Aug 28, 2010

Mara's Italian Pastry, North Beach San Francisco

Continuing with our Italian spots around San Francisco, we can't forget to mention Mara's Italian Pastry, located in North Beach. They do have the best cannoli around the city and it's worth the way just to bite one and feel the mixture of the crispy crust and the soft not that sweet perfect filling. I prefer the small one (like shown on the picture) and without the chocolate topping. Simple, delicate and gorgeous. 

Each of them are US$2.50 and you can pair it well with a fresh expresso. 

More info about Mara's Italian Pastry: (415) 397-9435 (they don't have a webpage)
Price range: $

Aug 25, 2010

Il Fornaio, Fisherman's Wharf San Francisco

Italian Cuisine promotes in a lot of us so many comfort feelings. Pasta, pizza, gelato, bread, wine... they all match up so well together and best of all, goes so well with our palate (no wonders, it's all those carbs... ;)
Il Fornaio is a hidden spot in a more business than touristic part of Fisherman's Wharf. They serve homemade pasta that is so deliciously made and served with sauce of real tomatoes. It's one of those simple dishes that can be perfected and taste so incredible.
I have been there few times and love the Linguine Mare Chiaro, made with perfectly cooked pasta, good variety of seafood and the real tomatoes sauce... delicious!
They also serve brunch on weekends, but it's not that specialty on my point of view. 

Overall, I enjoy this place. It's down to earth, not as touristic as an usual North Beach spot, has a good cost-benefit relationship, and  is a good spot when you want some simple, made well in a calm environment (yes, there are days we want that!). I also went there on a work farewell lunch and worked greatly too.

Price range: $$

Aug 22, 2010

bushi-tei, Japantown San Francisco

The initiative of combining French and Japanese cuisine inspires many Chefs around the world. Few years ago, it was the exotic thing to perform Fusion culinary in any way. Lately, it has been quite common to find this combination, which build up the standards for the uniqueness and creativity. 

Bushi-tei is located in Japantown San Francisco, close by to many other touristic spots in the area, but also surrounded by the great ambiance of a location a lot alike few neighborhoods in Japan. 

Two good points to mention: I had heard about this spot previously in restaurant reviews, but made my way there using a bloomspot ticket, which right of the bet, raised my warning flags that might be something going on, other than just marketing.

Anyway, I got rid of my suspicious thoughts and decided to enjoy. For those who doesn't know, I love Japanese and French food. I enjoy different aspects of them and they are among my favorites. 

This time, however, I was disappointed on what I tried. Food was good, but not as incredible as I thought it would be. They try to use ingredients in a new way, but trying hard was not enough. Food was far from the starred cuisine I was expecting to savour. For that reason, I won't detail the dishes here as there were not the ones who stood out. 

Service was friendly but quite pushy. I was joined on this meal by two dear foreigners that needed help choosing their dishes. The waiter was quite inpatient and pushy. In a tentative of helping, he ended up being too much. Bad point there. 

The relationship of cost-benefit was unbalanced, savouring and fabulous experience was not reached so I don't recommend this spot. Sorry. 

More info on
Price range: $$$

Aug 18, 2010

The girl & the fig, Downtown Sonoma

"Country food with a French Passion" is perfected at this restaurant located at the Square in the Downtown Sonoma. The place is amazing, it has a warm comfy atmosphere and a beautiful patio for sunny warm days. Right away, I have to mention that the food is so delicious, fresh and feels indeed like comfort food. It's a great spot before or after wine tasting and wineries tours. 

As many of the reviews mention, the duck confit is indeed fabulous. The recipe was even published in few specialized magazines, so good is the dish. The top sirloin burger is also an amazing dish, as well as the blt tartine, steak, sardines!! 

The ability to combine French touches into American country food was something I was curious about trying. Whether including the seasonal fresh ingredients abundant around the Sonoma area or preparing traditional country food, The girl and the fig offers a great comfort meal in a friendly cozy environment. 

I think this is a great option for brunch. I also enjoyed the fig theme at their restaurants around the Sonoma Valley. 

More info on The Girl and The Fig:
Price range: $$

Aug 14, 2010

Thai Basil Restaurant, SoMa, San Francisco

It feels like Thai food is commonly characterized for the same types of dishes: pad sew, pad ke mao, pad thai, and all the traditional variation of curries, noodles and fresh rolls. Thai Basil innovates on these dishes bringing different ingredients into play, the result is great, not the usual you might find at equivalent places. 

The restaurant is located at the Folsom St, at the heart of SoMa district. The atmosphere is vibrant and has the friendly Thai touch that we can feel on their restaurants. I found this place recommended by a great friend that has known this place for ages. I have been to this place few times and enjoy it. The place is simple, food is good and service is honest. I think it's a great day-to-day dining out meal. 

More info at Thai Basil:
Price range: $$ 

Aug 12, 2010

Gather Restaurant, Downtown Berkeley

Roasted corn jalapeno pizza
Boar meatballs with wild rice
Spicy young chicken with polenta "verde", braised greens, roasted Anaheim chili-baby Torpedo onion sauce
Special of the day: fish!
House-made ice cream: ginger saffron
Another house-made ice cream and muffins
Peach crisp

This is my second time dining at Gather. While I have heard great things about their food, when on our first time there, my personal experience was not that great. Food was indeed good, but we were in a group of 6 friends and I felt service was a little rushed on us. I totally understand their side of the job, they had recently opened and we were probably delaying their services. At the same time, usually tables of 6 or more, are presumably supposed to take longer to dine. Point made.

On my second experience, in a calmer sunny day, for an early dinner service, my experience was great. I enjoyed the food so much more, fresh ingredients, interesting combinations, seasonal flavors, delicious textures. I loved so much the pizza and the way they prepare the dough. The chicken was also incredible, tender, moist and very flavorful. My dish was the fish... while the flavor was indeed one of the best I have ever tasted it, I have a difficulty dealing with eating fishes with bones. Maybe it is just me. Don't let it prevent you from trying - it was amazing! 

Desserts were a separate chapter. Creative, innovative, simple, they are incredible! 

Overall, I will definitely come back after to Gather. Food was very savoury and creative. And I had great company! 

More info on Gather:
Price range: $$$

Aug 9, 2010

Chaya Vegetarian Restaurant, Mission District, San Francisco

Down in the Gourmet Ghetto in Berkeley, on Shattuck Avenue, right by Virginia St, there was always a line in front of a small restaurant spot for dinners. That's indeed a sign of something special going on there. Chaya Vegetarian Restaurant has spots in Berkeley and San Francisco, in the Mission District. Famous for their creative vegetarian sushis and noodles, the place offers the art of good Japanese food while using vegetables and the delicate mixture of Japanese seasonings and flavors. The dishes present somewhat a subtle flavor, intrinsic from the Japanese cuisine that I fully enjoy. I always order noodles (primarily soba, but the udon is also delicious) with tempura or mushrooms. The nabeyaki is also very tasty.

The place in Berkeley is very small, which other than the good food, explains the usual lines. San Francisco usually has no line, but it's cash only.  The service is friendly, Japanese polite and kind. If you are looking for a light meal with delicate but delicious flavor, that's the place to be. I have to emphasize though that for some people the flavors might taste light too blend. I love it!

More info on Chaya Vegetarian Restaurant:
(415) 252-7825 (they don't have a website)
Price range: $ 

Aug 8, 2010

Recipes: Beef Bourguignonne with Sauteed Potatoes

Beef Bourguignonne (French Beef Stew)

2 to 3 lbs boneless stew meat
2 cups dry red wine
1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 bunch parsley, chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
2 tsp cracked black peppercorns
1 tsp salt
4 ounces bacon
2 tbsp all purpose flour
2 cups small boiling onions
salt and pepper to taste

Savoury preparation

Cut the meat into 2-inch cubes (or kindly ask your butcher to cut it for you); place the meat in a large bowl, add the wine, olive oil, onion, carrot, garlic, bay leaves, 2 tbsp. parsley, thyme, peppercorns and salt. Stir to combine and cover the meat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, up to 24 hours (this time, I left almost 20h), turn the meat occasionally. Drain the beef, reserve the marinade and reserve the liquid and the vegetables separately. Heat a large pot over medium-high heat. 

Saute the bacon and remove, leaving the fat in the pan. If it's not enough fat, as when using turkey bacon (as I did), add extra vegetable oil as needed. Add the beef in batches and brown on all sides. Remove with a slotted spoon. Add the reserved vegetables and cook until lightly browned. Stir in the flour, stir again. Stir in the marinade, then return the beef and bacon to the pot. 
Add the boiling onions and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and cook for about 1hour until the meat is fork tender. Take the fat off of the surface. Add the rest of the parsley, salt and pepper to taste. Voilà!

preparation time: 2h
marinate time: about 20h

Sauteed Potatoes
1.5 lbs of all purpose potatoes
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil

Savoury Preparation
In a large pot, bring water to boil (enough to cover the potatoes), cut the potatoes in 1.5inch cubes. When the water is boiling, add the potatoes with a little bit of salt in the water. Let them cook for about 15 minutes. In the meantime, preheat the oven broiling mode. Drain the potatoes and put in a baking sheet or similar. Add seasonings to taste and olive oil. Take the potatoes to broil for about 15 minutes, until they are crispy. 

Hope you enjoy!!!

Bourguignonne came out delicious and the potatoes too. The recipe requires plenty of time but the flavor of the stew is worthwhile! 

Beef Bourguignonne recipe adapted from The Joy of Cooking book.
Sauteed Potatoes is a family recipe.

Aug 5, 2010

Ici ice cream shop, Elmwood Berkeley

College Avenue has small restaurants and boutiques in a calm and relaxed area of Berkeley, almost Oakland. This ice cream shop Ici (here in French) offers seasonal, local produced divine ice creams. They offer creative flavors as orange cardamom, cilantro ice milk, burnt caramel, rose pistachio. The ice creams are produced in small batches, with whatever ingredient is the freshest. They use no preservatives and just natural ingredients, organic most of the time. 

The cone is another fabulous thing. It's made with waffle dough and has chocolate chunk in the bottom. Oh my God, it's so good. Ici owner was previously a pastry chef from Chez Panisse, the magnificent restaurant from Alice Waters. 

I fully recommend this spot! Come with time, since it's common to have a line of about 30-40minutes until you reach the ice cream paradise. Service is young, friendly and effective. Price range is higher than pints you buy in the grocery store, but totally worth it. 

More info on Ici:
Price range: $$