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    Post #1 - May 21st, 2007, 1:59 pm
    Post #1 - May 21st, 2007, 1:59 pm Post #1 - May 21st, 2007, 1:59 pm
    Just returned from a journey to the Bay Area and as expected had quite the culinary adventure.
    The first meal of note was a dinner at Zatar in Berkeley, an all- organic Mediterranean restaurant. The meal began with an amuse of the restaurants namesake- Za-atar spice mixture mixed with olive oil, in which fresh whole wheat flatbread is dipped. It tasted of dried herbs, sesame, and sumac. Very delicious.
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    I ordered the organic lamb chops, which were perfectly medium rare and succulent, served over an earthy bed of bulgur and strewn with assorted grilled organic veggies. The simplicity of the meal really let the freshness of the ingredients sing, though dabs of house-made harissa punctuated the meal with a high heat kick.
    Image
    My eating schedule for day 2 would be a busy one, so Indian pizza for breakfast it was:
    Zante on the south end of Mission, SF
    Image
    Image
    The pizza was much more delicately balanced than I had imagined- rather than naan slopped with curry sauce, the nicely tandoored flatbread was dusted in garam masala and studded with garlic, ginger, and cilantro- all applied with a heavy hand, though well proportioned. Cheese was cheap pizza motz and the chicken tikka chunks were unexceptional, but the overall flavor was a great cross cultural mashup. Also a bonus to dining at this establishment in the early hours was bottomless cups of Chai tea shared along with good conversation with the waitstaff.

    Lunch was enjoyed at the LTH recommended R & G Lounge in China town.
    Salt and Pepper shrimp was great, though I must say that I've had comparable renditions at LTH and Ken Kee.
    Before:
    Image
    and after:
    Image
    Clams baked in special sauce:
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    The clams were super fresh and much more special than the corn starched clear gravy.
    Lettuce cups with seafood rounded things out:
    Image
    Could have used more spice, but pine nuts added a nice crunch. I must say, though this was my only foray into SF Chinese food, I think that we are doing pretty well here.

    Dinner that night was by far the highlight of the trip. My sister's favorite restaurant, Burma Super Star, in the slightly inaccessible neighborhood of Inner Richmond, offers a shockingly flavorful and fresh intoduction to a cuisine with which I had little experience. The wait here was half a dozen tables deep, evidence of the fanatical following this glorious food deserves. The flavors provided a crossroads of Indian, Chinese, and South east Asian influences, some dishes leaning very firmly in any of these directions. Our starters, however, were revelations in sensation that words cannot describe. Nor pictures- and I must add a disclaimer that the frenzy of which my dining party attacked these plates, the chance to snap poised and steady pictures was tricky. So I apologize, these aren't the best.
    First up, Samusa soup:
    Image
    Samusas are apparently cousins of samosas, though melting away in soup format, certain chunks were kind of indistinguishable, texture-wise. The broth was a deep rich cury, thickened with lentil. Bits of crunchy cabbage offered textural variation. The forementioned samusas bits were in part deeply curried potatoes and the other elements had an almost falafel like quality, tasting fried and texturally course ground. This soup was unlike anything I have ever eaten and was amazing.
    Next, Tea Leaf salad, as it arrived at the table:
    Image
    The ingredients, clockwise from top: fresh diced tomato, peanuts, fried garlic, deepfried and curried lentils, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, dried shrimp, sliced jalapeno and the minced tea leaves center, all on a bed of lettuce chiffonade.
    and then tossed, dressed with freshly squeezed lemon, and portioned by our server:
    Image
    The salad had that perfect, nearly mystical balance of flavors and textures, crunchy, soft, sour, savory. The tea leaves added a fermented funkiness and my guess is that they were brined and possibly imported canned. Again, I do not think that I can appropriately describe the deliciousness of this salad. I am going to look for the tea leaves and attempt to reproduce this at home.
    Unfortunately, my dining companions had less than adventurous tastes and boycotted many of my suggestions. I really enjoy eating family style, but it becomes a drag when those with certain preferences are shut out of the ordering process. I slipped through with an order of lamb curry, though my choice of "spicy" was vetoed by a member of the table.
    The lamb curry:
    Image
    The meat was certainly succulent and fork- tender, though I cannot help but feel that something was lost in translation with the call of the mild. This was not the Gang Hung lay ala Sticky Rice that I was hoping for. Oh and BTW, my first choice was pork curry, but 2 of 5 were not fond of things porcine (they didnt eat the lamb either).
    Citrus chicken was surprising:
    Image
    It was grilled and then simmered in a sauce of wine and lemon juice, served as whole thighs and topped with ground peanuts. It was very rich and had an chicken vesuvio quality about it. A nice and surprising dish.
    The other dishes, not pictured included a Sesame chicken, which while crisp and fresh had a pedestrian Chinese food aspect as did the Super Star shrimp, which had a definite Szechaun cilli blast and were nicely caramelized, but were also somehow underwhelming after the first few dishes. The rices were really nice- a coconut rice and a cardamon infused pilau.

    My last meal was super fine, a fried chicken sandwich from Bakesale Betty's in the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland:
    Image
    The line around the block indicated that this local favorite would be quite the treat. Apparently, Betty, decked out in a blue wig, is a Chez Panisse veteran. The bakery had a Chicago punk rock bakery vibe, ala Bleeding Heart. I only tried the fried chicken sandwich, which was awesome. The chicken was fine, thickly breaded and super peppery boneless breast. The slaw on the sandwich was amazing, dressed in viniarette and nicely incorporated with finely sliced green pepper. The roll was chewy and really fresh. A dab of hot sauce and a slathering of mayo made this a class act sandwich.

    Zatar
    1981 Shattuck Ave.
    Berkeley, CA 94704
    (510) 841-1981

    Zante Pizza
    3489 Mission St
    San Francisco, CA 94110
    (415) 821-3949

    R&G Lounge
    631 Kearny Street
    San Francisco, CA 94108
    (415)982-7877

    Burma Super Star
    309 Clement St
    San Francisco, CA
    94118-2315
    Phone: (415) 387-2147

    Bakesale Betty's
    5098 Telegraph Avenue
    (between 49th St & 51st St)
    Oakland, CA 94609
    (510) 985-1213
  • Post #2 - May 21st, 2007, 11:13 pm
    Post #2 - May 21st, 2007, 11:13 pm Post #2 - May 21st, 2007, 11:13 pm
    Great post! I know it's way past time I was back in the Bay area, but this just adds places I love to the list.

    I am a huge fan of Zante's. It really comes off well, better than a cynic might believe possible. Last time I was at Khan BBQ eating naan I was once again stricken with a fantasy that someone in Chicago would take a crack at the Indian pizza market. Admittedly, the dough at Zante is much less naan-like (they do, after all, make regular American style pizza too) -- but look at the love piled upon these artisanal pizza joints here in Chicago. Someone with a little gumption might really be able to do something. (Or is Chicago just too conservative for such an idea?)

    I did have Chicken Tikka pizza from Tahoora once, but it was disappointing because it was just lumps of meat on a regular cheese pizza. The pleasure of Zante's is the mixture of Indian-style vegetables, a much more thorough taste experience.
    Joe G.

    "Whatever may be wrong with the world, at least it has some good things to eat." -- Cowboy Jack Clement
  • Post #3 - May 30th, 2007, 3:31 pm
    Post #3 - May 30th, 2007, 3:31 pm Post #3 - May 30th, 2007, 3:31 pm
    The funny thing about Zante is I usually go there for the indian as it is decent and just down the hill from where I live - and yes, the pizza is pretty unusual but it is also not the only Indian Pizza place in San Francisco!

    However you missed some really amazing options right along the same eating row.

    One small correction, Zante (and all of Mission between Caesar Chavez and Cortland/30th) is probably more accurately described as Bernal Heights than as the Mission proper - though it is where the line gets blurry.

    In that area in no particular order here are my favorites for a future visit:

    Mitchell's Ice Cream
    688 San Jose Ave
    San Francisco, CA 94110
    (415) 648-2300
    http://www.mitchellsicecream.com

    This family run ice cream shop supplies most of the other ice cream (and many restaurants) around San Francisco with a wide range of flavors, all made fresh on the premises since the 1950's. There will be a line here nearly from when they open in the morning until 11pm, year round. I'm not alone in having waited over 30 minutes to get a cone here (and it is well worth it). I think currently they have FIVE varieties of coconut amongst the nearly 50 flavors available (including a very diverse mix of asian flavors as well as extremely good more traditional offerings).

    The Front Porch
    65 29th St
    San Francisco, CA 94110
    (415) 695-7800
    http://www.thefrontporchsf.com

    This is southern food by way of the slow food/Californian/Alice Waters school of cooking. Many people don't get past the amazing Fried Chicken. Grits that are so good my business partner insisted we return the next night - mostly so he could order another bowl of the grits. Fried Chicken Livers (which are amazing). Basically anything here is great - and the daily specials usually sublime. They also always have at least one vegan daily special - so this is a great place to go with vegan friends (and you can happily get the chicken livers and other meats). I'm not a vegan yet I not infrequently get their vegan specials as they are always very tasty and seasonal.

    Pad Thai
    3259 Mission St
    San Francisco, CA 94110
    (415) 285-4210
    http://www.padthaisf.com

    Okay so while Thai food in SF can be very good, I haven't yet found SF's version of TAC Quick (or though I have yet to have a good meal there, Spoon). Most Thai places in SF seem not to have "secret" menus or Thai only dishes (though perhaps they do but SF does not have an Eric M to translate the menus).

    That said the rather dully named Pad Thai on Mission St does have a surprisingly deep menu, with a page of specials that include a lot to explore. I haven't yet gotten through the whole menu (need to go back eith many more people more frequently) but there are some real gems. In particular I love their "egg bomb" which is minced, spicy basil chicken served over two fried eggs. Simple yet really tasty - and they will serve it at noticeable spice levels. As per their name, decent Pad Thai as well I also often order the very large portion of curry chicken wings - which are served in a very rich curry sauce and make for a great meal.

    I still have a dozen or so more Thai places to try at least once, and need to go back with larger groups to quite a few places before I write up my Thai food findings for San Francisco (and Berkeley & Oakland would add even more to cover - in Berkeley for example there is a truly excellent Thai Grocery which is larger than many chain groceries - and serves very good prepared meals, plus the very well known Thai Temple weekend meals which are served by the monks at a local Thai temple)

    But for every day, just down the hill from me, Pad Thai is very decent option (and the other three places also nearby are quite worthy as well, though each have their better and worse dishes).

    Angkor Borei Restaurant
    3471 Mission Street
    (between Brook St & Cortland Ave)
    San Francisco, CA 94110
    http://www.cambodiankitchen.com

    One of the true gems of Bernal Heights/Mission St. This smallish storefront restaurant serves a really exceptional range of dishes from Cambodia. Many are similar to the more familiar Thai dishes, but there are many dishes with influences from throughout the region. The service here is extremely friendly and will offer many suggestions (and are not afraid to suggest dishes that would in many other places not be suggested to western diners - the fish mouse for example which is both unique and exceptional). I love their simple yet tasty grilled beef appetizers but many people rave about their crepes, spinach leaves and more. Curries here are also excellent. If you take a look at the menu and think "hmm sounds like Thai" go give it a try - the flavors are different. After Front Porch, Angkor Borei has quickly become my favorite place on the block (and as this rather long list shows - it is quite some block).

    Emmy's Spaghetti Shack
    18 Virginia Ave
    San Francisco, CA 94110
    (415) 206-2086

    This is a punk rock meets family (as in kids) friendly place. DJ's play live sets on many evenings, the menu is small and seasonal, the dishes very tasky and the prices reasonable. I've only been a few times but enjoyed myself - and there was a mix of people on dates, large groups of friends, and extended families dining. The menus are presented in picture frames (and on only one page). It is a great place for kids - but the food (and the music) are friendly for adults. Plus they are open late. In short a fantastic local place to get a good meal. Simple - but with great ingredients and a loving preparation.

    Inkas Restaurant
    3299 Mission St
    San Francisco, CA 94110
    (415) 648-0111

    A simple Peruvian place. Not as fancy as the many neuvo-Peruvian places around San Francisco (which are among some of SF's best and worth going to as well). This is where to get an amazing bargain for lunch, and a very good bargain for dinner. For me it is hard to get past their Chicken, which I think may be the best Chicken in the area (and with The Front Porch and "Good Frickin' Chicken across the street also in contention - that's saying something). Very simple - Chicken, spiced and roasted, served with fries. Your only decision is half or a whole - and how much of their really excellent sauce to use up as you eat. Don't neglect to try the Chica Morida (purple corn drink) which is sweet and spicy and goes great with the chicken. For lunch they have daily specials as well as the half chicken + soup to start for $10. One of SF's hidden gems and bargains.

    As you walk up and down Mission you'll notice I haven't yet talked about the dozen or so Mexican/South American restaurants along these blocks, the couple of sushi places, the chinese places, the other Indian restaurant, or the other American and Italian restaurants. In short in these few blocks are enough different places to eat out for month without repeating.

    I'll try to post more individual restaurant reviews as well as find photos from my dining out this past year+ since I moved to San Francisco from Chicago.
  • Post #4 - May 30th, 2007, 3:52 pm
    Post #4 - May 30th, 2007, 3:52 pm Post #4 - May 30th, 2007, 3:52 pm
    I like Burma Super Star, but it's a tiny place with only like 12 tables so prepare for a lengthy wait. However, they will take your cell phone number and call you when your table is opening up, so you can wander down Clement St for a drink or three.
    When I grow up, I'm going to Bovine University!
  • Post #5 - June 3rd, 2007, 1:38 am
    Post #5 - June 3rd, 2007, 1:38 am Post #5 - June 3rd, 2007, 1:38 am
    Shannon,

    Try Thai Time on 8th ave between California and Geary. It's one of my favorite thai restaurants anywhere.

    (I grew up in the city.)

    AZ
    Let the wild rumpus start!
  • Post #6 - June 9th, 2010, 3:49 pm
    Post #6 - June 9th, 2010, 3:49 pm Post #6 - June 9th, 2010, 3:49 pm
    Jefe wrote:Dinner that night was by far the highlight of the trip. My sister's favorite restaurant, Burma Super Star, in the slightly inaccessible neighborhood of Inner Richmond, offers a shockingly flavorful and fresh intoduction to a cuisine with which I had little experience.


    Dinner at Burma Superstar capped off a wonderful weekend of eating in San Francisco. I, too, have had little, if any, experience with this cuisine, and I just loved the seamless fusion of the various cuisines that infiltrate Burmese food. The entire menu looked great, and it was difficult to limit myself to a reasonably-sized dinner.

    For me, the highlight was the Samusa soup (pictured below). This was a bowl of pleasing contrasts. Used in a soup, samusas take on the slippery texture of a Chinese soup dumpling, but with the filling of a traditional Indian samosa. The entirely vegetarian curry broth also includes broken falafel, and is a perfect balance of sweet, heat and sourness (attained from cabbage -- really the only free-floating vegetable in this hearty stew).

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    Samusa soup/Jefe's photo

    The Tea Leaf salad was also an exercise in balance. Only lightly dressed with lemon, this salad gets its flavor from its myriad of ingredients (fried lentils, peanuts, lettuce, tea (sourced in Burma by the restaurant), chiles, fried garlic and tomato. Oh, how I wish I could eat something this good on a regular basis! As mentioned above, the curries are quite good -- they don't hit you over the head with spices; these are muted, restrained, and elegant versions with beautifully braised, fall-off-the-bone meat. Don't forget to order their refreshing drink of beer, lemonade and ginger.

    The service we had at Burma Superstar was efficient and slick like a four-star restaurant. Organized, capable host shuffles the crowds well, and service is team-style as certain servers do tableside prep, others take your order, and make sure your beverages are filled and your check paid quickly.

    There is usually a wait here -- sometimes an hour or more. If you wait, the restaurant will take your cell phone and call you when your table is ready. A wait at Burma Super Star is as good a time as ever to explore the old dive bars in Richmond. If you can look past the shabbiness, or the preserved quaintness, many still retain a historical feel -- even fireplaces in some -- and make for an enjoyable quaff or two. To name a couple nearby, The Bitter End, with its backroom bar, feels like an illicit Old West speakeasy. The weathered Clement Street Bar & Grill retains a certain proudness, like it may have been the fancy place to go to 50 years ago.

    Burma Superstar
    309 Clement St
    San Francisco, CA
    94118-2315
    Phone: (415) 387-2147

    The Bitter End
    441 Clement Street
    San Francisco, CA‎
    (415) 221-9538‎

    Clement Street Bar & Grill
    708 Clement Street
    San Francisco, CA‎
    (415) 386-2200‎
  • Post #7 - June 10th, 2010, 3:42 pm
    Post #7 - June 10th, 2010, 3:42 pm Post #7 - June 10th, 2010, 3:42 pm
    aschie30 wrote:The weathered Clement Street Bar & Grill retains a certain proudness, like it may have been the fancy place to go to 50 years ago.


    Yes, 50 yrs ago, the Clement St. Bar and Grill *was* a fancy place to go! In fact, in grad school I had a girl friend who lived just a tad west of there, and all of Clement St. was pretty nice, lots of good places to eat and drink. Used to be a Russian enclave someplace further west, too, in Outer Richmond. In the 60s, Clement St. was one of SF's most interesting streets.

    Have to try the Burmese next time I'm in the neighborhood...

    Geo
    Sooo, you like wine and are looking for something good to read? Maybe *this* will do the trick! :)
  • Post #8 - June 15th, 2010, 6:02 am
    Post #8 - June 15th, 2010, 6:02 am Post #8 - June 15th, 2010, 6:02 am
    aschie30 wrote:Dinner at Burma Superstar capped off a wonderful weekend of eating in San Francisco.‎
    Nice writeup, having had just an ok meal, aside from tea leaf salad, at Mandalay, Burma Superstar is high on my SF list.
    Sauce on the side, always, implied, axiomatic..........never a doubt, BBQ sauce without.

    Low & Slow
  • Post #9 - September 6th, 2010, 3:39 pm
    Post #9 - September 6th, 2010, 3:39 pm Post #9 - September 6th, 2010, 3:39 pm
    Over the next 11 months, I will be posting on Bay Area restaurants on this thread. This is my first essay - on the restaurant Baker & Banker, a restaurant named after the Chef (Jeff Banker) and Pastry Chef (Lori Baker) - I assumed that they were making some kind of political statement, but not so:

    As a visitor to the Bay Area I stumbled upon Baker & Banker as I was going to the theater in the area (I was looking for Quince, which I gather closed a year ago), and while I was not astonished by the restaurant, I was pleased. It reminds me of a restaurant that one might find on Brooklyn's Smith Street row. Sophisticated, casual, a little clubby, with competently prepared modern cuisine with a few gaffes. As was noted, the wine program is very fine. I was directed to an excellent red Languedoc. The food was creatively designed although the execution was more casual (On a four-point scale, I consider B&B to be a solid two star restaurant - on the five point scale, I awarded a third star, just to be congenial). The appetizer was a octopus and watermelon salad with sea beans. I was startled that the watermelon cubes were not seeded. Surely one would expect this at a more ambitious restaurant (or perhaps this simply meant that the dish was "interactive"). The main course was pork cooked three ways - an excellent and robust pork belly, a tasty spiced lamb shoulder sausage, and a rather dull and slightly dry pork loin. These were covered with a fig salad, which had the effect of leaving a pool of liquid upon finishing the dishes. It was a nice conception but an execution that needs work. B&B serves a very fine slice of warm sweet potato bread. Oddly it was placed in the same bread basket with a room temperature slice of wheat bread, which became warm in contact with the yam-slice. Choose a temperature and have at it.

    Dessert was sweet and tasty, if somewhat unambitious: Doughnut holes with ice cream and pluot jam. Sweet as a summer day, but working within the conventions of dessert.

    In all, Baker and Banker is a solid, cheerful neighborhood restaurant. If I lived in the area (near Van Ness and Bush), I could see myself dining there regularly, but it is not quite a destination restaurant.

    * Baker & Banker
    1701 Octavia Street, San Francisco, CA 94109
    Toast, as every breakfaster knows, isn't really about the quality of the bread or how it's sliced or even the toaster. For man cannot live by toast alone. It's all about the butter. -- Adam Gopnik
  • Post #10 - September 19th, 2010, 3:30 pm
    Post #10 - September 19th, 2010, 3:30 pm Post #10 - September 19th, 2010, 3:30 pm
    Saisons Greetings – Saison – San Francisco

    When I arrived at Saison, I was uncertain what to expect. The restaurant is tucked away in a slightly sketchy courtyard in the lively but mixed industrial Mission district. Saison has been open a few months now, but doesn’t have the buzz-factor of a restaurant such as Benu.

    The website indicates that the chef, Joshua Skenes, prefers using “primitive techniques” such as ember and ash cooking. Could wooly mammoth be in the offing? (Much of the rest of the description of Saison’s philosophy seems industrial-strength farm-to-table boilerplate.) Skenes had been chef at Chez TJ, and the website mentions, somewhat oddly, that Skenes had received perfect grades while a student at the French Culinary Institute of New York, akin to advertising a cardiologist’s medical school transcript.

    Upon entering the stylish 2010 comfort space one is confronted with a large brick fireplace filled with those embers mentioned above. No need to sit on rocks, using bone implements.

    Although one might imagine that a restaurant that embraced its inner Cro-Magnon might lean toward muscular protein, Saison dances with vegetables, and waltzes well. This night the protein was secondary (and, in fact, a radish plate was replaced with mackerel, and had radishes been at peak only a single dish, squab, would have been starred animal protein).

    Dinner began with Tomatoes and Melons with Riesling Vinegar, a lovely, if brief, amalgam of garden and field. The dish hovered between sweet fruit and tart vegetable, as is proper for tomato inspiration, bolstered by a grapy vinegar. The presentation was calm and supple with a slight aspic air. (The amuse – caviar and corn beignet – came next, a successful mini-bite).

    Image
    Saison - San Francisco - September 2010 - Tomatoes and Melons with Riesling Vinegar by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    This was followed by Wild Horse Mackerel with Anise Hyssop. No fish farm is known as “Wild Horse,” although it seems as plausible as “Dirty Girl Produce” or “Wild Crane Springs Ranch” or “Riverdog Farms,” all purveyors to Saison. Here wild is an adjective to indicate that the Horse Mackerel (known to sushi fans as aji) was not farmed. The fish is very popular in Japan and deservedly so. While there was not a strong anise flavor, the presentations of mackerel, meaty and sculptural were supremely pleasing.

    Image
    Saison - San Francisco - September 2010 - Wild Horse Mackerel and Anise Hyssop by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    The third dish was Garden Beans in Various Forms with River Vegetable (a plant found at the edge of streambeds). Again, Chef Skenes revealed a sure green touch. The combination of legume and leaf matched symphonically, demonstrating again that vegetarians (though not vegans) may be the leading force of contemporary cuisine.

    Image
    Saison - San Francisco - September 2010 - Garden Beans and River Vegetable by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Tokyo Turnips Roasted over the Embers, Shaved Raw and Poached with Bonito, was the high point of the night. Texture took precedence although the smoky, burnt edges certainly did their part. While this was not quite a vegetarian dish, like so many dishes it was blissfully vegocentric: edging toward a religious marriage of earth and fire.

    Image
    Saison - San Francisco - September 2010 - Ember-Roasted Tokyo Turnips Poached with Bonito by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Surely the most courageous dish of the night was the presentation of Silver Queen and Red Flint Okra with Wild Seaweeds and Sweetfish. Okra is the vegetable that it is fashionable to hate, understandable when boiled and turned into mucilage. These okras were less so, but you while you can remove okra from the slime, it is harder to remove slime from the okra. I admired the moment – didn’t hate it – but my admiration was for a brave chef, rather than a lusty dish. The mixture revealed a serious commitment to modern cuisine with its accompaniments. Still better okra is not as delicious a good anything-else.

    Image
    Saison - San Francisco - September 2010 - Okra with Seaweed and Sweetfish by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    The marquee protein was a composition of Four Story Hills Squab, roasted in Fig Leaf, Adriatic Figs, Cave Mascarpone, and Rosebud (Four Story Hills is a farm, not a squab varietal). It was beautiful and lush – squab presented several textured ways with a rich combination of fig and cheese. Perhaps it was not the beef that Saison’s fireplace might produce, but in its gamey way it was glorious.

    Image
    Saison - San Francisco - September 2010 - Squab Roasted in Fig Leaf, Figs, Mascarpone and Rosebud by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Desserts were less elaborate, although suitable to the end of an evening. At Saison it is the vegetables, not the sugars, that matter. The first selection was Autumn Flame Peaches (a variety), ember roasted and peach sorbet with milk granite. The powdered milk didn’t do much for me, but the roasted peaches were a wonderful tribute to September.

    Image
    Saison - San Francisco - September 2010 - Ember Roasted Autumn Flame Peaches with Sorbet and Milk Granite by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Finally Summer Berries in their Consommé with Yuzu Ice Cream was a perfectly appropriate close to dinner. If not startling, the berries were juicy and well-matched.

    Image
    Saison - San Francisco - September 2010 - Summer Berries in Consomme with Yuzu Ice Cream by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    I was delighted by Saison’s seasonal cuisine and its eight course tasting menu ($98; Saison also has a kitchen table where longer progressions can be served). Here was a restaurant that deserves a place on any weekly rotation. The vegetable dishes were superb, the squab was a fully conceived dish, and the techniques gaze forward as they look far back. While not the most deluxe restaurant in the Bay Area, Saison holds its own any month.

    Saison
    2124 Folsom St
    San Francisco, CA 94110
    415-828-7990
    http://www.saisonsf.com

    Vealcheeks
    Toast, as every breakfaster knows, isn't really about the quality of the bread or how it's sliced or even the toaster. For man cannot live by toast alone. It's all about the butter. -- Adam Gopnik
  • Post #11 - September 20th, 2010, 1:01 pm
    Post #11 - September 20th, 2010, 1:01 pm Post #11 - September 20th, 2010, 1:01 pm
    GAF,

    I don't know if you saw my recent post on San Francisco getaways, but I had some great dining last month.

    viewtopic.php?f=15&t=15334&p=338963#p338963

    I'm sure Coi is on your list. We ate there last year and loved it.

    In June, I was in Marin a few days and had 2 meals I definitely recommend.

    http://buckeyeroadhouse.com/

    http://www.restaurantpicco.com/

    If by any chance you make it to Tahoe before the end of October, I'd love to introduce you to some of the great restaurants we have here at the lake. We will be back the end of May.
    "I feel sorry for people who don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day." Frank Sinatra
  • Post #12 - September 20th, 2010, 1:35 pm
    Post #12 - September 20th, 2010, 1:35 pm Post #12 - September 20th, 2010, 1:35 pm
    Prospect - San Francisco

    Prospect is a slightly more adventurous restaurant operated by Nancy Oakes who runs the beloved Boulevard. Boulevard is one of the pleasantest places to enjoy upper-middle moderne cuisine in SF. Prospect kicks it up a notch, although not so far that it is a must-eat destination and must-ask prices. Yet, it is enjoyable throughout, and what more could one ask from a restaurant? I was served a tasting menu, largely selected from choices on the regular menu (with one nifty addition). (No photographs, sorry. I didn’t take a camera).

    We began with an upscale Green Goddess Salad with Market Cucumbers, Brokaw Avocado, Basil, and Caper Vinaigrette. It was about as good as a green goddess salad could be. And pretty too. (Prospect treats plates like canvases.)

    This salad was followed by a highly sculptural Yellowtail Crudo with Seaweed Rice Cracker, Pickled Cucumber, and White Miso. Lovely sashimi plus.

    The best dish of the evening was an off-the-menu Soft Shell Crab with Shiso. Delicious, and, as SSC always is, beautifully sculptural. Soft shell crab must be the ocean’s most sculptural crustacean.

    Crispy Pig Trotter with Main Lobster Relish, Loster Aioli, Summer Squash, and Mint had too much going on to be splendid, but it reflected the now common trough-and-sea combination with fine ingredients.

    Lamb tongue and loin with butterbeans, green olive, and artichoke salsa verde was made special by an oh-so-tender tongue. Granted the idea of lamb tongue might not be appealing to readers of children’s books, but it was part of our beloved mouth-to-butt cuisine.

    An apple granite with fresh berries and crème fraiche was perhaps short on deep apple tartness, but the berries were fine.

    And I loved the root beer honeycomb, served with shortbread and butterscotch. If root beer honeycomb was found at Trader Joe, I’d be in heaven.

    Perhaps Prospect is in the second tier in San Francisco, but Milwaukee would kill for such dining. I don’t love everything about the Bay Area, but the wealth of dining options – and masses of people who use their refrigerators and ovens to store books and clothing, eating out every night - are part of the local charm.

    Prospect
    300 Spear Street
    San Francisco, CA 94105
    415-247-7770
    http://www.prospectsf.com
    Toast, as every breakfaster knows, isn't really about the quality of the bread or how it's sliced or even the toaster. For man cannot live by toast alone. It's all about the butter. -- Adam Gopnik
  • Post #13 - November 20th, 2010, 7:12 pm
    Post #13 - November 20th, 2010, 7:12 pm Post #13 - November 20th, 2010, 7:12 pm
    Buzzy – Coi – San Francisco

    Few restaurants have generated as loud a buzz – positive buzz – as Chef Daniel Patterson’s San Francisco restaurant Coi, located in the somewhat scruffy North Beach neighborhood. But unexpected or not, the California-inspired modern cuisine at Coi has received a lot of admiring attention: it as if a hive of foodie bees had descended on the Embarcadero.

    The restaurant itself is something of an oasis; it is neither luxe nor loud (Coi means quiet or tranquil in French), but bright, modest, slyly elegant, and pleasing, and service is forthcoming. And it is an establishment whose honeyed food always satisfies, although on the night that I dined only a few dishes stunned. This is only a complaint given the chatter that Patterson’s place generated. And, in truth, a few dishes were remarkable. One of my dining partners felt that the restaurant had, on that night, pulled back a bit from its more adventurous efforts. The restaurant is one of the most significant dining destinations in the Bay Area, a necessary culinary visit. And only one dish was less than very successful.

    Image
    Coi, San Francisco - Interior by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    That dish was the first offering: Childhood Memory of Harvest: Vegetable Leathers, Apple, Nuts, and Pear Cider. It has become de rigueur for chefs to trade in nostalgia, sometimes for the best, sometimes not. Here the memory was Patterson’s. For this diner, fruit leathers have never been that appealing. I come from a generation in which these “healthy” snacks were not widely available for afternoon television surfing. I give Chef Patterson a ribbon for the best vegetable leathers that I have tasted, but prize is perhaps not worth much in the larger culinary scheme.

    Image
    Coi, San Francisco - Childhood Memory of Harvest - Vegetable Leathers, Apple, Nuts, Pear Cider by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Fortunately this memory was quickly replaced by a gracefully cool and fresh plate of Marin Miyagi Oysters with wheatgrass and lemon ice. This was an amuse for the ages, designed to awaken all of one’s senses. It was complexity and simplicity on a plate, and was among the star presentations of the evening. Oysters can be difficult partners, but when treated well, they are sexy and profound.

    Image
    Coi, San Francisco - Marin Miyagi Oysters, Wheatgrass, Lemon Ice by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    The inverted cherry tomato tart with a black olive basil wafer was an elegant architectural construction: precisely prepared. If it didn’t jangle or provoke, it was a very happy savory tart. Perhaps it was more an assertion of the builder’s art than the chef’s, but the tastes were Californian and right.

    Image
    Coi, San Francisco - Inverted Cherry Tomato Tart, Black Olive, Basil by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Chilled Piquillo Pepper Soup with fresh pole and shelling beans, preserved lemon, and cilantro was another highpoint. It was slightly gelatinized (is that a word?) and so vibrant in visual appeal that its hue could play off its tang. This soup was not Progresso, but Progressive.

    Image
    Coi, San Francisco - Chilled Piquillo Pepper Soup with Fresh Pole and Shelling Beans, Preserved Lemon, Cilantro by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Monterey Bay Abalone Grilled on the Plancha with Nettle-Dandelion Salsa Verde, Spicy Breadcrumbs and Wild Fennel Flowers might have nodded too deeply to the idea of the wild. Here I was particularly impressed by the textures which were challenging and exciting with each bite.

    Image
    Coi, San Francisco - Monterey Bay Abalone Grilled on the Plancha, Nettle-Dandelion Salsa Verde, Spicy Breadcrumbs, Wild Fennel Flowers by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    At this point, we were served an off-the-menu soup: Late Summer Squash with Borage. Patterson’s second soup was impressive if less exciting than the first soup of the evening.

    Image
    Coi, San Francisco - Late Summer Squash Soup with Borage by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Do diners dream of beet charcoal? I do. Our most memorable dish was Wild Black Cod Smoked over Beet Charcoal (beet charcoal?) with Creamed Leeks, Beet-red Flame Grape Sauce, and Horseradish Dill. Who knew that I would love a presentation that couldn’t be beet? Perhaps it was the smoked and rooted flavor of the cod that seduced, or perhaps it was a visually stunning plate or an amazingly moist aquatic protein. Everything worked in synergy, and I bang my head on my computer screen for lacking the photographic skills to show you my love in her deep red lipsticked grandeur.

    Image
    Coi, San Francisco - Wild Black Cod Smoked Over Beet Charcoal, Creamed Leeks, Beet-Red Flame Grape Sauce, Horseradish Dill by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Pan-Grilled Matsutake with Potato-Pine Needle Puree was a quiet contrast to the cod. I never have understood why Japanese gourmands count Matsutake as so favored a fungus: I will take King Bolete. The Matsutake and pine was well prepared, tasting like a walk among damp conifers.

    Image
    Coi, San Francisco - Pan Grilled Matsutake, Potato-Pine Needle Puree by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    The main protein was Poached and Seared Duck Breast with Foie Gras Ganache, Figs, Angelica Root, and Tarragon. I have tired of those dishes that are a little of this, a little of that. A smorgasbord rather than a symphony. Yet, it is the style. Each point of light on the plate was well-prepared, but the dish seemed more straight-forward than astonishing.

    Image
    Coi, San Francisco - Pached and Seared Duck Breast, Foie Gras Ganache, Figs, Angelica Root, Tarragon by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Our cheese – Tomme D’Ossau with Late Summer Greens – was the artistic presentation of a fine slab of curd.

    Image
    Coi, San Francisco - Tomme D'Ossau with Late Summer Greens by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    The Cheesecake with Goat Cheese, Graham Cracker, and Niabell Grape was a powerful sweet. Both the goat cheese and the grape added muscle to the creamy cake. It was the more striking of the two desserts.

    Image
    Coi, San Francisco - Cheesecake, Goat Cheese Ice Cream, Graham, Niabell Grape by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Cinnamon Smoked Apples with Iced Buttermilk, Hazelnut, and Sorrel was a worthy closing, although perhaps too accessible – more North Platte than North Beach. I could eat such a pleasure, but I would doubtless select a more challenging sweet.

    Image
    Coi, San Francisco - Cinnamon Smoked Appples, Iced Buttermilk, Hazelnut, Sorrel by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    So, Coi was a success: a four star restaurant for certain. Several dishes were wonderful, and the cod and the oysters were memorable. If it didn’t quite live up to the buzz, we should blame the buzz and not the chef. Chef Patterson is a man of enormous talent and creativity. With his left coast garden perhaps there is no stopping him.

    Coi
    373 Broadway (North Beach)
    San Francisco
    (415) 393-9000
    http://www.coirestaurant.com

    Vealcheeks
    Toast, as every breakfaster knows, isn't really about the quality of the bread or how it's sliced or even the toaster. For man cannot live by toast alone. It's all about the butter. -- Adam Gopnik
  • Post #14 - February 8th, 2011, 9:09 am
    Post #14 - February 8th, 2011, 9:09 am Post #14 - February 8th, 2011, 9:09 am
    I'm heading to San Francisco this Thursday for a long weekend and vacation.

    We're planning on having meals at Flour + Water, Keller's Ad Hoc in Yountville, Frances. Has anyone been to one of these?

    We'd like to do dinner in Chinatown one night but I've heard that no real locals eat there...does anyone have any recommendations?

    Anyone have any foodie sights to see while walking around San Francisco? A famous street vendor or something like that?

    Thanks in advance!
  • Post #15 - February 8th, 2011, 11:12 am
    Post #15 - February 8th, 2011, 11:12 am Post #15 - February 8th, 2011, 11:12 am
    I have dined at Ad Hoc in Yountville, and had their famous Buttermilk Fried Chicken, which was very fine. Ad Hoc serves one dinner a night, so you need to hope that you will enjoy what they are serving, although Keller's food is always technically proficient. If Ad Hoc doesn't work for you and you are in Napa (the town), you might try Ubuntu (which is vegetarian and very Californian - it shares its space with a yoga studio).

    I haven't yet been to F&W, but I understand it is very well-regarded Italian/pizza. When you are there, make sure you also go to Humphrey Slocombe (2790A Harrison Street), very nearby, which has some quite unusual ice cream flavors - Olive Oil, Jesus Juice, Foie Gras, and Secret Breakfast (bourbon and corn flakes).

    See: http://www.humphryslocombe.com/|_Home_|.html

    SF also has a food truck scene, but as I am not based in SF, I can't tell you which are the best, but you can google food trucks on go on Chowhound.

    As for Chinese, I have not been so impressed, other than with the Old Islamic Mandarin Inn, which is on the far SW side of the city. See http://lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?f=15&t=30855&p=358977&hilit=Mandarin+Islamic+San+Francisco#p358977
    Toast, as every breakfaster knows, isn't really about the quality of the bread or how it's sliced or even the toaster. For man cannot live by toast alone. It's all about the butter. -- Adam Gopnik
  • Post #16 - February 8th, 2011, 11:23 am
    Post #16 - February 8th, 2011, 11:23 am Post #16 - February 8th, 2011, 11:23 am
    P. Channon wrote:We'd like to do dinner in Chinatown one night but I've heard that no real locals eat there



    Nonsense. Plenty good and local still in Chinatown. SF is one of the most reported-on destinations on the board; you should search for old threads. This is one of my favorites:

    http://www.lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?p=212942

    It includes Swan, Tadich, Yuet Lee and other Chinatown spots, Capp's, links to older strings, etc.
  • Post #17 - February 8th, 2011, 1:26 pm
    Post #17 - February 8th, 2011, 1:26 pm Post #17 - February 8th, 2011, 1:26 pm
    GAF wrote:I have dined at Ad Hoc in Yountville, and had their famous Buttermilk Fried Chicken, which was very fine. Ad Hoc serves one dinner a night, so you need to hope that you will enjoy what they are serving, although Keller's food is always technically proficient. If Ad Hoc doesn't work for you and you are in Napa (the town), you might try Ubuntu (which is vegetarian and very Californian - it shares its space with a yoga studio).

    I haven't yet been to F&W, but I understand it is very well-regarded Italian/pizza. When you are there, make sure you also go to Humphrey Slocombe (2790A Harrison Street), very nearby, which has some quite unusual ice cream flavors - Olive Oil, Jesus Juice, Foie Gras, and Secret Breakfast (bourbon and corn flakes).

    See: http://www.humphryslocombe.com/|_Home_|.html

    SF also has a food truck scene, but as I am not based in SF, I can't tell you which are the best, but you can google food trucks on go on Chowhound.

    As for Chinese, I have not been so impressed, other than with the Old Islamic Mandarin Inn, which is on the far SW side of the city. See http://lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?f=15&t=30855&p=358977&hilit=Mandarin+Islamic+San+Francisco#p358977


    Thanks GAF!

    I actually just got the Ad Hoc at Home cookbook after getting a reservation there for Saturday. I'm very much looking forward to it, esp. after making a few of the recipes from the book last weekend.

    Humphrey Slocombe does look great, and you're right, it's right down the street from F+W. I think I'll try that after dinner. Great rec!
  • Post #18 - February 8th, 2011, 1:32 pm
    Post #18 - February 8th, 2011, 1:32 pm Post #18 - February 8th, 2011, 1:32 pm
    I was at Flour & Water last summer and it was fabulous. It's pretty small so try to make a reservation. The best foodie sight is the Ferry Building. It's Disney for foodies. Yank Sing isn't in Chinatown but has great dim sum.
    "I feel sorry for people who don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day." Frank Sinatra
  • Post #19 - February 8th, 2011, 1:33 pm
    Post #19 - February 8th, 2011, 1:33 pm Post #19 - February 8th, 2011, 1:33 pm
    JeffB wrote:
    P. Channon wrote:We'd like to do dinner in Chinatown one night but I've heard that no real locals eat there



    Nonsense. Plenty good and local still in Chinatown. SF is one of the most reported-on destinations on the board; you should search for old threads. This is one of my favorites:

    viewtopic.php?p=212942

    It includes Swan, Tadich, Yuet Lee and other Chinatown spots, Capp's, links to older strings, etc.


    Great, thanks. I was recommended Mama's for brunch, but was told to go early to avoid the long wait.

    Someone recommended Great Eastern in Chinatown...but to be honest I'm not an expert on Asian food.
  • Post #20 - February 8th, 2011, 3:41 pm
    Post #20 - February 8th, 2011, 3:41 pm Post #20 - February 8th, 2011, 3:41 pm
    Denada. Also consider Salt House which is the newer place in SF I enjoy most.
  • Post #21 - February 8th, 2011, 9:39 pm
    Post #21 - February 8th, 2011, 9:39 pm Post #21 - February 8th, 2011, 9:39 pm
    Flour+Water is marvelous but go at opening or expect a wait
    R@G Lounge in China Town is still amazing with salt and pepper crabs and live tanks of shrimp
    Ferry Building is perfect for salumi, cheese, a glass of wine, and a moment of pondering how amazing the grow season is in Northern California!

    Beno for super high end if you want that
    Betlenut is great Pan Asian
    Pizzarea Delfina is a wonderful small, crowded spot

    Have a blast,

    Bourbon
  • Post #22 - February 9th, 2011, 8:50 am
    Post #22 - February 9th, 2011, 8:50 am Post #22 - February 9th, 2011, 8:50 am
    Bourbon wrote:Flour+Water is marvelous but go at opening or expect a wait
    R@G Lounge in China Town is still amazing with salt and pepper crabs and live tanks of shrimp
    Ferry Building is perfect for salumi, cheese, a glass of wine, and a moment of pondering how amazing the grow season is in Northern California!

    Beno for super high end if you want that
    Betlenut is great Pan Asian
    Pizzarea Delfina is a wonderful small, crowded spot

    Have a blast,

    Bourbon


    Thanks Bourbon!

    We have reservations at F+W (I plan way ahead :) ) so hopefully we'll be ok. I've heard great things so I'm excited.

    It's interesting that you, and others, suggest the Ferry Building as a great stop for foodies. I've been told all the locals stay away from places like Fisherman's Wharf and the Ferry Building....leading me to believe that they're tourist traps. But since you all recommend it I'll be sure to stop in and have a snack when out and about!
  • Post #23 - February 9th, 2011, 1:08 pm
    Post #23 - February 9th, 2011, 1:08 pm Post #23 - February 9th, 2011, 1:08 pm
    I agree about the value of going to the Farmer's Market at the Ferry Building. You should go on a farmer's market day. It is somewhat equivalent to the Green City Market and the Farmer's Market at the Capitol in Madison. The shops inside the Ferry Building are pretty expensive, albeit quite high quality (like New York's Chelsea Market or Grand Central Market).
    Toast, as every breakfaster knows, isn't really about the quality of the bread or how it's sliced or even the toaster. For man cannot live by toast alone. It's all about the butter. -- Adam Gopnik
  • Post #24 - February 16th, 2011, 9:51 pm
    Post #24 - February 16th, 2011, 9:51 pm Post #24 - February 16th, 2011, 9:51 pm
    I posted a recap of my trip on my own thread:

    viewtopic.php?f=15&t=31074

    Thanks again for the recommendations!! :)
  • Post #25 - February 26th, 2011, 11:31 pm
    Post #25 - February 26th, 2011, 11:31 pm Post #25 - February 26th, 2011, 11:31 pm
    According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Saison, which I posted on above, is changing to focus more on seafood. So the kind of ash cuisine may - or may not - be less in evidence.
    Toast, as every breakfaster knows, isn't really about the quality of the bread or how it's sliced or even the toaster. For man cannot live by toast alone. It's all about the butter. -- Adam Gopnik
  • Post #26 - February 26th, 2011, 11:43 pm
    Post #26 - February 26th, 2011, 11:43 pm Post #26 - February 26th, 2011, 11:43 pm
    In Hiding – Baumé – Palo Alto

    Looking at the field of cuisine, it is impossible to escape the reality that molecular cuisine has run its course. Heston Blumenthal and Grant Achatz are mining the past. Ferran Adria and Joan Roca are bowing to classicism. But in Palo Alto, California, Chef Bruno Chemel is producing food as if it is still 2008. How odd.

    I have long wondered what would happen if Claude Monet returned to Musee d’Orsay and insisted on dabbing a few more haystacks. Would he be turned out of doors? Is style a moving train that is gone once it leaves the station? And in cuisine, can a chef – having opened a restaurant a year ago – make a go of molecular cuisine.

    Chemel is a fine and creative chef, but seems of two minds. One the one hand, he shows no desire to escape the molecular canon. However, he advertises his cuisine as “French Cuisine Moderne.” If a diner wanders in thinking that this is L’Arpege or Chemel is Guy Savoy, there will be heck to pay. His professional lineage is Catalan.

    Baumé is an enjoyable restaurant, very pleasant to eat in with its private corners. Perhaps Chemel is not quite the chemical engineer as Dufresne (WD-50) or Cantu (Moto), but he has mastered the techniques. This is second-generation molecular, and not bad for that.

    Each dish had its twist: Saketini with freeze dried raspberry ice cream, Asparagus with leek ash, 62 degree egg, daikon mousse, foie gras with apple foam, lemon smoke, paired bonbons – savory (lime miso) and sweet (lime caramel), and frozen snow. Each was worthy – delicious - in its own right. My favorite was the perfectly cooked halibut with Meyer lemon citrus zabaglione and butternut squash puree, a dish that I loved as much for the intense flavors as for the citrus zabaglione. Least successful was the Mont Blanc Thaw – the texture of snow wasn’t quite right, but it was a very distinct and memorable dish, worth the experiment.

    Image
    Baume - Palo Alto - February 2011 - Razztini with Freeze Dried Raspberry Ice Cream by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Image
    Baume - Palo Alto - February 2011 - Bread Service a la Sponge by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Image
    Baume - Palo Alto - February 2011 - Asparagus, Aioli, Trout Roe, Leek Ash by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Image
    Baume - Palo Alto - February 2011 - 62 Degree Egg, Sunchoke, Croquette by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Image
    Baume - Palo Alto - February 2011 - Duck Foie au Naturel and Seared with Apple by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Image
    Baume - Palo Alto - February 2011 - Vegetable Bisque, Daikon Mousse, Dungeness Crab by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Image
    Baume - Palo Alto - February 2011 - Halibut, Curry, Leeks by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Image
    Baume - Palo Alto - February 2011 - Cleanser by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Image
    Baume - Palo Alto - February 2011 - Grass Fed Beef, Bergamot Saveur with Carrot Flan by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Image
    Baume - Palo Alto - February 2011 - Gruyere, Beets, Watercress by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Image
    Baume - Palo Alto - February 2011 - Mont Blanc Thaw, Madeleine, Warm Ganache with Exotic Citrus Ice Cream by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Image
    Baume - Palo Alto - February 2011 - Raspberry Sphere by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    I plan to return to Baumé for their spring, despite their identity confusion. This is a restaurant that really takes you back, even if time machine is set in months, not in years. The San Francisco Bay Area does not have a true molecular restaurant other than Baumé. It deserves attention, despite its own imagined claims.

    Baumé
    201 South California Avenue
    Palo Alto, CA
    650-328-8899
    http://www.baumerestaurant.com

    Vealcheeks
    Toast, as every breakfaster knows, isn't really about the quality of the bread or how it's sliced or even the toaster. For man cannot live by toast alone. It's all about the butter. -- Adam Gopnik
  • Post #27 - March 12th, 2011, 11:39 pm
    Post #27 - March 12th, 2011, 11:39 pm Post #27 - March 12th, 2011, 11:39 pm
    White Light – Commis – Oakland, CA

    For some obscure reason, this evening I decided to review some food pictures from the past few months. I realized that I had not described my January dinner at Commis, Chef James Syhabout’s modern cuisine restaurant on Oakland’s Piedmont Avenue. Commis has a space next to Bay Wolf, one of the most important restaurants of post-fusion cuisine of the high-energy 1980s. Bay Wolf was a temple of combinatory creativity, but as I looked at Wolf’s menu I realized how far we have come in technique and in ingredients. Children, can you remember when your fruits, vegetables, and proteins lacked a provenance?

    Commis is hip to the new millennium. Of all of the restaurants striving for modernist cuisine, Commis is the most Zen of all. It is so white, so placid, so restrained that for an instant I felt that I had stumbled upon a Methodist heaven or a Jewish hell. It is neither quite: it is architecture filtered through the light of the East.

    My wife and I sat at the smooth wood kitchen counter, and were pleasantly ignored, as we ate our four-course tasting menus (two choices for each course for a mere $68, which for this level of cooking is a bargain of epic proportions). Often in such circumstances one communes with the staff, chattering, chatting, and, always, gossiping. Not at Commis. These cooks worked in a focused fugue. We weren’t dismissed, just unseen. The hard-working cooks became objects of observation, not friends. That’s OK, but perhaps it led to a feeling that there was to be no Commis family. Every restaurant has its style, and focus is Commis’s. Chef Syhabout was there, murmuring to his staff. Anthony Bourdain he will never be. He’s a dish whisperer.

    Chef Syhabout is a sterling chef, very much in the style of David Kinch, one of his mentors. In this, he is a synthesizer, incorporating styles, techniques and ingredient often with great aplomb. The meal was distinguished with some dishes that were remarkable, and a few that were less so. His cuisine is surely appealing enough to try again. Perhaps the atmosphere overwhelmed with its serenity. (“Serenity Now!”, sayeth Frank Costanza), but the foods had sparks and flash to balance the silence and the white light.

    The Amuse: Egg Yolk, Creamy Onion Soup, Majool Date Puree, Granola. Very clever start, and totally delicious. This start represents the best impulses of a cuisine of astonishment: Cuisine Agape. This bowl builds on molecular techniques and a commitment to flavor.

    Image
    Commis - Oakland - January 2011 - Egg Yolk, Creamy Onion Soup, Majool Date Puree, Granola by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Oysters and Fresh Cider in Sunchoke Cream, Ginger and Radish. An impressively composed dish with challenging and fascinating flavors, with an Asian sensibility. A profound appetizer.

    Image
    Commis - Oakland - January 2011 - Oysters and Fresh Cider in Sunchoke Cream, Ginger and Radish by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Coastal Heirloom Beans in Onion Consomme, Raisins with Warm Spices. This appetizer matched its sibling in its intelligence commitment to texture and agriculture. A very successful dish in all ways. A lovely soup with surprises peeking everywhere.

    Image
    Commis - Oakland - January 2011 - Coastal Heirloom Beans in Onion Consomme, Raisins with Warm Spices by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Atlantic Haddock with Smoked Mussel Vinaigrette, Herbs and Cabbage. Dishes like this have become fairly standard in modern cuisine. It hasn't become cliched, but it wasn't astonishing.

    Image
    Commis - Oakland - January 2011 - Atlantic Haddock with Smoked Mussel Vinaigrette, Herbs and Cabbage by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Leeks and Celeriac Cooked with Anise, Citric Crab Emulsion, Wild Lettuce. Along with the amuse, this was probably the most startlingly successful dish of the evening. The crab and anise merged so well with the greens. A quietly triumphant plate.

    Image
    Commis - Oakland - January 2011 - Leeks and Celeriac Cooked with Anise, Citric Crab Emulsion, Wild Lettuce by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Slow Cooked Lamb with Horseradish Yogurt, Quince and Winter Greens. Well-cooked if somewhat fatty lamb but with enough interest with the accompaniments.

    Image
    Commis - Oakland - January 2011 - Slow Cooked Lamb with Horseradish Yogurt, Quince and Winter Greens by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Pressed Guinea Fowl, Young and Braised Garlic with Potato. This was the least effective dish of the evening. It was somewhat bland, perhaps it was too much of a classic throwback.

    Image
    Commis - Oakland - January 2011 - Pressed Guinea Fowl, Young and Braised Garlic with Potato by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Chocolate Gianduja, Green Apple, Hazelnut, Absinthe Ice Cream. I enjoyed the Absinthe Ice Cream, but this dish lacked a focal center - a bit of this and that.

    Image
    Commis - Oakland - January 2011 - Chocolate Gianduja, Green Apple, Hazelnut, Absinthe Ice Cream by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Panna Cotta Scented with Winter Citrus, Pomegranate, Coriander. A very pleasant modern dessert. The two desserts had less interest than the appetizers, as so often is the case.

    Image
    Commis - Oakland - January 2011 - Panna Cotta Scented with Winter Citrus, Pomegranate, Coriander by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Commis
    3859 Piedmont Avenue
    Oakland, CA
    510-653-3902
    http://www.commisrestaurant.com/index.php

    Vealcheeks
    Toast, as every breakfaster knows, isn't really about the quality of the bread or how it's sliced or even the toaster. For man cannot live by toast alone. It's all about the butter. -- Adam Gopnik
  • Post #28 - April 2nd, 2011, 10:29 pm
    Post #28 - April 2nd, 2011, 10:29 pm Post #28 - April 2nd, 2011, 10:29 pm
    Delfina, Delfina – San Francisco

    Some restaurants, modest though they seem, are just about perfect. Their humility hides their brio. In San Francisco I can think of no better example than Delfina, a lovely, sunny, airy Italianate restaurant set in the somewhat scruffy Mission District. There is little showy about the space, although it is pleasing and airy, but the plates are modestly priced show-stoppers.

    I ordered Warm Ceringola Olives, meaty, green nuggets swimming in rustic olive oil, served with warm crusty bread (perhaps baked by the iconic Tartine Bakery next door?). Tonight San Francisco revealed its Mediterranean climate which these olives matched degree for degree.

    ImageDelfina - San Francisco - March 2011 - Warm Ceringola Olives by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    The olives were followed by a creamy cauliflower soup with paprika oil drizzled on top and cumin-scented croutons. The soup was redolent of flowerets, but needed the kick that the paprika and cumin provided. It was an exceptionally pretty bowl.

    ImageDelfina - San Francisco - March 2011 - Cauliflower Soup With Paprika Oil and Cumin Croutons by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Delfina’s Hay and Straw Tagliarini with English Peas, Pecorino, Raw Egg Yolk, and a touch of Pancetta (or its moral equivalent) was as lush as one might imagine a spring plate could be. The green and white pasta was nettles and spinach (?). The richness of the cheese, cream, and egg played perfectly with the peas, creating a modernist carbonara.

    ImageDelfina - San Francisco - March 2011 - Hay and Straw Tagliarini with English Peas and Egg Yolk by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    They also serve a superior Blood Orange Prosecco.

    All in all, a splendid moderately priced spring meal. Bravo.

    Delfina
    3621 18th St
    San Francisco, California 94110
    (415) 552-4055
    http://www.delfinasf.com

    Vealcheeks
    Toast, as every breakfaster knows, isn't really about the quality of the bread or how it's sliced or even the toaster. For man cannot live by toast alone. It's all about the butter. -- Adam Gopnik
  • Post #29 - April 3rd, 2011, 10:07 pm
    Post #29 - April 3rd, 2011, 10:07 pm Post #29 - April 3rd, 2011, 10:07 pm
    That is a beautiful looking pasta dish. That picture alone puts Delfina on my radar for the next time I am out in the Bay Area.
    Objects in mirror appear to be losing.
  • Post #30 - April 9th, 2011, 3:46 pm
    Post #30 - April 9th, 2011, 3:46 pm Post #30 - April 9th, 2011, 3:46 pm
    Crab Crab Crab Duck – Yum’s Bistro – Fremont, California

    Few things can be more depressing for an ecstatic lover of ecstatic food that to dine at a Chinese restaurant alone. So many possibilities, so little to share. From a list of hundreds of dishes, the lone diner plays the lottery.

    Without a large network, I have been Chinese-cuisine-deprived during my year in the Bay Area. But not entirely. On a quiet Tuesday an email popped into my inbox announcing a “chowdown,” sponsored by the San Francisco branch of Chowhound. In contrast to the LTH community in Chicago, these invitations are rare and rather select: twelve diners sitting around a table. It is a tough reservation to snag. And so I jumped at the invitation.

    One of the favored restaurants of the Bay Area foodie community is Yum’s Bistro, located in a suburban shopping mall in Fremont (in the East Bay, across the Dumbarton Bridge from Palo Alto). The diners of SF Chowhound had previously held their New Year’s Feast at Yum’s, a restaurant that is Cantonese, broadly speaking. The chef had previously cooked in the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Hong Kong and in large Chinese restaurants in San Francisco, but had retired. But retirement is not all that it is cracked up to be, and he decided to open a modest “bistro” in Fremont (although the Chinese meaning of bistro is somewhat obscure). The menu advertises their “exquisite crab dishes.” April is edging towards the end of Dungeness crab season on the West Coast, and my colleagues speculated that the sweet crab was from Washington State or beyond, but none the worse for its travel.

    The organizer of the event is the estimable Melanie Wong, San Francisco’s answer to Cathy2, and she has been involved in the local chow community for so long that she recalled the breakup of LTH and Chowhound, casually referring to our Chicagoland rebels as “the Boys” (sorry, Cathy, I am just the reporter). As usual the group that gathered was congenial and bright. Aside from the fact that these gatherings are rarer in the Bay Area than in Chicagoland, what struck me most was a greater seriousness of attention to wine culture. Perhaps a dozen bottles of local and international wines were opened, and diners brought their own glasses (like chefs and their knives; the restaurant doesn’t supply wine glasses). The whole evening was good fun.

    Image
    Yum's Bistro - Fremont, CA - April 2011 by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    We began with a very flavorful soup, ordered special: watercress, dried scallops, and duck gizzards in a rich liquid. I was particularly impressed with the savory broth. It was supple and subtle, poultry and seafood, as sterling as a French bistro consommé.

    Image
    Yum's Bistro - Fremont, CA - April 2011 - Watercress, Dried Scallop, and Duck Gizzard Soup by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Image
    Yum's Bistro - Fremont, CA - April 2011 - Watercress, Dried Scallop, and Duck Gizzard Soup by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Now followed our three Dungeness crab dishes, served in sequence, each competing for attention:

    Soy sauce and garlic crab (a special preparation for our group).

    Image
    Yum's Bistro - Fremont, CA - April 2011 - Soy Sauce and Garlic Dungeness Crab by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Hunan crab served in a Clay Pot with hot peppers

    Image
    Yum's Bistro - Fremont, CA - April 2011 - Hunan Clay Pot Dungeness Crab by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Jakarta Chili Crab with curry and coconut milk.

    Image
    Yum's Bistro - Fremont, CA - April 2011 - Jakarta Chili Dungeness Crab by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    I admired them all. The spice was not excessively intense, but still I preferred the Garlic Crab and the Jakarta Crab for the symphony of flavors. Although one thinks of crab as having a delicate flavor, certainly true, it does stand up impressively to spice. Crab and chili can be a beautiful marriage.

    The trio of crab was followed by another specially prepared dish. Stuffed duck, fried and braised, with ham, barley, and nuts. The quality of the duck was not impressive, and the accompaniments didn’t sing either. Despite the impressive presentation, it is not a dish I plan to try again.

    Image
    Yum's Bistro - Fremont, CA - April 2011 by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Shifting to the end of the night, we were served Ong Choi, hollowed hearted Chinese greens, sautéed with garlic. It is a green and bright change from protein. Our noodle dish, another special, was Longlife noodles with abalone and mushrooms (one twirls the noodles uncut or one’s life is shortened). The noodles were perfectly chewy and the abalone sauce was delicious.

    Image
    Yum's Bistro - Fremont, CA - April 2011 - Ong Choi with Garlic by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Image
    Yum's Bistro - Fremont, CA - April 2011 - Longlife Noodles with Abalone and Mushrooms by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Desserts included peach buns (a roll filled with sweet bean curd) and a tapioca soup. The peach buns were witty and sweet. The tapioca soup was properly made but overly thick for the end of an evening.

    Image
    Yum's Bistro - Fremont, CA - April 2011 - Peach Buns by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Image
    Yum's Bistro - Fremont, CA - April 2011 - Tapioca Soup by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    I was grateful to meet new friends and to learn that culinary friendship is not (quite) a Chicago monopoly.

    Yum’s Bistro
    4906 Paseo Padre Parkway
    Fremont, CA 94555 (closed Tuesdays)
    510-745-8866
    http://www.crusa.biz/yum
    Toast, as every breakfaster knows, isn't really about the quality of the bread or how it's sliced or even the toaster. For man cannot live by toast alone. It's all about the butter. -- Adam Gopnik

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