Wednesday, December 31, 2008

BOULEVARD, San Francisco, CA

What better place to spend New Year’s Eve than at the acclaimed Boulevard restaurant? Complete with festive décor, hats, a midnight champagne toast, and fireworks on the Embarcadero, it was truly a night to remember. And the food? Exceeded our expectations by a mile. Check out our tasty dishes below.

We've been waiting for a special occasion to crack open this '97 Cardinale. An excellent vintage of an already supreme wine.

with mozzarella and shaved burgundian truffle
We never knew we would enjoy beets!

pan seared ricotta gnocchi, hen of woods mushrooms
braised chestnuts, sage & crispy pancetta
Ohmygod. I don't know how they get their soup so luscious and silky smooth. The gnocchi, mushrooms, chestnuts and pancetta put this over the top.

ginger, wasabi tobiko, spicy mayo
white miso foam, baby shitake mushrooms, chips
Very solid.

rancho gordo cannellini beans with
chorizo & herbs, roasted garlic
Perfect buttery, rich flavor

fontina fonduta, shaved burgundian truffles
hazelnut amaretti, truffle nage
Look at those truffles!!

elk loin with seared foie gras chard pesto, shaved black truffles
yellowfin tuna, sauce foie gras & braised chard
quail with bacon, foie gras & braised chard
chanterelle mushrooms & natural jus
black truffle sauce
Suni decided to be bold and try the land, sea, an air trio. He really enjoyed the elk and the bacon wrapped quail (both with silky foie gras), but thought the yellowtail was lacking in flavor compared to the others.

fondant cipollini onion stuffed with braised short rib
parmesan potato puree, broccoli di ciccio
heirloom carrot, fresh horseradish, red wine beef jus
I was so full by the time I was served the main course, that I took a few bites and took the rest home. It did, however, make for a wonderful New Year's Day dinner.

crunch graham cookie, whipped cream, chocolate curls
rum crème caramel, bruleed banana
Although we were stuffed to the very core, we somehow managed to eat every last bite of 2 desserts. Banana, chocolate, graham, and rum? Delightful.

english toffee macaroon
gianduja cupcake with chocolate & meringue kisses
tainori chocolate pave with white chocolate foam
araguani chocolate sorbet
valrhona white chocolate ice cream
Whimsical, unique and festive, this dessert was almost as fun to gaze at as it was to eat. Almost.

Celebrating New Year's in style

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Set in the hills above Sonoma Valley, this top-rated restaurant and manor is one of the Bay Area's most romantic destinations. So when we heard about their famous Christmas Dickens Dinner, we just couldn’t pass up the chance for some good food and holiday cheer. Although the meal was simply wonderful, what made the night truly special were the carolers. Dressed in period costumes from the 19th century, the a capella group toured the gorgeously decorated rooms and delighted us with their holiday music. It was a night to remember.

Graham Beck Sparkling, Brut, Western Cape, South Africa

Although just a couple of bites, this rich starter made our mouths happy and set the stage for the rest of our meal. Luckily, the rest of the dinner lived up to the excitement that this dish created.

almonds, radicchio, estate oranges, green goddess dressing
2007 Everett Ridge Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Creek Valley
Both of us ate every bite of this crab salad – we just couldn’t get enough of the sweet crab, crunchy almonds, creamy green goddess, and refreshing burst of citrus.

applewood smoked bacon, parsley
2007 Seghesio Barbera, Alexander Valley
One of the favorites of the night, we both couldn’t get over the exceptional silky texture and flavors of this soup. Between slurps, we pondered how we could possibly achieve the same results at home.

mashed potatoes, broccolini, red wine reduction
2005 Mill Creek Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County
Although it doesn’t look like much, every component on this plate was brilliantly done. The beef wellington had a rich layer of chopped mushrooms between the tender beef and the flaky crust, which added depth of flavor. Even the broccolini was seasoned so well that both of us ate every bite. Any chef who can get us to finish our veggies is a talented one to say the least.

persimmons, walnut praline, brandy cream
2004 Alvear Pedro Ximenex, Montilla-Moriles

A pleasant surprise, this desert was incredible. Although a bit heavy after the rich beef, I still managed to eat every bite. Suni threw in the towel two thirds of the way through. There were so many different flavors and textures in this dessert that my mouth just kept wanting more.

Friday, November 28, 2008

XIV, West Hollywood, CA

When we first made our Thanksgiving-weekend reservation for Michael Mina's newest restaurant, it was, as usual, just the two of us. Then it became four, as our visiting New York foodie cousins (who came with us to Cut) wanted to partake in another extravagant dinner. As word got out, our dinner grew to 8 as more family members wanted to come along on what was sure to be a culinary adventure.

However, our head-count started to dwindle the night of, as one cousin had a work engagement, one had to bow out last minute due to a stomach bug, and then another left early in the meal for the same reason. (Our New York cousins have promised to make it up to us with an excursion to L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon when we take a trip to New York in May. We forgive them.)

Even though our spirits were down after the sudden turn of events, the rest of us gathered in a corner booth in the semi-enclosed outdoor seating on the Sunset Strip for a shared culinary experience. With Giada De Laurentiis eating nearby and other B-list celebrities roaming about, we had high expectations for this new culinary and celebrity hot spot.

Before we get to the meal, it's important to know how the XIV ("Fourteen") dining experience works: Every selection on the menu is a small dish, prepared for the entire table, each for $8 per person. So, aside from a vegetarian option here and there, we each enjoyed the same dish at each course, beginning with the complementary pre-appetizer below:

with yogurt sauce
This is XIV's version of warm bread and butter for the table. Each of us was treated to a few crisp triangles of nan with a tangy yogurt sauce. As hungry as we were, the small plate likely saved each of us from ruining our appetites with more.

ancho chile, pears, mint, pine nuts, sesame oil
Chili, pears, and mint? Somehow the combination of flavors melded perfectly, making this one of the best dishes of the night. Every one of us licked our plate. We were definitely off to a good start.

stewed cherries, brown butter, sage
Another favorite, these dumplings were both sweet and savory. Not one of us felt guilty about slurping up every drop of the heavenly sage and brown butter sauce.

preserved meyer lemon foam, castelmagno cheese
This was a very delicate risotto, which, compared to the rich dumplings still lingering in our months, tasted a bit bland. However, the lemon meyer foam added a unique refreshing and citrusy element, which saved the dish from being a total disappointment.

spaghetti squash, matsutake mushrooms, foie gras dashi
Delicate yet somewhat bland, the cod was a bit of a disappointment. The flavors and elements of the broth were interesting, but they didn’t permeate into the fish – leaving something to be desired.

truffled mac & cheese, caramelized onion sauce
Chicken is something we seldom order in a fancy restaurant (sorry to be elitist, but it really is rather boring), but the truffled mac & cheese got our attention. But instead of being wowed by the mac & cheese, it was the incredibly moist chicken and really surprised all of us. Although lacking in flavor, it was more than made up for by the rich caramelized onion sauce. I’m not sure that we will easily be enticed to order chicken again at our next fancy dinner, but Michael Mina proved that his chicken can at least compete with the big guns.

celery root puree, glazed mirepoix
Not the best we’ve ever had, but certainly tasty. The celery root puree was a nice change from the standard mashed potatoes or polenta that usually accompanies short ribs.

salsify, medjool dates, thyme, walnuts
The winner of the night according to some members of our party, the lamb was perfectly cooked and sat on a bed of salsify and sweet pureed dates. With the addition of walnuts and thyme oil, it was a perfect combination of flavors and textures.

mozzarella ice milk, elderflower, violet
The pastry chef at XIV has worked at French Laundry, Per Se, and Alinea – So I was certainly expecting something magical and this dessert definitely delivered. Here are the components:
Chocolate cream: Ganache with a fluid crème anglaise base
Mozzarella milk ice: Mozzarella infused into milk. Tasted
exactly like mozzarella but sweet
Silver sauce: Made out of ground silver and elderflower liqueur
Ube purée: Purple Ube yam from the Philippines, sweetened with
sugar and blueberries
Violet sauce: A fluid gel made from agar agar, infused with violet
aroma from France
Crunchy chocolate mousse: A dehydrated chocolate mousse rested
on top

The other great thing about this unique dessert was that we each had our own serving so we didn’t have to fight over it. Genius! All desserts should be served this way.

Verdict? This is the 4th Michael Mina restaurant that we have visited, and there were some definitely some hits and misses. First, we weren’t quite sold on the concept behind the individual tasting portions and everyone being served the same dish. Although there was a vegetarian option for each small plate, if a few people aren’t sold on a dish then the rest of the party can’t really order it. In addition, because it took so long to plate small dishes for 7 people, some of the hot food arrived lukewarm. Another miss was that the partially covered outdoor patio was up against the sunset strip and there was a lot of street noise - I would recommend sitting in the beautifully designed interior. Although some of the dishes were impressive, there was still much to be desired. Hopefully in time XIV will iron out some of the kinks and join the ranks of Michael Mina’s other fine establishments.

Friday, October 10, 2008

BETELNUT, San Francisco, CA

This particular stage of our culinary exploration of the San Francisco bay area was prompted by numerous recommendations from friends and co-workers, each of whom claimed that the spicy asian "street food" of Betelnut was to die for. After a weekly pit stop at City Beer Store, this time with friends Nimo & Nisha tagging along, the four of us hit this Marina hotspot with substantial appetites. Here's what we managed to devour:

Chili crusted calamari
Fried, crispy, and yummy. With or without the sauce, this is understandably a staple appetizer at Betelnut. The chili pepper kick separates this dish from a typical calamari starter.

Firecracker Shrimp
5-spiced with sambal dip
While the calamari dish satisfied any craving we might've had for crunchy, fried goodness, this shrimp starter could've easily prompted us to forget it. Drenched in flavor and spice, doubly-so when dipped in its delicious sauce, the firecracker shrimp was easily one of our favorite dishes of the night.

Glazed Pork Short Ribs
with thai basil & garlic
If any "main" dish was the winner of the evening, it had to be the glazed pork short ribs. Easily the most flavorful (and messy) dish of the evening, the pork was excellent combination of sweet and savory.

Szechuan Green Beans
While spicy and very salty (almost too salty), these perfectly crunchy green beans were incredibly easy to eat and were a great contrast to the rich pork short ribs.

Scallion Hotcake
The scallion cakes were nothing particularly special on their own, but they were a nice vessel for the accompanying sweet chili sauce and peanut sauce.

Roti Prata
with curry and yogurt sauce
Similarly, the roti really required dipping to enjoy, but there were no complaints here. Just the right amount of crispy and buttery, the roti soaked up generous amounts of sauce.

"Little Dragon" Dumpings
pork and shrimp with ginger vinegar
The dumplings were the low point of the evening. Under-seasoned, bland, and generally unappealing, the dumplings just didn't stack up well against the bold flavors of the other dishes.

Fried Banana
with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce
After a table full of shared courses, we amazingly found little trouble making room for dessert. Then again, it's difficult to go wrong with warm, crispy fried banana combined with rapidly melting vanilla ice cream. Chocolate sauce may have been preferred over caramel, but our taste buds finished happy.

Betelnut certainly has its signature dishes (pork, firecracker shrimp, green beans), and I'm sure each of us would gladly return for more of our favorites. Still, this first experimental visit opened our eyes to some not-so-spectacular options we'll avoid next time around. The size of Betelnut's menu, however, suggests we'll have some new dishes to sample when we return (ribeye, anyone?).

Friday, October 3, 2008


Burma Superstar is one of those small ethnic places that somehow rises above the rest to become a destination spot. Everyone in San Francisco either has been there, or has heard so much about it that they’ve been meaning to go there. It has such a following that there are always crowds of people waiting out front, which got even worse after it was featured on Food Network a while back. We’re ecstatic that we recently discovered, unbeknownst to most, that they have a second location in Oakland just a short drive away. As you will read, the 30 mile drive is nothing for a taste of their Tea Leaf Salad.


For those of you who read our blog, you know that we never voluntarily decide to order salad. Never. It’s just not how we roll. But Burma Superstar is known for their Tea Leaf salad - and rightly so. It’s is a combination of flavors and textures so unique, that it’s one of those dishes that you yearn for after you’ve tasted it just once. It consists of fermented Burmese tea leaves, lettuce, dried shrimp, fried garlic, tomatoes, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, peanuts, split yellow peas, jalapenos, and a squeeze of lemon. It’s a flavor unlike any other. And hey, at least it gets us to eat our veggies.


The Rainbow salad is also another favorite, made up of a whopping 22 ingredients. Bean thread noodles, 2 kinds of rice noodles, wheat noodles, green papaya, fried tofu, sesame rice, fried onions, white potatoes, dried shrimp, cilantro, fried wantons, a ton of fried garlic, and tamarind dressing – just to name a few. Your taste buds literally dance. Indescribable.


BUN TAY KAUSWER (Coconut Chicken Flour Noodle Curry)
Flour noodles with coconut curry sauce, split yellow pea, eggs, cabbage, and fried onions
Burma Superstar also has a wide variety of Burmese curries and other savory dishes. This time, we settled on the pumpkin and shrimp curry, which although a bit one dimensional after the salads, was still hearty and satisfying. We also had a tasty noodle dish with a delicate curry sauce and more of those awesome fried onions. Although both were good in their own right, it’s really the salads that always make our face light up and our taste buds drool when we think of Burma Superstar.

Friday, August 29, 2008


A Bay Area landmark, Chez Panisse focuses on showcasing fresh, organic, and locally grown ingredients. Our first (and definitely not last) visit to Chez Panisse was to their upstairs café, a slightly more moderate, lively, and rustic version of the elaborate restaurant downstairs. The wood, brick, and copper interior of this craftsman-style eatery made us feel warm, cozy, and right at home.

with morel mushrooms
Right away we could tell that the quality of the ingredients is what makes Chez Panisse so famous. The succulent morel mushrooms on this pizzetta tasted like they were hand picked from the garden outside. With nothing more than some cheese, a dab of truffle, and a light and airy crust, this pizzetta was so simple yet bursting with flavor.

Alaskan Coho Salmon
with corn, okra, coriander & lime
I have never tasted corn so fresh. The combination of sweet corn, okra, coriander, red pepper and lime was out of this world. I honestly can’t really remember the salmon – but the sweet, buttery, and clean tasting flavors of the corn salad still make me droll as I’m writing this months later. Too bad Chez Panisse changes their menu daily – I may never get to experience this again.

Grilled Laughing Stock Farm Pork Sausages
with sweet peppers and fried shoestring potatoes
These organic sausages were juicy, spicy, and accompanied by sweet, locally grown red peppers and crisp shoestring potatoes. Again, the freshness of the ingredients made this a winner.

Flavor King Pluot Tart
with vanilla ice cream
I happen to have a friend who works at Chez Panisse, and thus our waiter “took care of us” by bringing us this complimentary plout tart. Although we normally go for chocolate, he said that it was one of their best desserts – and he was right. After all, we can have chocolate anytime. But only Chez Panisse would feature plouts that were picked right off the branch and bought at the farmers market that morning.

After eating a meal at Chez Panisse, you really understand how the quality of ingredients really makes a dish shine. We can’t wait to go back and try the restaurant downstairs, and have another glimpse into the amazing culinary masterpiece that is Chez Panisse.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

ALINEA, Chicago, IL

POST #50!!!

It's fitting that on our 50th post of our blog, we remember one of the most spectacular culinary experiences we've ever had. Of all the highly rated restaurants in Chicago, we chose Alinea because we expected a truly unique dining experience. Chef/Owner Grant Achatz, a former sous chef for Thomas Keller at French Laundry, is known for his creative flavor combinations and unique plating techniques. At Alinea, his work has been described as a hypermodern and emotional approach to dining. You'll find words like "study" and "tribute" and "deconstructed" to describe a unique take on some traditional dishes.

However they are described, each of the 15 (yes, FIFTEEN) courses below was itself an event to be remembered. Confident in their extraordinary work, the folks at Alinea left us with the menu you see here (with each course listed with our chosen wine pairings) as a souvenir of our 2.5 hour dinner. The significance of the circles is two-fold: The larger the circle, the larger the portion of that particular course; and circles placed further left indicate a sweeter course, while those leaning right represent savory dishes. Click on the menu for a closer look. Also be sure to read our titles and descriptions of the dishes in detail, as it’s impossible to grasp all of the interesting ingredients just by the photo alone. PS - flash photography wasn’t allowed, so we apologize for the quality of some of these photos.

steelhead roe, smoked salmon gelee, peeled grape,
encapsulated celery juice, lemon foam
This first dish delivered more memorable textures than flavors, which, in retrospect, was likely intended. The chilled, peeled grapes melted in our mouths, the roe literally popped with each bite, and the encapsulated celery juice exploded. The lemon foam and gelee, instead, provided a coating of flavor.

tomato water gelee, frozen mozzarella foam, basil sorbet,
dehydrated tomato, tomato breadcrumbs, olive oil vinaigrette
The classic caprese salad flavors were instantly recognizable, but once again, it was the unique textures (and in this case, temperatures) that made it a stand-out dish. The highlights were the flavorful dehydrated tomato and basil sorbet, which provided a nice contrast to the frozen mozzarella foam.

Red mullet, artichoke cube dusted in dehydrated provincial vegetables,
crispy garlic, bottarga (cured fish roe), arugula puree,
dehydrated olive oil, egg yolk

The creamy, rich artichoke cube was the highlight of this dish, although the delicate red mullet and accompanying Mediterranean flavors also melded together nicely.

Alaskan king crab, popcorn puree, self-encapsulated butter,
baby corn dusted in curry, mango puree, chanterelle,
white cheddar, crispy onion

This course featured three small creations each with two common elements: crab and butter. The close up of our favorite shows the ready-to-burst self-encapsulated butter on the left (a popular technique at Alinea) along with crab, popcorn puree, chanterelle, and corn. What you don't see is the curry flavor which was the real highlight.

Japanese Wagyu ribeye, maitake mushroom, smoked medjool date puree,
Blis Elixir (aged Sherry vinaigrette with Wagyu beef fat)

Early in the meal, the two slices of Wagyu beef above were placed on our table as an “edible centerpiece”. Initially, due to the fact that they were chilled with liquid nitrogen, it was a challenge to figure out what this surprise really was. When the meat finally thawed, each sliver was draped over a delicious maitake mushroom, which was further flavored by the sweet date puree and an amazingly potent Wagyu beef fat vinaigrette. Understandably, this was one of our favorite dishes of the night.

shoestring potato nest, trio of potatoes, sunflower seed puree,
sweet spice gastrique, braised sunflower seeds, petals

Although the lamb was cooked and seasoned perfectly, what really made this dish unique was the use of pureed and braised sunflower seeds. The nuttiness and creaminess of the seeds went very well with the sweet-spiced lamb. The colorful potatoes, petals, and vertical nest added a nice visual element.

cold potato, potato and truffle soup, black truffle, Parmigiano-Reggiano, chive
Our instructions were these: Grasp the pin from beneath the bowl and pull until the potato, truffle and its companions fall into the mini-soup. Then, enjoy the shot of flavor all at once. The truffle easily dominated the collection of flavors, followed by the creaminess provided by the cheese and potatoes.

Black truffle ravioli, white truffle, romaine, parmesan
A simpler mechanism than the previous course, this dish was prepared for consumption on its own spoon, ready to explode in one's mouth. Two explosions of truffle flavors in a row - the sign of a spectacuar restaurant.

foie gras, mole, tortilla foam, raisin custard, salsa verde,
nuts and seeds dusted with powdered foie gras fat

One of the highlights of the night, this dish was an utter explosion of flavors and textures. It is truly impossible to describe – just read the description and try and imagine each component of the dish, all blending together on your to tongue in glorious harmony. An absolute sensory culinary experience.

liquid rhubarb, ginger, basil
Our server thankfully advised us to consume the whole thing in one shot and keep our mouth closed to avoid any excess liquid rhubarb dribbling down our chin as it burst. With the addition of basil and ginger, this was an extremely potent dish.

applewood smoked, butterscotch, apple, thyme
We’re all for interesting plating, but this was a bit extreme. Sure, it was cool to have bacon suspended in the air, but we would rather have 2 pieces of the yummy bacon on a plate rather than 1 on a fancy metal contraption. If it was meant to be artsy or symbolical, it was definitely lost on us.

fresh coriander, lime, tamari, bonito, wasabi

No restaurant is 100% perfect and this was definitely Alinea’s weakest link. Watermelon, cilantro, bonito, and wasabi? It just didn’t work for us. It was also suspended in the air on a metal skewer, which although visually fun, did nothing to make it taste better.

sorrel ice cream, frozen Greek yogurt, creamed whipped honey,
chamomile pudding, fennel shortbread and poppy seed crumbs
This confused us. Even now, months later, we still can’t decide how we feel about the flavors. We’ve never had a dish centered around sorrel before, so we aren’t sure what it’s supposed to taste like. There definitely were some good flavors, such as the creamed whipped honey, fennel shortbread, and chamomile pudding – but if we took a bite without all of the sweeter elements, it was a tad bitter.

toasted wheat soaked in milk, almond ice cream,
apricot and chervil purees, caramel sauce, toasted almonds
Spying the words "whole wheat" associated with a dessert on this menu was certainly discouraging. It implies healthy, bland, dry - everything a dessert should NOT be. Then arrives this creative bowl full of creamy flavor. Two servings each would have been welcomed.

custard, cherry, thyme, wrapped in cashew sugar, Tahitian vanilla fragrance

Apparently Alinea’s version of a petit four was this bite - a fragrant Tahitian vanilla been coated with custard and cherries, all wrapped in a blanket of hardened cashew sugar. It was good, but didn’t come close to the above dessert.

As we were leaving, we were also presented with a goodie bag of lemon Madelines for breakfast the next day, thereby extending our fantastic meal. Alinea certainly was the most creative and interesting meal we have experienced to date (and the most expensive), but totally worth it.