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The end of overeating. Last of the memorable meals?

September 7, 2010

Where has the year gone? How is it September? I successfully survived my first summer in the Bay (albeit in scarves and jackets). I’m certain I mentioned, on more than one occasion, the type of weather we have endured: cold, windy, foggy and generally sunless, hence the reason for weekly trips to Napa and Sonoma in search of warmth and, of course, great wine. I shouldn’t complain too much. I managed to escape the brutal Texas heat this year in exchange for the coldest summer in 45 years. Not a bad thing. And I even realized after one scorching (102 without central air conditioning) day here a few weeks back, I’m really glad I missed such a very hot summer. I did my time in Texas. Parole is better.

The past month we’ve hosted an influx of wonderful visitors hailing from the likes of Belgium and Croatia (of all places, and a beautiful one at that). It was so much fun showing them the city and Wine Country. Again and again. Sometimes, we’ve stayed in for dinner (trading duties), enjoying intimate home-cooked meals. I’m really beginning to realize how much I really enjoy and prefer eating at home. I’m excited and determined to do more of this in the coming months. As we’ve dined and wined out quite a bit, I’m still struggling to keep up with images and notes from said meals..

Dare I say, we have only 3 months of 2010 left? The light has changed, the leaves are falling, the weather has gotten warmer in the day and cooler at night. It just feels like the beginning of Fall around here and that makes me excitedly nostalgic for this time of year. I’m so excited and I have already begun cooking with apples..(as if I’d stopped)

So I thought I’d wrap up the end of my Memorable Meals for the year. With a bow. I will be wise about my dining choices (because I’m not thrilled about the over-saturation of mediocre restaurants). I will pledge to eat at home more (hello roast chicken) and I also intend to teach a certain someone how to cook a few more dishes. I think everyone needs at least 2 or 3 solid items in their bag of tricks. Here is The End of Overeating.

Menage- a- Trois- Halal Chicken Breast, Real Honey, Honey Mustard, BBQ, PepperJack, Swiss, Smoked Gouda

Fresh in my mind is a trip to Ike’s Place last month before the cult classic sandwich shop was evicted from its celebrated location at 16th & Market. Turns out Ike’s was granted a reprieve (last I heard) and they are still in operation. This can only mean that lines are present with happy and hungry patrons and the “constant smell of fried bacon”  is wafting through the Castro air. On my visit I took along my friend J. and her adorable 3 month old baby. We waited in a line that stretched from Ike’s front door, down about half a block. There were only about 10 people in front of us and that gave us plenty of time to look at the extensive menu and chat with the people in front of us.

I decided to go with the Menage-a-Trois. Partly because of the infamous list compiled by 7×7 Magazine,that recommended it to be one of the 100 things to eat in SF before you die. But also because the nice couple in front of us swears by it too…for what reason, I did not ask. But they do. Love it. Could they be swingers?

The sandwich was everything I thought it would be and more. So much more. Every bite was followed by -ohhh, ahhh, and quite a few “Oh my Gods”. It was entirely worth the 45 minute wait to order and the 30 minute wait for it to be made. Upon finally receiving our order, we promptly made our way to the sidewalk and began to eat (or rather, tear through that toasted buttered Dutch Crunch bread). This is the sandwich that is meant to be enjoyed at 2 a.m. after a long night of drinking, or returning from a 3 week sabbatical in the Arizona desert.

On the topic of Sushi was that for a non-sequitur?

Duck breast, yukon gold potatoes, pickled watermelon rind

I’m a repeat offender at Sushi Ran in Sausalito. I adore the food. I think it is amazing and always consistent. I’ve never, ever, ever had a bad meal at Sushi Ran. I could really eat there on the days I wasn’t eating pho, tacos or at Aziza. Let it be known that the fish and sushi rolls are of superior quality, but my favorite part of the menu is from the kitchen of Chef Scott Whitman. While I  am struggling to forgive him for removing Whole roasted squid with black garlic aioli from the menu, I completely understand his intense focus on seasonality when creating and maintaining menu items. This duck breast appeared on the menu earlier in the year and I thought it was truly an incredible dish. I thought about it for days, possibly months. Hell, I’m still thinking about it. It was something very special.

Tako Pops at Uchi

Earlier this year, in March, I found myself happily back in Austin for a wedding. Because my partner is more in love with Sushi Ran than even I am, I decided to expose him to the wonderful world of Uchi. I can’t really say that it’s Austin’s answer to Sushi Ran, but I think the level of greatness is consistent in both restaurants.

Sweetbreads / beet chips, orange, tarragon

By the end of our sensational meal, he had to confess that Uchi is his new favorite Japanese/Sushi restaurant and he’d happily eat at the Sushi counter every day if he lived in Austin..yes that can be arranged.

Milk 3 ways/ Fried milk is amazing!

The Executive Pastry Chef at Uchi is an old friend of mine.  I’ve watched the progress and immense talent of Chef Philip Speer continue to grow and explode over the years. He really has a way with desserts and his creations continue to inspire and captivate. They are so very inventive and, something that isn’t always the case with inventiveness, utterly delicious. We agreed that his desserts are some of the best, if not the best we’ve tasted this year.

coffee panna cotta with mango ‘yolk,’ coffee soil and white chocolate sorbet

To complete the Japanese/Sushi experience I offer you Morimoto Napa

The trendiest restaurant to open in downtown Napa this year. Morimoto’s restaurant is getting more buzz than Bieber and some really great reviews. We’ve eaten twice so far, the first time being a really great dinner and the second time being good, but, oh, well, average in places. The space is beautiful, the staff is incredibly trained, but the food is hit or miss. I did not like the sushi rolls offered (not a fan of sesame mix on everything), though the sashimi is as fresh as it can get and is amazing.. I really enjoyed  and opted to explore the hot and cold appetizers, which I found very exciting and memorable.

Melon Tempura, Iberico Ham, Wasabi Tzatziki

This dish was curious, unexpected, well-executed and really quite good.

Tuna Pizza
Anchovy aioli, olives, jalapeno, cilantro micro-greens

Can only wonder how many times the kitchen makes this on any given night. I love this dish and would travel miles to eat it (actually did). It is entirely contagious. Thought it looks a bit odd and sounds as if Wolfgang Puck had his hand in menu design, I’d return to Morimoto to eat this and only this. Great when enjoyed with one of the refreshing yuzu julep cocktails.

10 hour Pork Belly, Rice Congee, Soy-scallion jus

After the first bite, I was silent and then remarked “Oh, wow..” I’m a sucker for pork belly and this dish exemplified the oozy essence of what pork belly should be..It would have been over-the-top with a glass of Deerfield Meritage but I was still nursing the Yuzu Julep.

After service with a smile– and following the consumption of  many interesting and delicious dishes– I just crave simple, comforting food. In my mind that is what memorable is all about. Whether it be delicately griddled sweetbreads with lime, onion and cilantro on corn tortilla, from a local taco truck. Or a truly  great cheeseburger from In-N-Out. Un-complicated can be immense.

Xe Lua (combination flank, tripe, steak, tendon, meatballs) from Pho Garden

Pho Garden on Clement is everything right. I’m not sure if they are the best for Pho in the city but there were no complaints from me. The time I went I felt it was just really solid and one of the best bowls of Pho I had had in some time. I am still anxious to get back and try another bowl. Even as I write this now, I am actually tempted to get up and drive there now. It’s just that kind of day.

Desserts by Pastry Chef Melissa Chou of Aziza, can also soothe the soul. Aziza remains number 1 as my favorite restaurant in San Francisco and in my opinion, Chef Melissa Chou’s desserts are the very best in San Francisco and surrounding Bay area. They continue to amaze me. Completely delightful and titillating, time after time.

goat milk panna cotta, hibiscus soup, rose gelée, rhubarb

banana crêpe, coffee mousse, banana-date fritter, rum anglaise

chocolate sorbet, white chocolate ice cream sandwich, almond granita, cherries

goat yogurt sorbet
beet sorbet, melon soup, sunflower seeds

almond frangipane
plum sorbet, black cardamom yogurt

Any meal at Aziza restaurant is memorable. We’ve been several times and each meal is just phenomenal. I’m aware of my “Aziza love”, and my slightly insane enthusiasm for this establishment. But I simply can’t help it. The food has truly captivated my heart much like my one time trip to New Orleans. Something about the food and the restaurant is entirely pleasurable and pleasantly haunting. I’ve been moved to write much about Aziza and you will find earlier posts dedicated to my obsession with several menu items.

Sardines and Brioche

Since removed from the menu due to seasonality constraints, the dish is truly an exceptional plate of food. It is near and dear to my soul. I will leave it at that.

avocado, fiore sardo, chicken crackling, black pepper, lime

I adore when a few ingredients create harmony on a plate and result in perfection. Sometimes all you need is ripe, luscious avocado, shavings of rich fiore sardo cheese paired with the salty crispness of chicken skin. This dish is insane. Perfect with  glass of champagne or an intoxicating glass of Honig Cabernet.

Chanterelle, radish, spring onion, brown butter brioche, mustard

This dish came to us for a reason. Sent from the heavens– and delivered by the hands of our fabulous waiter Troy. We actually ordered the Chanterelle soup (which came later and was sensational) but this dish arrived instead. It is an entrée and we devoured it in seconds (imagine the feeding pit at a zoo). The plate is gorgeously composed and every bite was pure joy, peace and ecstasy (All in one. It is possible). How else can I say this– the earth moved. I went to sleep thinking of this one dish and by morning I was infatuated with the memory.

Oh Aziza, oh Aziza. Thank you for the experience.

Perhaps you’ve seen this image before. It might be familiar.

If it isn’t, this one below may do something for you.

Salmon Cornets (crack on a cone) at The French Laundry

Yes the pinnacle of dining was achieved this year when I gracefully enjoyed with my partner a special 4 hour meal at The French Laundry. A special thanks goes to American Express concierge for making our waiting time an easy 2 months (like Flour & Water).

The staff and service they provide are impeccable. We were fortunate to dine in a small nook off the main dining room. The meal proceeded with perfection, despite the obnoxious noise coming from the over-sauced patrons sitting behind us. I wanted to walk over and politely say “No, sorry, The French Laundry does not carry Sutter Home, so please stop asking for it”. The staff swiftly transitioned them to the garden where they’d have more space to enjoy coffee and mignardise. We were grateful.

Our meal was excellent from beginning to end. It was more than I could have ever imagined and then some. I am so grateful for the experience and will always cherish the memory. Unfortunately the earth did not shatter at my feet, nor did it stand still. Though each dish was picture perfect, seasonally composed and unique, we both agreed it was not “the most amazing meal of our life”. Only an opinion and from what I hear we are not alone in that opinion.

There are several things that really stood out in the meal.

“Oysters and Pearls”

“Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar

This dish is a constant fixture on the menu and it is simply phenomenal. We can only pray it will never leave the Laundry’s menu. You only want the portion to be larger, the bowl deeper and the sauce to keep flowing. What an amazing composition. Just brilliant.

Moulard Duck “Foie Gras au Torchon”

Yellow peaches, Marcona almonds, Endive relish, Mustard greens, and “Lillet Blanc”

Silence fell upon the table as if Church service was in procession. I didn’t want to speak. I wouldn’t know what to say. I moaned, slightly. Grunted, shifted and possibly said something like “Oh sweet baby Jesus”, or something to that effect. The quintessential Foie Gras is this very dish. Sure, there was warm brioche that arrives at the table every 6o seconds, as it is essential that the foie is eaten with warm brioche (so deems the kitchen). We were delighted by this.

Every 60 second warm Brioche

Though when the foie is this luscious, this perfect, you only care to eat it off a spoon, finger, fork, or favorite body part, belonging to your lover. Again, like the Oysters and Pearls a bit of a tease, a bit of foreplay to prepare you for the next 3 1/2 hours in your seat.

Sweet Butter- Poached Maine Lobster Tail

Fried green tomatoes, Celery branch, Romaine lettuce, Horseradish creme Fraiche and Lobster vinaigrette

I guess I am a sucker for the classics. Butter-poached Lobster, is a standing menu item as well and it’s very good. Very, very good. I know it’s good when I want to make an entree out of the dish. Or two.

The last standout dish, was a very simple palette cleanser that followed an over cheesed, cheese course. Perhaps anything might be salvation after far too much Humboldt Fog (and I am a huge cheese lover).

Royal Blenheim Apricot Sorbet

Toasted Barley-Brown sugar streusel, Cilantro shoots and White Apron Ale “Nuage”

Inventive and inspiring is what I felt about this small dish. Just a quick hello with a lasting impression. Simply exceptional and far better in my opinion than the desserts we shared that night.

Again, a matter of taste. A matter of preference and opinion. I can only speak for myself. I like what I like and I thought I might share them with you.

I’m completely full now.


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