Saturday, March 09, 2013

Review: Fahrenheit Ultra Lounge

There is a hidden gem downtown San Jose. It's not hidden in the sense that it's hard to find, in a secluded part of town, or some back alley. In fact it is prominently located on the corner of Third and San Fernando. The Fahrenheit Ultra Lounge is a restaurant, hiding in a Nightclub's shadow!

We wandered over to Fahrenheit after a function in the area. For years we simply avoided it thinking it would be a typical club, throwing out plates of barely passable slop to half in the bag patrons who didn't care much anyways. If this is your impression as well, you couldn't be more wrong!

First of all, the dining room is a swanky lounge, with funky banquettes that can seat a party of almost any size. We were just two, and the comfortable four top near the bar was perfectly suited for pleasant dining. The room was not loud, and it was well lighted to make for a very enjoyable dining atmosphere.

The menu was not huge, but had a great selection, a little of everything; poultry, fish, and steaks, pork, and vegetarian options were all available at very reasonable prices. Christine, our server, made sure that we were aware of the daily specials, and took great care of us all evening. Such good care in fact that my dining companion is arranging to hold a small function at the restaurant.

From the Flirtations section of the menu we ordered a couple of starters to share; Pastrami Pork Belly: Kurabota Pork Belly | Whole Grain Mustard | Bubbie's Sauerkraut $9 and The Chef's Daily Soup: Broccolini with Basil oil $6. The pork belly was melt in your mouth tender, with light grill marks; you could really taste the smoky, fatty pork. The mustard and sauerkraut was the perfect amount of acid to balance the fattiness. It was served with toast points. The soup was wonderful; our server split it into two bowls, making it very easy to share. It was light and brothy, yet still a cream based soup. It was drizzled with a touch of basil oil and garnished with micro greens.

On to the main plates, or as they call them, Commitments; I ordered the Crispy Duck Breast: Maple Leaf Farms Duck Breast | Forbidden Rice | Broccoli Rabe | Citrus Demi  $23. My dining companion, being an avid fan of fine beef chose the Cowboy Bone-in Rib-eye: 22oz Creekstone Natural Beef | Creamed Cauliflower $38. Both dishes are absolute winners, in terms of value however, if you love beef, you have to get this steak! I'm not even sure how they can afford to sell this monster so cheap! The duck was sublime! Flawlessly seasoned, the skin was crispy as promised, and the breast a perfect medium rare. The forbidden rice had the right amount of texture, and layers of flavors including a light back note of vanilla, the broccoli rabe had a light smokiness, and the demi was just the right amount of acid and sweet. It was like a game, building the perfect bite, a little of each on my fork.

The Cowboy Steak was Epic! The sheer magnitude of this slab of beef made us cry out whoa when it arrived at the table. Served atop a cauliflower puree, with roasted Yukon Gold potatoes, it was cooked to a perfect mid-rare, and was juicy, tender and flavorful. This gargantuan tomahawk steak was exquisitely seasoned, and had a crusty char that made you want to pick up the bone and gnaw on it!

For dessert we shared Fahrenheit's version of Banana Fosters, it was a lighter version, not as sweet as the original, and it made a great finale to our meal. Served with fried won tons that had been tossed in cinnamon sugar, it was akin to eating dessert nachos. The bananas were warmed and the entire dessert was drizzled in a caramel rum sauce and raspberry coulis.

The amazing thing about Fahrenheit is that on a Friday night, you can go there and get a fantastic meal, at a reasonable price, with great service. Why? Because this great restaurant is hidden inside of a nightclub.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Review: Grasing's Coastal Cuisine

This weekend I was swept off to Carmel by my lovely spouse for some get away and relax time. In the context of achieving this we decided to treat ourselves to a fancy meal. Not a lavish, opulent seating, but perhaps in the realm of finer dining. After doing a little research; Open Table led us to Grasing's. Pair up one highly decorated Chef Kurt Grasing, with celebrity Chef Narsai David as a partner, and you have yourself a pretty impressive meal, one would surmise.

Our reservation was a 9pm on a Saturday night, when we arrived, the restaurant was busy, but not filled. We were seated in a small window seat, the window box actually being part of the seating. It was stuffed with oversized pillows that made seating somewhat less than comfortable, and wrangling the falling pillows became a chore of which both of us would have to participate.

Our server was quite attentive; He even brought a small flashlight so that we could see the menu in the dimly lit dining room. He described the specials, and the Soup du Jour; Vegetable Beef Barley, which I found to be a very odd selection for this caliber restaurant. There was a big push on the Dom Perignon, on sale for $190, a significant savings we were told. During the course of our meal we were helped by several members of his support staff. They engaged us, and made us feel welcome, without being imposing.

Looking for a light starter we opted for the Grilled Artichoke; Dungeness crab salad, lemon vinaigrette, lemon-thyme aioli $13.50. The half artichoke was grilled nicely, while there was no noticeable grill marks or char, the smokiness was evident. It was filled with a salad of Dungeness crab that was fresh, and flavorful, and the vinaigrette was the right balance of acid to the sweet, rich crabmeat. The problem here was the diced red onion. In fact, the raw onion flavor destroyed the balance of the crab salad, and completely overpowered the delicate flavors of the dish. It was served with some undressed field greens, and the aioli was very heavy, similar to gloppy, whole egg mayo that you might find on a deli sandwich. When asked, I was truthful about my opinion of this dish. Our server thanked us for the feedback.

The main courses were next to arrive. My dining partner chose the 16oz Bone-in Rib Eye $48. Served with whipped garlic mash, and sautéed mixed vegetables. I chose the Heritage Pork Medallions served over creamy polenta, shitake mushrooms, bacon, fresh peas, red wine reduction $27.50.

The Rib Eye was cooked perfectly; it had a great char, and was well seasoned. This was the highlight of the meal for sure. The whipped potatoes were OK, and that's about it. They seemed a bit watered down, well seasoned, but lacking in substance. The texture was definitely the flaw, as was the case with the vegetable. I like an al dente, veg, a little tooth to the carrots, and broccoli. These were downright crunchy. You know, when your knife makes that clinking noise as it hits the plate as the carrot finally lets it through!

The pork medallions were also just OK. Now I'm a lover of all that is pork, and this dish was like a marquee of Oscar winning names to me; Pork, bacon, polenta, peas, wine reduction. How could this go wrong, I love every element described! First and foremost, where is the bacon? I'm not even sure I taste bacon in this dish. Don't say bacon, if it's going to be hidden! Second; why are the medallions of pork pounded paper thin? Points for not drying them out, I guess. The mushrooms in red wine reduction with the peas were delicious, but the same crunchy veg was on my plate. The real tragedy of this entire dish was the polenta. It was as if someone had taken yesterday's polenta and crumbled it on my plate, then tried to hide it under the pork. I even tried to reconstitute it by stirring some of the tasty wine sauce into it. The menu said creamy polenta, could you at least have to courtesy to stir a little cream or butter into it to make it edible! Once again our server was thankful for the feedback, but did nothing to correct the culinary faux pas.

Dessert comprised of a simple crème brulee, and two spoons. The top was layered with sliced strawberries; white, flavorless, and crunchy. Guess what, strawberries are not in season! The custard was nicely flavored, with a great texture; however, it was presented in a very thin ramekin, so the ratio of bruleed sugar to custard was complete off. Most of the topping was peeled away and discarded.

In summary, Grasing's in Carmel, with all of its accolades, celebrity Chefdom, and awards was somewhat disappointing. While the service was good, and the staff was very friendly, they failed to make us feel like they were taking responsibility for the kitchen shortcomings.  The food was clunky and lacked finesse. The finer and not so finer details that could have made our dining experience remarkable were completely overlooked. Sorry to say that Grasing's Costal Cuisine truly missed the mark.