Posts Tagged ‘spinach’


Friday, July 9th, 2010
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The occasion of Lisa’s birthday was the reason for heading to my now-favorite San Francisco restaurant, Nombe.

Hakuro Suishu – Junmai Ginjo (winter water). A very, very smooth sake.

First course – Suimono; a salad sashimi-based salad with amazingly fresh and vibrant vegetables. Fresh, raw trout sat atop purslane, tofu, arugula, sea beans, chanterelles, squash blossoms, fresh pickled ginger, spinach, sunomono, radish, and a very light seafood broth. It would have been a perfect dinner for two and a more-than-ample meal for one. The chanterelle mushrooms were tender and provided a rich texture against the clean, brightness of the vegetables. The trout — which I thought was salmon based on the color — was rich with an ample amount of marbling to give enough fat to the entire dish to balance out all the healthy goodness in the vegetables.

Kubota Maju – Dai Ginjo. Luxuriously super clean and flowery sake. This was offered as an intercourse as Gil had a few sips left from a tasting a few days prior. He admitted this was the Cadillac of sakes and usually too expensive for most. A lovely gesture that it was comped for Lisa’s birthday.

Tengumai Jikomi – Yamahai Junmai. A richer, more lingering sake to accompany the rest of the meal.

Hano Okazu – So many dishes at once. Served in small, 3″ plates, following our glorious salad came a veritable Japanese smörgåsbord:

  • Wagyu Beef ~ Ever so lightly grilled as to preserve the integrity of the marbling. Served with sliced scallions and shredded daikon, this tender offering proved rich and satisfying.
  • Squash ~ Fresh yellow squash and zucchini were very thinly sliced, marinated in a light rice wine vinegar and served with fresh greens.
  • Bitter Melon ~ Contrasting flavors to all the other vegetables, here chunked bitter melon is served alongside caramelized onions which gave a level of tender sweetness to the crunchy melon.
  • Chicken Livers ~ Chicken livers are coated with a sesame-studded spicy breading that was just slightly hot enough to entice without being overpowering. Served with fresh cilantro, I pushed those greens aside but Lisa enjoyed that element. I was just happy with the crunch of the exterior which yielded to the tender interior.
  • Chicken Gizzard ~ Yet another slightly spicy offering, the gizzards are marinated with bits of red pepper and white and black sesame seeds. Perfectly chewy (the way a gizzard should) with a tangy bite to counter-balance the spice and crunch of the livers.
  • Pickles ~ Chef Nick makes his own pickles and these are not to be missed. Not just a palate cleanser, these become an integral part of the meal.
  • Minnow ~ Little miniature fish, deep fried and tossed with diced peppers and a chili paste, I was anticipating a mouth-burner, but they were not too hot at all. Lisa particularly enjoyed these little morsels.
  • Kimchee ~ Probably one of the hottest offerings, I had to relegate most of this dish to Lisa who has a higher tolerance than I do. I tried a portion and preferred the remnants of the flavors which existed on the sliced zucchini pickles.
  • Pig’s Ears ~ Hidden under wafer thin radish slices were ribbons of sliced pig ear. Hands-down the favored dish of the evening, neither Lisa nor I had ever tasted such a uniquely tender preparation. Usually it is the consistency of hard, chewy rubber bands, we were both astonished at how flavorful the thinly sliced ears were but also how delightfully tender.
  • Seaweed Salad ~ I purchase a very similar concoction to this at Nijiya market, but what comes pre-made in plastic containers in a grocery store is not nearly as savory and flavorful as this. Uniform slices of seaweed, carrot, and daikon is all lightly dressed and garnished with white and black sesame seeds.
  • Eggplant ~  Hidden under bonito flakes and scallion were freshly roasted, seasoned eggplant. This was a favored dish of mine as the saltiness from the bonito countered the sweetness in the eggplant.
  • Rice with Fresh Nori ~ My consistent favorite that I usually always save for breakfast.

All of these tiny plates surrounded a giant platter of pork shoulder from Llano Seco Farms. Here the pork is presented as both succulent slabs with heavy rivers of fat to be negotiated in its consumption, but also golden fried chicharrons (fried pork rinds). Served with a rich dark sauce and creamy mayonnaise, we topped the meat with a bit of lime juice. Seared to give just enough to give a dark, rich crust, the interior was tender and moist and while a little difficult to eat with chopsticks, ripping the luscious meat with our teeth was primal and satisfying.

Dessert courses finished out this more-than-ample meal. The waitress behind the counter started opening a half-bottle of pink sake and we were both intrigued. I’m sorry I didn’t get its name, but a few moments later, Chef Nick arrived with a small clay dish of house-made Ume and Coconut sorbet and proceeded to pour the sweet sake over the frozen delight. Almost a palate-cleanser this easily could have happily finished the meal for us, but there was more. Bedecked with birthday candle was a mochi cake and knowing what a Fried Dough Ho I am, a smaller serving of his infamous Seagull Eggs with strawberry jam. The mochi cake gave that classic chewy texture with hints of sweetness and a bit of creamy topping. I love the beignets that Chef Nick produces but believe they are better when made larger and stay fluffier; the smaller versions get a bit tough but are still well-loved by yours’ truly.
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Bar Pintxo

Monday, November 16th, 2009
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My last evening in the L.A. area was blessed with a surprise visit by O.C. friend, Joan. She showed up as I was tearing down my booth at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and after a very long day of peddling my wares, I was anxious to get some fresh air and just stretch my legs. We walked the Santa Monica Promenade which I had not been down in almost a decade. Not really surprised but slightly saddened to realize that all the independent shops had all been replaced with large, corporate chains. Even chain restaurants. There was a brief debate about dining at a Houston’s just because the wafting smell of grilled animal flesh was so enticing — but the wait was not and so we kept wandering. I was thrilled to see my favorite local British pub, Ye Olde King’s Head, was still alive and surviving and as we wandered close to consider it for dinner, we spied a small restaurant directly across the street, Bar Pintxo at 109 Santa Monica Boulevard.

We were incredibly lucky to snag a spot on the bar as minutes later, waiting diners were lining up behind us, waiting for a coveted seat at the very small, intimate establishment. I asked the waiter to bring me a glass of his favorite red wine. “Light or meaty?” he asked. Oh, definitely big… I was served a lovely ’06 San Roman-Prima Toro. Perusing the menu, I wanted to make sure I ordered enough veggie items to share and probably ordered one too many as Joan had to leave right as the food started arriving, leaving me to battle the onslaught of food to arrive. We were automatically given a bowl of really exceptional olives which certainly whetted the appetite. Spinach was a given as I adore sautéed spinach with garlic and this version also included pinenuts, apples, and raisins. This was on the more vinegary side, but still very fresh and bright.

I liked that a number of small plates were available, including the simple bites of tronchon with membrillo at $2, “parfait” of foie with caramelized onions and apples for $9, and dates wrapped in bacon with cabrales cheese for $5. The dates were amazing; just caramelized to that point of enticing sweetness juxtaposed with the saltiness of bacon. A neighbor on the bar had something I had to ask about and then order; a pumpkin salad with pomegranate seeds. Served with wilted greens and thinly sliced cheese, this was a delightful concoction indicative of fall flavors. The pumpkin must have been steamed for it was obviously not raw but still had a lively crunch to it. The last special I couldn’t resist was a selection of baby octopus served with fingerling potatoes and fresh garbazo beans. So often the heads of the baby octopus are removed and here they were still part of the presentation. So tender and rich, it killed me that I wasn’t at the restaurant with four people as I certainly wanted to taste more of the impressive menu, but was far too full to continue by myself.

The restaurant *is* small and rather loud. The service can lag a bit but I didn’t mind; it is obvious they are busy and they certainly are not slacking in their attempt to serve quickly. There were only two servers and while an extra pair of hands might have made things a bit faster, it also would have made the small space that much more crowded. I say go early and be patient. I would also suggest a party of three or four to get that many more tastes. They were slicing jambon I would have loved to have tasted and I watched them grilling some stunning large shrimp which smelled amazing. Very fresh ingredients and extremely well-prepared — moreso than any tapas restaurant I have been to in recent memory.
Bar Pintxo on Urbanspoon

Daniel Boulud – Las Vegas

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

Business found me in Las Vegas for my 45th birthday at the beginning of June. Before arriving, I had an invitation from a Facebook friend I had never met for a birthday cocktail, which I found utterly charming. I met Sonia Bañuelos of Saffron Paisley fame met me at the Parasol Bar in the Wynn. We were shortly joined by Denise of Delisch, and Meghan Riley. Debating where to dine for dinner, Daniel Boulud’s Brasserie is mere steps from the opulent water show, but despite the massive array of empty tables, I was told there was an hour+ wait. Getting hungry, we opted to squeeze into the lounge area, which is not quite as comfortable for where (we were told) at least the whole menu was available.

In our classic sharing mode, for the table I ordered a 2004 Outpost Zinfandel which was well-loved by all. Also for the table was the *small* version of the fruits de mer, an exceptional offering of chilled fish. On the platter was 4″ prawns, three types of crudo and tartare, a half lobster, mussels, oysters, and clams. The quality of the fish was exceptional and ample. I also ordered the terrine of foie which was easily one of the best offerings of foie I have tasted in a decade. Served alongside was an aspic of elderflower and a crème with an imperceptible flavor. We asked about it because it was so light and enticing and the waiter insisted it was horseradish, which was obviously wrong. Regardless, the foie itself was perfectly prepared with a firm, creamy texture and served with delightfully thin, toasted brioche.

Also on the table was a glorious charcuterie plate, the best burger I have ever tasted, a rich duck breast, and a side of creamed spinach. I would go back for the burger in a heart-beat, despite what I think was a $32 price tag. We finished up the evening with a cheese plate but because of the volume in the lounge, we didn’t really understand the cheese explanations which were offered. They were served with a few glasses of Tokaji and I was very surprised that in all, the entire meal with tip came to a mere $100 a person. Quite a bargain, considering the quality and bounty of the food offered.
Daniel Boulud Brasserie (Wynn) on Urbanspoon

Maison Riz

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

A decade ago, I used to live in Redondo Beach. And I return at least once a year – usually for business – and still dine with an old foodie friend who always keeps me apprised of new and interesting restaurants. There was some local buzz of a French/Japanese fusion restaurant on the pier, Maison Riz, which had only recently set up shop, complete with a very large, glowing sign.  We called to make sure we could be seated and was told that if we arrived within 15 minutes, there would be room. When we arrived, we could see that more than ¾ of the restaurant was entirely empty.

There was some quandary about the menu as we wanted to try as many dishes as possible. The restaurant offered a six-course Riz Tasting menu which we ordered along with some additional dishes. Our waiter was young and energetic (maybe just legal to drink) and although he tried to exude sophistication.

The first course was a quiche-like something. It was barely warm and made with a puff pastry that was extremely rubbery. The dish was flavorless and piled atop a mound of over-dressed, limp lettuce. This dish arrived before we had an opportunity to even place a drink order. We were pondering the wine list and asked if they had a sommelier. We asked three different people several times if they had a sommelier. The bus boy was not sure what we were asking for and asked a waitress to help us. We repeated the request a number of times and without admitting ignorance of the word, she responded that she would check with the kitchen. Pondering a sparkling sake, there was a chance that it was dry or sweet, but no one seemed to know and our waiter’s only response was that someone had tasted it last week and enjoyed it.

The second course was a small tasting of crudo. However, under the two raw seafood preparations, was a puddle of spinach, a few pink peppercorns, and  citrus oil. I know that one of the fish offerings was tuna, but I can’t tell you what the white fish was. On top of the two fishes was uni and caviar. It was layered far too high to gather all of the ingredients, but even with those I did get in my first bite, my initial reaction was “train wreck.” It was extremely reminiscent of the sickly-sweet perfume I wore as a nine-year old. There were too many disparate flavors and the muddled, strident tones of the ingredients conflicted with each other. Served alongside was a tuille of parmesan cheese studded with sesame seeds, but the cracker was woefully stale. Thankfully, our order of individual glasses of champagne arrived to help cleanse the palate. The dish was piled so high as to be laughable with the ¼ teaspoon-sized utensils offered. I believe this was intended to be more along the lines of an amuse, but instead of amusing, I was aghast. I made a comment that I would not be remotely offended if we wanted to cut bait and leave, but we agreed to give them one more try. As we looked at each other in horror as the bread basket arrived. What looked to be potentially beautiful, crusty bread was in fact bread that had either been steamed or microwaved. I’m not sure this was the straw that broke our camel’s back, but it definitely showed an astonishing lack of professionalism on the part of the kitchen.

Our third course was a salad that was described as “Crab Ceasar.” The travesty which was offered was yet another multi-layered concoction of discordant components; intensely strong pesto underneath fried, greasy shoestring potatoes, under overly-dressed miso/Ceasar greens, under a salad of crab meat which was gloppy in its mayonnaise-based dressing, which was under some shredded vegetable of indeterminate origin. Yes, you read corrently: Three different dressings in one “salad,” none of which were balanced or remotely appetizing. And to have all three composed in one dish was atrocious. It was here that we started calling for servers to tell them to stop the meal.  We were just on the border of the evening being early enough to salvage some potential dining time and we needed to make our escape soon if we were going to have an opportunity at another establishment.

Unfortunately, another course arrived. It was in an oddly useless piece of service ware; a deep, oblong bowl on top of which was a two-handled, ceramic “spoon” which kept it from lying flat on its own. In the bowl itself was crab ravioli garnished with two over-cooked, ruby prawns. The ravioli dough was gummy and the sauce akin to Chef Boyardee. In the spoon-like attachment were two prosciutto-wrapped cherry tomatoes. For whatever reason, they call this “prosciutto maki” and garnished it again with the horrendous pesto.

The manager had arrived as my companion explained that the meal was just not working for us. I was reaching for my purse to escape, when the manager begged the indulgence of continuing the meal. I will grant that the restaurant is new and that it takes some time to iron out problems, but with the short time I have to visit, I was in no mood to be anyone’s guinea pig. To his credit, the manager pleaded for a return visit and while it seems obvious the chef has had some formal training, he seems to be one that is newly graduated from cooking school with the idea that good food must be a complicated mélange of flavors, but it seems shockingly evident that the chef has little experience with taste components or flavor matching.

Looking at their website, the mystery continues in presenting themselves as offering “French-Japanese inspired cuisine featuring European culinary traditions and ingredients indigenous to Japan.” I was unaware that pesto and fried shoestring potatoes were indigenous to Japan. Their website promotes “a distinctive wine list highlighting petite vineyards.” When was Beringer’s White Zinfandel’s vineyards ever considered petite? Well, they didn’t mislead in one regard; they state that their “goal is provide all the necessary elements that will result in an unforgettable dining experience, creating memories that will last a lifetime.” Man, there is no chance of me EVER forgetting this dining experience. I wish I could.
Maison Riz 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…