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Chapter One: The Modern Local

February 25, 2015

One Friday afternoon, while I was home celebrating the end of the work week, I received a text from my husband, who was still at work, asking me if I wanted to try something a little different this upcoming weekend.  My husband wanted me to check out a local gastropub located in Orange County that he had heard about and been interested in trying out for awhile now.  Of course, I’m always up for trying something new since I always feel like we always do the same old, same old, when it comes to dining out.  And since I’m a huge lover of food, new stuff is always welcomed.  After checking out the bar’s menu online, it sounded interesting and certainly different, not the usual place we go to, so I thought why not?

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Chapter One: The Modern Local, located in a prime corner storefront location in Santa Ana calls itself a modern tavern for the hip crowd serving locally grown, seasonal fare and craft brews.  So named Chapter One because the gastropub is houses in a former bookstore, the interior décor of the pub reflects its name and modern hip feel.  There are still bookshelves that line some of the interior walls as decoration, and the standard uniform for everyone who works in the tavern is a modern, hipster look with newsboy caps and vest worn over a tie.  It does almost have the feel of walking into your neighborhood used book store.

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Being a pub, my husband wanted a sample of some of their local craft brews.  Unfortunately, the one brew he was looking forward to trying out on the day we were there, they were out of.  A bit of a disappointment.  So, he turned to an old favorite, Guinness instead while I opted for the homemade lemonade.  Of course, in keeping with the pub’s idea of modern seasonal cuisine made with locally sourced products, lemonade wasn’t just your plain lemonade but rather a homemade fruit lemonade.  I’m thinking raspberry puree (minus the seeds) as it tasted quite tangy and not quite a strawberry lemonade.  Whatever it was, it was quite tart, tangy and refreshing, especially on this rather warm day.

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Sisig fries was the one item on the menu that my husband had heard a lot about that he really wanted to try out.  Made with pulled pork, pig ears, pork belly, and pig jowl atop fries and then topped with salsa cricolla, a fried egg, cilantro and pickled onions, this was one rich and flavorful starter.  Ok, I admit that the idea of these fries had my husband way more excited than I did.  When I read pig ears, and pig jowl, I started to cringe a bit.  I’m all for pork, but I’d rather stick with the pulled pork and the pork belly, all the rest of it is just a little too weird for me, but didn’t seem to bother my husband in the least.  When this colorful dish came to the table, it smelled terrific and some of my apprehension for what was on the fries disappeared a bit.  The addition of the pickled onions was terrific adding a nice pop of flavor to the dish.  The fried egg atop the fries was also brilliant adding some great creaminess.  The pork products were also not as bad as I thought they’d be either.  Everything was kind of chopped up and mashed together as a mass of pork atop these crunchy fries making it hard to distinguish one part of the pork from the other, which in my mind made it a bit easier to stomach.  My husband loved these fries.  A little bit of a twist on your normal, plain, bland fries.  I didn’t love them as much as my husband, but I do admit that they were fun, different and tasty.

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We also decided to order a bowl of French onion soup to share between the two of us.  My husband is no fan of soup by any stretch of the imagination, but French onion soup is one of those soups that he actually wants to eat.  I think it’s because of the cheese!  Made with veal broth and caramelized onions and flavored with rosemary and Spanish sherry the soup is topped with a French baguette and melted with Gruyere and provolone cheese.  The whole bowl is topped by a handful of crispy onion rings.  First off, the flavor of the veal broth is fantastic, bringing out a deep, rich flavor to the soup.  The addition of the crispy onion rings was the star of this soup for me.  It added an unexpected twist and crunch factor from other French onion soups and made the soup stand out for the everyday, run-of-the-mill French onion soup.  Interesting how just one unique little touch added to a dish can completely turn it around.

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The harvest burger was my husband’s lunch selection at Chapter One.  Using a craft blend of chuck roast and brisket, the hamburger patty is topped with a rosemary aioli and apple-onion jam, Havarti cheese, and arugula.  The dish is served with a helping of duck fat fries and housemade ketchup.  First off, my husband was really excited to try the duck fat fries.  Frying these shoestring potatoes in duck fat really does add flavor and richness to the fries.  It’s a subtle depth of flavor and richness you don’t get from normal fries.  My husband enjoyed his burger.  The patty was flavorful and tender and the aioli and apple-onion jam created an interesting, and different, blend of flavors to the burger.  Apple-onion jam is certainly not a creation I’ve seen before, especially not as a spread on a hamburger.  I really liked all these small interesting touches each dish seemed to have.  My husband’s verdict was that his burger was rather tasty and better than your average burger.  Therefore, two thumbs up from him.

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Steak sandwich was my lunch selection for the day.  Made with chimichurri steak and topped with provolone cheese, caramelized onions, and garlic-herb aioli the sandwich was flavorful.  I was really looking forward to tasting the chimichurri steak, and was a bit disappointed that some of the flavor of the chimichurri was lost in the sandwich.  I would have preferred that the chimichurri sauce was used as a spread on the sandwich to go along with the garlic-herb aioli rather than just being a marinade sauce for the steak before it was grilled.  The caramelized onions were creamy and sweet on the sandwich and it balanced out the steak flavor of the sandwich.  The garlic-herb aioli was creamy and moist and was a nice addition to the sandwich as well.  Overall, the sandwich was tasty and filling, but not particularly stand out in any specific way.

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Originally, my husband and I weren’t going to order dessert as we were quite full from everything else we had eaten.  But, when the waitress presented us with a dessert menu and mentioned that the Monkey Balls were a great dessert to split and all I saw was that it said “banana”, my husband and I decided to order it, not even really knowing what it was.  Turns out, these little bite-sized balls were fabulous.  Called Monkey Balls, the dessert consists of banana cake doughnut holes sitting atop caramel sauce and crème Anglaise.  The combination of the banana and the caramel was heavenly.  It was almost like enjoy bananas foster, but in a doughnut hole format.  These little Monkey Balls were the perfect size, one and two bites so as to not overload or overwhelm you with flavor and sweetness.  This was a terrific little dessert to split with my husband and finish off our meal.  Again, a little creativity in a dish at Chapter One goes a long way.

Overall, the experience at Chapter One: The Modern Local was a fun one.  It’s always fun to try new, local places.  The vibe inside this gastropub feels a little trendy, focusing in on the hipster crowd.  The food feels the same way too.  Classic and fun dishes with a bit of a modern twist that transforms the dish slightly and brings it into the modern era.  The food was fun, creative and pretty tasty.  This is exactly the type of experience I expected to have at Chapter One – fun, relaxed, good eats, good times.  A little something different to break up the monotony of the normal routine of the weekend for my husband and I.

Cedar Creek Inn

February 19, 2015

Living in a mostly residential city that has very few strip malls or shopping centers to speak of, so many of the nearby places to dine at are fast food locations or big chain restaurants, most of which are found in neighboring cities.  Every weekend, my husband and I have the same debate.  Where should we eat?  Fast food restaurant #1, or chain restaurant #2?  It’s always the same old, same old. So, my husband and I tend to get excited when we come across new restaurants that are remotely in our area, and by remotely, I mean within a 30 minute drive of where we live.  A few months back, I came across a restaurant in the neighboring city of Brea that I’d never heard of before that looked interesting, or at least different.  My husband and I decided to keep this restaurant in mind to try out the next time we were in the neighborhood to see if we could add it to our rotation of neighborhood restaurants.

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Cedar Creek Inn is a family run restaurant business that began in 1976 in Lake Arrowhead.  Based on the concept of creating a comfortable, cozy dining space reminiscent of the inns you find on the East Coast, the business quickly outgrew its original location and expanded into the desert communities of Palm Springs and Palm Desert.  Eventually, the family decided to return to its roots in Orange County and now runs two family-owned and operated Cedar Creek Inn restaurants in Brea and San Juan Capistrano.  Serving up what they call American classics and standard California cuisine, you do get the feel of stepping into an old time East Coast country inn when you step indoors.  High ceilings with exposed wood beams and wood paneled walls make you feel like you’re walking into a large log cabin, almost as if you’re being invited into someone’s home, cozy and comfortable.

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California cuisine, with its melting pot of flavors and ethnic origins is definitely represented on Cedar Creek Inn’s diverse and varied menu selection.  This wasn’t the type of restaurant where I expected to see ahi sashimi on the menu, but there it was, and something about it kind of called to me.  It sounded so good and fresh and different that I decided to give it a try.  Served with the traditional garnishes of shredded daikon, soy sauce, pickled ginger and wasabi, this #1 yellow fin tuna dish was so fresh and delicious and definitely California cuisine.  The tuna meat was so tender and clean and tasted like it was fresh out of the sea that I couldn’t stop eating it.  While an unexpected appetizer item on the menu, I’m glad I took the chance and decided to give it a try because it was excellent.

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My husband, who loves shrimp, coconut and anything with tropical flavors decided to order the coconut shrimp.  Served with a cabbage slaw and a zesty cranberry orange dipping sauce, this dish turned out much better than I expected as well.  The coconut shrimp were much bigger than I expected and perfectly cooked.  Crunchy, and crispy on the outside and steaming hot and tender on the inside.  The coconut coating was perfect, just the right about to give the shrimp crunch and texture and impart sweetness, but not so overpowering to detract from the shrimp itself.  The zesty cranberry orange dipping sauce caught my attention as it was both tart and tangy with a bit of citrus sweetness to it.  The sauce really paired well with the slightly sweet coconut to create a very tropical and fruity vibe.  Spot on appetizer and maybe one of the best coconut shrimp dishes I’ve ever had.

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For his entree, my husband chose the brie and pecan chicken.  Made of boneless chicken breast stuffed with brie and pecans and finished with a pear sage sauce, my husband was excited because he’s a lover of brie.  In his book, you can never go wrong with cheese, any kind of cheese.  In a way, this dish reminded my husband of a chicken cordon bleu, or at least the idea of it was the same using chicken breast stuffed with cheese, rolled up and deep fried.  My husband thought that the dish was tasty with the addition of pecans inside the chicken breast adding a nice texture component to the chicken and working well with the melted brie cheese and the perfectly fried chicken breast.  The accompaniments of sautéed green beans and mashed potatoes completed the dish.

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I chose a dish called land and sea.  The dish was composed of a porcini crusted medallion of beef tenderloin topped with an herb butter sauce for the land portion.  The sea portion is wild shrimp or jumbo prawns sautéed in lemon-garlic butter along with capers, roma tomatoes, parmesan and bread crumbs.  This dish is finished with mashed potatoes, my favorite starch, and the same sautéed green beans that my husband had on his dish.  The sea portion of the dish was my favorite.  The grilled shrimp was tender, sweet and tasty.  The lemon-garlic butter sauce was perfect with the seafood and the prawns were quite filling.  The beef tenderloin seemed more an addition to the plate rather than being a star to the plate, but that’s ok because shrimp more than made up for the lackluster tenderloin.

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This time, for dessert, my husband and I decided to split a dessert.  We ordered the almond-praline ice cream pie.  Essentially, a mud pie.  Served in an oreo crust and topped with chocolate-espresso sauce, yeah, this was pretty much Cedar Creek Inn’s version of a mud pie.  My husband loved the chocolate-espresso sauce, which he just scooped up by the handful.  The espresso in the sauce helped to mellow the sweetness of the chocolate and take off some of the bitterness that chocolate can have when there’s too much of it.  The almond-praline ice cream had just a touch of sweetness to it from the pralines and worked well in this large dessert.  And for me, I loved the oreo crust, that’s always been my favorite part of any mud pie.  So, this dessert, had a little bit of something for both my husband and I – oreo crust for me, chocolate-espresso sauce for my husband, and ice cream for both of us. We were glad that we split a dessert as this almond-praline ice cream pie was much large than either of us expected it to be.

Cedar Creek Inn was a nice surprise for my husband and I to stumble upon here in our own backyard.  We agreed that the restaurant was nice with a great family atmosphere and would probably be exactly the type of restaurant that my husband would love to bring his parents to the next time they came to visit.  Serving American classics and local California cuisine in an East Coast county inn feel, Cedar Creek Inn has a little something to offer everyone so that no one walks away hungry.  While this restaurant didn’t blow us away, we were pleased enough with it that I’m sure we’ll be back again in the future.

The Slow Bone

February 16, 2015

When my husband and I were in the planning stages for this quick weekend trip to Dallas, I remember that the first thing I said to my husband was that I wanted to have Texas BBQ.  I’m a huge BBQ fan, and how could I go all the way to Dallas and not have some BBQ?  After looking at our itinerary for our short 3 days in town, we decided that lunch at a BBQ joint on our last day in Dallas would be our best opportunity for some slow cooked, smoked goodness.  However, that morning, my husband woke up not feeling the greatest.  I was a bit annoyed at my husband and him telling me he wasn’t feeling well wasn’t helping the situation.  At some point that morning my husband mentioned perhaps skipping BBQ as he wasn’t feeling up to eating anything, and he could tell that by this time I was not only annoyed but I was moving towards being pissed off.  BBQ was the #1 thing on my list that I wanted while in Dallas and I could see this opportunity slowly slipping away.  I think my husband knew I’d be mad for days if he didn’t give in, so he finally relented and agreed that we should pack our stuff up, check out of the hotel and head over to this BBQ joint so that I could get my fix.  A short time later, we were on the road and my husband finally started feeling a bit better, or at least well enough that he was willing to give some BBQ a try.

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We had decided upon The Slow Bone as the BBQ joint we wanted to try out for good old-fashioned Texas BBQ.  My husband is a huge fan of BBQ beef brisket and looking for a place that served good beef brisket was a huge criteria for us when searching for a good BBQ joint.  The Slow Bone specializes in beef brisket which they smoke themselves in-house.  Along with beef brisket, they also smoke other meats and a serve up a number of homemade sides.

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On your way into the joint, you walk right by their stash of chopped wood that they use to smoke all of their meats and you even see the smoker itself which constantly churns out all of the wonderful bbq meat.  The smoky aroma of the smoker and the wonderful scent of the wood hits your nose right away.

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The restaurant is set up in a simple cafeteria style.  You walk in and see the menu with a listing of the bbq meats available on that particular day in front of you.  Once you make up your mind, you place your order for your meats before  moving on down a school-style cafeteria set up to choose your sides.  On the day we visited, the meats available to choose from were beef brisket, ribs, chicken, smoked cilantro sausage and old time sausage.  Of course, as I said, my husband and I came to The Slow Bone for their beef brisket, and that’s what both of us ordered as part of our bbq lunch platters.  We were given the option of whether we wanted the fattier end of the beef brisket or the leaner meatier end.  We both chose the fat, after all that’s where the flavor is.  You can then watch them slice up the brisket right in front of your eyes.

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After the section of meats, you’ve got your sides.  All of the sides are made daily, in house and home-made.  Like any BBQ joint you’ve got your selection of green beans, pinto beans, sweet potato casserole, buttered squash, Oora’s jalapeño mac & cheese, fried okra, tomato and cucumber salad, mustard cole slaw, brussel sprouts & cauliflower gratin, horseradish cream potato salad, and pea salad.  Each lunch platter comes with your choice of 2 different sides to accompany your meal.  Finally, you’re given a choice of cornbread or hushpupies to go with your lunch platter.

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The Slow Bone also has a condiment station which  is filled with all sorts of homemade fixings and sauces, including house made sriracha, picked onions, soda pickles and Uncle Ross’ bbq sauce.  In addition, you can also get jalapeños, onions and butter.

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Keeping with the cafeteria theme, your food is served on a old-school cafeteria tray as well.  Your meats fit into a slot right next to a ladle of The Slow Bone’s bbq sauce.  The utensils have their own slot, and then your 2 sides each have their own slot right next to a third slot where the cornbread or the hush puppies you chose go.  What my husband and I loved about The Slow Bone is that everything was no-frills BBQ from the set up to the cafeteria trays.  The joint is really all about the flavor of the BBQ, and that flavor is outstanding.  For my lunch, I chose a 2 meat platter with pork ribs and beef brisket.  My two sides were Oora’s jalapeño mac & cheese and the brussel sprouts & cauliflower gratin to go with cornbread.  Wow, one bite of the beef brisket sent me straight to heaven.  The smoky flavor of the brisket shined right through.  It was packed full of flavor, yet the meat was still moist and tender.  It was perfectly fatty and meaty and hands down the best beef brisket I’ve ever tasted.  The ribs were also perfectly smoked with meat that was so tender that it came clean off the bone when you bit into it.  Again, full of great smoke flavor that you didn’t even really need the bbq sauce.  The bbq sauce itself was tangy with a little bit of heat, a great compliment to the smoky flavor of the meats.  And the sides were relish.  The brussel sprouts and cauliflower gratin blew me away.  I ordered it as a second side because it sounded interesting, even if it didn’t look the most appealing.  One bite and I was in love.  The brussel sprouts and cauliflower were perfectly roasted with a bit of char on the outside and incredibly soft and tender on the inside with perfect caramelization.  The gratin with the cheesy flavor just added to the terrific flavor of the roasted vegetables.  The mac and cheese was also very tasty with just the right amount of heat from the jalapeños to lend flavor to the mac and cheese, but not enough to take away from the great cheesy flavor of the side.

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My husband also wanted a 2 meat lunch platter.  Like me, he also chose to have pork ribs and beef brisket as his 2 meats.  To go with his selection of cornbread, he also chose Oora’s jalapeño mac & cheese as one side and his other side was the horseradish cream potato salad.  After one bite of the beef brisket, my husband’s eyes lit up and the one word uttered out of his mouth was “wow!” to accompany a huge grin on his face.  He was loving the brisket.  And for someone who just recently became a fan of pork ribs, he too thought that the ribs were perfectly smoky and fell right off the bone.  My husband remarked that if he could have just had beef brisket and nothing else, he would have been perfectly happy.  He came here to try the beef brisket, and he said this is exactly the kind of brisket he was looking for.  Every thing else, the tasty sides and yummy pork ribs were just icing on the cake.

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While my husband woke up feeling a little sick and trying to get out of eating Texas BBQ as we had planned because he thought he just wouldn’t be able to stomach any food, I was thankful that he was eventually feeling well enough that he was willing to go to The Slow Bone with me so that at least I could have the BBQ I was most looking forward to.  Eventually, my husband felt well enough to eat and boy is he glad that he was feeling better because he loved The Slow Bone’s beef brisket.  This is exactly the kind of juicy, moist, tender, smoky and flavorful meat I think of when I think of genuine Texas BBQ.  I’ve never tasted better brisket, and that alone made the trip to The Slow Bone worth it.  What surprised me was how much I enjoyed the pork ribs as well as the sides that I tried.  Everything was made from scratch and full of flavor.  The atmosphere of this no frills BBQ joint with the cafeteria-style trays was the kind of joint that would keep my husband and I going back for more, as much and as often as possible if we lived in Dallas.  Don’t miss out on this terrific beef brisket if you ever find yourself in the heart of North Texas.

Al Biernat’s

February 11, 2015

For the last night of our quick weekend getaway trip to Dallas, I asked my husband to find a restaurant for us with food that I would like.  I’m definitely the pickier eater of the two of us, so it’s usually a question of whether or not a restaurant will serve food that I can order and enjoy because my husband can always find something that he can eat.  He asked me to take a look at a steak & seafood joint to see if it might be something I would go for.  We’re in the heart of North Texas, not too far from the stockyards at Fort Worth, and I’m a meat and potatoes kind of girl, so steak in Texas seems like a no brainer to me.  Besides, it’s different from any of the other food we’ve had while we’ve been in Dallas, so why not?  In the end, this turned out to be the meal that almost didn’t happen.  This was a Saturday night, and we weren’t naïve enough to think that we wouldn’t have to make reservations in advance, so about 2 weeks before we traveled I made and confirmed dinner reservations.  On the night of, we arrived at the restaurant just on time and discovered that this is a really happening restaurant.  And I mean really happening to the point of being jam-packed.  When we stepped into the restaurant, my husband and I were a bit dumbfounded because the only entrance to the restaurant dumps you into their bar which was packed 3 and 4 deep with people trying to order drinks, people sitting down at the bar to eat, and people milling about waiting for their table.  It was so full we couldn’t make heads or tails about where we were supposed to go to check in for our reservations or which way the hostess stand even was.  I’ve never seen a set up that was quite so bad.  Finally, after having turned the wrong way, we made our way to the hostess stand who told us that there would be a bit of a wait, even with our reservations, so we should just mill about the bar and someone would come find us when our table was ready.  No buzzer to hold on to, or no phone number to provide to receive a text message or anything.  How they would ever be able to find us in a bar that crowded, I had no idea.  Not interested in getting pre-dinner drinks, my husband and I just had to mill about the bar while we were getting squished left and right by people trying to find a seat, people trying to order drinks, or other people just walking in and out of the restaurant.  After almost an hour wait, my husband was ready to give up and just leave.  We decided to check in at the hostess stand one last time to see what the status was on our table before the hostess apologized and told us that it should only be a few more minutes as we were next on the list – whether or not that was true, who knew?  My husband and I agreed to wait a few more minutes and eventually were called to a table within a couple of minutes.  Again, by this time, it was late, we were starving, and it had been over an hour that we had been waiting for a table, even with a reservation.  A little nuts if you ask me.  This restaurant better be worth it as I’ve never waited this long before for a table when I had a reservation.

Well known and well established as one of the best steakhouses, if not one of the best restaurant’s in Dallas, Al Biernat’s, named after owner Al Biernat, is where business people wine and dine clients and the elite of Dallas go to be seen.  It’s a place where you can expect to see anyone from the likes of sports icons Troy Aikman to Mark Cuban and every other well-known sports athlete from the Dallas area dining on the best steak and seafood in the city.  The walls of the bar are adorned with larger than life framed and signed sports jerseys from every walk of the sports world.  You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in Dallas who hasn’t heard of, or been to, Al Biernat’s.  After an hour plus wait for a table, this girl is prepared to be impressed with a meat and potatoes dish that better knock my socks off.

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To their credit, the minute we were seated, our waitress and assistant were immediately over at our table making sure we were settled, explaining the evening’s specials, taking our drink orders, and presenting us with a bread basket full of assorted breads.  Our service throughout the evening was amazing and efficient and our food orders came out accurately and promptly as well.  So, no complaints whatsoever regarding the service we received at the restaurant once seated, it was just a lesson learned that Saturday night dinner service at Al Biernat’s is packed and a wait well beyond your reservation time is to be expected.

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For the evening, my husband ordered his usual gin and tonic with his preferred Bombay Sapphire gin.  Meanwhile, I ordered the considerably more childish drink of a Shirley Temple.  The sweet grenadine lures me right in every time.  And after a long hour-plus wait for our table, we needed the drinks to coat our parched throats.

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To start our now-late night meal, we each decided to order an appetizer.  For me, I chose the wagyu carpaccio with pine nuts, parmesan, and extra virgin olive oil.  Served with flat thin cracker bread, the carpaccio was fantastic.  The wagyu beef was tender and flavorful with the olive.  I thought that the pine nuts was a fantastic touch that I hadn’t seen and the nuts were perfectly toasted, giving the dish an extra subtle touch of nutty flavor.  The capers also provided a nice salty touch to cut through the leans of the wagyu.  Though, I’m not the biggest fan of whole capers in any dish, it actually worked well in this dish.  The only thing I didn’t like about this dish was the thin cracker bread.  I would much rather have preferred to have the carpaccio served with a thick crusty crostini.

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My husband immediately gravitated toward the baked brie cheese with sweet garlic appetizer.  Also served with the general accompaniments of grilled crostini, sweet red grapes, sliced Granny Smith apples, a ramekin of olive oil and balsamic vinegar mixture, and a small side of some sort of berry jam, this dish was quite tasty.  My husband ate it all up right away, but not before he offered me a little taste.  I’m not the biggest fan of brie cheese, but I must admit that this cheese was quite tasty.  The cheese was perfectly baked and the sweet roasted garlic gave the dish great flavor.  Brie pairs so nicely with each of the accompaniments provided on the plate, but my favorite was a slice of Granny Smith and some brie cheese atop the crostini.  A terrific, flavorful bite of creamy, soft cheese amidst the tang of the Granny Smith.  My husband thought this was a great start to his meal.

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For his main dish, my husband ordered the wagyu angus bone-in ribeye steak.  Our waitress explained that this particular wagyu steak is provided from a nearby farm exclusively for Al Biernat’s.  This huge chunk of meat was perfectly grilled to a nice medium rare, exactly as my husband requested.  My husband told me that the wagyu ribeye was tender, much more tender than any previous ribeye he’d had before.  Also, the bone-in ribeye was much less fatty than he expected, which meant it was much meatier, which is terrific, especially since the meat is so tender and flavorful.  My husband couldn’t get over how tender this ribeye was.  Almost to the point that a butter knife could have cut through it.

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To go with our dinner entrees, my husband and I ordered up a couple of side dishes.  It’s hard to go to a steakhouse and not get the classic macaroni & cheese as a side.  This mac & cheese was fantastic.  It was well cooked and well prepared and somehow tasted ultra cheesy, which you can’t go wrong with when you’re talking about mac & cheese.  It was bubbly and hot when it was brought to the table and I couldn’t stop myself from having a bunch of it.  It seemed as if I couldn’t stop spooning this into my mouth.  My husband also wanted to order the steak fries as a potato side dish.  Again, perfectly fried and crispy on the outside and still steaming hot and soft on the inside.  Some of the best cooked steak fries I’ve ever had.  My husband agreed as he couldn’t stop his hand from grabbing these fries and popping them into his mouth.

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My entrée was actually a special for the night, the surf and turf with a peppercorn crusted 8 oz filet and a 6 oz lobster tail to go with it.  All of this was served over mashed potatoes and asparagus.  Like any good steakhouse, as soon as the dish was brought to the table, the assistant waiter was there to help remove the lobster meat from the shell for me so I wouldn’t have to figure out how to do it.  One bite of the lobster tail and I knew right then and there that this was the best lobster I’ve ever tasted in my life.  I had to tell my husband that he had to try some because it was so good.  It was so buttery and tender I almost didn’t even need the clarified butter it was served with.  The lobster was lightly grilled, but perfectly cooked to draw out the sweetness of the meat.  I could have finished a lobster tail twice this size with how good it was.  The peppercorn crusted filet was pre-sliced and perfectly cooked to a medium rare as requested.  The peppercorn crust was delicious and just a touch spicy with pepper heat, which I like.  The filet was just the right size for this meal to go with the lobster tail.  This was quite simply the most flavorful surf and turf I’ve ever enjoyed.

By this time, my husband and I were stuffed.  However, after having waited so long for our table, we wanted to make the most of our dining experience and decided we’d order dessert any way.  After having looked at the dessert menu, we couldn’t agree on just one dessert, so against our better judgment, we decided to each order our own dessert.  We tried a bit too hard to completely stuff ourselves to the gills, but oh did we enjoying doing it.

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Chocolate fondue cake with black raspberry chocolate chip gelato was my husband’s dessert.  I was a bit surprised at first as my husband isn’t much of a chocolate guy, so to get a chocolate fondue cake is generally more chocolate than he’s usually willing to eat.  However, I realized that what my husband really wanted was the black raspberry chocolate chip gelato, which my husband absolutely loved.  The flavor of the gelato was spot on and was a good compliment to the sweetness of the chocolate cake.  The addition of the biscotti to use to dip into the chocolate fondue in the middle of the chocolate cake was a nice touch.  As full as we were, I was surprised to see my husband eat up his whole dessert in no time.  That tells me that he really enjoyed it.

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My dessert was the peanut butter, chocolate and banana cream pie served with chocolate-banana gelato.  Our assistant waiter told me that this was his favorite dessert as he thought it was so unique, the most unique dessert on their menu.  One bite of the dessert and I was completely impressed.  You could completely taste the peanut butter, chocolate and the banana.  Not one of those flavors overpowered the other flavors, and they were all subtle enough to create a terrific combination.  There was even fresh banana slices in the pie itself, which was a nice touch.  The chocolate-banana gelato was also fabulous.  Again, the gelato was well made with a perfect mix of banana flavor and chocolate flavor without the chocolate being too sweet.  The pie was more like a mini tart with a thick, buttery crust which actually worked quite well with the chocolate and peanut butter as it cut through some of the sweetness of the dessert.  The dessert, however, was twice as large as I was expecting it to be, and no matter how hard I tried to stuff myself, I just couldn’t finish it.  Luckily, my husband, who was already stuffed himself, stepped in and helped me out.   I didn’t want to stop eating this as it really was one of the most unique deserts I’ve tasted, specifically with this flavor combination, but I just couldn’t put another spoonful of food into my mouth.

So our initial dining experience at Al Biernat’s started off a little rocky, and we were this close to just leaving the restaurant to find something else to eat.  I think that the front entrance of the restaurant is poorly designed and that a 1st time visitor, like myself, not knowing if I should be going left or right when I walk in, or even wondering if I’m in the right place to start with, gives a bad first impression of the restaurant.  Of course, the second impression of waiting more than an hour beyond my reservation time was a pretty poor impression as well.  However, all of that aside, from the minute we were seated until the time we left the restaurant, Al Biernat’s was a fantastic dining experience.  The service we received from our waitress and assistant waiter was spot on, they were there for all of our needs and we never had to wait for anything.  And of course, the most important aspect was the food, and that was beyond excellent.  I don’t remember walking out of a restaurant as stuffed as I was that evening.  I literally could not put another bite of food in my mouth, and yet, I badly wanted to eat more because the food was so delicious.  I’d never had more flavorful, succulent and tender lobster in my life, and my peanut butter, banana and chocolate cream pie was fantastic.  For anyone who is a steak or seafood lover, I would recommend Al Biernat’s, just perhaps not on the busiest night of the week.

Rise No. 1

February 6, 2015

Usually, when we’re traveling, I tell my husband to find some restaurants for us to eat at.  He’s got a better eye at spotting eateries that are good, but also have something that will appeal to me as I’m the pickier eater of the two of us.  He knows what I like and don’t like and what I’m willing to try, so he knows what to pick that I can agree with.  However, in preparing for our weekend jaunt to Dallas, I came across a restaurant that I was really interested in that I was hoping my husband would agree to.  When it comes to food, my husband generally doesn’t have a strong opinion as he says he can eat anything, so if I push hard enough, I can generally get him to agree to whatever it is I want.  When I presented the idea of this particular restaurant for lunch, his reaction was, “sure. ok. whatever.”  He didn’t care either way, and I was thrilled.  The reason?  This particular restaurant specialized in something I’ve never found in any restaurant here in Southern California, soufflés.  I’ve always been a sucker for soufflés.  Truth be told, I’ve only ever had dessert soufflés, and even tried my hand at making lemon soufflés at home.  And while I’ve seen savory soufflés before, I’ve never been to a restaurant that served them, so I’ve never tried them.  So what a surprise it was to find a local restaurant in the heart of North Texas, in a quieter, residential area away from all of the tourists, that specialized in nothing but savory and sweet soufflés.  I had to give it a try.  This restaurant was just calling my name.

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Rise No. 1 was the brainchild of Heddia Gioia Dowd, the daughter of a French mother and Italian American father who spent every summer of her childhood in France.  Ms. Dowd was the owner of an antique store that specialized in combing the vineyards, chateaux and farmhouses of the South of France looking for one-of-a-kind treasure for her store.  Those trips to France reminded her of her time spent with her grandmother who cultivated her sense for fine dining and a true appreciation for food.

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One thing she remembered from her childhood was how her mother and grandmother would always make her both sweet and savory soufflés.  And she was always amazed and fascinated by the concept that a simple egg could be transformed into something as wonderful as the souffle.  And there came the brainstorm for a new restaurant concept.  She approached a French chef friend of hers named Chef Brahmi and together they created this simple, elegant European bistro specializing in soufflés.

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The restaurant, or rather European bistro, had this very down home, earthy feel to it.  It felt quaint and welcoming.  Rise No. 1 offers abundant indoor seating centered around a grouping of indoor plants lit up with cute white Christmas lights.  The restaurant also offered covered patio seating decorated in cute, kitschy decorations, much like what you’d expect to see in a French farmhouse.  The whole place just exuded an aura of charm.

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The first item brought to our table was some homemade crusty sourdough bread and whipped butter.  What I thought was different and unique was that the bread was brought out on a cutting board which a butcher’s knife attached to it, literally.  You’re supposed to lift up the knife, put the bread underneath it and literally chop down to slice the bread.  Something unique that I’d never seen before.  But again, it only added to the charm of the restaurant.

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To start our meal, my husband and I ordered a cup of the soup a L’Oignon Gratinee.  While the restaurant specializes in soufflés, they do serve a few non-souffle items on their menu, including a variety of soups and salads.  Of course, if you haven’t figured it out soup a L’Oignon Gratinee is French for French onion soup.  Makes sense, French onion soup in a French bistro restaurant.  And this was delicious French onion soup.  The broth was rich and hearty, but without being overly salty the way French onion soup can sometimes be.  The onions were tender and melt-in-your-mouth, and all that cheesy goodness baked into the bread floating atop the cup of soup was heavenly.  French onion soup done the right way is so mouthwateringly good.

For our entrees, my husband and I had to go with the soufflé.  The restaurant offered steak and seafood dishes and salads as an entrée, but how can you go to a restaurant specializing in soufflés and not order a soufflé?  That would total blasphemy.  Rise no. 1 offers a variety of different savory soufflés on their menu as well as featuring a number of special seasonal soufflés that aren’t on the menu.  Their savory offerings include creamed spinach, smoked salmon, truffle infused mushroom, sun-dried tomato & pesto chevre, herb & spicy sausage, escargot and southwest chicken.  These are the savory soufflés you can always find on the menu.  On the day we went to Rise no. 1, there were 5 additional special savory soufflés not featured on the menu.  Those included a crab meat with boursin, foie gras, roasted corn and Serrano pepper, and duck a’la orange.

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I was really tempted by the roasted corn and Serrano pepper soufflé, but our waitress did warn us that that particular soufflé did have a bit of a kick.  Considering I have a weakness when it comes to hot and spicy foods, I decided it was best not to push my boundaries, even though I’ve had Serrano peppers before and they’ve been ok.  So, instead, I chose another one of the special soufflés of the day, the roasted cauliflower and brie soufflé.  Something about the roasted cauliflower really sounded good to me.  I’m not a huge brie fan, but I know that it’s a good, soft cheese that melts easily when baked so I thought I could live with it.  The waitress said that this soufflé did contain an inch of brie cheese put right into the middle of the soufflé batter so that when you put your spoon into the soufflé you’d get all this melted brie cheese with every bite.  Like any soufflé, when its first taken out of the oven and brought to the table it looks huge.  Of course, once it starts to settle and the soufflé deflates a bit, it looks a bit more manageable.  Couple that with the fact that a soufflé is really made up mainly of whipped egg whites, then you know that the soufflé isn’t really that filling and it just looks a lot bigger to your eyes than it really is.  This roasted cauliflower & brie soufflé was so amazingly good.  The roasted cauliflower flavor came through loud and clear and was so delicious.  Who knew that enjoying a meatless dish could be this good?  There was indeed a layer of melted brie cheese in the soufflé that came up with every spoonful scooped out of the soufflé.  Surprisingly, my husband admitted that if I hadn’t ordered this soufflé, he was going to as he was intrigued by the brie.  One bite of my soufflé, and I think he was in brie cheese heaven.  It’s funny because I loved the roasted cauliflower in this soufflé and my husband really loved the brie in the soufflé.  One thing that couldn’t be denied was how heavenly the soufflé was.

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For his savory soufflé, my husband ordered the jambon & Gruyere – basically the ham and cheese.  The use of Gruyere cheese in this soufflé was terrific because the nutty flavor of it combined really well with the airy feel of the soufflé.  The hints of salty, sweetness of the jambon really brought the whole soufflé together.  As much as my husband said that he would have ordered the roasted cauliflower & brie if I hadn’t, I had considered ordering the jambon & Gruyere until he mentioned that he had wanted to order it.  Personally, I thought that the jambon & Gruyere hit all the perfect notes for a filling and delicious savory soufflé.  In the end, I ended up enjoying this soufflé more than my own, and my husband enjoyed mine more than he enjoyed ours.  So, halfway through the meal, we switched up our soufflés and I ended up finishing off his jambon & Gruyere and he finished my roasted cauliflower & brie.  I guess a meatless dish for me just doesn’t go over all that well.  For me, it was the combination of the nutty Gruyere, which I love, and the meaty ham, together that really made this soufflé work for me in a way that just enjoying roasted cauliflowers didn’t fill me up with my own soufflé.

Of course, for dessert, my husband and I had to each order our own soufflé.  Having our own savory soufflé just wasn’t enough, we each wanted our own sweet soufflé as well.  Rise no. 1 offered a couple of mainstay sweet soufflés that you’d expect to find at most restaurants that serve soufflé for dessert as well as a special seasonal soufflé as well.  Their normal dessert soufflé menu consists of strawberry, apricot and chocolate, to name a few.  The special seasonal sweet soufflé being served when we were there was pumpkin & cassis.

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My husband opted for the Grand Marnier sweet soufflé for his dessert.  This huge, perfectly baked, monstrosity of a sweet soufflé was brought out to our table a few minutes later piping hot from the oven.  I don’t know how they get their soufflés to rise so high.  Obviously, they are the experts.  Along with the soufflé, which is served on a ramekin as is tradition, on the plate is also a small saucer of creamy Crème Anglaise.  Upon being served, the waiter takes a spoon and cuts a small hole right in the center of the soufflé and pours out about half of the Crème Anglaise sauce right into the hole and around the top of the soufflé.  The Crème Anglaise slowly makes its way into all of the airy pockets inside the soufflé and creates the most amazing flavors when combined with the Grand Marnier-flavored soufflé.  My husband especially loved the tiny bits of orange zest that he found all throughout the airy soufflé.  These dessert soufflés are so delicious they can bring a person to their knees.  And while they look huge, again, they are filled with so much air inside that its really not that bad.  My husband devoured his Grand Marnier soufflé and cleaned out the entire ramekin.

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When it came time to order my soufflé, my husband was sure I was going to take the chocolate soufflé.  I thought I was going to as well, until I thought to myself that I always order the chocolate soufflé, I should mix it up a bit.  While I’m not the world’s biggest fan of mint, something about Rise no. 1’s dark chocolate mint soufflé was calling to me.  I figured that my husband, who is a mint fan, could eat my dark chocolate mint soufflé if I didn’t like it because I knew I could eat his Grand Marnier soufflé.  When my soufflé was brought to the table, I was so glad I had decided to order it over just a plain chocolate soufflé.  The soufflé was this beautiful, gorgeous shade of light airy green.  Again, the soufflé was perfectly baked and seemed like half of it had risen out of the ramekin.  The top of the soufflé, along with being dusted with powdered sugar, also had a sprinkling of crushed mint chocolate candy pieces.  The waiter cut small hole in the top of the soufflé, and poured in about half of the saucer of dark chocolate sauce that came with the soufflé.  OH. MY. GOD.  This dessert was so sinfully good.  It tasted like I was eating an Andes mint candy, only 100 times better.  The mint flavor, while present, wasn’t so strong and in your face.  The dark chocolate flavor really helped to balance out the mint..  It was, hands down, the best soufflé I’ve ever eaten.  I was so full towards the end, but I couldn’t waste any of this amazing soufflé.  Even my husband had a little bit and he thought it was just heavenly.  I was so glad I stepped a bit out of my comfort zone at ordered the dark chocolate mint soufflé.

At the end of our meal, we got to talking to our waitress who was so surprised to find that we had traveled all the way from Los Angeles to dine at Rise no. 1.  Ok, so we didn’t come all the way to Dallas just to dine here, but it was certainly high on the list of things to do once we knew we were going to Dallas.  She couldn’t figure out how 2 people from Los Angeles could be interested in their little restaurant.  She told us that before we left, she wanted to show us something really special right at the front of the restaurant.  It was obvious that this wasn’t something that they talked about much at the restaurant and they obviously didn’t put it on display to show all of their customers, so I was kind of surprised and honored that our waitress decided to show this to us.  It was explained to us that a few years back, just before the opening of the new George W. Bush Presidential Library on the campus of Southern Methodist University, the former President Bush and his family, along with former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came into dine at the restaurant.  As a commemoration of that meal, the restaurant asked the former first family if they’d be so kind as to sign the table they were sitting out.  That table now resides up front in the restaurant, right near the host desk.  On a busy lunch day when we were in town, where it seemed every table both inside the restaurant and outside on the patio were occupied, this particular table was left empty.  I’m not sure if they allow anyone to sit at this table anymore or not.  Anyhow, the tables at Rise no. 1 are old game tables where each place setting can be lifted up to reveal a storage drawer of sorts underneath where games and puzzles can be stored.  So, looking at the table, it’s not obvious that there’s anything special about it until you start lifting up the place settings and looking at the underside of the flip top table, as that’s where all of the special signatures can be found.  Our waitress was kind enough to clear the table for us and walk us around the table showing us all of the special signatures.

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Former President George W. Bush and one of his daughters, Barbara Bush

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Former First Lady Laura Bush136

Former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice

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And the other one of the Bush twins, and current NBC Special Correspondent, Jenna Bush Hager.  I thought it was so neat, and special for our waitress to go out of her way to show this to us.  It left us with a neat memory from the restaurant.

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One last neat thing about Rise No. 1 is that when you leave the restaurant, instead of the traditional after meal mint or fortune cookie that you might find at other restaurants, here, you’re given proverbs and fortunes printed on Rise no. 1 paper to take home with you.  A little memento and token of your meal at this amazing restaurant.

My husband and I walked out of Rise No. 1 after our lunch completely satisfied and extremely full.  This was, hands down, the most unique restaurants I’ve ever dined at.  To this day, months later, my husband and I still talk on and on about how delicious both our sweet and savory soufflés were at Rise No. 1.  We lament about how we can’t find a restaurant like that here in Los Angeles.  We dream about going back to Dallas just for the sole purpose of dining at Rise No. 1 again.  It really is that good, hands down.  If you like soufflé, ever had a hankering for soufflé, or just want to try something different that will knock your socks off, this is the restaurant for you.  The most amazing soufflés you’ve ever had in your life.  You would almost think you were dining at one of the top French restaurants having the most decadent and delicious soufflé ever.

Five Sixty by Wolfgang Puck

February 3, 2015

Late in spring of last year, my husband texted me at work one day and told me that he just found out that Virgin America was starting a new route in the fall from Los Angeles to Dallas’ Love Field, and to celebrate this new route, the airline was selling dirt cheap roundtrip airfare for a limited time, as long as we purchased plane tickets with 24 hours, or whenever the tickets sold out, whichever one came sooner.  Thoughts started swirling in both of our heads as we had talked about and looked into going to Texas a couple of times over the past few years.  Truthfully, all those thoughts surrounding Texas generally equated to San Antonio, but hey Dallas could be just as interesting.  Besides, I now had nothing but the thought of good old Texas BBQ in my head.  That night, my husband and I looked at the calendar, chose a weekend, and booked a ticket.  When else were we ever going to get a roundtrip ticket to Dallas for $150 per person?  You can’t even get a one way ticket for that price.  And so, we were going to Dallas!

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Of course, even a short weekend trip to Dallas meant planning needed to be done:  where would we stay?  how would we get around? what was there to see and do? where would we eat?  With that in mind, we started brainstorming ideas of what to see and do and narrowed it down.  One of the items on our list was to go to the top of Reunion Tower for the 360 degree view of the Dallas skyline.  That’s when my husband told me that there was a Wolfgang Puck restaurant one floor above the observation deck at Reunion Tower that he thought we should look into.

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Next thing I know, we made reservations at Five Sixty by Wolfgang Puck for dinner on the night we arrived in Dallas.  The restaurant was a revolving restaurant, so we weren’t missing out on the view by dining instead of going to the observation deck.  As we’d be there at night, we’d get to see the Dallas skyline lit up with the city lights surrounding us.  Traffic on a Friday night in Dallas might just possibly be worse than traffic in Los Angeles, if you can believe that.  And when we arrived at Reunion Tower, our table wasn’t quite ready yet and we were forced to wait, making me even hungrier as we hadn’t really eaten anything all day long.  Finally, as we were seated at our window table looking out over the view of Dallas laid out and twinkling under the lights below us, I couldn’t wait to get started.

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As soon as you’re whisked up the elevators to the restaurant high above you, you step immediately out to see a gorgeous chilled wine rack laid out before you with hundreds and hundreds of bottles of wine.

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When you walk up to the host desk, there’s an open sushi kitchen with a sushi bar to your right.  Being a Wolfgang Puck restaurant, Five Sixty serves contemporary Asian fusion food with a whole sushi menu made fresh upon ordering.

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To the left is a fully-stocked bar, one of two bars in the restaurant serving up all sorts of familiar and unfamiliar concoctions.  Of course, being an Asian fusion restaurant with its own sushi bar, the bar also serves up a whole array of Japanese sake.  Beyond the sushi bar and the bar is the restaurant laid out before you on a revolving platform that makes a full 360 degree rotation every 40 minutes.  The restaurant is quiet and intimate with dark lighting and candlelit tables.  Nothing flashy and glitzy, just intimate, romantic and modern.

Being up this far inside Reunion Tower, which is set off a bit from Downtown Dallas, you get an amazing view of the Dallas skyline at night.  Unfortunately, trying to take skyline photos from a revolving restaurant at night just isn’t conducive for any great photos because there’s too much glare from the restaurant to be able to take any non-reflective night time photos.  So, you’ll have to believe me that the view was spectacular.

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Celebrating a weekend getaway to North Texas while dining inside a revolving restaurant many stories high up above the city calls for a drink.  My husband decided to kick off his night with a drink called Pavlov’s Dog.  Made with Tanqueray #10 gin, grapefruit juice, lillet, lime juice, lemongrass and ginger syrup, it was the lemongrass that drew my husband’s eye.  Leave it to my husband, almost anything that has ginger or lemongrass in it will always attract my husband.  Served in a martini glass, the drink came out a pale pink color, probably due to the grapefruit juice and had a ginger flower floating in the drink.  While it served its purpose, my husband did think that the drink was just ok and maybe a little too girly or frou frou for his taste.

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Later on in the evening, my husband decided that he wanted another drink and decided to peruse the cocktail menu again.  His eyes landed on a drink called Rolling Fog Over Mt. Fuji.  Made with Hibiki 12 year, Aperol, lemon juice and simple syrup, my husband was specifically looking for a whiskey drink for his second drink of the evening.  What arrived at the table was a spectacular drink that looked more like a work of art.  Served in a wide-mouthed stemless wine glass, the drink was dominated by a large cube of ice which when dropped into the drink released wafts of condensation, almost looking like smoke, the same effect you’d see with dry ice, created the rolling fog effect with the ice cube being Mt. Fuji.  The drink itself was frothy and foamy adding to the rolling fog effect.  It was spectacular to behold.  But beyond that, my husband described the drink itself as exceptional.  He was highly impressed with the creativity and combination of flavors in this whiskey cocktail.

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To start off the meal, the chef sent out an amuse bouche of Szechuan green beans with black and white sesame seeds, candied pecans and scallions.  Normally, I’d never order a dish such as this, and probably would never even sample this dish as I’m not a fan of green beans.  So, when the dish was delivered to the table, I told my husband that this was all for him to enjoy.  As he sampled the dish, he told me that I had to give it a try because he really liked it.  When it comes to food, since I’m so picky, my husband has learned what I like and don’t like and when he tells me that I should try something he’s usually telling me because he actually thinks it’s something that I would like, so I had to relent and at least give this dish a try.  Surprisingly, I liked it and discovered that once again, my husband didn’t lead me down the wrong path.  The green beans were crispy and fresh and delicious and the sesame seeds just added a great nutty flavor to go with the caramelized pecans.  I was quite surprised that I’d even like a dish such as this, but I did.

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For appetizers, we decided to order 3 different appetizers.  Mind you, we hadn’t eaten all day long, literally, and it was past 9 pm by this time, so we both felt like we were hungry enough to eat a horse.  We started with pot belly potstickers served with dried cherries, black vinegar and chili oil.  I was a bit concerned by the chili oil as I wasn’t too sure how spicy the potstickers would be, but it didn’t end up being that big of an issue.  There were chili flakes on the plate and as long as I scraped the flakes off of the potstickers it was fine.  The potstickers were terrific, though I admit that I am not sure that I could tell that they were stuffed with pork belly as opposed to anything else and I don’t remember tasting the dried cherries at all.  That’s not to say that these potstickers weren’t good because they were, they just didn’t stand out all that much.

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Our second appetizer was the “surf and turf” roll made with poached lobster, garlic, chili aioli and seared wagyu beef.  While my husband and I do eat raw fish, neither of us is a huge fan of sushi, but in this case, the roll was made with poached lobster and seared beef, so while not completely cooked well done, neither the surf or the turf was actually raw.  Again, I was a bit concerned about the chili aioli in this dish just in case it made the dish spicy, but honestly, I couldn’t taste it at all.  The poached lobster was buttery and melted in my mouth and paired with the avocado so perfectly and the seared wagyu beef was so tender and flavorful.  The flavor combos in the roll were just heavenly with the sushi rice and the slight saltiness from the nori seaweed wrap.  I really enjoyed this surf and turf roll and am glad that I decided to try something different and order something I normally wouldn’t order at a restaurant.

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The third appetizer was my husband’s choice of the spicy tuna tartare.  Served in sesame-miso cones and topped with shaved bonito flakes and tobiko egg roe, the three “cones” were served in a cute vertical wooden display that you might see at an ice cream shop for them to rest ice cream cones in.  Again, I was a bit concerned about this being too hot for my liking with the spicy tuna, but I honestly didn’t taste the spice at all.  I loved the presentation of the sesame-miso cones which not only served as the vessel for the tartare, but added a great amount of texture and flavor to the entire dish.  The finish with the tobiko egg roe was a nice touch and the spicy tuna itself was so fresh and clean and jam-packed full of flavor.  This appetizer was certainly one of the most creative appetizers I’ve seen in a long time.

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To enjoy with our entrees, my husband and I ordered the house fried rice with lapsong sausage, scallion and egg.  I was excited about the fried rice because of the lapsong sausage.  Chinese sausage is fantastic if you’ve never had it before, it’s a little sweet and just not the same consistency of what you’d think of when you think of a sausage.  This is the kind of sausage I grew up eating a bunch as a kid, so to see it here in fried rice, I couldn’t wait.  The fried rice had a lot of flavor, especially with the simple ingredients of sausage, scallions and egg, all with strong distinct flavor in their own right.  The fried rice also did have a bit of spice in it as it actually had some diced peppers in it, which I didn’t completely enjoy and wish I had known would be in the dish before I ordered it.

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For his entrée, my husband ordered the ordered the beef filet “au poivre” served with caramelized brussel sprouts, mushrooms, bacon and smoked shallot sauce.  I was actually looking at this dish because I’m such a beef lover, and I love au poivre sauce with the spicy bite of the black peppers.  I did ask my husband if I could steal some of the caramelized brussel sprouts from his dish as I’ve discovered I really like brussel sprouts and these caramelized brussel sprouts flavored with bacon didn’t disappoint as they were perfectly roasted and quite tasty.  The meat was perfectly cooked to a medium rare as requested and was quite tender and flavorful.  My husband loved the black peppercorn crust  and the smoked shallot sauce with the mushrooms and the red and green bell peppers were something my husband particularly enjoyed as it gave the dish a bit of spice, flavor and the slightest bit of heat.  The serving size was also substantially larger than my husband anticipated it being, which since we were starving was very much welcomed.

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I also went with a beef dish for my entrée.  I selected the braised beef “belly” served over XO mai fun noodles, crisp garlic and Thai basil.  As soon as I placed my order, our waiter approved, stating that I’d really enjoy the beef belly as it wasn’t just fatty, but had a good amount of really good, tender, flavorful meat.  And he wasn’t wrong at all.  The braised beef belly was packed full of outstanding flavor.  There was a good deal of fat, as you’d expect since it’s beef belly, but as advertised, it also had much more tender meat than I had expected.  It was perfectly braised and a little bit caramelized as well, which was fantastic.  The XO mai fun noodles were outstanding, but spicy.  There was sliced red chili peppers sautéed with the noodles which added tons of heat to the noodles, which surprised me.  It was so spicy I had to start picking out the peppers and chili seeds so that I wouldn’t burn my tongue, but it was certainly flavorful.

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By this point in the evening, I was stuffed.  But again, I really hadn’t eaten anything all day and I wasn’t about to turn down some dessert.  The minute I saw the menu, I knew exactly what I was going to order for dessert.  It wasn’t even a question for me.  However, my husband didn’t share my same desire for the dessert I wanted and decided he needed to order his own dessert, which on second glance at the menu may have been my pick had I not already made a choice.  That’s when you know that a restaurant has an impressive dessert menu, when they’ve got 2 absolutely amazing desserts that are just calling your name.  Good thing I have my husband who orders the other thing I want so that I can at least try a bit of it.  My husband ended up ordering the glazed banana bread for dessert.  Served with white chocolate crumble, candied walnuts and black sesame ice cream, it was the ice cream that appealed to him, whereas it was the banana bread that appealed to me.  The dessert was fantastic.  My husband loved the black sesame ice cream, it was unique enough to be different, but still sweet enough with hints of sesame to be ice cream.  The glazed banana bread was terrific, heavy, but with only one slice not completely overpowering and not insanely sweet.  The white chocolate crumbles and the candied walnuts helped balance out the sweetness of the bread and draw out the sweetness in the ice cream while creating interesting textural contrast for the dessert.  We agreed that this dessert was both creative, inventive, thoughtful and really fit with the idea of the new age, modern Asian fusion cuisine that Wolfgang Puck is known for.

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For my dessert, I chose the bittersweet chocolate soufflé.  Served with chocolate sauce and topped with a scoop of gianduja gelato and crème fraiche whipped cream, this dessert was decadent and amazing.  The chocolate sauce comes in a small ramekin and the waiter pours it over your dessert when the dessert is brought to the table.  This beautiful chocolate soufflé, piping hot out of the oven is topped with a scoop of the amazing gianduja gelato and a canal of melting crème fraiche whipped cream and finally this drizzle of chocolate sauce to finish it off.  I was concerned about the combination of the soufflé with the gelato as it was chocolate and chocolate and I thought it might be a bit overpowering, but it’s the combination of the bittersweet chocolate in the soufflé with the dark chocolate flavor of the creamy gianduja gelato that pair together so well to create a balanced chocolate flavor and base.  The soufflé is perfectly cooked, and while it looks large is completely light and fluffy and airy inside.  The crème fraiche whipped cream is a nice touch, and putting it directly on top of the hot soufflé is smart so that the melting of the whipped crème creates a nice sauce for the soufflé so that there’s not a need for crème Anglaise or any other sauce is perfect.  While the dessert is rich, it’s certainly not overpowering in its chocolate flavor.  It has mellow, but rich, flavor notes and is the perfect crescendo for a wonderful, and filling meal.

Five Sixty was quite the dining experience.  First off, the dining atmosphere was incredible.  Dining in a revolving restaurant atop Reunion Tower in Dallas is fantastic.  The views of the city lights at night were fabulous.  The décor and atmosphere of the restaurant itself was amazing.  Sleek, classic, but yet muted sophistication with elegant touches could be found throughout the restaurant.  The very intimate seating arrangement and the setting created a private, cozy atmosphere that’s perfect for dining with your significant other or for special occasions.  Exactly what I had in mind for this meal when my husband and I decided to make reservations for dinner here to kick off our weekend getaway trip to Dallas.  Excellent food with strong flavor components, terrific cocktails and yummy desserts had my husband and I walking out of the restaurant fully satiated and thoroughly delighted with our experience.  If you’re in Dallas and looking for a different, unique dining experience with terrific, unbeatable atmosphere and delicious Asian fusion cuisine, Wolfgang Puck’s Five Sixty is a real winner.

 

 

Versailles Cuban Restuarant

January 28, 2015

A few years after I graduated from UCLA, a friend of mine who lived in the same area I did, asked me if I wanted to join him for dinner to catch up at a Cuban restaurant in our neighborhood.  I had heard people talking about this place before while I was in school.  It supposedly served the best, most affordable Cuban food in a really relaxed, down home environment.  It was a local neighborhood place that I’d driven by time and time again but never stopped at before.  So, when my friend invited me to go, I jumped at the chance.  In the end, I fell in love with the food and couldn’t understand why I’d never tried it before.  Fast forward almost 10 years and my husband and his co-workers happened to go to this same restaurant for an office outing.  When my husband came home that night, he couldn’t stop raving about the food he had at this Cuban restaurant and he asked me why I’d never taken him before.  All this time later, we were still living in the same neighborhood, and the thought that I’d been here before and never taken him in the 4 years he’d lived here was mind boggling to him.  Actually, it was mind boggling to me too because again, we’d driven past it several times before and somehow, even though I enjoyed my experience at this restaurant with my friend 10 years previously, I’d never actually gone back to eat at this restaurant.  Now was the time to rectify that, we had to go and visit this Cuban restaurant together.

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Versailles, pronounced with three syllables, not two because after all this is a Cuban restaurant, not a French one, has been a staple in West Los Angeles for since 1981.  As the brainchild of a Cuban immigrant in 1967, Orlando Garcia and his son William, developed and created the menu for Versailles using recipes and techniques that Orlando learned back home in Cuba.  Today, with 4 different Versailles locations, Versailles is most well known for its special garlic marinade sauce which is served with most of their dishes.  This is the sauce that everyone flocks to Versailles for, and what keeps them coming back time and again.

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On most nights, you find this very simple and quaint restaurant filled with locals and college kids who can’t get enough of the garlic chicken.  Simple decor, simple furniture, wholesome goodness and great, low prices, and, of course, the awesome country Cuban food has everyone hooked.  Even during the week, when my husband and I went, almost all of the tables were full.

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First off, every table is served a basket of simple garlic bread.  Or, at least, you think it’s just simple garlic bread.  But somehow, when you take a bite, this isn’t just simple garlic bread.  Something about their garlic butter that they rub onto lightly toasted and sliced French bread is so strong and potent, yet never overpowering.  This garlic bread is addictive, and before you know it, the bread basket at your table is now empty.

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My husband and I decided to start out our meal by splitting a small appetizer of croquetas de jamon, or better known as ham croquettes.  The croquettes were nice and golden brown and crispy on the outside, and piping hot and chock full of minced ham on the inside.  This was tasty finger food that gives you a bit of a sample of what’s to come.

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For my meal, I opted for the combinacion de pollo y Puerco, or essentially the combination of chicken and pork.  Made with a half portion of roast chicken and roast pork topped with onions, the chicken and pork are then drenched in Versailles famous garlic sauce.  Every dish is served with steamed white rice and a small side of pan fried plantains.  The roasted pork is classic Cuban style roasted pork that’s been marinated in Versailles signature garlic mojo criollo sauce.  It comes out of the oven tender and juicy and full of flavor.  It’s the Cuban version of Mexican carnitas.  The chicken, well the chicken is Versailles signature item.  The combination of the pork and the chicken with the side of rice is fantastic as the flavors all come together due to the use of the special garlic sauce.  That garlic sauce is like MSG, it just keeps you coming back for more.  The sliced garlic helps to add a bit of a kick to cut through some of the sweetness from the garlic sauce.  And those fried plantains, they are just awesome.  A little more hearty and starchy than a regular banana, they have a slight hint of sweetness to them that comes out from the caramelization achieved during pan frying this fruit.  This dish is just so awesome that words don’t do it justice.

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My husband, for his meal, ordered Versailles’ signature dish, the famoso pollo Versailles.  This dish consists of a Versailles famous garlic chicken – the dish that put this restaurant on the map.  The chicken is a juicy, half chicken marinated in Versailles’ delicious garlic sauce and garnished with sliced onions.  On the side, you get a bowl of steamed white rice, and of course, the pan fried plantains.  The preparation of the chicken injects so much flavor into the meat.  The chicken meat just falls right off the bone and is so juicy its hard to remember that you’re eating roasted chicken.  My husband didn’t need to tell me how good his chicken was since I also had the same chicken on my plate.  Trust me, this chicken is something you have to try for yourself to understand just how awesome it is.  If you are a garlic lover, this special garlic sauce will have you falling to your knees.

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At the end of the meal, my husband and I decided to share a dessert just because the dessert was churros and we both love a good churro.  In this case, it was an order of churros served with coconut ice cream and the whole thing was drizzled with hot caramel sauce.  If you’re not sure what a churro is, it’s pretty much dough that’s cranked out in a long cylindrical shape and deep fried before being rolled in a cinnamon sugar mixture.  When cooked correctly, the churro is crispy on the outside and hot and a little fluffy on the inside and the cinnamon sugar-coating gives the deep fried dough a hint of sweetness and heat it from the cinnamon. Combine that with some hot caramel sauce and cold coconut ice cream covered this hot caramel sauce, its like heaven in a dessert.  A light, sweet, and tasty dessert to end our amazing meal.

Versailles is truly a hidden gem of a restaurant with the most amazing down home Cuban food.  It’s no wonder that this family-owned restaurant has been a staple in its West LA neighborhood for so many decades.  Versailles serves the kind of food that you just can’t get enough of with their intoxicating combination of classic Cuban preparation and their unique secret garlic sauce.  My husband has really become a lover of Versailles and its obvious that his office has as well as they’ve had their last few office lunch outings at Versailles over the past couple of months.  Now that I’ve re-discovered how amazing Versailles’ garlic chicken is, I’m sure that it won’t be long before I find myself in a seat at the restaurant again.  You just can’t get enough of Versailles’ garlic chicken.