Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Best Version of Any Classic Dessert You'll Ever Find: Flour & Co.

If you read my blog, you know by now that I eat a lot of baked goods, and desserts in particular.  I have a serious sweet tooth, which I attribute to a mother who always ensured that we had fresh baked goods in the house, at all times.  At a minimum, our cookie jar was always filled with homemade cookies.  And at holiday times, it gets even crazier.  I'm not exaggerating when I say that we routinely have more pies than people at our gatherings.

So, let's just say, I'm no stranger to desserts, and there are ones that are absolute classics for me.  After many disappointing encounters, I have certainly learned by now, in general, you should never order a dish that you have a strong personal association with, as it will never compare to the "right" version in your head. 

For me, there are desserts that certain family members of mine make, that I have never had a remotely comparable version from anywhere.  Every year, for Thanksgiving, my mom makes a pumpkin pie.  It is my definition of what a pumpkin pie should be.  No other pumpkin pie has ever really satisfied me.  Likewise, for Christmas, my mom always makes a pecan pie.  Another classic that I drool over.  I've had some good pecan pies in my life, but again, none have really compared to my mom's version.  And my Great Aunt has a carrot cake recipe that wins rave reviews from anyone who ever tries it.  Again, it doesn't matter how much cream cheese frosting you add, no other carrot cake lives up. 

Or, so I thought, until I started trying the classics from Flour & Co.  They have managed to not only create versions of classics that I enjoy, but, gasp, they have actually improved on the classic desserts I knew growing up.  Pumpkin pie is elevated into Harvest Pie, made with butternut squash, topped with a pecan crumble.  Not the same thing, for sure, but now, I have no desire for a simple pumpkin pie.  Similarly, pecan pie is amped up into Brown Sugar Chocolate Nut Pie, with cashews, almonds, and TCHO chocolate added.  Again, how can I go back to classic pecan now?  And the carrot cake?  Turned into layered decadence.

These treats from Flour & Co are not the prettiest creations, but they totally deliver.  None look nearly as incredible as they taste.  They look likes slices anyone could make.  But let me assure you, no one makes them this good.  It turns out I don't need to venture all the back back to New Hampshire to get a slice of pie or cake I enjoy, I just need to go to Nob Hill, to Flour and Co.

Flour and Co has only been open for a year, but honestly, I can't imagine my life without it.  It is, hands down, my favorite bakery in San Francisco.  Stay tuned for future posts about other areas of their menu, as I'm sure you can imagine, I've been eagerly exploring it all.
Harvest Pie. $4.
Picking this slice of pie was my hardest decision ever!  I visit the weekend before Thanksgiving, and the case was overflowing with options.  They had all of their standard offerings, and a slew of seasonal things.  I thought I was paralyzed with indecision on previous visits, but that doesn't even begin to compare to how I felt this time.

I decided to go for something seasonal, since those were rare, and wouldn't be available for long. And, I asked for a recommendation, which had served me quite well on my other visits.  Without hesitation, the woman taking my order mentioned this pie, a Thanksgiving special.  Deemed the "Harvest Pie", it had a butternut squash filling with pecan crumble top.  I was fascinated, since it sounded a bit like a mix of two of my favorite Thanksgiving pies: pumpkin and pecan.  But of course, butternut squash instead of pumpkin.

Unlike many of their items, this isn't one you'd warm up.  Served on the same little tray as their other goods.  For some reason, eating a piece of pie off a tray, without a plate, felt really strange to me, when eating other things this way did not.  I'm not sure why.

The pie was also no beauty.  Perhaps actually the least tasty looking item in the display case.  It was falling apart like this in the case as well.  But I went for it, knowing that it certainly didn't need to look good to taste good.

The filling was super creamy. It reminded me of pumpkin pie, except it was less custardy and more like a pudding, which is why it was sorta falling apart.  It also was distinctly butternut squash and not pumpkin, which I guess I should have expected.  It was slightly sweetened, but I think most of the sweetness came from the natural sweetness of the squash itself.

The crumble top was sweet, and added a great crunch.  There wasn't much pecan however.  I would have liked to have a more substantial pecan component.

The crust was fantastic, flaky, buttery.  I would have liked more of a back crust though, as I didn't get much pie crust, and unlike some people, I actually appreciate pie crust.

Overall, this walked the line between sweet and savory.  As a dessert, I'm not 100% sure it would have satisfied me.  But it was certainly not a pure savory offering.  I think it would go very well as a brunch item, or perhaps made into a tart.  It would also be really easy to amp up the savory aspects, adding more spices, like sage perhaps, and turn it more in that direction.  Or more dessert-y, with a sweetened whipped cream to accompany it.  I also found myself wanting just one more component, perhaps some sort of cranberry tie in?

That all said, I'm glad I tried it.  I enjoyed every bite, and found it quite fascinating.  It was also nice to have a dessert that didn't really feel that indulgent!  $4 for a slice was a fine price, although a bit higher than some of their other items.
Brown Sugar Chocolate Nut Pie: Pecans, cashews, almonds. TCHO chocolate.  $4.
When I visited at Thanksgiving, I had a very hard time picking between the squash pie and the nut pie.  As you know, I picked the squash pie, but I wondered about the nut pie long after.

When I visited closer to Christmas, I was prepared to order the eggnog pie.  I saw photos of it online, and it sounded so unique.  I entered the cafe, decision already made.  I wasn’t going to be the fool standing there indecisive this time!  Or, so I thought.  And then, they had the nut pie again.  Only this time, they amped it up with chocolate.  I had such a hard time resisting it last time, and now I stood no chance.  But, the eggnog pie was why I was there!

So, I asked the ever friendly staff members about the pies.  They have never lead me astray.  They all told me that the eggnog was good, and it was unique, but … they love the nut pie.  I was powerless.  I had to get it instead.  Perhaps I should have gotten both?

The nut pie is yet another example of Flour & Co taking a standard dessert, and making some tweaks to make it far more interesting, like the butternut pie instead of a simple pumpkin pie.  But this one I was a bit nervous about.  Pecan pie is a classic for me.  I love my mom’s version.  I have expectations when it comes to pecan pie.  And now, I have very high expectations of Flour & Co in general.  I was scared of my own expectations.

I didn’t need to be.  This was a seriously special pie.  One of the best I’ve ever had.

Let’s start with the foundation, the crust.  Super flaky, buttery, even slightly caramelized.  It puts my mom’s to shame (sorry, mom!).  It puts pretty much any pie crust I’ve ever had to shame.  Really quality crust.

Moving on to the filling.  Sweet gooey layer, custard-like, almost like a caramel.  Far more developed than a standard Karo syrup filling.  The TCHO chocolate added even deeper flavor.  Very good.

And then, the nuts.  Instead of just pecans, it also included cashews and almonds.  The pecans were mostly whole halves, the others were chopped.  Although I thought I wouldn’t like the mixed nuts, since pecan is so classic, I found the additional nutty flavor quite nice.  I could imagine other nuts working really well in there too - walnuts, hazelnuts, or macadamias in particular.  What really made this nut pie far and away better than any other that I’ve had before however is the fact that the nuts were toasted first.  This brought out a much deeper flavor from the nuts.  They just tasted, so … nutty.  Sorry, there isn’t a better word for it.

It was a fantastic pie.  Every part of it was so well done, the crust, the custard filling, the nuts.  Each component had something that elevated it above standard.  It was insanely good.

It was very sweet however.  Just eating the pie alone was a bit much, even though the nuts did help balance the sweet filling.  Luckily for me, I had both vanilla ice cream and whipped cream at home, so I paired it with both of those.  A little something creamy to cut the sweet was all it took to make a already great pie even more amazing.

So yes, I loved this.  I’d get it again in a heartbeat.  Although, I’m trying hard to not repeat anything, and continue exploring the menu.  I gave my mom the tip to include other nuts, and to toast her nuts, when making pecan pies next time.  We’ll see how they turn out.

And as always, I appreciated Flour & Co’s portion sizes.  Was it the biggest slice of pie out there?  No.  Was it more than enough for one person, in one sitting?  Yes.  Did I still want more after?  Well, of course, but I’m glad they limit me.  Large enough to satisfying, not too large to make you feel bad afterwards.  A winner, all around.
Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing.  $4.25.
The final dessert that has a classic place in my family's lineup is carrot cake, using a recipe from my great aunt.  A super moist carrot cake, made with pineapple, nuts, and carrots inside, with cream cheese frosting of course.  Everyone loves this recipe.  Last time my mom came to visit I had her make me a huge one, and I froze all the extra chunks.  I shared some with friends on several occasions, and they all loved it.

So again, I was nervous to try Flour & Co's carrot cake.  Honestly, I have never, ever had a carrot cake that even remotely compares to my aunt's recipe.  Most carrot cakes just don't have much flavor in the cake itself, or are too dry (the pineapple makes a huge difference), or don't have nearly enough cream cheese frosting.  But at this point, I've learned that Flour & Co can basically do no wrong, so I decided to try it anyway.

I had some options however.  They had individual carrot cake bundt cakes, cute little things.  Or, layered carrot cake, available as a slice or whole cake.  I asked what the difference was.  The cake base was the same, basic carrot cake with pecans.  The only real difference was the form, and, the amount of frosting.  The bundt cake, like many of Flour & Co's treats, was smaller, and had only a little dollop of cream cheese frosting.  A guilt free treat.  The layer cake on the other hand, had a generous amount of cream cheese frosting on top, and between the layers.  Since cream cheese frosting is an integral component of carrot cake in my mind, there was no question which I was going for.
Side Profile: extra layer of cream cheese frosting!
And, Flour & Co has done it again.  Why settle for a carrot cake with just cream cheese frosting on top, when you can have an extra tucked inside?  Yes, please!

The cake was moist, and absolutely loaded with shredded carrot.  I do prefer my aunt's version with the pineapple inside, because I like the sweetness and the moistness from the pineapple, but this cake did not suffer from dryness at all, even without the pineapple.  I don't understand why carrot cakes so often suffer from being dry.  It also had plentiful pecans, another component often left out of carrot cakes, or skimped on, but totally essential in my world.  I love the crunch.  There were no raisins, which I appreciated.  I don't hate raisins, but, I do prefer to have them left out of carrot cake.

The frosting was classic cream cheese frosting.  The cream cheese flavor was strong enough to come through, and it was sweetened, but not too sweet.  Perfect compliment, and the ratio of frosting to cake was spot on.

An extra pecan half served as garnish on top, a nice indicator that it would have nuts inside.  The other garnish was candied carrot curls, a fun touch, and totally delicious.

But the most remarkable aspect of this cake, besides the double layers, was the spicing.  I don't know what spices were used, perhaps ginger and nutmeg?  They really made the cake.  I'm not one for spice cakes in general, so I was surprised by how much I liked the spicing, particularly because my aunt's version isn't heavy on the spice.

I'm also amazed at how this really didn't feel that decadent.  How on earth did a double layer cake, loaded up with cream cheese frosting, not turn out too heavy?  I don't know.  Maybe it was the generous amount of carrots (vegetables, right?) or the nuts (protein!), or the fact that it wasn't a sweet overload.  I think that is the biggest difference from the version I grew up with, due to the pineapple, I'm accustomed to a sweeter cake, and this was more spiced than sweet.  And the frosting, while sweet, wasn't over the top sweet.  Don't get me wrong, this was still very much a cake, but, it felt good to eat.

I was a bit overwhelmed by the size of the slice however.  It was huge.  You can see in the top photo that it is a real, serious slice.  Far bigger than any other slice of pie or cake I've had from Flour & Co, and since it was a double layer, it was a very hefty piece.  For once, it actually seemed appropriate to share.  Certain family members of mine, known for their uh, large slice sizes, would probably even agree that this was a bigger than necessary slice.  Since carrot cake keeps well, I figured it wasn't a problem, and served myself just a bit more than half a slice, which looked plenty large to me.  I finished it, satisfied.  And then ... I went back, for "just one more bite".  The next thing I knew, I'd taken down the whole slice.  Sure, there were a few minutes in between my first serving and the rest, but, essentially, it was one sitting.  It was just that good.

The $4.25 price was higher than any other dessert item I've had from Flour & Co, but was totally reasonable given the slice size, and the fact that it included a generous amount of costly pecans.
Banana Cream Pie.  $3.75.
Banana cream pie.  Another simple classic. Almost all banana cream pies I have had in my life have been exactly the same, constructed from a store bought graham cracker pie crust, a layer of Jell-O brand vanilla pudding, some mushy brown sliced bananas, and cool whip on top.  Banana cream pie is certainly not something I'd ever imagine getting from a bakery.  

But, when I saw Flour & Co post on Facebook that they were now making a banana cream pie, I knew I had to get it.  If I can enjoy one made with totally generic low-end components, I could only imagine how much I could love one made with real ingredients.

I laughed a little when I saw it in the case.  The rest of the display was filled with treats that looked so pretty.  Dainty muffins.  Beautiful hand pies and toasty tarts.  Gorgeous multi-layer slices of chocolate and peanut butter cake.  A lemon meringue pie with perfect stiff peaks that most bakers only dream of achieving.  And ... the banana cream pie.  There were only two small slices left.  The crust was crumbling off, the innards spilling out.  Honestly, it looked no different than the pitiful versions from my past.

But, I knew better than to judge based on looks.  The harvest pie wasn't been pretty, and it blew my mind.

I started with the top, fluffy whipped cream.  I wish I'd taken a side profile shot, so you could see, but, like any good cream pie, a majority of it was the whipped cream.  It was good, standard fresh whipped cream.

Below that was banana slices, not too mushy, and vanilla pudding (or maybe pastry cream?).  I felt the pudding layer was perhaps a bit too thin, easily lost amidst all the whipped cream.  I think there might have been honey in here somewhere too.

So far, all good, but not mind blowing.  Clearly steps above Jell-O pudding and Coolwhip, but not in a different league entirely.

And then, I tasted the crust.  This was no standard graham cracker crust.  It is where all the magic to this pie was.  It was buttery.  It was sweet.  It crumbled perfectly with a fork, easily mixing into the whipped cream.  I don't really know how to convince you that a graham cracker crust could be so magically, but believe me, it was.  Or, don't believe me, just go try it yourself.

I got my slice of pie to go, intending to bring it home to eat later, and, to share with Ojan, since I know he likes banana cream pie.  I wanted to take just one bite, perhaps two, to taste it fresh.  Which, I did.  I took two bites, loved it, and sealed it back up.  I had willpower.  Or, so I thought.  The pie didn't make it far.  With every step I took, all I could think about was that crust.  I had to investigate it more.  I'd just take a few more little nibbles, to try to understand the crust better.  It was for my research.  This is what I told myself.  As you can imagine, that slice of pie did not make it home with me.  Ojan did not get to taste it.

So yes, I liked this pie.  It was a simple banana cream pie, but that crust was magic.  I think it would be even better as a layered parfait, so you could have more layers of the magic crust.  I'm not sure I'd get it again, only because I want to keep trying new things, and there have been some items I've tried that I've liked more than this pie.  But, I'd love to see that crust show up again in more places.

$3.75 was a fine price for a slice, although, I did feel like this slice was a bit smaller than others.
Flour & Co. Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Darn Good Food

Darn Good Food is a fast casual eatery, focused on making healthy food, nutritionally balanced to help busy professional power through their days, and making it fast.  All menu items include calorie and fat counts very prominently, with big banners advertising ones that are under 550 calories, so the healthy aspect of the restaurant is very in your face.  They promise that any item will be ready within 10 minutes, even though prepared to order.  The cafe is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, weekdays only.  Since I generally eat lunch and dinner at work, I've only ever stopped by for breakfast, which doesn't seem to be their strong point.

As I said, I've only been for breakfast, and, being myself, I've only been to get baked goods, rather than the actual healthy options available, like egg dishes or yogurt and fruit parfaits.  The lunch menu is all soups, sandwiches, and salads, available for dine-in or take out.  Dinner is more entree style, but served as bento boxes, again, with the intention that you grab it fast on your way by.  Smoothies make up a large section of the menu.

The space is large inside, which surprised me, since it seems like if most of the business is togo, they don't need as much dining space.  You order at a counter at the front, and can then seat yourself on one of two levels, at a table or a long bar area overlooking the lane behind the cafe.  The interior is all appointed with wooden furniture.

On the side is a condiments station, complete with sweeteners and milk for coffee, and self service cucumber water.

Staff have always been nice enough, but not particularly friendly.

The drinks I have had have all been fairly unremarkable, and the baked goods, actually quite bad.  I can't judge them on any of their housemade items though, since the baked goods are all outsourced from Semifreddi's.


Darn Good Food sources Mr. Espresso for their coffee beverages, and uses an automatic magic machine to produce the drinks.  No real baristas here.
Decaf Americano, Single.  $1.95.
On my first visit, I just got a decaf americano, since they did not have decaf drip coffee.

It was a standard americano, no real complaints.  On the side condiment station, they also have skim milk and half and half, along with various sweeteners (but no cinnamon/nutmeg/etc).

Nothing remarkable, and it did the job, and the price was fine.
Decaf Americano, Double.  $2.35.
On my next visit, I upgraded to a bigger size.  The guy making my drink asked a question, which I thought was, "do you want room for cream?"  I pinched my fingers together and said, "a little".  I drink my coffee black generally, but if it wasn't good, I wanted the ability to add a little milk to help it out.

I was thus surprised when I got my drink, and it was very, very pale brown.  Loaded up with cream.  Since I'm used to drinking coffee black, or perhaps with a small amount of milk, this isn't really what I wanted, and it took some getting used to.  I felt like with every sip my entire throat was getting coated in cream.  Now, I love cream, don't get me wrong.  I eat ice cream every day.  And whipped cream most days.  I have nothing against cream.  I just don't want it in my coffee.

I'm not used to cafes adding the dairy product for you, and last time I was at Darn Good Food, they had different types of milk and creamer on the condiments station, so I was pretty thrown off here.  I can't really evaluate the coffee, since again, all I experienced was cream overload.

$2.35 for a large Americano was a fine price.
Decaf Iced Americano.  $1.95.
On a later visit, it was a beautiful hot day, and I decided to go for an iced coffee.  They don't have iced coffee, but offered to brew an americano over ice.  And ... that is literally what I got.  The cup had an insane amount of ice in it, and an espresso shot, and perhaps a tiny bit of water?  It wasn't full to the top, and literally, all ice.

Right before he handed it over, I was again asked if I wanted cream.  This time I knew better, and pointed to the condiment station, and said I'd add it myself.  I'm really unsure why they have the milk and sweeteners out, if they so eagerly want to add it?

Anyway, like the regular hot americano, it was fine, but not remarkable.  And, since it was basically just a single espresso shot, gone way too fast!
Pineapple Ginger Lemonade. $3.
On one occasion, I decided to try something besides coffee.

They offer several types of fresh squeezed lemonades.  I went for the most refreshing sounding: pineapple ginger.

In my first few sips, all I could taste was pineapple.  It was sooo sweet.  I finally picked up some ginger on the finish, but it was subtle.  I honestly didn't taste lemon, or lemonade, at all.

This was far too sweet for me, and needed to be watered down, and even then, I still didn't care much for it.  $3 was fine for a fresh drink like this, but I certainly wouldn't get another.
Protein Smoothie, Small, $5.
On one occasion, I decided to really branch out, and get a smoothie.  Now, I'm really not a smoothie person.  I was on a liquid-only diet for several months for medical purposes and, let's just say, I am seriously, seriously over smoothies.

But ... this sounded good.  I was really drawn in by the peanut butter: "peanut butter, soy milk, low fat yogurt, honey, strawberries, blueberries, banana and apple juice."

Really, it should have been called the "pb&j" smoothie.  It tasted SOOO much like a pb&j!  I loved the flavors: peanut butter on the finish, really fruity to start, with sweetness from honey.  It was freshly made, well blended, the right level of icyness.  But … I think I’m just over smoothies.  I didn’t want a liquid pb+j, even if it tasted good.

$5 price is standard for a fresh made smoothie.

I also tried the Antioxidant smoothie once, and found it to be way, way too sweet.  The overwhelming flavor was raspberry, which is fine, but it just wasn't very balanced.

Baked Goods

The breakfast baked goods all come from Semifreddis.  I know Semifreddis as my Whole Foods carries some of their goods, and Ojan is in love with their cinnamon bread.  Unfortunately, nothing I got from Darn Good Food was good.  It all tasted very stale.  I went on many different days of the week, and in the early mornings, so I don't think it possibly was an issue of old deliveries.
Semifreddi's Almond Croissant.  $2.75.
On my first visit, I went for the most decadent looking item, the almond croissant.

Semifreddi's describes it as "dusted with powdered sugar, topped with slivers of California Almonds and filled with a decadent almond paste."  It was indeed dusted with powdered sugar, and topped with slivers of almonds.  But the almond paste?  Not decadent.

I was really in the mood for an almond croissant after having the great one from Prima Cafe.  This looked good, particularly as it was coated in powdered sugar and almond slices.

But ... it was kinda dried out.  Chewy in a strange way.  It just didn't taste fresh at all.  It wasn't flaky nor buttery.  There was almond paste inside, but not much, and not well distributed.  I struggled to like this, as I really wanted to, but alas, it did not ever grow on me.

It was a very disappointing croissant, which made me quite sad, as I've enjoyed other Semifreddi's goods in the past.  $2.75 price was perhaps a bit high.
Semifreddi's Blueberry Muffin.  $2.25.
On my next visit, I went for a muffin, since I hadn't liked the croissant.  My choices were lemon-poppyseed, bran, or blueberry.  I wasn't feeling the others, so I went for blueberry, and knew that if I didn't like it, blueberry is Ojan's favorite, so he might like it.

Described as "cake-like and filled with wild blueberries, our muffin is packed with anti-oxidants and tastes so good that you won’t even realize it’s good for you."

I really didn't like it.  It didn't have any real redeeming quality.  It wasn't crispy on top.  It wasn't moist inside.  Not that it was dry, but it was just homogenous, in a really boring way.  It was very sweet, and, well, cake-like, as they said.  If I had read the description before picking it up, I would have chosen something else.  I love cake, but not in my muffin.  The blueberries were just little bits throughout.

I brought it to Ojan, who commented, "that really isn't a good muffin".  Clearly, not a winner, although the price of $2.25 was fine for such a large muffin.
Semifreddi's Lemon Poppyseed Muffin.  $2.25.
After my disappointment with the blueberry muffin, and the croissant, you'd think I'd stop trying.  But I know Semifreddi's makes really good morning buns, and cinnamon bread, so I wanted to give them another chance.

The description was encouraging: "These moist and delicious muffins are a perfect way to brighten up your morning! A burst of lemon, rich buttermilk and a little crunch from the poppy seeds...what a muffin!"

One of my complaints with the blueberry muffin was the lack of flavor, so I hoped that the buttermilk would add a desired tang.  And that the lemon would give it a zing.  But ... it didn't.  There was no real flavor to the base, again.  I barely tasted lemon.  It was loaded up with poppyseeds, which were nice and crunchy, but ... not very good.

The other issue was the texture.  Just like the blueberry, it was all completely the same, not exactly moist nor dry.  I love a nice moist interior and a crispy top, and this was all just the same.

Plain and boring, just like the blueberry.  I tried to share this with colleagues, and no one wanted a second bite.  It made me crave the Costco almond poppyseed muffin!
Darn Good Food on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Omotesando Ukai-tei, Tokyo

If you've been following my blog, you know that I recently took a business trip to Tokyo.  During our free time, we were determined to fit in as many different dining experiences as possible, ideally involving Michelin stars.  And so we did, eating 9 Michelin stars in only 3 days, having our share of fine French cuisine and sushi, along with more humble ramen and okonomiyaki.

One day, we decided to go for teppanyaki, to experience something a bit traditional Japanese than all the fine French cuisine we'd been feasting on.  But of course, we wanted more Michelin starred food, so we picked Ukai-tei, in Omotesando, due to their single star.

We went for lunch, since dinner was far more pricey.  The lunch options were¥6,830, ¥9,450, and¥12,600 (compared to the dinner options that started at ¥12,600, and went up to ¥24,150!).  We went for the cheapest option, the "Tenderloin Steak Lunch Course", which was advertised as: Today's Starter, King Crab Fritter, Seasonal Vegetables Consommé Soup, Ukai Beef Tenderloin Sautéed, Dessert, Coffee or Tea with Baked Confectionery.  The next pricier choice not only upgraded the cut of beef, but had totally different courses preceding it, including marinated yellowtail, grilled lobster, and sautéed scallop.  And the highest priced option included jellied scallop and sea urchin, roasted foie gras, and sautéed tilefish.  OMG.  Had I not been splurging for so many days in a row, you know I would have gone for that last one, as it included some of my favorite ingredients!

The entire experience was fairly formal.  Once we checked in, we were brought to a formal waiting room for all of 30 seconds before then being lead to our table.  It reminded me of a parlor from Victorian times, or something I'd find in my grandmother's house.  It was a bit strange to have us go sit in the waiting room, and then immediately get back up.  We literally only had time to sit before immediately being led away.  We could have just waited at the check in area ...

Anyway, we were then led to our table, which was in a private room.  I didn't get to see the layout of the rest of the restaurant, so I'm not quite sure if it is just made up of many small rooms, or if there is a larger area somewhere.  Our room could have seated 6, but we were a group of 4.  The chairs in the room reminded me a bit of thrones, with ornate woodwork.  There were fresh flowers on the table.

The service was all fine, although not very present for the most part.  Since we were in our own room, the servers entered originally to determine which menu we wanted, and to bring us our courses as they were ready, but besides that, we were left alone (except for when a chef came to cook on the teppan of course).

Overall, it was good, and I understand their Michelin rating, but I am unlikely to return, as it just isn't the style of food that I generally would pick.  I'm glad I got to experience higher end teppanyaki.  The lunch course did indeed seem like a deal, and I don't think you could find anything equivalent in San Francisco.

I don't normally include a review of the bathrooms, but I found theirs to be worthy of a mention.  Once inside the doorway for the women's room, there was a cute little spiral staircase of a few stairs, leading to the washroom area.  It was stocked with everything you'd expect, but also toothpicks, and a very fascinating rose mouthwash.  It was floral, yet minty, at the same time.  I thought it was really refreshing and lovely, but my dining companions did not agree.
Plum Wine.
I started with a plum wine, while my companions all choose beer.  It was sweet yet not too sweet, and exactly what I was in the mood for.  Served on the rocks, with a giant round ice cube, like we saw in many bars on our visit.
Marinated Ocean Trout, Mousse, Greens. 
Our menu just said "Today's Starter", so we had no idea what the first dish would be.  I was delighted when this was set in front of me, as I expected just a small little amuse bouche, not a full on appetizer.

The trout was mild, not at all fishy, quality raw ocean trout.  On top was a relish or gremolata of sorts, with capers and onions, which added some crunch.  It also provided acidity.

The mousse on the side was also trout based and was really creamy.  The mousse was topped with trout roe.  I loved how the different parts of the trout carried through these elements, and the roe added a delightful pop to each bite.

On the side were simple greens, lightly dressed with lemon, salt, and olive oil.  They were fresh and crisp, and added a lightness and additional acidity to the dish.

It took a little work to figure out how to craft a perfect bite, since it wasn't totally clear which components would work together.

Overall, this was flavorful, light, and beautifully composed - fresh fish, creamy mousse, perfectly seasoned greens, crunch from the capers, pop from the roe ... an excellent dish!  A wonderful start to the meal, and my favorite dish.
French Bread and Butter.
Next came bread service.  The bread was fairly unremarkable to me, as I'm not usually much of a bread girl, but one of my dining companions proclaimed it the best French bread he'd had in a long time.  It was very crusty and was useful for lapping up sauce later, but besides that, I didn't really care for it.
King Crab Fritters.
I wasn't entirely sure what a King Crab fritter would be, but I think I expected a little ball, a small appetizer portion.  Instead, we each received two large pieces, which were filled with spinach, bits of crab, and cream, wrapped in a large wonton style wrapper.

They were insanely hot and fresh, perfectly executed.  I actually burnt myself on my first bite, it was that fresh out of the fryer.  Incredibly crispy skin, obviously fried but it still felt light, contrasting with the creamy inside.  The filling seemed to be more cream than crab however.

Also on the plate was broccoli to freshen the dish up a little, and two sauces: a cappuccino-like crab foam, and a oil drizzle.  Neither sauce really had much flavor, and I would have preferred something more to dip the fritters into.

My second favorite dish, and another one that was obviously well thought out and composed.
Seasonal Vegetables Consommé Soup.
Next up we had a soup.  I never care much for soups, but I really didn't like this.

The broth was a beef consommé, and it was way too rich for me, really oily.  The vegetables (onions, potatoes) were overcooked and mushy.  And, the chunk of beef cheek floating within was very fatty.

The others all liked this however, so I guess this was just my own dislikes.  My least favorite dish, by far.
The Chef's Station.
Now it was time for the real action.  Our chef entered the room, and set up his station with a few oils, spices, tools, and sauces.
Wagyu Tenderloin and Mushrooms, Raw.
He also came barring a platter of the raw ingredients that would make up our main dish: Wagyu tenderloin and assorted mushrooms.  Mmm, look at that beef!
Mushrooms Cooking on the Teppan.
The chef started with cooking the mushrooms, with just a little seasoning, right on the teppan.
Steak and Mushrooms Cooking.
After a few minutes, he transferred the mushrooms into a pan, generously filled with oil, and seasoned them further with garlic.  Then, it was time to get the meat sizzling.

Between all moves, he kept the cooking surface meticulously clean, and wiped it down the moment he finished cooking.
Final Product: Beef Tenderloin and Mushrooms.
The chef plated up each dish, making sure to give each of us a variety of the different types of mushrooms, and pouring plenty of sauce on top.

The steak was well seasoned, and a little more rare than we expected giving our ordering of medium-rare (chef's recommendation).  It was obviously a good steak, and the guys really loved it.  I however just wasn't into it.  I just wasn't feeling the red meat.  I'm not sure why.

But, I did love the mushrooms, super meaty themselves.  One of my dining companions doesn't like mushrooms, so I traded some of my steak for his mushrooms.  We both felt like winners.

I also really liked the sauce, a thin style beef gravy, very flavorful, full of garlic and other seasonings.  I gladly dunked the mushrooms, and extra table bread, into the sauce.  So good.

My third favorite dish.
Satisfied Diners.
Here you can see the private room, and our happy, satisfied crew.  The chef offered to take our photo, before leading us on to the next part of our adventure, dessert!

Dessert is served in a separate room.  This makes a lot of sense, since we shouldn't keep occupying the valuable space with the teppan while we enjoy leisurely desserts.  So, after we'd finished, we were asked to follow them to the dessert lounge.
Dessert Menu.
The lounge was really nice, open and airy, and a big change from the fairly dark private room we had been in before.  It was filled with patrons, all enjoying desserts and drinks.  On a sunny day, it would have been wonderful, sunny and bright, and the views overlooking Tokyo were impressive.  In summer, they even have a patio with seating on it, which I'm sure would be amazing.

You can actually come just for the dessert lounge.

Once seated in the dessert/tea lounge, we were presented with dessert menus.

There were 5 choices, none of us went for the ice cream, sorbet, or "Japanese Orange with Jelly", although I almost wish someone had because I'm curious what that really was.
Chiffon Cake with Strawberry.
One of my dining companions picked the chiffon cake, a fairly boring looking plain cake, with a few strawberries, and cream.  I didn't even bother asking for a bite.
The other two, at the recommendation of the water, went for the Mont-Blanc.

It was a fascinating creation, covered in what looked like spaghetti, but was actually chestnut puree, and surrounded by several sauces.  It was quite the surprise to cut into it and find cold ice cream and a roasted chestnut in the center.

This was certainly interesting, but not any of our favorites.
Classic Pudding.
I went for one that sounded incredibly simple: "classic pudding".  I asked for a description, and was just told, "pudding".  "Vanilla?" I enquired?  "Yes", I was told.

I could tell there was a language barrier, and didn't quite trust the answer, but, I love puddings, so I went for it.  It wasn't like any of the other options were jumping out at me anyway.

When I saw my dessert, I certainly wouldn't have called it a pudding, let alone a classic pudding.  I'd call it a crème caramel, or a flan.

It was pretty much exactly what it looked like.  A decent creamy custard, with a slightly caramelized sauce.  Pretty standard execution, not particularly good nor bad.
Decaf Coffee.
Like most restaurants we visited, coffee or tea was included in the meal.  No other drinks were offered, not even water, which bothered me, as I wanted water.

There was also an alcohol cart that I think would roll out were it evening rather than mid-day.

I failed to take notes about this coffee, as I was way too distracted by what was coming next ...
After-dessert Dessert Cart!
Yes, the dessert cart!  I knew it was coming.  Not only do you get your pick of main desserts, you also get unlimited selections from the dessert cart.

It seemed like forever before the extra dessert cart came rolling over.  The cart may or may not have been a primary motivation of mine for going to Ukai-Tei in the first place :)  You know me and my love of desserts!

The cart featured an assortment of items: tarts, cakes, cookies, brownies, meringues, hard candies, marshmallows, pâtes de fruits ...

And, they just asked, "what would you like?"

My dining companions all had restraint.  Or perhaps they just don't really have sweet tooths.  I think they all selected at most two items.  I was momentarily upset that I hadn't planned this better, telling each of them to order a few extra things and then just give them to me, so I could try everything.  And then, I decided, I had no shame.
One of my platters.
Yes, I got one of everything, except the brownie.  The server used a small plate for each of the others, but pulled out a much bigger one for me.  I didn't actually feel judged or rude with my order, and think this may be not entirely uncommon.  Or, so I like to think.

And I will admit, by the end of this, I was really, really sick of sweets.  For a few hours.

I'll try my best to remember these all, clockwise, starting top center:
  • Caramel - We had so many caramels on this trip, as every single restaurant included them in their mignardises, that I really couldn't distinguish this from any of the others.
  • Fruit Tart - The tart shell was really buttery, and even though it looked burnt, was quite good.  Filled with decent pastry cream, and topped with strawberry, a raspberry, and a blueberry.  This was one of my favorites, a great mix of crunch, cream, and fruit.
  • Chocolate and Strawberry Napoleon - Layers of a slightly chocolately, buttery, crispy wafer, chocolate cream, and strawberries.  This was very, very tasty, although a bit hard to eat, since cutting into it caused the cream to squish out.  This was my favorite, although the fruit tart was a very close second.
  • Ladyfinger Filled with Orange Marmalade: This was very sweet, and I don't really care for ladyfingers nor orange marmalade in the first place.  Wouldn't have ordered it if I knew what it was.  Not a favorite.
  • Grapefruit Pâtes de Fruits: Tart yet sweet, very flavorful, better than most pâtes de fruits.
  • Plum (?) Pâtes de Fruits: This had a very familiar flavor that I couldn't quite place, but I think it was plum.  Again, better than most, not too sweet, good chew.
  • Mexican Wedding Cookie: Pretty standard, almond powder and bits, powdered sugar coating.
  • Meringue: Filled with chunks of hazelnut that were a bit bitter, but this was pretty unremarkable and standard.
  • Mint Chocolate Chip Marshmallow:  Very, very light and fluffy.  Intense mint flavor, with little chocolate bits too. I've had a lot of fancy marshmallows over the past few years, but these were perhaps the best I've ever had.  Besides the pastries, these were my favorites on the platter.
  • Strawberry Marshmallow: Again, light and fluffy, super intense strawberry flavor. Another stellar marshmallow.
  • Hard Candies: Pretty standard, just hard candies.
  • Log (center): I have no idea what this was, but it was really dry, and had no real flavor.  My least favorite item.