Friday, June 27, 2014

Chris Cosentino's Porcellino

Aside from the feeling of home, San Francisco is one of my favorite cities in the US because it really is one of the world's best food cities.  Real food, local markets, global influences, and unpretentious eating.  This is what food and dining should strive for, and it's easy to find in San Francisco - even when you're at celebrity chefs' restaurants.

The prime example of this is in Chris Cosentino's restaurants.  He's a celebrity chef who I love to watch on television - originality and playfulness shining on his food and personality.  Last year, I visited Incanto for my nephew's third birthday dinner.  I know what you're thinking - A 3 year old's dinner at a celebrity chef's restaurant??  Aside from a well behaved boy, the restaurant was actually incredibly kid friendly and ready with high chairs and crayons to color in cartoon pigs.  The service was friendly and well trained, and the food was impeccable - just as I imagined everything would be at his restaurant.

Flash forward half a year,  the restaurant would be closing to renovate and rejuvenate into a new concept also by Cosentino.  Flash forward another few months, and enter Porcellino.  In the same space as Incanto, with almost the same look (with some new art work) the restaurant has turned into a casual neighborhood spot.  Casual in the relaxed sense and not cheap while maintaining its classiness

You order at the counter, get a number, seat yourself, and the food is shortly brought to your table.  The menu consists of pig parts, pastas, and more.  There are familiar items from Incanto, as well as the daily blackboard of specials.

Porcellino makes celebrity chef dining highly approachable and hits all those expectations.  As friendly as Incanto was, Porcellino is somehow even friendlier - perfect for the neighborhood and those wanting a spontaneous night out.

Chicharrones, pecorino, rosemary, and chilli

Pate di Campagna, radishes, cornichons

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A San Francisco legacy reborn

A San Francisco legacy reborn in the hands of a world class celebrity chef.  Tosca Cafe is a low key legend for its late night patrons like Sean Penn, Johnny Depp, and other celebrities and politicians dating back to the 80s.  As decades passed and food became a greater priority, the bar reopened as more of a restaurant bar in the hands of April Bloomfield and her trustworthy partners.

After seeing Bloomfield's Instagram photo that she was in SF for the week, I jumped at the chance for an early dinner at the no reservations restaurant.  A short 20 minute wait later, which flew by at the bar with a delicious Negroni, we were seated at a cozy booth that had a great view of the kitchen and restaurant while remaining private.  Even though we didn't catch a glimpse of Bloomfield in the kitchen, you can tell she was there because of the energized vibe of the whole staff.  They were all performing their best because the big boss was in town.  This was a great first impression of the restaurant and April Bloomfield.

Tosca Cafe is a great place to relax, enjoy sips of drinks, and bites of food.  The cocktails are crafted with a depth, many of which are classics of the bar.  The pastas are both traditional and some have a world class touch.  My favorite dish of the night was a chicken liver pasta with balsamic and sage - so simple and brilliant.  (And knowing that she is inspired by the Filipino adobo, you can totally taste the influence.)  The night was comfortable, tasty, and awakened my taste buds.  I'll definitely be going back for more, and now I'll also make a greater effort to dine at Bloomfield's Spotted Pig and the Breslin in New York City.

A negroni while reading the menu
Casino Bar Negroni 1919.  Beefeater Gin, Campari, Antica Formula, Orange Peel, Hand Cut Cube

Monday, June 23, 2014

Family Style at Ad Hoc

Yountville is Thomas Keller country.  And rightfully so.  French Laundry, Bouchon, Ad Hoc, Addendum - all highly talked about and highly loved.

If you want a casual but quality family dining experience, Ad Hoc is the place for you.  On Easter Sunday, we landed a lunch reservation on Open Table.  We were hoping to get fried chicken on the menu, as Addendum was still hibernating.  But you only find out the menu for the day on the day itself.  And what is on the menu is all that you'll get.  It's fixed family style that increases in quantity depending on how many people are at the table.

For our particular menu, we had an Endive Salad, Fish and Chips, Ribeye, a cheese course, and Sundaes.  I was really impressed with the fish and chips - the best fish and chips I've eaten so far.  Perfect batter around a light white fish.  This kitchen does magic with fried dishes.  The salad was a bit underwhelming and the ribeye wasn't too special either.  But everything was fun, quality, and the service was excellent.  They even accommodated with an extra cheese plate when one person at our table couldn't eat the goat cheese.  This is what service is about, and these are the memories you take with you.  The sundaes were a fun ending, especially with kids at the table.  It's admittedly easy to prepare as it was deconstructed.  But, these were some of the tastiest sauces ever - caramel, chocolate, and strawberry.  You can taste the thought put into these toppings.

I'll definitely find myself at Ad Hoc again.  If I really want the fried chicken, though, I'll make it out back to Addendum since it's finally during these warmer months.  It's a fun idea that you don't know the menu until that day and it's family style.  It creates an opened minded dining experience with the warmth of sharing everything with your table.

Apple and endive salad

Fish and chips

Ribeye with Yorkshire puddings and creamed spinach

Friday, June 20, 2014

A relaxing meal at the Oxbow Public Market

Napa Valley is a place not just for wine, but also for fantastic food.  After all, it's only natural because of how perfectly food and wine pair with each other.

Before, after, during, or instead of a day of the usual wine tasting around the valley, downtown Napa offers a haven for food lovers in the Oxbow Public Market.  This market brought me back to Spain - how it's set up, the cleanliness, and the variety of food vendors selling their dishes and products with passion.

You can nibble around the various small dishes or you can also sit down for a meal.  Ca'Momi is the perfect place in the market for a relaxing meal, and it's great for families and parties.  The Italian restaurant specializes in Italian pizzas, but also offers some memorable slow cooked plates.  They serve one of the best places of liver and onions I've ever tasted.  I'm a huge fan of quality liver and onions, and this topped it in my list.  Even if you don't like the dish, you just might be a convert with how clean and smooth it tasted.  The restaurant also pours delicious wine on tap, and has a variety of fun desserts including cream puffs for a light ending to a big meal.

Glass of Bianco di Napa on tap

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Eating and drinking the night away in Ichiza in Las Vegas

Thanks to The Strip, Las Vegas has solidified a place as one of America's best food cities.  But not all the best eats are on The Strip.  There are a good number that are not only Off The Strip, but also so deliciously affordable.

Ichiza in Las Vegas is one of my favorite restaurants.  There are so many well-rated restaurants on Yelp, but few are actually as good as reviewed.  Ichiza is better than good.  Even in an area full of Asian eats, this establishment is as great as places in Tokyo.

Every night the restaurant is full of locals and Japanese both young and in town for business.  There's always a wait and line, but it's worth it.  The place is boisterous for a reason.  And it's a reason your palate and stomach will happily understand at the end of the night.

There's a standard menu that doesn't change, and written all throughout the walls are the ever-changing daily specials.  The perfection of the regular menu and the constant introduction of new items brings you back again and again.  Plus, to make it more fun all this food is perfect for a long night of eating and drinking.  If you want to keep drinking, you can also keep ordering.  The plates come out in nice small portions for variety.  But save room for dessert!  Ichiza serves one of the best honey toasts around.  It's simple but so memorably good.

Toro sashimi

Toro salad

Friday, June 06, 2014

Discovering Malaysian Cuisine in Kuala Lumpur

When it comes time to choosing a destination, I let my stomach do the deciding.  Kuala Lumpur was my chosen destination because it's a new city, and I had yet to really discover Malaysian cuisine.

It's so much fun to learn about a culture through it's food.  You learn about local ingredients, local diets, and how other cultures and countries have influenced them through their cuisine.  Over the course of a few days, we feasted of Malay cuisine, Indian cuisine, and surprisingly had a really great burger.

It may be "playing it safe" but I enjoy hotel restaurants.  When you stay at a good hotel (I'm talking about five star status), you have the reassurance of quality ingredients and handling.  And, many of the chefs are locals with a good background in culinary education which means the food they serve is not only authentic but possibly also with a higher level of thought and sophistication.

At the Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur, you get some of the best views of the Petronas Towers and some of the most enjoyable eating at their local cuisine restaurant, JP Teres.  It's Malaysian cuisine that's clean, classy, and quality - exactly how I like to eat.  We ate here for majority of our meals because it's that good.  Breakfasts and dinners, both a la carte and buffet.

Prior to discovering our hotel's restaurant, we also explored the selections at the nearby Suria KLCC Mall.  Madam Kwan's is a local restaurant serving classic Malaysian cuisine in a casual environment.  You can sample the country in one sitting.

For a brief break in between Malaysian and Indian dishes, we also enjoyed the view and burgers at the hotel's Thirty8 restaurant.  This is definitely one of the better burgers I've had in Asia.

Overall, the eating in Kuala Lumpur provides a unique diversity of cultures and flavors.  It's definitely worth a visit to explore and taste for yourself.

Breakfast at JP Teres
Nasi lemak, tosai,  and samosas
All this for $10 USD!  Not bad at all for a hotel restaurant.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Exploring Kuala Lumpur

A new South East Asian destination to explore - Kuala Lumpur!  KL is a bustling city with diverse cultures.  The blend of cultures are distinct and contribute to the unique Malaysian experience.

The city is most known for the Petronas Twin Towers, which was the tallest tower in the world from 1998 to 2004.  From all angles, and day and night, the towers are truly a sight to see in person.  Whether from down below near the Suria KLCC Mall or up in the buildings nearby (the Grand Hyatt hotel in our case), it's pretty awesome.

I'm not a fan of big tours, especially those big bus tours.  I like exploring places from my own research or from private tours where the guide can really take the time to explain everything and answer all your questions.  A half day tour of KL booked through the hotel concierge took us around the historical and cultural sights of the city: from the royal palace, to the memorial grounds, to the mosque, and then for some chocolate indulgence, and finally art and clothing shopping from local vendors.

Aside from the private tour, you can also learn so much in a city's national museum.  KL's Muzium Negara was the highlight of the trip.  Malaysia's history with its surrounding neighbors is so deep and rich.  The mix of Malay, Chinese, and Indians have really contributed to the history and culture of the country and in the density of KL.

The view from our hotel room

The view at night