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Archive for April, 2008

Random Tidbits 2 (In and Around San Francisco)

Here are some random, quick reviews of misc places that won’t make it into a proper review. I have been eating at a number of places throughout the Bay Area and, while I’ve discovered some gems, I’m still largely unimpressed with many of the offerings. Great casual eating city? Probably. World-class dining? In some cases.

Aqua (SF) – I had intended for this to be a proper review but it really doesn’t warrant it. 2 Michelin stars? Expensive food for the business crowd that’s ok if someone else is paying. The quality of fish, for a seafood-focused restaurant, is average. A hamachi sashimi was completely overwhelmed by grapefruit slices. Abalone served with pork belly was muddled.

Boulevard (SF) – A good meal in a convivial atmosphere that can be enjoyed with friends – but nowhere near great. It is over-priced for the quality of the food and over-rated within this city. We sat in the wine cave and it provided a nice bit of anonyminity and seclusion. For a mostly ingredient-first cuisine, I found the ingredients fairly average.

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Marinus at Bernardus Lodge (Carmel Valley, CA) – California Cuisine

Cal Stamenov’s Marinus at Bernardus Lodge in Carmel Valley (CA) has always come highly recommend by food enthusiasts, including his fellow chefs. There is no reasonable excuse for its omission from this blog; the restaurant is a desolate highway and 20 miles of curvy mountain roads away. My birthday dinner was due, a certain favorite restaurant was closed for a few days, so what better excuse to try Marinus? Take a day trip down to Carmel, stop in Watsonville for Mexican food, cruise the 17 mile drive, and finish the day with a great meal.

At its best, the restaurant is undoubtedly a delicious expression of the local lands. In the San Francisco Chefs profile, the article state that Cal’s kitchen has an open-door policy for local foragers who want to bring their ingredients to the restaurant. Cal also maintains a personal garden/farm with many types of forgotten vegetables and fruit. You can’t get more local than that. The cooking is meticulous and careful – addition by subtraction – reeling back everything until the only necessary ingredients are left. It is a highly articulated expression of that now common cliche – “California cuisine.”

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The Restaurant at Meadowood (St Helena, CA) – Alter and Refine

“The underpinning of my food is always going to be California, but it certainly takes a turn toward European and manipulative technical cuisine. I feel in my heart I need to play with things.” – Chef Kostow on the Meadowood blog 1

Napa has done a great job promoting itself as a bucolic land of food and wine but the fine dining options are often uninspiring. The number of world-class restaurants is seemingly one. With proximity to such great produce and a steady stream of foodies, one would expect more. Are the tourists more interested in the simulacrum of Napa than any content? Does the perfectly manicured The French Laundry set such an impossible standard that other chefs do not wish to compete?

Meadowood is trying to expand the number of options. When Michelin drove through the Bay Area last year, Meadowood and Chez TJ (Mountain View) surprised everyone by earning two stars, outdoing regional local favorites such as Chez Panisse, Gary Danko, and The Dining Room at Ritz Carlton. What happened next? Meadowood’s chef left and, quite shrewdly, Meadowood plucked Chef Chris Kostow from Chez TJ, damaging the hopes of the Mountain View That Could.

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Providence (LA) – Science and the Sea

Providence walks a fine, but assured, line between molecular gastronomy techniques and simple, tasteful preparations. Dishes range from a Pierre Gagnaire-ish trout belly with many textures to simply grilled prawns with flowers. The meal itself dashes in and out, from one form to the next, in search of the best preparation for the ingredient at hand. Ingredient quality matters and it is always allowed to shine through.

Rather than leave LA at 2pm to avoid the traffic; I thought why not avoid the traffic by catching a good meal first. It sounded crazy, driving back to SF during the middle of the night, but my friend Oren turned me on to an incredible route for the trip home. Instead of racing up I5 on a literal midnight run, I stayed outside of Ventura, and made the exciting trek home the next day. The Porsche was as happy as I was with this meal.

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The Meals of Others V

Some might call it filler but here’s another installment of The Meals of Others. There has been some exciting dining happening out there.

Secret Beef (LA) by All In – While this review is from an “other”, I orchestrated, and attended, this secret beef expedition. I first ate this beef nearly two years ago and, after four or five visits now, I think it’s some of the best beef in the US. Oren was disappointed with the taste and I would agree that it does not have a beefy dry-aged flavor; but, what it lacks in dry-aging, it more than makes up for with texture. Its texture is not fatty like wagyu yet it is marbled nearly as much and retains its bite.

L’Arnsbourg by Refined Palate – Refined Palate went on a whirlwind trip through France and this looks like the best meal. There is nothing like the magic of a 3-star restaurant perched in the middle of nowhere. This restaurant will be added to the must-do list next year.

Le Meurice by Country Epicure – Country Epicure has been on a blogging tear recently with who-knows-how-many-posts across at least four continents. Le Meurice has eluded me on past Paris trips but I hope to correct that in July. For now, you can read about their feast.

Pierre Gagnaire by Hungry Hedonist – The Hungry Hedonist enjoys her meal but possibly falls victim to the roller coaster ride that is Gagnaire.

Per Se by Foodie at Fifteen – Fifteen year old Nick is too young to have a “best meal of his life” but reading this review, complete with rock-star treatment, is quite a joy.

Momofuku Ko by The Wandering Eater – makes me want to book a flight to NYC immediately and partake in the fun. I’m sure we’ll begin seeing more many Ko posts but I doubt many, mine included, will have such fine photography.

Geranium by Very Good Food – Trine shows us why Copenhagen, and parts up north, will soon be en vogue with the fooderati (once we get over our Japanese kick!) This meal looks Spanish experimental but it seems to retain an organic-ness to it.

Ledoyen by Refined Palate – my meal during the Truffle Trip was among the best I’ve had in Paris. The hot/cold uni dish found in this review looks spectacular. Ledoyen will be on my July itinerary.

That’s all for now.

- chuck

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