Archive for June, 2007

Ad Hoc (Yountville, CA) – Thomas Keller Blinks

The middle tier of dining does not often come with culinary value. At the high end, the meals might cost upwards of $400/person but revelatory potential has no price. In the middle, you’re often stuck with restaurants trying to make up the overhead from their marketing and architectural expenditures. The food can be tasty, and even good, but it’s usually over-priced for what it is. You’re paying for the cool factor, the gathering space, and the stories (re: PR and advertising) that make it happen. Obviously, high-end restaurants are not immune to the same problems but it hurts so much less when they actually deliver.

Ad Hoc

The Thomas Keller solution for… something? Thomas Keller is a great chef but he’s a better marketer – the Alain Ducasse of America. It’s a tried-and-true formula – Michelin star chef + downscale restaurant = a license to print money. People that might eschew the haute temples will flock to the cheaper restaurants and eat the cuisine at affordable prices; never mind that it’s always watered down and/or bares little resemblance to the flagships. Get the right PR people involved and the media will fawn over the concept – the tail wagging the dog.

What did I expect? Much like Fork & Bottle, I expected “middle-of-the-road style dinner with almost perfect attention-to-detail.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Au Pied du Cochon (Montreal) – No Reservations

It’s like driving down Hollywood Boulevard naked, wearing a cowboy hat and holding a white castle hamburger in one hand, having sex with two hookers while listening to ZZ Top. Total trash. [And I love it.]” – Anthony Bourdain describing his meal at Au Pied du Cochon

No one ‘gets’ or loves what Picard and his talented crew do at Au Pied de Cochon more — or enjoy more fully what he does — than his fellow professionals.” – Anthony Bourdain in the introduction to “Au Pied du Cochon – The Album

Marc Séguin, Pied de cochon, 2003, Photo: Éliane Excoffier. (from the Au Pied du Cochon web site.)

Anthony Bourdain can be a charming writer but many of his recommendations are suspect. He incessantly talks about good food but he’s more into documenting iconography than good eats. He’s an international map for food and restaurants of the place, regardless of the quality. But he writes it with enough enthusiasm and exaggeration that disappointment is rarely a concern. It’s entertainment and it sells books and television shows. Granted, I wasn’t naked nor wearing a cowboy hat but if my meal at Au Pied du Cochon (APC) was like having sex with two hookers, abstinence might be the best choice.

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Colborne Lane (Toronto) – The Atrocity Exhibition

The plan was to drop down in Toronto, grab a nice dinner, and race off to the F1 Grand Prix in Montreal the next morning. I touched down and raced off but the Canadian culinary powers-that-be, with their perverse sense of humor, must have known I was coming. My suggestion was Splendido, a very good meal last time, but they were closed for a private event. My Quince-and-F1-loving friend said “Colborne Lane – it can be hit or miss but it should be fine enough…”

“It can be hit or miss…” Words that might echo forever.

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Manresa (Los Gatos, CA) – Let there be Vegetables

May 17th – One doesn’t need much of an excuse to make a trip to Manresa. The farmer’s market had exploded with bounty the previous weekend and that bode well for the visit. When compared to previous visits, you can see Kinch has begun incorporating more and more vegetables into the dishes. Looking at the pictures, it might be easy to say they merely perform an aesthetic function, but Kinch is too deliberate and careful to haphazardly add ingredients to a dish – the vegetables are becoming the centerpiece for the summer’s meals.

This meal was as good as the last – every dish very good to excellent. The peas with scallops and vegetables with burrata cheese and vegetable juices dishes are hints of the cuisine to be. The copper river salmon dish was my favorite of the night – proof that fish and shellfish will continue to play an important role. The simple roast spring lamb at the end was a perfect touchdown – satisfying and delicious without being overbearing. The desserts too merit special mention – they are getting more accomplished. The sweet pea ice cream walked the perfect line between sweet and savory.

I didn’t take notes on this trip so I will let the photographs speak for the dishes. Most of the photos turned out well; those that did not were omitted. Until I can convince every restaurant to consider 1-2 tables with improved lighting…

Vegetables from the garden

Manresa (Los Gatos) - Vegetables from the garden

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Quince (SF) – A Tale of Four Meals

The paradox of this San Francisco-based blog, and author, is the lack of San Francisco restaurant reviews. When I meet a foodie in SF, we often talk two different languages. They might start espousing the glory of a Sunday brunch at Zuni, rattle of their 54 favorite ethnic restaurants, or recall the glory of their meal at The French Laundry; I admit Bay Area ignorance and talk of far-off lands. We are strangers passing in the night.

What are the reasons for this disconnect? Contrary to the adventures of this blog, I don’t eat out that often. I’ve been on a rigorous exercise regime where the quality and quantity of calories is important – protein, complex carbs, lots of salad, and more protein. I also refuse to play reservation games where I have to plan my life three years in advance for a trendy restaurant (unless I’m eating in France of course.) I very much prefer long meals, none of the appetizer/entree/dessert and you’re out business. After experiencing some of the best food in the world, I have less tolerance paying for sloppy and haphazard dishes. Rather than subject myself to a ton of meals that will disappoint me, I’d rather practice my cooking technique, disappoint myself, and save my money for the restaurants that truly strive for something.

And there are philosophical reasons – when was the last time you heard of a SF restaurant opening that had a shred of originality? Read the rest of this entry »

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