DineLA – Piccolo Venice (Winter 2014)

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

Though this entry is a bit belated, we have not missed a single DineLA Restaurant Week yet, and this winter, we would have had no excuse as restaurant “week” lasted a whopping twelve days! Winter DineLA is always extra special since it coincides with Martin’s birthday. His selection this year? A quaint little Italian place tucked away at the Venice Boardwalk… where we’d probably walked past at least a dozen times without even realizing it was there. We’re so glad we got to stop by and try their menu; in fact, one of the reasons why we chose this restaurant was that their dineLA menu offered a five course tasting of items featured on their regular menu.

Piccolo Venice

Piccolo Venice

The cozy atmosphere and romantic ambiance makes Piccolo perfect for date night. Candles lighting each table, a beautiful chandelier in the center of the room… Immediately after we were seated, our friendly and oh-so-Italian server brought a basket brimming with warm table bread. My favorite was the fluffy cubes of focaccia.

Table Bread

Table Bread

First Course: We both selected the conchiglie – marinated fresh sea scallop and sea urchin. What it fails to mention is that the crudo-esque dish arrives in the form of mini seafood “dumplings”, with the thinly sliced scallop resembling a clear hargow wrapper encasing a “filling” of uni.

Conchiglie - marinated fresh sea scallop and sea urchin

Conchiglie – marinated fresh sea scallop and sea urchin

Second Course: plin – fontina filled, homemade ravioli, butter-parmesan, fresh black truffle shavings. I love fresh pasta, though this particular dish was drowning a bit in the salty sauce. Still, nothing a few generous flakes of earthy black truffle couldn’t save. (Did I ever mention that I want a truffle pig? Or perhaps to train one of our cats to hunt truffles…)

Plin - fontina filled homemade ravioli, butter-parmesan, fresh black truffle shavings

Plin – fontina filled homemade ravioli, butter-parmesan, fresh black truffle shavings

Third Course (M): neri – squid ink tagliolini, sea scallops emulsion, bottarga shavings. Martin is a sucker for squid ink pasta and he seemed very pleased with the long strands of briny goodness flecked with crumbles of cured fish roe. I was a bit jealous.

Neri - squid ink tagliolini, sea scallops emulsion, bottarga shavings

Neri – squid ink tagliolini, sea scallops emulsion, bottarga shavings

Third Course (A): garganelli – homemade, braised wild boar sauce ragu. From appearance alone, I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference from the boar sausage and ordinary ground beef, but one bite of gamy, hearty protein and I was hooked. It paired perfectly with the al dente hand-rolled pasta.

Garganelli - homemade braised wild boar sausage ragu

Garganelli – homemade braised wild boar sausage ragu

Fourth Course (M): tagliata – seared natural australian kobe ny steak, lemon-thyme pesto, maldon salt. It arrived rare just the way he likes it, and the pleasant surprise — cubes of crispy fried polenta! How did they know he loved those?! Super tender, juicy steak – this was a great dish.

Tagliata - seared natural australian ny steak, lemon-thyme pesto, maldon salt

Tagliata – seared natural australian ny steak, lemon-thyme pesto, maldon salt

Fourth Course (A): anatra – pan roasted duck breast, roasted black currants sauce. I love a good seared rare duck breast and Piccolo did not disappoint. The meat was tender and was complemented well by the currant sauce. My surprise sides? A dollop of purple potato mash (puree?) and crispy roasted brussels sprouts… some of my all-time favorite side dishes. Again, how did they know??

Anatra - pan roasted duck breast, roasted black currants sauce

Anatra – pan roasted duck breast, roasted black currants sauce

Fifth Course: chef’s selection of homemade desserts. If you have any allergies or dietary restrictions, TELL YOUR SERVER. We were surprised that the plate arrived on our table without any mention of what the selections were, nor a particularly thorough description of the items. That’s okay for us though; we have daring palates and resilient stomachs. Just thought I’d warn ya.

Semifreddo with amaretto caramel

Semifreddo with amaretto caramel

Semifreddo with amaretto caramel sauce and profiteroles (or, a la Italia, bignole) filled with fluffy dark chocolate mousse.

Bignole filled with valrhona chocolate mousse

Bignole filled with valrhona chocolate mousse

Both delicious palate cleansers and adorable little bites to end the meal. Molto bene!

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Check out Piccolo Venice: piccolovenice.com

5 Dudley Avenue
Venice, CA 90291

See their Yelp reviews here!

DineLA Winter 2014 – $$$ ($45/person) dinner

Parking near Venice Beach is notoriously difficult. We swallowed our pride and paid for the valet, which shares a parking lot with On The Waterfront Cafe.

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Public House – The Venetian, Las Vegas NV

Food Adventures, Las Vegas

“Who spends Christmas in Vegas anyway?” many of our friends exclaimed. Well, when you’re spontaneous like Martin and I are, and an offer for three free nights of hotel lodging pops up in our inbox, you can bet we will welcome the opportunity for a short getaway to Sin City. Las Vegas has really established itself as a food destination, with many of the world’s renowned chefs opening up restaurants on the Strip. But we decided to save the Robuchons and the Gordon Ramsays for another time. Instead, we had our Christmas dinner at an underrated gastropub (our favorite kind of joint) with Executive Chef Anthony Meidenbauer at the helm — Public House.

Festive View from the Deck at The Venetian

Festive View from the Deck at The Venetian

Public House is not just any gastropub. With a selection of literally hundreds of beers in bottles, cans, and draft, no server could possibly rattle them all off for every customer. Instead, we were seated and immediately presented with our menus and… an iPad. That’s right, folks. There really is “an app for that.”

Perusing the Varieties of Beer

Perusing the Varieties of Beer

Perhaps I was in a less adventurous mood drink-wise or perhaps I was so overwhelmed by all the choices, but I ended up selecting a tried and true favorite: Lindeman’s Peche Lambic. (Fun fact — I love this sweet, fruity ale so much that I have a pair of the branded flutes at home; we also have a pair of branded chalices in which to serve Martin’s favorite, Chimay.)

Lindeman's Peche Lambic

Lindeman’s Peche Lambic

The entire menu looked awesome and suited to our taste, so we had a difficult time choosing just a few dishes. I had, however, been eyeing the roasted bone marrow appetizer since we first decided to make our reservation here, so that was a definite starter. The bones, still piping hot from having been roasted to order in a (probably) 400 degree oven, smelled incredible. The mere sight of this appetizer made me salivate.

Roasted Bone Marrow Appetizer

Roasted Bone Marrow – bacon marmalade, grilled bread

It is admittedly hard to mess up roasting bone marrow (we even did it ourselves at home), and the bones at Public House were made extra special by resting alongside thick, grilled slices of a rustic bread and a heaping pile of bacon marmalade. Bacon. Marmalade. Reminiscent of the onion compote I made for our copycat Father’s Office burgers, it tasted delicious although the flavor was a bit overpowering for the delicate marrow decadence. The marrow itself melted like nature’s butter, smearing effortlessly over the charred bread. Sinking our teeth into that was like a bite of heaven. A great way to start our evening.

Roasted Bone Marrow - piling it on high

Roasted Bone Marrow – piling it on high

We also ordered a second appetizer to maximize our exposure to the menu’s offerings. Torn between the grilled octopus and the crispy pig tails, we decided to go with the land critter. I was a bit surprised to find that the “tail” was really more like hunks of pork belly lacquered in a sweet & sour glaze. Definitely not the curly bits of offal I had in mind. The flavors were interestingly Asian-inspired, but as the fatty layers were still quite heavy and not fully rendered, this was not my favorite dish of the night.

Crispy Pig Tails

Crispy Pig Tails – calabrian chili glaze, radish, buttermilk dressing

Martin and I were both in a carnivorous mood. He selected the 8 ounce filet mignon of natural angus beef, simply as it is – topped with a generous dollop of maitre d’hotel butter (a homemade herbed butter) and served alongside greens. The steak was wonderfully tender and cooked perfectly rare as requested; the butter melting over the seared crust added an appreciated touch of fat. The frisee and arugula salad was a bit heavily salted and the vinaigrette was more acidic than we’d prefer, but seeing as how Martin is not a fan of salad anyway, no harm, no foul.

8 oz. Filet Mignon - greens & maitre d'hotel butter

8 oz. Filet Mignon – greens & maitre d’hotel butter

Since it was Christmas after all, I gravitated toward the Christmas Specials, a small insert that our server placed on top of the regular dinner menu. My family often celebrated Christmas with prime rib, so I decided to go with that for old times’ sake. It being a whole rib roast, I knew it would be difficult to get a cut that was just right, but I asked for the kitchen to provide the rarest they could. I was very pleased with the generous slab of medium rare (to rare) that was placed in front of me. With its peppery crust and a dousing of au jus, the prime rib was incredibly satisfying. The creamy truffled spinach was a pleasant side dish to add a bit of greens in my life, and the yorkshire pudding soaked up the jus the way it should. However, with the portion being unexpectedly humongous, I am ashamed to admit that this entree bested me and I could not finish it.

Public House Prime Rib - creamy black truffle spinach, yorkshire pudding

Public House Prime Rib – creamy black truffle spinach, yorkshire pudding

But, as they say, there is always room for dessert. The selection of homemade ice cream and sorbet caught my eye, in particular the pear balsamic sorbet. We asked if we could substitute this for the milk chocolate sorbet that usually tops the creme brulee and it was easily accommodated. The giant crepe dentelle made for an impressive presentation and the creme brulee was the perfect texture — crunchy caramelized sugar giving way to a dense custard filled with vanilla bean. I was very happy with the sorbet, which balanced the sweetness of the pears with the tartness of the balsamic to yield a frozen treat that danced on my palate. I think Martin was most pleased with the feuilletine crumble; we love crepes dentelles and especially appreciate their buttery fragility after having made (or tried to make…) a batch at home. This crumble was tossed in chocolate and were reminiscent of Nestle’s Buncha Crunch candy, one of our favorite movie theater splurges.

Creme Brulee - pear butter, feuilletine crumble, pear balsamic sorbet

Creme Brulee – pear butter, feuilletine crumble, pear balsamic sorbet

All in all, we had a great dinner and were very grateful for all of the people who were working on Christmas Day so we could have somewhere to go. If you find yourself wandering the Strip and end up in the Grande Canal Shoppes at The Venetian, I definitely recommend seeking out Public House for a pint of beer and tasty gastropub bites. And if you were hesitant about vacationing here during the winter holidays, check out this festive scene just outside the hotel. It certainly felt more Christmas-y there than the 80-degree day they were having in our beloved City of Angels!

The Venetian - Winter in Venice

The Venetian – Winter in Venice

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Check out Public House: publichouselv.com

The Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian
3355 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109

See their Yelp reviews here!

Morton’s The Steakhouse – Beverly Hills, CA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

My dad loves steak, and my parents love to visit us here in LA and check out the awesome restaurant scene that Martin and I often take for granted. So it was with much excitement and enthusiasm that Martin and I decided to treat them to dinner at Morton’s The Steakhouse in Beverly Hills for my dad’s birthday last month.

Mmmm steak....

Mmmm steak….

The service was stellar, the ambiance enchanting, the food phenomenal, and the company simply the best. (Sorry, no alliteration for that last one. How about fantastic familia? Now I’m just trying too hard…)

Cowboy Star – A Taste of the Wild West

Food Adventures, San Diego

During our meal at Melisse’s Norcal vs. Socal Foie Battle we had the fortune of meeting Angie Weber, one of the owners of Cowboy Star in San Diego. So this past weekend we decided to take a trek down to the Gaslamp District for Memorial Day Weekend and paid a visit to her restaurant and butcher shop. Angie invited us to sit at the Chef’s Counter that evening and we delightedly accepted. So follows is a recollection of our taste buds’ adventure to the wild west!

View of the open kitchen from the 6-seat chef’s counter.

Painted Lady: Absolut wild tea, elderflower, cucumber.

I selected one of their many beers and Alice chose the Painted Lady. It was an interesting cocktail concoction with pretty little flowers. Alice recalled the vodka being a little sharper than she expected. Paired fairly well with her skirt steak.

Amuse Bouche: Salmon Tartare on Toast

Table Bread: Molasses Bread, one of three choices

Honestly we didn’t really care for the amuse bouche. The salmon was good but the toast wasn’t very crunchy – it felt as though they’ve been sitting out for a while. A little bit on the dry side as well.

Dinner began with a small selection of breads with the Molasses Bread being one of our all-time favorites of table breads. Great by itself but I love to spread a generous amount of butter over it.

Starter: Off-the-menu foie gras terrine with huckleberry compote and toasted brioche

This is where it gets exciting. C-Star has two off-the-menu foie gras dishes – the terrine and the seared foie. We really wanted to get both but, having already mentally decided on our favorite preparation of foie, went for the terrine.

Very vibrant dish with an assortment of eye-catching colors and tower of brioche. The terrine had a smooth consistency and easily spreadable over the brioche. Extra brownie points for one of the line chefs providing seconds of the toasted brioche after noticing how quickly we plowed through them. I discovered that the best way to eat this was to combine a hefty chunk of terrine with the huckleberry compote and sauce on a piece of toast and eat it all in one bite. The huckleberry flavor is reminiscent of blueberries and really cuts the fatty foie with its sweet and tart flavors. I think we made a good call on this one.

A’s Entree: 10-oz American Wagyu Skirt Steak

A’s Side: Roasted Bone Marrow, nice and fatty

C-Star really takes a lot of pride in cooking their steaks to perfect temperatures, advising no more than medium rare for all their cuts. This makes me smile because I have seen too many wasted steaks being ordered medium or well-done. People just don’t know what they’re missing out on!

Alice had been debating which of the variety of steaks to select for her entree but finally settled on the skirt steak. Clearly described as American Wagyu hailing from Snake River Farms in Idaho, the skirt steak was tender, cooked perfectly rare to order, and had just a bit of a chewy texture. It was served with a slightly sweet jus that balanced the flavors well. The roasted bone marrow blew her away. It was rich and decadent and piping hot straight out of the oven. She liked piling a little scoop onto each bite of steak, while I preferred to enjoy its flavor on its own.

M’s Entree: 8-oz, 21-day aged Filet Mignon w/ Seared Sea Scallop

M’s Entree: Beautifully rare center, perfect temperature

The filet was, as expected, delicious and melted in my mouth. The scallop was a great supplement to the filet, even temporarily stealing the limelight with its depth of flavor and golden sear. A quasi surf-and-turf arrangement to please the palate.

There was quite a bit of black pepper but this wasn’t a problem for me because I like copious amounts of black pepper on my steaks. However, I could definitely see how this could hinder others’ enjoyment of the dish if they are not especially fond of black pepper to begin with.

The accompanying sauteed asparagus and mashed potatoes helped to balance the umami flavors of the steak and helped to enhance the star of the dish.

Dessert: Fromage Blanc Cheesecake w/ Candied Kumquats and Honeycomb

A light and fluffy contrast to a high-protein dinner – fromage blanc is an excellent substitute for cream cheese. The candied kumquats which used mainly the sweet peel complemented the cheesecake without bringing an overly tart flavor. The honeycomb added extra excitement with a burst of sweetness but unless you want an unpleasant taste and stickiness of wax in your mouth, it’s better to suck on the honeycomb rather than to chew it. Overall a wonderful light end to a heavy dinner. I wonder if C-Star has a pastry chef?

Too bad their merchandise page isn’t up yet. I want one of those C☆ hats all the staff wears.

Cowboy Star is definitely on our list of must-eats in the Gaslamp district. The food was delicious and the service was fantastic. We’re telling all of our friends and family about it, starting with you our readers!

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Check out Cowboy Star: www.thecowboystar.com

640 10th Ave
(between G St & Market St)
San Diego, CA 92101

See their Yelp reviews here!