Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Chez Panisse

When we decided to book our holiday to Cali a few months ago, I had lofty ambitions to get a table for dinner at the French Laundry. Having tried ringing a few times and spoken with a fellow gourmand friend who assured me that it is near impossible to secure a reservation at Thomas Keller's eatery, I then attempted to secure us a table for dinner at Alice Waters' famed restaurant, Chez Panisse. Luckily, I managed to ring a month in advance and got us in for an early sitting.

When the day finally arrived (August 7th), we had to navigate our way from downtown SF out to Berkeley via the BART (surburban train network). To be honest, I had not imagined Berkeley to be the way it was but its probably a little unfair for me to be judging the town on the basis of one street (lots of half empty Indian restaurants with the occasional student hangout, what Gourmet Ghetto??).  

The restaurant itself is very cosy and has more of a feel of someone's dining room; this and the open kitchen (which I was able to go into and have a goo around post-dinner) provided a very relaxed and enjoyable setting for dinner which was complimented by some lovely service. Chez Panisse operates quite differently to other restaurants by only offering a set 4-course meal, which changes daily using ingredients which are most in season (the price of dinner increases towards the end of the week but still very reasonable at 95 dollars).

Our dinner consisted of the following:

Melon and cucumber soup with lime and mint
I wasn't expecting to like this as the film of oil on the surface looked a little off-putting but deliciously refreshing and the perfect way to start the meal. 

Pan-seared King Salmon with Indian spices
Very good and delicately spiced - here, they really meant to incorporate spices into the dish unlike the many lame attempts of trying to give a dish an "exotic twist" that you see so often in Paris.    

Grilled Wolfe Ranch quail with tomato chutney and black eye peas
So yummy I could've eaten 2 birds!! Think the secret was the way the quail grilled on an open grill which gave it its distinctive barbecuey charcoal flavour. 

Rose geranium ice cream crepes with nectarines and mulberries
Everything tasted great but having worked in such close quarters with Ispahan at PH, I felt they could've given the ice cream a much stronger rose flavour, a little too timid for my liking. Also slightly disappointed with the slight lack of sophistication in the dessert (the chocolates and petits fours were forgettable) but clearly, I have high expectations :)

I think this was easily the best meal of our holiday; each dish was carefully crafted and all the flavours worked on the plate without jostling for position (smthg that I found much too often in Cali cuisine) topped off with a lovely relaxed atmosphere in the restaurant.  I also have to mention the grape juice that is served as an aperitif for non-alcoholic drinkers - Navarro Gerwurtztramminer, think non-alcoholic dessert wine, a must try! All in all, well worth the visit :)

Note. Am afraid that the pics are not my finest as I was trying to take them as quickly and unobtrusively as possible without flash.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Les Vacances - San Francisco

Been slacking a bit on the ol' blog updates, oops! Its been a busy few weeks.....I am currently on a break from my stage at the moment as the shop is closed for the month of August. After a weekend of chilling in Paris with friends, I headed back to the Emerald Isle to visit Ma and Pa Chan for a good week which was nice. It actually turned out to be a pretty busy week as I was mostly in the kitchen working out on a trial wedding cake that I will be making in September. It felt a little bit daunting at times as I had never made cakes that big before but in the end, they turned out pretty well. I made one chocolate cake sandwiched with chocolate ganache and one lemon cake sandwiched with lemon cream. I was happy enough with the way the cakes turned out taste and texture wise. As I am still debating how to decorate the cakes, I only iced them and placed them on a cake drum with some ribbon. They looked good but I will need to make sure that the royal icing for the real cakes is a bit stiffer - good to have this practice under my belt :)

As usual, the week at home flew by and before I knew it, it was back down to London to see JD, which was lovely as we hadn't seen each other in 4 weeks or more. Some last minute shopping for our holliers and then it was off on another plane, an 11 hour epic to San Francisco! Yep, am here in the US at the mo for a summer holiday with JD touring the west coast from SF to LA.

So far, we have spent a few days exploring SF. Then, we hired a car and crossed over the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County and spent a few days there seeing the sights. Foodwise, we have been pretty spoilt by the choice and quality of food; this applies mainly to SF and less so to Marin County.

Some of the places that we visited in SF include:

Farmer Brown - a funky restaurant on the edge of the Tenderloin District (not exactly the nicest part of town) which serves chic-looking soul food. This was our first meal in SF and we were not disappointed. As we were still slightly jetlagged, we just ordered mains of fried chicken and pork chop, both were mega-yummy, highly recommended.

Bocadillos -  a laid-back tapas bar which does a pretty good breakfast. Handy for us as it was only a few blocks away from our hotel in the Financial District.

Mifune - very famous Japanese noodle shop in Japantown - yummy noodles which I think they make themselves and generous portions, zaru udon and sushi set pictured above for peanuts! Japantown is a little out of the way but worth the trek once you get there!!

The House - small and busy Asian fusion restaurant on the edge of Little Italy and Chinatown. Their miso cod (made famous by Nobu) was the richest and most tender fish I have ever tasted. Unfortunately, the desserts weren't up to much; I ordered the mango tapioca expecting it to be like a tasty mango 西米露 but what I got instead was a bland, sugary mess - the classics should never be messed with :)

Taqueria San Francisco - a great little place that serves what is supposedly one of the best burritos in the city, it gets the thumbs up from JD! (I plumped for some tacos instead, see above)

A16 - megabusy Italian restaurant in the posh-ish Marina District recommended by a friend (a native San Franciscan!). The highlight of my meal was tonarelli cooked in squid ink but not all JD's choices were that great.

Cafe de la Presse - our last meal in SF was here before we picked up our rental car. Lovely French-style cafe which does great breakfast, can highly recommend their pain perdu :)  

Crumbs - have we REALLY eaten this much already?? Can feel the pounds piling on ;)