10 of the best

Travelling for a month in Mexico and California meant that we ate (pretty much) in a different restaurant every night, so I thought trying to pick my top ten dishes out of all these meals would be difficult, but it was surprisingly easy once I sat down and started listing them.

So in no particular order…

1. Shrimp tacos at Taco Fish, Hermosillo

So so tender and fresh, and packed full of flavour, seriously the best ‘fast’ food I’ve ever had.

Shrimp tacos

2. Cheese risotto with sock eye salmon and brown butter sage sauce at Cook, St Helena

I  suggested Simon ordered this then spent the rest of the meal annoyed that he’d gotten it and not me. Hands down the best risotto I’ve ever had, incredibly cheesy but not too rich, the salmon perfectly cooked and fresh, and best of all the brown butter sage sauce. Heaven.

www.cooksthelena.com

Sockeye salmon on cheese risotto

3. Queso Fundido con Chorizo at Restaurant Palominos, Hermosillo

Seriously is anything better than a bowl full of melted cheese (chihuahua!) and melt in your mouth home-made chorizo? I think not.

www.restaurantpalominos.com

Queso Fundido

4. Jumbo shrimps, Water Grill, Downtown LA

I’m actually salivating thinking about this. Plump, juicy and tender, perfectly cooked, served with a delicious cocktail sauce and a garlicky saffron aioli. Love love love!

www.watergrill.com

Shrimp

 

5. Chocolate tart with chewy caramel & sea salt at The Slanted Door, San Francisco

Right, so chocolate tart base filled with flowing caramel, covered in solid dark chocolate and then sprinkled with sea salt? I think I might love you Charles Phan.

www.slanteddoor.com

Chocolate caramel tart

Last mouthful

6. Cinnamon roll, Alamos, Mexico.

Steaming rolls coated in freshly ground cinnamon goodness, slathered in a hot cinnamon sauce…I’d go back to Mexico just for another one of these.

www.teresitasalamos.com

Cinnamon Roll

7. Three Twins Organic Ice cream, downtown Napa/ Sweet Rose Creamery, Santa Monica

The best ice-cream I’ve ever had. Ridiculously creamy, packed full of delicious fresh ingredients. I tried the vanilla chocolate chip and Mint Confetti (mint ice cream with flecks of dark chocolate).

That is ’til we stopped by Sweet Rose Creamery in Santa Monica and tried their salty caramel ice-cream with a good sprinkle of Fleur de Sel on top – absolutely astounding. Didn’t get a photo as my camera broke minutes before this, but that just means I have to go back.

www.threetwinsicecream.com
www.sweetrosecreamery.com

Vanilla chocolate chip and mint chocolate chip organic ice cream at Three Twins

8. Rustic Canyon Burger, Rustic Canyon Wine Bar, Santa Monica

Wow. Simply the best burger I’ve ever had. Incredibly juicy beef patty, home-made burger bun that was bordering on brioche, just the right amount of melted sharp cheddar cheese, a rich onion fondue, herb remoulade and beautifully cut french fries. Wait, did I mention we added confit bacon to the mix as well? Yep. Went back on our last night in LA to have it again it was so good.

www.rusticcanyonwinebar.com

The burger at Rustic Canyon

Burger, cross section

9. Peach Crostata with Homemade Vanilla ice-cream, Rustic Canyon Wine Bar, Santa Monica

After burger bliss, we almost ordered a chocolate and salty caramel tart, but that would have been a big, big mistake. Recommended by our server, this used in-season peaches and the most buttery, rich pastry I’ve ever tried. The juice of the peaches and sugar leaked a little through the pastry, creating incredible caramelised edges. Not only did we go back and order this again but also went to their bakery for breakfast and fought over a take away strawberry and rhubarb crostata as we sat on the beach for afternoon tea. Simon said he wanted to marry the pastry chef. We could work something out, I’m sure.

www.rusticcanyonwinebar.com

Peach crostata.

10. Pretty much everything at French Laundry.

So after seeing that they had an over 6-month waiting list, we decided just to turn up at French Laundry and try our luck. And how lucky we were to get a table and experience their incredible food. A mind-blowing meal, so good I can’t say which was my favourite dish. Possibly all. But the real standouts were probably the oysters and pearls (caviar with oysters) and the butter-poached lobster tail. Awe inspiring.

www.frenchlaundry.com

Caviar and Pearls

Butter-poached lobster tails

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I hate brunch

Whilst breakfast is my favourite meal of the day, I hate brunch. I’ve always wanted to like it after all, what’s nicer than meeting friends for brunch at the weekends? But the problem is, if you combine breakfast and lunch, you end up missing a meal! This is not a good thing.

Not only that, in reality brunch really is just breakfast or lunch – you either end up with something eggy or just a boring old lunch dish.

Saying that, I’ve had some pretty great weekend brunches (and have made up for it with afternoon tea later in the day) whilst we’ve been travelling and so perhaps brunch is on the road to redemption with me.

The main reason being that I’ve discovered the key to a good brunch is courses. Yes, that’s right, a starter and a main, and possibly even dessert.

On the Saturday morning that Luis and Sergio were leaving LA, we drove over to Brentwood Country Mart, a lovely little collection of shops and restaurants dotted around two large, sun-filled courtyards, and had brunch at Farmshop, a restaurant and as the name suggests, a food shop.

I was very happy to see there were dishes to start with as well as main brunch plates so I ordered us chopped chicken liver with grapes, caper berries and sourdough and a big platter of speck with marinated melon and burrata.

Chicken liver with caper berries, grapes and sourdough

Marinated melon with speck and burratta

The chicken liver was the stand out dish – rich and creamy, with deep livery undertones, topped with fresh herbs.

We then each ordered a main dish – I chose the frittata with cherry tomatoes, goat cheese, squash and crispy squash blossoms – the goat cheese and squash blossoms really made this dish, as did the copious amount of olive oil drizzled over the plate. Luis had homemade pastrami (which was delicious and just melted in your mouth) with heirloom cauliflower, beans, wild mushrooms, eggs sunny side up and green tomato ketchup – great dish. Sergio had the shirred eggs with chorizo, wild (and bitter) greens, chickpeas and yoghurt – basically the eggs were baked with all the ingredients around them, resulting in a lovely heavy, warming dish, with eggs still runny. Simon ordered coddled eggs, which were served in a small bowl and sprinkled with mushrooms, with a side of smoked salmon, and served simply with toast.

Frittata with goat cheese, tomatoes, squash and blossoms

Homemade pastrami

Shirred eggs with bitter greens, chorizo and chickpeas

Coddled eggs with mushroom and house-smoked salmon

We also tried a big bowl of greek yoghurt with homemade granola and a big bowl of fresh berries – also incredibly fresh and amazing. Really love these farm to table concepts and wish we had them in HK!

Farmshop
Brentwood Country Mall
225 26th Street Santa Monica, CA 90402
www.farmshopla.com

Loved the salt on the slab of butter that came with my sourdough!

Inside Farmshop

Counter display at Farmshop

Seafood spectacular

I had the best meal of our trip today, and possibly one of the top three dining experiences I’ve ever had. And it was at lunch.

This was the one must-visit place in LA we had on our list – infact, Luis’ friend Grant told him not to come back if we didn’t go. The Water Grill is in downtown LA, and after a good hour’s drive from Brentwood, we finally found the restaurant, which was on the ground floor of an unassuming looking office building.

We were seated in front of the seafood bar, and I couldn’t resist photographing all the different varieties on show. The menu changes on a daily basis, depending on what’s fresh and in season. We shared a small seafood platter, which arrived glistening and packed with five different oysters (not my favourite food, so I didn’t try), Peruvian Bay Scallops (incredibly fresh) served with orange and pistachio, Wild Jumbo Pacific Shrimp (they were so amazing and fresh we ordered a dozen more to share), Prince Edward Island Black Mussels (huge!), Cherrystone Clams and half a hard shell American Lobster.

The seafood platter

More seafood

I ordered the calamari fritto mist – swordtail squid with olives, basil leaves, zucchini, lemon, and harissa sauce. I hadn’t seen lemon deep-fried before but it worked incredibly well, rind and all.

Calamari Fritto Misto

Simon had a Thai-inspired hand cut big eye tuna tartare with vermicelli, green papaya, red chilis and candied peanuts, all in a spicy coconut sauce. Such an unusual combination that worked really well – I imagined the tuna would be overpowered but it was really well seasoned and mixed with fresh herbs so it held up well against the spicy sauce.

The Thai-inspired tuna tartare

Luis chose their signature clam chowder. It was packed full of clams and vegetables, topped with Niman Ranch smoked bacon and was very rich yet still light ( apparently made lighter because of the climate).

Clam Chowder

Our server, Scott, was a real charmer. Perhaps I’ve been in the US a bit too long now, but there was something very endearing about being called ‘my lady’ every time he served me something or I had a question. My main course, pan-seared sea bass with Prince Edward Island black mussels with a fennel and carrot ragout and an orange emulsion, came a little overcooked, and he was incredibly gracious about it (though I imagine the problem was our shrimp order – the fish probably ended up sitting under the heat lamps for some time) and thanked me for mentioning it as it was his favorite dish on the menu and he wanted us to love it too (yep, I’ve been here too long!).

When it did come back, it was very slightly undercooked, but perfect nonetheless. The soft flesh of the sea bass worked really well with the small plump mussels and fennel and the orange sauce was surprisingly delicate.

Sea bass, second time round

Simon and Sergio both had the sturgeon – it was good, but the sea bass was much better.  I don’t normally order sturgeon – it’s a lot heavier, almost meaty, a bit like chicken, but personally I like much lighter, less fleshy fish. It was served with a lovely roasted beet risotto that I thought was the best part of the dish.

Wild Quinault Reservation Sturgeon

It seemed a bit too much to have dessert as it was only lunchtime –  but we made the mistake of ‘just having a look’ and were hooked as soon as we saw ‘ red velvet cake with cocoa nib streusel and raspberry and marscapone ice cream’. Then we decided we might as well try a couple of others as well and ordered a Tahitian Vanilla Flan (served with orange Cognac caramel, mandarin orange sorbet and cardamom churros) and a Vermont Maple Pudding (with creme fraiche, fleur de sell and pecan shortbread).

Red velvety goodness!

The Tahitian flan

Cardamom churros

Maple pudding

Hands down, the Red Velvet cake was the best dessert. It was warm, soft and deliciously chocolately. The streusel was also rich, warm and crumbly and the cocoa nibs added a little bit of crunch. The flan was good – lovely deep vanilla flavor and a smooth creamy texture, and went well with the crispy churros.  But the real surprise was the maple pudding. I wasn’t sure I’d like it, but the presentation, served in a jar, with the homemade shortbread on the lid, and with a quenelle of creme fraiche worked really well. The deep mellow maple flavor was almost a little smoky but was offset with the sweetness of the other ingredients to perfection. I pretty much finished this off by myself.

As we started to wobble out the door, Scott brought over some petit fours – mini dark chocolate ganache macarons, lemon curd and fresh fruit jellies. Great end to an amazing meal. I’m thinking about going back already!

The Water Grill
544 S. Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90071
www.watergrill.com

Fruit jellies, chocolate macarons and lemon curd

Black mussels

Sea urchin

Interior of restaurant

Kitchen at Water Grill