Monday, January 30, 2012

Dine About Town: Luna Park

After finishing up my lovely brunch with Ms. Michele we made our way back to her house to meet up with Andrew and spend some time together before he and I would head to the next Dine About Town meal of the day- dinner at Luna Park. We killed a little time before dinner watching Baz Luhrman's Romeo + Juliet and reminiscing over our pre-teen years in the late 90's. I always forget what a killer soundtrack that movie had, I need to fish around for my CD and get it uploaded on my itunes. As the movie reached it's pivotal double suicide scenes it was time to head out to dinner!

Luna Park is located in the Mission District which we found jam packed full of hipsters this lovely January evening. Entering the art filled dimly chandelier lit room I realized quickly that I had actually been here once before about 4 years ago with a friend and her sister who lived up in the city. I have always cherished the memory of that meal as one of the impetus's that drive my desire to live in San Francisco at some point because I so loved the look, feel, & taste of the restaurant. While I had already looked a their Dine About Town offerings I was excited to peruse them again and make my final decisions on what to order.
I was so pleased that we were given so many options but it was easy to narrow down what looked best to me. We ordered drinks, a Negroni for me (trying to see what the growing hype around this classic cocktail is) and a glass of Zin for Andrew and we were off to the races!
Our meal started with the presentation of an "Amuse-Bouche" (translated to mouth amuser, a little nip from the kitchen to get you excited for the meal to come) of butternut squash soup topped with some toasted seeds in an espresso cup. The soup had an excellent silky texture and rich butternut squash flavor but was a little simple for my taste. I like to doctor my own Butternut Squash soup up with ginger and nutmeg and other flavors. As a start though this was very nice and I always love that little something extra offered at the meal!
Next we enjoyed the Luna Park famous Goat Cheese Fondue with crisp green apples and Toasted bread. So simple but SO YUMMY! The goat cheese melts down to the most decadent creamy dip and the simple apples and bread are the perfect dipping apparatus. Tart matched with creamy for the apples buttery crunch matched with the tangy for the bread it felt so simple yet very satisfying. There are plenty of pieces of the rustic thick cut toasted bread as well as apple slices so you are able to enjoy all of the goat cheese. I loved the presentation over the little candle keeping the ramekin warm. I could easily see myself filling up just on this as it was so good and I'm glad we shared.

Our entrees arrived in a timely manner and I was pleased to see nice healthy portions for each. Andrew's Mac & Cheese came with broccoli florets and well as bite of smoked ham growing this dish up a bit with it's increased flavors and textures over the average childhood iteration. The shells held in just the right amount of creamy (yet not dense) cheese sauce and there was a lovely toasted bread crumb crumble over the top.

While the waitress let me know in advance that the salmon would be served medium rare (in case I took issue with that, which I do not) I actually found that it was cooked through, still nice and moist, but with a heavy char on the outer skin (as you can see in the picture). The fillet was served on a bed of white Gigante Beans, Roasted Mushrooms, butter braised Leeks, and Greens, in a light white wine broth. The green were absolutely fantastic soaking up lots of flavor from the broth and contributing their own inherent sweetness. The beans were cooked to a nice al dente texture and filled out the dish nicely. In terms of the mushrooms and leeks they were almost unnoticeable, the mushrooms being very tiny in size and the leeks braised to the point of melting into the sauce (not a bad thing they added great flavor). While not entirely missed with the beans 'n greens I could have gone for some heartier mushrooms in the mix as I was excited when I read the menu description.

I had ordered my dessert right at the top since I was having the prix fixe, unfortunately our waitress forgot and it did take some time to arrive (happens to the best of us) I had expected it to be nice and hot but it was instead only luke warm, the ice cream on top was freshly scooped and not melted so I have to wonder if it sat around for a bit waiting to be picked up and topped with the ice cream. Regardless the flavors were good I especially liked the crumbled top with it's nice big chucks of shortbread tasting crumbs. It was a sweet and satisfying finish to a really lovely meal.

Over all Luna Park was great. With it's hip vibe and soul satisfying dishes I would recommend it to anyone looking for a fun, casual, and unique dining spot in SF. This would make a great place for a first or second date or a night out with a good friend that you need to catch up with!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Dine About Town: Butterfly

I have been inexplicably slow to post this. Granted I dined at both these places only this last Saturday but lately I have actually been diligent about reporting the weekends eatings come Monday/Tuesday. I guess perhaps I feel overwhelmed to bring you not one but TWO fab new SF spots. As you know I have been positively giddy to start "dining about town". I reserved and re-reserved. I scoured menu's and websites. Made plans without actually looking at when restaurants are participating (I'm giving you the stink eye you stingy bastards that aren't offering the prix fixe on Saturdays). Finally everything was settled and I got to spend two individual meals with my two favorite San Franciscan's, a delightful cocktail/mimosa fueled brunch/lunch with Michele at Butterfly on the Embarcadero and a romantic evening with my platonic lover Andrew at Luna Park in the Mission.

Shall we begin?

Adjacent to Pier 33 Butterfly is just close enough to the tourist action that if you felt like walking to the Ripley's Believe it or Not you could but just far enough that you still feel like you are in hip SF. While it took us a second to find the entrance the actual space is not hard to find by any means and there are a number of parking structures within a block or so. Originating on Mission Street Butterfly moved to it's current location in 2003. You can read more about the restaurants history and chef HERE.

On entering the space I was impressed by the view extending along the whole back wall of the restaurant. You can see all the way across the bay and they take great advantage of the windows by lining them with shallow booths that let you turn and gaze out. Although it makes for interesting dining sitting next to vs across from your dining partner we both enjoyed the lounge like feel of the booth. There are also plenty of standard tables throughout as well. Although the paint and decor has a dark edge to it the windows and high vaulted ceilings still make it feel spacious, open, and bright.

I was unaware until we were presented with the menu's that on the weekends they were doing a prix fixe "Brunch" menu which included a few breakfast type items along with a few from the lunch menu I had read online. The appetizers remained the same but there were a few substitutions to the entrees choices including The Smoked Salmon & Avocado Eggs Benedict (which I ordered) and the Wild Mushroom Scramble (which I coerced Michele into ordering).
After ordering we were presented with some complimentary seasoned edamame that were spicy and savory and helped kill time while we waited anxiously for our first courses to arrive.

 The Fried Calamari with Tabasco Remoulade and Ponzu Cucumbers for Michele and for me the Kahlua Pork Lettuce Wraps. Both appetizers had a nice presentation and were served appropriately warm. I was very impressed by the quantity of Butter Lettuce leaves served with my pork! It seems inevitable most places that you will have to ask for more leaves when you order lettuce wraps as they never give you enough, but here I ended up with more than I needed. The pork had the inherent sweet/saltiness that I love about any pulled pork with the distinct smokiness attributed to Kahlua pork preparation. There were some thinly sliced bell peppers strung throughout and it was served with some hoisin on the side to moisten everything up. While tasty I wouldn't say this dish was overly inventive. Still it was really enjoyable.

Michele's Calamari were served nice and crispy drizzled with the remoulade on a bed of thinly sliced cucumbers that had marinated in a ponzu sauce. All the flavors and textures were great together although if not eaten quickly it did begin to get a little soggy near the end. The highlight were the cucumbers, their ponzu flavor sweet, tangy, & inviting.

A key component I have been looking for in restaurants these days is an interesting and cuisine appropriate cocktail list. Butterfly had a number of fun sounding options along with a brunch special of $18 for bottomless mimosas.

I first went for their Cucumber Kiwi Gimlet (seen to the left) and followed it up the Honey Bourbon sour (seen to the right). The Gimlet was fantastic, tangy and refreshing and the fresh kiwi provided not only unique flavor but also texture. Don't be scared off if you are not a Gin lover, the notes are light and over powered by the other components of the drink.

The reverse was true of the Honey Bourbon Sour. The Bourbon seemed to over power everything in the drink from the aroma to mouth feel to finish. While the orange bitters made there presence noticed the orange blossom honey and lemon were barely distinguishable. If you are not a whiskey or Bourbon fan I would steer clear of this one as it was a little overwhelming.

Our entrees arrived served on fashionable white plates, mine long and rectangular, Michele's in a deep bowl with sloping sides giving a dramatic presentation of her scramble nestled inside. A sweeping statement on both our dishes was that they were RICH. The combination of naturally fatty smoked salmon and avocado with the creamy hollendaise was decadent but almost more than I could handle. I only managed to eat one although had I not had an appetizer could have maybe finished both. I loved the addition of the tobikofraiche finished off the dish with additional textures and flavors. While we both really enjoyed our entrees I do have to say that unless you are going for brunch on the weekend (which you should) I don't think they were a true reflection of the cuisine of Butterfly. Their blend of various Asian techniques and ingredients appear to be more evident in their other menu's. I can speak to my experience which was lovely and I hope to have another opportunity to dine there again soon, maybe instead for a dinner, and check out their other specialties!

Keep an eye out later today or tomorrow for the Luna Park review!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Dine About Town SF 2012 Launch Party

It's here! Dine About Town SF began this last weekend and I am so excited. Put on by San Francisco Travel organization Dine About Town gives diners the chance to try out over 100 different restaurants offering $17.95 2 course prix fixe lunches or $34.95 3/4 course prix fixe dinners from January 13- 31. This is a great marketing tool for restaurants of all shapes and sizes to get new clientele in the door. For the next two weeks I'll be fitting in as many trips up to the city as I can manage so I can report to you some of the great new places I try!

To Kick off the event the San Francisco Travel organization threw a tasting gala this last Thursday at the Metreon up in the city to give diners the chance to check out samples of what some of the participating restaurants had to offer as well as a few wineries and breweries giving tastes of their goods as well! The event was only $40 and all of the proceeds were donated to San Francisco's Meals on Wheels program which helps seniors live an in dependant life style by delivering meals to their homes.
When registering to attend the event the organizers had indicated clearly that you wanted to be there right at 6 when it began, as the vendors would have limited supplies, so I made sure to book it (as best one can in rush hour traffic on the 101) straight up to the city after work. The nice thing about the Metreon is that there is an ample parking garage right next door so I didn't have to waste time circling the surrounding blocks looking for a spot. As I approached the building I could tell a number of people walking near me were probably headed for the same event. I had anticipated the usual 20 - 30 something just -from-work crowd, what I didn't expect was the much broader demographic that was actually in attendance. The age range was probably closer to 20's- mid 60's and the dress was very casual to the more business attire. There was a guy there in a flannel and backwards baseball hat... with his mom. Although not what I expected it seemed promising that the over all Dine About Town experience was well and broadly marketed (as something like this needs to be to be successful).
 Upon entering each person received a logo glass for wine tasting and is set free in the long room to explore. As soon as I entered I was very impressed with the event space styling (some of which you can see above). The over head lighting was dimmed and highlighted with green and red up lighting on the pillars and walls. The table clothes were bright and festive and the hanging banners of some SF's most iconic scenes brought an artful touch to the room. The best part of the space however were the floor to ceiling windows along one length of the room that gave way to this view.

It was hard not to be initially overwhelmed by the options. The very first table to the right of the entrance had a long line which I stood in briefly but feeling the mounting hectic tension in the room decided not to waste my time waiting and instead move further down to a table that was less populated. By far the best move. This whole event felt like a speed sampling contest, how quickly could you make it to every booth before they began to run out! Could you sample everything before everyone else?? The answer unfortunately was no but I did remarkably well all things considered. There were plenty of options with no line and I got to try some fantastic things. I'm not going to go into depth on describing all the items but here are a few pictures:

 Reoccurring offerings of the evening were soups (hot and cold), anything with cauliflower not in it's natural form (I had a soup and a mouse with crab), and lots of pate's or meat mousse's.
Some had elaborate table set ups like these:
 Why yes that is a person half dressed as a mummy that they are serving off of. This was the Supperclub whose establishment includes entertainment with your meal.

An unexpected high light for me was the Basil Gimlet from Best Beverage Catering company (Full sized!) Finished with a spritz of Absinthe the cocktail had a nice initial aroma of sweet anise while the basil flavor blended delightfully with the sweet lime and vodka in the drink.

It was at about 6:45 that I noticed 2 booths had already packed up and in the next 15 minutes the rest of the restaurants quickly followed suit. I had managed to sample almost everything and decided to finally stand in that line at the front. They had not yet run out despite their popularity but I was certainly glad I didn't miss anything else waiting for them at the beginning. A heavy pasta dish lacking flavor may not have been the most exciting way to finish my night but I was not at all disappointed by everything else I had enjoyed. Would I attend this event again? In all honestly probably not although beautiful and fun it was so brief and the vibe so hectic that it was hard to enjoy the way I would have liked. However it boosted my excitement for the weeks to come as I make plans to enjoy many of the restaurants participating! This coming weekend - Butterfly on the Embarcadero for lunch Saturday, Luna Park in the Mission that night, and Luella in Russian Hill Sunday Dinner! I look forward to blogging all of these spots for you next week!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Charlie Palmer Steak - Reno

I spent the New Years weekend in Reno at the Grand Sierra Resort this year with Tori and her family. We had a really great time and one of the highlights of the trip was the Reserve Wine Bar and an excellent dinner at the Charlie Palmer Steak. Charlie Palmer has been on the American cooking scene since the 80's creating what he calls "Progressive American Cuisine". At Charlie Palmer Steak we enjoyed just that: both classic and not so classic steak house fare with a refined finesse. Charlie is well known throughout the Hospitality industry for both his creativity in the kitchen as well as his evident business acumen. It was an exciting privilege to get to dine at one of his establishments and familiarize myself with his style.

Before dinner we spent sometime at the Reserve wine bar. This is one of the coolest wine bar concepts I have seen, I really wish there was one in the area. The Enomatic system stores the wines in a sealed temp controlled dispensing system that let's you choose 1, 3, or 5 oz's at a time and tallies your charges on a card that you insert in the machine. Because the bottles are sealed with the distribution pumps so that air can't get in they are able to open over 80 bottles for sampling and not be concerned they will go bad in a few days. We had such a great time sampling many varieties! Most 1 oz pours are between $1.50- $3 so you can get a great flight for under $15. There was a lot of variety although I did notice that the bulk were easily recognizable "high end" labels. Hopefully this set up will be a new trend in the wine industry and we can enjoy something similar in the Bay Area!

Once we were done at the wine bar we headed over to our reservation at the restaurant. The decor felt current and comfortable, while we were seated at a regular table I admired the crescent shaped booths in set into the wall space with dark red leather going all the way up to the top. Large modern sculptures hung from the ceiling and the lighting was warm and intimate. We enjoyed a team wait staff of a gentleman and a younger woman both whom were very friendly and had an easy conversational style to their service. This can sometimes be hard to come upon in a white table cloth establishment like this one and it was really nice and put us all at ease. We started with one of their signature cocktails a "Strawberry Belletini" a strawberry cocktail with the essence of a Bellini in a martini format. I also couldn't resist ordering a half dozen oysters which they served with your classic cocktail sauce, horseradish, and a house made apple mignonette (that was my favorite! not too tart and a little sweet such a compliment to the briny oysters)
We were also brought a bread basket with so many tasty choices that I ended up having 3 different pieces (this would later be my downfall). I first tried a sweet onion pinwheel which was flaky and flavorful, then a jalapeno corn bread muffin, and lastly a piece of baguette (just out of curiosity... and foolishness). When it came time to order we all agreed that sharing the side dishes is the best way to go at steak houses. We chose some classics- creamed spinach, potatoes au gratin, & asparagus.
The asparagus spears were nice and fat, trimmed and shaved. They were dressed lightly with Bearnaise sauce and cooked to a nice al dente texture. The creamed spinach had a good thick creamy texture and great flavor although it was almost too salty for me. The potatoes also had a great texture and the cheeses integrated well not separating or taking on a weird consistency that au gratin potatoes sometimes can.
Both of the girls chose steaks for their entree. Fiona had the Filet with shallot reduction that was served with Charlie Palmer's signature steak sauce (sweet with a little bit of mango), an Argentinian Chimichurri (and olive oil based sauce similar to a pesto but with parsley, garlic, oregano, red or white wine vinegar, lemon, and other seasonings), & the Bearnaise. The table favorite was the chimichurri and the steak was excellently cooked perfectly medium and tender. After my bite I wished I had chosen steak!
The Filet was topped with a Red Wine Shallot Reduction
I wanted to give the table some diversity so I made a game time decision and went with the Pheasant Breast served with a butternut squash risotto and a rosemary red wine reduction.

Pheasant is a gamier poultry but I really enjoyed the new experience. The skin was nicely crisped and the sweet reduction really added to the flavor. The meat was maybe a little tougher than I would have liked but I still enjoyed quite a bit of it as well as the risotto. It had a good creamy texture and the squash blended well adding flavor but almost matching the texture of the rice grains. It was also served with a hand made pheasant sausage that I found myself enjoying even more than the breast piece. Well seasoned, the meat had a texture similar to something that had been slow cook and pulled (which I love) it was stronger in the gamey aspect than the breast but I enjoyed the full flavor.

Tori's steak was the special that evening, a large filet topped with crab meat and a subtle roquefort cheese. The flavor was incredible although she likes her steak a little more done than I prefer. The plate was dressed with the rich and bright Bearnaise sauce as well as a reduction. So much about this dish felt decadent combining so many delicious classic elements.

When it came to dessert we decided to share two selections- the special of the evening the "Salted Caramel Bombe" and the duo of creme brulees in classic vanilla and cappuccino flavors. As you can see both dishes had lovely presentation. The Bombe consisted of a thin layers of soft spongy cake with a cream Carmel filling all encased in a layer of chocolate ganache and sprinkled with sea salt. It was served with two bruleed banana slices, a banana sorbet, and decorative caramelized sugar. While not exactly what I anticipated when I heard "salted caramel" this was still delicious and beautiful. The creme brulee's were were excellent but so rich I could only manage a few bites! Then came the surprise...
The complimentary sweets at the end of our meal. Mini coconut macaroons, Chocolate Truffles, Candied Walnuts and Biscotti. By this point I was on the brink of bursting and could only taste 1 little macaroon but everything seemed delicious.

We had such an enjoyable time at Charlie Palmer Steak. It really was the capstone to a fantastic trip. Even though for the rest of the night I thought I might die because I was too full I would definitely suggest checking out any of his many locations and concepts if you want to treat yourself to a fun fine dining experience.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Tasty Way to start my New Years Resolution

Ah the New Year. Everyone is abuzz with their plans for a fresh start, new fitness goals, and plans to find a more rewarding career. My goals aren't so lofty. #1 I know I'll never really have the dedication to maintain fitness goals #2 I'm happy making my side projects (such as this blog) the fulfilling supplement to my "career". So as the New Year approached I decided to dedicate myself to growing in another area. My goal this year is to give back more. Starting with small donations and hopefully finding a place where I can dedicate some actual time and effort into improving others lives. After reading all the stories of this crushing recession I feel grateful everyday that I have managed to get a job that helps me live a comfortable life. Sure I don't make a lot but I certainly make enough to waste too much of it. If I can waste it on the silly things I sometimes do I think it's time to start sharing it with those in need. If you have been feeling similarly here is a great way to start!
My mom turned me on to this group, Cookies for Kids Cancer, this holiday season. As those close to me know we lost my younger sister to a childhood cancer about 6 years ago and the cause holds a special place in our families heart. This non-profit organization was founded by a family who suffered a similar lose and wanted to find a way to raise funds for the "development of new and better treatments" for children's cancers. It all started with one huge bake sale (96,000 cookies that netted a  $400,000 donation) that has led to an ever growing opportunity for anyone to give to the cause.
Their operation is two fold - with tools provided by the group (registration, prep tools, logos, recipes, etc) you can host your own bake sale within your community (church, school, group of friends & family) and donate the proceeds. Or should you want to start more simply you can buy the cookies that they make online! My mom bought a number of the varieties to share with family members this Christmas season.

Stylishly wrapped and available in 9 different varieties these cookies make an excellent gift for someone you love- or just for yourself! Liam's Lemon Sugar (named for the family's son), Ginger Spice, Oatmeal Raisin, Triple Chocolate Chunk, White Chocolate Macadamia Nut, Chunky Peanut Butter, Chocolate Almond Coconut Crunch, Chocolate Chip, & Dark Chocolate Cranberry. We tried the Lemon Sugar, Triple chocolate, & Ginger Spice on Christmas and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by all of them. They are hand baked when ordered by a family bakery that the organization partners with.
 The cookies are about 3 inches across and a nice thickness. The taste freshly made and have just the right chewiness in their texture. My personal favorite was the Ginger Spice (we all know I love my ginger!) The flavor was high quality with bright spicy ginger notes and the calming undertones of cinnamon, nutmeg, and sugar. The chocolate ones were rich and satisfying, and Liam's Lemon Sugar are the perfect cookie for some afternoon tea. I didn't actually taste the Chocolate Almond Coconut but my mom declared those to be her favorite, rave reviews all around!
I hope you take a chance to look through their website to find out more about this organization and hopefully donated to their truly worthy cause. There is so much to read and learn from them and who knows maybe this year I'll work on putting on a bake sale myself! If I do I hope you all can come, in the meantime enjoy some of their fantastic cookies!