Category Archives: Great Finds

Niku Steakhouse — Where Japanese Wagyu Reigns Supreme

A 4-ounce serving of Japanese A5 Wagyu tri-tip at Niku Steakhouse.

A 4-ounce serving of Japanese A5 Wagyu tri-tip at Niku Steakhouse.

 

Some chefs wear their hearts on their sleeve.

Steve Brown takes that to an extreme — wearing his passion prominently and permanently inked on his forearm.

The executive chef of the splashy new Niku Steakhouse in San Francisco has “A5” (the highest grading for Japanese Wagyu beef) tattooed on his right arm, so there’s no doubt as to what his favorite ingredient is.

You can see for yourself if you snag one of the 18 seats — truly the best seats in the house — at the counter that surrounds the massive grilling station. That was my vantage point recently when I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant, opened by the Omakase Group, about one month ago.

Executive Chef Steve Brown's tattoo says it all.

Executive Chef Steve Brown’s tattoo says it all.

Sitting here is a primal, visceral experience, as you’re just inches from the flames of the hand-cranked main grill that can get up to 900 degrees to cook American prime steaks, and the small custom-built Japanese grill heated with binchotan white charcoal on which the Wagyu is seared.

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Brunch Up Top At the Archer Hotel in Napa

Doughnuts galore at Sunday brunch at the Archer Hotel.

Doughnuts galore at Sunday brunch at the Archer Hotel.

 

From their calm and courteous demeanor, you’d never guess that this time of year is probably the most nerve-wracking for the staff that puts together the upscale Sunday brunch buffet at the Archer Hotel in downtown Napa.

That’s because that brunch service is the only one in the Napa Valley that’s held atop a five-story building in an expansive open-air rooftop pavilion. If the weather is ominous –then and only then — the brunch is moved from Charlie Palmer’s Sky & Vine Rooftop Bar inside to the hotel’s Charlie Palmer Steak on the ground level.

With this winter’s rash of stormy weather, the decision on where to hold brunch each Sunday has not been an easy one to make.

“Will it be raining? Will there be too much wind? It’s very stressful. I don’t think there’s any other restaurant here that has to take all that into consideration,” said a manager, who noted that the decision on the location of the brunch must be made the night before in order to give the staff enough time to prepare.

A view of the hotel from my balcony.

A view of the hotel from my balcony.

Sky & Vine Rooftop Bar.

Sky & Vine Rooftop Bar.

I lucked out in late-February when I was invited as a guest of the hotel to stay overnight and try the brunch because the rains held off just long enough for me to enjoy the repast al fresco.

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Napa’s Compline — Your One Stop for Everything

Discovering some new interesting affordable wines is half the fun at Napa's Compline.

Discovering some new interesting affordable wines is half the fun at Napa’s Compline.

 

For most folks, a trip to the Napa Valley means stops at a tasting room, a restaurant, and perhaps a wine education center.

Downtown Napa’s Compline makes that effortless by combining all three into one.

Master Sommelier Matt Stamp, formerly of the French Laundry in Yountville, and Ryan Stetins, former wine director at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago, opened this intriguing concept in 2017 in the First Street Napa development of shops, restaurants and the Archer Hotel.

Fun sculptures just outside the doors of Compline.

Fun sculptures just outside the doors of Compline.

A tribute to the late-great Anthony Bourdain by Napa's Chalk Riot just steps away from the restaurant.

A tribute to the late-great Anthony Bourdain by Napa’s Chalk Riot just steps from the restaurant.

The name is from the Latin for “completion,” a term used by monks who would come together at the end of the day to break bread.

As Stamp explained on a recent Saturday evening when I was invited in to dine as a guest, “Wine bars where you get some cheese and charcuterie just always felt like something was missing. I wanted to offer a more full experience.”

Chalkboards tell the story at the bar.

Chalkboards tell the story at the bar.

He certainly has by offering a bit of everything: a wine shop offering interesting varieties from producers from around the globe, with most bottles priced between $10 to $40; wine education classes led by Stamp; a fun “blind wine” night on Sundays in which patrons can test their own acumen; and a restaurant led by Chef Yancy Windsperger, who cooked previously at Morimoto, Spago, and Jose Andres’ Bazaar, which even features a late-night $10 taco special (9 p.m. to 11 p.m.).

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Bonkers For These Beans

A Dozen Cousins Mexican Cowboy Beans.

A Dozen Cousins Mexican Cowboy Beans.

 

For some endeavors, it might take a village.

But to create some deliriously delectable beans? It simply takes A Dozen Cousins.

This new Berkeley company has launched a line of gourmet, ready-to-eat beans with global flavors that will win you over from the first taste.

Ibraheem Basir, a former marketing manager at General Mills who worked on natural foods brands such as Annie’s Homegrown, named the company after his daughter and her 11 cousins.

Made with avocado oil, the beans are non-GMO, vegan and gluten-free. They come in 10-ounce BPA-free, microwaveable pouches that serve two (about 1/2 cup each). They boast 6 to 8 grams of protein per serving and 7 grams of fiber.

They come in handy microwavable packages.

They come in handy microwavable packages.

They are available in three flavors: Mexican Cowboy Beans, Cuban Black Beans, and Trini Chickpea Curry.

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A Delicious Taste of Georgia (As In Eastern Europe, Not the Deep South) in Palo Alto

Giant soup-filled dumplings at Bevri.

Giant soup-filled dumplings at Bevri.

 

Russian food is certainly not something you find on every street corner.

Georgian cuisine? Well, you have to squint even harder for that.

Fortunately, though, if you point your eyes in just the right direction, you will find what is thought to be the only Georgian restaurant in Northern California.

Bevri opened in downtown Palo Alto in 2018. It is a gem of a place founded by Google employee Pavel Sirotin with his brother and sister-in-law. Russian-born Sirotin noticed the dearth of Georgian restaurants when he moved to the Bay Area a few years ago. So he decided to open his own — despite not ever owning a restaurant before.

The open kitchen, where bags of spice blends and jars of preserves are displayed for sale, too.

The open kitchen, where bags of spice blends and jars of preserves are displayed for sale, too.

The intimate dining room.

The intimate dining room.

When my friend and I took our Russian-born friend Lina out for her birthday recently, we couldn’t think of a better place to celebrate than Bevri, where we paid our own tab at the end. It even gave Lina a fun opportunity to converse in Russian with the waitstaff.

Bevri celebrates the cuisine of Georgia, located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, which was once part of the Soviet Union. You can see influences from both those regions in this hearty, comforting food.

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