Laundry time!

I’ve been meaning to write about the meal we had at French Laundry from the minute we were seated in the restaurant. But here we are, nearly two months later. I was clearing up my desk and found the menu from that night so decided I should get typing, before it goes missing again.

When I knew that we’d be visiting Napa after San Francisco, I took a look at the French Laundry website and tried to make a reservation – of course, they were booked up for the next six months. So when we got to Napa, we thought we’d just show up at the restaurant and try our luck.. after all I’m sure lots of people cancel their reservations last-minute after waiting for half a year.

Luck would have it that they were able to find us a table. We had to wait about an hour but they were absolutely charming and served us drinks and let us go and have a walk around their vegetable garden, which was just across the road. It was great to watch chefs running into the garden from the restaurant, obviously to pick something that had run out.

The French Laundry garden

Once we were seated, Simon and I grinned at each other – French Laundry is one of the restaurants I’ve always wanted to try and we were sitting there, about to embark upon one of the best meals we’ll probably ever have.


I’m not going to explain every dish in detail as there were over 11 courses so I’ll just share the photos I took of each one (not the best images, it was very low-lit inside). Each plate that came out was absolutely exquisite – it wasn’t just the incredible pairing of flavours, but also the artful presentation. I stared at each plate for at least a minute or two before trying my hardest not to eat the contents all in one go.

Oysters and Pearls – sabayon of pearl tapioca with island creek oysters and white sturgeon caviar

Moulard Duck Foie Gras Au Torchon - fennel bulb, Santa Rosa plum, whipped white honey and pine nut vinaigrette

Three different salts to go with the foie gras

Sautéed Fillet of Atlantic Cod – charred onions, artichokes, toybox tomatoes, arugula and Spanish saffron

Sweet Butter-Poached Maine Lobster Mitts - Akita Komachi rice, shishito peppers, red radish, cilantro shoots and coconut curry emulsion

Wolfe Ranch White Quail - smoked buttermilk dumpling, Jacobsen's Farm apples, spigarello, red walnuts and sauce perigourdine

Tete de Cochon – ground cherries, Tokyo turnips, nasturtium and Dijon mustard

Snake River Farms 'Calotte de Boeuf Grillee' - bone marrow, hen-of-the-woods mushroom, Brentwood corn, romaine lettuce and jus d'Estragon

Tomme de Brebis, French Laundry piccalilli and watercress puree

Soy Milk Sherbet - black mission fig, young ginger and French Laundry Garden lemon verbena

Caramelia Chocolate Cremeux - Gros Michel banana, Georgia peanuts, Dentelle and salted popcorn ice cream

Peach Melba - Siciilan pistachio, Pain de Genes, Andante Dairy yogurt, biscotti and raspberry sorbet

Coffee and Doughnuts - cinnamon-sugared doughnut and a coffee cup filled with cappuccino mousse

Looking back over the photos, I’m amazed we managed all these courses with such ease. I left feeling happily full but not overstuffed. Each dish was incredibly memorable and I can still vividly recreate the flavours and textures in my mind.

We’ll probably need to go to LA again next year so I’m already trying to figure out how we can take a detour to Yountville.. this time I’ll make sure we book well ahead of time though, we might not be so lucky a second time!

Advertisements

a 3-course breakfast at home

Simon and I woke up at about 5am this morning, so decided to sit on the balcony with a big pot of tea and watch the sun rise. We then realised we can’t see the sun rise from our balcony so I figured I’d go and make something to eat instead! Possibly the only good thing about jet lag is being able to get up early and have time to make a proper breakfast.

We hadn’t had dinner the night before so were starving, so I made a quick citrus salad from oranges and grapefruit. I added some chopped sweet basil and a little bit of brown sugar, put it all into a plastic container and shook it for about 30 seconds, so the juice was released a little and softened everything up.

Orange and grapefruit salad with crushed sweet basil

After this, this I got started on macerated strawberries and pluots with homemade granola and greek yoghurt – a dish inspired by our breakfast at Blue Bottle in San Francisco. I started by cutting up a whole box of organic strawberries  – around 10 or so, as well as a very ripe pluot I found in Threesixty the day before. I put all of this into a bowl filled with a mix of grapefruit and orange juice (squeezed from what I had left over from the citrus salad) and balsamic vinegar. Added a little bit of white sugar into this mix and let it sit for about an hour, though I think overnight would be ideal.

I served it all up with some organic greek yoghurt, organic muesli to which I added some olive oil and maple syrup and popped under the grill til it was really warm and crisp, and a grind of black pepper over the fruit – it was delicious and I’ll definitely be making this dish again!

Macerated strawberries and pluots with museli and greek yoghurt

At around 10 or so, Simon was hungry again. This time I thought I’d tried to recreate (well with a few changes) the egg dish we had at Farm:table – soft-boiled eggs with caramelised onions on pan-griddled bread, with fried cherry tomatoes and rocket. This is fantastic combination and with a big drizzle of truffle oil added just before serving, made a wonderful Sunday breakfast dish to share.

Eggs on caramelised onions with cherry tomatoes and rocket

Top view

Quick orange and grapefruit salad
Serves 2
1 whole large orange
1 whole grapefruit
3-4 sweet basil leaves, washed and cut finely
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Peel the orange and grapefruit and cut into bite sized chunks. Place in a large plastic container and add the chopped basil leaves (if you’re not a fan of basi, you could try mint instead) and sugar. Shake vigorously for about 30 seconds or until everything is all mixed together. Serve in small bowls.
Macerated strawberries and pluots with homemade granola and greek yoghurt
Serves 2
10 strawberries
1 pluot
1/2 cup grapefruit juice (can be 1/4 cup grapefruit, 1/4 cup orange juice)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (or less if you have an aged, heavy vinegar)
1 teaspoon white sugar
1/2 large tub greek yoghurt
1/2 cup muesli
Cut up the strawberries into slices and then cut in half, slice up pluot into thin slices. In a medium bowl, mix together the grapefruit juice, balsamic vinegar and white sugar. Add in the sliced fruit and make sure it’s coated in the mixture. Leave to sit for at least 2 hours.

To serve, place in bowl with toasted muesli and greek yoghurt with a drizzle of honey if you want some added sweetness.

Soft-boiled eggs with caramelised onions, cherry tomatoes and rocket on 5-grain bread
Serves 2
2 free range eggs
6-8 large cherry tomatoes
2 slices of 5-grain bread, cut in half
1 red onion
handful of rocket
olive oil
truffle oil
knob of butter
Bring eggs out in advance so they are room temperature or they may crack when placed in the water. Chop up onions into thin slices. Fry in pan til soft and translucent with olive oil and a knob of butter. Bring water to a rolling boil in a pot and add the eggs. Cook for 2 minutes then turn off heat and leave in pot for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat up a griddle pan and grease with olive oil. Fry tomatoes and season with salt and pepper.  Add bread and cook until warmed through and griddle marks appear on either side. Season rocket with a mixture of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice and salt and pepper. Shell the eggs and cut in half.

Now assemble – place onion on bread and half egg on each slice. Scatter tomatoes and rocket around the dish and then drizzle plate with a little bit of truffle oil.

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

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

The best meal of the day

Breakfast is my favourite meal of the day. There’s something incredibly satisfying about a big hearty meal in the morning, accompanied by lots of tea. I can’t understand why so many people just skip it.

Now, shrimp tacos were my breakfast of choice in Mexico, but now that we’re travelling around California, I’ve found a few more dishes that make my mornings so much better.

On our first morning in San Francisco, we walked 40 minutes across the city to a little cafe called Bar Tartine – their sister establishment is a block away and is a hugely popular bakery, so we knew that all the bread would be good!

We shared an incredible dish of french toast, eggy brioche, strawberries with candied almonds. The bread didn’t disappoint – it was light and fluffy and beautifully buttery. Perfection.

French toast and brioche at Bar Tartine

The next morning, we discovered a cafe around the corner from our hotel called Blue Bottle Coffee – there are a few around San Francisco but this was their very first shop. There was a queue snaking around the block even on a Monday morning (who has time to queue for coffee on a Monday?) and being from HK, we had to of course join it to find out what it was all about.

I guess most people were there for the coffee, which was meant to be outstanding (I had a sip of one and it was smooth and mellow) but not being a coffee drinker, I ordered a herbal tea. I was pleasantly surprised when it arrived in a lovely glass pot full of fresh lemon verbena leaves. The tea itself was amazing so I’m on a mission to find these leaves fresh in HK now!

Pot of fresh lemon verbena tea

Simon ordered me Pecan Granola, which came with natural yoghurt, macerated strawberries and peaches, grapefruit juice and blueberries. The juice was poured over the top of the fruit and could probably have been used a bit more sparingly as I really dislike soggy cereal, but despite this, it was a great combination. The granola was home-made and lovely and crunchy, not too sweet, and packed with pecans.

We shared an order of Belgian style waffles which came with the same macerated fruit, whipped butter and maple syrup. The waffles were perfectly crisp yet soft and spongy on the inside and the fruit was a great accompaniment until it started to seep in and make everything a bit too soft. Also not crazy about soggy waffles.

Simon also had poached eggs with a catalan style tomato sauce, braised greens and shaved cheese  – I had a bite and it was a really unusual combination, especially for a breakfast dish. The toast was especially good, how I miss having decent bread!

Homemade granola at Blue Bottle

Waffles with macerated fruit at Blue Bottle

Poached eggs at Blue Bottle

So the next day we considered lining up again at Blue Bottle (the wait by the way, was around 20 minutes), but I found another place through Foursquare (yes it has its uses!) that was actually started by two ex-Blue Bottlers that was on the same street as our hotel.

It was a tiny little place with just one square table that wasn’t even that big. Luckily there was only two other people there so we got a seat. They only offered 4 dishes for breakfast and we decided to order 3 of them, cos that’s how we roll (literally roll, must go on serious diet once we get back home).

I ordered the cereal of the day with organic yoghurt, blackberries and blueberries. The cereal was a mix of bran flakes, puffed rice and something else equally brown and cardboard. The yoghurt was amazing, thick, incredibly creamy and heavy.

Cereal of the day at farm:table

Simon had hard-boiled eggs on toasted baguette with teeny tiny sungold tomatoes, padrone peppers and caramelised red onions. He was a bit wary about ordering it at first but once he took a bite, it was a different story altogether. I think he may have eaten it with his eyes shut as he enjoyed it so much. I had a bite too – the bread was super thick and liberally coated in olive oil, but the combination of the all the flavors worked incredibly well. And in such a small space too, with limited cooking tools, it was a brilliant concoction.

Hard-boiled eggs on baguette at farm:table

After this we had toast covered in goats cheese and strawberries marinated in beet syrup. Seriously I think this was a stroke of genius, the goats cheese was the perfect companion to the lovely sweet, perfectly ripe strawberries and the beet syrup added just a slight bit of tartness. The bread was a little bit sweet too, and quite buttery. A relatively simple dish but amazing. Going to try to try to recreate this once I’m home. I’m going to be busy.

Goats cheese. Strawberries marinated in beet syrup. Toast.

Bar Tartine
561 Valencia Street
San Francisco
www.bartartine.com

Blue Bottle Coffee – Mint Plaza
66 Mint Street
San Francisco
www.bluebottlecoffee.net

farm:table
754 Post St
San Francisco
www.farmtablesf.com

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

The best burgers in LA?

Luis told me we had to go and try ‘the best burger in LA’ (according to GQ magazine) at a place called Umami Burger, where they apparently grind their own meat, pickle their own vegetables, process their own cheese, and make their own ketchup from scratch. Sounded good to me!

We had spent the morning at Santa Monica pier and beach, and by the time we were ready to eat, it was well after 3pm. It took us some time to find the restaurant – the address we had for it was a department store – Fred Segal – so we kept walking and had a look at a few other places including a great deli where we bought some freshly baked peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies (eating healthily has gone completely out of the window by this point of the trip).

Umami Burger entrance

We finally realised it was actually at the back of the department store, and there was no signage or branding anywhere!

Needless to say, we were famished by this point, so ordered straight away. Between us we had the Umami burger ( beef patty with grilled shiitake mushrooms, parmesan cheese wafer, caramelised onions, and roasted tomatoes), truffle burger (beef patty glazed with truffle oil and topped with truffle cheese), the Greenbird (Turkey patty with crushed avocado, green cheese, butter lettuce, alfa alfa and green goddess) and the Pork & Stilton burger (served with port-caramelised onions). We also ordered some sweet potato fries, homemade ketchup and roasted garlic aioli.

The menu - the logo looks like a pair of lips but I guess it's a burger!

I had big expectations and all in all was quite impressed. The Truffle burger was by far my favorite – the beef patty was tender and juicy and the truffle glaze on it complemented it perfectly. The Umami burger was good, same beef patty, but there was perhaps too many other tastes and textures to contend with, however this is meant to be the key to the famed ‘umami’ flavor.

The Umami Burger

The Truffle Burger

The Greenbird

The turkey burger was a little dry, but perhaps it was an unfair comparison after having the truffle burger. the Pork and Stilton was also a little dry, and either there wasn’t enough Stilton or it was very mild, but I could barely taste it.

I really liked the bun the burgers were served in – light and fluffy, almost like brioche, with a lovely glaze on top. Each was branded with a grilled ‘U’ on top, which I thought was a great (design) touch.

The sweet potato fries were delicious – they were twice fried and coated with a mixture of cinnamon, salt and brown sugar, which worked really well. Dipped into the roasted garlic aioli, they were incredibly moreish.

Sweet potato fries

Roasted garlic aioli

We didn’t order more of them though – we decided to share two more burgers between us. After much deliberation we settled on the Manly burger ( beef patty with beer-cheddar cheese, onion strings and lardons) and the Triple Pork Burger (ground pork, chorizo and bacon, served with manchego cheese and pimento aioli).

Luis expertly cut them into four when they arrived and we quickly polished them off. The Manly was a little bit too heavy – the lardons in particular were very salty and chewy. The Triple Pork burger was tasty but the chorizo was the most dominant flavor and overpowered all the other ingredients.

Inside the Truffle Burger

Manly Burger

Triple Pork Burger

Outside the restaurant

Umami Burger
500 Broadway, 
Santa Monica, CA 90401

www.umamiburger.com

Soy sauce, sesame oil and tamarind margaritas

We had a leisurely breakfast with the entire family and left Alamos around 11 and headed back to Hermosillo. The rain and clouds were gone and the sun beat down on us for the entire four-hour drive through the driest looking deserts I’ve ever seen.

It was agreed that we’d all meet at another of Luis’ favourite restaurants, El Farallon, on the north side of Hermosillo for a late lunch. We all arrived around 3.30pm, famished and hot, and quickly sat and ordered drinks. I decided to try a tamarind margarita since the one I’d had a few nights ago was so good. This one was even better – much less sugar so the sour tamarind flavour really stood out. I had two as we ate tortilla chips with a lovely roasted salsa that was much darker in colour than usual and was packed with chili seeds.

Tamarind margarita. Amazing.

Salsa, lime and chips

The first dish to arrive was the inspiration for a dish we made a few weeks ago for the magazine – crispy baby calamari with buttered corn tortillas. The calamari was chopped up into small pieces, coated in batter and deep-fried with spring onions. My first thought was that it tasted very much like a Chinese dish – Luis and I stared at each trying to identify the different flavours. It seems the recipe has changed since he was last there and they’ve started adding both soya sauce and sesame oil – the latter being especially apparent. The calamari was very crispy, almost to the point of being overdone, but underneath the batter is was still very tender.

Crispy calamari with spring onions

Buttered corn tortilla

Close up of calamari

We ordered a couple of seafood platters to share as well as plate of assorted quesadillas -a mix of shredded crab, prawn and smoked marlin. The platters were huge and included around six different items. My favourite was the tempura battered prawns that had a really unusual flavour- when we asked what it was we were told it was Sriracha sauce, which was a bit of a surprise! There was also shrimp cooked with sweet chilli skin (in the metal bowl), battered pomfret, fried fish fillet, fried rice with shrimps and vegetables, which had been cooked with chicken stock and very generous amounts of butter. Overall there was a lot of Asian influence in this food, I would almost call it fusion, but Luis would probably kill me.

Seafood platter. We had two of these.

Assorted seafood quesadillas

The nieces and nephew also ordered some sushi, which is apparently the newest and most popular food in Mexico at the moment. There’s no raw fish involved though, and a lot of alternatives are used such as chicken instead of fish, and adding sauces like chipotle to the rolls.

Mexican style sushi with chipotle sauce and mango

Tempura battered prawns

Fried fish fillet

The wine cart in the restaurant

El Farallon

www.restaurantelfarallon.com

Mexican hot dogs

After our lunch at Teresita’s, we were all so full we decided not to go anywhere for dinner. Then we heard that the whole town congregates in the main square in the evenings, along with many food and drink hawkers and couldn’t resist going to have a look.

Luis’ mum was craving some corn on the corn, so we walked a couple of streets over to the square to see what we could find. The first few corn sellers were all sold out of corn (obviously popular, it was only 8pm and most people here eat a lot later in the evening) so we ended up at a hot dog stall.  Luis insisted we all try one, so we crowded around watching the sausages and onions being fried.

One corner of the town square

The hot dog stand

The sausages are wrapped in bacon and served in a light bun that has a slit cut into it, where the meat is placed. This is topped with fried onions and then your choice of 10 different condiments. I added tomato sauce, chipotle mayonnaise, cilantro sauce, salsa and chopped mushrooms to mine. The bread was really light and soft unlike the normal hot dog buns you get in the US. The sausage was a little too smooth and soft for my liking, I prefer ones that are packed with (real) meat, and I could barely tell that it was wrapped in bacon. All in all though, it was a great hot dog, full of different rich flavours and not too heavy or greasy.

Sausage wrapped in bacon

Alexia's hot dog with cilantro sauce, chopped mushrooms, cheese, salsa and American mustard

Sergio's hot dog with lardons, salsa verde, chili sauce and American mustard

In the meanwhile, Reyna, Aloysus and Paola had been hunting for corn and found some in the next square. They brought back several cups of it, off the husk and piping hot in a mixture of cream, butter and lime. The corn was very chewy (it’s white corn, which has a very different texture to the yellow corn I’m used to) and the sauce seemed like an odd combination but seemed to work well, though was a bit too heavy with all the cream in it.

I handed the cup over to Luis, who happily finished it off for me.

Chewy corn in a cup

Next stop, Alamos!

Last night, after sleeping off our huge lunch, we decided to go and try some more tacos – this time, beef. It was raining (which is a rare occurrence, especially in this part of Mexico) as we dashed from the car into Luis’ favourite taco restaurant – this is normally his first stop from the airport when he arrives in Hermosillo.

Inside the taqueria

Some queso fundido as a starter

Luis ordered us some queso fundido to keep us going while we waited for the tacos to arrive. This version was a lot runnier and softer than the one we had before – a lesser quality cheese.

We each ordered 2 skirt steak tacos and went and chose from a big condiment station in the middle of the restaurant what we wanted to eat with them.

Steak tacos

I chose fresh salsa, cilantro mayonnaise, 3 kinds of chile sauce and salsa verde, which was a great accompaniment to the steak. It was simply grilled, still very pink and incredibly tender.

Adding condiments to our tacos

The condiment station

We washed it all down with a jug of horchata, which is made from rice milk, cinnamon and sugar. I found it a bit too sweet but it was quite refreshing.

After a night of tacos, we found ourselves back at Taco Fish this morning. This time we stuck to shrimp and I had three orders. Luis only had 2 as we had a 4 and a half hour drive ahead of us so he didn’t want to fall asleep. I have to say, I could get used to having tacos for breakfast.

The whole family set off for Álamos, a colonial town south of Hermosillo, near the state border, around 10 and arrived at our hotel, Hacienda de los Santos, (the house of the saints) a series of heritage buildings lovingly restored by it’s American owners, by 2.30.

Since every day seems to revolve around food (and rightfully so!) we immediately found the hotel restaurant, Agave café, and ordered lunch. The guacamole was served in a huge black lava bowl and we had a huge plate of nachos for the table. Simon and I shared a bowl of tortilla soup (which Luis told us he had put on the menu at Agave in Hong Kong) – a chicken broth base, chock full of tortilla chips, chicken, vegetables and avocado.  I ordered a beef salad, trying to opt for something a bit lighter, but it was huge and contained peppers, corn, beans, avocado, carrots and lots of rare beef all coated in a tangy chipotle and lime dressing.

Big bowl of salsa

Chicken fajita with peppers and beans

Beef salad

Tortilla soup

Collection of cowboy paraphernalia outside the restaurant