Monday, January 30, 2012

Who's Up for Some Take-Out?

Sometimes you don't feel like cooking and you don't feel like going out...time for some take-out! I wrote another guest post for fellow blogger Mamatoga where I gave a week's worth of take-out ideas from local Saratoga restaurants. You can check it out here, and let me know if I missed some specials, I'm always up for some new take-out ideas!

Monday, January 23, 2012


This past Sunday I went to Sperry's for brunch with three friends. I didn't know anything about Sperry's except that it's the same owners as the Circus Cafe and that they have a particularly interesting brunch menu...that was more than enough to get my interest. I mean, check out their menu, they have cheddar jalapeno grits, how could I not go try them out!

When we walked in at 11 I noticed we were one of the few parties there - definitely a plus since getting a table for Sunday brunch in Saratoga can be a little competitive to say the least. Since it was the first time there for everyone we got a quick tour of the restaurant before getting to choose our table. We chose to sit in the side room where we were surrounded by great caricatures on the walls and music that definitely had some soul to it. Our waitress was very patient with us as we tried to decide what to order, there were just so many things I wanted to get!

I ended up getting the Basil and Feta Cheese Egg Scramble. Once you combine eggs and pesto, I'm sold.

And do you see that amazing pastry holding the scrambled eggs, pesto, asparagus, and tomatoes? That my friends is a POPOVER! I was surprised to learn that not many people have heard of popovers, and I've definitely never seen them in a restaurant before. To be honest, I have never met a popover that can hold a candle to my mom's. This came pretty darn close though (sorry Sperry's, I'm holding you to some tough competition). And I loved the fact that my eggs were actually inside the popover. Way to go Sperry's.

There were actually two orders of the omelette of the day: ham and gruyere.

I'm not a big ham person, but gruyere makes everything delicious and my friends certainly enjoyed their omelettes, one with home fries and the other with the cheddar jalapeno grits. I was also told to mention that the home fries were "perfect" (they were pretty good, I managed to steal a few before they were all gone). My friend was impressed though, saying that these home fries were the perfect consistency since at most other places they are either soggy or burnt.

The next and last dish that I want to talk to you about was pretty unique, definitely something that caught my eye on the menu.

The Hangtown Fry is scrambled eggs, bacon, and FRIED OYSTERS! And I know it looks like there is just a crazy amount of eggs on the plate, but half of what you see is the cheddar jalapeno grits. I don't know about you, but I have never had oysters with eggs before, or even really seen it on a brunch menu. Apparently this dish was created during the California Gold Rush - so Sperry's gets point for this dish being creative, tasty, and historically accurate. What a trifecta.

Now normally I'm not one to order dessert with brunch, but once again, when our waitress gave us a menu we just could not say no. This first dessert is a three layered masterpiece with hazelnut meringue, praline buttercream, and chocolate ganache.

Isn't that just beautiful presentation?

The other, more Aliza-friendly (what my friends call chocolate-free desserts) dish was a Pecan Praline Bread Pudding.

WOW! Even though we were sharing this between four people, I would say we could only get about halfway through. This bread pudding was incredibly sweet and rich, though not in an overbearing way. Besides the fact that it was so intense, there was just so much of it that I would definitely recommend getting it to share.

We also enjoyed some brunch that little photo shoot we did with the menu?

One thing that's important to note though is that apparently it is illegal to serve alcohol before noon on Sundays. Definitely news to us! So instead of having cocktails with brunch we had them with our desserts, no biggy. But if you're having brunch on the earlier side, make sure to time your orders so that you can still enjoy your bloody mary or mimosa (legally) with your meal.

All in all, Sperry's was a great find. I thought they put an interesting spin on brunch and I like that it seems like they had fun with the menu. Next time I might just have to try to lemon ricotta pancakes. You know it's a good restaurant when you're already thinking about the next meal you want to get!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Jacob & Anthony

I've always been curious about Jacob & Anthony's, it seems so hidden away even though it's right downtown near the farmer's market. So naturally this curiosity led to a reservation for four on a Saturday night. Unfortunately when we got there, even though we had a reservation, we had to wait twenty minutes at the bar for our table to be ready. The bar was so packed that it actually took us twenty minutes to get a drink and it was the kind of set up that if you didn't have a seat at the bar you weren't really sure where to put yourself.

Once we were seated though it was great, we had one of those circle booths that I love. We were still able to see multiple televisions from our spot...I had no idea Jacob & Anthony's had that sports bar feel, it seems like there are few restaurants out there where "The Game" isn't on. Sorry, I feel like I'm always talking about TVs, but it's definitely one of my pet peeves. Don't people go out to eat for great company and conversation? But anyways, even though the restaurant was packed and loud with avid sports fans, we had a great waiter who was very attentive and had a great sense of humor.

There was a variety of dishes ordered, the menu definitely covers a lot of styles from Italian to Southern to Latin. The first dish ordered was the Napolitan which was chicken and shrimp over gnocchi with mushrooms and roasted tomatoes.

Doesn't it look like everything almost slid off the plate in transit? This was a tasty dish, but I bet it would have been even tastier if it had actually been hot when it got to the table. It was almost like eating leftovers, slightly warm but still tasted good. I feel like the flavors would have been so much more pronounced if it was hot...I never know what to do in that situation, do you tell the waiter your dish is cold or is that slightly obnoxious?

I ordered George Bank Scallops which were by far my favorite of the four meals we got. I got the small size which was three scallops and a vegetable cake in beurre blanc sauce. The vegetable cake was really interesting, not the first thing that I would have thought to pair with scallops. Normally you would see some sort of green vegetable with seafood but this was more filling and fit the comfort food mood set by the sauce. I wish I had gone for the larger size though, I was still a little hungry after and ended up snacking on everyone else's meal.

The next meal was the Pear and Walnut Salad with a side of seasoned fries. My friend who got the salad was fairly disappointed. It's a fairly standard salad: walnuts, pears, dried cranberries, bleu cheese and red onion...pretty hard to go wrong there. But this salad added red peppers and shredded carrots (my friend hates peppers, had they been on the menu she would have asked to leave them out) and practically no dressing.

So instead of the meal centering around the salad, she ended up having mostly french fries for dinner. Speaking of the fries, we thought it was funny that in addition to the ketchup that came with the side, we also received a small gravy boat as well. Just in case.

The last dish was the Chicken Milanese, pan fried chicken over spinach fettucini alfredo. This dish was decadent and filling, just like anything with alfredo sauce should be. Needless to say, this friend was a satisfied member of the clean plate club.

Somehow, we all still had room for dessert and ordered two to split. I shared one of my absolute favorites, which I rarely see in restaurants: Bananas Foster.

YUM! For those of you who can't tell what's what in this delicious picture, Bananas Foster is warm banana bread topped with ice cream, warm bananas, and rum sauce. The menu advertised macadamia nut ice cream which would have made this dessert even more fantastic, but we were given vanilla ice cream. Not to say that I was disappointed with the end result, I guess I was just looking forward to the original macadamia nut. The Bananas Foster was also pretty huge, so the perfect dessert to split!

The other dessert ordered was the Caramel Apple Cheesecake:

You may be looking at this picture and thinking "where did half of the top go?", good question. Despite this lack of presentation, it was still a classic slice of cheesecake. The cheesecake itself wasn't caramel apple - they just drizzled caramel and added a few apples on the side of some plain cheesecake...but still, not too shabby.

After our meal, I'm not sure if I would go back to Jacob & Anthony's for dinner. Maybe for lunch or happy hour? The atmosphere was so loud and so centered around sports, that it wasn't the kind of place that I would want to go to catch up with friends. The food was very good though, so one thing I would want to try out if their Dinner Table Tuesdays. For $22.95 you get a take out meal for four, depending what the special of the day is. Pretty good deal if you ask me! A bunch of restaurants in the area have specials like this and one day soon I promise I'll dedicate a post just to financially friendly deals.

An off topic thought - I've gotten some feedback that I should start a rating system for the restaurants I write about. What do you think? Leave a comment if you've got any cool ideas on what you would want to see for ratings!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Beekman Street Bistro

Howdy! Check out my guest review for Beekman Street Bistro on Mamatoga's website and leave some love!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Guest Review on Hattie's

Have you guys heard about Hattie's new brunch? Word on the street is it's pretty exciting and Jenny from Mamatoga is going to tell you all about it! Take a look...

First, in an effort to be completely honest with you readers, let me just say that I have been a long time fan of Hattie's. I love their chicken, I love their back porch, I love their mojitos. But, when it comes to brunch, I am what can be described as "picky". Perhaps I've even been described as a "brunch snob" once or twice. You see, brunch is my favorite meal, always has been, and I consider myself to be a bit of a connoisseur. And I would agree with being labeled as picky, I have dismissed meals at brunch for the potatoes having too much rosemary, the eggs being not runny enough (or TOO runny) or the butter on the toast as "funny tasting".

You can take that last dismissal as an indication that a food writer, I am not. But I do know brunch, and I do know kids, so here I'm going to give you my review of Hattie's, brunch with kids. Hattie's is the type of place that is conducive to kids being at your table from the moment you walk in. It's nice and noisy in a jovial way, not in an obnoxious way, in a way that lets you breathe a little easier if the kids laugh a little loudly or chatter just a bit. It has a friendly, bustling atmosphere and our waitress definitely fell under the friendly category. Right away she brought the kids crayons and menus to draw on and was well versed in the parent habit of ordering for the kids right away and I didn't have to ask her to "bring it out when it's ready".

It was tough for any of us to decide what to get on their menu because everything sounded amazing, but having two kids aged 5 and 3 at the table and me being nine months pregnant the beignets seemed like a must order item.

Fresh and piping hot they were at the table quickly, described as "French Quarter donuts" these funnel cake type treats were amazing, three of them came in a big bowl with a generous amount of powdered sugar and disappeared as fast as they came. Even though they are fried they had a surprising lightness to them that made the inside layers almost melt in your mouth.

Ordering these first may seem like a rookie mistake, donuts before food? Well, at brunch I'm a little more lax with the old eating rules, but I was pleasantly surprised that the fruit with honey yogurt that arrived next was just as well received by Finn and Leven.

The honey yogurt dip was sweet enough to entice little fingers to finish off the large bowl of fresh fruit and made me feel justified that the kids were, in fact, eating something healthy. The yogurt wasn't overly sweet however and we all took turns dipping pieces in. Their options for kids for brunch are pretty good though, beyond the donuts and fruit they were more than happy to create a smaller plate or do a special order for the kids which is something you don't always run into and is always appreciated. Our waitress was just the right amount of attentive for a table with kids, bringing extra plates to share with when needed, checking to make sure there weren't any lemonade or pineapple juice refills needed, and making sure coffees and adult drinks were placed well beyond the reach of little hands.

Speaking of coffee, I have to include the coffee that I had, the cafe con miel (with milk and honey). I had never had honey in coffee before and wasn't sure if it would be a new obsession of mine or if I would have to pawn it off on my husband but it turned out to be the most amazing coffee I've had in a long time. Creamy and sweet, I'm still thinking about how much of a little treat it was and hoping I can somehow recreate that perfect balance at home.

As far as the adult meals went we were all beyond pleased. For my meal I got the crab cake Eggs Benedict and it was divine. I'm not a big fan of "fancy" Benedicts usually, I like them pretty traditional, I don't want any roasted peppers in the Hollandaise or anything too crazy. For pretty much any other meal I'm very adventurous but for brunch I want Eggs Benedict as close to traditional as possible.

This Benedict did have a slight twist in that it was on top of crab cakes with spinach, and even though it took this minor detour from "traditional" for me it was fantastic. The potatoes were crispy with just enough salt, the Hollandaise was creamy and had just the right amount of tanginess and the spinach blended with the tender crab cakes beautifully. I loved them for combining two somewhat traditional dishes, Eggs Benedict and crab cakes into something this great. Two thick slices of toast topped the plate off and were snatched up by little hands, Finn declaring it "the best bread ever".

We decided to have the kids share our meals, and the kids happily enjoyed my toast, my husband's chicken fried steak and my mom's gruyere and ham omelette. My husband's skirt steak was perfect and the eggs were cooked impeccably. We also had an "extra" order, something I am notorious for doing when pregnant. It's hard to decide on just one entree, especially when there are so many good choices, and the "extra" today was the biscuits and gravy. These were amazing, if you've had their biscuits you know how fluffy and delicious these are, and the gravy was thick and chunky yet had the perfect creaminess and flavor.

Part of the reason that Hattie's is so great is that it is comfortable and casual and is just like home cooked comfort food, but a thousand times better. This is why, I suspect, people keep going back for more. It feels like home, warm and cozy and inviting on a windy day like today with friendly, smiling people waiting on you. The food, made up of great quality ingredients, is simple and delicious but with enough thoughtful inclusions and prepared so expertly to make it stand out above the rest. We were one of a few tables that had small children there this morning and it is definitely somewhere I will go again with the kids, especially since Finn made me promise we'd go back to get more beignets next week. I'm definitely going to have to keep this promise, especially since there are about ten other menu options I want to try and that perfect coffee alone is worth a return trip.

Thanks so much Jenny! For more kid friendly restaurant reviews and Saratoga events, check out Mamatoga's website.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Pacific Grill

Today I went to lunch with a friend at Pacific Grill. In the past I have had great experiences at this asian fusion restaurant, but the main reason I chose Pacific Grill for lunch was because my friend has Celiac Disease. For those of you who don't know, Celiac is an intense intolerance to gluten, so I thought an asian restaurant would be good with all the rice dishes and such. What I didn't realize (and felt awful about) is that gluten is in EVERYTHING. Like soy sauce for example...who woudda thunk it! So this post is not only a review of the quality of food, but the accommodations made for a severe food allergy.

The first thing we noticed when we walked in was that we were literally the only people in the restaurant. Keep in mind we had a noon lunch date, it's not like we were going at a weird hour or anything. Maybe their lunch hour is mostly take out? I happen to know that they have their menu on Mealeo, which is a great online delivery service for anyone who is interested. Anyways, back to today's lunch. Once we settled in and were handed our menus I realized that the lunch menu was a lot less exciting than the dinner menu. What the menu lacked in excitement though it certainly made up for with affordability! There were a number of amazingly priced lunch specials for every cuisine they offer, Japanese, Chinese, and Thai.

Then came the moment of truth: my friend asked the waiter about any gluten free options they had. To be perfectly honest, I really don't think he knew what gluten free meant and how seriously it needed to be taken. Our waiter couldn't point out anything on the menu that was gluten free, but to his credit he went back to the kitchen to ask what could be done. The only solution that was offered that my friend felt completely comfortable with was steamed chicken and vegetables. They kept asking if she wanted any sauce but without an ingredients list she wasn't willing to take the chance - and I don't blame her. For myself, I ordered miso soup with a spicy tuna roll and a spicy salmon roll (Japanese Lunch special C to be specific).

When the miso soup came I was pretty disappointed.

Most people either love or hate miso soup, and I happen to normally love it. This soup was the exception. Not only did it taste, for lack of a better word, off...but it was also luke warm. I could only manage a couple spoonfuls before I had to give up. I feel like it's pretty hard to mess up miso soup...

My sushi was pretty good. I normally go for their more adventurous rolls but since simpler ones were what was being offered on the lunch menu I went with some classic favorites - spicy salmon (left) and spicy tuna (right)

One of the things I have always liked about Pacific Grill was the amount of rice they use for their sushi. There are so many places that try to bulk up their rolls with a ton of rice, but these rolls have just the right amount so that you can really appreciate the fish and the art that goes into sushi.

My friend's dish was certainly healthy looking!

The vegetables were fresh and not over-steamed (always important) and she said that the chicken tasted pretty good as well. Again not understanding but with good intentions, the waiter brought over a side dish of sauce for her meal. Despite the plainness of the dish, my friend was happy with it and glad that she didn't have to worry about getting sick. Personally, I would have thought that with gluten free diets becoming more and more prominent, the restaurant would have had a meal either actually offered on the menu or that they could make with a little more flavor. I'm glad that she was able to get anything at all, but I had hoped that by choosing Pacific Grill she would have been able to have something more...well, just more.

Overall my lunch experience at Pacific Grill was fairly mediocre. Not great, not horrible. I will definitely have to do a dinner review though, because it seems that at night Pacific Grill transforms into a completely different restaurant. And coming up soon, get excited, Jenny from is going to do a guest post reviewing a restaurant experience with kids! Until then, enjoy the snow!