Category Archives: Restaurant Review – CA

Burger (The Famous Ambrosiaburger, Nepenthe, Big Sur CA)

The Vibe: Nepenthe is the legendary Big Sur dining spot with a vast view, family-owned since 1949. There’s a large outdoor patio in front, a smaller patio in back that faces the ocean (through many tall trees), and indoor seating with tall wooden beams above, a semi-circular bar to the right, and an old fireplace to the left. It’s a neat little place that exemplifies the Big Sur energy, homey and pioneering and funky and cool.

What most people don’t know is that Nepenthe’s got an incredible wine list, so it’s a great place to go for a salad or burger or sandwich paired with a really top-flight bottle of wine. You’re on vacation; why not?

The AmbosiaBurger at Nepenthe, Big Sur, CA
The AmbosiaBurger at Nepenthe, Big Sur, CA

The DIsh: “The Famous Ambrosiaburger” (with Cheddar Cheese)

Despite the fact that Nepenthe undercooks their burgers on purpose—and you may be too hungry to care to send it back—the flavor and juiciness of this burger makes it really a delight. If you visit, be kind and mindful and remind your waiter you really do want it medium or medium-well instead of waiting for it coming back a bit bloody, no matter what level of grill time you request. The meat’s great and it comes on a great bun with great sauce (the ambrosia, which is like a home-style thousand island dressing). But there’s something more: a charcoal or dirty grill flavor to the burger that reminds you of being a kid, having a home-cooked burger, that makes their burger really flavorful and enjoyable. The immense, relaxing, and romantic environment probably have an affect on the senses as well, turning a hungry memory into something larger than it should be. But good meals are like that.

The beef is actually chopped steak, and the slightly sweet French roll is fantastic, with gooey cheddar pulling it all together. It’s one of the best burgers I ate in 2008.

The homemade slaw was somewhat bland and disappointing, so I recommend you opt for another side selection. The service can be slow, but if you’re down in Big Sur, you should start slowing down, too. Be sure to review the wine list! You’ll be as gaga as Wine Spectator was over it.

The Grade: Excellent / Exceptional (4 out of 5)

The Damage: $13.50 (yikes…oh yeah, chopped steak), plus $1.50 for cheese (a must)

The Skinny: Nepenthe Restaurant

Highway 1, Big Sur CA 94920

Phone: (831) 667-2345


Serving lunch and dinner, 11:30 am to 10:00 pm daily

Nepenthe on Urbanspoon

Burger (Burger Meister, San Francisco CA)

The Dish: Mushroom & Onion Burger

The “Meisterburgers” begin with great meat, and a substantial amount of it: half a pound of Niman Ranch beef. (If you prefer turkey, they have 1/3 pound turkey burgers as an option.) Your burger comes paired with a generous topping pile: a flag of green lettuce, blushing tomato slice, red onion, and crisp pickles. You also get a choice of coleslaw, salad mix, or fries. While the slaw was decent, I’d recommend the salad or the fries instead. I’d bolster up with some cheese (cheddar, Monterey Jack, pepper jack, Swiss, or blue cheese) for just 0.75 more.

Mushroom & Onion Burger, BurgerMeister, SF
Mushroom & Onion Burger, BurgerMeister, SF

Since burgers at Burger Meister are totally customizable, I was tempted to add some blue cheese to my mushroom & onion burger. It was a very good burger, bordering on great. But because Burger Meister provides free toppings that include red onion (not grilled), I felt that ordering a burger with onion was redundant. My poor big, free red onion sat alone and uneaten, whilst the grilled red onion got all my love and attention. Ugh, guilt over onions.

So next time, I’ll opt for another burger and leverage the onions that came to the dance.

One more note about sauciness and customization: everyone likes to make a burger to their taste, and at BurgerMeister, every counter and table has a cardboard beer bottle holder with six bottles of hot sauces, steak sauces, and condiments ready for the spillage. BurgerMeister is actually that place where you can have it–it being a memorable burger–your way. Kudos to that.

The Grade: Very Good (2 out of 5) (Other burgers would probably merit higher grades, but those will be judged individually)

The Damage: $8.75; Add 0.75 for your choice of cheese

The Spot: Burger Meister is a Bay Area favorite, for good reason. They make a pretty mean burger. From this basic American mouth-melter, they’ve built a small chain of five chop-beef-shops. This review is of the little Burger Meister in the Castro, on Church Street.

Burger Meister and Punk, San Francisco
Burger Meister and Punk, San Francisco

The Skinny: Burger Meister, Bay Area (5 Locations)

138 Church Street, SF CA 94114

11 am to 11 pm, 7 days a week


Burger list:

Burgermeister on Urbanspoon

Burger (Kobe Beef Burger, Alice’s Restaurant, Woodside, CA)



We happened across Alice’s Restaurant by accident, en route to the lighthouse out at Pigeon Point. The place, made famous by the eponymous Arlo Guthrie song, is an old wooden roadhouse at a crossroads, where Highways 84 and 35 meet. On sunny California days, it’s a nice place to grab some grub on the outdoor deck, and it’s got live music Thursday nights starting at 7pm.


Alice's Restaurant, made famous by Woodie Guthrie



Alice’s Restaurant has 19 burgers, typically built with a third-pound of sirloin and your typical lettuce, tomato, onion, and mayo. Alice’s burger combos are named after motorcycle makers: BMW, Moto Guzzi, Harley, Indian, etc.

Coming in hungry, I opted for the Kobe Beef Burger, made with a full half-pound of Japanese Kobe Beef. While it was very good, it doesn’t warrant Alice’s Restaurant’s propitious claim that it’s “home to the best specialty burgers in the world.” A burger, after all, is not just about great meat…

Perhaps some of the other burger options would make a better grade, like the Indian (bacon, grilled onions, and Swiss cheese) or the Jalopy burger (BBQ sauce, grilled onions, and jack cheese).

Burger list:

Detailed Menu:

THE GRADE: GREAT (3 out of 5)

THE DAMAGE: $10.95 (most of the other burgers are either $8.50 or $8.95; you can upgrade any burger to Kobe Beef for $3.50)


17288 Skyline Blvd
, Woodside CA 94062

Telephone:  (650) 851 0303


Beef Bavette (Baraka, San Francisco CA)

The Spot: Baraka, San Francisco CA (Potrero Hill)

The Dish: Creekstone Farms Natural Beef Bavette

Incredible. Decadent. Unbelievably good.

The beef bavette at Baraka is that rare meal that can revive the glory of food and life in any dispirited soul. Certainly one of the best meat dishes I’ve enjoyed in 2008, Baraka’s beef bavette (a tender steak cut from the flap of the beef loin) is the kind of meal you daydream about obsessively until you realize you have to eat it again or you will confound the daily rhythms of your life.

The parsley bone marrow butter alone—glazed across the beautiful, fairly large portion of beef bavette—should get your heart racing after the first bite. It’s a rich and sumptuous touch that deifies perfect, medium-rare beef. As with the other dishes I’ve tried at Baraka, Chef Chad Newton blends flavors that successfully juxtapose each other in the palate. There’s the earthy, slightly bitter baby Savoy spinach, mildly sweet, white cippolini onions cooked sous-vide, and decadent, tender braised beef cheeks stuffed into a beef bone. The sauce bordelaise—which combines bone marrow, dry red wine, shallots, and demi-glace—is a superb complement as a lush moat around the beef, which sits squarely atop the spinach between the beef bone tower and the smaller stack of cippolinis in a cool, very architectural presentation.

This is the best beef bavette I’ve had in the past 5 years; a simply phenomenal dish. The only slight critique I might suggest would be to relocate the baby Savoy spinach to the side instead of beneath the bavette, simply because the crispness of greens stand out more when shielded a bit from the beef juices and sauce.

As described on the menu: Creekstone Farms Natural Beef Bavette – Braised Beef Cheeks, Baby Savoy Spinach, Parsley Bone Marrow Butter, Sous Vide Cippolinis, Bordelaise

The Grade: Sterling Awesome/Phenomenal (5 out of 5)

The Damage: $27 (quite a bargain, relative to other SF restaurant prices)

The Skinny: Baraka
288 Connecticut Street (at 18TH Street)
San Francisco, CA 94107
(415) 255-0370
Dinner only, Sunday – Thursday 5:30pm to 10:00pm; Fridays/Saturdays 5:30pm to 11:00pm

Chef: Chad Newton (former Sous Chef at Postrio)

Sous Chef: Ashton Mullikin (worked with New Orleans greats Susan Spicer, Andrew Jaeger)

Baraka website:

Open Table: Baraka online reservations

Baraka on Urbanspoon

Pork Belly (Baraka, San Francisco CA)


The Dish: Slow-Roasted Pork Belly

For meat lovers, pork belly is clearly in the meaty appetizer Pantheon. And, in keeping with its perennially high commodity market valuation status, pork belly is nearly always served in frustratingly miniscule portions. (It’s still hard for me to take Wall Street financial commentators in pin-striped suits seriously when they soberly converse about the fluctuating price of pork bellies, but it’s one of the few remaining amusing ironies of capitalism.)

Fantastic Pork Belly, Baraka SF
Fantastic Pork Belly, Baraka SF

Again, Baraka in San Francisco delivers a most welcome surprise with its slow-roasted pork belly appetizer, both in terms of quantity (about 4 times the amount of belly you’ll usually get) and quality. In the large cut portion, the belly is meatier and fleshier and has more hints of ham in flavor than other, smaller pork belly appetizers.

While Baraka’s pork belly does not have the de facto crisped skin, that’s no detriment to the overall delight. The dish has a marvelous and savory balance of flavors, with the combination of earthy lentils, slightly sweet Anchor Steam Porter foam, and a bit of warm crunch from the braised trotters (the more pleasant British term for pig’s feet/ankles). This will rank as one of my favorite appetizers in San Francisco for this year.

Described on the menu: Slow Roasted Pork Belly – Braised Trotters, De Puy Lentils, Anchor Steam Porter Foam

The Grade: Sterling (5 out of 5)

Also could be described as excellent or exceptional.

The Damage: $11

An incredible value for the price, the pork belly appetizer is definitely generous enough to share.

The Skinny: Baraka
288 Connecticut Street (at 18TH Street)
San Francisco, CA 94107
Phone: (415) 255-0370
Dinner only, Sunday – Thursday 5:30pm to 10:00pm; Fridays/Saturdays 5:30pm to 11:00pm

Chef:  Chad Newton (former Sous Chef at Postrio)

Sous Chef: Ashton Mullikin (worked with New Orleans greats Susan Spicer, Andrew Jaeger)

Baraka website:

Open Table: Baraka online reservations

Baraka on Urbanspoon

Bone Marrow (Baraka, San Francisco CA)

Bone Marrow

The Dish: Roasted Beef Bone Marrow

If you indeed enjoy the marrow, prepare to swoon. Baraka (in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill) makes the best beef bone marrow dish I’ve had yet; it’s utterly fantastic. Generous portions of bone marrow are served inside three large bones; the tiny spoon and plate of warm toast points arrive simultaneously. The wonderful marrow plate here at Baraka is due to a combination of compelling contrasts: pickled mushrooms and crisp watercress. The mushrooms vary by season—sometimes chanterelles, sometimes decadent morels—but the pickling is a clever approach that counter-balances the entire palate.

Roasted Beef Bone Marrow, Baraka restaurant, SF
Roasted Beef Bone Marrow, Baraka restaurant, SF

Slathering a rich meaty glob in the lush cabernet wine reduction, then rummaging up a bit of pickled mushroom and crisp, refreshing watercress on the toast yields a true mouthful of ecstasy. If  you like meaty things, it’s almost embarrassing how dog-like you may become in your avid scooping (or sucking) of the last marrow bits from the bone.

Described on the menu: Roasted Beef Bone Marrow – Pickled Yellowfoot Chanterelles, Sausalito Springs Watercress, Cabernet Reduction.

The Grade: Sterling (5 out of 5)

There will be few bone marrow dishes as delicious as at Baraka.

The Damage: $9

This is a glorious (albeit slightly gluttonous) appetizer for just $9. Think of how expensive so many ‘small plates’ restaurants are and consider the bone marrow at Baraka. Every meat lover in San Francisco should go to Baraka and order this thing.

The Skinny: Baraka
288 Connecticut Street (at 18th Street)
San Francisco, CA 94107
Phone: (415) 255-0370
Dinner only, Sunday – Thursday 5:30pm to 10:00pm; Fridays/Saturdays 5:30pm to 11:00

Chef:  Chad Newton (former Sous Chef at Postrio)

Sous Chef: Ashton Mullikin (worked with New Orleans greats Susan Spicer, Andrew Jaeger)

Baraka website:

Open Table: Baraka online reservations

Baraka on Urbanspoon

French Dipped Sandwich (the original) (Philippe, Los Angeles CA)


America’s Best Sandwich (possibly)

Philippe The Original French Dip Sandwich, L.A.
Philippe The Original French Dip Sandwich, L.A.


Neighborhood: Downtown L.A.

The Dish: The Original French Dipped Sandwich

The Best French Dip Sandwich is the Lamb Dip Sandwich. The beef and pork are good, but there is really nothing quite like the tenderness and flavor of the lamb dip sandwich.

Be sure to slather a little of the notorious, house-made mustard on the sandwich. For folks who like hot food, it’s a fire-starter if used in the proper proportions.

Lamb French Dipped Sandwich at Philippe

As sides, the potato salad’s quite good. There are lots of things on the menu, from old-school, hearty soups (navy bean, split pea) to pickled beets, eggs, and pigs’ feet, but most guys usually just barrel down on 2 or 3 sandwiches.

Philippe The Original Lamb French Dipped Sandwich

The Vibe: Really this ranks as one of my favorite places to eat of all time, for so many reasons. It’s over a century old and used to be the caterer when giant circuses came to town. It’s just a couple short blocks to Union Station and was the prime feeding ground for anyone riding the rails. it’s got the same vibe from a century ago: ancient booths and communal tables and bolted-down stools, sawdust strewn old flooring. And, during the decade or so I would occasion its giant hall in LA, it looks like most of the servers are the same, too.

Phillipe The Original is one of the few restaurants in L.A. that has the everyman feeling about it, that survived the times when just past Beverly Hills were orange groves and Malibu was barely heard of; a place that, for me, hearkens back to the Depression through the film noir era. Seems like a joint that a mug who’s down on his luck might scrape up enough for a bite.

The Damage: Lamb French Dip Sandwich $6.25

Beef, Pork, Ham, or Roasted Turkey French Dip $5.15

The Skinny: Philippe’s, The Original French Dipped Sandwich
1001 N. Alameda Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Phone: (213) 628-3781

Filet Mignon (RNM, San Francisco CA)

RNM Restaurant, San Francisco, CA

The Dish: Filet Mignon

It’s hard to pass up a good filet mignon and RNM serves up a great one. The size of the steak is quite hearty. It’s a very nice plating, with an architectural stacking of onions and toast, steak, and the Upland cress, which look ready to launch off the steak platform at any moment. The sweet gorgonzola and wine demi-glace are perfectly balanced. Softness, sweetness, chewiness, crunch…it’s really a superior steak. Described on the menu as: Sautéed filet mignon on toasted pain levain with dolce gorgonzola, cippolini onions, cabernet demi glace and upland cress.

The Damage: $26

The Grade: Sterling (5 out of 5)

B-Sides + Killer Apps:

Here’s what I recommend as a starter for your steak at RNM Restaurant, San Francisco. Described on the menu as Grilled hearts of romaine with Fuji apples; Saint Agur cheese; toasted hazelnuts and a champagne vinaigrette.

This is one of my favorite salads in San Francisco: a very simple and delicious first plate. Like the filet mignon, it has a salty, sweet, crunchy glide…a great combination of flavor in perfect harmony.

The Damage: $9

The Grade: Sterling (5 out of 5)

RNM on Urbanspoon

RNM Restaurant – San Francisco, CA – Restaurant Review

RNM Restaurant, San Francisco

There are just a few restaurants I really love in the Lower Haight, and RNM is one of them. I’ve always eaten very well at RNM, and because it’s off the beaten tourist paths, it’s a great place for in-the-know tourists to dine in San Francisco. The food is consistently excellent, and I consider the portions generous, and a fair value for the prices.

The Vibe: RNM has an understated urban interior that’s clean but not boring, slick but not pretentious. It’s sophisticated but not trendy, just very tasteful interior design.

The Service: The service at RNM has been generally fine but not exceptional. An example: the last time we visited, our waitress was not very knowledgeable about distinctions between wine offerings on the wine list…seems like an obvious thing she should know. Not a huge letdown because the food rocked.

The Skinny: RNM restaurant

598 Haight Street (at Steiner)

San Francisco CA 94117

Phone: (415).551-7900

RNM website:

Dinner Only 5:30 to 10:00pm, Tues – Thurs; 5:30 to 11:00pm Fridays & Saturdays.

Owner/Chef: Justine Miner

Reserve a table at RNM via OpenTable

Read Yelp reviews of RNM