Category Archives: Featured U.S. City Posts

Burma Superstar: casual Burmese in the Richmond

Screen Shot 2013-11-05 at 5.34.31 PM

My friend Amy and I are going through the same angst of trying to make the most of our last days in San Francisco before we depart for the other side of the world. And while at times treating every meal and moment like their last can get stressful and monopolize the time I should theoretically be spending packing, studying, and preparing for my trip, I couldn’t imagine a more fun activity to devote my time to.

We’re checking off our must-tries rather quickly, and after a Sunday at the Tourist Club with Mayflower sandwiches and beers, we decided to move down the list to Burma Superstar, a popular Burmese restaurant in the Richmond. After living in SF for over two decades, I was surprised to have never heard about this place, which just shows what a bubble the Pac Heights / Marina area can be. But Burma Superstar is just one of the many diamonds in the rough on Clement Street.

After reading the many rave-reviews about this place (it was even on Food Network!), I was pumped to try it. And because I’m funemployed and heard that the wait can be horrendous, I arrived more than an hour before my two friends Amy and Sarah, which proved unnecessary on a Monday night. There was an average of 10-15 minute wait times for parties of 2-4, but I’m sure as the week progresses the wait gets longer.

Though we were seated at an awkward table practically inches from the kitchen, we could still appreciate the laid back charm at this place. No frills. But despite not having a hard-liquor license, they have an interesting selection of shochu, beer, and wine cocktails. Not knowing too much about Burmese food, we ordered what came recommended in our research and by our waitress. First, we started with one of my favorite things: the platha, a multi-layered, buttery fried bread that comes with a chicken curry dipping sauce that I could eat on top of rice for days. It’s addictive, and the bread is as crisp as a potato pancake. We then shared the two most popular salads, the tea leaf salad and the rainbow salad, which the waiter mixes a la table. The tea leaf salad comes with tea leaves that almost look like the wilted spinach in sag paneer, crunchy peanuts, and fried garlic that give so much texture and flavor to the crisp romaine lettuce. That said, I preferred the rainbow salad, a noodle salad with four types of noodles, a green papaya slaw, fried tofu, and a tamarind dressing. A platter that arrived to the table looking so bland turned into one of the most exciting Asian salads I’ve had.

platha goodness

platha goodness

waiter explaining salads pre-mixing

waiter explaining salads pre-mixing

Rainbow salad

Rainbow salad (photo from SF chronicle)

tea leaf salad

tea leaf salad

For our main, we shared the vegetable curry delux, a bowl of tomatoes, okra, squash, eggplant, and tofu jam-packed and simmering in an earthy lentil curry. As opposed to some curries I’ve tasted that have a measly portion of vegetables swimming in a ton of sauce, this one was very vegetable focused with the sauce as more of an afterthought, which I loved. The vegetables were different and the tomato really freshened up what otherwise was a pretty hearty dish. Delicious on the coconut rice topped with fried onions!

vegetable curry

vegetable curry

The best part about the meal was that despite eating what seemed like a ton of food, we didn’t feel sick or uncomfortable, which I attribute to the focus on vegetables and fresh ingredients. There is a ton to try on the menu, so next time I may go back with a few meat eaters to sample some of the chicken dishes that looked to die for. Definitely worth a visit if you like interesting, flavorful food in a relaxed setting with super friendly and efficient service.

Grade: A
Location: 309 Clement St between 4th Ave & 5th Ave
Website

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Filed under Asian, Featured U.S. City Posts, San Francisco

SusieCakes: another SF bakery to the rescue

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Thanks to SusieCakes, I now have a place where I can find the perfect slice of cake – chocolate, red velvet, coconut, or carrot cake-mood alike. The thing that gets me about most cupcake shops is that 1) they limit themselves to cupcakes when they could easily make cakes and 2) the cupcakes are laden with excess, sugary frosting, and 3) they are just too fancy for my taste. SusieCakes stocks their display case with a variety of beautifully frosted treats that are straight forward, homey, and scrumptious. It’s my west coast Amy’s Bread. My favorite? The red velvet mini cupcake, but for any homestyle flavor you’re craving, you really can’t go wrong here. They even sell SF Giants cupcakes.

tiny shop

tiny shop

red velvet

Halloween treats!

Halloween treats!

Definitely worth a special trip if you’re not in the neighborhood, or check out one of the 8 locations throughout California!

Grade: A+
Location: 2109 Chestnut btwn Steiner and Pierce Streets
Website

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Featured City Posts: digesting Nashville one meal at a time

Nashville

A cross country move followed by two best friends’ weddings and a series of small trips can seriously damage a routine blogging schedule, as you all know. And while life has settled slightly since I’ve arrived in San Francisco, and I have had a handful of amazing blog-worthy meals, I knew I needed something epic to report about to motivate me to start back up again. So praise be to Nashville.

While my primary purpose of taking the compulsory 6+ hour, 1-stop minimum flight from SF to visit Nashville was to see my long lost friend Lauren and her fiancé Sam, the trip quickly turned into a food tour of every spot that came recommended to me by either fellow foodies or recent visitors. And fortunately for me, Nasvhille is relatively small, so limited stomach-space aside, checking places off my list was fairly masterable.

And boy are there great places! I started off touring the 12-South neighborhood in search of a coffee, and found the Frothy Monkey (recommended by Lauren), a quintessential college-town hangout that looked like a Berkeley transplant. Despite the many affordable, delicious bagel sandwich options, Coffee and a raisin bran muffin was all I needed to tide me over until lunch, which I found at another stand-up-and-order college-town eatery, Fido. Fido is located on the restaurant lined 21st street in Hilsboro village, just blocks from Vanderbilt, so as expected, it has a hearty list of $10 or less sandwich and salad options to choose from. I went for the chopped salad, which while not quite enough for lunch, was the perfect healthy mix of cabbage, avocado, golden raisins, feta, peppers, and tangy lemon dressing to keep me only slightly satiated before an amazing dinner at City House in Germantown.

Frothy Monkey

Frothy Monkey

Fido Big Chop salad

Fido Big Chop salad

City House is a great name for the restaurant, which appears as a random white house with brightly lit windows on a somewhat deserted, tree-lined street. Escaping a cold dark night and entering this warm atmosphere gets you even more excited to be a part of the crew that was able to score a reservation. The place itself is minimalistic, but the lighting, approachable menu and flowing cocktails create a homey and familiar atmosphere. After a few grapefruit cocktails, Sam, Lauren and I split a kale salad, an incredible charred brick oven belly-ham pizza, a roast chicken to die for and a local trout with crispy skin and peanuts. Everything was mouthwatering, but an often-doubtful chicken eater (me) was made dumbfounded by this moist, intensely smokey dark meat with crackling skin. I might even say it was better than Barbuto’s. Dessert of chocolate panna cotta and a pecan tart rounded the meal out perfectly. There wasn’t one thing I would have changed!

City House

City House

amazing belly ham pizza

amazing belly ham pizza

springer mountain chicken with sweet roasted rhubarb

springer mountain chicken with sweet roasted red onion and rhubarb

Carolina trout with breadcrumbs, raisins, and peanuts

crisp Carolina trout with breadcrumbs, raisins, and peanuts

Sam so flabergasted by the delicious desserts

Sam so flabergasted by the delicious desserts

My satisfying City House experience only motivated me to continue on the food journey the next day, and thankfully, Lauren was up for it. We had a list and there was nothing but cold weather holding us back. We started off with a biscuit at Puckett Grocery‘s downtown (which would have been great for a hearty breakfast if there hadn’t been a wait), a cortado with house-made almond-coconut milk at world-renowned Crema Coffee. Then we stumbled upon Marché Artisan Foods, a recommended brunch spot with loads of homemade baked goods and an adorable Mediterranean style, floor-to-ceiling window setting. I knew I had many meals head of me so I ordered a prosciutto and gruyere omelet to act as the base (and soak up the City House cocktails from hours earlier). Lauren’s frittata with asparagus and romesco sauce intrigued me more than my own order, but it was still a solid brunch in a great location. Next time I’m definitely getting a piece of zucchini cake to go.

crispy buttery biscuit

crispy buttery biscuit

sweet barista at Crema coffee

sweet barista at Crema coffee

Marché Artisan Foods baked goods display

Marché Artisan Foods baked goods display

fritatta + Lauren

fritatta + Lauren

After roaming by car around East Nashville, otherwise known as the Brooklyn of Nashville, we headed to Jeni’s, an adorable artisan ice cream shops known for its inventive flavors based in Columbus Ohio. With the store to ourselves on the cold fall day, the sweet and passionate ice cream scooper gave us tastes, accompanied by short histories, of almost every flavor. After sampling everything from burnt sweet potato and marshmallow, cheese curd and raspberry, cayenne, pumpkin, salted caramel, and a rich and inventive toasted coconut and roasted banana combo, I fell in love with the Buckeye – a roasted salty peanut and dark chocolate flavor that was sweet, savory, and mind blowing. Stuffed from our breakfast and ice cream samples, I walked out only with a bag of almond brittle and a newfound obsession for Jeni’s ice cream.

me @ Jeni's

me looking super cool @ Jeni’s

Enough time (15 minutes) had passed to re-ignite the hunger for something salty, so we decided it was time to check off my Southern BBQ experience at Edley’s in 12 South. I had very little desire to eat, but knew I had to do my food tour justice. I have no regrets about the smokey thick-carved turkey sandwich I ordered, and the sides of mac & cheese and green beans helped me survive an afternoon hunger surge.

Photos - 32

horrible photo – no shame no gain

Hours of lounging on the couch led us to motivate to honor our reservation at Holland House Bar and Refuge, a restaurant chock full of quaint details including a 360 degree bar, a fire place, and eclectic, wooden dining furniture. Our bartender Nate was so friendly that we decided to have our meal at the bar. The good? His undivided attention for cocktail making (which ranged from strawberry tequila drinks to vodka martinis), the beautiful low-lit vibe, and the cod brandade with whole grain mustard and pickled asparagus. The not so good? The over-salted braised greens (which we exchanged for the brussels sprouts), and the over-cooked burger (which we sent back for a more accurate interpretation of “rare”). The end result of a tender patty, caramelized onions and blue cheese reminiscent of Spotted Pig’s was obviously amazing.

Holland House outside

Holland House outside

bar @ Holland House

bar @ Holland House

I was honestly relieved to end the food tour there, but we somehow ended up at Walgreens (after failing at Piggley Wiggley’s, yes, that really exists), to buy ingredients for a festive Halloween rice crispy treat.. We whipped up a batch, which was just enough activity to put us to bed at a decent hour.

Ta-dah!!

Ta-dah!!

From the list of meals I had in Nashville, one might think I had been there for a week. And that makes me feel very accomplished! Nashville, you’re all the quirkiness, culture and beauty that everyone described.

Places Mentioned
Frothy Monkey
Fido
City House
Puckett Grocery‘s
Crema Coffee
Marché Artisan Foods
Jeni’s
Edley’s
Holland House

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Featured City Post: where to eat in Istanbul

It’s sometimes stressful when I travel because I get dead-set on building a must-try restaurant list and figuring out how to make sure we have enough meals in the trip to tackle it. Rather than finding a spot near the sights I want to see, I tend to revolve my activities around the location of some interesting food establishment that I’ve deemed worthy during my weeks of research. Fortunately, it pays off — in Istanbul, my trusty guidebooks and friends’ recommendations led me to some of the best places the city has to offer. Check out some of the highlights below if you’re planning a trip or just curious about what the city has to offer…

1. Sultanahmet Koftesi [Sultanahmet]: This legendary Turkish meatball shop is, according to locals, the only decent place to eat in tourist-covered Old City. The menu is short and sweet and the space and service is completely no frills. Don’t be confused by the nearby impostors that claim to be the original (a la Ray’s Original Pizza in NY).

halva at Sult

halva at Sultahanamet

2. Dicle Balik [Kordakoy]: The best place for simple fresh fish – any kind, any way – on the Asian side. Casual but absolutely fresh and delicious.

flattened fried Hamsi (anchovies) at Dicle Balik

flattened fried Hamsi (anchovies) at Dicle Balik

3. Sofyali 9 [Beyoglu]: One of the well known-mezze restaurants on a busy bar-lined street in Beyoglu, this 3-story place is always packed. Call ahead for a reservation. When you arrive, you hand select the mezzes from a platter brought over by your waiter, sort of like the Turkish dim sum. Be sure to get the Borek, which was some of the best we tried in Istanbul.

Sofyali 9

Sofyali 9

4. Fürreyya [Galata Balikcisi]: Looking for a simple fish restaurant close to the Old City? Then this local favorite is your place. Tiny, quaint, and on top of the hill past the Galata tower, it’s easy to miss, but worth finding for the insanely fresh sea bass, addictive fried anchovies and bountiful Mediterranean salad.

fried hamsi

fried hamsi

sea bass at Furreyya

sea bass at Furreyya

5. Dibek [Cappadocia]: This one’s outside of Istanbul..in fact, only accessible by plane. But if you’re in the Goreme area of the enchanting Cappadocia, be sure to stop by Dibek for the only authentic clay-kebab experience in the area. I can’t say that the food is remarkably flavorful, but the experience of sitting with your shoes off on pillows while eating meat that’s been broken out of a clay pot is worth the unusually high price tag.

clay pot kebab at Dibek

clay pot kebab at Dibek

6. Delicatessan [Nisantasi]: Located in the Upper East Side of Istanbul, Delicatessen is many cuts above Istanbul’s traditional “meyhanes” (drinking taverns) in terms of style – in fact, it’s downright gorgeous. The food is beautiful too, and reminiscent of the food served in the many well-designed cafes in London. Coming here at the end of the trip was perfect timing; after days of borek and gozleme I was craving cold salads and fresh veggies more than ever. Don’t forget to stop by the baked goods counter for a massive $7 brownie.

bountiful salads at Delicatessen

bountiful salads at Delicatessen

7. Lucca [Bebek]: The Meatpacking / Soho / really posh area of Istanbul is home to a ton of the city’s most modern restaurants serving “global” cuisine. At Lucca, don’t expect to find hummus and kofte – our meal consisted of tuna tartare, duck spring rolls, quinoa salad and baked brie. While the food wasn’t necessarily better than what I could find in NY, the scene was a fresh of breath air just as I was starting to get homesick for the big city.

Lucca - posh and pristine

Lucca – posh and pristine

8. Vogue [Besiktas]: The perfect spot for drinks, but the food is quite expensive. The restaurant, which takes over the entire top floor of what looks like an office building, has floor to ceiling windows for a 360 degree view of Istanbul. Delicious pickled cauliflower and cucumbers served with every drink make the $3 mark up on cocktails easier to swallow.

View from Vogue restaurant

View from Vogue restaurant

9. 5 Kat [Cihangir]: On a side street behind the local hospital, through a random entry way and up a tiny elevator, you’ll find the most beautiful country French restaurant overlooking the Bosphorus river. I can’t speak for the food since the place was closed when we visited, but the gorgeous furniture and the expansive view of the city would make any tier of food worth trying.

5 Kat

5 Kat

10. Chilai [Bebek]: Just blocks away from Lucca, this massive club-like restaurant pumping dance music also focuses on international cuisine, like sushi and pizza. Again, the food isn’t what brings you here as a New Yorker; it’s the glass walls that start at sea level that make you feel like you can reach out and touch the bosphorus. There’s nothing like it in New York (except for the clientele, whom all looked like they were straight out of Real Housewives of NYC).

Chilai

Chilai

11. Mikla [Beyoglu]: A well known spot for fine-dining and gorgeous views, this restaurant at the top of the Marmara Pera hotel serves some of Istanbul’s most refined food. While the food is creative and gorgeously plated, I would have rather had the kebaps served down below to accompany these views. Still, if you’re looking for a fine dining experience in this wonderful city, this is the place to do it.

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Featured City Post: Culinary Backstreets Tour in Istanbul

istanbul

I had no idea what a culinary adventure Istanbul would be, but I’ve been in absolute awe of Turkish food from the moment I boarded the Turkish Airlines plane. I’m surprised that after considering myself a knowledgeable eater, I’m finding improved variations of staples that I thought couldn’t get any better, like bread, bagels, wraps and tea. I can’t believe I’ve been missing out for this long! 

foggy ferry ride across the Bosphorus

foggy ferry ride across the Bosphorus

Turkey’s food is simply a product of its diverse surrounding influences and interesting culture. Bordered by the Middle East, Europe, and Asia, Turkey has a rich history with Istanbul as the former capital of both the Roman and Ottoman Empires and a strategic locale for international trade. The country is largely Muslim (80%), but its government is a secular democracy as part of the European Union. Istanbul is a city of contrasts: it’s sandwiched between Europe and Asia, you can hear prayer calls as you end your late night out at a club, and ancient mosques stick out in a skyline of tall modern buildings. And though the city is considered a modern one, its food has remained relatively unchanged for centuries.

After a few days in Istanbul I’ve realized the best food is found at the most unassuming places. We spent our first night out at Istanbul’s hottest restaurant Mikla, and while the visit was absolutely worth the gorgeous view of the city, it struck me to leave my fancy food excursions to New York and instead focus on eating more authentic street food. Since then, every meal for the most part has been a success. Major staples of Turkish food that I’ve fallen in love with are borek (phyllo and fillings), gozleme (flat bread with fillings), melemen (turkish eggs), tantuni (ground beef wraps) and white cheese (feta, but much creamier). There are more than enough things to try to keep food lovers entertained for weeks — I actually have anxiety because I only have three days left with so much on the list. 

Fortunately, I signed up for an Istanbul Eats culinary backstreet walking tour to help me manage the burden of sampling every Turkish specialty in 7 days. After seeing an overview of the walks on SeriousEats and learning that IstanbulEats.com is a highly acclaimed food resource in Turkey, I knew that I was in good hands. The Two Markets, Two Continents walk was 6 hours with a small group of 6 and the perfect mix of tasting, walking, and learning history through food. Our guide Gocken had no shame taking a group of tourists to some of his favorite local spots, rarely frequented by non-regulars. He took the time to explain the significance of certain ingredients and traditional dishes, and there was no pressure to finish everything. Small bite sized pieces of a dozen things helped each of us maintain some sense of comfort despite the constant ingestion. 

The day started out with a talk on the tea culture in Turkey at a well-known Turkish tea “shop” (more like a closet) among the fish mongers below the Galata bridge, and led to the best Turkish breakfast so far at an Armenian-owned restaurant frequented by nearby metal and fish-workers. Here we were introduced to kaymak, skimmed milkfat similar to clotted cream and used somewhat like butter in Turkish cuisine. Incredibly creamy, it adds an earthy richness to breads and sweets. We also tasted the best ever melemen, Turkish eggs soft scrambled eggs with tomatoes, garlic and spices, with fluffy white bread hot out of the oven.

Fortunately we had a ferry ride to the Asian side of Turkey to allow time to digest the overload at breakfast. Once we debarked, we entered the market, starting at a no frills Turkish meatball shop that’s known for it’s grease-soaked bread slices. The rest of the day consisted of tasting treats throughout the market like Turkish delight, pickle juice, tahini paste, mezzes, Turkish coffee, a lamb-intestine wrapped sweetbread sandwich (I passed on this one), and multiple Turkish desserts. Surprisingly at the end of the day, I wasn’t stuffed to the brim, just pleasantly full and ecstatic to have learned so much about Turkish food in that period of time.

at the tea stand in Kadikoy

at the tea stand in Kadikoy

menemet and fluffy bread

menemet and fluffy bread

feta

creamy sheep’s milk feta

group photo at breakfast

group photo at breakfast

kofte - Turkish meatballs

kofte – Turkish meatballs

mezze

mezze

making the tantuni

making the tantuni

tantuni - the Mexican food of Turkey

tantuni – the Mexican food of Turkey

kanufe

kunefe – crispy noodles with butter and loads of sugar

Aryan - yogurt drink

Aryan – yogurt drink

Though I have a few days left in Istanbul, I already know this culinary walk will be the highlight of my trip. I highly recommend it regardless of the timeframe you have in this incredible city.

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Las Vegas: Sushi Samba and Tao, two NYC transplants

800px-Las_Vegas_Strip

It’s ironic that such a culturally dry place like Las Vegas can be seen as a microcosm of the world – in an hour, you can visit the Eiffel Tower, ride on a Venetian Gondola, pass tourists of every nationality and eat at some of the world’s best restaurants, most of which were founded in NYC. While I like to branch out when I travel, Las Vegas is the type of place that’s so shocking to my system that it leads me to resort to the familiar. So, when I was given the opportunity to dine out during my two nights there for a work conference, I decided to go with two old-time New York City (and Miami) staples: Sushi Samba and Tao.

The big difference between hotel restaurants in Vegas and New York is that in Vegas, there are very few windows. You feel like you’re eating in a dungeon most of the time, and it could be any time of day. Sushi Samba and Tao, both at the Venetian Hotel, were no different. Dark, somewhat depressing, and sterile. The food, however, was better than I remembered it. At Sushi Samba, my friends and I had a reprieve from heavy food with the tuna tataki salad, the mushroom toban yaki, and the neo tokyo roll with big eye tuna. While the mushrooms were doused in butter, the rest was light and refreshing.

inside sushi samba

inside sushi samba

tuna tataki "salad"

tuna tataki “salad”

Neo Tokyo roll with big-eye tuna

Neo Tokyo roll with big-eye tuna

mushroom toban-yaki

mushroom toban-yaki

The great thing about Tao is the large round tables, the perfect set up for a big group of people. Because we were in a rush to make a concert, I was given the privilege of ordering for the entire table – my favorite thing to do! I selected a few from each section, but the big standouts were the crispy peking duck spring rolls, the pad thai, and the satay of chilean sea bass. But for once in my life, I was less focused on the food because the lychee martini was so delicious.

tao-asian-bistro_atmosphere_r620

the iconic massive Buddha

sea bass satay (photo from StarChefs)

sea bass satay (photo from StarChefs)

duck spring rolls

duck spring rolls

Vegas hotel restaurants and restaurants on the strip have their routines down to a T. Because everyone’s pumped on adrenaline and hotels want their patrons back at the Black Jack table, there’s no time for slow service or cold food. As much as I wanted to hate the food at these commercial, table turning restaurants, I was actually really pleased. But next time, I’m going to make reservations at the restaurants that aren’t so accessible at home.

Grade: A for both for high quality food and service. 
Location: Venetian Hotel

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Featured City Post: San Francisco’s Rich Table, elevated comfort food in farm-like rusticity

sfgate

Whenever I visit San Francisco for work, I try to maximize the productivity of my trip by squeezing in a visit to a new and noteworthy restaurant. Last week, it was Rich Table, a bustling Hayes Valley hot-spot that the man at the bar called “the hottest table in town.” Though we scored a last minute reservation for 7:15pm, my friend and I decided to give up our spot at the communal table (separated by planters, the reservationist assured us) to sit at the bar for a better view of the open kitchen and admittedly, the very attractive chefs.

Sitting at the bar always warrants a stiff drink to start the night, and since San Francisco is really one-upping New York in the specialty cocktail department, I knew I had to try one. The bartender’s gin and ginger concoction of course came in an old fashioned champagne coupe and went down like a refreshing glass of water. They also have a great selection of wines by the carafe that are conveniently grouped by price; the gruner veltliner I’ve decided is now my favorite.

One important thing to note as a bread-lover – it’s delicious, but it’s a $4 sacrifice. Come prepared to spend it, because it’s definitely a must- these 1-inch thick slices of fennel sourdough are toasted to order and served with house-churned butter. The rest of the meal, however, did not match up to the bright energy of the place. The crab cioppino was a mess of over-oiled, over-salted crab meat with a pathetic sprinkling of dried artichoke chips, and the chicken lasagna evoked memories of chow mein with it’s large pieces of chicken and long green onions. The small popped corn sprinkled on top was random and seem disconnected from the rest of the dish. We hoped to be saved by the vegetarian entree, roasted potatoes with arugula salsa verde, but for $19, I would have rather eaten 10 bags of McDonald’s french fries. Small potatoes sprinkled with salsa was probably a poor order choice in the first place, but the flavors didn’t match up to the saltiness to the rest of the meal.

fennel bread

fennel bread

chicken lasagna

chicken lasagna

Unfortunately, the performance was not enough to encourage us to stay for dessert; we walked a block up for a pot de creme and wine at Absinthe to ensure a satisfying end to the meal. But Rich Table is an interesting place that combines thoughtfully plated, interesting food in casual comfort. The chefs obviously care about what they’re doing here, and they’re taking a risk to do something different. So, I’d definitely like to go back and try a few other dishes – I’m not writing this off as a goodbye just yet.

Grade: B
Location: corner of Oak and Gough

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Filed under American, Featured U.S. City Posts, Fun Group Dinner

Featured City Post: SPQR in San Francisco

SPQR

I’ve been trying to make a trip to SPQR from the moment I discovered it on my stroll down Fillmore street a few years back. Long waits and few open reservation availability always held me back, but I finally had my chance early this Monday after a plane right from New York and a long day at work. Small plate Italian Mediterranean food in a cozy modern space is exactly what I wanted to calm my email-cluttered mind and plane-food filled belly. Wine is a priority here, as proven by the ceiling-high rack behind the bar that reveals the restaurant’s copious selection of Italian wine. Food does not pale in comparison – sharing is a must because there’s just too much good stuff to bypass.

Fortunately, I was with people who embraced tasting and exploration, which was a blessing considering the three additional specials that made me even more unsettled about narrowing down my options. Sitting at the chef’s table didn’t help the situation either – every dish they fired became my new order just because it looked so irresistible. From start to finish we scored homeruns, starting with the beautifully composed chicory lettuce, almond, goat cheddar and pear butter salad – a plate of greens so beyond the boring, I actually considered it one of the best parts of the meal. The crab-quinoa salad was just as special; the quinoa was cooked to a crisp, rolled and connected two generous heaps of beautiful lump crab meat dressed in a light, tangy vinaigrette. The pastas stole the show as I expected given the sheer uniqueness of every option;  the parsnip tortelli with espresso-aged cheese and mushrooms unleashed a heart-warming brown buttery scent that was almost as decadent as its rich and earthy taste, and the smokiness of the swordfish mezzaluna with dill made it one of the most interesting pastas I’ve tried. We rounded our meal off with a perfectly seared arctic char and mushroom budino, essentially a dense compilation of buttery mushrooms and breadcrumbs, otherwise known as my heaven.

chicory salad

chicory salad

crab and quinoa salad

crab and quinoa salad

swordfish mezzaluna

swordfish mezzaluna

mushroom tortelli

mushroom tortelli

seared arctic char

seared arctic char

dessert.

Dessert at places with beautifully composed food could always use more ice cream, but I still remember it being tasty. Sadly, not remarkable enough for me to remember what exactly it was..but that may have just been a result of devouring my tiny glass of marsala wine.

The experience of tasting food prepared by such highly skilled chefs cooking right in front of me is definitely an undervalued one; I would have paid a premium just for the entertainment value. It’s like tasting the wine when you’re at the vineyard – it’s so much more memorable and delicious when you can see where and how exactly it’s prepared. It’s as if you’re involved in the process. Next time I’m in San Francisco, I’m definitely coming back to SPQR, and I’m no doubt requesting the same seat. Tables are for grown-ups seeking focused conversation!

Grade: A+
Location: 1911 Fillmore Street between Bush and Pine
Website
*top photo from starchefs.com

 

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Featured City Post: Scottsdale, Arizona

Screen Shot 2012-12-04 at 10.26.22 PM scottsdale

I’m very aware that the holidays means unstoppable eating and drinking, but I never expected my three day December vacation in Scottsdale to perpetuate the feeling of excess and gluttony as much as it did. Nonstop meals out and countless cocktails (and one hike up a mountain) became the trip’s highlights – there’s not much else to do in the dessert during the dead of winter as a non-golfer, but hey, I dream of activity-free vacations revolved around food. When I travel, I’m determined to try places that are unique to the area, come recommended by locals, and serve the region’s cuisine, so I lined up a list that turned out to be, across the board, spectacular. Disclaimer: none of these places are conducive to diets (and if you’re carefully counting calories on vacation, I really feel for you), but I’m proud to say that I left every meal very content with my experience. I did all the culling and research for you – use this as a guide if you’re ever in the area.

For Christmas dinner, I wanted something special, so I booked what was touted as the best view in Scottsdale: Elements at the Sanctuary Resort. For $75, they offered a delectable four course menu that had a load of classics enlivened by a few standout Asian ingredients. I was stunned by the beauty of the place, which overlooks the other side of Camelback Mountain through massive floor to ceiling windows. Unfortunately, an hour-long wait for our reservation distracted me from the view, but all angst was quickly redeemed by a free bottle of white wine, great service, and a wonderful asparagus tart with poached egg. Each dish was unique and beautifully prepared, and I still can’t stop thinking about the charred broiled asian oyster rockefeller with spinach, lop chung, and sesame hijiki – three massive, smokey oysters that melted in my mouth alongside my stiff martini.

elemnts

Sanctuary Resort

The next day, I had every intention of eating lightly for lunch, but when 1pm rolled around I was beyond ready for wood-fired pizza from Phoenix’s famous Pizzeria Bianco. The place is tiny and a stand-out in the area, so I expected the wait, but by the time we were seated I considered eating the table to stave off my hunger. Thankfully the waitstaff accommodated my request for “immediate bread,” and our fresh salads and pizza margherita with olives came out promptly. Other than the suburban charm of the place, it didn’t strike me as any more remarkable than the awesome pizza I find in New York, but it was remarkable nonetheless. Crust that was easy to bite, perfectly seasoned, and charred just the right amount. Definitely a must if you’re in Phoenix.

restaurant front

restaurant front

market greens with orange and blue cheese

market greens with orange and blue cheese

pizza

pizza

What better cuisine to follow pizza than Mexican? The second I looked at The Mission’s menu while doing my research weeks before the trip, I knew I HAD to try it. White bean puree with cotija cheese? Skirt steak tacos with lime, cilantro, avocado and cotija? Housemade chunk guacamole? A cheese plate with chilean honey and grilled chorizo? I practically ran to the place when the car dropped us off. Dark lights, mosaic wall, wooden tables and chairs and a festive bar really set the perfect scene of a tasteful, south of the border hang out. We demolished everything we ordered, especially the chunky guacamole, which I found tastier than any other table-side rendition I’ve had in Manhattan. Every traditional item had a unique but well thought-out spin, and the hand-pressed cocktails were irresistible. If only we had a Latin American restaurant like this one on the East Coast – I’d be there weekly. Unfortunately, it was too dark to take photos, but rest-assured that everything we ate, especially the homemade tortillas, was awesome.

Our last memorable dinner was at a place far less well-known or corporate, tucked away in old town Scottsdale on Stetson Drive: FnB. If every other restaurant was Manhattan, this for sure would have been our step into Brooklyn. A tiny place with charming Christmas lights, an open kitchen surrounded by bar seating, and waiters in checkered shirts brought me right back to the local gems I seek out in my neighborhood when I’m tired of New Yorkers. The menu changes every night, and on the night we arrived, we were lucky enough to have a huge variety of rustic but creative dishes, including homemade chickpea and kale falafel, vietnamese meatballs with pickled cabbage, pasta with broccoli rabe and sausage, and roasted chicken with gigante beans. Given we were 2 feet away from the open kitchen (as all tables in the tiny restaurant are), our food was served piping hot. .While the farro and sunchokes was a tasteless mess, the flavors of all else were unique and strong. This is definitely not a place that prides itself on simplicity of ingredients, as they tend to incorporate a lot of flavors into each dish. The butterscotch pudding, while grainy and probably overcooked, put me dangerously over the top of fullness. I am proud to say that it was the only night of the entire vacation leaving the restaurant in serious pain.

FnB

FnB

falafel with the fixin's

falafel with the fixin’s

pasta with broccoli and sausage

brothy pasta with broccoli and sausage

crispy chicken

crispy chicken

butterscotch pudding

butterscotch pudding

For just three days in Arizona, I managed to cover a lot of ground in the restaurant world. But being the insatiable person that I am, I don’t feel accomplished. Rather, I feel like I only just scratched the surface and I have anxiety that I won’t live to experience the other likely delicious restaurants that Scottsdale has to offer. But, this is my life, and this is why I am constantly in search for the next best meal. I won’t let the end to vacation stop me, though. Let the adventure continue!

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Kitchen Adventures: The City Kitchen Cooking Class

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communal dinner after communal cooking

A while back, I took a cooking class at ICE in New York and swore off professional courses for a long, long time. It’s not that the class wasn’t educational, it just simply wasn’t fun. The teacher instructed us like a slave driver, the air conditioner broke, and I was tasked with chopping onions for two hours for a 20-serving dish. By the end of it I was starving, my eyes were burning, and I smelled like onions for days. To ICE’s defense, we received a refund to make up for almost dying in the boiling kitchen, but the experience forever tainted my romanticized view of cooking school.

Fast forward to last week, when I signed up for The City Kitchen‘s “Fall Farmers Market” cooking class in SF to see my bff Sarah’s sister in action as one of the Head Instructors.   The 3.5 hour time commitment made me nervous, but upon being greeted with a massive cheese board in a beautiful loft space, my flashbacks of scary cooking teachers subsided. I could at least drink freely here without getting my hand slapped (yes, this happened). The City Kitchen’s classes are perfect – their beautiful North Beach event space makes for a comfortable and homey environment, and the instructors take care of all of the grueling and boring prep work to leave participants with the fun stuff – drinking, socializing, some cooking, and assembling. There’s just enough hands-on work to really feeling like you’re contributing, but not so much that you’re sweating like a sous chef at a 5-star restaurant by the end of it. Most importantly, every dish we learned to make – baby kale salad with persimmons, quail with wild rice risotto, halibut with celery root pureeapple tarte tatin – was hearty and awesome. So awesome, in fact, that I just made a family-sized portion of the apple tarte tatin tonight. I must have learned something, because it was crispy, buttery, sweet, tart, and plain and simply dee-lish!

Chef Meghan teaching us how to cut bacon

Chef Meghan teaching us how to cut bacon

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Sarah and I working on the tarte tatin

Tarte tatin ramicans

Tarte tatin ramekins

quail and wild rice risotto appetizer

quail and wild rice risotto appetizer

halibut with realllly crispy bacon

halibut with realllly crispy bacon

Sarah and mommy

Sarah and mommy

Individual rosemary tarte tatin. How amazing does this look?

Individual rosemary tarte tatin. How amazing does this look?

my skills put to test at home

my skills put to the test at home

If you’re ever in SF and looking for a fun and unique after-work activity, or want to plan a customized event for your team or for your friends, I highly recommend The City Kitchen. They’ve got the recipe for the perfect class experience down (Always accessible cheese plate + Wine + Short Lecture + Assisted Cooking at Station of Choice + Family Dinner), and their classes are only $90 – far cheaper than the horrible ones I’ve tried in New York.  And if you aren’t able to make it to Sf for a class, check out their videos, which are fun to watch as well.

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Filed under Featured U.S. City Posts, Kitchen Adventures