Posted in Dinner, Food, Lunch, Review, San Francisco

James Beard Award Winning Chef Michael Tusk’s Cotogna

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Cotogna is one of the hardest tables to snag in town. I should know, I’ve been trying ever since the place opened in late 2010. And Chef Michael Tusk’s James Beard Award win earlier this year only made the effort even harder.

Still, my curiosity never waned. Could this more casual sister restaurant to the famous Quince just next door be worth the wait?

Well first off, the restaurant is much smaller than I expected, which explains why there aren’t as many reservation slots as you might think. But I finally got a reasonably timed reservation for a late lunch on a Saturday I was free.

The interior is cozy and unpretentious with it’s light woods and neutral tones, along with the communal table for large parties and walk ins. I loved their linen burlap-like napkins.

As for the food, the rustic menu was the perfect match for the setting and decor. Everything was simple yet there was a definite harmony in the balance of flavors and textures of each dish.

We took advantage of the $20 three-course prix fixe lunch, which changes daily, and also ordered one of their famous wood-fired pizzas, all to share.

First up was the Turkey and Fregola Soup with Wild Rice and a lovely piece of toasted bread. They do meats well here, with their braising and roasting. The stock for this soup had depth and you could tell no corners were cut. It provided a hearty base for this wonderfully flavored soup. The bread provided some crunch and texture.

Next was the Manila Clam, Hot Pepper and Broccoli di Ciccio Pizza that came out of their famous wood-fired oven. The crust was super thin and crisp, but not cracker crisp. There was still a lovely chewiness to it. And there was the perfect amount of blistered char on the bottom. Not so much that the whole thing tasted burnt. The clams were fresh, the sauce was tangy and the bitter greens together gave this pizza a great balance of varied flavors. Then there was that subtle kick from the pepper to finish.

Then we had the Pappardelle with Braised Oxtail. I love a good pasta dish and I could’ve licked this plate clean. My biggest complaint was the serving was a bit on the smaller side. Other than that, the bright yellow ribbons of eggy house-made pasta were almost buttery and cooked to a perfect al dente. The hearty meat sauce was flavorful, tender and seasoned well with just a hint of tomato. I loved how the meat didn’t overpower the pasta. Each element had a chance to complement each other.

We finished with the Warm Pippin Apple and Almond Crostata. Once again, there was a wonderful contrast to the tender sweet apples (not too sweet, thankfully) and the perfectly thin crisp crust. But the real star was the house-made date and cinnamon ice cream. It was the perfect finish.

Service is a bit cold, impersonal, yet professional. It becomes a non-factor if you don’t let it bother you. I let the food and the setting speak for itself, instead.

If I had to choose one word for this restaurant it would be “rustic”. There was nothing glaringly special or over the top here. And though the setting is definitely not white tablecloth stuffy, it’s special enough for a nice occasion. The food is simple, expertly prepared, and there’s a great amount of attention to detail. It’s nothing you’d rush back for, but you’d definitely want to return at some point. It is a memorable meal if you pay attention to the details.

Cotogna on Urbanspoon

Posted in Dinner, Events, Food, Lunch, Review, Shopping, Street Food, Travel

New York City: Work hard, shop hard, eat well

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New York City has always been about three things for me: Work hard, shop hard, eat well. I was in town for only 3 nights on a business trip, so I had to pack a lot into just a little amount of free time. Fortunately, NYC is a good place for that.

I visited a few key restaurants and hit up a few key sales, deciding not to waste my time with stores that were even remotely touristy or similar to the ones I could find back in San Francisco. I was shopping with a purpose, no browsing here. And I wanted to hit up a few key eateries that were sure to please.

Here’s a recap (but by no means a “Best of” list):

Uniqlo – I arrived early enough in the evening to hit up their new 5th Avenue flagship store before closing time. The place opened less than a week ago and in the daytime, there were still plenty of people lining up just to get inside the 3 story building full of H&M-esque Japanese fashions. They were promoting a lot of cashmere (in 25 different colors), puffy jackets, and $10 jeans (on sale), but I was more interested in their undergarments and leggings. They’re a great deal and good quality.

Halal Cart http://53rdand6th.com (53rd St. & 6th Ave.) – Their famous Chicken and Rice platter with white sauce is frequently named as one of the best street food eats in town. I’m lucky because I usually end up staying at the Hilton which is right next to the cart. And after arriving in NYC just a few hours before, it was the perfect low-key meal to take up to the room and eat while unpacking. Although, I suspect this meal tastes much better after some club hopping and you’re looking for something hearty to suck up all the alcohol in your system.

Ess-A-Bagel http://www.ess-a-bagel.com (831 3rd Ave.) – Just like NYC pizza, you can’t get a bagel anywhere else like the kinds you find in the Big Apple, and Ess-A-Bagel is the perfect place to get the perfect bagel. It’s been around since 1976 and is a NYC institution. I went with the standard lox and cream cheese with some red onions and lettuce on a toasted everything bagel and it was the perfect breakfast. The bagel itself was perfectly crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside, just like you’d want it to be. Why is this so hard to find anywhere else?

Lupa http://www.luparestaurant.com (170 Thompson St.) – This Mario Batali eatery is the lower key version of his famous Babbo restaurant, though many think it’s actually better. It’s casual and low-key, which I liked.

My friend and I shared the Salumi Platter which included slices of Prosciutto Di Parma and house-made Coppa Cotta, Testa, Speck and Lingua, among others. It was the highlight of the meal. For entrees we ordered the Spaghetti Carbonara, which was solidly good, but nothing to write home about, and the Skate with Lentils and Greens, which had a bright citrusy flavor from the grapefruit in the dish. And it was perfectly cooked. For dessert, we splurged with the Lupa Tartufo which both looked and tasted like a huge Ferrero Rocher chocolate, except with a decadent ice cream filled center. There was hazelnut and chocolate all over this huge thing. It was delicious and definitely enough to serve two. The service was friendly, attentive and unpretentious.

The Jill Sander Sample Sale – This event happens twice a year in NYC from what I can tell, and it’s a popular sale with locals. Eventhough my pregnant self can’t fit into any of the clothes that were 85% off, I found handbags and shoes. You can’t beat getting a pair of patent leather flats and pair of neutral slingbacks for just $140, altogether (including tax). They originally retailed for over $400 a pair.

Prune http://www.prunerestaurant.com (54 East 1st St.) – Before I talk about the food, I have to get my Jake Gyllenhaal sighting out of the way. The dude was waiting for a table just like anyone else, so that was refreshing to see. Unfortunately, I didn’t want to get all TMZ on him so I didn’t snap a picture.

Anyways, this famous restaurant is a favorite among chefs like Eric Rupert and Anthony Bourdain, and obviously, celebrities that like to wander in without an entourage. Chef Gabrielle Hamilton has become a bit of a celebrity herself in recent months with her culinary accolades, bestselling book, and personal life. All that aside, the food was surprisingly simple but beautifully executed.

We ordered the Rock Shrimp Roll with Old Bay Seasoned Fries and the Duck Breast with Beets. The shrimp was some of the freshest we’d ever tasted. They were so tender and sweet and tasted like they were just plucked from the water. The duck breast had just a touch of sweet smokiness and was cooked to a perfect medium rare. It was simplicity at its best.

Laduree (864 Madison Ave.) – I have been in love with this legendary Parisian macaron giant since my first bite at their Champs Elysees flagship store. Everything about it is over the top but their macarons stand up to the hype with their wonderfully delicate cookie (crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside) and their fragrant flavored fillings. I HAD to make the trek to their new outpost in NYC. This is their first and only store in North America. I’m happy to report that the macarons taste just as good as they did in Paris…except just a tad sweeter (to fit the American palate, unfortunately). They come in a myriad of flavors and colors, but my favorites will always be Cassis, Orange Blossom, and Salted Caramel. Yum…

Pizzarte http://www.pizzarteny.com (69 West 55th St.) – It’s hard to find a distinctive place to eat in the heart of Midtown that’s not touristy, overpriced, or unimaginative. Enter Pizzarte. Though it wasn’t the New York-style pie I was craving, it didn’t disappoint. Their Neapolitan-style Margherita pie had that perfectly charred and chewy crust with a fresh and tangy tomato sauce. And the Warm Burratta with butternut squash and broccoli rabe appetizer my friend and I shared was creamy and comforting.

The interior was clean, stylish and contemporary, and the food was of surprisingly great quality and preparation, which was a great surprise given its kitschy location.

Botkier Sample Sale – My last present to myself came in the form of a beautiful plum handbag that retailed for $600 at Nordstrom, but ended up being only $200 at their company’s sample sale. There were clutches for less than $100, and many bags were only $150. Incredible steal for a designer leather bag. I’m glad I went.

Besides Jake Gyllenhaal (which frankly would’ve been enough), I shared space with Gayle King and the Reverend Al Sharpton earlier that same day. Craziness. I was hoping I’d bump into George Clooney by dinnertime, but no such luck. I think my luck was already pretty good, so I didn’t complain. 🙂

Posted in East Bay, Food, Review, San Francisco, Shopping

Fall is pear season…and this is the perfect pear.

“Oh my God, these pears are beyond words! Where can we get some more of these?”

Those were the first words out of my husband’s mouth after tasting his first Warren Pear. The folks at Frog Hollow Farm in Brentwood are one of the few farms in the country to grow this specific type since they can be a bit difficult to grow. But it’s SO worth it!

They were nice enough to send me a box to sample since they were blessed with a stellar crop this year. Fall may be apple season to most, but for these guys, it’s the start of pear season.

I had every intention of doing something fun with these pears…like putting them into pre-made pie crust and making a lovely pear galette, placing some slices in a grilled cheese sandwich, or coring them and placing some maple syrup, raisins and cinnamon down the middle to make some perfect baked pears. The texture on these is wonderfully firm so they’d hold up better to baking then some other more common varieties.

But in the end, my husband and toddler couldn’t stay away. I let them have two of the six we received to eat and try and they were instantly hooked. These are simply the perfect pear: ridiculously sugary sweet with a creamy buttery texture and aftertaste. There’s no hint of any grainy, mealy mouthfeel. You have to taste these things to believe it.

Recipe for Frog Hollow Farm/Chez Panisse’s Warren Pear Crisp

You can order these puppies online at http://www.froghollow.com or find them at select Whole Foods Markets. They’re also popping up all over restaurants in the Bay Area.

*This is not a paid post. Free product was received but not in exchange for content.