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Hoping Reddington Keeps me off the Blacklist After My Blatant Voyeurism at the French Laundry

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After a  night of a little too much scotch, I had to muster the strength to venture up the road to Yountville,  a quaint village north of Napa which is  full of beautiful scenery, fancy restaurants, artistic gardens and specialty shops.  I was invited to lunch at Redd, which is described on their website as an updated wine country menu with international influence.  It ‘s the decade old project of respected chef Richard Reddington who should not be confused with fictional international criminal Raymond Reddington of Blacklist.

The decor is simple, roomy and classy.  The waitstaff are professional but not pretentious. I started with hair of the dog in the form of a large goblet of a delicious house red.  To start I went with the appetizer special which was a hamachi collar atop asian slaw.  The slightly fatty, slightly fishy taste went well with sweet but pungent taste of the overdressed slaw.

Hamachi Collar with Slaw

Hamachi Collar with Slaw

Enough with the pseudo-healthy crap. I had a post-scotch apocalypse to deal with.   The fried chicken sandwich fit the bill.  Smothered with melted Gruyere cheese, it seemed the perfect remedy to my self-inflicted woes. Plus, it was served with onion rings which were delicately breaded and quite light. The sandwich was a posh McChicken that hit all the notes needed for a post hangover ration.

Fried Chicken Sand wich with rings $16

Fried Chicken Sand wich with rings $16

With the booze sweats complete and a reasonable amount of grease in my digestive system, I ventured down Yountville’s main drag to take in some of the scenery.  It was surprising quiet given the weather was near perfect.  The walk included trips past rock gardens, markets and a couple of Michelin star restaurants, ending at the ultimate destination in any Napa culinary adventure; The French Laundry. Until now, this Michelin three star establishment has been a figment of my imagination.  In one sense, its legendary status makes me an immediate fan. In another, I wanted to see it first hand so I could better justify  the 300 per person charge.  The exterior is rather modest and the inside is a secret which can only be viewed through small cracks in the window blinds.  I left a bit like a voyeur but I could justify it given the fact their very public garden is right across the street for all to see. Speaking of which, it was a fantastic parcel of land filled with ripe strawberries, cauliflower, fresh herbs, a chicken coop and even an apiary.  The energy of the place was magic and suddenly the French Laundry’s price tag didn’t seem so outrageous.

Mushroom Garden on Washington Street

Mushroom Garden on Washington Street

french laundry

Outside French Laundry

French Laundry Farm

French Laundry Farm

The walk back included a stop at Thomas Keller’s Boulage bakery for an eclair and an Americano, both of which were quite satisfactory and well under $10, a far cry from the price tag associated with his other venture.

The day ended with a drive out to the Stag’s Leap region of Napa Valley and specifically to the aptly named Stag’s Leap cellars which were responsible for the vaulting of California reds into the upper echelon of wines worldwide.  In 1976, the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1973 edged out three French reds including the highly respected Château Mouton-Rothschild 1970 to win the international tasting and the rest is history.  Historically, the only upset that rivals this was the historic and nauseating miracle on ice in 1980 which also involved the US as a massive underdog against the powerhouse Russians.

View from Stag's Leap Cellars

View from Stag’s Leap Cellars

My Take

Yountville in Napa Valley is a must go destination for any foodie.  Redd is a classic example of Californian fare.  The decor, much like the food is clean and simple but subtly elegant.  The walk along Washington street is like following the yellow brick road on the way to the castle but in this case the destination is the French Laundry and there are many distractions along the way including the  Boulage bakery and the Laundry’s own garden.  As much as I clicked my heels together, I could not transport myself into the secret quarters of wizard Keller’s castle. Can anybody lend me $300?

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I Didn’t Get Crabby but I Managed to Get Bitter at Oxbow Public Market in Napa

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Almost every city, big or small, boasts a market and Napa is no different.  Shortly after arriving in town, I headed down to the Oxbow Public Market  to check it out and grab some lunch at the bib gourmand rated C Casa.  Oxbow is a mid-sized indoor market with a combination of shops and restaurants. You can get anything from charcuterie to ice cream.

My biggest target at Oxbow was C Casa, a bib gourmand rated joint featuring unique tacos and other fusion Mexican fare. I was giddy in line in preparation for my  $9 fresh crab taco.  Sadly, the crustacean was not in stock and I had to resort to other options so I settled with the pork carnita tostada with white beans, corn relish, poblanos, micro greens, romaine, lime crema and cotija cheese  ($5.75) and the rotisserie duck  taco with spinach, red onion, goat cheese, oranges, cumin vinaigrette, avacado crema and cilantro  ($8.00).  These were expensive tacos so I was happy to see them arrive with a heaping pile of fillings. The pork tostada was a mess as there was no graceful way to eat it. The beans were such a smart addition and the crema was equally intelligent. The thought of duck and citrus was a little frightful  but it worked reasonably well.  It was less like a taco and more like a spinach salad on a tortilla.  There is a good variety of local pints as well. Beer and tacos are a beautiful couple.

Pork Carnita Tostada ($5.75) and Rotisserie Duck Taco ($8.00)

Pork Carnita Tostada ($5.75) and Rotisserie Duck Taco ($8.00)

 

After barely finishing the Mexican monstrosities, I strolled around the rest of the market in complete awe.  It was like an angel met me in my sleep and asked me “If you could build a market, what would  be in it?”.  My answer would be an oyster house, a spice shop, a kitchen gadget place, a butcher, charcuterie, ice cream and a fancy place where I could get bitters and shrubs to tinker with my own cocktails at home.   Voila!  That’s Oxbow Market.  In particular, let me focus on the last place.  I have gotten a little more experimental with my homemade potent potables and my struggle has been the inability to find bitters outside of the standard angostura.  Many of the Toronto bars brag about walnut, green tea, cherry bourbon and other fancy additions to their old fashioneds and it pisses me off.  The Napa Valley distillery has the largest variety of bitters I have ever seen.  I was a kid in a candy store as I wandered around  aimlessly thinking of the adultery I could commit but combining a number of these flavours with a bottle of Bulleit bourbon. Ironically, it was the first time I realized a significant number of the bitters were produced by Dillon’s, the Niagara distillery a mere 160 km away from my house.

Oh ya…they have a bunch of organic crap at Oxbow too.

My Take

If you go to Napa you most definitely should drink wine but you have to come here!!!!!! I have to admit knew nothing of the Oxbow market prior to my Napa visit. Once there, however, I entered this nirvana which contained all my vices under one roof. Although I didn’t indulge in every one, I got to sip pints, eat tacos, taste bitters, smell spices, stare at striploins and sleep well afterwards. C Casa was probably deserving of bib gourmand status but did not serve the best taco I ever had (and they didn’t have crab).  They were busy and overfilled but had good flavour.  For any foodie,  I highly recommend a dreamy wander through Oxbow Public Market. Although C Casa made me a little crabby, I’ll save my bitterness for  Dillon’s on Tufford road in good old Beamsville, Ontario.

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I Say Frittata, You Say Frittata While Getting my Rocc’s Off in San Francisco

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Before heading up to Napa, I decided to scratch another triple D off the list by heading to Rocco’s Cafe on Folsom Street.  It is a classic Italian cafe offering  typical fare from pastas to Italian sandwiches. The timing wasn’t right for dinner so a breakfast visit was the next best thing.

The decor was old school Italian diner.  There is an open kitchen and more pictures than selfies in my daughter’s instagram account hanging on the wall. It has a friendly feel complete with happy cooks and equally pleasant waitstaff.  There is a certain magic about a true rundown/rustic Italian cafe and Rocco’s had the right semblance.

As much as I was tempted to go with the Grilled Homemade Polenta topped with Cheese & Marinara Sauce w/ Eggs any style with Italian Sausage,  I figured the mushroom, onion, basil, & parmesan cheese frittata ($11.95)  was authentic enough for an Italian cafe without the need to paralyze myself.  Now, the word frittata is up for interpretation. By definition, it means fried but there are all sorts of interpretations. Most of them fall somewhere on the spectrum between an omelette and a crust less quiche but usually dictate that some element of the filling is cooked within the egg.  Rocco’s offering was closer to an omelette and not quite what I expected.  Nonetheless, it had good flavour and seasoning and more than abundant fillings/toppings.  The potatoes had a slight off taste I just couldn’t identify but overall they were decent.

Mushroom, Onion and Parmesan Frittata with Potatoes and toast (not shown) $11.95

Mushroom, Onion and Parmesan Frittata with Potatoes and toast (not shown) $11.95

On the way to the subway I was craving an Americano so a quick google search told me Wicked Grounds was just around the corner.  Don’t get me wrong, I could have hit a number of other coffee houses on the way but I was intrigued at the thought of sneaking in behind the closed curtains to experience a fetish cafe in the early morning. I didn’t expect much at 830 am but there were a few customers and some very nice, courteous staff along with plenty of cuffs, paddles and other paraphernalia for sale. Most alarming to my virgin eyes was the option to have a drink served in a dog bowl for those who chose to be subservient on that particular day.  I was tempted to order a decaf and a paddle to go but I stuck with the former along with a granola bar which promised to be more awesome than a cat riding a unicorn.  It wasn’t and I left humming Chris Issak.

It wasn't

It wasn’t because a cat riding a unicorn is pretty awesome

My Take

I suppose there are worse things to do than search for a good breakfast and an amerciano  from a fetish cafe in one of the most liberal cities in the world.  What’s even better is when you get a decent breakfast and knock another DDD and getting a coffee from the same place I’d buy a blow up doll..screw you Walmart.  In the end, regardless of where  the frittata fell on the spectrum, it was a decent plate and the Wicked Grounds coffee was good even if I was able to get my Rocc’s off again.

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Meni Midi Meh

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I had a business lunch in the Mount Sinai hospital area, so I needed a place close by. I have walked past Midi back numerous times and figured it would a good time to give it a try.  I showed up from my reservation and was handed  the $18 summerlicious menu which offered the standard starter, entree and dessert.  It was the only menu available but I wasn’t super upset since most of the regular items (most of which were French inspired) were also featured.

It has a small interior that is quite modest and rather worn down.  It doesn’t hold a whole lot of people and it was manned by one waiter who also seemed to be responsible for ordering the restaurant’s food supply as well.

I started with the soup of the day which was split pea. It was a decent consistency but was rather starchy and slightly underseasoned.  The fish special was a seared tuna served with a mango salsa and frites.  The tuna was cooked rare as requested but was horribly underseasoned.  The salsa was a mess…overly sweet with no contrast whatsoever. The fries were marginally warm.  Dessert was a vanilla cardamon creme brulee which I was pretty excited about given my love for that spice in a dessert.  The flavour was there but the consistency of the creme brulee was a little clumpy.

My Take

Lunch at Midi was like a trip back in time.  The worn, unwelcoming decor matched the equally outdated food.  All three components of the $18 summerlicious menu were mediocre at best.  In stark contrast to Caesar’s triumphant Veni, Vidi, Vici war cry, foodies flocking here would likely wimper Meni, Midi, Meh.

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Newfoundland Day 2: Newfoundlasian food and Getting Screeched-In without Dustin Diamond

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People in Newfoundland move at their own pace.  Case and point was Coffee Matters, a little coffee house located kiddy (or maybe I should say Quidi) corner from the Sheraton.  During lunch, I went and ordered a quartet of coffees to avoid the hotel brew. They ranked as medium on the difficulty scale (eg. soy milk, double espresso shot). They took an extraordinary amount of time but were pretty decent in the end.

Once the meeting was over, another hike ensued.  This one was significantly longer but not as steep as the Signal Hill hike the day before. The weather however, was significantly worse than day one, coming in at 8 degrees Celsius without the wind chill in mid-June.  I persevered and experienced a pleasant combination of  inclines, declines and long stretches of land peppered with man made steps, bridges and rock paths.  That said, I did often wonder what would happen if someone sustained a significant ankle sprain given there is not a road to be found for a number of kilometres.  The journey ended at the eastern most part in North America which makes for another bucket list check mark. I even have the picture to prove it.

Eastern Most Point In North America

Eastern Most Point In North America

Again, a good hike calls for a good beer and some of the locals brought us to the Duke of Duckworth, one of the oldest drinking holes in St John’s. With the beer came a few orders of nachos ($15) and the famous cod nuggets and chips ($11.59).  The nachos were good. The fish and chips was amazing.  Both were golden brown and pub-delicious.  I found the staff a bit grumpy but copious amounts of deep fried goodness and cold beer made up for it.

Dinner that night was at Basho. Best described as a sushi joint that took a wrong turn in Albuquerque and ended up in St. John’s, it was initially the joint project of a father and son team which I can best describe as Newfoundlasian.  The son (who I met) runs the show.  We had a set menu  but a sushi sampler was waiting at the table when we sat.  It was good sushi but a little lackluster.  There were no fun sauces or concoction  but it served the purpose. Shortly after another platter arrived filled with a more North American deep fried chips and calamari.   Note that this was before the menu appetizers even arrived.

Basho Appetizer Platter

Basho Appetizer Platter

There was a choice of apps that ranged from more sushi rolls to tempura vegetables to a unique surf and turf featuring steak, scallops and onion rings in a tower formation. It was the size of an entree and was ingeniously an odd version of classic land and sea.  Both the meat and scallop were cooked to perfection.  It was a really enjoyable starter…if you call it that.

Basho Surf and Turf

Basho Surf and Turf

I was a little afraid of the entree after the monstrosity that was the appetizer.  I was hoping for the halibut promised on the menu but I heard rumours that the shipment was diverted to another in a bidding war so they made a last minute substitution with cod.  This dish was a bit of a mess in a Jackson Pollack sort of way. I think the halibut would have held up better among the other ingredients and things could have been a little more seasoned but it was a befitting offering in the end.

More Cod....

More Cod….

I was almost full to capacity but tasted each element of the dessert platter.  There was chocolate and green tea ice cream which were ok but the stand out dessert was the cheesecake.  It probably made the least sense in relation to the loose theme of the restaurant but was the best component  hands down.

Basho Dessert Platter

Basho Dessert Platter

The night ended with a late night screech-in ceremony at Christian’s (which didn’t involve a washed up child star, a bar altercation or a knife).  For $20 you have the right to become an honorary Newfoundlander. I was a little fearful at first given the first thing I saw was a large man dressed in a slicker and carrying a paddle. My mind wandered to some sort of sadistic, seashore sodomy but when he started speaking, it turned out he was one of the best emcees ever (at least according to the locals who have seen a number of these ceremonies in the past).  Essentially, participants  have their names read aloud, eat bologna, kiss a cod, take a shot of screech, try and say “Deed I is, me ol’ cock! And long may yer big jib draw!”. Then you are presented with your certificate and quickly rush to wash the taste of screech, fish and bologna out of your mouth with copious amounts of beer.

Certificate of Screeching-In

Certificate of Screeching-In

On a final note, I got the airport and had some time to kill, so I went to the restaurant and finished off the trip with some questionable  local blueberry wine while resisting the urge to order something off the glutin free menu. God, I love this place.

Glutin Free Menu

Glutin Free Menu

My Take

A busy second day in Newfoundland involved hiking, drinking, cod, cod and more cod.  It started with a traditional fish and chips at one of the most established pubs in the city, continued with a oddish Asian-Newfoundland fusion meal and ended with making out with a fish.  The phrase “Deed I is, me ol’ cock! And long may yer big jib draw” which translates to “Yes indeed, my friend, long may your big sail (i.e. jib) draw wind” makes total sense now.  The combination of gale forces winds of the Newfoundland cliffs, my big sail (partially the result of too much deep fried cod), the island’s geographical similarity to my hometown of Sudbury  and an honorary Newfie status makes this ol’ cock feel at home.

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Newfoundland Day 1: Getting Cheeky From the Club to the Pub in the Midst of Icebergs

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I went to Newfoundland for the first time a few weeks back for a work function. The hope was that I would have ample time to enjoy some of the scenery and culture which is unique to Canada’s most eastern province. The first goal was to get there. A flight to Newfoundland is as predictable as a masterchef souffle so I was happy to arrive with no delays, diversions etc. I arrived at my hotel and observed a beautiful view from my room at the Sheraton.

View of the Pier

View of the Pier

After checking in, my first priority was lunch. Having a minimum understanding of the go to midday restaurants, I leaned on John Catucci and the Food Network to guide me to The Club, one of the sister restaurants (along with Aqua) of Chef Mark McCrowe. Predicably located on Duckworth street, this gastropub offers a mish-mash of bar food with Scottish,French and local influence.

Along with a decent bar rail, they offer a variety of brews from the small Quidi Vidi brewery which is located in the town with the same name.  I had an 1892 amber ale which fell on the good side of ambers (I’m quite mercurial when it comes to red beer and either like them or hate them).

Food wise, I was informed that neither the fish and chips or the mussels were available which I found quite ironic considering my location. However, as I pondered the other menu offerings which ranged from fried chicken to a wild boar sloppy joe topped with an egg (which, like dietary cholesterol, goes straight to my heart), a delivery guy strolled in with a bag of cod in one hand and a sack of mussels in the other. Knowing that the cod was literally delivered minutes before, I called an audible and ordered the fish and chips. It was a good choice. The fish was flaky and fresh, the batter not overwhelming and the gravy was divine. The malt spritzer was subtly intelligent. It was truly a delightful dish and went well with the 1892.

Fish and Chips

Fish and Chips $18

I snacked on a table mate’s lobster roll. The toasted bread was an ideal vessel and housed a decent filling of lobster,celery and tarragon. I wasn’t a fan of the large pieces of lettuce as they made the sandwich messier and cut into the delicate flavour of the lobster a bit.

Lobster Roll

a Portion of a Lobster Roll $19

The moose bologna was a canny cold cut, bringing a component of nasty nostalgia mixed with gastropub gluttony and even had some chopped parsley as a garnish It wasn’t magical by any means but was certainly fun to try.

Fried Moose Bologna

Fried Moose Bologna

Nothing burns off beer and bologna like a hike up signal hill.  However, by the time you get up and down again you want a beer again.  Once again, enter The Quidi Vidi brewery.  There is a certain magic about walking into a brewery, picking up a six-pack, walking out on a  balcony and sucking one back in the midst of spectacular scenery. I mean, it sure as hell beats paying $7 for a pint of half ass beer surrounded by sweaty hipsters on a crowded downtown Toronto patio right? Their flagship beer is Iceberg which is a light, crisp brew made with water from the icebergs that populate the ocean waters surrounding the rock. It could be the psychology of the water source, the blue bottle or the environment but this is one refreshing beer, especially on a balmy 16 degree day in Quidi Vidi, Newfoundland.

Beer with a View

Beer with a View

For dinner I was treated to cod tongues and scrunchions at Portobello’s. I fell in love with these the first time I tried them some 20 years ago and was a little fearful  that my reunion with this traditional Newfoundland dish would be disappointing…but it doesn’t. My camera was dysfunctional so I don’t have a picture but imagine clumps of golden deep fried goodness coupled with small chunks of heavily rendered and salted pork with a tarter like dipping sauce.  Fat, salt, chewiness and tartness from the sauce always results in gluttonous glee, right?

For illustrative purposes, I included this picture from espressosnob.com which best represents the cod tongues and scrunchions I had in Newfoundland.

For illustrative purposes, I included this picture from espressosnob.com which best represents the cod tongues and scrunchions I had in Newfoundland.

My Take

Day one in Newfoundland allowed me to check three key things off my bucket list: a fantastic view, fresh cod and tongues and scrunchions.  With a couple of days left, I was looking forward to experiencing some of the other key rites of passage to complete a true east coast experience on the Rock.

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Attempting Piquant Progress after Last Year’s Spectacular State Bird Seance

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I had the chance to get back to San Francisco in May for a wedding (yes I realize it’s July but other duties called) and one of my targets was the progress, the newish spin-off of the highly successful and quite enjoyable State Bird Provisions.  I went there last year and it was easily one of the best restaurants I went to in 2014.  The progress boasts a choose your own adventure 6 course family style meal for $65.  Keep in mind that the table needs to agree on six dishes which may prove to be a very daunting task depending on your table mates.  On this night I was meeting two people I had never met, so in essence it was a blind date minus the romance.  I had no idea what they liked to eat, what aversions they had and what their culinary hot buttons were.

It turns out these two were rather laid back and choosing the menu was really not that difficult. One was rather naive to the nuances of the foodie code (ie. ramps are another word for cool onions) while the other was driven by a value proposition which made her gravitate to ordering the perceived most expensive dishes on the menu.  I had no issues with this at all. So, after a deliberation much faster than the OJ jury, we chose our six dishes  and waited with anticipation. While waiting, I noticed the decor and buzz was less chaotic than its sister restaurant.  The service was more traditional meaning there wasn’t an army of cooks and chefs offering you a bite at every turn. It still had a high hipster factor, driven by both the staff and the patrons sitting at the bar and  around the tables.

The first offering with a complimentary amuse bouche which featured seven snacks including zucchini blossoms, sauced-up radishes, broad beans, fried mussels, a twist on chips and dips, spicy citrus and some jerky in the middle.  It was a pleasant start and opinions as to what was the best was all over the board,  Personally, I enjoyed the jerky and the citrus.

Amuse Bouche

Amuse Bouche

One of my choices was the salad of wild king salmon with basil-marinated zucchini.  The main reason was my vivid memory of a king salmon dish I had from State Bird the year before.  At this point it was evident that the menu description only offered a fraction of the secrets each dish held.  There were salty, crunchy and creamy tastes and textures immersed in the aforementioned listed stars of the dish.

Salmon

salad of wild king salmon with basil-marinated zucchini

Next were the razor clams on the plancha with kimchi piccata.  Other than sounding like a Jimmy Buffet tune, it was served with the very foodie friendly watermelon radish.  The star of the plate was a little less than spectacular but in the end the dish was pretty good.

Razor Clams

razor clams on the plancha with kimchi piccata

Third was a treasure chest of fermented sausage, trout quenelles and sweet onion-rice dumpling in a creamy pork broth.  I loved the absolute confusion of this dish. They pretty much took every food fetish I have and threw it into a bowl.  I’ll eat anything fermented, any sausage, any dumpling and any broth…especially if it is poured in front of me.  I’ll admit I was a little perplexed but it was like a buffet in a bowl in a blissful foodie dream.

Next was more sausage and seafood; this time lamb merguez (I conceded this dish given my distaste of lamb) with yellow eye beans, octopus and crispy squid.  As expected, it wasn’t my favorite dish. Despite the crispiness of the squid, it wasn’t as texturally balanced as the other dishes.  The octopus was just ok.

Lamb and Octopus

lamb merguez with yellow eye beans, octopus and crispy squid

I was probably most excited about the maitake, tofu and bok choy stir fry with smoked black cod ponzu. I love mushrooms, smoked food  and black cod and my bliss was amplified when it was presented covered in one of my favorite morsels…sweet peas. I was a little disappointed since the cod ironically lost that beautiful texture through the smoking process.  It was a little too salty as well.

Black Cod

maitake, tofu and bok choy stir fry with smoked black cod ponzu

The final dish (we decided against dessert) was the aromatic spiced squab with salted chili paste.  Once again, the dish presented with a bit of a surprise when it was evident it was meant to be eaten like a cross between a lettuce wrap and a tequila shot. It only came with two legs (complete with the claws) for three people but there wasn’t  a huge fight over who got them.  The quail itself was cooked nicely and they were fun to assemble but the overall flavour was pretty average.

progress quail

aromatic spiced squab with salted chili paste.

My Take

There is always a danger when it come to a spin-off or sequel , especially when the first effort is so good. The list of sophomore flops is endless; take Three’s a Crowd, Flo and Joanie loves Chachi for example. In the case of State Bird Provisions, there were high expectations when it came to its neighbour and sister restaurant, the Progress. Some of the dishes lived up to the State Bird name while others missed the mark.  The progress’ offering of the salad of king salmon and the treasure chest were amazing whereas the lamb/octopus and the cod, although good, missed the high bar set by its predecessor. So, the Progress is in no way the X-Files’ ridiculous spin-off  the Lone Gunman.  Instead, I see it more as Breaking Bad’s slightly more than mediocre Better Call Saul.

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