Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Club Tengo Hambre Tour Part I - Verde y Crema, Tijuana

Club Tengo Hambre Group 8.9.14
I have another post about London in the works, but judging by the number of questions I've been getting about this trip, I'm thinking you'd probably rather hear about this first.  I'd been wanting to do one of the Club Tengo Hambre tours for a while, and this time the stars finally aligned.  Their tours to the Guadalupe Valley look like a lot of fun, as do the tacos and beer tours of Tijuana - but this one was an introduction to three of Tijuana's newest prominent dining destinations  - Verde y Crema, La Querencia and Mision 19.  We met on this side of the border and crossed over on foot - then hopped in a mini bus for the short trip to Verde y Crema.  On the way they treated us to shots of tequila - a great start to any adventure.
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Verde y Crema is Jair Tellez' new spot just off Agua Caliente Blvd in a converted bus depot.  The art and light filled space was by far my favorite stop on the tour and the menu appealed to me the most of the three for a return visit.
Club Tengo Hambre Tour 8.14
The dining room is covered but flooded with natural light through clear plexiglass.  There is a bar along the long shaded area on the right and club like space upstairs.  They serve beer and wine, no cocktails (for now anyway) but these spaces look like a great spot to while a way a couple of hours in the evening.
Club Tengo Hambre Tour 8.14
Our tour group sat together at one long table. It was brutally hot and it being indoor/outdoor there was no air conditioning in the restaurant, but they set up some fans to give us a little air circulation.  We ordered bottled water and cold beer and felt better immediately.
Club Tengo Hambre Tour 8.14
At each stop on the one beverage option was included.  Here it was a lightly smoky young Mezcal - pictured below. At La Querencia it was beer and at Mision 19 it was wine - all local of course.  We ordered more than what was provided at every stop - beer, bottled water, cocktails, etc. so we wound up at each stop with a bit of a bill, which was fine, but just not something I thought about. It would definitely be a good idea to bring some cash along - but you're not likely to cross the border without some cash anyway, right?
Club Tengo Hambre Tour 8.14
The first of our two food courses at this stop were the "verdure" (vegetable) tacos - fresh, soft blue corn tortilla pockets toasted with melted cheese and filled with roasted beets, fresh salsa, watermelon radish, cilantro and scallion.  The soft slightly crisp tortilla and warm melted cheese contrasted well with the fresh toppings and made these  radical but welcome change from our usual San Diego style Mexican food.  James said they were his favorite dish of the tour.
Club Tengo Hambre Tour 8.14
Our second course was my favorite, a light citrusy ceviche with fresh uni.  To my surprise, several people in the group did not eat this at all.  At first I didn't want to be too greedy, but eventually I found myself scraping more and more onto my plate.  I couldn't bear to see it go to waste, but of course I didn't want to overdo it with two more stops and six more courses to come.
Club Tengo Hambre Tour 8.14
At Verde y Crema they cook primarily with wood - behind the chefs below is a complex wood burning grill, and in the corner is a wood burning oven.  This window to the kitchen is at the back of the restaurant, we swung by and took these pictures on the way upstairs.
Club Tengo Hambre Tour 8.14
The upstairs bar was peaceful and quiet in the afternoon.  The bar was closed, but it looked like a nice place for a drink with friends in the evening or after dinner.
Club Tengo Hambre Tour 8.14
In the parking lot just adjacent to the restaurant sits a food truck, Troca Lonche.  They do some cooking and preparation for the restaurant, and apparently serve breakfast.  I read that they plan to hit the streets soon with more offerings, so keep an eye out for that.
Club Tengo Hambre Tour 8.14
Before boarding the bus, we posed for a group photo in front of the mural in their parking lot which made a fun backdrop for a group photo up top.)  Jair Tellez is best known for Laja - the "French Laundry of the Guadalupe Valley."  About a million years ago we went to Laja and I wrote a blog post about it.  We enjoyed the meal but to be honest it wasn't amazing.  I think it may have been a bit of an outlier though, and I've been wanting to go back and try it again.  The Guadalupe Valley has changed quite a bit since 2006 and I can't wait to experience all of the new places that have opened in the past few years.  We're hoping to make a trip down there this fall - now that we have SENTRI passes that whole ordeal just became a whole lot easier.
Club Tengo Hambre Tour 8.14
If you are not already aware, SENTRI (or Global Entry) is a must for visiting Mexico - if you can afford it.  Frankly, it disgusts me a bit that the Feds are asking people to pay to skip the line rather than simply doing their job more efficiently - but they haven't solicited my feedback recently, so I'm guessing it doesn't really matter what I think.  We forked over our $125. earlier this year after a three hour wait coming back from a camping trip in Baja in December. You pay a $25. deposit and fill out a form online, then wait for them to contact you for an interview.  At the interview, they collect another $125 from you, fingerprint you, take your picture, and ask you a few questions.  It's a lot like a trip to the DMV.  Shortly thereafter - assuming you are accepted - they will give you a Trusted Traveler Number and issue your card.  The whole process took about six months for us, and may be longer now depending on where you are trying to book your appointment. Your Trusted Traveler Number also gives you access to Global Entry and TSA Pre benefits - as long as the name associated with your Trusted Traveler Number matches your reservation.
Club Tengo Hambre Tour 8.14
If you don't live near the Mexican border and don't plan to drive across, you don't need SENTRI - you can get Global Entry for the trusted traveler benefits for air travel including TSA Pre.  (NEXUS is the equivalent to SENTRI for crossing the Canadian border.)  If you decide you want to add SENTRI later, you can just add it to your account by requesting it after the fact.  The guy who interviewed me told me to tell everyone to get Global Entry and add SENTRI because they'll add it for free if you already have Global Entry.  If you apply for Sentri from the start, it costs $25. more.  Not a big deal for one person, but for a family it could add up, and everyone in your car has to have SENTRI in order to use the dedicated lane coming back.

Part II coming soon!


Monday, August 18, 2014

Fairweather at Rare Form - Downtown San Diego

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Hey now!  Look who's got the scoop! Sorry, but I can't resist - I'm just so excited to be writing about something that happened less than two months ago.  This past weekend I was lucky enough to see a Facebook post from the chef at Ironside, indicating that Consortium Holdings was opening an open-air bar called Fairweather over their new sandwich shop/delicatessen Rare Form this weekend.  It was sweet serendipity for me, because I was staying right around the corner from there with a friend this weekend at the Omni next to the ballpark.  She needed a little mini getaway so she booked a room through Priceline for a mini-staycation and invited me to join her.  We were pretty impressed with that place too.  The room was nice, the pool deck was lovely, and it was a lot of fun to be on vacation in my own town, ten minutes away from my house.
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After meeting up at the hotel we walked literally around the corner (ok, maybe two corners) to Rare Form and climbed the stairs in the back (it's a little more complicated than that, but you'll figure it out) to the brand new upstairs rooftop bar.  It's not as high as some of the other rooftop spots in town, but what it lacks in external view (which is a pastoral view of the Park at the Park just outside Petco) it makes up for with its own internal beauty.

Like all Consortium projects, this place is long on gorgeousness, with that same killer Granada Tile that makes Intelligentsia in LA such a popular spot, and lots of marble, citrus and greenery.  Always a winning formula.  
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It's a long narrow space, with cozy booths along the railing, the bar right in the center and a long communal marble table at the far side backed by a green wall.
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The tables were decked out with little brass hurricane lanterns and they were serving a limited cocktail menu for the opening, but will be in full swing soon.

There were a lot of people in Hawaiian shirts and tiki gear - no doubt because Tiki Oasis was in town this weekend. I didn't make it to any of the festivities but James went to the party on Thursday and checked out the hotel on Friday and said it looked like a blast - we'll have to make that happen next year.  I saw this snappy group by the bar on Saturday and asked if I could take their picture - turns out the couple on the right are the owners of Smugglers Cove, one of our favorite tiki bars in San Francisco.  Fun running into them.
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We ordered tiki style drinks too as it turned out - the Rum Runner for me, and the "Blue Drink" for Beth.  There were some opening night jitters in the service and drinks, but we know these guys know how to make cocktails because they do them so well at Craft & Commerce and Polite Provisions, so I have no fear those things will be ironed out asap.

They aren't serving food upstairs and haven't quite figured out how that is going to work yet, but you can order food to go and take it upstairs yourself.  They gave us half of our order wrapped to go and half for here - which worked out well enough since the sweet girl working downstairs helped me carry everything.

This was my second time eating at Rare Form. They specialize in sandwiches and call the restaurant a delicatessen.  That might be a stretch, but the sandwiches and sides I've tried so far have all been good.  I especially liked the Chicken Crisp sandwich we had the other night - a crisp chicken cutlet with buffalo sauce, caper aioli and red cabbage slaw - it's got some good punch to cut the richness of the chicken.  Iv'e also tried the Rare Form 44, their version of a Reuben, and the Italian Roast Pork, with braised kale and mustard.  We also tried the chicken liver mousse in a jar - called the chicken liver parfait.  For the first time in my life, I think they gave us enough toast to go with it.  We also had the farro salad, which I wasn't so crazy about it but my friend loved it, and some chips to snack on while we waited for our food.

I haven't always been so complimentary of Consortium Holdings places in the past.  The attitude at Craft & Commerce annoyed me, as did the lack of spoons and the frigid atmosphere at Underbelly, and I wasn't bowled over by the meatballs at Soda & Swine at first - but I've continued to go back to both Craft & Commerce and Soda & Swine/Polite Provisions and they've solved a lot of their issues over time.  Ironside is gorgeous but the food has been a little uneven - amazing one day, not so much another. As for Rare Form, the service and attitude at are as welcoming as can be. Though the food isn't always perfect and you can't eat the atmosphere at any of these places, I'll definitely keep coming back to this one.

Fairweather/Rare Form
795 J Street
On the walkway next to Park at the Park - off J Street
www.godblessrareform.com
Menu


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Lunch at St. John - London

Lunch at St. John
The problem with being a food lover in a great city full of fun stuff to do, is that at the end of the day - after doing all that stuff - it's hard to muster the energy for an evening of fine dining.   We solved that dilemma by keeping our eating in London pretty casual for the most part, with the exception of two pre-planned meals:  lunch at St. John and dinner at the Clove Club.  (Other places I strongly considered:  The River Cafe, Wild Honey, Arbutus, the Ledbury (which was booked solid for the week) and Upstairs at Ten Bells.)  
Lunch at St. John
I had heard about St. John from several people and it seemed like a great "only in London" dining experience.  A chance to try some real British food.  My main quandary was whether to do St. John Smithfield, or St. John Bread and Wine. Since this was our first visit to either and the location was slightly more central, I went with the original at Smithfield.  Generally it seemed Bread & Wine might be more casual with a focus on smaller plates, but that's about all I could discern about the differences. When you walk into the building you pass through an airy enclosure holding the bar and the bakery counter - and then upstairs to the right is the dining room. It's white paper table cloths and rather formal service, but not quite fine dining exactly.
Lunch at St. John
On the day we visited a large table in the center of the room was "Feasting" - which allowed them to order special dishes that aren't on the regular menu, such as heaping platters of whole crab and hog roast. It appeared to be a wedding party with the bride and groom on the far right, above. They were very chic and fab.
Lunch at St. John
The menu at St. John changes daily - almost entirely.  There are three things that are always on the menu.  The bone marrow, the rarebit and the eccles cake (and possibly the madeleines, now that I think about it.)  Other than that it's entirely fluid, and they actually post it ahead of every meal on their website. We had the bone marrow, broad beans & berkswell (a cheese) and the brown shrimp with cabbage to start - all of which are pictured below.  The marrow was served with the traditional parsley, shallot and caper salad with a little mound of damp, gray salt.  If you like marrow, and I do - it was terrific.  The broad beans and berkswell was very good too - but the "brown shrimp and cabbage" was entirely different from what I was expecting, basically a slaw with parsley dressing and a few shrimp sprinkled in.  For some reason I was expecting a hot dish, and I expected the main element to be shrimp.
Lunch at St. John
After receiving our first round, I realized the broad beans and brown shrimp were more salad-esque than I had originally thought, so I canceled our order of an additional salad and substituted the welsh rarebit.  I was really glad I did.  If you were looking for a food that exemplifies the concept of umami, this is it.  It's the English version of a Croque Monsieur - toast topped with a creamy strong paste of cheddar, mustard, worcestershire and ale - with even more worcestershire broiled on top. I thought it was amazing, but I think James thought it was a bit much.  In any event, the recipe is here, maybe I'll give it a try around the holidays.  If James doesn't eat it, it'll just make more for the rest of us.
Lunch at St. John
Finally, we capped off the savory portion of our meal with the braised rabbit with borlotti beans and aioli.  This was nice, but after the flavor punch of the rarebit it seemed a bit wan.  We also considered the Plaice and the Kid Chop, so maybe we chose poorly.  I wasn't interested in the "faggots" or the pigeon.  The restaurant specializes in offal - Fergus Henderson, the chef, is basically the originator of "nose to tail" eating - so you can expect to see it all on the menu.  
Lunch at St. John
Things took an upswing with dessert. The Eton Mess was a delightful jumble of fresh strawberries, strawberry coulis, meringue and whipped cream.  James had the Eccles cake with cheese - which was very similar to mince meat pie - almost as savory as the rest of our meal.  A word about the wines.  We asked for a white burgundy, and wound up with a Pouilly Fuisse.  It was ok, but we should have done better in that price range (49-50 pounds) given their focus on wine. James had a dessert wine with his eccles cake - it cried out for dessert wine for sure - but I seem to recall he wasn't too crazy about it.  Overall I just thought it should have been more of a positive.
Lunch at St. John
Our feasting neighbors also had the Eton Mess for dessert - the groom poured the strawberry coulis over the wedding cake style dessert himself.
Lunch at St. John
After dessert, we ordered the "madeleines" since they are a specialty of the house and were highly recommended in several comments and reviews I read.  All I can say is, they weren't madeleines. They looked like madeleines, with the humps and everything, but they had more of a scone or biscuit flavor instead of the tender texture and buttery flavor of a madeleine.
Lunch at St. John
Overall I enjoyed St. John and I'm glad we went - but there are a few drawbacks that gave me pause.  The service was perfectly acceptable but just the slightest bit "sniffy" and I never quite settled into that warm, jovial feeling you want to have during a great meal.  I think you have to enjoy a certain level of adventurous eating and be willing to give some deference to the restaurant in order to enjoy the experience.  There's a smidge of that "lucky to be there" factor that many find offputting.  Altogether with that and the fact that (most of) the food we ate was good but not phenomenal, I'm hard pressed to say whether I'd rush back there if I found myself in London again tomorrow.  Unless of course, the invitation is for feasting with platters heaped with whole crab and mounds of Eton Mess.  In that case, sign me up.