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Archive for the ‘Restaurant Review’ Category

Chicago: The Purple Pig

May has been the busiest month of my residency as I am wrapping up my research project.  After many hours of data crunching, presenting my research at Western States Conference in Monterey Bay, and celebrating with a trip to Chicago, I am excited to blog again and share with you my culinary adventure in Chicago.  We flew into Chicago last Friday and hit up The Purple Pig for dinner, located conveniently on the Magnificent Mile.  Recommended by a friend for its lively atmosphere and creative menu, we could not pass up the opportunity.  With a group of seven, we ordered practically everything on the menu.  I will tell you my 4 favorites of the night: Razor Clams with Oregano and Lemon & Olive Oil, Mussels with Pancetta and Crème Fraiche & Marjoram, Pork Blade Steak with ‘Nduja & Honey, and last but not least, Steak and Mushrooms.  The razor clams were grilled to perfection, flavorful, and left me wanting more even though my stomach was ready to explode.  The mussels, on the other had, were the best mussels I have ever tasted in my life.  They were tender, moist, and and delicious.  Who would have thought a restaurant specializing in pork would have such amazing mussels!  The pork blade was Vu’s favorite.  According to him, it was the best piece of grilled pork he has ever had in his life, and I concur.  The thickness was just right.  You can taste a hint of sweetness from the honey mixed in with the char.  The steak was seasoned perfectly and so juicy.  It beats David Burke’s Primehouse famous 55 day aged ribeye and Ruth’s Chris steakhouse in my book.  There were so many other amazing plates that we ordered but those four stood out the most.  The Purple Pig was my favorite restaurant from this trip, beating out L2O and David Burke’s Primehouse with regard to taste and price.  I would go back to this restaurant again and again.

Salt-Roasted Beets with Whipped Goat Cheese & Pistachio Vinaigrette

Charred Cauliflower, Toasted Breadcrumbs, Cornichons & Parsley

Asparagus & Hazelnuts with Arugula & Treviso

Octopus with Favette, Celery & Radishes

Purple Pig Platter

Pork Liver Pate

Eggplant Caponata with Goat Cheese

Roasted Bone Marrow with Herbs

Milk Braised Pork Shoulder with Mashed Potatoes

Mussels with Pancetta, Crème Fraiche & Marjoram

Razor Clams with Oregano, Lemon & Olive Oil

Pork Blade Steak with ‘Nduja & Honey

Steak and Mushrooms

85˚C Bakery Cafe

Today Vu planned a very nice excursion to Laguna Beach since we had the day off.  After lunch and hours of walking, we decided to stop by 85˚C Bakery Cafe in Irvine before heading home.  The first time I came to 85˚C Bakery Cafe was when my parents visited us for Christmas.  As soon as Vu drove in the parking lot, I ran to the back of the line.  There were about 20 people ahead of me waiting for their 85˚C fix.  The line moved relatively fast and within 10 minutes, an employee gave me the ok to enter.  I picked up a tray and tongs and made my way through the bakery knowing exactly what I wanted.  We were lucky enough to get two of their most popular items, taro swirl bread and brioche loaf, along with our other favorites.  Fresh out of the oven, the brioche loaf was light like a cloud with a hint of sweetness.  On the other hand, the taro swirl had a nice crunch and perfect balance of bread and taro.  Everything was ABSOLUTELY amazing!  Even the sea salt coffee!  Known for its excellent selection of pastries, cakes, drinks, and coffee and reasonable pricing, 85˚C Bakery Café has become quite popular among Southern Californians.  If you are in the area, give this bakery a try and it might end up being one of your favorite places.  85˚C Bakery Café has become a favorite stop for both Vu and me.

the line


more pastries

taro swirl

brioche loaf

milk pudding


cinnamon rolls

chocolate chip

sea salt coffee

Birthday Celebration at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse

The past two weeks have been super busy for me.  In between celebrating my birthday, working, and attending the SCCM conference, I have not had time to relax or step foot into the kitchen.  I found out that a friend at work has the same birthday and Amy, my other friend, has her birthday exactly one week after mine so we all celebrated at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.  Fortunately, it was during San Diego Restaurant Week so we took advantage of their 3-course meal for $40.  I picked the seared ahi tuna for the appetizer.  It was very fresh, comparable to Sushi Ota’s.  For the main course, I went with the petite filet which I anticipated to be much smaller than the filet mignon, but was pleasantly surprised by the portion.  It was a bit dry for medium well but was still delicious!  Vu ordered mushrooms stuffed with crabmeat, and they were the best crabmeat stuffed mushrooms I have ever had.  Filled with real crabmeat and no filler, they were seasoned perfectly.  His 12 oz ribeye was even more delicious than my petite file.  Tender and buttery, it was the perfect piece of ribeye.  We ended the night with two heavenly desserts, chocolate sin cake and duo of cheesecake and sorbet.  The chocolate was light but decandent.  I could not stop eating even though my stomach was at max capacity.  I did not enjoy the cheesecake as much but the raspberry sorbet was fresh and delightful.  Overall, it was an excellent meal, perfect for a birthday celebration.

Seared ahi tuna

Mushrooms stuffed with crabmeat

Petite filet

12 oz ribeye

Chocolate sin cake

Berkeley: Ici Ice Cream

After we walked off our lunch, we drove to Ici on College Avenue, a quaint ice cream shop known for fresh ice creams and sorbets with different flavors served daily.  The line was out the door despite the cold and rain.  There were 3 servers, each helping a group of people from tasting, to scooping, and ringing up the bill.  Definitely not very efficient!  I ended up trying 6 flavors: pumpkin candied oatmeal, hazelnut, malted vanilla amaretto cherries, honey pistachio, huckleberry, and passion fruit.  My favorite was the malted vanilla!  The ice cream was sweet but not overpowering and quite refreshing.  Their cones were also delicious, fresh and crunchy, with a hint of sugar.  For a single scoop costing $2.85 or double scoop at $3.85, it was worth it.  Besides ice cream and sorbet, they also serve other delightful sweets and baked goods.  I would definitely come back and try their other flavors.  It was a pleasant way to end our short adventure in Berkeley.

Enjoying my malted vanilla amaretto cherries.

Pumpkin and honey pistachio

These are definitely my favorite ice cream cones!

Other goodies

Berkeley: Café Rouge

Krystal, my sister-in-law, wanted to take us to lunch in Berkeley while we were in town.  Both Vu and I have never been to Berkeley even though we have lived in the bay area for a long time.  We all piled in the car and headed up north despite the pouring rain.  Our first stop was Café Rouge, on 4th street.  The restaurant was filled with people even at 11 A.M.  Known for its fresh meats and house-made charcuterie, we ordered coq au vin (Central Coast Farms chicken), baby back ribs, and grilled hanger steak.  I did not have the coq au vin but was told it was delicious and saw Krystal’s friend inhaled it.  Vu tried the baby back ribs but was not impressed.  No one can beat Phil’s BBQ baby back ribs!  If you know of a place, please let me know!  I had the hanger steak with French fries and aioli.  The steak was juicy and tender, but not as memorable as Ruth’s Chris in La Jolla, Celadon in Napa Valley, or LB Steak at Santana Row.  Overall, Café Rouge has a nice atmosphere for lunch if you are in the area, but definitely not worth an hour drive.

However, we did like the meat and pasta shop next door where you can find a variety of aged meats and international products for cooking and baking.  We ended up trying the “jamon iberico,” a type of cured ham produced in Spain from the black Iberian pig.  The first “jamones ibéricos” were released for sale in the US in 2007.  For $185 per pound, it definitely tasted better than prosciutto, buttery and smooth.  You need an acquired taste for dry-cured ham.  Personally, I have not acquired that taste and did not appreciate the “jamon iberico” as much as Vu did.  For the price, I was a bit disappointed.  If you get a chance, try it once!

The Bar

Bread Station

Daily Menu

Chamomile Tea

Kale Caesar Salad

Coq au Vin (Central Coast Farms chicken)

Baby Back Ribs

Grilled hanger steak

Jamon Iberico

In case you don’t believe me!

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