Considering that Adam took over 130 pictures of London restaurants we ate at, it was only natural that we start chronicling our thoughts and opinions about the food we eat. We've totally become accidental foodies. It all started out when Sheila started calling Adam "the human trash compactor"; since he eats almost anything. But somewhere along the way we started having discussions about food and seeking out culinary adventures when on travel. We bring a unique perspective to this arena as we're both vegetarians (no meat, poultry, or fish). I suspect we will both have varying opinions on the food, and hope to not only have a record for posterity, but provide some fun, useful if not amateur insight.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Steller Mezes at Troya in Upper Fillmore

Troya Mediterranean Kitchen, serves up mouthwatering mezes from a light filled storefront on Upper Fillmore. It's a wonderful combination of Turkish, Kurdish, and Persian cuisine; and not a stretch to say it's the best we've had in the Bay Area. According to their website, Troya Fillmore brings a different, more modern approach to the Turkish-inspired Mediterranean kitchen, offering local and organic ingredients as often as possible. Over 4th of July weekend, with baby in tow, we met family there for an early dinner and were not disappointed. 

Troya's space in bright and modern, yet rustic; it almost feels like a SOMA loft space. Walls are painted white with accents of red brick. Mid-century light fixtures and Edison bulbs are neatly distributed above the cherry wood tables. Upon arrival, we were promptly seated at a large table across from the open bar space. Our only complaint about the space is that it gets noisy (not enough sound attenuation) and stuffy (not enough power on the ceiling fans). After perusing the menu for several minutes, we decided to order a bunch of sharing mezes for the table. Across the eight of us, we ordered 12 items, including dessert. For the purposes of this blog, I'll highlight the key eight. 

Hummus, Haydari, Muhammara with House Made Turkish Bread ($16) - Three dips of hummus (mashed chickpeas with tahini and olive oil), haydari (strained yogurt with garlic and mint) and muhammara (roasted red pepper with walnuts) served with warm airy leavened bread. Each dip has it's own distinct flavor - hummus was earthy and buttery smooth, haydari was fresh and citric, the muhammara was spicy and intense. My favorite was the muhammara paired with some haydari, the balance between the two was perfect, especially over the fluffy bread. 

Summer Watermelon Salad with fennel, feta and fresh mint ($9) - A bright flavorful appetizer portion salad of refreshing watermelon cubes, salty feta, and crunchy licorice-flavor fennel. I am generally not a fan of salads that include fruit, this one worked because it was the opposite - fruit paired with savory elements. Each ingredient had a purpose and the feta was not pungent or overpowering. All in all, a great pallet cleansing dish. 

Roasted eggplant salad with tomatoes, pine nuts and feta ($10) - Served warm, this dish was a pleasant surprise for me. The roasted and slightly charred eggplant was layered perfectly with juicy tomatoes, earthy pine nuts, and fresh feta. Combined as one, it was a perfect blend of the Mediterranean. My only feedback was to cut the eggplant thinner, so that each bite has equal balance. 

Crispy Brussel Sprouts with aleppo aioli ($9) - We liked the concept of the dish and the aioli, but the sprouts were inconsistent with some sprouts soggy and some over crisp. The aioli by itself had a nice kick but was a bit too eggy for my taste. From a great stable of mezes, this was a miss in our books. 

Grilled Halloumi Cheese with fresh figs almonds and grapes ($11) - We're aficionados of this Cyprus cheese having tasted in at many establishments throughout London. Troya does halloumi justice, each cube covered in Turkish spices was perfectly grilled and topped a fresh sweet fig jam - a really nice savory sweet dish. We were surprised at how large the portion was especially each halloumi cube. All of us end up cutting them in half. That being said, it's a staple we'll order again. 

Wild arugula salad with avocado, walnuts, and farmers cheese  ($9) - Another palate cleansing dish for the table. The bitter arugula was complemented by the buttery avocado, while the walnuts added a much needed crunch. There was lemon vinaigrette drizzled on top which added a hint of tartness. 

Pesto, Tomato, and Farmers Cheese Flatbread ($12) - This was a throw in dish, not needed given the amount of food we had ordered. There was nothing memorable about it, but you could definite taste the fresh ingredients. The pesto was a bit under-seasoned and the dish could have used some salt. That being said, I can't really turn down pizza, so needless to say it was finished. 

Turkish Coffee Chocolate Pot de Creme with house-made whipped cream ($8) - A dense, bittersweet chocolate pudding served cold. On first bite everyone felt the same way, too rich, too thick, too chocolately. Over time, we were able to taste the depthness and balance of flavors. There was only a hint of coffee and this flavor was certainly masked by the chocolate. However as a dessert it was too large and we left at least 1/4 of it uneaten. 

Baklava hand rolled with walnuts and pistachios, served with ice cream ($8) - A really solid dessert with thin phylo layers, crushed walnuts and pistachios, and drizzled honey. It was not overly sweet either which was good thing given the nice portion of vanilla ice cream that accompanied the two pieces of baklava. Troya's baklava had a great texture as the phylo was slightly crumbly and crispy. We would definitely order this again. 

Troya has a wonderful stable of well balanced mezes that are great to share with large groups. When ordering I would focus in on the truly authentic Turkish dishes rather than those that have Italian influence. We will definitely go back and give Troya a strong 8 out of 10. 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Brunch at Serpentine in The Dogpatch

The Dogpatch neighborhood is at the heart of gentrification phenomena sweeping through San Francisco. Located below Mission Bay, it's home to Piccino and Long Bridge along with cult-following SF-made Rickshaw Bagworks. The sky high real estate market has made this neighborhood much sought after, especially with its convenient access to SOMA and the freeways.

On Memorial Day for brunch, we decided to try one of the new spots called Serpentine. Part of choosing Serpentine was the ease of finding parking, takes reservations, and ability to take our new son there. So yes, this is an infant friendly spot as the waitress seated us in a cozy booth with ample room for our car seat just across from the bar. All in all the wait staff were serviceable and attentive.

The interior of Serpentine is very industrial loft like, large two story paneled windows, exposed concrete columns / beams, dark wood tables / booths, aged lanterns w/ edison bulbs. I could totally move in! The brunch menu is full of typical favorites, from scrambles and pancakes to sandwiches and salads. We decided on the following items, all very reasonable priced given the portions.

Buckwheat Pancakes ($11) - two fluffy cakes topped with blueberries, strawberries, bananas, candied walnuts, maple syrup, and whipped cream. This was a hearty dish easy enough to share if you get the double stack. Even though there were fruits, syrup, and cream, the pancakes were not overly rich. The flavor balance was spot on with the earthy pancakes, fresh fruits, crunchy walnuts, and sweet syrup. Despite the use of buckwheat, the pancakes retained a really nice fluffy texture, and I especially enjoy the slightly charred crunchy edges. A standout dish that we would order again.

Buttermilk Biscuit ($2.50) - a square moist biscuit block with a char grilled exterior topped with homemade butter and raspberry jam. Surprised by the portion size (3x3x3), the biscuit could have been a dish all to its own! The inside was moist and steamy, the exterior had been quickly charred on the grill which I thought was a really nice touch. There was a hint of corn and some salt within the batter, which enhanced the flavors. The butter and jam were fresh and natural sweet. This is a great side dish to share.

Crispy Potatoes ($3.50) - triangle wedges lightly fried served with homemade ketchup. Overkill on our part given the portion size of the pancakes and biscuit. The potatoes tasted fine and it was the only savory element to our meal. I happen to like my potatoes crispy so you get all the crunchy edges. That being said, we'd pass on this dish going forward.

Overall, Serpentine is a great new addition to the SF brunch dining said. Of course they do also serve lunch and dinner; which I can only imagine would be a great atmosphere. Perhaps we'll try it one evening. Serpentine get a solid 7.5 out of 10.

Monday, April 7, 2014

southern italian homage at oenotri in napa

Napa Valley is home to the most amazing wines in the US (and arguably the world), but it is also home to some of the best restaurants such as French Laundry, Bottega, Bouchon, and Restaurant at Meadowood. Those were a bit too expensive for our taste. However on our Babymoon trip, Sheila and I did partake in a foodie excursion that included Oenotri, an Italian restaurant in Downtown Napa.

Oenotri is the work of Tyler Rodde, a native of Napa Valley, where his southern Italian establishment features a daily changing menu driven by a local, fresh, and in season ingredients. All breads and pastas are handmade onsite and all ingredients, including the olive oil, come from Oenotri's own farm in Napa Valley. The beautiful pizza oven is a wood burning Acino imported from Naples! Salivating now?

The interior of the restaurant is warm and inviting - large natural wood tables and comfy colorful seats are scattered throughout the open plan dining area. The kitchen is in plain view of the dining area so all patrons can see the action unfold. It can get a bit loud inside, so conversations tend to be at high volumes. Our waiter came over a few mins after we were seated and took the time to explain the entire menu, which features several vegetarian dishes. We eventually decided to share the asparagus antipasti, margherita pizza, and ricotta & spinach ravioli.

Chopped asparagus with mint, and parmigiano-regiano - a cold antipasti of asparagus, hand ripped mint and grated parmigiano. The asparagus was crisp and fresh, blanched and shocked to retain it's earthy flavor. The mint provided the freshness and balance. The parmigiano was flavorful but not overpowering, and provided the natural saltiness. This was a dish where you could taste each individual  ingredient with great balance. At $11 you are paying for the restaurant's location and it's organic mantra, but it's worth it.

Ricotta and spinach ravioli with saba and fava leaves - stuffed pasta filled with creamy ricotta and earthy spinach topped with a light drizzle of olive oil and saba (aged sweat balsamic vinaigrette). This is a dish that could come off as heavy, but not at Oenotri. The made to order pasta was smooth to the taste, light, and pillowy. Each bite left us clamoring for more, the saba drizzle on top provided a really nice sweetness to the dish and the fava leaves were a pleasant earthy surprise (more common would be sage or basil). Our only complaint is that at $16 this dish is a bit expensive for the portion size. Either of us could have finished the dish on our own and wouldn't have been full.

Margherita pizza cooked in a wood burning oven - mozzarella di bufala, san marzano tomato sauce, oregano, and olive oil. The 10" pizza came out piping hot with a lightly charred crust. I'll start by saying it was good, but not memorable. The best part was the crust - crispy but chewy which is a sign of great gluten balance. The cheese came across a bit too salty for our palate. The tomato sauce was fresh, but lacked flavor depth. I for one prefer the margherita at Delfina, Keste, Co, and Zero Zero over Oenotri. At $14 this was on the high-side for such a small pizza. I think next time we'll try one of their veggie farm inspired creations.

Oenotri definitely hits the mark for local, fresh, inviting Italian cuisine. Even for Napa Valley, it's not a cheap dinner for two our bill came to $70 with drinks. Although they are known for pizza, we both found the antipasti and pasta to be the stars. The ambience and atmosphere is fun for large groups; and we'd certainly come back with friends. Check out this spot if you're craving authentic southern Italian fare in Napa Valley. We give Oenotri a solid 7 out of 10. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Authentic Chinese at Fang in SOMA

There are few cities that evoke praise when it comes to authentic Chinese cuisine, and SF is one. The venerable House of Nanking in Chinatown has been an institution for over 22 years started by the Fang family. Diners have raved about the fresh, flavorful, and bold dishes created by Chef Fang. Recently, Chef Fang and his daughter opened up a more modern, inventive spot called Fang on Howard St in SOMA. The food remains a stalwart and Chef Fang personal touches keeps patrons coming back again and again. I went to Fang for the first time in Feb 2014 with my friend Chuck. We had met earlier in the evening to prep for his wedding, and decided to head out for a bit to eat afterwards. Fang had been on my culinary list for quite some time and we made it our destination.

The inside feels like 1920s Shanghai with large red paper lanterns, dark wood Asian furniture, and Chinese artifacts and decorations. Service and wait staff were very typical to that at House of Nanking - straightforward, quick, and void of explanations. Along with some other patrons we got a chuckle out of it. The menu has a combination of authentic and modern twist Chinese dishes, including many vegetarian items. Tables are situated very close to each other (think needed to move one to get seated) so you'll get you know your neighbors very well!

After being seated in the back corner just behind the reception desk, we were approached by a grey hair gentleman who we shortly after realized was Chef Fang himself. He looked at us for 5 seconds and  asked if we were vegetarian. I said "yes" and he amusingly took away our menus and proclaimed "Don't worry, I'll take care of you." Chuck and I looked at each other went along for the ride, not know what and how much food would make it's way to the table - the surprise was worth it!

Fried Onion Cake with Peanut Sauce - A chinese version of a quesadilla stuffed with caramelized green onions, peppers and and peanut sauce. The exterior was a spring roll wrapper perfectly crispy, the green onions were bold, fresh, and full of spicy Szechwan flavors like garlic and chili peppers. It didn't take long for us to finish this dish and we would order it again. $6 for dish.

Peking Tofu Buns - Steam buns stuffed with braised tofu, peppers, onions, and mushrooms. The tofu was tender, succulent and bursting with heat. The veggies tasted like there were marinated in black bean sauce and wok-fried quickly. The steam buns were moist and spongy. The balance of flavors were amazing and again this was a dish worth ordering again. $14 for dish.

Fried Veggie Potstickers - Stuffed pockets filled with bamboo shoots, tofu, onions, garlic, This dish had good flavors overall, but was not memorable. It might have been because of how much Chuck and I liked the onion cake and tofu buns. I personally enjoy steamed potstickers rather than those that are pan-fried and felt that the stuffing lacked depth, meaning it tasted like what was in the buns. $6 for dish.

Tofu and Veggies in Black Bean Curry - A flavorful broth of black bean paste (rice wine, soy sauce, fermented black beans), garlic, chili peppers, mushrooms, eggplant, broccoli, and onions. There was a noticeable heat that permeated through with each bite. The curry was not as thick as I would have expected, but remarkably balanced with flavor. Each of the veggies were lightly sauteed and cooked, yet still maintained their freshness. The bowl itself was plenty for us to share. $13 for dish.

All in all Fang hit the spot for authentic Chinese cuisine. The service was hit and miss, meaning we had to flag down a wait staff for water and the bill. But having the chef come out to take our order and then decide for us was a cool experience. I would certainly go back to Fang so that Sheila can experience it. Overall I give Fang a resounding 8 out of 10. 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Mua in Oakland

Oakland typically gets a lot of negative press, but increasingly it is being hailed as Brooklyn West for the food culture, art scene, and music outlets. Located just across the bay for SF, it’s also becoming a more affordable locale given the sky-high housing costs in SF and the Peninsula.

In March, Sheila and I, along with our friend Chuck and Shawni decided to make the BART ride over to check out Oakland’s “First Friday”, a street, art, and food festival along Telegraph Ave. We had made reservations at Mua, a sprawling 6,500 SF loft space that is part bar, art gallery, dance club, and restaurant. It’s hipster heaven, with exposed ducts, oversized abstract paintings, light installations, and a DJ booth spinning the latest tunes.

The brainchild of a Korean-American artist, Mua has an energy all it’s own. The menu is an eclectic mix of comfort foods with an Asian twist and tons of vegetarian options. The service was efficient but a bit slow which was expected since the restaurant was filled to the brim on this First Friday. After perusing the menu, we decided to order a few small plates and a couple of entrees to share family style.

Kimchi mung bean pancakes – The pan fried cakes were golden brown crispy and had the consistency of shredded squash or zucchini. This was a good dish, but not memorable. Across the board, we couldn’t taste the kimchi and expected a bit more heat. Also it would have been nice to have a sweet/sour dipping sauce.

Brussels Sprouts in Brown Butter – The sautéed sprouts with brown butter were fresh and light. They were cooked well and had good flavor. We’ve had similar dishes before and would put this on par with the rest.

Burrata with portobello mushroom, sweet pepper, squash and balsamic – A good touch was that the veggies were roasted which added a bit of sweetness. The burrata was pull apart soft and the balsamic had an acidity to cut through the richness. This is one dish that we would order again.

Mac-n-cheese with butternut squash and cream – This was delicious and our favorite dish of the night. We would have never known it was vegan as the squash and cream added great flavor.  This was the dish we couldn’t just eat one bite of and wish it came as an entrée rather than a small plate. We would definitely order it again.

Vegetable ragout with couscous, kale pesto, wild rice, green lentil, and root veggies – The couscous was cooked slight al dente and the ragout had a nicely developed Asian flavor. Each component was placed around the plate and ranged from sweet, to salty, to sour, to rich. I was expecting it to be fully integrated so that flavors could seep in across the components.

CBQ burger with aioli, and fries - Made with chickpea, bulgur, and quinoa, this burger was really good. A hearty dish and quite a large patty I don’t think any of us would have been able to finish it on our own. The bun was lightly toasted and the aioli has a nice tart and creamy flavor. My only complaint was that the burger was very delicate and came apart rather easily. The accompanying shoestring fries, were addicting in their own right. We would order this again.

Apple crisp with vanilla ice cream – There was a good sweetness to tartness ratio. There was a nice consistency with the oats, warm apples, and cooked down raisins. The ice cream was rich and creamy. This dish was quite large and could be shared by two people quite easily.

Pineapple upside down cake with coconut gelato – It had a strong caramel flavor, cake was moist, and pineapple was fresh. However the real star was the coconut gelato. Sheila commented that she would order this on its own if given the chance.

We all agreed that if we were in the area, we would certainly return the Mua. However it’s tough to say when we’ll be back given the wonderful food scene that exists in SF. I guess it’s no different than what Manhattanites say about leaving the island to go to Brooklyn. Nevertheless, Mua receives a solid 7.5 out of 10. 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Tavola Pizzeria - a real surprise in Cincinnati

When Cincinnati comes to mind, you don't quite think cultural vibe or hipster flair. But neighborhoods such as The Banks and Over the Rhine will make you think again. With its close proximity to Kentucky bluegrass culture, mid-west friendliness, and German immigrant population, Cincinnati has charm. I went there for the first time in Q4 2013 for work and scoped out a few of Cinci's best local restaurants. Of course there was a pizza joint on the list - A Tavola in Over the Rhine at 1220 Vine St.

I went to A Tavola with a few colleagues on what we thought was a quiet Tuesday night, A Tavola was buzzing with energy. They don't take reservations, but we arrived  around 6:30 and we're seated right away. The space was open yet inviting, wood topped tables closely placed, an open bar area towards the front, and a huge wood burning pizza oven nestled just in view of the dining area. The menus star is obviously pizza, but they have a nice selection of antipasti, salads, and sliders. At $10 to $16 per pie the cost is on par with SF but the portion sizes are slightly larger. We ordered family style - Roasted Cauliflower, Margherita Pizza, Artichoke Pizza, and Peach & Rhubarb Streusel with Salted Caramel Gelato. All were very tasty with my favorites being the artichoke pie and peach streusel.

Roasted Cauliflower - cauliflower and lemon vinaigrette. The dish came out with piping hot with the over roasted cauliflower lightly drizzled with lemon vinaigrette. Each floret was a bite-size portion and the overall serving was enough to feed 3 as an antipasti dish. The dish was a bit bitter and acidic, but not overpowering. The cauliflower itself had a nice charred/smoky flavor and was slightly al dente.

Margherita Pizza - tomato sauce, mozzarella, basil. This was a safe choice given the other eclectic pies on the menu. The crust was chewier than I prefer with a few char marks from the wood oven. The sauce was a hint sweet from the san marzano tomatoes, the home made mozzarella was a hint salty - a good balance but nothing that I hadn't tasted before at many SF establishments. Lets just say that we ate the entire pie, but in the futures would opt for a more unique choice.

Artichoke Pizza - tomato sauce, pesto, artichokes, mozzarella, and goats cheese. This was by far the best dish of the evening. On the surface the combination of artichokes and goats cheese did not sound appealing, but the waitress indicated that this was one of restaurant's best sellers. The pizza was perfectly cooked with and generous charring along the crust. The combination of mozzarella and goats cheese provided a sweet and salty balanced flavor. The artichokes were cut small and before being added to the pie. They were fresh and retained a nice crunch. The pesto seemed out of place and it's taste really didn't come through, but I'm nitpicking at this point. I would order this again.

Pear and Rhubarb Streusel - baked pear and rhubarb with cinnamon crumble and salted caramel gelato. This dessert definitely hit the spot with the warm naturally sweet streusel and the cold creamy salted caramel gelato. The gelato itself was soft serve, a nice touch since it was easy to scoop and share. I have become a bit fan of salty sweet combo desserts and A Tavola does it right. The streusel tasted more peach than rhubarb, but none the less the fruit was very ripe and tasty. The serving size was about right for three to share and I would definitely order this dish again.

All is all A Tavola did not disappoint. A hipster vibe, great friendly service, and memorable pizza makes this place a must on your list in Cincinnati. I give a solid 7.5 out of 10. See for yourself.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Classic NYC pies at John's of Bleecker St

John's of Bleecker St is a classic NYC. An 850 degree coal fired brick oven pizzeria that serves thin crust with no frills. Sheila and I have already succumb to hipster movement of new age farm to table high end pizza joints. But John's of Bleecker St is it's old school, founded in 1929 and still in the same location with seating in time-worn graffiti-filled booths surrounded by photos of celebrities such has Jack Black, Regis Philbin, and Billy Crystal. On a recent trip to NYC, we decided to go back to NYC's pizza roots in the West Village.

It was Friday during lunch and place was starting to fill up, but Sheila and I got a nice booth near the storefront windows. The interior is warm and inviting, the sort of gritty NYC establishment that you'd see on TV. The menu was straightforward, pies and calzones made to order with your choice of ingredients. It was a no brainer for us get the classic cheese and tomato pie straight up - 14" six slice pizza for $14.50.

The pizza came to our table piping hot within 10 mins of ordering. The crust was slightly chewy with hints of char from the brick oven. The flavor balance of the dough was perfect - not too much gluten and only pinch of salt. I guess it true, NYC's water just makes things taste better. The sauce was true freshly crushed tomatoes and not a cooked down sauce; not overwhelmed with seasoning. The cheese was amazing - classic naturally salted mozzarella cooked with a few blisters from the 850 degree even.

Despite there being six large slices, Sheila and I had no trouble finishing off the medium pie. We'd definitely go back again, smack dab in the middle of the West Village, it's a great atmosphere in and around John's of Bleecker St. So if you're looking for classic New York style pizza, don't miss John's as it get's my 8 out of 10 rating.