Friday, October 8, 2010

FUN TIMES @ FLEMING'S STEAKHOUSE, Palo Alto (Or, Dinner with Two Carin(a)'s & a Sean)

Quartet of Appis!

Who knew food blogging could be this much fun? A little over a year after the launch of my blog, I find myself realizing a place in an extended community--- a family of foodies --- and the welcome is heartwarming. Human connection is a powerful thing, and the many new friends with whom I have connected are a joy. Hanging with those who share my love of food and gatherings has been a bonus, an unexpected gift for which I find myself very grateful at this point in my life. The most recent of these food-bliss related experiences was a food blogger dinner hosted by Fleming’s Steakhouse at their Palo Alto location and organized by the talented Public Relations team of Social Media experts at San Francisco’s Ink Foundry, the lovelies Carin Galletta and Carina Ost.

The BH and had I arrived early, as we often do. We asked the host at the front of house if Carina Ost had arrived (Carina and I had bonded over Twitter and the recent Jewish Holydays.  It was she who had so thoughtfully extended me this invitation).  Because their names are similar when spoken, we were directed to Carin Galletta, who had arrived when we did.  Fortunately, Carin was indeed with our group, as Ms. Galletta is President and Founder of Ink Foundry.  She took charge, greeted us warmly, graciously provided us with drinks and generally took us under her wing. We were off to find Carina, and were introduced in short order to Ms. Ost and the various other bloggers who were there to share in the event.  Among the other guests were bloggers HeatherinSF, Merrijane, and Sluuggo all of whom had arrived ready to share a collectively enjoyable repast, united by our passion for food and the written word.

Crab Cakes Exraordinairre~

The manager, Sean Stangl, came over immediately to settle us in and wasted no time in pouring a lovely white wine. In addition to his management skills, Sean is an accomplished Sommelier who guided us through a bounty of deliciously varied wines over the course of the evening. The first bottle he brought us to try was a delightfully crisp Sauvignon blanc. I found it fruit forward and reminiscent of an Italian Frascati, a wine that was an early favorite of mine. Another delicious wine he shared with us was a Pinot Noir fron Sonoma, (MacMurray Ranch ‘08, named after Fred MacMurray, actor and former owner of the property). This wine was earthy and rich, and oddly enough, I swear it had notes of bacon. How can anything that tastes of bacon not be perfection? There is nothing like the flow of good wine(s) to stimulate conversation and this evening was no exception. The wines were all spectacular, and Sean was a master at the art of discussing fine differences in wine. Every glass was different, unique and really paired well with what was being served at the time.  Though I am not an expert, for those of you who appreciate wine in its many iterations and qualities, and who enjoy getting together to share such discussions and tastings, Sean would definitely be the guy you'd want at the party.

Even the bread served at Flemings was unique. It was similar to foccaccia, a nice light bread with enough substance to hold the spreads that accompanied it. One was a savory garlic butter concoction, the other a creamy champagne and feta affair. Both were eminently spreadable, gliding over the bread, the flavors of the spreads working together to compliment it nicely.

The next act of our evening raised the curtain on a quartet of appetizers that had been hand-selected and prepared for us by Chef Partner, Christopher Bennett. His selections included Fleming’s Seared Ahi Tuna — perfectly prepared slices of rare fatty tuna with a nicely blackened crust and a lovely spicy mustard sauce; Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes — the plump, juicy sweet crabmeat was flavored nicely with a sauce of lime butter & roasted red peppers; a Sweet Chile Calamari which I somehow didn’t manage to try, and Fleming’s Wicked Cajun Barbecue Shrimp which were my favorite. The shrimp were hearty with an authentic southern BBQ shrimp marinade. If you’ve never tasted BBQ Shrimp in the South, then you won’t get it. So, my advice is to get right on that.

Heavenly Pork Chop!

For our main course we were given free reign, allowed to choose whatever protein we wanted — so we did! I can’t speak for all the others, but the BH had a Prime Bone-in Ribeye, rare. 

Sean told him this cut was especially good at Flemings, because they begin with a well-marbled cut of meat, and use an extremely high heat to essentially liquify that fat into the meat, reducing it to an au jus that reveals itself when the meat is cut into. The BH said his steak was beyond flavorful. So good, in fact, that he never wants any other cut of meat. Yeah, you heard him, Flemings!

At Sean’s suggestion I ordered the Double Thick Pork Rib Chop, which was a moist double cut slab of perfectly prepared pork. It was really stellar. Nicely layered over the chop were these super thin slices of julienned apples and jicama that had been cooked tender in apple cider. They were just short of caramelized and mingled with the creole mustard glaze on the pork chop nicely.

Mac n' Cheeeezey~

With our mains we also received a bounty reminiscent of Thanksgiving abundance in Fleming’s side dishes to sample. All of the sides had been hand-selected by Chef Bennett as well. Chef came out of the kitchen several times during the meal to oversee our dining experience. Highlights of the sides we received were the Chipotle Cheddar Macaroni & Cheese — a creamy delight of cheeses puddled tenderly in and around a nice, chewy pasta. The blend of cheeses itself was well-balanced, the toasted jalapeno pepper within releasing a steady little jet-burst of heat in the eating of it. I love heat in a dish. Luckily for me, the next dish – Flemings Creamed Sweet Corn, also had a hint of heat to it. What I like even more is that happy place my mouth goes to when I get a sugary heat, like what I found in Fleming’s near pudding of a corn dish. Just delicious. – I didn’t try the green vegetables, but they all looked beautiful. We were offered a Creamed Spinach, Sauteed Mushrooms and some Grilled Asparagus. At the rate we were all grabbing for the dishes, I’d say they were all very well received.

The entire evening was a resounding success. Ink Foundry is a savvy company with great staff. It is not often that strangers who are brought together for business manage to come together so readily as we all did, but our two Carin/a’s made falling easily into conversation and companionship seem like child’s play. We all really enjoyed ourselves and were still happily chatting away when the desserts arrived.

Walnut Turtle Pie~

The New York style cheesecake was true to it’s classic expectations— the blueberry sauce with the white chocolate cheesecake eminently tasty. Fleming’s Chocolate Lava Cake was a solidly good molten chocolate cake, taking full advantage of the intentional flush of hot and cold with the use of two scoops of vanilla ice cream, which although it is one of the few things not made in-house, is still delicious. Fleming’s Walnut Turtle Pie, was my idea of heaven. A marvelously toothsome jambalaya of walnuts and chocolate dripping in gooey homemade caramel — a mouth-watering candy bar inside of a pie crust. Two hours in the gym minimum, my kind of dessert! But the Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée was perhaps my favorite. I am a sucker for a good crème brûlée, and this fulfilled my every expectation. Beneath it’s crust of burnt sugar, the creamy payoff was definitely there — nothing is quite as satisfying as skating a spoon across the hard sugar pond that is the crust of a cream brulee, until the brown ice cracks and the goodness beneath comes bubbling up in sweet release. This is one dessert that may be more about ritual than taste, but both were superior.

It was a memorable night, attended by memorable people. Ink Foundry is a first -rate PR firm, and Fleming’s Steakhouse is a first-rate restaurant. But more importantly, both are run by people you want to spend time with. Sean, Chef Bennett, Carina and Carin all held up their end of the bargain and gave us all a night to remember with serious good eats. What else is there?

I happened to be at the Palo Alto location, but if you are elsewhere and they have a Flemings, my guess is that quality follows. Check it out for yourself. Bon Appetit!

Creme Brulee

Flemings Prime Steakhouse &Wine - Palo Alto
180 El Camino Real Ste #G2
Palo Alto, CA 94304
(650) 329-8457

Monday, October 4, 2010

GARIBALDI'S ~ "The Lunch Date"

The Long Weekend
Recently we ate at the newly revamped Garibaldi’s. What has always been a local neighborhood go-to restaurant is now two. One very intimate and fairly high end, the other is Marzano, a really nice pizza joint. There’s a bar nestled in Marzano, which is a more casual atmosphere, and both places share the open kitchen. I’ve been trying to get there for awhile to check it out. Finally, in mid-July, the BH and I managed a lunch there, on the “fancy” side.

My BH ordered a Nessie, which was a tasty combo of dark rum, passion fruit and lime. The flavors in the drink were spicy, with just a hint of sweetness, but not too sweet. It was a really, really good cocktail. I had a Long Weekend (Movie fans ~ best drink name ever!). This was an invigorating combination of gin, cucumber, lime and a sprig of fresh mint. It was hot out, and this drink was a refreshing pop of cucumber with a nice limey after-kick. Note to self: they have a first-rate mixologist at Garibaldi’s (the bar space is shared with Marzano).

Fried Green Tomatoes
Heavenly goodness!

We shared a platter of tangy fried goodness, the color, flavor and textures of which made it perhaps my favorite rendition of yet another familiar film-titled dish, Garibaldi’s platter of “Fried Green Tomatoes.” The combination of thick slices of green tomato covered in crispy batter formed a perfect halo-shaped fritter. Those fritters were placed daintily atop thick, white, hearty discs of the creamiest hand-pulled mozarella, then laid out in a bed of white corn salsa whose sweetness was enhanced by the addition of a sauce of pureed red tomato. The dish held sweetness, there was also a tang to it. In one bite the heat of the fritter hit the chilled fresh corn to combine in the perfect mouthful, neither too hot, nor too cold. A perfect variety of different crunches. The tangle of fresh taste sensations in this dish was outstanding. It was a home run of flavors. This dish was enough to charm even the most jaded food critic. Being neither, I fell hard, and ate most of it in under a minute. Our forks crossed in mock battle as we each stabbed for another bite.

Grilled Chicken Salad

My lunch main was good. I had the Grilled Chicken Salad, a nice blend of roughage, mixed with chicory. Dressing of buttermilk, blue cheese and toasted almonds. All surrounding nice, even slices of perfectly roasted chicken breast, complete with lovely little grill marks. It wasn’t remarkable, but it was well done and quite satisfying.

The BH had a Seafood Stew or “Zarzuela” which was a briny, well-seasoned combination of local rock cod, mussels and calamari. To set off the seafood the Chef added some nice green english peas, a handful of lovely yukon gold potatoes, and a lightly toasted slice of bread that had been coated with spred of saffron garlic aioli was set afloat on top of the seafood. A starchy sailboat of flavor. The aioli melted into the broth and enhanced the flavors well. The BH really enjoyed it. Perhaps this dish would be better called “The Old Man and the Sea,” but let’s not tell him that!

Zarzuela ~
a delicious seafood stew

It was nice to check in to an old favorite. Some of the updates I liked, some not as much, but the food certainly has not suffered. It is still a nice place to have lunch, but it is more cozy than it once was. I think it could get a bit loud during the dinner hour, as the tables now line a hallway of sorts, rather than open out onto shared space.

All in all, if for no other reason, one should go for dishes like those Fried Green Tomatoes. They were just spectacular.  By all means, get by and check it out.  Bon Appetit!

Garibaldi's -Oakland
5356 College Avenue
Oakland, CA  94618
(510) 595-4000
Table size: adequate
Service: excellent
Noise level: Could be loud at dinner.  The space is fairly narrow.