June 20, 2010
Waterbar for the View & Crisp Soft Shell CrabsAt a luncheon last week at the Waterbar, I sampled a range of appetizer, main course and dessert options from a limited menu. For those not familiar with Waterbar, the restaurant is located along San Francisco's Embarcadero and has an oyster and shellfish bar in a wide open, brightly lit space as you enter the main door. There's also a patio when the weather calls for it with umbrellas to shield out the sun that can be blinding at certain times of day.
Despite the fact that they tout free and reliable wifi, it didn't work two consecutive days despite a modem refresh. That said, the view made up for their technical glitches, as we had a close up of the Bay Bridge from our stunning window view.
In addition to shellfish, they are known for their topneck clam chowder, served with potato, artisan bacon and parsley, although I went for the Hearts of Romaine with kalamta olives, ricotta slata, and the baby artichoke salad served with fava beans, sweet peas and grana padano. Others had the cornmeal crusted smelts with endive, radish and green goddess.
The crisp soft shell crabs with roasted corn relish, avocado and lime were by far my favorite. From Crisfield, Maryland, the crab -- inside and out -- was tender and moist; the relish didn't overpower its natural flavor.
Below is the Waterbar chef's presentation of the Alaskan Halibut with roasted beets, sugar snap peas and orange and the Whitefish with broccoli rabe and roasted cherry tomato vinaigrette. The presentation of both were stunning enough to make you want to dive into both, however the whitefish won hands down. The richness of the halibut needed something sharp to balance it out and the roasted beets just didn't seem to be the right accompaniment. Others agreed.
Desserts included a black and white ice cream cake served with creme fraiche and bananas, strawberry rhubarb crumble, chocolate pudding cake and vanilla pound cake with strawberries vanilla chantilly.
I connected with some great local foodies and fashionistas, including Doug Levy from Wine and Food World, Jane Maynard with This Week for Dinner, Lisa Dion over at Frisco Mama, Alana Gentry (Girl with a Glass), Laura Del Rosso, Lily Ko with SF Station, Patricia Sharpley with Brownies for Dinner, Mai Le with Fashionist, Stafania Pomponi Butler, Liren Baker from Kitchen Confidante and others. More from them and on food and wine to come.
SF's Town Hall: More than Just a 1907 ShellThe Town Hall Restaurant has always been a safe recommendation bet for as long as I've lived in San Francisco and yet I don't find myself dining there very often. The food is great but it doesn't blow me away and the service sometimes tries just a little too hard.
For example, our waitress continuously filled the wine glasses, topping off the fullest glasses first, a tactic that is obviously designed to finish off the bottle sooner rather than later to encourage ordering more. This particular waitress didn't have a good sense of 'pacing' despite being friendly and knowledgeable.
That said, the main course and appetizer combos are inspiring and the menu includes some southern 'comfort food' favorites as well. And of course, both the exterior and interior of the 1907 building has a ton of charm, including its more traditional bar, which I'd like to return to for some more of those fried oysters.
The full bodied cabs are largely Californian style from Napa Valley and included the likes of the 2007 Chappellet Napa Valley Mountain Cuvee, the 2006 Freemark Abbey Rutherford Bosche Estate, the Freemark Abbey Sycamore (1994 and 1997), the Hewitt Vineyard Rutherford Estate ('06), the Lokoya Mount Veeder Napa Valley Bordeaux Blend (also '06), and the over-the-top but yummy Opus One from Oakville (2006 Bordeaux Blend), priced at $327 a bottle.
From the diver scallop ceviche & hearts of palm with Thai basil, crispy shallots and lime and the Salad of Dungeness Crab with Nicoise Olivers, meyer lemon and crisp artichoke hearts to the creamy soups, fried chicken and duck, it's all worth a sample.
My favorite? The cornmeal fried oysters with herbsaint spinach puree, served with Hobbs Bacon and preserved lemon.
Chihuly, Cabs, Chards and MoreI attended a special event for wine club members at Pine Ridge Wineryin Napa Valley this past weekend. They started everyone out with a sheriff's badge and an "incident investigation report" which listed all the wines they had planned for us to taste throughout the afternoon and set us loose.
Stop one was the PRV Gazebo where we sampled the only white wine on the menu for the day: 2009 Sans Barrique Chardonnay. Fermentation for this Chard took place in a steel tank and at a cool temperature for 19 days. Flavors included pear, kiwi and spice. Oak was not a big component.
Local chef on-site (Eric) gave us an extensive overview of their Cabs at the next step, the Estate Garden, where he not only poured but grilled lamp skewers basted in garlic sauce. Bring it on! It was impossible to only have one and their 2006 Epitome Cabernet Sauvignon was one of my favorites of the day.
The soil that this wine came from is all sandstone giving it more structure and less fruit. What was prominent was the chocolate, red cherries and spice based in. Smooth baby smooth.
Tessitura, Italian for "texture", is crafted from choice lots of estate-grown grapes, deftly interwoven for layers of rich and complex flavors. I found this 67% Cab to be chewy and meaty, the added Syrah giving it a nicely balanced taste overall.
It has a purple-ruby hue and in addition to the chocolate and cherry flavors deeply embedded in the wine, I picked up currant and raspberry fruit, peppercorn and nutmeg. This wine would make an excellent companion to a creamy risotto, scallops in gorgonzola sauce and a buttery chicken Kiev.
From there we went barrel tasting - 100% cabernet, and relatively new.....it has only been in the barrels since October 2009. A video of our experience can be found here.
I also sampled the 2006 Andrus Reserve ($110 retail), the 2005 Fortis ($140 retail), the 2006 Stags Leap District Cabernet ($80 retail), the 2006 Onyx ($60 retail) and the 2006 Oakville Cabernet, which they were offering 50% off a case or more, so while it won't blow your socks off, at roughly $37 a bottle with the discount, it was a pretty good deal at that price.
The service was top notch as was their knowledge base. We also managed to see a private secluded area that is designed for private functions, back in the bowels of the cave itself. In the rear, as dark as the setting was, a series of beautifully colored and brightly lit Dale Chihuly pieces of glass sat glowing. His work always adds beauty and warmth to wherever his art is placed and this cave was no exception.
V.E. Long on Mixed Media, Monotypes & AssemblageAt Chandon recently, I not only sampled some fabulous (albeit small) oysters with a medium bodied Pinot Noir (wasn't in for the bubbly), but I also discovered a new artist named V.E. Long.
I was drawn to her work immediately and while I would have normally snatched one up, I felt that the prices were high, particularly for the venue, the general overall location and where she stands on the worldwide recognition scale. So unfortunately I'm 'sans' any of her work but she is worth a look. I really love her use of color, brush strokes and perception of brush strokes.
V.E. (Vicki) studied with Paul Wonner while earning her master's degree and her recent work includes the figure, exotic florals and the "trees" series, all which are depicted in painting and monotype. She is also currently producing assemblages and wood sculpture. Paintings that were being shown at Chandon included a lot of mixed media. My favorite below. Other paintings can be found here.
I'll Vote for Corison's 2001 Napa Valley CabThe Corison Vineyard in Napa Valley is a small one. They were pouring a handful of amazing Cabs this weekend, including the 2001 and 2000 Napa Valley Cabs, the 2004 Helios Merlot, the 2005 Cabernet Franc and the 2005 Kronos Vineyard Cab. Our host was passionate about the wine and Corison's history.
It's also worth watching a video I took of its history behind the wine tasting room and oh, was it a glorious hot sunny June day.
Connectivity: SO Far from Seamless
I organized a few bloggers luncheons in San Francisco this past week. Finding restaurant venues with reliable wifi was much tougher than I had anticipated. Eventually, we settled on two venues both promising reliable connectivity and in both cases, we had to rely on my Verizon internal EVDO card to access the Internet on my Lenovo laptop. Modem reboots didn't seem to solve the problem and the occasional access point we were able to grab only seemed to last for a few minutes at a time and even then, the connection was slow.
We think that the Internet is prolific and sure, in some communities it is. I have been surprised at how much more reliable connectivity is in some of the mid-level European hotels I have stayed in than in the states. And, faster.
It's still not a top priority in our airports (although this is slowly changing in some large hubs) nor is it a priority in restaurants and bars although cafes will turn it on for their $3-5 a pop coffee drinkers. What is wrong with that picture?
I agree its obtrusive and having laptops out and buzzing in every venue would be not only distracting but potentially negatively impact the ambience particularly in a venue where there's live music playing in the background.
The other day I was talking to an old college friend who lives in New Hampshire and due to his quirky nature and commitment to nature and the old fashioned way, he still doesn't have a laptop. He wants to start blogging but was wondering if he could fax or email me his posts since the Internet connection at his local library is buggy most of the time and quite often in the middle of a search, the library PC freezes or connectivity times out. Yet people I know in African villages are blogging from their little cafes without a problem. They complain of slow connection but it's doable and they access the Internet daily as did I in a few rural villages in Guatemala and Belize a couple of years ago.
A week after talking to my New England pal, an LA actress friend called to let me know that she finally made the upgrade from a very old (and slow) desktop to a Mac book with "wireless internet built in." The way she reported the news made it sound like it was the first time she realized "built in" was possible. In theory I'm sure she understood that automatic connectivity was baked into laptops but because it was her first experience with it, the concept of not having to use an Ethernet cable was new.
My Comcast service often times out and I occasionally get a lame excuse from a technician: "you live on a hill." I'm sorry, but living on a hill means that I can nearly reach out and touch the cables from my balcony, that were set up to get me connected in the first place. Verizon EVDO saves me when this happens and yet I still have to pay monthly service with no discounts when their service doesn't work as advertised. What's wrong with that picture?
And then there's the fact that most of my friends who are forced to use AT&T on their iPhones can barely get a connection and many have another phone so they can get connected when they need to - Internet or to make a phone call. What's wrong with that picture?
We've come a long way baby but seamless connectivity even in Silicon Valley, the home of the leading technology innovators in the world, is far from seamless and far far from perfect.
June 16, 2010
SF Spaniards Gather on Belden Place for World Cup
Head east down Bush Street from San Francisco's Union Square and you will come across an alley called Belden Place, with maybe 10 restaurants on one block, most of them Mediterranean or seafood. Two of them are also a home base for World Cup soccer.
The French gather at Cafe Bastille while Spaniards congregate a few doors down, at B44. Spain is one of the favorites to win this year's tournament and they had their first match this morning, against Switzerland. There were about 35 people watching the big screen, some of whom were rooting for the Swiss, which won the match in the biggest upset of the first week.
Food was tasty and everyone was cheerful and alert for 7 a.m., even with the loss and also considering the Spanish reputation for late-night living. A quick check of the schedule doesn't reveal a single day in which more than one or two countries are represented by the restaurants on the block, so there is no opportunity to have an all-day all-you-can-watch soccer buffet. Maybe we'll be lucky in 2014.
The Mission will be hopping tomorrow, with Mexico playing Group A favorite France at 11.30. If you can't wait, or can't sleep, the Mercury Lounge will show their beloved Argentina against South Korea at 4:30 a.m.
Pearling the Best Food in San FranciscoI've always been a bit of a natural curator in that I love to collect things, save things, organize things, and later access those things for customization and sharing. Curation on the web is always more useful and relevant when it is "human creation" by people you trust. Wouldn't you rather go to a restaurant recommendation from someone you know and trust rather than through a random Yelp rating from someone who may or may not share your taste?
There's the organization aspect: I never got into delicious for example (it's just not for me), nor was I able to get my head around OneNote although I tried and my left brain tech buddy swears by it. I still use alphabetical lists by category and for the most part it works fairly well.
Then there's the human curation of that data into a format that makes sense for you and which may also be useful for others who think like you. Enter Pearltrees, a French company I've been consulting to, which is all about human curation of the web. Every time I play with Pearltrees or see newbies playing with it, I discover new ways the tool can be useful.
For example, during a food bloggers luncheon yesterday, I couldn't put my finger on the name of a San Francisco restaurant and googling what I thought it was or its category or location didn't seem to help. I tried my lists and sadly, it didn't seem to be there either.
And so off I went to Pearl. I had already created a Food Pearltree as well as a San Francisco one, so I decided to do a mashup and then add subcategories in a way that made sense to me. Here's the result of one new Pearltree I created called San Francisco restaurants:
Within the above categories I created, I can get as detailed and granular as I want. For example, take a look at my San Francisco sushi restaurants Pearltree in more details. Over time, I'll add to this Pearltree and perhaps borrow other people's ideas and suggestions for sushi I might like to try.
Rather than share an entire Pearltree of content inside my blog, I could choose to just share one pearl alone. For example, below is a pearl of some of my favorite Italian restaurants in San Francisco.
I'm looking forward to seeing new ways people will use Pearltrees to share things like recipes, recommended hikes, the best boutiques in a particular city, food and wining pairings, and perhaps a Pearltree of restaurants to avoid in Berlin so I can be better prepared before my next trip to Europe. Quality human curation is becoming increasingly important and it's exciting to be part of this Web 3.0 innovation that is moving things further along.
May 14, 2010
Ozumo: Time to Explore Beyond SushiI've been to San Francisco's Ozumo dozens of times, but each and every time, I have only ordered sashimi and sushi. Out-of-town visitors always have a way of making you expand your choices, whether it's food or where you go in the city, and so we did.
We started off with Sake, Koshi no Kanbai Muku Junmai from Niigata prefecture, miso Soup, house made dashi, tofu, wakame and scallion and age-dashi dofu, which is lightly tempura silken tofu with bonito flakes and a light tentsuyu broth.
We then moved onto Yuhi-Tartar of Kobe beef, raw quail egg, wasabi sour cream and blanched spinach salad, Gindara-Miso marinated black cod, and Saya Endo-Snap peas with Kobe beef compound butter.
This was followed by Hitsuji-Colorado lamb chops with yuzu kosho glaze, Chu toro yama kake: medium fat tuna belly with grated mountain yam, Yamabuki-Sea urchin and Japanese mushroom risotto and Hatsu-Robata grilled chicken hearts.
And, we also tried some of their incredibly fresh sushi as well - Hotate-Hokkaido (scallop), Unagi (Freshwater eel), Toro-Kindai Bluefin tuna belly (the only sustainable Blue Fin tuna available), and Ikura (House cured Scottish salmon roe).
Everything was fresh and the service was outstanding. Half of us had iPads so the manager came by later to ask us questions and was eager to 'play.' I'm looking forward to returning to explore more of Ozumo's traditional dishes and of course another recommended bottle of Sake.
February 07, 2010
Winefinder Makes Buying Wine FunCortexica's Steve Semenzato demos Winefinder at VatorSplash in San Francisco this past week.
The magic behind Winefinder is an image recognition technology that informs a buyer of the kind of wine they are buying simply from a photograph of the label. They can also learn where they can purchase it for less. While currently only available in the U.K, they plan to expand to other countries soon.