Sunday, January 26, 2014

Fish Tacos, Fresh Bread, Surf and Turf

Watching the Travel Channel and actually being there are different things;  you cannot experience the actual taste of the food you are looking at or feel the Pacific surf on your feet from a Lazy-boy recliner. Case in point would be Sayulita, Nayarit, Mexico. 
An hour plus north of Puerto Vallarta, lies a very bohemian town of surfers, artists and many ex-pats who basically just hang around all day.  A lot of white people with dreads, (something I have never been able to figure out!) who eat seafood and drink beer. There is also the faint smell of weed wafting through the air, the most I’ve experienced in my many trips to Mexico…
IMG_0004   Fishing boat off of the beach at Sayulita     
IMG_0011Sayulita Beach
IMG_0025Fish and Shrimp Tacos at El Itacate..the best in Sayulita…their opinion!  Yes, they were very good!
IMG_0022VERY fresh fish tacos..
IMG_0023Four large shrimp (at least 10/12 size) on each taco..excellent!

South to El Tuito
One hour and twenty minutes south of Puerto Vallarta lies the tiny town of El Tuito, the place you go to buy the unregulated “beverage” Raicilla.
The clear, handcrafted liquid is essentially Mexican Moonshine that packs a punch.  Don’t drink more than two shots!  Enough said on that!
There is one small supermarket in El Tuito, but if you really want the good stuff, just ask anyone and they will direct you; the cheese lady, the baker, the tortilla guy and of course the Racilla lady.  Oh and don’t forget the local dentist….IMG_0092
A few blocks away was the bakery

After the sweets from the bakery, you can follow the sign to the dentists office!IMG_0094

Now for the Turf

Without question, the finest steakhouse in Puerto Vallarta is Sonora Grill Prime.  USDA Prime beef is offered for the discerning carnivore (ME) in a very upscale environment with waiters and management that know the menu inside and out and will take care of any needs.  Not to be missed.  IMG_0121
Ribeye, grilled onions, baked potato, creamed spinach and assortment of salsas
If you’re on a budget, Pepe’s Tacos has recently opened in The Marina, behind Sonora Grill, for probably what are consistently the best tacos in Vallarta.  The original downtown location remains.  The Marina location has added items on the menu and the restaurant looks fancier than downtown, but the prices are the same.  Don’t forget: corn tortillas, not flour!!


Catching Up From The Holidays….

It’s a treat to dine at “old school” restaurants in any city, but New York City just has that something special thing you don’t find in a lot of cities.  Old School means just that; a place that has been in existence since 1908!  One of those places is John’s of 12th Street.  DSCN0199
I decided to order two items that were featured on TV;  Veal Meatballs and Tuscan Ragu served over homemade Pappardelle, both of which were exquisite to say the least.  Hearty veal meatballs in a red sauce and the perfectly cooked Pappardelle with the very rich Ragu!DSCN0179 - Copy
DSCN0185 - Copy
Served with bread and good red wine, you can’t go wrong….and top it all off with real New York Cheescake.  Excellent waiters, bartender and owners made for a great meal.  I’m happy!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

San Francisco

For my fifth time to San Francisco, I was able to enjoy the smaller restaurants and nooks and crannies of the city.  I have now mastered the MUNI system to a point where I can help misplaced tourists get on the right bus or trolley.  First time visitors can get very disoriented (I did) since the Embarcadero curves around the Bay side going from a northerly direction to a westerly direction and vice versa, while Market Street runs on an angle.  It's even more of a challenge to those who do not speak English, not counting the "millions" of Chinese residents. It's interesting to note the many El Salvadorian and Mexican workers do not find this an issue.  Another interesting story is that of a airport shuttle van driver who has lived in San Francisco, coming from Vietnam over twenty years ago, swears that San Francisco Bay is the Pacific Ocean!!...OK....

Following up on the TV show, United States of Bacon, I visited The Seven Mile House in Brisbane.  This is actually two blocks south of the city line south of San Francisco and has been in operation since 1853.  It's off the radar for the tourist crowd unless you follow all of the tv food and travel shows as I do.  I went with the 7 Mile 
House Burger since the Cow Palace Burger was too huge for me.  The oysters as an appetizer were good.  I'm finally getting 
adventurous and trying oysters other than
Louisiana's Gulf and Apalachicola's.

Very Fresh Northern California Oysters

Their Famous 7 Mile House Burger with GARLIC FRIES.

Swan Oyster Depot on Polk Street is another San Francisco institution that has been in continuous operation since 1912.  The rather small restaurant is always busy and has been visited almost every TV host of ANY food or travel show...including ME!
The marble or granite counter with it's accompanying chairs of unmatched heights has witnessed all varieties of California seafood; oysters, clams and any variety of fish enter countless mouths of hungry, seafood loving patrons.  It's interseting how the waiters shuck their own oysters, rather than a full time shucker, as in many seafood cities.  If you're really hungry for shell fish, plan a short wait.  You will most likely have to wait on line to claim a seat, but once you're in, prepare for a joyful "fish-fest" and your wait will be forgotten.  An Anchor Steam must be ordered to accompany the meal.  I ordered Clam Chowder.  As I stated an an earlier post, San Francisco "chowda" is Boston style with the exception that the clams a very finely chopped.  On the East Coast, not so fine, enabling the feel of a piece of clam on your tongue.  I've experienced this at two restaurants so far. 
That's the way they do it in San Francisco, unfortunately.  Don't get me wrong, it's still good.  Second course ordered were a half dozen Miyagi oysters.  Described as Briny, not salty, were very good.  Third choice was the smoked salmon with a small shrimp salad.  Unfortunately, Swan does not do in-house smoking, it's brought in from a local source.  It was OK.
 1517 Polk Street

 Click to enlarge menu

Miyagi Oysters from Northern California

Smoked Salmon with Small Shrimp Salad.

There are many choices on the breakfast trail both good and bad.  If you're staying in a hotel, ask the front desk person what is good in the area that is NOT TOURISTY.  I've walked past one place many times at night when they were closed, not realizing for a minute it was a breakfast and lunch place.  The restaurant is Pergamino Cafe, 1323 Columbus Avenue in the Fisherman's Wharf area.  
I wrote on a Yelp review, "Who still does this?" making light of their homemade whipped cream.  The sourdough french toast with pecans, BACON and a dollop of whipped cream was outstanding!  By the way, the bacon is not on the side, it's chopped upand mixed in with the pecans...reaaaallly gooooood!  I went back again the next morning for scrambled eggs with REAL HOMEMADE corned beef hash, with of course, sour dough toast.  A selection of at least six types of coffee was available too, self serve.  Pergamino also has outdoor seating to watch the tourists trying to find Fisherman's Wharf and walking in the wrong direction to the F Line trolley or Cable Car.

Sourdough French Toast

F Line Trolley at Ferry Plaza

Millers East Coast Deli, copied from my TripAdvisor review.

Maybe I'm a jaded East Coast person or maybe too critical. I ordered the corned beef on rye. Interestingly, the waitress asked me what kind of bread I wanted. Keeping a straight face I told her white bread and mayonnaise on the sandwich! She didn't question it. I told her that I was kidding and never accept anyone ordering it that way. The sandwich was pretty decent, the bread very good as was the deli mustard, although I've had better mustard. The sandwich itself was on the small side I thought, certainly not Katz's or 2nd Avenue Deli. Also ordered was a cup of chicken noodle/matzo ball soup. The ball was extra. Tasty. Overall review, I would say acceptable for San Francisco, but not New York.


Monday, October 28, 2013

Foodie: Better to go hungry than eat at a national chain.

Saturday, July 20, 2013


The Bean...Click any photo here to enlarge.

After stepping off the Orange Line train at Roosevelt Road and walking the four blocks to my hotel, I had noticed that Chicago is spotlessly clean, quite an undertaking by the City, or is it the people that live and work here take pride in their city?   I was told that wife of former Mayor Daly was responsible for a very clean initiative.  In fact a city employee told me that hundreds of people were hired to keep the city clean.  It's really something compared to many East Coast cities!
We took a ride to Union, Illinois, which is the home of the HUGE Illinois Railway Museum, which is on the must do list of any responsible lover of trains.  The Museum is private, receiving no funding at all from the State.
That being said, one is able to walk "all over the place" and photograph everything in site.  Hint:  Bring water with you, as the public water supply
didn't look too appetizing.  The hot dogs and pizza in the restaurant were not exactly great looking either.
On the way there, I found the Marengo Cafe on Yelp, for breakfast.  
Large portions, LOTS of coffee, reasonable prices.  

Downtown Marengo, Illinois is somewhat like Mayberry.  It's the county seat. Even though this is Mid-America farm country, there was an odd absence of pick-up trucks and cowboy hats!!  Nice small town with nice people.


Below Michigan Avenue lies the famous Billy Goat Tavern, the original one from Saturday Night Live.  I ordered a double cheese.  It comes on a hard roll or kaiser roll which overwhelms the burger.  Ordering a single is not recommended.  A double is OK, but try to go for the triple.  It's not seasoned, but there is a "fixin's" bar with good tomatoes, onions and pickles.  The Greek guy behind the counter actually said; "No fries, chips!"
Chips in this case are actually bagged potato chips.  
There is no waiter service,as you order from the counter.  There is a guy that has been working there for a very long time.  You'll recognize him by his bad teeth and matching attitude.  If he sees that you went to the bar for a beer, you will be instructed to order it from him by him and he will stay at your table for a tip.  Be aware of this scam.  He got his tip from us, but the New Jersey attitude made him aware of using proper etiquette on how to get a proper tip.  I later met the nephew of the owner at Navy Pier.
When I started to tell him about it, he interrupted me and asked; "What did he do NOW?"  That got a laugh from all of us.

Three extraordinary restaurants for breakfast that I came across were The Yolk  and Wildberry Pancakes & Cafe and 11 City Diner.  All three are different in their own way and the menus are very creative and GOOD! 
 Now, IHOP sells pancakes, but Wildberry makes pancakes!!!  To eat their creative artwork is really ashame. You will sit there and ask yourself; "do I want to ruin this?"  the answer is an astounding YES and you will feel much better after consuming the artwork!  The Yolk has a very modern feel, at least the South Loop location, while Wildberry is more traditional...

Berry Bliss Pancakes at Wildberry

Roast pork, mango salsa, topped with goat cheese and a fried egg on a
pretzel roll at The Yolk.  Delectable!


Owner Brad Rubin  offers the big city deli / diner experience with a touch of "Jewishness" on the menu and in the restaurant.  Upon entering you will observe several items, three of which are a menorah, Junior's cheescake and a painting of a Rabbi or is it someone's grandfather or both!  
You name it, you can order it.  Everything from eggs, bagel and lox to pastrami and corned beef.  Who knew?  I ordered the lox platter with a poppy seed bagel.  Can you get a real bagel in Chicago?  Yes.  Eleven City has bagels made locally by a real bagel guy who uses NO preservatives or softeners.  The bagels go stale after about twelve hours, so delivery is daily.  After all if New York is number one for bagels, Chicago would have to live up to their name of the Second City!  Well it sounds good anyway.  On a Saturday morning there was a line of people waiting and it must have been at least a twenty minute wait for a table.

Traditional diner counter seating

Lox Platter...enough onion?


I learn about many places by watching Anthony Bourdain on tv.  One of historic bars he visited in Chicago, a city loaded with historic bars, was the legendary Green Mill Lounge.  This amazing bar has been around since the days of Al Capone. He supposedly owned it which is why alcohol was served all during Prohibition.  Many will say it was a speakeasy but I was told it was not.  Many will also say there were at least two "escape tunnels" leading under Broadway and across the street in order for patrons to escape during police raids.  The original bar, taps and fixtures are all intact and it is like taking a step back in time. The only missing fixture is the old telephone booth in which one of those rip-off ATM's now sits.  There is live music nightly and if you listen carefully, you might hear Al Capone and his boys discussing plans to foil Elliot Ness.
I had a local Chicago brew; Old Style and a shot of a local libation; Malort. The locals say Malort kicks in within twenty minutes. Belive me, it did.  I knew the sidewalk was wider when I entered the Mill!!

Local beer, Old Style

It's 5 o'clock somewhere
You don't see clocks like this anymore!


No trip to Chicago would be complete without a stop to compare "their"
pizza to "my pizza".
Well, there is NO comparison.  The two pizzas are COMPLETELY different and are in two different catagories and cannot be compared. There, I said it.  Both are equally good in their own way.  The only thing to do is compare the different Chicago pizza "pies" from Giordanos and Gino's East, but that's another trip.
The pizza "pies" are called pies as it's all in the crust.  Malnati calls it that because the crust is buttery and flaky like an apple pie crust.  Yes, I did like it, BUT I felt their special sausage was more along the lines of a chopped up sausage patty from an Egg McMuffin.  Many people I've spoken with agree, so, maybe it's a Chicago thing.

Many pizza ovens in a spotless kitchen

Lou Malnatti's sausage pizza "pie"

Sinful deep dish warm chocolate cookie with ice cream
and whipped cream.