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Tacolicious deliciousness…..

One more San Fran post…This is the real stuff, into the city for some serious adult eating (No offense Aaron.) This post is part lucky stumbled upon, but found out it was on “my list” deliciousness, part deliberate  top of “my list” we must eat here hip, chef hangout tastiness, and part oh, how did that slip past my radar and not get on “my list” amazingness.

On Sunday, after an afternoon of family brunch where we made ricotta blackberry crepes and endive, crème fraiche, frizzled prosciutto hors d’ oeuvres, we headed into the city to shop/eat/explore.  We drove straight to the Marina District, where we had success on our last trip in the shopping/eating category. I never thought I would say “I love this neighborhood”, but I do. It is so civilized. Told you, I’m getting old! It is clean. There are great boutiques, lots of food choices and we can find parking. How can a neighborhood be “boring” if the amazingly tasty top of “my list”A16 is in it? As good as A16 was, you know me; I want to try something new and exciting, or at least different.

We actually weren’t even planning to eat, we were just in search of a cool place to imbibe, but stumbled across Tacolicious. The place was rockin’, so of course we wanted to go in.  We had a drinks at the location when it was Laiola and were wondering what was up. When we looked at the sign, I knew the name sounded familiar and fun. I pulled out my handy dandy list and there it was but listed as a stand at the Thursday Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.  They had closed Laiola in 2009 to grow their farmers market taco stand. YES! I could cross coca cola braised beef tacos off my list.

Problem was…we weren’t really hungry. Oh well, minor problem. Just one little taco wouldn’t hurt. Oh, but, you could choose four tacos for $12.00. Ok, twist our arms.  Here was the line up….Fried local cod with cabbage and tangy crema, house made chorizo potato, guajillo braised beef short ribs, and shot and a beer braised Petaluma chicken. Plus the tacos came with a salsa sampler. Laurent was in heaven and boy were they pretty colors. The green was a creamy tomatillo and jalapeño; the creaminess had to come from a touch of avocado blended in. That’s my guess. The beautiful yellow was habanero and was not going to get near my tongue. The smoky red was smoky in flavor, too, from, you guessed it, chipotles. Mmmm. I love smokiness.

Ok, tacos. Fried cod – yes, yum, thank you.  Chorizo potato – good.  Chicken – surprisingly above the house made chorizo in our very scientific ranking system. Short ribs – chewy, tender, sticky, smoky, slightly spicy, wish I could eat three more of these tacolicious deliciousnesses.

After Tacolicious, it was onto Tornado, the Haight dive beer bar for a beer, as Tacolicious’ beer list left a lot to be desired. Plus we had to digest before heading to……drum roll please….Nopa.  I knew I only had one day and one restaurant to choose from on “my list”, my entire excel spread sheet of choices culled from Food and Wine, blogs, and foodie friends. Talk about a hard decision, especially for someone who is notoriously bad at making decisions (I just want it ALL!) Actually, I lied, it was an easy decision. Hands down, Nopa won, recommended by Alex Lopez, the Food Diva and Food and Wine magazine and touted as a chef hangout. If the chef’s are eating there, then I am eating there.  Nopa stands for North of the Panhandle, where the restaurant is located.  Sounds hip.  That’s what counts, right?  Nopa was delicious. That simple. You knew the moment you stepped inside that it was going to be good. Actually, I knew a few blocks away that it was going to be good, as we smelled the wood burning oven belching out its sweet smoky, meaty smells. Mmmmmmmm.

There were two seats at the bar, lucky for us, as we walked in with no resos and not a chance in hell at getting a table. We prefer to sit at the bar anyways, less commitment, if it’s not good, which was not going to be a problem at Nopa. Plus, if you order a full meal at the bar, that makes the bartender happy as his check, and tip, just went way up. If you order just appetizers at a table, pricey real estate at busy restaurants, you make for an angry waiter, which equals bad service. It is hard enough getting good service these days.  I much rather have a happy bartender wait on me.

This happy bartender was a pleasure. He was well versed and knew what he was talking about and took the time to explain white whiskeys to us, which caught our eye on the drink menu, and the drinks that were made with them. He suggested a white Manhattan for Laurent so we could compare it to the white buck that I ordered, which, by the way, is a cocktail made with ginger beer and lemon. White whiskeys are whiskeys made with no barrel ageing, hence they are white, as they do not pick up any color from the barrel they are aged in. I am just getting into whiskies, and love tasting them and learning about them. I don’t think I like white whiskeys, though, as I love the taste that the barrel imparts on the booze. It tasted a little too much like tequila to me. (Tequila and I go way back and do not really agree with each other, if you know what I mean.) It was a fun experiment, though; he white whiskey, NOT the tequila.

We weren’t starving. Not a good position to be in here. We managed to eat an entrée, a side and a dessert, though, “for the sake of research”. You know how at some restaurants you can find a million appetizers you want to try and no entrees. Well, it was the opposite at Nopa. While the appetizers looked great, Laurent and I both eyed at least three entrees we wanted to try.  Time to call in the bartender for advice. I always go with waiter recommendations, as they have the inside scoop. I was in the biz for years, trust me, I know. We were leaning towards the milk braised goat with English peas, spring onions and tarragon, just because, well, when else do we eat goat? The bartender, though, said that the grilled country pork chop was the best pork chop we would ever have. Plus I was much more interested in the fried baby favas and kumquats on the side, than the English peas. The pork chop won. The bartender was right, it was the best pork chop we have ever had, cooked perfectly to medium rare, as promised. Yes medium rare. We are out of the dark ages of trichinosis and these pigs had lived a happy life on a local farm and were not going to make us sick if not cooked to a leathery death, like our moms used to do. Oops, sorry, I mean my mom! This was the second time we had fried baby favas on this trip.  I could move to Cali just to be able to eat those in early May every year.  The thin slices of kumquats were the perfect foil to the lightly fried favas and the juicy smoky, slightly fatty, in a good way, pork.

The polenta side dish we ordered was so much more than merely a “side”.  Cubes of polenta, I expected it to be a creamy soft polenta for some reason, but who am I to argue with this deliciousness, I would not have changed a thing.  So, cubes of polenta, with a creamy, sauce of blue cheese and honey and chunks of walnuts in a crock, raised to the roof of the wood burning oven to crisp and caramelize. I think I danced when I ate it. No, I KNOW, I danced when I ate it. I think know we sopped up every last bit of that salty/sweet sauce with a piece of crusty bread. Don’t worry, little polenta side, you are a main course in my eyes.

How we had room for dessert, I don’t know. Oh, I remember, we didn’t. Did that stop us from ordering it? No. Let me tell you, the portions here are a nice size, and dessert was no different. Dessert had my friend Stacy’s name all over it. Lavender pot de crème with dark chocolate pudding cake and cocoa nib caramel. You know that I can’t pass up anything with the word caramel in it. This was literally two desserts. Told you they weren’t shy with their portions.  The lavender pot de crème had chocolate on top of it…bonus….and was silky, creamy and smooth and did not taste like soap at all! Some lavender desserts do, you know. The dark chocolate pudding cake was delicious as well, and I managed to get every last bit of that cocoa nib caramel off the plate without actually licking it. I am very talented that way. Very happy. Full belly. Good night.

Good morning. Time for one last San Fran meal, on the way to the airport. Scott suggested Out the Door, the infamous Slanted Door’s casual restaurant.  This was a great idea, as we have never been to The Slanted Door, and we could now try the food without breaking the bank. Well…sort of. $50 for lunch was a bit of a stretch to be called “cheap”, in my book, but let me tell you, I would rather pay $9 for a bowl of soup and have it be a damn good smaller bowl of soup. You know, now that I think about it, $50 wasn’t crazy for lunch. $9 for soup, $12 for entrée, $5 for side, that is totally reasonable. It was the fancy beer Laurent ordered just for the cool bottle, $10, and the $4.50 fancy blooming jasmine tea that sent us over the “cheap” mark. It was all worth it, though, including the fancy beer bottle and blooming tea. It made for great pics, as you will see. (Hey, that rhymes :))  Plus I was one happy camper after eating at OTD (as us insiders call in. JK. That is what is actually on their business card.) And that is how Laurent likes me!

First the room is light and airy and modern and casual and comfortable.  We sat at the bar, as usual, but had no trouble committing to a great lunch. We were pretty “fooded out” by this point and welcomed the clean, light Vietnamese flavors on the menu.  I ordered chicken pho and Laurent ordered grilled lemongrass pork over vermicelli noodles with a crispy imperial roll. We also ordered a side of snap peas and shitake mushrooms. I love pho, the Vietnamese beef noodle soup, but have never ordered chicken pho, thinking it was the wimpy way out. And I am no wimp! Hands down, this was the best pho I have ever had and the best chicken soup I have ever had.  It tasted like quality. It tasted of good, clean ingredients, excellent technique and of pure chicken. Now we make our own damn good chicken stock at home and think it is essential to a good soup. We do cheat and use the crock pot and it works. But this is the real deal. You could tell this stock was made by a trained professional. It was clean and clear, but none of the flavor had been filtered out. I will make an educated guess and say that the chicken bones were roasted, as they should be, before they made their way into the stock pot. The chicken was juicy, both the white meat and dark meat. Rare occurrence, indeed.

Laurent’s lemongrass pork was excellent. Classic  Vietnamese fare, but better. The cha goi, or imperial roll, was light and crispy and not the least bit greasy at all. And the snap peas were plump and crunchy and tasted like Spring, balanced by the earthy shitake mushrooms. I don’t think shitakes should even be called mushrooms. I take that back, button mushrooms, should not be called mushrooms. These are two different animals, or I guess I should say vegetables. The texture of shitakes is not at all slimy, like those insidious button mushrooms. I don’t even like those things fried with ranch dressing on them, which will make almost anything taste good. They just don’t taste like anything.  Shitakes are meaty, yet delicate, chewy (I would say “toothsome” but I DESPISE that word and its overuse!) with the most amazing burst of pure flavor umami. I could eat this kind of food all day long.

Since it was raining and we had a little time to spare before saying goodbye to San Fran, I ordered the Thousand Days Red Jasmine Xian Tao art tea. Green tea leaves are wrapped around the clover type flower and formed, dried, reshaped,  scented with jasmine and hand tied with a silk thread. If that is not worth $4.50, I don’t know what is! The tea had the most amazing bouquet and was so soothing to sip. We were mesmerized by the flowering of the tea and how it floated and danced and sunk in the glass.

It was a very pleasant way to pass a half hour on a rainy day and a beautiful image to take with us as a memory of our amazing trip. A trip that was full of pleasant surprises, unfolding in ways we hadn’t imagined, delighting us in its simple pleasures and exciting us with new discoveries.

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Yogurtland…you rule….

It’s so true. I didn’t make that up either, it is actually their tagline.

Oh boy, did I have a great four days of eating in LA, thanks to our friend Keiko knowing all the good places to go.  I’m actually going to break this up into two posts; everyday LA and fancy shmancy LA. Yogurtland was defiantly everyday LA, as in I would be there everyday if I lived there! We were happy to get a Red Mango and Pinkberry in Chicago, but they pale in comparison to Yogurtland. Yogurtland is self serve, so you are totally in control of your own dessert creation. I love abundance and having tons of choices even though I hate making decisions. Ironic, huh? Yogurtland had about twenty flavors of yogurt: two types of chocolate, kiwi, pomegranate/acaii/blueberry, raspberry, taro, coconut, pineapple, etc and quadruple that of toppings: blueberries, peaches, mango, kiwi, strawberries, pineapple, all the nuts, cereal, candy, mochi…the combinations were endless. I was in heaven and excited to create my masterpiece. I ended up with raspberry, coconut and pineapple yogurt, topped with mochi, strawberries and blackberries, plus one or two gummi works for good measure.  There was also a copycat place called Nubi that we checked out. I got more adventuresome there with lychee, mango and blueberry yogurt topped with toasted coconut, pecans, pineapple and mochi, of course. (I love mochi, so chewy.) At .30 an ounce, our three yogurt creations only cost $9.00. Talk about “everyday”…We so need one of these here. Yogurtland…you rule!

I was so excited for the food trucks in LA. They have over fifty. I found that out thanks to Terry’s, over at www.Blue-Kitchen.com, tweet. So, I upped my text package on my cell phone and signed up to follow twenty food trucks. Boy, are they tweeters, especially the Grilled Cheese Truck. I did not make it to one truck, though.  It was a combination of things. #1: It rained for two days, ugh! #2: LA is very big and the traffic is terrible. #3: I’m getting old and wasn’t willing to chase my food down!  #4: the Dosa Truck was not at Cole & Sunset like they said they were going to be. I was there, they were not!  Oh, I lied. I did eat at one of the old school taco trucks in Echo Park. It wasn’t fancy, they weren’t twittering, but it was good! That’s all that really counts, isn’t it?

Speaking of Echo Park, great neighborhood, sort of the Bucktown to Silverlake’s Wicker Park. I hung out there one night with my friend Victoria. We found a great little wine bar called City Sip that was comfy, cozy and had a good wines and a great menu. We split a  panini of Serrano ham, manchego, roasted piqullo peppers and arugula.

We then hopped to Masa, a Chicago style deep dish pizza restaurant that a mutual friend opened with her husband. It was packed. Masa was a great, homey place with friendly service and tasty thin crust pizza, too. We ordered the farmers market special with broccoli, spiced goat cheese, arugula and ginger. I did not hear the waitress say ginger, so while we were eating the pizza, I said “I swear I taste ginger.” But on a pizza? Yes, on a pizza.  It totally worked. I usually hate broccoli on a pizza, too, but this was not overcooked or soggy or burnt. Loved it! Good job Rhonda and congratulations on surviving the restaurant biz.

I am always happy to visit LA so I can eat lots of Chinese food. The Midwest is just so stagnant and filled with heavy, old school Cantonese food. We’ve given up eating Chinese food out and just make it at home now. We adjust the dishes to our taste  making most of the dishes lighter and more modern.  I don’t think I could eat Ma Po Tofu out, if I tried. JTYH is one of those great LA Szechwan restaurants. It is in a lonely mini mall on a somewhat deserted strip of Valley Blvd. in Rosemead. Our friend Keiko found it. Her friend goes there three times a week! So would I if I lived anywhere near it. First of all, it’s cheap. We ordered enough food for six people (there were only three of us) and the bill came to $40! The portions huge. I had two of the best Chinese dishes I have ever had that night. One was sent out as a freebie, probably because we ordered so much food. I didn’t even see it on the menu. It was blanched celery which was then flash sautéed with sesame oil, dried chilies and ginger. That’s it. Ohhhh, was it subtle but flavorful. These flavors were all just hinted at, but with every crunch they teased your taste buds. I don’t know if I even really like celery. I never thought about it before. It was just there. Now I can’t stop thinking about it. There will be some experimenting going on in our kitchen soon.

The other stand out dish from JTYH was simply called “lamb steak” on the menu. Keiko said her friend said we HAD to get it. Ok, whatever. The plate held not a steak, but ribs, lamb ribs. Don’t think I’ve ever had them before. This dish was the opposite of subtle. The flavors exploded off of the plate and sent your taste buds for a spin, but never burned you, even with the thirty or so dried chilies on the plate taunting you. There was ginger, garlic, Szechwan peppercorns, scallions, dried chilies. The ribs were somewhat dry, in a good beef jerky kind of way. This dish was actually very sophisticated. I could see it at a modern Asian restaurant such as Sunda. We got the inside scoop on the preparation as Chinese is Laurent’s first language. This is definitely showing up at New Years Eve this year, with a shrimp version for the fish-a-tarians.

A lot of the good stuff in LA is not actually in LA proper. Take Huckleberry Café, it’s in Santa Monica, but well worth the drive. It’s only sixteen miles outside of LA, but traffic gets brutal here. I was ecstatic to get this recommendation from Sandra Holl of Floriole. I’ve said it before, I love abundance, and nothing gets me as excited as overflowing pastry cases, stacks and stacks of cookies, baskets of baguettes. Huckleberry Café is Abundance Central! Cases and cases of tarts, tea breads, croissants, cookies, English muffins, ciabattas, baguettes, kale, Israeli couscous, turkey meatballs, orzo salad. I wish someone would have come with me so I could have eaten more. As it is I took four pastries home and still wanted more. One of the pastries, a salted caramel square, had my name all over it. This little piece of heaven was a shortbread crust with about an inch of solid caramel plopped on top, that’s it. Unadulterated caramel, just much more civilized than a spoon in a jar, my usual way of imbibing! Onto the perfect breakfast dish: Quinoa, roasted garlic, sprouted broccoli and sunny side up eggs. Take note, someone in Chicago needs to run this as a special. Are you listening Birchwood Café or maybe Floriole? Your friend wouldn’t mind if you stole this dish. You’re all the way in Chicago. The quinoa was not so heavy like potatoes and the roasted garlic was creamy like cheese. It felt healthy, (I think it actually was) and tasted great. Plus, you still have room for a 4x4x1 inch square of straight caramel bliss!

Back to LA and the perfect burger. Just to let you know, I am over In n’ Out, believe it or not. P.Terry’s in Austin is much better and then there is Umami Burger. What a name, huh? Umami is a Japanese word and refers to the fifth taste, after sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Can I just say “ Best. Burger. Ever.” And we only had to wait fifteen minutes. Take that Kuma’s Corner! There are three locations in LA, very modern, simple burger place. (I love simple single concept places. They are genius.) There are eight burger choices, including a triple pork burger and a turkey burger. The menu states that all beef burgers come out medium rare…yes! (Ours actually did not. We sent them back and then ten minutes later two beautiful, juicy, medium rare burgers arrived at our table. Yum!) The burgers are not Midwest ginormous. They are the perfect, do not gorge yourself until you are stuffed, size. Laurent had the Manly Burger with beer cheddar, smoked salt onion strings and bacon lardoons on top. Ohhh, how I love it when he’s so manly! Plus I got to steal half of it. I had the Port and Stilton Burger with blue cheese and port caramelized onions, or at least half of it. I had to share too.

They were both amazing, right down to the bun, which was soft and fresh and tasty. The beef was juicy and flavorful, or should I say umami-ful? The grind was different than I was used to, but that was part of what I loved about it. The beef was not mushy and ground to death. The grind was courser and looser and make the burger have more of a crumbly texture, all a good thing, trust me. We ordered fries and onion rings on the side and they came with house made ketchup. Fries were ok, onion rings were great. Laurent had a root beer float and I had a Mexican Coke. (It IS better!) Dessert was provided by a local baker, Cake Monkey, a “ding dong” with peanut butter and marshmallow filling. This was just the perfect burger fix, the perfect lunch.

Thanks, Keiko,  for being as obsessed with food as we are and hunting down the best places in LA and outside of LA to eat at. You did well and therefore we ate well!

Next week…..more LA eating, the fancy shmancy kind, though.

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Airstream Austin……

I have never been so happy, in all my life, to see a city chock full of trailer parks.  This city is full of vintage airstream trailers dishing up some of the most creative food we had in Austin. It was 40 degrees when we were in Austin last week, but I was more than happy to sit outside bundled in my winter scarf, hat and gloves munching on a pork chop filled crepe, a barbacoa taco, a whip cream filled cupcake or a donut covered in caramel, chocolate & bananas.

I was in heaven. I am obsessed with street food and markets. One of my main gripes about Chicago is that we have neither. (Don’t get me started that is another post all together.) There are a ton of food trucks in Austin and it seems the most successful ones are the most creative ones. These are not just nondescript trailers with a hand painted sign saying “elotes” on the side. These are full blown creatively concepted mini restaurants with professionally painted signage, well thought out menus & delicious food.

When we got into Austin we headed straight to South Congress to start looking for food. That’s when we started seeing the trailers, cupcakes, crepes, snowcones…where to start?

We decided to start our trailer tour at Crêpes Mille, since crepes are my first love. I have made many a crepe in my day, but this trailer had me and any random crepe cart in Paris, beat, hands down! This was the best crepe I have ever had, seriously. The rectangular folded crepe was filled with mesquite marinated pork chop, which was cooked to order on a panini grill (so cool), grilled onions, asparagus, Monterey jack cheese & a chipotle cream sauce. It was then topped with grilled red and orange peppers. It was fresh. It was hot. It was flavorful. It was $6.95. What was there to not like about it?

Pork Chop Crepe

After a short coffee break to warm up, sort of, (more about that later), we were still hungry. After all, we only split a crepe. We headed to Torchy’s Taco Truck right up the street at the South Austin Trailer Park & Eatery. This trailer park was complete with picnic tables, a stoked fire pit, which we sat by to keep warm, and two other cool trailers. We ordered The Democrat, corn tortillas stuffed with tasty tender shredded beef barbacoa, onions, avocado, cilantro and queso fresco. Much better choice than The Republican, I think! I thought the taco was a little pricey at $3.75 compared to my $6.95 pork chop crepe.

On the bright side, it left us room for cake balls from Holy Cacao. I get very excited when I see things I have never seen before. And I have never seen cake balls before (that I know of). You know the cupcake craze, well, these were even cuter. And they came on a stick, instant points right there.  Cake & frosting rolled together into a ball, plopped on a popsicle stick & dipped in a chocolate coating. Genius….and tasty! Holy Cacao also serves hot chocolate and cake shakes, which is exactly what it sounds like, a shake blended with cake! How could that be bad?  The cake balls were 3 for $5, so we had to get three, of course. Brass Balls was my favorite made with peanut butter cake, peanut butter, dipped in chocolate & topped with crushed peanuts. Charlie Brown’s Balls were just as good and Diablo Balls had a nice spicy kick.

I really wish we had room to visit Man Bites Dog in the same park. They just opened a few weeks ago, but we were finally full. Next time…and there will be a next time.

It just amazes me that the best places to eat in Austin don’t even have bathrooms!

We hit two more trailers in our time in Austin. “Hey Cupcake” was on South Congress, too. We had a Michael Jackson, which was a chocolate cupcake with cream cheese frosting. Of course we made it a whipper snapper by having whip cream injected into the center for free. Why wouldn’t you? That made it super messy, but who cares? It was fun.

I have been saving the best for last…. Gordoughs.  Big. Fat. Donuts. I was so excited by this trailer; I was talking a mile a minute. My husband had to calm me down. No, it wasn’t the sugar! Well, maybe… First, What a name! I know how hard it is to name a business…I’ve named three already. You want to be clever, witty, catchy, not too literal, something easy to remember…….. Gordoughs. Perfect. Perfect in that gordo means fat in Spanish and these donuts certainly were fat. Perfect in that it could be a combo of gourmet and doughnut which these certainly were. Perfect. Perfect. Perfect. This business was perfect…and I hadn’t even tasted the donuts yet!  There were about two dozen combos, all cleverly named, The Mother Clucker; fried chicken strip with honey butter icing. The Dirty Berry; fudge icing and grilled strawberries. Flying Pig; bacon a nd maple syrup icing. You can also make your own. I did not know what to expect, how were they going to get all those flavors into my donut? And it was $3.25 to boot. It better be good. They fried each donut to order, so it took a little time. The suspense was killing me…. I was never so excited in my life when they handed me my cardboard boat with my donut in it. It was absolutely obscene! That’s the only way to describe it! The donut served as a base for all the toppings. And they piled them on, caramel, bananas, graham crackers and  pecans for the Granny’s Pie, which we ordered. (I couldn’t resist adding chocolate. It’s not dessert until there is chocolate involved.) You could barely see the donut underneath. And forget about picking it up, this was fork food! There is no way you can finish one by yourself, or if you could, talk about a tummy ache.  That is one tummy ache I would be happy to have. Gordoughs got my vote for the Best Little Trailer in Texas!

www.crepesmille.com 1318 S. Congress

www.theholycacao.com 1311 S. 1st St.

www.torchystacos.com 1311 S. 1st St.

www.manbitesdogaustin.com 1311 S 1st St.

www.heycupcake.com 4 locations

www.facebook.com/pages/Austin-TX/Gordoughs 1219 S. Lamar

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