Amazing Stuff We’ve Seen and Tasted
I made a stop by La Calenda, the next fast casual (?) Mexican concept from Thomas Keller in Yountville on Saturday. I’m a big TK fan and was very excited to check out the latest that’s doing cultural appropriation right according to the Chronicle.
While you can sort of tell that they repurposed a previous space (definitely outside), but the atmosphere is still really nice on a sunny and breezy day! I was craving a glass of wine, but their cocktail menu looks really fire on Instagram – so that would be my move when staying for a few drinks.
Aguachile de Atun: yellowfin tuna, avocado, sesame & chile costeno salsa macha, citrus
Tacos de Carnitas: slow cooked pork, salsa avocado tomatillo, white onion, cilantro
Enchiladas de Mole Negro con Pollo: chicken enchiladas in stone-ground mole negro, queso fresco
The patio seating was quite enjoyable – all kinds of groups were eating on a late Saturday afternoon – families, groups of friends, couples, mostly middle aged. The ordering experience was interesting – it seems the waiters sort of floated as the one that finally came up to me asked if anyone had taken my order yet and then gave me some menu ideas. She took the order in a handheld Toast device to submit the ticket. Then, multiple servers and bussers brought/took away food. It worked – but was interesting to underline the fast casual format.
The yellowfin tuna was seriously excellent – pieces of tuna served in a spicy/citrusy broth that the server recommended. I literally finished the broth with a spoon! The tacos were only 2 per dish, but both had a large portion of meat so this felt fine to me compared to 3 mini tacos. The salsa was fresh – lots of taco options to try them all! The mole, which apparently couldn’t be missed (and I really like mole), left me a little unimpressed. Overall, the dish tasted dry despite being drenched in sauce. As mentioned, there are lots of yummy cocktails on this menu which I will definitely be trying more of in the future. The space inside has some classy touches, but was almost pushing restaurant chain in the main seating area. Outside is the way to go!
In Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood is the newest addition to the growing Filipino food scene in the Bay Area. The long awaited opening of FOB Kitchen took place last November, taking over the space of Preeti Mistry’s beloved Juhu Beach Club. I decided to try FOB Kitchen’s brunch menu on a Saturday morning, waiting about 45 minutes to be seated. Growing up in a Filipino household, I was, as always, intrigued to see how it compares to my grandmother’s cooking.
I ordered the Pandan Iced Coffee, iced coffee infused with pandan leaves — an aromatic plant commonly used in Southeast Asian cuisine. It was a delicious and refreshing take on iced coffee. If it’s a Friday night out or you’re just feeling extra thirsty, check out the awesome beer and wine list including San Miguel Lager, a Filipino staple. They offer a brilliantly named cocktail list featuring drinks like “Feelin’ Myself“, “Blow the Whistle“, and “The Town“, tying in its East Bay roots.
To start, we began with Shanghai Lumpia, a must-try classic with ground pork, carrots, and water chestnuts with a sweet chili sauce. We shared a few “silog” plates, silog meaning with fried garlic rice topped with an egg. The Tocino, sweet cured pork shoulder, was tender and juicy — a relief from what I’ve sometimes experienced as dry and chewy. The Lechon Kawali, thrice cooked pork belly, was fried, fatty goodness dipped in spiced vinegar to offset the fat. We also tried the Adobo Fried Rice as with Filipino cuisine, you can never have too much rice. The Adobo Fried Rice was a winner — rice cooked with pork adobo, the Filipino national dish.
Did it compare to my grandmother’s cooking? While nothing can ever compare to her dishes, FOB Kitchen sure hit close to home. It’s a refreshing take from the usual cafeteria style Filipino restaurants, with a great atmosphere, friendly service, and delicious eats!
Over the holidays, instead of sitting home eating another portion of leftovers, I decided to take my parents out to Oceanside and try my friend’s new restaurant, Dija Mara. My friend Ryan Costanza has been a chef at many incredible restaurants around the world, so imagine my excitement when I realized that he had a new spot near my parent’s home in Southern California.
When we arrived in Oceanside two days after Christmas, the usually buzzing town was all but silent. Although the streets were quiet, Dija Mara was filled with smiling faces and the delicious smell of Southeast Asian cuisine. Dija Mara is known for their mix of Southeast Asian flavors with Western flair and Japanese cooking techniques, which basically means Balinese Californian food. Already sounds amazing, right?! All of their wine is natural, so this was my parents first time trying natural wine and we went with Ryan’s recommendation of the Vermentino. The wine was funky and paired perfectly with every single dish that was sent out. It’s a rare occasion that the wine matches such a wide range of food, but Ryan personally made sure that every wine in the restaurant pairs well with each dish, so no matter what you order, you’re in good hands. Once the Vermentino got the thumbs of approval from my parents, we knew we could just sit back and enjoy any dish that Ryan sent out.
The first dish that we received was the Grilled Flat Bread on Sonora Wheat Sourdough with roasted chicken curry. The flatbread was grilled like a traditional roti but maintained it’s moist and fluffy texture which made it perfect for scooping up the curry. Then we had the Charred Eggplant which was made with smoked tomato sambal, meyer lemon labne, thai basil and fried shallot. Next up was the Sea Bream Ceviche with kaffir lime, daikon, sambal matah, cassava, black sesame and coconut. This was probably the most shocking dish for me as I’m not one for raw seafood, but somehow, the way they prepare the sea bream, it’s not too “fishy,” but instead it’s light, bright and airy with a hint of lemongrass. Needless to say, we cleaned our plate.
The next dish was the Squash “Gado” which is Japanese sweet potato, variations of squash, persimmon, sunchoke and peanut ghee. This dish was not only beautifully prepared, but it also moved, which was funny to watch my parents react to. This was one of my favorite dishes as the peanut ghee added such an elegant flavor to the squash, and the variations of squash made each bite different from the last. We also had these incredible Corn Fritters made with heart of palm, mango mostarda, crème fraiche, lardo and prawn. Even the Chicken Thigh Satay was prepared in a way that was reminiscent of yakitori which mixed the traditional Balinese satay with Japanese cooking techniques. Just when we thought we couldn’t eat any more, they brought out the Grilled Octopus with Thai pork collar sausage, curried potato, pineapple vinegar and sambal ijo. I love octopus, so this dish was a highlight for me. The pork sausage and curried potato really gave the dish an incredibly authentic Southeast Asian flavor. The last dish of the evening was the Mie Goreng with tomato, sambal matah, cabbage, Chinese sausage and carbonara egg. I love a noodle dish, especially traditional Mie Goreng so I had high hopes for this dish and they exceeded my expectations. The carbonara egg brought to mind Italian influences while still maintaining a traditional flavor with a lot of spice – this by far was my favorite dish. I wish I was eating it right now, honestly. At this point our bellies were full and the wine had come and gone, but Ryan had one more surprise up his sleeve and brought out a Black Sesame Brownie with coconut gelato. I’m not usually a dessert fan, but this was above and beyond! The brownie was so light, and the coconut really gave it a new flavor that I don’t typically taste in desserts.
Overall, I completely understand why Dija Mara was awarded Eater’s San Diego’s restaurant of the year for 2018. If you want authentic Balinese and Southeast Asian cuisine with a California twist, then this is the place for you. And sending a MAJOR thank you to Chef Ryan Costanza for preparing this incredible experience for us. I can’t wait to come back here again and try some more of the natural wine selections and stuff my face with the Mie Goreng!
On the way out to our relaxing trip to Bali, we made a stop in Hong Kong to explore, eat and drink. Everything was incredible and per the suggestion of our friend, we made a special stop at Dr. Fern’s Gin Parlour, an exciting, stylish bar tucked away in the basement of The Landmark. The concept for the bar is that it belongs to Dr. Fern who is a botanist that prescribes gin cocktails for “stress-related ailments.” From the white coats worn by the staff, to the host asking if you have an appointment upon arrival, the theme was executed quite nicely.
Madison – I ordered one of the gimlets that night. In flavor, it was similar to a Moscow Mule. The drink was good, but my favorite part of the bar was the ambiance. We realized there are a lot of trendy bars in Hong Kong. The cocktail scene really seems to be taking off there. Dr. Fern’s seemed to be a particularly popular as it was crowded the night we were there.
Maya – I ordered one of the special gin & tonics that was supposed to be made with Sabatini Gin. Unfortunately, they were out, but they recommended a substitute and it was delicious. It was garnished with olive, cardamom, and thyme. I also loved the ambiance and details that were carried throughout the space to give the feel of a doctor’s office. For example, the Patient Waiting Room was off to the side for if you had a reservation and your table wasn’t ready (we ended up waiting there). The menu has a “personal prescription” section, the bill came in an old pill box, and the servers wore white doctors’ coats. The details were wonderful.
If you find yourself in Hong Kong, we highly recommend stopping in at Dr. Fern’s.
For my birthday this year, I decided to celebrate the weekend in Seattle. Throughout the twenty years I lived in Oregon, I somehow never made my way to explore Washington – and let’s face it, the foodie scene is really blowing up there. Naturally, we spent the weekend eating and drinking our way through the city, and below I outline a couple of the spots that made a lasting impression. For this write up, I focus only on the cocktails – I mean who doesn’t love a great cocktail?
Stateside: We came here for my birthday dinner. I started off with a Pineapple Margarita (mezcal, plantation pineapple rum, sour pineapple, triple sec) – the mezcal is what really caught my eye this one. I also tried the classic coconut drink, simply called “The Coconut” – and yes, it’s served in a whole young coconut with an umbrella on top. The drink also mixes rum, lime leaf and galangal. This fits their tropical interior perfectly. We continued the cocktail celebrations at their bar next door, Foreign National, where, of course, I tried another mezcal cocktail.
East Trading Company – We came here for cocktails. It’s a newer spot with a zodiac theme throughout, including twelve cocktails for all twelve zodiac signs. I opted for the Year of the Rooster (gin, aperol, smith & cross, honey chartreuse, grapefruit & lemon, lemon berry sage syrup, brut, butterfly pea flower tea) – but only because I was born the year of the Rooster. As cool as I thought the concept would be, I unfortunately didn’t end up enjoying the drink.
The Hart & The Hunter – We came here because this was the restaurant below our hotel. We were staying at the new Palisociety hotel on our last night and figured we would begin the evening with a cocktail and oysters. While the service was not great, I loved my Elliot Bay Gibson cocktail (oyster shell-infused Plymouth gin, blanc vermouth, fino sherry, maldon, bay leaf olive oil, onion). A smooth, savory beverage and the perfect complement to our oysters. Next time, I’ll try their famous butter biscuits.
Knee High Stocking Co. – We came here for the cocktails and speakeasy atmosphere. As with other speakeasies, this was a very unassuming bar. I wouldn’t have known it existed hadn’t someone told me about it. I was craving another savory cocktail, which they unfortunately did not have. I ended up ordering an off the menu drink and simply asked the bartender to surprise me. He mixed a gin-based cocktail similar to a cucumber martini and I loved it!
Chan – We came here because we were craving chicken wings, and the ones we got were quite possibly the best wings I’ve ever had. None of the cocktails were calling my name, so we ended up trying their house-infused soju flight, which came with five different infused soju. I ended up only really enjoying one of five flavors – the Earl Gray.
This past Labor Day weekend, I had the opportunity to visit Washington D.C. It was my second time exploring the city — this time around, the food was what I was most excited for. Naturally, I made a D.C. “hit list” before heading back East. I won’t bore you with all the details, but rather highlight a couple of different places I found particularly unique and outstanding in their own ways.
La Vie – We came to La Vie for the cocktails, but of course had to order a couple of bites to go along with our drinks. I tried both the Cucumber Nasturtium Martini (vodka, dry vermouth, cucumbers, nasturtium) and Relaxed Coconut (Don Julio Reposado, coconut water, corazon bitters). These were both listed under the “Strong, Don’t Drown” section of the cocktail menu, which I thought would be perfect given that I tend to gravitate more towards spirit forward and less towards sweet. They were exactly what I wanted — strong but not too strong, crisp, simple. The presentation was gorgeous. For quick eats, we tried the Crispy Brussels (charred brussel sprouts, coriander, honey lemon yogurt) and Truffle Mac n Cheese. To our dismay, we were not ecstatic about either of the bites. Luckily we already had made dinner plans to follow. If you’re ever in the area, I would recommend going here just for the sheer beauty and ambiance of the restaurant and bar. The space is sprawling across the fifth floor of a waterfront high rise, overlooking the new D.C. Wharf District. Its varying rooms and aesthetic of each are really something else. Some of the seafood dishes looked delightful as well.
Tail Up Goat — With its eclectic pasta presentations, open face bread options, and unique bar program, Tail Up Goat climbed to the top of my D.C. hit list. Unfortunately, however, they did not have any reservations available throughout the entire weekend. We refused to miss out on this one, so my group of four ended up going at 9:30pm on a Sunday. They close at 10pm. Yes, we were those people, and no, I did not feel good about it. But the good news is, we were able to sit right away (and we were not even the last ones trying to get in). The restaurant is located on a poorly lit side street within the rather residential Adams Morgan neighborhood. The restaurant exterior is unassuming to say the least. We even had a hard time finding it. There is nothing outside of the restaurant to clearly indicate that it exists — it’s next to a One Medical office and other homes, with outdoor signage that is almost nonexistent. When we made it inside, the space was almost as dark as it was outside. We sat down at the bar immediately as there were no tables available. One of the owners was there and periodically checked in with my group. She provided us with some of the context behind their newly opened concept and my friend realized that she had met one of the chefs in the Virgin Islands — what a crazy, small world we live in! We tasted a variety of different plates and cocktails and loved each one. To start, the cocktails were strong, seasonal, and well-balanced, yet a bit too far on the sweet side for my taste. I tried the Musetta’s Waltz (mezcal, palo cortado sherry, lime, falernum and ginger beer) and Milko & Honey (barrel-aged gin, lemon, lavender-turmeric-infused honey). Some of the dish highlights included: Roasted Carrots (I seriously couldn’t stop eating these), Red Fife Brioche (chicken liver mousse, orange and plum jam), Farro Sourdough (eggplant, yogurt, grilled radicchio, hazelnut picada, farro miso), Capunti (tuna conserva, chicories, nebechan, charred lemon, sumac, smoky + cheesy breadcrumb), Pappardelle (spicy pork ragu, spicy kohlrabi, porky breadcrumbs), and Bone-In Pork Chop (collard greens, bacon, rutabaga, cauliflower, nasturtium gremolata, benne seeds). My mouth is still watering thinking about the Pappardelle! Can’t wait to go back, but next time I’ll reserve a table far in advance.
Milk Bar — I’m a sucker for a great dessert — sometimes I think I could eat sweets during all meal periods. I had been dreaming of Christina Tosi’s treats ever since I first saw her episode on Chef’s Table. Everything about her Milk Bar locations screams adorable, delicious and craveable. The pink branding and simple white space throughout aligns perfectly with what they’re all about. While there, I tried the Cereal Milk Soft Serve ice cream (of course I opted for extra crunch, because how could you not?), and every single cookie sold. You read that right. Every. Single. Cookie. The lineup included the Confetti Cookie (sugar cookie, birthday sprinkles, birthday crumbs), Compost Cookie (pretzels, potato chips, coffee, oats, graham cracker, butterscotch, chocolate chips), Corn Cookie (pretty much just corn), Cornflake Marshmallow Cookie (cornflakes, marshmallows, mini chocolate chips), Chocolate Chocolate Cookie (chocolate cookie dough, chocolate crumbs, salt), and the Blueberry & Cream Cookie (sugar cookie, milk crumbs, blueberries). Everyone raves about the Compost Cookie, but to my surprise, I ended up liking the Blueberry & Cream Cookie the best. I definitely need to go back to taste through Christina’s cakes and ice cream shakes. I may just splurge and order a cake or two in the meantime…
This past June, I made my way out to the Dog Patch neighborhood (yes, it’s far!) to try out Hawaiian eatery, aina. I’ve always heard great things about aina’s brunch and more recently their dinner tasting menu. We did not end up trying either brunch nor the tasting menu this time around, but instead we tasted a little bit of everything for our first dinner there.
The restaurant itself is very simple and tasteful. While there isn’t much to the interiors, the space definitely has a “homey” quality to it. It’s on the smaller side compared to many restaurants I frequent, clad with sleek wooden tables and chairs. There is a counter at the back, which you may assume to be the bar at first glance, but is actually the “Chef’s Counter.” This counter is where the Chef(s) provide an experience for guests who reserve the tasting menu. I recommend reserving with a good amount of notice beforehand.
We started our dinner with a glass of cabernet sauvignon, which ended up pairing well with the dishes to follow. Looking at the menu, there were only two vegetarian dishes: the broccoli and the street corn. Good thing we were in the mood for meat, meat, and more meat. Seafood too!
Our meal began with the Poke made with limu, Hawaiian heart of palm, inamona and bubu arare. Maybe it was just me, but I was rather confused when I saw the names of what was to accompany the poke. All I know, is that it tasted amazing. Light, fluffy, fresh and balanced. Definitely get it. Next up was the Charred Octopus Luau – my favorite dish of the night and I’m not even someone who typically opts for octopus dishes. It came with kalo cream, roasted almonds, heirloom potatoes and coconut gel. I loved the coconut touch. After that was the Kiawe Smoked Char Siu Ribs with fermented red cabbage, puffed rice and cilantro. This had to have been my second favorite of the evening. The smokiness of the ribs was to die for! And yes, they did fall of the bone. Scrumptious. The Saimin (squid ink noodles) followed the ribs and I must admit, this was the only dish that I didn’t like. It came with lap cheong shrimp, baby bok choy, shaved bottarga, ikura and a shoyu tea egg. The only thing I did enjoy about the dish was the creamy egg. I’d say skip it unless you’re someone who really loves squid ink. To me, it’s just a bit too “fishy”. Our last savory dish was the Portuguese Butter Bean Cassoulet with a Portuguese sausage, iacopi butter beans, edamame cream and pistachio brown butter panko. This was another incredible item. Loved the combination of rich sausage with light butter beans and creamy topping. Now, time for dessert. You must, must, must, save room for dessert. Their pastry chef is an angel on earth! She creates two desserts with each menu change, both absolutely lovely. We got the tart topped with coconut custard and summer berries. Very strong coconut flavors, which I love, plus a lot of awesome textures mixing together. I don’t know what it was about this dessert, but it truly tasted like heaven.
Overall, the experience was great. I’m sure I’ll be back to sample my way through aina’s brunch and/or tasting menu at some point in the future. I recommend it for anyone who is looking for creative Hawaiian dishes with a twist – just remember not to bring your vegetarian friends to dinner as they may not leave satisfied!
It has been nearly 12 years since I had last been to Istanbul. My recent visit this July was vastly different and I have to credit the great experiences I had to the extensive use of social media to help identify new points of interest and plan accordingly. In 2006 there was no Airbnb or Instagram which were both heavily utilized this time around as resources to find myself in an Istanbul that had me feeling like this might be my favorite city in the world. The juxtaposition of east and west, modern and historic, Islamic and capitalist creates a city full of surprise, delight and comfort – all with an incredible sense of hospitality in the relaxed, laid-back culture.
I had many opportunities to visit hip coffee shops that could have been just as home in California replete with macrame hanging plants and art galleries similar to the ones I lived amongst in Greenpoint Brooklyn. The design and cuisine of the city have evolved along with the proliferation of social media to offer modern dishes like avocado toast and matcha lattes served inside 500 year old buildings in the Beyoğlu (Pera) district. I enjoyed finding balance between the old and the gentrified and decided that instead of trying one of the newest restaurants or one with Michelin stars, I’d go for the stand out that aims to blend ancient techniques with today’s talent and ingredients, Mikla.
Located on the top floor of the The Marmara Pera hotel, Mikla is urban, sleek and stylish. The dining room features glass walls for magical nearly 360 degree views over the city to Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace in Old Istanbul. On one side of the dining room the glass walls give way to an expansive outdoor dining area and bar. Up one set of stairs, visitors are greeted with a roof top offering another nearly 360 degree view lounge seating, bar and pool positioned at one corner with glass walls overlooking city.
Opened in 2005, Mikla is one of the World’s Best 50 Restaurants. Mikla employs full-time anthropologist, Tangör Tan, to work alongside chef and restaurateur Mehmet Gürs to rediscover a culinary heritage that’s in danger of disappearing, and revive it in a 21st century context. They founded the New Anatolian Kitchen project which works to discover traditional habits of people cooking, identifies cultural relevance of ingredients, regions, foods, producers and embraces cultural differences that characterize the cooking from specific regions.
The restaurant offers a three course prix fixe a la carte menu or a seven course tasting menu and naturally, we choose the latter. The experience from start to finish was quite flawless in terms of timing, service, ambiance and each dish was equally as impeccable. All dishes were incredible but I’ll share my top three and you’ll have to visit yourself to experience the rest! The braised artichoke was compressed and was one of my favorite dishes due to the nature of this technique to concentrate the mild vegetable flavor. The Balık Ekmek sardine chip was another standout and similar variations can be experienced at a number of other restaurants including San Francisco’s Rich Table. The manti, or dumpling, was not something incredibly unique but the satisfaction this delicious comfort staple offers can not be understated. I found myself devouring other versions of this dish a couple times!
There is undoubtedly a high concentration of restaurants to visit in this incredibly diverse city and Mikla is one that is likely to remain. I highly recommend you add Istanbul to the top of your bucket list with a few days on the Turquoise Coast to be sure to soak up some of the country’s best natural scenery as well. I did find a number of places in my pre-trip research that I wanted to try but found had closed so definitely be sure to verify places are open if you are going out of your way to visit. Luckily in this highly walkable city there is a rotating choice of offerings with some of the greatest concentrations in my favorite areas to explore like Galata, Karakoy, Cihangir and Cukurcuma.
Olive Oil Braised Artichoke
Sardines, Bread, Lemon
Turkish Dumpling with garlicky yoghurt sauce and paprika sauce
Morel Mushroom, Cress, Pomegranate Vinegar, Sumac, Burned Butter, Malkara Green Len
Broad Bean, Fresh Almond, Halhali Olives, Capers, Apple Vinegar
Wild Cabbage, Giresun Walnut, Salted Yoghurt, Potato, Bergama Tulum Cheese, Cumin, Plum Pestil
Grape Molasses, Basil, Walnut Crumbs, Strawberry Sorbet
Cheese & Honey
Anatolian Raw Milk Cheeses, Flower Honey, Walnut, Hardaliye & Prune, Multi Seed Crisp
By: Michael Gorecki
Human’s are visual beings. We rely on our sense of sight much more than any other of the senses. What we see has a huge reaction on how we act and what we do. That is why it is Instagram, an imaged based app, is one of the best marketing tools out there. Instagram appeals directly to our strongest decision-making sense, our eyes. With over 800 million active users, having a visually stunning Instagram is extremely important in attracting new business. Case in point, my trip to Indonesia, Australia, and New Zealand.
When I made my itinerary to these countries Instagram was my best friend. Instead of having to navigate through language barriers, poor website designs, and tons of reviews – I would simple judge a place, activity, location by how it looked on Instagram.If a restaurant or hotel did not look visually appealing I would move on to the next spot until I saw somewhere that caught my eye. From a user standpoint Instagram made making travel decisions quick and easy, I loved it. From a business standpoint Instagram could be their saving grace in breaking through the noise of these heavily competitive and saturated tourist destinations.
Through Instagram, companies are able to achieve a powerful social presence and increases their reach through content that they make themselves. The ROI on Instagram can be extremely high if companies can create a captivating account.
Below are the hotels & restaurants that were able to capture my attention and earn my dollars.
- Chapung Se Bali @chapungsebali – just look at those amazing infinity and plunge pools
- Mozaic @mozaicrestaurantubud- along with being one best in Asia, Mozaic has an Instagram account that highlights not only the food but the dining experience as well.
- Sunday’s Beach Club @sundaysbeachclub – has a compelling mix of both awesome beach shots as well as lifestyle-centric photography
- Matcha Mylkbar @matcha_mylkbar – this place was an Instagrammers paradise with rainbow-colored smoothies in skull glasses to charcoal lattes.
- Arbory @arboryeatery – delicious food shots with happy people… who could say no to that?
- Baduzzi @baduzzi – a foodies heaven, and Restaurant of the Year 2014
Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the newly opened Beehive on 19th and Valencia. It was a Thursday night, which I expected to be packed. To my surprise, there were quite a few empty spaces at the bar – perfect for me and my group. I had eaten at Farmhouse Thai for dinner prior, so did not try any of the food dishes at The Beehive – for this write up I’ll focus strictly on the beverages. Throughout the evening, I sipped on three (very different) cocktails, outlined below.
- Thunderbird | Avion Reposado Tequila, Campari, Passionfruit, Bergamot Thyme Jelly, Lime, Tonic ($14) – served on the rocks in a tall glass
- Nightingale | Mezcal, Kumquat, Cinnamon, Cointreau, Lemon, Ale ($14) – served on one ice large ice cube in a tall glass
- Bikini Drifter | Havana Club Blanco, Mount Gay Black Barrel, Coconut Pineapple, Anchan Chamomile Falernum ($14) – served in an extra tall glass with crushed ice throughout
The first one, the Thunderbird, was the cocktail that each person in my group initially opted for. To our dismay, it was not any of our favorites. I love passionfruit, but felt that something tasted a bit too harsh in the mix of it all. Next, the Nightingale was lovely with a very strong smoky mezcal taste. While I love mezcal, I would not suggest the cocktail to anyone who isn’t a fan of mezcal. My favorite of all three was the Bikini Drifter. It is a beautiful purple drink, which tastes delicious too – just like the bartender’s spin on a piña colada, but at the same time, much more unique and classy. I’ll also add that all of the straws used in their drinks are compostable. A very nice touch but also gets soggy throughout!
I do recommend The Beehive for anyone looking for creative cocktails and wants to spend some time in the Mission. I plan to head back to taste the dishes at a later date. Next time, I’ll sit in a totally different area as there are three different sections of the room – bar seating, high top seating in the middle and darker/lounge seating in the back. Enjoy!
My best friend lives up in Sonoma County so sometimes we try to meet in the middle for a weekend brunch or dinner. A few Sundays ago her husband, an avid home-brewer, suggested a brewery in downtown San Rafael called State Room – Brewery. Bar. Kitchen. With San Francisco Brewing Co. getting ready to open at the time, I happily obliged – always interested in checking out similar concepts in different geographic locations. Speaking of locations, who knew San Rafael had a cute little downtown? I definitely did not until this trip.
We looked at the menu and ordered individual entrees and then decided that we needed to try one of their wood-fired pizzas. Everything was cooked well and tasty! For beverages, I started with a bloody mary and then tried one of their flights (four, five-ounce pours) with Tropicali Guava Pale, Altered State, Barnstormer Farmhouse Ale, and my favorite the Liquid Sunshine Deluxe (or “LSD” as the servers corrected me) – “a medium bodied New England style IPA with big citrus hop flavor and aroma. Hazy, like a glass of orange juice, and good “til the last drop.”
Overall, I’d go again and recommend it for those who find themselves in the area. It’s not huge, but there’s outdoor seating on a covered patio and the inside has a beautiful industrial looking bar, lots of live plants everywhere including a living wall, visible beer tanks, and a small game room in the back.
As we were leaving, we noticed another brewery (Tamalpais Brewery & Taproom) getting ready to open just up the street. Maybe San Rafael is going to be the next great craft beer destination…
Intrigued by the number of fine dining establishments opening casual dining concepts, I made my way to St. Helena for my first round of research. The Charter Oak, located in what once was Michael Chiarello’s Tra Vigne, is the latest project from the team at three Michelin starred Restaurant at Meadowood.
Upon entering the beautiful brick building, we were greeted by a gorgeous patio leading to a massive wooden door. As soon as we stepped into the dining room to take our seats, my eyes were immediately drawn to the open hearth. It was the restaurant’s focal point, where the action began. Luckily, we sat close enough to where I could feel the warmth radiating and could smell a faint smoke coming from the fire. I watched in amazement as one chef worked her magic around the hearth – chopping away at the counter while making sure to turn the meat and vegetables on time.
As we order a few appetizers, our server made sure to ask us if we knew where our utensils were located. This was one of the many interesting details about the experience – the utensils are conveniently stored in a hidden compartment built into the table. The atmosphere screamed rustic and cozy with wood and metal furnishings and unique choice of dishware. Service was attentive and timed impeccably. They gave us just enough time in between each course, as not to overload us with the shared dishes, and our server was well versed in the immense wine list.
We began with a selection of starters but the star of the day, and perhaps my new favorite appetizer, was the dip of Marin brie with trout roe and potato chips. I would describe this dish as elevated snack food to be eaten with a nice bottle of chardonnay in your best fuzzy slippers. For the main course, I ordered a hearty beef rib served with beets dried over the fire. Thankfully, the meat fell right off the bone to save me from looking like an animal as I devoured all of the delicious fatty bits off the meat. Admittedly, I snuck some of the hot sauce from the bottle they gave my boyfriend for his fried chicken sandwich.
After the first and second course, we pondered on driving over to Bouchon Bakery for a sweet treat but our plans were immediately halted. A dessert cart arrived at our table, dim sum style, and a server recites the offerings. Captivated by the selections, we give in and order dessert. We ordered the pavlova with preserved strawberries and olive oil custard and buffalo milk ice cream, which she proceeds to plate by our table. Both never overwhelmed with too much sweetness; just the right finish to a delicious meal.
For drinks, I enjoyed a whiskey and burnt rosemary cocktail, brought over to the table inside of a flask and poured into a coupe glass. The rosemary is burned, thrown into the flask, gets covered, and the smoke from the rosemary is infused into the cocktail. An excellent cocktail for those looking for some excitement on their taste buds! With my beef rib, I paired with a Rafael et Fils cabernet sauvignon from their extensive list of Napa Valley wines.
Takeaway: details, details, details! From the hidden utensils compartment, perfect serving time of dishes, to the complimentary mini soaps in the restrooms, The Charter Oak utilized the importance of details. As a first-timer, the details kept me engaged in my experience and excited to find little quirks. Also, with the rise of fine-casual, elevated but approachable comfort food is in. I’m ready to find more ways to fancy up the potato chip dip!
Each year, I try to take one or two big/international trips. I was fortunate to travel to Barcelona, Spain this March. While I was there for only one full week – not long enough – I made the most of each day. I visited museums, toured cathedrals, churches, monuments, enjoyed Gaudi buildings, spent time by the beaches and in the parks, checked out the music scene…
But let’s be real, I was really there for the food (and the sangria).
The food and beverage items I consumed at every chance I could get included:
Out of the wide variety of restaurants I tried, I want to include two that stood out to me: Bar Cañete and Caravelle. Though I loved many, many more, these two represent the diverse flavors I discovered eating my way through Barcelona. Meanwhile, they also offer a different “vibe” – for lack of a better word – than some of the others.
Bar Cañete is definitely a gem in the “La Rambla” area of Barcelona – which most locals will say is not the best area for food as restaurants are overpriced and geared towards tourists. This was not the case here. The restaurant was recommended by another fellow af&co. employee, and wow, so glad I listened to her advice. Bar Cañete had to have been one of my favorite restaurants ever experienced. I loved everything from the aesthetic (open kitchen with a long L-shaped bar, plants galore, beautiful plate ware), to the service, to the wine list, to each of the dishes, and more.
The Tuna Tartare was to die for. It was made with wild tuna, mascarpone, trout caviar, avocado whip, and crisps. So delicious that we placed a second order towards the end of our meal, right before dessert. I also loved the fried Cordoba-Style Eggplant, thinly sliced and deep fried in sugar cane honey. And of course, their Cañete-Style Garlic Shrimp was hot, buttery, and fresh with the perfect amount of garlic we all love.
I visited Caravelle towards the end of my trip, when I was *shockingly* getting (sort of) sick of traditional Spanish tapas. After so many plates of padron peppers, croquettes, olives, and papas bravas, my taste buds started to crave a bit of a change. Caravelle was recommended as a go-to spot for brunch, but after perusing their dinner options featured throughout their Instagram page, I knew I had to give it a try. The concept was not only a restaurant for brunch, lunch and dinner, but also a microbrewery with a selection of unique craft beers.
The Oak-Smoked Beef Rib plate (for 2-4) was their limited time special of the night, and one of the best dishes I’ve consumed to date. It was plated on a large wooden cutting board, served with French fries, pickled vegetables, avocado whip, and grilled zucchini. Some other dishes I loved included the Raw Salmon Tostada made with jalapeño harissa, tomatillo pico, and crispy tostada, the Meatballs slow cooked in tomato sauce with parmesan ricotta, and the Roasted Miso Cauliflower with roasted carrots, kale puree, and crisp baby beets. They also had a unique Banana Old Fashioned Cocktail and Elderflower Sangria – both of which I had yet to see featured elsewhere.
A restaurant, when done right, gives a guest a unique culinary and social experience. Flores, in San Francisco, is a restaurant done right. A bright, buzzy neighborhood restaurant cafe serving traditional Mexican cuisine & sophisticated craft cocktails, Flores SF carries its vibrancy throughout the restaurant in every way possible. From the waving palm leaves on the ceiling to the colorful murals on the walls, Flores brings its brand to life and leaves no stone unturned. Every guest touchpoint from start to finish is thoughtful and executed to the highest of standards (this is an Adriano Paganini restaurant).
If you ever find yourself dining in here, these are my recommendations for food and beverages:
You must start off with the guacamole and some ceviche mixto. Order the pulpo dorado with cranberry beans, pico de gallo, and serrano and you can’t go wrong with the tacos de pescado, fried cod tacos, cabbage slaw, chipotle aioli, and lime. If you’re looking for a vegetarian option, the quesadilla huitlacoche with dino kale is delicious. For drinks, order a mezcal margarita.. or two.
A longtime affinity for both Portuguese food and Chef Telmo Faria’s cooking led me to Uma Casa – one of San Francisco’s only Portuguese restaurants located in Noe Valley. I first experienced Faria’s Portuguese dishes at a pre-opening pop-up for Uma Casa that was held at Maven in 2016 – I was sold after just one taste of his mariscos.
Uma Casa’s menu offers a variety of options to share with a group. We started with the Azeitonas: warm olives, olive oil, lemon, garlic, herb; the Pão com Manteiga: house-made bread, chouriço butter, olive butter (I could eat that chorizo butter every day!); and the Pasteis de Bacalhau: salt cod fritters and cilantro mayo. The Grilled Lamb Meatballs and Pan Seared Octopus were also huge standouts for the table, followed by Faria’s renowned Frango Churrasco – a grilled half Mary’s Chicken with piri-piri glaze, fries, and greens. An uncommon dish for the Bay Area, I couldn’t have been more excited to find piri-piri chicken in my neck of the woods after experiencing it abroad.
My visit only further confirmed that I need to take a trip to Portugal in 2018 – and in the meantime, I couldn’t be more thrilled to experience their style of cuisine at both Uma Casa and Faria’s forthcoming fast casual piri-piri chicken concept he’s opening with Khalid Mushasha this spring: Piri Pica!
I’ve lived in Lower Nob Hill (or the Tenderloin, depending on who you ask) for almost two years, so I was surprised that I wasn’t previously aware of KEIKO à Nob Hill: an intimate and elegant restaurant, newly anointed with its first Michelin star. Turning thirty is as good a reason as any to splurge on a fancy meal – especially one that’s practically in my backyard (if I had one) – so I decided to try it out.
Located on the ground level of an apartment building at the top of Nob Hill, I must have walked by this place a dozen times without noticing it. Once inside, it had the feel of a small, exclusive club with a reserved, Old World ambiance. After a few tasty bites, the nine-course French/Japanese tasting menu began with a delicate uni and cauliflower dish, which I loved. The A5 Wagyu beef with Iberico ham foam was my husband’s favorite. The best dish of the meal, however, was dessert: a play on white chocolate cake with “essence of raspberry” served in a tiny glass with a delicate spout for sipping. Raspberries are my all-time favorite fruit, and it did not disappoint. It was not a reduction, not a sauce, not a coulis – just raspberries in liquid form. I forgot my table manners and slurped it all down.
As wonderful as the food was, the wine pairing stole the show. Seven wines and one sake were served, and each time the sommelier reappeared I was giddy with excitement for what he’d bring next. All were delicious, but my one of my favorites was the sommelier’s own Cabernet Sauvignon, produced in St. Helena during his time as a winemaker, with the bottle designed by Mary GrandPré–illustrator for the Harry Potter books. Another favorite was a 1988 port–the year I was born.
KEIKO à Nob Hill is definitely a special occasion restaurant, but one that’s well worth the price. It also taught me an important lesson–always, always do the wine pairing.
For those not familiar with a “Speakeasy,” it is defined as: “An immersive theatrical experience with an underground bar, crooked casino, and cabaret featuring the best routines of 1923.” Since alcohol was illegal until 1933, bars were also illegal, and therefore those attending any Speakeasies were always instructed to be silent during their time spent in the establishments. To take part in one of these experiences in the present day, one must dress in full 1920s costume, turn his/her phone completely off and put it away (no photography allowed), and remember to… Shh… SPEAKEASY!
Within each Speakeasy is a variety of actors, however, it is said that no one knows who is acting and who isn’t. The Palace Theater in San Francisco holds the shows each month at an undisclosed location in the city. They often say that the Speakeasy will soon be ending, however so far, they continue to go on. In January, a group of girlfriends and I decided to try out the experience.
When my ticket confirmation email read, “You have a watch repair appointment tomorrow night. Visit www.thespeakeasysf.com/redhat for details and meeting location,” I truly did not know what to expect. In order to find the Speakeasy location, I was directed to look for the person wearing the red hat and the red scarf in front of Mee Mee Bakery. Upon my encounter with the person wearing the red hat and red scarf, he directed me to another man, who directed me to another man. This third man asked me for my first and last name in exchange for my entrance ticket, which looked like an old school medicine prescription more than anything. After receiving the ticket, I was finally pointed in the direction of the Speakeasy entrance.
This particular Speakeasy entryway was below a clock shop, somewhere between Chinatown and North Beach. The doorman was dressed in 1920s garb and quickly knew where to point us to next. He told us to go down the stairs and through the broom closet, and on the other side, we would be just where we needed to be. At first, I was skeptical, yet as soon as I stepped through the broom closet door, I felt as if I were truly living in another century. The fact that both phones and credit cards were prohibited definitely added to this feeling, and I grew to love it.
We started off in the casino, where actors and actresses broke into character at random. My friends played a few rounds of craps (not for real money), while I found the nearest server to take our drink orders. I was handed a drink menu set in an old fashion style, unlike any other menu I had ever seen. The menu started with the “Lighter Fare” – two champagne-based cocktails; leading to the “Beer, Wine, & Bubbles” section. On the other side, were three different sections of cocktails, each divided by their price. The first section was $18, the second was $16, and the third was $14. As these high cocktail prices would never be found in the 1920s, they read “18 cents,” “16 cents” and “14 cents” – nice touch!
My girlfriends and I ordered a variety of cocktails including a “Black Manhattan,” “The Velvet Sea,” a “Vieux Carre,” and the “Russian Mistress.” We tasted each other’s drinks but found ourselves gravitating towards the ones that we ordered first. My favorite of all was the Vieux Carre – made with rye, brandy, carpano antica, and Benedictine. I tend to enjoy more spirit-forward cocktails, and whiskey is typically my go-to spirit, so I found this one to be particularly delicious. The ingredients used were clearly very high quality, and the bartender balanced everything perfectly. My second favorite cocktail was The Velvet sea – made with aged rum, velvet falernum, lime, and bitters – however I stuck with ordering my Vieux Carre as the night progressed.
After spending a good amount of time in the Casino, my group made our way to the bar, where a couple of very interesting scenes were acted out. I was impressed by the level of talent amongst the actors and actresses. After the bar, we headed to the cabaret, which turned out to be our favorite room of all. We spent most of our time there watching the stage set with dancers, short plays, and even contortionists. The night ended with a couple of faux police officers “breaking up” the evening and kicking everyone out through the backdoor, which again, simulated a real 1920s experience.
Overall, my friends and I truly enjoyed the Speakeasy. With everyone dressed up in outdated attire and in a secretive underground location, I felt almost as if it were a break from reality. I would recommend the show to anyone who is interested in doing something totally different and new – just be prepared to spend $100 on your ticket and $100 on a few quality cocktails. Bites and appetizers are also served should you choose to order food. Enjoy!
A window-front table to watch the sleepy town of Sonoma drive by. Dinner by a simple and single candle across from a cozy open kitchen where patrons can watch each dish being created from start to finish. Solid and worn-in wooden floors create a rustic and polished vibe for the Glen Ellen Star.
Over the past four winters in San Francisco, one tradition I’ve made is getting together with friends to head to PPQ Dungeness Island in Richmond for garlic noodles and crab. This is one of the quintessential experiences in our city and just one of many Vietnamese restaurants serving up this delicious combination of buttery noodles and whole Dungeness crabs with plenty of garlic and beer. PPQ is a favorite for their relatively low prices and set menus made for indulging. Continue reading
Deep in the heart of the Tenderloin on the corner of Turk and Taylor streets, there is a new bar open called 98 Turk, or BIIG… it has been called both. I arrived after dark and, honestly, I wasn’t sure if I was in the right place as there’s only a dim glow from inside, the door is locked, and I apparently missed the sign that said to knock. Once inside, the walls are wood panels and the décor seems to be sourced from several first-Sundays at Alameda Flea Market – there’s taxidermy, a beautiful bar cart in the corner which was used to serve the folks sitting at the window, and Continue reading
A couple months back, I took my annual long weekend in NYC. I tried a new spot for every meal and here are three that stood out – the quick and dirty, if you will.
Synopsis: Located within the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, this is an intimate speakeasy serving classically inspired food and drinks brought to you by the one and only Grant Achatz.
Highlights: Black truffle explosions (these flavorful raviolios are worth the hype), mussels (that broth! Soak it up with the bread), extremely skilled/professional bartenders and FOH team.
Take-away: The Office features a beautifully designed and super swanky interior with a clubby lounge feel. This is worth a stop for anyone seeking a Grant Achatz experience outside of Chicago. You can describe a season, color, movie, or feeling and the bar team will whip up a creative and one-of-a-kind drink like you’ve never tasted before. This was a nice finish to our day gallivanting across Central Park and visiting the Met. Keep in mind there is no standing room, it is by reservation only and as soon as they open “The Aviary” side (under construction when I visited), this place is going to be even harder to get a table at.
Synopsis: Located in Chelsea, this is David Chang’s latest NYC addition to the Momofuku group (besides his delivery only concept). Chef Joshua Pinsky creates Italian-inspired dishes with unexpected techniques and ingredients, largely of the Asian variety.
Highlights: Bucatini Cacio e Pepe, a green juice based mezcal cocktail that was out of this world (looks like it’s already off the menu due to seasonality)
Take-away: We actually stumbled upon this spot on our way to a movie theater around the corner and were able to grab a seat without a reservation, though perhaps that’s unusual given this was the Saturday of Labor Day Weekend when locals typically clear out of the city. The food was tasty and comforting and the bartender (we sat at the bar) was friendly and knowledgeable. A great neighborhood spot!
Synopsis: This is Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s latest ABC Kitchen spinoff – a bright and cheery vegetarian restaurant.
Highlights: fresh spinach spaghetti (broccoli, kale, preserved lemon, garlic, parmigiano, saffron, crumbs), fried wild rice (market vegetables, fermented tumeric and carrot, cilantro, fried egg), “brain” tonic (brahmi, gotu, kola, kale, ginger, spinach, lime).
Take-away: I ended my trip with this meal and it was the perfect finale – I love my gluttonous eating but I also love to balance everything out with a few bites of the nutritious meets delicious variety. This need not be only a work-day lunch spot; they offer an exceptional beverage menu including cocktails, cold–pressed juices, “vibrations” tonics, shakes, housemade sodas, teas, and kombuchas. Definitely worth a visit for those who have an appreciation for cuisine on the healthier end of the spectrum, without sacrificing flavor. I walked away feeling blissful, satisfied and wishing there was one in San Francisco. Hint hint, Jean-Georges!
Additional top tastes from the visit:
- Soy keema (quail egg, lime leaf butter pao), butter chicken kulcha, and crab claws (butter-pepper-garlic, cauliflower) from Indian Accent
- Miso wings (black sesame, scallions, house spicy miso sauce) – hands down the best chicken wings I’ve ever had, brought to you by Bar Goto
Vegan food doesn’t have to be boring! We forced (most of) our team to branch out of their comfort zones and had lunch delivered by our longtime friend, Stacey Ellis, founder and chef of Herb’n Vegan. The majority of our team are meat-lovers so they were hesitant when they heard we were having a vegan lunch. However, they were pleasantly surprised when they discovered that vegan food could be just as delicious as meat. We enjoyed a lovely spread containing Herb’n Reuben sandwiches made from tempeh and tofu ricotta, Curried “Chicky” Salad sandwiches made from jackfruit, all accompanied by Tomato Basil Soup and Quinoa Salad. To top it all off, we ended our meal with Rosemary Shortbread cookies. Our team thoroughly enjoyed everything we tried and Madison even considered becoming a vegan.
Check out Herb’n Vegan online and order a delicious lunch for your office or have Stacey cater your next event!
herbnvegan.com | email@example.com | 310.367.4912
I was fortunate enough to visit Sonoma a couple weeks before the North Bay fires. To think that the picturesque rolling hills are now covered in ashes is heartbreaking. My heart goes out to all of those affected by the fires. I decided to write about my experience at Santé with the hopes of encouraging tourism to the area to help promote a speedy recovery.
Sonoma may be known for its wine, but amongst the rich history and friendly locals, I rediscovered the art of good service and the beauty of properly savoring a thoughtful meal at the Fairmont Sonoma’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Santé.
Arriving at Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa is an experience in itself; one drives up to the hotel to find a cascading fountain, firepits perfect for welcoming a cold night with a craft cocktail and good company, and a lobby that is both chic and inviting.
We are seated in a classic-meets-modern dining room with rich velvet and leather details and an impressive wall of wines that extends beyond where the eye can see. An iPad is provided to us with a seemingly endless wine and beverage list – perhaps the only point of our experience that was a bit disconnected where technology seems to take a backseat to an experience that favors dining as a journey of the senses – an intimate communal gathering if you will.
The restaurant’s sommelier brings our wine, introduces the aromas, and welcomes us to Sonoma. A minute after he leaves, we are greeted with an amuse bouche of cucumber with local goat cheese and a still hot-out-of-the-oven quiche. Who doesn’t love to be greeted with a complimentary flavor bomb of deliciousness? We instantly had the impression that this was about to be an EXCELLENT meal. Takeaway: the amuse bouche is ready for a revival. Surprising and delighting customers will never go out of style.
But that’s not all. It may be common to receive a bread basket at the table, but after finishing off our amuse bouche bites, we were greeted with a tray of ten fresh-baked slices of bread, ranging from lemon poppyseed to 12-grain. Our server also brought a plate of two local kinds of butter and fresh sea salt, providing recommendations on which butter paired best with which bread. After exchanging looks of “this must be too good to be true” with my boyfriend, these, too, quickly disappeared off of our plates. I remind myself, yet again, that I need to learn how to bake my own bread.
After perusing the menu composed of seasonally-driven dishes with ingredients sourced from local farms, we decided on:
Salad of Heirloom Tomatoes from “The Patch” with burrata mozzarella, compressed and marinated melon, sherry & shallot vinaigrette, balsamic, petite basil
Filet Mignon of Black Angus Beef with Yukon gold pommes purrée, glazed seasonal vegetables, cabernet & black truffle bordelaise sauce
Pan Seared Pacific King Salmon with garden squash, sweet pepper pipérade, corn purée, Parisienne gnocchi, basil & garlic pistou emulsion
And last but not least…our waitress informed us of the Valrhona Chocolate Soufflé with chocolate Anglaise sauce. Due to preparation time, you have to order it at the beginning of the meal. We were sold on this item from the beginning and were not disappointed in the least. C’est superbe!
I would highly recommend visiting this Sonoma treasure. It is a true testament to the beauty of fine dining: being greeted with outstanding service, connecting with those you love over a quality meal, and slowing down for a few minutes to fully appreciate how a creamy, freshly-churned butter from a farm five miles away can put the biggest smile on your face.
As you may know, each year my besties and I head off for an adventure abroad and this was our 12th journey together. From Israel to Spain (three times) to Australia to Sicily, we have certainly seen the world. And the memories are simply amazing.
About two years ago – my friend John, who usually goes along with whatever we want to do (“we” being his wife, Sharee, my gal pal and travel wife, Linda, and me) declared that he would like to go to Scandinavia. He was going to be turning 60 in 2017 (PS –He looks fabulous. He’s a complete metrosexual and he says he owes it all to the show Queer Eye For The Straight Guy) and he really had a dream to see Sweden and Norway. We normally like warm weather spots – a few days of touring and then some beach time but we agreed that, for John, we would celebrate in Swedish style.
On to the research phase: John got to reading books and I was lucky enough to find a wonderful travel advisor, Sim Uzkuraitis from Firebird Tours. This guy is awesome – use him. We had a long conversation about what he thought we should see and do and then the gang chimed in and we settled on a great trip. Once we got there, we realized we had completely overscheduled ourselves and canceled a few of the Viking outings (trust me, if you’ve seen one Viking ship, you’ve seen them all). So our trip was planned and we got ready to go.
Unfortunately, tragedy struck when my best pal Stuart was diagnosed with throat cancer so we put the trip on hold for a year to focus on him. While his battle was rough, I am happy to report he is healthy and happy.
Again, I can’t thank Firebird Tours enough for their flexibility with our plans. They were great and we were able to reschedule the new dates and they honored as much as they could. So off we went in August! And despite some initial skepticism, some rain, some cold temps, some very quiet nights and way too much fish – this was truly a terrific trip. We were in the land of the happy people; it was clean, it was crisp and I am telling you, the people were really welcoming and proud.
Here’s a quick overview of our stops and our highlights.
We flew SAS Airlines (very efficient) into Oslo. We arrived to some light rain in the afternoon and got right out there. We explored the city and were charmed right off the bat. We stayed at the conveniently located Hotel Folketeateret, which was perfect, although slightly too modern for us. That night we checked out the Opera House and heard music playing on the pier across the way. We ended up crashing a local professionals party and did some dancing! The next day we met our wonderful tour guide and off we went to see the city. The highlight of the day was Frogner Park and it’s magnificent sculpture garden. We also stopped at the royal grounds, City Hall and the Folk and Viking Ship museums. Dinner that night was at Lofoten on the water for some wonderful seafood.
The next day, our real adventure began with our destination being Balestrand — a charming village located near Norway’s largest Fjord. The trip involved two trains and a boat ride with the highlight being the train ride to the mountain town of Flam. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking. Let’s talk about Balestrand. It was small and quaint and being an active group, we quickly knew that for the 2 ½ days we were going to be there, boredom would set in fast. (It’s my fault – I told Sim we wanted to disconnect and he took it literally.) The historic hotel, Kviknes, was indeed pretty magnificent and our rooms had wonderful views. Since there was only one restaurant in town, we opted to enjoy the hotel, take long walks and runs in the rain – and get to know each other better. We did get the fun opportunity to go to the movies with a bunch of the local folks at the schoolhouse. We saw Dunkirk – which was a very intense vacation movie.
Onward! Back on the water and through the Fjords to Bergen – trust me this fishing city (the second largest in Norway) is exquisite. Our hotel, the Clarion Admiral, was our favorite of the trip – stylish and a perfect location. Our first dinner was at Marcus Samuelson’s restaurant in the hotel. It was really tasty. The next day we had a fabulous tour of the city including a ride up to the highest mountain on a funicular. The views were spectacular (though we were a bit chilly). Then we got to see the old fish market and wooden villages; the city is a mix of old and new and we loved it. We ended our visit with a trip to the Bergen Ice Bar –which was a hoot. We donned parkas and drank vodka out of glasses made of ice. We had dinner at the fish market that night –which I highly recommend. It was a short but lovely stay.
Next stop –Stockholm. Okay everyone, you heard it here first. YOU MUST VISIT STOCKHOLM AT LEAST ONCE IN YOUR LIFE. It is a stunning, cosmopolitan city and we loved it. We stayed in old town at the Victory Hotel. It was perfectly located though, I will admit, the owner collects maritime antiques and puppets which adorned the hotel and they creeped us out a little bit; we thought they might come to life late at night. For meals, my good pal and client, Chef Staffan Terje of Perbacco/barbacco, made some recommendations—all of which were great. We ate well – three nights and three delicious restaurants: Grodan, Bistro Sud, and my favorite was Sture Hof. We had a really fun city tour which included an elaborate changing of the guards ceremony at the Royal Palace and then we got to see some of the wonderful neighborhoods. We also checked out the Vasa and Skansen museums — historical insights to Swedish and Viking life.
BUT THE HIGHLIGHT OF HIGHLIGHTS OF THIS STOP CAN BE SUMMED UP IN ONE WORD –ABBA!!! We spent our first afternoon (about 4 hours) at the ABBA museum which was awesome. Then the next night, we went to ABBA THE PARTY and it was the best experience of the trip. It’s an interactive dinner and show all set to ABBA hits. Once the show is over, the floor is cleared and a dance party starts. We were there for five hours and literally danced for three of them. I can’t recommend this enough. Mamma Mia, did we have a ball!
On our last night, Stockholm was having its annual KulturFest and the city was full of energy with performances by the symphony, the opera and world-renowned DJs and bands. It was like Outside Lands but it was all of the city and get this – free!!! We had a ball and it was a great way to say farewell to Sweden. We walked back to our hotel a bit blue about the journey coming to an end and left early the next morning to head home.
Along the way we met wonderful, welcoming people and it will be a trip that we will remember forever.
What makes a restaurant great? Many would say, the food, the drinks, or the service but while those are all important I would have to disagree. What I believe makes a restaurant stand out from the crowd is the concept and The Dorian SF has a concept that takes the dining experience to the next level.
At the Dorian, guests not only get to indulge in delicious food and refreshing libations but are told a story from a different time period. Through the use of tasteful decorations and thoughtful collateral the space is transformed into a saloon or parlor of the old days where you can imagine the intelligentsia and freethinkers would go to discuss and exchange ideas. And although I went there with the specific goal of eating some oysters (which sadly, they were out of), I left with something I didn’t expect, feeling like a scholar, inspired by the atmosphere that the Dorian SF has so perfectly and strategically created.
Definitely would recommend!
By: Michael Gorecki
This past month I ventured south to LA for a weekend filled with food, fun, and friends, but let’s be honest, I was really there for the food. In 48 hours we ate at 12 restaurants: Lodge Bread Co., Felix, Rossoblu, Cosa Buona, Chi Spacca, Kismet, Top Round, Petit Trois, Rustic Canyon, Destroyer, and Din Tai Fung.
Although all of the meals were delicious, our favorite meal was at the recently opened hotspot, Felix by Chef Evan Funke. The restaurant, located in the heart of Venice on Abbot Kinney, is inspired by the culinary traditions of Italy with a California influence, it is also one of the most beautiful restaurants I have seen this year. Walking in you immediately feel like you’re in someone’s house, but in the most amazing way possible. Each room has a unique décor with the piece pièce de résistance being the pasta laboratory in the center of the dining room. Servers were attentive and knowledgable but that did not make the decisions on what to order that much easier, everything on the menu looked delicious, including the beverages!
Felix not only has a great wine program but also a great cocktail program. We tried both the Roof Garden with blanc vermouth, cucumber and ginger, and the Hey Nineteen with tequila and pisco, pineapple, and limoncello. Both cocktails were light and refreshing, perfect for the summer heat wave LA was experience at the time we were there. After cocktails we ordered a bottle of lighter red to enjoy with the rest of our meal.
The meal started with Felix’s infamous Sfincione, focaccia siciliana with sea salt and rosemary. Many of our friends had been to Felix and this was one of the most talked about dishes, light and fluffy, one order would not be enough. We ordered two antipasti, the Fiori di Zucca, squash blossoms, fior di latte and green garlic and the Carciofi alla Giudia, fried artichokes with lemon and mint. Next came the really hard decisions, which pastas should we order and how many was too many? The pastas are broken down into four regions: Nord, Centro, Mezzogiorno, and Isole. Although we really wanted to get one from each region we were were won over by the North and Center, ordering two from each. From Le Paste Del Nord we ordered the Pappardelle with ragu bolognese “vecchia scuola”, and parmigiana reggiano and the Trofie with pesto Genovese and pecorino stagionato. From Le Paste Del Centro we ordered the Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe and the Rigatoni All ‘Amatriciana’. And last but not least, my personal favorite was the Orecchiette with rapini, bagnetto di alici, wild ramps, and pecorino pugliese from Le Paste Del Mezzogiorno.
After all the pasta we were unfortunately too full for dessert (oh, plus we had three more meals to go that evening)! If you’re in LA I would definitely recommend checking out Felix. A reservation is highly recommended and if you can’t get one then I suggest you get there before doors open, you’ll feel like you’re right at home!
By: Michael Gorecki
Sipping a few bottles of wine, eating great cheese next to a subtle water feature, is what I call a successful Wednesday night and Va de Vi Bistro and Wine Bar in Walnut Creek has all of those things. Get a table outside in the small alley and, for a moment, you might actually think you are dining out in Italy.
With a diverse selection of wine from California to Spain to Australia, the options are endless. Luckily, they have created an extensive and carefully thought-out list of wine flights for both red and white. Let the wine tastings begin!
Even though they are known for their wines – Va de Vi literally translates to “It’s all about wine” – the food menu does not fall short. With a great selection of small plates from ahi tartare to grilled flat iron steak, anyone’s hunger can be satisfied.
Overall, a great experience; servers could have been a tad more knowledgeable but definitely a must if you ever find yourself wandering around in the East Bay.
Where to wine, dine, caffeinate, and carbo-load in Portlandia, as told by Vanessa.
9 AM CAFFEINATE: Stumptown Coffee is an obvious Portland staple, and for good reason. Sip on their heavenly nitro brew and throw on your hipster reading glasses while you read the Portland Tribune like a true local in the hip lounge of the Ace Hotel 1026 SW Stark Street location.
10 AM PRE-HIKE CARBO-LOAD: Stop by Kenny and Zuke’s Delicatessen for a pre-hike carbo-load. Their Big Shot Breakfast Sandwich is out of control in the best way possible: 2 eggs, pastrami & swiss, grilled on rye. Yes I ate this food-coma-inducing-miracle, and no, I am not ashamed. Also, DON’T FORGET THE DONUTS: Voodoo lived up to the hype, but visit their Northeast location to skip the line (pro tip: get a sampler’s dozen, but make them add my personal favorite, the Memphis Mafia – a deep-fried donut topped with banana chunks, cinnamon sugar, chocolate frosting, peanut butter, peanuts, and chocolate chips). I’ve heard Blue Star is also great, and usually no line. Lastly, Lovejoy Bakery was a really sweet bakeshop in the Pearl District that had great seasonally-driven brunch and lunch options, baked goods, and coffee.
11 AM TAKE A HIKE: Work off those carbs in the woods! Multnomah Falls are absolutely breathtaking, though also very touristy. Stop by for a photo opp then head over to Eagle Creek for a less-crowded hike to Punch Bowl Falls. Hoping to stay in the city but still get a taste of nature? Stop and smell the roses (literally) at the International Rose Test Garden (#alloftheroses) in the heart of Washington Park.
3 PM BEER! (IT’S 5 O’CLOCK SOMEWHERE): We’re huge beer geeks, so we visited quite a few throughout the weekend. My favorite was 10 Barrel Brewing (they have great pub fare and a rooftop for when it’s nice out), Cascade Brewing (awesome sour beers if that’s your thang), Rogue Eastside Brewery (SF’s Portland-based sister, big outdoor patio), and Bridgeport Brewery (Portland’s oldest brewpub, or at least that’s what the guy next to us at the bar said so I’m going to believe him).
5 PM CHEEEEEESE: I try not to pick favorites, but a huge highlight of this trip was our trip to Cheese & Crack. Their sampler plate is TO DIE FOR (hello fire-torched brie brûlée!) and great for groups of 2-4 people. They also have frosé. Stick a fork in me, I’m done! Until dinner, that is…
7:30 PM DINNER: Head over to Northeast Alberta Street for some fun restaurant and bar options. Bollywood Theatre was a really hip fast-casual Indian dining spot. The decor and music was lively and playful, which perfectly matched the street-food style dishes and oh-so-tasty cocktails.
9 PM OUT AND ABOUT: Also on Northeast Alberta Street, we enjoyed visiting Radio Room which had outdoor seating, a firepit, and even more delicious cocktails. Down the road a bit further is The Bye and Bye which features quirky artwork in a moody setting (very a la Portland), another back patio, and if you’re still hungry, amazing vegan/vegetarian dining options.
11 PM PIZZA RUN: What is a night out without a nightcap slice of pie? Head to Sizzle Pie for some cheesy deliciousness (you won’t regret it).
Since moving to San Francisco, I’ve made it my personal mission to try a new restaurant, cocktail bar, coffee and juice shop, and ice cream shop when I go out on the town with friends. I’ve attempted to canvas my local neighborhood first, North Beach. The land of pasta, pizza, and gelato, I’ve stumbled upon some of my favorite spots in San Francisco (that don’t always include pasta). First and foremost, Tosca Cafe takes the cake as my favorite restaurant in North Beach. The atmosphere is intimate and inviting with original murals lining the walls of the dining room, checkered floors, and the dim lighting attracts locals to stop in for a cocktail or a sampling of crispy pig tails and pressed pig ears (don’t knock it till’ you try it).
Across the way on Columbus, Molinari Delicatessen has found the way to my heart by way of spicy coppa, mortadella, and prosciutto stuffed peppers. The pressed Luciano Sandwich on scallion focaccia is what sandwich dreams are made of with fresh mozzarella, sundried tomatoes, onion, sweet and spicy coppa, prosciutto, and my personal touch, extra mortadella. In addition to the authentic paninis, the traditional style delicatessen offers an array of olives, cold salads, cured meats, and a variety of cheeses for takeaway.
Take a stroll North on Columbus and hang a right on Union to make your way to Gelato Classico for a sweet treat. The ultra-rich and creamy hand-crafted ice cream and sorbetto transport me straight to Italy. The sorbettos are made with seasonal fruit and are the refreshing choice for a sunny city day but when my sweet tooth lingers, I always opt for pistachio or stracciatella.
There are so many dining options in North Beach it’s dizzying. However, I have to make a special mention of Liholiho Yacht Club because I experienced a truly heavenly bite in the form of an unsuspecting steamed bun. The Beef Tongue Poppy Seed Steamed buns with kimchi and cucumber is one of the best dishes I’ve had in 2017(besides the aforementioned crispy pig tails and pressed pig ears). Maybe the dish soared to the top of my list because I’m a sucker for a steamed bun or because tongue is one of my guilty food pleasures often in the form of lengua tacos. Nevertheless, all of the flavor combinations in these little buns hit the nail on the head. We ordered another plate.
I’ve been dying to visit the SFMOMA ever since it was renovated last May. But let’s be honest, I’m really more interested in food than I am into art. Even though I was “dying” to see the museum, I never made concrete plans to visit until my friend made a reservation at In Situ. Of course, it was the food that finally lured me in. I’m no art connoisseur so I’m just going to skip to the food portion of my visit to MOMA.
Three Michelin star chef and James Beard Award winner, Corey Lee, created the concept for In Situ. The menu consists of contributions from over 80 chefs from around the world. However, I was surprised to find out that none of the dishes on the menu were created by Corey. Yet, he was still a James Beard finalist for Best New Restaurant for In Situ so clearly he’s doing something right.
The menu is pretty intuitive and includes symbols next to each dish to denote the size of the dish as well as a guide for wine pairings. After much deliberation, my friend and I ordered four medium-sized dishes, one large dish, and one dessert. I found it funny when our waitress warned us that we were ordering a lot and asked if we wanted to remove any of the dishes. However, I had just spent so much time trying to narrow down my options that I wasn’t about to reconsider my order all over again.
I started with the Celeriac and Goat Cheese Profiterole, Anis Marinated Salmon, and Wasabi Lobster. The Celeriac and Goat Cheese Profiterole (David McMillan & Frederic Morin, Joe Beef) was served at room temperature with a tomato puree. The Anis Marinated Salmon (Harald Wohlfahrt, Restaurant Schwarzwaldstube) was also served at room temperature even though it was raw. I was actually expecting the salmon to be cooked but it ended up being quite refreshing with the caviar and cucumber jelly. Out of the three medium-sized dishes, my favorite was the Wasabi Lobster (Tim Raue, Restaurant Tim Raue) although the wasabi was overpowering and truly cleared my sinuses (not a bad thing when you’re sick, right?). The lobster is prepared similarly to tempura, which I found a bit ordinary but still enjoyed.
For my main course, I had a hard time choosing between the Creole BBQ Shrimp and Grits and The Forest but eventually settled on The Forest (Mauro Colagreco, Mirazur) since it is the only large vegetarian dish on the menu and I don’t eat meat. The Forest truly looks like a forest with parsley “moss”, quinoa risotto, and mushrooms. This ended up being my favorite dish of the night so I’m glad I ended up choosing it. My friend had the Lamb Shank Manti (Mehmet Gurs, Mikla), which was served with tomato, smoked yogurt, and sumac. The dumplings looked delicious but since it had meat, I wasn’t able to try it. However, my friend truly enjoyed them.
The biggest disappointment of the night, unfortunately, was the Jasper Hill Farm Cheesecake. I had the wrong expectations for this dessert and it certainly did not satisfy my sweet tooth. It is probably a great dessert for people who don’t have as sweet of sweet tooth or prefer cheese platters to end their meal. The cheesecake is made with brie so you can probably imagine just how rich it was. It felt as if I was eating a block of soft cheese with cookies instead of crackers. However, my friend who doesn’t like sweets really liked the cheesecake as a dessert since it wasn’t very sweet at all. I guess it’s all based on personal preference but just know that you won’t be getting a typical cheesecake.
In the end, the amount of food we ordered ended up being perfect. We finished everything except for the cheesecake, although we still made a good dent in it (mostly my friend’s doing). Neither my friend nor I was overly stuffed to the point where we had to be wheeled out of the restaurant but ended the meal feeling very content.
Where didn’t we eat while we were in Chicago for the James Beard Awards this year?
Shamefully, neither of us had ever been to this Chicago hotspot so we stopped in for drinks before heading the Chefs Night Out party on Sunday Evening. Anticipating what was to come, we ordered the Before the Dawn cocktail which had vodka, blood orange liqueur, ginger liqueur, rose demerara, lemon, sea salt and some (*fingers crossed* preventative) activated charcoal.
Though twelve years old, Boka was easily the most talked about restaurant we went to during our trip. Perhaps because they were nominated for several James Beard Awards, including Best Chef Great Lakes, Best Pastry Chef, and Outstanding Service.
We opted not to do the tasting menu, and instead ordered a la carte – everything was delicious, particularly the marinated fluke with sea urchin, and the service was impeccable.
Easily our favorite stop of the trip, The Ladies Room at Fat Rice is situated behind the restaurant through and unmarked. The space itself is small and sexy and the drinks were incredible with service that was knowledgeable, yet unpretentious.
We also had meals at Entente, Smyth, and a burger for dessert downstairs at The Loyalist!
Congratulations to all the 2017 Bay Area Broadcast Media and Restaurant and Chef Award Winners! Our team had a great time eating their way through Chicago, kicking-off Taste America 2017 with an inspiring luncheon with planners from across the country and attending/working the awards earlier this month!
As one matures ages, you realize that no trip to Vegas is complete without a dining experience that is equally as electrifying as the people-watching nightlife the famously flashy city provides. While it may not be as esteemed when compared to more traditional food meccas, Vegas is home to a number of big-name chef outposts and hip transplanted concepts, which makes for a pretty strong recipe for delicious.
I am quite embarrassed to admit for the past year I have lived a short 0.8 miles from Nopa and up until two weeks ago I had never experienced a meal there. Let me tell you, this neighborhood institution lived up to all the hype! My favorite part about my dinner was how simple yet delicious each dish was. We ordered way too much and ate it all. Some of my highlights were the wood baked butter beans with feta, oregano pesto and breadcrumbs which I’ve tried to recreate but will never taste as good in my own kitchen and the full flavored little fried fish with dill, aioli and lemon. If you haven’t had the chance to eat at this San Francisco classic yet, I highly recommend you schedule a visit!
Truly a paradise to those who wander to Isla Mujeres, Mexico, this island has easily become one of my favorite places in the world.
Just off the coast of Mexico, this tiny coral island is one of Mexico’s true treasures. Unlike its mainland neighbor Cancun, Isla Mujeres is a “no tourist” haven. The magic of this place boasts clear blue water, great food and some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. This island is well-suited for people who want to lay on the beach, enjoy a cerveza or margarita, eat fresh food and relax.
Restaurants on the island specialize in seafood, Mexican and Caribbean-fusion cuisine. It’s geographical location has welcomed restaurateurs from across the globe, who have found comfort in the warmth that this island brings to life. Culinary standouts this time around? Qubano – if you’re looking for some authentic Cuban food, this is it. Try the mini Cubano Sampler for a mouth-watering immersion to the land of cigars and rum. Pita Amore– unique flavors, light and fresh dishes sure to satisfy your cravings. The menu has 5 items, and they get away with having 5 items because each item is done so well. Bally Hoo – fresh fish ceviche and a large mango margarita. I’ll leave it at that. Last, but DEFINITELY not least, Cafe Mango – what i’m convinced is Mexico’s best breakfast (& coffee). Rent a golf cart or a moped and wander into the residential neighborhood of Isla. Try their World Famous Coconut French Toast, Huevos Rancheros and Stuffed Chile Poblano (we went twice!).
Lastly, I’d like to highlight the amazing and beautiful Abuelita Angelita who taught us how to cook her rendition of a Central Mexican dish of Steak & Potatoes from her childhood in her own home. From start to finish, this cooking class took us through the steps to prepare homemade pico de gallo, guacamole, the entire entree and Angelita’s beloved Flan de Queso Napolitano – a cross between flan and cheesecake – quite an exquisite combination. Sipping on some local beers, making small talk with the other guests, learning about abuelita Angelita’s life and tasting our way through this experience will not be forgotten anytime soon. (In fact, I’m still dreaming about it to this day!)
My recommendation: eat and drink locally and you’ll have the experience of a lifetime.
When my sister moved to Sacramento a few years ago, I decided to make it a personal mission to familiarize myself with the rich and soulful dining scene of our state capitol. It doesn’t hurt that my sister is quite the foodie herself, always eager to expose me to her favorite spots in town while reveling in my impressed awe and shared excitement. Our most recent visit lead me to try Hawks Public House, which not only my sister recommended but the infamous Michael Bauer recently dubbed as the venue for “one of the best meals [he] had” in his Top Restaurants in Sacramento piece.
We began with “hawk-tails” and I thoroughly enjoyed the Eastern Thai Crested Gimlet (Bombay East Gin, Thai basil, kaffir lime, coconut, Thai chili), which quickly caught my eye as I was preparing my tastebuds to leave for my beloved Southeast Asia three days later. This cocktail was a spicy stunner and a treat within itself, making me even more excited for what was yet to come.
To eat, we chose the Celery Root and Cheddar Soup (beets, apples, brown butter), Little Gems (Fuyu persimmons, watermellon radish, red onion, sunflower seeds, pecorino), Grilled Rapini Bruschetta (kumquats, fromage blanc), Housemade Bucatini (hazelnut pesto, butternut squash puree, pecorino tartufo) and Whole Fried Branzino (herb and olive salad, chili garlic vinaigrette). The soup and house-made bucatini were the standouts for me, with the first providing satisfying mouthfuls of a delicious blend of sweet and savory and the bucatini perfectly grooved to capture as much of the tasty sauce as possible, cooked to the ideal level of bite of course.
I can typically forgo dessert but couldn’t resist the Gingerbread Panna Cotta (sugared cranberries, gingerbread cookie) and Sweet Cream Gelato (olio nuovo, sea salt, hazelnut crumble) this time. I can almost never say no to panna cotta, and I’m glad I didn’t this time. The flavors were a perfectly light mix of holiday spice and sugary-tart cranberry sweetness.
I could go on but I’ll leave it at that. Get yourself to Sacramento and start experimenting with the bevy of amazing dining destinations at your 2-hours-away fingertips! The produce is fresh and local as can be and the restaurant industry is a thriving inspiration lead by a strong community of passionate and artful individuals truly living their craft.
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- proud af!!
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