It’s hard to believe that today we celebrate the 300th article from Trev’s Bistro in its barely over a year old lifetime. Cheers to 300 more articles celebrating and discovering all there is in the wonderful wide world of eating and drinking!
For this Bites of the Week issue, we present a little bit of San Francisco and a healthy dash of Los Angeles, with no shortage of spring peas and spring onions. Plus, summer stone fruit are arriving. That’s a very good sign. You’ll enjoy these bites almost as much as I did.
Here is a tour de force of salad artistry, balancing classical decadent crunch and luxurious cream, with the ripest and freshest California produce bounty. Literally, I was informed this was the first day of the season for apricots impressive enough to use in a salad. If day one is any sign, we’re in store for quite the apricot summer. Even the dressing had just the right amount of ripe apricot sweetness in the mix.
The butter lettuce? It makes a case why every salad should use it as a base. Cheers to apricot season! Oh, with all this salad talk, let’s not forget Gioia happens to be one of the best pizzerias in San Franciso. The Russian Hill pizzeria crafts top notch very New York style pies and slices, complete with the right tinge of grease. You want the stellar salt-spice blast of the “Acciughe” with Sicilian anchovies, Calabrian chiles, and oregano. It’s the perfect mate to the calm as a summer breeze salad.
Squirl, Silver Lake (Los Angeles): Brioche Toast with Blueberry-Coconut Jam
I’m not sure what I can add to the acres of praise about Squirl, Jessica Koslow’s adorable breakfast and lunch counter/ kind of café that will be expanding this summer from its very humble beginnings. At its intimate heart, Squirl started as and still is a destination jam maker, whether buying the jars at the café or Altadena Farmers’ Market. In Los Angeles reality now, Squirl has changed what the basic concept of jam and toast, or really the continental breakfast is. With the Proof Bakery (Atwater Village) brioche toast, toasted to brilliance, then slathered in half a foot of jam or preserves, you’ve got a morning perfected. It’s even better with the espresso service from Alex Guzman that comes with anise tinged sparkling water. Don’t mess with this espresso, served the new age way in a gibraltar glass. The rest of the menu is no slouch either, be it precious Kukoho Rose brown rice dishes crowned by duck eggs, or nut butters on the brioche toast. Ultimately, the jam is what’s jamming here. (more…)
And now on this Mother’s Day, we’ll wrap up our look at the memorable bites of spring for dessert.
Expectations were thru the roof when I learned that Essence’s owner Eugenia Theodosopoulos once worked at Paris’ renowned Lenôtre and a Phoenix restaurants writer dared me to say that these macarons weren’t superior to those at Ladurée or Pierre Hermé. I won’t say they’re better…or worse. They are world class macarons, balancing the delicate, graceful cookie, with the right proportion of magnificent confiture, cream, or chocolate fillings. My favorite was a lovely raspberry-rose, but don’t leave without a salted caramel or the intriguing strawberries and cream. All the macarons could have been from the legendary Hermé, though none of the flavors matched the fireworks of the master’s vanilla-olive oil. Essence’s croissants, pain au chocolats, and éclairs would be the class of Paris as well.
I’ve never been a fan of popsicles or any of their frozen treats on a stick colleagues ever since my youth summer sports camp days where every afternoon concluded with various “Bazooka Pops” and “Fudgsicles” that never tasted of anything but brain-freeze. I’ve had Mexican paletas before. They were acceptable. That was before Paletas Betty. Betty Alatorre de Hong’s paletas are free of chalky ice and actually smooth, almost moist for a frozen object. The flavors are distinct– Mexican Chocolate with several punches worth of cinnamon or the sublime refreshing mango spiced with earthy chilies. The best part? You can eat these paletas completely without the last few bites falling off the stick like with inferior versions. The popsicle has grown up. (more…)
Continuing on a look at the memorable bites from the first half of spring, we hit the road outside Northern California.
At a restaurant with a more tenacious PR staff seeking flashy menu descriptions, this would probably be known as “Beets Five Ways” or “Textures of Beets.” Who knew that beets thrive in Kauai’s soil? Josselin is an expert with fish. Now he shows a delicate, modern touch with the rugged beet. Beet and goat cheese fill spherical ravioli dough. There are slices of vibrant purple beets and thin wafers of sweet light beets with rosy centers. The sponge in the center acts as the bread pudding- esque crouton and all is crowned by a beautiful touch of color with the yellow flowers.
Josselin’s one holdover from his old A Pacific Café days in Kapa’a when he ruled Kauai’s restaurant scene. Textbook ruby rare ahi tuna, tender as can be, are flash fried in a sturdy and not overbearing tempura battered. The spicy beurre blanc doesn’t feel dated. It reminds you why we all loved fusion cuisine back in the 90’s.
It’s been a while since we took some time to sit back, relax, and reflect on some of the most noteworthy bites at restaurants and home. Back in the old days, we used to be on the ball each week showing the highlight dishes. Well, let’s say that travel, work, and projects interfered. Besides, everyone always prefers reading 2,000 word articles instead of just glancing at photos of food preparations. Or is that just me?
As we head into the middle of May, let’s look back at some very memorable bites of the first half of spring in three installments: here in the San Francisco Bay Area, travels, and desserts. I know my Mom enjoyed many of these tastes firsthand. I hope all the wonderful Moms out there can enjoy these creations via photos. Cheers to the chefs out there for their artistry behind these dishes. And to Moms everywhere, Happy Mother’s Day!
I never had venison in my three weeks visiting Scandinavia last summer, though I did enjoy reindeer once in Helsinki. Robert Sundell’s saddle of venison is the brilliant high point of a meal at Plaj, the chef’s merging of his home Scandinavia’s cuisines with Californian ingredients and ideas. The venison is as tender as the finest filet mignon, lifted even higher from the just sweet enough juniper sauce and the stellar accompaniments. The gratin is creamy cholesterol overkill. Plaj the restaurant is strangely stiff (very different than the New Nordic restaurants across the pond), inside a hotel behind the Civic Center. Make sure to get a housemade aquavit to drink and you’ll be a believer in Swedish meatballs after Sundell’s rendition. (more…)
With winter lingering just a week away, it’s almost time to bid adieu to the fall. Of course, nothing speaks of the autumnal spirit of crisp winds and spectacular foliage than the 70 degree sunshine and swaying palm trees of a late November day in Los Angeles. Here now, on display the spectacular creativity of Los Angeles chefs. The bites might not seem very autumnal, but at least they’re seasonal. Get the “Running Leap” cocktail at the Hollywood Roosevelt’s Spare Room bar for actual autumn flavor (apples, maple, and fallen leaves).
Trev’s Bistro: Maple-Glazed Turkey with Dijon Gravy
Of course, we must first start with yours truly’s Thanksgiving masterpiece. Now for a decade we’ve been using this excellent recipe leading to moist, even exciting turkeys. The maple butter, accented by beautiful marjoram notes, gets rubbed underneath the bird’s skin, one of the more unique experiences of a Thanksgiving morning. The Dijon gravy always ends up stealing the show.
Bäco Mercat: The “Original Bäco”
Josef Centano’s gyro meets flatbread meets taco invention is lunch perfected. The namesake for his flat-out sensational Downtown restaurant is far from the only hit on the dynamic menu, heavy on the vegetable small plates. However, you’d be remiss to skip the “Original” that started it all. Tender, braised, not fatty cubes of pork and beef “carnitas” serve as the platform for what really sets this particular bäco apart– the Salbitxada sauce based on almonds and tomatoes. Don’t miss the “Toron” either with oxtail hash, pickles, and cheddar cheese, or the double mushroom “coca,” a Catalan pizza.
Bäco Mercat: Chocolate Peanut Butter Molden Cake with Fudge and Vanilla Semifreddo
Seriously, how come it seems nobody has served a molten chocolate cake with peanut butter mixed in the liquid chocolate filling before, despite the millions of molten liquid center chocolate cakes at neighborhood bistros nationwide? Inspired one would think from a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, this is as exceptional as it sounds. The cake itself could actually use a tad bit more warmth. Usually these burn your mouth.
Canelé: Deep Dish Quiche Lorraine
Corina Weibel’s powerhouse brunch reaches its pinnacle with this pitch-perfect, delicate slice of quiche. Studded with no shortage of ham hocks, everything from the quivering custard to the buttery, flaky crust is just how you imagine the perfect quiche in a small Alsace village should be. I never had a quiche in Strasbourg of this caliber.
Ink: BBQ Beef Short Rib/ Horseradish Tofu/ Carrot/ Tendon
Michael Voltaggio’s tour de force Wagyu beef preparation is truly a work of art; visually and culinary speaking. Even the carrot is of a silky texture. The meat itself is poinsettia-red, looking like a well marbled filet ready for a sukiyaki cooking dunk in hot oil. Except, it’s already cooked, just perfectly rare. The pristine beef is ready for the grand stage, shared by the chicharrones- evoking, whispy horseradish tofu crisps.
Ink: Apple/ Caramel/ Walnut/ Burnt Wood Ice Cream
Autumn’s official dessert and Voltaggio’s signature dessert. Something you’d expect at El Bulli, burnt wood (a taste sensation similar to maple) ice cream and nitro frozen burnt wood sabayon melt onto a crême caramel that doesn’t taste far from Pizzeria Mozza’s butterscotch budino base, with candied walnuts, dehydrated- peeled apples bursting with cider, and a maple streusel for a masterpiece of textures and fall comfort. Absolutely magnificent in every aspect, a clear master on display.
Maison Giraud: Pain au Chocolat
In France, it’s the butter that’s the secret to a worthwhile pain au chocolat. You don’t want too much grease on your hands, but you do want the tan colored shards of the pastry. What they don’t do often enough in France is the chocolate part of the pastry, usually just a thin strand or two in the center. That is where Alain Giraud has lifted the pain au chocolat to another level. He doesn’t skimp on the chocolate spread. Oh, and the pastry choux is every bit on par of the ones at Pierre Hermé on Rue Bonaparte.
Pizzeria Mozza: Pizza with Coach Farm Goat Cheese, Leeks, Scallions, Garlic, and Bacon
Pick your favorite at Mozza–mine’s usually is the pie with rapini, anchovies, olives, cherry tomatoes, and chiles. It could also be one with a soft poached egg, guanciale, escarole, radicchio, and bagna cruda. Recently, I was blown away by the less salt-driven, calmer toppings combination with the creamy, almost smoky goat cheese, the crisp bacon nubs, and most importantly, velvety soft leeks. Leeks deserve more acclaim. Whatever pie you choose, it’s sure to have a pork product on it and Nancy Silverton’s superb charred crust that should be sold in bakeries.
Pizzeria Mozza: Butterscotch Budino with Maldon Sea Salt and Rosemary Pine Nut Cookies
It’s startling to say with the superb pizzas, but the most memorable part of any meal at Pizzeria Mozza always is the dessert. That’s close to common knowledge now. The butterscotch budino by Dahlia Narvaez is possibly the city’s iconic dessert, mostly consisting of luscious caramel pudding, with a thin layer of caramel sauce, a dollop of whipped cream that helps cut the sauce’s sugary bite, and a crowning sprinkle of sea salt. Here, the salted caramel sensation of sweet and savory is an achievement that has been replicated the world over. I was just perusing a dessert menu for a well-known Portland, Oregon Italian restaurant. Their butterscotch budino even is credited to Pizzeria Mozza.The sensation continues with the petite cookies that you wish could be a dessert on their own. Make sure to also get the bittersweet chocolate tartufo with Narvaez’s other signature: olive oil gelato.
Proof Bakery: Canelé
The classic Bordeaux region pastry in all its regal glory is on display at Atwater Village’s beloved, impossibly cute bakery. This version is just a touch more custardy on the interior, the beeswax exterior glaze a little sweeter, and the whole just a pinch more refined than most other renditions. Don’t pass up the Cognoscenti Coffee or the pain au chocolat either.
Ray’s & Stark Bar: Wood Roasted Sunchokes with Sunflower Seed Salsa
Hey, why not let vegetables get their moment in the spotlight? It’s happening everywhere in L.A., from Gjelina in Venice to Bäco Mercat in Downtown. And in between at LACMA’s Joachim Splichal- Patina Group owned restaurant and bar, sunchokes get a gorgeous char, leading to a candy- like sweetness. The salsa verde is beautifully vibrant, aided by the crunch of the salsa. It’s a side dish in a starring role, making you forget the scruffy 1950’s inspired interior by Renzo Piano.
Son of a Gun: Shrimp Toast Sandwich with Herbs and Sriracha Mayo
Almost everything from the brilliant minds of Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo (co-owners/ chefs of Animal) could be on this menu. New creations rock an evening at the nautical themed restaurant on West 3rd, including a Texas redfish with kabocha squash, vadouvan, and hazelnut, or a fascinating mash-up of smoked steelhead roe and maple cream, spread together on pumpernickel chips. However, it’s three classic sandwiches that you see on every table: the fried chicken sandwich, the lobster roll, and the most gallant of them all, the Southeast Asia street food favorite of spicy sriracha and tiny shrimp with mayonnaise gushing out of the buttery brioche slices.
Son of a Gun: Apple Pie with Date Ice Cream
Apple pie is…apple pie, right? You know what to expect. Except this is a knockout version, singing with cinnamon and moist, vivid apples. The date ice cream actually is spiced heavily with mustard seed, a twist on the American dessert staple you’ve never seen and should see a lot more now.
Spago: Pumpkin Agnolotti with Amoretti, Sage, and Parmigiano Reggiano
Lee Hefter has a special gift with pastas…after all, “Spago” is an Italian term for spaghetti. A plate full of this Tootsie Roll- shaped dough might be aesthetically dull to the eyes with white sauce on yellow pasta on a tan plate. Fortunately, the pasta itself melts almost in the spoon, textbook precision to the pasta’s filling, tasting clearly of spiced pumpkin. Like all showstopping pastas, there is a certain textural “it” factor here that is impossible to describe, only achievable by the masters.
Spago: Bartlett Pear/ Black Mission Figs, Caramel Bourbon Pain Perdu, Vanilla- Maple Roasted Pear, 50 Bean Tahitian Vanilla Ice Cream
Hurry now to try Sherry Yard’s creations at Spago, worth a trip on their own. Most reflective of Yard’s baking prowess was this caramel and bourbon soaked pain perdu (Brioche French toast essentially), with a bottom layer of Bartlett pears and Black Mission figs. Then vanilla and maple roasted pear segments, and raspberries decorate outside the pain perdu centerpiece. How autumnal, how comforting, and yet, how new feeling the dessert is. Yard’s 50 bean Tahitian vanilla ice cream is back from the “old” Spago for the pain perdu and sure isn’t your run of the mill vanilla scoop, with pure vanilla resonating through every sample.
Sycamore Kitchen: Cherry Molasses Cookie
Having enjoyed Karen Hatfield’s desserts several times at the excellent restaurant, Hatfields, she co-owns with husband Quinn ( I preferred the more homey, original bistro version on Beverly Blvd. compared to the grander, formal one now on Melrose), expectations were high for the new bakery- café on La Brea that displays her baked goods on their own. There is no let down here. How in the world do you choose? Sensational, pristine apple galettes or the spot on flourless chocolate brownies with a pinch of sea salt? Begin or end with the cookies, soft the way they should be, robust as one of her haute desserts at the restaurant. Dried cherries and molasses lead this cookie to open new doors of what the humble cookie can be.
Thomas Hills Organics (Paso Robles): Grilled Shrimp Skewers with Zucchini Noodles, Basil, Mint, Cilantro, Avocado, Strawberries, Watermelon, and Green Onion Relish
As my dining partner mentioned, so this is what food really tastes like? So pure, so full of life. Every fruit bursting with juice. Every vegetable exuding precise ripeness. Every herb and spice shining on its own and contributing a vital sparkle to the group as a whole. I’ve never had a composed salad of this nature, everything that the Chez Panisse- Michael Pollan teams stand for. Except here, there is just a little more skip in each ingredient’s step than elsewhere, perhaps since Thomas Hill has its own farm. Or, they just have a magic touch with strawberries and mint. It’s a commanding, gentle display of virDon’t pass up the equally sublime smoked salmon sandwich with sriracha aioli, macerated onions, and sliced avocado on equally stand-out levain bread.
Waterloo & City: Sticky Toffee Pudding with Salted Caramel and Vanilla Ice Cream
For the finale, what better way to end than with a classic rendition of that quintessential English dessert. Who needs the salted caramel of a butterscotch budino when you can just have a good ol’ plain sugar rush. Somehow, this Culver City gastropub always hits the right sticky toffee notes. Start with the wild boar terrine and do explore the excellent beer list. And, you’ll want one of these puddings on your own. Hold out and share with a partner. Do make sure to skip the chalky, unsweetened oatmeal tasting “pumpkin mousse” in a gingerbread- like chocolate crust.
It’s been a few weeks since we savored some of the most special dishes enjoyed each week. Here are some of the bites that stop you in your tracks and make you want to order another round, all based in the San Francisco Bay Area this time around.
Next week we’ll get ready for Thanksgiving, the “Super Bowl” for the food world. Also, we’ll have new reports from Los Angeles and begin the switch to the holiday season, where everything pumpkin becomes everything peppermint.
Beauty’s Bagels, Oakland: Sesame Wood-Fired Bagel with Lox, Salted Cucumber, Capers, Red Onion, Arugula, and Oven-Roasted Tomato Cream Cheese
This new, cute bagel purveyor and much more café in a still edgy part of Oakland boasts an impressive wood-fired oven for their Montréal style bagels, à la St. Viateur and Fairmount (Fairmount is my pick). The smoky nature of the bagel is enhanced when served with just sesame seeds, a perfect contrast the velvet soft ribbons of superb lox. Go for the oven roasted tomato cream cheese for the perfect breakfast and make sure to go for the whole vegetable topping package. (more…)
Oenotri, Napa, CA: Fidei with Smoked Mackerel, Tomato, Cream, Shellfish Brodo, and Hot Pepper
Fidei is essentially capellini pasta, commonly seen in the Ligurian region of Italy, often paired with that other specialty of Liguria: pesto. Curtis Di Fede and Tyler Rodde create some of the most innovative pastas anywhere, and none more so than this incredible dish. Think of the most vivid seafood broth of a bouillabaisse in Marseille, enhanced for some structure by cream and tomato. Flakes of fishy but not overly so smoked mackerel are strewn about the fidei, perfectly complimenting the oceanic voice of the broth. Finished with a joly of hot pepper, this is as perfect a pasta dish as you’ll fine.
Oenotri: Fried Cavalo Nero with Chili, Lemon, and Pecorino
Cavalo Nero is black kale, so this is healthy right? It’s a lot healthier and tastier than potato chips or frites in terms of vegetable sides. In the same vein as the recent boom in fried brussels sprouts (usually with pancetta…), the razor thin cavalo nero gets lightly fried to a crisp, then sprinkled with flakes of sharp pecorino, a squeeze of lemon for a new acidic dimension, and like the with fidei above, a jolt of spice from the chili. Once you pop, the fun won’t stop…they actually reminded me of Pringles in terms of the thin, brittle nature of the central ingredient.
Bottega, Yountville, CA: Polenta Under a Glass with Caramelized Mushrooms, and Balsamic Game Sauce
Polenta? Seriously, we’re ordering polenta? That was the unanimous exclamation of my table when informed by myself and our very helpful waiter than the polenta was a must order. This isn’t your garden variety polenta, folks. Warm and creamy, served in a canning jar with the mushrooms glistening on top, and then after being mixed together, served on a plate, and topped by the robust sauce. Just like everything from Michael Chiarello (spoiling already next week’s review), this dish perfectly represents the Northern California meets soulful Tuscany ideal that the chef strives to achieves and surpasses magnificently. You’ll never have polenta this good I promise.
Note- the polenta really is IN glass, not under.
Bottega: Pan Roasted Potato Gnocchi with Spring Vegetables, English Pea Fonduta, and Valley Ford Montasio
If I have ever had a dish I wanted to call Cézanne to hustle over and take a quick still life of before we ate it, this would be it. The dish just looks like spring. It’s full of bright colors, signalling hope, love, and the arrival of sunshine (and English peas). With tender brussels sprouts, pickled onions, carrots that almost melt, a swirl of the most pea-tasting English pea fonduta, the dish really thrives because of Chiarello’s home made potato gnocchi. They are somewhat hefty raft boat shaped gnocchi made of potato instead of flour, for a more earthy flavor. Then caramelized to a perfect golden crisp, this really is quite the masterpiece. Get Cezanne to paint and Mr. Beard to taste this!
Cheeseboard Collective: Pizza with Roasted Cauliflower, Roasted Onions, Cheddar Cheese, Mozzarella, Italian Parsley, and Garlic Olive Oil
It’s the crust, just doughy enough toward the center, but very crisp at the perimeter that makes this one of the Bay Area’s premier pastas. Ingredients are stellar, especially the combination of sharp cheddar with the earthy funk of cooked cauliflower. I only wished for a little more Italian Parsley. It’s a greasy affair thanks to the garlic olive oil. The ratios are just perfect: not too wet towards the center, just the right amount of toppings, just the right amount of naked crust at the edge. They do one pizza a day here and boy, do they do that one pizza right. More places should take note about that lesson.
Cheeseboard Collective: Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Cookie
Almost more like a moist, dense chocolate cake, this is truly an epic and undeniably chocolatey cookie. Soft but not mushy, everything clicks here. Perfect after a Cheeseboard Pizza. Then go to the Temescal for…
Scream Sorbet: White Guava Sorbet (or any sorbet…)
I could have picked any sorbet here really, such charming sorbets from an equally charming postage stamp sized store front in Oakland’s Temescal Neighborhood. Something about the pristine white guava made by day so much brighter. Maybe it’s because I’m so used to guava tasting so syrupy that you feel horrible drinking this “fruit juice.” The sorbet here was so pure it felt like yoga meditation by the scoop.
And the Honorary Not So Pleasant Bite of the Week: Manhattan at Cafe Renzo, Palo Alto, CA
Manhattans depend on the bourbon. It’s the fabled trio of angostura bitters, vermouth, and then bourbon. At the almost elegant belle époque Cafe Renzo (formerly Francis Ford Coppola’s Cafe Neibaum Coppola) that is very Italian in food and waiters, but very French brasserie in look, this isn’t the place to sip a Manhattan. But, hey $5 cocktails and $4 wine at happy hour? Great deal right? Think of it as punishment if you have to sip those wines or succeed in finishing this Manhattan. I didn’t even bother to ask what low grade bourbon was thrown in. All I know is Happy Hour may have been cheap, but this drink makes nobody very happy for an hour.