Sunday, August 20, 2017

Sugar Shack/Capt. Gregory's - Alexandria, Va.


After a day of running around and then getting dinner at a pretty good tapas place (La Tasca in Alexandria), my friend mentioned that we had one more stop to make.  When asked where we might be going, he simply replied, "Doughnuts."  I like doughnuts, but generally, for me, it seems to be a morning thing.  It was a bit surprising, but I decided to go along with it thinking that these must be really good doughnuts.  We left and yes, we went to a donut shop, the Sugar Shack.  We walked in though, and stopped at the entrance.  There was a chalkboard wall in front of us and a wooden wall with a small red and blue flag hanging to one side.  I will come back to this in a minute, but first I want to talk about the doughnuts.  The place is small and looks like a pretty good donut/coffee shop.  Their donuts are mostly of the Yeast type (like Krispy Kreme) topped with a variety of glazes, but they also have a Fritter and some Old Fashioneds.  They all looked very good and creative, but while we were standing in a donut shop, we did not actually come for donuts.  We did stop for donuts a couple of days later and they were very good.  I would compare them to Stan's Donuts, but back to the wall.
 
As I said we were standing inside the entrance in front of a chalkboard wall and next to a wooden wall.  I said that there was a small red and blue flag hanging to the right side.  I will note that the flag is not pictured because I took the picture when we returned for donuts.  My friend grabbed the flag and pulled which rang a bell.  The wall, it seems, was a sliding door which someone from the inside opened shortly after her rang the bell.  My friend gave him his name and said we had a reservation and we walked through the door.
Inside was a small Speakeasy called Captain Gregory's.  It was a small space and very rustic space that probably seated 20 people.  The walls were all wood, the bar looked handmade and a lot of the lighting was from candles and small white Christmas lights hanging from the ceiling.  There were a lot of nautical artifacts including a dory hanging upside down from the ceiling and a long and humorous story on one wall near the entrance telling how Captain Gregory had invented the doughnut (He was at the wheel during a storm, his doughy dinner was brought to him, but he couldn't immediately eat it, so he speared it on one of the hand holds on the wheel.  His bread now had a hole in it and thus was the doughnut born.) They serve some creative small plates and cocktails in which they make everything from scratch, though since we had already eaten, we were just there for the very inventive drinks.
We both started with Gin-based cocktails.  I had Master of None which included Citradelle Gin, Housemade Five Flower Tonic, Lemon, Cucumber, and Kuhler Absinthe served in a Collins Glass.  My friend had Abandoned Apartment in Paris which also started with Citradelle Gin, and added Housemade Rose Liqueur, Lemon and Egg White and was served in a small goblet.  Both drinks had floral and botanical flavors, but mine, with the cucumber, had a vegetal flavor and a slight licorice finish (from the absinthe).  I will note, at this point, that the bar also had an absinthe fountain from which absinthe was served from at the turn of the 20th century.  The other cocktail, while also floral and botanical, had a bit of a tart finish and a fluffy feel from the egg white.  They were both very good and we enjoyed both.
For our next drinks, I decided to continue exploring the menu, while my friend decided to go for a classic.  Unfortunately, the classic that he ordered was not the classic that he was actually looking for.  I ordered what was called 1000 Swords and my friend ordered a Manhattan.  1000 Swords was made with Holy Basil Infused White Rum, Smoked Pineapple, Garam Masala Tincture, Fennel, Cardamom, and Chili.  Reading the ingredient list, I thought that I was going to get a Tiki drink and with the rum and pineapple hitting first, that's what it tasted like at first, albeit a very interestingly spiced Tiki drink with the Smoke, Basil, Garam Masala, Fennel, and Cardamom.  Then the Chili Pepper hit.  It was very spicy with a pretty intense burn, so I had to take a break after every drink.  It was drink, break, drink, break, drink, break, but I did really enjoy it, despite having to slowly sip it.  My friends Manhattan was the standard Whiskey, Sweet Vermouth, and Bitters, and it was very smooth and well made, however when you're aiming for an Old Fashioned (Whiskey, Angostura Bitters muddled with Sugar, and Water, garnished with a citrus peel), it would be a bit more bitter and boozy than you were aiming for.
At this point, we were done drinking so our bill was brought to us.  This also played with the nautical theme, being a message in a bottle.  The entire experience was a lot of fun.  It has been said that speakeasies are becoming passe', but if they are done as well as Captain Gregory's, I would highly recommend the experience.   

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Vacation 2017 - Washington DC area Breweries

When I travel, now that the number of local breweries have grown, I try to visit local breweries as well as local restaurants.  I recently traveled to Washington DC and Greenville, SC and decided to try out the local breweries in each area.  Obviously, breweries weren't the only place that I visited, but it's a way to look at the culture of an area.  Because the Washington DC area encompasses two states and the District, I wanted to see something in each area, there was discussion about running out to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware to get to Dogfish Head Brewery, but despite the fact that it isn't far as the crow flies, there really is no easy way to get there, so that was waved off.  We started things off in Washington DC at Right Proper Brewery.  Right Proper actually has two locations.  Their brewpub is located in the Shaw neighborhood,  near Howard University, and their production brewery is located in Brookland.  We went to the brewpub which is smaller, doesn't take reservations, and has a very comfortable feel to it.  The building was brick with hardwood floors, unfinished ceilings, and hanging lights.  There were also several very cool and slightly weird murals throughout the dining room.  We sat near something that looked like a blue radish with arms and their was another one on another wall of the Washington DC area with a raccoon zapping a panda bear near the zoo.  The food menu has a Southern vibe to it.  We arrived around noon, so we decided to go for brunch.  We started with a very good Smoked Salmon Mousse with Everything Bagel Chips and Housemade Bread & Butter Pickles.  Unfortunately, it was so good that it was mostly eaten before I remembered to take a picture.  It was a spin on Lox and Bagels done in the form of crackers and dip.  The bagel chips were crisp with a lot of flavor and were good even without spreading the very good smoked salmon mousse on them.  My only compaint is that we could have used more bagel chips.  For my main course, I went with what is becoming a brunch standard, Chicken and Waffles.  This version was done with Fresh Blueberries and Blueberry Syrup and Butter.  While it was good, I especially liked the slight tartness of the blueberry syrup, the ratio of chicken to waffle could have been a little better.  The chicken that was there was nicely breaded and was tender, juicy, and flavorful, but it would have been nice to have more.  Looking at the beer list, it appears that while they might not be exclusively a sour beer brewery, they do like sour beers.  I like sour beers as well, so I thought I would see what they did.  They don't do flights, so I got a couple of beers in their smallest size, so I could try more than one.  The beers that I got were Tropic of Capricorn, an American Brett Pale Ale and Kick, Kick, Snare Dry Hopped Berlinerweisse.  While both beers had a sour flavor to them, neither was exceptionally sour.  I did like both of them although I think that I liked the Tropic of Capricorn more which is surprising, because I generally like the berlinerweisse style more.


After enjoying Right Proper Brewery, we continued on to Silver Spring, Maryland to visit Denizens Brewing Co.  Located on a hill, it had a two level brewing area, both of which had beer gardens outside.  They also served food, but as we had just eaten at Right Proper, food was unnecessary for us.  The place had an industrial vibe, especially the basement with one wall looking like it was made from ductwork aluminum.  The upper interior taproom seemed smaller, so we ventured downstairs where we had to walk through barrel storage and by an entrance to the brewing area to get to the downstairs taproom.  It was raining a little when we arrived, so we really had no desire to sit outside in either of the beer gardens (which did look like they would be nice if it hadn't been raining).  The long bar in the basement was open behind it, so you could easily see the brewing area.  Other than the bar, there were a variety of tables to sit at.  They were black topped metal tables with metal chairs which looked more comfortable than the bar stools, so that's where we sat.  There was art hanging throughout the taprooms, but the series that caught my eye was the hipster Presidents (and Hillary Clinton).  There was John Kennedy, Barack Obama, George Washington, Hillary Clinton, Abe Lincoln, and Ronald Reagan.  They all cracked me up, but I think I liked Washington in a track suit best.  Denizens offered three set flights of four beers, although there was some overlap between the three.  Their flights were labeled Malty, Hoppy, and Seasonal.  While all had things that caught my eye, both the Malty and Seasonal flights had a Porter on the list and I wasn't terribly interested in a porter at that time, so I went with their Hoppy Flight.  In their Hoppy Flight was Lowest Lord ESB, The Mack IPL, Trainspotting Pale Ale, and Southside Rye IPA.  On the other flights were a couple of Tripels, a Red Ale, and the aforementioned Porter.  All of the beers that I had were hoppy and they were all pretty good, but they were all pretty similar.  There were differences and I did have a favorite, the Lowest Lord ESB, but my friend who is a home brewer suggsted that it looked as iff all beers were made using the same ingredients.

After Silver Spring, we traveled back to Lorton, Virginia to a brewery that, given the name, I would have put on the coast and not in a business park.  Fair Winds Brewing Company is located in a business park and doesn't seem to have any connection to the water, but all of their beers follow a sailing theme.  As opposed to Denizens, the Fair Winds is located in a large single floor space with high ceilings that looks like it was a warehouse at one point.  Part of the curved bar is located near the entrance, but it curves back into the room.  Other than the bar, there are several large communal tables, one of which we sat at.  They do not serve food, but it is BYOF and there was a food truck in the parking lot when we were there.  The beers seem to have quite a variety in color and flavor both and flights consist of 4 - 5 oz pours of the drinkers choice.  I went with Quayside Kolsch, Siren's Lure Saison, Sessions in the Abyss Session IPA, and Dank and Stormy Imperial IPA.  Of these, I liked the kolsch and the IIPA best.  The kolsch being light and crisp and a good summertime beer and the dank and stormy being big and very flavorful with a very definite dankness to it.


While I mentioned we decided not to go to Delaware, that does not precisely mean that we did not go to Dogfish Head.  A few days after we did our brewery tour, we stopped at the Dogfish Head Ale House in Fairfax, Va.  While they might not specifically brew here, it is owned by Dogfish Head and does feature their beers and did have food.  We stopped for lunch on the way to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum near Dulles Airport.  Located in a stand alone restaurant in front of a strip mall, it kind of reminded me of a Chili's (as far as location and heavy use of wood in the design).  The food served was a bit more upscale than that served at Chili's.  We had some very good starter's starting with Smoked Cucumber Cups which were hollowed Cucumber Cups filled with Goat Cheese and topped with Smoked Salmon and Dill.  We also had Pop Pop Shrimp which were Popcorn Shrimp served with a Spicy Sauce over an Arugula Salad.  Both of these were very fresh and flavorful, but I was a bit overwhelmed when my burger arrived.  Called the Alehouse BBQ Burger, it was enormous and I was unsure at first how I was going to eat it.  It consisted of two 4 oz Wood Grilled Hamburger Patties basted with BBQ Sauce, topped with Cheddar Cheese, Applewood Smoked Bacon, and Onion Rings and a Wood Grilled Bun brushed with BBQ Ranch Sauce.  I did eat the onion rings separately which did make it somewhat smaller but I saw that I was going to be committed to eating it once I picked it up because there would be no easy way to put it down without it exploding.  It was a very good burger even if it was enormous and hard to eat.  As far as the beer was concerned, they had a set flight.  Many of the beers I was interested in, but I might have chosen differently on others.  It started with the Namaste Witbier, went to Dogfish Head standards, 60 Minute and 90 Minute IPA, the Indian Brown Ale, which is a combination of a Scotch Ale, a Brown Ale, and an IPA, Raison D'etre, their Belgian Ale made with Beet Sugar and Golden Raisins, and Romantic Chemistry IPA, their seasonal.  Of their beers, I have liked all that I have tried.  I knew that I liked their 90 Minute IPA more than the 60, and Raison D'Etre was a favorite.  I had Namaste before and thought that while it is good, it isn't really that distinctive.  The Indian Brown Ale, I had not had before and I was really surprised at how good it was.  It had elements of all three beers that it was a hybrid off, but it was all its own as well.  I was very interested in Romantic Chemistry, but it took a few drinks to impress me.  It was the last one that I had so it may have taken a few drinks to clear my palate.  It was an IPA made with Mango, Apricots, and Ginger.  The apricots were obvious in the nose, but it took a few tastes to get the mango and the ginger finish.  After several drinks, I was able to decide that it was a good beer.

The breweries that I tried in DC all had something to say for them, and it was a lot of fun exploring, though there were definitely a few that I would return to more readily than others.         
 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Band of Bohemia - Brunch

While Green River was an unplanned brunch, however good it was, I returned to my regularly scheduled brunches soon after with a trip to Band of Bohemia, the first brewpub ever to have been awarded a Michelin Star.  Run by Alinea vets and located in a former warehouse in Ravenswood, from the outside that is exactly what it looks like.  The inside is something different.  It uses a bunch of vintage furniture, book cases, upholstered chairs, dressers, heavy curtains, and long wooden tables in a room that retains it's industrial feel with white brick walls and an open unfinished ceiling.  There is also an area off to the side that's like a salon where I had been seated before that had couches, arm chairs, side tables, and coffee tables.  The bar is long and dark colored wood and looks into the modern kitchen on one side, the other side looking at the taps.  We were seated at one of the long tables in the center of the dining room.  As this is a brewery, I figured that it would be a shme not to try the beer, so I ordered a flight.  The beers served are mostly ales, but they do not precisely fit into common styles using many different fruits and botanicals.  The beers were all served in crystal goblets that let them breathe.  We started with Peony Starflower Ale, an ale made with White Tea and Starflower.  It was very clear and almost looked like apple juice, but it was definitely beer and had a light botanical flavor to it.  Next was Guava Pink Peppercorn Rye Ale and with that came all of the flavors of fruit and spice that you might expect.  Constellation's Kiss, the center beer, was brewed for Next Restaurant and included Jasmine Rice, Lemongrass, Thai basil, and did nothing for me.  Beer number four is a regular on their menu, The Noble Raven Ale.  It is a light and crisp German style Ale, which while not really surprising, is very solid in its execution.  The final beer was (Sitting on) the Dark of the Bay.  A dark colored beer made a play on words of it's name.  When I think black beer, I think heavy.  This was very definitely not that.  It was a Black Wheat Ale that used Bay Rum, Bay Citrus, and Bay Laurel.  It was very flavorful but surprising in that it was not heavy and did not have the bitter flavor of a stout or a porter.  This was probably my favorite beer.
For the sweet side of my brunch we started out with Donuts, specifically started out with Brioche Donuts with Cinnamon-Cardamom-Vanilla-Maple Sugar served both as donuts and the holes.  The donuts were of the yeast type so were pretty light and I would imagine that if it were not for the sugar, they would have a salty, buttery, and savory flavor being as it's made from an egg washed dough.  The mixed sugar though, gave it a pretty complete covering and a sweet, spicy, nutty flavor.  I also got a cup of their house Dark Matter coffee, which was a dark roast and had a good rich flavor to it.
When everyone was brought their main course, I was brought a pancake, which was not what I ordered.  The waiter very quickly noticed that it was not what I ordered and said that my order would be out quickly and that we could keep it.  It did look pretty good, so it couldn't go to waste, and we had a bonus sweet plate.  The Pancake was an Oat and Buttermilk Pancake with Oats, Rye, Hemp Hearts, and Buttermilk with Cherry Bourbon Maple Syrup and Whipped Creme Fraiche.  It was a little more dense than your standard pancake with a strong flavor of grains and some tartness from the buttermilk.  The cherries on top were sweetened tart cherries which went well with the buttermilk and the creme fraiche.  The bourbon cherry syrup was sweet, and woody and went well with the cherries and tempered some of the tartness of the pancake and creme fraiche.
My main course, the one that I actually ordered was Fried Chicken and French Toast.  It was had a lot of tropical flavors and was very good.  It started with Caribbean Fried Chicken (boned) served with Papaya - Jalapeno French Toast, Bananas, Orange, Mint, and Mango-Passionfruit Syrup.  I like Chicken and Waffles, but this was taking things up a level with peppers and flavors of tropical fruit adding both sweet and tartness. 
After sharing the pancake and  eating this, as well as a donut, I was pretty full, but in a good way.  The food and beer were very good, as was the service and I did like the design of the place down to the box that looked like a leather-bound book that held the bill.  In it's early days, they used actual books as bill holders, but decided that that was difficult to hold the money, so they went with the box.  In any case, it looks cool and I will definitely return.         

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Green River- Brunch

While there are many restaurants that offer brunch, even many that offer a very good brunch, the number gets smaller when I have to consider party size.  There are a few places that I like, but would not set a brunch up there because I don't think that they could easily handle the large parties that I frequently have for my large brunches.  Green River has been on my to do list since shortly after it opened, but I had the idea that it was a smaller place so I thought that while I could come for dinner, they would be hard pressed to handle a larger party.  A couple of friends wanted to meet for brunch, though, and wanted to do a rooftop, so I decided that it would be a good time to check it out.  Located on the 18th Floor of Northwestern Hospital in Streeterville, there is a sign for direction on the main floor.  The elevator opens to a hall with the main restaurant and the host station to the left.  Located near, and named for, the river that gets dyed green for St. Patrick's Day, the restaurant is known both for it's fantastic terrace and it's nod to the cities Irish heritage which can be noted in their fantastic cocktails.  While the interior did look very nice with a lot of marble used on the floor and bar as well as with dividers between the booths.  Heavy light colored wood is used for the chairs and the booths and couch are upholstered with leather.  The main room did look very nice, but we were interested in the terrace which used modern and well made patio furniture.  The tables were dark wood and the chairs were stainless steel with a woven seat and back.  While we sat close to the building, there was nowhere that didn't provide a great view (and there were areas where there weren't tables that seemed to be made for balcony pictures).  Green River quickly became a Michelin Star restaurant, but they are also very well known for their cocktails.  That being said, trying at least one cocktail was a must.  The cocktails are divided on the menu by the grain, seed, or fruit used in the base spirit.  For my first cocktail, I started with Juniper.  There were two spirits on the menu based on Juniper, Gin and Genever.  I started with Gin and a drink called Haley's Comet.  It started with Sipsmith Gin, and used Aveze Gentiane, a French bitter using the Gentian root, Passion Fruit, Lemon, Kaffir Lime Leaf, and topped with Cava.  This was a tart, sparkling drink served in a cava glass.  It was very refreshing and a nice sipping drink.
When I go out for brunch, I do like to hit both sweet and savory.  They had a Cinnamon Roll on the menu that I happened to see before I ordered and saw that it also was a must.  It was big and sticky looking and served on a board.  It was topped with a Cream Cheese Frosting that did make it very sticky.  There was a lot of cinnamon and it had a crusty outside and a very soft inside.  While I would normally eat a cinnamon roll by hand, it was so sticky that I would have ended up wearing as much as I ate.  It was very good and I really enjoyed it despite having to eat it with knife and fork.
For the savory side, I went with  Fried Chicken and Cheddar Biscuits with Sausage Gravy and an Arugula Salad.  This reminded me of three brunch favorites, a breakfast sandwich, Chicken and Waffles, and Biscuits and Gravy.  While it couldn't be eaten by hand as a sandwich could most of the time, it presented the best parts of all of these dishes.  The biscuits were flavorful and tender, the arugula provided some peppery green, the sausage gravy, was rich, with a lot of sausage and pepper and went well with everything, and the chicken had a crispy breading and was juicy and tender.  Minus the gravy, it might have been eaten with difficulty by hand, and that probably would have been the easiest way to achieve the correct ratio of everything in a single bite.  It could be done with knife and fork, but it was a little more difficult, but it was good and everything went together well.
To finish things off, I had another cocktail, this one from the Grape and Apple section.  Called a Tommy Gun, it had Kappa Chilean Pisco, Pineapple, Lime, Garam Masala, and Aromatic Bitters.  This drink was very complex and very good.  It had the flavors of a Pisco Sour, and a Tiki drink, with flavors of Curry.  As odd as it might sound, it was very good, and a very good finish to our brunch.

Looking around the space, I wondered about the possibility of doing a larger scale brunch here and talking to the manger, I found that it could be done although probably not on the terrace.  I was shown around and got to see their event space/alternate cocktail lounge, The Annex.  When it is operating as The Annex, it has it's own food and cocktail menu, but it can be used for larger parties and brunch and it also has a fantastic view even if it is enclosed.  I really enjoyed my time here, so I will have to include it on my list of upcoming restaurants to visit.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Daisies

When a restaurant first opens, there are generally a few hiccups, so I like to let give them a few weeks for everyone to learn their jobs and the restaurant to find it's feet.  Recently though, I went to a restaurant, Daisies, on it's opening night.  While the members had not worked together before, they all had previous restaurant experience.  The chef, in fact, had been the chef for several years at Balena.  Balena is a pretty highly rated restaurant, so the chef obviously knows what he is doing.  Daisies is located in the former Analogue space, so the layout was the same, narrow front dining room, long bar off to one side, kitchen in the middle, smaller dining room/event space in back, and a small patio behind the restaurant.  It also has a turntable on the side of the bar in the front of the restaurant.  While the layout is the same, it was painted a later color and had some vegetable paintings done by the chef's wife hanging on the walls.  The bar had a short list of local beers, wines, and cocktails.  At the time that I went, the cocktails did not yet have names.  I went with their gin cocktail, which at the time was known as the #4, but has since been named the Negroni B-Side.  It was similar to a Negroni, but it was lighter, both in color and in flavor and bitterness.  A regular Negroni uses Gin, Vermouth, and Campari in equal measure.  The B-Side uses Gin (of course), Carpano Bianco, a younger and sweeter vermouth than the Carpano Antico that is typically used, and Amaro Montenegro, a lighter flavored bitter than Campari.  While I do like bitter drinks, Negronis are generally a little much for me, this was bitter but it was lighter and I really liked it.
The food side of the menu focuses on vegetables and pasta.  There is some meat and fish thrown in for the carnivores, but it would be very easy for a vegetarian to come and enjoy a dinner here.  I started things off with some Fried Mushrooms which were served with Brunkow Cheese Curds and a Tarragon Buttermilk Vinaigrette.  I will admit that fried food is generally not going to look exceptionally pretty, but it's fried, so it tasted really good.  The mushrooms and curds both had a crunchy batter crust, but the crunch was simply on the outside.  The inside had a nice chew and tasted great.  The tarragon buttermilk vinaigrette, had a green cast and added a spicy and sour finish.
For my main course, I went with something that I had some familiarity with, the Beet Agnolotti.  The chef made it at Balena and brought it with him when he opened his new place.  At Balena, it was served with Creme Fraiche and Smoked Salmon.  At Daisies, the Creme Fraiche was there, but the salmon was switched out for Trout Roe.  It still had a salty and fishy flavor, but it was more subtle.  The bright red agnolotti, was an eyeful, but the texture and flavor were also fantastic.  It was toothsome and while it was pasta, it did have a good amount of bittersweet beet flavor.
I finished with Nancy's Kahlua Cake with Mint and Strawberries.  It looked like a Basque Cake, something that is done to wide acclaim at Balena's sister restaurant, The Bristol,that I am a huge fan of, but it did not have the crust of a Basque cake.  It was softer than a Basque Cake, and had the  bittersweet coffee flavor of Kahlua.  The strawberries added some fruity tartness and the mint added the cool fragrant flavor of mint.  It all went together well and made for a very nice finish to a nice dinner.

I really enjoyed my dinner here.  The food was very good, the staff was friendly, and while the service was not absolutely perfect, it was very good for the first day open and I will give them a pass on it.  I did miss Analogue when it closed, but with Daisies, we did get a good replacement.

    

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Bar Takito

Having grown up around Mexican culture, I am kind of picky about Mexican food.  Generally, I am more picky about low end Mexican food (because that is what I am most familiar with).  But I also can be pretty picky when a restaurant is trying to bring something low end upscale.  I do really appreciate, though, those restaurants that can do this.  There are a few restaurants that are trying to do this with Tacos.  Big Star and Antique Taco do this well.  I had heard of another that people raved about, Bar Takito, which started in Wicker Park, but which has since moved to the West Loop.  I have been interested in visiting it since it's days in Wicker Park, but I had not made it there.  Recently though, an opportunity presented itself and I decided to try it out.  Located in a hot area, it was pretty busy on the Friday night that I went.  The entrance is on the side of the building through the large patio.  There was road construction occurring when I went so it might have been that the front entrance just would have been difficult to use.  The building largely uses wood in structure and design and looks, with the timber slabs used on the walls and floor, like a frontier saloon.  The tables on the patio are typical patio furniture.  The tables used in the dining room are long, white, and rectangular, and look both modern and kind of cheap with white formica tops and steel legs.  The seats are, depending on the table, either white plastic chairs, or fire engine red.  The chairs along the long bar are steel and also painted fire engine red.  It was Friday and pretty busy, so I sat at the bar.  Not that I wouldn't have sat at the bar in any case, but in this case, it was just easier.  The menu specializes in Tacos, but there are also shared plates, ceviches, and vegetables.  I knew that I wanted to get tacos, but I needed to decide what kind of tacos I wanted and if I wanted anything else, so I started with a cocktail.  Being a Mexican inspired bar, there were a lot of Margaritas with some other Tequila/Mezcal drinks, and a small selection of non-Tequila based drinks.  I have never been a fan of Margaritas, so I decided to go with a non-Tequila Drink.  Called Violet! You're Turning Violet, It was a very bright red-violet drink containing Rebel Yell Rye, Blueberry Grenadine, Lemon, Lavender Spice Bitters, and Bee Pollen.  It was pretty good and tasted very much of blueberries, very tart and sweet.
While I was enjoying my cocktail, I decided on my appetizer and tacos, both of which arrived at once.  For my appetizer, I decided on Papas Fritas, which is what potatoes are called in Spanish.  While there were other things besides the potatoes in the description, I though that I was getting fancy French Fries.  This was not the case.  They were closer to stuffed potatoes.  The dish was Crispy Peruvian Purple Potatoes, Spicy Cheese Sauce, Pork Belly, Parsley, and Garlic Mojo.  It was crispy, spicy, salty, cheesy, and very good.  While the presentation was a surprise, I really enjoyed it.  For my Tacos, I went with Octopus Tacos with Popcorn Tortillas, Polenta, Dried Chorizo, and Arugula.  I am not a fan of popcorn, so I was a little concerned about the tortillas.  Other taco tortillas used Pepitas, which I like, but I was interested in the Octopus, so I decided to take a chance.  While the popcorn could be tasted, my problem with popcorn is the texture and as it was ground, it was not an issue.  Between the polenta and the tortilla, the taco tasted strongly of corn.  It was good, but it was a little unusual.  The octopus used a single tentacle for each taco (I was served three) which was cooked perfectly.  It was savory and tender with very little rubberiness.  The arugula added a peppery flavor which went well with everything.

While I liked the food here, it has a vibe of a place to be seen at which is really not something that I am interested in.  I would be happy to try more of there tacos, but I don't know that I would return on a Friday night.    

Sunday, June 25, 2017

San Diego, Day 2 - Brunch and Beer

For our second and final day in San Diego, we made sure to celebrate a successful conclusion to our lightning trip, we decided to find a good brunch place.  We hadn't really looked before driving, but we knew that we wanted to be close to the airport, so that was where we concentrated our efforts.  In our wandering, we came across Liberty Station, a park, commerce, and art center located on the former NTC San Diego which closed in 1997.  It is a beautiful area with a large park and many of the former military buildings being repurposed.  Looking for a place to eat we found that we had several potential candidates located around the twisting roads of the former Navy base.  The first place we came across was a place called Soda & Swine, a restaurant that specialized in Meatball Sandwiches and eclectic sodas in a vintage space.  It looked really interesting but it wasn't quite open when we found it, and as we were leaving in the early afternoon, we really didn't have time to wait, so we continued our search.  We next came across Breakfast Republic, a breakfast place with creative dishes, a good beer list, and quite a bit of buzz.  This sounded really good so we decided to stop and try it out.  It seems though, that it was also very popular, because there would be a half an hour wait for a table.  We didn't really have time to wait, so this was out.  We noticed though, while walking from the car another place that was close called Fireside by the Patio.  We had no idea what to expect, but we also didn't have a tremendous amount of time, so we decided to dive in.  We first walked to what was apparently the rear patio, which was walled off, so we ended up walking halfway around the patio to find the entrance.  From what we could see from the outside, it looked pretty nice, something that was proven when we found the entrance.  The place had two large patios, one on either side of the building. Each was semi-covered with canvas tops, but there were no real walls, so it felt very open.  Fences, hedges, and stacked wood designated the boundaries and showed the entrance, so there was a very specific entrance. There were also several gas torches to provide heat (It was in the 60s, so while it wasn't cold, a little heat was appreciated).  The brick building between the patios, which held a very nice bar, a few tables, and the kitchen, was open on both sides and had a high ceiling, so it felt very open as well.  We were seated on the rear patio, where we approached the restaurant in the first place.  We wanted to sit near one of the torches, so we were seated next to the children's play area which looked so cool, I almost wanted to play there myself.  It had a wooden boat, a large wooden connect four game, a bags (cornhole) game, and what looked like a lot of wooden blocks.  There weren't many kids at the restaurant, so it wasn't an issue, but it did look like it would be a lot of fun.
 (Photo credit to Julia Farmer)
I started things off with a cocktail, that while not very standard, sounded very fresh and good.  As might be expected of me for those that know me, I did order a Gin cocktail.  Called a Liberty Libation, it contained Ford's Gin, Grand Poppy California Amaro, Basil, Cucumber, Lime, and Crushed Black Pepper.  It was very botanical and actually kind of floral as one might expect of an amaro made from poppies.  Cucumber, Basil and Lime are all common mixers with Gin.  I would expect the cucumber and basil to work together, and the black pepper should have and did work well with the cucumber.  What I did not expect was the lime to work well with the cucumber.  The drink was kind of a cross between a gin and tonic and another classic gin drink and they worked well together.  My dining partner had a flight of Bloody Marys which were also very good.  One focused on Cucumber, one on Smoke, and the last was a classic with Celery.  
(Photo Credit to Julia Farmer)
The food at Fireside by the Patio focuses on Grilled and Wood Fired cuisine, even with brunch.  Being in Southern California, there is also a lot of fresh vegetables on the menu.  For my main course, I went with a Pork Shoulder Skillet with White Beans, Roasted Tomatillos, Jalapeno, Onions, Two Eggs Over-Medium, and Corn Tortillas.  This was very good with a lot of very tender pork that was pulled.  The vegetables were cooked long enough to tenderize them somewhat, but not long enough for them to lose their crispness.  The eggs, I requested over-medium, because while I do like some yolk, I also like my white a little harder.  The Corn Tortillas were very warm and fresh.  My only complaint with the entire dish being that there should have been more of tortillas.  We also had an excellent Brisket Benedict with Roasted Corn, Poached Egg, and Foccaccia, and served with Breakfast Potatoes and a Biscuit with Whipped Butter and Jam on the side.
In addition to my excellent skillet, I saw something on the sides list that I had to have.  It was a Peruvian Potato Salad with Charred Green Beans.  Peru has over 3000 types of potato, but what is referred to as Peruvian Potatoes when they show up on a menu are purple potatoes, which is what these were.  They were cooked, like the vegetables, long enough to achieve some tenderness, but not long enough to let them lose their fresh crispness.  The beans, however, were very crisp, with a good char flavor.  I have to think that they were grilled very quickly on a very hot grill just long enough to get some solid grill marks.  They were mixed together in a typical mayonnaise based sauce and it was very good.  (The Brisket Benedict can be seen in the background with the Breakfast Potatoes).
After this good and hearty brunch, it was time to get to the airport, for our return.  We made it through everything very quickly which left us with over an hour before our flight was to leave, so we decided to finish things off at Stone Brewing's Airport Outpost.  The good thing about visiting a brewery's local outpost (as opposed to finding it in a store or in a bar) is that it will likely be fresher and you will likely find something that you wouldn't be able to find anywhere else.  We finished things off with a Collaboration Beer between Stone and Maine Beer Company (a collaboration in which I would be very interested in finding out how that happened) called Dayslayer India Pale Lager and a hoppy Lager called Who You Callin' Wussie? made by Arrogant Brewing, a side project of Stone.  It was a great finish to a to a good and quick trip.  I am definitely going to have to find a reason to return so I can explore some more.

     

Sunday, June 18, 2017

San Diego - Day 1

I made a quick trip to San Diego recently, and while other issues took first priority, where we were going to eat was important.  I had never been to San Diego, but I had been interested in it for a while.  It is a military town, specifically a Navy town (and I was in the Navy) and the military influence is obvious for those familiar with it.  It is right on the border with Mexico so there is also a very Mexican influence, and it is a sea, desert, and mountain town.  I knew ahead of time that it had a pretty good beer scene (and a pretty good punk rock scene), so I was interested to see what there was to see.  I will say that the city was surprisingly small and there was much less traffic than I would have expected.  Living in Norfolk, Va, another big Navy town, for four years, the traffic was much worse, so I was very surprised with how easy it was to get around.  We arrived in early afternoon and decided to grab some tacos while making a plan of attack and went to a place called Sarita's Taco Shop in Spring Valley.  The place was small and simple like a typical taco joint, with counter service and seating for about 20.  Generally, when I go to a taco joint in Chicago, I plan on ordering three tacos for a meal.  I did notice that the prices for a taco here were significantly more than the tacos in Chicago, but I also knew that prices in California are a bit more expensive than those in Chicago, so I decided to play it safe and assume that the tacos here would be the same size as those in Chicago.  It would also allow me to maximize the number of tacos I tried.  They had some interesting types of tacos, so I wanted to try what I could and ordered a Cabeza (Head), Birria (Goat), and a Shrimp Taco.  This place is also known for Carne Asada Fries, so these were ordered as well.  A big reason that the tacos cost more than the standard Chicago taco was that they were enormous.  The three tacos and the fries covered our small table.  I started with something that I knew that I would like, the Shrimp Taco.  The shrimp was chopped, shelled (obviously), topped with Pico de Gallo, and served in two tortillas with limes on the side.  The shrimp was sweet and the Pico tasted very fresh, crisp, and slightly spicy.  The lime added a nice contrast of flavor.  After the shrimp, I went for the Birria.  I had had goat before and liked it, but I had never had a birria taco.  Also served in two tortillas with limes, the goat was tender and shredded.  Texturally, it was like pulled pork, but it tasted nothing like that.  Goat has a slightly gamy flavor and it seems to have been braised in a red salsa because it was red and slightly spicy.  It was topped with Cilantro and Onions.  It was very good and I would happily try it again.  I had seen Cabeza Tacos at taco carts around town, but I had not had the opportunity to try one.  I know that the idea of what it is, the meat off of the skull of a cow, might put some people off, but it's meat and I had no problem with the idea of it.  It was served like the Birria, with two tortillas, limes, and topped with cilantro and onions.  It did, however, have the strongest flavor of the three tacos and was the richest.  As it was the third of three large tacos, it didn't get finished.  The Carne Asada Fries I tried (a few times) and they were very good.  It was like Mexican Poutine with crisp fries, chopped and grilled spicy Skirt Steak, Sour Cream, and Cheese.  While it was possible to eat it by hand, a fork did really help.

After we had accomplished what we came out to accomplish, it was time for a drink or two (and some food to help soak up the alcohol).  I had wanted to go to Pizza Port, a regionally famous chain of brew pubs associated with (although independent of) Stone Brewing located in the area known for both their beer and their pizza with many located on the beach.  Fortunately or unfortunately, I read the map wrong and we went to an area where I thought there was a Pizza Port, but was mistaken.  We went to Coronado, a peninsula on the ocean with a lot of Navy presence.  It is very pretty and while we did walk around, it would have been nice, if we had had the time to explore some more.  Luckily, we discovered that there is a brewery located on Coronado, the surprisingly named Coronado Brewing Company.  Located on the north side of the peninsula near one of the many naval bases, it is a low-slung brick building with a Naval/seaside theme.  It was pretty busy, so we had some time to look around before we were seated.  The floors were tile and there was a lot of polished wood that looked very vintage and reminded me of a sailing ship.  Looking into the brewing area, I was very surprised to see Copper Brewing Kettles.  Most kettles nowadays are stainless or aluminum.  There are advantages to copper, it removes sulfites, and provides a micronutrient for the yeast, but it is expensive and the actual differences are small.  It does look really cool in the brewery though.  They also had a one quart canning machine for crowlers (can half-growlers) behind the bar which looked pretty cool.

Before I was seated, I took a look at the beer list and saw that I flight would be in order.  I started, while we were waiting, with a Stay Kolsctal Kolsch.  It was light with a nice flavor, slightly fruity, with a dry finish, and would be a great summer beer.  When we were seated, we went with flights.  It could have been possible to choose 5 IPAs and while I like an IPA, it is generally not my first choice.  I like to experience other flavor profiles than simply hoppy.  Having said that I did choose a few IPA variations.  My list started with Waste the Day XPA, an experimental pale ale that varied the hops from batch to batch.  This batch was lightly hoppy with a slightly funky flavor.  It continued with Waylaid White IPA which was light, starting with a citrus flavor and finishing with a Belgian Saison funk, Conquista IPA (a collaboration with Cigar City Brewing of Tampa Florida, a collaboration I have to wonder how it happened), Sealift Hefeweizen. and Old Scallywag Barleywine, which was my favorite and had the highest alcohol content.  My partner's flight was similar although exchanged Stay Kolsctal Kolsch for the Waste the Day XPA and the Undertow Hoppy Red for the Conquista IPA.  The beers were all very good and despite having several IPAs, they were all very different and they did have several beers that were not IPAs.  As I had had a very large lunch, food was not big on my mind, although I figured that it probably would be a good idea to eat,  I decided to go with an appetizer (which turned out almost big enough for a full meal), the Calamari which were served with Lemon, Tartar Sauce, and Cocktail Sauce.  Despite being breaded and fried, they were some of the tenderest calamari that I have ever had.  The breading was crisp, but the calamari just melted in my mouth.  While I was served both tartar and cocktail sauce and did try both, I thought that these were better with the spicy sweet of the cocktail sauce.  The rest of the menu had a variety of seafood, as well as salads, burgers, pastas, and pizza and did look good.  My partner ordered a fish taco and some very good mussels (not pictured) in a garlic pilsner sauce and served with crispy garlic bread.  Everything was very good and we left nicely full to end day one of our trip.