Restaurant reviews


This Thanksgiving, the JohnnyCakes and I decided to skip all the Whose-Family-Gets-To-Feed-Us-First drama, so we went to New Orleans!

For our Thanksgiving dinner, we ate at the fantabulous M Bistro  at the Ritz Carlton in new Orleans.  I took pictures.  It was AMAZING!

Amouse Bouche:

Escargot Croquet Madame

with organic quail egg and gruyere cheese

It was DIVINE.  It was like a tiny little escargot lasagna…  Made with toast instead of pasta.  But totally yumtastic.

First course:

Acorn Squash Bisque

with sultana marshmallow and pumpkin toast

This is seriously one of the best things I’ve eaten in a long, long time.  It had MARSHMALLOWS!!!!  How can you not like anything that has marshmallows in it???   This soup was sweet, creamy, marshmallowy, and the pumpkin toast croutons gave it a nice kick of texture.  I’ve asked the chef for the recipe.  Crossing my fingers in hopes that he provides…

Second Course:

Shrimp stuffed Mirliton

with warm andouille remoulade

 

My first question for the waiter was, “What the heck is a mirliton???”  And you know what?  He didn’t know either!  (That’s why he gave me the food and drink manager’s business card!  So that I could get the recipe from him!  Ha!)

So thanks to dictionary.com, I have found out what a mirliton is.  Ready?

   
   

(It’s a chayote squash.)

So anyway, this was basically a peeled, cooked half of a chayote squash, stuffed with chopped shrimp and something resembling mayonnaise, covered with panko (I think) and browned on top.

It was pretty good.  A little too mayonaissey, but not unlike your average shrimp salad stuffed into a squash shell.

Note to Waitstaff: KNOW YOUR FOOD.  Ugh.

Third Course:

Horseradish Crusted Prime Rib

with twice-baked potato, shiitake-green bean casserole, and bone marrow espagnole

Yeah.

Johnny opted for the standard turkey breast dinner with the standard accoutrements, but I decided to get something a little different.

The prime rib was perfectly cooked, the potatoes were light and airy, and the green bean casserole was KILLER.  I’m SO glad I didn’t get the turkey!

Fourth Course:

White Chocolate Spiced Apple Mousse

with carmelized bourbon apples and chocolate-hazelnut sorbet


I didn’t much care for the dessert, honestly.  The mousse was more like stale pudding, and although the crust added some interesting flavor and texture (it was like a soft granola bar with bourbon), the chocolate sorbet kind of ruined it.  It was WAY too chocolatey, and it didn’t really complement the apple flavors at all.

Fifth Course:

Seasonal chocolate truffles


There were six of these suckers.  And in other fine dining establishments that I’ve visited, the waiter at least TELLS you what flavors the truffles are when he puts them on your table.  At Stephan Pyles, there was a lavender one, a peanut butter (I think) one, and “the chef’s take on an Oreo cookie.”  See?  I still remember!

So waitstaff, when you hurl a plate of random truffles at a customer, PLEASE tell them what the flavors are supposed to be!

Johnny and I resorted to biting into each one and leaving a bunch of uneaten truffle halves on the plate.

Just sayin’.

But all in all, this was an AMAZING dinner, and if you are ever in New Orleans, go to M Bistro!  It’s well worth the trip!

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Beignets at Cafe du Monde!!!

Yum!

 

The day after Thanksgiving, we scooted over to Brennan’s for brunch!

I got the Eggs Shannon, which was sort of like an Eggs Benedict.  That is, if you replaced the Canadian bacon with fried trout, and replaced the English muffins with creamed spinach..

Doesn’t this look amazing???

For dessert (yes, dessert.  This is BRUNCH, remember??), we got the Bananas Foster.  After all, Bananas Foster was friggin’ INVENTED at Brennan’s!

So here’s how you make it:

Ooooooooh….!

Aaaaaaah…!

And this is what you get:

Oh, you wanted a recipe???

Okay:

(Recipe  shamelessly ripped from their website…)

This is the actual Bananas Foster recipe from the original source and creator of this dessert: Brennan’s Restaurant. In 1951, Chef Paul created Bananas Foster. The scrumptious dessert was named for Richard Foster, who served with Owen on the New Orleans Crime Commission. Richard Foster was a frequent customer of Brennan’s and a very good friend of Owen.

BANANAS FOSTER

  • ¼ cup (½ stick) butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ cup banana liqueur
  • 4 bananas, cut in half
    lengthwise, then halved
  • ¼ cup dark rum
  • 4 scoops vanilla ice cream

Combine the butter, sugar, and cinnamon in a flambé pan or skillet. Place the pan over low heat either on an alcohol burner or on top of the stove, and cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the banana liqueur, then place the bananas in the pan. When the banana sections soften Bananas Fosterand begin to brown, carefully add the rum. Continue to cook the sauce until the rum is hot, then tip the pan slightly to ignite the rum. When the flames subside, lift the bananas out of the pan and place four pieces over each portion of ice cream. Generously spoon warm sauce over the top of the ice cream and serve immediately.

Last Friday, Johnny and I made our annual trek to Stephan Pyles to sample the offerings for Restaurant Week.  We had been to another restaurant the week before and were not impressed, so I KNEW that Stephan Pyles would be better.  And they did not disappoint!

We arrived at the restaurant a little early, so we decided to wait at the bar…

I had a cucumber martini, and Johnny had an Acai Berry martini.

The cucumber martini had gin, vodka, and some other stuff, and it contained a floating slice of cucumber.  It was cucumbery and yummy!

I have no idea what Johnny’s martini had, but it was a lot sweeter than mine, and it had blueberries.  So both of our drinks had their own special Flair…

Course 1:

My first course was a corn soup.  Or to be more exact…

Roasted Texas Corn Soup with Laughing Bird Shrimp and Huitlacoche
Acrobat, Pinot Gris, Oregon 2008

(Seeing this photo reminds me that I need the new iPhone.  I really, really need the new iPhone.  *sigh*…)

So anyway, the soup tasted like creamed corn that had been put into a blender.  But not in a bad way!  Oh no!  It was sweet and a tad smoky, and it had a few particles of huitlacoche swimming around in it. The shrimp accented the sweetness, and the cream smoothed everything over.  This was really, really tasty.

Johnny got this:

Heirloom Tomato Salad with Mozzarella-Stuffed Squash Blossom,
Basil and Balsamic Gelée
Pazo San Mauro, Albarino, Rias Baixas 2009

(And yes, I tasted everything.  How am I supposed to write an information-filled blog if I don’t know what everything tastes like???)

The salad consisted of field greens, several differnt types of heirloom tomatoes, and a deep-fried squash blossom that had been stuffed with mozzerella.  You know, like the description says…

I had gotten a similar salad last year at SP, so I knew how good it was.  I don’t know how they got these tomatoes to taste so perfect, but they were delicious!  They must not keep them in a refrigerator or something…  you know that kills the flavor, right?  Right???

Course 2:

For my entree, I got this:

Grilled Coulotte of Beef with Charred Red Pepper Purée,
Tempura Hen of the Woods and Fresh Bay Demi
J. Vidal-Fleury, Cotes du Rhone 2006

I know you need a translation, so here it is:

Basically, these were grilled, absolutely perfectly tender hunks of beef, sitting on a sauce made of charred red bell peppers.

No, actually, they were grilled, absolutely perfectly tender hunks of beef, leaning on a dollop of mashed potatoes that had been placed on a shmear of red pepper puree.

Accompanying these were two HUGE hunks of tempura-fried wild mushrooms.

And they were delicious!

The beef was amazingly rich, but it was lightened up by the sweet tartness of the puree.  The mushrooms were a bit heavy, but the flavors played off each other very well, overall.

Johnny’s entree:

Barbecued Juha Ranch Chicken with Grilled Watermelon,
Pickled Rind and Heirloom Potato Salad
Pedroncelli, “Mother Clone”, Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley 2008

Throughout our meal, I was insanely jealous of Johnny, because everything that he got was SO much better than mine!

The chicken was amazingly tender, juicy, and full of flavor.

It was accompanied by the most delicious potato salad I had ever tried.  The potatoes were purple, and the flavor of the potato salad was almost orangey.  I asked the waiter what they put in the salad, and he replied that it was just “standard potato salad dressing.”  Yeah, right.

Leaning on the chicken was a slice of grilled watermelon.  The watermelon was perfectly ripe, very, very sweet, and the sweetness was further brought out by the grilleration…

Like I said…  Totally jealous of this one…

Course 3:

But I got even MORE envious when I saw his dessert, which was…

Mexican Chocolate Tamales with Roasted Cherry-Vanilla Ice Cream Sambuca
-Milk Chocolate Sauce
Warre’s, “Otima 10”, 10-Year Tawny Port

Oh.  My.  Gawd.

This chocolate tamale tasted like straight brownie batter.  But not as sweet.  It was like a perfectly moist, soggy, wet, undercooked slab of cake batter.  It was divine.

I didn’t notice the ice cream.  Or the drizzle.

This dessert…Must learn how to make…. yum…

For my dessert, I got:

Mascarpone-Black Mission Fig Empanada with Balsamic Sabayon
and Jamon Serrano Ice Cream
Albala, “Gran Reserva”, Don PX, Sherry 1982

Okay…

This was a tiny empanada filled with figgy, creamy goodness.

The thing I like best about Stephan Pyles is that he takes what is basically white trash/comfort food and makes it upscale.  So with this dessert, he took the concept of a chocolate fried pie and made it all gourmet-like and stuff…

The filling in the empanada was a fig/mascarpone mixture.  And in texture, it was a lot like a stringier chocolate fried pie.  I only wish there had been more filling.

The schmear was a balsamic sabayon, and it picked up the flavor with a tart sweetness that paired very well with the sweet creaminess of the empanada filling.

Jamon Serrano = Serrano ham.  To tell the truth, I couldn’t really taste any hammy flavor in the ice cream.  it might have been there, but all I tasted was vanilla ice cream with maybe a bit of  a twang.

Truffles:

The neat thing about fancypants restaurants like Stephan Pyles and Nobu is, they often give you truffles instead of the standard hard candy/peppermint/Andes mints that you get at other places.  And that is awesome.

From left to right:

  • Peanut butter-filled milk chocolate truffle: I didn’t taste this one, but Johnny seemed to enjoy it.
  • “The chef’s play on an Oreo cookie”:  Hmmm….I don’t think I tasted this one either.  From what I recall, Johnny just picked this one up and popped it into his mouth.  The little weasel.  >:-(
  • Dark chocolate heart, filled with lavender cream:  Wow.  This was amazing.  I had half of it and gave Johnny the other half.
  • Johnny owes me some chocolate.
  • I’ll send him the bill from Neiman’s.

So there you have it.  My review of Stephan Pyles is finally here.

And on September 24, I will be going to the State Fair of Texas for my annual Fried Food Report!  YAAAAAAAYYYYY!!!!!!

And remember: 

STAY AWAY FROM 560 BY WOLFGANG PUCK.

Bleah.

On August 20, Johnny and I went to 560 by Wolfgang Puck for Restaurant Week. Never again.

The last time I had been to Reunion Tower, it was for my high school prom.  Back then, the restaurant was called Antares, and from what I remember, it was pretty good.  There were some complaints about it in its later years, but I’m sure that it was DEFINITELY never as bad as when we visited last Friday.

I will preface this entry by saying that I have never been impressed by fusion food.  It tends to water down the flavor of whatever food it is trying to emulate, and pandering to Whitey by losing the flavor that defines each nationality’s cuisine is a sad, sad thing.

But since this was a Puck restaurant, and since it was in Reunion Tower, I decided to give it a chance.  Despite my reservations, and despite the awful reviews that I had read.  I mean, at the very least, Johnny and I could go there and enjoy the view.  I should have paid attention to those reviews…

First of all, here is the view.  That is, when I wasn’t being blinded by the setting sun…

We didn’t even get to sit by the window.  They pretty much had us stuck in the interior of the seating area.  So the evening didn’t start off well AT ALL.

To start our meal, we both ordered the Sake shooter trio.  As in, each of us ordered a sampler.  We got ONE.

But we were getting the wine pairings with our meal anyway, and we didn’t want to get TOO schnockered, so we shared.  No biggie…

The sake trio consisted of a ginjo, a daiginjo, and a nigori sake.  The way the waiter–AND the accompanying info card– explained each type of sake was positively insulting.  Come on. If I’m in your restaurant, and I’m brave enough to try sushi, I’ve probably had a sip or two of sake in my lifetime.  Jeez…

I stole the nigori, and it was AMAZING. Ricey and smooth and sweet and yummy.  The daiginjo tasted a lot like gasoline.  The ginjo was pretty good  with floral, fruity notes, but the nigori was much, much better.

For his appetizer, Johnny had the maki roll.  I had previously asked the waiter what the roll of the evening was, and I got the response that it was the dreaded California roll.  How ordinary.

So I opted for the samosa trio.  But when Johnny got his roll, it was a TEMPURA SHRIMP roll.  Which was just as blah.  So whatevs.

My samosas were the size of Jeno’s pizza rolls.  and just as soggy…

The samosas were placed upon a blob of mint, tamarind, and coconut chutney, respectively.  They were filled with avocado.  Bland, tasteless avocado.  WTF???

My faith in fusion food was further destroyed with each passing bite…Ugh…

For my entree, I chose the lamb.  It was placed upon a tiny blob of lentils and drizzled with a mint/chimichurri sauce.  No flavor whatsoever.  Not even a gamey lamb taste.  Not even an herby or minty taste.  Nothing.  Which made me feel even more sorry for the cute little fuzzy animal that gave its life for my plate.  Its poor, wasted life.

Johnny got the salmon.  His entree was a teensy bit better than mine.  It was steamed, and I believe it had a soy glaze or something, and some leeks and other greenery on top.  *sigh*…

(Of course, in the photo, it looks like the salmon was on its Moon Cycle.)

(You’re welcome.)

For dessert, we each got the “chocolate” torte.

It was tiny (about 2 fingers wide) and sloppy.

Does this look like a chocolate torte to you????

(To me, it looked — and tasted — like something that they got frozen at Sam’s and thawed and sliced up.  Or maybe they got it from some random Chinese buffet’s dessert table? )

Soooo disappointing….

Ah well.  Hasta la vista 560.  And you might want to replace some of those lightbulbs…

Stephan Pyles, you had better be AMAZING….

(It’s a good thing that Stephan Pyles never disappoints!)

Last night, the JohnnyCakes and I went to Stephan Pyles…Again!   It’s currently Restaurant Week (actually Restaurant MONTH for some places), which is always a good time to check out some really great restaurants for Cheap. 

Here is the menu at SP for RW:  http://www.stephanpyles.com/events.asp

Go ahead and look over it.  I’ll wait…

 

…And now that you’ve looked over the menu, let’s get on with the show…

(Note:  We got the wine pairings.  Because you just have to.  You do.)

 

First Course

Local Heirloom Tomato Salad with Paula’s Bocconcini, Fried Avocado and Balsamic Gelée*

 tomatoes

 Wine pairing:
Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch 2008

This was my choice for the 1st course.  It was amazing.  The tomatoes were perfectly ripe (Do they have a huge window that they set the tomatoes on to ripen every day?  Wouldn’t it be cool if they did?), and the panko-encrusted avocado provided a crunchy, sweet foil to the flavors of the tomatoes and the balsamic gelee cubelets.    The bocconcini was like a bonus layer of creaminess to the dish.  (Note to self: make panko-encrusted avocado. )

 

Scallop and Pork Belly Carnitas with Sweet Potato Hash, Smoked Onion Confit and Plum Purée

Scallop and carnitas

Scallop and carnitas

Wine pairing:
Catena Chardonnay, Tupungato, Mendoza 2007

This was Johnny’s first course.  But I tried it, of course…

The waiter had detailed the entire 57-step process of getting the pork belly just right, from the roasting, to the peeling off of fat and forming the pork into a Jimmy Dean Sausage-shaped Tube.  But whatever.  All that really mattered was whether all of that was worth it.  And it was…

I’m not normally a fan of cooked scallops (Although I LOVE scallop sushi!), but this was really tasty.  It had a perfectly bacony flavor, the scallop was not rubbery at all, and for me, sweet potatoes in general can do no wrong.  So no complaints on this one at all…

 

Extra Course – Central Market Coupon

Red Snapper in Thai-Red Curry Masa with Veracruzana Sauce and Caramelized Fingerling Banana

The snapper 4th course

The snapper 4th course

Wine pairing:
Van Duzer Estate Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley 2006
 

We had to get this.  Even though we didn’t have the Central Market coupon. 

Holy crap it was good.

This was a slab of snapper, on top of coconut rice, with sort of a curry tamale on top.   On top of that was a Veracruzana (think sweet, oniony stewed tomato) sauce.  On the side was half of a carmelized fingerling banana, and then the whole shebang was drizzled with creme fraiche.

(Note to self:  Make bass or some other kind of meaty white fish with  carmelized banana.  And avocado.)

This was like another dessert.  And probably my favorite course of the evening!

 

Second Course

48-Hour Braised Beef Cheek with Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Baby Squash

beef

Wine pairing:
Hook and Ladder “The Tillerman” Red Blend, Russian River Valley 2006

 This was the most yummy cowface I’d ever had.  It was like a carmelized pot roast. Sweet, fork-tender, and slightly crispy.  OMG I’m drooling just thinking about it…

Some people are afraid of eating Animal Face, but really, it’s usually the most tender and sweet meat on a critter.  Try this with fish (hamachi kama) the next time you eat sushi.  You will thank me.  Trust.

 

Pan-Seared Salmon with Hoja Santa Pesto, Corn Griddle Cakes and Clay Pot Black Beans

salmon

Wine pairing:
Latour “Domaine Valmoissine” Pinot Noir, Coteaux du Verdon 2007

 Meh.  Mine was better.  (Johnny got this, and it tasted pretty much like it looks.)

I could make this.  It’s like they didn’t even try.  And the streak of pesto just makes the salmon look, well,  diseased

 

Third Course

Mexican Chocolate Fondant with Fleur de Sel Caramel and Kahlúa Crema

chocolate

Wine pairing:
Marenco Brachetto D’ Acqui “Pineto” Piedmonte DOCG 2008

 For our dessert orders, I had asked the waiter to just randomly give us the chocolate dessert and the cheesecake.  So at first, this was my dessert.  Again, I can’t say I’m a fan of cake.

So we traded.

This tasted like a brownie.  (And that’s probably why Johnny LOVED it!)

The wine that was served along side the brownie was a Piedmont, which was sort of a fizzy Pinot Noir.  This wine might have done better with a ganache or something smooth like that.  Because again, I am not a fan of cake…

 

Unless it’s CHEESECAKE…

Deep Ellum Goat’s Cheesecake with Thyme-Infused Cherries Jubilee

cheesecake

Wine pairing:
Lillypilly Noble Blend, New South Wales (Riverina) Australia 2006

 Who but Stephan Pyles would think to make a cheesecake with goat cheese (and not screw it up)?  And then make it look like a cherry cobbler with ice cream?

To be honest, I was expecting the standard baked, triangular slice of cheesecake, maybe with some cherries baked into it.  Maybe a little browning or crustiness on top…  But certainly not this!

(I totally got the best dessert.  After I traded with Johnny, anyway…  Yay, me!)

The cheesecake was perfectly smooth and creamy, and the cherries were perfectly cooked and seasoned with thyme.  Accompanying the cheesecake/cherries was a liberal sprinkling of (graham cracker crumbs?) on the side.  It was basically a deconstructed cherry cheesecake.  And I need to remember to add more herbs to my cobblers…

And as for the wine, the Lillypilly rocked it.

 

All in all, the JohnnyCakes and I were once again very, very impressed by Stephan Pyles.   I’m pretty sure this is our new favorite restaurant. 

 

*All photos were taken by my iPhone, because although I was prepared to look sort of geeky taking photos of my food, I didn’t want to look Japanese Tourist geeky with my honkin’  big DSLR slung around my neck. 

In order to celebrate my awesome husband Johnny’s promotion at work, I took him to Stephan Pyles (!!!!!) on Friday for lunch. 
 
The valets were nice, the hostess was nice, and our waiter was very knowledgeable and helpful.
 
Johnny and I both got the Chicken Fried Venison.  I had been trying to decide between the CF Venison, the Pappardelle with figs and fennel and sausage, and the tuna with carnitas.  Then I decided to not get the tuna with carnitas, because fish and pigfat just seemed to be a bit harsh for the day…  I asked the waiter which of the last two he preferred, and he warned me that the fennel in the pappardelle was pretty licorice-y, so I opted for the venison.  (I only eat fennel if it’s roasted, or otherwise made to not be licorice-y.  Because black licorice makes me gag.  Gross.)
 
So, we got the venison.  And boy howdy, I’m glad we did.
 
The gravy, placed under the meat, included chorizo.  The mashed potatoes included sage and sauteed shallots.  The braised swiss chard had a sprinkling of bacon on top. 
 
Everything meshed together wonderfully.  I hadn’t had chicken fried venison in years, the last time being during hunting season in Arkansas, and the CFV was homemade by a funeral director, at a hunting lodge.  The Funeral Director version had a thick white gravy, and tasted like a slightly gamier chicken fried steak.

 
And you know, it’s pretty hard to beat homemade chicken fried ANYTHING, but Stephan Pyles pretty much hit it on the nose.  It was amazing, yet different from what I had before.  The breading was light and crunchy, the gravy went perfectly with the meat (and potatoes), but my only complaint was that it was too salty.  Dangit.
 
We decided to order dessert, in order to get the Full Stephan Pyles Experience.  So after reviewing the dessert menu, I requested the dark chocolate mousse and a glass of port, but the waiter looked confused at my request, scampered off, and returned with the LUNCHTIME dessert menu.  Crap.
 
So, even though I wanted the Lemon Fried Pie with mango salad, we heeded the waiter’s suggestion and got the ubiquitous Heaven and Hell Cake.  I was SO not looking forward to this cake.  I have a cookbook that includes the recipe, and although I haven’t made it yet, I knew what was in it.  And I am SO not a cake person.  I really wanted something gooey.  =-[

(For those of you not aware of what the Heaven and Hell Cake is, it is composed of layers of angel food cake, devil’s food cake, and peanut butter mousse.  Then the whole shebang is coated with chocolate ganache.) 

So we get the cake.  I grab a forkful…  Then I grab another forkful…
 
I was fully expecting cloying, wince-inducing sweetness, and the waxy disappointment of sub-par chocolate.  I ended up being moderately impressed.
 
The cake tasted really familiar.  I mean, really, really familiar.  I was trying to place where I had tasted this before…
 
The Heaven and Hell Cake tasted EXACTLY like a Little Debbie Nutty Bar.
 
Oy vey.
 
But dangit, it was GOOD.
 
It came with a jigger of raspberry puree, a spoonful of raspberry mousse, and a handful of chocolate-ganache-filled raspberries.
 
The puree picked up the flavors beautifully, and helped the cake to be not so cloyingly sweet and rich.  The mousse was a nice addition, but the flavor wasn’t really there.  The ganache in the raspberries was too milk-chocolatey, and a bit muddy in texture.  It would have been better with a darker chocolate, and with a bit of refrigeration (I know, sacrilage…), but the chocolate would have been better if it were harder and less sweet.
 
Oh, and true to form, Chef Pyles made a round of the dining room, stopping at everyone’s table to check on them.  When he got to our table, my Chef Worship got the best of me, and I said something like, “This is really good!”, and completely forgot the witty banter that I was planning on laying on him if he stopped by.  I am such a dork…
 
All in all, I will DEFINITELY return to this restaurant.  Chef Pyles has once again proven himself the God of Upscale Southwest Comfort Food.
 
(Johnny and I were trying to figure out what other (white trash) comfort food he could make Upscale…  I suggested fried bologna sandwiches, but he already has sliders with foie gras…  A Star Crunch knockoff dessert, perhaps?  )

Check it out here:
http://www.stephanpyles.com/index.asp

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