Posts Tagged ‘vegetarian’

Bushi Tei

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

In all honesty, I’m not sure why this received a Michelin star…

There were two omakase offerings on the menu; one with meat and one vegetarian. I was intrigued with the vegetarian until I was told it was two courses with a dessert. That’s it? I’ll take the meat omakase which was five courses.

An amuse was brought out – a sandwich of tuna rillette between two crunchy crackers which were actually toasted slices of their house bread. Putting *some* rillette on a single slice would have been sufficient but an amuse (which in my mind should be taken in one bite) of two dry hunks of bread with not-enough fish just made for too big of a mouthful.

Sadly, there is no wine pairing with the omakase and so I was on my own in determining wine pairings for dishes that I had no pre-knowledge of. Big mistake. The waiter did tell me the first few courses were fish so I was fairly certain a white would work and ordered a Riesling (sorry, lost my notes on which one specifically). Also, this wine was served in a Pinot Noir glass… Bad.

The first course was a layered monstrosity of a giant wasabi leaf, champagne-poached oyster, blue fin tuna tartare, some coconut-based hollandaise, fresh uni, and American sturgeon caviar. I say it was a monstrosity as there was far too much going on and either the oyster or the tartare (or both?) could have been entirely left out. The flavor of the uni, caviar, and coconut was predominate so something as delicate as a champagne-poached oyster (which couldn’t be seen so maybe it WASN’T there!) was irrelevant. As was the tartare.

The next course was a composed salad of fresh heirloom tomatoes, topped with dressed frisée, and surrounded by slices of sashimi of Arctic Char. Recalling my disastrous visit to Valentino in Los Angeles, I wonder why chefs insist on pairing tomatoes with raw fish — the textures and flavors are so disparate and I’m curious if there exists any good examples of this sort of pairing as my two sojourns into that particular pairing have been exceptionally bad.

The Riesling finished and not remembering what was coming next, I ordered a glass of Pinot Noir (standby knowledge – it usually goes with everything).

The next course was a hot fish dish of grilled Red snapper with crispy skin on ratatouille and hollandaise. This was a real hollandaise but there wasn’t quite enough of it to pair well with the grilled vegetables and dry fish.

The last savory course was American Wagyu, perfectly rare, served atop sliced Yukon Gold potatoes and baby shiitake mushrooms. There was a very good sauce with it but I’m afraid I don’t exactly recall its components. Regrettably, the sauce did not make up for whatever was done to the mushrooms which were stridently sharp and peppery. I didn’t bother finishing this course.

Dessert was an Orange “parfait” which was actually a scoop of creamy orange sorbet in some orange soup and topped with a small tuille cookie. This was paired with a sparkling sake which was a relatively nice pairing.

Overall, the service was very good but I question many things about the menu. For starters, in reading through the standard offerings, there doesn’t seem to be any evolution in the menu. Similar to my Gary Danko complaints, nothing is different than what I read when I first visited, 18 months ago. The addition of the omakase is week in its lack of wine pairings and I found the dishes overall to be ill-conceived although well-prepared.

I don’t need to go back.

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Café Zitouna

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010
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One of my biggest challenges living in one of America’s most expensive cities has been to discover tasty, affordable eateries. As much as I enjoy dining out, there is no doubt that even those earning six-figures and above still enjoy a bargain. And my criteria for a bargain is the discovery of the $10 lunch; a lunch so ample as to provide left-overs for dinner or one so substantial as to make a later meal irrelevant. Café Zitouna is such a place for me. Located on the corner of Sutter and Polk, This is a little corner place with table seats for about 20 and counter seats for another six or eight. And on a Wednesday afternoon for lunch, it was packed with people waiting to get in — for very good reason.

My companion and I started with Breek (Tunisian crepe), listed as “Tissue-thin malsouka filled with potatoes, parsley, onions, egg, tuna and capers, fried in vegetable oil. Served with lemon.” For $3.95, it was a fabulous starter and I thought it a bit charming that the waiter looked at me with concern, indicating that the egg inside was raw and that I might not eat it. No problem, I assured him. Perfectly golden and plump, the malsouka is house-made and perfectly thin.

I instructed the chef to bring me whatever he thought I should eat and I was served the Vegetable Couscous, enough for two of us to share a separate platter of couscous is topped with a few roasted peppers with a side bowl of earthy, chunky vegetables in a seasoned broth. My companion ordered the Chakchouka Bil Merguez, sautéed fresh tomatoes, bell peppers, onions in olive oil with house-made merguez, eggs, and Tunisian sausages. For $7.95, this dish was a winner as I got a few bites from that dish and am looking forward to returning for a platter of it for my own. I saw a neighboring table get the $9.95 B’stilla which — while thick — looked a bit small (about 6″ round) for the price. But considering how great the rest of the food was tasting, I’m sure I will plunk down a sawbuck at some point in the future.

Dining alone, I will be sticking to the under $10 dishes or ordering a couple of appetizer or salad dishes (most priced in the $4.95 range), but we went a little above my ascribed budget with the inclusion of the Moroccan mint tea — a single 20oz at $1.95 and the large pot that we shared for $4.50.  The menu also includes a handful of Shawarma, Kebab, and Merguez sandwiches in the $6.50 range, to which one can add fries for $1.95.

We brought desserts homes; a moist pistachio-topped spice cake that had been soaked with orange blossom water and a second dessert, ladyfingers also soaked with orange blossom water, topped with a rich custard and ground pistachios. The bottom line is that Café Zitouna is all about taste and authenticity. The flavors are rich and aromatic, well-integrated, and enticing. The menu is extensive enough that I can easily see myself returning on a weekly basis to eat through the menu, always knowing I’ll be taking home left-overs. And I am quite happy knowing that when I get a tagine craving, I don’t have to do all the work myself for a solo diner.

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Café Gratitude

Saturday, July 10th, 2010
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I know I live in a part of the world where holistic and healthy cuisine has a reputation of prevalence (although a Vegan friend in Southern California touts that is a better locale for such cuisine). I’ve walked by Cafe Gratitude a number of times and I finally availed myself of a visit during a lazy, shockingly warm Saturday afternoon. Less than half-full, I was having my first Gratitude experience. The room is inviting and full of communal tables, with the walls decoratively painted with life-firming affirmations.

Oh wait, those positive affirmations bleed over to the menu and every dish is a precursor to a saccharine world of Deepak Chopra-like mind/body/spiritual experience. For example, “I AM SUCCULENT” is a sweet, sour and savory juice made of grapefruit, apple, and celery garnished with a mint sprig. “I AM GRACEFUL” is an Indian biryaki bowl of Bhutanese red rice or quinoa tossed with fresh vegetables, basil, cilantro, mint and cashews all served with a coconut-curry sauce. Quite frankly, negotiating the extraneous words on the menu was a tad annoying. Just tell me the frigg’n ingredients so help me quell my hunger.

Overwhelmed with the menu, the Stepford-waiter arrived to announce the daily specials. All smiles and charm, I managed to edit out whatever aphorism was being applied to the actual dish and ordered whatever special had pesto included in the listed ingredients. An iced latté as well, please. Ooops — I forgot — this place is vegan and my much-needed requisite caffeine fix was to be made with some soy-based milk variation. I’m sorry; I like my dairy products the way they were intended — from a cow. Oh well.

The different waiter came back with my dish, “YOU ARE FABULOUS.” Huh? I am? Oh wait, that was the silly name given to what I wanted for lunch. Whatever. I just want to eat. What I had ordered was a pseudo-pasta made from shredded zucchini and studded with quinoa. “Meatballs” were made from tempeh and were definitely the most flavorful part of the dish, almost too spicy compared to the rest of the concoction which had nary a hint of classically-flavored pesto. I could detect no basil or garlic or pinenuts whatsoever. But maybe I had heard the waiter incorrectly through that flurry of goodwill falderal. And there was some salad. Ho-Hum.

Halfway through my meal, I was full enough and anxious to leave (and wanting a real latté) so I asked for my bill and a take-home box. The box arrived promptly, but ten minutes later, no bill had materialized. Since I had no idea how much the special actually cost — but remembering how expensive everything else was on the bill — I guessed my dish to cost in the $17 range. Other coffee-based drinks were astronomically priced in the $5.00 range so I knew I owed somewhere north of $20. Sadly for me, I had no small change so I grudgingly laid $30 on the table and walked out, with no acknowledgment from any other the servers that I had paid or not or was expecting change.

I find Café Gratitude to be pretentious, full of themselves, and shockingly mediocre as far as food quality is concerned. And I actually like vegan food. But not at these prices and not in this atmosphere. The next time someone tells me that I’m Fabulous, I want a heartfelt kiss to accompany it, not a lifeless attempt at lunch.

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