Category Archives: Restaurants

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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Dining At Street Social

Fabulous fried soft shell crab with XO sauce at Street Social.
Fabulous fried soft shell crab with XO sauce at Street Social.

Petaluma’s Street Social is one idiosyncratic restaurant.

Unlike almost any other restaurant you can name, it’s not regularly open for dinner on Saturday nights. Instead, it operates from Tuesday through Friday, and is occasionally open on a rare Saturday evening. Go figure.

The dining room is teeny-tiny, probably smaller than some folks’ walk-in-closets, with space for all of six tables inside.

The restaurant has no street presence, but is tucked inside — way inside — the historic, century-old Lan Mart Building. In fact, its “outdoor” dining area comprises a couple compact tables in the brick walkway inside the building, near a warren of small boutiques.

In short, Street Social is a place you could easily pass right by without knowing it even existed.

But know about it you should.

The diminutive dining room.
The diminutive dining room.
The restaurant has only six tables inside, and one is up on the mezzanine.
The restaurant has only six tables inside, and one is up on the mezzanine.

That’s because it comes armed with has serious cred. Husband-and-wife, Chef Jevon Martin and mixologist Marjorie Pier met while working at Chef Jeremy Fox’s Rustic Canyon in Santa Monica. That was followed by stints in Los Angeles at Ford’s Filling Station by Chef Ben Ford (Harrison’s son), and Lucques by Chef Suzanne Goin, before the couple relocated to Sonoma County, where Martin was executive sous chef at Ari Weisswasser’s Glen Ellen Star.

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Experiencing The Inn At Newport Ranch

A picnic-like dinner delivered to my room at the Inn at Newport Ranch.
A picnic-like dinner delivered to my room at the Inn at Newport Ranch.

Fort Bragg, CA — Will Jackson, a retired Wall Street investment manager on the East Coast, had never set foot on this rugged and picturesque Mendocino coast before. Even so, when he spied a for-sale ad in the Wall Street Journal in 1985 for an 850-acre cattle ranch here with more than a mile of oceanfront land, he grew intrigued.

So much so that he called a friend who lived in the area and asked him to go investigate. The friend’s verdict? That Jackson ought to high-tail it out this way to snap it up.

He did just that, falling in love at first sight. In 1986, Jackson took over the property, which back then had only a small B&B.

In 2016, he officially opened The Inn at Newport Ranch, an intimate luxury inn that boasts 10 distinct accommodations, plus a gourmet restaurant that’s open only to guests.

Over the years, he’s expanded the property to more than 2,200 sweeping acres. I had a chance to explore this secluded property recently when I was invited to stay as a guest of the inn.

The inn.
The inn.
A sitting area inside the main building.
A sitting area inside the main building.
The more formal private dining room.
The more formal private dining room.

About a 3 1/2-hour drive north of San Francisco, the last mile or so on Highway 1 will take you on winding turns surrounded by breathtaking, old-growth redwoods. The oft-present foggy mist will eventually reveal the California ranch-style inn built next to a majestic cypress tree that’s more than 130 years old.

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Michelin-Acclaimed Vancouver Eats, Part II: Pidgin

The incredible foie gras rice bowl at Pidgin.
The incredible foie gras rice bowl at Pidgin.

Vancouver, CANADA — Should I admit that I ended up booking a reservation at Pidgin solely because of one dish that I spotted on the menu?

That dish is pictured above in all its majesty: foie gras rice bowl with unagi glaze.

And I’m here to report that it was epic.

You see, my husband and I, unfortunately live in a state in the United States that has for years has banned restaurants from serving and selling foie gras. So, when we were planning a trip to the Great White North, the first thing my husband uttered was “I’m eating some foie gras!” And did he ever. Not just here, but at our hotel restaurant, the Alouette Bistro, where he chowed down on a bountiful burger with a small lobe of seared fatty duck liver on the side.

The bar at Pidgin.
The bar at Pidgin.
Michelin fun.
Michelin fun.

Foie gras is not the only thing to celebrate about Pidgin, which, after all, is Michelin Guide-recommended.

There’s so much more to relish at Chef Wesley Young’s restaurant, where the food is bold and at times irreverent.

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