Asador Etxebarri

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I ate here in 2011 so, like all my posts recently, this will mostly be an exercise in trying to remember what the heck I ate. Speaking of which, also back in 2011 Anthony Bourdain put together his list of "13 Places to Eat Before You Die." Included on that list was Asador Etxebarri. Located about an hour's drive from San Sebastian in Atxondo, Spain, Bourdain described it: "Victor Arguinzoniz grills unlikely ingredients over homemade charcoal: baby eels, imperial beluga caviar, oysters. (The fresh chorizo and prawns work, too.) Theoretically you can't grill a lot of this stuff, but a handcrafted series of pulleys that raise and lower each item makes it possible. Eat here, and no one is eating better."

We had a bit of a time crunch so we weren't able to do their prix fixe menu. We ended up ordering a la carte, trying to cross-reference and overlap the dishes from the prix fixe menu in hopes of creating a poor man's tasting experience. This made me sad, but you can only be so sad when you're in the foothills of Spain eating the most perfectly wood-fired food you've ever eaten. Plus I'm really really ridiculously good looking so there's that. I can only ever get so sad.

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Playground 2.0 - Trust: Dinner Party

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It's hard to describe Playground 2.0 because Playground 2.0 is unlike anything else. I've detailed my love of The Playground in the past, so it should be no surprise that Playground 2.0 is also not sucky. They do a variety of events and the one I attended was Trust: Dinner Party, where basically you show up, sit at a counter with a bunch of other people who like food, and then Chef Jason Quinn and his team serve you whatever they want. Imagine an omakase style sushi dinner but with less raw seafood, and instead of a stern Japanese man yelling at you about soaking your sushi in soy sauce, the chef is smiling and sharing stories as he's cutting you a slice of pork. The meal goes between individual servings and family style dishes, and the mood is casual enough that if you particularly love a certain dish you can simply request more of it. It really does feel like a dinner party, assuming the dinner parties you attend are with complete strangers and the person serving you the food is way better at cooking than anybody you know. The price of entry is inclusive, so at the end of the night there's no bill or awkward handling of money. When you're satisfied, you simply say goodbye and leave. Or don't say goodbye because you were raised by animals. Whatever.

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Alinea

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NOTE: I wrote this review over three years ago but never posted it. That's not a typo, I'm just that slow. I'm pretty sure a visit to Alinea today is nothing like the experience I had three years ago, so take this review with a grain of salt. Or maybe a bag of it, because I'm going to assume absolutely none of the following is accurate anymore.

If you haven't heard of Alinea in Chicago or its head chef Grant Achatz*, you probably don't follow the food scene at all and are missing out on one of the most innovative restaurants and chefs of this generation. You're probably also very pale, because you've been living in a cave of some sort for the past decade. Grant Achatz was the only chef to be mentioned in Time Magazine's 100 most influential people of 2011** and actually battled through mouth cancer to create what is arguably the best restaurant in the United States. Mouth cancer. That's cancer. Of the mouth. On a chef. That'd be like Kim Kardashian getting butt cancer only to come back and win some sort of butt award for, uh, best butt? Or something? I don't know. That was a pretty bad analogy.

When I called to make a reservation the hostess who took my call told me they were completely booked for the dates I was shooting for. My date called back less than an hour after I tried and miraculously found an opening.*** Apparently the fine folks at Alinea don't like the sound of my voice. I'd hold it against them, except for the fact that their food is so good they could hit me in the face with a hammer and I still wouldn't care.

* I believe Grant Achatz has passed on day-to-day responsibilities to his chef de cuisine Mike Bagale.
** 2011. Topical, I know.
*** I believe they use a new ticketing system now, instead of the antiquated reservation system I went through. Again, three years old. This review is three years old.

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Voodoo Doughnut

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I have never experienced a more overrated place than Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, Oregon. The wait during peak times can be in the hours. And for what? If they were the most amazing donuts I'd ever had then I'd forgive the wait. If they were even mildly great I could make an argument. But no. The donuts are barely average. Yes, they have original toppings (is maple and bacon even original anymore?), but the donuts themselves are average. Maybe even below average. They're not fluffy, they're too sweet, and worst of all they're stale. With their volume, each batch should be hot and fresh, but instead they feel like the leftovers from yesterday. The best donut we tried was the Captain Crunch, and that's simply because adding Captain Crunch makes desserts taste better. Don't believe me? Throw some on your frozen yogurt next time and I'll accept your apology via Twitter or Instagram.

The only redeeming quality about Voodoo Doughnut is that it's right next to Stumptown Coffee, so you can grab a coffee or three during your marathon wait session. I'm clearly not the only person with this brilliant idea, since every other person in line also had a cup in their hand.

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25 Degrees

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25 Degrees is a hamburger restaurant with three locations in the United States and one in Thailand, which is kind of strange but, hey, whatever, Bangkok is a rad place. They claim they're named after the precise temperature difference between a raw and well-done hamburger, and market themselves as a "sophisticated twist on the traditional burger bar." That's actually a pretty accurate description, because if somebody asked me to describe them I would say they're a hamburger bar but kind of more sophisticated. Don't ask me what makes them more sophisticated because I couldn't tell you, but they've got snazzy-dressed bartenders and they're located in the trendy Roosevelt Hotel so take that for what it's worth. Plus the one in Los Angeles is open 24 hours, making it one of the few places you can grab a decent bite to eat when you're stumbling home from a night of partying. And by night of partying I mean watching Game of Thrones episodes until you lose track of time and next thing you know it's 4 am and oh my god how am I going to wake up for work tomorrow it'll probably be easier if I just skip sleep and watch a couple more episodes instead.

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Taco Maria

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Located in Costa Mesa's very own mini-Portland, The OC Mix, Taco Maria is the first brick and mortar restaurant of the food truck by the same name. I wasn't a huge fan of the original food truck, but apparently I'm some sort of idiot because everybody else loved it. I came here for lunch which is a shame, because I hear to truly appreciate what chef Carlos Salgado has done you have to come for dinner where the only option is a $52 prix-fixe menu that doesn't even serve tacos. I didn't do that though, so instead of getting a proper review of what Taco Maria is capable of, you're going to get a half-assed review of something not even representative of what this place is supposed to be. Go me. It's like going to Chick-fil-A and doing a review based entirely on their ketchup packets (best in the business by the way).

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Osteria Mozza

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I've always been under the impression that Mario Batali was the best actual chef of those silly TV/celebrity chefs. Maybe it's because he looks like a chef. Maybe it's because I love Italian food. Or maybe it's because the other chefs are basically cooking barefoot in their kitchen for their neighbors while Batali's restaurants have actually earned him a Michelin star. Whatever the reason, Osteria Mozza has been on my Los Angeles radar for a long time.

We got the pasta tasting menu because why have one pasta when you can have, like, six? While overall I'd say the pasta itself was cooked perfectly, almost every dish was slightly over-salted. Plus, no matter how hard somebody tries to dress it up, at the end of the day you're basically just eating flattened dough and sauce. Osteria Mozza is definitely delicious on the pasta scale, but it can only go so high on the overall food scale. Unlike me on an actual scale. I can go as high as I can dream! Now where'd I leave that bucket of bacon-stuffed ice cream?

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Beecher's Handmade Cheese

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There are two types of people. Those who like cheese and those who are stupid idiots. And those who are lactose intolerant. And I guess those who don't know what cheese is. Okay, there are more than two types of people. The point is, cheese is good. And when you're in Seattle, the place you go for cheese is Beecher's Handmade Cheese. We had spent the day eating so we were actually too full for cheese or curds or whatever else it is they serve at this so called cheese place, so we ordered their "World's Best Mac & Cheese" which seems a little boastful but whatever. This isn't a personality contest. Like all things that matter, this is about outer beauty.

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