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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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

Tequila!

I was woken up by a call from Luis at around 9.30am, saying we were going out for fish tacos – another typical Mexican breakfast.

We drove about 5 minutes down the road to Taco Fish, a small and colorful open-air roadside taqueria. There were just two items on the menu – fish or shrimp tacos  – so we had one of each.

Fish and shrimp tacos fresh from the fryer

The shrimp and fish are lightly coated in batter and flash fried. We topped them with fresh coleslaw and salsa drizzled jalapeno sauce and cilantro mayonnaise over both.

Covered in coleslaw and salsa

Shrimp taco with red onions and chipotle mayonnaise

They were piping hot – simple yet stunning, slightly spicy and crispy, with tender shrimp and fish hidden within.  I tried all the chili sauces on the table. None were very spicy- in northern Mexico they use chiles for flavour rather than for heat. They even had soy sauce, which apparently is very popular and used in a lot of cooking.

Simon and Sergio enjoyed them so much they both ordered another shrimp taco- this time Simon smothered his with pickled red onions and jalapeno sauce.

Open air dining at Taco Fish

After breakfast, we drove around the town centre for an hour or two, did a bit of shopping and ended up in the supermarket on the way over to Luis’ sisters place to stock up on alcohol.

Chile pork cooked in claypot

Luis’ mum prepared lunch for us- chile con carne with pork instead of the usual beef. The bright red fiery looking sauce  had a lovely warmth to it, not what I was expecting based on the colour (the chiles it was made from are actually green but are sun-dried til they turn dark red). This was accompanied by what I can only term as Mexican fried rice, and some homemade frijoles. We ate this with giant flour tortillas and green chile filled tamales that were made by a family friend, which were a lot smoother than the ones we had for breakfast yesterday.

A very full plate of home-cooked food

Stuffed pepper tamale

Frosty tequila bottle

Trying to pour out the frozen tequila

Aloysus, Luis’ brother in law, brought out a chilled bottle of Reposado tequila after lunch. Infact it was so cold it was almost frozen so he had to shake it for some time until it was pourable. He served it with a  chaser of a small snifter of sangrita and a plate of lime wedges and salt  Tequila, especially good quality Reposado, should be sipped like brandy, not taken as a shot.

Some cousins arrived around 5 with some sweet snacks – some ‘bow ties’ or thin dough dipped in a sugar syrup and deep-fried until they are beautifully glossy and brown, and some flat unleavened cakes that were filled with brown sugar. Both were incredibly sweet and rich but were the first dessert we’d had since being here, so I had to sample both!

Sticky bow ties!

Filled with brown sugar