Monday, January 28, 2008

Mondavi Moscato d'Oro

Wine has long been referred to as the "nectar of the gods" (think back to the Greeks and their mythology), and Robert Mondavi's Moscato d'Oro really does remind me of nectar! This wonderful wine made from muscat blanc grapes is a must-have for anyone who likes dessert wine. It's remarkably fragrant, with honeysuckle, peach, and apricot flavors, and the sweetness is balanced with a good acidity and crisp finish. Perfect for a fruit-based dessert, or just by itself.

Mmm ... what a wonderful world.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Some Korean Comfort Food

My friend Helen threw a small housewarming dinner party last night and graciously served us plenty of home-cooked Korean food. What a feast to warm the heart ... and our tummies.

Pancakes with calamari, onions, green onions, and kimchi

Bulgogi with toasted sesame seeds sprinkled on top

Left: Kimchi
Right: King oyster mushrooms sauteed in olive oil with garlic, onions,
green onion, sea salt, and freshly-ground pepper

Ricecakes sauteed in olive oil, with sauce made from red chili paste, sesame oil,
ground apples, orange juice, and molasses

Fresh honeydew

But even better than the food was the company of good friends. Thanks Helen!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Salt House

Today's fine dining establishments don't have to be pretentious, especially for the younger generation of professionals. One of the things I love about Salt House is the casual atmosphere. Indeed, the website proudly boasts, "From the jackasses that brought you Town Hall Restaurant," so you know that even the chef partners aren't trying to take themselves too seriously. While the interior of Salt House may not be as chic as Town Hall, it definitely still has its own character. The restaurant is located in what used to be a printing press warehouse built in the 1930s, so the space has brick walls, hardwood floors, and high ceilings and windows for plenty of light and air. Wooden and metal decorations, as well as some fine art, add fun touches to the walls. It's a great spot for a lunch meeting, happy hour, a romantic dinner, or just a night out with friends.

But Salt House does take its food seriously, serving up contemporary American fare with the same attention to flavor and presentation that made Town Hall so famous.

Redhawk cheese with side salad, nuts, and raisins ($6)

Redhawk cheese is from California's Cowgirl Creamery, and its pungent flavors paired well with our bottle of 2001 Chateau St. Jean Cabernet Sauvignon.

A little dish of marinated olives ($5)

Poutine fries with short rib gravy and cheddar ($10)

The olives and fries make great snacks or appetizers. The menu also has a good selection of raw oysters for the shellfish enthusiasts. And now for one of my favorite guilty pleasures:

Foie gras with sauteed nectarine sauce and hazelnuts ($18)

Say what you will about duck liver, but I'm a huge fan. The foie gras here was only lightly seared, keeping the inside moist and buttery, which paired wonderfully with the sweetness of the fruit sauce. If I ever feel like pampering myself, I'd most likely order the foie gras with a glass of red wine for dinner. Or maybe even for lunch!

Seared yellowfin tuna with ambrosia melon, fennel, and avocado ($14)

In short, this is a wonderful restaurant for serious foodies who want to have a little fun as well!

Special thanks to Lauren for taking the originals of these photos.

Salt House
545 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
(415) 543-8900

Friday, January 4, 2008

Kappa Restaurant

One night, my friend and I decided to finally try dinner at Kappa, a wonderful gem of a restaurant tucked away in a hidden corner of San Francisco's Japantown. Locating the restaurant for the first time was slightly challenging. We went up a flight of stairs from the J-town Denny's, peered skeptically into a Korean karaoke lounge, and finally found the entrance behind a sliding wooden door next to the lounge. The only indication of the restaurant's existence was a small sign with the words "Kappa" inscribed in neat hiragana.

Yet aside from the odd location, this was one of the best meals I've had outside of Japan. Once I stepped inside, I was instantly transported back to the small, intimate restaurants in Japan, where salarymen drink and eat in between hearty laughter after work hours. The restaurant can only fit about ten seats at the bar, so the dining experience allows you to converse with both the chef and his wife, who served customers while wearing a full kimono (which is very commendable since it's hard to even walk in kimono without looking like a penguin). I almost forgot that I was in the States.

Temple in Japan

As for the food, let me begin my review with some words of caution. Not everyone will appreciate the food at Kappa. The restaurant serves food in the koryori style, which is harder to find outside of Japan. Small, stand-alone dishes are presented with minimal garnish and seasoning, in an effort to highlight the original flavors of the ingredients. There is no standard menu, as the availability of items varies with the freshness of the ingredients. The result is a sensual, refined dining experience that allows you to enjoy the flavors, scents, and textures of some of the most traditional Japanese cuisine.

If you're looking for California rolls, contemporary fusion fare, gyoza, and teriyaki bento boxes, do not step foot into Kappa. And take your gaijin t-shirt with you. Kappa doesn't even serve sushi, although I'm sure the chef would do an amazing job if he wanted to.

For newbies, the best thing to order is probably the omakase pre-fixe menu. For $85 per person, the chef will select a variety of dishes to introduce you to koryori dining. My friend and I were fairly confident about what we wanted though, so we just ordered a la carte.

While Kappa doesn't serve sushi, it does serve a great selection of sashimi. Each slice was thick, juicy, melt-in-your-mouth perfection. Wasabi and shoyu were completely unnecessary. The uni (sea urchin) was especially amazing.

I had to order the ankimo (monkfish liver), and I was not disappointed. This Japanese delicacy is usually served with daikon, green onions, and ponzu sauce. Good ankimo is creamy and velvety, but not too heavy.

Next we had the hirame usuzukuri - thinly sliced halibut sashimi dipped in a mixture of shoyu, thinly sliced green onions, and spicy daikon. The fish had a wonderful texture, and I liked the contrast between the coolness of the hirame and the spice of the daikon.

One of the daily specials was a grilled red snapper, which was easily the best dish of the meal. Reminiscent of hamachi kama, but the meat was thicker and sweeter.

Finally, the blackskin pork - thick and fried in batter without too much excess oil. The squirt of lemon added a refreshing zest. Not pictured but also worth trying are the satsumaage (fish cake) and the anmitsu (agar jelly served with sweet bean paste) for dessert. The sake selection is also very decent.

With the limited seating, reservations are a must. The portions are small, so don't show up starving. And the prices can add up to a hefty total, but if you're a fan of traditional Japanese fare, it's well worth it to visit once in awhile.

Dewa mata suguni ne!

Kappa Restaurant
1700 Post Street
San Francisco, CA 94115
(415) 673-6004

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Wilson Creek Almond Champagne

Champagne is a must-have for any successful New Years' party. While my other bubbly-sipping friends may opt for more well-known bottles like Chandon and Korbel, I run to my nearest BevMo store to stock up on Wilson Creek Almond Champagne. True to its name, this naturally fermented sparkling wine has an alluring almond fragrance that is perfect for sipping or dessert pairing. I was reminded of almond pudding the first time I tried it. And it's still affordable at $12.99 per bottle.

I would also like to wish all my readers a happy new year! I'm glad I started this food blog, and I will try to make my entries this year even better!