Birthday Dinner at Providence: Dessert

My wonderful husband arranged a dinner with friends at Providence to celebrate me turning 21 for the 10th time in my life. You can read about the first part of the meal here.

After that delicious dinner, it was time for dessert, the real reason all of us were there.  😉  Despite starting to feel full, I still went for the full 8 course dessert tasting menu.  I didn’t know when I would be back so…*shrug*  Can you blame me?

Cocktails

First up was “Cocktails”.  Three different drinks manipulated via magic (okay, more like molecular gastronomy) into morsels that you pop in your mouth.  From left to right was a grapefruit concoction,  gin & tonic and mojito.  The grapefruit and mojito were contained within a very thin bubble that burst in your mouth.  The gin & tonic was turned into a jellied substance.  I can’t say I was an avid fan of any of the drinks mainly because I don’t care much for grapefruit, dislike gin and prefer my mojitos on the sweet side.  But texturally, this was quite a new and fun experience for me.

#2 kalamansi gelee - one of my faves

Next came the Kalamansi Gelee, which was my favorite…I think.  It’s a bit of a tie between this and the 4th course.  The kalamansi gelee was a first for me.  Turns out it’s a fruit that looks a lot like a lime and is popular in the Philippines.  Surrounding it was a soup of white chocolate coconut milk with tiny tapioca balls.  On top of the gelee was a litchi-shiso sorbet and coconut.  Now, I’m not at all a fan of coconut.  I usually avoid anything with the stuff, which is ironic given that I used to gnaw on raw coconut as a kid growing up in the South Pacific.  This dish wasn’t overly sweet nor was it strong on coconut flavor which is probably why it appealed to me.  It was also light and refreshing.  I think one of the reasons that I loved this dessert so much was the nostalgia the ingredients inspired in me, what with the coconut and the tapioca balls which reminded me of my boba-slurping days as a college student…

#3 mandarin-rose sorbet

The third course was the mandarin-rose sorbet.  There was a cute little pistachio macaron, some fluffy bits of yogurt cake and cardamon.  I believe under the sorbet was a raspberry gelee.  I’m not sure where the “mandarin” comes in but I did taste the rose and smelled it too.  It wasn’t too flower-y and went well with the raspberry and yogurt cake which reminded me a lot of angel food cake.  Macarons seem to be popping up all over the place nowadays which is fine with me because I love them.  And mini-versions are just adorable which makes me love them even more!

#4 sweeter side of panzanella

Another favorite, the sweeter side of panzanella came next. This had burrata ice cream on one side and strawberries marinated in basil and balsamic vinegar with a pan-fried frangipane.  I think the outstanding part of this dish was the strawberries.  The basil, balsamic and strawberries all melded together into something delicious yet I could still taste each individual component.  I am going to try and recreate it at home…but I’m sure I’ll probably come up with only a poor cat’s version.

#5 caramel pudding - oh so salty!

Caramel pudding was fifth on the list.  This dessert consisted of a cup filled with salted caramel pudding topped with a sprinkle of apricot, caramel popcorn and a chocolate peanut.   I love the whole salt and caramel combination so when I started, I was pleased.  However, when I reached the bottom, I found the pudding to be overly salty, so much that I really couldn’t finish it.  Sadness…

#6 dark chocolate mousse

Up next was the dark chocolate mousse with kumquats, ginger and goma ice cream.  Goma, it turns out, is sesame seed.  While it wasn’t as strong in flavor as the black sesame ice cream I had at Tsuruhashi, it was still quite enjoyable.  I think sesame seed ice cream is something that needs to become trendy so I can eat more of it.  Then again, my hips are already too wide…

#7

Next was the affogato.  This was pretty fabulous.  It’s an Italian ice cream dessert that’s topped off with a shot of coffee or espresso.  This version had canele ice cream with over a hazelnut streusel.  The bitter of the coffee was softened by the sweetness of the ice cream and the streusel helped give a nice textual contrast.  It was just a harmonious dish that I enjoyed.  I think this was my next favorite dessert from the tasting after the kalamansi and the panzanella.

#8

For our last course, we were treated to a plate of mignardises – bite-sized desserts that are a type of petit four.  Mini chocolate macaraons, caramels and what I think were blackberry jelly candies graced our platter.  We chowed down on the macarons and the jellies but most of the caramels were collected and taken home to be savoured later.  These caramels had some salt in it and it was just right this time.  I wish I had taken them all!  😛

Another almost too pretty to eat thing...

Dark chocolate ganache

Not everyone partook in the tasting menu.  Husband and another friend opted for only one dessert but their one dish were just as fabulous as our tasting menu.  Husband went for the dark chocolate ganache which is a chocolate lover’s heaven.  I am not sure what my friend ordered but it was beautiful…an edible marble-looking ball filled with something yummy; This was a sophisticated version of those chocolate eggs or something like that.  Everyone was ooing and aahing when it arrived.

Overall, Providence has to be one of the best meals I’ve had so far.  The dessert tasting menu is definitely a bargain, I think, and I encourage you it out, especially if you are a lover of sweet!

5 NOMs for Providence!

Providence
5955 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 460-4170
Providence on Urbanspoon

Birthday dinner at Providence (Part 1)

Providence

Ever since I read Gastronomy’s post about the dessert tasting menu at Providence, I’ve been mentioning it on and off to Husband and whoever else would listen.  Along comes my 10th 21st birthday and Husband arranges to have dinner and dessert here with some friends.  Awwww…what a keeper!  🙂

My first birthday cocktail

Husband's girlie drink

Husband and I arrived about 20mins early for our 8pm reservation due to misjudging just how bad traffic would be on the side streets…  Turns out, our side-street route was faster than the freeways!  Muhahaha! LA traffic can’t stop us!  Anyways, there was a private party at the bar area so we couldn’t hang out there but our table was ready so we were seated….in the middle of the room. It was a little conspicuous being just the two of us at a table for 10.

We started off with a couple of cocktails while we waited for the rest of the group.  I don’t recall the name of our cocktails or even what went into them (bad me!) but mine was something a little fruity without being overly sweet.  Husband got something I consider more “girlie” due to the fact that it was in a martini glass with a little flower.  I don’t think he liked his as much as I liked mine, though, because he switched to something else as his next drink.  I stopped after one since I figured I was going to end up driving home.  Plus, I was getting a bit fuzzy from it.  I’m a lightweight.  Plus, I came with an empty stomach.

I did notice they had a Dark & Stormy on the list which is a drink I want to try due to friends raving about various versions they’ve had.  It was also recommended by one of our waiters.  Next time….

Roll and nori focaccia

Once everyone arrived, we started perusing the menu.  A variety of bread was served – warm bacon rolls which were quite good, regular rolls and a nori focaccia that was yummtastic!  A plate of butter and a little bowl of salt with the cutest little scoop accompanied our bread.

Despite knowing that I was about to down 8 courses of dessert, I decided to indulge.  After all, I only turn 21 for the 10th time once…  I ordered oysters as a starter and the foie gras ravioli as my main course.  Husband opted for chowda and the prime New York steak.  Most of our table ended up ordering  just an appetizer to save room for the dessert tasting menu.

Amuse Bouche

Before our orders arrived, everyone at the table was served an amuse bouche.  This consisted of a house-made marshmallow dusted with wasabi, a cheese-stuffed bread bite and an incredible little glass filled with fish (I think the waiter said trout?), caviar, some crunchy little bits and edible gold.  The marshmallow was a pleasant bite with the wasabi being a sweeter version than the more familiar hot one. The cheese bread was delicious, a little tart.  The concotion in the glass was one of the highlights of the evening’s meal for me.  I absolutely adored this…so much so that I ate Husband’s and another friend’s since they weren’t fans of the fish.  I think I would have licked the glasses clean if I weren’t in public….

I am the Walrus...

Chowda

Our appetizers showed up a short while later.  Oysters! *slurp slurp slurp*.  There were 6 oysters in this order, served on ice with seaweed decorating the plate.  Very fresh, a little briny, and served with two different vinegars, these were excellent.

I stole a couple of bites of Husband’s chowda and oh my gosh, so good!  Thick, creamy, just like a proper clam chowder should be.  There was definitely a good amount of clam and it was grit-free.  I don’t know how many times I’ve ordered clam chowder only to encounter a little grit here and there…or a lot.  Seriously, nothing ruins a good chowder like grit…

Heavenly cheese cart

Cheese please!

There was a cheese cart that we spied that had all sorts of amazing looking cheeses so some of our table ordered a plate to nibble on.  The selected cheeses were served with bread and complimentary fruits like fig, apricot and apple.  The variety was quite impressive – sheep’s milk, blues, soft and hard cheeses, an herbed goat cheese, cheese with truffle bits in them.  I tasted one of the blues which was mild for a stinky cheese.  The herbed goat cheese was okay but not my favorite.  I adored the truffled cheese though.  So   delicious…

Beautiful fish dish

One of the couples split the Hawaiian Yellowfin Tuna.  I have no idea how this dish tasted but if appearances are anything to go on, this must have been a spectacular dish!  The tuna looked to be barely seared, just kissed by flame.  The sungold tomatoes and blossoms really added nice color contrast that makes this bowl look more like a work of art.  I’d be hesitant to dig in…but only for a split second.

Foie gras ravioli with shaved black truffle

Prime New York steak

It was main course time.  My foie gras ravioli dish was placed in front of me and the waiter shaved a black summer truffle over it.  Um…more, please?  In fact, I’ll just take that whole truffle…  😀  This dish was amazingly decadent but didn’t feel heavy considering what was in it.  The pasta was the perfect thickness and cooked beyond al dente without being mushy.  The little bits of vegetable in the sauce added a crunchy texture contrast.  It was fabulous.

Husband’s steak didn’t wow him.  It was good but it was too “fancy” for his taste and didn’t care for any of the veggies that garnished his plate.  The bite I tried had was cooked at the requested medium well and wasn’t melt in your mouth but was still tender and moist.  But I think I agree with Husband that the best steak is still at Mastro’s.

Black winter truffle risotto

And the prawns were parted...

One of our friends ordered a black winter truffle risotto while her boyfriend got the salt roasted Santa Barbara spot prawns.  Like the foie gras ravioli, they shaved truffle over the risotto.  The prawns were quite impressive.  They came out in a skillet covered with salt.  Rosemary had been added as well and you could smell it.  Everyone at the table was taking deep breaths because it was just so deliciously fragrant.  Each prawn was fished out and split table-side.  I was offered a bite and these were fantastic.  The prawns were cooked perfectly and you could taste the rosemary.

At this point, I was pretty much full but dessert was still to be had!  Stay tuned for part 2 – the 8 course dessert tasting menu!  Yup, I still went for it…

You can find more pictures on my Facebook page.

So far, Providence gets 5 NOMs in my book.

Providence
5955 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 460-4170
Providence on Urbanspoon

Top Chef Masters Viewing Party w/ Chef Ludo Lefebvre

Husband and I became avid fans of Top Chef after we caught a few episodes of Season 2.  When we heard that there was going to be a Top Chef Masters, we were excited.  How would some of the most renowned chefs perform, especially the ones that had previously been judges?

The first season last year was my introduction to Chef Ludo Lefebvre.  I was a little padawan foodie, learning my way around the LA food scene (still am!).  I remember watching him, wondering what the hell he was saying, and getting a kick from the bickering between him and Chef Rick Moonen.  Fast forward to the last few months…  I’ve since gotten a better handle on LA food and restaurants and, no surprise,  Chef Ludo’s name has been popping up quite a bit with the exponentially increasing popularity of his pop-up restaurant, LudoBites as well as his LFC – Ludo Fried Chicken.

Finally about to get me some Ludobites!

Wine, wine and more wine

Chef Ludo returned to the 2nd season of Top Chef Masters and when the episode aired on 4/21, he threw a viewing party at Akasha in Culver City.  Husband and I were there to watch all the fun as he and the other contestants, including Moonen, fought for a spot in the next round and redeem themselves.  But more so, we were there to eat some LFC for the first time.

Akasha is in the building that many geeks would recognize as the exterior of Flynn’s Arcade from the movie, “Tron”.  Let’s just say that the interior of Akasha is about as far from an arcade as you can get. The space isn’t huge but the open contemporary floor plan makes it feel intimate yet large at the same time. I couldn’t stop staring at the extensive wine collection behind the large bar.

Sage Lemondrop

Since we got there when the party started, the place was still fairly empty.  That was fine as it allowed us to grab a table.  A waitress came by and we ordered the cocktail of the night – Sage Lemondrop.  Chef Ludo combined organic gin, organic lemonade and sage leaves to make this.  I always thought I hated gin (ugh, gin n’ tonics are nasty!) but this was delicious.  A little tangy, not too sweet…

My plate of everything

Bacon biscuits

They were still setting up the food, served buffet style.  I spied a large basket of jalapeño corn bread, salad, deviled eggs, something in a large pot and biscuits.  Hrm, a Southern theme…  I can dig it.

When everything was set up, Husband and I dug in.  I grabbed a little of everything.  The large pot ended up containing collard greens with black-eyed peas, not my favorite.  I’m not really a bean person.  There was also mac n’ cheese, a red cabbage cole slaw and mashed potatoes.  The biscuits had bacon bits in it which sold Husband on them, and me, as well.  The couple that loves bacon together…well, gets fat together.  These were soft, fluffy; I kept having to constrain myself from going back for more.

Awesome mac n' cheese

As a mac n’ cheese lover, I’m a bit picky about it.  Chef Ludo made a fantastic classic version.  Many other versions I’ve had never had enough cheese sauce for my liking but this wasn’t the case.  And the crunchy crumbs on top is a must from a texture point of view, I think.

LFC

Since they wanted to make sure everyone got some LFC, we were limited to 3 pieces.  That’s okay, because these boneless fried balls of poultry were quite large.  A nice amount of batter that didn’t come out too saturated in oil, the herbs really gave it a lot of flavor.  Even Husband was impressed.  I think I heard the words “some of the best fried chicken ever” come out of his mouth.  I agree.  And the lemon aoli sauce gave a nice tang to it.  I can understand the hype surrounding LFC.

This bird will OWN you...

By the time the viewing started, the place was packed with Ludo fans like this guy.  It was fun watching the show with other people who were just as into it as us.  While Ludo didn’t win on the show, he certainly won me and Husband over.

Now I’m really sad I wasn’t able to get a reservation for LudoBites 4.0 at Gram & Papa’s…*sniff sniff*  Well, there will be a LudoBites 5.0, right?

The Catty Critic give LFC 5 NOMs!  More please…

For more pictures, visit my Facebook page!

LudoBites
Pops up at various locations

Hawaii: Imari at the Hilton Waikoloa

During our anniversary trip to the Big Island, Husband and I stayed at the Hilton Waikoloa resort. This hotel was built when I still lived on the island and I remember taking family trips to this place to ride the tram and boats and watch the dolphins; it was a treat and a trip down memory lane to stay here.

Lagoon

This natural lagoon is filled with a reef and lots of fish.  People can rent kayaks, snorkel gear, paddle boats and other water gear.  Husband and I went snorkeling on our last full day and saw eels, angelfish, humuhumunukunukuapua’a (reef triggerfish) and even a sea turtle!  Very cool…

View from our room lanai

One of the many animals that live at the Hilton Waikoloa

Dolphin at the Dolphin Quest lagoon

There’s a dolphin encounter type type deal at the Hilton Waikoloa.  We didn’t do it due to the prices but we did watch some people and kids take part.

One of the perks of staying here was the availability of several fine dining options for dinner.  Since we arrived late Thursday afternoon, we decided to stay on the resort grounds for dinner.  We chose to eat at Imari which serves Japanese cuisine. For some reason, I thought we ate here on Saturday but apparently not based on the photos’ dates. I’m getting old…

Built to look like a traditional tea house, this place offers a sushi bar, a teppanyaki style experience, or regular table dining. Since we ended up arriving for a late meal due to the time difference between California and Hawaii, we could not partake in the teppanyaki fun and Husband doesn’t do sushi so…

Edamame

Everything on the menu looked really good so I decided to go for the Omakase Bento which ended up being a 3-course meal and had variety. Since I didn’t realize just how much food the Omakase Bento would end up being, I also got a side order of abalone nigiri (something I don’t often see and have never eaten) and the seared ahi tuna appetizer which was a special that night. Husband got edamame to munch on, one of the few vegetables he will eat.

Zaru soba

My first course arrived – zaru soba, a few slices of sashimi and a bit of other stuff – seaweed, tofu, edamame and a crab mixture with a sweet sauce. The soba noodles were perfectly cooked, retaining a bit of firmness without being hard.

Sashimi

The sashimi was fantastic…beautiful fresh cuts of fresh tuna and hamachi (yellowtail).

Japanese "banchan"??

The crab mixture was delicious.  I think the black stuff in the foil cup was a type of seaweed and the green stuff down on the bottom was another type of seaweed salad, both yummy.

Seared Ahi

Abalone nigiri

The seared tuna arrived and oh my goodness! I’ve had “seared” ahi before where the fish was just shy of being fully cooked. This was not the case with Imari’s version. The fish looked like it had been gently touched by flame and had a wonderful peppery crust that made each bite burst with flavor and gave it a kick. It did mask the ahi a little bit, though. I convinced the husband to try a little bite and even he liked it! Shocking, considering he doesn’t like raw/rare and cold meat. This dish was the best one of the meal.

The abalone nigiri was delivered, beautifully plated. I wasn’t sure what to expect so I was caught off guard by the crunchiness of it. But it was delicious, delicate in flavor.

Grilled Hawaiian Opa with sweet potato mash

For my “main course”, I got a piece of grilled Hawaiian Opa with a sweet potato-taro mash, asparagus spear and tempura. The fish flaked easily and had a nice light flavor. I enjoyed the mash but the asparagus was tough.

Tempura

The tempura was lightly battered, crispy and was not heavy with oil.

Stacked dishes with daikon and rice

They also brought out rice and a little dish with daikon and other pickled vegetables.

Steak

dessert

My husband had ordered a steak which was served with mashed potatoes and shiitake mushrooms (which he quickly off-loaded onto my plate). The bite of beef I got to try was flavorful, tender and moist despite being well done (I’m a medium-rare/medium type of gal…).

To end the meal, the Omakase Bento comes with a choice of ice cream flavor. I opted for green tea. I was expecting a small bowl with a single scoop but ended up with a bowl containing 3 scoops and crisp fan-shaped wafers. The smooth and creamy ice cream had really good green tea flavor. Sadly, I was so stuffed that I couldn’t finish off this dessert and ended up leaving half of it. I tried…

If you ever find yourself in the Waikoloa area, I highly recommend stopping in at Imari for dinner. It’s a lovely dining experience. The food is top-notch and the service impeccable. It is pricey, with main courses costing around $35-40 on average. I found the Omakase Bento ($45) to be the best quantity for the cost and it was pretty tasty.

5 NOMs for Imari!

Imari
Hilton Waikoloa Village
69-425 Waikoloa Beach Dr.
Waikoloa, Hawaii 96738
Reservations: (808) 886-1234

Imari (Hilton Waikoloa Village) on Urbanspoon

Urban Solace – comfort food for the stomach

Recently, I had to take a work trip down to my old stomping grounds of San Diego.  While I was there, I decided that a stop at one of my favorite restaurants was necessary; it had been too long since I had been to Urban Solace.  I called up my friend, “Chef” Eddie, and off we went for dinner.  Located in the North Park area, Urban Solace opened its doors a few years ago.  Since then, it has earned much acclaim for Chef Matt Gordon’s wonderful upscale twist on comfort food.  Even though it was a weeknight, the restaurant was packed and there was about a 20 minute wait.  For those who are faced with some extra time before being seated, a large bar area located near the door is a great place to hang out and have a pre-meal cocktail or have some wine or beer (bottled and tap) from the extensive list.

Cheddar biscuits with orange honey butter

One thing that I always tell people they MUST order when eating at Urban Solace is the warm cheese biscuits with orange honey butter.  Naturally, Eddie and I ordered some as an appetizer.  Soft, fluffy, cheesy, these are the epitome of what cheddar biscuits should be.   Paired with sweet citrus butteriness, it’s an interesting flavor contrast.

Spinach salad

I was craving veggies so I decided to get the spinach salad: baby spinach, goat cheese, warm sherry vinegrette, bacon, dates, hazelnuts.  An excellent large salad, this was just what I wanted.  Healthy greens, meaty bacon for protein, hazelnuts for crunch, dates for a little sweetness…very well balanced.  Maybe not the healthiest salad, but I did get my veggies!

Duckaroni

I also was craving mac n’ cheese and heard nothing but great things about the version Urban Solace serves.  The duckaroni is a mac n’ cheese made with blue cheese, duck confit, roasted garlic, arugula, and scallions.  You can order it as a side or as a main dish; I opted for the side since I had the salad.  This was fantastic.  There was a lot of cheese sauce which is a big thing for me as my main complaint for a mac n’ cheese is that it’s not cheesy enough.  I loved the crumb topping.  The blue cheese flavor was surprisingly mild.  The duck was a great addition and the flavor just meshed well.  I’m used to either some sort of shellfish, chicken or bacon/ham being in a mac n’ cheese but duck was a new one for me and I have to say, it was good.

Chicken and Dumplings

Eddie went with the chicken and dumplings and let me steal a couple of bites.  This was excellent and very rich in chicken flavor.  The dumplings weren’t overly dense and soaked in the sauce making for yummy bite after bite.  He polished off his plate for the most part.

We didn’t have room for dessert because all this food stuffed us silly; we even had biscuits leftover!

All the times I have been here, the food has been spot on, both in flavor and execution.  Consistency in deliciousness is just one of the reasons why Urban Solace finds itself on the list of San Diego’s best restaurants.

The service is always friendly and excellent.  As for the prices, I think they are not very expensive for the quality of dining experience you get.

The Catty Critic gives Urban Solace 5 NOMs.  Now if only they would open up here in LA next door to my house…

Urban Solace
3823 30th Street
San Diego, CA 92104
(619) 295-6464
http://urbansolace.net/
Urban Solace on Urbanspoon

Mastro’s, a Valentine’s Day treat

Last month, Husband had a “boys’ night out” and splurged on a dinner with friends at Mastro’s, a fine-dining steakhouse in Beverly Hills. He came back raving about the filet mignon he had as well as the mac n’ cheese and the warm butter cake dessert. My husband doesn’t really care for dessert unless it’s chocolate and even then, he’s not a “must have dessert” kind of guy. So him going on and on about a non-chocolate dessert really had me wondering just how good it was…and giving him the pouty sad-kitty look for eating something yummy without me. I don’t begrudge him a night out with the guys but if he eats at a good restaurant I haven’t tried before, he HAS to take me there. It’s in our marriage vows. So for Valentine’s day, I got a fancy steak dinner!

When we arrived, we were seated in the upstairs dining room. A piano sat next to the stairway and a long bar stood against against a wall. Thick curtains covered the opposite wall of windows, making the room a dimly lit, posh space. Waiters in white jackets wandered around servicing their tables. Since our reservation was fairly early in the evening, the restaurant was mostly empty.

Our waitress quickly arrived to take drink orders and was very friendly and laid-back. She even joked around with us thru the night. It caught me a little off guard how casual they were with their customers given the type of establishment we were at. I actually liked this approach as it made the place less intimidating and “hoighty-toighty” and lightened the mood of the dark room…very different ambiance compared to BOA Las Vegas.

I ordered a cucumber melon mojito while Husband went for a Margarita. While I didn’t get any cucumber melon flavoring, the mojito was sweet, just the way I like it. It was also strong as I quickly started feeling the effects (well, I am a lightweight as well). Luckily, we had a basket of bread to soak up the alcohol. Rustic white rolls, crispy cheese crostinis and pretzel rolls which were very good – fluffy inside, nice baked crust and just the right amount of salt.

For our shared appetizer, Husband and I agreed on the vanilla-battered shrimp, mainly because everything else consisted of seafood he didn’t eat. There were quite a few things that sounded appealing, from raw oysters to an ahi tuna stack to crab claws. There was also an option to build a “seafood tower” by combining several choices off the menu. Ah well, vanilla battered shrimp sounded interesting. When the dish arrived, 3 very large shrimps sat on the plate; these were more like baby lobster-sized. The batter was light and nicely fried, not saturated with oil. The subtle sweetness of vanilla in the breading complimented the shrimp.

Both of us ordered the petite filet (8oz) as our main course, medium-well for him and medium/medium-rare for me. Marinated in a 15-ingredient rub and cooked w/ butter, this was perhaps the best steak I have eaten in my life. Mine was cooked perfectly – a nice seared outside with a warm pink middle. This was a tender, juicy, flavorful, melt-in-your-mouth fine piece of beef. A simple, elegant steak…the way it should be! Husband and I played the guessing game as to what went into the rub based on what we could taste. Garlic, onion, salt, pepper, paprika, cayenne pepper were confirmed by our waitress but beyond that… Someone with a more refined and trained palette can crack a guess.

To supplement our steaks, Husband ordered the mac n’ cheese, the creamed corn and the lobster mashed potatoes.

I was keen to try the mac n’ cheese since all the boys were going on and on about it. Mastro’s version is very classic – elbow macaroni with a 5-cheese sauce topped with a layer of more cheese. It’s baked and served in a skillet and comes out hot and bubbling. Fontina, Gorgonzola and Gruyere were just some of the cheeses that went into the mix. The Gorgonzola was what I tasted the most, though. While I like this strong cheese in moderate amounts, it was a little overpowering for the dish. It is a great mac n’ cheese but I can’t claim it’s my absolute favorite like some of Husband’s friends do.

The creamed corn was A-MAIZE-ING. Okay, bad bad… I have never had creamed corn before but this was a fantastic way to be introduced to it. I actually had cravings for it the next day and day after. Good thing we had leftovers, which were packed neatly and nicely and put in a bag for us. Husband, who doesn’t care for the stuff, liked Mastro’s creamed corn and even helped himself to the leftovers the next day. Apparently, if I want him to like something, I should have Mastro’s make it.

Husband was contemplating ordering the twin lobster tails for us since he really wanted lobster. However, when our waitress listed off lobster mashed potatoes as a “special” side, he ordered that instead. I was pleasantly surprised with how much lobster meat from both the tail and claws was included in this side dish. And it was cooked perfectly as well. No rubberiness! As for the potatoes, creamy smoothness. The cooks in the kitchen really know how to technically execute their dishes. When Husband suggested to the waiter that the lobster mashed potatoes be added to the menu as a regular item, she said that it basically was but they just didn’t list it to make it sound “special”. Hahaha…

At this point, I was pretty full but I really wanted to try this warm butter cake that the guys were all abuzz about so we ordered it. And the Chocolate Pudding Cake because Husband wanted to try it… The butter cake is really a dessert that is meant to be shared between 4 or more people; it’s large and it’s REALLY good. Served with a side of freshly made whipped cream, this was a warm, smooth, rich dessert. It was strangely light and fluffy yet dense at the same time. Turns out, they use cream cheese as a secret ingredient to give the butter cake its texture. We finished about two-thirds of it and I was sad to see the rest go to waste. Such a shame to not finish such a great dessert. I tried though, I really did… The Chocolate Pudding Cake was also a superb choice. Flavored with espresso, the bitterness cut back on the sweetness of the chocolate making it rich without hurting the palette. Visually though, it was not the most appealing looking dessert once the Husband started digging in.

On our way out, our waitress gave us a small box with two chocolate hearts in it, a Valentine’s gift for the customers from the restaurant.

Mastro’s is a great steakhouse with fabulous service and even better food. A dinner here, though, will put a nice fat dent in your wallet. But it’s well worth it, I think.

5 NOMs for Mastro’s, my new favorite steakhouse!

Mastro's Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

333 Pacific – A Restaurant Week Sneak Peek

Tuesday night, “Chef” Eddie and I were treated to a sneak peek of 333 Pacific’s Restaurant Week menu.

Entrance

333 Pacific is one of the newest members of the Cohn Restaurant Group.  If you aren’t familiar with the Cohn name, you should be.  The Prado, Corvette Diner and Gaslamp Strip Club are just some of the restaurants they own.  Their commitment to providing delicious fare and excellent service has made this family of restaurants quite successful and 333 Pacific is no exception.

Vodka List

When I arrived, I noticed that the venue was already filled with quite a few customers.  Upon entering, I could see why.  The large bar area, decorated with dark wood and light blue counters, is an inviting and hip place to enjoy happy hour.  The restaurant boasts a rather long list of vodkas and several vodka-based specialty cocktails to match its casual sophistication.  Also, with the Oceanside Pier and beach literally across the street, 333 Pacific is a prime spot for a meal with a view.

We were greeted warmly by the hostesses and quickly seated on the enclosed and heated patio.  Unfortunately, it was already dark so no sunset ocean view for us; not a big disappointment since I was there for the food.   Our waiter, Thomas, showed up a few moments later and was the epitome of a fabulous waiter – friendly, helpful with recommendations and attentive without being intrusive.

Detoxitini

Based on Thomas’s comments, I opted for the Detoxitini, a mixture of Pearl blueberry vodka and “good for you” juices such as acai and pomegranate.  Upon tasting this concoction, I discovered a new favorite cocktail.  The vodka is the first to hit your palette but then the surprising sweetness balanced with a little tartness of the juices quickly follows.  I could drink this all night long…

Since we were sampling the Restaurant Week menu, our choices were limited to 3 options each for appetizer, main course and dessert.  I almost wished we weren’t constrained since the regular menu offered some delicious sounding items such as Seared Maine Diver Scallops, Saffron Seafood Stew (calamari, shrimp, halibut, lobster clams, mussels, saffron-fennel broth) and Surf and Turf Ravioli (Wagyu beef and Maine lobster).  I can’t forget to mention the various cuts of steak offered on the menu with the option of adding Alaskan Crab Legs or a lobster tail.

Cararmelized Onion roll with Maple Syrup butter

While we were waiting for our appetizers to arrive, we enjoyed warm caramelized onion rolls with maple syrup butter.  As Eddie, who has dined here before, said when receiving his roll, “These are evil.”  The onions are baked into the roll but I never noticed them texture-wise.  Flavor-wise, they really turned plain bread into something delicious.  Coupled with the amazing maple syrup butter, which was strong in flavor but not syrupy sweet, it was a tasty morsel to tide us over.  It was so good, we opted for seconds despite worrying that we would fill ourselves up too early.  I found myself wishing that 333 Pacific would package the maple syrup butter and sell it.  It would be a wonderful thing to have at home to put on french toast or pancakes and use for cooking…

Creamy Butternut Squash Soup

Beef Tenderloin Sashimi

For our first course, Eddie opted for the Creamy Butternut Squash Soup while I went for the Beef Tenderloin Sashimi.  I had a spoonful of the soup which I found to be mild in flavor and smooth in texture.  While it was a really well-made dish from a technical standpoint, I wished there was a little more seasoning.  The portion was generous.  The Tenderloin Sashimi was delicious. Don’t let the term “sashimi” fool you as the beef is seared rare than served raw. And tender indeed…it was melt-in-your-mouth perfect. The mixture of cabbage and peppers gave it a nice crunch.  The ponzu was a nice light dressing.  Overall, it was a refreshing dish and a great appetizer.

Herb Roasted Whole Game Hen

Grilled Prime Top Sirloin

As the main course, Eddie chose the Grilled Prime Top Sirloin. I selected the Herb Roasted Whole Game Hen. The cooked perfectly to medium-rare sirloin was a very thick cut but still came out moist and juicy. The wasabi mashed potatoes were creamy with a strong horseradish flavor that I enjoyed. Apparently, some bites were a little too strong as Eddie experienced a few moments of nasal assault. My dish consisted of a nicely cooked piece of poultry – crispy skin but moist meat. The winter squash hash was a treat for me as I love squash and the sautéed greens were wonderful. The only thing about this dish that threw me off was the blue cheese vinaigrette. While I didn’t hate it, I don’t think I loved it. In fact, I’m still a bit puzzled…  The blue cheese flavor was not so strong as to overpower the dish but it gave a “cooling” factor to each bite that I couldn’t get over.  I feel as if I have to eat this dish again to figure out how I truly feel about the blue cheese.

Chocolate Silk Tort

333 Signature Caramel Corn Sundae

Finally, dessert… This was perhaps my favorite part of the meal and it had to do with Eddie’s selection. He went for the chocolate silk tort which was heaven on earth for anyone who loves chocolate. Usually, I avoid chocolate desserts as I find them too sweet; I opt for fruit-based tarts or sorbet. However, the tort at 333 Pacific, I would order in a heartbeat. Rich, chocolate-y, smooth, fluffy, this was not cloyingly sweet but decadent. Served on a shortbread crust with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, I could not stop stealing bites off his plate. My dessert, the 333 Caramel Corn Sundae, was a fun presentation that made me feel a little childish in a good way. Vanilla and chocolate ice cream on brittle, covered with a drizzle of caramel and garnished with a handful of caramel corn, it was an adult version of fair dessert food.

Overall, this was a fantastic dining experience…what I expected from a Cohn restaurant.  The food on a technical and taste level is superb; the service, excellent.  If you are looking for a place to try for Restaurant Week, or for any occasion, you won’t go wrong with 333 Pacific.  This place offers North County the hip atmosphere and fine food found in the Gaslamp Quarter without the drive and struggle for parking.

5 NOMs from The Catty Critic for 333 Pacific.

333 Pacific
333 N. Pacific St.
Oceanside, CA 92054
(760) 433-3333
http://www.cohnrestaurants.com/restaurants/333pacific/
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