Friday, April 06, 2012

Dinner @ Out the Door

Out the Door is part of the Charles Phan Restaurant Group (of Slanted Door fame).  The Out the Door chain consists of a kiosk style version in the Ferry Building, a currently closed casual version in the Westfield Mall, and a slightly swankier casual version in Pacific Heights.  They all feature many of the same dishes as Slanted Door, just at a lower price point.

I've really enjoyed the take home cooking kits and the baked goods from the Out the Door in the Ferry Building.  A couple weeks ago I had some of their regular items as take out, and they were pretty solid. And several years ago, I used to go to the one in the mall fairly regularly, and found it to generally be pretty reliable, good quality ingredients, decently prepared.  So tonight, we needed a quick dinner, and were in the area, so we dropped into the Out the Door in Pacific Heights for dinner.  I'd been there for brunch before and thought it was pretty good, but hadn't ever been in for dinner.

It wasn't an enjoyable experience.  It was really cold inside.  The chairs were hard and uncomfortable.  The restaurant was so loud, even though there were only a handful of occupied tables.  I don't know how they managed to have such horrible acoustics, I guess all of the swanky looking hard surfaces just really didn't absorb sound.  We really couldn't hear each other talking, at all.  The food was expensive, horribly seasoned, ridiculously skimpy in the proteins, and just not good.  I won't be going back.
Asparagus soup with dungeness crab, egg, chives, sesame. $7.
It is asparagus season!  I've been enjoying so many simple preparations of asparagus lately.  Fresh asparagus just has such great flavor.  And I love crab.  I was so excited to see this dish!  And then I tasted it ...

The soup was lukewarm.  My dining companion tried to look on the bright side of things saying that it was kinda nice to not need to blow on the soup.  I thought it was definitely served too cold.  It had exactly two chunks of crab in it, plus a few tiny shreds.  Seriously lacking in the crab department.  It had no flavor, besides salt.  And salt it had plenty of.  Way over-salted.  Absolutely no asparagus flavor.  I'm also not sure where the egg was, I guess mixed in?  I didn't see nor taste it.

Would never order again, any generic can of soup would have been better than this.
Dungeness crab, cellophane noodles, green onion, sesame oil.  $20.
The Out the Door in the mall had this dish on the menu, and I always ordered it.  I loved it.  There was always plentiful crab and great flavors.  This however, was certainly not the same dish.  Very oily noodles, no flavor, barely any crab.  Here again, there were exactly two chunks of crab, plus a a few shreds mixed in.  There was no flavor to this dish, at all, besides the sesame oil.  No seasoning.  The crab was completely flavorless as well.  We paid $20 for essentially a plate of rice noodles.  Seriously, WTF?    
Hodo Soy Beanery yuba, fava leaves, black trumpet mushrooms, green garlic, glass noodles. $14.
It turns out that "glass noodles" and "cellophane noodles" are exactly the same thing.  So while these dishes sounded a little different on the menu, they weren't really.  This one was considerably better than the crab noodles, but that isn't saying much at all. The fava leaves were nice and bitter, the mushrooms a little earthy, so they at least added a little flavor to the dish.  There also seemed to be some soy sauce in this one.  I love yuba, so I somewhat enjoyed the yuba itself.  But overall, this was just another big pile of really greasy noodles.  It was also pretty hard to eat, with the yuba, mushrooms, and fava leaves all just in big clumps on top.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Another Foie Gras Dinner @ Alexander's

I've obviously had a thing for foie gras lately.  Not only have I been ordering it everywhere I go, but I've also been going out of my way to attend all of the special foie gras dinners that have been popping up all over the city.  And I obviously have a thing for Alexander's Steakhouse, as it is one of my absolute favorite restaurants in the city.  The last special foie gras dinner at Alexander's was one of the most memorable meals I've had this year - amazing food, amazing service, and of course, plenty of foie gras!
The menu for the evening - incredible!
So you can only imagine my excitement when I heard the details for this month's foie gras dinner at Alexander's.  Not only were they doing a 6+ course foie gras dinner, but the Executive Chef was going to be joined by four Michelin starred chefs (David Barzigan from Fifth Floor, Dominique Crenn of Atelier Crenn, Ken Frank of La Toque, Joseph Elenterio of Chez TJ), each preparing a different course.  The menu sounded amazing, including some signature dishes from these chefs that I've heard about for ages.  And Alexander's own chef would be preparing nothing less than pretty much the best steak you can get in the country: the Sher full blood wagyu.
Rock star chef lineup: David Barzigan, Dominique Crenn, Ken Frank, Joey Elenterio, Dan Huyuh, Marc Zimmerman.
The price tag made me shutter.  $250.  How could I possibly pay that much for a single meal?  The last dinner was $150, including amazing wine pairings, where this one wasn't even including the wine.  But how often do you get to experience the cuisine from so many talented chefs at once?  And the steak alone is normally $300 (although I'm assuming a much larger piece).  I tried to imagine not attending.  It wasn't possible.  And I knew that all proceeds from the event were going to the Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming, which I really do want to support.  So somehow, I not only talked myself into going, but I also found 9 others to join me!  I think there were only about 40 people at the event, so we made up a pretty big portion!

This dinner followed the same format as the last one.  It was held in the private room downstairs, using a separate kitchen, while the regular restaurant remained in full operation upstairs.  It started with a quick introduction to the chefs, and then we were underway.

It became obvious fairly immediately that this event was not going to go as smoothly as the last one.  I was actually pretty surprised at how well run the previous one was - the pacing of the meal was perfect, the service was spot on, all the details of each dish were described as they were brought to the table, the entire table was served at once, the food was all hot and fresh, etc.  Very impressive for a big group event.

This time however, things were off.  Way off.  It took a long time for things to get started.  I forgave them for this, as I can only imagine what it was like co-ordinating all of the different chefs.  Then, an amuse bouche was brought to us.  It was delivered without a word.  What was it?  After several minutes I was able to get the attention of a server to ask.  He didn't know what it was, but said he'd ask and come back to tell us, which he did.  The same thing happened when our first course arrived, which again, was just plunked down without a single word.  This was a dish with complex plating and elements that we could only begin to guess what they were.  It again took several minutes to get someone's attention to ask them about the dish.  And again, they didn't know and said they'd need to go ask.  This was particularly startling given that last time they were so good at explaining everything without us even asking.  Ok, so there were a bunch of chefs cooking, perhaps they didn't educate the servers?  We had a bottle of champagne to go with the first course, which was off to the side staying chilled.  Our glasses were empty.  The bottle was not.  And there was no one around to serve it for us.  A few waiters did pass by and I expected someone to notice, but no one did.  Finally I just asked for it, and amusingly, it was distributed to everyone at the table but me, as it ran out.  After the first course, all of the dishes were cleared, including our butter knives, which we hadn't yet used, as we hadn't received bread.  The replacement cutlery was a set of chopsticks, as the next course would be eaten only with chopsticks.  After a fairly long wait, bread service began (this seemed like a strange time, why wasn't it before the first course, after the amuse?)  We thus had warm bread, and pots of butter on the table, but not a knife in sight.  My tablemates started trying to dip their bread into the pots of butter, but the butter was fairly firm, so this wasn't working well at all.   I tried to use a chopstick.  And almost immediately after the bread delivery, the next course came out.  Should I eat the next course, or the bread?  One of the two would be cold by the time I got to it.  Anyway, I asked one of the waiters delivering the course for butter knives, explaining that we had none.  About 10 minutes later, a single bread knife was brought to the table.  Everyone had given up on waiting for it at that point anyway and the bread was all gone, so we didn't actually need multiple knives, but it was super strange to get only one for the whole table!  The rest of the meal progressed in this same fashion.  Pacing was really off, with long waits between each course.  Dishes were delivered without any explanation.  Or when they did have an explanation, it was incomplete.  Even worse, our table was often only partially served and many minutes would elapse before the rest were served.  Everyone wanted to be polite and not start eating until the whole table was served, but there were a few cases where it took at least five minutes for the others to get served, during which time things like amazing seared foie gras were getting cold.  And speaking of cold, several of my dishes certainly arrived on the cold side.  And then there was the bread service midway through the meal, where again, we had no butter knives (and most people had no bread plates either), again resulting in hilarity as we tried to butter our bread without any utensils.

So service-wise, things were a bit of a disaster.  Not what I expect from Alexander's.  Not what I expect when eating such amazing food prepared from such great chefs.  And certainly not what I expect at that price point!  Sigh.  I felt bad, as I had promised everyone a great event, and this was a pretty big let down.  Rather than feeling like we were part of a special event, it felt like we were just sitting in the basement, being kinda ignored.

The food however, was amazing.  These are some very talented chefs.  I've been attending so many of these sorts of dinners that I've seen a lot of preparations of foie gras.  Far beyond just a standard seared, torchon, terrine, pate, etc, things like mousse, foam, dust, gelee, etc, etc seem totally normal to me.  I've had all sorts of pairings.  And these were far and away among the most creative and unique.  The quality of ingredients was high.  The plating was beautiful.  The chefs really delivered.

Most of the chefs came out to talk to us after their dishes were served.  I really enjoyed interacting with them, asking more questions about the dishes, and just getting a chance to meet them, particularly after enjoying their awesome creations!

While the event certainly didn't live up to my expectations service and atmosphere-wise, the food was still very good, and I highly recommend attending these events, or just dining at Alexander's (or any of these other chef's restaurants).  And uh, bring me with you!
Amuse: Foie gras terrine, rhubarb gelee, macadamia nuts.
We got started with an amuse bouche, which of course, included foie gras.  It was stunning.  The terrine was very rich, creamy, and flavorful.  The rhubarb gelee was sweet and complimented it well enough, but it wasn't particularly flavorful.  I wouldn't have known it was rhubarb.  The textures of the two layers worked well together, and the macadamia nuts added a great crunch and extra richness.  Overall, not bad, but nothing really standout, particularly compared to some of the other amuses I've received at Alexander's.
Smoked foie gras log and spring nuances: morel “moss” / pickled morel / vanilla / foraged herbs.
By Dominique Crenn, Atelier Crenn. 
The first course was one of Chef Dominique Crenn's famous foie gras logs.  Crenn has won a Michelin star every year since 2009, originally at Luce, and now at her own restaurant, Atelier Crenn.  She also won Iron Chef.  One signature dish that I've been reading about for ages is her foie gras log.  I was so excited to finally get to try one!  It set the state for the rest of the night: totally creative and absolutely beautiful!

To create the log, the foie is souz vide poached in milk, then frozen with liquid nitrogen, shaved, and made into the log shape.  And then elaborately decorated.  She varies the accompaniments with the seasons.  Our version had "moss" (a morel based brioche), tiny pickled morels, some herbs, and a few dots of foam that I wasn't able to get an explanation of.

The moss was very spongy and it was nice to have something bready to go with the foie, but it didn't taste particularly strongly of morels.  If it had, I think that wouldn't have worked very well anyway, as that would be too much earthyness with the rich foie.

The tiny little pickled morels were adorable and flavorful.

The star of the plate was, obviously, the foie gras.  It was cold, and the milk poaching had infused it with some dairy, so this definitely reminded me of ice cream ... the richest ice cream imaginable!  It was a generous amount of foie gras.  Those of us who love the taste of pure foie gras loved this, but for several others, this was a little too much foie.  Since I love the taste, I really enjoyed this one, but I can see how it could be a little too strong without more on the plate to balance it.  I can't wait to go to Atelier Crenn sometime soon to try another log!  I've seen photos of other variations on this, that are even more elaborate.
Acme olive bread, Strauss Creamery butter, sea salt.
Bread service, sans butter knife.  Alexander's always offers a selection of Acme bread: olive bread, whole wheat walnut, or baguette.
Seared foie gras: braised freshwater eel / sweet soy / forbidden rice.
By Ken Frank, La Toque.
Ah, seared foie gras.  I know this makes me boring, but it is always one of my favorite preparations.  This was an asian inspired dish, something I haven't seen much, if any, of with foie gras.

The foie itself was well executed - creamy and buttery, clearly a high quality product, with a great sear on it.

Also on the plate was a crispy rice cake, made with forbidden rice.  It was quite delicious, and I loved the pairing of the crispiness of rice cake with the soft creamy foie gras.

There was also a small piece of perfectly cooked eel, with a fantastic crispy skin.  Better than any piece of unagi I've ever had at any sushi restaurant in my life.  The little strips of toasted nori went very well with this, reminding you immediately of unagi nigiri.

On either end of the plate was something none of us could identify.  Several people thought it was a fruit, perhaps a prune.  When I asked the server, he went to check, and came back and said it was  cipollini onion.  If so, it was a very caramelized onion.  Either way, it was sweet, delicious, and paired really well with the foie.

Speaking of sweet and delicious.  The sauce on this was incredible.  Some sort of sweet soy reduction.  It had absolutely amazing flavor.  The sweetness went perfectly with the richness of the foie gras.  It also went perfectly with the rice.  And perfectly with the eel.  It was a unifying component that just worked fantastically.  But it was also just so damn delicious I could imagine putting it on just about anything.  As it was, no one came to clear these plates for quite a while, so I ended up stealing the plates from several of my tablemates and scraping up as much of the sauce as I possibly could with my fork.  Had the plates remained much longer, I'm not convinced I wouldn't have started licking the sauce off.  So. Freaking. Good.

I really wanted more of this dish.  Each component on the plate was just absolutely fantastic on its own, and then all went together so well, and had the amazing unifying sauce.  This dish was just so well done!  I *think* this was my favorite dish of the evening, but it is really hard to choose a winner, as the competition was tough!  Apparently it is on the chef's tasting menu at La Toque right now, in a bigger portion, so you could go enjoy some of this too!
Cream of early spring onion soup, before.  Photo from David Bazirgan.
Cream of early spring onion soup, after: foie gras banana bread / roasted eggplant / chai cured and tobacco smoked foie gras.
By Joseph Elenterio, Chez TJ.
When this arrived, it was a bowl with two of each of the cubes you see lined up on the rim, one each on the rim, one each inside the bowl.  The cubes were: banana bread, roasted eggplant, and foie gras.  Also inside the bowl was a plentiful amount of shaved chai cured and tobacco smoked foie gras.  Then, the waiters poured the cream of early spring onion soup over the top tableside.  The soup slightly melted the shaved foie gras.

I really liked the creativity behind this dish, and thought the foie melting into the soup added an amazing creaminess and richness.  I enjoyed being able to craft spoonfuls that mixed in different amounts of the foie to change the flavor of the soup.  That said, the flavors of this didn't really pop much.  The soup itself was fairly bland, the spring onion really not coming through strongly at all (the waiter actually said it was nettle, not spring onion, but the menu said spring onion.  I'm not sure which it was, or if it had both).  I appreciated the chunks of banana bread and eggplant for adding textures and interesting bites, and I do really like both eggplant and banana, but the pairings just didn't work very well.  I also wouldn't have been able to identify the eggplant as eggplant, it was kinda just mush.  The banana bread was very moist and delicious, and I would have enjoyed it on its own too.

The biggest issue with this dish however was the temperature.  I think this was supposed to be a warm soup.  It was lukewarm, at best.  I think this is because we were the last table served this dish, and it took them probably 15 minutes or so to serve the whole room, and the soup being poured into the dishes seemed to be the same, which if it was originally hot, certainly wasn't when we got it.  Or perhaps it wasn't supposed to be hot, as that would melt the foie gras even more?  I'm not sure.

Overall, this dish got creativity points, but it was my least favorite of the night.
Foie gras and squab confit caramelle production, photo from Chef Bazirgan.
Foie gras caramelle: Roast squab / english peas / vin jaune / black truffle.
By Chef David Bazirgan, Fifth Floor.
When I first saw the menu, this was the dish I was least excited for.  It didn't sound very interesting, it wasn't a signature dish, and it didn't have any elements that I was really looking forward to.  "Meh, squab", I thought.  I wasn't really sure what on earth a "foie gras caramelle" was, but given the descriptions of the other dishes on the menu, this seemed likely to be the most boring.  How wrong I was!  Note to self: don't doubt the creativity of these chefs!

Then, a few hours before the event, Chef Bazirgan tweeted the first photo.  Woah, ok, so the caramelle was pasta, stuffed with foie gras and squab confit, shaped like a caramel?  Ok, way, way more interesting!  And absolutely adorable!

This was a fairly complex plate.  It contained two pieces of the roast squab ballotine, three foie gras and squab confit caramelles, english pea puree, fresh english peas, foie gras power, black truffles, and a vin jaune reduction.

I didn't particularly like the squab ballotine, as I'm not a big fan of squab, but this was really well prepared, tender, and had a good crust on it.

The pasta was very good, perfectly cooked al dente.  The form factor actually really worked, allowing you to experience bites that were just pasta and bites that were a stuffed pasta.  I hadn't ever seen that before, and really thought that was fun.  I shouldn't have to pick noodles vs stuffed!  The stuffing was very flavorful, it reminded me of sausage.  I didn't really taste the foie gras inside of it though.

The pea puree and peas were delicious, fresh and flavorful, and paired really well with the pasta.

The truffle was really lost in this dish :( I saw it, but didn't taste it at all.  I think the earthiness of the truffle would have gone really well with the squab, had I been able to detect it.

I was disappointed by the lack of foie gras that came through in this dish.  I know it was there was the powder, it was there inside the pasta, but I wanted more.  I feel like one of those obnoxious judges on Iron Chef when I say that, since I'm eating a slew of courses featuring one ingredient and can't possibly want them all to be overboard with foie gras, but ... I wanted more.

It was also all a little lukewarm.  Not the fault of the chef, but it certainly would have been better had it been a little warmer, particularly the pasta, as it had really cooled down a lot without any sauce or anything else to hold in the warmth.  Overall, another very creative, very beautiful dish!
Intermezzo: Toast, foie gras mousse, raspberry sauce, arborio rice, micro bergamot.
How do you cleanse your palate from four courses of foie gras to prepare for the main event?  With more foie gras, of course :)  Our intermezzo was a tiny little toast, topped with a thin layer of foie gras mousse, a few pieces of rice, a leaf of micro bergamot, with some dots of raspberry sauce on the side.

This just left me unsatisfied!  I love foie gras mousse, and Alexander's has done some awesome preparations of foie gras mousse in the past, and there was just such a tiny taste here.  The raspberry sauce was sweet and complimented the mousse well.  The rice was mushy and not crispy, which was not very good.
Sher full blood wagyu strip steaks, before.  Photo from Chef Bazirgan.
Sher full blood wagyu: Foie gras crumble / binchotan-grilled asparagus.
By Chef Marc Zimmerman, Alexander's Steakhouse.
Yes, we were there for a foie gras event.  But I think many of us were most excited about this dish, the one with the least amount of foie present.  None of us had ever had beef of this caliber before.  And we know how well Chef Zimmerman can cook a steak!

When I was at Alexander's the week before, I went to admire this in the display case at the chef's counter.  It was sooo marbled.  I wondered if I'd like it.  Perhaps it would be too fatty for my taste.  But when it arrived, I didn't see any fat.  Where on earth did it go?  How did the chef render it all out?

I was actually nervous to take my first bite of this.  Would it live up to my expectations?

Yes, yes it would.

Ok, let's back up.  What else was on the plate, alongside the Sher full blood wagyu strip steak?  This is my favorite aspect of Chef Zimmerman's dishes, he always involves so many components, with so many flavors and textures, and they all work together so well!  There was watercress puree.  Tiny, adorable, asparagus meringues.  Foie gras powder.  Foie gras mousse.  Crispy shallots.  Grilled asparagus.  Miner's lettuce.

This was damn good.  The steak was amazing.  Ridiculously tender.  So much flavor.  Cooked to the perfect doneness.  Fantastic crust on it.  Everyone at the table was speculating on how it was prepared, concluding that the only way it could have possibly been done that consistently was souz vide (we were wrong).

The lettuce and watercress puree both added a freshness and vegetal flavor that lightened everything up.  The asparagus was lightly grilled and delicious.  The meringues were somehow bursting with asparagus flavor, very intense for such tiny little bites (and did I mention, adorable!).  But what really elevated everything was the foie gras powder, foie gras mousse, and the crispy shallots.  Oh man.  So much flavor, such fantastic textures.  A chunk of the steak, dragged through the foie mousse, then sorta rolled in the foie powder and crispy shallots?  ZOMG.

This dish did leave me with one question though - where do you go from here?  Seriously. A friend once said to never have the best of anything, and this folks, is just about the best steak you can get.  I guess where you go from here is ordering it at the restaurant normally, where you get a piece prepared just for you and not 35 other people at the same time.  I imagine it is even more amazing then.  (And also $300.  ZOMG.  Now you know what to get me for my birthday!).

Which does bring me to the one major issue here.  My steak wasn't hot.  I'm not even sure I'd say it was warm.  Sigh.  I know it must be hard to get these dishes out to the entire group, but ... this was supposed to be the star.  And at the last event, there weren't any temperature issues like this.  As a result, I've deemed this my second favorite steak of my life, behind the one from the last foie gras dinner.  That was just a standard filet mignon, but it was cooked to perfection, served hot, and I did prefer the pairing with the foie gras powder, black trumpet soil, balsamic teriyaki, and onion sprouts over this.  But don't get me wrong, this was really, really amazing.  Even at this point in the meal, even with my stomach issues, I'd have gladly eaten another full dish of this.
Basil-almond sponge cake: Foie gras / rhubarb.
By Pastry Chef Dan Huynh, Alexander's Steakhouse.
Now, I'm a dessert girl.  I eat a lot of dessert.  If you were to ask anyone who knows me to describe me, I'm sure this would come up.  However, at these events, unlike pretty much every other meal of my life, the dessert is the dish I least look forward to.  Partially, because the other dishes are so amazing.  And partially because I just haven't had that good of a foie gras based dessert.  But, I've had some awesome desserts from Chef Huynh in the past, so I was very interested to see what he'd come up with.

First, take a moment to admire this.  Wow.  What a work of art.

Here we had some cubes of basil-almond sponge cake.  Curls of rhubarb.  A pipette filled with rhubarb syrup.  A strawberry puree sphere.  Chia seeds.  And what apparently was at some point some frozen foie gras dippin' dots.

Sponge cake is probably at the top of the list of most boring desserts imaginable to me.  This was ... just sponge cake.  I didn't get much basil nor almond flavor.  They were just cubes of cake, moist enough, but meh.

The raw rhubarb curls were incredibly crisp and fresh tasting, but rhubarb isn't exactly a fruit that I'm in love with (Long story, but my mother makes the most incredible strawberry jam.  She also makes a strawberry rhubarb jam, which as a child, I found way too tart.  The jars were never labelled, and I have so many memories of excitedly smearing my toast or pb&j with what I thought was the fantastic strawberry jam, only to find that it was the strawberry rhubarb, and be incredibly disappointed.  I sort of have an irrational thing against rhubarb now, but I'm slowly getting over it).

The pipette contained more rhubarb, this time as a syrup.  Cute and fun to squirt it onto the plate, but I had just seen this the dessert the week before at Alexander's, so I think the novelty was lost on me.  Don't all desserts come with pipettes? :)

The strawberry puree sphere was sweet and delicious, the strawberry pairing nicely with the rhubarb syrup from the pipette and the richness from the foie gras.

Speaking of the foie gras.  What arrived was what you see here.  It looked like it was just supposed to have the foie gras in this runny form, although that did seem a little sloppy.  But the waiter described it as foie gras dippin' dots.  So I can only imagine that at one point, these were frozen little balls, and that we suffered, yet again, from the dish not getting delivered in a timely fashion.  The idea of a more classic "cake and ice cream" with the frozen foie does sound a lot more appealing to me.

Anyway, this wasn't bad, but there wasn't anything I really enjoyed about this dish.  I also wish we'd had a palette cleanser between the steak and the dessert, as that is a pretty heavy transition to make.
Jolly Berry Cotton Candy
And as always, the meal ended with cotton candy.  Fluffy, sweet, and playful.  Novelty - yes?  But, so fun :)
About to become a torchon!
All wrapped up and ready to hang!
And ready to serve!
Like last time, the event ended with a silent auction.  Unlike last time, where we took home more than half the items, we only left with one basket of winnings.  Luckily this basket included a lobe of Grade A Sonoma Foie Gras, which the winner decided to turn into a torchon.  Such a high quality product!  The resulting torchon was so flavorful and creamy.  We paired it in a number of ways, but the absolute best was an Acme crostini, spread with fig jam, a slice of the foie gras torchon,  and then topped with smoked trout roe, and paired with a glass of sweet 2005 Rieussec Sauternes (which was also used in the torchon prep).  Wowzer.  Maybe not as fancy as what the chefs made for us that night, be pretty incredible - the smokey, salty roe pairing with the rich foie gras contrasting with the sweet fig jam ... mmmm!  And now we know how to make our own torchon, which, come July, will come in handy!
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Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Dinner @ Cotogna

Cotogna is a gem. I totally and completely understand why it is as popular as it is.

Ok, let me back up.  A month or so ago, we went to Quince, and had one of my top meals of the year.  The pastas dishes in particular were standouts.  After that experience, I pretty much immediately wanted to check out Cotogna - same James Beard winning executive chef, same Food & Wine winning pastry chef - but a far more casual restaurant, with pasta as the focus.  I mistakenly assumed that "casual" would mean easier to get reservations for, so I was pretty shocked to see that they were fully booked up (except for ridiculous time slots), for as far as their reservation system went.  So, I tried for a a few days, and was finally able to get a reservation - for a month in the future, for a maximum of three people!  I thought this was ridiculous, but again, after going, I totally understand why!

Walking into Cotogna immediately put me at ease.  It was open and airy, with a huge wall of windows.  It was modern, yet rustic at the same time.  There were lovely aromas permeating the air, including a wondrous smokey scent coming from the huge wood burning fire in the center of the open kitchen.  There was a big pizza oven off to the side, a lot of counter seating overlooking the kitchen, and a bunch of regular tables.  I would have loved to sit overlooking the kitchen, but we were led to a table off on the side.  It was a table that probably was meant for two, but as the place is packed, always, it seems like they are using it for three.  It was a tiny bit small for three people, but it was actually a nice table since it was on the end, and we didn't have other diners on top of us.

Service matched the feel of the restaurant, friendly and comfortable.  Our needs were always met, but it wasn't overly attentive.  Our waitress was really pleasant and informative.  I had asked for a wine recommendation, and when she gave me a taste of the one we had selected and I didn't like it, she happily asked what about it I didn't like, and proceeded to steer me in another direction to pick something else.  She brought me a fresh glass and the new wine without any qualms.  Speaking of the wine, they had a really simple system: all bottles were $40 and all glasses were $10.  So easy!

I've been doing a lot of family style dining, and a lot of places don't handle it very well - they often don't bring out share plates or serving-wear, or if they do, they don't switch them out between courses, resulting in old sauces and whatnot remaining on the plate.  Cotogna did family style perfectly.  Looking around the restaurant, it seemed like most people did family style, so I think they are pretty used to it.  (How could you NOT do family style here, when everything sounds so amazing that you have to try it all!!!)

The food was all good.  It reminded me of my overall feeling after leaving Quince too - there wasn't any dish that seriously wowed me that I'd say you need to go there for, but the quality level and consistency of the execution were very high, leading to a pretty fantastic overall meal.  Plating was really simple and again, matched the restaurant, with a simple, rustic feel.  No fancy embellishments here at all.

The prices were insanely reasonable, particularly for the quality level.  Although we didn't do it, they also offer a daily $24 3 course prix fixe, which seemed like an absolutely incredible value.

So what happens when you add up good food, great charm, and amazingly moderate prices?  You wind up with a gem.  If only it were closer to my house or that you could get in without making reservations so far in advance.  Seriously, I'd be there once a week!
Green garlic sformato with mint and parmigiano reggiano fonduta.  $12.
I finally had my first sformato!  I've seen it on a bunch of menus lately, and I've been really wanting to try it, as I love custard dishes (both sweet and savory).

Just a brief aside on savory custards ...  I'm seriously loving these things lately!  When it was a little colder, they were really satisfying me as a warm comfort food.  Some highlights include the warm egg custard topped with uni at Commonwealth, the uni and crab crème brûlée at Quince, the uni and crab flan at The Fifth Floor, and the chawanmushi from Kiss Seafood.

More recently, they have moved towards cold preparations that just bursting with spring flavors!  At the Taste of the Nation event last week, I had an asparagus panna cotta with lemon crème fraîche from the Village Pub.  Creamy and totally highlighting the delicious flavor in spring asparagus.  Or at a cooking demo the week before, I had an even better version from the chef from Radius, a English pea and green garlic panna cotta, topped with crème fraîche, crispy pancetta, spring peas.  Again, amazing flavor from the spring vegetables, creamy, and then topped with delicious goodies.  I'm loving these things!

I read up on sformato recently, so I was expecting something sorta along these same lines, as I'd heard it described like a panna cotta.  However, this reminded me much more of a quiche or a soufflé than a panna cotta, as it was warm and eggy.  But it had no crust like quiche and wasn't fluffly like a soufflé.  I guess it really is its own thing!

It was definitely interesting to try, but I was disappointed by the flavor, as I didn't taste much, if any, green garlic.  It was mostly just eggy and cheesy, like the base of a quiche or soufflé, without the main ingredient added.  I've seen that Cotogna regularly has a sformato on the menu, but the variety switches out as the seasons change, so I'm very interested in trying one with a stronger flavor, like the ones I saw using leafy greens (spinach, etc) or heartier flavors like mushroom.

The fonduta was absolutely delicious.  Great complex cheesy flavor, good consistency.  When the waitstaff tried to clear away our plate with a little of it left on it, I demanded that it remain until our bread arrived so we could soak it all up.  Seriously tasty.  This would have been great as a fondue or even as a sauce on pasta, far better than most mac and cheese sauces.  I'd order again just for this sauce!

The fried mint leaves were a good compliment as well.

All antipasti are $12.  Totally reasonable price, and again, really easy pricing system!
Focaccia, dipped in oil.
At the bottom of the menu is the "Bread available upon request" line.  From reading reviews, I knew that this would be focaccia, topped with some herbs and spices, and already dipped in olive oil.  Yes, the entire bottom layer was soaked in oil.

Yelpers love this stuff.  "Crack bread"! they call it.  They all talk about how it is a must order!  Sigh, Yelpers.

Not that it was bad, but honestly, it was nothing to write home about.  Moist, spongy focaccia.  Decent seasonings on top.  Pretty flavorful olive oil on the bottom.  But we all agreed that we'd rather just get some focaccia (or even bread) with oil separate, so we could dip it as we wanted.  It was fairly thick, and so often bites would not include the oil, or be just a piece that was ridiculously soggy from oil.  It sorta seemed like it had been sitting in oil for a while, and had thus picked up a sogginess that wasn't all that appealing.  And it was served cold, I'd have preferred some warm bread.  I'd probably skip this in the future, although, it did serve as a conduit for remaining fonduta!
Pizza: ramps, guanciale, farm egg.  $16.
Even though pasta is what we were most excited for, we figured we needed to try out a pizza as well, since they also get pretty good reviews.  This one had no tomato sauce (I have no idea if any of the others do or not, as it wasn't specified one way or another on the menu, but we were a little surprised it didn't have any).  It was covered in cheese, sauteed ramps, little chunks of guanciale, with a single egg perched over on the side.  It was sliced rather awkwardly into a grid of 9 pieces, with some tiny little pieces that were mostly just crust on the corners and then a big piece in the middle with no crust.  I found this a little odd and would have preferred more traditional slicing - who wants the end pieces without much topping or cheese?

The crust was pretty good, nicely charred, with a really pleasant chewiness.  Just enough to really let you sink your teeth into it, but not so much that it was hard to eat.  It was a medium crust, not really thin nor thick.  The ramps were plentiful and flavorful.  The guanciale added a really nice saltiness and the chunks were small, so it added flavor without making it hard to eat.  I know it is funny to focus on the eating experience rather than the taste, but it really was a nice pizza to actually eat.

Flavor-wise however, it was falling kinda flat for me.  I wanted tomato sauce or some garlic or something to make it pop more.  I basically felt like it was well executed, but just incomplete.  The others seemed to agree.  Then we realized we'd all been polite and not taken the piece with the egg on it.  So, we broke open the egg, and spread it around on the next slices.  Wow!  What a difference the egg made.  It added so much richness and creaminess.  And suddenly, I had bites that were like the perfect breakfast - bacon, eggs, cheese, bread, and greens, all in one!  I was quickly dipping my remaining bites into the runny egg that had escaped onto the pizza pan.  One egg wasn't enough though, this pizza would have done much better with two eggs on it, as really one egg was only enough for two, perhaps three, slices and it really was what made the difference.

I probably wouldn't order this pizza again, but I'd try another one, as the execution was good, I just didn't love the ingredients on this one.  All pizzas were $16, a totally reasonable price!
Verrigni gold die spaghetti with sea urchin and lime.  $17.
Along with custards, I also have a thing for uni these days.  I was very excited to see this on the menu when we arrived, as the online menu had removed it a few days ago.

This was a thick spaghetti with two mediocre sized chunks of uni and one tiny chunk of uni.  I was a shocked to see how little uni was in the dish, as I looked over and saw that our neighbors, who received their dish at the same time as us, had huge full chunks of uni on top.  I was debating saying something about this, and our waitress just happened to walk by at that moment to ask how things were.  I couldn't resist saying something.  For $17 I wasn't really expecting much more uni, but compared to them, it really seemed like we were shafted!  She explained that they had actually requested, and paid for, additional uni to be added.  She said it wasn't something they normally did, but Quince had some extra uni, so they were able to do it for them.  I felt kinda silly for saying anything, but she handled it really well.

The presentation was kinda sloppy, showing the major difference from big sister Quince next door.  Just a plate of pasta with the uni kinda thrown on the side.  But honestly, who needs their pasta to look fancy anyway?

The pasta was nicely cooked al dente.  But, there wasn't really anything going on in this dish.  I have no idea what the sauce was, perhaps just a butter sauce?  I couldn't pick up on any particular spicing or anything.  I didn't pick up on lime at all.  There was no real uni flavor.  Even the chunk of uni I had was pretty flavorless.

I wouldn't order this again.  Like all pastas, it was $17.  Good price for the dish size.
Pappardelle with lamb sausage ragu.  $17.  
This was a classic, simple, rustic, plate of pasta.  Again, nothing fancy presentation-wise, just a plate of pasta.  It didn't need to look fancy.

The pasta was again perfectly cooked.  This is what I recall most from Quince too.  Just such amazing execution on the level of doneness of the pasta.  I loved the substantial wide noodles in this, they really gave you the sense that you were eating PASTA.  Mmmm, pasta.  With the perfect amount of chew to it.

The lamb sausage chunks were small but very flavorful.  I'm not a particular fan of lamb, so I was a little worried I wouldn't like this, but instead it really was just delicious sausage.

There were thick flakes of parmesan cheese on top, that complimented the ragu perfectly.

And some fava beans, which weren't really necessary, but did lighten the dish up a little.

I might have perhaps preferred a little more sauce on this dish, or some bigger chunks of sausage, but it was pretty good the way it was.  And again, for $17, a great portion size.  I'd happily eat this again.  And it went so well with a nice glass of red wine.
Tagliolini with dungeness crab & meyer lemon.  $17.
Dish of the evening!  We actually didn't order this originally, as the focaccia, sformato, two pasta dishes, and pizza seemed like more than enough for 3 people.  Plus I wanted dessert.  But one of my dining companions insisted we order another pasta dish.  I'm really glad he did, as this was amazing.

The pasta was cooked a little more than the previous two, slightly over al dente.  I'm not sure if it was intentional or not, I'm guessing not, but I thought it actually worked with this dish.  There was one big chunk of crab and then some shredded crab throughout the pasta.  Not a ton of crab, but the shredded pieces mixed in really well with the pasta.

The amazingness however was in the sauce.  So creamy.  So delicious.  I have no idea what the sauce was, except that it was just downright fantastic.  I was beyond stuffed at this point (focaccia!  pizza!  two other pastas!), but even I couldn't stop going back and having seconds of this.  And I was really planning to skip this and save room for dessert.

Amazing, I'd order again in a heartbeat.  And again, just $17 for a nice big plate of pasta.
Honey panna cotta with mandarine-prosecco granita.  $8.
Like savory custards, I've also been totally obsessed lately with sweet custard based desserts. I've ordered pretty much every crème brûlée, panna cotta, and pudding I encounter.  So clearly, I needed this dessert.

The panna cotta was topped with the mandarine-prosecco granita and a few slices of fresh mandarine.  On the side were some small chunks of shortbread cookies.  Again, nothing like Quince plating-wise, just a simple, well executed, dessert.

The panna cotta had a nice consistency, creamy yet firm at the same time.  I didn't necessarily pick up on the honey, but it had a good sweetness (too sweet of course for my sweet adverse dining companion).  The granita was refreshing and tart, and the non-sweet liker even had a few bites of this and said it was good!  I didn't particularly like having the cold, icy, chunky granita with the creamy panna cotta though.  I liked the whole "creamsicle" idea to it, pairing the citrus and the cream, but I didn't actually enjoy eating it that way, and felt that the texturess and temperatures competed with each other, rather than complimented.

The shortbreads were buttery and pretty good, and I enjoyed dipping one into the panna cotta, the rich butteriness going quite well with it.

I'd get this again, and at $8, this was again an awesome value, much better than similar desserts I've had in the $12 range.
Lemon torta with toasted vanilla meringue, blueberry sauce.  $8.
Yes, we were stuffed full of bread, pizza, and pasta.  We'd already ordered more food than I thought we could possibly stomach.  And only two of the three of us actually like desserts.  But, of course the menu featured the other dessert obsession I've had lately: meringue.  And although I don't really care for lemon desserts either, it didn't really take much convincing for me to give in and order a second dessert when the non-sweet eater suggested it.  If we could find a nice tart dessert that he'd like, that seemed great!

The torta had a thick crust, a lemon layer, and was topped with fluffy vanilla meringues.  There was some blueberry sauce on the side.

The crust was really buttery and delicious.  Tarts often leave a lot to be desired in the shell department, and this was a lot more like a shortbread than a traditional crust.  It was also on the softer side, so it was easy to cut into.

The lemon layer was fairly tart, but I didn't think the lemon flavor was all that pronounced.  I didn't particularly like this layer, but as I said before, I don't tend to really like lemony desserts.

The meringues were insanely sweet, and not particularly vanilla-y.  These were more like toasted marshmallows than meringues really.  Definitely not your classic meringue from lemon meringue pie, but I was happier with this style :) They were super soft, super sweet, and I loved them.  (Although, after eating almost all of them from this dessert, since the others didn't care for them, I did get pretty sick of them).  I didn't think they combined well with the lemon as they were just far too sweet, the contrast between the tart and sweet was actually just too large.

The blueberry sauce complimented the lemon nicely, but in particular, I really liked it with the meringue.

I'd share this dessert with others again, but wouldn't order it for myself.  I'd love to see this crust or meringue appear in another dessert though!  And again, $8 for a good dessert?  Awesome.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Dinner @ Dosa - Fillmore

I've yet to find Indian food in San Francisco that I really like.  I guess I haven't tried too hard, but there doesn't seem to be anywhere that people really love.  Which is sad, because I do really love the spicing in Indian food and paneer can be sooooo delicious!  Amber had been the only place in the city I've actually returned to, but after our last experience there, I'm really not intending to go back any day soon.  And they are opening a new Amber Dhara in the city soon, but our experience at the one down in Palo Alto was fairly mediocre, so I don't have all that high of hopes.  Do you have an indian place you recommend?

Anyway.  I had been to Dosa in the Mission years ago, and got ... the dosa.  I remember it not being particularly memorable.
 Kerala Chicken: Boneless, chiles, cilantro, mint, grated coconut, tomatoes, cauliflower & spices, with rice.
But a couple week's ago I attended a cooking demo at Macy's by the owner and executive chef Anjan Mitra, where he made the Kerala Chicken.  It was really delicious.  The spices in this dish were incredible.  The chicken was moist.  The veggies lightened it up a bit.  The curry and rice ... so good!  During the demo the chef talked about how they start every day by grinding up the spices fresh.  The demo was about 2 hours long and almost the entire first hour was devoted to the spices!  I was quite impressed and added Dosa to my list.

And then at Thursday's Taste of the Nation event, we got to try the Hyderabadi Shammi Kebabs (minced lamb, cardamom, peppercorns, ginger, fennel & lentils, pan fried with mint raita).  While I didn't love them, the spicing was again really impressive, the best spicing of the night, by far.  So I bumped Dosa up even higher on my list!

When Sunday night rolled around, the night that many places I want to go to are closed, I was happy to see that Dosa was open.  Seemed like a good time to try it out!  We went to the Fillmore location, since at the demo the chef talked about how the Valencia and Fillmore locations were quite different due to the sizes of the kitchens and overall restaurants, and how they could do a lot more at the Fillmore location.

The restaurant was really lovely.  High ceilings, large windows, very modern.  It seemed like it belonged more in SOMA.

Service was pretty bad.  Not horrible, but there were a bunch of little issues, and a general lack of attention being paid to us.  It seemed like whenever we needed something, it took a while to flag someone down.  A few of the more notable issues: beer was ordered, it was never delivered.  Our plates/utensils were not changed out between apps and mains, even though our plates were soaked in all sorts of sauces.  No serving utensils given for appetizers.  Dishes were just plunked down in front of us with no explantations.  Completed dishes were not cleared when they were finished, more food arrived with no space to put it.  But strangely plates and utensils were taken away very quickly from people who had maybe stopped eating.  Long wait for dessert menus, long wait for bill to be picked up.  I asked for some leftovers to be packed up, specifying that I wanted things separate (the rice and the curry, so that they'd keep a little better), but instead everything came as one, not only with my rice and curry not separate, but with the fish from another dish mixed in too.  Our waitress was really weird.  I had noted in the reservation that it was a birthday celebration, and absolutely nothing was done to acknowledge this.

I went expecting some good spicing and flavors.  Unfortunately, the food just wasn't very good.  This was really disappointing after enjoying the dishes at the two recent events.  And the food for the most part certainly wasn't at the price point, no matter how lovely the restaurant itself was.  I was also surprised by how oily everything was.  I'm used to indian food feeling fairly heavy from all of the coconut milk or cream in the curries, but I wasn't really expecting so much oil.  Meh.  Crossed off the list.  Still searching for good indian food ...
Complimentary papadum.
These were oily and salty.  Not much other flavor beyond the oil, which didn't have a fresh taste.  Not served with any dipping sauce.  Disappointing, but I appreciate the complimentary snack.
Dahi Vada:  Lentil dumplings topped with cool Straus organic yogurt, piped with tamarind & mint, mildly spiced. $9.
This looked amazing.  Under all the pretty sauce was a single big lentil patty.  "lentil dumplings" said the menu, so this wasn't quite what we were expecting.  This was a dish that Yelpers had all raved about.  I rather expect that they just found it pretty.  Sigh.  I've seriously gotta stop trusting the Yelpers!

The lentil dumpling was mushy and didn't have much flavor.  No one really wanted it.  The yogurt was refreshing and the tamarind and mint swirled in did create some nice flavors, we used up this sauce with some bread and that was kinda nice.

Would not order again.
Lotus Stem Day Boat Scallops: Cilantro, chiles, mustard, maple sauce, w/ fried lotus stems. $12.
We asked how many scallops came in this dish and were told three.  We expressed happiness at this answer since three of us were planning to share it.  We got ... two.  Service--.

Turns out, we wouldn't have wanted a third anyway.  These scallops were not good.  Way overcooked.  The scallops were incredibly chewy. Fishy. Stringy. Completely flavorless. I really wish I hadn't kept trying this and had just stopped after one bad bite.

The fried lotus chip was really greasy and oily, and again, had a stale oil flavor that was unpleasant.

The green sauce (cilantro based?) didn't have much flavor and seemed really oily.

The red sauce however was creamy and delicious.  I used it for bread and everything in sight.  And then just ate it by the spoonful.  I would have licked it up, but the plate was taken away from me :)

It is unfortunate how bad these scallops were, as I do love seared scallops and that sauce was so delicious.  And for $12 it seemed like a good value.
Bhatura: Oversized, soft, puffy wheat bread. $5.
Whoops, forgot to take a photo of this thing when it arrived.  It was too insane for me to focus and remember to photograph!  You can't tell from this, but it was massive!  Huge!  A giant puff of bread!

I had read about this from the Yelpers who all said to get it.  It was something sorta like a fried dough you'd get at a state fair, but really thin and not covered in powdered sugar.  It was served with tamarind and mint-cilantro chutneys.  It was hot, but quickly lost its heat once we punctured and deflated it.

We had intended for this to come with our entrees to have to dip into the curry, but it arrived after the appetizers and long before the mains.  We dipped it into the chutneys it came with, but I didn't find those combinations particularly interesting.  It also just seemed weird to dip something so heavy and fried into such light sauces.  It went better with the sauces left from our appetizers, but I really would have preferred it with my curry.

Interesting to try, but I probably wouldn't order again.  Again, too fried with bad oil taste.
South Indian Moons: Chef’s selection of five different uttapams.  $13.50.
I didn't get a bite of this, but the person who ordered it devoured it in record time.  I'm not sure if he loved it or was just hungry.
Mango Prawns: Karnataka-style, green mango pulp, tomatoes, chiles, mustard seeds.  $17.  Coconut rice side $3.
This was my favorite dish.  5 prawns, 3 chunks of mango, in sauce.

I liked the sauce in this quite a bit, it was really flavorful and decently spicy.  I guess I'm mixing up my north and south indian cuisine by wanting this, but I really wanted some naan or something to dip into it.  It was fine with the rice, but I really wanted something bready to get even more sauce!

The prawns were fine, not particularly noteworthy.  The mango was soft and sweet, but the 3 little chunks felt a little insufficient.

They recommended that we order coconut rice to go with it.  I see why you'd want rice, but the sauce did overpower the rice completely and I wasn't able to enjoy the coconut flavor in it.  Regular rice would have been fine.
Green Mango & Paneer Dosa: Shredded paneer (unaged farmer’s cheese), green mango, spicy achaar (relish) & spices.  Served with fresh coconut & tomato chutneys and sambar.  $11.
The dosa again failed to impressed me.  Filled with panner and mango, both of which I really enjoy, but didn't really work here.  The paneer was just kinda there and the mango was pretty flavorless.  And again, more oily and fried that I was expecting, with the same stale oil taste!

The tomato and coconut chutneys were both pretty tasty, definitely needed to dip the dosa into to get some flavors.

Maybe I just don't like dosas.
Fish Moilee: Sustainably-caught, pan-sautéed in a moilee (coconut) sauce w/ spices, served with curry leaf rice, vegetable poriyal. $29.
This was really disappointing.  We joked about not knowing what sort of fish it was.  It was some sort of white fish, kinda overcooked.  Not offensive, but it offered nothing.

It was served on top of really mushy rice.  The rice was green with some sort of spices, but the flavors weren't particularly interesting. And the rice was really, really mushy and pretty gross.

Also alongside of it was the vegetable poriyal.  This was some sauteed veggies.  Pretty flavorless cubes of assorted vegetables, carrots and asparagus maybe?  And then there were some random, underripe, not good tomatoes.

The sauce was the highlight, but it didn't have the flavor complexity I was expecting.  And it was pretty oily.

Really, really not worth remotely close to $29.  Would not order again.
Passion Fruit Custard: Cool and fragrant, thinly topped with coconut tapioca. $9.
I was really looking forward to dessert.  I love puddings, custards, tapioca.  I'm excited for berry and stone fruit season to arrive to transition into eating a lot of crisps/crumbles/pies/etc, so I've been trying to get my fill of pudding style desserts before that happens!

Anyway, this was gross.  It looked pretty unappetizing, with the coconut sauce spilling all over the place and a random inedible garnish on top, but I still had high hopes.

The coconut tapioca layer was particularly bad.  The tapioca balls were a horrible mushy texture.  There was no coconut flavor.  It was just goopy.

The passion fruit custard part was definitely more of a pudding than a custard, fairly runny and not a great consistency.  It had a passion fruit flavor, but just tasted really fake.

There were also some slices of mango on top, the best part of the dish.  And some sort of cookie.

Definitely wouldn't order again.  Another dish where I wanted to like it so badly that I kept trying it, but really, really didn't want anything to do with it.  Luckily, my favorite frozen yogurt place was down the street, so we went there to get more dessert aftwards.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Bluxome Street Winery's Meet Market

Every last Saturday of the month, Bluxome Street Winery will be hosting an artisan's market from 12 - 4.  This past Saturday was their first market.  Being a wine merchant, the vendors were specifically picked to be ones that paired well with wine.  Being the artisan market lover I am, I had to check it out!

The set up was such that you would get a glass of wine, and then wander through, tasting all sorts of products with your wine.  It was well set up, with big wine barrels arranged around the floor to use as stands to put your glasses down, etc.  There were a decent number of vendors and the crowds weren't bad at all.  It seemed like the artisans themselves were there behind the tables, rather than just staff members.  They were all very friendly and happy to talk about their products.  The range of vendors was pretty unique: jams, sauces, oils, chocolates, crackers, honeys, cheeses, pies, fish, pasta, etc, etc.

Unfortunately, I wasn't all that impressed with anything I sampled.  The highlight was definitely the rotu pacchadi from Sumana's Soul Spreads.  This is a south indian spread, normally mixed with ghee and rice, but she also recommended it as a spread on crackers, bread, sandwiches, pasta, etc.  I could also imagine using it as a dip for veggies.  I do sort of wish I had purchased some!

  • H & H Fish. These folks just started selling at the Ferry Plaza Market on Saturdays too! At that market, they have a large variety of ridiculously fresh fish, and a few prepared items. They also run a fish CSA. At this event, they just had some of the prepared items.
    • Tombo poke:  “Raw sashimi grade tombo tuna, sesame oil, soy sauce, sesame seeds, chili, ginger, spices“. Tasting notes: A little oily for my taste, tuna was a little mediocre, not particularly flavorful. [ Decent quality tuna, but nothing standout. Sesame flavor was a little strong. ]
    • Smoked Salmon.  Tasting notes: Did have a decent smoky flavor, really firm texture.  Nothing standout. [ Fine, but nothing standout. ]
    • Ceviche: "Fresh local rockfish (snapper) cooked in lime juice seasoned with onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, garlic, cilantro, chili peppers, spices". Tasting notes: Pretty tasty! Quality, fresh snapper, nice marinade, fresh veggies.
  • Butter Love Bakeshop. She had some sweet and some savory pies. All used the same crust, which she was sampling out, covered in cinnamon and sugar.
    • Pie crust: All butter.  Tasting notes: Not particularly flavorful nor flaky. Just crust. [ Just crust, nothing standout. ]
    • Butter pie: “Pecan pie without pecans”. Tasting notes: I had high hopes for this since I love pecan pie, and it sounded a lot like Momofuku’s crack pie.  It was just sweet though, and lacked any dimension whatsoever.  Would have been better with ice cream or whipped cream.
  • Orland Farmstead.
    • Queso Fresco, Jalapeno: “A fresh mexican cheese”.  Tasting notes: Soft, nice kick from jalapeno. Also available plain.
    • Formage Blanc: Tasting notes: Creamy, not particularly noteworthy, a little tangy. Also available as "tortes" topped with things like tomato or cherries.
    • Feta: Cow’s milk.  Tasting notes: Not nearly as flavorful as feta normally is, reminded me more of ricotta.
  • Granny Jams. I don't have the details on the jams I tasted, but they were all based on wines. Quite nice.
    • Champagne peach: Tasting notes: Really subtle peach flavor that comes through on the finish.  Not too sweet.  Really nice.  Would be great on crackers with a mild cheese.
    • Cabernet?: Tasting notes: Incredible red wine flavor, really smooth.  Would be awesome with some seared foie gras!
  • S & S
    • Hawaiian style BBQ sauce: “Sweetness from pineapple and guava, saltiness from soy sauce, a subtle spiciness from chiles and fragrant aroma from garlic and ginger.” Tasting notes: Just BBQ sauce, not particularly interesting.  Didn’t pick up on the sweet/salty at all.
  • Chili Place. Chili, in vacuum packs, you freeze it and then just boil it in hot water.
    • Red Veg Chili: Tasting notes: beans, bell peppers, corn, some spices.  Not particularly flavorful or spicy. Beans weren't particularly interesting. Veggies were lost in it.
  • Bay Area Bee Company. Local honey maker, with a bunch of different honeys from different neighborhoods. I sampled a few (Portero Hill, Tenderloin) and was surprised at how very different the flavors, colors, and consistencies were.  Turns out, honey isn't just honey!
  • Ariel’s Crackers. These were really awesome crackers.
    • black + white sesame seed + sea salt: Tasting notes: Really delicious.  Crisp, flavorful from olive oil, seeds added great flavors.
    • caraway + sea salt: Tasting notes: Same great crackers, but I liked sesame seeds more. [ Strong caraway flavor. Really awesome crackers, crisp, amazing flavor from olive oil, really quite good! ]
  • Oaktown Jerk
    • Sesame Teriyaki: Tasting notes: Not very sweet, not very teriyaki, very chewy.
    • Pineapple Basil: “Sweet pineapple zing with the wonderful robust infusion of
    • fresh Thai basil“. Tasting notes: Not very sweet, didn’t taste  basil, very chewy.
  • Community Grains
    • Polenta: “Organic Red Flint ‘Floriani’ Cornmeal”.  Tasting notes: Fairly hearty tasting, but not well cooked, just mushy.
  • Virgine’s Vinegar
    • It was just … vinegar.
  • Big Paw
    • Garlic olive oil: Nice garlic flavor, not very complex oil.
  • Biscotti Di Bianchi
    • Cranberry Semi-Sweet Biscotti: Hard, not very flavorful, didn’t get much cranberry or chocolate flavors.
  • Sumanas Soul Food
    • Sesame Rotu Pacchadi: “Sesame seeds, onion, coconut, tamarind, jaggery, jalapeno, curry leaves, grape seed oil, water, salt”.  Tasting notes: Really tasty, complex flavors.
    • Kale Rotu Pacchadi: “Kale, peanuts, coconut, onion, jalapeno, lime, grape seed oild, water, salt”.  Tasting notes: Delicious.  Great kale and peanut flavors.  Fun texture from the nuts that were chopped up in it. [ Really great spicing, delicious stuff. ]
  • Other
    • Farm Girl Flowers: Uh ... pretty flowers?
    • Mara’s Pasta: They were gone by the time I got there.
    • Cocotutti: I have been sampling their chocolates at several chocolate events lately, will post reviews of them seprately.