Tuesday, September 30

Palm Springs 2014 Recap

Now back to my personal eating adventures, not sponsored or promoted by anyone. Phil and I had a chance to return to our favorite domestic vacation spot of all times, Palm Springs, which has been covered on the blog thoroughly last time. I like it for short relaxing getaways because Palm Springs is littered with beautiful resorts. We can keep ourselves entertained with resort activities.
But first, let's fly into Long Beach because it's cheaper than flying into Palm Springs. When we're here, we must always stop by Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles for their fluffy waffles and crispy chicken with a side of collared greens. Always a good time at Roscoe's!

We got a free upgrade to a rental Jeep and it was off towards the desert we go.

Our first meal was at Catalan Restaurant, a tapas bar that Phil picked out.

I thought this might come with more than 2 tentacles and a buttload of spicy peppers. I was wrong. The octopus was tasty albeit sparse. In the background is a huge portion of roasted bone marrow and not picture in that same order is a container of chicken liver pate and jam.

Phil liked this burger enough. Not one to rave about but it does the job.

The scallops themselves were good and the shaved endive too. I was not crazy about the butternut squash puree.

The next day, in 100 degree weather under no shade, we did what we came to Palm Springs to do. Golf! $25 gets you a day pass to the driving range. You can come back again anytime and as many times that day as you want. We went once in the morning, took a break for lunch and to rest from the sun by going swimming. Then came back again in the afternoon. Capped off the day with a night time swim.

Forearms glistening with sweat.

Dinner that night was delicious seafood a restaurant, Fisherman's Landing, within the beautiful JW Marriott resort we almost stayed at. We chose not to stay here because they didn't have a water slide in their pool. Priorities.
Jumbo shrimp cocktail hit the spot for my seafood craving.

Clams in a delicious tomato sauce paired with extra cheesy garlic bread for dipping.

Phil wasn't so much a fan of the Hawaiin plate which seemed anything but Hawaiin. Salmon and some other fish, cooked pretty dryly. Shrimp on top with a very generic teriyaki sauce. Side of veggies and potato wedges.

At night we went for a swim to digest our food and had the pool all to ourselves.

This is a 30 year old husband, home owner, and working professional.

It rained heavily the next day as we ventured out to try this thing I found on Yelp at Elmer's Restaurant. It's a Dutch pancake which is the size of a large frying pan. iPhone shown for comparison. It turned out to be very bland and not worth the hype. 

On Monday we headed back to Long Beach for our flight but not before stopping by a few recommended eats in Anaheim. This is the Anaheim Packing House. It's much like our San Pedro Square Market with two floors and many more eateries. Some of the food is still generic though.

This chicken karaage from Orange Tei tastes really good. Way better than it looks. I don't know why it's white and crusty and looks like an STD, but it's tasty with the aioli sauce on the side.

I ordered and paid for a half portion of grilled cheese from Black Sheep GCB. Looks like a whole to me and I don't mind. The sandwich was hot and fresh and every bit as comforting as comfort food should be. The juice on the top left though, no good. Too sour.

We also had to try the garlic fries and the jalapeno slaw at the popular stand, The Kroft. Neither of which are good.

Finally back upstairs so I could buy an espresso shop from Cafecito Organico, and pour it onto a scoop of vanilla ice cream from Han's Homemade Ice Cream to make my fave affogato. Phil got an ice cream sandwich that beats Cream by miles. Everything was good.

Back home we go!

Thursday, September 25

GM Titanium with UFC Heavyweight Champ Cain Velasquez

Last week, my husband and I attended an event hosted by GM Titanium Cognac, a new spirit by Grand Marnier. Their spokesperson is two time UFC heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez. The event was held at Cain's home gym, American Kickboxing Academy in South San Jose. I thought it would be best to let my husband write his thoughts on his experience training like a champ, with the champ and his first taste of GM Titanium Cognac. Enjoy his guest post below!
Photos are by Good Love Gone Photography as labeled. If they are not labeled, it is from my iPhone.

Photo Cred: http://goodlovegone.com/

Being an MMA fan, I have always heard about the great fighters that train at the American Kickboxing Acadamy(AKA).  Living in the San Jose area, I was always curious to check out the AKA gym. When GM Titanium, the new cognac based spirit by Grand Marnier, invited us to not only check out the gym, but also meet UFC heavyweight champion, Cain Velasquez, while sampling their latest alcohol, the decision was a no-brainer.

Photo Cred: http://goodlovegone.com/

We get to the gym and off to the side, there were models for GM Titanium handing out UFC training gloves.  Holding these MMA gloves got me even more excited.  As we were sitting and waiting for the rest of the group to join, in strolls Cain casually chatting with other guests.  This was my first time seeing a champion in person and it hit me, this is pretty freaking awesome. Cain is a true competitor with a great spirit for the sport, I thought it was perfect to have him as GM Titanium's spokesperson.

Photo Cred: http://goodlovegone.com/

After the rest of the group arrived, we get called into the training octagon room which is a padded room with mats and a huge AKA sign on the wall. Cain takes about 30 minutes show the group three different moves: a take down, a side step-kick, and knees to the head. We partnered up and he walked around the room and gave instructions and tips.  He explained to me the proper way to throw a knee to the face, which I practiced on my wife.

Photo Cred: http://goodlovegone.com/

After the 30 minutes were up, Cain answered a few questions and each person in the cage was given the opportunity to take a photo with the champ.  Being an MMA fan for many years now, I have always loved the intensity of the weigh ins and stare down the day before the fights.  If there was ever a time for me to have my first stare down, who better to stare at than the heavyweight champion of the world?  We locked eyes, my heart pumping with adrenaline, posed in front of the camera like the typical stare down you see on TV.  It was definitely an adrenaline rush to stand there.

Photo Cred: http://goodlovegone.com/

After we got out of the cage, the bar was open and the models were serving special GM Titanium cocktails. We had a Cain and Stormy which was sweet with hints of tropical fruit and spices and was definitely a drink I could see myself ordering at a lounge.  I hear the sleek design of the bottle also glows under nightclub lighting. The drinks paired well with the Mexican food bites like mini empanadas that were served with chips and salsa.

Photo Cred: http://goodlovegone.com
Overall, GM Titanium hosted a great event. I look forward to getting a bottle of GM Titanium Cognac to share with friends and also plan to return to the gym in the future.

Thanks to GM Titanium for having us,

Tuesday, September 23

Cocoabella Chocolates - San Jose

Cocoabella chocolates is less than a year into it's residency at Valley Fair Mall and fits perfectly as Hugo Boss' neighbor on the edge of the more upscale side of the mall. Cocoabella curates chocolates from specialty gourmet chocolatiers around the world. Their customers can then curate their own selection from Cocoabella by choosing a variety of pieces or purchasing a box of samples.

From Cocoabella's invitation, I had the pleasure of attending a special complimentary tasting hosted by Guido Gobino, one of the Italian brands featured at the store. Guido Gobino had a representative in house to walk our intimate group through their selections.

Established since 1946, Guido Gobino remains a family run operation to this day. They specialize in chocolates with Piedmont hazelnut that grows in Torino, Italy, their hometown. The hazelnuts have a special shape with three sections. We sampled a few roasted hazelnuts that were delicious in its raw form before we sampled them as creams mixed with chocolate.

Our small group felt very special after seeing the tasting display Cocoabella put up for us.

The tasting started off with this liqueur with a cacao(?) base. Probably the best I've had in terms of specialty alcohol not made from grapes. Sweet, bitter, sour, in that order, with a slight hint of alcohol.

We followed with a few more pieces, including the roasted Piedmont hazelnuts and a piece of chocolate and hazelnut mix (bottom right). Then came the brand's signature 29% hazelnut Giandujotto. Then a 32% hazelnut Giandujottino Tourinot which is a smaller bar. The second one with more hazelnut was sweeter.

This is a piece of the Cremino al Sale made with Liguria Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Integral Sea Salt from Central Italy. It won Best Praline of the World from the London Academy of Chocolate and I can absolutely see why. I've never had olive oil in chocolate before, only sea salt. The combination was wonderful. It's savory and creamy and not too sweet. You get tiny crunchy surprises of salt in each nibble.

 As for the classic chocolates, I liked this Cremino Fondente the most. Dark chocolate sandwiched between the classic soft Gianduja chocolate.

Normally, I wouldn't think to walk into a fancy chocolate shop but Cocoabella changed my mind. What I loved about the store was the small size of their chocolate pieces and their exotic origins from around the world. Even the most ardent chocolate lovers admit to not being able to finish an entire bar. Cocoabella allows you to choose a selection of smaller pieces so that you may enjoy a variety without committing to the volume. 

Guido Gobino chocolates in particular were very interesting for their hazelnut mix. It was sweet and creamy and reminiscent of a hard form of Nutella. My absolute favorite was the olive oil and sea salt piece. Olive oil mixed in with chocolate is a first for me. What a rarity. The hazelnut liquer was also one of my favorites.

Pre-made bozes go for 4 piece box for $10, a 12 piece for $25, or 19 piece for $35. You could also customize your own box or purchase loose pieces. It's not a whole lot of chocolate for the price but these are meant to be nibbled and shared with friends. A box of Cocoabella chocolates would make a nice gift. I imagine it's good to give to your boss, or to bring to a housewarming along with wine. 

Monday, September 15

Belcampo Meat Company - Palo Alto

In this modern day, meat in your grocery store is proverbial to the stork delivering newborn babies on your doorsteps. It remains mostly unknown to consumers how the cattle were raised and slaughtered before it arrived in your local grocery fridge ready for purchase. Regardless, it’s there and you still need to make that pot roast tonight. One California based meat company dares to go back to basics to provide the much needed transparency into how their quality meat products arrive at their butcher shop. As a vertically integrated company based in Larkspur, CA, Belcampo Meat Company owns ranches, slaughter facilities, meat processing plants, as well as butchers and eateries.  In essence, they grow and slaughter their own cattle, then age the meat in their own plants, and lastly have their own butchers cut it for you. Through the invitation of Belcampo’s PR firm, I visited their newest location in Palo Alto at Towne and Country Village to see the butcher counter and eatery. Towne and Country Village itself has the design of a quaint small town plaza with strips of tile roofed businesses. The shops seem like boutiques and the restaurants like they are mom and pop owned even if it is a chain. In the farthest corner of this plaza sits a small butcher shop with d├ęcor reminiscent of the 1950’s, an era where people actually did need butcher shops.

Pristine white tile walls are interrupted only by brown butcher paper and a diagram illustrating that sustainably raised, grass fed, organic meat goes into their product. On the left side, a tall butcher works behind a glass display case full of fresh red meats, organized in sections by beef, goat, lamb, pork and labeled by cut.

I was greeted by the store manager who walked me through the different offerings of the butcher section and gave me a background on the company's mission. Then we arrived at the ordering window where the good stuff truly starts. I ordered the following delicacies.

($3.50) Cup of Posole pork stew with hominy and dried chiles.  
I thought this soup tasted good. The flavors were balanced and hominy is a good soup choice. However, I didn't find it filling or spectacular. I would not get it again only in favor of trying other menu options instead.

($5) Braised lamb belly bun with arugula, caramelized onions, spiced yogurt and feta cheese.
I thought this was a very good preparation of lamb. Just a faint hint of that lamb taste and not enough to be considered gameyness which most people dislike about lamb. Very flavorful seasoning and just the right portion size for a lamb sandwich.

($12) Philly cheesesteak with peppers, onions, and house cheese sauce
Philly cheesesteak is one of Phil's favorite sandwiches, perhaps because his name is in it? I too would love a Ngocwich if one existed. He was very satisfied with this cheesesteak. Although we both think $12 is a bit much for a philly. What do you think?

($6) Spiced broccolini in a flash fried manner with chiles and a touch of lemon.
As a vegetable lover, these are hands down the best way I've tasted broccolini. My guess is that it's flash fried only because it's crispy all around and not burnt. Seems different than sauteeing it. The chili and lemon combo is simple and genius. This was to die for!

($3.50) Cup of bone broth on the left side. Bone broth is made from boiling down many different types of bones and then finished off with some vinegar at the end. Belcampo sells them in large frozen tubs, or by the cup for immediate consumption. Bone broth has been a health rage lately. All I can find online about it is that there are health benefits for babies and for your skin, yet the store manager tells me it isn't just mothers and expectant mothers who consume it. They get customers of all types for this item. 
It tastes really clean and nutritious, exactly as expected from the steps described to make it. I did taste the vinegary finish at the end but it was not over powering. I would definitely have bone broth again as a healthy side or palette cleanser. I would make it Asian style by tossing in chopped green onions and cilantro.

The Towne and Country Plaza in Palo Alto is a cozy and bustling area. Great for getting the offerings of a small town with bigger city people watching. Belcampo's company mission and vertical integration is something to be applauded. It can't be cheap to operate everything within the same company. I trust that the butcher knows what he's doing, I trust the store manager understands the company's values and her store's products. In terms of the butchery, I would definitely come back for squab, grass fed beef steaks, and a frozen tub of that bone broth.

The prices are not cheap and you should understand why before you come in. You're there for the experience, to chat with the butcher about the meat and how to best prepare it. You are not there to pick up a Saran wrapped styrofoam plate of ground beef from a fluorescent lit store. I would reserve a trip to the Belcampo butcher for nights where your in laws are coming over for dinner and you need to impress them with a perfectly prepared lamb chop. Or for when the dreaded time comes that you need to entertain an important manager from work.

On the other hand, I would gladly come back to the eatery for lunch any time. I thought $5 for a lamb slider was decently priced because it's lamb. The Philly cheesesteak is a bit high priced. So is the broccolini but that vegetable prepared in that manner is so worth it. For price sensitive folks, I think you can get a decent meal by ordering a combination of soups, sliders, or sandwiches. It's cooked on the spot and comes out piping hot.

Belcampo on Yelp

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