Category Archives: Wine

For A “Bargain” Tasting Menu, Head to Commonwealth

Spring asparagus with an unusual potato salad at Commonwealth.

Spring asparagus with an unusual potato salad at Commonwealth.

 

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a chef mention this restaurant as the place they most like to eat on their day off or as the establishment they’d most like theirs to emulate, I’d be doing very well indeed.

Such is the respect that Commonwealth has garnered.

The Michelin-starred restaurant opened in 2010 in an old donut shop in San Francisco. In fact, the Mission District restaurant not only sports the old donut mural on the side of the building, but possesses something truly rare in San Francisco — its own parking lot. It is a fairly small lot, though, so you still have to be lucky to snag a space.

Chef-Owner Jason Fox oversees the open kitchen in the compact dining room, which means it is worthwhile to make a reservation. My husband and I, who were invited to dine as guests of the restaurant on a recent Saturday night, saw a few walk-ins turned away because the restaurant just gets that booked.

Located in a former donut shop.

Located in a former donut shop.

Some bubbly to accompany the first couple of courses.

Some bubbly to accompany the first couple of courses.

While there is an a la carte menu, what really makes Commonwealth stand out is its tasting menu. In the Bay Area, where many tasting menus have prompted ire for their stratospheric prices that now reach well beyond $300 per person, Commonwealth’s is all of $85 per person ($140 total per person with wine pairings) for about seven courses. Even the “chef’s extended menu” is a relatively moderate $125 per person ($195 total per person with wine pairings) for about 14 courses, which is the option we went for.

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First Look At the Hotly Anticipated Protege

Gilded hush puppies on a bed of popped sorgham at the new Protege in Palo Alto.

Gilded hush puppies on a bed of popped sorgham at the new Protege in Palo Alto.

 

After more than a year of permitting and construction delays, Protege, arguably the most highly anticipated restaurant around, finally opened its doors to the public on Tuesday.

Passersby have been peeking in the windows for months, streaking them with hand prints and even nose prints, so eager to experience this restaurant by French Laundry alums, Executive Chef Anthony Secviar and Master Sommelier Dennis Kelly. They are joined by Pastry Chef Eddie Lopez, who also hails from the French Laundry, as well as Grace in Chicago and Vintage Cave in Honolulu.

With that kind of culinary star-wattage, is it any wonder that the night this California Avenue restaurant quietly debuted, there were already half a dozen people anxiously waiting outside half an hour beforehand to be one of the very first inside?

Head Chef Anthony Secviar readying a dish a few weeks before the grand opening.

Head Chef Anthony Secviar readying a dish a few weeks before the grand opening.

The kitchen on opening night.

The kitchen on opening night.

I was one of them, along with two friends, snagging seats at the chic, back-lighted bar, and paying our tab at the end. There are purse hooks underneath, of course, along with some of the most comfy nappa leather bar stools I’ve ever sat in.

Sit on the stools closest to the kitchen and you can peer in at all the activity as Secviar calls out the orders, and the cooks all respond in unison, “Oui, Chef!”

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Enoteca La Storia Invigorates San Jose’s Little Italy

The Beginner's Luck cocktail.

The Beginner’s Luck cocktail.

 

If you’re already a fan of the original Enoteca La Storia in Los Gatos, you’re sure to embrace its big brother that’s more than three times the size that opened last year in San Jose’s Little Italy neighborhood.

Owners Joe Cannistraci, 52 of Sicilian heritage, and Mike Guerra, 53 of Calabrese heritage, are proud Italian-Americans who pay homage to Italian forebearers at each location. Cannistraci’s father owned a grocery in New York; while Guerra’s paternal grandfather and paternal great-grandfather both owned grocery stores in San Jose, and his maternal grandparents ran Hollister’s Villa Pace Italian restaurant.

The inside of this historic building has been fully refurbished. It is old Italy meets contemporary industrial with exposed brick and duct work, along with old black and white photos enlarged to pay respect to Italian families who helped shaped this valley. In fact, an assistant manager singled out one particular photo of the Italian family who used to run a bakery on this spot long ago. One of the babies in that photo, now all grown-up, recently came in and pointed out herself to the owners.

The main dining room.

The main dining room.

A mock-up receipt from the old bakery that used to operate on the site.

A mock-up receipt from the old bakery that used to operate on the site.

An old photo of the Murillo family that operated the bakery.

An old photo of the Murillo family that operated the bakery.

Old wood bread paddles from the bakery also are on display, as is a rendering of a receipt from the bakery, blown up to poster size.

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The Plumed Horse’s Trifecta

Chef Peter Armellino in his element at his new Pasta Armellino.

Chef Peter Armellino in his element at his new Pasta Armellino.

 

If you only know the Plumed Horse for being the chic Michelin one-starred restaurant in downtown Saratoga, wait until you hear what it’s been up to.

It’s added not one, but two sister properties just steps away.

The Plumed Horse Collection, as it’s now known, debuts today the casual Pasta Armellino across the street. I had a chance to check it out last week at a private media event.

It officially opens today.

It officially opens today.

San Francisco graffiti artist Chris Kondo's handiwork.

San Francisco graffiti artist Chris Kondo’s handiwork.

Executive Chef Peter Armellino, who’s headed the Plumed Horse for a decade, has expanded his reach with this 60-seat eatery that’s all about home-made pastas.

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Great China Restaurant Is Beyond Great

The best Peking duck you just might ever have --- at Great China.

The best Peking duck you just might ever have — at Great China.

 

The first clue that Berkeley’s family-run Great China is quite unlike any other mom-and-pop Chinese restaurant comes when you pull up to the front door.

Even on a Sunday evening at 4:30 p.m., you’re likely to find a line of about 30 people, waiting patiently for the doors to open a half hour later.

Once you step inside, you get your next clue. The restaurant may carry a moniker of generations past, but its interior is all clean-lines contemporary with concrete floors, exposed ducts,  a waterfall-edged wood bar countertop, polished wood tables, pendant lights and oversized abstract canvases on the walls.

The restaurant was established in 1985 by Mike and Jenny Yu. It is now run by their sons, James and Tai, the latter who designed the restaurant space after a catastrophic fire destroyed the original location a few blocks away in 2012.

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