Chino To Las Vegas: Pit Stop Update

June 02, 2005 at 00:45:34

The Mrs. and I made one of our necessary trips to Las Vegas so
see how well the Mirage has been doing with their chunk of our
fortune (a dining report for the Mirage will follow on the
Southwest board). As usual we left the house three hours after I
thought we would, which was five hours after the Mrs. had
promised she would be ready. So that liquid diet drink I had
consumed at 9:00 was a distant memory when we pulled in to
the In-N-Out parking lot in Barstow (at the Lenwood Exit of the
I-15) at about 4:30.

Around about the crest of the Cajon Pass we had realized that
neither one of us had remembered to pack the essential liquid
diet powder mix, so by the time we pulled in to In-N-Out I was
hungry and had spent 45 minutes or so justifying the need for
"real food", since the powdered nourishment was back in Chino
and we were not going to turn around for that.

The Mrs. had a cheeseburger with only "spread" and I had a
Double-Double with the usual lettuce, tomato, spread and raw
onion. We each had an order of fries and a soft drink. I can't
speak for the Mrs.' burger, but my Double-Double hit the spot.
(That is what four months of burger abstinence will do for you.)

Just the right balance of meat and bright yellow cheese (or is
that "cheese food", I don't care, it works with this rendition), with
the fresh veggies and spread. I did exercise restaint and only
ate half my fries, somehow the other half managed to disappear.

The big news at In-N-Out, at least in Barstow was the apparent
demise of the cardboard trays in favor of new plastic trays, with
high sides. (See photo below.) The tray worked fine for our two
burgers and fries consumed "in house", and I imagine they still
dispense cardboard at the drive through window, but if I were
really hungry, and not on the liquid diet, that little tray just would
not cut it.

The burgers, fries, one medium and one large soda ran about
$10.00.

On the return trip today we grabbed some stale pastry, some
peanuts and a Coke and bottled water for a late "breakfast" at
the Chevron mini-mart at Primm. Very unsatisfying, so when we
started passing Baker at about 1:00 I noticed there is a new
Coco's in town, so we exited the I-15 in the middle of town at
Baker, and back-tracked about 1/3 of a mile to the new Coco's.

Standard Coco's fare. The Mrs. had a lukewarm tortilla soup
which she did not finish and a green salad and some bread
and butter. I had a quesadilla that contained chicken breast,
cheese, peppers (supposedly, I could not detect any heat,
although there was some disernable green matter in there) and
BBQ sauce of all things. I actually thought this was not too bad.
Very hot off the griddle, nice chicken, melted cheese, and that
BBQ sauce. (Of course being a fugitive from the liquid diet, my
taste buds are probably all screwed up.) The "Cobb Salad" was
fairly uneventful and I did not finish it. The Mrs. had coffee and I
had ice tea, which was good.

I think this little repast ran about $30.00, I don't remember
looking at the bill too closely, just handing it and a C note to the
Mrs. to pay the cashier for me while I waltzed out of the joint with
my walker.

So the big news for Baker is that now in addition to the old
stalwarts Bun Boy, Mad Greek and the fairly recent Denny's,
there is a Coco's. It also looked like the Del Taco folded.
On The Chow Hunt In Corners Of California
Copyright © 2005-2006  Wayne E. Frost, all rights reserved.
Temecula Creek Inn
44501 Rainbow Canyon Rd
Temecula,  CA 92592
951. 676.5631
Temecula Creek Inn Web Site
Temet Grill, Temecula Creek Inn: Eating Well In
Wine Country South

September 20, 2005 at 02:31:33

It was my birthday and the company was holding an employee
golf tournament at the Temecula Creek Inn, in Temecula, so I
booked a room at the special rate for the Mrs. and myself for
the weekend, and forgot about The Liquid Diet for one day. We
were not there for the golf, just a little R&R.

After enduring the Friday evening traffic jam on I-15 between
the 60 and the 91, and then again at the Highway 79 exit in
Temecula, we arrived at this small hotel surrounded by 27
holes of golf course, which meant trees, grass, water,
boulders, hillsides and assorted plant and animal life. A very
pleasant oasis, surrounded by the urban sprawl that has
become the Temecula area.

Friday evening was room service. All food and beverage
service is supplied by the
Temet Grill kitchen. The room service menu offers a very small
sub-set of the Temet Grill menu, so our options for a room
service evening meal were fairly limited. The Mrs. opted for the
Char-Grilled Cheeseburger listed on the menu as Certified
Sterling Beef, Parmesan Garlic Fries, and Cheddar Cheese. I
started with the Young Country Greens, listed on the menu as
Cherry tomatoes, Kalamata Olives, Orange Segments,
Zinfandel Feta Vinaigrette and also had the Temecula Creek
Club, listed on the menu as Roasted Turkey, Melted Swiss,
Crispy Bacon, Basil Aioli.

The salad was pleasant and refreshing, if just a bit smaller
than I would have preferred. The club sandwich was one of the
better club sandwiches that I have had recently. It arrived on
grilled sourdough bread, the turkey was smoked turkey breast
and the bacon was thick cut, possibly peppered, and was of
very good quality. Normally I don’t care for cheese on my club
sandwiches nor do I care for the sandwich to be grilled, but
rather room temperature meant on toast, however, this
rendition, together with the basil aioli had just the right balance
of flavors and textures. It became quite apparent from this
meal and our dining the following day that the chef in this
kitchen and his staff have achieved a balance between the
ingredients they choose and their preparation that comes that
results in a very pleasing experience for the diners. This not
large scale, hotel/institutional food, but rather food prepared
with an understanding and appreciation of what each
component brings to a dish. I also scored a small corner of the
Mrs. burger, which was ordered as well done (but really
seemed to have come out medium-well) and this was
excellent beef, flavorful and with a nice char, I would put this
burger up against any product from any venue in the L.A. area.

We also had two diet Pepsi’s the Mrs. had a piece of carrot
cake. She ate the whole piece and did not offer to share any.
Dinner from room service ran about $54.00, which included a
room service charge and a mandatory 20% gratuity

We slept in Saturday and presented ourselves at the Temet
Grill at about 12:30 for lunch. The dining rooms overlook the
golf course, and is apparently one level above the golf course
starter, so during the day there is plenty of activity to observe as
the golfers practice their mind over muscle control on the golf
course and their driving skills on the cart trails. We were able
to greet some of my work colleagues as they came in from
their rounds, and I was assured by one of them that my eyes
were not deceiving me, I did in fact observe the water level of
the lake in the middle of the course rise, due to the number of
golf balls sent swimming by my esteemed hacker colleagues.

We each had a Caesar salad for starters, and the Mrs. opted
for a burger again and I ordered the Pan Seared Snapper Filet
(sandwich), which was garnished with a Chipotle Mayonnaise
and served on grilled cibatta bread, with a Passion Fruit
Cabbage Slaw. The salads were good, all they consisted of
was Romaine leaves, some shaved Parmesan and a creamy
Caesar dressing, (they seemed to have forgotten the croutons,
which were not missed). The dressing was flavorful and
applied with a light hand, so the salad did not taste
overpoweringly of salad dressing; the cheese was very good
and had a robust, pure flavor. The balance of greens, dressing
and cheese was a perfect beginning. The piece of seared
snapper was outstanding, a thick, chunk of snapper filet
cooked perfectly, the chipotle mayo was just the right
proportion, enhancing the fish, giving a fleeting bite from the
peppers, but not overpowering, and certainly no way near in
comparison to a glop of tartar sauce. The fish and the mayo on
the warm, grilled bread were a perfect balance of tastes and
textures, then the slaw on the side added another dimension,
the cabbage fresh and crisp, the dressing imparting a
sweetness to the cabbage and a perfect counter-point to the
bit of heat from the chipotle mayo. This was a very satisfying
sandwich. My stomach was full after this meal, but if another
sandwich had materialized on my plate, I probably would have
inhaled it. For beverages the Mrs. had a flavored iced tea
(probably raspberry), my palate disdains flavored iced teas
and I had a “plain” iced tea, with lemon and Equal. The tab for
lunch came to about $48 excluding tip.


After lunch we took a drive through Old Town Temecula, which
has been "touristified" and then out Rancho California Drive to
the wineries. The last time, which must be 10 or 15 years ago,
that we visited the Temecula wine country the drive out on
Rancho California was a nice, slow paced country drive – no
more, wall to wall urban development, from the I-15 all the way
to the first winery, Thornton, with all the courtesy that can be
expected from young, foolish, urban drivers on the road.

I was hunting for a sweet, smooth Gewürztraminer and we
ended up at Van Roekel. I have said it before and am not
ashamed to say it again, the Mrs. and Yours Truly are admitted
and unabashed wine hicks, we make no pretenses to any
knowledge let alone expertise in the art of producing wine or in
the ability to distinguish between and appreciate fine wines,
we are, however, eminently qualified in judging the wines we
consume and determining if they are to our own personal
liking. We tasted a few wines at Van Roekel, but alas, they
were sold out of the Gewurtz. We did taste a champagne, a
raspberry champagne and a rose. I declined a taste of
chardonnay, as that just does not ring my bell. We ended up
bringing two bottles of their brut champagne back with us. This
was mellow and just sweet enough that I wouldn’t mind
drinking it straight (as opposed to masked with fresh orange
juice). Since my back had tolerated about all of the standing up
that it could at that tasting room, we gave up on trying any
others and headed back to the hotel.

Dinner Saturday evening was back at the Temet Grill. I chose
this venue for this dinner with the Mrs., my sister and my
elderly mother who is wheelchair bound because it was
convenient, and the menu looked good. I was not disappointed.

Three of the four diners, none of them Chowhounds, although
the Mrs. is a Chowhound-In-Training, opted for steak, one
charred filet mignon, medium rare with crumbled blue cheese,
and a Cabernet demi-glace, accompanied by mashed Yukon
Gold potatoes and green beans, one charred filet mignon,
medium without the cheese, but with the Cabernet demi-glace,
and mashed potatoes accompanied by grilled young
asparagus; one charred fillet that was butter flied with the
cheese, potatoes and spinach (photo below). I opted for the
Pan Seared Halibut with Burnt Brown Butter Noisette, Melted
Spinach, and Wild Rice Pilaf (photo below). I also had a side of
grilled asparagus.

For starters my sister had the Charred Tomato Bisque with
Tarragon (she has always been a Campbell’s tomato soup
kind of gal). I opted for the Five Spiced Blackened Ahi Tuna
with a Cucumber and Tangerine Salad, with Drizzled Lemon
Oil. I can’t speak for the tomato soup, I guess my sister
enjoyed it, I was busy enjoying a couple of Absolut and tonics
and a few pieces of lavosh spread with a tasty tapenade. I
ordered the Ahi because, common folk that I am, I had never
had ahi before, ever. I figured that since this dish achieved au
courant status about 15 years ago, that it was finally time for
me to try it. It might have been excellent, and I suspect, based
on my other experiences with this kitchen, the flavors may have
been balanced very well, but in all honesty, the four thin slices
of seared tuna tasted like nothing, like cold nothing, to me. I
though the julienne of cucumber and tangerine segments had
more discernable flavor than the fish. I suspect that my
unsophisticated palate may be too crude to appreciate this
“delicacy”, but it just did not do anything for me.

On the other hand, the halibut was outstanding. A big, thick
chunk of pearl white fish, with a browned butter crown that
imparted a subtle flavor enhancement to the fresh, clean taste
of the perfectly cooked fish. This was layered on a bed of lightly
sautéed (“melted”) spinach leaves, which were layered upon a
wild rice pilaf. Each of the three major components, fish,
vegetable and grain, stood on its own, but when a little rice and
a little spinach were put on my fork, and then a segment of fish
balanced on top of that, it was a wonderful melding of flavors,
and an affirmation that this kitchen knows how to achieve the
perfect balance of ingredients, flavors and textures. I tried to
pace myself with the entrée, I really did, but it disappeared
from my plate far too soon.

The grilled asparagus were perfect. I suspect they had been
brushed with some olive oil and then laid on the grill. This
were very young asparagus, so the diameter of their “trunks”
was very small, and therefore, there was no “woodiness” at all
in these stalks. They were grilled briefly; just barley cooked
through and was delicious. I also tried to carefully apportion
these wonderful cylinders, but they also disappeared all to
quickly.

While I was not able to prolong my enjoyment of my entrée and
sides (it really was quite involuntary) that did afford me to
attend to mopping up operations on the plates of two of my
dining companions. I snagged about a bite and a half of the
Mrs. filet, and even though it was butter flied, her desire to
make sure that the kitchen did everything short of
thermonuclear incineration to that beef, still did not ruin an
exceptionally good piece of beef. Even though the meat was
well done, it was still so very flavorful, and of course the
cabernet demi-glace juices on the plate were all mine. I was
the beneficiary of about 1/3 of my mother’s medium filet, and
that was thoroughly enjoyable also. The meat here is obviously
of high quality and the cooking staff respects it.

At the end of the meal a slice of tiramisu cake with a candle
arrived in front of me, which was shared. I love tiramisu, but
this did not come close to the best rendition of tiramisu that I
can recall having. It was more cake-y than lady finger-y and
must have come out of a commercial bakery. It was not too
sweet, very wet, but not worth blowing the Liquid Diet on more
than half a teaspoon taste.

All and all, this was a fine meal and it was very gratifying to find
it amongst all of the wall to wall chain schlock or tourist traps
that seem to comprise most of the local surroundings. (I have
yet to try the dining operations at the nearby Pechanga
hotel/casino, but have perused the menu of their seafood
restaurant, and that looks very promising, but also a little
pricier than the Temet Grill.)

Total tab, exclusive of tip for four entrees, two first courses, one
dessert and four mixed drinks was $185.00.

I have put a link to the Temecula Creek Inn below, from that
page you you be able to find the Temet Grill and can download
their full menu. In addition to the rest of the dinner menu, the
weekday breakfast fare looks interesting; the Sunday brunch
also sounds like a winner.
Hocky puck-ized beef filet encrustd with
broiled blue cheese with garlic mashed
potatoes and sauteed spinach
Grilled sea bass with brown butter on a bed of
sauteed spinach and wild rice pilaf
Chino To Las Vegas: Pit Stop Update

June 02, 2005 at 00:45:34

The Mrs. and I made one of our necessary trips to Las Vegas
so see how well the Mirage has been doing with their chunk of
our fortune (a dining report for the Mirage will follow on the
Southwest board). As usual we left the house three hours after
I thought we would, which was five hours after the Mrs. had
promised she would be ready. So that liquid diet drink I had
consumed at 9:00 was a distant memory when we pulled in to
the In-N-Out parking lot in Barstow (at the Lenwood Exit of the
I-15) at about 4:30.

Around about the crest of the Cajon Pass we had realized that
neither one of us had remembered to pack the essential liquid
diet powder mix, so by the time we pulled in to In-N-Out I was
hungry and had spent 45 minutes or so justifying the need for
"real food", since the powdered nourishment was back in
Chino and we were not going to turn around for that.

The Mrs. had a cheeseburger with only "spread" and I had a
Double-Double with the usual lettuce, tomato, spread and raw
onion. We each had an order of fries and a soft drink. I can't
speak for the Mrs.' burger, but my Double-Double hit the spot.
(That is what four months of burger abstinence will do for you.)

Just the right balance of meat and bright yellow cheese (or is
that "cheese food", I don't care, it works with this rendition),
with the fresh veggies and spread. I did exercise restaint and
only ate half my fries, somehow the other half managed to
disappear.

The big news at In-N-Out, at least in Barstow was the apparent
demise of the cardboard trays in favor of new plastic trays, with
high sides. (See photo below.) The tray worked fine for our two
burgers and fries consumed "in house", and I imagine they
still dispense cardboard at the drive through window, but if I
were really hungry, and not on the liquid diet, that little tray just
would not cut it.

The burgers, fries, one medium and one large soda ran about
$10.00.

On the return trip today we grabbed some stale pastry, some
peanuts and a Coke and bottled water for a late "breakfast" at
the Chevron mini-mart at Primm. Very unsatisfying, so when
we started passing Baker at about 1:00 I noticed there is a
new Coco's in town, so we exited the I-15 in the middle of town
at Baker, and back-tracked about 1/3 of a mile to the new
Coco's.

Standard Coco's fare. The Mrs. had a lukewarm tortilla soup
which she did not finish and a green salad and some bread
and butter. I had a quesadilla that contained chicken breast,
cheese, peppers (supposedly, I could not detect any heat,
although there was some disernable green matter in there)
and BBQ sauce of all things. I actually thought this was not too
bad. Very hot off the griddle, nice chicken, melted cheese, and
that BBQ sauce. (Of course being a fugitive from the liquid diet,
my taste buds are probably all screwed up.) The "Cobb Salad"
was fairly uneventful and I did not finish it. The Mrs. had coffee
and I had ice tea, which was good.

I think this little repast ran about $30.00, I don't remember
looking at the bill too closely, just handing it and a C note to the
Mrs. to pay the cashier for me while I waltzed out of the joint
with my walker.

So the big news for Baker is that now in addition to the old
stalwarts Bun Boy, Mad Greek and the fairly recent Denny's,
there is a Coco's. It also looked like the Del Taco folded.
Junketeering In San Diego (Photos)

June 25, 2006 4:58 P.M.

The first order of business: A big thanks to my brother and
sister San Diego ‘hounds, those that actually live there, and
the esteemed ‘hound who knows enough to make the trek to
San Diego from Arizona for good chow. Your
recommendations were solid, you folks know your stuff.

Needing a break from toiling alone in the home office, the
chance to attend a business conference in San Diego, and
interact with some real live, in the flesh humans, was too good
to pass up, so the Mrs. and I tooled down to San Diego in
Maybelline earlier this month. Our preferred mode of transport
when traveling to distant locales is via railroad, but a coach
ride on The Pacific Surfliner and then the hassle of transferring
passengers and baggage to our hotel once arriving in San
Diego were not worth it, and we don’t do airplanes or boats. So
that left our favorite mode of transport for a road trip, sleek,
sexy, Maybelline.

The only drawback for traveling via Maybelline, or her brother,
Herman, is that for some reason, a certain person’s sense of
time disintegrates when Maybelline or Herman are involved.
Asked the day before by the Better Half, “What time are we
leaving for San Diego”, I in all my innocence and misguided
faith in my ability to out think and manipulate the Mrs.,
responded with, “Oh around two-ish”, figuring that I was
employing a strategy to once, in our life together, insure that
we would actually leave the house by the time that I really
wanted to leave, which was 4:00. Alas, despite what I thought
was my brilliant craftiness, I had not adequately analyzed the
situation before formulating my response to the Mrs., we finally
departed the house at 6:45, almost five hours after the time I
had “officially” posted, and almost three hours after the time I
had figured we would actually get on the road.

None of the above has been said to in any way disparage the
Better Half, I know better than that. It has just been
documented so that you, my good readers, will appreciate the
legitimate (arguably in the interest of mental health) need for
copious libations, once we did arrive at our destination.

We checked in to the Hyatt Islandia at about 9:00 P.M., and
while the Mrs. unpacked our duds, I took on the more
important job of stocking the wet-bar in our room from the
suitcase of essential supplies I had brought along. By the time
the Mrs. finished unpacking, I had a nice vodka and tonic
waiting for her, and had already put a few under my belt, all
memory of our late departure having faded away.

Quite often one of the first “tests” we give to a lodging
establishment that we have not visited before is a room
service order. So now being behind schedule by five hours (oh,
I am sorry, I will no longer belabor the fact of our late departure
any further), we were famished, and in no condition or mood to
travel outside of our cozy suite. Unfortunately I have to report
that the Hyatt Islandia failed their room service test. The first
strike being the fact that apparently the locals go to sleep early
in San Diego, in that they stopped serving room service after
10:00 P.M., so that did not leave us much time. The Mrs.
ordered a chicken tortilla soup and a cheeseburger, I ordered
a Caesar salad with shrimp and a club sandwich. The soup
was strike two, in our experience a chicken tortilla soup is
usually an almost clear broth, with some chicken and
vegetables and strips of fried tortillas in it, usually with at least
a little bite of piquancy, and maybe even some aromatic
cilantro. This soup was none of the above, it was a thick,
tomato based gloppy concoction without any discernable taste,
you could practically stand a fork up in the bowl. (Believe me,
you know a dish is bad, when the Mrs. offers any of it to me,
and after one taste I push it aside---very radical when even I
refuse food.) I don’t know if they just have a crappy recipe, or if
they served us something that had been sitting in a simmering
pot all day, thickening and congealing, but they should have
been ashamed of themselves.

The Mrs. did enjoy her burger with cheddar cheese, it was
cooked to her liking, hockey puck consistency. It was good
sized, and looked like if we had ordered one less well done, it
might have even had a little juice in it. The fries (accompanying
the burger and my club sandwich) were typical, mediocre,
mass produced, frozen product rendered tasteless (hence the
need for the salt shaker).

Strike three was the $17.00 Caesar salad with shrimp. This
was a relatively small plate of Romaine, with barely any
dressing (a creamy Caesar, I guess, I really could not taste it).
The dressing seemed to be only on the bottom of the plate, in
a coating about a micron thick. Crappy canned croutons, and
four smallish-medium boiled shrimp. The game loosing out,
was the club sandwich, on squaw bread, sort of waved over a
toaster. The turkey was good, but the bacon was ice cold
(must have been cooked the day before and left in the fridge
over night). There was an almost less than discernable thin
coat of mayo smeared on one side of the bread. Adding insult
to injury, one of those tiny little single-serve condiment bottles
of mayo did come with the order, but once the Mrs. had
scooped out some mayo for her burger, the remaining mayo
could not be extracted from the jar, using the “hotel flatware”,
you know the kind, big and heavy, with a cheap electro-plating
of silver on it, the width of the knife blade making it nearly
impossible to maneuver inside the jar in order to extract any
mayo.

This room service debacle was saved by my Boy Scout
training, I have never forgotten the motto, “Be prepared”, and
fortunately I had stocked the wet-bar with a nice assortment of
munchies, that tided us over very well.

The next morning, Sunday, brought us a new day and new
dining opportunities, which were very fulfilling. We headed over
to Pacific Beach, to The Fishery. It was a toss-up between that,
and Blue Water Grill, we opted for The Fishery because we
wanted full table service, and Blue Water looked (from Google
maps) like it was right next to the freeway. We circled the block
at The Fishery a couple of times and then found parking place
for Maybelline that wasn’t too far from the restaurant for me to
make the trek with my cane. Right out of the car the Mrs.
crinkled her nose and eyebrows and muttered something
about it smelling fishy (that is not a good sign when the Mrs.
discerns a fishy smell, especially when she comes in the door
at home, after having spent a long day at the office, and I have
been trying to discretely cook fish; wives’ and mothers’ sense
of smell should be synthesized by the defense department, as
a strategic weapon system).

We were greeted by a server (a dead ringer for a young Brad
Pitt) when we entered The Fishery and opted to dine inside,
instead of outside in front. Immediately after being seated the
Mrs. perception of the place changed one hundred and eighty
degrees. We were both very comfortable in the relaxed
atmosphere of this establishment. As I explained to the Mrs.
The Fishery is actually an appendage to a wholesale seafood
distributor, occupying an open, spare and clean looking
industrial space at the front of their processing/warehouse
area. No fishy smells inside, open and airy, with lots of
windows allowing plenty of natural lighting, a long refrigerated
fish counter along one side, and attractive replicas of fish and
vintage photos hanging on the walls. We arrived at about 2:00
P.M. and there were a few other diners enjoying lunch and to
cap it all off, real Jazz playing on the sound system, we both
agreed, this was a very pleasant venue to spend part of an
afternoon.

The Mrs. ordered a house salad and the shrimp and chips, I
ordered the Mediterranean fish chowder and grilled Chilean
sea bass. The Mrs. enjoyed her salad, and we both enjoyed
the panko battered shrimp. A nice, very light coating, giving a
nice little crunch, but in no way diminishing the actual taste of
the shrimp. My only quibble would be the small portion of
shrimp, but from a tactical perspective, the next time I would
simply order (and pay for) additional shrimp.

My chowder was very pleasant, tomato based, with plenty of
chunks of fish in it. It was much too “mild” to my taste, but that
was remedied with copious amounts of Tabasco added at the
table. (Note to self: remember to bring along your own
Tabasco Habanero sauce next time, the “classic” Tabasco is
just too weak.) I really enjoy soups and stews made with
seafood, so this bowl was a very nice starter for me. The sea
bass was excellent, as with everything else here, the sea bass
was impeccably fresh, and they know how to cook fish here. A
nice bit of char on the outside of the fish, but perfectly “medium
rare” and moist on the inside. I prolonged the joys of the fish
as long as I could, carefully extracting one “segment” of fish
flesh at a time with my fork, resisting the urge to scarf the
whole piece of fish down in four bites. The fish was
accompanied by some lovely jasmine rice, some grilled
zucchini and grilled scallions. Everything on this plate was
thoroughly enjoyable.

For dessert our waiter recommended vanilla gelato with
strawberries in a compote with balsamic vinegar. This was a
wonderful dessert, the gelato creamy and silky, the
strawberries and sauce a perfect compliment.

Both our server, and his colleague who also helped out when
he was busy were professional, courteous and pleasant. The
service was unobtrusive and complimented the entire
experience. The San Diego ‘hounds who recommended this
place were right on the mark, good food, a comfortable,
relaxed atmosphere, and pleasantly, a little off the “ beaten
path”, not crowded in next to the beach.

Sunday evening we attended a reception hosted by a firm that I
have done business with before. Typically I would not report on
this type of event, after all we have all probably had too many
rubber chickens in these large scale situations, but I was very
impressed with how this was carried off. This was at the Blue
Pearl restaurant at the Dana Resort. There were about 80 of
us packed in to a relatively small space without much room for
moving around, so we planted ourselves at a table and
enjoyed the party.

We began with cocktails and appetizers. What can I say about
cocktails, I always enjoy them, and probably drink too much
(but hell, I wasn’t the designated driver). Of the appetizers
offered, the fried shrimp on a stick and the fried calamari were
outstanding. It seems that all of the cooking professionals in
San Diego have really mastered the art of frying food. The
batter on the shrimp and calamari was light, crispy and non-
greasy. If no one had been looking, I would have been like the
man in the current TV commercial, who piles his plate about a
foot high with cold shrimp at a cocktail party. The calamari
were perfect. It seems to me that so often restaurants’
renditions of this dish fall short, invariably resulting in tough,
rubbery, tasteless calamari, not in this case. A perfectly crisp,
light batter, and the calamari were tender and flavorful.

For our entrée we opted for the roasted chicken, as did all of
our tablemates. The chicken was tender and moist, and
presented beautifully on the plate, a breast quarter stacked on
top of a thigh quarter. The accompanying sauce was a little
thin, and not very savory for my taste, but I still enjoyed it, and
appreciated the quality of the dish given the “banquet” setting.

I must say that the service here was also outstanding. The
staff were attentive and friendly, and when it was so crowded
that we could not make it across the room to the bar, the wait
staff made sure they took care of us, taking and fetching drink
orders. As I said, this was a “banquet” situation, but I was
impressed enough that I would not hesitate to return on my
own dime in the future and try out some of their other dishes.

Monday evening, following the local ‘hounds
recommendations we drove over to Hong Kong Max. We got
there early and were only one of three parties in the restaurant.
I, being a big seafood aficionado, of course chose this venue
for the fish, the Mrs. is more pedestrian in her tastes, so what
we ended up ordering was not heavy on fish, and I must add,
since this was a Hong Kong style seafood house, many of the
dishes we ordered were not the best choices to experience the
restaurant’s repertoire.

We began with spring rolls (to keep the Mrs. happy), I sampled
one, and had no desire for more. Then the main dishes
started arriving, yang chow fried rice, Chinese green beans
Schezwan style, stir fried eggplant and garlic, orange flavored
beef, a whole fried lobster, shark's fin with crab and egg.

Overall I would rate the food as good, but not as good as I am
used to getting in the San Gabriel Valley. I think that is
understandable, as I believe there are at least 400 Asian
restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley, and therefore a much
greater competitive pressure, and probably a vastly larger
population of discerning Chinese diners. The green beans
and eggplant just did not have enough of a liveliness for my
taste, which is understandable, given that these dishes are not
representative of Hong Kong. I would pass on the yang chow
fried rice next time.

The Mrs. really loves orange flavored chicken, and the orange
flavored beef was the closest approximation of that dish at
Hong Kong Max. The beef was very sweet and candy like, but
there were real peppers interspersed, and I actually enjoyed it.
Of course I grabbed all the peppers and had our waitress
bring me some chili oil. I could have seen myself mindlessly
snacking on this stuff all day long, it was good in the almost
dried out consistency and candied exterior of the meat pieces,
very addictive.

Of course I was there for the seafood, and I ordered the lobster
figuring the Mrs. would enjoy some of that as she really likes
steamed lobster (as long as the horror, or horrors, creepy
shell is no where in sight). I swear, though, I did not plan this,
but when the whole lobster, redolent in the shell, was
presented on a platter, the Mrs. decided that she did not want
any part of it, and instructed me to move the head, with its
beady eye looking up at her, out of her view. So I scored the
entire crustacean for yours truly, and harking back to my Boy
Scout training, I husbanded half of it for later snacking back in
our hotel. The lobster was tasty, I don’t know exactly what the
dish is called, I just told the waitress I wanted lobster and she
recommended apparently the house special lobster. I could
not make out all of the components of this dish, but I liked what
ever the organic matter was that was “sprinkled” around this
insect from the sea (please see accompanying photo).

I had never before tasted shark’s fin, so when I spotted various
shark’s fin dishes on the menu, there was no way I was not
going to try this delicacy. The shark’s fin was the last dish to
arrive, our waitress told us that it would take awhile (I guess
someone in the kitchen had to hand shred some shark fin).
One way to characterize this dish would be to call it the
Chinese equivalent of pulled pork, shreds of shark’s fin mixed
with shreds of steamed crab meat, and all held together with
scrambled eggs. I enjoyed it, although there was nothing
transcendental about it for me. I think I would like to sample
some shark’s fin soup in the future, that might prove to be
more savory to me.

The service in this establishment, like all of the restaurant
service we experienced in San Diego was quiet, efficient and
friendly. I appreciated when after our waitress took our order,
another waitress, I am guessing a more “senior” staff member
(and much more fluent in English), approached me and
wanted to know if I was sure that I wanted the shark’s fine dish
(listed on the menu as market price) at $65.00. I assured her
that I did want the dish, as a new experience and I was
accommodated. The host or owner also approached us at the
end of the meal to confirm that we enjoyed our experience, and
it is always a nice feeling to be served as “gringos” in authentic
ethnic restaurants and made to feel welcome.

Tuesday was our last evening in San Diego and while I know
this was probably a “tourist trap” we opted to drive over to
Seaport Village and we dined overlooking the harbor at
Edgewater Grill. The Mrs. had a chicken dish, I had a Caesar
salad and a Mediterranean style chowder for my entrée. The
Caesar here, although not one of the top notch Caesar salads
I have experienced, was serviceable, and infinitely better than
the lame Caesar we obtained from the Hyatt Islandia’s room
service operation. My chowder was not too bad, another red
chowder, almost like a cioppino, with plenty of fish (although
bay shrimp don’t cut it for me), and with the addition of
Tabasco and accompanying bottle of Riesling, made for a very
enjoyable time, as we watched the sun set. They also served
some warm rosemary bread that was not too bad.

Overall I thought the experience at Edgewater Grill was better
than I would have expected for a tourist site. The irony of our
last evening in San Diego was that I, as a resident of San
Diego forty years ago when I was a swabby, and the son of a
mother and father who both served in World War II, was sitting
and watching three ships from the Japanese fleet sail out of
San Diego harbor. It is intriguing to me, how one time enemies
can become the best of friends, it would be nice if everyone in
the world would realize this.

San Diego ‘hounds, you rock!



San Ramon: Some Tasting Notes (Primarily
Blackhawk Grill)

July 18, 2006 1:33 A.M.

Thanks to the ‘hounds who responded to my request for San
Ramon reccos last week. Unlike our recent little foray to San
Diego (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/304565 ) there
was less time and inclination to sniff out the local chow. It was
sort of a conflicted road trip, given that I have recently had
issues with the commitment to the long-term diet program,
and it turned out to be sort of a feast or famine long weekend.

No booze was packed in the luggage for this trip, and the only
snacks for yours truly were some bags of dried fruit, and
diabetic nutrition bars. (I don’t know if it was my advancing age,
hunger, or both, but you have no idea how good prunes taste
when you are desperate.) We got a bit of a late start (which is
normal when we provide our own mode of transportation), so
after a “healthy” (in a quantity sense) carb/protein/fat laden
lunch at our favorite local Italian joint, we finally hit the
interstate in the mid-afternoon.

We checked in to the Marriott in San Ramon at about 8:30, and
the first thing the Mrs. did, was leave me and go shopping, of
course, after first checking the room service hours out, making
sure that she would return to the room before the kitchen
closed for the evening. I can report that the room service club
sandwich at the Marriott in San Ramon was far better than the
poor excuse of a club sandwich served by the Hyatt Islandia,
San Diego, and room service operation. Why I was even able
to extract a sufficient amount of mayo from the little tiny
condiment jar with the cutlery supplied by the Marriott, and, they
were kind enough to send up two of the little jars of mayo. So,
the Marriott wins this round of room service competition.

We did stop by for our first visit to a branch of Peet’s on Friday
morning. The Mrs. enjoyed a cup of regular coffee and an
apple muffin and I enjoyed a mocha latte, and we were
entertained by the interaction between a customer in the
establishment who thought he qualified for table service, and a
tattoo-ed, bearded (and I mean a Ted Kaczynski bearded)
barista. The erstwhile customer eventually skulked out. It was
pretty good coffee, and I was almost tempted to purchase
some beans, but then I remembered I can get some really
nice beans, that make really nice coffee from my local roaster
for about half the price.

The Mrs. attended a business dinner Friday night. The deal
was she would duck out as soon as she could and then we
would high tail it to one of the local restaurants I was
considering. So there I sat, not downstairs in the bar sipping
libations watching the action on a big LCD screen, not
downstairs in the Marriott’s sushi bar enjoying some nice
fresh fish and cold libations, but up in the room, with the cable
TV with my two gallons of Arrowhead water and a bunch of
dried fruit, just hanging tough until the Mrs. returned. And I sat,
and sat and sat. Finally the Mrs. returned and related to me
that she had some pretty tasty Mexican food, and no, she wasn’
t hungry. So rather than drag myself out, and drag her along to
watch, I opted for room service again. Score another win for the
Marriott’s room service over the Hyatt, I had a half pound
burger, charred on the outside and medium rare on the inside,
as requested, and the fries weren’t that bad either, nor were
the two Kirin beers to wash it all down.

Saturday evening we finally did make it out of the hotel. I had
narrowed our dining choices down to Little Home in
Pleasanton, Norm’s Place in Danville and Blackhawk Grill in
Danville. When I ran the list down for the Mrs. her first
response was “I don’t want Indian”, to which I explained, “Little
Home is Thai dear.” Hoping that she would remember her first
and only Thai experience at Renu Nakorn in our neck of the
woods. It did not work. The response was “I don’t care, I don’t
want Thai.” Alas she is still in her Thai indoctrination phase. I
could tell where this conversation was going, so I opted for the
safest choice and informed her that we would therefore be
dining at the Blackhawk Grill. Since the Blackhawk Grill was
recommended in terms of my quest for good burgers, I had
visions of burgers and beer. A nice relaxed evening of burgers,
maybe some of the usual fried accompaniments and a bunch
of brewskis. Oh how wrong I was.

Blackhawk Grill is kind of upscale, or at least it aspires to be. It
had not occurred to me that maybe burgers would not be on
the dinner menu, until we walked in to the place and saw all of
the white tablecloths. OK, I said to myself, I’m a ‘hound, I’m
adaptable, I can find something good to eat anywhere, and I
did, at a price.

So we perused the menu and the wine list and started our
evening with the least expensive bottle of wine, a $45 bottle of
domestic sparkling wine, I figured that some brut bubbly would
be enjoyed by us wine hicks, since 80 bucks for a bottle of my
preferred choice, German Riesling was not going to happen. It
wasn’t bad stuff, produced in the Napa or Sonoma area, and
we nursed it all evening. (The next time I go to one of these
high falutin’ joints I am going to first buy a set of those “walkie-
talkie” like cell phones, you know the kind, where you don’t
have to dial, you just push a button and the phones sort of
twerp and you are in instant communication with your buddy. I
will buy a set of those and have one of them delivered to a
certain esteemed ‘hound who is a habitué of the S.F. board,
and when I open one of those wine lists with the $500 dollar
and down wines listed, cry out for help and guidance through
the jungle telegraph.)

Early on, while sipping our wine we were offered a
complementary amuse. The server did not exactly say what
this little taste tickler was, and of course the Mrs. took a look at
it and passed on it. So I, ever game, dug in. Only the digging in
was a little complicated. The amuse was some little, tiny
morsel, that appeared to be a tube shaped pastry with
something stuffed in it. By tiny, I mean about half the size of my
baby finger’s fingernail, but artfully sliced on the bias. There
was something pinkish and tasteless inside, and it came
swimming in kind of a ivory colored sauce of some sort with
little tiny, almost microscopic specs of black. The sauce was
warm to the tongue, kind of tasted well, but neither the taste of
the sauce or the pastry stuffed morsel could be discerned. As I
said the digging in was complicated, complicated by the fact
that no spoon was provided, just a salad fork. So imagine
trying to pick up this little pastry contraption without it’s slipping
between the tines of your fork, and forget about getting any
“gravy” with it. I was able to sort of wipe the tiny dish of all of its
sauce with some focaccia bread, I was reduced to dipping my
bread because the amount of butter that was served with the
bread plate was about enough to coat the back of a large
postage stamp. The bread was good, and the mysterious
sauce made it even better. We later learned that the amuse
was a little salmon “roll”, I guess as in egg roll or pot sticker,
and the sauce was a caviar sauce. Tiniest grained caviar I had
ever seen, about the size of poppy seeds.

The Mrs. thinking salad, ordered an heirloom tomato salad as
her starter, and I, true chow-everyman with blue-collar chow
tastes and experiences, ordered my first ever seared foie gras.
I knew what to expect out of the Mrs. “salad”, I had an idea of
what to expect out of the goose delicacy, so I was not
surprised at all when the Mrs. “salad” arrived, and there was
not any leafy material present, but mostly some funny looking
red and green/white tomatoes on a plate with some balsamic
based “dressing” pooled in the bottom of the plate, some
finger-nail sized (in perimeter dimensions, and thickness)
cucumber slices, some even smaller onion slivers, and some
little thin “sticks” that might have been a rice product, tied
together with (I must correct myself) the only piece of anything
remotely resembling green, leafy, organic matter. The Mrs.
gamely dug in to the tomatoes, but her heart just was not in it,
so I ended up scoring her salad. I quite enjoyed the heirloom
tomatoes, as unlike the “engineered” tomatoes that we find in
our local supermarkets, these actually had some heft, body
and density to them, and tasted like real food. Quite nice. But of
course, careful as I was, in this high end establishment, I
could not avoid staining the table cloth in front of myself, as I
futilely chased minuscule slivers of cucumber and onion
across my plate with my fork, and barley managed to snag any
of them and get them to my mouth. I really hate “pretty-fied”
food.

I was a bit taken aback at the postage stamp sized slice of
seared foie gras. I kid you not, this piece of liver was about and
inch long by about an inch wide, and about 3/8 of an inch thick.
As small and insignificant as it was though, it actually had grill
marks on it, multiple grill marks, in a consistent pattern. No
wonder it cost $16, someone must have been very carefully
searing this thing with tweezers on a miniaturized grill, under a
microscope! It came with some of Blackhawk Grill’s (famous)
fingernail sized slivers of peach (I believe it was peach) and
some sweet tasting juice of some sort. What did it taste like,
like a little piece of cooked liver, very tender, kind of a liver
taste, and the fruit and “sauce” complimented it. Was this a
dish that I would swoon over, nope, was this a dish that I
would go out of my way for, un unh, was this a dish that I ever
need to eat again, no way. I suppose my tastes are just too
plebeian, but in my opinion, foie gras is not worth the trouble,
to the person eating it, to the person preparing it, and most
importantly to the creature supplying it.

For her entrée the Mrs. opted for some roasted pork tenderloin.
Some orzo and asparagus spears accompanied it. The Mrs.
enjoyed the pork, the pasta was kind of tasteless, and the
asparagus spears were OK, just OK. Now I believe the pork
only set us back about $26.00, so no surprise that on that very
large plate, nestled upon the pasta were three, count them,
three “coins” of pork loin, about the diameter of a half dollar,
cut about 1⁄4 of an inch thick. The Mrs. enjoyed it, but come on,
about three ounces of meat?

I ordered the house specialty, a mushroom and horseradish
encrusted prime rib chop. This was a truly monumental piece
of meat. It was cooked medium rare, and charred well on the
outside. It arrived in a veritable swimming hole of juices, and
also had a good seasoning of salt and pepper on the exterior.
This little puppy came on the bone and was just about two
inches thick. This was a carnivore’s dream, one of those sexy
dreams. This is what this place does well. I enjoyed every bite,
every blissful drop of juice. The icing on the cake was not the
sautéed spinach that was buried under this massive hunk of
meat, but the au gratin potatoes next to it on the plate. Tender,
perfectly cooked, perfectly creamy-cheese-y potatoes. Anyone
who has a hankering for meat, for a taste of beef, this is a
place worth visiting.

To end our meal the Mrs. ordered a trio of “short cakes” and
berries and a cup of coffee, I had a cappuccino. While waiting
for her dessert we were served some demitasse-sized cups of
a chocolate concoction, some sort of cold chocolate cocoa.
Not too sweet, not too cold, chocolate tasting, and in my
opinion, just another affectation. The Mrs. ate most of her
“short cakes” but in her considered opinion these were not
short cakes. One seemed to be a miniature scone with poppy
seeds in it, one seemed to be a miniature “cream puff” made
from choux pastry and one seemed to be a miniature half
muffin, half chocolate brownie. Each had a few small berries,
like blue berries, or Blackhawk Grill's signature, finger-nail
sized slivers of strawberries, and a little dollop, maybe a
teaspoon, if that much, of whipped cream. All very precious, but
ultimately, not very satisfying. Total tab for this dining interlude
was $175.00. Oh, and this is the first restaurant I have ever
dined in where a hunk of beef was listed at "Market Price" on
the menu (market price turned out to be $55.)

My recommendation, if you want a nice piece of beef, this is the
place in that neighborhood. If you want to impress someone
who is unsophisticated in terms of fancy dining, this is the
place in that neighborhood, but don’t be surprised if you see
me walk in wearing my shorts, polo shirt and sock less deck
shoes, or the guy with his date at an adjacent table, in his
shorts, athletic shoes, T-shirt and ball cap (on his head for the
entire meal).

Oh, and I think all that nano-technology that I have been
reading about recently, well it appears that the scientists in
Silicon Valley have figured out a practical use for it, at the
Blackhawk Grill.

Sunday morning we got out of town, pleasant memories of
beefy burgers and prime rib fading away, replaced by a health
breakfast at the Denny’s in Santa Nella. (Hey, their breakfasts
aren’t bad, and, heh, heh, heh, they donate 20% of our tab to
the Urban League.)

I have noted, for future reference, the tips for Kinder’s (I have
visions of beefy sandwiches) and the Sunol Café for breakfast
(if I can hoodwink the Mrs. in to trying this non-chain outpost).

Thanks again to the locals for their kind input.
In-N-Out
Locations Throughout California, Nevada;
Arizona
In-N-Out Web Site
Hyatt Regency Islandia
1441 Quivira Road,
San Diego, California, USA 92109
619.224.1234
Hyatt Islandia Web Site
The Fishery
5040 Cass Street
San Diego, CA 92109
858.272.9985
Blue Pearl
1770 W Mission Bay Dr
San Diego, CA 92109
619.222.4198
China Max
4698 Convoy Street
San Diego, CA 92111
858.650.3333
China Max Web Site
Edgewater Grill
861 West Harbor Drive
San Diego, CA 92101
629.232.7581
Edgewater Grill Web Site
Blackhawk Grille
3540 Blackhawk Plaza Circle
Danville, CA 94506
925.736.4295
Blackhawk Grille Web Site