it has earned its first Michelin Star for 2011. I'm looking forward to dining here again on my next visit to the Bay Area. Thanks for the rec GP!

115 De Anza Blvd.
San Mateo, CA 94402-3988
(650) 286-0410

Monday, April 18, 2011

Alinea - A Truly Memorable Experience (Chicago, IL)


I think for most people, vacations are meant for relaxation and to check out the local attractions, while food planning might be secondary at best. However, for me, finding the right restaurants always comes first, and everything else can take shape once I get there. As for my meal at Alinea, this was my sole reason to be in Chicago. Though, I'd learn later on, Chicago has some awesome sights and sounds, and a ton of great food to boot.

I was asked by Bonnibella if I would be interested in joining her in Chicago and to dine at Alinea. I couldn't possibly say yes, right? I mean, a trip to Chicago just for food? After thinking it over, it really wasn't such a crazy idea. Alinea was THE restaurant for me to try in the United States, plus I was in dire need of a vacation, so Hellz to the Yes, I was down.

Entrance to the dining room of Alinea

An unique entrance. It's my pathway to "The Tour." The Tour is the now extinct 26 course tasting menu Alinea once offered. I was lucky enough to try it on its last month being offered on the menu. While I normally don't do the wine pairing offered, I've heard great things about the pairing here, so I added that to my tasting menu. I'll note the wine pairing during the courses below.

Table Ornament

Is this a table ornament? I will soon find out.

English Pea
English Pea
1. English Pea - iberico, sherry, honeydew
(Paired with Szigeti "Cuvee Prestige" with Qhilika, elderflower, and Peychaud's)

It was cold, sweet, savory, meaty, and creamy all in one bite. What a great start!

2. Lobster - lychee, gruyere, vanilla fragrance

Think of this as a high class lobster tempura. I loved the creaminess of the gruyere cheese and the vanilla accent from the vanilla bean.

3. Yuba - shrimp, miso, togarashi

Fried shrimp and tofu skin (yuba), it reminded me the most of something you'll see at dim sum, but much more refined, of course. The sauce of miso and the Japanese 7 spice (togarashi) added a nice zip to the course.

Chao Tom
4. Chao Tom - sugar cane, shrimp, mint

The next course was simply a piece of sugar cane, infused with the flavors of Vietnam and Thailand. The word simply probably was used too loosely by me as I was amazed they were able to get so much complex flavors out of one piece of sugar cane. You had to chew it, take in the flavors, and spit it out in a napkin provided.

5. Distillation - of Thai flavors

This glass wasn't part of my wine pairing. It was the next course. The "shot" of clear liquid had quite a multitude of flavors used in Thai cuisine. Lemongrass, peppers, etc. I've seen the course on other blogs, but it was still surprising once I had it for myself.

Pork Belly
Pork Belly
Pork Belly
6. Pork Belly - curry cucumber, lime
(Paired with Abbazia di Novacella Kerner, Valle Isarco, Alto Adige 2008)

Remember that "table ornament" from earlier? Well, that was actually rice paper for wrapping the piping hot pork belly served tableside. The toppings included things like basil seeds, onions, lime, hot sauce, cashews, and a few other things. This course was slightly messy as it's more of a DIY course, but I loved every bite of it. Of course, a wet towel was provided post course. I loved this course!

King Crab
7. King Crab - rhubarb, lilac, fennel
(Paired with Paul Blanck Pinot Gris "Classique," Alsace 2008)

I was a bit confused at first with this course was served on such a large oval looking bowl. In addition, the top was ice cold, while the bottom was steaming hot. Something must be up.....

King Crab
7a. Crab Gelatin

First, we were presented with a refreshing and delicious crab gelatin. The flavors and texture were both on point. The flavors of the basil on the bottom was quite nice.

King Crab
7b. King Crab, avocado, rhubarb

The server revealed the next layer, a nice piece of king crab meat, fried avocado to give it a creamy component, and finally, rhubarb for a tart flavor. The flavors worked quite well. Delicious.

King Crab
7c. King Crab Brulee

The final course was revealed and it was my favorite of the trio. It was a crab dumpling in a brulee form. Served piping hot. The only regret was that I didn't get a bigger bowl of this stuff. It was probably one of my favorite, if not THE favorite course of the night.

8. Octopus - red wine, lavender, fava bean

Tender octopus, great flavors, no complaints from me. And a big thanks for the server who I used as a hand model.

9. Lamb - reflection of elysian fields farm
(Paired with Larkin Wines "Jack Larkin" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2005)

I wish I had a better shot of this dish, my fault. What Chef Achatz was trying to do was to imitate the actual Elysian Fields Farm. The green was to represent the grass, the sauce on the bottom was meant to represent the river and so on. In terms of the flavors of the lamb, it was fantastic. It was a great touch to have all parts of the lamb used, creating a fantastic dish, covering the flavors and the looks.

Hot Potato
10. Hot Potato - cold potato, black truffle, butter

The hot potato, cold potato dish has become one of Chef Achatz's staple dishes during the tasting at Alinea. The server told us this was a time sensitive dish, so with the pull of the pin, the butter, truffle, and the hot potato were dropped into the cold potato "soup" in the wax bowl. The temperature contrast of the potatoes was perfect. You'd get a slight burn from the hot potato, while the cold potato broth covers that heat pretty quickly. The added butter and truffle added a nice buttery and woodsy flavor to the dish. It's definitely one of my favorites of the evening.

11. Malt - english toffee, bourbon country stout, blueberry
(Paired with Vinhos Barbeito/Rare Wine Co. "Charleston Sercial" Reserve Madeira)

When presented with this dish, I was thinking the kitchen had made a mistake. Are we on our dessert courses already? Maybe this was an Intermission to the next set of savories, but the combination of textures and flavors of this was quite nice.

12. Bacon - butterscotch, apple, thyme

Another one of Chef Achatz's staples, the bacon on wires. Now, can anything go wrong with bacon? I don't think so!

13. Nutella - bread banana, chocolate

This one tastes like nutella with a hint of banana. I liked the texture, but overall, it wasn't one of my favorites.

14. Corn - crunchy, sweet, salty

This one was a one biter. I could use a bag of this stuff.

Surf Clam
15. Surf Clam - celery, tabasco, oyster cracker
(Paired with L. Aubry Fils Brut, Jouy-Les-Reims)

We were told this was Chef Achatz's deconstruction of the classic New England Clam Chowder. Though, it's presented with the "sand," "water," and other components of a beach. The flavors were striking eerie of a bowl of clam chowder, and everything on the clam shell were edible.

Oxalis Pod
Oxalis Pod
16. Oxalis Pod - whipped sorrel, honey, salt

Next, another one biter. Here we have whipped sorrel, which is actually a bit fruity and tart, combined with the sweet and salty flavors from the honey and salt. It's definitely an interesting combination.

17. Salad - ranch dressing, soup, powdered
(Paired with Nicodemi Trebbiano d'Abruzzo, Italy 2008)

Next up, salad. Probably not the most exciting dish since it was mainly vegetables and powered ranch dressing, until......the bottom of the dish revealed a slightly chilled, though rich and creamy soup. It's the perfect combination of soup and salad. I was surprised the ranch soup actually tasted this good.

18. Sardine - horseradish, pepper cress, tomato

Look Ma, no hands! As you can tell from the pictures, this was a hands free course. It was definitely a fun and tasty course, though I had to make sure I don't stab myself with the contraption.

19. Squab - charred strawberries, lettuce, birch log
(Paired with Domaine des Remizieres Hermitage "Cuvee Emilie," N. Rhone 2004)

First, I loved the way it's presented. We were served the squab on a heated birch log, which gave off a great scent while I was consuming the dish. The overall taste, looks, was truly wonderful. I wish my pictures were better, as that was one delicious cooked piece of squab! This was definitely was one of my favorites.

Black Truffle
Black Truffle
20. Black Truffle - explosion, romaine, parmean

Can I say, OMG? Wow! The bottom of this dish was hollow, and we were instructed to take this down in one bite as well. The liquefied truffle center was truly something. I can see why this is one of Chef Achatz's signature dishes. I hope this dish remained on the menu for my hopeful return to Alinea.

21. Tournedo - a la persane
(Paired with Anima Negra "An," Mallorca, Spain 2004)

As what the name states, this piece of steak was from  the leanest part of the tenderloin. In this case, the tenderloin was from an Australian Wagyu beef. This was our last savory course of the evening and what a way to end it with some wagyu beef.

Lemon Soda
22. Lemon Soda - one bite

I likened this course to be more of a subtle version of Pop Rocks. It was tart and bubbly, a perfect palate cleanser.

23. Transparency - of raspberry, yogurt
(Paired with Elio Perrone "Bigaro," Piemonte 2009)

One thing I've yet mentioned was my wine pairing throughout this meal. The wine selections by our Sommelier (who was from South Pasadena and worked previously at French Laundry) was wonderful, but this pairing in particular was my favorite of the night. The sparkling rose was fruity and delicious, which meshed well with this course. In fact, it was too pretty to be eaten at first. It was definitely aesthetically pleasing.

Bubble Gum
24. Bubble Gum - long pepper, hibiscus, creme fraiche

This definitely tasted like bubble gum. I don't know the combination of hibiscus, tapioca, creme fraiche, and long pepper could produce such a flavor, but it worked!

Earl Grey
Earl Grey
25. Earl Grey - lemon, pine nut, caramelized white chocolate
(Paired with De Bortoli "Noble One," New South Wales, Australia 2006)

First, the course was served upon a pillow that was inflated with a vanilla scent which deflated during the course of the dessert while giving off a pleasant vanilla scent. The chocolate and lemon flavors surprisingly worked well together, but the best part of the dish was the varying textures on the plate.

26. Chocolate - coconut, menthol, hyssop
(Paired with Ferreira "Duque de Braganca," 20 year Tawny Port)

At this point, we've reached the last course of the meal. Our table was covered with a special (rubber material I believe) table cloth, and by our surprise, Chef Grant Achatz personally made our dessert tableside. You can check out the video shot by Bonnibella below:

First, we were definitely surprised to see him make this for us tableside since he didn't come out for any of the surrounding tables. Also, we were told this was meant to serve four people, so they knew we had some hearty appetite. Overall, I enjoyed the textures, flavors, temperature contrast of this dessert. I was slightly surprised with the liberal use of coconut milk and the menthol. The menthol and chocolate mix was reminded me of a strong version of an Andes chocolate bar.


Did we finish? Do you really have to ask?

So what do I really think of this meal? Now, I'm not one that believes in a life altering meal, but if I did, this would definitely be one of them. Alinea for me lived up to all the hype, to all the blog posts I've read over time, my main reason visiting Chicago, and then some. This was definitely a memorable meal. From the start, the food was excellent, and fun. The service was beyond exceptional (Thanks for the signed menus and the last dessert course BTW), the courses were well paced, the wine pairing was lovely (a must for anyone visiting Alinea), it was truly a great experience for me. Now, I'd never thought there would be a meal that's better than my experience at Urasawa, but if that was tops, then Alinea would easily be an 1a. for me. You may have guessed, but I'm already planning for a return trip to Chicago, and you can bet Alinea (along with Grant Achatz's newest ventures of Next and Aviary) will be atop my dining agenda. I can see why this is the #1 ranked restaurant in North America. Easily, it was the best meal for me in 2010.

Thanks again to my dining partner in crime, Bonnibella, and of course, for setting this experience up for me.

To end it post, I want to share this video of Alinea:

1723 N Halsted St
Chicago, Illinois 60614
(312) 867-0110