Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Labor Day Weekend Eats

Elizabeth and I both had four-day weekends, so we begin our story on Thursday night. Our friend Tim had a magnum of 1985 Gaja Barbaresco Costa Russi that he wanted to drink. A week earlier he had suggested a dinner at Gale's; I countered with dinner on our patio, which everyone thought was a better idea. Our friends Murph, Carla and Tracie joined the three of us. I laid out some appetizers and grilled pizza (it was dark when I grilled it and I had to devote all my attention to the cooking, thus there are no pictures.)

Tim carefully poured the wine into Tracie's decanter. "I've been waiting more than twenty years to drink this," he said. The wine was spectacular - smooth with hints of dark fruit. There was almost no sediment in the bottle. Of all the wines Tim has been generous enough to share with me over the years, this may well have been my favorite.

As always, I reserved the Cougar glass for Tracie, despite her protests that she is not yet old enough to be a cougar. Maybe someday this joke will cease to be funny. Maybe.

Shakey's emailed me a coupon last week good for one free lunch buffet with the purchase of one. My brother and I made plans to go there together for the first time in many years. Elizabeth had never been to a Shakey's, so we had to take her with us.

I wrote about my long personal history with Shakey's
a year and a half ago, so I will refrain from going into it here. My history with the place undoubtedly makes me like it more than I should. And I knew taking a girl who grew up on New York pizza to a California pizza chain would be a risky proposition.

Here is her rundown of the items she tried: the mojo potatoes were great, the pizza was average, the fried chicken was lousy and the Oreo cookie pizza was a major disappointment. I was also disappointed in the quality of most of the pizza. They weren't making enough for the big crowds, so you had two choices: hope to grab a slice of a new pie before everyone else devoured it or eat one of the less-desirable slices that had been sitting around for a long time.

"It's funny," I said to my brother as we were driving away, "there have been very few restaurants that have provided me as much happiness over the years as Shakey's, but that's probably the last time I will ever eat there."

"That's certainly the last time I will ever make a concerted effort to eat there," he replied.

On Saturday I went over to my parents' house. They are painting the interior this week and I had volunteered to help move a lot of stuff. We went to Taylor's butcher shop before the UCLA game to get stuff to grill. I bought bockwurst, sweet Italian sausage, and "Sierra Madre caliente" sausage, a sausage with a spicy blend of peppers. We also got four containers of Kruegermann condiments to top the sausages.

I grilled the links and put them out on a platter for everyone to make their own (although I just chopped up the bockwurst and gave it to my dad; I knew that's how he'd want it, without any condiments.) I put some sauerkraut, red cabbage, and hot mustard on my sausage. It was the perfect complement to the football on TV.

(Once again it looks like it will be a long year for UCLA football. Their offense is as sloppy as ever and their defense doesn't seem to care about tackling. Rick Neuheisel talks a good game about wanting to change UCLA football's image, but with six minutes left in the game and the Bruins down by 4, he opted to kick a field goal. That sums up UCLA football the last 15 years, in my opinion: content just to keep the score close.)

At Whole Foods they had lobster egg rolls for 99 cents each. I thought that would be a nice appetizer for everyone. They were terrible: a soggy mess that did not reheat well and did not taste of lobster. Nobody thought they were very good.

Elizabeth and I wanted fish for dinner, my brother and his friend wanted tri tip, and my parents wanted porterhouse steaks. This was annoying. When I was a kid I never argued about dinner and always ate whatever everyone else wanted. (Actually, that is a slight major lie.) But I decided to make everyone what they wanted.

I grilled the porterhouse steaks for my parents. They were more rare than I intended (one of the burners was out on the grill and I did not notice it until the last minute) but my parents still liked them.

My mom made salad.

Elizabeth and I got ourselves a big piece of Chilean sea bass. I melted some butter on it and cracked some pepper and sprinkled some sea salt, then grilled it for a few minutes. It was delicious - firm and flaky. We squeezed lemon on it to give it a little bite.

I grilled a marinated-in-Burgundy-wine tri tip for my brother and his friend. My brother had said he wanted me to smoke it, but of course that would have taken several hours, which I did not have. He still said it was very good, but not as good at the tri tip we'd had the previous week at Wood Ranch.

Saturday morning I cooked some thick Amish bacon (which I did not take pictures of) and made a version of chilaquiles: tortilla chips, scrambled eggs, jack cheese with dill, and sharp cheddar, all under a deluge of Taco Lita hot sauce. Damn it was good.

Sunday evening, after hanging out in Old Town with some friends, we gave our friend and neighbor Tracie a ride home with us. We were trying to decide what to do for dinner. She suggested getting something at Whole Foods and cooking it. I suggested getting some sandwiches and going home and watching TV. Then Tracie had one of her brilliant ideas: getting In-N-Out and opening a bottle of wine on the patio. So that's what we did.

I will give anyone a dollar bill if they can convince me that this wasn't the perfect meal for the occasion.

The second least surprising news of the weekend was that USA basketball beat Angola 121-66. The least surprising news was that Popeyes beat KFC in a national taste test. Unless they sampled people who prefer flavorless, greasy chicken, that result was automatic. To celebrate the victory (well, really just to get some chicken and shrimp because the first two places we went were closed and Popeyes was close by) we stopped into Popeyes for lunch on Labor Day.

We had some buffalo nuggets and popcorn shrimp. The former were good but not great. Popeyes chicken nuggets and popcorn chicken are usually great, but these were kind of shriveled and I did not taste any buffalo flavor. But the chicken was still good. The popcorn shrimp were great.

I wanted something laid back for dinner Monday night, and Asian food - specifically egg rolls - sounded really good, so after a bit of discussion we decided to get dinner at Golden China. We got an order of egg rolls (good as always) and Elizabeth ordered her favorite item there: chicken with snow peas. I opted for the House Special Beef - crispy beef sauteed with tangerine peel and hot peppers.

Dinner was very good, as it always is. Equally as predictable, we had plenty of food to take home, which means I will probably be having Chinese food for breakfast a couple times this week. Which is not a bad thing.

We also both got the exact same fortune: "You will take a trip out of the country." I have had hundreds of Chinese meals in my life where it has just been me and one other person, and I do not ever remember us both getting the same fortune. So it must be true.


o0angie0o said...

Looks like you guys had a good weekend, disappointing review from Shakey's...there is one by me and I was thinking of checking it out and how could you mess up oreo pizza!

I actually just got back from Mexico this weekend and kept seeing chilaquiles on menus but always saw something else that looked better, yours looked pretty good wish I tried some down there. I do have to say I don't need to eat Mexican food again for a little while.

But hopefully you guys will be able to get out of the country sometime soon.

JustinM said...

I think you should definitely try Shakey's. I just can't recommend the one in Alhambra; this was my second time there and neither was particularly good. But other locations might still be good. (I ate at the Arcadia location about 4 years ago, shortly before they closed, and it was still great.)

My chilaquiles were definitely an Americanized version, but they were still delicious.

Nosh Gnostic said...

The grilled pizzas on Thursday evening were fabulous - too bad there are no pics.
It was my first time having a pizza from the grill and I really can't say enough about how awesome they were, so I'll stop right here.

JustinM said...

We'll do it sometime when I don't have to cook in the dark and I will make you some even better ones.

Unknown said...

Am I the only one that finds it odd that you got Panda Inn fortunes at Golden China?

JustinM said...

I actually did express surprise at that.