Monday, April 20, 2009

Quick Update: Bar Tartine Revisit

With the quality of its Tartine Bakery heritage and the original chef's pedigree (Cafe Boulud), I was excited to dine at Bar Tartine when it opened a few years ago. After a couple uneven meals, I was left with the impression that it wasn't worth the hype, let alone the long waits.

Things continually change in the restaurant business however, and with new chef Jason Fox taking the helm a while ago I had started hearing more positive reviews from reliable sources and decided to venture once again to this popular Mission restaurant.

I'm glad I went back. While we had a little service hiccup (a misunderstanding on our order which was remedied with a comped entree), the food was great and very consistent. The stand-out was the guinea hen (pictured here), taken off the bone and presented two ways: sauteed with peas and cipollinis, and accompanied by a beggar's purse full of pulled hen. The gnocchi was also very good and was cooked perfectly which is often a risk with this type of pasta.

The setting, as it always has been, is charming with votive candles littered about and there is seating at the kitchen counter as well (will have to add it to my kitchen counter dining list).

All in all, if you haven't been in a while it's worth another visit.

Information about Bar Tartine restaurant on Center'd

Bar Tartine website

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Quick Update: New Brunch Menu at Maverick

A favorite spot for brunch in San Francisco, Maverick Restaurant has an excellent menu that balances both breakfast and lunch fare well, unlike many other options which tend to favor one or the other. Maverick presents appealing items on both sides of the brunch fence that will satisfy either mood, although this sometimes creates a small ordering dilemma (there are worse problems to have).

I visited Maverick for brunch again today and was greeted by a new menu with a number of notable new additions. While I was slightly disappointed their upscale version of a cheese steak no longer made the cut, the replacements were well executed and panned out nicely.

On the breakfast side, the andouille sausage benedict with crawfish jalapeno hollondaise is a great southern take on this breakfast standard, with nice smokiness and well-balanced sauce. The orange flannel hash and tex-mex enchiladas are also new to the menu and look worth a try.

The devil's gulch ranch ham sandwich with gruyere, caramelized onions and dijon will satisfy a lunch hunger, and the blackened catfish po'boy capitalizes on the southern influences exercised at the restaurant.

A recommended solution for splitting the difference between breakfast and lunch is the Maverick brunch sandwich, which remains a menu staple. A little heat from chef Scott Youklis' home-made hot sauce gives this great flavor.

Information about Maverick restaurant on Center'd

Maverick website

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Restaurant Trend: Little Gem Lettuce

It's easy to determine when certain foods are in season or becoming popular ingredients because they start making appearances on multiple restaurant menus. While little gem lettuce seems to be available year-round, it's been a common addition to top-flight San Francisco restaurants over the past year.

Little gem is a cross between romaine (crispy) and butter lettuce (sweet), and has small leafs on the outside and a crisp heart inside. It's usually served cut in half and presented lengthwise, often accompanied by cheese and/or nuts which complement its taste and texture.

Little Gem Salad (Flickr CC: In Praise of Sardines)

Blue Plate's take on little gems includes pink lady apples, spiced pecans and wisconsin buttermilk blue cheese, and is an excellent representation of what a good chef can do with this ingredient. The Mission's Conduit has had a little gem salad on its menu since opening a little more than a year ago; the original was an amazing version with hazelnuts, shaved radish and a light ranch dressing, and the current incarnation is a tasty twist on a caesar salad.

Other notable San Francisco restaurants that have little gem salads on the menu lately include Boulevard, NOPA and Universal Cafe, and across the bay in Berkeley, Chez Panisse.

The Verdict:
I'm usually not a big restaurant salad person, but I haven't met a little gem I haven't liked so I'm a fan.

San Francisco restaurants with little gem salads on Center'd

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Bar Review: The Dovre Club

If the accents you hear as you enter the Dovre Club don't tip you off that this is an Irish bar, the Paddy Nolan posters should quickly clear up any misconceptions.

The Dovre's mixed Irish and dive bar provenance combined with it's neighborhood patrons makes this an great local bar, and the fact that they pour a good pint (Guinness of course) certainly doesn't detract from its qualities.

Dover Club, San Francisco, CA (Flickr CC: hellochrisLocated on the corner of 26th and Valencia street in San Francisco's Mission district, the Dovre Club is a comfortable neighborhood haunt with a charismatic, and normally friendly crowd. Many of the bartenders, and patrons as well, hail from the old country, which lends an authentic feel to this bar and conjures up thoughts of a trip to Ireland after a few too many pints. The crowd is mainly local, which is to say it has a distinctly mission flavor, and spans a wide range of ages.

The bar itself is horseshoe shaped, so there's usually seating to be found, and if not one can choose to relax on one of the three or so couches in the back room. Like any self-respecting dive bar, the Dovre has a great, old-school juke box with a good selection of tunes ranging from the Beatles to the Pixies. Other amenities include a pool table which usually isn't too busy and plenty of Irish decor to match the accents.

The Verdict:
Currently my favorite dive/Irish bar in San Francisco.

Recommended Drinks:
Draft Guinness, Jameson (when in Rome...)

Recommended For:

Fans of dive and/or Irish bars, Mission locals looking for a neighborhood bar

Bar Stats:
Full bar, 4-5 beers on tap (including Guinness), about 20 bar stools, couches, pool table, juke box

Information, photos, and map for the Dover Club on Center'd

Friday, December 12, 2008

Restaurant Trend: Kitchen Counter Dining

Along with communal tables, kitchen counter seating is an increasingly popular design element in new restaurants, and one we like when paired with an amiable kitchen staff.

Our first kitchen counter dining experience was at Boulevard, our favorite San Francisco restaurant. At first, we thought we were getting sub-par seats because they were the only ones available to us as walk-ins, but we ended up having an amazing experience. Now, Boulevard isn't exactly fresh to the restaurant scene, but apparently they were ahead of their time.

While there is some value in the open kitchen design itself (we all have a little voyeur in us), to really capitalize on the experience the chefs need to be engaged. When they are, it can make for a remarkable and educational experience.

Conduit's kitchen counter in action
Conduit gets high marks here: Josh, an assistant chef, is always very accommodating and is adroit at juggling questions from patrons along with entrees. Head chef Justin Deering always makes time as well to give some inside scoop on menu changes.

Boulevard's counter staff is not quite as engaging, but you get an up close, in-the-trenches view of a finely-tuned gastronomic machine. When there's downtime the chefs are friendly, and it's simply amazing to watch this team in action. By the way, the guy standing in the middle of the line barking at everyone but not cooking anything? He's the expediter.

A few other counter options in San Francisco include Brick, RNM and Canteen. Brick’s kitchen is the liveliest we’ve seen which makes the dining experience fun, and although it’s a little further removed from the action and not as engaging, RNM is a fine choice.

Inside Tip:
While we’re by no means experts on kitchen counter etiquette, it seems similar to ride-sharing where the chefs will stick to simple conversation (“how’s the food”) unless you engage them. So step up to the plate and ask them about the menu or ingredients, but be mindful that they’re busy.

The Verdict:
We're fans. If you're curious about cooking, learning about seasonal ingredients, and getting inside the process of a professional kitchen, you'll enjoy this dining experience.

Recommended for:
Dinner for two or alone, for curious and social diners

Restaurants with kitchen counter seating in SF on Center'd