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.
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.
Enjoy soft serve and a whole lot more at Handline.
Sebastopol, CA — On a summery day in this Wine Country town, there’s no better place to plant yourself than at a table at Handline, the sunny restaurant that opened last year in an old Foster’s Freeze.
Restaurateur Lowell Sheldon and his girlfriend Chef Natalie Goble also operate the decade-old Peter Lowell’s nearby. I was invited earlier this spring to be a guest at both of the restaurants.
You’ll almost always find a crowd at this breezy restaurant, which has plenty of outdoor seating and windows that open completely to let the outdoors in. Order at the counter, then find a table, where your food will be brought to you.
The small parking lot fills up fast, so go early, if you can.
The fun interior.
It specializes in California coastal cuisine. Much of the produce at both their restaurants is sourced from their own farm, which grows everything from tomatoes to squashes to kiwis. Goble learned the art of tortilla-making from the folks at El Molina Central in Boyes Hot Springs. Like them, she also starts with masa made from scratch, which makes all the difference in bringing out the true corn flavor.
Chef Jason Tuley with his wood-fired pizza oven in the background at Contrada.
On an early Saturday evening in San Francisco’s Cow Hollow neighborhood, people were still making their way to bars and restaurants.
But one place was already bustling and nearly full — Contrada.
It’s easy to see why. The Italian restaurant, which opened in January, is the kind of place that’s easy to go to and easy to like. On that Saturday, when I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant, there were groups of hipster guys, families with toddlers, gal groups, and everything in between. It’s the kind of place you head to when you’re meeting friends for a casual night out or want an old-standby, where you know you’ll leave satisfied.
The long, slender restaurant boasts a walnut bar, antique mirrors and reclaimed wood panels on the walls that sort of look like a Jenga game gone wild. There’s a patio in the back, too, where you can dine al fresco on a nice summer night.
The bar area at the entrance.
Artful reclaimed wood on the walls.
Chef Jason Tuley, late of TBD in San Francisco, and Picco Restaurant and Pizzeria in Larkspur, oversees the kitchen. The pastas are made in-house in the production room downstairs. And the pizzas cooked in the wood-fired Italian oven.
Home-made bison burger flavored with the new Bourbon Pub burger seasoning.
Bay Area Chef Michael Mina has so many restaurants around the country now that I can hardly keep track of them all. Now, he’s bringing a taste of his Bourbon Pub in Santa Clara to your backyard barbecues with his new line of burger seasonings and relishes sold at Williams-Sonoma.
I had a chance to sample one of the seasonings, the Classic.
Ca’ Momi holds three certifications for authentic Italian pizza.
Veneto-born Chef-Restaurateur Valentina Guolo-Migotto proudly says that when Italians dine at her Napa restaurant, Ca’ Momi, they tell her the food is better than what’s in Italy.
That pleases her to no end.
It’s easy to agree heartily after eating there, too, as I did earlier this spring when I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant.
This is one of those places, where you want to shout to the rafters, “Where have you been all my life?”
Because it is that glorious.
It is a touch of Italy — the real Italy — in the Napa Valley.
The fun bar, well stocked with Italian amaro.
It’s always “movie night” here.
The rustic downtown restaurant makes most everything in-house, even its own wines, beer, vodka and gin. They’re also experimenting with making amaro, the bitter Italian herbal spirit, of which they have a large selection to choose from.