Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA (2012), photo by John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER
Notes from the
by John Mariani
Kim Novak in Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo" (1958)
Okay, so the 49ers lost the Superbowl on a really bad call. San Franciscans can always drown their sorrows at any of a thousand good restaurants and watering holes, and you and I don't need a good reason other than to seek out what's new and exciting in dining in the Bay City.
State Bird Provisions
1529 Fillmore Street
the weird name:
Although they apparently had a designer, the
couple seems to have spared every expense in the
décor, which is basically a big brown wall
of pegboard on concrete. No matter. The place is
friendly, full of vitality--and loud!--and
everyone sits and waits to see what the next
rolling dim sum cart will carry. It is very hard
to go very wrong with anything from those carts.
Dishes change all the time here, and
there will always be surprises, always beautifully
plated. You’ll just have to go with your
friends, spot a cart and hope they come by soon
before they run out of what looks so good.
524 Van Ness Avenue
The wide-open area around San Francisco's City Opera and Symphony has needed an equally expansive, gregarious Asian restaurant like 03, where Executive Chef Joseph Villanueva, previously at Le Colonial, is doing sophisticated food without any pretense, and the restaurant is built for a bar crowd pre- and after-theater, when there are smaller menu options available.
The restaurant's name came about when the partners, who already owning two Ozone Thai restaurants in town, wanted to change the style of their next restaurant but keep a signature link. Then they noticed that O3 is the molecular formula for ozone, so the name seemed a natural.
The main dining area (right) seats 45, with 35 more in the lounge, all within a space with huge windows on the plaza, and a striking design of black, silver, grey and purple, with wood accents, fabric-covered banquettes, chandeliers and recessed lighting, a polished concrete floor, and a large print of a Buddha’s head.
The prices are right here, and you are encouraged to share dishes, which I did quite extensively on my visit, noshing my way through a miso Caesar salad with gem lettuce, chicharrones, and toasted seaweed. Impeccable freshness marked the subtle flavors of hamachi sashimi with cilantro vinaigrette, Asian pear, pickled jalepeño, avocado, and crispy shallots. At the other end of the spectrum was a very rich, luxuriant piece of pork belly with quail egg, hosui pear, caramel, and a splash of truffle oil, while a step away from Asia involved braised oxtail tacos filled with tomato, cabbage, jicama, and miso aïoli (left). Everyone will love the pork-shrimp spring rolls with garlic, cilantro, and green onion, and even if you (like me) don't care for Brussels sprouts, try those at O3, with chili sauce, and you may be amazed. One of the best among a fine array was the plate of lobster garlic noodles in butter, green onion, soy sauce, and sprinkled with bacon dust. That's easy enough to love.
For dessert go for the Thai tea bread pudding with white chocolate, almonds, sesame, feuilletine tea crunch, and vanilla ice cream, or the chocolate Vietnamese coffee and chocolate cake, with coffee-chocolate mousse, coffee butter cream, condensed milk, and coffee cocoa crumbs.
The wine list is nothing to rave about, with only about three dozen labels.
I’m sure O3 is wonderful before rushing off to the opera, but I’d prefer to come by at 8 PM, sit down with friends and take my time, exiting just about the time the opera-goers pile in for a late night supper.
03 is open for lunch Mon.-Fri. and for and dinner nightly. Appetizers and small plates run $8-$11, entrees $14-$27).
Mandarin Oriental Hotel
222 Sansome Street
The Mandarin Oriental Hotels have always put a great deal of emphasis on their restaurants and cuisine, and I've had several excellent meals at their San Francisco hotel over the years, all in the Asian fusion mode. Last year, however, they shifted to a more global approach, re-locating the restaurant downstairs and bringing in highly experienced chef Adam Mali, formerly at Nick's Cove in Tomales Bay. It is now called a brasserie, which is a catch-all term these days, but the proof of Mali's talent for a wide range of food styles is evident from breakfast through lunch and dinner here.
The dining room itself is pleasant enough, situated as it is just off the lobby, with good sight lines, soft colorings, milled woodwork, and leather banquettes. Service is impeccably friendly and helpful, not least with the superlative wine list.
When I dined at Brasserie S&P, I just asked Mail to send out whatever he liked, and that meant starting off with a duck liver pâté on grilled levan bread, making me forget, briefly, about California's imbecilic ban on duck foe gras. Potato latkes, crisp and hot, came with duck confit and the delightful addition of sweet plums, while grilled and steamed pork buns with kimchee and coriander had some good bite to them. Poke sushi (left) was made from Albacore tuna with a macadamia nut, sesame oil and chilies, while clam chowder was perked up with bacon and thyme.
One of the too-rarely-seen classics of San Francisco gastronomy is Dungeness crab Louis. Here it is a splendid rendering with radishes, avocado, and butter lettuce. Of the main courses I tried I was particularly impressed with the duck breast, cracked peas, and lemon marmalata--a fine combination of pure flavors--while the roasted Moro Bay white bass with snap peas, mustard greens, cherry tomatoes, and preserved lemon vinaigrette summed up everything wonderful about California's bounty of fine ingredients.
You may choose among several artisanal cheeses, but don't miss the strawberry rhubarb crisp if they have it or the cinnamon-rosemary beignets (right), hot and lavished with Meyer lemon crème anglaise. Sample the olive oil polenta cake too, with macerated cherries and pistachio brittle, a good combination of tastes and textures.
Mali gratefully lists all his suppliers next to each dish, which may be a tad precious at this point, but you will know that he has ferreted out the very best available, and that underpins all the fine flavors he brings to the civilized table here.
NEW YORK CORNER
by John Mariani
142 West 19th Street
NYC restaurant so far this year has made me happier
than Louro. It is such an
engaging place, fitted snugly into Greenwich Village in
a spot that used to be Bar Blanc; it's not too loud, and
the staff is complete with very amiable people from the
moment you arrive till you pay for a check that will be
a square deal for a fine meal.
The room itself, long and fairly narrow is cozy, with a décor that does not exactly call attention to itself. Lighting is just low and warm enough not to require a flashlight to read the menu by.
Right from the get-go the food raised eyebrows of collective pleasure at our table, beginning with “Bites” of duck rillette on toast flavored with fennel. It was good, honest, comforting on a cold night. Duck pâté with black truffles and pickled red onion worked the same charms. Piri piri shrimp were pick-me-ups, spiced to set the palate roaring.
Then there are “Small Plates,” like lustrous hamachi with purple carrots and tempura tops, scented with minty bergamot. His uni is mildly flavored, set atop crispy pork belly with yuzu, shiso, and togarashi pickled cabbage.
Santos is Portuguese-American but does some culinary globe trotting on the menu. His heart is in cooking up deeply flavored foods of all kinds with a common thread—the mark of all good chefs—in his case, a robust approach to everything, with never subtle but never overpowering seasonings.
You taste it in his mushroom
with sea buckhorn (not an ingredient you see too often),
the crunch of hazelnuts and buttery puff pastry. You savor it
in gnocchi romana
with a generous dose of truffle cream, cipollini, and
crispy onions—four ingredients in perfect, gusty
Malayan rice in lobster risotto was a little overcooked but its
bouillabaisse foam was a lovely addition to lighten it
Among the “Large Plates” I enjoyed was monkfish with rice, parsley, and a Portuguese tomato sauce, Duck with red and white quinoa, sweet plantain, cilantro and black bean jus was a fine idea. And American snapper in a Thai ginger broth was lackluster, however.
After food of this heft, it’s nice to have sweetly poached pears with brown butter crumble, though pine needle ice cream goes a bit astray. Much more lovable on all counts is the lemon cake with lemon confit and an olive oil sorbet.
One of the best ways t appreciate Santos’ talent is to go for the chef’s tasting menu of five courses at a very reasonable $65. The wine list is well selected to go with this food and there are plenty of good bottlings, and some admirable unfamiliar ones, under $50.
If I lived in Greenwich Village, Louro would be among my five favorite standbys when I wanted to eat very well as well as taste dishes that I won't find anywhere else. Santos is cooking at the top of his form, and, given the packed house on the night I visited, a whole lot of people know it.
Open Tues.-Sun. for dinner; Bites and Small Plates run $16, Large plates $22-$29.
FROM THE WINE CELLAR
Drops Its Prices and Shows Off Its Terroir
WRITING 101: TRY TO KEEP AN OPEN MIND
"I already hated the Ten Room
at the once-grand Café Royal. Along one
side is a wall of square marble posts, backed by
glass. The wall looks like a design feature from a
self-consciously modernist men's loo. Frankly I
didn't know whether to rest upon it or pee against
it. By the end I was sorely tempted. . . Music
thumps. It continues its muffled thump throughout
dinner so that sitting at the table back in the
dining area you feel like you're listening to a
disco full of young people exchanging rare strains
of chlamydia."--Jay Rayner, "The Ten
Room at the Café Royal," The Observer.
BUT ISN'T THE HAPPY MEAL AT MCDONALD'S?
In York, PA, the deceased David Kime funeral procession first stopped at his favorite Burger King, which prepared 40 burgers to go for the mourners. One last burger was also placed on top of the coffin before burial. His daughter said it was not intended as a joke but instead a happy way of honoring her father and the things that brought him joy.
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