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uhockey reviews The Bay Area 9/2-9/7 Including: Meadowood, Cyrus, Saison, Atelier Crenn, Commis, Redd, Benu, Plum and more.

First of all, thanks as always to the fantastic Bay Area hounds for all the recommendations.....assuming all goes well with ongoing contract negotiations I hope this place soon becomes by "Home-Board" here at Chowhound.

Reviews will be slow in coming as I tend to be long winded, but for now I'll provide the list of places I went as well as my "Top 10" things I ate. As usual the pictures will be housed in the blog and all text will be posted here at Chowhound.

The list:

Kakui
Bi-Rite
Ici
Smitten Ice Cream
Christopher Elbow
Frog Hollow Farms
Boulette’s Larder
Knead
Dynamo Doughnuts
Model Bakery
Bouchon Bakery
American Cupcake
Tartine
Four Barrel
Yountville Coffee Caboose
Ritual
Cheeseboard Collective
Pizzeria Delfina
Una Pizzeria Napoletana
Roli Roti
Zuni Cafe
Olivetto
Saison
Meadowood
Cyrus
Atelier Crenn
Commis
Redd
Benu
Plum

http://endoedibles.com

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Zuni Cafe
1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

Bouchon Bakery
6528 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599

The Cheese Board Collective
1504 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94709

Roli Roti
, Hayward, CA

Frog Hollow Farm
11435 Brentwood, Bl Brentwood, CA

Christopher Elbow
401 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA

Model Bakery
610 First Street, Napa, CA 94559

Pizzeria Delfina
2406 California St, San Francisco, CA 94115

Commis
3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

Saison
2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

American Cupcake
1919 Union St, San Francisco, CA 94123

Benu
22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103

Smitten Ice Cream
Octavia Blvd Linden St, San Francisco, CA 94102

Atelier Crenn
3127 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94123

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  1. The Best of the Best:

    #1) Knead - Butter Pecan Croissant

    #2) Benu - Abalone, Potato, Caper, Lettuce

    #3) Benu - Duck, Celery, Cherry, Shaoxing Wine

    #4) Four Barrel - Belinda Leong's B. Patisserie Canelle

    #5) Saison - Pigeon Philip Paine – 40 day aged – breast, thigh, and neck – parts of the cherry tree, cured grapes, wild flowers

    #6) Plum- Smoked Farm Egg Quinoa, Summer Squash, Padron, Crispy Squash Blossom

    #7) Redd - Tasting of Cold Foie Gras Preparations with Stonefruit, Pistachio, Brioche

    #8) Benu - Monkfish Liver, Salmon Roe, Buckwheat, Daikon

    #9) Meadowood - Cucumber Roasted in Pine

    #10) Pizzeria Delfina - Panna Pizza with Tomato Sauce, Cream, Basil, Shaved Parmigiano, and Prosciutto di Parma

    #11) Saison - Preserved Lemon 1:27

    #12) Crenn – A walk in the Forrest

    #13) Commis - Amuse of Hard poached egg yolk, puree of medjool dates surrounded by an onion soup with steel cut oat granola, chives, and malt.

    #14) Meadowood - Lobster Roasted in Sel Gris with Roasted Nori, White Seaweed, Ossetra Caviar, Lobster Mushroom, Brown Lobster Butter Sabayon, Sea Beans

    #15) Bouchon Bakery - Red Velvet Cupcake or PB&J Macaron

    http://endoedibles.com

    -----
    Bouchon Bakery
    6528 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599

    Pizzeria Delfina
    2406 California St, San Francisco, CA 94115

    Commis
    3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

    Saison
    2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

    Benu
    22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103

    10 Replies
    1. re: uhockey

      A bit gluttonous when taken en masse, but I'll break it up for readability here on Chowhound.

      Full text as below, pictures in the blog.

      Part 3: A Model Bakery, Bouchon Bakery, American Cupcake, Tartine Bakery

      http://endoedibles.com/?p=415

      Having already mentioned my trip to Healdsburg (and having not already mentioned later trips to Napa, Yountville, and St. Helena) another pastry stop on my tour would be The Model Bakery at the Oxbow Public Market – a location I’d visited previously without purchasing anything due to a picked over selection, but a location I’d vowed to return to largely based on word of mouth and their claim to producing the best English Muffin in the world – plus a seemingly logical option for an early breakfast and some pastries to take back to my apartment for the following morning when clinical duties would limit my dining options.

      Arriving early after a morning run and a smooth drive I found TMB with minimal difficulty and with street parking plentiful I made my way inside to find a short line but cases chock-full and service pleasant. Deciding to sample a number of options knowing I would take some home for the morning I ordered a few standards before asking the server what she would recommend and collecting my four options plus a strong 16oz cup of Peets’ Coffee I made my way out to the heated picnic tables to enjoy.

      Beginning first with the English Muffin – an option I first tried on its own and then with some local honey – I don’t know, perhaps I’m just not an English Muffin sort of guy but I just don’t get the hype. Sure the muffin was soft, buttery, and supple but in all reality it was just a good roll, no better than the table bread at any number of Midwest restaurants…and unfortunately as average as it was it actually turned out to be the best of what I ordered including a dry and flavorless Red Velvet Cupcake, a doughy and far too yeasty almond croissant with nary a hint of almond, and a sticky bun that was certainly sticky but essentially a dense piece of brioche with light hints of cinnamon and not enough sweet to offset the bitterness of the nuts – each item a resounding disappointment when compared to the average, but especially poor when compared to other destinations on my trip.

      Continuing north another bakery stop would be fairly predictable to anyone who knows me and taking the exit to Washington Street in Yountville just after 8:45am on Labor Day I was actually slightly surprised that the line at Bouchon Bakery was only approximately ten persons long. Saving the drama (and admitted love for all things Keller) I’ll spare you the long and drawn out details of how I went and wandered the gardens of The French Laundry, snapped pictures of (the unfortunately closed) Addendum, and stood watching the prep crew set tables at Bouchon and skip right to the order – a $24 one provided by one of four ever-pleasant employees stuffed behind the small counter that would serve as part of my breakfast for the next two days.

      Always impressed by the variability from season to season and from store to store I was glad to see that my past experiences with Bouchon remained true to this day and with at least ten entirely new items behind the glass my selection of five was boxed and bagged only momentarily before I made my way to the outdoor benches to enjoy my selections, the first two a pair of seasonal Macarons – Hazelnut and “PB&J.” Beginning first with the hazelnut, a large saucer in typical Bouchon fashion the cookie was nicely prepared with lovely notes of the filbert filling both the cookie and the creamy filling, but overall the texture was a bit off…a tad gummy after the initial crackling shell, but tasty none the less and gone in three bites. Fairing far better in terms of both taste and texture, the Peanut Butter and Jelly option proved to be one of the better macarons I’ve experienced stateside with a clean break on mastication leading to an airy and slightly dry crumb juxtaposing thick concord grape jam and dense creamy peanut butter – again gone in three bites my plan of making these choices last seemed to be in jeopardy.

      Moving next to something more filling my next two selections would prove worthy of a bite or two now with the rest saved for re-warming the day after to great effect. Beginning first with the “Sweet Monkey Bread with Butter Brioche, Caramel, Cinnamon” and moving subsequently to the “Brioche Pecan Sticky Bun” all of the issues marring the pastries at The Model Bakery were quickly forgotten as both of these options were rife with sticky cinnamon sweetness held aloft by eggy brioche while the bun was so stuffed with candied pecans that the crunchy nuts were literally falling out of both sides of the pastry with each bite.

      For my last selection I decided to re-visit an old favorite that has apparently been recently added to the Yountville repertoire after years of Vegas exclusivity – the Red Velvet Cupcake with cream cheese ice cream – and as good as that first experience in Vegas was, this is one thing that happened in Vegas that I’m glad did not stay there. Beginning first with the dense cake – cocoa accented but not overwhelming so and mellowed by notes of butter, vanilla, and something mildly earthy – it was as perfect as I remembered, but this time all the better as the thick slightly sour cream cheese frosting funneled deep down into the cupcake forming a nearly “wet” base and assuring not only a lovely frosting:cake ratio throughout, but a lovely contrast in textures that places this cupcake atop a pedestal as my best Red Velvet experience to date.

      Continuing my cupcake commentary and returning to San Francisco, another impromptu stop on my wandering the city would be at American Cupcake – a shop that despite its uninspired name was recommended to me by the very person who suggested Sweet Revenge in New York largely because of the common theme – cupcake and wine pairings. With the inside somewhere between a rap video and the Sci-Fi channel and a menu featuring everything from a cheese plate to red velvet fried chicken to pixie stick cupcakes I had to give them points for originality and with the cupcakes priced $3/ea with tax and not overly large I opted for two before making my way to the street as Pitbull thumped overhead.

      Beginning first with the standard Red Velvet I’m happy to say that my friend’s suggestion was a good one and with a nice cake to icing ratio the classic flavors of cocoa and cream cheese were in good balance as neither the dense cake or slick frosting were too sweet. Moving next to the more interesting of my two options the Butterscotch cupcake also proved to be quite impressive with a base that was mild and buttery with hints of cinnamon and frosting that tasted like the Werther’s Originals I always enjoyed when visiting my grandparents as a child. Overall another great cupcake and given the originality of the store I’d definitely consider going back for more, though my chances of dining are minimal due to the music.

      For another snack (actually lunch after clinic one day *don’t judge me*) I made my second “repeat” of the trip – this one to Tartine Bakery – a spot where I enjoyed breakfast almost two and a half years prior but vowed to return to in order to experience two items I passed on at that time. With parking nowhere to be found I did what any logical person would do and stowed my car in a delivery only spot before jogging across the street to thankfully find the line empty and the shelves full. With the smells of vanilla, cinnamon, and butter wafting into the streets my order was swiftly filled by a pleasant young woman and in less than 5 minutes I was back to my car en route for the SFMoMA where parking was admittedly more plentiful (and more expensive.

      )

      Shocked and surprised by the “Free Tuesday” sign at the MoMA I counted my blessings and collected my ticket before making my way to the café where I unbagged and unboxed my bounty to enjoy – first the still warm and oft raved Bostock, an eggy brioche that resembles a portable bread pudding more than it does a simple dessert bread. Dense and moist with layers of complexity both in terms of flavor and in texture this was perhaps the best item I’ve tasted to date from Tartine and although I generally do not love citrus the boozy orange notes married perfectly with the smooth frangipane, sliced almonds, and powdered sugar to form a flavor that was at the same time rustic yet refined – the sort of thing that could be enjoyed with or without coffee, with or without preserves, and at any time of the day.

      Moving next to what may be Tartine’s most famous dish; my second selection of the day was a small version of the Banana Cream Tart – a lovely amalgam of creamy banana pudding mixed with slices of whole banana resting in caramel soaked pastry shell and topped with curls of dark chocolate. While certainly not the world’s expert on banana cream pie (or banana pudding) I will simply say that this was the best I’ve had to date with the crust buttery and flaky (but impossible to cut with Tartine’s eco-friendly knives,) the banana cream tempered in its sweetness, and the light hand whipped cream melding perfectly with the dark chocolate – a great selection from a stellar bakery…even if their cookbook remains nearly impossible to navigate in my small apartment kitchen.

      -----
      Tartine Bakery
      600 Guerrero St, San Francisco, CA 94110

      The French Laundry
      6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

      Bouchon Bakery
      6528 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599

      Oxbow Public Market
      610 First Street, Napa, CA 94559

      Model Bakery
      1357 Main St St, Helena, CA

      Bouchon
      6534 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

      American Cupcake
      1919 Union St, San Francisco, CA 94123

      1. re: uhockey

        uhockey, I solicit your opinion....

        I am soon treating 3 friends to a faboo dinner; I owe them.

        I am currently holding a reservation for 4 at Atelier Crenn.
        I want to try someplace new, and many of the places I was considering ore on your list. To wit,: Benu, Saison, Plum, and Crenn are all possibilities. I see that Crenn, at least in terms of favorite bites, is rather far down your list.

        Taking consideratino the following, I'm curious if you'd recommend changing my selection:

        -- I fear that Benu with its $180 price tag for the tasting menu is just too pricey when multiplied by 4 people.
        -- I love tasting menus, kaiseki in particular, tend to favor japanese, french, and moroccan and italian cuisine. My favorite places are: La Folie (SF), Ryugin (Tokyo) Kitcho Arashiyama (Kyoto) Momofuku Ko (NYC). KIaiseki in particular because they progression of preparations is always very well thought out.
        -- I love contrived food, tweezer cuisine, and molecular gastronomy, but at the same time I like clean clear flavors. And I don't like any old mess, very often it needs to be grounded in a culinary tradition.

        To where would you steer me?

        1. re: pauliface

          Saison = Benu > Crenn > Plum based on food.

          The rest is really in the details.

          http://endoedibles.com

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          Saison
          2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

          Benu
          22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103

          1. re: uhockey

            Thank you for this amazing report!

            Would you say that for people who've done the tasting menu thing, Crenn is worth it for the visual impact? Or are Saison/Benu different enough from the old guard that they are worth trying first? And by old guard I mean Manresa/Cyrus/French Laundry

            1. re: Pei

              I think Crenn is worth it both for the food AND the visual impact - save for that Salmon it was great, but the service needs work.

              Benu is different from anything I've experienced - that includes Manresa, Cyrus, TFL - it isn't "The Asian Laundry" as some suggest, but something entirely unique.

              Saison - regardless of the food (which was excellent and unique but not AS unique as others) - that kitchen table is the coolest I've sat at - totally undivided from the action. I cannot comment on the main dining room experience other than to say the food is great.

              http://endoedibles.com

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              Manresa Restaurant
              320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

              Saison
              2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

              Benu
              22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103

              1. re: uhockey

                Okay uhockey -- I have made a reservation at Benu with friends in December. Very excited, thanks for the great info.

                Saison will be on the list for another time. :-)

                (Also - please check the france board? I have a questino posted there I'd like your input on.)

                -----
                Saison
                2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

                Benu
                22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                1. re: pauliface

                  I'll head over there, though I admittedly only frequent the boards of places I'm soon to be goin or have recently been.

                  I do try to answer blog posts and e-mails more more timely.

                  http://endoedibles.com

        2. re: uhockey

          Cyrus:

          Full review in blog, text as below:

          http://endoedibles.com/?p=586

          Having originally planned to dine at Cyrus for dinner but instead changing plans a few weeks prior in order to accommodate a friend who subsequently had to back out again leaving me as a party of one the story of how I ended up eating lunch alone at Cyrus is a bit convoluted to be sure, but all things being equal Chef Douglas Keane’s a Michelin 2* restaurant in Healdsburg had always struck me as the sort of place I’d love and the recent acquisition of Beard Award winning pastry Chef Nicole Plue (formerly of Redd) had placed the restaurant high on my “must visit” list a few months prior. Never shy of solo dining (actually generally preferring it) and expecting any restaurant garnering such praise to be excellent for lunch or dinner, solo or as a group I certainly went in with high expectations but in the end when asked to describe the meal a day later during dinner at Commis the best I could muster was a blasé response predicated by “I guess I should feel lucky to have the opportunity to be jaded…”

          Still not acclimated to Pacific Time and therefore beginning my day at 4am with a long run around the hills of Oakland and subsequently making my way across the Golden Gate Bridge after a morning waltz through the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market the drive north would be a lovely one through Wine County with everything in bloom for the first time in my three visits to The Bay. With traffic minimal and sun shining as I listened to Big 10 football on satellite radio I arrived in the small town of Healdsburg around noon to discover both an ongoing farmer’s market and a festival of the arts yet despite some downtown congestion I located free parking without difficulty and after originally entering the adjacent Les Mars Hotel I was quickly redirected to the small white door outside; the surprisingly understated primary entrance to Cyrus.

          With a warm and largely cream colored bar set at the restaurant entrance and the hostess having just departed to seat a couple before me I stood for a moment browsing the day’s menu sitting on the bar before I was greeted officially and opting to keep my jacket I was led through the bar while making small talk to a large well spaced two top with a great view of the whole room. Keeping things clean yet intimate with excellent overhead lighting, vaulted textured ceilings, and mostly wood tones the feel of Cyrus was both warm and welcoming and although the rather cheesy piano music playing overhead was a bit too “paint-by-the-numbers fancy” for my tastes the rest of the restaurant setting was much what you’d expect in terms of linen, crystal, customized plates, and comfortable chairs.

          Seated for perhaps two minutes before the first of many servers would stop by to ask if I’d prefer still or sparkling water I was subsequently greeted by my captain, Roger, who presented the menu and moments later stopped by with a lovely caviar and Champagne cart that actually seemed to be quite popular with other diners though I personally declined. Making note of service here so as not to belabor the topic in general I will say that it was generally a mixed bag – in general Roger was fine but other members of the service team at times seemed a bit condescending when asked questions about the cuisine and as each course was seemingly brought by someone different I really felt no sense of continuity with anyone during my 160 minute experience except for the bread girl whose bubbly personality and perpetual smile would visit my table frequently (more on that later.

          )

          With two menu options – 8 courses or 5 courses with choices – and both present in standard and vegetarian format my selection was rather simple and straight forward (though I will note in passing that one of the courses listed both online and on the menu I browsed at the bar had been changed) and noting my choices to Roger I took the opportunity to then browse the cocktail menu while things got underway.

          With my order in and my drink being readied the first item to arrive at my table would be Chef Keane’s series of canapés – 5 bites meant to highlight the five senses this time served as Warm Yuzu and Shitake Mushroom Broth, Sweet Blueberry Bubble with mint julep syrup, Poached daikon radish with almond honey butter, Sour apricot tart with amaretto meringue, and Steamed and chilled oyster with chorizo. Beginning with the brine and progressing though bitter, sour, sweet, and finally umami each focused bite certainly served its purpose and while none were memorable I certainly appreciated the concept and technique.

          Moving quite rapidly to the amuse bouche of the evening one of the questionably abrupt servers would deliver what turned out to be one of the best courses of the afternoon – a nameless dish that was much better described to the table next to me by another server consisting of Tomato and Ginger Puree, poached egg, dried corn, and togarashi spice – a more vegetal L’Arpege egg without the shell utilizing the natural sweetness of the corn to highlight the aromatic basil, ginger, and tomato while taming the heat of the pepper blend flawlessly.

          With my beverage prepared at the bar and delivered by Roger my impression of the Cyrus cocktail program is that you definitely get what you pay for – the drinks are stiff but well balanced and delicious. For my selection of the afternoon I opted for one of the late summer seasonal selections in the form of a drink called “SloeBiz” featuring Plymouth Sloe Gin, Van Gough Dutch Chocolate Vodka, Lemon Juice, Peychaud’s Bitters, and Fresh Raspberries and while largely citrus I really enjoyed the manner in which the chocolate tones overlaid the entirety of the drink while the bitters came across only as a basenote serving to ground the acids.

          Sipping my beverage the next person to arrive at my table was again Roger, this time with 2 types of butter and 2 varieties that went unexplained but were later revealed on inquiry to be Goat’s Milk butter from Mesa and Springfield farms Salted Cow’s Milk Butter with Hawaiian Red Sea Salt and English Maldon Sea Salt. Following up Roger in short order – the aforementioned bread girl wielding a mighty basket of house made breads including a Sourdough Epi, Garlic Sourdough, Brioche, Pretzel Croissant, Seeded Whole Wheat, and Warm Chive Biscuit. Never one to hold back from the breads I sampled all six during my lunch and while each was good it was the croissant and biscuit that truly shined, the later particularly with the complex Goat’s milk butter and a dash of Maldon.

          Expecting the menu proper to begin at this point I was first surprised by a “gift” from the kitchen – the first course of the vegetarian menu entitled “Gazpacho Consommé with Shishito Peppers, Lemon Cucumbers and Basil” a light and crystal clear consommé brimming with notes of cucumber and hidden flourishes of both lemon and pepper around a perfect sweet tomato. A nice start – almost a liquid salad course focused on the essence of late summer.

          With courses arriving at ten to fifteen minute intervals with some glitches in service as noted above my second (first from the main tasting) course would be described as “Nasu No Nitsuke Simmered and Chilled Eggplant with Aori Squid” and while a good dish featuring braised baby eggplant, sous vided and subsequently bruleed squid, micro wasabi salad, and tamari mirin gelee I have to admit that I was a bit put off by the last second substitution from the online and bar menu featuring this dish with abalone in place of the eggplant. While actually quite fond of eggplant in general and particularly of a version as tasty as this, abalone is abalone, eggplant is eggplant, and not all foods are created equal in my world. It was fine, no more and no less.

          For the next course I would receive my favorite bite of the afternoon, a “favorite” dish anywhere, but particularly in this format when done this well. Served with two rounds of flawless buttery brioche, titled “Foie Gras Torchon with Cherry, Pistachio, Ginger,” and described as rolled in cherry glass and crushed Iranian Pistachios with cherry paint and cherry ginger compote I will give Keane and team credit here for making one of the best cold preparations of Foie Gras I’ve ever tasted – immensely smooth and spreadable, texturally nuanced by the glass and nuts, and wonderfully balanced by both sweet and a slight bitter to show off the liver’s full range of flavors. Really, save for The French Laundry, Corton, and Everest (and later that week Redd) I cannot think of many better torchons to grace my palate.

          Moving next to the fish course of the afternoon I was served Ocean Trout with Panisse and Watercress, Red Pepper Lemon Verbena Reduction. With the fish clearly sous-vide and the skin salty and crisp the fish itself was actually quite good (especially compared to my experience later that evening at Atelier Crenn) but overall the dish was nothing outstanding, just a decent and predictable progression in the standard tasting menu format served with a fried chickpea finger, shelled English peas and dollops of pea puree, plus just a bit too much lemon for my tastes.

          With the fish course passed I could have guessed the next course to be bird without having even seen the menu and sure enough “Miso Poached Chicken with Melted Leeks and Maitake” would arrive next. Clearly harkening to Keane’s time in China this nicely portioned piece of breast arrived Miso and Ginger Glazed on a teardrop shaped plate accompanied by Melted Leeks, Spring Onion Puree, Roasted Maitake Mushroom, and Ribbon of Breakfast Radish. While formulaic in the same way I’d expect from a dish at Robuchon or Danko (where Keane was trained) with that east leaning French technique I actually really enjoyed the dish overall – particularly the manner in which the unadorned mushrooms balanced out the otherwise hefty flavors from the leeks, onions, and miso.

          With the next logical step in a tasting menu clearly a heavier protein the pastry half of the kitchen provided a brief interlude in the form of a Guava Gingerale Popsicle – a single bite on a stick that was tasty and refreshing enough but the fourth use of ginger tones on the afternoon with one more to come.

          For the “main course” of the afternoon I was given the option to add black truffles from Australia for $30 – a decision I’m glad I declined as I heard the table next to me comment on the paltry portion – and was served “Kurobuta Tenderloin with Cranberry Beans and Potato, Persillade,” a substantial portion of nicely prepared meat that was texturally excellent but essentially a one-note hit – a lot of salty/savory rescued only by the impressive parsley puree imbued with notes of garlic, chive, and horseradish.

          At this point actually feeling a bit board as the last course to truly wow was the foie gras (and before that the amuse) Roger would next wheel over the cheese cart listed on the menu as “Artisanal and Farmhouse Cheeses Presented Tableside” and after being told explicitly “3 choices only” I was asked to select. Finding this a bit confusing as none of the seventeen cheeses had been explained outside of a wave of the hand and “goat, sheep, cow” I pressed a little further and although seemingly exasperated by my interest Roger proceeded to name them off by maker and texture – no more, no less. A bit put off by the rather tame selection (I’d already experienced all but one) and limitations of the service I opted to go all California and upon selecting Point Reyes Toma, Cowgirl Creamery Redhawk, and Bohemian Creamery Bo Peep a nice sized slice of each was delivered along with a tower of condiments including a Baguette, Raisin Walnut Bread, House made Saltine Cracker and Panettone, Pear Butter, and a Fig in Honey.

          With cheeses consumed and all enjoyable (call me crazy, but I’ll take Red Hawk over Epoisse nine times out of ten) Roger returned to offer me coffee and after explaining that the coffee was Americano style I agreed to the $5 cup – a mild blend with fruity notes, plenty strong, but certainly not on par with what I’d experienced at Ritual or Four Barrel back in San Francisco proper.

          With the meal all-in-all good but far from great thus far and having heard much ado about Chef Plue’s work at Redd it was here at about the two-hour mark that the true tasting of her creativity would be put on display and after watching a playful cocoa-dusted cookies and milk presentation for the table next to me (celebrating their 5th anniversary) I was presented with the “Raspberry Yuzu Tart with Cream Cheese Ice Cream,” Yogurt Streusel and Raspberry Pixie Dust. Beginning first with the tart – essentially a creamy panna cotta atop shortbread crust – the flavors of both berries and citrus sprang forth to great effect while the slightly sour ice cream paired nicely with the sweet “dust” and crunchy dehydrated yogurt. A dish of varying tastes, textures, and temperatures this would prove to be one of the better desserts in my trip overall.

          Moving rather quickly from one dessert to the next the final dish of my tasting would arrive with a bit of sensory trickery as the large glass containing “Thai ‘Iced’ Coffee with Condensed Milk, Kaffir Lime” arrived resting amidst a base of dry ice and coffee beans extruding a river of smoke and the smell of fresh coffee. Another light dessert again featuring a variety of textures and flavors through the utilization of of sweet condensed milk tinged with coffee tones and notes of lime, crunchy candied cocoa puffs, cocoa ice, and Espresso Crema plus more I was again impressed by Plue’s use of textures and temperatures in this dish but less so by the flavor; a but too much sour coming across beneath the sweet.

          Taking my time enjoying my dessert while Roger presented the cart of mignardises to my neighbors it was with near perfect timing that I finished the Thai Coffee (and my Americano) before one of the servers would stop by with my take home gift – a buttery Puff Pastry with Valrhona Chocolate – and moments thereafter Roger would wheel the cart to my table. Having smiled at the thin woman at the table next to me pick and choose “just a macaron” despite Roger’s suggestions that more gifts could be packed in the take home box I went the other angle and just suggested “one of each on a plate – no need to box them up” and was subsequently delivered a candied apple lollipop, lychee fruit gelee, coconut macaron stuffed with dulce de leche, salted caramel chocolate, passion fruit marshmallow, milk chocolate hazelnut truffle, kalamansi ginger caramel, English toffee with almonds and saltine crackers, and a small jar of chocolate pudding with panna cotta and chocolate pearls. With each selection nicely presented and full of flavor the toffee and macaron were both standouts.

          With the room now dwindling to only a few remaining tables I watched as dinner linens were placed and pressed and after requesting a copy of the menu my check was delivered with one final bite – a hot doughnut approximately the size of a fifty-cent piece glazed with bourbon bacon and maple; it was delicious. With the paid and servers thanked (and the bread girl asking if I was sure I didn’t want “one last round”) I made my way to the sunny streets of Healdsburg just shy of 3:00pm and with the art fair still going I strolled for a bit taking in the seemingly small-town atmosphere realizing that 90% of the folks were tourists like myself – many post wine tastings and many pre – and after checking out a few local stores I made my way to the car and turned the GPS south feeling happy to have visited both the town and Cyrus – just not as happy as I’d expected; a combination of simply too many similar but better meals and perhaps having expected too much. In the end Cyrus was fine - even good – but not worth the detour, dollars, or in my experience the 2* designation.

          -----
          The French Laundry
          6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

          Sea Salt
          2512 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94702

          Cowgirl Creamery
          1 Ferry Building, San Francisco, CA 94111

          Cyrus Restaurant
          29 North St, Healdsburg, CA 95448

          Les Mars Hotel
          27 North St, Healdsburg, CA 95448

          Red Pepper Restaurant
          130 Railroad Ave, Richmond, CA 94801

          Red Sea
          5200 Claremont Ave, Oakland, CA 94618

          Yuzu
          3347 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, CA 94123

          Commis
          3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

          Crema
          411 13th St, Oakland, CA 94612

          Atelier Crenn
          3127 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94123

          1. re: uhockey

            Thanks for your opinion, Cyrus has just been pulled off my January trip to the area. Waiting for the reviews on Benu and Saison. Regarding your preference of Redhawk to Epoisses. Both cheeses have their problems. Epoisses now made by all three of it's manufacturers with thermolyzed milk has had extra salt added to increase shelf life. Redhawk is indeed a stunning product, but in the venues l have found it, generally under ripened and a little large to ripen on one's own. General spot to get it country wide is W(t)F and they cut into small segments thus preventing ripening. Had it last year at Cowgirl and was stunning as always when ripened properly. One other fact, it is a cream enhanced product while Epoisses is milk only.

            1. re: Delucacheesemonger

              I mailed you regarding issues here - would definitely recommend Saision, Benu, Crenn, Commis, and Plum over Cyrus. The cheese cart at Cyrus would leave you bored out of your mind. Meadowood is a tough call as I don't feel it warrants the 3-stars or the price tag, though it was a really great meal in terms of 90% of the food. The water charge still leaves me miffed (it is the small stuff, sometimes, that matters.)

              Thanks for the info re: Redhawk vs. Epoisses. The only place I've had Redhawk was highly acclaimed Michelin spots and Cowgirl itself so I assume my experiences are well aged. If you get a chance check out their Drake when you're in town, I really liked that.

              The more I learn about cheese the more I realize I need to learn.

              http://endoedibles.com

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              Commis
              3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

              Benu
              22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103

        3. Wow, my hat is off to you for squeezing this all in. Looking forward to the details.

          1. You must stop this absurd eating. l have finally figured out my weight gain is coming from your eating. You are skinny as a rail as l gain weight when you go away, please stop immediately. We are sort of the Dorian Gray of plumpness. Can't wait for the reviews that are fattening me.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Delucacheesemonger

              lol. Quote of the century. Even better than the Gagnaire duck quote (which I sharred with a new dining friend at Commis to great amusement.)

              I apologize for our weight gain, but I fear all your time in Paris may be "Weighing you down" and in that case I'd gladly trade places and propensity for pounds with you for a few months.

              http://endoedibles.com

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              Commis
              3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

            2. A bit gluttonous when taken en masse, but I'll break it up for readability here on Chowhound.

              Full text as below, pictures in the blog.

              Part 1: Four Barrel, Ritual Roasters, Dean and Deluca, Yountville Coffee Caboose, B. Patisserie

              http://endoedibles.com/?p=415

              With my time in Ohio coming to a close and my love of northern California no secret it probably came as little surprise to anyone that my first scheduled job interview on a short but growing list would be in the Bay Area – and to anyone who knows me it also probably came as little surprise that the majority of the trip not directly tied to the interview would be dedicated to exploring more of the region’s bountiful dining scene; a scene that had evolved substantially since my last visit two years prior.

              Undertaking my traditional routes (and degree) of research but bearing in mind the potential variability in my schedule I have to admit I went into this trip with more variability than average but at the same time I still managed to reserve seven proper meals before flying out and in total the overall openness of the schedule actually led to two other proper meals plus far more small meals, snacks, and coffee breaks than I’d have ever imagined – 22 in total. Continuing with the tradition set by the Brooklyn Pizza Crawl and continued through the Paris Patisseries and Columbus Pizza crawl here I will discuss the pastry and coffee portion of that total in the most concise manner possible; as a list of what was ordered, how it looked and tasted, and notes on the location and service as warranted.

              Beginning with the coffees and having already experienced much on my previous visit and via mail order from Blue Bottle, this trip would instead target some of San Francisco’s newer or less publicized locations – the first being Ritual Roasters not once, not twice, but thrice; In the Mission, at Bi-Rite, and then via The Yountville Coffee Caboose – each featuring a different blend, each a different brewing style, but each invariably impressive.

              Starting with the Mission flagship, a fantastic store with an ever present line, stripped down décor, and a stereo blaring Queens of the Stoneage as hipsters tapped away on the MacBooks my first taste of Ritual would be La Soledad Sacatepequez via single cup drip and with prominent notes of vanilla, peach, and caramel this slightly acidic blend would prove the worst of the three, yet still a great cup of coffee with a clean smoky finish and hints of apple.

              Moving next to the Coffee Caboose – this time prepared by Press Pot as I wandered the streets of Younville – Ritual Monte Rey Bambu from El Salvador would be a bold take on traditional Central American flavors and with a nearly syrupy mouth feel I enjoyed the sweet top notes of vanilla and chocolate so much that it ended up warranting a second cup that hinted at deeper notes of wood and citrus when enjoyed with a Red Velvet cupcake from Bouchon Bakery; a truly diverse cup of coffee my only disappointment was that the Caboose did not sell it by the bag.

              My final sampling of Ritual would prove to be the best of the bunch and after a simple cup from a multi-brew pot at Bi-Rite Bakery and Creamery I progressed to the Bi-Rite store to pick up two bags of Hacienda Carmona Guatemala, a lovely single origin blend that tasted good from the pot but vastly better from my home French Press with a tongue-coating satin texture and top notes of vanilla and almond plus fruity flavors reminiscent of figs and quince lingering on the palate.

              Progressing along both in my travels and in my tasting, another exemplary brew during my trip to Wine Country would be at Dean and Deluca in the form of Counter Culture Coffee’s Santa Elena – a cup selected as I sampled some of D&D’s well culled cheese selection (and smiled at the presence of Columbus’ own Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams in the freezer case.) Served from a multi-pour pot and featuring top notes of almond and citrus the high point of Santa Elena for me was actually once again the notes of fig and a mild cocoa flavor that worked nicely alone but particularly well with samples of Cowgirl Creamery’s Red Hawn and Sir Francis Drake.

              Neglecting to mention a few unfortunate run-ins with Starbucks and a fairly unmemorable cup of Peets’ house blend during my interview days, my final coffee-centric experience during my trip would be with Four Barrel – first at the Mission Flagship and later at Dynamo Doughuts…and both times with pastries in toe. Beginning first with Four Barrel storefront I must admit I remain impressed with the Bay Area’s caffeine addiction as I arrived after a long morning run to find a line already formed before the crew had even opened the doors. Chatting with a couple locals as I waited the line reached a total of twenty before the door clicked open and making our way in I was instantly struck first by the bourbon, chocolate, and wood smells and next by the music – J.Mascis and the Fog. Queued up and with the single origin drip counter not yet running I made my way to the front counter where I was greeted by the young female barista and exploring the options I selected a cup of Columbia San Agustin la Cabana along with two pastries from Manresa alum Belinda Leong’s “B. Patisserie” before making my way to a table.

              Beginning first with the coffee – poured from multiple cup pot my first taste was a bit of a shock largely because of impressive thickness of the brew; perhaps the thickest and most velvety mouth feel of any non-French Press I’ve ever had. Tasting the coffee first solo and then with my pastries I was particularly impressed by the dense vanilla and floral tones of the beans and later reminisced of the woody fig notes that clung to the palate. A strong cup fitting my “ideal” flavor profile to the letter this would be the other coffee I brought back in Ohio – 24oz for $32.

              Moving on to the pastries – something I was quite excited about having heard excellent things about B. Patisserie as Four Barrel has migrated their collection away from Dynamo and Telltale – while there were many options the two that struck me right away were the Cannelle and the Chocolate Croissant, both golden, still warm, and surprisingly well priced at $2 and $3 respectively. Beginning first with the croissant – a very strong example with a golden crackling exterior and large pockets of air within I was particularly smitten with the thick ribbon of dark chocolate and its nearly mousse-like texture and eating quickly while the pastry was still warm I can say without a doubt that while not “Paris quality” it was definitely worth getting up for while it was still warm.

              Moving on to the Cannelle – oh what a pastry this was – better than Boulette’s Larder and as good as all but the archetype example I had from Laurent Gras’ tenure at L2o. Clearly made in beeswax molds and with an audible crack on mastication the lightly eggy custard interior was nearly rice-pudding meets Chinese Egg-custard in texture and presented still warm and slightly soupy with light vanilla tones and slight boozy finish were textbook – the sort of thing that makes you think that just maybe we are catching up to the French.

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              Manresa Restaurant
              320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

              Bouchon Bakery
              6528 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599

              Cowgirl Creamery
              1 Ferry Building, San Francisco, CA 94111

              El Salvador Restaurant
              2278 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

              Blue Bottle Cafe
              66 Mint St, San Francisco, CA 94103

              Brooklyn Pizza
              219 Jones St, San Francisco, CA 94102

              Columbus Pizza
              31871 Alvarado Blvd, Union City, CA 94587

              1. A bit gluttonous when taken en masse, but I'll break it up for readability here on Chowhound.

                Full text as below, pictures in the blog.

                Part 2: Dynamo Doughnuts, Frogs Hollow Farm, Boulette's Larder

                http://endoedibles.com/?p=415

                Having already mentioned that my second run-in with Four Barrel was at Dynamo Doughnuts there should really be no surprise that it was once again preceded by a line – in part because the place always seems to have a line (unless they are sold out as was the case during my previous visit) and in part because I arrived ten minutes before owner Sara Spearin and team had even lifted the metal awning and opened the doors.

                With the morning sunny and the Mission already thriving with activity I took my place as fifth in a line that would grow to over twenty in a short time and featuring a mixture of both locals and tourists ranging from five to sixty five we stood chatting until the door opened, a young man sweeped the stoop, and a list of the days flavors was hung; it was at that point that I realized my eyes and my stomach were going to have a battle of the wits and with some folks opting to order at the window I stepped inside not only to order, but to watch the kitchen at work.

                Having heard great things about Dynamo’s approach and ingredients it I stood and waited while the customers before me ordered and browsing the kitchen full of Clover Organic milk, organic flour, whole butter, and natural palm shortening I immediately felt a bit better about the $2-3 price per doughnut and with the couple before me picking up their order to take a seat I stepped up and placed my order – a coffee plus five doughnuts; some for now and some for consumption during the Giants afternoon game at AT&T field.

                Beginning first with the coffee – prepared “Americano” style – I enjoyed a cup of Four Barrel’s signature “Friendo Blendo” with thick citrus notes that at first did not sit well with my palate, but improved drastically after I began enjoying my pastries. Difficult to assess due to its style of preparation I will simply say the jury is still out on Friendo, but left to my own devices I’d sooner focus on their single origin selections and save blends for the espresso crowd.

                Moving on to the main attraction my doughnut choices of the day included the famous Maple Glazed Bacon Apple along with four of the eleven rotating options; Caramel de sel, Dougnut Bread Pudding, Sticky Bun, and (reportedly for the first time in 3 months) Buckwheat Corn Peach, and with each still warm I opted to eat a portion of each immediately and save the rest for later…a good plan, though poorly implemented as not much was saved.

                Beginning first with the Maple Bacon Apple I’ve got to hand it to Dynamo – as much as I’m growing tired of the hipster-affinity to add bacon to everything this was a very well balanced doughnut with a golden crispy exterior and buttery soft crumb balancing savory and sweet with a slight bourbon undertone and plenty of sweetness punctuated by the smoky pork. Moving next to the Bread Pudding I was a bit let down largely because I love bread pudding and this was simply not as good as it could have been. Reportedly crafted from day old doughnuts soaked in custard with seasonal fruits mixed in it really wasn’t that the pudding was not good, but simply that save for the few bites with plump blueberries the flavor profile was simply “sweet” with little nuance or textural variability.

                Moving back to the doughnuts my next taste from Dynamo would be the Buckwheat Corn Peach featuring an astoundingly toothsome texture bespeckled with whole kernels of corn and diced peaches plus notes of cinnamon and nutmeg adding an aromatic undertone to the whole pastry. Topped with a “peaches and cream” frosting that was more creamy than sweet and with an overall mouth feel somewhat akin to a Little Debbie doughnut stick this was where my plan to only try a bite or two of each began to fall apart – I ate the whole thing without a second thought.

                Showing a bit of restraint my next two selections would prove to be as good as billed and eating part right away while leaving the rest for the game I particularly loved the profound sweetness of the caramel option (doughnut texture similar to the Maple Bacon Apple) as crystals of fleur de sel formed a nearly “burnt caramel” flavor profile overlying light notes of orange as well as the “sticky bun” – a half chocolate/half vanilla spiral densely coated top to bottom with caramelized milk, cinnamon, and what I swear were notes of saffron.

                With friendly service and an open kitchen well worth spending a few minutes observing I will simply say that save for the bread pudding Dynamo absolutely lives up to the hype and while slightly more pricey than Chicago’s Doughnut Vault and New York’s Doughnut Plant the quality off the ingredients, service, and product are well worth the cash and the calories.

                Moving along in my travels Saturday morning would predictably be spent at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market prior to an impromptu trip north to dine at Cyrus. Knowing that I did not want to overindulge but wanting to pick up some snacks for breakfast while browsing the bounty of fruits and vegetables that will soon disappear from Ohio for at least five months my first stop of the morning (after enjoying samples of somewhere between ten and one hundred types of plums, strawberries, peaches, and figs) would be at Frog Hollow Farm for a taste of two of their fabled tartlets – the first seasonal blueberries and the second their signature risotto.

                Beginning first with the blueberry selection there really isn’t much I can say that isn’t obvious from a photo – flawless plump blueberries lightly cooked with sugar and lemon zest packed into a flaky pastry crust – it was warm, dense, and the sort of rustic preparation that will never win a beauty contest but doesn’t really need to in order to be fantastic.

                Moving next to the risotto tart, an item I’d targeted on my previous visit to San Francisco only to find it sold out, the presentation was again rustic but unlike the blueberry option this one was quite unlike anything I’ve ever experienced; a portable rice pudding with diced currants plus notes of orange, vanilla, and cinnamon dancing across the palate. Generally more a fan of bread pudding than rice pudding largely because I tend to find the texture of rice pudding a bit too homogenous what particularly enthralled me with this item was actually the toothsomeness of the risotto – soft and creamy yet with each grain still retaining most of its characteristic texture, like a baked version of the riz au lait at L’Ami Jean.

                Not entirely sated from the options at Frog’s Hollow my second stop at the Ferry Plaza would again be for an item I missed out on during my prior visit – the Cannelle at Boulette’s Larder – a $3.50 one-to-two bite bee’s wax baked custard that although warm and tasty with a crisp shell and creamy interior simply did not hold a candle to the version I had from B. Patisserie at Four Barrel at nearly half the price. Disappointed but willing to give them a second chance even after I was *yelled* at for taking a picture my second selection, a salty peanut cookie ($1.50 and about the size of an Oreo) would fare slightly better with the minimal use of flour as a binder to what was likely 90% peanut and 5% salt proving to be quite tasty but invariably not worth the price. A nice concept for a store, sure, and if I needed duck confit or high end quinoa perhaps I’d come back but all things being equal I’d strongly recommend getting your pastries elsewhere.

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                Frog Hollow Farm
                1 Ferry Bldg # 46, San Francisco, CA