Friday, December 24, 2010

Michael Mina

After a mind-blowing experience at Gary Danko for my birthday earlier this year, I decided to take the boyfriend to try another iconic chef for his birthday last weekend. Michael Mina, with his 40+ years of experience, has long been heralded as one of the pinnacles of fine dining in San Francisco, right alongside Danko. His food is interesting and often adventurous, infused with Japanese, French, and Mediterranean sensibilities. And the new space on California Street is gorgeous.

But let me just jump the gun and say it -- I was slightly underwhelmed. I was expecting cuisine that could give Danko a run for his money, but it was nowhere near the same level. If I had never been to Danko, I think I would've enjoyed Mina a lot more. But hey, being in the A-/B+ class is still pretty good!

Amuse bouche - cheese/prosciutto sandwich and lentil soup
The cutest little sandwich!

I know this little cup of spread doesn't look too impressive, but it was so. damn. good! Lush, softened ricotta cheese with a dash of honey - talk about getting spoiled! I usually pass on pre-dinner carbs to save space in my tummy, but I was pretty much dunking the bread in this spread and inhaling it. Mmm.

Crispy Wolfe Ranch Quail

Our favorite dish of the night. The sauce reduction was on the sweet side with just a hint of heat (the menu said harissa, which is a Tunisian chili sauce, so that would probably explain it). The plate's yogurt garnish was a hats off to Mediterranean flavors, while the medley of fresh tomatoes and cucumbers reminded me of Italy. Excellent dish all around!

Pork Belly and Geoduck Clam Salad

The boyfriend's appetizer, which wasn't as great as we'd expected. Personally I think the dish was trying to do too much (like some of the contestants on Chopped) with two flavorful "delicacies" plus a funky curry sauce and random greenery for the "salad." The pork belly itself was not tender enough ... not sure if it's because it was in a cold dish or because it was slightly undercooked. Loved the presentation though.

Braised Pork Short Ribs

For my entree, our hostess first put a plate before me with just the quince, polenta, and greens, sans short ribs. She then pulled out a small saucepot with the short ribs inside and spooned the steaming meat onto the center of my plate. Necessary? Not at all. But really cool? Yeah! The short ribs were well cooked, and the sauce (hock jus) was rich and savory. The quince and polenta were good accompaniments, and I even had a few of the fried pig ears (those cute little triangles in the photo).

Prather Ranch Lamb Chop

Solid and well-seasoned, although I think they should have used a sauce that could cut the gamey taste a bit more. You could very well find a better lamb chop elsewhere for about the same price, though.

And finally -- dessert. Those of you who personally know me or who read this blog enough know that dessert is my favorite part of a meal. Unfortunately, the desserts at Michael Mina were the least impressive course. They do a dessert tasting for $15 per person at the restaurant, so you do get to try a lot for the money, but nothing really floored me. Unlike the creme brulee and chocolate souffle and passionfruit mousse at Danko. (Yes, I can still taste them ... and that makes me a little hungry. And sad. But mostly just hungry.)

Overall though, I think Mina is definitely worth visiting if you're a foodie. I just wouldn't go there with any recent memories of Danko. And the service at Mina is definitely stellar -- they make you feel welcome, always check in, explain everything served on your plate, and even leave you with handwritten birthday cards from the manager!

Happy holidays! Be safe and eat well!

Michael Mina
252 California St
San Francisco, CA 94111

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Happy Holidays!

In preparation for the holidays ...

Barney's New York SF store window

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Foodbuzz Blogger Festival 2010!

November is one of my favorite months because of (1) autumn colors, (2) Thanksgiving (i.e., days off work to stuff your face), and (3) the Foodbuzz blogger festival! The second annual event was just as awesome as last year's, with even more bloggers in attendance. It feels great to be at an event where one of the first things someone asks you is, "What's your blog about?" or "Have you tried those cupcakes?!" instead of inquiring about your education or job or kids or mortgage payments. (Yes, those can be important too, but sometimes far less interesting!)

Tons of yummy food...


...helpful blogging and cooking workshops...

...networking with other foodies...

...and of course, freebies!

Check out the link below for more photos!

Unfortunately I was unable to attend the Gala Dinner on Saturday night due to advance tickets for the West Side Story musical at the Orpheum (which was fantastic and made me want to learn how to speak Spanish and twirl in mid-air). But thanks to all the vendors and food bloggers who made the Festival so wonderful and fit for foodies! And the biggest thanks to Foodbuzz for making all the magic happen! Can't wait for next year!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Spook-tacular Cupcakes!

What's even better than trick-or-treating? Making your own treats for the occasion! For Halloween, the boyfriend and I baked up some red devil cupcakes and decorated them with festive frosting.

For the cupcakes

Ingredients (makes 20 cupcakes)
  • 15-ounce can of sliced beets
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable or olive oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  1. Drain the beets, reserving 1/2 cup of the juice. In a blender, puree the beets with the reserve juice to make about 1 1/4 cups of puree. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, beat the eggs well. Thoroughly whisk in the sugar, oil, vanilla, salt, and beet puree until very smooth.
  3. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients a little at a time, whisking until smooth.
  5. Pour the batter into the cupcake tin and bake for 25 minutes. Set aside to cool.
For the frosting

I was actually inspired to decorate these cupcakes from a Food Network photo,,1977,FOOD_9936_36613.html, and used their recipe for a fluffy meringue frosting. Beware - we ended up with way too much frosting, so if you're not making a ton of cupcakes, you might want to cut the ingredients down proportionally (starting with 4 or 5 egg whites instead of 8). Or you could improvise like we did and use the leftover meringue to make cookies!

All that fluffy goodness!

It was our first time piping, and it was surprisingly fun ... and harder than it looks on tv. I tried making blobs to simulate ghosts, but I don't think I used enough frosting. We used a supermarket tube of black-colored icing to add the eyes and other design touches. I think some themed candy would've been awesome too!


Joe's Shanghai

I made a trip to New York in September for my grandfather's 80th birthday (yup, that's a big one). Several of my friends had always raved about Joe's Shanghai steamed pork soup dumplings (xiao long bao), so I had to give it a try. To be honest, I was skeptical about being able to find really good xiao long bao in the States, having grown up eating way too many less-than-mediocre versions with thick skin, rubbery meat, and more oil than broth dripping out at first bite. Plus, doesn't Joe's Shanghai sound pretty American?

All that skepticism flew out the door because these little dumplings were the foodie highlight of my entire trip. The skin was tender and soft, and the juicy pork filling was highlighted with a touch of sweetness from some crab meat mixed in.

But the best part was the BROTH. Oh my god, it was just a perfectly seasoned, savory, slurp-worthy burst of flavor in each little pouch. Now this is how xiao long bao should taste every time!

The other items we tried were solid, but pretty forgettable compared to the dumplings. I'll just stick with the dumplings next time!

Fried onion pancake

Garlic stir-fried veggies

There are three locations in New York; I went to the Midtown one. The Chinatown location is reportedly the best, although I suspect that it's not as clean or friendly. But those dumplings are definitely worthy of all the hype.

Joe's Shanghai
24 W 56 Street
New York, NY 10019

Monday, September 6, 2010

Gary Danko

I've been alternately lazy and busy the past few months, but now that I have some downtime and more scrumptious food photos, I am tending to this neglected little blog. I celebrated my birthday a few weeks ago, and what better way to enter a new year of life than dinner at...

That's right - Gary Danko! Restaurants like this are similar to a summer blockbuster movie or a pricey French wine - even if you've never experienced it, you should nod your head enthusiastically and muse, "Oh yes, I've heard that was good..." Needless to say, I was stoked to finally be able to try a restaurant that has long been considered an epitome of fine dining.

Amuse Bouche: Fennel, Prosciutto, and Blue Cheese
A taste of good things to come...

The wine for the night - Silver Oak 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. One of my fave cabs, full-bodied with bold cherry and blackberry flavors, a velvety texture, and a smooth finish. Yum!

Don't mind the bear. He was just tagging along!


Seared Foie Gras with Caramelized Onions and Peaches

One of the best foie gras I've ever had! It was seared to perfection, sinfully rich and enhanced by the sweetness of the onions and peaches. I don't know what they did to the onions, but I certainly can't get mine to caramelize like this!

Risotto with Lobster, Rock Shrimp, Shimeji Mushrooms, Roasted Tomatoes, Corn and Peas

Amazing risotto - not too thick or watery, just spoonfuls of creaminess packed with sweet seafood and veggies. As a testament to how good the food is here, my boyfriend who normally can't wait to flick mushrooms off his plate ended up devouring every bite of this dish!

Seared Sea Scallops with Zucchini-Basil Paste, Tomato Fondue, Red Peppers, Haricot Verts and Shimeji Mushrooms

Cheese Assortment - Delish with the wine!

Roasted Pork Belly and Tenderloin with Frisee Salad, Bacon, Pickled Jalapenos and Maple Glaze

I don't even know how to begin describing the flavor of this pork belly. Let's just say that if I had to have my last meal tomorrow, I'd want this on my plate. Juicy, savory, indulgently fatty meat laced with smoky and maple-y flavors ... just orgasmic! The tenderloin was also good, but of course it was overshadowed by the belly.

Braised Lamb Shoulder

Creme Brulee Trio

Thanks to the generous portion sizes, I was starting to feel full after the main courses. But as the desserts started rolling out, I immediately pushed away all feelings of satiation. There's always a separate stomach for dessert, right? My trio of creme brulee made me feel like I was eating three desserts for the price of one! My favorite - chocolate (on left). But it couldn't compare to what my boyfriend ordered...

Chocolate Souffle

It was like "eating a chocolate cloud," complete with two decadent syrupy sauces swirled right in! Mmm. However, my favorite dessert of the night ended up being the cute little passionfruit mousse they gave us for my birthday. I have never tasted mousse this good. The silky texture was not quite solid nor liquid, just some fluffy, heavenly state in between, packed with a surprisingly tart and tangy punch.

And the verdict for Gary Danko?

I think this expression pretty much says it all.

A little takeaway treat for breakfast the next morning - banana bread cake!

Overall, it was easy to see (or actually, to taste) why this restaurant is so famous and why Gary Danko is such a renowned chef. The flavor and presentation of the food was impeccable, balancing French and American elements in an elegant but accessible way. The seating area was beautiful. And the servers were upbeat and down to earth. They knew the menu items like the back of their hand, didn't make us feel silly for ogling over the food and taking so many damn pictures, and made sure our wine glasses were never empty.

The only downside to this restaurant? I couldn't really eat for the entire week after this meal because nothing tasted right! Guess that just means I'll have to go back again soon!

A super extra thanks to a wonderful boyfriend for this fantastic meal (and some of these photos)! Cheers!

Gary Danko
800 North Point Street
San Francisco, CA 94109

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Baked Japanese Salmon in Green Tea Broth

I got the inspiration to make this dish by modifying a recipe from a friend, a crazy good cook whose facebook mobile uploads constantly make me drool (check out his blog here). I didn't know what else to call it, but since the marinade has a teriyaki-like flavor and the broth is just dressed-up green tea, "Japanese salmon" seems fitting enough.

The marinade is simple and can be modified depending on whether you want more savory or sweet elements. The broth is even simpler - feel free to create your own variation, as it mainly serves to balance out the intensity of the marinade. The only thing to be cautious about is the cooking time for the salmon. Baking the fish is healthier and easier if you have multiple fillets, but no one likes dried out meat. Or you can pan-sear the salmon if you prefer.

  • 2 salmon fillets (8-10 oz)
  • 4 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tsp of Mirin
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 garlic gloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp miso dressing
  • 1 teabag of green tea (I used Yamamoto)
  • Salt
  • Honey
  • Optional: Your choice of garnish
  1. Whisk together soy sauce, Mirin, sugar, garlic, sesame oil, and miso dressing. Once the sugar dissolves, pour the mixture over the salmon fillets and marinate for 25 to 30 minutes.

  2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  3. Line a baking tray with foil and place the salmon on. Drizzle the leftover marinade over the fish as desired.
  4. Bake the fish at 375 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes. To check if it's done, poke at it with a fork - the flesh should flake into pieces.

  5. Brew a cup of green tea (10 to 12 oz) with one teabag and pour into a small serving bowl. Add a dash of salt and a couple drops of honey to taste.
  6. Place each salmon fillet in a bowl or shallow serving dish. Spoon in some of the green tea so it covers the bottom of the bowl/dish. (To use the words of my friend: "How much tea you use here is really up to you. If you like your flavors on the more intense side, use a little less tea. If you like it lighter, use more tea. If you like bland, flavorless fish, then dump the whole cup of tea in. Adjust accordingly.")
  7. Optional: Add garnish as you wish. I used some Japanese rice seasoning (furikake), but you can use thin lemon slices, sesame seeds, seaweed strips, or even some small cooked veggies. Really, it's just for plating, right?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Dine About Town, June 2010: Garçon

I've been having better luck with Dine About Town this year, and Garçon kept the good taste coming. The restaurant has the old-world charm of a Parisian bistro, with soft lighting, wooden floorboards, and colorful French sketches dotting the walls. Yet Chef Arthur Wall (former exec sous chef of George's at the Cove in La Jolla, always a stop for me when I'm in San Diego) adds a modern, California-friendly touch to his dishes.

No French dinner is complete without a good wine! I brought in a bottle of 2006 Sterling Malvasia Bianca, which I'd been saving for a special occasion because it's up there on my list of fave wines. The flavor and aroma remind me of summer fruits and honey, so it's perfect for this time of year!

Steamed P.E.I. Mussels | fennel, shallot, lavender, pastis-chardonnay broth

The mussels had a good chewy texture, but the shallots were on overdrive in the broth, so by the end that was really all I could taste...

French Onion Soup | gruyere and croutons

A solid interpretation of French onion soup - salty and savory balanced with the sweetness of onions and gruyere cheese.

Pan Roasted Salmon | summer squash, haricots vert, cherry tomato coulis, pine nut pesto

My main course. The salmon was perfectly cooked - slightly crisp on the outside but still soft on the inside. (Dry salmon would make me very, very sad.) The vegetables, tomato coulis, and pesto were fun, summery compliments to the dish.

Grilled Hanger Steak | truffle butter, watercress, & steak frites with aioli

The boyfriend's main course. The steak was flavored well, but a bit on the tough side even at medium rare. Loved the truffle butter though!

Banana Rum Crèpes | rum cream, caramelized bananas, pecan ice cream

Soft, paper-thin crèpes filled with sweetly caramelized bananas, topped with a rich rum cream sauce and powdered sugar. The nutty texture of the pecan ice cream was a nice contrast, although I think any kind of ice cream would have worked here. Another friend ordered the crème brûlée, which I am sad to report was on the disappointing side.

By the way, for those of you who don't know, "garçon" is the French word for "boy." It could also be used as "waiter," but that usage is now considered rude and demeaning, so I wouldn't suggest it unless you want to risk something weird happening to your food!

1101 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Ebisu Sushi

Ebisu Sushi has been in the Sunset District for some time now, but they just recently opened a new location in the Financial District. A friend suggested trying it for lunch, so we went and each got big bowls of Japanese curry with rice. Even though they only do take-out and catering, the place was bustling with hungry lunch time customers.

The curry was quite good -- not as thick as some other places, but flavorful enough. And the portion sizes were very generous!

They also had a variety of handmade mochi, and I couldn't resist getting this white bean one topped with cute jelly decorations. Yes, I'm a sucker for presentation ... and for sakura blossoms!

Ebisu Sushi
336 Kearny Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94108