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, September 15, 2012

Farina Pizza in the Mission...

In an already crowded restaurant scene, Farina Pizza opened it's doors at the corner of Valencia & 18th. Yes, this puts is within walking distance of five other venerable spots - Pizzeria Delfina, Beretta, Arnell's, Little Star, and Mozzeria.  So what differentiates Farina from the others - the Italian imports, literally - from the ingredients and countertops, to the gas oven and chefs. Farina prides itself on replicating the authentic neapolitan experience, which is rare in a era when SF restaurant have touted the concept of farm to table, organic, and sustainable.

One recent Tuesday evening, Sheila and I decided to spontaneously visit this beautifully designed spot of clean white subway tiles, carrera marble counters, harvest wood tables, stainless steel fixtures, and artisan glass.  We arrived around 6:30pm and had the option of sitting at a communal table or the bar. We decided on the bar which overlooks the pizza prep station and oven. Good thing we got there early, because within 30 mins the place was packed and there was a  pretty long wait list. Needless to say, they don't take reservations.

The menu combines several fresh salads, pizzas, and pastas - made in the traditional Italian style with imported produce.  We went straight for the pizza with each of us ordering our own (margherita and ortolana)

The margherita pizza (San Marzano tomatoes, fior di latte mozzarella, romano cheese, olive oil, basil)  was served piping hot from the gas oven as it should be; we actually watched the entire preparation from our  seats. The crust was slighted charred and not too salty. It had a great chewy factor (glutenous) which we've found to be a hallmark of neapolitan pies. The fior di latte mozzarella was silky smooth and wonderfully delicious. Sheila found the pizza to also have a nice cheese to tomato ratio. She would rate the magherita as better than Zero Zero and equally on par with Keste and Co in NYC. However, she prefers Delfina's crust. Although there something to be said about Farina's ambience and overall experience. 

Ortolana pizza (fior di latte mozzarella, eggplant, mushrooms, and bell peppers) - Similar to the magherita this crust was chewy. I thought it lacked a bit of seasoning, but nevertheless had a good balance of char and gluten. The eggplants, mushrooms, and bell pepper had been roasted with olive oil, but yet retained their earthy flavors. I agree with Sheila's assessment of the fior di latte mozzarella, one of the best I've ever had. The only thing missing for me was some sauce, after a while the pizza started to dry out. Overall good balanced flavors, but I'll try a different pie next time.

All in all, cool new hot spot in the Mission. This gives us another traditional neapolitan pizza place to add to our list. And at $15 per pie, the price point is on par with the others listed above. If you want the closest thing to classic Italian pizza, go to Farina. It's worth checking out. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Gather in Berkeley...

We've been wanting to visit Gather in Berkeley for several months now after seeing the rave reviews on Check Please and then hearing that half their menu is always vegetarian! Here's an excerpt from their website - "A place where you can find seasonal food, carefully sourced and thoughtfully prepared to appeal equally to vegetarians and omnivores ... the feeling of a restaurant created from beautiful reclaimed wood and natural materials." 

Over this past Labor Day weekend, we made the trip over the Bay Bridge for a brunch at this much talked about spot. The restaurant is bright and airy, given it's prime corner location across from the campus entrance. It's also beautifully decorated with reclaimed wood tables, banquettes made from old leather belts, and herb plants hanging from the ceiling.  

The brunch menu has a combination of both savory and sweet items, including a number of vegan dishes. Sheila ordered the Acme walnut french toast with roasted plums and creme fraiche. I went for corn pancakes with maple braised strawberry compote and mascarpone. We also decided to share the yukon gold potatoes. 

Sheila's french toast - They serve it either with one or two slices. Sheila decided on one ($8). Although the portion size was right, it was too sweet and there was nothing to really balance the flavors. Even though the walnuts added texture, it actually made the dish heavier. On it's own, the plum compote was delicious, but combined with the syrup and french toast it was overwhelmingly sweet. Sheila summed it up by saying it was: "good, but I've had better." 

Adam's corn pancakes - The standard serving comes with two medium-size pancakes ($12). The corn batter was light and fluffy. Each pancake was perfectly cooked through and on it's own was really flavorful. The mascarpone gave it a good balance of savory and sweet. My biggest gripe was with the strawberry compote. Initially tart, each subsequent taste turned increasingly sweet, perhaps due to the maple braising. I would have preferred fresh strawberries or a strawberry infused mascarpone; rather than the heavy handedness of my compote. Good concept, not executed to my taste buds though. 

The yukon potatoes - It was our only savory dish ($5). It was very well seasoned, slightly spicy flavors, and came to the table piping hot. Everything you would expected in a good side of potatoes. The serving portion was great to share; Sheila and I found ourselves reaching for the wedges quite often to counter our overly sweet main dishes. Instead of ketchup, the potatoes were served with a cold tomato chutney, which had a bit too much vinegar. We both understood the intent, but would have just preferred some Heinz.  

All in all, the concept of Gather's dishes is good, but they were too sweet for our taste. I'd be curious to see how they handle the savory dinner dishes. Perhaps we'll give Gather another try for dinner in the future.