A bright-green risotto — that you barely have to stir.
I admit I was dubious. I was skeptical. I was bordering on being a non-believer.
Could one really make perfect risotto on the stove-top by pouring a load of stock into a pan with the rice, turning the heat down to the lowest possible setting, then leaving it pretty much alone except to stir it twice? Yes, twice.
But I should have never doubted J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.
After all, he’s the man. He’s so meticulous and precise that he’s like a one-man Cook’s Illustrated test kitchen (where he used to work, by the way). The San Francisco-based managing culinary director of Serious Eats, Lopez-Alt is a restaurant-trained chef and the author of the “Food Lab” column, as well as a regular columnist for Cooking Light magazine.
His new book, “The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science” (W.W. Norton & Company), of which I received a review copy, is a must-have on your shelf. In fact, this past Sunday, it was named “Cookbook of the Year” by the International Association of Culinary Professionals.
The Asian charcuterie platter at Cassia.
SANTA MONICA — When my friend and talented cookbook author Andrea Nguyen raves about a place, I know I have to try it.
When Pulitzer Prize-winning food writer Jonathan Gold deems the food “brilliant,” I know I’m in for something extraordinary.
Indeed, that’s how superlative Cassia in Santa Monica is.
This expansive restaurant is run by Chef Bryant Ng, who has cooked with Daniel Boulud and Roland Passot, and counts Nancy Silverton as a mentor.
How pretty is this lemon cake from Sycamore Kitchen?
Sure, they serve lunch, but I was there for the baked goods. But of course.
Husband and wife owners Quinn and Karen Hatfield cooked for a spell in San Francisco, before departing for Los Angeles to open Hatfield’s. In 2012, they also opened the Sycamore Kitchen, an urban cafe and bakery with a large outdoor patio.
Karen is a long-time pastry chef, so it’s no surprise that the pastries excel here.
How good are they?
Let’s start with the buttercup ($3.50), the renamed version of a kougin-amann. It’s buttery alright. It’s also the closest kouign-amann I’ve found to that of Belinda Leong’s of B. Patisserie in San Francisco and John Shelsta’s of Howie’s Artisan Pizzeria in Redwood City (he trained with Leong). It’s golden and crisp, with airy layers that are just a smidge heavier in texture than Leong’s and Shelsta’s versions. It’s a dream to nibble on.
The buttercup (kouign-amann).
Yup, this is a babka.
Then there are the cookies. At first glance, they look incredibly flat and thin — almost as if they were a mistake. But take a bite of the rice crispy cookie ($2.50) and the oatmeal toffee cookie ($2.25) and you know they were baked with purpose. The thinness means they are somehow crisp and chewy through and through. Brilliant.
An adult root beer float at Relish Gastro Lounge.
The hushed atmosphere and the white tablecloths have been jettisoned. And a whole new concept and personality have taken hold.
Sent Sovi in downtown Saratoga was Chef David Kinch’s stepping stone to even greater accolades as he went on to establish the Michelin three-starred Manresa in Los Gatos.
Chef Josiah Slone purchased the restaurant from Kinch, and for nearly 13 years kept the fine-dining ambiance, but with his own spin on it.
Now he and wife Khin Khin Slone have overturned that format, and launched a much more casual restaurant in its place.
Relish Gastro Lounge debuted in February with its reclaimed wood tables, color-changing lights, and soundtrack of rock and jazz. I had a chance to check it out a couple weeks ago when I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant.
The tap system.
The wine preservation system.
You’ll find 20 wines by the glass (preserved with the same argon gas system Sent Sovi used), along with 24 beers on tap. The menu, headed up by Chef Timothy Uttaro, former Sent Sovi sous chef, is made for sharing.
Ocean trout as imagined by the newly anointed chef of San Francisco’s Coi.
Daniel Patterson is a hard act to follow.
The cerebral and celebrated chef created a very personal oasis of zen elegance in a neighborhood of strip clubs when he opened Coi in San Francisco.
Last year, he decided to step down as executive chef to devote more time to overseeing his growing roster of restaurants — Alta CA in San Francisco, Aster in San Francisco, Haven in Oakland, and Plum Bar in Oakland — as well as his new Locol fast-food concept in partnership with Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ Truck fame.
But he has found a most accomplished successor in Matthew Kirkley, who took over COI in January. The Baltimore-reared chef has worked at such renowned establishments as the Fat Duck in London, L20 in Chicago, Restaurant Joel Robuchon in Las Vegas, and Le Meurice in Paris.
His flawless technique and breathtaking food attest to the fact that Patterson has left Coi in extraordinary hands.
The restaurant offers three wine pairing options.
The intimate dining room.
I had a chance to experience it when I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant earlier this month.