Tony’s Pizza Napoletana – 12/23/10

Tony’s Pizza Napoletana
1570 Stockton St
San Francisco, CA 94133

San Francisco has had a bit of a pizza revolution in the last couple of years, and Tony’s is probably one of the most popular of the new pizza restaurants to open up. Tony Gemignani is one of the more famous American pizzaiolo personalities, first for being a champion pizza-thrower. He’s also won numberous awards for his pizza, most notably in the 2007 World Pizza Cup in Naples – his Margherita won for Best Neapolitan Pizza.

A first glance at the menu will tell you this is a serious pizza place. The type of flour and even the oven used are based on the type of pizza: Neapolitan, classic American, Roman, coal-fired, Sicilian and classic Italian are all options. Four different ovens are used to bake these different styles; 900-degree wood fired and 1,000-degree coal fired are two of the most unique.

Italian Style Meatballs

We first tried these meatballs. They were served a little lukewarm, which was disappointing, but were very moist and full of flavor. They were smothered in a sweet, delicious tomato sauce. Quite good, except my dad felt sick after this meal, and this was the most likely culprit.

dough mixed by hand using san felice flour then proofed in neapolitan wood boxes, san marzano tomatoes d.o.p., sea salt, mozzarella fior di latte, fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil

This is the famous pizza, created with the exact same oven and ingredients that were used in the 2007 World Pizza Cup-winning pizza. A limit of 73 of these are baked up each day. Expectations were high, and I’d say they were met. It’s a very good pizza, highlighted by probably the best crust I’ve had. Slightly soft on the edges, and with a nicely charred bottom, it was perfectly chewy. I probably would have preferred the mozzarella sliced a little thinner, but the cheese, tomatoes and basil were each very flavorful. Excellent pizza. I’d say I preferred this over Zero Zero and Flour+Water‘s renditions.

asiago, mozzarella, imported italian gorgonzola, sweet fig preserve from Croatia, prosciutto di parma, parmigiano, balsamic

We first went with the most traditional of pizzas; next, a more modern California-inspired pizza. This pizza won a Food Network Challenge, and I could see why. Three white cheeses, fig preserve (sweet), proscuitto (salty), and balsamic (tangy) combined for layers of flavor. I’d say I prefer my pizzas with meat and tomato sauce, but this was a nice change of pace.

Tony’s serves up some very good pizza. They were a bit on the pricey side (Margherita was $19 and Cal-Italia was $18) but I’d say it’s worth it. The consistent lines out the door justify it as well. There’s so many varieties to try, I’m sure I’ll be back at some point in the future.

Christmas 2010 – 12/25/10

Christmas seemed to come up pretty fast this year. Maybe I’m just getting older. But maybe it’s because I didn’t have any days off between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Either way, the past month really flew by and Christmas was here before I knew it.

As usual for this occasion, Christmas is a two-round affair; lunch with my mother’s side in Alameda and dinner with my father’s side in San Francisco. The menu for Christmas is usually pretty similar to Thanksgiving with some variations.

Breakfast Sliders (my aunt called them Breakfast Jacks) with chicken-apple sausage, scrambled egg, cheddar on a biscuit

Shrimp Toasts – always one of the most popular items

Pork Lumpia

Crab Rangoon

Fried Wontons

Stir-Fried Shrimp

Chow Mein

Chinese Sticky Rice

BBQ Pork Ribs – cooked low and slow then basted with sauce

Chicken Pot Pie Pockets

Mini Chili Pot Pies

Pork Potstickers – one of my personal favorites



A variety of desserts were served as well.

Coffee Crunch Cake (semi-homemade)

Passion Fruit Mousse Cake – love the decoration on this one

My cousin, who has her own baking company (Baked Vanilla), wrapped up some homemade treats to take home. Clockwise from top left: gingerbread men and snowflakes, vanilla marshmallows, smores, and pecan sandies.

After lunch, we went into San Francisco for dinner. The menu here is definitely more meat-centric, as just about everyone on my dad’s side is a meat eater.

Starting with some of the sides:

Mashed Potatoes


Mixed Vegetables

Chinese Sticky Rice

Stuffing – bread, ground beef, onions, shallots, mushrooms, spinach and chicken stock

The most anticipated dish has to be this large beef roast, prepared medium rare.

New York Strip Loin Roast

The other souce of meat is this large turkey. Nice golden brown exterior.


We finished with this one dessert – my parents’ favorite “Dream Cake” from Sweet Stop in San Francisco.

So ended another Christmas. The food is always something to look forward to, but it’s especially important to spend it with friends and family.

The House – 12/23/10

The House
1230 Grant Ave
San Francisco, CA 94133

The House has been around for almost 20 years and had been serving Asian fusion even before it became cool to do it. Quite fittingly, its location straddles the border of San Francisco’s Chinatown and North Beach (Little Italy) neighborhoods.

It’s one of the top restaurants on Yelp in the city, garnering 4.5 stars overall on over 1,500 reviews (any restaurant with that pedigree would be a must-try in my book). I’ve been here once many years ago and really enjoyed it. The food is by no means avant garde, but the dishes are executed well, with just enough ‘fusion’ to keep things interesting. So when it came time for us grandchildren to take our grandmother out for her birthday, this seemed like a good choice.

Everyone starts with this Japanese-inspired amuse of pickled cucumbers with sesame.

Kobe beef steak tartare

This was one of the daily special appetizers. Domestic kobe beef tartare was mixed with an aioli, then topped a crostini and slices of green apple. I thought the aioli here was overwhelming to the point where I couldn’t really taste the meat. The crostini, which I think was a brioche, provided some texture, and the green apple lended a little bit of tartness. But, this was a disappointment.

White shrimp and chinese chive dumplings

These dumplings were steamed and were pretty similar to what you’d get at a dim sum house. Small pieces of perfectly-cooked shrimp and just the right amount of chives filled a really good dumpling. The soy-based dipping sauce was just right. However, a little steep at $9 for 6, considering these were akin to something you could get for much less at dim sum.

Deep-fried salmon roll with Chinese hot mustard

I found the salmon to be cooked well, but to not have a lot of flavor. The crispy wrapper provided a nice cripy crunch to each bite, but I was looking for some bolder flavors here.

Maine crab cake with pickled ginger remoulade

This was a pretty large crabcake…more like crabmound. I was a little disappointed to find there were no chunks of crab; rather it was in small bits along with the other fillings. The crab flavor was present, but there wasn’t a whole lot.

On to the entrees.

Warm wasabi house noodles with angus flatiron steak

The noodles were definitely a little bit spicy from the wasabi, but not overly so. I thought there was a little too much cabbage though. The flatiron steak was cooked a perfect medium-rare and had good beefy flavor. It wasn’t quite as tender as I would have hoped, though.

Grilled sea bass with garlic ginger soy

This was a standout dish. The flesh was perfectly cooked – light and moist, yet buttery at the same time. The dark soy-based sauce was a nice accompaniment with garlic and ginger accents. The noodles were purposely a little mushy, which I didn’t mind.

Chicken breast with roasted portabella white truffle oil sauce

This may be the most boring entree on the menu, but I’d have to say the chicken breast was prepared well. It’s a generous skin-on piece of breast that was pretty moist and flavorful. The truffle flavor wasn’t too evident, though.

Kurobuta pork chop with pomegranate currant sauce

This pork chop was quite tender and had good porky flavor. The sauce had some smokiness to it, almost resembling a barbecue sauce in a way. Fruits (especially apples) tend to work well with pork, and this was no exception.

Red velvet cake

This was one of the dessert specials. I found it a little out-of-place here as it didn’t really involve any Asian ingredients. The cake didn’t have too much flavor and wasn’t all that moist. Not inedible, but disappointing.

Bittersweet chocolate truffle cake, coffee ice cream, coconut caramel

This was a pretty good dessert. The chocolate cake and coffee ice cream were both pretty tasty, and the chocolate-coffee combination is a reliable one.

For the most part, The House’s dishes are as advertised – accessible, Asian fusion cooking in a comfortable setting. The strength was clearly in the entrees on this night, especially with the sea bass. My overall experience this time wasn’t as good as I remember my last time, but I can see how it continues to draw people in night after night.

Leatherby’s Cafe Rouge – 12/19/10

Leatherby’s Cafe Rouge
Orange County Performing Arts Center
615 Town Center Dr
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

I tend to think of Leatherby’s Cafe Rouge as a sort of “Patina of Orange County.” The Patina Restaurant Group runs the gamut between fast casual and fine dining, and both Leatherby’s and Patina represent the latter. Plus, they both occupy a corner of large concert halls (in this case, the OC Performing Arts Center). Leatherby’s occupies the bottom left in the picture below of the stunning concert hall.

I’ve been to Leatherby’s once over a year ago and was unimpressed. With a new manager and new chef (Ross Pangilinan), this promised to be a new restaurant; thus, I obliged when I was invited to come try the new menu.

Two tasting menus were prepared – one for me and one for vegetarian Angie.

Heirloom Tomatoes burrata and a tomato foam

Japanese Hamachi seared with seven flavor chili pepper, avocado sorbet, green apple, jicama, ice plant, ponzu, Filipino pink salt

I thought the hamachi dish was one of the highlights. The textures of the jicama and green apple meshed well with the tender fish, and the avocado sorbet was very nice. The sorbet was not overpowering at all, and had a clean, fresh flavor. I thought it really went well with the hamachi.

Butternut Squash Soup macchiato essence

Next up was this seasonal soup. The butternut squash flavor was mildly sweet, countered by a slight bitterness from the macchiato foam. I thought that the butternut squash and subtle coffee flavors worked pretty well together. Perfect for a rainy evening.

House Made Fettuccine white wine Parmesan sauce, roasted mushrooms, shaved black truffles

Next we had this fresh pasta dish. The pasta was a perfect al dente texture, and the alfredo-like sauce had a good buttery, cheesy flavor. To top it all off, the earthiness of the mushrooms and black truffles added more complexity and depth of flavor.

Vegetarian Risotto market vegetables

Beef Short Rib, Viking Village Sea Scallop raclette potatoes, mushroom red wine sauce

Next was a bit of a surf-and-turf combination. First of all, the scallop was huge! It was a little undercooked for my liking, but I thought it had a nice sear. Really meaty, which I liked. The short rib was very tender and had great flavor, and its richness contrasted the light, clean flavors of the scallop.

Cheese Plate selection of imported and domestic cheeses, dried fruit and nut bread, honeycomb, chutney, candied nuts

Any regular readers would know I’m really not a fan of the cheese course. Of these, I probably liked the triple cream camembert most (second from left). Kind of brie-like with a soft, creamy texture. Also, the fresh fig was very good!

Chocolate Symphony opera cake, flourless chocolate cake, crunch bar

This was a trio of chocolate desserts (three is better than one, right?); from left to right: opera cake, molten chocolate cake, crunch bar. All three of these were quite good. I actually liked the smooth, moist opera cake most.

Panna Cotta vanilla bean, pistachio

Lastly we had a couple of panna cottas. These were a little more dense than I preferred, but the flavors were spot on. Fresh berries were a nice touch, and I especially liked the nutty brittle accompaniment, which added good nutty flavor and texture.

The wine pairings, from right to left.

I was pretty pleased with this meal – it was easily one of the strongest I’ve had in Orange County.  I think more people need to give the restaurant a chance (at the time of writing, there have only been 42 Yelp reviews). Its yet to really draw in customers outside its primary target of concert patrons, but with more attention, I think this could easily be one of the top fine dining establishments in the area.

Note: This was a sponsored dinner.

Mo-Chica – 12/10/10

3655 S Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90007

Executive Chef Ricardo Zarate has been one of LA’s rising star chefs in 2010, most notably for frequently being in the kitchen at the recently-closed Test Kitchen. Zarate has developed quite a following and now has a couple of restaurants in the works; however, Mo-Chica’s humble Peruvian fare is what first caught the public’s eye.

I’ve been to Mo-Chica a couple of times before, but a BlackboardEats promotion lured me in for another visit. The restaurant’s prices are very reasonable to begin with (entrees are around $10-12); with the 30%-off promotion it was a fantastic deal.

Ceviche Del Dia market fish, seaweed, Peruvian corn, leche de tigre

Mo-Chica has one of the most raved-about ceviches in the city and it’s easy to see why. The sea bass was really tender and meaty, and it was bathed in vibrant, fresh citrus flavors. The popped corn (like corn nuts) was an excellent accompaniment, adding some welcome texture to the dish.

Papa Ala Huancaina roasted potatoes, boiled egg, huancaina sauce

This is a sort of Peruvian potato salad. I’m really not a fan of potato salad, so this wasn’t my favorite dish. The potatoes were tender, but I felt the huancaina sauce was rather rich and overwhelming.

Aji De Gallina shredded chicken, walnuts, aji amarillo bread sauce

I hadn’t ordered this dish on previous visits, but I recently saw Giada De Laurentiis talk about it on The Best Thing I Ever Ate. I figured I might as well give it a shot. This dish is similar to a sort of chicken a la king, though this sauce is thickened with bread. I didn’t really care for this dish – I don’t really like my meat in thick sauces. I liked the walnuts for the textural element, but I just found the sauce to be rather rich without a ton of flavor. I don’t think this was necessarily a poor rendition of this dish; moreso that it’s not within my personal preference.

Lomo Saltado beef filet, salsa criolla, fried potatoes, red onions

Mo-Chica has one of the stronger renditions of this dish that I’ve had. The beef was extremely tender, and the onions, tomatoes and salsa added a lot of flavor. It was very balanced – often I find the onions or sauce to overwhelm the tenderloin, which isn’t the most flavorful cut. The fries were a little limp for me though – I would’ve preferred them to be crispier.

Arroz Con Marisco mixed seafood, shrimp, mussels, salsa madre, sauteed rice

I really love one-pot rice dishes where the rice cooks with the meat and seasonings (think paella or jambalaya). This was no exception, as the rice had a great flavor with a little bit of heat. Unfortunately, I found most of the seafood to be overcooked.

Menu Del Dia dish of the day – sea bass with carapulcra (dried potato)

This was the daily special. The sea bass was prepared perfectly – moist with a crispy skin, and I thought the potatoes, in a tomato-based gravy, were a nice accompaniment.

This was a meal of up-and-downs. I think a couple of dishes were outside of my comfort zone a bit, but there were also a couple of missteps (limp fries and overcooked seafood). My past meals here have been stronger efforts, and the dishes I’ve had from Zarate at Test Kitchen have been superb. This leads me to wonder if maybe the Mo-Chica kitchen has suffered a little while Zarate is pursuing other opportunities.

Mo-Chica will be moving downtown in the new year. I hope this will revitalize the restaurant as it could easily become a fixture in my downtown lunch rotation (not to mention be a legitimate dinner option).

Wayfare Tavern – 11/29/10

Wayfare Tavern
558 Sacramento St
San Francisco, CA 94111

Wayfare Tavern is Food Network star Tyler Florence’s first restaurant – opened in June. Florence has been on Food Network for a while, and the only restaurant I remember him being associated with is Applebee’s. Honestly, that didn’t inspire too much confidence. I do enjoy the show Tyler’s Ultimate on occasion, so I was interested in trying this place out. That, and I’ve generally read pretty strong reviews of the place.

My mother and I came in for a weekday lunch stop. We were first served these popovers. Light and airy, with a crispy exterior, they had a subtle cheese flavor. Quite nice.

POUTINE braised short rib, French fried potato, truffle Jack cheese, veal jus

We started off with the poutine – always a heavy appetizer. The fries were nice and crispy, but I thought there wasn’t enough meat. There was one large chunk, and smaller pieces spread throughout, but I felt most of my bites were just the fries and cheese. I liked the addition of the black truffles, though scant. When I could get a bite of fries, meat, cheese and truffles altogether – this was really good.

SEARED WILD ALASKAN SALMON mustard braised brussels sprouts, chanterelle mushrooms, ham hock, smoked honey

I thought it was interesting that they cut this into small chunks before cooking it instead of serving a larger fillet. It was nicely cooked and the addition of the chanterelles was a key component, adding an extra earthy flavor. I liked that the skin was crisped up into something like a chip! The brussels sprouts were tasty – tender and well-seasoned.

POTATO PUREE shaved truffles

We ordered this one side. The potatoes were very smooth and creamy – nothing exceptional, just a good plate of mashed potatoes. Similar to the poutine, the truffles were primarily an aesthetic feature; there weren’t a lot and their flavors were not really evident in this dish.

ORGANIC FRIED CHICKEN buttermilk brine, roasted garlic, crisp woody herbs, lemon

This has to be Wayfare Tavern’s most popular dish. It’s a generous portion of a half-chicken cut up. I thought it was pretty good – the batter was crispy on the outside, and the chicken was pretty moist. However, the white meat wasn’t too juicy, but I wouldn’t call it dry. Not exactly memorable, but good.

In all, I would say my meal at Wayfare Tavern was solid. Nothing was particularly memorable, but everything tasted good and there weren’t any real disappointments. This is just the first of Florence’s planned restaurant openings (Rotisserie & Wine has already opened in Napa) as he builds up his presence in the NorCal area. It’ll be interesting to see what else he comes up with.