Friday, July 31, 2015


Several years ago, I went to Bluebird, a gastropub located run by the folks behind Webster's Wine Bar which was located next to Mindy's Hot Chocolate.  I remember that while I liked the space, it was narrow with brick walls on both sides with a few abstract paintings, a long bar on one side, and unfinished ceilings, and the beer list was very good, I was really unimpressed with the food and didn't see a point to making a return.  Last year, Webster's downsized and closed several of their venues including Bluebird.  The space was bought and reopened as Presidio, a California-focused gastrolounge featuring fresh seasonal cuisine and classic cocktails.  The description intrigued me and since it was no longer Bluebird, I decided to check it out.  The geometry of the space was not going to change, so it is still narrow and deep.  Many of the design elements remain the same as well, it still has a lot of raw brick walls and an unfinished ceiling, but shelves for the liquor were improved.  They are wood and display the bottles well.  At the time that I came, it was relatively early and the front window was open, letting in a lot of natural light.  I sat at the bar, and enjoyed a nice conversation with the bartender.  I started things off with a gin-based cocktail as is my wont.  It was called a Flash in the Pan, and with the gin, it also contained Grapefruit, Lime, Tart Cherry, Black Pepper, and Mint.  This was really surprising.  It was very tart from the lime and tart cherry juice and the grapefruit brought the bitter which brought out the flavor of the gin.  What was surprising was the spice of the pepper and how well it paired with the cherry and the lime.  The mint was presented as a garnish and it was a good finish to the drink.
For my first food course, I ordered the Polenta which was baked crispy on the outside with a very fluffy center.  It was served with a Wild Mushroom Ragout, Fresh Oregano, and Ricotta Salata, a type of ricotta cheese that has been pressed and aged and is frequently used in salads.  While the polenta was good, what made this dish was the mushrooms.  The oregano and the ricotta brought a freshness of flavor, but the mushrooms brought a bold earthy flavor and a chewy textural contrast to the polenta.
Looking at the main courses, I was a little unimpressed because all of the choices looked pretty mainstream.  The thing about that though is that mainstream can be some of the most difficult food to prepare and to stand out above the crowd, it has to be really good.  I ordered Twin Bone-In Berkshire Pork Chops with Peaches, Tarragon, Baby Kale, and Smoked Balsamic.  I am generally not a huge fan of peaches, I find them too sweet, but they paired well with the pork chops, bringing out their sweetness and were toned down by the tarragon.  The kale was crisp and prepared well, but felt like kind of an afterthought.  The smoked balsamic though, did help to bring things together.  Overall, they were some good pork chops and and it was constructed in a way that tied the accompaniments together.
For dessert, I went with the Chocolate Hazelnut Cake with Pretzel, Magic Shell, and Housemade Vanilla Ice Cream.  This dish just screamed comfort food and did it extremely well.  The cake was moist and chocolaty with a nice hazelnut flavor.  The ice cream was soft and creamy with an excellent vanilla flavor and the Magic Shell, which brings back many memories of childhood, topped it off.  The pretzels were crushed and acted as a garnish with hot fudge and caramel.  The pretzels added a salty element to a largely sweet dish and was a great finish to a good meal.

I really enjoyed my dinner here.  I liked the space in it's previous incarnation, but the food here was very good and the staff were very friendly and willing to answer questions.  It will definitely be on my list of places to go when I am in the area.  

Saturday, July 18, 2015

GT Fish & Oyster Collaboration Dinner

I had been to GT Fish and Oyster before and really liked it.  When I saw that they were going to be doing a collaboration dinner with a chef from El Ideas, I jumped at the chance to go because, while I have not been there, I have met the executive chef, and I like the idea of the restaurant, to turn fine dining on it's head.  It's irreverent and experimental and lets diners ask questions.  I was interested to see where a very good seafood restaurant and an experimental restaurant would meet.  The dinner was held in the Whale Room, a private dining room in the basement of the restaurant.  On the wall was a silhouette painting of a sperm whale and the quote, "The biggest fish is the one that is almost caught."  It had a large communal table with an anchor on it and marked place settings, letting individual diners know where they would be sitting.  With the place settings were our menu cards giving the diners an idea of what we would be having for dinner.  There were also a series of numbers listed after each course.  The numbers were a bit of a puzzle.  Also on the table were several large and thick cookbooks (all the same) that looked to be cooking textbooks.  I guessed that the numbers had something to do with the cookbooks and were something like the recipe number in the book.  I also noted that the menu was much less seafood heavy than I would have expected from a seafood restaurant (not a complaint, simply an observation).
The numbers were explained as the Amuse Bouche was served and the chefs came out to introduce themselves.  The numbers were based on the page on which the recipe each course was based on was to be found.  As I noted very quickly, while the base of each recipe could be seen, the finished courses were very creative and some varied widely from where they started.  The Amuse (which was not listed on the menu as is common with an amuse bouche) was based on Oysters Rockefeller although it was raw (as opposed to broiled) and was served in a dish instead of on the half-shell.  It was served with Spinach and Panko and very flavorful.  Admittedly, it might have been a little much for someone that doesn't care for raw oysters, but I like them and I liked this.
The first official course was essentially a vegetable tasting and it actually reminded me of something that you might see at Moto.  There were three parts to this course.  On the left was a Mushroom Sauce served with a Manchego Cheese Chip.  To the right was a Fried Carrot with a Maple Creme (that kind of reminded me of marshmallow creme).  The center recipe started as Broccoli Almondine.  It used broccoli florets and blanched almonds, but was finished with a White Broccoli Soup (not shown).  There were a variety of flavors and textures in small bites and it was a great stage setter for the rest of the meal.
In a normal multi-course progression, courses progress from Amuse Bouche to vegetable/appetizer to seafood, red meat, and dessert.  The meal progressed in a standard manner with us next presented with the seafood course.  The recipes used were Roast Squid and Romesco Sauce (a Spanish red sauce based on nuts and red peppers).  What we were served was a 17 Hour Slow Roasted Octopus served with Cous Cous, Potatoes, and a very good Romesco Sauce.  Much seafood is very easy to overcook and as such ends up at least a little rubbery.  This octopus had no rubberiness to spek of.  It was meaty and very tender and went very well with the cous cous, potatoes, and Romesco.  It really reminded me of Moroccan cuisine and I really enjoyed it.

Our first meat course was served communally and was called Pork Belly and Black Rice.  When Giuseppe Tentori was the Executive Chef of Boka, there was a dish on the menu that consisted of Pork Belly and Black Rice which I had and really liked and thought I might have had a little familiarity with the dish.  While the flavors were similar, the presentations were definitely not.  The Pork Belly was served as a cut, but it had been cooked for 36 hours and was incredibly tender and flavorful.  It was served with Greek Yogurt and another sauce with Asian spices.  The Black Rice was served in Arancini form (fried Risotto Balls) with a crunchy exterior and very tender interior.  Admittedly, they didn't look exceptionally appetizing, but they did taste good.
Our final savory course was based on Chicken Cordon Bleu which is a dish that I really like.  What we were served was Veal Cordon Bleu  veal rolled around a Dried Ham similar to Prosciutto, Panko, and Swiss Cheese.  It was served (also communally) with Spinach, Garlic Scape (the stem on which the blossoms grow), and a Blue Cheese Sauce (hence the Cordon Bleu and not Cordon Swiss).  While this was a twist on a favorite, they substituted in things that I really like, and they did them really well.  It hit all the right notes with flavor and tenderness and it felt very much like a much practiced dish (vice an experiment).
Our dessert was listed as Creme Brulee which was what one of the recipes was listed as.  There was also a Linzer Torte recipe listed so I wasn't sure exactly what to expect even if I was hoping for Creme Brulee.  What we were presented with had many elements of creme brulee, but added some other things and was very much a very flavorful win.  The dish consisted of Creme Anglaise, a Brulee Crisp, Strawberries, Coffee-Infused Tapioca Beads, and a Coffee Crisp.  The coffee went well with the Creme Anglaise and it was like eating a cup of sweetened coffee with strawberries.
The Linzer Torte came with their equivalent to the after dinner Petit Four or Mint.  We were given a package of whale shaped Linzer Torte cookies to take home with us.  They were crisp, sweet, and filled with Raspberry Jam and made for a great finish to a very good dinner.  GT Fish and Oyster does collaboration dinners occasionally and after this win, I will have to seriously consider returning.