Jul 31, 2010

Love at First Bite cupcakery in Berkeley

I work my hardest to be the most independent as possible on my reviews here. But I have to confess that I am biased for this place. I love it! I even chose these cupcakes to be served on my wedding reception. The place is located at the Gourmet Ghetto in Berkeley, few steps from the original Peets Coffee and around the corner from Chez Panisse and Gregoire. 

The cupcakes are so delicious, fresh, tasty, moist, flavorful... incredible! My favorites are the lemon pistachio and the matcha green tea. The frosting texture, flavor and amount are very well balanced and doesn't overwhelm the cake itself. Service is very friendly and receptive. The place is a little hidden, but worth looking for. Enough said, if you have chance, give it a bite!

Love at First Bite Info:
Price range: $

Jul 28, 2010

Foreign Cinema Restaurant, Mission District, San Francisco

The experience of Foreign Cinema for dinner as equally wonderful as I went through at weekend brunches. Fully recommend you to savour this gem! Local seasonal flavors, great vibrant atmosphere, fabulous for a dinner with friends, romantic modern couple or to watch a movie. 

More info on Foreign Cinema:
Price range: $$$

Jul 27, 2010

Andy & Cindy Thai Food Stand, Berkeley Farmers' Market, Berkeley

The best chicken egg roll ever!!!!!! The place is simple, but the food is so delicious. I used to go have it almost every weekend while I used to live in Berkeley. 

I fully recommend the egg rolls and the Thai curry. I personally get the combo: chicken curry and satay. It's divine!!! There are also other great options of food stands at the farmers' market. 

Andy & Cindy offer seasonal vegetables, free-range organic chicken and gorgeous flavors. The service is amazing and they are great people. While going shopping for the freshest produce and good selection of pastries and different products, give it a try to this food stand.

More information on Andy & Cindy Food Stand:
Price range: $

Jul 22, 2010

Grégoire Takeout Restaurant in Berkeley

At first, it's impossible to think French inspired food and takeout style being used to describe the same place. French cuisine is well-known for their slower mode, appreciation for flavors and cooking abilities. Takeout is mostly known for the faster speed food preparing that people come to pickup in time rushed manner. Then, there are the places that can offer both for a good price and quality.

The restaurant Grégoire could be inserted in this category, although it's an extremely simplistic way of describing it. As they describe themselves, they are "the first high-end artisan takeout restaurant, located around the corner from the renowned Chez Panisse in the heart of Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto."

In a tiny spot on Cedar Street, this restaurant has two woody relaxed tables on the sidewalk and amazing patented paper boxes to be taken out. The compostable silverware has sparkling metal feel to resemble a true silverware. And although it's a takeout restaurant, the place is far from being fast. To get in and out on a timely manner, check out the menu online and call to place an order. If time is not a concern, enjoy the wait and appreciate the preparation process from the large kitchen window. 

The respect they have for what they do is felt on the great ingredients they use, best, natural and organic, from all over the world (interesting to see a place in Berkeley that doesn't prioritize local ingredients). Another aspect of that respect is the menu, that get changes every month, renovating all but two side dishes.

Talking about side dishes, I couldn't skip the potato puffs. As one of my great friends with extensive experience in homemade French cuisine describes, it's a recipe French people prepare for their kids. It could be. We all become kids again when savouring those puffs. They come in one of the hexagonal boxes in a circle shape with a sauce in the middle. When bitting the first one, you dig into a melting warm salty buttery feeling that is hard to describe. The outside is crusty and inside soft resembling mashed potato. I heard that the dough is partially bread and partially mashed potato. It costs $4.25 and is something you have to try!

Grégoire also serves sandwiches, salads and small "dishes" for lunch and more elaborate entrée "dishes" for dinner. The beverage selection is limited as any other takeout would be. I would recommend Vignette, the wine soft-drink, non-alcoholic, light and delicious. 

I have been there just for lunch meals and totally recommend it. Specially if you are able to get one of the two outside tables. It can be a windy spot, so do bring an extra layer. I have ordered salads and sandwiches in the past, they are both very rich in flavor and light weight. Tasty and delicious, while delicate and creative. 

The price tag is in the lower range, atmosphere is casual, laid back and friendly as well as the service. If you happen to be in Berkeley, give it a shot! 

Grégoire Info:
Price range: $

Jul 20, 2010

Recipes: Easy BBQ Back Ribs with Asian Cole Slaw

Finally, we are starting to post recipes! To inaugurate recipe postings in the Art of Savouring, I tried to do traditional American summer dishes with a different twist. 

I realized later that I didn't have enough pictures... multi-tasking from cooking and taking pictures is still something I have to work on... my Art of Photography still in progress :)

Easy Pork Back Ribs

1 lb. Pork Back Ribs, cleaned and not previously frozen
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and fresh pepper to taste

BBQ sauce

1/2 cup lemon juice
1 tbsp. lemon zest
1 1/2 tbsp. worchestershire sauce
1 garlic clove
2 tbsp. ketchup
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup butter
Salt and fresh pepper to taste

Savoury preparation

1.  Preheat the conventional oven at 350F.
2.  Clean and rinse the ribs
3.  Season with salt and fresh pepper
4.  Wrap the ribs in aluminum foil and bake for about 1 1/2 - 2 hours.
5.  After this time, remove the foil, add the BBQ sauce and put in the oven for more 30 minutes or until the ribs are golden color. 

6.  While the ribs are on the oven, let's prepare the sauce. In a large bowl, add butter, oil, vinegar and ketchup. Season with garlic. Add the worchestershire sauce, lemon juice and zest, salt and pepper. Bring it to a boil and reserve.

7. The ribs are ready to serve!

preparation time: 40minutes
oven time: 2 - 2 1/2 hours

Asian Cole Slaw

2/3 cup silvered almonds
8 cups (about 1 lb.)napa cabbage coarsely cut          
1 1/3 cup green onion (include the green top)       
1/2 cup yellow bell pepper
1 1/3 cup cilantro, lightly packed, coarsely cut

Creamy Soy Dressing

3 tbsp. white wine vinegar
3 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. sesame oil
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 cup of mayonnaise

Savoury preparation:

1.  Place almonds in a baking sheet at preheated 350F oven until golden, about 6-9 minutes.
2.  In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients.
3.  Add dressing and almonds, mix gently.
4.  For creamy soy dressing, mix all the ingredients, except the mayo. Make sure the sugar dissolves. Gradually whisk in the mayo until homogeneous. 
5.  Keep in the refrigerator until serving time!

The ribs came out delicious. Tender, juicy and full of flavor, the recipe is a must and easy. 

I adapted the original recipe of the Asian cole slaw (which include other ingredients as snow peas, carrots, radish) and didn't include sugar in the dressing. The vegetables used were perfect, but the absence of sugar made the dressing too sour. It might be a good idea to include a little bit of the sugar.

Happy summer!

Easy BBQ Back Ribs recipe adapted from tudogostoso.uol.com.br
Asian cole slaw recipe adapted from the original from K. Irwin. 

Price range: $

Jul 14, 2010

Range Restaurant in San Francisco Mission District

My curiosity started building up when I read an article on a newspaper in San Francisco. The article on the SFWeekly mentioned of the great ability the pastry chef has on preparing strawberry desserts. Later, a small note at the Chronicle also described the delicious recipes of the restaurant, the great use of fresh, local produce and meats. 

Upon reading so many reviews, I commonly get two feelings: it builds up my expectations and makes me second-guess how good it really is (or if there is any great PR involved). But ultimately makes me want to try it for sure. (And that's an important point to make here: do try and have your own opinions for all the restaurants and things you read, including this page. Each person savours in an unique way; in your own way, that's the beauty of it.) 

Looking from the outside, you can not imagine that there is a dining room in the back. Before you reach the room, you can observe the kitchen window. The light is low and the level of noise is vibrant. The audience is diverse, dressed casual/dressy and service is friendly and adequate. The dining room ceiling could be higher and/or windows larger. Still, the intimate, noisier room provides an exciting atmosphere, while serving delicious food. 

Skipping the appetizer, we tried the california bass with corn chowder, pancetta, fingerling potatoes and chives and fava bean cassoulet with lentils, arugula, meyer lemon and pistachios. The bass was perfectly cooked and the combination of flavors were amazing. I was sort of skeptical of how corn, pancetta and fish would match. They do it beautifully: one can taste the freshness of the fish, slight sweetness of the corn, strength of pancetta and interestingly the chives too. But my greatest surprise was the cassoulet. The vegetables and leaves were so delicious and the flavors combined so well, strong, still in perfect harmony. The dish was hearty and vegetarian. I fully recommend it; specially if you enjoy vegetarian dishes and arugula.

For dessert, we had the bittersweet chocolate soufflé with raspberry ice cream. Although the expectations were there, the dessert reached all of them. While the soufflé is something quite common in French restaurants and seems to be simple to prepare (that's what I heard), I really enjoyed it! It was very light and balanced the sweetness of the ice cream. 

Overall, I enjoyed the restaurant, but I have to confess it was not as good as I expected. The dessert was indeed great. 

I am welcoming different opinions... Later, I also heard that they offer an amazing chicken and that's what they are famous for. I probably will come back to try that one and check it out.

Range's Info:

Jul 9, 2010

Mike & Patty's Breakfast Spot in Bay Village, Boston

There is nothing like an app. I don't get any benefit for mentioning this here, but the internet and mobile portability introduced and made us very used to their convenience. Arriving in a red eye flight into Boston, we were looking for a place for breakfast/brunch. Mike & Patty's came up as the best option, great reviews and good price. We were looking for a place where we could get in and out quickly, eat well and lower price range.

On the corner of Church St & Fayette St, this tiny spot is a great buy. In the middle of a quiet neighborhood, this breakfast spot offers small selection of sandwiches. That doesn't limit them on mastering what they do. The few tables around give a chance for you to savour their flavors taking good advantage of the quietness and the sun.
Three people mastered the art of getting and preparing the order, made specially for each client. The public perception surprised me, as there were people coming to try their goodies for a late breakfast on a weekday - that definitely shows something. Their strength is the sandwiches, specially the ones inspired on the traditional French croque monsieur.  

Inspired by that, I ordered a croque madame (ham and gruyere with dijon crème fraîche, broiled on pain de mie and served with a small green salad, topped with a fried egg).

Although it was breakfast time, we couldn't pass the chance of trying the original grilled cheese (gruyere and american cheeses with collard greens and tomato on pain de mie). 

The idea of having collard greens on a croque sandwich was intriguing. Best to say, the result was significantly positive. The greens didn't overpower the sandwich and the flavors combined beautifully. It was worth the shot. 

We paired the sandwiches with great coffee and tea. The wait was not bad at all and we did enjoy the sun and the food made to order. 

In the end, the mission was successfully accomplished. And if you happen to be around there and enjoy these type of sandwiches, give it a try. 

Mike & Patty's Info:
Price range: $

Foreign Cinema Restaurant in San Francisco Mission District

The idea of mixing different types of art matches well the use of the human senses and can touch various emotions. It's wonderful to see them combined, specially when used on "unrelated"  activities: wine making & art exhibitions; flowers & sweets and food & movie presentations (In fact, I truly believe on the interactions among art types).
On the same note, Foreign Cinema started more than ten years ago at the Mission District presenting foreign movies and offering a daily changing menu inspired on the Mediterranean/Californian cuisine fusion for dinner and weekend brunches. 

The somewhat hidden entrance leads its way to a sunny and spacious patio on the back. The retractable roof perfects the art of making the customers feel comfortable. The high ceilings are part of the indoor decoration, where modern matches casual & simple, still stylish and cozy. 
Foreign and independent films are screened in the covered outdoor courtyard. Black and white movies are also presented. 
(Unfortunately, I haven't attended the film sessions yet. My past experiences there were only for Sunday brunch. Sunny late morning brunches are a great time to be there. Should time permit, please try to make a reservation ahead. Late brunches around 2pm are not crowded and reservations might not be necessary.)
Previously, I had read the "pop tart" was incredibly famous. I could easily understand why. Freshly baked daily in house, these delicious tarts are a great way to open your appetite. As a suggestion, one might be enough for two, without spoiling the entrée. The beauty of its texture, good concentration of the sugar and the fruity flavor melt on your mouth gracefully. 
Although I am not a traditional fan of bloody mary, Foreign Cinema offers one that is unbeatable for a hangover, a hot day or just for its "nutritional" value. 

As part of the Californian influences, fresh fruits and vegetables are widely used. Seasonal produce is also a great commodity here and they work hard on keeping flavors in perspective. 

The eggs couldn't be missed and they are done in creative ways, quite often taking good advantage of herbs and spices. For main entrées, I recommend the crab frittata, which was prepared fabulously with fresh crab and garnished with lighted seasoned salad. The lamb sliders in focaccia bread was also amazing. Well prepared and seasoned, beautiful combination of flavors. 

Foreign Cinema is one of my favorite spots for brunch in San Francisco. They present a good variety of options on their menu and the price range is adequate. The ambiance is very nice, service is perfect and very courteous. My only complain is parking around Mission District. They have valet parking at $10-12, but we usually find street parking. As a side note, I have timed few times, finding a spot can take from 10 to 35 minutes. It's totally worth the wait and you can also take a good walk around the neighborhood. 

Foreign Cinema info:
Price range: $$$

Jul 8, 2010

Ubuntu Restaurant in Downtown Napa

Napa cuisine is very recognized and worldly known for its excellence. As part of the so-called Californian cuisine, Napa also takes advantage of the local fresh ingredients, seasonally harvested and mostly organic. 

The healthy vibe mixes with French cuisine techniques, receive Asian influences and voi là, in a nutshell we have a description of Californian cuisine.

In my lay opinion - correct me if I am wrong - I believe Napa comes more towards French with a touch of local&seasonal&organic, then closer to Californian... 

(The art of pairing food and wine has long history, since wine has been a staple member of the dinner table and wine making and culinary developed hand in hand over the years. I will leave the details on the topic for the specialists - who I fully admire - and will keep her just the basic idea: most food and wine experts believe that the most basic element of food and wine pairing is understanding the balance between the "weight" of the food and the weight (or body) of the wine.)

Ubuntu is located in downtown Napa and has a full time yoga studio on the second floor of the restaurant facilities. And it's a vegetarian restaurant. With that in mind, I resisted a little the idea of trying it. I love vegetables and fruits, but surely was doubtful of how innovative and inventive a cuisine can be with restrictive list of ingredients. 

My own bad prejudice didn't keep me from trying. Ubuntu has a comfortable casual environment, high-ceilings, open kitchen, modern cozy atmosphere, not at all resembling what I had imagine for a yoga plus vegetarian restaurant. The noise and lighting was at perfect level. The service was exemplar, friendly and courteous and the food as creative and delicious as any other place. 

The profusion of colors, flavors, use of different ingredients and its combinations resulted in a fabulous meal; for example: lavender flavored marcona almonds, carta de musica (flatbread topped with mixed greens salad, truffled pecorino, wild flowers), onion glazed doughnut stuffed with burrata.

To finish, the deserts were so simple, still amazing. It was one of the best chocolate chip cookies I ever had. Small in size, great chunks of chocolate and paired with local Strauss milk.

The savouring experience was amazing. We could use all the senses, relax and have a great experience at Ubuntu. Indeed, vegetarian cuisine has a new standpoint for me - it takes more innovation to create with "fewer" ingredients. The horizon of opportunities is still widespread. Ubuntu was able to achieve that. 

Ubuntu Info:

Price range: $$$

Jul 7, 2010

D.O.M. Restaurant by Chef Alex Atala in São Paulo, Brazil

Brazilian Cuisine is not yet that widely known and appreciated around the world. It's getting more and more recognized with globalization, Brazilians living abroad and the greater interest for Brazil as an economy, emerging market... For those who have experienced it, the most common dishes are churrasco (Brazilian bbq), feijoada (black beans with pork & sausage), caipirinha (alcoholic drink made with lime, sugar and cachaça), pâo de queijo (baked cheese bread). 

The local staple food is rice and beans, but specialized local cuisine is very common. Each region learned to adapt its cuisine to the climate, people's needs and ingredients available; a diverse number of cuisines contributed for what is now known as Brazilian cuisine. As an immigrant country, each of the immigration group brought into play their own cuisine and adapted to local ingredients.

It's interesting to see that in the Northeast cuisine, they use spicy peppers, coconut milk, palm oil in a lot of ways similar to what is done in Southeast Asia, specially Thailand, where the weather and local resources are similar. The South has plenty of European influences, more specifically Italian and German cuisines. The weather resembles certain European countries and the more used staple food is the potato and wheat. African influences can be found in the Northeast and also with greater impact in the Southeast. For instance, black beans, okra and collard greens are examples of African food that got incorporated to the comida mineira (Minas Gerais State cuisine). 

Chef Alex Atala created D.O.M. in São Paulo, to offer modern Brazilian cuisine in a classy atmosphere. Most of Brazilians wouldn't recognized the dishes, neither the prices, as it's an expensive experience for most of the population. 

Still, the cuisine is imaginatively creative, using Brazilian ingredients in a non-traditional way. The restaurant is part of the 50 Best Restaurants in the World ; being the only South American representative and grabbing the 18th position with applause. 

The Chef became recognized for the use of native Brazilian ingredients, specially the ones came from Central and North parts of the country. Those ingredients, for example, the pupunha palm, are rare to most of the population and not everybody knows how to prepare it. The great art of this restaurant and the Chef is recreating and reinventing Brazilian cuisine. 

We were able to taste beautiful pupunha palm pasta, which very much look like a traditional spaghetti with gorgeous tiger shrimps, both cooked to perfection. In the U.S., the spaghetti squash was the closest example I experienced of pasta made from a vegetable. The texture of the pupunha pasta, however, is very similar to a wheat one combined with a lighter feel to it.

The modern cuisine inspired by Catalan Spanish Chef Ferrian Adria brought food engineering skills into fine cuisine. Foams, textures, nitrogen treatments were introduced to high-end modern cuisine in a beautiful way. The result is a blend of sensations that you can feel with all the senses. Visually the presentation is also incredible, the palate and aroma are quite often excelled to bring a gorgeous pleasant feeling. 

Inspired by that, Chef Atala created a local cheese foam with eggs and - as it was described to us - Brazilian truffles (shaved Brazilian nuts). The result is magnificent. The foam is so light and reach in flavor!

Indeed, the Art of Savouring had all the senses used in this dinner service. Not only the foam, flavors, ingredients, but the presentation contributed a lot. Cassava puree with great combination of cheeses made the texture so viscous. It was delivered just in time to incorporate also the air into the dish. Incredible! 

Last but not least, desserts! Banana, chocolate, Brazilian passion fruit, among other ingredients were appealing blended to offer a colorful palate sensation.

D.O.M. was an exclusive experience. It was the first time I tried Modern Brazilian cuisine and was very impressed with what one could do with great ingredients and innovative skills. The ambiance was calm, service was very informative, kind and friendly. Noise level was low, but the place wasn't that busy either. Price tag for Brazilian standards was indeed elevated, but compared to world-class restaurants in NYC and Europe, was reasonable. If you have a chance to try it, go savour D.O.M., it's worth it. 

D.O.M Info:
(their page is under construction as per today)
Price range: $$$$