Category Archives: Restaurants

Bestia’s Butter-Topped Banana Bread

Half a stick of melted butter gets brushed on top before this banana bread gets a shower of sugar, too.

Half a stick of melted butter gets brushed on top before this banana bread gets a shower of sugar, too.

 

I often kid myself that pumpkin bread, zucchini bread, carrot cake and banana bread verge on being healthy because they contain fruit and veggies.

But who’s kidding who?

Clearly, that con won’t even get off the ground when you’re confronted with “Butter-Topped Banana Bread.”

Yes, two loaves with intense banana flavor, a mountain of walnuts and 1/2 a stick of melted butter drizzled abundantly on top of each one of them.

Uh, there is calcium in butter, right?

This lavish rendition of a staple baked good comes from “Bestia: Italian Recipes Created in the Heart of L.A.” (Ten Speed Press, 2018), of which I received a review copy.

Bestia Cookbook

It’s by husband-and-wife chef team, Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis of Bestia in Los Angeles; and Lesley Suter, the former deputy editor for Los Angeles magazine.

Menashe (executive chef) and Gergis (pastry chef) opened their wildly popular Italian restaurant in the LA Arts District in 2012 long before that area became a destination. They hit a home-run with that first restaurant. That was followed in 2018 by Bavel, their Middle Eastern restaurant that hit it out of the park.

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Valette’s Is A Healdsburg Favorite For Good Reason

A place loved by locals and tourists alike.

A place loved by locals and tourists alike.

 

You know a restaurant has got it going on when it is packed on a Monday night.

The start of the week is typically a sleepy night for most restaurants. But not for Valette in downtown Healdsburg. On a recent Monday night, when I dropped in to dine at the bar solo (paying my own tab at the end), the place was bustling shortly after opening at 5:15 p.m.

Chef Dustin Valette and his brother Aaron Garzini opened the beloved restaurant in 2015 in the same property that their great-grandfather once owned. They turned it into a convivial space, with warm polished wood, big hefty leather bar chairs, and a golden glow from globe chandeliers.

Dustin was off that night. But I did get to meet his father, who in his mid-70s, still flies for the state Department of Forestry, responding to forest fires, including the devastating fires in Napa and Sonoma in the last two years.

Ahi poke that stands out from the pack.

Ahi poke that stands out from the pack.

When Dustin was a kid, his father would take him to school — dropping him off in his plane — because it was quicker than the school bus. How’s that for one cool ride?

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A Taste of Okinawa in San Francisco’s Castro District

This is soba Okinawan-style -- yes, with egg wheat noodles -- at Izakaya Sushi Ran.

This is soba Okinawan-style — yes, with egg wheat noodles — at Izakaya Sushi Ran.

 

Owner Yoshi Tome came to my table at his Izakaya Sushi Ran in San Francisco, bearing bottles of awamori for me to try.

The unique clear Japanese spirit is made only in Okinawa, where he is from. Like sake, it is made from rice. But while sake is brewed, awamori is distilled, making it far more potent.

When I asked if Okinawans ever drank sake, Tome emphatically shook his head, saying, “No. They drink only three things: beer, whiskey and awamori. And they drink awamori neat — just poured over ice.”

Since Okinawans are among the longest living people in the world, they must be doing something right.

Owner Yoshi Tome.

Owner Yoshi Tome.

I can’t vouch for whether dining at the Castro District restaurant, which opened in December, will give you extra longevity. But it will definitely give you delicious insight into the region’s cuisine and drink, as I found out when I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant recently.

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Sidle Into Chop Bar

A bountiful burger with blue cheese, avocado and bacon at Chop Bar.

A bountiful burger with blue cheese, avocado and bacon at Chop Bar.

 

Chop Bar in Oakland is named for the West African term for a roadside bar-restaurant that’s a true gathering place for the community. And it fits that description to a “T.”

It’s like a hipper version of the Cheers bar, a warm space where regulars are recognized and newcomers made to feel welcome, as my husband and I were when we visited one recent Sunday, paying our own tab at the end.

Owners Chris Pastena and Lev Delany opened the convivial spot in 2009 in Jack London Square. It’s a compact space with a few tables and a good number of counter seats at the bar. Later this summer, Pastena and Delany will be moving Chop Bar across the street to a roomier location, a dream come true for the duo.

In the summer, the floor-to-ceiling windows are rolled up to bring the outdoors in.

In the summer, the floor-to-ceiling garage-door windows are rolled up to bring the outdoors in.

On a lazy late-afternoon, we dropped into Chop Bar. We were too late for lunch but too early for dinner. Fortunately, it has an “in-between” menu, 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., that offered plenty of choices, and which many people were taking advantage of because the place was packed even at 4:30 p.m.

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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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