Friday, December 21, 2007

Holiday Cocktails

Hope you are in festive spirits this holiday season. Passing along a few recipes for fun and celebratory cocktails. Enjoy.

Christmas Jones
5 fresh strawberries
1 part vodka
2 teaspoons superfine sugar
5 ounces of pineapple juice
Lime-flavored soda
Mint sprigs for garnish
In a blender, whiz the vodka, strawberries, sugar and pineapple juice together. Pour the mix equally into two champagne flutes. Top with 7-Up, and garnish with a sprig of mint.

3 ounces of Midori
1/2 ounce lemon juice
1 teaspoon simple syrup (equal parts of water and sugar simmered together)
1 maraschino cherry for garnish
Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice and shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a maraschino cherry.

Mistletoe Martini
3 ounces of vodka
2 ounces of orange juice
3 ounces of cranberry tea, chilled
3/4 ounce of lemon juice
3 teaspoons of sugar
Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice and shake well. Strain into two chilled cocktail glasses.

Candy Cane
1 ounce of berry-flavored vodka
3/4 ounce of Peppermint Schnapps
3/4 ounce of white Crème de Cacao
1/4 ounce of grenadine
Half and half
Soda water
Pour the vodka, Peppermint Schnapps, white Creme de Cacao and grenadine into a cocktail shaker with ice and shake well. Pour into a cocktail glass rimmed with crushed peppermint candy (but don't let the ice get into the glasses). Fill with half and half and top with soda water.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Half-Price Wine Night at Solstice

Solstice is a great neighborhood and also sometimes destination bar and restaurant that somehow manages to combine a hip and modern ambiance with a comfortable and inviting vibe. The space, which used to house Rassella's which is now located near The Fillmore, is dimly lit with comfortable tables and chairs, an attractive bar area and lots of plants, a large palm-like tree being the centerpiece of the dining room. There also is a lounge area just slightly down from the main space which is perfect for groups of 20 or so. On Mondays all wines by the bottle are half-price, just another reason to make a visit and start the work week off on a happy note. The wine list is interesting and generally affordable, especially on Monday nights. We sampled a few bottles between the group, including a very crisp and effervescent Portuguese Vino Verde, Mia's Playground Merlot from Sonoma, and Ringbolt Cabernet from Australia. The reds were both nice - fruity with a big flavor and a lasting finish. The Merlot was especially heavy on notes of sweet, ripe berries. We snacked on a few of the food items as well. The menu is fairly short but very appealing and features items that showcase local ingredients. We had Frites Two Ways which features traditional fries made with Idaho potatoes and serves with ketchup, and sweet potato fries served with a jalapeno aioli. The sweet potato fries were especially tasty, though I thought a bit of additional salt would have been beneficial. The Prosciutto Pizzetta, which features a thin and crispy crust topped with prosciutto, smoked mozzarella and roasted tomatoes, also got good reviews. The Gorgonzola Mac N Cheese is, well, a heaping pile of goodness featuring the pasta on a base of granny smith apples with lots of gooey cheese and topped with toasted walnut dust. All in all a very enjoyable evening, and an inexpensive one at that. Enjoy.

2801 California Street in San Francisco

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Tasty Holiday Recipes for a Cozy Evening In

Hope you are enjoying the splendor of the holiday season, and have the time to step back and take a breath when you need it too. Wanted to pass along recipes for a few tasty treats that are all easy to prepare and quite tasty - enjoy.

Fig, Gorgonzola and Rosemary Bites
8 to 12 dried figs
3 to 4 ounces of Gorgonzola cheese, in crumbles
2 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon of fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Trim the stems of the figs and make a slit in the side of each fig. Push a piece of Gorgonzola into each fig. Place in a bowl and toss gently with olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper. Heat in a 350 degree oven for 5 to 8 minutes, or until cheese melts, and enjoy. Fabulous paired with a nice Pinot Noir.

Brussel Sprouts with Bacon
2 pounds small-medium Brussel sprouts
6 slices bacon
1 teaspoon butter
Kosher or sea salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Rinse Brussel sprouts in a large colander and drain. Trim off the small stem on the bottom of each sprout and cut into halves. Cook bacon in medium frying pan until fat is rendered and the bacon is browned but not quite crispy. Drain on a paper towel lined plate. Once the bacon has cooled a bit, cut the bacon into bite-sized pieces. Pour off all but 2 teaspoons of the bacon fat. Return pan to medium high heat and add butter to the bacon fat. Add the halved Brussel sprouts to the frying pan and toss to coat in the oil. Add the bacon to the Brussel sprouts and season with salt and pepper to taste. Continue to toss and cook on the stove for another 2-3 minutes until the sprouts start taking on a bit of a golden brown color. Transfer into a 400 degree oven for about 12-15 minutes or until sprouts are golden brown and slightly soft. Delicious with an unoaked Chardonnay or a lighter-body red wine.
Pork Tenderloin with Apples and Cinnamon and Cardamom
1 to 1 1/2 pounds pork tenderloin
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cardamom spice
2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
2 cooking apples (such as Granny Smith), peeled, cored and sliced
2 tablespoons dried cranberries or raisins
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the pork tenderloin in a roasting pan or casserole dish. Combine the remaining ingredients in a bowl and stir. Spoon the apple mixture around the pork tenderloin. Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and spoon the apple mixture over the tenderloin. Return to the oven and bake without a cover for 15 to 20 minutes longer, or until pork tenderloin is browned and cooked through.

Grilled Peaches
4 peaches
4 tablespoons of lemon juice
1/4 cup of white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon of brown sugar
Peel and halve peaches, and place in a plastic bag with one tablespoon of lemon juice and set aside. Boil remaining lemon juice with vinegar and sugar on medium high, until reduced by about half. Place peaches cut side down on a grill pan or rack which is lightly coated with cooking oil spray. Cook for about 2 minutes, then turn over and baste with lemon mixture. Cook 3 minutes on second side and serve. Great with ice cream or frozen yogurt.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Hotel Biron

Hotel Biron is a quite small but very cozy wine bar and art gallery that lends touches of Paris to its comfortable and appealing ambiance. Very dim lighting, modern yet comfy decor, a handful of copper tables, wrought-iron bistro chairs and zinc-green walls decked with a revolving exhibition of local add to the mood, and form the perfect setting for an after-work get-together or romantic rendezvous. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable, and the wine list is interesting and not expensive. If you can, it makes sense to buy by the bottle as for the most part bottle prices are only 3 times that of the glass prices when offered. A brief food menu including cheeses, seasonal fruits, charcuterie, and olives is designed to complement the wines.
I arrived a bit earlier than my friend and luckily was able to snag a table near the bar area, and ordered a glass of 2006 Sur "de los Andes" Torrontes. It was light and refreshing, but lacked a fruity quality that I had hoped it would have. Once my friend arrived we tasted a few red varietals, and decided to go with a bottle of Jenke Vineyards Shiraz from the Barossa Valley. It needed to breathe just a bit, but notes of berries and a strong earthy quality made it really delicious and interesting. We also tried a couple of the cheeses. Old Quebec, a Canadian raw cow's milk cheddar aged for 3 years was rich and creamy, and Serra da Estrela, a Portugese washed rind raw sheep's milk cheese, was also decadent and delicious. Hotel Biron is really an adorable spot I hope you get a chance to check out if you haven't already done so. It's just off Market Street on Rose just behind Zuni Cafe.

Hotel Biron
45 Rose Street in San Francisco

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Happy Hour at Citizen Thai and the Monkey Bar

Located in the heart of North Beach and just up the street from The Saloon, Citizen Thai and the Monkey Bar is a fun and festive spot with good drinks, tasty food and happy hour from 5 to 7pm seven days a week. During happy hour there are no drink specials, but you receive a complimentary appetizer of the day. We were there on Sunday and the appetizer was fried corn balls served with a sweet and sour dipping sauce loaded with fresh ginger, cilantro and sliced red onion. I am not much of one for fried food, so it was just another plate for my friends to enjoy. The wine list is short but well-thought-out given the strong flavors and sometimes very spicy food items on the menu. For wine, I chose to ahve Dr. von Basserman-Jordan Estate Gruner Veltliner from Germany. I thought all Gruner Veltliner's came from Austria, but apparently there are a few producers in Germany as well. The wine was light and refreshing and had a silky finish on the palate - perfect for the evening. Most folks ordered other food items as the evening went on. Favorites included the Fresh Garden Noodle Roll with chicken and shrimp served with spicy lime sauce, Chicken or Beef Satay with peanut sauce, Salt & Pepper Calamari served with sweet & sour sauce, Duck Salad tossed with red onion, chili flakes parched rice and spicy lime dressing, Lath Nah Rice Noodle in rich gravy sauce with broccoli, and various Wok Dishes whereby you choose chicken, beef or tofu as well as a sauce, the favorite for me being Broccoli with Oyster Sauce. The dish was hearty but not huge, the sauce was savory and delicious and the vegetables were all fresh and bright and nicely julienned for presentation. The group really enjoyed the evening, and I would pop back into the Monkey Bar again for any fun and casual occasion.

Citizen Thai and the Monkey Bar
1268 Grant Avenue in San Francisco

Friday, December 7, 2007

Tasty Dinner for a Cold Day

Since the weather is cooling off a bit, thought I would pass along a couple of really simply but totally delicious recipes. Cozy up inside your kitchen, perhaps open a nice bottle of a rich red wine and enjoy.

Rosemary Steak with Mushrooms
4 boneless beef loins or New York Strip Steaks, sliced into 1-inch thick strips
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces of white button or cremini mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
Kosher or sea salt
Coursly ground black pepper
Fresh rosemary sprigs
Mix the fresh rosemary, garlic, 1 tablespoon of oil, lemon peel, 1 teaspoon of salt and black pepper in a small bowl. Sliced the steaks. Rub the mixture onto the surface of the steaks. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour. Bring a large griddle or cast-iron skillet to high heat, add the steaks and cook for about 8 minutes per side, (or to desired doneness). Remove the steaks and let cool. Keep the pan on the heat and add the other tablespoon of oil to the remaining steak juices. Season with salt and pepper to taste and sautee until mushrooms are softened a bit and slightly browned. Serve the steaks topped with the mushroom mixture on a platter garnished with fresh rosemary sprigs and enjoy.

Broccoli Almondine
1 1/2 pounds broccoli, stems peeled, then head cut into 2-inch-wide spears
4 tablespoons of good olive oil
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Microwave the broccoli for 3 to 4 minutes on high heat. Cool broccoli 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat olive oil in pot over medium heat, add the almonds, and stir until oil and nuts are golden and have a nutty aroma, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon of kosher or sea salt. Add broccoli and toss.

Cheesy Sweet Potato Crisps
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled
1 1/2 cups finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese
2 egg whites
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
1/3 teaspoon sage
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
3/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
Parchment paper (or a Silpat liner)
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Finely grate sweet potatoes into a bowl. Squeeze grated sweet potatoes in batches to release as much moisture as possible and place in another bowl, and fluff with a fork. Stir in cheese, egg whites, rosemary, sage and pepper. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper. Spoon 1 rounded tablespoon batter onto cookie sheet and flatten into a thin, 2- to 2 1/2-inch round. Repeat with remaining batter, leaving 1 inch between rounds. Bake until edges and underside are crisp and browned, 13 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with salt, let cool slightly and remove from parchment. If it suits you, serve with a small bowl of sour cream topped with a few teaspoons of balsamic vinegar and a sprig of rosemary.

Happy Hour at John Colins

If you find yourself South of Market toward the end of a workday, check out happy hour at Jon Colins just across the street from Zebulon on Natoma. The vibe is casual and funky and the folks crowd the smallish space and are generally a really amiable group. Lighting is dim and decor is minimal, but the fun globe lights, bright Christmas-type lights near the high ceiling, upstairs DJ and lounge area and hip bartenders add a lot to the ambiance. Happy hour runs from 5 to 7pm and features $4 well drinks, Guiness and Boddington's, $3 imports and draft beers, $2 domestic bottled beers, and $1 off all other drinks. Wine by the glass runs around $6 for happy hour and the list is short but I imagine you'll find something you enjoy. The Pinot Grigio was refreshing and light. There aren't any food offerings but there are many tasty spots nearby. Enjoy.

John Colins
90 Natoma Street in San Francisco

Friday, November 30, 2007

Dinner at Alaturca

If you haven't tried Turkish food before, it's actually quite tasty and certainly approachable. Roughly speaking it's fairly similar to Greek food but with more heat and spice. The space is comfortable and the high ceilings make it seem larger than it is. There's not much decor but the vibe is still pleasant and welcoming. We were a large group on a Friday evening and we had the entire semi-private upstairs area to ourselves which was really nice. The short wine list has some interesting choices from California, Italy and of course Turkey. I went for one of the cheaper options, Salmon Creek Pinot Grigio, which was just fine and worked with the dishes we enjoyed. For appetizers, we had Eggplant Salad, Piyaz, Ezme and Hummus. The Eggplant Salad is nicely baked eggplant with red and green pepper, onion, parsley, lemon juice and olive oil. The vegetables work nicely together and the lemon juice lightens the dish a bit. Piyaz is white beans, parsley, red and green pepper, onion, lemon juice and olive oil all tossed together. It's tasty and the generous amount of beans makes it fairly hearty as well. The Ezme, crushed and roasted red bell pepper with tomato and onion and spices, is served on grilled pita bread and it works as a simple starter. The Hummus was quite tasty as well, though not as thick as I usually like. The appetizers are all under $5 a pop so it's not a bad idea to sample a bit. We also shared various platters for our entrees. The Doner, or beef sirloin and lamb spiced and roasted and thinly sliced, was tasty and the meat was nice and tender. There's also a Chicken Doner with the same preparation and presentation. We also had a few of the Kebab options which all had the same spice but all were nicely prepared and the meat wasn't overdone. We couldn't resist the Sucuk and Cheese pide, which was really tasty. Not sure about the Chicken and Pineapple combo on a pide, but I'd be curious to try it if I go back. There also are a few soups and salads and a short kid's menu. Alaturca is a cute and laid-back spot that's great for a casual meal, and definitely works for big groups. Hope you have the opportunity to pop by sometime.

869 Geary Street in San Francisco

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Pea and Avocado Hummus

Hope everyone had a great Turkey Day and is looking forward to the holiday season getting in full gear. Wanted to pass along an easy and light recipe for a great appetizer. It's a nice way to start out a meal, or even a good snack to have before a big soiree in hopes of not overindulging at the event. Enjoy.

Pea and Avocado Hummus
1 avocado
2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice
1 small clove of garlic, minced
2 4.9 ounce cans of sweet green peas, drained
1 tablespoon of kosher salt
Cut the avocado in half, remove the pit and scoop out the flesh. In a food processor, combine the avocado flesh, lime juice, garlic, peas and salt, and process until smooth. Serve with toasted whole wheat pita bread and vegetable crudites.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Tasty Sides for a Fun and Festive Thanksgiving

Hope you have some fun Thanksgiving plans to look forward to. My favorite holiday of the year, I certainly am quite excited about it. Either way, wanted to pass along a couple of my favorite sides dishes. Please enjoy.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Pancetta (Italian Bacon)
1 pound fresh Brussels sprouts, trimmed
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 ounces paper-thin slices pancetta, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
Partially cook the Brussels sprouts in a large pot of boiling salted water, about 4 minutes. Drain.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add the pancetta and saute until beginning to crisp, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until pale golden, about 2 minutes. Add the Brussels sprouts to the same skillet and saute until heated through and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Season with kosher salt and pepper, to taste. Add the broth and simmer until the broth reduces just enough to coat the Brussels sprouts, about 3 minutes. Serve and enjoy.

Butternut Squash with Pecans and Gorgonzola Cheese
4.5 pounds butternut squash
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 stalks fresh thyme or
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup pecans, roasted in a dry pan for 4 minutes on medium heat
1 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Halve the squash, leaving the skin on, and scoop out the seeds, then cut into 1-inch cubes; you don't need to be precise just keep the pieces uniformly small. Put into a roasting tin with the oil and strip about 4 stalks thyme of their leaves, sprinkling over the butternut squash. Roast in the oven for about 30 to 45 minutes or until tender. Once out of the oven, remove the squash to a bowl and scatter over the pecans and crumble over the cheese tossing everything together gently. Check the seasoning and add the last couple of stalks of thyme torn into small sprigs to decorate.

Cranberry and Goat Cheese Side
2 cans of jellied cranberry sauce
1 8 ounce log of good goat cheese
Chopped walnuts, roasted
1 teaspoon of good olive oil
Kosher salt and pepper
Arugula for garnish
This dish really couldn't be simpler, but the flavor combination really works well. Arrange the arugula on a long serving dish. Sprinkle with olive oil, kosher salt and black pepper to taste. Slice the the cranberry jelly in each can into 10 slices. It can be easier to start from the middle and slice your way toward the sides. Arrange on a long serving dish. Slice the log of goat cheese into thick but uniform slices, and put one piece of cheese in between each cranberry slice. Toast the almonds in a dry skillet for a few minutes on medium heat, until you can smell their aroma. Roughly chop the almonds and sprinkle over the dish. Enjoy.

Krupp Brothers Estate Wines at the California Wine Merchant

California Wine Merchant on Chestnut Street in San Francisco is a really cute wine shop that has a nice wine bar and a small offering of cheeses and breads to go along with the wines you taste, and they do tastings from time to time as well. Yesterday on offer were wines from Krupp Brothers Estate. The owner of the winery was on hand along with one of his operatives. Both really nice folks. The wines range in price from $54.95 to $109.95 a bottle, not generally in my price range, but they were definitely well-crafted and unique. We started with a Veraison 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, which was a fairly big wine with a bit of pepper that lingered on the palate after a sip. The Krupp Brothers 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, Stagecoach Vineyard was almost European big red wine in style, with alcohol being the main aftertaste. The Doctor, a blend of four grapes including mostly Tempranillo and Malbec, was slightly off in my opinion. Not fruity enough, but an interesting flavor combination for sure. We then tasted the Veraison 2004 Synchrony, Stagecoach Vineyard. Certainly more well-balanced than the previous selection, I enjoyed this wine but wasn't sure what food I would pair it with or if it would work on its own generally speaking. The last two selections were my favorites. A Black Bart 2004 Syrah, Stagecoach Vineyard, and a Joshua 2004 Syrah, Stagecoach Vineyard. The latter I thought was really special, but both exhibited nice fruit and good structure. At $15, the Monday tastings are a great way to sample wines you may not otherwise, and perhaps find a hidden treasure. Enjoy.

California Wine Merchant
2113 Chestnut Street in San Francisco

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Turkey Day Wine Tasting at William Cross

Last night at its regularly Wednesday wine tasting William Cross Wine Merchants had on offering their annual collection of Wines to Go with Thanksgiving. The tasting is quite popular so it was standing room only when we arrived. No matter though. We were handed a plate with white and dark meat turkey and some cranberry sauce along with our glasses and we were off and running. The first wine, a 2005 Domaine Stirn Tokay Pinot Gris Cuvee Prestige was absolutely delicious. Fruit-forward and slightly sweet and velvety on the palate. I had it with a bit of white meat turkey and it worked nicely, but I think it's range is fairly wide as far as lighter dishes go. This wine was my as well as my friend's favorite of the evening, though all of the selections were good. We then had a 2006 Bucklin Porter Vineyard Gewurztraminer from Sonoma. It was a sweet wine but not syrupy sweet at all but had a fairly light consistency and finish. It actually tasted really good with the dark turkey meat. The last of the white offerings was a 2005 Guillemot-Michel Quintaine Macon-Villages, which is a Chardonnay aged only in stainless steel. I enjoyed the wine since it wasn't oaked at all, and think it's a nice variety to try if you enjoy lighter-style Chardonnays. The first of the reds was a 2005 Michel Rey Julienas Tres Vielle Vigne. It was ripe with fruit and really tasty. A nice match with turkey for sure. The second red was a 2005 Carter Vineyards Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, Oregon. Ahhh, gorgeous. Fruit-forward and rich in color and well-balanced as most Pinots are. A perfect wine for the Turkey Day table for sure. We finished with a 2005 Culler "Casaeda" Syrah from the Sonoma Coast. It had a bit of spice to it and I enjoyed it and would recommend drinking it with heavier items on the holiday table. A really nice way to get excited about the best holiday of the year for sure.

William Cross Wine Merchants
2253 Polk Street in San Francisco

Friday, November 9, 2007

Foodie Films

Wanted to pass along a link to a really great list of food films. Some of my favorites are Mostly Martha, Babette's Feast, Big Night and Eat Drink Man Woman. If you haven't seen it, the recent Ratatouille is really cute and fun too. I am inspired by the list and excited there are quite a few I need to add to my "Want to See" list. Enjoy.

Happy Hour at Nook Cafe

Nook Cafe is a really cozy spot at the corner of Hyde Street and Jackson on Russian Hill where you can relax with a cup of coffee, enjoy a good glass of wine or have a casual and healthy meal. Happy hour is from 5 to 7p.m. on Monday through Friday, and features $3 house wines by the glass. The space is small but with high ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides of the spot, so it doesn't feel cramped at all. There's also free wi-fi until 6p.m. on weekdays which is a nice bonus. During the day it's easily a spot you can just hang out at while reading or perhaps getting some work done. At night it's somewhat romantic even and a great venue for having a nice glass of wine or two and a bite. The menu is a fusion of Mediterranean and Californian flavors and concentrates on items that are healthy (low fat, bran, natural ingredients, organic, vegan…), flavorful and imaginative. I almost always love hummus, and their version is thick and tasty and is served with olive tapenade, cucumber, tomatoes and warm pita bread. Nook also offers several delicious salads, my favorite of which is the Spinach Salad with apples, caramelized walnuts and Gorgonzola in a raspberry walnut dressing. You can add chicken to any of the salads for only $2 so it makes for an inexpensive light meal as well. There are also a few sandwiches on the menu, all of which feature great ingredient combinations. Selections include a Honey Baked Ham Sandwich with Fontina cheese and sage on whole wheat baguette, a Turkey Sandwich with melted Brie and cranberry sauce on baguette; and a Chicken Sandwich with hummus, red onions and mixed Lebanese herbs on Ciabatta bread. Breakfast items include egg sandwiches, bagels with various toppings and spreads and pastries. It's a really adorable neighborhood spot to spend a little while in, and one with inexpensive and tasty food and drink.

Nook Cafe
1500 Hyde Street in San Francisco

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

London Wine Bar

I think quite a few folks probably walk or drive by the London Wine Bar on Sansome and Sacramento downtown, but for whatever reason don't usually choose to pop in and give it a try. It's conveniently located and is a fairly immediate transport away from downtown of sorts when you enter. It bills itself as America's oldest wine bar, and offers over 1300 selections. The ambiance is "old school" with rustic furniture, dark wood tabletops and bar, old pictures and paintings and just an overall feeling of comfort and warmth. The service generally isn't quite attentive, so you may have to be a bit proactive in your ordering, but the staff is quite nice. The wine list has a nice range and is fairly well-priced as well. I have been several times recently and have tried the Deinhard Riesling, which is off dry and floral with a clean and smooth finish. Other selections I have tasted include a Baystone Syrah from Dry Creek, which is fairly big yet fruit-forward, and a Di Bruno Sangiovese which is well-balanced and velvety on the palate. During the evening complimentary cheddar and jack cheese cubes as well as crackers are offered. The food menu is short but the items, such as cheese and meat plates, salads, crostini and smoked salmon, work well with wine. It's a nice retreat in the middle of downtown, and perfect for an after-work glass of wine to linger over.

London Wine Bar
415 Sansome Street in San Francisco

Friday, November 2, 2007

Cav Wine Bar

It's great that there are so many great wine bars in and around San Francisco. I have only been back in town for a few weeks now but it has been fun learning about all of the new spots and of course taking time to check them out as well. I recently had the pleasure of going to Cav Wine Bar on Market Street just down from Zuni Cafe. The space is a bit dark with dim lighting, dark walls and flooring and dark gray metal bar and tabletops. The color scheme is black, grey and red. The decor is quite minimal and the overall vibe is hip and modern. The bar area spans the left side of the front portion of the space with tables to the right and in the back area as well. Around 6ish it isn't too crowded so that's a nice time to arrive and get seats if you can. I decided to try the Chateau Ksara Gewurztraminer from Lebanon. It was floral and honeysuckle on the nose, and sweet but not too sweet as far as taste goes. The texture was velvety and the color slightly golden. I really enjoyed it so I stayed with that throughout the evening. My friend started with the Sylvaner "Flood Family Vineyard" Riesling from Santa Barbara County and then went on to Weingut Juris "Selection" Pinot Noir from Austria. Both got good reviews. The food at Cav Wine Bar is elegantly presented and, not surprisingly, all goes quite well with wine. There is a nice selection of cheese as well as a few bites, small plates, large plates and desserts. We were snacking at had the Sweet Potato Fries, which arrive in a cone-shaped container and are absolutely delicious. The fries are fairly thick-cut and are perfectly salted with kosher salt flakes. They are crisp yet still fairly light, and yes you are eating fries but sweet potatoes actually have a lot great nutrients as well as fiber, so why not indulge a bit? We also had a selection of three cow's milk cheese, all of which were delicious. The servers are knowledgeable and friendly and always seem to be around when your glass turns empty. Cav Wine Bar is a great place to unwind with great wine and food after work, or to pop into to enjoy some wine after a meal.

Cav Wine Bar
1666 Market Street in San Francisco

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Dinner at Alborz Restaurant

Alborz Restaurant, a Persion spot on Van Ness and Sutter, isn't much to look at from the outside, but it's comfortable and warm when you enter and a perfect place to go for a meal before or after a movie at the theater a couple of blocks away. The staff is friendly and the food comes out fairly fast, and the menu has a range of options most folks can easily be happy with. On the table when you sit down is lavash bread served with small bowls of Greek yogurt flavored with cucumber and mint. It's a refreshing snack while you browse the menu items. There is a short wine list as well which includes several options in the sparkling, white and red categories. I had a Gewurztraminer from California which was fairly sweet but still a nice pairing with the food to come. We started with Hummus which was thick and rich and salted nicely which really brought out the flavor of the tahini and the chickpeas. To my surprise, one of the diners had never had hummus before, but he seemed to enjoy it. Others had the Torshee, or pickled vegetables; Dolma, ground beef seasoned with fresh herbs, rice and lentils and wrapped in grape leaves; and Kashk Bodemjan, roasted eggplant with fried onion, garlic mint and yogurt sauce. For my main I had a Green Salad served with a Chicken Koobideh (or Kabob) which came with house dressing on the side. The salad was fairly small but the Kabob was huge and quite tasty. The chicken is golden in color thanks to saffron in the sauce and it's also quite garlicky. The dressing is creamy and really not even needed since the chicken is so flavorful. Others enjoyed various Kabob Combinations (beef, lamb, salmon and the like) which come with Basmati rice and grilled tomato, as well as House Specials which include Ghorme Sabze, cubed beef cooked in onions, scallions, chives leeks and kidney beans; and Fesenjoon, or crushed walnuts cooked in a pomegranate sauce and served over chicken. The specials were a bit heartier than the other menu items but got good reviews overall. Alborz is a fairly inexpensive spot for a casual meal and one I hope you have a chance to enjoy.

Alborz Restaurant
1245 Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Picaro, Inexpensive Tapas in the Mission

The Mission certainly offers quite a few tasty choices as far as tapas spots go, but Picaro is one which is centrally located, consistently tasty and inexpensive. There are four tables outside for enjoying your meal when the weather is nice, and the indoor portion of the restaurant is good-sized and earth tones, simple wood tables and other furnishings, Spanish paintings and other decor and friendly staff give off a nice and comfortable vibe. There's a short wine list as well as several beers on tap and sangria on offer as far as libations go. I had the Marques de Riscal, a dry white wine, last time I was there and at $5 a glass it certainly works just fine. Patatas Bravas, the standard fried potato dish, is nice and somewhat spicy at Picaro. Tortilla de Patata, potato and oniion omelet; Championes de Ajillo, or mushrooms sauteed with garlic; Pollo al Ajillo or garlic chicken, are other standbys that Picaro does well. I also almost always order grilled calamari when I see it on a menu since I much prefer it to the fried variety, and Picaro's take on the dish is delicious. Ropa Vieja, or stew with beef, chicken and chorizo is another solid dish. Picaro is a good place to just know about and stop in when you are in the neighborhood and are looking for a relaxed place to enjoy tapas for not a lot of money. Enjoy.

3120 16th Street in San Francisco

Monday, October 29, 2007

Amelie Le Bar de Vin on Polk Street

I have been wanting to try Amelie, especially since it's in my neighborhood, and was really happy when the chance came to pop by last Friday night. We arrived around 7:30ish and the place was hopping - standing room only at the bar and full tables. The space is sort of railroad in style with a somewhat narrow width and much longer space from front to back of house. The tall bar back spans one side of the venue and the other is adorned with a handsome mirror. Hues of rich red and earthy tones generally lend a really appealing ambiance, and a shiny bar top and loads of pretty little candles add a really nice warmth as well. The furniture is minimal which works in the smallish space and goes with the generally clean lines and modern vibe. We were seated on the inside end of the bar area and thus had a perfect view of the small kitchen-space they have in the restaurant section of the space and which they use to make several of the menu items, including a couple of which my friend and I ended up ordering. The wine and food menu is a printout which is clipped to a vintage vinyl of one or another variety - a cute touch. There are various epithets and other quick blurbs regarding wine and enjoying life and each other's company and the like in various spots which makes for fun eye wandering. I was tempted by many of the offerings on the approachable and well-crafted yet not at all overwhelming wine list. I chose a somewhat lesser-known white variety from Austria - Gruner Veltliner, which was really nice and light and a decent value at $8 a glass. My friend had the Bordeaux Chateaux Bonnet Reserve Merlot which had really nice fruit character and was well-balanced and smooth on the palate. We both enjoyed our selections quite a bit and stayed with them for the duration of the evening. I would say most folks were having some sort of snack with their libations, though I imagine later in the evening it's more of just a wine bar and not also a spot for food as well. We shared a Mixed Lettuce Salad with grilled fennel and lemon-herb vinaigrette; Flatbread with portobello mushrooms, caramelized onions, watercress, balsamic reduction and topped with oregano; and Roasted Peanuts topped with sea salt. The salad was crisp and tasty and only lightly dressed which was nice. The flatbread was tasty, although a bit heavy on the onions for my taste. A nice flavor pairing with the crisp wine though. Next time I go back I want to try a Roasted Pork dish that's served with faro and vegetables and perhaps the Miyagi Oysters and the Cheese and Charcuterie Plate. Amelie is really cute neighborhood spot and one ideal for lingering over wine and small plates for the duration of an evening.

1754 Polk Street in San Francisco

Friday, October 26, 2007

Happy Hour at Ozumo

If you haven't been to Ozumo just South of Market near the Embarcadero, it's a really nice after-work spot with a good happy hour that runs from 4 to 6 p.m. in the bar area. The ambiance is clean, modern and has a strong Asian feel (which matches the cuisine), and the general vibe is hip and fun. Drink specials include several varieties of sake for $5 and a white and a red house wine each for $4 a glass. I had the Sauvignon Blanc and it was fruity, crisp and refreshing. The "Izakaya Pub" food options include 3 types of sushi rolls, edamame, soy-ginger edamame and a edamame shiso salad. The edamame is nicely salted with kosher salt which I like as otherwise I think the flavor doesn't really come out. I don't usually drink sake but I tried my friend's Dewakakura "Dewasansan Namagenshu" which was clean and fairly smooth and has a sweet finish on the palate. The general contemporary Japanese menu has numerous tasty sushi and sashimi options as well as small plates, soups and salads, hot pots, desserts and teas, and there is always at least one Omakase, or "chef's choice" menu available. There are amazing views in the restaurant area so be sure to call ahead and ask for a table with a view if you are so inclined. If you choose not to stay for dinner there are plenty of other options nearby including Shanghai 1930, Chaya Brasserie, Mexico DF and Tonno Rosso.

161 Steuart Street in San Francisco

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Olea Opens at California and Larkin

A new spot to pop by, Olea, opened yesterday on California and Larkin in San Francisco. The space is somewhat small yet elegantly and simply decorated, and the cuisine is American and Mediterranean featuring local ingredients. Hues of rich, deep red and warm lighting yield a comfortable ambiance. The menu and wine options are fairly limited but certainly appealing and approachable. Options include appetizers of Grilled Shrimp with Black Rice, and Butter Bean Crostini with Arugula. Entrees range from Halibut with a Green Bean Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette, and a Vegan Plate with farro, broccoli and walnuts. Desserts are simple and well thought out and include a tasty Cheesecake with layers of vanilla, walnut and chocolate with a top that is crisp thanks to a flame torch used for creme brulee and which is also accented with swirls of a blackberry coulis. Looks to be a casual neighborhood spot and one I recommend checking out for sure.

1494 California Street at Larkin in San Francisco

Maverick American Eatery & Wine Bar in the Mission

Last night I had the pleasure of joining a nice group of folks for dinner at Maverick in the Mission. It was a gorgeous and quite warm evening outside and a lovely occasion for a fun dinner out. Located just off Mission Street on 17th Street, Maverick is a small place but one with style and class for sure. Clean, minimal decor, brick walls, nicely finished hardwood floors and simple furnishings lend an elegant feel to the ambiance, and one which meshes well with the somewhat simple yet delicious menu options. The glass windows which stretch from floor to ceiling and form the front of the restaurant were opened throughout the evening, allowing us to enjoy the warm weather while at our long table just near the entrance to the space. The restaurant uses fresh, seasonal ingredients in combinations which aren't always one you may have had before. We ordered family style so each of us were easily able to sample quite a few of the menu items. To start the evening, I ordered a glass of Tocai Friulano David Noyes, North Coast, 2004. The nose was somewhat grassy yet clean and the finish was refreshing and tasty. A perfect choice for the wine ranging food options to come. We started with Sugar Pie Pumpkin Fritters, which come with toasted cumin and coriander yogurt sauce and are served on a bed of arugula. The fritters were light yet crisp and quite sweet, and the yogurt sauce was a nice cut to the fry. We also sampled the Maverick Salad, which is baby mixed lettuce, Thompson seedless grapes, Persian cucumber, aged goat cheese lightly dressed with champagne vinaigrette; Lobster and Shrimp Salad, which is butter lettuce, sugar snap peas, diced yam and Yukon gold potatoes with flambeau radish; Baltimore Crab Fluffs, which have a nice amount of lump crab meat and are served with tartar sauce; and Barbecue Meatballs, which are beef, veal and lamb meatballs with pomegranate and smoked chili barbecue sauce, creme fraiche and sliced baguette for soaking up the tasty sauce. The meatballs were delicious and really had the sweet/savory components working nicely in tandem. I wasn't a huge fan of the Lobster Salad as I thought the creamy dressing was a bit overdone and didn't allow the essence of the lobster and shrimp to shine. For entrees, we tried the Grilled Caribbean Cobia, Braised Creekstone Farm Beef Short Ribs, Grilled Broken Arrow Ranch Antelope, and Southern Fried Chicken. The fish was perfectly cooked and served with warm farro salad, roasted brussel sprouts, chestnuts, carrots, celery and leeks with a gremolata sauce. The sauce was slightly sweet and the balsamic vinegar essence was very tasty and a nice complement to the fish and vegetables. The Short Ribs were melt in your mouth tender and delicious and the chanterelles they were served with soaked up all of the rich sauce and were very tasty. I had never had antelope before and was quite pleasantly surprised by this dish. The antelope wasn't all that gamy really and had a nice, earthy flavor. The pesto-like sauce it came with was delicious and didn't overpower the flavor of the meat. The Fried Chicken was, not surprisingly, delicious and decadent. The chicken meat was nice and moist and the fried coating wasn't too thick but was crispy and tasty nonetheless. It's served with blue lake green beans, smashed fingerling potatoes and with andouille sausage gravy which is salty and has great depth of briny sausage flavor. Maverick is an elegant yet approachable venue, as is its menu, and really a lovely spot to spend time and enjoy a delicious meal. I think the group generally all had a really positive experience. They also do Saturday and Sunday brunch, which I am curious to go back for.

3316 17th Street in San Francisco

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Happy Hour Everyday

Walking around my new
neighborhood I noticed a sign with a quite appealing iteration - happy hour from 3 to 7pm seven days a week. How perfect that the spot, Ti Piacera, is not only a comfortable and appealing restaurant with very friendly bar and waitstaff, but it is only a couple of blocks from home. During happy hour, rail drinks and house wines (whites are Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay, and the red is a Merlot) are $3 a glass, and appetizers (except the fresh oysters on the half shell) are half off. The Calamari Fritti served with marinara sauce, thick and rich Hummus with Toasted Pita Wedges, and Involtini Melanzane, or pan seared eggplant stuffed with mozzarella and mushrooms topped with roasted bell pepper coulis, are all tasty, and a nice accompaniment to an early-evening glass of wine or two. The bar area is quite easy to hang out in, and offers 3 seats with a great view of the Polk Street passersby. The general lunch and dinner menus are nice as well, offering various Italian and a few Mediterranean dishes, which are affordable and approachable. The wine list is fairly inexpensive and while not in-depth, you can most likely easily find something to your liking. A great casual neighborhood spot for sure.

Ti Piacera
1507 Polk Street at California in San Francisco

Monday, October 15, 2007

Back in the Bay Area

It's only been 2 days so far, but it is amazing and rejuvenating to be back in San Francisco. Ahhhh, the crisp air, chill in the wind, and more than amazing local produce and other ingredients to use while cooking and enjoy while dining out. I hope to make this blog fun and interesting and useful, much as folks described my blog - which is still up and running thanks to a good friend. I hope the Bay Area is my home for good this time around, and look forward to sharing my experiences, foodie and otherwise, with good people. Cheers to proponents of local and organic ingredients, going to the market often for fresh ingredients, and perhaps most importantly - taking time out each day to savor and enjoy nature's bounty and the richness life can impart to each of use if we only take a moment to step back and really take it all in.