Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Samovar Tea Lounge

Friday, July 23rd, 2010
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Sitting high above the Yerba Buena Gardens is a small restaurant, Samovar Tea Lounge. I discovered Samovar several years ago and often bring out-of-town guests there for a healthy, innovative lunch offerings. Back then, they were not open in the evenings but have now expanded their hours until early evening. It is warm and inviting with banquettes lined with exotic drapes and comfy pillows. Part of their advertisement is the idea of not rushing and early on, it proved difficult to get lunch ordered and eaten within an hour. Fortunately, they have improved that over the years.

Pictured here is Moorish Mint Tea; a complete lunch which included grilled Halloumi kebabs served on top of a mint salad. Alongside were three dolmas and and a handful of dried olives as well as two Medjool dates stuffed with chevre and topped with a pistachio-crusted walnut. This is one of two standard meals that I have become accustomed to; the Moorish platter mostly eaten when it is warm and sunny and one craves room temperature food that is flavorful and full of fresh, bright ingredients. When it is cold and blustery, I desperately crave the the Indian tofu curry platter with basmati rice and masala chai. Rich and satisfying and warm, it is a concoction I have often tried to recreate at home but I never seem to be able to get it as redolent with spices as they can create.

I can also heartily recommend the Japanese luncheon. In a round, ceramic bento box I was served a seaweed salad, two scoops of rice topped with various condiments, a triangle of seared yellowtale and two shrimp, and some marinated broccoli rabe. There was also a very delicate, subtle tea soup which had some unknown vegetables which were a bit on the soft side. Along with the lunch, I ordered the “upcharge” Matcha service ($5 on their website but $10 in the restaurant). There was a nut-crusted sweet (may have been mochi, but didn’t really taste like it) along with the Matcha and then a green tea-dusted brownie bite was served with the lunch as well.

The Chinese lunch starts with an amazing Oolong Tea coupled with a hot-pot of chicken, vegetables, rice, and a great gingery sauce. The second tier of the service is squash potstickers. The top tier had my dessert; a coconut rice pudding. With the  Russian lunch one is served a folded crepe (they called it a blini, but it was a crepe) filled with smoked trout and topped with capers, thinly sliced onions, and sour cream. You also got a selection of fresh fruit, a “Russian Tea Egg” which was a glorified Deviled egg topped with caviar, and two sweets, a bread pudding that was amazingly stunning — drizzled with a Bergamot honey and studded with dried tea and pistachios, and a single truffle made with smokey Russian tea. The classic, smokey tea had to be “self-serve” by walking to a stand that contained a classic Samovar from which he poured his tea.

Besides the innovative menu for dining, many who visit Samovar do so only for their extensive tea menu. While many are more enthralled with the perfectly brewed coffee, here it is all about tea; white, green, black, pu-erh, or herbal. And if a full meal is not desired, there are enough small bites of sweet treats, sandwiches, or salads which will satisfy any appetite.

Samovar Tea Lounge on Urbanspoon

Naked Lunch

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

I am extremely grateful to BFF (Best Foodie Friend) Lisa for rescuing me today for lunch. Working from home, I tend to get lazy about my daytime meals and have exhausted every local Fillmore and Japantown eatery several dozen times over. I am ashamed to say that I don’t think enough outside my local neighborhood and while debating between the $10 Bento Box and the La Boulange Niçoise salad, Lisa called and suggested a jaunt to North Beach to try the much-lauded Naked Lunch. With a menu that changes on a daily basis, Naked Lunch is the brainstorm of chef Ian Begg (SF Chron Rising Chef 2008), formerly of Café Majestic.

Both lunch and dinner menus are available but operating out of the adjacent Enrico’s Sidewalk Café, dining in-house is only possible for lunch while dinner is take-out. While waiting for our order, we enjoyed a bag of 4505 Chicharonnes, a great balance of salt and sugar with a hint of chili powder. We also shared a Honey Tangerine Cooler.

The staff was really great; apologizing at the lateness of our ordered salad by offering an amuse of Roasted Tomato Soup with a chive garnish. This soup must have been half butter for its richness. We were so happy with the chicharonnes, it didn’t matter that our salad was going to take a little time.

What I love about eating with Lisa is that we share everything we order and we have very consistent tastes; whenever I suggest a selection of courses it invariably is exactly what she would order and vice-versa. Two sandwiches which we decided to share was the Piquillo Pepper and Manchego Sandwich garnished with Spinach, Sweet Onion, Balsamic, and Herbs. Ripping open the paper and pulling apart the warm, crunchy bread displayed an almost erotic stringiness of melted manchego. This was one of those Perfect Sandwiches; just enough caramelized onions, not too much spinach to be bitter, and juicy bright peppers.

Regrettably, we arrived too late to order the Duck Prosciutto and Foie Gras sandwich with Black Truffle salt, but the Tuesday special of a Fulton Valley Farms Fried Chicken Sandwich with Green Garlic Aïoli, Buttermilk Coleslaw, on Pain de Mie was an ample condolence. Just the look of the bun itself was sufficient to know we had a treat before us; golden, warm, and spongy, this encompassed a supreme example of fried chicken. Here the meat was tender and intensely moist with a very light breading which provided a tender bite, complementing the creamy slaw. So many fried chicken sandwiches are so pervasive with breading, while this was far from the case here.

Our salad did arrive several bites into our sandwiches and while we were already getting full and knew we didn’t need the extra food, were gratified at its simplistic elegance; a Spring Asparagus salad with Wild Arugula, Manchego, Preserved Lemon, and Chives. Any apologies that had been offered were entirely unnecessary and this simple preparation of clean ingredients were well worth the wait.

The best part about all of this? The price tab; at $28, we had a truly astonishing lunch with an incredible bargain to boot. The sandwiches were a mere $8.00 each, the salad was $6.00. $3.00 each for beverage and fried pork skins rounded out the tab and saddened me that I don’t live closer or that going for the evening take-out menu is not more convenient.
Naked Lunch on Urbanspoon


Sunday, November 15th, 2009

It isn’t difficult to find a good restaurant in Los Angeles and through a recommendation, I headed to Drago with another old Angeleno friend. I was very glad we arrived early (before 7:00) because by 8:00 on a Saturday night, the restaurant was packed and the volume definitely made it hard to hear the person sitting across from me. There was a special prix fixe menu available but we were apprised that we could mix and match from that menu and their standard menu.

The amuse of bruschetta with an olive and bit of cheese was rather forgettable. I took one bite and let it alone; the tomatoes were very under-ripe and bitter. I started with an arugula salad which was topped with some truffled cheese. This offering was quite excellent; not too over-dressed and very fresh. My friend Robert started with a pasta; large penne with a veal ragu. For the life of me, neither of us new what the shredded stuff topping the dish was. It was chewy and tasteless and had no point on the dish which was otherwise just fine.

For entrées, I chose the Pappardelle with roasted pheasant and morel mushrooms. Here the pasta was paper thin, handkerchief-sized, and quite well suited to the rich pheasant and creamy mushroom sauce. The good doctor had fresh veal with artichoke hearts and asparagus, a special of the evening. I hadn’t eaten veal in some time and somehow I always envision veal as being more tender than this was. It was a very good piece of meat and well-prepared, but it didn’t blow me away. The whole presentation seemed rather pedestrian and I can’t put my finger on exactly why.

We finished up with two desserts, a classic tiramisu and a lemon, poppy seed cake topped with a rich sabayon and under-ripe strawberries. Both were good, but not great. We had shared a $44 bottle of wine and when all was said and done, this was the most expensive meal during my most recent Los Angeles trip at roughly $85 a person and probably the most forgettable. Overall, the service was exemplary and the food satisfactory, but there was nothing to make it shine or especially memorable. The majority of the diners seemed to be movie industry types (I saw many one-sheets and scripts being discussed) and perhaps it is a place for deals to be made. I would return if someone else invited me, but believe there are far better choices in the neighborhood.

Drago Ristorante on Urbanspoon

Dosa Fillmore – Opening Night

Friday, November 28th, 2008

One of the things I love about living in the Fillmore Jazz District of San Francisco is the bounty of really fabulous restaurants within walking distance. I have often lamented the lack of a really good Indian restaurants (as well as the lack of a good Middle Eastern restaurant, so if anyone is listening…)  Several months ago, the well-known Mission-based Dosa restaurant took over the vacated Goodwill store on Fillmore and Post and having walked past it on an almost daily basis, like many locals, we have had the great anticipation of the transformation of that elegant, old building.  So it was with anxious anticipation that I was one of the first standing out front, waiting to get in on opening night. (Okay, I confess; I *was* the first customer and will gloat about that for a short while).

Dining solo, I headed straight to the bar. Putting myself in the capable hands of a bartender named Kevin, I asked for his favorite Gin drink and a tasting menu comprised of his favorite dishes. My first cocktail was called the Bengal Gimlet, with Tanqueray Rangpur, Kaffir lime juice, and I believe, some muddled curried-scented fruit. It was fabulous and while waiting, I was incredibly impressed to count 26 varieties of Gin. I will definitely be back on that regard…


The Cayman Islands

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

The most astonishing thing one notices upon arrival is the color of the water; I have never seen such pristine, crystal blue liquid before. As with all our previous stops, we had pre-arranged the day’s tour – this time, a turtle farm and the stingray encounter. In typical cruise fashion, we waited for the requisite bus to carry us to our destination. Our first stop, the turtle farm, was a fabulous experience (albeit, a tad touristy, but I can look beyond that just to see these amazing primordial creatures). For $3.00, you can buy a bag of kibble to feed the larger animals and they allow you to hold and pet the smaller, four month-old turtles. Given the instruction that when they start flapping a bit, a simple stroke under the chin calms them down.