Thursday, December 6, 2012

Bob Bob Ricard - London, UK

Bob Bob Ricard exterior
Back in May, I discovered that a friend's housemate was an avid foodie. I was scouring London restaurant sources and emailed her asking if she's dined at Bob Bob Ricard. She replied "No! Zomg! I want to go!". It took 6 months and 3 London visits to make this happen.
Press for Champagne
This photo summarizes what I knew about Bob Bob Ricard. They pride themselves on their champagne price points, blatantly bragging price differences on their wine and champagne menu. We quickly pressed the button and instantly the waiter was there. Actually, my friends were so eager they didn't realize he was already present. Cheers to prompt, friendly service.
Pol Roger 2000
Here was our exquisite bottle, the Pol Roger 2000, featuring an unbeatable price point. Whetting our taste buds, we fell upon the menu, arguing over mains and starters. We were in a sharing mood and did not want duplicate orders.

Truffled Potato and Porcini Vareniki served with Crispy Onion Rings and Sour Cream
This was the Truffled Potato and Porcini Vareniki. It pleasantly surprised my friend, not being what she expected. Vareniki is a type of Ukrainian Filled Dumpling. It was thickly filled with potato, the woody mushroom flavor present, truffle lightly landing last. 
Smokey Borsch with Beetroot, Cucumber, Boiled Quail Egg, and Smoked Orkney Beef | Cooked With Smokey Bacon
Beetroot is a current obsession, so I ordered the Smokey Borsch with Beetroot, Cucumber, Boiled Quail Egg, and Smoked Orkney Beef | Cooked With Smokey Bacon. The bowl came with a delicately chopped selection of those listed ingredients resting at the bottom. The server poured the thin blood red soup from a tureen. It was marvelously smokey, the bacon flavor running to the back of my throat.
Jerusalem Artichoke Dip with Caramelized Walnuts and Brioche Croutons
Here we have the Jerusalem Artichoke Dip with Caramelized Walnuts and Brioche Croutons. The soup was rich and medium thick. The nuts added a crunchy sweetness.
Wafer Thin Beetroot and Goat's Cheese Salad with Broadbeans and Mint
Visually feast on the Wafer Thin Beetroot and Goat's Cheese Salad with Broadbeans and Mint.
Zakuski Taster Plate
I knew that ordering a second starter was probably overkill, but I couldn't resist these Russian dishes. From the top right proceeding clockwise, we have Russian Salad & Truffle (pungent), Russian Herring (salty with thick jelly-like texture), Foie Gras Parfait & Truffle (slightly rich, foie miniscule grainy texture with crunch finish), and Jellied Ox Tongue (beefy taste, thin gelatinous layer with horseradish finish). I particular enjoyed the thin truffle slices. They were sublime contrasted with my previous overdone truffle experiences.
Here is the Pièce de Résistance, the Beef Wellington (for two) featuring 28 Day Aged Aberdeenshire Scotch Beef served with Béarnaise sauce. I didn't know what Beef Wellington was until my friend explained it to me. I was here to celebrate friends and food, so it was perfect. The smoke rising from its gorgeous pastry shell. The light sheen intimating what lay beneath.
Sliced Wellington
Our server sliced it into perfect proportions. Pink beef wrapped with porcini, encased in a pastry shell. With my knife in my right, fork in my left, I dove in and savored every morsel. And then I had more. 
Foie Gras
The Fillet Medallions Rossini, 28 Day Aged Scotch Beef. It is made with Seared Foie Gras and a Foie Gras Crouton served with Truffle Gravy. Decadent, rich with foie, it was love.
Meet the Old Bay Crispy Quail. It was a Two Spiced, Deboned Whole Quail served with Beetroot, Apple and Sultana Coleslaw. Fortunately, it came with a lemon scented dipping bowl. It was quite the hands on experience.

Eton Mess
Ready for dessert? A friend couldn't decide between the souffle or the Eton Mess. This is the Eton Mess en Perle made with Lime Meringue, Berries, Strawberry Sorbet, Raspberry Marshmellows and Cream. This was an extraordinary dessert. Layers of flavor, slightly herbaceous, a hidden treat.
Cheese Board
No self-respecting British restaurant could not have a cheese board. This was too much for one, so we helped her finish.
Why pick one when you can have three? Here is the Trio of Creme Brulees - Valrhona Chocolate, Passionfruit, Earl Grey Tea. Each had great flavors and made a unique statement.
My dessert was the Pineapple & Lemongrass Pannacotta served with Malibu Ice Cream. The pannacotta was so astounding I promptly forced it upon everyone to try. They did not complain. Simply amazing. 

Amongst the silver Christmas trees, lightly pink decor, and friendly waitstaff, we had a wonderful time. Waistbands stretched, we slowly exited.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Food Highlights and More - Valencia, Spain

Valencia might be my favorite Spanish city so far. I don't say those words lightly. I have visited Zaragoza once, Barcelona twice, and Madrid thrice. In Zaragoza, I saw my host's home, a park, a heavy metal bar, and a classroom. In Barcelona, I have a favorite bar, restaurant, ice cream place, and enjoy the architecture. Though I've been to Madrid the most, I feel I barely know the city. But Valencia, Valencia I know.
This is what happens when I stay with two Valencians very enthusiastic and proud of their city. I get to wander the city, admire the fountains and squares, marvel at the ancient buildings and towers, sample local cuisine, and imbibe the drinks.
 The first notable drink is orxata made from the pictured tubers of the xufa plant. It was fascinating to hear that orxata's originates from Valencia. It was even more fascinating (and difficult) trying to pry apart these shelled tubers to enjoy the nutty tasting meal inside.
My friends took me to Sequer Lo Branch, where xufa is processed and orxata made. It's traditional to drink the orxata with fartons. Above you see the best way to enjoy orxata.
Another traditional Valencian specialty are the Valencian mussels, or clochinas. You must go to La Pilareta where clochinas is their specialty. Trust me, you'll want lots of bread to soak up the slightly spicy broth immersing the mussels.
If you're not too full or feel like something cool to assuage the spicy clochinas broth, I recommend nearby Amorino. They specialize in artfully arranged, wonderfully dense, rich gelato. Order three flavors for an edible "flower".
Another traditional dish is fideua. Pictured above is a non-traditional version featuring duck. I thank Gin Tapas for a great meal. I also thank my friend's sister for dating a Valencian restaurant magnate. While dining beneath the warm Valencian sun, we also enjoyed several different croquetas and tuna salad.
This dish headlined an amazing home cooked dinner. If you visit Valencia, find this dish in a restaurant or adopt someone's mom. It is arroz al horno with pork. It was legen-.... Wait for it ..-dary!
I want to mention Le Marquis for their eye catching photos decorating their startling white interior, but also their Menu of the Day. It is 14 for three courses. The highlight was this crepe with morcilla (blood sausage), foie, red fruits, and a small salad with vinaigrette drizzle.
When most people think of Spanish food, they think tapas, small plates, meat. There is more to Spain as you witnessed above. However, I want to mention Valencian tapas because they do them quite well. La Croqueteria, for example, stays open late and specializes in croquettes. They do serve other tasty dishes, so admire the crispy ham, sliced potatoes, fried egg, and be jealous you weren't there.
My last night out was fantastic. Friends were craving Negresco's signature cocktail and they knew I enjoyed cocktails and whisky. This venue advertises a large whisky, gin, and cocktail selection. Their menus were large, overwhelming with choices, but they had excellent descriptions. We drank a lot, danced, were entertained by the Spanish Elvis (a drunk patron whose nearby karaoke bar was closed), and played with a French bulldog mix. Cute, right?
When you visit Valencia, it will cure any ennui. This cat used to be sad and plaintive, but then it visited Valencia and discovered the excitement it offered.
Whether it's wire brushes, cocktails, traditional venue, architecture, exciting restaurants, Valencia has a lot to offer. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Iberian Pig - Decatur, Georgia

Decatur Square is happening! Walk through and around here and you'll be struck by the numerous restaurants, active youth, the parkour-worthy MARTA station (traceurs do train there Sundays), statues and more. The nearby restaurants offer many different ethnic foods, but we were here for the tapas. Welcome to The Iberian Pig.
My dining companion and I arrived here shortly after 5pm. We had reservations at 5:45pm, but I was hungry (old story). I was eager to get in a 5pm, but their staff was busy with a wine tasting. Once the doors opened, I tastefully waited for someone else to be first. The Iberian Pig offers a spacious venue with ample seating options and plenty of room at the bar.

Since we were the first to be seated in their main dining area, we met several different staff as the Iberian Pig servers sorted their table assignments. Our first mission involved drinks and I had been talking about the Green and Yellow Parrots.

A couple years ago, I read a Westword article regarding a Colt & Gray cocktail night. I didn't make it that evening, but I visited soon after this event. Their staff found the particular cocktail menu and I ordered a Yellow Parrot featuring Yellow Chartreuse. Later, Kevin Burke arrived and asked me about my drink. Perhaps I didn't display proper enthusiasm, but I soon had a Green Parrot (substituting Green Chartreuse for the aforementioned Yellow) plopped in front of me with the words "you'll enjoy this much more". I did and the memory stuck with me.

Did you know the Green Parrot cocktail exists as a beachy/trashy college kid/spring break cocktail? Yeah....
Well, I looked up the Yellow Parrot, talked to the bartender about it, swapped Green for Yellow, and Voila! Dining Companion pleased! They could have used a better glass for the Green Parrot, though.

The Croquettes de Queso were tasty and filled their dish. They featured chevre goat cheese, honey-citrus yogurt and lavender honey. The cheese's texture and tart taste balanced against the honey and crunchy exterior. They were definitely different from the Spanish tapas I'm used to.
We were warned that we better like pig if we come here. These are BWD's, bacon wrapped dates stuffed with walnuts and Manchego, one of my favorite cheeses. The chewy meatiness gave way to sweet dates. These sat in a delicious romesco sauce bed, their red pepper flavor tantalizing.
The Manchego Mac 'n Cheese next teased our senses. Thick pasta, Manchego pork belly cream, butter toasted panko, fresh thyme bite. This came accompanied by an Iberian Old-Fashioned featuring bacon infused Rye, organic maple syrup, bitters, citrus oil. Its smoky scent appeared in the nose and finish with slight lurking sweetness. Well done balancing the smoky flavors and the maple syrup.
A porky burst of freshness wrapped in a crunchy shell. Meet the Pork Cheek Tacos with slow roasted pork cheeks, corn salsa, avocado crema, arugula, and lime. They were devoured.
Last, but not least, we ordered the Cabrito Carbonara. It was tempting me online, it was tempting me here. We teased out dense chewy pasta strands from this tenuous pile. We savored the flavorful broth, extolled the rich, pull apart slow roasted goat, marveled at the poach egg's perfect form and clean taste. Even as I desire the goat and its broth, I remember the egg's neutrality standing firm against the richness.

Overall, we had a fantastic time at The Iberian Pig. And I'm not sure why, but we also met two out of the three owners. Was it my picture taking? My detailed cocktail requests? Anyway, we found out about Double Zero Napoletana, the restaurant group's ode to Italian. That's for another day. If you enjoy pork or a fresh take on Spanish tapas, check out The Iberian Pig in Decatur, GA.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Chén Chè Teehaus - Berlin, Germany

 I was wandering through Berlin searching for outerwear, but found warmth of a different kind. Chén Chè Teehaus' sign caught my attention and I strolled through the long walkway into a courtyard. The decor, then the menu, fixated me.
From the glowing lanterns to the unique wooden chairs, I was visually arrested. The large bay windows let in light that settled nicely upon the tables and other guests. Also notice the open faced shelving against the wall. Over there, they have numerous pots (for their teas?) and homemade Vietnamese desserts. I wasn't the only one intrigued by this place. From my seat observing future guests, it look like many people were new here or appreciated the interior design with wondering eyes.
Since I was inadvertently here because of a German menu display board, we should talk about food. Once I could read the English descriptions of Vietnamese foods and teas, I began ordering. The menu variety astonished me, so I ordered an appetizer, tea, main course, and dessert.

Pictured above, we have the Bo Bia, a spring roll with watercress, spicy tofu, green papaya and vietnamese basil, rolled in rice paper with a fine roasted peanut and ginger sauce. Any dish should be able to stand on its own without an accompanying sauce. The translucent skin fell apart beneath my teeth to reveal crisp vegetables. Though the skin was thin, it was remarkable durable as it held well in my hand. Satisfied with the spring roll, I sampled the peanut and ginger sauce. It had an earthy taste masking a slight spice note. It was delicious.

Accompanying the fast service of the Bo Bia was the Che Thach Den, described as a creamy, fruity, black herbal-jelly tea from Hanoi made from a treasured family recipe, with sweet lycheese, roasted sesame and fresh ginger. I grasped the firm tea cup in both hands and gingerly sipped. It was slightly sweet with a gelatinous volume. The fresh ginger slightly spiced its October-suited warmth. The tea soaked lychee were a special treat.
60% done with my Bo Bia, this came out. Here we have the Bun Rieu, a hearty vegetable soup with rice noodles, spicy tofu and chicken, bean sprouts, tomatoes, and fresh coriander, seasoned with tamarind and fresh Chinese spinach. The noodle bowl slightly intimidated me when it arrived. I think I inadvertently ordered for two instead of one. Steam crested the the shredded sprouts as orange spice rimmed the dense bowl. The sprouts had a light sandpaper texture, the tomato disintegrated in my mouth, it felt more texture rich than broth rich. Only until I nearly ate all the noodles, vegetables, chicken, and tofu, did I realize the flavor complexity of the broth. The aforementioned ingredients had been perfect flavor recipients.
Last, but not least, was the Chen Che Thach, soft coconut milk panna cotta flavored with aromatic Pu Erh tea (contains a trace amount of caffeine) and fresh mango. Neither picture I took, including this one, does the dish justice. The Chen Che Thach was an amazingly dense dish, topped with mango. I do enjoy mango's dualing flavors of sweet with a slightly bitter aftertaste. The light pinkish orange body was speckled with black. My silver spoon sliced through this dairy based jello like a surgeon's knife. So good.

And what's the true test of a great meal? If you can run 800 meters to meet your party in 7 minutes without an upset stomach though you had food poisoning 5 days prior. Go Chén Chè Teehaus! You surpassed my expectations remarkably well. I only wish I didn't have to leave Berlin the next day.

Patara - London, England

Two weeks before visiting Patara, I was lamenting over uninspiring Pad Thai. Apparently, my friend took note because she said we were going to visit a Thai restaurant in Soho for my last London meal. I was nervously excited. I don't normally pursue Pad Thai, but I crave it after eating at Denver's Linger. I crave curry, inspiring flavor combinations, and palate challenging meals. Would Patara be it?

My friend reminisced about Patara as we walked there. Patara used to be a weekly destination when she was kicking ass at a high paying job. She still kicks ass, whipping creative ideas into fruition, organizing unorganized swing dancers, et cetera for London Swing Patrol, but misses her former frequent visits here.
Can you judge a restaurant solely by its silverware and tableware? Mmmmmm, yes. Muted colors, dense silverware, wonderfully weaved napkins. And compliments to the descriptively thorough memo.
I started with the Tuna Tartare, thin slices of raw tuna in spicy lemongrass and mint vinaigrette. I delicately picked up these tiny morsels and savored their piquant flavor. The broth was tasty too. I may have cleaned everything off that plate.
While I was admiring the Tuna Tartare, my friend ordered the Srangwah Hoy Shell, poached king scallops in spicy lime and chilli vinaigrette with lemongrass, mint and shallot. She reluctantly allowed me to try one. I can understand her reluctance after savoring the spicy tart scallop.
Appetizers eventually made way for the main courses. My friend ordered her favorite item, the Nua Tom Kati, which was slow braised beef in aromatic coconut reduction with fresh lime, lemongrass and chilli accompanied with coconut rice. The beef fell apart underneath my fork, having soaked, no bathed in the coconut reduction. The beef truly embodied the coconut. Simply savory.
My main course was the Gae Pad Grachai featuring wok-fried slices of lamb fillet in wild ginger and green peppercorn red curry sauce accompanied with brown rice. The brown rice was an extra charge, but well worth it. It was an amazingly savory dish. From the lamb fillet to the green peppercorns, I enjoyed every moment.
We still had room, miraculously, for dessert. Too many desserts tempted my eyes, so we ordered two. Here is the Tart Sangkaya, a lemongrass infused coconut tart served with homemade stem ginger ice cream. This is where factual knowledge trumps assumptions. I never thought about what lemongrass really was until I ate this dish. This tart lacks any standout flavor. After such tart dishes, I was expecting the same. It was a good balance, but not what I expected thanks to erroneous assumptions. Lemongrass, look it up. It was a good stem ginger ice cream and mixed well with the tart.
The finishing touches came thanks to the Gati Sod Sundae, a homemade coconut ice cream with exotic fruit. Instead of your typical exotic fruits, we enjoyed chewy sweet coconut, chinese plum, and chinese plum seed. Well delivered, Patara.

I thoroughly enjoyed my Patara experience. They did deny my request to live there, though. Their loss. It might be my new favorite Thai Restaurant. Sorry, TAC Quick. I'll be seeing you in December again, Patara. And maybe one day, I'll be visiting your Bangkok location.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Bestival 2012 - Food Trumps Music

Bestival 2012 - home of 50,000 music crazed people. You want music, they got it in abundance. You want half clothed people with asses hanging out of tight jean shorts - you got it, whether you want it or not. You want a variety good food, they have it.
And thank goodness they do. I was here attending Bestival 2012 with the Swing Patrol team. We taught and performed swing dancing mainly on the Al Fresco stage, though we swing jammed an hour long electro-swing set at another venue.
There were also wildlife costumes. Factor this, all the noise, all the people, all the unfamiliar bands and djs, I found solace in the food.
This is Le Super Royal from Le Grande Boueffe. It is their juicy french sausage served with tartiflette, splashed with white wine gravy. My first food find was perhaps the best. It was indeed a juicy plump sausage accompanied by much cheesy potatoes with bacon lightly strewn about. It was savory and rich with a viscous grease coat.
The next day found me starving after a Swing Patrol performance. There were several food stands nearby, including one with a sign trumpeting "6 oz flame grilled hamburgers bigger and better." After much research the previous evening, I can honestly say that had the most enticing sign, setup, and the largest advertised burger. Notice those flame grill marks. This was flavorful smoky burger meant to be savored on its own. It came with slightly bitter greens. That's all you need. Don't hide this with ketchup. Take note foolish Bestival attendees!
Next door was the Strumpets With Crumpets store. It was a decorative front. I'm referring to the decor not the french maid oufits. For some reason, I was thinking of crepes when I read crumpets, so I ordered one with blackberry compote and goat cheese. The crumpet was simply overpowered by the goat cheese. The underwhelming flavor combination did not make up for the overwhelming price. You can get a better bang for your pound somewhere else.
If you're a omnivore camping in the artists' Duckie section, you're out of luck. If you enjoy beans with your seitan, there was the Naked Ape. Us meat lovers had to walk a few hundred meters to Bestival's beginnings. Fortunately, there was Pizza and Puppets wood fired pizza. For £6, you could get a margherita pizza. Extra ingredients cost a little more. This pizza had a great charcoal smell. The bottom was blackened with coal. The dough was slightly chewy with a slight charcoal taste. The tomato was slightly sweet, leaving the pepperoni an afterthought. Overall, a good value, though I wanted more pepperoni.
 I found Calbourne Classics late one night and saw the honey ginger ice cream listed. I inquired when the truck opens the next morning and they said around 10am. My friend and I arrived around 10:30 or 10:45. They weren't open, but still served us. I was super excited! The ice cream hinted of honey and ginger spice. The honey sweetness was just right, and golden ginger flecks peeked about. They also serve a great apple spice cake.
Pie night. First strike came at Barnaby Sykes Pie Maker. I liked the imperfect look of the handmade pies and the western style front. I asked the girl if I should get the Chicken Balti or the Lamb Mint. She has a lovely smile for lamb. The pie itself was nice and warm, oozing with the lamb mint. Thick hearty stew in a biscuit. It's the type of pie I would pack for chopping down trees in the forest.
Since I obsess over food homework, I was also staking out the spinach feta toasted pine nut at The Little Higgidy Kitchen. Simply put, you must savor this pie with small bites. It's a strong flavor combination. The spinach smell hit me first with the feta tang. The pie crust was dry. Overall, not a wolfer downer. BSPM wins.
Bestival featured a lot of pork and The Whole Hog, well, it was roasting a whole hog. Here is their hot pork roll with apple sauce, stuffing, and cracklin'. I write "crunchy cracklin, juices dripping, brioche bread? Rich pork, sweet apples, porky cracklin." My friend, who ate with me, said the next day "tasteless, watery, tough in place, flavorless meat, should've done it longer". Clearly, I'm a pork roll novice and need more experience.
This is a lamb kebab from the Polco Morocco Eatery. I obsessed over this kebab's meat. I love lamb, but honestly the work outweighed the taste. The meat was gamey, which is great, but the pieces were too large and chewy. The meat was tasty, but honestly, enjoy the kebab without the lamb. Or skip Polco.
Steaming cauldrons of rice tempted me at Paellaria. I tried the half and half, one vegetarian friendly, one chorizo. If you're a crustacean and bottom feeder avoider like me, you'll enjoy this paella. Spicy tomato sauce, fiery chorizo, wet rice. The veggie had milder flavors. The squash was a nice treat and the green beans snapped under teeth. This rates a great buy.

Speaking of great buys, the Vita Coco stand was one of the best buys and deals of Bestival. The coconut water, perfect for replenishing electrolytes and banishing dehydration, was cheaper than water. You could buy containers in the 330ml, 500ml and 1L ranges for killer prices.
Have I mentioned I'm an ice cream fiend? This is Purbeck Ice Cream's berries and clotted cream flavor. It was a dense cream with subtle flavors, only a hint of berries. I enjoyed it, but wish the berries were more present.
These are sobering nachos, so called because they refueled three very drunk women the previous night. The Flaming Cactus van had at least two locations serving grains, spicy salsa, and meat to the slavering masses.

A slight diatribe of an unpictured Churchill sausage from the British Sausage Company: If your bun crumbles while eating a delicious peppery sausage, the overall effect leans toward negative. Dear sausage vendors, provide buns with the proper firmness ratio to sausage size.
Meet the bacon wrap from Smokin' 12" Wraps. This baby cost £5 and I asked for everything on it. When in doubt (or not), go crazy. I wasn't (in doubt), I am crazy. Fresh bursting vegetable flavor, smokey peppery bacon, everything works. Salute to bacon and going ingredient crazy.
Bestival is coming to an end and I'm sampling more. Thank goodness for friends. Here is the mixed platter from Falafel! The hummus was creamy, less than I'm used to, a bit watery. The falafel was front loaded with cumin, dried out the palate. The kalamata olives were a bit tough and the lettuce had minimal texture and was also watery. The dolmades got a not bad. Overall, the middle east foods disappointed me at Bestival.
For my friend, the coffee connoisseur, Bestival sorely disappointed. In true British fashion, the Aussie stated "not bad". This meant the van on the rightmost hill rated highest.
Sausage Heaven featured some of the best sausage at Bestival. I had the Calabrian with fennel and chilli. It was spicy and juicy throughout. The bun was perfectly solid, tasted of whole wheat. Proper ratio win.
Way past saturation and plump, I was still curious for the Meatwagon's Dead Hippie burger. Featuring white onion, special hippie sauce, and pickles, it sounded tempting. Don't get it! The meat isn't flavorful and is dependent on the extras. The only thing special is its name. Other than that, do you want to eat a burger that smells like a hippie?
Think of this when the UFO send seeking lights across the night time sky. The food doesn't make Bestival, the music does. But the food makes Bestival for non-music loving attendees who can't tell the difference between Florence and the XX. So, try to keep your taste buds relatively free from all that nasty smoke and cheap smuggled booze, and enjoy the variety of food.