Saturday, 25 June 2011

Rao's part two

I feel spoiled.

I got a call two weeks ago today:

"Would you like _______'s table at Rao's next Wednesday?".

I said yes without checking my calendar, without calling my wife to see if we could get a babysitter. When asked that question, there's only one possible answer.

I knew I had four seats, so we had room for one other couple. Lots of contenders, but only one Obvious choice if he was in town. My brother and his wife. A treat like this has to shared first with family.

I didn't tell him where we were going until that morning. Awesome.

We got there promptly at 7, and sat down. A round of cocktails at the table from Nick the Vest, and then we started eating. The food, as you'll see from last review, was good to great the last time. I'd say almost the same this time, except more of it was truly great. The seafood salad and the mixed salad didn't disappoint. The mixed salad in particular was exactly how my grandmother's used to taste. We followed this with penne a la vodka, and lingune with white clam sauce. Now, I have to tell you that the ONLY kind of pasta I generally don't like is linguine -- the texture just doesn't work for me. But this linguine was stupendous. As I remembered From my last visit, their dried pasta dishes were perfectly al dente. The vodka sauce was the savory, tomatoey, vaguely cheesy way that vodka sauce is supposed to be. The clam sauce was garlicky with some pepperoncino, the perfect amount of heat, and a combination of whole and chopped clams. It was awesome. This course came with the requisite four meatballs. I ate two of them. Even better than last time. You can taste the percorino in them. They manage to be crusty on the outside and medium rare on the inside. They are divine.

For entrees we ended up randomly ordering the same two as my last visit. This time, I had the opposite reaction. The chicken scarpariello which was the most memorable part of my first visit, was good, but the chicken was a little bit dry and the peppers weren't hot enough. The shrimp oreganata, however, was superb. Large, moist shrimp in an intensely garlic and oregano sauce. Unbelievable. We also had a side on sauteed escarole, in honor of my Dad. He loved escarole, and used o always say that the Romans called it the "green of life." He might have made that up. The escarole was not very popular at our table, though I liked it.

This time we had dessert, the famous cheesecake and the coffee ice cream, both of which were unusually delicious for staple items. Three bottles of really excellnt chianti, and some after dinner drinks, and we rolled out full and happy, as the photo below documents.

I can't say enough about this place. The hype about the exclusivity aside, they do everything right. The service was great, as was the atmosphere. Less sceney this visit, it felt like every table were old time regulars, not celebrities. Maybe it's so good because with only a clientele of regulars, they can't ever let anything slip. I think it probably has more to do with the perfectionism of the hosts, who really make you feel at home.

What a special place.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Lightning Strikes, Not Once, But Twice...

The end of a fantastic evening, courtesy of Mr. Pellegrino and the crew at 455 East 114th.

A quick San Francisco post

I found myself recently in San Francisco for two meals with very little time for planning. The first was breakfast, and the spot chosen by my host, my old friend was Brenda's French Soul Food at 652 Polk Street in the Tenderloin. It was jammed for breakfast, even on a Friday morning. We started with a "flight" of four beignets: Chocolate (molten ghiardelli chocolate center), Apple and cinnamon, plain, and crawfish with cheddar and scallion. After half of each one, I was full. Each one was perfectly crisp on the outside, and perfectly balanced and delicious on the inside. Even the plain one had a deliciously airy center.

Of course, the meal did not end there. I had to continue with an andouille and cheddar omelette with mushroom, potato hash and a fresh, enormous southern biscuit with butter and homemade jam. I practically needed to be rolled out by the end of the meal, but man! What a delicious meal.

Not surprisingly, i didn't feel the need to eat again until dinner, where I found myself downtown, alone and with time to kill until my redeye home. A quick ipad Zagat search (the wonders of modern technology) confirmed the hunch I had walking by Tadich Grill on California street and peering in the window. It claims to be California's oldest restaurant with the strapline: "the original cold day restaurant 1849." I have no idea what that means, but The place oozes character and tradition. The long cavernous room is largely occupied by a huge rectangular bar - one of my favorite ways to eat solo. There are some tables nestled into cubilcle-like nooks built into the left wall. Also, the seven or eight seats at the bar facing the front window are reserved for those drinking only.

At the eating portion of the bar, old world waiters with eastern european accents, white coats, and a familiar surliness greet you and offer suggestions as requested. Cold beer is plentiful. I started with the suggested dungeness crab cake which was not over fried, With a healthy amount of meat to filler. It appeared to have roe in it. Two sauces, one tomato based (like a thousand island) the other akin to a tartar sauce. While it was tasty, it was not particularly notable. That was in stark contrast to the main course, the Cioppino.

They apparently are famous for it, and it's easy to see why. A huge bowl of pungent vinegary broth accented with tarragon and loaded with fresh seafood, garlic bread perfectly saturated with oil and garlic right amount of crunch. The scallops in particular, which are notoriously easy to overcook, were firm and plentiful. It was nothing short of superb. There was an upsell side of steamed asparagus that was average and should be missed. I'd get the Cioppino and a salad if I did it over again. And I undoubtedly will.