Comstock Saloon

16 04 2014

Comstock Saloon is a nice bar and restaurant on Columbus that’s kinda got a classy, old-timey feel to it. As in, it’s gussied up like an old fashioned saloon but with new, nice, and artistic fixtures. Dark wood bar, tables, and booths; dim chandeliers and lamps; bartenders who wear vests… you get the idea. Fine, I guess it’s kinda a hipster thing, but it’s cool and classy and fun and I like it. (Per their website, the historic space was a saloon dating back to 1907 — points for authenticity!)

pot pie

Mushroom Pot Pie from Comstock — $17

bar

Comstock bar

Being a saloon (complete with fancy SF cocktails), I never really thought about it as a dinner place. Indeed, I was wrong. They have a small menu, but it’s really creative and very tasty. I went recently and was pretty excited about it. And they have a mushroom pot pie that’s made to order! Seriously, as good as it is unusual. Love.

Other dishes I tried:

pickles

Pickle Plate from Comstock — $5

I’ve never had pickled grapes, and I’m not entirely sure I liked them, but the rest of the pickled things were good, and I’ll at least give them an A for effort.

salad

Little Gem Salad from Comstock — $9

Little gem salad with garlic anchovy dressing was simple but solid.

artichoke dip

Crab and Artichoke Dip from Comstock — $14 (appears to be seasonal)

I mean, what can I say. Crab and artichoke dip? Is it possible to go wrong? So good. Also, appears to be seasonal as it’s not on the menu on their website at the moment.

pot pie

And of course, the finale was the pot pie. Not to even mention that I still want to try so many other things on their small menu… squash fritters! Bucket of shrimp! Monterey Bay sardines! Marinated olives! Maybe I’ll even muster up the courage and go for the oysters…

Also, free lunch Fridays with purchase of two adult beverages? Intriguing…

Comstock Saloon on Urbanspoon





Event Recap: SF Chocolate Salon 2014

30 03 2014

I was kindly invited to this year’s Chocolate Salon held at Fort Mason. It consisted of dozens of vendors, each with their own table displaying their goods and with samples for patrons to try. Since I was invited as a judge, I was requested to vote on my favorite vendors after the event. All the winners are listed on their website — click the blue circular award in the right margin (why no link, guys?).

chocolate

chocolate display

florentines

I generally had a good time. I was in good company (my chocolate-loving friend Mala accompanied me), the event was free for us, and it was a beautiful day. I did have a few qualms with the arrangement and execution of the event itself, which I will turn into suggestions for the event organizers below. But first, let’s talk about the best chocolate (in my opinion, at least).

As I did not review the myriad of award categories before the event (one of my qualms, see below), I was more thinking general 1st, 2nd, 3rd place overall as I was judging the entries. So, in my mind, I came up with these favorites:

1st Place and very very very best: Smitten Artisan Truffles. They had four dishes filled with truffle filling, and the owner herself would scoop a tiny spoonful of the truffle for you to try. She was sweet and bubbly and generous with her samples. The flavors were amazing, though I believe they were a bit different than they sell on their website (which you should totally check out because the online ordering is rad).

smitten artisan truffles

smitten artisan truffles at sf chocolate salon 2014

The cacao caramel vanilla bean was amazing, and the one infused with raspberry vodka was also so good (and I’m not often a fruit and chocolate person). Mala loved the one infused with bourbon… and I even bought an adorable package of four for my man friend to enjoy later. Just really really really good. Love.

2nd Place: Cowboy Toffee Company. Great packaging, great flavor options, and very very yummy. They had a s’mores flavor – need I say more?

cowboy toffee company

cowboy toffee company at sf chocolate salon 2014

cowboy toffee company

cowboy toffee company at sf chocolate salon 2014

3rd Place: Toffee Talk. Now, I’m not traditionally a huge fan of toffee. It’s always rock hard and makes me feel like my teeth are going to break off. So I generally stick with caramels. But, both Toffee Talk and the Cowboy (above) were a softer toffee. Still crunchy, but not jaw-jarringly so. And the flavor was amazing. Toffee: you’re back on my list.

toffee talk

toffee talk at sf chocolate salon 2014

Runner Up: Scharffen Berger Chocolate. Ever since my man friend surprised me with a bar of their semi-sweet chocolate, I’ve been digging it. They’re not doing anything extreme, there’s no crazy flavors or textures — it’s just good chocolate. Me likey.

scharffen berger

scharffen berger at sf chocolate salon 2014

So, those were my favs. I basically scattered those four names (and a few others) all over the scoring survey they sent me. And most of them won some prize, so good job, chocolate makers.

sf chocolate salon 2014

sf chocolate salon 2014

Now, on to my suggestions on how to improve this event:

  1.  Better vendor-to-space ratio. This event was held in a huge open warehouse and the number of vendor tables was highly disproportionate to the size of the space. I’ve been to other events here that filled out the space much better and it makes the event seem a lot more legit.
  2. Savory vendors*. I love chocolate. I can eat it for a long time. But you know what I want after a while of eating nothing but chocolate? Some bread. Or pretzels. Or french fries. Or pretty much anything else. They had a couple other types of vendors (beef jerky and kettle corn come to mind), but I think they could have stood to add more to change things up for my weary palate.
  3. WATER. Good lord. It was like a desert island of chocolate in there. Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink, and all that. They had these nice hand wash stations scattered around the space, but no water (not even for sale)! I was parched, and it was unnecessary.
  4. Check in procedure. Check in consisted of me giving my name to a woman at a table, and her putting a bracelet on my wrist. No map of the event, no list of vendors, no printout of the intense survey I would take afterwards to complete my judge duties. Any or all of these would have been extremely helpful. They should take some lessons from La Cocina event planners.

 

claire's squares

Otherwise, the presentation of each individual vendor table was generally excellent (great packaging, cool logos, nice marketing materials), and the quality of the samples was very high. I think with minimal changes by the event planners, the Chocolate Salon could be easily raised to the next level.

*The vendors themselves need not be savory, nor would I know how to evaluate that distinction, but they should offer savory foods.





Il Casaro – New Restaurant

23 03 2014

When I first saw Il Casaro as I was walking by a week ago, the menu was posted as a “soft opening menu”. It looked intriguing, so (with difficulty remembering where exactly it was) I returned yesterday. They are now fully open, and I think they’re off to a good start.

Marinara Pizza - $12

Marinara Pizza – $12

The owners of Il Casaro are not new to the area; they’ve owned nearby Vicoletto for some time. Which, oddly, I’ve never been to. Perusing their menu, I would now really like to try their pappardelle with fresh crab meat, among other things. More new restaurants, yeay!

What I liked about Il Casaro, aside from the food being good, was the relatively casual atmosphere and price point, along with the simple yet totally satisfying menu choices. They (currently) offer a couple salads, a few appetizers and sides, two panuzzi (a type of Italian sandwich made with pizza dough), a variety of mozzarella cheeses and meat plates, and pizzas. They have a massive wood-burning oven (with chopped wood stacked along one wall to verify authenticity), and bar seating that surrounds the cooking area (with said oven). There are also a dozen or more tables around the perimeter of the high-ceilinged, open space.

Asparagi - $9

Asparagi – $9

Insalata - $9.50

Insalata – $9.50

While there is no shortage of Italian restaurants in North Beach, I find that many of them are upscale with a price point of around $20-30 per plate. It’s really nice to find a place that offers a nice atmosphere, good menu, yummy food, and can easily keep a meal for two under $50.

I made the considerable mistake of ordering the only pizza that doesn’t have cheese on it… a fact that was plainly displayed on their menu but I neglected to notice due to my apparently mistaken belief that all pizzas should have cheese on them. It was still a good pizza, but I definitely longed for all the pizzas that I saw being made behind the counter with beautiful mozzarella cheese on them.

Imported Burrata - $9.75

Imported Burrata – $9.75

Which brings up another point: the “Mozzarella Bar” part of the menu. All I can say to this is YES. They offer four types of mozzarella (buffala, fior di latte, imported burrata, and smoked mozzarella) that come with toasted bread and a small arugula salad ($7-$10 per order). I can’t wait to go back just to try more of these (and get a pizza with cheese on it…). We tried the imported burrata (obvious first choice) and it was amazing, as expected.

Everything else was simple but delicious, and, aside from the pizza coming out first (I would have preferred the salad), was smoothly executed. I look forward to returning.

Il Casaro on Urbanspoon





Boogaloos

16 03 2014

Sometimes brunch in SF seems like some sort of Black Friday marathon event. By the size of the lines at some places, you’d think they were giving away gold-encrusted Eggs Benedict for free. The key to these situations? Have a strategy.

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As far as I’ve seen, there are two effective strategies: 1) go hellza early, or 2) come prepared to wait hellza long. Strategy number two can consist of going elsewhere nearby for a coffee or bloody Mary, which generally helps ease the pain. Note: if you have a third strategy, do share.

Boogaloos is a restaurant in the Mission where you will need to enact one of these two strategies. Our approach last month began as the former, but ended as the latter (we dawdled). No bigs.

Their juke-box themed menu is described as “Pan-Caribbean/American Diner” on their website, and has a crazy variety of options to make your decision rather difficult. Eggs. Chorizo. Omelettes. Pancakes. Biscuits and gravy. Quesadillas, fajitas, salads, sandwiches, and sides of pretty much anything on the menu. It’s nuts. It’s hard to even pick a category, but even when you’ve decided “eggs”, you’re still choosing from over a dozen delicious-sounding dishes. It’s a bit overwhelming.

Usually I don’t have quite as many choices as a meat eater, which sometimes makes life easier, but they offer almost everything on the menu with a veggie option. It’s amazing. I had to start simple and try the Boogaloo Classic: “two eggs, homefries, and a bog ol’ biscuit smothered in even more famous veggie herb-cream gravy, green onion” ($9.25). Veggie gravy?!! It was so good. Behold:

boogaloo classic

boogaloo classic

One of my favorite ladies had Soyrizo-n-Eggs: “two eggs scram with ‘Soy-rizo’, served with black beans, salsa, sour cream, green onion, corn tortillas” ($9.25). Soy-rizo is a soy-based version of chorizo, and it was pretty dang good in those eggs.

soyrizo-n-eggs

soyrizo-n-eggs

My other favorite lady had The Basic: two eggs, famous homefries (or fresh fruit) with choice of bread ($7.75). And, she chose the option to “Temple those spuds!” which consists of slathering them in jack cheese, salsa, sour cream, and green onion (+$2.50). It was like nachos camping out on your breakfast.

the basic

the basic with “templed” spuds

Everything was really good and the veggie gravy was my total favorite (I’m so glad I ordered it). Such a rare treat! Also, this happened while we were there… I hope you can see the physical contact between this child’s tongue and the glass door. Ga-ross.

child

child

Regardless, I’d highly recommend going. Just wash your hands after you open the door. ;)

Boogaloos on Urbanspoon





54 Mint

8 03 2014

54 Mint is tucked away behind the old San Francisco Mint off 5th Street just south of Market (indeed, in SOMA). It’s a cute space with rustic-chic decor, and a large-ish downstairs (basement) seating area for overflow seating and (I assume) large parties. They’ve got an extensive wine list, a fancy Italian menu, and, most importantly, it is possible to get a reservation.

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I went here a few weeks ago with Mom and Sister, and, though I enjoyed everything quite a bit, the menu wasn’t great for Mom. She has a few dietary restrictions that I try to accommodate in my restaurant choices, but I didn’t do a great job in this case. She doesn’t eat pasta and doesn’t like “weird” (i.e. non-standard) meat dishes. The mains at 54 Mint include a half-dozen house-made pastas (yum!), and lamb shank, oxtail, sea bass, and skirt steak. These things were too exotic for Mommy-dearest. Oops, my bad.

skirt steak

bistecca (grass-fed skirt steak, crispy potato, salsa verde) $26

amatriciana (bucatini, smoked pancetta, tomato, onion, pecorino Romano) $17

amatriciana (bucatini, smoked pancetta, tomato, onion, pecorino Romano) $17

But, we enjoyed the night anyway. It was a Tuesday, so it wasn’t terribly crowded. I can see how it might get quite loud in there if it were more crowded, however; the stark finishes really bounce the sound around.

tonnarelli cacio e pepe (home-made tonnarelli, black pepper, olive oil,  pecorino Romano cheese) $17

tonnarelli cacio e pepe (home-made tonnarelli, black pepper, olive oil, pecorino Romano cheese) $17

Our waitress was courteous, the wine was good, and I thoroughly enjoyed their version of classic Italian cacio e pepe. Mom did end up enjoying the skirt steak quite a bit, though I don’t think she loved the flourless chocolate cake as much as I did. What can I say, Mom’s a tough critic. Fortunately (for me), I’m less so. I’d definitely go back. Homemade pasta… mmm…

flourless Valrhona chocolate & bourbon cake, huckleberry, whipped cream $7

flourless Valrhona chocolate & bourbon cake, huckleberry, whipped cream $7

54 Mint SF on Urbanspoon





Upcoming Event: SF Chocolate Salon

5 03 2014

Chocolate. Just say the word in your head. Chocolate. Aren’t you just a little bit happier now?

I love chocolate. Chances are, so do you. Which is why you might want to make room in your busy schedule for the upcoming 8th annual SF Chocolate Salon at Fort Mason on Saturday March 15, 2014.

SFSalon14image-posterWeb

Per their website, activities include: chocolate tasting, demonstrations, new product launches and flavor combinations, fair trade & organic offerings, celebrity chef & author talks, wine pairings, Chocolate Art Gallery, games, ongoing interviews by TasteTV’s Chocolate Television program, and book signings. Not to shabbs, if you ask me. And yes, I bolded the words “chocolate tasting”. I felt they needed to be bold.

You can get tickets on their site for $20 (adults, advance purchase) and $10 for kids up to 12. (Children under 6 are free.) The price goes up to $25 for adults who get there early, and $30 if you just wanna rock up whenever you want that day.

And the best part (for me) is that I’ve been invited to be a judge! My name is on their website and everything (under “award judges”). The invite said this of the task: “As a Judge, you simply attend when you want, taste what you want, then afterwards vote on your top picks using our confidential online voting form. You will also be listed on the Salon’s website.” Um, yes please. I like all those things, including the laissez faire judging style and free chocolate.

Yeay chocolate! See you there!





Hillstone

2 03 2014

I’ve done this before, and I’m sure I’ll do it again. A few weeks ago, I found myself wandering about the Embarcadero in search of food around 3pm. I wanted to see the newly remodeled Fog City Diner, so, starved, we walked down to their location across from Pier 23. For some unknown and seemingly unnecessary reason, they do not serve food between 2.30 and 4.30pm. I find that this happens to me on vacation a lot — arriving at a restaurant “between meals”. So irritating.

cheeseburger from hillstone ($19)

cheeseburger from hillstone ($19)

Now what? Well, a short stroll north down the Embarcadero is Hillstone. I’ve seen it many times before — it has a nice umbrella-covered outdoor patio and peaceful location on the west side of the street. And they’re open at 3pm for lunch or dinner or whatever you want to call it. They will give you food at 3pm if you give them money. Perfect.

The inside is large, open, and has built-in booths and dark wood accents. It has kind of an upscale lodge-y feel to it, which reminds me of a steakhouse. And while it’s not a steakhouse per se, it does have a similar menu that includes burgers, chicken, fish, ribs, and, indeed, steaks. While the atmosphere was nice, and the menu certainly looked good, my general feeling was that it seemed pretty ordinary-suburban. There is nothing wrong with this — it just didn’t particularly wow me with the special flair that is so common at SF restaurants.

house made veggie burger from hillstone ($19)

house made veggie burger from hillstone ($19)

We certainly did have an enjoyable meal, however. I had wanted to try a variety of the appetizers that looked delicious (house-smoked salmon, oak-grilled artichokes, spinach and artichoke dip, emerald kale salad…), but opted for the house-made veggie burger ($19) instead. My quest to try every veggie burger everywhere (and subsequently rank them, obviously) and my insatiable desire for french fries won out.

a closer look at that veggie burger

a closer look at that veggie burger

The veggie burger at Hillstone has beets in it, as evidenced by the red hue of the patty. Otherwise, I can’t tell you what else it’s made of, just that it’s good. My companion had a regular (meat) burger ($19), which he also thought was good. The fries were yummy, and the service was attentive. The whole experience was just fine, though I wouldn’t put either the restaurant or the veggie burger at the top of my list of favorites. So while I won’t be jumping to return, I will keep it in mind for the future — it’s always nice to know your options, especially for larger parties and outdoor seating.





The Slanted Door

21 02 2014

Sometimes you go to a restaurant in SF and suddenly feel that you’ve been inducted into some sort of exclusive group of people. There are a variety of these restaurants, which, incidentally, you typically can’t get a table at without rigorous and meticulous preparation, or, alternatively, without waiting for two-plus hours on a given night. As I’m not typically inclined toward the latter, the former is my chosen option for such places.

Inside The Slanted Door... image from their website: http://www.slanteddoor.com/images

Inside The Slanted Door… image from their website: http://www.slanteddoor.com/images

The Slanted Door is one of those places. You want a reservation for 7pm for two people? It’s February 21 today, and Open Table tells me that you’ll need to wait until at least March 3 to get a table before 8pm, and even then, that table is for 5:30. Let’s just say we’re dealing with high, though not thoroughly hopeless, demand.

And the reasons aren’t unsound* — the place is great in all sorts of ways. First, it has a primo-supremo spot at the north end of the Ferry Building with views out onto the water and sparkly Bay Bridge (sparkly at night, of course… not at your 5:30 reservation). Second, the menu is fun, creative Vietnamese and is pretty extensive; and third (related), the food is great.

As I’ve only been once, I was left wanting to try more, of course, but the dishes I did have were generally very good. In review:

IMAG0959

vegetarian spring rolls

The vegetarian spring rolls (tofu, shiitake, cabbage, mint, peanut sauce — $11) were surprisingly amazing. I typically prefer the crispy (read: deep fried) rolls, but opted for the healthier option this time. They did not disappoint and had great flavors and texture.

IMAG0956

diakon rice cakes

The diakon rice cakes (shiitake mushroom, shallot, sweet chili soy — $14) were not what I expected, which was also surprising since I actually know what a daikon is. It was a sort of pureed, re-constituted diakon patty that was quite delicious if you liked the spongy texture, which I did.

cellophane noodles with crab

cellophane noodles with crab

The  other three dishes were veggie dishes that we ordered to be our shared mains (we had a real vegetarian with us, though she was open to trying some type of seafood). The cellophane noodles with crab ($21), rodoni farm brussels sprouts with beech mushrooms ($11), and the wood oven roasted catalan farm butternut squash ($12) were all pretty dang good, and indeed pretty unique and interesting.

brussels sprouts

brussels sprouts

butternut squash

butternut squash

We all had different favorites, but mine was the noodles. The crab was minimal, but the understated amount was just enough since the dish is pretty delicate on its own and probably wouldn’t be well served by an overpowering amount of crab (though I generally never complain about too much crab). My vegetarian friend couldn’t hack the crab, and liked the brussels sprouts the best. They were all great dishes, and, while I don’t think they necessarily were meant to go together per se, we certainly all enjoyed ourselves.

And then we were left with dessert. The choices were decent, though you may recall that I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to dessert. And, uncharacteristically (for me), we ordered the valrhona chocolate & peanut butter cream pie with peanut crumble ($10). I love peanut butter… on a PBJ. Or in a peanut butter cup. But, generally speaking, that’s it. I have learned, however, that a good restaurant can make anything good, even things I don’t typically like. And I was right. This “pie” was awesome. And it actually took a decent picture, which I (sadly) can’t say of the rest of the meal.

IMAG0969

So. Slanted Door. I’ve been there (on a Tuesday). I spent all kinda money (and a gift certificate). I’m super cool (and use a calculator every day). Yeah. So there.

*Yes, that was a double negative. Deal with it.

The Slanted Door on Urbanspoon





Sotto Mare

7 02 2014

Sotto Mare (full name Gigi’s Sotto Mare Oysteria & Seafood Restaurant & Fish Market) is a small, old school seafood place right in the heart of North Beach on Green Street just off Columbus. I’ve lived in North Beach for two years and still hadn’t been — it was time. There’s a line out the door so often (the place is small and cramped) that I’ve just never expended the effort. A few weeks ago, the line was short and I went for it.

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I didn’t really know what to expect, and was hence very surprised by the atmosphere and the menu. I’ve sort of gotten used to the hoity-toity SF restaurant ambiance, which can range from rustic-chic to elegant-chic to hipster-chic, but is indeed very often some type of chic. At least when you’re paying $20 a plate or more. So I was surprised to walk into what I can only describe as a diner. Like, old school, knick-knacks all over the walls, counter seating, single-page laminated menu old school. It was interesting.

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We were seated at a teeny tiny table for two behind the counter seating. The thoroughfare right next to us was extremely narrow, and connected the entrance and behind-the-counter areas to the rest of the seating. So people were constantly whooshing by literally inches away from our table, which was a tiny bit claustrophobic.

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The menu is all seafood. It’s simple yet comprehensive; their specialties are fresh fish and oysters. I ordered the prawn and scallop combo saute ($19), and my partner in crime ordered the salmon, which was a special. We were provided a half loaf of bread in a basket, and the wine came in those thick, staunch wine glasses indicative of places that don’t have a particularly sophisticated wine selection. In line with this, the meals arrived on chunky, white, oblong plates from decades-ago diners.

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The food was good. The sauce on my saute was rich and creamy (read: buttery) and garlicky, the topping on the salmon was basically a garlic and butter rub, and the veggies were plain but fresh. While it wasn’t a terribly fancy meal with sprigs of this and truffle that, it was very good. And though this style of eatery isn’t my personal favorite, I can appreciate that they do something well and they’ve stuck with it. I mean, the place is booming every night of the week, so obviously not everyone wants Asian Fusion or Contemporary American food all the time.

In short, the place was quirky and had character, the menu was solid, and the food was good. And, you know, sometimes you want a bit of old school charm with your seafood. Next time I’ll have to spring for their acclaimed cioppino ($38, serves two)…

Sotto Mare on Urbanspoon





Presidio Social Club

1 02 2014

There aren’t too many restaurants way out in the Presidio, but the Presidio Social Club is one of them. Housed in a remodeled 1903 barracks building on the east side of the Presidio, this fairly large restaurant has an old-timey, classic, yet comfortable feel to it. The sweeping verandas and old fashioned counter seating juxtapose the open space, modern furniture, and abundant natural light.

IMG_3648

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We went for brunch, and the menu was a totally mixed bag. Chiliquiles and huevos rotos sat alongside a croque madame, Vietnamese veggie sandwich, kale salad, and crab louie. I’m not sure what the theme is, but I like it. I ordered the Vietnamese veggie sandwich and added crab (which is in season), and my man friend ordered the ham and eggs benedict, but subbed crab for ham. It was a very crabby meal.

eggs benedict with crab

eggs benedict with crab

The benedict was good, but the veggie sandwich was amazing. Every bite was just incredible. It had a plentiful amount of crab, standard julienned carrots, cilantro, pickled onions, avocado, and some kind of aioli or other sauce, all on a hearty roll. It came with a little side salad and was just so, so good.

Vietnamese veggie sando with crab

Vietnamese veggie sando with crab

The service was pleasant, and the prices were reasonable (sandwich $10, plus something like $8 for the crab; $16 for the benedict; and $10 each for mimosa and bloody mary). They even had a cute outdoor patio in the back, but I was afraid of being too cold on a sunny SF morning, so we kept to the indoors. Certainly a great find; I look forward to trying more of the menu.

Presidio Social Club on Urbanspoon








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