May
15
2014

The Latest

Delicate, perfectly prepared sweetbreads

Delicate, perfectly prepared veal sweetbreads

Meet You at The Square

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

THE SQUARE, North Beach (1707 Powell St., 415-525-3579)

One of the most popular drinks of the 1960s (created in the ’50s), Harvey Wallbanger ($11) upgraded: vodka, Italian bitters, vanilla, orange, lemon weave into a not too sweet yet juicy whole

The Square surprised me. As the second incarnation in a historic North Beach space since the legendary Washbag (Washington Square Bar & Grill) closed in 2010, I half expected it to be a mediocre replacement, especially after perusing the menu. The initial impression was a pretty typical modern-day menu.

The housemade Parker rolls are one of the many highlights, served free with fennel pollen and super soft butter

The housemade Parker rolls are one of the many highlights, served free with fennel pollen and super soft butter

But after dining here twice, I quickly realized every dish I’d had was far better than it sounded. Even delicious. I knew the cocktails would be strong under the direction of Bar Manager Claire Sprouse (of Rickhouse and Tradition), and her drinks are what brought me in not long after opening at the end of February. Sprouse’s cocktails are classy twists on cheeky ’70s and 80s cocktails typically shunned in the revival of artisanal cocktails. She takes these “dark ages” cocktails, often loaded with vodka and fruit juice – like a Tequila Sunrise or Appletini, and brings them into balance for a more educated palate.

Roasted strawberries ($9) with tart fromage blanc ice cream, graham cracker crumbles, fresh spearmint

As with many dishes on the menu, more wonderful than it sounds: roasted strawberries ($9) blissfully coexist with tart fromage blanc ice cream, a graham cracker and fresh spearmint

Even the baby kale salad ($12) is better than average dotted with feta and pistachio

Even the baby kale salad ($12) is better than average dotted with feta and pistachio

The Square was opened by chefs Matt McNamara and Teague Moriarty (of Michelin-starred Sons & Daughters and Sweet Woodruff) who oversee dishes that have an unexpected amount of comfort and ease, starting with warm gougeres ($8) oozing fromage blanc cheese and chive.

I’ve not had one letdown among the dishes over a few visits. In photos, here are some food and drink highlights in the initial 2 1/2 months of The Square.

 

Excellent rabbit platter for two, accented by edible flowers

Succulent rabbit platter for two, accented by edible flowers and morel mushrooms

One of my favorites on the menu: the Appletini redeemed with Calvados (French apple brandy), Leopold's Sour Apple liqueur, lemon, and a splash of St. George Absinthe

One of my favorites on the menu: the Appletini redeemed with Calvados (French apple brandy), Leopold’s Sour Apple liqueur from Denver, lemon, and a splash of St. George Absinthe

Barley risotto ($16) with green garlic, lemon zest, maitake mushrooms

Heartwarming barley risotto ($16) marked by green garlic, lemon zest, maitake mushrooms

The Square dining room and bar

The Square dining room and bar

Clarified White Russian ($12) rye, coffee, milk, brown sugar, allspice

Another delightful play on a ’70s/80s favorite, Sprouse takes it to new territory as a Clarified White Russian ($12). Instead of vodka, it’s rye whiskey with coffee, milk, brown sugar and allspice, clarified like classic milk punches, resulting in a clean, creamy, lovely cocktail.

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May
01
2014

The Latest

Veggie spread at the Coachman kitchen bar

Veggie spread at the Coachman kitchen bar

BRITSH-Influenced PHAN

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

THE COACHMAN, SoMa (1148 Mission St. between 7th & 8th, 415-831-1701)

Heidelberg Cup

Heidelberg Cup No. 9

British-influenced food from Chef-de-Cuisine Ross Wunderlich (formerly at Bar Tartine, SPQR, A16)? Cocktails from one of the country’s great bar directors, Erik Adkins, and Bar Manager John Codd? Cocktail destination Heaven’s Dog closed and converted into a new restaurant and bar called The Coachman? All under master chef/owner Charles Phan? All this drew me to Coachman three times in the first two weeks alone. And each visit was a pleasure.

 WALL-E-BEAR ANIVERSARIO PAMPERO RUM, FINO SHERRY, NEGRONI REDUCTION, YELLOW CHARTREUSE

Wall-E-Bear: Aniversario Pampero Rum, Fino Sherry, Negroni reduction, Yellow Chartreuse

Maybe even more so than Heaven’s Dog, which still churned out gratifying late night dim sum and excellent cocktails, but could be criticized for being pricier than the endless affordable dim sum options around.

The Coachman’s food is possibly more realized and cocktails are as strong as ever. Pickled sardines ($10) co-mingle with hedgehog mushrooms and beets, while blood sausage ($19) falls apart with juicy, rosy, spiced glory. Slices of tender prime rib ($30), dribbled with jus and accompanied by Yorkshire pudding plus a side of creamed spinach or mash ($5), results in a deliciously hearty dinner.

Robert Burns' Hunting Flask: Redbreast 12yr Irish whiskey, currants, ginger, lemon peel, served in a hunting flask - traditional Scottish Highlands recipe

Robert Burns’ Hunting Flask: Redbreast 12yr Irish whiskey, currants, ginger, lemon peel, served in a flask, Erik Adkins’ version of a traditional Scottish Highlands recipe

Beef tartare & smelts

Beef tartare & smelts

My favorite bites, particularly with their gorgeous cocktails? When it’s in season, which was when the restaurant first opened, potted crab ($14) swimming in excess butter and scooped up with brioche toasts is an unctuous pleasure. A filling bowl of lentils and roasted garden carrots ($14) is lively in parsley dill sauce and meaty-sweet in a brilliant smoked date jam. My other favorite is beef tartare ($14) smartly contrasted with fried smelts. Raw beef and mini-fried fish? It’s such a fantastic “bar bite” that I’ve ordered it three times already – and I don’t tend to repeat until I’ve tried everything.

Cocktails ($11) are the showstopper here, though cask conditioned ales, beers and the French and German-centric wine list are no afterthought. Also, keep your eyes out for bartending master Erik Ellestad’s lovely, dry ginger beer which he’s fermenting champenoise-style (Champagne method) in the bottle. Cocktails are reinvented, rare classics from the Georgian through Victorian eras, while the back bar stocks a wealth of rum, sherry, and Scotch selections.

Antique Sour

Antique Sour

After trying the entire initial cocktail menu, there are a number of standouts, the first being a surprising combination of wine and genever. It’s actually a genius combination: bartender Keli Rivers played with Heidelberg Cup No. 9, an 1869 recipe from Cooling Cups & Dainty Drinks to get the elements just right. Diep 9 Belgian Genever, a house lemon cordial and Nahe Austrian Riesling combine over crushed ice for a dry, malty, stimulating drink, like a Cobbler cocktail born in Austria and Belgium.

Erik - California Milk Punch: Osocalis brandy, Appleton V/X Jamaican rum, Batavia Arrack, clarified milk, spiced syrup from Jerry Thomas' Bartenders Guide: How to Mix Drinks 1862

A well-executed California Milk Punch: Osocalis brandy, Appleton V/X Jamaican rum, Batavia Arrack, clarified milk and spiced syrup adapted by Erik Ellestad from Jerry Thomas’ Bartenders Guide: How to Mix Drinks 1862

Potted crab

Potted crab

An Antique Sour is one of the most balanced and lovely cocktails: Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, Pur Geist Beer Schnaps/bierbrand and lemon hit with flavorful punch, softened by egg white.

Ellestad’s Atholl Brose, a modern interpretation of a traditional Scottish Highlands cocktail, is my ideal dessert… or breakfast: Straus organic milk is infused with toasted oats, combined with whisky, honey, and dash of coffee.

Part owner Olle Lundberg’s Lundberg Design has left their mark on many SF spaces, and this redesigned restaurant opens up in the back at the end of the bar, dramatically lit by a “honey wall” of 76 panels filled with California-sourced honeys in varying shades, changing with light and heat (you might recognize the panels from Phan’s first Out the Door in Westfield Mall).

Though I had a soft spot for Heaven’s Dog, The Coachman feels more holistic. It’s already a necessary stop for the cocktail lover in the ‘hood, that thankfully also serves a great bite.

Cider cup a la Ensor (Cooling Cups & Dainty Drinks, 1869): Osocalis brandy, cider, Pur Pear, cucumber, pineapple, lemon

Cider cup a la Ensor (from Cooling Cups & Dainty Drinks, 1869): Osocalis brandy, cider, Pur Pear eau de vie, cucumber, pineapple, lemon

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Apr
28
2014

The Latest

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A bracing Coffee Break ($13) mixing Appleton Rum, Mr. Espresso cold brew coffee, Mandarine Napoleon orange liqueur, house mole bitters – subtle coffee and candied orange notes

Sneak Peek: DIRTY HABIT, opening 5/1

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

DIRTY HABIT, Union Square (12 Fourth St. between Market and Mission in Hotel Palomar, 415-348-1555)

The patio fireplace

The patio fireplace

Though I will miss the upscale inventiveness of the menu at Fifth Floor, thankfully, the same team is in effect at its new, more casual incarnation, Dirty Habit, opening Thursday, 5/1. Chef David Bazirgan, Pastry Chef Francis Ang, Master Sommelier Emily Wines and Lead Bartender Brian Means have created all new menus. The space has not only been completely remodeled in comfortably chic, warm tones, but what was the extended dining room has now become a sleek outdoor patio with rectangular rock fireplace that is set to be one of the coolest downtown hangout/gathering spots.

As I visited last week for a sneak preview and taste-through of most (12) of the cocktails (not including the classics and the barrel aged cocktails) and a number of dishes, I don’t see how this new spot couldn’t be a hit. With playful, quality drinks in equally fun and lovely vintage glassware, stellar spirits collection, standout dishes – elevated lounge food, the staff’s informed welcome, and comfortable chairs in the seductively dim space – not to mention that killer patio – the one safeguard from the hordes is its fifth floor location, tucked away upstairs location in the Hotel Palomar.

Here are some initial bites and cocktails of note via photos:

Femme Fatale ($13): an Avua Cachaca, Ancho Reyes chile liqueur, coconut, lime cocktail - with boba, soda water, and sprinkling of espelette pepper on top

Femme Fatale ($13): an Avua Cachaca, Ancho Reyes chile liqueur, coconut, lime cocktail – with boba, soda water, and sprinkling of espelette pepper on top

The sleek new patio

The sleek new patio

One of my favorite cocktails on the menu is a vodka drink: Spritz & Giggles ($13) under Seasonal & Shaken: Belvedere Vodka, strawberry shrub, Sutton Cellars vermouth, corn tea - notes of chamomile flowers, orange oil, vinegar and strawberry, salt makes it; bottled & slightly carbonated

One of my favorite cocktails, Spritz & Giggles ($13), is a bottled and carbonated Belvedere Vodka drink with tart/bracing strawberry shrub, Sutton Cellars vermouth, and corn tea – a dash of salt makes it sing

Killer chicken wings - among the best in town: Chicken wings ($10) sweet soy and chili vinaigrette

Killer chicken wings ($10) – among the best in town – crispy in sweet soy and chili vinaigrette

Another one of the best new cocktails: Chupacabra ($13), mixing Del Maguey Vida Mezcal, Los Altos Blanco Tequila, Aperol, grapefruit cordial, lime, Sal de Gusano (ground Oaxacan salt, chile & worms) - it's tart with grapefruit, salty, with chili and bitter orange notes

Another of the best cocktails: Chupacabra ($13), mixing Del Maguey Vida Mezcal, Los Altos Blanco Tequila, Aperol, grapefruit cordial, lime, Sal de Gusano (ground Oaxacan salt, chile & worms) – it’s tart with grapefruit, salty, subtly smoky, bright with chili & bitter orange notes

House charcuterie platter ($16) - all made in house but speck = with crackers, pickles (pickled Persian plums!)

House charcuterie platter ($16) – all meats & pates made in house except for the speck – with house beef tendon chicharrones and pickled vegetables and pickled Persian plums

Ludovico Technique ($13) under Seasonal & Shaken: Absolut Vodka, blueberry, Dry Madeira, lemon, verjus - notes of green grass and dried grapes

In front of Dirty Habit lunchboxes is the Ludovico Technique ($13): Absolut Vodka, blueberry, Dry Madeira, lemon, verjus, sipped from a bendy straw with notes of green grass, dried grapes and blueberry

Another brilliant dish: Octopus ($16) eggplant, pine nuts, cherries  - crispy confit style

Another brilliant dish ($16): octopus – some of it tender, other tentacles are crispy confit-style – eggplant, pine nuts, cherries

Pink Elephant ($12) under Seasonal & Shaken: Ford's Gin, Martini & Rossi Rosato Vermouth, Small Hands Pineapple Gum, orange bitters, St. George Absinthe

Pink Elephant ($12): Ford’s Gin, Martini & Rossi Rosato Vermouth, Small Hands Pineapple Gum Syrup, orange bitters, a dash of St. George Absinthe – herbaceous and tart

Completely remodeled lounge area

Completely remodeled lounge area

Green Thumb ($13) under Stirred & Sipped: Tanqueray No. 10 Gin, Carpano Bianco, Green Chartreuse, nectar essence made from African tea in a Tanqueray Rangpur Lime base - experimenting with oils and olive oil for texture in essence

Green Thumb ($13): Tanqueray No. 10 Gin, Carpano Bianco, Green Chartreuse, nectar essence made from African tea with a Tanqueray Rangpur Gin base

Fried lamb belly bao (steamed buns) with peanuts ($5)

Fried lamb belly bao (steamed buns) with peanuts ($5)

Marigold ($13) under Stirred & Sipped: Cuttysark Prohibition Edition, Luxardo Apricot, house apricot bitters, Laird's Applejack - slightly smoky-sweet, apple blossom notes

Marigold ($13): Cutty Sark Prohibition Edition Scotch, Luxardo Apricot liqueur, house apricot bitters, Laird’s Applejack – slightly smoky-sweet with apple blossom notes

Loveable Trixter ($12) under Seasonal & Shaken: Plymouth gin, lime, blackberries, sage, crushed ice

Loveable Trixter ($12): Plymouth gin, lime, blackberries, sage, over crushed ice

Wink & A Nod ($12) under Stirred & Sipped: Bulleit Rye, Cynar, Galliano Ristretto, Fernet BrancaMenta - rye bread, chocolate, mint, espresso notes

Another favorite, Wink & A Nod ($12), mixes Bulleit Rye Whiskey, Cynar (Italian artichoke liqueur), Galliano Ristretto (Italian coffee liqueur), Fernet BrancaMenta (Italian herbal mint liqueur) – notes of rye bread, chocolate, mint, bitter herbal notes, espresso

Dirt Nap ($10) under Stirred & Sipped: Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth infused with porcini mushrooms, Lustau "Don Nuno" Oloroso sherry, King's Ginger Liqueur - earthy, dried mushroom, sweet ginger notes

Dirt Nap ($10) combines Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth infused with porcini mushrooms, Lustau “Don Nuno” Oloroso sherry, King’s Ginger Liqueur – it is earthy with dried mushroom and sweet ginger notes

Leather & Lace ($12) under Stirred & Sipped: James Pepper Rye, Lustau "Peninsula" Palo Cortado sherry, Licor 43 for sweetness, house tobacco bitters with shaved cardamom on top - nutty, dry, sweet, aromatic

Leather & Lace ($12): James Pepper Rye Whiskey, Lustau “Peninsula” Palo Cortado sherry, Licor 43 for sweetness, and house tobacco bitters with shaved cardamom on top – the cocktail is nutty, dry, sweet, aromatic

Get Me A Juicebox! ($24) canned PBR, hot toddy, house bar nutss for 2

Get Me A Juicebox! ($24): order your own Dirty Habit lunchbox, complete with a can of PBR beer (or, in this case, Negro Modelo), house bar nuts and a hot toddy cocktail in a thermos

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Apr
15
2014

The Latest

Pretty Wings

Pretty Hot Wings

You Haven’t Had Thai Like This

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

KIN KHAO, Union Square (55 Cyril Magnin St. at the corner of Ellis and Mason in Parc 55 Hotel, 415-362-7456)

Blue Flower Limeade ($5) or as Kathoey Collins (Ladyboy Collins): Akvinta Vodka, Chareau liqueur, lime, blue flowers

Blue Flower Limeade ($5) or with booze as Kathoey Collins (Ladyboy Collins), mixing Akvinta Vodka, Chareau liqueur, lime, blue flowers

Back in 1998-1999 I spent two months in Thailand – and another in Vietnam – working in orphanages and traveling around both countries. Needless to say, it was a life-altering three months, particularly during a far less touristy time in Southeast Asia. For a mere dollar or two, I ate amazing meals – and was stretched by experiencing a lot of rough conditions and indefinable “food”, bugs and animal parts included.

THE best Thai sausage

THE best Thai sausage

Rarely am I faced with some of the more fascinating elements of taste experienced in remote parts of Thailand… long before I started taking notes and photos of all my meals. While there is plenty of authentic Thai food in the US (minus the dumbed-down heat), the majority of restaurants stick to a similar menu. In LA, I can experience proper Thai heat from the second menu at Jitlada. At famed Pok Pok in Portland (now also NY), I find flavors I hadn’t experienced since 1999, creatively wrought, and also a proper use of stinky durian in dessert.

One half of Kin Khao's dining room

One half of Kin Khao’s dining room

Enter Kin Khao, a new restaurant that belongs in the genre of exceptional Thai. First, there’s cooked-from-scratch curries (most restaurants do not go through this painstaking process) and exploring oft-ignored aspects of Thai cuisine. Proprietor Pim Techamuanvivit, author of The Foodie Handbook, and the popular blog, Chez Pim, hails from Bangkok. She is seriously dedicated to sourcing the best ingredients, even including a run down to LA every week to get a very specific brand of palm sugar for dishes and cocktails, one she can’t find anywhere else.

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Yum Kai Dao

Chef Michael Gaines (who formerly worked at Pim’s partner, David Kinch’s two Michelin-starred restaurant, Manresa) oversees Pim’s kitchen and family recipes, sending out one memorable dish after another. Oh, those curries. Massaman Nong Lai ($26) showcases a bone-in beef shank braised in Massaman curry paste and coconut milk with burnt shallots and potatoes, decadently accented by orange oil.

Crab Sen Chan ($17) local Dungeness crab meat and rice noodles wok-charred together in a zingy Chantaburi sauce made from crab fat

Crab Sen Chan ($17): local Dungeness crab meat and rice noodles wok-charred together in a zingy Chantaburi sauce made with crab fat

An off menu classic Daiquiri, created by Bon Vivants' Chad Arnholt, made with that irresistible palm sugar, resulting in an earthy, lush, tart-sweet cocktail

An off-menu classic Daiquiri, created by Bon Vivants’ Chad Arnholt, made with that irresistible palm sugar, resulting in an earthy, lush, tart-sweet cocktail – one of my favorite drinks here

If this savory curry hadn’t made impact enough, the 15 or more ingredients in Khun Yai’s green curry ($22) result in a show-stopper. Lush with coconut milk, Thai Apple eggplants, Thai basil and tender, pristine rabbit three ways – loin, saddle, and tender, herb-laden meatballs – it’s enough to make you want to give up on mediocre curries everywhere. Though expensive, the portion is plenty for two to share. I’ve brought home leftovers after every visit. Both curries taste amazing the next morning, stir-fried with eggs and rice.

There’s plenty to love beyond curries. Mushroom Hor Mok ($10) is a fluffy, cool curry mousse served in a jar, made of both wild and cultivated mushrooms, scooped up with crisp rice cakes. Pretty Hot Wings ($7) don’t approach the divine fish sauce wings at the aforementioned Pok Pok in Portland and NY, but they are juicy, marinated in Nam Pla fish sauce and garlic marinade, glazed tamarind and Sriracha. Yum Kai Dao ($7) is an unusual “salad” of deep fried duck egg, delightfully contrasted by runny yolk, the crunch of peanuts, shallots, mint, cilantro and cucumber, dotted with dollops of chilli jam.

Mushroom mousse

Mushroom Hor Mok

Sai Ua+Namprik Noom ($15), a grilled house-made Northern Thai pork sausage, is the best version I’ve ever had, including in Thailand. The sausage nearly pops with flavor, contrasted by pork cracklings and spicy pepper relish. Saeng-wah salad ($16) is an unusual play on texture. Though called a wild gulf prawn “ceviche”, it’s plump prawns over crispy catfish crumbled up, dotted with lemongrass, ginger and bird’s eye chilli. While it starts to feel like too much raw shrimp half way through, it’s a memorable play in contrasts.

Thus far, there’s one dessert. Black rice pudding ($8) is blessedly not sweet on its own, but is served with a variety of condiments: toasted rice, coconut cream, and that divine palm sugar melted like caramel, all stirred to taste preference in the warm black rice. It recalls my Thailand days where dessert, if it happened at all, was rarely ever sweet, but often comforting. This also makes a lovely leftover breakfast.

Black bean dessert

Black rice pudding

With warm service and what already promises to be the most exciting Thai food in SF, only the clean white walls and slightly generic-looking setting in the Wyndham Parc 55 Hotel (enter through hotel doors at the corner of Mason and Ellis) feels as if it’s not keeping up.

Though Kin Khao is still working out opening kinks, this is the Thai restaurant I’ve been waiting for.

Khao Mun Gai ($16) chicken fat rice, ginger-poached chicken, Pim’s secret sauce, served with cup of intense chicken consommé

Khao Mun Gai ($16): chicken fat rice, ginger-poached chicken, served with cup of intense chicken consommé

That dreamy coconut palm sugar

That dreamy coconut palm sugar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The most vacation-like drink on the menu: Hua Hin Beach, a blend of Pampero dark rum, coconut cream, lime, salt, kaffir lime, and, yes, a splash of beer (in this case, stout)

The most vacation-like drink on the menu: Hua Hin Beach, a blend of Pampero dark rum, coconut cream, lime, salt, kaffir lime, and, yes, a splash of stout beer

BON VIVANTS’ COCKTAILS

With a cocktail menu ($12 each) crafted by San Francisco cocktail/design dream team, The Bon Vivants – most specifically by the talented Scott Baird – there was no way it wasn’t going to be good. Just as important, they’ve hired bartenders who can properly execute, like the talented Keli Rivers and Rhachel Shaw. In my initial three visits, I tried every cocktail on the menu – and a couple off menu – most of them refreshing, lovely accompaniments with the food.

Sao Thai (Thai Girl) on right: Ocho blanco tequila, house banana cordial, lime cinnamon Rasa Umami on left: Hidalgo Oloroso sherry, Black Grouse Scotch, house turmeric lime cordial, white pepper

Sao Thai aka Thai Girl (R): Ocho blanco tequila, house banana cordial, lime cinnamon;
Rasa Umami (L): Hidalgo Oloroso sherry, Black Grouse Scotch, house turmeric lime cordial, white pepper

Kafe Mao (drunken coffee – R): Pierde Almas mezcal, Combier cassis, coffee, cream; Tom Yum (L): Tanqueray gin, Imbue vermouth, lime, galangal, lemongrass, Abbots bitters

Samunprai Julep (Thai herb julep): Dickel whiskey, Mandarine Napoleon, Thai herbs, palm sugar, tea

Samunprai Julep (Thai herb julep): Dickel whiskey, Mandarine Napoleon, Thai herbs, palm sugar, tea

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Apr
15
2014

The Latest

Keleguen: lemon-cooked chicken, scallions, sesame seeds on coconut flatbread (titiyas)

GUAM ISLAND BREEZES

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

PRUBECHU, 2487 Mission St. between 24th & 25th, 415-952-3654

Revamped interior

Merely open two and a half months, Prubechu – meaning “you’re welcome” – is easily the tasting menu steal in the city. For merely $40, it’s an imaginative five courses touched with fine dining flair in an uber-casual setting.

As the city’s only Chamorro (Guamanian) restaurant, the island breezes of Guam first come in the form of a warm welcome from Chef Shawn Naputi and business partner Shawn Camacho (fellow Shawn and Guam native). Music envelops the still humble but completely revamped space in a warm glow that reminds me more than a little of Hawaii. The musical style evokes slack key guitar, ukulele lullabies and other sounds akin to – but different than – traditional Hawaiian music.

Amuse bouche of Somerset, WA, oysters in kiwi “mignonette” and coconut vinegar fermented to a 90 proof spirit called binakle tuba, the typical “moonshine” of Guam

Pulling from his grandmother’s recipes and the high-quality/low-price tasting menu concept modeled after Naputi’s days cooking with Chef Manny Torres Gimenez in the space’s former restaurant, Roxy’s Café (Gimenez is now down the street at The Palace), Prubechu also offers an a la carte menu ($3-16).

Changing house pickles ($3) might include eggs, cauliflower, kohlrabi, turmeric daikon, kimchee

Changing house pickles might include eggs, cauliflower, kohlrabi, daikon, kimchee

Sous vide egg, asparagus, smoked asparagus puree, achiote powder-dusted rice crackers

It’s hard to decide what I love more: the tasting menu or the a la carte offerings, the former more delicate and exciting, the latter, heartier and gratifying. Best to go more than once as you’ll want to try it all – and as soon as you wait a couple weeks, it will change again. As I’ve not been lucky enough (yet) to visit Guam, it helps to get an education on its comforting, flavorful cuisine here.

Escabeche – fish poached in citrus/rice wine vinegar – with confit baby octopus, eggplant, okra

From the a la carte menu, keleguan ($12) is mounds of shredded, lemon-cooked chicken mixed with green onions and coconut on two coconut flatbreads that look like mini-tortillas. In fact, they’re called titiyas, a name derived from a Guam attempt at pronouncing the Spanish “tortillas”, given such influences on the island’s cuisine.

Another a la carte offering is tinatak ($14): tender, handmade capellini noodles, tossed with ground, sugar snap peas and okra in a lemon coconut milk sauce. It’s sheer, home-style comfort, sliding down easy with a bottle of Ballast Point Sculpin IPA ($6). Ubiquitous pickled items ($3) are a pleasurable palate cleanser, changing often but can include pickled eggs, cauliflower, kohlrabi, daikon, and a delectable house kimchee.

Chalikilis: toasted rice porridge, achiote, dried-seared-applewood smoked pork jerky (tinino katne) – like BBQ ribs rubbed only in salt, pepper and garlic – pork belly, boquerones, enoki mushrooms, sous vide quail egg, sugar snap peas

Atlantic salmon, pickled sea beans, avocado, orange, sesame seeds

Atlantic salmon, pickled sea beans, avocado, orange, sesame seeds

The five course tasting menu ($40) begins with an amuse bouche of an oyster from Somerset, Washington, bright in kiwi “mignonette” with a liquid base of coconut vinegar fermented to 90 proof, based off a spirit (the typical “moonshine” of Guam) called binakle tuba.

Counter seating

Counter seating

Sashimi-style Atlantic salmon is a pristine first course, mingling with pickled sea beans, avocado orange segments, and sesame seeds. A sous vide-cooked egg runs seductively over crunchy asparagus and achiote powder-dusted rice crackers in smoked asparagus puree. Creamy yolk, smoky notes, and fresh green crunch results in a dreamy Spring veggie dish.

Braised oxtail kadu (stew) in coconut soy vinegar broth, smoked potatoes, mung bean noodles, carrots, pea tendrils

Braised oxtail kadu (stew) in coconut soy vinegar broth, smoked potatoes, mung bean noodles, carrots, pea tendrils

Escabeche (spelled eskabeche in Guam) is slightly crispy fish poached in citrus, partnered with tender baby octopus, vibrant in rice wine vinegar. I immediately craved more of that octopus. The dish is rounded out by bits of eggplant, okra, sunflower sprouts and marinated onions.

Chalikilis is a toasted, achiote-laced rice porridge that would make an empowering breakfast. Pork belly, enoki mushrooms, a sous vide quail egg and slippery-fresh boquerones (anchovies) add intrigue to the porridge, but I found myself doing a double-take (or taste) with tinino katne, a chunk of dried, applewood-smoked pork jerky rubbed in salt, pepper and garlic, delightfully reminiscent of southern BBQ/dry pork ribs. The dish is even better with heat: a side of blissfully spicy denanche hot pepper sauce, made in house, and a staple condiment in Guam.

Salted coconut ice cream topped with toasted coconut and crumbled macadamia nuts, based on a Guam coconut treat cooked down with brown sugar

Salted coconut ice cream topped with toasted coconut and crumbled macadamia nuts, based on a Guam coconut treat cooked down with brown sugar

The last savory course: fall-apart, braised oxtail kadu, a stew in coconut soy vinegar broth, punctuated with smoked potatoes, mung bean noodles, carrots, pea tendrils. The oxtail shines, rich yet not heavy. From my limited experience, a common thread in Chamorro cuisine seems to be flavor-rich sauces, broths, and plenty of vinegar, adding complexity to seemingly simple dishes like porridge or stew.

Dessert is inspired by a popular kids treat in Guam where coconut is cooked down with brown sugar. Chef Naputi crafts salted coconut ice cream marked by toasted coconut and crumbled macadamia nuts.

Refreshing island breezes, flavors, music and farewells send me off into a warm, Spring evening, eager to return.

Tinatak ($14) handmade capellini noodles, ground chuck/beef, sugar snap peas, okra, lemon, beans?, coconut milk sauce

Tinatak: handmade capellini noodles, ground chuck, sugar snap peas, okra, lemon, coconut milk sauce

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Apr
01
2014

The Latest

Lolo's new space is as unique as its last

Lolo’s new space is as unique as its last

3 Reasons To Check Out the New Loló

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

LOLO, Mission (974 Valencia Street, between 20th & 21st, 415-643-5656)

Enter Lolo

Entering Lolo

Loló, with its whimsical, colorful decor and unusual interpretations of Mexican food, has been one of my underrated dining favorites since it opened six years ago. In all honesty, I miss the two-roomed intimacy of its original 22nd Street location. But since they moved just a couple blocks to their new Valencia space (formerly Lot 7), opening February 3rd, business has picked up as they’re more centered in Mission. The gains are a more open, sunny (and also noisier) space, a liquor license allowing for cocktails and agave spirits, and lunch hours Friday and Saturday.

Pancko-crusted avocado tacos

Panko-crusted avocado tacos

Panko shrimp tacos on jicama

Panko shrimp tacos on jicama

1. Loló’s Three Inventive Tacos: Co-Owner and Executive Chef Jorge Martínez has smartly kept the original restaurant’s best dishes intact – and they tend to revolve around reinvented tacos. Taco Tropical ($9) was always the most inventive. Think a thin sheet of jicama acting as a tortilla, panko-fried shrimp, pineapple relish and a healthy dose of aioli. It’s light, creamy, crunchy, and Loló’s most inventive bite.

Gold Digger cocktail

Gold Digger cocktail

Another longtime Loló fave is the tuna tacon ($10). On a traditional flour tortilla, long, rectangular, seared albacore tuna is perked up by shellfish aioli, lush avocado and roasted tomatillo sauce. On the vegetarian tip, panko avocado tacos ($9) complete this trinity of creative taco goodness. Also on a flour tortilla, melted Oaxacan cheese, caramelized onions and Anaheim peppers underlie panko-fried avocado. It’s another play in textures, vibrant with flavor.

Of the new dishes, mostly inspired by the Mexican state of Jalisco, a few are a bit of a let down, like goopy Mexiterranean cheese fondue ($9), a thick mesh of Oaxacan cheese, tomatoes, cilantro and oregano, or rather slippery huitlacoche (corn fungus) requeson cheese-stuffed wonton raviolis ($13) swimming in basil and arugula sauce. But other dishes gratify, like mezcal-soaked BBQ beef pulled short rib, tender and shredded over gorditas/corn cakes ($9).

Tuna tacon

Tuna tacon

Vibrant decor

Vibrant decor

2. The decor is still a knockout: Executive chef Jorge Martinez, his wife Lorena Zertuche (who designed the new and the original restaurant) and GM Juan Carlos Ruelas have taken over the new space with the same playful, gutsy design of the original Loló. There’s a salvaged car door wall, origami boats, cowboy boots enclosed in circles, flower baskets and, near the bathrooms, lively rooster wallpaper.

3. And then there’s the addition of cocktails & spirits: Cocktails ($11) are a welcome addition to what was already lively sangria and wines at the original location. Don’t miss out on a shot of sweetly spicy ancho chile liqueur from Gualillo, Mexico, as a digestif post-meal. Bar Managers David Gallardo and Leon Vasquez naturally go heavy on agave spirits mezcal. The nine-seat “agave bar” features a rotating flight of mezcals and tequilas (three one-ounce tastings for $10-12).

Rooster wall by the bathroom

Rooster wall by the bathroom

My favorite of all the initial cocktails is easily the Benito, served up. Mezcal mingles with herbaceous Yellow Chartreuse, lemon verbena and Aveze (Gentian liqueur), with understated heat and a subtle bitter backbone. It’s a beauty.

The crisp, clean Gold Digger would be my next choice. Also served up and featuring mezcal and Yellow Chartreuse, it plays like a twist on a clean martini, supported by tonic syrup and grapefruit bitters. There’s twists on a Moscow Mule, the Mezcal Mule, featuring mezcal and tequila, with a splash of pomegranate molasses and Angostura bitters, and a generous dose of ginger beer over crushed ice, or a drink inspired by the ubiquitous Paloma (the common cocktail in Mexico): Gin Dove uses gin instead of tequila, mixed with Campari, grapefruit soda and a little salt.

Tequila and sangrita shots

Tequila and sangrita shots

Flower wall

Flower wall

Gorditas

Short rib gorditas

 

Benito cocktail

Benito cocktail

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Mar
15
2014

The Latest

Oak & Rye, Los Gatos

Oak & Rye’s Puttanesca pizza

BY THE SLICE: 8 New Bay Area Pizza Spots

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

Stone & Embers courtyard

Stone & Embers courtyard

As if the Neapolitan, artisanal, wood-fired pizza wave of the past decade weren’t enough, pizza openings continue to come on fast and furious. A recent interview I read with a New Yorker said they couldn’t live on the West Coast because they’d have to miss pizza. Having grown up in NJ (near NYC) and California both, and as a frequent traveler studying food and drink in cities the world over – and certainly all over Italy – San Francisco is easily one of the great pizza cities. The list of pies that are very good to excellent is long.

Amongs the newcomers, From a greasy NY slice to yet more Neapolitan-influenced havens, here are eight new pizza outposts open mostly between Fall 2013 and February 2014, from as far north as Philo in Mendocino County, all the way down to Los Gatos in the South Bay (hint: those two are the standouts of the crop).

North, South, East

OAK & RYE, Los Gatos

Oak & Rye

Oak & Rye

The best of the new pizza ‘comers, Oak & Rye, at first glance looks like just another wood-fired outpost with slick, white walls, sunny space and service. Open since October 2013, it could just be yuppy-peaceful Los Gatos’ first foray into that oft-done territory. There’s no shortage of world class pizza places around the Bay Area, but Oak & Rye, since my first visit back in December, immediately made an impression.

Blackbird

Blackout cocktail

On the drink side, they are strong on cocktails ($10), the exception, not the rule, in the South Bay. Case in point: the anise-laced balance of a Blackout uses SF’s own Emperor Norton absinthe soft with lemon, egg white and a splash of Prosecco. It’s a bright, bracing delight.

There’s ubiquitous small plates and sides like fried brussels sprouts ($8) gussied up with Nueske’s bacon, pecan and maple, or at dinner, a lightly-charred half chicken ($18) with braised kale and humble lemon wedge. Their custom, wood-fired oven glistens, covered in shiny pennies.

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The fantastic Scotty 2 Hottie pizza

But it’s those pies that stay with you: their red sauce is perfection, ideally sweet and savory.  The crust is that fine line of bubbly char and chewy depth. Angelo Womack, of famed Roberta’s in Brooklyn, recently moved across the country, bringing his mad pizza skills with him.

I adore the boquerones (fresh anchovies) brine and salty caper notes of the Puttanesca ($11), a red sauce pie liberally graced with garlic, oregano, onions and Parmigiano cheese. I’m in love with the Scotty 2 Hottie pizza ($16), despite its silly name. Tomato, basil and mozzarella undergirds a brilliant trio of meaty sopressata (dry Italian salami), sweet honey and hot pepperoncini oil. Sweet, spicy, savory… it’s perfection. Oak & Rye is worth driving down to Los Gatos for.

STONE & EMBERS, Philo

Intimate Stone & Embers

Chef Meany works his magic

The other great of the newcomers? Stone and Embers, in the small town of Philo in beautiful Mendocino County. Sad I am that this place is just far enough from home. Call ahead to make sure there’s pizza left – or go for lunch to ensure you don’t miss out (the place closes early anyway, typically by 8pm). As a one man show, Patrick Meany can only fit enough dough for about 60 pizzas a day in the small fridge next to their wood-fired oven. There’s merely three tables and a few bar seats in full view of the pizza-making action.

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Mushroom “chicharrones”

The restaurant opened in fall 2013 – I made it up there in December. Here I first tasted Boonville Bite Hard Cider, a vibrant local cider that is both dry and brightly fruity, showcasing fresh apples and dry bubbles simultaneously. I went next door in the idyllic Madrones complex housing the restaurant, a hotel and a couple shops, to Signal Ridge‘s tasting room, where I stocked up on 6-packs of the cider.

Meany’s crust is some of the best I’ve had from Italy to NY. He works thoughtfully on every aspect of dough-making to ensure balanced, complex crust. Turducken sausage is crumbled atop The Jeffer pizza ($19), layered in tomato sauce under smoked mozzarella and Parmesan, red chili pepper adding heat intrigue. Another pie, 707 1.3 ($16), refers to the area code and all things local. This time it’s the tomato sauce that’s smoked (as A16 Rockridge does in their Montanara Rockridge pie), while local mushrooms, goat cheese from Pennyroyal Farm, and Boonville piment d’espelette (a variety of chili pepper) enliven another fantastic pie.

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707.13 – all things local pie

Small plates are no afterthought. In fact, they feel plucked from San Francisco, easily at home with many hot restaurants of the moment. A risotto of barley and rye ($9) is earthy with local, roasted mushrooms, perked up by green apple and Parmesan. Likewise, fire-roasted brassicas (in this case, cauliflower and brussels sprouts) with baby carrots ($8) are lively with vadouvan spice and citrus, cooled by house yogurt. A snack of crispy mushroom “chicharrones” ($4) dusted in Parmesan and porcini salt is just a great idea. Only pretzel rolls ($1.50) tasted lackluster compared to pretzels I’ve had from places like Esther’s Bakery.

Brassicas & carrots

Brassicas & carrots

Dessert holds up, particularly house ice cream and sorbet ($3) in fun flavors like green tomato, local goat cheese or yuzu (Japanese citrus). Decadence joyously comes in the form of a pumpkin cinnamon roll ($8) with malted milk ice cream.

Though this tiny haven runs out of pizza all too quickly and closes way too early, it’s a food lovers’ treasure surrounded by the woods and farmland of Mendocino County.

SLICER, Oakland

Slicer slices

Slicer slices

Open since fall 2013, Slicer Pizzeria, helmed by Colin Etezadi (former chef de cuisine at Boot & Shoe Service), churns out pies that are not so much authentic NY or Neapolitan pizza but what feels more like Cali-meets-NY, thin crust pizza with interesting but unfussy toppings (slice $3.50, whole $23).

The crust has a nice crisp to it, while seasonal offerings could be asparagus and green garlic, accented with red onion, fennel and pecorino cheese, or savory pancetta and bitter radicchio over tomato sauce, doused with balsamic and Parmesan cheese.

BUILD PIZZERIA ROMA, Berkeley

BUILD's pizza bar

BUILD’s pizza bar

The oldest “newcomer” of this group, BUILD Pizzeria Roma, opened in April 2013, dramatically revamping a downtown Berkeley space into a sprawling, cavernous room. The dining room is centered by a pizza bar where staff build pies to your specifications, with ingredients like silky anchovies or Italian truffle. Husband/wife owners Lisa Holt and David Shapiro (she grew up in Rome) hope to open a series of BUILD – I can see how giant black and white wall photography punctuated by yellow, and build-your-own pizzas, appeal to a range of people.

BUILD pizza

BUILD pizza

So in full honesty, I’ve had better pizzas around the world. This is not so much a gourmand’s pizza den, although it will work for the pizza snob, too. It is fun, interactive and the pies certainly satisfy. With a base of rosso (red sauce), bianca (white/no sauce) or pesto, choose cheese and toppings from the line-up before you.

There’s plenty to drink on the craft beer and cocktail front, like a special beer cocktail one night I visited when Bison Organic Brewing was a featured brewery (something they do regularly with local breweries and distilleries): a Gingerbread Flip ($8) of spiced rum and raw ginger, was creamy with whole egg, effervescent and spiced with Bison’s Gingerbread Ale.

San Francisco

LONG BRIDGE PIZZA CO., Dogpatch

Long Bridge pies

Long Bridge pies

Just opened mid-February 2014, Long Bridge Pizza Co. is an airy, small shop in the heart of Dogpatch, a welcome addition for the neighborhood, cooking pies ($12-14.50 for small, $22-26 large, no by-the-slice) all day long. I wouldn’t call it a destination for those in other parts of the city, but these are gratifying pizzas. They strike a fine balance between greasy NY and Cali-fresh in their straightforward pepperoni, sausage or margherita pizzas.

PIZZAHACKER, Outer Mission

Festive Pizzahacker space

Festive Pizzahacker space

Cult pizza favorite, Jeff Krupman, a.k.a. The Pizzahacker, finally opened a brick-and-mortar spot for his beloved pizza in Outer Mission on the edge of Bernal Heights this January. Despite crowds descending on the lofty-yet-intimate space (formerly Inka’s), Pizzahacker staff are upbeat and friendly, and the vibe festive under blue ceiling and walls illuminated by strung colored lights and communal picnic tables.

There’s about five rotating pies each day ($12-16 each), with wonderfully bubbly crust and engaging toppings. One example: Yo Vinny! is laden with marinated onions, nearby butcher Avedano’s hot Italian sausage, and for lively contrast, pickled Goat Horn peppers.

THE PIZZA SHOP, Mission

The Pizza Shop

The Pizza Shop

Opening weeks ago in February, The Pizza Shop on 24th Street, is the most “real deal” NY of the thin slice newcomers, in the same class as long time, NY slice fave Arinell. I feel transported back to NY walking down the street eating a sopping (with appropriate grease, yo) pepperoni slice ($4 each, $19 for a pie), folded in half on a paper plate, not shy on the cheese.

Jersey love

Jersey love

Chef-owner Thomas Jividen comes from New Jersey and having partly grown up in the Garden State myself, I couldn’t help but cheer for the place when I saw the wood-carving of Jersey on the soda machine. Jividen comes from San Diego’s Bronx Pizza, while he’s running the shop with Laurie Badger from SF’s beloved Golden Boy Pizza. Whole pie delights include the Meat-O, laden with pepperoni, sausage, and, yes, meatballs.

PRESIDIO PIZZA COMPANY, Western Addition/Pac Heights

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Slice of Frankie’s

Presidio Pizza Company had a soft opening in December 2013, which I hit up a couple times in initial weeks. The staff has been so friendly every time, asking for honest feedback on the food. I truly appreciate their desire to improve and hone during those initial weeks.

Presido Pizza space

Presidio Pizza space

Their pizza style is NY/NJ-influenced – there’s even calzones ($8) and cannoli ($5) – though I noticed most of the staff are from Boston or the Bay Area.

Though I could use more tang and sweet-savory bite in their red sauce, meatballs ($6 for 3, $9 for 5) are tender, dotted with basil and Grana Padano cheese. As for the pizza, it’s more gratifying than a game-changer, ideal mainly for those in the neighborhood. My favorite pie has been Frankie’s ($4 slice/$22 pie) with its juicy slices of sausage with rapini, garlic, onions and cherry peppers over mozzarella. The Grandma ($3.50/$20), a thin, square pie could use a lot more red sauce, as could The Sicilian ($4/$22), another square pie, both blessedly straightforward with cheese and basil, or in the case of the Grandma, with pesto and red sauce (add any topping).

The enchanting Madones complex in the countryside of Philo houses Stone & Embers

The enchanting Madrones complex in the countryside of Philo houses Stone & Embers

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Written by in: The Latest | Tags:
Feb
15
2014

The Latest

Sardines

Sardines over cubes of cauliflower & horseradish cream

Verbena: A Showcase for Vegetables

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

VERBENA, Russian Hill (2323 Polk St. between Union & Green, 415-441-2323)

Pickled chic

Pickled chic

Gather has been my favorite Berkeley restaurant (alongside, what else? Chez Panisse) since it opened in 2010. Though a staunch meat eater, their vegan “charcuterie” wowed me, like the affordable offspring of Scandinavia’s vegetable-heavy creativity or of SF chefs like Coi‘s Daniel Patterson, who have long been pushing the reaches of what can be done with vegetables.

Artichoke hearts

Artichoke hearts

So it was with gladness that I heard the Gather crew, chef Sean Baker and owners Ari Derfel and Eric Fenster, were opening a San Francisco restaurant, Verbena, which debuted December 18, 2013. High ceilings, warm woods, illuminated walls lined with bottles of (ubiquitous) house pickled vegetables, and a cozy, upstairs dining room… the space is sleek, strong, and inviting, bustling when full without being overwhelmingly loud.

Brassicas - a fascinating entree

Brassicas – a fascinating entree

After three visits in the first seven weeks, it’s clear Verbena’s vegetable-heavy ethos is similar to Gather, including strong meat and seafood options. Dishes are artistic and at its best, this translates to the taste. Baker works layered wonders with vegetables sourced exclusively from Lindencroft Farm in Ben Lomond, CA.

Chicories salad

Chicories salad

My top dish in initial visits is an artful streak of seared artichoke hearts ($14), less common than the pervasive beet, which is also showcased in a dish here. The hearts are dotted with pickled green tomato relish and pine nuts, undergirded by a dramatic smear of black garlic and rice koji “aioli” for another bold layer of flavor. It’s blessedly original… and most importantly, delights the taste buds.

Quail entree

Koji quail entree ($28) with grilled pumpkin and “dirty” pumpkin rice

Comforting and filling, turnips and sunchokes ($13) form a mound marked by shiitake mushrooms and farro “crisps” atop a pool of Moroccan-spiced red hummus, the shining point of the dish. The one vegetable small plate that didn’t work for me, surprisingly? Glazed carrots ($12), which I typically love. Though the carrots were perfectly tender-crisp, smartly touched by verbena and aleppo pepper over an intriguing smoked cashew mousse and topped with fresh greens, they were so sweet I recalled childhood memories of candied carrots sauteed in too much brown sugar that turned me off the vegetable for years.

Meatballs

Meatballs in mole

In general, however, vegetables are the shining star here. Even a seemingly “basic” salad of colorful chicories ($11) is imbued with winter brightness from orange, satsumas, blood oranges and bronze fennel, tossed in a tart, dill-inflected pumpkin seed milk dressing. On the large plate side, brassicas ($23) – in this case, cauliflower and visually striking Romanesco broccoli – line the center of a bowl alongside a standout puree of beluga lentils. Dotted with pickles and hot peppers, half the bowl is filled with… you’ll never guess: creamy cheddar sauce. A blissfully decadent vegetable course.

Seafood sausage ($17) over split pea miso sauce & mussels

Seafood sausage ($17) over split pea miso sauce & mussels

On the meat side, duck/pancetta/chicken meatballs ($16) can’t help but win me over. They’re in mole negro sauce, my favorite style of mole, earthy with chocolate and spices, recalling my journeys in Oaxaca, Mexico. A smattering of collard greens, hominy and whey complete this decidedly Bay Area-meets-Oaxaca dish.

When they say “sardine” ($15), it’s not a typo. They mean one, small sardine, cut into pieces, arranged atop hunks of whipped cauliflower and horseradish cream like mini-sushi. Though tiny, flavor and presentation are fascinating, as the garnish of steelhead roe explodes in the mouth.

Molasses ginger cake

Molasses ginger cake

Desserts are no afterthought. In fact, they are intriguingly complex without feeling overwrought. I couldn’t help but adore an unusual twist on cheesecake served as cubes of kaffir lime cheesecake ($9) over a sheet of burnt turmeric marshmallow. Mini-black sesame meringues add savory crunch, while pomegranate seeds brightly pop. It’s one of the more blessedly original desserts this year. Even molasses ginger bread ($8) could be ho-hum but the moist bread benefits from the vegetal-sweet of carrot sorbet and a dreamy IPA beer caramel sauce.

Noble Bay cocktail

Noble Bay cocktail

In drink, I’m disappointed to say that after trying five cocktails over my visits, none really impressed despite the “right”, quality spirits and pleasing-sounding combinations. For example, I felt like hunting for the celery in Emerald Remedy # 2 ($11), a blend of gin, Pimm’s, Green Chartreuse, celery and lemon. Though I adore each of those ingredients and “green”-forward, vegetal drinks, the combo was indistinctive, lacking focus. Similarly, Noble Bay ($12) sounded like my kind of drink combining Redemption Rye, apple brandy and sweet vermouth with Bay laurel and bitters. Though the Bay laurel was pleasing on the nose, I couldn’t taste even a hint of it in the too-sweet rye spice of the drink.

Verbena Cocktails

Verbena Cocktails

Best bet? Stick with the lovely wine list consulted on by Michael Ireland (Gather, The Restaurant at Meadowood, Wingtip). Without annoyingly trumping up sustainable, biodynamic, and all that, it wasn’t till I spent time digging through the wine book on my second visit that I ascertained all wines, both international and local, fall into those categories. There’s many a pleasure amongst these small producer-growers, like one of my longtime favorite Nor Cal wines, Forlorn Hope, with their crisp 2012 Que Saudade Verdelho ($11), or a gorgeous small producer from Austria’s Kamptal, 2012 Hirsch “Heilegenstein” Gruner Veltliner ($16). On the red side, another Spanish Rioja favorite is represented by balanced glass of 2005 Lopez de Heredia Vina Cubillo Crianza.

Portions are small and prices add up quickly, but right out of the gate, Verbena (aka Gather West?) does what Gather has done well these few years: showcase vegetables, meat, local producers and local ingredients in a sophisticated way.

Kaffir lime cheesecake

Kaffir lime cheesecake

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