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, October 30, 2011

ice creamy overload at mr & mrs misc...

Now there's another boutique ice cream shop in town. It's call Mr & Mrs Miscellaneous and it's located in of all places, the Dogpatch. Co-owners Anabelle Topacio and Ian Flores have been churning out classic American flavors with several twists. They have been open for 1+ years and the recent features on both Food Network and Cooking Channel have taken this unassuming spot to the next level of popularity.

Sheila and I have been meaning to try this place for a few months and on a Indian Summer afternoon this past October we made the trip over to the Dogpatch via Muni from the Mission. The shop is a converted warehouse storefront with large glass roll up doors and an open space plan. We we arrived, the line was about 10 deep, but by the time we sat down to eat our ice cream, the line had swelled to 25 plus! Mr & Mrs Miscellaneous makes their ice cream daily in one batch; once they're out, the shop closes. Very SF-esque, think an ice cream version of Una Pizza Napoletana!

The flavors on tap on that Sunday were exciting - we tasted the salted mango, lemon verbena before settling on jasmine green tea and rosemary pistachio. The portions were very large - Sheila's junior at $3.25 and my single at $4.25 - easily could have been shared and several others in the shop were doing. Starting with the jasmine green tea - Sheila described it as creamy and aromatic. Typically green tea can be bitter, but this was delicate. It reminded her of an ice cream version of bubble tea from Fantasia, Sheila's favorite pearl tea shop in Santa Clara. She gave it two thumbs up.

The rosemary pistachio was equally earthy and aromatic like the jasmine green tea. The rosemary provided the a great element of surprise - like smelling a nicely balanced Pottery Barn candle. There were pistachio were toasted and provide a nice chunky element throughout the scoop. However the cream, and by virtue the sugar content, was overpowering at times which made it pretty hard to finish. I enjoy ice cream like most people, but I wish the cream was lighter. In hindsight, I should have gone for the salted mango.

Mr & Mrs Miscellaneous is an inventive shop! The quirky flavor combinations will keep the patrols coming to this gentrified neighborhood. In Sheila's mind, when compared with Humphry Slocombe in the Mission, Mr & Mrs easily is superior because the flavors are delicate and the ice cream is lighter. I would tend to agree, despite the my lukewarm review of the rosemary pistachio.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

is pizzeria delfina the best in sf?

Arguably yes, if you asked Sheila and I. Pizzeria Delfina is the uber-trendy casual establishment of Craig and Anne Stoll (of Delfina and Locand0) that opened in 1995. It serves Neapolitan style pizzas using local and seasonal ingredients. There are six staple pizzas and two or more daily-changing specials. There are two locations -one in Pacific Heights off Fillmore; and the other on 18th St sandwiched between Tartine and Bi-Rite. Over the past 2-1/2 years, we've probably been the both an equal number of times - maybe 8 times in all, but who's counting!

The place is tiny with around 25 total seats inside and a dozen outside and an open plan kitchen. The environment is casual (more so that Flour + Water and Berreta); and the ambiance is simple and functional. It doesn't take reservations, there's a chalkboard as you enter when names can be added, so be prepared to wait around 30-45 mins any day of the week. We've had some luck during odd hours - post lunch rush around 2pm and pre-dinner rush around 5pm. The place to sit is at the sidewalk tables, especially when the weather is cooperative. More often than not we opt for two pizzas instead of sharing a salad and pizza, but to be honest it's that good! The pizzas remain a constant as well - Panna and Margherita.

The panna is a mouth watering take on a pie with tomato sauce, fresh basil, shaved parmesan, and cream. The tomato sauce is fresh, slightly chunky, and a bit sweet. The fresh basil give the dish an aromatic punch; the shaved parmesan (thin strips) provide the salty element; and lastly the cream (sorta like a creme fraise) provides the silky buttery aftertaste. Oh wait, don't forget about the crust - thin, crispy, and always slightly burnt - it's cooked in a wood fire oven at about 700 degrees. The one word that comes to mind with this crust is consistent. You always know what you’re going to get – it’s not paper thin like a cracker and not overly chewy like some other California-style crusts. The perfect blend of crunchy and chewy, we feel this crust is the best in the City. And at $10, this is one of best bargains for high end hipster pizza.

The margherita is a simply prepared with the freshest of ingredients. The tomato sauce and fresh basil (same as the panna pie) are juicy and bursting with flavors. The fior di latte mozzarella is soft, silky, and. This is pie best eaten piping hot from the even – when the sauce is still bubbling, the crust still steaming, and the melted mozzarella falling off the slices. The pizza just doesn’t have the same character after getting cold – of course the same can be said for most others. It’s been a while since I’ve had the margherita pies at Gialina, Zero Zero, and Beretta; but for my money, Pizzeria Delfina takes the prize. The perfect crust, with fresh ingredients, cooked in a wood fired oven, served steaming hot! It is $12.50; which is a reasonably priced when compared to its competitors.

So to conclude, Pizzeria Delfina is the real deal. Sheila and I would recommend this place hands down. The Mission location has the ambiance, but the Pacific Heights location is larger and easier to find parking. Again, the food quality is great at both and the wait may like be the same. Service can be hit or miss (hipster status quo); we’ve had many more positive experiences than negative. Skip the appetizers and dessert (Tartine and Bi-Rite are next door) and order one pie per person. If there are left0vers; don’t fret I’d be glad to help out. Happy eating, from the pizza monster!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Expected more from Brassica in St Helena...

During a day trip up to Napa Valley, Sheila and I decided to try Cindy Pawlcyn's re-invented Brassica in St Helena. It used to be a seafood joint and is now a Mediterranean Kitchen. Inspired by the flavors of Northern Africa, Morocco, and Turkey, Brassica serves a healthy selection of mezzes, small plates, entrees, and a hugh variety of Napa Valley wines.

Located in the heart of St Helena, Brassica is warm and inviting with several distinct eating areas. The decor is French country, shabby chic with a subtle wine country references. The host and wait service was rather friendly and efficient; a pleasant surprise given that Sheila and I often get the "minority" treatment. This evening, we opted for sampling of mezzes, rather than a large meal - baba ghanoush, sheared haloumi, eggplant fries, and the dessert sampler ("five easy pieces").

The baba ghanoush (oven roasted pureed eggplant) was served cold with crispy pita chips and sesame seeds. It was a standard dish, but nothing spectacular. The eggplant was fresh and earthy, the sesame seeds added a nice crunch, and the pita chips were drizzled with sea salt and spice powder. I preferred to eat it with the table bread, which was a soft and warm than the chips, which tasted over-crisped.

The seared haloumi (salty goat and sheep's milk cheese from Cyprus) was served sizzling hot in small skillet. It was seasoned with red chili flakes, oregano, and garlic - and in our estimation over seasoned. All you could taste were the spices - which was a shame because haloumi has such a salty flavor and distinctive layered texture - it could have been mozzarella for all we knew.

The eggplant fries were served with a zatar yoghurt, which was underwhelming. The fries were under-seasoned, needed both salt and pepper to wake it up. Sheila felt like the zatar yoghurt tasted like pine sol, perhaps because of the added mint and spices. The fries themselves did not hold up their crispiness and basically tasted liked lightly breaded eggplant sticks.

The dessert sampler was by far the best dish of the evening. The five small taster included chocolate pot de creme, baklava, honey fig ice cream, hard nougat candy, and ricotta tart. Each bite had distinct taste - the baklava had a traditional earthy flavor (the most Middle Eastern tasting bite of the evening); the pot de creme was cool and bittersweet (a great French influenced bite); the ice cream was sweet and super creamy (a California fresh figs and honey definitely came through); the tart had a crunchy crust and soft (not overly sweet but surprisingly light) custard; and the nougat candy (chunky walnuts gave a depth of textures).

Neither Sheila and I were fond of the meal. This is of course because of high water mark for Mediterranean food is Gem Restaurant in Islington, North London. Perhaps because this was a Middle Eastern inspired California restaurant and not a traditional one. However more so than that each dish was an extreme; some were under-seasoned and others were over-seasoned. If in the area again, unfortunately I would pass on Brassica.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

delfina...ten years later

Delfina is great and has been for over a decade, but it is still hip and does it still have star power? My answer is...YES. There's a large wood entry door like there should be a bouncer out front, the dining room is cramped, the bar area is small, the ambient noise carries throughout, and reservations are tough to come by. Why would anyone want to go there? Of course, for the FOOD!

Delfina launched the Mission gourmet ghetto scene in 1998 with homestyle cooking, freshly prepared pastas, locally sourced ingredients, and a daily changing menu based on the season. Owner and chef Craig Stoll appeared on the cover of Food & Wine Magazine in 2001 as one of the top ten new chefs in the US. Seven years later he received the James Beard Award for Best Chef Pacific. That says it all, right?

Sheila and I went to Defina over ten years ago on one of our early dates. I can recall how difficult it was to get a reservation, hence the reason it wasn't our first date. We were seated in the back corner of the dark dining area surrounded by an SF foodie crowd. It was a great night for certain, however neither of us truly comprehended how great the food was back then until we visited Delfina recently. So on an Indian Summer Friday night in Sept, we made the trip back to this much heralded Italian-inspired California trattoria.

The space appeared much larger then we first remember with approx 70 seats and a small bar area. There are locally created art piece hanging throughout the space and dimly light pendant lights over each table. The space is warm and inviting, which is exactly what they're going for. The waiter warmed greeted a few mins after we were seated and after letting him know that we were vegetarian, he jumped right in to explain the entire menu, dish by dish. This was great touch because it allowed us to hear the best dishes from both his and the kitchen's perspective since the menu changes every night based on the ingredients in season. After ordered a couple of glasses of recommended wine (Barbera and Timorasso), we decided on our dishes.

Fresh stretched mozzarella with heirloom tomatoes and basil oil - This was the kitchen's take on a caprese salad. The heirloom tomatoes were firm, juicy and sweet; felt like no other tomato I've eaten before. The dish was gently seasoned with some fresh ground pepper which grounded the dish. A handful of arugula added another layer of earthiness and texture. The mozzarella, made and stretched in house, was light, soft, and airy. And it was the mozzarella and tomatoes that were in perfect harmony - saltiness of the cheese balanced with the ripened sweetness of the tomatoes. They even split the portion for us before serving which was a great touch. The kitchen recommended this dish because this season's supply of tomatoes and basil have been the best they have seen in several years. Both of us agreed and we would order it again!

Spaghetti with plum tomatoes, garlic, basil - Cooked al dente, this wasn't an overpowering dish of tomato sauce or pasta; both were mixed to perfection. The dish has a lot of sweet undertones due to the tomatoes. You could taste the slight flavors of garlic and evoo, but neither were meant to be the star of this dish. The plate was filling by not food coma status, like your run of the mill spaghetti dishes. In fact the table right next to us liked it so much that they order another one half-way through their meal. Sheila felt the same way and would order it again. Note this pasta dish takes 25 mins to cook because it's the only hard pasta they have on the menu; all others freshly made to order. It comes in two sizes - side dish or main course. Order the main course side at $13, it's actually just the right amount.

Pansotti stuffed with ricotta and dandelions served over a walnut cream sauce - A delightful walnut cream sauce that was infused with lemon. It gave the dish an overall citrus/acidic tone and also kept the cream sauce very light. The stuffed pastas with ricotta and dandelions was freshly made and you could tell. Soft and moist, each bite just melted in my mouth. I had a tough time tasting the dandelions, perhaps because the walnut and lemon were so prominent. Of course my palate is not as discerning so don't take my word for it. All in all there was good balance - saltiness from the ricotta, earthiness from the walnuts, zest from the lemon, and creaminess from the sauce. At $17, this was a good value selection. Although I have to say that the portion size was a bit smaller than expected. That just mean I had room for dessert!

Profiteroles with espresso gelato, warm chocolate sauce, and candied almonds - Three roles were served side by side on crisp white plate. Sheila's first bite was of the espresso gelato and almonds which were very strong. My first bite was the profiteroles with chocolate sauce and it was rather bitter. However eaten together the dish worked well - sweetness from the almonds, bitterness from the chocolate, creaminess from the gelato, and crunchiness from the profiteroles. I would have preferred a bit more warmed to balance out the ice cream, perhaps warming the profiteroles? After a while all you could taste was the ice cream and the dish ended up being pretty heavy; I struggled to finish the last one. There was a apples and honey dessert available for Rosh Hashanah. Alas I was swayed by the chocolate on the menu; Sheila would have preferred to order this; let's hope they have it next time.

Ten years later, Delfina remains the gourmet ghetto stalwart. All around it, there are liked minded restaurants popping up from Farina and Bar Tartine to Flour + Water and Frances. However, it continues to play to sold out crowds each night with a superb quality of food. We'll be back for sure, just not after 10 years again! Who wants to come with us the next time?!?!