Friday, September 25, 2009

Seattle eats

Just returned from a 4 day trip to Seattle to promote Hungry. And we did not go hungry. We found a Vietnamese place, Tamarind Tree, that rivals any in San Jose. We went for lunch and it was so good we returned with a group for dinner. The menu is the same but prices are about $2 more at dinner. It's a lovely room plus a really nice patio with a waterfall in a pretty rundown shopping strip on Jackson and 12th Ave. S. A fantastic banh xeo (Vietnamese crepe) with large shrimp and coconut milk in the batter, beautifully balanced green mango salad, and an anise infused pho at lunch. The highlight of dinner was Thanh Long yellow fish (tumeric seasoned catfish) to wrap in lettuce and herbs with peanuts and other goodies-- really amazing. The bon bon salad equalled the mango salad and shitake satay was very good. Any of the fresh rolls are recommended. Another amazing entree was the chicken ginger vodka, marinated in vodka overnight braised with ginger. Grilled beef short ribs were fine, but compared to the chicken and fish, don't bother. And their wine list is pretty good too. 8 people feasted for less than $30 each.

The other change-my-life find was the Cuban sandwich place, Paseo. I heard about this the last time I went to Seattle and was thrilled to try it this time. We went to the Ballard locks before we had to get back to the airport and fortunately there's one in Ballard on Seaview Avenue. OMG! We had to wait until we got on the plane to eat so they were a little soggy but the roasted pork sandwich is one of if not the best sandwich anywhere (gives the meatball sandwich at Mario's in SF a run for its money). Huge chunks of incredibly tender pork shoulder with a garlic aioli, carmelized onions, lettuce, jalapenos on a baguette roll. Also had their original grilled pork (very nice) and the seared scallop with a 3 out of 5 hotness request. Unique and very good but the pork shoulder was the clear winner. I want one now.

We also had a pleasant French meal at Le Pichet right near Pike's Place Market. Highlights were the roast chicken for 2, lentil salad, falafel, and sardines. The hazelnut-crusted fish was a real salty miss but they took it off the bill, a real service-focused thing to do. It's very French with an excellent apperitif and wine list and recommended. In Bellvue, we had a satisfying lunch at Tao on 110th Ave. NE, a block from the library. Good variety of Japanese food with a few Korean dishes. The bento boxes are a great deal for $8.50 and you get a little cup of frozen yogurt at the end of the meal, which was just perfect.

Breakfast at Jimmy's on 1st in the Silver Cloud Inn-Stadium (our hotel via Priceline) was better than one might expect. Bagel with smoked salmon was generously layered with wild salmon, tomatoes, capers and chives for $10. In Pioneer Square we discovered Grand Central Baking Company, which makes the excellent baguettes for Le Pichet, above. They have a daily coffee cake that was terrific as well as healthy tasting muffins and scones. Everything looks good and everything we tried had satisfying texture. We had an excellent, albeit a little pricey sandwich at the famous Salumi, run by Mario Batali's father. The meats were so flavorful complimented nicely by tapenade, although the rolls could have been better. I was walking along Broadway and saw a long line at Dick's, a classic looking drive-in. Tried a burger (OK) but thought the fries were really good. I wasn't hungry enough to try their 1/4 pounder, which most people were getting.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Chinese feast

I always enjoy Chinese banquet style eating. I usally ask to see the Chinese menu in "authentic" restuarants and have the waiter translate the courses. It's usually the best deal. Friends of ours have a tradition of going out to eat a Chinese meal before Rosh Hashana starts and asked us to join them this year. The choice was Joy Luck Place in the Cupertino Village shopping center on No. Wolfe Road (at Homestead), mainly known for their dim sum. What a great meal it was!
We got the lowest price family dinner, $268 for 10 people plus one other dish to make up for one of our party's being allergic to shrimp. The dinner consisted of generous portions of: a cold BBQ meat platter with jellyfish and seaweed too (pork very fresh), soup with seafood and tofu, glazed (giant) prawns with walnut, scallop and chicken in black bean sauce (scallops a little overcooked), braised broccoli and bok choy with black mushrooms, pepper fried whole crab (2), Peking duck (excellent), pan fried sea bass (very tender and fresh), seafood fried rice, and red bean soup. The added dish was beef tenderloin in capital sauce with lovely sauteed onions.
Their dinners for 10 are also available for 5, which is unusual and welcome. It was a great meal and a good start to a new year, albeit traif.

A couple of weeks ago, we went to the BATS (Bay Area Theatersports) Theater at Fort Mason for a terrifc night of improvisation, Jane Austen Unscripted, by Impro Theater of Los Angeles. Before the show, we went to Yukol Palace, at Lombard and Scott for some very fine and pretty inexpensive Thai food. We parked near Fort MAson and walked. It's nice to know about it as it is away from the Chestnut Street crowds and so reasonable. Their Yum Ma Keur, charbroiled japanese eggplant in lemon dressing topped with shrimp, chicken, and accompanied with slices of hard boiled egg is a wonderful way to start. We followed this up with beef larb, pad thai, Panang chicken curry, and brown rice. All dishes were under $10. Look for the daily specials. They also have some easy drinking cocktails.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Anniversary treats

We spent our 30th anniversary in San Francisco with one truly great meal and a couple of new discoveries. The night was spent at the Clift which was too hip for our tastes. We got an upgrade to this oddly shaped studio with a small living room and then bedroom with another small room by its side. There are curtains and mirrors all over the place and "cool" but uncomofrtable furniture. The bed and sheets were very comfy tho. We had been to the old Clift and missed it. The Philippe Starck touch did not touch me.

But dinner at Ame in the St. Regis across from SFMOMA was sublime. I thought I would be disappointed after our great meal at Delfina but this was a totally different experience. I got the tasting menu, 5 courses for $85 with matching wines for $65-- worth every cent. Sheila got appetizers and dessert with 3 wines/sakes by the glass. First course was 3 sashimis--a fresh halibut crudo, a red ocean trout, and himachi. Each had its own tiny accompaniments. Sheila had Campechana, a ceviche-like assortment of seafood in an incredible tomato water gelee with hints of chile pepper. Sublime. My next course was a sweet corn soup with a lobster hushpuppy-- very fresh, inetense corn taste served with a lovely Foxen Chenin Blanc (I've got to buy some of that). Sheila then had ezo abalone with padrone peppers and mushrooms and other goodies--there were 5 small abalones, which I thougt wa spretty impressive for $17.
I then got the signature Broiled Sake Marinated Alaskan Black Cod and Shrimp Dumplings in Shiso Broth and it was fantastic. We had this years ago at Terra, their sister restaurant in St. Helena, and have fond memories now refreshed. Light with intense flavor served with a Volnay, surprisingly appropriate. My last entree was Kurabata pork chop with a foie gras sauce, very tender, very delicious. Sheila's last course was Chawan-Mushi, a Japanese custard with urchin and mushrooms and geoduck clam-- I believe one should never pass up an opportunity to try chawan-mushi-- texturally comforting but with wonderful flavors and this one is a must.
I had a peach hand pie with a vanilla shake for dessert and Sheila had green tea affogato poured over pistachio ice cream, both great. The affogato was refreshing and felt cleansing, a nice touch after an intense meal. The pie had a light, crispy buttery crust with many chunks of peach, yummy. My dessert wine was an Adelsheim late harvest Pinot Noir. Ahh, glorious dining and an apt celebration.

And speaking of peaches, the next morning we stopped by the Sentinel at 50 New Montgomery, a take-out counter run by Dennis Leary, owner-chef at Canteen, another great SF place. We had a terrific piece of cinamonny coffee cake while we waited for the peach muffins to come out of the oven. The lovely muffin was filled with chunks of fresh peach. Both were great comfort foods. We wanted to return for lunch but the line was too long and we had to get our car before I got a ticket. After breakfast we went to SFMOMA and really enjoyed the Avedon show. Also saw the Georgia O'Keefe and Ansel Adams. I know we're supposed to idolize O'Keefe but I don't. But Adams is always great.

Here's my SF parking secret. If you're coming after 2 PM, drive to Glen Park and find a 4 hour space then take BART into town. $3.50 round trip is a lot cheaper than parking if you're going to Union Square area. Since we were staying the night, we had to get back by 1 PM to take advantage of the 4 hour morning parking. It worked out great with easy freeway access. This time I took Bosworth to Mission and we stopped for lunch at Joe's Cable Car for an excellent burger and patty melt. The burger is $9 and melt is $12 so it ain't cheap, but the burgers are fresh-ground and organic so they are special. And Joe is right there as he has been for 40 years. I was watching the in-house butcher cut up beautiful beef to be ground up for our enjoyment. Nice.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Delfina and Luna Park

At this moment at this time, life is great. Sheila and I are celebrating our 30th anniversary today, retirement is going well, and good things about the book keep happening. Both kids are in much improved situations and the dog is a delight. I got fitted for a demo hearing aid and the sounds are flowing in. Who could ask for anything more?
And life was made ever more grateful-inducing with a really terrific dinner at Delfina, the ever-popular Mission Italian on 18th near Gerrero. Dear, deeply dear friends Ellen and Neal took us there for retirement & anniversary celebration. Sevice is always perfect, everyone is nice, they serve Tartine bread (ask for it); it's just as a star restaurant should be. The food: Grilled calamari is their standard appetizer and it was terrific as ever with cannellini beans and the grilled sardines were plump and bursting with sea flavor. Too bad Neal doesn't like sardines so we had to eat his portion. A hand-stretched FRESH mozzarella with heirloom tomato salad was sublime, a perfect dish to share.
Then I had rosemary tagliatelle with a guinea hen ragu, like a lighter but more flavorful bolognese. It was great. The gnocchi were also lovely as was the fregnacce (strips of pasta) with Louisiana white shrimp. As an aniversary gift, they brought an order of the chicken tortellini, light and simply sauced. Again too bad that N&E don't eat meat so Sheila and I were forced to eat them. How we suffered!
We ordered the profiteroles to share and as a bonus they brought the lemon panna cotta which was sublimely wonderful. My mouth is watering writing about it. The profiteroles were very nice too, light but crispy shells filled with espresso ice cream.
And all accompanied by a smooth, fruity, yet dry Barbera d'Alba. Thank you E&N for a truly great meal and that wasn't all--a comfy terry cloth robe and slippers for my days of leisure.

A drinking note: Before dinner Sheila and I stopped at Luna Park (Valencia and 18th) for their justifiably famous mojito. I've been there 4-5 times and the mojito is always perfect. Well-balanced, lots of lime, mint, and just sweet enough. How do they do it. I asked. The lovely bartender said she muddles not only the mint but the lime. Could be the secret!