Welcome to Dine & Dash, our new weekly food column. In it, our team will cast a critical eye toward individual dishes and drinks. As opposed to our full restaurant reviews, Dine & Dash is about quick samples, one or sometimes a few, aimed at providing just a taste of food and drink spots — good or bad. To paraphrase Anonymous: We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.
Some weeks we'll review around a theme, but for this inaugural column, we've gone anarchy-style to disparate outfits around the city.
We won't always use this space to explain our process: Some weeks we'll provide more details about a featured item or our theme. We just wanted to clue you in for round one. Enjoy.
Margarita at PineCreek
7350 Pine Creek Road, 598-8667, margaritaatpinecreek.com
It's a special occasion, and we go for chef Eric Viedt's ever-changing, five-course prix fixe menu ($40 per person). Everything's good, but one plate dominates: a Poblano chile stuffed with jack and white cheddar polenta, served with roasted veggies (butternut squash, wild mushrooms, leeks, cauliflower, rapini) and a stunning aji amarillo (Peruvian yellow chile) roasted corn sauce.
A tinge of sweetness leads, the corn's sugars blending with the squash's and highlighting the creamy polenta. Then the earthy, mild smolder of the aji amarillo hits that of the larger chile. It's a poignant redundancy, one that emerges yet again with the mushrooms. All is soft and rich.
"We like a little sweet with our heat," says Viedt, noting that versions of this dish tend to reappear at the Margarita, particularly near corn season's end in September. — Matthew Schniper
520 S. Tejon St., 633-3300, mccabestavern.com
The first time I encountered Greg Howard's lamb stew ($7.95/lunch, $12.95/dinner) was out of a paper cup served from a wheeled Coleman cooler. The cook was dishing to the drinking faithful in the back of the house at Bristol Brewing Co., with the rosemary-laced dish damn near stealing the show.
Eaten in its proper home at Howard's bar, McCabe's Tavern — home to soccer hooligans and pub quiz fans alike — the addicting concoction that features a gallon-plus of reduced Guinness comes in a large, flat bowl with chunky tomatoes over the top, an acidity to balance the starchy potatoes and tender lamb chunks, and a large slice of crumbly soda bread for sopping.
A lightly sour taste lingers, acting as a complementary note in a complex symphony. — Bryce Crawford
3604 Hartsel Drive, Suite C, 528-8884, tsingtaohouse.com
I've been ordering take-out and delivery from Tsingtao House for years, without ever having dined in. So I drop by, despite having been warned that service has fallen off. Sadly, it's not the service that ends up disappointing.
Making a point not to order my usuals, I try the lunch portion of Mongolian beef ($7.99), which comes with soup, an egg roll, rice and a fried wonton. The egg roll is standard. The soup, however, arrives lukewarm, giving the impression that if it ain't hot, it ain't fresh. The beef's sauce is tight and slightly sweet and the meat is tender and delicious, but it's overshadowed by a mountain of onions and bell peppers.
Tsingtao's will remain a go-to, but I'd like more of that lovely meat and less filler. — Monika Mitchell Randall