advice, please, on San Fran & nearby restaurants
- martin merowitz
Opinions on: ave 9, canasta, casa aguilar, chow, eliza,
emerald garden, eos, khan toke, manora, massimo,
meditereene, tien fu, oriental pearl, real food deli.
ricochet, rose's cafe, socca, yaya?
Also, please, cafe and chez panisse.
Thanks for all help.
I went to Chez Panisse for my birthday, finally, having
first heard of it on my first trip to the Bay Area, six
years ago. We (my boy and I) ate downstairs (the
restaurant,as opposed to the cafe). Here's the
conclusion, then I'll follow with the description:
while the meal was exquisite it was not worth $250 to
me. Okay, so the restaurant is beautiful, the staff is
warm, the kitchen is open -- we had a great table so
that from my seat I looked right in on the kitchen, and
the maitre'd and the waitstaff extend warm invitations
for you to walk through the kitchen and watch the chefs
at work. In fact, the kitchen welcomes you, in the way?
no, not at all. Everyone at Chez Panisse is served the
same meal, we went on fish night, our meal was a frisee
salad with fresh pears and walnuts and a roquefort
dressing, a pureed sorel soup with creme fraiche and
chanterelles, and a pan-seared black sea bass in a
fennel-olive sauce with celery root puree, potatoes and
winter greens. THree courses and then dessert, which
was a simple pear clafoutis. With two glasses of
champagne, one bottle of wine, and one pot of verbena
tea, plus tax and tip the tab came to $250. Now, while
every dish was executed lovingly, and never a
less-then-delicious bite did enter my mouth, the food
was -- well in the style that I might cook at home (of
course not as well, not as deliciously). Alice Waters
revolutionized our food world, but the ironic
consequence of that is her restaurant no longer seems
revolutionary. The meal was wonderful, but would have
been more wonderful for $100 or $150. Perhaps this is
not a concern to you, but it is a concern to me. I
have been to other restaurants in the $200 - $300
range, and have always gotten more bang for my buck --
more courses, more unusual ingredients, more
preparations beyond my limited capabilities, more
lavish service, more desserts, more, more, more. I
would not go back to Chez Panisse downstairs. The cafe,
on the other hand seems nice, and I hear that's where
all the locals go. Our waiter estimated that 70% of
folks downstairs were out-of-towners. So there is my
subtle conclusion, while CP is absolutely wonderful, it
has poor value.
Chez Panisse is probably my favorite
restaurant in the country, and I have
eaten downstairs at least 20 or 30 times.
When the restaurant is on--it's never
less than superb, but the menu does
change every day--the food energy, the
sum of what's on the plate, is utterly
unmatched. Upstairs is just good eats.
That being said, a lot of the excitement
at CP is in the process of it all, seeing
how the kitchen manages to capture the exact
essence of the season and of the night's
ingredients. This is unlike a traditional four-star
restaurant (French Laundry, say), where the
relatively unchanging set dinner is designed
to dazzle the casual customer--a single,
isolated dinner at CP can often seem unspectacular,
which at $125 a person shouldn't happen.
Too often, the Friday and Saturday dinners end
up being variations on steak 'n' potatoes,
to please the out-of-town crowd. Try the Monday
dinners, a relative value, where the menus
tend to be more adventurous and the regulars more
This is a food report I did after spending a few days
in San Francisco last year. Hope this helps.
This last weekend had me wondering, can you have a bad
meal in San Francisco? Five out of the five meals we
had the pleasure to eat were all fantastic. The service
was outstanding in each place too. It was especially
nice to have four very close girlfriends along for the
ride; nice because none of us thinks anything of eating
from each other's plates. In fact, is there any other
way to dine? In no particular order, here are the
places we went:
Betelnut, 2030 Union Street, Near Union and Fillmore
Rose Pistola, 532 Columbus Ave., North Beach Area
Café Pescatore, in the Tuscan Inn, 425 Northpoint, St.,
Little City, 673 Union Street, North Beach Area
Mama's, 1701 Stockton, on Washington Square
We also ate hot fudge sundaes at Ghirardelli Square,
lobster sandwiches at Pier 39, and clam chowder in
sourdough bowls all over town.
As some of you may already know, I have begun a tour to
promote my new book, Elegantly Easy Crème
Brûlée, and San Francisco was the first stop. I'm
taking a short breather before heading to NYC. (I look
at my trip to SF as a dress rehearsal for NYC.) Besides
eating, I did manage to squeeze in a few radio
interviews and book signings.
Now, on to the restaurants:
Betelnut is an Asian restaurant unlike anything I've
ever experienced. This one is really hard to put into
words, except to say, don't miss it. Low prices, large
portions, and some very unusual flavors.
Rose Pistola. Was it Italian? Mediterranean?
Californian? I'd guess it was more Italian than
anything else, but
done with much flair and originality. We loved
everything we ordered, including stuffed focaccia with
oil, the thinnest crust pizza with the most delicious
goat cheese and olive topping I think I've ever had,
wonderful cioppino made perfectly spicy to our order.
Café Pescatore isn't just your average restaurant in a
hotel. It's outstanding but a bit over-priced. We had
calamari and a selection of antipasti. It was a light
meal to hold us over for a very late dinner at...
Little City. To start with, we were all in a festive
mood after seeing the Beach Blanket show. Then it
that the owner's wife went to Taft High School in
Woodland Hills with one of the girls in our group. We
out there's a lemon grass crème brulee on the menu that
seemed to be just different enough to go into the
edition of my book. This all added up to the most
memorable AND the lowest-priced meal of the trip. More
about why it was so low priced in a minute. Oh, and by
the way, I still have the menu, and so can give you
for this one too.
For starters, the girls let me choose a few appetizers.
The fact that ordering the antipasti was my job plays
important role here. We had Ahi Tartare (9.50). This
was served with jalapeno, shallots, ponzu sauce, quail
and shiso leaf. Sounds kind of weird? Well, it was! But
it was also very tasty. We also had Grilled Japanese
Eggplant with an herbed ricotta cheese fritter and warm
tomato chive salsa (5.50), Crab Cakes with a habanero
cream fraiche (9.50), and Smoked Duck with Chinese
spinach (7). I don't think I've ever had Chinese
before. It's got an unusual nutty flavor and is
exceptionally delightful. I've got to find someplace
that sells this
stuff. Anyway, our main courses were Caramelized Pear
and Roquefort Cheese with walnuts, arugula and
basalmic reduction (7.95), Peppered Pan Seared Ahi with
crispy mango ravioli and japanese salsa (18.50),
Linguine with Day Boat Scallops with anchovy, garlic
and red pepper (15.50) and Salmon in Rice Paper with
quinoa risotto and crimson orange reduction sauce
(15.50). For dessert we had Fugazi Lemongrass Crème
Brûlée (5.50) and Caramelized Nut Tart with Vanilla
Bean Gelato (6.00). It was all great, but the highlight
all agreed) was the Linguine with Scallops. And none of
us thought we liked anchovies!
Okay, so the waiter found out why we were in town, and
took me to meet the chef. I promised to bring him a
copy of my book before going home, and I also promised
to put his crème brulee into the second edition. When
the bill came, everything that I ordered was removed
from the bill! The chef had told the waiter that he'd
pay for "my" order, so the waiter took off the
appetizers in addition to my meal! The bill, including
drinks, and a
25% tip, based on the total bill before the credited
items, came to about $11 for each of us!
Our last meal was brunch at Mama's on Washington
Square. This may have been the best breakfast that any
us have ever had, EVER! Chocolate and candied orange
peel French toast with fresh raspberries, Home baked
Broiche French Toast, Banana nut French toast, and a
few omelettes made with peppered jack cheese,
pancetta, ortega chiles, avocado, and mushrooms. It was
all very fresh and out-of-this-world delicious.
The end of the trip was a delightful ride to the
airport in a stretch limo with a bottle of champagne,
of our hotel. Another surprise was a box of chocolates
that one of the girls bought at See's in the airport.
Total weight gain for the trip:
Linda, 3 pounds, Mary Kay 3 pounds, Debbie B. 1 pound,
Debbie P. 2 1/2 pounds, and Marla, who refused to
get on the scale, but we would guess 3 pounds.
In the next issue of Foodstuff: Reviews of the best
"Foodie" movies, the birth and history of California
Cuisine, fantastic recipes and more!
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