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.