168: Our Amazingly Lucky Number!

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In the Chinese culture, the number “1 6 8” is filled with the promise of abundance, good fortune and prosperity, and means “may your journey be prosperous from beginning to end.”
May your journey be prosperous from beginning to end…  That is an epic understatement when it comes to the talents and cuisine of Chef Hisashi Yoshiara.  Lisa and I went to 168 in Pasadena because of my connection with their General Manager Phil Roberson.  I was sitting at my desk working and had some fond thoughts of Phil exactly at the same time he texted me.  After some idle chat he told me about this cool pan Asian restaurant he was working at.  Being an avid fan of Asian fusion I could hardly resist the temptation.  I google where he worked and read up on their Chef.  I have to admit I came with super high expectations and was absolutely blown away by the food, service and atmosphere.
168 25 168 27We were promptly seated by the gracious hostess at an outdoor table in a beautiful small courtyard.  We chose outside because 93 degrees in Pasadena just seemed cool compared to the 108 degree day at home when we left La Quinta.  We chatted with Phil for a few moments and asked him to have Chef Yoshiara honor us with whatever he felt like cooking that day.  I absolutely love when Chef’s pick what I eat.  The complete surprise of the moment not knowing what is coming next is amazing.  I often wonder why restaurants do not offer that and why guests do not ask for it.  Try it next time you eat out.  You may get a course or two you do not like but overall you will get food you probably would not have ordered and after trying wonder why you never ordered that.  The surprise of having a table laid with eating implements and trying to figure out based on that what you are about to eat is amazing.  Chef Yoshiara is exactly the guy you want surprising you.
168 06Round One: Three Coolers and Asian Bagna Cauda
Phil brought us three coolers to sip while our first course was being prepared.  All three were delicious but the Strawberry Basil one blew both our socks off.  The other two were an orange juice and star anise flavored one and a cucumber and mint one.  The orange one was good and perhaps could of used a bump more star anise flavor.  I like the cucumber and mint one a lot.  Lisa felt it was the plainest. Despite minute differences they were a fun way to start the meal.  Phil brought us two amazing cocktails, Red Dragon made with soju, watermelon and kaffir lime syrup and a wingspan, made with sake, house made ginger beer and honey mint.  Both were perfect and yummy.  Soju is kind of a distilled version of sake.
While we were sipping our drinks the bagna caudo came out.  Now you are probably thinking ‘hey, what is an Italian dish doing on a pan Asian menu?’  Yes, so was I.  It turns out that first of all Chef made an Asian version deliciously crafted with white soy and more traditional ingredients and secondly he did it as a tribute to his Italian wife.  That may have earned him brownie points but got me into a bit of trouble with the Mrs.  I know have to put something Asian on my menu and tell my wife it is because I adore her that it is there.  The Bagna Caudo was brilliant.  We dipped bok choy, carrots, peppers and bit of bread into the insanely delicious anchovy and white soy dip.  I would have drank the remaining dip had we not been sitting so close to the waiter station.  It was that good.
168 07A spicy Ahi Tuna taco with Asian Guacamole followed.  WOW.  It was everything the name implies… crispy, crunchy, tasty, spicy, yummy.  I am not sure what else I could say.  As the picture clearly shows, the shell was absolutely spot on perfect.
168 09 168 10What followed next is a prime example of something I probably would not have ordered but holy crap is it amazing.  It was simply, and Chef forgive me for botching the ingredients, simply an eggplant steamed in miso sauce.  Yes, that simple.  Simple food is something people take for granted.  A lot of Chefs believe more is always better.  To me, the true talent of a Chef lies not in how much he can stick onto your plate but how much can the Chef strip away and blow you away.  This dish had two components.  No hiding behind slabs of foie gras, truffle shavings ort a plethora of other things… this was a simple fat slice of Japanese eggplant and miso sauce.
168 13 168 12The next dish absolutely made me cry in it’s beauty and taste. A potato wrapped sea scallops cooked and served in an emerald green pool or green Thai curry rich with galangal.  The sauce had this beautiful warming glow to the lingering taste.  The potatoes and scallops were just cooked so perfectly.  I could have eaten five more orders they were that good.  Phil served us a beautiful sake served in a shot glass sitting inside a small wooden box.  It is a sign of prosperity when you pour an over the top a shot of sake.
168 11The cool sake offset the lingering spiciness of the curry.  BRAVO!
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About this time we started to get fuller and wondered if this was the last main dish.  Chef prepare a beautiful dish of Alaskan Black Cod lacquered with Ponzu sauce and served with micro croutons and a steamed baby turnip filled with even more ponzu sauce.  It was amazing.  Those familiar with the chain of high-end Hawaiian restaurants Roys will be familiar with that fish though they call it Butter Fish.  The fish just falls apart in creamy heavenness.  Yes that is now a real word.  We finished eating and wondered what dessert would look like.
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Just then, our waiter brought a tray of serving utensils that indicated dessert was not forthcoming.  Two smaller bowls appeared then the mother ship came out the kitchen area and towards us.  Having peeked at the menu early I knew we were getting a ramen noodle soup.  The slight awkwardness of our waiter lended a wonderful level to the dining experience.  He was a young fellow who seemed just as excited about the food and 168 as we felt being newbies there.  It added to the Christmas like feel of wondering what you were getting next.  The noodle soup was made with Kurabuta Pork, noodle and thin shaved Japanese peppers.  It was phenomenal.  Phil paired this course with a Syrah that danced with the spicy flavors quite well.
Lisa had hit saturation point.  I did too but could not stop eating the noodles and broth.  They were addictive.  By then the heat of the day coupled with too much food and alcohol got me sweating.  Phil noticed and dragged us inside for the dessert course.
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I normally am not prone to eating desserts.  It melted in my mouth and made me wish I had the balls to ask him for the recipe.  So feathery light and perfectly cooked.After dessert the Chef came out.  I complimented his abilities and vowed to return soon.
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It truly was an honor eating there.  Phil was an amazing host and we enjoyed catching up on his family and what was going on with his life.  I strongly recommend w=eating at 168 in Pasadena if you love Asian Fusion.  They are located at : 168 west Colorado boulevard, old Pasadena, ca 91105 and can be reached at 626-793-8008.  To see their web site please go to http://www.168pasadena.com/
Phil took us on a small tour of the vast complex.  Private dining, great bar, outdoor seating…
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cool, practical decor made with orange spray painted dead tree limbs168 28
Chef’s Play Ground168 26
Private Dining Area
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Cool fixtures from their Sushi Bar168 23 168 27

Cotogna: SF’s Rustic Italian Eatery

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I have wanted to eat at Cotogna for a long, long while. The seed was planted by Lee, our fearless leader at Figue, when he mentioned dining there and seeing the rotisserie of his dreams. He was so moved by the experience that he bought a similar model for our restaurant Figue  in La Quinta.  For the first few months, I waited and waited for it to be delivered, dreaming of spit roasting rabbit porchettas, lambs, pigs and chickens.  Rotisseries give food a flavor not matched by roasting or sauteing and a super crispy exterior.

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our Universo Tuscany 180 Rotisserie with Jidori Chickens Spinning!

“I’ve always divided human beings into two categories:
those who resemble a courtyard and suffocate you between their walls-
Then there are those who resemble a garden, where you can walk and be silent, and breathe.”

– Antoine de St. Exupery

Lisa, Beau and I had dropped off our VW bus for routine maintenance at Van Cafe in Santa Cruz in the morning.  The drive to the Bay was punctuated with lively conversation about seeing old friends we hadn’t seen in a long time and the impending eating marathon.  Our friend Peter, with whom I completed the Appalachian Trail with in 2000 would be there with his new wife Eileen and dear friend Gina and her three handsome boys.  We were looking forward to this for weeks.  Luckily we found a spot in front and shaded as Lucy the wunderhound had to stay there. Peter and his lovely wife Eileen showed up  Just as we pulled up.  Vacation August 2013 Nacimiento Road 123 Vacation August 2013 Nacimiento Road 124

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All of us at the table doing what we all do best!

Gina had phoned to say she was running late so we started the onslaught of dishes.  The first few dishes were rustic as promised with great depth of flavor.  We started with Leek Sformato with Chanterelle Mushrooms, Pate di Campagna and Terra Firma Farm Tomatoes and Burrata.Vacation August 2013 Nacimiento Road 128 Vacation August 2013 Nacimiento Road 129 Vacation August 2013 Nacimiento Road 127 Vacation August 2013 Nacimiento Road 126 Vacation August 2013 Nacimiento Road 136 Vacation August 2013 Nacimiento Road 141

We plowed through three bottles of a Sardinian red that on it’s own wasn’t the most interesting wine ever but coupled with the food danced.  The next courses brought Ravioli di Ricotta with a Farm Egg and Brown Butter, Heger Farm Corn Triangoli, Pappardelle with Lamb Ragu, Octopus with Pole Beans, and Heritage Red Wattle Pork.  The thing I loved the most about the pork was that the Chef did not feel the need to tell you what came with it… you simply ate it.  I think Americans are too scared of food in whole to do that with regularity across the country.  I loved it.  I did not notice anyone freaking out that all the secondi were presented that way.

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To finish it off we ordered three Pizze…  Artichoke, Stracchino Cheese and Black Olives; Gypsy Pepper. Nepitella and Flor di Latte Mozzarella; and Happy Boy Farm San Marzano Tomato, Nettle and Sausage Pizze.

Vacation August 2013 Nacimiento Road 142 Vacation August 2013 Nacimiento Road 140 Vacation August 2013 Nacimiento Road 135Thoroughly sated with indulged with Olive Oil Cake with Strawberries and their Dark Chocolate Budino with Cake Crumble.  Overall I thought the restaurant was fun to eat at.  I would definitely go back… it was great to see old and new friends…

Cotogna is located at 490 Pacific Avenue and can be reached at 415.775.8508, http://www.Cotognasf.com

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