Tonkotsu Ramen @ Kansui, San Jose

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Tonkotsu Ramen @ Kansui San Jose.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m always intrigued by restaurants that play hard to get. I have a strange fascination with any place that has the gumption to open during odd inconvenient hours. Likewise, I have a fondness for any chef who forbids substitutions. Surly behavior doesn’t faze me one bit (I work in a kitchen, after all), and I admire the Soup Nazi routine if it’s warranted. To me, these are all positive and confident signs, and they communicate almost everything I need to know about a restaurant – namely, that the food is good and that the chef has a clear vision. Customers be damned, if they don’t get it.

Kansui caught my attention about a month ago when I was researching South Bay ramen, and I noticed the restaurant offered abbreviated hours (Tuesday through Saturday, from 11:30am to 1:30pm). [… read more …]

“The Deal” Burger @ Marrow, Oakland

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“The Deal” Burger @ Marrow, Oakland.

“The Deal” Burger at Marrow is quaint, like its price tag of $9.17, which includes beef-fat fries and a drink. However, if you’re accustomed to half- or third-pound burger patties, you’ll want to supplement your lunch with dessert, a milkshake, or at the very least, a salad. The frail and the elderly could probably get by on “The Deal” alone, and I’m not necessarily saying that as a criticism. I only mention this caveat as a heads-up to the hungry, and a word to the wise: If you’re anything like me, you might just view “The Deal” as a snack.

The Brisket @ Brick Pig’s House, Oakland

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Brisket, creamy potato salad, and cornbread muffins @ Brick Pig’s House, North Oakland.

I visited Everett & Jones for the very last time a few months ago. I promised myself that I’d never go back after I’d suffered through the driest brisket of all time. I usually try to avoid negative reviews in this blog, since I much prefer to compile a list of recommendations. I cook for a living, so I don’t have time to visit every single restaurant in the Bay Area, much less write reviews for all of these restaurants. Therefore, if I have a bad meal, I simply move on, and I don’t mention it. From an aesthetic standpoint, I don’t want to publish pictures of lousy food, and I certainly don’t want to waste my time by rehashing a bogus meal.

But Everett & Jones really let me down this last time. Honestly, I [… read more …]

Napa Valley Barbecue @ Smoakville, Napa

The Brisket “Burnt Ends” Sandwich @ Smoakville, Napa. Nicely charred and piled high.

When it comes to the truly hidden gems of the Napa Valley, there are several wineries and maybe just a handful of eateries (some brick-and-mortar, some on wheels). Among the latter category, my recent favorite has been Smoakville, a tucked-away barbecue joint that you would probably never discover by accident, unless you took a wrong turn into a hidden cul-de-sac. The fact that Smoakville is geared mostly for take-out makes it all the more elusive – it’s a tiny storefront, with just one table inside and one single picnic table out by the curb.

Like any decent barbecue purveyor, Smoakville offers a small-yet-carnivorous menu, but one that also remains fool-proof, as every item is well-executed, right down to the side dishes, right down to the house-made pickles. I’ve had the pleasure of exploring the Smoakville menu the [… read more …]

Bún Riêu @ Bún Mam Sóc Trang, Oakland

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Bún Riêu @ Bún Mam Sóc Trang, Oakland. Crab meatballs, pork blood, fish tofu and plenty of rice noodles. One step beyond pho.

Hey there. I’ve been absent from these virtual pages quite for a long time, and I’ve missed writing about food. Well, I’m back. If you’ve been wondering, there are several reasons for my lack of updates lately: (1) I’ve changed jobs during the last two months. I’m a pastry chef now, adjusting to the new schedule and routine; (2) I’ve been preparing to teach a class in culinary history this summer. Reading books and composing course materials have monopolized most of my creative energy; and lastly, (3) I’ve been posting most of my updates on Facebook via Instagram. It’s like social media shorthand. If you don’t follow me already, please check me out.

• • •

As a chef, I’m always craving new [… read more …]

Creme Brulee French Toast @ Alexis Baking Company, Napa

Crème Brûlée French Toast @ Alexis Baking Company, Napa.

The concept of “crème brulee French toast” underscores something that I realized long ago: Breakfast and dessert share a common kinship. After all, aren’t breakfast and dessert both typically heavy on eggs, cream and sugar? And isn’t a double chocolate chip muffin really just chocolate cake in disguise? And isn’t an apple turnover just another form of apple pie?

Under these circumstances, the idea of crème brulee French toast is perfectly logical to me; It represents the full-circle evolution from pain perdu to bread pudding to custard. Alexis Baking Company usually offers its crème brulee French toast on the weekends, although I have also been able to order it during the week, usually on a Friday.

And if you happen to stumble upon ABC’s crème brulee French toast during strawberry season, consider yourself all the more fortunate.

[… read more …]

The Chirashi Bowl @ Musashi, Berkeley

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Chirashi Bowl @ Musashi, Berkeley. Ahi, Hamachi, Salmon, Mackerel, Scallop, Octopus, Squid, Monkfish Liver, and Tomago. All served over sushi rice.

My iPhone said the temperature in Berkeley was 63F today, but I’m sure it had to have been pushing 80F. This weather report may sound a bit like bragging, but I’m actually complaining; California is in the midst of a megadrought, with the prospect of dead lawns and raging forest fires in our near future. At the restaurant where I cook, one of our produce purveyors already has asparagus on the radar, which is absurd for mid-February. At this pace, we could be enjoying heirloom tomato BLTs by May.

Although I did manage to eat some cassoulet at Bistro Jeanty while it rained last week, our otherwise warm weather this winter has deprived me of the opportunity to eat the braises and the [… read more …]

Kurobuta Pork Chop (and Three Other Courses) @ Auberge du Soleil, Rutherford

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Third Course: Kurobuta pork chop with apples, kale, whole-grain mustard spaetzle, cipollini onion, and apple cider sauce. Kurobuta is Japanese for Berkshire.

Here in the Napa Valley (and I believe in other parts of the country as well), January is Restaurant Month. There’s quite a few deals being offered throughout the area, but the best, by far, is the two-course lunch at Auberge du Soleil. This year, lunch at Auberge in January will cost you $20.14 — just a penny more than last year.

I will admit — at the risk of over-populating California — that today was another 70-degree day, not a cloud in the sky, with a slight breeze. Sorry if you’ve been trying to catch a flight out of New York; I’ve been trying to figure out whether or not to drop the top on my convertible (full disclosure: I don’t own a [… read more …]

The Last Days of Pacific Books and Arts, Inner Richmond San Francisco

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One of the last morsels from Pacific Books and Arts…

I’ve been rediscovering San Francisco’s Richmond District lately because, well, I feel like I’ve probably devoted most of 2013 to eating through the East Bay. My epicenter for this exploration has usually been 8th and Clement, a locale that places more than a day’s worth of attractions within easy walking distance.

The five-block stretch of Clement between 5th and 10th includes such noteworthy restaurants as Good Luck Dim Sum, Clement Restaurant, Burma Superstar, Halu, Cherry Blossom Bakery, Pizza Orgasmica, and many others. There’s also a fantastic bookstore in the mix — Green Apple Books — which easily boasts the city’s best used cookbook selection.

I noticed today that another bookstore in the area, Pacific Books and Arts, was closing down. I hate to see mom-and-pop bookstores disappear, but Pacific Books was liquidating its inventory as part of a [… read more …]

Double Cheeseburger @ Solbar, Calistoga

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The Double Cheeseburger @ Solbar, Calistoga. The fried pickles are an indulgent touch.

There’s a lot to like about Solbar’s double cheeseburger, including the signature fried pickles that send this dish over the top. All of the other elements hold their own nicely: The cheddar cheese is sharp and beautifully melted, the Bibb lettuce is impeccable, and the patties always arrive in pairs (the option for a single cheeseburger, or even a simple hamburger, is not featured on the Solbar menu). I appreciate the fact that Solbar offers a double cheeseburger as its default burger option, though. There’s no half-stepping with this decision. If you feel like having a burger for lunch, then be prepared to fully conquer your craving. Of course, the two planks of fried pickles will play a strong supporting role in this endeavor.