Friday, April 8, 2011

Bosie Tea Room

Wide range of excellent teas, superb french pastry and macaron's. Cute spot off the beaten path at 10 Morton street between 7th Ave and Bleecker. Like being in Paris. I highly recommend the Darjeeling tart and Matcha macaron.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Osteria Stellina

Osteria Stellina is one of the best restaurants that you have never heard of. It is located in the town of Point Reyes Station, about an hour and fifteen minutes drive north of San Francisco. The town of Point Reyes Station is located in western Marin County and is the gateway to the stunningly beautiful national preserve, Point Reyes National Seashore.

I am amazed that a very small town with a population of about 350 has such a superb restaurant. Osteria Stellina is the equal of the best restaurants in Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco. Also in town is the excellent Cowgirl Creamery and Tomales Bay Foods, along with several bakeries, an excellent book store and other shopping that can keep one busy when not out enjoying the beautiful beaches, hiking, birding, kayaking etc.

Stellina describes its cooking as "Point Reyes Italian" with an unwavering commitment to local organic products. On a typical dinner menu you will find several raw options (oysters, shrimp) 10 appetizers (from soup to salad), several pizzas, four pastas and about six main dishes. The wine list is small with a few decent selections and corkage is $20 per bottle.  They could do more with wine selections, but have some good local choices.  Stellina also has a dedicated pastry chef turning out some very good desserts, so make sure to leave room after dinner!! As an aside, you can find some of her dessert and pastries at Toby's coffee bar in the middle of town.

In two recent dinners we sampled local lettuce salad, a raw zucchini and spinach salad, slow cooked baby octopus, chilies, tomatoes and mint, greens and beans (a "signature dish" of perfectly creamy cannellini beans and chard), black cod with oven roasted cauliflower smashed potatoes and braised greens, braised goat shoulder with creamy herbed polenta, chocolate pudding with whipped cream and shortbread cookie, and an apple & huckleberry crisp with a small pitcher of cream on the side!

I have eaten and cooked a lot of excellent black cod in Seattle and Orcas Island in Washington. The black cod from Bodega was by far the best I have experienced. It tasted like it had been pulled out of the water minutes before cooking and was perfectly seared. It was so good we had to order it two nights in a row. Just a gorgeous dish. All the other dishes were equally as good. Two beautiful meals in a very pleasant atmosphere and a special area. The service was friendly, knowledgeable, and obliging. I very much look forward to returning to Point Reyes Station and Stellina.

Open every day for lunch and dinner


Osteria Stellina

PO Box 868

Point Reyes Station, CA 94956

Sunday, December 19, 2010


One of my all time favorite dishes is risotto. I don't often order it in restaurants because I worry it wont be up to snuff. In most restaurants they tend to take short cuts with risotto, and while it can still be good,  believe me, you can make better at home!  Risotto is one of simplest dishes you can cook, which is not to say it is simple, but I think with a little care anyone can master this satisfying dish. Do not believe that you must constantly stir the risotto. You should watch it and stir often but not all the time.

During the year I try to roast the occasional free range farmers market chicken. When done eating the chicken, I always make stock with the carcass, adding an onion, carrot, celery stick, and some herbs if I have any around. Using just the left over chicken with bones would be quite sufficient if no vegetables are around. If you roast 3 or 4 chickens a year this should give you enough stock to last you a while. Do not buy canned stock. You are better off using plain water.

Take chicken carcass and put in a pot (with vegetables or not), cover with water. Bring to a boil and then simmer, top off or at least ajar, for about an hour or so. The stock should be strained to keep out the large bits. Put it in the fridge, and the next day skim off any fat that has accumulated. Freeze until needed.

Start by bringing the stock to a simmer and salt it to taste. While the stock is heating, finely chop a small onion, shallot, or leek (depends whats in season and what you can find at the market) and saute over medium heat (don't let it brown) in a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (365 Whole Foods Italian is an excellent cheap oil) or butter, or a combination. Butter will make the dish richer, so consider what ingredient or ingredients you will be adding later.  The best part about risotto is that you can add literally anything to it. See what leftovers you have in the fridge. Maybe some of the shredded chicken from the carcass, an old carrot, squid, shrimp, peas, bacon, ham etc. The risotto pictured is with carrot and chard, made with shallot and Vialone Nano rice from Italy.

2nd addition of stock
The occasional stir
After about 4-5 minutes the onion will be soft  and translucent, so add some rice (please try to find Vialone Nano or Carnaroli, otherwise arborio will do in a pinch). I never measure, but if you are cooking for two, 2/3 cup will be enough. Pour the rice in and start stirring to coat the rice with the oil. Keep stirring frequently about 4-5 minutes. Again, do not let the rice brown. After about 4-5 minutes the rice will start turning a bit opaque and at this point I usually add some very cold white wine (sometimes I add red, you decide) which shocks the pan and the rice. How much wine? Maybe 1/2 a cup, but don't skimp, and don't use any wine you would not drink! Again, I never measure. The wine should be bubbling (if not turn the heat up just a bit) and you should be stirring a fair amount. Once the wine almost evaporates start adding some of the hot stock. I use almost a full ladle for the first addition and from then on I use about half a ladle full. After the first addition of stock shake the pan or give it a stir and you can leave it alone for a couple minutes. Give it a stir occasionally and when the most recent addition of stock is almost evaporated, add a small ladle full. Keep repeating this process until the rice is al dente. If you are going to add ingredients that need a bit of cooking, then add them after the third or fourth addition of liquid. If the ingredients added are not in need of further cooking you can add them when the risotto is almost done. I added the chopped carrots about 10 minutes in, and the chard near the end, about 20 minutes in. The bits of green in picture #1 are some bottom leaves of a romanesco I had. I added those early because they needed a bit ore cooking, like the carrotts.

Usually, when the rice is done, I will turn the flame off and add a smaller amount of liquid and stir. In this case I also added a small pat of butter which gave a  little richness to the dish. At this point you can add some freshly grated grana or parmesan, salt and pepper to taste. You can also add some grated cheese once the rice has been plated, along with a few good turns of the pepper mill and some good sea salt on top.
Flame off, a little liquid added and a pat of butter stirred in

Plated with grated grana, black cypress salt and generous lashings of freshly ground black pepper

Saturday, December 18, 2010


Michael and Lindsay Tusk have opened Cotogna (the name means Quince in Italian), the casual sister to Quince, in the second week of Nov 2010. The restaurant, located next door to Quince in the Jackson Square neighborhood of San Francisco, has an open kitchen featuring a wood burning rotisserie and oven in which they burn almond wood. The menu is fairly large, featuring one price fixed menu (three courses for $24), seven antipasti at $10 each, six pastas at $16, two pizzas at $15,  four items from the rotisserie at $16-$24, seven small vegetable dishes at $6,  six dessert items at $7, and several cheeses for $6. In addition the menu lists three daily dishes, supposedly specials, although they don't seem to change every day.

The rectangular space is rustic, warm and cozy, with a very high beamed ceiling and most of the walls  old brick. There is a small food bar in front of the open kitchen and a small bar for drinking and eating on the opposite side of the room.

The prices seem very reasonable for the high quality of food. All wines on the small list are $40 bottle and many are available by the glass at $10. The list put together by David Lynch of Quince is not nearly as interesting as I had hoped. For $40/$10 there could be more interesting wines.

We started with spinach sformato with grana padano fonduta (think flan with cheese sauce), Monterey Bay squid with grapefruit and puntarella (a bitter green), and tartare of halibut with crisp flatbread. The squid was the only boring dish of the bunch. It lacked seasoning and although the squid was of exceptional quality the dish was not as good as the sum of its ingredients. The sformato was excellent and the halibut was simple and very fresh, only seasoned with good quality olive oil and salt.

For primi we chose the pappardelle verde (wide cut green noodles) with lamb cooked in the wood  oven, and farm egg raviolo (1 large ravioli) with brown butter. The quality of the pasta at Cotgona, as at Quince, is superb. The pappardelle was cooked al dente and the shredded lamb was earthy. The raviolo was superb, silky, buttery, the egg yolk spilling out and mixing with the butter and coating the outside of the pasta. We did have to ask for bread, which is available upon request, to soak up all the delicious juices.

For a main we shared the spit roasted pork with wild fennel and hot pepper, along with a small vegetable dish of satsuma mandarin, fennel and olive. The pork was very tasty, the peppers were not very hot and did not get in the way of the bottle of Teroldego Rotaliano (a rustic red grape from Trentino Italy, near Austria) from producer Roberto Zeni.

We decided to share one dessert, the Sierra Beauty apple and quince crostata (tart). This along with the squid were the weakest dishes of the night.

Michael Tusk's style is quite rich and the food here is no exception. The quality is excellent, the room inviting and comfortable. Cotogna is extremely popular, so make your reservations early or show up late for some of the seats they hold for walk ins.  The service was excellent and friendly. Heath pottery plates are used here, as in many of the top Bay Area restaurants. A very nice touch indeed!

490 Pacific Ave
San Francisco, CA
415 775 8508

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Bay Area

Another perfect culinary trip to the promised land of food, The Bay Area! On a brief three day trip at the end of March, ostensibly to have mud baths at Indian Springs in Calistoga, pastrybag and I managed to take in several superb restaurants, in the meanwhile eating enough for a week.

We arrived Sunday morning and went by BART directly from SFO to the Ferry Building . The Ferry Building lines San Francisco Bay along the Embarcadero at the foot of Market street and is a wonderland of eating and drinking possibilities. Boulettes Larder only makes beignets on Sundays, and they are by far the best beignets I have eaten. Always piping hot, crisp on the exterior and soft and custardy on the interior. After beignets a perfect single origin espresso from Blue Bottle Coffee seemed in order. The espresso, pulled from the hand pull machine was rich, creamy and aromatic.

Having satisfied our hunger from the plane ride, we decided to go to Ton Kiang for dim sum before walking it all off at Muir Woods in Marin county! The dumplings, featuring thin delicate pastry, were super fresh and delicious. The seafood is particularly good here and of the 5 or 6 plates we tried almost all featured either shrimp and or scallops. The dumplings we had were scallop and shrimp, shrimp and mushroom, snow pea and shrimp, shrimp and pork and a plate of roast duck. Specializing in Hakka cuisine and more broadly, Chinese cuisine, Ton Kiang serves the best dim sum that I have had outside Hong Kong. Much much better than anything in New York and better than what I have tried in Vancouver and Toronto.

After an inspiring walk among the very large coast redwood trees we checked into the hotel in anticipation of dinner with Corkdork at the newcomer Frances. Chef Melissa Perello's cooking is well known in San Francisco earning many accolades over the last few years, and Frances was certainly the most highly anticipated opening of the year. Melissa and her family built the restaurant, and you can see that this is a labour of love. For a restaurant that had recently opened, the food and service were particularly, and impressively polished. The room is small and cozy and it is always packed. Luckily the acoustics are such that the decibel level is tame.

The food from start to finish was expertly prepared and uniformly tasty. We started with a quartet of bouchees (mouthful); applewood smoked bacon beignets with creme fraiche and chives, the panisse frites (chickpea fries) with meyer lemon aioli, the crisp pork trotters served with sauce gribiche (a mayonnaise like sauce) and pickled baby vegetables, and the grilled calamari with butternut squash, preserved lemon and pickled currants. Three of the four bouchee involved frying and this was done expertly. Absolutely clean, crisp and no signs of grease or frying oil. The flavors rang true and all four paired very well with our first wine, the Muller Catoir Riesling Spatlese Haardter Herrenletten 2006, especially the calamari with preserved lemon. We continued with two appetizers, the dungeness crab salad with little gem lettuce, kumquat and avocado vinaigrette, and the ricotta gnocchi with green garlic, fava beans and morel mushrooms. Both were superb, the crab was very fresh and the dressing slightly tart without overwhelming the crab which was delicate and snowy white as a Sibelius melody. The rieslings fruit acidity combination paired beautifully with crab salad. For the gnocchi we transitioned seamlessly into the red wine, the 2007 Passopisciaro made from the Nerrelo Mascallese grape on Mount Etna in Sicily. I like the wine well enough, but there was a bit too much new oak than I prefer. The pasta was tender and light, and the sauce struck the perfect balance of salt, tart, nutty and earthy. It was amusing to be eating all this beautiful fresh spring produce on March 24 when in NY it was still very much winter. For mains we ordered the Sonoma duck breast with butter bean ragout, sauteed escarole and cotechino (a poached pork sausage from Modena, usually eaten at New Years and often served with lentils) and the Lucky Dog Ranch bavette steak with cipollini onions, and green garlic"chimichurri". Both the steak and duck were perfectly cooked rare (bavette cooked past med rare would taste like a leather shoe) and the vegetables accompanied each dish like Carlos Klieber would accompany Mirella Freni. Speaking of vegetables, we also shared a side of wildflower honey glazed bolero carrots. These were some of the best carrots I have tasted. the dish was not at all sweet, just pure carrot flavor. Delicious!

Frances is a superb neighborhood restaurant (although people are certainly traveling from elsewhere to eat here) in the vein of some of the best neighborhood neo bistros in Paris. An expertly cooked small menu of local ingredients, a chef with high pedigree, excellent service and a welcome atmosphere. To accompany your meal there is a small but nicely annotated wine list with selections that will pair well with the food.

Next day we were off to Calistoga via Berkeley, and breakfast at the best strip mall in America. A little pastry and coffee at Cafe Fanny, which is owned by Alice Waters, and a snack to go from Acme Bakery. The third store in the strip mall is Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant. Next stop in Berkeley was 4th street for some superb tacos at Dona Tomas's Tacubaya. Later that evening, on the way to dinner at Ubuntu we stopped at Bottega, Michael Chiarello's new restaurant in Yountiville. We decided that we need to do some research and got just one appetizer at the bar, fritto of arborio rice floured monterey calamari with aioli nero. The squid was well fried and the aioli was good. I could have used a bit more flavor over all and the squid needed a little shower of fleur de sel. The restaurant, which seemed large, was packed. I would be curious to try some more of the dishes here and the corkage is an incredibly fair $2 per bottle!

This was our second meal at Ubuntu in downtown Napa, and the first since Jeremy Fox had vacated the head chef position. Something did seem a bit different and when I inquired if Jeremy was still there, they said he had left. The food was still very good and four of us ordered the entire menu. Highlights were Catalan chickpea stew with Romesco, Onion doughnut with burdock, Poached egg, ash cooked baby potatoes and mustard greens and Carta de Musica with micro green and truffled pecorino. All the dishes were expertly prepared, beautiful to taste and to look at. The cheesecake in a jar was a highlight of the four desserts and the rice pudding was interesting in that the rice was grown at the restaurant garden. The menu changes frequently as most of the cooking is done from their garden. The restaurant is not vegetarian but it only serves vegetables. They do make an extremely strong case for eating ony vegetables. With this kind of care and expertise one does not miss meat.

Last dinner of the trip, after another taco lunch at Tucubaya, was another superb meal from Paul Canalis at Oliveto in Oakland. Since taking over from Paul Bertoli, chef Canales has really taken this restaurant to exciting new heights. The food from beginning to end was superb. Several crudo featured super fresh fish with interesting spices, salts and spicy peppers, and every pasta was al dente, light and delicious. We had the tajarin with ragu, ravioli, squab, stuffed rabbit loin and braised beef with potato puree. The wine list is excellent, leaning heavily towards Italy and especially Piedmont.

On the way back to SFO we managed a small breakfast of toast and jam, and a donut at Pizzaiolo, another superb single origin espresso at Blue Bottle Ferry Building and some superb vietnamese fresh spring rolls from Out the Door.

Another fantastic trip to the city by the bay!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Chicago (Xoco, Big Star, The Bristol and Avec)

On a recent trip to Chicago I was able, in one day, to take in four restaurants, burp. The day started off well indeed with excellent food at XOCO the latest from chef Rick Bayless. Located around the corner from Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, XOCO presents bold flavored food which pays homage to the outdoor food carts and markets of Mexico. XOCO is described as a quick service cafe. Unfortunately, this could not be further from the truth. I arrived on a Saturday afternoon in November and met a friend who was already in line. My friend owns a well known restaurant in New York and I must say we were both baffled by the ordering system at XOCO and the more than one hour wait that ensued before we actually got any food! We were told by an employee who was tending the line that we would have about 45 minutes to wait for a table. We inquired to see if we could get our food to go and eat it outside as it was a beautiful day. The answer in short was no. We must wait on the line and when we get to the front of the line we must not try to order without being given a number. While we wait we cannot order anything to drink or eat, tough luck buddy! There are not many seats at XOCO, and the idea is that you wait and wait and wait and then you wait for your number and then you are given the privilege of ordering and paying. Only after ordering do you get shown to your seat, which may be at a counter or a table. Then you have the privilege of waiting again for your food to show up, which in this case was about another 15 minutes.

Having said all that, I would actually subject myself to this moronic system again because the food was fantastic! Next time I would be prepared with a book, or magazine. Next time I would order a drink, which apparently is allowed even though we were told no. We ordered two tortas from the wood burning oven. A blackboard special featured barbacoa torta which contained red chile goat barbacoa (think the perfect texas bbq brisket), black beans, avocado, oaxacan passila chili and tomatillo salsa. From the menu, the Pepito consisted of tender braised short ribs, caramelized onion, jack cheese, black beans and pickled jalapenos. Each sandwich came with its own exceptional salsa and were served warm and fresh from the wood oven on crispy crunchy bread. The textures and flavors really stood out and married perfectly with each other. I was not amused by the service, the wait or the ordering system but the food really was exceptional. The ordering system is even more of a surprise since Rick and Deann Bayless and their staff have been dealing very well with big crowds at Frontera and Topolobampo. I hope they somehow work out the kinks.
The menu is a bit hard to figure out but it lists serving breakfast until 10, then tortas (both from the wood burning oven and from the panini press) from 11:00 and caldos (soups) starting at 3:00 until closing. What is not at all clear is whether they stop serving tortas when they start serving caldos. Your guess is as good as anyones!

Later in the afternoon our first stop in a trio of dinners was Big Star, a brand new taco/drinks venture from the boys at Blackbird , Avec and Publican . I am huge fan of Avec and I like Blackbird, but unless you are looking to get boozed up in a hip atmosphere, skip Big Star. We sampled all the tacos, al pastor (spicy pork), tacos de chivo (braised goat), tacos de panza (pork belly) and tacos de rajas de poblano. All were pedestrian in flavor and texture.

Next stop was The Bristol, a hot new restaurant on Damen Avenue. They describe themselves as offering a locally sourced and seasonal menu with Mediterranean roots. As much as I applaud restaurants who are sourcing locally, there is not a lot to source from in Chicago in the dead of winter. I also do not see much that is "mediterranean" about the menu. The food was mostly sub standard. Duck fat fries were fairly tasteless and stiff aioli was uninviting. The raviolo was soaked in brown butter, completely overwhelming the actual pasta and filling. In the shaved pumpkin salad, endive, yogurt, pine nuts the pumpkin was "shaved" thick and the ingredients did not work together at all, making somewhat of a mess, rather like aleatoric music. Ditto the rest of the food we tried.

Thankfully we ended the evening at Avec. The wait was about an hour, but once seated, the food was superb as always. Avec's food is flavorful, the staff efficient and the wine list excellent, providing many interesting options at reasonable price points. Luckily you wont find many pinot grigio or chardonnays on the list. Rather you will find pecorino, gaglioppo and baga, along with other little known grapes from Italy, Spain, Portugal and France. Here the menu leans much further toward the Mediterranean than anything the Bristol could imagine. We devoured wood oven braised pork shoulder with prince edward island mussels, braised tripe, tomato and savory strusel, the wood fired pizza with house made pheasant sausage, pumpkin and pumpkin seed salad, the roasted delicata squash with arugula pistachio pesto, shaved apples, podda (a sardinian cheese) and cider, and an order of the chorizo stuffed medjool dates wrapped in bacon and served in a piquillo pepper-tomato sauce. All the dishes were perfectly cooked, full of life and full of flavor. Over the last 7 years I have found Avec to have the most interesting and fairly priced wine list, and serve the most flavorful and consistent food in Chicago.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


Baby its cold outside, and when Mr Freeze threatens, I cannot think of a better respite than a bowl of hot steaming ramen. In midtown Manhattan the best bowl of ramen can be had at Menchanko-tei. Menchanko-tei has been in business for a long time, catering to a mostly Japanese clientele. The noodles are made fresh daily, in three degrees of thickness, from their original recipe. Two varieties of broth are featured, pork based and soy based. Both are slow cooked and are light enough to let the ingredients shine through.

While the menu is quite varied, my first choice is always the hakata ramen. This soup is the perfect example of less is more, the Haydn string quartet of ramen. Into the pork broth are placed the perfectly cooked al dente, ultra thin ramen noodles. They have a slight spring to them, not at all soggy, mushy, or too chewy. These are then topped with flavorful, marinated and slow roasted pork slices, black mushrooms, red ginger and scallions. It is a good size portion for a very fair price of $8.50.

The other variety of soup served is Menchanko (Men=noodles, Chanko=sumo wrestlers stew). Individually cooked and served in a large cast iron bowl (nabe) these soups, or stews, feature soy based broth with thick ramen noodles to which various protein, which might include chicken, head on shrimp, fish balls, tofu, rice cake and vegetables are added. This is a filling meal, as the bowls are quite large.

The other speciality at Menchanko-tei is Oden which dates from the Edo period. Oden is quite hard to find in New York and normally consists of seafood and or vegetables, individually simmered in a kelp based stock. They are generally ordered individually, a few at a time, or left up to the house to decide on 4 or 5, and served with a dab of japanese mustard to enhance the taste of the vegetables, which are fairly plain on their own.

A selection of sake, japanese beer and traditional roasted green tea are available.

43-45 West 55th Street
New York, NY 10019
(between 5th and 6th Avenues)
212 247 1585
Monday-Thursday 11:30-11:30
Friday until 12:30am
Saturday and Sunday until midnight


131 East 45th Street
New York, NY 10017
(between Lexington and 3rd Avenues)
Monday-Thursday 11:30-11:30
Friday until midnight
Saturday until 11:00
Sunday until 10:30