Aveline, San Francisco

casey-top-chef-lgFormer Top Chef contestant, Casey Thompson opens her first restaurant in San Francisco, Aveline. (Address: 490 Geary St, San Francisco, CA – cross street Taylor). (415) 345-2303.

After a visit to the restaurant during it’s opening week, it’s solid, but still needs to work a few kinks out. My biggest complaint was that the food was a little too sweet. Even the savory dishes were sweet. Read on.

The amuse bouche was a seabass dumpling in a dashi fish roe broth. Quite nice. Then I was intrigued by the “palate resets” that were adorned to the top of the menu. At only $6 each, they were begging me to try them. So I did as the server recommended, I ordered them in between dishes.

The first dish we had was the Goat’s Milk Custard with cucumber, black tahini, trout roe, and strawberries.  Although the trout roe added salt to the dish to make it savory, it was still sweet from the strawberries.

CrabMacaronsNext we had the Crab Macarons which were presented in an innovative white monogrammed ‘A’ wax sealed box, loosely tied with a ribbon. There were three to an order and they were warm. Although the menu didn’t say so, the waiter did mention that they contained shrimp and crab. Which, they were tasty, but because of the shrimp to crab ratio, they tasted more like dim sum.

Next we had Palate reset #1 which was described as: pistachio, corn, peach, and mint. When I think of a palate reset, I think of a palate cleanser, but this had ice cream in it and no matter how you pitch it, it was dessert, not a palate reset. In fact, it was delicious and I almost wished it had been a bit larger so I could consider it for dessert next time.

AmberjackFollowing the “palate reset” we got the Amberjack, which the description superseded it’s delivery on flavor. The Amberjack was served sashimi style with salted banana, black lime, cherry blossom, and ham snow. Nowhere does it say radish, but man there was so much radish. The radish made the dish look very pretty, but it was too much radish: all other components ratio going on in this plate. Less radish, and then I may have been able to taste all of the other amazing components. But this was labeled as a savory dish but faltered on the side of being a tad sweet due to the cherry blossom and banana. The ham snow gave it some salt, but it needed more ham snow. (frozen ham shaved down to look like pink snow).

YolkBeignetteWe heard the Yolk Beignet was all the rage so of course we had to get it. A beautiful beignet with a duck egg inside it, covered with a thin layer of sliced wagyu, topped with a thin layer of lardo and then trotter sauce drizzled around the outside. When you cut into the center of it, the duck egg oozed out mixing nicely with the trotter sauce. This was by far, one of the two best tasting dishes.

We followed the Yolk Beignet with the second “Palate Reset #2” which had descriptors of lemon meringue, cucumber, and granita. I kinda thought this was going to be sweet, but the waiter said that the pastry chef tends to make her desserts a bit more savory and that this was not going to be that sweet. Well, it was sweet. If the lemon meringue had been a salted lemon meringue, then this would have had potential.  Or if it had just been a savory granita, that would have been enough. Also, I found this one a bit on the larger side. A palate cleanser should just be a 2-3 bites, this was more like 8-10 spoonfuls. Out of the two palate resets, this was our least favorite all around in flavors, being a palate reset, and in size. You can skip this one.

CampanelleLastly we had the Campanelle with pig cheek, smoked yogurt, and cracklin’ and this was our second most favorite dish. There are a lot of good pasta places in San Francisco (like SPQR, NOPA, Acquerello) and this dish could have been served in any one of those places. Yum.

For dessert, lots of things looked interesting, but due to the sweetness of 3 out of the 5 dishes we had plus both palate resets, my blood sugar was already elevated. My complaint about the dishes leaning toward the sweet side I feel were because there was a lot of use of fruit in these dishes. You’ll notice that the two dishes that were our favorites: the Campanelle and Yolk Beignette had no fruit in them. It’s not that we don’t like fruit, we love fruit. But it’s June in San Francisco, it’s fruit season. So when adding it to the dishes, it needs to be small enough to lend the flavor, but not over power the dish. I think that’s what went wrong here.  The Amberjack had potential, but there was so much radish that I couldn’t really tell.

Will I go back? Yes. Should you go? Yes. They have a great wine list, the food is solid, and service was great too. My bet is that with a few tweaks and alterations, this restaurant will be on the top of Michael Bauer’s list.

 

 

 

Chalkboard – Healdsburg, CA

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Located in the old Cyrus space at the bottom of Hotel Mar in Healdsburg is Chalkboard. A small plates / tapas restaurant that is still ironing out the kinks.

Here’s what we had:
Shot of “fairytale pumpkin soup” topped with an arancini ball and white truffle oil. Thought the arancini ball didn’t do much for the soup. It was delicious otherwise and worth the $3/shot.

Duck liver mousse with a cayenne pepper jelly, sea salt, and grilled bread. Kudos for not making the grilled bread hard as a brick. The cayenne pepper jelly was a delight which brightened up the dish and gave it a kick. (Second to the duck liver mousse at State Bird Provisions.)

Creamed rainbow chard with onion cream, saffron poached raisins and crispy shallots. This was a great dish. It’s hard to make chard taste good, but there was no bitterness and the raisins and shallots took this savory dish over the top.

Lumachine “Mac & cheese” with a duck confit, duck fat bread crumbs and white cheddar. This was my least favorite. First when you put something in quotes that usually means it’s not exactly what it says, but rather a play on words. But this was in fact Mac ‘n Cheese. I didn’t like the crispy topping because it was a little too well done and that made it chewy. The flavor tasted off to me and the white cheddar cheese sauce needed salt.

Hamachi crudo was underwhelming, probably because of the order in which it arrived at the table. It seemed bland after the mousse with the cayenne pepper jelly. But I also think that the yuzu sauce and the diced cucumber didn’t add much flavor. It was lacking acidity.

Dessert looked interesting, but at this point I didn’t want to waste my calories in something that would be disappointing.

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Amarena – SF (Russian Hill)

First and foremost, I can’t believe it took me nine years to get here.  It’s a little cheesy Italian place where the food is actually really really good.  The menu is a nice sized menu, but not over-sized like you see at a places in North Beach. It’s more than reasonably priced and the wait staff seems to be authentically Italian.

We didn’t have much but everything we did have was great.

First let me start with the bruschetta. This may have been some of the best bruschetta I’ve ever had. What was unfortunately was that there were only 3 small pieces, but it was amazing. I think it tasted so good because it was made with cherry tomatoes rather than heirloom or roma tomatoes which is what you typically see at restaurants. The tomatoes burst in your mouth like a volcanic explosion.

Then we moved on to main dishes: a special of fettuccine, cabbage, potatoes, and Fontina cheese. Which, if you like noodles and cabbage in the first place, you will love it. It was super flavorful with garlic and herbs. Really good and the pasta, of course, is homemade.

photo (4)The other main course was butternut squash ravioli with salted ricotta cheese in a brown butter sauce. They were more like Chinese dumplings than ravioli, nevertheless, had that sweet and savory taste from the butternut squash and the salted ricotta and butter.

Had to skip dessert but everything on the list looked homemade and I was interested in the budino or the creme brulee — maybe next time.

Located at 2162 Larkin Street, San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 447-0441
http://www.amarenarestaurant.com

Cafe Des Amis – SF, Cow Hollow

CafedesAmisYou know I always judge a place by its bathroom. But in this case, I might have to judge it by whether or not the staff washes their hands after they use the bathroom. Because that’s what happened here.

First off, the food is standard classic French, with one exception – when I order mussels, I want skinny shoe string pomme frites, not thick potato cut fries. Get out your mandoline slicer!

But in general, the food was good up until the end when someone from our party went to the bathroom and saw one of the wait staff exit the bathroom stall without washing his hands. Fortunately, we were finished eating so it didn’t ruin our meal, but it did leave an unpleasant picture in our minds and I question whether we’ll ever go back because of it. The guest in our party mentioned it to the management team and they apologized and said that sometimes they go into the bathroom to use their cell phones because they are not allowed to use them in the kitchen or restaurant. Fair enough, but then at least feign to wash your hands because perception is reality in this case.

Here’s what we had:

  • Mussels (classic garlic preparation) – very good.
  • Steak tartare – had the classic egg yolk on top, and it was good but not great. We’ve had better.
  • Chicken liver mousse – had a thin layer of jam on top and was served with toasts. Really good.
  • Summer Market salad – recently added to the menu, was everything in a salad you’d want – crisp, nice acid, and a good balance between salad mix and accouterments.
  • Vegetable Israeli couscous – was tasty, although I was expecting the bigger pearl like Israeli couscous, but it was the smaller ones. It was refreshing and a good way to get in your daily veggies.
  • Also, on Wednesday nights we found out that all bottles of wine are half off. ALL BOTTLES OF WINE ARE 50% OFF — even the Peter Michael (for you wine aficionados).

So perhaps for that last bullet point it might be worth going into the restaurant for on a Wednesday night. I don’t know. I’ll let you make that call.

Cafe des Amis
2000 Union Street (@Buchanan St)

http://www.cafedesamissf.com/

 

 

Sons & Daughters – SF

Chicken at Sons and DaughtersThere are so many new restaurants opening in San Francisco these days that it’s hard to choose who gets my patronage every week. This week I tried Sons & Daughters and the food was great. I had only one complaint about the food, which you can read below. I thought the service was a little stiff, but maybe they were newbies because the host was bubbly and super outgoing.

Tomato soupLike many trendy restaurants who have local sustainable dishes, there is a fixed price for a menu that is tailored to your dining preferences. In other words, if you have allergies or aversions to anything, just tell them and they’ll accommodate. Pretty sweet, unlike Saison (which I will never eat at given the fact that I’m allergic to bi-valve mollusks and they weren’t willing to accommodate my food allergy for $200 a person. They can go suck it.)

And, with only 11 tables and two seatings a night, you definitely need a reservation.

Here’s what we had:

Amuse bouche

  • Summerset Oysters, dill and purslane. The oyster preparation at Restaurant Gary Danko is still the best, but these were decent. The best part about this dish was that it set the stage. Each dish progressively got better and better.
  • Then a miniature homemade slice of brioche. C’mon, what’s there not to like about brioche? Is there anyone out there who doesn’t like brioche? I felt like packing up a six pack of these babies and making French toast out of them the next day.
  • Roasted baby beets, vadouvan spices and summer herbs. This was a great spin on beets. I love beets, especially when they are the star of the dish. The vadouvan spices (a curry like mixture), gave it a smokey flavor that you find in India food. Great twist on fresh beets.
  • Heirloom tomatoes, nasturtium buds and smoked bread – this was actually tomato soup and the bread were itsy bitsy croutons. One of the best tomato soups I ever had and it was 100% vegan too (no dairy).
  • Then a miniature homemade lemon ricotta roll. A savory cake like roll with a touch of lemon. Probably my least favorite of the three.
  • Fogline Farm chicken, garden greens, pickled radish – the chicken seemed poached or sous-vide because it was super tender. Pretty good, not great. (But my idea of great chicken is Roli Roti…need I say more)
  • Then a miniature homemade pretzel roll
    (Tasty, although a this point, I’m about done with the bread).
  • Hanger steak, chaneterelle mushrooms, horseradish. Really, really good. For an inexpensive cut of the cow, the earthiness of the mushrooms and the kick of the horseradish, gave this steak a makeover it deserved.
  • Marigold Sharlyn melon and cucumber. A refreshing palate cleanser that wasn’t overwhelming or over-citrusy like most. And, it didn’t screw up my palate for my wine. All good.
  • Dessert: Geranium ice cream, white chocolate, and blueberry compote. This was like a white chocolate cheesecake with a scoop of icecream, but only better. Possibly one of the best desserts I’ve ever had and that list is short.
    Cheesecake

Sons & Daughters
708 Bush St San Francisco, CA 94108 (map)
(415) 391-8311

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State Bird Provisions – Japantown in San Francisco

SBPWell, we finally made it to the asian inspired State Bird Provisions after waiting in line the week before and NOT getting in (so we went to SPQR instead). And it was SO WORTH IT.

The way they do it there is kind of dim sum style. (Although, it’s not what you think because I hate dim sum.) The servers come around with a cart or tray of small plates that you can choose from. They also have  a menu that you can order things off of like the famous “state bird with provisions.”

The plate are small for getting a taste on a table of four or a few bites on a two top and just to give you an idea, we had 15 plates between two of which included 2 desserts.

Here’s what we had:

  1. Duck liver mousse with almond biscuits at State Bird Provisions SFDuck liver mousse with almond biscuits (pictured above). I wish I had a basket of these little biscuits and a vat of this mousse. Damn were these good. MUST ORDER.
  2. Oyster on half shell with pickled kohlrabi and sesame seeds. A unique and interesting spin on raw oysters. The flavors were simple and clean with a little crunch coming from the kohlrabi.
  3. Steak tartare with porcini mushroom ranch dressing. This was outstanding. The porcini mushroom flavored ranch dressing gave it a nice creamy earthy flavor.
  4. Nasturtium flower blossom w/ creme fraiche and balsamic dipping sauce. I never even heard of this flower, but whoever thought that dipping flower blossoms would be a good idea was a genius! They were great!
  5. Dashi pickled kale with aioli. This was one of the dishes that I ordered just because I don’t get enough kale in my diet. It was fine, but not great and you could skip this one and not miss out on anything.
  6. Chilled squash at State Bird Provisions SFChilled squash with parsley almond pesto and fennel pollen. This was  scrumdidili-umptious! Very simple and yet hearty. The almond pesto is what made the squash pop. Loved it! (pictured left)
  7. Pickled anchovy with sesame pancake and creme fraiche. The pickled anchovies laid on top of the tiny asian pancakes. Tasty if you love anchovies.
  8. Garlic bread with burrata. Surprisingly, as much as this was going like hotcakes as they passed around the tray, this was not very good. It was a filler and frankly there are so many other good things that are available, I wouldn’t waste your belly space. I also love cheese but I think burrata is overrated.
  9. California state bird with provisions. The quail is the California state bird and we ordered a half of one. The provisions vary but on this night it had caramelized onions which made it mouth watering and surprisingly it was not gamy as some quails can be.
  10. Sunny side up quail eggs with fried shallots and cauliflower.Quail eggs This is a MUST ORDER and was my favorite dish overall. Tiny little quail eggs in a hot skillet with shallots and tiny pieces of roasted cauliflower. (pictured left)
  11. Red trout with oranges, hazelnut, butter. This was great. The citrus and sweetness from the oranges gave the dish a nice balance. The hazelnuts added just the right amount of nuttiness and texture. Well executed.
  12. Tomba tuna at State Bird Provisions SFTombo tuna, avocado and radish. Do you like tuna tartare? Then you’ll like this dish. The creamy avocado dollops make the tuna melt in your mouth. Plus you can eat the seaweed plate it’s served on. Yum! (pictured left)
  13. Corn pancakes with Mt. Tam cheese. The whole corn kernels in the pancakes had a sweet flavor that balanced well with the salty Mt. Tam cheese.
  14. State Bird Provisions SFPeanut muscovado milk shots. Let me just say that if you like Reese’s Peanut butter cups, then you’ll love this shot. I’m not a big milk fan in general, but this was worth the exception. (pictured left)
  15. Caramelized coconut chocolate cake, plum yogurt, roasted strawberries. This was delicious. I love coconut cake because it’s light and mildly sweet. Frankly, the cake was good by itself. (pictured left)

State Bird Provisions
1529 Fillmore (between Geary & O’Farrell)

They only have 56 total seats and that includes 4 standing only spots.  They are, however, expanding into the space next door. But it’s unclear how that will affect reservations or walk-ins.

Reservations: They take reservations by phone, 2 months early. They also have walk-ins but it’s a crap shoot and you have to be wiling to wait in line for at least an hour or more. If you don’t make the first seating at 5:30, the seats start to empty out around 7pm.  More on reservations on their website.

Dresscode: casual

Rich Table – San Francisco, CA (Hayes Valley)

On a recent visit to the rustic Rich Table in Hayes Valley I was impressed with the inventiveness of the food. For example the weaving a sardine through a potato chip is innovative and so is the frying of quinoa to add crunch to a watermelon salad.

The restaurant seats around 52 people, with 10 of those seats being at the bar. I imagine they take walk-ins but a reservation is more likely to get you a seat.  There’s a Chef’s tasting menu for $80 where they say they will accommodate food allergies or aversions. There’s also a wine pairing you can add too.

Here’s what we had:

sardine chipsSmall bites:

  • Sardine chips with horseradish dipping sauce – literally the whole sardine is weaved through the potato chip and then fried. The horseradish dipping sauce was creamy and had a slight kick to it (although I would have liked more).  If you like sardines, these are worth a try.
  • Dried Porcini doughnuts with raclette – These were decent but not what I expected and frankly, the raclette fondue overwhelmed the porcini dust and  made these seem pedestrian.  They are essentially fried puffs of doughnut dough dusted with a porcini powder. I’d say if you ordered these you don’t need to order their famous Levain bread. I guess it comes down to weather or not you want fried dough or thick 1 1/2 inch slices of bread.

watermelon saladFirst course:

  • Halibut, English pea, Serrano, Chevril – this was done sashimi style laying on a bed of English pea puree with the Serrano peppers sliced on top. I’ve had many versions of sashimi like this but what sets this apart is that normally it’s done with hamachi rather than halibut. Really good.
  • Chamomile dressed watermelon, arugula, quinoa salad – OMG! This was not only refreshing and light, but almost had me licking the bowl.  MUST ORDER (pictured above). The watermelon was cubed and tossed in a chamomile dressing of lemon, olive oil and chamomile. The fried quinoa gave it a salty crunch which gave the overall dish a nice balance between salty and sweet. The arugula was mostly for presentation. The watermelon and quinoa are the stars of this dish.

papparadelle

Second course:

  • Bucatini, pork belly, black garlic, green coriander – All I can say is, wow! This was the most flavorful of the two pastas we got, but only by a hair. Housemade pasta with tiny cubes of pork belly and tiny cubes of pearl onion topped with Padron peppers in a flavorful earthy sauce that made me want to sop bread into the bottom of the plate. (pictured below)
  • Papparadelle, dry aged beef, caramelized onions, gouda – First off, because I’m a sucker for homemade papparadelle this was my second favorite dish overall. That being said, the caramelized onions along with the grated gouda and shredded dry aged beef gave this savory pasta a very slightly sweet flavor which was not overwhelming. (pictured above)

bucatiniOne thing to note: Although we skipped the fish and chicken dishes, we had our eye on the cod — which says it’s for two people, but looked like it could feed four.

Dessert:

Like every new good restaurant it’s tough to do everything well at the start and the chocolate pot de creme was underwhelming. It had some type of crunchy topping on one side (tasty) and sliced strawberries on the other with the chocolate pot de creme underneath. It had a nice texture balance. However, I think the fact that this was milk chocolate rather than dark chocolate is what we didn’t like about it. It was also a little on the large side in terms of desserts.  If you like milk chocolate and strawberries then you will like this and it’s definitely something to share because of the size.

Would we go back? Yes.

Make a reservation:  http://www.richtablesf.com/
(415) 355-9085
199 Gough Street
San Francisco, CA 94118

Food: California American cuisine
Dresscode: Casual