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Great Monday lunch? Chocolate?

babette feasts Oct 16, 2012 12:36 AM

I'm a pastry chef heading down in two weeks for a little treat after my hell that is Seattle Restaurant Week (started yesterday, shoot me now). I lived in Berkeley several years years ago but am out of touch with what is good these days.

I'm thinking SPQR for Monday dinner and Zuni Cafe for Tuesday lunch, but am looking for a nice lunch on Monday, ideally somewhere between the SFMOMA (always a must) and the Embarcadero (lodging). Cost is not an issue, looking for deliciousness of any kind, the more unusual or innovative the better.

Also, are there any local artisan chocolatiers worth checking out, besides Recchiutti? Or star patissiers? I'll have to stop at Tartine; do they have a rival? And can anyone report on the TCHO tour? We have Theo, so I doubt I would learn anything new, but could be fun if there are enough free samples :)

Thanks!

  1. babette feasts Nov 1, 2012 07:25 PM

    Trip report:

    First stop Craftsman & Wolves. Cute space, love the aesthetic, all the product looked great. Sesame and passion fruit croissant good but a little dry. Smoked butter caramel had no smoke and had a weird crusty exterior layer. Chocolate-white shoyu caramel had a great texture but could have used more saltiness. Caramel chocolate pearl travel cake is nice and moist, with a pleasant bitterness. Still very nice three days later. The counter help was a little spacy, she would have forgotten the caramels, and when I asked what the garnish was on one of the cakes, she said something about how that one was all gluten-free, but nothing about the garnish. It looked like something recently regurgitated, so I was curious. Still am.

    Next, Tout Sweet. I think where Yigit really stands out is flavor. There are only so many forms of pastry, so flavor is important. Got a cassis macaron and something floral, both good. My favorite were the pate de fruits - negroni, strawberry-orange-cardamom, raspberry-fig, and 'tesla' passion fruit-meyer lemon-yuzu. The Tesla really does seem electric, and I loved the negroni. If I was going to be picky, I'd say they are a little high acid - and they are a little weepy, which happens with high acid PDF, but better than being too sweet.

    Lunch ended up being a quick stop at Bocadillos for a beet salad and some jamon. Eh. Walking towards the MOMA along Kearny, I wished I'd gone for dumplings instead.

    Dinner: First an appetizer at SPQR. I got there later that I had planned and it was packed, but they were nice to hold a seat at the bar when it came open and call me back from walking around. Smoked fettuccine with uni butter, bacon, and soft quail egg was creamy and savory and delicious, but I didn't get much smoke or uni flavor. Oh well, still tasty. My new kitchen at work has been challenging because it is so small, but watching the cooks work on that tiny little line made me not feel so bad. Claustrophobes need not apply.

    Off to a decent start, I trekked out to Aziza for more. The amuse bouche was avocado, caviar, nettle soup, and padron pepper. I always love "free" caviar! The server said the squid appetizer had been poached in olive oil, but it didn't seem olive-y or oily at all, so I wonder. It had a great texture either way, with oyster mushrooms, preserved lemon, ginger foam, and radish. I texted my chef, who said, "Sounds gross! But I bet it's delish!". Definitely delish. My main was the smoked duck breast with celery root, pomegranate, horseradish cream, chestnut, and tiny crunchy ice plant buds. The chef certainly has a knack for putting seemingly odd ingredients together in a delightful way. Dessert was good, but after all the hype I have heard for so many years I was surprised it was so simple. A little torn black sesame cake (perhaps a microwaved sponge, but not served warm), a quenelle of raspberry sorbet, some soft toasted meringue that was nice but still meringue (yuck), and a plum-hibiscus juice that was pretty and light but made the cake soggy (also yuck). I can't say I felt like there was anything particularly Moroccan about the food, but I enjoyed the combinations and thought the plating was beautiful.

    Tuesday lunch at Zuni. Good enough, simple. I had an assortment of oysters, a nice little salad, and the sort of wood-fired pizza that is pretty good as long as you're not expecting certified Neapolitan. A duo of goat cheeses for dessert, good cheeses but the sour raspberries with coarse black pepper and a very green olive oil did not taste very good on their own and even worse with the cheeses. Bad condiment, bad pairing.

    Somewhere in there I also stopped at Recchiuti in the Ferry Building. I tried several of the less traditional flavors, my favorite probably being the cardamom nougat. I don't know why they call it a nougat, because it is clearly ganache - I asked on their website and am hoping they will explain. I think they refer to the crunchy caramelized bits on top as nougat, but I consider the chewy egg white confection to be the more usual definition of nougat. Whatever, I guess I will have to make my own soft white cardamom nougat and cover it in chocolate, I have the power!

    Thanks again for all the suggestions, I had a fun trip and loved that California blue sky.

    5 Replies
    1. re: babette feasts
      f
      foodeye Nov 2, 2012 09:56 AM

      Thanks for reporting back.

      There is a very good version of classic nougat available at Out The Door's retail kiosk in the Ferry Bldg. Look for that next time!

      Was the C&W garnished item the cocoa carrot cake? Here's an older article that has a photo and the recipe. When I made it, I just left off the garnish, since it isn't attractive or really needed. http://www.foodandwine.com/articles/d...

      1. re: foodeye
        babette feasts Nov 2, 2012 05:13 PM

        No, it was one of the bars, I think the PBJ. It was wet looking irregular chunks, seemed like it should be crispy bits in white chocolate, but it didn't make sense because of the wet look.

        1. re: foodeye
          grayelf Nov 3, 2012 02:11 AM

          Great tip on the nougat at OTD, never would have thought of it being there. Will get some for the SO next week!

          1. re: grayelf
            f
            foodeye Nov 12, 2012 12:38 PM

            Sorry, greyelf, OTD kiosk is no longer making the nougat - reportedly, the chef was not satisfied with some inconsistent results.

            Not in the same catagory, but OTD had a really great special snack today on the blackboard that you may like: sticky rice with bamboo shoots and mushrooms in a lotus leaf with a sauce (forget the name, tastes like rice wine/soy).

        2. re: babette feasts
          t
          tjinsf Nov 2, 2012 01:49 PM

          thanks for the detailed report.

        3. t
          tjinsf Oct 17, 2012 03:47 AM

          the TCHO tour is nothing like the far better Theo Chocolate tour and not worth it at all. Basically we just watched a video of how they used market research to come up with the best names and how they are the only organic chocolate place straight from the bean chocolate factory (which of course isn't true) and how being in tech made them excellent chocolatier which they aren't since they don't make confections only bar chocolate. There very few samples, just very small piece passed around so you can taste the "differences" in the dark chocolate they have. The girl doing the "tour" didn't seem to know anything about chocolate but lots about how they picked their packaging.

          As for Pastry shops Tout Sweet and Craftsmen and Wolves are good but expensive. I second LaCocina's booth.

          there is Poco Dolce chocolates in the dogpatch where you can visit their kitchen and shop.

          5 Replies
          1. re: tjinsf
            f
            foodeye Oct 17, 2012 09:22 AM

            tj, thanks for your review of the TCHO tour - it sounds like it needs improvement.

            They did just start doing some confections, which I am looking forward to trying. There's a write up here: http://blogs.sfweekly.com/foodie/2012...

            1. re: foodeye
              babette feasts Oct 17, 2012 06:35 PM

              Yes, thanks I will skip it. The Theo tour IS good, and they give lots of samples. All visitors to Seattle should go. I had actually got a bunch of TCHO because I was excited about the organic thing, but I ended up not really liking it. I'm only in town for about 30 hours, can't waste time on mediocre.

              1. re: foodeye
                t
                tjinsf Oct 18, 2012 02:03 PM

                I find it really funny they are doing confections because they went on a big spiel at a the chocolate show and on the tour that they would never add flavours or nuts to their chocolates since it would ruin the perfection of the chocolate. of course now I have to go try them. damn my sweet tooth.

              2. re: tjinsf
                b
                buzzardbreath Oct 28, 2012 07:53 AM

                I have stopped at their shop on my walk down to FPFM, three times now, hoping for a better experience. You are lucky; at least you got to do the "tour". I was the only customer in the building and couldn't even get the folks behind the counter to ring up the purchases I wanted to make (as I stood in front of the register with the packages in my hand), or get their attention so I could order a beverage. They were much too interested in discussing the the party they went to the night before or what their friends had posted on Facebook. The products went back on the shelves and I walked out. My money will be spent elsewhere.

                1. re: buzzardbreath
                  t
                  tjinsf Nov 2, 2012 01:45 PM

                  the tour costs money.

              3. steve h. Oct 16, 2012 04:19 PM

                I like eating lunch at the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchants.
                I cherry-pick cheese, bread, meats, olives, whatever from the shops and sit at the north side of the bar so I can watch the Ferry Plaza hubbub. The wine selections are very good, the music selection can be exemplary. It's very cool that the the wine shop lets you bring your own food. Highly recommended.

                1 Reply
                1. re: steve h.
                  m
                  Malcolm Ruthven Oct 16, 2012 10:10 PM

                  >It's very cool that the the wine shop lets you bring your own food.<

                  For sure. That's one of my must-do places for visitors.

                2. Robert Lauriston Oct 16, 2012 11:41 AM

                  Barbacco, Perbacco, La Mar, Wexler's

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: Robert Lauriston
                    Ruth Lafler Oct 16, 2012 11:56 AM

                    If she's going to SPQR for dinner, then she probably doesn't want Italian for lunch. She really stumped me with "unusual or innovative" -- most restaurants in that area are catering to an office/business lunch crowd.

                    Anyone been to Salt House since Vernon Morales took over?

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler
                      Robert Lauriston Oct 16, 2012 12:01 PM

                      Maybe skip SPQR in favor of something more unusual or innovative, such as St. Vincent.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston
                        Ruth Lafler Oct 16, 2012 12:04 PM

                        Can you recommend one open Monday night?

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler
                          Robert Lauriston Oct 16, 2012 12:30 PM

                          Oops. St. Vincent, not AQ.

                        2. re: Robert Lauriston
                          babette feasts Oct 16, 2012 03:04 PM

                          No love for SPQR? My chef de cuisine was raving about it after a few visits last summer, and I appreciated that their menu stumped me a few times, which is hard to do Chef was also raving about Aziza, which I have heard great things about for a long time, but I wonder if it is the sort of place that is more designed for groups and sharing over solo diners?

                          Ruth is right, I don't want to go too Italian. Machka looks like a possibility, or I may just snack my way around the ferry building. I'd consider Burma Super Star but that is a little far for lunch. Are there still the couple of restaurants with stinky tofu? What were they called?

                          1. re: babette feasts
                            Ruth Lafler Oct 16, 2012 03:29 PM

                            Except for the spreads (which are good, but not exciting), the dishes at Aziza aren't particularly designed to be shared. If you're interested in the tasting menu, you might call and ask if they'll do it for a party of one.

                            SPQR gets a lot of love. It's just that within the parameters you gave us, it would be easier to do Italian for lunch and something else for dinner. However, if you like Burmese food, rather than trek out to Burma Superstar you could check out Burmese Kitchen. http://www.burmesekitchensanfrancisco...

                            1. re: Ruth Lafler
                              babette feasts Oct 16, 2012 06:21 PM

                              I see. I may have to reconsider, the desserts do look better at Aziza. Maybe I should just do both! Wexler's looks great for lunch, Burmese may have to wait.

                              Thanks!

                            2. re: babette feasts
                              Robert Lauriston Oct 16, 2012 04:40 PM

                              If you're interested in Frenchified Italian food, then SPQR or Quince might please you.

                              Acquerello's great. No bar dining, but I'm sure they would make a solo diner comfortable.

                      2. j
                        jaiko Oct 16, 2012 11:32 AM

                        You'd have to trek out to the Richmond neighborhood for dinner, but the most amazing pastry chef we've encountered in the Bay Area is Melissa Chou, working with owner-chef Mourad Lahlou. My spouse thought the desserts at a recent dinner "all sounded weird", but when we ordered three of them to share, he admitted they were all fabulous.

                        None of the three of us like meringue (in fact spouse can't stand the stuff), but they were a crucial ingredient in all three desserts and each time the meringue was amazing and wonderful. Ms. Chou is a genius in the kitchen, and I don't use that word lightly.

                        If you ever have the time, go out to Alegio Chocolates in Walnut Square/Berkeley and get the full tour (actually a slide presentation/talk; you have to make a reservation) and full tasting (about 1 hr total). The first taste of 100% heirloom cacao, no sugar, vanilla or lecithin, will floor you with its intensity and terroir. I adore Recchiuti, but Alegio's tasting was an educational experience no foodie should ever miss!

                        1. f
                          foodeye Oct 16, 2012 10:18 AM

                          One great new bean to bar chocolatier is http://www.dandelionchocolate.com/ You can find their bars at Fog City News, which is In the area between SFMOMA and Embarcadero. Charles Chocolates is re-opening soon, in the Mission, also (I think they shouldn't have left Emeryville for SF Center in the first place...). LaCocina's booth in the Ferry Building has some interesting local chocolates, too. For newest bakeries, check out Craftsmen and Wolves or Yirgit Purga's spot at Macy's. For a nice lunch on Monday, how about (not new, per se, but always evolving) Boulette's Larder?

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: foodeye
                            babette feasts Oct 16, 2012 02:55 PM

                            Thanks for the chocolate suggestions, and the ferry building is always good for a snack. I just found out about Yigit's place from Food Arts. i loved him on TC:JD, will definitely stop by.

                            1. re: babette feasts
                              f
                              foodeye Oct 16, 2012 04:09 PM

                              You're welcome! And, here's a brand new place that may be, um, interesting...with chocolates from Florida: http://www.dolceamore.co/

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