Friday, October 18, 2013


Despite our schedule of dinners, we couldn't resist lunches, and we had some great ones.

Swan Oyster Depot
On our first Friday, we made the mistake (not repeated) of ordering room service breakfast, leaving us too full to contemplate lunch for awhile, so it was 2:15 before we got on line at Swan Oyster Depot.  We hadn't been excited by the simple-sounding menu available on MenuPages, but it had come highly recommended by the great Inn at Little Washington sommelier, a recent transplant from SF, with whom we'd chatted  at our dinner (and subsequently emailed).  We were skeptical that it would be worth what turned out to be an hour wait, even at that random afternoon time, but we ended up being glad that we did it.  Beers are handed out on line, the only menu (not entirely accurate) is on the wall, and the atmosphere is downright jovial.  The clam chowder was a bit too thin, but all the simple seafood was great (and assortment plates were readily offered when we were indecisive).  We shared a nice mixed half dozen oysters; my taste-acquiring is coming along.  The smoked fish plate (trout and two types of salmon) would have made for a great brunch beginning.  Good sourdough bread.  Crudo dressed "Italian style" with olive oil, capers, and diced red onion was delicious; I especially liked the scallops.  I'd never seen sea urchin cracked and cleaned before -- sort of gross pre-rinsing -- but I'm finally over the weird texture and love the taste.  (Sadly, the soy sauce and wasabi were average-sushi-joint cheap, detracting from the quality of the uni.)  When we asked whether there was anything else we should try, our server shucked us each a clam; Adam took the littleneck, I took the giant cherry stone.  Not my thing, but at least we didn't miss anything!

We walked to Cotogna to meet Jenn and Ed for brunch on Saturday (which turned out to be just close enough -- Sansome sloped steeply up on the next block).  No photos, unfortunately.  I never turn down a chance to order burrata, and I enjoyed the non-standard combination with the vividly green, minty oil pooling under it.  Melon gazpacho was refreshingly light, although I think Adam enjoyed it a bit more than I did.  The Heger Farm corn triangoli was decadently buttery-corny; I am a sucker for fresh sweet corn in pasta.  The highlight was the pizza with cauliflower, capers & calabrian chili -- a great balance of salty, roasty, and spicy.  Overall, Cotogna was really good, but I think we weren't as impressed as we might otherwise have been if we didn't have (somewhat similar, and so, so excellent) Two Amys and Etto here in D.C.

Bar Tartine
Fan-fucking-tastic brunch.  (It feels weird to curse in writing, but it's just true.)  We brutally over-ordered, but it was totally worth it.

All the pickles were good, but the warm mushrooms were definitely the best.  The others were more standard pickles. I do love a good pickle assortment (mmm, Ssam Bar's . . .).
Assortment of Pickles: sauerkraut with claim chili paste, garlic mushrooms, giardiniera

Full disclosure: As much as I love the most artisanal stinky/crunchy/chalky/complex real cheeses, I also love Easy Cheese, that cheese food product that comes in a can.  (I know exactly one other person who shares my enjoyment -- bless you, Josh!)  Knowing this, it's probably not surprising that I'm also partial to haute pimento cheeses that are increasingly appearing on the menus of hipster-frequented restaurants.  And this was a very good iteration, great with the slivers of green onion (a well-used garnish on many dishes) and crunchy-edged, chewy bread.  But I'm glad that I tried it first for maximum enjoyment, because the pistachio dip blew it away.
Liptauer pimento cheese with charred bread

Possibly the best thing we ate at this awesome brunch.  Kind of like a pistachio nutty hummus?  Just great.
Pistachio dip with green chili and seeded crackers

In a (very small) show of restraint, we only ordered one of the smorrebrod (open faced sprouted rye bread sandwiches), abandoning a kale one when we started to grasp the magnitude of our over-ordering.  That quark was great -- a party of bagel variety flavors -- and the cucumber was a nice vegetal addition. Good use of fennel fronds.
Lox with 'everything' quark

The dish in contention with the pistachio dip for best of the meal.  It was just so great: just-soft-enough, wonderfully smoky roasted potatoes, acidic from the delicious black garlic vinaigrette, creamy from the mayo, with a bit of brightness from the scallions.  So much potato-y goodness; I kept picking at tiny bites long after I was stuffed.  
Smoked potatoes with ramp mayonnaise

The eggs were the most disappointing of the meal, although not a bad dish -- just not as good as the others.  The cheese sauce was a bit bland, although the mustard addition was inspired.  (I should use mustard more than I do.  Deanna would have approved.)  Overall, I think I would have preferred it as avocado toast without the eggs, which just weighed it down (although an understandable nod to its being brunch).
Avocado toast with scrambled eggs, mustard and cheese sauce

I forgot to photograph the bread pudding until we'd devoured most of it.  Lemon curd and berries is a classic combo, but one that I love.  Well done.

(A nice final touch -- I'd ordered a buckwheat and verbena tea at the end of the meal because I'd liked Adam's so much, but we had a train to catch before it arrived, so we were offered a to-go cup.)

Redd Wood
En route to Meadowood, we stopped for lunch at Redd Wood pizza, recommended by Laura (seconded by one of the girls behind us on line at Swan Oyster Depot).  On a little street in Yountville, attached to a charming, slightly funky boutique hotel -- loved the wall of golden keys and the musician mugshot throw pillows in the lobby -- it's a beautiful space.  Super friendly service, an extensive by-the-glass wine list -- the (new) server volunteered to bring tastes of two different glasses when Adam asked about them -- and, as it turns out, really good food.  The burrata, tomato, and basil salad was pretty Platonically ideal; a perfectly ripe assortment of delicious heirloom tomatoes.  The Swan Oyster Depot Line Girl had recommended the little gem lettuce salad, and I'm glad that she did.  We'd have ignored it given its non-descriptive description -- summer vegetables, little gem lettuce, green goddess -- but it was a colorful, delicious riot of lettuce, squash, tomatoes, and other vegetables that I'm now forgetting.  An excellent salad, undersold by its menu entry.

Adam was skeptical on the fig pizza from the menu -- it sounded heavy to him, I think? -- but declared that I should steal it for my home pizza making adventures as soon as he tried it.  Leeks: good in everything.  Fresh figs, slightly roasted from the oven: a nice sweet contrast.  Unexpected, yet great.  Plus, Redd Wood does exactly the sort of chewy thing crust that I like in pizzas like this.
Goat Cheese, Mozzarella, Figs, Leeks, Caramelized Onion, Chives.

The corn pizza was also very good, even without the bacon, although second place.  Didn't exceed menu description expectations, but met them.
Ricotta, Corn, Bacon, Chili, Basil, Pecorino, Onion (sans bacon, of course)

While we still had the rental car on Friday, we trekked -- a whole twenty minutes -- to one of two Nopalito locations (on Broderick).  We were warned by the very nice waitress that we were overordering, but we couldn't decide what to throw overboard, so . . . . No regrets.

A bit thicker than I'm used to ceviche's being, with the tomatillo puree and avocado, but very enjoyably bright.  I held off on the chips because of the surfeit of snacks on the way, but the consistency actually would have worked well with them, straddling the salsa/guac and ceviche elements.
Ceviche Verde con Pescado y Calamari
marinated fish, calamari, lime, tomatillo, jalapeno,cilantro, avocado and tortilla chips

I don't recall what was in the taquitos -- something vegetable -- but I do remember enjoying the (what I think of as) classic Mexican combo of crunch, crema, guac, and salsa.

I was totally surprised when the melon gazpacho arrived at our table; I'd expected a soup, although a reread of the menu confirmed that it was described as a salad.  A lovely sweet-spicy late summer salad.
Gazpacho Estilo Morelia 

Excellent fish taco; loved the smokey ancho chile adobo sauce.
Taco de Pescado al Pastor
seared fish in ancho chile adobo, orange, onion, cilantro and salsa de morita y tomatillo

The squash quesadilla was probably the least interesting dish of a great lunch, but we'd been warned that they'd run out of the squash blossoms, so hard to judge.  And it definitely shut up the inner -- and, let's be honest, often outer -- voice demanding queso.  Improved by a dunk in the salsa.
Quesadilla con Flor de Calabaza

We weren't quiet sure what to expect with this one, but as you can tell, we devoured it.  A fantastic Mexican brunch dish, whether the components were spooned into a tortilla or just directly into my mouth.  Like the smoked potatoes, one of those I'm-so-full-but-just-one-more-bite-urrrrrghhh-too-fullllll dishes.
Machaca de Camaron con Huevo y Salsa
smashed shrimp, egg, serrano pepper, tomato, onion, cilantro, refried black beans and salsa ligera de jitomate

Slanted Door
We'd gone back and forth on whether to try Slanted Door, given various friends' views that it was good, too expensive, and/or too touristy.  By our last full day, I was also suffering (unprecedentedly) from meal fatigue, and had suggested that we just sit in bed and order room service.  But the rainy weather -- our first gross morning in over a week, shockingly! -- began to clear, and Adam convinced me to stop watching the America's Cup race out the window, put on pants, and leave our hotel room.   I wouldn't rush back, but it was an enjoyable meal, and I'm glad to have finally tried this San Francisco institution.

I love green papaya salad, so definitely wanted to order that.  (With this and the caramel fish, we wanted to see how Eden Center favorites would stack up.)  The (very) slightly spicy melon salad was a special that ended up being much more boring than I'd hoped from the description, and really both salads were much lighter and less Vietnamese than I'd expected.  (White people levels of spice pervaded the menu.)  But once I stopped thinking of the papaya salad as a comparator to a traditional one -- which wouldn't have had all that celery, for one thing -- it was actually pretty good as a salad.
green papaya, pickled carrot, rau ram, crispy shallot, roasted peanut

The daikon rice cakes sounded interesting, but I didn't know quite what to expect.  I really liked them; sort of chewy and soy saucy, in a good way.  Probably my favorite dish overall due to its unusualness.  Disappointingly, they were out of the uni that we initially tried to order, so we went with the tuna tartare in its stead.  It was a well done iteration of something you've had a million times; I can certainly see how this place would have been hailed as fantastic and groundbreaking ages ago, when Asian fusion was novel.
daikon rice cakes, shiitake mushroom, shallot, sweet chili soy
spicy ahi tuna tartare, english cucumber, toasted sesame

The caramelized sauce was much thinner and lacking in those delicious stuck-to-the-pot crunchy bits that I so love, but even more than with the papaya salad, once I stopped comparing it to my expectations, it was really quite tasty.
caramelized catfish claypot, cilantro, ginger, thai chili

The broccoli was fine, but more like a good version of something that you'd get in a Chinese restaurant than anything exciting.  The noodles benefited greatly from liberal spritzing with the lime wedges we request -- Adam's right, if a dish is missing something, it's usually acid -- but were pretty good with that addition.
cellophane noodles, green onion, dungeness crab, sesame
catalan farm spicy broccoli, braised tofu, beech mushroom

Not sure that I could identify a particular lychee flavor, but who cares?  Cotton candy!
lychee cotton candy

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Manresa (09/15/2013)

I've abandoned the idea of writing up our meals in chronological order, in favor eagerness-to-write order.  So, Sunday night, The Cats: Manresa.  (We were actually on time for this one, thanks to Phil's dropping us off.)  We opted for the longer seasonal tasting -- "The Late Summer Garden" -- a split wine pairing, and a bottle of wine (I believe a younger Clavaillon, as I vaguely recall contrasting it favorably with the Saison bottle).

The savory petit fours were a cute idea -- a red bell pepper jelly and a black olive madeleine -- but neither was good enough -- the red pepper too sweet from the sugar dusting, the madeleine too heavy -- to really warrant being the amuse.  I would have found them more effective as dessert petit fours.
Petit fours "red pepper-black olive"

However, our streak of awesome tomato dishes continued with this vibrant tomato-in-textures dish.
25 tomatoes, coriander

Unlike the disappointing abalone at Saison, Manresa's was perfect.  A thin layer of yuzu gelee over the chawanmushi-reminiscent panna cotta added unexpected citrusy brightness.  The creamy custard contrasted with the slightly chewy abalone, enhanced by a bit of dashi.  It just all worked.
Abalone and local milk panna cotta

The smoky eggplant flavor in the puree was great, but the rounds of eggplant had that sort of mushy texture that cooked eggplant can get, which detracted from the overall effect.
Smoky eggplant and lightly cured mackerel, toasted rice

I didn't love the faux-risotto; the cleverness didn't compensate for the too-starchy texture of the finely chopped fava beans, although the flavor of the beans and creamy foam predictably worked.
Without rice, fava bean risotto, sheep's milk cheese

I couldn't tell you want exactly was in this lovely salad or the earthy "soil" beyond greens, edible flowers, and some shaved vegetables underneath -- and unfortunately neither could the server whom I asked.  This highlighted one of my complaints about the service at Manresa, which was the stodgiest we had all week.  It seemed like each course was set out by different (often multiple) people, so we never really had someone with whom we could chat about the meal.  (Also, the somm was sort of weird; not very chatty or enthusiastic, although he seemed friendly to a nearby table at which one of the diners appeared to work in the industry.)
Into the vegetable garden . . . 

Another not-particularly-exciting miso soup-reminiscent course.  Meh.
Clams and chickpeas, a pine mushroom bouillon

The tuna looked sort of boring, but was surprisingly pretty good.  But we love smoked pretty-much-anything.  I don't recall this dish's being a standout, though.
Albacore "puttanesca," lightly smoked

I liked the next one more.  Milk skin added an interestingly textured dairy element, leeks are always great, I love sweet figs, and the fennel (sliced and fronds) nicely bridged the sweet-and-savory.
Figs and wild fennel, milk and honey

I really enjoyed the surprising pairing of tomatillo sauce with the acidic-sweet pop of the gooseberries, but the mussels were a distraction that I could have done without.  
Block cod and mussels, tomatillo with gooseberries

Manresa is apparently known for doing a L'Arpege egg, so we were disappointed when it became clear that we weren't going to get it.  When we asked a server, we were told that the chef was moving away from it, but he'd check.  A few minutes later, this appeared.  While delicious, this variation wasn't the maple-syrupy sweet-and-creamy version that I'd been excited to have again.  I don't recall what was flavoring it, but it was something seasonal; I want to say cucumber but I think I'm just conflating it with the next course.

I was so full that I declined cheese, although it's cool that they have an all-American cheese cart, with some from places that I didn't even realize produced cheese, including the Hudson Red from Twin Maple Farm in Ghent.  We'll have to visit on a future trip upstate with Narissa.

Our first dessert was so good.  Adam loves a salad for dessert, and we both love when dessert plays with traditionally savory elements.  Not-too-sweet from the fresh fig and marshmallow, freshly vegetal from the cucumber, basil, and basil seeds -- fantastic.  (The take-home menu listed a different dessert: "Andy's plums with butterscotch, buckwheat, black walnut" also sounded awesome.)

The sorbet and raspberry bits were tasty, but there was too noticeable a coffee flavor for me, and I rarely like chocolate desserts.
Raspberries, chocolate-coffee parfait, golden raspberry sorbet, almond

A bit precious maybe, but I liked the parallel of the jellies and madeleines.  I always like jelly petit fours, but cocoa powdered truffles aren't my thing.
Petit fours "strawberry-chocolate"
Adam thought that Manresa was the #2 for the week, but I'm torn between it and Meadowood, which was an undoubtedly better overall experience.  (He's probably right purely on the highs of the food.)  Hard to know how much I was influenced by the difference in atmosphere -- Manresa was drowsiness-inducingly dark, and the service wasn't our taste -- or less impressed by the ingredient-driven focus given how familiar I am with Stone Barns.  Still, an excellent meal; definitely above the eager-to-return line.
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