Category Archives: Great Finds

The Tasting Menu Experience at Michelin-Starred Protege

An artful sea trout-stuffed crepe heaped with caviar at Protege.
An artful sea trout-stuffed crepe heaped with caviar at Protege.

I have enjoyed the exquisite food at Palo Alto’s Michelin-starred Protege many a time.

In the lounge with the a la carte menu. Dining outdoors on the same. And even with takeout during the throes of the pandemic.

But I had never ever tried the tasting menu that’s offered in the restaurant’s more intimate dining room.

Until last week — when I finally decided it was the perfect time to do so to celebrate a late-birthday dinner.

It’s a 7-course menu for $225 with an automatic 20 percent gratuity tacked on that requires a full prepayment. Any cancellation must be made at least 48 hours in advance.

Unlike the lounge, which has a bar with seating and an view into the kitchen, the dining room is more serene, done up with a tufted banquette and curved leather chairs.

Co-owners, Chef Anthony Secviar (right) and Master Sommelier Dennis Kelly (left).
Co-owners, Chef Anthony Secviar (right) and Master Sommelier Dennis Kelly (left).

Owners, Chef Anthony Secviar and Master Sommelier Dennis Kelly, met while working at the French Laundry. So, it’s not surprising that there is an air of precision to everything. What’s not so expected is the touch of whimsy and light-heartedness here and there. It all makes for an upscale experience that makes you feel well cared yet in an unpretentious manner.

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Dining at Fish & Bird Izakaya

An agedashi tofu that comes loaded with extras -- at Fish & Bird.
An agedashi tofu that comes loaded with extras — at Fish & Bird.

This gem of a place called Fish & Bird serves both those things, plus a whole lot more.

The name of this Berkeley izakaya was actually inspired by the Tom Waits song of the same about a bird that falls in love with a whale.

Likewise, it won’t take much for you to become infatuated with this Michelin-recognized place that serves modern Japanese shareable small plates inspired by seasonal California ingredients.

That’s what I found when I dined with my husband after taking in a matinee of Berkeley Rep’s rock musical, “Galileo,” that’s only about a 12-minute walk away. (By the way, Raul Esparza — you know him from “Law & Order: SVU” — and Madalynn Mathews are spellbinding as father and daughter in this production.)

The izakaya sports an open kitchen, bar seating and tables.
The izakaya sports an open kitchen, bar seating and tables.

Even on an early Sunday evening, Fish & Bird was full of diners eager to enjoy Chef Asuka Uchida’s food. A native of Japan who grew up with parents who owned a restaurant, she actually focused on French cuisine at the start of her career, which took her to Australia, then New York where she staged at the acclaimed Corton, before moving to the Bay Area to cook at Spruce in San Francisco and B-Dama in Oakland.

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Gilda’s Salon in San Francisco: Where Art and Food Converge

Spicy pork two ways, a dish at Gilda's Salon that was inspired by a Southeast Asian painted tapestry at the Asian Art Museum
Spicy pork two ways, a dish at Gilda’s Salon that was inspired by a Southeast Asian painted tapestry at the Asian Art Museum

At Gilda’s Salon in San Francisco’s Proper Hotel, artistry on the plates has taken on a whole new meaning.

That’s because the special dinner series held in this swank room every other Friday night was inspired by actual artwork on display at the nearby Asian Art Museum.

Executive Chef Jason Fox and his team created this provocative 10-course menu after a fun fact-finding trip to the museum to study its exhibits.

This particular menu will be available at least through the end of July, at which time it is expected to change. It is $150 per person with an optional $60 pairing with Napa’s Ashes & Diamonds wines.

I had a chance to experience it last week, when I was invited in as a guest.

The lobby of the Proper Hotel in San Francisco.
The lobby of the Proper Hotel in San Francisco.
Gilda's Salon -- the setting for these special dinners.
Gilda’s Salon — the setting for these special dinners.

Designer to the stars Kelly Wearstler is responsible for the maximalist style of the hotel, where a bevy of colors, artwork, and eye-popping patterns somehow come together in harmony.

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Artisan Chocolates with Filipino Flair

If life is like a box of  chocolates, this one will transport you to a far-off land.
If life is like a box of chocolates, this one will transport you to a far-off land.

It’s hard to believe that as a kid, Daniel Corpuz refused to eat anything except plain white rice.

Because what he creates now as an adult is full of brilliantly bold flavors.

His medium?

Chocolate. As in dazzling, hand-crafted bonbons with many fillings inspired by his Filipino heritage.

He started Daniel Corpuz Chocolatier in New York City after working as a pastry chef at renowned fine-dining establishments, The Modern at MoMA, Manhatta, and One White Street.

A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, he shifted to concentrating on chocolates following the pandemic. It landed him a spot on Netflix’s “School of Chocolate” in 2021, hosted by the celebrated pastry chef, Amaury Guichon.

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For The Love of Crispy Bits

Use your oven and a preheated sheet pan for the crispiest fried rice you'll ever enjoy.
Use your oven and a preheated sheet pan for the crispiest fried rice you’ll ever enjoy.

Raise your hand if you covet those cooked grains of rice that turn golden and ever so crispy on the bottom of the pan.

Then, “Sheet Pan ‘Fried’ Rice” is made for you.

Because this is fried rice that’s cooked not in a wok or saute pan on the stovetop, but in the oven on a sheet pan that’s preheated until it’s blazing hot.

That means far more surface area for the rice to come in contact with to turn exceptionally toasty and crunchy.

This genius recipe is from “Hot Sheet” (Harvest), of which I received a review copy.

The cookbook was written by Olga Massov, an editor at the Washington Post’s Food section; and Sanaë Lemoine, a novelist and former cookbook editor, who worked at Martha Stewart and Phaidon Press.

As the title implies, this book is all about recipes made on a sheet pan, one of the hardest working and most useful pans in our kitchens.

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