Friday, March 28, 2008

So Very Close...

The Refuge
963 Laurel Street
San Carlos, CA 94070
(650)598-9813
Chef Matt Levin
Chef de Cuisine Michael Greuel
Lunch and Dinner Tuesday through Saturday

The Refuge on Urbanspoon

Last tried: August 2009
Tried: March 2008

The concept of Refuge is intriguing, albeit possibly a bit schizophrenic. The place is described as a "wine pub," and that is exactly what it is-- a pub with a television over the bar, a row of bar stools, and banquettes lining one side of the rectangular dining room, serving burgers and sandwiches, along with a fantastic wine list, most of them procured from Kermit Lynch.

The kitchen serves a mean seared foie gras appetizer accompanied by a fried brioche round, warmed cherries, candied pecans, and a tangle of frisee greens. (The greens were a bit stringy and the brioche a little hard, but the sweet pecans, cherries and foie were magnificent in both flavor and texture.) The charcuterie selection is generously portioned (it could easily feed four adults), served with thick slices of grilled bread in addition to crackers, apricot compote, cornichons, and grainy mustard. Among the charcuterie selections, I was least crazy about the "pastrami rillette," which was simultaneously bland and somewhat gamey with an alarmingly pink-orange hue. The pork rillette, on the other hand, was rich, fatty, and satisfying (though it could have used a bit more salt). The prize on the plate was the chicken liver "mousse," which was seasoned perfectly with the exactly right grainy yet smooth texture and the ideal not-too-livery but reminiscent of foie gras taste. I could have had that for dessert.

What I was most looking forward to trying at the Refuge was the thick-cut pastrami sandwich on rye, self-proclaimed to be in the style of the famous Katz's Deli in New York, a necessary pilgrimage for me when I visit Manhattan, no matter how inconvenient, specifically for that one-of-a-kind, nothing-else-like-it-in-the-world addictive taste. I was quite happy to see that the comparison was not entirely without merit. The Refuge's pastrami is indeed thick, fatty, and soft. Had I never tasted the original, I would think it was the best pastrami I had ever tried. If I were to nitpick, the seasoning is a little too sweet, and the texture of the meat is a bit too gummy, similar to pressed meats. The saving grace is that incredible wine list. I must say I have never before had the pleasure of imbibing a 2005 red burgundy with my pastrami sandwich.

Did I mention the fries and beer on tap looked really tempting too?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Places I've Eaten in Lake Tahoe

**Places I would go back to eat
*Closed

22 Bistro
Balboa Cafe*
Blue Coyote Grill
Fireside Pizza
Jiffy's Pizza
The Lodge Restaurant
Mamasake
Moody's
Oasis
Pizza Shack
PlumpJack Cafe
Sol y Lago*

**I struggled with how to say this, without sounding like a horrible spoiled yuppie, but eventually came to the conclusion that it is unavoidable. This whole blog is about indulgences anyway. Since I could find little information about dining options in the Lake Tahoe area, I decided to list what I have tried in this post.

Lake Tahoe (and nearby Truckee and Tahoe City) is generally devoid of good food. Obviously, food and wine are not what the area is known for, and the places that try to fake it, like PlumpJack Cafe and The Lodge, present the worst of all worlds-- bad expensive food. Also, sushi in the mountains is the scariest thing in the world, and there is not enough spicy sauce in the world to disguise that fact. So the italics notation in this instance refers to the best of what is available, as opposed to places I would necessarily seek out.

Jiffy's Pizza, purely for takeout (although they also deliver), is a good example of making do with what is available in the area. For a gang of snowboarders and ski instructors, they make decent pizza that is not terrible. If you find yourself lured by the cozy-looking wood cabin bearing the sign Pizza Shack, keep driving-- you will thank me. Having said that, Moody's Bistro does a killer pork belly, as soft as caramel custard and practically as sweet and rich. It also has a wine list that makes the extra driving distance in the weather worth risking.

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