This post comes from an Email we received from our friends Mark and Kathie who recently visited SF and Paso. Enjoy.
Greetings and Happy New Year!
We visited the Bay area during the Xmas break. Here are the highlights of our visit:
Wednesday, December 26:
We arrived late in SF around 5 pm. After unpacking, we barely had time for our in-room pre-dinner Gin & Tonic before it was time to head over to Restaurant Anzu just a few blocks from our hotel near Union Square.
Though the atmosphere at Anzu is a bit stark and cool, it turned out to be one of the best meals we had. Kathie started with grilled scallops served over mashed potatoes and a sweet corn and yuzu juice beurre blanc. It sounds simple, but the flavors were amazing. They were the best scallops we ever had (sorry Steve…). I had a Hamachi Crudo appetizer: fresh Hamachi from Japan, sweet grapefruit segments, jalapeno peppers, cilantro, and a grapefruit-ginger vinaigrette. This dish had my name written all over it, but overall it wasn’t as good as I hoped. Tasty for sure, but I like the Hamachi appetizer better at Safire Grill in Camarillo. Since we were famished from the drive we had a third appetizer: sushi made with spicy Hamachi, asparagus, julienned red pepper and sweet onion. It was excellent.
For the entree I had tea-spiced and smoked chicken breast, with pumpkin and Kabocha squash ravioli, along with sautéed mushrooms and ginger spiced broccoli rabe. Very good! Kathie had the smoked black cod with truffled dashi and squash. Excellent!
The wine we brought was the 2005 Elyse “L’Ingenue”, a white Rhone blend made from Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier. It was perfect for the meal.
Thursday, December 27:
After a full day of shopping and walking the city we had worked up an big appetite. So after a round of strong Tanqueray # 10 and Tonics, we headed out to Ana Mandara near Ghirardelli Square. If you have never been there it’s like walking into a beautiful Hollywood movie set that transports you back to 1930′s Colonial Saigon. Fortunately, the food matches the stunning decor.
We started with butterflied shrimp stuffed with crab mousse that was then wrapped in a shoestring potato crust and deep fried. It was served with Asian greens, cilantro, mint and sweet chili sauce. Very tasty and gone in just a few moments. Next was a lime marinated Ceviche of striped Bass that was enhanced with Asian fish sauce, cucumber, fried leeks and roasted, crushed cashews. Really, really good.
Kathie’s entree was the traditional Vietnamese claypot fish. It is Mekong Basa fish, that is caramelized, then cooked in a very spicy and aromatic broth redolent of ginger, lemongrass and other unusual spices. It is then served over starburst of freshly cooked snow peas. It was so good, Kathie had to fight me off. I also had a great dish: a Mesquite grilled pork chop marinated with a Asian five-spice honey barbeque sauce. It was served with Chinese long beans and a jasmine rice tower. I was in heaven.
Wine was a 2004 Kosta-Browne Amber Ridge Syrah. It was my last bottle and oh-so good.
Friday, December 28:
Friday afternoon we went to the matinee performance of the SF Ballet’s Nutcracker. It was a great show with very creative special effects. A “must see” if you’re in the area next holiday season.
After the show we went over to the nearby Trader Vic’s for a tropical cocktail with an umbrella. But they were closed for the holiday– Arrgh!! So, we walked over to Jardinière Restaurant for a cocktail. We sat at the bar and the mixologist/bartender was great, plus they squeeze all the juices fresh right as they make the drink — impressive. We shared a simple but very unusual martini called “the Single Village Mezcal”. It featured a Mezcal from a single village (a concept similar to a single vineyard designate) that was heavily smoked during the distillation process. That, along with fresh squeezed lime and pineapple infused syrup prepared at the restaurant, made for one very interesting and intoxicating drink.
For dinner we took a taxi over to an old favorite, the Cosmopolitan Cafe. We’ve been here several times, but this was not one of our best visits. The appetizers were decent: I had Dungeness crab enchiladas with roasted tomato salsa that was pretty good, but Kathie’s Caesar salad with polenta croutons and crispy pancetta was just OK. My NY steak with house made sauce was good but not “wow”. Kathie had sautéed Maine dayboat scallops on oxtail risotto and trumpet mushrooms. She had this before and it was really special, but this time something was missing. We’ll try again and see if they get their Mojo back…
Wine was a 2004 Terry Hoage Vineyards Syrah. Very good, though best to drink soon.
Saturday, December 29:
After a hearty breakfast at a restaurant advertising itself as having “The World’s Best Breakfast” (uh… not quite), we headed over to Alameda and Oakland to do some wine tasting. Our first stop was Rosenblum. Speaking of Mojo, theirs is definitely missing, We tried many wines and all of them were just average. We even tried a Kick Ranch Syrah with a recent Spectator score of 93. No big deal (I smell Spectator payola). We then went to Dashe and tried a few decent Zins and a tired, stinky 2002 Merlot they were trying to unload. No thanks. Right next door is JC Cellars. This was much better, with the 2005 Marsanne and the 2005 Arrowhead Zin being the best. Next we went to Lost Canyon and it was pretty good. We tried 3 Pinots and 3 Syrahs. The wines are not huge, but are more feminine in style. We bought 2 different Pinots and one Syrah. Our last stop was Periscope Cellars. The winery is located in an old submarine manufacturing facility. Unfortunately, our hopes for discovering a new exciting winery were quickly torpedoed upon the first sip and our spirits sank ever deeper after tasting their “flagship” wine.
Now back in the City by the Bay, it was time for our last dinner in SF. We went to Bong Su, a Vietnamese/ Chinese/ Pacific Rim restaurant. The decor is beautiful — Zen like, yet very warm. And the food was also impressive. We started with duck wraps made with shredded five spice duck, mango and cucumber wrapped in mustard leaves and served with Sirracha and hoisin dipping sauce. Really tasty. Next was a large serving of “imperial” crab, pork, and mushroom egg rolls served with tangy dipping sauce. Perfectly cooked to a golden brown and very, very good. I had hoisin marinated Lamb chops grilled perfectly and served with baby bok choy and Chinese long beans with julienned red bell pepper in a ginger, soy, black pepper and kaffir lime sauce. Quite a dish! Kathie had caramelized Alaskan cod with a garlic, black pepper and molasses sauce served with vanilla-coconut rice. Yum!
Wine was a Kosta-Browne 2004 “Kanzler” Vineyard. Those boys know how to make wine!
Sunday, December 30:
We left the city and headed down to Paso Robles, three hours south. After some disappointing tasting at two somewhat newer wineries, Vina Robles and Michella, we ended up at Booker. Even though the tasting room was overrun with a recent limo arrival, we had great time. This is a winery to watch and I highly recommend you get on their mailing list. The “Fracture” syrah is great, and the “Ripper” Grenache is to die for, though it is all sold out.
After tasting we went to Artisan Restaurant, always one of our favorites. This time however it was a bit off, not bad, just a bit. We started with a pumpkin, cheese, and pepita soup that was pleasant, and then shared a set of Dungeness crab cakes. Nice, but not “wow”. I had a grilled pork porterhouse with cider sauce and sweet potato gratin. Pretty good. Kathie’s roasted sea bass with garlic polenta and artichokes was uninspired. However, the wine saved the day (who needs food?!?). In late November I had called Artisan and pre-paid for their very last bottle of Booker “The Ripper” Grenache. Ahhh, what a wine. Definitely not for the faint of heart. We shared some of the wine with friends at a table next to us who had just visited Booker for the first time just hours before. That was fun!