Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Better Half Bistro

Here's an entry for a fun little dinner party with Amanda/Tyler and Nicole/Justin. Again, my apologies for not changing the date to a Saturday so a few more people could have possibly made it. It's cool though, because I'm sure we'll all have plenty of opportunities to get together! Am I right? Am I right?

For this particular get-together I choose The Better Half after reading about it in an ass-ton of articles and reviews. I just had to see what the fuss was all about. I heard the actual dining area was small. Yeah no kidding. I do not suggest you come here with a party of more than four, since the tables are a bit on the small side and there isn't much room to move/walk around.

Not a very original shot, I know.

All these glasses get filled up with water, thus saving the staff the task of doing refills. Yeah I'm joking. In case you haven't heard, The Better Half serves wine by the half bottle. This probably encourages diners to try out different wines along with their meals. As for their pricing/value...well, I don't know enough about wine to say anything. If I remember correctly, prices range from $18++. The wine list is very extensive. If wine isn't your thing, rest assured! The Better Half has a nice selection of imported beers.

Amuse bouche:

Smoke salmon, dill, a dollop of cream(cheese?)

Seared Périgord Foie Gras:

Pancetta, Frisée & Radicchio Salad, Oven-Roasted Tomatoes, 10-Year-Aged Sherry Vinaigrette

It's been awhile since I've had foie gras and I was really looking forward to this dish. Alas, it was a bit of a letdown. Alright for $14 I wasn't expecting a big serving of liver, but come on now. This was barely a full bite! Okay sure Périgord, France claims to be a good region for foie gras production, but seriously...all I get is just this little sliver of liver? On a more positive note, however, the liver tasted amazing!

By the way, this is a warm salad. I really liked the vinaigrette, but The Better Half used a bit too much. Each bite I took was just dripping with it and I think I might have splashed Tyler next to me. Don't worry man, the stain will come right out! Flavors here are very balanced and works well with the seared foie gras.


Some kind of orange gelato.

This was really cute. Looks big, but I just tossed the whole thing in my mouth. Orange peel gives it the subtle taste of oranges. I think they make this from scratch!

Crispy Duck Confit:

Chilled European Lentils, Sautéed Mushrooms & Swiss Chard Savory Raspberry Vinaigrette, Sesame Oil

This is my first time having duck confit, and I think I'll be ordering it in other restaurants from now on! Confit is made by curing the meat(salt/garlic) and poaching it in its own fat. Classic recipes calls for frying or grilling it till crisp. Hot damn doesn't that sound good? Underneath the crispy skin was super tender meat. I really dig this entree. The skin is savory with hints of garlic and XYZ herbs/seasoning (I have no clue what they added). There was also this very faint sweetness to it that totally brings it to a whole new level. Omit that sweetness and the skin is nothing! There really isn't a whole lot of meat on the leg/thigh of a duck, but I was really full by the time I cleaned off the plate.

Chard and lentils were okay. I don't like vegetables very much. The only reason I put up with them is so that I don't get cancer. Plus, fiber is good for you.

Our party also ordered the “Ispahnski Pelmeni” Pasta (Pork Confit, Chipotle Azeitão Queso & Cilantro Filled Ancho Chile Russian Dumplings Roasted Poblano Pepper & Tomatillo Sauce) and South Dakota Bison Barbecue Ribs (Maple & Smoked Ham Black Eyed Peas, “Southern” Cole Slaw Basil Hayden Bourbon & Watermelon Mint Glaze). Tell me those entrees don't sound cool! As Tyler described it, the pasta tasted like it had Mexican influences. I concur. If Mexicans made pasta, this is what it would taste like. It tastes like kick-ass! The ribs were pretty interesting. Our table found them to be kinda like beef ribs but with less fat (still extremely tender). I wonder where I can buy bison steak?

Surprisingly, I was stuffed by the end of the meal and couldn't tuck in dessert. Shocking, I know. I NEVER pass up dessert! Nicole and Justin still had room left so they both tried the crepes and creme brulee. Both of them gave the thumbs up. I hear Nicole's quite the creme brulee fan, so if she says it's good then it's damned good.

Food and service were very good and our server was pretty entertaining. But when we requested separate checks (only 3!), the staff did a 180, freaked out, and stopped refilling our drinks. Here's the real kicker: our server claimed that working out the checks would take more than 20 minutes. He even made a small show of doing some initial calculations while at our table. What the hell? We all thought it was a joke at first, but our checks really did take 20 minutes to come to us. This would be forgivable if the restaurant was busy, but I only spotted 2-3 couples in the restaurant. It's really not that hard to add and multiply. Now subtracting and dividing? That might take a bit longer. When we finally did get our checks, we were pleasantly surprised to find that an 18% gratuity had already been added. Thanks!

All in all though, The Better Half is a nice place to have a quiet, private dinner. Food's good, but certain items may be $3-6 overpriced. Not a big deal I guess since this is a small establishment and dishes we had all tasted pretty good. I'm still salivating over that duck confit...

If you plan to come here, you must remember two things:
1) Parking is a nightmare. Try to find a space inside the residential neighborhood to the south.
2) Don't torment the staff by requesting separate checks and making them do basic arithmetic. They'll get you back by forcing a 20min wait.

Alice's review can be found here.

The Better Half Bistro
127 University Avenue
San Diego, CA 92103

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Where'd Roger go?

Yikes. The past two weeks and the upcoming three are going to be the most intense weeks I'll have at UCSD as I finish off Round 2 of midterms and prepare for finals/graduation.

Got a lot of backed up posts coming up: Salo Salo, Luigi's Pizza, some Mexican Bakery, and something else.

To those attending the small get together tomorrow: See ya soon! It's gonna be fun. I apologize for not changing the date to Saturday so that more people could possibly make it. I've just been completely swamped with school and entertainment was the least of my concerns. Sorry y'all. :(

Break's over. Back to the exciting world of neurobiology....

Monday, May 5, 2008

Agora Churrascaria

I'm starting to think I should buy myself a small point-and-shoot to carry around. Why? 'Cuz. A lot of my food adventures are spur-of-the-moment while I'm driving, shopping, or visiting friends. I've failed to document a buttload of great eats!

Example 1: Agora Churrascaria in Irvine.
The family and I were only supposed to compare prices/window shop at South Coast Plaza for a bit before heading home for lunch, but we ended up having Brazilian BBQ instead.

WARNING! Pictureless post ahead. I'll try to scan some pictures off their brochure next week since I left it in LA.

Agora's salad bar covers more than just basic salads. The list is extensive and can be viewed on their website. I didn't bother with the vegetables since all that fiber would just take up precious space I reserved for wholesome and nutritious beef. I did, however, pick up quite a few of the meat/dairy items such as gravlax, tomatoes+fresh mozzarella, the cold cuts, and cheeses. They were all good enough to be eaten as my lunch. I wasn't too enthused about the tomato/mozzarella since nothing will ever beat the bufala mozzarella I had at Antonello, but it was good nonetheless.

Plenty of hot dishes are also available to distract patrons from the skewers of seared beef being paraded around the room. Again, the list is quite large and you can see them on Agora's website. These were really uneventful and I have to say...I've made better stroganoff and mashed potatoes. Clams were so-so. The black bean stew bland and unremarkable. But seriously, who the hell cares? People are here for grilled meat!

There are a total of 11 types of meat offered at Agora. For lunch, however, the list is significantly truncated but still hits some awesome cuts: top sirloin, filet mignon, sausage, coracao (chicken heart), beef skirt steak, pork tenderloin w/ Parmesan, chicken, and some other(s) that I've forgotten. Hey. YOU try remembering everything when being assaulted with skewers and skewers of the juiciest, tenderest, sweetest meats you've ever had.

Chicken, sausage, and pork tenderloin were very good, but the beef was GREAT. I still cannot wrap my head around how Agora grills their beef. How is it possible to perfectly sear hunks of meat so that the interior is a uniform perfect medium rare? I kid you not, the actual thickness of the seared surface was no thicker than 3mm. No real seasoning other than salt was necessary. These cuts of beef were so full of that beefy "sweetness" that I think they could give good steakhouses a run for their money. Honestly, I don't know how to describe the sensation of chewing on a perfect bite of beef, so I'll just say that I had a mouthgasm with each bite.

Here's a preview of what I'm raving about:

This picture doesn't even do the meats justice. They look far moister and pinker in person.

With lunch only $23, this place is totally a steal of a meal considering the amount of quality meats available for you to gorge on. I love a nice juicy steak just like any other dude and I'm willing to blow some cash at Porterhouse Bistro, Donovans, Ruth's Chris, or my SD favorite The Butcher Shop, but you know what? I'll happily settle with lunch at Agora. To hell with those steakhouses! It's always awkward and rude when I have to loosen my belt in those formal/stuffy restaurants anyway. Believe me guys, you're gonna want to wear some oversized jeans to allow for major stomach expansion after lunch here.

Oh yeah. Don't forget to order flan for dessert. It comes out as a huge mound enough for four people to share! Totally hits the spot.

Agora Churrascaria
1830 Main St.
Irvine, CA 92614