Greetings From…Chicago! Part I

Let’s all agree to begin: Chicago is no second city when it comes to eating and drinking. It’s first tier all the way. With all due respect, we’re talking Michael Jordan here, not Scottie Pippin. Is Chicago better than a San Francisco or a New York or a Tokyo dining scene? Yes? Maybe. No? Maybe. That’s not important.

The iconic skyline from U.S. Cellular Field, home of the Chicago White Sox on the city's south side
The iconic skyline from U.S. Cellular Field, home of the Chicago White Sox on the city’s south side

What is important is to acknowledge the sheer breadth of this city’s options. Heck, you could just spend a three day trip eating nowhere but Hot Doug’s, never repeat a dish, never get bored, and never do much other than stand in line, eat, sleep, and return. Continue reading “Greetings From…Chicago! Part I”

Plat du Jour Tuesday September 17, 2013: Ramen, Ramen, Ramen, and Silicon Valley Eats

Hello everybody! Yes, we’ve been away from the writing table at Trev’s Bistro recently, busy on trips to write about this fall and also on assignment for other publications such as Serious Eats and the SF Weekly. Yes, I know that nothing beats Trev’s Bistro. Not even Saveur or Bon Appetit. So don’t worry, we haven’t gone anywhere. However, our formerly daily articles will routinely be more in the 3 to 4 articles a week range now. You can still expect though the same detailed, thoroughly researched articles about dining and drinking’s relationship with culture and travel, mixed with various recipes and analysis on today’s gastronomic issues. As I’m sure you understand, eventually a certain amount of writing leads the writer to start seeing spirals instead of letters on the page (cue Wile E. Coyote and The Road Runner).

On the menu today, here is a superb, epic 7,000 encyclopedia to everything you could ever want to know about ramen, courtesy of Kenji at Serious Eats. Literally everything.

Ramen Shop, Oakland: Assorted Pickles (Sierra Mackerel, King Oyster Mushrooms, Shiso Daikon, Black Spanish Radish, Sansho Cabbage); Kohashi Miso Ramen with Ground Pork Belly, Shoyu-Marinated Egg, Asparagus, Spring Onions, and Shrimp Tsukune
Ramen Shop, Oakland: Assorted Pickles (Sierra Mackerel, King Oyster Mushrooms, Shiso Daikon, Black Spanish Radish, Sansho Cabbage); Kohashi Miso Ramen with Ground Pork Belly, Shoyu-Marinated Egg, Asparagus, Spring Onions, and Shrimp Tsukune

Speaking of Serious Eats, yours truly published a piece last week on eight of the 8 essential (there really are more like 68, but 8 is a more manageable number, so we should have a follow-up here on Trev’s Bistro) places to eat and drink in the Silicon Valley/ on the San Francisco Bay Area’s Peninsula. Even if you live in Sydney or Baltimore, I’m sure you’ll enjoy hearing about this perennially underrated region’s dining scene.

Cheers! Coming up next, a report from the Windy City of Chicago.

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. Continue reading “Plat du Jour: The Perfect Coffee Shop is in Milwaukee & Labor Day Menu”

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. Continue reading “Restaurants: Roca Moo, Barcelona”

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.Continue reading “Plat du Jour: How Should We Write a Wine List Label?”

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.Continue reading “Greetings From…Barcelona! Part II”

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.Continue reading “Wine of the Week: Fernando de Castilla Palo Cortado Sherry, Jerez, Spain”

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?Continue reading “Greetings From…Barcelona! Part I”

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). Continue reading “5 Lessons From SF Chefs Editorial Panel”

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?).


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.Continue reading “Plat du Jour Tuesday July 30, 2013: Restaurant Websites”