Friday, February 29, 2008

M at Miranova - Columbus, Ohio.

On Friday, February 29th myself and a group of 7 other people attended dinner at M at Mranova. The eight of us were from places varying from Wisconsin to Toronto to Miami to NYC to New Jersey to right here in Columbus and we were all together for a nice dinner after the Arnold. As an experienced diner and the only person from Columbus, I suggested M and I could not have been more pleased with the food, the service, or my group's experience.

First, the decor was beautiful. With slowly changing overhead lighting as well as slashes of light emanating from the wine rack in the front combined with low light chandeliers in the back of the restaurant created an elegant yet trendy look without feeling stuffy. The staff was dressed elegantly and everything at the table appeared polished and high quality and the noise level was wonderful for conversation.As most had only arrived that day and were busy with hotel reservations, two members of the group arrived early and two late. Those who arrived early were treated to great cocktails at the bar and those arriving late were ushered to our table in the beautiful 'barrel room' without hassle.

Nate, our server, was outstanding in explaining the menu and was fantastic at knowing when to offer suggestions and when to give the diner time to decide. Nothing felt rushed at all. Additionally, as the menu frequently changes, one of our diners had noted Watermelon sushi in the past and being from New York was disappointed to discover it had recently left the menu. To my amazement, the waiter left and returned shortly to inform us that they could make the roll and that someone had been sent to pick up a Watermelon. Never have I experienced such service. I was and still am in awe.

While I cannot comment on everything on the menu, I will note that my fellow diners were particularly pleased with the 'Soup' of Roasted Tomato and Chevre Crostini, The 'Beef' of Mini Kobe Burgers w/ Carmelized Onions, and Cheddar, and the 'Poke' with Big Eye Tuna, Avocado, Ginger Soy, and Wasabi Sorbet. The Steak in a Bowl was described as 'incredible' by all three diners who experienced it and both the Surf n' Turn Roll and Watermelon Roll were enjoyed.

Very full, only 2 desserts were ordered, the coffee and donuts by one and the Bread Pudding by myself. Less highly thought of items included the Three Cones which were "too sweet," the Wild salmon which was 'average,' and the coffee and donuts which were simply coffee and warm fried pieces of apple and bread with dipping sauce.

I personally opted for a starter of the 'Crab' She-Crab Bisque with Blue Crab BLT and Basil Aioli. The dish was plated beautifully and although small, incredible in taste and texture. The soup was pureed crab and butter, plus basil and each taste melded perfectly while maintaining its originality. The Blue Crab BLT was even better than the soup, in my opinion, and the taste of Crab exploded from the tiny sandwich in the same way that the Lobster at SPAGO explodes from the Lobster BLT.

As a main, I chose the Black Cod with Lobster Ravioli, Green Asparagus, and Sweet Corn Emulsion. Plated simply, the flawlessly broiled fish was served topped with very tender and flavorful asparagus on top of a bed of 4 Lobster Ravioli and a base layer of the Corn. The flavors each persisted on their own, but also complimented one another eaten as a whole. The lobster Ravioli were as good as any I've ever experienced and the corn emulsion could be served as a dessert in a lesser restaurant.

In addition to my main, I opted for the Lobster Mashed Potatoes which were simple, utilizing a creamy potato and garlic oil, topped with warm whole chunks of lobster. Having had this dish only 2 weeks prior at Mastro's in Los Angeles, I can definitively say I preferred the M presentation, flavor, and pricetag.

For dessert, a friend and I split the Banana Bread Pudding described as 'Layered in Butterscotch Banana custard, Cashew Toffee, and Roasted Banana Gelato.' As Bread pudding is in my top two favorite desserts along with Tiramisu, I have experienced multiple presentations and will say that M's interpretation was amongst the top two or three along with the version's at Emeril's in Orlando and Lolita's Lust in Toronto. The gelato was understated yet complimented the saltiness of the saltiness of the cashews beautifully while the bread pudding was a tastefully heavy banana bread coated in a delectably smooth butterscotch custard.

All told, everyone was pleased, including those with upscale 'big city' eating experience. For myself, the meal ranked on the same level as meals at restaurants like Il Mulino in New York and Spago in Los Angeles, as well as the Emeril's Franchised restaurants in Orlando and Las Vegas, and the service was even better. If there is better dining to be had in Columbus (or anywhere in Ohio,) I've yet to find it.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Crumbs Bake Shop, Los Angeles California

On my most recent visit to So. California I decided to fully experience the cupcake rage that is sweeping the nation and just now finally arriving in the midwest. During my visit I tried Yummy, Crumbs, Sprinkles, and Mrs Beasleys. Visiting with three other people, a myriad of options were selected at each and many pictures were taken.

There is a reason this place sells out so damned fast.....the cupcakes are that good.

While clearly not 'normal' cupcakes like Yummy or Sprinkles, but instead topped with a myriad of odd topings, the flavor, moisture, and texture of these cakes are sublime.....even at 8pm when the selection has been thoroughly picked over.

As we were on our way back from a great day of food at Spago and subsequent wandering/shopping Beverly Hills, Robertson, and Rodeo we only opted for 2 choices but both made their mark and left my mouth watering for more. The Fruit Cobbler was filled with a delicious berry puree and topped with crispy, buttery, cinnamon nuggets. Quite literally, this was a portable cobbler and absolutely stunning to the tastebuds.

The second option, though not QUITE as good, was the Cookie Dough cupcake (in itself this seems like an odd metaphysics paradox) and again was remarkable with a custard inside that tasted like a chocolate chip cookie housed inside of a delicate, moist, and flavorful vanilla cake.

I realize this place is a New York institute and therefore a somewhat "invasive species" in SoCal, but honestly, it is a heck of a lot better than Sprinkes, without the pretense, without the line, and without the posers outside.

I would give 5 stars, but I feel like they "cheat" with their toppings and therefore make more of a "cake for one" than a traditional "Cupcake" with frosting, so we'll go with 4 stars but a 5 star flavor. Additionally, parking near Rodeo......if only someone could provide cheap parking I'd be able to afford an extra cupcake on my next visit. :-)

Doughboys Bakery, Los Angeles California

While visiting from Ohio, I went to Doughboys with my family on President's Day and was actually very happy with the food, price, and service. While not quite as unique as Griddle Cafe, there are far less scenesters and hipsters. We sat at the bar as the place was already pretty crowded at 9:00am, but service was top notch and the waitresses very personable. My mom and aunt split the strawberry/almond stuffed french toast and the flavor was great, berries fresh, and bread perfect. My sister opted for the Rice Krispy pancakes, which although a little bland were definitely unique and well preparred. I chose the PBJ+C; Stuffed french toast made with peanut butter, chocolate, and bananas, plus some wonderful strawberry preserves. I also got a side of Cornbread as this is something I sample everywhere in a hopeless attempt to find something as good as a visit to Atlanta a few years ago. The PBJ+C was wonderful, albeit filling, and the flavors were all distinct yet well blended. The cornbread was a top 5 nominee, and definitely better than that served at Roscoe's.

On the way out we picked up some of their overly famous Red Velvet Cake as well as a Hummingbird Cake which we ate later that evening at the Hotel. The Red Velvet was stellar, as good as any I've had, and certainly better than the cupcake versions at Yummy (the chocolate one...the vanilla RV at Yummy is as good as Doughboys) or Sprinkles. The Hummingbird was absolutely sublime, and IMO better than the Red Velvet. I've had this dish before, but this one was more like a Banana Walnut version of Carrot Cake.

The coffee was served in large mugs and quite delicious, plus refills.

While I'd still opt for the Griddle Cafe on subsequent visits (the audacity of those portion sizes alone warrants return) I'd definitely rank Doughboys above Toast or BLD that I visited in the past.

Spago, Los Angeles California

In late February, during a family vacation to LA, we decided to experience Puck's flagship and I can honestly say it was worth every cent. The famous patio, solid silver serving platters, worldclass service, the incredible flatbread, and surounded by the glitz and glamour of the rich and trendy. I make a better Dobos Torte than Wolfgang Puck.....but when it comes to cooking, that is probably the ONLY thing I do better. From start to finish, even at lunch, Spago is an experience that everyone should splurge on once.

With the myriad of breads available, from walnut to white to sourdough to flat to olive, plus an incredible salted butter we decided against appetizers. In retrospect I wish I would have tried the famous tuna cones, but there is always next time. Each bread was complex yet perfect and the server made sure that the breadplate was never empty for more than a minute before refilling it and chatting with the table. Interestingly, wearing my leather blazer and Script Ohio T-shirt, our waiter informed us that he too was from Ohio and was extremely personable throughout the meal. Who doesn't love a fellow Buckeye in the middle of La La Land?

For our meals, my mother selected the famous Chinois salad with its perfectly mild and sweet dressing, flawlessly grilled organic chicken, and tomatoes that won't be seen in Ohio till mid-June.

Wanting the true experience of "California Pizza" from the originator, my sister and Aunt each selected a pizza, spicy chicken and mixed mushroom respectively. The chicken again was perfect, the sauce with just enough bite to touch the tongue, and cheese that was so perfectly creamy and aged that it may have been more bitey than the sauce. The mushrooms on the second pizza were sauteed, grilled, and meaty w/o a bit of softness or discoloration. The tomatoes, this time both green and red, exploded with flavor and perfectly tempered the earthy cheese/fungus combination. The crusts on each were perfectly bubbly and crisp, as well.

For my main, I opted for the Lobster Club Sandwich with smokey bacon on grilled walnut bread and lotus root, sweet potato, and carrot chips. While some may say $34 for a sandwhich is audacious, I say it is delicious. Soft and fresh, the lobster was flawlessly prepared and buttery smooth. The smokey bacon contrasted well with the bread, and a very thin layer of creamy sauce with fresh crisp tomatoes put the whole sandwich over the top. Wow.

Clearly desserts were a must at Spago. A Hungarian descendant who swears by the Dobos Torte as the ultimate dessert, I thought my aunt was going to stroke out when she saw it on the menu. While the presentation was glorious and the flavor was certainly better than even the best Chocolate cake, it is always hard to top things 'the way mom made them' and even Puck's best effort couldn't top Grandma's old recipe that we make from time to time at special occassions. A valiant effort though, for sure.

My mother, a coffee lover, opted for the Coffee profiteroles which featured an extremely rich coffee icecream sandwiched between delicate creampuffs and topped with an incredibly rich dark chocolate sauce. The dish shined in every way imaginable, from presentation to flavor and if anything may have actually been TOO rich for anyone but the biggest coffee fan.

My sister, unable to decide on one option, chose Wolfgang's cookies and sweets; a plate of assorted cookies, candies, rolls, and tarts. Totaling 16 items, the spread ran a gamut of flavors - some simple like a chocolate chip cookie and other incredibly complex like a neopolitain tart.

For myself, I figured if anyone could make a fine strudel it would be a great German chef.....and I was correct. Wolfgang's 'childhood favorite' did not disappoint in any way with perfectly spiced apples baked in a warm pastry shell and served with an impossibly complex 50 bean vanilla icecream. I truly wish the restaurant had been less crowded so I could have licked the plate clean. :-)

All said with tip the total bill was $160, an expensive lunch for sure, but worth every penny to be treated like a king and to eat amazing food by an amazing chef at such a famous restaurant.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Griddle Cafe, Los Angeles California

In short, I've been to the Griddle Cafe twice and consider them to be the two most audacious breakfasts of my life.....and the two most delicious. This is the best breakfast I've ever had and the prices are amongst the best in LA. The pancakes are HUGE, the Coffee is strong (and refilled in individual french presses for free,) the servers are friendly and clever.

As an Ohioan with a long time love of the LA Kings, I make my way to LA once a year for a game and each time I try to experience as many new places as I can.......yet each time I return to the Griddle Cafe for at least one breakfast. Black Magic? Pumpkin? Berries? Kahlua and Bailey's? How about some carmelized bananas with strudel? I haven't even tried the french toast! There is nothing like the Griddle Cafe here in Ohio, which is probably fortunate for my waistline and arteries, but when I do endulge I want it to be worth it.

Mastro's Steakhouse, Costa Mesa California

I had the pleasure of visiting this wonderful restaurant during a trip to California in Feb '08. While I think a 3.5 rating would be best, I'll bump up to 4.0 for the customer service and Buttercake.

First of all, everything was EXTREMELY professional and the food was excellent. The breadbasket was stellar with 4 wonderful types of bread including a flawless pretzle bread that topped anything in NYC.

Sides were a bit hit/or miss with the dugeness crab gnocchi and french onion soup shining, shoestring potatoes and tomatos with ranch average, and the lobster mashed potatoes okay but certainly not worth the pricetag.

For mains, while I'm not a beef eater, my aunt said her filet was the best she has ever had. My mother's porkchop was so think it didn't seem possible to cook it so perfectly without charring. My sister's salmon was flawless and fresh. My Ahi.....the best I've ever had in a non-sashimi form. Portions of everything were plentiful (almost too big, honestly) and we took home a little bit of everything.

For dessert we sampled the Creme Brulle which was pretty standard, Key Lime Pie which was the best I've tasted outside of Florida, and the famous Buttercake. While I'm still a firm believer that Tiramisu is the perfect dessert, I can honestly say that the Buttercake made me question this believe. Hefty, Fruity, Nutty, Buttery, yet airy and refreshing......I've not seen a recipe that can match this and in a way I feel lucky that I can't find Mastro's secret because it would lead to far too frequent endulgance. The Buttercake is a MUST.

My complaints about Mastro's are few. #1) it is simply too dark. I understand ambiance, but aside from Koi I've never been in a place so dim. #2) when serving my Ahi, the server (not our lovely waitress Erica) spilled some of the soy onto my Aunt's scalding hot plate and it splashed on her shirt, glasses, and tablecloth. The server did not apologize and attempted to cover up the incident. #3) we were promised more pretzle bread in our take-home box and this was not delivered. #4) we were seated by a relatively intoxicated individual who, although spending $1400 for a meal for 2, clearly did not feel the need to behave professionally....dropping the F-bomb nearly 75 times during the course of his meal.

I say the service was great because it was from start to finish and when I commented to the waitress regarding the soy incident our bill was comped very significantly (IE more than 1/2 of a $330 tab.) Additionally, as were were the last people in the restaurant, it never once seemed as though we were rushed or hasseled in any way.
All told, Mastro's is a great place to dine and aside form a couple missteps that were likely isolated incidents, I had a great meal on par with only the very best steakhouses. The buttercake, the pretzle bread, the Ahi, and the gnocchi are ALL worth a return visit.