Friday, December 16, 2011

le comptoir

I have been the laziest food blogger ever. Sucked into a vortex of work and grinding my teeth daily against the soft, texture-less diet of cafeteria food.

my life

But what I really crave is this..

                                                                     and this..

Therefore the liberation of dining at Gary Mene's pop up, Le Comptoir, was beyond a treat. In LA, there are certain trends that will leave a mark in history, food history that is. As of late, there are the food trucks, pop up restaurants, foraging, underground restaurants and of course mo-ga. The pop-up is one of my favorite concepts. Chefs are more inclined to make small talk with patrons and the dishes tend be more innovative. With pop-ups, there is also the added benefit of less overhead on the chef, which also means you get more bang for your buck. Who doesn't like a good deal? Le Comptoir touches on all of these; innovation, quality, intimacy, and value. It is temporarily located in Tiara, a cafe of some sort, with a bar seating of 12. The  l'atelier approach works flawlessly sitting at the counter and watching Gary's team at work.

Up close and personal, with Gary Mene shaving fresh black truffles on my fettuccine.

The sunny side-up egg is an interactive dish that allowed us to fold in our own lettuce and herbs and sprinkle with sea salt.

"veggie platter" musque de provence squash, mustard frill, fennel, onion petals, roasted grapes, brussels sprouts, warren pears

heirloom shelling beans “pot roast”, haricots verts, romano beans, young celery, smoked scallions, sultana raisin-pine nut relish, truffle infused broth

j&j ranch grassfed strip loin, hearts of romaine, san marzano tomato marmalade, barbara's potatoes, carrot top vinaigrette

"lemon lush", graham cracker crust, chocolate, sour cream, vanilla tuille

The black truffles over home made fettuccine were procured that same day from the "truffle brothers". It was nothing short of rich and magnificent. A simple execution of a butter sauce paired symbiotically with parchment thin truffles shaved table side. Heaven. The opening dish of yogurt "soup" poured over pickled chanterelles and okinawan yam was velvety smooth and left me contemplating licking the bowl. I noticed Gary's obsession with seasonal ingredients halfway through the meal. He even announced that his inspiration comes from foraged vegetables and that he strives to keep the ingredients in its natural state, without tempering it too much, hoping to exaggerate the taste with the most minimal of torturing and handling.And that he did. Dinner concluded perfectly with coffee imported from Honduras, which I might add, was better than any Kona, Java or Costa Rican bean ever had. I questioned Menes on when this stint in Tiara was going to conclude. He replied "when the wheels fall off." So make the trek to Le Comptoir before "the wheels fall off" and you just might be able to catch Menes with his house made cheese infused with truffles. Unfortunately, I didn't catch him in that mood.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


 Thinking back, it all seems so surreal. Much like waking up after a vivid dream only to be left with wispy images no matter how hard you squeeze your eyes shut. Saison did this.

 This event happened exactly 9 days ago. I had ample time to blog and recount my experience at Saison. But, frankly, I couldn't even muster a few phrases that would aptly depict the happenings and emotions of the night. What entails hereafter is a blur of color, taste, and textures that takes too much energy to recall.

But it went something like this....

Yet another obscure entrance -easily mistaken for an alley- leads the way, the only visage of Saison being a brightly lit "S" that initially seems mismatched against the provincial shrub and perennials.

A doll size dining area sits in the courtyard facing the open kitchen.  Only a moment goes by before the server beckons for us to sit and two flutes of amber bubbly magically appear!

.... a foliage with rabbit, foi gras and textures of crunchy grit- the essence of forest in each bite.

An assortment of toasted greens it seems. However, as the server pours a thimble size bonito broth into the plate, the once brittle leaves near the bottom of the bowl transforms into a soup. A soup with a myriad of textures dancing on the tongue.

 A single Santa Barbara prawn dusted with shrimp roe salt partners with one filament of sea urchin. Simple ingredients without razzle dazzle, allowing our amped up taste buds to settle down and pick up the clean notes of sweet and briny.

Squid done risotto style enveloped by its ink, Nuvola di pecora; Italian cheese tucked in a brioche ball sitting underneath a wild honeycomb,

and Meyer Lemon custard. I hate all things tart. I should hate the Meyer Lemon. Yet this is a slap in the face. It is almost as if Chef Joshua Skeenes is mocking me, you think you know..but do you?
Basically, it's effin' good. I can try to describe how good. But like squinting through fog:


Ta-Da~ last but not least, we have your Grade-A slab of meat- our star Chef.
2124 Folsom Street

San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 828-7990

Friday, August 12, 2011

Honolulu Finds

Honolulu, the Disneyland of Hawaiian islands, is chock-full of generic sushi bars and pseudo-Hawaiian food joints. Thus, I'm determined to create a list of restaurants that are authentic, or at least aren't deemed "tourist traps". Halfway through our trip and I'm completely satisfied with our choices. Cream Pot, a mom-and-pop brunch shop, unlike other breakfast bars, has a distinctly Japanese flair. The Maguro Benedict, instead of brioche, is done with  slices of fresh tuna, atop a grilled rice patty drizzled with a light miso sauce.


Maguro Benedict
 Located in a shabby parking lot is Ono Seafood, poke specialist. Poke is a Hawaiian staple of cubed raw fish, and much like seafood salad is eaten cold. This is the ultimate utility lunch here in Honolulu. With no tables, most locals carry out or demolish it within seconds in the car. Having had my fair share of poke or its cousin, the tartare - each version played out and tweaked to a point where distinction of the two has become ambiguous-  I can claim as long as it's fresh and the seasoning is right, you can't go wrong. And this is a perfect example. Although, sitting beside a seasick dive buddy while grazing on raw fish doesn't exactly enhance the experience. Remnants of his meal has become Nemo &  Co's feast. Ya brah.

Combo Poke - Spicy mayo, Original
  I'm having mixed feelings of Giovanni's Shrimp Truck. Yes, the grilled scampi drowning in sauteed garlic and olive oil is disturbingly good. But did it justify waiting 30 minutes under the scalding tropic sun? Is it annoying watching people fight over markers to graffiti the truck? Is it odd to find tour buses making pit stops here? You be the judge.

Alan Wongs, you have your quintessential 5 star regional Hawaiian cuisine, uber-fresh ingredients and waitstaff that caters impeccably. What more can I say?

Frankly, I never expected to enjoy my meals here in Hawaii. However, Honolulu has proved to be a city of flavors beyond just poi and generic luau food. The generations of mingling East, West, and Polynesian diets have added character and complexity to the "Hawaiian" staple. Not to mention the bevy of spam products, from the loco moco, to the spam flavored mac nuts, to the ever so delicious musubis. Who wouldn't love it?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Bar Tartine - a new face

Bar Tartine has gone for a complete makeover, and by that, I don't mean aesthetically. It's the food I'm talking about. No longer can you find paninis and the ubiquitous bone marrow dish. Instead are the barely enunciable gulyas, halasles, and kapusnicas. In case you're wondering, I'm speaking Magyar, or the Hungarian language. The new chef, Nick Balla, has applied his Hungarian roots in the once American fare of Bar Tartine.

          Meggyleves - chilled Hungarian soup of sour cherries and sour cream

The frequent dousing of sour cream vaguely reminded me of my short stint in Budapest. Although, abashedly, I only knew to order goulash, the common place soup of stewed beef and vegetables often drizzled with sour cream. The meggyleves, albeit a ghastly pink color - much like the results of one too many cranberry and vodka - is actually quite refreshing and savory.

Langos - fried potato bread with onion garlic and sour cream

                       Bottarga, grilled bread, butter, radish

                                                       toasted rabbit livers, arugula, dill sauce

An audacious move on the part of Bar Tartine to terminate a "safe" menu that, although isn't as lauded as its sister, Tartine Bakery, is still considered an innocuous bet for all-American cuisine. It seems the reaction is a positive one as I tapped in on the next table, "This is way better than before." I agree. The flavors are more dramatic, a colorful fusion of Hungarian with mild Japanese undertones, as expected from Nick Balla who ran an izakaya previous to this stretch. The langos is a respite from the conventional flatbread or pizza. Much like a Hungarian pizza, but more rich, flaky, and simpler in flavors that allows the bread to speak for itself. Do not overlook the Bottarga (salted mullet roe). Bottarga is another dish that isn't seen enough nowadays. Its delicate briny flavors sing harmoniously with the bitter, crisp of the radish. The meal was undoubtedly a memorable one, with each dish justifying a few commentaries after depletion, in spite of the flacid turo cheesecake - nothing Hungarian about that.

Bar Tartine
561 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110-1114
(415) 487-1600

Friday, July 22, 2011

A speakeasy within a speakeasy - Wilson & Wilson

Password (of the day): Yale Standard  

House Rules:
1. Please Speak-Easy.

2. No standing at the bar.

3. Patience is appreciated.

4. No cell phone use.

5. No camera use.

6. Don't even think of asking for a 'Cosmo'.

7. Smokers, use back door.

8. Please exit Bourbon & Branch briskly and silently.

Hidden deep inside the cryptic rooms of Bourbon & Branch lies another password protected chamber, a password not easily obtained, or so it seems. After a tedious registration, the email confirmation:

Cute, isn't it?

If you've been to the speakeasy Varnish in Los Angeles, then you're familiar with the whole concept of 1920's prohibition theme, which, quite frankly, I'm a sucker for. Wilson & Wilson has taken this to a whole other dimension. Starting from the private detective email confirmation stamped with your name, to the password protected entry, to the flappers costume; I was as giddy as a schoolgirl.

So here I am, in front of the speakeasy entrance, Bourbon & Branch. Not a single sign. Just a bleak doorway with the only indication of it being anything besides a doorway is the doorbell. Once the doorbell is pressed a flapper comes out to greet you and asks for the password. We enter the dark mahogany bar only to be led to another locked door.

We now have Wilson & Wilson, which is exactly how I would imagine a speakeasy to be.
The drink menu is as extensive as a pharmacology textbook. Pages and pages of whiskey, cocktail, absinthe outline the tattered menu. With the pri-fixe menu, you get a choice of an aperitif, a "main course", and a digestif. As you can imagine, the drinks were en pointe, innovative, with enough kick to make you wish they served food. Alas, the only drawback, nothing to nibble on.


With an allotment of only 20 guests per evening, one feels like a Fitzgerald until you get ushered out after 1.5 hours which is the exact time you're allowed there. And punctual they are. No worries. Once the flapper escorts you out, the soiree continues into another room, the Library Room. It never ceases to amaze!

A few friendly suggestions:
Come with a full belly.
Order the pre-fixe menu.

Allow Wilson & Wilson to take you back into an era where bootlegging, covert rooms, and jazz come to life.

Wilson & Wilson

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Plate Shop - Sausalito

"Farm to table, nose to tail..."

That's the buzz lately on the locavore restaurant, The Plate Shop. Having never been a locavore follower, I've always found the whole Chez Panisse movement, dare I say it, boring? (There. I said it. Lynch me.)
But TPS sheds a whole new light on the concept of locally produced goods. It is the embodiment of farm fresh, with the progenitor of the immaculate poached egg just a few feet away clucking without a worry.

Tucked away in the picturesque town of Sausalito lies a hidden gem, The Plate Shop. And well hidden it is. With barely a sign, one can drive by many times without even noticing this tiny shop, as we did. The decor is whimsical, modern with a tinge of rustic. Service is impeccable.

The Plate Shop articulates with the seasons. Not only are the ingredients from their own garden, a few steps from our table, each bite bursts with flavors of summer. Freshly plucked sprigs of rosemary flavor the tender ribchop and the poached egg that adorn the rabbit livers was just laid by the hen I was chasing around in the garden.
                                                           Toasted Rabbit Livers, Poached Egg, Pancetta

                      Assortment of warm olives imported from Spain

                                                                          Ricotta Gnocchi, browned butter, hazlenuts

Ribchop, coleslaw

With that said, I'm here to stress this: All movements come and go, be it nose to tail, locavore, MoGa,  or street food. So please drop by and have some warm Spanish olives or better yet, sip on one of their artisanal cocktails, as I would like to see this one stay.

The Plate Shop
39 Caledonia 
                     Sausalito, CA 94965                    
                                                                      (415) 887-9047

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Limon Rotisserie

It feels like ages since my last "good" meal. I've been drowned in the mediocrity of Peninsula food, the Peninsula being the San Mateo area and such. Sushi is subpar and what Peninsula people stamp as the best sushi (Sushi Sam) is in reality...depressing. A few weeks ago I had an itching for chirashi, sashimi atop a bed of sushi rice, and J pronounced, "I'll take you to the best this side of town has to offer." The chirashi, disappointingly, contained PRE-CUT sashimi that tasted of wet mop - 3 days old wet mop. A few bites of the wet mop were forced in for good effort. But inevitably, I grumbled, "I... can't..I'm sorry" and meekly pushed the chirashi away.

Was the culprit really Sushi Sam's pre-cut sashimi? Or is this sushi snobbery stemmed from being pampered by LA's abundant supply of fresh and elaborate bowls of chirashi. I have a sneaking suspicion it’s the latter. But that’s my reality, right?

So after that episode I had lost my appetite, and hope, for good food. Finally, after what felt likes months, I was inspired to stick my head out the door, so to speak, and give it another shot.

Limon Rotisserie is Peruvian cuisine that emphasizes on its spit fire free range chicken. Word has it the secret recipe is the cumin garlic dry rub. There are around 7 ceviches to choose from but we opted for the Ceviche Mixto: tiger shrimp, fish, and Peruvian corn. Refreshing, tangy, a perfect ceviche.

Ceviche Mixto

With the name Limon Rotisserie, one would expect the chicken to be flawless. Strangely, it came out a bit dry. The silver lining were the 3 "aji" sauces that accompanied it- a chimichuri of herb and garlic; recoto mayo and aji amarillo. And the thick cut yucca fries top any gourmet truffle duck fat fries you can find. No joke.
Rotisserie Chicken

Limon Rotisserie should contemplate changing its name to Limon Short Rib because they really have this Seco de Costillas down to a science. The boneless short ribs fall apart at the nudge of a fork and its marble of fat and lean braised to a perfect umami makes this dish near un-wordly.

Seco de Costillas


At 8 bucks a dish, you can get away with a 4 course meal for less than $30 a head. A rare find nowadays especially in the bay area. What it lacks in damage, it doesn't lack in flavor. Thus, earning its name in the pantheon of San Francisco's favorite dishes of 2011.

Limon Rotisserie
1001 South Van Ness
San Francisco