A trio of pork tacos at El Molino Central.
When a noted chef tells you the name of a restaurant he thinks is the very best in the Bay Area, your ears can’t help but perk up.
And when he reveals that it’s an unassuming taco joint, you really get intrigued.
Such was the case when I recently interviewed Chef Louis Maldonado for a story in the San Francisco Chronicle Food section about his favorite places in the Healdsburg area.
Maldonado, former chef of Spoonbar in Healdsburg and now culinary director of Mugnaini Imports in Healdsburg, was effusive in his praise for El Molino Central in Boyes Hot Springs. So much so that when I found myself in the area last week, I just had to try it, paying my own tab at the end.
The back of the restaurant.
El Molino Central is a tiny place with a tamale-sized kitchen. Inside, there’s barely room for two small tables, and the counter where you place your order. Lest you think you’ll have to eat your food standing up, you will find a cheerful patio in the back with picnic tables, covered by a trellis and a revolving ceiling fan. You’ll have to walk through the compact kitchen to get to it, though — or go out the front door and walk around the building to the back.
Cassarece pasta at La Pastaia. (Photo courtesy of La Pastaia, Hotel De Anza)
Located in the historic Hotel De Anza in downtown San Jose, La Pastaia was always one of my favorite restaurants when I worked in that city.
After all, I unabashedly love my carbs. And La Pastaia’s pastas always had a way of winning me over. Executive Chef Juan Zaragoza, who has been at the restaurant for a decade, turns out Italian favorites such as spaghetti vongole ($22) and cacio e pepe ($16), and standards such as a pork chop with warm farro salad ($27) and pan-seared salmon with toasted orzo ($25).
The hotel’s Headley Club Lounge, which features live jazz, has a sophisticated yet laid-back vibe that’s perfect for enjoying a cocktail or glass of wine. I’ve had many a reunion or good-bye party there with friends and colleagues.
Salmon at La Pastaia. (Photo courtesy of La Pastaia, Hotel De Anza)
CONTEST: One lucky Food Gal reader will win a $50 gift card to La Pastaia.
Entries, open only to those who can actually use the gift card within a year, will be accepted through midnight PST June 18. Winner will be announced June 20.
How to win?
A rice bowl with eggs three ways at Itani Ramen.
You have to smile at place where the bathrooms are identified as: “raMEN” and “raWOMEN.”
Itani Ramen takes its food seriously, but everything else with a sense of humor.
The second restaurant by Chef Kyle Itani of Hopscotch in Oakland, Itani Ramen opened a month ago in Oakland’s Uptown neighborhood.
I had a chance to try it two weeks ago when I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant. It happened to be a night when Itani’s good buddy, Chef Daniel Holzman of New York’s The Meatball Shop empire, happened to be helping out, serving dishes and chatting up diners. Holzman also assisted in the kitchen when Hopscotch first opened. And it’s his photographs of colorful street scenes in Japan that grace the walls of Itani Ramen.
Chef Brian Ikenoyama, Chef-Owner Kyle Itani, and visiting-Chef Daniel Holzman.
The long restaurant is industrial-zen looking with unfinished wood on the back wall that gives it an almost shoji-screen-like look. Packages of Japanese instant ramen and bottles of sake decorate shelves above the bar and open kitchen.
A slew of restaurants will be offering special three-course prix fixe dinners, June 10-19, as part of Dine Downtown San Jose.
The prix fixe offerings will be priced from $20 on up. Participating restaurants include Arcadia, Cafe Stritch, The Farmers Union, and Poor House Bistro.
For every prix fixe meal sold, Sysco will donate $1 to Martha’s Kitchen, too. The San Jose organization provides meals to those in need.
Contest: One lucky Food Gal reader will win a $50 gift certificate to Mezcal Restaurant in downtown San Jose. Use it toward the $30 three-course prix fixe the restaurant is serving up for Dine Downtown San Jose, which includes options such as tortilla soup, grilled steak with chipotle sauce, and warm Oaxacan chocolate cake. Or use it another time.
Chef Octavio Gomez of Mezcal. (Photo courtesy of the restaurant)
Mezcal specializes in moles, as well as chapulines (fried grasshoppers). If you’ve never experienced the latter, this is the place to try them. Seasoned with garlic, salt and lime, they’re as crisp and addicting as potato chips. So, no need to be squeamish.
Huckleberry cake at Trestle in San Francisco.
I’ve had many wonderful meals at restaurants, but never have I left at the end of an evening overcome with the emotions that I had at Trestle in San Francisco.
As Co-Owner Tai Ricci bid me adieu, I just wanted to hug her for dear life and implore, “Please, please be profitable and be around for a very, very long time!’
If you’ve found your eyes bulging out of their sockets at the stratospheric prices of some of the Bay Area’s tasting menus lately, you’ll find your peepers popping out at Trestle for another reason:
You’ll wonder how they do it — serving an extraordinary three-course dinner nightly for all of $35 per person.
The cozy, contemporary dining room.
We’re not talking a slap-dash affair, either. This is food, where it’s immediately evident that great care is taken. Soup is poured tableside by your server. The skin on a fish fillet is seared till perfectly golden and crisp as a perfect potato chip. Desserts are not just plopped into a bowl, but artfully arranged with whimsy.