Around the Bay

Views from the new Luna Blu in Tiburon

Views from the new Luna Blu in Tiburon


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.


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.


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


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.




Article by Virginia Miller

Ringing in the new year is all about celebratory imbibing, but the sometimes dreary days of January likewise call for a cheering pour. It’s a month of planning towards a new year, reaching out for fresh horizons… good reasons to have something quality in the glass, whatever the category. Here are a few worthy bottles, from sake, wine, whisky, even cocktail bitters.


Brooklyn Hemispherical Bitters (photo source: www.brooklynbitters.com)

Medicinal and mixable, the glut of bitters released the last few years had  oversaturation has been achieved. But Brooklyn Hemispherical Bitters ($21 per bottle) stands out in recent years. Made in Brooklyn, the focus is on seasonal flavors like popular Meyer lemon, rhubarb or Sriracha. Heat radiates from their savory-sweet blackberry mole or spicy charred pineapple bitters, or a brisk, bitter chill from Icelandic bitters. These are some of the more inventive, elegant bitters on the market.

A couple additional stand-out bitter flavors: The Bitter End’s vibrant curry bitters ($24) made in Sante Fe and put to perfect use by  Mike Ryan at Sable Kitchen and Bar in Chicago in his Short Circuit cocktail with cachaca, manzanilla sherry and Kalani coconut liqueur. From Canada, Bittered Sling’s plum root beer evokes a sweet sarsaparilla.


Nikka Whisky is blessedly and finally distributed in the US through San Francisco’s Anchor Distilling, just releasing two new Nikka imports – hopefully many more to come. My favorite of the two, Yoichi Single Malt ($129), is a splurge-worthy, 15 year old whisky distilled on the island of Hokkaido from pot stills heated with finely powdered natural coal, a rare traditional method. Though more akin to a Highland-style Scotch, it nods to Islay with a hint of peat alongside a balanced brightness. On the more affordable side is Taketsuru Pure Malt ($69.99): a 12 year pure malt whisky blended in vats from Yoichi and Miyagikyo distilleries. The mountain air and river water humidity of the northern Honshu region where Miyagikyo is produced adds silky, ripe pear dimensions.

This November’s Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza in San Francisco (held in 13 major markets), offered tastings of expected Scotches. A few special drams were the fabulous Scotch Malt Whisky Society‘s 8 year Ardbeg Cask No. 33.113, a salty, smoky Scotch young with exotic fruit. The Single Malts’ Auchriosk 20 year Scotch exhibits tropical vividness, though a classic beauty. It was a joy to taste The Balvenie Tun 1401/Batch #6, the youngest whisky in its blend being over 20 yrs old. This rarity expresses layers of fruit, vanilla and spice, lively despite age.


Sake produced in a town outside Portland? SakeOne is a range of affordable sakes (those mentioned below $13-15)  made from rice grown nearby in Sacramento, CA. There’s Momokawa organic sakes, like a clean Junmai Ginjo or creamy Pearl Sake redolent of banana and coconut, or the smooth, balanced G Joy Sake.


Despite low quality bottled sangria you may have tried before, Eppa (found at Bay Area Whole Foods and numerous shops across the country, $12 a bottle) is a refreshing mix of pomegranate, acai, blueberry and blood orange juices with Mendocino Cabernet and Syrah. Trying it chilled over fresh cut fruit this holiday season with family, it tastes homemade,  lush and dark, not too sweet, but just right.

Indy Spirits

It was the best year yet at the San Francisco Indy Spirits Expo last month. A number of newcomers merely await West Coast distribution but are available online. With a slew of “craft” tonics released lately, each using real cinchona bark (quinine) without the natural color removed, Tomr’s Tonic is one of the better I’ve tasted. 100% organic and made in New Jersey, Tom Richter’s lively tonic combines citrus, herbs, cane sugar, with cinchona. The tonic mixes beautifully with a number of gins I sampled it with at home.

Fabrizia Limoncello is produced in New Hampshire with California and South American citrus by two Italian-American brothers. Balanced, fresh, tart (unlike their sweet Blood Orange liqueur), this limoncello is a step up from most. SW4 London Dry Gin, produced in the Clapham neighborhood of London and imported through Luxe Vintages in Florida, is a smooth, solid gin made from 12 botanicals, including lemon peel and cassia.


Craving the sparkling especially at this time of year, two great value bottles ($15 each) are Nino Franco’s Rustico Prosecco, dry yet lively, clean and tight, and Coppo’s Moscato d’Asti from Piedmont, Italy, its vivd effervescence cutting through intense sweetness, vibrant with brunch or spicy food. For after-dinner dessert wine, Donnafugata’s “Ben Rye” ($45 for half bottle) from Sicily, gives off a rich, raisin-like hue in the glass, made of Zibibbo grapes from the island of Pantelleria. To taste it’s lushly elegant, with a balanced sweetness and nuttiness.

At an industry tasting this fall with Sommelier David Lynch at his restaurant St. Vincent, we explored wines of the fascinating, warm-weather Consorzio Tutela Morellino Di Scansano region of southernmost Tuscany (established as a D.O.C.G. in 2007). I learned the region requires its wines be made with a minimum of 85% Sangiovese grapes. A 2010 Tenuta Pietramora di Collefagiano stood out, unusual at 100% Sangiovese. Its pleasantly funky nose gave way to cherry, even chocolate/earthy notes, balanced by soft acidity.

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I sample dozens of spirits, wines, beers and beyond in any given month. If there are tasting events (and there are), then multiply that a few times. I am working on perfecting spitting… and, yes, some tastes rise above others. Here, I share three (or less) sips in varying categories that rose above others:


ALEMBIC, Alembic‘s Georgia Mud Squid ($11) may not be the best drink I’ve ever had at one of my favorite bars, but besides a delightfully silly name, the arrival of a cocktail with flaming peanut shell floating on top is the worth the price of admission. What hits you first is a whole mess of corn from its corn whiskey base, followed by black tea, lemon and a splash of pine cone liquor adding refreshing dimension.


Michter's line

MICHTER’S – Though I appreciate Michter’s American Whiskey, what I really take to is their black pepper, caramel-laden Rye, and sweet-but-dry Bourbon (both around $45).

At Wine Enthusiast’s Toast of the Town last week, I sipped their spicy, layered 10-year Bourbon (around $80). This one is special. A welcome, upper mid-range bourbon option.



Under $20 – everyday drinking:

Esporao Reserva White 2009 – Redolent of oak, spice and peach, creamy with a touch of acidity on the palate, Esporao gets it right with their reserva white. And their entire line of Portuguese wines: from balanced reds and bright whites to playful animal label artwork by a female Portuguese artist. At Wine Enthusiast’s Toast of the Town, I tasted through eight of their delightful wines.


Rocca della Macie 2006 Roccato - Ah, those Super Tuscans. Transporting me back to days driving around Tuscany through medieval wine towns, this 2006 Roccato is 50% Sangiovese/50% Cab, bold with tobacco and oak but dry, refined and meat-friendly.

Sawbuck Malbec 2008 ($10), Yolo County – This California red is 76% Malbec, 19% Cab, 5% Syrah. What makes Sawbuck playful is its Gold Rush-era label and a name that was slang for the US $10 bill when first created (bearing the Roman numeral X, the shape of a sawhorse, aka sawbuck).

It worked for me with BBQ and pizza, a low-priced pour redolent of berries and vanilla but not too heavy-handed.


PURE DAWN – Available to taste at this year’s Wine Enthusiast Toast of the Town, Pure Dawn is a food-friendly sake with floral, orange peel notes and that apple/pear crispness you get from some Junmai Ginjo sakes. At roughly $15 for a small bottle and around $35 for a large, it’s an elegant sake from Akita, Japan.

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Top Tastes in DRINK

I'm excited to return to Oakland's new Era Art Bar & Lounge (www.oaklandera.com) - a photo from my sneak peek pre-opening

Here’s two brand new openings I’d recommend for sipping a glass of vino:

Passion's rooftop for warm days & nights

• Brave 6th Street and duck into Passion Cafe, a spacious French bistro with rooftop garden and multi-room space so cool, it’s a pleasure to linger over a glass.

• I’ve been a big fan of Kitchenette’s fabulous food since they opened… so it’s an easy win to be able to get it in greater variety at the Mission’s new wine bar, Heart. A crisp, minimalist space and startling photography set the tone for the playfulness that awaits when French wines are served in Mason jars (with these kind of tasting descriptions: “Like licking a skeleton with a pineapple in your mouth.”)


Kitchenette & wine at Heart

• At the dream of a pig feast that is Oliveto‘s Whole Hog Dinners, I couldn’t decide which wine I loved best with all that pig… each one cut the fat beautifully, never overpowered, but stood its ground. There’s the refreshing acidity of an ’06 Garlider Sylvaner from Alto Adige. Two more Italian beauties on the red side: 2005 Grifalco Aglianico del Vulture (dark red cherry and herbal notes) or the subtle plum and earthiness of a ’05 Valmaggione Nebbiolo d’Alba. I finished fine with a ’07 Cuvee Classique Domaine Monpertuis Chateaneuf-du-Pape: 70% Grenache, layered with dark fruit, dried herbs, spice, even leather notes.

Bagrationi Sparkling Brut is from Georgia… a tiny country situated on the edge of Eastern Europe and Western Asia (next to Albania). For a reasonable $13.99, it’s a good value, from hand-picked grapes, refreshing, with light citrus and honeydew notes.


A few of my favorites from SF Beer Week’s Opening Gala at Yerba Buena:

All you can taste at SF Beer Week's Opening Gala

• My love for spirits first and foremost clearly plays into my top taste from Beer Week: Abacus, a bourbon barrel-aged barleywine (13% ABV) that has aroma and tastes of bourbon (caramel, vanilla, oak). Thank you, Paso Robles’ Firestone Walker. They also deliver a bright Union Jack IPA, but it’s Abacus that wowed me. I’m not alone – demand for this barelywine has been such that they are purported to finally bottle it for the first time later this year.

•  Devil’s Canyon makes some fine beers, but its their awesome Root Beer I fell madly in love with. Small batch and organic, its touch of sweet comes from organic cane sugar, agave nectar and California honey. Rich, rooty, refreshing.

•  Linden Street Brewery‘s owner, Adam Lamoreaux, is such a cool guy and one man show at Oakland’s newest brewery, making “Old California style” lagers like a roasty, dark Burning Oak Lager.

•  Schmaltz Brewing Company – I was quite impressed with the fine taste of Albino Python, a white lager brewed with orange peel, ginger, fennel. My other fave is Jewbelation Bar Mitzvah, their 13th anniversary ale brewed with 13 malts, hops and 13% alcohol. These guys are doing it right.

•  North Coast Brewing Co.’s Brother Thelonious Belgian-style abbey ale is robust and memorable (9.3% ABV). It doesn’t hurt that jazz genius Monk himself is the mascot.


Sake & Chicken Hearts at Nombe

•  Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey- Far from a traditional whiskey, the unusual taste of Stranahan’s intrigued my palate with smooth wood and a range of tastes from caramel and spice to tobacco and leather. Here’s Malt Advocate’s publisher, John Hansell’s, great review.

• You’ll rarely see me go for flavored rums, vodkas (or vodka in general), etc… John Meisler, Don Q’s ambassador, gave quite the rum education and tasting on 2/2 at Yoshi’s for an industry event. Somewhere in the middle of side-by-side tastings of Don Q next to popular rums (of which I won’t name names) which lacked the flavor of Don Q (from Gold to a Grand Anejo), I kept burying my nose in a glass of Don Q CoCo, a rum flavored with natural coconut oils. I’d never order it but the fresh scent of coconut oil transported me immediately to some island beach, relaxed and tan, far from my seat on a Winter afternoon.


• The Mission’s new izakaya extraordinaire, Nombe, has an admirable selection of sakes, including flights to further your education. Out of a $15 Akita flight, the two that stood out the most were an acidic but balanced Manabito Kimoto Junmai Ginjo and elegant, chilled Akitabare Koshiki Junzukuri.

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This issue’s Top Tastes in DRINK

Scott Baird's Gulf Stream Express at mixology competition

Scott Baird's Gulf Stream Express


•  At 7×7′s Mixology Madness final competition for Best Neighborhood Bartender on 9/8 at RN74, Scott Baird of 15 Romolo, created the drink of the night, Gulf Stream Express… and rightly won. Though required to use sponsor, Skyy Vodka (their Infusions Pineapple, in this case), Scott wisely added Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon and a splash of Racer 5 IPA, then layered this nuanced drink with lemon, egg white, caramelized pineapple syrup, dash of Fee Bros. whiskey barrel-aged bitters, cayenne, topped with fresh grated cinnamon and a sprinkling of Peychaud’s.

Truffle Gougeres

Truffle Gougeres & a Midleton at La Folie Lounge

•  It’s a happy night at 15 Romolo when Chartreuse Karaoke Gong Show is in effect (with a free shot of Chartreuse to start)… but when Scott Beattie guests bartends, it’s even better. Highlighting the aforementioned Chartreuse, his Chartreuse Swizzle was topped with a bruleed (torched on top) pineapple; his version of The Last Word is the best I’ve tasted, the chartreuse, maraschino and gin accented with a candied lemon slice.

•  La Folie Lounge does a nice twist on a champagne cocktail by mixing champagne with Jameson Irish Whiskey, fresh muddled nectarine and lemon in the Midleton ($10). It’s a tribute to the last days of Summer.


Sake tasting room at Yoshi's SF

Sake tasting room at Yoshi's SF

Joy of Sake on September 10 at Yoshi’s SF, was an over-crowded, fight-for-a-bite-of-food event. Too bad as many of those gorgeous sakes were left without lines while the hungry crowd tried not to drink on an empty stomach. More for me, I guess. I could only get so far in the list of 100 strong. Out of the 30 or so sakes I sampled, an immediate stand-out was a smooth Daiginjo B sake from Kyoto, brewed by Masuda Tokubee Shoten: Tsuki no Katsura “Heiankyo Munouyaku Iwaimai”.


Two Rivers Cider is a Sactown-based cider company, selling ciders from bars throughout Nor Cal. I enjoyed their tart, dry Pomegranate Cider ($4.50; $3.50  during happy hour) on draft at Toronado, but you can also order at Alembic and 21st Amendment.


• Either the Green Tea Matcha Shake or Island Spice Chai ($3 each) at Poleng Lounge during its new lunch/take-out hours (not particularly memorable though cheap noodle & rice lunches) are colorful, flavor-packed iced alternatives to anything Starbucks does up the block.

Scott Baird from 15 Romolo mixes for the win Mixology Madness

Scott Baird from 15 Romolo mixes for the win at Mixology Madness

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