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Memorable meals; Exceptional dishes- Pt.1

July 21, 2010

I have eaten my share of food in the Bay area over the past 6 months. I’m lucky, fortunate and pleased to have eaten out as much as I have and in the places I’ve eaten. Just look at my belly. It’s pleased. I’m rubbing it with pleasure.

With that being said, there have been some hits (whole roasted Gulf shrimp) and some misses (calling just lettuce, a salad). Not all of it has been great. Not all of it  has been good. But some has been WOW and Amazing and incredibly Memorable for me. This is from very great and very good restaurants. But it’s just my opinion. I’m not a professional food critic, but I love good food and I have an opinion, just like the next person.

It is: All a matter of perspective. How many times have we heard this phrase? Yes, at least a million. But I believe it to be true and what I like, you may not and that’s o.k. For instance, on Valentine’s Day, I would have been happy eating In -N- Out burgers with a bottle of champagne. My lover had other plans for us. He is sweet, he is kind, he is loving and generous. And after that meal he agreed that we should have had the In -N -Out burgers and champagne.

What the food has varied, what has remained consistent while eating out recently is:

1) the amount one will pay for Dinner

and

2)the time it takes to get a reservation.

Dinner for two, in San Francisco is costing about 200$, including a few starters (sometimes only starters), decent wine, dessert and gratuity. This is average for a restaurant that is: newly opened, newly featured in Food &Wine (or recently reviewed by someone, some where in SF, notably) newly trendy, just well-regarded and on Open Table. Reservations for several restaurants I’ve eaten at in the past 6 months were for 2 months out, or 6 months out. That is common. Or you can get a reservation at any said place, a week in advance, at the second seating (after 8 pm). In Napa and Sonoma I’ve encountered similar price range and more relaxed reservation (unless at Ad Hoc). I’m also consistently pleased with starters on a menu as opposed to main courses. Starters are exciting, interesting and satisfyingly complex. Then you get to the list of main courses on the menu and I hate to say this, but in my recent experience, they simply are just boring (ala Meat and Veg). It’s either an entrée of : Chicken, Beef, Pork or Fish with a vegetable, starch or both. I’m happy making a main course out of Bone Marrow (when I can find it) and a great salad (well dressed with more than lettuce). That’s just me. It keeps me quiet and contained. My handlers appreciate the bone marrow option.

Here are some of my favorite dishes from Memorable Meals over the past 6 months. In no particular order.

Bruno’s

Ryan and Kat of The ‘Gypsy Kitchen’ have shuttered their smoke stacks and painfully closed their Matzo crack den in order to move on to bigger (but not better) kitchens in the city. We will always remember your food. It is simply, ridiculously,pleasantly, outstanding…I was so delighted to taste such exquisite BBQ outside of Texas. Thank you for the memory. I am in the corner crying. Right this moment.

The most wonderful Hush Puppies in the world (besides the ones from Catfish Parlour in Austin) with Apple Butter. Piping hot, flecked with corn and just pure bliss down to the last lick from my fingers. Perfect with beer…like Shiner. We had something local. Like Anchor Steam.

Crawfish Etouffee. It is amazing. My eyes rolled back in my head. Enough said.

I’ve included 2 pictures for your viewing pleasure. When 1 is not enough, because it isn’t, there is another angle. Because these Ribs are just that damn good.

The biscuit and red beans and rice are better than they appear above. Just sayin. It’s like I was eating in someone’s Southern grandma’s kitchen. And back in Bruno’s kitchen churning out the -Soul Food love- was two young white Chefs. With ridiculous talent!

1 $ Matzo Crack lives up to the name. Sure other Pastry Chefs are doing it and have been doing it. It’s simple, it’s good, I need some now. Oh and it was only  a dollar.

After I mentioned I was from Texas and wanted to mount the plate of BBQ Ribs, the kind waitress emerged from the kitchen with special treats for dessert. Maybe it was sympathy and she thought that I was special and on day-release from somewhere    (due to my incredible enthusiasm for the food), or perhaps it was that Texas connection that sealed the deal. Whatever the case, we were given off the menu treats. Everyone loves off the menu. You feel marginally special for a few moments then you snap back to reality. It’s good to feel special. Don’t you agree? These salted caramel and Rocky Road morsels helped considerably. I did feel special. In fact, I still do.

Contigo

Tapas style Spanish inspired restaurant in the Castro. Our party of 4 managed to land a table ( with out reservations) as walk-ins because a 4 top had just cancelled. Moments earlier. What luck! We chatted up a Spanish winemaker who was dining there that night and peddling his wine. It was very good wine. Over bites, he casually mentioned the several times he’d eaten at El Bulli, how relaxed and wonderful it was (like eating at the local pizza spot) and how life as a wine maker is treating him. Just fabulous. The Chef/Owner of Contigo writes (or use to) a great food blog that I used to read before I moved to SF. The food at Contigo was exceptional. I thought it was simple and done right. Flavorful and inspiring. An unasuming salad of shaved cheese and toasted hazelnuts was remarkable. The Chef has put a spell on garden greens and little fish. I’d love to return. I’d love if Contigo was down the street from me. It isn’t.

Marinated Sardines. Unadulterated, pristine, perfect and delicious. I’m a lover of Sardines (as is my lover) and I really believe: less is more. Let them sing, they want to. They do here.

Tripe with Chorizo and Chick peas from the wood burning oven. Yes, please, Thank you. Bring on the tripe. This was wonderful. Sensual. Smoky, chewy (in all the right ways). Pure heaven. So simple, so right. White wine compliments, soft bread beckons.

Churros with Hot Chocolate

and a happy accident on the plate. Yes, really. I love Churros. I even make some pretty decent Churros rolled in sugared-thyme. The ones at Contigo are really good. Like really good. Made to order so they are hot, crispy and ready to dip in a wonderful cup of bitter sweet Hot Chocolate. Perfect way to end the meal.

The Richmond

In the Richmond is the Richmond. A family owned non-pretentious restaurant serving really decent food. The space is small, cozy and we were lucky to seat in a curtained window table. The Chef was delightful and kept coming to our table to chat and see how we liked the food. We  actually, really liked the food and I’d certainly go back. The burger sounds enticing.

Chicken livers with an Asian slaw. Interesting combination. The Chef is of Asian descent so there is influence of Asian ingredients  and they tend to pop up and get fused on the menu. It works, somehow it does. It’s good. The slaw was light flavorful and tinted with just the right amount of sesame and possibly citrus. I adore chicken livers. These were breaded and cooked perfectly. The livers were still soft and smooth. It was a great combination. We also shared a dish of Braised Oxtail with Scallops and Creamy Polenta that was absolutely outstanding. Zuni Cafe should come talk to  Chef John Ha about how he gets his polenta so delicious and creamy…oh yes, he does.

Nombe

Nombe is on Mission Street and according to it’s website- “Nombe (pronounced “nom – bay”) refers to someone who likes to drink heartily.  We are bringing Japan’s most popular eating and drinking establishments, IZAKAYA, to the heart of Mission.”

The space is cute and looks like it was once a diner. The food was decent. The only problem was that there was no flow with the dishes. They come to the table when they are ready. So what happens is that you have a pile up of both cold and hot dishes on the table and between 2 people, you simply feel rushed to eat 4 dishes at once. I’d love to return and sit at the counter where I can order as I wish and control my own flow. Of  Nombe.

Salad of Hamachi with peas and mint. Wonderful, unexpected and really good. We ordered another 2 orders of this salad later in the meal.

Nombe’s ode to the “Mission”. Tripe, avocado, cilantro, sweet and spicy broth. No longer on the menu, I thought this was great. I wanted tortillas and more of it. Tripe with avocado and chili is just perfection. Great combination. Simple and straight forward.

Pork belly – karashi, stewed onion, shoyu tamago

loved the spicy mustard smear and the wonderful onion broth. Why is Japanese street food so popular? It’s simple, delcious and riddled with pork. Doesn’t get much better. Bring it on.

Flour & Water

I’ve eaten here twice. Both times came with the 2 month wait. I respect what they are doing and trying to do. We’ve ordered pizza on both occasions and I can honestly say I didn’t love it. It was good, cooked perfectly but certainly not in love with the food. Pastas are decent.I had the worst salad of my life here. It was a joke. I just didn’t get it. And I can’t help but feel this place gets -way too much hype- for what the food is and how much it costs. Again, just my opinion, everyone has one. “Pleasant but ordinary” is how I’ve heard this eatery described. I love the space. It is cozy and warm and you just want to sit here all night by the flicker of votives drinking appropriate wine. I’d also eat here more if it was closer and certainly cheaper. What would I eat? Well anything if it was cheap. I’d eat a pizza bombed with chili flakes. I really, really enjoy the dessert of Chocolate Budino with Sea Salt. They certainly get this right.

Chocolate Budino with Sea Salt

More * memorable * dishes  to come in Pt.2

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