Sunday, September 20, 2009

Marin Brewing Company

We met my husbands brother, his wife, his two sons, one sons girlfriend, and her mother at Marin Brewing Company last night. We didn't know we could make a reservation, but apparently they take them for parties of 7 and more. Oh, well. We had a little wait, but no big deal. By the time we got our pitchers of beer, our table was ready. So, I'm just gonna say that we got excellent service, the food was really good, as usual, and I highly recommend this place. I ate like a pig. We shared some appetizers: Buffalo wings, Steamed clams, and onion rings. I had a garden salad with Vinaigrette, and then me and my husband shared a club sandwich with French Fries and the daily special pizza with pepperoni, mushrooms, serrano chilis, and cheddar cheese. It was so good!! Oh, and I had an Indian Pale Ale and a Blueberry Ale. They have the best beer, by far. Go there.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Mustards Grill

Mustards Grill is located in Napa right off the St. Helena Hwy. Its been around for over 25 years and its still amazing. Cindy Pawlcyn is the owner of Mustards Grill, Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen, and Go Fish, all located in the gorgeous Napa Valley. I've eaten at Mustard's a handful of times since moving to Marin 20 years ago and its never disappointed me yet. I have yet to try the other two establishments.

With my friend visiting, we decided to drive up to Napa and spend the night. I had a pretty light lunch earlier that day, so I was hungry and in the mood for a steak. Going to Mustards was a last minute idea, so we showed up without a reservation on a Wednesday night at 8:45. The place was packed and there were about 5 parties waiting for a table in the tiny hostess/bar area. We were told there would be a 30 minute wait, so we ordered a drink at the bar and stood in the corner happily waiting. Many of the people seated at the bar decided to have dinner there, so we got to view several of the items offered on the menu. I eyed the Lemon Meringue Pie and decided immediately that I definitely wanted to order that for dessert! After about a 35 minute wait, we were seated and greeted right away....a good sign! :) My friend wasn't very hungry, so she just got the Whole Roasted Garlic and the Heirloom Tomato & Burrata salad (for those following along, yes, we did have some version of the caprese salad for every meal that we ate 2 days in a row! ;). I had the Three Greens salad with Maytag Bleu Cheese & toasted pistachios to start out with and for my entree I ordered the "Truckstop Deluxe": Always Meat, Usually Potatoes, & Rarely Vegetables! lol Its a daily or weekly special, and on this night it was a 21 day aged Rib Eye with bleu cheese butter and roasted potatoes and peppers. It was amazingly delicious!! The service was outstanding, the food was excellent, and I was so full that I did not have room for the coffee and that beautiful Lemon Meringue Pie that I so badly wanted!

If you go to Napa, you must go to Mustards. You will not be disappointed! Reservations are highly recommended and the dress is casual, but dressing up is always funner!

Tra Vigne

Ahhh, Tra Vigne!!! It used to be so good! What happened? My friend, Lisa, wanted to have lunch at Tra Vigne the other day since she was in town visiting and hadn't been in about 15 years. Since I live in Marin, I've been to Travigne several times over the years, but I didn't have the heart to tell her that it just isn't the same as it used to be! I love Michael Chiarello, Tra Vigne's original executive chef/partner. I've even met him once in person. Unfortunately, when Michael left Tra Vigne in 2000 to open NapaStyle, things just have not been the same. I'm truly happy for his success, especially his newly opened Bottega last year, in Yountville.

The problem isn't necessarily the food. The main problem is the service!! We arrived on a Wednesday at around 2:45; late for a lunch, I know. But we were greeted by 2 hostesses, passed a manager on duty, plus the bartender and 3 servers. So, they were fully staffed for the 3 tables already seated outside, plus us as the one table inside. We must have waited 10 minutes before we were greeted. At that point, we weren't annoyed yet because we had not decided what we wanted yet, but seeing as we had both done our fair share of waitressing, etc, we knew this was going to be a bad sign. We ordered a glass of wine (we were on a mini vacation and staying overnight in Yountville, so we splurged), and she brought them back in a timely fashion. But, then we waited a good 20 minutes before she ever came back. We had our menus down, were looking around for help, the hostess, 2 servers, & the bartender were around, but no one seemed to notice that we were obviously in need of attention. Our server finally appeared and I thought she was coming toward us, but no, she walked out to the patio. She finally made her way over to us and we ordered 2 appetizers to start, held onto our menus for our entree. The Caprese salad arrived along with the Crispy Fried Squash Blossoms. Both arrived in a timely fashion and were beautifully presented. I loved the Burrata cheese and the heirloom tomatoes, but I wasn't a fan of the overly crispy squash blossoms. They were a little greasy and of nondescript taste.

Once we finished our entrees, we still had not seen our server again, and we were quite ready to order our appetizer. So, we waited. At this point, we finally were approached by a busboy who brought water. We finally asked for bread because we hadn't yet been offered it. I must say that our busboy, once he appeared, was very attentive and we appreciated that. He even brought over a small side table for us to put our menus and wine menu on because they were clearly taking up too much of our two-top table space.

Our entrees arrived about 10 minutes after we ordered, so again, the problem was not in the kitchen, although I will say that my entree was very salty. I had the Halibut Alla Picatta with spring peas, pea tendrils, and snow peas. Very difficult to spear with my fork; I gave up on it. It tasted like dirt, anyway. The halibut itself was cooked perfectly and very good, but the lemon-caper sauce was over powering and salty. My friend, Lisa, had the Maltagliati Verde, which is an herb infused pasta with slow cooked Sonoma lamb and Sangiovese wine sugo. She loved it and it was a large serving so she wasn't able to finish it. She saved room for the Tiramisu. I had a bite and it was delicious!

Although the food wasn't "bad", it just wasn't as good as I remember it being the first few times I dined there when Michael was around. The last few times were just ok. It seems like the menu is much smaller, too. But my main issue with Tra Vigne these days is the slow service! By the way, after our entree was served, we were introduced to a new server who would be taking over for Jaye, our original server (I had to look at the receipt to get her name! :). The service definitely picked up with our new server! But I just noticed that overall, the service was less than attentive. Staff just standing around not even aware of our needs is just bad service. Tra Vigne is so beautiful and its such a legend, so I wish they would pay attention to the service. There is just an "I don't care" attitude.


I love Bix in San Francisco! Its down this quaint alley in the financial district. Its like a 50's supper club, with a dark smokey interior and live jazz music playing downstairs by the bar. I met my friend Lisa for a cocktail at the bar before dinner. She had just driven up from Los Angeles to spend a few days visiting with me. We met in the 6th grade and instantly became best friends. We had our fair share of ups and downs, and we lost track of each other for 13 years, but 3 years ago, she called me out of the blue and we have been keeping in touch ever since. I saw her for the first time last April when I was down in Orange County on my annual shopping spree. It was good to see her again, and I was happy that she was interested in indulging her culinary nostalgia at a few of her favorite SF haunts.

We were led upstairs to a nice little table overlooking the downstairs dining room and bar area. Our server greeted us right away and I could tell that the service was going to be exceptional! We started out with "A la minute" Ceviche (halibut) with jalepeno and habanero chiles, avocado, cilantro oil, and toasted corn nuts. It was delicious! Our next course was the raw oysters on the half shell with mignonette sauce. Also delicious! I'm a sucker for mignonette sauce. After that, we couldn't resist the "Summer Tomato Cart" with heirloom tomatoes and House-pulled mozzarella with EVO and basil, prepared tableside! Wonderful!

Lisa ordered the Chicken Hash ala Bix, which is something she has ordered years past and has enjoyed. She said it was prepared differently than the last time she had it (15 years ago!!), but that it was still delicious and very filling. It looked like 2 veggie patties to me, and it topped a mound of mashed potatoes. I tried it and it was pretty good, but not something I would order. I'm a meat and potatoes girl, so I ordered the American Kobe "Bavette" steak with Pommes Puree and roasted Cippolini onions. I ordered it Medium Well, with my apologies to the chef (lol), but my medallions of beef came more like Medium Rare. I didn't mind it, though, because it didn't taste as raw as it looked. Normally, I would have sent it back, but I know that if I had, they would have been overcooked and ruined. If it were a filet, that would be different.

Lisa wanted dessert, and since I am also a sucker for Bananas Foster, we decided to share one order of that. It was a huge scoop of vanilla ice cream, to which the server poured a caramel and banana sauce on top of. I had just one or two bites, because I just don't have much of a sweet tooth. Everything was wonderful, especially the service. I've been doing a poor job of remembering my servers names; I wish I had made a point of recalling this one.

Bix is very hopping, even on a Tuesday night. I made a reservation about two weeks in advance, but I don't think it was necessary to make it so far ahead. But I definitely do recommend a reservation. If I didn't have to drive back to Marin, I would have liked to enjoy a drink in the bar while listening to the lovely lady singing by the piano in the bar.

I love Bix and look forward to my next visit.