Monday, December 03, 2007

Farewell to (Skinny) Arms at Farallon

I am trying to get out the last of my old-old-old San Francisco posts out by the end of the year, and I still have about ten more to go. When I sift through my backlog, it makes me feel good to relive (and simultaneously lament about the end of) my food experiences in San Francisco.

One post I have been meaning to get out for a while now, involves a meal that I shared with four of my closest friends. They wanted me to end my time in San Francisco with style. And thus, they treated me out to a dinner at
Farallon, a San Francisco restaurant renowned for its distinctive interpretation of seafood, or "coastal cuisine," and its glistening blown-glass chandeliers, artfully sculpted into illuminated jellyfish chandeliers-of-sorts. Believe the hype, being in the restaurant really makes you feel like you are "under the sea," (to steal a line from Sebastian the crab).

Would you hate me if I just half-heartedly published a lackluster post with a bare-bones description of my meal at Farallon?

Bring on the hate.

First, as a flirtatious and tempting starter, the server brought us little porcelain spoonfuls of a preliminary amuse-bouche--a silky dollop of smoked salmon mousse. The piercing, smoky flavors of mesquite saturated the foamy mousse, and the mousse was delicately garnished with springy chive ringlets and droplet-sized puddles of extra virgin olive oil. It nicely whetted my appetite for what was to come.

My friends and I started with a tartlet that touted the inclusion of roasted yellow nectarines, Laura Chenel chevre, toasted almond slivers, and a simple lemon vinaigrette. The tartlet arrived at our table looking like a blistered puff pastry mattress with rotund ice-cream scoopful of chevre on the top. The supple nectarines looked like stewed tomatoes, oddly orbiting the tartlet. The tartlet itself sat squarely atop a nest of wilted Sausalito springs watercress. Despite the odd appearance, every element of the appetizer was packed with flavor: from the chevre to the watercress, and the roasted nectarines! The roasted nectarines stood head and shoulders above the rest of the dish.

We also shared an appetizer of rouget stuffed with wild mushrooms and served in a coconut lemongrass sauce with English peas and sweet fennel. I was interested in tasting the fusion elements of the dish, but the licorice-flavored fennel and English peas did not stimulate or ignite my taste buds as much as I anticipated, because they were a little drowned out by the coconut-lemongrass sauce. However, the pungent, fishy flavor of the rouget paired pleasantly with the thick coconut milk-based sauce. My only discontent with the dish lies in the fact that the portion was a little small (as you can tell from the picture--look at the peas to get an idea). While the rough skin of rouget was calloused like a brillo-pad, it provided much needed exfoliation for my tongue, so I actually liked that element.

For my main course, I ordered seared Maryland striped bass with steamed Manila clams, house-made fettuccine, and French butter. A variety of dry spices had been encrusted and seared into the skin of the bass, and it was moist and flavorful. I really enjoyed the fettuccine and chewy clams. The chef at Farallon took a minimalist approach to the pasta, and in doing so, the chef drew my attention to the sweet, milkiness of the French butter, the subtle nuttiness in the tangled tendrils of fettuccine.

My friends ordered seared Alaskan halibut with sweet corn soubise, summer beans, and roasted cherry tomatoes;

Cast iron seared local king salmon with bacon roasted brussel sprouts, celery root puree, beurre rouge; and

Grilled maine diver scallops, white corn, black-eyed peas, and roasted bacon;

To end our evening, we shared two desserts, including two deep-fried raspberry plum pies cloaked with granulated sugar. The pies came with vanilla raspberry swirl ice cream and a divine zinfandel raspberry caramel sauce. The berry-plum filling inside pies was a little sour for my taste, however, the dessert sauce provocatively merged (1) the almost-fleeting fruitiness of zinfandel wine and raspberries with (2) the milky, deep, and long-lasting flavors of caramel. I learned that night that I would like zinfandel raspberry caramel sauce on everything, including spaghetti and cold cereal.

We also ordered the warm flourless el rey chocolate cake with expresso ice cream, cocoa praline nibs, and mocha sauce. When I bit into the warm chocolate cake, I was surprised that little praline granules crunched in between my teeth like the sugary crystals in pop rocks. The gooey and oozing cake and luscious ice cream were imbued with sweet coffee flavors.

As I finish up this post, I realize that I don't wanna say farewell to Farallon. I never knew ye!

Hee, as you can tell, I got tired towards the end and cut down on the descriptiveness. . . . Okay, another San Francisco post down, nine more to go!

The Closest I'll Get to Thomas Keller

Saturday, November 24, 2007

In Pictures: Flying Over San Francisco

Before I left San Francisco, a friend of mine (who is also a licensed pilot) promised to show me the beauty of San Francisco in a way I had never seen before.

By air.

And it was breathtaking.

Since I've been posting the remainder of my San Francisco photos, I thought it would be nice to share some photos of my "day of flight."

Oh yes, and as for food, my friend and I stopped by for a simple lunch of turkey sandwiches on rye in Columbia, California.

We ended our trip in Oakland, California, at the best-barbecue-joint in the East Bay,
Everett and Jones, where we filled our empty stomachs with a variety of barbecued meats including (1) hot sausage links, (2) toothsome and tender brisket, and (3) sticky barbecued ribs. Unfortunately, my camera ran out of space after taking a picture of our sides, which included warm potato salad, sweet and sticky yams, and slow-cooked collard greens.

Flying over San Francisco was an experience-of-a-lifetime. I hope this post gave you a glimpse into the beauty of the Bay Area.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Boulevard of Fulfilled Dreams

From the moment I first set foot in San Francisco, "the" restaurant I wanted to visit was Boulevard. Even when I was offered an extravagant all-expenses-paid birthday supper at Gary Danko, my unrequited lust and dedication never wavered from Boulevard.

Because my San Francisco friends are discerning individuals and because I tend to indiscreetly drop inappropriate hints, my friends brought me a farewell lunch-to-remember-for-ages at Boulevard.

After arriving at the famed restaurant, I recall my hands trembling and sweating profusely when I was seated. I remember drawing in a sharp breath and sitting upright in eager anticipation when I opened the menu. (If you are a food blogger, you will understand that dining at certain restaurants may be more nerve-racking then going on a first date.) "Will the food be up to your standards or offensive? Will it have bad breath? Err. . . I mean, will it emit noxious odors, or a stomach-growl-inducing aroma?"

In date-speak, let us just say I got lucky that afternoon.

For my main course, I ordered the oven-roasted pork tenderloin. According to the menu, the pork tenderloin came with (1) a "melted mountain of gorgonzola butter," (2) soft polenta with pine nuts, (3) grilled mission figs cooked in a fig vincotto, and (4) a frisee and curly cress salad. When the dish arrived onto our table, I delayed for a moment before realizing that the "melted mountain of gorgonzola butter," was actually a puddle of dark au jus careening across the plate. I disappointedly thought, "substantial puddle of gorgonzola butter would have been a more apt description."

Nevertheless, with one bite, the beast within me was appeased. The figs were tender, voluptuous, and enlivened by the fig vincotto liqueur. While there was no mountain of butter discernable with my naked eye, there was a copious mound of polenta present at my disposal. Every forkful of the pillowy and pudding-like polenta contained the muted whisper of gorgonzola and a pleasant crunch from the toasted pine nuts. Finally, the unblemished pork tenderloin was succulent and flavorful.

My companions dined on pan-roasted local petrale sole with summer beans and king trumpet mushrooms sautéed in beurre noisette, and

Wood oven roasted Creekstone farms angus bavette bathed in beef au jus with baked fingerling potatoes blanketed in creme fraiche, smoked bacon, and chives, sautéed erbette chard.

To close our meal, my companions and I shared three desserts, including a warm chocolate budino cake with chocolate sauce, fresh cherries, and vanilla cherry sorbet swirl ice cream. As the budino cake at Boulevard confirmed, anytime "warm" and "chocolate cake" are used in a sentence, the result will be euphoric. The intoxicating and bold cherry flavors of the ice cream perfectly complemented dense chocolate cake.

We also divvied up a vanilla crème bruleé. As all good crème bruleés are, the vanilla crème bruleé was silken and creamy, and channeled fresh springtime flavors with the addition of the sweet blueberries and tart blackberries.

Finally, we shared a dessert of caramelized angel food cake with blossom bluff peaches, ginger marscapone cream, and fresh peach sorbet. When the dessert arrived, I found myself being taken aback by the heavy scone-like appearance of the angel food cake, for I had envisioned a generic slice of the pale and airy cake drizzled with a simple syrup. Instead, Boulevard had taken classic dessert elements and concentrated peach flavors and repackaged them into a dessert you would expect to see in the pages of a Martha Stewart magazine. Although I enjoyed the peach biscuit, the artificial peach flavors reminded me a little too much of gummy Haribo peach rings that I consumed as a child.

As I finished my meal, and wiped my mouth, I looked down at my once-trembling hands. My hands were no longer shaking on the table. Instead, they were busy unzipping my tight pants so that my stomach could make room for more.

Monday, November 12, 2007

I'll Be Back to Bacco's

Since I’ve moved away from San Francisco, my lunchtime options have changed considerably. Gone are the places I oft-frequented. Gone are the bronzed roast chickens at Seller's Markets, the organic salads with golden beets and marinated hearts of palm at Mixt Greens, the royal chicken roulade at Lightening Foods. . . And gone is the majestic Ferry Building.

But I can't complain. Now, in New Orleans, I can eat at a place that sells lunchtime martinis for only $0.25.

And thus illustrates the number one reason why I love New Orleans.

Bacco (the $0.25 cent martini place which I am referring to) is owned by the illustrious Brennan family, a restaurateuring presence in New Orleans. When a San Francisco friend came to visit last month, we decided to visit this $0.25 martini place, and were in for an incredible surprise.

When we were seated, our server described the specials and the signature items. However, the part that caught my ear was her explanation of how of the Zagat editors indicated that the lobster ravioli was better than heaven on earth.

"'Lady, you had me at 'lobster ravioli,'" I told her, with the look of enamor in my eyes.

My friend and I started with a truffled egg, which as the menu describes as, "[a] flash fried soft boiled egg served on bruschetta with truffled gorgonzola cream sauce and baby arugula."

As we divided the dish, my friend and I marveled at (1) the symmetry of the egg and (2) how the egg white had solidified, leaving nil a trace of any slippery uncooked white, while preserving the gorgeously runny yolk. Every flavor asserted its presence independently and every element was elevated beyond an artform. The toasted bruschetta retained its crunch while simultaneously sponging the sunny yolk that had exuded and oozed forth from the flash fried egg. The crisp, breaded skin of the egg provided a welcome contrast to the gelatinous and springy egg white, and the tangy cheese flavors from the gorgonzola had permeated into the dish and left a green marbleized vein across the ivory sauce. Finally, the thin truffle slices possessed a light, gritty texture and robust woody, nutty, and earthy flavors. As my friend and I took turns cleaning off the plate, we expressed our concern that the main course could not possibly live up to the truffled egg. Thankfully, these concerns went unrealized.

For my main course, I ordered the housemade lobster ravioli which was stuffed with Maine lobster and gulf shrimp and served with caviar and champagne butter sauce. The ravioli pasta sheets were firmly sealed together with the crosswise imprint of a pasta roller and the raviolis were generously filled with lobster and the native gulf shrimp. Gargantuan chunks of supple lobster flesh and tense little beads of caviar danced upon the ravioli and into my mouth. Best of all, the raviolis were served in an elegant and rich champagne butter sauce that consisted of the purest and sweetest form of liquefied butter known to man. Yes. It was better than heaven on earth.

My friend ordered the roasted chicken and stracci, which was described by the menu as "[h]ousemade pasta rags tossed with roasted chicken morsels, fresh spinach and basil in a light tomato sauce and garnished with parmigiano-reggiano cheese." The humble pasta rags were best
al dente pasta I have ever eaten in my life, and I don't throw around the word "best" lightly. The pasta possessed a firm resistance and the delicate chewiness that had never been as well-executed in any other pasta dish I have had. Furthermore, the rich tomato sauce was filled with warming herbal flavors and the comforting (and not overpowering) aroma of cheese. I felt like I could pour the rest of the sauce into a mug and sip on it in front of a cabin fireplace with mittens and my earmuffs on.

Finally, as a conclusion to a fabulous, awe-inspiring meal, we ended our meal with Mr. Ralph's ice cream sandwich which was made of spongy chocolate gingerbread stuffed with a
dulce de leche ice cream, dusted with powdered sugar, and served with chocolate and caramel sauce. It was fine dessert, but I find that personally, I tend to shy away from dishes that combine flavors like cinnamon and ginger with cream. The ice cream was firm and frosty, and the dessert was presented well.

As my friend and I finished our meal, we talked and laughed until we had tears in our eyes. Although the majority of my tears were due to my joy at seeing my wonderful friend, I think our tears were in part due to the amazing meal at

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Tapas Dancing at Andalu

There are two big things I miss about San Francisco: (1) my friends and (2) San Francisco's innovative and diverse ethnic cuisines. Thus, it is only fitting that now, as I am feeling just a tad homesick, that I share with you about these two loves of my life.

One of the last places that I dined at before I left the City of Fog was Andalu, a Spanish tapas restaurant in the Mission District. There, my friends and I shared a birthday dinner of cocktails, sangria, and small tapas plates, and we watched the sunset through the glass windows.

Talking about friends always gets me a bit teary-eyed. And reminiscing about food always gets me hungry. Given that I moved away from San Francisco three months ago, there unfortunately is a lot that I don’t remember about this meal at Andalu, so I hope the pictures do the talking.

The best tapas dish that I had evening at Andalu was the crispy mac and cheese with herb tomato vinaigrette. The mac and cheese had been shaped into finger food-sized nuggets, breaded, and deep-fried. Oddly enough, the "mac and cheese" tasted like a perfect mozzarella stick, with a warm, oozing, supple, and cheese-laden interior and a crispy and browned exterior. But it was infinitely more refined because the cheese flavors extended far beyond the simple tastes of cheddar cheese.

My second favorite tapas plate was the scallop and black truffle raviolis. The raviolis were made of delicate wonton skins containing a ground scallop and black truffle filling. The raviolis were accompanied with a refreshing micro green salad. The ravioli sauce was imbued with a sweet, buttery fragrance and the ravioli skins were smooth and silken to the bite.

I ordered burger sliders with basil aioli and shallot rings as my primary tapas plate. The burgers had a strange hint of sourness, but the savory grill-marked burger patties were bursting with juiciness and flavor and the crackly shallot rings were more flavorful than any onion ring I have had in my life. The heartiness of the tapas dish capitalized the familiar and comforting flavors of Americana, but somehow, the dish managed to seem very appropriate in a Spanish tapas setting.

The other items we shared that evening included:

Dungeness crab cakes with chipotle aioli, (the crab cakes were a little heavy on the breading and light on the crab, but very appropriately paired with the salmon-hued dollop of fiery aioli),

Romaine lettuce leaves daintily cupping mini-filets of miso-glazed black cod,

Ahi tartar tacos with a mango salsa made with chilies and fresh lime juice,

Grilled eggplant stuffed with ricotta, spinach, and pine nuts, served on a bed of caponata,

Roasted chicken breast on butternut squash risotto with porcini cognac cream, and fiddlehead ferns,

Dunkable donut holes served with a warm Castillian hot cocoa, whipped cream, and a generous dusting of powdered sugar,

A crispy-skinned lumpia (Filipino-style egg roll) filled with a ripe banana served "banana split-style" with dulce de leche ice cream, and chocolate and caramel sauce,

and chocolate brownies with fresh berries and confectioner’s sugar, and drizzled with chocolate syrup

I have a lot of pictures left over from my parting meals in San Francisco, and in reviewing and posting the pictures, I feel fortunate I was able to spend my last moments with wonderful friends and at restaurants like these.
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