Monday, November 28, 2005

The St. James in Palm Springs


(First off, sorry, I didn't have my camera. I was driving down the main drag of Palm Springs, salivating, looking at all the yummy restaurants that I would get to experience that weekend and I suddenly remembered-that-I-forgot-it. So. We have little pictures from the St. James website. Just think of the pictures as tapas.)

I've had drinks and appetizers in the bar at St. James a few times. The lounge is covered in tribal masks from all over, its earthy yet very contemporary and inviting. I believe the owner has actually traveled and brought back all of these masks, at least that was what the bartender told us one evening. Anyway, they are great conversation pieces and if anything, you have to stop into the lounge if you are in the area. Another interesting tidbit-- for you General Hopistal fans, one of the stars of that show is married to the owner. I have seen her in there before. Not on this night though.

On this night that we went, we were celebrating my birthday. What a romantic place for a birthday dinner. The hostess nestled my date and I into a cute corner table where the backs are lined with comfy pillows. We started off with the beet salad. I don't know what it is about beets, I can't resist them. And for some reason when ever I try to make a beet salad like this at home it's just not the same. Very simply: golden and red beets, feta, spinach, walnuts, and a balsamic vinaigrette. The thing that separates this from other beet salads? Big, juicy dates. Y-u-m. Enough said!

I ordered the duck for dinner. Now, this is where I might cause a little ruckus. I'm not sure if I like duck. (The only other time I have had it was in Vietnam, and it was fresh and roasted. You can't go wrong with anything "fresh and roasted.") And the waitress, she asked me how I wanted it cooked. I had a sudden flash back to my dinner at Chat Noir, exactly a year ago, when the waitress asked me how I wanted my pork cooked: temporary horror. I am still getting used to the concept of pork and poultry not being cooked to a dry char. Anyway, so I ordered it medium based on the waitresses recommendation. The duck was served with a confit of shallots and fingerling potatoes and steamed vegetables. And then there was the berry-wine sauce. I couldn't ask for anything more as far as presentation. It was beautiful. Little raspberries dotted my plate. My first instinct was that this was delicious although I was turned off a little bit by the game-y taste of the duck. And I was still nervous about it being pink in the middle. Basically, yes, I would recommend this entree to someone else and I am regarding my slight hesitancies just as inexperience.

My date ordered the lamb. Again, beautiful presentation. (Can you tell in the tiny picture?) I believe this came with au gratin potatoes, steamed veggies, and was served in a port wine reduction sauce. She was content with the meal, although she noted that the potatoes we a bit bland. She actually asked the waitress what was up with the breading on the lamb, and then the waitress politely informed her that it was not in fact breading, but pulsed pumpkin seeds. This seemed to please her-- funny how things taste a little different once you know what you are tasting.

Alright, so my suggestion? Stop into the lounge. Have a nice drink (great drink menu) have a couple appetizers, maybe split an entree. Decent food, but really expensive.

The St. James Restaurant
(Online menu not up to date)
265 South Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Springs, CA 92262
866.365.6500

Monday, November 07, 2005

blue.bell.VIETNAMESEALLTHETIME.banquet



On the rare occasion I can be coaxed out of leaving the OC and venturing up to LA. Danielle got me all the way to San Gabriel by enticing me with an invite to meet Lela Lee on Saturday night.

So "on the way" up we went to San Gabriel to check out Danielle's favorite Vietnamese restaurant-- called VietNam House. Heh. The funny part of this, that like the New Ho Tay restaurant, Danielle was telling me about all the drama involving this restaurant and then a "sister" restaurant and family drama, etc. Fuh-nee.

I am such a picky eater sometimes, so I let Danielle order in order to make sure I was getting some new tastes on my palette. Her selection: cha gio, bun thit nuong, and hu tieu tom thit.

The cha gio needs no explanation, I want to try these at every Vietnamese restaurant I go to. These were good. Plain and simple, the best I have had since my mommy's. My only complaint-- and this is a personal preference, really-- is that they go pretty heavy on the mushrooms in these cha gio. I grew up with out them in mine, so it's just that, really. Really crispy, full of fresh fillings. I haven't acquired a palette sophisticated enough to really tell the difference between the nuoc cham at the restaurants that we go to, but Danielle can and she says that Vietnam House's is the best, closest to homemade. I'll take her word for it.

We ordered a bowl of the bun thit nuong again. This was good, but to me it looked better than it tasted. It came atop with green onions and peanuts (I LOVE peanuts in Vietnamese food). I am forever spoiled by Brodard it seems, nothing compares to me.

However, the soup we got-- hu tieu tom thit, now that was delicious. When I go back to VietNam House, I will order this again. Danielle was explaining it to me in the car:

Danielle: They have noodles in it that are clear and chewy.
Me: Chewy? Oh... I don't know if I like the way that sounds.
Danielle: Well, not too chewy, sorta like boba.
Me: I hate boba!

They were yummy though. Actually, the stock was what made it. The soup could have been made with the thin rice vermicilli noodles or ramen and it still would have been awesome. Leafy greens, hearty shrimp, and clear noodles were submerged in this really tasty broth. I don't know how to really describe it. It was sorta like a chicken stock-- but had a lot more depth to it.

Ok this is from LA Weekly, and no, I didn't get the seven courses of beef. But there is always next time... oh and they got some delish' fresh lemonade there...

Vietnam House: Almost as a public service, Vietnam House prepares bo bay mon, the fabled Vietnamese seven-course beef dinner. The dinner is a well-worn ritual, honed in country restaurants before the war and served in an unbending succession of courses whose composition probably hasn't changed in 30 years: sliced raw beef that you cook at the table by swishing it for a few seconds in a pot of vinegar broth boiling merrily on a brazier; steamed pate studded with clear noodles and served with shrimp chips; gristly grilled meatballs; tightly rolled slivers of steak; charred beef tucked inside vaguely narcotic la lot leaves; marinated beef salad; beef porridge. This is food that was made for beer. 710 W. Las Tunas Dr., San Gabriel, (626) 282-6327. Lunch and dinner Mon., Wed., Thurs. 10 a.m.- 9 p.m., Fri - Sun. till 10 p.m. Beer only. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $14 - $24. Vietnamese.

(From left to right, myself, Lela & Danielle.)