Saturday, May 31, 2008

24ct. Gold Plated 16GB iPod Touch

I twittered this yesterday, and here's the photo. At Harrods in London, a 24ct. Gold Plated 16GB iPod Touch. 'nuff said.

Dinner at Tom's Restaurant (aka Tom's Place)

Ah, another superb meal in London. This trip is turning tragic!

Tonights choice was Tom's Restaurant, as recommended by an expat friend here in London. We started upstairs at the bar for a drink and snack, then moved to the main restaurant for dinner.

Upstairs vibe was chic and modern, packed with the good looking set of Chelsea. We ordered drinks and a bowl of chips (that's French Fries to you, mate) which were fat and crisp and fluffy and lovely, as well as a small order of their Parmesan Risotto, which was tasty but uninspiring. The flavor of the parmesan and creme fraiche was very nice, however the risotto itself was chalky and undercooked. My friend who joined me for dinner that night is a huge fan of risotto, and didn't think much of it -- and it's one of those dishes I've tried cooking many times and have gotten truly right only once or twice, so I know it's not easy to get perfect. Unfortunately, they didn't quite get it right here.

Chips and Parmesan Risotto

Downstairs however was a completely different story. The food we ate there was to die for. Even though we'd already snacked, I couldn't resist the Seared Foie Gras with Duck Egg, Bacon and Balsamic Jus. While I'll be the first to admit the photo doesn't make it look terribly attractive, and my friend compared it to a Denny's Grand Slam (it's the biggest damn egg I've seen on a plate in a while), it was utterly delicious. The richness of the foie gras with the depth of flavor from the duck egg, combined with the saltiness of the thick cut bacon was, without question, heaven on a plate.

Fois Gras with Duck Egg, Bacon and Balsamic Jus

I can't talk about this dinner without telling the story I twittered on yesterday, involving dumping a glass of water in the name of art. (If you don't follow the twitter yet, subscribe!). I commonly will use a wine or water glass at a restaurant as a makeshift 'tripod'; just something to balance the camera against. As you can imagine most restaurants are quite dark, making photography difficult. So I usually use a glass as a balance point. Which of course I'd been doing throughout the evening here, as I always do. Now I can't quite say that I didn't realize my water glass had been filled, because I watched it get filled. But in the heat of the moment of seeing a photo I wanted to make, I grabbed the glass and flipped it upside down. The full glass. And naturally dumped an entire glass of fresh, cold water all over our table, the floor, and of course -- my leg.

And the photo didn't even turn out that great. :( All in the name of the blog!

But back to the food. Main courses came, and they thrilled nearly as much as the starter. I had the Duck Confit, and my friend dined on Filet of Beef. The duck was superb, with gorgeous crispy skin and delicate fat, the meat perfectly moist with the chewy edges I adore so much to accompany the fatty skin. It was served with potatoes and artichoke hearts, and the artichokes themselves were nearly as good as the duck. Eat your heart out, vegetarians -- nothing makes a perfectly good vegetable even better than coating it in duck fat!! The steak was apparently superb, a point worth noting because my friend doesn't eat rare meat. It's been a point of contention between us where I'm always chiding him for taking a perfectly good steak and murdering it on the grill. He admitted that he had been slowly going more and more red on his meat, and that while this particular steak -- ordered medium (and served French medium, not American medium) -- was the rarest steak he'd ever eaten. And he loved it. Good on you man!

Duck Confit

Fillet of Beef
Tom's Restaurant (aka Tom's Place. Seems to depend on where you look. And Tom's Café is a different restaurant)
27 Cale Street
Chelsea, SW3 3QP
Tom's Kitchen
+44 207 349 0202

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rating: 4 feet
verdict: Absolutely superb. Great ambiance, friendly service (both in the bar and the restaurant), and of course great food. The only reason it's not getting a 5 feet rating is the risotto. But definitely, without question, go.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Vasco & Piero's Pavilion Restaurant. Just change the name to "Incredible Italian" already!

It's not often you get to eat somewhere so good you wonder if you can get back for another meal before leaving the country. This is just one of those places.

Vasco & Piero's is a completely unassuming Italian eatery (specifically Umbrian, from central Italy) on Poland Street, just a few blocks from the shopping mayhem of Regent and Oxford Streets. We had a group dinner there, table for 10, and the menu is prix fix. Two or three courses, choose from a relatively small selection, and off you go.

My first course was a Beef Carpaccio, which is one of those dishes I truly adore and tend to judge Italian restaurants by. I believe I missed on the menu the detail that it was a roast beef carpaccio, which someone pointed out afterwards, so it was actually a bit thicker cut and basically rare beef, not raw beef, on the plate. But it was very tasty, served with fresh arugula and generous portion of parmigiano reggiano.

Roast Beef Carpaccio

When I joined the table, I was told immediately that "pasta was a must-have" at this restaurant. It's all homemade, fresh and apparently quite good. A quick scan of the menu revealed a few choice dishes, but one stood above the rest -- the Hand Made Wild Mushroom Tortelloni -- so I ordered that.

Ohhh, what a good choice. This may well have been some of the best I've ever had. The pasta was so delicate that it nearly melted in your mouth. It was firm under the fork but like warm butter on the tongue. The wild mushrooms inside were apparently very finely chopped, and once cooked was nearly a paste in the pasta that just contributed to the melted butter experience. I savored every last bite, and my only regret was that there wasn't more on the plate. I could have continued to eat until they rolled me out of there. It was truly that good.

Hand Made Wild Mushroom Tortelloni

Clearly you can't enjoy a dinner this good and not partake in desert. Pana Cotta with Strawberries jumped off the list, and I'm sure my friends who left the table early will see this and be kicking themselves for leaving. It was superb, and even the strawberries which were a bit on the pale side of red, were delicious.

Panna Cotta with Strawberries

Vasco & Piero's Pavilion Restaurant
15 Poland Street
London W1F 8QE
+44 20-7437-8774

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rating: 5 feet
verdict: A superb meal, with some of the best pasta I've ever had. Definitely worth a reservation your next trip to London. And yes I upgraded this to 5 feet… after some pondering, everyone there enjoyed their meal as much as I did, and I think it's worth the rating.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Belgo Centraal

My first meal in London did not disappoint! A good friend took me to a Belgian eatery tonight, called "Belgo". They specialize in mussels, and it's one of those things where if you'd asked me what I was hungry for, I wouldn't have come up with this in a thousand years. But as soon as he mentioned their specialty, I was suddenly salivating for those plump, delicious orange jewels, with some perfectly crisp Belgian frites and a cold beer to wash it all down. He even tried to tell me other things they served. Why bother? I mean really. YUM.

He warned me on our way there that we may have to wait for a table. He'd checked online and no reservation was available until after 9pm. But he insisted it was worth the wait, so off we went. We were told it'd be a 10-20 minutes wait by the hostess, and saddled up to the bar.

One little bit of "false advertising"… at the bar upstairs, they have an impressive display of bottled beers. However they only actually server from a limited selection in that bar. For the real menu, you have to go downstairs. Owell, two Leffe Blonde's please. The Palm (a beer I've only ever seen in Holland) would have to wait until later. It's a furnace upstairs as the kitchen is right below you with an open ceiling, so all the heat gets trapped in this little waiting bar. But hey, that just makes the beer taste that much sweeter!


The beer menu. Impressive.

Our table was ready in under 10 minutes, and we were pointed downstairs by host#1 where hostess#2 took over and guided us to our table. It's a packed place, picnic bench style seating, loud and pungent of cooked mussels and spilled beer. It couldn't be more perfect if they tried.

I ordered a starter "Salad de Poire et Stilton" and the mussel pot "Mariniere Traditionnelle". Both were delicious. The salad was refreshing and just enough to get the belly started, and the mussels were cooked to simple perfection. The fries were deliciously crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside, served with a bit of Belgian mayonnaise. To be completely honest my bowl seemed to be from the bottom of the basket; all the small bits. But they were still delightful and nothing to complain about.

Mussel Pot. Fabulous.

On the way in and out, you pass the kitchen. We took a little walk over the catwalk to peer down to the inner workings; busy place.


And from above

Belgo Centraal
50 Earlham Street
Convent Garden, London, WC2H 9LT
+44 207-209-3212

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rating: 4 feet
verdict: Delicious. Absolutely would go again. If you like mussels, this is the place to go. Their beer selection is mightily impressive, just head downstairs to drink it!

Potter Murder Suspect…

This is a bit morbid, but this headline on the Evening Standard billboard really caught my eye. Seeing this in London, it looks like it's a prop from one of the films. Unfortunately, it's all too real.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Solar Carving

A few weeks ago I drove up the California coast with some visiting colleagues and we stopped in Santa Barbara along the way. On the beach, we met this wonderful man, Brian Chandler, who practices the utterly unique art of Solar Carving. He quite literally etches patterns and designs into wood using nothing more than the power of the sun. With various magnifying glasses, he can burn an illustration at remarkable speed into anything from driftwood to gorgeous fair-trade Brazilian hardwoods.

He's not always there, but if you're down that way, be sure to look for him. His "spot" is in the sand at the start of Stearns Warf. See the Sun icon below.

Brian Chandler
*805) 259-7829

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