Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Road Trip: Joseph Decuis--Revisit

Kind of last minute, the family and I decided to head up to Joseph Decius in Roanoke—okay, we headed up because they were posting pictures of morels and I needed to get some—and it’s kind of a tradition for us to go around Mother’s Day. My in laws were in town and love it there too, so it made a nice little road trip.

I was also curious to see how it was now that Chef Butts has left to open his own place in Ft. Wayne (can’t wait to try it either, it’s called The Golden and I think it’s supposed to open sometime soon). Things seemed to be running pretty smoothly with the new chefs, and I was happy to see they were still doing the morels the same way. The restaurant looked a little different because they have added a shabu shabu bar in there, which intrigues me (and you can eat it anywhere in the restaurant with 24 hours notice). All that wonderful wagyu beef would be wonderful dipped in hot broth. Anyway, I digress.

A great deal of morels were ordered at our table—I think four orders. They are lightly floured and seasoned and then quick dipped in the fryer. They were nice and crisp, but somehow seemed a little less seasoned than usual. They also serve a demi glace with it (we got it on the side), which I liked better than I remembered, but maybe because I wished the mushrooms were just a tad more seasoned. Just a sprinkle of salt would have made a big difference. They were still very good, because let’s face it, they’re morels, but something was just a little different.

We shared a couple of salads at the table and they were both great. The Decuis version of a Caesar ($10) is excellent and a regular choice for us. It is made with mostly frisee, which gives it a different texture from the usual Caesar, and the addition of duck confit and brioche croutons gives it a little extra richness. They have a nice slightly tangy dressing that I really like. But my mother-in-law ordered the Brussels sprouts salad ($9) and that salad was amazing. Seriously, hubby and I contemplated ordering a second one instead of dessert. We have been known to randomly order savory items as dessert, and this was worthy. It was shaved Brussels sprouts with shaved fennel, dill, parmesan, little crunchy bits of marcona almonds (my favorite kinds of almonds) and this amazing brown butter vinaigrette. It was still nice and tangy but had this super richness from the brown butter. I need to make a brown vinaigrette at home. This was so good. We all gushed on it. They have always had good salads here, and these were no exceptions. Side note: another thing they have that’s really good at this stage of the meal? The bread plate. Several kinds of warm bread and nice soft butter. It’s the kind of bread plate you just can’t say no to a refill on.

Entrée-wise, I would say my mother-in-law won this one as well. She had the salmon ($28) on top of Gorgonzola risotto (going to need to make that as well) and asparagus with pickled apple and parsnip slaw on top. This also had just the right mix of acid and rich, deep flavors along with a perfectly cooked piece of fish. Hubby and my son split the wagyu sirloin (the picture you see is a half an order). This was also really, really good. The meat was full blood wagyu (they have many different offerings each night, some are full wagyu, some are mixed with angus cattle). The meat had a ton of flavor and while nicely marbled, was still tender. Also, Robuchon potatoes, which now may be my kids’ new favorite thing (go figure since they are like equal parts butter to potatoes). They are delicious though.

I had an appetizer for my main dish—which was a special. It was pan-fried sweetbreads with fiddlehead ferns, and cheesy risotto balls. Loved those risotto balls—very cheesy and not dry at all. The fiddlehead ferns were also very nice, tender, but still with a bite. The sweetbreads lost a bit of their crispiness due to all the sauce, which was very rich. The whole dish was just a little over the top for me, but hubby loved it and we switched a lot. Honestly, I wished I had just gotten that Brussels sprouts salad for my dinner!

My daughter ordered the Mangalista pork chop ($38). It had roasted cauliflower and broccoli with it as well as a blueberry mostarda and a creamy sauce. It was an extremely fatty piece of meat (which our server told us about). My daughter enjoyed it while she was eating it, but it didn’t sit well with her later in the evening—I think it was just too rich for her (I rarely cook things that fatty at home).

Desserts were also good. Because there was a cheese plate, and because my kids were with us, we had one of those. It was a nice, well-rounded cheese plate—I really liked the cherry jam in the middle, I ate some with every bite. It had a nice variation of cheese that made everyone happy. I also appreciate a bit of fruit with a dessert cheese plate. There was not enough bread with it (there never seems to be enough) and while we asked for more, it never came.
We also shared a white chocolate cheese tart that was a special and it was really, really good. A great dessert to me because it wasn’t over the top sweet, but had enough of it to make it feel like dessert. It had a drizzle of fruit sauce and several fresh berries on it as well. I would get this one again in a heartbeat.

Overall, food-wise, it was a very good meal. Some things really shone, but nothing was bad. The biggest problem was the service being so slow—a lot of it was due to computer problems—they were having to enter every order by hand as well as writing up every credit card receipt. But regardless, it was a meal that took over three hours, which was a little long. Particularly when your kids are with you. But it is still one of my favorite road trips and one of my favorite getaways.

Joseph Decuis
191 North Main Street
Roanoke, IN 46783

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Ruth’s Café

Hubby and I had lunch at Ruth’s the other day. It used to be a pretty regular place for me, but for one reason or another I haven’t been in awhile. I am always impressed with how solid their lunch business seems to be. It’s really nice to see an independent restaurant thrive in that location (near the Fashion Mall) because there are so few in the area. They are doing so well in fact, according to their website, it looks like they have opened a little branch in a nearby office building.

It was early for lunch so hubby went with one of their benedicts. This one is the salmon avocado version ($11.25).  This is sourdough toast on the bottom, seared smoked salmon, avocado, the two poached eggs and then homemade hollandaise sauce.  It was really good. The eggs were poached just right and I liked the fact that the salmon was warm. They use lots of avocado, and the hollandaise sauce is light but has a nice lemony flavor. We both had side salads with our dishes—I appreciate that they make this an option—and the side salads at Ruth’s are good because they use nice mixed greens mixed with some romaine. I am picky about the lettuce I get in a salad, and they are using good quality. They also served it with a few cherry tomatoes and slivers of parmesan.

I ordered my favorite combo---the half sandwich and salad (around $10). The sandwich I get is their version of a turkey club. There’s some thick slices of turkey on grilled sourdough (you can get whatever bread you want though) topped with melty Havarti cheese, avocado, bacon, lettuce as well as some pesto mayo. There’s just something about this sandwich that I love. I like that it’s grilled and warm, I like the avocado, which they are not stingy with, and I like that they don’t screw it up by putting a slice of under ripe tomato on it. I feel like that is a fatal flaw at many restaurants.  I also really like their chunky blue cheese dressing with my salad, as well as with my sandwich (I tend to dip the sandwich in it as well). 

Anyhow, it’s a very good breakfast and lunch option on my side of town, which is a rarity. The menu is large and there are lots of appealing things, even if I tend to be drawn back into that turkey sandwich nearly every time.

Ruth’s Café
3343 East 86th Street
Indy  46240

Monday, May 23, 2016

Caplinger's Fresh Catch - Revisit

You guys, they have soft shell crab at Caplinger’s! Well, at least they did when I went last week! I had been in to pick up some fish for dinner the other day (one of my favorite fish markets in town) and saw them. I don’t personally like to cook soft shells myself because it involves deep frying (you know the best way to eat a soft shell crab is deep fried) and I don’t do that very often.

I told hubby we needed to go stat, and he was easily swayed. You can get it in sandwich form, which comes with one crab, or dinner form, which comes with two crabs and two sides ($19.99). Who needs to waste time and stomach space with bread? So we got the dinner and each had a crab. We had hush puppies and red beans and rice for our sides.

Those crabs? They were perfect. They were large, and not too hard, and the breading is spicy and crispy and perfectly delicious. You have to get the remoulade sauce and dip the crab in it. It is also spicy and delicious. I like that they don’t make everything bland to appeal to the masses. The sides were only okay, the hush puppies tasted like they had maybe been cooked earlier—they weren’t smokin’ hot like the crab.  But the crab, I could go back right now (I just ate them for lunch today) and eat more.

We also got the lobster roll ($13.99). Love the filling of the roll—it’s different from many I have had because they use claw and knuckle meat (there are some nice big hunks of claw and knuckle in there, which is my favorite part of the lobster). It’s very lightly dressed, and has a little bit of celery and green onion for just a tiny bit of crunch. Really though, this sandwich is mostly meat. And the bread is a pretty dense bun, so hubby and I pretty much just decided to eat the meat out of the bun. Particularly because we were eating those oh so healthy soft shell crabs. The only thing I would add here (besides maybe a slightly softer bun) would be a squeeze of lemon. But we both enjoyed it.

My advice to you is to get in there and get some crab if you like them—and if you have never tried them, you need to! If they don’t have them, get the fried fish, because that breading is delicious. Or try the lobster roll. And if you have a favorite side dish, clue me in, because I am still trying to figure that part out.

(Oh, and a great fish market too.)

Caplinger’s Fresh Catch Seafood Market
7460 North Shadeland, Suite 400
Indy  46250

Thursday, May 19, 2016

U.S. Adventures: San Francisco, Spring 2016, Vol. II

Ok, I am going to have to make this one a little briefer (ok, maybe) and try to get this trip finished up—there were just so many restaurants!

So let’s hit some highlights. State Bird Provisions first of all. One of my favorite meals of the trip. So, you know that dim sum I talked about in the first post about SF? Well, this is dim sum but not Chinese food. It’s cool, hip, food but served in little portions and brought around on trays and carts (and a few things you just order if you want). My kids couldn’t wait to eat here now that they had discovered the joys of dim sum. Highlight here? The state bird dish—fried quail ($15). So, so good. It was served on these lightly pickled veggies with some super thin cheese on top that just melted into the dish. We were fighting over it (quails ARE small) so we got another one. We also had two of the tuna dishes—it was tuna crudo in a wonderfully, slightly acidic broth. Just perfect. There were many other things too, fried biscuit with burrata, pork belly, beef tartare ($14) with rosemary vinaigrette and little biscuits, chicken liver and several other things. Really, everything was good. And the menu changes frequently—this is totally a place I would go a lot. I would skip dessert though; it was the only thing that was really lackluster.
State Bird Provisions

Also, SPQR. We went there on our last night. Look at their menu online, check out the pasta section (most between $27-$28), and you will understand why I constantly bitch about Italian restaurants in Indy. THERE IS MORE TO LIFE THAN RED SAUCE. We shared everything and had a couple of the specials involving truffles—an egg raviolo, which is one of my favorite things on earth (it’s a giant ravioli filled with an egg yolk). This one was dusted with copious amount of truffles and I really wished I had it all to myself. The other truffle dish was a simple butter sauce with again, lots and lots of truffles. Another dish with pasta, lemon and crispy shaved slices of garlic was another big winner—loved the slight acidity of it. The only one we thought was just ok, was what she described as “grown up mac and cheese” with slices of cured beef and on top of a pesto sauce. It was fine, but couldn’t measure up to the others. Pasta and dessert was all we had here, because it was the last night of the trip and to be honest, we were pretty full, but everyone loved this place. The cheese plate ($17) was the highlight of dessert, although the pretty chocolate dessert was good too.
Hubby and I ate at Octavia by ourselves one night, while our kids hung out with their old babysitter. This is a warm space that is quintessential San Francisco with its laid back vibe. The food is very good as well, although didn’t stand out in the same way as some of the other places. Loved their version of a “deviled” egg ($5), which was actually a whole soft-boiled egg that was heavily seasoned with pepper and spices and served with a chile relish. I was really glad to still have a bit of my bread that they bring to the table to sop it all up with though. They should probably give you a little something with it for that purpose (although that bread, I’m guessing it’s Acme, is so so good.) The best dish of the evening was probably the smoked trout salad with grilled asparagus, roasted shallot jam and sherry vinegar. Oh my, that fish just melted in your mouth, and had a slightly more mild taste than typical smoked salmon. And I just loved the play of flavors with the shallot jam and the vinegar. A wonderful dish.
We also shared the pappardelle with toasted walnut and brown butter pesto, aged balsamic and cress ($14 for an appetizer size). Again, there’s more to life than red sauce—this wonderfully balanced dish had heartiness from the nuts as well as a nice hit of acid from the vinegar. We rounded out with the Sonoma duck breast ($32), that was served with charred green garlic, roasted kale, butter beans and salsa verde. Loved the salsa verde for a bright kick, but the duck was just a touch overdone for me. We also shared a wonderful melty chocolate dessert.

We had a lunch at Hog Island Oysters that we all really enjoyed—this was one that has been on my list for a while. Hubby and I have been to the actual place where they raise and harvest the oysters and now they have a casual restaurant at the Ferry Building. They don’t take reservations, and were hopping so we sat at the oyster bar, which was fun. Seriously, a lot of oysters going out of that place. Hubby had these amazing grilled oysters ($13) with just a simple cayenne and citrus seasoning. So, so good. I had some fried oysters on what was basically a deconstructed potato salad—also delicious. I tell you what though, my son’s grilled cheese ($12) with three kinds of gooey, non-traditional grilled cheese cheeses, was amazing. I couldn’t stop taking little bites of it. My daughter had a lovely seafood stew ($20)—it looked pretty and the clams and mussels were delicious. The bits of other things, especially the octopus, was a tad chewy though.
Hog Island Oysters

A quick lunch at Belga as we shopped one day on Union Street proved successful-they kids plowed through yet another cheese plate ($16) and hubby and I shared a lovely arctic char and cream cheese toast with capers and pickled red onions ($8) and frites ($9). The country pate ($6) we also had was a bit of a let down though.
We also had a dinner at Limon, which was a favorite quick, casual spot that hubby and I enjoyed back in the day. It’s a Peruvian restaurant, and we love the lomo saltado ($16.95), which is a beef tenderloin dish stir fried with onions, tomatoes, fries and soy sauce. It’s served with rice. It is just so darn good. The empanadas are nothing to be sneezed at as well. The small plate of fried chicken was just ok—kind of dry. And my kids had the rotisserie chicken, which they are known for, and weren’t super impressed with it either. But I would happily eat that lomo saltado any day of the week—there is just something about the seasoning that makes it cravable. Also, a bite with a fry soaked all in the juices of this dish is delicious.
Of course we also had to get our Dungeness crab fix, and luckily for us, they opened the season the week we were there. We were headed to Alcatraz (kids had never been), so we hit Alioto’s, which is our favorite wharf place to grab some crab and a great view. My favorite is the simple steamed crab, but we also got one roasted in garlic and butter. The sourdough bread is the best too. It’s Fisherman’s Wharf, so take it with a grain of salt. But you can’t really mess up simple crab.
Finally, on our way to the airport, we had to hit our standby, Barbara’s Fishtrap in Half Moon Bay. The same waitresses have been there since I have been going, which is nearly 25 years. Fried shrimp. Fried fish ($13.95). Clam Chowder. Cash only. It’s a requirement for us. It was a great send off too.

It’s my second home and the city that made me love food. I definitely agree that part of my heart remains there.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Vida - Revisit

I was excited to try Vida again—I mean, we had such a good experience the first time; we were intrigued to see if it would hold up. So we went with friends (all the better to try more things with) and went in for our second go round.

Right away, we noticed the service was a bit off. Our server couldn’t get to us. It was fine; another server apologized and took our drink order. Our server stopped by to say he would be there when he could but that he was really busy. He assured us an amuse bouche would be served to us soon. Anyhow, we looked over the menu and made our negotiations and eventually got our order in.

We started with the charcuterie plate ($14 for the small) and the crab and octopus roll ($16). We were torn about whether to go with the large or small charcuterie, and settled on the small. Other than needing a little more of the toasty (and delicious) bread, there was more than enough for the four of us. There were a lot of good, and interesting things on the board. There was morcilla (a blood sausage), ‘ndjua (spicy spreadable pork), and some lovely crunchy chicharones. How can you not like crispy fried pork skin? There was also prosciutto and another salame. They did a great job with the accompaniments here as well.  There were a couple of types of mustard and some nice pickled veggies—lots of red onions, my favorite.

The crab and octopus roll was also very good. It was wrapped in exactly ripe avocado, and was a little light on the crab and octopus filling, but it tasted wonderful. It was a light appetizer, and honestly, I could have easily eaten at least half of it on my own. Let’s face it, I would happily eat the whole thing on my own.

At this point we got the amuse, which was kind of weird after we had already started eating our first course (it’s supposed to be a tease for your palate), Anyhow, I can’t remember what it was at this point, but we ate it up.

The entrées came next—I had the salmon ($29). It was lovely—really really good. It was a thin piece of salmon that was seared really crisp. When I first saw it, I was worried that it would be dry, but it was moist inside but just wonderfully crispy outside. It was served with asparagus, artichokes, yellow tomatoes and Nicoise olives. Ok, it also helped that those are all some of my favorite things, but this dish was great. There was great acid balance, which is my thing.

The server had convinced hubby to get the New York strip steak ($39) because he just kept talking about how great it is. Hubby rarely orders steaks out, and even more rarely is wooed by a NY strip, but he was convinced. And this was an outstanding steak. While nicely marbled, it was still really tender and not chewy. It was served on a bright Béarnaise sauce and topped with these light and wonderful pommes soufflé. We had these before at an old line restaurant in Cincinnati and these were just as good. Almost like a 3D potato chip. Another wonderful dish.

Our friends had the shrimp dumplings ($26)(which we had the first time and really enjoyed) and the short rib dish, which was also really good—the two men kept negotiating bites of their dishes with each other. 

We also got dessert this time. Those little doughnuts with the Bourbon caramel sauce? Outstanding.  Their pastry chef is doing inventive things and you should really try one of the desserts when you’re there.

Well, I think if anything I was more impressed with the food this time because there were no dishes that I thought were inferior. I will say the service was nowhere near as good as it was on that first visit, but it wasn’t horrible. They were definitely a bit in the weeds on this particular night though. I’m really happy to have Vida on the Indy list of cool and really good restaurants to recommend. I just hope the food stays as good as it has been on my first couple of visits.

601 East New York Street
Indy 46202

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Bluebeard, once again

A couple of trips to Bluebeard lately are reminders of how lucky we are to have such a continually inventive and good restaurant in Indy. 

A highlight from one trip was the rabbit confit-type dish with fried chicken livers on top. You know I love fried chicken livers and these were delicious. Also great? The oysters Rockefeller they do (they are often on the menu and you should really get them. The oysters are so good, and the toppings divine. My son liked them so much we had to get a second order. 
chicken livers et al
My daughter ordered quail and would only give me a tiny bite. Loved the little bit of thigh that I had. Hubby and I shared the Bluebeard version of ramen and I might just say, it was possibly more flavorful and interesting than most of the bowls of ramen I have had around town.  The big slab of pork belly helped the flavor along, as did the perfect soft egg, but really it was the broth that made it so good. My only complaint was the bowl it was in wasn’t big enough, making it a challenge to eat.

Another visit had me loving the cool salmon crudo ($16). I’ve had mixed experiences with crudos at Bluebeard, but this one with pickled and grilled ramps, a bit of asiago biscuit, orange olive oil, hollandaise and fried shallots had me won over. It had a good bit of tartness and the salmon was melty soft.
salmon crudo
The bay scallop and Arborio gratin was also really good (and something I’ve never seen before) ($18). It was small but mighty with its richness—there were little scallops mixed with bits of cauliflower, spring garlic, Gruyere cheese, and horseradish Parmesan cream and truffle breadcrumbs on top. This was wonderful. It was better as an accompaniment to other things, because the scallops were almost a purely textural element, but yummy. Speaking of cauliflower, the roasted cauliflower with anchovy, caper, mint, Parmesan and sunflower seeds was also a great side. Bluebeard knows how to roast veggies.
chopped livers
truffled egg toast
The chopped livers dish ($14) was a bit heavy on the pork liver and was a touch strong for us. The chicken livers in the dish were great, but the pork livers overpowered everything. If the same dish (bread, vinegar, rams and whipped cheese) were done with just the chicken livers, it would be spectacular. Also, while I have loved the truffled egg toast ($26) in the past, this time it was just too bready. I did appreciate the morels and the runny egg though. I really miss the version they did once with bread and light and fluffy truffled scrambled eggs. Wonder if they ever do that one anymore? 
pork belly
The Mexican-style pork belly ($18) was tasty and I like the crunchy bits served alongside it, but I don’t know, maybe I am just getting to be over pork belly. It’s a little overused these days I think and it rarely seems to blow my mind anymore.

I feel like there are always several truly winning dishes each and every time I eat at Bluebeard, and then a couple that are solidly good, but not as amazing. But I will take that kind of consistency any day. And now that the outside patio is open, and they have an additional dining room inside that isn’t in the bar, there is less of a wait the last few times I have come, which I also appreciate. This is a place I always want to go, and a place where I always know I am going to have a good meal. Oh and chess pie, I'm pretty much always having the chess pie.

653 Virginia Avenue
Indy, 46203

Monday, May 9, 2016

Kizuki Ramen and Izakaya

Everyone is talking about the new ramen place in Carmel—Kizuki. It’s a chain that actually originated in Japan—good timing for them to open in Indy when everyone is now finally getting ramen crazy. I met my friend Suzanne there because she lives not too far away and loves to try a new restaurant as much as I do.

There are a LOT of ramen choices on this menu. Almost too many to know which to choose. Plus, all those small plates on the menu make you want to order them as well. Luckily, Suzanne is a good sharing friend, so we decided to get a couple of the small plates and split a bowl of ramen.

I asked our server for recommendations for which ramen to try and she recommended the garlic tonkotsu shoyu ramen or the spicy miso ramen (both $13). I was kind of already thinking about the garlic tonkotsu one she mentioned because it is described as “extra rich” and is made in limited quantities. Nothing like making something sound rare to make it alluring. Plus, my one complaint about some ramen I have had is that it’s too bland, so “extra rich” sounded good. It was a good bowl of ramen. Would I say it was great? Eh, not particularly. The broth actually tasted a little muddy if you know what I mean.  The slice of pork in it was nice (except I still always wonder exactly how you are supposed to eat them—they are too big for one bite, but chopsticks and a spoon make cutting it difficult). There was also bamboo shoots and some bean sprouts, which were fine. The star of the dish was clearly the egg. It was soft boiled as it usually is, and done nicely, but it was also seasoned in some sort of marinade and was super delicious. It was unique from most ramen in that the egg itself tasted so good on its own. Next time, I would go with a spicy broth and an extra egg. I also liked that there were lots of different seasonings to use in the ramen on the table--I used a couple and it helped jazz it up a bit.
We also got the chicken karaage ($6.50) and the pork gyoza ($5). I really enjoyed the gyoza—the dumplings were very hot and tasted very fresh. The skins were thin and had the exact right amount of crispiness on the pan-fried side. The vinegar soy sauce was nicely balanced and had enough vinegar to it that you could actually taste it. I would get these again.

Karaage chicken is Japanese fried chicken—it’s typically breaded with starch instead of a bunch of flour, so it has this lighter, crispier crunch to it. They also marinate the chicken beforehand. The chunks here seemed a mix of light and dark meat—some bites were really tasty and some a bit dry, but it was a decent dish. They served it with a spicy mayo that took it a step further in taste. I enjoyed the mayo.

There are a lot of people working here, (you might be startled by how many of them say hello to you in Japanese when you walk in) and they are more than happy to help as much as possible. They are doing a decent business as well. Overall, I enjoyed my visit, but wasn’t blown away.

Would love to know what you have had if you have been as well.

Kizuki Ramen & Izakaya
2450 E. 146th Street
Carmel, IN 46033

Thursday, May 5, 2016

U.S. Adventures: San Francisco, Spring 2016- Vol. I

Recently, the family and I went to San Francisco for Spring Break. We did so much eating…it’s hard to imagine writing about it all. But I will, because surely someone out there is interested in SF, and because, well; it’s my blog and kind of my food scrapbook.

We had a direct flight that landed at 8:00 am SF time, which was 11:00 Indy time and by the time we got to the City, we were starving. But it was the morning. But we wanted lunch. And to avoid the crowds eating breakfast on a Saturday morning, so what did we do? Dim sum! At 10:00, which was 1:00 our time. Perfect.

Yank Sing is my favorite dim sum in SF I think. Certainly it is not the cheapest, but man, they know how to fry things up. This was the kids’ first real experience with it and they loved it. They loved that the carts were out and about immediately (did I mention we were starving?) and they loved the food.

Hubby and I always order the shrimp dumplings ($7.15) and the shrimp and chive dumplings ($5.95) as well as the fried spring rolls ($11) and the fried shrimp ($13.15). As usual, all of those things delighted. I am a firm believer in mixing crunchy with steamed. Because we had two additional (hungry) people with us this time, we also had the potstickers ($11), which were a favorite with the kids and the pork buns ($5.50), also a favorite with the hubby. We had these interesting dumplings filled with soup, which I had never seen before—they tasted good but were challenging to eat (imagine soup squirting out of your mouth when you took a bite).  We also had the fried crab claws and the Peking duck bun, neither of which were a big hit-the crab was a little bready and the Peking duck a little bland.  Overall, this is the kind of place that makes me long for San Francisco. Quality dim sum with carts constantly being pushed around. There are many such places in the bay area; I wish we had one in Indy.

With some time to kill until we could check into our flat, we also hit Craftsman and Wolves to pick up some pastries and goodies for future breakfasts. My daughter had seen it on the Food Network and had added it to the list. The pastries are gorgeous and the Asiago bun filled with a runny egg made me happy. We also got a lovely loaf of bread we ate all week.

The first two evenings we ate with friends. The second night in Berkeley at a place called Ippuku. This place was a trip. It is a Japanese restaurant, but specializing more in the grilled robata style dishes. Oh yeah, also chicken tartare. As much as I love almost every tartare, I passed on this one. (Dishes averaged between $7-15 depending on what they were, we had about 12 for the 4 of us). The grilled items were perfectly charred without being chewy.

The grilled chicken thighs and chicken livers were probably a couple of my favorites—simple but delicious. Their version of the fancy onion pancake was also really, really good. Loved the bonito flakes on top that gave the dish a little movement. It was a rich version of an onion cake—it had more gooey batter-type taste than most. I also had ginkgo nuts for the first time. They look very cool—almost like teeny eggs you have to pull out of the shell. They were a nice thing to snack on while waiting for the next course. One of the last things that we had was a beef dish that was simple but was so, so good. We had lots of other interesting things—uni, a whole squid, some fried chicken, blistered shishitos, some grilled whole sardines and even some ramen. They were all fun, but not as good as the things I mentioned first. The atmosphere here is cool too, it has a dark, hip vibe. You have to take off your shoes and sit at tables sunken into the ground. You sort of feel like you’re in a secret club or something.

Our next lunch was at Perbacco—my daughter’s choice. We went there on our last trip and it was her favorite meal ever, because she loved loved their gnocchi ($20), so she requested a return visit. We enjoyed ourselves, and the garlic/potato gnocchi with green garlic, chanterelles and asparagus was very good (we ended up with two orders of it), but everything else we had was fine, but not as amazing. I had a tuna crudo and hubby a pappardelle with short rib ragu ($21). The bread service here is delicious though. And it made my daughter’s trip to get to come back—she has dreamed about their gnocchi for years. Too bad the server was not as friendly to my kids, like our last visit, which had added to the charm last time.

I was excited to take the kids to The Slanted Door for dinner. This is a place hubby and I began eating at when it was a tiny place in the Mission. Now it is a jam-packed huge restaurant right under the Bay Bridge in the Ferry Building. And even with its massive success, it is still outstanding. Pretty much everything we had was great.  Both of our appetizers, tuna tartare with rice paper crackers ($18) and the Dungeness crab soup with mushrooms and light airy egg strands ($8) were delicious. I have their cookbook—I need to make this soup.

You can’t go and not order the Shaking Beef ($38). It’s filet that’s been cubed and stir fried with this delicious lime sauce and served with red onions and watercress. I have tried to make this one from the cookbook, and it just never turns out as good. Everyone loved this and honestly, we should have gotten two orders. The cellophane noodles with Dungeness crab, green onion and sesame ($22) are also totally worth ordering—a great accompaniment to the beef. Light but with that depth from sesame oil. The bok choy was also a nice veggie addition to the meal. Everyone enjoyed it. We also had the clay pot chicken ($22), which was the least favorite. It just couldn’t compare to the other stuff. We also had dessert and the kids’ confection plate ($10), which was topped off with a large cone of cotton candy was a favorite. They made sure that nothing would harm my nut-allergic son as well, which I appreciated. The churros ($10) hubby and I ordered were kind of meh. The view out the window of the bridge, which is now lit up with all kinds of cool changing lights is awesome.

The final meal I’ll touch on here was a nice lunch I had with my old boss and his wife in Oakland. It was the cutest little wine bar in the middle of downtown Oakland called Downtown Wine Merchants. Naturally, there was wine (you gotta appreciate a pretty flight of white, rose and red), but we also had some tasty small plates. Loved the cheese and charcuterie boards ($15 each) and the cheesy spaetzle ($10). They also made interesting flatbreads—the one we had was a special with squash blossoms. The interior of this place and the friendliness of the people running it are what really made this place. And catching up with old friends.

Ok, so I am only through a few of the days of our trip so far, so prepare for at least one more SF post! Ok, maybe two.