Thursday, December 18, 2014

Finally made it to State Bird Provisions

Just as the State Bird Provisions team opens up their second concept, Progress, I finally got to try the much-talked about restaurant a few months ago.  SBP has gotten incredible critical acclaim from top reviewers and the everyday folk eating there.

All these rave reviews and hype... they are accurate.  The food covers the globe, with a lot of Japanese and Asian influences.  And because of that Asian touch, with the relaxed vibe, this place is such a hit.

Reservations in SBP is not easy.  OpenTable 60 days in advance, or line up early for a walk in spot.  It's worth the anticipation either way.  My friends were kind enough to email the restaurant to secure a table for 8.  If you get to the restaurant early, they encourage you to have a glass of wine around the corner at Fat Angel to kill the time.  Wine really helps to spark your appetite.

Our party of 8 had a pre-set menu of 4 courses, which included 17 dishes, and any more dishes we wanted to of red wine and a glass of white (with a meal this eclectic, a red and white is a must to pair all the foods), the price is so affordable for all that you get.  It's really like you're eating in Europe and Asia.

All was served as little bites and family style.  This really emphasizes the relaxed, friendly atmosphere.  These are the kind of places I love because they remind me of Spain's tapas bars and Japan's yakitori shops.  There's absolutely no pretense - it's just the food and your companions.  Casual surroundings, serious eating.

4 courses, 17 dishes

Monday, December 15, 2014

San Francisco's Pizzeria Delfina in Palo Alto

Pizza is one of my top comfort foods.  But it's not just any pizza.  I love artisan and Napoletana style pizzas.  The best pizzas have a fully-cooked chewy dough (chewy from the high quality of the flour), not soggy in the middle, and can sometimes even have a nice crunch while maintaining the chewy bite.  The toppings don't overwhelm, instead they balance the whole pie with the quality of choice and seasonal ingredients.  The perfect pizza is not about that one perfect bite, it's about that experience of the whole slice.

Being a pizza lover, I have a small, but growing list of favorite pizza restaurants around the world.  Growing up the Bay Area, San Francisco plays a part in that list of favorite places.  Delfina is one spot that will always have my interest.  In its original location in the Mission, it's known for wait times of more than an hour.  Lining up for food in this street in the Mission is worth it.  Food here at Delfina, pastries at Tartine, and ice cream at Bi-Rite.

Now that my home base is away from the Peninsula, Delfina has additional locations around the Bay Area including one in Palo Alto.  Growing up in the area meant frequent meals in Palo Alto.  Sunday lunches at Empire Tap Grill was the perfect spot for nice sunny days.  That perfect place for outdoor eating is now housed by Delfina.  Great food, drinks, and family friendly.  This is ideal for families wanting a nice meal together in a relaxed, casual environment.  While it's good for families, it's also a great place for food and pizza lovers.

Just like its San Francisco location, this Palo Alto location has a selection of antipastis, seasonal vegetables, and pizzas.  They also have some of the tastiest meatballs in the area.  Now you don't have to drive all the way up to the city for a quality slice of great pizza.

21st Amendment's Watermelon Wheat Beer
A local summer brew

Local Spanish style spicy peppers

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Contigo in the Noe Valley

Aside from the eating and drinking, Spanish tapas is so enjoyable because of its social aspect.  Tapas is designed for groups to enjoy the night together, and the more you eat and drink the more you enjoy your social environment.

San Francisco has a big selection of Spanish restaurants.  Wanting to try something new, Contigo in Noe Valley was a great choice to nibble on tapas and catch up with friends.  Noe Valley is a quieter neighborhood in the city that has that restaurants with big flavors and that small neighborhood friendly vibe.

Contigo's Catalan inspired dishes are plated for sharing.  They have small bites that you would find at typical tapas and pinchos bars, as well as bigger plates, or raciones.  They have classic plates like boquerones (white anchovies) and albondigas (meatballs), as well as dishes serving seasonal selections.  The cocas (Spanish flatbread, aka pizza) have toppings highlighting was freshest in the markets at the moment.

Contigo means "with you", making this restaurant is a perfect place for smaller groups, dates, and neighborhood families to enjoy conversation over a meal with good food and quality Spanish drinks.

Seard caƱa de cabra goat cheese
With pears, persimmons, arugula, hazelnuts, fennel, basil, px vinagreta

Monday, December 08, 2014

Chiarello's Coqueta

There are a few cuisines that I can eat all the time.  Spanish tapas is absolutely on this list.  Traditional and modern, I love them both equally.  It's the idea of sipping wines, sangrias, cocktails, and beers along side small plates of flavor-filled bites.  And it's shared in a social setting where you leisurely take in the tastes and let the alcohol buzz slowly linger through the meal and into the evening.

I love the tapas so much that I was willing to eat at a restaurant that I've been on the fence about.  I'm a fan of nice guys and a hater of douchebags.  When I watched Top Chef and Top Chef Masters, I gained a horrible impression of Michael "How do you say my name" Chiarello.  What a douche!  Is he really like this in real life?

Against all odds, I found myself in his newest San Francisco restaurant along the Embarcadero.  Why??  Because it was all about Spanish tapas and the reviews have been greatly positive.  Coqueta, meaning "flirt" or "infatuation", interprets Spanish tapas in a playful and modern way.

To my chagrin... the food was awesome.  The cocktails and Spanish wines selection are thoughtful, and the tapas are innovative while making you feel like you're actually in Spain.

And just when I resigned myself to think that he's an okay guy because he's food is so good... A shiny Lexus pulls up next to the restaurant, on the sidewalk.  Out comes a guy who moves like he owns the sidewalk.  As fate would have it, just as I was softening up to the guy, Chiarello himself walks into the restaurant, passes by the two or three tables of patrons, and schmoozes with his managers.  Our server saw us looking and talking about him and thought we were gushing fans (hah!).  She offered to have him take a photo with us.  We politely smiled and didn't reject nor accept the offer, as we wanted to see how it would play out.  Minutes later, he walked out, still bypassing his customers, and parked his car properly.  More minutes later, he came back in, again not acknowledging any diners, and sat in a corner table reviewing business with a manager.  Now, I'm not saying he had to talk to everyone.  But what's it to simply smile at the people eating your food?

The build up of these minutes made the food that we thoroughly enjoyed taste different.  As great as it was, I don't want to give my money to a guy like this.  I'll save it and go to Spain where the Spanish chefs are so genuinely nice, smile fully, and converse with their customers.

Eating at the bar

Tariff Gin & Tonic
Jamon Iberico infused gin, acorn and apricot tonic, orange, and cava

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Robata in Santa Clara

After the first two visits to Sumika (within the same week), I was curious about the owner's third restaurant (the first being Orenchi).

Iroriya is located in the same strip mall as Orenchi in Santa Clara.  It's actually right next door.  To the right of the ramen shop's entrance is an unmarked wooden door.  If it wasn't for reviews and blogs, new customers would have no idea about Iroriya.  Word of mouth works.

Robata is grilled foods over a special Japanese white charcoal, binchotan.  The proteins are primarily seafood as this kind of cooking originated from Japanese fisherman.  Reservations are highly recommended for this place.  When you do get seated, first check out the daily and seasonal specials.

Diners come here ready to spend.  The seafood selections are premium fishes and shellfish.  And a great pairing with this kind of food is sake and sochu, which you see many bottles around the tables.

This is a great, authentic robata experience for seafood lovers.  If I had to choose between the two, I readily go back to Sumika because of the variety of the menu, the meat options, and the fact that it's a bit more affordable so that eating there often won't hurt your wallet as much.

Robata counter

Cold mug of Sapporo draft beer

Monday, December 01, 2014

Sumika Grill in Los Altos. My new favorite restaurant in the Bay Area.

After these past several years of living and traveling throughout Asia, my expectations for Asian food has new standards.  I'm looking for vibrancy and the flavors you get when you eat these dishes in their home countries.

There are certain US cities that do well overall in re-creating the authenticity.  There are also too many restaurants in the US that have Americanized the cuisine for acceptance or cost reasons.  And that changes the experience if you really want that type of cuisine.  Sure, there are time you want Americanized Chinese food or Japanese sushi rolls.  But for the most part, I look for the real stuff in hopes of re-living my food travel experiences.

Japanese yakitori and izakaya are meals I can have as often as Spanish tapas - which I can eat every day.  It's all about taking your time to eat and drink with a variety of food.

I found my new favorite restaurant, which actually opened back in 2008, in the San Francisco Peninsula, and it's as authentic and vibrant as any yakitori restaurant in Japan.  And it's just in Los Altos - a town that is predominantly Caucasian, where I grew up occasionally dining on overpriced Americanized Chinese and Japanese meals with my high school friends.

Sumika is a Japanese grill specializing in yakitori.  Why trust this place?  Because of their reputation.  They are also the owners of the ever busy Orenchi Ramen in Santa Clara, and now San Francisco as well.  Orenchi's ramen is also on par to some of Japan's better bowls.

In the course of our 5 week stay in the Bay Area, we dined at Sumika at least twice a week.  We tried almost everything on the lunch and dinner menus, and it was consistent every time.  Aside from their grilled selections, the donburis are also so comforting and remarkable.  Plus, they have a good selection of sakes and sochus, as well as draft beers to make the night of eating even more fun.

Just writing about this and looking back at the pictures makes me excited for my next Bay Area visit.

Open kitchen