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Back from San Francisco - thanks to all you great Hounds - Reviews Soon.

Instead of writing individual reviews in myriad threads I'll put all my reviews from my recent trip in this thread as I write them. The interview went great and the eating was possibly even better - meals and snacks, planned and spontaneous - a great time despite the rainy weekend weather. All told I walked about 35 (plus morning treadmill jogs at the hotel) total miles over the course of 3.5 days and really got to see/explore the neighborhoods - it was great!

Day 1: La Folie for dinner.
Day 2: La Boulange de Cole for breakfast, Arizmendi for early lunch, Panaderia Bakery and Humphry Slocombe for snack, Manresa for dinner.
Day 3: Dotties for Breakfast, Kara's Cupcakes and Pizza Orgasmica for snack, Bistro Jeanty for appetizers/lunch, Ad Hoc for dinner.
Day 4: Canteen for Breakfast, ABC Cafe for an Egg Custard, Farmer's Market for Grazing, Brenda's French Soul Food for Lunch, The Dining Room at The Ritz for Dinner.

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  1. La Folie - full review w/ pics in context: http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2009/04/l...

    Arriving in San Francisco for a second round of interviews I was fortunate to have a knowledge of the area that I lacked on my previous visit - specifically the fact that the city is incredibly walkable for the fit and healthy - and that many of the best restaurants are located within a mile or so of North Van Ness Ave. Still opting for a car so that I could travel to Los Gatos and Yountville I made my hotel selection and plane reservations for one - traveling solo this time there would be no "I don't like the menu" to be heard - left to my own devices it would be a foodie experience like no other.

    Coming off a busy in-patient month my schedule allowed me to fly out around noon on a Wednesday and with a quick layover that meant checking into the hotel and reservations at 7:30 at the venerable La Folie, approximately 3/4 mile from my hotel. Arriving on time I got checked in without issue, changed into shirt and tie, and made the walk up Van Ness where I nearly walked by the small restaurant - small places like this garner so much attention in central Ohio. Entering the doors I was immediately greeted by the dimly lit dining room and a warm hello from the hostess. A "we've been expecting you" later I was seated at a prime table in the middle of the dining room with a full view of the bar and other tables. Moments later I was greeted by my server and handed a richly colored menu with a tasting option on one side and 3-4-5 course options on the other. Talking with my server I was informed that dishes from the tasting menu could be mixed/matched with the main menu and that one could order options from any section of the menu as course 1 through 5 - flexibility, nice! Wowed by more than 2/3 of the menu I must admit my selections were difficult, but wanting to truly experience Chef Passot's full range I opted for one appetizer, one "salad", one fish, one meat, and one dessert.

    Shortly after my order was taken I was delivered my first (of many) piece of glorious French Bread with a creamy yet sweet and grassy butter - each roll was served warm and while more than one option would have been nice I would've probably eaten twice as much – and let’s just say that the portion sizes at La Folie don’t necessitate filling up on bread. While slowly indulging in the flaky bread the sommelier stopped by to say hello and was quickly followed by Chef Passot himself who welcomed myself and the neighboring table to his restaurant and promised us a memorable evening.

    Soon after the chef walked away I was brought the first of three amuses bouche - Salmon Lollipops with Creme Fraiche and Pickled Vegetables. Presented simply and whimsically the salmon was noted to be line-caught steelhead and was excellent in taste and texture while the chive accented crème fraiche lent an appropriate creaminess to the smooth fish. The pickled vegetables consisted of carrots and beets, both of which were heavily accented by a strong vinegar, yet textural and pleasant.

    The second amuse, Foie Mousse with Duck Gelee and apple tarragon vinegar was absolutely superb and a mere hint at what was to come. Creamy goose-liver whipped with truffled whipping cream was coated with a salty duck gel and offset flawlessly with the heady yet sweet accents of a creamy tarragon infused vinegar while micro-greens and grilled bread provided texture – wonderful and nearly appetizer size as opposed to amuse.

    As good as amuse two was, amuse three put it to shame and may qualify as the best amuse I’ve yet had in the Bay Area - Poached Hen Egg with Rum Cream, Potato Chip, and Brioche. Creamy and savory yet sweet and textural the egg was flawlessly prepared while the potato chip was buttery and impossibly thin. I must admit a personal satisfaction with being able to use the brioche to sop up the runny yolk – like the dipping eggs of my childhood “all grown up.”

    Already impressed by the trio of amuses and the service I was further wowed as my first dish emerged from the kitchen – Hudson Valley Foie Gras Torchon with Pineapple BBQ Squab, Kumquat Gastrique, Brioche, and Peanut Butter. Too describe the myriad tastes, textures, and nuances of the dish would be nearly impossible, but suffice it to say that the picture is worth a thousand words. The torchon, creamy and perfect – resting atop a crunchy peanut butter pate. The squab, sweet and succulent and nestled in a bed of fresh pineapple accented greens. The gastrique, nearly a warm compote and heavy with sweetness and citrus without being overpowering. The brioche, buttery and slightly sweetened. Mixed and matched the dish was nearly “playing with your food” as different combinations brought out different peaks and base-notes, all in all the best Foie preparation I’ve had outside of Yountville.

    Still basking in the memories of the foie approximately 20 minutes passed and I talked with the neighboring table for a bit before course two arrived – and arrive it did. An item from the night’s tasting menu, the Zuckerman Farm Asparagus and Duck Egg Tempura with Nueske Bacon, Wild Mushrooms, and Truffle Vinaigrette was without a doubt the most impressive egg dish I’ve had in San Francisco and quite possibly better than the famous truffle egg at The French Laundry or the mesmerizing Duck Egg I had at Charlie Trotter at New Years. Flawlessly poached, the buttered asparagus was simple and undeniably wonderful while the egg was…::cue Homer Simpson drooling sound:: First poached, then flashed in a tempura batter and served alongside an earthy concoction of crispy and salty bacon with smooth and buttery mushrooms – like Bacon and Eggs yet exponentially more complex and intricate. Crispy yet smooth, salty yet refined and earthy – probably the highlight of the meal and possibly the trip.

    Dish three, a must order given my experience at TFL with the requested “Peas and Carrots”, was Chef Passot’s Butter Poached Lobster on English Sweet Pea Ravioli with Carrot and Almond Salad and Carrot Ginger Broth. As you may have noted, there have been myriad comparisons to Keller’s landmark in this review and this dish warrants yet another. While not as refined or texturally complex as the sous vide option at The Laundry, the lobster itself was wonderful and balanced very well by the spicy ginger and carrot broth while the sweet pea ravioli was a single large entity that roused memories of Batali’s sweet pea flan. When a dish this good is the “lowlight” of the evening, you know you’re eating well.

    By dish four I was glad that I’d only had some celery and a protein shake on the plane because I was starting to feel a little full – at least until I took a bite and threw caution to the wind – with food this good I’d consider eating till I popped. A signature dish of La Folie, the Roti of Quail and Squab Stuffed with Mushrooms, Wrapped in Crispy Potato Strings, Natural Jus with Truffles and Quail Egg was as good as the reviews. Cooked to medium rare each of the birds maintained their signature taste well without the slightest hint of “gaminess” while the potato strings added both taste and texture and the combination of jus and vegetables worked well. Additionally attractive and tasty was the small quail egg served in a “potato basket” which the chef stated was intended to create a “Easter like” spring feel.

    Finishing up the savories and moving on to a much anticipated dessert I was once again visited by the chef who personally brought a palate cleanser to the table – a cleanser of parmesan crème gelato with hibiscus and pomegranate. Sweet and smooth cream, tangy and tart pomegranate, plus the scent/palate sensation of flowers – very nice.

    For dessert the decision was tough – quite frankly there wasn’t a bad choice on the menu. Finally settling on one I opted for the Strawberry Baked Alaska with Yuzu cake, Strawberry and Basil Icecream, Petite Millefeuille, and Basil Juice – a great choice, without a doubt. Having experienced Basil/Strawberry/Yuzu in ice-cream form once prior at Eleven Madison Park in New York (Former Campton Place chef Daniel Humm) I had an idea of what to expect, but the version served at La Folie simply upped the stakes in every regard. From the crunchy meringue shell to the airy and light strawberry and basil ice creams to the dense yuzu cake everything worked beautifully together and was additionally complimented by indelibly sweet strawberries accented with basil foam and a streak of strawberry gelee. A great ending to a great meal.

    Along with the modest bill (especially for the quality and portion of the food) I was finally served a plate of paired mignardises – Custard Canelles, Raspberry Gels, Peanut Butter and Chocolate Gnache, and bitter cherry Madelines all of which wowed the tastebuds – especially the Gnache and the Madelines.

    After the meal Chef Passot once again appeared tableside and presented me with a signed and personalized copy of the menu – and a personal tour of the kitchen. Talking quite liberally about his time in the business and how he feels a small kitchen of trusted workers is the “ideal” to running a great restaurant he additionally spoke of his upcoming trip to New York for the Beard Awards and how he’d recommend it as a “gastronomic trip of a lifefime.” He finally wished me good luck in getting the job and personally escorted me to the door.

    While not as “innovative” as others, I put the experience on par with any 5 star restaurant and found the cooking to be on par with that of even the famed French Laundry in many regards. Dollar for dollar I would say that the experience was an absolute bargain and that the servers at Michelin 2-starred Alex, Manresa and Aqua could stand to learn from Chef Passot’s approach and crew. Amongst the 5 best meals of my life when taking into account all aspects from food to setting to service to price. All told I cannot say enough about my experience at La Folie and I would never hesitate to recommend it to anyone as a GREAT meal at a fair price with superior service.

    10 Replies
    1. re: uhockey

      How big was the room, and how full? The personalized service and tour sounds excellent.

      1. re: bbulkow

        There were no open tables and most of the clientel were older - I was certainly the youngest in the room. I think the dining room seats ~40.

      2. re: uhockey

        Glad you enjoyed La Folie. I often wonder why it doesn't earn two stars from Michelin when Aqua does... *shrug*
        I've found La Folie's food to be consistent and of high quality. Portion sizes also seem to be a noticeably higher, which matters to some people (not me though).
        As for service, I find the service to be decidedly less formal, but no less polished than say the Ritz or Gary Danko. Subjectively not better or worse.

        1. re: Cary

          Portions reminded me of Le Cirque in Vegas - the only meal (prior to day 3 of this trip) in recent memory where I was "too full" to finish - but not quite as big.

          The service, IMO, was akin to The French Laundry - very polished without being stuffy and arrogant. Danko's service was similar, but there seemed to be no "primary" waiter/waitress there - no continuity as it were. The Ritz has incredible service.

        2. re: uhockey

          Nice report. It is good there are people who can really appreciate what these chefs do. I could be sitting next to you eating the same dishes and never get all of that out of it.

          La Folie
          2316 Polk St., San Francisco, CA 94109

          1. re: rworange

            Thanks. :-) It didn't hurt that the chef was present in and out of the dining room throughout the meal at multiple tables.

            Their kitchen is about the size of my bedroom - it is amazing how close-quarters it all is when you compare it to the enormous kitchen at Trotter's or Alex. TFLs kitchen was darn small, too.

            1. re: uhockey

              OMG how do you eat so much food!!!! You must be a young 'un.

              1. re: LPCagain

                I run, daily - and I am probably the most regimented eater ever when I'm not on vacation. :-)

          2. re: uhockey

            Glad you enjoyed La Folie. I had dinner there twice, many years ago, and really enjoyed it. On the last occasion, my wife and I opted for the Chef's menu (at $105 each, I think). You would expect that we would both be served the same thing for each course, but that was not the case; my wife's dish was different from mine. It was really wonderful as we were able to taste twice as many things, and they were all great (the details escape me now, many years down the road).

            And yes, Passot is a very gracious host.

            1. re: souschef

              Truly a great meal, i'll likely return.

          3. La Boulange de Cole - full review w/ pics in context: http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2009/04/l...

            Looking at my interview schedule I was a little bit sad – 8:00am until 4:30pm with three hospitals involved and scheduled trams/busses between each…a day in San Francisco and I wouldn’t be able to indulge my gastronomic desires for breakfast or dinner…or would I? Like a good foodie I quickly consulted the hitlist – egullet, chowhound, yelp, gayot, zagats, and the online version of the local newspaper – and within moments my distress was resolved because a virtual smorgasbord of unique options just so happened to lie on all sides of my path. Getting up at a healthy 4:30am I made my way to the hotel gym for some weights and cardio, showered, shaved, and tossed on the Versace suit…and a pair of Nike’s because walking 3.1 miles to UCSF in dress-shoes did not sound too pleasant. The morning was beautiful and the walk through Hayes Valley was great – albeit mostly uphill – and by 7:00 I found myself at my first destination – La Boulange de Cole.
            Having had a relatively poor experience at Boulangerie on my previous trip I was somewhat hesistant to give the Boulange group another try, but at the same time the fact that this one had seats and good reviews made me take the risk – that and the fact that Pork Store didn’t look too appealing and Zazie didn’t open until 8. Walking up to La Boulange I was greeted by the familiar orange awning and a line of 2-3 people in front of me. Unlike my experience at Boulangerie I was also greeted with smiles and friendly service.

            Checking out the samples on the counter while browsing the selections I was quite impressed by the density of the chocolate brownie and the wonderfully refined sweetness of the cassis and crème tarte. I was also impressed by the petite French Toast, but was told this would take ~20 minutes to prepare. After a short debate my decision was made and my order placed - $7.75 cents and 3 minutes later I was seated at my table with my options.

            Choice one, after a superb almond croissant on my Boulangerie visit, was a Ham and Gruyere croissant that the server volunteered to warm up for me (something they told me they couldn’t do with my croque at Boulangerie.) While not quite as sublime as the version at Tartine, I will admit I was quite content with the buttery texture of the soft pastry and the substantial portion of salty ham within. Particularly attractive was the smoothness of the Gruyere which complemented the dish well without overwhelming or becoming lost in the butter or salt. A great savory.

            Choice two was one of the excellent demi-baguettes. Not normally a fan of simply ordering “bread” I noticed that every single person preceding me ordered a baguette and once I saw the condiment selection I decided to try it for myself. Served piping hot from the oven the wonderfully crusty baguette had a refined and soft interior with hints of butter and perhaps even vanilla. When paired with Nutella, Strawberry and Apricot Preserves, two forms of salt, and Lavender Honey the bread was certainly a great choice and something I’d order again.

            My final selection was at the advice of my server and certainly the best item I’ve yet tasted at either Boulange. Simply titled “fresh pear and cranberry tart” I was served a large slice of the buttery pastry with wonderfully sweet pears and tart/bitter cranberries that almost seemed to melt together and form a flavor that was neither pear nor cranberry but moreso like a Prickly Pear – whether this effect was intended or not I cannot be sure, but I would definitely order this again and actually wrote to the Boulange after my return to ask for the recipe – a request to which a friendly lady responded to within 24 hours and stated they would try to get the recipe for that dish (apparently not frequently on the menu at any of the Boluange restaurants) and send it my way.

            All told I much preferred every aspect of my experience at La Boulange de Cole as compared to Boulangerie and would definitely make La Boulange a frequent quick-breakfast if I end up living in the San Francisco area.

            1 Reply
            1. re: uhockey

              I thought of you when I made a recent visit to the Pine Street location for a hot cross bun.. It's been quite a while since I've been there and there were a few new items especially the mini baguette sandwiches, almost finger baguettes. They also had zoo figures like tiny aligatiors and other animals. Those were the things I'm remembering but there were a number of new to me items.

              I do hope you give their quiche lorraines one of these days. They also have a number of new quiches, but I've yet to have one as good as their lorraine. It's the cubes of ham that make this so good to me.

              La Boulange
              1000 Cole St, San Francisco, CA

            2. Arizmendi Bakery - full review w/ pics in context: http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2009/04/a...

              The interview day was half over at 11:15 and the tram to the VA was scheduled to leave at 12:05 – plenty of time to run the three blocks (this time in dress shoes) to Arizmendi Bakery - having missed The Cheeseboard on my trip to Berkeley and reading about the small worker-owned co-op with their amazing pizzas, morning pastries, and artisan breads I knew that the experience would be worth the walk. Walking past the small craigslist.org building I had to chuckle at the neighborhood and at first I actually walked past Arizmendi despite its rather obvious sign. Entering the doors I was instantly greeted by the smells of yeast, sugar, and garlic and wondered how I managed to walk past given the large crowd waiting inside.

              Browsing the myriad selections I must admit that everything looked good, but knowing my foodie agenda for the day was to be pretty gluttonous I promised to reserve myself to one savory and one sweet. Watching the numerous bakers toss pizza crusts in the back while others rolled out dough and brought out warm baked goods from the back to reload the quickly diminishing supply the first item that caught my eye was the fresh/piping hot Forcaccia with Roasted Garlic Sauce and Cheese. Charged on a “per pound” basis, the single slice cost $4.40 and weighed in at a hefty 11oz – an 11oz that I greedily inhaled on my walk back to the bus. Creamy Mozzarella, wonderfully ripe tomatoes, and whole cloves of whole roasted garlic – Amazing and filling…and thank goodness I had a pack of Orbit Sweet Mint with me since I had more interviews to go!

              For my sweet, the brioche knots and Wolverines originally caught my eye but my love of cornbread quickly won out when I saw the words cornbread and scone in the same sentence…along with the word cherry. Cherry Cornbread Scone – done deal! Sweet yet hearty, soft yet with that characteristic cornbread texture, a bright balance of the lightness of a scone with the density of a cornbread – all enhanced with wonderfully tart black cherries. Hands down the best “designer” cornbread I’ve ever tasted – and a better “dessert cornbread” than the pseudo-famous Cornbread dessert at Symon’s Lola.

              Friendly (and clever) servers poked fun at my photo taking, but not in an obnoxious way – one even offered to take a picture of me with my pizza (I should have accepted) and prices were a bargain for the quality. While I will admit that the cash only policy ended up costing me $30 the next day when I didn’t have cash to pay the “toll” to Napa (What an asinine rule that is – who carries cash??) I certainly can’t fault Arizmendi for that – I only wish I could’ve spent that $30 on some more of their baked goods!

              7 Replies
              1. re: uhockey

                If you do wind up living here or visit at Christmas, Arizmendi has the best fruitcake, the type with fruit like apricots, raisins, nots and figs and three types of liquor

                Arizmendi Bakery
                1331 9th Avenue, San Francisco, CA

                1. re: uhockey

                  Don't know if the SF location has them, but the Emeryville branch of Arizmendi has fantastic ricciarelli.

                  1. re: uhockey

                    If you liked Arizmendi, the Cheeseboard has a cookbook. They're more earthy than designer. The wolverines, suburban bread, and lavender shortbread are my favorites, along with the strawberry scones.


                    1. re: Windy

                      Good call, Windy. Their suburban bread is pretty much my daily bread.

                      1. re: tupac17616

                        It makes the best peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I like the long one better than the round one, even though rationally I know they're exactly the same.

                      2. re: Windy

                        Nice! Thanks. I'll add this to the basket along with the Tartine book I've yet to buy from last trip.

                    2. Panaderia La Mexican Bakery full review w/ pics: http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2009/04/p...

                      Portion three of my interview day entailed a bus-ride from the VA to San Francisco General – conveniently located in The Mission area of San Francisco – home of Dynamo Donuts. Having heard wonderful things of the bacon-laden option I finished my interview at 4:00, bid my farewells, and changed back into my jogging shoes. Rushing through the streets of The Mission past any number of unique Hispanic, Korean, and Chinese options I finally saw the sign for Dynamo – and the metal awning closing before my very eyes. Stopping the clerk I was informed that they’d been sold out of donuts since “about 2:00” and that he’d merely been selling coffee. He invited me to come back the next morning, but alas my schedule didn’t allow for such – there is always next time.

                      As I was walking away I was somewhat disappointed but plenty excited to proceed to my next stop (Humphry Slocombe) until I was stopped by a well-dressed couple who stated “Don’t worry, their donuts aren’t that good – if you want to try something awesome there is this little Mexican pastry shop up the street called Panaderia – go there and get whatever the clerk recommends as fresh baked.” Having already passed a Mexican Bakery and being admittedly impressed by the display I figured “Why not?” and continued along until I found the small shop exactly where they said it would be.

                      Walking in the door I was instantly struck by the wonderful smell of apples and cinnamon – and the fact that I couldn’t read a single word on the wall, menu, or pastry cases! Taking the advice of the couple I asked the clerk “What’s good?” only to get the response “What you like?” Stating I wasn’t sure didn’t seem to get me anywhere as I once again received “What you like?” as a response. Not wanting to drag this on for too long I responded “Something fresh, with fruit” and the man smiled and led me to the case where he stated “Get this, and this.” Asking what they were (and having it written down so I could remember) I was told a Mexican Wedding Cookie with Guava and an Empanada de Calabaza (pumpkin.) $2.20 cents later I emerged with my prizes and dug in.

                      First opting for the Empanada I must admit I was somewhat skeptical due to its plain appearance – a skepticism that resolved the moment I bit through the flaky crust and tasted the burst of pumpkin-pie-esque flavor. With hints of cinnamon and vanilla the dainty pastry worked excellently and was almost like a hostess fruit pie yet far more tasty. Not too sweet, not too heavy – I probably could’ve eaten 2-3 if I weren’t planning on ice cream and a subsequent dinner.

                      My second choice, the Mexican Wedding Cookie, was another wonderful surprise and reminded me of a better version of the Russian Tea Balls my aunt makes each year at Christmas – but with chunks of almond and walnut plus a wonderfully tart compote that tasted of strawberry and cherry at once. Eating as carefully as I could I still managed to end up with about a teaspoon of powdered sugar on my black suit (a fact noted by myself and chuckled at by the cashier at Humphry Slocombe – who additionally noted her love for Panaderia when I attempted to explain myself) but it was absolutely worth it – and the dry cleaning bill!

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: uhockey

                        I agree with the couple. I don't think the maple bacon donut from Dynamo is anything special.
                        I've not been to this panaderia, but I'm a big fan of empanadas de calabaza, and Mexican wedding cookies (though I've never seen them as sandwich cookies like that) for that matter.
                        Sounds like a nice stop to make before or after Humphry Slocombe. Mmm... secret breakfast.

                        1. re: uhockey

                          So, is this a first visit to a panaderia?

                          If so, you lucked out on finding a good one. I'll have to give this one a try next time I'm in that area. Thanks for the tip.

                          Here's an aritcle about the family that owns it.

                          The bakery opens every day at 4:30 am ... for early birds ... or insomniacs.

                          Panaderia La Mexicana
                          2804 24th St, San Francisco, CA

                        2. Humprhy Slocombe - full review w/ pics in context: http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2009/04/h...

                          After an unfortunate miss on Dynamo Donuts but a lucky find on La Panaderia I next made my way to Humphry Slocombe in the Mission – significantly praised by ChowHounds and Yelpers alike I felt it my duty to experience Slocombe and compare it to some of the offerings in Columbus Ohio, a place many call “the ice cream capital of the world.” Walking up to the small shop there were notably three young ladies standing outside enjoying small cones – and a small dog enjoying one as well. I asked what the dog liked and the one girl said “the olive oil – its good for his coat.” -- yes, she said that, I couldn’t make something so insipid up.

                          Walking into the small shop I was struck by the relatively drab appearance – no flourishes, just a bar, a white board, and 12 types of ice cream – excellent. A smiling staff of two offered me a taste (on cool metal spoons no less) and I gladly endulged – first on Balsamic caramel (best. Ice cream. Ever.), then Blue Bottle Vietnamese coffee (not as good as Jeni’s Black Coffee, but good) , then Andante chevre-strawberry jam (Good, but Jeni’s fig and goat cheese is better,) and finally McEvoy olive oil (Better than Batali’s – I could feel my coat getting stronger immediately.


                          Having heard rumor of the Secret Breakfast from any number of sources I took a taste and immediately ordered a scoop in addition to a scoop of the balsamic caramel – no cone, just a cup – awesome. Sitting down at the long bar I dug in and slowly enjoyed the wonderful caramel peaks with the heavy nuance of a quality balsamic underneath. While Jeni’s back home makes a superb Salty Caramel, this simply raises the bar a couple notches. In addition to the flavor, what struck me most was the incredible creaminess of the ice cream – almost a velvety texture on the tongue that didn’t even seem ‘cold’ because it was so smooth.

                          My second flavor, the Secret Breakfast, was not only cleverly named – but incredibly well flavored. Consisting of candied cornflakes with bourbon-flavored ice cream it reminded me of the standard “butter pecan” except without pecans and with a substantial “kick.” While others have not mentioned it, I distinctly caught the flavor, texture, and appearance of raisin in the scoop which makes me wonder if this was indeed a candied raisin-bran as opposed to corn flakes. Once again, the ice cream was like velvet and absolutely superb.

                          While I wish some of the more exotic flavors (Foie Gras, Government Cheese, etc) had been available and that they’d taken Credit Cards (see, again, the retarded $fine$ for not having cash on the way to Napa) I must say what I tasted was excellent and in the realm of designer ice cream I’d rank them on-par or better than our famous Jeni’s at home – I’d come back for Balsamic Caramel in a heartbeat and next time aim to get the Blue Bottle and mix it with Valrhona fudgesicle. Great service and good for your pets, too!

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: uhockey

                            Ah, the difference in living in California. Not only would I not have blinked about the olive oil statement, I probably would have gotten into a discussion of whether dairy was healthy for dogs and be sure to avoid chocolate because that is supposed to be bad for pups.

                            These days most designer ice cream makers in the area use metal spoons in order to be green. Unless you mean cool in terms of chilled ... that would be different ... or cool design for the spoons.

                            I can't remember if you tried Bi-Rite ice cream yet and how you felt HS compared. IMO, HS beats Bi-Rite, but I still like Bi-Rite a lot.

                            Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream
                            2790 Harrison St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                            1. re: rworange

                              Metal tasting spoons are just going back to they way things used to be -- greener, plus I don't mind taking lots of tastes if I know the spoons aren't going to be thrown away.

                              Dogs love ice cream. Olive oil is indeed good for their coats, but dog owners will argue about whether dairy is -- for those who say no, they actually make "ice cream" especially for dogs! The chocolate thing is way overblown -- the toxic dose of chocolate per kilo of body mass for dogs is pretty high. Most of the dogs who've gotten ill (or died) from eating chocolate are small dogs that eat Baker's (100%) chocolate -- chocolate ice cream doesn't have enough chocolate to be a problem. My 40-lb dog ate a whole pound of See's and didn't even get sick to her stomach (although she was even more hyper than usual for a few hours).

                              I've got to get over to the Mission and do an ice cream taste test for myself!

                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                What's the ice cream shop out in SF's Sunset that gives out free doggie cones? They had a zillion flavors and a wheel to spin if you couldn't make up your mind. Think they're still in business .........?

                              2. re: rworange

                                Ouch. A bit harsh on CA dog lovers... cash-only is pretty common at great SF places. This reminds me that I need to do a Bi-Rite v. Humphrey taste off quite soon! Will definitely shoot for the Secret Breakfast - sounds divine.

                              3. re: uhockey

                                I'm curious, as a Midwesterner and a foodie, what's you take on the schizophrenia about gourmet/creative/intensely flavored ice creams versus simpler, more traditional ice creams. I'm down with both. Each has their own appeal. So it rankles me when people who get all wiggy about HS also dump on my favorite, Mitchell's.

                                And is this the Jeni's you refer to? I love to file away these tips. Never know when I might be in the area...

                                Jeni's Ice Creams
                                1281 Grandview Ave, Columbus, OH

                                1. re: BernalKC

                                  That is indeed the Jeni I speak of. :-) Queen City Cayenne, Gravel Road, Black Coffe are favorites. My sister swears by the Kona Stout and my ex-girlfriend though Queen City Cayenne plus Thai Chilli was the greatest combination of foods ever.

                              4. Manresa - full review w/ pics in context: http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2009/04/m...

                                Due to his recent appearance on Iron Chef and Manresa’s recent appearance on the list of the 100 best restaurants in the world, David Kinch needs no introduction - a Californian chef from California with training that runs through some of the greatest kitchens in the world and a focus on organics, biodynamic farm fresh ingredients, and the use of sharp contrasts to highlight natural flavors – a must visit for any self respecting epicure. Having missed out on Manresa on my previous trip to San Francisco I decided to make the voyage south this time around to experience Kinch’s vision – to see why some consider Manresa to be better than Keller’s place up north.

                                Having communicated with manager Michael Keane prior to my arrival I was greeted by name by Mr. Keane at the door (after parking quite a distance away because my GPS couldn’t figure out how to navigate the one way Village Lane) and taken to a small booth in the main dining room – facing all the action. Browsing the room I admit I was visually pleased by the plush yet inviting vibe as well as the lighting, plentiful windows, and decorations – rustic, yet refined. Shortly after my arrival I was greeted by my first (of at least ten that I can remember) servers who stated “I understand the Chef will be taking care of you tonight and that you do not eat beef flesh?” Affirming this I asked to see the nightly menu out of curiosity and chuckled at the odd “folder” style – certainly not the pomp and circumstance of The Ritz, Alex, Trotter’s, or TFL with their embroidered leather menus – at Manresa only the wine phonebook gets such treatment. Curiosity satisfied it was time to sit back and enjoy the next 3 hours.

                                Prior to my first dish I was brought a large loaf of bread – a Housemade Levain served with an incredibly complex and grassy butter from a local farm and topped with salt. Opting first for an end piece – and subsequently for about 7 center pieces – the soft centered and smoky/crusty crusted was absolutely superb. While I prefer more than one bread choice, I must say that if I had to choose one bread, this one works well. The butter, additionally, was every bit as good as the salted butter at The French Laundry, though not quite as good as the unsalted TFL option.

                                Shortly following the bread I a female server brought the first amuse – Manresa’s signature savory roasted red pepper gelée and black olive madeleines. Dense and sweet, the gelees tasted precisely like a fresh red bell pepper while the madelines were absolutely sublime with a rich and crispy exterior surrounding a complex and chewy center – I could’ve handled many more.

                                Another amuse, another server – this time Crispy Kale and Parmesan Churro. Describing this dish cannot do it justice, but imagine the world’s best cheeto complimented with a crispy flavor of cabbage. The dish reminded me of something Italian and Hungarian at once and had a strong savory component with minimal pungency – just a rewarding dish to eat in all ways. The dish was collected by the guy who kept refilling my water which I found odd at first, but I guess there is something to be said for division of labor.

                                A third amuse, a third server – I was starting to wonder if each server simply memorized a single dish for presentation. This time, a shotglass was presented and announced to be Purple Mustard Granite with Carrot. “Huh?” That’s right, a frozen soup of icy mustard greens topped with creamy carrot essence - sounds weird and is. Not a fan of mustard I went into this dish expecting the worst and hoping for the best – and the best I received. While I can’t say this is something I’d order or request, it actually worked – the spicy bite of the mustard contrasting sharply with the sweetness of the carrots and the frozen/icy texture mingling playfully with the cream.

                                Next up, the same server as the one who presented (and collected the empty plate of) the third amuse brought me “Asparagus and Foie Gras Royale.” A fan, to say the least, of Foie Gras I must say I found this presentation quite excellent and reminiscent of the strawberry version from Daniel Humm at EMP in New York. Layered in effect, a warm whipped asparagus cream sat atop a creamy and aromatic foie preparation and – all told – the presentation just worked to excellent effect – while I’d have preferred a foie dish in the main meal, this did suffice.

                                How do you follow Foie Gras in Mike’s perfect world? Egg. In this case, an Arpege Farm Egg with Maple and Vinegar. Another nod to Passard from another chef – and another winner. Topped with sherry vinegar and maple syrup the layers and nuances just kept coming with each bite – first cool and creamy, then sweet and savory, then fatty and textural, then salty and sweet at once. While it didn’t top the incredible versions at TFL, Providence, Trotter, or La Folie I’d still eat this egg daily if I could. Brimming with praise I commented to the guy who collected my plate (bread guy from earlier?) that the dish was amazing and got a muffled “okay” before he walked off to the kitchen.

                                As you can see from my commentary so far, I take a bit of an issue with the “tag team” service at Manresa – while everyone was ‘professional’ and adequate, I found the lack of continuity annoying in that compliments went unnoted, no one ever asked how I liked a dish, and in general I felt like I was being fed off a conveyor belt without personality. While most high end restaurants have multiple servers, they universally also have a captain who “heads” the team and stops by from time to time – Manresa did not have this and after my greeting at the door I additionally never saw Michael Kean again – aside from when he was noted multiple times schmoozing with the party of 4 that was ordering a lot of wine two tables down. Without belaboring anymore, Chef Kinch’s food is brilliant and he deserves a staff that compliments it for all guests – not just the ones with a $2000 bill.

                                Beginning the Chef’s menu I was first presented with “Shellfish in Crab Broth with Unripe Strawberries,” a worthy start to an incredible journey. Briny with accents of pine, soy, and sesame – creamy razor clams and textural Konpachi – plus unripe strawberries that had a unique and almost bitter-melon taste. A truly unique experience in flavors and textures – I found it odd after only one dish that anyone has ever referred to Kinch’s cuisine as lacking creativity.

                                Dish two, “Delta Asparagus with Bonito Butter and Toasted Seeds,” caught my attention from the first utterance of the title. Loving asparagus as I do, it wasn’t until Manresa that I finally had the chance to experience true Delta Asparagus – the sweetest and rarest of all asparagus varieties. Cut into thin ribbons and perfectly tender while maintaining a strong degree of texture the vegetable was wonderfully sweet – almost a fruit as opposed to vegetable. To compliment this, shaved flax and sunflower seeds that added further texture and a smooth and frothy butter with the fain essence of tuna and brine. An amazing dish prepared with amazing ingredients and flawless technique.

                                The next dish, a Kinch signature, was “Into the Vegetable Garden,” and – well, this dish is to salad what Patek Philippe is to watches – the standard by which all others should be judged. As beautiful on the palate as to the eye, the most striking aspect of this dish to myself was the fact that it had almost no smell aside from the of flowers, yet each bite unraveled and entirely different taste, texture, and –dare I say- ‘emotional’ experience. From the chicory “dirt” to the boiled fingerling to the spinach, raddish, and buttery foam – this dish alone warrants a visit to Manresa.

                                The next choice, “Spring Tidal Pool with Abalone, Octopus, Uni,” is another Manresa seasonal dish and another absolute winner in taste, texture, and sensation. Served warm, but with cool and nearly raw fishes, the shabu shabu style broth lent a buttery (almost foie gras-esque) yet earthy tone to the incredible fresh and succulent fish. While individual flavors of enoki, cabbage, and wonderful seafood all peaked through in resounding form, the overall effect of the dish was truly like the essence of the ocean.

                                After the previous two dishes, the follow up “Bluenose Bass with Chervil and Sweet Onion Marrow Broth,” didn’t really stand a chance of wowing, yet every aspect of it was well thought out, formulaic, and perfect. Sous-vide prepped, this was my first experience with true Bluenose and I found the fish much sweeter than the “average” Chilean Sea Bass – heavier and meatier, as well. The chervil added a wonderfully aromatic component moreso than taste, while the marrow/onion broth was thankfully quite mild with regard to the marrow (the marrow flan at Alex was a rare dish I couldn’t stomach) and pungent without being overwhelming.

                                Next, clever - “Root Vegetable Risotto without Rice, Mushrooms,” – yet another dish that makes me question why some call Kinch straight-forward. Featuring at least three varieties of mushrooms prepared in three different ways –dehydrated, fried, raw- over top of peas and a finely chopped (not shredded) “pseudo-risotto” of potato, turnip, and perhaps parsnips. Oddly the dish reminded me a bit more of couscous than risotto, but regardless each flavor was well complimented and expressed itself adequately – I imagine chef Kinch could prepare one heck of a vegan feast if he were so inclined.

                                Heading into the heavier dishes, I was next presented with “Roast Squab, Parsnips, Beets with Poorman Orange.” Having had a great squab the night before at La Folie, I must admit I found this dish to be relatively uninspiring in terms of the meat, yet once again mindblowing with regard to the vegetables. Admittedly I’d never heard of Poorman orange prior to this, but on my first taste I thought more “grapefruit” than orange – turns out from a little research that I was right. Mildly acidic yet quite complementary to the earthy beets and parsnips, I thought the flavors of the fruit/vegetable admixture simply overwhelmed the extremely mild squab. Not a miss, but not as great as the rest of the meal.

                                The final dish savory, completing the spring theme, was “Spring Lamb, Season's First Ramps with Peas,” and it was easily the best lamb I’ve ever tasted. Much more mild than the standard lamb with a mild layer of fat, the texture was almost pork-like without any gaminess whatsoever. Perfectly seared ramps, sweet peas, and croquettes that tasted almost like a sweetened hushpuppy – a wonderful dish yet quite heavy for my already-full self.

                                As a segue to dessert I was next presented with “Exotic Citrus with Honey and Spice, Spearmint Ice Cream,” a dish that, for myself, was not really a hit. While I appreciated the myriad variety of citrus (tangerine and meyer lemon, for sure, plus yuzu I believe) tastes, the honey and spice were far too heavy and the spearmint icecream gave the whole dish a somewhat “off” taste. As I admittedly do not like Spearmint, this could have been part of the problem, but all told it was simply too ‘strong.’

                                Having seen the cheese cart pass a couple of times and having seen multiple reviews of Manresa presenting three desserts I have to admit I was a tad disappointed when my server presented “your final dish” - A Taste of New Orleans with Powdered Beignets, Chicory Ice Cream, Burnt Bourbon Bananas – at least until I tasted it. While I admit the beignets were quite ordinary (and actually not as good as those at Brenda’s) the rest of the dish was incredible. Caramelized Bourbon Bananas that tasted like the very best Banana’s Foster, Chicory Ice Cream that reminded me of a strong cup of coffee, and an airy chocolate foam that pulled it all together – yet another sensation in a meal that had already included the tastes of Spain, France, Italy, Japan – another display of Kinch’s undeniable talent.

                                To finish the meal I was brought full-circle and presented with gelees and madelines again, this time a Strawberry Gelee and Chocolate Madeline. Like the first pairing, the gelee tasted precisely like it’s constituent ingredients while the madeline’s flawlessly prepared outside gave way to a sublime and soft – nearly soufflé-like- center. When my server (I think I’d seen this one before) asked if there was anything else I would like I requested a view of the kitchen if possible and a copy of the menu. Despite the late hour I was told that the kitchen was “too crowded,” but that if I waited he could prepare me a menu. Approximately 10 minutes passed and I was presented with the menu and the bill.

                                On my way out the door I was met, again, by another new face who held a jar full of candies – “a lime caramel or two for the road?” Of course I obliged and must admit that these were amongst the best caramels I’ve ever tasted – though not quite as delicious and nuanced as those at Providence.
                                All told I went into Manresa with very high expectations – why wouldn’t I since many have stated it is better than The French Laundry? While Kinch’s incredible skills wowed me time and time again, I must admit that the overall experience just lacked that “feel” of a truly superb restaurant. The multiple servers made things feel discontinuous and the single dessert with only two mignardises, while good, seemed out of place when compared to other 2-3 starred restaurants. While the food alone is absolutely worth the trip and the price, the service could use a pointer or two from The French Laundry, Providence, La Folie, Danko, The Dining Room – you get the picture.

                                7 Replies
                                1. re: uhockey

                                  Chicory Ice Cream! Why has no one thought of that. I might start dropping hints at Humphry Slocombe everytime I'm there. They already use Blue Bottle coffee, they could make a chicory ice cream out of the BB's New Orleans ice tea mix. That iced tea is my favorite thing at BB.

                                  Looking quickly, it doesn't seem you've been to Ubuntu yet. You might be interested in seeing how Jeremy and Deanie Fox, formerly of Manresa, compare. It is not the same thing, a far more casual restaurant, but reading this I see a lot of Manresa in Ubuntu with dishes that are similar in spirit.

                                  Manresa Restaurant
                                  320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

                                  1. re: rworange

                                    I've definitely had a nice chicory chocolate chip ice cream at Ici.

                                    1. re: rworange

                                      During my visit to Manresa they served pine needle ice cream...yes PINE NEEDLE and it worked.

                                    2. re: uhockey

                                      Thanks for the report. A few thoughts:
                                      -- The butter is made by Pim (http://chezpim.typepad.com/).
                                      -- On top of the asparagus was furikake (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Furikake).
                                      -- Often in the tidal pool there is foie gras.
                                      -- I found the sweet onion-marrow broth absolutely bewitching. I had it with cod cheeks.
                                      -- I think the foam in the New Orleans dessert is coffee, a nod to the city's traditional blend of the two.
                                      -- I think the caramels they make (normally just sea salt caramels) are the best I've ever had. So buttery.

                                      1. re: uhockey

                                        I just have to ask.

                                        After all these reviews, what do you say to them to get special attention like the chef meeting you at the door? I get that you're asking for a cow-less menu, is it more than that?

                                        1. re: bbulkow

                                          The chef only met me at La Folie (and at Alex, I happened to know Stratta's nephew who worked at the restaurant) - otherwise I simply ask for a tour of the kitchen towards the end of the meal. Most chefs are more than willing to talk about their craft, like any true artist.

                                        2. re: uhockey

                                          Thanks for the reviews! Glad that you made it to our neck of the woods on this visit.

                                          The service at Manresa is actually a lot better than it used to be. It's not the same type of place as the Ritz, so while I really like the service at the Ritz, that would be out of place at Manresa. But getting up to more Danko-level service would be nice indeed.


                                        3. Dottie's True Blue Cafe - full review w/ pics in context: http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2009/05/d...

                                          The reviews of Dottie’s True Blue Cafe run the gamut – from Overrated, “Lemming,” and Boring to Amazing, Delicious, and Interesting - and everywhere in between. Having experienced a pricey (but worthwhile) dinner the night before at Manresa and staying less than 0.5 miles from Dottie’s I figured what better opportunity to see if the small café lived up to the hype. With an aggressive day’s agenda planned to include a walk from Dottie’s to (and across) the Golden Gate Bridge on this given Friday followed by a drive to Yountville I knew I didn’t want to wait 2 hours in line so a game plan was formulated. Alarm at 5:00, lifting in the gym till 6:30, shower and walk to Dottie’s in order to arrive by 7:15 and ideally get in for the first seating. They say that failing to prepare is preparing to fail and thankfully my plan worked – when I arrived at the small café there was only one other person waiting….less than 30 minutes later when the doors opened there were at least 40 people waiting.

                                          Chatting with people in line was a blast, albeit not as much fun as I had the following day at Brenda’s, and I imagine that during longer lines people are equally friendly. Finally the doors opened and walking in I was immediately impressed by the small/homey appearance of the restaurant – It looked like a 50’s kitchen with a single large stove, huge/ancient fridge, and bar with about 12 tables plus knick-knacks galore. Taking a seat at the bar in order to watch their legendary grill-man’s skills I quickly noted the white-board featuring the daily specials, the black board stating baked goods, and the laminated menu with “the standards.” Already starving from a workout and planning at least a 10 mile walk I knew I could handle a good bit of carbs and planned accordingly – though I admit my plan was a little too aggressive and caught up to me by day’s end.

                                          Servers were awesome and coffee (black with sweetener only by request) was refilled so rapidly I actually had to request he slow down so I could match sweetener with refills. Although very fast paced (turnover is clearly key in a place so busy) the servers were also wonderful in explaining what items could be ordered as half-orders in order to experience the most variety possible. Despite changing my order thrice my server was very patient and even offered to take my picture at the bar when he noted my photographing the food and restaurant. In addition to the great service, the grill man was also excellent in interacting with customers while literally preparing 6 egg dishes, 6 pancakes, an order of French toast, hashed browns, and doling out baked goods at once – amazing.

                                          My first dish was a must the second I saw it on the menu –griddled jalapeno cornbread with pepper preserves. Being from the Midwest – a land where barbeque and southern seem to dominate our regional cuisine - I must admit I’ve had a lot of cornbread and Dottie’s was decidedly the best I’ve had outside of a bacon-fat fried version experienced on a trip to Dallas a few years ago. Buttery and flavorful with just a hint of heat the jelly was remarkable for its sweetness and how it actually peaked the corn in the bread moreso than the jalapeno! Crusty outside, soft inside – great start.

                                          My second dish, just because I love pancakes, was a single whole wheat buttermilk pancakes spiced with ginger and cinnamon. While good, I must admit the cake was a little thin and lacked overall fluffiness (especially compared to Griddle Café in LA and absolutely mind-melting pancake I had the following day at Canteen) but the ginger flavor was sublime and beautifully complimented the REAL (rare, it seems, in California) maple syrup.

                                          Dish three, my “main” I guess you could say, was one of the daily specials – Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread French Toast with Maple Syrup. Imagine the Homer Simpson drooling sound – now imagine me doing that – literally from the point I saw the bread guy cut four thick slices off the loaf of homemade bread, dredge them in cream and eggs, and slap them down on the grill. When delivered the slices were perfectly browned with a chewy/bready “American” French toast interior and crispy exterior – not the custard-esque texture of French/English French Toast – and the incredible punch pumpkin and nutmeg overwhelmed the senses like a crispy pumpkin pie. Mild hints of chocolate chips interspersed added another layer of flavor. Superb – great ingredients and expert grill skills - ::drool sound::

                                          Not overly full but certainly not hungry I decided to end my meal with baked goods to go - as much as I love pumpkin, my love for sweet potatoes is certainly greater and there was no way I was walking out on Sweet Potato Chocolate Coffee Cake – little did I realize that my $4.50 was going to garner me a slice that weighed nearly a pound – or that it was to be covered with cinnamon crème anglaise! Packed carefully in foil my server chuckled and said “I bet you’re not going to eat that for at least a few hours – but do you want a fork?” “Absolutely” I responded and as much as I’d like to pretend I waited a few hours, I can’t – it was about 45 minutes – and the cake was the best part of the meal! Dense yet moist, savory and sweet without being “sugary”, dense chunks of gnache – possibly the best coffee cake I’ve ever tasted. For posterity I finished the second half of the cake in the middle of the Golden Gate Bridge.

                                          Having been to some of America’s most famed breakfast joints – The Griddle in LA, Bongo Room in Chicago, Norma’s in NYC, Bouchon and Tableau in Vegas – I can without a doubt say that Dottie’s is not overrated to me. Would I wait 2+ hours for a table – certainly not, but I wouldn’t wait that long anywhere. While pricey I felt Dottie’s food was every bit worth the price and for someone who almost never goes to the same place twice, I’d put Dottie’s on my list for every subsequent trip to San Francisco. With an ever changing menu, fantastic service, a wonderful grill man, and food that absolutely wows my advice is go, and go early.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: uhockey


                                            Dottie's True Blue Cafe
                                            522 Jones St, San Francisco, CA 94102

                                          2. Pizza Orgasmica - short review w/ pics in context: http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2009/05/p...

                                            After a long walk to the Golden Gate Bridge – on a day when it just so happened to rain and wind gusts reached 33mph on the Bridge – and myriad pictures it was time to make my way back to the Hotel for my drive north to Napa/Yountville for lunch at Redd and dinner at Ad-Hoc (assuming their menu wouldn’t be as beefy as during my previous trip.) Having had breakfast at Dottie’s early I decided to head down Fillmore and see if anything caught my eye – retail or food. Ironically, what caught my eye first was something so audacious that I had to stop in – a nude Adam feeding pizza to a nude Eve and a sign that read Pizza Orgasmica.

                                            Entering the tiny restaurant I literally laughed out loud – everything from the titles (Doggy Style, Farmer’s Daughter, MILF, etc) to the art (animals engaged in intercourse,) to the soundtrack (sex sounds over bad porn music) was hilarious. Out of my amusement I think I missed the first hello from the man behind the register which apparently triggered a second (louder) hello that made me actually focus on the food. At first I considered simply walking out, but when I saw the cornmeal crust and a pizza topped with feta, sundried tomatoes, and spinach I had to try a slice. One slice of Cheeky Tomato to go I stated.

                                            Taking the slice from a pan directly in front of me and placing it on porcelain plate the server quoted me my total. Handing him my credit card (I don’t carry cash...sigh…) I swear he rolled his eyes at me. Running the card he handed me metal silverware and at this point I reminded him it was “to go.” “Oh, you should’ve said so, let me warm it up for you then” …I’m not sure if this meant I was supposed to eat it cold if I ate it inside, but I let it go. Tossing the slice back into the oven for about 20 seconds it was removed, placed in a paper box, and handed to me with my receipt. While I normally wouldn’t tip someone for taking a pre-prepped food and half-assed re-baking it, the receipt did indeed have a tip line on it and I rounded up the total to $4.00 – adding 29 cents. Taking the receipt from me the clerk stated “is that it? Pfff, bro” before walking away. While I wish I’d have requested a 29 cent refund I instead simply left with my pizza.

                                            Eating on the walk I will admit that the pizza was quite good – flavorful and light feta, wonderfully fresh spinach, and tart/garlicky tomatoes sat atop a solid and crisp cornmeal crust. For the price I’ll additionally admit that the slice was quite large – though not quite as large as the server’s sense of entitlement. Clever concept? Sure. Good pizza? Yep. Good service? Nope. Sorry world, I don’t give tips for putting something on a plate, just like I don’t tip baristas for pouring coffee from a pot into a cup.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: uhockey

                                              Expert reviews; (do you write restaurant reviews as a profession?) - very enjoyable reading. It's a good thing you like to exercise, too. Walking around a city is a very good way to really see things. Try hiking on Mt Tam (above Mill Valley) some time.

                                              1. re: uhockey

                                                Pizza Orgasmica link

                                                Pizza Orgasmica
                                                3157 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94123

                                              2. Kara's review w/pics in context: http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2009/05/k...

                                                Having changed my route back to the hotel after pizza at Orgasmica in order to check out a store off Lombard, I was happy to see the cute sign on Lombard pointing toward Scott Street that said “Cupcakes this way.” Having tried Kara’s expertly crafted cupcakes at Ghirardelli Plaza on my last visit to San Francisco I had mixed feelings – while delicious, the cakes were small and while the ingredients were quality the prices were high. That noted, having read some other reviews after coming back to Ohio it appeared I’d missed out on the best – the Chocolate Velvet, so I stopped in for a bite. Like the Ghirardelli location I was greeted by wonderful customer service, smiling faces, and a pristine store.

                                                As I walked into the store I browsed the selections and surprisingly noted they were all out of the velvet - C’est la vie, I figured, and instead I ordered a filled passion fruit. Speaking briefly with the clerk I was told that if I hung out for 2 minutes a fresh batch of Chocolate Velvet would be out – so hang I did. Notably, during those 2-3 minutes four more persons came in to pick up orders or individual cupcakes including an older woman who waited with me for the Chocolate Velvet. Finally receiving my prize, still warm no-less, I paid and made my way to the street.

                                                Once again eating while I was walking (the third time that day, already) I first add
                                                ressed the Chocolate Velvet. Clearly fresh and loaded with soft and smooth icing the texture of this beauty resembled more of a soufflé than a cake and the overall effect was quite literally like Chocolate velvet – light, smooth, airy, and wonderful – the best chocolate cupcake I’ve ever tasted, topping Kara’s sublime Fleur de Sel from my last visit.

                                                Finishing the small cake in short order, I next proceeded to devour the Passion Fruit. Sweet and smooth, creamy and citrus, I must admit this cake was a bit more dense than the Chocolate Velvet and perhaps even a little too sweet. Certainly not as nuanced as the Passion Fruit at Vanilla in Los Angeles, regardless.

                                                All told, I like what Kara is doing with her “as healthy as cupcakes can be” approach and absolutely love her chocolate flavors while her fruits tend to lag behind a bit. Highly recommended.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: uhockey

                                                  Kara's link

                                                  Kara's Cupcakes
                                                  3249 Scott St, San Francisco, CA 94123

                                                2. Bistro Jeanty - full review w/ pics in context: http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2009/05/b...

                                                  I will fully admit that I am I glutton when I travel. I additionally admit that while I often ask for opinions from locals I frequently do not follow them. Sorry – I’m a bit pig-headed at times. After a long morning that already included Dotties, a walk to and across the GG Bridge, Pizza Orgasmica, and Kara’s cupcakes I next hopped into my rental (bear in mind the only reason I even rented was for my excursions to Los Gatos and Yountville) and made my way north for reservations at Redd for a 2:00pm lunch. Aside from the previously mentioned ::ahem:: ticket, the drive was nice-but-rainy, similar to my TFL trip in February, but the vines were growing and the landscape beautiful. Arriving at Redd 25 minutes early I sat down and perused the menu – only to realize it was 100% different from the online version and literally had nothing that sounded great (actually, not much sounded better than average) – the worst bait-and-switch ever…where once stood foie gras, sweet breads, and a duck egg now remained burgers and frites, hangar steaks, and calamari. The server told me this was due to “seasonal availability.” I promptly walked out as apparently the season at Redd was different from that at….well, every other restaurant I went to on the trip.

                                                  Setting my GPS to find Ubuntu I suddenly realized the time and figured I should look closer – I mean, I was in Yountville, there is certainly no lack of good food nearby. Having strongly debated Bistro Jeanty vs. Bouchon on my previous visit to Napa (choosing Bouchon to let my mother experience Keller’s food first-hand) yet somewhat concerned with Bauer’s scathing review I figured “what the hell” and found a parking spot just in front. Walking in I was greeted by a pleasant hostess and a very friendly/homey looking bar that made me smile – it reminded me of a college sports bar…that served French food…and everyone inside seemed to know everyone, like in Cheers. I was told the wait would be 10 minutes unless I wanted to sit at the bar. Normally not a “bar” sitter, I liked the feel of the place and realized that the bar had a clear view of the kitchen so I said sure.

                                                  Taking a seat at the bar I was greeted very pleasantly by the exuberant bartender (Jessica) and got to witness a really adorable interaction between a very elderly local sitting at the bar next to me as the servers helped him off his stool and to his walker, everyone in the restaurant wishing “Ralph” a farewell – again, the place just felt friendly, especially on a rainy day. Handed my menu, a glass of lemony water, and some warm bread and butter I made my selections – selections that were awesome but that I would come to regret when my stomach nearly burst later. (one additional comment before going on – the restrooms at Jeanty are hilarious – almost an afterthought and while immaculately clean, almost too small to be functional!


                                                  Course one was a no brainer – it had to be the famous Crème de Tomate en Croute – a tomato soup served in a puffed pastry. While I’m not a huge tomato soup guy, I am someone who tastes a signature dish when given the chance and I must admit this soup was amazing. Rich and satisfying, buttery yet tart, and with a beautiful bronzed pastry dome I rather wish I’d have thought out my meal a little better (or had read the recipe online) because after finishing this dish alone I was wondering what I’d got myself into. With each serving featuring literally 3/4 cup of cream and 1/2 stick of butter make no mistake, it is good, but damn is it filling!

                                                  Dish two of the afternoon was an equally tantalizing choice to the soup and completed a “Soup and Salad” combo like no other. Salade aux Lardons et Oeuf Mollet, featuring wonderfully fresh frissee, cracked black pepper, house made garlic croutons, a poached egg, and bacon vinaigrette was simple in its preparation yet dynamic in its execution and another great vegetable dish on a trip that featured many. A creamy and fresh egg with the yolk approximately half done, the wonderfully crispy outside/soft inside croutons, and the most savory dressing ever with flavors of pepper and salty bacon. Another heavy choice I opted not to finish this dish (in retrospect a really good idea) but would definitely order again – vastly better than the similar salad I ordered at Chez Panisse Café during my previous trip.

                                                  My “main” as it were was yet another heavy, but obvious for me, choice – the Croutons de Foie Blond, or Foie Gras Mousse served on toast over a port poached pear. Aside from the beautiful presentation with a deep purple pear beneath crispy bread and smooth Foie, what struck me most about this dish was the incredible portion for the price. Literally the best “bang for your buck” Foie preparation I’ve ever had, the flavor was also remarkable and likely in my top 5 behind TFL, La Folie, BoMA, and Aqua. There really isn’t enough to be said about the pear which was perfectly poached yet still retained its texture and while the foie was airy and not a dense terrine, the texture/mouth-feel was very delicate and lacked any gaminess. If I had to utter one complaint it would be that the toasts were a tad small for the ample foie – I guess one can get spoiled when fresh/warm brioche is served repeatedly with their foie.

                                                  By this point in the meal I was already quite full and had planned to skip dessert and either swing by Bouchon Bakery or Oxbow Market if I felt hungry again before dinner, but Jessica (and another patron who I’d been talking to – a very large man who loved my selections and was amazed I could eat so much) created other plans. Telling me of a decadent “Strawberry Crepe Brule” that sounded amazing, I inquired “Sounds good, but I’m really full – what else do you have – maybe and ice cream or gelato?” To this she responed “well, there is the Bourbon Brioche Bread Pudding with Rum Raisin Ice Cream.” Damnit - my weakness. Already knowing Jeanty’s portion sizes I knew there was no way I could do the dish justice and I declined – that is, until the man said “Ah, go ahead and get it for him Jess, put it on my tab!”

                                                  While waiting for the dish I conversed with my acquaintance and he jokingly told me that the bread pudding was coma-inducing, that it is almost a requirement to take a nap afterwards. Laughing I told him of the time I did two bread puddings at two Emeril’s restaurants in Orlando within two hours. Shortly thereafter the dish was delivered – and oh what a dish it was. Layer upon layer of warm and buttery brioche with the most subtle hints of bourbon, golden raisins and layers of custard throughout, and an absurdly creamy raisin icecream that rivaled Humphry Slocombe’s Secret Breakfast in its texture and potency – magnificent and an absolute must order – I almost shed a tear when I had to send the last 3-4 bites back because I was so full.

                                                  Leaving Bistro Jeanty I bid farewell to the people at the bar and felt like I was walking out of a familiar place back home – absolutely stuffed and into the pouring rain. With a total bill that was well below the quality of the food or the service I can say my meal at Bistro Jeanty was one of the best “bargain” dining experiences in recent memory and I’d certainly return – but on an empty stomach. Perhaps I caught them on a good day or perhaps I just ordered well, but I’d recommend it over Bouchon for French Bistro food any day of the week – and the bread pudding – best in the Bay Area. For those who want to know, yes, the man at the bar was right – after the meal I went back to my car, reclined my seat, and turned on some My Morning Jacket and slept for 45 minutes.

                                                  8 Replies
                                                  1. re: uhockey

                                                    I am impressed that you could putl away everything that day AND top it off at French Laundry. I did go out and eat after my lunch at FL, but for different reasons. It is just not my thing and I needed to eat something more in line with what makes me happy. The BJ lunch would have finished me off. I still have to visit one of the Jeanty's. I'll have to add that bread pudding to something to try. I'm not so much a bread pudding person but rum raisin ice cream is one of my favorites.

                                                    Even though you say you usually don't follow through on recs ... and I'm like that too ... some of the best eats I've had are on the way to a recommended restaurant when something else caught my eye ...

                                                    ... still, it makes it easier to make recs for you in the future. Too bad about Ubuntu though. Sounds like you could have made it ... it's a few blocks from Oxbow.

                                                    Bistro Jeanty
                                                    6510 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                                                    1. re: rworange

                                                      I went to Ad Hoc for dinner, not TFL. :-)

                                                      1. re: uhockey

                                                        uhockey, I just wanted to let you know how much I've enjoyed your food. As other's have said you have a great writing style, it almost feels like I'm eating the food too! An as others have said too, how in the world can you eat so much? :)

                                                        1. re: uhockey

                                                          I want to know how a medical student can afford these sorts of trips! You must be extending your student loans by a year for each trip you go on!

                                                          For our sake, I hope you keep stimulating the economy. I'll be doing my part at TFL in a week!

                                                          1. re: gregb

                                                            Not a student. That is how. :-)

                                                      2. re: uhockey

                                                        That sounds like a very satisfying meal.
                                                        Just FYI, foie blond is chicken liver.

                                                        1. re: tupac17616

                                                          Cheers - learn something new every day! Thanks.

                                                        2. re: uhockey

                                                          I hear that if you order the tomato soup at BJ and an order of the fries with Bernaise sauce, you're pretty well set for the day. And thanks A LOT, I can't get the drool out of my keyboard after reading about the bread pudding.

                                                        3. Ad Hoc - full review w/ pics in context: http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2009/05/a...

                                                          I’ll just go ahead and admit it – I’m a Thomas Keller fan-boy – his concepts, his service, his attitude, his ability to claim the limelight without actively stepping into it and being on every goofy TV cooking show – they all impress me; and that isn’t even to mention his food. The best breakfast of my life? Bouchon in Vegas. The Best meal of my life? The French Laundry. Best Cupcake? Bouchon Bakery in Vegas. Best Cookie – that freakin Nutter Butter, both on the east coast and on the west – a cookie so good that despite being stuffed to the gills after Bistro Jeanty I had to swing by Bouchon Bistro to pick one up for later just so they wouldn’t sell out as they did on my previous trip to Yountville. All that stated, it only seemed logical that after meals at TFL and Bouchon on my previous visit that this trip would ideally include Ad Hoc.

                                                          We all know the story of the name, how the restaurant was meant to be temporary, the set 4-course menu, etc – essentially, Thomas and his chefs prep the comfort food and you sit back and enjoy – easy enough, right? Kinda. Kinda in that I don’t eat beef flesh and the restaurant is only open 4 days a week – only two on my previous visit and both days serving beef. Having made reservations twice in the past and cancelling each when the menu appeared at noon I had made alternative plans this time (Ubuntu) but thankfully when I called my aunt for an online update she informed me that not only was there no beef to be found, but that the dessert was my very favorite – bread pudding. Having already eaten a lot that day I knew I’d likely be leaving food on the table, but I still felt the admission price would be worth it.

                                                          Arriving for my 7:30pm reservation after wandering the Oxbow Market (trying to walk off some of the earlier indulgences) the weather was still awful and rainy – I was thankful for the readily available parking across the street from Ad Hoc and jogged across the street. Greeted by a friendly hostess I was led to a small table with a great view of the restaurant to the right and Washington Street to the left. Moments after sitting down my neighboring table received a large vat of the bread pudding and I started to drool – this was going to be good. After about 2 minutes my server, Rachel, appeared with a copy of the nightly menu and an incredible knowledge of the history, cuisine, and wines – being (I’d guess) approximately 22 years old I was amazed throughout the meal by her professionalism and definitely feel she wouldn’t have been out of step at the French Laundry – amazing service even at the “comfort food” restaurant – yep, typical Keller.

                                                          After approximately 10 minutes of sipping water and browsing the humble interior with multiple tables relatively close together, “center” tables for preparation and presentation, and minimal décor (a few piggies here and there) I was brought my bread basket – something I knew I’d have to be very careful with given the amazing bread at Bouchon and the Laundry. Sure enough, two varieties – whole wheat and sourdough – were presented and both were superb with the whole wheat being vastly better (my neighbors, who clearly hadn’t already consumed 5000+ calories that day, actually went through three baskets and requested only whole wheat after the first.) I limited myself to one sourdough and two whole wheat during the meal – great restraint for my bread basket loving self.

                                                          Around 7:45 my first dish arrived and on a trip that involved some amazing salads this one was number two to only Kinch’s “Into the Garden.” Simply titled TFL Garden Vegetable Salad with fava beans, leeks, onion scapes, haricot verts, sweet carrots, mixed greens, and lemon-chive vinaigrette – that is precisely what the dish was. Having never tasted scapes before I found them to be pleasantly “onion-y” yet refined, almost like green onions but sweeter and more aromatic. The vinaigrette was minimally lemony and more chive based with good acidity. A great balance of contrasting textures and wonderful flavors. Again, not wanting to fill up I ate approximately 3/4 of the salad and the rest was boxed up for me (more on this later.) As someone who consumes 3-4 salads a day in “real life” – IE, not on vacation – this salad once again made me feel bad about the quality of vegetables in Ohio during ~3/4 of the year…it is incredible what high end ingredients do to the simplest dishes.

                                                          Dish two, essentially the “main course” was Marinated Pork Tenderloin with d'anjou pears, caramelized cabbage, melted onions, carolina rice with pardina lentils and it was absolutely sublime – but vastly too much food. While the pork was perfectly tender and well seasoned with aromatic and sweet components, the true standout of the dish was absolutely the caramelized cabbage, especially when combined with the starchy rice/lentil mixture. Toothsome and delicious, the rice provided a good “soft” component to the crisp and – dare I say – candy coated flavor of the cabbage while the onions simply peaked the flavor of each component on the palate.

                                                          Dish three, the cheese course, was hit and miss. Bellwether Farms Carmondy with Marshall's Farm Wildflower Honey and Spiced Mixed Nuts. The firm cows-milk cheese from New Jersey was actually quite excellent on its own and even more impressive when combined with the wonderfully fragrant Honey from Marshall’s Farm (I think I consumed about 1/2 cup of their products the next day at the Farmer’s Market and the only flavor I fancied moreso than the Wildflower was the almond honey.) Unique in its texture, the dominant sense from the cheese was actually that of butter and perhaps cinnamon or caramel. The miss on the dish was the spiced nuts. Speaking to Rachel it appears the nuts were made in house and prepared with hints of cayenne, paprika, and cloves but all I could taste was heat – and a lot of it. Consuming only one walnut and cashew I had these packed with my remaining pork and salad, just in case.

                                                          The final dish, and the one I’d been waiting for all night, was described as “Bread & Butter Pudding with California Strawberries, Whipped Vanilla Cream” but it was so much more. While I will admit that the surprise was ruined as another very impressive young server had told the secret to the table next to me, the dish was even more complex than billed in that the flawlessly buttery brioche, fresh strawberries and ice-cream-like cream were served atop pitted black cherries and cocoa nibs. Served in large crocks to tables of 2-4 I was THANKFULLY only given a small crock. I say thankfully because the flavor was so amazing that I’d have eaten whatever was presented and likely ruptured the gastric fundus – and died with a smile on my face. The best fruit based bread pudding I’ve ever tasted by a long shot and potentially better than the chocolate version at Extraordinary Dessert. Wonderfully complex and layered with great aplomb I was informed that this recipe was actually Claire Clark’s from her time at TFL and it was available in her “Indulge” recipe book – a book on my “to buy” list, for sure.

                                                          Walking (okay, hobbling due to the food filling my hollow leg) out of the restaurant I was bid farewell by multiple servers and smiling faces and additionally given a copy of the menu with my “doggie bag” – a doggy bag that was given to a particularly interesting homeless man who had been hanging out in front of my hotel the whole vacation wearing a Los Angeles Kings jacket and never asked for money, only food – I’d say this beat the McDonalds I saw him with earlier in the day.

                                                          Driving back home and listening to the Silversun Pickups I reflected on my day and must admit that it may have been the most I’ve ever eaten on single day of a trip – but it was entirely worth it. While I can’t say I’d go to Ad Hoc as often as TFL or Bouchon given the way the menu works, I imagine that any time a non-beef item is on the menu it is a safe bet for a superb meal with flawless service. Calling my mother the next day she asked how it was and I said “It was like eating at your best friend’s house – if your best friend had access to the best ingredients in Northern California and had any degree of culinary training.” It was simple, it was casual, it was fantastic.

                                                          4 Replies
                                                          1. re: uhockey

                                                            I get the Ad Hoc menu e-mailed to me every day, and when I saw that day's menu I toyed with the idea of trying to drive up there for dinner... now I wish I had! Glad you had such a splendid experience.
                                                            You might try mentioning your non-beef eating next time you make a reservation. When warned ahead, they have adjusted the menu for me several times. And of course it was always graciously, and always superb.

                                                            1. re: uhockey

                                                              I've still yet to make it to Ad Hoc. Thank you for the report.
                                                              Carmody cheese is made with milk from Jersey cows, but Bellwether Farms is in Sonoma County, California. I actually bought some Carmody last week at the Cheese Board. Funny coincidence to see it on the menu at Ad Hoc.

                                                              1. re: tupac17616

                                                                Yeah, I think Ad Hoc only serves local cheeses.

                                                              2. re: uhockey

                                                                If you haven't tried it yet, my favorite Marshall's honey is the pumpkin blossom.

                                                                Ad Hoc
                                                                6476 Washington St., Yountville, CA 94599

                                                              3. Canteen - full review w/ pics in context: http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2009/05/c...

                                                                What makes a young, successful, well reviewed Chef quit his job at a top tier restaurant and open up a small diner-style restaurant that abuts the lobby of a sub-standard living space in an average neighborhood? Too much pressure, desire for total control, or something else – who knows? Having read of the unique Leary dining experience that is Canteen I knew I’d have to stop by at some point and given my limited time in the city I was thankful for their weekend brunch as an option – the fact that it was literally halfway between my hotel and the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market was just gravy.

                                                                Arriving approximately 5 minutes after opening I half expected a line given the previous day at Dottie’s, but surprisingly I was only the second person to arrive – the first being the chef; today not Leary (I was later informed that he’d be in “a little later” because he was at the market getting some “necessities.”) Taking a seat at the bar, the seat closest to the stove so I could watch the action, I picked up a menu and was wowed by all the choices – had I not had additional food plans for the day I’d have easily considered 3-4 items. Browsing around the restaurant I was amused by the glowing arrow, green formica counter, books, and drab walls – all business, but flawlessly clean with sharp angles throughout.

                                                                Approximately 2 minutes after I arrived a second worker showed up and immediately filled my water, took my order, and began to work quickly but effortlessly taking ingredients out of the fridge, plating butters, filling jars – the whole scene was full of fervor yet controlled. In the meal time, I watched the chef begin the preparation of my meal – hand mixing the flour, cream, eggs, butter, and berries. A moment later the coffee was done brewing and my cup was filled (and refilled rapidly throughout the duration of the meal) with a potent and rich concoction featuring hints of chicory and chocolate. Drinking my coffee I watched with great interest as my first dish came together – by the time it entered the oven another three tables were filled and the place felt more lively.

                                                                After another few moments my first dish was completed, garnished, and presented. Simply titled “A Big Pancake with Strawberries and Vanilla Sauce” this was absolutely a case of “more than meets the eye.” On initial presentation the plate sized disc appeared quite simple – merely a golden pancake topped with granulated cane sugar and laying atop some white sauce – but that doesn’t account for the smell – quite literally the smell of strawberries and cream. Cutting into the pancake and taking a bite revealed the what would have been a mystery had I not been watching the preparation intently – a literal soufflé of a pancake formed by griddling one side and then topping the “raw” side with a large handful of fresh strawberries before flipping it and finishing it off by baking the cast-iron skillet in the oven. Soft, airy, textural with hints of cinnamon, plus the wonderful vanilla accented whipping cream (I watched him scrape the bean into the cream before boiling it down) and the most ripe strawberries – the best pancake you can imagine and every bit on par with the strawberry bread pudding only 12 hours earlier.

                                                                Following the sweet – a savory (on vacation, dessert comes first.) Going to Canteen I’d fully planned on a poached egg – at least until I saw the menu. Totally absorbed by my pancake I have to admit I missed the cooking action of dish two, but when it arrived approximately 5 minutes after the pancake (and a third cup of coffee) there was no missing it – more perfection – and a level of indulgence I must admit made me smile. “Smoked Duck with Lentils, Rhubarb, Foie Gras, and Chicken Liver Toast” – that’s right, Foie Gras for breakfast. Another perfect preparation, the most tender Duck I’ve had since Ducasse’s Liberty Duck preparation at MiX, perfectly smoked with succulent hints of Rhubarb and thick/toothsome lentils and a “gravy” that tasted like smoky Foie Gras mixed with coriander. Atop the pile was perched a small piece of white toast and a hefty smear of Foie/Chicken Liver that was perfectly balanced and smooth – delicious on its own and even more so when eaten with the duck and lentils. If anything, I’d have liked more toast.

                                                                Stopping by to ask how everything was and if I would like anything else the chef was quite personable despite the fact that he literally had 6 burners and an oven running behind him – he explained to me the ratio of the ingredients in the pancake and why it puffs up best when baked at broil – “its all about timing” he said. Thanking him for such a superb breakfast he suggested I stop back for lunch later if I wanted to meet Chef Leary but he noted “it might get busy.” Happy, full but not stuffed, and more than adequately impressed I paid my bill, got a to-go cup of coffee, and made my way to the street for a walk to the Farmer’s Market. While I didn’t stop by later, I certainly will on a future trip – I want to try the “real” soufflé if a soufflé pancake can be that good.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: uhockey

                                                                  Not sure if you know about it but Leary has a take-out place near the Palace Hotel called The Sentinal. Open for breakfast pastries and sandwiches M-F.

                                                                  817 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                                                                2. Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market - Full review w/ pics in context: http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2009/05/f...

                                                                  I will fully admit I was curious – how could a farmer’s market garner so much hype? I’ve been to the North Market in Columbus, East Market in Detroit, West Market in Cleveland, the Grove Market in Los Angeles, and any number of small town markets throughout Ohio, Michigan, and the Midwest – I’d also been to the Ferry Plaza on my previous visit to San Franciso and, while impressive I wasn’t “blown away.” Eating breakfast at Canteen and making my way through Chinatown on my way to the Ferry Plaza on a rain-threatening Saturday I first stopped into ABC Café for an Egg Custard since A) I’d never had one and B) The Chinese man at the hotel desk told me they made “really good ones” when I asked. Buttery, crispy, and egg-y with just a hint of sweetness I’d say the 80 cents was well spent, but it isn’t something I’d crave. Continuing my walk and snapping pictures I was yelled at by three women not to take pictures as I was amused by dried sharks fins, fruits I’d never seen, and all sorts of hanging meats – we don’t have this in Ohio, sorry to be such a tourist!

                                                                  Arriving at the Embarcadero I could already see a difference from my past visit to the Ferry Plaza – about 30 booths on the west side of the street (Arts and Crafts) and 40+ on the East side (yay, food!) Raised by crafty ladies I browsed the Arts and Crafts section, but being so early and the weather being so bad there really wasn’t much to see – some fine Metals, but my sister does better. Making my way across the street the first booth I saw featured all sorts of Organic produce at prices that undersold many/most non-organic sellers in Ohio – I shed a couple tears (or was that rain in my eye?) Sampling some wonderful Jonagolds, Blood Oranges, and Quince I walked along past the outdoor Blue Bottle, Bruins Farms Tomatoes (never seen this many varieties in one place), and found myself in front of Marshall’s Farms Honey – where I proceeded to sample about 15 varieties including a sublime almond and pumpkin honey…the nuance of each was simply mindblowing. One of my biggest regrets of the current airline “charge for luggage” system is that I can’t buy liquids over 2oz without having them confiscated – I’d prefer just order online than buy, pack, and find a place to ship home.

                                                                  Wandering a bit more I stopped by Hare Hollow where I tried some interesting olive oils and a particularly sublime 7.5% acidity ginger-blackberry and date-fig vinegar that, despite being pricey, will be in my cupboard soon. Next up, making my way North, was Saint Benoit Yogurt with their interesting stone-ware containers and deposit system – if I lived locally their honey yogurt would be replacing Dannon plain on a permanent basis. Browsing some beautiful orchids, eating some more fruits (more quince and some plumellos,)and tasting some interesting chutneys and baba ganoush it suddenly began to pour thus necessitating I duck into the market itself for a bit – just like the other 500ish people.

                                                                  Warm, moist, and crowded – the inside of the market actually reminded me of a crowded concert venue – wandering along I spotted the new indoor Blue Bottle and thought about stopping…until I saw the 50+ person line and realized the last thing I wanted was something warm to drink.

                                                                  (Wanting at least 2lbs to take home and needing a Blue Bottle that took credit I later stopped by the awesome Mint Plaza location to see the glorious $20,000 Halogen roaster and was appropriately wowed – and the India Jasmine Estate is the best coffee I’ve ever tasted.


                                                                  In my walk to Blue Bottle, however, I did pass in front of Miette and the smiling lady behind the counter actually asked me if I wanted a sample – given their awful service on my last visit I must admit I was shocked. Stepping closer I asked her what I was being handed and she told me a Rose Geranium Macaron. Biting into the crispy exterior and sensing the wonderfully moist and fragrant interior I must admit I was amply pleased – this was a VERY good Macaron. Adequately impressed I decided to give in and make a purchase, buying another Rose Geranium as well as a Pistachio Macaron and a “Classic” Cupcake. While the Pistachio didn’t quite hold up to the superb flowered cookie, it was actually quite good and nearly on par with my favorite Pistachio Macaron ever at Pistachia Vera in Columbus. The cupcake, on the other hand, didn’t fare so well in that while the cake was quite moist and delicious in texture, the frosting was actually quite gummy and bland – as though there was simply too much xanthan or guar gum and too little liquid.

                                                                  Walking into Boulette’s Larder I was handed a small chocolate chip cookie by a tall man in a chef’s garment and told it was fresh baked – amazing in its texture and featuring (I was told) Sharffen Berger chocolate from the stand just down the way the cookie was still warm and on its own made up for the averageness of the $3.00 cupcake I’d just purchased at Miette. Watching a short cooking demonstration I noted it had stopped raining and made my way out past the incredibly crowded Frog’s Hollow to the back half of the market.

                                                                  Larger than the front and featuring even more prepared goods (and samples) my first taste occurred at Spring Hill Jersey Cheese where I tasted somewhere between 8 and 10 wonderfully accented artisanal cheeses that escape my mind at this time aside from a truly superb lemon and chive feta – the staff was wonderful and actually encouraged “as much sampling as you like” and I felt bad not buying anything. I next made my way further along where I enjoyed more fruit (never realized there were 3 types of blood orange – let alone 11 varieties of heirloom strawberries,) some Meyer Lemon Marmalade and Black Mission Fig Jam ::drool:: and a myriad of dried fruits at Blossom Bluff.

                                                                  Making my way along the path past the Gandhi statue and a garden of herbs, mounds of organic meats, and other delectable artisan goods I spied a man eating what appeared to be a fantastic chocolate croissant and drinking some of the liquid hot chocolate from near the back door – asking him where he got the croissant he told me Della Fattoria but “I think they’re sold out.” Pointing me in that direction I made my way to Della and indeed they were sold out of the croissants – what they weren’t sold out of, however, was something far more divine – caramelized brioche bread pudding. Organic, natural sea salts, extra virgin olive oil, pure caramelized organic cow’s milk – sold! Served in a small tart wrapper and still somewhat warm I was handed the treasure just as it once again began to rain – heavily. Nestled under the umbrella I dug in and once again was mesmerized by how such simple ingredients can make something so wonderful. Not overly moist like the bread pudding at Ad Hoc or Jeanty the day before the texture was more donut like (like Keller’s at Bouchon Bakery in Vegas) and absolutely excellent with hints of cinnamon, sweet, and salty all in great balance.

                                                                  Feeling quite stuffed (and soaked) I made my way back to the indoor area past Prather Ranch and a large rotisserie chicken outfit with a long line standing in the rain. Stopping in Sur La Table I realized there was at least one thing in the Market that we do have in Ohio – similarly priced, too. Entering the market again I watched a young man next to Tsar caviar form perfect crepes for a group of onlookers and walked past another long line of customers waiting for fresh Italian Pastries that had apparently just arrived via bicycle delivery man. Realizing that if I stuck around any longer I’d be incredibly full (and broke) and unable to eat lunch I made my way to the street where I watched a few performers play the drums and a saxophone – quite impressively, I must say. When the rain finally ceased I started my walk towards my hotel only to get caught in yet another storm at which point I opted for the Westfield shopping center for a movie and some digestion time.

                                                                  All told the market absolutely lives up to its hype in every conceivable manner. What exists at a 9 out of 10 experience on any day of the week literally becomes a 15 out of 10 on Saturday. If I lived in San Francisco I really can’t imagine myself shopping anywhere besides the Farmer’s Market and the Berkeley Bowl for fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, and breads. Stunning – and quite honestly, you could eat breakfast and lunch nearly for free if you were so inclined!

                                                                  6 Replies
                                                                  1. re: uhockey

                                                                    When were you at Berkeley Bowl? If you mentioned it before, I missed it (as did google). I've never had a foodie visitor from out of the area be less than awed at Berkeley Bowl.

                                                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                      Previous visit - when we went to Chez Panisse - it was awesome.

                                                                    2. re: uhockey

                                                                      The FPFM is quite good (but a tad expensive). Berkeley Bowl is also quite a fine place to purchase fruits, vegtables and grains. Their fish department is also quite good if you can get yourself hooked up with on of the fish mongers. The breadth of different veggie and fruit items is quite amazing and the quality is very high. If you can get there when the doors open they have boxes of fruits/veggie that are about to spoil that go for really cheap (and quickly). Also don't get caught sampling things or you will be banned from the store. The cheese department on the other hand is a bit lacking and I'd go elsewhere if I wanted to put together a cheese plate (The Cheeseboard, The Pasta Shop, Farmstead Cheese). Btw, Berkeley Bowl also has the St. Benoit Yougurt. you so swooned over, although not all flavors.

                                                                      Btw, I quite enjoy your dinning writeups. Keep up the good work on those.

                                                                      1. re: uhockey

                                                                        Great write up. I'm glad you got to try that Marshal's pumpkin blossom honey. It is just one of my favorite things ever. If I don't stop myself, I can eat it by the spoonful. What is lovely is going weekly and seeing the honey's change by what is in bloom. One week the had orange blossom honey from three separate locations and each had a different taste and color.

                                                                        If you can imagine it, the San Rafael Sunday Farmer's Market is as large, if not larger than Ferry Plaza and it taps into the whole North Bay farm system which isn't as widely represented at Ferry Plaza. These days, I'm preferring San Rafael because it is more like FP before the move to the current location. It has the feel of a real farmers market.

                                                                        You only touched the surface of Ferry Plaza. During fig season there are a dozen varieties of figs, some very elusive, coming up are a dozen cherries. The variety of stone fruit is mind-boggling in the summer and that tomato selection is nothing compared to the summer months. In the fall/winter more varieties of apples than imaginable, the first press of olive oils, the early fall oils the color of emerald with spicy bite.

                                                                        It is all I can do not to start rattling off ... you should really try the xxx.

                                                                        The one thing Miette does well is the macaroons. By the way La Boulange just recently became a part owner in Miette. Everything else is hit and miss. The prettier something is, the less likely it tastes like much. Miette does have a few people who are pleasant these days, but for years the rather brusque, cold service was more usual. You got something free at Boulette's ... I'm amazed ... even if it was merely a sample. Della Frattora has a nice bakery in Petaluma on the way up to Napa Sonoma. They make a lovely cupcake. Probably one of the best I've tried. They seem to be perfectionist. On a crawl for hot cross buns they didn't have any on my visit because they didn't like the way they turned out and tossed them ... or at least wouldn't sell them. There's a little cafe that serves food too. One of these days I'll remember to report about the croque baton there. It was good, but not the top of the croque list for me.

                                                                        Crafts ... CRAFTS !!!. Them's fighting words in the Bay Area. That is NOT part of Ferry Plaza. Just opportunistic people in no way affiliated with the market. There is a resistance to craft sections at quality farmers markets in this region. They are about produce and such and not flea markets. My indignation is only partly tongue in cheek.

                                                                        Ferry Plaza Farmers Market
                                                                        One Ferry Building, 200 The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA

                                                                        1. re: uhockey

                                                                          We will glady take up a collection to assist with your return to our fair state, that's more rain during your visit than I'm afraid we've had all year. Not that your reports aren't also worth the price. Great work!

                                                                          1. re: PolarBear

                                                                            Get me enough to dine at TFL and you're on! ;-)

                                                                        2. Brenda's French Soulfood - full review w/ pics in context: http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2009/05/b...

                                                                          Q'uest que c'est soul food? Okay, so the last French I took was during sophomore year of college, but living around Detroit for most of my life I certainly know what Soul Food is – having heard great things about Brenda’s, however, I wanted to know what FRENCH Soul Food was. After breakfast at Canteen and some browsing/chowing at the Saturday Farmer’s Market it started to pour – thus necessitating me to dive into the Westfield shopping center where, after browsing, I opted to take in a movie at the Cinemark. Leaving the theater and the mall, the time was around 1:00 and I had no plans for the rest of the day – time for lunch!

                                                                          Walking, once again, through the streets of (now suddenly sunny) San Francisco, I turned onto Polk and was greeted by a line of about twenty…twenty five people waiting in front of a place no bigger than my living room. Walking up I chuckled at a couple of guys playing hacky sack wearing Weezer and Kyuss shirts with a beanie and dreads, respectively…it reminded me of Berkeley…or OSU’s High Street. Walking up to the line I saw a “sign in” sheet on the door and placed my name…party of 1…below 9 other names/groups. The friendly server told me “it would be about an hour, but we take role call every now and again, so it could be less.” Getting in line I, ironically, got into a long conversation with two elderly ladies who were both from Ohio and assured me that the wait was worth it…the fella’ in the Kyuss shirt then chimed in “damn right, we drove down from Berkeley for beignets!”

                                                                          True to her word, the waitress emerged after 20 minutes (and allowing a few groups in) and called roll – three parties had either walked off or given up and were struck from the list. Another 20 minutes passed and the waitress came out and wrote CLOSED below the two names below mine on the list – no more spots for the day. 5 minutes later, me drooling on myself after reading the specials board and standing watching people eat through the windows, I was finally let in – “is the bar okay?” “Sure.”

                                                                          A native of New Orleans and Filipino-Creole raised, I assumed Brenda would be good with the southern style – my question was how this could/would translate into “French technique” especially at a small restaurant with (obviously) limited facilities. Browsing the menu it was hard to find something that didn’t sound excellent and although I’d originally planned on a croque madame plus some beignets the daily specials drastically changed my mind…and then I saw the beignets…great scott, they were huge! Uncertain of how to proceed given my upcoming dinner at The Dining Room I asked the server if half orders could be accommodated on the specials to which she said “absolutely!” This still didn’t make my choice any easier given the Croque, the Cornmeal oyster and bacon scramble, the gulf shrimp and goat cheese omelet, the pineapple upside down pancakes, the two decadent sounding French toasts…lets just say Brenda and I would be on good terms if I was in town. Finally making my selections and watching my neighbors eat any variety of amazing dishes I sat back, drank some water, and waited in the congenial yet loud atmosphere.

                                                                          The first item to arrive was my flight of beignets – quite frankly I couldn’t resist. Starting with “Plain – for the die-hard traditionalist” I must admit I was impressed right off the bat. Delicate and light, warm with a notably buttery undertone yet hints of cinnamon and perhaps clove, these already beat out Kinch’s version at Manresa. Finishing only half (to save room) I moved on to the savory.

                                                                          Beignet #2, Crawfish with Cayenne, scallions, and cheddar raised the bar at least two notches (much like what this trip did to my belt size) with its milky yet sharp cheddar complimenting the perfectly prepared and shredded (and mildly briny) crawfish meat – the addition of scallions provided an aromatically pleasing component to the dish while the dusting of cayenne added just a wee-bit of heat – like a great crawfish etouffee sans roux in a puffy shell – where are ya on this one, Hot Pockets?

                                                                          Moving on to the sweets, the third beignet was noted to consist of Granny Smith Apple and Cinnamon Honey Butter. Admittedly an admirer of all things made with cinnamon this was most certainly the beignet I'd been looking forward to most, but unfortunately it was the least "wowing" of the group. Filled with an ample amount of apples, I do fear that the selection was a bit poor and (even for Granny Smiths) the apples were very sour. Tempered somewhat by the sweet honey, the pervasive flavor overall was actually the butter and I fear the cinnamon got somewhat "lost in the mix." It wasn't bad, but it wasn't as impressive as the others.

                                                                          The final beignet, billed as being filled with molten Ghirardelli chocolate, was -honestly- stunning. In general not a fan of the overly sweet Ghirardelli chocolates and their lack of subtlety, this concoction was clearly Ghirardelli plus something else - or else a higher end dark chocolate option from their collection that I've not tasted. Strong and potent the heavy ganache blended quite elegantly with the airy beignets - I cannot even imagine eating a full order of these, but one hit the spot quite adequately - I'd strongly recommend these to share for anyone going to Brenda's.

                                                                          Already comfortably sated I could have left here and been happy – but remember when I said I wanted a croque? Well, I didn’t get a croque. What I did get, instead, was something so much more sublime – one of the daily specials entitled “Banana Bread Pudding French Toast with bourbon pecan sauce and chocolate chips.” Essentially a piece of banana bread that had been saturated/soaked in bourbon custard and then griddle fried, topped with Ghirardelli chocolate chips, and slathered with whipped cream and an absolutely flawless pecan sauce with strong degrees of cinnamon plus subtle nuances of bourbon whiskey – stunning. Better than the French Toast at Dottie’s in texture and consistency and potentially more sweet than that at Griddle café – thankfully I only ordered a half-order (which was, amazingly, charged exactly half for instead of the $2 up-charge at Dottie’s and others for half-orders!


                                                                          Friendly service, water that was refilled long before I reached the bottom of the glass, and a hustling/bustling environment…..oh, and really great food. I understand why the lines are so long, but if I end up in town permanently I’m going to have to ask Brenda to get a bigger space so I can come back more often!

                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                          1. re: uhockey

                                                                            I believe I've read that Brenda's is expanding into the space next door. I'll give that croque madame a try for you. Nice to know that for some items you can have half orders.

                                                                            Brenda's French Soul Food
                                                                            652 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94102

                                                                            1. re: rworange

                                                                              The space next door (both sides) was indeed empty if I remember correctly.

                                                                          2. The Dining Room - full review w/ pics in context: http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2009/05/d...

                                                                            Chef Ron Siegel needs no introduction - from his time at Aqua to Charles Nob Hill to The French Laundry to his fame as the first American winner on Iron Chef - the man clearly knows his way around a kitchen. Having missed out on my opportunity to experience the Chef's brilliance during my last trip to the Bay Area (my family did not like the menu) I made sure reservations were secured early for my return -solo- visit. After an already excellent gastronomic trip with dinners at Manresa, Ad Hoc, and La Folie plus a day of great breakfast and lunch from Canteen, the Farmers Market, and Brenda's French Soul-Food I decided to end my trip, hopefully on good note, at The Dining Room. Before getting into the rest of the review, I want to offer a great deal of praise and credit to Angelo Severino for his superb service both via phone and e-mail - by far the most helpful and gracious contact person I've ever talked to at a major restaurant.
                                                                            Having parked much earlier in the day near Canteen and having walked all about San Francisco for the previous few days I felt I had a good feel for the city and after some time browsing at the mall after dinner I made my way to The Ritz at 5:30 for my 6:00pm reservation - knowing I had to be back at the airport by 9:00 I figured this allowed plenty of time. Walking up to the enormous hotel I chuckled at the two Bentley's, a Maseratti, and a Lotus in the parking lot - glad I left the rental at Canteen. Walking up to the doors I was greeted with a gracious "good evening sir" as the double doors were opened wide. In similar fashion I was greeted with a "Dr. U, we've been expecting you" as I checked in at the hostess desk. From here I was led promptly to a plush booth...about 4 feet from the Hostess station. As the room was nowhere near full I must admit I found this an odd seating choice, but it did suffice. Before moving on let me note the service - exemplary in every single way. Multiple servers presented multiple dishes, but one "captain" stopped by frequently to check in and ask how I liked dishes, if I needed anything else, etc. All dishes were described in exquisite detail, everyone was all smiles and, honestly, all aspects of service were on par with the very best - Trotter's, The French Laundry, Providence, Alex - certainly not cold and disinterested like the service at Manresa.
                                                                            Having already explained my disinterest in beef and desire for the 9-course menu with Angelo via E-mail my server was aware and presented me a menu "to browse - in case you changed your mind." Thanking him for the offer and requesting a copy of the tasting menu (to be sent at a later date as it is spontaneous) my server disappeared to the kitchen. Moments after he left I was presented with the glorious wine-cart which I politely declined and two bread options - the first a rather bitter olive loaf that I did not care for, but the second a wonderful sourdough that was baked with a crispy "crown" - excellent and hearty and even better with the smooth textured salted butter - I found the use of fleur de sel to salt as opposed to sea salt particularly interesting in terms of texture.

                                                                            Browsing the room I was impressed (as expected) by the decor and next presented with three magazines to peruse - Esquire, a San Francisco high-living magazine, and film magazine - given the variable (sometimes quite long) time between courses I actually found this quite interesting and beneficial to my overall experience. Moments after starting into the first article I was brought my first amuse - small croquettes/puff pastry filled with an unmemorable goat cheese and potato. Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, but generally quite boring.

                                                                            The second amuse was vastly superior to the first and consisted of an extraordinarily fresh New Caldonia Prawn with Avocado puree and pepper oil. Succulent and flawlessly prepared, the prawn was quite sizable and actually one of the best I've ever tasted while the avocado/pepper combination gave the dish a somewhat "tartar" feel without destroying the textural contrasts - a great start.
                                                                            Following the prawn I waited only minutes before my second amuse arrived - titled 64-degree Quail egg with golden osetra caviar and cedar smoke the dish consisted of a poached quail egg and caviar resting daintily atop a plastic film atop a glass filled with cedar wood smoke. With an "mg" feel akin to The Bazaar and Moto (and clearly inspired by Adria and Achatz) a simple touch of the egg released a puff of smoke from a small hole in the film and surrounds the diner with a dense aroma meant to enhance the flavor of the egg/caviar. While interesting (and even more fun to watch the elderly crowd confusedly interact with) the overall effect was somewhat blunted and the caviar, for being purported golden osetra, was somewhat bland.
                                                                            Dish one of the proper tasting consisted of Asparagus soup and (per the menu I received later by e-mail - not the hard copy I was promised by my captain) shrimp with morel mushrooms. The dish I did in fact receive, however, was the same soup prepared tableside with lobster. While I certainly would never turn down lobster as a replacement for shrimp and was actually quite impressed by the dish at the time, it became an issue later in the meal. Creamy and tasting of very fresh (and very buttery) asparagus the warm soup was wonderful while the morel taste certainly came through with great aplomb. The lobster, while fresh, was rather overcooked in my opinion - almost as though it was an afterthought.

                                                                            After a seemingly long delay (20ish minutes) dish two was presented and for myself consisted of Tuna Sashimi with live spot prawn, Japanese sea salt, and yuzu gelee. Playful in presentation and actually the best dish of the night, this dish consisted of wonderfully textured slices of toro served raw and layered with the deveined sashimi tails of the spot prawns - both perfect, both on par with the best sashimi I've ever experienced and both ever-so-slightly enhanced with the addition of spots of salt and yuzu. An additional aspect of this half of the presentation was the grating of fresh wasabi (explained ad nauseum how rare this is by my server) on sharkskin....good, spicy, but not as life-altering as they claimed. Furthering the "play with your food" concept of this dish, a second plate was served with deep-fried prawn heads and two types of lemon juice dipping sauce prepared at tableside. Though I've only had a similar preparation once before I can definitely say this version was several degrease superior - it was fantastic.

                                                                            After a much shorter delay, likely 5 minutes (and an article about, ironically, Manresa in the San Francisco magazine) my third dish was presented - Salmon with pea puree and orange jus. While I admit I am not a salmon fan at baseline, I found this dish to be "good but not great." While the salmon certainly maintained its characteristic fattiness and mildly fishy flavor, the texture was somewhat grainy - almost as though it had been frozen. Similar to the previous asparagus soup the pea reduction certainly displayed the chef's hand with fresh vegetables and the orange jus lent a unique contrast of citrus acidity that did help to balance the dish. (Notably, the alternative dish - served to a female dining with her husband at the table next to me who also received the salmon - was Japanese Blue Fish with roux scented with red onions, white polenta, shiso, spot prawn essence. This dish, and others later, made me wish the menu were presented and choices were given as it looked divine.
                                                                            Once again arriving after significant delay (20ish minutes) dish four was a bit perplexing to me. Entitled Lobster with morel mushroom and lobster hollandaise on the menu my first thought was "didn't we already do this?" As it turns out -see dish one- this was supposed to be something new. What it was, instead, was quite similar in every way to the first dish with the only difference being the butteriness of the sauce. While I'll not complain too much about excess lobster, the fact that I received 21 dishes at The French Laundry without a single repeat ingredient and 16 at Manresa without a similar flavor or texture (though some similar ingredients) left me wondering about Siegel's purported creativity.

                                                                            My next dish, again significantly delayed (without continuing to mention this, my meal took nearly 3 1/4 hours - nearly as long as my meal at TFL and I received vastly less food) was a winner, though once again upon seeing the alternative I was saddened. Presented simply and elegantly, Seared Foie Gras with pickled huckleberries and pineapple reduction was actually one of the best seared preparations I've ever tasted (Danko and One Market were slightly better) and the portion was quite substantial. Well cooked without any sinew or gaminess the tender foie was well balanced with the acidic huckleberries and incredibly sweet pineapple broth. While I wished for a bit more textural component, the dish worked. My disappointment? I prefer chilled/terrine preparations and the alternative was a terrine with port wine reduction and marcona almond that looked divine.

                                                                            Following the natural tasting menu progression, dish six of the menu proper was Quail with black rice, enoki mushrooms, and mustard greens. Having had a superb preparation of quail at La Folie and a great squab preparation at Manresa I must admit that this version was on par and the with the other fowl I'd experienced on the trip and was literally fall off the bone tender. Given the two dishes of morels already presented I was glad to see the enoki mushrooms and their decidedly fragrant aroma was quite pleasing. With that noted – there was no rice on this dish, but instead (from my notes) a “new pomme puree” that tasted mostly like a liquid baked potato. Alll in all a very solid dish featuring multiple simple flavors that came together well. The alternative choice, Duck with pineapple and garlic flower looked quite pleasing on the neighbor's table, as well.

                                                                            Next up, not enjoying beef (Kobe, again with asparagus plus butterball potato) I was presented with Lamb served with black trumpet mushrooms, ramps, and madera sauce. While not as tender and succulent as the out-of-this-world Lamb at Manresa, the preparation was quite appealing and the mild gaminess of the lamb was well tempered by the pungent yet aromatic madera wine that brought out a great deal of earthiness from the wonderful mushroom and ramp medley. While ramps won't be in season in Ohio for another few months, I found these early season ramps to be better than ours at the peak of season and certainly on par with those of Manresa and Providence.

                                                                            Transitioning from the savory to the sweet, my next dish was a Lychee sorbet with hibiscus gel and blood orange pearl. Tasty enough with its smooth and silken texture well complimented by the aromatic and flowery gel, I must say the sorbet was relatively forgettable when compared with the incredible dish at Providence and the "pearl" tasted significantly less "blood orange" than "navel orange" - lacking that sharp/bitter that may have added some nuance or "pop" to the dish. The alternative dish, Matcha Granita with genmai-cha ice cream and shiratama appeared quite oriental and would have been interesting, though given the option based on words alone I'd have selected the Lychee.

                                                                            My final dish was called Chocolate Manjari Cake with caramel and sea salt, macadamia nut ice cream, cocoa nib crisp (I'm thankful I didn't get the alternative, Yogurt Panna Cotta w/ Kiwi Basil soup, tangerine granita, tarweed honey pearl as I really dislike kiwi) and...well, it was okay. Familiar with the rare and fine Madagascar beans after which the item was named I must admit that the dish was somewhat bland in taste and somewhat bitter. While the cake was appropriately moist, my attention was more drawn to the excellent salted caramel and creamy ice cream (which I honestly thought was a stellar vanilla until I read the menu - I did not sense macadamia nut at all.) Great ingredients, great technique, but relatively flat overall - especially compared to the desserts at other Michelin Starred restaurants in California - most notably Boulevard's incredible chocolate dessert.

                                                                            My final treat of the long evening did manage to make up for my disappointment in the cake - in part because of the quality and in part because of the service. Solid silver, beautiful and ornate, the mignardises cart managed to impress where other dishes did not. Featuring a large array of items ranging from a delicious chocolate canelle to a Meyer lemon cheesecake, pistachio opera cake, marshmallow, passiion fruit chocolate, pecan brittle, caramels with a great buttery/olive oil nuance, plus lemon and rootbeer lollipops I would place this cart at number three all-time in terms of mignardises - behind only Keller's Laundry and the absolutely audacious version at Tru.

                                                                            All told I enjoyed many aspects of my meal at The Ritz Dining Room and I have no doubt that Chef Siegel knows his way around the kitchen. My question, and the reason I'd likely not return, is why so many repeats and why such flat flavors in some regards while using whimsy and producing outstanding flavors in others? Certainly I didn't go in expecting the fireworks of Moto or the refinement of The French Laundry, but honestly there were moments of brilliance akin to both - but only mere moments. Looking at some of the exotic items I was able to taste and enjoy the restaurant clearly wasn't trying to skimp or cut corners - but in fact I think they may have been trying a little too hard to say "look what we've got" to rich old men with Bentley's than "look what we can do" to people who truly love great food. Sure, fresh wasabi and golden osetra are impressive - but only if used to truly impressive effect. Would I have enjoyed the meal more had I been able to pick/choose some of the courses - likely, but I didn't get to pick at Manresa, Providence, Charlie Trotters, TFL or many others and they shined above. Great service despite the prolonged time between courses and supremely fancy digs (though I'm not sure why I was sat -literally- at the door. Also, I've still not received a hard copy of the menu despite the promises of such. For the extra $30 drive South to Kinch's place......or pay double and try the Laundry - both are better "bang for the buck."

                                                                            6 Replies
                                                                            1. re: uhockey

                                                                              The service at the Ritz is the best I've ever had. I drove up in my 91 Chevy Lumina and the valet treated me and my car as if it were a Maseratti.

                                                                              That is always one of my tests of a great restaurant. They treat everyone like their best customer no matter what.

                                                                              It is why I despise Aqua. Even when came out of some high stakes business meeting dressed to the nines ... I don't fit their desired demograpic. The first time I swear it was because I was limping. I had a podiatrist appointment next door. After being reluctant to seat me in an empty restaurant, they conceded I could be honored to eat there if I could manage to leap up on a bar stool. They didn't treat me any better the next time and since I was working in the area, again, I was dressed business appropriate.

                                                                              Chez Panisse always treats me wonderful no matter what. I loved the old Bizou (currently Coco500) because they were like that too. There was some street construction going on and they always treated the workers who came in for take out lunches like their best customers

                                                                              Anyway, that location where you sat must be where they seat people who dine alone. That was the exact same place I sat at the same hour under the same circumstances

                                                                              I'm thinking the delays in dishes might be due to your special ordering. While I had my own request ... nothing with fois gras ... it wasn't as big of an impact. So dishes were timed perfectly.

                                                                              It is odd, but because of your dislike of Chez Panisse I thought you would dislike The Dining Room in the same way. IMO, they are kindred spirits with Siegel taking things to a higher level. I think the cars parked in front wrongly colored your perception of the restuarnt. Having seen Siegel on so many local shows and early in the morning at the Ferry Plaza and San Rafael farmers markets, your statement is soooooo off whack.

                                                                              >>> I think they may have been trying a little too hard to say "look what we've got" to rich old men with Bentley's than "look what we can do" to people who truly love great food. <<<

                                                                              And the rich old people I know in SF wouldn't be into the food at The Ritz ... the service and the setting ... yes. There's only so many gold plated eggs you can eat and their tastes seem to run to the simpler and more traditional.

                                                                              The Terrace at the Ritz-Carlton
                                                                              600 Stockton St, San Francisco, CA 94108

                                                                              1. re: rworange

                                                                                I agree. The pervasive Asian influences in Siegel's food, for example, are definitely not welcome to the "old school."

                                                                                I'm not one of the beautiful and/or rich crowd, and I thought the service at the Ritz (as a guest of a friend) was wonderful. Especially since I'd just come from my very casual office. In fact, when my friend called to extend her last-minute invitation, the second thing I said (after "yes") was "I need to buy new shoes on my lunch break."

                                                                                Does the Ritz still have an amazing cheese cart?

                                                                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                  Cheese cart was indeed pretty - but, unlike the glorious Providence, not included in the tasting.

                                                                                  I agree that the service was sublime, the food just wasn't.....exciting. Having just gotten back from NYC and meals at Ssam, Le Bernardin, Jean-Georges, Scarpetta, The Modern, and Alto I can confidently say that outside of TFL, the service at The Dining Room is second to none.........the food, however, was good - but not "wow" good.

                                                                                  1. re: uhockey

                                                                                    Yep, given what you like in terms of restaurants, I would expect that you wouldn't be wowed ... although from your report there was some stuff going on there that shouldn't happen in a restaurant in that class despite personal preferences. I wonder if Seigel was in the kitchen that night.

                                                                                    I just wanted to add that I really enjoyed your reports. I meant to get back and edit my original reply but got sidetracked before the edit window ran out. It really helps for future recs in terms of what you like. I can't remember. Did you try COI on any visit? Still have to make it there, but it sounds like you would enjoy it.

                                                                                    1. re: rworange

                                                                                      I missed out on Coi, but I'll surely be back and it is on the "short list" with Cyrus, Ame , and Ubuntu. My upcoming couple months are super busy and my next trip is a weekend in Chicago - ideally with a visit to Alinea if timing works out.

                                                                                      1. re: uhockey

                                                                                        You definitely need to visit Coi. Also Meadowood and Masa's.

                                                                            2. That ends the reviews - thanks to all for following and hopefully I was able to give back. Sorry about the delays - sister graduated and I took a trip to Cleveland followed by NYC.

                                                                              4 Replies
                                                                              1. re: uhockey

                                                                                Thank you! It was truly a treat to read your detailed reviews.

                                                                                1. re: uhockey

                                                                                  Very good wirteup on your restaurant visits. I hear there is an opening at the New York Times (although I would think you would need to partake of some alcohol for the job).

                                                                                  1. re: skwid

                                                                                    i might quit my dayjob for that particular position. :-) As for the drinking, I could learn wine and champagne.

                                                                                  2. re: uhockey

                                                                                    Thank you for your reviews, uhockey. It's like living (and eating) vicariously through you. You have a magnificent way with words. Please come back soon.