California

Most Memorable Meals of 2015

Pulker's Heuriger Feast

Pulker’s Heuriger

And just like that, its over Johnny.  2015 was yet another year of great eats, great drinks, and yes great chicken wings.  I’m grateful!  Grateful for living in the greatest food city in the world.  Grateful for living with someone who not only supports this addiction but also willing to sleep with that thing.  Grateful for the kids who will eat anything as long as its not made by mom and dad.  Grateful for the friends and family.  What will 2016 bring?  Sicily!  Other than that who knows.  Most likely more chicken wings.  Here are the most memorable meals of 2016…

Momofuku Ko (NYC) – Quite possibly the best meal we ever had in NYC was at this new Ko 2.0 location.  An 18 courser, counter sitting, feast for all senses extravaganza.  Perhaps the best, most unique dining experience NY has to offer at the moment

Momofuku Ko Venison

Bruno Pizza (NYC) – The best meal with the most unassuming name.  While there wasnt anything earth shattering food wise, the entire meal from start to finish was just brilliant.  And before Danny Meyer made the news with his no tipping policy, there was Bruno implementing its own spin on the controversy.

Bruno Pizza Eggplant

Aquavit (NYC) – Emma Bengtsson’s Chef’s tasting menu is quite possibly the most underrated tasting menu in town.  The kicker here is that not only you are presented with tasty opulence coming out one after another, but you also got the anticipation and the arrival of one of the most Instagrammed desserts on the planet

Aquavit sorbet

Caicos Cafe (Turks and Caicos) – An odd mention considering we’ve been here over a dozen times, but still very much memorable in my mind.  Two meals on every visit is our ritual these days, and both meals this past year featured all our favorites and then some. It just gets better and better.

Caicos Cafe - Tagliolini

La Taqueria (SF) – Strange for me to choose this one over the great meals we had at Cockscomb and NOPA.  But this rather hectic light lunch was the one that gave me food envy like no other.  I’ve been eating tacos and burritos for many years, but the carnitas tacos and Carne Asada Burrito here was like eating this stuff for the very first time.  Cliche, but true.

La Taqueria food

Pulker’s Heuriger (Rührsdorf, Austria) – Our first foray into the Austrian Heuriger scene was memorable to say the least.  A wine grower’s wine tavern that serves menuless, fresh, local homemade food.  This one is right by the Danube, in the picturesque Wachau Valley.  This is why you rent a car

Pulker's Heuriger

Hibernia (Anguilla) – Still fresh in our minds, we are still awestruck by this one.  A 30 minute drive East brings you to this foodie paradise.  Brilliantly executed Asian inspired food with a French flair in an absolute stunner of a setting, surrounded by essentially an art gallery.  A dining experience like no other

Anguilla Hibernia Smoked Trio

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Lazy Post – California’s Route 1

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Top 10 Things We Ate in California

Perbacco - Carne CrudaCarne Cruda at Perbacco (SF).  If you close your eyes while eating this magnificence, you may find yourself chasing chickens on the hills of Serralunga d’alba, while a little Barolo tipsy.  Once you open your eyes, you are eating this delicate hand chopped raw beauty aided by hazelnuts and quail egg at Perbacco.  This is one of San Francisco’s elite Italian specializing in dishes from the severely underrated region of Piedmont.

French Toast at NOPA (SF).  I’ve had a lot of French Toasts in my young adult life, and got the kilos to prove it.  While this French Toast doesn’t look very different than the rest of them, it couldn’t be more different.  A lot of work involved to reach such richness levels, and it only comes in one size, extra large, so great for sharing.  And while you at it, do try the great burger, before checking out SF’s version of the Painted Ladies nearby

NOPA - French Toast

Carnitas Tacos at La Taqueria (SF) – Yes, the Carne Asada Burrito griddled El Dorado style was heavenly alright, but those Carnitas just blew me away.  Heaps of juicy porky goodness topped with pico de gallo produce pure awesomeness on every morsel.  At this busy Mission legend, off hours means only a 20 minute wait

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Culotte at Cockscomb (SF) – Yes, I still have a job, which means “Cockscomb” can be safely Googled.  Its actually the comb of a rooster, and also a name of a flower.  But in SF, its a name of a hidden gem in the SOMA neighborhood.  Their Bacon Chop is sort of of a revelation, and the beef heart tartare is as good as it gets.  But it was the perfectly cooked Sirloin cap (Culotte) that left that special lasting impression.  To make a Culotte this tender, requires talent, and all signs point to no shortage of it here.

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Burrito Mojado at Los Agaves (Santa Barbara) – Who knew Santa Barbara was such a Mexican mecca.  You certainly wouldnt know while watching all those soap operas in the late 80’s (remember?).  Guadalajaran specialties throughout the menu with this grande wet burrito at the helm.  Grande often means dry, lacking flavor, but not the case here.

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Mussels at Montrio Bistro (Monterey) – Since the meal at Montrio we’ve had Mussels on three different occasions, and all three resulted in disappointment, anger, and even expletives on one occasion.  PMD (Post Mussels Depression) is apparently a real thing.  Something one can get after experiencing Mussels from Penn Cove in Whidbey Island, Washington that can put Prince Edward Island Mussels to shame.  Cooked and served with a mild red curry broth, these were some of the fullest, sweetest mussels I ever had

Montrio Mussels

Rotisserie Chicken at El Huarique (LA) – A pleasant surprise in the middle of Venice Beach boardwalk was this hole in the wall producing some of the best Peruvian in recent memory (recent memory is 10 days give or take these days).  Unlike the plethora of touristy eats outside, there’s zero atmosphere here, unless you have a wall fetish.  The menu includes a nice Lomo Saltado, Chinese like beef and veggie stir fry, ceviche, and this perfectly spiced chicken.

El Huarique Chicken

Hummus With Mushrooms at Itzik Hagadol (LA) – “Big Isaac” came up as Donald Trump would say, “Huuuuuuuge”.  This Encino gem dishes out all the Israeli classics in a sprawling space that allows you to bring the entire Mishpucha without notice.  WITHOUT NOTICE!  The hummus had that perfectly creamy texture and flavor you can only find in select places.  And those shrooms elevated this thang even further.  And while you at it, try the Moldovan Mititei, beautifully spiced kebabs made from mixed ground meat.  Some of the bulkiest, juiciest Mititei I’ve had in recent memory

Itzik Hagadol Hummus

Fried Chicken at Big Sur Bakery (Big Sur) – I know fried chicken.  I mastered in fried chicken (minored in couscous).  This was good fried chicken.  And the pizzas, especially with egg, not too shabby at this perfect stop on your stop-go-stop-go-stop-lose-your-glasses Route 1 day

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“Toast and Jam” ice cream at Humphry Slocombe (SF) – We fell in deep lasting mad love with this ice cream shop in the Ferry Building.  The ice cream has all the textures and sharp flavors of a top notch Gelato (technicalities!).  While their top seller “Secret Breakfast” was brilliant indeed the “Toast and Jam” was even brillianter (Is that a word?  I think so).  Dying wish type stuff.

Strawberry Ice Pop at Yosemite National Park – Nothing particular noteworthy at this stand by the entrance to the mist trail.  Though having it at the end of the hike to the top of the falls on your way back can be as satisfying as any of the items above.  Like a gift from the gods.

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Lazy Post – Random San Francisco

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Monterey Bay Aquarium

California-2015 1167A couple of months ago we visited this very special Aquarium in Monterey, CA, considered the best in the nation.  According to EWZ historians, Aquariums have never been featured on the site, so for one to be featured, it’s got to be extraordinary (rule 35.8 section g).  We only had about 90 minutes to explore, after a longish trip from Yosemite that included two food stops (I eat like a baby on vacation, every 2.5 hours) but we got a lot of it covered.  And I already posted about dinner that night, another highlight on a great day

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Three Days in San Francisco

NOPA

NOPA

This post was supposed to be a lot better, and longer.  Instead of eating our way through the famous Ferry Building Farmers Market, we spent the time struggling with United Airlines reps who cancelled our flight at the last minute. “But mam, you don’t understand, we need to be there for the Roti Roti Porchetta, and something called Loco Moco, 6 hours from now.  I’m a famous food blogger and this is perhaps my last chance for a Loco Moco, whatever that is”.  No dice!  No Ferry Building Market for us.  But we managed, persevered, and even made it to the Ferry building eventually.

Its been 15 years between visits for us.  Last time it was the sardines, the wine, and the rise of the female chef.  While this time it was the burrito, Carne Cruda and Full House.  Yes, this time with Full House obsessed kids who needed to see every FH site including the house, the painted ladies, and famous Stamos arrest sites.  The Painted Ladies thing totally fooled me I must say, due to my daily proximity to this scene in Times Square.  I just wasn’t expecting buildings.  And as I was admiring these beauties, I couldn’t help but shed a tear for the last two goldfish Ziggy Jr and Ziggy Jr Jr who tragically committed suicide while enduring all these Full House hours in that room

San Francisco food scene is undeniably good.  Farm to Table concept doesn’t exists here because its pretty much assumed.  Chefs enjoying easier access to raw materials and longer seasons.  “Its easier to cook here” is what I keep hearing from SF chefs.  Its one decent Uzbek away from a town I could actually live in (I kid, I kid.  It can also use a few Sri Lankan, Isan, and Georgian).  Lets begin our tour…Chinatown

New York City has anywhere between 5-10 Chinatowns depending on when you read this.  On average a Chinatown is added every 4 years, like the World Cup.  But none of them are like the San Francisco Chinatown, the oldest in the nation.  You got the fun and touristy for a reason Grant Street and the surrounding alleys.  And once you feel like you had enough, you can move one block over to Stockton Street where the local Chinese actually shop, perhaps the real Chinatown if you will.

Eastern Bakery - Coffee Crunch CakeEastern Bakery is believed to be the oldest bakery in Chinatown.  Inside it appears that not much has changed with its ancient feel and boasting of a Bill Clinton visit while he was still president.  I love this kind of old school.  While the pork buns failed to impress (not many do), the Coffee Crunch cake made up for it and then some.  Then there was The Fortune Cookie Factory, which was a revelation of sorts.  Eating these babies fresh is like eating lobster in Maine.  You can even personalize your Fortune Cookie with notes you can write yourself like “This was not Chicken”.  But why on earth in a seemingly family friendly place like this they would feature X-rated fortune cookies.

I wish I could tell you about the wonderful egg tarts of the infamous Golden Gate Bakery but they were on vacation.  Apparently they surprise close so much, there’s a website devoted to it.  Although the track record of the site screams for another site to tell you if the other site works or not.Fortune Cookie Factory

Perbacco tajarinOur love affair with everything Piedmont has landed us in Perbacco.  A semi-classy, sprawling, corporate joint in the Financial District.  They make their own Culatello which is a bonus but the highlights of the Salumi Misti pretty much stopped there.  Carne Cruda featuring hazelnuts and quail egg was outstanding.  The pillowy Agnolotti dal Plin had that pleasant explosiveness one can expect from Agnolotti, but I couldn’t help but wonder how they taste with plain butter.  The Tajarin was eggy and  buttery alright but the ragu fell a little flat.  The Stracci with the rabbit ragu, peppers and anise was more like it, the star of the pasta course.Perbacco - Carne Cruda

Our first wow moment however came the next day, NOPA for brunch.  Or what we call, lunch.  The more brunch I eat the more foreign the concept gets.  NOPA is a sprawling, busy, industrial space that’s efficient and good.  And with those famous Painted Ladies practically next door to boot.  The soft scrambled with cranberry bean succotash was why I go to California to eat every now and then.  The burger was perfection.  We know burgers.  We got PhDs in burger.  This was a good burger.  The famous French toast looks like any other French toast in this picture, but I’ve never had anything like it.  A lot of work involved to reach such richness levels.  Also, these guys don’t mess around with their NOLA like Bloody Marys.  The spiciest one I’ve had.  NOPA is a screaming buy.NOPA - French Toast

But the true envy for me, as in why cant we get this back home, home to 350,000 Mexicans I might add, came at La Taqueria in the Mission District.  Carne Asada Burrito was griddled El Dorado style was some of the tastiest of its kind.  Now I understand.  But what blew me away was the tacos carnitas with heaps of juicy pork goodness.  The flat Horachata can be forgiven with food such as this.  Go!  And while touring the murals, pop in Dandelion Chocolates for some hot coco and perhaps the best S’mores you will ever eat.  We had bigger plans to explore the various latin eateries, but a defective pedal boat in Golden Gate Park changed all that.  80 year old ladies who lunch were passing us, while lunching.
La Taqueria foodDandelion Chocolates S'mores
The biggest mystery we faced, other than guessing if Golden Gate Bakery was open or not on any particular day, was where to eat at Fisherman’s Wharf.  Still a mystery, sort of.  Scoma’s did the trick overall, but felt rather touristy with prices that don’t match the joy (simple Pappardelle Bolognese $26!).  Cioppino and mixed seafood grill were fine, and the crab Louis with shrimp salad was quite good, but I couldn’t help but wonder if I could have gotten a better value from any of the other touristy places aroundScomas Crab Louie
Ferry Building Mushroom storeI was determined to go to the Ferry Building after all, market or no market.  We saw a nice eclectic selection of purveyors, like a modern Chelsea Market, with great water views and clean bathrooms to boot.  I liked the mushroom store guys, who grow it all, including beautiful Maitake (hen of the woods).  The olive oil folks had a nice selection to sample including cheap “Traditional Modena Balsamic Vinegar”, high potential for false advertisement.  But since we weren’t hungry we settled for Humphry Slocombe ice cream and its creative gelato like textures and flavors.  Secret Breakfast was brilliant, and “Toast and Jam” even brillianterMushroom store
 At SOMA Eats in SOMA, we enjoyed breakfast with local SOMAliers.  Healthier, well prepared only in SOMA options like Breakfast Burrito, egg and salmon sandwich with SOMA coffee, and SOMA Orange juice.  We liked SOMA eats.  (memo to NYC, SF and anyone else who is listening.  How about giving neighborhoods real names).

Cockscomb artOur last meal turned out to be a doozy.  Cockscomb had potential to be strike two.  Of things I’m not supposed to Google from work.  Camelback mountain somehow became strike one.  Playful, inventive menu with an emphasis on buthery stuff.  Or in the case of the splendid beef heart tartare, mostly unwanted butcher stuff.  Personal relationships with well respected local farms and butchers enables Cockscomb to strive in what appears to be a not so happening location.  The grilled cheese sandwich with egg, one their most popular items, was a fine rendition.  Calamari stuffed with risotto, came with an “I can’t believe this is not Hummus” chickpea spread.  The Bacon Chop, a glorious cut with the pork belly attached, was a revelation of sorts.  Juiciness levels I haven’t seen since the college days.  From pork chops that is.  We liked the Zampini.  Nicely spiced pork and fennel sausage with corn and shishito salad.  But our favorite perhaps was the simple brilliance of the Culotte, a sirloin cap cooked to medium rare perfection.  And when you finish with a rare Panna Cotta that doesn’t suck, you know you are in the right place.  Cockscomb – worth googling, worth going out of the way for.Eastern BakeryLa Taqueria Burrito

La Taqueria

La Taqueria

Dandelion Chocolates

Cockscomb Pork

Cockscomb Pork

Cockscomb Panna Cotta

Cockscomb Panna Cotta

Cockscomb

Cockscomb

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More from Yosemite

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Two for Tuesday (LA): Peru and Israel

El HuariqueWelcome to Two for Tuesday™, a new column on EWZ, featuring two places that well represent another city, state, or country.  For the time being Two for Tuesday will be featured on the 1st Tuesday of every September.  But I may increase productivity if I get enough likes.  This one is for my LA readers (both of them).  We’ve been to LA many times, so its about time I write a little something about this wonderful little town where no one walks anywhere except to/from rehab, and everyone looks like the cast from Baywatch

El Huarique – Venice

Eclectic Venice Beach –  Tourists, hipsters, beautiful people, homeless, muscles, homeless hipster, Venice Beach got it all.  But finding good eats at places like this is like catching Miley Cyrus wearing pants.  So imagine my surprise when I found this hole in the wall that was some of the best simple Peruvian food I ever ate.  The Lomo Saltado, a Chinese like beef and veggie stir fry was on point.  The rotisserie chicken which the Peruvians do so well was seasoned to perfection and quite impressive overall.  Mrs Ziggy was especially taken by the Papa a la Huancaina, a boiled potato in a beautifully spiced cream sauce.  The ceviche did not disappoint.  This is a take-out place with maybe 6 or so seats as you can see, but oh boy what a hidden gem in Venice.El Huarique Lomo Saltado El Huarique Chicken El Huarique Ceviche

Itzik Hagadol – Encino

I saw a medium Igor, but “Big Itzik” or “Big Isaac” was nowhere to be found.  The food though spoke volumes.  Big sprawling family friendly place dishing out simple traditional Israeli  goodies.  One of those “I wish we would have this in NY” moment.  I can think of plenty of small falafel places, and larger haute Israeli, but nothing like this, where you can just come in announced with 15 of your closest friends.  Hummus with mushrooms was especially noteworthy among the starters.  Falafel tasted like proper falafel.  Good quality lamb chops, chicken kebabs (aided by a homemade s’chug.  Ask for it) and schnitzel.  They make their own Mititei, a Moldovan/Romanian kebab made of ground mixed meat.  This one was of the heftier, juicier kind.  Some Eastern European influence perhaps by medium Igor.

El Huarique – Venice
1301 Ocean Front Walk, Venice

Itzik Hagadol
17201 Ventura Blvd, Encino

Itzik Hagadol Hummus Itzik Hagadol Lamb chops Itzik Hagadol Salads

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The Murals of Mission (San Francisco)

We came for Mexican food, we stayed for the murals.  Balmy Alley, Clarion Alley, 24th st, the magnificent Women’s Building.  You can easily spend half a day here and not see everything. California-2015 404

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Montrio Bistro in Monterey – Don’t Fear the Reaper

Montrio SalmonChills, confusion, despair, butterflies, who shot Mr Burns, shaking, why is it so cold here.  Where the hell are we?  Where are the butterflies?

“Mom, what’s wrong with dad?  Why is he sitting in the corner, on the floor like that?”

“He just found out the restaurant he picked for tonight is #1 on Trip Advisor.  Just give him a moment and avoid eye contact.  It happened before.”

I know that voice.  Mommy?  More chills, hungry, it was Maggie, Maggie shot Mr Burns.  How many R’s in Monterey.  Where are the freakin butterflies.  She says they come in November, but I cant stay that long.  I need to visit Big Sur tomorrow.  What the hell is Big Sur anyway.  So hungry.

“Mom, he is drooling now”

“Don’t touch him!  That means he is getting better”

Ok, feeling better.  Off we go to the #1 as of this writing and dine with fellow tourists.  We are after all tourists as well, and do touristy things like ride cable cars, walk slow, and visit aquariums.  How bad can this be.  I considered a place called Passionfish, another long timer, near our Butterfly-less Grove, but opted to stick to the script.  This vacation is going just great.  Stick to the script.

Montrio PopocornIt’s just as I imagined.  Packed with visitors from all over the world.  I hear French, Italian, New Jersian… chills slowly creeping back.  But hey, we quickly get a table and.. crayons.  You would think that crayons will make the matter worse, but in this classy looking, mural filled joint its actually quite refreshing.  Imagine getting crayons at Aquavit.  I’m back to self, and in ordering mode.  The menu breathes Best of America.  California America!  There’s salmon, there’s chicken, there’s short rib.  Its a new revamped menu I’m told by a {gulp} British chef, and just about everything sounds orderable.  They even have a “Bites” section which suggests this check inflating trend is now nation wide.

We start with what else, popcorn.  They come cheesy, mixed with bacon bits.  The waitress goes “May I?”  “May I what, feed them to me?”  No, she picks up the cup and spills all the popcorn on the plate so we could easily pick them up with the chopsticks that come with it.  How fun.  Mac and Cheese was cheesy alright, and quite good.  But the polenta with mixed mushrooms, one of my favorite dishes on the planet fell a little short.  Leave that to the Italians.  Dungeness Crab cakes tastes like crab cakes should.  Wish there were more of that though.  Perhaps the fact that its not quite Dungeness Crab season here is to blame.  The “Crispy Calamari” comes shaped like chicken tenders, aided by a tangy Romesco (I heart Romesco) and house made hot sauce that came in a nose drop bottle.  And then came the Mussels.Montrio Calamari

The Mussels are paragraph worthy.  We are a mussels family, enjoying our east coast mainly PEI (thats Price Edward Island for the German tourists) mussels for years.  Yes, I know eating PEI mussels in NYC and in the source is like eating two different kinds of mussels.  But here on the west coast, chefs in the know, even British, are loving the mussels coming out of Penn Cove in Whidbey Island, Washington.  These mussels, cooked with a mild red curry broth, were some of the fullest, sweetest mussels I ever had.

The mains here did not disappoint either.  The last time I ordered salmon and chicken together was 25 years ago when my source of income was tips from pizza deliveries.  The chicken was fine for a #1.  The salmon (top) I get isnt meant to be eaten by itself.  A spoonful of salmon, creamy risotto, Nduja Sauce, and fried brussel sprouts leaves was, I’m using it, divine!  And I couldnt find much wrong with that short rib.  Damn its super tenderness, and juiciness!  A proper finish with a sticky toffee pudding and a waitress recommended bread pudding that is particularly popular here (great for NY standards, average in New Orleans)

Crisis overblown.  We enjoyed this one enormously.  Kudos to the chef, the waitress, and crayon makers.  This did not feel like a tourist trap, but a local established that cares about the product, and what their customer eats.

Montrio Bistro
414 Calle Principal, Monterey, CA

Montrio Mussels Montrio Crab Cakes Montrio Mac n Cheese Montrio Chicken Montrio Short Rib Montrio Bread Pudding Montrio sticky toffee

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