Category Archives: Restaurants

Izakaya Rintaro — Spot-On From Start to Finish

Ribeye (back) and King Trumpet mushroom (foreground) yakitori at Izakaya Rintaro.

Ribeye (back) and King Trumpet mushroom (foreground) yakitori at Izakaya Rintaro.

 

Rare is the restaurant where you sit down to an entire meal and never experience one mundane bite.

Izakaya Rintaro in San Francisco’s Mission District is such a place.

That was my experience a week ago, when I tried the Japanese small plates restaurant with my husband, where we paid our full tab at the end of a delightful dinner.

Izakaya Rintaro was opened two years ago by Chef-Owner Sylvan Mishima Brackett, who was born in Kyoto. Early on in his career, he was Alice Waters assistant at Chez Panisse. When I was a food writer on staff at the San Jose Mercury News, I would call him incessantly, in need of quotes regularly from Waters, which he remembered.

The front of the restaurant.

The front of the restaurant.

Chef Sylvan Mishima Brackett manning the grill.

Chef Sylvan Mishima Brackett manning the grill.

At his izakaya, you’ll find the usual staple dishes and more. What truly sets them apart are the top-notch ingredients, detailed techniques, and flat-out care with which they are executed.

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Burma Superstar’s Chicken with Mint

Loads of mint and cilantro give this minced chicken dish vibrancy.

Loads of mint and cilantro give this minced chicken dish vibrancy.

 

If you’ve been to Burma Superstar in San Francisco, you’re all too familiar with the constant lines of diners waiting to get in.

Who can blame them, because once you get a taste of Burmese food, you can’t help but crave it again and again.

Now comes a way to satisfy your hunger while bypassing those queues — by making it yourself.

The restaurant’s first cookbook, “Burma Superstar: Addictive Recipes From the Crossroads of Southeast Asia”
(10 Speed Press), was released this year. It was written by Burma Superstar owner Desmond Tan and San Francisco food writer Kate Leahy.

The restaurant opened in 1992 on Clement Street. But it wasn’t until Burma-native Tan and his wife Jocelyn Lee, who were regulars there, bought the restaurant in 2000 that Burmese food really found a foothold.

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Lunch Is Served — At Bird Dog

Your usual sandwich probably is nothing like this eel one at Bird Dog.

Your usual sandwich probably is nothing like this eel one at Bird Dog.

 

Bird Dog has been a hot ticket ever since it opened in downtown Palo Alto in 2015.

In April, it added lunch service, which is a much easier way to snag a table at the ever-popular restaurant run by Chef-Partner Robbie Wilson, and his wife, Managing Partner Emily Perry Wilson.

If you’re used to mindlessly grabbing a giant burrito or burger on the run, this is decidedly a more leisurely type of lunch that begs you to take time to really enjoy and marvel. That’s because Chef Wilson, who has worked previously at the French Laundry in Yountville, Craft in New York, and Maison Troisgros in France, creates food that is not only delightful but inspired. And when’s the last time you felt that way about lunch?

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Paella 101 At Duende

Chef Paul Canales holding his finished squid ink paella at Duende.

Chef Paul Canales holding his finished squid ink paella at Duende.

 

Last week, I got a lesson in paella-making from the source: Chef-Owner Paul Canales of the Duende in Oakland.

And what a delicious and inspired one it was.

After all, the Uptown restaurant is all about Spanish and Basque food spotlighting the best of Northern California’s bounty. Duende features four paellas on the menu, including the very popular Arroz Negro, made with squid ink for an unmistakable bold color.

Along with a handful of other food writers, I crowded into the restaurant kitchen to watch Canales demonstrate that dish. The Moors brought rice to Spain, he explained, and paellas first gained popularity in the 1840s in and around Valencia. Canales’ father is of Basque heritage, a region that didn’t necessarily specialize in risotto. But it’s a specialty Canales has long loved, and studied, having traveled throughout Spain.

Paella can be made with various Spanish rices, as well as short or broken Spanish pasta.

Paella can be made with various Spanish rices, as well as short or broken Spanish pasta.

Saffron from northern Iran.

Saffron from northern Iran.

Like Italian risotto, it’s a dish that’s really all about the rice, with the toppings accentuating it, but not smothering it.

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Nouveau Vietnamese Fare at Khai

Under glass -- white seaweed salad at Khai.

Under glass — white seaweed salad at Khai.

 

With the exception of sushi, we’ve become so accustomed to cheap Asian food in heaping quantities, that we fairly balk when we come across an Asian restaurant daring to focus on premium ingredients, handled with precision, and plated with finesse and restraint.

Khai, which opened in December in San Francisco’s Design District, is a modern Vietnamese restaurant that serves only one menu — a 10-course tasting for $95. If your eyes are already rolling back in their sockets at the thought of just how much food you could get for that price at your neighborhood pho joint, you are missing the point. Because at $95, this dinner experience is a relative bargain as far as tasting menus go in the Bay Area.

For a dozen years, Chef Khai Duong oversaw Ana Mandara in San Francisco. After it closed, he traveled around Asia, reconnecting with his roots. He even won a gold medal in the International Beijing Culinary Competition, besting 200 other chefs.

At 58, he opened a very personal restaurant.

At 58, he opened a very personal restaurant.

A candle illuminates each table.

A candle illuminates each table.

He always knew he wanted to come back to San Francisco, though, to open something unique. At age 58, he did just that.

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