Avila's El Ranchito (Corona Del Mar) - Interrupt

>> Sunday, March 25, 2012

Date of Dining: 2/18/2012
Price: ~$10-$15 per plate
Location: 2515 East Coast Hwy, Corona Del Mar, CA 92625

The Quick Bit:
+ family owned restaurant chain
+ good selection of Americanized Mexican classics
+ fast friendly service
Δ plating could be cleaner
Δ tortillas could be less of an afterthought
Note: I'll be leaving on vacation this Friday, so I'm unsure if I will post this Thursday. Normal posting will resume on Sunday 4/8
Avila's El Ranchito is a family owned business that started in the 1966. Although Avila's is a chain restaurant spread across Los Angeles and Orange County, each branch is owned and operated by a member of the Avila family, who puts his or her own personality into the restaurant; in fact, each branch contains slight variations on the menu suited to each owner.
The story of Avila's goes that after immigrating to the United States from Guanajuato, Mexico, Salvador Avila opened the first Avila's in Huntington Park. All the family members pitched into the business to make it work, which was focused on delivering the Avila family recipes in a warm and friendly atmosphere; each customer was to be treated as family. With the burgeoning success of the business, Avila's opened more locations - each new location was put under the supervision of an Avila family member. As more and more stores opened, the family nature of how employees were treated was carried on with each restaurant, so that the servers and cooks were treated as family as well.
Today, Avila's is spread over twelve locations in Los Angeles and Orange County. While there are many location to each restaurant, it is not a true "chain restaurant" as we are used to the word. I met a colleague at Avila's for lunch one day, and he gushed enough about the restaurant to convince me to write a post about the experience.
mayan treasure - shredded chicken, rice, tomatillo sauce, cheese, sour cream, guacamole
My colleague ordered the Mayan treasure, which reminded me of one of really nice authentic burritos I had in LA. The chicken and rice were well cooked and packed into the burrito. The tomatillo sauce provided a nice acidic and mildly spicy contrast to bring out the flavors of the burrito filling. The sauce was easily the star of the dish - after eating a good wet burrito one will never want to go back to the dry burrito. This burrito really confirmed the love of well-prepared wet burritos.
carnitas - black tomatillo salsa, rice, guacamole
The carnitas were tender, juicy, and well cooked on the interior, while they were crispy and savory on the exterior. In short, they were prepared very well. The black tomatillo salsa contained a smoky flavor in addition to the acidity and mild spiciness, which really worked well with the carnitas. My complaint about the dish was that the tortillas came out wrapped in aluminum foil and seemed like an afterthought to the dish. When so much care as been put into the other components, it was a shame that the tortillas did not receive the same respect.

While Avila's is not going to win any awards for the food, it remains a nice stop for a taste of Americanized Mexican cuisine in a warm and friendly atmosphere. I'd easily put it above any of the popular chain Mexican restaurants and even above Cozymel's. While the carnitas were good, the real star for me was the well-prepared wet burrito. When a wet burrito is prepared well, there are many other factors that are easily forgiven.


Hoangie's Banh Mi on Wheels Food Truck

>> Thursday, March 22, 2012

Date of Dining: 3/22/2012
Price: $7-9 per Banh Mi
Location: Food Truck Weekly Schedule:
Monday - 4000 Ruffin Rd
Tuesday - 8945 Rehco Rd
Wednesday - 5600 Oberlin Dr
Thursday - 9540 Towne Centre Dr
Friday: Greer Dr and Shoreham Pl

The Quick Bit:
+ authentic Vietnamese flavors on a food truck
+ fast friendly service
+ large selection of beverages
Δ price could be more reflective of banh mi
Δ protein choices could reflect more authenticity

It has been awhile since I covered food trucks, and I apologize for the lack of coverage for those interested. I can't promise that I will be covering more food trucks, but I do plan to try and try out more of them in the near future.
Hoangie's Food Truck is a truck that specializes in serving Vietnamese Sandwiches otherwise known as banh mi. The concept of selling Banh Mi on a food truck was popularized by the Nom Nom Truck in the first season of The Great Food Truck Race. With the success of the truck and the popularity of the show, I'm actually more surprised that we haven't seen another Banh Mi truck in San Diego even earlier.
Hoangie's is a family owned and run operation. The name of the truck is a pun on the Hoang family's name along with the hoagie roll, which resembles the French roll that banh mi is served in. Upon ordering at the truck, one is greeted by the effusively friendly and positive smile of Jenny Hoang, who takes the order and then calls it out to her brother(s) working the line. By the time Jenny finishes taking an order, the previous order is usually ready to be picked up.
The sandwiches offered by Hoangie's consist of the same basic banh mi fillings - pickled daikon, pickled carrots, jalapeno, cilantro, cucumber, and spicy aioli - along with several different protein choices - free-range chicken, rib eye, pork butt, ground sirloin hamburger, tuna, or panko crusted tofu. It should be noted that while the chicken is free range, none of the other proteins are of abnormal quality.
oink banh mi
I settled on the oink banh mi as it is the most popular sandwich. While I wasn't floored by my first bite, but the end of the first half of the sandwich, the flavors started to win me over. The pork contained the great flavor of pork and was complemented by the sweet pickled flavors of the daikon and carrot. The jalapeno and aioli added a spicy contrast that built up on my palate and had enjoying the flavor contrast. These flavor contrasts demonstrate some of the basic tenants of Vietnamese cuisine. 
While the sandwich won on flavors, it did fall a bit short in some areas. The temperature of the protein was lukewarm, and the bread was cold. I also felt that the inclusion of the spicy aioli was trying a bit too hard to dress up the banh mi - traditional banh mi contain butter and perhaps some pate spread.
vietnamese (pork) egg rolls
I also took the opportunity to order the vietnamese egg rolls. Freshly out of the fryer, these egg rolls were well-made traditional vietnamese egg rolls. Instead of the traditional fish sauce dip, they were instead accompanied by the spicy aoili sauce. While I ate these, I found myself missing the fish sauce dip as well as the lettuce wrap and mint that usually accompany egg rolls.

If I had been given the food for free and asked to judge whether it had come from a restaurant or food truck, I probably wouldn't be able to differentiate; the food that Hoangie's serves is on par with the better Vietnamese restaurants in San Diego.
Unfortunately I did pay for the food, which brings up my biggest issue with Hoangie's. While the size of the Hoangie's Banh Mi is about 1.5 times larger than other restaurants, the price of the sandwich is about double. Furthermore, at a restaurant the egg rolls usually cost twice as much, but one receives six egg rolls as well as accompanying vegetables. 
At the price point set by Hoangie's, I want a little more differentiation - the ingredients need to be higher quality or there needs to be more innovation in the cuisine. While the chicken is free range and reflective of the higher quality, the other proteins lack any special quality to differentiate them.
Ultimately Hoangie's is making tasty food, but should perhaps consider prices in comparison to both other food trucks and other brick and mortar Vietnamese restaurants.


Boiling Point (Irvine) - Interrupt

>> Sunday, March 18, 2012

Date of Dining: 2/18/2012
Price: ~$12 per hot pot
Location: 14140 Culver Dr, Irvine, CA 92606

The Quick Bit:
+ good selection of flavored hot pot dishes
+ menu includes Taiwanese delicacy stinky tofu
Δ difference in wait times for parties larger than two could be less pronounced
Δ extra protein option could be offered on the menu for additional charge
Δ service could be more attentive

"Hot Pot" is one of the most ubiquitous dishes in Chinese cuisine. It is a dish that can be likened to fondue traditionally where a single pot sits in the middle of the table for the entire family and ingredients are added to the pot to be cooked. Oftentimes, hot pot is enjoyed during holidays when the family gets together and is an opportunity for socializing among family. It is also a dish that is served during times of celebration.
There are many different varieties of hot pot depending on the region of China where the hot pot is prevalent. In the South, spicy hot pots are popular because they cause the body to sweat, this making the person feeling cool. Somewhat paradoxically, spicy hot pots are also popular in the north as the heat is necessary to make the body warm up to combat the frigid temperatures.
Boiling Point is a Taiwanese-owned chain of restaurants serving personal-sized portions of Taiwanese hot pot. While I'm not exactly sure what exactly makes hot pot Taiwanese, the following characteristics are what I associate with it. First, the soup of the hot pot incredibly flavorful on its own. Next, Taiwanese hot pot are typically accompanied with a variety of dipping sauces to dip the contents of the pot. Finally, the hot pot served at Boiling Point includes stinky tofu, which is considered a Taiwanese delicacy.

hokkaido milk tea
I apologize for the poor quality photo, but fortunately there didn't seem to be much to see.
While Taiwanese drink shops have popularized boba and milk tea, Boiling Point carries on the tradition by offering Hokkaido milk tea. I'm not exactly sure why it is called Hokkaido milk tea, but the flavor of the milk was much more concentrated, which made me enjoy the tea more. Coupled with the spicy hot pot, it was a perfect combination.

garlic soy sauce
chili oil
"boiling point" sauce
Situated at each table is a vessel containing three different sauces. The idea is that one should be able to use different amounts of the three sauces to customize his or her own favorite dipping sauce. The "boiling point" sauce serves as the base and is a nice mix of spicy, sour, sweet, and umami. It seems to consist mainly of spicy garlic bean paste, garlic cream soy sauce, and an additional secret spicy sauce. I enjoyed the sauce immensely and would probably be willing to spread it on bread to eat, except that it is a bit too salty for that.
The chili oil and soy allow for slight adjustments to one's dipping sauce.

When one orders hot pot, they are presented a choice of rice or noodles. The noodles are to be added to the hot pot, while the rice serves more for ladling soup on top of the rice. I found that in a party of two, ordering one of each and sharing seemed to be the best approach.
spicy fermented tofu
Seeing it as a delicacy, I ordered the spicy fermented tofu as a side. Unfortunately, this was probably among the worst stinky tofu I'd ever consumed. This preparation pretty much brought to light all the reasons people have bad feelings about stinky tofu and confirmed that they can be true in a poor preparation.

Hot Pots:
beef hot pot
The beef soup contains beef, tomato, fish balls, tofu, vegetables, and a variety of other ingredients. The soup was incredibly flavorful and the mix of ingredients made the soup a joy to eat.
lamb hot soup
The lamb hot soup contains lamb, tofu, pork blood, fish cakes, vegetables, and tenpura. While this is outwardly similar to the beef soups substituting beef for lamb, the actual flavor of the broth was very different. Whereas the beef brother is very savory, the lamb broth contains some additional sweetness which reminds me of some Chinese herbal ingredients in soups.

The hot pots of boiling point are incredibly flavorful, and contain a wide array of different ingredients making them a treat to enjoy. The dipping sauces really heighten the flavors and add an extra dimension of flavor as well.
While the food is great, there are some issues to be aware of. First the pots are incredibly hot as they are being heated and boiled while in front of you. Next, the service is pretty typical of an Asian restaurant, which is to say you will have to ask for things several times. Finally, most carnivores will feel that the hot pot does not contain enough meat.
Despite the downsides, Boiling Point remains high on my list of destinations to enjoy a meal while passing through Irvine. The incredible flavor and variety of ingredients in the soup more than make up for the scarcity of protein. Also, it is always an option to just order more meat or another hot pot if one is unsatisfied. The Hokkaido milk tea is also a nice bonus.
Due to the flavors and the price for the experience, Boiling Point gets the bit award.


Mia Francesca (Carmel Valley)

>> Thursday, March 15, 2012

Date of Dining: 3/15/2012 
Price: $9-12 per appetizer, $15-30 per entree
Location: 12955 El Camino Real G-4, San Diego, CA 92130

The Quick Bit:
+ good range of vegetarian, seafood, meat courses on menu
+ many tantalizing menu choices
+ house bread was hot, crunchy, and delicious
Δ front of house service could be improved
Δ service could be improved
Δ house balsamic could be improved

While I had some reservations about returning to dine in the same shopping center where I had been told to "take a walk..." "...across the parking lot," the recent opening of Davanti Enoteca and Mia Francesca was enough to interest me in returning to the vicinity of the previous incident. After missing the grand opening in late February, I decided to give the new restaurant the "requisite two weeks" to get things together so that I could get an accurate glimpse into what Mia Francesca really has to offer.
Mia Francesca is part of an Illinois Restaurant empire that began in 1992 by Chef Scott Harris. The vision of Mia Francesca was to be "informal but not compromise the quality of the food" and to "offer an exciting dining experience at a good price." Harris now seems to be mostly a restauranteur, but was a part of many Chicago kitchens prior to opening Mia Francesca including the 95th, Ambria, Cucina Cucina, Harry's Cafe, Sole Mio, and Petthany's in St. Croix. Recently, Harris has turned his attention to San Diego, first opening Davanti Enoteca in Little Italy. Harris seems to have been interested in San Diego for awhile as he had an interesting interview regarding the similarities of Davanti to Cucina Urbana.
After deciding to visit Mia Francesca, the first thing I tried to do was obtain a reservation. While there is a reservation system on the website, it did not include locations outside of Chicago, which forced me to use the antiquated method of calling the restaurant. After confirming my reservation for two with the hostess, we arrived on time the following day to a restaurant that was about half-full. While there were two hostesses, one of the hostesses (the more senior one) absolutely refused to talk to me while the other was on the phone. Afterwards, the senior hostess asked me to step aside and wait "for a moment" while they tried to "find us a table." The senior hostess then proceeded to sit the next four parties of customers, three of which were walk-ins without reservations. Only when there were absolutely no other customers waiting for a table, the senior hostess returned and instructed the junior hostess to take us to a table.
While I may be known to be more irascible and quick to jump to conclusions, the individual I dined with is very level headed and calm. That my dining companion felt this was a problem most likely caused by ethnic background is a sure sign of trouble.
While I wanted to put the front of house issues behind me and enjoy the meal, the service at the restaurant left a lot to be desired. When silverware was cleared with a previous course, we had to ask for replacements when the next dish arrived as no new silverware was provided. The service also seemed to be very disorganized in general; enough to cause my normally bucolic companion to complain to me about the service.
Front of house and service issues aside, restaurants are ultimately about the food.

mussels - spicy tomato sauce
The mussels were easily the best dish of the night; the mussels were cooked perfectly and the tomato sauce had the perfect balance of seasoning, spice, acidity, and complex flavor. The sauce was so good that we asked for extra bread that we could use to soak up the sauce. The sauce seemed to consist of crushed tomatoes, garlic, fennel, and white wine.
carpaccio con asparagi - raw sirloin, capers, tomatoes, mushrooms, asparagus, olive oil, parmigiano
The carpaccio was a beautifully plated dish and seemed to have all the elements of what would be an amazing dish. Perhaps the beauty of the plating set the expectations too high for the end result.
While the asparagus, mushrooms, parmigiano, and other elements all added flavor to the dish, the ultimate key component of the dish had to be the flavor of the sirloin. While I felt that the sirloin was fresh and of high quality, the only explanation I have for the lack of flavor is that it must have been sliced far in advance to the point where the goodness of the beef was lost with the beef sitting in the refrigerator.

pesce capesante - grouper, sea scallops, red and yellow peppers, capers, garlic, tomatoes, spinach, white wine
This dish arrived with the most mouth-watering aroma of the roasted grouper. Smelling the dish was a great experience and made my mouth water in anticipation. Overall, the dish was enjoyable but not without faults; chiefly, the grouper was too salty. The sea scallops were a nice touch to the dish and a luxurious ingredient, but they did not seem to add much to the dish in overall composition.
rigatoni bolognese - tomato meat sauce, carrots, celery, onions, herbs, parmigiano
I originally ordered this dish figuring that it would be a good comparison point to other Italian restaurants. Fortunately, I ordered other dishes because I don't believe this dish was reflective of Mia Francesca. In addition to the pasta being under-cooked, the bolognese tasted as if it had only been cooking for about five minutes as opposed to slowly braising for hours to develop layers of unctuous flavor.

While the overall front of house staff was a tremendous letdown, I still felt that the overall experience at Mia Francesca was positive. There is certainly much room for the restaurant to improve, but I am willing to give them another shot to see the improvement.
Still for a large minority of people, the treatment from the senior hostess would be offensive enough to preclude any future visits. This is one area that should definitely be looked at if Mia Francesca wishes to be successful as San Diego is an area of high ethnic diversity.


Chong Qing Mei Wei Szechuan Restaurant (Irvine) - Interrupt

>> Sunday, March 11, 2012

Date of Dining: 3/11/2012
Price: $8-15 per dish
Location: 5406 Walnut Ave, Ste C, Irvine CA, 92604

The Quick Bit:
+ flavorful authentic Szechuan cooking
+ nice cold dish selection
+ nice upscale interior
Δ Seasoning in the dishes seemed a bit uneven

One question I get asked often is where I would recommend for people to eat Chinese food. After clearing up what exactly is entailed from "Chinese food" and discovering that the person wants spicy food, I ask how far they are willing to drive.
With the "closing" of Ba Ren, I'm left with only recommending that people drive up to Irvine. Due to Ba Ren's closure, I figured I'd go ahead and get this story out to close the loop.
Chong Quing Mei Wei restaurant is one of a two restaurant chain (the other is in Lake Forest but I've never been to that location). They focus entirely on serving Szechuan food, and the level of spice on the menu is pretty much 1 or 2 peppers on the dishes. Like most Chinese restaurants, the service may be seen as lacking when compared to western standards, but I found the service to be above average for a Chinese establishment.

When dining at a Chinese restaurant, there is an old joke that there are two menus where the English-speaking order off one menu while the Chinese-speaking order off a completely separate menu. While that is not the case here, the cold plate appetizer section is probably more of an unknown thing.
What looks like a hot plate area for Chinese takeaway is actually a refrigerated section for pre-prepared Szechuan favorites. Diners are able to select three dishes for $7.50 or $6.50 (all vegetables). This is highly recommended for the uninitiated, more so because these dishes were prepared very well.
cold plate - (left to right) seaweed salad, pigs ear terrine, beef tendon terrine
The pigs ears were the best item on the plate. They were a delicious mix of cartilaginous crunch, gelatinous goodness, and savory pork flavor. While the beef tendons were flavored well, they seemed to be slightly under-done and could have used a little more time to become more tender. The seaweed was a nice mix of spice, oil, and umami to cut the richness of the meats. I would say the pigs ears are good enough to order every time while the other two dishes could be rotated out during future visits.

wonton tossed in spicy chili sauce
The dough of the wontons tasted a little thick, but it was rectified with the deep complex flavor of the chili sauce. The chili sauce contained a depth in flavor and chili that really flavored the wontons and elevated their flavor. I found myself enjoying the chili sauce on its own without the wontons.
fish and tofu
The fish and tofu is featured prominently on an insert as one of the signature dishes. While the dish was certainly good in its own right, I preferred the boiled fish dish (that is similar), which I had on a previous visit. The Szechuan boiled stew dishes are very tasty as they contain a nice deep savory complexity in the soup coupled with the heat of the chilis and the complexity of the fermented beans. The fish and tofu were cooked to be very soft and delicate, which made eating the dish a pleasure.
twice cooked pork with leek
This was my favorite dish of the night. The pork in the dish was pork belly, which was the perfect element because of the combination of meat and fat flavors. However, the star of this dish was the tofu (or maybe bean curd to be technically correct). The texture and the way the tofu soaked up the flavors of all the elements really made it the tastiest element in the dish. Overall, I felt this dish was the most complete dish as it contained a the spice, savory complex sauce, and textural contrast.

As my recommendation for Chinese Szechuan food now in both the Orange County and San Diego areas, I really enjoy the food at Chong Qing Mei Wei. While the high was not as high as the best I've had at Ba Ren, what is being served at Chong Qing Mei Wei is a very tasty product that remains consistent and affordable.
For being my go to Chinese restaurant recommendation, Chong Qing Mei Wei gets the kilobit award


Evolve Cuisine - Origins Dinner

>> Thursday, March 8, 2012

Date of Dining: 3/7/2012
Price: $75 for 8 course tasting

The Quick Bit:
+ full modern technique cuisine
+ creative and playful food
+ molecular cocktails worked into the meal
Δ some wine pairings could have been better
Δ some dishes could be refined further

The last time I had a full modern technique dinner, it was Chef Daniel Barron's "Experience" at Blue Point Coastal Cuisine. Since then, Chef Barron left that restaurant to start his own venture and try and show what food can be like.
Partnering with Flor Franco, Jeff Bonilla, and Mike Yen, Chef Barron has formed Evolve Cuisine. Evolve cuisine is a high-end catering company focused on executing fun and exciting modern technique food using fresh, local, and seasonal food. In addition to the catering events, the Evolve team plans to do several pop-up restaurants in order to show off their vision.
(left to right) Chef Daniel Barron, Chef Jeff Bonilla, Mike Yen, Chef Flor Franco
I've previously discussed Chef Barron, but I will summarize by saying he was previously nominated for a James Beard Award as a semifinalist and won San Diego's Chef of the Fest at the 2011 San Diego Food and Wine festival. His modern technique menu at Anqi also was awarded one of the top 10 menus by Gayot. Chef Flor Franco works more on the catering side of the business and focuses on weddings and other special events. Her food highlights local organic and seasonal fair and she focuses more on overall experiences rather than individual dishes. She is also the owner of Urban Chicken. Chef Jeff Bonilla is the Executive Pastry Chef at Kitchen 1540 and L'Auberge Del Mar. He has won numerous local San Diego awards including Best of San Diego and has appeared on the Food Network on numerous occasions. Mike Yen is a mixologist at Kitchen 1540 and focuses on modern techniques in cocktails. His use of modern technique in cocktails really blurs the borders of what a cocktail is.
The Origins dinner was the first pop-up event for Evolve Cuisine and was held at The Wellington. The event was really meant to showcase what Evolve was all about so that more people can be excited about the future Evolve events.
Dinner began with two signature cocktails by Mike Yen:
tequila souza, 90 minute sous vide strawberries, orange bitters, aperol, grapefruit soda, serrano chile
The first cocktail was a home run for me. It opened with the sweetness of the strawberries and transitioned to a citric middle where the orange bitters and grapefruit soda shone and finished with the heat from the serrano chiles. The drink was both flavorful, playful, and a great opening.
marker's mark, averna, coke, vanilla bean, cocoa nib, sous vide bacon,
While this drink was also enjoyable, it didn't quite measure up to the perfection of the previous. The vanilla flavor meshed well with the coke and contained an undertone of alcohol from the whiskey.

Hors d'ourves:
Following the drinks, we were served a few small bites:
sesame tuna with lardo - chives
The tuna was a nice classic way to start off. The temperature was good and the quality of the tuna was high. The lardo added a nice additional element of flavor.
cucumber watermelon gazpacho - tomato water, cilantro, tempered dry ice
The gazpacho was a bit hit. The dry ice mixed with the tomato water and carbonated it, which helped develop the appetite. The bites of watermelon and cucumber were extremely enjoyable and well balance with the tomato water. This was the perfect bit of acidiy, sweetness and flavor.
65 hour brisket - uni dijon anglaise
My piece of brisket was cooked perfectly and finished off nicely on the grill. At first the uni with the brisket was a little unsettling, but once I got used to the odd pairing, I realized that it actually worked. The uni flavor really stayed with me and had a long finish, which was a good counterpoint to the fat and flavor of the brisket.
At this point, we in for a huge surprise as it was announced that we would be served the courses in reverse.

1st Dish - Eighth Course:
marscapone cremeux - kiwi bone marrow, sourdough sponge, jalapeno nigori sorbet, sweet basic air
alchohol: Jezebel blanc 07, oregon 
This was one of the really impressive courses we had of the evening. There was so many thing going on and the entire dish was a triumph. My favorite element was the freeze-dried goat cheese, which was mixed with the jalapeno sorbet to give it a nice spicy kick, but also a very nutty undertone that balanced out the dish. The cremeux was also a highlight as the texture was silky smooth and featured very rich marscapone. Overall the dish contained elements of sweet, sour, savory, and spice all mixed together.
The wine pairing was a light sweet touch that had virtually no finish. While the wine itself wasn't very enjoyable, the light sweet flavor was a nice complement to the dessert

2nd Dish - Seventh Course:
chicken and waffles - stone ipa marshmallow, freeze dried popcorn, maple sage caramel, szechuan waffle
alcohol: los alios syrah blend 08, argentina
This dish was a nice take on chicken and waffles. The panko-breaded friend chicken had a nice textural crunch, which was supported by the crunch of the waffle. The maple-sage caramel added some nice sweetness, which was dwarfed by the sweetness of the ipa marshmallow. The marshmallow was perhaps the most surprising element on the plate in both flavor and how well it integrated with the other elements.

3rd Dish - Sixth Course:
encapsulated muscles - coconut water, curry butter powder, stevia
alcohol: paco y lola albarino '10, spain
This was my favorite dish of the night. The muscle was immersed in a gelatin which contained the coconut water. When popped, the coconut water mixed into the curry butter powder, which rehydrated it into a rich flavorful curry sauce full of spice. The stevia surprisingly finished off the flavors with a twinge of sweetness that cut through the spice on the finish. This was one case where the playfulness of the modern technique mixed with the great flavors really elevated my enjoyment of the dish.
The albarino had a nice long finish and wasn't too strong in character itself, which lent well to pairing with the dish. The wine slightly reinforced the sweetness of the stevia on the finish while washing away some of the heat from the curry powder.

4th Dish - Fifth Course:
lamb - crispy lamb tongue, sous vide lamb foreshank, cocoa nibs, tortilla, cherry gels,
vanilla cinamon bubbles
alcohol: tooth and nail "the possessor" 09, paso robles
This was my least favorite dish of the night. The lamb tendon was cooked well and despite the appearance of being raw, it was definitely cooked through.
While the plating was somewhat playful (the jus was supposed to resemble blood), the dish seemed to not really work out for me in the end.

5th Dish - Fourth Course:
blueberry mojito
This was Mike Yen's take on a mojito. The flavor of blueberries really came through in addition to the kick in alcohol. In fact, the alcohol was really strong in this one as I felt quite the punch after consuming it. Further, the flavor of the mint really lingered on the palate after consuming the cocktail, which really did remind me of a mojito.

6th Dish - Third Course:
maguro - masago, chinese black beans, shitake kelp powder, sudachi gelee
alcohol: conundrum '10, napa valley
This was a well balanced dish once all the elements were mixed together. The sudachi mixed with the fish, tobiko and black beans really had a nice combination of savory, umami, and acid. If there was a slight complaint, it's that it was difficult to try to manually integrate all the elements together.
I thought the alcohol on this was a huge mistake when it came out, but this ended up being a great pairing as the alcohol really brought out a nice sweet finish to the dish that really highlighted the freshness of the maguro. This was my favorite pairing of the night

7th Dish - Second Course:
fish n chips - black cod terrine tempura, celery root, miso "tartar", malt vinegar
alcohol: j pinot gris '09, russian river
This dish was executed very well. The black cod had a very delicate flavor and was fried perfectly in the tempura to give it a light airy flavor. The malt vinegar added the needed british touch as well. The big surprise was the celery root, which acted as the chip. The rich creaminess of the celery root integrated directly into the fish, which made me feel like I was eating the fish and chip together at the same time. The terrine was delicate in flavor, but was accentuated by the flavor of the malt vinegar

8th dish - First Course:
foie gras - crispy apple structure, foie gras terrine, foie gras candy
alcohol: revelator '09, central coast
We were asked to consume the apple crisp immediately so I didn't have a great opportunities for photos
The overall flavor of the foie terrine was clean and spot on. The foie candy was a nice and surprisingly touch as well. The sauteed apples brought an element of balance to the richness inherent in the rest of the dish. The most surprising part of this dish was that it worked well as a "dessert" since it was both rich and contained a sweet element to it.

As much as I enjoyed Chef Barron's "Experience," I enjoyed the "Origins" dinner even more. The dishes felt like there was some more time to think them through and there were slightly more refined. The flavors and intents were clear through the meal, and there were some truly inspired dishes.
Overall I continue to be impressed by Chef Barron and really feel like he is starting to hit his culinary stride in the modern technique area. I hope that he will continue to put on additional dinners and that they will continue to get better. Hopefully more people will have the opportunity to taste his modern menus in the future.
Further, I feel that Evolve Cuisine is really on the right track of dinner events. The molecular cocktails were surprisingly and well executed and I thought they were a great touch to the evening. I also thought that Chef Bonilla's dessert was phenomenal; it was a great mix of technique and flavors that really impressed me. While I'm unable to make the next Evolve Event, I hope it is an even bigger success than the Origins dinner.


About This Blog

gastro bits is a blog that juxtaposes the geeky with the foodie; it is an attempt to be educational about food, yet entertaining at the same time.
None of the reviews are meant to dissuade you from trying anything by yourself, but simply to provide information for you to make a more informed choice.
If any special treatment is provided to the blogger, full disclosure is presented at the beginning of the post.

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