Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Texas de Brazil (Denver)

We had a team dinner at Texas de Brazil, which is Brazilian BBQ restaurant, or churrascaria. For those who may not have experienced it before, it is a must-try, especially if you are a meat lover! :-) Basically it's an all-you-can-eat place, where waiters walk around with a variety of different skewered grilled meats that range from top sirloin to bacon-wrapped filet mignon to sausages to chicken wings to lamb chops to pork tenderloin... the list just goes on. But before you even start on the meats, they have this amazing monstrous salad bar that of course is meant to fill you up. However, even knowing this, it was very hard to resist the fresh salads, vegetables, cold cuts, etc. They even had seared ahi which was pretty good but I controlled myself. I have to save room for the meat! :-) At Texas de Brazil, they even have a sushi bar, which is the first time I've seen that at a Brazilian steakhouse. I guess they really try to fill you up. Word of advice: the sushi is not worth it!

With serious discipline, I was ready for the meats after just one round to the salad bar - bring it on! So they give you this little card that is green on one side and red on the other. When green faces up, be ready for all the waiters to attack you offering you different cuts of meat. Once you've piled your plate full of meat, you should flip it over to red. If you don't, you may feel like you are Harry Potter sitting at the dining table at Hogwart's, where food just magically appears and your plate is constantly full. That may sound great, but the meats actually get cold pretty fast and won't taste as good. You also will have trouble telling the meats apart and may not remember which ones were your favorites that you may want to get more of. Trust me, turn your card to red once in a while so you can catch up. And not to worry, as soon as you flip it to green, the meats will magically appear on your plate again.

The house special is the picanha, which is a special cut of the rump that is very popular. For any of the beef or lamb, you can ask for pieces that range from rare to well-done. My favorite was probably the bacon-wrapped filet mignon (how can you go wrong with anything wrapped in bacon? ;-) Normally my favorite at a churrascaria is usually the lamb chop, but the ones I had at Texas de Brazil were a bit gamey. Their lamb chops just could not compare to those at Fogo de Chao, which is my gold standard for Brazilian BBQ. Fogo de Chao was my very first experience, and to this day is still the best (and I've been back many times, despite the fact that they weren't even in CA until a couple years ago). Unfortunately there isn't a comparable churrascaria in SF, but maybe that is better for my waistline anyway... Oh I almost forgot to mention my absolute favorite thing at a Brazilian restaurant - it's the cheese bread! It's another one of those items that is designed to fill you up so you eat less meat, but the Brazilian cheese bread is so good that I am willing to forgo all the meat! Once again though, I think the cheese bread at Fogo de Chao is the best of all the churrascarias that I've been to. OK, I've got to stop talking (and drooling) about Fogo de Chao since this is not a review for them. :-)

Of course, after all the salad bar items and meats, who has room for dessert, right? NO! You have to save room for dessert! Fortunately, we had a large group so we ordered a few to share. The dessert portions are big so sharing is highly recommended. My favorite was the Brazilian cheesecake, which was very rich but heavenly. We also ordered the Brazilian flan, which was quite interesting. It is served in a glass and they pour liquor all over it. Yummmm. Overall, Texas de Brazil was impressive - amazing salad bar, delicious meats, and even better desserts. It's probably my second favorite churrascaria in the country, so if you are in a city that has Texas de Brazil, go check it out! (This holds true unless that city also has Fogo de Chao, then always pick Fogo de Chao. :-)
P.S. My camera was out of batteries so my pictures didn't turn out very well. For beautiful pictures and restaurant locations, visit

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Samba Room (Denver)

I haven't been to Denver in years so it was good when I had to go there for work. I also took the opportunity to have lunch with a college classmate, whom I haven't seen in years. She brought her husband and her very cute three-year-old daughter along, and we strolled through the Lower Downtown area of Denver before deciding to try out the Samba Room. The restaurant had chic decor and looked like it would be a very hip place after dark, but it was pretty empty for lunch.

The lunch menu was very reasonably priced and they offer "Latin lunch boxes" that ranged from $10.95-$12.95 that included soup, salad, an empanada, entree, and dessert. We started off sharing a three-cheese crab dip which was pretty tasty. The portion wasn't very big though, as we quickly ran out of the dip and we still had a lot of chips left. Then we each had ordered one of the lunch boxes - I got the one with the skirt steak as the entree. The soup and salad were not bad but nothing too special, but the corn empanada was nicely flavored. The skirt steak was a good size and had a little kick to it. We also got a chocolate pudding for dessert that was quite rich. Overall, I can't say I was blown away by the food, but it was lunch and the value was definitely very good. If you happen to find yourself in downtown Denver for lunch one of these days, you may want to pop in for a try.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Yuet Lee (San Francisco)

After our drinks at the XYZ Bar, my ex-coworker said that she was craving Chinese seafood (she lives in San Diego and says that Chinese food there just can't compare to SF). We wanted to go to R&G Lounge, but the wait was going to be about an hour. We were starving though so I suggested going to Yuet Lee instead, which wasn't too far away. I've been to Yuet Lee before, and even though they may not be as tasty as R&G Lounge, their seafood is fresh and usually there is no wait (big bonus when you are hungry). The two of us proceeded to order steamed oysters with ginger and scallion, clams sauteed with black bean sauce, a 2+ pound lobster, and stir-fried pea sprouts. I have to give credit to our waiter for not looking at us like pigs - we eventually packed up the leftovers to take home anyway.

The steamed oysters were very fresh and lightly seasoned - they really hit the spot for us, since we both love oysters. The clams were very good as well - the black bean sauce went great with rice. The lobster was good as well, but by that time, we were both getting pretty full. It was very fresh though - in the traditional Chinese way, our waiter had brought us the alive and kicking lobster to show that we were getting our money's worth. Overall it was a good meal. R&G is probably still better, but only if you are willing to brave the wait. One bonus for Yuet Lee is that it's open until late at night, so if you ever crave fresh Chinese seafood at 1 am in the morning, you know where to go.

XYZ Bar at W Hotel (San Francisco) - QQ

I met up at the XYZ Bar at W Hotel with an ex-coworker who was in town for the Gamer Developer Conference (GDC), which was at the Moscone Center across the street. This was my second time here this week (I was here earlier in the week for a business meeting), and both times the bar and hotel lobby were swarming with men. Yes! Finally after months of not being able to give out any "Q's," I'm back in business (did you think I forgot what my blog was all about? ;-) And you might be asking: can men from the Gamer Developer Conference, ahem, really qualify for Q's? I assure you that there were plenty of good-looking men alongside the so-called geeks (personally I have a soft spot for somewhat nerdy men anyway - notice I said only somewhat nerdy). And probably not all of the men there were from the conference. After all, it was Friday night and the XYZ Bar is always a popular hangout, for conference goers and locals alike. My ex-coworker and I didn't meet any men that night, although plenty smiled at us. We were just having a good time catching up but we'll be back!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Campton Place Restaurant (San Francisco)

Campton Place Restaurant is located in (what else) the Campton Place Hotel near Union Square. I've always liked the place, which consistently delivers good food and service. I've been to this restaurant a couple times before for SF Dine-about-Town, and that deal can't be beat when you get three courses for $21.95. However, I've always wanted to come here for a regular lunch since there are a lot more choices. For lunch you can order a la carte or have a 3-course prix fixe for $42, which is not too bad, given that you can choose from any item on the menu. Just my appetizer and entree added up to be $45 so it was like getting the dessert for free.

I can never say no to foie gras so I ordered that while my companion got the tomato soup. The presentation was quite nice although the portions were small. When they first put down the soup bowl, it had three little shrimps in it, and then they poured the soup over it. Similarly for my dish, the piece of foie gras was rather small, and then they poured mushroom consomme over it. The foie gras was cooked to perfection though, with juice and fat oozing out as you cut into it.

For entree, I ordered the lamb shoulder, which was tenderly cooked but it was a little bit too fat for me. My companion ordered the pork tenderloin, which looked quite good. As for dessert, I got a chocolate sponge cake with caramel ice cream. The cake was very moist, but again, it was quite tiny and you can pretty much eat it in two bites. Overall, the meal was very good but I have to say that it wasn't necessarily any better than when I came for Dine-about-Town at half the cost. But I think that says a lot for this restaurant, in that they don't skimp on quality for something like Dine-about-Town (which a lot of other restaurants do).

And although the portions were rather small, I thought they were just right given that there are three courses and you don't want to overeat, especially for lunch. Oh, and I almost forgot about the bread! They serve a really nice olive bread that is really delicious when it's warm - that also helps you fill up! All in all, I think Campton Place is great but coming here for Dine-about-Town is an even better deal!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Guy Savoy (Las Vegas)

After a long hiatus, I am back! I apologize to all my loyal friends who follow my blog... Things got really busy (okay, and I got lazy) after I got back from Europe, and my blog has lagged. However, as one of my new year's resolutions for 2008, I plan to update my blog more often. (And of course, it's already February, and this is the only resolution that I've actually started on!)

The good thing is that I did start off the year well with a trip to Las Vegas and enjoying many culinary adventures there. I got to try Restaurant Guy Savoy at Caesar's Palace. The Guy Savoy restaurant in Paris is a Michelin 3-star and was one of the restaurants that I wanted to try when I was in Paris but didn't get a chance to. I was quite happy that Guy Savoy decided to open his only American branch in Vegas. The restaurant in Vegas is only a Michelin 2-star though.

I arrive at the restaurant ahead of my party and was immediately greeted by the maitre d' with a friendly "bon soir." I answered "bon soir" with a smile and he proceeded to continue to speak to me in simple French. (I guess my French did improve after spending my summer in Paris.) Since the rest of my party hasn't arrived, he ushered me into a small bar area to wait and the bartender asked me if I would like to start off with a glass of champagne. He recommended a glass of rosé and I sipped on it while I waited for others. Once everyone arrived, they prompted seated us, and for the women, they brought these little "purse" stools for us to put our purse on. I was so excited because that I've only seen that before once (also in Vegas - at the restaurant Alex at the Wynn) and I knew that the service was going to be impeccable here.

The menu offers both an à la carte and a tasting menu option. The appetizers ranged from $40 to $90 and the entrees ranged from $70 to $95. There are two tasting menus, one called the "TGV Menu: the 90 Minute Experience" for $190 with 4 courses, and the other "Menu Prestige" that is 9 courses for $290. We of course decided to enjoy the full experience so we went with the Menu Prestige with wine pairing, and we readied ourselves for a very extensive meal. Here are our courses:

Amuse Bouche: Carrot cappuccino and "surprise" of tuna tartare on cracker

1. Oysters in Ice Gelée

2. Colors of Caviar

3. Crispy Sea Bass with Delicate Spices

4. Lentil Ragout with Black Truffles and Roasted Foie Gras

5. Artichoke and Black Truffle Soup with Toasted Brioche and Black Truffle Butter

6. Poussin à la Broche, Black Truffle, Fingerling Potatoes and Chanterelles

7. Selection of Cheese

8. Pear

9. Chocolate

As you can see from the menu, the courses all used very high-quality ingredients, from black truffles galore to foie gras to caviar. Some of the courses were excellent, with very delicate and intricate flavors in one bite. For example, the "Oysters in Ice Gelée" had multiple flavors that danced across your tongue. Similarly the "Colors of Caviar" excellently utilized caviar throughout each layer - they recommended us that we dig our (mother of pearl) spoon deep into the glass so we can make sure to get all the layers. Unfortunately, the flavors started going down from there. Maybe it was because they started off with tastiest courses, it seems that the rest of the menu paled in flavor. While some were still very good (the foie gras was perfectly cooked), the flavors weren't unique and didn't really jump out. And then there were some dishes that just plainly fell flat, like the "Artichoke and Black Truffle Soup," which I was really looking forward to because I love truffles. However, the soup was pretty bland and even though there were slices of shaved truffle and parmesan cheese floating on top, they were tasteless too. We finished the meal with some cheese and two courses of dessert. The selection of cheese was very good though, with a great variety throughout different regions of France and other areas. The pear course was more like a palate cleanser and it was very nice and light. I didn't like the chocolate dessert as much - it was just a bit too rich for me.

The restaurant also had an unbelievable selection of wine. When we first opened the menu to order cocktails, one of the women in our group exclaimed excitedly that she couldn't believe they have Ruinart champagne, which apparently you can't buy in the US. She said that whenever she goes to France, she tries to carry as much of it back as possible. She asked our sommelier how they could serve Ruinart, and he simply smiled and answered, "Well, he's Guy Savoy." Then we proceeded to go through nine different glasses of wine, each perfectly paired with our course. Our sommelier was extremely knowledgeable and gave us a lot of background of the wine including the history of the region/vineyard, winemaker, etc. I couldn't finish all my wine, because I knew that if I did, someone would have to carry me out of the restaurant! (I was impressed that most of the others in my party did finish every single glass.)

So while the food was somewhat inconsistent, the service was absolutely impeccable throughout the night. The restaurant is managed by Guy Savoy's son Frank, and he was extremely attentive and warm. The staff was always there without overbearing, and we were impressed with how they tried to fulfill our every demand. For example, one of the guys in our group had a number of things that he did not eat (e.g. any seafood, foie gras, etc.), and the menu had many items that contained those ingredients, but they were great in substituting a lot of the courses. In another instance, we saw that businessman at a nearby table pull out his laptop, and they immediately rolled over a small table for him to place the laptop on. We joked about how we needed one of those, and they immediately ran to get us one as well. But what impressed us the most was that we had asked them if we could get a list of the different wines that we had, and at the end of the night, they gave each of us a custom menu in a nice cover that was specifically printed for us. It was just a very nice personal touch that will help us remember a special meal.