Monthly Archives: May 2008

Tortilla Heights, San Francisco

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I’ve been meaning to write this post for a very long time. Tortilla Heights in the Lower Pac Heights neighborhood of San Francisco, on Divisadero, was one of my first disappointment with Mexican food. I decided to give it another chance. Why? Because every time i walk by it, it’s packed. So sure, people can be “sheep” and all follow the stupid one. But it’s been very consistent over the last months: the place is packed.

The bar is clearly a reason why the place is crowded. Nice and beautiful people all around (yeah, I know, I was the exception!), kind of trendy, it’s a very good place for a night out. But still, the restaurant was crowded as well. There must be an explanation. The last time I ate there, it was just dis-gus-ting. As in HORRIBLE. Wanna know how this time went?

Well, it actually went ok. Much, much better than my first time. Still not worth those good old mexican places, cheap and delicious, but it was ok. Honestly, there isn’t much to say about the food. It’s decent. I find those trendy mexican restaurants over priced in general, but you can’t say that it’s not good.

It is actually very similar to Left at Albuquerque on Union Street. Nice, fun, but nothing that’s going to knock you out of this world. When you live in San Francisco, I actually question the need for those places. Really. Sure, let’s have some nice bars, but trying to build an upscale Mexican place, when for a fourth of the price, you have much better food at La Taqueria, is just something I have a hard time to comprehend.

Anyway, that place is probably going to be full tonight again. And I may go back there. Just for the fun though, not for the food.

Site:
Tortilla Heights

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Clos de Vougeot, 2000, Grand Cru, Nicolas Potel

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A friend of mine opened this bottle of wine yesterday night, with some duck confit and cheese. I have to say, this was just absolutely phenomenal. So yeah, it’s a bit pricey. Right, very pricey. But once in a while, you deserve it.

So if you want to make someone very happy, just buy a camembert, some fresh bread, and this bottle of wine. It will probably cost you less than taking someone to a nice restaurant for the evening, and you’ll have a much better experience. Yes, this thing can do a whole meal. And you’ll remember it for a long time!

Here’s where you can buy it (note that I don’t make any money from this transaction).

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Fish., fish restaurant, Sausalito

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I love fish and seafood. On this foggy day in the city, we decided to go to Sausalito to check out some tiles. And suddenly, i wanted fresh fish & seafood. Badly. I wanted to eat by the bay, watching the boats. Outside. And I wanted potentially some oysters, to go with a simply cooked fish. Does such a restaurant exist? Yes, and it’s called fish in Sausalito!

The setting (as the picture taken from my table can testify) is perfect. You’re right on the bay, watching boats go by. It’s a very casual place, far from being pretentious, except maybe for the price. You can’t say it’s cheap: a main course will cost you around $30, oysters are $3 each, and you can get a fresh trout salad for around $15.

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I decided to get a whole sea bass. I used to eat seabass all the time back in Europe and loved to grill it. It’s not the same type of bass as on the pacific coast, but they were offering to grill it as well, so i decided to give it a chance. Many times, in the US, they’re trying to make things too complicated. Fish is so simple, and at the end of the day, you can try all you want, but if the fish is not good, it’s not good. Fresh fish is the secret to cooking fish.

I was so surprised when the dish arrived at our table. Grilled fish, lemon, green asparagus and potatoes. That’s it. No artificial cream or ketchup or any kind of fattening sauce. Not just the fish. Second surprise was to see they actually stuff the fish with lemon and some parsley. Very basic, but that’s how you’re supposed to grill fish! In Greece, when they grill fish, they just add some dry oregano, lemon and olive oil on the fish and you’re done.

Right there, as I was looking at my plate, I was in heaven. The real deal though, was yet to come. How would it taste? Well, it was perfect. Perfectly cooked, and really fresh. Even though I had to pay $33 for that dish, it was absolutely worth every dollar of it! Also, if you’re not really hungry, you could share this dish easily.

So Fish. did it for me. I will surely go back as this is really the type of place I enjoy. If you know a nice and simple fish restaurant, please don’t hesitate to comment on that blog. I’d be happy to check your suggestions and try them!

Site:
Fish.

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Spruce, San Francisco

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Spruce, in the Laurel Heights area in San Francisco, was a big surprise for me. My wife actually decided to take me there for a nice dinner, but I had no idea what to expect. I actually vaguely heard of this restaurant.

We were in the car when we decided to go there. We called the restaurant to ask if they had a table available, and were told that they had nothing for us, except maybe a sit at the bar if we were lucky. Wait! That was a Monday evening. A restaurant fully booked on a Monday evening? That must be a good sign…

As we arrived there, the valet parking guys (even though we didn’t valet park with them!) welcomed us and were extremely polite. A nice gentlemen opened the door for us and we entered the world of Spruce. It’s really fascinating. Dark colors, big paintings, high ceilings, mirrors… It has its own style. Even the music was kind of unique.

We managed to get a table in the bar area, which was full of ladies with Hermes and Gucci purses! The minute after we sat down, a waiter came by and asked us what we would like to eat. We chose the scallops as a starter to share, my wife picked the sole as a main, and I had the halibut. All this, of course, with a nice glass of white wine.

Before they started to bring our food, they gave us a nice amuse bouche to eat. If you remember my post on Jack Falstaff, you know that I hate fried amuse bouche. Well, this one was baked. And so tasty that it did exactly what it’s supposed to do: trigger your appetite.

The scallops were from out of this world. They were caramelized, and serve with a fantastic pea soup and some brandade of cod. Hard to beat, and there is no way I’m going to be able to make this at home. The haddock was all right. I wouldn’t say amazing, but well cooked haddock is always good. On the other hand, the sole was fantastic. It was poached in fennel and served with nice mushrooms, and spinach in cream sauce, it was plain delicious. I absolutely recommend that dish to anyone!

We didn’t have desert, but I asked for the cheese plate as I really wanted to taste it. They offer a European selection or an American selection. Guess which one I picked? And I was not disappointed!

So yes, the place is far from being cheap. But I don’t think it’s the kind of place you go every night. If you have a romantic dinner to plan, or want to do a very good meal in the city for a special occasion, Spruce is definitely a place to consider.

Site:
Spruce

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Hangover cure

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After so many years of experience, I thought I would share with you all one of my secrets: how to fight hangover. You may hear many different stories, tips etc… Most of them may work. As far as I’m concerned, there is only one way to fight a real hangover.

Before i start explaining my trick, i wanted to list a few things you can/should do in case of light hangover. First of all, the mantra fight evil with evil hold true. There is nothing better than a nice, light beer in the morning to fight a tiny hangover. Some, like @aa, are fans of bloody mary. I prefer beer, but to be very honest, both work for me. Again, this is in the case of a light hangover.

Now, the real hangover. You know, when you wake up and you still feel like you’re drunk. If the following thoughts come through your mind, you know you have to deal with a real hangover:
– “I will never, ever, drink again”.
– “That’s it, I quit drinking” (@dtok mentioned those exact words to me recently… can you believe it?)
– “I didn’t drink that much… oh wait… i forgot that one… and that one… and that one… OMG!”
– “I’m getting old…”
– “Should i really move now?”
– “How did i come back home?”

If any of those thoughts come to your mind, we can declare your condition as “a real hangover”.

How do you fight it? How do you wake up and feel peachy and full of joy so the people around you don’t realize what kind of a mess you are. This is extremely useful when you live with a partner/husband/wife who didn’t necessarily go out with you the night before, and has made tons of plans, most of them starting at 8am. Or also, when you have young kids who love to wake you up at 6am in the morning with absolutely no compassion nor sympathy for your condition.

Secret #1: no matter how drunk you are, you have to fight it BEFORE you go to bed. That’s the key. Put signs in your house, very obvious signs (don’t forget that your sight and ability to read may be reduced by the time you go back home) reminding you about fighting the hangover before you go to sleep.

Secret #2: B12. My friend Andrew Levy suggested that to me one day, and it saved my life (otherwise i would have to miss the wedding of a dear friend). Take 2, or even 3 B12 pills. You can buy them at Walgreens. It’s good stuff, totally natural. It’s a vitamin that helps your brain operate.

Secret #3: Aspirin. On top of the B12, take some aspirin. The only one that really works for me is Nurofen (you can’t buy it in the US, but it’s available in the UK). Any others, like Panadol etc… would work as well.

Secret #4: Water: Drink at least a pint of water.

Secret #5: If you went out without your husband/partner/wife, do not wake them up. Do not do that. That’s a bad idea, and it would only make the hangover worse as you may not be able to sleep in your bed…

Secret #6: Never, ever, ever, check your emails. And even worse, never answer. This would cause a much bigger hangover, beyond any reasonable way to cure it. Get away from your computer!

If you have tips on how to fight hangover, please comment on this post!

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Angele Restaurant, Napa

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On Sunday, since the weather wasn’t very nice in San Francisco, we drove to Napa and stopped at Angele for lunch, by the Napa river. We’ve been there once, while we were staying at Milliken Creek Inn, and had a wonderful time.

The expectations were very high…

and I was wondering if our first experience was just lucky or if this place is indeed that good. I haven’t heard many people talk about it. Folks are all chatty about Bouchon, or other type of French bistro, but I don’t think Angele ever came up in a discussion.

And yet… I rate my lunch there as one of the top 5 meals I had in the last 6 months. Not pretentious, outstanding service, and more important, delicious and tasty food! What more can you ask for? Oh yeah, price… well, most of the entree are between $15 and $19 so I’d put this in the “affordable” category.

My wife and I had scallops to share for a starter. It was a special for the day, and… very yummy! Seared on top (with some syrup that just gave it a great texture!), accompanied by a puree of leeks, cooked perfectly (you know, when it’s almost raw inside!). It was splendid. My parents in law had a “Salade Lyonnaise” (Frisée Salad, De Puy Lentils, Poached Egg and Lardons) which they adored as well as a Classic French Onion Soup that triggers lot of questions such as: “how do I make this at home, this is so good!?”, which tend to be a very good sign.

For the main, I had hand cut pappardelle with cipollini onions, mushrooms, cavolo nero, and parmigiano reggiano. I loved the fact it wasn’t too crowded in my plate (you don’t want too much fresh pasta!). On top of that, the tastes were going gangbuster! It was incredible. The combination of the mushrooms and the cavolo nero worked at perfection.

My wife had the salmon, which she loved (pink inside, very crispy outside) and my father in law had the duck confit which he finished in no time (another good sign!).

All in all, I think this is a splendid place for tasty, fresh and simple food. It will become one of my regular place when I go to the wine country for sure. Much more so than Bouchon!

Site: Angele Restaurant

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Harri’s, Steakhouse, San Francisco

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Yesterday, we took my parents in law at Harri’s, at the corner of Pacific and Van Ness. Harri’s is a classis San Francisco establishment, and above all, a real steakhouse.

As all good steakhouse, the entrance showcases the aged meat and also has a butcher counter in case you want to buy some meat to go. I’ve seen this in many other steakhouses, and I really like the idea.

There are three main rooms. The Van Ness room, which is the main room. Very elegant, comfortable, it is very traditional and very San Francisco. I had dinner there a few times, and always had a good time. There are two other rooms. The library, which is where we had dinner yesterday, and another more casual one. The library is very intimate, as there are only 4-5 tables, a big painting of Mr Harris (i assumed it has to do with the restaurant!) and a fire place. It’s much more quiet than the main room even though the air conditioning is a little bit too strong in my opinion.

We had New York steak, Rib Eye steak and a Prime Rib of Beef. It’s the first time i’ve seen my parents in law eating the whole thing, without leaving a piece of meat in their plate! Quite impressive. I concluded they really liked it.

On my side, I had the Prime Rib and I have to say, it was delicious. Perfectly cooked, which is what those steak houses are really good at. I’ve asked for medium rare, and I got medium rare! The quality of the meat was really good – tender, tasty… all you can ask from a piece of meat!

The vegetables were also perfectly cooked. Crispy and not over cooked as in most restaurants. Finally, the wine list is huge, and you will definitely find your happiness in there. I picked a Ridge Zinfandel (my parents in law never had Zin before). You can’t go wrong with Ridge. The combination of the wine and the meat just made this meal perfect.

Of course, Harri’s is not cheap. I couldn’t go there every time I want a piece of meat (a steak will cost you roughly $45)! But for a special occasion, it’s a great place to try. Enjoy!

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Abita Beer

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Every time I travel somewhere, I always try to drink local beer. Sometimes, it leads to quite memorable moments of true delight, and sometimes it’s just a disaster. As I was in New Orleans, I didn’t make any exception, and decided to drink Abita, a beer brewed north of New Orleans.

I mainly spent my energy drinking the Amber one. There is something about this beer that just go well with most of the meals there, especially the Po-Boy! There are many other variances available like Turbodog (ale), the purple haze (seems that people drink it at the end of a meal), the light/golden (much lighter as its name indicates), the restoration (never tried that one!) and the root beer. I usually like to focus, so I concentrated on the Amber one 🙂

It’s funny how beers are not really appreciated overall. Everybody is talking about wine, and try to find the best deal in town. White, Red, Pinot Grigio Vs Chardonnay, every one has an opinion on wines. For beers, it’s very different. Of course, folks like Kronenbourg over Guiness (yeah, that does exist), but I never felt the same passion as for wine.

As far as I’m concerned, I’m a huge beer fan. My favorite is Sierra Nevada. What about yours? Please let me know in the comment section!

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