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Friday, November 26, 2010

Whataburger


928 S 7th St
Waco, TX 76706
(254) 753-0389


For my birthday, we went on a burger run trying 15 or so LA's finest fast food establishment and white cloth counterparts. So, with Texas being the beef capital of the US, I thought it was only fitting to try their McDonald's alternative.







The location in Waco has a various Dr. Pepper memorabilia on the walls paying homage to the soft drink's origin and museum. There were no remembrances of David Koresh at the location we visited.
 


$3 Whataburger with large cheese (2)
Unfortunately, Whataburger turned out to be Whatashittyburger. If it was part of our burger run, it may have landed second to last. Right above Burger King. There was no flavor to the beef and it was as dry as a hockey puck. However, the service was much better than in LA. I would have expected nothing less from properly raised Texans.




Thursday, November 25, 2010

Tacqueria La Paisanita

2505 Inwood Rd
Dallas, TX 75235
(214) 351-3232


Finding quality food open on Thanksgiving was a task in itself. We opted to skip the overpriced generic turkey offerings at several hotels, so Mexican restaurants and diners seemed to be the sole options. I read about Tacqueria La Paisanita in the Dallas Observer, it was award the best tacos al pastor and a quick confirmed they were open on Thanksgiving.

 

We headed out on our way to the Cowboys game and grabbed a taco and a gordita. 



$1 Taco Al Pastor (8)
The taco came garnished with cilantro and onions.  The pork was moderately tender. It came prepared in chunks, rather than sliced that we ubiquitously see in Los Angeles. The highlight, though, was the greasy homemade corn tortilla. I can't remember the last time I had an al pastor taco this good. Well, actually it was week earlier at Tacos Leo in LA.  Nonetheless, this version was a worthy representation. 

$1.95 Barbacao Gordita (7)
We order another item to get us through the game.  The barbacao gordita sounded like the next best item on the menu and it satisfied. A homemade bun layered with cooked down brisket and marinated onions. Simple, good ingredients, and greasy enough to suffice on gameday. After all I had to give a speech later on in the day to rally the troops at halftime.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Wingfield's Breakfast and Burgers

2615 S Beckley Ave
Dallas, TX 75224
(214) 943-5214

  
It was our first day in Texas, we woke up early and raced three miles, loser paid for dinner at Pappas Bros later that night. We got dressed and headed out for our first meal, a light snack at Wingfield's. I first read about Wingfield's on Chowhound. I was frequently mentioned on the Top 10 dishes to try in Dallas. It was awarded Best Burger by the Dallas Observer in 2009 and on their 100 Favorite Dishes, landing at #67.



We had just tried a few burgers back in Los Angeles and we eager to try the Lonestar state's offerings. Wingfield's was in a rougher part of town and we called ahead to get our order started. At 11AM, it took 20 minutes to prepare a bacon cheeseburger.






Once inside, there is limited room, so we got our burger to go and ate it in the car. The patty was huge, but lacked flavor and was substantially overcooked. The bacon matched the patty in size and in flavor. No sweet bacon grizzle flavor was present. The whole thing is a mess and I can see why people suggest bringing your own napkins as none were provided. I think Wingfield's survives on a local following craving their portions, rather than good quality meat.






2010 Texas Thanksgiving Trip


My girlfriend is a big Dallas Cowboys fan and wanted to check out a game at Cowboys Stadium. After looking at the game schedule, we zeroed in on the Saints game and decided to spend Thanksgiving weekend in Texas. I know it sounds so ignorant, but I never really thought of Texas as a food destination high on my list. But after a little research and help from my friends at Chowhound, we were very excited about all the options and impressed at how serious Texans took meat.

(Cowboys vs. Saints)                                (The Alamo)       


Our visit started in Dallas on Wednesday and down to Austin on Friday via West and Waco. Then, a couple side trips to Lexington, Luling, San Antonio, Lockhart and Taylor. Before flying out of Austin on Monday night. We had 38 restaurants planned, but were only able to get to 29 due to timing, Thanksgiving closures, and caloric limitations (Please see last pic in Louie Mueller post). We ranked the restaurants on the flight to Dallas based  on our expectations and we ranked them once again after the trip based on or experience. I've included our average scores below.

video


(Inside the capital)                                     (Fair Park)    


(Tower of the Americas)                        (Swiss Ave.Fair Park)   


We had high expectations with the barbecue and it lived up to the hype. Some of the surprises were Village Bakery, Gourdough's and City Market Barbecue.  Some of the disappoints were Black's Barbecue, Rosario's and a couple taco chains. And avoid Little Czech Bakery at all costs on your drive through West, TX.

 (Mark Cuban's house)                          (Outside the capital)     


(Happy meal McDonald's)                       (Jerry Jones' house)      

I've included lots of pictures and videos as I found Texans haven't succumbed to photographing their food, understandable.


            (Texas countryside)                       (#1 Cowboys Fan, Miss Price)      


video




Order


Restaurant
Rank
Before
Rank
After

Diff
1 Wingfield's Breakfast and Burgers        25         26       (2)
2 Stephan Pyles          2         12     (10)
3 Twisted Root Burger Co.          8           9       (1)
4 Pappas Bros.          9           4         5
5 Tacqueria La Paisanita        24         19         5
6 Fuel City Tacos        22         20         2
7 Whataburger        29         29        -  
8 Snuffer's        19         15         4
9 Babe's        12         10         2
10 Village Bakery        28           8       20
11 Gerik's Ole Czech        24         16         8
12 Little Czech Bakery        26         28       (2)
13 Fonda San Miguel          9         17       (9)
14 Snow's BBQ          5         11       (6)
15 City Market BBQ        10           1         9
16 Beto's        22         23       (2)
17 Henry's Puffy Taco        21         27       (7)
18 Rosario's        14         24     (11)
19 Franklin BBQ          9           3         6
20 Antonelli's Cheese Shop        21         21       (1)
21 Gourdough's        13           5         8
22 Torchy's Taco        17         25       (8)
23 Tacos El Rico        15         18       (3)
24 La Condesa        13           6         7
25 Texas Pie Company        22         14         8
26 Smitty's Market          2           2       (1)
27 Black's Barbeque          8         22     (15)
28 Kreuz Market          5           7       (3)
29 Louie Mueller Barbeque          9         13       (5)


     (Texas countryside)                              (Texas countryside)     


Thanks again to all the Chowhounders that helped plan our trip. We'll be back to check out the state fair and the Red River Rivalry and can't wait to get our hands on some more meat.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Scarpetta - Los Angeles

 
 
 
 
 
  
 
 
225 N Canon Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Neighborhood: Beverly Hills
(310) 860-7800
http://www.scottconant.com/restaurants/scarpetta/beverly-hills 


Our last trip to New York City during the 2009 holiday season involved endless hours of "food" research with extra attention given to Italian. A reservation at Babbo had always escaped me, so we had to get that in.  Leaning on the warm compliments of Frank Bruni, Convivio and Scarpetta were next on the top of our list. Convivio or Scarpetta? Some chowhounders praised Convivio, while an equal representation supported Scarpetta. We also couldn't ignore the strong write-in votes for Marea. Unfortunately, Scarpetta was squeezed out and would have to wait for another trip to the Big Apple, or would it?

Fast forward ten months and my girlfriend reads about the Scarpetta expansion to the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills and insists we try it early while Scott Conant is hopefully in the kitchen.

Following Eater LA's coverage, I note there is a chef's counter and we call repeatedly to request a seat at the counter. With all the confusion and pressure of opening a restaurant, they still don't know exactly how they are going to utilize the counter space. After several calls to the restaurant, we finally get in touch with the Montage's catering manager and they allow us to sit there and what an unbelievable experience it turned out to be.

As we walk into what is the grandest kitchen we have set foot in, the staff of about 15 are hard at work and dressed in white uniforms, with the exception of chef Conant. He opts for a more casual attire with comfortable blue jeans and a black button up dress shirt. I would assume the black shirt works for the numerous photo ops guests are requesting at the conclusion of each meal. 

We take our seats at the most exclusive table in the restaurant. It has full view of all the stations and the private dining room is in back of us. Shortly after, the chef with one of the most reputable Italian resumes in the country stops by and introduces himself as Scott. He asks if we would like him to set a menu for us and we kindly decline. We have something different in mind, we want every pasta dish this kitchen can produce.

So, now all that's left to do is sit back and enjoy the dinner and a show.


Bread basket (8)

 Bread accompaniments - from left, eggplant caponata, mascarpone butter and citrus olive oil (7)
The bread basket includes a piece of stramboli that is the real star. Great quality salumi packed in fresh baked bread. The citrus oil was very refreshing, the mascarpone butter sounded better than it tasted and the caponata was just an afterthought.

video
The kitchen at 8PM




RAW YELLOWTAIL olio di zenzero, pickled red onion (7)
He starts us off with a few light bites. First is the yellowtail crudo; light refreshing and a good start to the meal.



TUNA ‘SUSCI’ marinated vegetables, preserved truffles (7)
Another light bite. It was better than most crudo I've had. The flavors complimented each other and the vegetables provided a pleasant crunchy texture. While I enjoyed the dish, it's not something I would crave and we didn't come to eat raw fish.




BEEF TARTARE hazelnuts, truffles & shaved parmigiano (9)
You usually can't win me over with truffles, but the raw beef, truffle oil, crunchy hazelnuts and buttery toast points all came together wonderfully, I love it. The strong flavors held up well to the red meat.




 PUREE OF PUMPKIN SOUP farro, almonds, spiced croutons, pumpkin oil (8)
I'm a sucker for table side presentation. Here, the soup is poured over the seasonal vegetable medley. The soup is substantial and the contrast of textures between the vegetables and the soup is harmonious. And it's not the last we'll see of that talent. He has a knack for producing the appropriate textures in dishes. 

  video






CREAMY POLENTA fricassee of truffled mushrooms (10)
One of his signature dishes and rightfully so. This is a bold, velvety dish of cream, polenta, mushrooms, and more cream. A must order on any visit.

  video
Chef starts his magic


'Death by Pasta'
The interlude to the pastas begins. We knew there were six on the menu and I've read of a special each night thus far. But nothing could have prepared us for the upcoming onslaught of starch he had planned for us. He apparently has his food Network set close to the Iron Chef as this would be the first of 14 pastas courses we consume over the next three hours, some on the menu, some well thought out impulses.


PASTA WITH CAVIAR housemade fussili, caviar & chives (5)
He starts us with a simple fusili topped with osetra caviar. The pasta was enviously tender. I wish I could get my pasta like this. Paired with brut champagne, it was a nice start to the main event.




SPELT PASTA pumpkin & porcini (7)
One of two pastas reserved for diners with dietary restrictions. He served us spelt pasta with pumpkin and mushrooms. Reserved for vegans? I think not, this was better than most pastas in the city.





SCIALATIELLI sorrento-style pasta, dungeness crab, sea urchin (6)
The first of the menu pastas. I expected the sea urchin to be a more pronounced component and perhaps a sliver on top, but it was just lightly incorporated in the sauce. I would have to give Battle Sea Urchin to Michael White's Spaghetti with crab. 


 Chef Scott Conant






 
 
BEET & SMOKED RICOTTA CASONSEI pistachio nuts, poppy seeds (9)
Now we're talking. He hits the flavors wonderfully here. The tender pasta with the beets, cheese and butter. Again, nailing the texture with the pistachio crumbles. Definitely recommended.



TAJARIN shaved white truffles (4)
I've always hated m.p. dishes. Just tell me how much the dish costs. Apparently less than $200 since he included it in the menu. It was a simple dish and although the pasta was superb, the dish as a whole is not something I would spend good money on just for white truffles.





PUMPKIN CAPPELLACCI amaretti, parmigiano (10)
The spaghetti is the best pasta? Really? I had to have a second helping to confirm it was as perfect as my initial bite told me. This is a lesson in the contrast of flavors and texture. Take note, the sweetness of the pumpkin heighten with some spice. Then, the contrast of the pasta and the soft filling against the amaretti crumbs is impeccable.  A must order, the surprise of the evening.


MACARONI  fonduta & porcini cream (2)
I'd assume there a few pastas the kitchen is experimenting with. This must have been one of them. A simple dish of macaroni, mushrooms, with a disappointing light fonduta on the bottom.


SPAGHETTI tomato, basil (9)
During the course of the evening, the chef mentioned that this dish is going to put his newborn through college. It's a great dish and is as simple as it sounds, yet heightened by quality ingredients and olive oil reaching every square inch of the plate. A must order.
During an early exchange, I told chef Conant I've tried the recipe at home and watched the No Reservations Technique episode. I questioned whether the butter measurements were accurate.  He chimed back that the butter was accurate, but that he might be more liberal with the olive oil. He held a cooking class teaching how to make the spaghetti and walked the class through the recipe step-by-step. As he walked around to see the students' progress, he thought to himself, "Are we making the same dish?" So, I now have the secret.  A couple more ounces of olive oil combined with a tons of experience and talent.

video
Public parking in Beverly Hills, $5. Dinner for two at Scarpetta, $800. Having chef Conant personally prepare and present the famed spaghetti....priceless!


CAVATELLI CARBONARA truffle zabaglione(4)
This one looked cool as it was prepared  at the table, but it lacked a pronounced flavor.



video
Presenting the cavatelli


AGNOLOTTI DAL PLIN mixed meat, fonduta, mushrooms, parmigiano (7)
The agnolotti was a dish I had high expectations for since Frank Bruni gave it his blessing in 2008.  It was good, similar to a few dishes I had at Per se. I couldn't find a flaw in it, but it's not something I would crave. I didn't think the shaved truffles on top were needed.



BUCKWHEAT PAPPARDELLE pickled mustard brussels sprouts & prosciutto (8)
Besides being one of my most memorable dining experiences to date, I'll remember this night as the first time I found value in those weirdos with dietary restrictions. Thanks to them, we were able to try a pleasant spelt pasta and now this. It had a funky flavor, not one for the masses, but I truly enjoyed it. One of my favorites of the evening and a definite surprise.


DUCK & FOIE GRAS RAVIOLI marsala reduction (9)
I know this dish is ordered a lot in the NYC restaurant, but I didn't think I would like it. Like Thomas Keller said, "We taste with our eyes first." And the zigzag marsala reduction presentation reminded of the Olive Garden. But, I was mistaken; the dish was conceived and just a small little pouch of extravagance. A must order, so now I have half the menu pastas at a required order.


CHESTNUT GNOCCHI filled with short ribs & sugo d’arrosto (10)
This may have been richer than the ravioli and slightly better. If I had to go back for one dish it would be the Cappellacci, but my second choice would easily be the gnocchi special. I loved the chestnut texture against the soft gnocchi and the pleasant sweetness of the short ribs.



COCONUT PANNA COTTA guava soup, caramelized pineapple (4)
I've had very few panna cottas in my life and I can't say I'll be running back for more.  The flavors are so light, it makes you beg for a little intensity. I would have preferred a fourteenth pasta.


CHOCOLATE olive oil mousse & candied hazelnuts
BICERIN frangelica ganache, espresso & cream
HAZELNUT SEMIFREDDO chocolate sorbet & hazelnut tuile (3)
This would need to be plated on a nude playmate for me to enjoy it. We were both so stuffed, it was near impossible to find pleasure in anything caloric, even chocolate. I would, however, like to go back and try the ameretto flan. Pictures of that have looked appetizing



video
Closing time

And that drew a conclusion to an unforgettable night. We weren't exactly sure what the bill was going to be, given we ended the meal with over 20 courses. The final tally....$200 per person for food, $100 per person for the wine pairings and a 21% imposed gratuity. $800 out the door for two and I would gladly do it again. chef Conant nails pastas on so many levels from making a very tender dough, to appropriate textures, to intense flavors, to creating a comfortable dining experience. I was taken by how mellow he was and how he hasn't allowed his celebrity to get the best of him.  The only thing I frowned upon all night was when the chef 'popped his collar' prior to posing for our picture. But, I'd much rather have the one flaw outside of the food. Maybe next time, we'll get some proteins in there.