Restaurant Review: Kloof Street House, Cape Town, SA

Today I have something a little different for my followers!  A guest author!  I would really like to thank Delia for submitting the following Restaurant Review and would encourage anyone else who would like to submit a review; Restaurant, Martini, or Gin, or any other general comment.

Kloof Street House:

The ambiance of this gem of a restaurant is absolutely amazing. I was showed to a table in a nice corner outside by a waiter, who was friendly and smiling. Given it is winter, I was initially skeptical about getting a table outside. The table was enclosed by flowers and reeds on my right, with heaters and dim lights on the roof. This proved to be a great corner to relax after a long day of meetings.

The waiter offered me a drink as I waited for my guests. I opted for Sauvignon Blanc and I sat back and started to feel relaxed, sipping on the elegant and crisp white wine, enjoying the eclectic mix of patrons who were all clearly enamored and enjoying themselves.  The food was equally great, I opted for grilled salmon which was served with asparagus for my main meal.

On the second occasion, I was very keen to take my family who were visiting from England. Once again, we were greeted by charming hosts, and they did their best to accommodate us despite not having a reservation. I enjoyed sticky maple salmon, baked sweet potato and chipotle slaw, which was absolutely delicious. The steaks and hand cut fries were said to be fantastic!

Kloof Street House is a definite must do for those that are planning to visit Cape Town whether for business or pleasure.

If you’re interested in more details, their web site is:
http://www.kloofstreethouse.co.za/

Bar Review: Traxx, Los Angeles, CA

320px-Los_Angeles_Union_Station_Sign

On a recent visit to downtown Los Angeles I found my way into a little bar called Traxx and was pleasantly surprised with the service, decor, and most importantly, the Marini.

Traxx is located within the beautiful and historic Union Station in Los Angeles.  Yes, the Amtrak / Metro Rail / Metrolink station.  Not where one would expect to find a quality bar.  But indeed this small and obscure bar is quite an oasis within the mad hustle and bustle of rail passengers rushing to & from the tracks, buses, taxis, and ubers.

Now one has to be careful that you find the bar and not the Traxx Restaurant.  The two are operated as a common entity, but they are physically separate.  I understand that the restaurant is really quite fine and their drinks come from the separate bar.  Alternatively, food orders at the bar come from the Restaurant kitchen.   But I have never had the good fortune to be at Union Station when the restaurant is open so I can only speak to the Bar itself.

The bar is just to the right as you enter the Station’s main entrance.  There are no large signs or neon lights inviting you in so its easy to miss if you’re rushing in to catch a train or rushing out to catch a taxi.  But if you slow down you’ll find it.

Once the original Telephone Room for all of Union Station, it is a time machine to a lost era.  Decorated in  gorgeous art deco wood, terra cotta, and marble tiled floors that spill out onto the main ticket concourse.  This is the classic atmosphere that catered to Bogart & Bacall, a backdrop of the classic golden days of Hollywood.   You can almost feel the ghosts of yesterday brush against you today

As for the Martini itself, they were excellent.  The stems were well chilled, the Martini was well shaken, poured immediately, and ample sized.  The barkeep was professional, friendly, and quite helpful.

Overall I give Traxx one Stem.  The criteria for two stems has always been “Worth a trip just to try the Martini”.  I can’t quite say that I would go there ONLY for the Martini.  But I would definitely go there for the Martini and the ambiance.

Martini Glass Upright

For selection Traxx gets a A.  Their Gins during my visit included Plymouth, Botanist, Bluecoat, Aviation, Few, Beefeater, Bombay Sapphire, Bombay, Tanqueray, Hendricks, St. George Botanivore, St. George Terroir, and Monkey 47.

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*****   Rating Definitions   ****

More on Union Station:

Union Station is definitely worth a visit.  This opulent station was build in 1939 and combines Spanish Colonial, Art Deco, and Streamline Moderne Architecture that represent California’s heritage and future ambitions.

The lower parts of the interior walls are covered in travertine marble and the floor in the large rooms is terra cotta with a central strip of inlaid marble (including travertine, somewhat unusual in floors since it is soft). The ceiling in the waiting room has the appearance of wood, but is actually made of steel.

02-union-stationUnion-Station-LA-Waiting-Ro

It was built to consolidate rail services from the three main passenger railroads serving Los Angeles at that time (the Union Pacific, Santa Fe, and Southern Pacific).   Conceived on a grand scale, Union Station became known as the “Last of the Great Railway Stations” built in the United States and remains the largest railroad passenger terminal in the Western United States.  It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

UP-Logo SP-Logo ATSF-Logo

Today, the station is the major transportation hub for Southern California, serving almost 110,000 passengers a day.   In addition to being the origin of Amtrak’s three long distance trains (the Coast Starlight to Seattle, the Southwest Chief and “Texas Eagle” to Chicago, and the Sunset Limited to New Orleans), it also serves Amtrak’s California Pacific Surfliner regional trains which run frequently to/from San Diego north to either Santa Barbara or San Luis Obispo. The station is also the hub of the Metrolink commuter trains and serves as a stop on the Metro Rail system.

Bar Review: Bistango, Irvine, CA

Bistango Bar Small

I recently found myself at Bistango, a well reviewed Orange County Restaurant serving “New American” cuisine.  It has earned ratings of 4.3 on Yelp, 4.4 on both Open Table and Facebook, and 24 on Zagat.  Sadly I have only had a limited selection of the food, but what I had was excellent.

The best way I can describe the decor here is “Modern Neutral”.   It is open, airy, clean, and crisp.  There are contemporary artist’s works decorating the walls which are a mix of oranges, reds, and browns.  Sort of a southwest “earthy” scheme.  It is not exciting, but not boring; not avant-garde, but certainly not stale. Overall very comfortable, relaxed, and inviting.

The bar is just to the right as you enter, clearly inviting one to sit and enjoy a beverage of your choice.  They have a live entertainment in the evenings and there’s a small dance floor which did get some use.  There is also an outside patio if you prefer your meal or drink in the open air.

Of course, my choice is a Martini which at Bistango are really very good.  Mine was ample, nicely prepared, shaken just enough so that the drink was very well chilled but not overly diluted, and served promptly, efficiently, and cheerfully.  If you’re not interested in a Martini, the bar overall is well stocked with a nice selection of ports, whiskeys, spirits, and cognacs.

I do have to point out that on my most recent visit I did have the unfortunate experience that the stem had not been chilled in any manor … not refrigerated and no effort made to chill it with ice and water prior to pouring the drink.  I hope this was a simple oversight because on my previous visits the stems were properly prechilled.

Overall I would highly recommend Bistango and I certainly intend to return.  It is also just a few blocks away from John Wayne International Airport which brings one to think it would be a nice stop for a ‘just landed’ or ‘Bon Voyage’ Martini.

For a final grade I give Bistango one stem:  Martini Glass Upright

For Gin selection Bistango gets an A-.  They have a very nice selection with several different styles of Gin including a couple unusual choices.  Tru Organic specifically comes to mind, though I didn’t get a chance to sample it.  Choices this day were:  Bluecoat, Hendricks’, Botanist Islay, Ford’s, Sloane’s, Tru Organic, Bombay, Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray, Beefeater, No. 3 London, Nolet’s.

If you’re curious about the nightly entertainment or the menus, you can find them here: www.bistango.com

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*****   Rating Definitions   ****

Bar Review: Moshulu, Philadelphia, PA

Mishulu Deck Martini

Or When is a Martini Stem not a martini Stem?

That is my Martini on my most recent visit to Moshulu!

First let me explain a bit about Moshulu.  She is a four-masted steel barque built  in Scotland in 1904 and is the largest remaining original “windjammer”.   Her first runs were shipping grain from Spain to Australia and back.  Later, between 1904 and 1914, she shipped coal from Wales to South America, nitrate from Chile to Germany, coal from Australia to Chile, and coke and patent fuel from Germany to Santa Rosalía, Mexico.

But now she is a floating restaurant docked in Penn’s Landing, Philadelphia.  And a very good restaurant!  The decor is classic nautical.  Well, really, what else would you expect!  There are two ‘floors’ available; the interior main deck with a dining rooms and bar/lounge and the upper, open air though covered, dining area.  Above this is another bar.  The views of the Delaware river, and New Jersey on the opposite shore, are wonderful from almost anywhere on the boat.  Only the tables on the Philadelphia side miss this view.

I’ve eaten here several times over the years and I’m never disappointed.  Whether inside, outside, or at the top bar the experience is wonderful.  It is absolutely a great place for a romantic dinner and drinks. Especially when the weather allows sitting up on the deck.

So what does this all have to do with the Martini photo above!  Yes the photo above is of my served Martini.  As my regular readers knows, I’m a bit old fashioned, if not obsessed, about my stems and I was a bit taken aback when this was presented to me.  I also know from experience that the main level bar serves their Martinis in ‘martini’ stems.  So in my mind I’m wondering ‘What’s up with this?’

Well after an excellent dinner I headed up to the top level bar to witness directly how they made the martini and have a talk with the barkeep.  It turns out that the bar purposely used the brandy stem for all Martinis ‘upstairs’.  Or more specifically ‘in the wind’!

Since this bar is open air and a bit above ground level, its gets a bit breezy.  They have had the unnerving experience of seeing their Martinis served in martini stems being blown over on several occasions.  Turns out that the brandy stem is much more stable in the wind than the martini stem.  As the barkeep advised, “You can have the Martini in the brandy or in your lap”.  Given that choice I chose to enjoy the Martini in the snifter.

As for a Martini Rating, Moshulu gets one stem.  Their Martinis are very good, they’re just not quite good enough to warrant a trip based on their Martini alone.  However I would highly recommend the restaurant as a whole and am looking forward to returning.

Martini Glass Upright

For Gin Selection Watermark gets a TBD.  Unfortunately I didn’t get the details of their entire gin selection.  I know they have the ‘Big 5’: Bombay, Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray , Tanqueray Ten, Hendricks.  There is also Nolet’s and, being located in Philadelphia, they have Bluecoat.  But I believe there are other selections.  Fortunately this just gives me an excuse to go back and do a bit more research.

An interesting side note; in the top photo, that blurry grey thing in the upper background is the retired battleship USS New Jersey.

For more information on Moshulu:
www.moshulu.com

Moshulu Logo SQ

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*****   Rating Definitions   ****

Bar Review: The Continental Room, Fullerton, CA

the_continental_room_fullerton_sign

The Continental Room is described as the “oldest drinking establishment in the city”, having originally opened in 1925.  That’s not even close to the White Horse Tavern in Rhode Island, founded in 1673.  And certainly a world away from Sean’s Bar in Athlone, Ireland, founded somewhere around 500.  But in this part of the world, 1925 is considered historic.

So what is this historic place like?  First, its dark.  Very Dark.  No, darker!  Really.  There’s lots of dark wood, dark red Naugahyde booths below darkish yellow walls, and dim red lighting.

Second, its narrow with the (dark wood) Bar along the right wall as you enter and the fore mentioned booths along the left wall.   The place appears very small at first but a quick trip to the restrooms and you discover that it goes way back with a dance floor and several back rooms.

Third, it is pretty quiet with mostly local ‘regulars’ sitting at the bar.  At least until after 9:00pm when the DJ, or local band, comes in and the place starts filling up with students from the local colleges.  Or so I’ve been told.  😉

As for the Martini?   Well, it was a bit disappointing, I had hoped for better.  While the drink was shaken it was really not very chilled.  And the stem wasn’t pre-chilled at all.  It was also a bit on the small side, though the Gin/Vermouth proportion was very good.

Martini Glass Sideways
Overall The Continental Room gets a tipped stem.  If you’re in the area its worth a look if you have time, but there are better choices for Martinis in the immediate area.

For Gin Selection The Continental Room gets a C.
Selection Includes Beefeater, Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray, Ford’s, Nolet’s, Hendricks, and St. George Terroir.

If you’re inclined to research a bit more:  www.continentalroomoc.com

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*****   Rating Definitions   ****

Bar Review: Watermark on Main, Ventura, CA

Watermark Ceiling CU               Watermark Restaurant

The Watermark on Main is located in the historic 1907 Groene building on the corner of East Main and North Chestnut in downtown Ventura.  It has been at various stages of its life an Edison office, a Bank, a Jewellery store , a clothes store, an Art Studio, and now a Restaurant and rooftop lounge.

There are two things that strike you when you walk into the Watermark; the ceiling and the bar.  The restaurant  and bar area are open to the second floor and the ceiling looks like it’s made of beautiful hand carved wooden beams with various paintings.  Sort of like a Nordic carved vaulted ceiling  but with an early southwest theme.  However the ceiling is actually formed, carved, and painted plaster!  From a distance its almost impossible to tell that it’s not true wood.  Very pretty and shows a lot of handiwork.

The second thing is the bar top: it is made of pale yellow Onyx.  As with all agates there are striations of various colors, mostly orange and some brown, running along the bar.  It is back-lit and thin enough so the whole bar top looks like its glowing.  It is impressive.   On the second floor walls are various friezes depicting early Camino Real from 1920s California.  There are also numerous Art Deco touches through out, with an almost nautical feel.  Most notably the chandeliers, hanging lamps, and sconces.

I know what you’re thinking … “The Martini, get to the martini!”  Well they are Very Good!  The stem was well chilled in the fridge, shaken with enthusiasm, amply poured, and presented promptly.  It was cold, clean, and nearly perfect.  The barkeep was very helpful and knowledgeable of the various gins and Martinis.

Additionally the dinner was excellent.  The menu would be described as traditional American with an occasional ‘extra’.  There is also live music on a regular basis, not only in the downstairs restaurant but also in the third floor rooftop lounge.

I do recommend Watermark on Main, not only for their Martini but the food, history, ambiance, and overall experience.  As for a Martini Rating, Watermark gets one stem.  The criteria for two stems has always been: ‘Would I search out this restaurant based on the Martini alone?’  While Watermark’s Martinis are indeed very good, they’re just not quite good enough to warrant a trip on Martini alone.

Martini Glass Upright

For Gin Selection Watermark gets a B+.
Selection Includes Plymouth, Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray, Tanqueray 10, Beefeater, Hendrick’s, Nolet’s, Death Door, and Cutler’s.  Cutler’s Gin is a local creation from Santa Barbara, CA.  While Watermark ‘only’ has 9 different Gins, I’m giving it a B+ because of the local addition Cutler’s.

For additional information:  www.watermarkonmain.com

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*****   Rating Definitions   ****

VJOP Gin??? Absolutely!!

SipsmithVJOP

While at my favorite watering hole recently, I noticed that they had a ‘new’ Gin on the shelf:  Sipsmith VJOP.  I thought I would have a go and I’m very glad I did.  This Gin is excellent!

So what does VJOP mean?  Well, I’ll break it down starting with “VJ” or Very Junipery!  Emphasis on VERY.   There are other flavors that surround and compliment the Juniper, but there’s no mistaking what the headliner is here.

With so many craft Gins popping up these days it seems that often the Juniper gets lost as Gin distillers rush to add more exotic and unusual flavors to their Gins.  I can just picture the distiller looking over his/her most recent creation, checking off the ingredients . “Yes, there’s the pomegranate, the cinnamon, the radish, the bat’s wing, the newt’s eye, …. what is missing?  OH!  Right this is supposed to be gin!”   Then he/she gets one juniper berry and throws it in the 100 gallon vat.

Not this VJOP!  I believe that on the receiving dock at Sipsmith you’ll find someone dragging in a whole Juniper tree; berry, bark, stem, and pins.  They just throw it in the vat and then toss a couple of other flavors in to smooth out the Juniper.

So if you’re like me and enjoy that pine forest scent and flavor of Juniper, this is a Gin you have to try.  Personally I had it as a very dry Martini but I really think it will be great as a G&T with the Juniper complimenting the tonic.  I’ll be trying that soon.

Oh, the OP?  Over Proof!  As in 57.7 ABV!  A couple of VJOP Martinis and you’d better have a designated driver available.  Or Uber it.  This is one potent Gin.

Bar Review: The Cat and the Custard Cup, La Habra, CA

“The Cat” as locals call it, is a hidden gem in this quite bedroom community in North Orange County.  It has been here hidden in the hills since 1979, but its root go back even further.  It is part of the family run and operated El Cholo chain which was founded in 1923.  But this is not your typical Mexican restaurant, or even your atypical one.

The structure and interior are English Tudor style with lots of dark wood trim and beams, and a huge Kitchen Hearth in the middle of the restaurant, though it didn’t look like they used it very often.  But there are also Southwest elements to the decor.  The menu is typical Cal-continental with a few unusual items such as Red Deer.

I stopped in the other day on my travels to try out their Martini.  It was excellent.  The stems are pre-chilled in a dedicated cooler which is always a pleasant sign for me.  Their Martini was stirred, not shaken as is my preference but it was served quite cold.  It was amply and promptly served by a very attentive barkeep.

I also observed something novel, at least to me.  If the stem out of  their cooler is not ‘cold enough’ they keep a basin of chipped ice in a drawer in a freezer just for chilling the stem.  They do not use this ice for mixing drinks as there is another larger basin of cubed ice for that.  The simple fact that they keep a separate container of cold chip ice for chilling your Martini glass is a great idea and contributes to their rating of two stems:  Martini Glass Upright Martini Glass Upright

For selection The Cat gets a “B+”.
Their selection includes the “Big Five” as I now call them:   Bombay, Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray, Tanqueray Ten, and Hendrick’s.  Not necessarily because these are the best 5 gins, but because they are ubiquitous.   Additionally The Cat stocks Oxley, Leopold, Hayman’s Old Tom, and Beefeater.

http://www.catandcustardcup.com/

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*****   Rating Definitions   ****

Bar Review: Joe’s, Fullerton, CA

Rattlesnake

Have you ever had that hankering for a good old rattlesnake sausage to go with your Martini?  Yes?  Well I have the place for you; Joe’s No Limits Bar & Grill in Fullerton.

If you follow my blog you know that I favor Steakhouses and Seafood Restaurants.  Joe’s doesn’t quite fit that profile, but it is not a dive  bar by any means.   It really is a local sports ‘bar and grill’.

With a twist.…  Rattlesnake, Rabbit, Duck, Wild Boar, or Alligator; its all part of Joe’s selection of home made, or home specified, sausages.   For the less adventuresome, there is the more traditional Bratwurst, Polish, or Louisiana Hot Links.  And of course the traditional assortment of Burgers, Pizzas, and Sandwiches.  But you have to try the Wild Boar sausage, its awesome!

There are three sections to Joe’s.  In the front there is the “Bar”, in the back there is the Piano ‘lounge’ with several tables, and outside there is the smoker’s patio.  Throughout there are plentiful TVs on which you will find all the currents sports events.  In the evenings, and whenever he feels like it, the owner will play the piano.  And he’s pretty good!  They also have trios and duos come in and play.

The decor is not really decor.  It’s more decoration.  And its eclectic to say the least, but fun.  Lots of automotive items mixed with old tools and Americana.  All wrapped in permanent colored Christmas lights.

So ordering a Martini is probably not your first thought here, despite the obvious full bar dead center in the bar area.  No, you would likely think beer and they do have a  good selection on tap.

But the Martinis are really very good!  Perfectly chilled, nicely mixed, amply poured.  The bartenders know what they’re doing here.  Now that I know better, I’ll absolutely be ordering Martinis!

Joe’s isn’t the place you come just for a martini, so it only gets one, very well deserved, martini stem.   Martini Glass Upright

As for gin selection, I don’t really know.  I wasn’t paying attention at the time I ordered my martini, it was sort of a ‘lark’.  But I promise to go back and make note and update this blog.

 

 

Bar Review: Kendall’s Brasserie & Bar, Los Angeles, CA

I think I have a new favorite Martini Bar!

Not long ago I was in Downtown Los Angeles looking for a place to stop in and quench my thirst.  I wasn’t really looking for a high end restaurant, more of a neighborhood bar.   However, I did end up at a very nice restaurant, stopping at Kendall’s Brasserie & Bar and I’m very glad I did.

I am familiar with Kendall’s having eaten there several times over the years before various events a that the Los Angeles Music Center.  Kendall’s is located on the ground floor below the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

I did not eat a meal at my recent visit though I can attest that their food has, in the past, always been excellent.  I have no reason to doubt that it remains so.

But I did have a Martini, in fact a couple.  I have to admit that I did not order my usual Bombay Sapphire as my ‘control’ drink.  I was impressed with the number and selection of gins they had.  So, not wanting to drink to the point of oblivion and still wanting to try some of these gins, I skipped the Sapphire.   Instead I tried the “Perry’s Tot Navy Strength” and “Dorothy Parker” from the New York Distilling Company.

They were both very good, thought I especially liked the Perry’s Tot.  As its ‘navy strength’ (114 proof) it is bold!  The taste is predominantly Juniper but with some nice citrus notes and a bit of sweetness to round it out.  Excellent for a Martini or even a G&T, if your’re so inclined.

The Dorothy Parker was more delicate.  There is still Juniper dominating the flavor but with a lot more floral elements and a touch of spice.  An excellent Martini if one prefers a more floral taste.

Not wanting to stumble around LA, I only had those two Martinis.  I will definitely return to try some of the other gin options that are available.  For that reason Kendall’s gets two Martini stems.  Martini Glass UprightMartini Glass Upright

 

For Selection Kendall’s earns an A:
Their collection of gins on the day I visited included the following:  New York Distilling Company’s “Perry’s Tot” Navy Strength and “Dorothy Parker”, Beefeater 24, Bombay, Bombay Sapphire, Plymouth, Aviation, Oxley, St. George Terroir, Tanqueray Malacca, Ford’s, Edinburgh, & Martin Miller.  Their collection does change periodically.

Their web site is:
www.patinagroup.com/kendalls-brasserie-and-bar