Posted in Dinner, Food, San Francisco

Meeting the Gypsy

IMG_3967I rarely get drawn in by what I’ve heard about a restaurant’s setting. But Gitane’s European bohemian chic decor seemed so right up my alley that I wanted to see if for myself. And it didn’t hurt that it was on the SF Chronicle’s list of Top 100 Restaurants, so the food had to have some redeeming qualities.

The place is named after a gypsy and the food is inspired from the Basque region nestled between Portugal and Spain. But there seemed to be a touch of Moroccan influence as well. The menu is very eclectic and decor exotic and hip without being snooty. In fact, the staff was very friendly without trying too hard. Even the manager came by to check on us and seemed genuinely interesting inhow we were doing.

So my pals and I went for the Yelp Eats! prix fixe menu, and all the dishes were ones you could find on their regular menu. For our appetizers I ordered the Bastilla which was almost like a fried samosa filled with duck, chicken, nuts, spices, and raisins. It was served with some roasted red peppers for savory contrast. The dish was excellent, rich and meaty, and sweet with warm spice. It’s a heavier appetizer, so I’m happy I ordered the scallops for my entree. But more on that in a minute…

My friend ordered the Taboule appetizer, which was a revelation. It was bursting with lemon and mint and fresh shrimp, in this cool couscous salad. It was wonderful. The flavors were so fresh yet somehow, not overwhelming.  Perfection.

IMG_3946For our entrees I got the St Jacques, which was pan seared royal sweet scallops with parsnip puree, fried padron peppers, and chorizo on top and chorizo oil sauce. It was wonderful. The combination was unexpected and yet delicious. The scallops were perfectly cooked and the chorizo oil was such a wonderful complement to the light scallops and parsnips. Yum!

My friends ordered the Solomillo, which was pork tenderloin and braised pork belly with a five spice sauce and carrot puree with pine nuts. The dish was rich and warm with those spices. And again, it all was perfectly cooked. The perfect autumn dish.

For dessert, we had beignets with a lemon, chocolate, and honey sauce, and the Vins de Fruits which was a chilled sangria with yogurt sorbet, berries and spices. Both were fantastic. The beignets were soft, warm, and perfectly fried. Sometimes they’re a little too brown on the outside but they were perfect here. The sauces were good, but honestly, they could’ve been better. Either way, a great dessert.

IMG_3952But it was the Vins de Fruits that impressed me. I’m not one for alcohol desserts, but this dish was so incredibly fresh and fruity, again made warm with the cinnamon and star anise. It was so fragrant that it was like perfume. Again, another surprising dish.

This place has so much character and diversity in both its menu and decor, it’s hard to imagine a more charming place to go in the city. It’s hip without making you feel out of place. It’s like a tiny European bistro because it’s in this little cobblestone alleyway and the service makes it a neighborhood gem. There’s also outdoor seating, but because of it’s size, I wouldn’t recommend it for a group larger than 6-8 people. And if you’re into that sort of thing, the bar was a super hot place to see and be seen on the Friday night we were there. Although personally, I wasn’t a fan of their special cocktails. A little too much spice, but that’s just personal preference.

We were truly entranced by this gypsy, for sure.

Gitane on Urbanspoon

Posted in San Francisco

Nothing Sweet About Dolci

Nail salons in the city are a dime a dozen. In order to compete, many of them have gone higher end by decorating their places to look like mini spas, offering more services, and making the experience better by offering tea and flowery smelling add ons. And many of these spots, like Polished Lounge in San Francisco, do it all very well.

But Dolci Beauty Lounge in San Francisco, unfortunately, does not.

With all the negative stories about cleanliness problems in nail salons and the possible infections and serious health issues, you’d think a spot that caters to clients who want a little more than your generic nail salon experience would actually care about keeping things clean.

Apparently not.

This place doesn’t even make up for it with good service or a particularly good experience in general. The front desk is a joke. The girls who work there openly talk about how they can’t wait to get off work and it shows. They are aloof, rude, and completely unaccommodating.  It’s like they’re herding cattle. They just want you in and out in a flash. They barely give you a glance when you check in.

Worst of all, the woman working on my toenails cut me with the cuticle cutter. She was working too fast and too carelessly on my pedicure to barely notice. I was furious and also worried. Their sinks and surrounding areas were a total mess and in complete disarray. Tools were lying around used and dirty. Towels wet and strewn everywhere. Puddles of water on the floor so that people could easily slip and fall. Nothing seemed clean.

For all the advertising this place does to cater to higher end clientele, you’d think they’d care a little more. But their lack of attention to their business doesn’t bode well for your nails, or your health, either.

Dolci Beauty Lounge – 211 Steiner, San Francisco -415.285.9255

Posted in Food

Happy Cafe…The Name Says It All.

I’m picky about my Chinese food.  Regional, more specific kinds of Chinese food is what interests me.  No plain jane stirfries or chow mein for me.

Now, I love Shanghainese food but a lot of it can be rather heavy and greasy (it’s mostly dumplings and noodles, less rice).  They say that the farther north you go in China, the less rice dishes you’ll see. The typical rice and stirfries are from the southern part of China (like the Canton or Szechuan regions).

That’s what makes Happy Cafe in San Mateo so…simple.  The dishes are classic Shanghainese: pig’s kidneys (sooooo good here without any gamey flavor), cold noodles with spicy meat sauce and shredded cucumbers (refreshing with such bold flavor), and fried pork chop over rice and greens (the pork is perfectly flavored and fried without being too greasy). Their boiled chicken appetizer with a lightly spicy sauce is also perfection. The chicken is silky, juicy and tender, and that sauce is again, bold and the perfect partner for the chicken.

My only complaint here is the tiny space (not good for groups and long waits during peak times since they don’t take reservations) and their Xiao Long Bao (steamed dumplings), which is usually the mark of a great Shanghainese restaurant.  The dough on them is too mushy, the meat filling doesn’t have the right flavor, and the soup inside the dumpling is bland.  Just skip it.

This is a classic “hole in the wall” joint, but if you order well, you’ll be richly rewarded. I’ve never left unhappy. 🙂

Happy Cafe on Urbanspoon

Posted in Food, San Francisco

One Hot Little Skillet

LittleskilletComp1-1Fried chicken is like the king of fried foods.  When done right, it’s the perfect combo of juicy flavorful meat and crispy savory crunch. We’re lucky to have several places in the Bay Area that do it well, but all have their slight variations on the original classic.  Little Skillet’s version is classic with Southern flair.

There’s no ambiance to speak of, but that’s okay.  It’s literally hole in the wall, or actually a takeout counter where you walk up to order and take your food away to eat either out on the sidewalk across the street or back to the office.

My friend and I decided to take our eight piece chicken meal with two sides (the macaroni salad with herb vinaigrette and seasoned fries) and buttermilk biscuits, home. We’d finished the fries before we even got home. Total car snacking food and they were great. And the ketchup was a nice sweet tangy sauce that tasted like it was house-made (or at least a tinkered version of the bottled stuff).

IMG_3914The fried chicken was probably the best classic version I’ve had in the Bay Area, to date.  It had a perfectly crisp skin that wasn’t to thick (my friend said it was like really good pork rines) and a wonderful flavor.  It had a tinge of paprika, black pepper and cayenne pepper along with a slight smokiness.  My theory is that it was Old Bay Seasoning they used in the flour coating.  The best part is that the meat was juicy and flavorful, not dry or tasteless like some fried chicken can be.  The skin was tasty, texture was great, and the meat was perfect.

The buttermilk biscuits were nothing to scoff at either.  They were so buttery and good that they almost tasted like a croissant!  My only complaint is that they weren’t warm and there was no honey to go with them.  That would’ve sent me over the moon.


I was also impressed with the macaroni salad, though my friend wasn’t a fan of the herb dressing.  I loved it.  It was fresh and perfectly seasoned, not gloppy or heavy like most pasta salads.  The perfect foil for a heavy chicken and biscuit meal.

You could tell the quality in all their ingredients, including the organic local chicken they use.  And though they’re known for their long lines at lunch (they’re only open 11 am – 2 pm), we must’ve missed it since we arrived at 1:30 and there was no line to speak of (and parking on Townsend was easy-peasy).  If I’m in a decadent mood, I’ll try the chicken and waffle combo next time around.

Little Skillet on Urbanspoon