Sometimes when you pour all of the ingredients in your pantry into one pot, the result is a college student cook level mess.
Other times, it’s utter brilliance. Randomness with a little bit of educated guessing can lead to unexpected delights. That is the case with Julie Johnson’s creation of the Por qué No? red blend at her Rutherford winery Tres Sabores.
Tres Sabores is best known for its nuanced, almost elegant yet rustic zinfandels. So it’s no surprise that among the quartet of varietals in this blend, zinfandel figures most prominent. Cabernet sauvignon adds some fruit to the equation, with some petite syrah, and as Johnson puts it, “a dollop to serve as the cheerleader” of petit verdot to round out the blend.
With this still being a young wine, there are very few tannins and the structure is pleasingly light. It would be perfect with any barbeque or tender braised pork shoulder, or I could even imagine a rack of lamb with a mint sauce going well.
Johnson likes to say “why not?” and hey, why not try to experiment with various equations of grapes to add to something this intriguing? It’s not as romantic as the superb zinfandels here, but I don’t need to shrug my shoulders and question myself when having this wine.
We’ll be covering some of the restaurants in the Napa Valley over the next few days, but here are some notes from two excellent wineries in the Rutherford appellation of the Napa Valley, on the west side of Highway 29 just before St. Helena.
Located in the foothills well off the beaten path, it’s an adventure through acres of vineyards just to find Tres Sabores. Julie Johnson’s wines have a beautifully refined, rustic bent toward them, reflective of the oh so Northern California chaparral setting that also is home to various sheep, olive trees, pomegranate trees, and guinea hens that will talk non-stop during your visit. Everything here is organic and shows the three flavors (“sabores” of the terroir, varietal and artisanal style) that Johnson seeks in her wines.
The 2010 Chardonnay from Sonoma Mountain is lighter, yet very well-rounded with a pleasant apple taste and floral nose. There is a particularly strong 2009 petite syrah and 2008 estate cabernet sauvignon that avoids the dank heaviness of other fellow ones on Napa. I first sampled Tres Sabores at the restaurant Ad Hoc in December, proclaiming the 2008 Zinfandel as the finest of that varietal I’ve had. The 2009 one on offer now is just as impressive, slightly lower in tannis, with a sensational berry taste with a hint of spice. The Por Qué No? zinfandel blend will be discussed as our wine of the week, an exciting blend of zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, petite syrah, and petit verdot.
Nearby, Cathy Corison is crafting some of Napa’s finest cabernet sauvignon. The barrel rooms also serves as the tasting bar area. My tour there in December was much more thorough and insightful, but both times yielded the same exquisite wines and a very pleasant walk around the facility while tasting. The 2008 Napa vineyard cabernet sauvignon is the grand daddy, boasting plush, velvety structure, with some wood and plum appearing. The 2007 Kronos Vineyard Cab, the vineyard at the winery, brings a bit more levity to the wine and a little more fruit forward. Corison’s Helios Syrah is a little less jammy than most and the Curazón Gewurztraminer shows the depth and vague slate that excellent Rhine Valley versions display. Corison trims her vines a little earlier than most wineries, which shows in her more subtle, nuanced wines.
Neither winery is cheap (wines easily over $25 a bottle) and Corison’s tasting is $20 and Tres Sabores’ at $25. Yet for the size and quality of the pours and fascinating, very personal tours, these are two exceptional wineries to visit, at the total opposite end of the spectrum from the rugby scrums in most Napa Valley tasting rooms.
An interesting article today in The New York Times by Jeff Gordinier about chefs in New York and the soundtracks they play in the kitchen. I tend to want The Beach Boys or a baseball game…but no matter what, I do need music. Hard rock isn’t my thing any time of day, especially when cooking or it may cause me to throw excessive amounts of butter into the pan.
Pete Wells also visits Alex Stupak’s Empellon Cocina, the off-shoot of the superb Empellon Taqueria (located at one of the most complicated intersections ever where West 4th St. hits…West 10th St.!?). I visit the latter in the Fall, enjoying excellent scallop and lamb barbacoa tacos, ceviche, and greatest chocolate flan I’ve encountered by hundreds of miles. Stupak’s desserts at WD-50 pure brilliance, now he has tackled Mexican cooking with gusto and sheer originality. Tomorrow’s cocktail of the week will also visit Empellon Taqueria (probably available at Cocina too).
Have a terrific Wednesday everyone! Also tomorrow we’ll visit Oenotri in Napa for our Thursday review.
For Christmas, I received a jar of David Chang’s Momofuku Asian Braising Sauce, a “savory-sweet blend of soy, mirin, and fresh pear, with a hint of peppery spice.” Despite the name Momofuku meaning “lucky peach,” the flavor does hint more of pear as the description notes. All in all, it is an intoxicating marinade for all manners of braised meats. I can imagine a luscious pork belly slathered with this sauce à la Momofuku Ssam Bar’s pork belly buns or an excellent braised lamb shoulder, or even slowly braised chicken.
The recipe on the jar though from David Chang, the chef and owner of the emerging Momofuku empire in New York and now expanded to Sydney, is for a 6 person feast of Asian Braised Short Ribs.
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
6 bone-in beef short ribs, 3 to 3 1/4 lb. total
1 carrot, peeled and cut into 5 pieces
1 yellow onion (or any onion…) quartered
8 green onions, white portion only, cut into 2-inch pieces
4 garlic cloves
1 jar Momofuku Asian Braising Sauce
2 cups water
Start by preheating the oven to 325 degrees. In a large dutch oven, or in our case a casserole pot, warm the oil at medium high heat. The oil then is used to brown the short ribs on all sides in 2 batches, each batch for roughly 8-10 minutes, though we barely needed even 8 minutes. Don’t worry, there is plenty of braising time for the short ribs to cook…After browning the short ribs, place them on a separate plate.
Meanwhile, place the garlic, onions, and carrots into the pot. It’s up to you whether or not to sauté the onions and carrots prior to adding the short ribs to their pot. We elected not to sauté them, knowing that the onions and carrots would be plenty soft after hours of braising. However, you’ll miss out on a nice caramelized flavor for the onions and carrots if they aren’t pre-sautéed for the suggested 6-8 minutes. Do be sure that the chopped garlic is caramelized before adding to the pot. We’re not looking for a Stinking Rose type of braise…
Add the short ribs, water, and the sauce to the pot, bringing the pot to a simmer. Then cover the pot, transfer it to the heated oven, and let it all bake together for roughly 4 hours, until the short ribs are perfectly tender, falling off the bones. Skim the fat off, transfer the ribs to a plate, and serve with the sauce on top. Chang suggests serving with steamed rice. We decided to go for some steamed vegetables to absorb the sauce, along with some fresh bread for mopping up duty.
This was honestly one of the most delicious items we’ve cooked at home. And it’s remarkably easy to do, as long as you remember to put the ribs into the oven a good 4 hours before dinner. The only challenge may lie in the browning of short ribs…not the hardest of tasks by any stretch. Next time we’d probably sauté the onions and carrots, but that certainly was not something that affected the final dish.
Those pork belly rolls are addicting at Momofuku Ssam and so was one of the finest octopus dishes I’ve ever tried. I doubt I could replicate them at home, but these short ribs with the sensational sauce are Momofuku addicting quality and easy for the home cook to replicate. It’s perfect for a leisurely Sunday dinner with a bottle of fruit forward, heavy, but not tannin-filled red, such as a younger, brighter cabernet sauvignon, or a syrah.
Enjoy! I can’t wait to try this again! Hopefully Chang comes out with more sauces and delicious, straight-forward recipes for us to use as projects in the future.
After a small weekend snafu where some members of my dining party had under-estimated the time and formality of a meal at a certain restaurant I had arranged for us to visit, let’s take a look at some of the most commonly asked (some serious, some…less so) questions when you’re the “foodie” and everyone puts their faith in you whether at a hole in the wall ethnic cuisine dive or a blow out special occasion, for a tremendous dining experience every time out.
How fancy is this place?
This is no doubt the most frequently heard question. Everyone for some reason associates people who are passionate for dining, as people you are going to spend a lot of money with. They imagine meals at Les Ambassadeurs or Charlie Trotter’s every time they join me, whether it’s really for a ramen lunch or casual bistro dinner. I despise the word “fancy.” Fancy is if you joined Louis XIV for a state dinner at Versailles. “Upscale,” “elegant,” “sophisticated,” “chic,” “cutting-edge,” are all much better adjectives. Then of course there are the darlings of food writers, such as “neighborhood bistro,” “hole in the wall,” “quick casual,” “casual chic,” “dive”…the list goes on. Essentially the “fancy” question has to do more with “What should I wear?” and “What is the price?”
What’s the cuisine?
This is always a challenge. More often than not a place is “Regional American” or “New American” or “Californian”…what about if it’s a pizza place that also has excellent sides? How about Mission Chinese Food? Yes it’s Chinese…but very different too.
Who’s the chef?
Excellent question. However, the answer always seems like a let down these days if he or she is not on t.v. That’s too bad since probably 0.00001% of terrific chefs have any t.v. exposure.
How do you pronounce prix fixe? (Or anything French…)
Having graduated as a French major, I expected to hear this a lot, and usually have the answer. No problem. Except with prix fixe. Is it really like how the French say (Pree- fix) or should we English-ize the pronunciation like I hear so often (Price- fix)? Tough call.
Beer, wine, or cocktails?
Usually research has been done in this subject long before going to the restaurant. If you’ve heard of a great cocktail program, start out with a drink. If there is a very special draft beer list, get one at lunch. Otherwise, wine.
How did you hear about this restaurant?
A complicated algorithm involving quantum physics, organic chemistry, levers and pullies, glucose, and a dash of worcestershire…also known as lots of reading of magazines and newspapers (NOT Zagat), research on the internet for reviews (trusted sources, NOT Yelp), Chowhound, and word of mouth from friends and family.
What are some of your favorite (or non-favorite…) questions asked? The list goes on and on like a meal where the service is clearly in the weeds.
One great restaurant I heartily recommend, Aldea in the Flatiron District of New York. Everything created by chef George Mendes is genius and a unique Portuguese-American hybrid, such as this arroz de pato with duck confit. Food always tastes better after seeing the chef prepare it! It’s way, way more than just “duck with rice,” as the recipe shows.
Speaking of New York, we’ll make David Chang’s Momofuku Short Ribs later today for the Tuesday project. Have a terrific rest of this Tuesday!
Claiming that Yountville is a world class city for food and wine is as innovative as proclaiming that Paris is a world class city for art.
Yountville, really a small town instead of a city, boasts a population of barely over 3,000. It also boasts a population of six Michelin stars, three of which are owned by an up and comer restaurant called the French Laundry. Half way between Napa and St. Helena, about eight miles to either, Yountville is the charming small town that a premier wine region needs, and that the rest of the touristy, commercial Napa Valley towns are not.
Despite having the French Laundry and a staggering ratio of high caliber destination restaurant to population, Yountville remains essentially a humble, one street, Main Street USA town: Washington Street. From one end to the other of the business district of Yountville takes no more than 20 minutes to walk, running parallel to the nearby Highway 29. Not on Washington Street, but at the southern exit for Yountville on 29 resides Domaine Chandon, the famed sparkling wine house owned by Moet et Chandon. Chandon’s restaurant Étoile is excellent and the winery itself has some intriguing artistic touches such as the meadow of gigantic mushroom sculptures between the parking lot and tasting house. The sparkling wine isn’t too shabby either.
Cross 29 on California Drive, hang a left on Washington, and here comes restaurant after restaurant. The hits keep on coming. Starting with Ad Hoc, the formerly “temporary” restaurant of Thomas Keller’s that was supposed to become an haute burger restaurant. When I receive Ad Hoc’s single menu with no choices each day, I am always tempted to book my ticket to Yountville. Dave Cruz is the chef in charge of Ad Hoc day to day, crafting the four courses of salads with French Laundry produce, a hearty main course, a cheese, and a dessert that tends to be a comfort food type such as peanut butter bars or mini carrot cake cupcakes. Recently opened from a renovation, Ad Hoc now offers a fifth course add on, which seems to be always a pork belly the past two weeks. Mondays are the nights of choice at Ad Hoc, alternating between barbeque and the superb buttermilk fried chicken, easily the best I’ve ever had. With the spring and summer season upon us, the backyard of Ad Hoc has become a lunch take out spot, Addendum, serving exclusively the fried chicken and barbeque.
Next door to Ad Hoc is Redd, the most ambitious and cosmopolitan of Yountville’s restaurants other than the French Laundry. Redd is chic in a leisurely wine country style, with excellent creations by Richard Reddington, especially the glazed pork belly with burdock root, apple purée, and a soy caramel. Though pastry chef Nicole Plue has moved on to Cyrus in Healdsburg since my last visit, don’t skip dessert.
The high end hotel and spa Villagio resides across from Redd and next door is, this being wine country, the tasting room for Somerston, and the Yountville Deli for picnic items. Along Washington you’ll find also the Hill Family Estate tasting room, Page Wine Cellars, and Cornerstone Cellars. It’s all convenient, but remember, these are tasting rooms without the vineyards in the background. Bistro Jeanty, Phillippe Jeanty’s très français bôite, is an excellent stop for a lunch croque monsieur or steak tartare and escargots at dinner. Hurley’s is another popular spot for more straightforward California fare.
The central stretch of Yountville veers away from the California regional feel of Ad Hoc, French Laundry, and Redd, and somehow becomes part Paris and part Tuscany. Along with Bistro Jeanty, Thomas Keller’s Bouchon started what is now a mini-empire of brasseries striving to transport you to a bistro by Opéra Garnier. Bouchon’s moules frites are as good as any in Paris, so are the chocolate bouchons (wine corks) for dessert, served inside a belle époque setting that actually is more Parisian than almost any brasserie or bistro (except Benoît) I went to for six months living in Paris. Next door’s Bouchon Bakery, recently opened up from a fire, has some of the best muffins I’ve tried, those exquisite bouchons, and baguette sandwiches that draw lines a mile long at lunch. There are now Bouchon Bakeries and Bouchon Bistros in L.A., Las Vegas, and Time Warner Center in New York.
Across from Bouchon is the V Marketplace, with the charming Yountville Coffee Caboose and Michael Chiarello’s outstanding restaurant Bottega, along with its next door sibling food and wine shop Napa Styles. Both the shop and the restaurant strike you as oh so Italian with their rusticity, but have the sunshine purity of California wine country. Together, the two scream Napa Valley. At Napa Styles, a jar of the parmesan dip you receive with the fresh baked bread at Bottega is obligatory. At Bottega, the menu is epic in length and beautifully blends Chiarello’s Tuscan and Californian sensibilities better than any restaurant I can think of. Everything deserves to be ordered. The polenta under glass with aged balsamic and caramelized mushrooms, the smoked and braised short ribs with a quince paste and the greatest spaetzle ever made, a pasta such as roasted potato gnocchi with spring vegetables and English peas puree, and a bottle of a Chiarello Family vineyard wine make for as perfect a meal as I can imagine. Bottega represents the family importance of sharing and being together of Italy with the tweaked, but pure sensibilities of California dining.
Past Bottega, Yountville becomes more residential. Bed and breakfasts such as the Bordeaux House and one of my favorite tiny parks (Van de Lear Park) lie along the right side of Washington going north. There’s a garden then on the left with all sorts of produce for a certain restaurant and across from the garden is a tranquil former laundromat turned restaurant, also known as the French Laundry. Yours truly will dine there one day, but we have heard that it’s a pretty good restaurant. We’ve seen lots of pictures, heard stories, and spent hours and hours unsuccessfully on the reservations line.There’s no way to deny that the French Laundry is the most important restaurant, yes more than Chez Panisse, in this country’s culinary history.
Beyond the French Laundry are the Roots Run Deep and Jessup Cellars tasting rooms, along with Richard Reddington’s new pizzeria Redd Wood inside the North Block Hotel and the town’s Mexican dive taqueria, Pancha’s. At the end of Washington before it veers west towards Highway 29 resides Veteran’s Park, an excellent choice of picnicking with whatever you picked up at Bouchon Bakery.
It doesn’t get much better than Yountville. A charming small town with world class dining and the world’s greatest vineyards surrounding it, yet still incredibly down to earth and avoiding the rest of the commercialism that envelopes the Napa Valley. It could take only 20 minutes to walk from end to end of Yountville. It would take a week to eat all of the meals at the worthy restaurants in this town.
The final full week of April is here and in much of the country that was enjoying an early summer last week, winter has returned. Time for more hot chocolate and beef stew now…
We’ll get to “spring” in a moment, but the big excitement of the day is the announcement that René Redzepi, chef of Noma in Copenhagen and last week named one of Time‘s 100 most influential people in the world, will be taking the Noma show on the road for the first ever time outside Copenhagen, with “A Taste of Noma” at the Claridge’s Hotel in London’s, one of London’s most upscale hotels in Mayfair, one of London’s most upscale districts. Eater National has more information on the pop-up, along with the official press release.
Prices are estimated to be $313.66 for the pop-up from July 28- August 6. Noma is re-modeling for a month mid July-mid August, allowing Redzepi to take Noma off the Copenhagen island (some of us had to plan a certain trip around this month long hiatus at the restaurant…). Remember of course that Thomas Keller, one time mentor of Redzepi at the French Laundry, started the pop-up excitement in London last October at Harrod’s.
Is London so popular with pop-ups because chefs see the city as a major city under-served by the caliber of its restaurants with only two Michelin three stars? Uh, no. It’s the opposite. For any art, be it visual, performing, or culinary, London right now is at the peak for excitement, creativity, and glamour. Plus, with the Queen’s Jubilee and the Olympics this summer, there is no doubt that London is THE destination period for 2012. The second biggest destination…probably to eat at Noma, in its regular home, Copenhagen.
Three quick thoughts from today’s announcements. Of course the dates reflect when Noma is renovating, but it also is during the Olympics. Is this a good or bad choice knowing how swamped the city will be? Will the athletes break their strict diet to eat at Noma London? Like with athletes, there is no bigger stage than the Olympics. This is an excellent decision by Redzepi to visit London during the end of July.
Also, have to wonder for such an intensely regional cuisine like Redzepi’s New Nordic at Noma, how will that be reflected and interpreted in London? How will famed chef Gordon Ramsey, he of Gordon Ramsey’s at Claridge’s Restaurant, welcome another famed chef into the same hotel in the city he is a superstar in, during the city’s moment in the global spotlight?
Last week we showed you the New York Times‘ Jeff Gordinier writing about the recent love being sent towards the lowly anchovy. Anchovies continue to gain lots of love beyond their cramped cans now from San Antonio’s leading chef and food writer: Andrew Weissman and Edmund Tijerina. I absolutely love the concept of “King Anchovy.”
It’s always fascinating to read the backgrounds of famous sandwiches, from the Earl of Sandwich’s sandwich to the heated debate over the “hamburger sandwich” at Louis Lunch in New Haven, CT., and several other competitors. Today, where is the Cuban sandwich from: Miami or Tampa? Did the Cuban sandwich even originate in Cuba? It certainly seems agreed on that the sandwich was “perfected” in the U.S. (or really, by Bunk Sandwiches in Portland, OR if you’ve ever tried that exceptional pork belly cubano…)
How about the po boy? Obviously, New Orleans, right? Possibly at Mother’s? Or could the oyster po boy be from…San Francisco?!
It’s lots of fun and very enriching to learn the origins of what we eat. It’s healthy to know where our food comes from, both the actual food and the ideas behind the food. It’s a lot more fun to debate too the history of food than say, political history.
So often we food writers dwell on reviews that slam restaurants. Enough of that. Yesterday Michael Bauer of the San Francisco Chronicle re-confirmed that Quince, Michael Tusk’s formal Northern California-rustic Italian restaurant in the city, deserves its exalted four star status. Here is the review and some beautiful pictures to make us all dream of dining there. Having been to Quince’s little sister Cotogna, located next door, Tusk is truly a wizard with pasta and so much more. He proves that Italian cuisine can mean so much more than we ever knew. He doesn’t force himself to be Italian all the time, as it’s creativity and seasons that dictate what will be an optimal dish. Now don’t be surprised if the next major wave of destination, four star restaurants come in the form of the Italian-meets global-meets local/seasonal emphasis of Quince.
Finally on this Monday, some spring food for thought. Peas, fava beans, strawberries, ramps, artichokes…spring produce certainly are in full bloom on menus this week. This past weekend at Michael Chiarello’s Bottega and excellent rustic California-Italian Oenotri, both in the Napa Valley, enjoyed some exquisite dishes featuring the season’s famed produce. Everything was superb at Bottega in Yountville, especially the potato roasted gnocchi with an English peas puree and various spring vegetables including brussels sprouts leaves. Oenotri pairs wood oven roasted young fava beans with beets, citrus, pistachios, and sunflower sprouts for a pristine, perfect starter. We’ll hear lots more about these restaurants later in the week, along with lots more from a weekend family birthday celebration in the Napa Valley.
And doing some research for an upcoming trip, nobody can beat Portland, Oregon when it comes to listening to local, seasonal produce. Naomi Pomeroy at Beast uses green garlic in a vinaigrette and fresh mint too for cured salmon, first of the season morel mushrooms in a butter for Modoc Mountain leg of lamb, and rhubarb for dessert in a rhubarb brown butter tart. Natural Selection, a fascinating young vegetarian restaurant in Northeast Portland, is a go to list for anything seasonal: roasted beets & stinging nettles with watercress and kumquat relish or roasted abalone mushroom atop a…you guessed it…ramp risotto. We had to have ramps mentioned somewhere on this list!
Hopefully the Red Sox can be revived in the chilly spring air of Minnesota this week…maybe some rhubarb or green garlic or ramps could help? Have a great Monday!
It was a fairly quiet week for dining out, though things will start up again this weekend with a few Napa visits (but those reviews wait until next week!).
Mission Chinese Food, San Francisco
Quite possibly the most talked about restaurant in San Francisco, Mission Chinese Food perfectly shows where dining is 2012. It’s a pop up, yet also a restaurant. A little over a year ago, Anthony Myint and his wife Karen Leibovitz (of the pop up Mission Street Food and next door restaurant to Mission Chinese Food, Commonwealth) took over the Lung Shan Chinese Restaurant on Mission St. at 18th, that was not exactly on the radar of area food followers to say the least. They hired Danny Bowien, a chef best known for winning the World Pesto Championship in 2008.
There’s not a lot of pesto on the menu here, but a lot of gusto to Bowien’s Szechuan influenced, far global reaching menu. Bowien now is preparing to open the first off Mission offshoot of the restaurant, in New York. Luckily, the kitchen is hitting on all cyliners without his daily presence. This is Chinese food in inspiration and family style servings. The creations though represent the sheer vibrant diversity of San Francisco.
The cooking, the service, and even the atmosphere (the restrooms are not hideous anymore) have all smoothed out, becoming crisper and more refined since my initial visit last July. Then, the ma po tofu’s spice forced me to drink an entire swimming pool, and the enticing broth, chunks of tender Kurobota pork shoulder, and buttery cubes of tofu made up for the palette dulling spice. Those peppercorns that Szechuan cuisine is famous for numb your taste in a good way if that’s possible to say.
No longer on the menu, Bowien made an excellent Chinese barbeque sampler with hot links and fork tender brisk, a mash up of Fort Worth and Shanghai if I’ve heard of one. Bowien’s silky chilled egg custard is excellent with briny sea urchin and tiny scallops. The addicting Beijing vinegar peanuts and variation on kimchi cucumber pickles are excellent for beginning snacks. The heart of the order comes in the large plates. Sizzling lamb belly is excellent, coated in the Northern Chinese Islamic style with pungent cumin. Shanghai chow mein comes tossed withpork trotters and rock shrimp, while the simple sounding beef brisket noodle soup gets jazzed by a cardamom broth. The only dud is the salt cod fried rice, begging for less grease and more salt cod to liven the proceedings.
The stand out is the thrice cooked bacon tossed in chili oil atop a mound of miniature sweet rice cakes like lilly pads on a pond, tofu skins, and black beans. It’s not exactly your neighborhood take-out Chinese dish. My one wish at Mission Chinese Food would be to cut down the portion size, trim the already shockingly low prices with the portion size, and allow us to sample more of this exciting creations. I can’t imagine how popular the place would with everything tapas style.
It’s a party every night (except Wednesdays, beware!) at Mission Chinese Food. Even the wine and beer lists have slightly improved, with 3-4 options for each, including the terrific 21st Amendment Back In Black IPA, where hops meet stouts.
A year in and expanding to New York, Mission Chinese Food is better than ever and just as popular. Come at 9pm on a rainy weekday night and then you don’t have to wait!
Barefoot Coffee Roasters, Santa Clara, CA
A terrific espresso is pulled by the baristas at this oasis of quality third wave coffee in a random mini mall in a random area of Silicon Valley. The espresso comes a bit on the sour side like at Four Barrel, with some clove noticable, and an excellent crema. The music is hypnotizing, making everyone feel as zoned out as the baristas can sometimes soon. They do know how to make coffee here, dazed, or not.
La Trappe, San Francisco
A somewhat hidden gem of a Belgian beer bar and restaurant to get your moules frites and Tripel on. Tucked between touristy North Beach and touristy Fisherman’s Wharf, this is one of the city’s premier destinations for top notch European and American craft brews. Bartenders are incredibly knowledgeable as if they make the beers themselves and I can’t think of a much more charming setting than the cozy brick exposed cellar room downstairs. It’s perfect for a date or contemplating the superb Jolly Pumpkin Madrugada Obscura Dawn Imperial Sour Stout. Yes, that’s the name of the beer I had.
Joy Restaurant, Foster City
Having been to Taipei, Taiwan last summer, searching far and wide at night markets for the classic stinky tofu, I thought I found some, but clearly there was a missing link in the translation as the tofu was none too stinky. So I finally found time to seek out this traditional Chinese restaurant with a small specialty in Taiwanese specialties, in particular stinky tofu. You can get it fried or steamed in a similar way that Koreans serve soontofu, in a broth of boiling chili oil topped with chunks of pork, onions, and black beans. Joy ferments its own tofu. This is the real stuff, foul to the nose from when it exits the kitchen. The taste is intriguing, but ultimately not as exciting as an aged cheese would be. Then again, this is tofu we’re talking about. You end up feeling bad for the tables next to you and realize your clothes are going straight to the washer.
Interestingly enough, the special dish was an excellent recommendation by the waiter who could barely communicate to me his thoughts. On the menu it’s called “sliced gluten,” as unexciting as wheat germ or “pencil” might look on a menu. Guess again. Cubes of hoisin marinated seitan get tossed with edaname beans and shitake mushrooms for a fantastic starter. Gluten never tasted so good, especially with the stink of the tofu nearby.
Caffe Roma, San Francisco
Even though this North Beach cafe roasts its own beans, the espresso is as watery as I had recently at SFO. Very kind baristas and the back room’s leather banquettes makes you feel like a Beat Generation author. The bum sleeping on a table there made me feel like this is San Francisco.
Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store
No, not a cigar in sight, nor is this is a store. It’s a charming, North Beach stand by on Columbus, overlooking Washington Square Park. While next door’s Original Joe’s is massive and rowdy, Mario’s is miniscule and organized, with seating mainly at the 10 seat or so bar. It’s a rare local’s joint in this area, despite Frommer’s being in love with it. The espresso sadly is very bland and watery like Caffe Roma, but the atmosphere and tempting looking pizzas from the oven behind the bar, make this more than worthwhile.
We’ll see where next week takes us, have a great weekend!