Thursday, December 30, 2010

R & D Kitchen (Santa Monica) 12/2010

We dropped into yet another bistro/cafe/wine bar/restaurant for a sandwich before heading to the local movie house. There are several of these R & D's scattered around California. They are owned by the same group that owns four or five Bandera and Gulfstream restaurants. They seem to have found some very successful formulae. There is no evidence of a recession judging by the packed restaurants where ever we go.
These, casual establishments all have TV sets over their bars, always showing sports channels, well stocked bars with seating and friendly, efficient servers. With almost no wages and 20% the expected tip of course they are nice to customers. There is an attempt to serve food attractively and serves are invariably large. We enjoyed a very well filled pork sandwich with cheese, onion, a mass of cilantro and lettuce. After scraping off most of the cilantro, which I like only in small doses, it became a fine sandwich.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Bandera (Los Angeles) 12/2010

A very atmospheric restaurant and bar characterized by dim light, busy conversation, moderate noise and plenty of buzz with a background of excellent live jazz. There is limited street parking. After valet parking entrance to the restaurant is through the kitchen! The venue occupies one large room with comfortable banquette seating along one wall. There is a large horseshoe shaped bar in the middle of the room with two large TV's overhead. We tasted the the mesquite grilled artichoke, which had been parboiled first, was as tender as artichoke can be
with that extra flavour added not only by the smoke but also by the mayonnaise with dill and other herbs, A smoked salmon starter was moist but not mushy. I didn't eat it but our host said it was "perfect".

For mains we had maple syrup glazed salmon cooked to perfection on the mesquite fired grill.
A substantial serve of potato with cilantro was beaut and the escobeche salad a remarkable contrast with it's onion, cauliflower, olives and a complex set of herbs. Mediterranean sea bass,
here called Lu de mer, is an extremely fine white fish, here served with a large helping of slightly sweet carrot and potato was a coarse presentation but a tasty and sustaining meal. You would not do better at any bistro.
They are also BBQ and meat specialists which, regretably, we did not get a chance try
They have a small wine list that covers a reasonable range with a French champagne at only $11 a glass.
Service was prompt and friendly and the ambiance outstanding.
Score 14.25/20

Katsuya (Los Angeles) 12/2010

11777 San Vincente Blvd

Los Angeles

We were lucky to get a reservation at the Brentwood store. Store is a term used by Americans sometimes when referring to restaurants. Designed renowned architect Phillip Starck, who also designed Asia da Cuba in New York, it offers a variety of seating. There are normal tables in the centre of the room, semi private banquettes along the side, a rectangular bar
at the far end separated from an open kitchen,

and a large side room, The Dragon Room, named after a back lit great dragon on the far wall. Able to seat over 160 patrons it was near full on Monday, their quietest night.
We were warmly, greeted, and seated, by the manager, Takeshi Salto. Moments later we were offered the menus and left to make our selections. Starters began with a dish of endame, ($10)

soy beans in their pods. Easily shelled, they tasted fairly bland but all the same were very moorish. A dish of cold seared chili rubbed albacore sashimi topped with fried thin sliced onions and ponzu sauce. ($16), part eaten by the time I took this photo,

the fish having extremely delicate flesh was in no was diminished by the mild chili. This was not actually what we ordered so our server offered to provide us with a crab,

the meat picked from the crab for us instead. They were also quite happy that we ate the finished the previous dish and removed it from the bill! A second very different appetizer of almond crusted scallops in a crisp but light batter, ($15.50)
made a nice contrast.
An even milder dish followed, 6 pieces of jumbo scallop sashimi served atop sliced kiwi then drizzled with yuzu vinaigrette and olive oil, and topped with yuzu pepper paste.($16).

This created a light sweet/sour combination that was very refreshing and would be easy to make at home. It will certainly get on our repertoire. The next dish was graphically called Lobster Dynamite ($23).
It was a half lobster, mushrooms and shrimp pan sautéed stuffed back in a lobster shell with dynamite sauce (a spicy mayonnaise) and baked. Again characterized by balanced tastes, despite the name, the cream sauce, mushrooms and sweet lobster meat were mouth wateringly combined. A Kobi beef and foie gras ($20) with a plum wine reduction,
was a total surprise on a Japanese menu and we couldn't resist. The tenderloin, known as fillet at home, was juicy and the lightly seared foie gras fabulous. For desserts we had a hot chocolate cake served with vanilla ice cream ($10)
and a and a profiterole,

mini cream puff's drizzled crème anglaise with chocolate sauce ($8).
I drank cold saki

and loved that too.
A really great meal.
Score 16.75/20

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Celebration Brunch Fairmont Springs Hotel (Banff) 12/2010

We've been to smorgasbords galore and we've been to brunches galore and we've been to countless buffets but this X'mas Day buffet brunch was beyond imagination. With only 780 guests to feed, on Mother's Day they catered for 1400, sittings began at 09.30 and continued until 2.00pm. The very large room, this shows a tiny section of it,
was filled with about a dozen tables each holding up to 20 or more different offerings with very little repetition.We came at 11.00 so many trays and platters were not at their full glory, though they were continually replaced as they emptied. There is an ice carved greeting on the first table
and another further down the room.
Some tables had signs

indicating the foods on them. Others had cards at their base and of course breads
and fruit
are self evident. At the far end of the room three chefs made omelets on request,
on induction cook tops on the left of the room whilst two more carved beef on the right.
Before reaching them and the chef carving turkey,
there were platters of cold cuts including four different sorts of salmon
that is hot and cold smoked, gravilax and pate, a variety of vegetable salads, including white and green asparagus, potato salads leaf salads, tomato
and more. Hot dishes included fried fish, chicken legs, Indian butter chicken, Basmati rice, a mushroom vol au vent, several casseroles including beef stroganof, whatever that is. (When we queried what Stroganoff really is there were over 170 replies on Chowhound!) Of course there were also large silver drums over heat containing various sausages, bacon, scrambled eggs, eggs Benedick, macaroni cheese, a venison pie and much more. A few more chefs carved turkey and beef around the room.There were broad tables covered with a variety of breads and pastries on one side with fruit on the other. Another table with a chocolate fountain
was equipped with small two prong forks to pick up the surrounding marshmallows, cakes and a variety of fruit with a table of cakes nearby.

Close by was a substantial tray of cheeses. At the far end of the room, through an archway two more chefs were making a sort of light toffee to pour over fruit and were also serving ice cream. Opposite this was a huge table stacked with dozens of varieties of cakes and desserts. This was not a meal to write about the taste of this that or the other thing. Rather it was a display of enormous hospitality, of how to celebrate, with a glorious display of boundless variety which could not fail to delight. No X'mas can ever pass without us remembering this overwhelming event. Congratulations to the Fairmont and their staff for a superlative performance.

Silver Dragon (Banff) 12/2010

Banff, as many know, is a wonderfully beautiful area in the Canadian Rockies. The town has a population of 5000 and some 50 restaurants, at which locals occasionally eat. Tourists outnumber the residents by about four to one at most times. Along the main street one long block has about 15 hotels, lodges and guest houses in a row. Because of the need to wait an hour or so for our room to be ready we wandered into a local Chinese. On the third floor, up a strange elevator, there was an unprepossessing staircase for anyone desperate for exercise, we got quite a surprise. There was a long, well lit room with some bare and some clothed tables, not at all dingy. Several tables were occupied by by diners but there were no waiters or servers in sight. We wandered towards the casse where we found a second room and a couple of well dressed waiters. The menu was quite typical of a suburban Melbourne Chinese restaurant with three lunch specials for about $11. We had a thick tofu and seafood soup which comes in three sizes. We shared a medium ($7.50) which filled both our bowls twice,
and very nice it was too. The sea food was delicate and blended well in this dish. We very often have sweet and sour dishes which can often distinguish the quality of Chinese cooking. With no great expectations we ordered a sweet and sour pork in batter.($14) Wow, it was tops. The batter was crisp and tasty and the vinegar/sweet sauce just right, although there could have been a bit more of it. Green and red peppers and diced pineapple added to the taste. A large serve of stemed rice was an other surprise at $5.00. When we left we got a fortune cookie. Mine said "Enjoy good health, eat out as much as possible". Just kidding.
Score: 13.5/20

The Griffin (Vancouver) 12/2010

The Griffin is another bistro restaurant in the Vancouver Hotel.

They claim that here you will "discover exceptional Vancouver fine dining, .......(at the) Griffins Restaurant, the city’s most popular bistro, renowned for its fine dining, lavish buffets and dramatic décor, which are highlighted by arched windows overlooking the Vancouver Art Gallery."

We found only the last of these extravagant claims to be true, although we did not try most of what they offer.
We did have a seafood bisque

which was well stocked with sea food but, as with so many dishes here, far too salty. Half a glass of water helped though it made the soup a little cool. A risotto
was also over salted but bearable. There is a large display of desserts
and patrons could fill up their plates with whatever they liked. For the sweet toothed this was the best part of the dinner!
Score: Something like 13.25/20

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Shanghai Chinese Bistro (Vancouver) 12/2010

Vancouver has a massive Chinese back to the gold rushes of the 1860's. A local acquaintance took us to Shanghai Chinese (SC) to experience their Dungenese crab.
This crab grows off the west coast of Canada. It takes about two years to mature. It grows to about 20 cm across the carapace and is distinguished by a fine slightly sweetish flesh, SC is a Cantonese style restaurant at 1128 Alberni St. in the heart of the CBD. We had a simple meal. Beginning with dumplings
which were large and loosely filled with a combination of chopped seafood, pork and mushrooms, an ordinary appetiser. Then the crab arrived.
It proved to be exceptionally delicate,and sweet as promised. It must have been very recently captured because, as soon as these crabs are caught they stop eating, absorb calcium from their shell, which softens and the meat becomes spongy. Ours was perfect. After this a sweet and sour shrimp in batter
with the sweet sour sauce served in a separate bowl and a seafood vegetable dish
were, to use a cliche nothing to write home about.