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Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Tale Of Two Lunches...And A Dinner

Last Friday, I officially began working in the coffee business. Oakland is a landmark for coffee.  Some of the best on the planet.  I am excited for the commute over there because drinking coffee and espresso are a big part of my daily routine.  That and beer guzzling are some my favorite hobbies.  I was pretty caffeinated throughout that first morning on the job.  I had a stop at Ritual before hitting the gym.  And then it was off to ROASTCO and my new sales gig.  I had a cup of their Kenyan blend and it perked me right up.  I needed it after my crazy chest and triceps workout earlier that morning.

The area I work in is pretty close to some amazing beer spots and restaurants.  Everywhere I ate that day had Linden St Black Lager on tap.  It is probably one of the best local beers around.  It seems from it's color that it would taste a certain way.  You will be surprised at the taste though, if you have a chance to try it.  I had 2 pints at Chop Bar with a Yucatan Grilled Chicken Torta. It's there Mexican-style sandwich with avocado, queso fresco, tomato, & ancho chile aioli and is served with a jicama salad.  It was mad good.  The menu in general looks very intriguing too.  I even got to chat with the owner, Chris, a bit.   Nice guy.  Mellow guy from back east, like me. Yeah, right...

I still had an appetite and saw the line around the corner at Brown Sugar Kitchen.  I heard about the legendary Fried Chicken Waffle they do.  I am really looking forward to trying that very soon.  Meanwhile, I asked Rachel, a server what a 1st timer should try.  She insisted on the BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich and a side the Smoked Mashed Yams. So, I sat at the counter with another Black Lager and  ate my 2nd lunch.  I was a hog in heaven and I smiled all the way through my incredible sandwich.  Those yams are screaming! I can't wait to go back there and eat more.

After some champagne at Laura's house during cocktail hour that evening,  the July Birthday Club was off to dinner for our 2nd annual tradition.  Last year it was me and Lori being taken out by Laura to Chez Panisse. This year, we were a foursome at Pizzaiolo.  It was hosted by Jim and Laura this time. Our hosts treated us in decadent style.  It also helped to have Cate as our barkeep.  She made me some of her favorite drinks on the menu. Like the MetĂ  del Turno.  It's  gin, lemon, amaro nonino, chamomile honey & fernet.  It was a great starter.

Other starters started to head to our table too.  Flatbreads with eggplant spread, broccolini, spicy carrots and  yogurt and the Burrata da Di Stefano with cherry tomatoes and a toast, arrived first. Anything from that oven, especially with Charlie on the deck is sublime.  So toast, flatbread, that Pizze with Rapini & housemade sausage that we had...phenominal!

The ladies ordered a bottle of Sangiovese Chianti Rufina, Fattoria Selvapiana ‘08 as the Star Route Farm garden lettuces and Heirloom tomatoes & cucumbers with fried squash blossoms were being passed around. How can you not order a fried squash blossom?  That's just stupid.

Jim got the pasta handkerchiefs with fresh ricotta, basil pesto & cherry tomatoes for the table as well as the ribeye steak with shoestring potatoes & a wild arugula salad.  Everyone was sharing the dishes as I continued with another drink from Cate.  This time a Bourbon Buck with lime, ginger, orange, cane sugar & peychaud's bitters.  It was extraordinary.

We didn't even need to order dessert because gifts kept a coming.  We had the bittersweet chocolate port le creme, puff pastry tartlet with vanilla custard & roasted Blossom Buff Farm peaches and the Spring Bright nectarine sorbet.  It was a grand feast and we were treated like kings and queens.  The day was something for the record books. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Industry Party Hopping

Last night was pretty exciting. I took the 24 Bus up to Jackson and Webster and walked through Pacific Heights. I was in route to Union Street for the 1st of 2 restaurant opening parties.  I was a bit early, so I stopped in for a couple Scrimshaws at the Bus Stop.  My friend Jake joined me and after our beers, we walked over to Cafe Des Amis.  There was a line around the corner and we saw lots a familiar faces awaiting entry. 

Once inside, we headed straight to the bar for some beer.  So far, I am loving their tap list.  First, I started off with a California Ale from Telegraph Brewing Company.  I really enjoyed that one.  Then came a Blanche de Bruxelles.  Really refreshing stuff! But the Bacchus was my favorite.  I believe it to have been a sour beer and it was delicious.

If the Hors d'oeuvres are an indication of what will be coming out of the kitchen tomorrow night, when they open to the public, we are certainly in for some treats.  On one side of the this beautiful, spacious layout, servers were handing out savory beef sandwiches.  Back and up the stairs in another stunning room, if you stood by the table direct to the kitchen, you were treated to oysters, sliders, lamb chops and even stuffed chicken. Oh, I also had many salty chocolate bites, tiny eclairs and mini cheesecakes.

The night didn't stop there. Jake and I hopped into a cab and drove to Mint Plaza for the opening party for Thermidor.  This place looks fantastic.  I believe they are officially open as of last week.  And the space looks very impressive.  And the cocktail program looks and tasted good from what I sampled.  We started with a couple bourbons on the rocks to get things going.  As we walked the room,  other whiskey cocktails were handed off to me.  I was loving life.

And life continued to get better as Jake treated me to a late night supper at Chez Papa Resto next door.  And treat is an understatement. We began with glasses of Rose champagne and then a great bottle of red wine.  We ate well too.  We noshed on some Snake River Kobe Beef Tartare with Dijon Mustard, Capers, Shallots, Garlic and Toast Points. I thought it was very flavorful and had a nice texture.  I really enjoyed the Dirty Girl Farm Strawberry and Beet Salad with Favas, Arugula, Pistachios and Aged Humboldt Fog.  We also had the Bouillabaisse and the Duck as our main courses and they were outrageous.  We left full and happy.  Just another typical Monday night in the city.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A Night I'll Always Remember...

It was quite the dinner we had, the other night at Murray Circle in Cavallo Point (Fort Baker).  I went with my buddy Grant who knows this place inside out.  We immediately were sat at the money table and drinks were a flowing.  I decided to have a cocktail before I started ordering food.  And the Blood & Sand sounded right up my alley.  It had Achentoshan 12 yr, Roi Rene, Carpano Antica and orange.  Basically, that translates into scotch and vermouth and other goodness.  And boy, was it good. Just what the doctor ordered, to get the meal on it's way.

We had a bottle of Burgundy brought over as we made decisions on the vast menu. And then came some amuse bouches.  The first, was the sweet pea tortellini with Domestic Oscetra Caviar and a sweet pea gazapacho.  I have had that sweet pea gazapacho before and I just love the Serrano Chile and citrus ice they use in it's preparation.  But that tortellini was something else.  Man, with the Caviar all up-in-it.

The decadence continued when another amuse bouche arrived.  This time we had Halibut and foie gras.  Sassafras salt-cured Halibut, Carpaccio wrapping a Halibut Crudo, a little fresh fennel, served over a vanilla-roasted pineapple, finished with shaved foie gras and a sherry vinaigrette. It was bite size but I ate both, as my friend Grant does not care for fish.  It was presented and executed in such a great fashion.  I was thoroughly impressed.

I had already tried all 5 types of bread in the bread basket by now.  There was the whole wheat sourdough, a ciabatta, some Japanense seaweed bread, a spring onion semolina and fennel mustard seed bread. They were all pretty fantastic.  I used some of the bread to soak up the wild foraged porcini's that were braised and served "a la grecque with a pecan vinaigrette and aged sheep's milk cheese on top.

Along with mushrooms came an order of the coal-roasted baby beets with a crispy quinoa cake, a little dill puree, fresh ricotta cheese, sherry vinegar and a beet green tapenade. And the summer squash served over a Yellowfin Tuna Carpaccio with lemon verbena vinaigrette.  These dishes were both beautiful to look at and delectable to the palate.

To finish up the fruits & vegetables, I also had the green garlic vichyssoise served with a smoked paprika oil, spiced almonds, grilled grapes and grilled Spot Prawns from Oxnard, California. And this was just the robust beginning to a even fuller meal to come.

Grant gave me a bite of the chicken & foie grais, which is  a country style terrine served with porcini mushroom, chicken foie gras vinaigrette with mizuna greens and a smoked sweet tea brined chicken breast. Normally, you can find this dish on the Grand Tasting menu.  We had a special portion made just for us. It defined the term specialty.

As the Burgundy continued to pour,  the Pacific Cod from the Fishing Vessel, Linda Ann, (Bolinas) arrived. It was served with Madeira glazed veal sweetbreads, tempura battered shiso and a sugar snap pea salad with a peanut vinaigrette. It was a perfect pairing of meat, fish and vino! 

Grant ordered a double portion of the wood grilled Marin Sun Farms grass fed beef.  It was ribeye served with a mytoki mushroom & mizuna salad and a parmesan potato gratin with a Cabernet Gastrique. I had a bite, it was tremendous.

My lamb dish was young pasture raised from Red Hill Farm in Petaluma. It consisted of a lamb chop with merguez sausage that is wood grilled and a leg served with a dry cured black olive paste. Finishing the dish off, was a neck and shank cannelloni that had been braised in a sheep's milk yogurt and served with compressed cucumber. It was a three-way done remarkably.

When the dessert menus hit the table, so did glasses of a fine sherry, a Moscato d'Asti and a Madeira.  Grant insisted we try several selections.  So we had a butterscotch soufflĂ©, baked to order, with a butterscotch blondie and served with vanilla ice cream.  The next dessert was a strawberry tart served over a chamomile cream with strawberry preserves and a formage blanc sorbet. Then came a lemon creme brulee served with pistachio whipped cream, limoncello granita and grapefruit segements. Suddenly, a chilled cherry consume came out, served with roasted cherry sorbet, creme fraiche ice cream and pistachio tuile. Lastly, a short stack of blueberry pancakes with a blueberry caramel came out.  Grant insisted that I needed to experience it's blueberry sorbet and the citrus butter.  I experienced it all.  I was a cochon, but I loved it.

We walked the grounds and my dog after the meal to let it all digest.  I was blown away by the service, the quality of the food and the libations.  But, I was equally moved by the night itself.  It was one of those magical evenings that will remain in my memory bank forever.  Thanks to Grant for making it happen.