Mar 182012
 

**I apologize for the colors looking so off.  My camera has limitations, especially in low-light environments like Gary Danko.

On one of my last days in the Bay Area, I had a chance to dine at Gary Danko, one of the most famous restaurants in San Francisco and recipient of a Michelin Star in 2012. My friend actually made our reservations a month ahead, and even then the only Fri/Sat night reservation we could get was for 9:30pm.. So, if you’re interested in this place, make reservations early!

The restaurant is located in the Embarcadero district of the City, about a block away from Ghiradelli Square. There’s valet parking for $11, but there was also street parking available a few minutes away. We arrived a bit early, so our table wasn’t quite ready, so we hung out in the bar area, and I ordered a cocktail.  I actually can’t remember what it was called, but I asked for something fruity, and this was cranberry juice, grapefruit juice, vodka, and maybe something else?

Without waiting too long, we were seated at our table.  The place setting was not my favorite; maybe I just think the gold color looks tacky.

Fruity cocktail ($11) and place setting

We were provided with a lovely amuse-bouche, a butternut squash soup.  I usually don’t like butternut squash because it’s so sweet, but this was actually very well-balanced.

Amuse-bouche: butternut squash soup

The menus arrived, and it was a bit overwhelming at first.  There were five categories: appetizers, fish & seafood, meats & game birds, cheese, and desserts.  Our waiter kindly explained how the dinner selection works: you can basically pick a 3-, 4-, or 5-course meal, composed of any selection ($71, $89, and $104, respectively).  You could even get 5 meat dishes if you wanted (although they do portion them according to the course, and it’s not recommended by the waiter).  I decided to stick with one from each category and ordered five courses.

Appetizers:

Foie gras with Red Wine Reduction, Butter Lettuce Salad

I decided to have foie gras since the statewide ban is quickly approaching.  It was a pretty big piece of foie, which was a pleasant surprise.  The flavors were really nice, but perhaps a bit too strong for an appetizer (personal preference).

Crispy Farm Egg with White Polenta, Royal Trumpet Mushrooms, Frisée and Pancetta

This was a very lovely dish.  The egg was perfect – crispy on the outside, fried to a beautiful golden brown, with a soft yolk.  The salad and polenta were light and paired with the egg nicely.  Overall a very inspiring dish, full of creativity.

Fish & Seafood:

Seared Sea Scallops with Butternut Squash Purée, Shimeji Mushrooms, Apples, Caramelized Cauliflower and Tarragon

It has been a long time since I’ve had scallops, and these amazing scallops make me wonder why I don’t order it more often.  They are so good.  And again, I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed the butternut squash puree – maybe I do like butternut squash, after all…

Herb Crusted Tuna with Citrus Braised Endive, Sunchoke Purée and Anchovy Essence

I was attracted to the idea of this dish very much, but it ended up tasting like just seared tuna that I’ve had before.. pretty much anywhere that didn’t mess it up.  Which doesn’t mean it’s bad; I guess I just expected something more.

Herb Crusted Lamb Loin with Cannellini Beans, Braised Lamb Shoulder, Barley, and Cumin Mint Yogurt

I’m sometimes wary of lamb because if not properly done, it has that gamey taste.  Some people like it, but it’s not for me.  However, the lamb here was cooked perfectly.  The cumin mint yogurt was awesome.  Cumin + lamb is a classic for me, maybe because they are commonly used together in Chinese cuisine, so I was very impressed with the Western version of cumin-seasoned lamb.

Seared Filet of Beef with Bacon-Potato "Risotto", Cassis-Shallot Marmalade and Stilton Butter

I liked this dish, but I must admit that I’m not sophisticated enough to actually fully appreciate all of the components of this dish.  To me, it just felt like a really good piece of filet atop really good chunky mashed potatoes.  (Or maybe that’s the way the diner is supposed to feel.  I never know with the high-end restaurants what they’re going for..)

Roasted Pork Belly and Tenderloin with Brussels Sprouts, Apples, Parsnip Purée and Maple-Cider Reduction

There really hasn’t been a pork belly that I’ve hated, and this one is exceptionally delicious.  It has both of my favorite pairings with pork: apple and maple.  Maple on pork is one of my favorite flavor combos ever – in fact, I have been pouring maple syrup on sausage patties before it was “in”, so needless to say, I’m thoroughly enjoying the trend.

Cheese:

A Selection of Farmhouse and Artisanal Cheeses Presented Tableside, Served with Grapes and Cranberry Bread

For the two of us at the table who ordered cheese plates, we were presented with a cart full of at least 20 different selections, categorized by type of milk and flavor intensity.  We each chose five – I can’t remember the exact name of all of them, but I do remember my favorite: the Cowgirl Creamery Triple-Cream.  I’m relatively new to the art of cheese appreciation, so it was mostly just the fun of trying out all the different cheeses that I’ve never had before.

Dessert:

Trio of Crème Brûlée with Assorted Cookies

There was definitely enough crème brûlée for all five of us at the table.  The flavors were (clockwise from left): coffee, vanilla, and chocolate, and there were chocolate and oatmeal cookies as well as a pine nut biscotti.  My favorite was of course vanilla, the “boring old” classic, and I liked the biscotti together with the chocolate crème brûlée.

Baked Chocolate Soufflé with Two Sauces

Soufflé is possibly the greatest dessert ever invented.  I’ve made it once successfully, but I’m still too scared to work with chocolate.  Anyway, it was amazing.  Soft and rich and fluffy and warm.  We asked for both the vanilla and chocolate sauces, but I think vanilla alone would have been enough – the chocolate sauce almost overpowered the soufflé itself.  But why am I even criticizing?  I still would have gobbled down the entire thing by myself, if I didn’t have four other dining companions…

Overall, I think it’s pretty clear that I had a wonderful time here.  The food was some of the best that I’ve ever had, the atmosphere was great, and I was in the company of some pretty awesome friends.  It will be one of my favorite memories of San Francisco, for sure.

Gary Danko
800 North Point St., San Francisco, CA
(415) 749-2060

Hours
M-Su  5:30pm-10pm (Dinner); 5pm-12am (Bar)

Dec 072011
 
My favorite Pokemon trainer and I finally met up in the City last weekend for dinner, and I chose Crab House on Pier 39 – I hadn’t had seafood in quite a long time and was really craving it. I also hadn’t been to Pier 39 in three years, and I felt that I should visit again before I leave the Bay Area.
Restaurant doors

Crab House is located on the 2nd level of the Pier, so if you have a window seat, you can have a pretty amazing view of the bay. We were, unfortunately, not located on that side.. haha.

Table set-up

It was my birthday celebration, and we were both starving, so we ordered a lot of food. A crab chowder to start…

Crab chowder (bowl, $9.95)

Deliciously creamy and rich, I daresay that I liked this better than any clam chowder I have had around here (I also like crab better than clams, but still). We were each served a mini baguette loaf, but the bread was so hard and rather unpleasant to eat. I am used to soft and as-fluffy-as-possible Asian breads, I guess.

We also split a prix-fixe menu ($24.95), which includes a mixed greens salad, entree (we chose the 1/2-order killer crab – the restaurant’s most famous dish), and tiramisu.

Mixed baby greens salad in ginger oil dressing

The ginger oil dressing was nice and light – provided a great start to the meal.

Killer crab (1/2 order)

The crab was worth every bit of hype about this place – fresh and tender meat, cooked on the skillet with garlic butter. Simple, delicious.

Tiramisu

Tiramisu was decent – the rum didn’t really come through, but overall not bad. Tons of whipped cream always helps.

In addition to the prix fixe, we also ordered some more things.. (yes, you thought I’d stopped at dessert, didn’t you?)

Mussels & shrimp iron skillet (medium, $19.95)

I really liked the mussels but was not as impressed by the shrimp – they felt overdone. The mussels, however, were great.

Finally, onto my favorite dish of the night, the crab cioppino:

Crab cioppino (small, $19.95)

For those of you who don’t know what cioppino is (I didn’t before coming to this restaurant), it is a fish/seafood stew that originated in San Francisco. It is made with tomatoes and wine sauce, and served with a toasted baguette. We had the option of having de-shelled or shell-on crab, and since both of us wanted to avoid trouble, we went with the de-shelled. I really loved this dish – drawing complex flavors out of fresh and simple ingredients. The crab flavor really came through without the entire stew being overly ‘fishy’. This is a must-order!

As you can see, this place is a bit pricey, but I really do recommend it. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did!

Crab House
203C Pier 39 (2nd level), San Francisco, CA
415-434-2722
Hours:
M-Su  11:30am-10pm

Oct 262011
 

I am a big fan of Top Chef and Top Chef Masters, and one of my favorite chefs on the show is Hubert Keller – something about his personality (and accent) was just oh-so-charming, haha. So ever since I moved to the Bay Area, I have wanted to go to one of his restaurants. Last weekend, I dragged S. to Burger Bar, located inside Macy’s (6th floor) in Union Square.

The restaurant interior is pretty much a typical bar. There are wood plaques from various microbreweries as wall decorations, and mini-TV screens at every booth, tuned to ESPN (okay, so this is not very typical of a normal bar). The dining areas were pretty well-lit, which I like, and if you are lucky enough to be seated by the window, you can enjoy a pretty great view of Union Square.

Mini-TV screens at every booth

As for the burgers, you can choose to ‘build your own’ or select one of the ‘Chef’s Burgers’. Being a spicy food fanatic, I had to order the ‘World’s Hottest Hamburger.’ I will admit, I was somewhat intimidated when our waitress repeatedly asked me if I was sure that’s what I wanted, that I had to sign a waiver before they serve it to me, that when the kitchen cooks make this burger, they wear goggles and gloves, etc. In the end I figured, oh why the hell not, I’ll do it.

So she brought out my waiver…

Waiver for the "World's Hottest Hamburger"

And here is my burger, in all its glory:

World's Hottest Hamburger with skinny fries ($21.95)

World's Hottest Hamburger

The burger consists of a jalapeno-cheese bun (which was delicious), jalapeno bacon, tomatoes (possibly the only non-spicy thing in the entire burger), jalapeno-habanero sauce, and a hot sauce-infused jalapeno-and-beef patty. To top it off, they sprinkled chili powder on the plate, and quite a bit of it stuck to the bottom bun.

The verdict? It was pretty damn spicy. For me, I started feeling the heat after about 3-4 bites, and it stayed at a reasonably tolerable level until the last 3-4 bites. So actually, it was quite balanced and actually really enjoyable for me. (To give some perspective, S. took one bite, declared that it was ‘so spicy!’, and drank about half a glass of water.)

S. ordered the American Classic burger and asked for sweet potato fries instead of the regular skinny fries. Surprisingly, there was no upcharge for the substitution, but there was a 55-cent charge for the tiny serving of chipotle aioli.

American Classic Hamburger with sweet potato fries ($14.5)

I didn’t taste the burger (I doubt I would have tasted much, since my burger was so spicy), but S. said that it was pretty good. The patty was not as fluffy as he had expected, but it was a very flavorful and juicy burger.

As for the fries, we thought that the skinny fries tasted very much like McDonald’s fries (and yes, that is a huge compliment since McD’s fries are arguably the best ever). The sweet potato fries were crispy and flavorful, but the chipotle aioli wasn’t too special.

Overall, I really enjoyed the meal – it felt really fun to have to sign a waiver to eat the ‘World’s Hottest Hamburger’! If you love spicy food like me, you really must challenge this burger :)

Burger Bar
251 Geary Street, San Francisco, CA
(Enter Macy’s through Geary St. entrance and go to 6th floor)
415-296-4272
Hours:
Sun-Thu  11am-10pm
Fri-Sat  11am-12am

May 312011
 

I was at UCSF with my fellow classmates for a day conference a few weeks ago, and after it was over we decided to grab dinner together in the Mission district. Our trusty Yelp app indicated that this four-star-two-dollar-sign restaurant would be worth a try – and so off to Poc Chuc we went. Located on 16th St between Van Ness & Folsom, it was a pretty small and cozy place. There were 9 of us, and they put together a couple of tables for us – and that seemed to take up about a third of the restaurant.

This place advertises itself as a fusion of Spanish and Mayan cuisine in a Latin atmosphere. I have never really had either Spanish or Mayan food before, so it was a very new experience for me. Since we weren’t very hungry thanks to post-conference drinks and snacks, four of us decided to split two entrees: the ‘Poc Chuc’ (grilled marinated pork) and the Pollo Pibil (slow-braised chicken thigh). Both were served with a side of black bean puree and vegetable-bouillon rice.

Poc Chuc. The small cup behind the place is the black bean puree.

Pollo Pibil

(Sorry about the photo quality – they were taken with my phone, and in low-light environment. Not the best-looking photos out there..)

Everything was really delicious – the chicken thighs were so incredibly tender, and I loved the nutty, peppery, tangy annatto sauce. The grilled pork was also well-cooked and nicely seasoned with refreshing citrus. The black bean puree was full of flavor – a bit salty, but paired well with the rice cooked with vegetable bouillon. In fact, the rice was almost as good as the chicken broth rice that accompanies Hainese Chicken (海南雞飯) (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just ignore this comment).

Finally, we discovered that ‘Checking In’ at this place on Yelp granted us a free dessert, so we went with a Latin classic – Flan:

Flan

To be honest, I prefer fruity panna cotta or creme brulee over flan, because I find the sauce accompanying the custard to be too sweet. This was no exception so I didn’t care much for it, although my dining companions loved it, so you should probably take their word for it if you already like flan…

In the end, I am really glad that we found this place – it was certainly a fun and delicious meal!

Apr 132011
 

When Sidney came back to Norcal in March, he wanted to visit a jeans shop in the Mission District of SF – which gave me an opportunity to explore food opportunities nearby. I wanted to find a nice, quaint lunch spot – and Blue Fig seemed to be the answer.

Tucked away on the corner of Valencia and 21st, it was pretty small and the space a bit crowded with only a handful of tables. I think they originally started as just a coffee shop, but expanded their menu to include lunch sandwiches. There were a few people working on their laptops and a couple of small groups. Very cozy. I ordered a Chai Latte and a Croque Madame (ham, Guyere, Bechamel sauce and poached egg). The Chai was just okay – tasted a bit watery for some reason – but the Croque Madame was gorgeous. The Bechamel sauce was smooth and creamy but not too rich, the egg was nicely poached. The only complaint is that I wish there had been more ham, as it was pretty much drowned out by the egg and sauce.

Overall, I thought it was a lovely simple meal. The Bechamel sauce really left a deep impression on my mind – I want to learn how to make that sauce now! If I am ever in the area again, I’d definitely stop by for another lunch (but probably not the Chai latte).

Oct 242010
 

My friend Jason has been raving to me about Koi Palace for almost two years – and now that we’re in the Bay Area, we can finally go! So we used Sid’s visit last weekend as an excuse to try out this supposed ‘best dim sum place in the Bay.’

There were only 3 of us, so we couldn’t order too much food – but we got most of the standard stuff: shrimp dumplings, chive dumplings, turnip cake, spareribs, fried taro, sesame balls…

So delicious! The shrimp in the dumplings was jumbo-sized and fresh. The turnip cake was also amazing (sadly, we started gobbling it up before I took a picture!), as were the sesame balls… but I think my favorite dish of the meal was the fried taro! I think it was seriously one of the best taro dishes I’ve ever had. (AND I usually like my taro sweet – I think this dish totally changed my perspective!)

I am not sure if I’d come back anytime soon, since the wait is ridiculously long (we even called ahead to reduce our wait time from 75 minutes to 40 minutes…), and it was a pricey meal ($24 for each of us). But it was quite a fulfilling dim sum experience. I think it is worth the hype – even just once – especially if you are a dim sum lover like me!

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