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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.

uhockey Sep 12, 2011 12:11 PM

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. uhockey RE: uhockey Sep 12, 2011 12:30 PM

    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

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    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
      uhockey RE: uhockey Sep 13, 2011 05:07 PM

      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.

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      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
        p
        pauliface RE: uhockey Sep 13, 2011 05:50 PM

        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
          uhockey RE: pauliface Sep 21, 2011 04:17 PM

          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
            Pei RE: uhockey Sep 30, 2011 07:47 AM

            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
              uhockey RE: Pei Sep 30, 2011 04:54 PM

              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
                p
                pauliface RE: uhockey Oct 5, 2011 11:12 AM

                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.)

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                Saison
                2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

                Benu
                22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                1. re: pauliface
                  uhockey RE: pauliface Oct 5, 2011 12:02 PM

                  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
          uhockey RE: uhockey Sep 21, 2011 03:02 PM

          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
            Delucacheesemonger RE: uhockey Sep 22, 2011 12:27 AM

            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
              uhockey RE: Delucacheesemonger Sep 25, 2011 10:09 AM

              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

              -----
              Commis
              3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

              Benu
              22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103

        3. l
          Leely2 RE: uhockey Sep 12, 2011 12:34 PM

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

          1. Delucacheesemonger RE: uhockey Sep 12, 2011 12:51 PM

            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
              uhockey RE: Delucacheesemonger Sep 12, 2011 01:15 PM

              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

              -----
              Commis
              3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

            2. uhockey RE: uhockey Sep 13, 2011 05:03 PM

              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.

              -----
              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. uhockey RE: uhockey Sep 13, 2011 05:05 PM

                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.

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

                1. uhockey RE: uhockey Sep 13, 2011 05:08 PM

                  Knead Patisserie gets its own post. If you haven't been, go.

                  Full text as below, pictures in the blog.

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

                  With Bouchon, Tartine, Frogs Hollow Farm, and B. Patisserie all wowing my palate with a multitude of sweets and treats I will simply say here that as accomplished as they all are the best pastries I experienced on this trip to San Francisco (and perhaps the best pastries I’ve experienced anywhere in the United States) were found at a counter tucked in the back of Local Mission Eatery; a counter titled “Knead Patisserie” that I most certainly would have never found were it not for the fantastic @kelseats. How good was Knead? I visited it twice in the same trip, something that has only happened once *ever,* when I made daily trips to Bouchon Bakery Las Vegas because I was staying at the Venetian.

                  With the counter small but neatly maintained and Shauna Des Voignes plus another young lady working diligently in back my first stop at Knead would be on a Sunday morning just moments after opening – when the shelves were full and the pastries still warm. With at least twelve selections available I decided to peruse the options for a moment and after some deliberation I decided three choices would be enough (I mean I’d just been to Dynamo Doughnuts after all) and with the selections boxed up I made my way to the streets of the Mission to enjoy.

                  Beginning with what has become Knead’s “signature” my first taste of Shauna’s work was the Palm D’Amore – a bite that carefully straddles the line between a traditional egg custard and a crème brulee all housed in a warm and flaky puff pastry shell. Slightly eggy but mostly sweet, a bit boozy but balanced by butter and yeast, plus a golden crackle to the top giving way to a barely set custard…I really have no idea how she pulls off such a balance, but however it is done I’ve really never experienced anything like it.

                  Moving next to a more traditional option, the Blueberry Palmier proved to be a rather traditional take on the classic “elephant ear” cookie with the same buttery puff pastry as the Palm baked into a crispy yet pliable curl topped with granulated sugar and layered with rich blueberry compote. While not the revelation that was the Palm or my subsequent selection there was a certain lightness to this cookie that I really enjoyed even as the crackling shell and granulated sugar made a mess of my blazer.

                  For my final bite during that first fateful day at Knead I enjoyed what turned out to not only be the best thing I ate in the Bay Area, but also the best Croissant I have ever tasted; a pastry simply entitled “Butter Pecan Croissant” that can be best described as a scientific experiment in maximizing the amount of buttery flavor and textural nuance one can fit into a dense yet wispy French pastry. While admittedly prone to hyperbole regarding the things I love, think literally thousands of paper thin layers with an immaculate shell that shattered with the lightest of pressure. Think of yawning air pockets imbued with the flavor of brown butter and candied toasted pecans. Think of each bite punctuated by a crackling sound followed by top notes of sweetness, base notes of salty butter and the sort of flavors that make you close your eyes and smile. Yeah – its exactly like that, maybe better.

                  For my second visit to Knead I really did not need a reason considering my first experience, but with a 9 hour (2-layover) flight back to Ohio leaving at 6:00am from OAK the following morning I just couldn’t bear the thought of surviving a whole day on airline peanuts and whey protein when I could instead be enjoying more of Shauna’s handiwork – this time a quartet of options including a Blackberry Fig Turnover with Chicory Sauce, a Cherry Chocolate Chunk Scone, and two cookies - Chocolate Chip Cookie and Snickerdoodle.

                  Beginning the following day with a quick drive to the airport and a cramped flight to LAX my first tastes from this round of Knead would be the cookies largely because I wanted to wait to warm the others and while the Chocolate Chip was relatively standard fare – good but not great with ample notes of butter and cocoa – the Snickerdoodle was outstanding, the cinnamon sweetness enhanced by something I still can’t put my finger on…perhaps cloves or nutmeg, or perhaps Chinese five-spice…but memorable none the less.

                  Arriving at LAX with an hour to find a microwave and make it from the Terminal 1 to Terminal 3 I was fortunate to jog past a Starbucks where my agreement to purchase a coffee (a decent 20th anniversary blend with light woody notes) convinced the young lady at the counter to heat up my pastries and although I did not have time to eat until I was seated on the plane my pastries remained plenty warm. Beginning first with the scone as the chocolate had made a small brown puddle on the base of the box I will simply say that warmed up this was hardly a scone, but more like a buttermilk biscuit with pockets of butter, cherries, and dark chocolate beneath crunchy crystals of sugar; in other words if it was a scone it was one of the best I’ve ever tasted and my only regret is that I did not order the brown cinnamon one as well.

                  Sated but not wanting to miss out on the luxury of the warm turnover my final taste of Knead (at least until I come back to San Francisco) would be another revelation not only because it contained two of my very favorite fruits, but because within this golden and buttery shell was something I’d have never expected – the essence of the campfire – a gift of the subtle notes of chicory and a flavor so bold it temporarily made me, certainly not the outdoorsy type, reminisce of my few experiences with campfire pies and forget that I was breathing recirculated air and sitting next to a man easily two times my size wishing I had a place to put my left arm…yep, again, that good.

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

                  Bouchon
                  6534 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                  Local Mission Eatery
                  3111 24th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                  Knead Patisserie
                  3111 24th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                  1. uhockey RE: uhockey Sep 17, 2011 01:22 PM

                    Another long-style summary of bites, broken down for readibility here at Chowhound. Further updates will be individual restaurant reviews.

                    Full text as below, pictures in the blog.

                    Part 1: Pizza (Una Pizzeria Napoletana, Pizzeria Delfina, Cheeseboard Pizza Collective)

                    http://endoedibles.com/?p=478

                    Moving from bakeries to savories and then to chocolates and ice-cream the rest of my quick meals and ancillary bites during this visit to the Bay Area would run the gamut from $3 chocolates to a $20 pizza to a $48 chicken – some enjoyed with others, some by myself, and some saved as leftovers for the next day (or a late night snack.) Beginning first with the savories my first “food destination” after hopping off the plane and having lunch with my interviewer would be a place I’d unfortunately missed out on by literally 20 minutes during a previous visit to New York City – a place that likely needs no introduction to those interested in pizza or haute-cuisine; Una Pizzeria Napoletana.

                    Owned and operated by famed pizzaiolo Anthony Mangieri – a man so dedicated to his craft that he imports everything in his pizza (rumor has it even the water) from Italy I have to admit that my expectations walking in the door were high – much like my visit to Great Lake in Chicago or Lucali in Brooklyn I simply wondered how much better his product could be than the competition in order to justify a ~16 hour work week, a line-up before opening, two hour waits for a table, and $20 per pie with no modifications allowed. Sure I’ve never been to Italy, but I have to say I’ve had some great pizza at less cost and far less hassle, but arriving 15 minutes before opening I actually managed to nab free parking and was fifth in line when the garage door lifted and the doors were unlocked.

                    Entering the former garage and greeted first by one of three servers and then Mangieri himself I have to say that although a bit sparse I actually have to give the team at UPN some credit for the design – minimalistic to be sure with the handmade turquoise oven dominating the center of the room, but incredibly appropriate for the restaurant’s “Pure and Honest” theme. Confirming my seating was for one I was given my choice of seats and opting for the back corner so I could watch Mangieri work I browsed the menu for a mere moment before placing my order; to be quite honest the menu is short and I was there for the Margherita.

                    With Mangieri chatting up a table of regulars it would be mere moments before my water was full and essentially the second my order was placed the chef stepped up to his counter, washed his hands, and gently picked up a ball of dough – first kneading it, then spreading it, topping it, and placing it delicately in the oven. Astutely watching the temperature of the oven while he worked and frequently rotating my pie the experience was quite like that at Lucali but in broad daylight and less than ten minutes later the still bubbling (uncut) pie was resting before me with the air perfumed by basil and tomatoes.

                    Working with utensils first so as not to burn my hand (or mouth) and cutting through the crust my first bite of the pizza was precisely what I expected – the tart sweetness of San Marzano tomatoes, the slight funk of authentic buffalo mozzarella, a tinge of salt, and poignant notes of basil – it was precisely what I expected and it was sitting atop a crust that is rivaled only by Lucali in my experience for best ever – crisp yet toothsome and robust with the naturally leavened pockets smoky at times and sweet at others…truly remarkable with the center largely liquid and the outer ring just short of crunchy.

                    With plenty of time before dinner and tables still open I took my time eating and with my carafe of water refilled before half empty service was excellent throughout – never did I feel rushed and watching Anthony turn out pie after pie one at a time was like watching an artist or musician compose a work of art. Overall a great experience and although perhaps not a “bargain” considering the $26.00 bill (after tax and tip) nor the best pizza of the trip (for someone who prefers a topping or two) a spot well worth visiting to see simplicity perfected.

                    While not complimented with enough time or co-diners to engage in another pizza-crawl (a la Brooklyn or Columbus) during this trip, a second mandatory stop during this visit to San Francisco was to another Mission favorite – this time the oft-raved Pizzeria Delfina; a location not only open 7 days a week for dinner but also open six days per week for lunch and featuring a wide variety of toppings and choices thereby making it far more accessible than Una Pizzeria.

                    Having heard excellent things about the small storefront but horror stories of the limited seating leading to waits greater than two hours I planned my arrival to Delfina well and having spent the morning wandering the Mission I walked up to the front doors mere minutes after 11:30am to find myself the first guest to arrive and greeted by a pleasant young woman I was told to sit anywhere I liked – the bar being the most logical option given the comfortable looking backed-stools and the opportunity to watch the kitchen in action. With a menu in place but my order largely pre-determined by my research I politely listened to a list of the day’s specials and hearing none that sounded better than my original target I made my selections and was left to nibble on the crisp grissini while sipping water and listening to The Shins and Band of Horses as the restaurant slowly filled to capacity.

                    With the small kitchen plainly visible through the array of fresh ingredients before me it was interesting to watch the cooks at Delfina in jovial spirits assemble my pizza and place it in the oven with other pies while chatting about work and life with their co-workers – a stark contrast to Anthony Mangieri’s zen-like approach days prior and with the smell of fresh herbs and yeasty dough in the air I grew more excited as I waited approximately fifteen minutes for my pizza to be baked, sliced, and served up hot and bubbling.

                    Considered by some publications to be the best pizza in San Francisco proper my selection of the Panna Pizza with added Prosciutto di Parma turned out to be an absolutely stellar decision and one of those fortuitous moments where something definitely lived up to the hype. Beginning first with a cracker thin crust with a small amount of bubbly char and blistered air pockets I’ll simply say that this is crust done right and while not as perfect as that at Una at the edges, actually better at the center where a slight doughiness held up well to the wet ingredients; a lovely amalgam of sweet yet mildly acidic tomato sauce and smooth and tangy cream plus fresh basil, sea salt, and shavings of both parmigiano and prosciutto – each in perfect balance.

                    Making short work of the $16 pie my server made her way back over to check in and see if I wanted anything else – an obvious “yes” to anyone who knows me and my love for Baba Au Rhum, in this case a seasonal selection entitled Baba Rum with Peach Sauce that arrived in short order as the cake was already prepped and stored in the refrigerator ready to be filled, soaked, topped, and served. Beginning first with the cake I will note that this Neapolitan-styled version of the French classic utilized a fairly open sponge to great effect allowing the dish to soak up a substantial amount of rum yet by filling it with cream and currants the team at Delfina actually managed to temper the booze quite admirably while a pool of reduced peach puree added a touch of sweetness that made everything all the more fragrant. Simple in presentation and light on the stomach despite its large size and flavor this baba proved to be a veritable bargain at $7, as well.

                    With the restaurant now full and a small line beginning to form my waitress returned surprised I’d finished the baba so quickly and declining coffee the check was presented as the soundtrack progressed to Radiohead – ironically “Everything in its Right Place” which is pretty much exactly how I felt about the food, style, and service at Pizzeria Delfina.

                    For my final pizza stop during this trip out west I found myself in the lovely (kinda) city of Berkeley shopping for used music and books and having heard good things about The Cheeseboard Collective and next-door Cheeseboard Pizza Collective I decided to stop in for a look. Beginning first with the Cheeseboard I will first say that although I’ve certainly seen a better selection of cheeses I don’t know that I’ve ever met people more interested in discussing their selection. With a largely local slant to the collection there were a number of “new-to-me” cheeses on display and while I admitted up front that I was not likely to buy much/any as I was flying out early the next day the young man behind the counter offered me countless samples and long (but not long-winded) descriptions of what he thought was most interesting; it was the kind of customer service that brings clients back and if I end up living locally I will undoubtedly return.

                    Moving past the cheese bar and excellent customer service I next decided to browse the breads and pastries as a potential dessert for my pizza and although there were many nice looking options none save for the Sticky Bun really jumped out at me after some of the other great pastries I’d had on the trip and knowing I had Knead in a cooler in the car for the next day’s flight I opted only for the Sticky Bun – a nicely prepared crispy whole wheat version with plenty of brown sugar and maple notes marrying with aromatic pecans and the buttery pastry.

                    Featuring only one (vegetarian) pizza per day my choice of a half “Fresh Corn, Onions, Chile Pasillas, Mozzarella and Feta, Garlic Oil, Cilantro, Key Lime Pizza” for $10 would unfortunately turn out to be much less impressive than either the customer service or the sticky bun and to be perfectly honest what I received was only a pizza in name but more accurately described as a really fresh (warm) salad served atop warm bread rather than crust; certainly better than the rocket pizza I was subjected to at Chez Panisse Café, but save for the sweetness of the corn and the intriguing kick of the lime balancing out the heat from the peppers definitely nothing to write home about and certainly not worth $10/half, organic or not.

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

                    -----
                    Delfina Restaurant
                    3621 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

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

                    Pizzeria Delfina
                    2406 California St, San Francisco, CA 94115

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: uhockey
                      Trumpetguy RE: uhockey Sep 18, 2011 10:36 AM

                      Awesome to read! Next time try Tony's Pizza Napoletana in North Beach, my fave :)

                      -----
                      Tony's Pizza Napoletana
                      1570 Stockton St, San Francisco, CA 94133

                      1. re: Trumpetguy
                        uhockey RE: Trumpetguy Sep 18, 2011 10:50 AM

                        It is on the "future" list along with Pizzaiolo in Oakland. Try as I might I can't yet eat non-stop. :-)

                        http://endoedibles.com

                        -----
                        Pizzaiolo
                        5008 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

                    2. uhockey RE: uhockey Sep 17, 2011 01:23 PM

                      Another long-style summary of bites, broken down for readibility here at Chowhound. Further updates will be individual restaurant reviews.

                      Full text as below, pictures in the blog.

                      http://endoedibles.com/?p=478

                      Part 2: Savories (Zuni's Chicken, Roli Roti's Porchetta

                      )

                      Moving along in my exploration of some of the Bay’s most celebrated dishes another destination would be Zuni Café, a restaurant I’d passed on during my last visit for two reasons; the fact that I was lacking a co-diner and the fact that the only item that truly intrigued me was a $48 chicken designed for two (which in retrospect I guess is only one reason in the setting of someone who once ate a whole lamb shoulder at Zahav…but I digress.) At first planning to skip Zuni once again as I simply couldn’t justify the price or the portion as a snack and did not want to commit to a full meal it was with great fortune that literally a few weeks before flying out it became known to me that a friend had recently relocated to San Francisco from Boston – a friend, no less, well versed in clean eating and nutrition as it relates to bodybuilding (IE an expert in all the ways to prepare a chicken breast as a source of low fat protein, often at the expense of taste.)

                      With a long morning jog, wandering the Mission, and six innings at AT&T Park behind me (plus dinner plans at Commis at for 7:30) the plan was to meet Jeff at Zuni around 3:30pm – after the brunch rush but before dinner – and therefore reservations were reportedly unnecessary when I called to inquire, yet unfortunately when I arrived at the restaurant just after 3:00 and stepped up to the hostess stand I was told that it would be an hour before we could sit in the dining room but that seating in the front bar was available “immediately.” Slightly confused by this fact given the 3/4 empty space but not wanting to cause a fuss I stated that this arrangement would be “fine” and two steps later I found myself seated at a somewhat shaky table for two where I was greeted by our server, a young and entirely inattentive Hispanic man who dropped off menus and disappeared.

                      With Jeff running late due to a combination of traffic and parking and myself growing impatient due to the earth-mother next to me making strange requests for meal modifications to fit her children’s needs I seized the opportunity to hail our waiter the next time I saw him and requesting a glass of water I inquired as to whether I could place an order for the chicken then and have some bread – a toothsome cold sourdough served with creamy salted butter that I quite enjoyed but was careful to go easy on due to my rather aggressive dining agenda for the day.

                      With Jeff arriving moments after our order was placed and pleasantries exchanged our server once again appeared to fill our water glasses and on inquiring as to whether we would like anything while we waited for the chicken a quick perusal of the limited afternoon menu led to the decision of a shared appetizer – the polenta with mascarpone – and a coffee for Jeff…a coffee that would require a second request twenty minutes later and still arrive only perhaps ten minutes before the chicken.

                      With conversation flowing about everything from how we each ended up in town to the crazy world of sports nutrition it would be only perhaps fifteen minutes before our first course of the afternoon would arrive and although simple and rustic it truly was one of the best preparations I’ve ever tasted with the cornmeal a medium grain and perfectly textured balancing against the creamy mascarpone and just a touch of salt and cracked black pepper. A veritable bargain at $6 for two large bowls I would recommend this to anyone visiting Zuni without hesitation.

                      With the table next to us thankfully clearing out and the service stepping up a notch to keep water and coffee full the arrival of our main course, a dish considered by some to be the #1 “must try” dish in San Francisco, was announced by the hostess first rearranging our silverware to accommodate the plate and then by an aroma somewhere between sweet and savory, vinegar and rosemary, garlic and onion…and utterly enticing.

                      Described in the menu as “Roasted chicken for two with warm bread salad with scallions, currants, and pine nuts” but invariably more than the sum of its parts enough has been written about Zuni Café’s chicken to fill a book, but carrying such a hefty price tag I (and my friend, largely inexperienced with fine dining) can only say it is worth the price in precisely the same way Guy Savoy’s Volaille de Bresse en Vessie is worth nearly three times as much – it redefines any preconceived notions you may have about chicken being boring. Beginning first with the bird itself – uniformly succulent and wowing you at each turn with its subtleties the crisp skin was nearly shattering and briny yet lacking fattiness and grease while the flesh was so moist I could have been fooled to believe it was sous-vide. Moving on to the bread salad – at times crispy and others soaked with chicken drippings and olive oil – I absolutely loved the manner in which it augmented the chicken’s taste with the sweetness of currants poking through with one bite and then the bitter mustard greens with another all under the veil of occasionally spicy notes of black pepper bringing the marjoram, garlic, and onion to full attention.

                      Eating slowly as we chatted (and ooh’d and ahh’d) I first enjoyed a breast, then a leg, and then a thigh plus a substantial amount of the salad before I realized just how big the bird was and taking into consideration my plans for the evening I decided the better part of valor was to stop here – a gesture that provided Jeff with at least lunch and possibly dinner for the following day – and commending us on our effort the hostess collected our plate and returned it to the kitchen for packaging before returning and offering us dessert which we considered but declined and subsequently presenting the bill – a tab that really did not seem all that out of line given the quality and quantity of the food.

                      Having heard some people complain that Zuni is expensive for what it is; essentially food you could just as easily prepare at home I will note that while this may be true the fact of the matter is that I don’t prepare this sort of food at home very often and when I do it usually doesn’t taste this good. While service could certainly use a little work and I’m still uncertain as to why we were sat up front I can say without batting an eye that I’d absolutely go back to Zuni in the future to try some of their brunch and/or dinner items and all things being equal if I went back with my family I’d probably order a chicken to share once more.

                      With the supposed best chicken in San Francisco noted above my final savory snack during this trip would be perhaps the most famous pig in all of California – porchetta served by the son of a master butcher out of the side of a shiny silver rotisserie with wheels; a veritable Airstream of slow rotating pork (and some chicken too) whose aroma perfumed a circumference of at least 100 yards and drew a crowd of at least twenty before 8am on a Saturday with the line growing to perhaps fifty by 9:00.

                      Titled Roli Roti and seemingly as popular with locals as with tourists and as much with “foodies” as with people simply curious as to what that intoxicating aroma was all about I will go ahead and spare you the details of my early arrival and the subsequent wait only to say that while I was fortunate find myself fourth in line when the sandwiches went on sale in retrospect an hour or more may have been worth it. To say the least the sandwich was fantastic.

                      Beginning first with the bread – provided by ACME and sliced to order – the thick white roll was somewhat similar to thick French style crusty bread yet slightly more dense providing on one hand a chewy mouth feel and on the other plenty of sponge to sop up the plentiful juices. Moving next to the toppings – a tangle of baby greens, onion marmalade, and crunchy salt – a bitter/sweet and vegetal balance to the hefty pork. Finally, the aforementioned porchetta – juicy and robust yet surprisingly light given the thin cuts and full of flavor laced with crisp crackling skin…if there is a better way to serve pork I’ve yet to find it anywhere.

                      -----
                      Zuni Cafe
                      1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

                      Roli Roti
                      , Hayward, CA

                      Commis
                      3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

                      1. uhockey RE: uhockey Sep 17, 2011 01:25 PM

                        Another long-style summary of bites, broken down for readibility here at Chowhound. Further updates will be individual restaurant reviews.

                        Full text as below, pictures in the blog.

                        http://endoedibles.com/?p=478

                        Part 3 Chocolate and Ice Cream (Smitten, Ici, Bi-Rite, Christopher Elbow

                        )

                        With savories, bakeries, and fine dining well represented another focus of my San Francisco snacking would be ice cream – an area where Humphry Slocombe still reigned supreme as my favorite ice cream of all time despite being from a place many consider to be one of America’s Ice Cream “capitals” in Columbus Ohio. Beginning first with the novel preparations of Smitten, a relative newcomer to the scene based on owner Robyn Goldman’s liquid nitrogen small-batch/from-scratch concept I arrived at the small…shed…late in the afternoon to find a small line. Taking my place in the queue and reading the signage about Smitten’s concept of “using only the freshest, purest, locally sourced and seasonal ingredients” while hoping that what they lacked in ambiance was made up for in taste I made my way to the front of the line where I placed my order, paid my $4, and proceeded to wait perhaps 10 minutes for my cone.
                        Seeing others receive their product before me – a selection of four rather standard flavors with some outlandish toppings including candied jalapenos – I had to admit I was excited when my name was finally called as everyone really seemed to love what they had ordered, yet when I finally received my selection of TCHO Chocolate on a pizzelle cone I was instantly of mixed emotions because although good and certainly chocolate I guess I expected more both in flavor and in portion. Beginning first with the ice cream – a bit of a misnomer as what Smiitten is serving is more like cold pudding in texture – the flavor was fine, but for $4 and a 25-minute wait I could have had twice as much ice cream (and two different flavors) elsewhere with less “technology” and just as fine of ingredients. Moving next to the cone – actually the star of the show – the hand made pizzelle was actually fantastic with a crisp exterior and just a bit of “chew” supporting the small dollop of ice cream. Overall it was worth the try and I’d consider going back to sample some of the more esoteric fruit flavors, but considering the quality of The Bay Area’s Ice Cream scene I most certainly wasn’t *sorry* smitten with Smitten.

                        Later in my travels a second ice cream stop would lead me to Berkley, land of Alice Waters, her Chez Panisse ethics, and expectedly the location of many of her disciples including Mary Canales, a 9 year pastry chef at Water’s famous flagship of sustainability who opened Ici in 2006. Again with a focus on the natural, fresh, and sustainable with small-batch product made daily I’d heard excellent things about Ici from a number of friends and with time to kill before dinner on the final day of my stay in Oakland I decided to pay the small shop a visit.

                        Arriving around 5:30pm to find a line of only two before me as a number of folks sat outside enjoying their ice cream I made my way into Ici and within moments was greeted by a young lady asking what I’d like. Still browsing I told her “just a moment” to which she responded “if there is anything you’d like to sample just let me know;” music to my ears – and sample I did despite knowing what I was going to order. Beginning first with Strawberry Balsamic Caramel and moving through Honey Rosemary and then Black Rice Coconut Sherbet each flavor proved to be totally unique, full-bodied, and perfectly balanced with the two ice creams harboring a lovely sweet meets savory interplay while the intensely creamy sherbet literally had the texture of cold butter.

                        Resisting the urge to sample each and every flavor but taking the opportunity to taste a chocolate almond dragee my actual order would consist of two large scoops on a buttery house-made chocolate-tipped waffle cone; the first Bourbon Salted Pecan and the second Maple Gingersnap – both intensely sweet, flavorful, and smooth with solid bits suspended in creamy organic milk and while the Maple Gingersnap was good (think Gingerbread man in ice cream form) the salted pecan was a revelation with flecks of fleur de sel adding a remarkable textural component to the already dazzling flavors. Overall an outstanding collection of Ice Cream well worth the trip to the East Bay and the sort of customer service and ethics that will certainly warrant future visits and samplings in the future.

                        Having already noted Slocombe, Smitten, and Ici plus spending substantial time in the Mission it seems only logical to conclude my comments on San Francisco Ice Cream (for now) with the most famous of all – Bi-Rite Creamery, an offshoot of the lovely Bi-Rite marketplace down the street and yet another purveyor of frozen treats made locally, sustainably, and with Straus Family Dairy milk.

                        Arriving at the small store just short of dinner time I found myself greeted yet again by a relatively short line of about ten and with four folks working the counter it would be perhaps five minutes before I found myself in front of the case being asked not what I wanted to order, but what I’d like to sample as though they read my mind. Again knowing what I’d come for but wanting to take a couple of tastes I started Balsamic Strawberry and Honey Lavender, the first a slightly tangy take on rich strawberry ice cream and the second reportedly created with organic dried lavender and honey that is gathered in Sonoma especially for Bi-Rite the profound sweetness honey suspended in cream with a faint top note of lavender that perfumed the sinuses more so than obscuring the honey; it was good enough that I almost changed my preconceived order and to an extent I wish I had – at least half of it.

                        Beginning first with the Salted Caramel – certainly Bi-Rite’s most famous flavor – the texture was expectedly creamy and the flavor rich and sweet, but overall I have to say it was simply too much salt and not enough caramel. Having tried myriad iterations of this classic (and still uncertain as to who did it “first”) the flavor of Bi-Rite’s option fit somewhere between the impossibly smooth and textural Salty Caramel of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream in Columbus and the Burnt Caramel of Toscanini’s in Boston and although excellent it was not as good as either overall. Moving next to the Ritual Coffee Toffee, however, I found what could potentially be my new favorite ice cream of all time – a dense admixture of Straus and Ritual teaming up to form a perfect latte flavor that was smooth as silk punctuated by crunchy bits of house made almond toffee that was sweet but not overly so, more acting to highlight the creaminess of the ice cream and the slight bitters of the coffee.

                        With a price slightly less than any of the competition I tried and the taste and texture every bit on par or better I can say that overall the Mission is certainly the place to be for Ice Cream these days and while I’ll admit my predilection for breakfast foods and sweets in general I can only assume that a scoop of Slocombe’s Secret Breakfast and Bi-Rite’s Ritual Coffee Toffee would be blissful.

                        For my final sweet bite of the Bay I would happen across a location based not in San Francisco, but rather in Kansas City, Missouri – Christopher Elbow Chocolates. Having read about and seen the American born chef’s work at such fine retailers as Dean&Deluca DC, Trotter’s to Go Chicago, and Le Chocoholique right here in Columbus but having never decided to indulge previously I decided to stop in to browse and having experienced some of the better chocolates here in the United States as well as in Paris I can say without a doubt that I’m glad I made that decision.

                        With the store itself rather minimalist – tablets, bars, and cocoa powders on the wall with a case of truffles and chocolates at the room’s center – I was greeted by a pair of young ladies while two couples sat in the small Jacques Genin-esque tasting room to the left chatting and enjoying their selections. With ambient music playing overhead and the store quite serene I took my time making my decisions and while browsing was offered first a piece of the Dark Almond No 7 “61% with ground roasted almonds” bar and then a $2 “Extra Dark - Bittersweet dark chocolate ganache” – both intense, smooth, and with deep floral notes giving praise to the cocoa’s Venezuelan roots.

                        Continuing to browse as a pair of young ladies stopped in to pick up some pate a fruit and chocolates to go I eventually made my decisions – 4 chocolates and a “liquid chocolate” to be enjoyed while I flipped through my e-mail via the store’s free wifi. Beginning first with the chocolates my selections included Tupelo Honey, Bananas Foster, Port Wine and Fig, and Caramel Fleur de Sel – the first two part of the summer seasonal collection and the second pair part of Elbow’s signature series – and each was wonderful, a perfect balance of the expected chocolate tones and the high quality ingredients contained within. Difficult to decide which was my favorite I would lean largely to the boozy selections as the rum and the port both really highlighted the nuances of the chocolate while still allowing the fruits to shine.

                        Moving on to the “Liquid Chocolate” described as Cocoa Noir 71% with milk (also available with water or as a white chocolate) with a thick spongy marshmallow on the side this $4.75 selection was equal to or better than the outstanding chocolates and with rich bitter notes punctuating the low cocoa tones the flavor reminded me very favorably (again) of Jacques Genin in Paris, though not quite as rich, creamy, and throat coating overall. Comparable to the dark chocolate hot cocoa at Cambridge stalwart LA Burdick and vastly more dense and nuanced than the raved versions Recchiuti I’d strongly recommend giving it a try because whether native to the area or not San Francisco is lucky to have one of only two Elbow storefronts and the style, service, and quality are every bit worth the price.

                        -----
                        Bi-Rite Creamery
                        3692 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                        Christopher Elbow
                        401 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA

                        1. uhockey RE: uhockey Sep 17, 2011 07:10 PM

                          Oliveto and Kakui:

                          Full text as below, pictures in blog:

                          http://endoedibles.com/?p=525

                          As the primary point of this visit to the Bay Area was indeed a job recruitment/interview part of the reason that so many of my meals were quick snacks and places not requiring reservations was the variability of the schedule…as you may have guessed, the life of a physician is not always set in stone. Given these constraints and my potential employer’s generosity in picking me up and dropping me off at the airport I was fortunate that although I was (for the first time in ages) at the mercy of his choices it turned out that not only did he know the area well, but as a man who raises his organic backyard garden near the Mountain View Cemetary he also knew of some rather nice spots to chat in the area, the first a small sushi stop named Kakui where we had lunch on 9/2 and the second Oliveto where we talked numbers over breakfast on 9/7.

                          Beginning the story with my first bites in the city of Oakland, Kakui proved to be an experience in and of itself largely because my colleague was known to the restaurant; no order was placed and the bill went on his tab. Chatting with the owner and sushi chef as we ate and talked about the area, the job, and the economy of medicine food simply appeared and while descriptions were largely inconsequential in such a setting my questions were answered at length with the owners showing great interest and pride in their products and sourcing – mostly from California and the Salmon actually line-caught that very morning.

                          With conversation flowing between ourselves and the staff and water perpetually at 3/4 full or better the first plate to arrive at our table would be the house ‘signature’ grilled caramelized Brussels’ Sprouts with karashi vinaigrette – a sweet and savory crunchy riff on the one of my favorite vegetables slightly tinted with mustard, an ingredient I generally don’t favor but used to great effect here adding a slightly spicy bite to the heady sprouts.

                          Moving next to a special request from my associate the second dish to arrive would be a half-dozen briny Kumamoto oysters with topped with ponzu, tobiko, and a dash of tobsasco – brisk, briny, and just a dash of heat they were standard but nicely harvested and shucked – nothing to write home about, but quite good for a standard oyster prep.

                          Moving next to our sashimi selections served with a house brewed soy sauce, plenty of daikon, and a smear of wasabi paste plus excellent candied ginger the chef’s choice selection for the day consisted of Butterfish, Tai Snapper, Bluefin Tuna, and Line-caught Salmon reportedly brought in from the boats that very morning. Always a fan of the first three selections and less frequently of salmon the fish was all fresh and watching the owners train a young chef on the appropriate way to fillet and slice each fish was actually quite a lot of fun. Sure this is not the sort of sushi you’ll get at Urasawa, but considering the menu prices I actually found the quality quite favorable.

                          Having spent the last 9 hours en route from Columbus to Oakland and getting somewhat tired (with a long night at Saison beginning at 7:30 ahead of me) our final dish of the early afternoon would be the California beef “Okinawa-style” filet mignon with fish sauce, garlic, and mushrooms served over rice – a surprisingly tender amalgam of lean beef with the earthy aromatics of a variety of fibrous mushrooms serving to balance the hefty sauce. Apparently my colleague’s favorite dish this large portion listed at $21 on the dinner menu was more than enough for one but a great dish to be shared even though I largely stuck to the mushrooms as I tend to find beef monotonous.

                          As previously mentioned we never saw a bill but considering the fact that my colleague reported he went back later that week for dinner with a number of his friends it appears that Kakui has gathered a well deserved clientele of regulars and after browsing the online menu in retrospect I think the quality of the food, service, and setting were certainly worth the prices placing the restaurant in the mid-range of America’s sushi scene…and in central Ohio it would be a gem.

                          With many days of eating including a long Labor Day weekend now behind me, my second sit-down meal with my host would be at Oliveto, a large café near the BART line apparently known for vegetable themed dinners and solid mid-priced Italian fare focusing on what is local and seasonal. Arriving early, before the doors even opened, we browsed the small store nearby and being the first to walk in the door of Oliveto were greeted promptly and pleasantly before being sat at a nice two top near the window. With my counterpart having eaten there frequently no menu was required for him and on browsing the limited selections my I just opted to replicate his order replacing the toast with a house made croissant.

                          Sitting and chatting while we waited coffee was poured and kept full – a relatively dull organic blend with a bit too much acid for my preference – and with the restaurant largely empty aside from a couple of regulars food arrived quickly in the form of 2 Poached Farm Eggs, a puffy golden croissant, and house made fruit compote plus Orange Marmalade.

                          Beginning first with the eggs – all I could do is shake my eggs when the overcooked formed orbs arrived. While I realize poaching an egg is not as easy as scrambled there are many diners that can do it appropriately and as such for a rather upscale café to use a mold and then overdo it seems to be poor form. Tasty and a bit runny I will say the egg sourcing was good, but the execution needs serious work.

                          Moving next to the croissant – perhaps my standards were artificially inflated by my April trip to Paris and the outstanding versions at Knead and B. Patisserie but like the eggs the croissant was blah – no better than any average Midwest bakery and although buttery far too dense on the inside with a shell that certainly did not crack but rather just sort of “squished” on mastication. Noting the poor quality of the croissant I will note that it did serve as an adequate delivery device for the excellent admixture of raisins, figs, and currants as well as the slightly bitter marmalade.

                          Acknowledging that this meal was certainly not a “destination” but rather to talk business (for us) while others ate a quick healthy breakfast or read the paper before hopping the BART to work I will hold my judgment of Oliveto overall because the dinner and dessert menus actually sounded quite impressive, but given the limited menu and high prices (albeit for good ingredients) I’d rather prepare my own breakfast at home where I can appropriately poach an egg.

                          -----
                          Oliveto Cafe
                          5655 College Ave., Oakland, CA 94618

                          Bluefin
                          5401 Lone Tree Way Ste 140, Brentwood, CA 94513

                          Saison
                          2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: uhockey
                            BernalKC RE: uhockey Sep 18, 2011 02:31 PM

                            Link:

                            -----
                            Kakui Sushi
                            2060 Mountain Blvd, Oakland, CA 94611

                            1. re: uhockey
                              lexdevil RE: uhockey Sep 18, 2011 03:26 PM

                              It's worth noting that the cafe downstairs and restaurant upstairs are very different. No one would accuse the upstairs of being mid-priced. Recent reviews have been positive about the upstairs and less happy with the cafe. The chef is somewhat new to the restaurant, and may have focused more on the upstairs.

                              1. re: lexdevil
                                uhockey RE: lexdevil Sep 18, 2011 04:09 PM

                                Thanks for the clarification - regardless I'd not go for Breakfast. :-)

                                http://endoedibles.com

                            2. f1racegirl RE: uhockey Sep 25, 2011 08:12 AM

                              I ran across this post while doing some research for an upcoming trip to San Francisco. After reading your description of the Red Velvet Cupcake at Bouchon I decided I had to try one, since I would be staying at the Venetian for a conference in Las Vegas the following week.

                              I just returned from that conference - and did try the Red Velvet Cupcake, but my experience was the complete opposite of yours. What you described as dense cake, I thought was rubbery and possibly overcooked. I even wondered if it wasn't also stale, or previously frozen. I was so put off by the texture I barely noticed the flavor. And it looked more like brown velvet than red velvet. The cream cheese icing was good - but there was way too much of it. And, I'm a huge fan of icing, it's usually my favorite part of a cake. But in this case it was overwhelming.

                              In hopes of having the cupcake experience that you described I decided to give the Red Velvet Cupcake another chance - possibly I had one on an off day? Sadly, there was no difference. The second one tasted exactly like the first one.

                              -----
                              Bouchon
                              6534 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: f1racegirl
                                uhockey RE: f1racegirl Sep 25, 2011 08:44 AM

                                Different Strokes for Different Folks, I guess - I love the density of Bouchon's cupcakes (had them at all the different locations and in different flavors) as they are much more "cake-like" than the airy cupcakes served elsewhere. Bouchon's Red Velvet is like traditional southern Red Velvet - dense and moist. IMO, it it textbook.

                                http://endoedibles.com

                                -----
                                Bouchon
                                6534 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                              2. uhockey RE: uhockey Sep 26, 2011 12:55 PM

                                Atelier Crenn:

                                Full report with pictures in blog, text as below:

                                http://endoedibles.com/?p=624

                                I love food, I love the arts, and given my choice I prefer the more freely flowing and less constrained versions of each – it is probably why artists like Dali, chefs like Gagnaire, and bands like Mars Volta all rank highly on my favorites and also why I tend to find tweezered and “precious” food more appealing than a pile of meat and potatoes on a plate. Further taking into my account my fascination vegetables of all sorts and particularly with unique produce prepared in remarkable ways the decision to visit Atelier Crenn seemed obvious yet some detractors gave me pause…

                                Located in Cow Hollow near the Presidio, an area I had not really explored much during my previous visits to the Bay, Dominique Crenn’s first solo restaurant since leaving her post at Luce (second solo restaurant overall) is billed as “Poetic Culinaria,” yet according to some the experience was more style than substance – a concept offering too much pretense, too little food, and at too much an expense – while others billed it as perhaps the most avant garde restaurant in the Bay; a definition much more appealing and enough to justify a last minute change of schedule when I moved Cyrus to lunch and called Atelier Crenn to schedule a late Saturday visit.

                                With reservations at 8:00pm and ample parking available my arrival in Cow Hollow would precede my reservation by a couple hours and taking the time to browse the area I really liked what I saw – a number of eclectic artisan shops, small bars, organic food stores, and plenty of young people out with friends or pets enjoying the lovely weather. Returning a few items to my car and grabbing my jacket (a personal choice, not necessary as the restaurant seemed more business casual than formal) I finally made my way to the understated restaurant approximately 15 minutes early and entering the earthy space of beige, wood, and woven lamps was greeted by a man named Daniel who would turn out to be my server for the majority of the evening.

                                Led quickly to my seat, a nice two top with a direct view of both the kitchen, the center service island, and the majority of the room my comfort was assured, my water preference confirmed (still over sparkling,) and within moments I was presented the wine list and the seasonal menu to peruse – a menu that even to the experienced diner requires a bit of explanation as the right consists of a prix fixe while the left is comprised of a poem and a list of ingredients included in the dishes eluded to in the lines above; “ Sitting on the coast, the waves roll in. A new salinity brings hints of afar. A place of riches, Of towering trees. Stop, Pause. Scales glisten in the distance, like a rare Asian gem. My mind is at peace, the waves recede.”

                                With no cocktails striking my fancy and not particularly interested in wine it would be perhaps five minutes before Daniel would return and after explaining I’d prefer avoid the beef on the menu a substitution was agreed upon and with service professional and cordial despite the occasional gaff (twice my still was topped off with sparkling) Dominique stopped by to greet myself as well as a pair of elderly folks sitting beside me before the tasting began – a tasting that would thrill and amuse not only myself, but the two decidedly non-gourmands beside me throughout the next two and a half hours.

                                Beginning first with a single bread service – a “welcome” according to Daniel – Brioche started the night on a single simple note of warm butter; a childhood recipe according to Daniel and the sort of thing I rather wish they’d have served as part of a proper bread service as it was not only delicious but light and given the quality of the pastry half of Crenn I can only imagine a proper bread basket would be superb.

                                Moving next to the first of two amuses bouche Chef Crenn would again arrive tableside to describe the course as “Corn Pudding with fried crispy quinoa, freeze dried corn, consommé of corn and coconut” and while nearly everything that followed this was good to great, this was perhaps my second favorite course of the evening. Beginning first with the corn pudding – think creamed corn in flavor yet with a nearly panna cotta mouth-feel and the lingering sweetness of coconut – the dish was subsequently topped with a warm crystal clear consommé dotted with puffed quinoa and crispy corn – a sweet/savory balance whose texture punctuated the smoothness of the pudding. Showing right away that this was a meal that would walk a careful line in balancing flavors, textures, and temperatures this amuse would only be topped by that at Commis for best of the trip.

                                Following the corn in short succession a single bite would arrive in the form of “Kir Breton” a play on traditional Kir Royale with non-alcoholic apple cider in a white chocolate cocoa butter shell glued to the slate with cassis reduction. Instructed to pick up the whole slate and remove the candy from the plate closing one’s mouth before biting down the dainty chocolate shattered giving way to a mint-tinged burst of cider as the cassis pokes through with its characteristic sweet notes – a refreshing bite that would serve as my first of many experiences with Pastry Chef Juan Contreras’ Alinea honed skills throughout the evening.

                                Having omitted the beef and caviar dish that my neighbors received next, my substituted selection would be a dish that has been present on Crenn’s menu from the start – a course entitled “New Potato ‘Memoire d’enfance’” featuring potatoes roasted, cut, and seared served with Potato puree, peas, mint, compte crisps, and a liberal grating of salt. Showing off the lateral presenting style that would dominate the majority of Dominique’s plated landscapes this beautiful dish began with the potatoes – five rounded confitted fingerlings with a crunchy exterior giving way to a center harkening tater tots – and sprawled across the plate with peas both solo and in the pod, raw and cooked, plus the aforementioned mint, crunchy cheese (think cheeze-it made of compte) and light crystals of salt flaked from the block. Restrained and beautiful this was precisely the sort of vegetable presentation I love and expected when I made my reservation.

                                For my second proper course of the menu (and my first official item on the seasonal tasting) I would receive “Oyster Japonaise,” a Sake and Mirin Poached Kusshi Oyster with sake gelee, lemon foam, crème fraiche, and sea beets. Generally underwhelmed by oysters I went into this dish with the same expectations as usual, yet much to my surprise this was actually a very intriguing presentation of the briny bivalve with the bitter sake and sweet mirin detectable only as a light finish as the oyster bust in my mouth. Complimenting the oyster without overwhelming it the use of lemon and crème fraiche was a familiar combination that served ample foil to the Jello-esque sake gelee while the shredded sea beets added a peppery textural component.

                                With my neighbors now one dish ahead of me the next course arrived with great anticipation and as expected it proved to be outstanding. Entitled “Foie Gras Log” and described as frozen and shaved with poached pears, fresh pears, roasted pear puree, vanilla pudding, and thai basil gel infused with cocoa nibs this marvelously textured liver literally melted in the mouth – so much so that I actually requested some bread crisps to go with the sous vided, frozen, and shaved preparation – while the accoutrements walked a tightrope between sweet and savory, neither overwhelming the other and both acting to highlight the subtleties of the foie.

                                Having now caught up to the table next to me as they sipped their wine and became more loose and conversant with both the wait staff and myself the follow up to the Foie Gras would be my favorite dish of the evening, a dish that like the potato dish is always present but variable depending on seasonal produce, a dish called “A walk in the Forest” and a dish that despite its beautiful presentation was entirely upstaged by its aroma, a mossy bloom kindling memories of my childhood growing up in Woodland Court. Moving past the intoxicating smell, what arrived on the plate before me was again a visual and textural terrain inhabited by no less than four types of mushrooms (hon shimeji, lobster, chantrelles, and king trumpet) prepared in no less than four manners (raw, dried, pickled, and pan seared) resting atop toasted Douglas Fir meringue “soil” along with hazelnuts and chickpeas plus a variety of herbs and what tasted distinctly like notes of morel. Entirely focused on creating an experience reminiscent of the dish’s title while encouraging diners to take a step off the path to explore the varying combinations I’d encourage anyone still hesitating to visit Atelier to make a reservation based on this dish alone.

                                At this point thoroughly impressed by everything coming from the kitchen while the ancillary servers assisting Daniel continued to make minor gaffs (no silverware until requested for the upcoming dish) my next bite would arrive from the hands of Chef Contreras described as “Untitled Intermezzo of Apple, Basil, Fennel, Celery, and a hint of Melon.” Featuring varying shades of light green and constituents in the form of granite, meringue, ice cream, and compressed fruits the flavors and textures of the intermezzo were certainly more interesting than the title and as each of the described ingredients poked through the bitter veil of the celery to varying degrees I found this to be a suitable if not particularly traditional palate cleanser with the overall effect somehow reminding me of a frozen Waldorf Salad.

                                With everything going swimmingly at this point the next dish to arrive, literally something which swims, would prove quite the opposite and as a matter of fact, “Salmon Basquaise” would prove to be one of the worst things I’ve put into my mouth in the last five years. Described as sous-vide line caught salmon with roasted red pepper coulis, carrot paper, carrot puree, fried ginger, smoked buckwheat, tomato, and a pearl onion plus a light dusting of Bottarga I knew from my first bite that this dish was not going to work…the salmon was mushy and when paired with the bottarga quite literally had the taste and consistency of fishy mashed potatoes. With this bad base and no crispiness to the skin, the vegetal composition of the plate proved equally confounded with the intensely acidic flavors of the tomato and red pepper completely overwhelming everything else. Not wanting to complain but clearly not eating with the zeal that the staff had come to expect and stopping well short of a clean plate before setting my fork and sauce spoon down Daniel arrived and eyeing the plate cautiously removed it from the table and returned it to the kitchen only to re-present minutes later asking “So, and please be honest, the chef wants to know what you thought of that course?” and after explaining my thoughts about the taste, consistency, and balance he apologized not once, but twice (unnecessarily) and promised that the next course would be better.

                                Watching my neighbors enjoy their salmon and feeling bad that my experience for whatever reason was entirely different there would be a slight delay in the arrival of my next course and during that time Daniel would arrive again to ask if it would be okay if the chef presented me another course to “make up for” the salmon and after explaining that this really wasn’t necessary he suggested that “she insists” and to that I agreed with Daniel stating the makeup course would arrive after the tasting’s main course of “Thai Style Guinea Hen” with Basil Soil, Interpretations of Coconut, Chanterelle mushrooms, bok choy, cilantro, ginger – a dish that would immediately pull the evening back on track and perhaps more importantly place me back in the chef’s stream of consciousness. Beginning first with the bird – again sous vide but here to great effect given the hen’s rich flavor and low fat content I thoroughly enjoyed the protein both on its own and when paired with the subtle accoutrements each acting to highlight but not overwhelm and particularly the coconut and bok choy doing an exemplary job.

                                With my neighbors on both sides moving on to desserts it was at this point that Chef Crenn would present tableside with yet another apology (really unnecessary) and after some discussion of why I disliked the dish she returned to the kitchen only to arrive moments later with a dish entitled “Suckling Pig” and described as ‘parts of the pig’ including Head Cheese, Loin, and Confit of Belly with pickled beets, baby radishes, summer beans, gremolata of black olive, lemon, and garlic; a substantial departure from the subtleties of the hen to be sure. Beginning first with the pork itself, all three presentations were as good as expected – the head cheese gamey, the loin lean and tender, and the belly a crackling skin over melting fat and a ribbon of protein. Moving next to the accoutrements, though a bit heavy handed with the olive the vegetal arrangement including some of my favorites and I particularly enjoyed the manner in which the peppery radish and sweet/sour beets shined in their fresh clean flavors while the garlic and lemon were relegated to a minor supporting roll.

                                Having asked about the cheese cart before the meal it was explained to me that the board was “small but perfectly aged” and at $15 per two selections or $30 for all four I opted to try one new and one personal favorite in the form of Cana de Cabra and Barely Buzzed, respectively. Beginning first with the Barely Buzzed – good as always with the nearly 2oz wedge perfectly accented by the coffee and pairing nicely with the accompanying violet flower honey and walnut currant bread crisps. Moving next to the Cana, a creamy goat’s milk cheese from Spain with a slight fruitiness beneath the springy texture and buttery notes I personally found the cheese to be a bit less flavorful than I’d expected on its own but when paired with the honey it opened up nicely allowing some of the woodsy tones to shine.

                                With the pastry kitchen now taking over for the rest of the evening Chef Contreras would deliver the next three “platings” and having heard some complaints from friends about “serving trees and branches” I’ll just start off by saying that from someone with Alinea roots I personally loved the effect – an interactive and zen-like approach that engaged the diner to think about the composition of the dish and the chef’s inspirations. For the first dessert a palate cleanser entitled “Essence of Eucalyptus with eucalyptus, lemon, honey” was delivered with the descriptor “my take on driving into the city” and with the flavors of each ingredient appearing in waves as the tablet dissolved in my mouth I’d be lying if I said it replicated my experience driving into the city, but it was a wonderful setup for what came next.

                                Again served by Contreras with a big description of the methods in its production and an even bigger service piece in the form of a recently sanded and aromatic log (see also Alinea’s Venison preparation from February 2009) “Olive Falling from the Tree” would prove to be every bit the spectacle that I’d assumed and with Extra Virgin Olive Oil Ice Cream served on the branch and Black olive cake, lemon ice, fennel jam, and nougatine of toasted almonds forming a sweet meets salty balance the combination proved to be impossibly light while each flavor shined – particularly the nougatine with its intense sweetness and the airy black olive cake that formed a slightly bitter counterpoint while notes of the ice and jam were relegated to bass notes on the palate.

                                With the log removed my final bites of the evening would arrive on the roots of one of four live Douglas Fir Bonsai trees and after a lengthy description and suggested order of eating I set out on a slow degustation that rivaled any mignardise tray I’ve experienced beginning with Blood Cedar pate de fruit and progressing through Strawberry Coriander pate de fruit, Kalamasi Marshmallow, Salted Caramel with Maldon Sea Salt, White Chocolate Ganache with Blood Orange, Milk Chocolate Ganache with Passion Fruit, Walnut Nougatine with Cocoa, and finally a shard of 72% Dark Chocolate with Gold – a brilliant progression highlighted particularly by the smoky dense nougatine and the zesty jam of both pate de fruits.

                                With the fir returned to the kitchen Chef Crenn would stop by one last time to thank me for coming to visit and on hearing I was considering relocating to the Bay Area she plainly asked if I’d be back – a question to which I responded “absolutely” with a resultant smile, slight bow, and “Merci” before she returned to the kitchen. With check paid and a copy of the menu in hand I sat for a bit and chatted with Daniel about the restaurant, some of the quirks in service, and some of the critiques I’d heard from others before walking in the door and he noted that he and the chef had also heard similar critiques, many of which had already been addressed (small portion sizes) and many which will undergo continuing changes in near future. Insisting again that mistakes happen and others seemed to enjoy it as he apologized a third time for the fish I assured him that I’d had a fantastic evening overall and that of my many fortunate dining experiences over the last several years it was hard to think of any single place where food art and science met so closely with nature; “Alinea meets L’Arpege” was the comparison I made and while neither the food nor the service were on par with either those are some pretty lofty standards for a restaurant merely one year old.

                                -----
                                Commis
                                3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

                                Atelier Crenn
                                3127 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94123

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: uhockey
                                  l
                                  Leely2 RE: uhockey Oct 5, 2011 12:32 PM

                                  Glad you liked Crenn. It is not perfect, but it's delicious, ambitious, and feels decidedly personal. I have enjoyed my two visits very much and am hoping to go again--soon.

                                  1. re: Leely2
                                    uhockey RE: Leely2 Oct 5, 2011 01:17 PM

                                    With a few tweeks they're not far off from a Michelin Star and perhaps even two if they focused on the small stuff. Dominique is quite talented and I really like the room.

                                    http://endoedibles.com

                                2. uhockey RE: uhockey Sep 30, 2011 06:09 AM

                                  Commis:

                                  Full text below, pictures in the blog.

                                  http://endoedibles.com/?p=658

                                  Sunday would be a day of small bites, baseball, and both old friends and new as the day began at 4:45am with a run through the hills of Oakland followed by a shower and a quick drive into the Mission. With much of the days eats including Knead, Dynamo, and Zuni mentioned in previous posts it was these activities that would bookend my visit to the most stunning ballpark I’ve yet to see, yet with the night still young my evening plans would see me once again at the table – actually, in this case at the Chef’s Counter of Commis with local food writer Kelsey of kelseats.com, a witty and charming young lady whose blog had led me straight to Knead earlier that day.

                                  Having made reservations at Commis for 7:30pm but getting a late start due to my lunch with Jeff at Zuni Café and subsequent wanderings it was with good fortune that although arduous the traffic crossing the bridge was navigable and with luck on our side free parking was allocated literally steps from the door making our arrival perfectly on time as we entered the small 30ish seat restaurant, were greeted pleasantly, and led to our seats.

                                  Admittedly not originally on my radar until I’d heard good things from a couple of friends and Kelsey had suggested it as a place she’d been meaning to try Commis is the brainchild of Chef James Syhabout, a young chef of Thai descent trained in the kitchens of such places as Coi and Manresa locally plus Fat Duck and El Bulli abroad – quite the accomplishment for a man no older than myself – but unfortunately the chef would not be in on the day of our visit, instead leaving us in the capable hands of a team of four who would spend the next two hours working quietly and efficiently in the small space directly before us.

                                  With the room largely minimalistic in design – long and narrow with blonde woods, slate, and steel providing minimal distraction from the food (or the action in the kitchen) – it would be a short while before our server, Darrell, would greet us with the wine and cocktail list plus the night’s 5-course menu; an expected list of ingredients based on the Bay Area’s bounty prepared in the style that one would expect given Syhabout’s culinary pedigree. With a lack of allergies confirmed and opting against pairings given my tolerance (lack thereof) while each instead opting for a glass of champagne it would be moments before the meal would begin.

                                  For our first taste of Commis, the canapé for the evening would be a bite described as Parmesan cookie with vegetable ash and arriving amongst a bed of rocks this clever meringue literally melted in the mouth leaving behind the faint bite of the cheese and a top note of smoke – a nice effect that lingered on the palate for a mere moment and then disappeared leaving me wanting more.

                                  For the second bite of the evening we were served the only item that remains a constant on Syhabout’s menu dating back to the year Commis opened, an amuse entitled “Hard Poached Egg with smoked dates, chive, malt, granola.” Served in a deep black bowl with the hard poached yolk sitting atop a semi-solid (think flan) onion ‘soup’ which concealed smoky date puree this amuse would turn out to be my favorite dish of the evening and quite honestly one of the best amuses I’ve ever had anywhere. With the yolk smooth and creamy and the soup equally so yet mildly pungent it was the interplay of the intensely sweet date and steel cut oat granola that truly impressed by pulling everything together into a flavor that was at once familiar but entirely unique; one of those rare dishes like the L’Arpege egg that you just need to experience.

                                  With the amuse still lingering on my lips and conversing with ease above the quiet dining room and din of the kitchen the next service to arrive from Commis was the nightly bread service – a house made whole wheat bread with a light open crumb along with salted house churned butter; a good bread, but nothing worth filling up on after a long day of eating with five courses to go.

                                  Before moving next to the first proper course of the tasting I will note here that while efficient and generally amicable, one issue that would become apparent as the menu progressed would be Darrell’s apparent reluctance to discuss the courses at any length. While obviously not the “standard” clientele as both my dining partner and I were taking pictures and inquiring about the constituents of the courses it was not as though our questions were challenging yet despite this fact his answers would often be mumbled and at least twice even inappropriately sarcastic; certainly not the expectation at a place that has garnered a Michelin Star and prides itself on using unique (often foraged) local produce.

                                  With that service aside noted, course one of the evening would be “Roasted carrots with peaches, cultured cream, toasted almonds, vinegar, and anise hyssop” and requiring minimal description beyond that I will note that although somewhat unwieldy at first due to the sweetness, I actually found this dish to be the sort that grew on the palate with subsequent bites – each slightly vegetal yet distinctly sweet with notes of acid and mint poking through to lend balance. A great confluence of textures this course reminded much of some of the flavors I’d experienced at Manresa though perhaps not as polished.

                                  With perhaps 15-20 minutes between courses as the kitchen staff worked methodically with tools ranging from mortar and pestle to an ISI canister our evening would be a leisurely progression landing next on “Monterey Abalone, young potimarron, sea lettuce, basil, and purslane,” a dish that I actually enjoyed at first but grew less interested in after a few bites and a course that Kelsey felt failed to allow the Abalone to shine…an accurate assessment in retrospect as I found myself noting that in fact I felt the abalone was acting more to garnish the buttery sweet risotto of squash rather than the other way around. Again leaning heavy on the sweet as opposed to the savory I liked the concept, texture, and in general the flavor but a bit more brine would have been welcomed.

                                  Moving next to something a bit more substantial, “Petrale sole, fresh shell beans, and grilled clams with licorice aromatics” would be the second time that our server would largely neglect questions about the dish, but thankfully a member of the kitchen staff overheard our questions and was happy to discuss what was, save for the amuse, my favorite dish of the night. Beginning first with the Petrale sole –flaky and moist having been poached in its own juices and touched with basil it was a very nice piece of fish but all the more so for not being buried in butter but rather complimented by a savory sweetness from the shell beans – a horticultural heirloom variety served as a puree mixed with baby scallop sauce. With mild on mild yet plenty of nuance already present between the fish and its sauce the final touch – at last a bit of brine – of three Washington State Littleneck clams really acted to bring the flavors to a focus.

                                  Again turning my attention to the kitchen and the conversation it was at this point that Kelsey realized she knew the person sitting to her right – conveniently a server at benu where I’d be eating two days later – and after some discussion of the Bay Area restaurant scene and his admiration for what Syhabout is doing at Commis “Roast Chicken with Caramelized Pig’s blood, foie gras, bee’s wax jus” would arrive as our final savory of the evening. Here described at length as Roasted Chicken with a reduction of its jus enhanced with lemon, thyme, and basil the chicken itself was a fine example – mild and perfectly cooked – but what was truly intriguing on this plate was the accoutrements; an assortment of textural and gamy blood sausage, smooth and unctuous duck liver, fibrous button chanterelles, and foraged wild mustard flowers adding a spicy top note. While indeed “just chicken” in a sense, for someone who generally prefers game bird and fowl to heavy red meats as a main course this was a nice finisher, though for the third of four courses the sweetness was just a bit too pronounced even with the myriad ingredients acting to temper the honey.

                                  Happy with the evening overall but not *wowed* as much as I had hoped by the food to this point our palate cleanser would arrive next as Cucumbers foam and Eucalyptus cream – a clean and refreshing ounce of liquid that accomplished a similar effect to the first dessert at Crenn the day before, though much less showy and surprisingly entirely lacking in sweetness save for the natural notes of the eucalyptus.

                                  With the cheese selection lacking novelty and each of us electing the sweet dessert our final course of the tasting would arrive in the form of “semi frozen nectarine chiboust with gem marigold snow, white chocolate” and at this point clearly expecting questions the constituents of the plate were described as Semi Frozen White Nectarine milk sorbet, white chocolate pudding, golden nectarine puree, marigold snow, and candied peanuts (complete with a snippy “yes, ::pause:: like ::pause:: the flower” when asked about the marigold.) Featuring one of my favorite fruits in two different forms the flavors of the nectarines were spot on even when those back in Ohio are starting to lose their summer sweetness and although I did not detect any floral notes outside those intrinsic to the nectarine itself I appreciated the variety of textures and temperatures plus the manner in which the light cocoa came through on the finish.

                                  Sitting and chatting some more as the restaurant remained full and the kitchen remained busy our final bites of Commis would arrive with the bill in the form of two Plum Gelees, sugary sweet and seemingly appropriate for that very reason.

                                  With the bill paid – just over $100 each with tax, tip, and three glasses of champagne – we bid farewell to our new buddy from benu and made our way to the car where the drive back to San Francisco to drop Kelsey off led to the inevitable discussion of what we’d just experienced, a good meal and a good deal but not a “destination” meal and a meal I think I favored more than my dining partner for one specific reason; the fact that although I have the opportunity to travel frequently I live in Ohio where produce like that being served at Commis (or any number of other Bay Area establishments) is available three months of the year at most and with substantially less variety even then. Sure things may have been better and the food more balanced (less sweet) had Syhabout been present that evening and all things being equal I certainly would not hesitate to return for the quality, price, and experience but at the same time based on this one experience I’d prefer spend a bit more and visit out James’ old bosses at Coi or Manresa or at a similar price point head over to Plum where the food is just as good (if not better,) the options more various, the setting a bit more fun, and the service a perfect balance of informative, fun, and professional.

                                  -----
                                  Zuni Cafe
                                  1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

                                  Manresa Restaurant
                                  320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

                                  Commis
                                  3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: uhockey
                                    s
                                    SanJoseHound RE: uhockey Sep 30, 2011 07:45 AM

                                    "Clinical duties"? You've missed your calling! The reviews were all a pleasure to read. Hope you become a regular on the Bay Area board.

                                    1. re: SanJoseHound
                                      uhockey RE: SanJoseHound Sep 30, 2011 04:56 PM

                                      There are more to come - just been busy - actually wrote the commis review on a plane from Columbus to Phoenix for another interview.

                                      Thanks for the compliment though - I try to give back since the local hounds always give me such great advice.

                                      http://endoedibles.com

                                  2. uhockey RE: uhockey Oct 3, 2011 04:31 PM

                                    Redd.

                                    Full review with pictures in blog, text as below.

                                    http://endoedibles.com/?p=680

                                    I’m not one to bluff or pull punches and with that stated I’ll simply state my first visit to Redd was a disaster – it was so bad that the bait n’ switch menu and awful service led to me walking out ten minutes after I was seated and walking in the light rain to Bistro Jeanty where I sat at the bar and had a great time with some excellent food. That first visit to Redd was so bad that I really hadn’t even considered visiting on my most recent trip until Ad Hoc Addendum decided they would not be open for Labor Day thus leaving me with the choice of Bottega or Redd; a decision that led to me being seated on the patio of Redd in the beautiful Napa sun largely because of the menu and my general disregard for Michael Chiarello’s attitude, fame, and food.

                                    Walking up to the hostess stand after wandering Yountville for the better part of the morning I was greeted by a pleasant young woman and on requesting a table for one I elected to dine al fresco since the weather was beautiful and the interior was hosting a large party who’d clearly started their wine tasting quite early. Delayed one minute as my table was converted from a two top to a setting for one I was led quickly to a nice seat near the fountain and soon greeted by Jeanna, another nice young lady who confirmed my water selection and subsequently presented the food and wine menus plus a list of daily specials for my perusal.

                                    Seated partially in shade with my decisions largely made before I even sat down it would be perhaps ten minutes before Jeanna would return to take my order but to be fair unlike my first visit this was largely because she seemed to be the only server and the patio was quite busy. Eschewing the daily specials and opting for a glass of Schramsberg Brut Rose 2007 to begin I was complimented on my choices and left to take in the scenery while two small children were scolded by their mother for splashing around in the fountain.

                                    Having already noted the busy afternoon and overall lack of servers – two waiters and perhaps two or three runners – it would be another ten minutes or so before my bubbly beverage would arrive and with just a touch of sweetness beneath the dry fruit tones the $14 glass was one of the best I’ve had and a great pairing for both my plates as well.

                                    With no amuses or canapés the bread selection for the afternoon would be first food item to arrive at my table and featuring two slices of room temperature Baguette with largely flavorless butter that looked as though it had merely been cut from a stick in the kitchen I cannot say my first impression was a good one. Sure it kept me from filling up on bread, but if your bread program is such an obvious afterthought perhaps the better part of valor would be to simply not serve any at all.

                                    Moving next to the item that brought me to Chef Reddington’s table in the first place and arriving more than thirty minutes after I’d taken my seat, “Tasting of Cold Foie Gras Preparations with Stonefruit, Pistachio, Brioche” would turn out to actually be well worth the wait and all things considered it was not only one of the best things I ate on this trip to the Bay, but one of the best Foie Gras preparations I’ve ever tasted. Consisting of a mousse, torchon, and pate served with peach compote, pistachios, pear butter, caramel, Frissee with vinaigrette, and a small puff pastry beneath the mousse this presentation hit on all cylinders with any number of possible combinations each highlighting aspects of the creamy liver while the salad provided an acidic touch to wash the palate between bites. While this was without a doubt the most memorable moment at Redd, it was quite a moment – sparkling wine, three types of foie gras, buttery brioche, and the warm Napa sun could double for heaven if you ask me.

                                    Told that the next course would “be coming out soon” my next taste of Redd’s cuisine was a “gift” from the kitchen in the form of a small triangle of Wood Fired Pizza with Fontina, Basil, and Shaved Parmesan – a decent little slice with a bright and sweet sauce beneath the sharp cheesy tones and a crust somewhere between soft and crisp that did well to support the ingredients but really did not add anything in terms of taste.

                                    Now a good sixty minutes into the meal and watching dishes slowly trickle from the kitchen while a second server stopped by to ask if I’d like a second glass of wine (declined, as I still had half of my first glass remaining) my main course would finally arrive and much like the first it was quite impressive. Titled “Crispy Duck Confit with Lentils, Foie Gras Meatballs, Crispy Spaetzle” and featuring all of the above in plethora this hefty dish was most certainly not an exercise in subtleties but rather an all out attack on the senses with the duck crispy and flavorful, the meatballs juicy, the spaetzle buttery and dense, and the lentils rendered in sherry and bacon to add a bit of acid and a smoky brine that simply put everything over the top. Another excellent composition and despite the size and richness a dish that never got ‘boring’ due to the multiple textures and flavors involved.

                                    Told by friends that the pastry program at Redd had declined since Chef Plue was lured away to Cyrus and having already enjoyed two substantial dishes with dinner plans at Meadowood in less than 6 hours I’d originally not planned to order dessert, but never one to pass on at least looking at the menu another course became an obligation when I took a look and saw the words ‘bread pudding.’ Ordered with a cup of coffee that would be entirely forgotten and thus delivered free of charge ten minutes after dessert landed on my table “Vanilla Bean Bread Pudding with Strawberries, Yuzu Puree, Strawberry Ice Cream, Sliced Almonds” would arrive quite beautiful, but unfortunately prove the rumors of my pals to be true. Beginning first with the fresh strawberries and sweet meets sour balance of the ice cream and puree, the fruit components of the dessert were indeed spot but unfortunately while these shined the pudding itself was as dry as a KFC biscuit and only slightly more flavorful – a flaw somewhat corrected by using my fork to stir the berries and ice cream into the pudding, but overall more-so a bad attempt at strawberry shortcake than a bread pudding (let alone a good one.

                                    )

                                    With coffee delivered only moments before the bill Jeanna apologized for the mix up and told me the coffee would not be charged and that I could take my time – something I felt I’d been doing the whole afternoon as it had taken nearly ninety minutes to enjoy three proper courses. Thanking her and handing her my credit card I drank the weakly acidic brew thinking one cup would be more than enough and glad that I’d not be charged – like the bread service the coffee service appeared to be merely an afterthought and considering my previous experience with Redd I can only assume that understaffing and underthinking everything but the food itself is par for the course – a shame considering the highs were quite high, but enough to ensure I’d not return save for perhaps some foie gras and champagne in the sun.

                                    -----
                                    Ad Hoc
                                    6476 Washington St., Yountville, CA 94599

                                    Bistro Jeanty
                                    6510 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                                    Redd
                                    6480 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: uhockey
                                      p
                                      pauliface RE: uhockey Oct 3, 2011 04:38 PM

                                      Excellent and fun as always.

                                      I hope that if I ever open a restaurant, I do not find myself on the dry side of your pen.

                                      1. re: pauliface
                                        uhockey RE: pauliface Oct 3, 2011 04:47 PM

                                        It is funny because many people think I like everything - the fact is I don't go out to eat unless I expect something to be good; I never go into a restaurant wanting to dislike it or to even feel "meh" about it - I want to love it. When a place just misses on so many accounts it is unfortunate.

                                        http://endoedibles.com

                                    2. uhockey RE: uhockey Oct 5, 2011 03:10 PM

                                      The Restaurant at Meadowood:

                                      Full review with pictures in blog, text as below:

                                      http://endoedibles.com/?p=696

                                      My trip to Paris in April led to a renewed faith in the United States Michelin Guides; having dined at six 3* temples of gastronomy and four 2* establishments during our nine days in town I found that on the whole the quality of the food stateside compared favorably with the food of Paris with rare exceptions to the star system on both sides of the pond. With that in mind and having visited all of the US 3* (including the now post-guide Joel Robuchon Las Vegas) except for New York’s MASA and the newly promoted Restaurant at Meadowood it seemed logical that I should visit Christopher Kostow’s St. Helena bastion of local-regional Northern California cuisine during this trip to the Bay and it seemed appropriate that I should expect the experience to be remarkable.

                                      With reservations made months in advance and the better part of my Labor Day spent wandering the streets of Yountville and subsequently St. Helena I arrived at Meadowood Resort just before six and making my way up the steep hill to the largely unmarked “The Restaurant” found parking without difficulty. Exiting my car to the sounds of the forest and subsequently browsing the grounds before making my way up the stairs and through the doors I was greeted promptly on my arrival by a pair of hostesses who confirmed my reservation, offered to take my coat, and led me to a large and study two-top along the entering edge of the restaurant. With a full view of both the room and the outside landscape plus a nearby lamp lending extra light to the table my comfort was assured and after mere moments the first of many servers would arrive to welcome me.

                                      Seated with only one table occupied to my left – a husband and wife clearly involved in the restaurant industry (an interesting coincidence coming from this almost exactly a month later) – I sat for a moment taking in the silence of the room and its subtle palate of wood, white, and subdued lighting; truly elegant in all ways with the sort of design and table separation befitting the restaurant’s 3* status. Greeted next by another young man who would confirm my water selection of still over sparkling and then by my captain for the evening, Andrew, who would present the menus I was left to decide between the prix fixe and the Chef’s tasting while yet another server brought me a collection of magazines to browse throughout the evening; a choreographed parade of service that would continue throughout the evening and without a doubt the best service I’ve seen in Northern California since The French Laundry.

                                      With the menu in hand and canapés starting to arrive at both my neighbors table and mine before I’d made a decision on food or drink, my first taste of Chef Kostow’s creativity would be an excellent one described as “Pillow on a Pillow” featuring a House Made Crisp Cracker filled with fromage blanc topped with basil, and marigold blossoms – a tasty bite not dissimilar to a gougere with the sour cheese filling the palate and then giving way to the refreshing tones of basil and flowers that lingered on the finish.

                                      With a second canapé arriving moments later as I spoke to Andrew about my menu selection the next taste of the evening would be one that many have raved and as it turns out “Crunchy baby carrot and radish crudités planted in romaine lettuce crème fraiche and tomato vinaigrette snow, sherry vinegar, shallots, thyme essence in snow” would be well deserving of the praise. Beginning first with the produce, all reportedly grown on the grounds at Meadowood, everything was at the peak of freshness with vegetal bitters and slight sweetness punctuated by notes of herbs, spice, and a touch of acid. With the process of forming the snow described at length by one of the ancillary servers I was markedly impressed by its lightness – truly like a fresh dusting of snow – and would have loved to see a larger scale version of this dish as raw radishes remain one of my very favorite vegetables.

                                      With bites arriving fast and furious the next two items would arrive less than thirty seconds apart and included first Tempura-battered Geoduck Fritters wrapped in blanched romaine lettuce, beer batter, and esplette pepper plus a Shrimp Toast with Mustard and Chives – both tasty little bites with a slight briny sweetness balanced by the vegetal components and a crispy fried crunch contrasting nicely with the creamy interior.

                                      Rounding out the canapés and this time presented by Andrew my final pre-meal bite would be described as Cabbott Clothbound with potato and parmesan and like a gougere meets a pierogi this tasty little bite was the opposite bookend to the pillow on a pillow, a single bite and then gone; my palate primed after five bites in what felt like five minutes.

                                      With my beverage being readied and just a touch disconcerted by the flow of the meal thus far the amuse bouche of the meal would arrive next with a long description by one of the many runners and titled “The Goat that Got into the Onion Patch” it would prove to be one of my favorite bites of the meal. Unexpectedly balanced for a plate containing so many potent ingredients “The Goat” began with a House Made Goat’s Milk Yogurt atop Onion Jam – decidedly pungent yet mildly sweet – and built on that foundation with a visual and textural composition including dehydrated onions, fresh pea tendrils, pickled ramps, wheat grass, and onion blossoms all contributing to a taste that was decidedly focused yet at the same time never overwhelming; a theme I would see repeated over the course of the next ten dishes.

                                      Hoping that things would finally start to slow down as my water was refilled and my drink arrived – a tasty “Congress Avenue” with Mandrin Vodka, Cherry Brandy, and Lemon ($16) that would last me through the first five courses – the house bread service began next in a “bread pairing” fashion not unlike that at Guy Savoy or Alinea circa-2009 with Pain Au Lait served alongside housemade cow’s butter infused with yogurt and flower petals, both tasty but the butter certainly more so both here and moving forward.

                                      With the service still moving at a rapid pace throughout the room my first course of the tasting menu would arrive no more than twenty minutes after I was seated – a marked departure from my afternoon at Redd – and titled “Japanese Horse Mackerel” I was not sure what to expect since my previous experiences with the fatty fish had been a bit mixed. Beginning first with the Aji itself I will simply note that although not my favorite fish this particular specimen was one of the cleanest I’ve tasted both on its own and as the meaty full-flavored flesh balanced with the combination of bracing unripe Green Tomato Sorbet, sweet halved green grapes and cherry tomatoes. With the flavors of summer still here in full effect the dish was finished with housemade sourdough croutons adding a much needed crunch while the addition of onion flowers and a touch of gazpacho lent a slightly acidic and aromatic finish.

                                      With the pace continuing as it had been I spent perhaps 120 seconds browsing the copy of Food and Wine I’d been provided before the next course would arrive – my second favorite of the evening; “Cucumber Roasted in Pine.” Again described with great detail as the large lemon cucumber was cut tableside with the smells of pine and bay leaf rising forth from the wood plank the almost meaty cucurbit proved quite delicious on its own while an assortment of accoutrements including fromage blanc, borrage, caramelized onions, cucumber flowers, and batons of cucumbers plus “little sour Mexican cucumbers” lent additional sweet and sour notes all tinged by the slight aroma of dill.

                                      At this point actually requesting the service to slow down just a touch as I was afraid I’d be out the door in less than two hours I was told that the next course was already en route but that they would slow the pace thereafter and sure enough less than five minutes after I finished the cucumbers “Foie Gras enrobed in licorice” would arrive. A well known admirer of foie gras, especially in chilled preparations, but less-so a fan of licorice this dish actually proved to be one of the weaker presentations of the evening not due to the licorice, but rather due to the additional ingredients including crispy wild fennel, glazed and pickled cherries, and black walnut “pinch cake” that largely served to overwhelm both the smooth terrine and the airy whipped mousse. Served with a crunchy salted baguette as opposed to brioche and too small a portion to really spread anyhow this would actually prove to be the weakest savory of the night; a shame as the plating was actually quite beautiful and the ingredients all top quality.

                                      Perhaps having heard that I was displeased with the pace of the evening my next course would be presented by Chef Kostow himself after a more appropriate ten minutes during which I finished my cocktail and declined a second despite the interesting list. Listed as “Abalone and Chicken Thigh” and served in a low white bowl along with Geoduck Clam, Matsutake mushrooms, and radish tops plus a clear broth of cress and clam added tableside I really enjoyed the subtlety of this dish as the nearly “chicken soup” tones pervaded the palate on first bite but then gave way to the smooth sweetness of the abalone and slight brine of the clams. Again with radishes utilized impeccably to add just a touch of pepper while the mushroom’s fiber lent a textural variation to the otherwise proteinacious dish everything here was necessary and nothing wasted; a well conceptualized from start to finish.

                                      Again giving me a bit of time between courses the next dish would again be delivered by Chef Kostow and of all the dishes that night this would be the most memorable. Described at length as Lobster Roasted in Sel Gris with wood roasted Nori, White Seaweed, Ossetra Caviar, Lobster Mushroom, Brown Lobster Butter Sabayon, and Sea Beans the only way to describe the flavors is profound. Beginning first with the snappy and sweet lobster – amongst the best I have ever tasted – and then progressing though a variety of vegetal textures from fibrous and earthy to crunchy and brisk the dish was again topped tableside, this time with a light cream based sauce that served to marry all the flavors into one smooth experience punctuated by the intense salinity of the caviar.

                                      Having elected to add an additional course off of the prix fixe menu ($35) simply because it sounded too good to pass up my supplemental dish would arrive shortly after I finished oohing and aahing through the lobster and paired with a Rye Baton imbued with Duck Fat the “Chermoula Rubbed Duck with Raw shaved Rhubarb, Mustard seeds, Celery stalk and Leaf, and sweet mustard oil” would prove to be a bit overpriced for what I received but quite tasty just the same. Featuring two pieces of fowl, one a slice of breast with flawless crackling skin and the other a crisp and gamey slice of confit, the duck itself was good but certainly no better than that at Redd earlier in the day while its plate mates were surprisingly subdued for such strong ingredients, each providing a nice counterpoint to the aromatics of the duck without overpowering it.

                                      Now a mere ninety minutes after seating my final savory would arrive featuring the first ‘substantial’ portion of the evening and to be fair I was actually a little surprised at the 3-4oz of meat and its rather light adornments compared to the small yet ornate plates preceding it. Cooked medium rare and presented by Andrew as “Roasted Lamb Shoulder with Sour Plum, Eggplant puree, shaved Andante Dairy ‘Etude,’ lamb jus, and garden blossoms” this was a nicely prepared dish with the lamb young, succulent, and tender while each accoutrement was well conceptualized and tasty, particularly the aged goat’s milk cheese that added a slightly funky note to the otherwise bright and clean flavor profile.

                                      At this point largely resigned to the speed of service as other tables seated before me were finishing up and heading home the night’s cheese course would feature “Pont-l’Évêque in Soft Pretzel” with Green Tomato Confiture and Summer Garden Sauerkraut along with baby carrots and radishes. Generally unimpressed with composed cheese courses and at this point noting a bit of ingredient repetition in both the radishes and green tomatoes I will note that overall this was a fine course centered by a small ball of the soft Washed rind cow’s milk cheese nested in a sweet and salty pretzel, but all things being equal I’d have simply preferred a cheese cart (or at the very least some flavors I’d not yet seen that evening.

                                      )

                                      Moving now from savory to sweet Chef Kostow’s take on the palate cleanser would be a bit of fun in an otherwise serious restaurant – a dish described as “breakfast at dinner” featuring Jasmine Rice Horchata alongside Frosted Rice Flakes coated with squid ink. Served with a spoon and instructed to be eaten just as you would a bowl of cereal the horchata was actually quite delicious with cool almond and cinnamon tones pervading the creamy rice milk while the flakes, another take on rice, were crisp and sweet much like those produced by Kellogg. A fun dish to be sure and overall tasty…but not grrrrreat.

                                      Sated but not full the final course of the tasting menu at Meadowood would arrive almost exactly two hours after I was seated and featuring yet another riff on the ‘tasting of chocolates’ theme prevalent at so many restaurants these days “Milk Chocolate and Hops” featuring milk chocolate daquoise, milk chocolate sorbet, almonds, almond praline, hops sponge, and caramelized powdered milk was pretty much exactly what you would expect from such a dish; high quality chocolate, multiple textures, and just a touch of savory from the hops. Considering the rapidity of progression from dish to dish I will note that I found the partially melted ice cream a bit off putting aesthetically, though admittedly it did not affect the flavors – just not the sort of thing I expect to see at a 3*.

                                      With a copy of the menu requested when I first sat down Andrew would return to collect my dessert plate along with a copy of the menu and asking if I’d like it signed I agreed only to have a different copy of the menu (lacking the duck where the first had it added on) returned with the jacket signed – a small detail, but a detail regardless. Along with the menu I was additionally delivered the bill (including an $8 water charge for what I’m rather certain was merely house-filtered water) and a selection of four mignardises including a Chilled Chocolate with Passion Fruit caramel in the center, Pistachio marzipan with toasted coconut and Giandujia center, Chamomile and Lemon Marshmallow Kiss, and last a Mint Ice Cream Sandwich – all tasty and the marzipan actually better than either of the desserts despite being only a bite.

                                      With the bill paid (the most expensive of the trip by far) I bid farewell to my server and with smiles from each person I encountered on the way to my car I slowly navigated my way down the unlit roads of Meadowood until my GPS landed me on the main road a mere 140 minutes after I’d originally taken a right turn onto the resort property; the fastest I’ve ever been ushered through a ten course menu and less than half the time it took to dine at other Michelin 3* restaurants both here and abroad, and as a matter of fact less time than it took to complete many two-star experiences as well. Never one to complain about the cost of a great meal I will simply end my thoughts by stating that Meadowood is a fine restaurant and Chef Kostow clearly a very talented chef but all things being equal this was not a “great meal” and taking into account the rapidity of service, distance of travel, cost, and water surcharge the only way I’d return would be on someone else’s dollar – otherwise I’ll do the leg work for another reservation at The French Laundry or simply stay in San Francisco and visit a more appropriately praised and priced property.

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

                                      Andante Dairy
                                      Petaluma, CA, USA, Petaluma, CA

                                      Meadowood Napa Valley
                                      900 Meadowood Ln St, Helena, CA

                                      1. uhockey RE: uhockey Oct 9, 2011 02:36 AM

                                        benu:

                                        Full review in blog with pics, text as below.

                                        http://endoedibles.com/?p=734

                                        To say I went into benu with high expectations would be an understatement – this was a meal I was so excited about that I literally could not wait to visit and after back-to-back disappointments at Commis and Meadowood plus a long day of interviewing I actually went so far as to change my reservation at the last minute from Wednesday to Tuesday; a change that only happened because of a last minute cancellation but a change that nonetheless landed me a prime two-top at 7:00pm.

                                        Having already mentioned the circumstances of the visit my excitement to visit Corey Lee’s kitchen should not really be a surprise despite the mixed reviews of other writers, gourmands, epicures, and bloggers – Lee is the chef primarily responsible for a four hour 21-course meal that I still consider one of the three best of my life, a chef who still answers his own e-mails just as he did at the French Laundry, and – having sat next to one of his expeditors two nights before at Commis – a chef who commanded the unbridled respect of his staff…again, expectations were high.

                                        Departing the SFMoMA and walking a few blocks I found benu without difficulty and after watching Chef Lee direct his team from the center of the enormous and pristine kitchen through a large picture window I next attempted to find the entrance – a not uncommon occurrence I’d assume as the valet stood his post and directed me with a smile to the courtyard, a large serene space decorated with Japanese Maples, wooden benches, and large round stones – the very antithesis of the busy street outside. Making my way up the stairs to the restaurant’s entrance the doors were opened by a young man and within moments I stood at the top of another stairwell looking down over the vast expanse of the minimalistic dining room.

                                        Greeted first by the hosts and then by sommelier Yoon Ha at the top of the stairs as my table was prepared it was literally seconds upon entering the restaurant that I realized the well mannered and professional-yet-friendly service of Lee’s previous employer would be on full display at benu and surely this did not change from the moment I encountered the valet to the moment I walked out there door – without belaboring the point every single member of the team was flawless in their presentations, descriptions, and most of all ensuring that I was having a great time. Led to my seat by the host and subsequently greeted by my captain, Vincent, a menu was presented and after making sure there was nothing on the a la carte menu to tempt me I ordered the tasting menu without a second thought – nineteen courses for $180 – a veritable bargain compared to the $450 for 21 at The French Laundry.

                                        With decisions made and Yoon stopping by again to ask me if I desired pairings I explained my low tolerance for alcohol to which he suggested “perhaps a glass of champagne to start out with” and on agreeing I received a flute of Laurent-Perrier Brut Champagne – crisp, bracing, only slightly fruity – tasty and complimentary to at least the first six or seven courses of the menu.

                                        Awaiting my first course as I browsed the room – at this point only part full but to be seated at capacity by eight o’clock – I personally enjoyed the openness of the high ceilings and intentional support structures. Consisting mainly of shades of white and tan with sturdy black woods providing a bit of hard contrast to the plush carpets and microfiber seatings the room was decidedly Asian in feel, yet at the same time comfortable while the light overhead soundtrack helped sift out the background noise. While some have noted they find the room to be a bit cold, the use of ample lighting and a few small paintings added a splash of color that reminded me a bit of Alinea or Guy Savoy Las Vegas – simple, but far from boring – the focus on the table instead of the walls.

                                        With my champagne poured and the menu at my side to follow along the first bites of benu would be the house “bread service” of Buckwheat Lavash with toasted nori and sesame seeds – a quintet of crisp crackers with notes of brine showing only slightly over the nutty herbal tones and an excellent way to cleanse the palate between courses without taking up much capacity (something even I would need over the course of the next three and a half hours.

                                        )

                                        Beginning the listed menu at this point and incidentally delivered by the young man I’d sat next to at Commis who noted “I thought you were dining with us on Wednesday” the night’s amuse would be entitled “Thousand Year Old Quail Egg, Lily Bulb, Ginger” and served in a pedestaled bowl this thickened soup (nearly a rice porridge) would prove to be an excellent introduction to what would follow as the balance of briny egg and savory ginger paired nicely together while myriad spices including notes of onion and coriander punctuated a slight smokiness on the finish.

                                        With dishes arriving every five to fifteen minutes depending on the size of the course (more time followed larger courses) my second course of the evening would be presented by an Asian female with a quiet voice and instructed to eat this quickly as the shell may melt “Oyster, Pork Belly, Kimchi” would prove a dazzling bite utilizing sweetened kimchi glass to contain the smoky and briny/crispy and creamy surf and turf combo.

                                        With Vincent now returning and presenting a number of the upcoming courses as we discussed the places I’d been thus far in the Bay area (both past and present – including discussion of my Extended Tasting of Lee’s cuisine at TFL) my third course would be presented as one of his favorites and with my very first bite I immediately understood why. A lesson in balance and refinement described simply as Monkfish Liver, Salmon Roe, Buckwheat, Daikon this dish would typify the sort of cuisine I’d experienced from Lee in the past as the creamy ankimo paired beautifully with the briny eggs while the crunchy buckwheat and slightly bitter radish provided a stark textural foil. Three to four bites in its entirety this was the sort of dish I came to benu expecting and as exemplary at it was it would only be my third favorite of the night.

                                        Realizing, I’m sure, that the liver was a hefty highlight-reel dish its follow-up would be a bit less dramatic in flavor yet plenty interesting in texture and presentation. Described as “a sort of palate cleanser, if you will,” Green Apple Granitee, Cucumber, Pistachio, Olive Oil Pana Cotta would arrive in a low bowl and slightly sweet yet smooth and refreshing it served its purpose admirably – a dish proving that even the intermezzos at benu would not be underwhelming.

                                        Moving next to one of Lee’s signature dishes present since the opening of benu, Eel, Feuille de Brick, Crème Fraiche, Lime would be presented as a sort of fried pastry spring roll encasing smooth, sweet eel with just a touch of pepper. Tasty and just a touch funky on its own the roll was served alongside a dollop of crème fraiche with a touch of grated lime for dunking, a nice accoutrement that served to temper the eel without masking it.

                                        Told that my next dish was a new concept debuted shortly after the ankimo preparation had changed from a torchon to its current format, “Caviar, Chervil, Radish, Sea Urchin Butter, Brioche” would prove to be yet another outstanding dish borrowing Chef Keller’s recipe for brioche and pairing it with pure luxury in the form of prime osetra caviar atop a curl of rich uni butter. Rich, decadent, and entirely delightful the only way this dish could have been better would have been if it were double the size and the brioche swapped out for a warm replacement halfway through.

                                        Arriving on the heels of the brioche, “Conch, Tomato, Green Orange, Dashi” would feature a much lighter flavor profile than its predecessor and with the acidity clearly used to tenderize the typically rubbery shellfish this ceviche-esque presentation was again quite impressive in taste though a bit difficult to navigate as the diner was instructed to slurp the admixture from a shell which seemed intent on dribbling from it’s pointy end.

                                        For the eighth course of the night a bit of whimsy crept into the menu with “Salt and Pepper Squid,” a clever take on the Chinese classic featuring a crispy Shrimp chip topped with sliced jalapenos, chopped green onions, and dehydrated squid. Tasty, briny, fun, and a nice textural changeup between a number of softer courses.

                                        Greeted again by the fellow from Commis we chatted for a while about other restaurants in the Bay and our respective impressions of each before my next dish, “Jasmine Chicken with Dates and gold leaf” would arrive. Always fond of chicken and fowl dishes I fully expected this to be one of the better tastes of the evening, but all things being equal it just was not as good as I’d hoped largely because of the jasmine tea broth, a slightly cloying and overwhelming tone that served to blunt the flavors of not only the bird but also the dates. Perhaps a case of too sweet too soon, and not a bad dish at all, but simply not as restrained or balanced as the rest of the evening.

                                        Moving next to the XLB I really do not have much of a frame of reference as to what makes this dish “good” or “bad” save for the quality of the soup and the skin, but while many have strong opinions on this I will simply note that to me Chef Lee’s “Foie Gras Xiao Long Bao” was excellent; delicate wrapper, admirable shape, and a soupy interior tinged with the palate notes of truffle and small bits of liver – I liked it every bit as much as I expected I would.

                                        For course eleven I would receive abalone for the third time in three days but this time it would be done right – very right and without a doubt the best savory dish I had during this visit to California. Listed on the menu as “Abalone, Potato, Caper, Lettuce” it was these ‘basic’ ingredients that formed the dish, but what truly made the dish shine was their preparation – the potato sieved and the consistency of whipped cream, the lettuce warm yet maintaining its texture, the caper dissolved into the emulsion over top, and the abalone sous vided and then tossed in panko and esplette before being pan crisped – everything was flawless.

                                        Still swooning over the abalone when Vincent returned and asked how I was doing on capacity since “some people tend to get full around this point” I joked with him about the 20+ courses at The French Laundry stating “if everything remains this good I’ll keep eating till the kitchen stops sending me food” and with that the next course to arrive would be the night’s pasta course of “Fresh Noodles, Shrimp Roe Butter, Tarragon, chicken Jus.” Seemingly plain on visual inspection but obviously not in the olfactory department the first thing I noticed about this dish was the scent of tarragon and chives, a pleasant aroma that on taking a bite of the house made noodles gave way to briny notes of the shrimp and chicken stock. Clearly intended to be an upscale take on ramen it was a dish both comforting and rich – a nice segue into the heavier courses that would follow.

                                        For the thirteenth savory of the evening I would receive Chef Lee’s second menu mainstay (aside from the Eel,) a dish appropriately served with quotes entitled “Shark’s Fin” Soup with Dungeness Crab, Jinhua Ham, Black Truffle Custard. Having never had legitimate Shark’s Fin Soup it was explained to me that the ‘fin’ in this case was actually made of the same ingredients as the stock but modified to form a collagenous texture similar to real fin. Salty and savory with top notes of pork and the sweetness of the crab occasionally peaking through this dish started out well but would turn out to be worthy of signature status largely because of the custard – a creamy amalgam that rises to the palate on mastication with a tone indistinguishable from that of fresh truffles being shaved tableside.

                                        With my love of both duck and celery well documented the next course would be one of the most anticipated of the evening and true to form the team at benu did not disappoint. Delivered as a rather hefty portion, “Duck, Celery, Cherry, Shaoxing Wine” would prove to be my second favorite savory of the night (and of the trip) featuring a flawless round of moulard duck with crispy skin stuffed with an admixture of duck rillet, foie gras, milk and shallots alongside crisp slices of celery and creamy celery root puree. Already intense, aromatic, and moist the duck was subsequently topped with a fermented rice wine not dissimilar to sherry that brought all of the flavors to a point while the celery constituents acted to mellow the palate between bites.

                                        Before the arrival of the next course on the tasting menu Vincent stopped by again and having mentioned my comment about eating until they stopped feeding me to the kitchen asked if it would be okay for Chef Lee to add another savory to the end of the meal – an obvious yes – and with that the young female server would arrive with the menu’s final savory, “Beef Braised in Pear with Sunflower and Mushroom.” Generally not a fan of beef but willing to trust it in the hands of a great chef as part of a long tasting menu this was actually a surprisingly strong presentation rooted in atypically lean short ribs cooked slowly in pear juice and served with fibrous mushrooms, sliced pears, pear puree, and toasted sunflower seeds. Achieving where the jasmine chicken had lacked in balancing sweet with savory this dish would work well both on its own and for the surprise that would follow.

                                        For my “bonus” course, the sixteenth of the evening, I was told by Vincent that this dish had just been created that day and was likely to find its way onto the tasting menu soon. More than willing to play guinea pig, “Pork Rib glazed with caramelized clam jus, chili pepper, garlic, ginger, fish sauce, cauliflower forms” would again show the team’s skill with sweet meets savory, and this time with a little bit of heat tempered only by the cauliflower the fork-tender meat literally fell off the bone without any need for a fork. Largely inexperienced with fish sauces outside of my rare venture into Thai cuisine I was additionally impressed by the slight funk of this dish – something I don’t generally anticipate from pork, but a nice effect for just that reason.

                                        Moving appropriately from sweet savories to savory sweets the first of my desserts would arrive in the form of a double shot glass harboring “Malted Rice Tea, Pine Nut, Pine Needle Honey” – a tasty rice syrup resting atop honey panna cotta with a few cooked pine nuts floating around for textural effect.

                                        With coffee offered and accepted the first of two proper desserts would arrive on a small plate with the muted colors of orange and green hidden below a white froth entitled “Melon, Sake sorbet, Lemon Verbena Scented Tapioca” and while not particularly enthralled with any of the ingredients on their own the end effect was actually quite nice – a bittersweet fruit salad as it were with the cantaloupe and honeydew adding a sucrose note to the bitters of the sorbet while the mellow lemon tones pervaded on swallowing.

                                        For my final dessert before the menu-denoted mignardises I would receive “Sweet Corn Tofu, White Chocolate, Almond, Chili” along with a relatively mellow yet smooth coffee service in a porcelain pot. With coffee poured and sweetened to my liking I looked over the dessert – a yellow dollop centering a pool of white – before taking a bite and true to the previous sweets this final course would prove an exercise in subtleties with the small ball of tofu the very flavor of creamed corn without the lumps and its surrounding admixture a pleasant balance of mild cocoa tones and almond milk with only the slightest touch of heat.

                                        Sitting back and relaxing at the end of a journey that had taken me through some of the very best flavors of my visit to northern California Vincent returned with a refill of my coffee and the final items of the menu – a collection of chocolates displayed on a pedestal made specifically for the restaurant and including the flavors of White Chocolate Passion Fruit, Cherry Walnut, Toasted Sesame and Soy, and Dark Chocolate Caramel with sea Salt. With each bite tasty but only the sesame/soy bon-bon particularly memorable I was subsequently handed the bill and told to take my time while an invite was extended to visit the kitchen and meet Chef Lee and the team – an offer I gladly accepted.

                                        With the bill paid and a signed copy of the menu already in hand it would be a good ten minutes spent chatting with my servers before I finished my second pot of coffee and made my way back to the kitchen with Vincent’s lead. A far cry from the intimacy of The French Laundry kitchen I stood and watched as the immense kitchen worked largely in silence for perhaps five minutes before Chef Lee took a break in the action to say hello and thank me for coming in. Returning his thanks specifically for having now served me two of the best meals of my life and more than forty outstanding dishes I was again impressed by just how humble he was and at the same time how I could tell he was itching to get back to the kitchen to do what he knows best.

                                        Again thanking my servers before making my way to the now chilly streets the trek to my car was a brisk one and as I walked I reflected on the meal just passed – an exemplary one no doubt – and tried with some success to avoid comparisons to my meal more than two years prior at The French Laundry simply because such comparisons, while logical, are simply unfair. Sure the French Laundry was a better overall meal, but for myself that meal came at a substantial price tag and while a couple dishes (specifically the desserts and the chicken) at benu were not quite as perfect as those in Yountville the majority were on the par while the setting and service are simply “different” – neither better than the other, just a different yet entirely welcoming vibe at each and both well worth the effort to visit.

                                        While some may claim that benu is an “Asian Laundry” and others seem to feel it has not yet reached its potential for my largely inexperienced palate when it comes to most Asian cuisine the only way I can sum up the experience is this; At The French Laundry Corey Lee was creating immaculate cuisine in the style of Thomas Keller with his own twist while at benu Corey Lee creating immaculate cuisine in his own style based on skills refined under Keller and either way Corey Lee is a masterful chef who helms world class restaurant. Barring unforeseen circumstances there is not a doubt in my mind that someday I’ll have the opportunity to experience his skills once again and hopefully sooner rather than later.

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

                                        Commis
                                        3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

                                        Benu
                                        22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                                        1. uhockey RE: uhockey Oct 9, 2011 05:56 PM

                                          Plum:

                                          Full review with pictures in blog, text as below:

                                          http://endoedibles.com/?p=778

                                          …despite the urging of my dinner companion at Commis I simply could not justify the expense of a dinner at Coi during this trip to San Francisco; I’d simply heard too many mixed things from too many trusted palates and the recent menu changes from duck and “raw sugar” to beef and licorice made two out of the thirteen courses the sort of thing I simply don’t go out of my way to eat. Additionally, while I had no doubt that Daniel Patterson’s Michelin 2* restaurant would be a nice experience, after lackluster meals at Cyrus and Meadowood I was a little apprehensive regarding the Bay Area’s “best” according to Bibendum. Taking the above into account yet still intrigued by Patterson’s regional acclaim and culinary pedigree despite minimal national attention it was with great interest that I found myself seated at Plum for my last meal in the Bay Area; a compromise that would give me a chance to experience his vision without fully committing to the time and cost of Coi considering my early morning flight out of OAK the next morning.

                                          Having already mentioned the previous day’s reservation change it was with a bit of relief that when I called Plum at noon on Wednesday they told me reservations “would not be a problem” and arriving at 6:45 for my 7:00pm seating I was admittedly surprised not only by the area, but the easy availability of free parking just one block away. Harbored in an area appearing to be slowly gentrifying but not yet quite there I found the entrance to the restaurant without difficulty and on entering was greeted by a largely empty dining room with light ambient music playing overhead. Confirming my reservation (clearly unnecessary at such an early hour though the restaurant would fill to capacity by 8:00) I was asked if I’d prefer a seat at a table or the Chef’s counter and stating that the counter was definitely preferable I was led to a tall stool on the corner; undoubtedly the best seat in the house for a solo diner as it affords a full view of every single aspect of the meal’s preparation and plating.

                                          Seated for mere moments before getting a smile and hellos from the kitchen staff including Chef Parker and a pair of younger females who would work the stations closest to me throughout the ninety minute meal I was next greeted by my server, Cecillia, who welcomed me to plum and presented the night’s menu and wine list. Thanking her and requesting house filtered water while I made my decisions I spent a few minutes looking around the room and instantly found myself making comparisons to both New York’s Breslin in terms of hipster-chic and Chicago’s Avec with the heavily wooded dining space well lit but cozy. Generally not a fan of backless stools or communal seating I was pleasantly surprised by the overall level of noise – a mild din even as the place began to fill – though I have to say a bit of lumbar support would have helped everyone as all diners seemed slouched over due to the chairs.

                                          With the menu concise but well culled and local purveyors listed in abundance Cecillia would return shortly and after a couple questions I opted to start with three courses and a beverage. Having heard the portions were small but assured that I’d be able to order more if desired the night I sat for a bit chatting with my neighbors – a local couple making their first visit to Plum based on the recommendation of a friend – while I waited.

                                          Having already mentioned the focus on local sourcing and farm to table ethics, I watched with interest as the kitchen interacted with one another and with the ingredients; green beans were taken from containers, snipped, washed, and cooked at one station while bread was baked at another and griddles were oiled at a third. Impressed by the action I actually did not even notice when my drink arrived – a recommendation from my server entitled Scott Beattie’s “Bella Rufina” Brachetto with Orange Bitters and Aramena Cherry that reminded me of sangria; light, fruity, and only slightly boozy with the cherry notes most notable and the citrus notes more subdued.

                                          With the kitchen working quickly my first course of the evening, from the “snacks” menu, would be Pate Ciccioli with Mustard, Chervil, Toast – a classic preparation of the Northern Italian dish featuring aged pork with a gamy sapor atop rye toast and lightly dressed with salt, pepper, and chervil. A well crafted quartet I particularly liked the flavor of the pork and deferring on the mustard presented alongside was able to appreciate the unique texture of the meat as it contrasted with the toast in a cool and creamy meets hot and crunchy bite.

                                          Pate quickly consumed and having heard that the bread – complimentary on request – should not be missed my next item to arrive was indeed the bread, a single slice divided in two featuring a dense/moist crumb housed in a smoky crust with just a touch of sweetness. Served with locally sourced salted butter and described as “house made honey wheat” to be replenished without a second request I will simply say that for those who fancy bread or those who question Plum’s portion sizes this is the sort of bread well worth a couple rounds and calories.

                                          Forcing myself to go light on the bread as I slowly sipped my drink and chatted more with my neighbors the next dish to arrive would follow the pate by perhaps fifteen minutes and featuring three of my favorite crucifers Caramelized Broccoli, Trumpet Royal, Cabbage, Black Garlic, Cauliflower, and Torn Brown Bread Croutons would prove quite sublime. Beginning first with the cauliflower and broccoli, the first seared in olive oil and the second in housemade soy, then progressing through buttery melted cabbage, fibrous cooked mushrooms, and spongy croutons each bite of this dish was a textural exclamation point of flavor and having watched each ingredient be prepared individually the care that went into this plate was really quite remarkable for something seemingly so simple.

                                          At this point agreeing at least partially with the price/portion complaints I’d heard from others the next course would disprove this theory while also serving as one of five best savory courses I had during this trip. Again arriving perhaps fifteen minutes after its predecessor and again witnessed from start to finish in its production “Smoked Farm Egg Quinoa, Summer Squash, Padron, Blossom” was quite simply one of the most comforting dishes I’ve ever had at a restaurant. Beginning first with the quinoa – smoky, toothsome, and seasoned just enough to bring out some of its malty tones…it was remarkable on its own and all the moreso when the lightly cooked egg yolk was blended in. Moving next to the vegetables, again expertly prepared, the combination of sweet summer squash, crunchy tempura squash blossoms, and seeded grilled peppers each lent something new to the experience and with or without the grain each bite presented something new, delicious, and entirely savory.

                                          Asked how I was doing in regard to capacity and if I’d like to order another course I noted at this point that my neighbors desserts were being prepared and on browsing the sweets portion of the menu I decided the better part of valor would be to omit further savories and instead opt for two desserts and a French press of Blue Bottle – a veritable bargain at $3 and as expected bold, balanced, and complex with only the lightest note of acid.

                                          Watching the desserts be prepared literally three feet from my vantage point the first of my two selections would be the lighter choice – one of the few items that has been present on Plum’s menu in some form since the restaurant opened; Cheesecake in a jar. Served, as expected, in a jar along with fresh Maine blueberries and ‘spice crumble’ the first thing to note about this “cheesecake” is that it really is not a cheesecake at all but rather a cream cheese pudding not dissimilar in texture to cream cheese frosting but slightly less sweet. Taking bites of the pudding first and then plunging my spoon deep to explore the textures beneath I have to say that although good this was the one dish of the evening that really did not “wow” largely because it didn’t show the diner anything new – it was just a tasty parfait made of top notch ingredients, no more or no less, and at $9 a bit steep in the price to portion ratio.

                                          Finishing my second cup of coffee before progressing to my last course of the evening I’d had a little aural preview of this dish as my neighbors gushed about it and again watching its composition from start to finish this selection would prove to be vastly superior to the cheesecake in part because of my personal preferences for the ingredients and in part due to its novelty. Beginning first with a dense pave of 66% dark chocolate and subsequently dressed with fresh sliced figs, chocolate malt crumble, pine nut brittle, olive oil ice cream, and finally pinenut “pudding” this dish was a return to the flawless textures of the prior dishes and although still a bit pricey at $9 for what could have easily been finished in three or four bites this was a dish that demanded small bites and exploration, each bite something new and for myself the ideal spoonful being just a touch of each or the pudding along with the figs and malt crumble.

                                          With 16% service added to the bill (lower than I’d have opted to leave given the quality of the service and the show) and my total with tax and tip just over $80 I paid my bill and was told to take my time finishing my coffee – something I gladly did as the night was still young and my bags were already packed for the morning flight. Chatting with my neighbors again about the recent rejuvenation of Oakland after explaining I was in town for a job interview the staff next joined into the conversation as they worked telling me of all the great reasons to live in the Bay Area, not the least of which was the great restaurant scene – a scene which Plum and it’s owner are very much a part of, and a scene which I’ll undoubtedly revisit whether I move there or not just to see if Patterson’s flagship can somehow trump what is going on in the East Bay.

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

                                          Commis
                                          3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

                                          Plum
                                          2214 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612

                                          1. uhockey RE: uhockey Oct 9, 2011 05:57 PM

                                            That is it. Thanks to all the fantastic Bay Area Hounds for helping me make this trip a great one.

                                            http://endoedibles.com

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: uhockey
                                              urseberry RE: uhockey Oct 10, 2011 02:38 PM

                                              Thank you so much for the detailed reviews. I especially appreciate that you take a picture of the entryway and dining room of each restaurant. I am glad you had some great meals in the Bay Area and hope to hear more from you in the future.

                                              1. re: urseberry
                                                uhockey RE: urseberry Oct 10, 2011 03:01 PM

                                                Entry, Room, Table setting are all part of the experience - its something I've always done - glad someone appreciates it. :-)

                                                No matter where I end up working I've no doubt I'll be back to San Francisco within a year.

                                                http://endoedibles.com

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