I had a column up from earlier today looking at which organizations are deepest at each position; there’s a lot of Pittsburgh on there. This week’s Behind the Dish podcast features my conversation with Padres VP and former Mets scouting director Chad McDonald.
I went to Salt’s Cure with a friend during the Area Code Games, just on the recommendation of a reader who thought it was my kind of place – a spot-on suggestion, since restaurants with small menus that change daily are very much up my alley. We started with their cheese plate, featuring a trio of California cheeses, one each from cow’s, goat’s, and sheep’s milks, as well as a little apricot jam and some grilled bread. As expected, I liked the goat and sheep options but didn’t love the cow’s – a function of my palate, not the cheeses themselves. I intended to eat something light that night but couldn’t pass up the braised pork shoulder over creamy grits with caramelized onions, a meal that photographed poorly but that was perfectly cooked, with the (cheese-less) grits a good balance to the fatty/salty meat and the sweet/tart flavors from the onions. We also ordered the very simple raw kale salad on the side, which was only the second-best kale salad I had that week. My friend got the lamb sirloin with romanos beans and romesco, all of which he raved about – I didn’t try it as I’m just not a huge fan of lamb. For dessert, we had these multi-layered chocolate custards that were rich and dark and not too sweet … I can’t even remember what the other layers were. This was a huge find, just a fantastic locally-focused place with amazing food.
My second swing to Umami burger, first since February of 2010, was just as good as the last time out – their original burger is an umami-bomb, and now they offer ice cream sandwiches that are also pretty spectacular.
I discovered Caulfield’s in January when Bobby Flay tweeted that it was the “best new restaurant in LA,” which seemed like sufficient reason to check the place out. It’s located in the Thompson Hotel in Beverly Hills, but isn’t your ordinary hotel restaurant, with an inventive, seasonally-informed menu that has lots of lighter dishes that don’t sacrifice flavor. I ordered a starter, the albacore tuna and sockeye salmon poke, and a salad, a kale salad with almonds, hard-boiled eggs, bacon, and anchovy dressing. The poke was solid, although the wasabi-ginger-soy dressing overwhelmed the fish a little bit, especially the albacore tuna which doesn’t have a pronounced enough flavor to survive that much salt and heat. The salad, however, was among the best I’ve ever had: thin ribbons of kale perfectly dressed with an umami-heavy dressing (think Caesar dressing, but without the parmiggiano-reggiano), with added texture from the almonds and the smoky boost from the bacon. It was absolutely perfect, and that’s before I consider its high content of antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids.
Over in Long Beach, there isn’t a whole lot to recommend. I went to Koi in Seal Beach for sushi, as I do every year, although I admit it’s a little weird to park across from the hair salon where eight people were killed in 2011. The fish at Koi is outstanding, with a specials board always up showing what’s fresh, and many of the nigiri options come with the sauce of the sushi-ya’s choice.
As for new spots, Lord Windsor Roasters is a new-ish third-wave (meaning lighter roasts) coffee roastery and cafe on 3rd, about ten minutes’ drive from Blair Field. They roast their coffees in the back of the store, with three options available for pourovers each day I was there, as well as their own blend for espresso drinks. The pourover was a little weak by my standards, without much body, as if the grind was a little too coarse, but I loved their espresso for flavor and texture.
I can also recommend Thiptara, a Thai restaurant on PCH right by Blair Field, which has the standard Thai dishes but also has some more regional items, like the yellow pumpkin curry with chicken that I had as an entree. The sauce includes a roasted chili paste as well as the spices you’d expect to find in Thai yellow curry, with a coconut milk base, but it’s the chunks of al dente pumpkin that set the dish apart, bringing sweetness to balance the salty and spicy notes of the sauce. I also had the green papaya salad, with carrot, cherry tomatoes, and string beans in a garlic-chili-lime dressing, which was just mildly spicy. The salad had great color and crunch and everything was obviously very fresh.
The trip to San Diego was a little less successful. Breakfast at the Mission was amazing, as always. Cafe 222 was a mess, the second time I’ve been disappointed there – and thus the last. I drove up the coast a little to visit Bird Rock coffee roasters, where I got a decent espresso (although too small to be the double I’d ordered) and was shocked to see an option for Chemex coffee using geisha beans (which are the world’s most expensive) that cost $9 for a cup.
Dinner at Craft and Commerce was a mixed bag. I had a good salad to start, with citrus supremes, avocado, and sliced jicama, although the fried goat cheese came in ping pong ball-sized chunks that were at room temperature when that should be served warm. They were also out of their signature dessert item, warm beignets with chocolate-bourbon sauce, even though it’s not a yeast dough and could be made to order if need be.