Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Tractor Room

Our November restaurant pick: The Tractor Room, located in Hillcrest, north west of Balboa Park in San Diego.

Atmosphere: Dark and brooding with a hip, old-fashioned hunter/farmer feel. We loved the antler chandelier, the rich colors, and the long wooden family table that gave a homey feel to the meal. The cow skin chairs at the bar and thick curtains covering the door completed the look.

What we drank: Elisabeth had the Organic Margarita: Casa Noble organic silver, lime, organic agave, Cointreau, glacier ice with a grey salt rim. Jen requested the Roman Holiday but was told they were out of the ingredients so she went with the Purple Bowtie: muddled fresh lime, Matusalem rum, purple basil, clover honey.

Appetizers: We shared two, the Smoked Salmon and Rock Shrimp Cakes with Crisp Crostini and the Cornmeal Crusted Calamari with Famous Chili Mayo.

Entrees: Jen had the Venison Meatloaf, and Elisabeth ordered the Filet Mignon Skewers. For our sides (sold separately!), Elisabeth picked the Acorn Squash with Bacon Maple Farmer's Butter, while Jen chose the Smoked Wisconsin Cheddar Mac & Cheese.

Dessert: Just one this time - we were getting full! We had the chocolate cheesecake with peanut butter topping and caramel sauce.

Elisabeth's take:
The margarita was good and strong - a delicious starter, but in hindsight it didn't really jive with the food or atmosphere. I sipped Jen's Purple Bowtie and really liked the tangy sweetness of it; I would have ordered that if there had been room for a second drink!

That black skillet cornbread with the chives and honey butter? Heavenly. The appetizers we ordered pale in comparison to this complimentary starter. The calamari was disappointing; it was devoid of flavor without the spicy mayo that accompanied it. The crab cakes were okay; a little on the bland side by themselves, but if you take a bit of the potatoes with the cakes, the flavor and texture improve a bit.

The filet mignon skewers I ordered, however, redeemed the Tractor Room by leaps and bounds. The seasoning was just right, they were cooked perfectly, and I wound up thoroughly enjoying myself. And my acorn squash side was like Thanksgiving & breakfast in one: maple syrup? Yes. Tender, nutty acorn squash? Yes! Melted together with butter and bacon? Yes. It's a half-squash served in-skin, and I ate half at dinner. The other half was gobbled down the next morning. Must replicate at home!

The chocolate cheesecake was dense and delicious. I usually like my chocolate on the lighter, fluffier side, but this one was surprisingly smooth and a ice way to cap off a good dinner.

Jen's take: 
I'm not sure why but I haven't had any luck with drinks at the last few restaurants we’ve been to. At the Tractor Room we were a bit overwhelmed by the number of drinks on the menu, which I suppose isn't necessarily a bad thing. After finally settling on the Roman Holiday I was told they were out of some key ingredients. I quickly switched to the Purple Bowtie which was good but not special. The purple basil was supposed to be look like a bowtie in the presentation but sort of just floated around my drink, a bit of a disappointment all around.

Crab cakes are a favorite of mine so I was excited to try the salmon and shrimp cakes. Again, they were good though not amazing. The accompanying sauce could have made them better but was a strange horseradish flavor that didn't go with the dish. The calamari was lacking in flavor and the accompanying sauce was little more than Sriracha in a bowl. I wouldn’t order either again. The only good thing about the first half of our meal was the black skillet cornbread with honey butter. It came with our meal and was better than the appetizers we paid for!

I was a bit worried about our meal after the lackluster drinks and appetizers. But, dinner is where the food began to shine. My venison meatloaf was mouth-watering. The portion was huge and I knew I would be bringing some home but each time I stopped I kept coming back for more. This dish is what all the hype is about. It was flavorful, complex, a meal in itself. Usually the hubby gets my leftovers but this one I kept for me. I was a bit put off by having to order and pay for separate sides but both were delicious. The acorn squash Elisabeth got was surprisingly good considering I don’t care much for acorn squash and the mac and cheese was everything you want in a gourmet mac and cheese.

Dessert was delicious if rich. A perfect dish to share, the chocolate cheesecake was complex and the toppings added to the overall flavor.

The verdict: For the price everything should have been amazing. The main dishes and sides were but the rest of our meal was lacking. We won't be heading back soon but maybe would return with friends. reviewers average 4 stars for The Tractor Room. We think a 3.5!

Best Bites,
Elisabeth & Jen

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Bankers Hill Bar and Restaurant

Our October restaurant pick: Bankers Hill Bar and Restaurant, located in Bankers Hill, just north of downtown San Diego and west of Balboa Park.

Atmosphere: Barn-meets-garden-meets-glass warehouse. We loved the succulent plant "art" on the wall, which the host told us was grown in the owner's backyard before transferred to the restaurant's patio area. There were a few light fixtures made of wine glasses and glass bottles which intrigued us, and the high-beamed ceilings inside added a rustic touch.

What we drank: Elisabeth had the Rum Ramos martini: rum, lemon, egg whites, sugar, and orange cream soda. Jen had the #5 (gin, lime, St. Germaine, cucumber & basil), followed by the grapefruit martini: grapefuit vodka, lemon, and sciracha.

Appetizers: We split the Deviled Farmer's Market Eggs and the Braised Bacon-Green Apple Salad.

Entrees: Jen had the Crispy BBQ Braised Pork Tacos, and Elisabeth ordered the BH Burger with Truffle Fries.

Dessert: We split the Butterscotch Pudding and Chocolate Cake.

Elisabeth's take: Apparently there's a new trend in cocktails: adding egg whites. Though it originally gave me the shivers to even think about it, it's yummy. It gave my drink the perfect touch of creaminess. None of the ingredients was overpowering, and although I love a sugary drink, it wasn't overpoweringly sweet. So delicious, I had two! Impressive. The deviled eggs were amazing. Little capers everywhere... the texture and taste were such a creamy and wonderful combination I could have happily ordered a few more and had them suffice for my dinner. And the chips that came with them were the size of our heads. The bacon and apple salad was great too, but a bit salty... maybe influenced overmuch by the bacon? Hard to tell, as the bacon sat off to the side and was superb in its own right. I liked the crunch of the apple salad (and more of a slaw, I thought), but the salt needed something else to tone it down...

My go-to at a new place is almost always their burger. I can't resist a good burger, and this one didn't let me down. It was moist and the heirloom tomatoes atop added an elegance I appreciated. The truffle fries were the perfect side: salty but with a depth of flavor from the truffle that was unexpected and really enjoyable.

The butterscotch pudding, much-hyped, was great! A good balance of cream and sweet. The top was almost like a creme brulee, but underneath was very special. I liked the chocolate cake, too; it was denser than I usually enjoy and the chocolate-covered pretzel sticks on top weren't much to note. But what really stood out was the accompanying banana-caramel ice cream. I could have had much more of that deliciousness and been so happy!

Jen's take: I normally love a drink that includes gin but The #5 was a disappointment. It lacked flavor and, for the first time ever, I returned a drink to the bar. But my replacement, The Grapefruit Martini recommended by our server, made up where the previous drink failed. The Absolut and lemon brought a nice sour note that was oddly complemented by the Sriracha. In fact, all of our server's recommendations that night turned out delicious. Second on his list were the deviled eggs with housemade potato chips. I was having trouble imagining how to make deviled eggs fancy but BHBR did an excellent job. They were creamy and flavorful and the capers added a nice element. The housemade potato chips I could take or leave but that may have more to do with my general dislike of chips than the quality of the ones we received. I also loved the bacon and apple salad even with the salty overtones. All the flavors and textures combined nicely on the tongue. If we return I would order it again.

For dinner I was vacillating between the Spice Rubbed Idaho Trout and the Crispy BBQ Braised Pork tacos and again our server came through. Although I imagine both items are superb and will probably order the trout should we return the tacos ended up being an amazing choice. There wasn’t much to them, mostly meat, but the flavors were enough all on their own. A nice added touch was a side of pineapple in mint cherry vinaigrette. I could have eaten a large bowlful of these and highly recommended asking for a few if you eat there.

Dessert was the oddest part of the night. As a chocolate fan I insisted on the chocolate cake figuring the sweet salty combination would be a certain win. I wouldn’t have given the butterscotch pudding a second thought if not for the recommendation of a friend and our server who had already proven his worth. The cake was a disappointment, too salty (seeing a theme here), lacking in flavor, and dry. Unsurprisingly I didn’t care for the ice cream as I don’t like banana flavoring. The butterscotch pudding, however, was all that the hype made it to be. Smooth and creamy, deliciously flavored, I would definitely order it again.

The verdict: In spite of the saltiness of some dishes Bankers Hill Bar & Restaurant is a great place. The food was delicious, the atmosphere just hip enough, and the service superb. Not only would we recommend this restaurant, but we also hope to return very soon. reviewers average 4 stars for Bankers Hill Bar & Restaurant. We think a 5!

Best Bites,
Elisabeth & Jen

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Rare Can Be Well Done

Greetings! This is us in 2003. Fast friends in grad school and frequenters of the best coffee shops in San Diego as we munched on the most delicious muffins and made our way towards our Masters' degrees.

Fast forward a few years, and we both find ourselves married, mothers, and immersed in all things family. It's tough to find time to maintain our friendship! Years ago, we made a commitment to each other to meet monthly for a meal out. We sample the trendiest, newest, or simply yummiest restaurants we can think of, and bond over cocktails and cuisine.

San Diego has a lot to offer us, and we have enjoyed our monthly nights out so much that we wanted to share a "bite" of it with you. So here's to the best we've found for a rare night out. Bon appetit!

Elisabeth & Jen