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

Monday, November 17, 2008

Quick Update: Serpentine

We made it back to Serpentine for brunch last weekend, just as we promised after our dinner review. The brunch menu is great on paper, but slightly disappointing in execution, if only because we had extremely high expectations. In fact, it's a solid brunch that we'd recommend although not in a drop-everything-now-and-go type of way. The Bloody Mary was a stand-out for me; it was nice and light, yet spicy and included a great pickled carrot garnish. The savory bread pudding is a must order, and is worth the trip alone.

Information, photos, and map for Serpentine on Center'd

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Review: Blue Ribbon Brasserie (New York, NY)

When we lived in Manhattan and my wife would ask, "Where do you want to go for dinner tonight?" my reply, more often than not would be, "Blue Ribbon." I could eat at this place at least once a week and be happy.

Blue Ribbon Brasserie, New York, NYLocated in Soho, Blue Ribbon is the flagship among four other restaurants with some form of the same moniker, and is a staple of Manhattan chefs because it's open until 4:00 AM and has excellent food. If you want a great meal late, and a quintessential Manhattan-never-sleeps experience, head here after midnight (you'll be amazed when people are still being seated after you pay your check).

I'm a big fan of appetizers, and Blue Ribbon's menu seems like it was built to please me. There are about 14 options to start, and my favorites are the steak tartare, the shrimp remoulade which comes with small crispy zuchini fries, and the smoked trout with an awesome relish and beets. Blue ribbon is known for it's seafood, and the the seafood tower is a popular appetizer although we've never tried it.

Entrees are solid as well, but to be honest we usually split one because we load up on appetizers. The catfish with collard greens is nice if you want something lighter, and the fried chicken with honey is decadant. All the other entrees we've ordered have been great, so order whatever strikes your fancy.

This is a popular dinner destination that doesn't take reservations, but if you get there before 8:00 PM you shouldn't have too long a wait (true New Yorkers don't eat dinner until after 8:00 PM). They do take reservations for parties of six or more.

The Verdict:
My favorite restaurant in Manhattan, and a must try.

Recommended Plates:
Smoked trout, steak tartare, grilled shrimp remoulade, oysters, country pate, sweet and spicy catfish, fried chicken

Recommended for:
Dinner, Late-night dining, Seafood, Appetizers

Bar stats:
Small bar area with about six seats. Full bar and good wine menu.

Information, photos, and map for Blue Ribbon Brasserie on Center'd

Blue Ribbon Brasserie website

Friday, November 14, 2008

Quick Update: Conduit

We happened by Conduit on our way home from an event yesterday evening and got a few appetizers. They were all good, but the ravioli with Swiss chard and almonds was amazing - it's a must order if you make it by Conduit any time soon.

Information, Photos, and Map for Conduit on Center'd

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Review: Coi

We had been hearing a lot of positive buzz about Coi (pronounced, "qua"), and have a new-found interest in molecular gastronomy since visiting WD-50 in New York, so we decided to give it a whirl for an annual family dinner with my foodie sisters this past weekend.

Coi restaurant, San Francisco, CAHelmed by chef Daniel Patterson, Coi is located down the block from the nudie bars on Broadway and Montgomery. The design is modern with an eco-feel to it (exposed wood, natural tones), and once inside you're mentally transported away from the scene outside.

There is a lounge, which unbeknownst to us prior to booking, serves an a la carte menu. We ate in the main dining room where an 11-course tasting menu is served.

Stand-outs were the roasted cauliflower with smoked bone marrow foam which had an excellent balance of flavors, the slow cooked farm egg (a molecular cuisine standard), and the quince and huckleberry parfait, which the table agreed hands-down was the best dish of the night. My wife and I also enjoyed the kabocha squash soup, but all-in-all, the rest of the dishes seemed average for a restaurant of this supposed quality and price point.

One controversial item was the "wine" pairing, which not only included wines, but beers, wine-based cocktails, and sake. I thought this was quite inventive and a highlight of the evening, but some at the table we quite upset as they were expecting a wine pairing... we agreed that the restaurant should either label the offering as a "drink" pairing, or have the server make a particular note of it before ordering.

The Verdict:
Given the hype, a bit disappointing, but it is good. I'd recommending sticking your toe in the lounge water before diving into the 11-course pool.

Recommended Plates:
Quince and huckleberry parfait, Roasted cauliflower, Slow cooked farm egg

Recommended for:


Bar stats:
Lounge area with a couple non-eating tables, as well as seats along a wall. Wine, beer, other (sake, etc.), no hard alcohol.

Information, photos, and map for Coi on Center'd

Coi website

Monday, October 20, 2008

First Look: Poesia

We ducked into Poesia for dinner a couple nights ago and were pleased with this neighborhood find.

Nestled upstairs in looks to have been a former residence, Poesia has a warm and charming atmosphere with a personable and helpful staff. The menu felt like familiar Italian, with some twists - the fritto misto, for example, includes ricotta and salt cod versus the standard calamari and veggies, and they have a pasta with pork ribs.

We had the Tagliatelle all Anatra, a home-made pasta with a duck breast ragout, which was spectacular, and the Egglant Parmigiana which was solid.

All told, Poesia has potential to become a regular neighborhood haunt, although we'll have to confirm our suspicions with a couple more meals there.

Information, photos, and map for Poesia

Poesia website

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Review: Mission Beach Cafe

In case you thought we only give fawning reviews and talk about our favorite places, here’s our first tale of woe.

For some reason, I want to like particular restaurants. Perhaps because of their menu, décor, or something else that catches my eye. Because of this, and because sometimes even the best establishments can have an off night, I give places the benefit of the doubt and will often revisit if I feel it has potential.

Mission Beach Restaurant is one such place. We first stumbled into this café located on 14th and Mission because we were running some errands in the area and it looked new and interesting. After waiting forever to have our order taken, then longer for the food, and more time again because the order was wrong, we weren’t in a rush to come back.

A couple months later, I caught an article in 7X7 Magazine that awarded it Best Brunch in San Francisco. We love brunch, so decided to give MBC another shot. We got the egg sandwich which was raved about in the magazine. It came out cold.

In June, a couple months later, chef Ryan Scott of Top Chef fame who has a strong restaurant pedigree besides, was named head chef and once again we headed back. (I know, we sound like restaurant masochists.) We went again for brunch, and had a similar experience. The service was bad and the food took a long time to arrive. The appetizer (a “meat” quiche that only had a couple specks of ham in it) came after the entrees, and to top it off, the food was mediocre.

We’re applying our restaurant version of the three strikes law - Mission Beach Café is officially off of our list.

The Verdict:
Don’t bother unless you’re feeling charitable or have the patience of a saint.

Not Recommended Because of:
Poor service, repeated bad experiences

Bar Stats:
No seated bar, beer and wine

Information, photos, and map for Mission Beach Cafe

Mission Beach Cafe website

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Review: Serpentine

Tucked away in the once sleepy but now hip Dogpatch, Serpentine has made a solid case for working its way into our restaurant repertoire.

We had been earlier this year and liked it, but the only thing that stood out at the time was the savory bread pudding. On our second visit last week, we were impressed with everything we ordered and the service was excellent. The menu is great - there were at least four other items I was dying to try, but that will have to wait until our next visit.

The restaurant is housed in what looks like a converted industrial space with lofty ceilings, and exposed brick and cement. This raw feel is softly accented with window-sized pictures of the ocean, and votive candles at night add some warmth as well.

We took a gander at their brunch menu which convinced us we need to make a trip back soon.

Given the quality, for San Francisco Serpentine is well-priced. Appetizers range from $7 - $13, although most are under $10; entrees go from $13 - $26, but with a great selection under $20.

The Verdict:
We’re going back for more, and definitely trying brunch.

Recommended Plates:
Savory bread pudding, Fried green tomatoes, Lamb stew

Recommended For:

Bar Stats:
Full bar, seating is crowded since dinner is served at the bar

Information, photos, and map for Serpentine

Serpentine website

P.S. - We've heard good things about the wine bar, Yield, across the street but didn't get a chance to check it out. Might be worth a stop before your meal at Serpentine.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Review: Conduit

Open less than a year, this uniquely designed restaurant is also a current favorite of ours.

We’ve been to Conduit several times, and haven’t been disappointed yet. The staff, from host, to bartender, to servers (we love Jolie!), to chef are friendly and helpful. A bonus, although I hope it doesn’t reflect poorly on their business, is that you can usually get a day-of reservation for a reasonable time.

The eponymous décor is fun and spacious. There is a good-sized bar if you arrive early and want to have a drink, and they make a number of specialty cocktails that are quite good. We especially enjoy sitting at the kitchen counter for dinner which allows you to view the meal preparation as you peruse the menu, as well as engage the chefs when they’re not too busy.

The food scores higher on the appetizer side, with standouts like the little gem salad and quail with fried green tomatoes. The mains are always satisfying, however, and we’ve also had a couple desserts that were very good. We usually split a couple appetizers and one main and walk away very pleased.

Prices are in that moderate SF range (Appetizers $9 - $14; entrees $22-26), although I feel like we end up spending more here than other similarly priced places… perhaps that’s a testament to how much we like this restaurant.

The Verdict:
A favorite - definitely worth a stop for dinner.

Recommended Plates:
Tomato salad with watermelon and ricotta, Whatever quail appetizer is on the menu, Little gem salad, Beef short ribs

Recommended For:

Dinner, Kitchen counter dining, cocktails before dinner

Bar Stats:
Full dedicated bar, specialty cocktails, ample seating

Information, Photos, and Map for Conduit

Conduit website

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Review: Maverick Restaurant

We inaugurate our restaurant reviews with one of our current favorites, Maverick, which was named before Sara Palin started using the word every thirty seconds.

Let’s get our definition of favorites out of the way real quick: This is the type of place you’d eat a couple times a week if you had your druthers. It’s that great combination of atmosphere, menu selection, flavor, consistency, price and service that rarely comes together except in exceptional restaurants.

Located in the Mission in Limon’s old digs before they outgrew them, Maverick has a great menu that is equal part fan-favorites that stay a while mixed with seasonal updates or exciting experiments.

The service is excellent, due to co-owner and host Mike Pierce’s standards, attention to detail and personality. Mike also oversees the wine list and is always good with a wine recommendation, which you’ll likely need because the list does not focus on well-known vineyards. Don’t be afraid, though, the wines are great and you’ll get to try something you likely haven’t had before. Did I mention bottles are 40 percent off on Monday’s…?

Scott Youklis’s menu is a delight – there are tasty regulars you can depend on time after time like the fried chicken for dinner or cheese steak for brunch, and there are always a few new items if you want to venture out with something new. The food has a southern influence which comes out in certain dishes like the fried chicken and recently, the shrimp on toast.

There is no bar area for waiting, but they make good use of the bench out front where you can have a glass of wine while you wait if the weather is nice.

Prices are moderate for San Francisco, with appetizers ranging from $6 - $15, and entrees from $17 - $28.

The Verdict:
A favorite - definitely try it for both dinner and brunch and say hi to Mike for us.

Recommended Plates:
Southern Fried Chicken, Shrimp on Toast, Texan Migas (brunch), Brunch Sandwich (brunch), Wagyu Beef Cheese Steak (brunch)

Recommended For:
Brunch, A hangover that doesn’t require hard alcohol, A good deal on wine (Monday’s), Dinner any night for a wide range of occasions

Bar Stats:
Beer and wine, no seating

Why do Boston Red Sox team members eat at Maverick when they’re in town?

Information, photos, and maps for Maverick Restaurant

Maverick restaurant website

Full Disclosure - Conflicts of Interest

The old grey lady this blog is not, but I still feel it’s important to be above board regarding any relationships that have the potential to influence, or be perceived to influence, the content or opinions on this site.

I have such relationship with my employer, Center’d, a location-based planning site that helps people plan any type of event or activity. Its content is germane to eating, drinking, and traveling, and this relationship likely will influence where I choose to point people for more information about relevant places. For instance, when including links for more information about a restaurant mentioned on my blog (say, for the address or a map), all things being equal, I’ll point it to Center’d instead of somewhere else. This relationship will not influence any other decisions or opinions regarding the content of this blog.

That’s it for now. When relevant, I will always endeavor to fully disclose any other potential conflicts, on an ongoing basis here, or contextually within the content of specific articles.

About this Blog

I’ll give it to you straight: We (my wife and I) like to eat out. We like to drink while we’re out. And we like to do these things in far-flung remote regions of the world. (And sometimes even pedestrian ones.)

We've discovered our favorite restaurants, bars, or travel destinations through conversations with close friends, by talking to like-minded people we don’t know well, and by gathering intelligence from the locals. We figure this blog might help spread a little of that good eating, drinking, and traveling karma to others.

Since we don't know you (yet), a few words about me and my wife so you know whether you should beat it now or give this thing a chance.

On Eating
We love eating out and do it a lot. Some might say we’re foodies. Sadly, we don’t get out as much as we did when we lived in Manhattan (five times a week), but we get out enough so that when we’re writing about places we’re drawing our opinions from a large sample.

We enjoy everything from upscale, well appointed restaurants with tasting menus, to a down and dirty burrito in the Mission. However, our expectations of each are very different and our reviews and commentary will reflect that. On average, we probably eat out at nicer places, but we’re always on the hunt for a great value.

We like all types of food (except goat cheese, but don’t hold it against me).

On Drinking
Dining should involve drinking. Not necessarily to excess, although it happens to the best of us, but it should entail pairing your food with something that compliments it. If you don’t buy into this, our blog is likely not for you. (Unless you’re a friend of Bill’s, then we welcome you with open arms.)

We also like going out to bars. I really like dive bars. The wife likes neighborhood bars. Luckily there is often a nexus where these two types of establishments meet, ideally within walking distance from home. We also like some upscale bars, perhaps before or after a meal, but if we’re parking ourselves somewhere for a while we angle for casual, comfortable, and the right attitude.

On Traveling
I like traveling to places where most people I know would not go, and often where there is scuba diving. I have an island fetish. My wife likes going to interesting places and exploring as well, but she’s a bit more on the pampered side. Somehow we work it all out and end up going to places ranging from Nicaragua to South Africa to Hawaii.

Well, enough about us and onto the task at hand. We hope you enjoy this blog and pick up some tidbit that leads to a great meal or a wonderful trip.