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Insight

The 13 Bites That Defined 2013

What a year for eating. My first bites of the year were in a New Years Day early morning daze at Blue Star Doughnuts in Portland, Oregon (Valrhona Chocolate Crunch was the best amidst stiff competition. These were hands down the best doughnuts of a pretty doughnut-free year). If that’s how a year starts, then the eating surely will continue at a high caliber. Just with less cholesterol.

Belcanto's Skate "Jackson Pollack" and Its Inspiration

Belcanto’s Skate “Jackson Pollack” And Its Inspiration

We’ll break down the trends and analytical stuff in another category this week. This is about those thirteen bites that I still think about and remember almost every detail of. Sure, I could list thirteen bites alone from Pujol or Alma. That wouldn’t be very exiting, would it? Each one of these was an absolute masterpiece that reminded me why dining out can be so special.

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The 13 Sips That Defined 2013

Is it happy hour yet?
This is always the most challenging category to narrow down. In essence, this conveys the sterling sips of cocktails, wines, beers, spirits, and coffee-based drinks I had the good fortune to sample. But really, how can you really compare an espresso to a Kyoto-style iced coffee, let alone that espresso to a South African Chenin Blanc? We must take our artistic liberties and run/drink with it.

Cocktails at Drink in Boston

Cocktails at Drink in Boston

2013 was certainly the year that wine took center stage in my life, joining the editorial staff of Vino 24/7. At the same time, cocktails were vastly improved in every city I visited and even yours truly has become quite the mixologist at home (that word is “so 2010.”). Craft beer and new distilleries? They didn’t fade at all. It’s just the others really emerged.
Coffee really had its year (see end of year trends later this week) . My daily espresso (or two depending on what city I’m visiting) improved exponentially, including my local café that roasts its own beans and serves them inside a running store (hint hint on the winner for this year’s best espresso winner). If it seems like I’m usually buzzed or very hyper, or both, well…hopefully not, as I do keep that under control! But when we drink, we drink well. Very well. 2014 has stiff competition for a repeat performance. (more…)


Plat du Jour Monday October 7, 2013: When Is It O.K. To Send Something Back?

What a challenging question to begin this first full week of October with. Usually my answer is the always vague “follow your gut feeling.” Well, if you’re gut isn’t feeling so good, you probably want to send the dish back.

I’ve noticed I almost never have to send back food. Cocktails get returned at a far higher rate. Then at a seemingly innocent, low key lunch at the highly respectable Los Angeles restaurant/cafe LAMILL (also a terrific coffee roaster, located in the city’s Silver Lake area), I was forced to do something about this joke of a sandwich delivered to me. Something had to happen. Sandwiches don’t look like this for $7, let alone double the price from a kitchen owned by one of the city’s top toques. Just look at the sandwich “filling” to the left in the picture below. Nothing has been edited. Seriously.

Note the difference between Sandwich A and Sandwich B at LA Mill

Note the difference between Sandwich A and Sandwich B at LAMILL

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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…)


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…)


Plat du Jour Tuesday July 30, 2013: Restaurant Websites

It’s usually the first part of the dining out experience. Well, most likely the review from a newspaper or magazine critic, or perhaps the recommendation from a trusted friend might be the absolute first step (please, please don’t say browsing Yelp).

When it’s crunch time though to start planning where to dine tomorrow night, where to go on that important second date next Thursday, or you’re just hungry and bored at the office dreaming of that Spain vacation down the road, you google for a restaurant’s website.

The restaurant website is critical for restaurants today. It’s no lie that the first impression of a restaurant is the website. The chef might be a genius. The atmosphere can be magical. But that website has the most annoying music possible with too many quotes praising the chef. O.k., skip it, on to the next one.

Unfortunately, an excellent chef or an excellent restaurateur doesn’t always translate into an excellent web site designer. There are two fundamental problems with restaurant websites that draw the ire of frequent visitors (yours truly certainly included): annoying graphics/ site design (definitely including music and video) and lack of information (don’t you love outdated menus or searching for hours of operation for…hours?).

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Generally I can look past a poor website if I’ve heard excellent reports from a restaurant. I’ll still give the restaurant a chance. Let’s be honest though, the restaurant website is very important from an impression standpoint and a decision making one as well. I’m happy to report that the art of the dining scene worldwide is in far better health these days than the art of the restaurant website. With how vital the website is now to the dining out process and the endless resources today in 2013 web design (don’t we all wish we graduated from college with a CS degree?), let’s hope that more restaurants see the (silver) light. (more…)