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Archive for August, 2013

Plat du Jour: The Perfect Coffee Shop is in Milwaukee & Labor Day Menu

With summer slowly coming to an end (don’t worry, it’s not that soon!), let’s head into this Labor Day weekend with something hot and something…hot. Or cold. It depends on how you like your coffee.

A few months ago I found myself in Milwaukee for baseball tourism reasons for one day. I had read extensively about Milwaukee’s two coffee giants: Alterra (now owned by Mars Drinks and supposedly re-named Colectivo Coffee I’m told) and Anodyne . A third, lesser known boutique coffee roaster named Stone Creek also appeared in a few articles. The name sounds pleasant, so that should translate into good coffee, right? Since it was only a few blocks away from my Downtown hotel, I decided to give it a try.

Stone Creek's Factory Café

Stone Creek’s Factory Café

The location sounds a bit…edgy with how I’ll describe it. The factory café and roastery can be found almost directly under the 794 Freeway, down by the railroad tracks, near the Megabus station.

Tempting, eh?

And yet down by the tracks, near the bus activity, under the highway you’ll find a definitive example of what a coffee shop should be. (more…)


Restaurants: Roca Moo, Barcelona

Just because the three Roca brothers behind the newly anointed San Pellegrino World’s Top 50 “Best Restaurant in the World” are behind Roca Moo doesn’t mean you should stroll into the dining room expecting world class excellence. You will be disappointed. The single Michelin starred Roca Moo in Barcelona isn’t trying to be like its sibling, El Celler de Can Roca, the glittery three Michelin starred destination an hour northeast up the Costa Brava in the countryside medieval town of Girona. Earlier this year, El Celler de Can Roca replaced the Copenhagen restaurant Noma for the world’s best title.
Roca Moo isn’t trying to be El Celler de Can Roca or Noma.

Roca Moo

Roca Moo

Unfortunately, even reasonable expectations for a restaurant of Roca Moo’s ambition aren’t met. It’s a strange experience that dabbles in its lofty potential from time to time, while altogether making you feel empty. It’s a restaurant currently with no personality. Does it want to be more refined and genre- defying like El Celler de Can Roca? Does it want to be more like a baby “gastrobistro,” of which Barcelona right now seems to have more of than Gaudi designed structures? Does it just want to be a sleek, hipper than thou boutique hotel restaurant with the façade of being an exceptional restaurant? The latter is what I took away walking away to the Passeig de Gracia unfulfilled. I wanted to go to Girona. (more…)


Plat du Jour: How Should We Write a Wine List Label?

Of all the contentious wine list debates, there is one subject that I’ve almost never heard approached, yet almost always think about without realizing it. We often discuss how you should order wines on a list (Light to dark? By varietal? By region? Alphabetically?) and what is a fair mark-up percentage (Three times wholesale value? Four times?). We consider whether a list is better on an iPad or old fashioned book style. We ponder how much of a description we want for a wine compared to how much we want the sommelier to explain to us. Do we want appellation maps? Do we want suggested food pairings or is that far too detailed information?IMG_0935

Last night at a popular San Francisco bar/lounge known more for its beautiful setting and beautiful people in that setting compared to the decent wine, beer, and cocktail list, I was a bit flustered by the wine list.

Most people have probably never heard of the Blaufrankisch grape, commonly found in Austria. Repeat that again? The closest comparison I could give you is Mourvèdre, where it’s pleasantly light in tannins, light to medium bodied, and full of earth and spice. The listing on the wine list said:

blaufrankisch zantho 2010 burgenland austria

The entire wine list followed that same Varietal, Winemaker, Optional Vineyard addition such as Juvenile Vineyard for the 2011 Turley Zinfandel, Optional region like Toro, State or Country like California or Italy. (more…)


Greetings From…Barcelona! Part II

Continuing where we left off in Part I:

Beautiful beach crowd

Beautiful beach crowd

The Concept of Barcelona: Comfort Molecular Gastronomy
Like the city itself, the rustic past meets the Star Trek-El Bulli avant-garde. You see the classic side from Fonda Gaig or the old lunch cantina Cal Boter. For seafood, Cal Pep is as highlighted in the guidebooks at the Sagrada Familia, and actually hasn’t indulged into becoming a tourist trip recent reports tell me.

Bar Pinotxo's tripe

Bar Pinotxo’s tripe

Every time I visit Barcelona, I need a decidedly not inventive, but still excellent lunch of tender baby squid over white beans with a generous aged balsamic drizzle and exemplary tripe from Bar Pinotxo in the Boqueria. It’s a cramped, hectic experience, but one of a kind. Do it. (more…)


Wine of the Week: Fernando de Castilla Palo Cortado Sherry, Jerez, Spain

When traveling, I often slip into the “When in Rome…” philosophy at restaurants and bars without thinking about it. In Dublin, pints of Guinness become automatic at 5pm (or much earlier). A Kir for my apértif in Paris. Malört at midnight in Chicago bars. O.k., I don’t mind the first two examples, but I can’t lend my full support to Malört. Sorry Chicago.

Similarly, I found myself starting every dinner with a dry Sherry and concluding dinner post-dessert with the maple syrup of wines, Pedro Ximenez Sherry. It’s easy to love and hate Pedro Ximenez at the same time. Vintages are rarely complex. They are also rarely undrinkable if you have a sweet tooth and enjoy fortified wines.

Fernando de Castille Palo Cortado on right

Fernando de Castilla Palo Cortado on right

Dry Sherries, such as Fino and Manzanilla, are much trickier. Many of them are bone shackling dry and bitter as lemon juice. They certainly play the part of palate preparers for the upcoming meal where you need to get something to drown out the tartness. I’ve had too many dry Manzanillas that give far too much sharpness up front to be bearable and enjoy the usual nutty finish.

Yet, there’s something catchy about the drier Sherries that keep you wanting them when they’re restrained. (more…)


Greetings From…Barcelona! Part I

With summer starting to wind down (no, winter isn’t quite around the corner yet), it’s time to start unpacking the suitcase and take stock of some of the exciting bites and lessons learned from dining journeys the past few weeks. Over the rest of August, we’ll look back on visits to Kauai, Madrid, Chicago, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Lisbon, Porto, Milwaukee, and Phoenix. Unfortunately I’m still looking for that excuse to visit Singapore or Istanbul. Today, we’ll begin in one of the great treasures of Europe: Barcelona.

Parc Güell, a Gaudi masterpiece

Parc Güell, a Gaudi masterpiece

I first laid eyes on Barcelona in my dorm room as a freshman at a college in small town Ohio. Our sparkling Mediterranean was Lake Erie and instead of having the prominent green urban mountain Montjuic overlooking our city, I used to have to run inside and out of sand bunkers on the golf course to get some sort of elevation change.

It’s fair to say, when I saw Barcelona in the film “L’Auberge Espagnole,” I was ready to go there. Or anywhere for that matter since I transferred after the year. Not to Barcelona, though.

The images of Barcelona’s sun, fun, and peculiar architecture never left me. They only grew stronger after seeing Woody Allen’s underrated “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” I figured when I’d visit the next year as a student living in Paris, I’d fall in love with ease, or at least go on a date with Scarlett Johansson. Well, at least I fell in love with the city. I didn’t find Scarlett or Penelope Cruz.

Mini hamburgers at Lolita Taperia

Mini hamburgers at Lolita Taperia

In both films, they kept talking about Gaudi. Gaudi here, Gaudi there. Gaudi in reality. Gaudi in my dreams. I kept thinking to myself, what’s the deal with this Gaudi? Is Gaudi a person? A myth? A religion? (more…)


5 Lessons From SF Chefs Editorial Panel

Saturday morning as the fog rolled back towards the coast and the fog of the early morning dance-offs at the Rollin with the Red Carpet After Party at E&O Kitchen started to lift, a powerhouse quartet of food writers assembled to discuss the state of the American food journalism scene.

Sunset from SF Chefs Bar Bites

Sunset from SF Chefs Bar Bites

The answer is: because of the immense surge in popularity that the dining out culture has seen recently, it’s not as bleak as you’d might expect with the financial challenges facing print food sections.

That being said, if you want to be a food critic, then good luck. There aren’t many spots. You need to be creative and very skilled with social media.

As part of this weekend’s SF Chefs Festival, the “Editors Panel: Inside the American Restaurant Scene- Coast to Coast Opinions” brought together Miriam Morgan (The San Francisco Chronicle’s Food Editor), Kim Severson (Atlanta Bureau Chief for The New York Times and a former Times and Chronicle food writer), Tom Sietsema (The Washington Post Dining Critic and also a former Chronicle food writer), and Margo True (Food Editor of Sunset Magazine). (more…)