Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A San Francisco Treat - Day 3

How do you top the one-two punch of Zuni Cafe and Benu from day two? With a combination of Yank Sing, Roli Roti Truck, Boccalone and Michael Mina.

Before I discuss the food of the day, I need to comment on the outstanding coffee that is prevalent throughout the city. Day three started with a solid cup of coffee from the conveniently located Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.  We also had a great cup of coffee on day four from Peet's coffee. Okay, no more coffee talk.

Eating dim sum was very high on my SF must do list since it is a specialty plus it's hard to find in my area without making a special trip. I anticipated having to finagle my way to Yank Sing since Chow P is not a huge dim sum fan but I strategically made a reservation for 10:00 a.m. on my birthday.

We were the first to arrive at the Rincon Center location and had to wait a few minutes for the doors to open.  Once seated and tea ordered, the food wasn't far behind.  First up were unbelievable soup dumplings (xiao long bao). We used our chopsticks to carefully transfer the dumplings onto our soup spoons. The dumplings were nice but the real treat was the broth and kurobuta pork inside.  We could have easily ordered several rounds of just these and left very happy.  But dim sum was flying out of the kitchen and there were more treats to try. A dim sum favorite of mine, stuffed lotus leaf with sticky rice, Chinese sausage, mushrooms and sun-dried shrimp arrived next followed by turnip cakes, another favorite.  Both were fantastic.  We were already slowing down but couldn't resist the steamed pork buns filled with bbq pork that were delivered to our table next. The buns were really fluffy and the bbq pork inside was plentiful and delicious.  Up next was our least favorite dish of the day, shrimp dumplings.  They featured a generous portion of shrimp inside a light dumpling but were nothing special.  We wisely elected to stop at that point knowing that we had more great food waiting for us down the block.

Yank Sing on Urbanspoon

101 Spear St
San Francisco, CA 94105

We were only a couple of blocks from the Ferry Building. (surprise surprise)  It was Saturday morning which meant that the famous Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market was in full swing.  Upon arrival we took a lap around the periphery of the market in order to walk off  "sum" of our breakfast.  Once inside, we immediately passed Acme Bread Company, Cowgirl Creamery's Artisan Cheese Shop, and new favorite,  Blue Bottle Coffee.  I was ready for some Blue Bottle but the line was ridiculously long so we passed.  As we continued to walk around Chow P looked at me and said "you really need to live here."  I started to laugh because we were standing in front of Boccalone.  I was still full at this point but there was no way I was going to skip Boccalone especially after bypassing Incanto. (They're related)  I behaved and only ordered a meat cone which is a cone filled with various cuts of excellent meats. I felt and probably looked like a child holding his first ice cream cone as I walked around the Ferry Building licking picking at my meat cone.  Snacks don't get better than the $3.50 Boccalone Salumi Cone.

As I stumbled outside intoxicated on awesome dim sum and salted pig parts all before noon I ran into another target of mine, the Roli Roti truck.  The Roli Roti truck is a mobile gourmet rotisserie, serving only sustainable farmed meats and organic produce.  Working the grill is Rotisseur Thomas Odermatt.  The Roli Roti tip was courtesy of Chowfatherinlaw who was at the Market a few weeks before our visit.  While there, he noticed the hour long line at the truck and inquired about the draw.  He learned that people were clamoring for their porchetta sandwich.

Fortunately for me, the line was rather short thanks to the on and off rain.  My game plan was to order one and bring it back to the hotel  for an afternoon snack.  Yeahhh riiiiight. The out of this world porchetta sandwich is made from pork loin rolled into the pork belly with crispy skin and spiced with organic herbs and garnished with onions and arugula.  Enough said.

After watching them make and wrap our pork, Chow P said "we need to sit down and take a bite of that now." Good, no great call.  I would have dropped to my knees and proposed right there in front of the rotisserie meats with the Bay Bridge in the background if we weren't already married.  We plopped down on a nearby bench and unwrapped the swine delight.

Phenomenal is the only way to describe this sandwich.  It's easily the best pork/porchetta sandwich you will ever find.  The flavorful combination of pork and seasonings is impossible to describe so I won't bother trying.  If you live in SF and have not had this sandwich, you must go and try it. Tourists should make this a must stop when visiting the market.

Roli Roti on Urbanspoon

We spent the rest of the day playing tourist around the wharf area.  I actually passed my first In n Out Burger but was too full to stop and walked on by.  As the day went on we both started to feel sluggish so we made a mid afternoon pit stop at Blue Bottle Coffee.  This time I ordered an off menu item called the Gibraltar which is a double espresso with steamed milk. It was a great tasting coffee packed with a nice punch.

When we were planning our visit to SF, eating at a Michael Mina run establishment was a priority for several reasons.  First, we were very familiar with Chef Mina's accomplishments in the kitchen as well as the business side of the restaurant world. We are fans of Bourbon Steak (Mia) and wanted to experience a Mina restaurant in SF.  Rajat Parr's enticing wine lists was also a draw.  We were also confident that service would be first class.

RN74 was our initial call but as we got closer to the trip we learned that Michael Mina was moving to the old Aqua space and that they were going to be open in time for our visit.  Thus, we changed our reservation to the new Mina.  I must admit that the menu and wine options sounded great at RN74 and we would have easily paid a visit if we had more time in the city.

What to Eat at Michael Mina 2.0, Opening Tuesday
The new Micheal Mina is a sophisticated and inviting space.  The dimly lit room contributes to its sexy appeal.  Upon arrival, my favorite sommelier and one of the best around, Matthew Turner, immediately served us  two glasses of champagne. Chow P has a very good palate and is always happy with Matt's recommendations whether it is a glass of champagne, rose or a new white. Matt also excels at selecting great wines at good price points that pair well with your meal.  He's down to earth and always aims to please. I wish more restaurants had sommeliers like Matt working the floor. 

Chow P was happy with her bubbles and didn't feel like drinking much more so I was on my own.  She also wasn't interested in the delicious sounding tasting menu since we had French Laundry scheduled for the following night.  When I informed Matt that I was drinking solo and still unsure about my food selections, he immediately recommended going with a half bottle of Calera "Reed" pinot noir which was a good call.    

Chef de cuisine, Jeremy Ravetz was formerly executive sous chef at the "old" Michael Mina and a sous chef at Per Se in New York.

We were started with an amuse-bouche consisting of a small cup of  tomato soup served with a miniature grilled cheese sandwich.  I enjoyed this simple gourmet twist on a childhood favorite.

Instead of the traditional side of butter, bread is served with a tasty combination of ricotta and honey sea salt.

I started with the pork belly & geoduck clam.  Whenever you have geoduck and pork belly on the same plate you are bound to have a winner and this delivered.  The flavors and textures of the accompanying squash and chicharrones rounded out a fantastic dish.

This was followed by a shared kabocha squash souffle with black-truffle cream.  This was a delicious combination. 

For my main course I opted for the "five seas" which was a tasting of five Japanese fish. If I recall correctly, I had braised tuna cheek, miso-glazed cod, poached salmon belly, scallop and an unidentified tempura fish. The fish was very fresh, nicely prepared and a perfect portion size.  I really enjoyed the variety of  fish and preparations and wouldn't hesitate to order it again.  I also tried Chow P's dungeness crab pasta pyramids paired with artichoke and Meyer lemon.  She didn't love the dish and I wasn't crazy about it either.  

Along the way, Matt surprised me with two unbelievable pours, a 1961 Petrus followed by a 1969 Cheval-Blanc. I savored each and every drop of this special treat.  We also met Chef Mina which was a pleasure.
Dessert (no menu) was a tasting of various sweets.  Dessert's not my thing but I made a nice dent in the generous sample of treats. It was an enjoyable way to end a great meal and a great day.

Restaurant Michael Mina on Urbanspoon
252 California St
San Francisco, CA 94111

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sol Kitchen Scores on Sol Sunday

A new concept started last week for football and food fans too called Sol Sunday. Cooking in the Sol Kitchen are two chefs from Paradigm fame, Kurtis Jantz and Chad "zilla" Galiano.

In a nutshell, the Sol Kitchen delivers a tailgate party to your front door on NFL Sundays.

The menu is released on Monday night @  and @ along with ordering info. You can also follow them on twitter @solkitchen.

$150 feeds six and currently includes Gello shots, two snacks, two sides, two "touchdowns" (mains) and dessert. The food is delivered to your door in easy to heat and serve trays along with  plates, utensils and a roll of paper towels. It also comes with a play book and menu to help you move the chains. (That's a football term food lovers)

We placed our first order this week and it was delicious.  It was a generous amount of food and a good value. It's perfect for a group watching the games at home or heading to the stadium to tailgate.

This week's menu:

Dark & Stormy gello shot- this featured dark rum and pop rocks.  Now this is my kind of amuse-bouche. 

Kettle chips and charred scallion dip.
Cracka' jax- soy caramel kettle korn with wasabi peas and ginger.

Huancaina Country Potato Salad
Brussels Sprouts with grilled chorizo

Deep South Brisket Po-Boys with gravy and dressing.
Peruvian Wings- aji panca wild black berry bbq sauce
Crawfish griddled cheese with fontina.

Smokin' Oat Cookies- smoked cranberry, white chocolate chunks and pumpkin seeds.

The food arrived at 12:30 (as scheduled) but they will accommodate your delivery time requests.

The food was very impressive and much better than I expected. Two snacks, sides and mains plus dessert resulted in a generous amount of food. The inclusion of plates and utensils was an added bonus and a very nice and convenient touch.

The brisket po-boy and the Brussels sprouts with chorizo were my favorite dishes followed closely by the crawfish griddled cheese and wings. The scallion dip was hard to put down and cracka jax was a perfect snack during the game.

The brisket was really tender and packed with flavorful gravy that reminded me of the debris from Mother's in NO. The dressing was also excellent and a perfect combination. The chorizo and Brussels were perfectly grilled and very tasty. The meat of the wings fell off the bone and the bbq sauce was great. I'm always excited to see crawfish on a menu and their crawfish grilled cheese didn't disappoint.

I'm looking forward to ordering again in the near future as well as the playoffs and Super Bowl.
It could be a good call for holiday office parties too. (not sure if that is going to be an option but may be worth inquiring about)


Thursday, November 11, 2010

A San Francisco Treat - Day 2

Day Two

Chow P likes to shop more than I like to eat.  That's actually debatable but you get the point. 

Chow P is very happy when she gets to shop. I am very happy when I get to eat.

Chow P is even happier when we go on vacation to shopping meccas.  I am even happier when we go on vacation to food meccas.
We were both very happy on day two in San Francisco...

Our hotel was intentionally conveniently located on Market St. just steps away from  the best shopping in San Francisco and probably some of the best shopping in the world. (not that I would know) Thus, we started day two drum roll please SHOPPING.  I'm cool with it and I'm a sport because I know that when Chow P gets to shop I get to eat. Win win baby.  That's how we roll.  Besides she gets hungry when she shops, wink wink.  Okay,  I will not bore you with any more shop talk.

After a draining morning we were both ready for some caffeine.  Ed a/k/a lax2mia, a trusted Miami food source who hails from the west coast told me that a visit to Blue Bottle Coffee was a must do.  There was one located close to out hotel and Union Square (Mint Plaza) so that's where we went.  Chow P and I both attended college in New Orleans so their New Orleans iced coffee was a no-brainer.  The coffees were awesome and reminded us of the beloved chicory coffee served at cafe du monde.

It should be noted that Ed also recommended getting a maple glazed bacon apple donut @ but we were unfortunately (sigh) never in the vicinity because that sounds insanely good.
Blue Bottle Cafe on Urbanspoon
66 Mint St
San Francisco, CA 94103

After additional  mannequin watching we were finally ready for lunch.  The legendary  Zuni Cafe was on our must do list and it appeared to be the perfect spot for lunch.  It also opened up another dinner slot.
Let me start off by saying that I could eat lunch and dinner at Zuni every day for the rest of my life.    I loved the space, I loved the menu and I loved the food. 

Upon arrival, I was feeling good thanks to the lingering chicory buzz compliments of Blue Bottle.  Fortunately, our table wasn't ready when we arrived so we got to spend some appreciated time at the bar.  After perusing the cocktail menu I immediately ordered a Balsamic Bloody Mary.  I've had my share of drinks thanks to spending several years in New Orleans and South Beach but I must admit that I've never had a Balsamic Bloody Mary.  Zuni's version (are there any others?) was topped with a spicy pepper-onion relish.  This was so surprisingly good that I finished it in three sips.  What a start!!

While being escorted to our table we walked right past the oyster bar.  Hello!! I quickly ordered a round of oysters, Kusshis from British Columbia, Pacific Hog Islands from Tomales Bay and Beau Soleils from New Brunswick.  I intended on sticking to the Pacific but the Soleils were highly recommended by our server.  I paired the very fresh and tasty oysters with a Pierre Moncuit Brut Blanc de Blanc grand cru champagne. This was a perfect combination and the way lunch should always be.

Ahh but appetizers are appetizers and there was a famous house-ground hamburger on the way.  The Zuni burger is only served during lunch and late night thus adding to its appeal.  The Zuni burger is served on a grilled rosemary focaccia bun with lettuce, garlic aioli, and pickles.  Juicy but not overly, flavorful and perfectly cooked.    This was an outstanding burger and easily one of the best I've ever had.

Chow P predictably ordered the classic caesar salad (okay, she's a caesar expert) which she enjoyed but didn't love. I lobbied for the house-made anchovies but she vetoed the order knowing we had dinner at Benu. 

Again, Zuni is my kind of place and I'd love to go back to try their famous roast chicken with bread salad.

ZUNI Café on Urbanspoon

1658 Market St
San Francisco, CA 94102

In a nutshell, our dinner at Benu was fantastic.  It was easily one of the best meals I've had all year, if not the best and that includes visits to Alinea and French Laundry.

Benu wasn't initially on my radar since  it only opened in mid August and I started planning our trip in July. I had local favorite, Frances, penciled in for our night two dinner from the onset and was luckily able to obtain a Friday night reservation.  True to form, I continued to follow the SF dining scene post reservation and Benu was off to a promising start.  As the positive reviews flowed in I knew I needed to incorporate Benu into our itinerary. The decision became a no-brainer following sommelier Matt T's rave review.  With the new Michael Mina being locked in for night three, Frances became an unexpected casualty.       

Benu is owned and operated by James Beard award winning chef, Corey Lee who spent several years as chef de cuisine at The French Laundry.  It should be noted that Thomas Keller is a partner of Benu.  He is obviously a shrewd investor...  

The tasting menu sounded great amazing on our visit but Chow P wisely pre-negotiated going a la carte knowing that we still had Mina and FL upcoming so I reluctantly (and looking back sadly) obliged.

I'm unable to recall what the amuse-bouche consisted of but I do recall an explosion of flavor.

Although we bypassed the tasting menu, Chow P and each ordered several items in order to sample a wide spectrum of Benu's menu.

I started with the risotto comprised of butternut squash, celery, black truffles and topped with several pieces of phenomenal sea urchin.  Holy shit!!!! Best dish ever caliber.  

I followed that up with a big fin squid and pork belly dish that was served with eggplant, broccolini, onion and fermented pepper.  The squid and pork belly were both of high quality and the supporting ingredients solidified the dish.  

My last course was a beef rib cap paired with daikon, chestnut, and mustard green.  I'm a big fan of rib cap and have had very good versions at Talula and Bourbon Steak. Benu's was cooked to a perfect medium rare and was packed with juicy flavor.  The steak was very tender and the mustard green was a nice compliment.

  Chow P started with parsnip soup combined with vanilla, dates, black truffle and celery.  She raved about this soup all weekend and still does.  I was able to steal a spoonful and it was delicious.  It was easily one of the best soups we've ever had.  She followed that up with an al dente cooked rigatoni with sea cucumber, oxtail, wood ear mushroom, star anise and red wine. Chow P really enjoyed this dish as well.  She's a light eater so there was ample left for me to try.  I  really liked the combination of flavors and textures Chef  Lee incorporated in this dish.  The casual observer may regrettably pass on this dish because it's a "rigatoni" but there is so much more going on here.

Chow P impressively followed the rigatoni  up with deer wrapped in bacon.  "I'm no wimp" was proudly heard from across the table.  I was tempted to counter with an "I love Chanel" but opted for the more subtle nod of approval.

I had my eye on this dish but happily switched to the rib cap after hearing Chow P utter the words bacon and deer.  She's no wimp but she also doesn't have my belly.  Thus, there was plenty left for me and it was equally as good as the rib cap.   

Sommelier Yoon Ha was very friendly and helpful.  He paired each dish with great wine (sake for the risotto/uni dish) and spent a lot of time explaining his selections.  You could really feel his passion for wine.  This is a sommelier who gets "it" and is most likely one of the best in the Country.

Benu is a very special place and a restaurant that should be on the top of everyone's must do list when visiting San Francisco. It's creative, cutting edge and Chef Lee's precise techniques shine through.

I suspect that Benu will be mentioned in the same conversation as French Laundry and Alinea in the very near future.

22 Hawthorne Ln (at Howard St)
San Francisco, CA 94105

Benu on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A San Francisco Treat - Day 1

I was celebrating a big birthday this year and Chow P thought San Francisco would be the perfect spot because of my love of food and wine plus I had never been there before.

After booking our flights I eagerly started researching restaurants.  We initially had only four nights so I knew it was going to be a difficult task narrowing down our selections.  This became even harder when we excitedly decided to spend the last day in Napa.   With just three nights, I had my work cut out for me.  

The first reservation I made was at Incanto.  I'd heard great things about the Italian food being served in San Francisco and wanted to make that a priority one night.  I was also very familiar with Chef Cosentino's passion for working with offal.  His dishes always sound interesting and the combination of pasta and offal was something I knew I would really enjoy.

However, I reluctantly ended up canceling the reservation and substituting in Perbacco.  We made the change primarily because Perbacco was closer to the hotel and we knew we would be tired after the long flight coupled with the time change.  I also wanted to set the proper eating tone for the rest of the trip. I couldn't afford to lose Chow P on night one with a long cab ride coupled with an adventurous menu.  I wasn't overly concerned about the swap because I had also heard very good things about Perbacco and knew that we weren't stepping down in class. 

Our reservation was early for us (6:30) on a Thursday night.  I expected it to be crowded at that time since it is located in the Financial District and it was packed.  It was lively and had the buzz of a big city.  Our waiter was friendly and helpful.

I started with a small order of the house cured salumi (salumi misti).  This featured approximately seven to eight different meat selections and was a very generous portion size.  I knew going in that I wasn't going to get much help from across the table and this really needed to be shared.  I tried everything but intentionally did not finish it all because I wanted to save room for an appetizer and pasta.  I did not know exactly what was on the plate  but I can tell you that this was some of the best salumi I've had anywhere and I will leave it at that.

Up next was a dish I couldn't wait to try after seeing it on the menu.  It was roasted octopus and poached wagyu beef tongue served with golden potatoes, celery heart and salsa verde were equally as impressive.  The octopus was fresh, cooked perfectly and tender.  The beef tongue was sliced very thin (carpaccio) and was also very tender.  The celery heart, salsa verde and potatoes were extremely flavorful and really brought the dish together.  It was a delicious combination.  Chow P proved that the switch was a good call by starting with a salad that was well, a salad.

We were both looking forward to taking advantage of Perbacco's numerous housemade pastas since we have a hard time finding fresh pasta in Miami.  Thus, we ordered the Tris, three tastings of pastas to be shared by the table.  The selections were the diners choice and I believe there were approximately ten dishes on our visit. They all sounded fantastic so it took us some time narrowing down our choices.  Our first choice was the Robaton, a truffle herbed ricotta gnocchi with wild mushroom sugo.  Our second selection was pappardelle with black belly lamb ragu, peas and mint.  Our last selection was the Tajarin, tagliatelle served with 5 hour pork sugo and porcini mushrooms.

We enjoyed all three pasta dishes but felt that they were on the heavy side. This was probably our fault since we ordered the lamb ragu and pork sugo.  The pasta was very fresh and cooked perfectly.  The meats and sauces were flavorful and hearty.  We both really enjoyed the soft gnocchi along the wild mushroom sugo.  It  was probably my favorite pasta dish of the night although the lamb ragu with mint were a flavorful combination.

As usual, I knowingly over ordered.  Thus, no dessert for me.  

The atmosphere was perfect for our first night in town after a long flight.  Perbacco was very good but I wouldn't put it in the "special" category especially by San Francisco standards.  That said, if I lived there you would find me sitting at the bar eating the salumi misti on a regular basis.

The new Michael Mina (in the old Aqua location) was just  three doors down so we popped in to say hello to John Riccardo, GM @ Bourbon Steak Miami who was in town assisting with the opening week. Sommelier Matthew Turner (formerly of Bourbon Steak Miami) was working the floor and poured us a great glass of champagne.  It's a great looking space and I really enjoyed my birthday dinner there on day 3.  Stay tuned.

Perbacco on Urbanspoon

230 California St
San Francisco, CA 94111

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Charity Table for Pediatric Hospitals @ The Grill on the Alley

Now through November 12, The Grill on the Alley at Aventura Mall will be accepting reservations for the Rally for Kids with Cancer Rally Table. When guests dine at The Grill’s Rally Table, 65 percent of their bill will directly benefit Jackson Memorial Foundation, IKF Wonderfund and Holtz Children’s Hospital. The Rally Table is part of the annual nationwide fundraiser the Rally for Kids with Cancer Scavenger Hunt, which has raised more than $5 million in funds for foundations focused on children’s cancer research, treatment and care since it’s inception in 2008.

The Grill on the Alley is open daily at 11 a.m. and reservations are available for the Rally Table for both lunch and dinner by calling 305.466.7195.  To learn more about Rally for Kids with Cancer visit

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Sol Full Sundays

South Florida's newest food truck, Sol Kitchen, is getting ready to roll this week to your front door.  
Chef K and Chadzilla from Paradigm fame will be in the Sol Kitchen preparing Sol Food for your football Sunday.

The 1st menu (NFL Week 9)
'Jock'tail- Bloody "Hail Mary" gello shots
Cracka-Jax- SK's home-made version with brown sugar kettle corn, Mexican japones, and pumpkin spice
Chips & Dip- charred scallion & kettle chips

Touchdown!!! (or some more substantial grub)
Grid-Iron Wings- root beer marinated, grilled with onions and poblanos
Sol Roll- chilled shrimp salad, buttered potato roll, Maine-influence (that means lobstah roll-style)
Korean BBQ Pork- on a bun, kimchee slaw

2 Minute Warning ~ 1 Timeout Remaining...
Bourbon Brownies- smoked pecans, dulce de leche

$150 feeds 6 with a choice of 2 touchdowns (wings, sol roll, or pork)... or Man Up! and get all 3 touchdowns for $180 (again for 6, but more chance of having left-overs for the Monday night game at home after work).

To order email SK at  All orders must be in by Thursday afternoon.
You will receive the food packed up on Sunday late morning (Miami and surrounding area only) along with a Play Book (just a set of instructions on how to set your oven and hold the grub throughout the game).

Mention the J-E-T-S when you order and receive a free brownie and shot of Bourbon.  KIDDING.
These guys can cook so check them out.