Eating My Way Through Japantown! (SF)

My first time at the San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival was filled with many surprises. For two weekends, San Francisco’s Japantown is transformed into a vibrant culture-fest complete with entertainment, fun, and food! From carefully crafted trinkets to bowls of delicious ramen, Japantown had it all – attracting locals and tourists alike!

CherryblossomSF1Weekend #1 at the festival was spent exploring all the food booths lined up along the streets. Continue reading

The French Gourmet – Restaurant Week Review

Restaurant Week Jan.Credit: http://www.sandiegorestaurantweek.com/press

It’s that time of the year again, when foodies and first-timers flock to wine and dine at all the trendy places featured for San Diego’s Restaurant Week… or should I say weeks. Restaurant Week is so successful that it has become somewhat of a habit to extend it another week along with a whole new selection of restaurants to choose from. I had the pleasure of visiting The French Gourmet last week with some friends for their $30 dinner deal. Surprisingly the wait wasn’t too bad, we had made a dinner reservation for six the day before and  they easily accommodated our group. 

From past experiences at Restaurant Week, I’ve learned that doing research prior to going to any place is vital. Just because there is a great deal being offered doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice quality for value. Do your research!!!
Tip: I always look at the specific Restaurant Week online menu of the place I’m interested in attending. I then check on Yelp and read current reviews as well as past Restaurant Week reviews (if any). I also consult with friends if they have been to the place or know of anyone that’s been there. 

Review: Before even stepping foot in The French Gourmet, we noticed the sparse parking surrounding the place. (Tip: Allot some time to find street parking.) To my recollection, I didn’t see any parking lot designated for the restaurant. We were lucky that night and just happend to find a spot directly across the street. When we walked in, we were immediately greeted by the host and then seated, the place was packed with other customers taking advantage of the RW deal. From the outside, the establishment looked  fairly large but on the inside, it looked about a third less than its exterior. That hardly affected my perception of the place, and I found the atmosphere to be quaint and cozy. I enjoyed looking at the paintings on the walls (done as frescos) portraying various landscapes from France, and then reminiscing about my travels in Europe.

Menus were passed around and I immediately knew what I wanted to order. The host suggest the Surf and Turf to us but I wasn’t sure if that was truly because it was a popular dish or because he wanted to push its sales. Nevertheless, I stuck to my decisions and ordered the Charcuterie Plate for my appetizer, the Duck Leg Confit for my entree, and finally the Espresso Pot de Crème for my dessert. Every now and then, I would look around to see what other people ordered and my assumptions were validated. I saw a lot of people being served the Surf and Turf, which was a small tail of lobster with a small piece of fillet mignon (medallion-sized), coupled with roasted vegetables and some dipping sauce. I’m sure the quality was great but I prefer dishes with a little more substance. When our food arrived, it was time to dig in!

Charcuterie Plate
Pâté, Fra’Mani salami, prosciutto, cornichons, pickled garlic, olives, and onion chutney.
Charcuterie Plate

The appetizer was scrumptious, each part of the platter had it’s own unique flavor and texture. The two rolled pieces were Prosciutto (my all-time favorite deli meat) and I savored each morsel. It’s hard to obtain a good pate and this one had a pretty good texture and light flavor, it didn’t have that metallic aftertaste. Thankfully we had complimentary French bread refills and I was able to use that bread for my pate.

Duck Leg Confit
With braised local kale, cipollini onions, and fingerling potatoes.
Duck Leg Confit

All I can say is, “WOW!”. The duck meat was very tender and fell right off the bone while cutting into the dish. It was a little dry on the surface but overall had great flavor. All the veggies that accompanied the duck were also cooked to perfection. I’m not normally a fan of green beans or potatoes but this dish seriously got me reconsidering adding them to my diet. However, the real star of the show was the sauce! I’ll try my best to describe it… The sauce was a compilation of all the flavors that make the winter season, everything from berries to cinnamon spice was used. It had a nice sweet taste with a tough of tartness, and complemented the duck very well. 

Espresso Pot de Crème
With sabayon and chocolate covered espresso beans.
Epresso Pot de Creme

This dessert had just the right amount of sugary sweetness I needed to finish off my dining experience. The chocolate-shaped espresso beans were a nice touch, hinting at the flavors I would find in the creme. Under the whip cream, there was a thin layer of creme that had been cooked to seal it, kind of like flan or creme brûlée but tougher. Breaking into the seal revealed all the sweet goodness of the espresso creme. It had the consistency that reminded me of flan and pudding, and was very light. 

Here are a couple of other dishes I tried with friends:

Escargots à la Bourguignone
A half dozen escargots broiled in garlic herb butter.
Escargo

This was my first time having esgarcots. All I could actually taste was the butter and the garlic. And although it had the consistency of a mushroom , I still couldn’t get passed the thought of it as a snail going down my throat. I had one and was done. I always tell myself to try something at least once. 🙂

Red Wine Braised Niman Ranch Lamb Shank
With winter vegetable ragout and truffle mashed potatoes.
Red Wine Brazed Lamb
My friend ordered this dish. This was by far the largest entree offered on the special RW menu. The lamb was juicy, flavorful, and fell right off the bone. They were very generous with the potatoes which could fill you up without having eaten anything else. Everything about this dish was delicious and a great value.

Rating: I give this place a 4 / 5 for it’s atmosphere, food, and service. The French Gourmet is a great place to take a date or go with family. The staff is friendly and checks up on you from time to time… We cracked a couple jokes with the waiters.  The food is amazing, full of flavor, and on par with the cuisine I tried when I traveled to France a few years ago. 

‘Til next time!
-AJ

A History of Chocolate!

Chocolate lovers of all kinds will love this! Chocolate is one of my favorite sweet treats and I was thrilled to hear about an entire museum section devoted to it’s history and production.

(Photo Credit: http://www.sdnhm.org)

Balboa Park hosts Residents Free Tuesdays (I like to call it “Museum Tuesdays”) which allows San Diego residents to tour specific museums free of charge. The first Tuesday of every month grants residents access to the San Diego Natural History Museum as well as several others. Last tuesday, I took advantage of that offer to tour the SDNHM’s newest exhibit, “Chocolate”, a completely different topic than that of any other exhibit at the museum.

Chocolate will engage your senses and reveal facets of this sumptuous treat that you’ve never before considered. From seed to sweet, unwrap the story of chocolate!”, says the description on the museum’s website.

Upon entering the Chocolate exhibit, I immediately encountered that familiar scent… slightly sweet and a tad bitter. I began to recall all the experiences I’ve had with chocolate: snuggling in a blanket with a cup of hot cocoa, savoring the deliciousness of an extra dark chocolate candy bar, and indulging my taste buds with countless chocolate cookies, cakes and other goodies.

The Tour:
The exhibit started out with the cacao plant, covering the various stages of development from seed to tree. It then moved on to describing the methods of harvesting and production — There were interactive diagrams that showed how the cacao pods were opened and how the seeds were dried. Further through the exhibit, the role of chocolate throughout history (from the ancient Maya, to the extravagance of the European Renaissance, to modern day American production) was revealed. I loved browsing the room that contained the history of chocolate products in America dating back to the early 1900’s to today; some of those early brands still exist. A few video documentaries were scattered throughout the exhibit but the one I remembered the most showcased interviews of ordinary people and their experiences with chocolate — It was interesting to hear their opinions on how this substance made them feel emotionally. The exhibit concluded with a chocolate store stocked with loads of sweet treats from a local company, Chuao, and from many foreign producers. I wanted to try EVERYTHING but managed to subdue my temptation… I settled for a cup of home-made hot cocoa 🙂

Chocolate will be up until March 10th, 2013, so don’t miss out on the chance to see it … and smell it! Access to this exhibit is included with general admission. Tickets can be purchased at the box office in front of the building.

Thanks for reading. I’m off to my next adventure! 🙂

Restaurant Week at The Prado (Balboa Park)

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a food review but I think this place is worth blogging about. Restaurant Week in San Diego happened last month and it was an amazing experience for a “foodie” like me. I went to The Prado in Balboa Park with a group of friends and we sat outside since it was a pleasant night. For a $30 dinner,The Prado offered an appetizer, entree, and dessert. I had a tough time choosing between the firecracker squid or the butternut squash soup. In the end, I chose the soup not only for something lighter but because it would warm me up in the brisk winter night. All the entree options also looked great and were equally hard to decide on. They ran out of the pulled pork but the other choices left included the Thai and tofu noodles, beef rib with red wine sauce, and the grilled salmon. I chose to have the beef rib, though I’m not much of a red meat eater. The waiter recommended it and I trusted his judgement. Dessert was a no-brainer, I picked the pumpkin creme brule.

Here begins my food review:
Upon first sitting down, the waiter gave us a snack of toasted flatbread and chipotle dip. There where two kinds of flatbread, one had parmesan cheese while the other had poppy seeds. Both were quite delicious, especially when using the dip (Tip: they offer refills if you ask). The butternut squash soup was prepared like a bisque with a little cream, and blended into a silky smooth texture. I could taste a light nutty flavor in addition to the toasted pine nuts sprinkled on top.

The next course (beef rib with red wine sauce) came with a side of horseradish mashed potatoes and a side of grilled vegetables. Contrary to the name, the beef rib had no bone at all, each bite was tender and juicy. The sweetness of the red wine sauce blended perfectly with the meat. Eating it in conjunction with the zesty horseradish mashed potatoes added another layer of complexity to the flavors. 

Dessert is always my favorite part of dining out and the pumpkin creme brule was to die for. There are certain flavors that evoke the feeling of the season that make them memorable, for example peppermint hot chocolate or egg nog.  This dish did just that with its blend of spices and sweetness. 
Overall I would give this place a 5/5 stars for great tasting food, excellent customer service,  and atmosphere. The location is also plus with it being in the heart of Balboa Park, just a few step away from popular museums and other touristy attractions. 

Thanks for reading! 
-AJ