Archive for the ‘San Francisco CA restaurant’ Category

Grillades & Grits, Brenda’s French Soul Food (SF)

Like my earlier review, Brenda’s is the most authentic and delicious Creole and Cajun dishes I’ve found beyond Louisiana in seriously a long time. The fact they have grillades & grits for brunch, and all the dishes cost $10 or less…man, this is a little treasure indeed.

Grillades & Grits, Brenda's French Soul Food (SF)

Grillades & Grits, Brenda’s French Soul Food (SF)

Grillades can be made from beef round steak, or sometimes veal or pork, depending on the local corner store butcher who makes them…and they’re best made at family-run stores with butchery back rooms in Louisiana. The meat’s generally pounded a bit and cooked in a tomato and onion gravy (or local variations thereof) until very soft and tender. Then the meat & dark gravy’s hit with grits. One of the rare occasions when you can lay off the grits butter.

Detail: Grillades & Grits, Brenda's French Soul Food (SF)

Detail: Grillades & Grits, Brenda’s French Soul Food (SF)

The grillades (in this case, beef cutlets) are another awesome dish from Brenda’s. Paired with two unnecessary eggs and addictive, hockey puck-sized buttermilk biscuits that would be a wondrous meal unto themselves, the grillades & grits made my 45-minute brunch wait entirely satisfying. An incredible treat.

The Grade: Excellent / Awesome
The Damage: $10.50
The Tip: Brenda’s is CLOSED TUESDAYS and only open until 3pm
The Skinny: 
Brenda’s French Soul Food
652 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94102-3328
Phone: (415) 345-8100

Brenda's French Soul Food (SF)

Brenda’s French Soul Food (SF)

Chicken & Andouille Sausage Gumbo (Brenda’s French Soul Food)


Chicken, Sausage, Okra Gumbo (Brenda's French Soul Food - SF)

Chicken, Sausage, Okra Gumbo (Brenda’s French Soul Food – SF)

Like most sane people, I rarely eat Cajun food outside of Louisiana. I’ve had awful “Cajun” food in New York and Los Angeles, and even Cajun food in Texas and Mississippi can be suspect. I also think blackening fish is criminal, and chain restaurants with anything Cajun on their menu need some schooling. By schooling I mean an old nun with a cane cut from a pecan tree bent on a proper instruction, the kind one remembers for life.

But when somebody moves to a city from New Orleans or Lafayette or any little town in between, my interest is piqued. Brenda’s is just that: literally a hole in the wall run by a New Orleans transplant who puts out authentic Southern, Creole, and Cajun style cuisine.

Only open for breakfast and lunch, Brenda’s has a 45-minute wait at any given brunch time on weekends. Minimum. Definitely worth it, if you had some breakfast already. (Do the folks outside Brenda’s windows look like Tenderloin locals or very hungry hungry brunch-sters? Yep, you know it.)

So, with the caveat that I’m not on a gumbo run, I can authoritatively say this is the best, most authentic gumbo I’ve had east of Lake Charles in as long as I can remember. Seriously good chunks of smoky sausage, juicy chicken, and okra in a nice, moderately dark roux: that little bowlful is richer than it looks, y’all.

The Grade: Excellent / Awesome
The Damage: $7.25
The Tip: Brenda’s is CLOSED TUESDAYS  and only open until 3pm
The Skinny: Brenda’s French Soul Food
652 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94102-3328
Phone: (415) 345-8100

Duck Prosciutto – Annabelle’s Bar & Bistro (SF)


It takes a lot of effort to make prosciutto. Generally about 18 months or so, and some serious patience to watch it hang until it’s ready. But when it comes, it makes patience aphoristically virtuous. But thankfully, we can just order prosciutto without the watch and wait.

Duck prosciutto - Annabele's Bar & Bistro (SF)

Duck prosciutto – Annabele’s Bar & Bistro (SF)

Annabelle’s Bar & Bistro recently offered a small plate of their special house-made duck prosciutto, paired with sweet, thick cantaloupe slices. It was more colorful than a circus: bright green, orange, purple-black, various hues of brown and tan, and blush. The duck was lush and not exceedingly smoky, striped with translucent fat. A small hailstorm fall of smoked almonds were scattered across the plate, most within a dazzling verdant swathe of arugula puree. And fig vino cotto, like an indigo oil spill, haunted the plate as a fabulous substitute for aged balsamic. A panoply of great color, taste and texture; a memorable prosciutto platter from Annabelle’s Bar & Bistro. (The dinner menu has a more Mediterranean prosciutto platter appetizer with pecorino cheese, olives, roasted peppers, and crostini for $15.)

The Grade: Excellent

The Damage: $15

The Tip: Annabelle’s has a three-course prix fixe nightly ($33)

The Skinny: Annabelle’s Bar & Bistro
68 – 4th Street, San Francisco CA
Phone: (415) 777-1200

Executive Chef Larry Piaskowy of Annabelle's Bar & Bistro

Executive Chef Larry Piaskowy of Annabelle’s Bar & Bistro

Pork Chop (Annabelle’s Bar & Bistro, SF)


When a pork chop (or a pork loin, for that matter) is properly cooked, there’s not too many more things more satisfying. I’ve been rolling around (figuratively) on a pork chop run, and I find the pork chop at Annabelle’s to be very tasty and very satisfying. It’s nicely grilled with the familiar char-diamond argyle pattern, and slices open to a perfectly pale rose pink interior with lots of natural juices inside from proper rest.

Glazed baby carrots add curious color and crunch, and a mound of organic mushroom rice provides the starch to sop up the fantastic bourbon jus. And Executive Chef Larry Piaskowy is not shy about jus. He can pour out some mean (I mean absolutely delicious) jus for his meat dishes, and works the natural flavors together wonderfully. His pork chop is another great dish to eat at Annabelle’s.

Grilled Pork Chop -  Annabelle's Bar & Bistro (SF)

Grilled Pork Chop – Annabelle’s Bar & Bistro (SF)

The Grade: Excellent (4 out of 5)

The Damage: $25

The Tip: Annabelle’s offers a three-course, prix fixe menu for $33.

The Skinny: Annabelle’s Bar & Bistro
68 – 4th Street, San Francisco CA
Phone: (415) 777-1200

Chef Larry Piaskowy is not shy about jus.

Chef Larry Piaskowy is not shy about jus.

Braised Short Ribs, Annabelle’s Bar & Bistro (SF)



Anchor Steam Braised Short Ribs, Annabelle's Bar & Bistro (SF)

Anchor Steam Braised Short Ribs, Annabelle’s Bar & Bistro (SF)

Annabelle’s Bar & Bistro is a hidden gem in plain view, with a solid selection of all-natural meat dishes that are carefully crafted by Executive Chef Larry Piaskowy. The pork chop is great there, and the steaks are amazing. But I can understand whey the Anchor Steam-braised short ribs might be the dish diners would talk about.

The short ribs have about a 4-hour braising period in the Anchor Steam bath, as it were, and are crisscrossed with a benediction of horseradish creme fraiche. (I think the creme fraiche is probably the right amount from a chef’s perspective, but it’s so good I really wanted a few spoonfuls more.)  The ribs sit folded over a structure of green beans like thick, dark teepee flaps. Actually, it resembles a hiding place of the princess in Kurosawa’s “The Hidden Fortress,” but that’s what you were thinking when you saw this photo anyway, right?

Braised short ribs - Annabelle's Bar & Bistro

Braised short ribs – Annabelle’s Bar & Bistro

These are fuzzy-looking mud flaps, quite unlike any braised short ribs you’re ever likely to see. And the meat’s texture is remarkably like velvet, again unlike the chunky, canyon-like renderings typically seen of short ribs. It’s an extraordinary feeling to the palate and the combination of the ultra-soft ribs in jus, crisp green beans, and a little horseradish pep makes this a really outstanding dish.

The Grade: Awesome (highest grade)

The Damage: $25

The Skinny: Annabelle’s Bar & Bistro
68 – 4th Street, San Francisco CA
Phone: (415) 777-1200

SF Chefs. Food. Wine. 2009 – SEAFOOD DISHES

SF Chefs. Food. Wine. 2009 – SEAFOOD DISHES

Because there was so much amazing food at SF Chefs. Food. Wine. 2009, I will make two exceptions by posting roundups of the best seafood and best vegetarian dishes. You gotta give those chefs the proper kudos. I thought a few of the seafood and vegetarian dishes were unreal; so incredibly good.

For richness, nobody topped the French bad boys of SF. Roland Passot’s corn soup and crabmeat came in a tiny package with a toy shovel and packed a wallop of corn flavor in a thick pudding. Amazing. One tiny bit of evidence why everyone who eats at La Folie froths with enthusiasm when they recommend it.

La Folie Corn Soup with Crabmeat

La Folie Corn Soup with Crabmeat

And Hubert Keller (Fleur de Lys) also got to the deepest core of flavor with his lobster essence. Kapow. Knockout. I drifted over with my lobster essence and pulled a spoon of crabmeat from Mark Dommen (One Market) to dip it in. Kapow again.

Lobster essence from Hubert Keller (Fleur de Lys)

Lobster essence from Hubert Keller (Fleur de Lys)

Now you see the One Market crab....

Now you see the One Market crab…. Chef Mark Dommen is steadily replacing the crab.

…now Chef Mark Dommen is steadily replacing the crab.

And maybe all the people who think MoMo’s is a sports bar need to rethink what’s up to eat over there. MoMo’s Chef Damon Hall was slamming out the ahi tuna tartare by the monster trayload. Feeding frenzy ensued. Hard to screw that dish up, granted, but anytime it comes along, it’s a great treat. And he also made a smoked fish dish which was astounding, and handsome on the plate. Good stuff!

Damon Hall - MoMo's - ahi tuna tartare

Damon Hall – MoMo’s – ahi tuna tartare

Damon Hall - MoMo's - ahi tuna tartare

Damon Hall – MoMo’s – ahi tuna tartare

Damon Hall - MoMo's - awesome smoked fish

Damon Hall – MoMo’s – awesome smoked fish

Almost impossible to pick favorites in a stellar group like this, but if I had to, I’d say Justin Simoneaux of The Moss Room may have put out the best seafood bite. It was a tiny pastry cup filled with summer corn relish, tomato, chili, basil, and Monterey squid. Unbelievably good.

Monterey squid, corn relish, tomatoes - Justin Simoneaux of The Moss Room

Monterey squid, corn relish, tomatoes – Justin Simoneaux of The Moss Room

SF Chefs. Food. Wine. – Awesome Vegetarian Dishes


OK, we’re wrapping up the small detour to blasphemy, giving kudos to a couple chefs who knocked out super vegetarian dishes at SF Chefs. Food. Wine. 2009, the food festival that wins the prize for ignoring iambic pentameter and simplicity and being very difficult to say or remember. No matter; the food and wine and panel events were all great and worth the frightening investment of time and money for that all day pass.

Pole Bean Salad, Fish & Farm, SF CA

Pole Bean Salad, Fish & Farm, SF CA

1. FISH & FARM’S POLE BEAN SALAD (Chef Chad Newton)

Beans, beans…sometimes a magical fruit. Mostly not, and long waxy beans among them for many of us. Texturally challenging those skinny legumes, but Chef Chad Newton’s “pole bean salad” was another little veggie-lovers wonder. Roughly chopped yellow and green beans with diced sweet 100 tomatoes were tossed in a dill creme fraiche were enough to make the plate captivating, but the thinly julienned curlycues of crisp fried onions pulled the thing to brilliance. It’s Newton’s clever play on a white trash classic–Southern green bean casserole–but without the Velveeta and with an urban, haute cuisine twist. Smartly delicious; the dish was really bright and summery and refreshing. (But better as a tease for some of Newton’s amazing meat dishes at Fish & Farm…) And chopping the beans diminished the potentially unnerving waxiness…a good way to go.

The Grade: Awesome

FISH & FARM – 339 Taylor, SF CA (415) 474-3474

Chef Chad Newton, Fish & Farm SF

Chef Chad Newton, Fish & Farm SF


Given the fantastically rich French food from Roland Passot of La Folie and Hubert Keller of Fleur de Lys, and some serious meat and seafood throw-downs from other chefs all over the tent, walking over to get “just pesto” from Farina seemed at first like “Gee, what a gyp.” Until the blazing Kentucky grass-green concoction was smeared across a perfect little crostini piqued your  interest. Or maybe angelically lit-pea green…you get it; it’s bright and captivating.

Then it hits the inside of your mouth like a shock of bliss and you think, “Oh yeah, I get it. This is among the best pestos I’ve ever had. Right up there will all the other amazing stuff I had today. And maybe even past a couple I thought were my favorites.”

When chefs keep topping each other and ones rise in your estimation quickly and unexpectedly, you could say it’s a pretty good food festival.

And after the festival I learned that Farina’s Executive Chef  taught his Chef Danny Bowien his mother’s Genovese pesto recipe, then Bowien goes out in April 2008 to Genoa and takes first prize at the Pesto World Championship there. Yep, just pesto on toast.  (No pic; sorry…think VERY GREEN)

The Grade: Awesome

FARINA – 3560 18th St, SF CA (415) 565-0360 

SF Chefs. Food. Wine. – Charcuterie Plates


There were a few charcuterie items at SF Chefs. Food. Wine.  All were just great.

Fra’ Mani offered a lovely plate of various olives and their very rich salume made with red wine. It was dense and delicious, and a wildly colorful little plate. Paul Bertolli and his team had a little assembly line in play, and a tempting array of salume decorating their space.

Fra'Mani Salume and olives

Fra’Mani Salume and olives

Corso restaurant in Berkeley also featured charcuterie at the SF Chefs. Food. Wine. opening night. Chef Rodrigo da Silva and his team had a tasty little charcuterie plate with two types of salume (less intensely flavored than Fra’Mani), and a really fantastic, pistachio-mottled mortadella. Both salume were great, and I could have eaten a pound of the mortadella alone. Trattoria Corso also had a baby burrata stuffed with figs and drizzled with honey. It was thankfully not too sweet in its amazing mouthful of chewy, creamy, and nutty flavors. The little bundle reminded me of a silent film bank robbery stash. Their Italian cheese delight was a big hit for everyone who tried it. I think Chef Rodrigo da Silva and Trattoria Corso needs more attention paid to it, given two stellar little dishes like this.

Trattoria Corso's plates at SF Chefs. Food. Wine. 2009

Trattoria Corso’s plates at SF Chefs. Food. Wine. 2009

Chris Cosentino and his pals from Boccalone & Incanto restaurant served up schmears of Boccalone’s Southern Italian n’duja (or nduja). Chris & Mark currently offer the only commercially available n’duja in the States. This spicy Calabrian pig sausage is spreadable…yep, a spreadable salume. N’duja is smooth but chewy, with a slightly stringy, grassy texture that makes it a unique (and fun) oral event. Its spreadability, pepperiness, and wild, raver-orange coloration make Boccalone n’duja a great party platter feature. The n’duja is noticeably piquant, with a wonderful, lingering flavor and medium heat that cools down after awakening your palate. Served simply on a crostini with a bit of olive oil; small but powerful flavor. Love the stuff, and you can get it at Boccalone in the Ferry Building or order it online.

Boccalone's Nduja @ SF Chefs. Food. Wine. 2009

Boccalone’s Nduja @ SF Chefs. Food. Wine. 2009

Filet Mignon Steak Tartare

Filet Mignon Steak Tartare - Lark Creek Steak

Filet Mignon Steak Tartare – Lark Creek Steak

Steak tartare has been such a rarity that its perennial status as a French delicacy seems even more elevated in recent years. Most places that serve steak tartare do it well, but you’d be hard pressed to find a better steak tartare than at Lark Creek Steak.

The steak tartare at LCS is made of filet mignon, so you’re in the Pantheon of tartare right away. It’s dolled up with capers, chopped onion, fleur de sel and the prerequisite raw egg yolks. It’s meat at its purest and finest, with just a bit of seasoning. It’s rich, meaty, salty, a bit fatty, and absolutely fantastic. This is a meat lover’s dream.

The crostini are likewise perfect, crispy, buttery little trowels to dig out fine chunks of filet mignon. The portion is generously sized to share between two, three, or four friends.  If you’ve never had steak tartare, treat yourself. You’ll love it.

THE GRADE: AWESOME (highest grade)
THE DAMAGE: $13.95 

Westfield® San Francisco Centre
845 Market Street, 4th Floor, Ste 402
San Francisco, CA 94103

Phone: (415) 593-4100


Mon.-Fri. 11:30 am – 2:00 pm
Sat. & Sun. 12:00 pm – 2:30 pm

Mon.-Thurs. 5:30 pm – 9 pm
Fri. 5:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Sat. 5:00 pm – 9:30 pm
Sun. 5:00 pm – 9 pm

Antelope Tartare – Maverick, SF

Antelope Tartare - Maverick SF

Antelope Tartare – Maverick SF

I’m a huge fan of beef tartare and this was my first experience having antelope tartare. While beef tartare is fabulous because it’s meaty, fatty and rich, antelope tartare rocks in a far leaner manner, still rich with taste but without the kind of knockout punch fattier beef can have on the body. The antelope meat is sourced from Broken Arrow Ranch, which has been selling wild game meats for over 25 years.

Antelope Tartare (detail) - Maverick, SF

Antelope Tartare (detail) – Maverick, SF

The leanness of the meat and its wonderful tones, imbued throughout via a mildly piquant ancho chile sauce, were a revelation. The ancho heat slow-rolled in the mouth and lingered long in the finish, making each bite slowed to enjoy the experience. Now I wish more restaurants would serve wild game tartare; it was not gamey at all. My friends and I loved this appetizer; it’s a little masterpiece from Chef Scott Youkilis of Maverick. The little greens (purslane) added a good dirty crunch to the savory smoothness of the antelope meat. The only minor wish was more toast points because they’re soaked with olive oil and quite delicious, but the bread at Maverick is quite good and sated our need to request the points.

THE GRADE: AWESOME (highest grade)
3316 17th Street San Francisco, CA 94110
Phone: (415) 863-3061

Make a free reservation for Maverick here on


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