I eat: Redd

I’m always a little nervous when I return to a restaurant that I loved the first time. What if the quality has deteriorated? What if I was just really hungry? Did I just happen to order the best things on the menu? What if my second time is an off day? So many questions run through my mind.

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Crispy Duck Confit with Lentils and Foie Gras Meatballs
Glazed Pork Belly, Apple Purée, Burdock, Soy Caramel
Steamed Pork buns, Hoisin, Vegetable Slaw
Braised Shortrib, Bacon, Cipollini onions, Fingerling potatoes, Red Wine Jus
Caramelized Diver Scallops, Cauliflower Purée, Almonds, Balsamic Reduction

Henry and I first dined at Redd for lunch in October, 2009. We loved it and couldn’t stop raving to our friends and family about our wonderful experience. Fast forward about two years and we returned for dinner with a couple of friends, fully expecting Redd to knock their socks off. But… that didn’t exactly happen. Perhaps my expectations were too high or my tastes have matured/palate refined or even a combination of both – overall, I was disappointed with our meal.

We started off with oysters and appetizers to share.

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Glazed Pork Belly, Apple Purée, Burdock, Soy Caramel $14
Carnaroli Risotto, Maine Lobster, Meyer Lemon Confit, Truffle Oil $15

The pork belly was one of my favorite dishes the first time around and for that reason, I ordered it again. And thankfully, it was as good as I remembered! The risotto was delicious as well, making it difficult for me to have to share it with 3 other people.

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Sauteed Skate, Onion Fondue, Summer Beans, Hazelnut Brown Butter $28
Petrale Sole, Coconut Jasmine Rice, Clams, Chorizo, Saffron Curry Nage $28
Prime New York Steak and Shortribs, Salt Potatoes, Bacon and Mushroom Ragout $32
Liberty Farms Duck Breast, Shelling Bean Cassoulet, Bread Crumbs, Thyme Jus $29

The best entree of the table was the skate with brown butter… WHO DOESN’T LOVE BUTTER? TELL ME! TELL ME!

Everything else, however, just fell flat. The saffron curry nage left a bitter after-taste and the short ribs were tough and stringy. I was most disappointed with the duck; it was overcooked, the skin was not crispy and the amount of bread crumbs over the cassoulet was just ridiculous.

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Butterscotch Pudding, Vanilla Anglaise, Pinenut Rosemary Cookies $10
Chocolate, Peanut Butter Beignets, Bitter Caramel Ice Cream, Bananas $10

After being let down by the entrees, I wanted to pass up dessert. But since we were (unofficially) celebrating Henry’s birthday, we ordered two to share. I liked the butterscotch pudding more than the beignets because it was lighter and not as sweet.

Oh, btw, it didn’t help any that a lady sitting 10 feet away from us was throwing up UNDER THE TABLE. It was her bachelorette party.

Verdict: 3/5
Redd
6480 Washington St
Yountville, CA 94599

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I eat: Daisy Mint

Living in the SGV, I’m spoiled by the abundance of Asian restaurants that offer cheap, good eats. Since I’ve pretty much narrowed down my favorites, it’s hard to not be biased when I try new places. I usually end up thinking, I could have gotten the same thing for cheaper at ______, or this dish tastes just as good at ______ and I don’t have to drive as far.

Last weekend, Henry and I decided to give Daisy Mint a try because of all the good reviews we read on Yelp. It is located in Pasadena, which to me, usually indicates overpriced (Asian) food. I had to remind myself to keep an open mind. The inside of the restaurant is pretty small, seating only about 25 people, but there is also a really cute patio area that seats an additional 15 or so. We were fortunate to sit outside 🙂

After we sat down, it took less than a minute for me to decide what I wanted to order. I saw the Duck Roll appetizer and the Spaghetti & Black Mussel entree on the menu and it was a done deal.

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I was a little disappointed with the portion of the Duck Roll. It was basically one small roll, cut into 4 pieces. Although it tasted good, I wish there was more duck.

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You know those sizzling udon plates at Chinese cafes? Well, this spaghetti tasted just like it. I guess I expected that since the description read “spaghetti stir fried with bell pepper and basil in xo sauce”. I thought the dish was on the salty side and I also didn’t like finding bits of broken shell.

Henry ordered the Green Jungle Curry, which is probably the only thing I would order again if I went back to Daisy Mint.

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Verdict: 3/5
Daisy Mint
1218 E Colorado Blvd
Pasadena, CA 91106

I eat: Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca

The most anticipated restaurant of the NYC leg of Foodcation 2010 was Mario Batali’s Babbo. Since reservations are accepted one month prior to the calendar date requested, I made sure I called on July 21st at 7AM, ON THE DOT (the restaurant reservation line opens at 10AM)!

1-212-777-0303 … BUSY.

Instantly, my heart sank. For the next 20 minutes, I was in agony. If Saturday night didn’t work, I only had 2 more nights in NYC to eat at Babbo! SHIT SHIT SHIT!

I redialed and redialed, and redialed and redialed. I was so used to the dial and hang up routine that I almost didn’t notice when I finally got through. A lady with a British accent picked up and asked me to hold some more. I waited and waited, and waited and waited. Finally, the lady picked up again and I told her the date and time that I wanted. “No problem,” she said. Really? That’s it? I almost had a heart attack for nothing. Awesome.

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Babbo is located in Greenwich Village, a couple of blocks away from another beloved restaurant of mine, Harold Dieterle’s Perilla. Lodged between two brownstones, Babbo would be easy to miss if it weren’t for the large contrasting letters that adorn the front of the building and the small crowd that usually forms outside, waiting for a table. Luckily for us, we were seated promptly upon arrival.

Having already studied the menu beforehand, I had a pretty good idea of what we were going to order. I decided to forgo the tasting menus and order a la carte. But since my list was pretty long (I was interested in 2 antipasti, 6 primi pastas and 3 secondi), I asked our waiter for his advice. “Is this too much food?” seems to be a question I ask at every restaurant :). He suggested that we order one or two antipasti, cut our primi pastas down to three and the secondi down to one or two. Even though it was difficult to eliminate dishes, it was good advice. The portions at Babbo were pretty generous so had we ordered what I originally intended, they would have had to roll us out of the restaurant.

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The antipasti dishes were great. The “Grilled Octopus” was perfectly tender and the limoncello vinaigrette lightened up the intense charred flavor. Comparing Babbo’s grilled octopus to the grilled octopus at Bottega Ristorante (Napa, CA), I would have to say that Babbo has the upper hand, primarily because of the refreshing vinaigrette. As for the “Steamed Cockles”, the spicy tomato based broth that they were bathing in was sooooo delicious – definitely give me more bread so I can sop it all up, delicious.

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Next up was the highlight of the night: Babbo’s infamous “Black Spaghetti”. I can’t even describe in words how amazing this dish was; I can only drool as I think about it. Best pasta I’ve ever had, HANDS DOWN.

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The other two pasta dishes we ordered were delicious as well, my favorite being the “Gnocchi” (with braised oxtail). Though the “Lamb’s Brain ‘Francobolli'” had great flavor and the pasta was perfectly al dente, I couldn’t really tell that I was eating lamb’s brain; the filling was a lot more ricotta cheese than lamb’s brain. Francobolli means stamps in Italian and as you can see, the edges make the ravioli look like such. Cute right?

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Lamb or duck? That is always the question. This time we chose duck. Remember when I said that Bottega‘s duck confit was the best I’ve ever had? Well, it still is in my book, but Babbo’s “Duck” (with endive marmellata, Babbo pancetta and cherry vinaigrette) is a very, very close second.

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We ended our meal with a “light” dessert. We actually saw the table next to us order the “Assortment of Gelati and Sorbetti” and thought it looked pretty good. My favorite gelato turned out to be the one that I thought I would like the least: Olive Oil. (Side story: So about the table next to us… guess who? Julianna Margulies, her husband and two friends! Apparently it was one of the friends’ birthday and EVERY DESSERT on the menu was ordered as a birthday surprise!)

So, did Babbo live up to the hype? Assolutamente!

Verdict: 5/5
Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca
110 Waverly Pl
New York, NY 10011

I eat: Bouchon

When one of the girls suggested dinner at Bouchon, I immediately jumped on board. I became an avid Thomas Keller fan after my trip to The French Laundry last October, despite the astronomical price tag. Thus, I was eager to try Keller’s more affordable restaurant, Bouchon.

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Bouchon, Las Vegas, is located on the 10th floor of the Venetian. Luckily, we were staying on the 12th floor so walking to the restaurant only took a few minutes. So location itself? FIVE STARS! 🙂

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We were seated promptly for our 6:15PM reservation. Being so early, the restaurant was practically empty. The menu was printed on a parchment-like paper and wrapped around the dinner napkin. Cute points! I had a hard time deciding what to order. It seemed like the menu listed everything I love: lamb, duck, salmon, mussels, gnocchi. I was only able to cut my list down to lamb or duck so I pressed the waiter for his thoughts. He told me he preferred the duck since he loves him some good seared duck breast. Well sir, it just so happens that I too, am a sucker for a good seared duck breast so duck I shall have! Three of us actually ordered the duck, two ordered the moules frites (mussels and fries) and one ordered the salmon. We also shared the french onion soup, potato puree and macaroni gratin.

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We started our meal with the usual bread service and I absolutely loved the butter (as I also did at The French Laundry). The french onion soup, though comforting since it was cold and windy that day, was nothing special; it tasted like any other french onion soup.

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The mussels were very plump and juicy. On the menu, the description read: Maine bouchot mussels steamed with white wine, mustard & saffron. Though I’ve never had this combination before, the sauce didn’t taste like what I had imagined after reading the menu. It actually reminded me of the chicken marsala I just made. The frites were a bit… disappointing. You may be right about most things, Anthony Bourdain, but Bouchon’s fries are not the best things I ever ate. Don’t worry though, I’ll still keep you in high regard.

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The macaroni gratin fell flat as well. Yes, it was cheesy enough, but the flavors just weren’t there. I don’t know, perhaps use a more sharper cheese? The potato puree (no picture available) on the other hand, was straight up smooth buttery goodness! I would be more than happy to consume 3000 calories worth of that in one sitting.

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The waiter was right about the duck being seared beautifully. But that was the only thing good about this dish. The flavors didn’t mesh well, mainly caused by the tart-sweetness of the rhubarb. With all of the other components being mild and savory, I didn’t expect that punch. The sauce eventually grew on me by the end of the meal, but not to the point where I could say that I loved it. Nice try, Chef de Cuisine, Bryan Podgorski. I realize that rhubarb is now in season and I get what you were trying to do, but ultimately the flavor combination was a fail. However, I will commend you for such a perfectly seared duck breast!

We ended the meal by sharing a creme brulee. I’m glad it was delicious, or else I would have had to hurt somebody.

Verdict: 3/5
Bouchon
The Venetian
3355 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109