Nopa (San Francisco, CA)

Nopa
560 Divisadero St
San Francisco, CA 94117
Dining date: 12/22/11

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I’ve wanted to try Nopa for a while, a consistently highly-regarded restaurant since opening in 2006. The food is rather comfortable modern American and reasonably priced with starters between $5-15 and generously-sized mains in the $13-27 range. The food, combined with a trendy bar scene and late-night hours (open til 1am), make this one of the more popular SF restaurants. The popularity was clear as we walked through the door; on a Thursday, we still had to wait a little bit past our 11pm reservation time for a table to clear.

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What started as sort of a joke over dinner at Marlowe turned into a second dinner with the cousins here at Nopa. Given my time in San Francisco was limited, I had to make the most out of my meals right?

We started with an amuse bouche from the kitchen.

Apples and Housemade Farmers Cheese

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This was a smooth and rather light, creamy cheese that was easily spread onto the crunchy apple slices.

Baked Giant White Beans, Feta, Oregano and Breadcrumbs

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These beans were creamy, soaking in a hearty tomato-based sauce. I liked the crispy breadcrumb topping, adding some fun texture to the creaminess of the dish.

Baked Pasta, Nine Hour Bolognese, Escarole and Parmesan

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This next plate had a lot of similarities to the beans with the tomato sauce and again a breadcrumb topping. I thought the pasta was good, as was the tomato sauce, and the escarole provided a nice vegetable balance. Rustic and comfortable, though nothing particularly noteworthy.

Grilled Country Pork Chop, Arrowhead Cabbage, Apples and Nantes Carrots

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I’d been hearing a lot of about the pork chop here (enough that we ordered three of them) and it really delivered. The pork had a slightly sweet exterior glaze, a nice char, and was incredibly juicy and flavorful. It kind of reminded me of veal moreso than pork. I tasted maple and apple flavors within the meat (from the brine?), as well as a smoky perfume unmistakably from the wood grill. Again, so juicy (see puddle of juice in above picture). I thought the cabbage side was okay – probably could’ve used more acidity, but the star here was the pork chop. Quite possibly the best I’ve ever had.

Grass Fed Hamburger, Pickled Onions and French Fries

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One of my cousins opted for the burger – he said it was good, but that Marlowe’s was better. The beef patty looked awkwardly small for the size of the bun.

Although pretty full at this point, we still got a couple of desserts.

Blue Bottle Cocktail Vodka, Coffee Liqueur, Espresso

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I usually try to stay away from coffee in the evenings, but for some reason this sounded irresistible at 12:30am. Hey, it was the first day of my vacation. I really liked this cocktail, with the strong espresso flavor masking much of the bite of the alcohol, while its bitterness was balanced by something sweet in here too. Definitely a drink to keep the party going after two meals.

Sopaipillas Spiced Hot Chocolate

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The sopaipillas were light and airy and dusted in sugar, while the extra-thick hot chocolate (perfect for dipping) added a rich chocolate flavor with just a little bit of cinnamon kick.

Spiced Apple Crisp Calvados Ice Cream

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The apple flavor definitely came through and I liked the texture of the crumble with the soft apple and melting ice cream. I thought the calvados flavor in the ice cream was fairly muted, however. A fairly typical dessert, but a nice way to end the meal.

I liked this meal better than Marlowe, and I just wonder how it would’ve been if we came here first. The food at Nopa isn’t particularly creative nor inventive, but it relies on comfortable and familiar flavors and consistent execution. The diner knows exactly what to expect here and perhaps that’s why it’s been so popular. Or maybe it’s because of the pork chop, which I would say is worth a return trip alone. If I did a 2011 best dish roundup, that pork chop probably would’ve cracked the top 10. Seriously good.

Pappardelle with Oxtail Ragu

Dining date: 1/2/11

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A meaty ragu (with pasta) is one of my favorite foods. If there’s one on the menu, there’s a pretty good chance I’m ordering it. One of my favorites is an oxtail ragu commonly served with a wide, flat pappardelle pasta. There’s just something about the beefy, meaty oxtails imparting their flavor into a rich and hearty sauce with pasta. It’s a dish I’ve wanted to make for some time but was never quite confident enough in my ability to do it. Turns out, it was actually fairly easy. Just takes a little time, but it was well worth it.

As with any dish, there are tons of different recipes out there but I found one from Mario Batali out of the Babbo Cookbook. With the Batali name attached to it, I chose this one to follow…well, mostly. Technically it’s for gnocchi with oxtail ragu, but I figured I could follow the recipe and just substitute the gnocchi for pasta. The recipe is as follows:

Recipe (adapted from Mario Batali, Babbo Cookbook)
2.5 lbs oxtail
Kosher salt and ground pepper
Flour, for dredging
1 onion, diced
2 cups red wine
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup tomato sauce
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
Pecorino romano, for grating
Pasta/gnocchi

Salt and pepper the oxtails and dredge oxtails in flour. Sear until well-browned on all sides. Remove oxtails.

Add onion and cook until lightly browned, a few minutes. Add red wine, scraping up the browned bits, followed by the chicken stock, tomato sauce and fresh thyme. Bring to a boil.

Add back the oxtails and their juices to the pot and put into a 375 degree oven for 3 hours.

Once oxtails are tender and falling off the bone, remove from sauce and let cool. Strain the sauce or blend all ingredients to achieve a smooth consistency.

Once the meat has cooled, pull meat apart from bones and shred into small pieces. Add back into sauce.

Cook pasta according to directions. In a saucepan, add meat and sauce to warm. Once pasta is a couple of minutes away from being done, drain and place pasta in saucepan with enough pasta water to maintain desired sauce consistency. Cook sauce and pasta together until well-incorporated and pasta is done. Plate and grate cheese over the top.

I followed the recipe fairly closely, carefully browning the meat and braising them until tender. Once the braise was done, I let the oxtails sit for a few hours to cool and for the fat (and there was a lot of it) in the sauce to settle at the top, where I tried to skim as much as I could. As much as I love oxtails, they’re not the healthiest cut of meat – there’s a ton of fat (flavor!). I tried to minimize that as much as possible in this step. I then blended the sauce up in its entirety to create a smooth consistency.

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Once the meat was pulled apart and put back into the sauce, I was ready to assemble the pasta. I experimented with two different dried pappardelle pastas (as much as I would’ve loved to use fresh pasta with this, it’s a lot of work and I’m not very good at it) – a thicker, wider Delverde variety and a thinner, eggier Rustichella pappardelle. Basically, those were the two varieties my local Bristol Farms carried.

Taste-wise, I preferred the thicker and wider Delverde pasta but found it to break apart while cooking far too easily. I could understand it breaking apart if overcooked, but these guys starting falling apart after a few minutes of cooking. The Rustichella variety held up together perfectly during the cooking process, but it didn’t have the same mouth feel as the thicker Delverde.

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Fully assembled and plated pasta with the Delverde.

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And the Rustichella.

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I also experimented with a couple of added touches. I liked adding some bitter greens (I had some Chinese broccoli on hand, of which I used just the leaves – they worked very similar to rapini); I thought it added a whole new dimension, and its fresh, slightly bitter flavor helped to offset the richness of the dish. Plus, it made me feel less guilty about eating this in large quantities. I also did one with some clementine zest (’tis the season!) which added some bright citrus to help cut through the richness, though I preferred just the greens.

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I was pretty happy with the way this turned out. I’m still searching for the perfect pasta (it may have to be made fresh…sigh) but I thought the ragu was exactly what I was looking for. Rich and tremendously flavorful, it would’ve worked well on any pasta. Or even mashed potatoes. Or spread on some toasted bread. Probably with any starch. I’ll definitely be making this again.

Atelier Crenn (San Francisco, CA)

Atelier Crenn
3127 Fillmore St
San Francisco, CA 94123
Dining date: 12/23/11

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Atelier Crenn opened almost one year ago, last January. It was a hotly anticipated opening and seems to have met the hype, regarded as one of the top restaurant openings of the year (and awarded a Michelin star). The chef is Dominique Crenn, a Morrocan-French chef who grew up in France but has spent much of her culinary career in California. Her experience primarily spans stints in San Francisco and Los Angeles, most recently at SF’s Luce, where she garnered a Michelin star (that they’ve since retained). She left Luce early last year to focus 100% on Atelier Crenn.

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I’ve been following Crenn for a little while now. One of my biggest dining regrets in 2010 was missing Crenn’s one night gig at Test Kitchen (there was a conflicting dinner), but I did get to eat some of her cooking at Luce a couple weeks later.

My parents dine out a fair amount and a previous visit to Atelier Crenn was one of their top SF meals of the year (for my dad, it was #1 while my mother really enjoyed Commonwealth). So, I came in with high expectations.

Two menu options were available: a 5-course menu with some options or an extended tasting menu for $135 (currently $160). We went with the latter.

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The meal started off with a trio of amuse bouche-like small bites.

The Cold pear custard, foie gras pearls, pistachio
NV Domaine Julien Fouet, Cremant de Loire, Rose

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The first dish was a light and cool pear custard with frozen foie gras pearls. So pretty. The foie pearls warmed in the mouth and became a creamy and rich complement to the sweet pear custard. Pistachios and some toasted bread added some welcome texture. A pretty nice starter, for sure.

The Smoke arctic char skin, salmon roe

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The second was a fried piece of arctic char skin. I’m not sure why I haven’t seen a standalone piece of fish skin before – delicate, crispy, fishy; it was quite tasty especially with the salty salmon roe. My mother and I were debating whether we were supposed to eat the greens – I ate it, finding it overpoweringly bitter. We later learned it was meant purely for garnish. Oops!

The Crisp yuba, daikon

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Lastly was a fried piece of yuba with pickled daikon. I liked the crunchy yuba but found the daikon to be overly tart.

Kir Breton
The French 74

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Next we had a sort of apertif – a play on a kir breton cocktail encapsulated in a delicate shell. Biting into it yielded a burst of apple flavor – refreshing and another great way to whet the appetite. Fun!

Another cocktail was the drink pairing here, essentially a take on a French 75 but without the hard alcohol.

Oysters “Japonaise” kushi oysters, sake, mirin, tapioca
2008 Domaine Vocoret et Fils, Chablis 1er Cru, Montmains

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These were good oysters, complemented by some Japanese accents and some herbal notes too. I liked biting on the chewy tapioca with the tender oysters.

“Ocean and Land” american wagyu beef, smoked sturgeon, cornichon
2010 Christian Vergier, “Saint Lager,” Brouilly

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The beef was good; I thought the addition of the smoked sturgeon balls (frozen via liquid nitrogen) really elevated the dish, adding a smoky, slightly fishy flavor. The slivers of cornichon added some acidity, while the cracker added the bulk of the texture.

Carrot, Aloe Vera, Quinoa

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More of a palate cleanser than an actual course, but I really enjoyed this one. The carrot sorbet was vibrant and quite delicious. The aloe vera gelee by itself was slightly off-putting (a flavor I’m not used to), but actually helped balance the sweetness of the sorbet when eaten together.

Foie Gras, Nuances of Winter cocoa nib tuile
2009 Domaine Sylvain-Gaudron, Vouvray Demi-Sec
Strubbe’s Grand Cru, Flanders Red Ale

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The flavors here were very subtle; the textures were more interesting. The foie had a very light, almost snow-ish texture while the cocoa nib tuile (something from Crenn’s childhood) provided a delicate crunch.

Spot Prawns, Rouille, Hay
2008 Morey-Coffinet, Chassagne Montrachet, 1er Cru

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I expected these hay-smoked spot prawns to be sweet and sort of spongy. The flavors were there (accented by a smoky, grassy flavor), but I found the flesh to be rather creamy and mushy. Hm.

A Walk in the Forest chanterelles, maitake, pine meringue, hazelnut
2009 Domaine Gris des Bauries, Cotes du Rhone Villages

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From what I’ve read, this has been one of the most raved about dishes, and for good reason. A myriad of mushrooms were carefully placed with a bruleed meringue and flowers resembling a forest landscape. While the plating was fun, the flavors were on point too with the earthy ‘shrooms and hazelnuts complimented well by the pine-scented sweetness of the meringue. I appreciated the varied textures and flavors of the different mushrooms too.

Rooibos Tea, Orange Granita

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A large egg-shaped stone was plopped down on the table and opened to reveal a rather light and refreshing palate cleanser, with strong citrus flavor from the granita.

Mackerel, Verbena beets, radish
2009 Dr. Deinhard Halbtrocken, Riesling, Pfaltz

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This mackerel was seared rare; the richer, oily fish was complemented by the sweetness of the beets and textures of the radish. Overall though, I didn’t find it quite as exciting as some of the other plates.

Arctic Char “Basquaise” mussels, romesco
2008 Domaine Mucyn, Crozes-Hermitage, Syrah

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I thought this fish was cooked a nice medium rare. The dish had a fun flavor profile with the romesco, as well as added depth from the mussel jus foam. Pretty interesting. The lone mussel was tasty, though I’m not sure it totally fit in with the rest of the dish.

Guinea Hen “Thailandaise” coconut, cilantro, basil, bok choy
2010 Berroia Txakolina de Bizkaia, Basque

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I liked the concept of this dish but thought the guinea hen was overcooked – it was on the dry side. Still, the southeast Asian flavors came through, with balanced coconut and cilantro accompaniments.

Eucalyptus

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Eucalpytus trees are found throughout San Francisco but I don’t think I’ve ever eaten it. Here, a little bit of eucalyptus ice cream (on a stick!) was presented under a small eucalyptus tree. How fitting. I liked the ice cream…not really woodsy at all, it actually had a bright, clean flavor.

Next, a siphon came out to create a beverage pairing with dessert. Cinnamon, vanilla bean, and star anise were infused with quince tea right at the table. Pretty cool!

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Pear, Quince, Sage
Quince tea infused with cinnamon, vanilla bean, star anise

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I thought this was a standout dish, both in presentation and flavor. What looked like a lone pear in a snowy landscape was actually a creamy pear sorbet with wonderful delicate textures from an herbal sort of crumble. The sweet sorbet was nicely balanced by the Greek yogurt snow. As good as it looked!

Lastly, we had a pretty robust selection of sweets.

Mignardises

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Atelier Crenn met my high expectations. I marveled at the creativity and personal touch/story in the menu, and this was some of the best plating I’ve ever seen. The menu showed a lot of restraint; flavors were at times subtle, but rather refined and always well-balanced. Execution-wise, I thought there were a couple of misses on the spot prawn and guinea hen, but outside of that I thought the plates were spot on. Plus, the meal showed a lot of technique throughout, working with varied textures and preparations. And seriously, that dessert was one of the most memorable plates all year. Service was very warm, attentive and accommodating. Overall, I’d say this was my best complete dining experience during my San Francisco trip and would not hesitate in returning.

 

Brunch @ M.B. Post (Manhattan Beach, CA)

Manhattan Beach Post (M.B. Post)
1142 Manhattan Ave
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
Dining date: 1/7/12

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I visited M.B Post in May of last year and walked away both completely stuffed and impressed. Since then, chef/owner David LeFevre has racked up the accolades, being one of LA Times critic S. Irene Virbila’s best meals of 2011 and seemingly on everyone’s “best new restaurants” list for 2011. And, the restaurant’s bacon cheddar buttermilk biscuits have become somewhat of an L.A. phenomenon, a must-order for sure.

I’ve wanted to return but scheduling and lack of proximity have kept me away. However, this past weekend the restaurant launched brunch service – a perfect reason to pay a visit.

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The menu is fairly brief with a number of fresh baked breads/sweets, a few meat/potato side dishes and around nine more substantial composed plates. Similar to dinner service, the full wine/beer list is available as well as a selection of cocktails. Being a little under the weather, I passed on any alcohol but Wes did order this Asian-inspired mojito.

Mo-Pho-Jito mojito with starr rum, kaffir lime, mint, ginger, coriander honey

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Sticky Buns pecan and brown sugar

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While pondering what to order, I saw one of these go to another table. I had to get one. Coming out on a still-hot cast iron skillet, it was quite the sight, especially with the rich sugary glaze dripping and pooling at the bottom. The dough was soft and pillowy, while the pecans added crunch to these sweet bites. Quite delish!

Benedict bacon cheddar biscuit, arugula, la quercia prosciutto, hollandaise

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The much-talked-about bacon cheddar biscuits were the base of this benedict. Slivers of proscuitto and arugula topped the biscuit, as well as a soft-poached egg and hollandaise sauce. I liked the combination of flavors, with the arugula standing up to the bacon and prosciutto, and the rich runny egg yolk adding a rich creaminess to the dish.

Nueske’s Bacon rosemary, brown sugar, chili

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The brown sugar lended a maple-y sweetness to the bacon while some fresh rosemary brightened things up a bit. For me, not as memorable as the other plates we tried.

Weiser Farm Fingerling Potatoes lemon buttermilk ranch

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Fingerling potatoes were prepared “French fry” style with fresh herbs and garlic. These were fried to a crisp, and I thought the herb flavor definitely came through (aided by herbs and garlic being fried in the oil with the potatoes, as well as a dash after cooking). It came with a zesty citrus dipping sauce.

Truffle Honey Laced Fried Chicken kohlrabi slaw

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This all-white-meat serving was surprisingly moist and juicy. It was elevated by the honey glaze (reminded me of honey’s kettle) with a subtle truffle essence. The sweetness and the earthy truffle flavor were an ideal accompaniment to the crusty fried chicken. Nicely done.

Fritatta weiser farm potatoes, sprouting broccoli, white cheddar, piperade

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A kitchen favorite; the scrambled egg, potatoes and cheese combined to make a very filling dish that would be great for absorbing all the alcohol from the night prior. Rich and hearty, the peppers and tomatoes of the piperade added a lot of the depth of flavor.

Similar to my previous visit, M.B. Post delivered with its version of elevated comfort food; it was one of the better brunches I’ve had in some time. While the food isn’t as refined as what he was doing at Water Grill, LeFevre’s cooking is now an entirely different beast showing a lot of thought and full of varied flavors; it’s both interesting yet comforting at the same time. This meal confirmed my belief that it’s one of the top restaurant openings in LA last year. Selfishly, I just wish it was closer to where I live/work, but I’m glad the South Bay has something like this. Judging by the crowds, I’m sure they’re glad too.

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New England Lobster (San Francisco, CA)

New England Lobster
170 Mitchell Ave
South San Francisco, CA 94080
Dining date: 12/28/11

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My dad is a big fan of seafood and will go to great lengths to find the good stuff, particularly if it’s crab or lobster. So, when he proposed driving down to South San Francisco for this ‘truck,’ I was intrigued. I’m pretty food truck fatigued, but figured this had to be something special if we were going to make a drive out here.

The New England Lobster trailer is only a couple months old, an extension of a large retail and wholesale seafood company (the largest lobster wholesaler in California). It’s parked right outside the company’s storefront, where they sell fresh lobster, crab and other seafood year-round. Direct from the source…perfect. It’s actually the place where my dad gets the lobsters for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners and presumably this is how he stumbled upon the trailer.

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The menu is fairly brief…focused, I should say. They make only a few things and they make them well. The rolls are $10-$15.50 which is a bit more expensive than typical food truck fare, but hey, it’s fresh crab and lobster. They definitely have a competitive advantage in terms of their seafood pricing and it’s rather no-frills eating; you’re really getting a lot of value out of those dollars.

It was a little chilly out, so I started with a bowl of soup.

Lobster Corn Chowder Soup

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Rather light and creamy, the soup had a nice sweetness both from the corn and lobster. It was kind of like a lobster bisque; there was definitely a lobster/shellfish stock base. I was a little fearful that the lobster would be overcooked in the hot soup, but my fears were assuaged as I bit into the plump and juicy pieces. Nice!

Lobster Roll

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Now, what we were most looking forward to. The roll was generously sized, about 8 inches long and packed with Maine lobster. The bread was toasted and soft, while the lobster was lightly dressed in what I think was just mayo, salt and pepper. Quite simple. The sweet lobster had the spongy, springy texture I was expecting and was quite tasty, especially with a splash of lemon.

Served with potato chips and coleslaw, but I didn’t think they were even necessary. Though, it’s hard to go wrong with some simple potato chips with a sandwich like this.

Crab Roll

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Similar to the lobster roll, this one was filled with a good amount of fresh crab. I don’t think it was dressed in anything. I personally prefer lobster over crab so I liked that one better, but this roll was equally well-executed. I think the potato chips were more important with this sandwich to add that crunchy texture, since crab just doesn’t have the springy bite that lobster does.

Given this was just after dinner at Saison the night before, I was ready for some sort of letdown but it wasn’t found here. The food exceeded my expectations and was quite good for any restaurant, let alone a trailer.  The seafood is, expectantly, very fresh and simply prepared; the quality of the seafood really came through. My only regret was not taking any fresh seafood home with me.

Right now, the trailer can only be found parked outside their marketplace. However, once the staff hits its stride, I suspect we may be seeing them soon in other locations on the peninsula and in San Francisco proper. In my opinion this would have to be a marquee option, especially when pitted against other mobile vendors.

Saison (San Francisco, CA)

Saison
2124 Folsom St
San Francisco, CA 94110
Dining date: 12/27/11 

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Saison may have been my most anticipated meal in San Francisco in 2011. Chef Josh Skenes (Chez TJ, Stonehill Tavern) is cooking very modern French-Californian cuisine using locally sourced (including foraged) ingredients centered around a dining room hearth. A lot of restaurants are doing the local and farm-to-table thing nowadays, but Skenes is bringing a deceptively simple, restrained yet very thoughtful, approach to his food.

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Opened in 2009, it was a SF Chronicle best new restaurant in 2010 and exploded onto the national (international?) scene in 2011. This past year, Skenes and Saison achieved a seemingly endless list of accolades, perhaps none more noteworthy than 2 Michelin stars in the latest guide.

While I happily would have paid full price to dine here, I stumbled upon a LivingSocial deal at the end of October for the full tasting menu & wine pairing for $189 (valued at $246 then, $306 now). I’m typically averse to these Groupon-like deals given annoying restrictions or abbreviated menus, but this deal was for exactly the same menu with the only stated stipulation being that it had to be Tuesday-Thursday. So, I went for it and purchased two.

Unbeknownst to me until the day of (it was my fault for not mentioning the deal when making the reservation), only two tables are able to redeem the voucher per night (Tue-Thu). Given there is a 72-hour cancellation policy of $198pp, I was stuck. I understand it’s the restaurant’s prerogative on how the vouchers are redeemed, but I would’ve appreciated more disclosure on this (there was nothing on the LivingSocial website, the restaurant’s website, or even any mention when the restaurant called to confirm). I don’t know how many vouchers were sold, but allowing two tables per night for three days a week doesn’t sound like easy redemption. Given I don’t live in San Francisco, redemption of the voucher was not reasonably possible and I likely would not have purchased it in the first place. In the end, I was able to plead my case and have the paid value of my vouchers ($189 each) applied to the cost of the dinner, essentially making it a net-zero deal. Still, the damage was done.

Currently the menu lists 8 “courses,” but that’s more of a guideline – the actual number of courses tends to be in the low-teens. That menu is $198 (making this the most expensive restaurant in the city), but there’s also an option to dine on an extended menu at the chef’s counter for $498pp (all-inclusive). However, each seat in the main dining room includes a view of the open kitchen – a nice touch.

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We started with a trio of egg dishes.

eggs
Domaine Carneros Brut 2007

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A hearth-roasted chicken gelee was topped with sea urchin, a delicious combination. A subtle but present woody, smoky flavor clearly came through too. Cool, refreshing and a perfect dish to get the appetite going. Quite nice.

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Next was this shooter of trout roe in tandem with a fried quail egg, mermaid’s hair seaweed, dehydrated shrimp and cornichons. Again, a smoky sea flavor came through in the roe shooter, while the bite provided additional depth of egg/sea flavor, with some texture from the dehydrated shrimp and dried seaweed.

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Lastly, we had a (large) bite of egg, both well-cooked and soft-cooked, accompanied by smoked creme fraiche, flowers, and greens. Subtle flavors, but a nice play on textures.

Next was the first “off-menu” course.

grilled oyster, cucumber, lemon verbena

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Light and refreshing, it was a good oyster. The lemon verbena added a slight lemon flavor without the tartness or acid.

cru
Donnhoff Riesling, Nahe, Germany 2010 

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The first in a duo of dishes featuring bluefin tuna. The meat was pulled apart by an oyster shell, giving it an almost stringy feel to it. Japanese flavor profiles of soy and a rice vinegar added a lot of savory depth to the dish, while some of the tuna fat was roasted in the embers of the hearth, lending more richness. The rice cracker added some fun texture to the bites. A delicious dish.

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The next dish had a lot of components: artichoke, tomato, capers, seaweed vinegar and fried bluefin head. I thought the bluefin got lost in the mix, and also found the dish to be heavy-handed with the salt.

At the conclusion of the course, we received the first bread – kalamata olive bread baked fresh in the hearth (and served piping hot!). Loved that there was fresh bread…it was pretty tasty. Served with a creamy house-churned butter with gray salt.

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brassicas brassicas, grains, quail egg
Sandhi Chardonnay, Santa Barbara 2010

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I thought this was another outstanding dish – a play on different textures, greens and grains. I liked the balance of various hearth-tinged vegetables and grains, while a warm dashi broth and quail egg brought everything together.

crustacean lobster tail, meyer lemon creme, compressed aromatics, prawn roe salt
Marisa Cuomo Ravello, Campania, Italy 2009

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A small piece of lobster floated in a delicious, herbal broth. Some meyer lemon creme added citrus flavor, as well as a little more body to the soup. Deep, savory flavors. The prawn roe salt was fun too.

liver foie gras toffee, milk foam, pomelo
Reutberger Dunkel, Germany

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This was an interesting dish, a mad scientist’s experiment creating a creamy foie gras with a clear toffee flavor. Was it sweet? Savory? How about both – and it really worked well.

The second bread out of the oven was this milk bread, also served hot. Definitely less flavorful than the olive bread, it was really light and kind of airy.

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wood pigeon thirty-eight day aged squab, persimmon, tangerine, pomegranate, huckleberry, chili, olives
Selvapiana Chianti Classico, Italy 2009

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I was highly anticipating this piece of dry-aged squab; for sure something unique for me. Very chewy, sort of stringy but definitely full of the characteristic squab flavor. Pretty interesting. I’m not sure I preferred it to fresh squab, but I’m glad I tried it. Some fresh winter fruits added sweetness to counter the rich meat, while some chili and olives added extra heat and salty tones, respectively.

Next up was the cheese course.

sheep’s milk cheese, almond croquant, brioche, honeycomb

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The cheese was warm, mild and creamy, filling the brioche…basically like a cheese puff. I liked the use of honey with both the honeycomb and honey-glazed brioche.

preserved lemon 1:27 preserved lemon, chrysanthemum
Domaine d’Orfeuilles Vouvray, Loire, France 2009

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The lemon in this dish was preserved for 11 months; clean flavors and quite refreshingly sweet, I especially appreciated the balance of the chrysanthemum foam.

nawlins chicory ice cream, dehydrated milk foam, new orleans style coffee, beignet
Badia di Morrona Vin Santo 2006

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I liked the coffee and chicory flavors at play in this dessert, as well as the texture particularly from the crispy dehydrated milk foam. The deep, bitter coffee flavor was countered by the sweetness in the dessert, while a beignet was a nice touch to complete the dish.

roasted green tea & popcorn ice cream

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Reminiscent of Urasawa, here a cup of roasted green tea. Apparently, Skenes likes to end his meals on this tea too. Also, we were served a simple scoop of ice cream. As advertised, it truly tasted like popcorn. Fun!

Lastly, a couple of sweets to end the meal.

blood orange petit four

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Saison was an excellent meal and one of my strongest of 2011. The food was both creative and interesting and, most importantly, was quite delicious. Skenes is working with, for the most part, familiar flavors and ingredients but creating unique and sometimes unexpected combinations. It’s pretty easy for me to say I preferred the food here to other SF 2-stars Benu and Coi and it impressed me enough that I’d be interested in returning for the chef’s counter.

It’s just unfortunate that the LivingSocial deal detracted so much from the overall experience (just the opposite of its intention); I regret buying it. It kind of spoiled an otherwise great dining experience.

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