Tag Archives: Fowl

1/2 Squab (Canteen, SF)

1/2 Squab

Half-Squab (Canteen, SF)

Squab (pigeon) is a funky fowl that’s favored by the French. On an episode of last season’s “Top Chef” where contestants had to cook for culinary masters, Jacques Pepin confessed his passion for squab and how it resonated with pleasant boyhood memories of growing up in France. Certainly when squab is done well, it’s a nice, tasty bird, and we have to assume Pepin’s had his share of great squab. It’s just not the sort of dish you see much in the US.  Squab’s not the kind of meat that sits politely atop anything; it looks awkward, no matter what you do. It looks like a little dead bird. Which, you know, it is.

But Chef Dennis Leary of Canteen recently pulled off the rare squab masterpiece. It’s a half squab roasted in an apricot-cumin glaze. The crisp skin was slightly smoky and sweet, and the bird rightfully juicy inside. An Indian mound of lentils beneath brought some earthiness to the earthy-toned squab meat, and a swirl of vinegar syrup rounded the plate for an additional palate tease. Visually, he couldn’t escape the dead bird on a plate fate of squab, but the tones of brown on the plate made for a clever, edible, monochromatic sculpture.

The squab was roasted to perfection, and the variance of flavors provided continual surprises. A nice birdy treat from King Leary. 

The Grade: Excellent

The Damage: $11.50

The Inside Tip #1: Canteen’s website is updated with their daily menu.

The Inside Tip #2: Canteen’s not on OpenTable.com; you have to leave message for reservation, so reserve well in advance.

The Skinny: Canteen

817 Sutter Street (at Jones)
San Francisco, CA 94109
Phone: (415) 928-8870
Website: www.sfcanteen.com

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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

Cornish Game Hen (Sodini’s Bertolucci’s, South SF CA)

THE SPOT: SODINI’S BERTOLUCCI’S RISTORANTE, South San Francisco CA

Sodini’s Bertolucci’s is the kind of old-school Italian joint that you would imagine finding in downtown Las Vegas, or in Eastern New Jersey. With its giant signage, black-and-white awning, and exterior murals of Italian landscapes, it’s a holdover from another era, and a surprising discovery off the main drag in South San Francisco. Giant, framed turn-of-the-century European posters, a wraparound gold-striped curtain, a garden fountain, and swirling red booths that swallow you like the jaws of Jonah’s whale make the interior like a Sopranos backdrop, but cleaner.

THE DISH: CORNISH GAME HEN

God bless the place that has Cornish game hen as a menu staple. I wish more restaurants served the lovely young bird. It’s the daily lunch special at Sodini’s Bertolucci’s on Tuesdays, and on the dinner menu that night as well. (Lunch specials here also include soup or salad; I thought the traditional minestrone was good.) The plate has not one, but two hens, perfectly roasted and seasoned with salt, pepper, with fresh rosemary sprigs tucked in. The fowls lay atop creamy polenta, with seasonal veggies (like squash) along for the ride. The veggies are unremarkable, but the polenta is great.

Like other dishes I’ve enjoyed at Bertolucci’s, the portion is enough for lunch and a take-home snack or light dinner. For the price, it’s a solid value but, more importantly, it’s delicious. 

THE DAMAGE: $14, lunch (includes soup or salad) and $19, dinner

THE GRADE: EXCELLENT (4 out of 5)

THE SKINNY: SODINI’s BERTOLUCCI’s

421 Cypress Avenue, South San Francisco, CA

Phone: (650) 588-1625

Website: www.sodinisbertoluccis.com