Friday, July 9, 2010

Chez Papa Resto

Located in Mint Plaza, just a stone's throw from the SF Shopping Center, Chez Papa Resto is one of my favorite spots in SF for an al fresco lunch or intimate dinner with friends. The cuisine consists of fresh California ingredients prepared using classic and modern French techniques. The food is delicious, service is excellent, ambience is sleek and sexy at night yet laid back during the day. And their herb pommes frites with aioli are scrumptious!

Chez Papa's herbed fries are some of SF's best - and justify a visit in and of themselves

Food rating: *** and a half
Bang for buck rating: 3

The essentials:
Location: 4 Mint Plaza, San Francisco, California
Average price of dinner for two: $120

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Humphry Slocombe

I can't believe I don't have a picture of the delicious ice cream at Humphry Slocombe, but I guess it's not that surprising - who has time to take pictures when concentrating on devouring the creamy, uniquely delicious ice cream before it melts?

Go to Humphry Slocombe. Eat their ice cream. And no matter what else you get, try the Secret Breakfast ice cream.

Food rating: **** and a half
Bang for buck rating: 4.5

The essentials:
Location: 2790 Harrison Street, San Francisco, California
Average price of dessert for two: $10

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Bi-Rite Creamery

To say I love ice cream is an understatement. I really, really love ice cream. In fact, I never go a day without eating at least one spoon of ice cream. Currently, my favorite flavors are Haagen Dazs' Salty Butter Biscuit and Green Tea & Cookies (both only available in Tokyo).

The SF bay area has some of the BEST ice cream in the whole entire world. My absolute favorite flavor of all time was the Earl Grey at Sketch, a now defunct ice creamery in Berkeley. But since Sketch is gone, I'm on my search for my next favorite flavor of all time.

Bi-Rite Creamery, which serves unique flavors such as roasted banana, balsamic strawberry and honey lavender, has a cult following in San Francisco. It's not my personal favorite, but it's pretty darn good.

Food rating: *** and a half
Bang for buck rating: 3.5

The essentials:
Location: 3692 18th Street, San Francisco, California
Average price of dessert for two: $10

Da Dong Restaurant

When it comes to Peking duck in my life, there's the BC period and the AD period. BC: Before China. Prior to visiting Beijing, I had never been a huge fan of Peking duck. I liked the flour pancakes and the hoisin sauce, but I preferred mushu chicken to Peking duck, which I found dry yet too fatty all at once.

AD: After Da Dong. My meals at Da Dong changed everything I previously thought about Peking duck.

The Peking duck at Da Dong consists of a duck roasted over an open flame, creating the crispiest skin you can imagine, with tender, juicy yet lean duck meat. A chef slices the duck tableside, which is served with housemade flour pancakes and a gourmet assortment of accoutrements. So delicious, truly.

Da Dong also has an impressive, extensive menu of modern Chinese and international cuisine. Whatever else you order, an order of the Peking duck is an absolute must - after all, that's really the main reason anyone goes to Da Dong, although I would also make a trip to Da Dong just for the black sesame filled dumplings in cold coconut soup dessert. Make sure you visit Da Dong on your first day in Beijing, as you'll want to go again before your trip is over!

Chef cutting our duck

Da Dong's Peking duck and accoutrements

Tofu two ways

Sesame dumpling in coconut soup dessert - beautifully presented with steaming dry ice

A mouthful of pure deliciousness

Food rating: **** and a half
Bang for buck rating: 4.5

The essentials:
Location: 1-2/F , Nanxincang Int'l Building, A22, Dongsi Shitiao, Beijing, China
Average price of meal for two: $30

Banh Mi Ba Le

My version of a perfect sandwich is a delicious Vietnamese banh mi on a crusty french roll, spread with a bit of mayo, stuffed with marinated pork, pickled cucumber and radish salad, a few sprigs of cilantro and a couple jalapeno peppers. One bite of my first banh mi and I was instantly in love with possibly the single best thing to come out of France's colonization of Vietnam.

There are several great places to get a banh mi in the SF bay area, but one of my favorites is at Banh Mi Ba Le in El Cerrito. It's dangerously close to the Richmond border, one of the most dangerous cities in the entire US, but it's totally worth a visit.

The perfect sandwich

Shrimp dumplings in translucent rice skin

Food rating: **** and a half
Bang for buck rating: 5

The essentials:
Location: 10174 San Pablo Avenue, El Cerrito, California
Average price of lunch for two: $10


I've been wanting to write about Luce ever since I fell in love with it after dining there in December. When I visited, it was fairly empty so I truly hope that SF diners discover its delicious, perfectly executed cuisine soon so that Luce doesn't fall prey to the travesty of amazing-but-failed-anyway restaurants that plague the restaurant world.

If you live anywhere near the bay area and need a place to go for a special occasion or just a fabulous meal, go to Luce. If you are visiting SF and want to have a fabulous meal, go to Luce. In a city full of amazing restaurants, Luce shines.

Recently awarded a Michelin star, I think it deserves at least another one (I've eaten my way through a fair share of Michelin stars in SF and Tokyo, and Luce is truly memorable).

Lobster gnocchi - the most delicious, chewy-soft gnocchi I've ever had

Luce's modern take on carbonara - squid ink infused housemade trofiette pasta with slow cooked organic egg, pancetta and parmesan. Lip-smackingly delicious.

"Le Jardin de Printemps" - spring vegetable garden with black olive and rye soil

Lobster and seared foie gras on a bed of faro

Food rating: *****
Bang for buck rating: 4.5

The essentials:
Location: inside the Intercontinental hotel on Howard and 5th Streets
Average price of dinner for two: $100

1300 on Fillmore

I have a Pavlovian reaction to grits. I hear the word "grits" and I start salivating. I love me some grits. I like them boiled simply with water and salt, I like them with melted butter, I like them cheesy, I like them creamy, I like grits on its own, I like it with a side of bacon or ham, I like it for breakfast, lunch or dinner. But by far my favorite (before discovering 1300 on Fillmore) were the shrimp and grits I had in Charleston, South Carolina - buttery grits topped with barbecue shrimp in its own gravy.

Whenever I find grits on a menu outside the deep South (and especially in NorCal), I will order it just because I'm happy to see it on the menu, only to usually be disappointed.

But at 1300 on Fillmore I discovered what has to be the best grits west of the Mississippi....and perhaps the best grits on planet earth. The barbecue shrimp and grits at 1300 on Fillmore are TO DIE FOR. Creamy, perfectly cooked grits topped with succulent, savory shrimp, gravy, diced tomatoes and fried garlic slivers. It is a bowl of culinary perfection.

The fried green tomato salad with goat cheese and honey-lavender dressing was also excellent, as was the warm cornbread wedges with honey butter and sweet red pepper marmalade. The fried chicken was juicy and tender and the portion was very generous. I thought the mac n' cheese was disappointingly bland, but this was the only flaw, and one I can happily overlook in my ecstatic glee at discovering this awesome restaurant, which I will definitely be visiting many many many many times in the future. I also love the subdued but classy decor - and I'm loving the revamped area of the Western Addition!

Did I mention the amazing grits?

Black skillet roasted catfish

Barbecue shrimp n' creamy grits

Black skillet fried chicken with buttermilk biscuits

Food rating: ****
Bang for buck rating: 3.5

The essentials:
Location: 1300 Fillmore Street, San Francisco
Average price of meal for two: $80

Tartine Bakery

I would seriously move to the Mission Dolores area for one reason alone: Tartine Bakery. Tartine is so quintessentially San Francisco - the crowd is a diverse mix of hippies, hipsters and yuppies of all races and age groups congregating at shared tables (or separate tables thisclose to each other so that you might as well be sharing a table) over newspapers, chess games, and the perfection embodied by Tartine's frangipane croissants, lemon tarts, bread pudding and croque monsieurs.

Yes, you'll have to wait 30 minutes in line just to order one croissant, so make sure you order EVERYTHING you want the first time around because you don't want to underorder then debate (after finishing off your croissant, smacking your lips and licking your fingers) whether you should get in the now 45-minute line to order that other pastry you were eyeing.

Tartine makes me oh-so-happy. Even though my visits to Tartine are rare (it's just so out of the way for me), it makes me happy just to know that it exists and that if I am craving a perfect cup of bread pudding covered with fresh berries, or a cup of muesli made with Strauss organic yogurt and chock full of muesli, nuts and fruit, or a perfect flaky frangipane croissant oozing with almond paste filling, or a perfect tangy and creamy lemon tart, I know exactly where to find it in San Francisco.

Tartine, je t'aime.

Food rating: **** and a half
Bang for buck rating: 4

The essentials:
Location: 600 Guerrero Street, San Francisco
Average price of meal for two: $30

Hog Island Oyster Company

Happiness is a humongous platter of oysters shared with friends at the Ferry Building on a sunny, breezy SF summer day. It's really as simple as that.

At the Ferry Building

The most delicious oysters - you can mix and match between their various daily offerings

Hog Island's grilled cheese sandwich is also scrumptious!

Food rating: **** and a half
Bang for buck rating: 4

The essentials:
Location: Ferry Building, San Francisco (or the oyster farm off Route 1 in Marshall)
Average price of meal for two: $80

Elbow Room Cafe

For a greasy spoon brunch experience, complete with long wait, shoddy service and servers with attitude, Elbow Room Cafe is the place in Vancouver. A plaque on the wall proudly boasts: "Reader's Choice, Best of Vancouver: Best Place for Surly & Indifferent Service." And yet people don't seem to be deterred - during the weekend, waits are mandatory. Perhaps it's the humongous portions of tasty breakfast fare that keeps them coming back for more.

Consider yourself warned

Mauna Kea: a fruit omelet stuffed with kiwi, bananas, pineapple and apples. Usually topped with mozzarella and pecans, but I had them hold the mozzarella and make mine with egg whites.

The New Yorker: Two poached eggs with mushrooms, onion, tomato, bacon and pepperoni in a spicy tomato-BBQ sauce, served over a croissant and topped with hollandaise sauce. I think it should be renamed the "Heart Attack"

Food rating: ***
Bang for buck rating: 3

The essentials:
Location: 560 Davie Street, Vancouver, Canada
Average price of meal for two: $35

Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar

The Vancouver Port is the largest port in not only Canada, but the entire west coast of North America - it's no wonder the seafood in Vancouver is so amazingly fresh. Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar is a great place to try some of Vancouver's seafood. We ordered the Petite Plateux de Mer and a plate of oysters - a perfect meal for two. The seafood was so fresh, so sweet, so delicious!

Delicious cocktails

Various fruits de mer - oysters, scallops, shrimp, mussels, ceviche, seared tuna, smoked salmon

Our "petite plateux" came with two tiers - good thing, so we could each have our own!

Food rating: ****
Bang for buck rating: 4

The essentials:
Location: 1095 Hamilton Street, Vancouver, Canada
Average price of meal for two: $100


Vancouver is one of my favorite cities in the world - not only does it have a friendly laid-back vibe, international population and proximity to sea and mountains, it has some of the best food in North America, including the best hot dog I've ever had.

Japadog, a hotdog stand in downtown Vancouver, is home of Japanese-influenced hot dogs, including an Okonomi hot dog that mimics flavors of okonomiyaki: a kurobuta pork link topped with fried cabbage, dried bonito flakes, mayonnaise and special okonomi sauce. My favorite was the Oroshi hot dog, a bratwurst topped with grated Japanese daikon, green onions and a special soy sauce - absolutely fantastic!


Oroshi Hotdog - bratwurst topped with grated daikon, green onions and special soy sauce

Miso mayo hotdog (smoked turkey link topped with radish sprouts, miso sesame sauce and Japanese mayo) and Okonomi hotdog (kurobuta pork link topped with fried cabbage, dried bonito flakes, mayo and okonimi sauce)

Food rating: ****
Bang for buck rating: 4

The essentials:
Location: 899 Burrard Street, Vancouver, Canada
Average price of meal for two: $15

Giovanni's Shrimp Truck

A 10-minute drive south from the North Shore in Oahu leads you to a cluster of shrimp trucks. Everyone has their favorite, but the unanimous favorite among my Hawaiian native and transplant friends is Giovanni's. I was told it was a "must-try" so even though we were full from a complete Hawaiian breakfast, we pulled over from the highway to try it. At $12 a plate, the shrimp and rice plates, served out of a beat-up food truck, aren't cheap. But after one life-changing bite of the garlicky, savory shrimp scampi, served over rice with extra garlic and scampi sauce, I was a convert. Giovanni's shrimp might quite possibly be the BEST SHRIMP I have ever had in my life.

Giovanni's shrimp truck

A perfect plate of food - Giovanni's shrimp scampi and rice

Food rating: *****
Bang for buck rating: 5

The essentials:
Location: 83 Kamehameha Highway, Kahuku, Oahu
Average price of meal for two: $30

M. Matsumoto

When I first heard about Hawaiian shaved ice, I expected it to taste just like a sno-cone. After all, isn't that what a sno-cone is? Shaved ice with fruit-flavored syrups. But I was told by Hawaiian locals that M. Matsumoto was "the best Hawaiian shaved ice," and well...if it's the BEST, then I must have it. Thus ensued a two hour drive (including traffic) to the North Shore area from Honolulu.

Verdict? Delicious! Nothing like a sno-cone! Hawaiian shaved ice is made with the most delicate, fluffy shaved ice possible, topped with your choice of various fruit-flavored syrups, and if you really want to indulge, a "snow cap" of condensed milk. And if you want to go the whole nine yards, you can also get red bean and ice cream on the bottom of your cone. So delicious and refreshing, totally worth the drive!

Food rating: ****
Bang for buck rating: 5

The essentials:
Location: 66-087 Kamehameha Highway, Haleiwa, Oahu
Average price of shaved ice: $3

Mohri Salvatore Cuomo

I recognize that the "best pizza" is all relative. Some people like thin crust, some people like thick. Some people like lots of toppings, some people like their pizzas sparse. Two of my favorite pizzas in the world are polar opposites from each other: Zachary's pizza in Berkeley serves up Chicago-style, California-influenced deep dish pizza (in fact, the deepest dish pizza I've ever had) so heavy with toppings that a single slice will leave you stuffed. The Cheese Board, also in Berkeley, serves food that embodies the spirit of Northern California - fresh, earthy, bohemian, unique. How can a pizza be bohemian? Try Cheese Board's daily changing pizzas, which are always a surprise and you'll realize what I mean - on one occasion I had a ricotta cheese and lemon slice topped pizza that I raved about for days. The Cheese Board doesn't add tomato sauce, but instead lets the flavors of cheese and fresh California vegetables shine through.

I was introduced to a delicious pizza in Tokyo recently, and while it may not be the best pizza in the world, it is really good. Really, really good. So good that I've been having it weekly since I first tried it! Salvatore Cuomo is as ubiquitous as a restaurant can get in Tokyo - with restaurants ranging from the eponymous casual family pizzeria restaurants all over the city to the higher end Kitchen Salvatore in Roppongi Hills, there is a branch of the restaurant in pretty much every major neighborhood. So really, there's no excuse not to try Salvatore's scrumptious D.O.C. pizza, a modern take on the classic margherita pizza made with sweet, juicy cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil.

Salvatore's crust is slightly sweet, perfectly chewy yet paper thin - the perfect canvas for Salvatore's creative mix of toppings. I only wish the pizzas were a little bit bigger - my stomach has adjusted to Japanese portion sizes, but one Salvatore pizza just isn't enough!

The restaurants also serve solidly executed pastas, but pizzas are the stars on the menu. The following are from Mohri Salvatore Cuomo, a casual restaurant with outdoor seating in Roppongi Hills.

Salvatore's award-winning D.O.C. pizza

Tiny anchovies and garlic

Prosciutto and rucola pizza

Food rating: ****
Bang for buck rating: 4

The essentials:
Location: B2 level, Hillside, Roppongi Hills
Average price of meal for two: 5000 yen (~$55)


One of my favorite spots in Tokyo for a frothy cappuccino, refreshing Italian soda or casual meal is Pagliaccio. Unpretentious and unassuming, Pagliaccio has an extensive beverage menu (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) as well as full menu of casual Italian fare. A perfect weekend day might consist of strolling through the nearby Imperial Palace gardens, stopping by Brick Square for a buttery croissant at Echire Maison du Beurre or chocolates at Cacao Sampaka, checking out the upmarket boutiques in Marunouchi, then popping into Pagliaccio for a leisurely snack.

Sorry, no food photos! Interior wall of Pagliaccio

Food rating: ****
Bang for buck rating: 4

The essentials:
Location: 2-2-3 Marunouchi, Tokyo
Average price of lunch for two: 3000 yen (~$35)

Bikini Tapa

I often wax poetic about how brilliant (just brilliant!) Spain is, and so much of that has to do with its simply amazing and amazingly simple cuisine. I've spent about 5-10 days out of every year for the last several years in Spain (most often in Barcelona), and the other 355-360 days looking for restaurants that replicate the unique joie de vivre and deliciousness that are characteristic of eating out in Spain.

I've searched high and low and found that a truly authentic Spanish meal can only really be had in Spain (the experience isn't just about the food, but savoring each bite, each moment shared with friends, enjoying life!). BUT - there are experiences that come close.

At Bikini Tapa, the mood is boisterous and convivial. The iberico jamon is shaved directly off the pork leg sitting on the counter. The cava is bubbly and refreshing. And the pintxos (Basque-style tapas), tapas and paellas are well-executed. If you take a swig of tinto (red wine) and close your eyes, for a second, it feels like you're in Barcelona. Except that you're on the fourth floor of a shopping center in Shibuya.

Boquerones (anchovies in olive oil) and pimientos de padron with sea salt

Typical pintxo - various meat/seafood toppings on a slice of crusty bread, often with a healthy dose of mayonnaise, speared with a toothpick

Grilled vegetables

Gambas al ajillo

Crema Catalana - Catalunya's version of creme brulee

Food rating: *** and a half
Bang for buck rating: 4

The essentials:
Location: 4F, Mark City, Shibuya
Average price of dinner for two (with drinks): 8000 yen (~$90)


I never visit Paris without making at least one visit to Laduree, one of my favorite patisseries in the world. Just looking at their display case full of macarons, eclairs, croissants and other delectable sweets makes me happy! I've dined at Laduree on a couple occasions as well and recommend ordering from the brunch/tea menu rather than the savory lunch/dinner menu. While Laduree's viennoiserie selection is simply exquisite, served with butter wrapped in its own Laduree signature light mint green paper and various jams, the savory food selections are unspectacular (though prettily presented).

Along with the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, D'Orsay Museum, Notre Dame and Arc de Triomphe, a visit to Laduree is a MUST for any visit to Paris!

Laduree on the Champs Elysees

Patisserie case

More patisserie choices

Lamb filet - undercooked and bland, not recommended

Cold tomato and pistachio souffle - so salty I actually got a headache! Stick to the macarons!

A box full of Laduree macarons is a box full of happiness

Viennoiserie selection - so decadent, so delicious

Food rating: ****
Bang for buck rating: 3.5

The essentials:
Location: 75 avenue des Champs Elysees
Average price of macaron: 1.80 euros

ABC Seafood

The SF bay area is home to some of the best dim sum you will find outside of Hong Kong - translucent rice-based wonton skins wrapped around succulent shrimp, chicken feet braised in a savory black bean sauce, glutinous rice wrapped in banana leaves and filled with marinated meat and vegetables, perfectly fried sesame doughnuts with lotus filling...the list goes on. Servers bring around carts so all you need to do is point to choose, though if you don't know what something is, you might want to ask (unless you don't mind accidentally ordering chicken's feet or tripe)!

Clockwise from top left: chicken feet, tripe, har giao, shrimp and spinach dumplings

Seaweed salad and jellyfish, barbecue pork rice rolls

The essentials:
Location: 973 East Hillsdale Blvd, Foster City, CA
Average price of meal for two: $40

Steak Rosso Rosso

Delicious appetizers. Mouthwatering, tender, juicy, succulent steaks. Amazingly well-priced international wine selection. Need I say more?

After an exhilarating day on the slopes in Niseko, dinner at Steak Rosso Rosso is absolutely the perfect way to end the day.

Caprese salad and prosciutto & melon appetizers

Bacon-wrapped scallops

Hokkaido sirloin

Wagyu filet

Food rating: **** and a half
Bang for buck rating: 5

The essentials:
Location: 167-61 Yamada Kutchan-cho, Abuta-gun, Hokkaido
Average price of dinner for two: 9000 yen (~$100)