Category Archives: Donuts

After Hours in the Bakery at Baker & Banker

"XXX Chocolate Cake'' -- one of the perks of dining after closing at a bakery.

For anyone with a sweet tooth like mine, it’s a fantasy come true to eat to your stomach’s content in a bakery after it’s closed for the night.

I wasn’t exactly let loose to scour the pantry, though. Instead, I was invited recently to dine as a guest of the restaurant with a few other food writers in what is essentially the private dining room at Baker & Banker in San Francisco.

The acclaimed restaurant in Pacific Heights, owned by husband-and-wife Pastry Chef Lori Baker and Chef Jeff Banker, also has an adjacent bakery. After closing each night, the bakery is available for private parties. It has to be a small one, though, as there’s enough room for only eight at the one table set up right by the bakery counter. There’s also a minimum of five diners required.

The 8-person table in the private dining room (in the bakery) at Baker & Banker.

A reminder that you're inside a bakery.

To get to it, you walk into the restaurant, head to the back, go through the small kitchen, and walk down a few stairs right into the heart of the bakery.

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A Gin-Tastic Time at Brasserie S&P

A taste of "Indian Summer'' at Brasserie S&P, which specializes in gin cocktails

The last time I dined at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in San Francisco a few years ago, I shimmied into a chic cocktail dress and fancy black heels.

On a visit there just a few weeks ago, though, I donned merely dark jeans and a simple cardie.

How times have changed.

Like so many hotels in these still precarious economic times, the Mandarin Oriental has shed its spendy, special-occasion restaurant in favor of a more casual one that’s friendlier on the pocketbook.

Out went its glamorous Silks restaurant. In came the new Brasserie S&P this summer, named for the fact that it’s at the intersection of Sansome and Pine. It’s headed by Executive Chef Adam Mali, formerly of Nick’s Cove in Tomales Bay.

While Silks was perched on the second floor of the hotel, Brasserie S&P is on the main floor, just past the check-in desk and right across from a bank of elevators. While the former was a secluded, hushed space, the latter is smack in the middle of all the action.

I had a chance to check it out, when I was invited to dine as a guest of the restaurant.

The sedate dining room is all cream and blonde, with dark chocolate leather placemats on the tables. The decor may be somewhat too hotel utilitarian, but the snazzy bar and satisfying food more than make up for that.

The vase of flowers at each table keeps the theme going.

Mixologist Priscilla Young clearly is having a blast with the new cocktail menu, which spotlights gin, of all things. She even crafts her own tonics to go along with the extensive brands of gins available.

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Citrus Restaurant: Beyond Street-Level Dining at Santana Row

A new look at ahi tartare at Citrus in the Valencia Hotel.

With luxe boutiques and restaurants galore lining the main interior roads, it’s easy to confine your gaze at San Jose’s Santana Row to street level.

But that’s a shame because you would be missing out by not looking up.

Three stories high to be exact.

That’s where you’ll find Citrus Restaurant in the Valencia Hotel.

A bit hidden and an elevator ride up three floors, the dimly lit restaurant with bare dark wood tables that overlook a sunny central courtyard, is worth making the trek.

The dining room up on the third floor of the hotel building.

Executive Chef Robert Sapirman, who  previously headed Parcel 104 in Santa Clara, is slowly but surely personalizing the menu since coming on board a year and a half ago. He’s awaiting the planned top-to-bottom renovation of the hotel, though, before transforming the menu completely into one of eclectic global tapas. That major hotel remodel, which has already been pushed back a couple times, may start later this year. For now, you can get a good feel for what’s to come cuisine-wise, as Sapirman’s menu already boasts many Asian and Spanish influences.

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Maui Morsels

Thick, crisp French toast -- what a way to wake up at the Old Wailuku Inn. And this is only a half-order.

MAUI, HAWAII — Two weeks ago when invited to visit this spectacular island by the Maui Visitors Bureau, I had a chance to be a guest at a couple of complimentary accommodations as I noshed my way around the island.

Here are the highlights:

The Old Wailuku Inn at Ulupono

Total charm is what you’ll find at this B&B that evokes 1940s Hawaii, with its grand lanai, lush garden and handmade Hawaiian quilts that adorn the beds in each distinct room.

Janice and Tom Fairbanks run the Old Wailuku, a plantation-style inn that’s located in a residential neighborhood. It has seven rooms in the main house and three in a separate rear building.

Complimentary breakfast is included and shouldn’t be missed. It usually begins with a goblet of fresh fruit, including mango, banana and strawberries. That’s followed by a warm dish, such as mega French toast made from a crisp Vietnamese baguette that’s smeared with a creamy mixture of ricotta, cottage cheese and fresh mint.

The plantation-style sitting area in the main house.

The bedrooms are adorned with handmade Hawaiian quilts.

In the dining room, there’s a fridge stocked with cold cans of juice and soda to help yourself to throughout the day, as well as bowls of snack foods to nibble.

Star Noodle

I admit that when Chef Jay Terauchi was driving myself and a slew of travel bloggers to this restaurant, I secretly feared he might be a serial killer, about to do us all in and dump our bodies where nobody could find them.

That’s because Star Noodle is located off the beaten path, up a rather deserted road off the main highway, where there’s a warehouse or two and a couple of bulldozers idle on barren land.

A sampler of kimchee, shiitakes and other pickled veggies.

But continue up that road until you hit the restaurant, and you know you must be on to something because there will be a line of folks in the parking lot, waiting to get inside. Always a good sign, right?

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Viognier — Still Full of Vim and Vigor

Short ribs elegantly presented at Viognier restaurant.

It wasn’t long ago that the notion of a restaurant operating inside a hotel doomed it to second-tier status.

While that no longer holds true, the idea of a fine-dining restaurant inside a grocery store still prompts some disbelief.

But when Viognier opened inside the gourmet market, Draeger’s in San Mateo 15 years ago, it made a convincing case that unlikely scenario could work.

After all, the restaurant was opened by none other than Chef Gary Danko, who later left to open his own eponymous restaurant in San Francisco. He was followed by Chef Scott Giambastiani, who is now an executive chef at Google. Chef Preston Dishman, former chef-partner of the General’s Daughter in Sonoma, took over the restaurant, named for the aromatic grape varietal from the Northern Rhone region of France, in 2008.

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