Sep
15
2014

Top Tastes

Charin, a secretive new tasting menu-only restaurant

Dining on elk at Charin, a secretive new tasting menu-only restaurant

My Top Food Articles: September 1-15

Photos and articles by Virginia Miller

From my many articles a week as Zagat Editor, I summarize and link to some coverage highlights here – you can follow along on Twitter @ZagatSF, where I post daily, or on my own @ThePerfectSpot via Twitter or Facebook.

New Bay Area Openings

CHARIN, a secretive new dinner in changing locations

Ryan Scott’s MASON in Potrero Hill

The hottest NEW ITALIAN RESTAURANTS in SF

6 new restaurants and bars with UNIQUE DESIGN

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

Underrated & Established Spots

10 Must-Eat Dishes to CALL YOURSELF A SAN FRANCISCAN

What to eat from TRICK DOG’s NEW CHEF

Unsung Heroes: BIX, a classic 1930s-esque supperclub

East Bay

6 Island Gems in ALAMEDA

Napa

$10 Lunch: the new MELTED in downtown Napa

Books

5 New Fall Cookbooks from Bay Area Restaurants

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Aug
15
2014

Top Tastes

Urchin Bistrot Mussels-Virginia Miller

Mussels cooked escargot-style at Urchin Bistrot

My Top Food Articles: August 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 coverage highlights here – you can sign up for Zagat’s weekly newsletter for highlights 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

First Look: What to Eat & Drink at Modern French Bistro, URCHIN BISTROT, in the Mission

First Look at PLIN, Italian Newcomer in the Mission

Hidden New Seafood Gem in Bernal Heights: RED HILL STATION

FERRY PLAZA SEAFOOD – Reborn in North Beach

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

Underrated & Established Spots

SF’s Most Underrated Italian Food ‘Hood

$10 Lunch: DINING ON CHINESE HAKKA CUISINE in Outer Richmond

Unsung Heroes: LUCCA RAVIOLI in the Mission

Secretly Awesome: TONGA ROOM‘s bao, Spam fried rice and Tiki cocktails

Secretly Awesome: CHOLO SOY’S PERUVIAN COUNTER

HOG & ROCK‘s Late Night Korean Pop-up

NorCal

7 Top FOODIE ROAD TRIPS Around NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

Events

The 6 Best Things We Ate at OUTSIDE LANDS

The Best Things We Ate at EAT DRINK SF 2014

The LAST STREET FOOD FESTIVAL in the Mission – What to Eat

TASTE OF SONOMA Weekend Happens Pre-Labor Day

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Jul
01
2014

Top Tastes

Dining at 2 Michelin-starred Saison - interview with Chef Josh Skenes below

Dining at 2 Michelin-starred Saison – interview with Chef Josh Skenes below

My Top Food Articles: June 15-30

Photos and articles by Virginia Miller

From my 15 articles/posts a week as Zagat Editor, I summarize and link to just some coverage highlights here – you can sign up for Zagat’s weekly newsletter for highlights 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).

My biggest feature article of the last two weeks hit yesterday, in line with Best Thing We Ate lists in each Zagat city around the US – here is my list of the top 12 Best Thing We Ate dishes in the Bay Area this year so far.

Interviews

Chef JOSH SKENES on SAISON’s New $498 Test Kitchen Dinners and Winemaker Dinner Series

New Bay Area Openings

What to eat at MARLA BAKERY’s restaurant, just open in Outer Richmond

First Look at BELCAMPO MEATS new San Francisco restaurant and sustainable, ethical butcher shop

New PIATTINI ADDS A SLICE OF VENICE to Mission St.

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

URBAN PUTT GETS BOOZE – and what to eat one month in at the quirky mini-golf restaurant/bar

Day Trip: Port Costa

If Savannah (or other quirky, historic Southern town) met a California Gold Country Western town, it might feel a lot like PORT COSTA, home to one of the country’s best dive bars and a cosmopolitan restaurant and cocktail bar

East Bay

Early Tastes at PERDITION SMOKEHOUSE in BERKELEY from Mikkeller Bar SF & The Trappist Founder

What to eat & drink at downtown OAKLAND‘s new CAPTAIN & CORSET

Secretly Awesome: TRABOCCO’s pizza and pasta in an ALAMEDA strip mall

Rockridge’s (Oakland) OSMANTHUS renews your fried brussels sprouts crush

Underrated & Established Spots

8 reasons to revisit LOCAL KITCHEN & WINE MERCHANT in SoMa

The 8 BEST HOT DOGS in San Francisco

Unsung Heroes: SF’s best Afghani food for over 20 years at HELMAND PALACE

The 10 BEST PLACE FOR FRIED CHICKEN in San Francisco

NICO ADDS NEW ROSE PAIRING and LOW PROOF COCKTAIL menus with these dishes

THREE TWINS ORGANIC ICE CREAM & GOTT’s ROADSIDE join forces

South Bay/Peninsula

LEXINGTON HOUSE, a destination restaurant and cocktail haven in LOS GATOS

Elegant weekend escape to CARMEL (where your boutique hotel houses a Michelin-starred restaurant)

Silky crudo, standout salads and Carlos Yturria’s cocktails at LURE + TILL in PALO ALTO

Events/Dinner Series

ICHI, Commonwealth and more join STONES THROW CHARITY DINNERS throughout the summer

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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

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May
01
2014

Top Tastes

 A dreamy vegetarian course: tender potato gnocchi filled with liquid cauliflower sauce, colorfully marked by Pantelleria (Sicilian-style) capers and romanesco broccoli.

A dreamy vegetarian course: tender potato gnocchi filled with liquid cauliflower sauce, colorfully marked by Pantelleria (Sicilian-style) capers and romanesco broccoli.

Celebratory Spring:
Quince’s Artful New Menus

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

Here’s my May 1st photo slideshow and article on a few of the great dishes from Quince, a 2 Michelin-starred, Italian-influenced fine dining great in San Francisco, for Zagat: www.zagat.com/b/san-francisco/quinces-spring-menu-our-12-favorite-dishes-tastes.

Splurge on the Spring menu: a $40 supplement adds in Tortelli alla Cecilia Chang, a decadent pasta tribute to the great Chinese restaurant legend and SF local, Cecilia Chang. The tortelli pasta is filled with smoked sturgeon and potato, marked by dill and generous dollops of caviar.

Splurge on the Spring menu: a $40 supplement adds in Tortelli alla Cecilia Chang, a decadent pasta tribute to the great Chinese restaurant legend and SF local, Cecilia Chang. The tortelli pasta is filled with smoked sturgeon and potato, marked by dill and generous dollops of caviar.

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Feb
15
2014

Around the Bay

Views from the new Luna Blu in Tiburon

Views from the new Luna Blu in Tiburon

WHERE to EAT NOW: MARIN

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

M.H. Bread & Butter

M.H. Bread & Butter

Suburbs, nature, charming main streets… family-heavy Marin has always had a few culinary gems. But a spare few of them though sandwiched between one of the great food cities of the world and the gustatory pleasures of Napa and Sonoma.

Bakeries like Beth’s Community Kitchen in Mill Valley are reminiscent of San Francisco bakeries (what is now standard Bay Area), while San Rafael’s Ponsford’s Place is a bread and pastry lover’s destination. Just open since June 2013, M.H. Bread & Butter in San Anselmo is the latest and greatest in Marin bakeries, doing classics like quiche and almond croissants right, alongside cookies, traditional French cakes and breads.

New openings and new chefs continue to pop up, some – like those below – worth crossing the bridge for.

Sausalito

SUSHI RAN, 107 Caledonia St, Sausalito, 415-332-3620

Coconut soup

Coconut soup

Amid relative newcomers like Pizzeria Rossetti and Barrel House Tavern, the longtime great Sausalito restaurant, Sushi Ran, recently promoted executive sushi chef Takatoshi Toshi to master chef alongside Executive Chef Scott Whitman. Mitsunori “Nori” Kusakabe, sushi chef since 2004, left in December to open a kaiseki restaurant, Kusakabe, in SF’s Financial District in the former Machka space.

While I am thrilled to see Kusakabe come to the city, I’m delighted to say, having recently returned to Sushi Ran – one of my all-time top sushi restaurants – that it’s still shining with Chefs Whitman and Toshi, under the same ownership of Yoshi Tome.

Vegetable tasting

Vegetable tasting

Ten piece sashimi platters ($32.50) or six piece sushi ($19.50) are sustainable “when possible” and pristine. Rolls/maki are not an afterthought, whether an elevated creamy scallop roll ($10.50) or the crisp of a spicy soft shell crawfish maki ($13.50), enhanced by cucumber, Japanese 7-spice, spicy crab and crawfish legs dramatically kicking out of the top.

Squid

Grilled squid

Non-sushi items are just as much a highlight as raw fish. A cup of corn coconut soup ($4/8), lush with red crab, chive and truffle, goes down like silk. In fine winter form, Fuyu persimmons ($9) are a sweet contrast over crisp kale, marcona almonds, shaved radish, and creamy hunks of Point Reyes Toma cheese.

Wagyu beef carpaccio in wasabi oil

Wagyu beef carpaccio in wasabi oil

Grilled squid ($13) is a bit of revelation, served in a form I haven’t not seen before. A fat tentacle is cut in segments, standing tall like a tower, topped with a grilled sliver of lemon, surrounded by mounds of smoked citrus sabayon (an egg yolk sauce) dusted with pepper powder. This dish stands out, but surprisingly, so do vegetables (generally $7). A vegetable tasting ($12) is the best way to try three of them at once: spiced roasted cauliflower, kale tossed with dates and puffed rice, and kimchee brussels sprouts. Each is spanking fresh, alive with flavor. This is the way to eat your veggies.

Sush Ran’s sake book is extensive and impressive with helpful tasting notes and categorizations. Try unusual beauties like the uniquely funky Amabuki Sunflower by Amabuki Shuzo made with sunflower yeast. Or there’s a dry, clean, almost spring mountain water-esque junmai sake, Man’s Mountain by Oto Koyama. To finish, I love the umami richness of Kiminoi “Emperor’s Well” yamahai junmai ginjo sake.

Sushi Ran's crawfish maki

Sushi Ran’s crawfish maki

F3, 39 Caledonia St. Sausalito, 415-887-9047

Mousse

Chicken liver mousse

Even if the food at Le Garage Bistro never blew me away, the open air patio and water views always felt quintessential Sausalito. From the same owners as Le Garage and L’Appart Resto, Fast Food Francais, aka F3, may be the most realized of the three in terms of the food. It may be “just” a burger restaurant but with additional dishes showcasing French cooking technique, Vespa delivery to locals, friendly service, and solid wine list in a casual space that formerly housed Plate Shop, it’s fast become a town favorite that comforts without sacrificing quality.

Flinstone burger

Flinstone burger

The burger list ($9-14) is certainly a draw, particularly with the likes of the Flinstone, a juicy, bacon aioli and shallot confit-smothered burger, decadently partnered with bone marrow. It’s ideal smeared across the bun. Crispy, shredded duck confit makes up the Quack burger, perky with black pepper chèvre cheese and red onion marmalade.

F3 Cocktails

F3 Cocktails

The Herbivore actually keeps up with those two on its own terms: a flavor-rich patty of French lentils and jasmine rice, subtly spiced with ras el hanout (North African spice mix), marked by yogurt, apple compote and frisée.

All beef used is organic grass fed, lamb is natural in the lamb burger, and a mountain of Brussels sprout chips ($6) dipped in buttermilk are as gratifying as the better versions of fried Brussels leaves elsewhere over the years.

Cocktails are soft and catered towards a suburban crowd with toned-down or thankfully subtle fruit flavors. There’s a range of local and French wines to choose from and a few French-ified starters and small plates like a lush chicken liver mousse ($10) over rustic bread, happily given contrast from sweet golden raisins, pickled red onions and cornichons.

Celebrating it’s one year anniversary this Valentine’s Day, this could be the place to last in a space that has seen a lot of turnover.

LUNA BLU, 35 Main St., Tiburon, 415-789-5844

Outside on Luna Blu's deck

Outside on Luna Blu’s deck

Open barely a month, Luna Blu is not so much about the food as about that stellar Tiburon view over boats and docks, across the Bay to San Francisco. Thankfully, the food isn’t cause for suffering as some unnamed Tiburon restaurants can be. It’s straightforward Italian with “red sauce” dishes like Eggplant Parmigiana ($16) given a “healthy” touch from a smattering of crisp, green peas, or ravioli ($18) filled with pear, decadent in Asiago cheese and walnut cream sauce.

Eggplant parm

Eggplant parm

Though I long for more authentic Sicilian dishes from Taormina-born chef Renzo Azzarello, the warm welcome exuded by Chef Azzarello and his wife, Crystal (from Oxford, England), makes an impression. The two of them came to and fell in love with Tiburon on their honeymoon. They’re back, putting down roots with their own restaurant set to stellar, only-in-the-Bay-Area views.

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Dec
01
2013

The Latest

Cicchetti hour at Pesce

Cicchetti hour at Pesce

Venetian Escape in the Castro

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

Pesce's spacious new setting

Pesce’s spacious new setting

Whenever I visited the intimate, humble Pesce on Polk Street over the past decade plus, I was consistently impressed with the impeccable seafood and Venetian focus. It evoked an escape to Venice, Italy (minus the unmatchable, magical setting), for its blessed ritual of snacking: cicchétti, or hot and cold bites preferably taken with drink.

Having just returned to Venice for a third time this October, the food at the expansive, new Pesce on Market Street (opened in August) is stronger than most meals I’ve ever had in Venice. Being the only Italian city I’ve been to where meals are generally subpar (I’ve traveled throughout Italy in four visits over the past 12 years), Pesce re-imagines Venetian food with California sensibilities.

Bigoli

Bigoli pasta

The result is a better-than-ever restaurant with expanded menu, cocktails added to the already strong, Italian-centric wine list, and an inviting, spacious dining room exuding an openness the original restaurant did not quite possess.

I am most drawn to Pesce’s long bar. Pulling up a stool at the elegant marble countertop presents a European ethos, whether snacking on cicchétti or indulging in a full meal. It’s a comfortable perch from which to dine solo or with a friend, to eat a little or a lot, and to leave satiated.

Pizzette

Pizzette

Using all sustainable seafood, it’s no surprise that seafood is a strength here… as are pastas. Late afternoon/early evening cicchétti hour ($2.50-3 per bite) is a pleasure with a glass of Sardinian Vermentino or Lagrein from Italy’s Alto Adige region accompanied by the salty pleasures of cured fish roe (bottarga) in the form of a polenta fritter, or fried arancini balls oozing mozzarella from saffron-inflected rice.

Hamachi crudo

Hamachi crudo

When ordering small plates, besides typically going for the most unusual dishes if applicable (and it is not here), I also consider range and variety (here, Pesce has plenty to offer). At Pesce, that may mean silky-raw hamachi crudo ($13) delicately accented by citrus olive oil, pink peppercorns and micro greens, or the tender crisp of green beans (fagiolini, $6) enlivened with garlic and red bell pepper.

Pizzette ($7-8), or mini-pizzas, are strong. Bubbling crust and quality ingredients speak to traditional Neopolitan pizza stylings, particularly in the case of a pizzette exuding subtle heat from Calabrese chiles in a pool of savory-sweet tomato sauce, punctuated by capocollo, paper-thin Italian pork salume.

Gamberoni

Gamberoni

Pastas are even better. Sleek, wide pappardelle pasta ($13) is meaty with braised duck, the tomato sauce imparted with porcini earthiness. Whispers of the sea come forth in a tuna Bolognese sauce over wheat bigoli noodles ($14), invigorated with Calabrese chili, a decorative chili plunked in the middle of the mountain of pasta. One of my favorite dishes from all visits was when they first opened but is not currently on the menu, being a seasonal summer dish: a side of crisp, white corn ($6), ultra-smoky and meaty with bacon.

Cocktails at Pesce's bar

Cocktails at Pesce’s bar

Cocktails ($10) aren’t exceptional so much as gratifying, a fine alternative to wine or beer, with some local spirits prominent behind the bar. One pleasant aperitif or food accompaniment is City Lights, an amaro-heavy sipper of Punt e Mes sweet vermouth and Italian herbal liqueur Strega underscored by autumn spices.

There are other menu highlights, like plump, grilled mint-lime gamberoni (shrimp, $12) in a bowl of farro grain, but it’s the overall experience – one of casual elegance and ease – that leaves an impression. Service, if not exceptionally attentive, is relaxed, encouraging lingering and inspired conversation. Pesce improves upon meals I’ve had in the otherworldly, incredible, but touristy City of Love, Venice.

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Jul
01
2013

Around the Bay

Still dreaming of A16 Rockridge's fried pizza with smoked tomato sauce

Still dreaming of A16 Rockridge’s fried pizza with smoked tomato sauce

Get Thee to Oakland for
FRIED PIZZA & AMARO at A16 Rockridge

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

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Seventh Circle cocktail

There’s only a few places in the country where one can find fried Neapolitan pizza, a twist on Italy’s perfect pies. There’s Forcella and La Montanara in NYC, and now A16 Rockridge. Even in Naples, there are few restaurants making this style of pizza. The owners of A16, included Wine Director/Sommelier Shelley Lindgren, fell in love with fried pizza in Naples, wanting to replicate it at their brand new, second location of A16, open merely a month.

The original A16 opened in San Francisco in 2004, well before the Neapolitan pizza craze that hit much of the country in ensuing years. Rockridge is not merely a copycat of the original. Yes, it boasts Lindgren’s impeccable, regional Italian wine selections and authentic pastas and pizzas. But there are two draws the SF original does not have: the aforementioned fried pizza and a full bar, including one of the best amari/Italian herbal liqueur collections in the Bay Area.

Chef's antipasti selection ($14)

Chef’s antipasti selection ($14)

First, the bar, which offers plenty of excellent small batch, craft spirits to choose from. Though not touted as an amaro bar, in the first week of opening, I was immediately impressed with a full shelf of Italian bitter liqueurs, aperitifs and digestifs. There was not a bottle I wasn’t familiar with, but it’s unusual to see the convergence of rare amari (plural for amaro) I find at bars nationwide all in one place. Typically, when I come across such a selection, it’s an amaro-specific bar, like Balena in Chicago or Amor y Amargo in NYC, not merely one aspect of a restaurant bar.

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Monterey anchovy crudo

Amongst the cocktails ($9-11), there are light, aperitif sippers like Amalfitano (limoncello, soda, Amaro CioCiaro, mint) on to boozy beauties like Catch 22 (gin, Cynar, vermouth, orange bitters, olive). I immediately took to the lively Giusto, bracingly elegant with aged grappa, Campari and Punt e Mes vermouth, and to the subtle heat of a lush Seventh Circle, the spice of rye whiskey playing off the bitter of Campari, and the heat of Calabrese chilis balanced by lemon and honey.

Impressive amaro collection

Amari collection

But how can one stick to only cocktails when Lindgren’s wine selection is calling? Explore specific regions of Italy and if you’re lucky enough to be there on a night Lindgren is, ask for her pairing recommendations with each course. Expect unusual, thoughtful pairings. I continue to recall the earthy, fruity sparkle of Cantine Federiciane Lettere Penisola Sorrentina, a frizzante-style red from Campania which Lindgren paired with a couple of my plates.

V

Geoduck Cavatelli

Executive Chef Rocky Maselli serves a range of dishes, all happy companions with the wines, like Monterey anchovy crudo ($11), a fresh acqua sale ($11) salad of cherry tomatoes, green melon and sesame-semolina croutons, or silky burrata ($12) with crostini, crumbled pistachio and dragoncello (aka tarragon). An impressive cavatelli ($12/20) of cannellini beans and geoduck sugo has been my favorite dish in initial opening weeks (outside of the fried pizza). Rarely is strange-looking geoduck this buttery and delicious.

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Coffee cocktail for dessert

Then there is fried pizza. The Montanara Rockridge pizza ($17) is only at the Rockridge location and is alone worth trekking across the bridge for. Where a Montanara pie would typically be a straightforward marinara, olive oil, basil proposition, the mozzarella is sometimes smoked and the pizza dough is lightly fried, ending up even more puffy and crispy than the typical Neapolitan pie.  A16 takes it a couple steps further using the creamiest, most expensive mozzarella: burrata; then they smoke the tomato sauce vs. the cheese, adding a fantastic layer of sweet-savory tomato smoke.

It’s hard to write about this pizza without wanting to drop everything and head straight to Oakland for another.

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