Epic Roasthouse – With a name like this, it better be good

meter-great+Any restaurant named “Epic Roasthouse” is either incredibly good or a total disappointment. As luck would have it, I had the opportunity to find out for myself recently, and I am happy to report that I had a very non-disappointing experience. The service is great, the food is even better, and the view isn’t bad either. Epic Roasthouse isn’t exactly cheap, but if you’re looking to save a few bucks, Taco Bell is right down the street.

We were banished to the 'outdoor area' which was still quite cozy.

We were banished to the ‘outdoor area’ which was still quite cozy.

” Oh dear. This was going to hurt. “

After a trafficky but otherwise uneventful drive into San Francisco, my wife Shawn and I left the car with the valet and walked inside Epic to claim our reservation. The place is oozing with a “reclaimed industrial” vibe, complete with exposed pipes and other excitingly chunky rusted things. It’s trendy and dangerously close to being too hip, but it works. We were led to our table on the patio, where we met up with the remaining 33% of our dinner party and sat down to enjoy the view.

The view here does not suck.

The view here does not suck.

The menu was what I call “typical steakhouse length”, meaning that it fit on exactly two pages. This is either good or bad, depending on your particular tastes, but in this case it was a very good thing. Epic seemed to be reading my mind with every single menu item.

The offerings were refreshingly simple without being boring. Each featured some slight twist to show that they cared enough to make it unique, but not gourmet’d-to-death like so many restaurants love to do by adding of cheetah larnyx extract, hyper rare panda dung mushrooms, and tree frog kidneys. Nope, Epic forgoes the gastric silliness and instead offers good, old fashioned kick-ass steaks with kick-ass sauces, honest but delicious-sounding sides like “Julia Child” potatoes and bacon roasted Brussels sprouts, and desserts so wickedly decadent that you are tempted to skip dinner altogether.

Mmmmmmooooooooooo

Mmmmmmooooooooooo

We ordered a couple steaks, a build-your-own salad, and a healthy assortment of sides. The steaks were… well, they were epic. Ok fine, Epic Roasthouse gets to keep its name – they do indeed live up to the hype. They both talk the talk and walk the walk. Confirmed.

To be honest, I expected the steak to be amazing, so it was hardly a surprise. To me, the true character of Epic would be revealed in the side dishes, and I am happy to report that these were even better than the steaks. The clear star of the show was the späetzle gratin – it was a succulent and deliciously cheesy interpretation of classic baked mac that absolutely exploded with flavor. The fries were slightly above average, and the asparagus was tasty and fresh. We all kept going back to the späetzle though, it was simply incredible.

'Späetzle' is German for 'straight to my waistline'.

‘Späetzle’ is German for ‘straight to my waistline’.

At this point in the meal I was already uncomfortably full, and there was no way I was going to have dessert. No chance, none. The waitperson dropped off a dessert menu anyway, a useless gesture, and then my eyes fell on the s’mores brownie cake with peanut brittle.

Oh dear. This was going to hurt.

Have you ever seen peanut brittle at a restaurant before? Me either.

Have you ever seen peanut brittle at a restaurant before? Me either.

Mercifully, Epic’s dessert portion sizes were decidedly un-American (i.e., they were smaller than an aircraft carrier). The smores cake looked exactly as decadent as it sounded, and it tasted even better. The addition of scratch-made peanut brittle to the standard chocolate-graham-marshmallow combination really worked and helped to bring the whole dish together.

One of this things is not like the others.

One of this things is not like the others.

A trio of sorbets also made an appearance at our table. The flavors were cala orange, blackberry, and banana. Those same flavors represented in intensity by font size were cara cara orange, blackberry, and BANANA. The orange was light, the blackberry was light and refreshing, and the banana was IN YOUR FACE and had at least ten times more potent than the other two. The orange and blackberry seemed downright watery after tasting the banana, but they actually worked quite well as a trio.

I have to say that I was rather impressed with my meal at Epic Roasthouse. It’s not a cheap place to eat, but in a strange twist I felt like I actually got my money’s worth out of the meal. Well, mostly anyway. The food is honest, well-made, and just creative enough to justify the lofty prices; think of it as an upscale restaurant that offers real food instead of typical “fine dining” fare. I give Epic 37 out of 40 feet of rusty industrial pipe, a solid rating for a solid establishment.

      Pros
 +  Straightforward, good food
 +  Killer views
++ Best späetzle outside of Germany
      Cons
It stings the wallet a bit
The dessert menu will hurt you
+ I guess that’s a good thing though

Epic Roasthouse
369 The Embarcadero
San Francisco, CA 94105
(415) 369-9955
www.epicsteak.com

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This is the gateway to an extremely full belly.

This is the gateway to an extremely full belly.


P.S. Whew, I made it through the whole writeup without saying “epic win” once!

P.P.S. Damnit, I just did.

808 Plates food truck

meter-greatI had not actually planned on visiting 808 Plates. In all honesty, we (Shawn and I, the usual dynamic food duo) simply got bored while waiting for our order at Geste Shrimp, so we decided to try one of the other trucks parked in the area. This one looked good, so why not? Might as well squeeze in a quick review while we’re hanging around.

” The delicious aroma of fried fish and fancy-schmancy sauces “

Unlike all of the other trucks clustered around the dirt lot, 808 Plates was clean, shiny, and new. These guys clearly take pride in their wheels, and it shows. The overall presence and presentation of this mobile eatery is excellent – they come across as very professional.

Yeah, it's a short menu, but every single thing on it is prepared perfectly.

Yeah, it’s a short menu, but every single thing on it is prepared perfectly.

My better half and I browsed the short-but-sweet menu and stepped up to order. Following what I call “The Shawn Method”, we asked the cashier what his favorite item on the menu was. “The Katsu Yummy” he said immediately. “It’s the same as the Ono Katsu, but dipped in teriyaki sauce.” Sounds delicious. One of those please.

Within just a few minutes, our order was up. We opened the lid to the food container and were greeted with the delicious aroma of fried fish and fancy-schmancy sauces. The presentation of the dish was also very neatly done and looked great. I don’t know why I always expect food truck meals to be jumbled messes, but that was certainly not the case here.

Looks almost too good to eat. Almost.

Looks almost too good to eat. Almost.

The fish was firm, fresh as can be, and exceedingly tasty. The light and crispy, uh.. I’ll call it a “katsu exterior”, because I don’t know what the correct term is.. was not too thick or overly fried. I was skeptical about the coating of teriyaki sauce, but it really worked. It added a subtle sweetness that went wonderfully with the fish and the savory cream sauce. This dish is one of those things that you absolutely must eat immediately when served; wait more than a few minutes and it will turn into a disappointing, soggy shadow of its former self.

We were very happy with our experience at this food truck and would love to eat here again sometime. We probably would never have visited this truck if we weren’t already in the area, but I’ll chalk it up as one of those happy accidents. I rate 808 Plates a satisfying 481 out of 563 teriyaki-coated Panko particles, a very worthy score. Pull off the side of the road and give this place a try the next time you’re in the area. It’s an excellent way to pass the time when you’re waiting for your order at Geste Shrimp.

      Pros
+ Some of the freshest fish on the island
+ Great presentation
+ It’s often near Geste Shrimp
      Cons
 –  No place to sit and eat
+/- It’s a food truck, so stop whining

808 Plates
Kahului Beach Road
Lahaina, HI 96732
(808) 870-2841
www.facebook.com/pages/808-Plates-MAUI

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My arms ache just thinking about washing this thing every day.

My arms ache just thinking about washing this thing every day.


Skillet mac and cheese 

Macaroni and cheese is pretty much the greatest food in the entire world. If you disagree, you’re probably reading the wrong blog. For those of you that haven’t just hit the ‘back’ button, I present to you one of my own personal favorite recipes. This particular baked mac recipe is nothing new, but it represents quite a lot of experimenting and tweaking to get the texture, sauciness, and cheese mix just so. All of the magic takes place in a single skillet, which means fewer dishes to wash and more quality time to spend gloating over the fact that you made this all by yourself.

Skip to the short version

This is where all the magic happens.

This is where all the magic happens.

” It will serve three normal humans or two greedy oinkers “

Everybody has their own preference for the way they like their macaroni and cheese prepared. I don’t personally like a ton of sauce; I prefer a nice crusty top and lots of stretchy cheesiness with only a modest amount of sauce, and that’s what this recipe is designed to accomplish. If you want more sauce and less pasta, double the cheese sauce part of the recipe.

The cheese mix is a critical part of this recipe and can be adjusted depending on your tastes. I have tried dozens of different cheeses with varying degrees of success, and I’ve settled on gruyère, mozzarella, and asiago as my go-to combination. Gruyère is the headliner and checks all the boxes when it comes to desired cheese behavior. Mozzarella’s job is to provide creaminess, stretch, and a lovely browned, bubbly crust. Asiago is there to add back some of cheese flavor that was given up as a result of including mozzarella, and also because it’s awesome. If you want less cheese flavor, replace the gruyère and asiago with something milder, like jack or colby. As much as I like cheddar, I don’t recommend it. Cheddar always seems to end up grainy and oily no matter how carefully I handle it; the gruyère/mozzarella/asiago mix is much more forgiving.

As usual, I have no reason to include this picture. I just like looking at cheese.

As usual, I have no reason to include this picture. I just like looking at cheese.

As a side dish, this recipe will serve perhaps five reasonable, polite individuals who don’t mind sharing. As a main course, it will serve three normal humans or two greedy oinkers.


Ingredients

Part 1: The sauce

  • 1 tbsp butter (Yes, of course I mean real butter. No margarine. Don’t be silly.)
  • 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1.5 cups grated gruyère
  • 1.5 cups grated mozzarella

Part 2: Everything else

  • 8oz pasta (cooked al dente)
  • 1 cup grated gruyère
  • 1 cup grated mozzarella
  • 1 cup grated asiago


Other stuff you’ll need

  • an oven-safe skillet, preferably cast iron
  • a whisk
  • extra butter, flour, and milk for when you screw up the sauce


Directions

Before you do anything else, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and cook the 8oz of pasta so that it’s ready to go when you need it. The choice of pasta is entirely yours, but I prefer stouter stuff like large elbows or cellentani. It has to stand up to being stirred and baked without falling apart, and ideally it will be good at trapping cheese sauce. Absolutely do not overcook the pasta or you will regret it – go for al dente or even slightly more firm just to be safe.

If you rinse your pasta with water after cooking it, somewhere a baby panda will die.

If you rinse your pasta with water after cooking it, somewhere a baby panda will die.


Part 1: The sauce

This part can be tricky until you get the hang of it. Regulating the heat correctly is a challenge, and your arm will probably get tired from all the whisking as well. The good news is that you’ll know pretty early if you’ve messed things up, and most of the time all you will have wasted is a little butter and flour. If you do end up screwing the pooch – and chances are you will the first couple times – don’t get discouraged. Just dump out the failed stuff, pretend like you did it on purpose, and start over. You’ll get there soon enough.

Preheat your skillet to medium heat and add the tablespoon of butter. You want the butter to sizzle and melt completely in about 20 seconds. Faster than that and the pan is too hot, slower than that and the pan isn’t hot enough. As soon as the butter is melted, sprinkle in the tablespoon of flour and whisk constantly for 90 seconds. Make sure there aren’t any dead zones where the butter/flour mixture is allowed to sit still. When the 90 seconds is up, remove the skillet from heat and continue whisking for another minute or two as the skillet cools down. If you’ve done this part right, you will have a creamy light brown paste about the same shade as lightly toasted bread. Congratulations, you’ve just made roux.

As you continue to whisk, add a couple drops of milk to the roux. The milk should NOT sizzle at all; if it does, your skillet is still too hot. Continue to whisk the roux for another minute and try again. Once you are able to add the milk without it sizzling, put the skillet back on the burner, set to low heat, and slowly whisk in the entire cup of milk. (This part can be made a little easier by heating up the milk separately before adding it to the roux, but I’m usually too lazy to bother.) The milk/roux mixture should be hot enough to steam but it should definitely not bubble excessively or foam up. If you get too aggressive with the heat in this step you will scald the milk and end up with gross chunks of cottage cheese in your sauce. Whisk the milk/roux mixture constantly for at least five minutes, until it starts to thicken. You are going for a consistency somewhere between gravy and melted ice cream. And just like that you’ve made bechamel.

If you’ve made it this far without your arm falling off, I applaud you. You are now ready to begin the fun part.

Take a bit of the grated gruyère and sprinkle it into the bechamel, stirring slowly until the cheese has melted completely and disappeared into the sauce. Now sprinkle a bit of mozzarella in, stirring well, then go back to the gruyère, etc. (Note: The asiago does not belong in this step – it is only used in Part 2, below.) Continue alternating cheeses until you get a nice, stretchy, cheesy consistency. Remove from heat, give it a taste, and add salt and pepper as necessary.

Is there anything better than cheese sauce? Nope, there really isn't.

Is there anything better than cheese sauce? Nope, there really isn’t.


Part 2: Everything else

Ditch the whisk and grab a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Grab handfuls of the cooked pasta and sprinkle it into the cheese sauce, stirring gently as you go and making sure every piece of pasta is evenly coated. Resist the urge to dump the entire batch of pasta into the sauce at once; much of the pasta will be stuck together and needs to be separated before it can be properly sauced. (I’m not sure if ‘sauced’ is a verb or not, but I’m going with it.)

Juuuuust the right amount of sauce.

Juuuuust the right amount of sauce.

Toss together the grated gruyère, mozzarella, and asiago, and dump it liberally on top of the pasta mixture. If three cups of cheese seems like too much to you, it’s probably time to rethink your life choices. Just keep adding cheese until it seems like too much, then add some more. (On an interesting side note, this rule also applies to many other foods such as peanut butter, frosting, and bacon. Not all at the same time though.)

All cheeses grate and small.

All cheeses grate and small.

Put the skillet in the oven, set the timer for 25 minutes, and try not to go insane with hunger while you wait. Start peeking into the oven at the 20 minute mark – once the top is browned and bubbly, your mac and cheese is done. Serve, enjoy, and schedule an appointment with a cardiologist right away.


This is pretty much the best thing that comes out of my oven.

This is pretty much the best thing that comes out of my oven.



tl;dr

Skillet mac and cheese

Ingredients

Part 1

  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1.5 cups grated gruyère
  • 1.5 cups grated mozzarella

Part 2

  • 8oz pasta (cooked al dente)
  • 1 cup grated gruyère
  • 1 cup grated mozzarella
  • 1 cup grated asiago


Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cook pasta and set aside. Preheat skillet to medium heat and add the tablespoon of butter. Add flour and whisk constantly for 90 seconds. Remove from heat and continue whisking until roux is blond. Slowly incorporate milk into roux over low heat and whisk for 5 minutes, until thickened. Whisk in alternating handfuls of gruyère and mozzarella, salt and pepper to taste. Fold cooked pasta into cheese sauce. Toss together gruyère, mozzarella, and asiago and spread evenly over top. Bake for 25 minutes or until top is golden brown.



See also


sorry gtg can't write any more, mac and cheese is ready

sorry gtg can’t write any more, mac and cheese is ready


Jack’s Restaurant & Bar

meter-good-greatListen, I’m going to be honest here. The main problem with Jack’s is that it’s right next door to the very best pizza joint in the Bay Area. Anytime I find myself at Jack’s, I make a right turn and go to Windy City instead. I just can’t help it. With an effort of extreme willpower, I finally managed to drag myself into Jack’s on a recent Sunday afternoon. The guilt of ignoring this restaurant for so long was causing me to lose sleep at night… or maybe it was those pizza rolls I had right before bedtime. Well, no matter. Here I was at Jack’s, and I was determined to give it a fair review.

You can see this sign from space.

You can see this sign from space.

” It should never be obvious that lamb is actually lamb “

The place was reasonably crowded on this particular Sunday, a good sign, and the sportsbar-ish interior was contemporary and clean. Jack’s has a relatively extensive menu, and while there are plenty of common staples, there are also a good amount of unique offerings. My lunch party and I chose a couple of these: A lamb burger with garlic oregano fries and an order of Italian mac & cheese.

The ingredients are cheese, meat, cheese, cheese, and macaroni. And some meat. And cheese.

The ingredients are cheese, meat, cheese, cheese, and macaroni. And some meat. And cheese.

It didn’t take long at all for the food to arrive, and it looked so good I (nearly) stopped second-guessing myself for not going to Windy City. The Italian mac was nothing short of divine. It’s a simple dish, yes, but it was executed very well and had just the right mix of cheese to sauce to meaty sausage bits. Mac and cheese in general tends to be a throw-away dish; my theory is that too many cooks/chefs treat it like it’s easy to make and don’t spend the necessary time on it. The kitchen crew at Jacks’s did their homework though, because it was exactly as good as I hoped it would be.

This doesn't taste as good as it looks. It tastes better.

This doesn’t taste as good as it looks. It tastes better.

The lamb burger was, fortunately, not too lamb-y. In other words, they used good quality, fresh lamb and cooked it properly. Carefully prepared lamb is delicious and savory, better than the most perfect, tender beef you’ve ever had. It should never be obvious that lamb is actually lamb. The burger had a very good flavor profile all around, and it paired well with the crispy garlic oregano fries. I must report that it did not reheat very well at all, but then again burgers rarely do and lamb even less so. One more reason to just eat the whole thing while you’re still at the restaurant.

Well hey, whaddya know. I made it to the end of the meal without leaving once to get a pizza. Jack’s genuinely impressed me, and I very much enjoyed my meal. It’s a straightforward, honest eatery that does a solid job on execution, and there is enough variety for picky eaters and curious types alike. I rate Jack’s 18 out of 20 pounds of piz… um, I meant lamb burgers. It is most certainly worth a visit, provided you have the willpower to stay away from the deep dish next door.

      Pros
+ Good menu variety
Sometimes a bit ordinary
+ But there’s something for everyone
+ Great kitchen execution
      Cons
Overshadowed by the joint next door

Jack’s Restaurant & Bar
Multiple locations around the Bay Area
www.jacksrestaurants.com

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P.S. I tried, I really did, but I just couldn’t leave San Mateo without a pizza. I stopped by Windy City on the way out and picked up a deep dish for later. Problem solved.


Random Revisit: Old Port Lobster Shack

meter-great-Wait, wait, wait. How could I possibly “revisit” a place I’ve never been to before? Well, if you’ll recall, some time back I reviewed Portola Valley Lobster Shack. The parent (or sister, brother, uncle, etc.) company of that restaurant is actually Old Port, and so really what I’m doing here is visiting a second Old Port location.

So long Sbarro, hello Old Port.

So long Sbarro, hello Old Port.

“Truly tasty grub, now available in a crowded mall near you “

This particular location just so happens to be smack in the middle of Valley Fair mall, an absurdly complicated place to shop with the worst traffic flow in the northern hemisphere. I found myself wandering this retail purgatory the other weekend, led by my happily shopping spouse, trying to decide which clothing shop had the most comfortable “dude chairs”. (It’s Johnny Was, by the way.)

As a reward for my mall meanderings, I was corralled into Valley Fair’s newly renovated food court for a bit of lunch. Gone are the days of crappy fast food burgers, cardboard pizza, and stir fried alley cat. The new food court is filled to the brim with excellent upper-middle-range food options which, in mall terms, is like hitting the lottery. And hey! Over there, in the corner – it’s Old Port Lobster Shack. Lunch is served.

I don't understand why restaurants do this. Bread does not need to be shiny.

I don’t understand why restaurants do this. Bread does not need to be shiny.

We ordered some brisket mac & cheese and a fried popcorn shrimp roll, found a table, and waited. After only ten minutes of watching a toddler gleefully dismember an Avenger action figure, our food was ready. I picked up the brisket mac and the pulled pork sandwich and walked back to…. Waaait a damn minute. Pulled pork? Let me see that receipt again… Crap. It says pulled pork. I guess I mumbled when I ordered.

Well, no matter, everything they make is good. We didn’t feel like sitting around for another ten foodless minutes, so we just went ahead and ate. The pulled pork sandwich was, as expected, top notch. And, unlike all other mall food I have experienced in my life, it was freshly made and absolutely piping hot. The bun was disturbingly oily, or perhaps it was clarified butter, but that’s just me being picky. It was all very tasty in any case, oil and all, and I had no true complaints.

Mac & cheese & brisket. What more could you ask for?

Mac & cheese & brisket. What more could you ask for?

The mac & cheese was unfortunately a little more pedestrian than what I had previously experienced in Portola Valley. I don’t mean to imply that I didn’t enjoy it, because I most certainly did, but it didn’t have the crispy baked edges and toasty cheese topping like mac that is truly baked. To be fair, I can’t really expect that out of a kitchen running in “mall prep” mode. The quality that Old Port manages to crank out in this setting is excellent, so they get a pass on this one.

In spite of a couple very minor setbacks, my previous rating of 35,098,552,670,980 flavor molecules for Old Port Lobster Shack stands. It’s a squarely above average eatery with truly tasty grub, now available in a crowded mall near you. Definitely pay this place a visit when you have a chance (along with the rest of Valley Fair’s new food court), but for the sake of your own sanity don’t go during peak hours.

      Pros
+ It’s in Valley Fair
+ There’s something for everyone here
+ Best “mall” food you’ll ever have
      Cons
It’s in Valley Fair

Portola Valley Lobster Shack / Old Bay Lobster Shack
Multiple locations in the Bay Area
www.oplobster.com

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When was the last time you saw an oyster bar in mall? Yeah, me either.

When was the last time you saw an oyster bar in mall? Yeah, me either.