Nico (San Francisco, CA)

Nico
3228 Sacramento Street
San Francisco, CA 94115
Dining date: 12/26/14

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Nico opened in late 2013 quietly garnering a following as a sort of neighborhood restaurant nestled between Pacific Heights and Presidio Heights. SF Chronicle food critic Michael Bauer has been a fan since the restaurant opened; on Christmas Eve, he wrote a review calling it a “destination restaurant” and gave an impressive three-and-a-half stars (out of four). While looking for post-Christmas meals, my dad snagged a last minute reservation here for the family to try.

While Nico is tasting menu-only, it’s priced very reasonably especially for San Francisco standards. $45 buys three courses while $55 buys 5 courses with an optional wine pairing for $45. In a city where it seems fine dining restaurants continue to push the envelope with quickly-increasing prices, it was nice to find something a little more value-conscious here. We opted for the 5-course menu.

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Alta CA (San Francisco, CA)

Alta CA
1420 Market St
San Francisco, CA 94102
Dining date: 11/28/14

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Alta CA opened late last year, the latest from chef-restaurateur Daniel Patterson (Coi, Plum, Haven). The restaurant is one of the more notable SF openings in the past 12 months and has generally garnered praise for its Californian cuisine. My parents had dined here earlier in the year for lunch and found it unmemorable, but this would be their first time for dinner (and my first overall).

The menu is shared plates-based, ranging from $5 for deviled eggs to $26 for black cod. Between our party of three, we were able to sample seven of them with dessert as well.

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The Walrus and the Carpenter (Seattle, WA)

The Walrus and the Carpenter
4743 Ballard Ave NW
Seattle, WA 98107
Dining date: 11/6/14

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I had one free evening on a quick business trip to Seattle, my first time to the city. Seattle’s got a ton of interesting restaurants and it was a difficult decision narrowing down to one. In the end, we decided on The Walrus and the Carpenter, Renee Erickson’s 4 1/2-year old oyster bar. The no-reservations restaurant has been consistently popular since its beginning, but we were able to squeeze in for an early dinner table after a 20 minute wait.

As expected, the focus here is on seafood particularly oysters. A large variety are always on hand (9 on this evening) as well as a bounty of other seafood small plates. A handful of garden, pantry, meat and cheese plates round out the menu.

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Barrel & Ashes (Los Angeles, CA)

Barrel & Ashes
11801 Ventura Blvd
Studio City, CA 91604
Dining date: 11/22/14

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One of the hottest restaurants in LA right now has to be this place, Barrel & Ashes. It’s the latest from prolific restaurateur Bill Chait, teaming up this time with two Thomas Keller vets Tim Hollingsworth (The French Laundry) and Rory Herrmann (Bouchon). Add barman Julian Cox and I’d say this is one of the highest-powered restaurant teams LA’s seen in some time. While the Hollingsworth/Herrmann pedigree comes from some of the fanciest of foods, Barrel & Ashes focuses in on a rather ‘simple’ food – BBQ. They’ve done extensive travel and eating and bring a mix of regional Southern specialties to Studio City.

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The menu hones in on meat sold by the weight and ribs by the rack or half-rack. A handful of small plates and sides round out the savory part of the menu. On this evening, we tried a couple of the small plates and tried as many of the meats we could in one sitting.

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Maude (Beverly Hills, CA)

Maude
212 S Beverly Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90212
Dining date: 4/12/14

Maude Opened in February, Curtis Stone’s Maude was one of the most anticipated restaurant openings of the year. It’s still one of the most popular restaurants in the city, packing tables for its seasonal, monthly tasting menus. The concept is rather unique; each month, the restaurant chooses one ingredient/theme to showcase throughout its entire 9+ course tasting menu (there is no a la carte option). This April dinner was centered around peas ($80).

Reservations are available at 10am on the 1st of the month for the following month (e.g. April reservations were available on March 1). On March 1, we placed hundreds of calls to get a busy signal…and finally secured a table in the early afternoon. Definitely one of the more difficult reservations to obtain in a while.

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Faith & Flower (Los Angeles, CA)

Faith & Flower
705 W 9th St
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Dining date: 4/3/14

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Faith & Flower is one of the bigger downtown restaurant openings lately, brought to us by a powerful partnership between Coastal Luxury Management (Pebble Beach Food & Wine, Los Angeles Food & Wine) and Stephane Bombet (Picca). It’s the first LA restaurant opening for the high-profile CLM team and Bombet’s first since his partnership with Ricardo Zarate.

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The restaurant space, formerly Towne Food & Drink, is large and quite nice. Located near LA Live, it has a luxurious-feeling interior, though still feels comfortable for someone having a casual meal out. The restaurant partners brought in chef Michael Hung to execute the menu, who comes with a San Francisco-based fine dining pedigree (Jardinere, La Folie). The food is more approachable than his background may suggest; it could be classified as modern American and I found a lot of Asian flair throughout his food. Between our party of three, we sampled our way through a good portion of the menu, picking out a number of vegetarian-friendly items for our vegetarian friend.

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