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San Francisco and the Bay Area

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#1 mczlaw

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Posted 30 August 2005 - 10:16 PM

Still down in Baghdad by the Bay, walking around and eating. Here are capsules:

1. Slanted Door: Ferry Building. Vietnamese upscale. Light, bright, high ceilinged, bracket shaped room. Big, noisy and very crowded. We had no rez; was able to share community table at 1:15 after 5 minute wait. Friendly efficient service. Food: B (specialty Shaking Beef--steak chunks with red onion--was very good but didn' t knock my socks off. Daughter had 5 spice chicken that was also nice, but nothing special.

2. Coco500: New place by Loretta Kellar formerly of Bizou. Cozy, chocolate tones throughout. SoMa, few blocks from ballpark. Head reviewer for Chronicle in attendance. Young French server very nice and on top of things. Cocomole "tacos" appetizer (mole/beef daubed with guac on individual corn chips) kicked ass; buffala mozzerela salad good, but nothing special (others' tomato salads looked great); duck confit w/peach and cracker-thin wood oven pizza excellent; two chocolate desserts rocked world (taste and creativity). A.

3. Ton Kiang. Absolutely the best dim sum I have ever had. This came highly recommended by two SF expats. They didn't lie. Only downside: expensive--about $40 just for me (though eating enough @ 10:30 am to last easily 'til dinner).

4. Zuni Cafe. SF classic. Specialty wood-oven roast chicken for 2 was very good, though possibly not enough for 2 hungry adults and wait is 50 minutes. Liked the small seafood platter ($24 for 6 oysters, 4 clams and four shrimps with lovely mignonette and aioli dunks). Gateau/chocolate cake fine; gorgonzola w/ wildflower honey better. Tables very close together; my daughter held court with neighbors (H&W who got Gracie going; single older lady; two gay guys), good shtick and nice folks all, fortunately for me. B+.

Ballpark fare and French tomorrow. What a great city for the food enthusiast.


#2 ExtraMSG

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Posted 31 August 2005 - 06:06 AM

I like the caramel claypot chicken at Slanted Door. I think I've had the shaking beef, too, and thought it was good but nothing special.

The greatest service chemistry has rendered to alimentary science, is the discovery of osmazome, or rather the determination of what it was. ~Brillat-Savarin

Nick Zukin, Mi Mero Mole

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Formerly, Kenny & Zuke's

#3 ExtraMSG

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Posted 26 April 2006 - 11:17 AM

Here's a very old (and long) chowhound report of mine:


[quote]Spent the 9th through the 13th in the Bay Area, staying with family out in Sebastopol. We saw all the usual sights and toured the neighborhoods, but this trip was about food and started with our reservation at French Laundry. Iíve made trips before that centered around food to Chicago, Dallas, Portland, Kauai, Guadalajara, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico City, and Washington, DC. In many ways this was the best trip, yet.

We ate at five places for dinner. In order of preference (just for food), they were:

French Laundry (best service, too)
Gary Dankoís (best kitchen tour)
Masaís (best dťcor)
Chez Panisse (best ingredients)
Fifth Floor (best lounge/waiting area)

There were few poor or even mediocre dishes and several spectacular dishes. French Laundry was clearly the best, I think, with Gary Dankoís and Masaís very close and Chez Panisse hard to judge because of its different style and fewer courses, but still very good. Fifth Floor was good with some of the most interesting (at least sounding) dishes and most complex presentations, but over-priced and in need of flavor refinement. Dankoís was clearly the best value at $74 for their fair-portioned, 5 course dinner with lots of extras.

Several highlights: the scallops with cauliflower and the foie gras with bee pollen at Fifth Floor; the peach and boysenberry dessert and the most perfect tomatoes ever in the salad at Chez Panisse; the mignardises, the salmon carpaccio with lemon oil amuse, the sea bass with pesto, ratatouille, and pepper puree, the golden delicious sorbet, and the crispy marrow at Masaís; the port roasted figs and licorice ice cream, the Moroccan spiced squab, the lemon herb duck breast with plum compote (and wonderful carrot-ginger puree), and every dish on the tasting menu that we had at Dankoís, including the glazed oysters with leeks and caviar, the chickpea crusted grouper, and the apricot gratin with pistachio ice cream; lots to like at French Laundry including the salmon coronets, the cauliflower panna cotta with caviar, the sautťed moi with leeks, the rillettes de lapin (rabbit carnitas), the corn pot de crŤme, the ďlittle macĒ, and all four of the desserts we tried.

We only had two real lunches, Slanted Door and Yank Sing. Loved the caramel claypot chicken at Slanted Door. Yank Sing has good food, but I think Iíve just learned that dim sum just isnít my thing. I like it but it just doesnít do much for me. I prefer the more meat, vegetable, and sauce Chinese dishes.

We did snack a lot, though. La Torta Loca in Fruitvale area of Oakland is awesome, especially their huaraches with tinga. La Gran Chiquita close by has excellent tortillas for their quesadillas. Love the pizza at Cheese Board. Had some decent pupusas in the Mission. Ate very good brisket at Memphis Minnieís. Wonderful Mexican chocolate ice cream at Mitchellís. Donít bother with the gelato at Marco Polo; I think youíd be better with what comes out of the supermarket freezer (and theyíre rude).

Enjoyed shopping at the Farmerís Market in the Ferry Building, but I would choose Berkeley Bowl over it. Hell, Iíd choose Berkeley Bowl over any market Iíve ever seen. It probably even has more variety and better quality than the mega-markets of Mexico, Mercado Libertad in Guadalajara and Mercado Merced in Mexico City (at least for produce).

The biggest disappointment on the trip was service. Only French Laundry was exceptional with good course timing, attention to detail, and a general willingness to please. All the other places were very slow (the meal for two at Masaís took over 4.5 hours) and made a number of minor errors like not filling water, putting ice in drinks when the person had asked for none, giving people the wrong dishes (in one case when the person had asked for no shellfish he got lobster), etc. I think the city in general may have a different sense of service because of other annoyances we encountered. Eg, Marco Polo only gave one taste of their gelatos. Zuni Cafť refused to let us order a couple of oysters to go on our way out of town (and it wasnít even busy; it was like 3:00pm on a Sunday). Itís impossible to find a bathroom even at places like music and bookstores. Just stuff like that that you never think about in many other cities.

Though poor service certainly detracts from a meal, I was able to look past it when there was such great food. The Bay Area clearly has an excellent food scene. Balancing the service problems was the generous help we received from Chowhound. We ate dinner with the sage of savory, Paul H, and the belle of bon appetit, anti-foodie, and I very much enjoyed their company. I hope it was mutual. Iím jealous of your Chowhound community and Paul H and anti-foodie were both excellent examples of why people are so active on your boards: good company.

Thanks San Francisco!

PS If you didnít think this was long enough. Iíll be following it up with 5 more detailed reports, one for each day.[/quote]



[quote]Traveled to Berkeley and did a little snacking. Then headed over to Fruitvale in Oakland and did some more snacking. Went back to Berkeley to eat dinner at Chez Panisse. This first day may have been the best overall for food of the trip.

VIKíS CHAAT CORNER: We ordered three items: a forgettable chicken korma; the bhatura cholle, a puffed puri of fermented white flour with a garbanzo curry; and, the samosa cholle, two crusty pastries stuffed with potatoes and peasin a spicy garbanzo curry. Cheap as hell, and a decent value, but I wouldnít call it good. The puffed puri was interesting (though desperately needed some salt). I might order it again. I certainly would if the curry that it comes with was a little better. The samosa was decent. I enjoyed the curry that came with this one, however -- spicy yet sweet. I believe they mixed in some sort of tamarind sauce to give it the sweetness. Overall, itís decent enough for the prices (everything was under $5), but Iíd rather try the gazillion other Indian options in Berkeley first before trying it again.

CHEESE BOARD PIZZA: The pizza of the day had mushrooms, yellow and red onions, feta, mozzarella, and a sundried tomato pesto. It was topped with garlic olive oil and parsley. Quite tasty. I like the crispy bottom that still maintains some breadiness to the quarter-inch thick crust. The combination of flavors was good and the additions of the feta and the garlic oil made this gourmet-style pizza special. Luckily we got there early enough that the line was only to the door. An hour later it almost looked like the Cheese Board cheese and bread shop next door had the line.

CHEESE BOARD: I donít think Iíve seen a more expansive collection of cheeses. And looking over the huge list on the chalkboard, the prices seemed to be quite reasonable, really. However, the organization leaves much to be desired. I imagine those intimate with it have a huge advantage. Iíd suggest they add some label cards, at least like Cowgirl Creamery does, to tell you the name and type of cheese. Thatíd give rookies like me a chance. As is, youíre stuck asking question after question of the busy cheesers. Luckily, Iíve spent enough time in some good cheese shops here in Portland to know what I like and to have seen many of the better cheeses before. However, I did try a wonderful Swedish cheese, Vasterbottenost. My traveling companion, Scott, who spent a couple years in Portugal, was able to find an imported St. George from Portugal (Queijo de Sao Jorge from Sao Jorge, Azores). It was actually cheaper than the domestic and much better. Really, good. The Cheeseboard is impressive, although without that much bigger a selection, especially of top cheeses, eg, than Pastaworks here in Portland. And Pastaworks puts the name, origin, and a brief description on top of all their cheeses. How much effort would that have saved for the cheese guys who could have avoided my unending questions?

ACME BREAD: Surprisingly small little bread shop that very much reminds me of Pearl Bakery here in Portland (though, Iím sure that Acme came first). Got a loaf of cranberry-walnut bread and also had their breads at Chez Panisse. Definitely good quality, rustic breads. I do wish that on the west coast we got a little more variety. Seems like everyone wants to be an artisan bakery with rustic, crusty breads. I guess everyone wants to be Acme, which is largely understandable.

BERKELEY BOWL: Wow! It has to be said again: Wow! This was the first place on the trip to really kick my ass and boy did it. We first went to Monterey Foods based on Untermanís (sometimes in need of updating) ďSan Francisco Food Loverís GuideĒ. Sucked. Well, it didnít *suck*, but it wasnít good. Had some variety and some items that keep better than others were in good shape, like melons. But on average, the variety was good, but the quality was poor. What I donít understand is why anyone would choose Monterey over Berkeley. Why would anyone choose any produce place over Berkeley Bowl? I would waste so much food if I lived in the Bay Area. Iíd be there at least once a week even if I had to drive an hour or more each way. And I know Iíd overbuy thinking of all the great dishes I could create. Iíve rarely seen a comparable selection of mushrooms, even up here in Oregon at our Farmerís markets and specialty produce providers. And the quality was all excellent and the prices were surprisingly good. They had a great selection of berries, many from here in Oregon. They had a good selection of tropical fruits, all ripe, even with things like whole Durian (one had been cracked open, I donít know if it was on purpose, and one whiff made you woozy with stink). Try to play a little catch with that durian if you get a chance. Itís like a medieval torture tool. Iíve never seen so many melons. Great citrus, of course, too. So many things we just canít get here. I imagine theyíre things that are difficult to get anywhere, especially with their quality. In addition to the unmatched produce, they had a spectacular variety of cuts of tuna, a fabulous olive bar where you can try before you buy, several cuts of prime beef, a decent deli, interesting bulk foods, and dry pastas. I have some family members who had been living in Berkeley as the dad got his doctorate at Cal. They shopped there. Now theyíre in Utah for his career. I pity them. Iíve lived in Utah. After growing up in Oregon and always having a garden and good produce in the supermarkets, I never ate so much cheese and meat and pasta as I did in Utah. Why? Because the produce sucks. And it sucks even by supermarket standards. I donít think they even have a Whole Foods. I gained 100 lbs there and it took me years to get rid of it. I hope Bay Area people realize how lucky they are.

LA GRAN CHIQUITA: A Chowhound find that paid off well enough. Had tacos de molleja (gizzards, I think) and cabeza (head or cheek). Both okay, but nothing special. Only the salsa roja was decent here. Also had a quesadilla de huitilacoche. Needed something to kick up the flavors of the huitilacoche, but the tortilla was fabulous. It was better than many of the best Iíve had in Mexico. I would have liked to try the squash blossom. Note: speaking a little Spanish will help here.

LA TORTA LOCA: This place rocks. Another Chowhound find. Funky little place connected to a laundry-mat. Great food, though. Started with a huarache de tinga. Huaraches are one of my favorite street foods. I love the thick masa tortillas covered with cheese, salsa, and meat like an authentic Mexican pizza. And this one was excellent. The tinga, stewed pork, was spicy and tender with a nice deep, rounded flavor like all slow foods should have. The salsa verde was nice and the cheese was nice. Based on the strength of this we got a taco de carnitas, my litmus test for taquerias. It came with cilantro, crema, tomato, pickled carrots, and salsa roja. Very good. The meat was good alone and the taco was good as a whole. This is a great little place and even though I usually prefer trying new places, Iíd have a hard time not trying everything on the menu here before moving on. I imagine this should be the gold-standard for taquerias in the Bay Area.

CHEZ PANISSE: We arrived a little early and sat on the porch. A nice place on a sunny day to relax before the meal. I think many people, especially wine drinkers, might like getting here a little early to have this opportunity to sit among the vines. The restaurant inside was nicer than I expected. I knew what the outside was like from pictures and descriptions, and I expected the inside to be a little shabby. But it wasnít. I found it elegantly rustic. Actually, the design of the light fixtures and much of the woodwork was very reminiscent to both me and Scott of Frank Lloyd Wrightís work. I had just been in Washington, DC, a couple weeks prior and saw a stained glass exhibit of his work and the design similarities is almost too obvious. I love the stained wood interior. I also like the open kitchen with Ms. Waters checking up on her chefs for all to see (she actually ate dinner with a group right next to us, but no I wasnít able to listen to their conversation, darn it). We were a little cramped in our two-seater just a couple tables over from the kitchen, but not uncomfortably so. We started with a selection of tasty olives, warmed (a nice touch), and some Acme breads, which were very good, as Iíve mentioned before.

The menu for the evening was as follows:

Green bean, cherry tomato, and Monterey Bay squid salad with garlic mayonnaise: I donít know if Iíve ever had such perfect tomatoes. Iím not even a particular fan of tomatoes and will almost never eat one by itself. But these were almost like little berries they were so sweet and tasty. The bright sweetness of the tomatoes, balanced well with the herby/vegetably sweetness of the green beans and the bitter frisee. A rich, flavorful oil dressed everything and it brought out the flavor of the tender, but firm squid, which provided a tangy aspect to the dish (maybe brined in vinegar a little?). The garlic mayonnaise was extraneous, imo, possibly there to mask the squid for those who donít like that flavor. A very good salad, though quite simple.

Chino ranch corn soup with savory fritters: A decent dish, but probably the least of the meal. The corn base was very creamy and didnít have a very strong corn flavor. The flavor of the summer bulbing onions that was used in the base (yes, I had to ask) was almost as strong as the corn flavor. In fact, Scott, my eating partner, would use it as an example of what not to do every time we had another, more intense, corn soup on the trip. I can see his point. However, I think it was still a good dish and I can see why the base was so subtle. The fritters had a nice corn and onion taste and with a much stronger base would have been overpowered. They provided the true corn flavor for the dish. But if thatís the case, then there needed to be more of them so that every bite could have fritter in it. As it was, there were only three smallish fritters. I did very much like those fritters, though. They reminded me of the flavor of cachapas, a Venezuelan corn pancake. Yum.

Grilled Niman ranch hanger steak with summer vegetable tian and crispy potatoes: A buttery and tender piece of meat served rather rare with a nice sear on the outside. I think I liked this piece of beef better than any on the trip, even if other preparations may have been more interesting. However, Scott, a beef snob from Texas with very particular tastes in beef, seemed quite unimpressed, even letting me finish his (which I happily did). The dish also came with broccoli rab, which was a nice spinach-like green with a more interesting character. The vegetable tian -- an overlapping layer of eggplant and summer squash, I think -- was maybe a little soft for me, though I think that tenderness added a textural balance to the ultra crispy and wonderful potatoes. They were little quenelles with super light and crispy outsides and soft and airy insides. Everything was held together by a nice sauce that provided flavor and seasoning without overpowering anything. I lived all the pieces of the dish together and separate.

White nectarine sherbet coupe with peaches and boysenberries: This dessert grew and grew in my estimation. Sure, itís not elaborate, just some sherbet in a glass with peaches and berries, a couple cookies on the side and an espresso truffle. But mmmmm, what peaches and berries. It was a battle between intense fruity flavors, tart and sweet. The cookie provided a respite from the war of flavors, instantly clearing the battlefield and enabling the palate for another wonderful fight. You had sweet and tart peach slices, sweet and tart boysenberries (and I question they were all boysenberries; I think some were blackberries), and then the sherbet which was a battle of sweet and tart itself as nectarines tend to be. This may be the best fruit dessert Iíve had. Itís certainly one of the best, especially for one that so fully focuses on the fruit not trying to temper it with pastry.

Conclusion: One mild quibble about the food was the seasoning. Only the beef dish was adequately seasoned. I had to add salt to the other two. In their defense, though, they do provide good salt on the table (grind your own).

Service was very good and attentive. They actually saw me eyeing the kitchen and suggested that I go take a look around and take pictures if I wished -- and to make sure that I got Ms. Waters in them (which I did). Was it worth $65? Probably. Iíd like to return on Saturday or Sunday. It wasnít as good a value as Danko, for certain. Also, I did feel like with their ingredients I could have easily made any one of their dishes and have made many more interesting and elaborate dishes that were as balanced. I just donít have access to those ingredients. Usually, I at least canít say that about the dessert at fine restaurants. Itís a very good restaurant, though. Best in the country as Gourmet suggested? No. But I can see how many people would find it comforting and a welcome change from more pretentious hotel restaurants. As the sage of savory on SF Chowhound, PaulH, would later refer to it during our dinner at Danko: ďGood, honest food.Ē[/quote]



[quote]We were eager to try Slanted Door, always looking for upscale ethnic. Also did a lot of the basics like Chinatown, Nob Hill, Lombard, and other touristy things before meeting family for dinner at Fifth Floor.

SLANTED DOOR: Got there when it opened for lunch, thank goodness. The place was packed 30 minutes later and there was a line. Nice inside, very open feeling. We ordered:

Green papaya salad with rau rau and roasted peanuts: Definitely one of the better green papaya salads Iíve had. The ingredients seemed so fresh. I liked how crispy they were able to keep the delicate shreds of green papaya. They were like slight undercooked angel hair pasta or something.

Chicken claypot with caramel sauce, chili, and fresh ginger: A simple, but interesting dish with a nice presentation (comes to the table in a decorated clay pot which is opened in front of you still sizzling, expunging its wonderful smells). The chicken was maybe a little dry -- an unfortunate side effect of our overly fat-conscious society. The dish would have been better with chicken leg meat, or even better, with duck leg meat, instead of the chicken breast. But that said, it was still excellent. Reminded me of a wonderful version of chili chicken I had in Chicagoís little India -- sweet and spicy with a lot of depth. The sauce was so good you wanted to just drink it from the claypot. Luckily for my shameís sake, the pot was too warm.

Niman Ranch flank steak over rice noodles with fresh ginger and roasted peanuts: A very tender piece of meat with a nutty glaze. The big problem here was that after eating the spicy claypot dish you could barely taste these more subtle flavors.

Thai basil panna cotta with mango soup: Interesting dessert, especially for an Asian restaurant. The panna cotta was quite creamy and left a lingering aroma of basil. Not great, but decent.

Conclusion: I know why Chowhounders complain about the hype over Slanted Door. The prices are probably 1.5 to 2 times more expensive than most Vietnamese places. But the room is very nice, the location is good, they have real desserts, and all the dishes were executed impeccably. Is it worth it? I guess that depends on how much you just want good food versus good food with high-end ingredients, fine wines, real desserts, nice digs, and good service. Itís fine-dining Vietnamese. Take it or leave it. What I donít understand is why people are so willing to pay for French and American fine dining, but not ethnic fine dining.

CHINATOWN: Walked up Stockton and down Grant. Grabbed a couple quick bites and looked in some of the stores along the way. Ate a lotus and egg moon cake (?) and another little pastry at Eastern Bakery, neither of which were good. Looked for Golden Gate Bakery but it was closed down for a couple weeks. I donít think Iíve ever eaten something good in Chinatown on my few visits there. Looked through a place on Stockton (canít remember the name) where youíd have no problem finding Nemo, though heíd certainly be dried -- shark fins, sea cucumbers, sea horses, abalone, etc. Cool shop. Lots of herbal shops. Lots of crap, too. (I canít believe they still sell those ďChinamanĒ caps with the ponytails.) The produce markets have some strange stuff, but nothing looked too fresh. There was a cool cookware shop on Grant. It was closed, though. It might have been Ginn Wall.

FIFTH FLOOR: I was really looking forward to this meal after reading Cabralesí Chowhound reports exclaiming its superiority in SF. Walking into the chic lounge area with vibrant artwork, dark, hanging curtains, comfortable and interesting neutral-colored chairs and sofas, and dark tables with interesting lines, I thought: Man, these guys pay attention to details. I waited with quiet anticipation for my other eating companions to show. But walking through the bar and into the dining room was the beginning of my disappointments. It was still nice, but nothing like that lounge area. In fact, it may have been my least favorite dťcor of the trip. Not bad, just not as interesting or comfortable as the other places and a real letdown after the cool lounge area. The food was a letdown, too. There were four of us and all but one got 5 courses, so Iíll try to keep it brief on some of the items:

Amuses, shrimp with pea sauce and lobster in corn soup: Each was simple but nice with sweet purees of vegetable matching the sweet sea bugs in them.

Sea scallop with sautťed cauliflower in reduced sauvignon blanc with passion fruit: An excellent dish. I wish I would have gotten more tastes. It would have been a good dish anyway, but the cauliflower made it special, I think. I didnít know it was cauliflower at first and I was intrigued by the flavor it imparted. When I found out, I was impressed and never would have thought of the combination with the sauce and everything. Very intense flavors and probably the most depth of any dish that night.

Crabmeat and avocado with jalapeno and basil: Very impressive presentation. A little dome of overlapping avocado slices on top of the crabmeat. A rather typical combination, however. I think Iíve seen crab with avocado over the last month on every high-end restaurant menu across the country.

Ceviche of sea bass, geoduck, and kumamoto oyster with lime and olive oil: The person who ordered this, Scott, said it really impressed him, that it truly tasted like the sea smells. Iíd agree, and that taste made me want to wretch. But Iím willing to accept that may just be me. It did look cool, though, with essentially geoduck carpaccio overlapping to create a large disc on the plate, everything else piled in the middle.

Skate wing caramelized with bordelaise sauce and artichoke: I didnít notice much of a caramelization, however, I think they some how infused the artichoke flavor into the skate wing. Maybe I was just confusing flavors since I only had a couple small bites. It was decent. I donít know about $33 decent, however.

Asparagus and hearts of palm salad finely sliced and braised with pistachio: A rather flavorless and boring $18 down the drain, Iíd say. Probably the worst dish of the night.

Foie gras ďChaud FroidĒ roasted with bea pollen and cured with buddhaís hand and Hawaiian salt: One of the better cooked foie gras dishes Iíve had. Interesting presentation once again with the seared piece to the left and then a trail of salt and whatever leading to another piece, cured, sitting under a yellow jelly in the shape of one of those plastic coin purses that you squeeze to open the slit in the middle. Iím not a fan of cold foie gras, but the seared piece was excellent. It had a nutty exterior and a lemony tart/sweet aspect.

Veal tournedos with chorizo and carrot-coconut emulsion: I donít really remember the carrot-coconut part. There was a froth around the veal that added a sweetness, if I remember right, but I donít think any flavors could compete with the heat and salt of the rest of the dish. The chorizo was interesting because it was in shreds on top of the veal. It added quite a bit of spice. A decent dish better served about a quarter its size.

Squab breast roasted with almonds and asparagus with chicken and foie gras terrine: Again Iím not remembering an item on the menu. I have extensive notes for this dish and still I donít see anything about foie gras. If youíre going to use foie gras, shouldnít it be noticeable? Otherwise itís a waste of big money. I do remember a rectangular plate with squab breast at one end, followed by two different cuts of chicken, and then some white and green asparagus. All meats were sauced tableside with a cumin and squab jus reduction. The chicken pieces seemed totally extraneous. I liked the squab, though it was maybe a tiny bit tougher than it could have been, it was seasoned well and had a nice sweetness to the meat. I liked the cumin sauce, but it didnít have much depth. My initial notes were that I really liked the sauce, but then I had to amend them because it became tedious. A champagne and squab (I think) consomme was served with this also. I have no idea why.

Prime rib ďplanchaĒ with zinfandel and cherry reduction and celery sauce: The prime rib was decent and the cherry sauce was okay. $42 okay? No way. I think everyone who tasted this just sort of said it was ho-hum.

Niman ranch pork belly poached slowly with black truffles and roasted crispy on the skin, served with truffle jus: This probably had the most potential. It certainly was different and had a lot of flavor. But it was just too much. Itís mostly fat, though really good fat, with that hard (almost impossible to cut), chewy skin, truffle sauce over the top. They served it with braised or roasted apples and potatoes which could have helped if they both werenít totally devoid of flavor. I think if you served this dish with a two inch cube of pork belly, the truffle jus, and a flavorful piece of apple, maybe seasoned and kicked up with some caramelized brown sugar, then youíve got yourself an awesome tasting menu dish. But as it was it was too rich and too much. Fifth Floor needs to learn a little restraint and how to balance their dishes.

Cheese plate: A pretty cool cheese plate. It had three totally different kinds of cheese served with bread, almonds, herbs, dry cherries, and honey comb.

Guanaja chocolate mousse: Three half-lemon sized and shaped dollops of chocolate mousse served with passion fruit sauce. Interesting looking and decent enough.

Peaches and apricot: I donít know if this is the actual name. They only gave me a copy of the dinner menu, not the desserts, so Iím grabbing this off the internet. Anyway, what I got was a peach trifle with a peach/ginger consommť on the side. The consommť was interesting looking with a fan of peach wedges under the ďbrothĒ. Definitely not as good as the similar dish at Chez Panisse the night before, but still decent.

Mignardises: Several decent little sweets were served after the meal. All were good enough, but only one stood out to me, the chilled truffle. Something about it being chilled.

Conclusion: Overall fifth floor was a mishmash, but ultimately disappointing meal, only partially for the food. It had the most elaborate presentations of any place on the trip. It also had some of the best *sounding* dishes on any menu. Execution was hit and miss, though. Mostly miss.

Prices were high. It was the worst value of the trip and that includes going up against French Laundryís $135/person and Masaís $109/person. When mediocre salads are $20 youíre not going to win any ďBest ValueĒ honors. The wine drinkers also thought their wine prices were high.

I think the worst thing, though, was the service. Horrendous course-timing. We waited a *long* time between courses. Much too long. Even with two of us drinking wine and plenty of gabbing going on, we found ourselves often checking watches and wondering when the next course would come out, just to wait and wonder some more. I think it took 3.5 hours total. Service was slow and spotty on the whole on this trip (except FL), but this was easily the worst. Probably the worst service/$ Iíve ever encountered. And just after going on a similar trip to Washington, DC, where Iíve never had better service overall, it was particularly glaring (see this link: http://www.chowhound.com/midatlantic/board...ges/21500.html).

The food was adventurous and interesting sounding, but usually fell short. The flavors were intense and interesting but lacked depth. Almost nothing had depth, just a couple of strong flavors battling it out for supremacy. This was probably more noticeable, too, because the night before was Chez Panisse where there was little intensity but lots of subtle character to the dishes. I think if the courses had all been amuse size or slightly larger, it would have seemed great. Only a couple bites of the dishes would keep them interesting. But the more you eat of them, the more you notice how little flavor lies beyond the immediate zing.

I think that the chefs at Chez Panisse and Fifth Floor need to do a Freaky Friday and cook each otherís menus. Kicked up Chez Panisse and restrained Fifth Floor could be great.

Donít get me wrong. I liked the food at Fifth Floor. But it was disappointing and with its prices I doubt I would return.[/quote]



[quote]We also wanted to try good dim sum while in SF. Everyone said we had to. After Yank Sing we went to the Golden Gate Park. One nice thing about my trip a couple weeks ago to DC was that everything was free. Seemed like nothing in GGP was free (except the fragrant trip through the herbs at the botanical gardens). Visited Haight-Ashbury. Felt like home. Later was Masaís and I was overjoyed to find free parking!

YANK SING: Pretty nice place in a nice shopping center -- and they validate, a welcome change. We chose this dim sum place mainly because of ease of location and generally positive Chowhound comments. We had several items, including the sea bass wrapped in tarot and basil, shrimp and scallion wrapped in bacon, crispy prawns, the lettuce cup with minced chicken, pine nuts, etc, chicken satay with peanut sauce, bbq pork buns, and green tea pudding. The cart with the peking duck didnít come around until we had already paid, darn it. It was all first rate dim sum. All the preparations were very good. That said, I think I know now that dim sum just isnít my thing. I could tell that the dishes were good for what they were, just what they are doesnít interest me much. Iím already a bit Chinese-averse (see this link: http://www.chowhound.com/pacificnw/boards/...ges/11383.html)

The sea bass was good, but as much because of the yummy sweet and rich sauce as anything else (I ended up using that sauce for everthing). I liked the shrimp and scallion wrapped in bacon, but Iím a bacon fiend. Iíd make bacon ice cream if I could think of a way. I liked the lettuce cup. The pine nuts made all the difference. The peanut sauce on the satay was weak. The buns were good, but needed more bbq pork. The green tea pudding was a bit grainy but the flavor grew on me. Nothing was so good that it made me think that I need to try dim sum again in the future. If you like dim sum, I imagine youíd like this place.

MARCO POLO: Before going to Golden Gate Park we hit Marco Polo for some gelato. Interesting set of flavors but some really weak gelato. I donít know if this even deserves to be called mediocre gelato. Also, even though there was no one behind me in line, they only let me have one taste. They might have sold more flavors to me otherwise. An example of the less-than-generous service we received in SF.

MEMPHIS MINNIEíS: Walked around Haight a little after Golden Gate Park. Tried to talk the people at Thep Phanom and India Oven into making up a sampler platter for us (it was less than an hour to dinner at Masaís) but it was no deal. Language barrier didnít help on that one, though. Decided to try some bbq instead. Pretty darned good. The pork shoulder was just okay, but the beef brisket was very good. I also like their regular sauce. Very juicy and tender brisket with a nice smoky flavor. Supposedly, they cook it for 18 hours.

MASAíS: Probably like many, especially outside of SF, I came to know Masaís as much because of Siegelís appearance on Iron Chef as because of their reputation. So I had mixed expectations about Masaís. And after Fifth Floor, my expectations were in one sense pessimistic -- in that some had stated clearly on Chowhound that Masaís was nothing special -- and in one sense optimistic because how could I have a much worse experience than Fifth Floor at this price point.

Scott and I both got the chefís nine course tasting menu. One very nice thing about two people getting the tasting menu at Masaís is that each gets totally different dishes. With four people, only two get different dishes. No tasting advantage for four people. Since they donít have anything written out for the chefís menu, Iíll be going almost purely by my notes. Here was our meal:

Amuse of chilled asparagus soup: It had a slight lemony flavor and was simple but tasty.

Amuse of salmon carpaccio: It had micro greens and lemon oil inside. You tasted the cool salmon. One of the best amuses of the trip.

Chilled corn soup with lobster tartare and crŤme fraiche: Very intense corn flavor. Lobster added a nice sweet meaty flavor and there probably could have been more of it. But the star was the corn.

Tomato basil consumme: This had a nice fresh and light tomato flavor with golden heirloom tomato halves providing a nice bitter of tartness to wake up the flavors.

Kampachi carpaccio: This had a nice little ginger-orange sauce, micro-greens, little shreds of radish, and wasabi. Just a touch of wasabi, which nicely kicked up the flavor of the tuna. The radish didnít do anything to the dish, just garnish.

Soft shell crab with mango and cucumber: The main thing I remember is the disgusting presentation that probably makes most of your mouths water. Half a crab, dipped and fried, legs dangling. Yuck. I think they may have stuffed it with something, because it was very creamy inside.

Monkfish with clams: The monkfish was cooked just right, tender but firm. The thing that made this dish so good was the very simple sauce which was primarily clam jus, chives, and white beans of some sort.

Sea bass with pesto: This came on a pile of ratatouille and yellow pepper puree. This was like eating a great Italian meat dish. This really was an excellent dish. It doesnít jump out in my mind when I think back to the trip as a whole, but when I think about it, itís one of the few dishes I can truly still remember the taste of and remember enjoying and feeling a little surprised at the flavors. Balance in dishes -- of all aspects, flavors, colors, textures -- is what often ends up being most important to me. Itís what I focus on when I cook. This dish had balance. A nice meaty fish with that herby pesto crust on top of the summer squash and tomato ratatouille providing both sweetness and depth, then the pepper puree below all adding brilliant color, creaminess, and that unique pepper flavor. Looking back over the menus and notes right now, this may have been my favorite seafood dish of the trip. Danko had a fish dish I liked a lot as well with an Indian or African flavored crust. But itís close.

Lobster with sliced truffles and lobster cream sauce: The lobster cream sauce and lobster here were great. The slices of truffle on top and the fava beans didnít do anything, I donít think.

King salmon with spicy carrot sauce: I have to say, carrots were used quite well on this trip and this was an excellent example. The salmon was cooked just how I like it, medium rare. Iím not a big salmon fan, but good quality, medium rare salmon I like. It came with baby bok choy and red torpedo onions as well. But the star was the sauce. I need to experiment with carrots more. They add brilliant color and have wonderful flavor. Iím always glad when a meal teaches me how great ingredients can be.

Cold cured foie gras: This came with honey-lavendar peach jam, pursilane and almonds, and gewŁrztraminer gelee. Iím not a fan of cold foie gras, but this was excellent. Great flavor balance and really interesting. I loved each part individually and even moreso together.

Seared foie gras: Served with poached apricots, bing cherries, and croutons. This was a perfect foie gras dish for my palate, all these Northwest flavors.

Duck breast with pickled cherries: A good dish that was a bit overpowered by the all-too-bitter daikon. Luckily you could control the amount of daikon yourself. There were also snap peas and a duck jus. A nice range of sweet flavors with a little tartness from the cherries and some depth from the jus.

Squab with liver mousse: This came with a sautee of applewood-smoked bacon, morels, and corn finished with a squab reduction. A little too much liver mousse on the squab. A little went a long ways. More bacon would have been in order, but when isnít *that* true?

Ribeye with bordelaise sauce: This also came with fingerling potatoes and mushrooms and was topped by a pieced of crispy, fried marrow. The marrow was wow. Way wow. I just wish there was more of it. So light and crunchy on the outside with that deep meaty flavor but creamy texture inside. Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow. The ribeye was good, but maybe needed a little more cooking due to its cut having so much fat. The sauce on this was also very good and cut through the richness of the dish.

Filet of beef with bordelaise sauce: Also served with butter beans, asparagus, and morels with garlic. Mmm, morels with garlic. I have three exclamation marks in my notes next to those words.

Cheese: Masaís has a great cheese cart. We tried tons of cheeses, too many to name. Needless to say my hands *wreaked* when I got done, especially after handling the double-cream (Scott has told me itís gross to make a bellybutton lint reference, here so I wonít). The two standouts were a half sheep, half cowís milk cheese from England and a chevre called kiku, I believe. I think Cowgirl Creamery sells it.

Apple sorbet: It was like eating the chilled essence of a golden delicious. Being an Oregonian and growing up in the country where everyone has apple and pear trees in their yards, I know apples. Without hearing the type of apple, I knew instantly, but it was like eating the best of the best golden delicious in little scoops. It was paired with a spiced apple gelee which added some nice savory notes. Great!

Passion fruit sorbet: Next to the apple sorbet I can barely remember it, though Iím sure it was good. It came with chilled melon soup.

Bananas in spiced lime-rum sauce: Served with crŤme fraiche ice cream in a fried won-ton cup and macadamia nuts. The cup needed to be sugared and spiced, but the bananas and rum sauce were good. The nuts made an appreciable difference. I think the ice creamís flavor couldnít hold up to the rest of the dish, though. Ginger ice cream might have been better.

Pina Colada: Pineapple sorbet, coconut milk foam, citrus meringue, and pearl tapioca in a tropical drink glass with a pineapple-shaped tuille. Also had some sort of lemon or lime gelee. Trifles arenít my thing. It tasted fine, but neither of the desserts rocked my world.

Sour dough chocolate cake: Because neither of the desserts rocked our worlds and because my friend is a chocoholic, we ordered another dessert. We had seen it on the six course menu. It came with a cherry and red chile ganache center and cherry sherbet. Scott complained a bit about the sherbet: Why sherbet and not ice cream with cake? I can see his point and itís a quibble that would arise at Danko and French Laundry. Still a great dessert.

Mignardises: Easily the best mignardises selection of the trip and it rivaled the one at Chicagoís Tru by Gayle Gand (though that one still beats Masaís). Great little desserts most of which were quite flavorful. They even came around twice for us and we probably tried about everything on there and there must have been 30 items. An apple-cream cake was a standout, as were most of the chocolates. I also, surprisingly, really liked their jelly candies.

Conclusion: I like the format a lot. Iím impressed that they donít just take dishes off the normal menus and put together a chefís tasting menu from that. And they gave us 18+ distinct courses, most of which were distinct from any other menu. Impressive.

I like the room with its dark walls, bronze statue, large mirrors, and crimson lighting. This might have been my favorite room of the trip.

The dishes were very good on average. Our service started out great. Iím not sure what happened, but about halfway through it slowed to a crawl. Our meal ended up taking about 4.5 hours -- and we donít drink! It looked like someone might have gone home early with the way some of the wait staff were jumping around performing every conceivable service duty. So Iíll give them the benefit of the doubt and believe that most nights the service would be like it was during the first half of the meal. A very good meal, though, and without the slow service Iíd put it right there with Danko -- maybe ahead of Danko (though not as good a value) -- and right behind French Laundry. Iíll have to think about that.[/quote]



[quote]I had been looking forward to the Farmerís Market for months. I love our farmersí markets here in the Portland area. Thereís always something you canít find anywhere else and you get to taste it before you buy it. The Mission District was also right at the top of my priority list for SF. If nothing else, I knew Iíd be able to find decorations for my kitchen that Iíd never find in Portland. But pupusas would also be on the list since theyíre difficult to find here as well. However, the agenda item I anticipated with the most trepidation was my meal at Dankoís. Scott and I would be meeting anti-foodie and Paul H for dinner, barely having even exchanged posts with them online before.

FERRY BUILDING FARMERíS MARKET: I really like the aim of this farmerís market where theyíll have several anchor vendors inside. Reminds me of Pike Place in that regard. Itís a decent Farmerís Market, though not as impressive in quality and quantity of produce, etc, as I expected. Itís probably a little bigger than our two biggest farmerís markets here in the Portland area (http://www.portlandfarmersmarket.org/ and http://www.beavertonfarmersmarket.com/) but probably with less diversity among the products. We donít have the anchor retailers, though. I really expected more selection in produce, but there was a great quantity of booths.

Anyway, tried a bunch of stuff, mostly peaches it seemed. Bought a couple great cheeses at Cowgirl Creamery. I like that they actually have theirs organized and labeled unlike The Cheese Board. Expensive, though. A Westcombe English farmhouse cheese was very good as was the herbillette, a chevre (I think) with a very herbaceous and spicy coating. Iíd seen most of the other cheeses before or they were cheeses that I didnít feel like walking around with. None of the cheeses Cowgirl makes are my type of cheese (maybe the St. Pat) so I didnít try any. Bought some lavendar salt for the people we were staying with. I could have stood there for a while eating those fresh cherry tomatoes dipped in the fragrant salt.

Hereís one thing, though. Thereís no doubt in my mind I would rather go to Berkeley Bowl. Better prices, better selection, better quality, plus you can get a lot of other groceries as well that are of excellent quality.

MISSION DISTRICT: Drove around a bit to survey the options. Tried to find a place that seemed like itíd be great from the descriptions on Chowhound, Mission Villa. However, it seems to be gone. With that disappointment and not having really researched many other places (and having already gotten an excellent Mexican fix in Fruitvale) we just decided to do some gifts/crafts shopping (Iím decorating my kitchen with stuff from trips to Mexico and needed more) and then just get a snack at whichever pupusaria we came to first. Casa Bonampak was surprisingly decent for such a small store. Prices were okay and there were a few things worth buying. Cool selection of artistic post cards, including a ton of Frida and Zapatista stuff (I especially like the Zapatista action figures). Global exchange was also cool, though probably a little over-priced. I ended up buying a day of the dead thing there anyway just because it was so unique. It was overpriced, but what the hell, itís a vacation. Credit cards are free money, right? Saw the Oaxacan wood carving animals in the frame store that I learned about on Chowhound, but they were all way overpriced (like in hundreds of dollars each). Much cheaper in Mexico or on the internet. Found a pupusaria down 24th, maybe around Harrison or Alabama. Canít remember. I have pictures waiting to be developed, but itís probably not worth the effort to find out the name. It was an okay place and I did like the pupusas, but I canít imagine that others donít know better. They were freshly hand-made, one with chicharron and cheese inside and one with chicharron, cheese, and beans inside. If that place had good salsa, I could have eaten a ton of them. The place, btw, started with a ďUĒ and was in a brownish painted building.

MITCHELLíS ICE CREAM: Scott says thereís always room for ice cream. Being somewhat lactose intolerant, I modify that to say that there will always be room after ice cream. Either way, ice cream can always be made part of the agenda no matter how much we have eaten or expect to eat. We were a little gun shy after Marco Poloís, but this stuff was good. Even with a line they still let me try about six different kinds before ordering. Among what I tasted were the baby coconut, the sweet coconut, the 4 fruit, the halo-halo (bean and fruit), and the jackfruit. The baby coconut was pretty good as was the halo-halo, which was also interesting with that bean flavor. I ordered a double with dulce de leche and Mexican chocolate. Iíve had better dulce in the leche. I really enjoyed the Mexican chocolate. It actually tasted like Mexican chocolate, not just chocolate flavored with cinnamon or something. And the combination was excellent. We actually tried to hit Ciao Bella several times with no luck. They need to be open more.

GARY DANKOíS: Renewed by Masaís I was looking forward to this meal a lot. If nothing else, at $74 it would have be a relative haute cuisine value. Also, Scott and I would be doing something weíve never done on one of our trips: meeting fellow Chowhounders for dinner. We were greeted by the sage of savory, Paul H, and the belle of bon appetit, anti-foodie. I think we got along pretty well, and were able to quickly agree that weíd be sharing our dishes. Thus, we would all order 5 courses and just rotate during each course. One problem from that is that my memory of several of the dishes is a bit weaker than the other places. But at least Paul H and anti-foodie can chime in and correct me.

Bread: Dankoís had terrible bread. It tasted like stale supermarket stuff. Supposedly it came from La Brea, but Iíd say it had to have come from La Brea three days earlier. Given their great pastries, Iíd say they should be making their own stuff.

Glazed oysters with leeks, zucchini pearls, and osetra caviar: An excellent dish. For me, it was all about the sauce it was sitting in. It was a burst of flavor.

Seared foie gras, caramelized red onions, and oven roasted apricots: A very rich and tasty foie gras cut by the tartness of the apricots.

Warm quail salad with potato cannoli and cherries: I barely remember this. I do remember combining the quail and the cherries, but I donít think there was anything special about it.

Tai snapper with saffron, orange, and fennel puree: I remember really liking this sauce a lot, a brilliant orange with wonderful complex flavors.

Seared sea scallops with braised artichokes, shiitake mushrooms, and sauce marechal: A decent dish, disappointing to Paul H, I think, because it totally disrupted the flavor of his wine.

Pancetta wrapped frog legs with sunchoke garlic puree, potato, lentils, and parsley sauce: Sure, everythingís better with bacon and pancetta is essentially the same. But somehow this dish still wasnít that good. The flavors just werenít there. Too bland and flat, I think. Maybe some chile oil or sausage bits in the sauce could have kicked this up.

Chickpea crusted black grouper with shiimegi mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, and corn: One of the best dishes of the night and one of the best seafood dishes of the trip. Maybe Iím just partial to Indian/Eastern savory spices or maybe I just have become a little jaded by the typical seasonings at French/New American places. Either way, this dish took me by surprise and I loved it. It had balance and a delicious aroma.

Roast Maine lobster with asparagus, morel mushrooms, tarragon, and potato puree: I can hardly remember this at all. Remind me!

Lemon herb duck breast with plum compote: Quite a large serving of duck. The duck was perfectly medium rare with a nice sear and seasoning on the outside. A good balance of sweet and tart that matched the duck well. This came with a remarkable carrot-ginger puree that was light and scrumptious. There was also some sort of crispy duck confit and potato hash that was quite good.

Moroccan spiced squab with chermoula, orange-cumin carrots: A large helping of squab stuffed with cous cous. The squab was cooked just right and had wonderfully aromatic seasoning. A winner. Another very large portion.

Citrus crusted loin of wild boar with goat cheese polenta and bing cherries: The sauce and the polenta on this were both decent. The crust on the boar worked, too. But the boar itself was dry and a little tough. Probably one of my least favorite dishes of the night just because the boar was cooked so poorly and because it had so much potential.

Herb crusted loin of lamb with potato gratin, roasted beets, and fennel:

Cheese: They have a great cheese cart at Dankoís. I canít really decide which is better, theirs or Masaís. Probably theirs because you get more accompaniments (I love that they give fresh grapes since grapes perfectly clear the palate of cheese). The bread with this, btw, was much better than their dinner bread. The truffled chevre was probably my favorite cheese of the night.

Apricot gratin with pistachio ice cream: The apricots sat upon an individual-sized tart crust (possibly made of sponge cake) with crushed pistachio between the crust and apricots. Nutty, sweet, and tart with the creaminess from the ice cream; this was an excellent dessert.

Baked chocolate soufflť with two sauces: Very boring. Just like it sounds.

Blueberry clafoutis, mango sorbet, and coconut panna cotta: I donít remember this at all.

Bittersweet chocolate tart with chocolate sorbet and hot chocolate: A good dessert, the only thing special about it, really, was the presentation. You had the tart, then an espresso-sized cup of rather bitter hot chocolate with a chocolate marshmallow. Next to that was a small glass of milk. This allowed you to add the milk to the hot chocolate by whatever amount you wished. The only problem was that the milk was cold and the chocolate so bitter it required all of it. Hence, it was cold chocolate milk by the time it was edible.

Port poached figs with licorice ice cream and butter cake: I couldnít decide which I liked better, this or the apricot gratin. Both were excellent and shared a similar approach. I might give this one the edge only because of the unusual and wonderful combination of the figs with the licorice ice cream.

Conclusion: The dishes here were very good overall. Some were great. I think itís an excellent value at $74 compared with other restaurants of its caliber. Note, too, that we ordered all but one of the dishes on the tasting menu. Every dish from the tasting menu was a favorite for that course. Afterwards, I wished weíd ordered that one as well (the beef medallion with wild nettle risotto).

There were some minor service errors (a couple dishes handed to the wrong persons, a personís drink having ice after asking several times for it not to). Also, street noise was a problem from time to time as motorcycles accelerated up Hyde, especially if the door happened to be open at the same time.

Some of that was mitigated by a fabulous tour of the kitchen after our meal -- a very generous tour, putting us in every corner of the kitchen, explaining every station. I knew I was in the way, but they didnít let on.

A question arises, though, as to whether Dankoís should be ***** as Mobil rates it. Mobil has gotten very stingy with their stars. There are currently only 14 5-star restaurants in the US (note that these are rated not just for their food). Iíve been to four now -- The French Laundry, Gary Dankoís, Charlie Trotterís, and The Inn at Little Washington (go here: http://www.exxonmobi...module=fivestar to see them). Dankoís is close. So is Masaís. But I donít think Dankoís belongs there. It just doesnít have the same feel of perfection (although I did like my food there and Masaís better than Trotterís overall, but Trotterís has *phenomenal* service).[/quote]



[quote]Only one thing on the agenda: lunch at The French Laundry. What a way to end the trip. Did go back to Berkeley for a little shopping and snacking, however, and tried to get some oysters and Zuni.

THE FRENCH LAUNDRY: Had to ask directions of possibly the most tired man in the world cycling over the mountain between Santa Rosa and Napa. Iím glad it was a rental car because I think I left tire pieces going around the turns on that road to make our reservation. I felt like I was entering a French country home with its pleasant garden area and wood exterior. It had more in common with Chez Panisse style-wise than any of the other places on our visit. I love the stone nook on the lower floor and I wish I could eat either there or upstairs if I ever return. We were seated promptly and the food-orgy began:

Coronet of salmon tartare with crŤme fraiche and sesame cone: The signature dish that most everyone has heard of by now. It lives up to the hype. I think the salmon could have a little more flavor (maybe smoked salmon would be better), but I enjoyed it nonetheless. You go from the meaty salmon, to the creamy crŤme, to the crispy and nutty sesame. Clever and tasty; should be the definition of an amuse bouche.

Cauliflower panna cotta, bagaduce oyster glaze, and Iranian osetra caviar: What a simple but interesting dish. The panna cotta was creamy but had that unique cauliflower essence that worked so well with the salty caviar and intense oyster glaze.

Salad of Hawaiian Hearts of Palm and Garden Radishes with Black Truffle Syrup: This was probably the only failure on the menu. Not offensive or inedible just so plain and flavorless I think it deserves to be called a failure. The sauce added sweetness but imparted little if any truffle flavor. Both the radish and heart of palm were very bland.

Sauteed filet of Hawaiian moi crushed marble potatoes, melted leeks, and spring onion soubise: A very nice dish reminiscent of potato-leek soup topped with crispy-skinned fish. Good texture balance. On top of the fish was a quenelle of sautťed leeks that were melt in your mouth wonderful.

Sweet butter poached lobster with braised lobster mushrooms, fennel bulb, garden tarragon and verjus: Extremely tender lobster and just a fabulous sauce. So packed with rich flavors -- creamy, sweet, and earthy. One of those seemingly simple dishes where you have to ask for extra bread to sop up every last bit on the plate.

Fruitwood smoked salmon tiede, russet potato gnocchi, marinated cucumber, and Iranian osetra caviar: Scottís substitution for the lobster. It came so that you could pile everything on triangles of toast. Well-balanced, I wish I could have tasted it with the toast. I think that texture addition would be nice.

Un paquet de rillettes de lapin, confit of santa rosa plums, and roasted Belgian endive: Both Scott and I took a taste of the meat and said, ďRabbit carnitas!Ē And it was. A medallion of rabbit carnitas, rich and salty, beside the tangy plums and the bitter endive. There was some fennel, too, I believe. The bitter elements were a little too much so, but it could be balanced with the plums. More plums would have been nice since it was so useful in cutting the bitterness and the richness of the dish. Excellent.

Grilled Snake River Ranch calotte de boeuf served with white corn, summer pole beans, applewood smoked bacon lardoons, and bordelaise mignonette: A straight-forward dish that would have been at home served from the kitchen of Chez Panisse. It was about the ingredients and they were perfect.

Cheese: An extremely cool presentation with a slice of cheese (a cowís milk from the pyranees), dots of a thick balsamic in the shape of a checkmark, and a column of tiny little sticks of zucchini and san marzanos where the walls of the columns were slices of the summer squash. Very good balance between the flavors getting two characters of sweet and tart with the tomatoes and balsamic.

Apricot sorbet with toasted almond financier: Almonds and apricot always go together. Intense apricot flavor.

CrŤme brulee: Just a very small one with a slightly overburnt brulee.

Corn pot de crŤme: Like eating cold corn butter, silky, rich, and sweet. Great little dessert.

Valrhona chocolate velours with a Vermont maple syrup custard and maple anglaise: Probably my favorite chocolate dessert of the trip, though we didnít have many. Creamy innards and mapley sauce. Yum. Cool presentation with a white dollup on top with a flake of gold in the center like a huge all-seeing eye. ďArmsĒ of chocolate strands extended from the ďbodyĒ of the dessert.

Mignardises: We received several little desserts including a chocolate tartlet, a blueberry and whipped cream on a little pastry, a passion fruit gelee tartlet, and a cinnamon sugar cookie. Little blueberry thing was good partially because the blueberry was so perfectly ripe. The passion fruit thing was very intense. Along with these petit fours, we also got two ďlittle macsĒ. Shaped like little hamburgers, the ďmacsĒ had ďbunsĒ of puffy caramel sandwiching macaroon and chocolate. I loved them.

After the strength of the main dessert and the mignardises -- plus the fact that the desserts all sounded great -- we decided to order three more:

Apricot tart a líancienne with thyme ice cream and apricot marmelade: I often order desserts like this based entirely on ice cream. The dessert was good in itself but the ice cream made it special. It did have an excellent presentation with a long, narrow flaky pastry (the ďtartĒ) down one side The other elements were placed in rows parallel to the ďtartĒ. Edible flowers garnished as did candied nuts.

Sweet polenta cake, tellicherry pepper-scented blackberry compote, blackberry sorbet, and yogurt foam: Really powerful flavors, nice brightness tempered by the other pieces of the dessert. Scott will have to tell you more because this thing disappeared.

Coffee and doughnuts: Coffee semifreddo in an espresso cup topped with whipped cream served with doughnut holes. Another clever concept executed perfectly. The semifreddo was very good and I enjoyed ďdippingĒ the doughnuts in the ďcoffeeĒ.

Conclusion: Possibly the best meal Iíve ever had. I think I like Inn at Little Washington slightly better because of slightly better service and a more interesting interior (way cool bathrooms). But thatís it (and I think FL varies their menu a lot more). Thereís a place in Dallas, the Tasting Room at Lola, a 16 course meal for $65 with a menu that changes every 3 weeks, that is competitive for food and a much better value, but itís not near the restaurant as a whole that The French Laundry is.

Easily the best service of the trip here. Course timing was excellent, the whole thing, with extra desserts, taking just over 2 hours. They also gave us a tour of the kitchen even though the waiter said heís gotten in trouble for it before. He even took our picture in t

The greatest service chemistry has rendered to alimentary science, is the discovery of osmazome, or rather the determination of what it was. ~Brillat-Savarin

Nick Zukin, Mi Mero Mole

Co-Author, Artisan Jewish Deli at Home

Formerly, Kenny & Zuke's

#4 LaTauladelBonMenjar

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Posted 26 April 2006 - 02:29 PM

You must eat at Oola

860 Folsom St
San Francisco, CA 94107

garnished with vanilla oil, port gastric and toast

comteí with walnuts and sauterne poached apricots
roquefort cheese, caramelized pear & black pepper gastric
fried camembert with toasted pistachios, onion jam and honey

Think of me while there, please!!

#5 Leonardo

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Posted 26 April 2006 - 03:03 PM

3. Ton Kiang. Absolutely the best dim sum I have ever had. This came highly recommended by two SF expats. They didn't lie. Only downside: expensive--about $40 just for me (though eating enough @ 10:30 am to last easily 'til dinner).


Love Ton Kiang. Authentic HK dim sum, but not cheap. Lot of cool odd things not on the menu, if you go with someone knowlegeable.

Went to Recchiuti Chocolate at Ferry Building. Was good, but with Sahagun & Pix here, I won't pine for them.

Anyone been to Bombay Ice Cream?
Homer, upon seeing an ear of corn at a market: "Interesting...it reminds me of a corndog, only without the dog!"

Thanks to http://kawaiinot.com/icons.php for the avatar.

#6 SarahWS

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Posted 06 May 2006 - 09:39 PM

I'm not surprised you weren't wowed by Zuni. They can be inconsistent, in the "only pull out the stops when Judy Rodgers is there" kind of way. The service can reflect the management's idiosyncracies. My parents were literally one of their first customers 25 years ago when they were cooking on a bbq in the ally. We've been loyal customers since then, to the point of coming once a week and being on the special reservation list. They were even invited to the 25th anniversary celebration and seated with Robert Mondavi. We've stopped going after a nasty incident with the owner. :rolleyes:

I've felt in the last few years that Judy has not been trying anything new. Being such frequent and long-time customers, I can tell you that I have not seen a genuinely new item for the last five years on the menu. But they are still one of the only places in SF serving "weird" cuts of meat and offal.


#7 syrahgirl

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Posted 11 May 2006 - 12:31 PM

I'm not surprised you weren't wowed by Zuni. They can be inconsistent, in the "only pull out the stops when Judy Rodgers is there" kind of way. The service can reflect the management's idiosyncracies. My parents were literally one of their first customers 25 years ago when they were cooking on a bbq in the ally. We've been loyal customers since then, to the point of coming once a week and being on the special reservation list. They were even invited to the 25th anniversary celebration and seated with Robert Mondavi. We've stopped going after a nasty incident with the owner. :(

I've felt in the last few years that Judy has not been trying anything new. Being such frequent and long-time customers, I can tell you that I have not seen a genuinely new item for the last five years on the menu. But they are still one of the only places in SF serving "weird" cuts of meat and offal.


#8 mczlaw

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Posted 11 May 2006 - 01:28 PM

I'm thinking ahead to this summer's SF visit and was offered some new possibilities by an authoritative source. They are: Range, Nopa, Dosa (south Indian) and Foreign Cinema. Passing these along and also soliciting comments from anyone who might have tried any of them.

Of course, the SF Chowhound forum has no shortage of expert opinions to consider as well.

I had no plans to return to Zuni after the first visit. It was an interesting experience, but SF has so much more to offer. There is no doubt of a return to Ton Kiang. Beyond that, the jury is out.


#9 malachi

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Posted 12 May 2006 - 10:33 PM

skip foreign cinema.

#10 sfspanky

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Posted 15 May 2006 - 09:30 AM

I would recommend The House and Luella. Also, if you have never been, you cannot go to SF without going to the Swan Oyster Depot for breakfast/lunch (8am - 5pm).
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#11 LoveToEat

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Posted 04 June 2006 - 09:24 AM

Debated whether or not to post anything here since I am not responding to your specific restaurant list, but decided to go ahead and you can just choose to ignore it. Here goes and sorry it is so long.

Aqua Ė good, but pricey. 252 California Street, San Francisco CA 94110. Itís in the financial district and looks like it is still highly rated (Gayot 17/20) I checked the rating because itís been a few years since Iíve been there.

Masaís ĖIitís been many years since Iíve been there and I liked it very much. The chef now is supposed to have worked at the French Laundry, but I read online that the service has been bad recently(April 2006).

Citizen Thai Ė Thai food place Ė just tried this at the end of May. Food was well made, but not very spicy. We had the larb (a little spicy), duck curry (the one not in the pineapple), eggplant salad and the leaf/peanut/coconut appetizer. The larb and duck curry were very good. Next door, Monkey, is supposedly owned by the same people but features more ďstreetĒ food. I think I might try that next time. Hereís more info:

Sorry, I canít help with Mexican food only that either Mission Street or Valencia Street are where many of the good burrito places were located.

If you are in the East Bay:
ē And you like fresh food that is not overly sauced, then Chez Panisse in Berkeley would be a good choice. I prefer the downstairs, set menu, over the upstairs cafť. Downstairs requires reservations.

ē And like Thai food, try the Plearn on University in Berkeley. Itís where I found out I really like Thai food. It still looks like itís good. http://www.yelp.com/...7ptzcZMq5pkY90Q

ē Also, in Berkeley is Kermit Lynch if you are into wines and Acme bread for some good sourdough. http://www.kermitlynch.com/

ē Someone else had mentioned Zacheryís for Chicago style pizza. I think this is in Oakland. Oh, it looks like they have more than one location now. The pizza is delicious. http://www.zacharys.com/

ē And cooking ingredients are of interest, definitely, go to Rattoís International Market on 827 Washington Street, Oakland, CA. Itís a great store Ė lots of spices, sun-dried tomatoes, dried porcinis and lots of other things. Iíve never seen anything equivalent to this store. Lunch here or in Oakland Chinatown. http://www.kron.com/...tType=Printable

On my ďtryĒ list:

ē Fleur de Lys on 777 Sutter Street in San Francisco. Itís been around a long time, but I really donít like to dress up. It seems the reviews still seem good (Gayot 18/20).

ē 231 Ellsworth in San Mateo. We went to a wine event (Chateau Margaux vertical) there a long time ago and the food was very good. The wine was also very delicious.

#12 LaTauladelBonMenjar

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Posted 04 June 2006 - 10:05 AM

ē Fleur de Lys on 777 Sutter Street in San Francisco. Itís been around a long time, but I really donít like to dress up. It seems the reviews still seem good (Gayot 18/20).

I went to FdL on a double date 25 years ago, when I was 20 years old. The other couple consisted of a collegue from the ad agency where I was interning for the summer and his stunning, worldly girlfriend. I was in awe of her sophistication and in awe of the restaurant. I'd love to know how it is today.

#13 syrahgirl

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Posted 07 June 2006 - 12:35 PM

We celebrated my birthday in San Francisco last month. We started our day by exploring the Ferry Market Building. Beautiful place, we had not been before. Lots of good things to eat, Hog Island Oyster Co. and a Sur La Table there. We had previously been to the one in Carmel where my husband picked up a nice creme brulee set he has been experimenting with. Getting quite good at the Pot de Creme, also.

We decided on the Terrace at the Ritz Carlton for lunch. Beautiful hotel, lobby and we had the Fixed Price lunch out on the beautiful patio with the fountain. Shrimp appetizer, a very nicely prepared pork chop and a yummy chocolate decadant chocolate cake for dessert. The price for three courses was $25 or so. I loved it!

For dinner we celebrated at Boulevard. Very, very good. I highly recommend this place for a special occasion dinner. I had made reservations well in advance on OpenTable which is very convenient. We were on a wait-list for Gary Danko but didn't make it in there. I had a salmon entree that was excellent, we shared a salad that was innovative and the dessert was also outstanding. Service was attentive, an overall great time in SF.

Would love to try Danko and I'm interested in the souffles at Cafe Jacqueline in North Beach next trip. 5th Floor at the Hotel Palomer also sounds like something we would enjoy. :P

#14 pdxnewbie

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Posted 07 June 2006 - 12:43 PM

WOW on the lists , Nick and everyone!
We are making vague plans to drive from Portland to south of San Francisco and since I lived in SF so long ago, I am making lists like crazy for places to eat.
We will be meeting friends who live there, but it is good to arrive prepared with lists :P

I think the small wonderful places are more appealing to us than Hotel restaurants, regardless of how good they might be..so all of these recommendations are great! :)

#15 syrahgirl

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Posted 08 June 2006 - 07:19 AM

Last June we had an excellent overall experience at Farallon in Union Square. Just loved the ambiance here and some of the best softshell crab I've ever had. Service was not slow, according to me,but our waiter thought it was and gave us a complimentary glass of Pinot Noir which I thought was very nice. :)

#16 AnnieTea

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Posted 09 June 2006 - 07:26 PM

I loved Incanto in the Noe Hill neighborhood. Fabulous Italian food, attentive service and nice setting. Also had excellent pork loin chops at Slanted Door but had to eat at the bar (no reservations), which turned out to be quite entertaining. Try the prosecco with elderberry infusion as an aperitif. For breakfast my favorite hole in the wall is Dottie's True Blue Cafe. It pays to be there right as they open (7:30 am) or else you face long lines.

#17 Leonardo

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Posted 09 June 2006 - 08:06 PM

I second Luella. Had a great dinner there. Right on the streetcar line.

There's some hole in the wall mid-price Italian place on Columbus that everyone and every guidebook raves about which we hated. Marginal food, surly service. I forget the name.
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#18 sfspanky

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Posted 09 June 2006 - 09:28 PM


You're probably talking about the Gold Spike? If you are, FYI, it just closed it's doors a couple of months ago.

Luella, is owned by my old friend, Ben De Vries, whom I had the pleasure of working with at 3 different restaurants throughout SF. He is super talanted and I cannot say enough about his food. Glad to hear that you enjoyed yourself at his space on Hyde St.
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#19 mczlaw

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Posted 04 August 2006 - 08:40 PM

Last night of five here in Baghdad by the Bay (if that nickname makes any sense at all any more) with my daughter, Gracie, proprietor of Portland's finest bagel bakery. We have been eating well. Here is the report:

Dinners at: Farmer Brown; Aquerello; Incanto; Boulevard; and Quince.

Other meals/nosh at : Tadich Grill, Tango Gelato, Bittersweet, Ton Kiang, Tartine, Mitchell's Ice Cream

Farmer Brown: Southern home cuisine. Little corn muffins with strawberry/pepper jam come with the meal and could be the meal. The jam could have used an extra pepper jolt, though. Fried chicken was very tasty, though not terribly meaty. My gumbo had a good bite to it, though less than an adequate portion of protein. Pulled pork san was acceptable. Mac and cheese side was a cheesy/creamy delight. The hand-cut steak fries were OK. Chocolate cake w/ creme fraiche was simple and fine, though nothing to get terribly excited about. The service made up in friendly enthusiasm what it may have lacked in experience. Most ambivalence about the decor and vibe. Lime green ceiling, chocolate brown strandboard squares for floor, distressed metal (grain silo chic?) on most vertical surfaces--clever but odd. Loud, repetitive, electronic R&B-ish tunes were awful. Dodgy location offputting. Michael Bauer gave this two-month old restaurant 2 stars. That may either be generous or about right. I'd need to go back a couple times. On my personal A-F scale, I'd give it a B-.

Aquerello: The location in the chapel of an old mortuary gave this spot a tone of undue sobriety--at least with respect to the mien of the servers. I don't need servers yukking it up, but this is still a meal, not a church service. Food, on the other hand, was wonderful. In the interests of full disclosure: my reservation was made by a former chef here, and the owner gave us special attention, meaning a seven-course tasting menu for moi that left me staggering by the end. Since my daughter--the increasingly sophisticated diner at age 8.5--had different items than I did, I tried a lot. Here's a list: tomato water w/ braised celery slices (amuse); roast sweet peppers w/ poached quail egg; hamachi tartare; seared scallop on a corn cake; four pasta sampler (oversimplifying: cheese ravioli, lobster panzerotti in spicy sauce; tubular pasta w/foie gras and sweet marsala sauce; gnocchi w/ meat ragu); squab stuffed w/squab forcemeat; breaded veal chop topped with roasted chantarelles. There were desserts too. This was an over the top meal. Nothing I hated; most things I thought were very good to superior. Aside from overly somber service my only criticism is that the foie gras sauce was way too sweet. Beautiful room too. I'd give this a B+ (A- if the servers took themselves less seriously).

Incanto: Friends live in the Noe Valley, so they wanted us to try it. Quite enjoyable, though cramped and again plagued by too serious (though efficient) service. Maybe San Franciscans buy into the restaurant-as-church thing? God, I hope not. The house-cured charcuterie plate was to die for. My daughter sampled the honeycomb tripe in tomato sauce app some us ordered to share. It only cost me a $5 bet to get her to try it, but she said it was good. It was. Gracie's handkerchief pasta w/ pork ragu was to die for, as were lamb neck and braised pork shoulder mains. Balance of dishes elude me. General impression, however, was positive. A solid B.

Boulevard: My favorite of the restaurants we visited. Lovely large room. Lots of dark wood, elegant lamps. I read "Belle Epoque" somewhere, which sounds about right. I loved the look of the counter and would happily have sat there if we didn't have a nice table for two. Friendly and efficient service. One of the servers stopped by to chat about the Ferry Bldg Market b/c he heard me talking with our server about it. Food was wonderful. I went with three starters: the seared foie gras w/apricot wedges and a plum sauce w/ tiny slices of buttered brioche. Red abalone w/fried oyster mushroom. Soft shell crab linquine. Only the latter showed any sign of weakness, with the pasta knotted up into a little ball under the overly cartilaginous crab. Gracie had the fillet with fried potato squares and green bean/bread crumb melange which they kindly deconstructed so Gracie could eat her chunk of meat w/o interference (god forbid) from the other elements (which I ate and loved). Desserts were excellent: Gracie had the ice cream sandwiches. I had the chocolate tart. Berries served with both were a nice counterpoint. I would give this place an A-.

Quince: Our final night's repast. Room evokes the living room of a classy, but simple old house. Server to patron ratio ensures wonderful service. Each dish (both those we had and saw others have) was a masterpiece. The cheese/prosciutto crespelle w/ leek fondue was a delight. Gracie's starter, an outsized ricotta raviolo in brown butter was mindblowing in flavor intensity and delicacy. My agnolotti "dal plin" combined a multi-meat filling with a sage butter sauce I couldn't get enough of. Fortunately, the tiny bread rolls (olive and cayenne) and grissini were replenished automatically when only one item remained. This occurred throughout the meal. For a main, I had the pork, comprising pork loin slices and a spicy pork sausage with red chard. This was a fine course, though the loin on its own was a tad underseasoned. With an assist from the sausage and accompanying jus, no salt was required. La nina ordered the rib eye, with gorgonzola topped small red tomatoes and fried shallots. Gracie wouldn't touch her accompaniments, but I didn't mind helping. The sweet and tangy tomato/blue cheese hit was mind blowing. The meat was a little less so, I suspect due to the inherent nature of a rib eye. It seems there is always going to be a little fat or gristle. This is why I tend to favor a fillet in a fine dining combination. I loved my melon "zuppetta" with little melon gelatine cubes plus raspberry sorbetto and mulberry granita. An A-, with the minus only because of cramped quarters which I disdain.

Other passing thoughts:

Tartine: Oy vey. On both the savory and sweet sides, with coffee, it is so worth a trip. Clearly, this is well known.
Mitchell's: Yes, great ice cream and amazing, unusual flavors. Not worth a 30 minute wait, though. Sorry.
Ton Kiang: Remains the best dim sum I have had anywhere. Curious whether Hong Kong next spring will change my mind.
Tadich Grill: Faded glory. I am saddened.
Bittersweet: Pacific Heights. Is snooty hip the standard in this 'hood? Good chocolate, not great.
Tango Gelato: See above. Yeah, I'm sure they are all great, but why don't you recommend one? This was the next group. To us, the counterperson managed a few monosyallabic utterances. Again, though, I have had much better, so what's up his ass?

Over and out. I love this town. So glad it's not far from Portland.


#20 ExtraMSG

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Posted 05 August 2006 - 02:26 AM


Sounds like a nice trip. You gotta hit Mitchell's on an off-hour. I need to do another tour of SF's high end dining.

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