February 28, 2010

The Linkery (San Diego) - 5th Anniversary

Similar to every business area the food world also has always buzz words and fashionable trends. Some of them stay only for a short period of time, some of them are here to persist for a long time, like Farm-to-Table, local, seasonal, sustainable. Without doubt over the last few years more and more restaurants in San Diego and elsewhere try to focus more on local, seasonal and if possible sustainable ingredients but if you really look in more detail on most menus it is also clear that many restaurants follow this philosophy only in a very limited way. Therefore it is even more remarkable how consistent the Linkery decided from the very beginning to be very thoughtful about the sourcing of pretty much everything they use in their restaurant.

On a recent visit you could find on the top of the menu that your organic potatoes came from Cal Organics, Bakersfield, the free-range organic chicken from Fulton Valley co-op, Petaluma, the greens & produce from La Milpa Organica, Escondido etc. etc. This list is always a good reminder how resource intensive it is to serve any dish in a restaurant and how much more supportive we should be for restaurants who really care about these issues.

Original location

The Linkery was started five years ago in February 2005 by Jay Porter who has a background in computer science and worked as a consultant for consumer electronics companies before he decided without any experience in the restaurant business to have a deeper impact on the community by opening a restaurant. The Linkery originally started at the corner of 30th and Upas St. in a much smaller place (which is now occupied by Sea Rocket Bistro). From the very beginning we were interested in his approach of food/restaurants and started visiting the Linkery and had many great nights there. We were quite sad when he decided to move from the more intimate original location to his current larger place but which made of course much sense from a business point of view to bring it to the next level and have more possibilities.

Current location

The Linkery has now a much larger room with a nice bar area and large moveable windows which are especially nice during warmer days since it makes half of the restaurant feel like sitting on an airy patio. During the colder months we prefer to sit in the back of the restaurant which is much more quiet with a few booths and a nice view of the open kitchen.

One of the new possibilities which opened up by the move to a larger location was to go beyond just being a restaurant and start offering hand cured meats in the smaller side room – North Park Meats Co.

Over the last five years the Linkery has acted as one of the important seeds for the now very active restaurant/pub scene on 30th. It was also an integral part of the ever growing brewing landscape in San Diego by offering many ever changing local beers over the years. When the Linkery celebrated their 5th anniversary on February 25th it was no question for us that we would celebrate it with a dinner there.

The Linkery has the nice options of beer flights (5 oz pours of four beers). This time we had from cask – Levitation (specially brewed for the 5th anniversary from Stone with 5 hop varieties), Hop Porter (Green Flash) and from draft – Super Freak (Green Flash), Decadence 09 (AleSmith – for both of us the best beer of the evening) and Old Guardian 05 (Stone).

Grilled flatbread with house cured Blue Butt bacon, caramelized red onions, queso fresco, Portobello mushrooms and roasted garlic sauce. The flatbread is very thin and had a nice sweetness from the onions which was balanced by the slight sourness of the queso fresco. And as we all know – everything tastes better with bacon ! And it helps that the house cured bacon at Linkery is one of the best you will get in San Diego.

Choucroute plate with Cincinnati link (duroc pork, sage, thyme, mace, PORK BELLY!!!), house made sauerkraut, house cured pork, Winchester Gouda, and house baked beer bread. We were surprised how much you could taste the pork belly in the sausage. Most sauerkraut you find in the US tastes horrible to us and is way too sour (no offense meant…). The Linkery is one of the few exceptions with a very mild distinguished flavor as it should be and by far the best sauerkraut we have had in San Diego so far (seconded by Cafe Chloe).

Kentucky-fried local pastured quail, baby collard greens, Kennebec potato mash, Green Flash Superfreak gravy. Wonderful potato mash and collard greens. The coating of the quail was too thick so that it was hard to get a good taste of the quail meat.

Taza chocolate cake, German-style
Good cake but not one of their best desserts we had. We would really like to see some old “classics” from their first location back on their menu like Oaxacan chocolate ice cream and the chocolate lava cake. On a side note, we still don’t understand why this type of cake is named “German” chocolate cake as you would not find it in Germany as a "classical" cake.

French press of Zirikana coffee from Rwanda (roasted by Intelligentsia Coffee)
This coffee had a very interesting cherry-like flavor with some notes of tropical fruit.

This dinner was a good representation of “typical” dishes at the Linkery – their eponymous links, food prepared in a simple way to let the highest quality ingredients talk, large variety of local beers.

We are looking forward to many more years to come at the Linkery. Congratulations again, Jay !

The Linkery
3794 30th St
San Diego, CA 92104
(619) 255-8778

February 26, 2010

Slow Food San Diego - Coffee Class at Caffe Calabria

The Slow Food movement started in 1986 in Rome (Italy) as a reaction towards the opening of McDonald’s close to the Spanish Steps. Since then this movement has spread out throughout the world and has now members and offices in most countries. In 2001, a local chapter was founded in San Diego, and San Diego is now covered by two local chapters – Slow Food Urban San Diego and Slow Food San Diego (covering North County).

Slow Food has many different objectives as diverse as forming seed banks, promoting local and traditional food, lobbying for organic farming, encouraging ethical buying in local market places etc. to reach their mission of “creating a dramatic and lasting change in the food system…and reconnect Americans with the people, traditions, plants, animals, fertile soils and waters that produce our food.”

One important cornerstone for the Slow Food movement to reach this goal is education of customers. Slow Food provides different kinds of classes and meetings on a regular basis. So far we have visited a cheese-making class given be Peter Zien (Ale Smith Brewery founder, and also a Hobby-cheesemaker), and recently we also had a chance to participate in a Coffee Tasting and Education Class at Caffe Calabria in North Park.

The class had about 25 attendees and was run by Annalyn Lehnig – Barista trainer at Caffe Calabria. In the first part Annalyn gave a good overview of the history of coffee, different coffee regions, processing methods etc. It was interesting to see that the class was very interactive and a lot of people participated in the discussions. We also had a few home coffee roasters as attendees which could provide additional insights into this topic.

The second part of the class was a view of the roasting process with a short demonstration and a brief discussion about the purchase and storage of the fresh beans.

The next part focused on the tasting of coffee by a process called coffee cupping which allows professionals to determine taste and aroma of coffee.

The last part of the class covered espresso preparation, Annalyn explained in more detail how to use grinders and espresso machines and how baristas use and optimize their machines throughout the day.

Our day ended with a fresh Vienna latte prepared by Annalyn herself.

We hope that more people will consider/join Slow Food in the future as a way to be involved/support local food businesses/restaurants but also that Slow Food will continue providing classes covering a wide spectrum of topics and hopefully also including more advanced classes which could potentially go much deeper into specific topics.

Slow Food San Diego

Slow Food Urban San Diego

Caffe Calabria
3933 30th Street
San Diego, CA 92104
(619) 291-1759

February 22, 2010

Cafe Chloe – Another perfect night

While foodies love to discover new places and restaurants, at the same time they like to come up with top lists of their favorite ones for different cities. We are no exception to this typical “foodie behavior”: there are certain places that we love to go to over and over again, and because we visit them so often and get to know the people there quite well, they start to feel like a second home or living room to us.
In San Diego we were fortunate enough to have two of those “second living rooms”: the Better Half Bistro in Hillcrest and Cafe Chloe in East Village. With quite some substantial pain to us, the Better Half Bistro unfortunately closed its door last June – but happily we still have Cafe Chloe which we never get tired to visit. On so many occasions have we ended a long and tiring week at work with a nice dinner at Cafe Chloe, and it is always amazing that within just a few hours we are reenergized to start into a nice weekend.

Cafe Chloe was founded by Tami Ratcliffe and couple Alison McGrath and John Clute about five years ago, and even though East Village might not look like some touristy place in Paris (but some arrondissements in Paris don’t look that inviting either) once you step inside the restaurant, a lot reminds you of a bistro somewhere in France. Cafe Chloe has a nice casual and relaxed atmosphere with its wine bar in the center, and several small tables and bistro chairs throughout the cozy room. One of our favorite places is the elevated gallery which is a quieter place for two people, and which has a nice view throughout the restaurant. They also have a few tables outside; a nice option on a beautiful summer night (of which, of course, we have plenty in San Diego). We also admire their great taste in desiging the whole place, starting from the two stone dogs greeting you at the entrance, over beautiful paintings and other decorations, such attention to detail is rare to find elsewhere – and again adds to our feeling of “being home” at this place.

As already mentioned above, Cafe Chloe recently celebrated its fifth anniversary. We started visiting them shortly after their opening, and over the years we got to know many of the wonderful staff at Cafe Chloe by name. By now they also know many details about us, e.g. our preference for a slow pacing of the meal etc. which makes all of our visits even more relaxing.
Cafe Chloe’s Chef, Katie Grebow, creates a wonderful menu with her own interpretation of French (American) bistro dishes. We also enjoy that they don’t make the same mistake of many other restaurants with a small menu to not change their menu often enough for their regular visitors. They always have two daily specials, one meat and one fish entrée, and even their “regular” dishes have small seasonal changes. We have to yet have a dinner at Cafe Chloe which disappoints us, but at restaurants as Cafe Chloe which consistently deliver great food, there are still those special nights when somehow everything works together, and you have another “perfect” night, like the one we had recently:

Mimosa with house-made peach sorbet
Cafe Chloe doesn’t take reservations (except for one table for parties of five) so that sometimes you have to wait for a table, but that is an excellent “excuse” to start the evening at the bar with a mimosa with house-made peach sorbet.

Pork meatball with small salad
This was a new addition to their Small Plates section and reminded us of a German “Frikadelle”

Chicken Pate with grilled bread, pickled carrots and mustard
Cafe Chloe has an always changing Charcuterie du Jour plate with outstanding house-made charcuterie by Sous-Chef Jacob Rodriguez.

Pinot Noir - Domaine Henri Delagrange, Hautes-Cotes De Beaune, 2007
The Pinot Noir had a nice acidity and gentle tannins with a berry taste. A simple but elegant wine which paired nicely with the different courses.

Cider-braised Wild Boar with sautéed apples, braised red cabbage and buckwheat Spaetzle.
One of the best main dishes we had at Cafe Chloe and perfect “German comfort food” on this rainy night. We wished they would put it on their regular menu !

Cheese plate with kumquat compote, wine gelee and honeycomb
We still had some wine left and decided to have some cheese instead of dessert.

This was a wonderful evening at one of our most favorite places in San Diego – thank you, Cafe Chloe, for being here for us!

Cafe Chloe
721 9th Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 232-3242

February 20, 2010

Bobotie - Our first home-cooked meal post !

We not only love to go out to dinner and discover new restaurants and places, but also enjoy cooking at home very much. Coming home after a long day at work, this is always a nice way for us to relax and unwind. Over the last years, we have cooked many recipes from all over the world (by now we have a large, and ever growing, collection of cooking books and magazines), and it is nice to now start sharing our cooking experiences at home on this blog. We are very open to all different kinds of food and love to experiment and educate our palates, and our first post on our home cooking will be on a famous South African dish: Bobotie

Bobotie has a long history in South African cuisine and is one of the national dishes. It is known in the area of South Africa since the 17th century and most likely has its roots in Indonesia and comes from the word Bobotok. Other sources place the origin in Malaysia. But it seems to be clear that Dutch settlers/companies brought this dish to the Cape of Good Hope.

In old times the meat was often a mixture of mutton and pork, but today lamb or beef is mainly used. The dish is characterized by its balance of savory and sweet flavors which comes from dried fruits such as raisins or apricots. The addition of curry and chili powder, lime juice and almonds give this seemingly simple dish a surprising complexity. The dish is normally served with saffron rice and a fruity chutney. We served it also with some green beans and a nice cold beer.

Preheat oven to 160 C/320 F. Heat butter and oil over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and cook for 6-7 minutes until translucent. Add curry powder, turmeric, chili powder and salt. Remove from heat and let it cool for a few minutes.

Mix ground lamb, cooled onion mixture, lime zest and juice, apricots, apple, Panko crumbs, milk, egg and almonds.

Spoon mixture to a greased casserole and level the top. Cover casserole with aluminum foil and bake for one hour.

Remove from oven and preheat oven to 210 C/410 F. Beat eggs with remaining milk and pour over lamb mixture and bake uncovered until cooked and browned for 20-25 minutes.

Recipe adapted from “Afrikanische Kueche” by Honos Verlag

2 onions, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
20 g (1 tbsp) butter
2 tbsp canola oil
1 tbsp curry powder
¼ tsp turmeric
½ tsp chili powder
1 kg (2.25 lb ground lamb)
finely grated zest and juice of one lime
100 g (4 oz) dried apricots, finely diced
1 apple, cored and finely diced
3 tbsp Panko crumbs
75 ml (3 fl oz) milk
1 egg
50 g (2 oz.) sliced almonds
250 ml (10 fl oz) milk
2 eggs

February 13, 2010

Lucques - Los Angeles

Suzanne Goin has left quite an impact in the dining scene of Los Angeles over the last decade with the opening of several well respected restaurants such as A.O.C., Hungry Cat, Tavern and most prominently Lucques. Her talent is widely recognized and represented in six nomination for James Beard awards including one for her cookbooks, “Sunday Suppers at Lucques”.
As much as we like especially Hungry Cat (we have visited both places in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara), our visits so far to Lucques always left us with mixed feelings. The food and service were mostly good but never really outstanding, and we always felt like that the restaurant had much more potential but for different reasons was never able to fully utilize it. On a recent trip to Los Angeles we thought it was perhaps a good time to try out Lucques again for one of their well-known Sunday Suppers.

Lucques is kind of hidden on Melrose Ave, and if you don’t really know where it is it you can easily miss it. It’s a small building with ivy on the front wall, and once you step inside you feel like entering somebody’s living room. The main dining room has a very comfy but elegant feeling with brick stone walls, a fireplace in the middle of the room and large mirrors on the walls that make the room appear much larger than it is. There is also a beautiful patio in the back which is a nice option especially in the summer.

Unfortunately our evening didn’t start without problems. We had asked for a place in the dining room when making the reservation since we anticipated cold weather for that weekend, but were initially guided to the patio. After a short discussion we were then shown a table in the dining room which was clearly one of the worst in the house (directly at a pass where most of the guests and servers are walking by all the time) even though there were several other tables available. After another discussion we were given a much better table. Interestingly, we saw the same behavior also later in the evening when the restaurant was nearly empty and a new group of guests arrived; they had a very long discussion to get one of the booths (instead of the table they were first offered) even though none of the booths were occupied. It’s surprising that the staff isn’t more interested to let the guest feel more welcome especially if the requests are so easy to accommodate.

The service throughout the evening was professional but at the same time inattentive - we had to ask for the cocktail menu and later for the dessert wine list, dishes were brought out too fast, we asked for coffee after the dessert but were given just the bill and had to remind our server.

We started the evening with two cocktails: A Temple Black (Miller’s Gin and house-made grenadine with orange, Seven-up and a hint of anise) which was nice and mellow but had also a nice kick from the gin. And we also asked the bartender to mix us one non-alcoholic cocktail which was very good, it had different fruit juices and a nice tartness by some lemon juice.

The bread service at Lucques is always very good, and we love their Lucques olives and almonds.

Arugula and blood orange salad with roasted dates, Marcona almonds and Parmesan.
The roasted dates and the almonds were the highlights of the salad. The vinaigrette had a little bit too much vinegar.

Braised veal cheeks with soft polenta, cavolo nero, turnips and Pecorino salsa.
This dish was surprisingly bland, and it doesn’t happen very often that we have to add salt in a restaurant. We liked the sides (polenta and vegetables) more than the veal.

Greek yogurt tart with honey, Schaner farms' citrus and pistachios
Good but somewhat unremarkable tart

Overall this dinner at Lucques was far from really disappointing, but at the same time service and food wasn’t at that level you would expect from a restaurant with such a reputation. We will be back in the future but it will take awhile as there are so many other good options close by.

8474 Melrose Avenue
West Hollywood, CA 90069
(323) 655-6277

February 8, 2010

Gjelina - Los Angeles

On our increasingly frequent weekend trips to Los Angeles (we have to confess that over the last few years we have started to discover LA’s great food scene and are hooked by now…) we usually arrive late on Friday night, and are always looking for restaurants which are open after 10pm and serve good food. In the past, Pizzeria Mozza and Animal have been our favorites on those nights, but since we are always interested to find new places we decided this time to check out a new one: over the last year Gjelina on Abbott Kinney Blvd in Venice Beach got many good reviews and is currently one of the up and coming restaurants in LA. The kitchen under the helm of Travis Lett (opening chef of NineThirty in the W hotel) has a strong focus on local and seasonal food with a Mediterranean influence.

The interior of the restaurant is similar to the food: very rustic and simple, but at the same time inviting and somewhat hip and modern. The main dining room has brick walls and floors and wood plank ceiling. Upon entering the restaurant you immediately feel the energy in this room, and two communal tables close to the bar give the opportunity to meet new people for dinner. The restaurant is relatively dark and has its signature, several electrical lamps in all sorts of shapes and sizes, mounted over the bar.

In addition to the main dining room the restaurant also has a quieter patio surrounded by high walls which especially during warmer weather might be a very nice place to dine.

The menu consists of different small plates including salads and vegetables, entree plates and pizzas from a wood-burning oven. For this visit we decided to choose a few small plates and pizza.

Selection of Charcuterie with toasts, mustard, preserves & pickles
Salami, Sopressata, Prosciutto with red beets, pickled cucumber and onions, two types of mustard and toasted bread. Overall it was a good start of the night but compared to all the other dishes it was nothing special. Unfortunately we didn’t have the chance to ask if they make their charcuterie in-house.

Grilled local squid with a warm lentil salad and Salsa Verde
Great combination of very tender squid and an excellent lentil salad. The Salsa Verde gave the dish a nice kick.

PEI mussels with homemade chorizo, confit tomato, white wine and grilled bread
Large and extremely tender mussels, but the real star of the dish was the sauce which got its taste from the mussels, white wine and tomato confit and had large chunks of chorizo in it. The bread was great for dipping the sauce. We didn’t leave a drop of it on the plate and it would have been a great soup even without the mussels.

Crispy Niman Ranch pork belly with soft polenta, bitter greens and apple cider
It’s hard for us to see pork belly on any menu and not order it. This version was good but not outstanding. It was a little bit dry, but the bitter greens were a nice contrast and helped to balance the richness of the pork belly.

Charred Brussel sprouts with dates, bacon and vinegar
Such a simple dish but so good. The Brussel sprouts were tender but still had a nice bite. The sauce had a slight sweetness from the dates which balanced the bitterness of the sprouts and vinegar. And which dish isn’t brought to perfection by bacon ?

Pizza with shaved asparagus, confit shallot, farm egg, Sottocenere and parmesan
One of our favorite pizza places in LA is Pizzeria Mozza. We love their high quality toppings and even their dough is becoming thinner over the years, but especially the crust still resembles bread more than pizza. We are always on the lookout for real thin pizza (but not too cross) and we might have found it at Gjelina - Very thin pizza with a great thin crust made in a wood-fired oven – our new favorite in LA. And the quality of the toppings at Gjelina didn’t disappoint either.

Banana chocolate bread pudding with fresh cream & caramel and outstanding espresso
The bread pudding was unusually soft and nearly liquid, and had a great banana taste. Also, it’s quite an advantage to have one of the best coffee shops of LA almost next to the restaurant – Intelligentsia. So it didn’t come as a surprise that the espresso was one of the best we had in any restaurant. Similar to Intelligentsia, the espresso was served with a glass of sparkling water.

Service throughout the night was very professional and efficient. We never felt rushed even though we were at the end some of the last guests in the restaurant. We also liked that our waitress mentioned that she will ask the kitchen to pace our dishes slowly. She also made sure that dishes did arrive in the best possible order to combine the best flavors – both seafood dishes at the same time as well as the pork belly together with the sprouts. Overall we went to Gjelina without any high expectations besides reading some good reviews beforehand, but were very impressed by the quality of both food and service. Gjelina will definitely become a part of our regular LA rotation list.

1429 Abbott Kinney Blvd
Venice, CA 90291
(310) 450-1429

February 7, 2010

Bistro LQ - Los Angeles

Bistro LQ opened less than a year ago but is more and more becoming one of our favorite restaurants in LA. Chef Laurent Quenioux has an interesting and impressive background with a start in France and beginning his apprenticeship with 14 and working in numerous restaurants before he came to LA and was involved in several restaurants/positions (including executive chef of the Dodgers). One of his last restaurants was Bistro K in Pasadena which got very good reviews but we unfortunately never had the chance to visit. So we were very excited when Bistro LQ opened end of July 2009 and have since then visited several times and were never disappointed by the food and creativity of Chef Quenioux.

It is not only the kitchen at Bistro LQ which delivers, but also the team in the front of the house under the guidance of Eric Bouty is doing a similar outstanding job to let every customer feel welcomed. Our last visit was no exception when he greeted us and mentioned that he saw our names and discussed with the chef that we could get a completely new 9-course tasting menu since we had the last one just a few weeks before. This was of course an offer we couldn’t reject.

Amuse-Bouche: Mussel with red beet and salmon caviar.
Very tender mussel and a nice contrast by the earthy red beet

1st Course: Dungeness crab with fennel apple slaw
Good balance between the sweetness of the crab and the slight sourness of the apple and fennel

2nd Course: Foie Gras (Torchon style) with black truffles, oxtail pastry and frisee.
The Foie Gras worked nicely with the braised oxtail and flaky pastry.

3rd Course: Miso Soup with scallop, Foie Gras and shrimp
One of the highlights of the evening – the Foie Gras gave the miso soup a great depth and richness.

4th Course: Sea urchin tapioca pudding with yuzu and oyster in yuzu martini gelee
This was the only course we had in a previous tasting menu but we weren’t disappointed to have it again. The tapioca pudding with the uni gave a very smooth taste of the sea which is amplified by the oyster/gelee. (And as chemists we also like the presentation in small beakers…)

5th Course: Smoked haddock with blini pancake, ricotta lemon mousse and Sevruga caviar
Another strong seafood course with a nice variation to the standard smoked salmon with blini.

6th Course: Skate with cippolini, fava beans and raspberry sauce
The skate and cippolini were both very tender but the fruity sauce brought the whole dish together by providing an interesting sweet contrast.

Intermezzo: Lychee Sorbet
Very refreshing sorbet as a palate cleanser before the meat courses

7th Course: Squab with pistachio flan and blueberry sauce
Meat was very tender with crispy skin and had a nice gamey flavor. And again it was a great dish in which many different flavors worked well together.

8th Course: “Mixed Grill Plate” – hanger steak, heart, kidney, sweetbreads and sunchoke puree
Not your standard mixed grill plate but great presentation of different meat flavors and textures

 9th Course: Cheeses
The cheese cart at Bistro LQ is well known for its large variety and we always let Eric arrange a selection with only the Epoisses as our favorite constant. The condiments are always very impressive and range from truffle honey to red paprika mustard to sweet onion jam to cranberries.

10th Course: Several fruit based sweets – unfortunately forgot the details…
Good contrast to the next dessert course but most of these were quite sour and could have been a little bit more balanced.

11th Course: Chocolate cake with crème anglaise and whipped cream
Good finish of the tasting menu with a light chocolate cake.


So far we haven’t had any disappointments at Bistro LQ, and this visit was no exception. Together with the excellent wine pairing which always supports each dish without overwhelming it this restaurant also presents a real bargain with the 9-course tasting menu and wine pairing for $125/person.
The name Bistro LQ doesn’t really cover the food at this restaurant since Chef Quenioux cooks food which goes far beyond “conventional” bistro food. The techniques and the “heart” of the restaurant might be French, but the ideas one finds in the dishes combine influences from all over the world and won’t disappoint anybody interested in creative and innovative food.

Bistro LQ
8009 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 951-1088