French Dipped Sandwich (the original) (Philippe, Los Angeles CA)


America’s Best Sandwich (possibly)

Philippe The Original French Dip Sandwich, L.A.
Philippe The Original French Dip Sandwich, L.A.


Neighborhood: Downtown L.A.

The Dish: The Original French Dipped Sandwich

The Best French Dip Sandwich is the Lamb Dip Sandwich. The beef and pork are good, but there is really nothing quite like the tenderness and flavor of the lamb dip sandwich.

Be sure to slather a little of the notorious, house-made mustard on the sandwich. For folks who like hot food, it’s a fire-starter if used in the proper proportions.

Lamb French Dipped Sandwich at Philippe

As sides, the potato salad’s quite good. There are lots of things on the menu, from old-school, hearty soups (navy bean, split pea) to pickled beets, eggs, and pigs’ feet, but most guys usually just barrel down on 2 or 3 sandwiches.

Philippe The Original Lamb French Dipped Sandwich

The Vibe: Really this ranks as one of my favorite places to eat of all time, for so many reasons. It’s over a century old and used to be the caterer when giant circuses came to town. It’s just a couple short blocks to Union Station and was the prime feeding ground for anyone riding the rails. it’s got the same vibe from a century ago: ancient booths and communal tables and bolted-down stools, sawdust strewn old flooring. And, during the decade or so I would occasion its giant hall in LA, it looks like most of the servers are the same, too.

Phillipe The Original is one of the few restaurants in L.A. that has the everyman feeling about it, that survived the times when just past Beverly Hills were orange groves and Malibu was barely heard of; a place that, for me, hearkens back to the Depression through the film noir era. Seems like a joint that a mug who’s down on his luck might scrape up enough for a bite.

The Damage: Lamb French Dip Sandwich $6.25

Beef, Pork, Ham, or Roasted Turkey French Dip $5.15

The Skinny: Philippe’s, The Original French Dipped Sandwich
1001 N. Alameda Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Phone: (213) 628-3781


Goulash (Johannes, Palm Springs CA)

The Spot: Johannes

The Dish: The second dish we tried at a recent visit to Johannes restaurant in Palm Springs CA was one of the nightly specials: the Hungarian-style goulash. I’ve been to Budapest and have sampled some classic and wonderful goulashes there, but again, Johannes stands out with a superior interpretation of a Continental classic. The goulash has a generous paprika flavor, more striking than most goulashes, and the bright peppery gravy lingered in the mouth as the slow-braised meat was devoured. The quality of the meat makes the Johannes Hungarian goulash a star.

The goulash is topped with a cruciform of pickle, a cap of sour cream of course, and comes with a nice big side dish of spaetzle. Highly recommended when it returns to the menu.

Hungarian Goulash with Spaetzle

The Skinny: Johannes
196 South Indian Canyon Drive (at Arenas)
Palm Springs, CA 92262
Phone: (760) 778-0017
Dinner only, Monday – Sunday 6:00pm to 10:00pm
Owner / Chef: Johannes Becher
Johannes website:

Filet Mignon (RNM, San Francisco CA)

RNM Restaurant, San Francisco, CA

The Dish: Filet Mignon

It’s hard to pass up a good filet mignon and RNM serves up a great one. The size of the steak is quite hearty. It’s a very nice plating, with an architectural stacking of onions and toast, steak, and the Upland cress, which look ready to launch off the steak platform at any moment. The sweet gorgonzola and wine demi-glace are perfectly balanced. Softness, sweetness, chewiness, crunch…it’s really a superior steak. Described on the menu as: Sautéed filet mignon on toasted pain levain with dolce gorgonzola, cippolini onions, cabernet demi glace and upland cress.

The Damage: $26

The Grade: Sterling (5 out of 5)

B-Sides + Killer Apps:

Here’s what I recommend as a starter for your steak at RNM Restaurant, San Francisco. Described on the menu as Grilled hearts of romaine with Fuji apples; Saint Agur cheese; toasted hazelnuts and a champagne vinaigrette.

This is one of my favorite salads in San Francisco: a very simple and delicious first plate. Like the filet mignon, it has a salty, sweet, crunchy glide…a great combination of flavor in perfect harmony.

The Damage: $9

The Grade: Sterling (5 out of 5)

RNM on Urbanspoon

RNM Restaurant – San Francisco, CA – Restaurant Review

RNM Restaurant, San Francisco

There are just a few restaurants I really love in the Lower Haight, and RNM is one of them. I’ve always eaten very well at RNM, and because it’s off the beaten tourist paths, it’s a great place for in-the-know tourists to dine in San Francisco. The food is consistently excellent, and I consider the portions generous, and a fair value for the prices.

The Vibe: RNM has an understated urban interior that’s clean but not boring, slick but not pretentious. It’s sophisticated but not trendy, just very tasteful interior design.

The Service: The service at RNM has been generally fine but not exceptional. An example: the last time we visited, our waitress was not very knowledgeable about distinctions between wine offerings on the wine list…seems like an obvious thing she should know. Not a huge letdown because the food rocked.

The Skinny: RNM restaurant

598 Haight Street (at Steiner)

San Francisco CA 94117

Phone: (415).551-7900

RNM website:

Dinner Only 5:30 to 10:00pm, Tues – Thurs; 5:30 to 11:00pm Fridays & Saturdays.

Owner/Chef: Justine Miner

Reserve a table at RNM via OpenTable

Read Yelp reviews of RNM

Filet Mignon (Colibri Mexican Bistro, SF)

The Word: I’ve eaten at Colibri Mexican Bistro numerous times over the last 2 years, and every dish I sampled has been superb. This restaurant is very much under the radar as far as SF foodies go. It’s not garnered a heap of critical praise and–thankfully– is not trendy enough to be overrun by hipsters. Which makes Colibri a great place for those in the know, craving a great meal.

The Dish: Filet Mignon
The perfectly succulent filet mignon at Coilbri Mexican Bistro arrives topped by an ancho chili cap stuffed with seasonal goat cheese. The steak sits atop beautifully mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach in a small fiery pond of chipotle chile sauce. It’s not a huge in size (really, only a few filet mignons will be), but it’s definitely huge on taste. It’s a phenomenally delicious meal, and feels like a real value for the price.

The Damage: $18

The Grade: Sterling (5 out of 5)
The rich filet mignon definitely pulls our highest marks. It’s the kind of steak you have, and two weeks later you think about it and find saliva on your chin.

Filet Mignon - Colibri Mexican Bistro, SF

B-Sides + Killer Apps: Fresh Guacamole, Tortillas, and Spicy Salsas
This is one of the few places where your waiter/waitress will come tableside to wield the mortar and pestle and smash up some fresh guacamole for you. There’s plenty guacamole for 2 or 3 people to share. It’s a fun presentation, and comes with a generous heap of fresh tortillas and sauces of varying hotness.

The Damage: $10

Fresh Guacamole & Salsas

The Skinny: Colibri Mexican Bistro
438 Geary St (at Mason St)
San Francisco, CA 94102
Phone: (415) 440-2737
Lunch, Dinner, and Weekend Brunch

Reserve via OpenTable

Colibri Mexican Bistro on Urbanspoon

Spice-Rubbed Quails (Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, St. Helena CA)

Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen – St. Helena CA – Restaurant Review

The Spot: Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, St. Helena CA (Napa Valley)

Cindy\'s Backstreet Kitchen, St. Helena CA

The Vibe: Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen is a really pleasant dining environment, a charming converted home (on a back street) that feels like a Northern California version of a New Orleans restaurant. You enter through a white picket fence and brick courtyard to the door; off to your right is a clever metal gate that’s sculpturally cut like corn stalks. There’s a lovely patio area outside, two rooms and a bar area downstairs in the house, and dining rooms upstairs as well.

The restaurant interior is rustic farmhouse white with black accents, awash in natural light from large windows. It’s got black and white striped fabric booths and black and white wallpaper; both feel like contemporary California interpretations of classic French décor. (Hey, a perfect metaphor for the food. We know Cindy’s smart!) There’s an eclectic (cool) art collection, including some great works in the rooms upstairs (which you can peruse en route to the loo).

Negative points for leaving the barside TVs on during lunch. Ugh. Downer. Send those kids and creeps to a sports bar. Even if the TVs were off, be warned that it can get a bit loud.

Corn Stalk Fence, Cindy\'s Backstreet Kitchen

The Service: We must be honest: it was really, really dreadful. Even on the most languorous day, we don’t want to wait so long for someone to bring bread, for someone to acknowledge us, for them to come back to take our order, and an excruciating wait to get the check.

The painfully slow service is really an issue that Cindy Pawlcyn or her management staff should resolve. Does anyone need a two-hour lunch? Even slow-moving tourists want to get to a vineyard.

The Dish: Spice-rubbed quails. Occasionally, Cindy’s offers another small roasted fowl like squab (commercially raised pigeon) instead of the standard quail dish.

Accompanied by roasted potatoes and a Moroccan pepper salad, it’s a decent amount of food that combines to make a savory, very enjoyable meal. You have to know that small birds do involve getting your hands dirty and gnawing. Like a rat, sort of, if you expect to get all the meat off.

We’d certainly return for a small bird dish or for Cindy’s other meaty temptations (but would pray for more attentive service next time).

Spiced-Rubbed Quail

The Damage: The spice-rubbed quails are $21.95, the top menu price.

The Grade: Very Good (2 out of 5)

The Skinny: Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen
1327 Railroad Avenue, St. Helena, CA
Phone: (707) 963-1200
Owner / Chef: Cindy Pawlcyn
Executive Chef: Pablo Jacinto

Australian, Grass-Fed Kangaroo Loin (Johannes, Palm Springs CA)

It’s not every day that someone this side of Sydney gets to dine upon kangaroo loin, so that’s what I ordered at Johannes in Palm Springs, CA. And it was excellent.

The Vibe: Understated décor, with comfy, white, high-back chairs, and a few cool paintings on the cool cantaloupe walls that reminded us of a couple of European cities.

The Dish: Australian, Grass-fed Kangaroo Loin. Wow; what a phenomenal dish from Johannes’ April menu. This goes on my list of favorite meaty dishes for 2008. It’s a clear indication of their commitment to excellent food.

The perfect loin was drizzled with an “organic wild blueberry port essence” that was rich but not heavy. For those who have not enjoyed kangaroo meat, it’s wonderfully lean, with a mild flavor and a texture between steak and (closer to) lamb. The kangaroo loin at Johannes was thick and lean, perfectly medium-rare, and tastier than any steak I’ve had in the past few years.

Australian Kangaroo Loin

The Damage: The kangaroo loin is $28.

Accompanied by large, tenderly grilled summer asparagus and a glazed Granny Smith apple, it’s a hearty, fantastic plate and a good value for the price. Being one of the best meat dishes I’ve enjoyed in the past couple of years, the only real damage is the inability to eat this more often.

The Grade: Sterling (5 out of 5)
The Skinny: Johannes
196 South Indian Canyon Drive (at Arenas)
Palm Springs, CA 92262
Phone: (760) 778-0017
Dinner only, Monday – Sunday 6:00pm to 10:00pm
Owner / Chef: Johannes Becher
Johannes website:
Johannes on Urbanspoon

Johannes – Palm Springs, CA – Restaurant Review


The Word: Don’t be fooled by OpenTable’s “top 10 booked restaurants” in Palm Springs, because people going to Palm Springs are not renowned for good taste. OpenTables’s Top 10 for Palm Springs always includes chain restaurants, and overrated Palm Springs steakhouses living on dusty reputations.

For my money, the best restaurant (at least the best I’ve been to thus far) in Palm Springs in Johannes. Among the half dozen restaurants we sampled during a recent trip to Palm Springs and Desert Hot Springs, no other restaurant came close to its exceptional food and service.

Owner-chef Johannes Bacher injects California freshness into a strong sampling of Continental fare from his native Austria and beyond. The meaty classics here include roasted duck breast, young lamb rack, pork loin, tenderloin steak, and a lauded version of wiener schnitzel. For non-carnivores, Johannes has great seafood dishes as well.

The Vibe: Clean, fairly minimal setting, with simple, high-backed white chairs and crisp white tablecloths. A few tasteful paintings (European landscapes, perhaps) decorate the main room, whose walls are painted a cooling, canteloupe color. The wine cellar has a see-through door that revealed messy stacks of wine boxes piled in among the neatly stacked bottles in the walls, but it was a tiny detriment.

The Service: The service was truly excellent: attentive and warm but non-intrusive. I give an extra commendation because we called to say we were running late (very close to the time of closing). The hostess was relaxed and encouraged us to get there whenever we could instead of the usual restaurant response (grief and consternation). When we arrived much earlier than we expected, she welcomed us and said it would have been OK if we would have been late. That is a rare gem of service in the restaurant business, so kudos to Johannes.

The Skinny: Johannes
196 South Indian Canyon Drive (at Arenas)
Palm Springs, CA 92262
Phone: (760) 778-0017
Dinner only, Monday – Sunday 6:00pm to 10:00pm
Owner / Chef: Johannes Becher
Johannes website: