Friday, December 30, 2011

Commonwealth's Chef's Tasting

Commonwealth, "a progressive American restaurant in San Francisco's Mission district," does a fine job with its chef's tasting menu. Lonely Planet pal AB and I met there a few weeks ago per her glowing recommendation. The line-up was not only pleasing to the eye, but to the palate as wellfor the most part anyway.

It started with an amuse bouche of the crunchy granola persuasion, comprising thin slivers of raw maitake mushroom drizzled with honey, laying atop a sprinkle of pine nuts. Presented to us on rough-hewn slate slabs, the au naturel opener was less to AB's liking than minewe both agreed it had a true forage feel to it, like we were taking a trek in the woods.

The foie gras bon bons served with half-rounds of quince, tonka bean and Szechuan peppercorn were a step up from the mushrooms, though I'd have preferred the foie gras less chilled and sans chocolate. The strong, bittersweet flavor of dark chocolate seems better off saved for the end of the meal vs. introduced in the beginning.

Commonwealth's standout dish was the crispety-crunchety deep-fried
Jerusalem artichokes, sharp and yet sweet onions cooked in hay, tiny soft-boiled quail egg, sprinkling of chickweed and radicchio leaves, resting on a beautiful bed of quinoa.

I'm not going to say no to a good scallop, and these were seared oh so well. Though scallops seem to be on every hot SF restaurant menu, this dish was made unique in its accompaniments: vadouvan (aka Indian spice blend), pumpkin puree, black rice, nasturtium (both the flowers and leaves), and a nettle emulsion.

I appreciated that my moist and tender quail came out as tiny medallionsmuch easier to pop in my mouth than to work on a little carcass of a bird with fork and knife. It came with crispy curls of parsnip, bitter chicories, fig leaf, vanilla and a beurre rouge (or red butter sauce).

And the finale: chocolate played a part, and rightly so. This peanut butter semifreddo with chocolate ganache outer shell and sprinkling of frozen popcorn was essentially a fancy PB&Choco candy bar. Thumbs up, we say.

Blue Plate Special

YH and I popped into Blue Plate one weekend last month with the hope that the always hoppin' outer Mission eatery might be able to take us sans rezzies. Success. The hostess squeezed us in between two seatings with the stipulation that we'd need to hightail it in an hour and change. We were happy to oblige.

What you see here: a big block of creamy chicken liver pate with a drizzle of pomegranate and aperol, honey, pistachios, caramelized cocoa and grilled bread to spread the lovely goodness on.

We had a few other Blue Plate specials as well—including the soft and springy grilled Monterey Bay squid with chickpeas, blackened eggplant, pimenton and sorrel. We rolled out of there and on to our next party super happy and beyond satisfied.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Lovely Locavore

I'm happy to report that outer Mission has got another great restaurant to brag about (the other one being Blue Plate, and Front Porch is pretty good too). JA and I dropped in to not-quite-year-old Locavore last weekend and loved the freshness of the food, the showcasing of the SF Bay Area's seasonal ingredients, and the super friendly service.

Among other things, we had the fish croquettes, which were blistering hot and deep-fried to perfection. (My queen-of-the-deep-fryer mom would've been proud.) They sat atop a mellow sauce of roasted garlic aioli, along with tangy pickled onion slivers, and sharp shoots of cilantro and watercress.

My crumbly beef meatballs were well-seasoned, the whole wheat noodles al dente. The dish came in a savory beef broth, accompanied by wilted spinach, vella cheese and sweet roasted onion. It was exactly the kind of rich, comforting food I wanted on a blustery winter night.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Empanadas at La Mar Cebicheria

I'm pretty damn picky about my empanadas, having been spoiled by the stellar quality of the empanadas at old haunt Caracas in NY's East Village. So imagine my delight when I cut into my perfectly crispy-on-the-outside, molten-and-moist-on-the-inside empanada de tamalito verde at La Mar Cebicheria on the Embarcadero not so long ago.

Filled with sweet corn, cilantro and queso fresco, and served with a salsa criolla (or onion relish) and an uber-spicy Huancaina Rocoto (queso fresco and red pepper) sauce
, this dainty hot pocket was everything I'd hoped it would be. Compare this with the limp and lifeless empanada I had at Tacolicious the next day, and it absolutely roared with flavor and contrasting textures. Yes, of course empanadas hailing from Venezuela, Peru and Mexico are different. But this I know: Sad and soggy they should definitely not be.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Tacolicious Tacos

New York pal DY was in town and coming down with a cold, so I took him to newly opened Tacolicious in the Mission to get him a piping hot bowl of posole. Typically, these spicy Mexican soups are made with chicken, but the Tacolicious version had shredded pork swimming in a chile pasilla-tomato broth, accompanied by chunks of avocado, cotija cheese, crispy tortilla, cilantro and other herbs to add to the mix.

We of course had to try a bunch of tacos, it being Tacolicious. DY's fave was the Guajillo-braised beef short rib, while mine was the fried local rock cod with shredded cabbage and tangy crema as well as the taco of the week: the uber-rich and savory braised lamb in adobo sauce. Heck, they were all really tasty, stuffed generously as they were with deliciously tender meat. The chicken in mole sauce could've done with a touch more seasoning. But all in all, I enjoyed my meal, enhanced as it was by the "pasion"a habanero-infused tequila margarita flavored with passionfruit and a good squeeze or two of lime.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Bacon Bacon Bonanza

The Bacon Bacon food truck parked by our office one Friday not too long ago, thanks to our executive assistant whose got a penchant for good eats and arranges these foodie Fridays for the office. Having heard how tasty Bacon Bacon's pork-laden fare is, I hightailed it to the truck well before noon in hopes of beating the lunch rush.

Ahhh, the line was already 20 deep, but no matter. My meal was well worth the wait. The slightly sweetened sloppy sloppy joe, spiced up with sriracha and dressed with plenty of bacon, was a gut-buster-and-a-half. And man, was it delicious.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Souffle-tastic at Cafe Jacqueline

I've lost count how many times I've had the pleasure of inhaling the perfectly pillowy and seasoned souffles that continue to parade out of the kitchen at North Beach gem Cafe Jacqueline these past 15 years and more. All I know is that the snowy-haired French whiz, Jacqueline, is still going strong. And I'm thrilled to know it.

Nearly four years later, my sister and I gave the corn, ginger, garlic and gruyere souffle another go. And it was just as rich and savory in all of its eggy glorywith the fresh flavor and crunch of corn adding lovely dimensionas we'd remembered it.

What was new for us was the blueberry souffle. I've had Cafe Jacqueline's chocolate souffle, not to mention the peach and strawberry renditions a number of times—they're all insanely good. But we wanted to try something new.

Wowza. Doused generously in the fruit's sweet juice and then topped with a bunch of the fresh tangy berries, the impossibly tall souffle comprised a dreamy combination of textures and flavors. We scraped both ramekins clean.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

In Season: Persimmons

On a recent visit to the SF Ferry Building, I noticed a bounty of fiery orange persimmons at a number of stands dotting the farmers market. Of course, I couldn't resist and bought a bag of hachiya persimmons (pictured here), which are ready to eat when soft to the touch (just like a ripe tomato).

Persimmons originate from Asia. And hachiya persimmons in particular are much loved by Koreans. I've got a strong food memory from a trip to Seoul, during which time I enjoyed large quantities of the sweet, juicy, heart-shaped fruits with my aunt. She'd bought a box full of the luscious ripe fruits and stored them in the freezer. Once frozen, we pulled them out and popped 'em in individual bowls, then took the stem off and started scooping away the insides with a spoon. Just like ice cream.

Persimmons = heritage = family = food = love.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Turkeyrific Holiday Feast

Another year, another Thanksgiving gone by. This time spent in Tiburon at the home of dear friends with my sister in tow. My contributions included green bean casserole (from scratch, of coursecompliments of Cook's Illustrated) and cheddary cheese twirls from a recent edition of Saveur magazine.

Needless to say I ate so much that I had quite the belly ache the next day.

But how could I resist when faced with as splendid a bird as this one. Brined and then roasted to moist perfection.

Not to mention a wonderful carbolicious train comprising wild rice stuffing, mashed rutabaga, roasted sweet potatoes, sweet cranberries and more.

Yep, I mowed through everything on this plate. (This does not include the 1/2 pound of hors d'oeuvre plus the pumpkin pie and apple crisp I also managed to consume.)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Welcome Wo Hing General Store

Welcome to the neighborhood, Wo Hing General Store. The much anticipated "reopening" of Charles Phan's first storefront on the Valencia corridor finally took place last month, but rather than go with his usual (and outstanding) Cal-Vietnamese fare (a la Out the Door), it seems Chinese street food was the way to go.

And heck, YH and I were more than happy with the results.

Maybe it's because we started with the oh-so-smooth 50/50 Split, lovely cocktails comprising Plymouth gin, Dolin vermouth, orange bitters with a lemon twist.

But no. It was probably because the 5-spice local squid, lightly fried in panko, along with thin slivers of lemon, were ever so tender, ever so fragrant and ever so good.

Add to that Wo Hing's rendition of mapo tofu, unrestrained in its hot spice quotient with a good amount of seasoning and sauciness, which felt very Chinese-Californian and exactly right in this lineup.

The kicker to this meal: a fab dessert of super fresh, glutinous mochi rolled in black sesame filled with vanilla custard. The server cautioned us about the texture of the little rollsthose not familiar with the gummy, springy texture are often put off by it; but most Asians absolutely adore it. We were no exception.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Brunch at Slow Club

If you're a brunch whore like me, then you'll appreciate Slow Club's awesome weekend line-up. JA and I had the best late morning repast I've had in a long while one Sunday not long ago.

The perfect marriage of sweet and savory: Turkey sausage hash with yukon gold potatoes, garnet yams, caramelized onion, roasted apples, butternut squash and sage, crowned with two delicately poached eggs, a sprinkling of wild arugula and cheddar cheese. I scraped the plate clean with the help of some moist, flakey biscuits and washed it all down with a creamy, smooth latte. Heaven.

Tasty Bites at Barbacco

Three dinners at Barbacco in the FiDi, and each one a resoundingly good time. From the starters to the generous entrees, the lively trattoria does a really nice job delivering fresh, flavorful dishes along with a smart wine list that pairs well with the bright, spicy food.

On this third go 'round, AB and I delighted in the homemade spicy, smoked Calabrian soft salame (aka 'nduja) and gobbled up the impossibly rich duck liver fegatini smothered in an intensely sweet tangle of caramelized balsamic onions.

Alas, the poached oil tuna over arugula, which we'd ordered, came out incredibly salty, so we sent it back. The accommodating server suggested another salad in its place, and we decided, sure why not. Let's try the duck.

Ah-mazing. The best thing we had that night. The duck conserva was uber-tender and succulent, the perfect kind of savory that complemented so well with the crispy sweet apple slivers, salty ricotta salata and baby spinach leaves.

Addictive stuff. I could happily eat Barbacco's duck salad every week.

By now we were starting to feel the hurt. Our bellies were well on their way to filling up, but we made room for the giganto polpette, crumbly Sicilian meatballs made with ricotta and lemon sitting atop a generous serving of braised escarole.

Yes, our eyes were bigger than our stomachs. The lamb sugo was probably the most pedestrian of all of the dishes, but was really quite well doneproperly seasoned and the pasta al dente; it suffered for having to be compared against the rest.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Best Meal in Bordeaux: at Gravelier

Actually, the meal I had at Gravelier was the the best of its class that I had during my recent 2-week jaunt through Europe and the UK. Thank you, Pierre (owner of the 18th Century barn of a house that BB and KG swapped homes with), for the great recommendation. It almost redeems you for your peculiar hoarding-tendencies. Anyway, back to Gravelier.

What a fab meal it was. In fact, I'll let the pictures speak to how formidable it was ... in flavor, color and texture as well as unique and complementary combinations.

For example, creamy foie gras wrapped in nori, sitting in the lightest dashi-vegetable broth, accompanied by a skewered shrimp brushed lightly with teriyaki sauce sitting atop thin, extra-crisp brioche toastettes. A surprising appetizer that absolutely worked.

Buttery fresh pasta with a bolognese sauce and a crown of peppery arugula accompanied by a chunk of moist fish flavored with a nutty pesto.

An amazing umami-esque dish of mushroom and tuna medallions.

A lovely medley of fromage, vegetables and proteins including tender pieces of lamb and beef.

Dessert is not Gravelier's forte, but I still appreciated this palmier-like pastry with gelee of fruit with melons suspended inside. Light and airy, fresh and clean. A good ending to a fantabulous meal.

The other dessert option was also solid: marinated minted peaches with grapes in deep-fried puff pastry and a little bit of ice cream on top.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Oyster-mania in Bordeaux

The day I spent trailing on the garde manger station of a Manhattan restaurant where oysters made up one-fifth of the orders hitting the kitchen came in handy during my week's stay in the Bordeaux countryside when BB, KG and I had oysters not once, but four times. No one knew how to shuck the shellfish except me (though BB was a quick study)and in most cases, the lusciously salty-sweet oysters were hard nuts to crack.

But man were they cheap. And the nice man at the Libourne open market gave us an even better deal on our first go at the bivalves, giving us the oysters priced at 4.5 euros/dozen for 4 euros, and throwing in a couple extra for good measure.

We rounded out our midday repast with a crisp, dry white wine, a lovely pate, plus a creamy fresh mound of burrata with melons, tomatoes and basil from the garden.

Honestly some of the best oysters I've ever had.

BB scored an even better deal on his second trip to the market, picking up two dozen assorted oysters that were equally as fantabulous for just 7 euros. Wowza.

Flanked with a lovely portion of paella, the oysters were one of the highlights of my trip to Bordeaux.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bar Lunch at Hillstone

The perfect lunch date with my dear friend and ideal man (save for that he's gay ... hmm, maybe that's why he's ideal) JW is one that's had at Hillstone's circular bar, facing out on the Embarcadero and the SF bay.

If I'm not chowing down on the honkin' Hillstone cheeseburger, I'll opt for the vibrant and vivacious Thai steak and noodle salad, which comes packed full of mouth-watering goodies. Besides the marinated beef filet, cooked a perfect medium rare, it's got big avocado chunks, roasted peanuts, luscious mango, sweet tomatoes and cilantro, all awash in a zippy Thai dressing. A tall, icy glass of Arnold Palmer rounds out this perfect midday meal.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Yes to Mission Cheese

Well done to newcomer Mission Cheese. Lonely Planet writer/pal AB and I enjoyed 2 monger's plates for a total of 6 out-of-this-world cheeses spanning the American countryside from West to East coast and in between. Accompanied by a couple of lovely glasses of rose, we were 2 very happy campers sitting at the beautiful burnished-wood bar one fine summer's eve.

Makes me that much more excited for my impending journey to France ... cheese of all shapes and sizes, with bouquets ranging from floral to foot-y ... I'll take it all, merci beaucoup.

Yay, cheese.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Yummy Yummy Crab

The spicy roast crab at Vietnamese resto Yummy Yummy is hands down the best of its kind in SF.

The uber garlicky-fiery chile sauce is out of this world. My folks, whom I took there while they were in town, gave it the highest of all compliments (in their book), saying this had exactly the flavor components of an excellent Korean marinade (mind you, I did say Yummy Yummy is in fact a Vietnamese establishment).

My ma, who doesn't really care for crab at all, couldn't help but sneak a leg or 2 or 3 onto her plate; it was the garlic-chile-onion-scallion-sesame sauce that she was in love with. And so was Ioh yes, and the crustacean itself was damn good too.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Black Bean Noodles

Pasta of a different kind and equally as good ... this one—the black bean noodles (aka jia-jiang-mein)—hailing from Eastern Paradise in Honolulu, Hawaii.

I love this dish, which is available at certain Chinese restaurants catering to Koreans—typically, there's even a second menu written in Korean. The umami-rich, soy-based sauce also includes chopped onions and zucchini along with diced beef and shrimp. Some versions have squid and sea cucumber or diced potatoes; this one didn't. The whole thing is then topped with a julienne of raw cucumbers. I like to spike my noodles with a good swig of vinegar to give it a tangy bite.

Eastern Paradise's version was pretty good. But I've gotta say that San Tung's (which makes its pasta in-house) in SF is better. Sadly, I avoid that place like the plague because it's mobbed day and night (and no wonder, the food is really that good). I guess I'll just have to suck it up and go back. Maybe if I go on the early side of lunch over the weekend, the wait, not to mention the din and roar, will be minimal? We'll see ...

Homemade Pasta from Puglia

Grazie, SM, for the fresh pasta, which I'm told hails from his hometown Lucera in Puglia. This exact type is called troccoli. The long, thick strands are traditionally cut with a special brass rolling pin, something SM's dad made to do up his own batches of troccoli back in Italy.

And so, a few of us got to partake of SM's lovely handiwork (something he does on a daily basis) one Sunday night not too long ago.

We enjoyed the filling pasta with a simple veggie ragu topped with grated Parmesan along with a side of peppery arugula and cherry tomatoes. Sometimes it's the simple things in life that are the most satisfying.