Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Tomato Bisque At SF Soup Company

Since I'm starting to get sick and craving some warm soup for my sore throat, I'm posting a pic of the delish tomato bisque from the SF Soup Company.

$4.61 for 12oz and $5.53 for 16oz

Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

First Seating At Palomino

While Palomino is great for lunch and happy hour, I recently discovered their First Seating special - a $20 three-course meal from 5-6pm everyday. At a price like that, you can't really go wrong.

So with a few friends and a bottle of V. Sattui Dry Johannisberg Riesling in hand (corkage was $10), I went to see what Palomino had to offer at that hour.

The three-course dinner included:
(1) Caesar salad, field greens, or a cup of soup
(2) Choice of dinner entree
(3) Sorbet or ice cream
(4) Coffee, tea, or soda

We all started with the portabella mushroom soup, which was my favorite dish overall. The soup was very rich, creamy, and just bursting with mushroom flavors.

Portabella Mushroom Soup: Fresh portabella and crimini mushrooms, caramelized onion, cayenne, fresh leeks, sherry cream (normally $7)

I also ordered a dish of tomato bruschetta for the table, since it just looked so good. Very tasty, with fresh tomatoes and lots of olive oil.

Tomato Bruschetta: Roasted garlic, fresh garlic, basil, extra virgin olive oil ($8.50)

I was in a pasta mood, so I ordered the lobster ravioli, which featured large sheets of saffron pasta stuffed with tender lobster, topped with lobster cream sauce and mascarpone cheese. These were probably the largest ravioli I'd ever had!

Lobster Ravioli: Fresh sheets of saffron pasta, lobster, bay scallop and tarragon filling, lobster cream sauce, herb mascarpone (normally $20)

My friends ordered the crab cakes duo and the braised short ribs with ragout, which also tasted pretty good.

Crab Cakes Duo: Watercress with salsa verde and garlic aïoli, orzo mushroom duxelles with artichoke tartar, tomato basil salsa (normally $26 for a trio)

Braised Beef Short Rib with Tomato-Mushroom Ragout and Fettuccine (normally $21)

I ended my meal with a cup of sorbet and some great coffee.

As you can see from the prices I quoted, the entrees alone would've normally cost us over $20 each, so the First Seating price was an excellent deal. It's definitely a good place to go for a nice, unpretentious dinner on a budget.

345 Spear Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
(415) 512-7400

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Zuni Cafe

Not quite sure what all the fuss was about this place. The service was slow, the clams were oversalted, and the pasta was undercooked. But I might go back because it's open until midnight on Tuesday through Saturday, and it might be a better alternative than fast food (on some nights). Plus, they made a great burger and fries.

The burger featured focaccia bread, great beef (they did medium rare just right), and gruyere cheese. It was surprisingly good, especially considering the other letdowns of the night. But at $17.75, it seemed a bit pricey for people like me who just love to order a double-double and a milkshake at In-N-Out.

The shoestring fries, however, were delicious. Super thin, fried to crisp perfection, and only six bucks for a towering, Jenga-like stack.

Zuni Cafe
1658 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 552-2522

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Joy of Sake

Last month, I attended The Joy of Sake event at the San Francisco Hilton. The Joy of Sake is the largest sake-tasting event outside of Japan, and it's been held annually since 2001. This year, the event was held in San Francisco, Honolulu, and New York on different dates. Usually the event costs $70 per person, but luckily for me, my friend and former college housemate Lauren got two free passes from one of the chefs who was serving food there. The photos in this entry were taken by him (and click on his name to check out his awesome food and adventure blog).

Sake, typically referred to as "rice wine," is a Japanese alcoholic beverage made from multiple stage of rice fermentation. After fermentation is complete, grain solids are filtered out, except in the case of nigori sake. Different types of brewing methods lead to different types of sake, each with their own special characteristics. Generally, sake is not aged (although you can find some in the market that are) and isn't meant to be aged like a nice bottle of red wine. It can be served cold or hot, although generally I like it served cold, because heat tends to mask the flavors (which is why a lot of restaurants use bad quality sake to serve hot).

There are several varieties of sake:
1. Junmai - Made from rice only, with no additives or distilled alcohol. The rice can be polished to any degree.
2. Ginjo - The rice is polished by 40% or less.
3. Daiginjo - The rice is polished to 50% or less. Generally, the higher the degree of polishing on the rice, the more complex the resulting sake.
4. You can also add the word "junmai" before "ginjo" and "daiginjo" if no alcohol is added to the sake.
5. Namazake - Unpasteurized sake

At The Joy of Sake, a total of 302 sakes from 144 breweries were available for tasting. The sheer number of sakes was pretty astonishing. Lauren knows a lot about sake, so he did the navigating. We developed a system where we moved several cups along a table so we could quickly fill them using the handy pipettes, taste the sakes, and pour our leftovers into a "waste" cup. This allowed us to maximize the number of sakes we could try in the limited amount of time.

I liken sake tasting to wine tasting, in that you're judging the same things - aroma, taste, balance, aftertaste, and overall impressions. And just like wine, aromas and flavors can change, and you may like a sake that the person next to you just hates. It really depends on personal preference. I generally like medium-bodied sakes with light, earthy flavors and a smooth finish; I find them easier to drink but they still go great with sashimi. Nigoris are great too, provided they're not too sweet and the unfiltered grains aren't too big.

In addition to all the sakes, 14 great Japanese restaurants from the Bay Area (including Ozumo, Kyo-Ya, and Hana) served appetizers. Our chef friend who got us in for free was from Betelnut. Below is his dish - salmon sashimi in a lemon ponzu sauce. The sauce was light enough to complement the salmon, but simple enough so that it didn't overpower the fresh taste of the fish. Definitely my favorite appetizer at the event.

Overall we didn't even try a third of all the sakes (or maybe Lauren did, since he was shuffling among the sake tables while I was attempting to try all the appetizers). I was a little disappointed that they weren't selling any of the sakes at the event. A lot of them you couldn't even get in the US. But I guess that encouraged people to remember which brands they really liked.

The ones that I jotted down as noteworthy were:
- Yamagata Sanga
- Kamoizumi Komekome (from Hiroshima)
- Mu Sake (daiginjo was the best)
- Kamoizumi Shusen Junmai ("Three Dots")
- Okunomatsu Ginjo
- Okunomatsu Tokubetsu Junmai

I also tried a sake that cost $1,000 for a bottle, according to the representative. It was called Okunomatsu Daiginjo Shizukusake Juhachidai Ihei (yes, it's a mouthful), and it was so damn good and well-balanced, but I don't think I'd ever pay that much money for a bottle. Plus, Lauren did some research after and we now believe it actually only goes for about $100 to $200 for a bottle. Perhaps the rep was lying to us or he couldn't convert yen to US dollars properly. But he was cute, so we'll forgive him.

Okunomatsu Daiginjo Shizukusake Juhachidai Ihei

Overall it was a great event, and I'm glad I got a chance to go! Thanks Lauren!