A Cote Restaurant, Rockridge

It’s been a few years since I last frequented A Cote, not because of a bad experience.  There was a time when A Cote was “thee” place to be.  Mojito’s were the hot new drink, you would be lucky to grab a seat at the bar while you waited for a table, and you wouldn’t mind sitting in the communal table.  Tapas or small plates were a fresh new concept when they opened in 2001. And so was the gourmet french fry.  With restaurants coming and going, A Cote has done an excellent job in holding up.

I was celebrating a friend’s birthday and she likes to eat a variety of foods, so we decided to take her to A Cote, a restaurant where we could order a lot of different items.  She had never been.  A Cote serves up Mediterranean cuisine with an emphasis on French, Italian, and Spanish dishes.

A Cote has an excellent full service bar and makes some unique specialty cocktails.  I ordered the Aperol Spritz which was a refreshing bubbly beverage flavored with grapefruit.

The appetizers we ordered were the shrimp bisque, the mussels, and the pommes frites.

The shrimp bisque was delicious!  It was very similar to lobster bisque.  It had tremendous flavor and was very creamy.  The soup was topped with a piece of toast and fresh shrimp.  We let the birthday girl lick the plate clean.  The mussels and fries came out next.  I clearly remembered how good the french fries were.  I didn’t remember how good the mussels were, which is cooked in their wood oven.  The mussels were fresh and cooked to a good consistency.  The sauce was slightly thickened and creamy and together the flavors of the mussels and the sauce were well balanced.  Most mussels are cooked in white wine, but A Cote’s was cooked in Pernod, which is a liquor flavored with anise.  It’s no wonder that this is one of their popular dishes that remain on their menu.

For entrees, we ordered the Pork Tenderloin Milanesa and the Italian Sausage Flatbread.  The pork was thinly sliced and was breaded and fried.  It was crispy, flavorful, and very tasty.  It came with sautéed cabbage, apple, and bacon that was also very good.  I skipped the mustard-caper sauce only because I hate mustard.

The Italian Sausage Flatbread came with asiago, nicoise olives, shaved fennel, and red onion.  The sausage was excellent and the crust was different from most flatbreads.  It reminded me of really good flakey breadsticks.  I enjoyed this pizza except for the nicoise olives.  The olives were chopped up to tiny pieces and distributed around the pizza lightly, but it was still overpowering where I would get a sour bite every now and then.  My friend thought the olives helped to balance the pizza, but I could have lived without it. 

We ordered two desserts – Warm Rhubarb-Brown Butter Croustade and the Strawberry “Panzanella”.  The croustade had a fairly thick buttery pie crust with what I thought was fruit inside of it.  As I write this blog, I wonder if it was not fruit but rhubarb inside the crust.  On the other hand, I thought rhubarb is red.  Hmmmm…. What I do know is that it was topped with ice cream and crunchy little bits of goodness.

I am saving the best for last, because the Strawberry Panzanella was to die for.  The plate came out looking like a beautiful salad.  It had sweetened strawberries, candied brioche that looked that croutons, and it was topped with a creamy and delicious olive oil custard.  This is actually new on the dessert menu and deserving enough for the restaurant to tweet about.  We let the birthday girl lick this plate too!

I’ve missed A Cote these years, but I’m glad that I have come back.  It’s a much calmer experience than in the early days.

P.S.  We had awesome service.  Our waitress was very knowledgeable about the foods and drinks, she came to the table to check on us just enough, she gave us new plates when ours got messy, and she would even fold your napkin if you left the table.

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San Francisco International Chocolate Salon

Today I attended the 4th Annual International Chocolate Salon at Fort Mason in San Francisco.  There were approximately 70 vendors showcasing their artisan chocolates.  The admission fee was $25/advance and $30/door.  I paid a discounted $17.95 for an early bird special because I bought them almost 2 months ago.  The vendors provided samples while selling their products. 

The event opened at 10am and unless they were putting chocolate in a croissant and serving it up, that was way too early for me.  I arrived with two friends after 2pm.  The first stop was a vendor selling chocolate lavender ice cream from Maui.  Who would’ve known Maui had lavender farms?  It was $1 per scoop (original price was $4).  My friends and I each got a scoop.  The lavender was so overpowering that it was inedible.  We all threw it out.  Looking inside the garbage can, we were not the only ones.  What a bad start!

We jumped from table to table sampling bite sized pieces of a variety of chocolates.  There was dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate.  There were beautiful chocolates.  There was chocolate with caramel sea salt, there was chocolate with flavored teas, and  chocolate with bacon just to name a few of the more interesting selections.  Prior to this event, I’ve tasted a chocolate bar with bacon pieces before and really liked it.  I heart the sweet and salt flavors.  A chocolateer Christopher Michael had a booth featuring the “sizzling bacon bar” which won “best flavored bar” and “new product award.”  I had my $7 ready to buy a bar, but he sold out.  I’m sure I would’ve liked it, but I guess I can spend that $7 on a pound of bacon instead. 

All in all, this event to me was quite disappointing.  Maybe I wasn’t the right audience.  I like chocolate, but I don’t love it.  I like to eat chocolate truffles now and then, but not a lot of it.  If I have a box of chocolate in front of me, I take one piece and I’ve had enough.  But put a chocolate pot de creme in front of me or a molten chocolate cake, I can probably eat the whole thing with a glass of milk or a cup of coffee.  Another thing they were missing at this event… something that actually helps you get that chocolate down.  Yes, I saw a few vendors serving sample drinks of port and liqueur, but it was not a good mix.  If you are a chocolate lover, and I mean like to eat chocolate truffles at any time (even at 10am) and a whole lot of it, maybe you should visit the San Francisco International Chocolate Salon.  But if you had $25-$30, you can probably get enough high end truffles to last you a few days. 

I will leave this on a positive note.  There was a non-profit company that had a table called the Bread Project.  I’m not sure if any of the admission fees were donated to them, I hope so, but I think they were able to at least get a booth for free.  The mission is to promote self-sufficiency in the Bay Area by providing job training and support to help those with low income to gain entry into the food industry.  I bought some cookies from them.  I can’t eat anymore chocolate today, but I’ll let you know how it is when I finally eat them.

St. Paddy’s Day

In my last post, I mentioned that I typically only eat grass fed beef or sustainable beef.  This has ruined St. Patrick’s Day for me for the past several years.  After reading Omnivore’s Dilemna, I felt the need to give up something…hence I only eat grass fed or sustainable beef.

Well, it was last year that I heard about this women owned meat market called Avedano’s in San Francisco that cures it’s own beef for St. Paddy’s day and the beef comes from Strawberry Mountain where the cows are raised on grass pastures.  I heard about it too late and they had sold out.  Curing takes days so it wasn’t as if they could just make more.  So, this year I called the shop and was told they had grass fed corned beef and “plenty of it.”  I drove out to the shop in Bernal Heights on Monday after work.  To my surprise, I was told they had corned beef, but it was not grass fed.  It’s from a local San Francisco company that has been making corned beef since 1910.  They had stopped corning their own beef.  I was pretty upset having trekked all the way over there from Oakland.  They suggested Prather Ranch which we didn’t know whether it was still open or corning my own…they had the grass fed beef brisket from Five Dot Ranch.  Hmmm…what to do…what to do?  They ended up selling me brine and giving me the herbs for pickling.  I had almost 48 hours for the corning process which was barely enough time.

When I got home, I immediately dumped my meat, the brine, the herbs into a gallon size ziploc bag and then added water.  I placed it in the fridge and every now and then I would turn and mix it around. 

(Almost) 48 hours later…

Today was the big day.  I would remove the beef from the bag , rinse it out, place it into my dutch oven, fill it with water with an onion, a carrot, and celery, and then heat it up on the stove.  After about an hour simmering, I peeled a bit of the meat to taste and was not very happy.  It was salty with strong herbs that didn’t resemble my fond memories of what corned beef tastes like.  I had already been nervous about this experiment and during the process found a recipe for Guiness corned beef.  Guess what I had bought earlier today that I was going to drink with my dinner?  Yes, Guiness beer!  The recipe asked to be cooked in brown sugar and Guiness.  Thinking that my beef needed to be sweetened anyway, I thought this was a good solution.  I threw everything out of the original pot except the beef, coated brown sugar around it, then poured 3 bottles of Guiness to cover it and then stuck it in the oven.  Every now and then I would turn it around.

I decided I didn’t want to have everything taste like dark ale, so I was going to cook my potatoes, carrots, and cabbage in chicken broth.  I cleaned and chopped up all the veggies I bought and cooked it in the chicken broth in a separate pot on the stovetop during the last 20-25 minutes.  I saved a few wedges of cabbage and put that in the dutch oven with the beef and Guiness for 10 minutes just to test that out. 

Well, here are the final photos. 

My sister enjoyed it and so did I.  The Guiness corned beef was perfectly tender.  It tasted like  stew meat with a slight bitter taste of ale.  I think if you like dark beer, you would love this dish.  I’m not a huge fan of dark beer, but I still thought it was interesting.  And I think it came out better than what I started with.  I have concluded that I like the traditional method of corned beef better and I should leave it to the experts to do.  Having said that, next year I will buy Prather Ranch Corned Beef.  I discovered this is the first year that they were making and selling it.  I sure hope they continue to carry it.

Anaheim, CA

I went on a business trip this past week.  I spent four days at the Disneyland Resort.  Would I need to leave Disneyland to find good food?  My guess was yes. 

I am not a yelper, but I do read their reviews and especially rely on it when I travel to unfamiliar places.  I also have the iphone app.  I found an interesting restaurant via yelp that I was looking forward to trying.  It was a Bolivian restaurant called Beba’s and Gilmore’s.  I have never eaten Bolivian food before and the restaurant received an average 4.5 star rating from yelpers, so of course I had to go.  

 

I had an early dinner on Friday around 5pm.   The yelpers were talking up the empanadas and the saltenas.  I have eaten empanadas before and love them.  Empanadas originate in Latin American and are savory pastries stuffed with a yummy filling.  I remember an Argentina restaurant in Los Angeles that I used to go for them called Empanadas Place.  They were delicious fried goodies.  The corn empanada was my favorite.  I remember biting into them and they would ooze a creamy cheesey corn filling. 

 

I had no idea what a saltena was.  Wikipedia defines salteñas as savory pastries filled with beef, pork or chicken mixed in a sweet, slightly spicy or very spicy sauce, and sometimes also containing peas, potatoes and other ingredients.  I am still unclear what the difference is between the empanada and the saltena.  Unfortunately, the empanada at Beba’s is only served on Saturdays and Sundays, so I was unable to try it.  I did try the saltena which for their version had beef, chicken, eggs, raisin, vegetables, and olives.  For those that know me, I typically would not order this because it has beef in it and I only eat grass fed beef.  I decided that I would forego my discrimination this time.  The saltena came out temperature hot.  The pastry shell was baked to a perfect brown color.  It had interesting flavors because of the many ingredients so it was salty, sweet, and medium spicy.  I did enjoy it like other yelpers. 

 

For my main dish, I ordered the “sajta” or picante de pollo.  This was a chicken with yellow sauce and included two types of potatoes and rice.  The chicken was a bit dry.  It had a nice medium spice to it and was good but not special.  One of the sides that came with it was a purple potato that I was not fond of.  It tasted uncooked and starchy.  But the other half potato that my dish came with was soft and buttery.  The rice was also fluffy and delicious.  I don’t know what they put in the rice.  My rice never comes out tasting this good.  Beba, what is your secret?

If I were a yelper, I would give Beba’s and Gilmore’s a 3 star rating.  Although this is an average rating, I would still recommend this restaurant.  I had told my coworker about this place so she also went this weekend with some of her friends.  They were fortunate to try a lot more dishes.  One of her friends spoke Spanish so I believe that probably helped with their entire experience.  They enjoyed Beba’s and even were clued in that Bolivian Independence Day is August 6 and Beba’s will be bringing out their best foods to celebrate.  If you live in Southern California, you should try to make it.  And if you do, please report back!

So I started this blog asking if I had to leave Disneyland Resort to find good food.  Believe it or not my most memorable meal was a breakfast I had at the Catal Restaurant in Downtown Disney.  I ordered the chilaquiles with two fried eggs.  The only other time I’ve had chilaquiles is at Tamarindo in Oakland, which in my opinion is the best Mexican restaurant period.  I definitely was intrigued about this dish when I looked at the menu.  I was very happy I ordered this.  The fried tortilla chips are covered with a spicy ranchero sauce, cheese, green onions, cilantro, sour cream, and topped with two perfectly fried organic eggs.  It was amazingly good.  Every last tortilla chip although covered with sauce and flavor remained crispy to the last bite.  This dish alone is worth 5 stars!  I was wrong, you don’t need to leave Disneyland Resort to enjoy good food, but you might need to leave if you are staying for more than a few days!

 

Next week:  The 4th Annual San Francisco International Chocolate Salon

Crab Feed

What is a crab feed?  A crab feed is an event, usually a fundraiser where you get to share the experience of cracking open and eating crab with other crab lovers.  I assume the best crab feeds are in the west coast as this is where Dungeness crab comes from.  My BFF suggested we go to one of the last crab feeds of the season.  The Milpitas Chamber of Commerce was having its 17th Annual Crab Feed and it was being served by the Spring Valley Firefighters.  How can I say no to Dungeness Crab and firefighters? 

When we arrived, there were hundreds of people that were already seated family style.  The majority of people looked like they had been to a crab feed or two.  They wore bibs, brought their own utensils, sauces, lemon, etc.  I think I could have passed for having been to one before, as I brought a few crab utensils, cloth napkins, and wet naps! 

Before the main course arrived, we were served Caesar salad, garlic bread, and pasta.  The food was not too bad; luckily I was not expecting great Italian food.  I did have a fun time eating family style with strangers.  It was helpful to sit next to nice people. 

Buckets of Dungeness crab finally arrived.  Each person was grabbing about four or five crab legs before they passed the bucket.  I had started getting concerned it would be empty before it came to me.  I was worrying for no reason as it was a deep bucket and there was plenty of it.  The buckets were also refilled several times by the firefighters.  I was very appreciative that my neighbor gave me some of her cocktail sauce and lemon.  The crab was fresh and meaty.  I definitely got tired of cracking them open before I got tired of eating them.  It was entertaining to watch everyone use there hands and get messy.   It was a great experience and I ask myself why I haven’t gone to one of these crab feeds before.  Next year I will be more prepared and bring with me a variety of sauces:  cocktail, butter, and a spicy soy sauce that my mom makes! 

Before I end this post, I wanted to share that it was my amateur blogging that got me into this crab feed.  By the time my BFF and I decided to go, the event was sold out.  I emailed the “host” and asked if there were any tickets they could sell me, and that I recently started a food blog and would love to write about the event.  I thank the Milpitas Chamber of Commerce for allowing me and my BFF  to enjoy this experience.