Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Restaurant Week L.A.

I've been looking through the list of restaurants participating in Restaurant Week L.A. which runs January 25-30 and February 1-6 (Saturdays not included.) There is tiered pricing, unlike in San Francisco where there was only a difference in price between lunch and dinner, not dining establishments. Lunch is $16, $22 or $28 and dinner is $26, $34, or $44, depending on whether it is a deluxe, premier, or fine dining establishment.

I can enthusiastically recommend the food at a number of the restaurants on the list, such as Drago (one of the best high-end Italian restaurants at which I've eaten), Angeli (an excellent and reasonably priced restaurant about which I've written before), Roy's Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine in Woodland Hills (which surprised me and was a hit with both my husband and son as well--and which has a tasting menu throughout the year), Patina, Border Grill (owned by televsion's Two Hot Tamales, but I liked the food a lot anyway), Lowry's and Ruth's Chris Steak House (although I no longer eat red meat, I remember it well.)

I'm somewhat surprised by the appearance of the Daily Grill, which I don't really care for and Gladstones (at best o.k., but they do know how to wrap leftovers), identified as deluxe dining--in someone's dreams. Katsuya may well be a cheaper dining experience alla carte than the premier three course price. I was stunned by the selection at a $$$ tapas restaurant. $44 gets you three tapas dishes at The Bazaar by Jose Andres, considerably more than it cost the last time I went out for tapas.

The participating restaurant I would most like to try is Gordon Ramsay's London West Hollywood, which is one of the $44 selections, but I'm not sure about the menu choices. I'd have to go through the list and menues before I'd make any other choices. With our booked schedule, it is unlikely we'll actually get a chance to participate this year unless we make an early-evening reservation for the night we're going to see Minsky's next week.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Restaurant Week in San Francisco

My photographs all look much better on a Mac than a PC. It's about the difference in settings. Oh, well.

We got into San Francisco and to the hotel after 9 p.m. on Thursday evening. By the time we got our luggage in the room and went to find a place to eat, it was closing in on 10 p.m. However, in this economy, restaurants are willing to stay open a bit longer to make a little more money, and the concierge found us a place in walking distance which was willing to serve us a bit later than it's normal 10 p.m. closing time.

The restaurant was the Nob Hill Cafe, a California-Italian place which suited us just fine. We each had a pasta dish (mine was the linguine con vongole, but I can't remember what Len ate--we left the extras in the refrigerator at the Fairmont) and I also had a mixed greens salad. For the first time in my life I actually noticed the off-taste of mixing Parmesan cheese with shell-fish, but maybe it was the last of my cold messing with my taste-buds. I was really hungry, but I could not finish the dish.

I never left the hotel during the day because the group that had come to town for the meeting worked from 8:45 a.m. until 6 p.m. every day. Breakfast was at 7:30, lunch around 12:30, and snacks were brought in mid-morning and mid-afternoon. It was like being on a cruise in a barrel because we didn't have a window. Those of us with significant others were told tales of gorgeous weather and shopping trips to Pier 39 and Chinatown. But we had important work to do and we were quite faithful about performing.

Dinners, however, were elsewhere and in different social combinations. On Friday night, ten of us went to Chinatown, where we did a family meal that included dungeness crab in spicy salt and Peking Duck. Fantastic. Did I remember to take my camera out for pictures? I don't even remember the name of the place or the street it was on, except that it was not on Grant Avenue. It was on a street parallel to California, though. I could tell by the slope.

On Saturday night, Joe and Gay Haldeman and Len and I went off together for a quiet dinner together at a small place about seven blocks from the Fairmont, not counting ups and downs. The quiet was the important part, because it allowed us to really talk and laugh. I met Joe and Gay decades ago, but this was the first time we've ever had this much face time and it was really great.

Joe and I both ordered the halibut in papillote at the Hyde Street Seafood Grill.
Mine was quite good. Joe's was a bit undercooked, but that's the downside of cooking in paper where you can't really tell if stuff is entirely cooked through. My potatoes could have used a little more time, but the fish was just fine. I think Gay had shrimp cooked in garlic and Len had the potato-crusted salmon, which I also tasted and liked. Len and I shared key lime pie for dessert, but I bet Gay and Joe, who live in Florida for part of each year, would have found it lacking in real key lime.

On Sunday night, Joe and Gay went off with Karen Haber and Robert Silverberg for a traditional double date they always do when in the same place and Len and I went off with Russell Davis and his wife Sherry to Big 4 at the Huntington Hotel to have a "San Francisco Restaurant Week" prix fixe meal.

The Huntington Hotel was about a block away from our hotel on Nob Hill. The Big 4 referred to include Leland Stanford, Sr. and three other California magnates. Karen Haber said to me the next night "I hear you did the boy thing for dinner." It does look like a men's club, with dark paneling out of the Victorian era, but the food was excellent. The restaurant is considered to be among the top 20 in San Francisco (at least according to Gourmet Magazine) and we would have spent close to $100/person if not for the $34.95 three course special.

Len had the butternut squash soup for a start.
I had a salad with apples, candied walnuts, blue cheese and a champagne vinegarette.
For the main course, Len had a chicken dish and I had the crusted sole with grilled corn and spinach. It was very good and I cleaned my plate.
Dessert was a flourless chocolate cake with a bit of vanilla ice cream and raspbery sauce. Yum.
We waddled back to the hotel to get a good night's sleep. Restaurant Week is later this month in Los Angeles and I'd love to try out a few pricy places at the reduced rate. Particularly Gordon Ramsay's London.

During the four days in meetings, Russell had arranged for one lunch menu to be repeated. It was my favorite, with crab bisque, lobster salad sandwiches, greens wrapped in cucumber for a salad, and some nice marinated mushrooms.
Dessert was chocolate. On our last day, the afternoon snack was a Ghiredelli chocolate spread, with mouse filled chocolate cups, dark chocolate tarts, macademia cookies and a chocolate torte. We were all in a sugar and caffine-generated high.

On Monday night, we had a group dinner for 16 people in the Laurel Court Restaurant. The restaurant is normally not open on Mondays, but Russell convinced them to let us have a private dinner there. The Fairmont Hotel has an excellent kitchen. I had the ahi tuna salad and the duck breast and finished with the lime panna cotta. Robert Silverberg chose the wines and I had a California white and a shirraz from Australia. I didn't taste the French red. Nor did I bring the camera to dinner, which is a real shame. The presentation was really nice, with unusually shaped plates, much like on Iron Chef America.

It was a great trip, even if I never got down to the Pier to eat cheap shrimp cocktail or watch Len ride a Segway.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

San Francisco, Here I Come

Len and I are driving to San Francisco on Thursday morning. I get to go to all-day meetings and he gets to enjoy the Fairmont Hotel, the City, and whatever else he feels like doing between 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. for four days. He's got the better deal this time out.

I wanted to have dinner at COCO500, where Jennifer Biesty, one of last year's competitors on Top Chef, worked, but she is no longer there and I can't find out where she is. It is a great eating city, and I'm sure we'll have at least one memorable meal.

I lived in Palo Alto on the Stanford University campus during the first year of my first marriage. It was about an hour trip into San Francisco from there. We managed to get into the City on a couple of occasions (not nearly often enough during that year), including a trip to watch the Chinese New Year's parade in Chinatown. It bore no resemblance at all to the parade in Flower Drum Song. It was rather disappointing. We did, however, eat at this strange restaurant called Sam Wo's, where they made fantastic noodle concoctions, including what I think were thick rice noodles that were stuffed and rolled like a jelly roll (but not slimy like the steamed dim sum stuffed with shrimp you can get in so many places.)

At Sam Wo's, you entered the narrow building through the kitchen and walked up the stairs to the second or third floors, which were the actual dining rooms. The object was to get seated on the second floor, where the waiter named Edsel Ford Fong ruled over the very few tables croweded with diners. He was a great floor show, and made a lasting impression on a lot of people. You can even look him up in Wikipedia. Herb Caen called him the world's rudest waiter. Robin Williams confessed in an article in TV Guide that he wanted to learn Chinese so he could go to Sam Wo's and confound Edsel Ford Fong, who "considered every occidental a challenge" in the words of one review from those days. One of these days, I will ask Harlan Ellison to ask Robin if he ever actually did this. It would have been a beautiful thing to behold.

On the night we were there with a group, the pretty young blond (not me--I was a brunette in those days) was shanghaied into setting the table and taking the order by Eddie. He would brandish a fist full of spoons in front of every occidental's face demanding "insurance?" I was always glad that I had mastered the use of chopsticks early in life.

Oh, yes. Dinner for 5 of us was $11 that night.

I hear the restaurant is still there, but Eddie is gone. I'm not sure the food has the draw of the entertainment.