Friday, January 30, 2015

Sip This: Failla Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

Failla Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2012: Winemaker Ehren Jordan helmed winemaking at Turley Cellars through the 1990s and aughts, making some of the biggest, boldest zins that managed not to devolve into alcoholic syrup.

Want to read the rest then do so at the Indy's site.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

A Chicken in Every Fog

Let's subtitle this post "That's Dining-tainment!" as that's what happened at Fog City. It certainly didn't hurt we were a threesome that evening, joined by charming "old" friend Christine, who actually does write about food and travel for a living (hobbyist me can hardly imagine), so has plenty of informed and witty opinions. In fact it was her idea for us try out Fog City in the first place as she'd been wanting to go since its acclaimed relaunch in September 2013.

The spot had been at the vanguard of making the diner hip for decades, but while it still gives you that aquarium feel a bit, with glass around you on three sides, what's wrong with that, as you're right on the Embarcadero? It does gleam like a beacon in the night, drawing you in, and then you get hit with scents that keep you there, and we'll get to their signature roast chicken in a bit, but first there's Perry.

That's our waiter, who comes off New Yawk with his wise-cracking attitude (at least not very California cool), since we're slow to menu ponder given we're quick to share our lives instead as we hadn't seen each other for at least a year. When we do order drinks, and FC has quite a cocktail list (it might be a law you have to have one in SF now), Perry suggests we let him order for us, and he promises to take good care of us. After we warn him Chryss is pescatarian, and worry to ourselves a bit this is a trick to get us to over-spend, we give in.

And begin the Perry game--supposedly he'll pay for our meal if we can guess where he's from within 50 miles. He starts to give clues, but as we learn later, while they're all true (although I can't find him on UCLA's football squad, as he insisted, in the Troy Aikman years, and yes, I've checked), they're often meant to mislead, too. So we keep guessing each time he wanders by the table, when he drops some more non-sequitur clues--I'm Greek, grew up on a farm, as a kid rooted for the Cincinnati Reds. It's an engaging gambling game to play while dining, and at worse you lose by having a fine meal and paying for it.

And it was a fine meal, starting with those cocktails: a Poolside (Blanco Tequila, Basil, Cucumber, Thai Bird Chili, Grapefruit, Lemon), an Inside Job (James E. Pepper Rye, Nocino, Orgeat, Spicy Ginger Shrub, Lemon), and a Grandpa's Breakfast (Famous Grouse Scotch, Allspice Dram, Combier Kummel, Lemon, Honey, Whiskey Barrel Bitters) that had the added charm of arriving "disguised" in a tea cup.

Then three appetizers descended on the table, quickly followed by a kale salad that rescued itself from current cliche by including both grilled and raw kale, plus spice-roasted delicata squash, goat cheese, chili oil, lime, and the needed crunch of Marcona almonds. This could have been enough for dinner, especially given the crab cakes were amazing, seemingly all crab and simply garnished with some basil aoli and oven-charred cherry tomatoes that added a wisp of smoke to the dish. Even a beet salad was good (and you probably have noticed it's a menu that favors the classics by now), each piece perfectly cut, since so often the roots come like mini-discs; when cut a bit smaller, you can savor them more. Goat cheese ranch dressing shot with fresh herbs played a perfect foil. And then there were Brussels sprouts, again sans piggy (see yesterday's story about Maven), with Asian pear adding a bit of juice and exoticism (the ponzu and togarashi didn't hurt, either).

It was time for the evening's showpiece, an entire roast chicken, spatchcocked, arriving in a still piping cast iron pan and redolent with garlic, rosemary, thyme, and supposedly kimchi butter. Perry insists it's better than the famed Zuni Cafe roast chicken, perhaps even curses dear deceased Judy Rodgers along the way. And it is mighty-fine chicken, especially the dark meat, especially alongside the romanesco and baby potatoes done right in the pan, too, soaking up all the goodness. The white meat, I have to admit, was 97% moist, though--just a tad tad not quite there, not that I'm complaining. But when perfection seems so near....

The other entree was a swordfish special that Chryss likes practically more for its accompanying garbanzos, and that's not just cause she leans vegetarian. These were beans with a purpose, and form, and not just an afterthought. The fish was perfectly cooked.

There was a bottle of Handley Mendocino Pinot, something I hadn't had in years and appreciated--all that good Anderson Valley cherry quality, a wine waiting for food.

There where desserts--a pumpkin brioche bread pudding with bourbon caramel sauce and a dollop of pumpkin spiced ice cream, somehow nowhere near as over-rich or over-sweet as it reads, and then a house specialty, the "B" Bomb. Wish you could have breakfast for dessert, well here you go: that's a glazed French cruller, about as fantastic a fried thing as will pass your lips, topped with vanilla frozen custard and an egg yolk caramel that will become your brain's dictionary photo for yellow.

Perry, it turns out, is from ________. Well, I don't want anyone to be able to Google this up and ruin his clever game, at which we lost and we didn't care. And, yes, it was more than we wanted to spend--that's a $38 chicken, which leaves me wondering what I could get for the hens in my backyard--but was it a wonderful evening? Indeed.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Maven's Much More than a Maybe

There's much to say about Maven in San Francisco, starting with the guts to name their spot with a wonderful if a bit obscure word. Then again, that is a bit of a hint as to the m.o. of Maven--there's a nod to the slightly classic age of cocktails, but a hope to update too. For instance, it works like this on the simple menu: the center offers 6 drinks and 6 plates, paired. There are other drinks and food, but they are clearly satellites to the main events.

You do want to order one of the pairings, as we did, starting with the charmingly named Corpse Reviver #598 (and we might be up to that variation of the beloved gin-based drink by now) that also includes cocchi (a white veromuth), ginger, lemon, and coriander. There's soda in it, too, so it comes up and fizzy, and the top ice cube of the glass is dusted with some lightly cracked coriander seeds, so when you go to sip, you get a healthy nose-ful. In a word, about as refreshing a drink as you could have. That pairs with Penn Cove mussels kicked up with Korean chili pepper and absinthe, and, as you have to have with soupy mussels, some grilled bread for sopping. That's right, smart cocktail folk--the absinthe you associate with the Corpse Reviver ends up in the food instead. And that ties it all up in a bright, delicious bow.

Or you might opt for The Sixpence, a drink that sounds like it might push things too far, given its last ingredient is peppercorn sorbet. The rest is gin, sherry (hip drink ingredient of the moment), mint, and lemon, but that seemingly stunt of sorbet is actually the perfect addition, a slick of frozen punchy foam--icy pepper is pretty much brilliant--that gives the drink yet more depth and breadth (the sherry helps for that too, of course). That comes paired with one of the best fish dishes I've had in some time (well, maybe till later that weekend, so here's hoping I keep up blogging about our SF-feast), McFarland Springs trout, a healthy piece of it, pink as any king salmon and with its skin cooked crisp, over a bowl of sunchokes--some little roasted nuggets, crunchy on the outside, creamy on the in, plus some whipped into a bed for the fillet to rest--that also features a clam veloute that hides a couple of actual tiny clams in it that sort of look like the sunchoke nuggets, so you don't know what you've got on your fork until it hits your tongue (a pleasant food surprise). This is all a bit rich, what with the veloute's butter, etc,. so the acid counter comes in the form of a caper gremolata, and that leaves the bowl in a perfect balance. Of course, the cocktail adds its elegance, and also helps cut the richness, too.

We also tried some crispy Brussels sprouts done in apple gastrique and not any bacon fat and just as delicious, somehow, so take that, pork.

Oh, and it's a pleasing space, too, as you can see from the photo I stole above (thanks, internets!). That's pretty much the view we had, too, from the second floor overhang (don't wear short skirts!), a wonderful sneaky spy spot for us, probably the oldest people in the restaurant/bar; so much to watch, and we didn't have to disturb any of San Francisco's gorgeous young-uns to do it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The "Foster Father" Winemaker at J. Wilkes Wines

Vidal Perez, the winemaker for J. Wilkes Wines, likes to call his wines his children. When tasting from a tank of 2014 wine he'll say things like, "We were concerned about this chardonnay -- it was a preemie, the Brix was low, and there wasn't enough sugar when harvested." But Perez and his crew have their "tricks," as he repeatedly called them, and in this case it meant pumping wine from the top of the massive 6000-gallon tank into the bottom, in order "to get the yeast stirring and activate the wine even more -- we've been happy with the results." His smile after saying that is the same one a parent might beam after seeing his kid's straight-A report card.

Want to read the rest then do so at the KCET Food Blog.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Sip This: Shrub & Co. Spicy Ginger Shrub

Shrub & Co. Spicy Ginger Shrub: It’s that time of year when a cocktail that borders on the medicinal makes you feel better about drinking, if not actually healthier. So why not use a shrub, the reinvented take on a vinegar-based concoction Colonials made to preserve fruit back in the day? Today shrubs provide a yummy charge to drinks, something between bitters and wine.

Want to read the rest then do so at the Indy's site.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Rasi Wine: A Barrel into a Career

A mere barrel into her solo winemaking career, Rachel Silkowski, 25, has opted to name her project Rasi Wine Company. Sure, that comes from the first two letters of her names, but she pronounces it "racy" and says, "I chose to name my wine company Rasi because the definition of the term represents the style of wine that I set out to make. The definition, which is included on the back label is: 'full of zest of vigor; having a strongly marked quality; piquant; risqué, suggestive; having the distinctive quality of something in its original or most characteristic form.'"

Want to read the rest then do so at the KCET Food Blog.

Barbareño Does Santa Barbara by the Book

At one point during my interview with Julian Martinez and Jesse Gaddy — the two twentysomethings behind the new Barbareño restaurant in the old yet very remodeled D’Vine Café space at De la Vina and Canon Perdido streets — the latter leaves abruptly, only to return with a heavy tome that he tosses onto the table. The book, which lands with a dull thud, is beloved historian Walter A. Tompkins’s The Yankee Barbareños: The Americanization of Santa Barbara County, California 1796-1925. “So many books we just read and read,” said head chef Martinez about their search for a concept and name. “The book’s pretty interesting, pretty dry,” adds Gaddy, the general manager, before Martinez concludes, “But now we’re filled with plenty of fun facts.”

Want to read the rest then do so at the Indy's site.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Sip This: Roark Sauvignon Blanc

Roark Wine Company Sauvignon Blanc, Happy Canyon 2013: When a young winemaker is such a garagiste that he’s best known for his chenin blanc, that’s a hint he’s not making much juice. But such is the case with the talented Ryan Roark, who likes to lease rows where he can farm and do everything himself.

Want to read the rest then do so at the Indy's site.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

What's in a Glass? Testing Riedel

Let's face it -- convincing people that they need to buy not just one, but multiples, of your product, is brilliant business (and if you don't believe that, Ty Warner has some Beanie Babies to sell you). That must have been crystal clear to the Riedel Family, especially when Georg Riedel decided that different varietals of wine required different glasses to be enjoyed fully. As the tenth generation of what he calls "a dinosaur entrepreneur family of Europe," Riedel spreads the gospel of varietal-specific glassware, as he did at a recent symposium sponsored by the Santa Barbara Vintners for wine industry folk in Solvang. "I am in command of the liquid flow to your palate," he told us as we sat before our own sets of three of his glasses. "And you'll say, nonsense...bullshit."

Want to read the rest then do so at KCET's Food Blog.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Many Wines of Margerum

It only just seems like you can't throw a rock in Santa Barbara without breaking a bottle of wine made by Doug Margerum. I had him explain his busy, busy slate -- and he's also still co-owner of the beloved Wine Cask restaurant too, with Mitchell Sjerven- - in a recent email interview. "I, of course, make wine for my labels -- Margerum, Barden (Barden is my middle name) and these are the wines (pinot noir, chardonnay, and syrah) that are from Santa Rita Hills, and Cent'Anni (a partnership [centered on Sangiovese] with the vineyard owner). The Margerum wines are poured in the Margerum Tasting Room and the Margerum reserve wines, Barden and Cent'Anni, are poured at MWC32. I am the wine maker for Jamie Slone Wines and Happy Canyon Vineyards. I also consult for La Encantada Vineyard."

Want to read the rest then do so at the KCET Food Blog.

Friday, January 2, 2015

A Not So Plain Plantain

Sorry it's taken so long, but as a sort of 2015 resolution (to make up nice with my readers--both of you), I wanted to write a bit about my favorite meal of 2014. Particularly since it's breakfast, and I'm usually not a huge breakfast person. Now I love a Renaud's croissant as much as the next butter-adoring person short a plane ticket to Paris, but breakfast mostly seems like fuel than fuss, if you ask me.

And then there's the Costa Rican Breakfast, as its billed on the menu of the utterly fabulous Gaia Hotel and Resort near Manuel Antonio in Costa Rica. That's it in the photo, not showing anywhere near as good as it tastes. The mound is formed by plantains caramelized to the point you'll never need bacon again, almost a bit crunchy but definitely, rewardingly chewy, both sweet and savory at once (and isn't that the goal for most delicious food?). Beneath the plantains is a black bean and rice mixture cooked perfectly, the beans still plump and distinct and flavorful, a trio of adjectives most beans fail to achieve. There's onions and sweet peppers and cilantro in the mix, too, all providing support without overwhelming with their own often dominant characteristics. (Cilantro is so often a rug of flavor cooks hide their other messes under.) 

Off to the right are the two eggs over-easy, as asked. But look at that fry on them, giving their overall smoothness a bit of texture that certainly doesn't hurt. And at this point where every dish no matter the meal seems to come with an egg atop so you can yolk all over yerself, we all know the glories of a bit of eggy goo that adds to the richness of, say, some rice and beans.

Those corn cakes atop aren't just an afterthought, either, despite being wisely just the right size and not an attempt to make you think you're stuffed. They call them sour cream and tortilla wedges, and no doubt that cream is what elevates them from being mere fat tortillas, adding a lightness and brightness. Plus their fine in the yolk that runs, too.

Of course, one reason this breakfast is so good is you have it in an open air restaurant with a view out over the rainforest to the nearby Pacific. So that's pretty hard to beat, but the food doesn't just ride on the location--Gaia is a place of detail and comfort and pleasure.

And a place trying to re-establish scarlet macaws to a region of Costa Rican where they've been missing thanks to man for some decades. So while you're eating, every once in a while you'll see blurs like those below zoom by, making their wonderful racket that practically sounds as red as they are. So that's your breakfast dessert.