Posted in Food, San Francisco

Perbacco is all about accentuating the positive

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I’ve been putting off a visit to Perbacco for numerous reasons for almost a year.  But J.Low and I wanted to celebrate a special occassion, and we finally decided to pay them a visit.

We got there early, but the place filled up fast.  The decor was sleek, modern, and full of brick walls, light hardwoods, white accents, and expansive spaces.  It was all very clean and sophisticated, but not stuffy.

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Perbacco is known for their housemade cured meats, so we ordered the Salumi Misti.  It was a plate full of some of the Chef’s favorite preparations including some pork pate and five different kinds of cured meats.  Some had the sweetness of a rich red wine, some had a saltier bite, and others a buttery flavor and texture.  Just heaven and not to be missed.

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We also ordered the Organic Peach and Arugula Salad with shaved ricotta salata and toasted marcona almonds, which were more buttery and lighter in taste and texture than a regular almond.  The peaches were the most beautiful shades of bright yellow and deep pinks and reds.  The colors showed how wonderfully juicy, sweet, and vibrant the fruit was.  As J.Low stated, the peppery fresh arugula was the perfect foil for the sweet sunny peaches.  And the almonds and light sprinkling of ricotta cheese added to the dish’s textural complexity.  It was the simplest dish, but also the best of the whole night because of the quality of ingredients and excellent execution.

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For my entree I ordered the Shortrib Pappardelle with a light sprinkling of melted parmigiano reggiano.  The pasta had the wonderful flavor and texture of housemade pasta.  And like J.Low said, it was cooked perfectly al dente.  And the shortrib sauce was full of meat that was buttery, earthy, and delicious.  I could’ve had another plate!

J.Low ordered the Shortrib Straccato with chanterelle mushrooms, fresh peas, and mashed potatoes.  Earthy, woodsy, and perfectly cooked is how we described the dish.  All the flavors on the plate married together so well.

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We finished the meal with a Peach and Berry Tortino, which I didn’t think I would have room for.  But once I took one bite of the accompanying Peach Caramel gelato, I MADE room!  The tortino looked as if it would be dry, but my first bite proved how perfectly prepared it was.  It was moist yet crumbly, and the outer crust was almost crisp.  Another textural and taste winner.  It was almost like a sweeter cornbread (which makes sense since it was of course cornmeal) with berries on the bottom and a sprinkling of those sweet organic peaches on top.  And that gelato was truly yummy.

The service here was some of the best I’ve ever experienced in San Francisco.  Everything was paced well (not too slow, not too fast), the busboys cleared our plates promptly and always politely with a smile, and the waiter was very friendly but never intruded in on our conversation.  The service made an already wonderful dinner over the top excellent.  My experience here made me believe that a great meal and truly excellent service can still co-exist.

Some “celebrity” restaurants could definitely learn a thing or two from the folks here ;-).

Perbacco – 230 California St. (near Front St.) – San Francisco – 415.955.0663

Perbacco on Urbanspoon

Posted in Food, San Francisco, Travel

San Francisco’s Tastiest Cheap Eats

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With so many restaurants in this town, it’s not enough just to have cheap food.  After all, where’s the satisfaction in having a meal that was cheap if you don’t feel satisfied afterwards?

Aside from being VERY TASTY cheap eats, these places also share one other thing in common: hard to find parking.  But it sure is worth it. 

PPQ Vietnamese Cuisine (1816 Irving St.)- They’re known for their quality beef in all their noodle dishes and their Five Spice Chicken, but don’t miss their Curry Chicken Pho or their Hot and Sour Catfish Soup with pineapple, tomatoes, and taro root.  It’s like nothing you’ve ever tasted.

Citrus Club (1790 Haight St.) – Their menu reads like a hodgepodge of Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, and all sorts of other Asian noodle dishes, but they do most of them very well.  Atmosphere is casual and it’s usually bustling with the long wait during peak times and the open kitchen, but a bowl of any of their stirfried rice noodles is like Asian comfort food.

Ti Couz (3108 16th St.) – This is French fast food.  Both sweet and savory crepes here are both authentic and delicious.  For something a little more distinctive, try a buckwheat crepe with mushrooms, scallops, and cheese with a pear hard cider to drink.  Share an apple crepe with whipped cream, and you’ve got the perfect meal.

Marnee Thai (2225 Irving St.) – This is one of the first authentic Thai restaurants in the city, and they’re still one of the best.  They’re known for their chicken wing appetizer, but don’t be afraid to experiment with some of their more distinctive dishes or Green Papaya Salad.

Park Chow (1240 9th Ave.) – Are you seeing a pattern here with cheap eats on Irving St?  It’s no coincidence many places along Irving are great spots for good cheap food, since they’re near both San Francisco State AND University of San Francisco.  Park Chow is no exception with their wonderfully cozy atmosphere and classic dishes like Spaghetti and Meatballs, Roasted Chicken, and various salads and pizzas.  Don’t leave without trying the apple pie.

Shanghai House (3641 Balboa St.) – Xiao Long Bao, Shanghainese Chow Mein, Lionshead Meatballs, the list goes on and on.  Most of their rich, braised, or doughy northern Chinese dishes are traditionally prepared and done quite well.  Be adventurous when ordering here or go with a Chinese speaking friend. 

Barney’s Gourmet Hamburgers (3344 Steiner St. & 4138 24th St.) – Their burger menu is vast and most are very good, but don’t underestimate either chicken or turkey burger choices either.  Vegetarians will also have some options as well.  Make sure you share an order of curly fries.

Just Won Ton (1241 Vicente St.) – I used to visit this place frequently when I craved a classic Chinese rice plate.  My favorite was the Tomato Beef, but many of their other rice plate choices are also tasty.  Ironically, their wontons aren’t anything special.  If you look up “hole in the wall,” you’ll see a picture of this place.

Golden Flower (667 Jackson St.) – My family and I used to frequent this Vietnamese place when I was a kid, all the time.  Parking may be a pain here in Chinatown, but you’ll be rewarded with some traditional Vietnamese dishes done exceptionally well.  Their pho broth and noodles are unbeatable, and their grilled meats are marinated and tender.  Order a coconut juice beverage and you’ll be rewarded with a fresh coconut.  No canned version here.

Posted in Food, Travel

Bouchon shows ’em how it’s done

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Imposters take note.

Brunch may seem like a simple thing to execute successfully.  But if you visit Thomas Keller’s Bouchon at the Venetian in Las Vegas, you’ll realize that it’s all in the details.

The setting is classic French bistro with dark hardwoods, tiled floors, and the typical high ceilings and large lighting fixtures.  Nothing extraordinarily special, but it definitely says classic sophistication, which tells you exactly what you’re in for.

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And what we started with was probably my favorite part of the entire meal…the bread.  Usually, it’s barely an afterthought when someone brings the breadbasket to the table.  But here, it was a sign of things to come.  I haven’t had bread this absolutely tasty in YEARS!  It was the perfect french bread roll.  Perfectly crispy on the outside, soft, airy and slightly sweet on the inside.  And the butter (covered with a piece of parchment decorated with a whimsical beach ball illustration) and jam were heavenly, as well.  You could tell that jam was made with fresh blueberries because of their sweet natural flavor.  Mmmm…  It’s great how with all the complicated dishes that restaurants put out, something as simple as bread can still impress you.

I ordered the omelette special of the day with zucchini, chorizo, and a mild cheese served with brioche and sausage.  Everything on the plate was obviously of supreme quality right down to the brioche.  It makes a world of difference just in their presentation, and of course, clearly in the way they taste.  The omelette was perfectly prepared, light, and fluffy.  Just an expertly prepared, perfectly portioned dish.

My husband had the steak and eggs, medium rare.  I told myself that how close they come to “medium rare” will be a sign of how much expertise is in the kitchen…

They were right on the money. 

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The fillet of beef he ordered was perfectly medium rare and the cut of beef superior.  It was melt in your mouth buttery and good.  And again, the eggs were fluffy and light (though he would’ve liked to have a little more of them on the plate).  And those homefries were fantastic!  They were a cross between a french fry (crispy on the outside, meaty and soft on the inside) and a homefry.

Our waitress wasn’t the most experienced or polished server we could’ve asked for.  But what she lacked in finesse she made up for in genuine friendliness, and that’s all I need.

It’s no secret the onslaught of celebrity restaurants in this town and the glitz and glamour that go with them.  With Bouchon, however, Thomas Keller shows us that substance can never make up for style, no matter how how glaring it is in Vegas.

Bouchon (Venetian) on Urbanspoon

Posted in Food, Travel

America’s Best Thai Food…in Vegas

I’ve gotta give props to the fans of Chowhound.  After combing through various blog posts searching for the right places to grab a bite to eat off the Las Vegas strip, one place kept coming up in their conversations…  Lotus of Siam

People mentioned things like, “It’s the best Thai food in the country,” and “There’s nothing like this anywhere.”  After a little more research, I realized Gourmet magazine even called it “the single best Thai restaurant in North America.” 

Enough said.

Once we drove to the mini-mall where it was located and drove past the front door, we thought twice.  Could this place really be as good as people say?  Especially when the outside looked so…sketchy?  Well, if you go, don’t let the exterior or questionable location deter you.

I played it safe and made reservations, thinking I was being overly cautious.  Once we walked in, we realized the reservations were necessary.

Apparently, one of the main reasons why Lotus of Siam’s dishes are so distinctly different is because they’re from a different region of Thailand.  More specifically, northern Thailand, which takes a lot of its culinary cues from southern China, Myanmar, and Laos.  The waiter explained that the spices, preparations, and ingredients can vary quite a bit from mainstream Thai cuisine in America. 

So my husband and I dove in head first and ordered dishes that seemed different and intriguing to us. 

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We started with the Mushroom Dip.  I know, why order a “dip” at a Thai restaurant?  Well, the readers of Chowhound recommended all three of their dips, highly.  Boy were we glad we listened.  This chilled dip was served with an array of the brightest, freshest veggies, like cauliflower, broccoli, crisp snow peas, green beans, cucumber slices and cabbage.  I’ve never tasted anything like it!  It was an amazing combination of softened (probably stirfried) various mushrooms, eggplant, carmelized red onions, chilis, green onions, cilantro, and other ingredients that the waiter couldn’t share with us.  It was texturally interesting, especially with the fresh veggies, and the flavors were like nothing you’ll ever try.  You MUST order one of their dips if you go.

We also ordered the Northern Style Tom Kah Kai Chicken Soup.  It was delicious with lots of kaffir lime leaf, lemongrass, cilantro, and lime juice flavors.  But, man was it spicy!  There were at least two different chilis in this soup, some of them whole (with pith and seeds, which is where all the heat is)!  We should’ve ordered this one a little less spicy.  I needed entire glass of water just to get through the little bowl.  But it sure was tasty.

We ordered two entrees, again off their northern cuisine menu.  The Jackfruit Red Curry I had to order just out of curiosity.  It had the consistancy of a soup more than a curry, and was full of jackfruit pieces (which has the texture of softened artichoke hearts).  The flavors were distinctive, but it was my least favorite dish of the night.  I wasn’t a fan of the softened jackfruit’s texture or the brothiness of the curry.  My husband, however, loved this one.

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Last was the Rice Vermicelli Curry, which had very distinct Chinese and Laotian influences.  The thin rice noodles were similar to something you’d get in a bowl of pho (Vietnamese rice noodle soup), but the spicy flavor was similar to something you’d get in a regional Chinese restaurant.  It was rich with the flavors of ground pork and chili in a tomato based spicy broth.  It was served with fresh mung bean sprouts and lime, which added another element of texture and flavor.  I could’ve polished off a whole bowl of this stuff if it weren’t so spicy!  Whew!

There’s not much in the way of decor in this place, but the service was good enough.  And they kept our water glasses full, which was necessary given how spicy everything was.  They’ll ask how spicy you want your dishes on a scale of 1 to 10, so go for a “2” if you’re not that into spicy food, or you’ll be sorry.  The table next to us (Hi, Megan and Diane!) were practically crying after just one bite of their Mushroom Dip!

This was definitely a memorable dining experience for me and my husband and not to be missed if you’re in Vegas.  Who knew the best Thai food could be located in the middle of a mini-mall in a bad part of Las Vegas?

Lotus of Siam – 953 East Sahara Ave. – Las Vegas, NV – 702.735.3033

Lotus of Siam on Urbanspoon

Posted in Food, Travel

Bobby Flay’s Flare

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I wanted to visit Food Network star Bobby Flay’s Las Vegas outpost for a few reasons.  One, my husband is a Bobby Flay fan.  Two, I had seen the look of the place on a Food Network special, and wanted to check it out for myself.  And third, I wanted to see if Bobby’s food really lived up to all his blue corn tortilla hype.

So we headed to the Mesa Grill, located in the exhaustingly large Caesars Palace on the Strip.

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First off, love, love, love the decor.  It’s a big, bright, colorful space.  I love all the colors, all the big pieces, all the rust and orange colored accents.  Anywhere else but Vegas and the place would seem cheesy.  But in this gawdy desert retreat, it more than works, it’s perfect.

We went there for brunch and things started out well.  The bread basket they brought was filled with scones, biscuits, and breads.  My faves were the Cheddar Jalapeno Biscuits (to hell with my lactose intolerance, I’m on vacation!) and the Blueberry Maple Coffeecake.  Just fantastic.

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My husband and I started with the Shrimp and Fish Ceviche and the Ahi Tuna Nachos.  Both were fantastic with their interesting spice combinations.  Gently spicy and more flavor than heat, which is a good thing.  And all the ingredients were superbly fresh and their presentation was stunning.

I then had the Spicy Scrambled Eggs with green onion, jalapeno and goat cheese, accompanied by apricot mustard glazed ham and black pepper buttermilk biscuits.  Every bite of the eggs was subtle with the flavor of chili without the major heat.  And the goat cheese provided tang and texture.  But I was completely unimpressed with the ham and biscuits.  The eggs could also have been a little more light, fluffy and tender.  I probably wouldn’t order it again, but I could definitely appreciate all the flavors that were going on in this dish.

My husband loved his 16 Spice Chicken Salad with goat cheese and green onion vinaigrette.  He said the meat was perfectly grilled and the spice rub was complex in its flavors.  He would totally order this one again.  I took one bite and realized that a lot of care and attention was paid in the development of this dish.  The same could be said of all the items on the menu.  Flay has come up with intricate flavor combinations that are new, inventive, and interesting on the palate.

I wish I could be as complementary about the service.  It totally ruined our experience.  I would love to visit Mesa Grill again and try other items on the menu.  But the service would make me think twice.

Our waiter was distant, phoney, and arrogant.  With all the care and attention the kitchen has paid to all their dishes, it’s a shame to see how our waiter had no desire to care for his patrons, take pride in his level of service, and have the same devotion to the food that the kitchen has.  It’s a terrible, unacceptable, shame.  I even heard the table next to us complain that the waiter didn’t change out their wine glasses after finishing off their bottle of syrah and switching to a cab.  Yuck!

Oh, and by the way, it is NOT okay for any waiter to scold the busboy they’re training, in front of patrons.  It was amateurish, petty, and had no place in a restaurant like this.

Unexpectedly, I now have more respect for Mr. Flay.  I think his dishes are inventive and delicious.  He has real substance and so does his food.  But unfortunately, the service end of things need some real improvement.

NOTE:  Also wrote an email to their customer service department explaining both the good and the bad about our experience at Mesa Grill.  Here was their response:

You have absolute every right to write whatever you feel is best.  We have many great reviews written about us that we are thankful for.” – Jennifer Lee, Bold Food LLC

I think I can see now where their lack of customer service comes from… 

Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill (Caesars Palace) on Urbanspoon