international smoke review

A little while ago, I headed out to the city to check out Ayesha Curry’s pop up at Michael Mina Test Kitchen.  I didn’t go to this popup because I thought Ayesha was going to be in the kitchen –  I knew they’d be dishes she enjoyed to cook and perhaps inspired by or collaborated with her.  She seems like a cool gal who enjoys good food so I thought I’d check it out, especially after hearing that Korean bbq was on the menu.  Sadly, by the time I went the Korean bbq was off the menu for whatever reason but I was excited to check out the other eats!

I have to kick it off by saying the staff at Michael Mina Test Kitchen were so warm, inviting, and fun!  They were attentive but not oppressively so and ummmm the music throughout the whole evening was AWESOME. It had me dancing and grooving in my seat. I even joked that it helped with digestion! What a fun place to be for a night out – I totally recommend as a date night! On to the food!

Here was the menu for the evening:

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First up, snacks!  Shown below are the pickled veggies. Shown in the tiny upper right hand corner are the corn nuts.  OMG these were not your average corn nuts from the store. I don’t like those corn nuts because I always feel like I’m gonna crack a tooth eating them.  But these?  They had the amazing roasted corn flavor with just the right amount of crunch.  And just the right amount of salt!  I’m always wary of places that oversalt and it would be easy to do with this kind of snack but these were perfect! I had to stop myself before I got full on snacks.

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Next was the thai style barbeque shrimp chili (shown below).  It tasted like thai curry without the rice.  Because I had that in my head, I was expecting an overwhelming flavor but it was like curry but taken down a notch.  I was able to enjoy it like a soup and appreciated that the flavors were scaled back.  The cornbread was soooo good. It may have been the first and only time I didn’t use butter on cornbread but it honesty didn’t need it. Yum.

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Next up was the smoked heirloom tomato salad with crispy squash blossoms and white nectarine (shown below).  This was tasty and really refreshing. A good palate cleansing course after the curried flavor in the prior course.  Isn’t it plated so beautifully?  That’s what I lack in my own cooking – the presentation!

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At this point, we were given some supplemental options.  One was a soft shell crab with singapore street noodles and another was the Tokyo hash browns.  I opted to pass on the crab with noodles because I needed space for the BBQ!  But I could not pass up the Tokyo hash brown description. So below, you will see the Tokyo hash browns (which are actually tater tots!).  People, this was my favorite dish of the night. Soy caramel, Kewpie mayo drizzled all over and this toasted nori that just pulled everything together. O.M.G.  I was telling my friend that THIS dish is why I enjoy eating out.  Discovering a new and exciting way to pull together flavors I already know – that’s exciting to me.  And this dish did exactly that.  It was comfort food to the hilt and tasting these familiar flavors in a unique combination was so fun and delicious!  I want to recreate this and serve it up to friends and family.

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And finally… the BBQ.  We chose Ayesha’s spiced chicken, St. Louis style baby back ribs and “Bacon on bacon”.  The other 2 choices were merguez sausage and pastrami. You could add those on but I was already pretty full at this point!  Ok, here is where I need to be really honest.  I mean, this is my blog and I try to be straight up with you all.  Ayesha’s namesake chicken dish – I was not a fan.  The sauce was a bit overpowering and the flavors just didn’t mesh for me.  The BBQ ribs were the best meat option I tried.  It was tender, fall-off-the-bone and tasty.  But I could make those at home.  And the bacon on bacon?  The bread (although toasted) was soggy and fell apart.  Mushy bread = no bueno. Good thing those Tokyo tots filled me up!  The portion size, by the way, was really generous. You get a LOT of food here.  I was just disappointed at the BBQ portion of the evening.

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The corn dish shown below was served as a side.Moroccan street corn.  It actually went well with the BBQ meat, especially Ayesha’s chicken.  But it could not save the BBQ platter.IMG_3204[1]

The tasting ended with a pineapple granita (shown below) that had toasted macadamia nuts, something aloe and some mochi bites.  This was really refreshing and perked up the meal again.  It was the perfect dessert.  Cleansed my mouth and was very light and not too sweet. Had that good balance of sweet and tart. Reminded me of somewhere tropical…. I wish the whole experience ended there.  But they gave us one more bite to end with….

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I was really full but they brought out this bite of devil’s food cake with a peanut butter mousse on top.  It was one bite and really not necessary.  Thing is, it wasn’t very good.  So after bringing the meal back up with the pineapple granita, I left the table with the last bite being so mediocre and blah.  I wish I hadn’t even eaten it.

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So…. my thoughts?  It was a fun and delicious evening.  It had some hits and misses but as one server mentioned, it’s a test kitchen.  They want to try things out.  And for the most part, this was a big hit.  A great date night experience or a night out with friends and like I mentioned, a fun vibe to the whole place.  Ayesha was on an anniversary trip with Steph so alas, no picture with her (ha!) but I’m glad to have experienced it and would recommend  others to try it out.  It definitely gave me a great impression of the Mina Test Kitchen and I’d try out a future pop-up as well.

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lamb jam sf 2016

A short while ago, I was fortunate to be the winner of 2 tickets to Lamb Jam SF 2016 from Food Gal’s website.  It was such a fun event and I got to try lots of delicious lamb dishes from the Bay Area!  They had 4 different categories: Mediterranean, Latin, Middle Eastern and Asian.  And they had wine and beer and cider aplenty!  I never knew Syrah was a great pairing for lamb!  Now I know 🙂  I love learning new things.  I am not a huge fan of Syrah so I stuck with the beer and the lone Pinot Noir there!  Loved Kenneth Volk Vineyards!  I wanted to share with you a few highlights from the event.

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The photo above shows the Baharat Braised Lamb Shoulder with Feta Hummus and a Cucumber, Preserved Lemon and Watermelon Salad from Kuleto’s.  This was such a delight and I loved biting into the tiny pieces of watermelon.  So refreshing!  I want to check out this restaurant just based on this dish!

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This is a photo of Lamb Belly Pancetta, Pan con Tomate, Pickled Quail Egg and Cilantro Mojo from Thirsty Bear Brewing Co.  Not my favorite dish of the day.  It was generous in lamb portion but perhaps a smidge overwhelming.  This was in the Mediterranean room and unfortunately the other 2 tastings ran out by the time I made it to the room.

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Spamb Musubi Licorice Tare, Kimchi, Egg Yolk from Blue Plate. This got mixed reviews from the folks we were chatting with at random tables.  I  thought for sure I was going to love it!  I mean, spamb, kimchi and egg?! But alas, the sauce was so overwhelming and the musubi fell apart as I took a bite.  It was innovative and I’d love to see this again somewhere! I appreciated the concept and think it could really be a winner.  This particular one fell a little short for me.

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This is the Beer Braised Lamb Torta with Stone Fruit Salsa from Pacific Coast Brewing Co in Oakland.  I have to give it to these guys!  They were the last group standing.  They served these up till the bitter end with smiles and nothing but awesome attitudes. It must have been a logistically difficult event to feed so many folks but this group looked cool and seemed to even be having fun!  I was shocked to learn they are just down the road from where I work and I haven’t heard of them!  I will definitely be stopping by.  This torta was amazing and the flavors were bold and well balanced.  The sprouts and guac really added texture and freshness to this sandwich!

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Ok folks. Here it is. The big winner!  Lamb Shoulder Pave Eggplant -Date Lutenisa, Sumac Pickled Corn and Cherry Bomb Harissa from Calavera Oakland!  Yay for Sophina Uong!!! Funny story about this and then the review of the dish.  We were standing in this loooooong line to get to EPIC Steak’s Coriander Roasted Whole Lamb, Tomato-Chickpea Stew and Garlic Herb Flatbread (which was AMAZING – so much so that I didn’t even stop to take a picture before inhaling it – sorry guys!) .  These gentlemen standing behind us were saying that they were skeptical of the Calavera dish because there was no line to get to that dish. They were wondering if it was going to be worth it.  I turned to them and said maybe there’s no line because Calavera has their stuff together and not because a lack of interest.  And then I told them I had tasted it and it was really delicious!!  This dish was HOT! It was spicy hot and it was sexy hot.  Can a dish be sexy? Yes!  Taste this and you may agree.  I haven’t been back to Calavera since Sophina Uong took over but I may convince my friends to give it another shot after trying this award winning dish.  Yes folks, it won for best Asian, best in show and I think people’s choice too!

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Ok.  Now…. this dish is special. It was my favorite dish of the whole event.  Char Siu Onigiri and lap cheong with Lamb Jam from BiRite Market.  OMG.  Everything on this plate was so delicious.  I wanted like 3x as much of each element.  I want this to be a dish I can order for lunch once a week ( I honestly would).  This was awesome.  It was so simple and the flavors were so clean but you could taste the complexity of the lap cheong sausage and the flavors in the lamb jam.  I loved this dish soooooo much!!!!

Thanks for going on this journey with me. I didn’t get a photo of Presidio Social Club’s Lamb and Rice Pot nor Hog & Rocks Mezcal-Adobo Lamb Shanks with Roasted Corn Huitlacoche Salsa.  And didn’t get to taste the empanada from Sabio on Main (that line was crazy too) .  More things to explore and try in the future.  As we left they had these cute lamb cake pops and I wish I could remember where they were from but they were delicious and a fun way to end this great event!

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