Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Pleased as Punch at Plate Shop

Chef Kim Alter's Sausalito resto Plate Shop does everything right. And no wonder, considering where she hails from: Aqua, Ubuntu, Michelin-starred Manresa ... With a garden in back that allows for the freshest produce on every plate, not to mention house-churned butter and eggs from chickens roosting in Alter's coop, the food screams of California seasonal, local and organic to the Nth degree. I've been twice so far since its recent opening and have praised it to the heavens to anyone who'll listen. Can't wait for my next trip back to the Saus and Plate Shop in particular.

Melt-in-your-mouth Kobe beef bavette pumped up with chunks of avocado, charred spring onions and onion soubise beneath.

Fragrant and savory braised lamb with a pile of perfectly cooked root vegetables. Winner.

Chicken done 3 ways: roasted, confit'd and whipped into the most decadent liver mousse with a Jameson whisky gelee.

Uber-moist arctic char sitting atop sautéed maitake mushrooms, kohlrabi strips and maple-cured fish bacon (what what?! yes!).

Can I have s'more, please? ... Sticky, gooey monkey bread made of spongey, airy cinnamon brioche and finished off with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

nopa Keeps on Rockin'

Thank god for nopa. If not for this "San Francisco gathering place" in the Western Addition, the neighborhood would probably have remained a (culinary) wasteland. From the get-go, nopa breathed life into the Divisadero corridor, and it continues to anchor the on-the-rise and yet still somewhat gritty strip boasting all manner of really great restos, cafes and bars.

Love nopa.

Above: fried, uber-moist sardines flavored with pimentón (Spanish paprika) and a preserved meyer lemon aioli.
Below: creamy, baked goat cheese, pickled beets and frisée, plus a pile of crostini.

Wow. When we ordered the "warm butter bean salad," we had no idea it was going to come out as the most comforting of comfort dishes. This baked tomato sauce-based casserole—"it tastes like pizza," said an awe-struck PH; "the best kind," I replied—came stuffed with wild nettles, a poached egg and kumquats, with oozing cheese, pesto and savory breadcrumbs loaded on top.

We finished off with a Moroccan vegetable tagine that had been cooked to perfection. PH didn't realize it was a vegetarian dish, the flavors were so rich and full. Castelvetrano olives, toasted almonds and plenty of tangy lemon yogurt made this dish that much better—in color, texture and most important, flavor. Mmmmmmmm.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Bisous à Bouchon

In spite of having been inspired (bowled over, really) by celebrated culinary wonder Thomas Keller in The Soul of a Chef almost a decade ago on my journey towards cooking school and into the restaurant—albeit for a short time only, I'd never actually taken the opportunity to try his much-revered and widely heralded food. Until now.

Last week, JA and I took a day off from work and wound our way up to Yountville to drop in for a late and lazy lunch at Bouchon. It was an experience to remember—incredible from beginning to end, and strongly reminiscent of the best Parisienne bistro. I loved absolutely everything that came to our table. Why can't every day be a holiday at Bouchon?

Above: lobster bisque swimming with mildly earthy trumpet mushrooms and a crispy-on-the-outside, molten-and-tender-on-the-inside lobster beignet anchoring the fragrant bowl.
Below: a joyous, harmonious tangle of marinated beets, Tomme Dolce (soft-ripened goat's cheese), roasted garden lettuce, poached rhubarb and toasted hazelnuts with a drizzle of rhubarb vinaigrette.

Then out came the creamy cod brandade beignets with a super crisped-up exterior sitting on top of sweet-tart tomato confit, crowned with fried sage. ... I suddenly felt transported to one of Barcelona's amazing tapas bars.

Gnocchi a la Parisienne doused in a rich brown butter sauce stayed fresh and bright with its fricassee of garden vegetables including tangy rhubarb, sharp wilted greens and the umami flavors of mushroom.

We couldn't leave Bouchon without trying the chocolate bouchons (aka rich, moist brownies) accompanied by a home-made espresso ice cream and skim milk foam—"that's the part that keeps the dessert light," said the waiter.

Riiiigggght, I said. There was nothing light about this meal, but we were more than OK with that. After all, Bouchon is all about butter, beautiful food and the occasional big splurge.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Chowing Down on Irving Cafe's Banh Mi

I really suck for not ever having made it to Irving Cafe & Deli in all the years I've lived less than a quarter mile away from this awesome purveyor of banh mi (aka Vietnamese sandos). Especially after I'd been lamenting the lack of really good banh mi in SF—more specifically, crying foul over the mediocre quality of the bread. Soft, spongey bread is a no bueno. Airy, crusty slender baguettes are IT. Well, Irving Cafe & Deli has it all. This here's the roast pork with the works on crispety-crunchety French bread, slathered with plenty of special sauce. ICD's now on my radar.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Good Line-Up at Bar Agricole

I was too busy eating to snap a lot of pics at Bar Agricole. Truth be told, I was enjoying the company and the nosh so much that I just plum forgot to get the digi-cam out. But I did get off a couple as follows, of some really choice selections:

Plump, juicy manila clams piled in with caramelized potatoes and crisp-tender sugar snaps, sitting in a pool of buttery, rich broth.

A springy slice of lemon cake topped with supremed blood oranges and a crown of crunchy, sweet pickled fennel, plus a big blob of whipped cream. Mmmmmm. Me likey.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Zero Zero for Pie and Dessert

Zero Zero (named for the type of flour pizzaiolos use in Napoli) puts out really good pies—like my fave, the Fillmore comprising hen of the woods mushrooms, leeks, mozzarella, parmesan, pecorino, fontina, garlic and thyme. But it also happens to have a really great make-your-own-dessert program.

DY, SP and I chose the Straus Dairy soft-serve vanilla-chocolate swirl topped with crispy shards of nutty, buttery toffee. Along with it, powdery puffs of deep-fried ricotta dough rolled in cinnamon sugar. In a word: heaven.