My Dining Weekend in SF
- Organ Meat Feb 26, 2001 09:43 PM
Well, I arrived back in L.A. last night, after spending a wonderful weekend in San Francisco. Without a doubt, I can now state that San Francisco possesses far superior fine dining restaurants than Los Angeles. Okay, now to the dining reviews of the restaurants I dined at.
My first dinner was Friday night at the wonderful Bizou. The decor and atmosphere are just a little off putting, especially when you're sitting in the center of the room at a two top, but what can you do? Our server could have also been a bit friendlier, but instead was quite indifferent and cold. The food however, was simply amazing. For appetizers I started out with a duck liver terrine that was absolutely perfect. Creamy, savory and studded wiith walnuts and surrounded by a meltingly tender rim of fat, similar to marrow. My girlfriend enjoyed an absolutely divine beet and goat cheese salad. The creamy cheese was perfectly complemented by the little sald of frisee and the sweetness of the beets which were unlike any beet I've ever tasted before. It was the way a beet should taste like, but unfortunately hardly ever does.
For entree's there was no question what I wanted. I was there for one thing and one thing only: the beef cheek. After having one bite of the substantial breaded cheek I was hooked. Never had I tasted beef this tender and flavorful. I beleive it had been braised for quite a long time to get it to that stage. For those severeal minutes, while I was chowing down on this delectable piece of meat, everything was sublime. My girlfriends mussel dish (she ordered an appettizer for an entree) on the other hand was only sub par. Presented in a cream sauce, it was a bit too rich for the both of us and the mussels were a bit tiny. All in all though, we had four dishes and three were orgasmic... I'll have dreams of the beef cheek until I go back to Bizou.
The next day, we drove up to Napa and had a wonderful lunch at Bistro Jeanty. This is true French bistro fare, not the generic bistro fluff one sees in so many pretentious so called bistro restaurants in the States. I'm usually only intrigued by several things on a menu at best, but at Jeanty I had such a difficult time making my mind, cause everything looked so damn good! I finally decided on starting with a rabbit terrine, since my girlfriend ordered my first pick, pig trotters (damn her...lol). The pate was just mediocre, well executed but lacking in any distinguishing flavor. But my girlfriends pig trotters salad was out of this world! Several trotters served cold, paired with a haricot vert salad. The meat so easily came off the cartilagenous hoof and the taste and textures were too dificult for words to accurately describe. Geltinous, creamy and chewy seem to come to mind.
For my entree, I had an equally hard time deciding, since my girlfriend chose my first pick which was choucroute. I finally decided on veal kidneys in a green peppercorn sauce. In a word, WOW! The dish was superb, absolutely flawless and one of the best things I've ever had the pleasure of eating. The kidneys were perfectly paired with tiny mushrooms all laying on a bed of spinach in the peppercorn sauce. Kidneys and mushrooms have somewhat similar textures and flavor components. Chewy, but with a slight 'pop,' when eaten, both with suddle yet defined flavors. The choucroute was my first choucroute I've ever eaten and it won't be my last. It was wonderful and rich. Vinegared cabbage, similar to sauerkraut mixed with real bacon which was a revelation in and of itself. I'm not a big fan of bacon usually, because it usually is too salty and mutes the actual flavor of the pork, but this bacon was moist and full of pork flavor without being salty in the least. The beer sausage was also quite good, although maybe a tad too salty on its own. Our server was also very friendly and helpful (he steered me away from the cassoulet in favor of the kidneys). Did I mention the bread was great?!
That night we headed back to San Francisco and had dinner at Gary Danko. For the quality of the food and the excellence of the service, this place is a deal. I had five courses, wile my girlfriend had four couses, both of our meals paired with wine. In a nutshell, almost everything was wonderful, except for the mediocre chocolate souffle and a lobster salad my girlfriend ordered, which although delicate and wonderfully flavored was a bit on the chewy, tough side. Stand outs were my foie gras appetizer, sauteed crispy bass, pheasent breast and leg confit matched with oh so perfect buttery whipped potatoes and my girlfriends exquisite moroccan whole squab, served on top of a mound of quinoa, which is similar looking to couscous, but is instead an actual grain and not flour. The cheese course was also a winner. We had several different kinds including a creamy triple creme goat cheese, two good stinky blue cheese like blue chesse should be and a sheeps milk cheese which although I can't remember what it was called, can only say that it was memorable.
So, after writing all this, I suppose it's evident that I was extremely impressed with the quality of the food at the restaurants I had the pleasure of dining at. The only sour note... dim sum on Sunday. I knew L.A. (specifically Monterey Park and San Gabriel Valley) had the best dim sum, and my horrible dim sum experience up there only supported my convictions. Sunday morning we went to Yank Sing and while waiting were immediately turned off by how modernized and small the place was. Very few rolling carts, but instead utilizing mostly servers carrying trays of unappettizng, boring, mostly Americanized dim sum offerings. When we finally sat, the first thing offered to us was a squab in lettuce cup. What? I was so upset that I ordered it, cause I didn't want it to be a total loss and it was unsurprisingly excessively sweet with oyster sauce, perfectly catered to the unrefined tastes of most Americans. We immediately left and headed to Ton Kiang. After an hour long wait, which wasn't worth it, we were finally seated and again offered mostly standard and Americanized dishes, such as chinese chicken salad (oh god! Chinese don't even really eat salad), boring bland dumplings, steamed asparagus and the like. My biggest complaint wasn't that they had no real pork dishes other than dumplings, or even the fact that there was no tripe, pork feet, etc... No, my biggest complaint was that just like Yank Sing they had few carts and most of the dishes were served on trays, that weren't even covered. Obviously, one can see there's a problem with this. Several of the dishes were luke warm, which is definitely not a good thing for dumplings and especially dim sum like bao's and sesasme balls. The only better than decent things I ate there were the chicken feet, which was quite good, shrimp stuffed crab claws which although not too authentic was actually tasty, the juk, and the barbecued duck. All the dumplings were bad, and mostly had cooled off considerably since coming from the kitchen. In dim sum places in L.A., even the worst of them serve all the food from carts, which at least keep the heat in. Plus the dim sum places in the San Gabriel Valley like Ocean Star, have such a wide variety of selections and the price is even better.
But, other than my disastrous experience on Sunday, I had a great time and feel the fine dining eatablishments and french bistro fare is superior to what we have down in L.A. This is definitely partly cause by the superior organic ingredients San Francisco is known for. The asian ethnic food however, particualrly chinese and korean is on the other hand, better in L.A.
Glad to hear that you enjoyed your dining adventures in the SF area (not counting your dim sum experiences). Care to share a few of your favorite spots in LA? Not so much interested in the high end ($$)....looking forward to reading your post. Today's SF Chronicle had an interesting article about Galco's Old World Grocery in Highland Park(LA)....sounds like a very fun place to browse through the soda pop gold mine.
Hate to burst your self-image as an expert on what Chinese eat and don't eat, but what's commonly called chinese chicken salad is a Cantonese dish, the name translates into "hand-shredded chicken" in English. In the States, a higher proportion of lettuce is usually used, but this is still an authentic Cantonese dish and, gasp!, a cold salad.
Another correction for the record - it's also very puzzling that you describe Yank Sing as not offering tripe, etc. While not my favorite dim sum place, it does indeed offer these dishes on weekends.
Lastly, don't you see that it's offensive dismiss American tastes? Americans come in all sizes, colors and palates. I'm an American and you shouldn't talk about my people that way.
Melanie, first off I suggest you read what I wrote more carefully. I never said Yank Sing didn't have tripe, cause I didn't even wait around to find out. I stated that Ton Kiang didn't. And I too, am American, but if you are going to tell me that most Americans are adventurous diners especially when it comes to many ethnic delicacies, then you're only fooling yourself. And although you were wise not to argue about dim sum being far superior in L.A. and even New York compared to San Francisco, I wouldn't be surprised if you beleived that too. I find it inexcusable for dim sum places to serve the majority of their dishes on trays being carried around, where the food quickly becomes tough, cold and gummy, especially the dumplings. And don't try to act all righteous that you're defending Americans against my comments, because I'm American too, so you're little spiel was pointless.
Now to address Gordon, if you want to have the best dim sum experience in L.A. then there is no question that the best place is Ocean Star in the San Gabriel Valley. Not only is the place huge, (and they only serve from carts, which isn't saying much in L.A.) but the selections are also quite vast and they serve many things the average dim sum place won't serve such as suckling pig. And for dessert, their sesame balls have no equal. They don't even look like the regular round cylinder, but instead are shaped more like a rose where there is a crevice on top so you can even see the inside. Absolutely amazing, unlike most places, such as Ton Kiang's sad attempt. They also serve tripe two ways, both stewed and marinated and served cold, as well as stewed and marinated porks trotters. And there dumplings are superior to anywhere I've been, especially the har gow. And the place is a deal too. We pigged out last time we were there and it was $55 for 2. Ton Kiang was about the same price, but since we didn't eat as much and the quality was seriously lacking, the porions were ridiculously skimpy, as well as having a miniscule selection, it was a rip off. If you would like to know my opinions on other good dining destinations in L.A., just ask and tell me what type of ethnic cuisine you're looking for.
re: Organ Meat
I don't get down to LA very often but I am looking forward to my next visit. Will try Ocean Star and I have a list of other places to try. Over the years I've heard a lot of good things about the Chinese food scene in the Southland. The various ethnic communities in Los Angeles are so much bigger than in the SF Bay Area - you get a greater depth of choice....Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, Mexican, Cambodian, Japanese....just to name a few. But in spite of that, I'm happy to be living here.
re: Organ Meat
Good Show Organ Meat. If your attention to whom you are posting replys too are as accurate as your food sense, we all know the degree of sincere integrity we are dealing with. Relax on defining appropriate cultural deferences, especially in the culinary sense. You will find yourself way out of your league here in Northern California.
I have friends from all over the world; Mexico, Sweden, Japan, Germany, El Savador, Korea, India, China, England, the list goes on. Being a rabid Chowhound I often steer the conversation towards food. Never have any of these people ever made a reference like "the unrefined taste of most Americans". In fact most have found the cuisine in the U.S. to be very interesting, challenging, and vastly diverse. When you color "most Americans" as having "unrefined taste" who are you writing about?
Second, you seem to have some strong opinions on Dim Sum. That is all well and good, you're entitled. I would like to see a little tighter definition on your terms. It seems that you are searching for some more "traditional" dim sum offerings. Like what? I want to know what dishes make your haunts in Monterey Park and the San Gabriel Valley so special.
Lastly what constitutes "Americanized" dim sum. What is it lacking that makes it so inferior. What makes dim sum "authentic".
If you were looking for variety during dim sum here in SF, eat at the place for a while (at least 2 hours) and you'll notice that the kitchen changes what it makes over the course of the morning / afternoon. For the ultimate in variety, hop through all the tiny dim sum places in Chinatown or on Clement street (I suggested this on a separate post a while ago).
For a real change, skip Hong Kong style dim sum and get some of the Shanghainese things. I've been somewhat fond of Shanghai restaurant on Judah and 9th (mainly because it's in my neighborhood). Fountain Court on Clement and 5th is also OK (I had brunch there not too long ago and although the dumplings could have been much better but the vegetarian chicken was excellent).
As for authenticity, I actually think that the versions of the dumplings I've gotten at Ton Kiang and Yank Sing aren't significantly different from their counterparts I get back home in Singapore. (On the other hand, quality may be slightly different, depending on which place in Singapore I'm comparing it to.) Most of the basic items I grew up eating are served here as well.
If it's carts you like, perhaps Harbor Village might be a better choice (although I've read on this board that it's not as good as it used to be). If you are really into freshness, go to places where you get to order dim sum from a menu, itstead of flagging it off a cart. It may tlack the "ambiance", but there's good chance that the stuff will be made to order, and that beats anything on a cart.