The lovely aroma of soft citrus, grassy leaves, and green tea wafts gently from a bottle of Suntory’s Roku Gin.
It’s no surprise that this Japanese gin, of which I received a sample, evokes the lightness and freshness of spring. After all, “roku” means “six” in Japanese, and this gin is crafted with six Japanese botanicals that were harvested at peak season in spring. They include: sakura (cherry blossom) flowers and leaves, Sencha tea, Gyokura tea, Sansho pepper, and yuzu peel.
The result is a smooth sip with juniper and coriander much more dialed down in favor of delicate yet complex floral and lemon-mandarin orange characteristics that give way at the very end to a subtle peppery pop.
Enjoy it in a G&T or muddled with strawberries or raspberries.
Cheers: Roku Gin comes in a weighty glass bottle etched with cherry blossoms, making it perfect for gift-giving.
Yebiga Bela Rakija
If you’ve never had or heard of Rakija, you’re in good company.
My curiosity about this Balkan fruit brandy was piqued when I received a sample of Yebiga Bela Rakija recently. It’s importer, surprisingly enough, is Bill Gould, bassist for the San Francisco rock band, Faith No More.
Chef-Owner Jeffrey Stout weathered not only three years of permit approvals and construction, but a worldwide pandemic, to finally open his splashy new Be.Steak.A.
For diners, it was more than worth the wait.
The fine-dining Italian-influenced steakhouse playfully named for the classic Italian steak known as bistecca Fiorentina, initially was limited to only takeout during the pandemic. But now, with both indoor and outdoor seating available, it can be enjoyed in its full glory.
Whereas his Orchard City Kitchen, just steps away in the same Pruneyard complex, presents a casual and eclectic array of global small plates, Be.Steak.A is pure luxe. It’s where 5 ounces of Hokkaido Snow Beef (aka A5 strip loin) with a “snow” of cacio e pepe will set you back $288. And no, that’s not a typo. It’s where food is presented on famed Italian blue and white ceramics by Richard Ginori. But it’s also a restaurant that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s not stuffy in the least, not when deeply bronzed beef fat popovers ($9) with smoky deviled ham butter (like the most elevated version ever of Underwood Deviled Ham) and pickled cucumbers is served under a cloche shaped like a lounging pig.
When you check in at the host stand, you’re presented with a soothing cup of warm bone broth. As you’re escorted to your table, you pass a huge long window that affords a direct view into the kitchen, all done up in stainless steel with accents of lipstick-red all around. If you happen to time it just right, you might even get to see cooks making pasta by hand at a massive table in front of the window.
Pomp & Whimsy is actually a gin liqueur. It’s gin that’s been distilled, then twice-infused with a botanical liqueur, then re-distilled with 16 botanicals, including juniper, coriander, grapefruit, orange, lychee, cucumber and jasmine pearls.
It was created by sociologist Dr. Nicola Nice in 2017, and was inspired by Victorian times. Nice was perplexed that there was no spirit that appealed to women in the same way that men naturally gravitated toward flights of whiskey, scotch or bourbon when they got together to unwind. When she learned that gin was sold in barrels during Victorian times and often blended with sugar or other flavorings by retailers to create gin cordials, she ran with that idea.
Pomp & Whimsy ($34) comes in a stout, bourbon-like bottle. Its taste, as I found when I received a sample bottle, is profoundly of lychees, bitter orange, grapefruit, lime, and honeysuckle flowers. Juniper, which often lends a medicinal quality that turns off some folks, is present, but just barely. There’s a sweet, almost syrupy or viscous quality, too.
Its name in Italian means “pause,” which I’m sure is the button we all wish we could hit for a respite from the previous year. But San Mateo’s Pausa does the next best thing — serving up to-go Italian specialties that are so delicious we can forget the challenging times we’re still in right now, at least for a moment.
Veneto, Italy-born chef Andrea Giuliani and co-owner Steven Ugur imbue the food with true Italian soulfulness. Just consider the pizzas, with crusts made from a special blend of flours imported from Italy, that bake up over almond wood with blistered edges. Even at the restaurant (when dine-in is allowed), the pizzas arrive uncut. Same with takeout. At the restaurant, you get a pair of scissors to portion it out, yourself. At home, just use kitchen shears to do the work.
Like all the pizzas, the sausage one ($22) sports a crisp crust that’s chewy-tender, bready in some parts with a nice little hint of salt. It has the long-developed flavor of an artisan boule. The crumbled, house-made sausage and house-made mozzarella are the perfect complements to the sweet-fruity tomato sauce.
For something unique, try the pizza zucca & lardo ($22) that tastes of autumn with its sweet butternut squash puree, caramelized onions and cabbage, slices of tender delicata squash, fresh rosemary, and of course, long, paper-thin shavings of cured pork fat that fairly melt in your mouth.
As someone who rarely used to order takeout, I never thought I’d be turning my annual Top 10 list of the year’s best dishes into one centered solely on food picked up at restaurants to enjoy in my own home.
But 2020 has been like no year we’ve ever experienced.
It was more difficult than usual to cull my favorite eats down to only 10 mentions, because every restaurant or bakery that I visited has something wonderful to offer in these most challenging time. What’s more, each place I visited this year deserves an enormous thanks and pat on the back for persevering in this extremely difficult situation.
With 2021 around the corner, and the beginnings of a very slow return to normalcy just inching forward, I hope you’ll join me in continuing to support your local restaurants by getting takeout. Do pick up the food yourself if you can, rather than relying on delivery apps that eat into the already slim margins that restaurants reap from your order.
Without further ado, in no particular order, here are my Top 10 takeout picks of 2020.