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.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

mozzeria...heartwarming gourmet pizza

San Francisco has no shortage of pizzerias, so the opening of another one in the Mission District was a bit perplexing to me. Then I heard about the premiss for Mozzeria, a wood-fire Neapolitan pizza restaurant, owned by a deaf couple. Even more heartwarming is that the owners are deaf and they employ several deaf people that work in the restaurant. What wonderful human and community spirit! Melody Stein, the co-owner, is a third generation restauranteur who before opening Mozzeria, also spent several weeks in Italy learning the final art of pizza making.

The restaurant is located on 16th and Guererro on the ground floor of a Mission Edwardian. The interior can be described as modern rustic with a beautiful carrera marble bar counter, dark cherry dining tables, bright red dining chairs, and warmly lit Edison bulbs. Let's just say I want my house to look like that! Towards the back, but in prominent view is large wood-fire pizza oven. Given the oven's location, it almost acts like a heater. However on the night Sheila and I visited it was unseasonably hot in SF, which meant we were boiling inside.

The menu is a mix of small plates (salads, cheeses, meats), a few pastas, and several pizzas. The wait staff was extremely friendly and helped to recommend a few dishes for us veggies using sign language. We ended up selecting a Rainbow Beet Salad, Japanese Pumpkin Ravioli, Ortolana Pizza, and Lemon Curd Cheesecake.

Rainbow Beet Salad. Sheila and I shared this starter salad of fresh beets, goat cheese, arugula, citrus, and horseradish. On paper I wasn't sure about citrus and horseradish, but to my surprise the contrasting textures and flavors worked very well. The acidity and bitterness of those two ingredients were balanced by the sweetness of the goat cheese and crispness of the arugula and beets.

Japanese Pumpkin Ravioli. This was Sheila's order of Japanese pumpkin, walnut gremolata, arugula, sage brown butter. The homemade pasta was cooked slightly al dente and Sheila found it very filling. The brown butter gave the dish a sweet taste. Sheila noted that there wasn't anything to balance that out like spice or acid. Nevertheless, she did enjoy the fresh busting flavors.

Ortolana Pizza. This was my pizza order of eggplant, red onion, red peppers, and pomodoro sauce. I also added on mozzarella. Piping hot and cut into four large slices, I started eating it from center out. This totally reminded me of La Porchetta, our neighborhood pizza joint when living in London. The eggplants had been grilled to a slight char, the onion had been caramelized, and red peppers had been roasted. Individually these toppings would have worked, but my senses were confused when they were all combined on one pizza. It tasted like a mixed grilled veggie sandwich, but on a pizza. The caramelized onions overpowered the other toppings with too much sweetness and the mozzarella didn't add enough saltiness. Of course, I'm an equal opportunity pizza eater, so despite my comments I still would eat this pizza every day.

Lemon Curd Cheesecake. A New York style cheesecake with lemon curd and raspberries served on a graham cracker chocolate crust. The cheesecake was light, rich and smooth; the crust was dense and crackly; the lemon and raspberries were fresh and tart. Overall, the dish wasn't overly sweet and we were absolutely fine with that. I can tell you that they don't skimp on the portions here, but neither of us were able to finish the slice.

You feel joy dining at Mozzeria because of the sense of humanity. The food is cooked from the heart as if you were sitting in the owners' home. And therein lies story, the Stein's are cooking for their family (the patrons), but the food needs to be refined for the masses. That's not to say that it wasn't good food, I just think Sheila and I have been spoiled by living in SF where there are dozens of great gourmet pizzerias.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Copper Indian in Charlotte

My frequent trips to Charlotte haven't necessarily meant that I've been able to try some of the better restaurants in the Queen City. However this last trip was different, I convinced two colleagues to join in a meal at Copper, a highly regarded Indian restaurant in the Dilworth neighborhood.

With it close proximity to the tech triangle of Raleigh, Charlotte has started to attract a pretty large population of Indian-Americans. Even over the past year, I've heard of new places opening up, which is great if I feel like a home-cooked meal while away on business. 

Copper is located in a picturesque 1900s cottage with each room serving as a quaint dining space. Interior is modern Asian with pops of vibrant colors mimicking bright spices. The menu is a mix of traditional Northern Indian curries and modern Indian-spiced infused Western dishes. Our waiter was kind enough to recommend several dishes to share. 

Samosas (pastry pouch of potatoes and peas) - Lightly fried and golden brown, these samosas came to our table piping hot. The crispy exterior and perfectly spiced potato and peas filing made this a great starter to our meal. Copper's samosa was certainly above average. 

Saag Paneer (spinach and cottage cheese curry) - Fresh and light, this saag paneer was well balanced in flavor. However it did lack some heat, meaning spicy. The added cream provided a slightly sweet taste, which I didn't mind. Typically I find Northern Indian curries too heavy handed with butter or garam masala, so I appreciated Copper's restraint. This was my favorite dish of the evening. 

Garlic Naan - freshly made and lightly spread with butter and garlic, Copper's garlic naan was on par with any I've had in California. For me the best naans have air pockets between the layers,  a few charred bubbles, and softness in dough (low gluten). Copper does their naan very well.   

Chole Bature (garbanzo bean and tomato curry) - Now this had the potential for being a great dish if it wasn't for being under-seasoned. The elements were all there, a nice rich tomato curry base, perfectly cooked garbanzo beans, garlic and ginger undertones, and a light cream drizzle. I just wish the chef had added in some cloves, cinnamon, and red chili powder. Perhaps next time. 

All in all, Copper was quite good. I'd definitely come back, but would ask the chef to crank up the heat!    I'd give it a 6.5 out of 10; worth a visit when in Charlotte.