Mondays. The reason we dislike them is because it’s challenging to find a reliable restaurant that’s open for dinner. It’s the day that so many take off. Thankfully in the Bay Area we have Off the Grid, an organization that coordinates space for food trucks, plus permits, garbage service, and live music. Tonight we followed Off the Grid to the Caltrain station in Belmont, a city of the Bay that neither of us had visited before.
Naked Chorizo, boasting “Spapino” cuisine (that’s Spanish + Filipino), has fusion food with a good mix of ideas. We think some of the items weren’t really Spanish by definition, like tacos and burritos, but any cuisine born in California follows its own rules. We got tocinolog, a plate of braised pork with rice and eggs. Tangy and sweet, the tender pork was flavorful with good char from the grill. The egg had a nice texture as well, so it was an enjoyable item to start our evening of sampling.
Since trying Indian food for the first time a few months ago, Zach is becoming more curious about the flavors. He was happy that Curry Up Now represented with some enticing items, but with a faintly Hispanic twist. The “sexy fries” are criss-cut sweet potato fries, cheese, and onions, and you can choose one of four styles; we got m.e.a.t., with halal beef and chutneys. The fries were baked, not fried, and made a bed on which the rest of the ingredients were piled. Together, everything was packed with spices, like cumin, curry, and garlic. Lots and lots of savory beef was accented by the green sauce that was medium spicy, more tangy, with a cilantro base. The same green sauce was on the deconstructed samosa, “an inside out phenomenon.” It has garbanzo beans, pico de gallo, chutneys, and mini samosas, mounded onto a huge samosa dough mass. This, too, is served one of four ways, so we went with paneer. The paneer was plentiful and grilled on one side, adding an extra bit of flavor to an otherwise very mild cheese. It, along with a sweet sauce, helped to balance the warmth of the green sauce. Fresh vegetables and dainty mini samosas topped it all off; crispy with curry and potato, the mini samosas were the cutest part of the night (besides toddlers dancing with live music).
We wanted to try SAJJ Street Eats‘ most traditional Mediterranean dish, and we couldn’t go more traditional than the “traditional shawarma wrap.” With beef, lamb, hummus, cucumber and tomato salad, sumac onions, pickled cucumber, lettuce, and tahini sauce, this was everything that we expected – fresh, well balanced, and mellow. The fillings were traditional, but the wrap itself was not, as it’s just a tortilla. Regardless, after having some spicy food, this was a good change of pace. In fact, if you’re planning to do Off the Grid like we do, sampling an item from each truck, it’s wise to pace yourself and keep things varied.
The Rib Whip was popular with its Midwest style barbecue. The Holly Hill pork sandwich looked the tastiest, featuring pulled pork, creamy slaw, and South Carolina mustard sauce. The pork was tender, moist, and rich with a great smoky flavor. The tangy mustard sauce added a bit of kick, while the crispy slaw provided bold texture to match the bold flavors. A soft roll made it very easy to eat, though you might want to grab an extra napkin. No doubt you’d get every crumb of the buttermilk pie, though. Grandma Ruth is over 100 years old, and her recipe for buttermilk pie is something this centenarian should be mighty proud of. She does a housemade graham cracker crust with buttermilk custard and whipped cream. Silky and creamy, this pie is so simple but so delicious. Our eyes lit up on first bite, and immediately Zach new that August would be asking him to replicate it.
Sam’s ChowderMobile is clearly known for chowder, but since we just did a chowder recipe last week, we went for something different. The lobster roll comes in two sizes and we got the smaller of the two (“shortie”), but it was still plenty big after having already sampled so much food. The brioche was grilled but still buttery and soft, perfect for holding the fresh Maine lobster with warmed butter. The meat was so tender, sweet, and succulent, as it was butter poached, and the crisp celery set off the richness even more. The side of cole slaw was slightly creamy and its dressing had onions in it, something different but pleasant.
We’ve seen The Crème Brûlée Cart before, but we reached it in time tonight before most of the flavors sold out. After eliminating those which we had tried previously, we were surprised that we still came out with four distinct crème brûlées. We took pictures on site, but had no more room even to try a bite at the time. You can request lids to make transportation that much easier and take them home like we did. Now that we’re sitting here, thinking about the evening, we have the chance (and the space) to try them now. In the top left was “candy bar” with chocolate creme base and toppings of golden grahams, chocolate sauce, and salted caramel sauce. The golden grahams added a great contrast, along with the traditional shell, to break up the creaminess of the milk chocolate custard. The top right was “godfather,” also with chocolate creme base but toppings of midnight cookie crumble and salted caramel sauce. This one was super decadent with rich chocolate flavors and a gooey saltiness from the caramel to offset the near overload of chocolate. Bottom left was the delicious “take a hike!” with vanilla bean creme, “naughty” granola (with nuts and chocolate), and both salted caramel and chocolate sauces. The crunch from the candy top was accentuated by the crunch of the granola, and this was likely the most over-the-top crème brûlée we will see in a long while. Finally, the wallflower of the bunch with no toppings in the bottom right, was the lavender. Simple but constructed well, it had a medium lavender flavor enhanced by a touch of vanilla.
Easy to get to (even when coming from across the Bay), plenty of parking, and more seating than we’ve seen at prior Off the Grids, this is a great spot to have a great Monday night dinner. Bring the family, as your kids will enjoy dancing with the upbeat music, but please leave the dogs at home – we saw way too many that weren’t service dogs. We support service dogs and other service animals, but only certified ones should come out because we must keep in mind the patrons with allergies or other considerations. Bring Fido and Fifi their own treats to have at home like we do for our Bea, just like you’ll likely get a few crème brûlées for your own personal doggie bag.
The MGM Grand Hotel & Casino is way bigger than we thought. Once inside, it’s labyrinthine. Don’t be afraid to ask your way around, though, because Pub 1842 is worth the maze. Chef Michael Mina’s gastropub has a completely different vibe than the nearly solemn San Franciscan Bourbon Steak, but his signature style and demand for quality are on par. More finger foods and casual yet inventive takes on classics cry out to the younger Vegas partying crowd, especially if paired with one or many of the alcoholic libations available; the place is named for the year pilsner beer was invented, after all, so beer plays a big role here.
Try a sampling of the more than fifty beers on hand with a beer wheel. “Wild World” crosses the globe with eight ales, stouts, and lagers, which our server and beer enthusiast Will described as being a more malty selection. Because August likes hoppy brews, we went with “Born in the USA.” PBR Lager, Anchor Steam CA Common, Batch 19 Vienna, Blue Moon Witbier, Deschutes Pale Ale, Ommengang Abbey Ale, Dogfish Head Double IPA, and Speakeasy Porter represented a broad range of brewing styles and tastes, and coincidentally when tasted in order alongside our food, there were some serendipitous pairings that surprised our palates.
Zach had been studying the menu since Pub 1842 opened not even two weeks ago, and knew immediately that he wanted to try the deviled eggs. The tender egg whites were not overcooked, perfect vessel for the super creamy yolks. Thankfully the tangy and somewhat sweet filling wasn’t overly spiced, or else we might not have been able to appreciate the crab. Each egg had a large lump of Maryland blue crap with a sprig of dill and a sprinkling of paprika.
The spring rolls, extra light and crispy, were made with wonton wrappers rather than phyllo dough or egg roll wrappers. Zach almost thought they were wrapped with what they weren’t, since the wonton wrappers were deceptively thin. Tender, well seasoned duck was rolled with cabbage, mushrooms, and cilantro. An orange sauce was more tangy than sweet with a touch of mild warmth from chili pepper (we won’t call it spiciness), and the cilantro made the sauce more earthy to balance the tangy. At this time August was sipping the Batch 19 Vienna, and she found it to accentuate the duck very well, and vice versa.
This might be one of our most enjoyable Caesar salads ever. Avocado makes nearly any dish better in August’s book, so we liked the fresh, ripe slices for garnish here. Instead of croutons, artichoke chips served as a playful interpretation. They were lightly crunchy and helped to round out the mix of flavors. A garlic streusel with sugar made the salad sweet, but the bitter kale mellowed that. Freshly shaved Parmesan added that cheesy, salty bite necessary for Caesar salads, so in that regard tradition was honored. Otherwise, this was a modern and almost scientific experiment kind of way to present a Caesar.
Tender, hand picked lobster was buttery and sweet, nestled in a crisp buttery roll. It was accented by jalapeño, tarragon, green onions, creamed corn, and popcorn. The jalapeño provided flavor with no heat, acting as a seasoning like the tarragon and green onions. Popcorn is not usually our thing, but here we had a decreased likelihood of getting it stuck in our teeth because there was so much more involved with each bite. Zach particularly liked the roll; as a pastry chef, he felt that it complemented the filling quite well, and whoever grilled it did an impeccable job. The fries, prepared from a frozen state but handled well, were herbed with variety but sage was the most predominant flavor.
Wagyu beef, creamy peanut butter, ruffled potato chips, bacon jam, and pimento cheese combined for what our server Will described as most patrons’ “amazing burger” or “best burger ever.” We have to agree, never would we have considered peanut butter with beef but it was in fact amazing. With creamy, salty Jif instead of sweet, the savory quality worked well with the juicy Snake River Farms patty. Zach doesn’t typically go for potato chips, but here they provided an essential crunchiness. The bacon jam was smoky, tangy, and very slightly sweet, while the pimento cheese gave a little kick and gooeyness to the burger. It came on a potato bun baked with cracked pepper, adding flavor as well as an interesting visual appeal. We liked that the fries here were distinct from the lobster roll’s; like the others these were previously frozen but well handled, but with a different cut and different seasoning.
Peanut butter was the star a second time in our final course of a tasty dessert and milkshake pairing. Will told us that some customers are dumbstruck after already having such rich flavors in the appetizers and entrees, so he simplifies it for them, asking if they like chocolate, lemon, peach, or coconut desserts. That’s a tough choice, but the chocolate one’s description with “peanut butter, pretzel, delicious” lured us. Moist chocolate cake with a medium chocolate flavor was layered with smooth, creamy, chocolate butter cream. Dollops of delectably smooth peanut butter ganache dotted the cake, while salty, crunchy, chocolate-dipped pretzels offered a contrasting texture, as did a kind of candied nut. A simple yet delightfully malted shake was not overly malted but just right, for another kind of chocolate to pair and share.
Foodies, families, and fraternities alike can all find something here. With modernized variations on classical themes, Chef Mina is a master at taking something known and making it new and vibrant. It would seem that Pub 1842 has had an excellent opening, and we hope they continue to tantalize the palates of many Vegas diners.
Sumptuous would be the best adjective to describe our entire dining experience last night at Bourbon Steak. For steak houses, it’s hard to beat Chef Michael Mina’s spirit. The spacious restaurant with columns lifting our gaze was reminiscent of a sacred place and we were the congregation, hoping for an answer that may never come. In this real space, though, the answer actually realized as spectacular service and food.
Marc Peyer, assistant general manager, was jovial and adept with a blow torch. He demonstrated and served our flight of Hudson Whiskeys, each poured into an individually smoked glass. The Four-Grain Bourbon got a treatment of orange peels, apple wood chips enhanced the Manhattan Rye, and the Single Malt Whiskey with inherent vanilla-caramel notes was more dense with coffee. Warm whiskeys, all delicious but very distinct, were great libations to entice the palate for the rest of the meal.
Complimentary for each table is an assortment of duck fat-fried fries, and like the whiskey, we get three of a kind. We nibbled on these even through the main course after they had cooled! Our favorite was in the middle – harissa dusted fries with a cool lemon cucumber yogurt dip. We’ve been seeing a lot of harissa lately, and we particularly liked the casual way it was incorporated here, adding a spicy kick without any overwhelming burn.
Three is a magical number. Three gnudi and three wagyu meatballs sat in a demi-glace with kale garnishes. The gnudi were light and fluffy with nice Parmesan and ricotta cheese flavors. With the balance of ricotta, they melted and disintegrated in the mouth – the ideal gnudi. The meatballs were so tender and packed with flavor, we wish there were more than three. The rich beef demi-glace suited the gnudi and wagyu, having a gravy texture without the corn starch feeling. The thickness coated the dumplings and meat bites, and was even good for mopping up with fries.
The corn in this side was from the small Bay Area agricultural town of Brentwood, which is close to our hearts. At one point we thought we were going to move there, but our path took a turn; had we stuck with the Brentwood plan, we never would have started Seasoning And Salt! The corn was crisp and exceptionally sweet with a light cream sauce. With many other restaurants’ cream corn, the corn is swimming in the cream, but here the proper ratio was achieved. The crispiness of the vegetable was a testament to Chef Mina’s aim of “utilizing seasonal West Coast ingredients.” Three chicharones were air-like pork skins, adding a different kind of crisp and crunch. The popcorn did the same, as well as playfully garnish the cream corn with a different incarnation of the same food.
We love spätzle. It’s like the German version of our favorite Italian pasta, gnocchi. As a stroganoff, this tender side had a sour cream sauce, intensely creamy and savory with a bit of tanginess. Featured were three croquettes of wild mushrooms, as well. Since first learning of croquettes in Spain almost twenty years ago, August is picky about them – and these were mouthwatering. A thin, crisp exterior hid a saporous filling, and again we were wishing for more than three.
The famous Maine lobster pot pie, like the flight of whiskeys, was another tableside show. A pound and a half lobster was baked in a copper pot with grilled onions, carrots, fava beans, mushrooms, two lobster gnocchi, and a sherry truffle cream sauce, with a flaky pie top. The anticipation of watching and smelling this fantastic entree being served up before us was rewarded by luxurious deliciousness. The sauce was something we’d love to have on a pasta dish with just a little bit of cheese, because the sauce is enough on its own, flavor-wise, to enhance simple noodles. But matched with fresh lobster, this is a meal that will be remembered for a very long time. Grilled onions added an extra element of caramelization to go with the delicate lobster, and truffles make pretty much anything better.
Ten ounces of tender, juicy, exceptionally seasoned and grilled beef from Imperial of Nebraska meant five ounces for August, five for Zach, and none for Bea the Dog. We love to bring our dog goodies from our dining jaunts, but this was too good to save for her. The flat iron steak is arguably the best cut of beef considering it is leaner than the typical rib eye, but as this wagyu piece was treated here, we would almost argue that it is the best cut.
The third show of the night was the dessert trolly, rolled to each table and demonstrated Vana White-style. From the top of the cart, as seen here, you may choose any five items, such as chocolate bark bites, seasonal macaroons, nougat bars, tableside smores, beignets, house-made Oreos, and lollipops. It was nearly paralyzing trying to decide! August absolutely wanted a lollipop, though, of tantalizing rose and vanilla-flavor fondant. It reminded her of a dessert at a fanciful tea party.
We knew for sure, also, that we had to try the house-made Oreo. Biting into the cookie, it crumbled and flaked like chocolate shortbread. Once the bite crumbled, it was followed by a smooth vanilla cream, and eating this brought us back to childhood, not just because Oreos were so abundant in our youth but also because the size of the cookie here made us feel smaller in perspective!
When we saw this cake, we couldn’t resist. If you choose a cake (there’s a few flavors), you can have the cake and any two items from the top of the trolly. The bottom layer of the jar held tangy and tart blackberry preserves, covered with creamy and rich marscapone. The top layer gave the cake its name: a poppyseed cake with vanilla streusel and three meringues. There were so many textures: crisp air-like meringue, crumbly buttery streusel, fluffy cake, and smooth marscapone. The perfect spring and summer dessert, it was scrumptious and left August with no urges for chocolate as she typically craves.
What’s this? Bonus dessert bites courtesy of the staff! We got to have chocolate after all! The final trio of the night had two of each: mini cherry macaroons, Bourbon Steak labeled caramel bars with cocoa nibs, and cocoa cookies with cinnamon and sugar glaze. The macaroon had the texture we had hoped for, as we noted that it was fresh and had not been sitting for long at all before being served. It was pleasant to get a crunch in caramel with cocoa nibs diverging from the current caramel sea salt craze. Light and melty with a dark, rich cocoa flavor, the cookies’ texture belied the flavor, making for a deliciously juxtaposed dessert.
San Francisco is the city of a hundred thousand restaurants, with so many turning over nearly monthly. Bourbon Steak, though, has a strong grip on the palates of their regulars, and we hope than anyone visiting the City will make their way here to find for themselves what a West Coast steak house can be. Chef Mina pushes for quality in food and service throughout his entire restaurant group, so if you aren’t near here, we’re sure you will enjoy any his establishments across the country.