Category Archives: Restaurants

Little Gem Is A Gem

Pork shoulder at Little Gem.

Pork shoulder at Little Gem.

 

Imagine a restaurant, in which all the food is gluten-free. And dairy-free. And sans refined sugar.

No doubt, you’re probably fearing it also will be flavor-free and dismally low in satisfaction.

Not so. Not when it’s Little Gem in San Francisco, which opened in December.

After all, when the head chef is Dave Cruz, formerly of Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc in Yountville, you’re guaranteed to be in good hands with the food, as I found out when I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant last week. Little Gem’s other partners are Eric Lilavois, former chief operating officer of the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, and John DiFazio, an investment banker, who has such an appreciation of good food that he did an apprenticeship at Dan Barber’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York.

Chef Dave Cruz, formerly of Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc.

Chef Dave Cruz, formerly of Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc.

The compact kitchen.

The compact kitchen.

This is clean eating the way it should be — with bold flavors, freshness, finesse but not fussiness, and great ingredients from purveyors such as Marin Sun Farms, Five Dot Ranch and Rancho Gordo.

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Fun Nibbles At Oro in San Francisco

 

Say hello to the Scarlet & Gold at Oro.

Say hello to the Scarlet & Gold at Oro.

San Francisco’s Mint Plaza has been a revolving door of restaurants over the years.

So many have come and gone that it’s hard to keep track of them all.

Here’s hoping Oro, which opened last year, has sticking power.

I think the downtown location, while an easy hop across the street from the Fifth & Mission garage, can be a hurdle. It’s hard for people to remember that behind the imposing ornate edifice of the historic Mint Building is indeed a plaza ringed by restaurants.

The three-story Oro presents a sleek veneer with floor-to-ceiling windows and a steel-cable glassed staircase that dominates the first floor.

The sleek staircase that bisects the main dining room.

The sleek staircase that bisects the main dining room.

The artsy dining nook.

The artsy dining nook.

The restaurant also has a lot going for it, most notably Executive Jason Fox of San Francisco’s marvelous Commonwealth restaurant.

When I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant recently, I started with a Scarlet & Gold ($13) cocktail served in a pretty retro glass. This is the perfect sip for those who want something delicate and not-so-boozy. With gin, fennel, lemon, soda and a froth of egg white, it was light and refreshing.

What makes the menu so fun is that you can make a meal out of a traditional appetizer and entree or several snacks and single bites if you’re more in a grazing mood.

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The (Cheese) Table

Ribbons of Bohemian Creamery's Capriago cheese cover the top of mushroom-pork ragout with grits at The Table.

Ribbons of Bohemian Creamery’s Capriago cheese cover the top of mushroom-pork ragout with grits at The Table.

 

Last week, San Jose’s The Table was transformed into the cheese table.

The popular Willow Glen neighborhood restaurant hosted its inaugural cheese dinner. This one spotlighted the cheeses of Bohemian Creamery of Sebastapol in a $75 seven-course dinner that included paired beverages. I was lucky enough to be invited in as a guest of the restaurant, which plans to make the cheese dinner an annual event.

Owner and cheesemaker Lisa Gottreich was on hand to talk about her hand-made cheeses, which are sold at retailers such as the Cheese Board in Berkeley and Sunshine Foods in St. Helena, and featured at restaurants such as Ad Hoc in Yountville, Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Nopa in San Francisco and SPQR in San Francisco.

Gottreich makes her 13 types of cheeses the Italian-way, with little salt. The goat cheeses are made with milk from her own herd of goats. The other types of milk that go into her cheeses are purchased from nearby farms.

In the far right, Chef-Owner Jim Stump greets cheesemaker Lisa Bottreich in the dining room of The Table.

In the far right, Chef-Owner Jim Stump greets cheesemaker Lisa Bottreich in the dining room of The Table.

The kitchen at work with Chef "AJ'' Jmenez in the baseball cap.

The kitchen at work with Chef “AJ” Jmenez in the baseball cap.

The first course brought her Bodacious five-day-old goat cheese with a bloomy rind in a spring dish of asparagus and Oro Blanco grapefruit that was paired with Sikyo “Mirror of Truth” Takehara Junmai sake. What a great way to start with a creamy, tangy cheese and a floral, clean sake that worked well with the always tricky-to-pair asparagus.

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Stumping for Stumpy’s

Tots and bacon-wrapped dog at Stumpy's.

Tots and bacon-wrapped dog at Stumpy’s.

 

Over the years, Chef Jim Stump has run many restaurants in the South Bay.

Stumpy’s is his tiniest.

The veteran chef and restaurateur, who helped founded the Los Gatos Brewing Company, now draws in the crowds at The Table in San Jose’s Willow Glen neighborhood and his just-opened Campbell bar, The Vesper. Coming soon will be his seafood restaurant, Forthright in Campbell.

In 2014, he opened Stumpy’s hot dog and burger joint on Willow Glen’s well-trafficked Lincoln Avenue. It’s a slip of a place, with just enough room to order your food at the counter and load up on a few condiments at the back station.

Order the food inside; pick it up outside at the window.

Order the food inside; pick it up outside at the window.

When your order is ready, you pick it up at the window outside. There’s really no place to eat inside Stumpy’s. But the old movie theater next door has a few patio tables set up so you can enjoy your food there. Or you can opt to get it to-go and take it home, as I did when I paid my own tab there recently.

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Giddy Over Cassia In Santa Monica

The Asian charcuterie platter at Cassia.

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.

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