Posts Tagged ‘Best Restaurants’

Butcher: Smart Casual in New Orleans

Posted 30 Nov 2010 — by S.E.
Category Food Alert Trends, Full Service, Uncategorized

Sometimes I stumble upon a great restaurant without intending to do so. This was the case recently when I wound up on a bar stool in Butcher, Chef Donald Link’s sibling restaurant to Cochon in the warehouse district of New Orleans. Butcher was not my destination, I had originally set out to find the National World War II museum on Magazine Street. After a couple of wrong turns I ended up in the vicinity of the museum but three blocks further west than intended.  Looping back around the block I wound up in a maze of one-way streets woven through warehouses, condos, and restaurants that make up this side of the city. Within minutes I was back at the corner of Tchoupitoulas Street and Andrew Higgins Drive where I originally started feeling frustrated.  Andrew Higgins was the founder of Higgins Industries in New Orleans during the 1920’s. His Higgins Boats, light military landing craft designed to deliver troops directly from ship to shore, are widely acclaimed as one of the crucial innovations that helped the allies win World War II. That I  am on Andrew Higgins Drive indicated that I was in the right vicinity and that it would make more sense to park the car and walk over to the museum than continue wandering.  Thats when I found Butcher.

Fate would have it that I parked the car diagonally across the street from Chef Donald Link’s famous Cochon restaurant. Approaching on foot curious and hungry for lunch it was disappointingly clear due to inactivity that the main restaurant was closed. However, there was activity further down the block at small shop called Butcher.  Although reasonably well informed when it comes to restaurants, I hadn’t heard of Butcher prior to spotting it up the street. The customers seated at each of the two small tables on the sidewalk and group of people standing just outside the entrance are what caught my eye, the entrance being otherwise pretty ordinary.  

Once inside my perspective completely changed.  Although small in size, the seating area in the café was packed and there was a line five deep at the counter. Butcher was humming and the food being served looked excellent.  Customers at Butcher cue up just inside the entry and place their orders at a counter with two cash registers at the back end of the shop. The lines form up against two massive refrigerated deli cases filled with homemade charcuterie and fresh meats on the left side of the room.  A small hot kitchen is just on the other side of the cases.

I am in line now staring into the first deli case on the left which is packed with a selection of sausages, bacon,  long brown links of house made Andouille sausage, packages of Boudin Sausage (four links per pack), fresh pork loin, skirt steak, and ribeye, even a Jambalaya stuffed fresh chicken.  The line moves and I shift forward several feet where there’s another case with gorgeous house-made Pork Rillettes, Duck Rillettes, Duck Terrine, head cheese, Mortadella, Salami Cotto, and Duck Pastrami. I am in hog (and duck) heaven. The quality and craftsmanship on display in these cases is outstanding bordering on inspirational. A fan of all things Garde Manger, my mouth is beginning to water.

The line moves forward again and now I am next to the small butcher block countertop that serves as the pass for plates coming off the hot line. Studying the kitchen for a moment I am quickly distracted by a plate of braised duck on cornbread with poached eggs and mushroom gravy that comes up off the line. It is absolutely gorgeous and a perfect brunch item. A server passes by grabbing the poached eggs and another couple of dishes, forces his way through the line and runs them to a table. Starving, my attention shifts to the three large menu boards hanging above the cash registers and I start to narrow down my order. There are too many interesting items on the menu for me to choose just one so I order a Cubano sandwich, a duck pastrami slider, and a pancetta mac and cheese. The cashier hands me a number and I turn back toward the seating area to the right of the cue to find a place to sit. Seats vacate just as I start to move away from the cashier and I grab a bar stool up against the wall and to wait for my order.

It’s just around noon time on a Sunday morning and Butcher is packed with a mixed bag of late morning revelers, brunch seekers, and folks that strolled over from local residences. Based on the steady stream of food coming off the hot-line it’s clear that these people know how to eat; smoked country sausage with two eggs, house-made biscuit and Steens syrup,  fried chicken and biscuit with caramelized onion and cheddar cheese, BLT of house made bacon, arugula, tomato, and onion. It feels good to be in this restaurant.

The sun is shining brightly through the south-facing storefront and a handsome couple enters and takes a small table up front next to the window.  Glancing over at the couple as they settle in, I consider how warm, pleasant, and comfortable this place is compared to what it must have been like just after hurricane Katrina. Donald Link opened Cochon in 2006 after six months of delays due to the hurricane. In early 2009 Link added Bucher to his growing list of restaurants and the New York Times promptly dubbed it a “smart-casual” restaurant. I like the idea of a place being smart and casual.

Duck Pastrami Slider $6.00

My food arrives and I dig in. The mac and cheese is rich, creamy and full of savory richness from the pancetta. My Cubano is made with slow roasted pork loin (cochon du lait), smoked ham and cheese and grilled golden brown.  I splash a bit of Link’s sweet potato habanero sauce on one half of the sandwich and the sweet spicy flavor of the sauce adds a nice contrast. My favorite item however, is the Duck pastrami slider. A generous portion of sliced duck breast pastrami is grilled with cheese between two slices of bread until crispy and golden brown. By the time the plate gets to me, the cheese is just barely oozing out of the sandwich. It tastes delicious.

Pancetta Mac & Cheese $6.00

 I can only imagine the vision and perseverance required to withstand the challenges of Katrina and the BP oil spill in New Orleans. And yet the city lives on in places like Butcher due to people like Donald Link. Smart, casual, and sated…


Cochon Butcher

930 Tchoupitoulas St.

New Orleans, LA 70130


Nepenthe Restaurant: Big Sur, California

Posted 24 Nov 2010 — by S.E.
Category Full Service

Our drive down the pacific coast highway from Monterey to Big Sur was hampered by a persistent rain. The road was slick and shrouded by patches of fog floating down from the hills to the ocean’s edge several hundred feet below.  Although hoping for a clear view and some speed on the road, we took it slow and saw little. For months I had been hearing about a restaurant called Nepenthe and the more I heard the more it appeared that the restaurant was one part natural wonder, one part spiritual oasis and one part commune for the Fassett family who own the property.  The rain provided a mysterious emotion to our drive to Nepenthe that was fitting as I soon realized when we arrived at the restaurant.

Nepenthe is located on a pitch hill in Big Sur in the middle of nowhere, the only culinary outpost of its kind for miles to the north or south on scenic highway one. We pulled into the dirt driveway at 11:45 in the morning and the parking lot was deserted and strewn with puddles of rainwater. From the parking lot, you can’t really see the restaurant perched on the hill above but the size of the parking lot and the double wide stairway leading up suggests a facility of substance. We started our climb in a light drizzle through a lush dripping canopy of redwood and oak trees with trunks painted with patches of bright green fuzzy clumps of moss.  Halfway up the stairs to the restaurant on a concrete platform there’s a red enclosed phone booth, sliding door and all, tucked in the corner with a wooden park bench next to it. The evocative British feel of the phone booth paired with the rain, gloomy canopy of trees, fog, moss and prevailing grey cloud cover left me feeling like I was headed to the London docks in winter at sundown.

Ascending the final flight of stairs we arrived at an expanse of red-painted concrete that serves as an outdoor patio and seating area in better weather. The patio was slick with rain and long rubber mats leading to the restaurants entrance were laid out to assure secure footing. Even shrouded in fog the setting is astounding. The sound of waves crashing below whisper up revealing just how cantilevered the setting is on ocean’s edge.  Curious, I sneak away for a moment and peer through the trees to see if I can spot the ocean below. For a brief moment the cloud cover breaks in some places and bits of sunshine illuminate patches of the seashore and the foaming greenish blue ocean. Time stands still.

I wander further from my group down another flight of stairs to Nepenthe’s funky Phoenix gift shop. Surrounded by bohemian splendor, I find myself out on the back deck staring at large terracotta shards of Buddha’s face laying along the slope, a small bust perched on the adjoining stone wall. The rain is falling harder and a strong ocean breeze is rushing up the slope forcing the rain to fall horizontally into my face, the wind chimes on the patio all ringing in unison. My clothes are starting to soak through so I head up to the restaurant.

Back inside they have a large fire going. It is warm, dry, and comfortable. Legend has it that Lolly and Bill Fassett along with their five children bought the location back in 1947 from Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles.  The Fassett’s worked with architect Rowan Maiden, an apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright, to design their vision taking full advantage of local red wood trees to frame out the two story post and beam interior. When you arrive at the center of the dining room, massive rough hewn redwood beams are assembled like Lincoln logs above allowing a long row of floor to ceiling windows along the entire south side of the room facing the ocean.  We work our way past the main dining room to a cozy smaller room to the left with a large banquette and small fireplace.

We place our orders and I have the signature Ambrosia Burger, a six ounce burger that is grilled and served on a toasted soft steak roll topped with Ambrosia sauce (mayonnaise, tomato sauce, mild chile salsa). I have a side of bean salad and order my burger with lettuce and tomatoes. From where I am sitting I have a view over my right shoulder into the Nepenthe kitchen just on the other side of the knee wall that makes up the back of the booth side of the banquette. The kitchen is open to the vast dining room, is spotless and running quiet. We are one of two tables seated and our food comes out in short order. My burger is perfectly cooked and tastes fantastic. Nepenthe has Carmel Meats and Specialty Foods in Marina, CA custom grind its beef daily and you can tell when you taste it. The bean salad is tangy and well seasoned too. To finish things off I have a cappuccino and a slice of homemade banana cream pie.

Everything I taste is delicious if not overly simple. Looking the menu over, there are few items that are complicated and the prices are reasonable when you consider the setting (the Ambrosia Burger is $14.00). By the time I finish eating the restaurant is nearly full with a lunch time rush.

 Reflecting back on my visit, Nepenthe is seventy percent location, setting, emotion, and aesthetic and thirty percent food and service. Menu items are reasonably priced but the view and setting comes at no extra cost and is worth a day’s wages let alone the $14-$37.00 entrée prices. My trip up the slippery winding stairway was worth every step, the meal worth every penny. The gift shop is funky and features something for everyone including the four Asian dolls picured below. Sometimes it’s more than the food that leaves me sated. The setting and the company I dined with at Nepenthe were spectacular and remind me why dining is one of lifes true pleasures.



48510 Highway One, Big Sur, California

(831) 667-2345

Rasika ~ Washington, D.C. Indian Fine Dining

Posted 12 Oct 2010 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining

Last month during one of my trips to Washington D.C., I made a point to trek over to Rasika at 633 D. St., NW in Penn quarter on for a meal. Being a fan and follower of great Indian food, I had been meaning to eat at Rasika for months but never had the time. This trip the timing worked so I made a reservation with high anticipation. What excites me most about Rasika is that it’s pushing the limit on Indian fine dining in America and earning rave reviews along the way including one of the highest scores for food in Washington D.C. by Zagat. Rasika also has talent in the kitchen. Executive chef Vikram Sunderam, one of the few Indian chefs to be nominated for a James Beard award (best chef Mid-Atlantic 2010), has a refined yet authentic touch when creating menu items and produces food as elegant as the stunning décor and service at Rasika. This is a serious Indian restaurant with a serious, talented, professional Indian chef.

Sunderam was hired away from the Bombay Brasserie in London by Rasika owner Ashok Bajaj. With Sunderam at the helm, Bajaj opened Rasika in 2006 to compliment his collection of restaurants in the Washington D.C. metro area. It’s telling that Bajaj had to recruit talent from London when opening Rasika. There’s no one else in America pushing the limits on Indian food the way Bajaj is at Rasika and, other than from India itself, London is the only place with an Indian culinary community mature enough to provide Rasika with this level of back-of-the-house talent. Reflecting on the restaurant décor, website, food, service and style, it is clear that Ashok Bajaj is a man of vision.

Bajaj’s first restaurant, Bombay Club, opened in 1989 and is now a Washington institution. After arriving in Washington in 1988, having completed stints with the Taj hotel group in India and London, Bajaj scraped together the resources to open Bombay Club with a partner and, sans partner, has added another restaurant to his empire every 2-4 years since. While dining at Rasika Bajaj stopped over to my table to say hello. He’s a distinguished looking, well dressed gentleman with great presence. He departed my table after a minute or two and I watched him walk away. As he walked he shifted his head from one side to the other, eyes darting around the restaurant to each table. Bajaj has the intuitive ability to “sense” when a restaurant is running well that all great restaurant owners have and his vision drives the progressive Indian fusion cuisine Rasika is known for.

Rasika represents the steady evolution of Indian cuisine in the U.S. Twenty years ago it wasn’t uncommon to find one or two good Indian restaurants in major cities but the cuisine was less prevalent in suburban areas and the food was tame compared to Indian food in the U.S. today. Even Bajaj agrees that the American dining public is shifting toward a wider acceptance of Indian cuisine. Perhaps we are headed into an era where Indian flavors and cooking techniques will become as common in America as Latin and Mediterranean flavors have been in recent years. If this happens, we will have Sunderam and Bajaj to thank, in part, for showing us the way.

My meal at Rasika was served family style for a table of seven. The photos below reflect this (FYI).  

Chili Garlic Scallops $12 Ginger, lemon juice, poha

Barbeque Shrimp ($12) Fresh mint chutney

Entrée (l-r) Bhindi Amchoor (sliced okra with dry mango powder), Dal Makhani (lentils, tomato, garlic, fenugreek), Chicken Tikka Masala, Basmati rice

Rasika Bread Basket $8 Assorted Naan/Roti

Gulab Jamun ($8) & Apple Jalebi Beignet with Cardamom Ice Cream ($8)

Rasika 633 D St. NW

Washington, DC 20004-2904


Jaleo ~ Alexandria, VA is Latin Flavor

Posted 03 Oct 2010 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, Full Service

My first trip to Jaleo was four years ago. I was staying at the Mayflower Hotel with some hospitality industry friends and on short notice, was put in charge of finding a restaurant where three of us could dine without a reservation. Talking with the hotel concierge, I was reminded of Jaleo as an option and quickly recalled the press Jose Andres was generating at the time. Jose’s connection with Ferran Adria and his ongoing role as translator for this uberchef had garnered tremendous attention from the press, trade publications and the professional culinary community.  The concierge’s suggestion of dining at Jaleo intrigued me and, after sharing the idea with my fellow diners, we decided to make the trip.

Andres, chef owner of Think Food Group (TFG) along with partner Rob Wilder, is widely accredited as the source of the Tapas (small plates) movement in America, most notably at Jaleo. According to Andres’ TFG web site, Jaleo means “revelry” or “uproar” in Spanish. The site credits the John Singer Sargent painting “El Jaleo” as the inspiration for the concept. Andres’ inspired small plates, most between $8-$10, came while the U.S. economy dissolved. Customers seeking value without compromising quality or flavor intensity instantly embraced Jaleo. Within months the notion of “restrained fine dining” was born. Knowing these things, we departed for Jaleo curious about the food and attracted by the hype like a moth to a flame. All I can remember from that meal was how simple, affordable, and delicious the food was. I had a perfect Serrano ham with béchamel gratinée that still makes my mouth water when I think of it.   Jaleo was the real deal: simple, well executed, affordable with no pretense. It was entry-level fine dining, the prices were restrained, and I left sated without an ounce of guilt. The next time in Washington, I vowed, Jaleo would be on my list for a drink and quick meal.

This past summer, I was in Washington again and bumped into Jose Andres at the “Chefs Move Schools” event at the White House. It was a busy visit and time didn’t permit eating at Jaleo. However, I did meet the one of Andres’ Jaleo chefs on the lawn of the White house. I shared my fond memory of the Serrano ham with her and she went on about where it was sourced, her technique for making béchamel (onion clouté and all) and thanked me for the compliment. She asked it I had visited any of the other Jaleoo’s and described how thoughtfully designed the newer outlets in Bethesda, Maryland and Crystal City, Virginia are.  This got me thinking about how perfect Jaleo is for expansion as an upscale, full-service, multi-unit restaurant. It would compete in the same bracket as Legal Seafood, Ted’s Montana Grill, and Cheesecake Factory, with lower prices on a plate cost basis, and better food. She agreed but didn’t confirm whether Andres had plans for expansion. As we parted, the thought of visiting one of the newer outlets of Jaleo suck with me.

You can imagine my delight when I wound up in Crystal City, VA recently and had the chance to visit the Jaleo there. One thing is obvious at the Crystal City location; it’s new and thoughtfully designed compared to the original. Being new, this store doesn’t have the obvious wear as the original D.C. outlet and is more modern and bright in its design. The color palette is spot on contemporary, and the facility has high ceilings, clerestory windows, custom light fixtures and a huge mural just above the long curved bar. The interior colors are burgundy, gold, green, and natural wood giving the restaurant a contemporary feel with a slight undertone of Moorish/Iberian influence. It’s gorgeous.

After the hostess seats me, I relax for a couple moments taking in the room and making a mental note of my first impression. Within a couple of minutes my server arrives smiling and offers to take my beverage order. I stick with water. She asks the usual “tap or bottled”: tap for me thanks. Nice kid. She’s authentically warm, smiling and unconcerned by the camera on the table. I usually place my compact camera on the table in plain view of my server when first seated to give subtle notice that I am likely to take pictures. Off she goes as I open the menu and contemplate my order.

The menu at Jaleo is daunting with over 80 items listed. Andres divided the menu into 12 categories including meats, cheeses, vegetables, fried foods, fish, and salads while reserving a full page for a listing of made-to-order paellas that take 25 minutes to prepare and serve 2-4 people. Although drawn to the paella, time is short so I skip to the tapas menu. My server arrives with water and I ask her what the three most popular items on the menu are. Her response is delightful. She knows the menu well and immediately describes three items that she likes that are popular with customers. I also ask if she has octopus on the menu and she confirms stating that it was just added back to the menu. Noticing my hesitation, she takes off for a couple minutes while I contemplate a final decision. She’s back and I order four items; three that she recommended plus the octopus.

Gambas al ajillo

Shrimp Sauteed with Garlic $9

Manzanas con hinojo y queso Manchego

Sliced apple and fennel salad with Manchego cheese, walnuts and Sherry dressing $8.50

Patatas Bravas

Fried fingerling potatoes with spicy tomato sauce and alioli $6.50

Pulpo a la Gallega “Maestro Alfonso”

Boiled octopus with fingerling potatoes, pimenton and olive oil $8

Today, TFG operates seven restaurant concepts with plans for opening a large scale Jaleo and new Chinese Mexican fusion restaurant called ChinaPoblano at the Cosmopolitan Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas this December. The Las Vegas outlet will mark the first Jaleo outside of the Washington, D.C. metro region. Perhaps Andres is planning for a wider expansion of the concept. Such an expansion is a great idea and one I hope he pursues. Jaleo is a great concept that has held up over time and is suitable to any major metropolitan area in the country.


2250 A Crystal Drive

Arlington, VA 22202


O Ya Restaurant ~ Boston: Seeing and Eating the Finer Things

Posted 25 Jul 2010 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining

Every once in a while I dine alone. The solitude is relaxing to me and my sense of observation is heightened when I am by myself. Being alone forces me to take things in at a slower pace and to view the world undistracted. Perhaps this is due to the hectic pace that runs like a raging river through my life. I love charging ahead each day with full force but realize that I miss the details of life from time to time. I am surrounded by people who live this way, the successful people I run with fully engage life. No one is sitting on the sidelines and we tend to run in a pack. Because of this, it’s rare for me to be alone, let alone, eat alone. When I do, my senses are heightened.

Tonight, to further enhance my experience I plan to eat at a restaurant within one or two miles of the waterfront hotel where I am staying here in Boston (again). From time to time when travelling, I walk from my hotel to a restaurant to soak in a city at street level. Walking, so long as the weather is good, helps slow things down as well. It provides heightened details about the neighborhoods and environment surrounding the restaurant that you can’t see, smell, or feel, when riding in a vehicle. For tonight’s adventure I select Tim Cushman’s O Ya which is exactly one mile from my hotel at 9 East St., in Boston. The sky is blue and sunny and I am heading that way on foot.

I leave the hotel at 7:00pm walking northwest on Congress street toward the city. The sun is just starting to dip below the Boston skyline and the city arteries are slowing down as rush hour eases. It is still 80 degrees out, so I pause for a moment and consider jumping on the Silver Line bus that runs under the seaport directly to South Station. East Street is a stones throw from South Station and riding would save me from the heat. The Silver Line station is absolutely deserted and strangely clean. This makes me uneasy for some reason so I head back up the stairs and out the door. To hell with the bus, I could use the exercise anyway.

After passing the intersection of A Street and Congress I notice a huge piece of graffiti by (now famous) Shepard Fairey pasted to a building. Fairey is the artist best know for riffing on an Associated Press photo of Barak Obama creating one of the most recognizable posters of the 2008 campaign and a heap of copyright infringement trouble for himself in the process. Four stories up next to a fire escape is a large four foot by six foot stencil of “Obey” Fairey’s 1990 ode to the professional wrestler Andre the Giant. If you drive down Congress Street you will miss this work because the building is set back behind a parking lot parallel to the street. There are thousands of these images stenciled on buildings around the world now, if you miss this one, there will be others. I click a few shots of it and move on.

A few minutes later I am on Atlantic Avenue heading south toward South Station. The stone façade of the station is speckled with sunlight reflecting off of a sky scraper across the street. Studying it for a moment, the light shifts and the building entrance, windows, and clock are lit by the reflection. What a beautiful image.

Crossing the street I am now just a minute or two from O Ya. I continue down Atlantic Avenue passing Essex Street and make a right onto East Street. O Ya is just ahead, hidden on the south side of the street. For some reason Tim Cushman and his team designed an entrance that is so completely understated that you could miss it. Located in a multistory brick building, O Ya’s street presence consists of a small sign and a door that appears to be made of graying slabs of rough hewn barn-board.


I enter into a small vestibule and approach the maître d’ station. The hostess greets me and escorts me to a table. I order a beer and scan the room taking it in. O Ya has an industrial feeling, loft like interior with concrete floors, exposed ventilation and brick. The dining room consists of a long sushi bar with eighteen bar stools on one side and, on the opposite wall, a long banquette with eight tables for two. Three large arched windows provide natural light. The wall above the banquette is painted a pastel green with natural colored wood trim and the tables are a lightly stained cherry. Wooden chopsticks on small ceramic rests are located at each place setting. My pair is made of Yew and rest on a green ceramic fish.


When my waiter arrives to take my order, I ask him to have Cushman send out four courses of what ever he feels like sending so long as it doesn’t have Wagyu or Faberge in the name. He smiles with delight and tells me I wont be disappointed.

1) My first course is the Diver Scallop with Sage Tempura, Olive Oil Bubbles and Meyer Lemon. Five pieces of scallop arrive on a pastel green square platter. Each is topped with a tempura fried sage leaf and a rich, lemony, olive oil foam. The texture of the scallop contrasted with the sage leaf is fantastic. The olive oil foam adds an almost heavy cream like richness to the dish with a wonderful lemon perfume finish.

2) Next, I have the Hamachi with Viet Mignonette, Thai Basil, and Shallot. Three, fatty, skin-on, perfect slices of Hamachi arrive. They are simply presented with a chiffonade of Thai Basil, the Mignonette, and a dusting of dried shallot and spicy red chili. The Himachi is pristine and the combination of flavors wonderful. Halfway through the first bite, the basil cuts in with the saltiness of the mignonette. After a few more bits, the chili kicks in for a nice warm, lingering finish. 

3) I have had these Fried Kumamoto Oysters with Yuzo Kosho Aioli, Squid Ink Bubbles before. They are tiny little oysters that are flash fried and served warm and sexy. The squid ink foam, when it arrives at the table, is almost purple in color and sits atop each oyster. Beneath each oyster is a small “button” of aioli that serves as a flavorful glue, keeping the oyster attached to the sushi rice. Excellent!

4) Out comes a Soft Shell Crab with Soy and Sesame mousse. Topped with a fine julienne of scallion, this dish is explosive in flavor. The soy and sesame mousse is so perfectly balanced and thick in texture that it coats my palate while I crunch on the salty, oceany flavored crab. As I dismantle the crab, small wisps of steam escape perfuming the air. Another winner.

5) Tea Brined Fried Pork Ribs with Hot Sesame Oil, Honey, and Scallions. I anticipated that this item would have some flavor overlap with the crab since several ingredients are used in both dishes but this wasn’t the case. When I took my first bit of the Pork Ribs I inhaled just before putting the fork in my mouth and got a full head of the complex flavor that made Frank Bruniof the New York Times swoon over this dish back in 2008. The tea Cushman uses in the brine adds such a depth to this dish and, surprisingly, the subtle notes of flavor from the tea remain fully intact after frying.

6) The festivities end with Soy Milk Blancmange with Chilled Thai Tea, and Thai Basil Seeds.  This is the one dish that I ordered on my own.  I chose it because the description was interesting and I have yet to find a soy cream of any sort that meets my expectation. When the blancmange arrived, I was a bit disappointed at the presentation but this changed once I tasted it. This was the smoothest, most flavorful soy dessert I have had in years. The basil seeds floating on top added such a wonderful perfume and crunch and the cream was spectacular. Heads up all you lactose folks. I would order it again.

Six courses later and I am ready to walk back to the hotel. The past 90 minutes went by quickly but I feel great. Portion sizes were perfect and O Ya is just as good as I remember it. Having a great meal like this leaves me resonating with a love for the culinary profession. I think I will take the long way home!

O Ya

9 East St.

Boston, MA 02111


Facebook, Palo Alto, CA

Posted 28 Jun 2010 — by S.E.
Category On-Site Dining

I am with a friend and we just spent 90 minutes driving north from Monterey up the 101 toward San Francisco, the pastoral garlic fields of Gilroy giving way to urban San Jose and Palo Alto. The sun is shining and the weather is dry, it’s a classic northern California day. Along the way we decide to stop in and see Facebook Culinary Overlord (an all around good guy) Chef Josef Desimone, have breakfast, tour his shop, and find out the latest culinary happenings at the worlds most popular social media juggernaut. Although I make it sound like the visit is impromptu it really isn’t, we decided to make this stop as part of our itinerary several months ago.

Prior to leaving home to make this trip I took time over several nights to read “The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook” by Ben Mezrich a writer with a Harvard pedigree just like Facebook founder and billionaire Mark Zuckerburg. Although Mezrich paints a sensational picture of the creative genius and high drama that occurred during the birth of Facebook he also subtly reveals that Zuckerburg could potentially be a guy who likes the finer things in life like good food and wine (in addition to supermodels and long hours writing code). I wonder if this is true and what the typical Facebook employee eats. Maybe Joe will enlighten me.

Wall Art at Facebook HQ

With so much written about Facebook and Mezrich’s sensationalism finally dissipating, my attention is drawn to the food and food preferences of the young and elite class of geniuses that run this place. What does a Facebook employee crave for a meal after signing on another five million users in a week or getting hammered in the New York Times for some sort of security breach or advertising strategy? After a few minutes waiting at the front desk, Chef Desimone steps into the lobby to greet us and in we go. Josef is unlike any other onsite foodservice chef I have ever met. His statistics aren’t all that unusual; 3100 meals a day, operating hours from 4:00 am until 1:00 am, 53 employees give or take a few, generous but finite budget for food and beverage, the unit falling under the real estate division of the company. His approach to menu development, food safety, staff development, and culinary quality, however, are at the leading edge of the industry.

We are now walking through the wide central hallways of Facebook headquarters on our way to the dining room. Branching off of the main hallway are twenty foot wide workspaces with clusters of open cubicles populated with young, vibrant, totally engaged Facebook employees who don’t even look up as we walk past. Turning a corner at a hallway intersection an employee snack station appears to my right. Joe points out the selection of fresh fruit, healthy snacks, ice cold beverages, hot beverages, cereal, candy, trail mix and the like, explaining how he first deployed these types of snack stations while executive chef at Google and has refined and improved the concept here. I ask Joe what other things he does differently at Facebook and he spins around the corner with me in-tow heading toward another bank of cubicles on the other side of the hallway where his desk is located. As we cross over to the other side of the skylight hallway two employees walk past, both dressed like they just stepped out of a mid-town Manhattan night club. Interesting!

We get to his desk and Chef Desimone pulls open a file folder and starts thumbing through page after page of menus. Then, he logs into his computer and opens up a spread sheet. On the far left column are the months and days of the year for 2010; in the next column is a theme, in the third column a group of names. At Facebook “menus are like sandcastles” Joe says. Sandcastles I ask, startled? “Yeah, once you create one, it lasts for a day, then it’s done and you make a completely new one.” Joe goes on to tell me that at Facebook he never recreates the same menu twice. Every day he offers a unique, themed menu based on a country or event. He shows me a page from the April menu that includes themes, offered from Monday the 5th to Friday the 9th, titled “Major League Baseball Opening Day, Pasta Bar, France, Thailand, and Breakfast for Lunch.” Each theme includes detailed menus, recipes, and production schedules created by the team leader and individuals assigned.

We make our way out into the kitchen for a tour, talking as we go. Joe operates a large kitchen divided into sections according to production. Refrigeration and food storage lines the back wall adjacent to a hot line designed for bulk production (stocks, braises, bulk soups etc). In one corner of the space is a pastry production area and, rounding the corner opposite the bulk production line is another long hot line with a deck oven (he makes lots of pizza), wok station, fryers, griddle, and gas ranges. Across from this second hot line is a row of stainless steel work tables lined up end to end followed by the hot serving line. The kitchen is quietly busy and spotless. Every cook is professionally dressed and every one of them is wearing a hat. Joe’s kitchen isn’t just clean and organized it is wound tight like a Swiss watch. Seeing production in action prods our conversation back to menu planning.

The menu planning process which involves as much organization and discipline as it does creativity, is one of Joe’s key training and staff development tools. He knows every detail of what was served in the past year and what is planed for the weeks and months to come and scrutinizes every menu, giving feedback and assistance along the way. He assures that there is always something new and of high quality being developed by his staff members and, in turn, the staff members never grow stagnant. Everyone, including Joe, is constantly growing and expanding his or her repertoire.

This makes me wonder if the culinary attention span of the twenty-something engineers employed at Facebook force chef Desimone to go to such lengths. He relays that his intent is to constantly offer new and interesting foods while also providing an opportunity for Facebook employees to expand their food preferences and refine their palate. He sees his role as one of providing sustenance while also providing a type of culinary education to employees too. He does, however, repeat proteins on a regular basis due to demand. “I can offer any kind of chicken and they will love it, they love healthy fish and they kill pulled pork when I run it” Joe relays. Rotating menus aren’t a response to fickle eaters; they are a tool to keep eaters and employees engaged when the same group of cooks and consumers see each other five days a week.  Joe is one part conductor of an ever evolving symphony and one part jazz musician jamming as he goes, the same musicians (cooks) and audience (employees) at each performance.  He orchestrates the whole process while offering a regular core menu and group of accompaniments 20 hours a day.

Looking out into the dining room, with is long bank of windows with views of the first floor patio, twelve foot high ceilings, orange and grey chairs, white tables, and neutral toned carpet, the design is sleek and bright. We make our way over to the beverage and cold food station and he shows me another innovation, an allergen symbol system. If the menu item being served contains egg, the item description posted above it on the sneeze guard includes a graphic of an egg. If it contains dairy, the description includes a graphic of a small milk carton. This system continues for wheat, nuts, shellfish, fish, alcohol, spicy and hot products. He also places on asterisk on items that are vegetarian and contain no meat products and two asterisks on items that are vegan and contain no animal or animal by-products. As Joe explains the system, we walk over to the baked goods section (breakfast is still being served) and I notice one of the Facebook employees taking a muffin from a basket. I ask her if the symbol system makes sense and she agrees stating that it took her less than two minutes to figure it out. The system is simple, clear, and effective. Joe is smiling.

We pick up trays and head over to the hot line. I grab a spoon full of perfectly cooked scrambled eggs, a couple fresh sausages, some roasted potatoes and head for a seat. Three of us sit down to have breakfast and our conversation continues as Joe tells us about his professional background and vision for Facebook foodservice in the coming year. What makes his food so good is that it’s perfectly prepared using the best ingredients and loses nothing in quality due to the massive scale he contends with. Time is running short now so I ask Joe what Zuckerburg likes to eat. Joe, the consummate professional, smiles and explains the incredible relationship he has with the Facebook executive team and that Mark Zuckerburg’s food preferences are not up for discussion. He pauses for a moment in thought reading my face to see if I am disappointed by his answer. With a twinkle in his eye he leans over to whisper, the educator in him coming out again, and tells us that he continues to introduce Zuckerburg to new and exciting foods when ever he gets the chance. If asked, I bet Zuckerburg would tell me that Joe has never served him the same thing twice and that he’s learned more about food from Joe than anyone else in his life! Facebook is an ever evolving community of eaters and Joe does food right for them all.

2010 San Pellegrino Awards- Good for the USA!

Posted 26 Apr 2010 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining

Check out the San Pellegrino Top 50 Best Restaurants. Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark takes the #1 spot, Daniel in NYC rises 33 spots into the top 10 along with Alinea (up 3) and Per Se (down 4) and French Landry drops 20 spots to #32. Eleven Madison Park, WD~50 make the list for the first time. Way to go Eleven Madison Park (see my blog entry from April 19th).

Eleven Madison Park ~ NY

Posted 19 Apr 2010 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining

Being a chef, it’s a real struggle to remain objective when dining out. If things go well, I am elated. My level of trust and faith in the establishment goes up as does my spending. If things go poorly, I am devastated. Every missed sequence in service, every fingerprint on a plate rim or empty beverage glass that sits for a duration of three minutes or more, and my patience begins to sink. In contrast, when food and service are exceptional, it feels like I am part of a symbiotic dance; me as the recipient of service and my server the provider. Without me, my server has no one to deliver service to. Without him or her, I have no one from which to receive it. Logic dictates that good service can only occur between two (or more) individuals who are mutually committed to the experience. And committed I was when I made my way across midtown toward 11 Madison Park restaurant. 

The sun was shining as I passed through Madison Square Park; the place was packed. A canopy of new leaves was starting to form and the large cast iron planters throughout the park were loaded with fresh flowers and ornamentals. Shake Shack was in the weeds with 200 people in line waiting and 

Fountain in Madison Park

every seat surrounding it occupied. People were everywhere, sitting, standing and walking. Over the years it appears that Manhattan has become a children’s paradise as evidenced by a half dozen moms with kids in carriages weaving their way along past the ornamental fountain and Eternal Light Pole the park is known for. I have never seen so many happy, healthy kids in the city. It was just after 1:00 when I crossed Madison Avenue. 

Although my preference is to try high end restaurants for dinner rather than lunch, today my schedule didn’t allow this. However, I chose to use lunch as a way of testing the talent at 11 Madison Park. Lunch service for a chef can be more challenging than dinner. Finding the right balance between creativity, richness, and basic nutrition requires extra thought and refined restraint. The meal demands a degree of elegant simplicity. Move down scale and the meal could be deemed too common. Move up too much and the meal could be overwhelming to those who have to return to the office or some other commitment. It takes a special talent to find the middle. These were the thoughts running through my mind as I met a friend outside the place and we moved through the revolving door into the airy two story dining room. 

What has stuck with me on this trip is how youthful yet professional the service personnel I have encountered are. The hostess waiting at the entrance to the restaurant, attractive and in her late twenties, offered a warm and authentic welcome as we entered. She quickly found my name in the reservation system and came around her station to talk with us. She took my brief case and my friends coat and placed them in a closet and, handing him a claim check,  promptly took us to our table along the long banquette on the Madison Avenue side of the restaurant. I took the inside seat facing the dining room and my partner in this culinary adventure took the seat facing me. A few minutes later we were presented with our menus and offered a few minutes to look over the wine list before making a beverage choice. 

Our server was a delightful recent graduate of a prestigious culinary school in New York. After a brief chat about her background and menu favorites, she suggested we try a Pinot Blanc from the Terlan wine-growing region (Alto-Adige) of Italy. We both tried a 2005 Kellerei Terlan, Nova Domus, Resierva (60% Pinot Blanc, 30% Chardonnay and 10% Sauvignon Blanc). After enduring the wonderful, unseasonal heat outside, the cool, refreshing taste of this Pinot Blanc from just south of the Austrian border was sublime. 

Carrot Marshmallow, Foie Gras, Asparagus

11 Madison Park offers a two-course Prix Fixe ($28), three-course Prix Fixe ($42), and a six course gourmand menu ($68) for lunch. My dining partner was pressed for time and could stay until no later than 2:15 so we both agreed to have the two course menu. We placed our orders and sat back for a few seconds to relax. The tall ceilings, natural stained mill work and art deco light fixtures awash in the natural light that comes in through the high windows creates a comfortable ambiance. Relaxing wasn’t difficult. As I soaked in the room, taking pictures as inconspicuously as possible, I took notice of the silver tray service being performed. Food sent from the kitchen comes out on rectangular silver trays with handles; two plates per tray. A back server carries and holds the tray while the front server removes the plates from the tray tableside and presents the items to the appropriate guest. I watched a team work its way from table to table within their section of the busy dining room performing this elegant and flawless service. While observing, it also dawned on me that my surroundings were exceptionally quiet. Although busy, the room wasn’t bustling, that’s the wrong word. It was cruising with pure comfort and precision. Then the food started to arrive. 

Our first course was a nice seasonal amuse-bouche of baby carrot marshmallows and foie gras terrine on asparagus gelee and a crispy wheat cracker. The presentation was well balanced and the flavor was stunning. Each marshmallow was shaped into a square and lightly dusted with a citrus powder reminiscent of dried Myer lemons. The foie gras 

Curry Soup with Langostino

terrine with asparagus gelee was a well conceived item with the foie gras stacked on top of the cracker base followed by the gelee. This approach allowed the fatty foie gras to serve as a barrier between the cracker and the moist gelee preventing the cracker from softening and crumbling. I tried the marshmallow first and it was light and smooth in texture, not rubbery like the commercial marshmallows you toast over a campfire. The light dusting of citrus powder provided a slight palate cleansing finish. Then I tasted the foie gras and asparagus gelee. A properly prepared gelee is so light in gelatin that it begins to melt in the palm of your hand after a couple of seconds. Both the foie gras and the gelee were perfect. The foie gras provided a wonderful rich burst of flavor followed by the postage stamp sized yet potent melt of the gelee. A very simple, delicious, yet technical start that left me excited for my next course. 

Next, our server approached us with a rosemary ficelle and a crispy mini baguette. Although perfectly prepared, the bread offering was made outstanding by the sweet unsalted organic cow’s milk butter and fresh goat’s milk butter served along with it. Contrasting the two, the cow’s milk was rendered even sweeter when compared to the slightly pungent yet mild goat’s milk butter. Both were tempered perfectly for service. These little details, executed in what appeared to be an effortless manner, are the hallmark of a great restaurant. 

Spaetzle with Pork Belly

With the mild taste of the goats milk butter just fading from my palate, our server arrived with a small cup of lemon grass and madras curry soup with petit langostino. The best way to describe this dish is subtle and subdued. Surprised to find a curry so early in a multi-course menu, it wasn’t until I tasted the dish that I understood the thought process behind it. This was an exceptionally light yet rich curry with a lightly foamed curry froth above a broth very lightly scented with lemon grass and langostino. The three or four langostinos in the broth were perfectly cooked with each taste ending with a wonderful langostino finish. The texture of the dish was enhanced by a crispy rectangular cracker perfect for dipping, served on the side. My only problem with this dish was the stalk of lemon grass placed in the broth for service. I am not a fan of such impractical garnishes but acknowledge that, even though it wasn’t a garnish I would eat, the scent of the lemongrass was mouthwatering. 

Daniel Humm, the chef at 11 Madison Park, is a wunderkind whose rise in the culinary profession has been meteoric. He’s over six feet tall and imposing but with a boyish face. He runs a large, spotless, almost militaristic (in a very positive sense) kitchen. Since arriving at 11 Madison Park, Humm has steadily earned an escalating level of acclaim starting with a three star review by the New York Times in 2007 and, more recently, a four star review in August 2009. Over the years I have learned that the best time to eat at a great restaurant is while it is on it’s way up and this is my impression of 11 Madison Park. This place is on its way to three Michelin Stars and there is no question in my mind that Chef Humm will achieve this result. 

Humm started his career as a teenager at a restaurant in Zurich in the North of Switzerland. Many of the dishes on his menu provide a glimpse into his Swiss heritage. This is why I chose the spaetzle with Niman Ranch Pork Belly, Pommery Mustard and Spinach as my next course. Surely this has to be a dish that Humm has made hundreds of times since his early years as a cook. He didn’t disappoint me. The pork belly was flawlessly cooked (sous vide?) and garnished with a cluster of tender yet plump soaked mustard seeds, and melt in your mouth lightly browned spaetzle. The rich pork contrasted with the tangy mustard and silky smooth sautéed spinach creating a balanced combination. 

Herb Roasted Colorado Lamb

With spring in the air, I ordered the herb roasted Colorado lamb with Sucrine lettuce, garden peas and pickled mustard seed. When the dish arrived is was stunning. The wonderful roasted lamb was presented three ways (roasted loin, rib and sausage), served with a lamb reduction with mint, black trumpet mushroom, butternut agnolotti. The Sucrine lettuce was lightly sautéed and served as a base to the agnolotti, peas and pea tendril garnish. At first I was worried that the pickled mustard seeds in this dish would be too similar to the mustard garnish in the pork belly but this proved to be incorrect. The flavors of the lamb were a stark and wonderful contrast to the pork belly and proved an excellent main course with little if any flavor redundancy. Every item on the dish was expertly prepared and cooked with precision. I get hungry all over again just looking at the photo. 

Dessert service at 11 Madison Park is a bit surprising. They use a traditional dessert cart with a clear glass rolled top. The cart had five options on it when presented to me and I selected a pine nut dulce de leche tart and a cappuccino as 

Dessert Cart

 my final course. The reason that the dessert service was surprising is that it takes tremendous trust and faith for a chef of Humm’s stature to allow his service personnel to portion and serve dessert via guerridon in the dining room. The loss of control is significant and the risk of inconsistent portioning and plating high. Such a decision is representative of a level of trust on part of Chef Humm and expertise on part of his servers that is nothing less than impressive. And, like the rest of my experience at 11 Madison Park, this too was flawless. The tart was delectable and, when paired with my cappuccino, a fitting end to my meal. My server, sensing that I was completely sated, and without hesitation, brought me a two ounce pour of a wonderful Sauternes to cap my experience. She read my every move and anticipated various ways to keep my dining experience consistently beyond expectation. What started out as a symbiotic dance ended with me becoming putty in her hands.  This was the best lunch I have had in years, as close as possible to perfect. With my meal finished, my server quickly slid over and suggested a quick tour of the kitchen. Instantly I accepted…but that’s another blog entry!

Daube De Boeuf at Bistro Jeanty

Posted 14 Apr 2010 — by S.E.
Category Full Service

I had a dining experience in March that was so delicious that it brought back a long forgotten experience from my earliest days as a cook. The trigger was the initial smell of the beef daube at Bistro Jeanty in Yountville, California. The beef daube was so incredible that within seconds it brought me back 25 years to the first time I tasted the dish as an extern working 200 miles west of Yountville in South Lake Tahoe.

In 1986 I was on my internship at a casino in Lake Tahoe and tasted my first classical beef daube prepared by Chef Hans Jordi. Chef Hans, at six feet six, was so tall that he had to take his chef hat off to walk around the kitchen. His stride was wider than the wingspan of a small aircraft and he spoke as fast as he walked. His sharp Swiss accent and corresponding attitude was not for the faint of heart. To say he was demanding as the hotels executive chef is an understatement. However, if you paid attention and spent 2-3 hours per day working beyond your normal shift, he, in turn would spend time sharing classical recipes with whoever was willing. That we worked for free 2-3 hours per day was the norm back then. This was the 1980’s when we cooks were paid at the cashier stand in the casino and offered free drink tokens with our pay.

Table at Bistro Jeanty

 Many, after a couple of drinks, never even made it out of the casino with their compensation. It was a different time, but that’s another story. Beef daube was one of the dishes Chef Hans shared and one that I took great pleasure in learning to make. More important, Hans drilled classical techniques and cuisine into our heads over the entire span of time that I worked for him.

Being prepared was essential to keeping up with Jordi so each of us carried a copy of Louis Saulnier’s Le Repertoire de La Cuisine in our knife roll just in case he tossed out a reference to a classical dish or query regarding the proper ingredients for a specific classical French garnish. On a regular basis he would offer up a classical term and expect us to recite the proper description and corresponding ingredients without hesitation. When it came to classical sauces he expected us to know them all, from Aioli (garlic infused fresh mayonnaise) to Zingara (demi-glace with tomato, mushroom, truffles, beef tongue, ham, cayenne and Madeira). Get one or two of these mini examinations correct and you were eligible for the classical cooking lesson later that day. Get them wrong and you were sent packing.

So it was Chef Hans Jordi’s face that flashed through my mind as I tasted the beef daube at Bistro Jeanty. It always amazes me how food aromas or flavors can unbind the various layers of prior experience that are laminated together like a piece of plywood in long term memory. How is it that food experiences

Daube De Boeuf

become such powerful memory markers and memory triggers? I hadn’t thought about Chef Jordi in 20 years and now, with the smell of Bistro Jeanty’s beef daube wafting in the air, it was like Jordi was standing over me (all six feet six of him).

Bistro Jeanty slow braises their beef daube to the perfect state of fork-tenderness. For $18.50, you get a good portion of daube paired with mashed potatoes, buttered peas and carrots. The moderately thick, gelatinous glace that serves as the base for the dish is so wonderfully done that the liquid alone, with a baguette, could be a meal. Note that the beef daube was not my entrée; it belonged to the guy sitting next to me. I had ordered the Pork belly with lentil and foie gras ragout ($15.50) and was halfway through the dish before I was offered a taste of the daube. I rinsed with red wine and then water and tasted a fork full of the daube. After my second bite, I traded the remainder of my Pork belly for what was left of the daube, both were outstanding.

Chef Philippe Jeanty’s cuisine is as good as it has ever been. He had some tough times last year, closing his new venture “Jeanty at Jack’s” in San Francisco in May. Some in the food business said that his absence in Yountville and

Pork Belly with Lentil and Foie Gras

 the distractions in San Francisco resulted in a drop in the quality of the food and service at the Bistro Jeanty. I disagree. I think Chef Jeanty’s cuisine is as good as ever and that he is preserving the art of classical French bistro cuisine that few in the U.S. can duplicate. The classical preparations he features daily have become scarce in the U.S. and the level of execution he sustains, even scarcer. Eating at Bistro Jeanty was a joy not only because of the memories it brought back but also the fact that it preserves such an important cuisine and aesthetic for all to enjoy. I left Bistro Jeanty completely sated and fondly reminiscent of my life as a cook in prior years.

L.A. Taqueria Heaven!

Posted 21 Mar 2010 — by S.E.
Category Quick Service

Rincon Taurino

Sometimes the best meals are the simplest. And often, the simplest meals are also the most affordable. During a recent visit to Los Angeles a good friend took me a Taqueria he has been eating at for more than 20 years. He lives just south of the 101 in Tarzana, California now but still makes the 10 mile drive over to Rincon Taurino in Panorama City for the tacos, tostadas, and tortas that this little joint is know for. With so many local, low cost choices, I was perplexed why he would drive the distance to eat at such a place. On the way over he described the owner of Rincon Taurino and how long he has known him, the wonderful array of authentic Mexican dishes on the menu, and the long lines outside the place most nights of the week. He joked that on some nights the owner parks his own food truck outside of Rincon Taurino to pick up business from his own overflow, the lines are so long.  As we get closer, my mouth begins to water. I love good authentic Mexican food.

When we pull up, things look promising. Rincon Taurino is a freestanding restaurant at the corner of Terra Bella street and Nordoff. It is well kept and clean with large white signs painted with red and blue lettering. Inside, Rincon Taurino is equally clean. The small dining room has a quarry tile floor, light orange walls and seven or eight tables with picnic bench seating. As the name suggests, the décor has a bull fighting theme. There’s more than one mounted bull staring down at you when you enter.

Orders are taken by a cashier through an opening on the right side of a large glass wall at one end of the space. Orders

Tacos Asada

are picked up on the left side of the same glass wall when finished. Cook time for what we ordered (2 Tacos Al Pastor, 2 Taco Asada, 1 Torta Milanesa, and 1 Tostada Carnitas) was around 5 minutes.

The tacos are a nice little snack with two per portion. They consist of a couple stacked fresh corn tortillas the size of a coffee saucer topped with what ever combination ordered. Of the two types we tried my favorite was the Taco Asada ($2.70 for two) which consisted of fresh grilled marinated beef with diced onions, cilantro and a spicy salsa roja. The meat was cooked and seasoned perfectly and the overall flavors of everything else complimentary. For this price, I could eat six or eight of these.

My favorite item was the Tostada Carnitas ($4.50) which is stacked much higher with fillings at Rincon Taurino than I am used to seeing. Served on a crispy corn tortilla, our

Tostada Carnitas

Tostada had a nice thick layer of fresh grilled pork and sauce topped with crisp iceberg lettuce, shaved onion, tomatoes, avocado, cilantro and cheese. The portion size was sufficient to feed both of us. With a rich pork flavor, good seasoning and a great contrast in texture between the tortilla, pork, lettuce and avocado, the dish was an absolute delight.

What I like about Rincon Taurino is the care with which the meats are cooked. Each of the items we tried featured meats that were done to perfection. These meats served as the centerpiece of each dish with the rest of the components built around them. For the prices we paid, I can understand why people drive to this place and why the lines are long. Next time you are heading North in LA on the 5 or 405 toward the valley, stop in for a taco or tostada. You’ll be glad you did.