Category Archives: Restaurants

A Maui Roadshow at Hapa Ramen

"Top Chef'' finalist Sheldon Simeon of Maui plates an appetizer at Hapa Ramen.

“Top Chef” finalist Sheldon Simeon of Maui plates an appetizer at Hapa Ramen.

 

Last week, a trio of Maui chefs brought their brand of modern aloha cooking to San Francisco.

And there was nary a macadamia-nut crusted mahi mahi to be seen.

Instead, Chefs Isaac Bancaco of Ka’ana Kitchen, Jeff Scheer of Maui Executive Catering, and “Top Chef” fan favorite Sheldon Simeon of Migrant, are part of the new wave of young chefs now adding a fresh spin to island cuisine by emphasizing local ingredients in dynamic preparations.

The trio showcased their cooking at invitation-only events last week at Hapa Ramen in the Mission. Call it a cross-cultural exchange, as Hapa Ramen Chef-Owner Richie Nakano is headed to Maui later this year to show off his California cooking chops.

A kitchen mascot at the pass at Hapa Ramen.

A kitchen mascot at the pass at Hapa Ramen.

Wall art.

Wall art.

HapaRamenBar

I was lucky enough to be invited to the dinner for media and travel industry folks.

Appropriately enough, the night started off with a pink-hued Rangoon Gimlet made with Maui Ocean Organic Vodka, lime and angostura.

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Scenes From Chefs’ Holidays 2015 at the Ahwahnee

Chef Duskie Estes' "S'mores in a Jar'' for sampling at Chefs' Holidays at the Ahwahnee.

Chef Duskie Estes’ “S’mores in a Jar” for sampling at Chefs’ Holidays at the Ahwahnee.

 

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CA — Featuring half a dozen renowned chefs — all with Bay Area ties and most of them familiar from the world of food TV — last week’s final sessions of Chefs’ Holidays for 2015 proved delectable, delightful and deliriously fun.

I was honored to be a host of Chefs’ Holidays at the Ahwahnee Hotel for a third straight year for the annual series of cooking demos and gala dinners.

Session 7 featured Chef Ron Siegel of Michael Mina Restaurant in San Francisco, who recounted his experience of being the first American chef to beat an Iron Chef on the original Japanese program. Siegel, who prepared the five-course gala dinner, revealed that he was most worried about cutting himself on the Japanese cooking show (he didn’t) and how he was glad the “secret ingredient” was lobster, rather than something really crazy like a live cow he’d have to milk on stage.

ChefsHolidaysSign

Yours truly, flanked by Chefs Ron Siegel, Kyle Itani and Hoss Zare.

Yours truly, flanked by Chefs Ron Siegel, Kyle Itani and Hoss Zare.

He was joined in that session by Chef Kyle Itani of Hopscotch in Oakland, who showed off the hand-forged Japanese knife he had made when he lived and studied in Japan; and by Chef Hoss Zare of The Fly Trap in San Francisco, who talked about how he wanted to be a brain surgeon when he was growing up.

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Run — Don’t Walk — To Orchard City Kitchen

"Beets & Butterfish'' -- one of the delights on the ever-changing menu at the new Orchard City Kitchen.

“Beets & Butterfish” — one of the delights on the ever-changing menu at the new Orchard City Kitchen.

 

It’s been a long two years in coming for Chef Jeffrey Stout.

The former opening chef-partner of Alexander’s Steakhouse in Cupertino, Stout was let go rather unceremoniously back then from that establishment, where he earned a Michelin star and maintained that rating for three years.

He set about to start over — this time with a more casual-style of dining with eclectic small plates that he could really put his own spin on.

The result is the wonderful new Orchard City Kitchen that opened just two months ago in Campbell’s Pruneyard. Last Wednesday night, the lively dining room was packed, a promising sign for a restaurant that has not done any marketing or public relations work. Indeed, Stout says he’s averaging over 200 covers a night already.

Chef-Owner Jeffrey Stout in the kitchen.

Chef-Owner Jeffrey Stout in the kitchen.

It’s easy to understand the restaurant’s appeal. It’s a come-as-your-are kind of place with favorite cookbooks and a Japanese Lucky Cat decorating shelves, and bare wood tables with a nifty bracket underneath to slide your wood board-backed menu into when you don’t need it anymore. A glass-fronted walk-in is visible at the back of the restaurant, lined with fresh fruits and veggies for all the world to see and to emphasize Stout’s farm-to-table philosophy. White subway tiles line the large open kitchen that Stout jokes is the “most open open-kitchen” there is because of the fact that the floor-to-ceiling, retractable windows opposite it in the dining room can open up and fold back completely, giving passersby a front-row view of the cooks at work.

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Napa Truffle Festival

Black Perigord truffles. The darker ones have been peeled already, hence their deeper black color.

Black Perigord truffles. The darker one has been peeled already, hence its more pronounced color.

 

Carefully tucked inside Chef Ken Frank’s walk-in at La Toque restaurant in Napa last weekend sat 20 pounds of prized black Perigord truffles. Valued at more than $13,000 — wholesale.

They were destined to be the highlight of dinners, cooking demos and special restaurant offerings during last weekend’s Napa Truffle Festival.

And they all came from Italy.

For the past five years that this festival has been held, all the truffles used have been picked in Italy and flown in three days later to Napa.

But some day soon — possibly as early as this coming winter — black Perigord truffles may be harvested right here in Wine Country.

That’s because a burgeoning industry is taking root in Napa and Sonoma counties, as vintners and other property owners are gambling on growing truffles.

The American Truffle Company, which organizes the festival, has partnered with these interested folks to sell and plant filbert and oak trees that have been inoculated with the truffle fungus.

Chef Ken Frank holding a plate of black truffle risotto with quail that was made in a demo by Chef Roberto Donna.

Chef Ken Frank holding a plate of black truffle risotto with quail that was made in a demo by Chef Roberto Donna.

Close-up of the risotto.

Close-up of the risotto.

Once the trees are planted, it takes about five years for truffles to form. This winter, the trees of vintner Robert Sinskey, the first local client that signed on with the American Truffle Company, will be reaching that mark. His may become the first Perigords to be harvested in Sonoma County. Already this year, teams of truffle-hunting dogs have shown a much greater interest in his 1 1/2-acre orchard than ever before, Sinskey says, indicating truffles may indeed be forming under his trees.

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Chef James Syhabout Helping Oakland Schools, Restaurant Weeks & More

Chef James Syhabout gives back to Oakland schools. (Photo courtesy of the chef)

Chef James Syhabout gives back to Oakland schools. (Photo courtesy of the chef)

Chef James Syhabout’s Dine About Oakland Public Schools Initiative

Oakland’s native son and only Michelin-starred chef, James Syhabout has launched “Dine About Oakland Public Schools.” Under the initiative, 5 percent of all sales in January at his Oakland restaurants, Hawker Fare, Box & Bells, The Dock, and Commis, will be donated to a designated Oakland school.

Through Jan. 17, proceeds will go to Claremont Middle School. From Jan. 18-24, funds will go to Chabot Elementary. And from Jan. 25-31, proceeds will benefit Oakland  Tech.

Restaurant Weeks

Chef James Syhabout’s Hawker Fare, Box & Bells, and The Dock also will be among the restaurants participating in Oakland Restaurant Week, Jan. 15-25.

For those 10 days, a slew of restaurants will be offering special prix-fixe lunch and/or dinner menus for $20, $30 and $40.

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