Dec
01
2014

Top Tastes

Peking duck at Crystal Jade

Peking duck at Crystal Jade

My Top Food Articles: November 16-30

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 SF Openings

Hapa Ramen opens its first brick-and-mortar – with cocktails – in the Mission

Crystal Jade opens its first location outside Asia along the Embarcadero

Project Juice’s new Mission shop and first raw food menu, soon to roll out at all locations

The hottest new bakeries in SF

Pies at Ice Cream Bar & the new A Dora Pie in Berkeley

House truffles and gelato pops at Sixth Course in the Mission

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

Squab tikka masala at Farmer & The Fox, St. Helena

Squab tikka masala at Farmer & The Fox, St. Helena

Underrated & Established Spots

9 cheesiest dishes (best dishes featuring cheese) now

East Bay

Upscale British food at The Growlers’ Arms in Oakland

The US’ first cat cafe opens in Oakland

Wine Country

Just what Napa needed: La Taberna, an all day destination for Spanish food and sherry, wine, Madeira

The Farmer & the Fox in St. Helena – one of the great new Napa Valley restaurants

Brenda's Meat & Three's fried bologna pimento cheese sandwich

Brenda’s Meat & Three’s fried bologna pimento cheese sandwich

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Nov
15
2014

Top Tastes

In the Napa town of St. Helena: The Restaurant at Meadowood bar bites (see eat at

In the Napa town of St. Helena: The Restaurant at Meadowood bar bites (see How to Eat for $30 at Top-Rated Restaurants)

My Top Food Articles: November 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 SF Openings

First Look: ALEMBIC’s new kitchen opens – what to eat on the new menu

7 things to order at Traci Des Jardins’ new Arguello in the Presidio

3 things to order at the new Klyde Cafe near Union Square (including one of the best new burgers in town)

What to order all day long at the new Brenda’s Meat & Three (yes, a sister restaurant to the long-wonderful Brenda’s French Soul Food)

Sweet Tooth: Lush Gelato opens on Polk Street

The Whole Beast Menu at The Hall: beef spider cuts & duck hearts

Tikka Masala reopens as Tikka Masala & Pizza in the Upper Haight

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

Cedar-smoked trout - on  Alembic's excellent new menu post-new kitchen buildout

Cedar-smoked trout – on Alembic’s excellent new menu post-new kitchen buildout

Underrated & Established Spots

3 things to know about Yuzuki Japanese Eatery & its new chef (hint: it transports me back to Japan)

How to eat for $30 or less at 8 top-rated Bay Area restaurants

10 coziest Bay Area restaurants

East Bay

3 new East Bay brunches

10 coziest Bay Area restaurants

Wine Country

12 Essential Sonoma Restaurants

How to eat for $30 or less at 8 top-rated Bay Area restaurants

10 coziest Bay Area restaurants

Authentic, lush Japanese desserts at Yuzuki in the Mission

Authentic, lush Japanese desserts at Yuzuki in the Mission

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Nov
01
2014

Top Tastes

Artful food at under-the-radar Napa gem, 1313 Main

Artful food at under-the-radar Napa gem, 1313 Main

My Top Food Articles: October 16-31

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

BURMESE fare & BRITTANY-style CREPES arrive at Upper Haight’s SECOND ACT MARKETPLACE

First Look at HUXLEY in the TENDERLOIN

2 NEW OAKLAND BURGER OUTPOSTS (also with Asian-influenced tacos and craft beer)

TWISTED DONUT & SWICH: Outer Sunset’s sweet new duo

TINY WARRIOR: A new Mission coffee outpost with creative iced coffees & a pour over coffee menu from various producers

PAPABUBBLE: Barcelona import with housemade hard candies

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

Squid at brand new Huxley

Squid at brand new Huxley

Underrated & Established Spots

8 Under-the-Radar LUNCHES in San Francisco (including new lunches, off-the-beaten path spots and upscale places with discounted lunches)

SECRETLY AWESOME: 10 Under-the-Radar Bay Area Gems

10 SF COMFORT FOOD CLASSIC DISHES

CAFE JACQUELINE, an Unsung Hero – the “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” of souffles

$10 Lunch: JANNAH, SF’s best Iraqi cuisine?

$10 Lunch: sandwiches at MORTY’S DELICATESSEN near Civic Center

Secretly Awesome: GUSTO in SAN CARLOS

Wine Country

10 TOP EDIBLE STOPS in SANTA ROSA (Sonoma County)

6 things to know about 1313 MAIN in DOWNTOWN NAPA

NOBLE FOLK PIE & ICE CREAM in Healdsburg (Sonoma County)

FLAVOR! NAPA VALLEY readies for its 4th year mid-November

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Oct
15
2014

Top Tastes

Tunisian pastries at Bistro L'Aviateur

Tunisian pastries at Bistro L’Aviateur

My Top Food Articles: October 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

First Look: THE HALL with 6 food and drink vendors in one food hall Mid-Market

All-day dream cafe, LES CLOS, opens from Saison sommelier Mark Bright, serving impeccable French food & wines

MARLOWE reopens in the former Coco500 space, now with cocktails

BISTRO L’AVIATEUR opens in the Mission with French-Tunsion charm

MONK’s KETTLE REOPENS with sidewalk seating and new draft system

MINI-CREAM PUFFS at new CHOUX BAKERY in Lower Haight

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

Divine garlic Parmesan knots with fermented tomato butter at new BR+Table cocktail paired chef's table at Burritt Room + Tavern

Divine garlic Parmesan knots with fermented tomato butter at new BR+Table cocktail paired chef’s table at Burritt Room + Tavern

Underrated & Established Spots

CHARLIE PALMER’s BURRITT ROOM + TAVERN: New Chef’s Table with cocktail pairings

OAKLAND’s HOMESTEAD, one year in

10 Great DISHES NOW at Top-Rated ZAGAT Restaurants

BOXING ROOM’s new Sunday jazz brunch

SECRETLY AWESOME: Dive bar lunch at BOX KITCHEN in a SoMa alley

PATHOS, Berkeley’s Greek dining, wine and cocktail destination

Best Thing We Ate: Avocado dish at AVELINE

10 HOTTEST NEW SF Restaurants Now

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Sep
01
2014

Top Tastes

Broccoli and cheese re-imagined at The Tradesman in the Mission

Broccoli and cheese re-imagined at The Tradesman in the Mission

My Top Food Articles: August 16-31

Photos and articles by Virginia Miller

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

Essay/Opinion Piece

Changing Tastes: You Can Learn to Eat (Even Like) Everything with Commentary from Harold McGee

New Bay Area Openings

Spanish-Californian Gem in the Presido: Traci Des Jardins’ THE COMMISSARY

Killer peanut butter cheddar burgers and other better-than-average bar food gems at THE TRADESMAN

Bruleed lobster pretzel rolls and other seafood gems at JACK’S OYSTER BAR & FISH HOUSE in Oakland

Early Tastes at Spanish Newcomer in the Castro, BESO

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

Underrated & Established Spots

The Results of our 1st National BEST BURGER SURVEY – and my round-up of HONORABLE MENTIONS

WHERE TO EAT NEAR BART: My 10-stop guide, station-by-station

Secretly Awesome: GOOD LUCK DIM SUM in the Inner Richmond for best dim sum takeout

My Top 4 VEGETARIAN BURGERS

South Bay

Day Trip: What to Eat & Drink in LOS GATOS – my 4 favorite spots

Events

The 6 Best Things I ate & drank at OUTSIDE LANDS 2014

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Feb
01
2014

Imbiber

Alchemy 3-Virginia Miller

Oakland’s New Spirits Shop Extraordinaire

Article & Photos by Virginia Miller

ALCHEMY BOTTLE SHOP, Oakland (3256 Grand Avenue, temporary number: 415-553-0803)

Alchemy's upstairs art gallery

Alchemy’s upstairs art gallery

Oakland will soon have a spirits shop to delight spirits and cocktail lovers. Alchemy Bottle Shop, from Tova Herman, formerly in the wine industry, and Peter Mustacich, who quit his Financial District day job (where he frequently spent breaks at Cask) to open their Grand Avenue spirits shop, is going to be the kind of store that’s heavy on amari and unusual, small-batch spirits, one with an art gallery upstairs featuring local artists, primed for tastings and events.

As they finish the build-out, opening date is still an estimate. They are hoping for March, and with a space as airy, elegant and welcoming as this one promises to be (not to mention the prime location on busy Grand Ave.), it looks like East Bay-ers will have another spirits shop destination along with Ledger’s Liquors in Berkeley.

After my “hard hat” visit to the under-construction shop, I chatted with Tova and Peter about Alchemy. It quickly became apparent that their love and knowledge of spirits ensured we not only had plenty to talk about, but that spirits lovers can expect good things while novices will benefit from their desire to share and educate:

Virginia: Can you tell us about a few unique spirits you’re particularly excited to be stocking at Alchemy?
Tova: There are SO MANY amazing spirits that we are super excited to be carrying, but here are a few of our favorites:
Breckenridge Bitters – An American take on Genepy, made in CO using local Alpine herbs
Firelit Coffee Liqueur – Made in CA, using beans from Blue Bottle and other local roasters. Unlike other coffee liqueurs we’ve tried, this one actually tastes like coffee! And delicious cold brew coffee at that.
OOLA Barrel Aged Gin – It is absolutely one of our favorites – partly because of their unique choice of botanicals (rose petal and black lemon!) and partly because of the amazing creaminess they get from barrel aging.
Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky – Made using a Coffey still, this is unlike other Japanese whisky because it’s a blend of grains rather than a single malt, but we love it for it’s balance and smooth, full-bodied texture.
Alchemy's elegant, white shelving

Alchemy’s elegant, white shelving

Virginia: What type of events, classes or tastings can people expect at Alchemy in your shop and art gallery?
Tova: We really want to focus on engaging our customers and teaching them about new products they might not be familiar with, so we’re hoping to bring in lots of producers who can actually talk about how their product is made and what goes into it. We also think that context is really important when it comes to spirits so rather than just tasting them straight, we really want to get into demonstrating how to mix our products into cocktails. We’re hoping once we get up and running to do a weekly series of interactive cocktails classes that people can sign up for in advance, in addition to our in-store tastings and art gallery openings.

Virginia: What will be different about Alchemy than other liquor/spirits stores?
Tova: I think the main difference we’re striving for is a higher level of interaction with our customers. There are many places that you can go if you’re simply looking to buy spirits, but for someone who is just getting into craft cocktails, or who wants to know more about some of the unique and obscure spirits we’re starting to see more of, it can be very overwhelming and intimidating. There is sometimes a certain attitude around spirits and mixology that can feel exclusive and we want to work as hard as we can to dispel that. Through our classes and tastings, we really want to engage our customers as much as possible and pass on our knowledge as well as the knowledge of all the distillers and other industry professionals that we know. We want to be a fun and accessible place that people come to learn and talk about spirits, as well as a place where you can pick up a number of great bottles.
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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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Written by in: Around the Bay | Tags: ,
Jan
15
2013

Top Tastes

Muguboka's killer hae-mool (seafood) dolsot (stone pot) bibimbop

Of Banchan, Ramen & Squid Innards

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

Delicious banchan spread at Muguboka

Authentic Asian cuisine of every category is one of California and the Bay Area’s strengths, with constant new openings from hole-in-the-walls to hipster hotspots. Busy dining at a slew of Asian newcomers, like the Richmond’s mellow Daigo Sushi, or Szechuan outpost Chili House, these three restaurants stand out for one (or a few) reasons.

MUGUBOKA, Inner Richmond (401 Balboa St. at 5th Ave., 415-668-6007)

An acquired taste at Roku: shio-kara (fermented squid & innards)

Passing Muguboka many a time over the years, I meant to visit but never did until recently. What I found is a humble, all-day respite serving an impressive array of banchan (mini-dishes accompanying a Korean meal), whether kimchi or myeolchi bokkeum (crispy mini-anchovies). Free, generous banchan and bottomless tea make even upper teens-priced entrees a deal. Dining alone, I attempt to finish the banchan… and fail. There’s a plentiful selection of soups and stews featuring tofu or Korean sausage, and dishes like go dung uh gui (broiled salted mackerel), or hae-mool pajeon, those ever-fabulous seafood-green onion Korean pancakes. I finish with a complimentary, cool pour of sujeonggwa, a sweet Korean punch alive with cinnamon, ginger, peppercorns, dried persimmon.

Best dish: Muguboka serves a mean hae-mool (seafood) dolsot (stone pot) bibimbop ($16.95), the scorching stone pot arrives sizzling with rice, egg, squid, shrimp, mussels, veggies and nori on top.

Best suited for: A mellow setting with copious amounts of Korean food. Expect two meals for the price of one.

RAMEN SHOP, Oakland (5812 College Ave. near Birch, 510-788-6370)

Show-stealer: wild nettle fried rice

Open just since the beginning of the year, this is an early word on Oakland (Rockridge, to be exact) hotspot, Ramen Shop, packed since day one with long waits (no reservations). A short, ever-changing menu offers three types of ramen, one dessert and a handful of appetizers so it’s possible to try the entire menu in one visit. Chez Panisse alums, Sam White, Jerry Jaksich and Rayneil De Guzman already have a hit on their hands, if crowds are any indication. Though early Yelp comments are trending towards the frustrated-to-spend-$16-on-a-bowl-of-ramen kind, this is quality ramen… house-made noodles, salt-cured eggs, ultra-fresh ingredients. Meyer lemon infuses shoyu ramen ($15) with bright dimension, while spit-roasted chashu (literally pork roast, often known as char siu) adds heft to particularly flavorful spicy miso ramen ($15).

Spicy miso ramen

But my favorite aspects aren’t ramen. Meyer lemon shows up again in unique kimchi/house pickled Napa cabbage ($5), to winning effect, a spirited contrast to chili. Then, wild nettle fried rice steals the show (see “best dish”). The third best element is liquor. While wine and beer work quite nicely, it’s a rarity (I can’t think of any other local example) to see cocktails with ramen. Straightforward, refreshing mezcal or rye-based punches ($10) make fine ramen companions, as does a classic hi-ball ($12) of Hibiki 12-year Japanese whisky and soda. A nutty-tasting black sesame ice cream sandwich ($5) in brown sugar cookies is the right finish.

Best dish: Easy… wild nettle fried rice ($9) interlaced with Monterey Bay squid and Llano Seco pork is as comforting as it is gourmet.

Best suited for: The joyous convergence of ramen and Japanese whisky – and for those with time on their hands.

ROKU, Castro (1819 Market St. at Octavia Blvd., 415-861-6500)

Roku yakitori

Opened in October by JapaCurry‘s Jay Hamada, Roku sits at busy Market and Octavia. Similarly bustling inside, groups of friends down Japanese beer and fried chicken in the form of karaage ($7) or chicken nan ban ($8), the latter a specialty of Kyushu, Hamada’s hometown island in southern Japan. Under warm wood walls graced with unframed, vintage Japanese posters, I opt for the likes of house-made noodles and mochi bacon yakitori (though I couldn’t help but long for FuseBOX’s supreme bacon-wrapped mochi).

Hotate butter w/ membrane skirt & stomach intact

During opening weeks, I went straight for dishes I’ve never tried, like shio-kara ($4): room temperature, fermented squid swimming in its own innards. Salty and gummy, it is, as the menu states,”an acquired taste.” Likewise, hotate butter ($12) topped with the vivid orange of tobiko/fish roe is unexpected. Scallops are sautéed in butter, but unlike most of our Westernized experiences with the succulent bivalve, the stomach and membrane skirt are left on around the scallop flesh. Call it umami, call it funky, the taste is more accurately both.

Though I find preferred renditions of classic izakaya dishes elsewhere, it’s items like the seafood salad (see “best dish”) or rare dishes for a bold palate that make Roku interesting.

Refreshing seafood salad

Best dish: Surprised to prefer a seafood salad ($13) in an izakaya, this one is laden with red king crab and smoked salmon, tobiko, boiled eggs, yellow bell pepper and tomatoes over romaine, bright in a yuzu wasabi dressing.

Best suited for: The hardcore who want authentic dishes they won’t find on typical menus. Also for groups of friends.

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