Sunday, January 30, 2011

Mexicali Grill

I think I've mentioned before that we've had a difficult time finding great Mexican food out here. A lot of people from back in Florida don't believe us, since you always hear about Hispanics in California. Well, our area is mostly Asian, with few Hispanics or Latinos, so we're inundated with Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Thai places, but the Mexican joints are few and far between., the ones we've tried haven't been impressive.

So, we're trying to find someplace good. Kathy suggested we try Mexicali Grill, since she had been there before and considered it to be "okay." The three of us went for dinner on a weeknight, which meant prompt service as they were pretty empty.

Chips and salsa were brought out immediately, and we were asked if we'd like some guacamole as well. We said yes, figuring it would be a couple extra dollars, but a good Mexican place has to have guacamole so we needed to try it. It turned out to be pretty bland, and for a whopping $7.25, something none of us would ever order again.

I ordered the chicken chimichanga, which turned out to be about average. Nothing was strikingly memorable about it, and I forgot to ask for extra-rice-no-beans (see! told you it had been too long since we've had Mexican!), so we took the beans home and Jonathan ate them later that week. I should also point out that it was a tad pricey for the serving size... I almost never finish a chimichanga in one meal, and I finished this one without a problem.

Kathy went with a couple of vegetarian enchiladas and asked for a glass of hot water to drink (she was still a bit ill). The food was okay, but she didn't eat it quickly nor bring home the bit of leftover. The water was also extremely hot, so she wasn't able to drink it for quite some time after it arrived (which took considerably longer than necessary as well).

Jonathan went with the Chili Verde, which was sauteed pork in a special sauce. He asked for double-beans-no-rice, and enjoyed the meal, but wouldn't get it again. He had quite a bit leftover, so it served as a nice dinner a couple of nights later as well.

Overall, the place was pretty cool and we agreed that we'd have to try it for Happy Hour sometime, but I don't know that we'd be back for dinner.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Ristorante Specchio

It was Dine Out San Francisco week, which means that a lot of restaurants offer a prix-fixe menu for $34.95 for multiple courses. Our friend Andy had his girlfriend from the East coast visiting so the four of us went out for some Italian food during the beginning of the special event.

Ristorante Specchio was the selection, which is on Mission & 19th. We met there, as they wanted to spend the day in the city while we had our yard sale that morning. This part of San Francisco is about 40 minutes away from our house, but parking always adds some extra time. This area also isn't the safest in the world, so when we found a spot less than three blocks away and right in front of a church, I was relieved, LoL. Turns out that Andy & KJ ended up parking around 7 blocks away, but they did find it right away as opposed to our driving up and down the nearby streets for ten minutes, LoL.

The restaurant was very busy, and we were all looking forward to some tasty Italian cuisine. We probably stood around about fifteen minutes before we were seated. The ambiance is very trendy, and more like a cafe than a restaurant. It was also loud... we had to raise our voices with every conversation. And, strangely enough, there was also an Italian movie (possibly Bucheli?) playing (with Sophia Loren), projected onto the wall about the kitchen (which was out in the open). We were presented with our menus and given a few minutes to decide while our waters came out.

Small pieces of bread (think crostini without the toasting) were brought out as well, with a small plate of oil and balsalmic, but no herbs or pepper. There was also no salt or pepper on the table, which was somewhat amusing. We hardly had five minutes with the bread before the salads were brought, which was a bit rushed. Jonathan, KJ, and I all had the insalta di rucola, which was arugula with shaved parmesan cheese and pear. Allegedly, it was supposed to be served with a honey dijon dressing, but it was dry... as was the salads at the table next to ours. I'm not sure if this was a typo or what. Now, I don't really care for arugula (I find it extremely bitter), so I just ate the cheese and the pear, but KJ and Jonathan both has about a third of their salads. Andy had the insalata di barbabietole e arance, which was steamed beets with oranges, arugula, and walnuts. It was okay.

We were done and sat with our salad plates in front of us for at least ten minutes before the plates were cleared. Another five or ten minutes passed before the pasta course arrived. I selected the penne all arrabiata, which was penne with spicy tomatoes. And, that's exactly what it was. Everyone else chose the maltagliati al pesto di noci, which was a house pasta with pesto (made with walnuts instead of pine nuts) and sundried tomatoes. The shape of the pasta was very wide and thick, unlike anything with which I am familiar. Everyone liked it, but Jonathan didn't think it was too Italian. I tried a bite, not caring for the flavor of these particular sundried tomatoes. We again sat for a while before the third course.

Jonathan, Andy, and I chose the braciola di maiale al gorgonzola, which was a pork chop (bone-in) with gorgonzola, sauteed spinach, and potato slivers. It was wonderful. The sauce (unidentified) gave it all a delicious taste, and complimented the pork, the spinach, and the potatoes. I thought it was a tad mustardy, though Andy suggested it was more eggy. Either way, I wish I knew how to make it, LoL! The pork chop was juicy and delicious, though it was not as tender near the bone as one would expect. The potatoes were nothing special in preparation, but the flavor was amazing. KJ went with the fish of the day, which was cod. I tried a bite, but I don't really care for cod. She thought it was okay. The owner or manager came by to ask how we were enjoying our food, and we all have wonderful things to say. He also brought us a fresh plate of bread and another carafe of water.

Once again we sat while waiting for our desserts (plates cleared somewhat promptly this time), and again the manager came, this time to ask if we had selected our desserts yet (they are also serving the regular menu, so not everyone is there on the prix-fixe plan). We mentioned that we had, of course, and he talked up what we might expect. And, with dessert, there were five selections, of which we sampled four. I chose the tiramisu (one of my favorites... I don't get it often, but I love it when I do!), which was a little heavy on the alcohol, surprisingly. I'm not sure if the ladyfingers were soaked too long or if the cream had liquer in it or what. Jonathan chose the cannoli siciliani, which was your standard ricotta-and-chocolate-chip-filling in a cannoli shell. He found it rather rich and didn't finish it. I tasted it but I don't care for ricotta (lasagna is about the only time I eat it) or mini chocolate chips, so I don't really have a comment. Andy went with the sorbetto of the day, which turned out to be a mango flavor from a local ice cream place. He liked it but didn't finish it. Lastly, KJ had the torta al cioccolato, which was a flourless chocolate cake with hazelnuts. It looked like a cupcake (complete with the sides being ridged), and the nuts were only along the bottom, which was interesting. She only had a few bites, but said that she liked it. Jonathan and I both tried it... he thought it had a heavy coffee flavor while I thought it was more of a thick chocolate fudge. While we lingered a bit (but not really. they were once again too busy to get to us quickly), the owner/manager came by once more, asking how our desserts were and taking care of boxing up Jonathan and KJ's leftovers.

When we finally left the restaurant it was around 9:30... and we had a 7:15 reservation (though, admittedly, Jonathan and I walked in at more of a 7:19), so that gives you an idea of just how the pacing worked. It wasn't absurdly long, but it was a bit longer than it should have been. Yes, the place was crowded, but it wasn't that big, so you'd think they'd be moving things along in order to seat more people. I don't think I'd go back... it just didn't scream "great Italian food" to us. Jonathan commented that the most "Italian" thing he ate was the cannoli, LoL!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Trying Salvadorian Food

So I learned that I don't like Salvadorian food. I add it to the list of cuisines I avoid... which now only includes Salvadorian and Indian, LoL. I didn't really know what to expect, but we have a Salvadorian place just around the corner, so Jim, JB, and I walked over one night to get some dinner to-go.

Sabor Salvadoreno features pupusas among other foods. A pupusa is a thick corn tortilla (thick like a pita) with cheese, pork ground into a paste, and refried beans. None of us ordered one, but all of our meals were served with two tortillas, which I found to be absolutely horrid. They were fresh, but I just didn't care for the flavor. Jim got carne asadas, which were okay. Jonathan went with a chile relleno, which didn't turn out too well. I went with "pan con pollo" which literally translated to "bread with chicken" but was actually a sub sandwich of sorts. It had tomatoes, cucumber, mayonnaise, and radishes. I know, it was weird. It was also served with juice to pour over it, which was very tasty, but thin, so I didn't want to actually pour it on. I dipped some of the chicken in it, since the chicken (which was pulled from the bone) was ridiculously dry. The bread was good... I eventually just ate the bread and the tomatoes and cucumbers, pulling off everything else that I could. The guys want to try the place again, specifically for the pupusas, but I'll personally pass.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Juan's Flying Burrito

We had dinner at Juan's Flying Burrito, which had a very interesting menu. The table started with chips and salsa, but I thought that the salsa was very bland so I only had a couple of chips. There were all sorts of items ordered around the table, and everyone seemed to truly enjoy their selections. I know that mine was fantastic: The Luau - a quesadilla made with grilled shrimp, smoked bacon, pineapple salsa, and cheese. I was a little nervous about choosing something so unique at a place named after its burrito... but it ended up being a superb selection. I really enjoyed every bite and would order it again. Jonathan got the Flying Enchiladas, which was shrimp, steak, and chicken grilled together and stuffed inside cheese enchiladas, topped with sour cream and guacamole. He thought they were good (especially the steak bites) and he'd get them again.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Brunch at Cafe Fleur de Lis

The morning of the 1st we met up with two of Keith's former colleagues for a late breakfast, since Keith and Kristina needed to be at a family event for a few hours. We wandered a little bit, trying to find a cool place. I had a vision of one place in my head, and Jonathan knew what I was talking about, but we couldn't remember what it was called or where it was. I also remembered a nice little breakfast place I had found when I went to New Orleans solo in 2009, and we went there (Cafe Fleur de Lis). It was very busy, but they had a very complex system to make sure nobody got their food before they had a table (you waited in line, ordered, then stood around waiting for a table to open, grabbed it, and your food showed up eventually). We did wait almost 45 minutes for our food after we ordered, but luckily Jonathan had his coffee and I had a delicious hot chocolate to tide us over. All four of us liked our meals, and next time we're in town Jonathan and I vowed to get the pancakes... every single stack just looked soooo good!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Oceana Grill

We had planned to go to Antoine's for dinner, but since the wait was pretty long, we went around the corner and ate upstairs at Oceana Grill. Jonathan and I weren't that hungry so we split a plate of jambalaya, which was absolutely fabulous. We were both bragging about it for days, so we would totally recommend it.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Creole Creamery

After lunch in Metairie, the majority of the group went to the Creole Creamery, which I'm convinced is one of Keith's very favorite places. The very first time Jonathan and I went to New Orleans, Keith brought us there and four of us shared the "Tchoupitoulas," which is 8 scoops and 8 toppings. This time around Jonathan went with a cone of Chocolate Cheesecake Amaretto, which he liked a lot at the beginning, but it was too sweet for him to finish. I went with the Sampler Special, which is 4 small scoops for $4. I chose I Scream Fudge, Gingerbread, Bananas Foster, and one more which I can't remember at this point. All were delicious, especially the fudge.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Acme Oyster House

We were in New Orleans for a couple days to celebrate New Year's with some friends. This was the third time that we spent New Year's Eve in New Orleans, previously ringing in 2007 and 2008 in the city. Right after we checked-in to our hotel, we drove out to Metairie to meet our friends and some of their friends at the Acme Oyster House for lunch. We weren't too hungry (we had sandwich stuff in the cooler in the room so we had plenty of snacks on the drive there and back), so we had a couple of oysters and we shared a shrimp & oyster po-boy. I love the oysters at this place (we had been there one or two times before), and the po-boy did not disappoint, either.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Cowboys: BBQ

Cowboys is a restaurant in Fort Pierce that opened just around a year ago. It took the place of RJ Gator's, which was quite well-liked for its "Floribbean" cuisine. Cowboys started out in Okeechobee (their website is rather outdated) and the Fort Pierce location is the second for the chain. Apparently they have also branched out to Sebring and are considering Stuart, but I'm not sure. The menu was much larger than the one online.

I had the "pig in a potato" which was pulled pork, sour cream, cheese, and chives in a baked potato. I was expecting the double-size potato like many other restaurants with a "potato section" feature. However, I was greeted with a single potato that was overpriced. I wasn't in love with the pork, but with the right sauce it was okay.

My friend, Tori, had the buffalo chicken sandwich, but she had it with garlic parmesan sauce instead of buffalo. She liked it, and I thought the sauce was tasty. Hers was served with a side of macaroni and cheese, which tasted like canned to me, though she liked it.

My friend, Heather, had the all-you-can-eat smoked half-chicken. It came with macaroni and cheese and collard greens. The chicken was okay. Heather is very critical of collards, and she wasn't a big fan of the ones she received, although she did eat them. Interestingly, the server did bring out a bottle of oil or something for her veggies, but we didn't even open it. She finished her first round of chicken, and when she asked for more, they brought out one piece, and didn't ask her what she'd like, so that was kinda weird.

Speaking of the service, it was pretty bad. Everything was very slow, even refills and getting the bill and such. And it was very clear that the waitresses were typecast. Yes, they were required to wear glittery belts and pants, but they were all attractive, well made-up, nice hair girls, and all but one were thin. I don't think I need to stress that I won't be returning.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Touch of Brooklyn

Whenever we're in Florida we spend a lot of time catching up with old friends. For lunch on Christmas Eve, we met up with Eric and Kara at A Touch of Brooklyn, which is a pizza place in Sabal Palm Plaza. It was actually like our third choice, but many of the things downtown were closed on Christmas Eve. We'd never been there, so it was as good a place as any.

It's the kind of place where you order at the counter and then they bring it to your table when it's ready. Jonathan and I ordered a dozen garlic knots for the table, but they came reallllly late and there was little to no garlic on them. We ate some, but wouldn't order them again. We didn't finish them.

Eric and Kara split a salad (but they didn't finish it, so I'm not thinking it was excellent). Eric got the 2 slices of pizza deal, and he said it was "okay" pizza. Kara and Jonathan both had the pepperoni roll, and "okay" was the word of choice there, too. I chose the chicken parmagiana sub, which was about average, but it was nice to have as an option. I took part home (and in this case I mean Jonathan's parents' house) and had it a couple days later as a snack.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Barracuda Sushi

Jonathan, Andy, and I were getting together for a final meal before we left for Christmas. Andy likes this place called Barracuda Sushi in downtown Mountain View for their happy hours, and he said they did brunch, too, so we went there for Sunday brunch. They also have a few other locations in the Bay Area.

We started with ichiban roll, which is one of their specialties. It's white tuna, cucumber, and green onion, covered with unagi (eel) and avocado. I liked it okay, and Jonathan felt the same. It came just before the food, but we weren't feeling rushed either, which was okay. The prices seemed a little high at first, but after the food arrived and nobody could finish their order, it turned out to be appropriate. I had the two-item bento box, and went with chicken teriyaki and the pork gyoza. The chicken was delicious, the gyoza was average. The salad and sup that accompanied the meal were also average. The rice was good, the orange slices were tasty, and I didn't try the edamame so I can't comment on that. The boys both had donburi (rice bowls with egg), one with chicken and one with pork. The chicken was HUGE and both guys struggled to get even close to finishing. Jonathan said he'd get it again.

I also went with the $7 unlimited mimosas (available 11-3 or 4 on weekends), and I was apparently the only person in the restaurant doing so that morning, since they had to make a pitcher of it, and we noticed that it was only brought over to refill my glass, LoL. It was good, I'd recommend it. We're planning to go back there at some point, since they also had television on... although football season is over...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Morton's: A Steakhouse

For Jonathan’s 27th birthday, his aunt and uncle sponsored a trip to Morton’s, which is a steakhouse chain (you may remember that he sent us to The Capital Grille for Jonathan's last birthday). We have one in San Jose, so it only took us fifteen minutes or so to get there. Because of the winter carnival going on, parking was problematic; luckily they have valet at a reasonable rate (especially compared to parking prices in San Jose).
We were seated almost immediately, and handed personalized “birthday menus,” since we had mentioned it was Jonathan’s birthday when we made the reservation. The menu covered a lot of different options, including six types of potatoes as side dishes! I was glad that we had the menu to peruse, as typically you order without a printed menu at all! 

Our server gave us a full presentation of the options, and we watched various other tables receive presentations of their own at various points throughout the evening. The server ("seasoned" would be a good word to describe her, as she clearly knew everything and seemed a little bored in her work) wheeled a cart over to our table, demonstrated the different cuts of meat, crab legs, vegetables, and appetizers. Jonathan chose the Porterhouse steak, after a tough decision between that and the Ribeye. I chose the broiled salmon fillet with beurre blanc sauce. For side dishes (served family-style), the potatoes lyonnaise and the grilled asparagus sounded great. 

While we decided on our orders, we munched on fresh onion bread. The large, round loaf that was brought out was very good. It was a little strange that there was no bread knife, but we had steak knives on the table when we sat down, so it was easy enough to slice ourselves.
We didn’t wait long before Jonathan’s baked five-onion soup arrived. It was crusted with Swiss cheese, and since it was heavy with garlic, we think that perhaps there is a type of onion that greatly resembles garlic. I had a small taste, and agreed with his assessment that it was delicious.
The table was re-set before the server brought the entrees, which was quite a nice surprise. The tablecloth was cleared of crumbs and new utensils were placed. We also received our drinks – Jonathan chose a “rare red" to go with his steak: a four-leaf cabernet sauvignon. I selected the holiday special, Sleigh Ride, which was a white wine (prosecco) with tuaca (a vanilla-citrus liquer), cranberry juice, and cherry liquer. Both were excellent choices. 

The Porterhouse was unique in that it was part New York Strip and part Filet. I thought it looked pretty neat, and Jonathan was very pleased with the aged flavor of both meats. I asked him to compare it to the steak that he had last year at The Capital Grille (where he first experienced aged steak), and he found it tender but not as flavored.
My salmon was very plentiful, and grilled just right. The sauce was a little thinner than I expected, but quite flavorful and an excellent accompaniment to the fish. I was not able to finish it all, and took a third or so home to enjoy for lunch the next day.
Since there were so many selections for side dishes, I was pretty excited when they arrived. The potatoes lyonnaise contained potatoes cut into pieces about the size of quartered lemons, fried with onions and bacon. It was absolutely exquisite, though the leftovers did not fare as well as the salmon. The grilled asparagus had a balsamic glaze that really brought out the flavor rather than mask it, as some sauces tend to do with that vegetable.
There were many birthdays in the restaurant that night – I think we heard the waiters sing their version of the “Happy Birthday” song five or six times, so we were totally expecting it, which was good… it’s always a bit awkward when you are caught completely by surprise! The restaurant also had a photographer who came around early in the evening to take a photo of us, and she delivered it later in a small Morton’s folder, signed by many of the employees. The complimentary birthday dessert was hot chocolate lava cake, with Godiva chocolate in the center. It was delicious with the ice cream on the side, but it would have been overly rich on its own. 

Overall, Morton’s was a great dining experience. From the cart and the spiel of options to the final presentation of food to the table, it was pretty unique and fun.

Monday, January 10, 2011

CB Hannegan's - An Irish Pub

We went to a birthday gathering at C.B. Hannegan's in San Jose on a Saturday night. We anticipated difficulties parking, but luckily found a spot about 100 yards down the road.

We were among the first few to arrive for the event, so five of us had a few appetizers before the rest of the group got there. First were the potato skins, which were large and delicious. They might've been a dollar or so overpriced, but no biggie. After that came the Irish Nachos, which were on steak fries, interestingly enough. I only had a tiny bit, but everyone else seemed to enjoy them, as they were pretty fast.

Jonathan and Jim split The Mondo Combo pizza, which included Italian sausage, ground beef, pepperoni, salami, onions, olives, bell peppers, mushrooms, and extra cheese. It wasn't amazing, but they seemed to enjoy it. It took the longest, which was weird when you consider how many people at the table had steaks and such. The had a leftover slice that sat in the fridge until I got sick of seeing the box, so it wasn't good enough to finish, LoL. I had the Classic CB Burger with fries. I added cheese for 75 cents (I thoroughly hate when you have to pay extra for a slic of cheese on a burger!). It was okay. I finished my leftovers, LoL.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Fish Market

Kathy couldn't make it to any of the scheduled events for Jonathan's birthday, so we celebrated with her separately. She suggested a place that's very close to us (just past our nearest grocery store), simply called The Fish Market. We arrived at 7pm or so on a Monday night, and it was pretty crowded (though a very large party was taking up the bulk of one of the rooms), though we were seated quickly. Service was a bit slow in the beginning, but it picked up by the time we ordered our first appetizer.

We started out with with a half-dozen raw oysters, two each of Island Creek oysters (from Massachusetts), Malaspina oysters (from British Columbia), and Kumamoto oysters (from Humboldt Bay, CA). I wasn't a big fan (I prefer my oysters done Rockefeller-style), but they both liked them, and they had different favorites so it worked out well. We also shared the Baked Clams Kilpatrick, which was excellent. Six clams baked with butter and bacon.

Jonathan and Kathy both ordered the same thing - the Fish & Chips combination, which included fried scallops, fried fish, fried shrimp, and french fries. Neither was truly taken by it, and they agreed that the scallops, though large, were the poorest in quality out of the three. The fish scored decent marks, and the shrimp was average. I ordered the pasta con nova, which was a fettuccine with cream sauce, smoked salmon, and tomatoes. The idea sounded great, but smoked fish in pasta is really different. My portion wasn't huge, but fitting for the lower price. I wouldn't get it again, but only because I didn't like the way the fish made the sauce taste smoky.

Kathy had let the server know ahead of time that it was Jonathan's birthday, so they sang and brought out a delicious chocolate mousse - very rich and decadent. I'd certainly order that again in a heartbeat.