View all posts filed under 'Restaurants'

TBD Fires It Up

Friday, 14. February 2014 5:26

A glorious BN Ranch ribeye for two at TBD.

A glorious BN Ranch ribeye for two at TBD.

 

Owner Matt Semmelhack and Executive Chef-Owner Mark Liberman have a playful way when it comes to naming their San Francisco restaurants.

Their first? AQ, which stands for “As Quoted,” the phrase used in place of a specific price on a menu for seasonal, specialty dishes.

Their newest? TBD, which of course stands for “To Be Determined.”

It’s a nod to the fact that fire’s tamability decides the dishes. That’s because the main mode of cooking here is by live fire via a massive, hand-cranked, multi-adjustable grill.

You get a sense of the powerfulness of this, particularly if you sit at a table opposite the flames. Even on a very chilly night, as when I dined there, I was plenty roasty-toasty as I sat with my back to the blazing grill.

Cooking by fire.

Cooking by fire.

Wood is a major theme here.

Wood is a major theme here.

Imagine a hipster lumberjack as the ideal customer, and you get an idea of the vibe here. There are animal heads on the wall, dramatically stacked cords of wood, and specially designed wood tables with drawers that pull out to reveal your menu and silverware.

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Category:Chefs, General, Restaurants | Comments (5) | Author:

Hanging Out at Bar Terra in St. Helena

Friday, 7. February 2014 5:25

Chef-Owner Hiro Sone's likeness is the focal point of the bar at Bar Terra.

Chef-Owner Hiro Sone’s likeness is the focal point of the bar at Bar Terra.

In the Napa Valley, there are two Michelin three-star restaurants (the French Laundry and the Restaurant at Meadowood), plus a host of other swank, white-tablecloth establishments.

But sometimes what you’re in the mood for is something a little more casual. Something a little more eclectic. Yet still refined in execution.

Bar Terra fits that to a “T.”

Three years ago, Chef-Owner Hiro Sone and his wife, Pastry Chef-Owner Lissa Doumani, remodeled their 26-year-old, award-winning Terra restaurant in St. Helena. The doorway divides the two dining rooms. On the left remains the elegant, hushed Terra. On the right was created Bar Terra, a more laid-back, livelier spot with a liquor license that brought forth a new cocktail menu with the likes of the “Hirotini” (Sveda vodka, sake, ginger and cucumber; $10).

You’ll find locals filling the chairs at Bar Terra, nightly. Doumani makes the rounds, greeting every familiar face. And there are plenty of them.

It’s easy to see the attraction: Bar Terra’s prices are lower than Terra. You can come in jeans. And you can even mix and match — ordering off either Terra’s or Bar Terra’s menu or both.

That’s exactly what I did when a friend and I dined there over the winter. Although we paid our tab, dessert was on the house, compliments of Sone and Doumani, who knew us both.

Abalone and shrimp -- from the Terra menu that you still can enjoy if you want at Bar Terra.

Abalone and shrimp — from the Terra menu that you still can enjoy if you want at Bar Terra.

We stuck mostly to the Bar Terra menu with one exception: The salad of Ezo abalone with shrimp, butter beans, fennel and pickled Meyer lemon ($18.50) from the Terra menu just called out to me. It’s hard to resist fresh abalone the rare times it appears on a menu. It didn’t disappoint, either, with its sweet, tender yet toothsome flesh brightened by the citrus.

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A Perfect Valentine’s Day Pairing, Dessert For Dinner, and More

Monday, 3. February 2014 5:27

A Valentine's Day gift that keeps on giving. (Photo courtesy of Eden Canyon Vineyards)

A Valentine’s Day gift that keeps on giving. (Photo courtesy of Eden Canyon Vineyards)

Eden Canyon’s Perfect Pair

Sure, I’m biased, but I do think that Eden Canyon Vineyards has come up with the perfect pairing for Valentine’s Day.

It’s a signed copy of my cookbook, San Francisco Chef’s Table (Lyons Press), along with a bottle of its 2010 “Estate” Cabernet Sauvignon, which won a gold medal in the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

The $55.95 “Perfect Pair” gift set is just the ticket to set the mood. Uncork the wine, and cozy up to one another as you leaf through the book together to plan your next cooking adventure or the next Bay Area restaurant you most want to visit.

The winery, the only estate-owned Filipino-American one in the country, is in the Paso Robles Appellation. The wine is made by Danny Villamin and his daughter, Elaine Blackaby.

Presidio Social Club Cocktails To Take Home

If you’ve visited Presidio Social Club in San Francisco, you know they make a mean retro cocktail.

Now, they’ve bottled two for you to enjoy easily at home.

All ready to take home. (Photo courtesy of the Presidio Social Club)

All ready to take home. (Photo courtesy of the Presidio Social Club)

Choose between the Barrel Aged Negroni made with gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari; or the Barrel Aged Reasons Rye, a blend of rye, punt e mes, Cointreau and orange bitters.

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Category:Chefs, Enticing Events, General, Restaurants, Spirits/Cocktails/Beer, Wine | Comments (4) | Author:

Exploring California Gold Country, Part II

Wednesday, 22. January 2014 5:26

Mushroom cigars at Taste Restaurant.

Mushroom cigars at Taste Restaurant.

In the Bay Area, we admittedly get spoiled by the plethora of restaurants in our midst.

But Gold Country definitely has got it going on with good eats, too.

Thanks to the tourism bureaus in Folsom, El Dorado, Amador and Sacramento for inviting me to be their guest on a three-day trip (including meals and accommodations) to explore the restaurant scene. Here are the highlights:

Taste Restaurant in Plymouth

With less than 1,000 residents and a dusty main street so compact you would almost miss it if you blinked, Plymouth in Amador County is hardly the place you’d expect to find as stylish and creative a farm-to-table restaurant as Taste.

Chef Mark Berkner and wife Tracey, who runs the front of the house, have created nothing less than a true gem here.  It’s lured tourists from afar, locals day after day, and even merited a mention in the New York Times. The couple has a real knack for opening places in what some might deem nowhere’s-ville and turning them into destination dining. Consider that before they opened Taste, they owned and operated the St. George Hotel and its restaurant in Volcano, CA — population 115. Yes, you read that right.

Dining at Taste is a warm, welcoming experience with dishes that will delight.

You can graze on small plates or order a full-on entree. The menu changes seasonally and features house-cured lamb bacon and duck prosciutto.

Sweetbreads and waffles? Yes, yes, yes!

Sweetbreads and waffles? Yes, yes, yes!

The night I was there, the restaurant featured a clever take on chicken and waffles. Only the chicken was swapped out for fried sweetbreads ($14) atop a vanilla-infused waffle all crowned with grilled nectarines, smoked maple syrup and salted peanut brittle. It was down-home yet uptown at the same time. An amazing dish.

The one dish that never leaves the menu is the Mushroom Cigars ($9.5). The crisp, phyllo logs hold a center of crimini, shiitake and oyster mushrooms fortified with creamy goat cheese.

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Exploring California Gold Country, Part I

Monday, 20. January 2014 5:25

Karen Holmes of Karen's Bakery & Cafe in Folsom.

Karen Holmes of Karen’s Bakery & Cafe in Folsom.

As a native San Franciscan, I sheepishly admit I haven’t explored much of California Gold Country.

I vaguely remember playing at panning for gold once as a child somewhere in the vicinity, but beyond that, Sacramento, Amador and El Dorado counties have largely been seen from the freeway on the way to somewhere else.

Thanks to the tourism bureaus in Folsom, El Dorado, Amador and Sacramento,  I finally had a chance to see that area up-close, when I was invited as their guest over three days late last year to taste, explore and experience.

Here are highlights from that trip, which I hope will inspire you to get to know that region better, too.

Karen’s Bakery & Cafe in Folsom

Karen’s Bakery & Cafe is reason enough alone to stop in Folsom.

Karen Holmes opened this wonderful bakery in 2000, which has become so popular that you’ll almost always find a line to get outside, especially since it’s located near popular hiking and biking trails that bring famished weekend warriors right to her door for plum galettes, fig scones, and Tebirkes (a tradtiional almond paste danish).

The pastry case brimming with goodies.

The pastry case brimming with goodies.

Holmes is a former school teacher, whose mother took her family to Europe regularly, especially to its fine patisseries. As a teacher she baked banana bread for PTA events that became such a sensation that colleagues encouraged her to open a bakery.

A talent for baking and cooking obviously runs in the family as her son, Duncan Holmes is the chef de cuisine at San Francisco’s Sons & Daughters. In fact, in his teenage years, he’d ride his bike over to his mom’s bakery to help wash dishes after school before going home to hunker down to his homework. Both mother and son are self-taught.

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Category:Bakeries, Chefs, Enticing Events, Fruit, General, Great Finds, Restaurants, Travel Adventures | Comments (4) | Author: