Posted in Food, San Francisco

Not for the faint of heart

Lately, Chef Chris Costentino has been garnering attention as a contestant on the Food Network’s “The Next Iron Chef.”  But let’s not forget how he got there: his food. 

Incanto’s menu is not for the faint of heart.  Those who get squeamish at the thought of animal innards or organs you never knew existed, need to stay away.  Far, far away.  And the Chef is so in love with ALL parts of the pig that he even has his own “salumi club” of sorts, where he and his business partner produce their own salumi for its members and some restaurants.

Costentino’s restaurant, Incanto, is rustic yet sophisticated and comfortable.  But it borders on a cheesy hotel coffee shop theme if it weren’t for the lighting and the bar.  But the restaurant’s brilliance is in its details.  From the complimentary house filtered sparkling water to the house-made bread, everything is done with care and expertise.  This shows in the preparation of many of his dishes.

incanto-salumi.jpg 

We started with the Salumi Platter for two.  It’s served with a variety of marinated roasted and fresh veggies along with a house-made mustard, all of which were delectable and really rounded out the dish.  Proof again of the details.  The platter included pig’s terrine, head cheese, a beautifully fatty panchetta, and others.  The meats were all distinctively different, rich, and full bodied.  However, having too much of the terrine would have been too much for even me.

incanto-port.jpg

J. ordered the fabulous Braised Shortribs.  It was served with some bright and fresh caramelized pear puree, brussel sprouts, and mustard.  And the meat was fabulously tender, moist, and juicy.  It was like butter!  But if it weren’t for the mustard and pear to accompany it, the meat itself would have lacked deep flavor.  A surprising disappointment.  It was technically perfect, but it lacked a bit of soul.

I had the Spaghettini with Cured Tuna Heart.  It was served with parsley and a raw egg yolk to toss while hot, making a sauce.  I enjoyed the dish immensely with the rich egg, freshness of the herbs, and strong flavor of the tuna.  But the tuna bordered on too fishy for my taste.  I know that’s the flavor the Chef was going for, but it was a little strong for me.  I would, however, order the dish again because it all married together so well.  And that pasta was cooked so perfectly al dente.  Just perfect.

incanto-pasta.jpg

For dessert, J. ordered the Chocolate Ganache Cake and I got the Apple Cobbler.  Both were, to our surprise, the highlights of the meal!  My cobbler was buttery, the flavor of the fruit fresh and strong, and the creme perfectly mild and sweet.  J’s chocolate was the perfect dessert for the chocoholic.  It was rich and full of dark sweet flavor.  She licked the plate clean.

I have to admit, I don’t know if I’ll be back for a while.  Some of the main ingredients were so strong that they were overwhelming my palate.  So much so that I have to say this place is for the truly sophisticated five-star establishment foodie.  Ironic because the decor, location, and overall atmosphere are not five-star material.  I hate to admit it, but Perbacco’s menu and preparations are much more my style.

Incanto – 1550 Church St. – San Francisco – 415.641.4500

Incanto on Urbanspoon

Posted in San Francisco, Shopping

Fashion Bargains: Fall 2007

I’ve been talking to a few friends lately and I’ve decided to do one of these “shopping round up” postings a season.  A good chance for me to see what I’m spending my money on and share it with my friends who read this blog :).

So, here are the “greatest hits” of my Fall 2007 shopping adventures.

img_1015.jpg

WHAT: Black suede embroidered platform peeptoe wedges / DESIGNER: O by Oscar de la Renta / WHERE: Jeremy’s (SF) / ORIGINAL PRICE: estimated at $285 / SALE PRICE: $35

COMMENTS: I feel like I have to find at least one ridiculously cheap designer piece every season at the Jeremy’s clearance sale.  This was it.  When you sign up for their mailing list and they send you the notice for the seasonal clearance, drop everything and go.

img_1016.jpg

WHAT: Turquoise full skirt, knee length / DESIGNER: Viola / WHERE: Anthropologie / ORIGINAL PRICE: $88 / SALE PRICE: $10

COMMENTS: I love, love, love Anthropologie.  But I never shop the first two-thirds of the store because the stuff is WAY overpriced.  I always head to the very back of every Anthro and search through their rotating selection of sale merchandise.  On this occasion, I really scored when I found the $10 rack.

peeptoe.jpg

WHAT: Black polka dotted peeptoe mini-wedges / DESIGNER: Mossimo / WHERE: Target / PRICE: $25

COMMENTS: These shoes weren’t on sale, but for twenty-five bucks what more of a discount do you need?  I can’t believe how ridiculously comfortable these shoes are.  They go with just about everything, have that whimsical patent red heel, and I’ve seen the same design in department stores for so much more.  Like I needed another reason to go to Target.

mjeggshell.jpg

WHAT: Eggshell leather handbag with brass chain / DESIGNER: Marc Jacobs Resort Collection 2007 / WHERE: Saks Fifth Avenue, Las Vegas / ORIGINAL PRICE: $1275 / SALE PRICE: $500

COMMENTS: I know, the bag is five hundred freakin’ dollars, but consider this:

1) I’m a designer handbag whore

2) Real designer handbag bargains of more than 50% off are nearly impossible to score anymore.  This one was 65% off (unheard of for a limited edition designer bag)!

3) I was on vacation

4) It’s a timeless bag (not too trendy or kitchy)

5) Have you looked at it???  It’s gorgeous ;-P.

Posted in Shopping, Travel

Only in New York

I’m big into health and beauty products.  I love trying new shampoos, makeup, bath gels, all that stuff at the drugstore.  I even like to go to drugstores in foreign countries to check out the toiletries you can’t find in the States.

zit-fall-ad1.jpg Courtesy of Zitomer

Drugstores are usually regulated to chain store status here in Northern California.  There’s not much difference between a Rite-Aid, Longs, or Walgreens.  But in Manhattan, I could easily spend a day visiting a few places that totally debunk that model.

C.O. Bigelow Chemists, Zitomer, and Z Chemists are three upscale pharmacies that I visit everytime I’m in New York City.

Zitomer (and it’s sister store Z Chemists), for example, carry all of the typical stuff like toothpaste and tissue paper.  But they also have cosmetic brands that aren’t usually found in a drugstore like Roger & Gallet, L’Occitane, and Caswell Massey.  They also carry accessories like bags and purses by Vera Bradley, trendy hair accessories, Halloween costumes and wigs, eclectic perfumes, and all sorts of bath products that you can only find at high end department stores here in the Bay Area (brands like Molton Brown, Kneipp, Cyclic, and Bliss).  It’s like Sephora, Neimans’ cosmetics department, and a Longs all rolled into one.

bigelow1.jpg    

Flickr photo courtesy of “ddc95”

And then there’s C.O. Bigelow.  A visit to this store is like a step back in time.  Established in 1938, the store labels itself as the oldest apothecary in America, and it certainly looks it.  But that’s part of its charm.

Inside, they carry brands of toothpaste, facial care products, and perfumes that I thought I could only get in Europe (Apivita, Marvis, Skyn Iceland), making their selection particularly fun to browse.  They also carry their own store brand of health and beauty products, some of which can also be found at Bath and Body Works stores nationwide.  They have so much merchandise, so many foreign brands I’ve never heard of, and products I thought were discontinued.  It’s like a Rite Aid from 50 years ago with a little Bath and Body Works thrown in.

I can’t leave any of these stores empty handed.  Go ahead, I dare you not to buy anything.

Sadly, like a big slice of Brooklyn pizza, these upscale pharmacies are yet another thing you can only find in New York. 

Would it kill someone to open an eclectic store like this in Northern California?…

Zitomer – 969 Madison Ave. (Upper East Side) – NYC – 888.219.2888

Z Chemists – 40 West 57th St. – NYC – 212.956.6000

C.O. Bigelow Chemists – 414 Avenue of the Americas (West Village) – NYC – 212.533.2700

Posted in Food, San Francisco

The New Trend: Fried Chicken

Food trends.  You can’t avoid them if you enjoy eating at any white tablecloth restaurant. 

Long ago, it was pesto.  Pesto not just on pasta, but on chicken, mayo and aioli, bruschetta, you get the idea.  I’m so over it.

Then there were sun-dried tomatoes.  They were in salads, breads, pastas, pizzas, spreads, just about any and everything.  This trend hasn’t fully died, but it has died down.

Most recently, there has been the most annoying of all trends: foam.  What the hell is this all about?  Fancy foams that accompany a plate taste like nothing, look like nothing, and add absolutely nothing.  Enough said.

chick-and-waff.jpg Photo by J. Low

But now, there is a new trend on the horizon.  It’s called…fried chicken!  This is no new food innovation, of course.  It’s just our basic primal need for a big hunk of meat, fried.  I can get on board with this food trend!

Here are some places in San Francisco that have recently either helped start or jumped on the bandwagon of this trend.  Of course, there are so many other places to get some that I haven’t mentioned here, but feel free to place a comment and let me know about ones you’ve tried elsewhere.  I can’t vouch for the quality of each restaurant’s fried chicken since I haven’t tried them all, but I have visited a few of these places, and they make very tasty versions, indeed.

Town Hall (San Francisco)

Say what you will about the noise of this place, the inconsistant service, or the cavernous space.  Bottom line is the food here rocks!  There’s nothing like a plate of their expertly prepared fried chicken and finishing off your meal with an order of Butterscotch and Chocolate Pot de Creme.  It’s a heartattack of a meal but you’ll love every minute of it.

900 Grayson (Berkeley)

Their chicken and waffles (known as the “Demon Lover”) is the best version of the dish that I’ve ever tasted.  Perfectly crisp, perfectly flavored, hardly greasy, quality meat.  Simply mouth-watering.  Oh, and that homemade buttermilk waffle it’s served on ain’t so bad either.

Chez Panisse Cafe (Berkeley)

This legendary restaurant is known for it’s innovative use of local ingredients, perfectly prepared.  San Francisco Chronicle Food Editor, Michael Bauer’s recent blog entry touts the merits of their verson of this dish.  And apparently, it’s not to be missed.

PPQ (San Francisco)

Yes, I know this is a Vietnamese restaurant, but have you had their Five Spice Chicken?  To die for!  Once you try it, you’ll know why it’s on this list.  Just go.

Bakesale Betty’s (Oakland)

This place has gotten so much attention lately, but their lines out the door say it all.  They’re all waiting to get their hands on Betty’s now famous Fried Chicken Sandwich.  She makes the chicken in-house, places two breast pieces on each huge sandwich, and then piles on a vinegary, spicy cole slaw for a great flavor and texture contrast.  Not to be missed.

Man, why did I write this post without a good piece of fried chicken on hand?  What was I thinking?