Taylor’s Automatic Refresher

By grace.g.yang · July 10, 2008
Under: Burgers,California,Cheap Eats,My Life,Travels

After visiting so many wineries, eating at Ad Hoc and The French Laundry, Chris and I needed to get our burger fix. What better place than Taylor’s Refresher:

There are three locations – one in San Francisco (in the Ferry Building), one in St. Helena (pictured above), and one in Napa (at the Oxbow Public Market). Initially, I was going to visit in Taylor’s Refresher in San Francisco, but I decided to wait until Chris was with me so we could enjoy the burgers together. I was more than excited to try their food, especially since everyone that sent me recommendations said that Taylor’s was a place that I should definitely check out (thanks guys!).

The Taylor’s Refresher in St. Helena is the original and definitely family oriented (there are picnic tables and grass in the back where families hang out and picnic). We ordered our burgers at the walk-up window:

After we ordered, Chris and I headed to the backyard area that looked like it was straight from a 1950′s magazine:

A lot of families with younger children were enjoying the pleasant weather and lawn area (in fact, some kids were running around like they were raised by wolves). We didn’t have to wait long before our food was ready (everything is prepared once you order it so it doesn’t sit around and get soggy):

I decided to go with Taylor’s cheeseburger:

The cheeseburger is topped with sliced American cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles and a secret sauce (which was kind of similar to In-N-Out’s sauce). It was absolutely AMAZING! All of their meat is antibiotic and hormone free and tastes incredibly fresh.

Chris ordered the Wisconsin sourdough burger:

The burger was topped with grilled mushrooms, bacon, cheddar cheese, mayo and BBQ sauce. Chris and I liked the burger, but neither of us liked the sourdough bread (the burger to bun ratio was skewed).

We also ordered French fries:

Very similar to Goodburger’s French fries (or McDonald’s).

Lastly, we ordered a strawberry shake:

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This was the most AMAZING strawberry shake I’ve EVER had. It was reallllllly creamy, tasted like it had fresh strawberries blended in, and was the perfect consistency so you could drink it with a straw OR scoop it up with a spoon. We were impressed! (A similarly tasty strawberry shake can be found at Goodburger in Manhattan!).

I absolutely LOVED Taylor’s and can definitely see myself going back with my family (so my kids can run around and throw footballs at people’s heads).

Del Frisco’s

By grace.g.yang · July 10, 2008
Under: American,Midtown West,My Life

I was going to post a review about Taylor’s Refresher and finish up my San Francisco trip, but you’ll have to wait a couple more days because I promised my friend Sara that I would post my review on Del Frisco’s (actually, I told her it would be up a week ago but I have been having extreme problems with my laptop’s wireless!). A couple weeks ago, Sara’s brother, Scott, and his friend, Justin, came to New York to visit Sara and to hang out in the city. David, Sara, Justin, Scott, and another friend Russell went to Rosa Mexicano after work for drinks (even though their food is disgusting, their margaritas are okay). I met up with them for a drink after work and after a couple rounds of margaritas on an empty stomach, everyone decided they wanted to eat something. Justin wanted to go to Del Frisco’s, so we all headed uptown for steaks and more drinks.

Del Frisco’s (actually called Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House) is located in midtown west, right outside of Rockefeller center. When I worked across the street from Del Frisco’s, I used to always see lots of men in suits walk in for lunch/drinks after work. Since I’ve never been to Del Frisco’s, I was excited to try it (Chris and I haven’t been to a lot of steakhouses in New York because steak can be so HEAVY, especially when the weather is warmer!). We had a large group and decided to order a bunch of appetizers and share everything. I got to Del Frisco’s a little late and didn’t have a chance to take pictures of everything (I had to drop off my computer at home and met up with everyone a little late). I did get a chance to take a picture of the massive onion rings:

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Their onion rings are lightly battered and were perfectly seasoned – we all enjoyed them (especially me since I was so hungry after drinking so many margaritas on an empty stomach!). Sara and David also liked the gigantic onion rings:

We also ordered shrimp cocktail, tuna tartare, and some other various appetizers. The onion rings were the only appetizer I really enjoyed, but the tuna tartare was better than other tartare’s I’ve had.

For our entrees, we all ordered something different and decided to share. We had so many different cuts of meat on the table and we were able to all sample a little of each person’s dish. Jamie, Sara’s roommate, ordered the lobster tail:

Where do they find lobsters that large?! There was enough lobster meat for everyone to have a bite AND for Jamie to enjoy the rest. The lobster also came with lots of butter and was really tender (and not overcooked).

I ordered the rack of lamb medium rare (excuse my picture…for some reason I tried to not use flash and fix the picture at home, but the picture didn’t turn out so well):

The lamb was the best thing on our table; lots of meat and little fat, very tender, and incredibly tasty. When all of our food arrived, the waiters all told us that the plates were REALLY hot (so don’t touch). When waiters tell me something like that, I never believe them and touch the plate anyway. The plates are usually warm (I mean, if a waiter can carry it from the kitchen to our table without a towel/glove, how is it that hot, right? I touched the Del Frisco’s plate to move it away from me, but it was so hot that it seriously BURNED me! I was actually so shocked that I dropped my fork into my lap and stained the dress I was wearing! So, as a warning, don’t touch the plates at Del Frisco’s if they tell you not to!

My brother ordered the filet:

Del Frisco’s doesn’t do much with presentation, but it didn’t matter because the filet was so incredibly juicy and rare. There was a nice crust on the outside and everyone enjoyed it (but not as much as they liked my lamb!).

Everyone had a great time and it was great hanging out with David’s friends:

Del Frisco's on Urbanspoon

Mr. Chocolate

By grace.g.yang · June 26, 2008
Under: Desserts,Flatiron,My Life

Let’s take a break from California updates and go back to New York life for a minute. The other day, I had the pleasure of meeting Jacques Torres, also known as “Mr. Chocolate”:

I am a huge fan of Jacques Torres’ chocolates and Chris surprised me with some a while back:

When Jacques Torres had a show on the food network, I would sit in front of the television every Saturday and drool over his creations. I remember him recreating a champagne bottle, the Eiffel tower, and some other incredibly intricate pieces of edible art. It was a pleasure meeting him and he is so incredibly friendly!

I’ll be back next week with my review of Taylor’s Refresher and Gary Danko!

Napa and Sonoma Wineries: Darioush, Clos du Val, V. Sattui, and Alpha Omega

By grace.g.yang · June 22, 2008
Under: California,My Life,Travels

After our French Laundry lunch, Chris and I walked around a bunch of wineries. The first stop was Darioush, based off a recommendation a guy gave us when we were having brunch at Blue Ribbon Bakery a while back. He kept emphasizing how great the winery was…when we got there, we thought the place looked a little….over the top:

The winery opened in 1997 and focuses on Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Chardonnay and Viognier:

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The winery reminded me of a building the belonged in Las Vegas, and guess who we ran into…the Texas couples that walked out on The French Laundry! We took some pictures on the grassy lawn and by the grapes:

The next winery we visited, Clos du Val, was opened in 1972:

Their tastings were really popular:

We weren’t really in the mood for drinking, so we walked off all the food we just consumed, took some pictures around the estate, and headed to our next winery.

V. Suttui was being decorated for a wedding when we got there and was pretty packed (not only with people from the wedding). It’s one of the more popular wineries because they offer really cheap tasting ($5 for 6 wines or something like that):

They also have an outdoor picnic area (you’re supposed to buy food from the marketplace, but I’m guessing people bring in whatever they want since it’s outdoors). The marketplace sells various cheeses, dips, and sandwiches that pair well with the wine they sell:

I actually bought a wine from V. Sattui the last time I was in Napa. We liked the Rieslings the most (I brought one home last year but didn’t want to bother with it this year).

After our V. Sattui tasting, we drove to another winery, Alpha Omega. The winery was still under construction, but was open an hour past the other wineries in the area so we went in:

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We were wined out, but had a great time walking through all of the tasting rooms. After all of the wineries, we headed to Taylor’s Refresher for an awesome dinner – a post will be up later this week!

The French Laundry

By grace.g.yang · June 17, 2008
Under: California,My Life,Prix-fixe

For my birthday this year, I wanted Chris to get me something special that we could enjoy together (it’s tough buying me a good gift because I’m not into jewelry, I’d rather buy my own clothing than have another person pick it out for me, and Chris already bought me the Wii and the digital camera that I wanted). It was a little difficult coming up with a gift that I’d really enjoy, but then we started discussing the option of flying out to California and going to The French Laundry. At first, I thought it was a ridiculous gift because 1. How could Chris get a reservation for The French Laundry, 2. If somehow Chris *could* get a reservation, how would we be able to both take off work so we could fly over there? Well, two months before my birthday, Chris luckily made a reservation, booked two tickets to California, and set up the most magical birthday week for me (he actually had to see if he could get a reservation BEFORE he booked a ticket – two months beforehand is standard at The French Laundry).
If you’ve been reading this post and you’re thinking, why the heck is Grace so excited about a meal at a place that sounds like they fold laundry? Well, The French Laundry is the best restaurant in the Americas AND the 4th best restaurant in the world, plus, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime dining experience. Chris and I are both huge Thomas Keller fans (more on that later) and we’ve been to almost every restaurant (Per Se is the only one we haven’t visited….yet!). Chris and I were more than psyched for the trip to The French Laundry (there will be a ton of pictures in this post, so get ready!).
On the day of our reservation, Chris and I got up super early to prepare for the drive from our “hotel”; based off David Colker’s write up of his experience dining at The French Laundry for the LA Times, we thought it would be fun to stay at the same place he stayed at (although we had a private room). It was the worst hotel experience I’ve ever had — worse than the TWO times I was attacked by bedbugs. The hotel was a campground that was clothing optional (those of you that don’t know me that well should know that I am NOT that free-spirited but I thought it might be a good way to save money since most of the hotels in the Napa area were at least $250/night with a three night minimum). The campgrounds/hotel had mostly older guests, so seeing those people doing yoga and stretching without clothing in broad daylight is…slightly traumatizing. Anyway, we headed down to Yountville from our hotel an hour early so we could make our reservation on time. We were slightly early (our reservation was for 11:15), but it allowed us to walk around The French Laundry’s beautiful vegetable gardens (about 10% of the vegetables grown in the garden are used for the tasting menus):

There were chives, leeks, turnips and lots of other vegetables being grown in the sunny garden:

We were able to take lots of pictures beforehand, including a picture of the famous blue door:

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And pictures in front of The French Laundry’s sign:

And a picture of the sitting area next to the entrance:

You’re required to dress up for your meal there (Chris had to wear a suit jacket), but the atmosphere wasn’t stuffy at all (there was a very laid-back Californian feel inside the restaurant).

We were seated in a nice alcove to the right of the main dining room, where we sat by ourselves for most of the meal. Our waiter came to greet us soon after we were seated and offered us complimentary champagne and sodas. They have the usual Coke, Pepsi, Sprite, etc., but they also have lots of interesting sodas, including lavender, rhubarb, orange, and grapefruit (I tried all four and my favorite was rhubarb). A picture of me before our culinary adventure began:

We decided to go with the chef’s tasting menu because it had a lot of variety and we probably couldn’t eat 9 courses of vegetables. :) As soon as we ordered, a waitress brought along these little puppies:

Little puff pastries with cheese inside – yum!

Then another waitress brought along these:

A canap̩ of salmon tartare with red onion cr̬me frąche in a savory tuile that looks just like a tiny ice cream cone Рthe idea actually came to Thomas Keller while he was eating an ice cream cone at Baskin Robbins! The tuile was very crispy without being hard and the salmon was very creamy.

Our first course on the tasting menu was a cauliflower “panna cotta” with Island Greek oyster glaze and California white sturgeon caviar:

The cauliflower “panna cotta” had a nice creamy texture and the flavor of the oyster glaze and caviar added a saltiness that rounded out the dish. Chris thought the caviar was too salty, but I enjoyed the dish.

Then came a little bread from Bouchon with two types of butter:

The butter on the left is from Vermont (it’s also salted) and the butter on the right is from a local farmer:

We actually ended up FINISHING the salted butter (we couldn’t believe that we consumed so much butter in one sitting but it was so creamy and smooth!).

For most of the nine courses, there were two options; to get the most out of the meal, Chris and I decided to always split up the course (he’d get one option and I’d get the other). For our second course, I ordered the salad of Hawaiian hearts of peach palm with medjool dates, vanilla “aigre-doux” and Mizuna leaves:

The medjool dates were rolled up like grapes – I was so surprised when I bit into one! The dish was very clean and fresh tasting and the vanilla added a nice sweetness to the overall taste. An interesting fact about Thomas Keller and his restaurants – he finds “micro-purveyors” and develops relationships with them to get some of his ingredients; for instance, he gets his hearts of palm from a commercial airline pilot and his lobster from a scholar that lives in Maine.

For Chris’ second course, he got the moulard duck foie gras au torchon with Royal Blenheim Apricot sauce, fennel bulb relish, watercress, and aged balsamic:

There were also three types of salt to go with the foie:

The pink salt was 35 million years old! Dinosaurs licked it before we had a chance to try it!

The foie was supposed to go on warm brioche toast:

I was taking pictures of our entire experience and the brioche toast was sitting there getting cold, so a waitress pops out from nowhere and brings us another piece of freshly toasted brioche toast. Can you believe the service?

Okay, so after we received our second course, four people came into our room and sat down at a table behind Chris. They were being really loud and obnoxious (maybe they just finished touring some wineries before they sat down for lunch?) and we were saying how we were really enjoying lunch before they sat down and caused a ruckus. We were really hoping they would somehow quiet down, but they kept cracking jokes (that weren’t funny), being rude to the waiters, and talking about how they were from Texas and how they could sell The French Laundry a bunch of wine that was sitting in their trunk. Chris mentioned how he thought it would be funny if people came into the restaurant without knowing anything about it and when they find out there are only two options on the menu (Chef’s tasting menu or vegetable tasting menu), they get up and leave. Well, that’s EXACTLY what happened with the people sitting behind us! The couples were looking at the menus and started asking the waiters if they could order anything else from the menu – at first, the waiter thought they had food allergies and said they could substitute certain items, but then one of the women from the group said that they could not finish all 9-courses (even though everyone else in the restaurant somehow finishes their meals). The waiter was very accommodating and even said he could check to see if the chef could make the tasting menu smaller, but then the group decided that they were not going to order anything and decided to WALK OUT! Can you believe that?! First of all, how did they get reservations? Second of all, if you made reservations, don’t you think you would at least PEEK at the menu?!!! I’m guessing their hotel got a reservation for them/they called the morning of and there was a cancellation. The waiter had already opened a bottle of champagne (which they drank the majority of before leaving), and the table was left empty for the majority of our lunch (each meal is about 3 hours long, so the table is reserved for that specific meal). Chris and I seriously couldn’t believe that happened right before our eyes…the waiter was incredibly nice about the entire situation and even offered to let the group stay and enjoy their champagne/make a reservation at another restaurant for them. As the group was walking out, one of the guy’s said, “well, I guess there goes my craving for an egg white omelet!” OMG SO rude!

Okay, enough of our funny story, onto our third course!

For my third course, I ordered the sautéed fillet of Atlantic black bass with Yukon gold potatoes, garlic scapes, sweet peppers, and “sauce bouillabaisse”:

This was actually my least favorite dish of the day – the bass was very fishy and it spread to the Yukon potatoes. Chris didn’t enjoy this dish, either.

For Chris’ third course, he ordered the “tartare” of Japanese Kindai tuna with globe artichokes, Spanish capers, nicoise olives, frisee lettuce, and Jidori hen egg Emulsion:

Since Chris and I both love artichokes, we thought this dish was fantastic!

One thing both Chris and I noticed was that we ate a LOT of food, but didn’t feel gross after our meal. Everything we ate was very light (even the heavier meats) and I didn’t feel greasy or gross after the three and a half hour meal.

For our fourth course, there was only one option: Maine lobster tail “pochee au beurre doux” with brooks cherries, French Laundry garden leeks, green almonds, and shaved summer truffles:

I don’t think I’ve ever actually eaten shaved truffles (only truffle oils), so it was a nice treat. The French Laundry definitely takes care of the details – the cherry was in perfect condition, but when we bit down, we noticed they pitted the cherry for us!:

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The lobster was really buttery and had a light, clean taste; it was a huge piece of tail that Chris and I both really enjoyed!

After our lobster tail, I had the ginger-glazed salmon creek pork belly with Akita Komachi rice, baby bok choy, and beech mushrooms:

The beech mushrooms were really fresh and chewy and the pork belly was a great piece of fat that I really loved (I ate ALL of it!).

Chris ordered the epaule de lapin farcie au ris de veau with Chanterelle mushrooms, yellow corn, and lovage “jus:”

If you don’t read French, Chris ordered the rabbit shoulder stuffed with sweetbreads with a side of mushrooms and yellow corn. The rabbit shoulder was very tender and had to be placed on a metal contraption so it could be handled:

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I’ve never had sweetbreads before, but they were very…interesting. It’s not something I’d seek out at a restaurant, but it wasn’t an unpleasant taste in general.

After our first five courses, Chris and I decided to take a break and walk around the garden. We asked our waiter to stop preparing the rest of our meals for a bit while we enjoyed the sun:

I picked some flowers from the garden and pressed them so I could add them to a memory book (that I haven’t started):

There are windows behind the area Chris is standing where you can watch the chefs do amazing things:

What trip is complete without a couple jumping pictures:

After our jumping pictures, we headed to the second floor:

There are a two sets of lawn furniture so you can enjoy a wonderful afternoon (on the day we went, the temperature was around 80 degrees with a slight breeze). Look at the cute faucet decoration:

The little details in the restaurant are really beautiful – look at the lampshade in the bathrooms:

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After our break, we headed back inside and were soon greeted with our next course: Elysian Fields farm “selle d’agneau rotie entiere” with Tokyo turnips, fava beans, sweet carrots, and béarnaise reduction:

The lamb was incredibly tender that and perfectly seasoned. The fava beans, turnips, and carrots were also very tender and flavorful. The béarnaise reduction was so good I almost lifted my plate up and licked it clean.

We also had more bread – I picked bread with currants:

And Chris got a piece of sourdough:

After our lamb and bread, we moved onto our cheeses (and then onto our desserts!). For our cheese course, we had the “Tomme Crayeuse” with sultana chutney, celery branch, and curry gastrique:

The sultana chutney and curry gastrique were an interesting contrast to the cheese, but the dish was light and the celery added a great texture to the smooth cheese.

To cleanse our palates, our waiter brought the gros michel banana sorbet with Andante dairy yogurt “granite” and granola:

The white flecks on the sorbet are FROZEN YOGURT! Isn’t that amazing?! The sorbet tasted like a fresh banana that was really cold (no additives or fake sweetness). The frozen yogurt was really interesting — too bad it melted so fast in my mouth!

After our palate cleanser, I ordered the “Lingot de chocolat en mouse de malt croustillante” with candied Spanish peanuts, popcorn “Glace,” and caramel:

It was The French Laundry’s interpretation of Milk Duds and popcorn and it was absolutely fantastic! It was popcorn sorbet and a brownie-type piece of chocolate that was really rich, yet incredibly light, too. Chris and I loved it!

Chris ordered the “Fraisier aux pistaches” with licorice “Bavarois,” Silverado Trail strawberry sorbet, and blis elixir:

The white acorn-type fruits were actually unripe strawberries! They weren’t sour, but didn’t carry much flavor, either. In terms of dessert, I think we both enjoyed my dessert more (it was a little more decadent).

After all of the desserts, we were presented with even MORE desserts! I received an egg custard with star anise:

And Chris got a small serving of creme brulee with Tahitian vanilla:

I enjoyed the the creme brulee more (just enough custard taste without being too thick or too watery) but I thought the egg custard tasted like an Asian grocery store (too much star anise in Chinese cooking).

We also had two pieces of biscotti with orange peel and white chocolate:

While we were enjoying our desserts, a waiter came by to serve us tea:

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There was a net to catch the tea leaves – I thought it was so cute that I drank my tea as fast as possible so I could pour myself a cup:

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One of the best small desserts – a macadamia nut rolled in a hard caramel and dusted with powdered sugar:

The macadamia nuts were gigantic and the hard caramel was very crunchy (I took some home to have my mom and brother sample them and they loved them, too!).

After our three and a half hour meal, the waiter showed us around the kitchen:

The kitchen is immaculate and every person works diligently on their task (as I was peeking in from outside, I saw a guy using a small melon baller to make balls out of a large carrot). A couple more kitchen shots:

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There’s a webcam and a flatscreen television in The French Laundry’s kitchen and in per se’s kitchen so the chef’s can see what the other restaurant is up to (and to discuss the next day’s tasting menu).

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The details in the restaurant are incredible; the waiters were all very attentive (but not overbearing) and made our meal very enjoyable. At the end of the tour, our waiter presented us with a goodie bag for the road – shortbread and chocolates:

The chocolates were all delicious (we figured they’d melt if they sat in the car all day while we were visiting wineries, so we’d just eat them right after our HUGE meal):

Our meal at The French Laundry was absolutely amazing – I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday gift!

As an added treat, during the James Beard awards, we were lucky enough to meet Thomas Keller:

I went up to him during the tasting portion of the awards show and he was really kind; he wanted to know how whether or not we enjoyed The French Laundry, what night we went to Ad Hoc, and how we enjoyed our trip to Napa. It was a great way to round out our Thomas Keller adventure!

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