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 as Kathoey Collins (Ladyboy Collins): 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 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”.

THE best Thai sausage

THE best Thai sausage

Rarely am I faced with some of the more fascinating elements of taste I experienced in remote parts of the country 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 palate and list of dishes. In LA, I can experience proper Thai heat from the second menu at Jitlada. At famed Pok Pok in Portland (now also NY), I savor flavors I hadn’t experienced since 1999, and a proper use of durian in dessert.

One half of Kin Khao's dining room

One half of Kin Khao’s dining room

Enter Kin Khao, a restaurant that belongs in that genre of exceptional Thai, though different from both. First, there’s cooked-from-scratch curries (believe it or not, 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 Bangokok, and is seriously dedicated to sourcing the best ingredients, even having someone drive 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.

f

Yum Kai Dao

Chef Michael Gaines (formerly from her 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, gloriously 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 from crab fat (yes!)

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 favorites here

If this savory curry hadn’t made impact enough, the 15-ingredient-plus in Khun Yai’s green curry ($22) is a show-stopper. Lush with coconut milk, Thai Apple eggplants, Thai basil and tender, pristine rabbit three ways – loin, saddle, 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 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 tenderly gratifying, 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, a delight in contrasts with yolk running over peanuts, shallots, mint, cilantro, cucumber, dotted with dollops of chilli jam.

Mushroom mousse

Mushroom Hor Mok

The 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 juicy sausage nearly pops with flavor, contrasted by pork cracklings and spicy pepper relish. Saeng-wah salad ($16) is another unusual dish. Though called a wild gulf prawn “ceviche”, it’s raw cuts of plump prawns over crispy catfish crumbled up and dotted with lemongrass, ginger and bird’s eye chilli. While it starts to feel like too much half way through, it’s a play in textural contrast and a unique trajectory for raw shrimp.

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 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 – and California? – only the clean white walls and slightly generic-looking setting in the Wyndam Parc 55 Hotel (entered by unmarked doors at the corner of Mason and Ellis) feels as if it’s not keeping up. Though it’s 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 beer (in this case, stout)

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 few off menu – most refreshing, lovely accompaniments with the food. Throughout the article, photos and descriptions of a few cocktails:

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

Written by in: The Latest | Tags: ,
Apr
15
2014

The Latest

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

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” in 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 affordable, seven dish a la carte menu: $10-16 for hearty, lovingly-prepared dishes.

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

Changing house pickles ($3) 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 (spelled eskabeche in Guam) – poached in citrus/vinegar fish then crispy – confit baby octopus, eggplant, okra, sunflower sprouts, marinated onions, rice wine vinegar

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 tityas which was a Guam attempt at pronouncing the Spanish “tortillas”, given the influences on the island’s cuisine.

Another a la carte offering might be 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

From the five course tasting menu ($40) – with a side of blissfully spicy denanche hot pepper sauce – an amuse bouche of an oyster from Somerset, Washington, is 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

Atlantic salmon makes a silky-pristine first course, served sashimi-style, mingling with pickled sea beans, avocado orange segments, and sesame seeds. A sous vide-cooked egg melts in the mouth, running over crunchy asparagus and achiote powder-dusted rice crackers in smoked asparagus puree. The blend of 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 it. 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.

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 serves salted coconut ice cream marked by toasted coconut and crumbled macadamia nuts. Refreshing island breezes, flavors, music and farewells send me off into the evening eager to return.

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

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

Written by in: The Latest |
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

Written by in: The Latest | Tags:
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.

s

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.

s

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.

s

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

j

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

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

Written by in: The Latest | Tags:
Feb
01
2014

The Latest

Fantastic bialys

Fantastic bialys

Alta: Ushering in the Mid-Market Revival

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

ALTA, Civic Center/Mid-Market (1420 Market St. between 10th St. & Fell St., 415-590-2585)

The Jumping Frog

The Jumping Frog

Alta, the latest from Daniel Patterson Group (including two Michelin-starred Coi, Patterson’s flagship and best restaurant, and the more casual Plum, Plum Bar, Haven), just opened at the beginning of December.

After multiple visits from opening day until now, there have been a number of high points, amid some inconsistencies. Alta is as sure a sign of the Mid-Market renaissance as any to open near Twitter headquarters. Looking out at Twitter on the neighboring corner, the high-ceilinged, 65-seat dining room is centered by a dramatic, V-shaped bar and floor-to-ceiling shelves peering through to an open kitchen. The shelves are lined with bottles of house cordials and infusions used in the cocktail program.

Ideal bar snack: beef tendon crisps

Ideal bar snack: beef tendon puffs

Bar Manager Ashley Miller, previously at Hakkasan, employs the now rather ubiquitous barrel aged cocktails (classics, aged two months: Negroni, Manhattan, and a Boulevardier) alongside house tinctures, sodas, infusions. Her cocktails ($12-14) shine, expressing an understated elegance, as in the case of Hang Glider 209 ($12), employing 209 gin, sage, lemon and mezcal with a subtle touch of creme de violette. Violette can often be overdone but here offers a welcome whisper of floral violet in an herbal sea of smoke and citrus.

Carrot Ginger Mule

Roger Rabbit

A new drink she was working on during my last visit elevated the classic – and basic – Moscow Mule (vodka and ginger beer). Miller created a carrot ginger beer, spicy with ginger, gently vegetal with carrot. The beer is poured over crushed ice, mixed with sweet-tart Meyer lemon juice, Meyer lemon-infused Skyy vodka, then topped with a smattering of fresh, shaved carrot over the top. The drink, playful named Roger Rabbit ($12), is enough to make a non-vodka drinker like me return for more. Likewise, The Jumping Frog ($14) maximizes the herbal notes of 209 gin with the liveliness of yuzu and lime, green notes of celery, and a splash of soda. An ideal lunch/daytime imbibement.

Dill Whiskey Sour

Curious George, aka Dill Whiskey Sour

Miller is crafting drinks with approachable softness but that don’t shy away from bold flavor or concepts. Case in point: she’s infusing bourbon with puerrh tea, then mixing it with a house bay leaf cordial and fresh Granny Smith apple juice for an alternately smoky-fruity blend.

I particularly love her concept of a Dill Whiskey Sour, also playfully named: Curious George. Taking what is already one of my all-time favorite classics, a Whiskey Sour, she mixes bourbon, lemon and lime with a house dill syrup, then smokes egg whites, all accented by a sprig of dill. In its early stages, the drink begged for more dill to perfect it, but the idea sings, while the textures and contrasts of the fluffy egg white and liquid ideally represent the concept of textures also found in the Chef Yoni Levy’s dishes.

Chickpea Oxtail Fritters

Chickpea Oxtail Fritters

The menu ($5-$25) from Patterson and Chef Levy features what is often deemed “New American”, with an emphasis on varying textures. High points from day one have been dishes with Eastern European/Jewish roots. One is paper-thin mounds of house pastrami with mustard ($13), subtly invoking the flavors of coriander and black pepper in which it’s brined for four days. At lunch the pastrami is served on soft rye bread ($15) with cabbage and Dijon mustard. Though picky about my pastrami and often preferring heftier classics like Brent’s in Northridge (LA) or Second Avenue Deli in NYC, I crave the melting tenderness of Levy’s thin cuts.

The other highlight is Levy’s killer bialys ($6) marked by grilled onions, sage, and poppy seeds, or served with cream cheese and smoked trout at lunch ($14). Only on one visit were the bialys a bit dry, while at every other meal (yes, bialys and pastrami were the two items I ordered every time), they were warm perfection.

Pastrami sandwich

Pastrami sandwich

A downside of these first two months has been an inconsistency at lunch. Dinner entrees, like a tender, juicy confit chicken ($15) over cabbage, dried apricot, crunchy and tender farro grains, or hen of the wood mushrooms ($14) over a comforting, cracked wheat porridge and baby turnips, are heavy on the salt, suffering from one-note syndrome. Likewise, an uplifting smattering of spaetzle-like “dumplings”, broccoli and black garlic bright with Meyer lemon is topped by overly salty Pacific black cod ($20) at lunch, while the dish comes out in better harmony at dinner.

Winter root vegetables

Winter root vegetables

Dinner shines, beginning with crispy beef tendon puffs ($6), a delightful alternative to Mexican chicharrónes and an ideal bar snack with drinks. Warm root vegetable salad ($13) is a beauty of a dish and prime example of contrasting textures with carrots served in multiple ways (pureed, fried and as crispy strips), accented by mint, parsnips, fennel, edible flowers. The secret in its vibrant flavor is garam masala fish sauce. This is easily one of my favorite vegetable dishes in the city currently.

Chicken confit

Chicken confit

Candy-striped beets and gently-smoked Lassen trout ($16), resting atop yogurt infused with horseradish and dill, is as dynamic in flavor as it is in color. Seared Monterey squid ($14) springs back soft and fresh. Interspersed with mustard greens, watermelon radish, avocado, grapefruit and almonds, it’s a study in contrasts. One of the most gratifying dishes is chickpea and oxtail fritters ($16), warm, crispy and soft, accompanied by roasted red onion, artichoke, and charred onion “aioli”.

The Malted - soft serve delights

The Malted – soft serve delights

Finish with pastry chef Matt Tinder’s house soft serve program (though slightly denser than typical soft serve), named The Malted. My personal favorite is silky vanilla lush with a grassy olive oil and dusting of sea salt. We’ve seen that combo for years but it’s in fine form here. Flavors rotate whether rocky road with pine marshmallow and candied walnuts or one they’re working on: house spumoni (chocolate, cherry, pistachio).

Despite uneven lunches, service and setting are consistent while dinners better showcase the promise inherent in this latest, more casual Patterson effort, strategically located on this ever-changing stretch of Market Street. Though comparing Coi and Alta is comparing apples and oranges – one cannot truly experience the imaginative perfection of Patterson’s cooking without visiting the former – Alta is a welcome addition to his family of restaurants. It’s not about the fine dining inventiveness of Coi, but neither is it completely predictable. The high points are reason enough to keep an eye on it – or to head out for dinner now.

Alta's dining room

Alta’s dining room

Written by in: The Latest | Tags:
Jan
13
2014

The Latest

Hearthfire glow ... the source of all cooking at TBD

Hearthfire glow … the source of all cooking at TBD

TBD Glows: 5 Best Dishes

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

TBD, SoMa (1077 Mission Street between 6th & 7th, 415-431-1826)

Rustic, warm corner table

Rustic, warm corner table

Yes, TBD is my top new San Francisco restaurant opening of 2013. AQ Chef Mark Liberman – here with Sous Chef Alex Phaneuf – has don it again with imaginative dishes that comfort without copying anyone. They forge flavor trails, inciting anticipation for what might arrive next.

In a setting casually aflame with hearthfire, TBD’s menu is marked by open flame. Hearth-cooked, ember-inflected dishes are certainly a trend right now, whether Hi Lo‘s fire-infused dishes well beyond merely BBQ, to Saison’s surreal flame-touched menu.

After a few visits since TBD opened in November 2013, there have been numerous standout, even stellar, dishes. The menu is grouped by raw, smoked, hearth+embers, grill, plancha, sweet, with four pricing categories: $6, 12, 18, 24. A custom-built hearth roars, keeping the room (and diners sitting in front of it) more than toasty-warm. Besides the open flame, a Grillworks® grill is the only means of cooking. Every dish reflects a little something of the embers, even in smoke-tinged raw dishes.

Pastrami waffles

Wild salmon rye waffles

Though dining at various tables or along the bar, in all my visits I’ve yet to sit upstairs on the mezzanine looking down. Clean lines and pinewood tables with Swiss flag emblems evoke a modern alpine, hipster restaurant, while stacks of logs, camping gear (like Dietz Lanterns, plaid thermoses, vintage ice chests, hunting paraphernalia), tastefully-placed antlers and taxidermy contribute to theme but aren’t overdone.

DRINKS

Beer & Nogroni

Beer & a Nogroni

Drinks stand subtly behind the food, not outshining, offering a little something for all. Bar Manager Tim Zohn created what he cheekily dubs “loopholes” ($11; oft-called low alcohol cocktails, made with sherry, amaro, beer, vermouth and other fortified wines), while managing an extensive sherry list, and strong beer selection with over 20 on draft. The wine list, curated by Beverage Director Kristen Capella, focuses on Rhône varietals and small, progressive producers.

Zohn brings about flavor profiles found in hard alcohol in the case of drinks like a Vive Vive Vive, where gin botanicals, star anise and juniper, are infused in sherry mixed with Lillet Blanc and lemon. The bitter-sweet perfection of a classic Negroni is achieved in a Nogroni, stirring sweet vermouth and Peychaud’s bitters with juniper-infused fino sherry. I am drawn toward the vegetal notes and bitter complexity of Cut Stalk (Kina L’Avion d’Or, dry vermouth, amontillado sherry and celery bitters), or as an egg cream fanatic, to the SF Egg Cream combining chocolate milk and soda water with a sweet sherry base. I happily make a Pumpkin Float dessert where meaty Shipyard Pumpkinhead ale is poured over creamy pumpkin soft-serve (house soft-serve flavors change regularly).

Uni

My top dish at TBD & one of the best of the year

1. UNI, POTATO, JALAPENO

Oh, that uni. This is the kind of dish ($18) that haunts my dreams. Silky, of-the-sea sea urchin is draped over dry-farmed purple and brown potatoes. Think of it as earthy comfort meets briny luxury. If that wasn’t a brilliant enough as a duo, it’s brightly hot in a jalapeno and scallion sauce that sends the dish into the stratosphere.

2. PLANCHA-ROASTED CARROTS

Carrots

Carrots

Grilled heirloom carrots ($12) can shine when cooked properly… and when carrots are of the freshest quality. These are. But lay these charred carrots over a bed of lentils tossed in brown butter and caramelized passion fruit sauce, dotted with sesame seeds, and it’s a bit of heaven. If I’d had any idea as a kid that carrots could be this surreal, I might have converted sooner.

3. S’MORES

S'mores

S’mores

S’mores are trending again at the moment on menus like Hi Lo and beyond (for years, I’ve been partial to the s’mores nachos Velvet Cantina). But there’s no question the best version I’ve had is at TBD ($12). That hearthfire char on mounds of marshmallow, feathery, salty graham cracker crumbs, and an intense chocolate spread laced with chicory, makes for an ultra-smoky, textured dessert I’m entirely in love with.

4. GULF SHRIMP with Black Garlic & Avocado

Gulf shrimp

Gulf shrimp

Giant Gulf shrimp ($24) are juicy and plump in their shells, graced with smokefire crisp. This is my favorite entree or large plate in my initial few visits. The shrimp perch over long, grilled sweet potatoes, but it’s the unexpected notes of avocado in guacamole-esque dollops and an earthy smear of black garlic that surprise and bring it together.

5. BROCCOLI HUMMUS & SARDINES

Broccoli hummus

Broccoli hummus

It’s amazing the creativity in a $6 plate.

Broccoli hummus ($6) is one of TBD’s small plates, where a fresh pool of hummus cradles roasted chestnuts, silky-salty sardines, and, thank God, a dose of bacon. It’s both green and healthy as well as salty, briny and textured.

THE REST

Winter leeks

Winter leeks in buttermilk oyster verde

Not every dish over multiple visits won my ardent loyalty. But even the few that didn’t excite were thankfully never typical, like a traditional mix of beef, Asian pear tartare, quail egg yolk ($12) made intriguing with a sauce of beer, mustard and cheddar, but tasting muddled and unfocused. Yet generally even an amuse bouche has me longing for it to be a dish, as with a cube of sweet potato topped with sour cream, black caviar and nutmeg.

Grilled little gems lettuces with radish & duck liver mousse

Grilled little gems lettuces with radish & duck liver mousse

Choosing five best dishes in merely two months was difficult, especially with many visionary and impressive early dishes – confirming why TBD is among SF’s best new restaurants. A few other greats? Grilled Venezuelan and Columbian arepas ($6) - maize patties – get a twist filled with aged jack cheese and topped with maitake mushrooms.

Here, grilled leeks ($12) – a favorite vegetable of mine – are doused in an oyster “verde” salsa and buttermilk drizzle to dreamy results. Likewise, subtly-smoked, cured wild salmon – or on my third visit, cured rainbow trout ($12) – piled over a rye waffle accented by dill and juicy salmon roe is an almost intellectual delight, a melding of Jewish-style lox and rye, and Eastern European and Russian notes of dill, sour cream, and caviar/roe.

Raw scallops, winter citrus, fennel

Raw Nantucket scallops, winter citrus, fennel under granita

Written by in: Best Of,The Latest |
Dec
15
2013

The Latest

j

Artful and delicious: Thai-influenced beef tartare

Why We Need 1760

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

1760, Russian Hill (1760 Polk Street at Washington, 415-359-1212)

Lobster ceviche... sigh

Lobster ceviche

As is typical with any new restaurant opening, friends, colleagues and strangers ask for my take on a place… and in the case of 1760, the new restaurant from the owners of Acquerello, every single one of them has breathed a sigh of relief when I say I like it. “Oh, good,” they’ll exclaim, “because I really liked it, but after that Bauer review [Michael Bauer/Chronicle], I’m not sure if I’m supposed to.” I would posit that there are more than a few reasons to like 1760, and that, in fact, we need these kind of restaurants in the mix in our incredible dining city.

Basil Mezcal Sour

Basil Mezcal Sour

As an Acquerello devotee, arguably the best fine dining restaurant in San Francisco (one of the greats since the 1980′s), Giancarlo Paterlini and Suzette Gresham go for casual and forward-thinking in their new restaurant. 1760 is less a low key version of Acquerello and more its own entity – with Acquerello pedigree.

They’ve assembled quite a team: Chef Adam Tortosa (from none other than Michael Voltaggio’s Ink in Los Angeles), cocktails from Christopher Longoria (whose cocktails at Aziza have been among SF’s unsung greats for years), and Gianpaolo Paterlini, son of Giancarlo, who, like his father, is expert at all things wine, having crafted a lovely 1760 list of 13 wines by the glass ($10-$19) and over 200 by the bottle, heavy on France, Italy and (thank you!) Austria and Germany. If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on one of the remaining bottles of the collaboration wine they did with Massican in Napa, 2012 Massican Sauvignon Blanc “Acquerello”, you will be rewarded with a balanced beauty of a Sauv Blanc.

Strawberry Shrub

Strawberry Shrub

Cocktails ($10-12) are as joyous as I would expect from Longoria, typically named by ingredients rather than cocktail names. None of the 7 cocktails I’ve tried here over my visits have been “too sweet”, something I am extremely sensitive to as a straight (and cask strength) spirits lover and globe-trotting distillery visitor.

An herbaceous Basil-Mezcal Sour is an herb and mezcal lover’s dream, soft on the mezcal smoke, frothy from egg white, gorgeous with basil and kaffir lime. Meyer Lemon-Fresno Chile leads with those two ingredients, a tart, vivid drink with a base of cachaça (sugar cane spirit), herbal nuance from Yellow Chartreuse and intriguing-yet-subtle backbone from Sauvignon Blanc vinegar.

Octopus

Octopus

I typically skip over vodka cocktails with vodka being a blank (read: flavorless) backdrop to the other ingredients. In the case of the vodka-based Strawberry Shrub, sous vide strawberries and basil, again balanced by bracing honey Viognier vinegar, make for one of the more fascinating drinks on the menu, accented by dry vermouth and Strega (an Italian herbal liqueur). Both the strawberry and the Meyer lemon drinks are saved from sweetness with vinegar underpinnings. The Garam Masala-Cardamom cocktail is also quintessential Longoria: savory, herbaceous, and textured. In this case, bourbon is livened up by garam masala, thyme and toasted cardamom, while orange oil adds body and brightness.

Burrata

Burrata

The place is buzzing and packed, but even on a Friday night, I didn’t have to yell to be heard, which can happen at some hotspots around town and is a pet peeve of mine. My one issue at 1760 is the decor. Though I love the curvature of massive windows illuminating the corner spot with natural light, nondescript blacks and greys feel impersonal, even sterile. Thankfully, warm, attentive service overpowers what, for me, is lackluster decor begging for a splash of color or warmth.

Hamachi crudo

Hamachi crudo

The cuisine? Consider it an East-meets-West interplay of unexpected flavors. What could easily seem haphazard, is thankfully surprising and alive with flavor. Rather than yet-another round of kale salads, pork belly, burrata or beet dishes (sometimes together) – all worthy dishes that over the past decade have been served ad nauseum - at 1760 even common ingredients arrive in unpredictable fashion.

Mango & Spice: rum, manila mango, cayenne, black peppercorn, long pepper, lime

Mango & Spice: rum, manila mango, cayenne, black peppercorn, long pepper, lime… tart, bracing

Take octopus ($18), which here takes on a singular texture alongside purple and brown potatoes and peanuts over an avocado mash. Tortosa cooks the octopus sous vide, then quickly flash fries it, resulting in a rare confluence of tenderness and crisp.

Seafood dishes often shine. Case in point: that lobster ceviche ($17). Delicately refreshing, cool lobster is aromatic with kaffir lime, breezy with caramelized coconut and pineapple, tasting of an island vacation. Hamachi crudo ($17) has evolved from the original menu where it was sweet with pluots and the citrus tart of yuzu kosho, to become a more realized dish. Now, the raw hamachi is imbued with substance from a Korean-style bulgogi vinaigrette, hot streak of Sriracha-esque sauce, celery, yuzu and satsuma.

Bucatini with uni, garlic, red pepper, bread crumbs

Bucatini with uni, garlic, red pepper, bread crumbs

Crazy as I am about classic beef tartare, I can find that done beautifully at plenty of places around the city. Here, Chef Tortosa blessedly ushers it from the usual to the unusual. A favorite dish since they opened in September (included in my tartare article for PureWow), it has even improved over the last three months. Organic Snake River Farms beef tartare ($16) over a Marcona almond and coconut milk spread exudes the warmth of Thailand from Thai herbs and chilies. Memories of my months in Thailand sail back to me with each bite.

Commonplace ingredients are likewise given unpredictable treatment. Dollops of silky burrata ($12) on grilled rustic bread are smeared with garbanzo beans and graced wtih Asian pear, or lollipop kale ($11) is subtly meaty with guanciale (pork jowl) contrasted by sweet-spiced notes from red currant and ginger.

Lollipop kale

Lollipop kale

The fried duck sandwich ($16) is already a signature dish, hefty with slaw, pickles, spicy aioli and a steak knife dramatically thrust into its center. It’s gratifying, to be sure, but I find some of the aforementioned dishes more fascinating.

I don’t always have room for dessert, but during my latest visit I was glad I “forced down” warm banana bread ($9) playfully marked by their version of “chunky monkey” banana-chocolate ice cream and peanut butter crunch, like a grown-up childhood indulgence.

Banana bread

Banana bread dessert

Chef Tortosa’s recent past at Ink shows in this eclectic menu. At reasonable prices in a laid back setting, menus like 1760′s continue to prove that experimentation and boundary-pushing are alive and well in one of the great dining cities of the world – right alongside our oft-discussed devotion to purity of ingredients.

We have room for, and in fact, need both. Most importantly, whether pure and simple, or inventive and complex, it should all taste transcendent… or at least very good. At 1760, it does.

Written by in: The Latest |

Site Admin | Log out | Theme: Aeros 2.0 by TheBuckmaker.com