Category Archives: Uncategorized

Beef Bavette (Spruce, SF)

Beef Bavette

The grilled beef bavette steak at Spruce is thick-sliced and flayed out like meaty arrows. dipped in Bordelaise and ready to pierce your taste buds. What an amazing steak;  this is one of the best of 2009. The richness of Bordelaise (sauce made from bone marrow, red wine, and broth) soaking the beef bavette can make your eyes roll back when you chew. Spruce’s bavette is paired with duck fat potatoes, which are terrific, and a seasonal vegetable.  A simple and fantastic dish, and a perfectly grilled steak.

Grilled Beef Bavette - Spruce, SF
Grilled Beef Bavette - Spruce, SF

The Spot: Spruce

Spruce itself is one of the smartest designed restaurants in San Francisco. Opulent but coolly so, every table comfortable and distant enough from neighbors to make you feel your party is the only one there. And faux-ostrich dining chairs…they should sell them.  Comfortable, plush, dark, romantic, Spruce is a great place for dinner. And there are great small tables in the bar area if you don’t have a reservation. 

The Grade: Awesome/Phenomenal 

(highest grade)

The Damage: $30

The Skinny: Spruce

3640 Sacramento Street, San Francisco CA
Phone: (415) 931-5100
Website: http://www.sprucesf.com/
Hours: Lunch M – F 11:30am – 2:30pm; Dinner nightly 5 – 10pm
Chef: Mark Sullivan 

Make a reservation at Spruce via Open Table

 
If you want to try a Bordelaise yourself, here’s a decent recipe (not from Spruce): Steak with Sauce Bordelaise

New York Steak – Steak Frites

New York Steak – Garcon, San Francisco

Grilled New York Steak, Garcon, SF CA
Grilled New York Steak, Garcon, SF CA

Garcon is sadly overlooked as a favored French bistro in San Francisco. But they should be more known because owner Jerome Rivoire and his crew at Garcon serve up some pretty great food. The grilled New York steak is one example. Appropriately rare and wrapped with a dripping coat of spicy green peppercorn sauce, it’s a great little steak frites. The fries, in this case, are crispy garlic-parsley potatoes. These, and some sourdough, and you’re well appointed to mop up the fantastic gravy that the steak doesn’t skate through. The third wheel on this plate is some sort of seasonal greens (either French beans or a salad). Described on the menu: Grilled New York steak, haricots verts, garlic & parsley potatoes, green peppercorn sauce.

The Grade: Great

The Damage: $23

The Skinny: Garcon
1101 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110
Phone: (415) 401-8959
Website: http://www.garconsf.com
Reservations: http://www.garconsf.com/reservations.html

Garçon on Urbanspoon

Steak Tartine (Redd, Yountville)

Steak Tartine

New York Steak Tartine, Redd, Yountville CA
New York Steak Tartine, Redd, Yountville CA

The Dish: Steak Tartine

This is probably superstar chef Richard Reddington’s version of a burger & fries. The New York steak tartine, rare and thick-sliced, is mesmerizing in its tenderness, flavor, and juiciness. A bit of aioli and balsamic onions make the small open-faced bites of beef and bread drool-making. The onion rings are perfect, but thankfully the breath-charging haloes sit atop a hill of local greens for some earthiness and textural relief.

Maybe a bit of onion overkill here…I mean, people do get romantic in Napa Valley and all those onions might keep both vampires and lovers at bay. Otherwise, an exceptionally good dish.

The Spot: REDD, Yountville CA

With all the great restaurants in Northern California’s wine country, it’s hard for visitors to discern which are hype and which are worth the ‘I’m in wine country on vacation so I won’t squawk at the bill’ type of pleasure that all the restaurants here should provide. Thankfully, I found every experience at Redd, and every dish, of the highest quality. It’s among my favorite dining spots in Napa Valley.

Its pristinely simple décor certainly whispers post-modern cool, but Redd’s infused with enough warmth to avoid stuffiness. Careful, stylish selection of tables, chairs, even silverware, and an occasional eruption of fresh flowers for chlorophyll and color imbue Redd’s refreshingly spartan design.

But really, it’s about Chef Richard Reddington’s food. Reddington’s long culinary pedigree includes work at renowned restaurants in New York (Park Avenue Café and Daniel Boulud’s Restaurant Daniel); San Francisco (La Folie, Rubicon); and France (the Michelin three-star Arpege and with Roger Vergé at Le Moulin de Mougins).

To be frank, I’m not sure why Redd isn’t one everyone’s list of favorite Northern California restaurants. So afford yourself the opportunity to dine there; it’s a stellar experience.

The Damage: $25

The Grade: Exceptional / Awesome (5 out of 5)

The Skinny: Redd
6480 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599
Phone: (707) 944-2222
Website: http://www.reddyountville.com/

REDD on Urbanspoon

Roasted Duck Breast (Big Sur Bakery, Big Sur CA)

Wood-Fired Duck Breast

Wood-Fired Duck Breast, Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant
Wood-Fired Duck Breast, Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant

The Dish: Wood-Fired Duck Breast

This is a near-perfect duck dish, and among top duck dishes I ate in  2008. Something about roasting a bird with a wood-fired oven or grill captures the real essence and flavors of meat exceptionally well, and chef Philip Wojtowicz has really mastered the technique in all the great meat dishes at Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant.  The duck breast is sliced and flayed apart, like rosy wings or arrow tips, and plenty of jus remains from the meat. The sole improvement to this dish would be some crisping on the fatty duck skin. But hey, it’s duck. That’s an expectation. 

An additional nice note about Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant is that you can select from a handful of seasonal vegetable sides. I opted to partner the duck with creamy risotto with fresh corn, scallions, Parmesan and rich broth. It was sterling, to say the least. 

Big Sur Bakery in Big Sur CA.
Big Sur Bakery in Big Sur CA.

The Spot: Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant, Big Sur CA

Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant is my favorite place to eat in Big Sur, hands down. It transforms from a funky little bakery in the morning that serves up incredible pastries to a lovely and heart-warming little spot for a romantic dinner in the evenings. Every pastry, every dinner I had there was excellent.  Two of the three folks behind this little gem are are an emigre couple from Los Angeles, pastry chef/co-owner Michelle Rizzolo and her husband, chef Philip Wojtowicz.

What’s great about Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant is its straightforward, unpretentious excellence and down-home, rustic simplicity: picnic tables on the patio and heavy little wooden tables and chairs inside.

The service is friendly and sweet and, if any place can demonstrate the inexpressibly tender magic of one of the most magical spots on Earth, Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant certainly does. It’s the gastronomic soul of Big Sur, and Rizzolo & Wojtowicz capture Big Sur’s zeitgeist in every bite.  It doesn’t just get to your stomach; it stays in your heart.

The Grade: Awesome (5 out of 5)

The Damage: $27

The Skinny: Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant

47540 Highway 1, Big Sur CA

Phone: (831) 667-0520

Website: http://www.bigsurbakery.com

Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Wood-Fired Pork Shoulder (Big Sur)

Wood-Fired Pork Shoulder

Wood-fired Pork Shoulder, Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant
Wood-fired Pork Shoulder, Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant

The Dish: Pork Shoulder

Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant offers fantastic dishes of meat, wood-grilled and roasted to enhance each meat’s warm, rich, and natural flavors. Their roasted pork shoulder is an absolutely awesome plate, grilled with a smattering of whole-grain mustard aioli. You can pick your choice of sides from several great seasonal options. i thought the white French beans with pancetta and braised greens were perfect. Overall, this was one of the best pork dishes of 2008: tender, flavorful, just simply magnificent. The understated decor in the restaurant and the sweetness of the staff just made the dish, and the evening, terrific.

The Cut: What’s Pork Shoulder?

Pork shoulder is the more contemporary term most restaurants use when describing the pork shoulder butt, or what butchers call simply pork butt. It’s a tender, more fatty, and thoroughly delicious portion of the pig if done correctly. But if you call it ‘butt,’ people get the wrong impression and you won’t sell many.

Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant, Big Sur CA
Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant, Big Sur CA

The Spot: Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant, Big Sur CA

Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant is my favorite place to eat in Big Sur, hands down. It transforms from a funky little bakery in the morning that serves up incredible pastries to a lovely and heart-warming little spot for a romantic dinner in the evenings. Every pastry, every dinner I had there was excellent.  Two of the three folks behind this little gem are are an emigre couple from Los Angeles, pastry chef/co-owner Michelle Rizzolo and her husband, chef Philip Wojtowicz.

What’s great about Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant is its straightforward, unpretentious excellence and down-home, rustic simplicity: picnic tables on the patio and heavy little wooden tables and chairs inside.

The service is friendly and sweet and, if any place can demonstrate the inexpressibly tender magic of one of the most magical spots on Earth, Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant certainly does. It’s the gastronomic soul of Big Sur, and Rizzolo & Wojtowicz capture Big Sur’s zeitgeist in every bite.  It doesn’t just get to your stomach; it stays in your heart.

The Grade: Awesome (5 out of 5)

The Damage: $27

The Skinny: Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant

47540 Highway 1, Big Sur CA


Phone: (831) 667-0520

Website: http://www.bigsurbakery.com

Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Lamb Shank (Ralph’s Bistro, Healdsburg CA)

Lamb Shank

On any given winter evening, I’m somewhat prone to order hearty things like ossobuco or lamb shank for dinner. It’s superb comfort food and, in most good Italian, Continental, or New American restaurants, it’s a safe bet. Ralph’s Bistro serves up a very good lamb shank, with well-integrated flavors and decent portions for the price. It wasn’t on par with their gigantic and delicious duck confit, but still a solid choice. 

Lamb Shank, Bistro Ralphs Healdsburg CA
Lamb Shank, Bistro Ralphs Healdsburg CA

The Spot: Ralph’s Bistro, Healdsburg CA

A lot of really good restaurants survive in Healdsburg and, while others may get the notoriety, Bistro Ralph’s unpretentious vibe and unbelievably good martinis keep locals recommending it to tourists who weren’t savvy enough to make reservations at Cyrus a month in advance. It’s a bit narrow and, like many other local restaurants, a bit noisier than it should be, but it serves solid fare at hearty portions for the prices. The only downside was the service; our waitress was distracted and just let us alone too long. Thankfully, another waiter noticed and picked up her slack, His smiles and friendly personality dispelled the specter of our irritations, which were beginning to curl around us like forlorn Japanese ghouls. Or maybe the second martini did it. 

THE GRADE: Very Good

THE DAMAGE: $27

THE SKINNY: BISTRO RALPH
109 Plaza Street, Healdsburg CA
Phone: (707) 433-1380
Website: www.bistroralph.com (Note: only basic info online to date; no seasonally updated menu)
Hours:Lunch 11:30 – 2:30 (Mon-Sat); Dinner 5:30 – 9:00 (Mon-Thurs) – 9:30 Friday & Saturday; closed Sundays.

Bistro Ralph on Urbanspoon