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SOME RESTAURANT REVIEWS


GW=The Chief Cook & Bottle Washer here at Weimax.

SOME OLD REVIEWS:
RG=Bob Gorman, Weimax staffer and bon vivant...Bob passed away in November of 2012...

GB=Greg Bellow, a regular Weimax tasting participant and local Gourmand.

DR. T= A Young, Budding Wine & Food Enthusiast who dines out frequently at some of the SF Bay Area's top tables.  She has since married and moved to LA.


Please Note:  The reviews displayed on this site represent only the views of the author.  These are purely personal and written based on a single visit, so we can present but a mere snapshot of a dining establishment. 
Further, restaurants tend to have a short life span, so some of the older reviews may be of little value.

 

3rd COUSIN

919 Cortland Avenue
San Francisco

TEL: 415-814-370

Open for Dinner
Tues-Sat 5:30-10


Foie Gras


Hamachi Crudo


Grilled Octopus


Wine by the glass is poured at the table.


Sea Scallop and Pork Belly


Venison Loin


Pork Chop

 

We booked a Thursday night table at this new little dining spot on Cortland, a bit off the beaten path for restaurants.  They required a credit card and you can cancel, without charge, 48 hours ahead of your booking.

It's largely a residential neighborhood, so parking at 8pm was slightly challenging, though there were a couple of spots a block north on Eugenia Avenue.

I arrived ahead of my dining companion and was seated at a table just inside the door behind the receptionist's stand. The place is smallish with maybe 35 or 40 seats, if that.  A menu was presented along with a single page wine list.  No wine glasses were on the table.

The list features four sparkling wines, two Champagnes and two other French sparklers.  The Champagnes are "grower" Champagnes, not big, famous, industrial brands.  A Premier Cru wine from Colin is $79, while Stephane Coquillette's Brut is $81.  A Cremant de Bourgogne is $16 by-the-glass (BTG) and $64 by the bottle.  A Cremant de Limoux is $13 BTG and $52 by the bottle.  
We ordered two pours of the Cremant de Bourgogne...it's a fairly standard example and was nice.

There are twelve white wines offered with three available by the glass.
These range from $44 by the bottle (A dry white from France's Bergerac or an Alsatian Sylvaner) to $120 for a Premier Cru Mersault (sic).  
There's a single Rosé from Provence.
Fourteen red wines are available, with six offered by the glass.
These range from $48 (A Sonoma Rhône-styled Blend from the Front Porch winery) to $140 (A Morey-Saint-Denis from the 2013 vintage).  Six of the red wines are in the triple-digit range.

We asked our server to stage four appetizer selections for us and then we each ordered a main plate.  No problem.

A Foie Gras special, not on the menu, was $27 and a healthy-sized portion of seared Foie on some sort of spiced bread...very fine!

We selected a Crudo next...Hamachi with celery root, pears, "cranbanero sauce" with a furikake tuile and black garlic...another well-constructed plate...

By this time we'd ordered a couple of glasses of white wine:  The Allimant Laugner Sylvaner ($12) and a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc of the Tablelands label (also $12).  These were poured tableside, by the way, a service we appreciated.

At this stage we produced a bottle of Bordeaux from our cellar bag and the server brought large stemware appropriate for this wine.  He opened the bottle tableside and poured the "say."  We invited him to bring a glass to join us in tasting the wine, a 2006 La Lagune (showing remarkably well, by the way).

Next was a Grilled Octopus with Beets, Rucola, Romanesco and a Sultana-Caper emulsion...this was another delicious plate and the octopus was tender and mildly smoky.

The final appetizer was a Scallop & Pork Belly dish with Kohlrabi, Kumquats, Black vinegar and Tarragon.  The vinegar was not especially strong so this worked nicely with the two white wines.
(After finishing our meal, the chef came out to thank us and we asked about the inspiration for this dish...he explained that since Scallops are often wrapped in bacon, why not pair them with Pork Belly?  Good call!)

My dining companion could not resist ordering the Venison Loin with Kung Pao Sprouted Legumes, Savoy Cabbage and Tamarind ($34).  I opted for the Grilled Pork Chop with Celery Root Purée and Bacon-Braised Red Cabbage ($29).  Both dishes were quite good and the wine certainly enhanced these.
Other options were a Skate Wing ($32) and a Short Rib and Bavette Steak with soft Polenta, Kale, Black Trumpets and Cippolini ($34).  

We had no room for dessert, but they brought out a couple of Chocolate Truffles.  

The bill tallied to about $206 and they didn't charge us their corkage fee (I think $20 or $25?).  This was a wonderful meal with good service.
Their sound system had some eclectic tunes but it was not bothersome. 
The service was professional and courteous and we were not rushed out despite being about the last table.

We looked forward to a return visit (and the place is about a 25 minute ride from Burlingame unless you're in traffic).

Reviewed by
GW
February 2017

 

BELOTTI

5403 College Avenue
Oakland

Tel: 510-788-7890

Open:
Mon, Wed, Thurs: 11:30am-10pm
Fri: 11:30am-11pm
Sat: 10am-11pm
Sun 10am-9pm

 


Battuta, Carne Cruda


Olive oil and Bread

 




Vitello Tonnato

 


We split the pasta courses...this is half an order of the Pappardelle...very good!

 

 


Agnolotti

 


Maialino


Brasato...beef braised for 5 hours.

 

 

A number of wine industry friends have been very positive in reporting about their dining experiences at this newish Italian trattoria (named after its chef, Michele Belotti) in Oakland on College Avenue.
My friend booked a table on a Monday night, accounting for my driving from Burlingame and so she selected a 9pm time slot.

The restaurant is a few blocks from the Rockridge BART station.  Parking on the street within a block from Belotti was rather easy at 8pm, as we arrived early thanks to the smooth traffic flow.

We were seated at a table in the window and were presented a drinks list, a wine list and a menu.  There was a nice, large wine glass on the table as part of the place setting.
Somewhat bothersome, though, was the smell of chlorine bleach as we entered the place.  Apparently their dishwasher doesn't have hot water to sanitize glassware, silverware, plates, etc., so they are obliged to use a chlorine bleach rinse.  Unfortunately, its smell permeated the restaurant.

The wine list is nearly all Italian.  They have four sparkling wines, three of which can be ordered by-the-glass (BTG).  Jejo Brut Rose is $9 BTG and $35 by the bottle, as is La Maschera Prosecco.  La Quercia is listed as an organic Prosecco and it's $11 BTG and $45 for a bottle.
A Pierpaolo Pecorari Rose from 2014 is $12.50 BTG and $49 for a bottle.
Seven white wines are offered by the glass.  Ronco Blanchis' Pinot Grigio is $11.50 BTG and $41 by the bottle. A Capichera Vermentino is $15.50 BTG and $60 by the bottle.  There were 8 reds by the glass, plus a special offer for a Sandrone 2011 Barolo at $30 BTG.  Other reds on the regular list included a Braida Barbera ($15 BTG & $58 for a bottle), a 2011 Damilano Barolo ($15.50 BTG, $60 by the bottle) and a Copain red called Tous Ensemble Syrah for $10.50 BTG and $38 for a bottle.
We found 15 white wines on the list of bottles.  A Francesco Rinaldi Gavi is $40, while a 2013 Kuenhof Sylvaner is $38. Ciavolich Passerina is $42, while a Raina Trebbiano goes for $41.
The California wines all comes from one distributor, that being one owned by the Kendall Jackson family.
You'll find the Italian reds categorized as coming from Piemonte, Toscana and "other regions."
There are 13 Barolo or Barbaresco wines on the list, mostly wines too young to be strutting their stuff.  Roberto Voerzio has three 2011 bottlings and these are expensive bottles right from the start.  They cost $305, $310 and $315 a bottle and are ten years away from being worth opening.  A 2007 Produttori del Barbaresco "Rio Sordo" is a better option for immediate drinking and it's $105 a bottle.  The best buy is Elvio Cogno's 2004 Barolo at $140 if you're spending that kind of money.
Domenico Clerico's Barbera is $49 for those who don't have the company credit card.
Of the Tuscan selections there are three Chianti offerings.  Kendall-Jackson's Arceno Riserva 2011 is $47.  There's a Nozzole 2004 Riserva costing around $90...as with the older Cogno Barolo you might wonder where these venerable bottles came from since the restaurant opened its doors in early 2016.
Argiano's 2010 Brunello is $120, while their special Super Tuscan Solengo 2013 is just $85 and a smart buy if you're having some sort of red meat (it's Cabernet, Syrah, Merlot, etc.).
Scarpone Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is $54, while Niedrist's Pinot Nero is $63.
The list is compact and fairly sensibly-priced (apart from those Voerzio wines and that's because Voerzio thinks his wines are amongst the elite).

We ordered a glass each of the La Maschera Prosecco ($9 BTG) and asked the server for an order of their Batutta ($15) which is described as "Hand cut certified Piedmontese ribeye dry aged beef tartare, carasau bread, parmigiano reggiano, micro arugula, aged balsamic, truffle caviar, quail egg yolk."  We asked if they could prepare this without the cheese (I can't recall ever having it adorned with cheese in Piemonte, but I'm a bit allergic).
The glass of Prosecco was nice and mildly fragrant.
We also asked for an order of Vitello Tonnato ($14) described on the menu thusly: "Slow roasted certified Piedmontese veal eye of round, Sicilian tuna sauce, capers essence and lemon zests."  

We wanted this followed by two of their pasta dishes, Pappardelle ($16.50) which is "Long wide pasta, organic hen of woods mushrooms, beef reduction. parsley and Grana Padano."  We wanted it without the cheese.

The next dish on our list was the Agnolotti di Lidia ($13.50) which is "Traditional Piedmontese style stuffed pasta with beef shank, flat iron, pork loin, sausage, escarole, spinach, parmigiano and a beef reduction."

The waiter looked dismayed by our request to have these dishes staged, so everything did not arrive simultaneously.
It seems he was more interested in having us eat & run, while we were hoping to have a nice dining experience.

We ordered two glasses of wine, as well, tasting their Abbazia di Novacella Kerner from the Alto Adige ($12) and the Ca' Rossa Arneis "Merica" for $12.50.
The Kerner was typically floral and fruity while the Arneis was a more subdued, quiet dry white...The server brought the two bottles and quickly poured these at the table, a protocol we endorse.

If you want bread, you have to ask for it.  They do not volunteer this.  We asked and it came with a nice, mildly 

The Battuta was quite good...and a lovely presentation of Piemonte's Carne Cruda. The Vitello Tonnato was also appealing to the eye and delicious.  The tuna sauce was a bit thicker than we've usually enjoyed in Piemonte.

Next they brought the Pappardelle which was cooked perfectly.  The mushrooms and sauce was a lovely little soulful symphony.
The Agnolotti were good, but possibly not quite cooked to al dente as the pasta dough seemed a bit chewier than the puffy little pillows we enjoy in Piemonte.  But these were still pretty good.

We had placed a bottle of a nice Sangiovese on the table by this stage and the server brought more stemware to the table.  They use the fairly large "Bordeaux/Cabernet" glass...might these have been Stölzle like the sparkling wine flutes?  In any case, they use good stemware.
We invited our server to bring a glass for himself and he did.
At about this point in the meal, somewhere between 9:45 and 10pm, we got another blast of some sort of industrial cleaning product.  Were they washing the floors with something hugely aromatic, we wondered.  My friend got up from the table and pushed their front door open in hopes of eliminating this distraction.

The restaurant was emptying out and as we finished our main courses, we were the last guests.
The Brasato ($27.50) is a "5-hour braised flat iron, Italian polenta, organic hen of woods mushrooms with a Nebbiolo reduction."  This was delicious and the polenta was especially good.  My friend opted for the Maialino ($28.50), described on the menu thusly:  "a 13-hour slow cooked Stone Valley Farm suckling pig, caramelized apple, corn, green onions, balsamic."  I had a bite and it, too, was very good.

We were enjoying the main plates and at some point the server stopped by and we mentioned the chlorine and other cleaning product.

We were politely scolded by this fellow who told us that Belotti is a simple, neighborhood trattoria.  We were advised that if we wanted to have a multi-course meal, booking  an earlier table would be a better option.

He and the kitchen crew we more intent on closing the doors and going home than they were in sticking around much after closing time and serving customers.  

The day after we dined there, I checked on Open Table to see what the latest reservations they offered on a Monday night (since they're closed Tuesdays).  Here's what we found:

Tables are available, in case you can read the small print, at 9:30, 9:45 and 10pm!

We wrapped up dinner around 10:25 and paid the bill.
I don't recall if they offered us desserts...I don't think so.  Their on-line menu shows Panna Cotta and Tiramisu at $8 each.

The fellow brought us a small glass and poured a nice little Amaro from the Sibona distillery, a nice gesture.

The bill tallied $167 with the $20 corkage fee and tax.  The server may have forgotten to charge us for the two glasses of white wine as those were not on the bill.  But he neglected to say he had comped those pours.

My friend was not enthusiastic to leave the fellow a generous tip and, having booked a table in the coming weeks, was having second thoughts about returning.  

Though Belotti is getting good reviews from many people, if it's going to be a "destination" restaurant, they'll need to be more hospitable to their customers who arrive in their final hours of dinner service.
Otherwise, they will be merely a "neighborhood" restaurant with probably a limited future.

Reviewed by GW
October 2016

 

BELLOTA

888 Brannan Street
San Francisco

TEL: 415-430-6580

Lunch Mon-Fri 11:30-2:30
Dinner: Mon-Sat from 5:30pm


A display of Jamón Iberico


Jamón Iberico with toasted bread and tomate fresco


Pan with tomate fresco


The Amejas with curiously empty clam shells and a pickled, vinegary assortment of clams, potato bits and onions.


The Musicians


Decanting our 1997 bottle of Alion


The divided Paella Pan.


The Soccarat, properly crusty...

We had attended a trade wine tasting at this new restaurant and it looked promising, so we ventured there early in the week in September of 2016.
We found parking on the street about a block away in a sketchy zone of a homeless encampment.

My dining companion selected the date, but she neglected to reserve a table, so we were seated at a sort of elevated table near the bar. It's quite popular presently and so booking ahead is advised.  A menu and wine list had been presented.

The wine list is entirely Spanish, so if you're looking for a California Zinfandel or Chardonnay, you are out of luck.  The wine list is beautifully designed to pair with the food and it offers a good range of pricing, too.

We found two sparkling wines, 7 white wines and 6 reds available by-the-glass (BTG).  There are 22 Sherry selections by the glass and a few more by the bottle.

There are about 40 white wines available by the bottle.  A bottle of Vevi Verdejo from the Rueda region is $28, while a Gran Reserva from Lopez Heredia, their Tondonia, is $1800 for a 1973 vintage.  Albariños range from $34 a bottle to $96.  But $30-$75 will get you a good bottle of Spanish white and there are numerous offerings costing north of $100.
With about 4 dozen red selections, prices range from $30 for a Tinto Joven from the Rioja upwards to $3180 for a 1961 Lopez Heredia Tondonia Gran Reserva.
You can drink well for $40 to $100, though.

Prices are roughly twice retail, which used to be fairly standard, but these days it seems to be rare in favor of 400% mark-ups.

The place was quite busy and some musicians were tuning up nearby.  This was a bit distracting and adding to the cacophony.  I wondered what was in store musically, but it turns out these guys played beautifully!   We were treated to upbeat Flamenco/Gypsy tunes.  Some of the people were dancing, adding to the frantic dining scene.

It was unclear who was the server for our table, but finally a fellow stopped by and we ordered two glasses of Lustau Fino Sherry "Obregon" ($12).  It took more than a few minutes, but finally we were brought two glasses of a rather dark colored Sherry.  I asked to see the bottle and a while later the fellow brought Lustau's Almacenista "Fino del Puerto" Obregon Sherry to the table.  This could not have been what we were served though...and when we paid the bill, we were charged not $12 but $16 for the Amontillado Sherry.


We ordered a few starters.  Pan ($5) is toasted Spanish styled bread with tomate fresco, garlic and olive oil.  It's a small container of puréed tomatoes and delicious on the fantastic, chewy bread.   Bellota, $30, is about an ounce and a half of thinly-sliced Iberico Ham...it's a bit extravagant, but was outstanding.  It, too, comes with the tomate sauce.
They have 5 "mar y montaña" offerings.  Individual-sized servings are $11 and you can choose from oysters, clams, sablefish, octopus or beef.  
We opted for one described thusly:  Almeja--poached seasonal clam with pimenton, potato, cippolini.  This comes in a jar or glass nestled in ice and some clam shells and parsley on the side.  Some thinly sliced bread accompanies this.  We were both shocked to find the potatoes and onions, etc., to be pickled.  The level of vinegar here was a bit of a surprise.
Also surprising were the two clam shells in the ice.  These were empty!  Luckily they forgot to adorn the dish with potato peelings and onion skins.

Perusing the wine list, we ordered a half liter carafe of Lopez Heredia's 2006 Gravonia, a lovely dry white wine. It's $15 BTG, $40 for a half liter and $60 for a bottle.
This they got right.

There are five paellas on the menu, ranging in price from $36 to $45.  If you want to have them make a divided pan with two different types of paella, that's $55.
Well, we wanted to try two so we splurged on the "upcharge" for the divided paella.  One side was called Pluma with acorn-fed Iberico pork shoulder, Jamón Iberico, saffron, garbanzo and squash.  The other was called Fideua and is a paella of rice & noodle, "the S.F. treat," gulf shrimp, scallop, green bean, squid & ink.
It takes about 30 to 40 minutes for this and the paellas were very good.
I can't say I detected the use of saffron, though.
They were nicely crusty with the soccarat sort of burnt onto the bottom of pan. A friend had said he'd dined here and the only problem was the burnt rice.  I explained that's typical and not viewed as a flaw.

We had a nicely aged bottle of Tempranillo in the cellar bag and a fellow stopped by to decant the bottle.  He did a fine job and we offered him a taste.  There were suitable, larger stems brought out for this.  The corkage fee is $30, by the way and there's a two bottle maximum.

We were joined after dinner by a friend who works late and we had more of the Bellota.  We ordered a bottle of Conde de Hervias "Torre" Rioja from the 2010 vintage.  That was $92 and it's excellent.  It retails for $45-$50.

Our late-arriving guest wanted some sort of sweet Sherry afterwards.  But while their main wine list and menu have all sorts of Sherries, none are sweet or after-dinner Sherry.
Again we flagged down a Bellota staffer and they DO have a number of good selections on the dessert card.

The bill for the two of us tallied to $204 before the tip and they kindly comped the corkage fee.
The additional Bellota, Rioja, Sherries and desserts must have tallied to another $210, or so.

The place is new and quite busy.  To reserve a table, go directly to their web site and they are linked to Open Table.  But if you go to Open Table's web site, Bellota does not seem to come up.

Overall this was a good meal with a couple of hiccups.  We look forward to returning, though.

Reviewed by GW
September 2016

 

DINING AROUND NOTES
We have not posted many new reviews this Summer, but it's not because we have not been dining out.
We've actually had visitors from overseas and have taken them to some of our favorite haunts (La Ciccia, NOPA, Blue Plate and Marlowe) in San Francisco.
Even Italian visitors, who cringe when they dine in most restaurants trying to replicate Cucina Italiana, find the food at La Ciccia to be sublime.  
Visitors have been unanimous in their admiration for the food at NOPA, Marlowe and Blue Plate.  

We've been to Yank Sing for Dim Sum a number of times.  Hard to beat, even if it is a bit pricey.

We are fans of San Mateo's 31st Union and out-of-towners and locals alike have enjoyed both lunch and dinner there.  

If you've not had lunch at Johnston's Saltbox in San Carlos, go treat yourself there...we're fans of their marvelous Ribeye Burger.

We've enjoyed stops at Tartine Bakery on the way to winery visits up north...they make the best Croissant in the world...any French bakery would be proud of such artistry.  If you don't know the Marla Bakery out on Balboa in The City, that place does a good job, too.
A Sunday morning stop at The Mill on Divisadero in The City was good, but certainly expensive. It's a shared space with Four Barrel Coffee and Josey Baker's breads, plus Neighbor Bakehouse items and Anthony's Cookies.

We had a fabulous dinner at Burlingame's Sakae restaurant.  It's a Japanese-themed place which pays attention to detail from everything from sourcing good, fresh food to a beautiful presentation and great service.  It's not much of a venue for wine at the moment, so we have not posted a review.  We had very good sushi, for one thing.  But other dishes were exceptional including Artichoke Tempura (made with FRESH artichokes and featuring halved artichoke bottoms done as Tempura and arranged on perfectly steam, succulent artichoke leaves).  We also had wonderful grilled lamb chops that had been marinated in miso and sake.  

GW August 2016

 

ALAMAR

100 Grand Avenue
Oakland

Tel: 510-907-7555

Lunch Tues-Fri 11:30-2:30
Dinner: Closed Mondays with
Seasonal Hours

 


A Popper


Soft Shell Crab


Marrow Bones


Mussels


Sorbet


Lobster


Lobster


Lobster

An East Bay foodie friend had mentioned AlaMar and we booked a Thursday evening table on an early August evening.
The drive from Burlingame was impacted by late commute-hour traffic and we were close to on time for our 8:00 reservation.  There is a parking structure close to the restaurant but I found on-street parking about a block away.

The restaurant was hopping when I arrived and my friend was already enjoying a glass of wine.
I don't believe wine glasses are part of the table setting at AlaMar and the wine  program at this place is simple.
All the wines cost $12 for a glass and $46 for a bottle.
The menu is predominantly seafood.
There are 2 sparkling wines, one from Argentina and one from Spain.


Bueyes is a Brut Rosé from Argentina which retails for around $19-$20.  The Spanish Cava of Avinyo retails for $17-$18.


We found six white wines to choose from.  Garenne Sancerre retails for $25 and there are descriptions for each wine to help guide guests.  The Sancerre is described as having "Flavors of bright melon, warm pineapple, notes of eucalyptus and green tea."
Aphros Vino (sic) Verde Loureiro Ten, which retails for $17, is described as "Flavors of kefir (sic) lime and orange peel, notes of chalk and green grass."
There's a nice Godello from A. Coroa, along with Filipe (sic) Pato Vinho Branco 2013, a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc called Middle Earth and a Chardonnay listed as "Chloine Vineyard" from California.  I wondered if that might be Chalone?  An internet search for "Chloine" brings up a bunch of links to sites with the word "chlorine."


They have half a dozen red selections and these are not especially ground-breaking selections in my view.  There was a Hearst Ranch California Cabernet from Paso Robles, a Barbera from the Urban Legend winery (a winery located in Oakland), Luca Pinot Noir from Argentina, a Viamonte Malbec from Argentina, Hahn's GSM (Grenache/Syrah and Mourvèdre) and a Project Paso "Lonely Oak Red Blend."  

My friend was sipping on the Aphros Vinho Verde when I arrived...a nice, mildly stony dry white.  I ordered a glass of the Godello and this was similarly styled.

We ordered their Blue Crab Poppers to start ($10) and these are made with Crab from Maine and they incorporate Shishito Peppers and Black Radishes.  It's accompanied by a Shishito Pepper Aioli.  Quite good.

There was a soft shell crab special that evening and we ordered that...served on an arugula salad with sliced peaches.

We couldn't resist trying the Roasted Bone Marrow ($16) which were three large bones accompanied by Moroccan Chermoula, Sourdough Crostini made with Spanish Anchovies on a bed of Arugula...outstanding!


By this time we needed a bit more wine so I placed a bottle of Wirsching's Scheurebe on the table.  This worked beautifully with the cuisine and we actually polished off the bottle rather quickly.

Manila Clams with Chorizo and Habañero Spiced Eureka Lemon Pepper ($22) or Mussels with Saffron, Prime Smoked Bacon Lardons, Orange Bitters, Ancho Chili, Thai Basil and Toy Box Tomatoes ($20) was a difficult call, but we thought the Mussels sounded more interesting.
And it was a delicious bowl of shellfish!
You can understand how the wine disappeared so quickly.



AlaMar offered a Whole Chili Crab at "market price."  This is described as having Sambal, Rosemary-Infused Madras Curry, Coconut Cream and Organic Zucchini. But on this evening they had sold out the crab and so we had to make do with Lobster!
It was around $50, if I recall correctly.
 Before this came to the table, the Chef strolled over to us to present a little "extra," a beautiful Coconut Sorbet as a palate cleanser...very nice and quite flavorful.

The Lobster was beautiful and delicious.  It's a bit messy to deal with but we had a hot cloth to clean up afterwards.

 


At this stage dessert was not necessary but we did look at the menu offerings.  There's a Sorbet of the Week ($5), Green Apple Flan ($8), A Dark Chocolate Mousse Cake ($8) or Malasadas (Portuguese doughnuts).  Several dessert wines are available, including Eberle Muscat ($5) or Dashe Late Harvest Zinfandel ($10).

We departed after 2+ hours of a memorable meal and they did not hustle us out the door despite our being there past the closing hour.

The bill tallied to about $189 before the tip.

We look forward to a return visit to AlaMar (and my dining companion told me she has already been back!).

Reviewed By GW
August 2016

 

TRESTLE

531 Jackson Street
San Francisco

TEL: 415-772-0922

Open Mon-Thurs 5:30-10:30
Fri-Sat 5:30-11
Sun 5:30-10


Smoked Salmon Salad


Tomato Soup with Burrata


Firebrand Bread...served only upon request


Pappardelle


Corn Risotto


Beef Short Rib


Crispy-Skinned Striped Bass


Devil's Food Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream and Peanut Butter Mousse


Chèvre Cheesecake with Strawberries

Some friends were so delighted with dinner at this little San Francisco restaurant, they booked a Sunday night table for us.
It's on the corner of Columbus and Jackson Streets.  There's a garage a few doors from the restaurant, but as it was closing at 11pm and we had a 9:15 reservation, we looked for parking on the street...and found a spot across Columbus, just east of Trestle.

The restaurant seats perhaps 48-50 people and on a holiday weekend, the place was packed.  We were seated a few minutes after our reservation time as they don't hustle people out the door.

We were shown to a 4-top along the east wall.  No wine glasses are on the table as a place setting.  The wine list is part of the board on which you will find the menu.

They have a nice list of wines and beers.  They do not serve cocktails, as they do not have a liquor license.

We perused the list and found a well-conceived spectrum of wines.
There is one bubbly by-the-glass (BTG), a Jacquère from France's Savoie region at $14 BTG and $56 for a bottle.  Four white wines are available and one Rosé are offered.  Five reds are available BTG, including a Beaujolais from the village of Chènas at $13 BTG and $52 for a bottle.  A Mencía from Spain is $10 BTG and $40 for a bottle, while a Lacrima di Morro d'Alba is $13 and $52 for a bottle.
The bottle list is deeper and features good selections and some of the currently fashionable wines aimed at the "hipster" market.
There is a German Riesling from Julien Haart, a quite obscure producer of good quality ($48).  There's an Aligoté from Cruchandeau at $38, while a Breton Vouvray is $40.  Amongst the reds, we find Failla Pinot Noir at $50, along with a Produttori del Barbaresco "Nebbiolo Langhe" at $40. Storybook Mountain Napa Zinfandel is $49, while Ramey Claret goes for $50.
Under the heading of "Refined and Splurge Worthy" we find Albert Boxler's Grand Cru Brand Pinot Gris at $90.  A 2007 Corton-Charlemagne from Bonneau du Martray is well-priced at $170, while a too-young-too-drink 2012 Vietti Barolo is well-priced at $75.  A Michel Gros Vosne-Romanée "Clos des Reas" is $134.
Corkage is a sensible $20 fee.

The beer list here is remarkable...all sorts of connoisseur-quality selections.  A neighboring table ordered a beer and the server presented it much like the proper presentation of a wine.  

We ordered a glass of two different white wines.  One is a Rioja Blanco made of a white clone of Tempranillo ($10) and the other is a Bonny Doon Picpoul at $9 a pour.  The glasses were presented without us seeing the bottles, as they brought two large "Cabernet"-styled glasses.  The wines were served at a very low temperature and the Tempranillo did not show as well as I've experienced it in the past.  Even as it warmed, it was a bit dull.  The Picpoul, on the other hand, was surprisingly good!

The menu is very limited and it changes daily.  It's a $35 menu with a $10 supplement if you want an additional course.  
For a starter, we had the choice of a Smoked Salmon Salad with a Tzatziki dressing (this is made of yogurt) or a Tomato Soup with Burrata.
Another friend with whom I dine had mentioned Trestle as a possible dining spot, but each time I'd viewed the menu, it seemed to always feature cheese/yogurt-themed dishes and I'm simply not a fan of those.

On our visit, the options for an additional course were a Corn Risotto with Truffles and Grana Padano or a Pappardelle with Chinese Cauliflower,  Prosciutto and a Poached Egg.
We asked if they could prepare those options without cheese, but the server said they both were prepared ahead and they each had cheese.

What's curious, though, is when you place your order, they ask if anyone has any food allergies.  I wonder why, since they were unable to navigate around my food phobias!

They did make a Salmon Salad without the yogurt sauce.  The salmon was a bit bland for being smoked or, possibly, the pickled vegetables in the mix overpowered the salmon.
This also had some shaved fennel, which is a good match, but a tiny criticism would be the mandolin was set a smidge too thick making the fennel a bit tough.  It's a minor complaint, to be sure.
I did stick a fork in each of my friend's mid-plates.  The Pappardelle did not seem to have a noticeable level of cheese in it and the pasta was perfectly silky and delicious.  The Risotto was also very good with the corn providing an intense flavor...

We produced a bottle of red from our cellar bag. and the server brought three large stems and these were identical to those used for the white wines.  He grabbed the bottle of Cabernet and opened it, pouring the say as is proper protocol.  

The main plates were excellent.  I had a taste of the Crispy Skinned Striped Bass with Couscous and this was as described and delicious.  The Braised Beef Short-Rib with Yukon Gold Potatoes and Chanterelles was also quite good.  The portions are perhaps a bit small unless you've ordered the risotto or pasta.

We also asked for a serving of bread, Firebrand, which is only served by request.  We received one slice for each and it was buttered and served hot off the grill.

We had pretty much finished the main plates when three glasses of Marenco's Moscato d'Asti were presented, on the house, to say "thanks for waiting for your table."  This is a very nice gesture, of course.
One person ordered the Chèvre Cheesecake with Candied Pistachios, Strawberries and Rose Streusel.  I had the Chocolate Devil's Food with mint powder, vanilla ice cream and Peanut Butter Mousse (which I suspect had cream cheese as its base).

The place is busy and a bit cramped.  The music was sometimes noticeable and sometimes merely covering the din of the crowd.

I'd consider a return visit, but would be much more enthusiastic if they could accommodate the cheese/yogurt phobia I have.
In terms of value, this place is a winner.

Reviewed by GW
July 2016



 

CREOLA BISTRO

344 El Camino Real
San Carlos

Tel: 650-654-0882

 

Lunch Tues-Fri: 11:30-2:30
Dinner Tues-Sun 5-9pm


Corn Muffin


Hush-Puppies


Empanada


Gumbo


Shrimp Etouffee


Jambalaya


French Silk Pie

 

Post-cinema dining on a Sunday, we booked a table for two at this venerable restaurant on El Camino near the San Carlos/Belmont border.

The restaurant was about half-full at 7pm and it has seating for perhaps 50, or so, guests.  We were shown to a window table for two.  The menu is a two-sided document with the wine list, if you want to call it that, occupying a small portion of a page.
No wine glasses are on the table as part of the place-settings.

The wine list is short and sweet.  Nine offerings.  Take it or leave it!

There's Dibon's Cava from Spain at $9 by-the-glass (BTG) or $36 for a bottle.  This is a ten buck retail bottle, typically.
There's a little Spanish white made of the Palomino grape, Barbadillo's Fina...It's $8 BTG and $30 by the bottle.
They offer a 2013 Losen-Bockstanz Riesling at $8 BTG and $30 for a bottle.  Listel Rosé from France, a big production wine, is also $8 BTG and $30.  Franciscan Napa Chardonnay is $11 BTG and $38 while a Sanford Chardonnay is $40 per bottle.
They have but three red wine choices for you...a Pinot Noir from Oregon made by Joseph Wagner, the fellow who founded the Meiomi brand (and sold it for $315 Million!!!), called Elouan is $12 BTG and $42 for a bottle.  There's a terrific Rioja called Solar de Libano for $9 BTG and $30/bottle, while "Benzinger" (sic) Cabernet is $12 BTG and $42 by the bottle.
That's it. Wine is clearly not a priority here.  
We I organizing the selections, I'd offer some crisp, tangy Sauvignon Blancs on this list, a similarly youthful, snappy, more serious Rosé, some fresh, berryish Zinfandel, Grenache and Syrah...chillable reds to pair with the cuisine.
The corkage fee is nicely gentle at $15, so bring your own!

The menu features all sorts of Louisiana specialties, short of alligator dishes.  There are seven appetizers, two soups and a salad.  
Main plate selections number 9 or 10.  These can all be ordered a la carte.
They have a 3 course set menu called "Monday's Feast" which is available every day.  It starts with soup or salad, then Red Beans & Rice, followed by dessert.
The real deal is the $35 prix-fixe menu...a choice of an appetizer, followed by soup or salad, a main plate and dessert.

We began with a $9 glass of bubbly, presented in a flute stem.  This was good and a terrific start to our evening.  The server brought a small bowl with hot cornbread, another fine welcome.
I chose the Crayfish Hushpuppies to begin, while my guest had an Beef Empanada.
We both had the Seafood Gumbo, a modest-sized serving of delicious brown soup with little bits of Shrimp and Andouille Sausage.  The menu indicates it has crab, but I don't recall encountering that.
Her main dish was the Shrimp & Crawfish Etouffee with Jasmine Rice.  As we were finishing our Gumbo, the server came by saying they were out of the prawns that comprise that dish.  They punted, though, at her request, and made this with smaller-sized shrimp.  This tasted fine to me, but I can see it would have been better with the originally-intended prawns.
My main plate was their version of Jambalaya.  This was like Louisiana "paella" or New Orleans "Fried Rice."  It's a hefty serving of rice with bits of Tasso Ham, Andouille Sausage and a modest-sized piece of nicely-spiced roasted chicken.
We had produced a bottle of wine from our cellar bag and the server brought an ice bucket to further chill the Sauvignon Blanc.  He brought two good stems, as well.
The main plates had us a the "full" stage, but we soldiered on with dessert.  Probably should have tried the Beignets, but was enchanted by the French Silk Pie, described as Light Chocolate Mousse and a Vanilla Wafer Crust.
I expected something like a slice of pie...

Instead they brought a smallish, single-serving disk topped with a mass of whipped cream...still pretty good, though.

We skipped coffees or after-dinner drinks.
The bill tallied to $93 before the tip.

This was a wonderful meal with good vittles and nice service.

We'll definitely be heading back to try some of their other dishes such as the Buttermilk Brined Fried Chicken or the Cornmeal Crusted Catfish.

Reviewed by GW
June 2016

 

YUCCA DE LAC

 

180 El Camino Real
#700
Palo Alto
(on the Sand Hill Road side of the
Stanford Shopping Center)

Open Mon-Sat 11am-9pm
Sunday 11am-8pm

 

 

 


Pork Buns

 

 


Har Gow

 

 


Siu Mai

 

 

 


Asparagus with Shallots & Garlic

 

 

 


Chow Fun with Angus Rib-Eye

 

 



Roasted Duck "off the bone"...

 

 

 

 

Combine a Sunday with Father's Day and a Golden State Warriors' championship basketball game and you might expect difficulty in reserving a table.  But this was not the case for this Chinese dining spot located in Palo Alto's Stanford Shopping Center.

At 7pm we were given the choice of an outdoor table on a warm evening or indoor seating.  The hostess suggested indoors, as it was virtually empty.  That may have been good news except there was an agitated and loud toddler in the neighboring booth for the first 20 minutes were were there.

Wine glasses are part of the table setting and we were presented a menu and wine list.

The list offers 5 sparkling wines ranging from $9 to $20.  Lamberti Prosecco is $9 By-the-Glass (BTG), while a 187ml bottle of Segura Viudas Spanish Cava is similarly priced.
There are short descriptions of each BTG selection.  Cleto Chiarli's Brut de Noir Rosé Lambrusco ($11) is described as "Brilliant pale rose color with a palate of bright strawberry and luscious minerality. Italy's oldest and finest Lambrusco.  Awarded the Tre Bicchiere (sic)."
Well, Cleto Chiarli did win a Tre Bicchieri award in the 2016 Gambero Rosso wine guide, but not for this wine, but for its Fondatore Lambrusco di Sorbara.  Oops.
Charles de Cazanove Premier Cru Brut Champagne is $20 BTG.  They have two Rosés by the glass and 11 White Wines.  A sweet Moscato d'Asti, a wine we might know as a dessert wine, is the first selection on the white wine page and they even suggest it as an after dinner selection.  A Leitz "Dragonstone" Riesling ($12) is "Bright and juicy with a hint of sweetness that lingers on the palate with minerality drenched in flavors of stone fruit, candied orange, pineapple and spice.  The acidity is luscious! A real palate pleaser!"
Each wine is described in a tantalizing fashion and they build up one's expectations to a level greater than most of the wines can deliver.
They offer ten red wines by-the-glass.  Ridge "Three Valleys" Zinfandel from Sonoma is $16, while Eberle's Paso Robles Syrah is $15.
From their offerings by the bottle, there are six sparkling wines.  Segura Viudas Cava is $28, while a Lanson Brut Champagne is $85.
There are three Rosés, including a 2010 vintage from a California producer which is likely past its prime.  There are four Sauvignon Blancs, including a 2014 Preston from Sonoma at $39 and a 2011 Petroni (likely a bit old) from Sonoma at $45.
Under the heading of "Intriguing White and Aromatics," we again find the Moscato d'Asti at $39.  It's listed as a 2011 vintage which is rather old for Moscato.  There's a 2011 Grenache Blanc from Stark at $68 (the winery currently offers a 2014 vintage).  There are four Chardonnays with a price range of $45 to $51.  Why not offer a few wines of higher price and greater complexity?
They have 7 Pinot Noirs, most of which are a few vintages behind the currently available wines.  This suggests the restaurant doesn't move a lot of wine.
In fact, under the Cabernet and Bordeaux Varieties heading, we find Erba Napa Cabernet from the 2005 vintage at $63.  There's a Swanson Merlot from 2008 at $54.
They have a 2007 Petroni Rosso ($54) under the Syrah and Rhone Varietals category.  There's a 2008 Calstar Zinfandel  ($41) and a Stark 2011 Primitivo for $88.
Under the heading of "Exceptional Wines" we find a Chateau Montelena Calistoga Cabernet from 2010 at $90.  Caymus 2011 is $150 and a Silver Oak 2009 Alexander Valley Cabernet is $130.
We ordered a glass of a Vinho Verde made of Arinto ($9) and a glass of white wine appeared shortly after.  We have ranted about this routinely...the customer almost never sees the bottle of wine and it's taken on faith they've poured you the wine you ordered.

Corkage fee is $25 per bottle and there's a two bottle maximum per table.
I placed a bottle of a good Sauvignon Blanc on the table and the server asked if we wanted an ice bucket for it.  We did not.
"Should I bring glasses?"
Yes, please.
He looked at the bottle and seemed unsure of the next step.
We wanted him to open it.
"Could you find an opener and take the cork out of this bottle?" we asked.
He retrieved a corkscrew and finally opened it, but hesitated to pour the wine.
Clearly this fellow is not a very experienced waiter.

From there we ordered a few starters...they offer some items at dinner time which you'd normally encounter only at lunch: dim sum.  
Har Gow ($9) and Steamed Pork Buns ($8) were both delicious.  To preclude everything arriving at the table simultaneously, as it's routinely an issue in Chinese restaurants, we delayed ordering Siu Mai ($9) until after the first two items hit the table.
After ordering those, we asked for Sautéed Asparagus with Minced Garlic and Shallots ($10), Angus Rib-Eye Chow Fun ($19) and the Roast Duck Platter ($28 and $5 extra for soft Flour Buns).  The duck is described as "A generous portion of our Slow-Roasted Duck with the skin on and the bones out."
The Asparagus was cooked perfectly and quite good.  The Chow Fun noodles were nicely presented with some slices of beef (not sure if these were actually rib-eye) draped on top.  The Duck was mostly boneless, but there were two duck legs on the plate: one was devoid of meat and I thought my dining companion had eaten it.  But in looking at the snapshot of the plate as it was delivered, the leg was on the plate with 95% of the meat missing!

As the Asparagus arrived at the table, the server asked if we wanted anything else, like dessert!
I indicated we would see if we we still hungry in a bit, but he then informed me the kitchen was closing (7:40 on a Sunday night!).
No wonder the restaurant was not busy at 7pm.  Apparently most people know they close early. I missed the memo on that.

My friend wanted a clean plate after using the small one on the table for the dim sum.  A bus-person removed the plate and silverware.  We waited, as the food was sitting on the table.  One minute...two minutes...three minutes...finally I got up and swiped a place-setting from the neighboring table.  That busser never did return to our table!

The food was good.  If you like the music of Kenny G, the ambiance is good.  Stemware is good.

We noticed a few staffers were involved in closing procedures at this point in our visit.  They cleared our plates away and we were ready to depart.  Of course, since the kitchen had closed, dessert (which we rarely order anyway) was out of the question.  So was coffee.

You might think a crew so anxious to shut down the operation would be reasonably speedy about presenting the bill, but this did not happen either.  We waited a few minutes and finally stood up and ambled to the reception desk.  A fellow doing some janitorial work in the bar asked if he could help and we asked for the check.  The server immediately presented the tab and we paid the bill ($144 before the tip).

This was a nice place to dine after a movie, but if you're not here a couple of hours before closing, you might look for another dinner restaurant.  As Sunday cinema tends to offer a 4 to 5pm start time, that usually equates to a 6:30-7pm restaurant arrival hour.
You can guess we're not returning on a Sunday for dinner to Yucca de Lac, but it would be a perfectly acceptable option on any other day of the week if you arrive during that time frame...and you can deal with unpolished service.

Review by GW
June 2016

 

WILLARD HICKS


280 East Campbell Avenue
Campbell

TEL: 408-374-5000

Open Daily at 4pm
Til 10 Sun-Wed
Til 11 Thurs-Sat

 

 


French Onion Soup

 


Caesar Salad with Sun-dried tomatoes and a sourdough "crouton"

 

 




New York Strip with Golden Onion Strings

 

 

 


House Cut Fries without their Parmesan and with Spicy Ketchup and their Lemon Aioli



The "naked" New York Strip

A friend of ours who lives in San Jose often posts on her Facebook page that she's dining at this little restaurant in downtown Campbell.

East Campbell Avenue seems to be a hotbed of culinary activity...there's a wonderful Austrian place (Naschmarkt) a block away and a couple of dining establishments next door to this place.

We booked a table on Memorial Day and arrived at 6:30 to find the place about two-thirds full with many people ensconced in the TV monitors showing the Sharks playing in for the NHL's Stanley Cup and the Golden State Warriors playing for their lives in the NBA division championship.

We found parking on a side street just a few steps from the restaurant.

The host escorted us to a nice four top (we were just two) and presented a one page menu.  The wine list and fancy cocktails and beer are listed on the reverse side of the document.  No wine glasses are on the table as they make a much higher percentage on mixed drinks than they do on the wine.
Of course, they may bank more dollars on a bottle of wine than on a couple of cocktails.

There are five sparkling wines on the list and each is available by-the-glass (BTG) or by the bottle.
Domaine Carneros Brut is $15 BTG or $38 by the bottle.  There seems to be a curious disparity, though: Veuve Clicquot, which wholesales typically, for much more than the Domaine Carneros, is $18 BTG and yet a bottle costs $88!
That's odd.

Eleven white wines are offered By The Glass and there are two other white choices available only by the bottle.  Yet four of those white wines are not available by the bottle, so I suspect these are poured from a keg.
Tieffenbruner (sic) Pinot Grigio is $10 BTG and $26 by the bottle.  Stags Leap (we don't know if it's Stags' Leap or Stag's Leap) Chardonnay, which wholesales for more than the Tiefenbrunner, is $9 BTG yet it's $35 for a bottle!
Miner Chardonnay is $15 BTG, while Rombauer's goes for $18.
Willard Hicks offers ten Pinot Noirs, with 6 of them available by-the-glass. Belcreme de Lys, a label from the Treasury Wine Estates company is $9 BTG and $24 for a bottle.  Decoy is $14 and $40 a bottle, while the same company's Goldeneye is $25 BTG and $85 by the bottle.  Two of the three Merlots on the list can be ordered BTG, while there's one Zinfandel available BTG.  Rombauer Merlot is $15 BTG or $56 by the bottle.  Predator Zinfandel from Lodi is $12 BTG and $35 a bottle.  There's a Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel for $40, while Rombauer Zinfandel, if you have a sweet tooth, is $55.  Curiously they do not support Ridge Vineyards, a benchmark producer of Zinfandel whose winery is nearby in Cupertino.
Thirteen Cabernets are offered, with 5 being sold By The Glass. Ever heard of a brand called Notes? It's $8 a glass.  Smith & Hook is $12 BTG as is a brand called Uppercut.  Silver Oak's Alexander Valley Cabernet is $25 BTG and $92 per bottle.  BV Tapestry is $105 for a bottle and Opus One goes for $375.  
One odd thing is that the glass price doesn't often correspond to the bottle pricing.  A wine costing $10 for a glass goes for $26 a bottle, while a $9 glass pour is sold for $35 a bottle. A $15 glass pour is $55 by the bottle, but a $16 pour is $48 for a bottle.  
The list doesn't have many surprises.  They have their own private label called Christeni and there's a Cabernet Sauvignon, a blended red, a Pinot Noir and a Sauvignon Blanc.

They don't charge a corkage fee on a single bottle of wine, with a $15 charge for additional bottles.

Stemware is of good quality.

My friend ordered a Tanqueray Martini and said it was properly made.  I opted for a $12 glass of their Christeni Sauvignon Blanc.  It was well-made, but of ordinary quality...nothing special with a hint of varietal character.  We take it on faith that the wine ordered by the customer is the wine they bring.  That is, they do not bring the bottle to show the consumer...of course, for wines dispensed from a keg, how could they bring you the bottle?

The menu offers a dozen "Starters," 5 salads and two soups.  Starters includes Fried Green Tomatoes ($9), a Spicy Tuna Roll ($12), Crab Cakes ($14) and Coconut Crusted Shrimp ($16).  Salads go from $11 to $18 (more if you add Chicken, Beef or Prawns).
The menu indicates the salads are big enough to share.

Bread basket, perhaps?
Willard Hicks serves no bread, so don't plan on having this while you're waiting.

My dining companion has a weakness for French Onion Soup ($9) and she said it was excellent.  I started with their "The Caesar" $11 which has a red chipotle dressing.  It's artistically presented but with something like 6 or 8 hearts of Romaine leaves, I'm not sure it's THAT large to split it.  The salad, though, was good.

With a couple of sporting events on their flat-screen monitors, there were periodic cheers and jeers as the local teams were battling in their respective playoff series.  Otherwise, there's a nice ambience to this place...there are a few tables outside along the sidewalk, if you're so inclined.

I placed a bottle of a red wine on the table as we were having our starters and the server came by and asked if we wanted him to open it...Yes!  He brought a couple of nice stems and set about opening the bottle.  He asked if he should serve it immediately or "if we should let it breathe?"
I inquired what that would do and he was, in fact, a bit lost on the subject apart from knowing it is sometimes part of the mystical ritual of wine drinking.
He poured, finally, the "say" and I took a sniff to see if it was corked...it was not.  Then he poured the wine...I had to get him to stop pouring, as I felt a glass one-third full was sufficient and he was going for the half-way mark or more.

We each ordered a steak, since the menu says they use a wood fire.  They must have been out chopping up a tree (or something) because the time between them clearing the starters and bringing the main plates was long.  The place wasn't that busy, but we figured perhaps the kitchen crew was watching the games, too.

After about 15 to 20 minutes the steaks arrived.  Hers was their "Signature Peppercorn New York Strip (Black Angus), doused in a brandy and peppercorn "glace," topped with Golden Onion Strings" ($34).  She ordered it without the peppercorns.  The waiter suggested she get the regular New York strip, but she wanted the Golden Onion Strings.  Then she bitched that the onion strings were not hot...
Sometimes you can't win.

I ordered their regular 14 ounce New York Strip ($32) which comes with a choice of a side dish.  I went with the House Cut Fries.  Most of the sides include cheese or are sweet (Maple Sweet Potato Mash, for example).
The steak arrived "naked" on a plate.   Just the steak.  Not anything else like a garnish of parsley or a lettuce leaf or something...just a lonely New York strip.
It was quite good, though and well-priced for the quality.  The "fries" were log-shaped potato pieces stacked like, well, Lincoln Logs!  Perfectly okay, but I had hoped for more normal Fries.

The bill tallied to $117 with the tax and before the tip.


We enjoyed the meal, though and that little section of Campbell is a cool business district.

We will certainly make a return visit to this dining spot, especially if we're taking in a movie in the South Bay.

Reviewed by GW
May 2016

  

 

THE RICHMOND


615 Balboa Street
San Francisco

TEL: 415-379-8988

Open Tues-Thurs 6-9
Fri-Sat 6-9:30

 


Amuse Bouche 1...Asparagus in a Caesar Vinaigrette

 


Amuse Bouche 2...a Crab "cake" in a creamy soup.

 

 

 


Roasted Beet and Cardamom Carrot Salad with Laura Chenel Goat Cheese in a Phyllo triangle

 


Shrimp Fritter & Chip

 


Seared Foie Gras

 


Salmon topped with a Corn & Brioche "custard" and festooned with arugula.



Braised Short Rib with a Maine Diver Scallop

 

 

 A customer at Weimax had mentioned this place to me one day, so I took a peek at their web site and it looked interesting.

We finally made a reservation and had dinner there on a Thursday night in May.  It's on Balboa in San Francisco, maybe 5 or 6 blocks east of Park Presidio Boulevard.  The neighborhood is mostly residential and the restaurant seems to occupy three former retail storefronts.  There's a laundromat next door.  Otherwise, there are apartments in this area.  Good luck finding parking!

We entered and there's a small bar by the entrance with a display of interesting bottles of wine.  We heard the owner telling his wife they could only accommodate those with reservations...no walk-ins at this point in time (it was 8pm).  And, in fact, we saw them turn away some people who had not reserved a table.

This seemed a bit strange, but there's a method to their madness and unlike so many dining spots, these folks are not greedy and looking to fleece the customer.

Here's a quote from their web site:
The Richmond is a small family owned restaurant.   Our goal is to deliver upscale food with personalized service.  With this mission in mind, my wife and I are only taking limited nightly reservations.  The focus at The Richmond Restaurant is on “individual diners”, not volume.  We are trying to create an environment in which it’s like coming to our house for a dinner party.  Please be our special guests. 

We were shown to a table in one of the front alcoves with a view of the street, but curtained off from the rest of the restaurant.  In fact, there are seven little dining areas, each one being curtained off from the rest of the place.  This is part of their idea of providing a calm, pleasant and personalized meal.

With the menu, there's a little wine list of several pages.
We found six red and six white wines by-the-glass (BTG). No sparkling wine is offered by the glass, though.
Amongst the whites, there's a California Chenin Blanc called Blue Plate from Clarksburg-area fruit.  That's $7 BTG, while Gallo's "William Hill" Chardonnay is $8.  Dr. Loosen's "L" Riesling from Germany's Mosel region is $9.  A Yorkville Cellars Sauvignon Blanc is $10 and Palmina's Arneis from California is $12.
Red selections are somewhat more interesting, with an Easton Zinfandel costing $12 and Wilfrid Rousse's delightful Chinon being the same price.  A La Follette Pinot is $12.  Gallo's Don Miguel Gascon Malbec is $9.
The list of bottles of sparkling wines features some worthy selections.  Gruet's Brut sparkler from New Mexico is $25.  And that's a full bottle, not a half!  Roederer Estate Brut is $39.  Louis Roederer's Brut Premier Champagne is $82, while Krug's Grande Cuvée is $295.  The current vintage of Dom Perignon is $275 and Roederer's Cristal is $450.
You'll find 15 Chardonnay selections.  Au Bon Climat's basic Chardonnay is just $32 and Drouhin's basic Chablis is just $35.  Mount Eden's Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay is $89 and Ramey's Platt Vineyard is $95.  Littorai is $110 and Aubert, another winery which is allergic to selling its precious wines to retail shops is $130.
They have a handful of Rieslings from dry to slightly sweet.  Trimbach's is $37.  
Does any restaurant in the Bay Area offer a decent bottle of Sauvignon Blanc for $19?  None except The Richmond!  Pomelo, a wine made by Randy Mason, is a mere $19.  Raptor Ridge Pinot Gris is gently-priced at $27.  Peter Michael's Sauvignon Blanc is $79.
Fourteen Pinot Noirs are offered, with Rhys "San Mateo County" costing $79, while Chehalem's Three Vineyards is $49.  There are 16 Cabernets or Bordeaux-styled blends.  Chappellet's Signature Cabernet is $95, Ramey Claret is $52 and a 2011 Outpost from Howell Mountain is $120.
You can select some Merlot or Cabernet Franc wines, as well as some Rhone-styled blends. Monardiere's Vacqueyras is $37.  Green & Red Zinfandel is also $37.  

The corkage fee is $20, by the way and the stemware is of good quality.

We ordered a bottle of Maximin Grünhauser 2014 Qba Riesling Trocken ($34).  It was a good choice and sufficiently versatile to pair with the tasting menu we ordered.

There's a Three Course menu for $36 and a Five Course "Tasting" menu for $67.50.  Everyone at the table, though, must sign up for one or the other.  The three course option allows each person to select from the menu.  The Five Course is a more "set" menu.  Though they note "no substitutions" for this, I informed them of a food allergy (cheese) and they tweaked the couple of courses which included cheese.

And, of course, the various menu items may be ordered "a la carte."

A few minutes after ordering, the fellow returned to the table with an Amuse Bouche of Asparagus Spears adorned with a bit of Prosciutto, little croutons and capers.  Mine came without the Piave cheese.  A nice start!

A second Amuse Bouche was presented...a sort of Crab Fritter in a pool of a velvety soup...Also quite good and the Riesling paired well.

The Richmond's bread plate includes three butter options, two flavored and one plain.



The show then got rolling with the first course, a Roasted Beet and Cardamom Carrot Salad with some Laura Chenel Goat Cheese in a Phyllo Triangle.  But to get around the cheese issue, they brought me a Shrimp Fritter with a Shrimp Chip instead.  


Kicking it into high gear, the next course was a generous slice of Seared Foie Gras on pain perdu and accompanied by some roasted apples cut into tiny dice.  Oh my!  This was wonderful!

 


This was followed by a small piece of beautifully cooked Salmon, topped with a Corn & Brioche custard and adorned with arugula in an herbed vinaigrette.  

 



We were still enjoying the Riesling, but put our bottle of 20 year old Bordeaux on the table.  By this time we were fully introduced to our chef/server/owner, John Owyang.  He managed to extract the cork from our bottle and brought fresh, larger stemware for the red wine.

 


The salmon was followed by a Red Wine-Braised Short-rib topped with a Maine Diver Scallop.  This is served on a bed of a creamy polenta which has cheese in it, so my plate arrived with mashed potatoes instead.
Thank you! 
Very good, too, by the way.

 

 


We had a bit of wine and we lingered over that for a bit before dessert hit the table.  This was "Coffee Semifreddo."  A coffee cup was filled with Coffee Ice Cream and Coffee Granita and sprinkled with little bits of Almond Brittle and anointed with cream.

 

 


Mr. Owyang was apologetic for their service, but we found no fault on that score.  Apparently they were a bit out of sorts when one party arrived significantly late for their reservation and another group came earlier-than-expected.
Apparently the restaurant prefers to book each reservation about 30 minutes apart to be able to prepare each table's orders in a well-paced and comfortable fashion.

This place is serious in offering guests a memorable dining experience.  Unlike so many San Francisco Bay Area restaurants which have tables crammed together and where they hustle you in and hustle you out, The Richmond is totally different!

The ambiance is comfortable and, as noted earlier in this review, tables are curtained off from one another, for the most part.  We appreciated the music being played, too...mildly jazzy along with some classic pop tunes.  

The bill tallied to $184 as they did not charge us the corkage fee.

We left a nice tip, of course and look forward to returning to this wonderful culinary oasis in The Richmond!



Reviewed by GW
May 2016

 

ZOLA

565 Bryant Street
Palo Alto

Tel: 650-521-0651

Dinner Tues-Thurs 5-9
Fri-Sat 5-10


The wine list is on a computer and each wine has its own description, with a tasting note composed by owner/sommelier Guillaume Bienaime.


Pâté de Campagne


Escargot


We ordered the steak and the kitchen was savvy enough to serve this plated individually.
Very fine and thoroughly delicious.

 


Salade de Fruits Rouge
and a glass of Moscato d'Asti

Downtown Palo Alto, even on a Tuesday night, is bustling with activity.  Fortunately, there's a parking garage a half a block away from this restaurant.

We arrived around 7pm and the restaurant was about half occupied.  The hostess escorted us to a two-top and presented a one-sheet menu and a wine list.  There were no wine glasses as part of the table setting and the place does not offer cocktails.

This is Silicon Valley country, the land of high tech, so it should not be surprising the wine list is on a computer tablet!
I'm sure they offer wines "by the glass," but in perusing their wine list, I missed these.  There are no indications of by-the-glass offerings as a sub-heading or category on the computerized list, nor did I note these on their dinner menu.

The list is quite good, though, with excellent selections and sufficient range to complement the cuisine.
There are a few major categories: Top Picks being owner Guillaume Bienaime's favorite offerings.  There's "The List" and there's a search option.
Below those you'll find Sparkling, White, Rose and Red categories.
Delamotte's Champagne is $84 on the list, while Pouillon's Extra Brut is $108 per bottle.  J. Lasalle's Special Club is $125, while a half bottle of Geoffroy's Rosé is $62.
Francois Crochet's Sancerre is $66, while Dagueneau's Blanc Fumé is $116.  De Villaine's Aligoté is $62 while a Weinbach Riesling is $66.
Au Bon Climat's Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Chardonnay is $62, while Mount Eden's Estate Chardonnay is $95.  There are well more than a dozen selections of French White Burgundies, too.
You'll find 6 Rosé selections.
Amongst the red wine selections, producers such as Littorai, Rhys, Ant Hill Farms, Failla and Big Basin have Pinot Noirs on the list.  These range from $59 to $165. Burgundies from Esmonin, Pousse d'Or, Mongeard-Mugneret and Huedlot-Noëllat are offered and you might spend as much as $595 for a bottle of Grand Cru level wine.
Three Cabernet Francs grace the wine list, all from France's Loire Valley.  There's a heading of Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot.  There you'll find a 1995 Dunn Howell Mountain for $295.   Elementary Cellars Napa Cabernet is $105.  The Bordeaux selections don't match those from Burgundy, though...the most major wine is Haut-Bergey 2010 at $92.   Chateau Musar 2007, a major league red from Lebanon is $105.
Most of the Syrah wines are fairly young and the French ones are, with the exception of the 2006 Lionnet Cornas ($92) undeveloped.  Two Bandols are similarly young and these are accompanied by two vintages of Tablas Creek's Espirit de Beaucastel.  Tempier's "La Tourtine" is $105, while a 2003 Espirit de Beaucastel is $145.
Two older vintages of Beaucastel are on this list, with the 1998 costing $195 and the 1999 going for $175 (nicely priced, actually).
A Sang des Cailloux Vacqueyras is $64, whereas a Les Palliéres Gigondas is $74.
Two Zinfandels make the list...a Turley from Contra Costa fruit is $62 while a nicely-aged bottle of 2007 Ridge Geyserville is $78.

Corkage is $25, unless you bring in a nicely-aged bottle.  Wines ten years and older have a corkage fee of $10.
If you order a bottle from the wine list, they waive the corkage fee entirely.
For the third bottle (or more), the corkage fee is $50.


We ordered a half bottle of Pierre Peters Brut Champagne at $56.  The flute-shaped stemware they brought was changed out for a couple of white wine glasses...these allow the Champagne to get a bit of air and disperse a bit of CO2.
I ordered their Terrine de Campagne ($9) which is a nice little slab of pâté accompanied by some nice toasted slices of bread, some pickled mushrooms (enoki, perhaps?) and a quince mustard.  This was delicious and the Champagne was a good match.

We ordered two Appetizers to share and they brought these one at a time, allowing us to dine leisurely.
The first was a half a dozen Escargot ($16).  These are served in a fancy little escargot dish, out of their shells, with a bread crumb topping.  I can't tell you precisely what was in there other than some little morsels of diced carrots.  It was not the classic garlic butter and parsley preparation and, in fact, was very good.
We also ordered a Tuna Crudo dish and we dove into that before taking a snapshot!
It was more like a seared tuna though and the tuna itself was rather bland until you lathered the Yellow-fin with the tapenade which accompanied it.
The bottle of Chablis we ordered, Pattes Loup ($64) was also a good match for the starters.

I brought out a bottle of a 2000 vintage Bordeaux and owner/somm Guillaume took the foil off the bottle and opened it tableside.  He then properly asked if it would be permissible to decant it away from the table (the tables are small and a bit close together).  He then returned a few minutes later with a nicely decanted bottle of Claret.
They have good stemware for the Bordeaux, too, by the way.

The server spoke about some special dishes which were not on the printed menu.  The Escargot were a special dish...and they had a 16 ounce steak with some sort of "fried" mashed potatoes.  These turned out to be some sort of Potato Croquette and were delicious.
The steak was of excellent quality and cooked beautifully to medium-rare.
Further, the kitchen actually split the entree so we did not have to serve ourselves from a family style plate.
Bravo!

I neglected to mention they brought a nice little basket of excellent French bread.  And they kept our water glasses topped up, too.

My friend was not much interested in dessert, but I asked for their Salade de Fruits Rouge ($6), a smallish bowl of strawberries, blueberries and blackberries.
 We accompanied this with a couple of sips of a Moscato d'Asti which was fresh, fruity and mildly fizzy.  We also appreciated the low alcohol level of this option, since we'd imbibed parts of two+ other bottles.

Overall, this was a very satisfying dining experience and the ambience is comfortable, as is the service.  The quality of the food was very good and it's a great alternative to upper level San Francisco restaurants featuring French cuisine.

The tab tallied to around $225, but in examining the bill it should have been a few bucks higher...the Moscato was not added to the check.  With such good service, though, we left a nice tip.

We look forward to a return visit...and sooner rather than later!

Reviewed by GW
May 2016

 

ADEGA

1614 Alum Rock Avenue
San Jose

TEL: 408-926-9275

Open Wednesday-Sunday
Lunch: 11:30-2:30
Dinner 5:30-9:30


If you order a glass of wine, they bring stemware and show you the bottle/label and then pour you the wine.


Some sliced bread and olives are brought to the table...the "dip" or salsa (I think) is made of Lupini beans and is called Hummus de tremoços.


Tábua de Enchidos...a Charcuterie or Salumi plate with some little toasted bread slices resembling crackers, a sprig of fresh rosemary and some sort of Port wine reduction.


Caldo Verde


Three little Codfish 'cakes' with lovely mixed greens and a slice of a dehydrated tomato.


Arroz de Marisco


Arroz de Pato...duck "fried rice" with some slices of duck breast...and a nice little Portuguese red wine served in a proper glass.


Wines ordered "by the glass" are brought in bottle to the table and poured in full view of the customer.


Mousse de Chocolate

A Portuguese fellow who had been importing wine told me he was changing jobs and going to open a restaurant in San Jose featuring the cuisine of his homeland.

Carlos Carreira's dream was to have a place with not only good food, but a fantastic list of Portugal's best wines.  The dream became more easy to realize when his daughter returned from Portugal where she polished her culinary skills after studying gastronomy in Los Angeles.  Her boyfriend, David Costa, was born in Portugal and he worked in a variety of top restaurants there.
The couple moved to California and at the end of 2015, Adega opened its doors.

We booked a table online and dined there on a Sunday night in early May of 2016.  They offer free valet parking during Friday's dinner service and all day Saturday and Sunday.
We pulled in and a fellow parked our car in a lot adjacent to the restaurant.

The dining rooms were about 80% occupied when we ambled in around 7pm on a Sunday.  We had made a reservation using Open-Table.

The hostess took us to a table in the main dining room to the left of the entrance, a bit away from a glass display room of wine bottles and the kitchen.
We were offered a one page menu and a nice little book containing their voluminous wine offerings. There were wine glasses on the table as part of the place setting.

On the back of the menu there are some Wines By-The-Glass (BTG).  It's all Portuguese, too, by the way, so if you're looking for Rombauer Chardonnay to pair with your Cod Fish Cakes or Silver Oak Cabernet for the Rib-eye Steak, you are out of luck.

We had a choice of two sparkling wines, Luis Pato's "Maria Gomes" at $13 or Vertice's Brut Rose for $15.
They have six white wines BTG, three of them being Vinho Verde selections.  Quinta de Azevedo is $8, while Anselmo Mendes' Passaros is $9.  Two whites by Dirk Niepoort are available BTG.  One is Redoma ($11) and the other is the wine marketed under the name "Twisted" ($9).
Reds BTG range from $8 to $16.  There's Duas Quintas from Ramos Pinto at $10, while Esporão Reserva is $16.

As for wines by the bottle, you can find really economical (and drinkable) wines.  For example, they offer the Quinta da Aveleda Vinho Verde for just $18 a bottle.  Dirk Niepoort's "Dócil," a Vinho Verde made of Loureiro, is $35 (it's a $15 retail bottle).  Soalheiro, a dynamite Vinho Verde made of Alvarinho, is $45 ($25 retail) and the "old vines" bottling is $49.  
There are 8 whites from the Alentejo and 13 from the Douro.  That Esporão White Reserva is $45.  An Arinto (that's the grape) from the Chocapalha winery near Lisbon is $44.

The list of reds is even more voluminous.  There are 22 reds from the Alentejo, ranging in price from $19 to $199.  Five Beiras reds range from $44 to $280.
Four Dão red range from $29 to $150 and there's a boat-load of Douro reds, as you might expect. Here you can spend a few serious dollars.  The 2004 Barca Velha is listed as "coming soon" and for that, $500 bucks comes out of your wallet.  Good names such as Wine & Soul's Pintas are $99 for one bottling and $199 for another.  They have a number of Quinta do Crasto wines starting at $29 a bottle and topping out at $250.  Quinta do Passadouro reds are $79 a bottle.  They also offer some nice reds from Van Zeller.
From other regions, there's the Quinta da Mimosa for just $27 a bottle.
You can drink well in various price levels here.

We told the server we were fans of the Soalheiro wines and she suggested the Quinta da Lixa Pouco Comum Alvarinho which we could order by-the-glass for $10.  She claimed this is superior to the Soalheiro wine.  It was perfectly nice, but not nearly as complex as Soalheiro's in my view.
But they have a very fine aspect to service of wine-by-the-glass:  they bring an empty glass and the bottle.  The bottle is then presented and they pour a small taste so you can give it the okay.  We did and she poured.  Bravo!
This is how all wine-by-the-glass should be presented.

We ordered a charcuterie plate to start.  It's called a Tábua de Enchidos ($16) and it features a very artistically-presented array of meats including Iberico Ham, Paio Sausage, Chouriçao and Duck Breast.  They augment the plate with drops of concentrated Port wine, but I can't say I found this to be an enhancement from a taste perspective.  How can you improve Presunto Iberico (ham)?

My dining companion ordered their Caldo Verde ($8), a potato soup with Kale and chouriço and this was quite good.  I had their Pasteis de Bacalhau ($9) which was three football-shaped cod cakes, deep fried and served with beautifully-dressed salad greens.  Impressive.

We perused the wine list and the server suggested a red called Papa Figos from the Casa Ferreirinha winery.  It's $34 on the wine list and typically retails for about $15.  This was a nice choice...not too heavy and not too oaky.

For main plates, my friend ordered Arroz de Marisco ($29), a seafood rice dish with lobster, scallops, shrimp, clams, mussels and oysters.  It's beautifully presented with a dome covering the plate as it's brought to the table.
There's less fanfare for the Arroz de Pato ($24) that I ordered.  This is a sort of Duck Fried Rice dish with shredded duck in the rice and it's topped with a few tasty slices of duck breast.

Mousse de Chocolate ($8) was shared for dessert and we each had a 2 ounce pour of Niepoort's Ruby Porto ($5).  Again they bring some small wine glasses to the table and present the bottle before serving the Port.
And the dessert wine list must be the most impressive in the Bay Area!  It has 5 Ruby Ports, 3 Tawnies, 4 Late Bottled Vintage Portos and 7 Vintage Portos.  If you want older Tawny Port, they have 7 10-Year Tawnies and 8 20-Year offerings.  There are 4 30-Year Tawnies and 3 40-Year selections.  There are numerous single vintage Colheitas, as well.  And they have three White Ports, too.
You can enjoy a simple dessert wine for $4 or spend as much as $70 for a glass of Port.
But wait!
If you're wondering about Madeira, they have 18 selections of those by the glass.  $5 gets you a pour of Justinos 5-Year Reserva or you can drop $280 for a two ounce pour of Blandy's 1920 Boal.
They also offer a couple of great Moscatels...Setúbal.  One is from Casa Ermelinda Freitas ($5), while José Maria da Fonseca's is $6.

We had a nice meal here and quite a good experience.
We departed and handed our valet parking ticket to the fellow...and we were surprised and delighted the parking was gratis.  We handed the fellow a nice tip, though.

It will be a pleasure to dine here again and explore some of their other dishes.  

Reviewed by GW
May 2016




 

HOUSE OF PRIME RIB

1906 Van Ness Avenue
San Francisco

TEL: 415-885-4605

Open Daily for Dinner
Until 10pm

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some friends were interested to dine at one of San Francisco's most venerable restaurants and so they booked a 9pm Friday night table at The House of Prime Rib.  
The place has been there for more than 60 years and yet getting a table requires a bit of planning or late night dining.

We arrived on time and circled the block twice before finally simply leaving the car with their valet.  $11.

There are not many people waiting for a table at the entrance of this busy place, as most customers are not walk-ins and have reserved a table ahead of time.  We waited all of a minute and a half before being escorted to our table.  The host provided menus and a wine list.  Wine glasses are part of the table setting.

This is a restaurant providing no surprises.
They do Prime Rib and Prime Rib only.  
(There is a "fish of the day" notation on the menu, but otherwise, it's Prime Rib.)

Being that this place is a bit of a throwback to the 1950s and 1960s, they offer all sorts of classic cocktails.  But there are plenty of wines-by-the-glass (BTG), too.
There are nine white wines by-the-glass, including Sutter Home White Zinfandel ($6), Rombauer Chardonnay ($16), Conundrum by Caymus ($8) and La Crema Chardonnay ($10).

There were 19 reds offered by the glass.  Clos du Bois Pinot Noir is $9, while Duckhorn's Goldeneye is $16.   Merlots from both those producers go for the same price.  Cabernet, an ideal accompaniment to prime rib, sees just 4 selections, Clos du Bois ($10), Conn Creek ($12), Hess Collection ($14) and JAX at $16.

The HOPR wine list, as you can see, features all sorts of mainstream, "comfortable" selections.  They have wines that are likely to be recognized by the average bear.  No surprises.

Now of those $16 BTG offerings, Rombauer's Chardonnay retails for $36, while the Goldeneye and Duckhorn retail in the neighborhood of $50.

There are 11 "Bright, Crisp Whites" on the bottle list.  This features brands such as Cakebread, Grgich Hills, Frog's Leap, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, Trefethen and Chateau St. Jean.
No surprises.

With a Prime Rib-Centric menu, reds should be featured on the list and they are. They have 11 Zinfandels, including Seghesio "Dry Creek" Zinfandel at $62 (but they don't identify it as the Cortina single-vineyard bottling), Robert Biale's Black Chicken Zin ($72) and Rafanelli at $52 for a bottle and $29 for a half bottle.
They have 20 Pinot Noirs on their wine list, with brands such as MacMurray Ranch (a Gallo brand), Saintsbury, Sinskey and Clos du Bois.
There are several pages of Cabernets on the wine list and it's here you can get into real trouble!  Screaming Eagle is $4200 a bottle.  This makes Shafer's Hillside Select, at $575, look like a real bargain.  Staglin's 2009 is $266 a bottle, while Silver Oak's 2011 Alexander Valley is $98.  Dana Estate is $985 a bottle, while Duckhorn is $100.  A 2011 Harlan Estate is $1250, while the same vintage of Heitz Napa is $72 (I'd go for the Heitz, thank you!).
There's a page of "Other Reds" and here you'll find Klinker Brick's Lodi Syrah ($36), The Prisoner Napa Red ($64) and Robert Foley Charbono ($55).
They don't offer much in the way of imports and no Bordeaux curiously.  But they do have Kendall Jackson's Chianti, Tenuta Arceno for $36 a bottle and Tomero Malbec from Argentina at $34.
The Corkage fee is $25 for a bottle or two, while the third bottle is $30.  Magnums cost $50 and double magnums are $100.

The Prime Rib is offered in several formats.  The City Cut is a smaller serving and costs $40.45 for the full meal (salad and side dishes included).  The House of Prime Rib Cut is $43.85 (yeah, what's the deal with the odd cent's pricing?).   The English Cut is the same price, but features several thinner slices instead of one hunk o'meat.  King Henry VIII is a thick cut and guarantees a rib bone.  $46.85 for that.   They do offer a Children's Prime Rib Dinner at $15.85.  
Accompaniments include their "Salad Bowl" as a starter.  Alongside the Prime Rib, you have your choice of Mashed Potatoes or a Baked Potato.  Each comes with your choice of Creamed Corn or Creamed Spinach, too.  They all come with a Yorkshire Pudding that's brought to the table in a small skillet and divided into single servings.

There's a small, warmed Sourdough Bread loaf on a cutting board...slice your own.

We opted for a half bottle of Frog's Leap Sauvignon Blanc at $21.  The server came back a few minutes after we ordered this to say "Oh, I think that's no longer available...it's been discontinued."  It was the only half bottle of white wine on the list.  I was a bit unhappy with this news and the server went off to confirm the wine being unavailable.  Finally a wine steward brought the half bottle and opened it for us.
We wondered, since those half bottles of wine are still available from the winery, was this some sort of method to up-sell us to a full bottle?

A few moments later the server came by with an artistically arranged salad in a bowl, set in another bowl of ice.  The server then gives the salad bowl a spin and deftly drizzles their slightly sweet dressing onto the salad...lettuce, beets, chopped eggs, etc.

We placed an aged bottle of Bordeaux on the table and the server saw this as he brought more wine glasses.  They don't have larger red wine stemware, apparently.  A while later the wine steward came over, picked up the bottle, saw it was a bit older (1989) and whisked it away to open it.  On one hand, they ought to open it at the table, but the corridor is rather chaotic with servers and bussers running about.  Adding to the chaos is the blimp-like silver trolley with the prime rib being wheeled to and fro.
We believe he also took this away to open the bottle with the double-pronged Ah-So cork puller.
He did not offer to decant the bottle, though.
We had stood the bottle upright a week ahead of time, so the sediment was nicely compacted and, in fact, we were able to pour it damned near to the bottom without the wine becoming cloudy.
We offered the wine guy a glass.  He declined.
Really?  A 25+ year old Bordeaux from a First Growth?
The waiter also declined our offer of a pour.  Apparently, we suspect, it's against company policy.

The Prime Rib was spectacular.  Wow...that was a good hunk of beef.  The Creamed Spinach and Creamed Corn were quite good, too. The Mashed Potatoes were fine and the Yorkshire Pudding was good.

We skipped dessert.

The bill tallied to right around $205 before the tip.

Overall this was a terrific meal...no surprises on the menu or wine list and the restaurant runs like a well-oiled machine.

We'll be back!

Reviewed by GW
May 2016

 

ORIGINAL JOE'S of WESTLAKE

11 Glenwood Ave
Daly City

Tel: 650-755-7400

Sun-Thurs: 11am-11pm
Fri-Sat: 11am-Midnight

 


Sourdough


Joe's Caesar Salad

 


Joe's Burger with Cheese


Baked Lasagna



Steak ala Bruno


Bambolini

 

After being closed for a couple of years for remodeling and renovation, the old "Westlake Joe's" opened its doors in February of 2016.
As with many newly-opened dining spots, the place is flooded with people satisfying their curiosity to see if the restaurant is one they will frequent or say "been there, done that."

With a great review from San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic Michael Bauer, in late April of 2016, the place is packed.  They do not presently accept reservations, so unless you're going for dinner in the late afternoon or, say, after 9pm, be prepared to wait for a table in this 300 seat restaurant.

We rolled in on a Thursday night at 8:30, or so, and waited maybe 15-20 minutes for a booth for the three of us.

We were escorted to a table in the dining room with the open kitchen and the host provided menus, but no wine list.  Wine glasses were not part of the table settings, either, so you might get the impression that wine is not a priority here.  There is not a sommelier helping nudge diners in the direction of a wine selection and our server did not ask us at the outset if we wanted wine.  They are, it seems, more of an old-school, throwback place where cocktails are more of a priority.

We did have a chance to peruse the wine list, though.
They offer three "House White" wine selections and four reds.  These are offered "by the glass" (BTG) or in "half carafe" or "carafe" format and it's not stated as to the size of the latter two servings.
There's a Coppola "Napa Valley" Pinot Grigio for $6/glass ($18 and $30 for half carafe and carafe servings).  But the wine carries a "California" appellation, not Napa and one winery document indicates the Pinot Grigio comes from Monterey County vineyards while a "tech sheet" does not provide a clue as to the wine's place of origin apart from "California."  There's a fledgling brand of Sauvignon Blanc called "Pushback" with a Napa appellation (the winery has a San Francisco address, though).  It's $8 BTG and $24 & 36 for larger servings.  Chalk Hill's Sonoma Chardonnay is $10 BTG.
The "House Reds" are a bit curious, but we see some irrational marketing policies on the part of some wineries.  There's a "Bohemian" Pinot Noir on the wine list for $10 a glass and yet the winery web site offers this wine for $50 a bottle.  This illustrates that someone wholesales this wine for pennies on the dollar if the restaurant can pour it for ten bucks a glass!  Similarly, a Sciandri Napa Cabernet, typically retailing for $58 on that winery's web site, is also just ten bucks a glass.
We should point out that numerous California wineries have special "restaurant pricing" for dining establishments, allowing restaurateurs to take 300%-500% mark-ups and offer these products at prices slightly higher than normal retail pricing.  For example, a well-known Napa Cabernet producer puts a $50 retail price on its Cabernet (normally, then, wholesaling at $33.33 to a store), but is willing to offer it to a restaurant for just $20 a bottle.  A 300% mark-up makes it $60 in a restaurant, just a small price higher than retail.
It is possible, too, by the way, that some of the BTG wines are poured from a keg, not from a bottle.  No notation on the wine list is made, though, as to wines offered "on tap."
Under the heading of "Premium Wines by The Glass," there's Whitehall Lane Sauvignon Blanc is $12, while Frank Family Chardonnay is $14.  David Bruce Pinot Noir is $16 BTG.   Gloria Ferrer's Sonoma Brut Sparkling wine is $10 BTG.
There are, then, a few good, well-priced options for by-the-glass or less-than-a-bottle pour.

There are 8 California Chardonnays offered by the bottle.  Robert Mondavi's Napa is $32, while Kistler's is $105.  Honig Sauvignon Blanc is $34 by the bottle.
There's a modest range of Pinot Noirs, with Thomas Fogarty's costing $62 and a Papapietro Perry going for $100.  Amongst the Cabernet selections, there are some very modest little wines such as "Humble Pie" ($30) and "Highway 12" ($34).  The higher-priced bottles are of some better-known names (Sebastiani at $56, Silverado at $70 and Hall at $80), but I'm not hugely enamored with any of those.  Phelps Cabernet is $115 a bottle, while Paradigm is $120.
A number of the Italian selections come from one particular importer, it seems.  We've not been impressed with many of their selections and the prices are routinely inflated.
The corkage fee is $15 and we brought a nice bottle of Piemontese red wine to pair with dinner.  The server provided some nice, large stemware for this and we were soon off and running.
A basket of bread (and butter) was brought to the table...commercial sourdough and this was warmed, so we dove in.

The menu is classic, old-time Joe's.  Caesar Salad, Crab Louie, Cobb Salad, Fried Calamari, Minestrone or Clam Chowder, Garlic Bread and more.
For main dishes, there's a range of various pastas, veal and chicken dishes in various incarnations (Parmigiana, Marsala, Piccata, etc.), Prime Rib ($32.95), Steaks and Chops.  They have "specialties" such as Baked Lasagna ($18.95). Pot Roast ($16.95) or Eggplant Parmigiana ($18.95).  They also have a few seafood offerings, such as Calamari Steak Doré ($21.95), Filet of Sole Piccata ($21.95) or Char-Broiled Salmon ($24.95).  These main plates are accompanied by either Spaghetti, Ravioli, French Fries, Vegetables of Mashed Potatoes.

We began with their Caesar Salad ($8.95) and this was impressive!  It's presented in a medium-sized bowl with beautifully dressed Romaine Lettuce that's quite refreshingly cold.  It's adorned with some croutons and anchovy filets and the dressing does have the requisite amount of garlic!  Bravo!!

My friends finished their salad well before I finished mine, so I was curious to see if the main plates would arrive on the kitchen's schedule or on the dinner guest's timetable.
Happily it was the latter.
Bravo, again.

One dining companion opted for the Joe's Famous Hamburger Sandwich ($13.95) which comes with fries.  She added cheese ($2) and this think was enough to feed a couple of people!  Her husband chose the Baked Lasagna ($18.95) and he was happy with this selection.
I was torn by the multitude of options...should I try the Lamb Chops ($34.95), the 16 oz. Rib eye ($38.95), the Breaded Veal Cutlet ($25.95) or the Prime Rib ($32.95)?  I was curious about one of their signature dishes, Steak a la Bruno ($23.95).  I'm not sure what cut of beef this is, but someone mentioned it might be something of a neck slice...?  I gather it's marinated in an effort to tenderize it.  This was quite good, though, but not as "noble" as a New York strip or a Rib Eye.  I had their side dish of Spaghetti...an American take on pasta, for sure.

We split a dessert:  Bombolini ($8) which was one of seven selections, apart from gelato ($5).  They brought out three little "doughnuts" or beignets with a small ramekin of a raspberry dipping sauce and one of some sort of chocolate or Nutella-like sauce.  Excellent!

They do offer a number of dessert wines, too...Fonseca's Bin 27 Port is $8, while their 10 Year Tawny is $12.  Taylor's 20 Year Tawny is $16.  They also offer a Vin Santo and Moscato d'Asti by the glass and a couple of grappas and a Lemoncello.

The ambience was very pleasant and very retro.  Tunes by artists such as The Andrews Sisters and Sinatra are played at a level loud enough to buffer the babel of the crowd in the dining room, but not so loud as to intrude on your conversation at the dinner table.

The bill, with the $15 corkage and a cocktail for one of the guests, tallied to $115 with the tax and before the tip.  But it would be easy to have had a much more spendy meal here, too.

We will definitely be returning to Joe's.

Written by GW
April 2016


I went back one night at 9:30, returning home from The City in May of 2016.  No problem with having to wait for a seat or table.  The food was good...Caesar Salad was fine and I ordered their Hamburger Steak ($20) and this was a large "slab" of hamburger, grilled properly and presented on a plate with a couple of pickled peppers and black olives.  

 

DESCO



499 9th Street
Oakland

Tel: 510-663-9000

Mon-Thurs 11:30-9:30
Fri: 11:30-10
Sat: 3-10
Sun: 3-9


Bread and Tapenade, with a flute of Prosecco

 


The Piatto della Casa comes with some mixed greens and Mostarda.

 



Grilled Calamari and Cannellini Beans

 

 

 


The server decanting our bottle of Barolo...

 




Tagliatelle Bolognese

 

 


Tagliatta with roasted potatoes and arugula


Branzino

 

My friend booked a table at this upscale Italian place in Oakland and requested a "quiet table."  I managed to find parking half a block from the place and was actually on time for our 7:30 reservation.
The quiet table was easy to find as the place, on a Wednesday night, with maybe 40% of the roughly 50 seat restaurant being occupied.  The building has apparently been home to several other Italianesque restaurants.  The place is the second restaurant owned by chef Donato Scotti, who owns Enoteca Donato in Redwood City.

We had a four top along the wall across from the front door.  I had a good view of the area where they have numerous opened wine bottles, the pizza oven and a bar or counter in front of the kitchen.

Wine glasses are part of the table setting and the wine list was presented with the menu.

The list has several columns, with many wines being offered by-the-glass (BTG) and by the bottle.  A number of the opened wines are also offered by "1/3" and "2/3s" of a bottle.
They also have a few selections in half-bottle format.

Six sparkling wines are available, with four of them offered BTG.  Apart from a Moscato d'Asti (Elio Perrone, $9 BTG and $20 for a half bottle), there's Drusian's Brut Prosecco at $9 BTG and $40 by the bottle, Veuve Fourny Champagne ($18 BTG, $45 for a half bottle and $85 for a full bottle) and Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco at $8 BTG and $38 by the bottle.  The Lambrusco retails for $11 to $12, while the Drusian Prosecco retails for about $16.
They offer one Rosato from Piemonte's Ca' Rossa winery...$12 BTG, $19 for a third of a bottle, $37 for 2/3s of a bottle and $55 for a bottle.
There are six opened white wines, with Alois' Falanghina from Campania costing $8 BTG and $37 for a bottle.  Luisa Sauvignon Blanc, Bucci's Verdicchio and Terlano's Pinot Bianco are all $10 BTG and $46 for a bottle.  The Valle Isarco co-op's Kerner is $11 BTG and Zuani's Collio Bianco from Friuli is $12 BTG and $55 by the bottle.
There are nine other white wines available by the bottle.  A Calabrian Greco is $35, Montenidoli's Vernaccia from San Gimignano is $38, while Peter Dipoli's Sauvignon from the Alto Adige is $62.  Those are some nice selections!
There's a heading one doesn't usually see on a wine list:  Caveat Emptor and it's a wine from the Damijan winery in Friuli.  This is a blended white, fermented on the skins and then aged nearly two years in wood and bottled, unfiltered and with sediment.  That risk-of-a-bottle is $85.
Caveat Emptor, indeed!
Nine red wines are available by the glass, carafe and bottle.  These include a modest Sangiovese from the Marche region at $8 BTG and $37 by the bottle.  They have a Nebbiolo from Sandro Fay in Italy's Valtellina at $15 BTG and $70 by the bottle.  Vietti's 2011 Barolo "Castiglione"  $18 BTG and $85 by the bottle.  Too young, though.
Venturini's excellent 2010 vintage Amarone is  $22 BTG and $98 for a bottle.
The wines-by-the-bottle are categorized not by region or appellation, but by price range.
The categories are $30-$40, $50-$60 and $70-$90.
Coltibuono Chianti "RS" (I think it's called RS with the initials of the winemaker, not because it has residual sugar) is $35 and this retails for about $16.  Gulfi's Nero d'Avola is $40 a bottle.  Bartolo Mascarello's Dolcetto is $58, while a Barbaresco from Albino Rocca is $82.  A 2008 Barbaresco from Cantina del Pino is $87 while a Castello di Verduno Barbaresco from the Rabajà cru is $95 for the 2009 vintage.  
There are 4 high-priced selections, if you're a big spender.  $225 will get you a 2001 vintage Brunello from Poggio di Sotto.
The mark-up is higher on the lower-priced bottles, so it makes the more costly wines a bit more attractive in terms of value.  And the wine selections are good and clearly the work of a savvy wine director.

Corkage is $20 on the first two bottles and $30 for each additional bottle.  Given the wine selections, this seems imminently fair.

We began with a glass of Drusian's Brut Prosecco ($9) and their Piatto della Casa ($13) which featured three slices each of a smoked duck breast, "porchetta" and rabbit terrine.  They brought a small paper bag which had a few slices of fresh bread and it was accompanied by a small ramekin of tapenade.  This beats the hell out of the awful offering, found at so many sketchy Italianesque places, of cheap oil and even cheaper vinegar (which really kills your palate for wine).
We explained to the server that we wanted "to dine," not merely "eat."  He understood and staged the order.

We also asked for a third-of-a-bottle pour of Terlano's Pinot Bianco at $16. 

Our second plate was "Monterey Bay Fresh Calamari grilled with Cannellini Beans" ($12).  There was quite a lag time between the salumi platter and the Calamari...we wondered if the chef was out trying to catch these?  A bowl with loads of beautifully cooked white beans came with some lettuce leaves and perfectly grilled Calamari...very good!

With a Bolognese-sauced pasta on the horizon, we pulled a nicely mature Barolo from our cellar bag and the server brought a carafe and took good care of decanting the 20 year old Barolo.  We shared a glass with the fellow and he was delighted to taste such a mature Italian red.

The server suggested we consider putting in an order for main plates as it was closing in on 9pm.  There are but three choices, apart from the various pasta and risotto dishes (which we suppose some people view as 'main plates') and the 9 pizza offerings.
There's a roasted chicken dish at $23, a Branzino for $22 and the "Tagliata," grilled New York Steak at $26.
We might have tried a pizza, but it seemed like time was of the essence, so we each ordered a main plate.  My friend chose the Branzino as her main course and I went for the Tagliatta.

These each arrived around 9:10-9:15 and as we were just getting started, the server stopped by to ask if we were going to want dessert "because the kitchen is closing."

We enjoyed both main plates...good quality food which is prepared with skill.

We finished the mains around 9:35, or so and lingered over the Barolo.  There were perhaps a dozen people scattered around the restaurant at this stage and we departed a few minutes before 10pm, having been a bit rushed out of the place.

My friend said she really enjoyed the food, but would not come back after having been hurried to order, pay and depart.
I can't imagine anyone showing up at 9:15 and hoping to have more than one quick plate.
Their Open Table app allows patrons to book a table as late as 30 minutes before their posted closing time.  Good luck on that!

The bill tallied to about $150 with the corkage fee of $20 and tax before the tip.

The stemware is good...wine list is good...food is good.  But we might ask that they plan on actually getting out of the restaurant 2 hours after the closing time to allow guests to enjoy their culinary efforts.

Reviewed by GW
February 2016

 

SOUS BEURRE KITCHEN

2704 24th Street
San Francisco

Tel: 415-874-9831

Dinner 5:30-10
Monday-Saturday


The $2 Bread Plate

 


Bacon-Wrapped Dates with Cheese

 


Warm Marinated Olives

 


Fuji Apple and Brussels Sprouts Salad

 


Pan Crisped Gnocchi with Mushrooms

 


Brussels Sprouts with Shallots and Bacon Lardons

 


Seared Black Cod

 


Slow Seared Duck Breast

 


Insta-Graham

 

We were discussing possible dinner venues on a Tuesday morning and our friend suggested this relatively new place on 24th Street near Potrero in The City.
We had a look at their French-themed menu on the restaurant's web site and decided to see about booking a table.  The web site has only an e-mail address for reservations, but it turns out they are accessible on Open Table.

It's a fairly quick drive from Burlingame and, in fact, finding a parking space took more time than the drive up the freeway.  I finally found a spot close by, though.

On a Tuesday night at 8pm the place was sparsely populated.  My dining companions had taken a taxi and were already at the bar when I arrived.  We were escorted to a table close to their open kitchen.

The menus were presented and the rather small wine list is printed on the page, alongside the food offerings. Wine glasses are a part of the table setting.

They offer 5 sparkling wines, two being available by-the-glass (BTG).  There's a simple French sparkler claiming to be made of grapes grown in the Jura region (really?  Ugni Blanc and Colombard?  Sounds more like Gascony to me!) that's $10 BTG or $40 for a bottle.  Sous Beurre offers a Spanish Cava at $11 BTG and $44 by the bottle.  Duval Leroy Brut Champagne, a $40-$45 retail is $84 by the bottle while a grower's Champagne, which wholesales for roughly the same price, is $135 on the wine list!
Ouch!
There are six white wines on the list.  A simple little white from France's Gascogne region is $9 BTG and $36 for a bottle.  This wine wholesales for $6.50.  A modest Sancerre that retails for $20-$23 is $13 BTG and $52 by the bottle.
For a place that features Provençal-themed dishes, it's curious that none of the white wine selections come from Provence.
They do have three Rosé wines, though, from Provence.  Those will set you back $40 or $44 for a bottle.
Of the six red wine selections, one comes from close to Provence, a Costières de Nîmes wine from Mas des Bressades ($9 BTG/$36 for a bottle).  The other offerings include an entry level red Burgundy at $12 BTG/$48 by the bottle, a nice Fronton red which retails for about $16, but costs $11 BTG and $44 for a bottle.
There's also a Cabernet Franc from the Loire for the same costs, while a ($15 retail) Minervois is $10 by the glass and $40 a bottle.

The wines are sort of "bistro level"-simple, but they could surely do a better job of selecting wines which would better match the cuisine and the theme of the restaurant.  The Bay Area has a number of importers who have good portfolios of well-priced wines and wines from Provence, for that matter.

We opted for a bottle of the Duval Leroy Champagne and the server brought some nice flutes.  We asked, though, to have the wine in their all-purpose wine glasses that were already on the table.
Another Sous Beurre staffer brought the bottle after maybe 5-10 minutes and opened it.  It's unclear why there was a bit of a delay in serving the bubbly, as the place was not especially busy.

We ordered a few "bites" to have with the Champagne.  "Levain Bread & House Cultured Butter" is $2.  They brought a small plate with 4 partially-sliced pieces of bread which was sort of toasted, so it was a bit dried out.  I could be wrong, but this made it seem as though it was not exactly fresh, but maybe from the day before?
"Marinated Olives" ($4) was a nice assortment of different sized olives...perfectly fine.
I wasn't much interested in the "Bacon-Wrapped Dates & Fromage Blanc" ($5)...three dates which my friends enjoyed.

There are five starters on the menu, along with several kinds of oysters.  "Duck Heart & Liver Pâté" is $8 or $9.  There was a Celeriac & Turnip Soup for $8.  Steak Tartare is $13.  My friends ordered the "Fuji Apple & Brussels Sprouts Salad" at $9 while I opted for the "Pan Crisped Gnocchi" ($14).
They enjoyed the salad...the Gnocchi were exceptional and came with Maitake and Shitake Mushrooms and enhanced by a drop or two of truffle oil.  Very fine!

I had a bottle of an older Rioja in my cellar bag and the server opened and decanted this (at the table, no less!) nicely.  We shared a taste with him, by the way.

One of our party ordered the Seared Black Cod for a main plate.  It costs $29 and says it comes with "foie," but our friend said she didn't note the plate as having foie gras unless it was disguised at a stripe-of-a-sauce on the plate.
Our other dinner companion and I both ordered the "Slow Seared Duck Breast" ($28) which comes with Brussels Sprouts, Cauliflowers, Baby Carrots and Preserved Lemon.  The vegetables were all smallish and artistically presented around the plate which featured three small slices of duck.  There may have been 4 to 6 ounces of duck on the plate...it's a rather meager portion if you've got a healthy appetite.

We also ordered a side dish of Brussels Sprouts ($7) which is offered on the menu as coming with "shallots and bacon lardons."
The side dish of Brussels Sprouts, by the way, were properly cooked.
Nice flavors with the lardons.
The Brussels Sprouts on on the plate with the duck were rather "al dente" to be polite or simply well undercooked to be blunt.

We shared a pour of our well-cellared Rioja with the server.  The corkage fee, by the way, is $20 and they have a two bottle maximum.
The stemware is nice, though our wine might have benefited by being poured into a larger red wine stem.

For dessert we had something called "Insta-Graham" ($10) and this is described as "blondie, chocolate ice cream, marshmallow fluff & chocolate covered peanuts."
This was an artistic plate, but the "Graham Cracker" was a bit bland (though, technically, this is actually how they're supposed to be!).

My friends grabbed the check, which would have been around $250 before the tax and, if they add a health insurance surcharge.  Add the tip on top of that (though this place used to include a tip as part of the final bill, but abandoned this as economically unfeasible).

I'm a bit on the fence about going back...the quality of the food was pretty good, but the lack of an interesting wine list with price-worthy, good quality selections offsets that to some degree.  Add to the mix the difficulty in finding parking...


Reviewed by GW
February 2016

This place closed in the late Spring or early Summer of 2016

 

 

SOME DINING NOTES:  (February 2016)
Our lack of postings is not an indication we've not been dining out...in fact, we've had a number of VIP visitors in town the past couple of months and we've been dining at some favorite "haunts."

We had a fantastic meal at La Ciccia with exceptional food.  We had a lovely bottle of Vermentino, but made the mistake of not selecting our own choice of wines and left it to a sommelier. Most cost $40-$60, but the one we were served cost $133.  Live and learn.

A couple of visits to Marlowe yielded good meals, good wine service and fine hospitality.  We were able to make a reservation on Open Table following a sporting event and got there in time for our 10:45 reservation...and no rush to get us in and out so the server and staff could go home!

Blue Plate has proven to be a great place to take out-of-towners and it really impressed visitors from Italy on several occasions.  Most recently the Open Table reservation did not actually get made, so we had to wait a while.  But the servers and kitchen crew took good care of us.

We attended a Bordeaux tasting in Santa Monica and were treated to dinner at a lovely restaurant called Scopa in Venice (So Cal).  The food was delightful, though I was a bit shocked to find the wine prices be about three times normal retail.  This means a bottle wholesaling for $17, for example, was $75 on the wine list.  A wine I'd have ordered were it $100 (a Nebbiolo from Piemonte) was on their list for $150.  This means their mark-up is about 400%-450%.  The place was packed though and it's a bit of a hang-out, apparently, for Hollywood celebrities.

A few Asian dining experiences have been good, too.  We're fans of Daly City's Koi Palace and Millbrae's Hong Kong Flower Lounge.  We bring not only our own wines, but our own stemware.  

A visit down the coast has taken us twice to Duarte's in Pescadero.  This is another place we bring our own wine glasses.  The Cioppino is hard to beat and the same goes for the Artichoke Soup and Ollalieberry Pie!

We were pressed for time to take a European guest back to SFO and were able to try the relatively new Millbrae Hunan restaurant called "wonderful."  And, aptly so!  While it's not a wine venue as most of their dishes are rather spicy, we did have a nice range of plates and each was quite good.  Don't miss the Green Onion Pancake...it's unlike those greasy disks served at most places.  Wonderful's came out multi-layered, steaming hot and oh-so-delicious!  

GW  February 2016

 

BRADLEY'S FINE DINER

1165 Merrill Street
Menlo Park

Tel: 650-494-4342

Tues-Thurs 11:30-9:00
Fri-Sat  11:30-10:00
Sun 10:30-9:00


A pour of a California Sauvignon Blanc for $10.


Shrimp and Corn Fritters

 


Bradley's Caesar Salad

 




A nice stem for our bottle of red wine.

 




The Steak & Potatoes


Overcooked Pork, Undercooked Potatoes...
Statistically Perfect!

 

At the turn of the new year, 2016, we booked a Sunday table following a movie at the nearby Guild (Youth, with Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel was entertaining and very appealing visually, by the way).

This place is near the Menlo Park train station and was the home of Gambardella's in its last incarnation.  Bradley is the famous chef, Bradley Ogden, of Lark Creek fame.
Parking was easy and the restaurant was sparsely populated.

We were escorted to a four-top table in a sort of booth.  I was facing the bar which had a large screen TV monitor showing a football game...this was a bit distracting.  The sound system was piping in Beatles and Rolling Stones tunes at a slightly loud level.

We were each given a menu and the binder containing the drinks and wine list was presented.  Wine glasses are not part of the table setting, as they might prefer patrons to order a beer or cocktail which provide somewhat heftier percentages (but usually fewer dollars).

There is one sparkling wine offered by-the-glass (BTG) and that's Chandon's California Brut.  You can find this in chain stores for about $15 a bottle and the restaurant asks $14 for a glass.
This is sold by one of the big liquor distributors and I wonder why, of all the available bubblies from California, have they chosen this?
Six reds and six whites are available by-the-glass.  Au Bon Climat Chardonnay is $14, while the same producer's Pinot Noir is $15. Qupe Syrah is $13. But then it's downhill from there.  Luna Pinot Grigio is ten bucks, while a Terra d'Oro Rose that's 2 vintages old is $8.  
They offer a "Sonoma Valley" Cabernet from the Cannonball winery at $13, but the wine is labeled with a generic "California" appellation.

The bottle list offers three sparkling wines, Chandon Brut ($42), Roederer Estate Brut ($48) and Billicart (sic) Reserve Brut Champagne at $126.
They offer 7 Chardonnays including a Lynmar "Russian River, Santa Maria Valley" bottling at $66.  There's a Foxen "Bien NaciCoast" (sic) Chardonnay at $67.  Kistler's Chardonnay is $140 a bottle.
Three Sauvignon Blanc wines are available in full bottle format, with Sebastiani at $36 and a Margerum from Santa Barbara going for $42.  There are two Pinot Gris wines, a Joel Gott Riesling from Washington at $32 and a Paso Robles white wine from Clos Solene at $105.
You'll find five Pinot Noirs, including Kistler at $120 a bottle.  Two Syrah wines are offered, both from Paso Robles and both triple-digit priced.  Pride Mountain Merlot is available in half bottle format at $60 or you can get a full bottle of Joel Gott Merlot from Washington State at $33.  Seven Cabernets are available, Cannonball being $38 a bottle.  Robert Craig's Cabernet is $100 a bottle, while there are three other producer's wines for $175 per bottle and a Revana Cabernet at $200.  Mayacamas (Mayacamus on the wine list) is available in half bottle format at $98.
Why this place doesn't have a broader priced spectrum of Cabernets is a mystery...you can get an unremarkable wine for the $38 price or else you need some serious cash for the other bottles.  Ramey's Claret, a Cabernet blend, is $70.

It's a curious list with a few interesting wines, but it doesn't appear to be the work of a wine-savvy buyer.  (And with a number of typos, we more easily understand some of the wine selections.)  If it's a "diner" or even a "fine diner," why not have a more serious wine list?  It doesn't have to be a larger list, but one with more expertly chosen bottlings instead of the "this will do" or "this is good enough" list.

The corkage fee is $15.

My dining companion ordered her usual Martini and I opted for Sebastiani's Sauvignon Blanc at $10.  This was a very ordinary glass of plonk and apparently it's available to restaurants for well under ten bucks a bottle.

The stemware is certainly reasonable in terms of quality.  The wine, though, is not poured table-side, so customers take it on good faith they've poured the wine that's been ordered.



The menu offers seven "Starters," including Crispy Zucchini ($7), Hummus ($11) and Fried Chicken Sliders ($9).
Bradley's Caesar Salad is $8, Butternut Squash Soup is $6 and there's a Rustic Clam Chowder at $15.
They have a few burgers, the Wood Fired Chuck Burger going for $16 or you might opt for the Quinoa Burger at $15.
Fish & Chips is $19, half of a roasted chicken is $26 and there's Mom's Meatloaf for $19.

The Old Bat began with the Caesar Salad ($8) and I did not taste this...she often kvetches that it lacks garlic or anchovies and I did not hear a peep out of her.
I began with the Shrimp & Corn Fritters ($11) which has a celery root slaw underneath a handful of tasty little fried morsels.

I ordered the $27 Pork Chop with Gizdish (sic) Farms apple, bacon crumble, brussels sprouts and poached red bliss potatoes.
The server asked if cooking it to medium rare-to-medium was acceptable and I said that was fine.
I thought, though, he was asking about the Pork Chop.  It turns out the meat was close to well-done, while the potatoes were "medium-rare" and rather starchy-tastings.  The Brussels Sprouts were quite "al dente," too, but within the realm of edible.
The Old Bat ordered their $39 plate of "Steak and Potatoes" described as "angus ribeye, arugula, PRO (what do you suppose that is?), roasted mushroom, crispy red bliss potatoes, balsamic reduction."
I had a bite of the steak and it was quite good and properly cooked.  She was quite enthusiastic about her meal, but I was not much enthralled with my main plate.
The server never asked if the food was acceptable...on this occasion I might have said something.

He did come by and topped up the wine glasses, as I had brought a bottle of a Rioja to evaluate.  That was as disappointing as the Pork Chop, though.  We offered the fellow a taste and we heard something about his abstaining from alcohol for some reason.

We skipped dessert.

The bill tallied to $129 including tax, but not the tip.

This place needs someone who knows the wine & food business to take the reigns and make a go of it.  As it's currently running, I'd predict they'll be there solely for a short run.

Reviewed by GW
January 2016


 

THE PROGRESS

1525 Fillmore Street
San Francisco

TEL: 415-673-1294

Dinner Daily from 5:30


Chicken Karaage


Not Lioco Chardonnay!
The wine arrived after the first little plate of food.


Dates


Crudités


Tofu


Shiitakes with a Crispy Rice 'cracker'


Oysters with seaweed


California Sturgeon Caviar topped with a "potato cloud"


Steak Tartare with the toasted Quinoa...

...Mixed at the table by our server

 




Decanting our bottle of Bordeaux

 


Grilled Pork with pig ear strips


Devil's Gulch Rabbit


Harissa Lamb with Merguez Sausages

 



Cocoa Chiffon Cake with Huckleberries

 

 

A table at The Progress is a hot ticket presently and we used Open Table to reserve a two-top for a Monday evening in late November (2015).

We booked an 8pm table and motored up Fillmore Street looking for the restaurant.  If you can't see the street numbers (and they're not easily visible) and are looking for a sign for The Progress, good luck!
Both The Progress and its hot-shot sibling restaurant next door, State Bird Provisions, are both too cool (apparently) to have signage helping guests from out of the neighborhood find the place.
There's a parking lot a block, or so, away at the Kabuki Theater building in nearby Japan-town.  I found a spot a block away near a softball or soccer field.

Arriving a few minutes early and before my friend, I was asked to wait in the bar.  Once she showed up a couple of minutes later we were escorted upstairs to a second-level dining area and we had a spacious table for four.

Wine glasses are not part of the table setting and the wine list with which we were presented had a bunch of cocktails, as those are a feature at The Progress.

The menu is eclectic and features familiar ingredients and flavors but sometimes in unfamiliar combinations.  The wine list is lengthy and features a wide range of off-the-beaten path selections.

The food menu offers five little "nibbles" to start and the portions are tailored to the number of people at the table.  On the night we visited, there were there five items:

 

 

 

 



The Bahri dates are quite sweet and possibly better suited to service as a dessert.  All that sugar can kill your appetite.  I wasn't excited about the tofu offering, but did like the fried chicken karaage and the shiitakes with the crispy rice "chips".
A big part of the presentation is the "show business" aspect of the dining experience here.  Either the server or someone from the kitchen (I gather) presents each dish and then gives you an explanation as to what they've served.

On their "By the Glass" list, we found two sparkling wines, two roses and 6 whites and 6 reds.

There's a Cremant Rose from the Loire for $16 a glass or Alfred Gratien Champagne at $24 a pour.
They have a Franken Riesling for $14, a French dry white made of Rolle from Provence for $16, a Vermentino from Liguria for $18, a Chablis for $17, a Lioco Chardonnay from the Russian River for $18 and a Portuguese white made of Arinto from the Bucelas appellation at $15.  Each of these white wines are offered in half bottle format, too.
They have a Vesper Rose from San Diego County at $14 a pour.  (The crew here in the shop tasted the wines made by this producer and no staff member was especially thrilled by the wines, but your mileage may vary.)
Reds include Michel Guignier's Morgon  for $14, a Pinot Noir of the Edaphos label from Sonoma for $19, Helda Rabaut's Chinon for  $16, a Nebbiolo by Carlo Giacosa at $18, Broc Cellars Carignan for $15 and a Croatian Refosk of the Piquentum label at $15 (we had one vintage of this in the shop, but a succeeding bottling was vinegary and reminiscent of pickle brine!).
Yes, these are not household names, so you'd better be as adventuresome about the wines as The Progress is about the culinary combinations.

Fifteen Champagnes are offered by the bottle, ranging from $90 for Jeauneux-Robin bubbly to a 1990 Dom Perignon at $390.
In the page offering US white wines, we find a Chenin Blanc from Clarksburg at $55 a bottle (St. Rey is the winery), while Ojai's Riesling is $64 a bottle.  You can try a Washington State Gewurztraminer of the Analemma winery at $62 or a Liquid Farms Chardonnay for $90.  Mount Eden's Estate Chardonnay from the Santa Cruz Mountains is $130.  There is a sub-section of "skin fermented" wines which has Ryme Cellars Ribolla Gialla at $90 or Dirty & Rowdy Semillon for $75.
The range of imported white wines is impressive.  How many lists offer one Chasselas, let alone two? Romorantin from the Loire is $55 a bottle and there's a hundred buck bottle of Verdicchio!  There's a Muscadet for $110 and, yes, it is a magnum.
They have eleven Chenin Blanc wines from France's Loire Valley, ranging from $50, or so, to $180.  Really, eleven?
Hamilton Russell Chardonnay is $75 and one of the better values on this voluminous wine list.  Still, that's well more than twice its retail price.

The red wine selections are equally eclectic.  There's a $70 of Gamay, not from Beaujolais, but from the Rhone Valley!  How about a Gamay blended with Persan from the Savoie for $90?  Or a Persan/Mondeuse blend from the same domaine in the Savoie at $160 a bottle?  A Pineau d'Aunis from the Loire is $70, but since you can never have enough Pineau d'Aunis, it's also offered in magnum at $130!  Foradori's lovely Teroldego is $55 a bottle and one of the better values on this remarkable list.
There is also a page of "Cellar Selections" at prices which make the rest of the list seem like bargains.
The main wines on the list are varied, as noted and you'll find a dearth of Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux.  Perhaps they view these as passé?  Or perhaps they don't think Cabernet matches well with their cuisine.  

Frankly, it's the sort of wine list which impresses the hell out of wine geeks and publications such as The Wine Spectator.  One one hand, the range of wines is impressive, but it's almost one of those "look-at-me" wine lists, designed to befuddle 90% of those dining in the restaurant.
No sommelier or wine steward approached our table to offer advice in pairing wines to the varied menu.  And yet the prices they're asking for these bottles should cover the expense of having a knowledgeable wine specialist on the floor, even on a Monday night.


We ordered a pour of their Cremant Rose from the Loire, a $16 glass.  Also, we asked for a glass of the Morgado de Santa Catherina from the Bucelas appellation, a $15 glass of a white wine made of the Arinto grape.  The server returned to the table with a couple of glasses and a bottle of the sparkling wine.  She poured a small taste and got the "okay" from my friend.  Then she poured the glass of bubbly and said she'd return with the Lioco wine.
We had not ordered the Lioco Chardonnay, but the Portuguese white wine.
She brought the correct wine several minutes later and poured a sip, which I gave the nod to pour it.
By then, the little morsels of Fried Chicken had arrived...quite good.  The tofu dish was okay, but not my favorite sort of vittles.  The crudités were fine, a couple of little carrots and a radish and some other root vegetable with a lump of Crescenza cheese.  I liked the Shiitake mushrooms with a crispy, toasted rice "plank."  My dining companion was not so thrilled.

We augmented the starters with half a dozen oysters ($3.50 each) and a serving of Caviar at ten bucks.  The oysters had a little bit of seaweed on top of them and this, I believe, is where some sort of smoky, foreign element came from.  My friend ate one and was not enthralled.   I found them interesting, but a fresh oyster doesn't need but a glass of Champagne or Muscadet for an enhancement.
A little saucer arrived with a dome-like white element on top of a bit of caviar.  I thought this was a good little "nibble," but my more fussy friend did not.

By this time I had a bottle of a 1978 Bordeaux on the table and the server passed by a handful of times without saying a word.  Finally she asked if we wanted her to open this.  I inquired if they had an "Ah So" cork-puller in the house, as a regular corkscrew would bust the cork on such a venerable bottle.  She said they did and whisked the bottle off the table and she headed up the little staircase.
The Steak Tartare with Nasturtium-Caper Aioli, Shaved Kohlrabi and Crispy Quinoa had arrived and we waited for the wine to return to our table.
We waited some more.
After perhaps five minutes, or so, she returned from downstairs (!) with our bottle and a cork which had proven difficult to extract.  The cork was in two pieces, but was fully out of the bottle.  She asked about decanting the wine and we thought that was a good idea.  This required a bit of time, as well, so I gingerly poured each of us a small taste in the Bordeaux stems which had been brought by the server.

We offered the lady a taste of the wine and she laughed, but did not decline the offer.  
She decanted the remaining wine for us and did so at the table.
We ended up finishing the bottle after asking her again to bring a glass.  Oh well.  Apparently she was not interested.  

The Steak Tartare dish was good...my friend would have preferred a bit of toast to accompany this, but The Progress provides the sort of granulated, toasty Quinoa instead.  I found it to be an interesting and good combination.  But as with many dishes here, the chef seems to want to take you out of your comfort zone.

Going slightly out of order (we were told the main plates are listed on the menu from "lightest" to "heaviest"), the Grilled Pork dish arrived next. This came with "crushed broccoli, dried chili oil & tomatillo salsa."  This came with thinly sliced strips of pig ears and, we were told, was topped with Fiscalini Cheese. This was curious, since the server inquired about any food allergies or preferences we might have.  I mentioned dairy products and cheese in particular.  I didn't detect the use of much cheese and only thought I got a little hint of it at the end.
 This was another interesting dish with the chili being detectable, while not overwhelming the pork.

They then brought the Devil's Gulch Rabbit with Riesling-Braised Kraut, Fuyu Persimmons & Mustard Butter Toast.  The Kraut was very mild, so it didn't have quite the intensity I was expecting.

As we finished this plate, the server came by and collected the dinner plates and silverware.  We figured this was in preparation for the Harissa Lamb from Don Watson with Charred Pepper Vinaigrette and Chickpeas.
She asked if we'd like to see the dessert menu and we were a bit perplexed.  We asked about the lamb and she may have been contemplating returning the soiled plates to the table, but thought better of it and replaced them with clean ones and new silverware.

The Lamb dish was not described fully, as there were slices of Merguez sausages on the plate with a few pieces of roasted lamb.  This was a very flavorful dish and, happily, not overwhelming spicy, though you could taste the harissa.

We finished the bottle of Bordeaux and then the server presented a small dessert card.  They offered a Cheddar Cheese plate, an Elderflower "Floating Island," Gingersnap Ice Cream or a Cocoa Chiffon Cake at ten bucks.
We opted for the Chiffon Cake.
This was a small wedge of a cake dappled with huckleberries.  Nice.

The bill arrived and we were charged for the Lioco Chardonnay, a few bucks higher than the Arinto we had requested and were poured.
I don't think the $2.80 billing per person for the mandated SF Employee Health Care was surcharged on the check.
We paid the $240 tab and left a reasonable tip, too.

I can now say I've "been there/done that" in terms of dining at The Progress.  I found the experience to be interesting, but wouldn't have this place high on my list of San Francisco dining experiences.
I wonder if they don't have a series of dart boards in the kitchen with menu ingredients on them, tossing a bunch of darts to assemble each night's array of menu offerings.

When I arrived at home, I had a small glass of eau-de-vie, as a bit of a digestif was required after such a meal.

Reviewed by GW
November 2015












 

 

BON MARCHE

1355 Market Street
San Francisco

Tel: 415-802-1700

Open Mon-Fri 11:30am-10pm
Saturday 4pm-10pm
Closed Sundays

 


Seafood platter...the small one.



A piece of bread...


Brandade de Morue


Escargot


Steak Tartare


Terrific bread for the Steak Tartare.


Duck au Poivre


Steak Frites

 

 

We booked an 8:30pm table for two on  a Monday evening in October at this new restaurant in the Twitter Building on Market at 10th Street.
At that hour I was able to find parking about a block away and had a short walk to the restaurant.

There's a grocery store close to the restaurant and there's some sort of florist business that you'll encounter when you enter Bon Marche.  They have a bar along the Market Street entrance and the restaurant is behind all the flowers.
There's an open kitchen area to the right and tables to the left.

We were escorted to a two-top with my friend sitting on a banquette and I was in one of their free-standing chairs (which was a tad low for my taste).

There were wine glasses on the table and the hostess brought a wine list and "drinks" list for us to peruse.

They have many nice selections by-the-glass (BTG).  For bubbles they had a sparkling Pacory pear cider for $10.  Navaran Cava from Spain is $11, while there's an Italian bubbly associated with Colorado sommelier Bobby Stuckey at $12 a pour.  They have an unidentified "Rotating House Champagne" that's described as Pinot Meunier-dominant for $16 or, for an extra buck, you can have the "popcorn salt rim."  Huh?  You've lost me there.
Seven whites are offered BTG.  Each has a brief description: "Alpine White" for a Roussette from the Savoie ($11) or "Tad Sweet German Riesling" for a $13 glass of Peter Lauer's "Barrel X".  Seven reds are on the list, including a "Traditional Old Barrel Rioja Reserva 2006" by La Antigua ($16) or "Cool Climate Syrah by County Line" ($14) or "Volcanic Nerello Mascalese Cala Cala" at $12. 
Flip a page in the binder-of-a-wine-list and you see they offer "Wine By Style."
"Big on Sparkling" features a range of bubblies, including "Champagne made in oak 'Classique' by Alfred Gratien at $82 or "Vintage Champagne "Blanc des Blancs" 2005 by Pierre Moncuit at $100.
"White Wines-Creamy or Savory" has a listing of Austrian Grüner Veltliners and French Chablis.   There's a listing of "White Wines--Oxidative in a Good Way, Nutty or Honeyed."  There we find 5 Chenin Blanc wines, two from South Africa and three from Loire Valley appellations, but not the common Vouvray or Montlouis, but Jasnières, Savennières and Anjou. Guigal's Hermitage Blanc is listed as a Marsanne (it does usually have 5% Roussanne, by the way) and goes for $100.
"White Wines-Big on Aromatics and Texture" finds Guigal's Hermitage listed again ($100) as it was previously.  There's a 1994 Vouvray from Cruchet at $60 and a $120 bottle of Keller's Kirchspiel Riesling from 2007.  There's a 1995 Kalin Cellars Chardonnay for $65 and it's listed again below in the "White Wines-A Little Age" section.  Four pink wines are listed as "Highly Gulpable Still Rosé Wines," but none of the four have the vintage dates listed.
"Red Wines-Red Fruits Soft Tannins" finds a number of Burgundies and West Coast Pinot Noirs, along with several Rioja wines from Spain.  $85 gets you a Peay Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir while $80 gets you La Rioja Alta's Viña Ardanza (we sell that for $29.99 and it lists for $35 at retail).  
"Red Wines-Dried Fruits, Very Dry Wines" sees seven Italian wine offerings.  "Barbaresco Single Site 'Ronchi' 2010 by Rocca From Piedmont" goes for a mere $66 (though the list doesn't tip you off that it's Albino Rocca and not Bruno).  There's "Barolo Single Site 'Monprivato' 2010 by G. Mascarello From Piedmont" for $220 (and they do tip you off to it being Giuseppe and not Bartolo Mascarello).
"Red Wines-Red and Dark Fruits, Equally Savory" sees a number of Rhone reds and California wines made of Rhone varieties.  There's a Clusel-Roch Côte-Rôtie for $100 but the vintage date is omitted.  A Sang de Cailloux Vacqueyras ($65) and a Châteauneuf-du-Pape by Feraud-Brunel ($77) don't have vintage dates and both are listed under "Red and Dark Fruits, Equally Savory" and "Sweeter Fruits, Bigger Wines."  The 2009 Mayacamas Cabernet, retailing at $80-$90 for a 750ml bottle is $97 on this list, while Dunn's 2000 Howell Mountain Cabernet is $150...a couple of relative bargains.
The list continues with numerous categories...
In a hand-writing font there's "Wine for Food" and directly below is a category called "Perfect for Nothing But Conversation."  Huh?  And then we have listed many of the wines we've already seen under the sparkling wine category or the Rose category.  "For Oysters-More Briny and Crisp"  we see a few Champagnes, Chablis and a half bottle of Sancerre.  Then there's "For Oysters-More Creamy and Sweet."  These include some dry Rieslings and Loire Valley Chenin Blancs.
There's a section of "For Cold Salads and Tartare" and one of "For Charcuterie-White Wines" and one for Reds.  "For Things With Shells-Whites and Reds" sees many of the wines already listed in previous categories.
There are other pages with categories such as "France," "Italy," "Germany," "Austria," "Spain" and "California."   Then we have "50 and Under" and "$51-$99"...and "$100 and Rising."
It's an interesting way to take some of the mystery out of the wine list.  No sommelier was working the floor when we visited, so perhaps this excessive categorization of the list is in lieu of a somm?
Our server was a young lady and she had a bit of a challenge in opening the Champalou sparkling Vouvray ($50) we ordered to start.
She brought nice, Zalto-styled glasses for the bubbly, poured the "say" and we were off and running.  The server asked if she should leave the bottle on the table or keep it on ice.  We chose the latter, providing she kept the glasses with bubbly...she had more tables than she could comfortably cover, so this was a challenge.  She'd pour wine into an empty glass, but, curiously, not top up the other glass.
We ordered a small seafood platter ($36) and this was placed on one of those large stands that sits at close to eye level and is filled with crushed ice...there were half a dozen oysters, three or four chilled prawns and perhaps a half a dozen clams on the plate.
At a certain point, a piece of bread would have been nice and, after a few minutes, a fellow carrying a basket and tongs placed part of a Pain d'Epi on the bread plate...perfectly okay, but it would have been nicer had it been fresher or warm.  (My French friend said this sort of bread can become stale more quickly than other types of bread...)
We'd ordered their Brandade, as well ($7).  This came out well after the seafood platter had been removed from the table.  There were some pieces of a toasted baguette on the plate with the Brandade.  Served warm, it was a bit soupy and less thick than virtually every other serving of Brandade I've enjoyed...it's usually the consistency of mashed potatoes.
The flavor was mildly reminiscent of cod, though.

Since we were both quite hungry (missed lunch as it was a busy day in the shop), I ordered one of their $15 appetizers, Escargot Persillade, while she ordered the $18 Steak Tartare.  (Other appetizers included Sweetbreads, Bone Marrow, Mussels, a Foie Gras Terrine and more...classic bistro fare.)
The Escargot come on a square of puff pastry and topped with ribbon-like strips of carrots and some other vegetable (zucchini, perhaps?).  Quite a good plate and the escargot were plump and toothsome.  The Steak Tartare is accompanied by some small greens and it's got a tiny egg swimming on top of the beef.  This is accompanied by a couple of outstanding slices of a Pain au Levain that had been toasted perfectly.  The tartare was good, maybe leaning a bit much on the mustard and/or capers.  They had a few little thick cut 'logs' of potato on this plate...but these were not fully cooked and a bit odd.

From the "Plate de Resistance" ($29) section of the menu, she ordered the Steak Frites (with watercress, Roquefort and Cognac Jus), while I chose the Duck au Poivre (with Preserved Brook Cherries and Wax Beans).
We produced a bottle of a nice Bordeaux from our cellar bag and the server opened the bottle.  The larger Zalto-styled glasses that were on the table as part of the place-setting were now in play.  We offered the server a taste and she brought a glass and walked back to the kitchen with a healthy pour (as in many restaurants, servers are not permitted to have a sip in the dining room).
The duck was quite good and the accompaniments paired well.  My friend enjoyed the steak and the frites.

Dessert was out of the question, given all the starters we had.  

Corkage is a whopping $35 as they clearly want to discourage guests from bringing their own wine.  They allow two bottles at $35 and succeeding bottles are taxed at $55!

With the SF Heath 'tax' and sales tax, the bill tallied to $243.

This was a nice dining experience and the ambience was open and airy.  The sound system was playing music in the background that dove-tailed nicely without intruding.

We had a pleasant dining experience and I'd certainly go back for another meal.

Reviewed by GW
October 2010

 

CAFE BRIOCHE
Cafe Brioche

445 South California Avenue
Palo Alto

Tel: 650-326-8640

Mon-Thurs: Lunch 11am-3pm, Dinner 5pm-9.30pm

Fri: Breakfast 9am-11am, Lunch 11am-3pm, Dinner 5pm-9.30pm

Sat: Brunch 9am-3pm, Dinner 5pm-9.30pm

Sun: Brunch 9am-3pm, Dinner 5pm-9:00pm


Wine "By The Glass"


Caesar Salad


Calamar

 


Bouillabaisse

 


Cassoulet

We booked a table at this Palo Alto dining spot on a Sunday evening during the summer...there were a number of table on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant as people enjoyed the setting sun and the warm weather.

We took a table inside, where there is seating for perhaps 40 people.

It's a lovely dining room with French-themed paintings on the wall "advertising" butter and olive oil.

We took a table by the front window and the host gave us menus and a wine list.  Wine glasses are part of the table setting here.

There are 3 "flights" of wines offered, one featuring "Delicious Whites" ($17), another is called "Luscious Reds" ($19) and a Chardonnay flight ($18).  All the wines offered are fairly standard quality and of little interest to serious wine geeks.

There are twelve wines offered in half-bottle format, these ranging from Rombauer's Zinfandel at $32 for a half bottle (it retails for $15, so the markup is a bit more than 3 times) to $50 for a half bottle of Clos de L'Oratoire Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc in half-bottle format is listed as a 2011 vintage (a bit old, but probably still okay) at $36.
The wine list claims to have 20 selections available "by the glass" (BTG).
There's J. Roget sparkling wine for $7.50 BTG or $30 a bottle (this wholesales from $3.64 a bottle to $4.27!).
Tiamo Prosecco, another sketchy choice, is $9.50 BTG and not available by-the-bottle.
The one other sparkler BTG is Veuve de Vernay, a $9-$10 retail bottle of French bubbly (not Champagne, but passed off to unsuspecting consumers as possibly being Champagne). This is $11 BTG and $34 by the bottle.
Stags Leap ($15), Wellington ($11) and Tariquet (from Gascony) ($9) are the Chardonnays available BTG.  We do not know if the first one is Stags' Leap Winery or Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, however.
For some reason they post a category of Pouilly-Fuisse wines separated from the Chardonnays.
There are 13 Pinot Noir wines, including two from Lodi (a hot climate area where someone is attempting to grow a cool-climate grape, apparently) at $36 and $40.  Meiomi, a $16 wholesale bottle, is $65. Goldeneye Pinot is $98 and Merry Edwards goes for $90.
They have 8 Merlots, Duckhorn being the leading candidate, though it is $90 a bottle.  
There are five Cotes du Rhone offerings, a $12 retail bottling that's a private label (we suspect) is $40 on the wine list.  More noteworthy is Chapoutier's, a wine wholesaling for $10-$11 and this is $36 on the list.
There are six "Rhone Blend" selections, along with a couple of Beaujolais offerings.
Six Zinfandels are listed, Ridge Three Valleys going for $48, I think.
There's an entry-level red Bordeaux from Chateau Bonnet at $42 with no really savvy selections, though a Pomerol from Franc-Maillet, 2009 vintage, is $150.
In fact, maybe that's the problem with the wine list:  when you have a mark-up of 300%, or more, the wines should be of a quality that customers get some value for their dollar.
Amongst the Cabernet selections,  Silver Oak's Alexander Valley bottling is $120, Caymus' new release is $150 and Jordan is $105 a bottle.
The entry level bottlings are Nightfall from Lodi at $36, Joel Gott at $44 and J. Lohr is $68.
Curiously, they offer not one French Red Burgundy!

Perusing the menu, you'll find all sorts of classic main plate bistro items.  The starters are somewhat more creative.
"Brioche Beignets Frits" ($9.95) are brioche dough balls stuffed with artichoke hearts, shallots, herbs and goat cheese.  They offer "Thon," pepper-crusted Ahi tuna with quinoa, pickled radish and lemon zest ($14.95).  Foie de Volaille ($9.95) is a serving of Chicken Livers in a red wine sauce.
French Onion Soup is $8, a green salad is $7.95 and a Caesar Salad is $8.95.
I'd be fairly certain the "Charcuterie" items are not house-made and probably come with a label where they are spelled correctly.  They got "Coppa" right, but swung and missed on Prosciutto and Finocchiona.
There are 6 cheeses offered under the Fromage heading.

They immediately brought a bread basket filled with a nice pain levain, as we perused the menu.


The Old Bat ordered her customary Tanqueray Martini ($10) and I opted for a pour of a Domäne Wachau Grüner Veltliner ($10).  The wine comes in a small carafe and they poured about half into a nice, large wine glass.  Good!

"Calamar" ($11.95) are fried calamari with a lime chili aioli sauce.  Nicely done.
I went for their attempt at a Caesar Salad, but the garlic and anchovy seemed to be missing, so this was a half a dozen, or so, Romaine Lettuce leaves on a plate.  Bland and boring.

We produced a bottle from our cellar bag, a nice red Bordeaux.  The corkage, we were told, was normally $15, but as The Old Bat was so friendly, they did not charge us.
We invited the owners (we think this Greek couple are the owners, anyway) to have a sip with us and we poured them some of the Bordeaux.

For a main plate, The Old Bat ordered Bouillabaisse ($23.95).  I skipped the tempting Boeuf Bourguignon ($22.95), Steak Frites ($26.95), Coq au Vin ($19.95)  and Magret de Canard ($24.95) in favor of their Cassoulet de Toulouse ($23.95).  We were told they were out of the pork chop for that, but would double up either the sausage or duck confit.  We opted for the latter and this was good, though the sausage was maybe even better.  It was served in a large soup bowl filled with white beans, cooked al dente.  Cassoulet is not a fancy dish and this was very reasonable.
The Old Bat enjoyed the Bouillabaisse, as well.

The service was good here...pleasant and friendly, but attentive.  They kept our water glasses filled, too.

We skipped dessert.  The bill, without the corkage fee, tallied to $96, quite reasonable we felt.

The ambience of the place is nice.  The Old Bat was delighted that it was not noisy and diners can converse without having to yell to be heard.

We will certainly return to this nice neighborhood bistro as we often attend the cinema in Palo Alto.

Why don't we have a nice French place such as this in Burlingame???

 Reviewed by GW
August 2015

 

NOLA


535 Ramona Street
Palo Alto

Tel: 650-328-2722

Open Daily for Lunch/Brunch 
and Dinner

 

 


NOLA'S Gumbo

 


Jambalaya

 


Oink and Cluck...with red beans & rice as a side dish.

We booked a Sunday evening table at this place in downtown Palo Alto.  The Old Bat immediately vetoed climbing the stairs to the upper level for a table, so we were guided to one in a small alcove on the main floor.

The hostess brought the menu, which has the wine list on the back.  No wine glasses are part of the place setting, as they seem to be more enthusiastic for customers to order cocktails.

They have about 18 wines available "by the glass" (BTG).  If you're shopping at Safeway or Trader Joe's, you might find the wine list to be a thing of beauty:  Hess Chardonnay is $8 a glass, while Franciscan is $10 and Sonoma Cutrer's Russian River Valley bottling is $14 (or $54 by the bottle for a wine wholesaling for $14.75!).
Trefethen Riesling is $48 a bottle, a wine retailing for $25 at the winery.
A number of their selections are "marketing department" wines, sporting names such as "Gothic Nevermore Pinot Noir" ($50 a bottle), "The Velvet Devil Merlot" ($30), "Fearless Rider Malbec" ($34), "Right Hand Man Syrah" ($34), etc.  A bottle of Silver Oak Cabernet is $90, while Flowers Pinot Noir is $75.  They have two Zinfandels, Artezin ($34) and Bella's Big River Ranch at $60.  No Ridge, though, despite one of California's best Zin estates being just a few miles from the restaurant!
They had two Roses, both 2013 vintage, a year older than we'd typically like in 2015.  
If you like a good, crisp, exuberant Sauvignon Blanc, you're out of luck.  Lange Twins from Lodi is $8 BTG and $30 for a bottle.  Provenance from Napa is $10 for a glass and $38 by the bottle, while Cakebread is $40 for a bottle.

The corkage fee is a modest ten dollars.

The menu features New Orleans' cuisine.

Spicy Jambalaya is $19, but if you want it with two seared scallops, it's $24.  Fried Chicken & Waffles is $22.  On Fridays and Saturdays they offer a "Bayou Crawfish & Shrimp Boil" ($28).  Baby Back Ribs are $28, while Crawfish Hushpuppies are $8 as a starter.
Chicken Andouille Gumbo is $5 for a cup or $9 for a bowl.  Barbecued Shrimp & Grits is $14.

We ordered a cup of Gumbo for each of us.  A while later a fellow came to the table with a bowl of rice and a small pitcher, pouring the soup on top of the rice.  It starts out fairly tame, but by the fourth spoonful, you'll feel the heat.  I thought the soup was pretty good, though the cornbread wedge accompanying it was a bit weak.

The Old Bat ordered her usual Dry Martini with an olive and and onion.  Oops...they were out of onions!
Corkage fee, as mentioned, is $10 and I brought a nicely chilled bottle of Rose out of the cellar bag.  The young lady waiting on his was challenged to open this bottle, but finally prevailed and the cork came out in one piece.
She didn't pour "the say" and I had to give her a sign as to when to stop pouring so she didn't over-fill the glass.

Before the soup dishes had been cleared, our main plates arrived!  It seems the service at this place is less-than-polished and the kids waiting tables may need someone actually supervising the dining room.

The Old Bat ordered the $19 Jambalaya, eschewing the Sea Scallop version.  I had a forkful and this was perfectly okay.
My main plate was called "Cluck & Oink" ($24) and was a piece of Mary's Fried Chicken (boneless) and half a rack of ribs.
The Chicken tasted like some sort of "fast food" protein...It reminded me, a bit, of fried fish!  The ribs had a curiously glossy appearance and the meat literally "fell off the bone" as it had been cooked to a fare-the-well and then some.  The sauce was a touch sweet, despite possibly having a drop of vinegar in it.  I wondered if the ribs were actually cooked on site or brought in pre-cooked.

Yes, it was not a meal with great food or great service.

The bill tallied to $72 before the tip, as we were charged $11 for the Martini and $1.50 for something called the "Healthcare Act."  She forgot to add the $10 corkage fee, but we left the young lady a nice tip that helped cover that omission.

I can't say the quality of the food or service was sufficiently good to warrant another visit.  It's certainly not a wine-centric restaurant, either.

Reviewed by GW
July 2015

 

Some Notes: (June 2015)

A friend was departing for a work assignment in Vietnam and we wanted to have a little "Bon Voyage" Dinner with some upscale Asian cuisine.  Another friend arranged with the manager of a place for a late seating on the appointed day.
We arrived a bit early and some of our party had a cocktail.  I was introduced to the manager as the owner of a wine shop.  The manager, seeing my bag of bottles pulled our "connection" aside and informed them we would be allowed to open but two bottles.
I had selected wines to pair with their food (a lot of Rieslings) which were made by wineries I'd visited in Europe with the guest of honor.  Some of the bottles were quite special and well-aged.  Another selection was from a winery the guest-of-honor visited with her husband on their honeymoon this earlier this year.
The reservation was for a 9pm table (so we were not hindering the restaurant from turning the table and serving other customers).  We eschewed having a new glass for the second wine.
The GM never came to our table to see how we were doing.  We'd have offered him a sip of our wine had he stopped by.
We were mostly full, with just a bit of hunger remaining, as I noticed people picking over the bones of the whole fish we'd ordered.
As we were unable to enjoy a third bottle (and they had not brought by a wine list), we concluded the evening by asking for the check.
The dining establishment graciously waived the $25 per bottle corkage fee.
The bill tallied to $200, or so, and we left a $50 tip.
We thought this would have been a much more satisfying dining experience had the GM been a tad more hospitable.
<<He could have outlined the ground rules to start, saying "Look, the first two bottles are free, but additional bottles will incur the $25 corkage fee."  Or "Please order a bottle from our list and then we'll open whatever bottles in your bag you'd like to drink." >>
We'd have ordered a bit more food had we been able to open another bottle or two.

Well, a week AFTER the meal, the GM sent an e-mail message to the sales rep who had reserved the table for our group.  He informed her that she is no longer welcome in the restaurant and he will discontinue doing business with the company she works for, citing our bringing our 6 bottle wine bag into the restaurant.

There was no obnoxious and loud behavior on the part of our group.  We were not the last group to depart from the restaurant, as there were perhaps a dozen, or two, other people still either at a table or at the bar when we left.

One would not think it would have been inconvenient for the GM to offer a bit of professional courtesy, but he was bent out of shape for some reason.

We had always been enthusiastic in suggesting this place to friends and customers, but we will no longer do so.

We relayed the story to a prominent Bay Area restaurant critic, who termed the GM's behavior as "outrageous."

 

DUENDE

468 19th Street
Oakland

Tel: 510-893-0174

Open Daily Except Tuesdays

Dinner from 5:30
Lunch on Fridays


Quesos Marinados


Calamares Rellenos


Pulpo

 


Tostas



Fideua Caldosa


Paella de Carne


Affogato

 


Basil Ice Cream

 


Pluot Crisp

 

We booked a table at this East Bay Spanish outpost for a Friday night and managed to find parking on the street, a block away.  The restaurant was fairly full at 7:30 and it remained busy throughout the evening.

The menu was presented by the hostess, along with their small wine list.  Wine glasses are not part of the table setting.

Duende has a handful of dry Sherries, if you want to go in that direction to start.  Lustau's "En Rama" Fino is $13, while the fantastic El Maestro 15 Year old Oloroso is $10.
They offer a dry Sherry flight for $19 which is comprised of three wines.

There are three Cavas offered by the glass (BTG) if you want to start with a sip of bubbly.  Mas Candi Brut Nature is $13 for a pour as is Josep Foraster's Rosado Cava.  Per Mata's Gran Reserva is $15.

There were 7 whites BTG, all Spanish and with some variety.  A Talai Berri Txakolina is $13, as is Vina Godeval's Godello.  They have but one Albariño by-the-glass and a mildly fizzy Muscat dispensed from a keg for $10.  They have a Txakolina Rosado ($13) and a California Rose in a keg for $11.
You'll find 8 red wines on the list and you'll have to be a supreme Spanish Wine Geek to recognize the selections.  Giumaro's Mencia is $13 BTG, while a Rioja from Sierra de Toloño is $13. Donkey & Goat 2014 Carignane is poured from a keg and that's $13 a glass.

The wines offered by the bottle include a handful of sparklers and 8 "Lighter Whites."  There's a selection of "Richer Whites, Sometimes Oaked" which includes a Lopez Heredia 1991 Viña Tondonia for $210 a bottle.
Two Rosados are available and both fresh vintages.
There's a section of "Lighter Reds" with the 2005 La Rioja Alta's Viña Ardanza, a $30-$35 bottle at retail, for $88.  They offer "Medium Reds" and "Full Reds," along with a trio of California wines made from Spanish varieties.
Señorio de P. Peciña 2009 Crianza is $42 a bottle, a good choice for a nice Rioja.  Alto Moncayo's "Alto" bottling of Garnacha is $96, while the 2005 Pintia from the Toro region is $120.

The corkage fee is $20.

We ordered a bottle of the Blanco Nieva "Pie Franco" Rueda Blanco ($40) and the server quickly brought some nice all-purpose stemware, opened the bottle and away we went!

We were a party of three and ordered 4 "tapas" to start.  Calamares Rellenos a la Plancha ($14) come stuffed with Morcilla sausage and this was a nice little plate.  Pulpo Aguacate ($17) is spicy octopus served in a half of an avocado smothered with crispy shallots and some arugula.  Also good.  The Dos Tostas a la Plancha ($12) had two slices of bread, one with fresh goat cheese and the other with pork rillettes.  And we had a plate of Quesos Marinados with Tortillas de Patatas ($13) which were enjoyed by my friends.

A terrific bread plate was brought out, accompanied by a beautifully spice, fresh olive oil.

There are three offerings under the heading of "Raciones."  These included a pasta at $19, an Albacore Tuna at $25 and a Rib Eye Steak at $30.
There are two Paellas, one with meat at $40 for a two-person pan or $78 for a 4 person serving.  They have a Vegetable Paella at $36 for a 2-person pan or $70 for a 4 person serving.
Arroz Negra is $40 and $78 and comes with Petrale Sole, Ink, Shaved Fennel, etc.  We had the Paella de Carne ($40) made with Bomba Rice (as are the others), Rabbit, Crayfish, Smoked Pork Belly and Romano Beans.  Very good, though Saffron was not especially prominent here.  Fideua Caldosa ($40) is toasted fideos (a pasta), with chicken, shrimp, olives, peppers and cilantro.  This was also very good.

We brought a nicely mature bottle of Rioja for dinner and the server brought two more wine glasses, being the same format as for the white.  It's curious they don't have a somewhat larger glass for the red wines.  We managed, however.

We offered our server a taste of the 1994 Rioja Gran Reserva and, happily, the corkage fee did not appear on the bill.

We managed to be enticed by their dessert offerings.

The Kid went for the Basil Ice Cream ($8) which he said was very good and intensely herbal.

We also shared a taste of the Affogato ($6) which was a small scoop of ice cream and a nice, fresh shot of Espresso.

The Pluot Crisp was a small masterpiece and quite delicious ($10).

They have some sweet Sherries, too, if you want to include that to accompany your dessert.

 

 

The bill tallied to $223 with the tax and before the tip.

The ambiance of Duede varies.  When we arrived, we could see the menu and our table.  By 10pm they'd turned down the lights and it was a bit dark.  The music on the sound system is noticeable and I appreciated hearing Jobim's "Brazil" at one point.  But the music was varied and went off the rails with some loud techno tunes that featured a beat and not much music surrounding it.

The service is nicely polished and professional, from our server to the runners or bussers who cleared plates and silverware and even remembered to replace the utensils!


Having just dined at San Francisco's Coqueta (see below), it was interesting to compare both places.
The San Francisco restaurant is a place to see and be seen (in fact, we were told Santana was there when we paid them a visit).  San Francisco's Coqueta is terrific, but maybe has a stronger California cuisine accent than Duende.

I'd gladly go back to both places.


Reviewed by GW
July 2015


 

 

LOLINDA

2518 Mission Street
San Francisco

Tel: 415-550-6970

Dinner Nightly from 5:30-10
Open 'til 11 Fri & Sat

 

 


The Ceviche Mixto comes with a nice corn 'fritter'


Empanadas de Pollo

 


Shishito Peppers

 


The New York Steak with a side of roasted potatoes.  Very good!


The Chuleta, a 15 ounce Pork Chop with a side of Kale.


A nice sized stem for the Cabernet, which they nicely decanted.


A wine biz friend was interested to dine in a hip, new place on short notice and it was booked.  We scouted other options and the menu at this new Argentinean place seemed interesting and they had a table available!

We motored to The City on a Thursday night, despite all kinds of reports of bad traffic.  We thought about taking BART (there's a station three blocks from the restaurant), but threw caution to the wind and stayed in the car.  In fact, the traffic reports were all wrong and we made it to the Mission District in 35 minutes (from Burlingame).

There's a parking garage on 21st Street, a block west of the restaurant.

It's a popular spot and the place was close to capacity when we arrived at 7:30.  They have a bar just past the hostess desk and there's a second one up the staircase towards the back.  I gather there's another bar affiliated with Lolinda that has a bit of a view as it's on the roof.

In fact, we were warned to not dine at this place by a wine sales rep who thought we would be too old (and feeble, curmudgeonly, etc.) for such a cool, hip place filled with tech industry wizards.

I arrived before my friend, so I ambled up the stairs and was by myself at the bar.  I ordered a $9 glass of a Lustau Fino Sherry (quite good and not 'just' the normal bottling, but a special, Almacenista offering).  Within 15 minutes the upstairs bar stools were occupied, but there was still plenty of room.

My buddy arrived and we checked in at the hostess desk, only to be escorted again up the stairs and to a small two-top along the wall.  The place seats perhaps 125 people and it was close to full at this stage.

No wine glasses are on the table, only a candle, and smallish plates with a knife and fork folded into a cloth napkin.

The menu was presented and a small book containing their wine list.

 They have a nice selection of wines "by the glass" (BTG).
Three sparkling wines:  Juve y Camps from Spain is $11 BTG and $44 for a bottle (this is a wine retailing for $16-$18).  A Luis Pato sparkler from Portugal is $12 BTG and $48 for a bottle.  There's a Sparkling Malbec for $13 BTG and $52 by the bottle.
Under the white wine category we found 9 options.  Spain, Chile, Argentina, California and New York wines are available.   They have 11 different reds, but I didn't see anything hugely inviting.

The wine list is appropriately obscure, so most of the selections are not easily recognizable, allowing them to take a healthy margin.

There were three whites from Argentina, starting at $32 for a Torrontes.  Mendel's Semillon is $50, a tempting option.  Three Chilean whites are available, one Portuguese and five Spanish.  We opted for a bottle of Martinsancho Verdejo at $48.
Amongst the bottled red wines, there are two from Portugal and nine from Spain.  These are listed by grape varieties and sometimes the winery name or brand is missing.  There's a "Tempranillo/Garnacha Viña Ardanza Reserva Rioja 2005," as they neglect to cite the winery name (La Rioja Alta).  This is a $35 retail bottle and it's on the list for $68.  There's another attractive Spanish red listed:  "Tempranillo Lopes (sic) de Heredia Viña Tondonia Reserva Rioja 2002" at $94 a bottle.  (It should be listed as Lopez de Heredia.)
A Napa red blend from Ramey, their 2012 Claret, is $85 on the wine list.  Chappellet's 2012 Napa Cabernet is $96.  

Our server brought the bottle of Verdejo and a couple of nice sized, elegant stems.  The say was poured and the wine was okayed.
He eventually brought an ice bucket, which, on a warm evening, was appreciated.

We perused the menu and the server told us the various menu items are meant to be shared and are served "family style."
We ordered three starters and two main plates.  The server informed us the main plates probably would not arrive at the same time.
Huh?  Excuse me?  What?

We began with a Ceviche Mixto ($14) and a couple of Chicken Empanadas ($7). These arrived simultaneously, thank you.
The Ceviche was delicious and the empanadas were also very good.
A while later a bowl of Shishito Peppers ($7) hit the table.
We drained the bottle of Verdejo and before the starter plates had been cleared, the two main courses were arriving.  The runners bringing those are schooled to take soiled silverware from the starter plates and place them back on the table.
We had produced a venerable bottle of Cabernet and this was not opened before the two main dishes arrived, another demerit.

My friend ordered the "Chuleta," a 15 ounce pork chop for $23.  I chose the "Bife de Chorizo," a 13 ounce New York strip for $33.
These come on wooden planks and we had, fortunately, ordered a couple of side dishes to accompany them. There were three side dishes on the menu, each $6.  Dino Kale, Mushrooms and Potatoes.  We opted for the Kale and Potatoes, both quite good.
There's a steak knife tucked under each slab of meat on the plank and both selections were exceptional and tender.
Here was a humble pork chop with the nobility of a New York Steak!  And the steak here was excellent.  Both are grilled over a wood fire, helping offset the couple of service glitches.

The waiter managed to remove the cork in two stages (they insist on using a normal corkscrew, even knowing the bottle is older and might be problematic).  He did a nice job in decanting the wine, though and we offered the server a taste.  He brought a glass over eventually and we gave him a nice, healthy pour, urging him to enjoy it with a bite of the steak.

The place is dark, so if you're not a 20-something year old youngster with good eyesight, bring a flashlight (or smartphone).  It's also quite loud and the music is not geared towards fuddy-duddys such as myself!  This is not a place for quiet, intimate conversation.  

Overall, though, it was a good meal and we'll definitely come back for an encore, especially since the Ceviche and meats were so good (and well-priced).

The corkage fee was $20 and with the tax the bill tallied to $180.

Reviewed by GW
July 2015

 

COQUETA

PIER 5
(Along the Embarcadero)
San Francisco

Tel: 415-704-8866

Lunch:  Tues-Sun 11:30-3
Dinner: Daily from 5pm


The small Sherry Glasses which reminded us of Grandma's stemware.


The proper copitas.


Chicken & Pea Croquetas


Albondigas


Shrimp with Black Garlic and Chili.





Paella


 

We were successful in booking Coqueta about a month in advance using Open Table.  On a Saturday night close around 8:45 pm, we found parking a block from Pier 5 and walked to the restaurant.  They have a very busy bar scene (it's called Bar 5) and it's a sort of glass house next to the restaurant.
The hostess verified our reservation and said the check had just been presented to the people occupying what would be our table.  About 15 minutes later we were escorted in to the busy, moderately loud restaurant and seated at a tall table which had a couple of elevated chairs facing the open kitchen.

No wine glasses are on the table and the smallish binder containing their wine list was presented along with the menu.

We had the idea of ordering a few tapas to start and a paella for our main plate.

Perusing the wine list we find a lot of wines of the Chiarello label from the Napa Valley.  This shouldn't be a surprise, since chef and owner Michael Chiarello has had a small wine production for many years.

There are four sparkling wines offered "by the glass" (BTG).  Mont Marçal Brut Reserva is $11 BTG and $41 by the bottle, while a Gramona III Lustros 2006 is $19.  Now the Mont Marçal retails for $15 a bottle, while the Gramona goes for $60, so their mark-up on the less costly wine is far greater.
Two Schramsberg bubblies are offered, as well.  Blanc de Noirs is $15 BTG or $72 a bottle.  The Rosé is $18 BTG and perhaps $78 by the bottle.

They have 5 dry Sherries offered in 2 ounce pours BTG.  And, happily these are from some small, artisan bodegas.
Five California whites are on the BTG list.  A Verdelho from California's North Coast (N2 is the brand and it's tapped from a keg or stainless steel cylinder) is $11 for a 250ml (nearly 8.5 ounces).
Frog's Leap Sauvignon Blanc is $14 for a glass or $42 for a bottle, as is Hill Family Albariño from Napa.  Far Niente Chardonnay is $28 BTG or $84 for a bottle.  Once again, we see they take a much smaller margin on costlier bottles, allowing customers to explore more expensive wines without being taken to the cleaners.

Two Rosés are offered BTG, along with four Spanish reds, the latter quartet ranging from $15 per pour to $26.  The California reds start at $22 a pour (Chiarello's own Napa Zinfandel, Duckhorn's Napa Merlot or Rivers-Marie Pinot Noir) to $25 for Chiarello's Napa Cabernet called Bambino.

As you might expect from a Spanish-themed place in San Francisco, the list has a wide range of Spanish offerings, along with a good selection of West Coast wines.

There are several interesting Cava bottlings, with Juve y Camps Brut Nature on the list at $44 a bottle (it's about a $17-$18 bottle at most retail shops).  Three Txakoli wines are all priced in the range of $40 a bottle, with four Verdejos in the range of $32-$46 and several Godello bottlings are available from $40-$67.    Catalonian whites start at $32 and escalate to $145. Albariños range from $52 to $120 a bottle.
Amongst the reds, of course we look to Rioja and there are close to a dozen of those.   La Rioja Alta's Ardanza is $72 ($30-$35 at retail), while Murrieta's 2005 Ygay is $125.
Amongst the domestic reds, there's a lovely Radio Coteau Syrah for $100, but if you're showing off there are two Sine Qua Non bottlings for $375 and $490.  If you want California Zinfandel, Frog's Leap is $52, while Outpost's 2013 is $92, both priced within the realm of reason.
Merlot from Duckhorn is a mere $65 a bottle, just a few bucks over the retail price.  I wouldn't be amused paying $350 for a Merlot called Amuse Bouche.  Kistler Pinot Noir is $125 per bottle, but there are 7 other selections ranging from $66 to $190 (Kosta Brown).    Twelve Cabernets are offered (they have a 32-ounce bone-in rib-eye  for $84) and these, apart from Phelps at $135 or Quintessa at $250, are mostly unknown names for the average consumer.  Chiarello's two bottlings are $75 and $109, while labels such as Taken, Tournesol, Casa Piena, Coup de Foudre and Ad Vivum are offered.  If you're spending a buck, consider Bryant's 2010 at a cool $1000.

We ordered two glasses of Fino Sherry and were waiting for those anxiously as other Sherries were being brought to neighboring tables in proper Sherry "copitas."  Our server brought our two servings (a good 10 minutes after ordering them) in smallish, close to 'thistle-shaped' glasses.  Swirling the wine in these would have been impossible, as a two ounce pour was in perhaps a four ounce glass.
We asked the server for proper copitas and he told us these were 'typical' Fino Sherry glasses.
Really?
Please!
He finally brought two good copitas and deftly poured from Grandma's old Sherry glass into more appropriate stemware.

We then ordered a "pour" of a nice little Verdejo.  A 250ml serving of Nisia is $13 and since we ordered two pours, it was brought in a classic Spanish decanting glass called a porron.  The glasses for this were stemless.  

We selected three tapas as starters.  Croquetas de Pollo ($9) came first, three little croquettes of a milky, pasty center with some small English peas in a nice little crust.  A morsel of a Cara Cara Orange accompanies these...quite good!
Gambas al Negro ($14) features three head-on prawns with black garlic and an olive oil 'sauce' which had a flavor reminiscent of saffron (though the menu says "Black garlic and Chili Sauce."
Albondigas a la Ferria ($14) are duck and pork meatballs with a "Tart Cherry and Tempranillo Salsa and Crispy Shallots."  These were also quite good.
Each appetizer comes with three little servings.

We placed a bottle of a 1985 Rioja on the table and one of the managers saw this as she walked by.  Offering to decant it for us, the bottle was whisked off someplace and she returned a while later with a decanter full of wine and the empty bottle.  We asked her to bring a couple of extra glasses, one for some friends who were dining and one for herself.

By this time the Paella ($45 and enough for three people) arrived...beautiful!  Quite good, too.

We enjoyed dining here, although when it became less noisy, the music became more audible and it was not Spanish-themed, nor was it comfortable dining music.  When you're an old geezer, you probably would prefer something a bit less techno-sounding.

We skipped dessert, though there was a nice list of dessert wine offerings.  A two-ounce pour of Moscatel is $6, while a Monastrell Dulce is $7.    A PX Gran Reserva is $12.  Infantado's Ruby Port is $7, while a Quinta do Crasto 2000 Vintage Porto is $12 for a small pour.

Our bill tallied to $137 and they didn't charge us for the $25 corkage fee (as we'd generously shared a pour with the manager and our server).


Overall this is a lovely dining spot.  It's also a typically noisy and fairly crowded place.

We look forward to a return visit to try some other Coqueta dishes.

Reviewed by GW
June 2015

 

PLAJ

333 Fulton Street
San Francisco

Tel: 415-294-8925

Dinner Sun-Mon 5-8:15
Tue-Thurs 5-10:15
Fri-Sat 5-10:30

 


Glass of Blanc de Noirs and the bag of Plaj Bread...

 


Onion Soup with Croutons


Potato Dumpling Kumla: onion ragout, lingonberry, lardon, brown butter

 


Leg of Lamb without the English Peas, ramps, horseradish, crispy garlic, raising jus.



Swedish Meatballs, Potato Purée, Lingonberries and Pickled Cucumber.

 

 

 

After some Sunday cinema, we snagged a parking space directly across the street from the Inn at The Opera, a small hotel and home of Pläj (pronounced 'play,' we're told).

It's a Swedish-themed restaurant.

We were escorted to a small two-top on the left side of the dining room, across from the bar.  The restaurant seemed to be about two-thirds full.  It's an elegant dining spot.

Wine glasses were on the table as the hostess set down menus and a wine list.  The Old Bat snagged a chair, but I was on a sort of couch, propped up by a number of pillows.  This was fine for a moment, but it's not the most comfortable seat for dining.  You're a bit low compared to the table.

We perused the wine list.  The Old Bat asked for a Tanqueray Martini, but they did not have her favorite brand of Gin.  However, she did say the Martini with Hendrick's Gin was "excellent."

The wine list offers two bubblies "by the glass."  
One is Andre Robert's Blanc de Blancs Champagne at $20 a pour.
Other by-the-glass options include a young Elk Cove Pinot Noir Rose ($10), Cooper Mountain Pinot Gris ($10), Peter Franus Sauvignon Blanc ($14) and Neyers Chardonnay ($16).  A Von Nell 1994 Auslese Riesling ($15) is also offered.
Trefethen Cabernet is $18, while a Beauregard Zinfandel is $15.  A Mocali Rosso di Montalcino is $12, while a young Savigny-Les-Beaune from Albert Bichot is $15.

By the bottle you can have a Penner-Ash "Viogner" (sic) for $62. A Premier Cru Chablis from Barat is $72, while a Petite Arvine from Rene Favre is $70.  
The lowest priced red is a Locatelli Cabernet Franc from Friuli at $42 a bottle. Isole e Olena 2012 Chianti is $50.  An Andrew Rich wine is listed as a Grenache Blend, so we suppose that's his Tabula Rasa bottling.  That retails for less than $20 and it's $62 on this wine list.  A Bergstrom Pinot Noir is $110 a bottle and listed as "Salice" (there's an Italian wine called Salice, but this is actually "Silice."
In keeping with the Swedish theme, I was interested to try a Napa Valley Sparkling wine called "Sjoeblom."  It's listed as a 2001 vintage "Reserve" Blanc de Noirs.  $15 a glass.
The server seemed leery of bringing this, cautioning me that it was really dark in color and kind of like a Lambrusco.
The wine, in fact, had a salmon color to it and was far less yeasty and toasty than you might expect of a wine that's apparently been on the spent yeast for 13 years.  It did have a mildly nutty quality, so it did taste a bit aged.

The server brought a little tray with a paper bag on it.  The sack contained a few pieces of a wonderfully chewy, warm bread.  

The Old Bat ordered the Vidalia Onion Soup with garlic croutons and chive Blossoms, asking the server to hold the poached egg.  This was $12 and she enjoyed the soup.
I had their Potato Dumpling Kumla with Onion Ragout, Lingonberries, Lardons and Brown Butter ($15).  This featured two dumplings and small cubes of smoky pork.  I liked it, but The Old Bat described the bite of the dumpling I shared with her as "gummy."

We produced a bottle of red wine and the server brought two nice glasses to the table and deftly opened our bottle.  The corkage fee is $25.

For a main plate The Old Bat opted for "Leg of Lamb" ($26) which comes with English Peas, ramps, Horseradish, Crispy Garlic and Braising Jus.  They brought her a steak knife and she attempted to dive into the lamb.  But this meat was tougher than The Old Bat, it seems.  I tried to slice into it and found this to be a challenge.  The server came by and we sent back the lamb, asking for Swedish Meatballs.
The server said even the chef admitted that lamb was tough.

The Swedish Meatballs (Half Order is $15, while a full order is $18) were nice.  Maybe a tad bland, but the accompanying Mashed Potatoes or as they called it, Potato Purée, was exceptional and silky smooth.  It comes, also, with lingonberries and pickled cucumber.

We skipped dessert...a perfectly okay dining experience...maybe if I'd been to Sweden, I might have found more pleasure in our meal here.

The bill tallied to $128 with the SF Health "tax".  The Hendricks Martini was $12 and there was an additional two bucks on top of that which we might have questioned.

Okay...so we've been there and done that.


Reviewed by GW
May 2015

 

ANATOLIAN KITCHEN

2323 Birch Street
Palo Alto

 

Tel: 650-853-9700

Lunch Daily : 11-5

Dinner Daily from 5pm

 


Flatbread and a dipping sauce.


Falafel and Hummus


There were actually four Dolmas on the plate, but The Old Bat helped herself before I could snap a photo.


Moussaka


Combo Grill Plate

On a mildly warm Sunday evening, we visited the Anatolian Kitchen off California Avenue in Palo Alto.  We found parking in a small lot directly across the street and found the place nearly packed at 7:30 (it was Mother's Day, though).

There were number tables outside on the sidewalk and these were fully occupied.  Inside, the main dining room was fully subscribed and we were escorted to a two top in the next room near the open kitchen.  This, too, was packed.

The hostess set down menus and a drinks and wine list.  No wine glasses were on the table, however.

The Old Bat, having just seen Russell Crowe's "The Water Diviner" movie (the story takes place primarily in Turkey), needed a stiff drink and, as usual, she ordered a Tanqueray Martini.
I opted for their lone Turkish white wine selection, Kavaklidere's "Cankaya," listed as a 2011 vintage.  Ten bucks for a glass or $40 by the bottle.  This retails for about $15 per bottle, by the way.
There are four other white wine selections available by-the-glass, a Muscadet for $8 or $32 by the bottle or a Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc from Chile (same price).  For $9 a pour and $36 by-the-bottle, you might choose Stone Cap Chardonnay from Washington State or Palmina Pinot Grigio from California's Central Coast.  There's also Mulderbosch Rose and an unidentified Prosecco.
Five red wines are offered "by the glass."  There's a Turkish red under the Yakut label at $10 a glass, $40 by-the-bottle.  Seven Deadly Zins from Lodi is the same price.  Tangley Oaks Merlot and Avalon Cabernet are $11 a glass and $44 by the bottle, both wines typically being quota items for liquor distributor sales reps.
Husch Pinot Noir is $12 a glass or $48 for a bottle.

Amongst the white wines, if the list is accurate, we find some old bottles from the 2011 vintage, including Pomelo Sauvignon Blanc ($32 a bottle), a Cazar Rose ($32) and Rombauer Chardonnay ($65).  Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc from 2013 is $34, while Groth 2013 Napa Sauvignon Blanc is $36.  Truchard 2012 Carneros Chardonnay is $48.

Ridge 2012 "Three Valleys" Zinfandel, a wine retailing for $22-$25, is $60 on this list, a bit high, frankly.  Merry Edwards 2011 Pinot Noir is $70, while Jordan 2010 Cabernet is $90.  Green & Red Napa Zinfandel is $46, as is Qupe Central Coast Syrah. 

A few half bottles are offered.  Landmark Chardonnay and Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc are both $26 for a 375ml bottle.  Mount Veeder Napa Cabernet is $28, while Stag's Leap Cabernet is $32 (I suspect it's actually Stags Leap Winery, rather than Stag's Leap Wine Cellars at that price).

The list, at least, does afford some nice bottles and these do actually match the cuisine.

The corkage fee is a reasonable $15.

Stemware is of standard quality, if a shade less-than-the-most-elegant.  You'll have a 14 ounce, or so, clunky, dishwasher-safe Libbey-styled wine glass.

We ordered two starters to share, a Falafel plate ($13.50) which comes with a pool of Hummus and a mountain of salad.  There are five, right-out-of-the-fryer Falafel on the plate and these were delicious.  The Dolmas plate ($7.50) comes with four stuffed grape leaves set alongside some iceberg lettuce and a few morsels of unripe, cardboardy tomatoes (admitted, these are for decoration mostly).
The Dolmas, though, were good and had a nice touch of fresh mint.

They brought a little bowl with some soft flatbread and a dipping sauce that had a lot of nice spice to it.

For a main plate, The Old Bat chose Moussaka ($15.95), a classically-presented dish of Eggplant, Beef and Lamb, topped with Tomato Sauce and Béchamel.  She was delighted by this dish, asking "Can we come back?"
I had their Combo Grill Plate ($24.95) which was Ribeye, chicken, doner kebab, kofte marinated on skewers, served with rice and sautéed vegetables. This was a large plate of food, more than enough for a hungry person at dinner.  The meats were a bit bland, for my taste, and the vegetables were cooked to ad dente, or so, and also rather plain and simple.

Our bottle of red wine was good, though, and we shared a taste with the server.

The music being played on their sound system was some sort of "techno" tunes...hardly traditional Turkish music.

We were left relatively unattended after the main plates arrived and had to flag down a staffer to ask for the bill.

The check tallied to $101 before the tip.

The Anatolian Kitchen is a nice little place and offers a pleasant dining experience.

Reviewed by GW
May 2015

 

BACCO

737 Diamond Street
San Francisco

Tel: 415-282-4969

Open for Dinner from 5:30 Tues-Sat
From 5 on Sundays

 


Moscardini...Baby Octopus

 


'Impepata'--Mussels & Clams

 


Not "Marco Porello" Arneis!
This was nice, in any case.


Lamb with a Red Pepper Puree.

 


Braised Short-ribs and Gnocchi

 

We had just seen an Italian film on a Sunday afternoon and we booked a table at this Italian place in Noe Valley, one block west of Castro.

I arrived a bit later than my two dining companions and there were wine glasses on the table by the time I got there.  The wine list and menu was presented and we immediately perused the list.

Two Italian sparklers are offered by the glass and these are sensibly priced.  Ten bucks gets you as pour of Ruggeri Prosecco, but it you're a big spender, opt for a $12 pour of Ferrari Rose from Trentino.  There's also a Ca' Rossa Rose for $12.

Of the seven white wines by the glass, six are Italian.  There's Ciu Ciu Pecorino for $10 or Valle dell'Acate's Insolia for the same money.
Ten reds are offered by the glass.  For $15 you can have a glass of Travaglini's Gattinara.  Castiglion del Bosco Brunello is $21 for a glass pour, while Castellani Chianti is ten bucks.

A $15 retail bottle of Italian white is on the list for $40, while an $18 retail bottle appears at $48, so you'll see the 400% mark-up is in play here, for the most part.

The list has a number of misspellings, suggesting it's sloppily assembled.  Teroldego is spelled "Toroldego" and their selection comes not from where Teroldego finds its home in Trentino.  This one hails from Toscana and it's blended with 15% Syrah.
"Bianchi in Bottoglia" instead of Bottiglia.
These are certainly minor.  Happily the list is not dominated by the big liquor distributors, though there are some wines from those sources.
You won't find much hugely prestigious, benchmark selections, but for the most part, the wines are of interesting quality.
There's a Prugnolo Gentile 2009 on the list from Montepulciano in Tuscany at $50, but the name of the winery is omitted.
Caprili's 2004 Brunello di Montalcino is worth a look, though it's $155 a bottle (close to a $100 at retail).  Sassotondo's Ciliegiolo from Tuscany is $42 a bottle, a charming, cherryish red. 
They have 3 Nebbiolo wines, a Barbaresco from Rinaldi ($90) and a Barolo from Cogno ($125), but these are too young (2011 and 2009 respectively).  A 2008 Travaglini Gattinara is $60 a certainly a bit more developed and ready to drink.
A 2011 Pallagrello Nero from Terre del Principe is $47.  A couple of Nerello Mascalese wines from Sicilia are on the list, one going for $37, while Graci's Arcuria 2011 is $88 a bottle.
White wine offerings are a bit more limited, but you can still find good wine.  A Vermentino from a co-op cellar in Sardegna is $48, while a 3 year old bottle of Kerner (getting a bit aged) from a good cellar in the Alto Adige is the same price. They have a Gavi from the Barolo producer, Francesco Rinaldi,  at $56.

We ordered a bottle of Marco Porello's 2013 Arneis ($48) and were a bit surprised when the server brought a bottle of the same variety, but from Cascina Ca' Rossa.  We pointed out the discrepancy to the server who was a bit surprised by this.
((We gather the importer's rep of the Porello wine may not have come by the restaurant in a while.  We have the same problem, as it's been more than half a year since a rep came to our shop.))

We accepted the Ca' Rossa Arneis and it's a perfectly serviceable Italian dry white.
Bacco offers good stemware and we were in good shape at this stage.

We ordered appetizers and main plates.  We brought out a bottle of a 10+ year old Barolo and the server brought the decanter we'd requested.  Having an Ah-So, we extracted the cork of the Barolo and immediately decanted it.
Corkage, by the way, is $22 per bottle.

The starters arrived at our table and the ladies were delighted with the "Impepata," a bowl of Clams and Mussels with garlic and tomato in a broth.  The Arneis worked nicely with this.
My starter was a small 'stew' of Moscardini, little baby octopus in a tomato and red wine broth...also quite good!

The server brought larger format stems for the Barolo and soon after that, our main plates arrived.
One of the ladies ordered the same plate as did I:  Braised Short-ribs ($28) with Gnocchi...a very good plate!
The Old Bat had the "Angnello" (sic) ($32), four Lamb Chops with a red pepper sauce and some freshly-sautéed Spinach.  Another winner.

Dessert was out of the question.

The ambiance was comfortable and we enjoyed the service.

The bill tallied to about $210 before the tip.

We will plan another visit to Bacco when we are 'going Italian' in San Francisco.

Reviewed by GW
May 2015

 

LE TAJINE

CLOSED!

663 Laurel
San Carlos

Tel: 650-622-9830

Dinner: Tue-Sun 5pm-10pm


A serving of Moroccan Sauvignon, presented in a small decanter with a stemless wine glass.

 


They offer a nice bit of some warmed bread with olive oil for dipping...quite good.


Meat-filled Briwats

 


A Chicken Bastilla...


Lamb Kebabs with Saffron Rice and a Vegetable "Salad"...


Couscous with Lamb Chops

 

Laurel Street in San Carlos is dotted with restaurants and we've tried a number of them (if you've been reading this web page).

We booked a table at Le Tajine a newish place seating perhaps 40 people.  It was close to half full when we arrived at 7pm on a warm Sunday evening.  The server directed the two of us to a nice four-top towards the back of the dining room.

No wine glasses are on the table and the water glass doubles as a holder for a cloth napkin.

The menus are presented and there's a "drinks list."  They do not have a full bar, simply a beer and wine license, so The Old Bat could not order her customary dry Martini.  Lillet?  No, they did not have that either.
The wine list offers but 7 different selections, all from the same Moroccan winery:  Ouled Tahleb.
A 2012 Rose and 2011 White Blend and Chardonnay are $9 for a pour and $40 for a bottle.
Your other choices are all $10 for a pour or $45 for a bottle.  These included a 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, a Cabernet/Grenache blend, a Syrah or a Cab/Merlot/Syrah blend.

The corkage fee is $20.

We ordered a couple of pours of Sauvignon Blanc and they bring a small carafe or mini decanter along with a Riedel O Series (stemless) glass.  We appreciate that these glasses are easily washed in their dishwasher (without breaking), but you'll likely wind up with fingerprints all over the glass, in addition to warming up the wine.

They had some, we suppose, Moroccan music on the sound system, but this was drowned out by a real loudmouth at a neighboring table.  Everyone in the restaurant, including the dishwasher running a noisy machine in the back, could hear this fellow.  Once that party of five left the restaurant, the ambience was quite pleasant.

I ordered their Bastilla of Chicken, ($11), which is a phyllo dough pie with almonds, cinnamon and powdered sugar...there's sweet and there's savory and this thing was big enough to split two or three or four ways...it's really too much for a one-person appetizer.
The Old Bat ordered Briwats ($11) for a starter and these are four phyllo dough 'turnovers' that are filled with seasoned beef...this was a more than ample starter and pretty much kills your appetite.
The server might have suggested, but did not, that one appetizer for two people is certainly ample.
Both appetizers were delicious, though.

The Sauvignon Blanc was a standard quality, fairly anonymous dry white wine.  It was vinous, but that's about all you could say for it.  It's certainly not a wine with a lot of Sauvignon Blanc varietal character.

The server brought two more of the Riedel stemless glasses for our bottle of red Rhone.

I ordered a couscous dish called Mechoui ($25) and it's four really nice grilled lamb chops from a rack of lamb...beautifully seasoned and cooked just right.  The couscous is good while the accompanying vegetables are fairly bland...zucchini, carrots, etc.  Overall, though, it's a nice dish and, as noted above, too much if you've ordered an appetizer.
They offer a number of Tajines, as you might expect of a place called Le Tajine.
The Old Bat opted for the Lamb Kebabs ($16) which comes with either Saffron Rice or fries.  She went for the rice.
The plate came out with 8 large chunks of lamb (a bit less tender, I'd say, than the chops I had), a serving of a 'salad' of tomato chunks, cucumber, red onion and some spices, along with a mound of rice.
She ended up taking most of this home for the next night's dinner, as she was filled up by the starters.

We enjoyed the food at this place.  It's an elegant and comfortable dining spot.  I'd suggest bringing a good bottle of wine, since the wine list is so limited.

We had no chance of ordering and enjoying a dessert.

The bill tallied to $112 before the tip.

We look forward to return visit and trying some other dishes at this delightful dining spot!

Reviewed by GW
April 2015

 

GOLD MIRROR

800 Taraval Street
San Francisco

TEL: 415-564-0401

Lunch:  Mon-Fri 11:30-2:30

Dinner:  Daily 5pm-10pm
Sundays 4pm-10pm

 


Snails...a dozen of them.


Garlic Fried South American Prawns

 


Spaghetti & Clams Bordelaise

 


Veal Milanese


A Side dish of Rice, Green Beans and Carrots

 

We found yet another "institution" in The City and booked a table for two at San Francisco's Gold Mirror on Taraval.  We found parking on the street about a block from the restaurant.

The entrance is on the corner of 18th and Taraval.  There's not much of a reception desk, but there's a bar on your right and the dining area, seating approximately 70 people, to the left.
The hostess, attired in something akin to her tall boyfriend's long shirt (The Old Bat made this observation), took us to a corner table to be sequestered near the door.  This was rejected by Her Highness and we then had a four-top in the main dining area.

The hostess, placing the menus on the table, asked if we would want the wine list.
Sadly, no wine glasses were on the table as part of the place-setting.

There are 14 table wines offered "by the glass" and three sparklers.
There's the Pellegrini Family Chardonnay ($8) or Kendall-Jackson's for $9.  Beringer White Zinfandel is $6 and there's an unidentified Lambrusco for $8.  Cirullu's Rosso from Umbria is $9.  None of the wines-by-the-glass have a vintage date posted on the wine list.  Domaine Chandon's Brut sparkler is $9, as is an unidentified Prosecco.  Ferrari's Brut Perle is $15 for a pour.
They offer Suavia's Soave at $8, along with Borgo Conventi's Pinot Grigio.  Frank Family Zinfandel is $11, while a Barbera d'Asti with the proprietary name "La Faia" is $12, though they do not list the winery name (Scagliola).

The Domestic White Wines are listed without vintage dates and they show the winery address, but it's unclear as to the appellation of the wine.  Is that Sterling Sauvignon Blanc the Central Coast bottling or the Napa appellation wine?  It's $29 per bottle.
Contrasting with the sketchy list of California white wines, there's Jermann's famous Vintage Tunina for $85 (actually, it's well-priced, but we do not know the vintage).  A Greco di Tufo from Terredora di Paolo is $40, while a Terlano Pinot Grigio is $43, with Jermann's version going for $46.  Curious that they have chosen some nice Italian whites and yet California whites you might find in most grocery stores!

The wine list has a category of "Sicilian Red Wines" with a couple of Nero d'Avola offerings (Colossi for $34 and Feudi del Pisciotto at $60), an Etna blend that's mostly Merlot ($78) and a Hauner Nero d'Avola blend for $48.
The category of "Italian Red Wines" (since Sicily is not included as part of Italy, apparently), has some odd geographical identifications.  From the Tuscan winery of Rocca delle Macie, there's a Sangiovese listed as coming not from Toscana, but from the Marche.  The Umberto Cesari winery in Emilia-Romagna has a Sangiovese listed as being from Tuscany, not its actual place of origin.  An Amarone della Valpolicella is listed as coming from Piemonte, a Lagrein from the Alto Adige is posted as being from the Trentino area and, apparently the designation of "Montepulciano d'Abruzzo" didn't clue them in as to the wine being from Abruzzo.  It's listed as a Tuscan red.  
And they do list vintage dates for wines of this category!
Italian Reds range from $28 for a Le Corti Chianti Classico to $130 for Antinori's famous Super Tuscan, Tignanello.  The Nebbiolo Langhe from the Produttori del Barbaresco is $45, while the same winery's Barbaresco is $75.
From California, there's a Swanson Merlot from Napa at $56 or Long Meadow Ranch 2009 Napa Cabernet for $78 if you're brave enough to skip wines from Clos du Bois, Beaulieu Vineyards and Robert Mondavi.
It's a quirky wine list.

The Old Bat inquired about the French aperitif Lillet as a cocktail.  Our waiter said "Lillet is no longer imported as I was told by the owner."
We clued him in to the Bay Area distributor for Lillet, though the server did not seem to care.
The Old Bat then ordered her Tanqueray Martini, straight up.  The Martini is on the bill for a modest $7 with an extra charge of 50-cents for the "up" (that is, the cocktail is served without ice in a classic Martini stem).
He did stop at several tables before placing the order with the bartender, so we waited close to ten minutes for the cocktail.

I put a bottle of wine on the table.  The corkage is $15 and the server brought two small, clunky wine glasses (from the 1970s) to the table.  Having seen neighboring tables with 20 ounce stems being used, we gently asked if we could have our wine in those.
The Old Bat said the server was a bit annoyed by the request, though he did whisk away the tiny glasses and returned a few moments later with more suitable stemware.
Our bottle was opened and the fellow, either unclear on service protocol or, possibly, simply still irritated, glug-glug-glugged the wine into the new glasses, without pouring the "say" (so we could determine if the bottle was corked or suitable for service).
He certainly lost a few points for that.

As for the food...The Old Bat ordered Escargot ($8), which are not totally foreign on menus in Italy (where they're listed as "Lumache").
I opted for "Garlic Fried South American Prawns" ($15), known as Gamberi in Italy.
The snails, 12 of them,  were presented out of the shell in a soup bowl...nicely done with garlic and parsley butter.  There were 6 of the Prawns on my plate...also with lots of garlic.  Nice.  So far, so good.

The appetizer plates were picked up by a busser and they did not return with a replacement knife for my main plate.
The Old Bat ordered Spaghetti and Clams Bordelaise ($19) and this featured al dente pasta with numerous fresh Manila clams.  She was disappointed, though, that the pasta seemed "dry."  Not dried out, but dry.  I suspect the sauce lacked the requisite amount of either olive oil or butter to 'carry' the sauce and more thoroughly coat the pasta.
I ordered Veal Milanese ($21) which was a pounded piece of veal, breaded and topped with some capers, garlic and maybe a squeeze of lemon.  It was a nearly perfect rectangle!  This was a rather standard rendition of this dish...nothing particularly special.  On a small side plate there was some dry rice, a few small (fresh) green beans and carrot slices.

The place was a bit noisy and though we were seated close to each other, it was not a comfortable ambience for conversation.

We asked for the bill, declining the offer to look at a dessert menu.

The server, once again, visited neighboring tables and, after perhaps close to ten minutes, our bill arrived.

This may be a reasonable option for dining should you find yourself in the neighborhood, but it's not likely that we will make a return visit (which is probably fine with the disgruntled and charmless fellow who waited on us).

Reviewed by GW
April 2015




 

PAMPAS


529 Alma Street
Palo Alto

Tel: 650-327-1323

Lunch:  Mon-Fri 11:30-2
Dinner Daily from 5pm


Fried Bananas and a sort of Cheese "Bread" are brought as "nibbles" to start your meal.


The Salad Buffet

 


The results of a pass through the Pampas Buffet...(if you dine here solely for the buffet and don't participate in the meat marathon, the price is $26).


Chicken, Pineapple and a slice of pork.


The Passador serving a slice of well-seasoned beef.


 

Following a Sunday afternoon movie, we drove to the Pampas restaurant, a block, or so, south of University Avenue.
Parking was easy...there's a lot across the street.
We were escorted to a table upstairs and the hostess provided the menu and wine list.  Wine glasses are part of the table setting.

The wine list offers three sparkling wines by the glass: a Rose from Santa Julia for $10, a Valdivieso for $12 or Moet Brut Imperial Champagne for $16.  White wines included a very commercial Pinot Grigio (that's listed as being from the Alto Adige but, in fact, the label as the much more broad appellation of "Delle Venezie) at $10 a glass.  They offer a "Reisling" (sic) from the Chilean brand called Lafken ($12), as well as three Chardonnays (including ZD from California at $16/glass).
Nine reds are offered by the glass.  Two Cabernets  (Conn Creek @$14), one Zinfandel (Brady from Paso Robles @$12), Qupe Syrah @ $11, two Malbecs, a Merlot and two Pinot Noirs.  I'd opt for Qupe Syrah out of that modest roster.
The wine list, though, offers plenty of good options if you're interested in a bottle.
A half bottle of Roederer Estate Brut is $26 and they do not have this in full bottles.  Duval Leroy's Grand Cru Vintage Brut is $295, while Cristal 2002 is $420.
Kistler's standard bottling of Chardonnay is $98, while the more mundane Frank Family is $68.  Twomey Sauvignon Blanc is $59, while Long Meadow Ranch is $42.  Some of the vintages of "Interesting Whites" are a bit old, so perhaps these are not so interesting to Pampas' customers?  A 2006 White Rioja (not one that's intended for aging) is offered, as is a 2011 Verdejo, a 2006 Pinot d'Alsace and a 2010 St. Joseph Blanc.
$820 will get you a bottle of Bryant Family Cabernet, but for $90 you can enjoy a bottle of Heitz 2009 Napa Cabernet.  Some of the Cabernets are fairly pedestrian:  BV Rutherford is $62 a bottle, while J. Lohr's is $64.  Josh Cabernet is $44, while Justin's is $54.  Clearly the liquor distributor's rep is hitting their quota goals.  There are nine Malbecs in full bottle format, Achaval Ferrer's costing $49.
They have a category called "BLENDS" and here we find Dominus 2008 for $280 or Pahlmeyer's "Jayson" red blend for $122.  Cain's "Concept" is $115 a bottle, while Col Solare from Washington State is $78.  
A half a dozen Merlots are available, Twomey costing $90, while Shafer's is $105.  Eight Zinfandels are offered...Ridge "Three Valleys" is $53 per bottle.
There are 22 Pinot Noirs.  Coho's Stanley Ranch is $105, while Sea Smoke's "Southing" is $122.  Morgan's "Double L" is $45.  They have 8 Syrah wines and you can buy a bottle of Araujo for $390 or a 2004 Colgin for $480.
And they have ten Spanish reds, three from Portugal, a bunch from Italy, France, etc.
A 2005 Chateau Latour is $2250, while a DRC Echezeaux from 2005 is $1525.  A Drouhin "Clos des Mouches" 2006 is listed as coming from Santenay, while it's actually from Beaune, several miles away.  You can acquire this for $600.

If you choose to have their "Rodizio" program, you'll pay $46 per person.  This is essentially an all-you-can-eat marathon of food, including their long "salad bar" as well as the unlimited meat service.

We ordered a glass of "Albaclara" Sauvignon Blanc from Chile.   It's $11 a glass (the wholesale price is $7.02 for a bottle)!  Luckily the wine was of good quality.  The brand name, though, is Haras de Pirque and it's affiliated or owned by Antinori of Italy.
The Old Bat asked for a Martini ($13) which she enjoyed.

The restaurant supplies a two-sided decal, the red side stays up while you're foraging at their buffet downstairs (or if you need a break from the meat marathon).  When you're ready for meat, leave the green side up and the Passadores stop by with large skewers of meats, chicken or grilled pineapple.  They slice off a piece and you transfer it to your plate using a small pair of tweezers.

The "salad bar" has all sorts of items...asparagus spears, braised mushrooms, arugula, raw spinach, ham, smoked fish, cured salmon, salame, tabouleh salad, garbanzo bean salad, grated carrots, radishes, tomatoes, anchovies, black bean stew, rice, hearts of palm and more.
You can help yourself as many times as you like.

We enjoyed a nice trip to the buffet, but then flipped over the red decal and soon the waiters carrying large skewers of meats began stopping by the table.
There's Picanha, a top sirloin seasoned with salt and olive oil.  They had a garlicky leg of lamb as well as some thin little loin lamb chops.  There was a filet of beef seasoned with Parmesan cheese.  Turkey wrapped in bacon was quite good (thanks to good quality bacon).  There's Skirt Steak, Chicken Hearts, small Chicken Legs marinated in garlic and chili...and the list goes on.

We had our server open a nice bottle of red which we'd brought along and paid $20 for a corkage fee.

Since we'd gorged ourselves on the buffet and meat marathon, dessert was out of the question.

With tax, the bill tallied to $148 before the tip.

We will certainly come back to this place and may even visit it on a night when we're not seeing a movie.

Reviewed by GW
April 2015


 

Some Notes: (March 2015)

**It's becoming more prevalent for some restaurants to include a tip on their bill.  Some make customers aware of this on the menu and with their bill, but others keep a low profile.  
And, of course, the credit card receipt still has a place to add in a tip.  Keep your eyes open.

**We dined at a place this month that, on line, offers a $39 Price-Fixed menu.  No restrictions on days of the week or hours this is offered.  The hostess did not provide this menu when we sat down at the table. We asked three times for this before someone, apparently begrudgingly, provided us with this nicely-priced menu.
The bill at the end tallied to $127.  My dining companion had a $100 bill (I gave her change from that based upon the bill and the tip, divided by two.
The owner of the place took the hundred dollar bill and my credit card, asking what to do.  I instructed him to put the $100 towards the bill and put the rest on the credit card.  I would add the tip onto the credit card.
He returned a few moments later and I was ready to sign the credit card sales draft.  
Except that this fellow ran the credit card for the entire $127 amount!
When we pointed out this error we received a disingenuous "Oh, sorry..."

I suppose the bottom line is:  Watch your wallet.

 

 

LA COSTANERA

8150 Cabrillo Highway
Montera Beach (near Pacifica)

Tel: 888-369-2431

Dinner Tues-Sun from 5pm


A generous pour of Alvarinho.


Empanada

 


Cebiche Mixto

 


Seafood Paella for 1 Person.

 

We booked a 7pm table on a Sunday after a movie and drove out to the coast via Pacifica.

There's a parking lot adjacent to this coast-side restaurant as well as a lot for beach-goers just south of the place.

In early March at that hour, the place was active, but not hugely busy.  We were escorted to our table by a hostess, who presented a menu and a wine list.  Wine glasses here at part of the table setting.

We perused the list.  There are six sparkling wines, with the Spanish Cava "Cristalino" being the sole offering "by the glass" ($9).  Other choices included Clicquot at $98 or, better, Roederer Brut Premier at $102.  There's a small Prosecco producer's wine, Drusian, for $38 a bottle (It's a $16 retail typically).

They have about 30 white wine offerings, with perhaps ten of these available by-the-glass.  The list features some big-name brands which are probably pushed by the big liquor distributors, but you can find some off-the-beaten path selections, too.
Tangent Albarino is a good option at $10 for a pour or $35 for a bottle.  Trefethen's dry Napa Valley Riesling is $11 for a pour or $39 by the bottle.  It's a broad spectrum of origins, as they offer wines from Spain, Portugal, Chile, Argentina, Italy, France and California.
There were 33 red wines on their list.  Coho Pinot Noir from Carneros is $98 a bottle (it's usually seen for $35-$40 retail).  Alamos Malbec is $49...a wine retailing for well less than $15 typically...
Penfolds Bin 9 Cabernet from Australia, retailing for close to $20, is $51.  Jordan Cabernet from Sonoma is $92, while a Spanish blend called Carchelo, typically $10-$12 retail, is $39 on the list.
In my opinion the list could feature more carefully-curated selections.  For example, Gabbiano Pinot Grigio?  Surely they could find a better option for that grape variety.  Amongst the Chardonnays, they offer Franciscan and Chateau St. Jean, along with Force of Nature from Santa Barbara and Trefethen from Napa.  Not exactly ground-breaking, but more along the lines of "good enough" rather than "exceptionally selected."

The Old Bat asked for her usual Martini and I selected a Portuguese white, an Alvarinho  called Poucu Comum ($12 a glass and $44 by the bottle).  The server brought a fairly generous serving of the wine and it paired handsomely with the starters.  

The Old Bat ordered an Empanada of some sort (there are several choices, $11-$13) an d I ordered the Cebiche Mixto ($18) which is a nice plate with some white fish, octopus, calamari, clams, mussels, prawns and aji rocoto leche de tigre.  This also features some sort of corn (Cusco Corn?) and maybe some toasted corn.  It's nicely done and, for my palate, right at the edge for spiciness.  It did suppress the wine slightly.

We produced a bottle of an extravagant Sauvignon Blanc for our main plate.  Corkage costs $25, a bit high, but this bottle was better than we'd have found on their wine list.
Stemware was nice, too, so we felt less stung by the $25 fee.

We both ordered the Seafood Paella ($26) and this was quite good.  Unlike the place up the highway, this was made of Bomba rice, not some long grain variety.  The seafood was good and fresh and we found a nice touch of spice suggesting the use of saffron.  It's quite different from a Spanish paella...more soupy (as you can see in the photo to the left), for one thing.
Nice flavors, though and good seafood.

The service was good...water glasses refilled from time to time...they took away the used silverware with our appetizers and brought fresh silverware for the main plate.

At this stage, dessert was out of the question.  We had dined well and both of us would like to return.
It's not inexpensive, though...I think the bill tallied to $145-$150 before the tip.

Still, this is a nice place for a meal and it would be well worth the price of admission if you're dining there before the sun sets.

We look forward to a return visit.

 

Reviewed by GW
March 2015

 

BESO

4058-A 18th Street
San Francisco

Tel: 415-801-5392

Open Daily 5pm to 11pm


A glass of Fino Sherry...$7


Marcona Almonds and Assorted Olives.


Jamon Serrano


Shishito Peppers


Gambas and garlic.


Pinchos de Pollo



Paella

 


Churros and Chocolate Sauce

 

On a Monday evening on a warm San Francisco winter day we booked a table at this newish little place on 18th Street, close to Castro Street.
Parking in this neighborhood was a bit challenging, but several tours of the area finally netted a spot a couple of blocks away from Beso.

We found the restaurant to be about 75% occupied at our 8pm reservation time and we were escorted to a table for two near the back, close to the kitchen.  Thanks to a mirror spanning the wall, I had a nice view of the kitchen crew preparing all sorts of dishes.

Wine glasses are on the table when you're seated, a subtle hint to order something.  The wine list is printed on the back of the menu.
Three Cavas are offered, two being poured by the glass.  We opted for the Pere Ventura Brut Rosat at $11 a glass, but the server informed us that wine was "sold out."
They featured a half-a-dozen, or so, Sherries by Emilio Lustau, so we ordered the "Puerto Fino" Fino Sherry at $7.  I was afraid this would come in a tiny glass, filled to the brim, but Beso has special, elegant Sherry copitas and the wine arrived, properly chilled and the stemware was filled to about 75% of capacity.  This was really good and well worth the $7 price tag.

Of the 13 white wine selections, six are available by-the-glass.  Four Albarinos ($38 to $79 per bottle) are on the list, two from Spain, one Portuguese and one Californian.  There's a Spanish Sauvignon Blanc at $48 per bottle, a white blend from Spain ($12 a glass, $46 by the bottle), a Godello for $48 or a Xarel-lo for $9 a glass or $36 for a bottle.
There are 19 red wines, 6 of which can be ordered by-the-glass.  They range from $42 per bottle up to $120 for a CUNE Imperial whose vintage date is not listed.
They offer a Moroccan Syrah for $48, along with a Napa Cabernet blend for $110, while Anima Negra from Mallorca is $69.  The list seems to be chosen with a measure of care and discrimination and it doesn't offer a bunch of big "branded" wines but some offerings which are a bit off-the-beaten path.


The corkage fee is $20, by the way.

We ordered a number of small plates to start...with the wonderfully chilled Fino Sherry, a small bowl of Marcona Almonds ($4) was delicious, as were the assorted Olives ($4).  A small wooden platter with some thin slices of Jamon Serrano ($9) was accompanied by some membrillo, fresh grapes and some little bits of bread.
After draining our glasses of Sherry, we ordered the Fillaboa Albarino at $10 a glass.
Now, kudos to the Beso crew:  the bottle was brought to the table and the server poured the wine in view of the customer!
The stemware was quite good, in fact and he poured a generous serving.

From there we ordered Pimientos de Padrón ($7) and these were fresh and a bit lemony...I'd have preferred a bit more salt on these...
Gambas al Ajillo ($13) came in a small ceramic dish with six prawns and some bits of garlic...but I suspect the shrimp had been in a freezer for too long as they seemed a bit dried out and not especially succulent.
Pinchos de Pollo ($7) featured two skewers with cubes of tender chicken, topped with a Salsa Verde that seemed comprised of parsley, olive oil, maybe some garlic and a bit of rosemary...these rested on a thick slice of bread and the olive oil and salsa made for a delicious bite!
At this point I brought out a bottle of (what turned out to be a nice) Rioja Gran Reserva.  The server asked if we wanted larger glasses and we took him up on this offer.
He opened our bottle, properly poured the "say" and we shared a taste with him.

The Paella de Pescado is $36 and serves two people nicely if you've ordered some starters.
It's made with Bomba rice, as it should be and they claim to use lobster broth in preparing this.  The seafood assortment includes Shrimp, Calamari, Monkfish, Clams and Mussels and there was a nicely crusty sofrito on the bottom of the pan.  I didn't detect a strong saffron influence, though the menu claims it's incorporated into this dish.

As we were a bit late in departing, by dessert time the sound system was playing the staff's choice of tunes...not especially soothing dining music, but we only stuck around to enjoy a serving of Churros accompanied by a chocolate dipping sauce.

There's no additional "health surcharge" on the bill, which tallied to about $133 with the tax and before the tip.

This is a nice little neighborhood place with difficult parking conditions (that's life in the big city these days).
We'd certainly dine here again.

Posted by GW
January 2015

 

 

 

 


 

 

MARCELLO'S

2100 Taraval Street
San Francisco

Tel: 415-665-1430

Tues-Sat  5-10:30
Sun 5-10

 

 


Porcini Fritti

 

 

 


Carpaccio

 

 

 

 


Lombatina di Vitello

 

 


Linguine con Vongole

 

 

 

A customer had mentioned this place to us and we were not far away on a Sunday night in November, so we booked a table (by phone...they're a bit old-fashioned at Marcello's and don't have Open Table or Urban Spoon reservations).

Fortuitously there was a parking space open right in front of the restaurant!  We parked and ambled in...there's a peep-hole on one of the doors as you enter the place!  Maybe the bar was a speak-easy decades ago?

You enter and there's a small waiting area, with a curved bar nearby.  To the left there's an elevated dining area with perhaps 70 to 80 seats.  It was about half full on this particular evening.

The average age of the people dining there was high enough that I probably brought down that number to 65 or 70!  We gather those dining there were Marcello's 'regulars.'

The place setting includes a clunky Libbey, 1980s-era wine glass.  The menu was presented along with a wine list.

Open the wine list book and you'll see 15 options are available "by the glass."  Only a few of them are identified by the winery or brand.  A few even give you a regional identity.
Riesling is $7 by the glass or $26 for a bottle, but we don't know whose this is.  Pinot Grigio is the same priced and only gives a small clue:  "Italia."  There's a Tuscan Vermentino for $7.50 or $30 a bottle.  Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are $7 per glass.  There's Ferrari Carano Fume Blanc, though, for $7.50.
You'll have to make do with one bubbly, a Prosecco of some sort for $7.
Santa Cristina, a proprietary wine by Antinori, is listed as Sangiovese and it is a Sangiovese-based blend these days.  $7 and $26 respectively for a glass and bottle.
There's Chianti, along with Cabernet and Merlot.  Jacob's Creek Shiraz is the same price.  There's a wine called Nerello di Bastardo for $7, while a Beringer Zinfandel and an anonymous Pinot Noir are $7.50 by the glass and $30.
Beringer's White Zin is listed as coming from Napa, but its appellation is California on the bottle.
By the bottle we find Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling under the heading of "California Wines," even though it's noted as coming from Washington State.
Sauvignon Blancs include Cameron Hughes ($24), Kenwood ($26), Sterling ($27), Smokepoint ($34) and Cakebread ($40).  Chardonnays include Clos du Bois ($24), Kendall Jackson ($25), Gundlach Bundschu ($33) and Cakebread ($56).
Red wines include Zinfandels from Kenwood and Kendall-Jackson at $26 and $25 respectively.  They have a St. Francis Merlot for $22, while Clos du Bois is $25.  BV Napa Cabernet is $29, as is Sebastiani's and Kenwood's.  Jordan Cabernet is $68.
Prices are very reasonable, but the selections are aimed at an audience that's not especially sophisticated.

The corkage fee is $15.

The menu has everything you might expect of a 1960s-1970s Italian dining establishment.  There's Shrimp Cocktail ($7.75), Carpaccio ($7.25) and Prosciutto e Melone ($8).  The Soup of the Day is $4.75.  Hearts of Palm Vinaigrette is $6.50  while a Caesar Salad is $6.25.
They have well more than a dozen pasta dishes and 11 Veal offerings.  They have 8 Chicken preparations and a similar number of seafood dishes.

The server told us Marcello had been foraging for funghi recently and they had Fried Porcini this evening.  I opted for that, as I'm a fan of these.
The Old Bat ordered Carpaccio and a Cup of Minestrone as starters.
The Carpaccio and Fried Porcini came out of the kitchen alarmingly quickly...the Carpaccio was good and nicely presented.
The Porcini were a bit soft and not especially flavorful.  Of course, fresh Porcini are far different from the dried version...but these were sliced maybe a quarter of an inch thick and were not very 'meaty,' but more soft.  Maybe they needed a bit longer in the fryer?  
A cup of Minestrone soup was "excellent," according to my dining companion.

We produced a bottle of red wine and our old-pro-of-a-server brought two wine glasses and opened the bottle.

For a main plate, The Old Bat ordered Linguine alle Vongole ($12.75), a nice plate of close-to-al-dente pasta and a pile of little clams (no shells, so probably from a jar or can).  My "Lombatina" of Veal ($21) was a nice sized 'steak,' smothered in a sauce of some sort and accompanied by some thin potato slices and a little mound of Swiss Chard (was it?).
There was a sharp fragrance to this dish...frankly, I wonder if was a vinegar smell or what...the meat was fine as were the accompaniments.

We skipped dessert and the bill, with the corkage fee and tax tallied to around $93.

This is a perfectly decent neighborhood place and we'll consider coming here again, but I'll order some other dishes and explore the menu further.

Reviewed by GW
December 2014

 

 

TRATTORIA DI VITTORIO

150 West Portal
San Francisco

TEL: 415-742-0300

Mon-Fri:  11am til 10pm
Sat  10am until 10pm
Sun 10am until 9pm

 

 


Pizza "Salsiccia"

 

 

 

 

 


Rigatoni con Salsiccia e Pepperoni

 

 

 


Three Hour Lamb Shank & Polenta

We were seeing a movie in the West Portal neighborhood on a Sunday in November and The Old Bat had been whining about "Spaghetti and Meatballs."  This relatively new place seemed like a good option, although, at this time, they do not accept reservations.

Just a few minutes before 6pm we ambled from the theater down the block and found a table by the front window.  Otherwise the bar was well-populated and the restaurant tables were all occupied.  A few outdoor tables were open.

Menus were presented as we sat down, along with a wine list.  I do not recall there being wine glasses as on the table as part of the table setting.

The list features but one sparkling wine by-the-glass, a Prosecco listed simply by its proprietary name "Gioss" ($9/glass).  Its brand or winery name is Riva dei Frati. A Rosato is listed by its proprietary name, but the winery name is not listed.  The grape variety is also omitted.
Other white wines by-the-glass include Cellar 8 Chardonnay ($8), Feudi di San Gregorio Falanghina ($10), Sella & Mosca Vermentino ($8) and a Ruffino Orvieto ($9).  
Red selections include a couple of Cameron Hughes wines, Layer Cake Cabernet ($10), a La Moto Chianti ($7), Quatro Mani Barbera ($10) and a Malaspina winery red from Calabria called "Palikos" ($11).
These are rather modest selections and with 15 reds available by-the-glass, one wonders how they keep these in good condition, once the bottles are opened.
Most of these offerings are of little interest, frankly, to someone searching for a good glass of wine. The selections are fairly average, at best, and wines one will find primarily in chain stores and grocery outlets.

The white wines offered by the bottle finds a Gavi listed as being from Tuscany (it's Piemonte, in fact) at $45.  A three year old Arneis from Giacosa Fratelli is $45.  An Erbaluce di Caluso ($42) is also listed as a Tuscan white, despite being from Piemonte.  Some wines are listed without regional designations (Ganzo Pinot Grigio $28) actually comes from Umbria, while a Kettmeir ($40) is listed as coming from the Alto Adige, but a neighboring producer, St. Michael Eppan has no regional identity on this list.

There are 8 Half Bottle Selections with Landmark's Chardonnay costing $30.  Ferrari Spumante in white or Rose are both $30 for a 375ml bottle.

The red wines by-the-bottle feature some better quality selections.  A Francesco Rinaldi Barbaresco from 2010 is $80, but it's too young at this stage to really shine.  There's a wine listed as "Polesio Sangiovese Italia 2013 $36" but omitted is the winery name "San Lazzaro" and its place of birth, the "Marche" region.
I wonder what wine they bring when you order "Baby Amarone" from the large Pasqua winery (being there is no official designation for a wine called "Baby Amarone")?    And there's a wine listed as "Amarone Valpolicella Piemonte 2009 $75" which is another curiosity, as Amarone wines come from the Veneto region, not Piemonte (and no producer for such a wine is named on the list).  There's a $45 bottle of Morellino di Scansano, but the producer is not listed.
This is a sloppily-constructed wine list from a variety of perspectives and clearly not the work of a wine-savvy individual.

We ordered a couple of glasses of "Sauv Blanc Crickett C. Sonoma Toboni Vin 13" at $10 a pour.  I gather the actual brand name of this (we never saw the bottle) is Oakwild Ranch and it's owned by the Toboni family.  This is ironic in that the Toboni's web site says their wines are not available in retail stores, only in restaurants.  This marketing plan is constructed in hopes of a consumer liking a wine well enough to want to buy it for their own table...not finding it in a store, they must contact the winery and buy it directly, at full price.  Of course, when the wine is listed in such fashion on a wine list and the bottle is not brought to the table to show what wine is being poured, how would the consumer ever find the producer of this wine???
The wine is brought in large, heavy-duty stemware and the serving is quite generous.

As Vittorio's has a special pizza oven, we began with a Pizza Salsiccia ($16) which is topped with sausage, mushrooms, a bit of tomato sauce and mozzarella.  it's accompanied by some Calabrian peppers and some dried chili peppers.  The pizza was fairly thin and had good flavors, so we were off to a good start.

The Old Bat wanted the "Fried Calamari and Organic Artichoke with our Chef's Famous Sauce" ($11).  The calamari was very light yellow in color and this dish relied on the aioli and green dipping sauce for flavor.  On its own the calamari was quite bland.

The service was quite good and friendly.

We had a bottle of red wine in our cellar bag and the server promptly brought two large wine glasses and opened our bottle.  We offered him a taste and he brought his own glass a few moments later.

The Old Bat, having a hankering for Spaghetti & Meatballs ($18), naturally, then ordered Rigatoni con Italian Sausages, bell peppers, onion and homemade tomato sauce ($16).
They had a few daily specials and one was a Lamb Shank, braised for three hours in red wine ($28), so I opted for that to go with the 2008 Barolo I'd brought.

The Rigatoni was cooked al dente...maybe even a bit raw if the sample I tasted was representative of the dish.  It seemed a bit bland, too.
The Lamb Shank was nicely presented with a bit of polenta on the plate.  The lamb was as explained by the server:  Lamb cooked for three hours in red wine.
Had they incorporated a noticeable bit of seasoning (garlic, perhaps...maybe some rosemary or a mix of herbs), I'd have been more positive about the dining experience.  The polenta was not especially flavorful, either.
On the other hand, Calabria is known for its spicy peppers and the little plate with Calabrian peppers and chili flakes was on the table for our main course, so we could have added some flavor ourselves, I suppose.

The server kindly packed up The Old Bat's rigatoni "to go" and included a box with a little dessert inside.  Nice.

The bill tallied to $115 with the tax and before the tip.

If you're in the neighborhood, this is a perfectly nice place for a pizza, but if you're looking for other menu items, you might consider other options.


Reviewed by GW
November 2014

 

GILBERTHS

2427 Third Street
San Francisco

Tel: 415-913-7163

LUNCH Mon-Fri 11-3
DINNER Mon-Sat 5:30-10

 

 


Alcachofas

 


Calamares y Almejas with Chorizo

 


Bavette 'Steak' with Baby Carrots and Potatoes.

 


Costillas de Cerdo with Fried Plantains and some rice & beans.

 


Kennebec Fries.

We were visiting San Francisco for a theatrical performance on a Thursday evening, so we searched for a restaurant not too far from the venue and found this new place in the Dogpatch area.

As they were just opening, only a couple of tables were occupied and we were escorted to a two-top along the wall away from the entrance and kitchen.  No wine glasses were on the table, though they do present a wine list with the menu.

The restaurant's theme is Latino, featuring Central & South American dishes, as well as those of Cuban and Puerto Rican influence.

We perused the wine list...two "burbujas" (bubbles) by the glass...a Sparkling Malbec from Argentina and a Bohigas winery cava from Spain.  $9 a glass for the former, $11 for the latter with bottle prices being $36 and $46 respectively.

They offer four white wines by the glass.  There's a modest Vinho Verdo called Anjos at $8 a glass or $32 by the bottle.  There's a Sonoma Sauvignon Blanc made by an unknown winery in Pasadena, California ($9/glass, $36 bottle).  Trefethen's Riesling is $14 and $52.
For reds by the glass there's Chocolan Cabernet from Chile at $8 or Trumpeter "Pinot Nior" (sic) at $9.  Mi Terruno Malbec Reserva is $11, while a Spanish red, Dehsa la Granja 2006 is $12.

There are two French Champagnes on the list, but both are offered only in half-bottle format.  Lanson is $30 for a 375ml, while Thienot is $42.

Benaza's Godello is a good choice in a white wine, costing $37 (we had this in the shop for $15.99).  Francois Chidaine's Sauvignon Blanc is listed as coming from Montlouis, while in fact, the appellation should be listed as Touraine.   That's $36 a bottle on the list and it retails for about $15.  They offer Hervé Azo Chablis for $40 which is a pretty good deal (and a nice wine).  Of the four rose wines on the list, only one is from the most recent vintage, while two are two years old and the other is three (and these are not improving with age!).
Bielsa Garnacha, a wine we'd had in stock for $11, is $41 on the list.  Saintsbury Pinot Noir is $36 for a half bottle and $72 for a full.
A few of the wines are listed only by appellation and varietal, leaving it to the customer to guess who made the wine.  For example, there's a Riesling Glintzberg from Alsace (I suspect it's Roland Schmitt's) at $47 a bottle.  There's a 2009 Santenay "Gravieres" with no domaine listed and that's $92 a bottle.  

To their credit, the list isn't filled with wines from one of the large liquor distributor's portfolios.  There's enough range to match the menu, though mark-ups are often a bit high.

We began with a glass of Paco & Lola Albariño, priced at $11 a pour.  The wine arrived at the table in really large, heavy-duty Libbey glasses and the pour was quite generous.

There are 11 "small plates" on the menu and a couple of salads.  These range from $6 to $13.  There are Empanadillas of wild boar for $10.  Bocadillos de Venado (Venison 'sliders') also cost a ten-spot.  There's a Ceviche of Tuna for $13.  The Old Bat was not adventuresome and she selected the Alcachofa Asada, a grilled articoke ($9).  I opted for Calamares y Almejas, calamari, clams and chorizo for $12.
The artichoke had been steamed, cut in half, cleaned and then grilled briefly...Aioli was the 'sauce' for that.  Nice.
My little seafood plate was also quite good, if a bit small.  It had some cherry tomatoes and some Jalapeños, but wasn't especially spicy.

We brought out a bottle of red wine and the server placed a couple of large stems on the table and opened our bottle.  We offered him a taste and he graciously accepted.

For main plates, The Old Bat ordered "Carne a la Parilla," a bavette steak with some chimichurri sauce and plated with carrots and potatoes ($25).  My selection, with advice of our server, was Costillas de Cerdo, Guava-Glazed Baby-Back ribs ($18).  There were maybe four or five ribs on the plate with some fried plantains and some rice.
Both plates were very good.  We also took a side of Kennebec Fries ($5) and these were large cut fried potatoes...perfectly okay with a ketchup and some other dipping sauce.

Not wanting to miss our show, we high-tailed it out, skipping dessert.

The bill, with a $15 corkage fee and a small charge for the SF Health fee, tallied to $129.

We enjoyed the meal and look forward to a return visit.  Parking in the neighborhood is difficult, so plan a bit of extra time to drive around searching for a place.

It's located, by the way, about a mile south of AT&T Park.


Reviewed by GW
November 2014


 

REVIVAL BAR & KITCHEN

2102 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley

Tel: 510-549-9950

Dinner:  5-10 Tues-Sat
5-9:30 Sundays

 

 

 


Duck Liver Mousse

 


Local Lettuces with shaved carrot and radish

 

 

 

 

 


Coho Salmon, Endive, etc.

 




Mixed Grill of Lamb

 


Apple Fritters...really good!

 

 


After a nice bit of cinema on a Sunday afternoon, we arrived a bit early at our dinner destination, just a few adventuresome blocks north of the theater.

It's a spacious place with a nice bar along one wall and perhaps seating for 70 to 80+ people in  the restaurant.

We were escorted to a two-top, but The Old Bat asked if we could sit at a larger table, so the host took us to a 4 seater by the window on Shattuck.

No wine glasses are on the table as part of the place setting, but a wine list is presented with the menu.  It's a three page document, offered to diners on a clipboard.
I perused this, looking for wines-by-the-glass, but came up empty.  Those, you see, are posted on the back of the menu page, along with numerous cocktails and a beer list.

They have three sparkling wines by the glass, a Trevisol Prosecco ($10), a Moretto Lambrusco at $11 and Allimant Laugner's Cremant d'Alsace Rose at $13 (We love this wine and it retails for $20 a bottle).
They have three wines dispensed from kegs and offered by-the-glass, half-carafe or carafe:
Laird Sauvignon Blanc is $10, $24 and $34.
Stomping Girl Pinot Noir is $12, $28 and $40, while a Rhone blend from Donkey & Goat is $11, $26 and $38.
Six white wines are offered from the bottle and by-the-glass, including a Bonnet Muscadet for $11, a Monterey Viognier called Le P'tit Paysan for $13 and Talley's Arroyo Grande Chardonnay for $14.  Six reds by the glass are offered, including a Marcel Lapierre Gamay for $10, Pavi 2008 Dolcetto (seems a bit old to me) from Napa at $8, Bueyes Malbec from Argentina at $13 and a Napa Cabernet at $13 called Resolution.  

The clipboard wine list of three pages is broken down by category...Bubbles has 6 offerings, including Allimant Laugner's Cremant at $48 and Barnaut's Brut Champagne at $98.
There are "Light Whites and Roses," including Chotard's Sancerre at $52 a bottle.  Ojai Sauvignon Blanc is $50, so about twice retail.
"Full Bodied Whites" has a Patz & Hall "Dutton Ranch" Chardonnay at $62 a bottle and Castelfeder's Kerner from the Alto Adige is $52 (I'm not sure I'd consider that as a full-bodied white, though).

"Light Bodied Reds' we find two Beaujolais wines and 8 Pinot Noirs, including Paul Mathew at $80 and Red Car at $86.
"Medium Bodied Reds" features Bruno Rocca 2011 Dolcetto d'Alba at $44 and Corralillo Syrah from Chile at $32.
"Full Bodied Reds" has DuMol Syrah at $102 a bottle or Travaglini's Gattinara at $58.  I don't think I'd consider the Gattinara to be "full-bodied," any more than Mastrojanni's Brunello is "full."  It's $98 a bottle, though.

At least the list offers wines in a wide range of prices and there's a sufficiently broad spectrum of selections to match the moderately eclectic menu.

The restaurant makes its own Charcuterie, including Duck Liver Mousse, Saumagen, Smoked Ham, Dry Cured Coppa and Ciccioli.  Those are $8 each or $21 for a small plate assortment or $28 for a large plate.
Under "Starters" there are three "Flatbreads" (at $14), a fancy name for pizza.  A Turnip & Apple Soup is $8 or you can have a plate of Lamb Meatballs.

Salads features a trio of offerings, all at $13...a Frisée + Lardon or Chopped Curly Kale (with maple, chile, cumin, radish, cilantro-pumpkin seed pistou, pickled mushrooms and a golden balsamic vinaigrette) which seemed like a whole bunch of flavors which cannot co-exist with wine.
There's a salad of Autumn flame grapes + Persimmon with "endive, watercress, gorgonzola dolce latte, pink peppercorns, walnuts and a grape-ginger vinaigrette."  Again, good luck with the wine here.

There are 5 main plates and, on Sunday after 7pm, Fried Chicken.  Mains include a New York Strip Steak ($31, when available as noted on the menu), a Lamb Mixed Grill for $29, or a Duck Breast and Confit Leg at $25.  There's a vegetarian offering of Winter Squash + Golden Quinoa at $23 or Pan Roasted Coho Salmon at $26.
These are all rather balanced dishes, it seemed to me, and capable of pairing with the wines on their wine list.

The Old Bat ordered a Charcuterie plate of Duck Liver Mousse which came on a wooden platter with whole grain mustard, pickled onions  and pickled cucumber slices.  There was a lovely slab of the mousse and some thinly sliced, toasted pieces of bread.  The mousse was beautifully silky and flavorful.
I didn't have much interest in those car-wrecks of a salad, but under the heading of "Sides" there was "Local Lettuces with shaved carrot and radish" at $8.
There was some Frisée and more like 'wild greens' than normal types of leafy lettuce.  It was a nice little dish, though and the vinaigrette didn't overpower my glass of Loimer Gruner Veltliner ($13).  The Old Bat opted for a Tanqueray Martini and was "wowed" by the pickled "Cippolini" onion, which I presume was made on the premises.

I produced a bottle of a Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir and we paid $16 as a corkage fee.  Nice stemware was used for the glass of Gruner and the server brought larger stems for the Pinot.
Too bad the wine did not come up to the same level as the cuisine.

The Coho Salmon was as delicious as it was beautiful.  $26.  Caramelized endive, some chanterelles and a carrot top puree were on the plate with a lemon-saffron and tarragon 'sauce'.

I had the Lamb Mixed Grill which featured a slice of leg o'lamb, a lamb-olive sausage and a lamb "porterhouse" slice with fresh beans and red peppers.  $29.  As I mentioned, it was a pity the wine we brought did not come close to the level of quality of this plate.

We didn't have much room for dessert, but I splurged in ordering a plate of their Apple Fritters (with a lot of Cinnamon) at $8.  This was a fantastically good end to our meal.  Seriously good.

The bill tallied to $130 before the tip.

We thoroughly enjoyed the meal here and will probably return soon after another bit of cinema a few blocks away!

 

Reviewed by GW
November 2014

 

PUERTO 27

525 Crespi Drive

Pacifica

TEL: 650-733-7343

 

Mon-Thurs 11-9
Fri 11-10
Sat 10-10
Sun 10-9

 

 


Causa 27

 

 


Causa Masaki

 

 

 

 

 


Soiled Silverware was removed from the starter plates and set on the table for us to use with the main course.

 

 

 

 


Paella with long grain rice.

We'd driven by this place along the main road in Pacifica, so we booked a table after a Sunday cinema and found a spacious bar and dining room with a terrace or balcony to view the sunset.
In late October, that sunset is much earlier than we were, but we were escorted to a nice table for 4 (even though we were just two).  The World Series was on the various flat-screens scattered around the room.

No wine glasses are on the table, but they presented the menu, which has a wine list included, along with lots of cocktails, Pisco drinks and beers.

The wine list features three bubblies by the glass or bottle.  There are twelve white wines, with seven of them available by the glass.  There are three Roses available, one by the glass.  Twenty one red wines on the list, with eight of them being available in glass pours.

You'll be hard-pressed to recognize very many of the wines on the list.  They've done a pretty good job of selecting wines which will be virtually unknown to most wine drinkers, so recognizing the pricing (and mark-ups) is a challenge.

This can be a good thing, but it seems a number of the white wines are a year, two or three behind the "current" vintages of some brands.
Is it the restaurant focuses more on spirits, beer and cocktails?  Are customers uncomfortable ordering such off-beat labels?

They have two Sauvignon Blanc wines, for example.  Eight Arms North Coast 2011 for $11 a glass or $42 a bottle.  There's a 2009 Pont de Chevalier from Sonoma for $65.  A 2007 Albarino is offered for $65 of the Pedralonga label.  Ever heard of Zacherle Riesling from Carneros?  It's $40 a bottle for the 2010 vintage.  There's a Lodi Grenache Blanc of the Cochon label for $42 for the 2011.
If there's not someone who can sell these wines working the floor, it's not surprising to see such wines languishing on the list.
The three pink wines are all young, a 2013 Sandhi Pinot Noir Rose going for $68, while Martian Rose of Syrah is $42.
As for the red wines, we find offerings such as "Slang Pinot Noir" for $65, "The Tentacle" Syrah/Zin blend for $12 a glass or $46 a bottle and Hocus Pocus Santa Barbara Syrah for $50 (it's about $20-$21 retail).  If you'd like a Napa Cabernet, there's Convexity at $95, a brand launched by former asset management fellows. 

If you want to bring your own, the corkage fee is $18.

Being a Peruvian place, the menu features a number of Ceviche preparations ($13 to $15).  Then there are a few "Causa Makis," a sort of Peruvian version of Sushi with mashed potatoes instead of sushi rice.  These are $14 to $15.

We ordered a couple of pours of the Avinyo Cava ($11 a pour or $42 by the bottle), a wine I've tasted but a handful of times and I remember it as being drier and more austere than on this occasion.  

The Old Bat ordered the Causa 27 ($14) which is Shrimp and Calamari chicharron, lettuce, white fish and Ceviche Aioli.
I had the Causa Masaki ($14) which features crispy shrimp, Dungeness Crab, Avocado and Nikkei Aioli.  (Nikkei is a term for the fusion of Peruvian and Japanese cuisines, by the way.)

These starters were beautifully presented and both delicious!

At this stage I put a bottle of a nice dry white wine on the table and our server immediately brought an ice bucket (not really necessary, but we appreciate the thought) and two good wine glasses.
He opened the bottle and poured 'the say.'  Luckily, the bottle was good.

We had just finished the starters and the plates were on the table, having yet to be cleared.  Suddenly the two paellas arrived and we had to move the plates to allow the fellow to set down the little paella pans.
Soiled, used utensils from our first course were then taken off the appetizer plates and put back down on the table, as the staff here has not been trained to remove the entire 'service' and immediately replace the silverware.

The Paella is described on the menu as "Mixed Fish and Shellfish, Chicken and Chorizo, Saffron Rice, Peppers, green peas and Pimentón Sofrito."  
I did find some nice mussels (as you can see in the photos), a few prawns, some Bay Scallops, Calamari, but I missed the Chicken, Chorizo and Saffron.
And the rice was a unlike a good Spanish-styled Paella, made with Bomba rice or some other short grain rice.
Here at Puerto 27, the waiter told us they use "long grain rice."
Well, it was still a nice dish.

We skipped dessert, so the bill, with two pours of bubbles, two starters, two paellas and one corkage fee tallied to $131 with tax.

It's a nice venue, probably more scenic before sunset and without the distraction of the several large screen TVs scattered around the dining room.

Puerto 27 is a nice place to dine, but I'm not sure it's worth the trek if you're not close by given the numerous restaurant options in the nearby San Francisco.

Reviewed by
GW
October 2014

 

THE FRONT PORCH

65-A 29th Street
San Francisco

Tel: 415-695-7800

Open Daily for Dinner 5:30 Mon-Sat
Open 5-10 Sundays

 


Fried Okra


Homemade Hot Sauces

 


Corn Bread

 


Crawfish Hush-Puppies

 


Dr. Pepper Braised Short Ribs with some celery root puree and Broccoli Rabe.


Popcorn on the side, with our four piece serving of Fried Chicken, Collard Greens and Mashed Potatoes.


Biscuits

 

 

 


Beignets

 

 

 

We'd been talking about dinner on a Thursday evening, but we didn't get around to selecting a place until a few hours before dining.
And we found The Front Porch.

We made an 8:15 reservation and, luckily, arrived maybe a half hour early (for a change).  A few passes around the block and we did not find a parking spot.  We ended up finding a space down a dead end across from the restaurant.

The host said the table was close to being ready and he could call us on the phone to ring the dinner triangle, so we ambled across the street to the Rock Bar.  I gather both establishments are under the same ownership.

I had a Affliglem Blond on tap and my friend ordered a cocktail as we watched the locals "hanging out".  Especially amusing were the two ladies near us who were babying a cute little pooch (a pug, perhaps?) who was quite comfortable sharing a drink at the bar.

Just about right to the minute the call came, saying our table was ready.  "Finish your drinks, though.  Please take your time." we were told.

We returned to the restaurant and were escorted to a 4 top at the back of the place near the kitchen.  I had a seat on a normal chair, but my friend was on an old car seat (and they had seatbelts, too!).  The decor is eclectic and being late in October, there was a Halloween theme throughout.

The menu and wine list were presented as we sat down.  No wine glasses on the tables, though.

The wine list features a a couple of sparkling wines by the glass, Mont Marcal's Spanish Cava at $7.50 a glass or Charles Sparr Cremant d'Alsace Brut Rose at $8.50.
A half bottle of Bruno Paillard is $45, while a bottle of Dom Perignon is nicely priced at $205.

There are nine whites offered by-the-bottle with a few offered by the deuce (half liter) or by the glass.
A Picpoul de Pinet of the J&D Selections label goes for $7, $14 or $26 for a bottle.  Trefethen's Napa Riesling is $9, $18 or $34.  There are 14 red wine selections, including a Beaujolais of Piron from the Chènas cru at $46 a bottle.
From the Rhone Valley there was a Chateau de Segries Lirac at $12 a glass, $24 for a 'deuce" and $46 for a bottle.
Other selections included a Baxter Pinot Noir from the Anderson Valley for $12 a glass,  $24 for a half liter and $46 for a bottle. Andis Barbera from Amador, a Conn Valley Merlot and Donati Claret were offered.
A few of the wines have an icon of a chicken next to them, the Barbera and a Grenache Blanc from Lodi called Onesta being cited as good matches for "glugging with fried chicken."
Curiously, none of the sparkling wines merits this designation!

We ordered a 'deuce' of Joseph Drouhin Chablis at $20.  Nice stemware was brought to the table and a small decanter with the wine was poured to an appropriate level.

We ordered some Fried Okra with a Jalapeno Aioli ($7.50) and some Crawfish Hush Puppies ($9).
Soon we had a small basket of beautifully-fried Okra...nice texture of a crispy exterior and toothsome okra!
The Hush Puppies were also quite good and you could really taste the crayfish in these soft, bready little 'golf-balls'.

We were intrigued by the Dr. Pepper Braised Short Ribs ($25), so we chose to open a rather upscale red Burgundy we'd been dying to taste.  It was a Chassagne-Montrachet from Michel Niellon, a premier cru from the Clos Saint Jean site.  This was a like dressing in a tuxedo to go to a rib joint!
I'd chilled the bottle to cellar temp and this worked nicely as it emphasized the acidity and mild tannins.  We shared a taste of this with our server and her knees buckled when she tasted it.  "Ohhhh myyy...!!!" she cried.

We also ordered the "Fried Chicken, 4 Piece" at $18.50.

Other options included "Blackened Wild Gulf Flounder" ($22.75), "Spicy Shrimp & Grits" ($24) and "Sweet Tea Brined Pork Chop" ($21).  Yes, it's a little 'taste of the south' right here in The City!

The Short Ribs were quite good and were adorned with some fresh horseradish.  You could get a hint of the Dr. Pepper in the sauce hugging the meat.

The pieces of Fried Chicken were marvelous, if a tad different from the version we'd enjoyed last month at the Firefly restaurant in San Francisco.
This seemed to have a bit of hot sauce in the seasoning mix and I thought I detected a note of rosemary, too.
The Burgundy was able to survive this onslaught of flavor, though I think next visit I'll bring Champagne to pair with this.
The chicken is accompanied by "garlic mashers" and "ham hock collards."  Truly soul food!

They brought us a couple of homemade corn muffins...delightful!

We had to try their Biscuits, too.  I think it's $4.50 for two really nice biscuits (but the biscuits at Firefly might be a bit better).

 

We were curious to try their version of Beignets and these were presented in a small sack, beautifully covered in powdered sugar.
Quite good!

 

Their music box featured old-timers such as Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan which seemed fitting given the ambience and the cuisine.

In searching for parking, I'd seen Mitchell's Ice Cream nearby and so after paying the bill, we ambled over there at 10::30 to find a "Please-take-a-number" system.  The Kahlua and Cream was quite good, though totally over-the-top after such a meal at The Front Porch!

Their corkage fee is $20 and this brought our tab for two to about $102.

We're already planning a return visit to this place!  It's well worth the drive from Burlingame, but it's best to reserve a table ahead of time as it's a popular dining spot.

Reviewed by GW
October 2014


 

 

URCHIN BISTRO

584 Valencia Street
San Francisco

Tel: 415-861-1844

OPEN DAILY FROM 5:30 to 10:30 or 11

 


Crevettes and Aioli


Vegetable Brandade


Smoked Ocean Trout


Radicchio


Lamb Cassoulet


Steak Frites

 


Grilled Chicken with Padron Peppers

 


Mixed Berry Gratin & Beignets

 


On a Monday night we met a couple of friends at this brand new restaurant in the Mission District.  The venue had been the home of the Wing Ho General Store up until recently...

Urchin Bistrot is an off-shoot of Terra in Napa, though captained by some people who had worked well at the same company's "AME" restaurant in San Francisco.

They bring a lighter touch to classic French bistro cooking, although I'm not sure who's been asking for a lighter touch.

No valet parking but I was lucky to park in a parking garage a block away, as on-street spaces were filled.
The restaurant has tables as you walk in (and an open kitchen) and then an upstairs dining area.

On a Monday evening around 7:30, or so, the place was quite packed.  There may be 80 to 100 seats in the dining areas.

We had a wine list and menus on the table when I arrived, but wine glasses are not part of the table settings.

I perused the list for something interesting and found a Roland Schmitt Riesling from Alsace at $40 for a full bottle.  They have a list of wines, as well, offered "by the glass," in a "flask" containing about half a bottle (12 ounces) or in bottle.
Roederer Estate Sparkling wine is $11, $23 and $44 in those glass, flask or bottle offerings.
Aubry Brut Champagne is $20, $41 and $80, while a Langlois Brut Rose from France's Loire Valley goes for $13, $27 and $52.
A nice little Chablis from Alain Geoffroy is $11, $23, and $45 by the bottle.  It's a $19.99 retail in our shop.
It's a French-dominated list of wines, with few wines the average consumer will actually have familiarity.  That said, it does have some nice offerings and wines which pair with the cuisine.

They offer a $50 price-fixed menu and that can be accompanied by $38 worth of a wine pairing.

Under the heading of Appetizers, we asked for two plates of "Crevettes," accompanied by an Aioli.  Four peeled prawns are intertwined on a small plate...perfectly okay, but this is not much of a culinary challenge for the kitchen crew.
The prawns were good and matched nicely with the Alsatian Riesling.

They brought a Gratin of Vegetable "Brandade" for us, accompanied by some slivers of toasted baguette slices.  The idea is to "lighten up" classic French dishes and I think all three of us would have preferred the flavor of a classic cod-fish Brandade instead of the rather bland mix of celery root, potato (I think) and cauliflower.  Nice try, though.

One companion ordered their "Radicchio, Anchovy, Lemon, Parmesan" appetizer at $11.  I went for their "Ocean Trout Fumé with Capers and Lemon" at $14.
Our other diner passed on a starter.

The Radicchio was a bit of a take on a Caesar Salad...and it had nicely intense garlic and anchovy flavors.
My trout was not especially smoky and would have been rather bland without the capers.

That Schmitt Riesling was still on the table and pairing handsomely with the trout.

I placed a bottle of red Burgundy on the table and the server came by, opened it for us and brought nice, large Burgundy stems.

For the main plates, one lady ordered the Steak Frites at $26.  The other opted for the Grilled Free Range Chicken with Braised Kale and Padrón Peppers ($22), while I chose the Lamb Cassoulet, with lamb shoulder, sausage, riblets and Rancho Gordo Beans ($26).

The Burgundy was really showing well and the main plates were all good.  The chicken was tender and flavorful.  The steak was nicely done according to our friend.  The Lamb Cassoulet was fine, though I would have preferred a bit more seasoning (garlic, for one...maybe a touch of rosemary, as well).  The beans were cooked to perfection, though and it was a nice dish.

The ladies claimed little interest in dessert, but I ordered a Mixed Berry Gratin with Beignets ($10) and this was quite good.

The ambiance is nice, though we were near a music speaker and found the techno sounds or heavy metal rock to be a bit out of synch.  One person suggested "Maybe the general manager is off tonight?"  I guess I'm an old codger now, but I'd have preferred the music to be less noticeable and more in the background.

I think corkage is around $20 and our bill, with tax and the SF health surcharge tallied to about $205, give or take a buck.  We each left $80.

Overall, a nice place...probably worth a return visit, but I'll wait until the menu changes.

Reviewed by GW
October 2014

 

FIREFLY

4288 24th Street
San Francisco

Tel: 415-821-7652

Dinner from 5:30 Daily


Sea Scallop and Shrimp Pot Stickers

 

 

 



Lamb

 

 


Fried Chicken and a Damn Fine Biscuit

 

 

 

We had dined at this little, out-of-the-way, Noe Valley restaurant maybe a decade ago and booked a Sunday night table.

The place was nearly filled to its 50 seat capacity and we were escorted to a table for two near the bar.  There are two dining areas, one by the kitchen and bar, the other in what probably was another storefront, once upon a time.

The wine list and menus were presented as we were seated.  Wine glasses are not part of the table setting.
They do not serve distilled spirits, so The Old Bat could not have her Dry Martini.

The by-the-glass wine list features three sparkling wines, 6 whites, 6 reds and a rose.

A Bisol Prosecco is $12 a glass, as is a Cremant de Bourgogne from a Macon domaine.  An Austrian rosé bubbly of Pinot Noir and Zweigelt is $11.  Of the six white wines, there's but one California offering, Arrowood Chardonnay at $12 a glass.  Otherwise, there's a Sauvignon Blanc from Turkey for $10.50, an Austrian Gruner Veltliner for $11, a Spanish Xarel-lo for $9 and a Macon from Vincent Girardin for $12.
Reds are interesting an a bit obscure, too.  Can Blau's Montsant from Spain is $10.50, while a Zuccardi Malbec is $9.50.  Oakwild Ranch Pinot Noir from Sonoma is $12.50, Saucelito Canyon Zinfandel is $11 and a Birichino Cinsault is $12.

In half bottles, there are 4 whites and 4 reds. Hans Wirsching's lovely Silvaner is $30 a half bottle (it's $12 at retail), while a Sancerre is $35 for a 375ml format...A Coltibuono Chianti is $36 for a half bottle (full bottles of this retail for $17-$20) and Ridge Lytton Springs is $50 for a half bottle.

Wines by the bottle are all over the map, so you can explore some interesting selections there, if you like.  An Henri Bourgeois Sancerre is $53 on their wine list, while a Pigato from the Ligurian winery "Bio Vio" is $50.  Oremus dry Furmint from Hungary is $48 or you might try the Pierce Verdelho from Monterey County at $39 while Germano's dry Piemontese Riesling is $60 a bottle.
Of the five Pinot Noirs, I might opt for the Camus-Bruchon premier cru Savigny at $95.  A Rioja from Finca San Martino goes for $44 (a $13.99 bottle at retail).  A southern Rhone red from the Beaumes de Venise appellation is $58 (Redortier is the producer).  There's a Crozes-Hermitage from the Domaine  de Colombiere (sic) at $55.  A Terra Valentine Napa Cabernet is $75, while the Kendall-Jackson family's Cenyth Cab blend is $90.  Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Estate blend is $110, a $50 retail.

Corkage is $18 or $20.  

The wine list can certainly be described as a bit esoteric, but there's a broad spectrum of choices and you can certainly find something to match the moderately eclectic menu at Firefly.

The Old Bat was delighted with a glass of Lillet Blanc ($6.25). I opted for a pour of their Albariño ($9.50) which was served in a nice large stem of good quality.

We both were interested in their Sea Scallops and Shrimp Pot Stickers ($13.50) and this was a marvelous plate of freshly-made 'ravioli' (if you will).  These overshadowed the rather mild, if a bit bland, Albariño.

The server, a charming young lady, was knowledgeable about the various menu offerings and she stopped by the table periodically to check on us.

The Old Bat ordered the Braised BN (Bill Niman) Ranch Lamb ($25) which came with a few veggies on the side.  The lamb was tender and beautifully cooked.
My main plate was their Fried Mary's Chicken ($22) which came with a serving of mashed potatoes and gravy, some Romano beans in a spicy sauce and what they accurately describe on the menu as "A Damn Fine Buttermilk Biscuit."  

We skipped desserts, as we often do.  I'm not fond of desserts featuring Buttermilk Ice Cream, Strawberry Cream Cheese Ice Cream, Mascarpone Panna Cotta or Coconut Tapioca. But I'm guessing there are many folks who do like those sorts of after dinner treats.  Most desserts were $9 and Firefly also offers a wine pairing suggestion for each.
The dessert suggestions are well-considered, in fact.  With a Bittersweet Chocolate Cake they suggest a Niepoort LBV Port at $10 a glass.  For the Coconut Tapioca and Ambrosia Melon Sorbet, they advise La Caudrina's Moscato d'Asti at $8.

The ambiance is comfortable, though a bit noisy.  

Overall, this is a treasure of a neighborhood restaurant and we're already planning another visit (without a movie pairing)!

Reviewed by GW
September 2014


 

PICCOLO

651 Oak Grove Avenue
Menlo Park

Tel: 650-326-1314

Open Lunch Tues-Fri 11:30-2
Dinner Tues-Sun from 5pm


The very "American" idea of Italian dipping sauce...modest quality oil and similar quality "Balsamic" vinegar.
You won't find this in Italy.


Carpaccio


Prosciutto e Melone


Gamberoni...


Fusilli alla Bolognese


We were planning to see the British film "A Trip to Italy" on a Sunday afternoon, so we booked a table at this new Italian restaurant on a small alley in Menlo Park.
We had dined at this location a few years ago when it was called Brunello.  Today it's under new ownership, being run by an Italian fellow who also owns Burlingame's Sapore.

It's a small place seating perhaps 35 to 40 people inside and maybe 6 to 12 outside, weather permitting.

There's a parking lot nearby and we easily found a spot for the car and ambled in for our 6:30 reservation.
The place was perhaps 35%-50% occupied.

Wine glasses are on the table as part of the place setting.  The menu was presented as we were seated in in the back at a cozy corner table.  There was no wine list, but there were a few wines listed "by the glass" on the daily menu specials insert.

There are 9 wines offered by the glass.
That's the good news.  The bad news is they do not bother to inform customers whose wine they are serving, for the most part.
There's an unnamed Pinot Grigio for $9 a glass.  A Prosecco, Nero d'Avola and Sangiovese are also $9, but we do not know the brand name of any of these.  There's an anonymous Barbera d'Alba for $11 and unnamed Chianti Classico for $12.  Only their Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc wines are identified and these, both $9 a pour, are Edna Valley wines, a brand taken over by Gallo a few years ago.

One of the three wines "by the bottle" is La Moto "Super Tuscan," a wine retailing for perhaps $15.  Here's it's $36 a bottle.
There's the anonymous Barbera d'Alba at $38 a bottle and a "Malbec del Sol" for $30, a wine retailing on some internet web sites for between $7 and $9 a bottle.
I did see a bottle of Jordan Cabernet behind the bar, but it's not on their abbreviated wine list.
Clearly wine is not important, despite the place being an Italian-themed dining spot!
And when a place lists only the type of wine anonymously, rather than including a brand name on the list, it usually indicates they buy solely on price and not on quality.  I've usually found the kitchen tends to be stocked similarly in places too lazy to offer good wine with winery names on their list.

We inquired as to the identity of their Prosecco and the server didn't know, but he kindly brought the bottle over for inspection.  It was another obscure brand.  We opted for two pours and the fellow brought a couple of stems-full of bubbles.  One had giant bubbles (like club soda or 7-Up) and the other mildly bubbly...I suspect this had to do with how the glasses were washed and dried.

The place was under-staffed and it was clear the two servers and one busser had their hands full.  It seems a hostess and server decided it being a holiday weekend, the place might not be busy, so they took the day off.

The menu offers a handful of starters and a few salads.  There's a Bruschetta of tomatoes for $7 or one of Fava beans for $8.  Mozzarella Caprese is $9, as is a Carpaccio.  Antipasto per Due is $18, but the items comprising this dish are a mystery.  Prosciutto & Melone is $10.  A Mixed Green Salad is $7, while for $8 there's an Insalata di Cesare.  There's an Insalata Piccolo ($10) featuring Romaine Lettuce, dried cranberries, Gorgonzola and Avocado.  The soup ($7) is a Chicken Broth with Tortellini.

The daily specials menu with all the mystery wines has 5 items on it.  Burrata Con Crostini is $10, as is an Arugula and Orange salad.
Spaghetti alle Vongole is $18, while Short Ribs with Fettuccine is $23. Halibut alla Piccata is $25.
The server informed us the Spaghetti and Clams was sold out, as was the Short Ribs special.
The regular menu has 7 pasta dishes, ranging from $12 to $18.  There were 5 "secondi" on this menu, from "Pollo alla Parmiggiana" (sic) at $16, two veal dishes featuring "provini" (sic) veal.  Gamberoni al Limone is $22.  Eggplant Parmigiana (they spelled it correctly this time!) is $16.

The Old Bat ordered the Carpaccio which Piccolo embellishes with "Parmesan Cheese."  She asked for it without the cheese and the plate was nicely presented and tasted pretty good.
I ordered Prosciutto e Melone and this, too, had a nicely artistic presentation and the Prosciutto was good quality, but the melon was bland.  In fact, it tasted a bit odd, reminding me of the flavor of Trix or Fruit Loops breakfast cereal.  I wondered if the melon had been cut earlier and stashed in the 'fridge?  In any case, by the end of August, finding a ripe melon should not be difficult.
The little bit of salad greens and shredded carrots in the middle of the plate were not bathed in a vinaigrette so I wondered if these were more for visual pleasure rather than gustatory appreciation.

They brought over some bread and a fellow poured olive oil and some cheap Balsamic vinegar in a plate for a dipping sauce.  Of course, if you're a regular reader of these reviews, this sort of offering identifies the restaurant as pandering to the taste of naive diners who've not been to Italy and who think this is "how it's done in the Old Country."  

We waited about 20 minutes between the starters and main plates.

The Old Bat would have ordered the Spaghetti with Clams and I'd have opted for the Short Ribs with Fettuccine, but they were sold out of both daily specials (at 6:30!).
She chose, then, the Gamberoni al Limone ($22) which came in a small pile on one side of the plate and a healthy serving of fresh vegetables on the other side.
I ordered their Fusilli alla Bolognese ($14) and the pasta was cooked a shade past "al dente" and the meat sauce was bland, at best.  In fact, I commented that any commercial pasta sauce had more character than did this.
When airline food is more flavorful, maybe there's a problem.

We asked for the check and they didn't nail us for a corkage fee, which was nice.  The $9 glass of Prosecco, however, was $10 on the bill!


The bill tallied to about $82 before the tip.

This is a perfectly standard neighborhood dining spot, but not worth going out of your way to dine there.  If you're not terribly fussy about food and don't care about wine, this may be your restaurant.
And don't forget to bring a good bottle to dinner, since the wine list here is a failure.

Reviewed by GW
September 2014


 

BLOCK 34

34 East Fourth Avenue
San Mateo

Tel:  650-434-3403

Dinner Wed-Sun  6pm until 2am

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Tuna Tartare

 


Double Onion Soup Gratinée

 

 

 

 

 

 


King Salmon with the potato crust, Broccolini, creamed spinach underneath and mustard seed sauce.

 


Herb Fries with a New York steak, creamed spinach underneath and a green peppercorn sauce.

 

 

After a Sunday afternoon movie, we strolled in to Block 34, a new restaurant in San Mateo near El Camino.

We were escorted to a table for two near a pillar by the wall on the far wall from the bar.  It was close to another two-top, which was occupied.

No wine glasses are on the table as part of the place setting.  The wine list is on the opposite side of the menu.

They have a full bar.  The wine list offers a dozen white and a dozen reds "on tap."  Of bottled wines, there are but 8 selections of red and 8 of white!
There are 6 sparkling wines, if you'd consider Weibel's Raspberry bubbly ($10 a pour for a wine wholesaling for less than $7 a bottle) to be a sparkling wine.
As for the quality of the wine selections:  many of them are what I can "wines with training wheels."  That is, there are some really basic entry level selections of wines that are prominent in places such as Safeway and Costco.  Brands such as Cameron Hughes, Liberty School, Hess and Wente are available at Block 34.  
The Old Bat had a Dry Martini which she said was "excellent."  I ordered a glass of Qupe Chardonnay ($18 in the shop) for $13 from a keg.  I calculated the cost of this glass...if it's a 6 ounce pour, the restaurant's cost is about $2.61.  A bottles' worth of this goes for $34, a relatively attractive price for the consumer.
Hess Chardonnay is $9 a glass and $24 for a bottles' worth.
They also have a bunch of selections from a company called Vintap.  As a result, there's a rose called "Redenuff" ($9/glass), a "Zincognito" Zinfandel ($9/glass), "Jupiter" Sangiovese ($8) and "Red barn" Pinot Noir ($10).
Of wines sold in a bottle, we find a Ridge Zinfandel for $68 but it's not identified any further, so is it their Three Valleys which retails for about $25 or Geyserville or Lytton Springs which retail for around $36?
If you're a fan of Jordan Cabernet, it's $28 a glass or $112 for a bottle.  Patz & Hall Pinot is $20 a pour or $72 by the bottle. Rombauer Chardonnay goes for $17 a pour or $60 for the bottle.  Can you imagine a wine list offering a $90 bottle of Chateau Montelena Cabernet (is it their 'Napa' blend or, less likely, the Estate Cabernet?) and "Reuinite (sic) Moscato" for $22 a bottle?
Well, they're trying to cover all the bases.

We perused the menu...Two soups and three salads to start.  An Onion soup with is said to have a truffle component goes for $11.  A Corn Bisque is $9.  A Kale & Romaine Caesar Salad is $9, while an Avocado, Frisée, and Crab Salad comes with Quinoa and Seared Watermelon with a Green Goddess Dressing ($15).   Eight appetizers are offered, including Steak Tartare ($14) which comes with a fried quail egg.  Clams Casino is $15, while Oven Roasted Oysters are $15.  They had a small list of fresh oysters ($2-$3 each for most of them) or an unpriced Shrimp Cocktail (offered in two versions, "Traditional Style" or "Old Boy (sic) Seasoning."  Having seen the Korean film "Old Boy," this was not appetizing.
The main course options are few: Three meat possibilities include an Angus Burger with Fries ($17), A Chicken Breast with farro, white beans, oregano, mushrooms and a citrus salad ($23) or a New York Steak and Herb Fries with creamed spinach and a green peppercorn sauce ($32). Three Seafood offerings were available on this particular evening, including Bacon Crusted Sea Scallops ($32), King Salmon ($28) or Grilled Swordfish ($27).
Vegetarians are offered something called a "Cauliflower Steak" with olives, capers, peppers, roasted red pepper and a tomato coulis ($17) or a Wild Mushroom Risotto ($18).

The Old Bat ordered the Double Onion Soup Gratinée ($11), while I selected the Tuna Tartare which came with an avocado puree, rice chips and nori ($16).

The starters came out fairly quickly and we watched as a runner walked by our table in search of where these two items were going.  I think we were the third table he offered them to...
The soup, according to The Old Bat, was more like a Corn soup.  I tasted it and found the onion and Gruyere cheese notes, but not the truffle.
My Tuna Tartare was very good, although I thought the "diaper stain" of green on the plate was wasabi.  In any case, (have a look at the photo) its appearance on the plate seemed as though someone dragged their finger through the middle of it.  I appreciate chefs being artistic in their presentation, but you never know how someone might interpret this "art."

The Old Bat asked if they had some bread and it seems both bread and water are "by request."  They don't ask if you'd care for either of these, so the diner must take the initiative.
The bread was some sort of Pain d'Epis and it was okay...better had it been a bit softer or served warm.

Holding a conversation at this place when it's busy is nearly impossible. 
On the warm day we visited (high 60s to mid-70s), the restaurant was quite hot.  My dining partner kept asking "Is it me or is this place hot?"  After finishing her meal, she said she meet me outside because it was too warm for her to comfortably remain in the restaurant.  There are some ceiling fans, but they are too close to the high ceilings to have much impact at the table.  Maybe, come to think of it, they simply circulate the hot air back down into the dining area?

We produced a bottle of wine from the cellar bag and our young server brought two wine glasses (perfectly decent all-purpose stems of maybe 14 to 16 ounce capacity) and she put a corkscrew to the bottle.
We coached her along the way as she was clearly not trained very much in this area of service, nor was she especially experienced in opening bottles of wine (maybe this is why they have so many wines in keg format?).

Before our starter plates had been removed from the table, another runner was table-side asking who gets what (we're a two-top and this should be easy to incorporate into their ordering system)...
I asked where he intended to put those plates since we still had our appetizer plates on the table.
"Well, you're going to have to move those out of the way!" he told us.
At a neighboring table we sensed all sorts of confusion as to who gets what, who's already had what, etc. Clearly they've not gotten all the kinks worked out yet.

The Old Bat ordered their King Salmon dish with the potato crust...I think she asked them to substitute the creamed spinach for the cauliflower purée.  The salmon, she said, was fine.  It was certainly cooked thoroughly, through and through.
My New York steak was cooked as ordered and the meat and sauce were terrific.  The plate has their "Herb Fries" on it and with so much sauce, these became a bit soaked.  The fries, you see, are served simply on the plate, not in a cone or in a separate serving container.

Over all, Block 34 has good potential.  

Service clearly needs more polish and the wine list is more the work of quota-driven sales reps from the big liquor houses, so I'd suggest bringing a good bottle since, if you're a savvy wine consumer, the list is, as of August 2014, fairly ordinary.


Reviewed by GW
August 2014

 

IDEALE

1309 Grant Avenue
San Francisco

TEL: 415-391-4129

Open Monday-Sat 5:30 til closing
Sunday 5pm - 10pm

 


Calamari e Rughetta


Prosciutto e Fichi



Agnello (Lamb)

 


Costoletta Milanese


Chef Maurizio's Famous Tiramisu...
Now we know why it's famous!

 

A few years ago we were ambling around North Beach and a friend pointed to this hole-in-the-wall restaurant and said he'd had a good meal there.

At the spur of the moment on a Friday afternoon, another friend called to say she was attending an art showing in a little gallery just off of Grant Avenue, so we made reservations on Open Table for a 9:15 table at Ideale in San Francisco.  Parking is dicey in this area, especially at night, so we paid $25 and dropped the car at a little lot on Fresno Street, a block east of Grant Avenue.

The restaurant was packed at 9pm and a few people were waiting near the entrance.  We took a seat at the little bar in the back and perused the wine list.

This place easily fits into the North Beach neighborhood, but you could drop this trattoria in Rome, Milan or Venice, too.

We ordered a half bottle of Ferrari Brut Rose ($26), but they were sold out, so we had a half bottle of Ruggeri Prosecco ($24).

The wine list is interesting and it's refreshing to find a list that's not dominated by the mass-market offerings of the big liquor distributors, nor is it full of the most esoteric bottlings from currently fashionable "natural" winemakers.  A few well-known labels are on the list, but they offer the diner a nice range of good Italian bottlings.
Suavia Soave Classico is $30 a bottle, while the Cantina Valle Isarco's Gruner Veltliner is $36.  I Favati Fiano is $39 and a Cantina Pedres Vermentino costs $40.
In half bottles, aside from two sparkling wines, there's Sonoma Cutrer Chardonnay ($24) and five reds, including Damilano Barolo ($35).
The red wine offerings are a well-priced and a few items stand out to me:  Produttori del Barbaresco 2008 Barbaresco ($60), Caprili 2007 Brunello ($85) and Romano Dal Forno's Valpolicella at $150 (not inexpensive, but to have this wine for such a modest price in a restaurant is remarkable!).

Their corkage fee is $25.

We were shown to our table in the 'other' room away from the bar and we were seated in the front by the window.  My, oh my, there's a parade of characters strolling out on Grant Avenue!

Wine glasses are part of the table setting and we brought our little clunky flute glasses and half bottle of Prosecco to the table.

We perused the menu and they forgot to bring a wine list.
The menu features old time, classic Italian dishes, so don't come here looking for new culinary ground to be broken.
They don't do "fusion" (or con-fusion cuisine).

We ordered a starter plate of Prosciutto and Figs...a nice dinner plate of good quality prosciutto (not deluxe, but good) with perfectly ripe fresh figs.  This was maybe $13.
Calamari e Rughetta ($12.50) featured a half a dozen, or so, calamari mantles and a small pile of fresh (organic they tell us) arugula.  This was also quite good.

Our server had brought a small basket of fresh, soft bread to the table and poured a small bowl of olive oil for dipping.  These folks are Italians, so they didn't bring cheap vinegar to the table as you'll get in so many Italian-wannabe restaurants.  The olive oil, by the way, was unusually good.  Kudos to these guys for paying attention.

We might have opted for a mid-plate of pasta, but the gluten-free gal I was dining with precluded our ordering that.  But the pastas we saw being set on near-by tables looked good (smelled good, too) and many of these are noted as "homemade" on the menu.  Tortelloni, Mezzalune, Ravioli and Lasagne all have this designation.
The menu also offers four different pizzas and seven main course options (plus they may offer some additional specials).

We put a bottle of a 1999 Borgogno Barolo on the table and the server took care of opening it and pouring.  They didn't offer to decant the wine.

For main plates, my friend ordered the Agnello allo Scottadito ($28), a number of perfectly cooked lamb chops with an herb rub.  I couldn't resist ordering the Costoletta di Vitello alla Milanese ($26).
Both plates came with some chunks of fresh tomatoes which had been marinated or dressed lightly and, even better, some wedges of fresh potatoes cooked until creamy inside and a bit crispy outside.
The lamb was a delight...very good.  And the Costoletta Milanese was excellent!  It was a rib chop with the bone, not some small piece of veal pounded to a thin, but massive sized dimension.

Our Barolo was just right...it was starting to blossom and the wine grew handsomely over the course of the meal.  They didn't rush us...maybe a result of not having more folks waiting at the door.
A dessert menu was offered but we lingered over the wine and finally the server brought a big slice of a tiramisu torta which was excellent!

The bill tallied to about $115 before the tip and they didn't charge us the corkage fee, either an oversight or they appreciated our offering them a pour of the Barolo.  I think the dessert was complimentary, as well.

The ambience was normal for a little, busy San Francisco eatery...not so loud that you can't hear the person across from you, but loud enough to not hear the neighboring tables.

We'll certainly keep this place in mind for a return visit and I look forward to another Costoletta Milanese!!

Reviewed by GW
August 2014



 

ALY'S ON MAIN

911 Main Street
Redwood City

Tel: 650-995-7500

Lunch: Tues-Fri 11:30-2:30
Dinner:  Tues-Sat 5:30-9:30

 


The Amuse Bouche...a Medjool date with Prosciutto

 


The Kale Salad...lovely!


Ahi Tartare with Avocado, Mango, Sweet Peppers, English Cucumbers, Seaweed "salad" and seasoned with Yuzu and Ponzu.

 


Nice stemware and a terrific plate of homemade pasta!

 

 


Heritage Pork Chop, Yukon Potatoes and Creamed Spinach.




Heritage Lamb with the Cannellini Bean Ragout and Mint Pesto

 


Chocolate Pot de Crème...Dangerously good.

 

I had received a text message from a friend who was delighted with a meal she was having at this newish place in Redwood City.
It's near Martin's West, Angelicas, Donato's and the movie theaters in the downtown area.
So we decided to try Aly's on Main together...

Good luck parking near this place on a Friday night!  We ended up several blocks away.

Arriving a bit after 7, we found the restaurant to be about half-filled.  We were escorted to a booth in the back.  We were given menus and a very minimal one page document that is their wine list.  No wine glasses are on the table, though, as part of the place setting.
It's a beer and wine only place at the present time and we noticed a handful of beers "on tap."

The wine list has a mere four white wines.  Chalk Hill Sauvignon Blanc is  $12 a glass and $45 for a bottle, as is Woodside Winery Chardonnay from the Santa Cruz Mountains and Acacia's Chardonnay from Carneros.  They offer a Chalone Chardonnay which is listed as being from Sonoma, but it's actually from Monterey County fruit (and not Chalone's more interesting Estate-grown wine).
Red wines come in but two "flavors," Pinot Noir (Poppy from Monterey is $10 a glass and $39 by the bottle, a $12.99 retail wine--or Thomas Fogarty's 2011 from the Santa Cruz Mountains at $56 a bottle).  Cabernets are "Benterra" (sic, it's Bonterra) from Mendocino at $7 a pour and $28 for a bottle, Sauverain (sic, it's Souverain)  with a "Mendocino Coast" appellation (which does not exist...and the bottle is branded as "North Coast) at $10 a glass and $39 by the bottle.
Roth Estate from the Alexander Valley and Woodside Winery Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernets are $12 a glass and $45 by the bottle.
That's the entire wine list.

Corkage is about $15 if I recall correctly.

The stemware we had was quite good, so it's worth it to bring a bottle and pay the corkage fee.

The menu features local ingredients and "organically-farmed" produce.

The menu is limited, as well, which is perfectly fine.  There were four starters on our visit:
Heritage Pork Belly with a Cauliflower Puree for $9, A Mozzarella di Bufala Caprese salad for $9.  You might want to try the Charred Rainbow Cauliflower Agrodolce ($9) or an Ahi Tuna Tartare for $9.
Two salads are available...Kale with cranberries, almonds, bacon and a Mango Vinaigrette or Baby Gem Lettuce with a grilled peach, pickled raisins, goat cheese and a red wine vinaigrette.  These are ten bucks.

Three items are listed under the pasta heading and the chef makes his own pasta and gnocchi!  Spaghetti Carbonara is $14, which a Fettucine Bolognese is $16.  Yukon Gold Mint Gnocchi comes adorned with oven-dried tomatoes, brown butter, sage, Asiago and cream ($15).

Three burgers might  be on the menu...this particular visit there was no beef, so they had only a Lamb Burger or a Turkey Burger.  You see, the chef is fanatical about his raw materials and buys from ranchers and local farmers.  He's adept, apparently, at butchering whatever it is that comes in to the restaurant, hence you may find some exotic or unusual offerings.

Pan Roasted Copper River King Salmon was $23.  A Heritage Pork Chop with Creamed Spinach and a dried fruit Mostarda was $23.  Lamb Rib Chops come with a Cannellini Bean Ragout, Braised Chard and a Mint Pesto ($23).
The last main plate was "Organic Chicken" cooked Sous Vide stuffed with Mushrooms, Spinach and Gouda cheese accompanied by a Yukon Potato, Carrot Puree and Brussels Sprouts ($20).

Shortly after ordering, we were presented an Amuse Bouche of a Date wrapped in Prosciutto and stuffed with Cheese.  Being allergic to cheese, I felt badly not accepting this little offering, but the kitchen sent out a cheese-free version and it was remarkably good!

We had several bottles of wine in our cellar bag and the waiter recognized our wine rep dining companion from her sales call at the place earlier in the week.
We shared tastes of our bottles and the corkage fee was waived.

My friend ordered the Kale Salad to start...really fresh and very good...the fruit and nuts combined nicely and the bacon pieces were exceptional.  My Tuna Tartare featured a major contribution from the avocado with the tuna, but the Yuzu and Ponzu gave it a particular character which I enjoyed...too bad our New Zealand Sauvignon from Dog Point had so much of a "burnt" character (burnt matches and burnt rubber).

Next we split the Fettuccine Bolognese.  The pasta was really good and the sauce was excellent.  Ours was a cheese-free version, by the way.
We opened a bottle of E. Pira Dolcetto...an ideal accompaniment to this.

For a main plate, my friend selected the Pan Roasted pastured Heritage Pork Chop...I thought about taking this, but feared the Mostarda might be too sweet for my tastes...but I had a bite and it was excellent.  Very savory, in fact.
The Pastured Lamb Rib Chops which I ordered, were very good, though a tad more cooked than "medium rare."  The bean ragout was excellent, though and the mint 'pesto' was a nice counterpoint to the lamb.

 

They had several desserts.  My friend was dying to try the Chocolate Pot de Crème and this was delicious with a capital D!  Terrific chocolate.  Intense and creamy...Wonderful.

The place has an open kitchen, so you can see what's going on in the back.  The music being played was a bit loud and an odd mix of current pop tunes which later changed to Van Morrison and King Harvest...

Our bill tallied to around $95, but remember, we had not been charged their corkage fee.
Had this been on the bill, we'd have tallied to around $125-$130 before the tip, a very reasonable price given the quality of the food and friendly service.

Overall, the food here is quite good.
We had a nice chat with the chef/owner who's clearly passionate about food and he's hoping to elevate the taste of local customers.
The fellow has worked with Alice Waters, Jeremiah Tower and Joyce Goldstein.

I'm looking forward to a return visit.  If you go, I'd suggest bringing a good bottle of wine to pair with the food as the wine list is weak.

Reviewed by GW
July 2014

 

GASPAR BRASSERIE

185 Sutter Street (near Kearney)
San Francisco

Tel: 415-576-8800

Lunch:  Mon-Fri 11:30-3

Dinner: Mon-Wed 5-10:30
Thurs-Sat 5-11
Closed Sundays

 

 


Charcuterie Maison plate

 

 


Burgundian Escargots


Ris d'Agneau

 

 

 

 

 

 


Striped Bass with Scallops

 


Agneau Grillé


Fries

 

We were intrigued by the classic look of the Parisian-styled brasserie on their web site and the menu was enticing as well, so we booked a Tuesday night table at this Financial District dining spot.

Street parking is difficult and possibly dangerous, so I parked in the Sutter-Stockton garage a couple of blocks west of the restaurant.

It's a really snazzy looking place from the outside and inside you're greeted by a hostess.  I was escorted upstairs to the main dining room and we had a small corner table by the window.  There's a bar and a few tables on the ground floor.  Upstairs at 7, the place was jumping.  There's another bar somewhat secluded on the upper level.

Wine glasses are not part of the table setting.  The wine list is a small, two page 'brochure,' with many by-the-glass selections.  Some of these also can be had in carafe format (not sure of the quantity, but I suspect this is about a half liter) as well as by the bottle.

Only three sparkling wines are offered.  One is Napa Valley's Mumm, whose Rose is $14 a glass or $56 a bottle.  Henriot's Brut Souverain is $18 by the glass or $72 by the bottle.
My dining companion, arriving a few minutes before me, had ordered a pour of the Brazilier "Trad" sparkling wine from the Loire.  $10 a glass or $40 for a bottle.  She was told they did not have a chilled bottle at that point in time, so she opted for a pour of Turley's Zinfandel Rose ($12 a glass, $35 for a carafe or $48 by the bottle).
I perused the wine list and ordered two pours of the Brazilier Trad.  A few minutes later the waiter arrived with two old-fashioned "Champagne Coupes"!  These are saucer-like glasses which have a large surface area, so the wine can go flat immediately.  And, of course, you can enjoy the aroma and bouquet of a sparkling wine in such a glass.
I asked why they did not offer their bubbles in flutes or normal stemware, but the waiter was at a loss on this score.  He brought two stems into which he'd poured the coupes-full of bubbles.
I thought the wine smelled a bit soapy and wondered if the glasses simply had not been properly rinsed.  The wine was not very bubbly, suggesting the glasses were not pristinely clean.  (Parenthetically, the steak knife at my place setting had such clear fingerprints, a police investigator would have little trouble in determining the culprit.)

We opted for a Charcuterie plate to share as we meandered through the menu. This $14 plate came with a nice slab of a homemade, meaty terrine, jambon mousse, a few thin slices of duck 'ham' and some marinated beets.  I believe the pâte had a fair bit of allspice to it...nicely coarse in texture, too.

Having drained our soapy bubbles and finished the charcuterie plate, our server stopped by and we ordered two appetizers and a carafe of Chatenoy's Menetou-Salon ($37).
The server returned a few minutes later with a couple of good stems and the carafe of Sauvignon Blanc.  He poured one glass and I reached for my empty glass to take a sniff.  Oops!
The glasses smelled of the bleach rinse.
I waved my hands saying this will not work.

He took away the glasses and returned with two properly cleaned glasses and the already-poured glass and the less-than-full carafe.  He poured the one glass into the new, clean glass.  And then poured another glass from the carafe.
((Maybe dumping the wine that had been poured into the bleach-scented glass would have been proper, as perhaps filling the carafe?  Or am I being too damned picky?))

Back to the wine list:  There are nine white wines and three Roses.   Nine reds.  The wine list demonstrates a bit of care and thought, but despite the bottles coming with properly printed labels, a number of the entries are misspelled, indicating a lack of attention to detail, especially since the web site indicates there's a staff member devoted to "curating" the wines.  

Margerum's Santa Barbara Grenache Blanc is $14-$41-$56 by the glass-carafe and bottle.  Calera Viognier is $12-$35-$48.  Carillon Bourgogne is $16-$47-$64. They offer a minor Bordeaux ($15-$44-$60) which is listed as "Cabernet Sauvignon," though Cabernet accounts for but half the blend.  A red wine from the Minervois is listed as a Grenache, ($9-$27-$36)  but the Chateau de Paraza makes no wine with more than 40% Grenache.  Their pick for Merlot is Medlock Ames ($14-$41-$56), while Domaine Berthoumieu's lovely Madiran is $12-$35-$48.
There are six bubblies on the main wine list, Coutier's NV Brut going for $86, while a 1999 Billecart-Salmon is $190.
Six Chardonnays are found under the heading of Vins Blancs and Roses.  It'll cost you $79 for a St. Aubin from Uliz, while a $126 gets you a Brocard Grand Cru "Bougros" Chablis.  A Stonestreet Chardonnay is $96, while Porter Bass is $85.  A Guillemarine Picpoul is $38 (we have it in the shop for $13), while a Sonoma Sylvaner is $58 a bottle.  
The wines are listed by varietal, although as noted earlier, some of these don't have even 50% of that grape accounting for the total blend.  They list a few Bordeaux as "Cabernet Sauvignon," but Château Haut-Selve ($58) and Château Laffite-Laujac ($72) both say on their web sites that their wines are half Cabernet and half Merlot.  Similarly, a Chappellet Napa red blend ($90) is but 45% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Curiously, a couple of wines are billed as Grenache Blends, while two Chateauneuf-du-Papes are billed as "Grenache."  Mourvedre from Donkey & Goat is $68, while a Bouchard Gevrey-Chambertin is $120. 

The corkage fee is $20, but it's waived if you've ordered a bottle from their wine list.

The menu has a bunch of cheeses listed under the Fromage heading, classified as cow's milk, goat's milk or sheep's milk.
Under the Fruits de Mer, Oysters (du Jour) are $3 each, a Shrimp Cocktail is $17, while Mussels in Biere Blanche go for a mere $5.  Yet under Petits Plats, Mussels a la Biere is $15.
We ordered two Petit Plats.
Burgundian Escargots ($12) is described as having Bacon, Roasted Shallots, Garlic Confit, Brioche and a Sherry Vinaigrette.  The snails are served in a nice bowl, out of their shells.  I found them to be muddy-tasting, as they didn't seem to have spent much time with the other ingredients.  A nice try, but I wasn't thrilled by this plate.
The Ris d'Agneau ($13) comes with an English Pea Blini and a half of a Trumpet Mushroom with hazelnut Butter.  The Sweetbreads tasted as they should, with a decidedly lamb-like quality.  The mushroom has soaked up the butter character.

Our bottle of 1999 Bonneau du Martray Corton was corked, but we had a back-up bottle in the bag.  Happily, the server charged us only for the one bottle, as we did not drink the flawed wine.  We shared a nice pour of Esmonin's Ruchottes-Chambertin with the fellow, though.

My friend ordered the Striped Bass & Scallop Duo ($28), described as "Harissa spiced fish soup, pommes puree, fennel confit and Moroccan Tapenade."  If you're writing the menu in English, why do you list it as "pommes puree" I wonder?  
In any case, the Bass and Scallops were good...cooked properly.  The tapenade was the dominant flavor and if I did not know it was tapenade, I'd have identified it as some sort of Chinese spicing (like a five spice seasoning).
My Agneau Grillé ($25) featured a couple of nice lamb loin pieces and a small crepinette (burger, essentially) and some nicely cooked, toothsome beans.
We also tacked on an order of fries which came in one of those cone displays.

The bill tallied to $213 with the SF Health surcharge and tax, but before the tip.

The place cleared out early on a Tuesday night and it was a bit empty by 8pm, so I suppose many of those dining there by 7 had come from work nearby in the Financial District.

The ambience was very much like a newish bistro or brasserie in France and you can see the design crew has paid extreme attention to detail.  Unfortunately the wine service does not come close to the same level.  

I'd say they're on the right track, but are going to need to step up their game if Gaspar is to remain a San Francisco dining spot.

Reviewed by GW
July 2014

 

COMSTOCK SALOON

155 Columbus Avenue
San Francisco

Tel: 415-617-0071

Mon-Fri  Noon to 2am
Saturday 4pm to 2am
Sun 4pm to midnight

 

 


Chicken Livers on Pan de Mie

 


Brandade with beets, tiny watercress and some crispy toast.

 


Mushroom Pot Pie

 


Brined Pork Chop

 

 

After a Sunday afternoon movie at the Embarcadero Theater we made our way to Columbus Avenue on the edges of Chinatown and North Beach to this old-time, Barbary Coast-styled "saloon."

At 7pm there were maybe 10 people sitting at the bar and a few booths occupied with those "dining."

The host tried to seat us at one of the three, tiny two-top tables by the front door.  It was breezy and did not look comfortable, at all, so we were escorted to a booth towards the back.

I'm not skinny and I barely was able to slide in on the bench of this booth...the table is anchored to the floor, apparently.

No wine glasses are on the table as part of the place setting and the host presented a simple menu and a small book featuring potent potations, include some interesting wines.

There are ten "by the glass" selections.  Zonin Prosecco ($8) is the lone sparkling wine, an odd choice given some more well-chosen offerings.  
Kathryn Kennedy Sauvignon Blanc is $10.50 a pour, while Kumeu River Chardonnay from New Zealand from the 2007 vintage is $12.50.  A Rose by Lioco (2013 vintage) is $11.
A Santa Barbara Pinot Noir called 10 Span is $10, while a Minervois from France is $11.  A Petrognano wine is listed as a Chianti Classico ($11), but I am fairly certain the estate is located outside the "Classico" zone and is merely a Chianti, so that's a bit misleading.
A Broadside Cabernet from Paso Robles is $12 a glass.
The Old Bat asked for her usual Tanqueray Martini and the server was a bit unsure if they had Tanqueray Gin.  They did.  She asked me why the Martini was a bit out of character...I detected an orange peel quality to the cocktail, so perhaps it was made with the Sutton Cellars Dry Vermouth (they also have Dolin, a French dry Vermouth).  It was not quite to her taste as a result.
I asked for a pour of the Tablas Creek "Grenache Blanc Blend" from Paso Robles at $11.
I was a bit surprised when the fellow arrived with a glass of red wine...he'd brought a Spanish Garnacha called Alto Cinco ($9) so I immediately reached for the wine list to see if I'd been mistaken in my order.
A few minutes later another fellow came by with a fresh bottle and empty glass, pouring me a 'say' (which I okayed).  The wine, as it often is, was overly alcoholic and needed either an olive or cocktail onion on a toothpick.  Not their fault, though...Comstock didn't make the wine!

There are 7 half bottles on their list, including the Pierre Gonon Saint Joseph at $42.  A Wimmer Czerny Gruner Veltliner is $25.

In full bottles...there at 5 Champagnes, including the well-priced Laurent Perrier at $68, the marvelous Jacquesson Cuvee 736 at $105 or, for the big spender, Krug at $325.
Reverdy Ducroux Sancerre is $46, while an Abbazia di Novacella Kerner is $40.  Marimar Torres Chardonnay is $49, while Flowers Chardonnay is $69.
A Copain Pinot Noir is $50, while a Produttori del Barbaresco "Barbaresco" is $60.  Most of the selections are worth considering and the prices are reasonable, given San Francisco rental prices.

For a starter, The Old Bat opted for Crispy Chicken Livers with pepper jelly, pickled Jalapeno and Pan de Mie ($9).  She was unsure of what was on her plate, saying it simply tasted like a plate of sausages with the spice notes.
I selected their Brandade with beets, watercress and toast ($14).  This was a fairly large ramekin-type serving and I was surprised that it seemed to have cheese on top of it!  (I've had Brandade here and in France and cheese has not been part of this recipe in my experience.)  The toast was okay, but was more like day old bread that had been toasted to "extra crispy."
And the Brandade, a mash of cod and potatoes, was decidedly bland for the most part.  Every once in a while I'd have a taste of the cod, but it was not a predominant flavor and so ended up being a bit disappointing...Who orders, essentially, mashed potatoes to slather on stale bread for a starter?  Me, I suppose!

The place offers but 5 main dishes and The Old Bat ordered a Mushroom Pot Pie with a leek puree, frisee, arugula and Pepato cheese ($20).  She'll bitch most of the time, anyway, but so I gathered she was reasonably satisfied with this dish.
I ordered "Cider Brined Pork Chop" with Sauerkraut, Spring Aprium (plum/apricot hybrid, I gather), sunchokes and Chiogia beets ($28).  There was a nicely grill-marked pork chop on top of Sauerkraut.  The kraut was "okay," but not a fresh, young sauerkraut and not very tangy or salty.  The sunchokes had good flavor, if a tad bit undercooked. 

Of course, we had a bottle of red wine in the cellar bag.  I put it on the table and The Old Bat asked the server if he would kindly open this.  He went off for stemware and returned with but one wine glass!  I guess he figured since I had a white wine on the table, I would not be requiring a new glass!
He opened the bottle and poured the say for her, which she handed off to me.  Fine.
The corkage free was $20.

The bill, with the SF Health assessment ($4.48 on this occasion) and tax tallied to $127 before the tip.

The place really recreates one's image of an old-time San Francisco saloon.  There was a DJ by the front door (another reason I'm glad we did not sit there) spinning country & western tunes on a couple of turntables.  "I'm an old cowhand from the Rio Grande..." and maybe some Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash tunes.
It was more noise than we needed, frankly.

I'd say this place was okay and they have good intentions.  It's not worth a special drive, but if you're roaming around North Beach and Chinatown and have a hankering for cowboy cuisine done "San Francisco Modern," this may be your place.

Reviewed by GW
May 2014

 

 

 

BAR AGRICOLE

355 11th Street
San Francisco

Dinner Tues-Sun 
Bar Open Daily

Tel 415-355-9400

 


Planter's Punch


Asparagus & Blood Orange Salad

 


Prawns

 

 

 

The Old Bat sent a San Francisco Chronicle Review of Bar Agricole and I took the hint and made a reservation on a Sunday evening.  We drove around the neighborhood and there was a mass of humanity lined up outside the nearby DNA Lounge and across the street from an establishment called "Butter."

Parking on the street was a problem and we finally pulled into the driveway next to Bar Agricole and found a lone "handicapped" space.  

We ambled in to the restaurant (there's outdoor seating which was tempting on a nice, warm evening) and were escorted to a table for two which was about 6 inches away from another two top towards the back of the restaurant.

No wine glasses are on the table as part of the place-setting and the host presented a menu, drinks list (they feature 16 cocktails...I heard something about Pre-Prohibition recipes, but some of these are from the 1940s) and a wine list.

The wine list is interesting and features lots of off-the-beaten-path selections.  Nine pages of the list feature one vintner and you'll find unusual estates such as the Champagne house of Bereche (three wines, $110, $155 and $270 a bottle), Nikolaihof from Austria (Rieslings for $185, $195 and $270 and a 1999 vintage of Gruner for $275) or Brovia from the Langhe in Italy's Piemonte (Arneis at $67, Dolcetto for $50, Barbera at $68 or a Barolo from 2005 for $180).
Additionally, there are two pages of white wines (which include those from the featured 9 producers).  Two wines from Jacques Puffeney, a famous Arbois winemaker, are offered at $75 and $90.  If you're interested in white Burgundy, better bring your wallet.  An Hautes Cotes de Nuits Blanc from the "natural" winemaker Yann Durieux is $150  while a Corton Blanc from Chandon de Briailles is $278.  The list offers five Rose wines, ranging from $36 to $55.
There are 30+ red wines.  I've never found a Clos Saron wine I was interested to drink, so I won't be paying $150 for their Pinot Noir.  Laurent Combier's little Crozes-Hermitage (a $21 retail bottle in our shop) is more attractive to me and that's $50 on the wine list.
Pecina's Rioja Crianza is a possibility...it's $54.  Bucklin's Sonoma Cabernet is $74 while Hudson's Carneros Syrah is $220.
You won't find any mainstream brands, which is fine, but we did not have a sommelier approach the table to ask what our taste preferences were or to find out what dishes we'd be ordering.
Some patrons may find themselves uneasy about dropping so much money on a totally unknown wine.

Well, since the place is called "Bar Agricole," we thought perhaps a cocktail was in order.
The Old Bat, not being very adventuresome, asked for a dry Martini.
The manager explained "We don't make Martinis here."  Though they have a list of 10 different gins and Dolin Dry Vermouth, they wouldn't accommodate a paying customer with making a Martini.  This, again, from a place with trained bartenders and specializing in cocktails!
She asked if they have Lillet, a French aperitif.
"We do not," said the manager, "but we have Cocchi's Americano Bianco."  He went off to get her a taste of that and she was delighted.
He pointed out the special, hand-carved ice cube in the glass, too.
Wow.
I ordered a Planters Punch, of which there are many versions.  Bar Agricole's was light pink in color (many recipes call for dark rum and Myers's is often used for this drink).  Some recipes call for orange juice and pineapple juice, but that's not what you'll find here.  It was quite sweet and at the same time, spirituous.

The menu has 5 types of Oysters, ranging from $2.75 each to $3.  Gulf Shrimp are $3, while Dungeness Crab Toast is $7.  Pickled Carrots are $5, while Roasted Almonds are $6.  Olives are $5, while a Soft Cooked Egg with Mint and Chilies is $6.

Other starters or first plates included a Little Gem and Radish Salad for $10 (with crème Fraîche and anise hyssop).  Grilled Flatbread with Mashed Beets and Green Olives is $11.  There's Sheep's Milk Ricotta with Roasted Fennel and Carrot Salad for $12, while Grilled Quail with Spigariello, Yogurt & Chilies is $14.

There were but 5 main plates.  Spaghetti with Manila Clams is $16 for a small plate and $30 for a full order.
A Whole Roasted Rockfish is $34, while Roast Chicken with New Potatoes, Red Mustard and Capers is $24 or $47.
A "New York Strip with Barley, Spring Onions and Herb Butter" is $22 for a small portion or $40 for a full plate.

The Old Bat ordered some Prawns, not being much interested in the other offerings.  I ordered one of the few "dairy-free" starters, an Asparagus & Blood Orange Salad with Kohlrabi and Preserved Lemon ($11).
The Prawns came out on a small dish...I can't say they were artistically plated, just three prawns and a wedge of lemon.
My "salad" was beautifully presented, though.  It had three perfectly "al dente" spears of Asparagus, a few slices of a cross-section of a blood orange and some thinly-shaved kohlrabi and preserved lemon.  It was a lovely and nicely flavorful dish.

We put a nice bottle of red wine on the table and paid a $25 corkage fee.  Two nice, large stems were brought to the table and the manager opened the bottle and poured for us.  We offered him a taste and he brought a glass...I poured a generous amount of the wine and they didn't nail us for corkage.

We both opted for the New York Strip.

I was sort of expecting a steak, but they sliced this into thin ribbons so it was essentially "roast beef" more than it was an actual "New York Strip" steak!  Well, they didn't call it a steak, so we misinterpreted the menu, perhaps???

Still, the plate was quite good, if a bit expensive at $40 for a maybe four or five slices of beef.
The barley was good (and that's not expensive, is it?).

We skipped dessert and the bill tallied to $113 which was nice, since they didn't charge a corkage fee, nor did they ask us to pay for the Gin cocktail The Old Bat sent back.  We were not charged for the glass she broke, either...yes, I was ready to climb under the table.

We left a generous tip and I thanked our server, as I know he was a bit flustered by the circus at our table.

As for a return visit...I'm okay with going back, but this place isn't high on my list of San Francisco dining establishments.  The menu is a bit limited and I can't be sure they'll have items which appeal to me.

Reviewed by GW
April 2014

 

GUSTO

619 Laurel Avenue
San Carlos

Tel: 650-486-1479

Lunch:  Mon-Fri  11:30-2:30

Dinner Mon-Sat 5-10

 


George's Tuna Tartare

 


Duck "Cassullet" Ravioli with White Beans and Garlic Sausage


Decanting our bottle of Barolo


Lamb T-Bones with Farro.


Brussels Sprouts Gratin 


Yukon Gold "Mashed Potatoes"


Butterscotch Pot de Creme

A friend suggested trying out this new dining establishment, owned by the same folks who have the neighboring Italian place, Locanda Positano.

While the Locanda Positano offers a less formal menu, Gusto is decorated a bit excessively as it's intended to be a throw-back to "grand dining."

And they've got a highly-decorated chef in George Morrone, as well.

Mr. Morrone was affiliated, once upon a time, with Aqua and Fifth Floor in San Francisco.

On a Wednesday evening we had a nice little table in the front room of the restaurant.  Nice large wine glasses are part of the table setting and the menus are presented with the wine list.

The wine list offers 16 white wines and bubbles and 17 different reds "by the glass."  I don't know if they have a preservation system for all those red wines, but it seems to me that 17 red wines are not likely to all be in top form once poured for a customer.

Some of the offerings are not identified by brand or producer.  This allows the restaurant to buy the cheapest wine when they need to place an order.  I find it a lazy way to assemble a wine list.  But then offering Moet Chandon in 187ml bottles is also a bit lazy and doesn't represent especially fine quality. Though Italy does produce some terrific bottle-fermented sparkling wines, you won't find one offered by the glass on this list.

Of the white wine offerings, I'd be tempted only by the "Mastro" (Mastroberardino) Greco di Tufo at $10 a pour or the same producer's Fiano at $14.  You can knock yourself out if you like with Toasted Head White Blend at $9 or Conundrum at $13.  I'd be content with a glass of Rivetto Barbaresco, but not happy to pay $21 for it.  The list of reds rivals the white wine selections for sheer boredom.

They have 27 white wine selections by the bottle and a handful would get a thumbs up from me.  Anselmi's Soave is $30 a represents decent value (it's a $12-$14 bottle at retail).  Duckhorn's Napa Sauvignon Blanc is $65.  Mastroberardino's Greco di Tufo is $44 while their Fiano is $48.  You can keep the Rombauer Chardonnay at $60, though I'll bet that's a popular wine on this list.

The red selections offer a bit more sunlight, though some choices seem to be made for convenience rather than selecting top wines or good values for the customers.  For example, they have three Chianti choices, two from the brand Machiavelli.  $42 to $55 for Chianti...These are not great choices at those prices, in my opinion.


But, wines I'd consider ordering:  Pecchenino's Dolcetto at $34, Mastroberardino Aglianico from Campania at $38 or the Cottanera Rosso for $40.  If I'm spending a few bucks, they have a Mastroberardino Taurasi "Radici" for $110 or Antinori's Tignanello for $140.  

The list of reds has about 40 offerings, but the place lacks a sommelier or someone knowledgeable about wine to guide diners to just the right bottle.

We ordered a $65 bottle of Ferrari Brut Rose from Italy's Trentino region.  It took them a while before one of the owners came to the table holding two bottles of wine.  It seems they were sold out of the Ferrari, so in its stead they offered, for the same price, a half bottle of Clicquot Rose Champagne or a full bottle of Schramsberg's Cremant.  Now the Clicquot may be a good alternative, if twice as expensive basically.  The Schramsberg, though, is a lightly bubbly "demi-sec" sparkling wine.  It is more of a dessert bubbly, but the fellow seemed to have the idea that if we were ordering "Rose," we were looking for something a bit sweet.
In fact, though, the Ferrari has a small sweetening dosage and the wine is in the lower end of sweetness for the "Brut" category.  And it's drier than most of their French Champagne selections.

So, wine may not be their strong suit.

The corkage fee is $20 and I'll bring a bottle for our next visit to Gusto.

As for food:  The menu has a number of enticing starters.  My friend began her meal with George's Timeless Tuna Tartare ($22), while I was intrigued by the Duck "Cassulett" Ravioli ($15).

The Tuna is excellent (as usual) and it comes with some pine nuts, chili's and sesame oil.  The Ravioli features a nice big, toothsome pasta with duck, garlic sausage, some white beans and lemon thyme.  It was excellent!

I had a bottle of a 1998 Barolo in my bag which the owner decanted.  They brought large stemware, too...The decanting seemed to be simply pouring the entire bottle into a carafe, not stopping when the little bit of sediment started to trail out of the bottle...oh well.

We both ordered the Lamb T-Bone Chops ($27) which featured two loin lamb chops topped with a Kalamata Olive Butter and plated in a bed of Farro with some Haricot Vert "Salad."  Again, the food was very good, though the Haricot Vert were more like Sugar Snap Peas...

The side dish of Brussels Sprouts Gratin  ($8) was alright as was the Yukon Gold "mashed potatoes ($8), but we had plenty of food with the starters and main plate.

I was not at all hungry for dessert and neither was my dining companion, but they brought out a dessert called Butterscotch Pot de Crème Bites ($8).

The bill tallied to about $183 before tax and tip...And while this may be a bit pricey for normal San Carlos dining, this experience from a culinary perspective was not normal for San Carlos!


We look forward to a return visit.

Reviewed by GW
March 2014


 

FRANCES

3870 17th Street
San Francisco

TEL: 415-621-3870

Sun-Thurs 5-10
Fri-Sat 5-10:30


Wines "by the glass" are poured at the table, showing you the label.  This is how all "B-T-G" wines should be handled, frankly, but most places will tell you it's not cost-efficient (when they're nailing you for 400%-500% mark-up!).


Apple-wood Smoked Bacon Beignets with Maple Chive Crème Fraîche.


Duck Liver Mousse
(don't miss this!)

 


Little Gem Lettuce "Bagna Cauda..."
The dressing is poured table-side.

 


Squid Ink Linguine with Bottarga and Friends...



Lamb with Fregola.
Notice the pitcher at the top of the snapshot, as they pour a sauce over the lamb at the table.


Duck


We were nearly the last to depart...


Lumberjack Cake with Muscovado Ice Cream

 


Chocolate 'Plaisir Sucre' - Hazelnut Dacquoise, Cocoa Crumble, Burnt Caramel before they poured a sauce over it...

 

 

More than a month ahead of time we selected some dates and scoped out one which might allow us to dine at this famous San Francisco restaurant.
Nine o'clock on a Wednesday night we arrived to find our table open and waiting for us.  Parking in this neighborhood is a bit challenging and they don't offer a valet service.

I arrived before my friend and the menus and a wine list were presented.  The table setting includes a nice wine glass.

We were immediately asked about water and the server brought a house bottle of tap water...and we perused the menu and wine list.

The menu changes daily.

The wine list is a small, bound book.
One sparkling wine by the glass, a Spanish Cava by Avinyo for $11.  Six white wines are offered and it's a delightful range of fairly off-the-beaten path choices.  Domaine Gerovassiliou's 2012 Malagousia from Greece is $12 and this is a lovely, stony, dry, crisp starter.  We also opted for a pour of a California Grenache Blanc/Viognier blend called Emmanuel Tres at $11...nicely peachy and dry.  There was a Clemens Busch German Riesling for $16, along with a Dutton Goldfield Chardonnay for the same price.  They have 8 reds, ranging from 12 to $17 a glass.  Ojai Grenache is $14, while an Esmonin Hautes Cotes de Nuits is similarly priced.   Catena Malbec is $15 and that's one of the few rather mundane offerings on the list.

Frances serves wine-by-the-glass the way it ought to be served:  They bring an empty glass, pour the customer a small 'say' and then pour the wine table-side.  Most places, as you know, bring you a glass of anonymous wine and hopefully it's the one your ordered.

On the "bubbles" page you won't find  any California bubbly, but you will find Tissot's Cremant from the Jura at $67.  They also have the sublime Marie Courtin Champagne called Resonance at $119 a bottle.  A page of "Light Whites, Crisp & Refreshing" offers Vincent Gaudry's Sancerre for $68 or Matteo Corregia's Arneis at $46.   Versatile Dry Whites...Whites with a Little Sweetness But Perfect Balance...Full Bodied Whites...Easy Drinking Reds with a Little Fruit...Light Rustic Reds (9 Pinot Noirs)...On the "Medium-Bodied Rustic Reds" page there's a half bottle of Ridge Lytton Springs for $42, Monte Vertine's Le Pergole Torte at $177 a bottle or the 2009 Rene Rostaing Cote-Rotie "La Londonne" (sic) for $220.  Under the heading of "Big Meaty Reds" we find Billhook Napa Cabernet for $68, while Gemstone Cabernet is $198.  If money is burning a hole in your pocket, they have a 1996 Bryant Family Cabernet for $700.

The wine list is nicely done...it has a good range of wines, the wines match the menu and the price spectrum is fairly reasonable.  I noticed a number of people, though, bringing in a bottle and was impressed by some of their savvy selections, too!
Clearly, though, this place understands the importance of offering wine as a part of a good meal.  (I wish I could write that more frequently on these pages of restaurant reviews.)

***

We began with a couple of starters...Applewood Smoked Bacon Beignets with Maple Chive Creme Fraiche ($7) brought five little nicely fried Beignets...I didn't detect much of a bacon-like character, though.  The Duck Liver Mousse is off-the-charts-good!  It's an oblong scoop and comes with Ciopollini Onion Agrodolce and some grilled pieces of ciabatta bread.  $7.  Deal. 

We'd used the four little slices of Ciabatta and one of the staff of servers noticed we still had some Mousse so she asked if we'd like more...it's not every restaurant where the crew are eagle-eyed, whether it's their table or someone else's!
By the way, they serve Josey Baker Breads and we had a couple of slices...this is very good!

A glass of Macon was good and the Emmanuel Tres white blend was really good...and we needed some appetizer plates.
Little Gem Salad 'Bagna Cauda' is $11.  The lettuce was exceptional, but I can't say there was a particularly intense "Bagna Cauda" character as the garlic and anchovy influence was rather tame.  The Squid Ink Linguine with Green Garlic, Cortez Bottarga, Meyer Lemon and Espelette Chile ($13) was next on our order and the pasta was exceptional.  Cooked 'al dente,' the various accompaniments made their presence felt on the toothsome pasta.

My dining companion had her choice of older Cabernet or young Burgundy and she went with the latter, so I put a bottle on the table.  Our server promptly opened the bottle and brought big red wine glasses for this youthful red.  We offered her a taste and she joined us in evaluating the Clos Vougeot from Chateau de la Tour.

Our main plates arrived shortly after we'd finished the appetizers, but allowing for enough time to enjoy a few sips of the red wine.

My friend ordered the Sonoma Duck Breast with Pumpkin Seed Dukkah, Japanese Sweet Potato and Blood Orange ($29)...a magnificent 'bowl' with perfectly cooked duck...I opted for their Grilled Lamb Loin Chop  with Fregola Sarda, Charred Garbanzo, Asparagus and Pecorino ($25), though I requested it without the Pecorino.
This was a lovely lamb t-bone on a bed of the Fregola with an array of veggies...the server brings a small 'creamer pitcher' with a sauce to drizzle over the lamb.

We felt obliged to order desserts...everything had been very good to this point.  Lumberjack Cake is, I believe,  made with dates, a pear and coconut flakes.  It's described as having Winter Fruits, Coconut, Medjool Date and comes with a scoop of Muscovado Ice Cream ($8).
Very fine!
And a $9 we had their Chocolate 'Plaisir Sucre', described as a Hazelnut Dacquoise, Cocoa Crumble and Burnt Caramel.
Another winner.

We skipped ordering dessert wines or coffee, having done enough damage by this stage.

I should note the restaurant was fairly filled, but walk-ins may find an open seat after 9 or so.

The bill came to $195 with a $1.75 each surcharge (I suppose that's the SF Health charge), $20 corkage fee and sales tax.

The place has a nice ambiance, though the tables along the wall are close together...I was glad we were off on the other side of the dining room.

This place is a treasure!  Of course we'll be back...if we can get in!!!

Reviewed by GW
February 2014




 

DELIZIE

1107 San Carlos Avenue
San Carlos

Tel: 650-486-1539

Open Mon-Sat 11-2:30
5-9:30
Closed Sundays & Major Holidays

 

 


Bread and their homemade dipping sauce


Minestra del Giorno

 


Calamari

 


Linguine alle Vongole

 


Pappardelle al Cinghiale

An Italian friend suggested this newish place in San Carlos and we'd been hoping to try it, so we booked a 7pm table on a Saturday during the winter of 2014.

We were warmly welcomed by a pleasant young fellow and guided to a table for two towards the back of the place near the kitchen hallway...the menu is accompanied by a wine  list and some nice stemware is part of the place setting.

We understand the owners are from Calabria, so we had high hopes of finding an interesting list of well-chosen Italian wines.

I perused the list and The Old Bat was going to have to do without a Martini as they don't have a liquor license...fine: perhaps they've got a well-curated selection of wines and some cool offerings "by the glass."

Instead we found Beringer Chardonnay and Stags Leap Chardonnays.  There's Charles Krug Sauvignon Blanc for $8 a glass or $36 a bottle.
"Little Black Dress" Riesling.  Really?
For Italian choices there's a Vitiano white blend (Verdicchio and Vermentino) for $9 a glass or $36 a bottle.  Argiolas Vermentino is $40 a bottle...Villa Raiano Falanghina is $50 a bottle and their Greco is $52.  I opted for a pour of Librandi's Rosato, the only chilled offering by the glass that's from Calabria.  The Old Bat is a Sauvignon Blanc fan, so she got the Krug Sauvignon.  Hers was fine.  Mine was old and tired.  I told her I would ask to see the bottle to check if this was fresh or if we were at the bottom of the bottle.  Sure enough:  bottom of the bottle.  I told the server the wine was spoiled and he promptly brought a fresh pour...better, though it was still an old Rosato that was past its prime.
The wine list offers a Prosecco for $39, but neglects to mention the name of the winery.  That's lazy.
They offer a wine called "Prosecco Malvasia" for $40 from Emilia Romagna.  Sorry, but Emilia Romagna does not make "Prosecco"...it does make fizzy Malvasia, but the wine will not have the Prosecco name on the bottle.  There's another botched entry called "Champagne," offered at $85, but the description notes this is a wine from Lombardia in Italy, not France and it's a Franciacorta.
I found but one Calabrian red wine on the wine list.  You know, it's not difficult to locate wine from the famous Ciro appellation or the somewhat more obscure Savuto region.  Librandi's "Gravello" at $75, is that lone Calabrian red offering.  (Librandi's Ciro could sell for $25-$30 as can Odoardi's Savuto which would introduce people to good, entry-level Calabrian wines.)  
Instead of offering a bunch of interesting wines from their home turf, this place has Lockwood Pinot Noir ($36) from California and Joseph Carr California Merlot ($40).  Seghesio Zinfandel, easily found retailing at $20, if $55 on this wine list.
They do offer Italian wines, though.  Masi's Campofiorin, a Rosso del Veronese IGT, is listed as a Valpolicella Ripasso (it doesn't quite fit that designation, so the winery does not label it as such) is $40 a bottle.  A Michele Chiarlo entry level Barolo is $110 on this wine list.  Cesari's Amarone, a pleasant entry level example of that sort of wine, is $75 and they have a couple of Brunellos, one around $75 and the other for twice that.
As a wine geek, the list is not well-chosen and it's not the work of a wine-savvy buyer.  It seemed to me to be the suggestions of sales reps with quotas.

The waiter brought a nice little Italianesque bread with, instead of the awful cheap olive oil and half-assed attempt at "Balsamic" vinegar, a beautiful garlicky dipping sauce.

The Old Bat ordered the Minestra del Giorno ($7) and she did not understand the difference between a "Minestra" and her old-fashioned "Minestrone Soup."  The Minestra is somewhat  less soupy and more like a bowl of well-cooked veggies.  I thought it was fine, but she was not thrilled.
The Frittura di Calamari ($13) was good, but unevenly salted.  I tossed some salt on the bland pieces at the top of the pile and found it increasingly salty as I plowed my way to the bottom.

I brought a bottle of a nice Calabrian red...Balbium, a wine made by the Venica family in Friuli.  They brought nice stems and we paid a corkage fee of $18.

The Old Bat ordered Linguine alle Vongole ($18).  I thought the plate looked good, but she was prejudiced by the mass of empty shells on the pasta...the clams had fallen out into the pasta and so she was wondering why they scattered empty shells on the dish.  This soured her impression of the place.
The Pappardelle al Cinghiale ($18) was correct and the pasta was fairly soft as it may have been slightly over-cooked.  The flavor of the meat sauce was perfectly fine, but I couldn't help but wonder why a Calabrian chef wouldn't spice it up with some of their famous, local peppers.

We skipped dessert and the bill tallied to about $92 (I told them to charge us for the Krug Sauvignon Blanc my fussy companion rejected), but it was not on the bill.   We left a larger-than-normal tip, but I have to say it was a tad expensive for what we had.

If you're in the neighborhood, I will say this places aces out the numerous "fake" Italian joints in San Carlos which are around the block and down the street.  I'll give it another try, but I do wish they'd pay more attention to their wine list.

Reviewed by GW
February 2014

 

PIPERADE

1015 Battery Street
San Francisco

Tel: 415-391-2555

Open: Mon-Fri 11:30 through Dinner
Sat: 5:30-10:30
Closed Sundays

 

 


Chilled Mussels with Frisée and Croutons.

 


Dungeness Crab "Txangurro" with Orange, Grapefruit, Basil and Aioli.

 


Calamari a la Plancha



Thinly Sliced Serrano Ham with a bit of Spanish Olive Oil

 

 


Swordfish

 


Duck with Parsnips and Kumquats

 


A nice pour of Jurancon for dessert.


A small slice of Gateau Basque

 


Beignets

 

 

On a Tuesday evening I drove to The City for a 7pm reservation, finding a parking spot on the street about a block away from Piperade.

I was escorted to the table while waiting for my dining companion.  The menu and wine list were presented and a nice big wine glass is part of the table setting.

The wine list is a small book.  It has the name of the owner (and chef), Gerald Hirigoyen along with that of Master Sommelier Emmanuel Kemiji.

The first page features some wines "made by Kemiji" in Spain.  These days every sommelier thinks he/she can make wine and so there are some Montstant and Priorat wines offered by the bottle from $48 to $160 each.

The list offers 4 sparkling wines by the glass.  Laurent Perrier is $18, while Raventos' Spanish bubbly is $12.  Roederer Estate Rose and Domaine Carneros Brut are $15.

They have 8 white wines by the glass, including a couple of Basque whites.  An Irouleguy Blanc from Henri Mina is $10, while Txomin Etxaniz Txakolina is $11.   Kemiji's winemaking partner Byron Kosuge's Chardonnay is $15 on the by-the-glass list.  Alban Viognier is $12 a pour and I am confounded as to how Beaucannon 2010 Sauvignon Blanc "made the cut" ($12).

For red wines we find Kemiji's Lake County Tempranillo, Arnoa, at $10 a glass.  His Montstant red wine is $12 a pour, while a Baron de Ley Rioja Reserva is the same price.  Kemiji's second label Syrah from California is $12, while there's a Raymond Cabernet for $14 as is a Zepaltas Pinot Noir.

They offer three bubblies, six white wines and six red wines by the half bottle.  Taittinger Brut is $50 per half bottle, while Krug's Grand Cuvee is $100.  A half bottle of Louis Michel Chablis is $30, while a Seghesio Zinfandel is $22. 

In full bottles of "Bubbly," we see Champagnes, California and Spanish sparklers.  A Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvee is $50, while Schramsberg's Blanc de Noirs is $75.  Salon 1999 Vintage is $600, while Bollinger's Special Cuvee Brut is around $100.

There are seven selections under the "Basque Whites" heading.  Vega Sindoa Chardonnay is $27, while a Remelluri Blanco is $100.   I counted 18 different Sauvignon Blancs, though I sensed the big liquor distributors have their hooks into this place to a certain degree.  Emmolo ($30), Ferrari Carano ($36),  Girard ($38), Franciscan ($36), Groth ($39) and a Mondavi (listed as Kalon Vineyard at $65).
Under "Unique Whites" we find a few selections from Alsace (Trimbach Pinot Gris at $60...it's a 6+ year old wine, so apparently there's not a lot of turnover there!), a 5 year old Muscadet for $39, an 8 year old Cotes du Rhone Blanc for $36, a few Albarinos and a couple of Viogniers including a Delas Condrieu for $100.
There's an entire page of "Basque Reds," including a few Riojas at $38, with some others costing as much as $350 to $400 a bottle.
Twenty-three Chardonnays on one page...
There are "Basques Around the Globe" and "The Unusual Suspects" with wines from Beaujolais, Cahors, Ribera del Duero and Toro.  They have a handful of Zinfandels and "The Rhone Riders," featuring wines from the Rhone, Priorat and California.  From Bordeaux there's 1989 Ducru Beaucaillou at $450.  Mouton Rothschild is $1000 and it's the 2003 vintage.  Jordan's 2009 Cabernet is $118, while Grgich is $85.
And there's a page of Sweet Wines, including the 1983 Chateau Rieussec for $250 a bottle.

My friend is also in the wine biz and had a bag full of opened bottles from her day showing wines.  Chef Hirigoyen stopped by our table to chat and taste the various bottles she had opened.  (They even brought a little container to toss out what we didn't finish drinking.)

I perused the menu and found numerous interesting offerings.  The cuisine is billed as "West Coast Basque."

We ordered a trio of starters, these being brought out in stages.

To start we had a little salad-like appetizer of "Chilled Mussels with Frisée, Croutons, Shallots, Chives and Aged Red Wine Vinegar" ($14).  And it was "chilled" mussels with a fairly sharp vinegary dressing.  This was not exactly "wine friendly," but it was still a nice plate.

Next we had the Dungeness Crab "Txangurro," a beautifully presented crab 'mold' with Grapefruit, Blood Orange sections, Basil and Aioli.  This was sensational!  Simple and yet remarkable.

Next on the hit parade was a Calamari a la Plancha with Fennel, Olive, Capers, Mint and Lemon ($15).  This was quite good, too.

We also had, on the side, a nice little plate of Serrano ham moistened with a bit of Spanish Olive Oil...very good!

We ordered two different white wines "by the glass," an Albarino and a Garnacha Blanca.  I don't know either of these producers, but it's possible that the Garnacha had been opened too long as, for a 2012 vintage, it was fairly dark in color and a bit tired on the palate.
(They pour these at the bar, so you don't see how full the bottle is or get a glimpse of the label.)

For main plates, my friend ordered a California Swordfish with Brussels Sprouts and Butternut Squash ($30), while I opted for the Oven-Roasted Liberty Duck Breast with Parsnips and Kumquats ($29).  The Swordfish seemed a bit bland and dried out, but the Duck was marvelous.

We splurged and ordered a couple of desserts...Gateau Basque ($9) and some Orange Blossom Beignets ($9)...both magnificent!  We also had a glass of two dessert wines, a Clos Uroulat Jurancon ($12) and a Jorge Ordonez Moscatel ($10)...these were very good.

The bill tallied to $220, or so, with tax, etc. I don't think they charged us for a corkage fee, which was appreciated.

This meal was terrific and we had good service and a nice table.  In fact, it was great not being right on top of neighboring tables, allowing us to "dine," not merely "eat."

We look forward to returning to Piperade!

Reviewed by GW
January 2014

 

JOYA

 

339 University Avenue
Palo Alto

Tel: 650-853-9800

Open Daily
From 11:30 through Dinner

 

 

 

 


Bay Scallop appetizer

 


Chopped Romaine Salad

 


Paella Classica

Following a bit of Sunday cinema, we ambled down University Avenue to this Palo Alto dining spot for some "Latin American"-themed cuisine.

A fellow sporting a uniform with the notation that he's the executive chef greeted us at the host's desk.  We'd booked using an on-line reservation service, which he acknowledged and soon we were shown to a table.  The menu and wine list were presented.  Wine glasses, by the way, are not part of the table setting.

The list features a page of "by the glass" selections included five bubblies from $8 a flute to $22.   Twelve white wine pours are available, with mostly California wines, though there's a Trapiche Chardonnay from Argentina ($9/glass) and a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc from Casa Lapostolle ($10/glass).  A Spanish Rose from the Artazuri brand is $9, while Salneval Albarino is $8 a pour.  
Thirteen reds are available by the glass.  Big spenders will drop $35 for a pour of Silver Oak Cabernet from Sonoma.  Best they could find for a Zinfandel was Langetwins from Lodi for $12. They do have a couple of Riojas by the glass:  Marques de Riscal is $13 and Campo Viejo is $10.  Two Malbecs are offered, a Catena for $12 and a Concha y Toro for $10.

If you're looking for half bottles, they have but three bubblies and two California red wines...I did not notice any white wines offered in 375ml format.

The wine list offers a Segura Viudas Brut Cava (listed as coming from Rioja!) for $36.  This bottle wholesales in the vicinity of $7.  For those with more money than brains, there are two Armand de Brignac Champagnes, the Brut at $496 a bottle and the Rose at $696.  Though there is but a ten dollar difference at the wholesale level between Dom Perignon and the Krug Grand Cuvee, the former costs $250 a Joya, while the latter is on the list for $369.  Ouch!

The white wine selections of Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs come primarily from the big liquor distributors and these offerings seem to be largely "goal" or "quota" items.  Jordan Chardonnay is $64 a bottle, as is the Twomey Sauvignon Blanc.  Erath Pinot Gris, a ten buck wholesale bottle, is a whopping $48 on this wine list.
Opus One is $295 a bottle, while Silver Oak Napa Cabernet is $215.  The red wine list is top-heavy with Bordeaux varieties.  Fifteen Cabernets, three merlots, five Malbecs and a Carmenere grace the list, yet the menu has but one "red meat" dish: a Hanger Steak with a Cilantro Chimichurri Sauce.
There are seven Pinot Noirs, three Syrahs and six Tempranillos on this list.  There is but one red wine costing less than $40 in the list, a Chilean Syrah called Merino at $38.

I'd say opting to pay the $20 corkage fee is a good idea here.  They waive the corkage if you buy a bottle from the wine list, though.

The Old Bat ordered her usual Tanqueray Martini which was very good, as she reported.
I thought I'd asked the server for the Segura Viudas Rose Cava, but he brought the regular Brut.  Okay...fine...I can deal with that.

There are two dozen "starters" or small plates which can be served as Tapas or as an appetizer.  Add to that three salads and a soup, too.
Starters include Tostadas, Empanadas, "Mayan Hummus," Short Rib Tacos, Kobe Beef mini-Burgers, a Charcuterie plate, a Cheese plate, Ceviche, Crab Cakes and Tuna Tartare.

The Old Bat ordered a Latin Chopped Romaine Salad ($9.50) which had some bacon, Castelvetrano olives, hearts of palm, queso fresco and an avocado-cilantro cream salad dressing.  She was smitten by this.

I ordered a starter of Seared Bay Scallops ($11.50) which was nicely presented in an overflowing little iron skillet with fresh corn, Serrano ham, Spring Onions, Capers (I missed tasting capers, though) in a Vinaigrette.  This was a nice plate, too.

There were 9 main plates, including a couple of Paellas.  Each offering has a south-of-the-border element (or more) to it, so it's not your run-of-the-mill menu.
We chose the Paella Classica ($46 for two) which the waiter cautioned required 30 minutes prep time.
The actual time was probably more like 45 minutes, though.  The menu describes this as "Saffron Rice" and even The Old Bat wondered if they used any saffron in this dish.  There were quite a few Bay Scallops in the paella, so this was a bit redundant given my appetizer order.
The Paella was a bit bland overall, though.
I will say the seafood and chicken in the Paella were fresh and nicely done.

The bill tallied to $116 before the tip with the corkage fee and tax.

We departed around 8:30 on a Sunday night and the place was fully packed!

This is a nice neighborhood place...not so much as a destination dining experience, but a comfortable local hot-spot.
And we'd certainly return to try some other dishes.

Oh...the Open Table reservation service sent a note asking why we'd missed our reservation.  Apparently the host neglected to confirm our having arrived (someone said the charge for the restaurant is a dollar or two per patron)...
And the Executive Chef spent most of the evening out of the kitchen, so he is, apparently, more of a manager than a behind-the-stove chef.


Reviewed by GW
January 2014

 

PORTOLA KITCHEN

3130 Alpine Road
Portola Valley

Tel: 650-851-6453

Mon-Fri: 11:30 am – 2 pm
Mon-Thu, Sun: 5 pm – 9 pm
Fri-Sat: 5 pm – 10 pm
Sat-Sun for Brunch: 10 am – 2 pm

 


 


Calamari Fritti


The Kale & Shelling Bean Minestra

 


Spaghetti con Vongole

 


Pork Osso Buco with Porcini Mushroom Risotto

 

 

During the Christmas Holiday Season, we booked an early table at the Portola Kitchen, a short 25 minute ride from Burlingame.

We'd not heard of the restaurant previously, but in searching for a new dining spot, this showed up and the menu looked promising.

We arrived at 5:30pm and were promptly seated at a little booth for two near the bar.  I was facing the open kitchen towards the back of the restaurant and there were a couple of flat screen TVs lit up to my left over the bar with some football and basketball.  

The hostess set the menus on the table and a one sheet, double-sided wine list, pointing out the drinks menu and wines by the glass were listed on the back of the menu.
No wine glasses are on the table as part of the place setting and we noticed the bartender was quite busy preparing some of the inventive cocktails listed on the menu.

The Old Bat ordered her customary Tanqueray Martini (and she reported it was excellent).  I perused the wine list.

They offer 13 white wines by-the-glass and an equal number of reds, seven of which are wines in "keg."
The wines-by-the-glass range in price from $9 to $16 and the offerings are not dominated by liquor distributor labels. Campuget Rose ($9) from the Costieres de Nimes would be of interest as would the Talley Chardonnay ($15).  There's a Kerner from the Valle Isarco winery, while they have a Valle dell'Acate Nero d'Avola for $10.  Qupe Grenache is $14 and dispensed from a keg.

The main wine list reflects the Cal-Ital nature of the food served at the Portola Kitchen.  Seven sparklers are offered by the bottle, including Ferrari Brut from the Trentino area.  It's $49 a bottle, less than twice the normal retail pricing.
Nine Chardonnay are offered, the excellent bottling from Dehlinger costing $66.
There's a whole section of "Old World" white, featuring many Italian bottlings.  Almondo's Arneis is $38, while Kuenhof Gruner Veltliner is $62.    There are perhaps 8 Pinot Noirs from California and Oregon along with a similar number of Cabernets. Four Zins including Ridge Geyserville for $78.  There are 8 reds from Piemonte, with three single vineyard Barbaresco bottlings from the Produttori ($88 each, less than twice retail!).  There were six Tuscan reds and three from the Veneto...nice selections, honest pricing and good stemware!

I ordered a glass of Long Meadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc ($11) from Napa and dispensed out of a keg.  The server brought a nice, big stem and a small carafe.  She poured about half of the wine into the glass...

For our meal, The Old Bat was intrigued by the "Kale & Shelling Bean Minestra" at $5 for a small serving, $8 for a large.  "I don't want this with any cheese," she cautioned the server.
Calamari Fritti was $14 and I opted for that over the Tombo Tuna Crudo ($12),  Prosciutto Rossa ($15) or the Chicken Liver Terrina ($10).

As they make everything 'fresh,' it too a while to finish preparing the soup which, alas, arrived with cheese.  It was sent back.
The server apologized, saying she neglected to point out the special request to the kitchen and, as a result, she would waive the $15 corkage fee they'd normally charge for my bottle of red wine.

The Calamari Fritti was quite good and not too salty.  The spicy sauce accompanying it was good, too.
We waited another 5 minutes for the soup to arrive and when it did, The Old Bat said it was quite good.

Spaghetti Vongole ($19) is a home-made pasta with fresh clams and a sauce of Prosecco, garlic, Fresno chili and a bit of butter.  Very nicely done, too!

I ordered the "Duroc Pork Osso Buco" ($24), which comes in a deep platter surrounded by a tasty Porcini Mushroom Risotto (and you can easily taste the porcini!).  The gremolata was a bit top-heavy with citrus, but was delicious nonetheless.

Other main plates included Loch Duart Salmon ($26), Local Petrale Sole ($25) and a 16 ounce Veal T-Bone ($29).

We were stuffed from this lovely meal and had no room for dessert.
The dessert wine list, though, offers 8 selections, from Noval 10 & 20 Year Tawny Ports ($9 and $16 respectively), to a $12 pour of Felsina's excellent Vin Santo.  Also on the list is a lovely Tokaji ($14) and Donnafugatta Ben Rye Passito for $12.

The ambience of the place is comfortable, if a bit dark.  I needed my little pocket flashlight to see the menu and wine list.  The sound system was at a comfortable level and they played tunes by Sinatra, Dean Martin and the like, so it's a peppy, jazzy environment.
There's outdoor seating, too, in front of the restaurant, but with December's winter chill, there were no takers for these seats.

The bill tallied to around $90 before the tip and with tax (and without the $15 corkage fee).

I'd definitely return to the Portola Kitchen, even if it is off the beaten path from Burlingame.  It's easy to get to and the food and wine selections are well worth supporting!

Reviewed by GW
December 2013

 

GRAND CAFE


501 Geary Street
San Francisco

Tel: 415-292-0101

Lunch 11:30-2:30 Daily
Dinner from 5:30 Daily

 

 


Steak Tartare

 


Veal Sweetbreads


Cassoulet

 


Spanish Cheese

A friend had tickets to an ACT performance in San Francisco and we booked a 7;30pm table at this stylish, French-themed restaurant a block away.

We parked at Union Square, but our friend was able to find a spot on the street a block away.

On a Sunday night, the restaurant was moderately busy.  After all, it is the holiday season!

The host showed us to a nice booth in this large, Parisian-styled restaurant which recalls La Cupole or Le Dome in Paris.

Curiously, though the tables are covered with a table-cloth and have cloth napkins and silverware, a wine glass is not part of the place setting.

The wine list is presented as you're seated, with the list being on the flip side of the menu.  We quickly perused the list, searching for some sort of crisp, dry white or sparkling wine.

The wine list is a bit of a mine field and you can find yourself paying a hefty price for some of the wines on the list!  There's a fairly broad spectrum of wines, but it requires a bit of study to make a wise choice.

As the restaurant had a display of oysters on ice as we walked to our table, I looked for some Loire Valley Sauvignons...perhaps a nice Sancerre?  But under the heading of Loire Valley whites, there were but three offerings, all Chenin Blanc.  Only later did I notice there was a Sancerre listed under "White Wines By the Glass."

I saw they had a favorite white wine from Gascony...Chiroulet.  This retails for $12, but it's $52 on the Grand Cafe wine list!  Then I saw they offer Allimant Laugner's Cremant d'Alsace (which is a $20 bottle at retail).  Shockingly, this is on their wine list for $99!
Ouch!!!
Meanwhile, Mumm's industrial Cordon Rouge fizz, is offered for $69 and it's actually from Champagne.

The list has 5 bubblies by the glass: $11 will get you a pour of Gloria Ferrer's Sonoma bubbly, $13 buys a Roderer (sic) Estate, while the three Champagne selections include Nicholas Feuillatte ($15), Henriot ($21) or Perrier-Jouet ($22).
There are ten white wines, with Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc being the priciest at $18 a pour.
Two French roses and a California are by the glass options.
Eleven red wines are offered by the glass.  Seghesio Zinfandel is $13 a pour, Qupe Syrah costs $9 and Trefethen Merlot is $15.

If you're looking for California Cabernets, the best you can do here is Justin ($60 from Paso Robles, Atlas Peak from Napa ($52), Azalea Springs from Napa at $65, Antica from Napa at $99 or Cakebread at $145.  Ho hum with respect to that category!
In Pinot Noirs there are more worthy options, with Merry Edwards 2011 Russian River costing  $86 and Ojai's 2010 Santa Rita Hills going for $92.
You can find a couple of Corsican white wines on the list, one costing $120!  A half bottle of Hugel Gewurztraminer, retailing for $15 typically, is on the list for $42.  Hugel's blended white, Gentil, retailing for $15-$16, is $49 on the list.  A half bottle of "Opus One" (listed as an Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon) is $150.

The corkage fee is $25.
We brought a bottle of a nice 1989 Bordeaux and asked the waiter if they could decant this.
He took the bottle away from the table (bad form, typically) and brought it to a "specialist" to have it decanted.  We suspect this was the bartender, but ten minutes later, the wine was still not dealt with and on our table.
Finally, he had another waiter decant our wine.

To start, we ordered a bottle of Chateau Bonnet Blanc, a standard little white wine from Bordeaux's Entre-Deux-Mers region.  It retails for $13 to $15 and was offered for $30 a bottle.  Given some of the extreme banditry on the list, this was a sensibly-priced wine.  
The server brought the bottle, nicely chilled, immediately and we were off and running.
Stemware is reasonable here...not the most elegant for the white wine, but serviceable, while the Cabernet glass for the red wine was better.

My guest was smitten by the Steak Tartare ($16) and I ordered the Veal Sweetbreads ($16) to start.  I was surprised, frankly, at how quickly these starters arrived at our table...far less time than it took to decant our bottle of Bordeaux, in fact!
The Tartare was nicely done and there's a nice mustard tang to the dish.  The Sweetbreads are partnered with thin slices of a Granny Smith apple.  I'd have enjoyed this more had the sweetbreads been hot...they were tepid.  Too many apples vying for attention in this dish when the sweetbreads should have taken center stage.

The server brought big Bordeaux stemware to the table and we waited, looking to see where the bottle was and who was decanting it.
The server noticed we were a bit agitated by the delay...and, in fact, someone else brought the two Cassoulets to our table.
We asked the fellow to take those back to the kitchen as we were waiting for our red wine and wanted to taste it before having food on the table.

The Cassoulet ($27) is said to have Toulouse Sausage, Braised Pork Shoulder, Confit Duck Leg, Cannellini Beans and Bread Crumbs.  I missed the sausage in mine, if it was there and could not determine if the couple of morsels of shredded meat were the Braised Pork or shredded duck.  The duck confit was good and the beans were nicely al dente, not cooked to a fare-thee-well and mushy.

The wine was a good match for the Cassoulet, though.

We skipped dessert, but I did notice the name of a "pastry chef" on the dessert card.  There are but five offerings for dessert, Crispy Custard, Chocolate & Orange Pot de Crème, a Caramel & Hazelnut Tart,  an Olive Oil Cake or a selection of Sorbets and Ice Cream.  There's a list of cheeses, too, so The Young Bat opted for a Spanish cheese ($6, which she liked).

There were two sweet white wines available for dessert, a French Muscat ($13) and a sweet Jurancon ($9).  No Banyuls or Maury, but they do offer three Tawny Ports from Grahams ($15, $21 and $36 for the 10, 20 and 30 year Tawnies).

The bill, with two appetizers, two main plates, a bottle of wine, corkage and a cheese tallied to $166 with the SF Health surcharge and tax.

If you're in the neighborhood, this is a perfectly decent place to dine.  It's comfortable and you're not right on top of other people dining here.  From a wine lover's perspective, the list could be improved by having more interesting selections and a more coherent pricing policy.

I'm in no rush to return and wouldn't have the Grand Cafe high on my list of San Francisco dining spots.

Reviewed by GW
December 2013


NASCHMARKT

384 East Campbell Avenue
Campbell

Tues-Sun 5pm until closing

Tel: 408-378-0335


By the glass:  The bottle is brought to the table to show to the customer and then poured in a nice wine glass.


Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with smoked trout and Beet Chips

 


Kraut Rouladen...


Classic Wiener Schnitzel...


...and Austrian Potato Salad.

 


Apple Strudel

We had tried to dine at this Austrian-themed restaurant on a previous occasion, but the place was booked that Sunday evening during the summer.  This time we snagged a reservation at 6:45, following one of our Sunday movie forays.

The little downtown area of Campbell is quite charming and has all kinds of little shops and restaurants.  Naschmarkt, though, is a leading light there, being more than a simple "neighborhood" spot.

There is seating for about 50 people, plus another 10 at the bar.   We were guided to a nice two-top table towards the back of the restaurant, adjacent to the bar.

The hostess presented the menu, a cocktail list and a wine list.  A very good quality wine glass is part of the table setting at this rather elegant restaurant.

The server stopped by shortly after we were seated, recited the daily specials and took an order for a Tanqueray Martini ($11 for the Martini with a $2 'up-charge,' apparently for the Tanqueray Gin) and a glass of Domane Wachau's Federspiel level Gruner Veltliner Terrassen ($9.50 a glass or $38 by the bottle.  This is a wine retailing for $15).

The wine list is presented on a two-sided sheet.

There are two "house wines," both Austrian...the white being a Gruner Veltliner (Etz winery) and the red being a Zweigelt from the Ecker winery.  These are available in half-liter or one liter pours, costing $16 or $30 respectively.

The wine list is an interesting mix, featuring some good Austrian wines, but also having selections from California and France, with a smattering of wines from Germany, Chile and Oregon.

There are numerous wines "by the glass," with a fair bit of wine coming from one of the big liquor distributors.  

Allimant Laugner's delightful Cremant d'Alsace Rose is $12 a glass or $48 for a bottle (this is a $19.99 retail bottle).  Brassfield Estate Sauvignon Blanc from Lake County is $8 a glass and $32 for a bottle.  Girard Chardonnay is $10 a glass, $40 a bottle, while Talbott's delightful Sleepy Hollow Chardonnay is $16 for a glass and $64 for a bottle.  
In red wine, a Schloss Gobelsburger Zweigelt is $9 a glass, $36 for a bottle.  Glazter's Blaufrankisch is $10 for a pour and $40 for a bottle.  Ferrari Carano Cabernet  is $14 a glass and $56 for a bottle.

The list is compact, but has a broad spectrum of wines and prices.  There are 11 Gruner Veltliners on their list, 5 Austrian Rieslings and about 8 different Austrian reds.   A bottle of Gruner Veltliner ranges from $36 to $85 dollars, with good names such as FX Pichler, Brundlmayer and Nikolaihof on the list.

There are 15 California Pinot Noirs on their wine list and one French...no Austrian!  I'm not sure why you'd want a Merlot, but the Chilean Casa Lapostolle is $32 a bottle, while Duckhorn is $95.  There are 16 selections under the heading of Cabernets and Blends.  The 2010 Caymus is $140 a bottle for those insecure in ordering a bottle of Austrian wine.  There are three Malbecs from Argentina for the totally befuddled diner and $40 will get you a bottle of Klinker Brick's Lodi Zinfandel if you're so inclined.

Kudos to Naschmarkt for bringing the bottle of wine to the table and pouring the provisional "say" for the customer!  The bottle is displayed and you can actually verify that what you ordered is what you're getting.   As you know, most places simply bring you an anonymous glass filled with wine and you must accept it on faith that it's what you ordered.

The menu offers a number of old-fashioned Austrian dishes, but there's a Northern California sensibility to the menu, as well.  How about a starter of Pan Seared Scallops with a Cauliflower Puree and an Almond Raisin 'Pesto' and Crispy Pancetta ($16)?  Or Riesling Steamed Mussels ($15)?  For a main course, you might opt for the not-so-Austrian "Homemade Tagliatelle with Shredded Duck Confit, roasted Butternut Squash, Baby Spinach, Duck Jus and Pumpkin Seeds" ($19).  Grilled Swordfish with a Zweigelt wine sauce was $28, as was a Roasted Wild King Salmon dish with a Kalamata Olive and Piquillo Pepper 'Pesto."
This isn't your father's "German food," that's for sure!

For some reason, The Old Bat wasn't terribly hungry, so she did not order a starter.  I went for their Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Smoked Trout and Beet Chips ($8).  This was delicious and beautifully prepared...seasoned just right, too!  The smoked trout was a nice match for the Jerusalem Artichoke...

I put a bottle of a ten year old Austrian Pinot Noir on the table.  The server brought large stemware, but when she saw the wine was a Pinot Noir, she took these back and brought large "Burgundy Balloon" glasses.  Kudos to her for being on top of this.

She poured the say and did not over-fill the glasses.  In fact, our server came by periodically and offered to top up our glasses.

The main plates were quite good.  The Old Bat ordered Kraut Rouladen ($23), beef, pork and bacon-filled Savoy Cabbage.  This comes with a Parsnip Puree, baby purple kale and roasted baby carrots.  I had a taste...quite good!

My Wiener Schnitzel ($31) was a classic dish and took me back to Vienna!  The schnitzel is pounded thin, beautifully breaded and topped with a slice of lemon & crisply, fried parsley and accompanied by a lingonberry sauce or jam on the side. I added a sprinkle of salt.   Another plate arrived, filled with Austrian-styled Potato Salad, seasoned with cucumbers and dill.  Delicious.

We made quick work of the main plates and meanwhile, the restaurant was filled with celebrating diners and the staff was humming along smoothly.
 I thought we might try a dessert, so we ordered their Apple Strudel ($9) with a bit of cream on the side and a small scoop of Vanilla Bean Ice Cream.  It took a while for this to arrive and that's because the Strudel is served 'hot.'  This was very flavorful, too and another winner!

The drinks list, by the way, offers a few Austrian sweet wines as well as some top "schnapps" (white alcohols distilled from various fruits such as pears, apples, apricots, etc.).  Port and Banyuls are also on the list, along with a number of coffee drinks, from fortified with alcohol to low octane.

The bill, with two drinks, corkage, a soup, two main plates and dessert tallied to $123 with tax and before the tip.

This was a delightful dining experience and easily a 'destination' restaurant, not merely a neighborhood spot.  We look forward to a return visit!

Reviewed by GW
December 2013

 

TRIPTYCH

1155 Folsom Street
San Francisco


TEL:  415-703-0557

Lunch M-F  11:30-3
Brunch Sat-Sun 9-3:30
Dinner: Daily from 5pm


Tokyo Tartar

 


Bacon-Wrapped Prawns

 


Paella Suprema for Two

This is a multi-faceted business, hence the name Triptych.  It's a bit of an art gallery, a restaurant and a catering business.

We booked a table at this Folsom Street restaurant in The City on a Sunday evening following one of our movie-going ventures.

Parking after dark was actually easy on the night we were out (late November) and we found a spot across the street from the place.

The restaurant seats perhaps 50 people and a few more at the bar.  As the place had but about 10 people when we arrived, we had our choice of tables.  We selected a four-top along the wall opposite from the bar.

There were all sorts of paintings adorning the walls in the restaurant and the music was fairly innocuous.

There's a wine and beer list tucked into the menu and some modest quality Libbey goblets are on the table with place settings.

The Old Bat asked for a Martini, but as they do not serve liquor, she would have to make do with one of the wines-by-the-glass.

The list features primarily wines from Fred Franzia's (Mister Two Buck Chuck) wine distributorship.  Cedar Brook Red or White goes for $7 a glass.  An Italian Sangiovese, retailing between $6 and $12 is $7 a glass or $28 for a bottle.  Terra Robles Cabernet, a $12 retail bottle, is $8 by the glass and $31 by the bottle.  Filus Malbec is $9 a glass as is Haraszthy Lodi Zinfandel.  Balletto Pinot Gris from Sonoma is also $9, as are Sonoma Oaks Chardonnay and Patianna Sauvignon Blanc.  We opted for a glass of the Patianna and, sad to say, it's merely vinous and hinting at being made from Sauvignon Blanc.
Yes, this is a dreary wine list, aimed at offering reasonably-priced wines, but doing so by, for the most part, dumpster diving in my view.
The corkage fee, I believe, was $15.

The beer list was small, but seemed to have more promising offerings than the wine list.

We began with a couple of starters.  "Tokyo Tartar" ($14) is described as "Diced Ahi Tuna, Sriracha, Mango, Ginger, Wasabi Aioli, Ponzu with Wonton Chips and a bell pepper Garnish."  A plate featuring Christmas colors arrived after about 10 or 15 minutes and it was a nice rendition of Tuna Tartar, if a bit salty and a touch spicy rendering the somewhat weak Sauvignon Blanc even more innocuous.
Our other starter was "Bacon Wrapped Prawns and White Beans" ($10).  A bowl filled with white beans arrived, studded with 4 prawns that seemed to be wrapped in bacon a deep fried.  This was good, though the prawns were rather small and lost with all those beans.  The menu mentioned something about Tiger Prawns, Mint, Basil and Truffle Oil...Perhaps the spicy Tokyo Tartar did not allow me to 'taste' this second dish.

The menu offers a Grilled Sirloin Steak ($23), a Breaded Pork Loin ($19), Lamb Chops ($25),  Seared Wild Salmon ($22), a handful of vegan dishes, balanced by a bunch of burgers.  We opted for the Paella Suprema for Two ($39),  which is described as having a "Tomato Base Sauce, Saffron, Soffrito, Prawns, Calamari, Mussels, Clams, Chicken and Chorizo."
The tomato in the rice means, if they did, indeed, use any saffron, it certainly was not detectable to our palates. 
The Seafood and other ingredients made for a perfectly decent rice dish, though.

I think the bill tallied to a bit less than $110 with the tax and SF Health charge and before the tip.

It was perfectly standard fare...and wine is an after-thought here.
Given its inconvenient location and lack of enological and culinary flair, we are not likely to return, but if you live in the neighborhood, it's a decent enough stop.

Posted by GW
November 2013


 

APERTO

1434 18th Street
San Francisco

Tel: 415-252-1625

Lunch:  M-F  11:30-2:30

Dinner:  M-Sat 5:30-10
Sun 5-9

 


The Anchovy Bruschetta with our bottle of Biancolella from Ischia.


Rigatoni with sausage


Linguine with Prawns...a good choice!



Quail 


Braised Short-Ribs

 


Butter Beans and Chanterelles


Chocolate Soufflé with Italian "Wet Nuts"
Delicious!

Our colleague John had mentioned going to this San Francisco restaurant and so we booked a Tuesday night table and ventured to the big city to check it out.

It's relatively easy to get to from the Peninsula and we drove around the Potrero Hill neighborhood once before finding a parking spot about a block from the restaurant.

Aperto is a quaint little place and clearly it's a "neighborhood" dining spot.

I arrived a bit early for our 7:30 reservation and there were several tables open, so they let me pick one.  I chose a spot towards the back, as there were 3 empty two-tops.  A menu and wine list were presented and I believe there was a wine glass as part of the table setting, but I might be wrong about that.

The place was about 50% full, maybe a tad more.  I perused the small wine list and menu.  There was but one sparkling wine by the glass, a Prosecco for $8 of Bortolomiol ($40 for a bottle).  A Sparkling Lagrein is $45.
Barbolini's marvelous Lambrusco is $32 a bottle.

There's a Siclian Rosato from Cantine Barbera for $9 a glass or $36 for a bottle.
They offer a little Gavi from Ernesto Piccolo for $28 a bottle, while a Fiano from Ciro Picariello is $40.  A Pinot Bianco from Cantina Andrian in the Alto Adige is $10.50 a glass or $42 for a bottle.  La Sibilla's delightful Falanghina is $38 a bottle (we sell it for $17.99 in the shop) and there's a California Sauvignon Blanc and a locally-produced Vermentino.  And, how about this?  No Chardonnay!

There are five red wines available by the glass, including Paolo Cali''s lovely Nero d'Avola  ($11 by the glass, $44 for a bottle).  A Barbera from Cascina Val del Prete is $40, while a Luigi Einaudi Dolcetto from Dogliani is $8.50 a glass and $34 for a bottle.  Of the ten red wine selections, there is but one from California and it's a County Line Pinot Noir for $48.

The wine list is small, but well-chosen and clearly aimed at pairing with the menu.  

As it was, indeed, dinner time, we opted for a bottle of Cenatiempo's Biancolella at $44.  The server brought the bottle in a timely fashion and opened it, poured the say and off we went.

The corkage fee, by the way, is $15 for each of the first two bottles and $25 per bottle after that.

We ordered their Anchovy Bruschetta  with "Cavolo Nero," a black leaf Kale.  Outstanding!  If you like fresh anchovies, this is great (and just $4 for two nice pieces!).

So far, so good.

We each, then, began with a pasta, although there are 8 or 9 antipasti, including a Walu Crudo  ($11) or Shrimp Fra Diavola ($12).

Each of the pastas is offered as a 'small' plate or you could have a normal-sized serving.  A Linguine with prawns and Chanterelles is $10 for a small plate, while the Rigatoni Mezza with sausage is also ten bucks.

The Linguine was very good and perfectly cooked, though the Rigatoni was more 'raw' than al dente.  It was under-done, probably caused by the chef wanting to send out both pastas simultaneously.  The sauce for the Rigatoni was nice, but the pasta needed another two minutes, or so, to cook through.

At this point, I brought out a bottle of a nice Tuscan red with maybe a decade, or so, of bottle age.  I'd stood up the bottle a week earlier to allow the sediment to settle and I cradled it into the restaurant.  The young server brought a decanter and he began opening the bottle.  I thought he moved it around a bit too much and my dining companion raised her eyebrows watching this. 
He uncorked the bottle without busting the cork and then began decanting.  We watched and her eyebrows kept climbing as we expected he'd soon hit the sediment and stop.  But, no, he simply dumped the bottle into the decanter, glug, glug, glug.
"Say," I said, "Let me explain to you about decanting and an older bottle of wine."  And we politely explained the notion of sediment and carefully pouring the wine off this bit of a natural deposit.
The young fellow was appreciative for the lesson in wine and we encouraged him to bring a glass and taste with us, which he did.

As for main plates, she ordered the Red Wine Braised Boneless Short-Ribs ($19) and I chose their Roasted Quail ($ ???)  special for the day.  A side plate of Butter Beans with Chanterelles was ordered, too.  Five bucks for that.

The Short Ribs were very good and nicely tender, while the quail was very good...And the beans with Chanterelles was a good call, though  the Short Ribs come with butter beans anyway.

The wine glasses were of good quality, by the way.

We were going to order dessert and then the server brought a Chocolate Souffle to make up for botching decanting the wine.  And he didn't nail us for corkage, either.

The bill tallied to around $125 before the tip.

Though this is primarily a "neighborhood" place, getting there from Burlingame is relatively easy (Vermont Street off 101 or Mariposa off the other freeway) and quick, so we'll certainly make a return visit.  The place might not be in San Francisco upper echelon of restaurants, but it's comfortable, casual and tasty.

Reviewed by GW
November 2013

 

BOURBON & BEEF

5634 College Avenue
Oakland

TEL: 510-788-4821

Lunch M-Fri 11-3
Dinner Daily 5-10pm


Mussels with the Chili Sauce being poured on top of them.

 




Almejas...Well, Mussels.


Shishito Peppers & Aioli

 

 

 

 


Rib-eye Steak with Peppers and Potatoes


Peruvian White Beans with Duck Confit, Wild Boar Sausage and Rabbit Sausage

 

We were in the East Bay on a Sunday and booked a table at a newish dining spot near Rockridge in Oakland.

Bourbon & Beef is right across the street from the Rockridge Food Hall and it was fairly busy on a Sunday night at 7pm.  Our server brought us to a table in the middle of the restaurant, a few feet from the bar on my left and a couple of feet from a table occupied by two fellows on my right.

There was one of the ubiquitous flat-screen TVs over the bar and the sound system was playing up-tempo Latin Jazz.  Add to the din, the folks at the bar conversing with each other and the guy at the neighboring table in the middle of a major diatribe and we could hardly hear ourselves think!

The hostess presented menus and a beverages list, which featured a bunch of cocktails and their wine selection.  Nice large stemware was on the table as part of the table setting.

The wine list seemed to be largely culled from the offerings of the big liquor distributors (as one might expect of a place with a Bourbon-centric bar).

There were three sparklers by the glass on the list, including Segura Viudas Cava ($7), Reginato Malbec Rose ($9) and a Simmonet-Febvre Cremant de Bourgogne for $12.

Other by the glass selections included a Mapema Sauvignon Blanc from Argentina ($9) and a Ladoucette Touraine Sauvignon ($10).  An Italian white of the Vitiano brand is listed as a Vermentino ($8), though it's actually a 50-50 blend of Vermentino and Verdicchio.  The red wines by the glass were of fairly standard quality labels, including a Don & Sons Pinot Noir ($10), Liberty School Cabernet (missed the price on that one) and Testamatta's naughty red wine called Soffocone (an Italian slang word for 'blow job') at $16.  

Louis Roederer's Brut Premier is relatively well-priced, though, at $72 for a bottle.  

The table wines are listed first by grape variety and then appellation or producer, with vintages and price being listed.  A Guigal Saint-Joseph Blanc is $67, while an Evening Land "Meursalt" (I'd hope it's spelled Meursault on the label) is $92.  

The delightful Colome Torrontes, a $12-$15 retail bottle, is $36 on the wine list. There's an Austrian Gruner Veltliner from Domaine Wachau for $30 and four Spanish whites.

There are 7 French red selections including a Gelin "Gevrey-Chambertain" (I suspect Chambertin is correctly spelled on the label) for $115.  A table wine blend is listed by its proprietary name, winery, country of origin and it's priced at $32.  This costs less than $8 wholesale, though. 

They have descriptions of each wine, since I gather there is no sommelier at this restaurant.
A Castiglion del Bosco Brunello di Montalcino ($80) is described as "Intense ruby red color, a broad persistent nose with notes of berries well blended with delicate spicy notes from the wood."
Despite the menu being focused on South American-styled foods (the chef/owner is born in El Salvador and the menu items are named in Spanish), there were but two red wines from Argentina, a lone Malbec of the Chakras label ($40) and a Barda Pinot Noir ($66).

The list, overall, is of reasonable quality, though I'd expect more South American selections.

The Old Bat's Martini was met with enthusiasm and I opted for a flute of the Sparkling Malbec.  The flute was standard as was the wine, a bit fruity and not hugely acidic.

As we heard the conversation about some high-tech start up's work place conditions and the sexual orientation of the older fellow at the neighboring table, our server explained the menu options are divided between small plates and big plates, "both of which are meant for sharing, so we tend to bring these out one at a time."

Fine.

We began with a plate of ALMEJAS ($16).  The description is "Steamed Black Mussels, White Wine, Shallots,Ancho Chilli (sic) Sauce & Grilled Herb Flatbread."  (Most Spanish speakers translate Almejas as 'clams.')
They brought one of those seafood or pizza platforms to the table and a while later a server brought a hot skillet full of mussels and he poured the Ancho Chili Sauce over the mussels, creating a beautiful bit of table-side show business, as the sauce steamed and sizzled!
Even better, though, the mussels were fresh, sweet and perfectly cooked.

Another starter was Chile y Ajo Frito ($10,) a plate of Shishito Peppers and Roasted Garlic with a Guajillo Pepper Aioli.  This was also quite good.  Two for two!

I had a bottle of a new Cabernet I wanted to taste and the server mentioned the $20 corkage fee and returned with two large, good quality red wine stems.  She opened the bottle with ease and poured the say...no problem.  She did not over-pour, either.
We offered her a taste and she stopped by with a glass...and this seemed to encourage her to keep an eye on our wine glasses, which she topped up periodically.

Carne de Res Con Papas ($36) is a beautiful rib-eye, nicely grilled and topped with a few more of those Shishito Peppers.  The plate is accompanied by some Potatoes and a Chimichurri Sauce.  The beef was very good and flavorful and our Cabernet was just right with this.

Our final plate was the Plato Salvaje Mezclado ($25), a duck leg & thigh Confit with Wild Boar Sausage, Rabbit Sausage and Carrot & Onions in a Peruvian White Bean 'stew'.  Think of this as a South American Cassoulet.  It was very good, too!

The Old Bat said she didn't want to leave the place.

We were full after these four lovely dishes, so no chance to check on desserts.  The menu also offered Paella and I gather this is a bit of a specialty with the chef.

The bill tallied to around $140 before the tip.

Good food, good service and reasonably good value, so we'll likely venture to the East Bay for a return visit and perhaps check out their Paella!

Reviewed by GW
November 2013

 

 

VESPUCCI

147 East Third Avenue
San Mateo

Tel: 650-685-6151

Open For Lunch & Dinner
Tues through Sunday

 

 

 


Bruschetta alla Vespucci

 

 


Clams and Mussels

 


Minestrone

 


Spaghetti con Polpette
(the chef is fond of painting the serving plates with a pepper puree on one side and a vinegar reduction on the other...)

We noticed a new Italian place in downtown San Mateo, so we booked a 7pm table on a Tuesday night for dinner.

It's a moderately cavernous space and we were escorted to a nice table just inside the door.  The wine list is printed in the back of the menu which was presented as we were seated.
No wine glasses are on the table as part of the place setting, however.

The one page list has 16 different "by the glass" selections and yet we were not interested in a single one of the 7 white wines for an aperitivo.

The wine list and menu are sloppy in their presentation, with numerous misspellings.   Clearly the list is not the work of a wine-savvy individual.
Selections include Zonin Prosecco ($7 a glass/$26 by the bottle), an un-named Pinot Grigio ($7/$26), "KJ" Chardonnay (that's now they present Kendall Jackson) for $11 a glass and $42 for a bottle.  La Crema Chardonnay is offered at $12 a glass and $45 for a bottle.
Matanzas Creek Sauvignon is $42 a bottle, but the lone, possibly decent white selection not offered by the glass.
It's an Italian restaurant and despite being in a region where top Italian wines are readily available, the best they can do for Chianti is Zonin ($7/$26) and Castello d'Albola ($11/$42).
There's a perfectly standard Montepulciano d'Abruzzo from Centorame, a wine retailing for $20 or less, priced at $49 on the list. They have two Amarone wines on the list;  one from Zonin is $95 a bottle while Villa Carlotti is $65.  There's a 2008 Barolo from Fratelli Alessandria ($130) which will be drinkable and worth that price in about 10 years.  The chef is from Calabria and yet there is but one Calabrian wine on the list:  Odoardi's Savuto ($12 a glass, $45 by the bottle for a wine which retails for $13). Ouch.
Of all the Cabernets in California, the best we can do here is Silver Palm ($42 from the Kendall Jackson folks) and Freemark Abbey ($60).

The corkage fee is $20, a high price for a place with such a poor wine list.  The wine glasses brought to our table were large, clunky, old-fashioned Libbey goblets.

We perused the menu and asked to start with Bruschetta alla Vespucci ($8).
From there, The Old Bat ordered Minestrone con Verdure di Stagione ($7) and I opted for the Soute di Cozze e Vongole ($14).

For a main plate, I chose Spaghetti e Polpette ($14) and The Old Bat selected Linguine alle Vongole ($18).

We requested bread and they brought a small basket of some kind of "Wonder Baguette."  In an area with so many good bakers, this was disappointing.  Some sort of cheesy, spicy spread accompanies the bread and the server eventually brought small bottles of oil and vinegar, another indication they're catering to non-savvy customers.

We waited nearly half an hour for the Bruschetta to arrive.  The place has seating for perhaps 50 people and it was two-thirds full at this stage of the evening.  The server, though, had not only the Bruschetta, but the clams and mussels!

We asked to send back the seafood and they set down the Bruschetta.  The Wonder Baguettes had been toasted to cracker-crisp and the goopy tomato/eggplant hash on top was as bland as could be.  It had a faintly vinegary fragrance, but this was not detectable in the flavor.  When the server asked how we liked this as he was collecting the plate, we told him classic Bruschetta incorporates garlic and basil.
He told us this was "Bruschetta alla Vespucci," so "we make it our style."
Here's how it's described on their menu:
(tomato and eggplant, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, black pepper, basil)
Well, the menu has it right, but the kitchen didn't execute very well.

We waited about 10 minutes, or so, for the soup and seafood to arrive.  The Minestrone featured a pile of cooked vegetables.  The Old Bat complained that it was too salty and not the sort of soup she's accustomed to when ordering Minestrone.  It was not a tomato-based broth studded with vegetables, but mostly sautéed or wilted vegetables covered with some sort of broth.
The clams and mussels were tepid.  The clams were small and not plump, fresh-out-of-the-water morsels...the mussels were shriveled and like brittle rubber bands.  There was a bit of broth in the bowl, but no soup spoon had been provided for this.  I guess the broth was to be sopped up with the toasted-to-burnt pieces of the Wonder Baguette that topped the seafood shells. 

We waited another 15 to 20 minutes for the pastas to arrive.

All the while, the two servers occupy themselves with checking on tables and filling water glasses.  They're especially attentive to topping up the water glass!

At one point, hungry and waiting, The Old Bat actually entertained the notion of each of us tossing a $20 on the table and departing.
I'm not much of a fan of fast food, but this "slow food" evening was not going well.

Eventually the pasta dishes arrived.  The Linguine was not hot, so she sent hers back.  Mine was appropriately hot.
The meatballs were spongy and not very flavorful and the "fresh tomato sauce" must have been made from cardboard tomatoes.  A jar of virtually any supermarket "spaghetti sauce" has more character than this.
The pasta on both plates was cooked past the "al dente" stage.  And I can't say her clam sauced pasta was especially good.
As a side note, they provide a large spoon with the pasta as apparently customers are not capable of twirling it on a fork without the help of such a utensil!

We flagged down a server and got the check.  With the tax, the bill tallied to $88.
From a 7pm start, it was a few minutes after 9 when we thankfully departed.

The place, by the way, is noisy and the cacophony especially bothered The Old Bat.  They have a modest sound system...I think there was a transistor radio speaker behind me at the little bar.
Someone must have passed by with a cigar at one point and the plate stunk of that burning rope.  A while later a cigarette smoker passed and this, too, lingered.  They don't have a system to circulate the air, though I noted a small box fan on a ledge above a front window.

After we dined, I had a look at the reviews on Yelp.  Almost every review is hugely positive indicating our experience may have been unusual or most patrons know very little about fine dining.

We will not be dining at Vespucci for a second try.  Sorry.

Reviewed by GW
August 2013

 

 

TERRONE

448 South California Avenue
Palo Alto

Tel: 650-847-7577

Open Daily
For
Lunch & Dinner

 


The pizza oven at Terrone.

 


Various 'salumi' on the Salame Plate.



Farro and Calamari


Decanting our Barbaresco

 


Pizza Napoletana

 


Scialatielli Pasta with Funghi


Bistecca Fiorentina with fries.


Panna Cotta with fresh berries


Vanilla Gelato Affogato



Unlike so many of the Italian-themed eateries on the San Francisco Peninsula, this one is actually owned by Italians.

We ventured to Palo Alto one Saturday night in July to try this relatively new pizzeria on California Avenue.  The weather was reasonably warm and my friends requested a table behind the restaurant on their outdoor patio.  The place was filled at 8:30pm and we had to wait a few minutes.

Inside, the kitchen was humming along and the wood-fired pizza oven looked impressive.

We waited less than 5 minutes, but given how busy this place is, I'd suggest calling ahead for a reservation.

The host escorted us to the patio and presented both menus and a wine list.

The wine list is small, which is fine.  Sadly one of the big liquor distributors has been instrumental in selecting the wines and there are but a few interesting selections unless you're wowed by Chalone Chardonnay ($32), Orogeny Pinot Noir ($68), Provenance Cabernet ($59) or Bozzetto Chianti ($32).  
There are a few good Italian wines on the list with mark-ups all over the map.
A good entry-level Nero d'Avola from the Valle dell'Acate wine is $48 on the wine list...we retail that wine for $12.  On the other hand, a really good Brunello from Caprili, $60 at retail, is $110 on the wine list.  A Barbaresco is listed at $75 a bottle and it's from the vineyard location of Rio Sordo, but beyond that, the actual winery making this bottling is a mystery.
Gaja's Ca' Marcanda winery makes several red wines, so we don't know which one they're offering at $160.  It could be the entry level, $50 retail bottling called Promis, it could be the $80 Magari bottling, though it's unlikely to be the Ca' Marcanda "Camarcanda" bottling which usually retails for around $150-$160.
Vintage dates are not listed on the wine list, either.

We began with a bottle of Ruggeri Prosecco ($34), a bottle which retails for $15-$20 typically.  The flute glasses they brought were serviceable, though not elegant...but remember, this is a pizzeria, not three star Michelin dining.

The menu features ten pizzas/pizze ranging from $12 to $16.  There are two soups, four salads and maybe 8 or 9 "small plates."  Four pastas are tabbed as "homemade" and there's a risotto of the day.

We asked our server for a "Salami Plate" ($11) and "Farro & Calamari" ($12) to start.
Following those, we wanted the Napoletana Pizza ($15).
Next course, we asked about getting three "half portions" of the Scialatielli pasta ($17) with porcini, rosemary and olive oil.
Then, following the pasta, we wanted the Bistecca Fiorentina ($25).

The Salami plate was a nice sized cutting board smothered with several kinds of meats, including Prosciutto di San Daniele, Salame  of Fra Mani, some kind of smoked meat and a spicier salame/sasauce.  There were some olives accompanying this and little cubes of a nice, somewhat doughy bread.
The Farro salad was marvelous, with chopped parsley, red peppers and green onions adding flavor to the calamari.

When we'd finished the starters, a beautifully crusty, thin pizza arrived...tomato sauce and some nicely salty anchovies on top.

In between the starters and pizza, I pulled a 1999 Barbaresco out of my cellar bag and the crew decanted it tableside.  Large "Bordeaux" styled wine glasses were brought to the table, too.

As we were each grabbing a slice of the pizza, a server arrived with a single plate of pasta and the bistecca.
Clearly they did not understand the style of dining we were expecting, staging each item individually.  Or, perhaps we didn't understand this is really "just" a pizzeria and you don't get 'fine dining' service in a pizza place.
We sent back the pasta and the steak, asking they bring these out when the pizza has been devoured.
The pizza, by the way, was excellent!  It was a beautiful reminder of good pizza in Italy.

But before we'd finished the pizza, the pasta and bistecca re-appeared.

The notion of three "half portions" of pasta was not understood, apparently and we seemed to get a single serving (if that) of the Scialatielli.  The pasta was very good, but the size of that serving seemed more like a half portion to me, but I have a big appetite!

The Bistecca was magnificent!  Beautifully cooked, it was an 18 ounce t-bone steak which was magnificently charred and rare on the inside.  Some fries and mixed greens accompanied this.
By the way, they don't have contorni or side dishes listed on the menu, so we could not embellish this main plate further.

One of my dining companions asked about some other pasta and they brought an order of that to our table.

The dessert list features Tiramisu, Panna Cotta, a Tortino al Ciocolatto with Vanilla Gelato and some other Torta.  These are $8.  They offer a gelato or sorbet cup for $7.

Having expressed a bit of dissatisfaction at the service, a couple of desserts were comped.

Over all, despite the hiccup in service, the food at this place was really good and I'm looking forward to a return visit (and I'll order that steak again, for sure!).  If you're a bit of a wine geek (as am I), bring a bottle and pay the corkage fee.

Reviewed by GW
July 2013
  

 

PAUL MARTIN'S AMERICAN GRILL

101 Hillsdale Shopping Center
(corner of 31st  Ave and the parking lot entrance)

San Mateo

Tel: 650-212-7400

Open Daily from 11am through Dinner


Fried Calamari


Baby Romaine Caesar

 

 

 

 




A New York Strip Steak with Spinach...

 



The Rib-eye with fries.

One of the owners of P.F. Chang's Chinese restaurants and "Fleming's Steak House" is the "Paul" of Paul Martin's.  It's a small chain of "neighborhood" restaurants and their first one in the Bay Area.

It's a brand new restaurant located in the old Crate & Barrel store and it's a dark restaurant with booths and free-standing tables.  A bar and small tables are on one side of the place and there's a small outdoor, patio-like setting in the front.

The place had just opened the week we booked a 7pm table and so we did not know what to expect.  Would they be in "training" mode or what?

We arrived about 10-15 minutes before our reservation and the host told us they'd seat us closer to our reservation time.  I couldn't tell if that was a move to get us to buy a drink ahead of time or if they simply did not have an open table for us.

We sat outside and a nice young lady offered drinks.  They have a full bar and so The Old Bat ordered her usual Dry Martini.  I perused the wine card...they offer perhaps 100 wines on their list and more than half are available by the glass.
The young server was familiar with the wines and accurately described the Kelly Fleming Sauvignon Blanc ($14 a glass).  She brought a small carafe and a nice-sized, empty stem and poured a "say" to see if I "okayed" the wine.  It was a good, mildly citrusy, crisp, somewhat potent Sauvignon Blanc from Napa.
The Old Bat rated her Martini a 5 on a scale of 1 to 10.

At 7:10, or so, we were escorted to a booth at the back of the restaurant, close to the open kitchen.
The menu and wine list were presented and there was stemware on the table as part of the place setting.

American food is the focus, but maybe even a bit more local than "American."  And the wine list features mostly West Coast wines.
Three bubblies are offered by the glass, including a Piper Sonoma Brut ($11), a Gruet Brut from New Mexico ($13) and a Schramsberg Brut Rose for $19.

The wine list offers some standard brands such as Wente's "Morning Fog" Chardonnay from Livermore ($9/glass-$34/bottle), Rombauer Chardonnay ($20/glass-$69/bottle) to Frog's Leap Chardonnay ($16/glass-$56/bottle) and Hanzell Chardonnay for $99 a bottle.  They had 17 Pinot Noirs, with two from Oregon (Benton Lane $60 and one called Twelve $65) to a simple French Bourgogne Rouge from Alain Geoffroy ($12/glass-$43/bottle--this wine retails for $17).  A fruity Valpolicella which retails for $14 is $37 on their list...a $12 Nero d'Avola is $37 on their list, so the margins on the wines is a big hefty.
There are 6 Merlots, Duckhorn's costing $99 a bottle.  Twenty-one Cabernets are offered.  Frog's Leap is $105 on the list...the winery retail price is $42. (The wholesale price is $28.) Yet Silver Oak, a $70 winery bottle is also $105.  Pahlmeyer's big Napa Cab blend is $199 and Araujo's Eisele Vineyard Cabernet is $350 a bottle (these typically retail for $300).  

The corkage fee is a comfortable $10.
Thank you for that!

 

We perused the menu...they offer 8 "starters," from a cheese & salumi board ($12/person) to a Spinach Dip ($14) to Raw Oysters of some appellation at $3 each.  A Jumbo Wild Prawn "cocktail" is $19 and we saw servers carrying out a large serving of ice studded with 5 prawns sticking out of them.  The "Town Dock Calamari" ($13) was The Old Bat's selection and this was a large platter of perfectly crisp, moderately salty calamari...a winner, but best shared.
I opted for their Baby Romaine Caesar with homemade croutons ($8)...a nice salad but the Caesar dressing was not intensely garlicky, nor did it seem to have much influence from an anchovy.  Another large plate and the salad was good...

The server opened our bottle of well-aged Rioja and the stemware was a good-sized glass of perhaps 14 ounce capacity. She was efficient, courteous, polite and professional.

The menu is varied for main plates...Fish Tacos ($16), Grilled Salmon ($23), St. Louis Pork Ribs ($24), Brick Chicken ($21) or Linguine & Prawns for $20.  They have a Mesquite grill and a Prime New York steak is $36, Skirt Steak is $24 and a Blackened Rib-eye is $34.  A hamburger is $13.

We each ordered a steak...the New York was very good and the Rib-eye picked up a smoky note from the Mesquite.  The steaks were tender and cooked beautifully (in fact, the runner who brought them asked that we cut into them immediately to be sure they were cooked to our liking!).  I was able to substitute their Fingerling potatoes for French Fries.
The homemade Ketchup is quite nicely balanced and zesty, by the way.

The ambience is a bit dark and they seemed to be turning down the lights in an already dark restaurant.  When we departed at 8:45, or so, it was a surprise to find it so light outside (by comparison).
I don't recall hearing background music, come to think of it, though being a family restaurant, some baby was making a bit of a fuss nearby and another toddler was exploring the area around her family's table.


A manager stopped by to ask how we liked the place and they seem to be off to a seriously good start.  The notion of the owners creating a "neighborhood restaurant" that they'd like to have in their neighborhood is a good one, if a tad pricey.


That said, given that there are so relatively few "quality" dining establishments in the area from South San Francisco to Redwood City, this is likely to be a popular dining spot.
And we're already looking forward to a return visit!

Reviewed by GW
July 2013

 

RUSSIAN FAMILY RESTAURANT

2086 Broadway
Redwood City

Tel: 650-369-2950

 

Lunch:  Tues-Fri  11-3

Dinner from 5pm Tues-Sunday until
9pm 
(10pm on Friday and Saturday)


Porcini & Barley Soup


Borsch

 


Chicken Patties


Lamb with fresh roasted peppers and a plum sauce


Chicken Livers

 

Some friends had dined at the San Bruno incarnation of this Russian restaurant and they were interested to try the place in its new Redwood City location.

We booked a table for 8:30 on a Saturday night during the Summer...it was warm and, in fact, a bit hot inside the place.  There were outdoor tables, but I'd noticed quite a parade of humanity ambling past and thought we'd be a bit more comfortable inside.

No wine glasses on the table and no wine list was offered by the fellow who's the owner.  He's a tired old guy and not exactly a charming or outgoing host.

I asked how much the corkage fee was and he hesitated, seemingly searching for an appropriate number.  Fifteen popped into his head, so we were told the corkage fee would be $15.

I'd brought a wine made of the Russian (or Georgian) grape, Rkatsiteli.  Our host brought wine glasses to the table, goblet which were perhaps better suited to being a water glass.
He managed to extricate the cork and poured the wine for me...good...and then poured for my friends.
He was not the least bit interested in the wine, though we did explain its origins and invited him to bring a glass and have a taste.

Small salads were brought to the table, along with one slice of a dark bread per person.

The three of us each ordered a soup and a main plate.  One soup arrived and about 5 minutes later, or so, another soup was brought.  Maybe 5, or so, minutes after that the third soup arrived.  The Spring Green Soup (available hot or cold) was $6.50.  Ukrainian-styled Borsch is $6.50, while my Porcini and Barley soup was $7.  The Borsch came last, probably because it included a 'fresh baked roll,' which was left uneaten after a bite.

The same pacing took place with respect to our main dishes.
The menu has a notation on several items that it requires a 20 to 25 minute wait.  All three items we ordered had this cautionary note.

One person ordered Kotlety “Pozharskie," ($15.50) Chicken patties named after a famous Russian restaurateur.   About 5 minutes later, my Shashlyk i Lulya-kebab iz Baraniny, some sort of lamb kebabs arrived.  Gentlemen that we are, we waited until the lady's entree arrived, a Chicken Liver "nest" called Kurinaya Pechonka ($17.50).  This plate took another 10 minutes so we had about a 15 to 20 minute wait from first plate to the third!  I wondered how long we'd have waited had the place been busy...it was relatively empty on our visit.

The food was of fairly good quality...nice salad greens, good dried Porcini for the soup and the lamb and peppers were fine.
The chef and co-owner came out of the kitchen, appearing as your Russian grandma, to ask how dinner was.  She's clearly concerned and cares about the quality of the food, to be sure.
Still, we wondered if they had more than a single burner stove or hotplate back in the kitchen as the timing here was not that of a well-run, professional restaurant.

The menu indicated desserts are all house-made.  We were not asked if we wanted dessert, as it was a bit after 10pm and we gathered the crew wanted to go home.


It's not a restaurant where wine is given any consideration, though and given the poor timing of the kitchen, I can't say I'm heading back any time soon with guests.
On the other hand, if you're dining by yourself and enjoy a good beer, they have a number of nice selections on tap and some Russian beers in bottle for you.

Reviewed July 2013

 

ALL SPICE

1602 South El Camino Real
San Mateo

Tel: 650-627-4303

Open Tues-Sat 5:30-9:30

 


The Amuse Bouche...

 


"Ode to My Wife, Part II"


Tandoori-Spiced Crispy Sweetbreads

 


The English Pea Soup is poured at the table into the 'bowl' with the mint, yogurt gelée and Aleppo peppers.

 


The Wild Boar "stew" with the Noble Element...silver.


Veal Shortrib


Venison Steak

 


House-made Ice Creams


Dark Chocolate Kulfi for the Birthday Boy...

 


Crème Brûlée

 

It was the birthday of a good friend and I extended the invitation to dine out, knowing they had been enthusiastic fans of this San Mateo dining spot.

It was a Thursday evening and the place was packed.  It's in an old house set back from El Camino.  There's a parking lot surrounding the restaurant.

We were escorted to our table in one of the small dining rooms (they have three rooms, I think, accommodating perhaps 40 people if my count is correct).  No wine glasses on the table, but the wine list was offered along with menus.

The wine list is small and compact and offers perhaps 40 selections.  We find 7 fizzy to bubbly selections, though one is a Moscato d'Asti, a more appropriate choice for dessert.  There's a Brut de Savoie from Pierre Boniface for $40, while $75 gets you a bottle of Henriot's Brut.  For $120 you can have the vintage Brut of Thienot.  We opted for a half bottle of a Spanish Cava, a Llopart Rose for $25 (375ml).

Under the heading of "Crisp, Dry Whites" there's a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc from Allan Scott for $32 as well as a Long Meadow Ranch from Napa for $36.  Under the "Aromatic Whites" category we find a nice German Riesling from Dr. Thanisch for $36, although it's not clear what quality level this wine is...they don't indicate whether it's a Qba, Kabinett or Spatlese, for example.
Under the heading of Chardonnays, there's a MacRostie from Sonoma for $36, a Bouchard Bourgogne Blanc for the same price or a second label Hanzell for $56.

The list has five Pinot Noirs, including two from David Bruce, $50 for the 2007 Santa Cruz Mountains and $60 for a Santa Maria bottling.  A Dashe Cellars Dry Creek Zinfandel is $40, while a Langmiel (sic) Shiraz from Australia is $45.  A Tres Picos Garnacha is $36.
Overall, it's a list of "nice" wines at sensible prices and the selections actually pair well with the menu.

The corkage fee is $15, so if you're dining here, make do with a bubbly or a white and bring a special bottle of red.

Our half bottle of bubbly arrived along with three "champagne coupes."  I was a bit surprised that a place with a star in the Bay Area Michelin Guide would have this sort of stemware for bubbly!  I asked if we could have normal wine glasses, then, and the server immediately brought some large format stems which were more conducive to our appreciation of the Cava.

A little Amuse Bouche of a soup arrived...a nice little offering of a green vegetable (was it spinach, perhaps) with a little tomato gelée...very nice!

We perused the menu and my two dinner guests suggested sharing a couple of appetizers.  The chef and co-owner is Sachin Chopra, a fellow who's background is in Indian cuisine, though he's been involved in Indian-Fusion restaurants, apparently.  His wife and partner is Shoshana Wolff and she runs the front of the house and takes care of curating the wine list.

For starters, there's Lavender and Cumin Scallops ($15) which comes with bacon and black cardamom potato sauce.  Tuna Tataki ($15) features Quick-charred ahi tuna with crispy capers, caviar, a flurry of radishes and persillade.  A Warm Mirchi Salad ($12) includes Shishito peppers sautéed with fresh corn, mushrooms and baby greens with a sauce of pickled cabbage.  

Having finished the glass of bubbly, we brought out a bottle of a terrific New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and we asked for another round of stemware.  The server brought three large glasses to the table and we opened the Greywacke "Wild" Sauvignon, an outstanding match for the upcoming starters.

My friends wanted the "Ode to My Wife, Part II," ($9) which is described as "Savory ricotta-almond cheesecake layered with red and golden beets in a sun-dried tomato crust, with goat cheese mousse and crushed walnuts."  We also had the Tandoori-Spiced Crispy Veal Sweetbreads ($17) with Lemon sabayon, Caesar dressing foam and miso-mushroom duxelles.
Both were excellent, though I'd easily order the Sweetbreads again and probably opt for one of the other starters.  The presentation of both was outstanding.  Wow...are we sure we're in San Mateo?

As the crew had hosted my two dinner guests on previous occasions, the chef sent out three servings of their "English Pea Soup" (which would have cost $9) and this comes garnished with fresh mint, yogurt gelée and aleppo peppers.  Another culinary masterpiece!

Our friend Constance brought an Oregon Pinot Noir and the crew opened this bottle and provided three more large stems (of good quality).

The menu offers 8 main plates, two of which are vegetarian.  They had a Beet & Coconut Ravioli ($17) with truffled Fonduta and Crispy Kale.  Popeye's Dream ($17) is Spinach-parmesan custard with grilled paneer, heirloom carrots, fresh baby corn and a roasted red pepper brodo.  There was a Fennel Oil-Poached Halibut for $30 with Lemongrass Shrimp Mousse, crispy potato coins, sausage breadcrumbs and  smoked Mt. Lassen trout cream.  
With the red wine, though, we focused on meat dishes.  The Birthday Boy ordered the Harissa-Spiced Veal Short Rib ($27) with Bacon green pea rice grits, vanilla potato cream, harissa-braised fennel, salsify and a fennel relish.  The Mrs. ordered the Herb-Rubbed Venison Steak ($29) which comes with Farro risotto, braised ciopollini onion, wild mushrooms and grapes.  I was torn between the Braised Wagyu Beef Brisket ($26) or the Aab-e-gosht ($24) and the waiter guided me towards the latter which was "Wild boar cooked in the traditional fashion, in a sauce of ginger, fennel almonds served with saffron bread and noble elements."  The Noble Element was a thin sheet of edible silver!

All three dishes were excellent, though I'd probably opt for the Short Ribs or Venison next time.  The Boar came with a flat bread which had saffron in it...quite good, though the saffron was too subtle for me.

The kids were dying for dessert.  I ordered the Selection of House-Made ice Creams ($7) and had a scoop each of a Rose Petal Ice Cream, one flavored with Blood Oranges and another of Vietnamese Coffee.  The kitchen sent out a Crème Brûlée ($7) which was delightful.

The service was quite good, professional and a bit informal.  The ambience is nice, though a fellow at the neighboring table may have had hearing issues as he was unusually loud.

This is a seriously good restaurant and a jewel here on the Peninsula.  Fussy wine aficionados, as noted earlier, should consider ordering a white or bubbly and bringing a special red...

We look forward to dining here again and would definitely find our way to this "destination" dining spot were we living farther away from All Spice.

Reviewed By GW
May 2013

 

BON VIVANT

 535 Bryant Street
Palo Alto

Tel: 650-485-3228

Open Everyday Except Monday
11:30 to 10
(11:30 on Fridays and Saturdays)

 

 

 


An Amuse Bouche of Steak Tartare and Hollandaise Sauce

 


Sweetbreads


Baby Octopus Salad.

 


Roasted Duck Breast with Horseradish Whipped Potatoes, A Mélange of Cauliflower and Huckleberry Sauce.

 


Nice stemware, at least, but with a $25 corkage fee, it should be nice.

 

 

 

Oh, my...where to begin?

So many restaurateurs claim they lose money on their food and so they attempt to be profitable on their beverage service.  I am certain with the high rent most places pay in the Bay Area, keeping one's head above water is challenging.  But there's a limit to what's sensible and fair.

We ambled in after a Sunday afternoon movie.  Most of the place has table cloths, while one large table is unadorned wood, sort of a community table.  Empty on this occasion.  A handful of tables were occupied by twos and fours....

They brought a wine list and menus as we were seated and we were asked about cocktails or aperitifs.  The Old Bat ordered a Martini and I ordered a glass of Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc ($11).

I had, of course, some bottles in my bag, but I perused the wine list.

It's a French-themed restaurant and they have a remarkable list of wines.  It's top-heavy with big brands such as Guigal, Bouchard, Louis Latour, Olivier Leflaive, Antinori, Hugel, Dom Perignon, Jaboulet, etc.

The list is sloppily assembled and there are numerous misspellings and odd entries.  Under the heading of Chenin Blanc wines, there's a Muscadet (the grape is Melon de Bourgogne).  Under Sauvignon Blanc, they list a Quarts de Chaume (it's made of Chenin Blanc).  The Trimbach winery is noted as "Trumbah" on the wine list.  An Antinori Tuscan white blend is listed as "Pinot Grigio" when that grape comprises a tiny percentage of the mix.
Guigal Cote-Rotie is posted under the Burgundy heading of Cote de Beaune, not Rhone.  A wine under the heading of Merlots is listed as "Old Ghost" Old Vine and this is a Zinfandel from Lodi's Klinker Brick winery.
An Edmeades wine is listed as being from "Mendasino." "Provance" not "Provence."  "Bordauex" not "Bordeaux."
There's a heading of "Rhone Varietals, Northern Rhone" and there a 2009 Jaboulet "Domaine de Thalabert" for $125.  Under the heading of simply "Rhone Varietals," the same wine appears again for $125.  Thalabert is a Jaboulet property of the appellation Crozes-Hermitage.
Under the heading of Hermitage, however, we see "2009 Jaboulet Crozes-Hermitage Domaine de Thalabert Syrah" and it's $90.
Under the heading of Gigondas, a prominent southern Rhone appellation, there is Guigal's Crozes-Hermitage, Guigal Hermitage and Guigal's basic Cote-Rotie, all Northern Rhone reds.
A Cotes du Rhone from the Chateau de Saint Cosme is listed as an Hermitage as are a couple of other Southern Rhones based on the Grenache grape.

Now, these days many sommeliers contend that a 400% mark-up is the industry standard.  I wonder, then, how this restaurant "shops" for wine.  Are they buying from the distributor and paying a wholesale price?  Or, I wondered if they buy wine at retail paying a higher price, along with sales tax and then marking up the wines by 400%?
When I noticed a couple of items are labels found exclusively in a large chain store, we may have our answer.

If they purchased Bollinger's Brut Champagne at the highest wholesale price, they'd pay $66.60 per bottle.  Best wholesale pricing is around $48 and most retailers in the area offer it for $60-$70 a bottle.  It's $240 on the wine list at Bon Vivant!  Ouch!!!
Laurent Perrier ranges from a tad under $30 wholesale to $33.60 at the highest wholesale price.  It retails for around $40, typically.  Bon Vivant offers a bottle for $120.
Laurent Perrier's top-of-the-line Champagne costs the restaurant from $95 to $101.60 if purchased from the wholesale distribution company.  It retails for $130 to $150 presently.  You can treat your guests to this wine for a mere $400 if you dine at Bon Vivant.
A ten dollar a bottle white Bordeaux from Chateau Bonnet is $52 on this wine list.  Another simple red Bordeaux, misspelled as Timberlai (it's Timberlay) wholesales for about $15 a bottle and it's offered for $75 here.
Stag's Leap Wine Cellars "Artemis" (Arthemis on their Arthe-misspelled list) is $55 at the winery to visitors.  It's $150 on the wine list.
Cuvaison Pinot Noir is $38 at the winery and it's $24-$26 from the wholesaler.  But it becomes a $130 bottle at Bon Vivant.

Yes, I get a bit riled up seeing a sloppy wine list and absurd pricing.
Let's see...the company that made the Champagne prices it a hundred bucks at wholesale (meaning they sold it for around $60-$70)..and this restaurant thinks they should "earn" a $300 profit from selling a bottle?

They offer 9 starters, plus some salads.  Sea Scallops with a Cauliflower Puree and Brown Sugar Syrup ($17) seemed like an odd combination.  Escargots are $12, though the menu neglects to indicate how many come as a serving.  Steamed Mussels are $16 as a starter.  Half a dozen oysters are $12 (and yet mussels are $16?)...Crispy Sweetbreads with Truffled Potatoes are $15.
Salads are creative.  One is called a Pompadour Salad ($12) and features "Watermelon, Frisée, Mint, Baby Tomatoes, Mint Oil and Chili Flakes."  They offer a Beet Salad, a Smoked Duck Breast Salad, a Butter Lettuce and Prawn Salad...

I opted for the "Baby Octopus Salad" (($14) which includes Niçoise Olives, Frisée, Tomatoes and Crème Fraîche.
The Old Bat ordered the Sweetbreads.

We were brought a small Amuse Bouche of a crostino with some sort of Steak Tartare topped with Hollandaise Sauce and snipped chives.  The meat was a bit on the brown side, so it appeared to be cooked.  It was not, though.

The Sweetbreads were good and nicely done.  The Octopus Salad looked better than it tasted.  There was some sort of orange-colored oil on the plate which the server said was Chili Oil.  I found it to be fairly neutral and weak as though perhaps some chili peppers or flakes had been infused into some sort of anonymous vegetable oil.  The Octopus was a tad "mushy" in texture, not exactly "al dente" and there was a most unusual clove spice element.  I imagined perhaps the octopus was cooked sometime much earlier and then 'preserved' in liquid which had cloves to maybe extend the 'life span' of the seafood.  Maybe I'm wrong, but the clove character was strange.  And I didn't mention the cardboard-like cherry tomatoes...

I put a nice bottle of a Red Burgundy on the table and the server brought two wine glasses.  Corkage is $25.   The stemware was of good quality and they were Burgundy "balloons," so they get credit for that.

Their idea of "bread" here was a small basket with some puffs made using a recipe for Gougères .

We both ordered the Roasted Duck Breast ($29) with Horseradish Whipped Potatoes, Spring Cauliflower Mélange and Huckleberry Sauce.
This is a beautiful plate in terms of appearance and presentation, but the Cauliflower accompanying the duck was tepid or room temperature and the duck and whipped potatoes were warm, not hot.
I missed the horseradish in the potatoes, so I am either desensitized to this or that bit of seasoning was inadvertently omitted.

We found seven dessert offerings on the menu, including a Crepe Suzette ($10), a Chocolate Pot de Crème ($10) or Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée ($10).
They have a number of dessert wines including "Taylor's Fladgate" (sic) 10 Year tawny for $18.   The weak "Presidential" brand is offered in 20 Year Tawny format for $22.  An unidentified Sauternes is $25 a pour.  I asked the server about this and he did not know what they had, so he brought out a half bottle of Castelnau de Suduiraut.  This wholesales for $12, so it costs the restaurant about a dollar an ounce.  I felt paying $25 for four or five bucks' worth of sweet wine was too costly.
Also under the heading of Port and Dessert wines are 5 Courvoisier Cognacs.  A bottle of the VS (entry level) retails for $25-$32 dollars and yet a 'shot' of this costs $20 at Bon Vivant.

Our bill tallied to $145 with the corkage fee and tax and before the tip.

I'm sure you can guess my position on making a return visit to this place and you're right...it's a resounding "no thanks!"
Whether or not the ridiculous wine pricing is simply innocently misguided by relative 'amateurs' or it's intended (and perhaps defended), there are too many other 'fine dining' opportunities where there's, at least, a modicum of respect for the patron's wallet.  And palate.

Reviewed by GW
May 2013

 

 

COCOTTE

1521 Hyde Street
San Francisco

Tel: 415-292-4415

Open Wed-Mon 5:30-10:30


Smoked Salmon on what they called a Potato Cake...more like an omelet...


Rabbit a la Moutarde with Spätzle.
Salty.


Shredded Duck "Salad"...nice.


Day Boat Scallops with squid ink risotto under Basil Foam...

 


Beef Wellington but we missed the Pate and Duxelles...


A Cocotte of "Broccoflower", Lemon Oil and Anchovies...

 


Molten Chocolate Cake


Golden Delicious Tarte Tatin.


Cappuccino a la Cocotte

 

We booked a 7pm, Thursday evening table at this little San Francisco restaurant on Hyde Street between Jackson and Pacific.

My e-mail asking them about valet parking or a nearby parking lot went without a response.  I was in the neighborhood at 6:40 and at 7 was still driving around in search of a spot.

My dining companion was similarly frustrated by the lack of parking.  I ended up about 6 or 7 blocks away and she managed to find an open spot 3 or 4 blocks from Cocotte.

We had a table for two in a small alcove in a broom closet, of sorts.

There were no wine glasses on the table and they brought a wine list which consists of 31 selections.  These are rather standard bottlings and hardly the selections of a wine-savvy sommelier.

We ordered a bottle of Domaine Auchere Sancerre ($44) and the server brought two glasses and the bottle, presenting it as he should.  The wine was as it should be and we accepted it.  The bottle, though, was not thoroughly chilled and on a hot evening, we asked for an ice bucket.

They have a half a dozen white wines by the glass, the Sancerre being $12 a pour, a Pinot Blanc from the coop winery in Ribeauville is $9.  A red Burgundy from Jean-Claude Boisset is $11 (does Boisset make any serious quality wines, I wonder?), while the Clefs des Murailles Vacqueyras is $11 a glass.

$50 will buy you a bottle of Cabernet from the Languedoc estate of L'Arjolle.  There's an Amador Zinfandel for $33 of the Egret label, while they offer a Napa Merlot from Emmolo for $65.   A good St. Estephe from the Chateau de Pez is $82, one of the few wines I'd be happy with.

There are seven white wine selections.  A Beaucannon Napa Sauvignon Blanc is $40, while a Vouvray of Marc Bredif is $45...both are snoozers in my opinion.

The wine list has a notation that their corkage fee is $20 and there is a one-bottle-per-table maximum. I can understand this in a restaurant with a stellar, well-chosen wine list.  In a place where the wine is but an after-thought, this seemed a bit unfriendly.

We ordered several starters and these were brought in stages, which was nice.  Our server, by the way, was a very friendly, upbeat fellow.

They brought a small basket of bread with a classic baguette in it...accompanied by a wonderful green 'spread.'

The first starter was Smoked Salmon ($8) on a Potato Cake.  This arrived in a small cast-iron skillet and what was billed as a Potato Cake seemed more like an omelet to us.  It was some sort of egg preparation, a world away from a Potato Cake as I know it.  Strike one.

The Rabbit a la Moutarde ($11) came with crispy Spätzle and kale.  This was nice, if a bit salty.  A special that evening was some sort of duck salad featuring shredded duck.  This was good and mildly salty.

My friend had brought an old bottle of Napa Cabernet from the 1983 vintage.  The server was anxious to open the bottle and we asked if he had a two-pronged cork puller instead of a corkscrew.  I opened the bottle and the cork was extracted in one piece.  A corkscrew often results in the cork coming out in pieces.
The wine was okay on first sniff and after a while my friend said she did not care for the wine and suggested we opt for something else.
I had a bottle of a 2004 Clos Vougeot in the cellar bag and I opened this.  Our server, upon seeing we had another bottle on the table (I'd stashed the old Cabernet) brought two more glasses.  We invited him to have a taste and he brought a glass...I poured him a healthy taste.

The stemware was fairly sturdy, industrial glassware and they have a one-size-fits-all glass.

The lady order the Seared Day Boat Scallops $24 which came with Squid Ink Risotto and Basil Foam.  Three large sea scallops and a nice risotto...
My $30 Beef Wellington is on the menu as having Wild Mushrooms, Puff Pastry and Beef Jus.  It comes on a bed of mashed potatoes and I didn't find any influence of Pate or Duxelles...there were a few thin slices of some sort of mushroom between the beef and the puff pastry.

A side dish in a "cocotte" of Broccoli ($5) was enhanced by lemon oil and anchovies...though it seemed a bit bland to me.

Desserts are $7 and we had a Tarte Tatin with a Caramel Sauce, along with a Molten Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream and Berries.  These were both nice.

A Cappuccino was served in a large cup and was a frothy, overflowing mess!

We were charged for both bottles of wine we'd opened.  On one hand, we did use two glasses for each bottle.  On the other hand, we did not drink the old, past-its-prime bottle and we did give the server a nice taste of a pretty good Burgundy, so nailing us for $40 seemed a bit unfriendly and a penalty for not ordering wine from their modest list.

The bill tallied to about $160 with tax and before the tip.

If you live in the neighborhood, this is a decent little dining spot.  If you're driving here, you might have second thoughts as did we.  

We won't be back.  Sorry.


Reviewed by GW
May 2013

 

BISTRO AIX


3340 Steiner Street (near Chestnut)
San Francisco

Tel: 415-202-0100

Open Daily for Dinner
From 5:30pm

 


Table setting...


Tempura Fried Monterey Calamari.

 


House Cured Salmon on a Potato Galette with some mixed greens...



Grilled Sonoma Leg of Lamb.

 


Chocolate Cloud Cake

 

 

We took a chance and ambled into Bistro Aix one Sunday evening after seeing a movie around the corner on Chestnut Street.
As it was fairly early, we were seated in a small corner table by the front window.

The place is not easy to find if you're driving by as there is not a particularly visible sign posted out front.  Parking is available on the street, if you're lucky.  And a busy street it is, as pedestrians are coming and going making traversing the intersection of Chestnut and Steiner a challenge.

No wine glasses are on the table...a couple of water glasses and some utensils wrapped in a napkin or dish towel.  The hostess set down the menu which has some wines by the glass on one side and a full list of wines by the bottle on the other.

They don't have a bar and The Old Bat missedher Martini. We needed, then,  to scope out the by-the-glass list.
There are 9 whites offered and ten reds.  The Old Bat chose a French white from the Entre Deux Mers appellation for $7.50, a Chateau Laures.  A Chablis of the Val de Mer label is $12.50 a pour, while Marisa Cuomo's Campanian white called Ravello is $12.50.  I had a pour of Bisci's Verdicchio for $11.50.  
Reds included a Cahors from Georges Vigouroux for $8, a Chianti Classico from Coltibuono for $11, Domaine de Pallus Chinon for $12 and a Frederic Magnien Bourgogne Rouge for $12.  The Southern Rhone estate of Monpertuis is listed incorrectly as a Languedoc wine...it's a varietal bottling of the Counoise grape costing $9 a glass. This should be listed as a Vin de Pays du Gard.

There are 7 sparkling wines on the main list, with the Gramona Cava being perhaps the best buy at $52 a bottle.

There's a varied list amongst the 18 "European and World White Wines" from various European countries.  There's a Nikolaihof Gruner Veltliner for $57 and there are three Verdicchio wines, an Etna Bianco for $53 and Bisson's Pigato from Liguria for $48.
There are nearly 3 dozen French white and Rose selections.  Lucien Crochet Sancerre is $52, while Huet's Vouvray Sec is $65.  Chateau Simone's somewhat obscure Palette is $90, while Marionnet's Romorantin is $50.  Tempier's Bandol Rose is $62.
The list of European & World reds features Altare's Dolcetto for $50, an Elio Grasso Barolo for $110,  2001 Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Reserva for $70, Mount Beautiful's Pinot Noir from New Zealand for $46 and the excellent Man o'War Syrah for $55.
The French red list has a number of tempting selections, too.  Chateau Pradeaux 2005 Bandol is $70, while Domaine Gallety's Cotes du Vivarais is $55.  If your credit card has a high limit, you may wish to splurge on the Chateau de La Tour Clos Vougeot at $210 a bottle.
A Sang de Cailloux 2010 Vacqueyras is $60, while Chante Perdrix St. Joseph is also $60.
It's a nice list and fairly well-selected, with a good range of prices and qualities.  And it's not a list featuring trophy wines selected to make the sommelier feel as proud as a successful big game hunter, but wines which actually match the cuisine.
Bravo!

The Old Bat chose the $7.50 glass of Entre Deux Mers, while I ordered Bisci's Verdicchio at $11 as mentioned earlier.  The server brought two anonymous glasses of white wine and I'm fairly certain he gave me the French wine while The Old Bat got the Italian.  This is the problem with "wines by the glass."  It's taken on faith the establishment actually presents the wine you've ordered. It's extremely rare the server or sommelier comes to the table with empty glasses and full bottles, showing off the wine you've ordered and pouring it at the table.

Meanwhile, the Tempura Fried Monterey Calamari with Asian Slaw and Red Curry Aioli ($10) delighted the pernickety Old Bat.  I ordered the House Cured Salmon on a Potato Galette with Dill Cream ($9) and this came with three nice triangles of crispy shredded potatoes topped with a slice of salmon.  In the middle of the plate there was a nicely dressed bunch of mixed greens...delightful and artfully presented.

I put a bottle of Bordeaux on the table and our server immediately brought some nice big red wine stems and he opened the bottle, pouring the 'say' as would any professional restaurant staffer.  The wine was good, so he poured about a third of a glass for each of us.

A small basket of their homemade Foccacia was brought to the table with some dipping oil.  Thankfully, this place has the good sense to omit the cheap, fake "Balsamic" vinegar which ruins a good glass of wine but seems to please the average American bear.

The menu is printed daily, by the way.  There were 11 starters.  Bistro Aix, playing on its Mediterranean roots, offers a half a dozen pastas and a couple of 'cracker crust' pizzas.

Twelve bucks gets you a burger and fries.  The other main dishes are $20 to $23 and there were numerous enticing offerings.  A Grilled Chicken Leg is $20, while a Sirloin Steak and Fries is $22.  Petrale Sole is $22 and the Ahi Tuna is $23.  
We both ordered the Grilled Sonoma Leg of Lamb with a Potato Gratin at $23.  There was also some sort of fried spinach leaves on the plate as well along with perhaps 4 nice slices of lamb.  This was a lovely main course and, given what we find on the Peninsula for far more money, a bargain.

 We split a dessert, something called a Chocolate Cloud Cake ($8).  I ordered a single glass of Quinta do Tedo Reserve Port ($10) and the server brought two glasses, each with a nice "half" of a pour...certainly ample for just a taste with dessert!
They had 7 dessert wines, one being a Sauternes from Château Doisy Daene (I think it was $13) and a Moscatel for $8.  The rest of the sweet wines were Ports priced $7 to $10.
There was a selection of teas, as well and Four Barrel Coffee if you like.

The service was professional and friendly here.  The menu is varied and yet nicely focused.  The wine list offers good selections at relatively reasonable price levels.  The corkage fee, by the way, was $15.

The bill tallied to $131 with tax before the tip.



We thoroughly enjoyed dining here and look forward to a return visit.  This place is a really fine example of a "bistro" and the price/quality ratio is very customer-friendly.

Reviewed by GW
February 2013


WO HING GENERAL STORE

584 Valencia Street
(Between 16th & 17th)
San Francisco

Tel: 415-552-2510

Sun-Thursday 5:30-10pm
Friday & Saturday:  5:30-Midnight

 

 

 

 


Siu Mai


Gau Choy Gau

 

 

 



5 Spiced Fried Squid with Jalapenos and Lemon Slices

 

 

 


Fried Rice with Shrimp

 

 

 

 

 


Blue lake Green Beans

 

I was hosting a friend from Italy who was here in town on a small sales campaign.

These visitors are typically wine producers and they are subjected to American versions of Italian food everywhere along their itinerary as most importers and distributors labor under the assumption that only Italian-themed restaurants sell Italian wines.

While there are many good restaurants featuring Italian-styled cooking, it simply isn't what they are accustomed to at home and so it's often a major relief to have something different.

Wo Hing is one of the Charles Phan (Slanted Door) restaurants.  We have a favorable review of Heaven's Dog (below) and this place had, at one point in time, a menu which was a bit more 'wild' or unusual than it does today.

We made reservations on Open Table for 6:45, as late in the afternoon, the hours between 7 and 8:45 were no longer available (as they had been that morning).  Getting Italians to plan ahead is a challenge, however and thanks to their jet lag, we were delayed a bit, so I called the restaurant to say we were on our way but running late.  The host said not to worry.

Parking on Valencia Street is difficult, but there's a garage on a small alley half a block east of Valencia.  That, too, was full, but we lucked out when a motorist arrived to retrieve their car and depart.  

The restaurant facade is dark and you could easily drive by and not see the place.  

We arrived and the table was just being set for us.  No stemware is part of the place setting.  A drinks (cocktail) menu was presented along with the menu, a list of wines by the glass and a bottle list.

The list features many good artisan wines.  It's a refuge from the liquor distributor-dominated wine lists featuring big production, quota-driven placements.

Two sparkling wines are offered by the glass.  There's a good Cava for $9 and a Saumur Rose sparkler for $11 from the Chateau de Hureau.  Three German Rieslings are offered, along with a Santa Barbara Albarino and an Austrian Gruner Veltliner.  There's an Inman Pinot Noir for $11 a pour, Occhipinti's Rosso from Sicilia for $12, Luberri Rioja for $8, a Texier Cotes du Rhone (mistakenly listed as Vaison la Romanee when it's Vaison la Romaine) at $9 and Folk Machine "Valdigue" (sic--it should be Valdiguie).
The by-the-glass offerings are geared towards the cuisine, not the individual who only knows Chardonnay and Cabernet from California.
I would think, perhaps, one less Riesling by the glass and maybe a nice, dry Sauvignon Blanc might be an enhancement.

Elisa was interested in the Dim Sum entries, so we ordered a glass for each of us of Eva Fricke's Trocken Riesling ($9) from the Rheingau...nice, light and aromatic, it was presented in large, good quality stemware.

The bottle list helps prospective wine drinkers with categories such as "Crisp/Dry White Wines," "Rich/Dry Whites," "Riesling Focus, The Best Food Wine Ever!," "Delicate Red Wines," "Spicy Red Wines" and "Meatier/Fuller Reds."

There are 8 sparkling wines on their list.   These are varied selections, including a good Cremant de Bourgogne for $52 or a Moncuit Champagne for $76.  The other choices are intriguing, too, with Tissot's Cremant from the Jura ($60) or a bone dry Sparkling Vouvray from Pinon for $48.

The Crisp, Dry Whites include a number of Gruner Veltliners, but also a $34 bottle of Falanghina from Campania and a Sicilian Grillo for $36.   There are ten German Rieslings on the list ranging from $32 to $69 a bottle.  The Rich, Dry Whites are not over-the-top "rich." There's a dry Chenin Blanc from Montlouis (Chidaine...$48), a Sturm Ribolla Gialla for $38 and a Scribe Chardonnay for $75 from Carneros.

Delicate reds include a handful of Pinot Noirs, a couple of Beaujolais wines and a Trousseau from the Jura.  $45 to $72 for those.
Spicy Reds start at $30 for a young Rioja.  A Nebbiolo from Vallana in Piemonte is $39, while Alliet's Chinon is $63.
Meatier/Fuller Reds start at $38 for the Texier Cotes du Rhone, while a Faury St. Joseph is $65.  A Lopez Heredia Tondonia 2001 is $95.

Corkage is $25 per bottle, while a magnum costs $45.

This is a well-chosen wine list with numerous eclectic bottles selected with the idea of actually pairing the wines with the cuisine, a notion lost on so many sommeliers and wine buyers.

We began with their Siu Mai dumplings ($8) and these were stellar.  We asked the server to bring each item individually, staging them so we could enjoy them one at a time.  Good luck on having this at most "Chinese restaurants."
We then had, Gau Choy Gau ($8), dumplings with shrimp and green garlic chives.  Very fine.

By this point, we had our server open a bottle of Sonoma Pinot Noir.  We had a special label on one side of the bottle to create a photo opportunity, hood-winking Elisa's father into thinking she was enjoying a hugely expensive Burgundy.  He was obliged to pay for a bottle when Elisa's brother broke a bottle working as an intern in some European restaurant...the wine was a trophy and cost thousands of Euros!  The server was amused by this story and didn't charge us their corkage fee. (Thank you!)

The server opened the bottle with relative ease, doing a good job of cutting the foil capsule and removing the cork.  She had brought two large Burgundy "balloon" glasses and poured the "say" first as it should be.  She did not over-fill the glasses, pouring about one-third of capacity.

There was some sort of Fried Rice special that evening and we had this with shrimp.  It think it cost about $12.  Quite good, though they don't provide a rice bowl for shoveling this...

Fried 5 Spice Squid with Jalapenos and Lemon Slices brought a platter of tempura-like fried Calamari, peppers and lemon...I didn't detect that much influence of the 5 Spice, as this was too subtle for me.

A plate of Blue Lake (!) Green Beans ($8) came with shallots and mushrooms...very good. 

At this stage we were no longer hungry and unable to continue into dessert.  They do have a dessert chef, so we missed a Chocolate Torte, Dutch Apples or a Vanilla Bean Cheesecake (all $8).  There are 5 wines on the dessert list, including a couple of Late-Harvest Austrian wines, a Napa Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon sweet wine and either a white or Tawny Port from Portugal's Quinta do Infantado ($7 & $9 respectively).

This was an excellent meal and we apologize to the table adjacent to ours...one of that party took umbrage at our photographing the various plates often using a 'flash'.  Well, I know some restaurants ask you to not use a camera or cell phone, but we actually were dining out in somewhat celebratory fashion.  We do not dine out in church-like settings and it wasn't a funeral we were attending.

I look forward to dining again at Wo Hing and it's well worth the drive from Burlingame!

Reviewed by GW
February 2013



We also had a 

 

VAULT 164

 

164 South "B" Street
San Mateo

Tel; 650-348-8164

Open Mon-Fri from 11:30 through dinner
Saturday 5-11
Sunday 5-9

 


Fried Calamari...


Brussels Sprouts "Chips"



Atlantic Salmon

 


Italian "Fried Chicken"

 

We booked a table one early Sunday evening and arrived to find a noisy, bustling restaurant and bar scene.  This place is located in an historic old building, the home of San Mateo's first bank.
The Old Bat asked the young hostess for a "quiet" table and the kid brought us to a two-top in the middle of the loud dining room.  She then pointed at a table by the south wall and we opted for that one, as it was clearly a much quieter area.

No wine glasses are on the table as part of the place setting.  A drinks list is presented along with a menu and wine list.

This is a restaurant that specializes in "something for everyone" in terms of both food and wine.

The menu is large and varied.  Starters include Fried Calamari, Mussels & Frites, Crab Cakes,  Bacon-Wrapped Dates, Flatbreads, Caesar Salad, Poached Pear Salad and a Salmon & Corn Chowder.  Steaks come in four formats, from a Skirt Steak to a Sirloin, a $39 Rib-eye or Filet Mignon (with or without crab).  Seafood offerings include Salmon, Tuna, Scallops, Prawns and Branzino.  Other main plates include a Pork Chop, Lamb Shank, Mac & Cheese, Burgers, Grilled Tofu and a Pasta Special.

There are 24 wines by the glass!  There's an Oregon Pinot Gris for $9, Chardonnays from Wente ($9), Kali-Hart ($11) and Trefethen ($15).  The Wagner's Family blended white wine called Conundrum is listed, mistakenly, as having a Napa appellation and it's $10 a glass. There are three Pinot Noirs on the list, including one called Hob Nob from a marketing company...$8 a glass of Languedoc Pinot Noir.  Josh Cellars Cabernet is $9, another marketing-department brand.  Amongst all the big-liquor-distributor's quota items, somehow we find Fritz Dry Creek Zinfandel for  $10 and Frog's Leap Napa Zin for  $14.  Silver Oak Cabernet is $24 a glass...the Alexander Valley bottling.  These three wines are not sold by the big distributors.
The list tends to feature "big brands" and well-known names, but it is not a list curated by someone who's a savvy wine buyer. 

The main list is substantial and like the food menu, there's something for everyone.  The list is put together by a young lady who's got the letters "CS" after her name, indicating, I suppose, she's a Certified Sommelier.  One would expect, then, to find not only more interesting selections, but that the names of the wines might be correctly typed on the wine list.  They're certainly spelled properly on the label!  Maybe CS indicates "Can't Spell"?

There are but four Sauvignon Blancs, one from New Zealand, a big brand from France and two from Napa.  Fifteen Chardonnays grace the list, with some big brands such as Wente, Sonoma Cutrer and Cakebread being featured.  These are balanced by a Ramey Sonoma Coast (bottling $56), Pahlmeyer ($125) and Kistler ($95).  There are two white Burgundies, a Chablis Premier Cru from Vocoret for a mere $50 (the cru is not listed, so the question is do they really have a "premier cru" bottling at this price or is it a misprint and it's the simple, basic Chablis?), along with a Matrot Meursault.  These two French wines come from the big liquor house and are purchased, most likely, for convenience rather than outstanding quality.
There's a Concannon Pinot Grigio ($25) with the appellation listed as "Livermore."  This brand's Pinot Grigio is either sourced from the Central Valley or California's Central Coast, depending upon the bottling...the high end wholesales for no more than $6 and the cheapie would cost them $3.
In sparkling wines, there's a very obscure French bubbly for $34 a bottle, a Spanish Cava Brut Rose ($40) from a brand that specializes more in table wines from Rioja, Chandon's Blanc de Noirs ($40), a co-op Champagne and a big brand of Champagne for $85.  Curiously, Roederer Estate, a winery in Mendocino's Anderson Valley of California, is listed as being French and it "costs French" at $95, another sloppy error.
Of the dozen Pinot Noirs, 5 are from California, 3 from Oregon and 5 from France.  A Domaine Drouhin from Oregon is $70, while Flowers from Sonoma is $75.  Five Merlots on the list, with Swanson at $65.
I wouldn't touch any of the lower-priced Cabernet selections, apart from Robert Mondavi's at $42...and then I'd insist it be their Napa Valley wine, not one of their lower-tiered wines.  The list incorrectly bills a quartet of wines as carrying the "Meritage" designation.  While Quintessa's may actually qualify for the Meritage designation, it is not labeled as such.  And the other three blends would not qualify for the Meritage designation as they are not made exclusively of "Bordeaux" grape varieties.
A Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet is $96, while Caymus' current vintage is $125 a bottle. Jordan's current bottling is $80.

The Old Bat ordered a Dry Martini and I figured the New Zealand Sauvignon, Matua ($9 a glass) would be acceptable with the Fried Calamari starter.  The Sauvignon was perfectly standard, but the Martini was not strained properly and had little bits of ice floating in it.  She finally sent it back and we were not charged for it, thank you.

I produced a bottle of red and the server asked if she should open this for us.  Along with this, she told us they charged a $15 corkage fee and asked if this was alright.  Certainly.   She opened the bottle and a few moments later brought two nice "Burgundy" stems.
But she immediately began pouring the wine, stepping back to have a look to see if she'd poured a sufficient amount.  In fact, she should have poured the "say," so that I could first determine if the bottle was in good condition, or not.

We ordered the "Crispy Calamari" starter ($10) and the menu description notes it's accompanied "with Pasilla, Red peppers and onions, Wasabi Aioli and Chile Lime Sauce."  This was certainly an ample portion for two people...but there were more of the various vegetables on the plate than Calamari.  The Brussels Sprouts Chips with Lemon Salt ($7) was a small bowl of Brussels Sprouts leaves plunged into the fryer...

For a main plate, The Old Bat ordered Pan Seared Atlantic Salmon ($25) which came on top of a mix of vegetables including Fingerling Potatoes, Peppers, Corn, Spinach and Shitake Mushrooms.  The Salmon was nicely cooked...lightly flakey and tender.
Chicken Contadina ($19) was my selection and this was described as "Italian Fried Chicken" and it was on a plate with Crispy Potatoes, Cippolini Onions, Roasted Garlic and Peppers.  There were also a few mushrooms in the mix.
The Chicken was a bit dried out and it had been rolled around in some sort of Italian seasoning mix which gave it a reddish/brown color.  A couple of sprigs of fresh rosemary on top were a signal, I suppose, that this was somehow "Italian."

The bill tallied to $91 before the tip, as the server deleted the flawed Martini from the check. 

This is a convenient neighborhood place, especially if you're seeing a movie across the street at the theater.

 

COTOGNA


490 Pacific Avenue
San Francisco

Tel: 415-775-8508

Open Mon-Thurs 11:30-11
Fri-Sat: 11:30-Midnight
Sun: 5:00-9:00

 

 


Mortadella con Grocco Frito & Pickled Vegetables


Spinach Sformato

 


Pappardelle with Duck & Escarole


Raviolo di Ricotta with a Farm Egg

 


Agnolotti dal Plin

 


Pizza with nettles and clams

 


Quail al Mattone


Porchetta


Brussels Sprouts.

 

With a friend coming up from LA for a Bay Area wine event, we reserved a table at this hard-to-book restaurant on Pacific near North Beach.

At 7:30 on a Wednesday evening, we arrived, finding a small crowd gathered at the front by the reservations desk.  We checked in and our "party of three" was escorted to a small table near the back wall and the server's computer monitor.  The table was, in fact, ideal for three, even if a bit crowded with wine glasses, etc.  We were fairly close to the neighboring table, but even with all the noise in the place, I was still able to hear the conversation at our table, despite my poor hearing.

The wine list is on the backside of the menu and they bring a cocktail list, too.

Cotogna is the dressed-down version of the fancy place a few doors away, Quince.

And being a "trattoria" sort of place compared to the upscale ristorante, the wine list is comfortable, simple and nicely chosen, if sometimes a bit pricey.

There are 7 reds and 7 white selections "by the glass," all priced at ten bucks.  And these are good wines from good producers, not marginal selections pushed by a desperate sales rep from a big liquor distributor.  Wines on this list included Almondo's Arneis, Montenidoli Vernaccia and Ronchi di Cialla's Ribolla Gialla.  From the red side of the page there were wines such as Mastroberardino's Piedirosso, a le Piane blend of Nebbiolo and Croatina, Li Veli Salice Salentino and Cirelli's Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. Nice!

They then offer a number of bottles of wine at $40.  These probably average in retail price somewhere between $13 and $16, or so.   There was Griesbauerhof's Santa Magdalena, Silvio Nardi's Rosso di Montalcino, and Matteo Correggia's Barbera d'Alba on the red list.  In white, there's Colle Stefano's Verdicchio ($17 retail), Tiefenbrunner's Pinot Grigio and Manzone's Rossese Bianco from Piemonte.

There were a few more special wines on a reserve list.  Nothing really old or mature, but nice wines.  We ordered a bottle from the $40 list, an Ischia Bianco of the Cenatiempo label.  The server brought some nice stemware to our table and maybe five minutes later, she arrived with the wine.  We had a taste, okayed the bottle and she poured it for everyone to an appropriate fill level.

The menu is interesting and changes frequently.  Many interesting options and we needed to plan a course of action...and we did.

We went for a full-throttle dining experience, each of us having an antipasto, primo piatto and a main plate.

The Antipasti are all $12, the Primi Piatti are all $17 and the main plates vary.
One of the pals ordered the Spinach Sformato  with Montasio Fonduta & Frico and she thoroughly enjoyed this, nearly swooning.  My other pal and I each selected the "Mortadella con Gnocco Frito."  I had to have this since it brought back pleasant memories of a stop in Emilia Romagna last year with a wonderful Grandma & Grandpa Lambrusco producer and Granny had platters of Prosciutto, Mortadella and Gnocco (although her were not fried).
The Mortadella here was delightful, with an intriguing sweet spice note.  The Gnocco were nicely fried and a bit reminiscent of Chinese fried wonton skins.  Also on this plate were various crisp pickled vegetables.  Another success!

The Ischia Bianco was delightful as both a cocktail white and with the antipasti, although it's not a wine to which you'd pay much attention.  It's just nice and dry and fresh.

For our Primi Piatti, The Swoonster order the Raviolo di Ricotta with a farm Egg.  "You have to taste this!" she exclaimed upon scarfing up half of this.  Giovanni ordered the Pappardelle with Duck & Escarole...another soulful plate.  And my Piemontese influences insisted I have the "Agnolotti dal Plin." 
The Plin arrived smothered in grated cheese, an adornment you wouldn't find in Piemonte and I was a bit surprised by this.  I actually sent them back, much to the surprise of our server.  They seemingly cheerfully took care of this and sent out another bowl of Plin, this time without the dusting of cheese.  In looking at my snapshots, I see the Pappardelle with duck also came with cheese on top...not sure my Italian friends would serve their duck-sauced pasta with cheese, actually.
I was delighted with this plate and while I don't dine frequently at Perbacco (which is highly regarded for its Piemontese cuisine and its "Plin), but this plate on this night was the best rendition of Plin I've had in The City.

We had handed a bottle of an old vintage of Barbaresco to a sommelier and she returned a few minutes later with our freshly-decanted bottle.  Marvelous, too...and a 'small' or so-called 'off' vintage, 1994.

Nice stemware, as we expected, too.
Corkage is $20 per bottle.

Main plates were varied.  Swoony ordered a pizza ($17) with Nettles, Clams and Pancetta.  Nice pizza, actually...Giovanni went for the Wolfe Ranch Quail "al mattone" ($26, I think)...a nice plate of flattened little birds (no, I don't think it was road kill) cooked under a heavy brick.  I couldn't resist trying their Porchetta ($28) and this was, of course, fatty, but sooo good.  And the Pizza Lady insisted on something "healthy," so we had a side dish ($7), Brussels Sprouts from  the Wood Oven.  Very good, in fact.

We had nearly finished off the Barbaresco as we were working on the pastas, etc., so I produced a nice bottle of 2004 Chianti Classico Riserva...Monsanto's Il Poggio...wow, was that still lean and mean!  Tight.  But good.  

Well, we had no room for dessert, but the crew didn't push us to leave and things were quieting down in the restaurant anyway.  I think we departed around 11.  We left a nice tip and the bill, with corkage and sales tax and San Francisco's health assessment came to $288.

Our late colleague, Bob Gorman, liked dining here and now I know why.  This was a lovely meal.  

This is worth reserving a table well ahead of time (we made an Open Table reservation maybe 3 weeks ahead).

Reviewed by GW
February 2013

 

 

 

FIGO

326 University Avenue
Palo Alto

Tel:  650-321-4075

Open Daily, 11:30 through Dinner Service

 


Leek Soup.



Fritto Misto

 


Agnello Scottadito

 


Spaghettini with Seafood.

On a Sunday in February when the world was engrossed in football, we booked a table at this new Italian place in Palo Alto.

Parking on University Avenue is always iffy, but there's a large parking structure a block north of University.

We arrived and the bar area was moderately busy watching the game, but the adjoining dining room was virtually empty at 7pm, with just a couple of tables being occupied.

We were seated and handed menus and a beer list.  The wine offerings are are on the backside of the menu and they actually have a nice, compact, well-chosen list of wines!

There are a couple of sparklers by the glass, along with 10 white wines and 9 reds.
We opted for Mancini's Vermentino ($9) and the server brought two large Bordeaux-styled glasses, each about 40% full...a generous pour!

The list doesn't feature quota items from the big liquor houses, a pleasant change from most new places!

A Dry Creek Sauvignon Blanc from Mauritson is $11 by the glass, with Erste & Neue Muller Thurgau from the Alto Adige costing $10.  Vietti's Tre Vigne Barbera d'Asti is $11 under the red wine heading, with a Nicodemi Montepulciano d'Abruzzo costing $9.

The bottle selection offers some good wines, but the pricing is high, in my view.  A Vietti Arneis goes for $52 (about $24 retail) while the Mancini Vermentino is $36 ($15-$16 retail).  Failla Chardonnay from the Sonoma Coast is $68 ($35 retail, though restaurants typically pay less than shops, so they can mark up the wine 3+ times), while Paul Hobbs Chardonnay is $90.
The wine list takes some liberty with the term "Meritage" (technically only members of the Meritage Alliance are allowed to use this designation and only for wines made of Bordeaux varieties).  A Pio Cesare wine is claimed to be a blend of Barbera, Nebbiolo and Cabernet is listed using the term Meritage and not its actually proprietary name, Oltre.  That wine is $62 on the wine list.  Two blends from Orin Swift are also mistakenly labeled as "Meritage," with Abstract costing $54 and Prisoner going for $78.
A Casnova di Neri Brunello is $105 and it's not clear if it's simply the "white label," entry level bottling or their fancier "Tenuta Nuova."  
You're pretty much on the hook for close to $50 if you're going to order a bottle of wine at Figo.

We paid $15 corkage for the bottle of well-aged Tuscan red that I brought and the server brought a couple of nice Cabernet stems for us.

The price of running such a restaurant in a place with costly real estate seems to have restaurant owners finding markups close to 400% to be "standard."  This explains why so few tables seem to have a bottle of wine on them these days.

As for the food...The Old Bat ordered a bowl of "Vellutata di Porri," a puree of potatoes and leeks ($8).  I had a taste...quite good and nicely seasoned!  My Fritto Misto ($12) was a nice plate of calamari, shrimp, zucchini, etc. nicely fried and properly salty.

For a main plate, The Old Bat opted for the Spaghettini ai Crostacei ($22), a lovely plate of pasta with a big prawn on top.  It normally comes with crab and shrimp, too, but she's allergic to crab...quite impressive.

We probably should have ordered a pizza, since there's a stack of wood by a pizza oven towards the back of the room.

I chose their Agnello Scottadito ($28) and this was a lovely plate with three grilled lamb chops, arranged atop a bed of roasted potatoes and fine shavings of baby artichokes, a side not normally seen in most places. This was a delightful plate!

We skipped dessert and the bill tallied to $111 with the corkage fee and tax.

I'm interested to return to this nice dining spot...and I'll be sure to have another bottle of red in my cellar bag.

Reviewed by GW
February 2013

 

 

CHEZ PAPA BISTROT

1401 18th Street
San Francisco

Tel: 415-824-8205

Lunch:  Mon-Sat from 11:30
Dinner: Daily from 5:30

 

 


Grilled Sardine




Lamb Daube

 


Fries with aioli.

 

We booked a Saturday lunch table at this little French outpost in the Potrero Hill district.  I had planned to attend the insane Zinfandel event hosted by ZAP not far away and was looking for a place to have a bite afterwards that did not feature a "brunch" menu.

We circled the neighborhood in search of parking and found a place up the hill about a block away.  We arrived a few minutes late for our 1:30 reservation and the place was fairly well packed and the lone two empty tables ended up being filled shortly after we were seated.

We were seated and a wine list and menus were presented.  No stemware was on the table, but a short while after we sat down, the genial host/waiter/manager asked if we'd like something to drink besides water.  We opted for a glass of 2011 Auchere Sancerre ($10.50).  The wine, following hours of tasting flat, often sweet, high octane Zinfandels, tasted heavenly!  A bottle of the Sancerre costs $42, a bit more than twice its retail price.
Other "by the glass" pours included a Vouvray ($9.50), a Chablis ($11), a Napa Sauvignon Blanc ($9) and a Napa Chardonnay ($12) and a Viognier from the Languedoc for $8.50.

The wine list is fairly small, with 4 White Burgundies of modest quality.  There's a Cotes de Gascogne for $32, surely a money-maker for the house.  There's but one white Bordeaux, a modest producer costing $54 and, curiously, no Entre-Deux-Mers (which would be a good choice for all the steamed mussels they sell at this place).
California whites find three entries on the list, a Beaucannon Sauvignon Blanc for $36.  Sandhi Chardonnay is $55 and a Bigvine Chardonnay from Napa is $48.  
Red wines are a bit more varied and seemed to be slightly more interesting selections.  But you can still be burnt a bit, as a Lan Crianza from Spain, a wine retailing for $12, is $40 on the list.  But the overall list is about what you can expect of a decent bistro in France and there are some reds costing $30-$38 from appellations such as Minervois, Corbieres and Chinon.

Corkage is $20.

We each started with a Grilled Sardine ($10) which came with a puree of eggplant and some tomato confit.  This was a delightful plate, though you do need to be skillful in dealing with all the little fish bones.

We put a nice bottle of Bordeaux on the table and the waiter asked if we'd like it decanted.  We didn't take him up on the offer, as the wine was a bit young and probably had not developed much in the way of sediment.   He brought some large Bordeaux glasses (of good quality) and poured a taste...it was fine and he poured a modest amount after that.  

The Lamb Daube ($18) came in a large bowl with a nice red wine sauce and a couple of carrot pieces which were not cooked nearly as long as the meat.  This dish is quite good, though I wondered if it was really lamb or if we'd been served beef.  My lunch guest indicated she'd wondered the same thing.

A side order of fries ($5) was quite good.

They have a small price-fixed menu at both lunch and dinner.  A burger on the neighboring table looked really good and the Salade Niçoise on that table was also impressive. 

We skipped dessert (mighty tempting, with a Tarte Tatin and the bill tallied to about $103 before the tip.

Over all, this is a nice little place and it lives up to its bistro designation.  For a City lunch spot, this was a winner and we'll gladly return. 

Reviewed by GW
February 2013

 

 

ORIGINAL JOE'S

601 Union Street
San Francisco

Tel: 415-775-4877

Open Daily til 10pm


A board over the open kitchen...
It also noted "We bleed Orange & Black."


Joe's attempt at a Caesar Salad...
Speaking of Orange & Black, this was a 
Swing & A Miss."




Spaghetti & Meatballs

 


Veal Milanese with a handful of Arugula on top...

We booked a table on-line at this San Francisco landmark, now located in North Beach at the old Fior d'Italia site on the corner of Union and Stockton streets.
They offer valet parking for ten bucks and we were delighted to find this service as it's nearly impossible to find parking there, otherwise.

The hostess immediately led us to a booth in the main dining room where there's a view of their open kitchen.  A wine list accompanied the menus.

There's an army of staffers, all decked out in black & white formal-wear.  No sommelier, though.  The Old Bat asked the server for a Dry Martini and I opted for a glass of Tangent Albarino ($9).

There are four whites and four reds in the "By the Glass" column of modestly-priced wines.   A Hendry Estate Zin is the most interesting of the reds and it's $11 a glass.  They also offer these 'house' wine selections in half carafe and full carafe format.

Premium Wines By the Glass sees a much more interesting list of options.  Shafer's Red Shoulder Chardonnay is  $17, while Rochioli Sauvignon Blanc is $16.  A Damilano Barolo is $15 a glass and a Michael David Cabernet from Lodi for $16.  Huh? 
These may offer an insight as to brands or sales companies "needing to move" some inventory.  Damilano is routinely seen at Costco and Michael David's website shows the Capture Cabernet as costing $59 a bottle.  Really?  Are you serious?

A trio of bubblies is offered by the glass.  Drusian Prosecco is $8 (a good choice, in fact), with Gloria Ferrer Brut going for ten bucks and Laurent Perrier Brut on the list for $16.

The wine list is reasonably-priced and reasonably varied.  For California Chardonnays, Kistler's Sonoma Coast is $95, with Saintsbury's going for $42.  Honig's Sauvignon Blanc is $33, while Groth's is $38.
Listed under the heading of "White Varietals" we find Tablas Creek's "Cote de Tablas Blanc" (sic), though this is not a varietal table wine but a blend.  Also under the same heading is an Anaba winery blend called Coriols, along with the Wagner Family's Conundrum white (with Semillon misspelled).
Italian whites include a wine listed as "Ravello Bianco" and Falanghina as the grape, but in fact the winery is that of Marisa Cuomo who makes the Ravello Bianco wine.  And this blend is but 60% Falanghina with 40% Biancolella.  $64.  A Gavi from Francesco Rinaldi is $48, while a Cinqueterra white is $50.
The wine list continues with ten Pinot Noirs, Sinskey's going for $67.  Six Merlots and you'll find Swanson's for $49.  Of the 15 Cabernets, I'd opt for Honig's at $65. There are nine wines under the heading of "Unique Reds," though what makes the Murphy-Goode Zinfandel ($34) unique, I am not sure.
Amongst their 19 Italian red offerings, you'll find a few good bottles, including Cascina Morassino's Nebbiolo ($44), the Pasetti family's Tenata (sic) Rossa Montepulciano ($62...a bit pricy, but good), and a Lorenzo Chianti Classico for $48 (although it ought to be listed by the name of the winery, Le Filigare).
Clearly they don't have a sommelier here and whomever is handling the wine selections is not the most wine-savvy individual.  On the other hand, they're not totally lame, either.

Stemware is reasonable as we were served out glass of Albarino in a large, sturdy glass of about 15 to 16 ounce capacity.

The Tangent Albarino was in good condition and it was a nice sized pour.  The Old Bat said her Martini was good.

To start, The Old Bat had a cup of Minestrone soup.  She immediately announced the soup at Val's (see below) was better.
I ordered a Caesar Salad ($8.95) and an oval plate with seven or eight hearts-of-Romaine lettuce leaves were arranged neatly.  There was a lone anchovy on one of the leaves and no croutons.  Their salad dressing also lacked the assertive ingredients of both garlic and anchovies.  Oh well.

The server, in the meantime, opened my bottle of red wine (corkage was $15 or $20) and brought two more stems, similar to that used for the Albarino.

It seemed to take a lot of time between our starters and the main plate, as the restaurant was quite busy.  A runner eventually arrived at the table with The Old Bat's Spaghetti & Meatballs ($16.95) and my Veal Milanese ($26).

Unfortunately this fellow didn't pay attention to the fact that we did not have any utensils.  He set down the plates, having also auctioned them off ("Who gets the Spaghetti and Meatballs?") and immediately ran off without noticing we had no forks and knives.

A while later an older gentleman, seeing a strange bottle on our table, came by to inspect this.  I offered him a taste and he enthusiastically went to get a wine glass.  We poured a nice shot of our Bordeaux and he set the glass on the table to swirl it, before lifting it to have a sniff and taste.  "Oh, this is good!" he said, turning away and heading off.
We were still charged their corkage fee, which was okay, I suppose.

The Old Bat enjoyed the Spaghetti & Meatballs, a bit of comfort food from her youth.  My Veal Milanese was a piece of veal that had been pounded and flattened, breaded and somewhat over-cooked so the brand names Michelin, Pirelli and Goodyear came to mind.  On top of the veal was a small handful of arugula, dusted for some reason with some grated cheese of no particular character.  A side plate of Spaghetti & Meat Sauce was about what you'd expect in this venue, standard pasta...

We skipped dessert and the bill arrived, tallying to about $103 before the tip.

The place is busy and a bit loud, so we're not sure why they bother having music adding to the cacophony.  But if you sat quietly for a bit, you'd notice it.

It was a nice, nostalgic evening, recalling days of the original Original Joe's in the Tenderloin, but updated to be a bit out of date today and yet more modern than the old place.

If you're hankering for a nostalgic meal, check out this place.  If you're showing off San Francisco's top places to out-of-towners, I'd choose someplace else.

Reviewed by GW
January 2013

  

 

VAL'S

2468 Junipero Serra Blvd
Daly City

Tel: 650-755-3448

Open Daily  11am-10:30pm


 


Penne Pasta with Spicy Italian Sausage.


Slab o'Beef.




We've driven past this place, visible on the west side of Highway 280 in Daly City, hundreds of times.  I figured it was simply a bar, but it turns out it's got a restaurant, so after a film, we made our way there on a Sunday evening.

We were able to park right outside the entrance and found the place sparsely populated at this hour (granted, we were between Christmas and New Year's).

You're taking a step back into the 1960s into a place with padded booths, a nice old bar or cocktail lounge and formally-dressed waiters.

The wine list was presented along with the menus and it's a single page of whites and a single page of reds.  Wine "by the glass" is Inglenook's Chablis, Burgundy or Blush wine at $5.50 a glass.  
And things don't get much better with their wines by the bottle.
Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay is $33 a bottle, while William Hill (now a Gallo label) is $30. Hess Chardonnay from Monterey is $29, while Groth Sauvignon Blanc from Napa is $32 (at least there's one decent bottle in  the white column!).
The shining star amongst the line-up of red wines is the Etude Pinot Noir ($60).  Otherwise, the list looks like a chain-store wine selection:  BV's Coastal Cabernet is listed as coming from Rutherford.  It's $29 a bottle, though it's retailing for $7 in a local chain.  J. Lohr Cabernet is $34, while Clos du Val is $68 and Flora Springs Cabernet is $58.  Sutter Home's White Zin is shown to be a North Coast wine when it carries a California appellation.  Kenwood's White Zin is shown to be a Sonoma wine, when it too is, in fact, a California appellation wine.

The Old Bat ordered a Dry Martini and she reported it was good.  I couldn't find a white wine worthy of service as a cocktail, so I put a bottle of red wine on the table from my cellar bag and we paid $12 or $15 corkage fee for this.

To start The Old Bat ordered a cup of Minestrone Soup.  Amazingly, it met with her approval.
I had a Shrimp Cocktail ($14) and this was nicely presented with a half a dozen bright white and pink prawns hanging off an ice bowl.

By the way, they had a good, old-fashioned sourdough bread basket on the table, as well.

The server brought a couple of heavy-duty, large wine glasses to the table.  One had lipstick residue on it, so that was pointed out and he brought a new stem.

I'd asked for a suggestion regarding the menu and he was quite enthusiastic about their Prime Rib, so I opted for the Executive Cut of that at $27.95.  The Old Bat ordered a Penne Pasta dish with a spicy, house-made Italian Sausage ($15.95).  
The Sausage was, indeed, nicely spicy and a bit hot.
My Prime Rib was a far more generous serving than the mere 14-ounce cut listed on the menu.  I suspect it was roasted a few days before we arrived and this well-more-than-a-pound slab o'beef was cooked to a fare-the-well.  
It was accompanied by a baked potato and some creamed spinach.  It did not have much flavor and was certainly a good example of industrial shoe leather.
I suspect it's probably best at a place such as this, to order something requiring actually being cooked to order.

We skipped dessert and were out of there for around $85 before the tip.

I'm not in a rush to return, but this is probably an okay neighborhood place if you order to their strengths, unlike what I did.  And bring your own bottle.

Reviewed by GW
January 2013

 

BOXING ROOM

399 Grove Street (at Gough)
San Francisco

TEL: 415-430-6590

Lunch: Mon-Fri 11:30-3
Brunch Sat-Sun 11:30-3

Dinner:
Sun-Thurs 5-11
Fri-Sat 5-Midnight

 

 


Amuse Bouche


Cajun Boiled Peanuts


I forgot to snap a picture of the entire order...I think we'd eaten 3 or 4 Hushpuppies by this stage!


Oysters.


Gumbo


Rabbit & Dumplin's

 

 

We booked a Sunday night table at this new place in the old Citizen Cake location near Davies Symphony Hall.  At 7pm the place was buzzing nicely, with a small number of tables open.

We were escorted to a tiny table for two near the window on Grove Street and fortunately the batteries in my Maglite were working and we could peruse both the menu and wine list.

A runner came by with an interesting idea of an Amuse Bouche...a wedge of a Clementine or Mandarin Orange...

The Boxing Room is a New Orleans-themed place and we ordered some Cajun Boiled Peanuts ($4) and Hushpuppies ($6) to have while looking over the food and wine options.

The wine list at this place is quite comfortable.  The prices are generally consumer-friendly and they've eschewed featuring the numerous quota items on the plates of the big liquor distributor sales reps.  Kudos.

The Boxing Room has a handful of wines "on tap," available by the glass, half carafe or full carafe.  There's also Sutton Cellars Vermouth on tap, as well.  Wines on tap include producers such as Zocker (Gruner Veltliner  $16 for a half, $31 for a full carafe), Unti Vermentino from Dry Creek,  a Syrah/Grenache blend from Tablas Creek, Broc Cellars Cabernet Franc and some Napa Cabernet called Cultivar.

There are a dozen table wine selections available by the glass, including a Spanish Albarino, a Muscadet, Chablis, German Riesling, Morgon, Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, Foradori Teroldego ($11 a glass) and Cep Syrah from the Sonoma Coast ($12).
As they don't have a full bar and The Old Bat couldn't have a Martini, we got her a glass of Allimant-Laugner's Cremant d'Alsace ($10).  I opted for a Riesling from Eva Fricke ($9) from Germany's Rheingau.

Our friendly and efficient server brought the starters and the aperitif wines and we were off and running.

The list is compact and comprises one page, so you need not spend an hour wondering what to order.  A good Sancerre is available for $39 a bottle, while a ROAR Pinot Noir is $85.  They don't break the hundred dollar barrier at this place!

The wines are well-chosen and an eclectic selection.

Stemware is a bit standard, though.  They use something like a 14 heavy-duty Libbey glass for the various wines.

The corkage fee is $17 and as they had some well-priced offerings, we opted for a bottle of Vincent Ricard's Loire Valley Rose for all of $20 for a full 750ml bottle!  You can't find much on the Peninsula at $20 a bottle and certainly nothing of this quality for such a modest price!

The peanuts are a bit messy, but good, if a bit soupy.  The Hushpuppies were delightful, nicely fried and crisp on the outside and moist on the inside.

The Old Bat was horrified at the thought of paying $3 per oyster, but we cajoled her into taking a half a dozen as this cost $16.  They had two types available on a Sunday night, Kumamotos for the local selection and Beausoleil for the 'foreigners.'
The Old Bat asked for six of the Beausoleils and, not being an oyster expert, she was disappointed to find them to be so small.  Good thing she didn't opt for the Kumamotos, as those are smaller.

For a starter I had a small order of their Chicken and Andouille Gumbo ($10).  They ask if you want white or brown rice with this...
The Gumbo is quite good, nicely smoky and moderately spicy (I figured the Riesling would work with this, but we were on to the Ricard Rose at this stage)...The Andouille sausage was really good here and I'd recommend this easily.

For main plates, The Old Bat had a small serving of Gumbo, which she found to be a bit of a challenge given the 'heat' of the spicing.

I had the Rabbit & Dumplin's with maitake mushrooms, carrots, turnips and bacon ($21).  This came in a cast iron skillet and I was warned this was hot.
They'd set it under the broiler, I guess and this makes the dumplin's a bit crisp or hard.  I might have preferred them a bit softer, but these were still good.  The dish comes across a bit like a good Coq au Vin except it's rabbit and there are turnips in the mix.

The tables are a bit close together and this means The Old Bat sometimes butts in on others' conversation.  She asked the neighboring table about their main dishes.  Both people were having the Southern Fried Chicken which didn't look at good in person as the photo on the Boxing Room's web site.  Our neighbors said they thought the chicken was too heavily breaded, for what that's worth.

We had no room for dessert, so we asked for the check.  This tallied to $120 before the tip with sales tax and the 4% SF Health surcharge.

Overall, this was a nice meal and if you're interested to dine here, come hungry!

It's a nice place for a meal and I'll have to remember their being open late for future visits.

I look forward to a return engagement here!

Reviewed by GW
December 2012




 

SPIAZZO

33 West Portal
San Francisco

Tel: 415-664-9511

Open Daily
11am until 10

 



Minestrone


Brodetto di Vongole


Spaghetti con Vongole


Misto di Carne

 

The Old Bat had a hankering for a plate of pasta and we booked a table at this busy Italian eatery on West Portal, as it's not too far from Stonestown's movie theater.

We parked about a block away...West Portal is jam-packed, even on a Sunday, as there's a movie theater and numerous restaurants on that bustling street.

Our table was ready for us and the two of us were seated at a 4-top near the hostess' station.  No wine glasses are on the table as part of the place setting and the wine list is on the back of the menu.  There's an additional menu, ostensibly of daily specials.

The wine list might impress someone whose taste in wine runs to the private labels at a Trader Joe's store or who patronizes wine outlets such as Smart & Final, Walgreens or CVS Pharmacies.

They must be fans of Fred Franzia's Bronco Wine Company as many of the wines on the list come from that company.  Mr. Franzia believes in offering California appellation wines (which typically come from Central Valley fruit), labeled with a more prestigious bottling address.  Albertoni is a good example...a wine sold solely to restaurants for a few bucks a bottle (remember, this is the guy who sells Trader Joe's their $1.99 Charles Shaw wines) so the dining establishments can sell them for a whopping percentage-of-a-mark-up.  Franzia has been quoted as saying restaurants ought to be able to charge ten bucks for some bottles of his wines.

Well, Albertoni Chardonnay is $24 at Spiazzo.  There are unidentified wines on the list, such as their House Selection of Pinot Grigio ($24), Chianti ($24), Montepulciano d'Abruzzo ($28), Vino Nobile ($35), Primitivo ($30) or Morellino ($32).  An Amarone, which goes for a modest $55 a bottle, is also not identified as to the producer.  Mauro Sebaste Barolo is $65 and they might bring you the 2005 or 2006 vintage.  There's a Cabernet Sauvignon listed as "Rutherford"...it does not carry the Rutherford  appellation, however.
Under the heading of Champagnes we find...not a single Champagne!  There is au unnamed Prosecco for $30, a California sparkler of Richard Grant for $40 and two Loire Valley sparklers.
The wines whites are not listed, for the most part, with vintage dates.

On the "specials" page there are some half bottles...we started with a half bottle of Kenwood Sauvignon Blanc at $20.  The young fellow waiting on us, a student at SF State, brought a couple of heavy-duty Libbey glasses and unscrewed the cap from the 375ml bottle, pouring the "say."  Perfectly standard.

Also on the specials' list is a Barbaresco for $42, a Piemontese Barbera for $29.50, Ironstone's Lodi Cabernet Franc ($29 on the list...$7.50 for retail customers on the winery web site!) or Santa Carolina Chilean Cabernet for $38 (ten bucks retail at places willing to carry this modest little wine).

The restaurant, by the way, was packed...they probably have 60 seats, or so and the place was busy.

The Old Bat ordered Minestrone Soup ($6) and this seemed to be possibly a lentil-based broth with all sorts of vegetables.  I ordered the Brodetto di Vongole ($9.95), a bowl with maybe a dozen large clams in a spicy broth with a couple of pieces of garlic crostini.  The clams were nice and this was a reasonable starter.

The server or another staffer had brought out a plate of a cake-textured bread...it had been partially heated, but not thoroughly.  A small red pepper dipping sauce accompanied the bread.

We placed a bottle of a nice Valpolicella on the table and asked the server to open it.  The corkage fee is a modest $12 and the stemware is equally modest, a 1980s-vintage red wine glass.

The Old Bat was delighted to order Spaghetti with Clams ($13.95) while I splurged on their Misto di Carne alla Griglia ($20.95), a couple of New Zealand lamb chops, a flattened boneless chicken piece and a butterflied, grilled Italian sausage.
My plate was bland, apart from the lovely little sausage, the highlight of the dish.

This is a nice little neighborhood restaurant and if you venture in to Spiazzo, do yourself a favor and bring a decent bottle of wine.  The prices are modest and commensurate with the quality.  You can pay a lot more on the Peninsula at the numerous "counterfeit" Italian restaurants and not do quite as well.

We skipped dessert and the bill tallied to $90 before the tip.

Reviewed by GW
November 2012

 

PROSPECT

300 Spear Street
San Francisco

Tel: 415-247-7770

Open Daily for Dinner

 

 


Sashimi of Kona Kampachi

 


Quail and Southern Fried Quail Legs with waffles and a Quail Egg.

 

 

 


Duck.

 

 


Ice Cream Sandwich...and a sip of Port.

We booked a table for a Sunday evening at Prospect, a restaurant related to the landmark Boulevard in roughly the same neighborhood.

There's a hostess station at the entrance and some seats to the left.  Straight ahead is a bar and behind that, the dining room.

The menu is accompanied by a wine list and there are some nice wine glasses on the table to give patrons a hint to order some wine.

None of the starters was something served 'family style,' so we didn't have a little nibble while perusing the menu.

Our server came by and we ordered a couple of glasses of a nice Albarino, Sete Cepas.

As we were dining at Prospect a few days after the arrival of the 2012 Nouveaux Beaujolais wines, there was a little card tucked into their wine list.

Now this is most perplexing!

The restaurant has a couple of young ladies who are there as sommeliers.  The wine list is in a binder and multiple pages.

As you can see above, they offer a flight of Beaujolais Nouveau.
We asked the server who told us it was a two wine flight, so we were perplexed as to why there are seemingly three wines being offered.  And the two "cru" Beaujolais are from the 2010 vintage and these are not "Nouveau" wines, despite this being offered as a "flight" of Beaujolais Nouveau!  

Our Albarino arrived in a nice glass, a Riedel-styled stem, poured to a little less than half full.

The young lady working as the wine steward that evening never did come by our table to consult or offer advice on their wines.

The wine list has several hundred wines.  There are some famous brands and some relatively obscure offerings.  Grower's Champagnes such as those from Moncuit ($96), Pierre Peters ($101) and Agrapart ($87) are available as are brands such as Krug ($280), Pol Roger ($134 for NV Brut), Salon ($472) and Dom Ruinart ($211). A handful of California bubblies are offered as is a Prosecco and Piemontese bubbly.
They have some good Loire Valley Sauvignons, with $30 buying you a nice bottle of Vincent Ricard's Les Trois Chenes.  You'll need $60 for the low end of the spectrum of California's North Coast Chardonnays.  They have a nice range of White Burgundies, from Chablis in the north to some Macon wines in the south.  More than half of these, though, are priced at more than one-hundred dollars.

There are seven German Rieslings on the list, none from the portfolio I consider to be the best.  Of the 31 California Pinot Noirs, 17 of them are triple-digit priced.  A Talley bottling is $70 and maybe the best selection on the low end.  Of the red Burgundy selections, 20 are above a hundred bucks (most well above) and a mere six are but double-digit priced.
Amongst the Rhone selections, there is a lovely Rasteau for $32 a bottle, so it's not like the 99% can't find a bottle of wine on this list.
The list has a small number of California Cabernets, including a 2007 Chateau St. Jean "Napa" bottling for  $148!  I didn't think St. Jean made a Napa Cabernet!!
A Sean Minor Cabernet is the lowest priced offering in that category and it's $52.  Most of the Cabernets are $100 (for a current bottling of Jordan) to $500 for some Hundred Acre bottlings.  There are but five Bordeaux wines and these seem mostly like "these-will-do" selections than wines curated with care.
There's a section of Loire Valley and Southeastern France wines which includes a nice bottle from the Cahors appellation ($35)...Cahors is more of a Southwest region, though.
A Beronia Rioja is $36, so there's another wine offering relatively reasonable value if you don't want to run up a huge tab.  Perhaps, though, the wine director knows her audience and maybe Prospect has customers who look down their nose at wines costing less than a hundred bucks a bottle.

We each ordered an appetizer, my dining companion opting for a Sashimi of Kona Kampachi ($15.50) with Shiro Miso, Granny Smith Apple, Serrano Peppers, Shiso & Mizuna Salad, Ginger Marinade.
I ordered Quail Breast and Southern Fried Quail Legs ($15) which came with a Savory Waffle, Braised Greens & Quince Relish.  
The Sashimi was beautifully prepared...I would have liked a bit more 'snap' to the dish, either in terms of acidity or spice/heat.  Still, it was very good.
The Quail dish was off the charts!  The Southern Fried legs were amazingly good and the waffle pieces were nicely done, just enough of a sponge-like quality to be really delightful.

We produced a bottle of a somewhat mature Bordeaux from the cellar bag.  The server asked if we like to have it decanted and we did.  He took the bottle away and a few minutes later the young sommelier brought a decanter and the bottle.  We offered her a taste and she was thrilled to have a generous pour.

We both ordered the Liberty Valley Duck ($31) with
Rye Berries, Braised Red Cabbage & Confit Duck, Apple & Kale Salad Malted Milk Chocolate Ice Cream, Chocolate Cookie

Overall, the dining experience at Prospect is a good one.  The wine list, in my view, needs polishing and perhaps selecting with a bit more care in several areas.

The kitchen performs brilliantly here and we look forward to a return visit.

Reviewed by GW
November 2012

 

LARK CREEK STEAK
Lark Creek Steak Restaurant San Francisco

845 Market Street
San Francisco

Open for Lunch & Dinner Daily

Tel: 415-593-4100


Salmon Amuse Bouche

 

 


Corn Soup With Rock Shrimp

 


Filet Mignon Tartar

 

 

 


New York Steak


Fries


Mushrooms

We were seeing a movie in the big, indoor 'mall' between Market and Mission streets in San Francisco and ambled over to this steak place which is in the Bradley Ogden family of restaurants.

At 7pm they had few open seats and we may have been close to the last two-top which was available.

The men and wine list were presented and, as I'm writing this more than a few days after, I think there were some glasses on the table.

The place features "American" wines and you'll find bottles from the West Coast and New York.

Three bubblies by the glass:  Gloria Ferrer is a civilized $8.25 for a flute, while Oregon's Argyle Brut is $13 and an Iron Horse Rose is $10.75.  I suspect they get 5 pours from a bottle since the bottle prices are more than 4 times the single serving price.

Some of the selections are a bit off-beat while others are bigger names and more comfortable brands for those who are not terribly wine-savvy.

There were 7 Sauvignon Blancs on the list, two by the glass.  St. Supery is $36 a bottle, with a Matanzas Creek going for $51.  Kendall Jackson Grand Reserve Chardonnay is $48, while Kistler's is $120.  A Ramey Sonoma Coast ($30 retail) is offered for $80...should a restaurant 'earn' $60 on a bottle of wine which cost them $20 (if they buy wisely)?
The list had more than a dozen red wines in half bottle format,  a Saintsbury Pinot Noir going for $36 and a Duckhorn Cabernet costing $70. 
I think I saw more than 2 dozen Pinot Noirs...Kosta Browne was $156 and Sea Smoke was $150 if you have money burning a hole in your pocket.  Etude from Carneros is $79 and Shea from Oregon is $82.
They have a Mixed Variety white section, but of the 9 selections, 8 were actually single varietal bottlings.  Five of the 9 "Mixed Variety" reds are varietal wines...
They have a section of Rhone wines, but these are all American, of course.  Bonny Doon's Cigare Volant is $66.   And there's a separate section of Syrahs, Qupe's Central Coast Syrah costing $40 while a Sine Qua Non bottling is $480.  A Frog's Leap Zin is $56 while Seghesio's $20 retail bottle is also $56.

The Old Bat ordered a Dry Martini and she was delighted with the work of the cocktailian.  I gambled on a New York Dry Riesling from Ravines at $10.  This was a simple, standard dry white at best...

After ordering the meal and wines, a small Amuse Bouche arrived...a cured salmon bite served on a spoon.

The Old Bat loves a steak and will even order, as she's done in the past, Steak Tartare and a Steak.   The Filet Mignon Tartar ($14.95) is raw tenderloin with some crostini, fleur de sel, capers and onions.  I went for their Brentwood Farms Corn Soup ($10.95) and this came out as a soup bowl with a mound of fresh corn and some rock shrimp.  The server had a small pitcher and poured the soup in the bowl for a bit of tableside savoir faire...
I tasted the Tartar...nice.  The soup was quite good, in fact.  The server had neglected to bring a soup spoon to the table, though, and I waited a few minutes and he slyly laid it onto the table with an "I-almost-forgot."

They have a good range of steaks...a small Filet Mignon is $29.95, while an 8 ounce is $37.95.  A New York steak is $31.95, while a 10 ounce Prime New York is $41.95.  A 16 ounce Prime Rib-Eye is $51.95.  The steaks are accompanied by a sauce, if you like.
Side dishes are $8.50.  The Old Bat was dying for  Mashed Potatoes, while I ordered Mushrooms and a side of Fries.  The mushrooms were nice and the fries were merely "okay."

We had a bottle of red wine in our bag and the server brought a good sized Bordeaux glass for each of us.  He poured the wine without really allowing us to 'say' whether or not our bottle was in serviceable condition.  It was.  But the fellow ran off with the cork and we had to ask him to bring one back so we could take the remaining wine to share with the crew at the shop, as it was a "tester" bottle of what turned out to be a rather nice, youthful Bordeaux.
The corkage fee is $20 per bottle and this is waived if you've ordered a bottle from their wine list.
The stemware is good...the white wine came in a Riedel-styled glass and the server brought large "Bordeaux"-styled stems for our red wine.

The steak was good.  I can't say if it was really one of the best "prime" steaks I've had.  At least it was cooked on a wood-fired grill, a rarity these days.  This made for a better steak than one simply cooked on a gas grill.

We skipped desserts...

I'd go back if I was in the neighborhood, catching a movie at the Westfield mall or the Metreon across the street.  But I don't think I'd make a special trip there otherwise.

Reviewed by GW
November 2012



CUISINETT


1105 San Carlos Avenue
San Carlos

Mon-Sat  11am-9pm

Tel: 650-453-3390

 


The menu.

 


"Fish-bowl-on-a-stem" was how a friend refers to this old-fashioned wine glass.

 


Pate, Mustard, Cornichons...



The Salade Verte.



The Niçoise.

 


Steak & Frites

 


Poulet Roti & Frites with a Champignon sauce of Lacaune in southern France, east of Toulouse.

 

They advertise themselves as a place for "French Comfort Food" and so we ambled into Cuisinett in San Carlos during the middle of the week.

It's a small restaurant seating perhaps 32-40 people.  No reservations, which initially was a bit off-putting, but when we arrived we understood why.

You walk in and there's a map of France and a large sign with their menu.  We were greeted by a pleasant young lady and we asked for a table for two.
Oops...that's not how it works here!

We were instructed to come to the counter where they have a computer monitor/cash register and to place our order, then you can take a seat.

It's a bit like ordering at a fast food place or pizzeria...and they ask you to pay when you order!  (And leave a tip...)

There is no "wine list," per se.  And the wine offerings are a bit nebulous, though bottles are displayed in a glass-door refrigerator for the whites and there are some bottles of red displayed on the counter near the register.

There's a hand-written board with some wine prices, though the wines are not listed by brand or vintage.  You can have a glass, carafe or bottle.

An anonymous French Chardonnay was $10 a glass, a Bordeaux Blanc was $8, $24 and $32.  There's a Sonoma Chardonnay, a "French Sauvignon Blanc" (not noted as Loire, Bordeaux or perhaps even Languedoc) and some other Sauvignon Blanc, presumably not French.
Under the heading of Red wines, there's a Bordeaux Rouge for $9 by the glass and $36 for a bottle.  A Napa Cabernet is $13 a glass and $48 by the bottle.  A Rhone wine from the Cotes du Ventoux is $8 by the glass and $32 a bottle.  Sonoma Pinot Noir is $10 a glass, while a Beaujolais goes for $8 and a Merlot for $9.  A Champagne is $90 a bottle, while a Cremant is $13 a glass or $65 a bottle.  Ouch!

We asked how much they charge for corkage and it's $15.  We were queried as to whether we would be wanting new, clean stemware for our bottle and we indicated we would, especially given the $15 charge for corkage.

The wine selections are fairly standard and you won't find "connoisseur"-quality wines for the most part.  The mark-up at this place is a bit high, especially given that the stemware is not great and it's not a "fine dining" establishment.


I ordered two pours of the French Chardonnay, seeing Joseph Drouhin's Laforet Bourgogne Blanc in the 'fridge.  We asked to be charged a corkage fee, as I had a nice bottle of a good Crozes-Hermitage in my bag.

The Laforet wholesales for a bit less than ten bucks a bottle and we paid $10 per glass for this.
They have a couple of sparkling wines from France which wholesale for $12.50 to $14 and these are $65 at Cuisinett.  Meanwhile, the "French Sauvignon Blanc," a wine from the Loire by Ladoucette, wholesales for approximately $12 and it's offered for $36 by the bottle.

For our meal, we wanted to begin with one of their "Small Plates," the Assiette Chasseur ($10), a nice slice of a coarse pâté with mustard, cornichons, thinly sliced radishes and some slices of a baguette.
We thought of this as a starter, to be followed by a salad.  The Old Bat ordered their Salade Niçoise ($12) while I went for their Salade Verte ($5).

We were brought the two pours of white wine, served in maybe a 10 ounce, heavy-duty Libby glass, filled to around the half-way point.

The nice little serving of pâté was brought fairly quickly and in tandem were the salads.
So much for staging the meal in courses, but then this place intends for people to "eat and run."

The mixed green salad was very good, with fresh greens or various types lightly bathed in a mild vinaigrette.  The Old Bat's Salade Niçoise looked great, but it was a "main course"-sized serving, not really an appetizer.  The tuna was great: fresh and beautifully seared...tender and delicious!

We had to flag down the young lady who took our order to bring some new wine glasses and a corkscrew to open our bottle.  She did open the bottle and poured a "say" in both glasses, quickly departing before we'd given the okay.  We poured a glass for ourselves, then.

The main plates, by the way, arrived before we could get the red wine opened.

The Old Bat ordered their Steak ($18), a nice little 8 ounce piece of meat.  You get your choice of a "sauce" and a side dish.  There are seven sauces, but she wanted the steak "plain" and had Pommes Frites on the side.
I chose their Poulet Rôti ($14) with the Champignon sauce (fresh button mushrooms, shallots and bacon) along with a side of fries.  The chicken was a small, meaty bird, with two smallish drumsticks on the plate and two other pieces (maybe two halves of a thigh or breast?)...It was nicely roasted and moist.

The steak was a nice, thin piece of tender beef...it might have been nicely enhanced with their Poivre (pepper) or Moutarde (mustard cream) sauce.

The frites, by the way, are excellent...crisp and not at all oily or greasy.

We skipped dessert, having paid the bill already (and added a tip of 15% despite not knowing if the service would be good...), but they do offered Crème Brûlée, a Gateau au Chocolat  and a Tarte au Citron (all $7).
I did not see any dessert wine offerings, but may have missed these if they do have them.

The bill tallied to $102 with tax before the tip and the Old Bat had a couple of items to take home given she'd ordered too much.

This is a nice little place, possibly a better choice at lunch than for dinner, but the food is nicely prepared.  

It's simply a bit unusual for its deli counter ordering system and informal service with prices in between those of a 'fast food' place and a more serious restaurant.  
Adding to this confusion is that the quality of the food is pretty good.
If they had a more interesting selection of wines and prices which are more consumer-friendly, this would really be a gem of a restaurant.

Reviewed by GW
October 2012

 

NETTIE'S CRAB SHACK

2032 Union Street
San Francisco

Mon: 11-3
Wed-Sun:  11-9 (maybe later)

Tel: 415-409-0300

 

 


Oysters...3 types...



Little Gems & Chicories with a Caesar Dressing.


Calamari with Beans...

 


Half a

 

 


Doughnut Holes

 

 


Soft Swirl Ice Cream

 




We had a winemaker friend visiting from Italy and he was fresh-off-the-plane on a Sunday in late October.  He expressed an interested in seafood, coming from a place where seafood means "anchovies."

We had seen the website for Nettie's Crab Shack on Union Street and noticing this "Yes!  We have Whole Crab" on their home page, we called to book a table.

We arrived on a Sunday evening, finding street parking to be a challenge, but there's a garage across the street.

At 7pm the place was moderately busy, as most patrons were seated at the bar or at tables near the bar and TV screen showing the Giants playing the Detroit Tigers in the 2012 World Series.

We opted for a small table towards the front of the restaurant in a smallish, elevated alcove with maybe three or four other tables.

There were nice wine glasses on the table and the server presented a menu and a wine list.  The list posted on their web site was not hugely encouraging, so we brought a chilled bottle of a good grower's Champagne and a big, rich French white Burgundy.

We asked about their corkage fee and were told it was $15.  I asked, then, for a couple of Champagne flutes and our server brought two small stems of perhaps 6 ounce capacity...quite small, actually, so my guest said he'd prefer to drink the bubbly out of the 14 ounce (or so) wine glass.

We ordered a mix dozen oysters to enjoy with the bottle of Lancelot Pienne Champagne as we perused the menu.

The wine list does offer some good white wine choices.  Honig Sauvignon Blanc is $40, while the Crios Torrontes from Argentina is $32.  A Piero Mancini Vermentino is $40.  Clearly Arneis is not popular here as they have one from 2007 on the wine list (generally these are best when young and fresh).  There are, in fact, a number of offerings which may be a bit past their prime in terms of both whites and reds.
There's a 2006 Dolcetto d'Alba languishing on the wine list, for example.  A really ordinary Barbera from Piemonte is $45, a poor choice in terms of value.  The list offers a good Crozes Hermitage from Domaine Entrefaux at $60, while a Chante Perdrix Saint Joseph is $50.
But the menu offered all seafood apart from a lone hamburger, so having so many reds seemed a bit out of place.
On the other hand, perhaps people come and sit outside on a sunny day and wish to simply enjoy a nice bottle of red wine...

Many of the wines are marked up 300%, but some less pricey bottles such as Poppy Pinot Noir are jacked up 400%, or a tad more.  Poppy retails for $12 to $15, yet it's $40 on this wine list!

Our oysters arrived on a metal platter covered with ice and we had three different selections.  I should make a note to avoid oysters on a Sunday, though, as most of them were still okay, but a couple tasted a bit flat and perhaps not as fresh as they might have been had we been there on Friday, for example.

My buddy ordered their Little Gems and Chicories Caesar Salad with Anchovy Croutons ($10) and I had their Grilled Squid, Shell beans, Heirloom Tomato, Salsa Verde ($12).
A nice fairly large wooden bowl was brought to the table with a large serving of the salad.
My Squid was a small ceramic dish with toothsome beans and a nice bunch of calamari and tentacles...quite hot in terms of temperature and reasonably flavorful.  Good!

The server brought a couple of more wine glasses for our bottle of Chassagne-Montrachet, as well as a couple of bibs so we wouldn't get too messy with breaking apart the half a crab we each ordered.
I asked, also, for an order of Rosemary Shoestring Fries and their Griddled Skillet Cornbread.

After clearing the plates from the starters, we were each presented with a plate with half a crab body and a number of still-attached crab legs.  This was an oven-roasted preparation and the crab comes topped with an oil infused with garlic and parsley.  Each plate came with a crab cracker tool and a small, thin fork to extricate the crab meat from the shell.

The crab was quite good, although the garlic was a bit over-the-top (and I love garlic!).  You have to ask for bread and we neglected to do that and the server didn't ask, though it would have been appreciated.

We never did see the order of fries or the cornbread, as the server apparently forgot to place this order.

We got a couple of desserts...Doughnut holes and some Soft Swirl Ice Cream...both nice, although the doughnut holes were left in the deep fryer a few seconds too long...

The bill, with the corkage fee, tax and the SF Health add-on tallied to $154 before the tip.

This was a nice, comfortable, fairly informal place to take a European out-of-towner to show off a bit of American style.

If you're in the neighborhood, this is a nice place to dine, but it's not a major destination restaurant.

Reviewed by GW
October 2012

 

 

WESTLAKE JOE'S

11 Glenwood Avenue
Daly City

Tel: 650-755-7400

Open Daily 11am-11pm
Fri-Sat til Midnight


The Wine List

 

 

 

 

 


Lamb chops and Potato Wedges

 


Joe's Idea of a Wine Glass

 

 

We were seeing a movie in Daly City on a Saturday night during the World Series in which the Giants were playing and we booked an early evening table at this "old school" place near John Daly Boulevard.

The parking lot was packed and the restaurant was busy, especially by the bar with the TV screens.

In the main dining room with a battery of cooks along the wall behind the counter, we were escorted to a booth in the back, at the end of the bar.

A large, plastic laminated menu was presented and this document has what they consider to be a wine list on the back.

No wine glasses on the table, as this is serious "old school" and they're seemingly more interested in selling a Martini or Manhattan than they are a bottle of wine.

It's a restaurant which reminded me of old-time places in the late 1950s and 1960s and Joe's of Westlake is certainly a throwback to that era.

The Old Bat ordered her customary Extra Dry Martini (olives and onions, please).  I perused the wine list in hopes of a relatively decent sparkler or glass of white wine.
No luck!

The only wines-by-the-glass are the "House" Burgundy, Chablis and White Zinfandel at $4.65 a serving.

The wine list is clearly not important at this dining establishment, as they don't cater to people with much interest in a good bottle of wine.  Apparently management of Joe's is unaware there are good wines available through even the big liquor houses which supply their bar with distilled spirits.

A bottle of Sonoma Cutrer Chardonnay will set you back $34, while a Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay is $30.  Kenwood Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are both $24.  Louis Martini, an old-time producer whose wine was probably on the wine list at Joe's fifty years ago, is all of $26, as is a J. Pedroncelli Cabernet.  Kenwood Zin is $24 and their Pinot Noir goes for $31.  A Bolla Pinot Grigio is $19.50, as is Bolla's Bardolino.
A Korbel Brut "Champagne" is $26, while an unidentified Prosecco goes for $25.

We asked our server how much they charge for corkage and this was a modest $7.50.  We should have brought our own stemware, though.
Joe's does not have anything I would consider to be suitable for wine.  It was more like a jelly jar-on-a-stem.

The menu is large and varied.  Minestrone soup is available daily, but if you're interested in Clam Chowder, better come on a Friday.
Lots of salads are available, including a Caesar along with Prawn, Shrimp and Crab Louie's.  There's a heading on the menu of Pastas with five or six options.  Curiously, there's a second heading of Pastas "Cooked to Order"!!!

There are numerous items from the Charcoal Broiler, including a 22 ounce Texas T-Bone for $24.75.
There are 9 "Chef's Suggestions," including Sweetbreads with Mushrooms for $16.75.

I produced a bottle of Sonoma County Sangiovese from the Seghesio winery and we paid the $7.50 corkage fee.  

The Old Bat ordered a cup of Minestrone ($5.45) to start, while I ordered a Shrimp Cocktail ($8.95).
The soup arrived fairly quickly and as I sipped the Sangiovese, I waited patiently for the appetizer.

We heard some cheering from the bar, a good indication the Giants were finding a way to beat Detroit.  The servers, all decked out in old school formal-wear, were spreading the news of the latest score of the game.

The minestrone tasted good, as The Old Bat salted it.  I continued to wait.

Finally, she finished and the server removed the empty cup of soup.  We asked, then, if they were catching the shrimp for my appetizer, or what.
Oops!

The server, though he'd written down the order, neglected to place this order with the kitchen crew.

A moment later the Two Double Lamb Chops ($23.25) arrived on an oval plate, accompanied by fried potato wedges out of a freezer bag.  The Old Bat's Linguine With Clam Sauce ($14.95) arrived and she was a bit surprised to taste canned clams, not fresh ones.  The pasta was slightly over-cooked to my taste.

The lamb was actually nicely cooked...nothing fancy apart from being grilled.  No green vegetable on the plate as "side orders" (mostly pastas, with a mixed vegetable dish being available along with spinach, mushrooms, fries or garlic bread) are extra.

The bill tallied to around $63 before the tip.

This is a great place to visit if you're a bit hungry and in the mood for the "good old days" of the 1950s or 1960s.  If you're looking for a wine-savvy restaurant, this ain't it.

Reviewed by GW
October 2012


 

HEAVEN'S DOG


1148 Mission Street (near 7th)
San Francisco

Tel: 415-863-6008

NOW CLOSED

Open Daily for Dinner

 

 


Scallion Pancake

 


Pork in a Clam Shell Bun


Shumai


Gau Choy Dumplings


Calamari

 


Chicken Wings

 


Sea Scallops


Noodles

 


Rice


Ribs

 

 

It was a Saturday night in October when a friend from Friuli came to San Francisco for a few days.  We were able to book a table for four on short notice at Charles Phan's "Heaven's Dog."  Phan's main restaurant, Slanted Door, requires significant advance notice for a reservation, so this was a bit of a surprise.

I arrived around 6:45, just on the dot for our reservation.  I found my three guests sitting at the bar, sipping on Negronis.  

The hostess said she could seat us any time we liked, as the table was ready.  It's a small dining room with 2 and 4 tops, along with a small, private little room near the bar.

It's a place which features interesting and creative cocktails, most at ten bucks a pop.  We watched as the bartender skillfully measured, stirred and shook various cocktails.

We were guided to our table and it was simply set with chopsticks, a fork, wine glass and napkin.

The wine list is small, but skillfully chosen.  You'll have many good wines to chose from and the prices are sensible as they've chosen well.  Four sparklers, with a Prosecco and Cava available by the glass.  High rollers might splurge for a bottle of Pierre Moncuit at $72.  Seven white wines by the glass, ranging from $7 to $12.  These include a dry Austrian Riesling, a couple of German Rieslings, a Vinho Verde and a Macon!  Four reds by the glass, including an Oregon Gamay for $12 or a Sonoma Pinot Noir for $13.

As our friend from Friuli is familiar with varieties such as Ribolla Gialla, Tocai and Sauvignon, we splurged for a bottle of a Napa Valley white by Matthiasson which includes all three along with some Semillon.  It's $69 on the wine list.

We were hungry, so we ordered a bunch of starters to share...and these were brought to the table at a nice pace so we could enjoy them while they were hot.  It was quite unlike a normal Chinese neighborhood place where everything shows up at once.

The stemware for the wine was good...not hugely fancy, but of good size and light weight.

A Scallion Pancake ($7) was a nice start to the meal.  Soy-Braised Pork Belly ($9) featured rectangular slices of savory, moist pork nestled in what they call a "clam shell" bun (steamed bread of sorts)...exceptional!
Their Shumai Dumplings ($8) are more typically served at a dim sum lunch hour, but these are stellar and should not be missed.  Crispy Chicken Wings ($10) are a bit spicy and were immediately scarfed up by our guests.  Salt & Pepper Squid ($13) was a nice plate of calamari with toasted garlic and some spicy chilis.  The Gau Choy Dumplings ($9) are round discs with shrimp and rice flour...very good.

Everyone then selected a main plate and these arrived and placed for "family style" service, which worked out nicely.  Main plates are priced between $12 and $19...we ordered Seared Scallops with black bean sauce ($19) which were quite good.
Duck Fired Rice featured 5 Spice Duck Confit ($14) and was delicious and savory.  Wuxi Pork Spareribs ($16) were a bit sweet, but nicely meaty and delicious, if a bit messy. Shanghai Noodles ($14) delighted the Italians, who know a thing or two about pasta.

Jasmine Rice is $2 per person and we also had a couple of vegetable "sides," one featuring Zucchini and the other Broccoli...each at $10.

I had placed a bottle of Summers Charbono on our table, but the server was a bit busy, so I ended up opening it and a second bottle, a Green & Red Zinfandel and we simply used the stemware on the table.  

The bill, with $20 per bottle corkage fee and the SF Health 'tax', tallied to around $290 before the tip.

This is a delightful restaurant and it was a comfortable setting...I know there was some music playing in the background, but we still were able to converse and hear each other at the table.

I look forward to returning soon!

Reviewed by GW
October 2012

 

MYTHOS

Lunch: Mon-Fri
11:30-2:30

Dinner:
Daily 4:30-10

 

 

 

 


Greek Salad

 


Two Salmon Cakes...this is how the plate was presented to us...the Salmon Cake on the right was broken in half and seemingly missing a "fork" cut...



Moussaka



Lamb Shank and Pilaf

 


I initially thought this might have been a sharp fish bone, but a fellow who's knowledgeable about restaurant kitchens identified it as a bristle from a kitchen brush used to scrub pots and pans!
This was in the Mythos Pilaf!
Yikes...

We booked a table at this San Carlos "California-Mediterranean" restaurant for a Sunday night, following one of our frequent forays to the cinema.

With a street-fair of sorts concluding a 6pm, we found the roads jammed with vendors dismantling their stands.  The restaurant had a few patrons seated, from a young couple celebrating an anniversary to a young Mom & Dad with their cute little rug rats to some old farts and then us.

We were guided to a spacious "four top" and the table had a piece of paper as the table cloth, a fork & knife with a napkin and, encouragingly, a wine glass.

The wine list is printed on the back of the large single-page menu.

Their web site might give one the idea there's some care in selecting the wines, as they claim: "Each wine on our list is approachable and has been hand picked by our wine stewards as well as the selections of fine spirits at the bar. The passion for terroir, a sense of place, is reflected in the concentration of Northern Californian coastal wines, and spirits from Bay Area distilleries and breweries, followed appropriately by a selection of Mediterranean wines."

Sixteen bottled beers on their list of offerings...if you don't count Budweiser and Bud Light as "local," two beers are actually from California, a Bear Republic bottling and a Drake's beer.  Sierra, Trumer and a Devil's Canyon brew are available on tap, however.

Twenty-one wines "by the glass" and not a local sparkler in the bunch!  Thirteen table wines are from California and perhaps you find wines from Gallo's "William Hill," J. Lohr, Hess and Rombauer to be terroir-driven wines.  They do offer two locally-made wines from the Domenico winery in San Carlos.  One is confusingly listed as "Chianti, Aglianico, Domenico, Amador County."  It may be Aglianico, but it's not from the Chianti region!

Two bubblies are of interest on the list, unless you're a fan of Clicquot, and then it's three: Roederer Estate at $49 and Schramsberg's Blanc de Blanc (listed as a non-vintage wine, but this is, in fact, vintage-dated) at $69.

Chardonnays include Hess ($32), Heitz ($46), Talbott ($58), Bernardus ($58) and Rombauer ($53).  They have 8 Pinot Noirs on the list, ranging from J. Lohr ($40) to Domaine Drouhin ($84).  A Heitz 2006 Cabernet is $75 and it's about the most interesting of their selections in my view.  A Marcarini Barolo from the 2007 vintage is $100, but most of their imported selections don't indicate the wine steward is terribly savvy.

The Old Bat ordered a Dry Martini  and I chose an eight-buck glass of Domaine Drouhin's "Cloudline" Pinot Gris.  The Martini was much-appreciated...my glass of Pinot Gris was "ice" cold and the extreme serving temperature hurt the wine to some degree.

The stemware for the wine was a perfectly acceptable, nicely shaped glass of about 14 or 15 ounce capacity.  The half-filled glass made swirling the wine a bit of a challenge, though.

As for food:  A "Greek Salad" for The Old Bat ($8) and I chose "Salmon Cakes" (House Smoked Wild King Salmon Cakes With Sauces) at $10.  The Greek Salad delighted our senior citizen companion.  Two Salmon Cakes came on a bed of totally dry mixed greens with a ramekin of some sort of spicy sauce.  One of the two Salmon cakes was broken in half and seemed to have a "fork"-bite missing!  These were a bit dried out, too...not bad, but not great, either.

I produced a bottle of red from my cellar bag and just a few seconds after a runner removed the appetizer plates, the main courses arrived.

Our server, a friendly gal, went and found one clean wine glass for the two of us.  She opened the bottle and without pouring the "say" (where someone at the table okays the wine as not being corked or spoiled and worthy of service to others), she glug-glug-glugged half a glass for The Old Bat.  She then took my empty Pinot Gris glass and poured a half a glass for me!
Well intentioned, to be sure, but quite unprofessional.

The Old Bat ordered Moussaka ($19) for a main plate...and she rather enjoyed it.
I had the "Lamb Shank...in red wine and spices with Mythos pilaf" at $28.  The lamb was nicely prepared with a brown-spiced sauce.  The pilaf was okay until I bit into something hard...I thought it was a fish bone, but showing it to someone more restaurant-kitchen savvy, it was identified as a bristle from a brush used to scrub pots and pans!  This would have been nasty to have ingested and it suggests the kitchen crew is a bit sloppy in cleaning, no?
Finding this took care of my appetite, for the most part.

We had shared a glass of our bottle of red, a reserve bottle of IBY's Blaufrankisch, with the server.  The $20 corkage fee was on the bill, which tallied to $111.50 with tax and before the tip.

Reviewed by GW
October 2012

 

BASK


42 Columbus Avenue
San Francisco

Open Mon-Fri 11am through Dinner
Saturday 5pm-11pm

Tel: 415-392-2275

 

 


Cod Fritters



Garlic Prawns


Grandma's Mushrooms



Ahi Tuna Cooked to a Fare-Thee-Well.




The Lamb Shank.

 

The menu for this new Basque restaurant in The City looked promising, so we tried using their on-line reservation system to book a table on a Monday night.  Too bad this didn't work so well.  We sent them an e-mail and received a note saying "no problem," so we arrived a bit after 8pm to find a fairly empty restaurant and bar.

We were seated immediately and began scoping out the wine list and menu.

I was looking for some interesting Basque-area wines on their list and spotted a Jurancon Sec by Domaine Cauhape at $12 a glass, so we asked the server for a couple of pours.
I think he came over twice to verify and confirm our order, since the fellow, apparently, could not remember this request for more than a few seconds.

Brands on their modest wine list include Chalk Hill, Lyeth, Sebastiani, Louis Jadot, Paternina, Hahn and Folie a Deux.  It's not a list featuring many savvy selections in my view.

Their web site claims they offer the "best Paella in San Francisco," but on this Monday night, they did not have this particular item available.

We discussed our best options for starters and finally selected "Grandma's Mushrooms" ($10.50), Cod Fritters ($9) and Prawns with Garlic ($13).  Our forgetful server had difficulty committing these to memory and came back a couple of times to verify the order.  Apparently, writing down the order is a foreign concept.

The Cod Fritters were very good and nicely seasoned.  The Mushrooms were small button mushrooms sautéed in a really hot pan and then served in some sort of brown sauce...also good.  The Prawns had a nice bit of garlic and were of good quality.

As we were finishing the tapas, I brought out a nicely-aged bottle of Alion and the server came out with a couple of new wine glasses.
My guest's glass was clean and fine, thank you, but mine seemed a bit hazy and laden with fingerprints.  I picked up the glass and it smelled of the last wine to have been poured into it!
I asked if we might have a clean glass instead of this dirty, used one.
That was embarrassing.

With Paella not an option, my dinner companion selected Pacific Ahi Tuna seared a la plancha ($23), while I chose the Lamb Shank ($26).  
Well, the Ahi Tuna was left on that plancha too long, apparently, and it became a leathery, tough piece of fish.  My friend wrestled with it for a while and was unimpressed.
The lamb was a big shank and in a shimmering dark sauce of sorts...but it was a bit bland and seemed as though they'd not seared it before braising it.  However it had been prepared, it was a fairly ordinary hunk of lamb.
The 1996 Alion, though, was a winner and the highlight of our meal.

I think the bill, grabbed by my friend, tallied to a bit more than a hundred bucks.  I don't recall if they nailed us for a corkage fee.

This place has potential, but judging from the lack of attention to detail on our visit, their future is as cloudy as that dirty wine glass we encountered.

Reviewed by GW
September 2012

 

DOBBS FERRY


409 Gough Street 
(Near Hayes)
San Francisco

Lunch:  Weekends from 11am
Dinner:  Daily from 5pm

Tel: 415-551-7700

 


The Old Bat's Dry Martini.
Thumbs Up!


Chips and Dip.


Beet Salad

 


Griddled Baby Octopus

 

 

 


Short Ribs


Rigatoni...this time, cheese-free!

 

 



Zeppoli with strawberries.

We were going to be near Davies' Symphony Hall one Sunday in September, so we booked an early evening table at this relatively new place on Gough.  We lucked out with on-street parking, but there's a parking structure a block away.  The neighborhood has a number of prominent restaurants, including Absinthe, Hayes Street Grill and Jardinière.

We found the place sparsely populated on this evening and easily found a table in the room towards the back, a bit quieter than the front room  and bar.

Our server asked if we wanted some particular water selection, but we opted for tap water.  The wine list was presented with the menu and we immediately began looking for a decent, modestly-priced half bottle of white or bubbly.

They had 6 whites by the glass, ranging from a Zenato Pinot Grigio ($6) to a Faiveley Montagny ($14).    Reds by the glass included brands such as Louis Latour, Hahn, Sebastiani, Raymond and Turley (a Cinsault from Lodi for $12 a pour).
The wine list offers 7 sparkling wines (Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc at $79),  5 Chardonnays (Au Bon Climat at $44), four Sauvignon Blancs, 7 Pinot Noirs and 6 Cabernets (Raymond, Paul Dolan, Justin, Jordan and Groth)...not hugely exciting and certainly no 'discoveries.'
In keeping a tiny connection to their New York roots there are a couple of wines from the Red Tail Ridge winery on Seneca Lake.
It's a sleepy wine list, essentially.

We ordered two pours of a French Entre-Deux-Mers, Chateau Bonnet ($7).  The server returned a few moments later with a bottle of Parducci Sauvignon Blanc and a glass to pour us a small taste of a substitute since they were sold out of the Bonnet. Nice try, but the Parducci is weak.  So The Old Bat ordered a dry Martini and I selected the Faiveley Montagny.  She was thrilled by having a brisk, dry Martini.  The Faiveley was weak, at best.

We began with a "Bar Bites" selection of Chips & Dip.  This was a small plate of fresh Potato Chips and a Bean Dip enhanced with some bacon.  Nice.

The Old Bat started with a Golden Beet Salad ($9) and I chose the Baby Octopus ($9) with chive pesto, shaved endive, fingerling potatoes and sweet tomatoes.  She liked the beets.  The Octopus was okay, but I found it to be a muddled plate.  I guess i was not thrilled by the cheese in the chive pesto which for my taste hit an off note.

We produced a bottle from our cellar bag and the server, a genial fellow who was wine-interested (he had passed his level one sommelier test, for what that's worth), brought two more glasses and opened the Pinot Noir I had...We shared a taste with the server of this hugely expensive bottle of Chacra Pinot, a 2007 which was, for me, not terribly impressive despite its $70-$80 retail price tag.

The main plates arrived...The Old Bat's Rigatoni with meat sauce was, unfortunately, dusted with cheese and she's allergic, apparently. Back that went to the kitchen and a new plate came back 10 or 15 minutes later.  Wouldn't you think with so many "lactose intolerant" folks, a restaurant would either note on the menu this preparation or bring the cheese separately to the table?
The sauce was okay, but I tasted the rigatoni and this was a budget brand of pasta according to my 'taste-o-meter.'

I ordered their Short Rib main plate at $25.  This was perfectly standard and perhaps a bit bland...tender, boneless beef with some leeks, carrots and parsnips.

For dessert we ordered Zeppoli and this was perhaps the highlight of the meal!  Beautifully done with some powdered sugar and sweet strawberries.

The server did not charge us a corkage fee and the bill tallied to around $110.

It's not a destination restaurant, but a perfectly decent neighborhood "bar & grill" sort of place.  Given the ho-hum, missed-the-boat wine program and standard fare, I probably won't be rushing to return to Dobbs Ferry.

Reviewed by GW
September 2012

 

 

MICHAEL MINA

252 California Street
San Francisco

Tel: 415-397-9222

Lunch M-F: 11:30-2pm

Dinner Daily from 5:30 to 10, or so

 


Amuse Bouche


Tuna Tartare



Squid Ink Pasta


A lovely Risotto with Lobster




 

 




 

 





To celebrate the birthday of a friend, we booked at mid-week table at the famous temple of haute cuisine, Michael Mina.

We arrived on time and were quickly escorted to our table for two along the wall.  The menus and wine list were provided by the hostess.  As I opened the list, a sommelier-type fellow appeared at the table asking if we needed assistance in selecting a wine.  I had note had a few minutes to peruse their voluminous wine list.

And large and impressive it is.  More than two dozen Chablis wines.  Thirty Meursault.  If you want a DRC Montrachet, the 2008 is more than $4200 per bottle.  But you don't have to be a big spender, as $39 will get you a bottle of Pelle's Menetou-Salon, for example.
They have a terrific selection of Burgundy wines, but most, whether white or red, are of the most recent vintages, so many of these, despite their lofty prices, are not wines which have had time to evolve, develop and come close to reaching a peak.
Pinot Noirs are either listed under various appellations of Burgundy or as "Burgundy's Devotees" or "The Opulence of the New World."
Though the menu doesn't really seem geared to sturdy Nebbiolo, there are more than 50 Piemontese bottlings on the list, including Giacomo Conterno's 1958 ($1040 a bottle) and Bartolo Mascarello's 1964 ($1329).
They've covered all the bases and feature loads of glorious enological trophies.  Unless I'm mistaken, Australia and New Zealand seem to be missing in action, save for a couple of selections.
For the most part, though, it's a phone-book of a wine list and a great example of the work of a capable, trophy-hunting sommelier.  It's great to have so many selections, but it distracts the person who's choosing a wine (or wines) from engaging in conversation with others at the table.

The corkage fee, if you're bringing something of interest, is $35 for each of the first two bottles and $70 a bottle after that.

We ordered a half bottle of a nice Champagne and our server took off to put in our selection.  But we sat there for an unusually long time and were wondering if the bottle had been lost, misplaced or merely forgotten.  Perhaps, though, we selected an obscure grower's Champagne in half bottle format to start and they did not have a bottle in the refrigerator?  I think we waited nearly 15 minutes before our bubbly was brought to the table.  Some wine lists highlight those wines which need 10-15 minutes for chilling.  This was not so designated.

Our meal began with a small Amuse Bouche, a very fine little soup.  We had a little Tuna Tartare for a starter and then a Black Pasta (Squid Ink Conchiglie), followed by a Risotto surrounded by some sort of Emulsion.
Fancy food, but beautifully presented and with good flavors and character.

I didn't pay much attention to the neighboring table, but it turns out an old customer was dining there and he sent over a tremendous glass of White Burgundy.  Their party of four seemed to be working on a Foie Gras menu, as foie was in its last days of being legal in California.

Meanwhile, I had a bottle of a 1980 Dujac Clos La Roche in my bag and the wine crew at MM did their best to extract the cork for us.  Too bad it came out in pieces, but the wine was still in top form.  We sent a glass to our friends at the next table...

I'd also ordered a half bottle of a nice Sancerre, but in taking a look at the wine list posted presently by Michael Mina, I see no such 375ml format bottle is currently offered.  Sadly.

The food preparation is top notch and the service was very good, for the most part.  It's a splurge, to be sure, but we thoroughly enjoyed our dining experience at Michael Mina.

It's also a place to see and be seen.

Writing this review too long after our dinner there, I cannot recall precisely the dessert offering.


The tab was nearly $300 and while it's not a "value" restaurant, we did appreciate the meal and service.  This is one of those small number of places which are worth going out of your way.

Reviewed by GW
June 2012

 

ST. VINCENT

1270 Valencia Street
(at 24th)
San Francisco

Tel: 415-285-1200


Peanuts




Calamari


She Crab--Sea Urchin, etc.


The Sirloin for Two...



St Vincent's Cannoli


Black Bottom Pie


Raj Parr correctly pegged the wine as a Borgogno Barolo!


David Lynch, Proprietor, Sommelier, etc.


Mystery Wines

A wine friend reserved a table at this newish place, "hidden" near a gas station on Valencia Street in The City.

The restaurant is the work of Italian wine guru David Lynch (formerly of Babbo, Mario Batali's famous New York restaurant) and Quince in San Francisco.

Now he's got his own little place, a little hall and kitchen which is fairly easy to access from down here on the Peninsula.

The place was fairly full when we arrived shortly before 8pm on a Tuesday night.  In fact, it was filled with a number of Bay Area wine & food luminaries!  Two tables from us was the couple which owns Oakland's marvelous Camino restaurant.  A bunch of Bi-Rite Market staffers were enjoying a nice meal.  A well-known wine buyer from the East Bay was out with friends and later in the evening a prominent celebrity sommelier and his wine director girlfriend sauntered in for a sip.

The wine list is several pages long and comes on something like a clipboard...there are some wines by the glass and they have a great policy which encourages diners to venture out into the vinous wilderness:  You can order a half a bottle of any wine on the list (apart from sparklers and Reserve bottles) for half the bottle price.  They bring glasses to the table and a small carafe, filling the decanter with essentially half the bottle.  The other half of the bottle is then offered "by the glass" to other patrons.

We ordered a couple of nibbles to start...a Pretzel ($5) with mustard and butter and a bowl of boiled peanuts seasoned with sarsaparilla and chilies ($3).
The Pretzel is a "don't miss"!  The Peanut Boil is a bit messy and these are soaking in liquid...and while they have a nice flavor, we wondered if they might not be even better were they not so moist and messy.  No warm, wet hand-towels are offered if you order these...I wonder if anyone has thought of this?

We had a half a bottle of Remirez Ganuza Erre Punto, a tasty blend of Malvasia and Viura.  They bring the bottle to the table, as should all restaurants, displaying it to the guests and pouring the wine.

The stemware, as one would expect of a wine-oriented restaurant, was quite good.

For a starter, I opted for Monterey Squid, peppers, lovage, fennel, spring onion with whipped bone marrow ($12)...a lovely plate, though one pepper was really spicy and hot, while the others were more mild mannered.  
My friend ordered the "She Crab," which was sea urchin, sugar snap peas, Carolina gold rice, corn and lobster chowder ($14) and thoroughly delicious!

We had a slightly rustic little white wine from the Loire Valley, a Domaine des Huards Cour-Cheverny, a wine made from the obscure Romorantin grape.  This, we were told by Mr. Lynch, was a really tart, tight little wine -- and, it was!  Still we enjoyed its minerally, acidic character with the seafood.

There was a bit of a lull before we could order another wine and I was afraid the main plate, a Dry Aged Sirloin for two ($50), would arrive before we had a suitable red.  I noticed a Ronchi di Cialla "Ribolla Nera" on the wine list and we asked for a half bottle of that...and we produced an old bottle of 1987 Dorigo Schioppettino.  David whisked our bottle away and deftly decanted it, returning with two different sized glasses so we could more easily tell the wines apart.  

The plate of steak arrived shortly after and this was a grand affair:  Beautifully rare roasted beef with a bit of creamed spinach, mounds of nicely fresh, nutty, spicy Arugula and a twice-baked Shropshire Potato.  The Ronchi di Cialla was a classic example (Ribolla Nera is said to be a synonym for Schioppettino), with berries and a bit of pepper spice, while the Dorigo, matured in small oak, had held up nicely, showing some red fruits and wood.

We each ordered a dessert, my friend having a Marsala Cannoli while I went for Black Bottom Pie, both at $7.  We had a pour of a Vajra Barolo Chinato ($18)...

I think the bill tallied to around $150 and we were given the courtesy of no corkage fee.  Of course, with such an eclectic wine list as a main reason to dine here, only a knucklehead or lunatic would bring a bottle to open.

At this stage in the evening, the crowd was thinning out and some of the wine & food industry luminaries were still at St. Vincent.  We had fun decanting a couple of "mystery" bottles and the Super-Star Sommelier actually pegged the wine as a Borgogno Barolo (his guess was 1967 which was a great pick, though the bottle was from 1971).  We then poured a wine, cautioning everyone that there was no chance of anybody correctly identifying it.  Guesses ranged from Napa Cabernet to Argentinean Malbec for Vajra's "Kye" Freisa.  


The ambiance was nice, if a bit noisy.  Tables are a bit close together, as is typical in so many City restaurants.  The service was good, over all and we'll definitely be revisiting St. Vincent for both the eclectic wines and interesting menu.

 

Reviewed by GW
June 2012

 

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