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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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Random Tidbits

Here are some quick reviews of various meals I’ve had over the last few months. I was not in blogging mode for any of the visits; thus, the short reviews. The list is roughly in order of enjoyment.

Pizzeria Mozza (LA) – I was in LA for less than 24 hours but I managed to convince my pho-loving-ten-dollars-is-enough-for-food friends that, yes, this upscale pizza place might be worth it. It probably didn’t hurt that Mario Batali’s name was attached to it. And what pizzas they were! The crust was crunchy and doughy, full of flavor. However, it was the red sauce in the prosciutto pizza that told me I needed to return – amazing stuff – used all too sparingly.

Tailor (NYC) – The opening reviews slammed the place but I found them hard to believe. Sam Mason could do no wrong at WD-50; Read the rest of this entry »

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Richart (Paris, NY, SF, Barcelona, & More) – Intense Citrus

It’s easy to mistake the San Francisco Richart store for yet another shoe store in Union Square – a generic window filled with a slew of white and gray boxes evokes the necessary minimalism to sell high heels. I walked by many times without a moment’s glance before someone told me it was a chocolate store. Intrigued, I bought boxes of the Citrus and Floral chocolates. One bite and I was instantly hooked – never had I had such clean, intense flavor in a chocolate before.

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The General’s Daughter (Sonoma, CA) – In the Right Direction

The General’s Daughter is a restaurant that is trying to stand above its Bay Area brethren. The restaurant’s web site and its reviewers promote its southern take on California cuisine but it’s the restaurant’s procurement philosophy that might be its greater point of distinction. In the land of fresh and organic ingredients prepared simply, The General’s Daughter (TDG) and its chef, Preston Dishman, want to take control of their supply chain and grow their own ingredients. This might be an early trend that a few iconic North American (and French) restaurants have started trailblazing with both philosophical and economic intentions.

Technically, TDG is not growing the vegetables themselves; they have partnered with Benziger Family Winery and “promise that 90 percent of the restaurant’s produce will come from Benziger’s biodynamic gardens.” Biodynamic farming is likened in many circles to voodoo and witchcraft but, despite the practices and philosophies behind it, a biodynamic farmer is likely to care for their land more so than the average farmer – respecting the inputs and outputs.

My main exposure to biodynamic vegetables, aside from that miracle bottle of 90 La Tache at Montrachet, is my (seemingly) monthly tasting menu at Manresa. While people will argue whether vegetables have terroir or not, there’s no denying the stunning achievements of those vegetables from the Love Apple Farm. Is it the land, the farmer, or the perfectionist chef? More likely, it’s a synthesis of the three but these are questions that will be asked as more restaurants try the model.

I’m unsure if TDG is where they want to be yet – I suspect they are early in the path they’ve chosen. Regardless, like any self-respecting Bay Area restaurant, they take their produce sourcing seriously. Here’s a video with their main forager.

Outside of philosophy, how was the meal and why was I there?

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Ad Hoc (Yountville, CA) – Thomas Keller Blinks

The middle tier of dining does not often come with culinary value. At the high end, the meals might cost upwards of $400/person but revelatory potential has no price. In the middle, you’re often stuck with restaurants trying to make up the overhead from their marketing and architectural expenditures. The food can be tasty, and even good, but it’s usually over-priced for what it is. You’re paying for the cool factor, the gathering space, and the stories (re: PR and advertising) that make it happen. Obviously, high-end restaurants are not immune to the same problems but it hurts so much less when they actually deliver.

Ad Hoc

The Thomas Keller solution for… something? Thomas Keller is a great chef but he’s a better marketer – the Alain Ducasse of America. It’s a tried-and-true formula – Michelin star chef + downscale restaurant = a license to print money. People that might eschew the haute temples will flock to the cheaper restaurants and eat the cuisine at affordable prices; never mind that it’s always watered down and/or bares little resemblance to the flagships. Get the right PR people involved and the media will fawn over the concept – the tail wagging the dog.

What did I expect? Much like Fork & Bottle, I expected “middle-of-the-road style dinner with almost perfect attention-to-detail.” Read the rest of this entry »

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