Category Archives: food

What’s a girl gotta do to get a hot dog in this town?

And, n0, that’s not a euphemism…

Got a late start today, as I spent the morning installing a new internal hard drive.  Happily, all went smoothly – and I’ve now got 1.7TB of primary storage space and just a bit more on my external backup drive.  That’s a lot of RAW files I’ll be able to store…

At any rate, decided I was in the mood for a hot dog.  So, against my better judgment, I headed to Absinthe (the alternate title for this p0st was “Screw you, Absinthe!” – so that should give you some idea of how things went).

"No hot dog for you!" says Absinthe

"No hot dog for you!" says Absinthe

I gave a quick gander to the menu out front, found the “Bar Menu” and it did indeed feature the hot dog I’d heard about – housemade Kobe-beef-and-pork dog, housemade condiments (‘kraut, mustard, ketchup) and dill potato chips.  Sounds great.  So, I belly up to the bar, wait patiently for the bartender to finish up making a round of drinks and then order a hot dog.

“Sorry, we don’t serve that now.”

“Huh? It’s on the bar menu, isn’t it? I’m at the bar, right?”

“We don’t serve it until after 2:00 – only brunch right now.”  And in this case, “right now” is 1:15.

“Really. Huh. OK. ‘Bye.”

This is pretty much the exact same experience my dad had last month when he tried to get a hot dog at Absinthe.  In his case, he sat at the bar at 7PM and was advised that the hot dog was only served after 8:00. I wonder when the cut-off time is for the 2PM serving?  Frankly (heh), I’m starting to think this hot dog doesn’t exist.  I’ll bet you a dollar that if I show up at Absinthe tomorrow at 2PM, they’ll tell me it’s not served until after 3PM.  Of course, this is a moot point: I won’t be going to Absinthe tomorrow or ever, since I fail to see what is so difficult about preparing a hot dog that limits it to being served only at very specific (and seemingly random) times.

The trip to Hayes Valley wasn’t a total loss, though – I stopped into Paulette’s for some macarons.  Haven’t tried yet, but with flavors like pineapple-coconut and Earl Grey tea, I have high hopes.

So, off I headed to Showdogs.  I’ve been before and I can vouch for the goodness of their dogs. And, of course, as I was mere feet from the entrance, a party of six swooped into line ahead of me. This was pretty much a dealbreaker, as I learned last time that the ordering process at Showdogs is not exactly a model of efficiency. I gave it a couple of minutes, but the line had not advanced by even one person during this time, so I gave up.

On the offhand chance anyone from Showdogs is reading this, I have a couple of suggestions. First, have one person dedicated solely to taking orders and ringing them up as quickly as possible – when they’re also pouring drinks it creates a real bottleneck (no pun intended) in the line. I’m happy to wait ten minutes for my order – but I’m not very happy about standing in line for ten minutes.

Second, get some ropes up or something to keep that line orderly. Having people backed up out the door into the middle of the sidewalk is not ideal (especially given the ambiance of this stretch of Market St.). People in the US don’t know how to queue, so it’s up to you to force them to do so properly.

But kudos on the great dogs last time I visited.  I’ll be back – just have to be sure to get there during off hours.

The Bobo at Zog's Dogs

The Bobo at Zog's Dogs

I finally wound up at Zog’s Dogs, a little yellow shack on Market at Montgomery.  Had a “Bobo” – a zippy little sausage with garlic and herbs – and added sauerkraut, relish and mustard (sadly, they’d run out of spicy mustard and I had to make do with yellow – meh). It was very tasty and just the right size.  The fresh-squeezed lemonade was delicious too.  They also offer a dog with bacon, as well as the “Prop 8” – two wieners in one bun…  Get it?  Hee…  I didn’t order fries, but they looked good – cooked to order and piping hot.

Service was friendly, fast and efficient – yay.  It’d be nice if they had a couple of stand-up tables or a counter – but it’s a takeout joint, so I won’t quibble.  And tables or no, they beat the pants off Absinthe simply by permitting me to purchase a hot dog.  Thanks, Zog’s!

Green Eggs & Salmon

Just up the street from home is a tiny little place called Farm:Table.  Only ate there one other time, when I was home with my broken elbow, and had a fantastic prosciutto and mozzarella sandwich.  Stopped by again today and ordered salmon with hard-boiled egg and yogurt-dill sauce.  I was expecting something more sandwich-like, rather than the open-faced little morsels I got.  But they were very tasty (the eggs still warm – mmmm…) – and just the right amount since I’ll be dragging my fat-ass to the gym shortly…  Another plus: very handsome tattooed young man placing an order as I left – though I think I might’ve been staring in way that was creepy…  Actually, I guess I’m at the age now where any staring I do would be considered creepy…

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Dog-Day Afternoon

Il Cane Rosso at lunchtime.

Il Cane Rosso at lunchtime.

Finally got around to trying Il Cane Rosso at the Ferry Plaza a few days ago.  After not too much deliberation (though most everything on the menu sounded good), I had the porchetta sandwich (roast pork, greens and pluot mostarda).  The pork was great – not-too-thinly sliced, juicy, savory with a crispy exterior.  Bitter greens and sweet-spicy mostarda were a good foil – as was the side of bread-and-butter pickles. All in all a fine and tasty sandwich – though at $10, it was not the least expensive take-out I’ve had.

Porchetta sandwich

Porchetta sandwich

I must say, I was sorely tempted by the special of the day: penne with short rib sugo.  But it just seemed too decadent to eat for lunch – though I’ve come to regret my decision to forgo this dish.  Plus, the fact that I only (ha!) got a sandwich was sufficient excuse for me to pick up a banana cream tartlette from Miette…  So much for a demure lunch.

Oh, and if anyone at Il Cane Rosso happens to read this: three tweets a day from a take-out restaurant is too many.  I followed you and then quickly unfollowed you after the messages started piling up…  Once a day is plenty I think…

Me Gusta Tulio’s

Carnitas burrito - and this is the "baby" size...  I guess they mean it's the size of an actual human baby.  Mmmm - babies...

Carnitas burrito - and this is the "baby" size... I guess they mean it's the size of an actual human baby. Mmmm - babies...

Proving once again that you can’t believe everything y0u hear, I decided to pick up lunch at “Tulio’s Southwestern Grill” (yeesh – what moniker), formerly Pancho Villa Tacqueria.  I was leery, as several reliable sources had indicated that the quality had nose-dived.

Well, my experience today was that this is certainly the best burrito within walking distance of my office –  not that the competition is especially stiff (Rubio’s, Pedros and – by far the worst – 360° Burritos…  which, as has been pointed out elsewhere, puts Romaine lettuce in it’s burritos.  I repeat: Romaine lettuce.  Vom.).  But my Tulio’s burrito was quite tasty (maybe not quite as tasty as the old Pancho Villa days…) and whole avocado slices (rather than guacamole) remain an option.

Exhibit A: Carnivores Have Superior Sense of Humor

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from passive-aggressive notes

Why, People Who Work in My Office?

I’m taking antibiotics in an attempt to quell the flesh-eating bacteria that has invaded the soft tissue surrounding the incision on my elbow.  And, in an attempt to ward off any unpleasantness said antibiotics may wreak upon my bowels (sorry for the over-share), I’m trying to eat yogurt once or twice a day.

So after lunch today, I head to the office kitchen to retrieve my yogurt – and I find this:

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Someone has spilled milk all over the fridge, including an ivory shower for my sad little yogurt.  And then this person just went on his or her merry way, leaving it for someone else to discover.  Of course, it’s just a little spilled milk- it’s not like it will rot and stink up the whole fridge or soak other people’s lunches…

I always wonder about what these people are like at home – do they actually live in squalor, wallowing in their own filth, the floors knee-deep in empty fast food containers, dirty underwear and half-eaten bags of Funyuns?  Or are they sort of normal when at home and inconsiderate slobs when at the office?  It’s a puzzlement.

Happy Birthday, Darlin’…

According to Dlisted, it was Gina Gershon’s birthday yesterday – and, honestly, how could I not post this picture of her in the role of a lifetime?

“Do you like brown rice and vegetables?”

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from Dlisted

She’s drunk, right?

I mean, there’s no other explanation, is there?  And referring to this as even “semi-homemade” is really beyond the pale…  While I’m not always a huge fan of Anthony Bourdain’s, here’re a couple of his quotes regarding this particular abomination:

The most terrifying thing I’ve seen is her making a Kwanzaa cake. Watch that clip and tell me your eyeballs don’t burst into flames. It’s a war crime on television. You’ll scream.

and

After watching the video, there will be nothing left in your head except a smoldering stump. You’ll projectile vomit with rage.

Of course, I’m also wondering about the monstrous Christmas-themed cake in the foreground.  Looks like the more of the same – sans the luscious canned pie filling…  Oh, the humanity.

Which came first – the chicken or the horror chicken?

For some reason, the Sweet Sue company has chosen to offer for sale a product called “Canned Whole Chicken.”  And, regrettably, that is exactly what it is: a whole chicken inside of a can.

Things start off innocently enough:

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It actually looks quite tasty – just add some stuffing and – voila! – you’ve got home-style goodness.

Of course the reality is somewhat different than the rather – how shall I say this? – optimistic image on the can’s exterior.

Before clicking through to see the contents of the can, please keep in mind that once seen, it cannot be unseen.  You’ve been warned…

Yes, I want to see what’s in that can!

Flour + Water: Simple and Satisfying

Don’t know how, but I somehow managed to get a 7:15 dinner reservation at Flour + Water on Saturday night.  Apparently, the stars were simply aligned in my favor, as my attempt to reserve again via Open Table revealed that there is nothing available for the next couple of weeks – nothing! Not even at 5:00 or 10:30…

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Fava Beans with Grapefruit and Avocado

Started off with a fava bean, grapefruit and avocado salad.  Beans were a lovely texture and the most beautiful shade of green.  I did think the salad was just a tad undersalted – and we had to ask for salt (kind of an annoyance – I mean I get the whole “the chef knows how to season, thus we don’t put salt and pepper on the table”…  but I think it’s a bit arrogant).  Adding just a bit of salt took the dish from good to excellent.

Next up was some pasta: mezzelune with zucchini and Meyer lemon.  Delicate half-moon pasta stuffed with ricotta in a fresh and vibrant citrus with some sliced zucchini.  Chris and I both commented (as we did for the salad) that it was completely simple, completely fresh and completely delicious.

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Pizza Margherita with Bufala Mozzarella

Finished up dinner with a pizza margherita with bufala mozzarella.  The crust tasted marvelous – though it was soggy in the center.  But again, the flavors of the pizza were straightforward and delightful – the sauce tasted as if the tomatoes had just recently been on the vine.

Desserts did not disappoint.  I had chocolate budino – dark, dense, bittersweet (and with skin – the best part of pudding, as far as I’m concerned) topped with a dollop of coffee-flavored whipped cream and a sprinkling of sea salt.  And it was exactly as delicious as it sounds…  Chris had a crumbly-yet-moist olive oil cake with ice cream and quite enjoyed it.

Very good wine list, accompanied by some fine recommendations of both reds and whites by the glass.

Chocolate Budino with Coffee Cream and Sea Salt

Chocolate Budino with Coffee Cream and Sea Salt

The meal really did remind of Italy.  The food was far from fancy, yet every ingredient sang – a clear tribute to their quality and the freshness.  It never ceases to amaze me how four or five ingredients of impeccable quality can join together to create such a delicious meal. And the service was pleasantly leisurely – we shared each dish and they were brought out one by one, giving us a chance to really savor them and enjoy our wine and each other’s company.

And an especially pleasant item missing from the bill: the SF health surcharge.  This is a pet peeve of mine, as it is so often included on the bills of very successful restaurants – and, while not enough to make me boycott entirely, it can be the death knell when it’s a toss-up between someplace that charges it and someplace that appropriately prices items on their menu to cover all of the costs of doing business…  And I made a point of telling the Flour + Water’s owner that I both noticed and appreciated his choice.

The only bad part of the meal?  That it appears unlikely we’ll be able to return soon, thanks to its popularity – though I’m sure this is not a bad problem to have if one is a restaurant owner…

Mezzelune with Zucchini and Meyer Lemon

Mezzelune with Zucchini and Meyer Lemon

Olive Oil Cake with Honey-Thyme Ice Cream

Olive Oil Cake with Honey-Thyme Ice Cream

Chillaxin’ in Palm Springs

I had every intent of blogging over the week we spent in Palm Springs – but I forgot my media card reader.  And, really, what’s the point of blogging about a vacation if I don’t have photographic evidence to reinforce how vastly superior vacation life is to everyday life?  Of course, I was also quite busy taking naps, lying by the pool, perfecting my piña colada and margarita making techniques, preparing delicious dinners and dancing my ass off at Toucan’s Tiki Lounge.  In other words, I simply didn’t have time to blog…

Yes, in fact, this is the life...

Yes, in fact, this is the life...

Initially, I thought I’d just provide a chronological recap of our wonderful week.  But this would be something of a waste of time, as our days had a certain delightful quality of repetitiveness.  To wit:

  • 7:30 – Wake-up.
  • 7:31 – Realize I’m on vacation; go back to sleep.
  • 10:30 – Wake up again; actually get out of bed.
  • 11-ish – Breakfast…  Either make bagels and lox or head to Cheeky’s.
  • Noon – Lay out by pool
  • 12:01- Observe that it is now afternoon and therefore acceptable to start drinking beer and/or wine.
  • 2:00 – Have a lie-down and/or rest my eyes.
  • 3:00 – Observe that it is now mid-afternoon and therefore acceptable to start drinking cocktails. Continue drinking and/or napping until time for dinner.
  • 7:30 – Head out to King’s Highway or El Mirasol for dinner.  Alternatively, stay home and barbecue something; discover I have rather a talent for grilling.
  • 10:00 – Arrive at Toucan’s; dance until sweaty; drink beer; repeat.
  • Midnight – Arrive home.  Optional: get into a fight with Chris over whether or not to listen the Pet Shop Boys (not recommended).

Should you find yourself in Palm Springs, I heartily endorse the schedule outlined above.

"Has anyone seen my Virginia Slims?"

"Has anyone seen my Virginia Slims?"

As to some of the specifics of our stay, here’s some of the 4-1-1…

The House on George Drive

The view from the pool.

The view from the pool.

In a word, delightful.  A charming Alexander house, recently re-done – a wonderfully open main space with living and dining areas and a well-designed kitchen; three comfy bedrooms; two very nice bathrooms; and a lovely outdoor space with pool, lounges, firepit and dining area.  Seriously, it was fabulous – quiet, peaceful, relaxing.  This even despite the fact that we were pretty sure the ramshackle place next door – the one with the overgrown yard, a pool empty of water but containing a rusting mountain bike and some castoff gym equipment, a carport brimming with old sofas and a revolving assortment of brand new Lexuses parked in the driveway – was a meth lab (or at the very least a grow house).

Oh, and our place was a mere ten-minute stumble walk to Toucan’s and Dink’s.  Huge bonus points, obv…

Cheeky’s

We love everything about the place.  Well, except for the name.  And the sometimes meandering service.  But the food is fantastic.  I had chilaquiles one morning – very authentic, in that they did not contain eggs, just tortilla strips, chorizo and queso fresco in a homemade salsa.  It was both delicious and had amazing curative powers – my low-grade hangover was banished before I’d even finished my meal.  Another day I had a cheese-and-corn tamale topped with scrambled egg and napped with a house tomatillo salsa – simple and sublime.  This was the same day Chris declared his asparagus, corn and cheese scramble to be the best scramble he’d ever had – and I have to agree.  Too often scrambles are overwhelmed by their ingredients (especially gloppy cheese) – this one was perfectly balanced, with the eggs maintaining their proper place center-stage, the rest of the ingredients acting as the harmonious supporting cast.

We also shared the lemon-buttermilk waffles served with lemon curd and blackberries – and yes they were as delicious as they sound. Regrettably, I took no pictures – too focused on the amazing food, I guess…

King’s Highway

Chilaquiles at King's Highway

Chilaquiles at King's Highway

The Ace Hotel just opened in a former Howard Johnson’s down on East Palm Canyon.  Along with a hip re-do of the hotel, the old Denny’s coffee shop adjacent got the same treatment, offering simple locally sourced food at reasonable prices – and served by a team of super-dreamy waiters.

Had breakfast and a couple of dinners here.  Their version of chilaquiles, while very different than Cheeky’s, was also superb: eggs, tortillas, chorizo, crema, a zippy salsa.  At dinner, both the vegetarian black bean chili and the fish tacos were excellent.  Another night I had a steak sandwich, which I remember as being quite good – though I’d spent a bit of time in the Amigo Room, sampling margaritas, so my memory is not crystal clear…

Toucan’s Tiki Lounge

I suppose it almost sounds like it’s the only reason we go to Palm Springs.  And it might be close to that.  Chris and I have the most amazing time out on the dance floor – as does everyone around us!  For example, on our last night there, we had a total robot-off – with Chris winning per usual, since his skills doing the robot are unmatched and his lazy eye somehow adds to his authentic robotic-ness.

But seriously, this place has everything – drag shows (including a performance by Tammie Brown, our favorite contestant from RuPaul’s Drag Race…  and whom Chris stalked and chased into her dressing room introduced himself to and got some fab pix with…), piano bar nights (where my request for “Do, A Deer” was honored – both literally and figuratively), a tiny dance floor playing all our favorites (well, except for Pet Shop Boys – about which Chris got into something of argument with DJ Galaxy – again, not recommended to get into it with Chris when it comes to PSB…) and super-friendly staff and clientele.  Just fun, fun, fun…

Dink’s

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The trademark red robe at Dink's - Kwell not included!

If Toucan’s is “fun, fun, fun”, then Dink’s is “weird, weird, weird – but still pretty fun”.  It’s kind of impossible to describe…  It’s a restaurant/bar/lounge with an outdoor lounge, an indoor lounge, a half-in/half-out lounge, VIP booths with bottle service (that no one does, meaning plebs like use can just sit in them drinking our Budweisers), live cabaret-style performances and a friendly staff.  And it caters primarily to old queens, retirees, cougars, middle-aged queens, groups of drunken twenty-something girls, young queens and yentas.  Oh, and the Dink’s signature? Providing patrons with hideous red fleece robes to wear on the patio – you know, to ward off the chill…  And the scabies are complimentary (I kid! I kid!).

Indian Canyons

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Coolin' off our tootsies at an oasis...

A mere ten minute drive from downtown Palm Springs is the open desert, stark, mountainous, yet also dotted with some of the largest palm oases in North America.  We quite wisely chose to arrive at around noon on a day when the temperature topped out at about 103°.  Luckily for us, quite a few of the trails are easily walked and the palms of the oasis provided shelter and shade, as did the cooling water we found in a blessedly chilled rock cave and in a babbling stream further along.  It was a very nice visit – though getting an early start is probably a good idea.

Other Stuff

Always worthwhile to cruise the streets of the older sections of Palm Springs.  There are tons of beautifully restored and maintained Alexanders; the not-to-be-missed Kaufman House; the wonderful (though largely hidden) Dinah Shore Residence designed by Don Wexler; the charmingly quirky Del Marcos Hotel.

Also not to be missed is radio station KWXY at 98.5.  They have been broadcasting with the “beautiful music” format since the station was founded in 1964.  And it’s the perfect soundtrack for Palm Springs: 101 Strings, Percy Faith, Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Mantovani…  My choice is to listen to it 24/7 – though Chris likes to play his Pet Shop Boys every now and again (best just to let him; see above)

At any rate, go to Palm Springs.  It’s hot – but it’s a dry heat…  Still not sure what that means, but I said it at least half a dozen times every day.  And as I sit here wearing a sweatshirt over a sweater over a shirt in my chilly apartment, I long to hear the dulcet tones of the KWXY announcer telling me that  “the current temperarture is 103° with a relative humidity of 9%”…

Lots more pix after the jump

La Cicciolina di Boccalone

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Mmmm.... Delicious pig face...

Tried “La Cicciolina” sandwich at Boccalone today…  I was a little leery, since it includes coppa di testa (essentially head cheese, plus tongue and trotters), along with lonza (cured pork loin), pickled carrots, radish, mint and chile.  It was pretty darned delicious – though I did occasionally find myself screaming internally, “Pig face! Pig face! You’re eating pig face!”

Oh, and the always-delightful house-made potato chips from Lulu Petite were especially lovely today.

Ix-nay on the Egetable-vays…

Well, I think the nutritional value of Chef Boyardee is debatable – but this commercial always cracks me up.

A16 Gets a “B”

Finally got around to trying A16 – they take reservations now, so that was a big incentive…  We lucked out with parking and arrived 15 minutes early and they seated us right away.

I’d read that A16 has a great wine program – and the wine list certainly was extensive.  Many bottles seemed to be on the pricey side, too…  But not long after we were seated, the sommelier that evening, Anaïs, arrived and asked if we had questions.  I told her we’d like to share some half-bottles, what little I know about the wine we like and that we preferred something inexpensive.  She started us with a very nice white, followed later by two different reds (the last one from Sicily and my favorite).  And all this just a bit more than $50.  I was really impressed by her knowledge of wines and how much she engaged us in the selection of the wines, despite a small budget.  We were very fortunate to leave our wine selection in her very capable hands.

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Roasted Beet and Farro Salad

As for the meal, we started with a roasted beet and farro salad.  It was a lovely and well-balanced dish, the sweet beets set off by the salty ricotta salata and a nicely acidic dressing.  And the farro gave a salad some substance and toothfulness.  Very good.

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Pizza Bianca

Next was a pizza bianca, with cheese, chiles and basil.  The crust was flavorful and delcious and the flavors played nicely.  The rather unfortunate drawback was that there was way too much cheese – it overpowered the rest of the dish and made the crust rather soggy in the center.  Not sure whether we just had some bad luck or if they don’t execute pizza bianca especially well, because the other pizzas I saw coming out of the kitchen looked marvelous, especially the margherita and salsiccia….

Braised Pork and Porchetto

Braised Pork and Porchetto

For our entree, we shared the braised pork with porchetto – and I realize as I’m writing this, I don’t know which was which.  At any rate, there was some sliced pork (the shoulder, I believe) served along side what looked like an inch-thick slap of bacon.  The meat was very nice, though it didn’t bowl me over initially.  But then I tried it with a bit of what I took to be the porchetto.  I’m not sure how it was prepared, but the exterior was wonderfully crispy and salty, while the fatty interior was the texture of soft butter.  It was wonderfully creamy and delicious (well, duh – it’s salty fat…  Or fatty salt?  Either way, a combination that is hard to beat…)  Our side was roasted carrots and turnips – fully-cooked yet still with some crispness and just a bit sweet.  All very good…

For dessert, we shared the house-made gelato, which seemed like a can’t lose proposition.  And for the ricotta gelato with pistachio and candied fruit, it was – the first bite took me right back to the gelateria around the corner from the apartment we stayed in Rome.  It was really delicious.  The other gelato was chocolate – and it was lousy.  It had that faux-chocolate flavor one associates with Carnation Instant Breakfast or Ensure – sort of powdery and artificial and not at all chocolatey.  I was really surprised by how disappointing this seemingly simple and easy-to-create dish was.  I’d actually read that desserts are a weak spot at A16 and that certainly proved true for the chocolate gelato…  But the ricotta gelato was sensational.  Go figure…

At any rate, despite the gelato, it was a lovely evening.  Chris and I really enjoyed ourselves, most of our meal and the fine service.  Then we headed home to get in a few rounds of Singstar before bed.  Who could ask for anything more?

“Acorns.”

I laugh my ass off every time I see this commercial.  Seriously – I do…  I just watched this clip six times and laughed like a half-wit every time.

And while I’m no longer a habitué of Jack-in-the-Box, I do occasionally crave and even indulge in their oh-so-delicious eggrolls and 2-for-99¢ deep-fried tacos…

Amber India Fails to Impress

I’d been looking forward to dinner at Amber India ever since I saw they were opening here in SF.  Several of my colleagues have sung the praises of the original Mountain View location.

Forgot to take pictures of the food - but here's our lovely view of the waiters' station. The trashcan is a classy touch...

Arrived for our 7:30 Friday reservation and was shown to what is certainly the worst table in the house.  It’s at the bottom of the stairs down from the entrance, so there was a near-constant cold draft as people came and went through the front door.  I was actually surprised that my mom and sister accepted the table, since they are usually big freaks like me about being too near the door.  In addition to the Arctic breeze, the table was between the waiter’s station and the entrance to the kitchen, so there was a constant stream of servers and bussers jostling the backs of our chairs.

Despite the hubbub surrounding our table, my other sister and I had trouble getting drinks when we arrived just after the first round of drinks was served.  After 10-15 minutes waiting, I finally flagged someone down who sent a manager over to take our drink orders.  He rather unhelpfully pointed out that our waiter was busy taking orders from a large party seated two tables over — sorry, dude, not my problem.  I just want a Pimm’s Cup please.

At any rate, drinks finally in hand (the Pimm’s Cup was decidedly mediocre), we decided on what to eat.  We started off with a couple of appetizers: Aloo Peas Samosas and Galouti Kebab.  The samosas were straightforward and tasty, though only lukewarm.  The kebabs, patties of spicy ground lamb, were savory with a spicy kick.  I found the texture a bit odd — the lamb so finely ground, it was almost like a paté.  I prefer something with a bit more of a meaty texture…  These were rather mushy.

Another oddity: each of the appetizers had four pieces, though five of us were dining (Chris having shown up just after I finally got my drink).  I was a bit surprised that our waiter didn’t offer to bump up the size of our orders.  Not the end of the world, obviously, but a clumsy missed opportunity to make things easier  for us (and to add a few extra bucks to the bill).

For dinner, we shared Butter Chicken, Lamb Biriyiani and Subz Elaichi Korma (a mixed vegetable curry), along with a couple of types of naan.  The butter chicken was lovely — chunks of wonderfully tender chicken in a thick, russet-colored sauce that packed a good wallop of heat.  Pretty addictive actually — I mopped the bowl with the delicious, piping-hot naan.  The special chili-thyme naan was an interesting twist on the classic.  I quite liked it, though one of my sisters thought it was too pizza-like — but then, what does she know?

The lamb biriyani was brought to the table in a brass bowl, the top sealed with dough that the waiter cut into and removed just before serving.  The dish itself was serviceable — chunks of lean and flavorful lamb distributed generously throughout the  seasoned rice.  I thought the use of saffron in the dish was a bit heavy-handed — it overwhelmed the other seasonings.

The vegetables, served in a green cardamom sauce with nuts, were very good.  The vegetables, including cauliflower and peas, were cooked tender-crisp and the creamy sauce was zippy, with underlying heat and a bit of sweetness.

For dessert, I had Gulab Jamun.  They were just a notch below “meh” — a bit rubbery and missing the creaminess and echoes of crispiness that are found in my favorite renditions of this dish.

The service, besides being slow, was peculiar and unpolished.  After writing down our order, our waiter asked if we wanted rice with dinner – I pointed out that we’d already ordered biriyani, so I thought we were all set on rice…  It bordered on “do you want fries with that?”, i.e. perfunctory and asked just for the sake of asking rather than suggesting something that would enhance our meal.

As the waiters and bussers scurried back-and-forth to the kitchen, there was some noticeable fooling around and joshing with one another.  Far be it from me to tell people they can’t have fun at work, but it just seemed a  bit unprofessional given both the high-prices and reinforced the to me the slapdash nature of the service.

I ordered an armagnac with dessert, after seeing it offered it on the dessert menu.  The waiter returned shortly after I ordered, advising that they didn’t have any armagnac — would I care to have the Daron armagnac instead?  Huh?  Weird, and again seems to point to a lack of professionalism on the part of the wait staff.

The menu outside the entrance, pinned up with thumbtacks. Again with the classiness...

When he brought the bill, our waiter delivered it with a flourish and referred to it as “the best part of the meal.”  Oh, OK, dude — if you say so.  The bill included an 18% gratuity — which is fine I guess.  Though our waiter didn’t bother to point out that tip was included  (tacky) — and no one recalled seeing it on the menu.  And a mandatory gratuity for a party of five?  Really?

Overall, I enjoyed the food.  Certainly there were some stumbles, though if the appetizers had been hot rather than tepid, the missteps would have been less noticeable.  That being said, I thought the meal was overpriced — the service and the ambience were simply not up to my standards for a resturant charging over $20 per dish.

Why, annoying lady with stroller?

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Excellent location for a stroller... And seriously, look at the size of that kid... Is she in junior high?

OK, you were already annoying pretty much everyone at Papalote, as you interrogated the staff about the menu and your special requests…  And you took a really long time to place a really simple order…  And you were using that particular tone of voice, that is both condescending and tinged with panic, as if a failure to include the prescribed amount of guacamole on your burrito will have severe and lasting repercussions on your ability to lead a happy and productive life…

But would it really have been so difficult to put your stroller on one side of you, rather than behind you, thereby blocking the entire aisle?  Not to mention that the kid in the stroller appeared to be a ten-year-old…

Demanding that someone open the door for you and your stroller on the way out didn’t help much either…  How come you weren’t in that much of hurry when you were placing your order?

At any rate, Chris and I both had chilaquiles – and they were good…  not in the pantheon of chilaquiles, perhaps, but quite tasty and satisfying…  And the salsa they serve here is pretty darn good…

The Last Days of Rome…

Note: Had some difficulties posting photos while in Rome, but I continued to blog offline. This is the last entry that I wrote while in Rome.

So, after lunch near Villa Adriana, we caught the bus back to Rome. It was five billion degrees inside (literally!) and stop-and-go traffic for the entire 90 minutes we were aboard (the guidebooks say the trip takes 35-60 minutes…). As soon as a subway stop was visible as we arrived on the outskirts of Rome, we joined the exodus of passengers running for the doors, eager to just be on a mode of transportation that was moving, even if it was the very last stop on Linea B…

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Giovanni Fassi - and little cutie scooper...

Had a quick stop at Palazzo del Freddo Giovanni Fassi, just around the corner from our apartment.  Very good cassatina (vanilla with candied fruit) and crema for me, Chris stuck with pistachio and chocolate. Kind of a zoo ordering…  One pays first at the register, then battles to the front of the hordes all yelling for the attention of the beleaguered scoopers…  Sadly enough, I just missed my chance to be waited on by the really cute scooper and was instead stuck with the crabby eye-rolling one (apparently, my lame Italian was not endearing me to him…)

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Chris enjoying some wine at La Mucca Bischera

Back to apartment to rest up a bit before dinner – a place called Uno e Bino, just on the opposite side of the railroad tracks near our apartment. We located the place quite easily – and we were frankly not in the least bit surprised when we found it locked up tight as a drum, apparently no longer in business. Sigh…

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Pizza bianca - simple and simply fantastico...

There was a very busy place next door, called La Mucca Bischera – so that was Plan B. And what a Plan B it turned out to be. An excellent pizza bianca for me and a pizza margherita with prosciutto for Chris. Some of the best pizzas of the trip, with super-thin and crispy crust – really delicious. I also had a mixed grilled meat skewer – beef, sausage and chicken – that was very tasty, meaty and fresh off the grill. Oh, and as if the fine meal wasn’t enough, every waiter working in the place was as cute as can be… A lovely evening.

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Hahaha! Chris got stuck with the blue umbrella - what a homo!

Friday we slept in a bit, then took the metro to Testaccio for the market and food shops. The metro stop is outdoors and I was about to remark to Chris that I thought I felt a few sprinkles – just as I heard him say, “Oh my god – it’s pouring”. And it was. Good thing we’d packed those umbrellas – and left them at our apartment! But, as in every big city, umbrella peddlers magically appeared outside the subway stop and we were on our way.

The market in the Piazza Testaccio was interesting to see, though since we were nearing the end of our trip, I wasn’t really looking to stock up on meat and produce. Of course, we did have a couple of very yummy cookies from one of the stands.

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Meat anyone?

Stopped into a couple of the local food shops, like Volpetti (a tiny shop, brimming with a huge variety of cured meats, cheeses, pastries, bread and other great food – though for some reason I’d expected something quite a bit larger, like Balducci’s in NYC…) and Divinare (where we picked up some treats to bring home…).

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Salumi e bruschetta

We tried to get a pizza for lunch in Testaccio at Remo, but they are only open for dinner.  So, we headed back to the historic center and came across Capranica.  Had a fantastic plate of salumi to start.  And the pizza I had here was even better than the night before.  Chris had an excellent risotto con carciofi, also delicious.

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Yes, this pizza is perfect...

Spent the rest of the day finishing up things on our “to-do” list, including a visit to Confitteria Moriondo & Gariglio (for chocolates), Ai Monasteri (for various items made by monks – though most of them liquids, such as wine, grappa and various elixirs to bring about a range of outcomes such as love or happiness…  Of course, we couldn’t buy any of this, since there’s no way to easily transport liquids back to the U.S. anymore – but then I suppose if we start allowing liquids on airplanes, the terrorists will have won… We settled for a package of hard candies, along with the bitter memory that we couldn’t bring home any “Devil’s Claw Concentrated Liqueur) and Giolitti (I think this was my favorite gelateria of the trip – they are famous for their fruit-flavored gelati and the blueberry that Chris had was intense and absolutely divine…).

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Jesus, lady, make up your mind - we need our gelato NOW!

Afterward, back to the Pantheon for a daytime visit.  The sunlight streaming through the hole in the roof made for an especially lovely play of light and dark…

Wow...

Wow...

We also wandered along Via Cestari, a small street near the Pantheon that houses shops selling vestments and habits for priests, nuns, bishops and cardinals; and other shops selling chalices, monstrances, censers and life-size statues of Jesus, Mary and all the rest of the saints.  Much of what we saw was quite beautiful and all of it fascinating…

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I'll bet those vestments cover up a multitude of flaws - like the pear shape I appear to have acquired in this photo...

Just up the street was the Hotel Minerve, which was thoughtful enough to open up a rooftop lounge and restaurant, where we retired for a drink after our long day.  The sun was just setting as we looked out on the Pantheon…  making our €16.00 cocktails worth every penny…

Dinner that night was back across the railroad tracks.  The San Lorenzo neighborhood over there is quite lively – sort of like the Valencia St. of Rome, with tons of restaurants, bars and clubs with live music, the streets filled with 20-somethings out for the night.

March of the Saints

We ate at Osteria il Pulcino Ballerino, which we’d seen the night before.  Dinner was pasta, followed by grilled meat, with us seated out along the sidewalk on another warm evening in Rome.

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The Temple of Minerva Medica - directly across from our apartment.

We walked home, happy and contented – until, just as  I stopped to take picture of the ruins of the temple across from our apartment, Chris realized he’d left his man-purse sitting on the ground under our table back at the restaurant.  We ran back (well, we ran part of the way – after ten days of eating, drinking and breathing in fumes from the ubiquitous scooters of Rome, we were not exactly in tip-top running condition…) to find that our waiter had found the bag and kept it safe for us.  Phew!  Another disaster averted…

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Chris enjoying lunch at GiNa

Saturday, our last day in Rome.  A quick trip to the Villa Medici, lunch at a charming restaurant called GiNa, just next to the Spanish Steps.  Had a marvelous salad with lettuce, stracchino, green beans and the most delicious tomatoes, then a fresh and vibrant rigatoni con pesto for Chris and a tasty and comforting prosciutto cotto and brie sandwich for me.

After lunch, we planned to head back to Giolitti for gelato, but our waitress and the manager of GiNa both insisted that we try Ciampini, a short walk from the Spanish Steps.  Quite a good recommendation – Chris declared it his favorite, though I still gave the edge to Giolitti – though the stracciatella at Ciampini was a champion, the vanilla ice cream vibrant and the chocolate flakes darkly luscious.  And a perfect foil for the fresh banana  I had with it…

Back home to pack in preparation for our 4:45 AM trip to the airport (a really delightful way to end a trip…), which went smoothly.  Then, another roof top bar for a drink, this time at the Hotel Gladiatori, just about 200 yards from the Collosseo – a pretty spectacular view for our last evening in Rome.

Not a bad view...

Not a bad view...

For dinner, we returned to La Piazzetta – with all of the trial and tribulations we’d experienced in searching for a restaurant, seemed like our last night was a good time to go back to someplace we’d loved the first time…

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Antipasti al carrello at La Piazzetta.

We had a our same delightful waitress, Sandra, a good sign…  I ordered the same antipasto al carrello and agnolotti al ragu – though I did add dessert this time, also served al carrello, i.e. a buffet of desserts including panna cotta, biscotti, tiramisu, pine nut tart and a bunch of other stuff I can’t remember.

We also chatted up a very nice couple sitting next to us – he was Israeli, she was German – and traded stories about things to do in Rome, U.S. politics, travel, etc.  Another fine evening and a very nice way to end our trip…

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Buona sera, Roma!

Our car showed up that morning right on time, i.e. about five hours after we’d gotten home.  Then, a 90 minute flight to Frankfurt, a five-and-half hour layover (ugh – and not made anymore pleasant by the combination of hangover/indigestion/intestinal issues (I’m trying to be discreet, but I think you get the drift…  Let’s just say, I’m glad the Frankfurt airports have decent bathrooms) and a ten-and-half-hour flight to San Francisco – without Ambien.  That’s right – NO AMBIEN!  I’d idiotically packed it into my checked bag…  Oh well – Chris and I both got good seats, him just behind me, each of us on the aisle with no one seated next to us…

And finally back in SF.  No matter how great the trip, it’s always good to be back home…

Arrivederci, Roma – and ciao, cari!

La Dolce Vita Not Always as “Dolce” As One Might Hope…

Note: Had some difficulties posting photos while in Rome, but I continued to blog offline. I’ll be posting those entries over the next day or two.

Tuesday evening we had reservations at L’Altro Mastai, the fanciest place on our itinerary.  I’d made reservations a month ago and was really looking forward to our visit.  From what I’d read and heard, it sounded like the Gary Danko of Rome.  I had tried to call to reconfirm our reservation, but was having problems getting my Italian cellphone to work – or so I thought…  More on that later.

Before dinner, we had drinks atop the Hotel Raphael, a lovely and intimate location with a view of St. Peter’s and Castel San Angelo.  After drinks, not far to go to L’Altro Mastai, though of course we got quite lost trying to find it – it took us nearly 40 minutes to get from bar to restaurant, a distance of no more than a quarter mile…  When we finally arrived at L’Altro Mastai, it was closed – not a light on and locked up tight as a drum.  And by “closed”, I think maybe it was out of business – this would explain the difficulty in my attempts to call the restaurant earlier…  The restaurant’s phone was, in fact, disconnected…  UPDATE: the restaurant’s website indicates they are closed for renovations.  Nice of them to let me know!

As one would expect, I did not respond to this turn of events with anything resembling aplomb (Chris would probably describe my response as more akin to a complete wig-out).  Plan B was to return to the restaurant on a large terrace on a quiet street we’d seen next to the Hotel Raphael – though retracing our steps proved as difficult as it had been getting to where we were in first place…

Once we did find the place, we had a very nice meal – good pasta for me, a really tasty grilled steak for Chris (along with wonderful roasted potato slices) and a fantastic panna cotta for dessert – a perfect creamy consistency, tasting of cream and fresh egg yolks, napped with a bit of coffee syrup.

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The Pope is up there somewhere... I think he's the guy in white...

Wednesday was supposed to be our day to go to Tivoli, but we’d decided to wait a day, since we’d be getting home so late from dinner at L’Altro Mastai (hah!).  And turned out we did get home late, since we didn’t sit down for dinner until 10PM…

So, we slept in Wednesday morning and headed to the Vatican, planning to climb to the top of the dome and to have a more in-depth visit to the basilica.  Yes, that’s right – we went to the Vatican on Wednesday morning…  The one day to avoid going there, as the Pope leads his weekly general audience to the crowd in the square.  So, we got all the way there and realized we’d have to return later to get inside of the basilica…

Sta. Maria a Trastevere

Sta. Maria a Trastevere

Not too big a deal, but I was starting to sense a pattern this trip of plans going awry…  We followed the river down to Trastevere, our walking tour itinerary in hand.  Of course, we started off by getting lost as soon as we tried to find the first stop on the walk in Trastevere.   But eventually we found it ,  the church of St. Cecilia – it was closed; next stop, church of San Francesco a Repa – closed; next stop, Santa Maria a Trastevere – open!  Success at last! A very pretty little church – Chris lit a candle in memory of the mother of a dear friend of ours…

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Just the usual well-organized entry to Basilico San Pietro...

Back to the Vatican to try again.  Other than passing through security, which was a total mob scene (though we did manage to get through rather quickly by pushing our way past the many giant tour groups of shuffling, glassy-eyed visitors. Sorry Jesus! We were in a hurry…), things had calmed down considerably compared to the pandemonium earlier in the day.

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St. Peter's Square - a pretty amazing view from the dome.

We climbed the 200 or so steps to to the first stop inside the dome, where we could look down at the canopy over the altar, while getting an up-close view of the marvelous decorations on the dome itself.

The interior of the dome.

The interior of the dome.

From there, we ascended to the very top, crammed into the tiny veranda circling the crest of the dome’s exterior, with amazing views in all directions.  It was well-worth the strenuous climb, in spite of the hordes of ill-mannered teenagers from a country that shall remain nameless (though the name of the country rhymes with Bermany…)

Heading back down, the stairs let us our right into the Basilica itself.  The interior left me awestruck – it’s probably the most breathtaking interior space I have ever entered. Overwhelming and beautiful…

Chris in the Basilica, with Lucille and Ed looking down from above...

Chris in the Basilica, with Lucille and Ed looking down from above...

From there we wandered the historic district, looking for several shops I’d wanted to visit – no luck there, per usual…  One was supposed located at Corso Rinasciamento, 72 – but we’d already reached 101 and no 72 existed…  Sigh…  UPDATE: Two days later, we found the shop – our confusion stemmed from the fact that the street numbers are apparently assigned to buildings in a completely random fashion, i.e. number 72 was across from and past both 101 and 47…  Aah, la moda Italiana…

But then back to Trastevere for dinner at Paris, a restaurant well-known for its traditional Roman-Jewish cuisine…  We’d reserved for 9 but were hoping to sit down at 7:30, which is when we arrived…  But were informed by the very nice hostess that the restaurant wasn’t open yet – despite being fully staffed.  “Maybe try back in half-an-hour or so…”  Again with la moda Italiana, I guess – but still seems odd…

At any rate, we did return and were given a fine table in the corner of the terrace.  We shared an assortment of antipasti fritti – carciofi all Giuda (a house-specialty), mozzarella, zucchini, squash blossoms – that was sensational.  Simple and fresh, crispy and light…

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Pasta e ceci

Chris, refusing to heed my advice, ordered two pastas (I know! It was ghastly – it was just ghastly…), starting with pasta e ceci.  He loved it (as did I) – chickpeas in a thick soup with pasta.  Of course, he realized he might’ve overdone it on the pasta and I was able to take advantage of my rudimentary Italian to say to the waiter, “I tried to explain to my friend that having two pastas is strange…  But, as usual, he did not listen.  Is it possible to change?  He is crazy…  I am very sorry.”

Lucky for Chris, the answer was “yes” and he chose a stracotto di manzo con crocchette – described on the English part of the menu as “stew”, but in fact two slabs of beef, braised to falling-apart-tender in a thick sauce along with fried potatoes.  It was wonderful.

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Polpette di vitelle fritte con cicoria

I went for traditional – starting off with an excellent rigatoni all’amatriciana, the pasta chewy and al dente, the sauce rich and tasting of ripe tomatoes.  Then fried veal meatballs, almost the texture of pate insides a crispy exterior – they almost seemed bland at first, until I tasted the bitter chicory greens served alongside which pulled the whole dish together.  Dessert was tiny wild strawberries, no bigger than the tip of my pinky, with a scoop of gelato on top…

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Fragolini con gelato

Today, up very early and off to Tivoli.  The train ride there was uneventful (I slept most of the hour-long trip – a good thing, since apparently the man behind us had SARS and was coughing and hacking most of the way…).  The Villa d’Este, our first stop, is an easy 15-minute walk from the train station.

What a welcome respite from the noise and grit of Rome.  Since we’d arrived early, the gardens were nearly empty.  Set into a hillside, we descended from the villa, each turn of a corner bringing us to another amazing water fountain – the Oval Fountain, large and spectacular; the Hundred Fountains, stretching from one side of the garden to the other, with a row of different animal heads all the way across, each one spouting water from its mouth; or the tranquil Fish Ponds, with Neptune’s Fountain gushing majestically at one end.

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The Hundred Fountains at Villa d'Este

Next stop: Villa Adriana, a short bus ride and then a fifteen minute walk…  Two pieces of advice re. Villa Adriana: one, take the train back to Rome – the bus we took was as slow as molasses in January (due to traffic) and hot as hell; two, don’t go to Villa Adriana – it’s a big snooze fest…

Actually, I’m sure the site is fascinating to those who can appreciate archeology – which, as it turns out, does not include either Chris or me.  But we did have a nice lunch in the garden of the Hotel Adriano that lies just outside the main gate – and there was a cat at the restaurant.  He was my friend…

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Questo gatto è il mio amico!

OK – there’s actually plenty more to this story and the rest of the day, but I’ve grown weary of the blogging.  More to come…

Ciao, cari!