Sunday, March 29, 2009

Cafe Luck

Cafe Luck is located in Santa Barbara just off of State Street a few doors down from The Palace Resturant. The restaurant opened Sept 2008 and it's menu is French Bistro inspired. I'm lucky enough to be great friends with the assistant to the owner and looked forward to the meal.

The restaurant has a very casual feel, as do most places in Santa Barbara. There were three of us and we had reservations for 8pm on a Saturday night. We were seated immediately seated and I started to peruse the menu. I wanted to see if menu had what I was expecting for a French Bistro. The menu was divided into standard bistro style categories, Fruits de mer, soups et salads, hors d'oeuvres, plats principaux, and plats du jour decorate. I was hoping to see some classic French dishes and most were included, Steak Tartare, Moules Mariniere and Duck a L'Orange. Since this was my first visit and my hosts had eaten at Cafe Luck several times, we decided to get some dishes that they had really enjoyed and some items they have never tried.

The meal started with a half dozen oysters, a mix of Fanny Bay and Blue Point, served with a Mignonette Sauce. The oysters were very mild and not very meaty, but not bad. The oysters were paired with Champagne, Baumard Carte Turquoise Cremant De Loire Brut NV, it was very crisp, a bit pricey but nice. Next came the Escargot and Steak Tartare, the Escargot was served without the shells and bathing in garlic butter. It was very good, not chewy but had just enough texture and what can be bad about butter and garlic? The Steak Tartare was not as impressive, the tartare was missing just a bit of acid, the tartare I had at Comme Ca was much better.

The last of our starters was the "Farmers Salad", a version of the classic warm Frisee salad with Poached Egg, for anyone that enjoys bacon and eggs, this is a great starter. We ordered two of these salads and one of them had a poached egg that was overcooked. The yolk is very important to the success of this dish. Nonetheless the lardons, the vinagrette and the fingerling potato chips all worked well together.

It was time to move on to the Entrees and our first bottle of wine. We had a hard time trying to figure out what to order, we were kinda full, but also wanted to try something different. I had my mind set on the Whole Roasted Chicken with Truffle Butter. Since we had "connections" we went to the source and asked the executive chef what we should get. He suggested that if we get the chicken, we should get the whole fish en croute. We went with his suggestion, even though the chicken would take 45 mins to prepare. We were also recommended the 2007 Brewer-Clifton Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir to go with the rest of our meal. The chicken, fish and wine were all high ticket items and my expectations were also high. The wine was very good, I'm not a connoisseur of wine, but I do know what I like. This wine was good.

The whole fish was brought out with the salt crust partially removed. The fish was then removed from the bone and plated with roasted fingerling potatoes and assorted vegetables. The vegetables included grilled pearl onions, grilled tomatoes and baby zucchini, they complimented the subtle flavors of the striped bass. The bass was moist and the salt crust added a nice flavor, the roasted potatoes were very salty. Overall the fish en croute was very good, unfortunately our appetites weren't and we still had the whole chicken coming.

The roasted chicken was presented whole in the roasting pan. The chicken was then carved and served on a platter. It was served with the Pomme Puree and Roasted Baby Vegetables and Croutons. The Pomme Puree was super smooth and rich, I'm afraid to know how much butter was used to make it. The roasted baby vegetables were also very nice, there were baby carrots, Swiss Chard and Pearl Onions. But a very nice surprise were the croutons served with the vegetables. When you dipped the croutons into the delicious pan juices from the chicken and then dipped it into the pomme puree, it was close to heaven. That's saying something when your completely full. The chicken skin was nice and crispy, the meat was moist, but there was no sign of truffle flavor. Most of the chicken was packed up in a to go container.

The surprise of the evening was still to come. With barely any room for air, we decided to take a look at the dessert menu. We ordered the Pot de Creme and a Passion Fruit Sorbet. The Pot de Creme was a new add on to the menu,let me just say this, it was awesome. It was an absolutely perfect way to end the meal. The custard was silky smooth and had a very nice sweetness. Normally a creme brulee is served in a ramkin style dish, Cafe Luck served their creme brulee is a more of a cup like container. It had a smaller opening on the top so their was less of the bruleed sugar. This was nice, the sugar was not needed as the custard was the star.

Overall Cafe Luck was good, but the price is way too high for the French Bistro dishes they offer. Even with a discount, our bill exceed $280. If I do go again, I will try to tame my cravings to taste everything.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Mu Dung San BBQ

I took some friends to AYCE Korean BBQ for lunch this past weekend. I decided to take them to Mu Dang San, my last visit there was good and the price is right. We arrived at a little past noon and the restaurant was mostly empty. We order the all you can eat for $16.99 each. The panchan was nothing spectacular, but I really like the Gaeran Jim they serve (Steamed Egg), a great way to start the meal. We ordered the standards, Galbi, Bulgogi and the marinated chicken to start off. I was really impressed with the Galbi on this visit. The cuts were thicker then usual, the bulgogi and chicken were also very tasty. One of my favorite things about Mu Dang San is their duk bo sam (rice noodle wrappers), a nice change of pace from rice. Wrapping the grilled meat with sliced jalapenos and pickeled bean sprouts or cucumbers is amazing.

Our meal continued with more Galbi, BBQ Pork and Beef Stomach. Everything was great and we left completely stuffed. AYCE Korean BBQ is fun, delicious and affordable, not to mention everybody loves it. Look forward to trying, Parks BBQ and ChoSan Galbi.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Cafe Firenze

I've been wanting to try Cafe Firenze for awhile now. With Chef Fabio Viviani making it to the finals of Top Chef and his restaurant being pretty close to my house, I thought why not. I also heard that it was really good.

The occasion was my sisters birthday and we had a party of four. Our reservations were for 6:30 on a Thursday evening. Located in Moorpark, CA. the building used to be Bauduccos, which closed over a year ago. The entrance leads directly into the martini bar, martini happy hour goes on Mon-Fri from 4-7pm. The decor is rustic and has a old world feel. Our table was well lit, almost too much light. We ordered a bottle of Acacia Pinot Noir and we also had a couple of martinis from the happy hour menu. With a quick glance at the menu, I noticed the specials right away. There were two things that stuck out to me, there was a Squid Ink Pasta with Clam and Sea Urchin Roe sauce, the second item that stood out was the Rabbit Cacciatore.

Before we jumped into the entrees, we started of with an appetizer trio and the Beef Carpaccio salad. The trio consisted of two small crab cakes, a shrimp wrapped with Panchetta and Burrata served on top of a grilled eggplant. The star of the trio was the Burrata, it was silky and smooth with a drizzle of Olive Oil. The shrimp and crab cakes were good, but nothing special. The Carpaccio salad was delicious, the bitterness of the arugula went well with the beef and Parmesean.

I decided to go with the pasta dish, the rest of the group went with the Grilled Ribeye steak, the larger portion of steak had a mushroom sauce. We also ordered a Fettucini Bolognese Arribiatta to share. I was so excited to see my pasta dish, but the looks were deceiving. It was completely bland and I honestly thought there was no Sea Urchin in the dish. The steaks were inconsistently seasoned but were cooked well. The best dish was the Fettucini Bolognese, which was very spicy and the pasta was cooked perfectly. My Squid ink pasta was bland and tasted like pasta tossed in oil. We did order a Flourless Chocolate Cake which was served with a scoop of Gelato. I didn't have any, but was told it was good.

With the prices of these dishes and all of the hype surrounding the chef, I was very disappointed with our meal. The one thing I have yet to mention was the service. I have rarely experienced service so poor that I contemplated giving the server no tip. Our dinner took over two hours, this was not due to the number of courses or the kitchen not expediting our food quick enough. During our two hour meal, our server literally checked on us four times. The time between her visits were up to 30 mins. The bus boys did their job keeping our water glasses filled and clearing plates, but our server was missing in action. We noted all of this on a comment card, but I'm not sure I'm going back.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


Finally. After all these years, I finally had dinner at Sasabune. My friend had been saying I need to try the sushi there for the last year and a half. I read about Sasabune on several blogs and food review sites. It was always spoken highly of and I was looking forward to the experience.

Chef/Owner Nobi Kushuhara is a disciple of Sushi Nozawa and his restrictions are similar. As you walk in you see a handwritten sign that says "No California Rolls, No Spicy Rolls...", this place specializes in warm rice sushi and sashimi. The sushi bar is only for omakase, chef's choice. We asked for a table and our server asked if we would like omakase or pick n choose, we decided on the pick and choose. As I scanned through the sushi list, I noticed a nice variety of fish, many I had never tried before. I started to check items I wanted to try, Kanpachi, Golden Snapper, Spanish Mackerel, Hotate(Japanese Scallop), Hamachi, Albacore and a Blue Crab Handroll. As each order of nigiri was delivered to our table, the server would comment whether or not to use soy sauce. The majority of items we ordered were sauced pretty heavily, mainly Ponzu. I felt the saucing was to heavy made the rice fall apart. But the fish was very fresh and subtle. The blue crab handroll was also delicious, classically made. After all of those items, I asked if they had Lobster in Miso sauce, the server answered "yes". I was brought a Lobster miso soup with a portion of the Lobster head. Not what I was expecting, but delicious.

All in all Sasabune lived up to it's reputation. I'm planning on trying the omakase in a couple of weeks. The service was excellent and the prices were very reasonable.