Jun
15
2014

Top Tastes

Aveline's gorgeous "vegetable garden"

Aveline’s gorgeous “vegetable garden”

My Top Food Recommends, New Openings & More: June 1-15

Photos and articles by Virginia Miller

From my 15 articles/posts a week as Zagat Editor, I summarize and link to just some of this coverage here – you can sign up for Zagat’s weekly newsletter for the Bay Area here and follow along on Twitter @ZagatSF, where I post daily.

As I have been for over a decade, I’m on the ground daily looking for early standouts at each new opening, while sharing underrated places and dishes you’ve seen me write about here at The Perfect Spot for years, and, of course, plenty of drink coverage (cocktails, wine, spirits, beer).

New Bay Area Openings

10 Hottest NEW SF RESTAURANTS

12 innovative dishes at the new AVELINE FROM A TOP CHEF ALUM

What to eat at funky new Chinese American eatery, CHINO

What to eat & drink at the new Paris-meets-NY chic hotel bar, THE EUROPEAN

KAIJU EATS serves creative izakaya and ramen

Every Friday: 25 NEW RESTAURANTS TO TRY IN THE BAY AREA

Where to Brunch: SoMa’s NEW RED DOG from Chef Lauren Kiino

1058 Hoagie Turns into a JEWISH DELI called Rye Project

3 Summer STRAWBERRY DESSERTS to try at new restaurants

Events/Dinner Series

ACQUERELLO’s 25th ANNIVERSARY DINNER SERIES all summer with guest chefs from NY to Seattle

Underrated & Established Spots

The 8 BEST SEAFOOD SPOTS in the Bay Area

The BIG 4 IS BACK: 9 picks from the new menus

TONY’S PIZZA NAPOLETANA pours beer into pizza

Napa

3 reasons to visit PRESS ST. HELENA, including a unique wine cellar, a new patio with fireplace, and a brand new chef from none other than Blue Hill in NYC

Interviews

CHEF ALEXANDER ALIOTO on his upcoming Summer restaurant, Plin, the Alioto family and more

FacebookShare
Feb
08
2013

The Latest

Hakkasan's lovely Plum Sour: Yamazaki 12 year whisky, umeshu plum liqueur, lemon, Angostura bitters, egg white

CHINESE SCENE

Article & Photos by Virginia Miller

Ancient monastery bell over M.Y. China bar

Style-over-substance at popular restaurants grew old in my Los Angeles days. A pretty package matters little if food isn’t excellent. In SF, we tend towards the other direction. Thank goodness for places like Gitane, Bix, Foreign Cinema, which manage both – a little style is welcome. With the entry of two new, upscale Chinese restaurants, we get style aplenty. One, the international Hakkasan chain, feels oh-so LA or NY, and the other, M.Y. China, is inside a mall (very Southern California) from famed chef Martin Yan.

Buzz has been nonstop about these two, where I’ve spent a pretty penny, from lunch to dessert. I disagree with the racist-tinged complaint that typically cheaper, ethnic cuisines shouldn’t cost more, but the reason any cuisine should is quality of ingredients and reinvention or reinterpretation of classic dishes. Stir-fry, for example, shouldn’t cost double what it would in a hole-in-the-wall if it’s virtually the same dish. After multiple visits, my assessment is mixed, each restaurant boasts strong points, but neither reinvents Chinese cuisine, which begs the question: are the prices worth it?

HAKKASAN, Downtown (1 Kearny St. at Market, 415-829-8148)

Hakkasan's scene-y bar

Early on, Hakkasan succeeds on a number of points: seamless service from a team that seemed to work in sync from opening day. Though the second floor restaurant overlooking Market Street is a bit scene-y, especially around a large, central bar, I can’t help but applaud a space that says “night on the town”… particularly when the food is quite good. Similar to dining at the subterranean London Hakkasan last year, I find the overall experience satisfying on someone else’s dime.

Udon noodle with shredded roast duck

I’m delighted with a refreshing, elegant Plum Sour of Yamazaki 12 year Japanese whisky, umeshu plum liqueur, lemon, Angostura bitters and egg white, or a robust Smoky Negroni (Rusty Blade, Carpano Antica, Campari, smoke-infused Grand Marnier), but the $12-15 cocktails aren’t superior to or necessarily equal to lower-priced cocktails around town. Similarly, roasted silver cod in a Champagne honey sauce is silky and lush but at $39? Countless Japanese restaurants worth their salt serve a fantastic version of similar miso cod at half that price.

Hakkasan dim sum

As with M.Y. China, dim sum is a highlight, but $7-26 for a few dumplings is a struggle when far cheaper, quality dim sum is plentiful around town. Worthwhile dishes are atypical dim sum, like roasted duck pumpkin puffs or black pepper duck dumplings. Whether noodles ($12-39) or stir-fry ($12-58), I haven’t had a bad dish at Hakkasan. But leaving lunch for two over $100 lighter, or the same for drinks and a couple appetizers, I can’t help but conclude: food, drink and service shine… if someone else is paying.

Hakkasan's gratifying, warm roasted duck pumpkin puffs

M.Y. CHINA, Downtown/Union Square (Westfield Mall, 845 Market St., 4th Floor, 415-580-3001)

Excellent seafood dumplings in spinach wrappers

Growing up, I loved watching Yan Can Cook. To this day I’m inspired by Martin Yan’s energy and childlike exuberance, infectious whether in person at events like SF Chefs or jumping out from the screen. His anticipated SF restaurant opening, M.Y. China, is more affordable than Hakkasan, conveniently under the Dome at the Westfield Mall for a post or pre-movie (Century Theaters) meal.

Tasty whole wheat potstickers

Despite all the noodle attention, including a world-champion noodle puller and noodle pulling stations viewable while dining, spectacle doesn’t necessarily equal stellar noodles. For example, squid ink snap noodles ($18), more like torn pasta squares, tossed with shrimp, scallops and calamari in Shaoxing wine, fail to exude much flavor. Dan Dan noodles ($12) are a stronger choice, and the favorite of everyone I’ve talked to is lush scissor noodles ($14), cut by kitchen scissors then wok-cooked with wild boar.

Disappointingly dry, bland Hong Kong crispy noodles

Wild boar shows up everywhere, a mild version of the robust meat (i.e. inoffensive for those afraid of boar), whether in lettuce cups ($9) or dumplings (4 for $8). Every visit yielded disappointingly average wok-tossed dishes, and flavorless small plates like portabello sliders ($8) or mapo tofu ($8), which gets its sole perk from Sichuan peppercorn oil. Teas are a comforting choice, while cocktails ($10-13), which are better but pricier at Hakkasan, have been off balance, like a too sour Three Gorges, with a base of #209 Gin and lemon, lacking absinthe’s nuance or clean bitter structure from Cocchi Americano.

Solid Shandong beef rolls

Each meal there’s a singular standout category: dim sum ($6-19). Spicy seafood dumplings (6 for $9) are a joy in vivid green spinach wrappers loaded with scallops and shrimp, as are plump, lightly crispy whole wheat potstickers filled with pork and cabbage. Go for decadence with pork and black truffle dumplings ($18). Dessert includes Delise cafe ($4) offerings, among my favorite locally made ice cream, namely their Chinese almond, toasted rice or lemongrass ice cream, and coconut pandan or tangerine sorbet.

Despite the mall setting, “under the dome” is the Westfield’s striking feature while chic design and noodle pulling entertainment set the experience apart. As for me, I’ll return for unusual dim sum.

Noodle pulling as spectacle at M.Y. China

FacebookShare
Written by in: The Latest | Tags:
Jul
15
2010

Top Tastes

Thermidor’s open bar

Article & Photos by Virginia Miller

Top Tastes, rather than a list of all-time favorites (another thing altogether), are among the best eats since my last newsletter, often from new openings. Many don’t make the cut, being a revisit previously written about or simply not as stand-out as dishes mentioned.

EXPENSIVE RESTAURANTS

THERMIDOR, SoMa – The Mad Men craze is a natural for me as that era, from clothing to music to cocktails, has never gone out of style in my book. Whether through the Swingers/swing scene craze in Hollywood back in the 90′s, to the Mad Men resurgence currently, I’ve been collecting vintage dresses, obsessed with classic films and listening to records since I was a girl.

Iceberg Daiquiri & Warsaw Mule

So as soon as I hear Thermidor is opening with a circa 1960′s/Mad Men vibe, I’m in. Even better that the menu is rife with classic dishes of the era. I am completely appreciative of the fact that they’re doing something different instead of the usual understated decor and Cali-fresh, charcuterie & pizza or pig-heavy menus. Not that I am not crazy about all those… I love anything done well. But I am ever grateful for a place that doesn’t just copy what is already there in abundance but seeks a lesser traveled road.

I love the look of the place: wood walls, white/Jetson’s-like vintage chairs, chrome chandeliers, wood paneling and high ceilings… 1960′s chic. The bar is inviting, with completely open doorways opening onto Mint Plaza. I’d return to sip the successful take off a Moscow Mule, the Warsaw Mule (cocktails all $9). It’s made with Bison grass vodka (one this non-vodka drinker likes), organic apple juice, lime, sunshine bitters and ginger beer. It’s refreshing but bracing, with a unique, layered profile.

Celery Victor & Cauliflower

I was intrigued by the Iceberg Daiquiri, not being the kind of thing I normally see on menus or would order. Thankfully, it wasn’t sweet, rather strong with a white rum/maraschino liqueur kick, a whiff of vanilla, and tart from grapefruit and lime. But I can’t say I ever want to go back to blended drinks days – I got ‘brain freeze’ from first sip, waiting for the drink to melt more before I could finish it.

Thermidor chandeliers

I’ll get this out of the way now: portions are small in most cases, making prices too high for what you’re getting. The Renaissance Man and myself spent over $100 and didn’t leave full. But… what we had was by and large delicious. Excited as I was for a bit of Chips & Caviar ($6), I’ve had better versions at dinner parties (this one has smoked trout, creme fraiche and caviar on house-made chips).

On the $6 Hors d’Ouevres menu is Crispy Cauliflower, grilled in lemon and mint and quite satisfying. Celery Victor is puzzling (sounded so old school I had to order it). The first two celery stalks were fried and decent dipped in tartar sauce but were really just fried celery.

Lobster Thermidor

When I got to the third stalk, it had a white anchovy layered under the fry (as was listed on the menu) and suddenly perked up. I think they made a mistake: each stalk was supposed to have an anchovy? It transformed the appetizer.

Wood paneling glory

A Mini-Lobster Roll ($15 – deal alert: there’s a full sized roll at lunch for only $3 more) was truly mini with nothing more than a side of (admittedly fabulous) pickled Tokyo turnips. I go on lobster roll hunts and though I’ve never had better than at Pearl Oyster Bar in New York, this one pretty much kicks ass. The brioche roll has the perfect combo of light crisp and melting softness, while the lobster is plump, sweet, coated in butter. Lobster Thermidor ($32), the priciest pinnacle of the entrees (otherwise $21-26), is disappointingly small (half a little lobster) but is ridiculously good, baked in the shell with brandy bechamel sauce and half of a twice-baked potato enhanced by crispy skin.

Coffee, Cigarettes & Doughnuts

Next time I’ll go with our gracious waiter’s recommend for dessert (all $8.50): Caramelized Poppyseed Cake with thyme ice cream. Initially I had to order the one everyone is talking about: Coffee, Cigarettes & Doughnuts. Though I appreciate the notes of Jim Jarmusch in the dessert’s moniker, I couldn’t taste even a hint of tobacco in the white chocolate custard, nor much carrot in the carrot cake doughnuts. Coffee ice cream over crumbled, dirt-like cookie crumbs, was the highlight of a dish higher on presentation than taste.

I look forward to my next visit to this thankfully unique new restaurant, though thinking economically, it’s going to be for lunch or Chicken Kiev and cocktails at the bar.

MID-RANGE RESTAURANTS

Tables at Hog & Rocks

HOG & ROCKS, Mission – I went to a test night of this brand new (sure to be) Mission hot spot, Hog & Rocks, so though I plan to return soon, this initial take comes with the caveat of a number of menu items not yet being available and kinks still being worked out. The space is spare with stainless steel and black, plus plenty of communal seating, and a focus on hams (hog) and oysters (rocks).

Hog & Rocks cocktails

I was pleased to see tasting notes listed under the oysters – this should be standard. I sampled G&W Hamery’s 10-month aged ham from Murfreesboro, TN, with whiskey-glazed peanuts and cress salad, as well as Broadbent’s medium hickory smoked ham from Kuttawa, KY, with frisee and cherry tomatoes ($9-11 a platter). There are five hams to choose from, sliced thinly/prosciutto-like, and eight oysters ($1.50-2.50 each), though the menu changes for each.

Spare, clean interior

Cocktails ($7-9) are classics like a Whiskey Sour, Tom Collins or a Hurricane (with the awesome idea of $1 of the latter going to New Orleans’ Gulf Coast Oil Spill Fund). At pre-opening, bartenders were still being trained and the cocktails I tried were solid, though lacking in the finesse you might find in the same drinks elsewhere, though the price point is good.

Cast Iron Octopus

Wine and beer lists are short but thoughtfully chosen (delighted to see an Austrian Zweigelt among the 6 reds), with nods to the welcome, growing trend of a few kegs of wine available by the glass or carafe, and all available in $3.50 half glasses (wish every restaurant did this).

Ham platters

As for the food, it’s a smartly chic menu under $14 of dishes like Fish Pie ($14), Sweetbreads with piquillo peppers ($10), Corned Beef Tongue ($9) and Pickled Sardines ($9). Sadly, none of those were available pre-opening, but I did try Cast Iron Octopus ($10), pleasing enough grilled, with potatoes, pickled jalapeno and a ham vinaigrette.  Chicken Wing Confit ($10) is a generous portion of boneless chicken wings (not sure where the confit part comes in?) in a buffalo wing-style hot sauce with blue cheese dip. My favorite bite (besides sampling the hams) was Crab & Artichoke spread in a jar with Levian bread ($8). There are four different spreads in a jar (the Pimento Cheese, $6, with baguette is creamy, Southern satisfaction), and it’s in their most playful menu items such as these that Hog & Rocks shows its promise.

Grilled Peaches w/ Bellwether Farms’ fromage blanc

GREENS, Marina/Fort Mason – It’s a rare restaurant that survives 30 years. But to survive while maintaining a high standard in the kitchen is even more rare. This year is the 30th anniversary of Greens, the first high profile, upscale vegetarian restaurant in the country, with the lovely, warm Annie Sommerville as Executive Chef… and they have maintained.

Ricotta Corn Cakes

The anniversary is a fine reason to return to a place I frequented more often when I first moved here nearly a decade ago. Though the space has remained the same with simple,  streamlined decor, stunning views of the Bay, Marin and Golden Gate Bridge remain the setting’s star, while the menu showcased the glories of Summer.

Current menu highlights: Grilled Blossom Bluff Peaches ($12) were improved, if that were possible, by Bellwether Farms‘ incomparable fromage blanc and a dab of Snyder’s wildflower honey, while fresh watercress tasted herbal, grassy. I’ve had a lot of corn cakes in my day, but their Ricotta Corn Cakes ($11.50) are among the finer with crispy white corn accented by jalapenos, scallions and smoked cheddar. House creme fraiche, fire roasted tomato salsa and pumpkin seed cilantro salsa accompanied.

Masa Harina Crepe

On the entree side, Masa Harina Crepe ($23) is tortilla-reminiscent, made with corn masa, but a light, paper-thin crepe. More corn played prominent with peppers, poblano chilies, and grilled onions piled inside, accented by salsa and creme fraiche. I couldn’t taste chipotle lime butter on the accompanying grilled grazzini squash. I loved Summer Vegetables (carrots, squash, etc…) Indian Curry ($21.50 large; $17.50 small), a curry rich with coconut milk, ginger, tamarind, chilies, on top of mustard seed basmati rice, beautifully contrasted with a “chutney” of juicy peaches in a cherry glaze.

Indian Coconut Milk Curry

Bing Cherry Almond Cake ($8.75) was heavy on the almond, dry but for plump cherries, and rose geranium ice cream that was a soapy rose bomb. But altogether, it became another dessert entirely, no piece overwhelming the other, cake moistened by a creamy hint of rose.

Greens, after all these years, remains a destination for lovingly-prepared vegetarian cooking. Long may she live.

CHEAP EATS

MCF’s Peking Duck Chinito

Mission Chinese Food, Mission – Recently bereft of our beloved twice weekly Mission Street Food dinners in dingy Lung Shan and Mission Burger in Duc Loi Supermarket, there’s at least comfort in knowing founders Anthony Myint and Danny Bowien are still on the scene, now with playful Chinese food at Mission Chinese Food.

For starters, it’s cheap (under $10), but the killer part is: they deliver… anywhere in the city? Guess who’s been savoring some Ma Po Tofu ($8) – ground pork, fermented black beans, mushrooms, peppercorn, ginger and flaming chili oil over rice – from comfortably behind her desk at the Guardian? You can eat in, too, as they’re open seven days week (11am-10:30pm). However you eat it, something tells me you won’t find the likes of Peking Duck Chinito ($8) anywhere. Think Peking duck confit, cucumber and cilantro wrapped inside a Chinese donut. Then cover the roll in rice noodle and dip it in a spicy Hoison oil. I knew you’d be intrigued…

Zaytoon’s cheerful interior

Zaytoon, Mission – A simple menu of five items, an unassuming, bright green and white storefront, and kindly staff make brand new Zaytoon a worthy Valencia Street stop for Falafel Wraps ($6.95-$7.95), Chicken or Lamb Shawerma ($7.95) or a Mazza Platter ($7.95) of falafel, dolmas, hummus, babaganoosh, tabouleh, cucumber/tomato salad and feta. The place and ingredients are spanking fresh, clean and easy to devour.

Moya’s Vegetarian Lunch

Moya, SoMa – Though not the best Ethiopian food around (favorites here), I love the mother/daughter team working at brand new Moya (just opened 7/12) and their lunch steal of three vegetarian dishes of your choice piled on injera with salad and yet more injera for just $8.

Mr. Pollo, Mission – Want one of the best Arepas in town ($1.50 for cheese, $5.50 with meat)? Head to Mr. Pollo near the 24th Street BART and get a warm off the grill Cheese Arepa, oozing with cheese and a hint of honey sweetness. It’s as good or better even than ones I had in Venezuela.

FacebookShare
Mar
01
2008

Top Tastes

DIM SUM around SAN FRANCISCO

After you’ve tried the hyped, delicious, but overpriced local dim sum kings Yank Sing, Ton Kiang or Daly City’s Koi Palace, check out these much cheaper options and see if they don’t fit the bill for your dim sum craving (minus the roving carts at all three spots):

Shanghai Dumpling King

Shanghai Dumpling King

Shanghai Dumpling King:
3319 Balboa Street (between 34th & 35th Avenues)
415.387.2088
Mon, Wed-Fri 11am-9pm, Sat-Sun 10am-9pm

Yes, it’s way out in Outer Richmond with a dingy dining room. But here you’ll find Shanghai specialties done in a way you rarely see in the US. Their wontons, buns and famed steamed soup-filled dumplings (watch out as they explode in your mouth) taste so unique and homemade, you’ll have to go back for more. At $4.25 for 10 spicy wontons, 10 dumplings or 8 mini-pork buns, it’s beyond a steal.

Great Eastern

Great Eastern

Great Eastern:
649 Jackson Street (between Kearny and Grant)
415.986.2500
Mon-Sun 10am-12am

Long a Chinatown institution so not exactly “under the radar” for Chinese locals and tourists alike, it still remains one of the best dim sum meals in San Francisco at incredibly cheap prices and is a welcome respite from mediocre Chinatown spots. Check off preferred items on a list and feed two easily for $10 (usually 3 items to each order at an average of $2-3 an order).

Good Luck Dim Sum

Good Luck Dim Sum

Good Luck Dim Sum:
736 Clement Street (between 8th and 9th Avenues)
415.386.3388
Mon, Wed-Sun 7am-6:30pm

A hole-in-the-wall with zero atmosphere or service but cheap, fresh dim sum to go. $5 will get you well more than enough dumplings, buns or rolls for one person. Usually three items to an order at about $1.50-$2.50.

Mayflower

Mayflower

Mayflower:
6255 Geary Boulevard (at 27thAvenue)
415-387-8338

A cheap, clean spot serving unique additions to the usual dumplings and buns, such as shrimp and banana rolls or sweet pan fried water chestnut cakes. Eat plenty for ten dollars and enjoy the relaxed (and at prime meal times, bustling) dining room.

FacebookShare
Written by in: Top Tastes | Tags:

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