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Category Archives: Restaurant
(Time for the annual blog post.)
With the rest of the family otherwise engaged tonight, I was left stag in San Francisco. I’ve been meaning to try La Mar Cebicheria and so this was a great opportunity to give it a shot. And you know it is crazy — since I’m an inveterate shopper at the SF Ferry Plaza Farmers’ market every Saturday, I’ve been two doors down from La Mar more times than I can count. Oh well, better late than never.
Without a reservation, even on a Sunday, no table for me. Not even counter. But since I was a single, I was plenty happy for the bar. Started with a Pisco Sour. Well, it is a Peruvian restaurant.
Then had the Cebiche Mixto which was awesome. Mahi, squid, octopus, a little spicy. Very delicious. Nearly drank the liquid. Followed by the Anticuchos de Pulpo, essentially barbequed octopus. Except for the “flying tentacle” problem when I tried to remove one from the skewer, it was great. Had it with a Spanish Verdejo which, while lovely on its own, probably wasn’t the best pairing with the BBQ flavors. I don’t normally think red with Octopus, but this would have been a great time for a lighter, fruit forward red. Maybe a Peruvian Cab Franc?
Dessert was the only less than great part of the experience. I’d skip the Picarones — pumpkin and sweet potato fritters. They came out looking like onion rings with a sauce that was supposed to be sweet and spicy. The sauce was just sweet. And the fritters were pretty much just “fried.”
I’d certainly go back. But I’d go out for gelato at the end.
Ok, back in the swing (let’s hope).
Last night we tried out Epic Roasthouse, one of a pair of new restaurants on the Embarcadero in San Francisco from Pat Kuleto. Epic is the “meat” restaurant and is led by Jan Birnbaum. Waterbar, the seafood part of the pair, is next door and is on our calendar for a few weeks from now.
It’s just 3 weeks old, and they’re still breaking themselves in so bear that in mind.
As you might expect in a Pat Kuleto restaurant, it is stunning. Great view of the Bay Bridge, all lit up. Great interior. Love the giant wheel for the “pump” in the middle of the restaurant.
Prices are up there, but not crazily so. At least for the most part. The notion of $8 for water that they blow CO2 into is a little extreme. Oh and for the refill, that’s another $8. And it isn’t the biggest contributor to the bill (by a long shot). It just feels annoying. The flip side of the pricing issue is that there’s a section of the wine list called City Wine Values (or something like it) with interesting and non-loftily priced bottles.
Service was pretty good. They were a little confused on the bread, but we might have had a hand in that. One thing for sure: if you’re going to serve a little cheese puff, it had better be hot. They would have been great. But cold?
The food was a solid B. First courses were actually quite good. The “Wedge of Bib Lettuce with Scallion Vinaigrette, Tangerines and Humboldt Fog Cheese” was delicious and beautifully presented. And I loved that the wedge wasn’t what the wedge usually is. And the “Wood Oven Roasted Chili Squid Salad with White Beans, Olives, Tomato Confit” had great flavors. Tender squid. Nice textural contrast from the frisse. But, and this is a big but, some of those white beans weren’t cooked all the way through. Hard, starchy bean? At this level of play? In the words of Amy Winehouse, “No, no, no.”
For main courses we had the NY Strip and the duck. Unlike the beans, they were both cooked adroitly. But they were both a little bland. Tasted the salt and the very nice meat, but not much else. After bolder flavors in the first courses, this was a little surprising.
Rocky Road Sundae and Cookie plate for dessert were good. The Mexican Wedding Cookie was the standout of the bunch. The almond milk accompaniment didn’t add much.
I sound unhappier that I was, so please adjust your set for playback. It wasn’t bad. But it isn’t quite there yet either.
See you soon. (?)
That The French Laundry is painfully difficult to get into is not exactly news. So, when I had a chance to go last week with someone else handling all the logistics, well, the decision was easy. The story is a little funny. It sounds like one of those “cab driver’s brother’s next door neighbor kind of stories” but here you go.
A former colleague is dating someone who works for a very nice woman whose oldest daughter is now at the CIA (the food, not espionage one). Only 4 degrees of separation — not so bad. Anyway, the daughter is getting ready for externships and has been visiting top restaurants in the Bay Area. She’s been to Manresa, Chez Panisse, La Toque and others. Her parents have been celebrating this research by organizing dinners at the target restaurants. Supporting your kids’ efforts isn’t always hard, I guess.
So, they’d booked the private dining room at The French Laundry and wanted to fill 12 seats. Not a hard problem, but the it was a Monday night and people have crazy work schedules and have to go out of town and, and … So, at the last minute, I was a seat filler for one of my friends who had to go to a business meeting. Sad for her, but happy for me.
I decided that if I was going to go up there, I might as well enjoy it fully. So, I began with an all too important pre-blow out dinner detoxification ritual. I headed straight to the Indian Springs Spa in Calistoga for a mud bath. I love Indian Springs. It reminds me of what I imagine some funky, retro LA spa would be like. If you haven’t tried it yet, what are you waiting for?
The idea is simple. You go, get undressed and then get into a big concrete tub filled with hot mud. And the mud is the critical thing here. Other places use some peat based mud mixture that is smelly. At Indian Springs they use a volcanic ash based mud that doesn’t smell.
Its very hot — they’ve warmed it up with the hot water from the geothermal spring. Its very plastic. And its great. You spend 10 or 15 minutes relaxing and just roasting in the mud. Then, you get out scrape it all off, shower and get into a hot mineral bath to poach. The last step is heading into the eucalyptus scented steam room for a little more heat. When you’ve had enough, you come out, shower again and then head out to cool down by the Budha garden.
Fully relaxed, I was ready for the evening of serious eating. So, I hopped back into the car and headed to the southern end of the valley. Met up with my friends and headed over to the restaurant for our 7 o’clock reservation.
It was great, of course. Here’s what we had:
Salmon tartare mini-cones
Cauliflower “Panna Cotta”
with Beau Soleil Oyster Glaze and Russian Sevruga Caviar
Black Truffle Custard
with Black Truffle Ragu and a Potato Chive Chip
“Carnaroli Risotto Biologico”
Shaved Perigord Truffles and Truffle “Emulsion”
Sauteed Filet of Wild Columbia River Sturgeon,
Toybox Tomatoes, Hen of the Woods Mushrooms and Bok Choy
Maine Lobster Tail “Cuite Sous Vide”,
Sweet Corn and Caramelized Fennel Bulb “Ragout”
With Perigord Truffle “Coulis”
“Aiguillette” of Liberty Valley Duck Breast,
“Cassoulet” of summer Heirloom Beans and “Pancetta”
With Jacobsen’s Farm Blackberry “Gastrique”
Snake River Farm “Calotte De Boeuf Grillee”,
Yukon Gold Potato “Mille-Feuille”, Grilled Kind Richard Leeks
And Sweet Carrots “Vichy”
“Chabichou de Poitou”
Thompson Seedless and Zante Grapes, Celery “Ribbons”
and “Verjus Gelee”
Hayden Mango Sorbet,
Yuzu-scented “Genoise”, Goma “Nougatine”
and Black Sesame “Coulis”
“Tentation au Chocolat Noisette et Lait”,
Milk Chocolate “Cremeux”, Hazelnut “Streusel”
With Madagascar Vanilla Ice Cream and Sweetened Salty Hazelnuts
Oh, and there was wine, of course. But that will have to wait for another day.
After dinner we walked downstairs to meet some of the people who had prepared the meal. It was late, they still had work to do, but they took the time out to chat with us. Very nice. And the kitchen is unbelievably spotless, even just after dinner service.
Despite the fact that the day began as just about every Saturday does for us, at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, we gave the cook the night off.
Instead, we went with a few friends to one of our favorite restaurants in San Francisco. Incanto is great Italian food in Noe Valley. It’s the kind of place I love: people who are completely into the food — they make their own salumi in house — but in a pretense-free atmosphere. Like it says on the menu, free bottle of Hetch Hetchy on every table. (That’s tap water.)
But this is not a review. For that, look here, here or here.
Instead, you just get a glimpse. Manila and razor clams in brodo with chorizo.
A beautifully composed dish, executed flawlessly. And, it’s as the title above says (cribbed from chef Chris Cosentino), the place isn’t trying to do Italian food just as you’d find it in a particular region of Italy. That’s a fool’s game here — you just can’t ever get it just right. Instead, take the spirit of great Italian food — the most perfect ingredients, balanced just so and use what’s here, what’s great and what’s available now. It will not be what they’re serving tonight in Sicily or Orvieto or Bologna. But at Incanto, it will be good.
And with it we drank a Sudtirol Eisacktaler Kerner DOC 2003. From way northern Italy, almost in Austria. It’s a relatively new grape. And no, I hadn’t heard of it before last night either. As a UK wine dealer says, “Nose is intense and aromatic.” Umm, yeah. Intense is the word. If you can find some, try it.
Where’d you go Saturday night?