Archive for the ‘Drink’ Category

Salty and Slow San Antonio

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Let’s be honest. I’ve been in hibernation mode. The grueling nature of the past five months has taken its toll, and hibernation is an apt metaphor because eating was not a priority, and neither was writing breezy posts filled with f-bombs about said eating. Just sleeping and being furry.

But then I felt it. The glorious warmth of the sun, which drew me out of my stupor. Quite literally the sun in sunny Texas, but also the heat and life-giving power of the best breakfast taco I have ever eaten. More on that later.

First, I should explain that I was in San Antonio for a conference. They must have been doing some sort of tax firesale, since fully three conferences that I go to are in San Antonio this year. Having done Round 1 in January, I was NOT impressed with the food-related offerings of the city. I really liked the Riverwalk, mostly because (a) it reminded me of Disneyland and  (b) the daredevil-ness of not having a single fence or railing made me feel like I was in a slightly dangerous Disneyland, which strikes me as a pretty awesome thing. But the food? No.

The second time, however, I was armed with a secret weapon: Sharisa. My secret weapon was armed with her own secret weapon, a little zygote that sent constant “EAT! EAT!” messages to its host. Their combined power was unstoppable, and Sharisa had unearthed tons of culinary gems that my own research had not.

The first night, however, we went to the hotel restaurant, Sazo’s. This was mostly out of exhaustion, desperation, laziness, and giant-groupness, not because it was on any of our lists. It was here where the “Slow and Salty” meme was born, because everyone’s dishes were almost inedibly salty, and it took us 45 minutes from the time we laid down our credit cards to when we got them back to sign. WTFBBQ (literally on the BBQ part). I won’t waste any more time on Sazo’s.

The following day we went to Boudro’s for lunch. Boudro’s was on everyone’s “I heard that place was good” list, but it was also (a) in the hotel room “Where to Eat” guide, (b) on the Riverwalk, and (c) on my fucking BOARDING pass as a “local attraction!” so I was skeptical.

We were seated at a lovely outside table in partial shade, looking out over the cute lazy river. Pictured top is my Prickly Pear Margarita -tequila, triple sec and fresh lime juice, frozen and layered with prickly cactus pear puree. A more beautiful margarita there never was. The rim was some sort of smoky salt concoction with a tamarind hit. Beauty and booze blended to make this a very intoxicating drink indeed.

Pictured just above is our tableside guacamole. Tableside guacamole is a big, big thing in San Antonio. I’m sure one restaurant started it and all the others were like “Goddamnit look whatchoo’ve done” and followed suit. This one was – you guessed it – salty. I appreciated the unique touches, though, like roasted serrano pepper and orange juice instead of lime. I also enjoyed listening to the table next to us lecturing their server on how they make their guacamole, and I thought to myself “the poor servers must get that all the fucking time.”  In that tone of voice but not with the same words, the beleaguered server said, “Yes, it’s so interesting hearing everyone’s home recipes!”

My entree was actually an app – the Texas Tapas: skewer of pork tenderloin al pastor with pineapple, grilled Hill Country jalapeno sausage, smoked duck, spicy marinated vegetables, corn pudding and barbeque sauce. The spit-cooked pork was oh so tender and my favorite part of this dish. The sausage was fine – too salty with the BBQ sauce and nothing special besides. The corn pudding was perfect when I slapped on a button-sized amount on everything. The duck slid off the bone in what could only be described as a seductive manner. I merely poked it with my fork and suddenly it was on my plate all wet with BBQ sauce. The whole dish was pretty refined for a Riverwalk joint. A+.

That night I was already back in San Francisco, since I had a thing I had to be at for work the next day. The third night I ate at the TGIF in the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport on my stopover while flying back.

The fourth day we went to lunch at the Monterey, a place that Sharisa had found. Right before we left the hotel were were talking to a very distinguished prof, and when we excused ourselves for lunch he said “Is the restaurant logo a big M?” and we chirped an amazed “Yes, actually!” but then it turned out he was being an asshole and suggesting we were going to McDonald’s, so there was a lot of confusion which all eventually concluded in anger all around.

I suggested we take a cab, but there was a giant St. Patrick’s day parade going on, so Sharisa and our other dining companions (including Betty!) forced me to go on what ended up being an almost-death march in the 85 degree heat in conferencey clothes. My kneepits were dark with sweat stains, gross! And right after I had hotel-dry-cleaned these pants!

We got to the restaurant, which is super cute, but most of the seating is outdoors with no semblance of shade, partial or otherwise. The owner, Brad or Chad I can’t remember, was very friendly. Betty had a flight in 1.5 hours so she ate quickly and jetted…or tried to, except the cab didn’t come for FORTY FIVE minutes and BradChad had to finally get on the phone with the cab company and yell “GET YOUR ASS OVER HERE!”

Sharisa and I ordered basically everything on the menu, beginning with grapefruit soda, continuing onto Double-order French fries with crystal hollandaise, then fried green tomato, Benton’s bacon, soft eggs, crystal hollandaise, and then a Po’boy with fried oysters and pork jowl, and then finally their special of the day, which was a short rib hot dog. Scary Larry got French toast with pork belly and strawberries, which sounded like a neato combination.

These french fries were. the. best. They were very clearly properly twice-fried, so crispy on the outside that we might have been biting into apples. Note that they are not sweet potato fries; they are actually that golden brown. The dipping sauce had a smoky streak in it, which was nice.

I guess “pork jowl” just means fatty bacon. Maybe I happened upon not the freshest oyster, because this guy made me a little queasy. A fishy oyster wrapped in a thick armor of batter right up against not-rendered pig fat was a bit much for me. Thank goodness the bread was crusty and toasted or else I might have fainted mid-chew. Sharisa really loved it, so maybe it was just my particular oyster or else her baby is controlling her brain like this. [For the love of god, don't watch 0:50 onwards!]

Here are the fried green tomatoes. I really loved the book and have always wanted to try them. It was hard to discern their flavor since they were covered in yolk and similarly-colored hollandaise with bacon to boot. Mostly I would describe this dish as a fun fatty texture bomb.

Here’s Scary Larry’s weird thing. I believe that was espresso syrup underneath it all. I have been burned one too many times by under-rendered pork belly, so I was worried for him. But as you can see, it was properly almost-burninated and I reallllly wanted to lean over and steal a bite, but he was sick and besides, I hate French toast.

In sum, I was pleasantly surprised to see such interesting food tucked away in a little corner of San Antonio, and while I didn’t love absolutely all of it, absolutely none of it was oversalted like the rest of the damn town, which automatically nets Monterey an A+.

I think we are growing up, because none of us got obliterated in the customary way at the conference banquet on Saturday night. This was a good thing, because I had the wherewithal to go on another death march with Sharisa Sunday morning to a breakfast taco joint called Taco Haven a bit out of the way. Ever since the little one implanted in her uterine lining, she has been most ravenous in the mornings, so breakfast tacos were high on her agenda.

As we walked toward the door, we spied through a window a worker bee making tortillas from scratch. Good sign. Also a good sign: they were recently voted “Best Breakfast” in Food Network Magazine. I ordered one Torres special – refried beans, cheese, bacon, and guacamole (above), one chorizo and egg breakfast taco, and one chorizo and potato breakfast taco.

Our kind server asked me whether I wanted flour, corn, or whole wheat tortillas. I opted for corn for the breakfast tacos, since that’s how I like them at Tacos Por Favor, and went with flour for the special. Sharisa got flour for all.

Right now I want to shove my lappie aside and run around my apartment yodeling, because that is the magnitude of emotion that I experience whenever I think about these tacos. This “bi-winning” high, though, is quickly followed by a devastating low when I think about the fact that eating them again isn’t something in my near future.

The tortillas – the TORTILLAS! I have been trying to come up with an adequate description for days. “Pillowy” is a good start. Just enough chewy to make them addictive. I want to make a full bedding set (including bedskirt) out of these tortillas so I can just roll myself into a Janet burrito and eat my way out, taking naps as needed.

Sharisa very sensibly ate her tacos in parallel, rotating between the three. I snarfed up my entire chorizo and egg one and was scolded by her. “What if that’s the best one?!” she asked. Good point. And it was. Womp-womp. I wasn’t too sad, though, because the chorizo and potato one was super, and the flour tortilla from my Torres special was, as I mentioned, soft round heroin. I scooped out half of my Torres fillings and filled it up with the chorizo and potato, and that was even more ecstasy-inducing. I realized then that a flour tortilla + chorizo & egg would be the most scrumptious thing on the planet, and that realization made me really, really sad. Because we would fly away from this glorious place without me ever reaching breakfast taco Nirvana.

As we walked back, we were both pretty despondent to leave. Sharisa tried to brighten my mood by asking what we should eat for dessert, except I said “More breakfast tacos” to deflate her attempt. This made her slow down and say, “Should we go back?” and I stopped and said “SHOULD we?” and she said “SHOULD WE?” and I said “SHOULLLD WEEE?!??” but we didn’t.

We should have. Stupid.

Boudro’s on Riverwalk
421 E Commerce St
San Antonio, TX 78205
210.224.8484

The Monterey
1127 S St Mary’s St
San Antonio, TX 78210
210.745.2581

Taco Haven
1032 S Presa St
San Antonio, TX 78210
210.533.2444


Bouchon and Bottega, Yountville

Monday, January 10th, 2011

I have been working on some sort of pun/joke about Yountville fine dining establishments that begin with “Bo” and are owned by chefs whose last names begin with a “k” phoneme, but it’s not quite there yet. So I will just straight up say “I went to Bouchon and Bottega. Both are in Yountville, which is a teeny and adorable town sandwiched between Napa and Sonoma.  The former is owned by noted chef Thomas Keller of French Laundry fame; the latter by celebrity chef and resident skeeze-despite-being-flaming Michael Chiarello.”

I mean, have you SEEN Michael Chiarello’s show on Food Network? He has a crazy lisp and talks about fluting things. Fellow FoodTV junkie Finni and I were sure he was gay, and then one day he mentioned his “wife and kids” and I fell off my chair, texted Finni from the floor, and then she fell off HER chair! There is NO! WAY!

But when he was on the first season of Top Chef Masters I realized he’s not gay, he’s just a snake, and the lisp is a human form of hissing. Ugh. I wanted to shower after that episode where he was oozing all over the ladies who came to his catering station.

Anyway, for my hatch day, R2 outdid himself and swept me away to wine country, where we stayed in an amazing villa in The Villagio Inn and Spa. It was one of these sprawling places that you can just wander around, marveling at the cute corners and paths lined with strings of fountains. They had tea daily complete with tiny crustless sandwiches, scones, and clotted cream. There was a super old couple at tea on the first day with the KEE-YOOTEST puppersons that was waiting on the outside of the glass door, looking in and making intense eye contact with anyone who would look at him/her. I named it Eye Contact Dog, but then I really wanted to know its proper name, so I sidled up to its owner who was refilling her tea.

Me: [Sweetly] What is your dog’s name?
Her: [Sharply] Any milk?

Confused, I backed away. Did she think I was the help? Did she not even notice me and was talking to herself? Or was her dog’s name Enniemelch?

Ennie-way, that night we went to the dark and romantic Bistro Jeanty. The lighting was untenable, despite the fact that we were seated fireside, so I don’t have any postable pictures, but we had a blogworthy but in the end slightly gross set of appetizers - LANGUE D’AGNEAU: warm lamb tongue and potato salad and TERRINE DE LAPIP: rabbit pâté with a celery root apple salad and mustard dressing. Both were mayo-ey and chunky with a not-unoccasional cartilage crunch which wasn’t great. Our entrees, however, glowed. I got Coq au vin, even though I hate bird, just because I spied Buttered egg noodles under sides, which came with the tagline “Yummy with Coq au vin.” I loved the use of “yummy” on this fine French dining menu so I went with it, and good fucking lord. I think I ate just one hunk of chicken for posterity and then inhaled the egg noodles, dipping just the ends in the gravy of the coq au vin soba-style. When people asked me after the fact how my hatch day was, I just say “buttered egg noo…” and trail off in a drooly daze.

The following day we took an epic walk and laughed at some cows that were grazing. The CHRRUUFF sound of the blades of grass getting ripped off their roots and then the CHOMP CHOMP CHOMP sound! And they just ate all day long! We watched them for a long time and then I heard a frog croaking nearby and I hate frogs so we left.
Lunch was at Bouchon. We were seated at our server’s favorite seat in the house – adjacent to the charming Christmas tree. We had the soupe du jour which was a sunchoke soup with creme fraiche, lemon oil, and toasted walnuts. You can just look at it and guess how awesome it was. I could have gone to the trouble of constructing perfect spoonfuls composed of all elements, but just poking at it willy-nilly netted very different flavor profiles (god have I become a person who uses the term “flavor profiles?”) with each bite. I silently snapped my fingers under the table and mouthed “Garcon I’ll take a vatful” and R2 said “Huh?” and I said “Nothing.”

Then, he had the Croque Madame: grilled ham & cheese sandwich on brioche, fried egg & mornay (Bechamel with parmesan and gruyere cheese added, swoon) sauce served with French fries.

Our server, who we both liked exceedingly, was attentive and peppy but not unctuous. She had no make up on, which fit with her “I’m here to make sure you eat delicious food and that is my only job” demeanor. She cracked jokes that I could see myself making. Anyway, she offered to make R2′s fries black truffle fries for a piddling more, but we decided against it (WHY WHY WHY). Instead of crying, I just dunked the fries in the aioli accompaniment, which ended up being truffle aioli so that was a fucking win. The sammy was rich and light at the same time. R2 slurped it up, even the horrifying-looking yolk-edge slime-tendon that was clinging to the side of the plate at the end.

I had the Quiche du Jour, which was Lorraine. It came out quivering with a crusty top.

More mousse than quiche, utterly reminiscent of Japanese chawanmushi. Silky and soft and hung out in a really nice way at the back of my tongue. I found myself eating around the bacon just to get at the egg. I wanted to have it with a spoon at night with PJs on like women in commercials encouraging other women to indulge by oneself in ice cream.

Then, to the Villagio spa, where it is free to soak for guests. My activity plan was as follows: Shower to get clean, outdoor jacuzzi to get hot, read Nook Doggy Dogg in a lounge chair outside to get cold, steam room to get hot, more reading outside to get cold, sauna to get hot, even more reading outside to get cold again, and jacuzzi again to leave me toasty warm. I was alone basically the entire time, and being nekkid in an outdoor spa is really liberating! I did some attempts at naked synchronized swimming in the jacuzzi but it was tough with the bubbles going.

Then, back to Bistro Jeanty for $1 oysters during happy hour. We ordered 10 (why not a dozen??) and then ordered more – a proper dozen. We washed it down with some bubbly and strolled over to Bottega.

This is the thing about Yountville. The whole town is basically two blocks long, and yet it houses French Laundry, Bouchon, Bottega, Ad Hoc, Redd, étoile – it’s really amazing. So Bistro Jeanty was next door to Bouchon was across the street from Bottega, etc.


There, we were about half an hour early. And despite being warned not to blow R2′s cover (he was going to act confused as to why the reservation was at a “different time” than when we made it for), when he gave our name at the front I yelled “WE ARE SUUUUPER EARLY!” by accident.

No matter. We were promptly seated in the restaurant that was packed despite it being a winter Wednesday in the boonies. I ordered a flight of Chiarello’s own wines, which were fine. For our app, we ordered grilled octopus; specifically wood grilled octopus with olive oil braised potatoes, pickled red onion, salsa verde. We hoped and hoped and hoped that it would be as delicious as the pulpo a la plancha  we had in Spain, and while it wasn’t THAT good, it was the best octopus we’ve had Stateside.

“This is by far the best pulpo we’ve had Stateside,” I said, obnoxiously. Then I heard myself and looked around, but all I saw were approving smiles and nods. Pretentious Yountville jerks.

For our mains, which came in too low of light to photograph, R2 got the whole fish special. While not as horrifying as this, it came out looking like you’d think a whole dead fish would, and tasted fresh and good but not transcendent or anything. I had the brodetto (Italian version of like a boulliabaisse) for the sole (ha) reason that such stews are usually off limits to me as I am mortally allergic to shrimp, crab, and lobster, but this one was: Adriatic Seafood Brodettomonkfish, mussels, rock cod & fresh Monterey calamari, forno-confit tomato broth, olive oil crouton, and paprika-saffron rouille. It’s a FLAVOR PROFILE that I don’t often get to experience, so it was such a soul-warming treat. I’m pretty sure I was crying when R2 tore me away from the little town of Yountville, back to the food desert that is San Francisco (boo hoo Janet).

They’re all on the same road right next to each other, so just map yourself to Yountville.

I drank beer out of a boot and other stories

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

Someone once said on a blog to not apologize for not blogging and just fucking blog. But I do feel I owe you readers an apology for being delinquent. I was out of town for a full week, which was really fun but exhausting, and now my froat hurts where my nostrils connect to my mouth cavity.

So. I was in Madison Sunday through Tuesday and then Minneapolis Tuesday through Sunday (palindrome?) – a conference extravaganza!

But, you guys! I has something important to report! Trees located in states outside of California seem to be infected by some horrible tree disease. They all have the same symptoms: (a) discoloration [I saw yellows, browns, and even reds]; and (b) leaf loss – they were in various stages of it but they were very much all losing their foliage and making a mess on the ground. I saw children being terribly insensitive to this devastating epidemic and making mounds of the infected leaves and jumping in the piles. Assholes.

Anyway, here are some notable things I did in Madison:

(1) Drank beer and ate popcorn at Memorial Union Terrace on the campus of U Wisconsin, overlooking the lovely Lake Mendota. With the unseasonably balmy weather and unreasonably salty popcorn, this was pretty much my idea of heaven. But then I was startled out of my reverie by a terrifying siren/alarm that blared across the campus and lake. Since I’m Japanese, it is in my DNA to expect a Fat Man or Little Boy to detonate after such a siren. When I looked around to see if anyone else was as frightened as I was, however, I spotted no other Japanese person, and in fact, no other Asian person even, so I had to suffer my fear alone. It turned out to just be the daily notice at dusk for the boats to come back in off the lake.

(2) Drank beer out of a boot at the Essen Haus. It was a giant glass boot filled with two liters of beer. I believe it is tradition to drink Spaten Lager, so we did. The main rule was that the second-to-last person to drink had to buy the next boot. Another rule was that you couldn’t put the boot down. Anyone who did had to put $1 toward the next boot. The brainpower of seven Ph.D.s put together realized that neither of these rules had much bite during the last round, when there was no fiscal consequence of being the penultimate drinker. So we altered the rules to state that the second-to-last person to drink on the last round had to buy the first round when tab-settling time came. Brilliant.

Another thing to watch out for, besides not leaving enough beer for the person to your left to finish off, was the big air bubble. A third rule was that you had to drink it toe facing up, which at a certain critical amount of beer would result in air rushing into the toe, creating a huge POP and foam and beer in one’s face. It sounds sexy but it’s not. Super fun, though, and I’m happy to report that yours truly paid nary a cent on the final bill. Do you has a proud?

Here are some things I did in Minneapolis:

(1) Ate at Taste of Thailand, pictured top. I ordered green curry, which is not on the menu but available. What I liked: the Thai eggplants, which were golf-ball sized and reminiscent of okra, and the peas. What I didn’t like: the curry was super sugary. I guess if you have to cater to midwestern gaijin sensibilities, that’s what you end up with, but you could have put the liquid on pancakes and it wouldn’t have seemed out of place.

(2) Gaped at the zombies for the annual Zombie Pub Crawl. Tagline: It just won’t die. We were warned at the conference that we should expect zombies to be milling about town “being weird.” lol. I learned that “Zombie Bride” is a totally played-out costume. The best one I saw was Zombie Ronald McDonald. No Grimace, though.

(3) Had a hotel room party in our suite. Liz was on the conference committee, which netted us the awesome suite with windows comprising two of four walls AND fifteen bottles of wine. We (OK, just me) thought it would be awesometastic to fill the bath tub with ice to chill the Pinot Grigio and Prosecco. Liz humored me and helped me go to the ice machine and back. After three or four million trips, I finally conceded “That’ll do pig” and snapped a picture of it with my new Droid R2-D2 phone!

(3) Ate at 112 Eatery where Liz had the foresight to book rezzies a month in advance. It’s been deemed the best restaurant in Minneapolis several times over. I couldn’t convince anyone to order sweetbreads, but otherwise I was blissfully happy with a number of standouts, in particular the tagliatelle with fuckin foie gras meatballs, and Nancy Silverton’s Butterscotch Budino.

(4) Went to Gay 90′s. I ordered two drinks – one for me and one for my partner in crime, Kurt. The bartender plopped them on the counter and said, “Two dollars.” Me: “Two dollars?!” Bartender, in a duh voice: “Yeah, it’s Thirsty Thursday. There’s a drag show too.”

!!!!!!!! Danger zone. I knew it but utterly failed to self-regulate. The two of us ended up buying and smoking an ENTIRE pack of cigarettes, sneaking into the back room [you have to go through the men's room] to gape at the gay porn beamed onto the wall, poking a drag queen’s sweaty boobies because we thought they were so beautiful onstage, and realized that was the wrong drag queen and stalked the one with the actual beautiful boobies and poked those too. Soft.

CIA at Greystone

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

Solar flares are so hot right … well more like 2008

“Something…to do with…waiters packing heat? Menu decryptions? Like…we had to code-break the menu in order to order? Its sister restaurant is Hoover’s and it’s a drag club? ‘This is your menu, should you choose to accept it’ you know like Mission Impossible 2 intro?”

These are the jokes that R2 was trying out in the car before arriving at the Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone campus/restaurant in Napa Valley. Then Tron came up with “I’d tell you the specials but I’d have to kill you” and R2 was shamed, and then he also came up with “The food is to die for,” which shamed him even further. Which was itself a shame because out of the two, only R2 would have ACTUALLY gone through with it and hassled the poor server.

Yelp says the food is good but the service is shit. I thought the service was fine – a little slow, and our food came way before our wine which wasn’t ideal, but I thought of it as Top Chef Restaurant Wars and all was well. Also, our server reminded me of Jon I Only Speak The Truth Leguizamo.

Before, during, and after Sookie Stackhouse sex

I got a flight of wine that contained both white and red (and a rose that I tolerated) since our appetizer was fish and my entree was beef. The official, unwieldy title of this restaurant is Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant of the Culinary Institute of America, and indeed I thought this flight of wine was lovely, particularly on a gorgeous patio with one’s favorite friends.

Our app was Monterey Bay Sardines with Yukon Gold potatoes, frisée and herb salad, and salsa verde, and it came with a wine pairing – two ounces of Miner Rosato, 2009, local from Mendocino County.

I choked on the dill but that’s not their fault

What a perfect dish for this setting!  Fresh, light, textbook char on the sardine, inventive, interesting textures, utterly yummy. I would eat this again and again, and it’s now almost a month later and it’s still on their “updated weekly” menu so perhaps I should.

R2 got caught, as he always does, in the gravitational pull of the halibut entree, but at the last moment I successfully lured him away by mentally dangling scallops in front of him. Specifically, Day Boat Scallops – pan seared with sweet white corn, mushrooms, sugar snap peas, and basil pesto.

Peas are pissed at the corm for being sweeter than they are, despite the “sugar” in their name

The sear here was also textbook, but unforch the scallop was more than raw in the middle. I heart a raw scallop, but not a seared raw scallop, the middle of which made me realize the hard truth that scallops, rather than being marshmallows of the sea, are fishy muscle tissue that giant clams use to open and close their shells. G-ross.

Isn’t this the best part of having a boyfriend? Making them eat the lesser of the two dishes you couldn’t decide between? I promptly forgot all about the scallops and dug into my entree:

The pink flower is an angel heralding oral heaven

So tender. Beyond tender. Daniel calls this “tendyond,” though he uses the term for when people are being schmoopy sweet to each other. I was only provided with a butter knife, which I thought was a student-in-training error, but may have been Greystone just showing off.

This dish sparked a beef revival in me (dirty), and now the protein that I unfailingly used to skip over on every menu now automatically makes it onto my Top 3 contenders list. Also, I understand why spaghetti sauce is so delicious, because it’s basically everything you see in the photo above, just chopped into bits and simmered forever.

I was in a terrible situation, where I wanted to savor the flavor and draw out the pleasure of my entree for as long as possible, but my hands and jaw were in shovel and paku-paku mode, respectively. The net result of this was that no one even noticed my panic because I finished my plate at the same time as everyone around me.

For dessert, we ordered the give-us-whatever dessert, and ended up with:

I only tasted the liquid ones because I thought they might have alcohol

You know me. I’m not a dessert gal. I did, however, deeply enjoy the schmancy root beer float, maybe because it was more beverage than dessert. Also, the panna cotta was liquid-ey-er than it should have been and thus, for the same reasons, pleasing.

This was a great way to start a day of wine tasting – it served the dual function of padding the tum to prevent drunkenness too early and making us feel civilized (to buffer our minds against the truth which is that we were going to drink ourselves silly and perhaps puke on strangers). Greystone has yet to have a mayor, so Foursquare folks – get on it.

Thank you to R2 for being DD.

Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant
2555 Main St
St Helena, CA 94574
707.967.1010

Europa Part Last – Mallorca

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Though equally wet, a different kind of money shot

R2 and I ended our Espana vacation extraordinaire in Mallorca. You probably assumed this was because Mallorca is a fabulous island in the Mediterranean sea and we wanted to wallow in luxury, but we actually came here because I live on a street called Mallorca, and R2 thought it would be neat to say we ended up exactly where we started.

Rom recommended Hotel Portixol to us. I was expecting some sort of insane resort that you’d find in Maui, but instead it was a small hotel that dripped of exclusivity, opulence, and splendor. The pool was heartbreakingly blue, and the bed was the best bed I’ve ever slept on (memory foam and the astronauts it was tested on can suck it).

You bet your butt I peed in it

I changed into my red, white, and blue bikini, which I wore to represent for America Fuck Yeah but which I realize now could have been for Cambodia, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cuba, or the Czech Republic, just to name the RW&B flagged countries that begin with “C.”

While R2 showed his Kindle off to the world, I tore myself away from the first Girl With book and looked at the poolside menu. We were NOT in Barcelona anymore, Totokins. The menu was in English, the server (immaculately clad in white white white) spoke English, and I had to search high and low to find anything resembling a bocadillo.

Pac-man trailing leaf-flames

But I did. I also found beef carpaccio with arugula and tomato. I also ordered a refreshing cocktail with Prosecco, something Kool-aid colored and berry-ey, and an unknown fruit/vegetable clinging to the edge. And even though I have told R2 a thousand times that mojitos are so 2005, he insists on ordering them always, so he got one.

Anyway, the carpaccio was smashing, though it could have been because we were ham-ed out, and also because I spent an inordinate amount of time constructing perfect bites over and over. Unlike other versions of this dish I’ve had, the accoutrements didn’t overpower.

Best shot from Spain IMO

Adam Carolla, when he was on Loveline, used to play Rich Man Poor Man, which was a game in which he tried to come up with things that were common to very poor people and very rich people, but not regular people. Things like “owns lots of dogs” and “has both a 23 year old kid and a 2 year old kid.” I think “going places on bicycle” could be one of those – poor people because they don’t has cars, and rich people because they’re on holiday at a swanktastic hotel in Mallorca just a beautiful bike ride away from the fancy restaurants in town. Accordingly, our hotel had bicycles that you could take as you pleased.

The bike path was, naturally, along the ocean, and just so lovely at sunset. R2′s bike seat didn’t adjust, so he had to stand-ride the whole way, but he was a good sport about it. Hard not to when this is your life:

I took this while one-handed biking and nearly died

The concierge (a blonde girl with an American accent that I didn’t buy – and it turns out that she was from Sweden I KNEW it!) booked us dinner at Forn (watch out for the loud music if you click on that link). There, we had a mini fight that was equal parts exhaustion from a long trip and unplaceable grumpiness that came from knowing the end of a fabulous vacation is rapidly nearing.

Mojitos special for 5 euros here goddamnit

It was a Gift of the Magi-esque kind of fight, where R2 assumed I wanted tapas instead of a sit-down dinner, so he was trying to make us not eat there, when I was fine with eating there and in fact wanted to, but was annoyed that he was mistakenly thinking I wanted to go to tapas and insisting on it, when it was clear to me that he wanted to eat there and not have tapas again and that was what I wanted too so what was the PROBLEM?

We were quickly distracted by strong cocktails (a cucumber martini for me) and napkins that started out the size and shape of a thimble but, once dropped in water, grew into the size and shape of a celery stick! Neato!

We had an exquisite (I know I throw that word around MTFB a lot, and I wish I didn’t because I should have saved the hullabahoo for this dish) gazpacho – thin as chicken broth but with tiny (I mean TINY – the size of birdseed) cubes of cucumber and red peppers suspended throughout. We also had the requisite pan spread with tomato (a dish I have recreated multiple times since – just grate a tomato, add olive oil, salt, pepper, and shablam – never need to use butter again, folks!)

I could have consumed this with a straw

Pictured above is cordero “a las 7 horas”, su jugo y cremoso de patata ahumada which I believe translates to lamb that has been cooked for seven hours. Have you noticed that these types of preparations, even in nice places, can sometimes have a displeasing gelatinous layer of fat in between the segments – soft as silk, but still disruptive to the textural experience? Well now that I’ve described that phenomenon to you in detail, I’m telling you that this had none of that. The fat was beautifully braised and rendered away – absolutely no knife necessary.

R2 had bacalao plancha, salteado espinacas, pasas y piñones y crema de parmensano - cod with spinach. Also great but not memorable, and could not stand up to the lamb-ey shreds still nestled in the back corners of my mouth (impacted wisdom teeth – what can ya do?).

We were presented with a complimentary digestive – a yellow fluid in a shot glass that tasted like licorice-y bird poo mixed with WD-40.

After getting some gelato nearby to wash our mouths of that unpleasant parting shot, we wobbled on our bikes back to the hotel and slept for 13 hours.

The next day we both woke up with colds. Fooey. We went to the beach and our throbbing heads were met with this, which didn’t help matters:

She should really brush the sand off her feet if she wants an even tan

To wash our mouths of THAT, we went to get something that we hadn’t gotten yet in Spain and were running out of time to eat – paella. We had avoided it thus far for two reasons. First, our guidebook says not to because in most cases it’ll be microwaved tourist gruel. Second, it’s tough for me with my extreme crustacean allergy (before killing me via windpipe swellage, they turn me into something that resembles Mickey Rourke. Or is it Mickey Rooney? Either or.) to find a paella that doesn’t have shrimp. Here, though, there were plenty of options and we ordered one with the ubiquitous bacalao.

Insert cornichon & olive joke here

While we waited, we hung out with Tweets McTweetserson and enjoyed a tinto de verano. The olives they provided were by no means outstanding, but the sun was so bright and the breeze was so delicious and our drinks were so much more tinto than verano so I was digging it all.

We also ordered calamares, which tasted like french fries.

Delicious confetti

Our server came out with a gigantic paella pan.  We were like, Oh Shit we cannot eat all that, but apparently it was just for show. Once she was satisfied with the duration and intensity of our admiration, she whisked it away, and came back with a large plateful.

It was a bit oily, and not saffroney enough (people the world over are so stingy with their saffron that I’m not even sure I know what it tastes like!), but the AZN in me screamed triumphantly just because I was eating RICE again. The lemony flakes of fish were perfectly interspersed with the rest of it all, and even if this was shitty allegedly microwaved paella (I’m not sure that it was akshully), this dumb gaijin couldn’t tell the difference.

Yellow and ricey – made for me

For our penultimate meal in Espana and our last proper dinner there, we biked up and down the coast of Mallorca to find the perfect place. We found a good-enough place called something obvious like TapasTapas or something, and we were locking up our bikes when I got an epic mosquito bite on my leg. Mosquito bites to you are probably minor annoyances. To me, they begin by bringing a flush to the entire half of whatever trunk the bite is on, and then it starts to swell, horrifically, directly along veins that run underneath, making the bite look like a fleshy mass with fleshy flesh tendrils growing out of it, that then turns into a gigantic bump that looked, in this case, like an additional calf muscle.

The least visually terrifying preparation of tentacles I’ve seen

Scared off of sitting outside, I instead chose a table in the middle of three other tables with smokers sitting at them. We ordered some of our favorites from cities past (patatas bravas, pan, bacalao croquetas) and sampled the weirdest-looking pintxos from the bar. Tapas wouldn’t be tapas without pulpo a la plancha (grilled octopus – R2′s new fave). While all of it was standard from a taste bud perspective, we ate it all with tears in our eyes (and I, one-handedly, while the other scratched the shit out of my leg) for this was our last tapas meal.

We were cheered by a discovery in our hotel lobby – a bathroom that had a training toilet in it for the chitlins. I was thrilled.  First rice and now MINIATURE VERSIONS OF THINGS? Be still my Hello Kitty heart!

Mr. Hankey Jr lives in there

We did our best to slumber off our respective colds, and the comfortableness of the bed did a great job in lulling me to sleep. The following day we were London-bound, but we biked over  for one last hurrah back into Palma to get one last bocadillo and perhaps an Estrella Damm (as I understand it, Spain’s answer to Budweiser) which we had also yet to consume.

Of course, we chose the one eatery where they didn’t have it. Souls = crushed. We had a final jamon y queso bocadillo, which was equal parts stringy and plastic tasting. Not the highest of high notes to end it all on, not to mention the illnesses that we were both battling, but our sleep tanks were so full and the sound of the ocean was so relaxing that we couldn’t help grinning our faces off.

Viva Espana~!

Espana Part II: Toledo

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

“Holy Toledo” is what R2′s FB status was when we went here. Toledo was a relatively spur-of-the-moment stop for us – we wanted to stay in a parador (a state-run converted castle) and this one was the closest one to an AVE (high speed train) stop. Just thirty minutes south of Madrid, the Parador de Toledo is on a hill outside of the main city with fucking KILLER views. The picture above, taken with the panorama function on The Kraken, barely got taken because both R2 and I were subject to a sudden spider cloud ambush. Horror and squeals. Except R2 was taking a photo of some English tourists for them at the time, one of whom said “You’re one hundred times bigger than that spider!” so he couldn’t squeal at the monstrous arachnid dangling from his elbow. [He kind of just stopped breathing and trembled until I rescued him and killt it.]

This was the view from our balcony. Our room was clean and bright and atmospheric and had a canopy and warm tile floors and I loved it.

The city proper (the entire city has been declared a national monument) is two winding miles away and everything you want in a vacation spot. Tiny streets barely the wider than most of your flat screen TVs, all cobblestoned and meandering down and up and down and up with charming doorways and stores and – SMACK! Right into the most gorgeous cathedral I’ve ever, ever, ever been in. The Toledo Cathedral does not allow photographs, unfortunately, but even compared to later cathedrals (Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Catedral) that are bigger and more famouser, this one was just breathtaking. It was all I could do to not burst into flames, it was so beautiful and spiritual.

Plaza de Zocodover is the main square in tiny Toledo, and all roads lead back to it. We stopped at a cafe on the square and I had my first experience with churros.

We did it wrong, totally.  They had clearly been sitting out forever, and were cold and salty (?) and I didn’t get a hot chocolate as one was supposed to so I was dunking them in cafe solo (black). I huffed a little and wished I was at Disneyland but then realized I was in fucking SPAIN so I snapped out of it.

Across the street to Santo Tome, purveyor of Toledo’s specialty, mazapan (marzipan). All these online reviews say their website is great, and it should be, since they’ve snagged mazapan.com.

I adore almond flavoring. I also adore nondescript globs of things. From soft (flan) to hard (Lemonheads). As I type this now, I’ve had to text “I WANT MAZAPAN” to R2. Twice.

We then went, based on Rick Steves’ recommendation, to Cafeteria Cason Lopez de Toledo. It’s the cheaper version of the fancy restaurant “located upstairs in an old noble palace,” specializing in “Castilian food, particularly venison and partridge.” The cafeteria version, “…while called a ‘cafeteria,’ is actually a quality restaurant in its own right…where the locals dine, enjoying the fancy restaurant’s kitchen at half the price.” Sounds great!

We showed up at eight, apparently too early for them, for the restaurant was empty and the waitstaff kept rolling in for work after we were practically done. But methinks the restaurant was empty for other reasons…

They had a 11 euro prix fixe deal, and our amuse (?) was the mussel … ceviche? Shown above. Ceviche doesn’t technically contain raw fish, since the acid from the lemon/citrus “cooks” it. These looked pretty raw, however.

R2 picked one up and noticed a bunch of hairy … things coming out of the blowhole of one of them. He (with effort – shudderrr) yanked them out, and not knowing what to do, threw the hairy bundle onto the ground. I didn’t tell him at the time for reasons that will become apparent, but it reminded me of a particularly horrific wart I got on my toe in middle school in moist and humid Tokyo. The Japanese name for that type of wart is uwonome, which in English means fish eye. My specific wart, though, looked just like the thing in the mussel – a circular ring with skin formations that looked like tiny hairs poking out the center. I just vommed a little thinking about it.

Anyway, I ate one and thought “FISHAY!” R2 went for the now-de-haired one but I stopped him. He put that one aside and picked up another one and popped it into his mouth.

“I still can’t get over how beautiful that cathedral was. And it’s crazy to think that it’s tucked away here in this random cit–”

I looked over to R2 at that moment and stopped talking, because R2′s face had gone from his usual Jew-pale to an ashen, translucent putty color, streaked through with green.

“ARE YOU OK?”

“GULP.”

“NOOO DON’T SWALLOW EET!”

He swallowed it. And proceeded to look shaken for the rest of the meal (I think he was actually shaking), with perspiration at his hairline. Poor thing.

He also had the bad luck to have ordered gazpacho, which in this case apparently meant salmon gazpacho. Cold soup when you feel like you want to mon (the opposite of nom get it?) is not great, but an intensely fishy cold soup with cheese on top…R2 is only a man, after all.

I told him he didn’t have to finish it and offered him some of my salad, which came with white asparagus, which I love (this is the nicest thing I can say about this place – that they happened to serve something out of a can that I like) but also with tuna mixed throughout the lettuce. This resto really loves their fishy meme.

The server, noticing that R2 had barely touched his soup, grew concerned. She asked if he wanted a salad like mine? Did he not like his soup? What else would he like instead? and R2, in a trembling voice, insisted “…me…me gusta!”

I had to give it to him – he delivered this lie without crying.

Bad luck upon bad luck, R2 had ordered a fish dish as his entree. I stole it quickly away from him. The fish wasn’t bad – it was just normal.

In return, I gave him my scalloped beef with potatoes. Again, it wasn’t fabulous, but the potatoes settled his tum I think. After this was flan and bread pudding, which R2 tore into to wash the whole tragedy of a meal down.

As we walked (he, shakily) out of the restaurant, we decided we could not end our night on that note (they didn’t even have the promised venison OR partridge, jyerks!), so we decided to go to a wine bar, once again recommended by Rick Steves.

Adolfo Vinoteca is the wine bar of the highly respected local chef Adolfo, who runs a famous gourmet restaurant across the street. His hope: to introduce the younger generation to the culture of fine food and wine. The bar offers up a pricey but always top-notch list of gourmet plates and fine local wines per glass – don’t economize here. Adolfo’s son, Javier, proved to me the importance of matching each plate with the right wine. I like to sit next to the kitchen to be near the creative action. If the Starship Enterprise had a Spanish wine-and-tapas bar on its holodeck, this would be it.”

Guess, just GUESS which part of that description sang to R2.

We went, and had to double check that it was still open, since it, too was empty. But they had both partridge AND venison on their menu, so we ordered both (both came as stews; the partridge dish was described as partridge with discolored beans lol). We asked, in accordance with Rick, for them to pair a wine with it, and our server was like, “???” and we said, you know, what wine would go well with the dishes we’ve ordered? and he was like, “?? Well, we have red wine and white wine.” And we said no, like, what specific wine would go with the partridge and the venison? and he finally, seemingly haphazardly, said, “this wine is very good.”

They first brought out what we encountered often in Toledo – a potato salad sandwich. Just the thought churns the stomach, and this one had cooked soft carrots which I found highly displeasing, and it was all on one of those airplane-esque yucky rolls. Particularly on the heels of our prior meal and on a full stomach on top of that, I couldn’t enjoy it (but you better fucking believe I ate it).

Who knew discoloration was so delicious? I heard from my friend Saxy that beans help cure nausea (this came up at a chili cook-off when she was in that particularly pukey stage of pregnancy) and perhaps this was why I fished out and ate most of the beans. The partridge tasted like any other bird, though tender and flavorful.

I knew even before I ate it what word was going to come out of my mouth after I ate the venison: gamey. Of the two, I liked the partridge better than the venison.

But I realize as of Saturday that I had no inkling what gamey meant until I had a slice of ostrich at the Bellagio buffet. Holy shit that’s like the Cranium of meats right there.

Anyhoo, it really was a shame that we didn’t just come here, as we didn’t have the stomach space or fortitude to truly enjoy their offerings.

We walked out, back to the Plaza, a little bit scared now that it was very dark and the tiny streets were so confusing. Rick Steves said Toledo’s “medieval atmosphere” was vibrant and “wonderful after dark.” I am looking down at my iPhone notes and I believe right about then is when I typed “Rick Steves needs to check his shit.”

The following day we decided to take full advantage of our parador and swim, laze around, sun, read, and lunch at the parador’s own restaurant before taking the AVE to Barcelona. We were seated in the midst of three Japanese dantai tours – each with over 20 middle-aged, chatty, beer-drinking Japaneezy tourists. I love how my people booze it up at every meal – lunchtime and even the tiniest of little ladies was three-drinks deep.

OMG not here too! High brow though the little tart cups may have been, it was still the same god-awful potato salad shit.

I mean, I confess I’ve dipped my KFC biscuits into my KFC mashed potatoes before (hasn’t everyone?) but starch on starch does not a pleasing bite make!

My app was roasted red pepper cradled around fish mousse. R2 the amnesiac scarfed it up, while I was a little bit turned off by the fishiness (why the hell were we eating so much seafood in land-locked Toledo anyway? God we suck.)

R2′s app was a salad of some sort; overdressed and with canned (?!) mushrooms at the bottom; not my favorite and until I figured out they were mushrooms, I paranoid-ly thought that it was a squeaky, chewy, sour fish of some sort.

I just kept working through the half-bottle of white wine that I ordered.

His entree was something I want to eat when I’m drunk, with beer. It was their special – the Don Quixote, with over-easy egg, chorizo, and fried bread crumbs. R2 loves eggs, LOVES chorizo, and LOVE LOVE LOVES Don Quixote (for his thirteenth birthday he asked only for a copy of Don Quixote, which his dad got him – used – for $6.95).

Against ALL common sense, I had ordered pulpo a la plancha (that’s grilled octopus) for my entree.

My reasoning was this – octopus isn’t fishy. If anything, it’s reminiscent more of chicken, or even pork. Plus – can you say blogworthyyyy?

Something I learned in Spain – octopus needs to be grilled for a long time to render out the very very thick layer of fat between the skin and the meat. I started at the tip, which was salty and crunchy and the tiny suction cups popped in my mouth like crispy caviar. Awesome and tasty. As I ate my way up the tentacle, however, I encountered said fat and the shiver started from my toes and took a full 10 seconds to work its way up into my eyebrows. I mean, unrendered fat is gross. Fishy unrendered fat – even grosser. Packaged in a very raw-looking, giant slab of slime – it was very hard not to faint on the spot.

Am I losing my foodie mojo? I wondered.

I refuse to think that. I think Toledo is just a food wasteland. Definitely, definitely go, but stick to bocadillos and for the love of god avoid anything with tendrils coming out of it.

Up next…Barcelona!

Espana Part I: Madrid

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Listen up!  In Spain there is a magical thing called jamon iberico. It’s cured ham made from pigs that are fed only on acorns. In my head, there is a magical lush green expanse where pink, pink pigulets trot around flipping smooth rocks over with their snouts and crunching on acorms that they ferret out from underneath.

In reality, I’m sure it’s just as horrifying as this episode of This American Life where they do nothing but eat and hang out in a concrete box and squirt out baby pigs thereby making sound guys vom.

How did I get there? I was intending on talking about our first stop in Spain, Madrid. We got our feet wet by going to the most Americaney joint in town, Casa Botin. But wait, there was a REASON why we went there – because it is the World’s Oldest Restaurant, certified by Guinness Book. Further, we were told about its specialty – roast suckling pig, which has crackling skin and is allegedly so tender that they slice through them with plates rather than knives, purportedly just to be fucking showoffs.

We walked into the resto barely before closing time – in SPAIN, where 9 pm is an afternoon snack. Go us. The kindly gentleman at the front led us to a charming corner table upstairs, squarely in between American couple #1 and American couple #3 (we were #2). Couple #1 was having a fight. The chick was a real gooshbag and was picking at her poor boyfriend. Apparently her friend had called him while the two of them were broken up and she JUST didn’t understand that. She said, “I guess I don’t have girlfriends because I’m not close to my mother.” He kinda grunted, and she said, “I JUST had a MAJOR breakthrough and YOU don’t! even! care!” and he, who must have noticed me and R2 INTENTLY listening while trying not to appear so [R2's mouth was open and he was straight up staring, so it was obvy] said, “I don’t care! Why are you telling me this! If we were on our first date I would think you were CRAZY!”

On the other side was a couple where the guy was, in R2′s words, a classic B-level frat guy (who still spoke more Spanish than we did *shame*) who we played the Drunk or Douchebag game with. We both decided on Drunk, and I thought it was rather cute how she would pick up her sangria glass and he would pound his fists on the table and shout “Drink! Drink! Drink!” and adoringly haze her.

We ordered garlic soup with egg, artichoke hearts with jamon, baby squids in their own ink, and the aforementioned pig.

The squids were beyond tender. Like chewing gum when you’ve had it in your mouth for three hours – but in a good way. The ink was umami-licious, and my Japaneezy palate didn’t even register that my food might be Fear Factor-ey to R2, who later confessed that he was scared of it. He who eats EVERYTHING! Shocked.

“Beyond tender” is a good descriptor for the suckling pig, as well.  I stole bits of it away in the most wonderful way – by making tiny roast suckling pig burritos where the innards were swine and the “tortilla” was crackling, crispy fatty pig skin.

And if you know me, you know that I instantly snapped off the pig tail and crunched it up. It tasted exactly like a pork rind.

At midnight, we toasted R2′s hatch day with a swig of sangria that tasted like four-times concentrated Kool-aid, which he loved of course and made me shudder for a good minute.

The next day, we went to the Palace, which was, well, palace-y. Which unless you see it you don’t really understand just what it means that there’s a fucking HUGE palace where, like, two people were meant to live, and the whole thing is gaudy and gorgeous and gratuitous. We were not shown the kitchen (nor the aseos) but we did get to walk through the Smoking Room, which was designed to look like a Chinese opium den (Chinese things were very trendy at the time of Isabella and Ferdinand) and there was no furniture – just pillows that lined the entire floor. You don’t have to be a cat to be thrilled with that idea.

We lunched at the Palace cafeteria, where we had our very first bocadillo (sandwich).

Pardon the chewed-up-ness of this. I just tore into it and was almost three inches deep when R2 said gently, “Did you want to blog that though?”

We also had a Kas, which tasted like a Sprite.

This made me angry, because I went to Europe to get AWAY from sugared drinks and there wasn’t an agua con gas (fizzy water) in sight.


From there we meandered to Plaza del Sol, where we got some gelato and sat by the fountain where all the pickpockets in Madrid converge. We came up with a new abbreviation for them: “pee-po” and turned it into a verb “did you get pee-po-ed?” “nope, I didn’t get pee-po-ed yet” and watched a costumed character Homer Simpson walk around, along with a Winnie the Pooh. Winnie is already obscene in that he doesn’t wear pants, but THIS Winnie didn’t even have a shirt!

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped by an awesomely atmospheric (dingy, dark, dirty, dotted with old video game machines here and there) cafeteria for a coffee, which was staffed by a big, burly, debonair man who looked so out of place – probably was a spy/assassin/spysassin on his off hours. R2 sidled up to the bar and, without betraying a quiver in his voice, said, “Dos…cafe…UNO…con…leche” and sat back, quite proud of himself. Spysassin said, “Skfj a;lkerja lwekjral skjdf ?” and R2 said, “?” and Spysassin said, “Do you speak English?” and R2 said, dejectedly, “Yes. Two coffees, please, one black and one with milk.” Fail.

So, quite awesomely, Sharisa and her hubby Tron were in Madrid at the same time as us, for one night only. Since neither of us had cellphones in Spain, we had made plans two weeks earlier to stay in the same hotel and meet in the lobby at 4:30 on the 18th after their train got in. But, R2 and I couldn’t get our act together (meaning we couldn’t wake up till 1:30 in the afternoon) and so I left a note at the front desk telling them to meet us at 7 pm instead. But when we got back to the hotel at 6, I spied the note in the cubbyhole for room 204 still sitting there. The attendant confirmed that they had not picked up the message. PANIC! They didn’t get it?! Did they wait for us at 4:30 and then give up and leave? Were R2 and I going to spend his hatchday sadly picking through delicious tapas with just the two of us??

I wallowed and then called their room to at try to leave a message. No answer. Dejection. I ignored common sense and immediately called again. And then – ! “Hello?” “SHARISA?!” “Hii Janay!”

YEEES! It turns out that they HAD gotten the message. In fact, hotel staff had typed up my (rather silly, tilde- and heart- and obscenity-filled) handwritten message and somehow beamed it onto their TV screen?

Reunited happily, the four of us went to La Latina, a cute neighborhood chock full of tapas bars. Our first stop was a place that I can’t remember the name of – Google Maps makes me think it was Taverna Txakoli but hard to tell for sure since they don’t have Street View here yet I guess. Perhaps Sharisa will enlighten us in the comments.

I. Was. SO. EXCITED! My first tapas bar – and a pintxo bar at that – where yummy things sitting on small slices of bread are out for the taking.

This was their “hamburger” pintxo – jamon, mustard, quail egg, and a cute french fry spear on top!

Why didn’t we get this? We’re stupid Americans, for god’s sake! Instead we veered away and got the following.

Sharisa’s spidey sense tingled. She said, “morcilla…I can’t quite remember what that is…” and trailed off and didn’t eat any of it. R2 and I dug in mightily. Couldn’t tell what any of it was but we liked it. We also had a classic pintxo with bacalao (salt cod) and red pepper on it, another one with tortilla con jamon y bacon (not tortilla like we know but an egg dish, kind of like a fritatta),  and tinto de verano (red wine mixed with sparkling water/Sprite, depending) all around! [Thank you guys for teaching us this drink, as we drank it as if our life depended on it for the rest of our trip.]

Buoyed by the wine and company and sheer relief that we actually managed to meet up with Sharisa (who was walking around on a SPRAINED ANKLE! Way to rally, my dear), I was in the mood to make a sweeping gesture at the entire line of pintxos, shout “ONE OF EACH – FOR EVERYONE HERE!” and take off my top, but  instead we went next door to Cafe Lucas.

Here, we got an English menu, where it said morcilla again. We asked our server what that meant and he said “blood sausage” to which Sharisa and Tron visibly blanched. I was rather shocked because Sharisa is the OG Foodie. The waiter also took notice and said, “This is my favorite thing!” so we ordered it, along with one we got that had pork and corn mousse on top with a soy glaze and some chicken one. The morcilla didn’t look like sausage at all – it looked like black sloppy joe. We all took a bite and made high-pitched “hmm!” noises. I quite enjoyed it, even the potentially icky lingering metallic taste at the back of my tongue.

We then went to Chato, but it was closed. So we went to the parakeet place, which had parakeets in a cage outside. Sanitation be damned! It worked really well – not a soul walked by without cooing, and the boids netted about 30% of passers-by when it came to actual people walking in and ordering.

Here we ordered my most favorite tapas dish in all of spain – bread with mojama (wind-dried tuna, which tasted like a softer, fishier turkey jerky) and a deep-fried almond on top. It sounds like nothing but was truly a revelation. We also got smoked cod with fresh tomato, which was intensely fishy but I didn’t mind.

We then meandered to another bar, which struck Tron as too claustrophobic, so we went to another place, more wine bar than tapas bar, but we weren’t feeling it so we left. But then we decided to go back, where the sort-of miffed bartender became even miffier when we asked for a tinto de verano. He only had REAL wine, apparently. Which was fine with me, as I was kiiiind of starting to perish from the sweetness of the TDVs. We all ordered riojas, and then, even though none of us is a smoker, and just because we could, had a cigarette INDOORS! What a country, what a country.

Next, we lolled our way into an open square and sat down to have a TDV al fresco. THIS server didn’t frown upon us for ordering our un-manly refreshment, and in fact served them to us with bendy straws. <3 Here, we talked about our favorite cities (cities that came up: San Francisco, Vancouver, and Sharisa’s favorite city in the WHOLE WORLD, Sevilla).

But then we realized that everywhere with food closed at midnight, so we scurried back down the street to find one last joint. We did, in the nick of time at 11:59, where a very growch man hacked off some slices of the hallowed jamon iberico and threw some patatas bravas into the microwave.

You see, each place has a huge leg of jamon on display, and that’s where they cut off the thin slices. And when an intruder comes in, you also have a handy and delicious weapon.

We then jumped in a cab, hoping to make it to a sherry place that Tron had gone to some night prior and loved – La Venencia, I believe. We walked in only to be told that they were closed, and no amount of imploring in mangled Spanish could change the owner’s mind. A pity, because my heart was pitter pattering seeing the old sherry bottles lining the walls, some with dust a centimeter thick covering them. Cooooooool.

Instead we went to a bar where they played Beyonce.

When we tired of that, we retired to our hotel, where we played with Tron’s iPad and Sharisa iced her ankle. We were so sad to see them go, but we were onto our own adventures, sans any Spanish ability and friends to hold our hands.

Up next…Toledo.

Blue Bayou at Dinneyrannnnd!

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

OK, I (a) very clearly remember how I felt after eating the above (death come here death hurry) and (b) just now ate a quarter of an entire cheesecake (deathland I want to go to there) and this picture is STILL making my mouth water.  It’s from the Blue Bayou restaurant, which is in New Orleans Square, integrated into Pirates of the Caribbean ride, in…Disneyland!  The word wOOt was invented for this!

Speaking of inventing, I hear that this very resto is where this abomination, the Monte Cristo sandwich, was invented.  Turkey, ham and Swiss cheese in a battered egg bread, lightly fried to a golden brown. With Blue Bayou potatoes and seasonal vegetables, all for the spendyriffic price of $22, but that’s the Diz for you.

In the words of William Joel, heart attack-kack-kack-kack-kack-kack!  Most people think of Monte Cristos as having french toast as your bookends, but here it was more like a donut that they battered and fried a second time, and the bread wasn’t just the bookends, it was also the cover, title page, forward, preface, first thirty six chapters, last thirty six chapters, endnotes, acknowledgments, that weird page where they tell you about the special font the book is printed in, and back cover.

But still somehow light as air.  Proof positive that grease is made with angel tears.

Ok that was such a great line to end a post on, but R2 is pestering me to mention the Blue Bayou potatoes.  They were awesome, ok?  So too was the currant sauce that the sammy came with, which took the sweet-savory situation to a deadly serious level.  Sigh.  Since I’m at it I might as well throw up this picture:

And go on a classic MTFB tangent about how isn’t it weird how fucking GOOD salads are in fancy steakhouses?  The best salad I’ve had on this earth was at Fleming’s.  And yet, they are without fail overshadowed by their flatter, squarer, bloodier brethren foodstuffs. Same thing here.  Even though it comes before the entree, an afterthought; Uma Thurman to Kim Basinger in Final Analysis.

While I’m at it, I might as well go on another tangent about how I once came here — OMG as if R2 hasn’t done enough damage already by derailing my post, now he’s bothering me by telling me a Jewish samurai joke!!!  Don’t be intrigued!  It was awful.

–once I came here with my family.  My mom asked for the wine list, but they do no serve alkyhol (at least on this side – California Adventure’s a lush haven).  So my mom ordered O’Douls and quite liked it.  Since it’s basically alcohol free, I also got to drink it and I felt very grown up.  Thus my enduring and random love of O’Douls was born.

My love of Disneyland, well, that I came out of the womb with.

Make a reservation!  You’ll NEVER get in same-day! 714.781.DINE

Portland Report(land)

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

I heart it when conference organizers choose proper cities that (a) are walkable and (b) are a random foodie oasis.  I was recently in Portland for exactly such a conference, with my dearest friend and OG Foodie Sharisa, and found my new favorite restaurant…

Ping

Ping was named Rising Star Restaurant of the Year by the Oregonian’s Diner Guide.  I was excited about their Baby Octopus Skewer (marinated in lime, chiles, garlic, fish sauce, and cilantro).

Mostly I was enticed by the price – TWO BUCKAROOS for all you see above!  Loverly.

Our server was the cutest hapa girl, which Sharisa appreciated as she is a hapa herself.  She guided us to good cocktails and handled our frantic and impassioned ordering with style.

In addition to the octo-bebehs, we ordered a red potato skewer (salt roasted and grilled, served with spicy mayo sauce – $1!), a salapao (thai-style steamed bun stuffed with sweet shredded pork, fried shallots – $2.50!)…

deep-fried tiny fish ($2!), chinese tea egg (steeped in black tea, soy sauce, ginger, star anise, & cinnamon – $2!)…

…house-made pork meatball skewer (Thai-style, dipped in sweet chili sauce – $2.50!), house-made fish ball skewer (same), yam yai (Thai-style green salad with lettuce, boiled egg, peanuts, onions, prawns, chicken, bean sprouts, pickled garlic, scallions, cilantro, cucumber and tofu topped with a peanut dressing)…

And THESE.  Quail egg skewer (wrapped in bacon, with spicy mayo sauce).  Every neuron in my noggin was trilling with joy.  We ordered another as soon as the first hit our respective mouths.  Think smooth plus crunchy, shot through with spicy cream.  Not that I chewed to register the crunch.  I gulped them down cartoon-style – a delicious Adam’s apple!

We should have stopped there, but the fucking curiosity killed the cat (‘s palate).  We spied chicken butt - brined with fish sauce, garlic and sugar, grilled and served with sweet chili dipping sauce and ordered it.  Two thoughts, both related to R2, popped into my head.  (1) R2 told me that the a bird’s butt-al area is called its “vent” which is gross and reminiscent of wormy farts; and (2) no one loves a slanted rhyme more than R2, so I promptly texted him “What’s up?” and he texted back, just as promptly, “Chicken butt.”

Excellent.

Chicken butt is fucking disgusting.  Think of the gristliest bit of chicken that you’ve ever accidentally eaten, then shoot it through with sickly-yellow chicken fat, and then genetically hybridize it with  bouncy ball and that’s what you get.

Thinking about the chicken butt is bad.  Thinking about chicken butt while watching the episode of Man vs. Wild where he…well actually, any episode will do, but this one is the one where  he drinks his piss (which he has deposited into the skin of a rattlesnake) and then he’s eating skunk that he’s recently beheaded and describes it as “steak rubbed in dog feces…” anyway yes blogging chicken butt plus Man vs Wild is making me green about the gills.

Despite the chicken vent, I was so happy to be full-up with good food and hanging out with Sharisa again.  In fact, it was this very conference, six years ago, where Sharisa earned her nickname from our ESL Chinese friend who could not pronounce her real name and called her Sharisa (“Sharisa I have your wine!” she said about the vodka and champagne we had purchased to pregame – every kind of alcohol is called “wine” to her apparently) and called me “Janeee.”

My happiness was shot to berserk levels of happy when our server set down our check and we discovered her name was Charissa.  ”HOW DO YOU PRONOUNCE YOUR NAME!!” we shrieked at her, and she said “Sharisa.”  More shrieking!  What a perfect end to the night.

Except it didn’t end!  Because we next rolled ourselves over to…

Voodoo Doughnut

Voodoo Doughnut is a Portland mainstay.  The guy behind the counter was a burly, bearded, world-weary Portlandey dude who would periodically sigh “Can I get anyone anything.”  I had, natch, the bacon maple bar, which I thought I could handle being the sweet-savory queen.  No.

Others got the apple fritter, which was a triumph.  Crisp, light as air, and the size of a large frisbee.  Many grabby grabby hands tearing off shreds and nomming with gusto.

The next day we went to…

Navarre

Navarre also had glowing reviews, so we went.  I don’t know what to say about this place.  It does everything right (local, organic, la la la, small plates big plates etcetera).  Ambiance is cool, good wine list.  But none of the dishes sang.  Good, not great.  Not always due simply to underseasoning, per se, just…boring.

Save for this one dish, which was off-limits to cheese-hatin’ Sharisa.

Pardon the awfulness of the photo.  Did I even need to show it to you?  It’s basically a huge thing of fried cheese.  We manhandled this shit like there was no tomorrow.  Shattery, sticky cheese that squished out pleasing salty grease liquid, oh lord.

At more than twice the cost of Ping and with less than a tenth of the elation, NOT WORTH IT.

The following day I went for lunch with an old advisor to…

Veritable Quandary

VQ was a medium-schmancy joint where everyone from the conference ended up for lunch.  Sharisa showed up, too, with her advisor.  I could only take a couple quick pictures because I do NOT want any of my former advisors to know about this little blog overflowing with f-bombs.  Anyway, here it is:

Vegetarian biscuits and gravy with mushrooms and poached egg.  I am laughing to myself as I look at this photo, because I could not have (a) inhaled this faster; or (b) paid less attention to my advisor.  I hope I am still shiny in his eyes after this lunch.  I couldn’t help it!  The biscuit was perfectly crisp at the edges, and the yolk that yin-yanged into the extremely rich gravy was just so drop-dead fucking (see? f-bomb!) scrumptious. Lickety lickety.

Sharisa and I ditched the rest of the conference and went on a walk of Portland that moved me to exclaim, more than once, “This is like the fucking ODYSSEY!”

We started out walking along the river, where we happened on a huge fair.  Apparently this happens every week?  But it covered several blocks and I counted three different live bands!  Sharisa and I lamented that we were both full and couldn’t partake in any of the lovely fair food, fun stuff like bentos, gyros, curry!  Also, there was a cool artist who painted with numbers.  Not by numbers, but with numbers.  From far away it looks normal, but up close it’s like 1′s and 2′s and 3′s (well, you know what numbers are) that, like pointillism, from far away comprise a picture.  Pretty nerdy cool.

We kept walking and stumbled upon a city block that was crowded with loud people in wacky wacky costumes that walked that line between jolly and frightening.  A little too loud and drunk and homeless-looking.  Sharisa and I stood on the edge of the block, breathing hard and gathering courage to walk on.  We did, and encountered a guy dressed as the Last Supper (he was Jesus in the center with cutouts of the others, with a full-on table with bread and stuff on it slung around his neck.  Then a crusty looking guy ran up, grabbed a baguette from the table, and started wacking cardboard Judas with it, causing Jesus to get pissed and yell HEY HEY HEY HEY at increasingly menacing decibels.  Sharisa and I scampered right out of there.

Next, we passed Cupcake Jones.  Donuts are the new cupcakes and we had been there, done that, but we stopped nonetheless to pick up a baby cupcake each.  She: vanilla (flecked through with real vanilla bean and topped with a preshus edible pearl).  Me: red velvet (topped with a darling edible flower petal).

Blood sugar restored, we went to the world’s largest Anthropologie, which was a bit meaningless because I can never find anything that looks good on me there and Sharisa already owns all of it.  Next to Anthropologie was…

Powell’s City of Books

Goodness Gracious.  Truly a city.  I stepped in and I was shell-shocked.  I was on a hunt to find a used Edgar Rice Burroughs book for R2, who is collecting all the ones with Ace covers.

Usually he’s lucky if he can find any ERB books at a used bookstore.  Here, there was not only one book, not only one bookshelf, but three and a half bookshelves FULL of ERB books!  I breathed “Ohhhh he’s gonna die…” and whipped out my phone to call him and gloat.

I picked up two books to add to his collection, read through a Bon Appetit that said photographing one’s food was rude and should be outlawed (gulp!), texted Sharisa to find her, and left in search of a cocktail.

And I spied this thing!

EEEEEEEE!

Our final stop in Portland, recommended to me by a Portland native, was…

Clyde Common

The new home of noted mixologist Jeffrey Morgenthaler, we were excited to try some weird cocktails.  First we cooed at the impossibly cute dog outside, who looked like a pig and cow and puppy rolled into one.  No picture, sorry.  I suck at taking animal photos, remember?

We got one Copper Penny: Old Overholt rye, Clear Creek pear brandy, Punt e Mes, apricot, one B.M.O.C.: bourbon, raw ginger syrup, Angostura, soda water, one Tonga-Tonga: Smith and Cross Jamaican rum, lime, grapefruit, Trader, and one Beginning of the End: Boca Loca cachaca, lime, amaretto, egg whites, apple butter.  The latter was my favorite due to my intense love of egg whites which was further thickened with the apple butter – captivating!

And thus, we said goodbye to Portland in the best possible way – slightly-beyond-tipsy.

Segway Tour of San Francisco

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Tinx and I decided at 11 pm last night to go on a Segway tour.  We snagged the last two spots on the 1:30 pm tour today, and took the good ol’ 30 Muni over to Fisherman’s Wharf.

Where we went to In-n-Out, which is a little silly because we were both in LA not 24 hours earlier, but when the grilled cheese animal style calls, you answer.

At $70 a person, the tour is a bit pricey, but absolutely worth it.  The people are so nice, and make the 45-minute training sesh relatively painless with their funny jokes.

Our tourguide was Sarah Silverman.  I’m not joking.  Well, I am.  But for serious.  She looked just like her, talked just like her, scrunched her nose up just like her whilst talking just like her, and dead-pan humored just like her!

Example: [going by a disgusting, padlocked porta-potty] Anyone need to pee.

Getting ahead of myself (as usual, but more so since I am eager to blog after a long time of bizziness).  Did you know that Segways were codenamed Ginger?  This was exciting to us because Tinx is a ginger.

So the training truly is 45 minutes long.  They do a one-on-one with you, AND you watch a video, AND you do training as a group, AND you do training in pairs, AND you do figure-8s through a mini cone obstacle course.  The actual ride on a Segway is actually very intuitive. The trainer dude joked that it works by reading your brain waves, but it really does feel like that.

They each had funny names, too.  I wish mine was Panda Socks but I had Special Sauce – very apropos given what was all over my fingers at the time.  Tinx’s was Misplaced, which was, if you will, lame sauce.

In our group was your requisite jackass who was trying to show off and being all crazy and dangerous on the tour (almost rear-ending me multiple times, fuckin assballs) and your requisite out-of-it-uncoordinated lady who did the falling-on-one’s-face thing for everyone else’s comic benefit. Oh, and the requisite scaredy-cat (who of course was in front of yours truly in the caravan) who was definitely doing some wishful thinking when she chose the helmet with speed flames painted on it.

On the tour, we learned:

  • There are more dogs than children in San Francisco
  • For the 60th anniversary of the boardgame Candyland (or “Xandyland” as it says in my iPhone notes) they turned Lombard (the crazy loop-de-loop street) into Candyland and lined the streets with marzipan and decorated it with lollipops.  SWEET!  [Tinx - "Literally sweet, get it?  Hahahaha that was funny joke put that in"]
  • The oldest Italian restaurant in America is in North Beach (not anywhere on the east coast), where they have a scale outside so you can weigh yourself before and after you eat.  I do not remember the name of the resto but a quick Googly search will surely getcha there.

Our path: Fisherman’s Wharf to North Beach & Washington Square to Pier 39 to the swimmy place to Ghirardelli Square to the outlooky pier on the other end of the swimmy place and back.

Near the Pier were the famous bathrooms SF imported from France – the completely automated ones where you pay to use them and the toilet folds back into the wall.  They cost $250,000 each and the city bought 25 of them.  Waste of monayyyy, especially when you hear, as we did, that since the toilet folds back into the wall you don’t have to flush it, but this confuses people, who end up pushing the emergency button instead, calling the fire department to the toilets time and time again.  Dumbasses.

Oh, also, the toilet doors open automatically after 20 minutes so you have to “make sure you get on with it” said Sarah S.

The outlooky pier, our final destination, was really fun because this is where our guide SS said that we could race each other, go really fast, pull fancy tricks, etc.  Tinx and I had fun zooming around and around the gun turret at the end, and then we posed for some pictures for the company’s FB page.

Our noms:

  • Pregame: In-n-Out (PS that In-n-Out is a clusterfuck – only one in the city)
  • Bread nom at Italian French Baking Co., which supplies basically the entire city with its bread (with the oldest ovens in the city; see above) – we got an Italian Stubby which we ate throughout the rest of the tour.
  • Pistachio gelato at Gelato Classico – not your usual neon green pistachio, folks (see below).  This was oozy, silky gelato with huge, whole and shattered, roasted, slightly salty pistachios throughout.
  • Postgame: Irish coffee at Buena Vista Cafe
  • Post-postgame: Hot fudge sundae at Ghirardelli Square

A note about Buena Vista – it is famous for its Irish coffees, which are made by placing two sugar cubes in the bottom of a glass, hot coffee on top with generous room for a huuuge splash/cascade of Bushmores (hee), topped with freshly whipped half and half.

Tinx and I were apparently not looking cheerful enough so the other bartender (with a crazy spiderweb of facial hair and an almost mullet, but all very Santa-esque) threw a sugar cube at Tinx, who promptly picked it up and ate it.

It was the most gorgeous, non-SFy day for a tour, but I can imagine on a shitty foggy drizzly day these things would be moan-inducing.  Good moan.  It’s warm on your tongue and warm in your belly; just a hint of sweet and  the foam was very pleasingly chilly yet rich.  And just one will do it – Tinx and I were weaving around Fisherman’s Wharf and hiccuping.

And we then stumbled into the sundae shop at Ghirardelli and had a hot fudge sundae with dark chocolate fudge.  The three spoonfuls I could stomach were quite thrillingly delicioso.  Continuing the hot/cold treat train, I enjoyed how the cup was almost too hot to hold from the fudge.

So.  I highly recommend this for SF inhabitants who want something touristy to do with their out of town guests but are sick of doing the same touristy shit over and over again.  Just riding the Segway around for three hours is fun enough, not to mention eating your weight in random foodstuffs.

Book your tour here!