Thursday, September 26, 2013

Dinner in Provence at Chez Papa Bistrot

The French mafia continues to establish its stronghold on San Francisco, what with multiple Chez Papas and Mamans, La Boulanges (which recently got snapped up by Starbucks) and so on opening up in the city by the bay. I think the Chez Papa Bistrot in Potrero Hill is the original in the "chez" group and though I've dined at all the others, I'd never had a chance to try the original. Until now.

Remembering that mussels were Chez Papa's specialty, JP and I started out with a heaping bowl of 'em Basquaise style. The bivalves had been simmered in white wine spiked with roasted bell pepper, parsley and spicy Spanish chorizo. We plowed through the entire bowl along with the accompanying pile of crispy fries.

For my main, I chose a quintessential Provencal dish, the bouillabaisse or fish stew, which came with a ton of lovely goodies including black cod, clams, mussels, prawns, bay scallops, fingerling potatoes, plus some crusty bread with rouille (basically, mayo flavored with garlic, cayenne, saffron, olive and pepper). Which reminds me, I've got a slammin' recipe for bouillabaisse that I need to dust off and bring back into my repertoire ...

Meanwhile, JP went for the braised beef short rib sitting atop mashed potato and a red wine demi-glace, accompanied by a bit of veg and a tangle of watercress. Not enough vegetables, was JP's complaint, though the moules frites app had filled him up so much, he left his plate unfinished.

No matter. We took the tender short rib home and made a hearty meat sauce to go with our pasta the next day. Yay for good leftovers. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Big, Bodacious Beignets at Brenda's French Soul Food

Donuts are a pretty wonderful invention. I remember when I was just a wee thing, my mom making them from scratch—not for any special occasion per se, just for the heck of it. I'd stand by her side at the stove, watching her fry up these fluffy cakes with holes punched out of their middles. Peering over the side of the pot as the donut holes (my faves, of course) bobbed around in the bubbling oil. Ever since then, I've always favored these fried sweet treats, though I do try to avoid eating them on a regular basis. (Daily donut consumption will most certainly lead to a big belly. No thanks!)

Of course, if I'm having breakfast at Brenda's French Soul Food, I can't say no to "New Orleans' favorite doughnut," the beignet. Brenda's beignets come with a tasty little twist ... and then some.

For one, Brenda's beignets are enormous. The fluffiest, bounciest fritters I've ever had. 

And since they're hot out of the fryer, as soon as you cut into them, the stuffing inside comes oozing out, with the most tantalizing aromas floating up to your face.

The crawfish beignet has a generous hit of cayenne to turn up the heat, with plenty of melted cheddar to boot.

While the Granny Smith apple beignet has the right amount of sweetness and spice with its shroud of powdered sugar and the addition of cinnamon, honey butter. 

The beignets served as the warm-up for what became a breakfast blowout at Brenda's French Soul Food, when in fact, JP and I realized too late that those beignets were so filling, we really could have done with half the food we'd ordered. Food comas quickly ensued and pretty much kept hold of us for the entire day. Ah well, lesson learned. And no regrets anyway—I heart BFSF.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Loving Every Bite of Our Park Tavern Pig-Out

"This is the best meal I've had all year," raved PH during and after our meal at Park Tavern. I have to say, the food was mighty fine. And I was pleased PH enjoyed every bite since we were celebrating her birthday. We found the spacious North Beach restaurant comfortable and inviting, seated as we were in the corner of a plush row of black leather banquettes, right off Park Tavern's massive kitchen.

Since it was her birthday, I was happy to oblige PH's choice of appetizers, which included the smoked deviled eggs capped with slabs of bacon, pickled jalapenos, chives and shallots. And who doesn't love a good deviled egg anyway? These are just about the best rendition I've had. SPQR's deviled eggs rate pretty highly, too.

We also devoured Park Tavern's crispy, airy wafers of deep-fried lemon that came with a nicely seasoned fava bean hummus, spiked with nigella seeds and nasturtium.

I couldn't get over how amazingly perfect my main was: caramelized sea scallops that were fresh and juicy with a hint of the sea. They came with a joyous medley of crispy tempura maitake mushrooms, roasted sweet peppers and thin shavings of zucchini, all tempered by an earthy porcini cream and then brought back up with the tang of a grilled spring onion vinaigrettte. 

I got to nibble on PH's grilled pork chop. Holy bonanza. Served with morcilla sausage, brussels sprouts, wilted greens, tiny new potatoes, pickled onions and a savory mustard jus, this was the ultimate in indulgence. Of the very best kind.

We were on such a roll, we even managed to fit dessert into our greedy bellies before calling it quits. Who says gluttony is a bad thing?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Hearty and Full of Heart at 54 Mint

54 Mint had been on my list of places to try for quite some time. When I asked cousin MC whether we should go here or to Park Tavern instead (yet another place I've sadly skipped in my food forays 'round town—though I've since filled that hole; blog post to come), she left the choice to me. MC said both were good, just in different ways. Ah well, since I was in the mood for some pasta, and comfort food to boot, I chose 54 Mint.

MC was game for trying the bruschetta served with a creamy spread of burrata, luscious sea urchin, shavings of bottarga (aka salted, cured fish roe) and a chiffonade of basil. Mmmm, a really good marriage of the subtle dairy and sea urchin flavors with the more intense, briney bite of the bottarga.

Brand new on the menu that night was the paccheri (tube-shaped pasta) in an uber-garlicky (maybe a tick too garlicky, though MC didn't think so) zucchini sauce with a generous helping of calamari that was so tender, we barely had to chew the delicate little rings as we polished off this lovely bowl of bouncy goodness.

Whoa. When we spied this mountain of meat at another table just over and yonder, we knew we had to have it: the Roman-style oxtail stewed for hours so that the beef was really only just barely draped over the bone—and came tumbling off as soon as we gently laid our forks on it. Tomatoes, pancetta, carrots, onions, and celery along with a medley of Italian spices kicked up the flavor quotient several notches. This is the kind of thing that spells comfort food with a capital C, and something I'll cook on occasion (mostly special ones and when I have time) at home.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Rich Table, Wonder of Wonders

Rich Table is my new favorite restaurant. Thank you, SS for suggesting we hit the bar, reserved for walk-ins, at this most delightful eatery celebrating California's bounty. And thank god for catching a break when we snagged 2 seats within 10 minutes of our arrival—the place was packed to the rafters with ravenous diners, most with reservations made weeks in advance. The place has been getting a great deal of attention, all good. Needless to say, my expectations for Rich Table were high as we took our spots at the end of the bar, right next to the postage stamp-sized kitchen.

Wow. We set off on the right foot when Rich Table's server slid the bowl of blistered padron peppers and popped corn towards us. And those hefty slices of wild fennel levain bread with honkin' nob of butter.

Things continued to improve as we helped ourselves to the oh-so-fresh slivers of cured hamachi.

We also savored every bite of the juicy, sweet peach salad, which screamed of the last days of summer.

What a perfect dish this was: the trout in a green tomato broth with thin sheets of nori, corn, fig slices and a smattering of toasted almond.

I loved how the lightly dressed, citrusy shrimp and pea garganelli gave a good little kick with its pickled serrano peppers.

And more summer goodness in the form of a springy, blue corn cake with honey roasted plums and a dollop of vanilla ice cream.

Happy happy. Good times. Rinse. Repeat.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Bar Agricole Is Still Going Strong 2 Years Later

Actually, it's been almost two-and-a-half years since I first visited the spacious and modern Bar Agricole, which back then put out some really outstanding food. Another visit a year later proved just as rewarding. So when I was looking for a place that might please a friend with high culinary standards, I figured why not give Bar Agricole a third go 'round.

Bar Agricole didn't let me down. Said friend and Ialong with another paltucked into the buoyantly tender mussels, which came swimming in the most fragrant, lip-smacking white wine-cum-broth laced with fennel, green coriander and pancetta. We soaked the big, buttery hunk of toast that came alongside the bivalves into the broth and wished we had more bread to sop up the addictive liquid.

Other goodies included the fried green tomatoes and squash with tonnatowhich came out molten hot and crispy on the outside, juicy and sweet on the inside, accompanied by a tangy aioli; diminutive miso-pickled anchovies with horseradish and a swab of egg yolk cream below with a whisper of purslane on top; and jumbo rabbit meatballs sitting on a bed of creamy, buttery polenta with a kind of tomato pepper salsa that proved the perfect foil to the rich meat and corn side.

On that night, Bar Agricole was sporting an $85 pork chop on its daily changing menu. Say what? I asked the server if that was a typo. No, no. Not a typo at all. The meat weighs in at more than 2 pounds and takes more than an hour to cook, he told us. We decided to take a pass, though our curiosity was slightly piqued. ... Not enough to blow it all on one dish though.

And in the end, we didn't feel like we'd missed out. Not in the least.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

20 Spot for Some Tasty Nibbles

I met AB at 20 Spot in the Mission and found the punk-record-store-tranformed-into-a-no-frills-wine-bar the perfect place for a long overdue catchup. With two seats snagged at the end of the wood bar, we got some thoughtful advice from the folks behind the counter on the wines we eventually selected and quick service on the couple of appetizers we sampled from the short list of menu items 20 Spot had to offer.

One appetizer in particular deserves an honorable mention—5 raw slices of yellowfin tuna topped with slivers of fruit, microgreens, salmon roe, and Aleppo pepper. We tucked into those velvety medallions with great gusto. They look as good as they tasted. A happy and harmonious medley of flavors and textures.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Point Reyes Oysters

The first time I tried oysters and actually liked them was 15-some-odd years ago at a company retreat in Bodega Bay, not too far from where we enjoyed this lovely little trough of Point Reyes oysters (below). The oysters that got me thinking that bivalves were worthy of consumption were lightly grilled and served with a squeeze of lemon. The ones here also came with lemon wedges plus a tangy mignonette, though these were shucked and slurped down raw.

Bottoms up. The half dozen slippery suckers went down way too fast, making us tempted to order another round. But since oysters are available pretty much all year round (so says Hog Island Oyster Co.), we decided to practice a bit of self-restraint and pick some up later when we got back into town.

Hmmm, famous last words? Nah. I think oysters are on order this weekend ...

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Kimchi on Kimchee at Namu Gaji

"Our mom made the best kimchee fried rice growing up. Chef Ryan Farr makes SF's best hot dog. Need we say more." So reads the emphatic description for Mission eatery Namu Gaji's kimchee fried rice.

And here I'd always thought my mom made the best kimchi* fried rice. So of course I had to give this dish a try ... just to see if Namu Gaji's version came close to what nostalgia had immortalized as the most comforting of comfort foods.

Made with sticky white rice, kimchee, 4505 hot dog slivers, bacon bits and kochujang (aka Korean chile paste), then topped with a fried egg, green onions plus a chiffonade of nori, NG's fried rice sure did make a good go at my mom's #1 position.

But dear ol' mom's fried rice still reigns supreme. Since she lives in AZ though, I'm sure she won't mind if I let Namu Gaji pinch hit in her stead every now and again.

*Kimchi or kimchee ... no matter how you want to spell it, it's all good.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Best Fried Chicken at San Tung

Chinese restaurant San Tung in the Inner Sunset is often impossible to get into—unless you're willing to scribble your name on the white-board just inside and resign yourself to a long(ish) wait. And yet, you'll see throngs of people huddling outside on the sidewalk, more than willing to cool their heels until their name is called.

That's because they know what to expect: San Tung's cooks dish out lip-smacking goodies on a near daily basis. Addicting stuff like the dry sauteed string beans, dry black bean sauce noodles, hot braised bean curd ... and let's not forget the original dry fried chicken wings.

Fortunately, San Tung's got a newish cafe-cum-to-go spot right next door to its more traditional restaurant where you can pretty much get all of the same in-demand items (along with ice cream and bubble tea) sans the long wait. So, one night not too long ago, we strolled on in and ordered some of the black bean noodles along with a plate piled high with the best fried chicken in town.

Deep-fried to crispety perfection, the well-seasoned original dry fried chicken wings come spiked with a tongue-tingling dose of garlic, ginger and roasted chile peppers. 

Mmmmmmm. Finger-lickin' good.