Subscribe to our mailing list

 

HOURS
Normal Hours:
Mon 9-7
Tues-Sat: 9-7:30

 

CABERNET VALUE

AMAZING ALBARIÑO

CAB DRIVER'S CARmenere

SOULFUL RED RHÔNE

SURPRISINGLY GOOD TEN BUCK MERLOT

BIGFOOT CABERNET

COOL PORTUGUESE WHITE WINE

2007 VINTAGE CHAMPAGNE 

CIRO' BIANCO!

GOOD RIESLING KNOWS NO BOUNDARIES

CHAMPAGNE DE
MERFY

A FIESTA OF A TEMPRANILLO

OBSCURE ITALIAN RED

CIÙ CIÙ
PECORINO

COOL VERDEJO

FLASHY RED BORDEAUX

NEW STONY SANCERRE

MAN, OH MAN, WHAT A WINE!

ELEVEN BUCK
AMADOR ZIN

HARD-TO-BELIEVE PASO ROBLES CABERNET

STYLISH WASHINGTON MERLOT

SLEEPER of A CHARDONNAY

SUSSUDIO ???

FLORAL ALBARIÑO

SARDINIAN WHITE

NEW SONOMA RHONE-ISTE OF NOTE

REMARKABLE PINOT

LAKE COUNTY ZIN

STELLAR NEW ARTISAN RIOJA

NICE LITTLE PINOT $9.99

STONY RIESLING

DRY MUSCAT
FROM AOSTA

FORAGING FOR PINOT NOIR

MARSELAN...A HYBRID OF CABERNET & GRENACHE

BEST BUYS
Good Wines for $5-$15

CASTELÃO BARGAIN

STELLAR BLAUFRÄNKISCH ESTATE

CAMPANIAN DELIGHTS

COLORFUL ZIN

DOURO DYNAMITE

PORTUGUESE RED BARGAIN

GRAND SYRAH FROM AN UNUSUAL PLACE

WHITE BURGUNDIES OF NOTE

MARSANNE BARGAIN

CHERRYISH TUSCAN RED SALE $12.99

PROSECCO FOR ADULTS

BILLIONAIRE'S WINES UNDER $30!

BARGAIN WHITE BORDEAUX

PIERCINGLY GOOD
WHITE

TOP OF THE LINE
CREMANT

ANOTHER RULLY GOOD WHITE

RESERVE QUALITY RIOJA

BARBERA OF NOTE

SUPER VERONESE SALE $12.99

PIEMONTE'S GRAND VIN BIANCO?

DELICIOUS, FRESH ROSÉS

GREAT GRUNER VELTLINER

GOOD ELEVEN-BUCK CHIANTI

FLOWERY, CURIOUS RED

OLD FAVORITE KIWI SAUVIGNON IS BACK

OLD PATCH RED
ZIN BLEND

MONCUIT'S GRAND CRU CHAMPAGNE

HONEYED MUSCAT

SPICY 
GEWÜRZTRAMINER

Napa Valley Grape Info
2002

2010

Amazing FRENCH CIDERS

FIZZY LAMBRUSCO

 

 

HOME PAGE

AMERICAN WINES

CALIFORNIA PINOT NOIRS

RHONE WANNABEES

ZINFANDELS

SAUVIGNON BLANCS

MERLOTS

OREGON WINES

CALIFORNIA CHARDONNAYS

CALIFORNIA CABERNETS

RIESLING & GEWURZ

WASHINGTON STATE

CANADIAN WINES

Adventuresome  Wines

ROSÉS !!

FRENCH WINES
ALSACE
BEAUJOLAIS
RED BORDEAUX
WHITE BORDEAUX
RED BURGUNDY
WHITE BURGUNDY
RHÔNE VALLEY
THE FRENCH ALPS
SOUTH OF FRANCE

LOIRE


CHAMPAGNE

 

ITALIAN WINES
PIEMONTE

VALLE D'AOSTA

NORTHERN ITALY

CENTRAL ITALIA

TUSCANY

SOUTHERN ITALIA


SPANISH WINES
Spanish Sherry
& Other Delights


PORTUGUESE WINES

SWISS WINES

GERMAN WINES

AUSTRIAN WINES

ARGENTINA

CHILE

AUSTRALIA

NEW ZEALAND

SOUTH AFRICA

OBSCURE WINES

DESSERT WINES

CHAMPAGNES

HALF-BOTTLES

SPIRITS

CIDERS

BEER
Even Real "Bud"!

OTHER STUFF

WINE TASTING

WHAT'S OPEN


UPCOMING TASTINGS

TASTING RESULTS
  
NEWSLETTER

SHIPPING INFO

ETC.

 

TASTING REPORTS

HOW TO ORGANIZE A BLIND-TASTING

BLIND TASTING ARCHIVE

MY 2013 EURO WINE ADVENTURE BOOK

CHATEAU MONTELENA
VERTICAL


ALBA WINES EXHIBITION 2007

ALBA WINES EXHIBITION 2008

SCHRAMSBERG vs THE FAMOUS FRENCH

German Wine "Master Class" Tasting

S & M FOR WINETASTING GEEKS

TEAR-WAH
TASTING

2016 SF
INTERNATIONAL
WINE COMPETITON

2015 SF INTERNATIONAL WINE COMPETITION

2014 SF INTERNATIONAL WINE COMPETITION

2013 SF INTERNATIONAL WINE COMPETITION

2012 SF INTERNATIONAL WINE COMPETITION

2011 SF INTERNATIONAL WINE COMPETITION

2010 SF INTERNATIONAL WINE COMPETITION

2009 SF INTERNATIONAL WINE COMPETITION

2008 SF INTERNATIONAL WINE COMPETITION
Periodically Amazing

2007 SF INTERNATIONAL WINE COMPETITION
The Nose Knows!

2006 SF INTERNATIONAL  WINE COMPETITION.
SPIT HAPPENS

2005 SF INTERNATIONAL WINE COMPETITION.

2004 SF WINE COMPETITION TASTING

The 2003 SF WINE COMPETITION

2002 SF WINE COMPETITION TASTING 

A Vertical Tasting of Nalle Zinfandels

 

 

ETC.

RANTINGS & RAVINGS

WINE ROADS of EUROPE

Food/Wine/Friends
A Photo Gallery

MASTER OF WINE ESSAY TOPICS

Old Bottles: A TASTE OF HISTORY

Bob's Venetian Diary

Bob's Paris Notes Updated Spring 2007

Wine Writer's Confession

NEW "CULT" WINERY

Some Restaurant Reviews

HOW TO SELL WINE.
Info For Brokers and
Wine Distributors.

HOW TO HOLD A TRADE TASTING

$100,000 WORTH OF WINE MARKETING ADVICE:  FREE!
Mainly for Foreign Vintners

MOLDY CORKS

Study Reveals Experts Taste More Than What's In the Glass!

OKANAGAN VALLEY WINE TOUR-2010

BRIAN'S 2005 SUMMER VACATION WITH UNCLE

Gerald's Tour de France 2006

GERALD'S TOUR DE FRANCE 2008

A TOUR OF PORTUGAL-2009

HOW TO SPEAK BETTER ITALIAN

PONZI'S 40th
ANNIVERSARY

ROOSEVELT'S 2005 CHILI COOK-OFF

ROOSEVELT'S 2007 CHILI COOK-OFF

Grape Goddess

Ross Bruce Birthday

ALESSIA DALL'U

CCIV

FAQs

BURLINGAME

Links

Restaurant Reviews  Page 2

THESE ARE OLD REVIEWS...
PLEASE CHECK TO SEE IF THE RESTAURANT IS STILL IN BUSINESS...

 

HILLSTONE

1800 Montgomery Street
San Francisco

Tel: 415-392-9280

Open Daily  11am-10pm

 

 

We knew very little about this place before reserving a table one Sunday evening after a movie at the Embarcadero.  Hillstone occupies a site along the Embarcadero near Pier 29.

We found parking a block away and found the bar and dining room to be buzzing at 6:45.

We were escorted to a table and the host presented a wine list and menu.  The wine list is nicely done with numerous by-the-glass offerings and bottle selections.
Even more amazing is the prices are inviting for the consumer, the bottles not having ransom demands as dollar figures.

There's a Col Vetoraz Prosecco ($9) and Nicolas Feuillatte ($12) for bubbly pours, with a number of Chardonnays, Sauvignon Blancs and "More Whites" (Pinot Gris, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Blanc, Riesling and a Rose) on the list.  Four Cabernets are offered by-the-glass, along with three Pinot Noirs, along with a Sangiovese, Syrah, two Zins, two Merlots and a Malbec.

The wines are well-chosen, too, with plenty to chose from in terms of matching the menu.  They have Allen Brothers meats, so ordering a steak became a priority as we perused the menu and wine list.

I was surprised to see Jayson Chardonnay from Pahlmeyer for a mere $48 a bottle (this retails for about $48, so you'd expect to see it on a list for $70-$90).  Grgich Hills Fume Blanc is $48, while Trefethen Chardonnay is a mere $38.

Zinfandels from Gamba ($44 for a wine which retails for $35) and D-Cubed is $54 for a wine retailing for $26.  Go figure.  Cabernets include Neal Family at $52 (retail is $45), while Silver Oak's Alexander Valley is $96 and Caymus is $120.  Native 9 Pinot Noir is $84 and Etude's goes for $66.  
Corkage is quite modest...in fact, for a table of two, they waive the corkage fee on a single bottle.

Dining with The Old Bat, we ordered two different Sauvignon Blancs, a Lola Kay from Napa ($9) and Clendenen from Santa Ynez ($10).  A few minutes passed and a server brought two anonymous glasses without announcing which was which.  I asked, as they're not labeled and the server correctly identified each.

Stemware is large and a bit industrial/heavy duty.

They had a few 'specials' in addition to the regular menu.  A Rib-Eye is prepared with a Hawaiian marinade featuring soy and pineapple, but they also offered a "Rutherford Rib-Eye" ($34) with possibly a more savory sauce with Worcestershire as a main component. The other enticement was the notion of it being "grilled over hardwood."

We started with a Caesar Salad, a butcher's version with very small pieces of machine-cut Romaine Lettuce.  There was a nice amount of garlic in the dressing, but it didn't seem like fresh, pungent garlic.  I didn't detect much in the way of anchovies.

We produced an older vintage of a Margaux which surfaced at one of the distributors recently and the young server grabbed the bottle and tilted it to horizontal before opening it...of course, it could have disturbed the sediment in doing this.  He opened the bottle and immediately poured it, not allowing us to have a sniff to see if the wine was in good, serviceable condition.  Luckily the wine was alright, if unexceptional.

The steak arrived and it looked good.  The 'sauce' was, for my taste, a bit sweet (a trend in many restaurants, catering, apparently, to kids who've grown up with sweet fast food).  I can't say I detected much evidence of it having been grilled over a wood fire, though.  The accompanying frites were okay, if a bit bland, as was the steak (apart from its sweet sauce).

The service, overall, was friendly and pleasant and, given that the crew at this place are all of an age where they'd be asked for their ID if trying to buy a beer at a bar, competent.

We skipped dessert, as we seem to do usually, and the bill was in the neighborhood of $120 with the tax and health surcharge.

If you're in the vicinity of this place, it's not a bad dining option so something "safe," but it's not much of a destination for out-of-towners.

Reviewed by GW
June 2012
  

 

VINO SANTO BISTRO

2030 Broadway
Redwood City

Tel: 650-780-0793

Lunch:  Mon-Friday 11-2:30

Dinner:  Daily 5-9
(Fri & Sat until 10)

 

 

 


Antipasti Misti

 

 

 


Standard Issue Wine Glasses

 


Good Braised Short-Ribs

 

 


Prawns.

As we're often seeing a film on  a Sunday afternoon, we wanted to check out a new (to us, anyway) dining spot.  We strolled from Redwood City's movie complex down Broadway a block and a half to this simple Italian-esque restaurant.

It's a small dining room with seating for perhaps 40, or so.  At 6:30, or so, we easily found a table and the young fellow in the role of "the waiter" brought both menus and a wine list as we were seated.

If you're looking for a good bubbly in a "by the glass" format, you'll have to be content with a quarter-bottle of a really cheap Prosecco.  Other bubblies include a Nino Franco Prosecco ($35), a Mumm Napa at $40 which is a bit sweet or a Moet Brut Imperial for $65.  So, sparkling wine is out of the question at this place.

Of the 13 white wines on the wine list, 8 are available by the glass.  Santa Rita's Chilean Sauvignon Blanc is $7 for a pour or $27 for a bottle.  A Matua Valley Sauvignon from New Zealand is $8 by the glass and $30 by the bottle.  Groth Sauvignon Blanc from Napa is $38 by the bottle.
Other white wines offered include Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio ($42),  Chateau St Jean Chardonnay ($32), Flowers Chardonnay ($60) and Qupe's Bien Nacido Cuvee ($9 by the glass and $32 for a bottle).

Red wine choices are slightly more interesting, but for the most part, you won't find much that's undiscovered, unless you're unfamiliar with Cabernets from Sterling, Souverain, Groth, Silverado, Jordan and Pine Ridge.  A Ridge Three Valleys Zinfandel ($48) makes for a good pairing with the food and it's about the most interesting wine on the list apart from a $75 bottle of Pinot Noir from Archery Summit.
Italian wines are rather mundane and feature Chianti  from Banfi, Ruffino and Rocca delle Macie.  A Barolo from Damilano will set you back $84, while a Brunello from Fornacina is $88.  
Someone actually takes "credit" for this list of wines you'd expect to find in a Safeway store, with the name of the "wine director" being noted at the bottom of the list.

The corkage fee is $15.

We started with a glass of the Qupe blended white wine at $9 a pour.    I don't drink this every day and thought there was something slightly "off" in the wine we had...either a bit of corkiness or perhaps the bottle had been opened too long.

We put a bottle of an Italian red on the table, a wine I'd purchased as a sample bottle in hopes of discovering something price-worthy and interesting.  The young fellow brought two clunky, old-time Libbey wine glasses to the table.  We knew they were clean, since the stems were still hot having just come out of the washer.  Oops.

The server brought a small bread basket to the table and this had some nice, warm, soft ciabatta-styled bread.  This is accompanied by a small bowl of that misguided "vinegar dip" so many places pair with bread instead of butter or a some condiment which won't kill the aperitif wine you've chosen.

The Old Bat wanted to check out their Antipasti Sampler plate ($12 for two, $16 for 4).  This featured some nice Bruschetta, some Mozzarella Cheese, a very ordinary Prosciutto, two little slices of a grilled sausage, some grilled zucchini, a bit of cucumber and some bland, lightly rubbery Fried Calamari.  It was more visually appealing than it was flavorful, but these things happen.

I had a bottle of Barbera in my bag and we opted to pay the $15 corkage fee.

Stemware, as noted above, is standard issue, not exactly fine Riedel crystal.  

For a main plate, I chose their Braised Short Ribs which was on a small "specials" menu for the day.  I think these were around $23-$25 and it was a lovely plate, actually.  The accompanying vegetables, carrots, asparagus and potatoes were all fresh and quite "al dente."

The Old Bat selected a Prawn main plate ($18-$20, I think) and she was delighted by the generous serving and fresh sides.

We skipped dessert, as we often do.  The total, with a 15-20% tip, tallied to around $110.

This was a nice little place and we'll certainly head back after a Sunday movie in the future.

Reviewed by
GW
June 2012

 

 


TOWN HALL

342 Howard Street
San Francisco

Tel: 415-908-3900

Lunch M-F 11:30-2:30
Dinner Daily from 5:30


Shrimps in Worcestershire Sauce



Tuna Tartare

 


Fried Chicken


St. Louis-styled Smoked Ribs


Fried Okra


Jalapeno Cornbread

 

 

 

A friend from Europe was flying into SFO in mid-March and so we booked a table at Town Hall in San Francisco in order to have some "American" food for her.

Located near the Transbay Terminal transit complex, happily there was a valet parking attendant ($15) to deal with the headache of where to leave the car.  On a weekday, the entrance was packed with people hanging out around the bar, but there was seating in the dining area and we were immediately escorted to our reserved table.

Wine glasses are part of the table setting and the hostess brought a copy of the wine list along with the menus.

Our server came by and took an aperitif order, with our non-wine-drinking guest opting for a gin and ginger beer cocktail while I opted for a flute of Richard Grant Brut Rose ($13).
Other by-the-glass bubblies were Vitteaut-Alberti's Cremant de Bourgogne ($15) and Laurent Perrier's Brut Champagne ($17).
Eight white wines are offered by the glass, from a $9 Portuguese wine to Daulny Sancerre ($14) and Mount Eden's Saratoga Cuvee Chardonnay ($16).  

There are nine reds, Bishop's Peak Pinot Noir at the top of the list.  It's listed though as "Talley, Pinot Noir, Central Coast, Bishop's Peak 2010" which might give some the impression this comes from Talley's own vineyards or a single vineyard site.  In fact, Bishop's Peak is a second label and is made of purchased fruit and some varieties have Talley's own grapes in them.  
The red selections are, from my perspective, less inspiring overall.

You'll be amused to find the misspelling of Gewurztraminer on the list (twice!):  Gerwurztraminer is the Town Hall version.
Semillon, too, is misspelled (Semillion).  And they pay a wine specialist for this!

The white wines number about 40 different selections and you'll need to drop $40-$80 for most, with a few higher-ticket bottles (Raveneau's Mont Mains Chablis is $150).

There are perhaps 70+ red selections.  The by-the-glass selection of Pinot Noir is listed on the bottle menu, but it's slightly more correctly noted as "Bishop's Peak, Talley Vineyards, Central Coast 2010 $48."  The wine wholesales for $12-$13.33 so that mark-up is rather ambitious.  Quivira Zinfandel costs about the same at wholesale and is also on the list for $48.  The mark-up seems to be close to 4 times on the more modestly-priced wines and a bit lower on more expensive bottles.  A bottle costing $100 has a mark-up of a tad short of 300%, for example.

The wine list seemed a bit heavy in terms of Cabernet-based wines, given that the menu had but one steak, a pork chop and the ribs...and even some of these, along with their accompaniments, aren't ideally suited to Cabernet.  Perhaps, though, the young hipsters dining at Town Hall simply demand these.

The corkage fee is $20 per bottle with a two bottle maximum.


My guest started with BBQ Shrimp with Worcestershire Sauce and Garlic Toast at $15.  This was a remarkable plate and she thoroughly enjoyed it.  My starter was a spicy rendition of Tuna Tartare with Cornmeal Fried Green Tomatoes ($15).  The heat from the spice rendered the Brut Rose fairly neutral, but the food was good.

As my guest was not much into wine, she ordered a Ginger Beer and I had a glass of Sancerre ($14).
The stemware is nice and elegant, by the way.

For a main plate, our out-of-towner chose the St. Louis Ribs ($24) and I had the Buttermilk Fried Chicken ($24).  We also had a side order of Fried Okra ($5 and delicious) as well as the Jalapeno Cornbread ($6).
The ribs were beautifully meaty and moderately smoky, an absolute work of culinary art!  The Fried Chicken was excellent, too, not at all greasy and accompanied by mashed potatoes and gravy along with some (Collard?) greens with some smoky bacon, I think.


We were both too full to consider dessert, though we were certainly tempted.

With the 4% Health Surcharge and sales tax, the bill tallied to $148 before the tip.

We thoroughly enjoyed this place and look forward to a return visit...it's worth the trip!

Reviewed by GW
March 2012

 

RED TAVERN


2229 Clement Street
San Francisco

Tel: 415-750-9090

Open Daily 12-11
(or until the last guest departs)

 

 


Zucchini Pancakes and Smoked Salmon


Bulgarian Salad

 


Stuffed Cabbage

 


Bigus...Cabbage & (Where's The) Bratwurst

 

We had seen their interesting and inviting menu on line and so we booked a table at this somewhat new restaurant on Clement near 23rd.

We arrived at 7pm on a Sunday night...there was a table of two dozen party revelers, ranging in age from 7 or 8 to perhaps 80.  

There were wine glasses on the table and the host/server gave us each a menu and set a wine list on the table.
Then he came back with a water pitcher and filled the wine glasses with a fresh vintage of Hetch Hetchy.

The wine list is clearly not important to whomever runs this restaurant.  There are three wines by the glass, all $6 and all Stone Cellars labeled by Beringer.  Though the appellation is "California," these are shown as "Napa" on the wine list.  $18 by the bottle.

The list offers other illustrious brands such as Chateau St. Jean Cabernet ($29), Mondavi's Private Selection Cabernet ($26) and Ravenswood's Shiraz ($23).  There's a Mezzacorona Pinot Grigio ($21) and Jacob's Creek Chardonnay ($23).  In other words, the wine list is poor.

A husband and wife brought their teenage son to dine along with a bottle of Kistler Pinot Noir!  That was impressive.  Another young couple had opted for one of the two red wines from the Republic of Georgia (both $24 and both sweet wines!).

The menu features Russian/Bulgarian/Romanian sorts of specialties.  Borsch, a vegetarian barley soup and two meat soups are offered.  They have a range of salads, from a Russian Egg Salad to Cucumber to Cabbage...the Old Bat ordered a Bulgarian Salad, featuring Cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers and Feta Cheese ($6.75).
"Dough Courses" include a couple of Pelmeni preparations and several pierogies.

I was intrigued by the Zucchini Pancakes with Salmon Tartar ($8.95).

Meanwhile, not finding a half-way decent white to order, we simply placed a bottle of red Bordeaux on the table and our server brought two 12 or 14 ounce Libbey stems to the table, opened the bottle and immediately poured the wine without offering the perfunctory "say."
Fortunately, the wine was in top condition (a 2007 Montrose).

A small basket of breads was placed on the table, featuring two dark breads and some sourdough.

The Bulgarian Salad was enjoyed by The Old Bat.  My Zucchini pancakes, though, were less-than-stellar.  The concept is good, but these were made well before we ordered them and they'd been reheated to barely tepid.  The salmon was somewhat of a mash of trimmings of smoked salmon and of standard quality.  The pancakes were soft and mushy and not a crisp contrast to the baby-food-like salmon.  

The server, in collecting the empty plate of this appetizer, took the used knife & fork and set them back on the tablecloth.  He also must have figured we'd had enough bread, as he snagged the little bread plate, too.

The main courses soon arrived and at this point someone cranked up the sound system, blaring Michael Buble singing some sort of Sinatra tune.

The Old Bat commented that she could have made a better rendition of Stuffed Cabbage and she shared a taste with me.  It was very bland and needed some seasoning.  Even salt & pepper would have brought a bit of life to this dull dish.

I'd thought of ordering their fire-grilled lamb chops ($23.50), but figured I ought to try something more typical.  So I went with a dish called "Bigus" ($13.95), described as "Sour Cabbage, fresh cabbage and Bratwurst."  A small oval-shaped black cocotte was brought on a plate and this looked promising.  I opened it, finding it had not been blasted in the oven and it was merely warm, not piping hot.
I could not distinguish between the so-called "sour cabbage" and fresh.  The cabbage was enhanced with some tomato sauce and if there was the equivalent of half a bratwurst sausage in there, I'd be surprised. 
This was most unsatisfying, frankly, and I thought I'd been served, basically, "leftovers."
The menu indicates a choice of five "main course side dishes," including Kasha, Tavern Potatoes and such.  Our server did not ask us to make a selection and so none of these accompaniments were served to us.

We noticed many of the other tables had ordered the fire-grilled lamb, so perhaps we simply ordered poorly.

We asked for the bill and departed, a little bit hungry and sad that this place was so disappointing.

Its lack of decent wines, as it often is, indicates a lack of competency in the kitchen.

We don't intend to return.

Reviewed by GW
February 2012
 

 

 

CAMINO


3917 Grand Avenue
Oakland

Tel:  510-547-5035

Dinner Daily 
Except Tuesdays
5:30-10

Brunch Weekends 10-2

 


Bitter Salad fixings with Anchovies and Smashed Croutons...

 


Oysters

 


A salad of Citrus fruits such as Cara Cara Oranges...

 


Crab...nice stemware, too.

 


A look towards the front of the place, down the community table...

 


The Kitchen crew by the hearth...


Pork, More Pork, grilled fennel and a potato gratin...very fine!

 


Sardines and Kabocha Squash

 

 

 

I'd heard good things about this East Bay restaurant, but was not really interested in sitting at a "community table."

A recent article in The Art of Eating was encouraging, though, so we reserved a spot on a Thursday night in January.  The article focused not only on their ever-changing menu, but on the hearth/fire place cooking that's a big specialty.

I don't recall wine glasses being a part of the table setting and the wine list is quite limited, but then, so is the menu.

There are three bubblies, but only one available "by the glass."  A bottle of Benoit Lahaye Champagne is, though, fairly well-priced at $88 a bottle.

There are perhaps ten white wines and we opted for a glass of Bru-Bache Jurancon Sec ($9) and one of Engel's Pinot Blanc from Alsace ($8).  The Engel, by the way, retails in our shop for $11.99 and it's on the list for $32 a bottle.

Other interesting selections include a Fie Gris ($48) from a small producer in northern Burgundy, a Nikolaihof Gruner Veltliner ($65) or a Trousseau Gris from Sonoma for $36 a bottle.

Reds encompass about a dozen choices and the list posted on the Camino website offers wines from good producers such as Allemand's Cornas ($150),  Forardori's Teroldego ($13 a glass or $52 for a bottle), a Lioco Carignane Blend for $10 a pour or $40 a bottle and a little Bordeaux Supérieur for $9 a glass or $36 per bottle.

Corkage is $20 and I had a couple of bottles in my bag, not quite sure what we'd be ordering.

As I was dining with an adventuresome and hungry young lady, we made our way through the menu, sampling a nice range of dishes.

We sat at the kitchen end of the community table, by the way, and I will say they don't cram place-settings so closely together that you're on top of other dinner guests.  In fact, there was more space for use than in many cramped, noisy, upscale places in San Francisco.

Starters cost $10-$18...We began with a nice salad of Radicchio and other bitter leafy things with some anchovies and smashed croutons...nicely dressed, too!
We then had Wood Oven Baked Oysters with some fennel/anise and a little, fluffy salad of sorts...quite good!
A Cara Cara Orange salad had some other citrus fruits in it...also quite good and wine-friendly, which we appreciated.

We couldn't resist the wood-oven roasted half crab and this was a delight at $15, or so.  Nicely done, too and very fresh.

I brought out a bottle of Domaine de Chevalier's 2008 white wine and this was maybe even a bit too big for the delicate crab.  Still, we dealt with this minor adversity!

We each ordered a main plate...I opted for a dish featuring grilled pork leg and, I think, pork belly.  Nice plate, too...fennel and a potato gratin accompaniment.

My friend ordered their grilled sardine entree and was delighted...this came with a beautifully cooked Kabocha Squash, too.

The server took care of opening our bottle of nicely aged Rioja and the meal proceeded along beautifully.  The food was well-seasoned and portions were ample.

We meandered along nicely and even had room for dessert, ordering two of them to split...

We had a fresh fresh tart with cream and a meringue and fruit dessert.

The dessert wine offerings "by the glass" are limited to a sweet Riesling from Oregon or a Pedro Ximenez for $10 and $7 respectively.  There is a Moscato d'Asti from Vajra, but you can only get that by the bottle for $37.

All in all, we had a wonderful dining experience here.  The service was good, the food was very good and the ambience was pleasant and afforded good dinner conversation in a comfortable environment.

The bill tallied to around $160 with tax and before the tip.

We'll definitely come back to Camino for another meal.

Reviewed by GW
January 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SCRATCH

401 Castro Street
Mountain View

Tel: 650-237-3131

Open Mon-Fri 11:30-10
Sat/Sun 4-10

 


Shrimp Cocktail


Oysters

 

 


Brined Pork Chop

 


Duck

 


Chocolate "cake" and a nice ice cream

I'd been itching to get to this somewhat new Mountain View dining establishment.  It's a large, modern restaurant on a corner of Castro Street, several blocks east of El Camino.

Too bad the sign is not visible to those driving east-bound!

We found parking about a block away on a Sunday night and ambled in to a relatively sparsely populated restaurant.

No wine glasses are on the table, but the teenage hostess did bring a wine list and menu.  The wine list has no "wines by the glass."  It turns out these are listed on the reverse side of the menu.

The wine list is a large one page card, featuring all sorts of nice wines.  The selection is a bit eclectic and features a wide array of West Coast wines, so don't be searching for a Sancerre or Barolo in this place.

You'll find lots of cool American wines, though.  Zocker Gruner Veltliner from the Edna Valley area is $48 on the wine list, but retails for $20.  Hanna Sauvignon Blanc from Sonoma, is typically $18-$20 retail and it's $52 on the wine list.
Failla Pinot Noir, a $36 bottle in the shop, is ambitiously priced at $95.  A $10 retail bottle of Pellegrini's Family Blend is $35 on this list.
There are many wines for the West Coast wine geek:  Turley, Corison, Paul Hobbs, Ojai, Outpost, Woodward Canyon and Ken Wright adorn this high-priced list.

We ordered a glass of two different white wines. 
These, though, arrived after our appetizers, a bit of an error on someone's part.
 Foxen's Chenin Blanc is $8, while Richard Sanford's Alma Rosa Pinot Blanc is $10.  These came "poured" as is the fashion at most restaurants.
The Foxen was perfectly sound, though I thought the Alma Rosa tasted a bit tired and old.

We put a bottle of red wine on the table and the server, not much of a wine aficionado, brought some larger format stems and these were of good quality.  He opened the bottle with skill, but didn't quite have a handle on pouring the 'say' or as to how much wine to pour.

The menu features some offerings from their "raw bar."  I began with a half a dozen oysters ($12) and The Old Bat had their "Shrimp Cocktail" ($10).
The oysters come on a beautiful platter filled with ice and they were well-shucked and accompanied by a couple of sauces.  Too bad these were not really "fresh."  They lacked the briny 'snap' of pristinely fresh oysters and they were a bit soft and mushy, having the consistency of room temperature butter.
The Old Bat's Shrimp were beautifully-presented and the accompanying sauce was good but, again, they were not perfectly succulent, sweet shrimp.

The Old Bat ordered the cider brined Pork Chop.  This was really good and beautifully cooked.  I had the Maple Glazed Duck Breast and this was a bit bland and mildly gamey.  It came on a bed of a rice mixture.

Since they claim to cook "from scratch," the server touted a Chocolate Cake and it was really good, so we were glad to have actually ordered a dessert.

We did hear some old rock & roll tunes, but these seemed to be on a speaker closer to the kitchen and the selections seemed to be for the amusement of the kitchen crew than for those dining in the restaurant.

I can see this place would be a delight if you're there on a night when the food is fresher.  I'd probably consider a return visit and I'd certainly bring my own wine and pay the $15 or $20 corkage fee, given the somewhat unfriendly prices on their wine list.

I think we were out of there for around $120-$130.

Reviewed by GW
November 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SCRATCH

401 Castro Street
Mountain View

Tel: 650-237-3131

Open Mon-Fri 11:30-10
Sat/Sun 4-10

 


Shrimp Cocktail


Oysters

 

 


Brined Pork Chop

 


Duck

 


Chocolate "cake" and a nice ice cream

I'd been itching to get to this somewhat new Mountain View dining establishment.  It's a large, modern restaurant on a corner of Castro Street, several blocks east of El Camino.

Too bad the sign is not visible to those driving east-bound!

We found parking about a block away on a Sunday night and ambled in to a relatively sparsely populated restaurant.

No wine glasses are on the table, but the teenage hostess did bring a wine list and menu.  The wine list has no "wines by the glass."  It turns out these are listed on the reverse side of the menu.

The wine list is a large one page card, featuring all sorts of nice wines.  The selection is a bit eclectic and features a wide array of West Coast wines, so don't be searching for a Sancerre or Barolo in this place.

You'll find lots of cool American wines, though.  Zocker Gruner Veltliner from the Edna Valley area is $48 on the wine list, but retails for $20.  Hanna Sauvignon Blanc from Sonoma, is typically $18-$20 retail and it's $52 on the wine list.
Failla Pinot Noir, a $36 bottle in the shop, is ambitiously priced at $95.  A $10 retail bottle of Pellegrini's Family Blend is $35 on this list.
There are many wines for the West Coast wine geek:  Turley, Corison, Paul Hobbs, Ojai, Outpost, Woodward Canyon and Ken Wright adorn this high-priced list.

We ordered a glass of two different white wines. 
These, though, arrived after our appetizers, a bit of an error on someone's part.
 Foxen's Chenin Blanc is $8, while Richard Sanford's Alma Rosa Pinot Blanc is $10.  These came "poured" as is the fashion at most restaurants.
The Foxen was perfectly sound, though I thought the Alma Rosa tasted a bit tired and old.

We put a bottle of red wine on the table and the server, not much of a wine aficionado, brought some larger format stems and these were of good quality.  He opened the bottle with skill, but didn't quite have a handle on pouring the 'say' or as to how much wine to pour.

The menu features some offerings from their "raw bar."  I began with a half a dozen oysters ($12) and The Old Bat had their "Shrimp Cocktail" ($10).
The oysters come on a beautiful platter filled with ice and they were well-shucked and accompanied by a couple of sauces.  Too bad these were not really "fresh."  They lacked the briny 'snap' of pristinely fresh oysters and they were a bit soft and mushy, having the consistency of room temperature butter.
The Old Bat's Shrimp were beautifully-presented and the accompanying sauce was good but, again, they were not perfectly succulent, sweet shrimp.

The Old Bat ordered the cider brined Pork Chop.  This was really good and beautifully cooked.  I had the Maple Glazed Duck Breast and this was a bit bland and mildly gamey.  It came on a bed of a rice mixture.

Since they claim to cook "from scratch," the server touted a Chocolate Cake and it was really good, so we were glad to have actually ordered a dessert.

We did hear some old rock & roll tunes, but these seemed to be on a speaker closer to the kitchen and the selections seemed to be for the amusement of the kitchen crew than for those dining in the restaurant.

I can see this place would be a delight if you're there on a night when the food is fresher.  I'd probably consider a return visit and I'd certainly bring my own wine and pay the $15 or $20 corkage fee, given the somewhat unfriendly prices on their wine list.

I think we were out of there for around $120-$130.

Reviewed by GW
November 2011

 

 

KINGFISH

201 South B Street
San Mateo

Tel: 650-343-1226

Open Daily 11am-11pm

 


Clams with bacon and plenty of chili flakes...


Clam Chowder

 

 

 

 


Steak Tartare

 

 


Fried Chicken with mashed potatoes and corn

I had not been to this San Mateo mainstay in years, having seen a wine list, some years ago, where $10 wholesale bottles had been priced at $50.

We ambled in on a Sunday evening and found the place to be moderately busy around 7pm.

A wine list and menu was presented as we were escorted to our table.  The server asked if we wanted a cocktail and we opted for a couple of pours of a nice, simple Entre-Deux-Mers from Chateau Bonnet ($7). The list, though, is dominated by selections from a big liquor distributor and so you'll find a lot of "popular", big brands on the list.  Still, there are some good, small names, as they feature the expensive bottlings of local area resident Randy Lewis:  A $74 Sauvignon Blanc, a $96 Napa Chardonnay or a $170 bottle of Napa Cabernet.

There are some "Sommeliers Selections" featuring a Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Champagne ($62) which says to a Champagne aficionado the sommelier isn't terribly fussy about Champagne.
The description of the Josmeyer "Le Dragon" Riesling ($75) is perplexing, noting:
"An ideal paring with our famous tuna tartar, M-80 roll and BBQ muscles yet complex enough to carry through to your main course. A true house favorite!"
The Sommelier also suggests a French Rose for $140 per bottle, a wine for both the foolish and the well-to-do.

The wine list is lengthy and there are plenty of opportunities to spend a buck:  Marcassin 2001 Pinot Noir ($305), 1991 DRC La Tache is $1100, while a 1990 Chateau Latour is $900.  Antinori's "Santa Cristina" label of Chianti, wholesaling at ten bucks, is priced at $40.

Corkage is $20.

The Old Bat ordered Clam Chowder ($9) which allows her to recall her youth in New England where they think they know all there is to know about chowder.  I had the Steamed Clams ($14) which were good, if a bit aggressively spicy thanks to some chili flakes.  This over-powered the white wine.

We had a nice bottle of Aussie Shiraz in our bottle bag and the server was able to open this and pour it into reasonably large and appropriate stemware.

Too bad our main plates arrived before the starters had been finished and cleared off the table!

I had their Sunday night special, Fried Chicken ($19) and this featured several large pieces of chicken with a rather heavy 'coating'.  I'm sure some people would be happy with this dish, but it wasn't exactly elegant (no that fried chicken should or would be 'elegant').

The Old Bat had to order their Steak Tartare ($17), even though it's technically just an appetizer.  I found that to be a tad bit bland, though.

No dessert for us...

Overall, this is a nice neighborhood spot and it's certainly a convenient dining option if you're seeing a movie around the corner at the Cineplex.

I think our bill tallied to around $80 before the tip...

Reviewed by GW
November 2011

 

SOUTH HARBOR

425 Marina Boulevard
South San Francisco

Tel: 650-589-1641

Mon-Fri  11-9:30
Sat/Sun 5-9:30

 


Stemless Martini Glass...


Fried Calamari in a Basket...

 

 


Medallions Champignon


New York "Prime" Steak

On a Sunday afternoon after a movie, we drove to this remote little place, tucked away in a small hotel out on the bay in South San Francisco.

The place was virtually empty, save for the five people "hanging out" at the bar.  The dining room seats around 50 people and there may be a nice view of the harbor during daylight hours.

We were escorted to our bay view table and the menus and wine list were presented.  No stemware is on the table and after looking at the wine list, we understood why: the wine list is an after-thought here and it's clear nobody cares.

There are 14 selections on the list, five of them being unidentified "House" wines.    These are six bucks for a glass or $18 for a bottle.  Take your pick: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet, Merlot or Pinot Noir. 
We did see a neighboring table order a bottle of Pinot Noir and it was a Fred Franzia (he of Two Buck Chuck fame, as well as scandal) label called Salmon Creek which wholesales for well less than five bucks a bottle.
Yum.

A few wines actually have brand names: Stags Leap Merlot is $38 a bottle,  while Bell Cabernet is $65.  Freixenet's Cordon Negro is offered in 187ml format for $6.50, while there are two table wine offerings in half bottles, a Gloria Ferrer Pinot Noir and Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio (each well-priced, actually, at $13).
With no suitable options for an aperitif, The Old Bat ordered a martini and I put a bottle of a Washington State Syrah on the table.

The server brought the Martini, presented in a fancy, stemless glass which sits in a cube-shaped glass filled with dry ice (so it emits 'fog' when it's first presented).
Wine glasses are big, clunky Libbey stems and the server, rather naive as to wine service, over-filled the glass.

The menu is a mix of "bar foods" and standard "American" fare.  Under the heading of Appetizers and Small Plates you'll find Baja Fish Tacos ($10), a Five & Dime Burger ($5.10), Filet Mignon Sliders ($12) or Ron's Cannelloni ($8).  The Old Bat insisted on ordering Fried Calamari ($10) and this was the highlight of our culinary adventure.

The calamari is cut in strips, rather than into "rings."  It's presented in a frying basket, with chopped iceberg lettuce underneath.  The calamari was actually quite good, so it was a pleasant surprise given that the wine list was so pathetic.

The main courses come with either soup or salad and The Old Bat opted for soup, which came with some factory-made breadsticks.
For a couple of bucks extra, instead of their regular salad, one can upgrade to a Caesar Salad and so I did.  The lettuce was nice and fresh, but the salad dressing was simply a creamy, drippy mess with not much influence of garlic or anchovy. Croutons were "out of a box" and probably a vintage-dated box, at that.

Main plates run from $15 to $23 and include Alaskan King Salmon, Filet of Sole or Stuffed Petrale.  The Old Bat chose Medallions Champignon ($22) for her main course, while I went for the New York "Prime" Steak ($23). 

The Medaillons of Beef were pronounced as being "good" by The Old Bat.  My "medium rare" New York steak was a bit over-cooked and it did not seem to me (and I'm not an 'expert') to be of "prime" quality beef.  It's a fairly thin slab of beef, so it would be easy to over-cook.
Each plate comes with some sort of unnecessary floral adornment and the side accompaniments are some sort of glue-like mashed potatoes which congealed as the cooled off and some well-undercooked fresh vegetables. The vegetables don't have much in the way of seasoning, either.

We skipped dessert, but a neighboring table said their Banana Cream Pie was exceptional (and it is made in house, apparently).

I think the corkage fee was around $8 and the billed tallied to a bit less than $70.

The South Harbor restaurant is a lovely spot if your boat is docked nearby, but otherwise, I'd stay on the freeway and head for The City.

Reviewed by GW
November 2011

 

CHALET TICINO



1058-C SHELL BLVD.
Foster City

Tel: 650-571-0507

Lunch: 
Mon-Sat  11-3

Dinner:
Mon-Sat 5-9:30
Sun 4-9

 

 


Minestrone Soup

 


Caesar Salad...packaged croutons...where's the garlic and anchovies?

 

 

 

 

 


Pesto Prawns and Crab Cakes with a red pepper "coulie" (sic)

 

 

 


Duck breast with rice and a butternut squash puree.

We had heard a couple of Weimax customers make some encouraging remarks about this place in Foster City, so we ventured out to Charter Square on a Sunday evening after a movie...

It's a small restaurant in a strip mall a half a mile, or so, south of Hillsdale Boulevard.  The restaurant may seat 50 people and there were probably 25-30 when we arrived.

We were shown to a little table in a corner of the restaurant, well away from the front door.  No wine glasses were on the table and no wine list was presented when we sat down.

I've often said one can discern the level of quality of cuisine by looking at the wine list.

This restaurant was,  unfortunately, a good example of that notion.

The place has the theme of a Swiss-Italian restaurant, so there's a touch of German and French on the menu.

The wine list is very weak and it's clearly an after-thought, if that.   
There are ten wines on the wine list.
The white wines are pathetic selections, featuring "Tarrica" 2006 California Chardonnay for $7.50 a glass or $28 for a bottle.  Another offering listed is a 2006 "Contadino" labeled Pinot Grigio, a five-buck wine we thought was a private label of the Trader Joe's chain.  It goes for $6.50 a glass or $24 a bottle.
Red wines include a negociant blend of Merlot and Syrah from France under the "Reserve L'Aube" label...we have this in the shop for $6.99 a bottle.  It's $7.50 a glass at Ticino and $28 for a bottle.
In fact, all the red wines are the same price.  If you're enchanted by a Pinot Noir from Patriarche or an un-identified Cotes du Rhone, you'll love their wine selections.  There's also a Cabernet from the Languedoc identified as coming from Bordeaux and a "Chanti" (sic) of the Aquila D'Oro label (we understand this is a four-buck bottle from Trader Joe's).

We had a bottle of a 2008 Phelan Segur in our cellar bag and promptly set that on our table.

The older gentleman who was waiting tables is probably the owner.  He graciously opened our bottle and grabbed a couple of standard quality wine glasses for us.  He did pour "the say" and we okayed the wine.  He over-filled The Old Bat's glass and I stopped him at about the half-way point on my stem...
Luckily the fellow put the cork back in the bottle after pouring the wine as he later clumsily knocked over the bottle!

We each ordered their duck breast "special" ($21) and this comes with soup or salad.
I asked for a starter of Skewered Prawns and Crab cakes ($10.95), described as "Prawns drizzled with pesto and petit crab cakes topped with red bell pepper coulie" (sic).
We were first brought the soup and salad, though...a small serving of minestrone for The Old Bat and a little Caesar Salad for me. I didn't taste the soup, but the salad had fresh romaine lettuce and a bland dressing.

The silverware from the salad plate was set back on the table for the seafood appetizer, though.
The crab cakes had a lot of "binder" in them, probably breadcrumbs.  The prawns were swimming in a pesto sauce and were a bit tough, likely a result of over-cooking and/or having been frozen.

The main plates arrived before they'd cleared the appetizer dishes and, again, the soiled utensils were placed back on the table.

The main plate featured some sort of rice, the duck breast and a serving of a butternut squash purée.  The rice dish had some very "al dente" bits in it and was extremely salty, as though the chef salted it once and forgot it had been salted, so they hit it again for good measure.
The purée was anonymous and tasted more of butter and milk or cream than having any butternut squash flavor.
The "Port wine Reduction Sauce" was fairly bland and innocuous.


We asked for a proper knife for the duck and a fellow promptly brought out two just-washed wooden-handled steak knives which he'd neglected to dry.

This is another neighborhood hash house and fits in nicely in the desert-of-dining here in the suburbs of San Francisco.

We skipped dessert and the bill, with the friendly $8 corkage fee, tallied to $64 before the tip.

If your dingy runs aground near Shell Boulevard in the Foster City lagoons, this may be a good place to have some food, but it's not that far from The City if you're looking for some 'serious' dining.

Reviewed by GW
November 2011
 

 

BAR TARTINE

561 Valencia Street
San Francisco

Tel: 415-487-1600

Dinner Tuesday-Sat 6-10
(Fri and Sat until 11)

 


Langos


Pickles galore!


Quail Terrine


Peppers with cheese and whey.


Pork Sausage and peppers & onions


Brussels Sprouts


Gulyas with bread slathered with marrow.


Famous Tartine Bread.


Nice stemware for the Barolo!


Treviso and raddichio.


Chicken Paprika

Desserts:

Chocolate Dobos


Pumpkin Custard

 

Our friend Jonathan is a great bread baker.  He became even more "dangerous" when he started using the Tartine recipe for a killer peasant loaf.

Tartine has a bakery on Guerrero at 18th Street, but their "Bar Tartine" restaurant is on Valencia between 16th and 17th.  You can drive by and easily miss it, because there's not much signage and tables are typically reserved ahead of time, so there's no line out the door and around the block.

There is some sort of valet parking, but there's a parking structure a block east of Valencia Street, some on-street parking and a BART station two blocks away.

Our friend booked a 9pm table and this was actually available and ready for us at 9!  And the place was packed and some walk-ins were being turned away at the door.

It's a dimly-lit, rather unassuming place.  Tables are fairly close together and there's a nice buzz to the restaurant without it being too loud or too quiet.

We were handed a menu and wine list when seated.

The wine list is clearly assembled with enthusiasm.  There are two Sherries for starters by the glass, along with three sparkling wines you're probably never heard of.  There's A Brut sparkler from Hungary for ten bucks and an Italian Rosato bubbly for $11.  White wines by the glass include a $9 pour of Bornos Verdejo, Zocker Gruner Veltliner from Edna Valley ($10) or a Qba Riesling from Robert Weil ($10).  Arnot Roberts Trousseau  ($15), a Rioja from Palacio de Verano ($9), Tami Nero d'Avola ($10) and an obscure Croatian red from the Terzolo winery called Teran ($10) comprise some of the red wines by the glass.  

The wines on the bottle list are mostly in the neighborhood of $40-$80 with a handful of triple digit wines.  It's an eclectic list, touching on a Savagnin blend from the Jura's famous Jacques Puffeney ($65), an Arneis from Brovia in Piemonte ($52) or a dry Sylvaner from the famous Franken estate of Hans Wirsching ($52).  Reds include a Foxen Pinot Noir from Santa Maria ($65), a Cornalin wine from Grosjean ($52) in the Val d'Aosta or a 2001 Vina Ardanza from La Rioja Alta at $75.

There are numerous interesting beers, but don't expect Budweiser!  Allagash White is on tap for $5, but the bottle list is thoroughly intriguing, too.  There's a small brewery called Haandbryggeriet who's got a nice smoked beer at $17 for a half liter, Salopian's Porter from England for $10, Reissdorf's Kolsch ($9) or Kostrizer's Black Beer ($8).

My dinner companion was famished and she ordered a number of interesting starters.

The menu is as wonderfully eclectic as the drinks list.

We were intrigued by the various offerings under the "Pickles" category on the menu.  They're all $4 and are presented in a small glass with a spoon.  We had a couple of different renditions of cabbage, watermelon rind, cherry tomato and a small, tiny sort of gherkin.  We were surprised that these were not at all vinegary and didn't clash with the bottle of Weinbach Schlossberg Riesling we'd brought.  (It turns out they're all fermented and beautifully seasoned...no vinegar!)

To start, then, we had Langos ($10), some sort of Hungarian fried bread made of potatoes with garlic, onion and a bit of sour cream.  Wow!

Then we had a homemade terrine of quail with dark bread, an interesting mustard and some other spicy condiment whose precise identity I've forgotten.  Also really good and this partnered beautifully with the dry Riesling.

We also had a sort of red pepper stuffed with cheese, a plate of a cold pork sausage with pickled peppers and onions and a third plate of Brussels Sprouts which were sort of pan 'roasted.'

I also had an older bottle of Barolo in my cellar bag and the crew did a great job of decanting this.  The stemware, by the way, was well-chosen and ideal for both the red and white wine.   I think the corkage fee is $15, but it's not noted on the Beer & Wine List.  Oh...it's on the bottom of the menu!

For main plates, my friend ordered Chicken Paprikas ($22) and I opted for the Guylas ($25) -- that's goulash, but a wonderfully civilized version with a couple of big slices of bread slathered with bone marrow!
We were really delighted by the cuisine, though it's certainly a far cry from San Francisco "bar food" and it's not exactly "California Cuisine."

We couldn't resist ordering a couple of side dishes...a Radicchio-based dish with some sort of anchovy dressing.  And we had a bean side plate...both very good!

Desserts are made with care and though we didn't 'need' these, we couldn't resist trying a couple of items suggested by our server.
One was a Pumpkin Custard with chestnut cream and pomegranate syrup.  The other was a Chocolate Dobos Torte with Hazelnut Cream (both $7.50).
The dessert card has some sweet wines and we had a  De Bartoli Marsala ($12 and perfect with the Pumpkin dessert) while a $15 pour of Graham's 1994 Vintage Port was heavenly with the chocolate.

We began our evening at 9 and the place closed at 11.  Well, they don't accept new guests after 11.  I was shocked to see I was out way past midnight and I departed San Francisco at 1 in the morning!

I didn't see the bill (I brought the wine), but it would have tallied to somewhere in the $175-$200 neighborhood, I suspect.

We look forward to a return visit to this lovely place and it's well worth a drive (or BART ride) from the Peninsula.

Reviewed by GW
October 2011

 

CAFE TRADITION

123 West 25th Avenue
San Mateo


Tel: 650-345-2233

Lunch: Tues-Fri
Dinner: Mon-Sat

 


French Onion "Soup"


Escargot





Entrecote with Pont Neuf Potatoes

 




Confit de Canard

We'd seen some favorable buzz about this newcomer to San Mateo, so on a quiet Thursday night, we ambled in to Cafe Tradition, a "French Moroccan" place on 25th Avenue in San Mateo.

Two tables of the 20, or so, were occupied at 7:30 and we waited at the entrance before a young fellow acknowledged our presence.  We were escorted to a table for two and the menus were presented, but no wine list.
There were wine glasses at each place-setting, though.

A small drinks menu is on the table, featuring a few wines-by-the-glass.  This included Mumm Napa Brut at $9, while the Mumm Rose is $11.  Four whites, two roses and 4 reds are on this list, including an un-identified Macon ($8), Sterling Merlot ($7), Chapoutier Cotes du Rhone ($8) and a Kunde Chardonnay ($8).  We asked if they had a wine list and the young server pointed to the drinks menu.  I asked a second time if they had a wine list.
"You mean, wines by the bottle?"
He brought that list and it was only slightly more interesting than the basic drinks menu.  The Moroccan white on the by-the-glass menu is listed as a 2007 vintage, while by-the-bottle, it's a 2009.  We were curious about this wine and we offered a small taste...a very thin, watery wine supposedly made of Sauvignon Blanc.
As a result, we opted for a pour of Beaucannon's Napa Sauvignon Blanc ($8).
Reds by-the-bottle include a 2009 Clefs des Murailles "Vacqueras" (sic) at $39 (it's an $18 bottle at retail), 2007 Chante Cigale Chateauneuf-du-Pape ($63), Davis Bynum Pinot Noir ($39) and Atlas Peak Cabernet ($45).  Clearly the wine list is merely an after-thought and was orchestrated by someone who's not very wine-savvy.  The sign posted outside, however, makes reference to the place being a "wine bar."

Stemware is dishwasher-safe, being heavy Libby glasses.
The corkage fee, if you can get the kid to open your bottle, is $15.

We perused the menu, finding starters such as a Foie Gras Torchon ($16.50), Escargot ($7.75) or Marinated Goat Cheese wrapped in phyllo and served on a salad ($8.50).

The Old Bat felt obliged to order the French Onion Soup ($7.50) and I chose the Escargot (in a Puff Pastry Flambé with Cognac, served with Fresh Basil, Garlic and a Light Cream Sauce).

The Soup, if you want to call it that, was more like braised onion slices topped with Gruyere cheese.  The Escargot starter was nice, but I didn't detect any spirity flambé or basil.  There were about a half a dozen escargot and the sauce would have been nice to mop up with some bread or a dinner roll had they offered more than the one we were given when we sat down.

I had placed a bottle of red wine on the table and the young fellow walked by a few times, hardly taking notice.  He finally asked if we wanted him to open the bottle. Let's see, Sherlock:  I asked what the corkage fee was, we'd emptied our white wine glasses and there's a bottle of red on the table...what do you think?  I offered to open it if he wasn't up to the task, but he brandished a corkscrew and took care of extracting the cork.  More big, clunky glasses were brought to the table and the fellow, after pouring the 'say' and getting the 'okay,' over-filled the glasses making swirling the wine a challenge.  This is hardly a wine-lover's paradise.

The Old Bat's "Entrecote de Boeuf" ($21.75) brought a grayish slab of meat, perhaps an 8 or 10 ounce steak and some large potato wedges.  She ate only a small bit of this and brought the rest home for the dog.
My Confit de Canard Roti a la Sauge ($19.50) came with a sage sauce and fresh "vegetables du jour."  This plate featured two pieces of duck (thighs) with a small Timbale incorporating some spinach and a little gratin of Mashed Potatoes (and I mean a little gratin) topped with some sort of cheese.
There was a single sage leaf atop each piece of duck, but the sauce didn't seem to have much character, frankly.  The Timbale was very bland as was the potato side dish.

The ambience featured mostly French music with a periodic Moroccan (I suppose) tune mixed in.
Adding to the mix was someone's decision to mop the kitchen floor around 8pm (there were perhaps 12 or 15 people dining at that hour) with a hugely aromatic Pine-scented cleaner.
We asked the young server about this and he peered into the kitchen, later explaining someone outside was using this cleaner, as though it was a neighbor.  Mopping the floor with such a disinfectant during dinner service shows a total lack of respect for one's patrons.  This "fragrance" was bothersome for perhaps 20 to 30 minutes and at their busiest time during the dining service.

We skipped dessert and cut our losses.  The bill tallied to $94 before the tip, with two glasses of wine, corkage fee, two starters and two main dishes.

With so much competition in the restaurant business, we don't see much of a future for such a place if our experience was representative of "Cafe Tradition" dining.  It won't be a tradition for us...

Reviewed by GW
September 2011
 

 

CEDRO

1010 El Camino Real
Menlo Park

Tel: 650-322-3376

Lunch:  Mon-Fri

Dinner:  Daily

 

 

 


Calamari Fritti





Tagliatelle Bolognese
-we split an order, so that's a half a serving-

 


Spaghetti Polpette



Osso Buco

Tucked away behind the British Banker's Club and Kepler's Books is the Italian-themed Cedro restaurant.

We ambled in on a Sunday evening at 7 and found a handful of tables occupied and judging from the interaction with the staff, these are 'regular' customers.  A number of tables on this Sunday evening were populated by families with young children (who were nicely behaved!).

We chose to sit in the glassed-in 'outdoor' area, taking a small table for two.

The wine list was brought to the table along with the menus as we were seated.  However, wine glasses are not part of the table setting.

We perused the list, looking for a suitable aperitivo.  There's but one sparkling wine by the glass, a Fantinel Prosecco ($8).  They offer five white wines by the glass, including Hess Chardonnay ($9), Artesa Chardonnay ($10) and Kenwood Sauvignon Blanc ($8).  We selected a nice little Italian white from Librandi, a Ciro' Bianco at $9 a glass.

Viognier is misspelled, as is "Alto Adige" and under the heading of California white wines you'll find King Estate's Pinot Gris from Oregon.

There are  but 8 California red wines, with Bogle Petite Sirah from Lodi on the low end at $29 and a Rosati Cabernet from Mendocino for $54.  Under the heading of International Red Wines, you'll find a Primitivo of the Terriliogo label from Puglia for $29 to a Ca' del Vent Cellatica (this is an obscure denominazione from Lombardia where they make the Franciacorta sparkling wine) from the 2000 vintage for $120 per bottle.
The wine selections are, in my view, lackluster and the list is not the work of a wine-savvy sommelier.
For example, there's a Chianti Riserva of a negociant label (not an estate bottle wine from a particular winery in the Chianti Classico region) which wholesales for $11 a bottle...it's $54 on the wine list.  Ouch!
A Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, which wholesales for $7 or $8, costs $42 on Cedro's wine list.  These prices will prevent many patrons from ordering a bottle of wine.

The corkage fee is  $15.

Our glass of Librandi's Ciro Bianco arrived at the table...a large, heavy duty stem with a generous pour of probably close to 7 or 8 ounces...

The Old Bat insisted we begin with Fried Calamari ($13).  This was a delicious starter and a bit different from the average Fried Calamari appetizer.  It's not merely dipped in bread crumbs or panko, but there's some polenta in the mix and this gives a nice texture to the seafood.  The lightly spicy tomato dipping sauce is excellent and a good match for the Ciro Bianco.

Under the menu heading of Paste e Risotti you'll find an amazing array of offerings.  How about 28 different preparations?  Spaghetti Frutti di Mare is $29, while Penne Pesto is $18.

We split an order of Tagliatelle Bolognese ($18 plus a $2 split plate charge) and the pasta was quite good and described as homemade.  The sauce was nice, too.

With so many pasta choices, it's too bad they don't offer a smaller-sized serving at a scaled down price to encourage patrons to order a starter, pasta and main plate.  I can imagine, though, many people would simply opt for a half order of pasta and leave dinner at that...



We produced a bottle of Barolo from our cellar bag and the young hostess, who's a family member, took care of opening the bottle.  We asked for fresh wine glasses, to not mix the Ciro white with the Seghesio Barolo.
We offered the young lady a taste of the Barolo, but she never brought a glass.
Stemware for the red wine was of good quality and large sized which allowed the wine to blossom a bit with some aeration.

The Old Bat ordered Spaghetti Polpette ($19), which features Nonna's Pomodoro Sauce and some house-made meatballs.  By the time this arrived, though, she was full and only had a few bites before asking them to pack it "to go."
The menu, apart from the various meat-sauced pastas, has three seafood, three chicken and three veal dishes.  We didn't find lamb or beef on the menu, but they did have a daily special of Osso Buco.  Main plates range from $20 for Eggplant Parmigiana to $29 for the Cioppino.  The server didn't mention the $32 price tag on the Osso Buco, which was actually quite nicely prepared and fairly flavorful.  It comes on a bed of risotto which was mildly flavored.

While Cedro isn't much of a "wine lover's paradise," it does offer some good food in a pleasant ambiance.
We did notice the sound system and they were playing some rather soothing, elegant classical music.

We didn't peek at the dessert list.

The bill tallied to around $124, or so, before the tip and with the $15 corkage fee and tax.

This is a nice find, if a tad on the pricey end of the spectrum.

Reviewed by GW
August 2011

 

JACK'S

1050 Admiral Court
Suite A
San Bruno
(across from Tanforan and 5 minutes from SFO)

Tel: 650-589-2222

Open Daily
7am until 10pm
(Fri/Sat 'til 11pm)

 

 

 


An attempt at a Caesar Salad...Romaine lettuce, croutons and cheese, but lacking the influence of Garlic and Anchovies.


The Petite New York Steak with Mashed Potatoes and Fresh Vegetables.


Lamb Chops with a lemon, Oregano and Olive Oil Marinade, Spinach and Freezer Fries.

Across from the Tanforan shopping center is a huge condominium project with a few retail spaces along El Camino.  In one of those spaces is a spiffy new restaurant called Jack's.

It seems to be busy every time we drive by, so on a Thursday night in August we ambled in at 7pm, or so.

The place, which seats perhaps 120 people, was packed and humming.  There's a spacious dining room and bar as you enter and behind some glass windows there's another dining area.  The kitchen is open and on the south wall, while the bar and some TV screens are on the north side.

On entering we were greeted with a strong smell of vinegar, a bit sharp and curious.  The hostess indicated there'd be a 15 to 20 minute wait and this was fairly accurate.

We were escorted to a booth, which could accommodate 6 if needed, not far from the bar.  The place settings do not include wine glasses, though.

The menus and wine list are presented at the time you're seated.  I had a bottle in my bag, but thought we might start with a white or bubbly.

The bubbly choices included Cupcake Prosecco or a Segura Viudas Cava at $7 and $6 respectively.  Sauvignon Blancs by the glass are the "industrial" wine brands of Sterling and Kim Crawford.  Chardonnays included Vista Point ($6) which is a $5 retail bottle of wine, Acacia or Chalone second tier wines or the Kendall-Jackson label of La Crema.  Slim pickings!  We asked the server about an obscure Greek wine and he had no clue, but was able to bring a cocktail glass with a pour from the bar.  Sitia's Liatiko ($7.50), a wine which was sharp and cutting on the palate and probably a good candidate to be used as a base wine for Retsina.

While the wine list does offer numerous "grocery store" brands from the large liquor distributors, it's curious to see wines from Outpost, Flowers, Domaine Drouhin and Kistler on the wine list.

Cabernets include a rare bottle of Beringer "Alexander Valley" (Beringer makes Napa and Knights Valley wines, along with their California appellation bottlings), Cellar 8, Murphy-Goode, Newton, Silver Oak (nicely priced at $76) and Groth ($65).  There's an un-named Amarone for $34, Avignonesi's Vino Nobile ($44) and Beronia's 2006 Rioja Reserva at $36.

We asked for a half bottle of Adelsheim's Pinot Gris ($16).  The server returned to say that wine is temporarily sold out.

We asked about corkage and it's $15.  Out of the bag came our bottle of Bordeaux and the youthful server returned with a couple of decent wine glasses or about a 12 ounce capacity.

Clearly not skilled at his craft at this stage, the fellow tugged on the bottle and removed the foil capsule, not having been schooled in properly cutting the foil.
He then inserted the corkscrew into the cork and rotated the bottle a dozen times before wrestling to extract the cork.
He did not quite know to pour "the say" so we could taste and determine if the bottle was in sound condition.  It was and we had a rather fine bottle of young 2006 vintage Grand Puy Lacoste.  This was hardly the best aperitif wine, but it did outclass most of the offerings on their wine list.  Corkage is $15.

The Old Bat ordered a "Petite New York Steak"  ($16.95) and I chose Grilled Lamb Chops ($25.95).  The menu is quite varied and scattered, so one finds everything from soup to nuts, including a number of Greek items such as Dolmades, Avgolemono soup or a Mediterranean plate with Tzatziki, Cilantro-Jalapeño Hummus, Tabouli and olives.  There are burgers, Mac & Cheese, 9 different pastas, Meatloaf, Pot Roast and some seafood.

A plate of industrial Sourdough bread was placed on the table, with the pats of wrapped butter being melted as the plate is heated.

For a few extra bucks we started with a Caesar Salad.  This was a really weak rendition and I missed any notes of garlic or anchovies.  The Old Bat complained and the very eager-to-please server took those off the bill.

A while later the young lady who was working as a hostess arrived at the table with two plates and began the "food auction."  
"Who gets the steak?" she asked.

The main plates looked fine.  The Old Bat's steak was, in fact, petite and a thin slice of beef.  I had four nicely grilled little lamb chops on the plate, resting on a bed of fries (I asked for those instead of the Feta/Garlic Potato Wedges) and Sautéed Spinach.

The Old Bat was delighted with the steak...nicely prepared, done to order and just right.
The Lamb Chops were beautifully grilled and succulent.  The Spinach had all the garlic that the salad should have had and was not over-cooked.  The French Fries were out of a freezer bag, though and these oozed oil as they cooled down.

We skipped dessert and with the corkage fee and two main plates we paid $64 before the tip.

The place still smelled of vinegar as we left.  I didn't note if there was any music playing in the background...mostly we heard the din or a busy dining room.

This is a solid neighborhood place and it's more a training ground for restaurant staffers than a 'gourmet' dining experience with old pros.
It's a nice place but not a gastronomic paradise.

Reviewed by GW
August 2011

 

TXOKO

504 Broadway
San Francisco

TEL: 415-500-2744

Open Tuesday-Saturday
from 5pm until they close

 

 


Foie Gras a la Plancha


Quail egg Boquerone


Oregon Shrimp


Nice wine glass for our bottle of old Rioja...


Grilled Quail


Rice with wild mushrooms


Day Boat Sea Scallops



Steak!


Accompanying the steak...peppers, potato, tomatoes, okra...this was a meal in itself!

 


Chocolate Torte

A fellow who specializes in Italian wines mentioned this place to me and then I saw mention of it on-line as a Basque-sort of place and had a look at their web site and menu.

My periodic dining companion, a "young bat" who's a real foodie (she booked herself a trip to a town in Germany two years ago merely to eat at the three Michelin-starred restaurants in some famous gastronomic village), had three menus to choose from...all new places.  The other choices were a Cajun place and a French brasserie-styled place.

I called Txoko to ask about a reservation and was told they didn't accept them, but we shouldn't have trouble on a Tuesday night.
Then the SF Chronicle's Michael Bauer wrote them up with a measure of praise so we were worried about getting a table.  No problem, though.

Parking in this sketchy neighborhood is a bit challenging and they don't have valet parking.  One lot near the restaurant with a ten dollar charge said "We close at 10pm," so I didn't park there.  I did find a spot on Sansome Street, a few blocks away.  My friend found a parking space on Broadway, also three blocks from the restaurant.

She was there right at 7 and had secured a nice table for us...a four top would be just right if we're going to order a number of tapas and such.

The wine list is a bit simple and it features modestly-priced wines for the most part.  We ordered a glass of Luis Pato's Vinho Branco ($9) and this was from the 2010 vintage yet seemed a bit more mature.  Pato is regarded as a top winemaker in Portugal, but this wine was a bit on the rustic end of the spectrum.

The wine list has some nice choices and they've avoided dealing with the big liquor distributors.  Though the place has been open for but two months, a selection such as a 2008 vintage Spanish Rosado struck me as odd.

They have four Cavas on the list, $46 to $59 a bottle, so these are ambitiously priced and don't offer much of a price range.  There was an off-the-beaten-path California bubbly from Mary Elke for $38.
There are three Txakoli's on the wine list, priced from $36 to $54.
There are ten whites from Galicia, with Godello and Albarino prominently featured.  $37 to $74 for those.
Seven reds from Rioja grace the wine list, a Beronia 2006 Reserva going for $37 ($18 retail).  Bielsa's lovely Garnacha ($11 retail) is $26 on the list.  There are numerous Spanish reds, though, but they've not really gotten together a deep list of Iberian Peninsula wines which would impress serious wine geeks.

I believe the corkage fee is $20.

We were attracted to many of their food offerings...there is a half a dozen "Small Bites" and we couldn't resist the Foie Gras a la Plancha ($8), a lovely morsel of seared Foie atop a fresh peach slice on top of a bit of toasted bread.
$3 for "Boquerones," a Quail egg, Manchego cheese, Thyme, Avocado and Aioli.  "Oregon Shrimp" ($3) was a coffee cup with tiny Bay Shrimp (I can't say if they're really from Oregon) with basil oil, black pepper and an olive puree.
We had a few of these little starters and then ordered some Small Plates.

They do have one single "Large Plate" and we ordered that, too, since it takes about 45 minutes to prepare...a large bone-in Rib-Eye for two (maybe three, actually) at $65.

The Wild Mushroom Arroz was a nice rice dish with some interesting mushrooms ($10)...Pan Seared Day Boat Scallops ($13) were excellent, if a bit small (I think there were but two sea scallops on this plate).  Grilled Quail ($13 or $14) was another winner...

We brought a bottle of the 1985 Lopez de Heredia "Viña Tondonia" and the young server was a bit apprehensive about handling such a venerable bottle, especially since it has a wax seal.  But she did a great job in wrestling open the bottle, extracting the cork in one piece.

We offered her a taste and she shared it with one of the owners, who came by to say "thanks" and hello.

The Steak was remarkable and reminded me of the big slab o'beef we enjoyed in San Sebastian at a wonderful tapas bar/restaurant called Gandarias.
It's a large serving, perfectly seasoned and flavorful...Better than many steak house steaks...

The side plate features a potato in the center ringed by Padron Peppers, fried okra, tomatoes and I don't recall what else...Chimichurri...

My friend, who has a hollow leg, ordered two of their cheeses at $7 or $8 a serving.  One was Valdeon with a Medjool date and shaved Celery...the other was Txiki with a carrot salad and pine nuts. She enjoyed these immensely.
We ordered two glasses of Carchelo, a big, fruity red from Spain at $9, I think.   This would have been more drinkable if chilled slightly, to cellar temp or a bit below... 

For dessert we bypassed the Foie Gras Ice Cream or the Fig Bread Pudding with Black Olive caramel and Chorizo in favor of something a bit more conservative and staid:  a Chocolate Torte with Cherry Espelette Jam, Port Marinated Cherries, Baked Meringues.  This was nice, if a bit dry.  I liked it but my friend was less enthralled by this, saying it was the one weak link of the evening.
We skipped a dessert wine, as we had done enough damage for one evening.

The manager/co-proprietor had stopped by and chatted, saying how they were aiming to reproduce an relatively informal San Sebastian place.  Hence, no table cloths...there is a paper napkin dispenser on the table, which some may find a bit tacky.  On the other hand, if you've been to those San Sebastian places, it's normal to see napkin dispensers on the bar, anyway.
At Txoko, there's a glass jar on the table with forks, knives and spoons.  Servers routinely clear used utensils from the table and regularly replenish the jar.
This makes Txoko an interesting dining experience, as it's a bit like a tapas restaurant with tables and servers, rather than simply a "tapas bar."

I didn't make note of music or a sound system.  

We enjoyed the meal quite a bit and look forward to returning to Txoko, a tapas bar amongst topless bars...

Reviewed by GW
August 2011

 

LA SALETTE


452 First Street East
Suite H
Sonoma
(707) 938-1927

 

 

 


Tascas/Tapas

 


Caldo Verde


Cod Cakes



Portuguese Seafood Stew...
Caldeirada.


Lamb with a Fava Bean puree and some sautéed Zucchini.

 

 


A muddy glass of Ruby Port...


Homemade Sorbets and Ice Creams
Frigid But Hot.

We had tried a Portuguese place in San Francisco and, frankly, it was merely a greasy spoon.  Our Portuguese friends said the best place is La Salette in Sonoma.

So on a warm Sunday in July, we drove to the town of Sonoma, having booked a table for an early meal.

We parked just off Sonoma's "town square" and strolled around.  It's a nice assortment of boutiques, many filled with expensive French stuff.  

We arrived as they were opening and were escorted to a window table inside, along the patio.

A wine list came with the menus and we perused the list, selecting a Soalheiro Alvarinho ($44).  It was brought to the table, nicely chilled and placed in a canister to keep it cool. The wine list features some "flights" of wines.  These are three 3-ounce pours of either Portuguese whites, red or California whites or reds.  They range from $14.50 to $16.25 currently.

There are 4 bubblies on the wine list, one of which hails from Portugal.   $10 will buy you a glass of Gloria Ferrer's Blanc de Noirs.  There are numerous wines from Portugal and California which are available in 3 ounce and 6 ounce by-the-glass pours.

They feature a number of good local wineries, so you'll find wines from David Noyes, Wellington, Saintsbury, Patz & Hall and Pellegrini on their wine list.  The Jose Maria da Fonseca Periquita, which retails for $10, is $30 on the wine list.  A $40 retail Patz & Hall Pinot is $80 on their list.  The Dow's red wine from the Douro Valley which retails for $11 is on the list for $35, while the Soalheiro retails for $22 and is $44 on the list.

Stemware is nice and reasonably elegant.  The glasses are large and not too heavy.

I was there with The Old Bat, who always speaks of the Portuguese soup she had as a kid (this was just after the Lincoln Administration, I believe), picked up the dinner plate on the table and flipped it over...Cost Plus.

We ordered three of their Tasca tasting Plates.  These are Portuguese "tapas," essentially.  Three for $15.95, 5 for $24.95 or 7 for $33.95.  We had the Pate of Sardines, Polvinhos and Serrano Redondo.
The "pate" is merely a scoop of processed sardines with shallots and such...nice, actually...The Polvinhos are tiny baby octopus marinated in a mild vinegar, while the Serrano ham serving was about 5 tiny morsels of a nice ham.  There were some seasoned, spicy almonds and some little slices of a fig bread on the wooden serving platter.

The Old Bat ordered their Caldo Verde soup ($8.95), a beef broth with collard greens and linguiça.  She didn't find it to recall the soup of her youth which was made with Kale.
I opted for their Bolinhos de Bacalhau ($11.95), a little platter with three deep fried codfish 'cakes', a Cilantro aioli and a dollop of black olive coulis.  This plate took me back to Portugal!

We just about finished our bottle of Alvarinho, so I ordered two pours of Esporão Reserve White at around $9 or $10 a 6 ounce glass.  This was a bit heavy and rather oaky following such a light, crisp white...
Oh well.

The Old Bat had the Caldeirada ($23.95) for her main plate.  This is a Portuguese-styled fish stew with Sea bass, scallops, clams, mussels, shrimp, fingerling potatoes, linguiça in a lobster fumet.  She was delighted by this dish.
There was a lamb special which featured tender little lamb loin pieces.  I think this cost $25, or so.
There was a fava bean puree on the plate and some sautéed Zucchini.
We ordered a side dish of Piri Piri fries but the server forgot to write this down and we were not charged for them.

Service was attentive and not overbearing.  The sound system was playing Fado music in the background...not too loudly...

I was intrigued by their desserts, but didn't want anything too heavy, so I ordered a plate called "Frigid But Hot" ($7.95).  This was four little servings of house-made sorbet or ice cream and these were exceptional!
There was an apple-Vinho Verde sorbet, mango sorbet,
Vintage Port ice cream and strawberry ice cream.  The apple was a delight, crisp and light.  The Vintage Port ice cream (really?  Vintage Port?  Hard to believe!) had a lovely chocolate note.

We ordered two pours of Quinta do Infantado Ruby Port ($4.25) and these came in small copitas, filled about half way...I can't imagine if the two ounce pour is served in the same stemware that you'd be able to appreciate the aromas and bouquet of the wine.
In any event, they have a wide range of Ports and Madeiras.
Our pour must have been the bottom of the bottle, though, since Ruby Port doesn't usually have sediment.  We had two glasses laden with sediment...I should have sent them back, frankly, but we didn't.

The bill tallied to around $180 before the tip, a bit pricey, but perhaps $75 was wine.  The food was nicely done and it was a nice little restaurant.  I'd consider going again one day, but would say it's a bit of a haul from the City.

Reviewed by GW
July 2011



BAKER & BANKER

1701 Octavia Street
San Francisco

TEL: 415-351-2500

Open for Dinner
Tues-Sun

 

 


Pork Belly and Deep Fried Egg


Grilled Octopus Salad


$30 corkage

 


The Lamb Trio

 


Pork Shoulder


Apricot Blueberry Crisp with ice cream

On a Tuesday night in the middle of Summer, we were able to reserve a table at 8:30 at this relatively new little hot-spot at the corner of Octavia & Bush streets in San Francisco.

We found parking a block away, though the restaurant does have a valet parking attendant for those who dine early.

We had a table set for two, but at a place big enough to accommodate four people.  The menu and wine list were presented when we sat down.

There's a $65 tasting menu, but we each opted simply for a starter and main plate.

In perusing the wine list for a glass of bubbly, one's options are limited to but two choices.  There's a Cremant de Bourgogne Rose from the Maison du Cremant for $12 or Roederer Estate for $16.  No Champagne is offered by-the-glass.
The wine list offers numerous off-the-beaten path choices.  The entry level pricing is close to the mid $30 range, though their Chardonnay list begins with a Chablis at $44.  The list features a little bit of "this and that," with some interesting Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Austrian, German and West Coast selections.  Nothing from New Zealand, though, and there's but one Australian offering, a $75 Shaw & Smith Shiraz.
Under the heading of Italian Whites, one finds Skouras Moscofilero from Greece, while the "Spanish Red Varietals" starts out with a Prats & Symington wine from the Douro Valley which, while it does contain some Tempranillo (Tinta Roriz), it's predominantly indigenous Portuguese varieties...picky, picky.
To their credit, though, they've avoided filling the list with wines from the big liquor distributors.

We ordered that "Italian White" from Greece, though and the server brought the bottle about 5 minutes later...a bit of a wait, but, picky picky.  $36 for a bottle of Skouras Moscofilero.  Perfectly nice wine.

They offer a few German wines, but the wine list neglects to cite whether these are Qba level wines, Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese, etc.
And the names of a few grape varieties are misspelled on the wine list.  Picky, picky.

Meanwhile, the corkage fee is $30.

My friend decided to "pig out" and started with the Maple glazed pork belly, deep fried farm egg, crunchy broccoli salad ($13).  I chose to begin with the Grilled octopus and melon salad, preserved lemon, mint, cucumber ($15).
My starter was nice...a few morsels of octopus with cucumber and melon along with some greens (watercress, perhaps?).  I didn't find much mint or lemon, though.  My friend's deep fried egg was a first, he said and he seemed to enjoy that plate.

We had an older bottle of a Napa Valley Cabernet which we wanted to have decanted.  The server said she was quite capable and brought a decanter and set about opening our bottle.  The cork came out in pieces, but she did a nice job in decanting the wine.

We, of course, offered her a taste and she brought some larger red wine glasses for us.  Perfect!

A few moments later our main plates arrived.
My dinner companion ordered the Slow roasted pork shoulder, pan-fried semolina Spätzle, sweet corn, black mission figs ($26), while I was having the Sonoma lamb trio, Iacopi butter beans, rapini, black olives, mint gremolata ($30).
The Pork dish, my friend said, was "good, but not great and nothing special."
The lamb plate was very good...one small hunk of a lamb loin, a bit of lamb "belly" or breast and some Merguez-type sausage.  My plate came with beautifully cooked butter beans, too, though I didn't find the olives or mint gremolata to be particularly intense or flavorful.

Our server stopped by from time to time, keeping an eye on us. She was nicely attentive, though...when my friend got up to go to the restroom, she folded up his napkin and neatly placed it back as his table setting. Around 10pm she announced her day was finished and she'd be departing.

We split a dessert, opting for the Apricot blueberry crisp, brown sugar pecan streusel, blueberry swirl ice cream ($9).
Very nice, as one might expect of a place that also operates a take-out bakery counter (around the corner, through a separate entrance) several days a week.

The sound system utilizes a Pandora music hook-up.  I can't say the Jackson Five/Ray Charles tunes I heard were the most comfortable sounds...I'd have preferred some elegant jazz, but that's just me.  Picky, picky.

Our check was brought after an espresso and we asked to split the bill.  Oops!  They'd charged us $60 for the corkage fee, which we caught luckily.  Picky, picky.
The bill, then, tallied to $181 with the tax and 4% Healthy SF surcharge.

Baker & Banker is a really nice California "bistro".  It's a good quality neighborhood place and if I'm in The City I'd consider returning.

Reviewed by
GW
July 2011


 

MADERA

2825 Sand Hill Road
Menlo Park

Tel: 650-561-1540

OPEN DAILY


The Amuse Bouche...a Fennel & Carrot Soup.



Grilled Octopus Salad


Summer Vegetable Salad



Crimini Mushroom Raviolo with Summer Truffles.



Rack of Lamb

 


Sides:  
Fries & Aioli and an Asparagus & English Pea Ragout




Beignets...

On a wet, rainy Tuesday evening in June (!), we made our way down Highway 280 to Sand Hill Road for a meal at the restaurant at the posh Rosewood Hotel.

At 7pm, the place was buzzing with activity, probably seeming busier than normal since everyone was inside due to the rain.  They have an outdoor deck which faces the hills to the west...a lovely venue, certainly, for watching the sun set.

A few tables were empty when we were seated (and promptly, too), though these filled up by the middle of dinner service.

The hostess brought menus and a large wine list.  Stemware was on the table.  The wine list features numerous wines-by-the-glass:
7 sparklers (from $10 for Segura Viudas Cava to $30 for Philipponnat Rose)
12 whites ($10 to $30, the latter being a pour of Far Niente Chardonnay)
18 reds ($45 for a glass of Kathryn Kennedy 2003 Cabernet)

The list also features numerous half bottle selections in bubblies and table wines.  You can get lost perusing the selections in full bottles...lots of glitter on the list with locals such as Kistler, Marcassin, Peter Michael, Littorai, Williams-Selyem, Dumol, Aubert, Harlan, Blankiet and Spottswoode.
There are 9 New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, since one or two are not sufficient.  There are 9 vintages of Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet, 5 Cabernet Franc bottlings from the Loire Valley, one Merlot from Washington, 12 Barbaresco bottlings and 18 Barolo's...
You'll find more than 120 California Pinot Noirs and more than 30 from Oregon.
Most currently available wines are offered at a standard restaurant mark-up, typically about twice the retail price.
The corkage fee is around $20-$25 and I think there was a 6 bottle maximum for a large party.

I was the guest of a fellow who knew one or two of the staffers, so we may have received a consideration, or two.  Still, we had a perfectly knowledgeable server who, despite her youthful age, was more professional and attentive than old-time, veteran waiters.  The sommelier also came by to offer advice and solicit an order.

We began with a flute of Canard Duchene Brut Champagne ($26) and the sommelier Paul Mekis brought a couple of stems and a bottle of bubbly.  We also ordered a half bottle of Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc ($35) which was brought to the table and placed in an ice bucket nearby.

The menu changes daily and it's an interesting mix of California cuisine with accents of Asian and Mediterranean influences.  I started with a Grilled Octopus salad (around $16) and my buddy began with a Summer Salad ($15?).
A small shot glass was presented as an Amuse Bouche, some sort of Fennel and Carrot soup.

The Sommelier opened our half bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and this was a lovely accompaniment to the Octopus Salad. 

My friend had a bottle of 1999 Dehlinger Pinot Noir in his magic bag of tricks and we were brought appropriate stemware for this.

The server then brought another surprise from the kitchen--a raviolo featuring Crimini mushrooms and shaved Summer Truffles.  This was very nice and as delicious as it was artistic.

Our bottle of Dehlinger was running low and so I brought out of my cellar bag an older bottle of Dunn Napa Cabernet.  Mr. Mekis took the bottle to a decanting station and returned a few moments later with a big, showy decanter...a fancy and large glass tube which allowed him to more easily pour across the table.

We, as usual, offered the sommelier and server a nice pour of our wines.

Service, by the way, was very attentive...plates were cleared at an appropriate time, new silverware was brought, water glasses were refilled...in other words, they pay attention.

We both ordered a rack of lamb with Caponata and Baby Artichokes ($38?) and this was a beautifully presented plate featuring two large chops from a rack.  Cooked as ordered, too.

We embellished the main plate with a side of Fries & Garlic Aioli, along with an Asparagus & English Pea Ragout (both $7).  The Fries were variable, some flaccid and mushy, others appropriately crisp.  The peas were "al dente" as was the asparagus...a nice side dish.

Beignets for dessert were exceptional.  We didn't include a glass of sweet wine...the offerings in this category were well above entry level pricing too lavish of a splurge in my view.  A Fonseca 20 year old Tawny Port was $17, a Far Niente Dolce is $30 and a 1987 D'Oliveira Malmsey was $25.  $100 will get you a pour of 1963 Taylor Vintage Port.

This place is a bit out of the way for most Peninsula residents, but it's worth the detour if you're not pinching pennies.

Reviewed by
GW
June 2011




 

LE ZINC

4063 24th Street
San Francisco

TEL: 415-647-9400

Open Daily for Lunch
& Dinner...
Weekends for Brunch, too.

 

 


Foie Gras Terrine



The Escargot dish does not photograph well, but it was delicious!


Moules.



Beef Bourguignon



Cassoulet au Confit



Gateau au Chocolat



Tarte Tatin

 

 

 

The menu of this little bistro was enticing, so we booked a 7pm table on a Thursday evening.  The 24th Street neighborhood is fairly busy, so we circled the block in search of parking (there is a lot adjacent to the restaurant, but it was filled).

We arrived punctually and the place was moderately busy, but not packed.  In fact, on this occasion the crowd was comfortable and the place not hugely busy.

There were a couple of all-purpose wine glasses on the table and the menu and a wine list were presented when we sat down.  I perused the list, ruling out their sparkling wine offerings as there were but two by the glass and neither was especially interesting.  They did have a couple of "flights" of wines and I might have opted for the La Gitana Manzanilla had I seen it (Sherries and Ports are on the back page, even the dry, aperitif wines).  We ordered a pour of Lillet to start and they brought nice stemware garnished with a curled up orange peel...very fine, actually and just five bucks, so this easily aced out the $9 slacker bubblies by-the-glass.

We asked the server for their Foie Gras Terrine ($16) to start while we looked over the menu.  This was a nice little slab with half a dozen toast 'triangles'.  Very good...

The wine list has a mix of suppliers, so we found some good bottles of a local importer of top French wines, along with some rather mass-produced bottles of a few other distributors.  
A Sancerre was $47 per bottle, while a Macon of decent quality is $35.  A Bourgogne Blanc of Olivier Leflaive was $12 by the glass, $35 in a small carafe (about 2/3s of a bottle) and $46 by the bottle.  They had two nice producers of white Rhone wine, but the 2005 and 2007 vintages might be a gamble since they're a bit old.  We selected a nice Entre-Deux-Mers from Chateau Sainte Marie.  A carafe of this was $23 and perfect with our appetizers.
The red wines are mostly French, with a Loire Valley Cabernet Franc from Chinon going for $40.  They had a handful of Rhone reds and some modest Bordeaux...not really savvy selections, but in the acceptable range.  Corkage, on the other hand, is $15.

My dining companion began with an interesting presentation of Escargot...these are served on little morsels of potatoes with the usual garlic butter.  And there was a small mound of porcini in the middle of the plate.  This is $11 and was a nice start.
My starter of Moules Provençales ($11) was a small bowl with a dozen, or so, mussels adorned with a bit of garlic, tomatoes and red peppers.  The mussels were nicely done, though this was rather bland as the poaching liquid was quite neutral and shy on fresh herbs.
Our server brought the little carafe of white Bordeaux and we enjoyed the Sainte Marie with our starters.

I'd asked if they had a decanter and was told they did...I produced a bottle of 1978 Haut Bailly as we were enjoying the starters.  This stood on the table until I opened it, as the server had not dealt with the bottle.
Our main courses arrived and the bottle had not been decanted, nor did we have red wine glasses.  A few minutes later the server stopped by with stemware and poured us each a bit of the Bordeaux, with no mention of decanting the wine.
We offered him a taste and he did bring a glass for that.  I ended up decanting the rest of the bottle into the little white wine carafe that was still on the table.

The Beef Bourguignon ($19) was beautifully done and very tender.  There was a nicely winy aspect to the sauce, too.  I chose the Cassoulet au Confit ($21) and this plate was smothered in white beans in an lightly tomato-enhanced sauce with a duck leg and thigh covering a small, dense sausage.  It may not be fancy food, but it was nice "comfort cuisine" and at a comfortable price, too.
The stemware for the Bordeaux, by the way, was a good-sized glass and perfect for the wine.

We had desserts, too...the dessert card offers a range of cheeses at $7 per serving or $18 for an assortment.  Desserts are $7.50 and we had a Tarte Tatin and a Gateau au Chocolat, both very good.
A small thimble-glass of a Spanish Pedro Ximeniz was $8, while a Late Bottled Vintage Port from Smith Woodhouse was $9.
Too bad the stemware for the dessert wines is so small.

The bill, with the $15 corkage fee and tax tallied to $172 before the tip.

Le Zinc is a nice neighborhood place and I'd certainly recommend it if you're in the mood for casual bistro cuisine at a reasonable price.

We'll be back!

 

Reviewed by
GW
January 2011


 

GAMINE


2223 Union Street
San Francisco

Tel: 414-771-7771

Open Daily for Dinner
Lunch Friday, Sat & Sun


Beef Tartare

 


Warm Frisée with Smoked Duck and a Poached Egg.


Escargot

 


Flat Iron Steak & Frites


Marinated Grilled Lamb Loin


Not an especially great wine glass, but then the wine list doesn't feature especially great bottles.


Tarte Tatin

It was a cold Wednesday evening between Christmas and New Year's, so we dialed up this little place on the western end of Union Street's business district.  They only accept reservations for parties of 6 or more, so we'd be obliged to wait.

Parking on the street at 6:30-7 is iffy, but there's a garage a couple of blocks to the east.  The restaurant does not have valet parking...heck, there is seating for perhaps 25 to 30 in the main dining area and 6 or 8 in a small room in the back.  This is a "neighborhood" place, for sure.

"Gamine" is a French word to describe a waifish, perhaps mischievous young woman, but the fellow running the place did not resemble Audrey Tautou in the slightest.  He was more the sort of fellow you might see driving a truck down the French auto-route.

We were told the wait would be about 40 minutes and an hour later we were seated at a table for two and the menu and wine list were presented.

The wine list is put together by someone with little interest in wine.  You'll find a few decent offerings at high mark-up price levels, but the selections are not especially savvy.  I wondered, as well, if they are purchasing these by the bottle and thus paying a premium price to the wholesaler...?

There are perhaps 15 wines "by the glass," including Roederer Estate Brut at $10.50 ($42/bottle), Domaine Auchere Sancerre at $10 ($40 a bottle), Baileyana "Monterey" Chardonnay (they're actually in the Edna Valley appellation) at $9/glass or $38 by the bottle.  You'll find standard brands such as Louis Latour, Chanson and Laboure-Roi for Burgundy.  The Bordeaux selections are all minor, unheralded estates of modest quality.  And there are curious wines such as a six year old Austrian dry Muscat at $42/bottle.  We opted for a Schlumberger Pinot Blanc from Alsace at $34 a bottle.  This retails, typically, for $15-$17 a bottle. 

We ordered an appetizer plate of their Beef Tartare ($9) to start while we perused the menu.  The host brought some rather lackluster stemware to the table and open my friend's bottle of Pichon Baron.  Though the bottle was 20 years old, no offer to decant it was made.
A few minutes later our server arrived tableside with the very cold bottle of Pinot Blanc and two more clunky stems.  He poured the wine following the 'say' and filled the glasses (which are not great for swirling the wine in the first place) to a bit more than the halfway point.
Zinc table tops...no table cloths and paper napkins, by the way, so expecting good stemware is probably out of the question.

The Tartare arrived, a small plate with a 4 inch "patty" and a tiny egg yolk on top.  We hashed it together and there were three small pieces of a toasted baguette on the plate.  The flavors of cornichons, capers and Tabasco were quite prominent.  My dinner companion enjoyed this, saying it wasn't "A" grade, but at least it was a "B."

We then each ordered an appetizer, my friend opting for the Warm Frisée and Smoked Duck Breast salad ($11.50) and I had their shell-less Escargot ($10.50).  The salad comes with a poached egg on top and the escargot are in a ceramic oven-ready plate holding a half a dozen little snails.  Nice, though the French bread they serve is rather ordinary.

For main plates my friend ordered "Grilled Flat Iron Steak" with Béarnaise sauce and French Fries ($18.50).  This was a nice piece of beef and adorned with braised red cabbage, which was not noted on the menu.
My selection was "Marinated Grilled Lamb Loin" with Persillade and Lardon Potato Gratin ($19.50).
Both main plates were good, nicely presented and done to the level of "bistro" cuisine.
We had a side dish of Brussels Sprouts (I think this was around $5) and these were fine and not over-cooked.

For dessert we sprang for a single serving of the Tarte Tatin ($7.50) and it was a nice rendition.  No dessert wine as a sip of Monbazillac goes for $12 (the bottle wholesales for $12) and a 2004 Vintage Port from Dow would have added another $15 to the tab.

We were not charged a corkage fee, which was appreciated, perhaps because we ordered several courses as well as a bottle from the wine list.

The bill tallied to around $130 with tax, before the tip.

If you are in the neighborhood and don't mind waiting, this is certainly a nice little dining spot.  I'm not sure, though, given the limited seating capacity and the wait, that it's quite worth the drive to The City.
We noticed the clientele here seemed to be, for the most part, "regulars."  People were greeted as family members and so it's a nicely informal and comfortable place.

Reviewed by GW
December 2010

 

CARPACCIO

1120 Crane Street
Menlo Park

Tel: 650-322-1211

Lunch:
Mon-Fri 11:30-2

Dinner:
Mon-Thurs: 5-9:30
Fri-Sat: 5-10
Sun: 5-9

 


Calamari Fritti a la Caesar


Minestrone Soup.

 

 




Osso Buco


Calamari Steak

This venerable restaurant, located just off the main drag in Menlo Park, has been around since the late 1980s.  Their web site has excerpts from three published reviews, the most recent having been written in 1996.
Carpaccio is not listed in the Zagat Guide, either, and yet the place was packed when we arrived around 6:30 on a Sunday evening after a movie.

It's a beautiful restaurant, with an active bar on one side and a large dining area up front, straight on back and into another spacious dining room in the rear.  

We were able to be seated at a recently vacated table by the front window and we were presented menus and a wine list.  The gentleman who would be our waiter brought another page of weekly specials.

In perusing the wine list, I found a dozen white and a dozen red selections...no sparkling wine, though they do have quarter bottles of Mumm's Cuvee Napa for around $12.  We opted for a Fritz 2009 Sauvignon Blanc from Sonoma's Russian River Valley ($8.50).  A few minutes later, the server arrived with two huge balloon-shaped glasses with generous pours of the wine.  This must have been a quarter bottle pour!  
The list doesn't venture far off the beaten path, featuring names such as Duckhorn, Beringer, Schramsberg, Heitz, Silver Oak, Chappellet and Peter Michael.  There was a curious listing of a Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet ($150) as being from Monterey!  (It's a Santa Cruz Mountains-grown wine.)
The Italian selections are also fairly 'safe' choices, allowing big spenders to drink Antinori's Tignanello ($135) or their Guado al Tasso red from Bolgheri for the same price.  There was but one Barolo offering (Costa di Bussia 2004 at $55) and one Barbaresco (Carlo Giacosa 2005 at $65).  Piancornello's 2007 Rosso di Montalcino struck me as the best buy on the list at $40, along with an Ojai Syrah at $45.
Corkage is $15 and we pulled out a nice bottle of Bruno Giacosa's 2007 Barbera d'Alba.

The menus offer plenty of options...there are numerous starters, plenty of salads, an array of pizzas (there's a pizza oven in the back), perhaps close to a dozen pasta offerings and another dozen main plates.

The Old Bat started with a bowl of Minestrone Soup ($6.25) and I had the Calamari Fritti alla Caesar in small format for $12.95.  I can't imagine the large format, as the small was too much.
The soup was appreciated by my often-fussy dining companion.  The Calamari came with a pool of Caesar dressing for dipping.  The calamari were beautifully fried, lacking only a pinch of salt.  There was not only the fried calamari on this plate, but a nice serving of chopped Romaine lettuce with Caesar dressing, so this was sort of two appetizers.

The server spotted our bottle of Barbera and immediately brought two more large format balloon stems to the table (I noticed they serve drinks and beer in this same stemware).  He deftly opened the bottle, poured the 'say' and then poured the wine nicely.

Main plates arrived soon after.  We had, by the way, a nice basket of warm, chewy sourdough bread, along with the curious vinegar/oil dipping sauce and some swirled butter.

The Old Bat had a Calamari Steak ($16.95) and raved about it.  This was tender and nicely prepared.

My Osso Buco ($21)was very good.  There were four small veal shank pieces on a bed of garlic mashed potatoes, with a small pile of beautifully cooked, al dente green beans alongside.  You could smell the lemon from the gremolata, as well. 

Our server kept his eye on the table throughout our meal, stopping by to top up our wine glasses and see about water.

We skipped dessert and with the $15 corkage fee, the tab came to $97 with the tax and before the tip.

The ambience of this place is nice.  It has a professional and welcoming 'vibe'.  I can't recall hearing background music and it's quiet enough that you can actually the hear the person across the table from you (which can be good or not...Your mileage may vary...).

This place is a gem and the folks in the 94025 zip code environs know it.  We look forward to dining there again!

Reviewed by GW
November 2010

 

WAYFARE TAVERN

558 Sacramento Street
San Francisco

Tel: 415-772-9060

Monday-Friday
11:30am-11pm

Sat-Sun
5pm-11pm

 


Grilled Calamari with a pour of Preston's Vin Gris.

 


Braised Short Ribs with Potato Puree and some celery and truffle.


Locally Foraged Mushrooms


Santa Maria Tri-Tip and Kennebec Fries.



Pumpkin Pudding Cake

A dear friend was flying in to San Francisco from Italy on a Sunday night and I wanted to take him to a somewhat "American" restaurant.  He travels around the US and is subjected to all sorts of "Italian" cuisine as he promotes his family's wines.

New to The City is the Wayfare Tavern in the Financial District.  I  had called this place on an earlier occasion and they were completely booked...on a Sunday night, late, we were able to reserve a table at 10pm.

We entered and there's a hostess' stand by the door.  There's a long bar to the left and dining booths and tables straight ahead and to the right.  The hostess promptly escorted us to the back on the place, near a gas fireplace and a small table for two.  The menu was presented and the wine list is on the back of it.  A wine glass is part of the table setting.

We perused the menu and asked the server to bring us each a flute of Roederer Estate Brut ($12).  This came still foaming and the wine was quite dry and nicely acidic.  Good...because I am sure less scrupulous dining places have "sold" us Roederer Estate and poured cheaper, sweeter fizz hoping we'd not notice.

They have a "raw bar" and so we began with a dozen oysters.  They had Steamboat and Fanny Bay oysters and these were $36 for the dozen.  They're presented on a plate with ice and a ketchup-like cocktail sauce, a mignonette 'sauce' and some fresh lemon.  The oysters were nicely briny and fresh...perfect with the bubbly.

We had a look at the wine list...it's predominantly American in keeping with the theme of the restaurant.  There are 16 wines by the glass...a couple of bubblies and then offerings such as Handley Pinot Gris ($9), Mount Eden Saratoga Cuvee Chardonnay ($13), Palmina Dolcetto ($10) or Seghesio Zinfandel ($13).  

Wine prices are a bit high, as is the rent at this sort of location.  Talley Chardonnay, for example, lists for $26 a bottle and goes for $58 on their wine list.  Saintsbury's Garnet Pinot Noir, routinely found for $20 or less at retail, is $45 on this list.  A Ken Wright Pinot Noir, which wholesales for $34 a bottle, is $108 on the wine list.  Ouch!
They have close to a dozen half bottle selections, with Ramey Chardonnay costing $38 or Duckhorn's Paraduxx going for $43.

Corkage is $20 and if you have a special or nicely aged bottle, you might consider bringing it along.

We each were attracted to the Grilled Monterey Bay Calamari starter ($9) and this featured a nice serving of calamari with a squid ink vinaigrette, smoked chili oil and some breadcrumbs.  I opted for a pour of Preston's Vin Gris ($11) and this was a fresh, crisp and flavorful enough wine to stand up to the strong flavors in the appetizer.

The wine was served in a nice Riedel-styled white wine glass of good capacity.

Luca chose the Santa Maria Tri Tip for his main plate ($26) and I selected their Braised Beef Shortribs ($27).
We brought a bottle of 1997 Spottswoode Cabernet and this wine was "Spot On"!!!  Our server got the cork out in two pieces and poured the "say."  He'd brought large format stemware for the red wine and I asked if he could decant the wine for us, which he did.  We offered him a pour and the fellow was delighted to taste such a wine and meet a "celebrity" winemaker from a place he wants to visit.

They brought over "bread," but not in your usual "hunk-of-sourdough" or "dinner roll" format.  Instead they offer something closer to a "popover" or a Yorkshire Pudding-like bread, fresh from the oven.  We had been offered, by the way, still or sparkling water and they brought us a carafe of Hetch Hetchy which was monitored and kept full during the course of the meal.

The main plates were quite good.  Luca's Tri Tip came with a massive quantity of Kennebec Fries.  My short-rib entree was accompanied by a potato puree and some thin slices of celery...This was a smaller portion, it seemed, than the Tri Tip.  We had a side dish for $8 of "locally foraged mushrooms."  These were nice and done in olive oil and garlic. The sides are seasonal.

We split a dessert, a Pumpkin Pudding Cake ($9) and didn't have a sip of any sweet wine or post-prandial potations.  Nice, too.  Not terribly sweet, but good.

The bill tallied to $170 before the Healthy SF surcharge (a bit less than 3% here), taking us to $192 before the tip.

The ambience here is comfortable.  It's a bit dark around the edges, with antlered animals stuffed and sticking out of the wall.  Paintings done in an old styled added to the Wayfare environment which I read was some sort of recreation of Barbary Coast days.  I thought, though, the place was more like a New England "colonial" dining spot, though the jazzy tunes on their music box were definitely cosmopolitan, San Francisco.

We thoroughly enjoyed this place and will bring other European visitors here when the opportunity presents itself.

Reviewed by GW
November 2010

 

CAFFE RIACE


200 Sheridan Avenue
Palo Alto

Tel: 650-328-0407

 


Caesar Salad.

 


The fountain of the woman with the washing machine she's apparently yanked out of the wall...


The old horse-drawn cart...



Linguine with Seafood in a "white wine sauce."

This sure is an off-the-beaten-path restaurant!  It's a few blocks south of California Avenue in Palo Alto and a few blocks east of El Camino.

Caffe Riace has been around for many years and it's located in a residential condominium near the Oregon Expressway.  We parked in a lot across the street and ambled in around 7pm one Sunday night after a movie.  It's a bit confusing...you walk into a courtyard filled with outdoor seating, a fountain and art work ranging from a tiny Fiat and Vespa to replicas of bronze statues which are huge replicas of some Greek warriors said to be from 400-something BC!
But the confusion is there's no real "entrance."  You see some table inside the first door and then there's a more formal "entry" (with door mat and such) at second door.
We met a staffer outside and were escorted to a table in the second dining area by the kitchen and dishwashing area.  I was seated near the ice making machine.

This room had a flat screen TV facing the kitchen to keep the cooks from becoming bored, apparently.  The sound system was a bit loud, too, and featured the harmonious tunes of Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett.

We were seated at a glass-topped table in a small area.  A menu was presented along with a large binder which was the wine list.  I'd intended to find a simple white wine in 'by-the-glass' format but opening the list, one finds a  few pages of "last bottles" and then numerous pages of older vintages of Barolo, Barbaresco and Brunello.  There's Barbera and some other Italian wines.
The 1995 Vajra Barolo was of interest, costing around $150, but I was looking for a simple white wine.  Flipping through the pages, we found California wines, both white and red.  These did not, at cursory glance, seem to be well-chosen.  Lockwood Cabernet...must have "gotten a deal" on that.  At the back of this voluminous phone book there are a few wines "by the glass."  One was an Alois Lageder wine from the "Dolomiti," but it did not specify which Lageder wine was offered by the glass.  It turned out to be Pinot Grigio and this was around $9.  They brought us each a small carafe to pour into the 14 ounce Libbey wine goblets.  The shape of these replicates a nice Riedel glass, but these are big, heavy duty, bounce-off-the-floor stems.

I had a bottle in my bag, ready to pay the $15, or so, corkage fee.  It was a somewhat young Brunello, so I searched for appropriate accompaniments on their menu.

The starters range from Bruschetta ($7) to Polenta & Gorgonzola ($10) to Burrata e Brasaola (sic) ($13).  Most of the starters feature some sort of cheese, so there's a bit of overlap there.  Both The Old Bat and I went for the $9 Caesar Salad.  She's not enthralled with anchovies, but my salad came with a nice mound of Romaine Lettuce, appropriately 'dressed' and with excellent quality anchovies around the plate.  The croutons were merely old, stale pieces of toasted bread.

At one point, a senior member of the serving crew took us on a 'tour' of the place.  The establishment IS in a condo...one bedroom now features a large table accommodating 16 people.  A smaller bedroom has a table for perhaps 8 or 10.  The living room facing the courtyard has four or five tables.  A bathroom has been converted to a wine storage area...we went downstairs into the garage to see an old horse-drawn Sicilian cart.  They have a wine storage area down there, too, but this fellow did not have a key, so no telling what they do if someone orders one of those old bottles of Barolo...maybe you have to return another night?
They have a delightful fountain with a woman holding a washing machine (she's apparently ripped out of the wall), with water running out the front-load door.  And there are the two bronzini statues...I'm sure this is a wonderful setting on a summer evening.

Well, they kept the water glasses filled and there was a plate of warmed herbed bread on the table.

For main plates, the menu is quite limited.

There are 7, or so, pastas.  They claim they make their pasta "fresh."  Curiously, though, I spied numerous boxes of a dried pasta called Subioti de Bessan displayed above the dishwashing area.


The wine list features all sorts of big, somewhat "important" or noble Italian red wines, yet the menu is woefully short of appropriate dishes to accompany such bottles.
The only "red meat" on the menu is a homemade Sicilian sausage plate with peppers and potatoes.  I, apparently, missed some of the daily specials, since the neighboring table had what appeared to be something akin to braised short-ribs.  As a result, we did not bring out our bottle of Brunello, as we ordered a Linguine with Seafood ($19, if I recall correctly).
This was billed as being in a white wine sauce with tomatoes, clams, mussels, shrimp and fish.  The plate came seemingly adorned in a tomato sauce.  The server immediately asked if we wanted pepper for this...and it was already rather spicy and 'hot'.  I can't say for certain if the pasta was 'fresh,' but it was slightly overcooked and a bit soft.  The menu notes: "It may seem like all the rage these days, but for over 12 years now, our family has sourced the freshest ingredients from only the most respected purveyers." (sic).
I'd be surprised if those shrimp were anything but in the deep freeze for months.

We skipped dessert and the bill tallied to $88 since we did not have a corkage fee on there.

This place could be really nice with some attention to details.  The "ambience" in the room with the kitchen is not especially pleasant, so ask for a table in that first room nearest Sheridan Avenue (or outside if it's lunch time or a summer evening).  I'd bring a bottle of wine, too, though the main plates are a bit limited.

It's a decent neighborhood dining spot, though.

Reviewed by GW
October 2010

 

 

DALI or "DALIA"

129 South "B" Street
San Mateo

Tel: 650-343-2111

NOW CLOSED

Open for Dinner:
Tues-Sun from 5pm

 

 

 


Pulpo - Octopus

 


Mushrooms with garlic

 


Our singer/keyboard player for the evening.


Paella

Having seen a movie a block, or so, away, we ambled north of the Cineplex on B Street to the rather new "Dali" restaurant.  Apparently the name infringed upon the trademark of Salvador Dali (who's picture adorns a wall near the kitchen).  Having received a "Hello Dali" letter from some lawyers, they're changing the name to "Dalia."

The young lady who was the hostess escorted us to a small table across from the open kitchen.  She presented a wine list and each of us had a menu.

We ordered a glass of Cristalino Cava for $6 (a full bottle retails for $6.99 in the store) and the server, who lacked a bit of polish immediately forgot our order.  He returned a few minutes later to ask, again, if we wanted a drink.  The bottle he poured from was already opened and stoppered with a gizmo to retain the bubbles in a sparkling wine.  Our pour was mildly bubbly, but not full-throttle sparkling.

They brought some warmed dinner rolls to the table with a small container of alloli.  The Old Bat, with whom I often dine, asked the server if this contained garlic and he was sure it did not...ha!  Of course it does; it's a garlicky mayonnaise.

The tapas menu has numerous interesting choices.  Conejo (Rabbit) en Escabeche ($7), Crudo de Lomo ($7), Morcilla con Frijoles (blood sausage with beans) $5, Gazpacho en Tres (an assortment of gazpacho soups-$7) or Gambas al Ajillo (shrimp with garlic-$5).  We ordered Pulpo a la Gallega ($7) and the Setas al Ajillo ($5).  The former features two slices of potato, topped with sautéed octopus in a smoked pepper sauce.  It's beautifully presented, though this dish arrives without a serving spoon, and scraping it onto a little appetizer plate causes the sauce to drip all over the table.
The Setas was an oval ramekin fills with chopped mushrooms sautéed with garlic...nothing fancy, but good. Again, a serving utensil would have been helpful.

I asked how much the corkage fee was, having seen the lackluster wine list.  In fact, the wine list seemed unusually light in Spanish selections and with numerous South American offerings of little reputation.  We later found out that, indeed, the owners are not Spanish but Argentinean.

There are two dry Sherries and a dry Manzanilla...The Savory & James brand is more a warning, frankly, than a commendable example of Spanish winemaking.

For table wines, you'll notice few have the vintage date listed.  This is curious, since the list is done on a computer and replacing pages to keep it current should be an easy task.  The wines seem to be an after-thought and it's clear they don't have a wine-savvy sommelier on staff.

It's an oddly assembled wine list, with three California Pinot Grigios, including Guenoc's ($10 retail) at $45 a bottle.  Ouch!
Abadia Retuerta's lovely Spanish red called Rivola (a wine we have in the shop for $11.99) is $11 a glass and $40 a bottle.  The lone interesting Spanish red on the list is "Marquez (sic) de Murrieta Reserva" at $70.  The vintage is not listed and this is a wine retailing for $25. The list offers a "Tempranillo, Sangre de Toro" from Catalunya at $28.  We should presume this wine comes from the Torres winery and this wine is, in fact, a blend of Garnacha and Cariñena.
California reds include brands such as Camelot, Grove Street, Smoking Loon, Trinity Oaks and Folie a Deux.  These are the sorts of things you expect when looking for wine at 7-11 or BevMo and don't add much luster to a dining establishment's reputation.
The wines of the Cicchitti winery dominate the selections from Argentina.  Ho hum...

A musician arrived and set up a Yahama keyboard around 7pm.  He began playing some delightful tunes, singing in Spanish...a few people got up and danced.  No cover charge and they neglected to have a 'tips' jar.

Our server took the order for paella, but I figured he understood we wanted "paella for two."  There is only one listing for paella on the menu at $24.  It seems they have, in fact, a paella for 2 and a paella for 4 or 6...the server didn't ask and put in an order for but one main plate.
The paella was terrific, though.  It featured one lone prawn, a number of mussels and clams which seemed to have been steamed separately and then nestled into the paella pan.  The flavors were quite good, though, and the paella had some saffron aromas (so many places simply cook rice with turmeric, not the more costly and classic saffron).
We made do with the one paella.

The corkage fee for my bottle of Dominio de Conte Rioja Reserva was $10 and the waiter was sharp enough to bring nice, good quality red wine stems.  I noticed the folks at a neighboring table ordered either Sangria or some red wine "by the glass" and this was served in far-from-ideal stemware.

The bill came to around $64 with tax and before the tip.  We were delighted by the cuisine and look forward to further explorations of the menu.  There are interesting main plates such as a Zarzuela or Parillada of shellfish, a rib eye steak, chicken with mushrooms or Mollejas (sweetbreads).

This is a lovely addition to the neighborhood and I can see driving from outside of the area to this lovely restaurant.  Bringing your own wine is a good idea here.

Reviewed by GW
October 2010

 

ZUNI

1658 Market Street
San Francisco

Tel: 415-552-2522

Open for Lunch & Dinner
Tuesday-Sunday

 


3 types of Oysters



Cucumber Soup



The Famous Zuni Caesar Salad


The Famous Roasted Chicken.




Shoestring Potatoes


Coffee Granita

 

On a very warm Tuesday night, I met a City friend at Zuni (or is it the Zuni Cafe?), pulling up to the door on Rose Alley and leaving the car with a valet parking attendant for ten bucks.

My friend had reserved a table and I was escorted upstairs to the mezzanine level which was uncomfortably hot.  I was a bit surprised to see the place wasn't packed, as this venerable restaurant is a San Francisco icon on the dining scene.

We ordered a couple of flutes of Pierre Moncuit's deliciously elegant Brut Champagne ($14 on their wine list posted on the internet...$14.50 on the bill) and the server soon brought two pours...the stemware is a bit small, so I'm guessing these are no more than 5 ounces.  The wine list had been presented with the menus and there were two nice all-purpose wine glasses of 12 or 13 ounce capacity on the table.

My friend had already asked the server for a half a dozen oysters and we had Chef's Creek ($2.50), Wellfleet ($3.75) and Hog Island ($3.25) on a small plate with some lemon and a dipping sauce.  There are perhaps 20 different types of oysters on their menu and these were good.  A nice basket of excellent bread was on the table as well.

Our server, seeing I'd brought a bottle of wine and taking into account how hot it was, offered to keep our bottle of Barbera in the refrigerator for a while.

We ordered some starters, my friend opting for a Cucumber Soup ($8.50) and I had their famous Caesar Salad ($10).  We asked for two pours of Rippon Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand at $7.50 a glass.
There are  6 whites by the glass, including a special bottling of Sancerre from Daulny ($10), a Biancolella from La Pietra di Tommasone ($9), a Zuni bottling of Mount Eden Pinot Noir ($12) and a Gigondas from Brusset ($12.50).
The wine list features beautifully chosen bottlings...the sparkling wines range from a Villa Sandi Prosecco ($40), to a 1985 Charles Heidsieck Blanc de Millenaires ($180), with names such as Vilmart, Pierre Peters and Agrapart as well.

A dozen California white wines are available...names such as Qupe, Peay, Araujo and Navarro are on the list.  Nearly two dozen French whites are offered and perhaps a dozen Italian vini bianchi are featured.  In red wines, there are numerous Pinot Noirs, with Burgundy, California and one Oregon selection on the list.  There were a couple of Qupe reds offered, a Grenache and Syrah along with ten Rhone/Provencal bottlings.  There are ten or eleven Italian red wines, as well.
The corkage fee is $20.

I didn't taste the Cucumber soup and the Caesar was good, although my taste preference is for a bit more 'bite' from the garlic and anchovies.  The croutons were a bit crisp and not 'chewy' in the center as though they'd dried out a bit.

We ordered their famous Roasted Chicken ($48) with warm bread salad with red mustard greens, scallions, currants and pine nuts.  This takes about an hour and it serves two people with ease.

The waiter brought our bottle of Vietti Barbera and this was at a refreshingly cool cellar temperature...ambient temperature would have been far too warm as it had to be 80 degrees in that 'loft' of a dining area.  He brought a couple of glasses, identical to the ones they currently use for the white wine.  I have not been to Zuni in some time and I recall, on a visit years ago, having totally poor stemware, so this is an upgrade, even if the glasses are not as large as many red wine stems these days.

The Roasted Chicken arrived, a beautifully presented dish with golden brown, glistening chicken pieces with mustard greens adorning the plate.  A few minutes later, our side order of Shoestring Potatoes ($6) arrived.
I've heard people claim this is the best roasted chicken in San Francisco (or beyond) and they can't be far from wrong.  The chicken is deliciously crispy, flavorful and not dried out.  I might quibble a bit with their bread salad, as the use of vinegar struck me as being a bit strong and interfering with the wine we were drinking.

We shared a Granita ($7.75) of coffee and this was quite refreshing for dessert on such a hot night.  My guest's espresso was $2.50.

With a 4% Health Surcharge and tax, the bill tallied to $188 before the tip.

This was a nice meal and it's easy to see why Zuni has weathered a number of difficult economic periods and is still thriving.

Reviewed by GW
September 2010


 

 

CAFE DES AMIS


2000 Union Street
San Francisco

Tel: 415-563-7700

Open Daily til 11,
Til 1am Thurs-Sat.

 


Jambon de Canard




Grilled Octopus and Chanterelles...we had this split in half, so this is half a serving.


Lamb chop and crepinette.

 


Veal blanquette.

 


1988 Leoville Las-Cases


Coffee in a French Press



24 layer Crepe Cake

 

We were enthralled by the Parisian Brasserie-styled menu of this new San Francisco dining spot and tried to reserve a table shortly after they opened, but the place was booked.  We called a week ahead this time and were able to reserve a table on a Monday evening at 8.
There's valet parking, but I was unsure how this would work if we were dining late and I managed to find a parking place on the street a block away.

It's a dimly lit restaurant, with lots of polished wood and classic "bistro" ambience.  We sat down at our table and were presented the large-sized menu and impressive wine list.  

I had looked at their on-line web site and the wines offered are but a small glimpse of the vast array offered on the main list.
We wanted to peruse both the menu and wine list, so we ordered a couple of flutes of Taittinger Champagne ($16).  They had a Cremant d'Alsace for $12 and a Cremant de Bourgogne Rose for $9.  There are some table wines offered by the glass or in a carafe or pichet.  Offerings here include a spate of Rosés, Meyer-Fonne Pinot Blanc ($11 for a glass, $27 for a pichet), Domaine du Bagnol Cassis ($14/$34), Fontainerie Vouvray Sec ($9/$22), De Villaine Bourgogne Rouge ($18/$44), Mont-Redon Chateauneuf-du-Pape ($24/$59) or Joguet Chinon ($11/$27) along with a number of other options.
The wine list has a nice range of half bottles, as well.

The wine list is extensive, but not in a heavy or cumbersome way.  While many large lists feature numerous vintages of first growth Bordeaux at insanely high prices, this list affords the adventuresome wine drinker a chance to discover a new appellation or new, unfamiliar producer.  I saw a Rhone Valley Grenache on the list at $18 for a full bottle and a terrific Beaujolais from a small estate for $24.  In fact, there are seven Beaujolais wines on the list and 9 Loire Valley reds.  You can spend a little or pop for a $5000 bottle of Henri Jayer Vosne-Romanee.

My dining companion had brought a 1988 Leoville Las-Cases and the corkage fee was a mere ten bucks.  The restaurant sommelier came by to explain if you've brought a bottle of ten years of age, or more, the corkage is $10.  My bottle of Lafon Volnay was too young, from the 2002 vintage, and so we paid $25 for having them open this.

Our flute of Champagne was poured from a freshly-opened bottle and this was poured at the table.

The place is dimly lit and our sommelier brought a small flash light to help us have a better look at the wine list and menu.  Though their Choucroute was listed on their opening menu as a specialty de la maison, it is no longer offered on the regular menu, relegated to service on Thursdays only.  Curious to have Choucroute as a daily summer season dish and then in the cooler autumn months, it's only on the menu one day a week.

We wanted to try a few things, so we ordered a plate from their Charcuterie offerings and a couple of other starters before delving into a main plate.  The server asked if we wanted these served together or as courses.  We opted for the more leisurely "courses" service.

We decided to begin with their Jambon de Canard ($7), with "pickled vegetables, mustard and toast."  A rectangular plate with six thin slices of duck arrived, with a sweet fig cut in quarters and a drizzle of balsamic (was it?).  A nice taste.

Next came the Beef Tartare, $15 as an appetizer.  As this plate was arriving, I detected a burnt aroma and, sure enough, it was the bread accompanying our Beef Tartare.  It was not just "toasted," it was a bit burnt.  I smelled a burnt aroma well before the server arrived at our table, so how the kitchen could send this out is remarkable.  Certainly the server might have asked for replacements.  
There were three thick slices of burnt toast, some greens and a 4 inch 'disk' of red meat with a raw egg yolk and some chives or finely minced scallions on top.  We waited, expecting the server would come to mix together the tartare.  After a few minutes, we took care of this ourselves.

The sommelier had asked about decanting our Bordeaux when she first came to the table and we agreed that would be a good idea.  I flagged down our waiter and he opened the Burgundy and we offered he and the sommelier a pour of the 2002 Volnay from Lafon.  At this stage the sommelier came by to say Lafon is her favorite winemaker in the entire world.  The Bordeaux, however, remained unopened.

Our next course was a shared plate of Grilled Octopus "Salad" with pickled Chanterelles ($13) and this came split by the kitchen, so each of us received a little plate of nicely charred, somewhat soft/tender octopus with some small chanterelle mushrooms on one side of the plate.  

We finished this and after a while, the server stopped by to ask if we wanted coffee or dessert.  This was momentarily confusing, as we'd not ordered our main plate and still had a bottle of 1988 Leoville waiting for us.

"Oh, would you like to order main courses?" he asked.  And we did.  My friend ordered "Blanquette de Veau" ($27) and I had their Lamb Chop and Crepinette ($29).  The sommelier arrived and opened the Bordeaux, pouring a sip for my dining companion.  She was going to pour a glass for me and we stopped her, asking that the wine be decanted.

Our sommelier did decant the wine nearby and we offered her a pour and she helped herself.  The stemware for both the Burgundy and Bordeaux were well-chosen and appropriate.  A large decanter...heavy and too big for the table, this was set on a nearby ledge.  I got up periodically to refill our glasses, since neither the sommelier or server offered much service.

The Veal dish was overly seasoned with lemon or lemon oil.  The citrusy character dominated the veal, frankly. A Blanquette has a squeeze of lemon, but this was more lemon character than anything else.
The lamb chop was nicely grilled and quite flavorful, if a tad salty.  The crepinette was a bit sponge-like, though.

We lingered a while, sipping the Leoville Las Cases and the server and sommelier were rather scarce at this stage.  After at least half a hour, the server was in the vicinity and I flagged him down and we were presented a dessert card and some sweet wine offerings.
We chose a 24 layer crepe "cake" with apricot and a Chamomile 'sauce.'  I ordered two different dessert wines...a wonderful Muscat de Mireval from Chateau d'Excindre ($5) and a Charles Hours sweet Jurancon for $9 a pour.  They brought the two bottles and poured these tableside.

A French Press of coffee was $4 and quite good.

The music played in this place was more noticeable later in the evening and it's an incoherent mix of sounds.  There's a periodic French tune interspersed with Latin Jazz, Cowboy music and Rock.  I'd guess the music was for the amusement of the staffers more than of the dining room patrons.

Though we'd shared tastes of both our red wines, we were still charged the normal corkage fees of ten bucks for the "older than ten years" bottle and $25 for the 8 year old Burgundy.

The bill, with a 2% health surcharge and tax, came to $205 before the tip.  I've not paid much attention to the "Healthy SF" surcharge, so I am not sure if Cafe des Amis is alone in adding the 9.5% state sales tax to both the bill AND the health surcharge.

Our evening was a bit pricey, given the somewhat informal nature of a brasserie.

Reviewed by GW
September 2010

 

CAFE RENZO

473 University Avenue
Palo Alto

Tel: 650-329-8300

Open Daily
9am-Midnight (!)

 


Caponata

 


Calamari

 


Linguine con Vongole

 




Sea Bass

 


Osso Buco with Saffron Risotto and our bottle of Rosso Faye.

Many upscale places are closed on a Monday night, so we were delighted to find this new establishment open.  It's in the location formerly housing the Coppola wine bar and, briefly, the attempt at a steak house called Loui Loui.

We found a very welcoming older gentleman handling the host desk when we arrived around 8pm and were escorted to a nice booth inside.  Menus were placed on the table, but no wine list!

We asked the server for a wine list and were pleased to see a rather diverse list of offerings.  We asked for a couple of pours of Tiefenbrunner's Pinot Grigio ($9) and the server returned with two small carafes of nicely chilled white wine.

There are numerous "by the glass" choices:  Argiolas Vermentino is $9, while Mastroberardino's Falanghina is $10.  A Valle Reale Montepulciano is $8, while the modest Piccini Chianti is $7.  California wines included St. Supery Sauvignon Blanc at $9 a glass, Bearboat Pinot Noir for $9 or Lake Sonoma Cabernet at $12.

There are numerous Italian wines and the selection is good, offering wines such as Le Filigare Chianti Classico Riserva at $42, Massa's Timorasso at $49, Produttori del Barbaresco 2006 Barbaresco at $85 or the San Lazzaro Piceno Superiore at $35.  California wines are a bit more mainstream, with Sauvignon Blancs from Ferrari-Carano ($40) and Cakebread ($45), Chardonnays of Sonoma Cutrer at $42 for their Russian River Ranches bottling or a Napa Chardonnay from Hess for $44.  California reds offer selections from Hess, Rodney Strong, Rutherford Hill, Phelps, Franciscan, Arrowood, Cakebread and Silver Oak.  No Italian varieties from California, either.

We shared a couple of starters, a lovely Caponata ($7), a sizeable mound of eggplants, capers, etc. served with but four small toasted bread slices.  They bring out, by the way, a bread basket with but one dinner roll for each diner along with the silly dipping sauce of oil and vinegar (the vinegar is detrimental to the glass or bottle of wine they've just served to you).  Chilled, this was a nice plate, but a bit much, even shared between two people.
My guest also wanted to try their Totani Ripieni ($7), a large squid or Calamari, stuffed with bread, parsley and garlic and swathed in tomato sauce on a couple of slices of bread.  This was quite good.

We asked to split a serving of their Linguine con Vongole and the kitchen did this for us, presenting a couple of small bowls with a beautiful plate of pasta.  They claim to make their own pasta and this was the plate of the evening, though I thought it might have been the DeCecco brand of linguine.  It's a simple white wine 'sauce,' with garlic and parsley...just the right amount of salt and perfectly cooked pasta!  Some little bowls were brought for the discarded clam shells, a nice touch.

We had a bottle of Pojer e Sandri's Rosso Faye in our bag and the server immediately brought nice, large format, red wine glasses.   He did have a heavy hand in pouring the wines, I should note.
We offered him a taste and he brought a glass and I poured a healthy taste.

Our main plates arrived and at this point I asked my guest if she'd noticed anything amiss.  After a cursory glance, it dawned on her that we had no utensils with which to eat the main course.  We sat for a few minutes and finally were able to flag down a staffer who brought forks and a couple of hunting knives, which are a bit ostentatious and not exactly practical for someone who's ordered Sea Bass.  I got up and stole a more normal-sized knife from a place setting at a neighboring table.  (Good thing the table was vacant, huh?)

The main plates were brought to the table by a 'runner' and they hosted the food auction more common in a neighborhood Denny's:  "Who has the Sea Bass?"

The Sea Bass alla Ghiotta ($21) was a nice flaky piece of fish with a salty snap from the capers and olives.  The humungous knife was more appropriate for the Osso Buco ($18) I'd ordered.  Curiously, the braised veal shank comes not with various vegetables, but a serving of a Saffron Risotto.  This was a lovely plate and well-priced, though you won't find Osso Buco served with risotto in Italy.

We skipped dessert, but the server brought two small glasses of their homemade Limoncello.  It was moderately sweet, but not especially intense.

The bill, with the $18 corkage fee, tallied to nearly $110 before the tip.

This is a lovely restaurant and next time I might simply opt for a pasta and main plate...both were very good.

We saw young "Renzo" in a booth, sitting with a bevy of young ladies...we hope he spends some of his time working in the restaurant, as running such a place is a demanding job.

I'd say this place is worth the drive from Burlingame.  With a bit more polish, this place could have a long run on University Avenue.

Reviewed by GW
September 2010

 

FLORIO

1915 Fillmore Street
San Francisco

Tel: 415-775-4300

Dinner Daily from 5:30

 


Floresta Rose with fried beans.



Little Gem Lettuce with a Caesar Vinaigrette


Seafood Stew Provencal



Poulet Roti

We'd seen a movie at the nearby Clay Theater and headed a few blocks away to Florio, a small bistro on Fillmore Street, between Bush and Pine.

At 6:30, or so, we ambled in and had no difficulty in getting a table.  The host brought a wine list and the small menu.

They were featuring a range of Rosé wines, as it was early September, so we asked for a small carafe of Floresta, a nice Spanish wine for $13.50. The server brought two small wine glasses and the little carafe, enough for a couple of small pours each.  As we perused the menu, we nibbled on a starter of fried pole beans (7.25) with a Harissa Aioli.  Nice.

Apparently there were a few specials, though we didn't hear of them from our server, but as we were having our main courses, we heard the server at the neighboring table tell diners about the nightly specials.  They were also brought some bread, which we had not received.

The wine list has some nice offerings, though.  There are a couple of sparklers by the glass (Ruggeri Prosecco for $10 and Roederer Estate for $11.50).  They have a handful of wines by the glass or by the carafe, a nice way to taste a few things rather than spend the entire meal with but one wine.
Corkage is $20, by the way and they waive that with each bottle purchase.

The wine list has a number of solid offerings.  Etude Pinot Gris is $34, while Talley Chardonnay is $50.  Manciat-Poncet Macon is $32.50.  Honig Napa Cabernet is $50, while Navarro Pinot Noir is $36.  I'd suggest, frankly, bringing a bottle of nice red if you're so inclined, though the menu doesn't have much in the way of "red wine" main plates.

I had a Little Gem Salad with Caesar vinaigrette ($10.50).  This was a small serving of lettuce, with long shavings of cheese draped on top.  If the vinaigrette was in the direction of a "Caesar" salad dressing, you easily fooled me, as I didn't detect much anchovy or garlic influence.

The Old Bat was going to have a soup, some sort of Sweet Corn Bisque, but decided against a first course at the last minute.

Our main plates came shortly after they cleared the salad plate and we flagged down a server to order a small carafe of another wine, this time choosing a white Bordeaux called Chateau Ducasse ($20 for the carafe).  Our server was quite enthusiastic about this wine, saying it was her favorite.  We are delighted she enjoys that wine so much, though we found it to be a bit lackluster and rather subdued.  It was served quite cold, which dampened the aromas and flavor of the wine.

For a main plate, The Old Bat chose the Seafood Stew Provencal ($23), a nice bowl of saffron and tomato broth with mussels, clams and some sort of white fish.  Nice.  I had their Poulet Roti ($24) which came with summer squash and zucchini amongst other vegetables.  It was three nice pieces of chicken and was nicely done, though the breast portion was a bit dry.  Nicely seasoned, though.

We skipped dessert and the bill tallied to $104.

This is a lovely neighborhood restaurant and while it may not be worth a drive from Burlingame, it's a comfortable place if you're in the Fillmore area or close by.

Reviewed by GW
September 2010

 

 

 

 

 

SPALTI

417 South California Avenue
Palo Alto

Tel: 650-327-9390

Lunch:
Mon-Fri: 11-2

Dinner:
Mon-Sat: 5-9:30
Sun: 4:30-9

 

 

 


Carpaccio


The vinegar and oil offering, wine glass and the clams & mussels starter.

 

 

 




Grilled Duck & Spinach, etc.


Osso Buco of "Free Ranch Veal."

 

We had just seen a Sunday afternoon screening at a Palo Alto movie theater and ventured over to California Avenue to have dinner.

Spalti is a nice looking dining room, with outdoor tables in front and a spacious restaurant inside.
We were seated immediately upon arrival and the host brought menus and a wine list.  Nice, all-purpose wine glasses were part of the table setting.

The wine list had quite an array of offerings by-the-glass, though these didn't strike me as being selected for quality and value.  Chardonnays from Talbott and Stephen Vincent are offered, along with Cesari Pinot Grigio, a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Coppola Cabernet, Rodney Strong Pinot Noir and Straccali Chianti, amongst several others.

We opted to start with a half bottle of Merryvale's Napa Sauvignon Blanc as, at $19, it cost less than two glasses of lesser quality "by-the-glass" selections.

The wine list offers a dozen Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs from California, 2 New Zealand Sauvignons and a Riesling, while having only 5 white wines from Italy, all Pinot Grigio.  The range in price for the Pinot Grigio starts at $28 for the Cesari and goes up to $50 for a 5 year old bottle from the Alto Adige co-op, St. Michael-Eppan.

Red wines are more plentiful, but the choices are not the work of a savvy Italian wine buyer. The list lacks focus and seems more like the suggestions of a sales rep trying to "move" merchandise languishing in the warehouse.  Few fans of Tuscan wines will be enthralled by Machiavelli (sic) Riserva ($40),  "Colli" (sic) Riserva ($34) or Antinori's Peppoli ($44).  A Brunello di Montalcino and Montepulciano d'Abruzzo are brands sold almost exclusively in Trader Joe's.  With numerous Cabernets, Merlots and Pinot Noirs on the list, there's not a single "Cal-Ital" offering, so you won't find any locally-produced Pinot Grigio, Barbera, Sangiovese or Arneis.

A small basket with some soft, warm bread is brought to the table, along with a curious bowl of a 'dipping sauce' of some sort of oil and vinegar.  I don't know where this bit of "sophistication" originates, but you won't find it in Italy.  Vinegar does not pair especially well with wine and it makes the wine taste 'sour' and strange.

The Old Bat began with "Carpaccio di Manzo" ($9.50), a nice plate of thinly sliced beef with capers, onions, a bit of mustard and some "shaved parmesan."  This was an impressive plate and was met with an enthusiastic response.  I had their "Guazetto (sic) do (sic) Vongole e Cozze" ($11.95), a bowl with about a half a dozen each of clams and mussels in a rather salty broth.  Some of the clams were a bit rubbery, so I suspect these may have been frozen.

I had a bottle of a Lagrein Riserva in my bag and our server went to get some larger format, red wine glasses.  These were of a decent size, but they weren't elegant Riedels or the like.  Still, they were bigger than the white wine stems.

For a main course, The Old Bat ordered the "Grigliata di Anatra" ($21.95), a plate with various slices of rare meat, accompanied by a mass of cooked spinach and some sort of mashed potato offering.  I can't say it looked like duck and The Old Bat said the meat was a bit tough and rubbery...In looking at the photo I shot, it didn't appear to me as, in fact, duck.
I had their Osso Buco ($20.95) which was described as "Braised free ranch veal shank with porchini* (sic) mushrooms, carrots, celery, onions and marinara sauce.  It was a nicely cooked veal shank, actually, though I didn't detect much in the way of porcini.  The accompanying vegetables were nicely "al dente" and the mashed potatoes were alright.

The ambience was nice, though I couldn't quite determine what sort of music was being piped in to the dining room...not sure if it was Italian, or what.

The corkage fee was about $15, I believe.  The bill tallied to around a $100 before the tip, as we skipped dessert.

The server brought a couple of small thimble-sized glasses of a chilled sweet wine, announcing this as Moscato d'Asti.  I was curious to see the bottle, as it was the most dull, lifeless, watery Moscato I've encountered.  It turned out the wine was not from Piemonte, but from a large Prosecco 'factory' in Italy's Veneto.
The difference in this particular wine and those from the Asti area are certainly lost on this crew, as this is another one of those Peninsula restaurants merely "posing" as Italian.
Hence you have numerous items misspelled on the menu such as "Proscuitto," "Brushetta," "Guazetto do Vongole e Cozze," "Panchetta," "Pesce Fresce" and "porchini*."


I'd say it's a "standard neighborhood restaurant" based on our visit.

Reviewed by GW
September 2010

*Porchini...are these mushrooms you find growing on the veranda in front of your house?

ON TO THE NEXT PAGE


BACK TO THE FIRST PAGE OF RESTAURANT REVIEWS

 

winepour.gif (12696 bytes)Wine Tasting Today

TO INQUIRE ABOUT A WINE:  
Copyright © 1999 WEIMAX  March 17, 2017