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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A day at the beach

Woke up at 4.30am feeling uncomfortable and incredibly hot. I had turned the aircon off because when we got back last night it was absolutely freezing in the room, but forgot it was 35 degrees even at night.

We went to the gym then headed to the hotel restaurant for a light breakfast. Once there, I sat with a green tea while Simon headed straight for the buffet. I went up to have a look a and was completely overwhelmed- there was so much heavy, rich and steaming Mexican food, most of it meat, that I couldn’t quite handle it that early in the morning.

Luis with the mini lemon cakes

Luis and Sergio joined us about 20 minutes later and Luis took us around the buffet and explained what everything was.  It wasn’t like any breakfast I have ever had – there were at least 20 different dishes on offer, plus the usual egg station serving up huge omelettes and pancakes. Luis recommended a few must tries – chilaquiles, a dish of day old corn tortilla chips cooked with tomatoes, cheese and meat, frijoles (refried beans) albondigas – beef meatballs in a spicy tomato sauce, a stew of beef, peppers, chiles and onions and white corn tamales. It was the first time I’ve ever tried tamales – they were steaming hot and wrapped in corn leaves, and a soft, mushy texture punctuated with some very chewy bits of corn.

Chihuahua!

Right after breakfast we headed over to Cosco so Luis could stock up on produce to take back to Hong Kong. There was a huge bakery section and we ended up buying cinnamon rolls, mini lemon cakes, red velvet cake and a lemon meringue cake for lunch the next day.

Panella in baskets

We then headed next door to the supermarket to stock up on some more food and checked out the huge variety of local cheeses, including the panela in a basket and the infamous chihuahua, as well as the many varieties of chorizo that are ready made and can just be heated up and put into anything from tacos to queso fundido.

After dropping off everything we had bought, we jumped back in the car and drove to Kino beach. It was an hour’s drive through the desert and when we finally saw the ocean glistening in the distance it seemed like a mirage.

The bright interiors of El Pargo Rojo

It was a sweltering day – at least 40 degrees, so when we finally arrived at El Pargo Rojo, a seafood restaurant by the beach, decked out in bright reds and oranges, the first thing we did was order big pitchers of limonada and beer.

Scallop cocktail

Lobster, garlic prawns and piri piri fish

Luis recommended the seafood cocktails, so I tried a scallop one, Simon and Luis had shrimp and Sergio chose a jumbo cocktail that was a mix of shrimps, snails, octopus and fish. They all arrived drowning in a mild tomato sauce with a few lime wedges and crackers, and I added a good dollop of chile sauces to mine. The scallops were very fresh and tender but I had a mouthful of Simon’s shrimps and immediately had food envy as they were succulent and full of flavour.

The butter and cilantro sauce

Pulpo Enamorado or 'Octopus in love'

Next up we decided to share three dishes – grilled lobster, piri piri fish and garlic prawns. The lobster was a little overdone so was a bit chewy, the fish was coated in a heavy sauce and then covered in cheese and was rich and moreish, though the fish got a bit lost under all the coatings. The prawns were tiny, more like shrimps and were lovely and garlicky, cooked liberally with lots of spicy chile seeds. Surprisingly the best part of the meal was the sauce that accompanied the lobster – melted butter with lots of cilantro and tomato, we ordered extra and simply ate it with rice.

Beach and desert outside the restaurant

Gorgeous white washed house overlooking the beach

Hello Mexico!

We arrived in Mexico today, after a one night stay at LAX. As soon as we got off the plane we entered a sauna, the stifling heat of Hermosillo, Luis’ hometown, was almost overwhelming. Apparently we were lucky as today was only 39 degrees and had cooled down from last week’s average of 48!

Queso Panela

After dropping our bags off at our hotel, we drove over to Luis’ sister and mum’s place (his mum lives in an apartment opposite the sister’s house) and started drinking straight away. I wasn’t planning on having anything but someone mentioned Malibu and pineapple juice and I couldn’t resist.

Almost straight away, Luis’ mum brought out a big round soft cheese, a Panela, which she had covered in minced garlic, lots of fresh oregano, chili and salt and pepper and popped it in the microwave for a minute. It came out steaming and aromatic – we eagerly cut it up and spread it on top of brown crispbread. It’s a little similar to mozzarella and is a local cheese that is gets it shape (and name – it’s sometimes called Queso Canasta or ‘basket cheese’) by being set in a basket.

Panela on crispbread

We also tried a local goat’s cheese covered in blueberries that was super soft and tangy. Not the first things I had expected to eat in Mexico but absolutely wonderful all the same.

A few drinks later and it was time for dinner. A 10-minute drive and we pulled up at Palominos, one of Luis’ favourite steakhouses just outside of town.

Sergio and I started with margaritas, which arrived with the rims dipped in chilli and salt – everyone else had beer, Luis’ brother in law had his as a chaser for his snifter of tequila.

Goat cheese covered in blueberries

The first margarita of the night!

The food arrived quickly –the Mexican equivalent of a bread basket was first up – fresh tortilla chips served with three small bowls – one with fresh salsa made with tongue numbing green chiles, another with a dark red chile sauce that was very spicy and finally a bowl of frijoles, or refried beans with cheese, super smooth and surprisingly delicate in flavour. These were quickly followed by a plate of guacamole, more tortilla chips and then my personal favourite, queso fundido – melted cheese with chorizo, which you pile onto a hot fresh flour tortilla and then douse with guacamole. Red oily juice leaked all over my hands, so I had to eat from both sides to keep it in check. Luis’ sister, Reyna, told us the cheese is actually called Chihuahua – the state next to the one we are in. Cue many many jokes about Chihuahuas…

Frijoles, salsa and chile sauce with tortilla chips
The barbecued milk tripe
The giant flour tortillas

Queso Fundido – best dish of the meal!

Suddenly the table was completely laden with food –lots more guacamole and refried beans, ‘real’ chivichangas –deep-fried tortillas filled with shredded pork and topped with salad and salsa; cheese quesadillas (which Luis referred to as the Mexican equivalent of cheese on toast), barbecued milk tripe, which you were meant to eat in the largest tortilla I’ve ever seen – about 3 times the size of my head. You fold it up so it’s about a quarter of it’s size and then place the tripe inside along with the guacamole and the dark red chile sauce. By that point I was too full to have the full tortilla so I just tried the tripe. This is one of Luis’ favourite dishes but I have to say I found it a little too smoky, almost to the point of tasting like charcoal and it was also super chewy. Definitely an acquired taste I’d say and probably would have benefited from me not just having had that amazing queso fundido.

The last thing to come out was a local skirt steak – steaks in Mexico aren’t the super thick ones you get in the US but instead are nice and thin. It was delicious just simply grilled and served without any accompaniments. In terms of taste, I noticed that it was slightly gamey and Luis told us it was because cattle is grass-fed in Mexico as it’s cheaper than grain. It was very lean but had a real depth of flavour to it.

Restaurant Palominos
Paseo Rio Sonora Norte #72 – 214
Hermosillo, Sonora