Posted in Food, San Francisco

Great Scott! (NOW CLOSED)

img_0794.jpg

Scott Howard was recently named one of San Francisco’s Top 100 Restaurants by the Chronicle.  And after checking out their menu online, I was inspired to pay a visit.

The restaurant’s decor is dominated by warm orange, amber, and brown tones.  It’s just one big room, so if it gets crowded, it gets noisy.  Very warm and classy, but it wasn’t terribly inspired.

img_0796.jpg

Anyways, my hubby and pal J. Lo started by sharing two appetizers between the three of us.  First up, the Tempura Tiger Shrimp with a spicy chipotle dipping sauce and mache salad.  The shrimp were big, juicy, and the coating crisp, not to heavy, and perfectly fried.  The dipping sauce had the bold flavor of chipotle and enough spice and zest to give it the perfect kick.  What a great dish!

We also shared the Crispy Duck Confit, though there wasn’t much that was crispy on the plate.  The duck meat had a good flavor that was slightly sweet and was accompanied by juicy cherries and earthy porchini mushrooms on the plate.  But the duck meat was slightly drier than I’d like, and like I said, there was no crispy duck skin to speak of anywhere.  It turned out to be the weakest dish of the night, though the presentation was still beautiful.

img_0797.jpg

For the main course, J. and I both ordered the Short Ribs with creamed spinach and tomato jus.  Talk about tender!  The meat barely needed my knife!  It was marbled with enough fat to make it juicy and succulent.  And the creamed spinach was both fresh and decadent, without being overpowered by the cream.  A simply perfect combo.

img_0799.jpg

We also ordered a side of Orzo Mac and Cheese.  Oh…my…gawd!  Decadent and creamy gooeyness!  And the tomato jus on top was like a squeeze of really good gourmet ketchup!  If you go, just get it.  Enough said.

My hubby had the Roasted Venison with wild asparagus.  It was cooked to a beautiful medium rare.  The meat was nice and lean, tender, and incredibly flavorful.  Not gamey at all.  And the wild asparagus was fresh and mild.  The perfect partner to the lean meat.

We finished off our meal with the Chocolate Lavender Ice Cream with Cardamom Chocolate Chip Cookies.  What a great spin on two classic desserts!  The lavender infused the mild chocolate ice cream with a floral note that was fresh and comforting.  Just like lavender should!  And the cardamom flavor was prominent in the cookies.  It made them incredibly different from any other chocolate chip cookie I’ve ever had.  Very spicy and earthy.  Ice cream and cookies may seem ordinary, but this was a delightfully different dessert.

My biggest complaint?  The bathrooms!  One had a symbol of a man on the door, the other a woman, and the other two were apparently unisex!  Yet everyone was using all four individual bathrooms as unisex!  What confusion.  And a high end restaurant serving such interesting dishes should definitely do a better job of keeping their bathrooms clean.

Other than that, the service was friendly, pacing perfect, and the food was inventive and delicious.

Scott Howard – 500 Jackson St., San Francisco, 415.956.7040

Posted in Food, San Francisco, Shopping, Travel

Gourmet Foodie Heaven

One of my favorite places to visit in San Francisco is the Ferry Building Marketplace, and there are several reasons why.

img_0784.jpg 

1.)  The building itself is architecturally beautiful.

img_0777.jpg

2.) Many of the vendors sell some of the best gourmet food out there.  Everything is grown, made, and sold with love and care, and much of it is local.  Delectable Japanese delicacies at Delica rf:1, fabulous Peach Preserves at Frog’s Hollow Farm, the best in Asian teas at Imperial Tea, nitrate free organic meats and hot dogs at Prather Ranch Meat Co., the best roast chicken at Mistral, and the list goes on and on.  These vendors are known for producing some of the best food available anywhere in the world. 

I love walking by the Acme Bread shop as the scent of freshly baked bread stops you in your tracks, or being enticed by the heady smell of a good stinky cheese at Cowgirl Creamery.  And you can even enjoy some tasty fruit sorbet or Italian gelato at Ciao Bella.  A foodie can get truly spoiled here. 

img_0792.jpg

3.)  And of course being a ferry building, it’s location by the water allows for some spectacular views.  You can get some fabulous snacks or a meal at one of the many gourmet food stores mentioned above, grab a table or a seat by the water outside, and enjoy what makes San Francisco’s views so famous.

The Ferry Building isn’t just a tourist destination, it’s a must for all foodies who live here.

Posted in Food, San Francisco

Delica is Delicious

img_0780.jpg

I admit, I am a fried food junkie.  And even if you’re not, you will be once you try the Potato Croquettes at Delica rf-1 at the Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco.  If you’re there, you HAVE to make a stop at this Japanese Delicatessen.

These guys know how to do fried food right.  And some of their other snacks, meals, and salads aren’t too shabby either!

My pal and I decided to treat ourselves to a tasty Japanese snack and got the legendary Potato Croquette and a Tofu Steak with Thick Miso Sauce to share.

img_0781.jpg

Perfectly crisp on the outside and wonderfully flavorful on the inside, I’ve heard from others that these potato croquettes are better than even some you can get in Japan!  The panko breadcrumbs are made fresh daily from ACME pain de mie bread, and it makes all the difference.  The ultra light crisp breading on these things is absolute heaven.  And some croquettes are just a wad of bland potato.  Not this one.  It’s like having flavorful garlic and onion mashed potatoes.  It’s simply the best potato croquette you’ll ever have.

The tofu steak was definitely something to write home about, too!  The medium firm tofu steak was perfectly smooth and tender.  And the sauce was sweet, savory, and full of great texture from the green onion, bamboo shoots, shallots, and pine nuts.  I never knew anything vegan could ever taste so good!

There is so much care and attention that goes into all the dishes they make at Delica, and it shows in spades.  One visit and you’ll be hooked.

Delica rf-1 – San Francisco Ferry Building – 415.834.0344

Delica Rf-1 on Urbanspoon

Posted in Food

Truly Innovative Vietnamese

img_0773.jpg

I love Vietnamese food.  There’s something about the mix of textures, tastes and spices that really makes it both soothing yet exotic. I usually prefer the hole-in-the-wall places that serve either pho (noodle soups) or classic Vietnamese crusty sandwiches with pickled veggies.  I have never been a fan of Slanted Door.  Too expensive for the kind of food you get, way overhyped, and totally overrated. So my friend and I decided on Tamarine in Palo Alto on University Ave. for something different from the standard Vietnamese. 

My first impression wasn’t promising.  The two hostesses at the front were completely shallow and cold.  Hardly welcoming and not exactly the best first impression, no matter how blond and attractive they were.  Fortunately, that’s where the negatives ended. 

The waitress serving us had a genuine smile and had a delightfully caring way about her that made us forget the idiot hostesses right away.  We were served our refreshingly tart yet sweet limeades, and waited for our dishes.

First, we started with the Honey Roasted Quail that was seasoned with five spice and stuffed with sticky rice and gingko nuts.  It was delicious.  The quail’s thin skin was crisp and roasted to perfection.  The meat was cooked perfectly and the sticky rice wasn’t overpowering.  It complemented the rich moist quail meat very nicely.  The dipping salt and pepper mixture with a squeeze of lime was good and worked with the quail, but was almost unecessary. 

Next up were two dishes.  First, the Citrus Brined Pork Chop served with cabbage and bacon.  The brine of citrus and apple cider infused the pork with a subtle and distinctive flavor, almost like it lightly perfumed it.  It was delicious.  Loved it, with the exception of the meat’s texture.  It had been left on the grill just a minute too long.  If the meat were moister, it would have been a perfectly executed dish.

We also shared the Tamarine Crab and Garlic Noodles.  The dish was garnished with a heavy dose of cilantro, which cut through the heavy flavors of garlic, soy, and dungeness crab.  The crab was slightly drier than I’d like and a bit disappointing.  However, they didn’t skimp on it, and it did add flavor and texture.  Overall, the dish was still quite good with all its varied flavors.

We ended the dinner with the Banana Beignets served with coconut ice cream and a light caramel sauce.  They were fresh and hot and full of banana flavor.  The pastry was crisp and perfect.  However, the caramel was so light, it was flavorless.  But the coconut ice cream was just the opposite.  Perfectly light yet sweet.  It was a nice creamy complement to the beignets.

Tamarine was a delightful surprise with it’s accomodating waitstaff (with the exception of the atrocious hostesses), stylish, sophisticated, yet comfortable decor of dark woods and lighter accents, and truly innovative Vietnamese food.  The flavor combinations in each dish and the varied mix of ingredients made for an overall enjoyable experience.

Tamarine – 546 University Ave. – Palo Alto – 650.325.8500

Tamarine on Urbanspoon

Posted in Food, Shopping, Travel

Japanese Bargains

Flickr photo by ibison 4

Downtown San Mateo has turned into a charming little area, as long as you don’t have to hit the movie theatre on a Friday night.  What a mess!

That’s why an evening after work is the perfect time to stroll along 3rd and 4th Ave.  Especially if you’re in search for a really cheap Japanese meal.  Really cheap!

At 6:30pm, every weekday night, Suruki Japanese Supermarket (71 E. 4th Ave.) slashes the prices on all their fresh sushi rolls, nigiri, and sashimi by 50%.  And their selection and quality are very good for the price.

What’s the catch?  ARRIVE BEFORE 6:30!  Preferrably at 6:20 pm on a weeknight.  The minute the clock strikes 6:30 (and there is a big clock on the wall), the crowds that will have formed will be fighting for all the half-priced Japanese food they can carry!  You’ll see the herds form at about 6:15 pm and continue to grow until the staff gives you the green light to go. 

But is it worth all the pushing and shoving?  If you think spending $18 on Japanese food for a party of three is a good deal, then absolutely!  So bring your game face, or the little Asian lady in front of you just might beat you to all the good stuff!

If supermarket Japanese sushi isn’t your thing, then take a seat at Ni-mo Japanese restaurant (73 E. 3rd Ave).  They have bargain bento box lunch specials on weekdays ($7.95 for a nice full bento box meal), and 20% off all sushi and rolls on Tuesday and Thursday nights!  Now mind you, this won’t be the most authentic Japanese meal you’ll ever have (the owners are Chinese!), but the food is fresh, the portions are healthy, the service is attentive, there’s hardly ever a wait, and best of all, the food is very good for the price.

And to complete your Japanese themed evening, stop by Ichiban Kan (98 E. Third Ave).  It’s a dollar discount store, Japanese style.  You’ll find the cutest items you never knew you needed, like housewares, food, gifts, and all other trinkets from Japan.  It’s a fun experience and you’re sure to walk out with more than a few items to show for it.

Posted in Food

A Thoroughly Unsatisfying Experience (CLOSED)

Nothing urks me more than paying too much for a mediocre meal (except paying full price for something that goes on sale two days later, but that’s a whole different subject).  Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened last night.

I visited the new Mint Leaf Restaurant on University Ave. in Palo Alto, right next door to the Borders bookstore.  They label themselves as an Asian noodle house, and since the Zao Noodle Bar’s food down the street is barely edible these days, I figured I’d give them a try.  But the moment I sat down and read the menu, I had a feeling I was in for trouble.  There were barely any noodle bowl dishes except for the few pho options and couple of Thai stir fry noodles.  Most everything was an a la carte dish that would require a separate order of steamed rice.

I’ll start off by saying that the service was good.  The two ladies working there made sure our food was alright and kept our water glasses full all through our dining experience.  The space is very airy, contemporary and clean.  A bit cavernous with its high ceilings, so it could get noisy (if the place ever got full, which it wasn’t).

We started with the Crispy Tofu appetizer, which was very standard.  Good crisp crust but the tofu was pretty ordinary.  The dipping sauce didn’t seem to fit the dish.  It was too sweet and would’ve benefited from something a little more salty and fresh (maybe a fish sauce with chilies and lime?). 

We then went on to the Drunken Noodles and Thai Basil Chicken.  All the dishes were a blend of Thai, Chinese, and Vietnamese flavors all thrown together.  A bit of a muddled mess, though I think they were going for a “fusion” vibe.  They were good, but all the flavors competed so heavily with each other that it just ended up tasting too salty, too sweet, and just plain over seasoned.  And there was nothing new or inventive about their flavors.

The meal wasn’t terrible.  But when we got the bill I knew I wouldn’t be back.  We had two small entrees and a tofu appetizer…and the bill came to $30 (w/o tip)!  We didn’t even order any drinks or steamed rice!  And the food was hardly authentic.  Now, I don’t want to seem cheap, but an authentic Asian meal, be it Thai, Chinese, OR Vietnamese, would’ve easily cost us $20 w/o tip.  Even a trip to Zao Noodle Bar (which has more noodles on the menu than Mint Leaf) would’ve been 20 bucks flat w/o tip.  If I’m going to pay more, I expect a complete experience, like at Betelnut or Sino.  But a hole in the wall Asian place that was posing as a “fusion” joint didn’t warrant the steep prices or a return visit.

You’d be better off going to Krung Siam restaurant just across the street.  That’s what we should’ve done.

Mint Leaf Asian Noodle House – 452 University Ave. – Palo Alto – 650.321.7888

Posted in Food, Shopping

Cupcakes Make People Happy :)

Cupcake

There’s something both magical and playful about a cupcake.  I know, I know, they’re about as trendy right now as skinny jeans and platform peep toes.  But let’s face it, even someone like me who doesn’t have a big sweet tooth can’t pass up a well frosted cupcake.

Maybe it’s the fact that Carrie Bradshaw was known to chomp on a few while talking to Miranda on the corner of Bleeker and West 11th St. in New York City.  But I suspect the real appeal of a cupcake lies in the fact that they are a perfectly sized piece of portable cake, so cute and pretty with their little colored sprinkles and swirled buttercream frosting.

There’s no chance of a visit to Magnolia Bakery in New York City today.  So I had to settle for the smell of sugary baked goods wafting through the Bay Street shopping area in Emeryville.  It was coming from Teacake Bake Shop.

I immediately ordered two cupcakes: red velvet with cream cheese frosting and a chocolate devil’s food cake with dulce de leche frosting.  The huge chewy snickerdoodles sprinkled with cinnamon would have to wait for another day.  (Though I now regret not buying the huge five pack of “less pretty” cookies for a mere two bucks.)

The red velvet was first up.  The frosting was as delicious and luscious as it looked.  Creamy, sweet, and a noticable tang from the cream cheese.  But the cake itself wasn’t as good as I’d hoped.  It had a nice subtle, yet noticable chocolate flavor (red velvet is basically just chocolate cake with red food coloring).  But in order to fulfill my visions of grandeur for this cupcake, it would’ve had to be a lot moister.  It wasn’t dry, but it should’ve been a lot moister.  True red velvet always is.  And if it weren’t for that frosting, I might’ve been able to do better with a box mix.

The devil’s food chocolate was better.  The cupcake itself was moister and had better flavor than the red velvet.  The chocolate was rich and satisfying without being overly dense or sweet.  Much moister than the previous cupcake and better texture.  But again, it was the creaminess of the frosting that made the cupcake complete.  Individually, the frosting and the cake couldn’t stand alone.  Together, they were heaven.

But one complaint…  The dulce de leche frosting on the chocolate cupcake didn’t taste like caramel.  It tasted more like a mocha!  Very strange.

Was it tasty?  Yes.  Was the whole esthetic of the place cute and trendy?  You bet.  Does it warrant a repeat visit?  If I’m in the area, sure.  Besides, I’m still jonesing for a snickerdoodle…

Teacake Bake Shop – 5615 Bay St. – Emeryville – 510.655.0865