Archive for the Food Category

Deep In The Heart of Texas…

Posted in Food, Hotels, Travel with tags , , on March 17, 2009 by travelwizard

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It’s Texas time. Yep, SXSW is here again, the annual, Austin based music festival that spans a week in the middle of March each year. In preparation for 6 solid days of beer at breakfast, BBQ and bands, I have been steadily increasing my beef  and beer intake..it’s kinda like training for the marathon, except instead of improving my BMI, I will be expanding my stomach so that I arrive in Texas prepped and ready to..er..eat. Here’s a rundown of my favorite spots to take a break from music madness – and it is truly madness. If you’ve never been, it’s like nothing you have ever done and it requires great stamina, a good pair of sneakers and a full stomach.

Here’s my quick guide to navigating Austin and surviving SXSW:

Where to Stay: The Driskill Hotel

The Driskill is one of the oldest establishments in Austin. Started in 1886 by a distinguished cattle baron, The Driskill is one of my favorite hotels in Austin. It’s design is distinctly southern, right down to the hospitality and taxidermy animals. Each room is stately and luxurious and it’s location right on 6th street makes it a perfect hotel to navigate the festival. 

Eat right:

Texas cuisine offers up two distinctly delicious choices – Tex Mex and BBQ. You can’t go wrong with either but lucky for you, there is plenty of time for both. For breakfast, I always make a point to head to Polvo’s, an Austin institution for Mexican food. GOD, Tex-mex is amazing. I especially crave the breakfast taco’s here. I don’t even want to know what kind of calories exist within this food because I don’t want to kill my buzz. I shall refrain from investigating. 

For lunch, there is BBQ. Delicious, delicious BBQ. The brisket, those ribs, THAT SAUCE. It’s criminal how good it can be. It’s really the only time I feel justified eating numerous animals at the same time. There are a few place in and around Austin I tend to hit up. The first being Rudy’s…a fantastic spot right outside of town that seriously has the best brisket and baby backs west of the Texas border. Okay..maybe it is not that good but it’s pretty special. This year I might venture to Green Mesquite or Salt Lick if I procure a car but sometimes that can be tricky when navigating set times for over 1500 bands. Green Mesquite was recently featured on one of my favorite late night food network shows – Diners, Drive In’s and Dives. I swear Guy Fieri has the best job but I really want home to lose the bleached hair – but that’ s a side issue.

What to See…

Oh..so many great bands to see…The Temper Trap, Fool’s Gold, Lissy Trullie, Little Boots, Pains at Being Pure At Heart, Glasser, Rye Rye and so on and so on. 

 

Did I mention I went to the Rodeo pre-sxsw? A staple of Texas culture. 

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San Francisco – City On The Bay

Posted in Food, Hotels, Travel with tags , , , on February 17, 2009 by travelwizard

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After what has seemed like ages at the homestead (well, three weeks to be exact), I am getting ready to head off on an excursion to one of my favorite destinations: San Francisco. While most of my journey will be based around work, like many a resourceful traveler, I will parlay the work trip into a personal one, and spend the weekend in my number one destination in California – The Napa Valley.

The tanking economy is in my favor and I was able to get an astonishingly low rate at The Clift, the stylish but ridiculously space-challenged hotel in the heart of Union Square. However, at 139 a night, I am willing to make concessions and sadly, my beloved Palomar proved to be too expensive this time. I am not sure what is going on with Ian Schrager but 139 seems scarily low for a hotel that normally runs in the 200 to 300 dollar range. I am hoping not to find rats between my sheets. I’ll keep you posted. 

Of all the things I love about San Francisco, the city features one quality which soars above the rest – the availablity of great, cheap food. While the city has it’s share of fine dining as well, I find myself stopping off at my favorite haunts which are inevitably low-priced and delicious. Here are four of my particular favorites:

1. Pauline’s Pizza 

Pauline’s is the best pizza I have ever had. I know that is a bold statement and I am sure there are some New Yorker’s out there who would challenge me even as I write this but I stand firm. I don’t know if it is the cornmeal which coats the crust, or the inventive combination of ingredients which makes me so crazed but Pauline’s is a must stop for anyone who is a pizza connoisseur. Set in the ever – gentrifying Mission district, this pizzeria is comfortable, welcoming and extraordinary.

2. Luccas  Ravioli Company

Luccas is a great place to stop in and grab an Italian Sub. With an enormous selection of fresh meats and cheeses, Luccas is always among my litany of food stops upon hitting San Francisco. It’s always mobbed but it is well worth the wait. Their sandwiches are made to order and come served on freshly baked rolls. Since Luccas is mainly an Italian Grocer, be ready to cop-a-squat on the street if you are looking to dine-in. I would recommend take out if at all possible.

3. Pancho Villa Taqueria 

As a person who has spent the majority of their life in Los Angeles, I would think that at some point, I would find a burrito as pure and delicious as the ones at Pancho Villa Taqueria. Well, that point has not come sadly so it is with great anticipation that I make my yearly pilgrimage to San Francisco, to indulge in the best burrito north of the border. Simplicity is what defines Pancho Villa. Beans, Rice, Cheese, Meat and Salsa are the main ingredients but in my humble opinion, I feel nothing else is necessary.  For somewhere around 6 to 8 bucks, you will get an enormous fresh burrito – so enormous that basically you could eat it for lunch and dinner. I am already salivating just thinking about it.

4. Swans Oyster Depot

Yes, the line is enormous. Yes, it is cash only. Yes, they do not take reservations. Despite all this, Swans is worth carving out a portion of your day for. For lovers of Oysters and Clam Chowder, this hole in the wall – counter only San Francisco institution serves up classic seafood fare at really affordable prices. I am an oyster fanatic so I never miss a chance to indulge in many of Swans selection. Here’s hoping I have a chance to do so this time!

After spending four nights at The Clift, hopping from club to club and eating my way through most of the city,  I will be ready for a little relaxation. I decided to try a new place in Napa called The White House. Set in a stunning Victorian mansion near Downtown Napa,  The White House has been open less that a year but they reviews are so gushing that my interest is sufficiently peaked. As an added bonus, I was able to take advantage of a special that is running until the end of February that allows new guests to stay the weekend and get two nights for the price of one. I am tickled pink! I am looking forward to lazing in my two person soaking tub or perhaps engaging in a film on my LCD Flat Screen. I will write a full review upon my return but for now, see below for some pre-stay snaps:

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8 Questions for Steak Club 7

Posted in Food, restaurants with tags , , on December 5, 2008 by travelwizard
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Today at Better Living Through Travel I am trying something new. I am abandoning my pursuit of the best hotels and replacing it with my pursuit of something equally satisfying, savory and delicious; the search for the perfect steak! As a Texan, I found that loving and appreciating steak is already hardwired into my DNA. In maternity wards all across the great state of Texas, baby formula is replaced by au jus, ensuring that the minute you exit the birth canal you get your first taste! Okay -I exaggerate – but the love of steak is not lost on a Texan.  

While I knew there were others like me in this wide world, as of late I discovered an underground group of seven brave men, who have turned eating steak into an art form. They are best know as Steak Club 7, and  it is here you will find post after post describing everything steak related. Although based in and around NYC, they have written about steak from places from far beyond! !I have had the pleasure of personally dining with many of them and their palate for meat could not be more impeccable.

I once saw the founder of Steak Club 7, Reverend Dave Ciancio, do a a shot of beef fat. If that is not hardcore, I don’t really know what is. These guys eat, breath and live steak and I was lucky enough have them answer a few questions on their favorite food subject for Better Living Through Travel. Check it out below for your reading pleasure and ‘beef” up on your steak knowledge: 

1.What inspired you to blog about Steak? 

REV: Fame, notoriety, free steak and the whole “leave Britney alone” thing was already taken. Moreover, we wanted to share the gospel of great steak. 

MEATGOD (MG): Rev’s hard work was a huge factor in taking this from just a bunch of guys hanging and eating steak to a full on group. I think we all take pride in that and believe we’re overly qualified to judge a good steak. 

CMOORE (CM): We want to share our love of steak with the world. 
THE BIG P.A. (BPA): I joined something that was already up and running so I was lucky in that respect. Going forward though, I think the thing that makes the steakclub7.com site worth visiting is that we’re all fans of steak. This isn’t our job; we all pay our hard-earned for an evening out sharing the delights of steak. The opinions you get from us are real and I think people respond to that. I’d rather get a suggestion from a regular dude like me who happens to like the same food over some stuck up foodie critic. 
JOEC: It’s very simple to blog about things you enjoy so intensely. Also, I do not hold much respect for Zagat or other more established review engines like it because frankly, the folks hired to write for them are usually nothing like me or my friends. I wanted to help build a resource for the common man without pretension. This is that site! Honest and frank with no chance of influence from the community. 

2. What are the qualities you use to judge an outrageously good steak experience? 

REV: Personalized service, great vibe, tasty sides and appetizers, a respectable wine list that represents more than 1 continent and of course a delicious and well prepared HUNK-O-BEEF all for an appropriate price. Clean bathrooms with thick walls help too! (Editor’s Note – Um, Gross?)

MG: Great service, good vibe in the restaurant, delicious steak and of course if they have Amstel light and hot fudge sundaes. 
CM: An outrageously good steak experience is near impossible. Someday, I dream of having one. 

BPA: First off, it has to be the meat. Secondly it has to be that it is cooked as requested. That might seem obvious but you’d be surprised how many places get those basics wrong. Assuming both those are in place then I’m fussy about my sides. I’m very basic, hashed brown potatoes and creamed spinach but you’d also be surprised how many places get those wrong. I don’t want spinach drowning in liquidy cream, nor do I want a soft outer shell on my hashed browns. Fussy? Damn right. And I’m paying $100+So I have a right to be. I also expect the service to be attentive yet subtle. Give me career waiting staff. Classy. 

JOEC: Simply put: Food and Service. These are relatively expansive meals, so every little blemish is magnified. I’m not obsessed with ambiance, parking, bar scene…it’s all about the food and service. But those two have to be great. 

3. Porterhouse, Rib Eye or Filet and why? 

REV: I was told choosing is a sin so I thank god for the Porterhouse for 2! No one should ever have to choose with the exception of whom to share with…the Meat God or the Big P.A.? 

MG: I am a Porterhouse for 2 kind of guy. Usually a big cut of meat. 
CM: Rib Eye – bring on the fat! 

BPA: Providing I can get one of the boys to go along with me I like the Porterhouse. There’s a tremendous feeling of satisfaction as the waiter brings out the huge plate with those two cuts separated by the bone. Then sitting there as the waiter puts two or three slices from the fillet and the strip side on your plate. Hugely satisfying. 

JOEC: The NY Strip has always been the ultimate. Nothing can top it when cooked to perfection. A great cut has just enough marbling, a crispy exterior, and unobstructed juicy pink in the middle. Keep the bone on the rest of the cow…this is pure steak perfection. 

4. If somehow tomorrow you were banished to an island stocked only with steak, from what restaurant would you want that steak and why? 

REV: I love the consistency of the Old Homestead in NYC.  But I would give Delmonico’s in NYC  a close 2nd. If my plane to said island left from New Orleans, it’s all about Dickie Brennan’s
MG: I’d say Old Homestead b/c it’s consistently good and never lets me down. 

CM: Craft Steak because they know how to make a steak lover happy. 

BPA: I’d go with Bobby Van’s. The steak always comes as I ask for it and the sides are superb. 

JOEC: Probably one of those 5lb-ers you see on Food Network TV from Texas or something. If I’m on a desert island…I want the biggest piece possible to keep me going! Quality wouldn’t matter so much to me in that situation. 

5. How often do you feel you really NEED a steak? 

REV: Need? Every day. Want? Every meal. But a steak is special and needs to be treated as such. You can’t over due it. It’s the same reason I never became a strip club DJ. Who wants to grow tired of naked women?

MG: Every morning when I wake up. 

CM: Once a month. 

BPA: I get the urge to go out and spend the money about twice a month. Once, obviously, with the boys from Steak Club 7 and one solo mission. Also, if I’m traveling on business and I’m in a town that has a stand-out steak house then I have to try it. 

JOEC: High-end joint? Once or twice a month max. Beef? 3-4 times a week. I love cheesesteaks. 

6. Best steak under twenty dollars and best steak when money is no object? 

REV: Only in Argentina (http://www.parrillalacabrera.com.ar/) can you find an amazing steak for US $20 or less, otherwise, I concur with the meat god. If money is no object, give me one of everything at BLT STEAK. 

MG: Have we had a steak under $20??? I’d go with Carl’s Steaks.  When money is no object, I’d still stick with Old Homestead
CM: Best Steak under twenty: I cook it myself. Best steak when money doesn’t matter: Harry’s. 

BPA: Les Halles does a fairly good one. To be honest though, I’d rather keep my love of steak eating at the high end. No point in diluting the quality. If I’m going to eat it, I want the best. Money no object? Most of the high end joints are pretty similar price-wise. Recent wins have been Bobby Van’s Wall Street and Harry’s Steak, although I’ll take Bobby Van’s over the two as their sides are better. Haven’t tried Kobe Club yet, that’s a LOT of money; maybe I’ll change my tune once I’ve eaten there. 

JOEC: T-bone from the grocery store when self seasoned and grilled in the back yard. I’ve had so many good ones lately I don’t think I can really say anymore on the high end. 

7. Where do you buy your steaks when you make them at home? 

REV: I leave cooking steaks to the professionals, just like you should leave eating steaks in an effort to tell you who has the best ones, to the professionals — like STEAK CLUB7! 

MG: I don’t. 
CM: Niman Ranch – www.nimanranch.com 

BPA: I don’t make them at home. The reality is, a good cut of meat, especially if you’re only buying for two is actually really expensive. Furthermore, my home oven doesn’t go nearly as hot as I’d need for me preferred serving style. I’m spoiled living in New York. I can walk to at least three good steak joints. 

JOEC: Whole Foods mainly. When the selection is there, they are always the best I can find. 

8. Are you currently on your doctor’s shit list for how much steak you consume? 

REV: Are you familiar with Doctor Vinny BoomBats? He is the official Doc of SC7. 

MG: During my last physical, the doctor suggested I cut down on red meat, but I’ve since stopped seeing him. 
CM: I just had a physical and apparently, I need to change a few habits. 

BPA: Actually, no. My doctor told me I had the blood of a ‘marathon runner’.I’ll take that. Everything in balance. Ha. 

JOEC: Not yet. Well at least not as of the last time I saw him in 1989.

 

Thanks for answering my questions men! Here’s to making it past 35!

Cakes and Cookies and Pies…Oh My!

Posted in Food with tags , , , on November 24, 2008 by travelwizard

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I promise this will be there last of my Thanksgiving posts but I thought it would be remiss to talk about where to eat your mains without where to get your dessert! I am an avid cook, but a terrible baker. This year, I plan on skipping any and all attempts to make a pie, a cake, a cookie or any other dessert-related item. I suck, they are always terrible. I liken them to pumpkin flavored cardboard. There is hope for people like me. There are cake shops all over the City of Angels which are currently scrambling to put together special delicious treats specifically for Thanksgiving. Here are four places that can be your saving grace come dessert time.

Vanilla Bake Shop- West Los Angeles

Offering Pumpkin Pie Mousse, Pecan Pumpkin Cake and Pumpkin Cheesecake as a special treat for the Holiday.

Sweet Lady Jane – Mid City

The mother of all cake shops in Los Angeles is offering up tasty Thanksgiving delicious-ness. Forget the canned pumpkin and give them a call and make your life easier.

Lark Cake Shop -Silverlake

Calling all East- Sider’s…head to Lark for great seasonal items that won’t break your bank. I get all my b-day cakes from here and they have never disappointed.

Sprinkles Cupcakes- Mid City

LA’s answer to Magnolia Bakery, this fantastic cupcake shop is offering up ginger-maple, pumpkin and orange-cranberry cupcakes just for the Holiday. Grab a box and head to dinner, you are guaranteed to be the most welcomed guest in the whole place!

Gobble, Gobble, Gobble *This post is for Americans only

Posted in Food, restaurants with tags , on November 20, 2008 by travelwizard

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While I’ll be partaking in a more traditional Thanksgiving dinner this year (i.e homemade with all the fixings), for those who wish to skip the countless hours of preparation and dirty dishes, the website Open Table has put together a list of restaurants in the Los Angeles area offering turkey dinner. Check it out here and see if anything strikes your fancy!

Adventures in Eating at Allen & Delancey

Posted in Food, restaurants with tags , on November 2, 2008 by travelwizard

This past trip to NYC, I spent a lot of time on the Lower East Side. Since I was there to attend the music festival CMJ, it made sense that I would focus my trip in that area as all the clubs have been relegated there. The Lower East Side is constantly evolving and in the few short months since my last visit, a whole new crop of restaurants have popped up. One of the standouts is a new eatery called Allen & Delancey. Not surprisingly, it is located on the corner of ..er..Allen and Delancey. Although the name is straight forward, the cuisine is anything but. I haven’t seen this creative of a menu in a really long time. Before I get to that though, I need to spend a minute on the restaurant decor.

Allen & Delancey is exactly the type of restaurant I look for when I go to NYC. It is a perfect ante dote to the busy, bustling and noisy city. The restaurant, which is tucked at the end of Allen street, is really non-descript from the outside. If you blink, you just might miss it. There is no sign to speak of.. just the soft glow of dim lights peeking out behind thick curtains. Step behind those curtains and you enter into a cozy den lit mainly by burning candles. The effect is wonderful- a perfect refuge to escape the madness of the city. We showed up rather late for dinner so we were able to get our pick of tables. We settled on a quiet corner table, settled in and began our eating adventure. 

I was feeling open-minded that night and I feel like that might be the best way to approach Allen & Delancey. The menu is really interesting and in almost every dish, there was one ingredient I have never heard of. There is actually an appetizer which contains leaves. ( I did not order it, I was not feeling like foliage). What I did decide on for a starters was caramelized bone marrow, caviar and shallot puree. It is considered one of their “signature” dishes and I can see why.  It is truly delicious. Each flavor was delicate and subtle and they blended together seamlessly. Neil Ferguson, who  spent a good deal of time under the tutelage of Gordan Ramsey, has really done an amazing job conjuring up a brilliant menu.

For my mains, I moved on to lamb chops with braised middleneck, olives and tomato confit. The lamb was made to perfection and the braised middle neck provided a nice compliment to the lamb. I completed my meal with a delicious Syrah recommended by the fabulous wait staff. I was totally taken by Allen & Delancey. It’s a really, really well done restaurant tat combines great food with incredibly warm decor. It’s a tad on the pricey side but it is worth it..particularly if you are looking for a romantic place to take your significant other. This place is tops. Dinner for two w/ a glass of wine $160.00.

Allen & Delancey – 115 Allen Street. NY, NY 10002

 

Uggh! Update! It turns out that Neil Ferguson has resigned from his post as head chef of Allen& Delancey as of October 28th, 2008. He is moving to the Soho House. Hopefully the restaurant will remain faithful to his delicious recipes. See here for full details on his move.

Spain, On The Road Again

Posted in Food with tags , , on September 20, 2008 by travelwizard

Call me crazy but is anyone else as excited as I am for the new Mario Batali show (featuring Gwyneth Paltrow) Spain, On The Road Again? Basically, it seems like pure heaven for a travel and food junkie like myself. It’s a killer idea and the show kicks off this week on PBS. Gwyneth normally kinda bugs me but I am hoping that won’t be an issue here. Check out a small preview of what is to come: